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Star Trek Destiny #1: Gods of Night (förhandsläsning)

Utdrag ur boken Star Trek Destiny #1: Gods of Night, skickat från bokens författare till Trekweb en månad före utgivningsdatumet. Publicerat på Internet och därför släppt för offentlighetens granskning. Håll till godo med kapitel 3, men var beredd på kraftiga spoilers!




Chapter 3


Commander Christine Vale sat in the captain's chair of the Starship Titan, stared at the main viewer, and let her thoughts drift in the endless darkness beyond the stars.


A soft murmur of daily routines surrounded her, enveloped her in its familiar cadence of synthetic tones and hushed voices. Titan was more than two thousand light-years past the Vela OB2 Association, a dense cluster of new stars that had proved rich in spaceborne life-forms and other wonders. Now the ship was deep into a vast expanse of space that was unmapped and appeared to be unpopulated and untraveled, as well. For the past few weeks, intensive scans for subspace signal traffic had turned up naught but the scratch of cosmic background radiation. This far from the Vela cluster, cosmozoan activity was sparse, and there had been no sign of other starships within a range of twenty-five light-years since leaving the OB2 Association.


Vale saw a certain majesty in that lonely space; it was like a mirror for her soul. Several months earlier, she and a handful of her shipmates had become stranded during a mission to a planet called Orisha. Experiments conducted by the planet's denizens had produced dangerous temporal anomalies that destroyed the U.S.S. Charon, a Luna-class vessel like Titan, and they had almost claimed Titan, as well.


Jaza Najem, Titan's senior science officer and-for a brief time-Vale's lover, had sacrificed himself to protect the ship and its crew; as a result, he had been forced to live out his life in Orisha's past, permanently exiled to history.


It was still hard for Vale to believe that Najem, a man she'd once loved, and who then became her trusted friend, had been dead now for centuries. He was dead when I met him.

Months had passed, and her grief still cut like a sword in her side. She had resisted talking with the counselors at first, but she'd consented to a handful of sessions with Dr. Huilan after the captain had made it an order. Not that any of it had done any good. She had been "unwilling to commit to therapy," according to Huilan. Vale chose to think of it in simpler terms:

She just didn't want to talk about it.


Shaking off the torpor of her maudlin brooding, she got up from the center seat and made a slow tour of the bridge. She took light steps, and the carpeting on the deck muffled her footfalls. A peek over flight controller Aili Lavena's shoulder confirmed that Titan was continuing on its last course while Lieutenant Commander Melora Pazlar-who had succeeded Jaza as Titan's senior science officer-continued a detailed star-mapping operation.


A glance at the console of senior operations officer Sariel Rager showed a steady stream of astrocartographic data flooding in and being steadily processed, logged, and filed.

All was quiet at the engineering station, which was manned by Ensign Torvig Bu-kar-nguv, a cybernetically enhanced Choblik. His narrow head was barely visible above the console. The meter-tall biped-to Vale, he resembled a cross between a large, flightless bird and a shorn sheep-used his bionic arms and hands to work the console's controls with delicate precision. At the same time, he made adjustments on the wall panel behind him by means of the bionic manus at the end of his long, agile tail.


Vale quickly lost track of the dozens of systems that Torvig was modifying. "What has you so busy, Ensign?"


The expression on his ovine face switched from one of focused curiosity to petrified innocence. "I'm upgrading the power-distribution efficiency of the internal EPS network."


As usual, the specificity of his answer left Vale very little room to insert any small talk. This time, she decided not to try.


"Very well," she said. "Carry on, Ensign."


"Thank you, sir," Torvig replied. His face became a mask of contentment as he resumed working. Vale admired his singularity of focus. He had come aboard the previous year to complete his senior-year work study for Starfleet Academy, and along with fellow cadet Zurin Dakal, had stayed on after his long-distance graduation, as a regular member of Titan's crew.


Ranul Keru, the chief of security, was next on Vale's circuit of the bridge. A bear of a man, the dark-bearded Trill loomed quietly over his console. He looked up and favored Vale with a half-smirk as she obtrusively leaned over to see what was on his screen. It was a plan for an unannounced security-division drill, a simulated intruder alert. Looking closer, she noted its details with amusement. "A dikironium cloud creature?" She accused him with a raised eyebrow. "That's just mean, Keru."


"It's my job," he said, flashing a devilish grin.


"Let me know if any of us survive," she said, moving on.

Commander Tuvok didn't look up as Vale neared the tactical console, but there was something about his demeanor that felt unusual to her. Her curiosity aroused, she stepped behind him and eyed his console readouts. All she saw was a series of long-range sensor reports, all saying the same thing: no contacts. It was the most placid tactical profile she had seen in decades.


