Dreamers and Music Makers

Chapter 9

Data  read the tricorder reading, “It appears to be one humanoid riding an equine animal similar to that of the earth horse.” Riker nodded his head in acknowledgment as he continued to watch the approaching stranger. He quickly checked to make sure everyone was adequately hidden, a motion close to his side had him quickly turn to see Deanna shifting away from them. Still in her low position she was moving closer to the nearing rider and away from the small group. Troi slowly stood, looking toward the advancing man. Her crewmates stayed low as they watched in astonishment Troi’s unexpected behavior.

“Deanna get down! What are you doing?” Will Riker had moved closer to her, he would physically pull her down if necessary. “Deanna!”  She continued unaware of him.

The empath faced the rider as he approached; he slowed his animal to a walk. Will watched Deanna, his entire body filling with adrenaline as anticipation swamped his nervous system. He motioned for Data and Beverly to stay where they were for now, and reached into his vest’s hidden pocket for his phaser. After making sure it was set on stun, he watched and waited.

“Woman, what are you doing here? These are private land.” The rider stopped nearly ten yards from Troi.  He looked the dark haired beauty over, wondering how she came to be there alone. He looked around cautiously knowing she would not be alone in this place under normal circumstances. He dismounted, moving slowing toward her, never taking his eyes off her. As he closed the distance he felt a familiar touch enter his thoughts…a feeling he knew her. She showed no fear of him, in fact continued to react as though she knew him. “Lady, I am known as Lepton, perhaps we serve the same queen.” His voice was soft, the words spoken were not meant to be overheard.

Will Riker held his breath not daring for a moment to take his eyes from the scene before him even to check his friends reactions. He heard Deanna respond. “Lepton, I am Deanna, I am here with others to help find your queen.” She turned toward the rest of the away team, who upon hearing her announce their presence now stood.

“You are all from the starship?” Will tensed as he heard Lepton’s question, how did this man come to that conclusion, and if he had that knowledge where there others too they would encounter with perhaps a more dangerous agenda. He heard Deanna introducing each of them to the man named Lepton. He looked the man over, noting the long dark hair, thick dark beard and green eyes. He watched as Deanna continued to talk to the stranger as though she knew him. It was when he heard his own name he came out of his thoughts quickly.

“Will, Beverly, Data this is Lepton, he is close to Abeathdor. I suppose I knew him through Abeathdor’s telepathic communication. She had described this man’s kindness and appearance.” Deanna stopped and put her hand on Lepton’s arm, “Abeathdor thought you to have been killed.”

He looked at her in surprise, “How could you have that knowledge? Have you been to see her…no surely Gringbald would never have allowed that.  How could you know …. Oh, you were the one at the banquet, were you not? You said you had some communication with her..how? They have allowed no one near her.”

Deanna didn’t answer right away, trying to find the approach to the question that would not give too much information to him. She chose to work around the communication issue for now. “It is of no importance at this moment how I know, but how is it that you escaped death when Abeathdor was so sure you had died?”

He sadly shook his head, “As you see I am very much alive. She is made to think her friends have died because of her. It works for the criminals to strip the wounded of their desire to live.” Deanna moved to stand in front of him, she looked into his eyes, the greenest eyes she had ever seen, also the saddest eyes she had seen.

“This communication, this is something you do in your head? You too, ah… I know it is done. I know Abeathdor is able to do much when she is strong.” He spoke sadly again. His eyes downcast, not willing to meet any ones.

Will stepped up to take charge of the situation that was beginning to grate on him. “Lepton, what brings you to these woods now?”

“We have been following some of Zylon’s men. When they were first spotted in the area we became suspicious. These are arrogant haughty men of higher rank, they would not be wandering in this forest so far from their comfort, if it were not for a matter of some consequence.” Lepton stood watching the commander a few moments before asking, “And you, what would you be doing in the woods miles from Gendla?”

“We are following some of Zylon’s men also, Lepton.” Will hesitated not fully trusting the man, regardless of Deanna’s almost immediate acceptance of him.

“Then perhaps we can travel together.” He smiled looking at Deanna and the others, and seeing the dark woman’s agreement.

They continued their hike through the woods following the river in the direction of the cabin. Data questioned Lepton on many of the cultural differences and changes attempting to find the time line in accordance with Gringbald’s ascension into power.

Lepton asked Deanna if she had been able to communicate with Abeathdor lately. “No, I have had no real communication with her for almost two days now. I think she is unconscious. I know she is alive.”

Will Riker had been following the conversation closely. Something was wrong. Deanna never mentioned this Lepton, yet she behaved with such familiarity… he silently shook his head, thinking how Deanna had not been open about this. She had known all information was to be given up front, before this stage of the game. Riker walked a slight distance behind them.  He heard Data again questioning the man, Will’s mind on all that, he never noticed Deanna had been walking beside him. The others were several steps ahead as she came around in front of him, facing him, forcing him to come to a dead stop to avoid walking head on into her.

“What is it Will? I know you’re uneasy about something - no I take it back. You are uneasy about me. You want to know if I keeping things from you?”

He looked closely at her, and thought she was becoming very efficient with her newly enhanced skills. But the eye contact, the eye contact was the killer. Those large dark luminous eyes seemed to read his secrets from the depths of his soul. “You’ve got to admit we had no idea about the existence of anyone down here in a position to aid us. You should have mentioned this to us- to me, Deanna. Is there more that you’re holding back?” He put his hands on her shoulders. “Why didn’t you reveal this to me?”

“Will, Abeathdor thought he was dead. How would I have known the man still lived? I should have talked to you more about what I learned from her, but I had no way to know if any of those close to her survived.”
She watched the hurt in his eyes fade to be replaced by concern. “No, there’s nothing else that I’m holding back. Yes you KNOW you can trust me.” Then at is startled look, “I’m sorry, there something about this atmosphere that seems to increase my empathic into telepathic skills. It’s as unnerving to me as it is to you.” She laid her hand gently on his arm, “Will, this is new to me too.  Help me to stay grounded.”

He stood looking down into those eyes; he could refuse her nothing. “Do you want Dr. Crusher to use a hypospray?” Keeping her grounded was usually something he did with great relish.

“No…not yet. If you think my behavior to be erratic or uncontrollable, then yes, do what you think to be necessary. Right now, I feel as though I need to be alert and open as possible.”

Will nodded, dropped his hands from her shoulders, and pulled her along side of him to walk companionably up to the where the others waited. The pace picked up in an effort to make the cottage by nightfall. It was very late in the afternoon when a small cottage became discernable among the trees. There were several horses grazing among the trees along the side of the building.

Data stopped first, with his vision he could detect a group of men standing by the building’s back entrance. “Commander, it is nearly dark. I suggest we wait until morning to do anything. There are some large boulders up above us. We could camp there tonight, and decide upon our approach.”

Will agreed, “Let’s go ladies, now you’ll get to see the rougher side of outdoor life. We can’t afford a campfire tonight, we don’t want to take the chance of being seen.”

“Oh stop! You’re spoiling us?” Beverly tried to make light of the situation, hoping to hide the fact she was really beginning to miss life in their civilization.

They found the boulders to be perfect. They could make a temporary covered shelter using the boulders and tarp as a type of lean to. The shelter came in handy when the large drops of water started falling. Under the tarp the quarters were close, but dry. Beverly had to admit she found reason to be glad of Will’s childhood camping days. He had dug a drainage ditch around the campsite to catch the water and divert it around the sleeping area. Otherwise they would have been washed out when the rain began to come down fast and furiously. They sat inside listening to the water running past in the drainage channels.

Warm and dry they listened to Lepton’s story of how he met Abeathdor while they were both captives in Traitor’s Keep. He spoke of how he was able to talk Zylon out of killing her, when it came time for his own release. He convinced the arrogant murderer to keep her alive and thereby keep her supporters quiet. Lepton had planned a rescue the night before the first away team arrived. Somehow news of this plot had reached Zylon, the would be rescuers were thwarted. Two of the men were captured and were part of the floorshow at the banquet. One of those had been Lepton’s own brother. After listening to the description of the brother, Deanna believed it to have been the man in the research building, although she said nothing to Lepton about that.

It was a sad somber evening. A night of such darkness both inside and out. The dampness became penetrating even when bundled into the watertight sleeping bags. The smell of fall, the decaying leaves and wet earth added to the eeriness

Deanna lay awake, feeling the restlessness and worried dreaming of those around her. She sensed a more concentrated mixture of concern and anxiety from behind her. She knew it to be Will Riker. He may appear to take command easily, but Deanna knew he took it seriously enough to lose sleep over it on more than one occasion. She listened as he got out of his sleeping bag and tried to move about, finally he pulled on a cloak and went out into the rain. She waited a few moments then followed. She hadn’t gone far when the very blackness of the night caused her to stumble. No sooner had she regained her footing when she was grabbed from behind and flung to the wet ground.

“Will!” She managed to wheeze.

“Deanna, what are you doing here? Never mind, I should have known I’d be keeping you awake.” He helped her to her feet, brushing wet leaves from her. “I’m sorry. I thought maybe our friends from the cottage had found us.  Do you want to walk a little?”  The rain had slowed to a drizzle as she accepted his proposed walk. He took her arm and directed her toward the top of the low ridge they were camped on. As they neared the top the rain stopped and a moon was pushing through the clouds.

“I’ve been planning our approach to the cottage. Deanna, you know that I’m concerned about this mission. This place, this planet has a wicked atmosphere that is almost palpable. You must feel it too?” They had stopped walking, Will turned to look at her, there was enough of the moon’s light to see her rain soaked face and the shine of the partially exposed moon reflected in her eyes.

If any thing goes wrong tomorrow I want you and Beverly to cross the river and contact the Enterprise immediately.”

“I feel the evil of these men. But I feel a panic at leaving anyone to their devices. Will, I can’t explain it, but I know Abeathdor to be the one person who has a chance of turning this around. She has a remarkable mind. I sense in her a fair and just heart. I can’t turn and walk away; it would haunt me forever. This is something I have to do. I’m sorry I had to drag all of you into it. I’m afraid something might happen to anyone of you. I don’t know how I’d live with that either. So don’t expect me to run away from you if trouble arises.”

He could see her feelings so easily now in the dark. “Do you think you could have come without me? How about without Beverly? Can you imagine what the captain would have had to put up with if he hadn’t included her on the away team? You can’t take on the planet on your own.”  He hugged her to him, for a long moment drawing comfort and security from each other.

“Come on, we’d better return before we’re missed.” As she stepped back from him, he reached for her, this time he tilted her head and kissed her. Her hands slid up to encircle his neck, caressing the strong tendons they found there.  When the kiss ended he smiled down at her, “When this is over, I think we need to have a long very private conversation.”

She reached to move the lock of hair from his forehead, “I’m looking forward to it.”