She turned to the brown-skinned Vulcan and lowered her voice to a discreet whisper. "Want to show me what you were really working on?"


He didn't say anything at first. Then he responded with a hesitant glance from the corner of his eye, coupled with a tired grimace. He tapped a few commands into his console, and the serene lineup of empty scans was replaced by a complex set of fleet-deployment grids and battle scenarios.

Vale paged through them and asked, "Core system defenses?"


"Yes," Tuvok said, keeping his own voice hushed like hers.


He had prepared dozens of tactical profiles analyzing the recent attacks by the Borg into Federation space. In some of the scenarios, he was assessing strategic and tactical flaws in Starfleet's responses; in others, he had focused on isolating possible breaches in the Federation's perimeter defenses that the Borg might be exploiting.


She singled out one of interest. "Projecting possible next targets?"


"," Tuvok said.


It took her a moment to infer his meaning. "There have been more attacks."


"Yes," Tuvok said. Then he called up a recent, classified news dispatch from Starfleet Command. "This arrived ten minutes ago. Five ships destroyed by the Borg in the Onias Sector, in separate engagements." Tuvok lowered his eyes. "I did not wish to alarm the crew, so I refrained from announcing its arrival. I had intended to finish my analysis and brief you in writing a few minutes from now, for the sake of discretion."


"Probably for the best," Vale said. Messages from home had become less frequent since Titan left the Vela cluster, and the horrifying news of recent weeks had left many of its crew fearful for their families and loved ones in the Federation. She nodded once. "Carry on."


Vale returned to work, but over the relaxed air of her daily routine had been cast a pall of unspoken anxiety. It was the first time since Titan's departure from known space that she wished she could suspend its mission of galactic exploration. Though Titan was devoted to peaceful scientific inquiry, it was also a state-of-the-art Federation starship, and its captain was a formidable combatant.


Starfleet doesn't need another map of another empty sector, Vale brooded as she slumped back into the captain's chair. It needs every ship it can get, on the front line, right now. But there was no way the Titan's crew could be there. It would take them months to get home-and if the Borg threat was as serious as it appeared, Titan's return would come far too late to make any difference. So let's just keep running into the night, Vale fumed. And hope we still have homes to go back to when it's over. She stared at the viewscreen and struggled to bury her ire and frustration in that cold, endless void beyond the stars.


# # # #


Xin Ra-Havreii stood on the narrow platform inside the stellar cartography holotank and admired Melora Pazlar from afar. The slender, blond Elaysian woman hovered in the center of the zero-gravity environment, several meters from the end of the platform, manipulating holographic constructs with easy grace.


"You should come up," she said to Ra-Havreii.


He smiled. "I like the view just fine from here."


Pazlar reached out with her left hand, palm open, and selected the floating image of a geology department report that detailed the results of the ship's most recent planetary survey. Bending her arm, she pulled the image toward her, enlarging it in the process. "The new interface is a blast," she said as she paged through the report with small flicks of her fingers.


"I'm glad you like it," Ra-Havreii said. He had designed a sweeping upgrade to the holotank's user interface after Pazlar's promotion to senior science officer. Her uniform had been modified with a complex network of embedded nanosensors, which extended from the soles of her boots to the tips of a pair of tight-fitting black gloves. A clear liquid matrix applied directly to her eyes enabled her to trigger functions inside the holotank with a mere glance. He had transformed this high-tech chamber from a workspace into Pazlar's personal sanctum sanctorum.


She paused in her labors and tossed another flustered grin at the white-haired Efrosian chief engineer. "So, what brings you up from engineering? Worried I'd broken it already?"


"No, I just wanted to see how it works, now that we're out of the test phase," he said. "Trial runs and normal operations can be very different experiences." With a note of melancholy, he added, "A lesson I learned the hard way."


In fact, the reason he was there was that he'd wanted to see her in action. Watching her use the new system was a delight for Ra-Havreii, who envisioned the fetching science officer as a conductor directing a symphony of data and light.


A sweep of her arm whirled the room's rings of data screens in one direction and spun its backdrop of nebulae and stars in another. "Everything's so easy in here," she said. "It makes me hate to leave." In a more conspiratorial tone she added, "Between you and me, I cringe every time the captain calls a staff meeting, because it means putting the armor back on."

Outside the stellar cartography lab, Pazlar, a native of a low-gravity planet, had to wear a custom-made powered exoskeleton in order to walk or stand in Titan's standard one-G environment. Her armature worked well enough, but it was cumbersome, and when its power reserves dwindled she was forced to use a mechanized wheelchair instead. Even with those devices, her body was exceptionally fragile, in any environment.


At first, Ra-Havreii had pondered ways to improve Pazlar's ability to move through the ship. Then he'd decided that a more elegant solution would be to bring the ship to her.


"What would you say," he remarked with a dramatic flair, "if I told you that you could go anywhere on the ship, any time you want, without ever putting that pile of metal on again?"

With a languid flourish, she dispelled all her work screens and left herself surrounded by a vista of stars. Crossing her arms with deliberate slowness, she turned in place until she had fixed all her attention on Ra-Havreii. "This, I have to hear."

He waved his hand casually at the galactic panorama. "Am I still welcome in your weightless domain?" She responded with a mock glare that he took as an invitation. In a carefree motion he stepped onto the flat, circular platform at the end of the ramp, and then with a gentle push he launched himself into the zero-gravity area. Having spent years as a starship designer and construction manager, he knew from experience exactly how much force to apply to position himself beside Pazlar. His long white hair and snowy moustache, however, drifted around his face like seaweed buffeted by deep currents.


"Computer," he said, "integrate Ra-Havreii interface modification Melora Four."


"Modification ready," the feminine computer voice said.

He glanced sideways at Pazlar. "I hope you won't think it too forward of me to have named it in your honor."


"I'll let you know when I see what it is," she said.

Ra-Havreii shrugged. "Reasonable. Computer, activate holopresence module. Location: deck one, conference room."


The all-encompassing sphere of outer space was replaced in a gentle, fading transition by a holographic representation of the conference room located behind Titan's main bridge.

The simulacrum was perfect in every detail, down to the scent of the fabric on the chairs and the scratches that Pazlar's armature had made in the table's veneer the last time she had attended a meeting there. Outside its tall windows, warp-distorted stars streaked past.


A subtle change in the environment's gravity enabled Pazlar and Ra-Havreii to stand on the deck rather than float above it.


"Cute trick," Pazlar said.


Ra-Havreii chuckled and held up his index finger. "Wait," he said. "There's more." He tapped his combadge. "Ra-Havreii to Commander Vale."


"Vale here. Go ahead."


"Commander, could I ask you to have one of your bridge personnel step into the deck one conference room for a moment?"


Vale sounded confused. "Anyone in particular?"


"No," Ra-Havreii said. "Whoever can spare a moment."


"All right," Vale said, suspicion coloring her tone. "Ensign Vennoss is on her way."


"Thank you, Commander. Ra-Havreii out." He smirked at Pazlar and lifted his thick white eyebrows. "This, I expect, will be the fun part."


A portal that led to a corridor which linked the conference room and the bridge opened with a soft hiss, and Ensign Vennoss, an attractive young Kriosian woman, entered carrying a padd. She stopped short and recoiled in mild surprise from Pazlar.


"Sorry, sir," Vennoss said. "I was expecting to meet Dr. Ra-Havreii." Then she eyed Pazlar more closely. "Pardon me if this is none of my business, but don't you normally use a motor-assist armature outside of stellar cartography?"

Pazlar's mute, slack-jawed stare of surprise was an even richer reward than Ra-Havreii had hoped for. He tapped his combadge again. "Ra-Havreii to Ensign Vennoss."


Half a second after he'd finished speaking, his call was repeated from the overhead speaker inside the simulacrum. As Vennoss spoke, he heard her reply both "in person" and echoing from his combadge. "Vennoss here. Go ahead, Commander."


"Lieutenant Commander Pazlar and I are conducting a test of some new holopresence equipment in the stellar cartography lab. Can you bear with us a moment while we make a few adjustments?"


Vennoss gave a single nod. "Yes, sir. My pleasure."


"Thank you." He looked from Vennoss to Pazlar and said in a gentle but prodding way, "Go ahead-talk with her."


It took a second for Pazlar to compose herself, then she straightened her posture to carry herself like a proper officer.


"Ensign," she said, and she stopped, apparently uncertain what to say next. Then she continued, "Have there been any new sensor contacts since your last report?"


"No, sir," Vennoss said. "I may have detected a Kerr loop in a nearby star cluster, but I'm still crunching the numbers to confirm it before I put it in the log."


"Ensign," Ra-Havreii said, pausing as he heard his voice emanate from Vennoss's combadge. "Is your analysis on that padd you're carrying?"


The Kriosian blinked. "Yes, sir."


"Would you let Commander Pazlar look at it a moment?"


"Yes, sir," Vennoss said, and she walked up to Pazlar and offered her the padd.


Pazlar stared at it for a second before she accepted it from the ensign. She paged through some of the ensign's facts and figures, and then she handed the padd back to Vennoss.


"Thanks, Ensign. I look forward to reading your report."


"Aye, sir."


Ra-Havreii was satisfied with the test. "Thank you, Ensign," he said. "You can return to the bridge now."


Vennoss nodded, gave a small grin of relief, and exited the way she had come in. As soon as she was gone, Pazlar turned and beamed at Ra-Havreii. "Did you mean what you said? About this being able to go anywhere on the ship?"