When they returned to the others, Will pulled his sleeping bag over to Deanna’s. She laid her head on his chest; the steady pounding of his heart lulled her to sleep. The steady warmth of her breath on his chest eased him into a light sleep.

When Beverly opened her eyes, everything was quiet. The gray morning light offered little to feel optimistic about. She slowly sat up, looking around her to see if anyone else was up. She saw Deanna still asleep in Will’s arms her head on his chest. Will’s eyes were open.  She whispered, “Was there a problem last night?” concerned about the possibility that Deanna may have had and empathic encounter. “ I must have finally fallen into a sound sleep.”

Will smiled, “The only problem was I couldn’t sleep, I must have kept Deanna awake with my thoughts. Although, she seems to have gone into hibernation now.” He squeezed her shoulder to wake her. When that didn’t work, he leaned up to kiss her forehead. She smiled, although she hadn’t yet opened her eyes.

After a second kiss the empath slowly opened her eyes. “Good morning.” She had not fully come around yet. Will chuckled, that helped, she became aware of the sounds of the outdoors and slowly sat up. She looked down at him and smiled, “At least it stopped raining.” She got out of her sleeping bag, looked over to see that Beverly had her bag rolled up and was preparing to do the morning routine.

“Will, where did Data and Lepton go?” Beverly asked as she stepped outside of the tarp and looked around.

He looked at Deanna, “Can you sense Lepton?”

She nodded, “They’re down at the river looking for a path to the cottage. I feel Lepton to be anxious. His adrenaline is up…Will.. I think I’m also sensing Abeathdor! Her thoughts are confused, but it is Abeathdor.”

“Can you let her know we are close and to be prepared?” He could feel his own adrenaline surge at the thought of finally doing something physical in the direction of fulfilling this mission, finally making a substantial move in this chess game.

“I can try, she’s not very lucid. Her thoughts are still hazy and random.” Deanna turned to Beverly for an explanation, “Is it possible they continue to sedate and drug her? Would that explain the incoherent thoughts and feelings?”

Beverly nodded, “Very probable, Deanna, it would explain why you have long periods of time with little sense of her. Can she respond to you at all?”

Troi shook her head, “I’m not getting anything more than random those confused random thoughts.”

Riker led the women down to the river. They had packed everything the three of them couldn’t carry on to Lepton’s horse. Upon reaching the river, they took turns cleaning up in the cold water. It was there Data and Lepton found them.

Commander, it appears that the occupants of the cottage are preparing to move to another destination. When they leave the premises they would be at their most vulnerable. It is at that time I recommend we attempt a rescue.” Data then proceeded to outline a method of extracting Abeathdor from her captors.

“Will!” Deanna was clearly alarmed about something. “Zylons’ men are coming this way, we’ve been seen!”


“Beverly you and Deanna back track a short distance then cross the river. Follow us from the other side. Lepton will guide you. If anything happens contact the Enterprise.” Beverly recognized the tone as an order from the commander, and although her instinct said to stay together she trusted that Will had pertinent reasons for his command.

Lepton began to protest voicing his intent to stay and face these adversaries. Riker pointed out that Zylon’s men may know him from his past imprisonment; and Deanna may be recognized from the banquet. Will knew, from the determined stance, the way she wouldn’t look at him, that she was refusing to leave him.  He said softly, “You can’t be caught.” She finally raised her head to meet his eyes, Will hardened his voice. “Go! NOW! That’s an order!”

Riker turned away toward the sound of horses approaching while the other three departed quickly. Lepton lead his laden horse putting as much distance away from Will and Data as possible. They heard voices calling behind them, followed by a lot of rustling and the sound of horses in the wet leaves and brush.

When Troi turned to look back, Lepton touched her elbow, “Here is where we cross, it is much more shallow.” He helped them down the bank into the low cold water. “Watch where you step, for the most part you can follow the crossing with your eyes.” He pointed to the route out to them, then demonstrated that the riverbed was somewhat transverse with large flat sheets of stone. When all three had crossed, they stayed close to the riverbank and began moving back toward the area they had last seen Will and Data. They moved quickly in hope that Will and Data had somehow managed to elude the captor’s web. Lepton moved with a deftness that revealed his familiarity with the land. They traveled for more than an hour; still there was neither sign nor sound of the others on the opposite side of the river. Finally Lepton came to a stop. The terrain had changed; they found themselves between the river and the base of a small mountain range. Lepton tied his horse to one of the many small conifers, then walked toward the higher stretch of the dense forest. Beverly and Deanna stayed where they were and continued to search the opposite bank for any sign of their companions.

Beverly edged closer to Deanna and whispered, “I think our friend knows more than what he’s saying. Can you sense Will at all?”

Deanna shook her head; “I’m sensing several people close by. Not Will, I’d know the feel of his mind. There are others around, maybe they are flooding my senses, making me less sensitive to the familiar.” She turned back toward the mountain slope; “We’re about to have company. The others that I sensed before are coming with Lepton.”

Both women moved behind thicker vegetation to wait for Lepton’s appearance, giving Deanna time to focus on the intent of the newcomers. As they drew nearer, Deanna began to relax. “It’s alright, they mean no harm. It appears they are also looking for Abeathdor.” Neither woman moved, remaining concealed until the entire group was visible.

Lepton called out, “Deanna! Beverly! Please show yourselves. You are in no danger, my friends would very much like to meet you.”

Deanna walked out first. “I believe we have met.” The empath walked over to the woman that had only a short time ago served her dinner at the great banqueting hall in Gendla.

Lagi was now dressed in the dark, deeper color of the forest. Her long hooded cloak a perfect camouflage for observing, without being observed. “Lady, I knew it would be you -you would be the one to aid us. I knew when I looked into your eyes. Then, when you saw these hands, I watched. I saw. It is your compassion.” Lagi had walked up to Troi and looked closer at her, she took her hand as though to shake it but held it out in front of her in an odd gesture of service.

Deanna was taken back by the gesture, she held Lagi by the shoulders, “Please, we - my friends and I are only visitors here. We cannot do anything without your help. This friend is also a doctor. Doctor Beverly…. We have two more friends -over there somewhere. I fear for their safety.” Deanna pointed to the other side of the river.

“Yes, Lepton has told us of that. We have people who are going now to find them. Lepton will lead them; he knows these woods better than anyone else does. Please, come with us, you will be safe.” Lagi started back up into the dense wood toward the mountain. Deanna and Beverly followed, with four young men behind them.

 Deanna noticed that the way these people were dressed made the gender of the individual indistinguishable, taking away all identifying characteristics-making it harder to pin point any one as an outlaw. Further down below them she could hear Lepton speaking and shortly there after the sound of horses moving off in the direction they had last seen Will and Data.

“We have all the rations and the bulk of the supplies.” Deanna stopped and faced Beverly.

“Lepton will find them. They may have to spend a night roughing it, but both Data and Will are resourceful.” Beverly smiled encouragingly, “Deanna, try again to see if you can get a sense of Will. You know he’s been in worse scrapes, he’ll be fine.”

“You don’t know the evil in Zylon’s people, Beverly. I’ve seen it. I’m going to contact the Enterprise to see if they can locate them by their comm links.” Deanna took her communicator out from the folds of the skirt.

<<Troi to Enterprise.>> She paused waiting for a reply, none came.

Beverly retrieved her communicator and tried the to make contact. Again no answer. “Deanna, when was the last time Will checked in?”

Troi answered looking puzzled, “This morning, everything was fine. There was no mention of problems. Will would have contacted us if they were alone. We can’t take the chance of contacting them and perhaps endangering them.”

Beverly nodded, “We’ll try again to reach the Enterprise again when we reach our destination, wherever that may be.” They continued climbing higher, they could now look down at the river and see quite a distance of wooded area on both sides. Still there was no sign of Will.


Will and Data had not put up a fight. They tried to lose the pursuers in the woods, but were unsuccessful. They calmly gave up, claiming to be fishermen, fishing the river. The man who appeared to be in charge, had ordered the two to be brought to their cottage and questioned more closely. Ironically, they were to be taken to the very place they had been trying to find. They were stopped outside the cottage; Zylon himself came out of the building.

“What have we here, Gobvat? I ordered the land posted and guarded. How did these men get in?” Zylon didn’t wait for an answer, he began circling Will and Data, scrutinizing each one in turn. “Gobvat have you gone deaf? I asked you how they got into the Riverlands? I suppose you made sure they were alone?”

Gobvat answered with confidence, “They are not locals, but visiting fishermen. Brothers. We found no evidence of any others. However, I left two men to watch for any others that may have hidden or run.”

“Fishermen? Where is your equipment? What do you fish with, your bare hands?” Zylon’s men chuckled.  He stepped over to the packs that Gobvat had confiscated from Riker and Data, with his boot he prodded and kicked the material around.

“Sire, my brother has a good eye and fast hands. All we require are good sturdy branches and clear water.” Will was improvising as he went -having someone with Data’s abilities is like having an open door through which to escape.

Data tilted his head a little, nodded as the information was clicking into sense. He walked over to the nearest tree, broke off two of the longest low hanging branches, stripped them of their decaying leaves and appendages. He took out the utility knife and sharpened the end to a point. He then demonstrated prowess, by stalking and stabbing the “dirt fish” he pretended to see. The entire episode would have been funny under other circumstances. Will made a mental note to remember it for another time.

Zylon laughed, “Well you’ll never get fat and rich!”  Then with a look toward Gobvat he added, “Bring them along for now, maybe they can catch fish for us too!” Laughing with the rest of his men, Zylon strode back into the dwelling, leaving Data and Will outside with Gobvat.

It was plain Gobvat did not share the humor. “Yeah, great more for me to mind. Come on you idiots, you’ll stay here until we are ready to move out in a short time.” He tied each to the rail that the horses were earlier tethered to, then he too left to attend to other preparations for their departure.

“Data, this may be the opportunity we need. They haven’t found Deanna and Beverly yet. At least they must be okay. Hopefully Lepton will follow with help. This could be over soon.”


When her long skirt caught around a plant and tripped her for the third time in the last fifteen minutes, Beverly Crusher had had enough. She stopped climbing, bent to take the skirt by the hem to bring it up between the legs to tuck it into her belt. The skirt was full enough and long enough to cover the doctors legs down to an inch below her knees, it presented an odd sight evident by the looks she was getting from the group they were traveling with, but proved a more convenient fashion for climbing through the wood up a mountain then the long cumbersome outfit had. Deanna noticed and imitated her. They neared a crest in their climbing and could hear a distant sound of waterfalls. There was a change in the air too; the refreshing scent of pine was prevalent, replacing the smell of decaying leaves. The thick carpet of pine needles now padded their steps. They stopped to admire the vista, the ground quickly giving way to a deep gorge, watching as Lagi and several of the others began to wind their way down a steep but carefully marked trail.