"Indeed, I did." He strolled closer to her. "It took weeks," he continued, "but I'm fairly certain the holopresence system is fully integrated in all compartments and on all decks. Your holographic avatar is a completely faithful stand-in for you, and your shipmates' avatars in here should be able to represent them with near-perfect fidelity."


Teasing him every so slightly, she asked, "Near-perfect?"


"Well, all but perfect," he said. "But only to a point."


Perhaps because his reputation had preceded him once again, she asked, "And what, pray tell, might that point be?"


He was standing very near to her, close enough to be

captivated by the delicate fragrance of her perfume. "I would say the simulation loses its value at precisely the point where the real thing would be eminently preferable."


She seemed quite amused. "That's a very discreet way of phrasing it."


"Well, yes," he said, flashing a grin. "Discretion is a virtue, I'm told." He leaned toward her, a prelude to a kiss-

She pulled away and stepped back. "I'm sorry," she said, avoiding eye contact with him. "I was just kidding around." She turned her back. "I hope I didn't lead you on."


He inhaled to sigh, then held his breath a moment. "No," he said, with as much tact and aplomb as he could muster. "I guess I just got carried away. If there was any error to be found here, it was mine, and I apologize."


"No apology needed," she said, half-turning back toward him.


"But thank you, anyway."


He bowed his head and showed his open palms next to his legs, a polite gesture of contrition and humility. Inside, however, he felt deeply ashamed. Seeing her empowered and happy had made him forget, just for a moment, that her emotions could be just as fragile as her physique.


Many months had passed since Commander Tuvok, while temporarily under the telepathic influence of a spaceborne entity, had assaulted Pazlar in the ship's main science lab. Not only had he harmed Pazlar physically, breaking some of her bones, he had forced critical information from her memory with a Vulcan mind-meld, a grotesque personal invasion. Since then, she had bravely confronted her fears by working with Tuvok to learn ways of defending herself, in spite of her physical limitations.


But there was no denying that the attack had changed her. She could be warm at times, even jovial-but since the attack she had become more distant, a little bit harder to reach. In a very real sense, she seemed even more isolated than she had before.


Ra-Havreii knew about emotional scars, unforgiven sins, and lingering pain. He still blamed himself for a fatal accident years earlier, in the engine room of Titan's class-prototype ship, the Luna. Everyone who had been there, and many others who hadn't, had tried to console him with empty platitudes:


It wasn't your fault, Xin.


There's no way you could have known what would happen.

You have to move on.


He knew better. As the designer of the Luna class, it had been his job to know what would happen. It had been his fault.

Some wounds, he had learned, could not be left behind. His past stayed with him, haunted him, reminded him always of his limitations. He saw shades of that same pain in Melora.

Efrosians often attuned themselves to one another's emotional needs; it was considered a foundation for intimacy, which in turn strengthened social bonds. So it came as no surprise to Ra-Havreii that Pazlar's profound physical and emotional vulnerabilities had awakened a protective side of his nature. That had, no doubt, been a subconscious factor in his tireless efforts to rebuild the stellar cartography interface and create the holopresence network for her.


He let his gaze linger a moment on her profile. Though he had enjoyed the attention of a wide range of female companions over the years, including a few on Titan, such pleasures had always been fleeting. He sometimes suspected that his serial seductions were really little more than feeble distractions from his suppressed melancholy.


Faced with the emptiness of it all, he breathed a quiet sigh and watched Melora out of the corner of his eye.


I should ease up before I make myself fall in love with her.


Besides, what would I do if she fell in love with me? A shadow of self-reproach darkened his mood. Don't be stupid, Xin. You don't deserve to be that lucky...not in this life or the next.


# # # #


Deanna Troi had begun tuning out Dr. Ree's voice the moment he said, "I'm sorry."


He was still talking, but she was only half listening to him now, as she sank into a black pit of grief and fury. Not again, she raged inside. I can't go through this again. Not now.


Will Riker-her Imzadi, her husband, her friend-stood beside her and gripped her left hand in both of his as she sat on the edge of the biobed. She shut her eyes against the cold light of sickbay while Dr. Ree continued delivering bad news.


"I ran the test several times," he said. "There was no mistake." He bowed his long, reptilian head and looked at the padd in his clawed, scaly hand. "The genetic abnormalities are irreparable. And I fear they will only become worse."


It was so unfair. Burning tears welled in Troi's eyes, and her throat seized shut on a knot of sorrow and anger. A suffocating tightness in her chest made it hard to breathe.

Will, sensing that she was unable to speak for herself, asked the Pahkwa-thanh physician, "Do you know why it happened? Can you tell us if it'll happen again?"


"Not yet," said the dinosaur-like doctor. Troi fixed him with a sullen glower. It didn't seem to faze him. "I need to make a detailed analysis before I can offer a prognosis."


Troi's empathic senses felt protective indignation pulsing in waves from her Imzadi before he snapped at Dr. Ree, "Why didn't you do that the last time, five months ago?"


"Because a first miscarriage in a humanoid normally isn't cause for long-term concern," Ree said. "The likelihood of a miscarriage for a woman who has already had one is the same as for a woman who hasn't. But a second event greatly increases the risk of future complications." Once again he spoke to Troi instead of to Will. "Betazoid women your age often have successful pregnancies, but your half-human ancestry introduces some hormonal factors that muddy the picture a bit. That's why I need to run more tests. With your permission."


Numb, torn between a desire to scream and the impulse to retreat to someplace dark and quiet and simply hide for weeks on end, all Troi could muster in response was a tiny nod of her chin. Then she cast her forlorn gaze at the floor, desperate to be done with this hideous day. The doctor finished entering his notes on the padd, looked up, and said,


"Unless you have more questions, we should probably get you prepped."


Will turned his body in a way that interposed his shoulder between Troi and the doctor. "Prepped? For what?"


"To remove the fetus," he said.


Troi covered her abdomen with her right arm, and her response was sharp and instantaneous. "Absolutely not."


A rasp rattled behind Ree's fangs before he said, "Commander, please-I'm recommending this procedure because it's in your best interest medically."


"I don't agree," Troi said, sliding forward off the biobed and onto her feet. She inched closer to Will.


Ree sidestepped to block Will and Troi's path, leaving them cornered between two biobeds. "My dear counselor, forgive me for being blunt, but your fetus will not survive to term. It will die in utero-and unlike your last miscarriage, this one poses a serious risk to your own health, and perhaps your life."

He had made a logical, reasonable argument, but Troi didn't care. Her child, however flawed, was bound to her by slender threads of breath and blood, depended upon her for everything from food to antibodies. So tiny, so defenseless, her fragile scion was an innocent vessel, one in which she and Will had invested all their hopes and dreams. She couldn't bring herself to do what Dr. Ree asked, not even to save herself.


She hardened her resolve. "The answer is no, Doctor."


"As the chief medical officer, I could insist," Ree said. To Will, he added, "As I'm sure you well know, Captain."


Ree's challenge made Will bristle with anger. "My wife said the answer is no, Doctor. I'd advise you to think twice before you try to force the issue." He stretched one arm across Troi's shoulders and nudged her forward toward Ree, who held his ground. Will glared at him. "We're leaving now, Doctor."


The hulking Pahkwa-thanh, Troi knew, could easily snap off both their heads with a casual bite of his massive jaws. His frustration and irritation were radiant to Troi's empathic mind, and even more vibrant than her Imzadi's fearless resolve. She expected Ree, as a predator by nature, to relish confrontation. Instead, he turned away and plodded toward his office, his mood a leaden shadow of resentful disappointment.


Will guided her out of sickbay. In the corridor he took her hand, and they walked together in mournful silence toward their quarters. As always, he wore a brave face and played the part of the stoic, but his heartbreak was as palpable to her as her own. She sensed a deeper unease in him, one that he refused to express-a profound inner conflict mixed with fear. There had been undertones of this in his emotions in sickbay, as well. Probing his thoughts, she realized he had strongly disagreed with her decision to refuse Dr. Ree's advice, yet he had backed her choice without hesitation.


As his wife, she was grateful that he had supported her wishes over his own. As a mother, she hated him for being willing to sacrifice their child in her name.


It had been several months since their initial attempt at having a child had ended in tragedy. Her first miscarriage had occurred with no warning, just a surge of pain in the night. Up until that moment, they had thought that conception alone would be their greatest hurdle.


They had both been subjected to lengthy, invasive fertility treatments to overcome what Dr. Ree had politely described as "genetic incompatibilities" in their DNA. Several failed attempts at conception had strained her relationship with Will to a degree they'd never endured before, and the hormonal changes she had undergone for the fertility enhancements had weakened her psionic defenses, causing her to project her emotions on others in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways.


Everything had seemed so much easier when they'd thought that the only things their family-to-be had to fear were "out there," far away and unnamed. Now the greatest threat to their dreams lay within themselves-a flaw, some monstrous defect that had rendered them unfit for the roles they most desired.


Their second attempt at conceiving a child had been an act of hope, a refusal to succumb to despair. Through all of Troi's nights of bitter tears and black moods, Will had never faltered, never given up hope that they would persevere. "I have faith in you," he'd said one night, months earlier. "Faith in us. I have to believe that we'll get through this. I have to believe that."