“Do you think you could find your way back, if we needed to leave quickly?” Beverly asked Deanna when they had slowed at one particularly narrow spot.

Deanna shook her head; “We may be walking in circles for all I know!”

“You are not. The trail we follow has been carefully marked. Have you noticed the large mounds of stacked rock and stone?” The young man who had been taking up the rear, had overheard the conversation. “Each mound is carefully stacked in the same pattern, so those familiar with the set pattern will not get lost. The problem is - not all the mounds on this mountain are the same. We have made many decoy stacks on fraudulent paths, that lead nowhere, as a precaution against those who would like to seek to have us captured.”

Beverly studied the mounds, “Similar markers, I believe are used on earth, they were called cairn. I’ve heard of their usage, but never saw them. A very wise use of them and their decoys.” She felt some relief that these people had taken the time and trouble to think out such precautions, and a little troubled that both were necessary.

“Earth, that is where you are from?” asked the young man.

“I have spent some time on Earth. My parents are human. I ‘m sorry I don’t believe we’ve been introduced, my name is Beverly and this is Deanna.”

“I am known a Rankeer. Which of you is the doctor?”

“I’m the doctor, are you ill?” Beverly was alert as she looked more closely at the young man.

“I ask not for me, but once we reach Fallscity, perhaps….if it is not a problem you would look at a little friend of mine.”

“Of course I would. How much further to Fallscity?

“We are close now.” Rankeer turned his attention now to Deanna, “You are the Lady that knows the mind of the our queen?” He looked at the empath with admiration gleaming in his eyes.

“How did you know that?” The only people Deanna knew to be aware of the communication between Abeathdor and herself, were the members of the away team and Lepton- of course Lepton.

“Lady”, it was said as a way of formal address, “not all communication comes from the government. We may have the brand of “waste people”, but we remain loyal to the queen. We look for any others who may be in the position to aid us in releasing her from captivity and gaining back the throne. We have nothing to loose and everything to gain.” The last was said softly as though the very thought was too good to become a reality.

Beverly looked at Deanna to see what the empath was sensing. She watched as Deanna put her hand on Rankeer’s arm, “We are here to do what we can to help you. The doctor will do all that she can do here. If more is required, our ship, the Enterprise is fully equipped with medical technology we can go there. How old is your little friend?”

“She is little more than a baby. In some ways she is still an infant.” A sadness stole over his features, he walked back to take his place once again behind the women.

The doctor turned to look at Troi, “What do you think he meant by that? I’m beginning to see what you mean…about the evil taste to this planet.”

They finished walking the rest of the trail toward Fallscity; each lost in her own thoughts. The entire ensemble stopped. There before them spread a large pool of water, across from the pool were the waterfalls they had been hearing for quit a distance. The water fell almost two hundred feet to the pool before them. The sound from their position was almost deafening. The power of the falling water vibrated the ground upon which they now stood.

Lagi walked over to the Starfleet women, “We are at the entrance to Fallscity. Walk only where we walk. We will pair up; one of us will be with each of you to help you. Are you ready?”

Both women said that they were, each wondering what it was they were to be prepared for - what new experience awaited them now? Rankeer came to stand beside Deanna, while another young adolescent with flaming red hair stood next to Beverly. He introduced himself as Rimamai. They began walking toward the waterfall. The stones they walked upon now turned wet and slippery. The pace had slowed, apparently even those familiar with the route were cautious. Deanna slipped twice on the wet stone pathway. Rankeer took her arm to further aid her. She was glad of his close presence, the light had now vanished, they walked in darkness with the thundering rushing water falling around them. They had now walked behind the falls. The darkness didn’t last long, as they walked further into the cavern, large torches were lit. Another fifty yards and they found themselves outside again, in a naturally enclosed glen. The sun had almost set, but in the pre-twilight hours the glen was beautiful. The green of the pines and the aroma given off from them was light and refreshing. There were several small buildings, almost resembling the rustic cabins Will had shown Deanna scenes of from his mountain climbing expeditions in Alaska. There were flowers growing and in bloom. Now Deanna began to notice that the air was warmer. She mentioned this to Rankeer.

“Yes, there are some hot springs below us. They keep the soil and the enclosed air warm. We are well protected here.”

“Are these buildings your homes?” Beverly pointed out the small cluster of cabins.

“No, they are merely shelters and storage areas. They are too damp to live in most of the year. We choose to live outdoors, we stay in the buildings over there when the weather becomes too bad.”  He pointed to several larger buildings further away. They were odd shaped, with large openings on the sides. Upon closer examination these openings were large windows, with the wooden slatted coverings propped open.

He pointed out several other components of the village, adding that is was getting late and perhaps the women would like to wait until the following day to visit them.

Lagi interrupted the group, “Rankeer, please show our guest to the accommodations for the night.”

He smiled and directed them  “Now, let’s find a place for your belongings, and for you to spend the night.” He led them past several small fires and groups of peoples, until he came to a fireplace with two hammock stretched between trees with a fine covering over the them.

“Now this is a step up - off the ground and more bug resistant. This looks very comfortable. Rankeer, there is one more thing,” Deanna paused, “where can we freshen up?”

He smiled a little shyly, “This way to the hot springs, or would you prefer the cold shower?”

Both women readily answered, “Hot springs!” Then grabbing their bags, they followed Rankeer down yet another path from their sleeping area toward a small spring. Stone steps were laid for easy access into the water. There were larger slabs of a smooth stone in the water, conveniently placed to sit or recline on. Rankeer pointed out all the particulars, then made a quick getaway.

Watching his speedy retreat, the women had a gentle laugh. They wasted no time in undressing and padding down to the water. The entire area was well lit by many well-placed torches. It was apparent this was an essential part of this people’s existence.

Beverly carried her tricorder down to the spring, just as a precaution, on this planet a precaution could mean the difference in life or death, and as they were learning death here was ugly. “It has a small percentage of an alkaline, but it’s harmless.” She caught Deanna’s hesitant look, “Come on, this is just what the doctor ordered.” They each had a large towel they dropped at the water’s edge, then each carefully made her way into the warm comforting water.

After they each found a spot, Deanna tried once again to make some connections. First to Will, she leaned back, literally up to her neck in hot water, relaxed letting the warmth draw the aches and fatigue out of her bones. She closed her eyes, and in her mind she pictured Will Riker, remembering the feel of his mind and the warmth of his emotions. She reached out searching through all the other empathic impressions, dismissing them all, until she felt the one she had known the longest and desired more than all the others.

Beverly watched the emotions on the empath’s face change. She knew Deanna had found Will and that he was in no danger. She watched as the bond between the two of them seemed to be strengthening. Beverly closed her eyes and left her mind drift thinking of her friends and wondering how they would deal with the changes back on the Enterprise. Will and Deanna had done their best to convince everyone that the intimate relationship they once shared was history. It may have been true that the physical relationship was repressed, but the attraction was still evident. It was present in the way they looked and talked to each other. Her thoughts were interrupted by a splash. Beverly opened her eyes to find Deanna gone. She nearly panicked, then looked behind her to see Deanna surface.

“I’m sorry, did I frighten you? I wanted to rinse the bio-cleanse from my hair. This feels great, it’s been the best part of ‘roughing it’.” Deanna certainly seemed in a much better frame of mind.

“I take it Will and Data are okay? What about the Enterprise? Were you able to learn anything about what’s going on?” Beverly watched her as she finished her washing the past two days of the planet out of her own hair.

“Will had contacted them, they left orbit and will return in several hours. Something about an emergency with a Ferengi freighter. We should meet Will and Data tomorrow. They were left tied to a hitching post. They managed to free themselves about the same time Lepton reached them.” Deanna finished the narrative, then swam to the steps to climb out.

“I don’t like the sound of that, this is not the resort I want to be stranded on without a safety net.” Beverly swam to the steps where Deanna now sat wrapped in her towel with her feet still in the water. As the doctor approached her Deanna handed her a towel. They sat on the steps together.

“Where does that leave us? How close are we to Abeathdor?” She watched the ripples Deanna was making by tapping her toes in the water. She looked over at the empath’s face, her chin resting on her knee, still absently tapping her toes slapping the water around her feet.

“Well, I know our new friends are waiting on us now. We’ll take care of tonight and meet Will and Data tomorrow. Abeathdor is being moved to a town on the other side of these woods. Lepton can get us there, according to Will.” Deanna was very vague with the information.

“We’re playing this by ear, aren’t we?” She looked at Deanna who gave a slight frown as the answer.

The two returned to their appointed sleeping area to find a host of Fallscity gathered there awaiting them. Among those waiting sat Rankeer with a young child of about four or five years of age. They were sitting on the ground by the fire. The two women made their way over to them.

The little girl was beautiful, she had short, dark curly hair and large eyes as blue as the cloudless sky. Beverly noticed Rankeer talking with the child. He held her face to be sure she was looking at him. He appeared to be taking great pains to enunciate each word carefully; he also was employing the use of many gestures. Beverly pointed this out to Deanna.

They sat on the ground with Rankeer and the child. Deanna spoke softly, “How long has she been unable to hear, Rankeer?”

“We are not sure she is deaf, she appears to understand somethings, and other things… We know she cannot or will not speak.” He motioned for the child to stay where she was. He stood and helped the women to their feet, then pointed to an area a short distance away. He began moving them in that direction.

“She has been like this since my parent’s death. We believe she may have seen them die. No one else knows what happened, but we know it involved Gringbald and his men. I was hoping that you, Lady, and the Doctor would…” he paused, then stopped as though he couldn’t bring himself to ask.

Beverly squeezed his arm reassuringly and told him that they would do all they could to help her. They returned to the fire and the child, who had not moved from her spot, even though she had sat up on her knees to watch them. She watched closely even now as they approached her.

Deanna walked over to the little girl, “Rankeer, what is your sister’s name?”

“Solace.” He turned to his sister, “Solace, these ladies are very special healers. They want to help us. Will you let them?” He spoke verbally and with gestures, then waited until she cautiously nodded, and looked the two new comers over nervously. One of the other young men had brought a bench over for them to sit on. He shrugged his shoulders at everyone’s look and pointed to Lagi. Solace smiled as though she thought it was funny. She was the first one on the bench.

Deanna walked over to her taking her small hand, “Solace, I’m going to talk to you here.” Deanna pointed to the child’s head. “Okay, you will hear me in your head. I don’t want you to be afraid.” She held the child’s eyes with her own for a time before she nodded to her. Keeping eye contact, Deanna began slowly, waiting for a reaction from Solace to gauge her next move. The little girl’s eyes grew wide. Deanna continued, sensing the fear slowly disappearing and a profound reluctance take its place-it too gave way to a sense of wonder.

Beverly and Rankeer sat on the opposite side of the fire with Lagi and several other young people. Lagi appeared to be the eldest, but age was hard to guess because of the life style they had been forced to live.