Until tonight, he had.


Something in Will had changed when Dr. Ree had delivered his diagnosis. She had felt it, an icy resignation in his mind. It lasted only a moment, but it had happened: He'd lost hope.

Lost in her thoughts, she didn't notice that they had been in a turbolift until they stepped out onto the deck where their quarters were located. A few paces into the corridor she stopped. Will continued for a step until he felt the resistance in her hand, and he turned back, concerned and solicitous.


"What's wrong?"


"I don't know," she lied. "I'm just feeling a need to walk for a while. Maybe in the holodeck."


He nodded. "All right. Anywhere you want."


As he started back toward the turbolift, she let go of his hand. "I meant...that I'm feeling a need to walk by myself."

His face slackened and paled, and he lowered his chin. "I see," he said in a voice of quiet defeat.


Troi didn't need empathy to know how deeply she had wounded him. All his body language signaled his withdrawal, and his anguish was overwhelming, too intense for her to tune out. She was desperate to comfort him, but her thoughts were awash in her own toxic brew of dark emotions. Twice in less than half a year, their hope of starting a family had turned to ashes, and she didn't know why. She couldn't accept it.


"I'm sorry," she said. "It's just...I..."


"I understand," he said, and she knew it was true, he did. He was her Imzadi, and their emotional bond, normally a comfort, now was an amplifier of their shared grief. It was too much.

"I'm sorry," she said again. Then she walked away, knowing how badly Will wanted to stop her, and hoping that he wouldn't. She hated herself for abandoning him, and she both loved him and hated him for letting her go.


She stepped into a turbolift, and the doors closed behind her. "Holodeck one," she said, and the lift hummed as it accelerated away, circuiting the primary hull.


As the turbolift sped her through the ship, she thought of her older sister, Kestra, who had drowned at the age of seven, shortly after Troi had been born. Their mother, Lwaxana, had caused herself severe psychological trauma by repressing all her memories of Kestra for decades, until the submerged grief all but destroyed her from within.


At the time, Troi had felt sympathy for her mother, even though she had been horrified that Lwaxana could erase her own child from her memory. Now, faced with her own, imminent second miscarriage, Troi no longer felt revulsion at the thought of her mother's self-inflicted amnesia. She felt envy.


# # # #


Captain William Riker crossed from the turbolift to his ready room in quick strides, making only fleeting eye contact with his first officer, Christine Vale, who had command of the bridge during beta shift. He made a brief nod as she got up from the center seat. "As you were," Riker said, and he kept walking, trying to raise as minor a wake with his passage as possible. As soon as the ready room's door closed behind him, he slowed his pace and moved in heavy, tired steps to his desk.


Circling behind it to his chair felt like too much effort, so he turned and perched himself on its edge. His head drooped with fatigue. For Deanna's sake he had maintained a façade of placid control, but his emotions felt like a storm battering the empty shores of his psyche. Depression, anger, guilt, and denial followed each other in crushing waves.


Removing himself from Deanna was only an illusion, he knew. The bond he shared with his Imzadi transcended distance and physical barriers. Their emotions were so tangible to one another, so present, that when one of them was in the throes of a powerful experience, both of them felt it. Ever since they had first fallen in love, their bond had been so strong that they sometimes were able to communicate telepathically. Such moments were rare, but they had made him feel so connected to her.


And now she felt so distant.


His door chime sounded. He pushed himself up from the desk to a standing posture, turned, and tugged the front of his uniform smooth before he said, "Come in."


The portal slid aside, briefly admitting the ambient sounds of the bridge. Christine Vale stepped inside his ready room and stopped just outside the range of the door's sensor. It shut behind her. Her gaze was level and concerned. "Sir."


"Chris," he said with a forced nonchalance, and he circled behind his desk. "What can I do for you?"


She flashed a weary smile. "I was gonna ask you the same thing." Turning a bit more serious, she asked, "Are you all right? You haven't seemed like yourself for a while now."


He pulled out his chair. "Define ‘a while.'"


All traces of jocularity left her tone. "A few months, at least," she said. "Don't get me wrong, you mask it well. But something's changed. You just seem...disengaged."


Riker sat down with a tired sigh. "How so?"


"Can we drop the ranks and speak freely, sir?"


Her accusatory tone caught Riker off guard. "Of course," he said. "Always, you know that."


"Will," she said, "what's wrong?"


Instinct impelled him to denial. "Nothing. I'm fine."


"No, Will, you're not." She stepped to his desk and sat down across from him. The concern in her voice grew more pronounced as she continued, "You and I served through some rough times on the Enterprise, and I've been your XO for almost a year. And I have never seen you act like this. Please talk to me. What's going on?"


He reclined his chair and pulled his hand over his face. It was a reflexive action; he thought he'd done it to massage the fatigue from his head and neck. Only as he prolonged the gesture did he admit to himself that it was a delaying tactic, a way to avoid eye contact and postpone his reply. He hated feeling so exposed, so easily read. Denial was no longer an option, but he still found himself reluctant to confide in her. Finally, he lowered his hand and said, "It's complicated."


"Simplify it," Vale replied.


A heavy breath did nothing to relax him. "I could invoke rank and tell you to leave this alone."


Vale nodded. "Is that what you want to do?"


"What, are you a counselor, now?" He swiveled his chair away from her, showing her his profile. "Sometimes, captains have to keep barriers between themselves and their crews."


"And that's fine, up to a point," Vale said. "But right now it seems like your ability to do your job is being impaired by whatever it is you're going through. And seeing as it's my job to make sure this ship and its crew are kept in a state of full readiness, that makes your problem my problem."


Riker frowned. "I'm still not sure I-"


"Especially since it involves your wife, who's also part of the command staff," Vale added.


He swiveled back to face her, his temper aroused. "How did you know that?"


Vale hesitated before answering, and then she spoke with tact. "Will, I know that you and Deanna had problems conceiving a child. She told me all about it on Orisha. The treatments, the strain it put on the two of you. I noticed you having the same kind of problems then that I'm seeing now. But for a while, the two of you seemed happy, so I'm wondering what's happened."


Denying the obvious was tiring, and he felt his guard slipping; he wondered if it might be a relief to let it down entirely. "You understand," he said, "that what we talk about stays in here. You don't discuss it with anyone-not the crew, not the counselors.... Especially not the counselors."


"Of course," Vale said.


Riker took another deep breath and let it go slowly as he composed his thoughts and steeled his resolve. "The past few months have been hard for me and Deanna," he confided. "You know that we were working with Dr. Ree on fertility treatments-"


"All too well," Vale said, referring to the effect that Troi's empathic projections had had on her personally.


"We thought we'd succeeded," Riker said. He found it difficult to go on. "It hasn't gone as we'd hoped."


As he'd feared, a grim silence fell between himself and Vale, whose expression softened. She leaned forward and folded her hands atop his desk. "How bad is it?"


He couldn't name it. "Bad."


Vale asked in an apprehensive whisper, "A miscarriage?"


Hearing the words spoken in sympathy, rather than in Dr. Ree's cold and clinical rasp, was even more terrible than Riker had imagined. Grief surged upward inside his chest, and he barely nodded his confirmation before tears overflowed his eyes. He covered his mouth for a moment and struggled to contain the sorrow he had been swallowing for so long. "I've been carrying this for months," he said, fighting to talk through halting gasps for air. "Piling one thing on another. Feeling like I'd failed Deanna."


"You didn't fail her," Vale said. "I know you didn't."


"Maybe not, but I feel like I did." He palmed the tears from one cheek and then the other. "She's part Betazoid, so it's hard to know where my desires end and hers begin. It makes me wonder if maybe her wish to have kids was really mine, and I led her into this." He got up from his chair, turned away from Vale, and walked to the window behind his desk. "We just found out it's happening again. We're losing another pregnancy. And this time, if she doesn't do something about could kill her."


"I'm sure Dr. Ree could-"


"He offered," Riker said. "He almost insisted, actually. Deanna won't have it. She knows she's in danger, and she just won't do it. And instead of arguing with her, I let her refuse treatment and walked her out of sickbay."


Vale's reflection was semitransparent against the backdrop of drifting starlight. "Even so," she said, "that doesn't make any of this your fault."


"It doesn't really matter," Riker said. "It's starting to feel like the damage is done, either way."


He watched Vale's mirror image as she stood and circled behind his desk to stand with him. "What damage?"


"That barrier I was talking about," he said, "the one between me and the crew? It's starting to feel like it's between me and Deanna. We can hear each other's thoughts, but it feels like we don't know how to talk about this." Now he regarded his own, ragged reflection in the window. "It's never been easy being such a visible couple on a starship. Even harder now that I'm the captain and this crew is so small, compared to what I was used to on the Enterprise."


"I know what you mean," Vale said. Her own muted grief reminded Riker of the loss of Jaza Najem just months earlier.


"Yeah," Riker said. "I guess you do." He turned to face her. "After the first..." The word was so hard for him to say. "After the first miscarriage, I did everything I could to keep Deanna's spirits up. The odds were on our side, Ree told us. But I could tell Deanna wasn't ready to try again, so I waited. I know that losing the baby had to be worse for her. For me it was an idea, but for her it was part of her body-it was physical. There's no way I can understand how that feels for her."

"But it's good that you know where the difference is," Vale said, trying to reassure him. "That you know why her experience is different from yours."