Beverly asked Lagi about the marks on her hands. Lagi replied they were brands to keep the lower class from infiltrating into the higher-class structure. It was also used to mark certain peoples as waste people. It had begun as a way of singling out those belonging to a certain ruling family that had been dethroned. The marks were to serve as a reminder that the dethroned could never rule again-they were to live their lives as the lower classes lived, to be outcasts among their people.  As Beverly listened, she understood more and more Deanna’s sentiments about the planet. She looked over to where Deanna and the child sat, wondering how she was doing with Solace. She was startled by what she saw; both Solace and Deanna were crying. She watched as Deanna moved to wrap the child in her arms, holding her close.

Rankeer also noticed the changes and began to get to his feet Beverly pulled him back down. “It’s alright, she knows what she’s doing. Let’s wait here and give them a little time to work it out.”

Lagi decided it was time for a distraction, and motioned for Rimanai, the red haired young man. He came with another young man each carrying a musical instrument. Rimanai held an instrument that resembled a violin in both structure and the way it was held. The neck was longer and the body deeper than the violins Beverly was accustomed to seeing. The sound it produced was beautiful, a full textured, warm sweet sound. His companion held a flute like instrument with the range of a clarinet and a flute, but the tone was lighter than either. The music the two produced when played in harmony was the most perfect Beverly thought she had ever heard. The two young men were proficient musicians, even though Beverly had never heard those particular pieces of music, she couldn’t imagine them being performed any better.

She looked over to check on the progress Deanna was making with the child and saw her standing carrying Solace to them. The child was sleeping. Rankeer quickly went to her. Beverly followed.

“She’ll probably sleep late tomorrow Rankeer. We’ll let Beverly check her when she wakes, then we’ll talk.” She patted the teenager on the shoulder,  “Don’t worry, try to sleep, okay?” He nodded as he left with the child in his arms.

The two women went to join Lagi at the fire and listen to the music. After Deanna sat down, Beverly, without looking at her asked, “She’ll sleep tonight, but how about you? That looked pretty intense for all the older she is.” Deanna just shook her head.

The music continued for a while longer, then Lagi called an end to the evening by announcing there was little time to morning and their guests needed rest. When all the good nights were said the two were left sitting alone by the dying fire.

“Would you sleep better if we talked about the child now, or would you prefer we wait until morning?”

Deanna had not said a word since Solace had been put to bed, now in answer to Beverly’s question she again only shook her head. After several long moments of silence she spoke. “Beverly you will sleep better if we talk in the morning. Goodnight.” She walked over to the hammocks crawled into the closest one and laid looking at the starry night sky.

The doctor watched as her friend slid into the hammock, knowing that Deanna would talk when she was able to manage her own balance and find a place to put the burden within herself. She sighed as she got to her feet, “Goodnight Deanna, if you want company, I’m here.” Beverly stood beside her own hammock wondering why they were so narrow and exactly how she could get in and stay in while sleeping.  After two false starts she finally managed to crawl into it, not managing as gracefully as Deanna had, but holding on until the swinging stopped, she was content enough not to have been tossed out of it either. Sometime later she had sniffling, she knew it was the empath attempting to work through the evening’s events. She lay listening for awhile, then slid a long graceful leg out of the hammock feeling for the ground that she knew was there somewhere beneath her; touching the solid earth she slid over the hammocks side.

Deanna jumped at the touch of Beverly’s hand on her arm. “Okay, I was willing to wait until morning, but I think we should talk now. Come on, the fires not completely out, I’ll throw something else on it.”

They sat beside each other in front of the low burning fire. “This evening we were brought to these peoples homes-the only place they feel safe while they shared with us all that they have and their music, it’s hard to believe that there also exits such an element of iniquity here. It is certainly a planet of contrasts.” She sat quietly staring into the fire. Beverly waited, just when she thought she would have to prod the counselor into speaking, Deanna began, “That beautiful small child had seen both parents taken by Gringbald’s men. The father was killed outright. The mother was taken roughly away from her. The picture she carries in her mind of the mother being literally dragged away screaming is in itself quite traumatic. Apparently because Solace is so young she was seen as inconsequential, seen but ignored. If anything was done to her then, she has no memory of it. She is dealing with the event as most children do, she feels frightened by it, and I get the sense of guilt from it, maybe because she witnessed it but couldn’t stop it. The details in her memory are very crisp, and that is unsettling. A child that young would have such clarity in her memory is very unusual.”

“Did you see the details in your mind too when you were with her?” Deanna nodded. Beverly continued, “Rankeer said both parents were killed. How do they know about the mother?”

Deanna sat quietly before starting to speak; “The child’s memory is that they had to go pick her mother up at a large hospital in Gendla. It appears the mother was dead then, although her memory isn’t clear on that. She was dead when they got her home. Unfortunately the child had seen the body before it was cremated. Beverly, without having talked to Rankeer yet, my impression is that the mother was sent to the medical research building. The same one we had been to.”  Deanna sat staring at the fire, feeling helpless to do much of anything to alleviate the suffering and injustices she had found here. “Beverly, would you look Solace over -a good physical examination to make sure there’s no problems with her physical health that we need to be aware of?”

“Of course I will, I don’t have the equipment here that would permit anything thorough, but I’ll do what I can. Deanna, try to sleep, you’ve done all that you can for now. Tomorrow I’ll do the physical exam. We meet with Will and Data later, it’s going to be a long day, if you expect to accomplish everything, you’ll need some rest.”

“You’re right. I wish Will were here now. At least having him here, I wouldn’t have to wonder where he is or if he’s okay.” She walked back to her hammock, carefully sliding in under the netting, feeling the fatigue so close and yet not being able to totally give in to its demand. “Good night Beverly, you are a good friend.” She watched as Beverly stood silently contemplating the fire before getting into her own bed.

“Goodnight, Deanna.” They both lay awake for sometime looking at the night sky and listening to the waterfalls in the distance. Morning was a breath away before either fell asleep. Deanna lay watching the dawn approach listening to the morning birds begin their early search for food. She became aware of someone else’s presence. She turned slightly to see Lagi coming toward them. She went first to the fireplace to resettle the wood and rekindle the dying fire. She started toward Beverly’s hammock, then turned as if aware of Deanna attention.

“Lady is an early riser? Or have you slept at all?” She now stood at the side of Deanna’s hammock.”

“I did sleep a little. It was not the accommodations, Lagi we are most grateful for all you have provided. including the wonderful music last night.” Deanna paused before asking, “Lagi, with all that has happened, all that you and your people have experienced- how is it that you are so trusting of us. We are strangers you have never met, from places you have never heard of before; why trust us?”

The woman smiled, she searched Deanna’s face -then answered. “Lady anyone who wants to know another’s heart can do so by first observing then learning their mind.”

“You are very wise. It is human to not always know our own mind or heart.” Deanna slipped out of the hammock to stand before Lagi.

The older woman looked into Deanna’s eyes, the with confidence and assurance said, “Lady, you know more than most, more than you admit to your own heart.” She turned go, then looked back at Deanna; “I’ll be back with the hot food and drink. You will need nourishment before this day ends.”

“That was an ominous remark.” Deanna spun to see Beverly trying to get out of the hammock. “I’ve come to learn, I’m not the outdoors type. I’m not too proud to admit that I’m much better suited to space travel than camping. How did you….” Before she could finish the question the hammock spun completely over depositing Beverly and the mosquito netting very soundly on the ground.

“Are you okay?” Deanna tried not to laugh but was unable to keep the amusement out of her voice. She reached down to give Beverly a hand in getting to her feet

“How do you get in and out of these?” Beverly asked as she viciously twisted the material until it was a tightly wound rope.

“I didn’t really think about it. Pretend you are getting in and out of a canoe.”

Beverly looked at her in disbelief. “Well that’s something useful. How many canoes have you been in lately? And what in the world does that have to do with the hammock?”

Deanna was still grinning from ear to ear. “Years ago as a young girl we would go out on the lake in a small boat. It was always tricky getting in and out. You had to not over think it and just do it. It was the only comparison I could come up with.”

Lagi returned with Rankeer, each carried trays of food and pots of beverages. “While you freshen up, Rankeer and I will prepare a little something for you. Take your time, Lochater is best when heated for a while.”

Troi and Crusher gathered a few necessary items and went toward the area they had visited last evening. “I don’t know what’s happening here. You’re right though, these people are different in many ways. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Perhaps we can find some answers together.”

Beverly looked sharply at her, “How did you know?”

“Know what?” At the look from the doctor, Deanna realized that she hadn’t said anything. “I was sure you just asked me if I noticed that these people were different and asked what was going on with them.”

“You read my thoughts. I wasn’t directing them toward you. Just pondering the events and the direction things are taking.” Beverly looked at Deanna, “You didn’t realize the difference, between hearing me ask and hearing my thoughts?”

Deanna shook her head, “Maybe because we’re close- I just picked up on your thoughts. What is responsible for this? Can you tell a difference in what you perceive?”

“Are you asking if I can sense emotions or thoughts? Then the answer is no. Can I see a difference in you or your ability? Yes in your abilities, you astound me. It will take time to get used to that.” Beverly had her tricorder out, “Let’s do a quick check to see if anything new has shown up.” She ran the diagnostic tool over the empath then began to read the results. “There is a different rhythm to your Beta waves. Your brain’s electrical impulses seem a bit accelerated. That in itself is not conclusive to anything, however, your psilosynine level is greatly elevated.” She enclosed the tool and hid it away among the items in her travel bag.

They completed the rest of the morning ablutions and were returning to the others. Deanna stopped, turning spoke quietly to Beverly, “I’m concerned about Solace, I’ll feel better once you have examined her,” she paused then added, “I hope.”

“You want to know if there’s a physical reason for the inability to communicate? There’s more, what else Deanna?”

“I’m not sure. There is something wrong, I get a sense of it being terribly wrong, but I can’t pin point it. I’m hoping you can.”

“Have you sensed anything new with Will? Like where and when we’ll meet with them?”

“I think they’re close, I’m sure I felt his presence. I don’t know any of the particulars. That seems to be my role in this doesn’t it? I know enough to get everyone involved, but where we end up is anyone’s guess.”

The women were greeted with an aroma of hot food and Lagi, Rankeer and Solace.  A long wooden table had been brought over and on it were several different steaming bowls of hot fruit, a basket of bread as well as beverages. Together it generated enough warmth that the slight morning chill was easily forgotten.

Deanna walked to immediately to Solace, she thought/sent <How are you this morning?>

The little girl answered by climbing into her arms and hugging her. The two of them sat quietly apart from the others for several minutes before rejoining them at the table. Deanna nodded to Beverly, letting her know that she tried to prepare the child for the doctor’s exam. Solace sat very close beside Deanna for the entire meal. Lagi sat across from them beside Beverly answering questions about the young people living within Fallscity. They discussed the origins and preparations of each dish. The tea was brewed from several of the plants growing near the springs. They discussed the springs and the geophysics at work.

When the meal had ended and everything was cleaned up, Deanna went back to Solace and motioned Beverly to join them. When the child seemed to accept Beverly, Deanna walked a short distance away to talk with Rankeer and Lagi. She told them of the communication the night before and the memories the child carries. She then asked each for their own memory of the same event -trying to piece a picture together of the actual incident and the effect it had on the child. Beverly finished her exam bringing Solace along with her to rejoin the others.

Solace came to stand in front of Deanna looking up at her. The empath kneeled next to her so the two were closer to eye level. The child motioned to Rankeer to sit with them. Deanna learned Solace wanted to take her and Beverly to see something. She would give them no hint as to what is was, she wanted it to be a surprise.  Rankeer laughed, he knew what it was she wanted to show them. They agreed they would go, but wanted to talk first. Lagi asked Solace to go pick more of the plants for tea. The little girl happily agreed.

Beverly began, “Deanna, there is a physical reason for Solace not speaking, but I think the answer is both physical as well as an emotional problem. It appears her voice box ha been damaged. It’s possible it could have been a childhood accident.”

“But you don’t believe it was.” Deanna didn’t want to believe anyone would purposely harm a young child.

“It may have happened during the kidnapping of the mother, you are in a better position to find the answers to that one. It can be repaired. The equipment in sickbay would be all I need. The second problem; she also has some hearing loss, the ears and hearing apparatus is all in order, I need by equipment for any further answers.” Beverly held out her hands as though this was to be her offering.

Rankeer looked at Lagi for direction. She responded, “When it’s possible to take Solace to your ship, we would be pleased if you could help her. For now I guess we carry on as we have been doing.”


Solace came scurrying back with her hands filled with green plants. She signaled to Rankeer to come with her.

Beverly looked at Deanna, “What’s going on?”

“There’s something she’d like us to see. She’s been asking Rankeer to take us.” The empath marveled at the communication the two had been able to work out.

Rankeer grinned as he asked the women, “Would you like to see the lightfoot that inhabit this area? They are some of Solace special friends.”

“Certainly, but what are lightfoot?” The two Starfleet followed easily interested in the child and her world.

Rankeer led the small group down past the hot springs and through a lightly wooded area. Here he slowed and held his finger to his lips. Solace, who had been walking with Deanna, moved to the front of the group slowly walking further into the trees she held the green plants in front of her. A few minutes had passed; they heard some light rustling in the vegetation around them. Three small creatures came hopping over to Solace.

Beverly was delighted; the animals resemble the kangaroos she once saw in an old earth vid. The lightfoot were gently nibbling at the plants Solace held. The child’s face beamed as the animals ate the offered greens. Once the small hands were empty, Solace went to Deanna and Beverly taking each by the hand and leading them to where the animals stood grazing at the ground looking for fallen tidbits. The child took plants out of her pockets placing them in the hands of each of the women; she then held their hands out to the animals. The lightfoot ventured forward sniffed the newcomers, then gingerly nibbled the greens that were held out to them. They were gently inquisitive animals.

Deanna slowly reached out and scratched one behind its pointed ear, the animal in response nuzzled deeper into her hand. She noticed a small head near its belly. “Beverly, look is that it’s baby?” Deanna was delighted with the friendly nature of the animal that would carry it’s young out like that. Solace reached over to rub the one’s nose, she looked up at Deanna with eyes dancing, loving every second of the animal’s presence and sharing it with the others. At the moment of looking into the child’s eyes, Deanna felt her chest constrict She knew it would be hard to leave this child here on this planet - a planet with such an uncertain future, to move on to the comfort and ease of her own life back on the Enterprise.

“It is time we moved on. We must go back now.” Lagi’s presence was all but forgotten. The voice of reality, taking them back to the cares and requirements of the day.

The animals too, seemed to sense that goodbye was at hand. They moved off into woods. Solace stayed to watch them disappear. Her countenance seemed a bit crest fallen, Deanna held out her hand, the girl seemed unsure as to what response was expected, Deanna captured the small hand gently holding it. She noticed how fragile the little hand felt in hers. She remembered how light Solace was when she held her, there was very little to the child. Solace looked up at her, and the empath smiled down, playfully squeezing the hand she held, a big smile and a little pressure rewarded her.

When they reached their supplies Rimanai was waiting to speak with Lagi, she repeated the message - Lepton had sent word, they would meet with the women on the other side of the river. Rankeer knew of the place and would escort them.

Beverly and Deanna immediately began to gather their things together. Everyone left them to prepare for their departure, everyone, except Solace. The small child stood quietly off to the side with her head down looking dejected. Deanna watched her for a few moments then went to the child holding her arms out. Solace needed no further encouragement, she went to the counselor and held on in the tightest hug she could muster.

“It’s okay, everything will work out. When we’ve done what we came here to do, Dr. Beverly and I will come back to see you. We’d like to take you to see where it is we live. Would you like that?” Even though Deanna verbalized this communication she also thought/sent it. Solace nodded, pulling Deanna neck down to look closer into her face. She looked so vulnerable as she held out her small fist. Deanna sat down on the ground with her; she took the small fist in her hand. The fingers slowly opened, exposing a little carved wooden figure of a lightfoot. Solace turned her hand over that of the counselor’s, pressing the carved animal into her palm. Deanna examined the carving, the workmanship was expertly detailed and the texture smooth, either by the craftsman or the child’s careful constant handling.

<This is beautiful Solace, who made this for you?> She thought/sent

“Rankeer”, the girl mouthed. Deanna tried to hand the figure back, Solace moved away shaking her head no.

Deanna understood the child’s thoughts, <Okay, I’ll keep this for you until I see you again…and I will see you again.> She thought/sent and verbalized for the child. She gathered her up into her arms and warmly embraced her.

Solace stayed with them as they prepared to take leave of the comfort and hospitality of their new friends. When they made their way back into the central area of Fallscity, Lagi and Rankeer met them; here they said their good-byes, trading hugs and well wishes. Solace hugged both women once again, her tears threatening to spill over. She ran to stand behind Lagi, who nodded signaling the time to leave was at hand.

Rankeer and Rimanai led the way back into the cavern behind the falls, assisting them over the slippery stone pathway. When they were out on the other side of the falls, Rimanai wished them well and returned to Fallscity. The three mad their way down the side of the mountain toward the river. They walked in silence for some distance; each hiker had his or her mind on the past days events. They came upon a tree that had fallen along the river's bank, Rankeer showed them that is where they would be crossing. The river at this point was very narrow and would take only a few minutes. It was decided this would be a good time to rest.

Deanna sat on top of the fallen tree, closed her eyes and again searched for the mind that she knew so well. Will was close, but things had not gone as originally planned; they had become involved in a cat and mouse game with their former captors. Will still expected to meet with them at the designated spot that evening.

Next she tried for Abeathdor, for the first time in several days she was able to get a real sense of her. She communicated that it was Will that was following her and that soon she would join Will in gaining Abeathdor’s release. She tried to convey the confidence she had in Will and the security she felt in him, continually reinforcing positive thoughts in the captive women’s mind.

While Deanna was doing this Beverly and Rankeer talked. They discussed Lagi, Solace and the events that seemed to have tied all of them so tightly together. When Deanna interrupted them with her shout, “Rankeer! We must go back to Fallscity! There is something happening. I believe it is under some kind of attack. Come on, is there a shorter way in?”

Rankeer looked at her, “I will go, you must go meet the others and free Abeathdor. If you were to get caught here then it would all have been for nothing. I cannot take you back. We have taken precautions against such a thing, We will be okay.” He showed them the easiest way to cross the river and described the paths to take to the meeting site. “I hope we meet again. I would like to learn more of your worlds and your ways.” He embraced each one, then without another word or look, he moved swiftly up the mountain. They watched as he became indistinguishable from the surrounding trees and bushes. Then they began their way in the opposite direction. This time, for the first time since they began the mission, the two were without any assistance.

The water felt icy on their bare feet as they wadded carefully into the river. The fashion of gathering the skirt and tucking it into the belt was once again employed. Beverly tried to lighten the mood by joking about what the rest of the crew might say if they could see them now. Both were unable to continue that jovial atmosphere when their hearts were heavy with concern over the people who had shared their lives and opened their hearts to them.

They climbed out on to the riverbank, near the path Rankeer had pointed out to them. Once again they were traveling, the path was narrow but easily followed, this one required little climbing. It was late afternoon when they came upon the designated meeting location. It was nothing more than a clearing in the trees with a stone fire place, a low table and a couple of rolled up hammocks.

“I guess we should stay here to wait for Will and Data. Maybe we could scout around a little, we have sometime before nightfall.” Beverly didn’t want to spend a lot of time doing nothing when it seemed the world around them was falling apart. They agreed to leave a sign that Will would recognize. It would have to be vague enough that anyone would find no reason to question it. They left nothing behind, carrying all their meager belongings with them.

They decided to take the path that climbed the small ridge above them, to get a perspective of the area surrounding them. At the top of the ridge they heard a sound that seemed to come from many animals. They continued to move through the trees until they entered into a region cleared of brush and trees. On the side of the ridge they could see a large fenced area; enclosed within the fences were hundreds of lightfoot. Some of the animals appeared ill or injured, whether it was from the overcrowded conditions or lack of food and water it was impossible to know.

“What in the world is this?” Deanna looked at the doctor. “Why would anyone herd animals into this type of place? There’s a sign down there, I think we should get a little closer look to learn more about this.” She moaned and put a hand to her temples.

“Deanna, what is it? Are you in pain?” Beverly had a hand on the empath’s elbow.

“The animals are over-loading my senses. There are so many of them, some are close to dying, others are separated from their young. Let’s quickly find out what’s on the sign. I don’t have a good feeling about this.”

They crouched low to the ground to cover about twenty-five yards. The meaning of the sign was clear enough to Deanna, to have made her stomach feel as though she had swallowed stone. The sign consisted of a picture; it was of the medical research building in Gendla. Beverly looked at Deanna, and knew by her face it was not good.

The counselor tried to explain, “These animals are here for laboratory testing. They’re here to be killed. Let’s get out of here!” They started back the way they came. Once they reached the crest of the ridge they could see an industrial area in the distance. Deanna wondered if that was where Abeathdor was being taken. She closed her mind to everything. Now all she wanted was to get back and meet Will. It was then, that Deanna again realized just how much she came to depend on Will Riker to help anchor when she became caught up in the emotional turmoil of a crisis situation. He could help her find a way of detaching herself from the emotional onslaught and find her way home to reason and reality. She longed now for his calm assurance and the security of his presence.

When they returned to the assigned meeting locale, there was no sign of Will or Data. It was just as they had left it. “Let’s eat, Lagi packed us a meal. I’ll get the fire started if you unpack the food.” Beverly started moving around, she was wasting no time, her movements were jerky and forced. Deanna realized that Beverly was having a hard time adjusting to all the new rules this game had taken on. The empath slowly let her barriers down and opened her mind to sense what her friend was feeling. The two of them had always been able to talk freely about almost anything. She decided after the meal was over they would both benefit from talking about the day’s events. She continued getting the food out and setting the heating tray as she had seen Will do it a day ago. Once the food had been set to heat and the preparations had been completed, she sat at the table and motioned Beverly to join her.

“We should have brought water along from the river, I can go down and fill our thermos.”  Deanna began to rout around for the thermos.

“No, I wouldn’t advise it. It has some waste and odd chemicals in it. We were safe enough to walk a short distance in it, but I wouldn’t drink or bathe in it. Didn’t Lagi pack something to drink?”

Deanna shuffled some contents around in Lagi’s bag before she found the earthenware jug. “Yes I believe she did. What is this stuff?” She uncorked the jug and sniffed the contents.

Beverly took the jug and sniffed, then looked at Deanna with a gleam in her eye. “I believe this is the fermented fruit drink I saw some of the older men drink in front of the fire last night. This should help us relax a little.”  She poured a generous amount into the travel mugs they had been carrying.

Each finished the mug before the hot food was ready. Then a second mug was poured and drank with the meal. The day’s events were beginning to weigh less and less heavily upon them. They pulled the sleeping bags out before the fire and settled in, each with another mug of Lagi’s brew. Neither wanted to worry with the hammocks on this night.

Deanna began asking Beverly what she knew about the use of animals and people in the quest for medical understanding.. “I know that it was the only way research could be conducted for many of the early years on Earth. With out the use of living organism, much of what we know now couldn’t have been learned then. As times progressed and knowledge more abundant the need for that type of research diminished. What we have heard and seen about life on this planet is not typical of the ethics of civilizations. I’m not saying it never happened, but when it came to light, it was stopped-laws were put into action to prevent it.”

They sat in silence watching the fire, sipping their drinks. Beverly asked, “Deanna, how are you and Will going to handle your relationship when we get back on the Enterprise?”

“Beverly, what are you talking about?”

“Don’t try that maneuver on me! I know when you don’t want to answer a question. It’s even clear to me that something has happened to you two. I see your face when you communicate with him. There is more her than just a friendship. Be honest with yourself.”

Deanna frowned. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever have what we once had with anyone else. I use Will as a measuring stick, so far no one measures up to his high points…or down to his low point!” Deanna giggled. “And he does have those too!”

“Do you think that’s why neither of you are seeing anyone seriously now?”

“Well, besides his reputation as a ladies man…how fickle can he be with women? Other than that, what if it didn’t work out? How could we continue to serve together on the same ship?”

“You know I think that’s an excuse. Pardon me for saying so but you deal with each other now and you are emotionally involved, whether you admit it or snot!” Beverly’s drink was beginning to effect her speech, when she tried again and stopped she gave up in giggling.

 Deanna rolled over onto her side to get a better look at the ship’s doctor when she felt something dig into her side. She reached down to try to find the object. It wasn’t in the sleeping bag. She had trouble trying to work the problem out. When she put her hand into her skirt pocket, her fingers touched something smooth. She brought her hand out to look at the object. Deanna caught her breath; it was the carved wooden figurine that Solace had given her. The earlier fear she had felt for the child and the rest of the small community came exploding back.

Beverly watched as she held the figure turning it over in her hands. It was taking Beverly more and more time to put her thoughts together. She finally managed,  “Dee, that little girl has really touched you, hasn’t she? I’ve never seen you with young children like you are with Solace.”

She reminds me of Ian a little. Ian and I could communicate like that. The dark hair, the trusting way she looks at me. You never had the opportunity to meet Ian. He wasn’t with us long.” The empath became silent.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. When I heard of the experience, I thought not everyone could have dealt with it as you had. I still think that. Here let’s finish this.” Beverly topped each mug with the remaining liquid form the jug. For a while they sat each in her own thoughts. The effects of the drink becoming more and more evident They were no longer feeling to small and insignificant it change the stream of events, now the drink had given them a new stature or at least it had in their own perception.

Deanna was still holding the little wooden lightfoot, running her fingers over the smooth texture, when she looked at Beverly, “Let’s do something. Let’s make a difference for Solace.”

The doctor looked at her, then looked at the wooden animal she held in her hands. “You are not thinking of …Deanna ! Okay let’s do it!” She giggled as she got to her feet, then held her hands out to try and balance herself. “Should we take a phasered - we could phasered the gate!”

“No let’s do it the way the people here would.. torture someone else into it!” Deanna laughed at her own comment. “We can use Will’s k-knife.” She held up the all-purpose knife Will had given her days ago to cut a hole in the tarp for him.

“You want to torture someone with Will’s k-knife?” Beverly howled with laughter.

“No use it to cut the fence. The fence wasn’t too security minded. We could easily do it.”

The two started back up the ridge. It was now dark as they wove their way up. At several steeper areas they found it much easier to crawl than to maintain their balance and continue up. When they reached the top, they looked over the area they had intended to attack. The wire fence was a barrier only to a docile friendly animal.

“Wow, now that’s why these guys wouldn’t make good pets. What an odor!” Beverly held one hand over her nose. “I am so tired…I think it’s the drink. We’re used to synthehol…hey why didn’t we bring Guinan along?” She started to giggle again. “You know, this is more fun than I thought it would be. Where should we start counselor?”

Deanna pointed to the left of them, to a large gate that swung on hinges. “Let’s see if the gate is seaco…sequr…locked up.” The counselor and the doctor helped each other meander over to the gate. They found it barred. It took them another twenty-five minutes to find a way of forcing it open.

“Dee, I have to sit down for a minute. Does it feel like the ground is moving?” Beverly was unsteadily holding on to the fence to keep her balance. She watched as the empath struggled trying to pull the gate open by herself. A couple of lightfoot hopped to the fence were Deanna stood, she put her hand through the fence to scratch their ears. The animals began nuzzling her hand searching for food.

“Come on Bev, just a little more, than we’re done. Come on help me open this. These animals haven’t been fed. They need out. Come on, then we’re done tonight.”

Together they pulled the huge gate until it began to swing out toward them. Then, it was easy, once the motion began the weight of the gate continued the swing until it hit the outside of the fence. When it hit the fence so did the women. It hit hard enough to knock the wind out each of them. Now they found themselves sitting on the ground with the fence at their back and the gate against their chest. It took several minutes before either spoke.

“Are you okay Deanna?” Beverly asked without moving anything except her mouth.

“I think so, how did that happen?” Deanna was trying t look around moving only her eyes.

“Better yet, now what? Did the animals escape?” Now both were slowly getting their bearings back.

“Oh no, no! Beverly, I was afraid of this. Just look!” The lightfoot just stood there. Some were edging nearer to the opening, only a few hopped out, they took off over the ridge.

“Come on, we have to go in and move them out. Let’s go this way.” Deanna scooted, lowering her head; she went backward under the lowest wire strand of the fence, into the pen. Once she cleared the fence she pulled herself up on the inside. Beverly was having trouble positioning herself to follow. Deanna reached under to hold Beverly’s head down and tried to pull her under the wire by dragging her into the pen. Unfortunately when a large number of animals are restricted to a small area over a long period of time, excrement becomes a powerful variable to be reckoned with. Beverly had just been drug through that variable and Deanna stood ankle deep in it.

The two looked down then at one another and began laughing. Finally after several moments they stopped to look around at the animals. “Come on, let’s finish this, then we’ll need to clean up. You stink really bad.” Deanna began laughing again, tears were running down her face. She had no idea if they were due to the odor or the laughter. Both went to the rear of the pen, one from each side they began making noise and waving their arms until the animals began to move toward the open gate.

It took considerable effort to move all the lightfoot out. When they finally accomplished the task both women were totally exhausted and totally filthy. They closed the gate and barred it once again. Deanna collapsed on the ground. I’m sooo tired I don’t think I can get back to our stuff.”

“Me too, let’s rest a little while than we can go back.” Despite the evening chill both women were asleep within a short time.

Back at the meeting co-ordinates Will and Data found a fire going, an empty jug and mugs lying beside the arranged empty sleeping bags. There was no sign of the doctor or the counselor. Their travel bags were in place with the essentials they had each brought with them. Will and Data began looking for any clues that would explain their absence. Will was concerned that there were only two mugs, and sleeping bags. Where was their guide?

Data picked up the jug to study it, then he sniffed the opening and turned the jug up side down. He caught the last remaining drops on his finger and tasted it. “Commander, the contents of this container had been a fermented beverage with an extremely high alcohol content. The fact that the jug is now empty, and assuming it had been full, it is reasonable to conclude that the counselor and doctor may not have been acting with a clear head.”

“Data are you suggesting that Deanna and Beverly were intoxicated?” Will couldn’t keep the amusement out of his voice. He had seen Deanna once before in such a state, it was a picture he enjoyed repainting for her on occasion. But Beverly Crusher… and Deanna.

“Remember sir, they are accustomed to synthenol, and have had little experience with alcohol or the effects of it. Much less volume of the drink would be needed for either of them to become inebriated.”

“Where would they have gone it that state? It appears they were preparing for bed. Let’s look for paths or signs of recent movement through the woods.” Riker was not enjoying the feeling that started in the pit of this stomach. They were so close to catching up to Abeathdor and lost another opportunity to turn things around.

Deanna lay under the cover of some of the trees bordering the now empty pen. The last thing she remembered was that it had gotten very dark, so why were her eyes aching? She tried opening them again, it was as though they were acting on their own. They certainly were not cooperating with her desires. Concentrating she heard movement and then a groan. Again the feeling of pain around her eyes. This time she managed to open them very slowly. There was a bright light, so bright it blinded her. She had to close her eyes against it. She felt rough hands hauling her to her feet. Her stomach felt like it had just fallen back to the ground without the rest of her. She heard voices.

“Can you manage that one. I’ll get this little beauty. Well at least we’ll have the culprits to show for tonight’s work. That’ll help get us off a little. Zylons gonna wanna meet you missy.” Deanna felt his hot breath in her face, then she realized she was the missy he was talking to. Zylon, from somewhere in her mind she sensed fear, she couldn’t think it through, but she thought it was her own.

Chapter 13

The next time consciousness found her Deanna was sprawled on her back starring at the night sky, enduring the roughest ride she thought possible. The ground seemed to be inches from her body; she felt every stone and twig in the transport’s path. She tried to pull herself up enough to see what this ride was about.

“Beverly?” She whispered, unsure of her surroundings.

“I’m here, I think. How are you?” The doctor’s voice sounded hoarse.

“I …Okay. Do you know where we are?” Deanna was leaning back on her elbows, but the jolting her neck was taking from all the bouncing convinced her to force the effort to move into a sitting position.

“We are headed toward a town, I think it’s the one we saw from the ridge. The two goons that have us refer to it as just ‘town’.” The doctor paused, then in a more urgent whisper she continued, “Deanna, they took our communicators. Apparently they searched us while we were asleep. I guess we can be relieved to have missed that.” Through the darkness Deanna could see her friend running her hands down over herself -for assurance that nothing was out of place.

The empath had to smile to herself, even though she felt the same compulsion and had to force herself not to give into it. “Beverly, were you able to hear anything else.” She braced herself waiting to her of their destiny with their captors.

“What I was able to hear from them, I’m not sure I understand. We are to be on ‘exhibit’ for one day. If no owner claims us we go to Gendla where Zylon will decide our fate. But not to worry, our friends here are thinking of putting in a bid for us.  And until you see them, you can’t full appreciate the circumstances that might present.”

Deanna could almost her the gag in Beverly’s voice. “This is not good.” She said as much to herself as to the doctor. “Will and Data must find us first. If we go to Zylon…that is not something I care to think about.”

“You’ll be recognized.” Beverly could see her friend nod. “Have any ideas? We can’t just jump out we’re too far above ground. Looks like it is used to move troops or equipment.” Deanna heard sniffing, the “What is that smell?”

Deanna looked around, picked up the hem of her skirt, sniffed and coughed violently. “Beverly, I think it’s us. It must be from the pen.” Bits and pieces of the night’s escapade were returning, “Did we get them all out of the pen? The lightfoot are they all out?”

“I believe we were the last out. I remember pushing the gate closed. Why didn’t we go back to the camp?” Beverly was still missing some of the details, hoping between the two of them; they could fill in their whole night’s work. She moved to get closer to Deanna so they could continue to talk more privately without the two men noticing. As she slid over she got a look at the other face. Deanna was concentrating, Beverly knew it was Will she was trying to communicate with. She smiled, it’s amazing what you can learn about people by watching their reactions- and knowing a little of their past.

Deanna reached out with her mind, searching again for the one mind that complimented her own so completely. As she found what she was searching for, she smiled from the warmth of the emotions she sensed from that one. She thought/sent <Will, we are headed for town. We’re now a transport of some kind. You must find us in one day. Beverly says we are to be put on exhibit until our owners or husbands claim us. Don’t take chances, Will, they have our communicators. I don’t think they know what or how they are used. Will…I’m sorry, this is my fault.> She didn’t tell him that right now she’d give anything to feel his physical presence: his arms around her, to see the way his blue eyes would crinkle when he was amused. And she hoped they would find much to be amused about when this was over.

Lepton led the way up the trail toward the top of the ridge. Will and Data followed, they were moving quickly hoping to reach the two women soon. Lepton stopped abruptly put his hand out to stop the other two from moving. Then, from out of the trees came a rustling and the sound of much movement. The three moved off the trial and hid behind a couple of evergreens. Many animals came running/hopping down the side of the ridge, not in a panic but as though they had a previous destination and were late. Several had stopped short of Will, sniffing and moving around him, not sure of the human’s intentions, nor really afraid of him. Will took out some of the meal he had stuffed into a pocket earlier. He held it out to the animal. It came to the hand, sniffed then nuzzled it to get to all the food. Riker was amazed at the lack of fear. Lepton also had feed in his hand; he talked to the creature eating from his hand, then reached with the other to scratch the head.

“They are lightfoot, one of the gentlest animals on the planet. Gringbald and Zylon experiment on them. In fact the holding pen is up a little way further from here, just over the top of this ridge. Someone must have left them out. They travel small groups, never like this. There must be a centrite of them right here alone.” Lepton was looking at the top of the ridge where still more were perched, standing erect with their ears attentively listening.

Will exchanged a look with Data, “Brother, that would be about one hundred an fifty. Do you suspect that is were ..” Data paused the continued, “ our wives are?”

“It’s a possibility…” Will broke off the statement and turned away from the other two. He stood very still. Data walked over to stand in front of him.

“Brother, are you communicating now with Deanna?” Data watched intently, as though by each facial move he could translate the conversation. He had become profoundly interested in this since Troi was first able to sense Abeathdor. Finally after what seemed long time, Will turned to see both Lepton and Data studying him.

“We have to get to the town, Deanna and Beverly have been caught. They’re to go on some sort of exhibitions. Lepton we need to get there now.”

Lepton nodded, he was familiar with the custom. “They will be on exhibit for one day, if no owners claim them, they are to be turned over to the magistrate. He decides their future. The magistrate in this area would be Zylon, Gringbald’s secretary.”

“We need to go now!” Will turned and was running back down to the horses, they had stolen from Zylon’s men and had been traveling on. The other two were on his heels, as were about twenty-five lightfoot.

“Brother, do you believe that the two women are responsible for setting the animals free?” Data was compiling the details, Will could imagine what his report to the captain was going to look like.

“Yes, Data I do.” They were already packing the supplies left by the two women on to their horses. Will was not looking forward to racing the horses up hill. Unlike Picard, he had very little experience with the animal. All that he knew, he learned on this planet.

Deanna turned to Beverly Crusher, “It’s okay, they are behind us. They’re on the way.” She felt relief that Will was so close, and more than a little angry at herself. “If we had stayed at that sleeping site, we’d be with Will right now. I don’t know why I insisted on doing this. I’m sorry Beverly.”

The doctor laughed, “The only thing I’m sorry about is the smell and the headache.” She patted Deanna’s arm. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience quite like this away mission has provided. I never saw myself as a dissident or protestor. I’ll bet as a teenager you were a real rebel.”

Deanna smiled in the dark; “Not with my mother- I wasn’t allowed to be…it must be a delayed adolescence!” The vehicle came to a sudden stop. They looked at each other, “No matter what happens try to stay together”, Deanna whispered as the two men appeared through a sliding door from the cab of the vehicle.

“Ah…looks like the little missies are up now. We have a little surprise for you. Come on, can you walk or is it that you want me to carry you? Yea, I believe you enjoyed it.” The taller of the two left no room for mistaking his intentions, even without Deanna’s empathic skills it was too evident. The other man, a head shorter with shaggy black greasy hair that matched his shaggy full beard, stood behind the tall one allowing him to do all the talking.

Both women were quickly on their feet waiting for direction on disembarking the vehicle, much to the disappointment of their wardens. The tallest had his eyes on the doctor, “Here Red, this here be the way down.” He stepped over the side of the vehicle, where the metal steps were encased into the vehicle. It took six steps for him to land on the ground. He stood looking expectantly. The two women stooped, pulled the hem form the back of the skirt, once again tucking it into the belt, then holding on to their heads as they straightened made ready to follow him down. Bother men were once again obviously disappointed.

Beverly said under her breath as she swung a leg over the side, “Depraved perverts.” Deanna agreed as she watched her friend touch the ground. She then mimicked the doctor’s example until; she too landed firmly on the ground.

“My head is killing me.” Deanna moaned to Beverly while their wardens plotted their next attempt at getting a bit friendlier with the women.

“My guess is that it was Lagi’s brew. Alcohol, something we don’t get much a chance to get accustomed to. It will take about twenty-four hours for the affects to wear off. If I had my med kit with me, I think we could have found a way of countering the effects.” The doctor shrugged her shoulders; it was all too plain, that all they had were the clothes on their backs.

They both looked around, trying to understand what the two lightfoot herders were up to. It appeared they were on a dark street with few building and one large platform. On the platform were benches with double railings in front and behind the benches. They were now being ushered to one of the buildings across the street. Deanna tried to get a sense as to their purpose, but it was like trying to read a blank sheet of paper. She could sense nothing but the simplest of thoughts, seemingly they had to think out every step of each function. It became very tedious trying to sift through all the mundane litter hoping to glimpse intelligence at work.

The building they now approached was a rustic, one floor wooden frame, with no windows that were discernable from their advantage point. The tall man walked up to the door and kicked once savagely. The door flew open, only to expose a gaping darkness.

“This be your home till mornin, missey,” He latched on to Deanna’s arm to drag her in. Beverly quickly followed, only because she didn’t want either of the two disgusting men to touch her. The door was kicked shut and locked behind them.

Once the overhead lights were turned on, they looked around. There was a beat up mattress on the floor in the corner, a large wash tub in the center of the room. Both men made for the desk across the room and the chair in front of it. The women watched with fascination as the two went for the one chair. They reached it simultaneously. The ensuing tug of war was merciless, they tried kicking, smacking and biting each other, all the while holding on to the valuable chair. Someone must have relented because the chair flew across the room to land only feet away from Beverly. As pieces splintered off, both men started yelling at each other.

Beverly caught Deanna’s eye, and in a low tone uttered, “I think it’s safe to say we are not in the presence of any genius.”

“That’s an understatement,” Deanna added, “never the less, I think we need to exercise caution that we do not underestimate them. WE need to get out of here somehow!”

Beverly watched the men wrestle on the floor when unexpectantly the door was kicked open again. Which made her wonder about the integrity of the lock. The newcomer was an older man, whose resemblance to the taller of the two wrestlers was striking.

“What are you two doin’?  You have the place all tore up like this! Zylon will have you served up at the banquet for the king. Get this cleaned up. Soo, what’d you pick up here?” It was easy to see where the younger men learned that lecherous look. The sneer on his face as he slowly looked each of the women over was well practiced.

“Do you missies have owner?”

“Pater, that’s why we bought them here. They left all Zylon’s lightfoot out of the holding pen. We found them sleepin out by the woods. No one else was around. So, we brought them here. The tall one walked with the one called Pater to where the women stood. They were so close that both women had it fight the impulse to back away.

“You know, if we could find someone else who let them animals out, we could claim these tow for ourselves. It’s time my boys branch out, have families of their own. These two little missies are pretty enough, a tad to old for you boys, You have to start somewhere, you could always add others, but these two would be no shame for you. Maybe I’ll just keep ‘em for myself.”

The taller son walked over to Deanna, he stood looking her over from head to foot, he circled around her to continue the scrutiny, he then walked to Beverly to do the same to her. His brother grabbed Beverly pulling her against him. “No you don’t, I told you before she’d be mine if we kept them.”

“I was just looking, I think I got me a good breeder, right here.” He pulled Deanna up against him, holding her arm bent across her back, she closed her eyes and tried to hold her breath against the foul breath that blew across her nose. There was little she could do - except for what she did. She brought her knee up into his groin. Both landed on the floor.

Beverly went to Deanna, “Are you alright? Good move, but I’m afraid you’re going to pay for it.”

No sooner had the words been out of her mouth than Pater roughly moved her aside. “Get away from her!” He yanked the empath to her feet, “Well now we got a little fighter. My Misrery knows how to pick ‘em.” He held out a hand raising it though to strike her. She stood fast not flinching; he began touching the side of her face, tracing her jaw line form ear to chin. When still she showed no reaction, he acknowledged his defeat by lowering his hand and walking back to the desk.

He perched on the desk to address his two sons, “Boys, I think we’re gonna put the ladies up for exhibit. If they have no owners, then we’ll see what we can do for them. Let them be for now, it will be morning soon. We’ll let them clean up so their owners will know them- if they come for them. I want to see what kinda men show for these two.”  He squinted his eyes to look the women over again, “You do have owners…or is it husbands maybe. Yea I thought maybe it would be …you two don’t look like you would do unless you’d be in the number one spot! Yea, yea, man would marry you if you kept those looks.”
Pater walked to the door turned to signal his sons to follow him. The boys stomped behind their father turned to eye the women again, before slamming the door behind them.

Beverly, after several minutes, went to the door hoping that with all the kicks it had taken the lock wouldn’t hold. Surprisingly it held, she opted of the local custom and tried a hefty kick. It still held.  “I hope Will gets here soon. I’m beginning to think there must have been a lot of inbreeding going on here. And this is as close as I plan on getting to it.”

Deanna shuddered, “Don’t mention that ‘B’ word while we’re here on this planet. Okay? Will has to be close. He would probably wait until daylight….ohhh, Did they say we could clean up? Because I really don’t think we want Will and Data to see or smell us like this. We would never live it down.’

Beverly nodded absently as the counselor was talking. She was inspecting the room, looking everything over. “Let’s try to get comfortable without the mattress. Could we both sit and sleep on the desk? It looks as clean as anything the room has to offer. The mattress is flea ridden. Look, you can see the bugs jumping from here!” She moved the desk up against the wall, crawled on the top with her back against the wall, she patted the place beside her.

Deanna looked once at the mattress and made for the desk. “I hate bugs. I guess we should try to sleep. It may be a long day. You can use my shoulder, as long as you don’t snore.”

“Very funny Counselor.”

Daylight came all too quickly. The door was once again kicked open, admitting the notorious threesome. “NO time to do much cleanin’ up missie. We brought you a bucket of hot water, and a bucket to use…for you know. That’ll have to do. Oh and here’s somethin to dry on.” The tall one called Misrery eyed them appreciatively, “If you asked me real nice, I’d be happy to stay and dry ya myself.”

“Forget it…we’ll struggle through.” Beverly intervened as Misrery went for Deanna again, apparently not having learned any respect yet. He shrugged, deposited his bucket and towels with one more lingering hot look before rounding on Beverly. “That might work for now, but you could end up taking orders from me!” They again made the unison exit.

“What did Pater call him, ‘Misery?” Beverly held the towels checking them over, then handed one to Deanna. They moved as they had never moved before in cleaning up, neither desired to be caught in anything but a fully clothed state by their keepers.

Pater and sons arrived shortly with hot beverage and a biscuit of sorts. The women accepted and disposed of them when unobserved. The biscuits were crumbled up and sprinkled on the mattress, Deanna distinctly heard the doctor call as she sprinkled…”Come and get it” she assumed she was speaking to the fleas. Deanna dumped the drink into the used bucket of water.

 “Well, since you’re ready, come on let’s go. This way missie.” Misrery stood up and held on to Deanna’s arm as he drug her out of the building. She angrily snatched her arm away and glared at him, trying to restrain herself from landing a solid well placed kick that would raise that irritating voice to a new high. They were led down the street to the platform they had seen the night before. Pater moved a head of the group, pointing to where each one was to sit. As the women did so, one of the boys tied their hands tot he rail in front of them.

“Sorry missie, that’s the way it’s done.” Misrery looked anything but apologetic. When he had finished tying Deanna, he ran his hand up to shoulder, when it started to cross her collarbone she decided enough was enough.

“Would you like to the feel of my foot now?” He backed away making sure of the distance between them before he added, “Be careful missie, you don’t know how things could end. You could be mine…or worse.” The leer that followed by his laugh sent chill up her back.

“I’m glad you’re his favorite Deanna. But maybe you should ignore him.” Beverly suggested when they were alone again.

“It throws them off balance, you could almost count the minutes it takes from them to respond. They aren’t used to women questioning or countering their demands.  And he’s a coward, he has no idea of the things he speaks of, he is merely parroting the things he heard.”

The doctor took a closer look at the counselor now that they were in the sunlight. “How are you feeling?”

“Better, not great, but better. I can’t believe I got us into this, I’m sorry Beverly this is my fault.” She slumped over to put her head on her arms.

Beverly softly chuckled, “I know I can’t believe what we got ourselves into.  Can you imagine what our reports will look like. Now imagine the captain’s face at the next debriefing. Don’t make me laugh, my head still hurts. Especially now that the sun is in my eyes.” Both women found it easier to sit slumped over with their heads pillowed on their arms on top of the rail.

They had dosed in that position for hours when the doctor was awakened, “Will! Beverly, Will is here.” Both were straining their eyes and necks as they twisted and turned, trying to catch sight of the rest of their team. Then Beverly found Lepton standing close, watching them. He turned and moved toward the tow men holding the reins of three horses. One of the men moved to speak with Pater, he then moved as though to come toward them. Deanna had now also found him. It was Will. The empath had opened her mind trying to sense his feeling, hoping that they were close to her own feelings of him. She smiled, whether he would admit to them or not, his true feelings were known to her.

Commander Riker was looking over the platform. He wanted to be able to walk around to try to get a good look of it, in case things didn’t go well and they needed to take things into their own hands to get the women released. When he neared the area and could get a good look at his teammates he caught his breath at their appearance. They looked physically as bad as he had ever seen either of them look, they were filthy, with the mixture of sunburn and dirt not flattering to either one of them.

Deanna and Beverly studied Will as he turned back to Pater and explained they had been away fishing, their wives decided to follow them. Women, you know, got lonely. Will winked giving Pater exactly the kind of impression he wanted. Pater laughed slapping Will on the back, and asked which was his wife. Will pointed to Deanna then proceeded to give an unique description of her to Pater, again the slap on the back. Beverly turned to her friend to see her blushing, “I suppose you know what was said? It must have been rotten to get that response from Pater. Remember Will, is playing a part to get us out of here.” The empath nodded, but the look on her face gave Beverly the distinct impression that Will was going to answer for whatever it was he said.  The continued to watch as Pater directed Will and Data into the building the women had earlier spent the night.

“You have your papers then, all you have to do is show them and they are free to go with you.” Pater watched Will closely.

“I didn’t think it necessary to take them fishing with me. You see, I didn’t expect her to follow me and get herself into trouble. She should have had the family crest on her. In fact my brother’s wife should have hers on her also. They look like this.” He held in his hand his communicator. Pater looked at the object, then called his son over.

Yes, both women had them. The boys confiscated them to be sent to Zylon as a peace offering for the loss of the animals. “Well, that being the case, why not fill in a register of ownership documentation-to make everything legal incase the magistrate come to look into the incident.” Pater knew he had lost the women for his sons but he would take charge of those family crests and perhaps get something out of the incident for himself. “Just one of you will be good, since you had proof of your family and all.”

“Okay where do we do that?” Will was a little uncomfortable at the thought of Zylon having the communicators in his possession, but relieved at getting the counselor and doctor out of there.

“Here this needs filled out and your brother can sign as a witness.” He handed the form to Will. Will took the form and looked at it. He couldn’t make sense of the written language.

Data was looking over his shoulder whispering directions;  “Line five requires your name. Line seven that of your wife. Line sixteen you sign your name. And Line seventeen your witness signs.”

Pater was watching the two men laughing, “My youngest can’t read neither, your brother there can help ;you. I’ll go get your ladies.” He left thinking his boys might have had a chance after all.

Data showed Will how to print the names and what Will’s and Deana’s signature should look like.

Pater returned with the women. Will quickly suggested to Data that he follow his example. He moved to see Deanna more clearly as she entered the room. She looked as his smile, then ran to throw herself into his arms. He barely had time to catch her when he heard her in his head, “I believe this is what he would be expecting from your description of me.” She kissed him passionately on the lips, Will pulled her tighter against him and returned the kiss with everything she was putting into it. Her legs wrapped around him to allow her to continue the kiss.

Data turned to Beverly, who was staring with astonishment at the shipmates. She saw Data’s look and said in an undertone, “Don’t even think it Data.” He affectionately put his arm around her waist. “When finally the two broke apart for air, Pater quickly took Will’s arm, before Deanna could capture his attention again.

“Well now, it seems everybody is happy. All I need now is a permanent record of your wife’s identification, for the file. What did you use before on the original documentation: retina scan? Finger/hand likeness? Or is there any skin etchin? If not we can do one now.” Pater looked all too eager.

“We used hand finger likeness before. I never cared for the skin etching.” Will had no intention of subjecting Deanna to anything that could cause any physical harm or demean her.

Pater looked genuinely surprised, “Most men in you position would prefer the skin etchin, then no matter what happens, what belongs to you will always, have your mark.”

“Yes, well why ruin perfection when you own it.” Will clapped Pater on the back, yet all the while keeping Deanna close with the other arm.

Pater opened the desk drawer with a tool he removed from a pocket of his trousers. Out of the drawer he took a wooden chest. The chest once opened the chest revealed a multitude of gadgets. He choose a small glass like square. The lid slid of the square to expose a black like sponge substance. Pater looked over the papers Will had signed, then laid them on the desk. He reached for Deanna’s hand.

“This will take a minute.” He laid her hand on the black substance then on the paper, putting pressure on each finger before liftin the hand from the paper. He looked at the results.

I’ll be right back with a copy you’ll need to carry with you” he snickered “in case your wife comes hunting more.” Pater again exited the front door.

Deanna held the blackened hand up to Will face, very close. Will had to lean his head back away from the offending member. “Any suggestions as to how I can get this off Master?” She arched her eyebrows mocking his own.

“It appears to be an organic dye, Deanna.” The counselor was a bit unnerved by Data’s attempt at humanizing the relationship between group.

Will took her wrist , bringing the hand to his nose. “No, that’s not it.” After smelling the dye. “where is that smell coming from?”

Before the question could be dodged the three keepers entered the building. Misrery seemed to have had fallen through the door. He stayed laying face down, and didn’t make any attempt to move. Beverly instinctively began to go to him, when Deanna whispered in her mind, <No Beverly, your not a doctor here> The away team stood back while Pater went to his son, rolling him on to his back as though expecting the incident to be a prank. One look at Misrery’s face and the notion of joke passed quickly.

Will stepped up to Pater, “What is it?”

Pater and his youngest son exchanged look, Pater then shook his head, “Looks like my boy has the illness. You best be leavin’ now.” He handed Will his copy of the document, shifting his attention back to the ailing son..

to be continued

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