More tears burned Riker's eyes. "But I still don't know how to help her," he admitted. "She's in so much pain, and I feel cut off, and I don't know what to do." Now that he had opened the gates to his grief, he didn't know how to close them again.

Vale pulled him to her, and she closed her arms around him in a sisterly embrace. He hesitated to return the gesture, and then he reluctantly surrendered to it. "It'll be okay, Will," she said, her voice breaking slightly, echoing his sorrow. "You'll be okay, and so will Deanna. You're not alone."


Riker felt embarrassed to have shown such vulnerability to his first officer. Captain Picard would never have bared his feelings like this, he thought. He reminded himself that Vale was not just his first officer; she was his friend. Maybe a captain more obsessed with strict protocol and formality would have been stalwart in hiding his feelings, but Riker didn't subscribe to such emotionally stunted ideals of manhood. He didn't believe that expressing emotions made him weak, and he was grateful that he had chosen a first officer who seemed to feel the same way.


As he lingered in Vale's embrace, Riker brooded over the emotional wedge that he felt had been driven between him and Deanna by their recent tragedies. At a time when he most needed comfort, Deanna seemed to recoil from his touch. Her rejection and abandonment of him in the corridor made him all the more grateful now for Vale's compassion.


That was when he began to wonder if perhaps this moment was continuing a shade too long. Vale's head was resting against his chest, her hair color du jour a rich auburn that contrasted with his predominantly black uniform. Riker eased Vale away from him, and as she lifted her face to look at him, he thought he caught a glimpse of a less than platonic emotion in her eyes.


Then they both pushed away from one another and averted their eyes as they composed themselves. "Anyway," Vale said as she backpedaled and smoothed her uniform jacket, "if you need me, or if there's anything I can do to help, just let me know."


"I will," Riker said, and he sat down at his desk and tapped a few keys on his computer's interface. "Thank you, Chris."


"My pleasure, Captain," Vale said, continuing to back away to the other side of Riker's desk. Her hands seemed to be in constant motion-waving, clenching, opening, weaving together at the fingers and flexing. "If there's nothing else?"


"No, thank you," Riker said, pretending to be engrossed in whatever it was on his computer monitor. "Dismissed."

"Aye, sir." She turned and walked quickly out the door, back to duty on the bridge.


Riker watched the door close behind her, and then he ran a hand through his thatch of graying hair. Did I just imagine that? he wondered. Am I wrong, or was that kind of...awkward?

Suddenly, being emotionally unavailable to his crew didn't seem like such a bad idea after all.


# # # #


"You're obviously looking for someone to blame," said Pral glasch Haaj. "The question is, would you rather it be you or your husband?"


As usual, the Tellarite counselor had chosen to take the most confrontational possible tack in addressing his patient's issues, and Deanna Troi, being a trained counselor and his supervising officer, didn't appreciate it. "This isn't about blame," she said, surprised at how defensive her manner seemed.


"Of course not," he said, his cultured voice tuned to a perfect timbre of derision. "It's just a coincidence, yes?"


The rank insensitivity of his remarks sparked Troi's fury, which she found easier to face than the smothering sorrow of sympathy she'd expected from the ship's other counselor, Dr. Huilan. "We didn't choose this. It's not our fault."


"I see. So it's random chance and not some defect in your respective biologies that's put you on a course for your second miscarriage in half a year."


Troi sprang from the couch, turned her back on the slender Tellarite, and paced toward the far bulkhead of his office. At the wall she turned and began walking back toward him. He watched her with expressionless black eyes, which gave his face a cipherlike quality. "You're just trying to provoke me," she said with a note of resentment.


"Provoke you? Into doing what?"


She stopped and glowered at him. "Now you're trying to make me name my own dysfunction and outline my own needs. Are you this transparent with all your patients?"


"Yes, but most of my patients don't hold doctorates in psychology." He grinned. "Tell me what I'll do next."


"You'll try to shock me by saying something rude."


He shook his head. "I tried that. And I followed it with the echoed remark and the leading question, all of which got me nowhere. So guess what my next trick will be."


It amazed her that even as he was admitting to the failure of his manipulations, he still sounded smug. "I don't know," she confessed. "Reciting old Tellarite parables?"


"No." Haaj reclined and folded his hands behind his head. "Just an honest question: Why are you wasting my time?"

At first, Troi recoiled from the hostility in his voice. Then she replied, "Is this another example of your patented Tellarite argument therapy?"


"I'm serious, Counselor. You're my supervising officer, so I'm expected to show you a certain degree of deference, even in a therapeutic setting-but I don't have time for this. You're clearly not ready for therapy, and you're taking away valuable session time from my patients who are."


She called upon her empathic senses to try and sense whether he was dissembling in order to draw her out. He wore an intense aura of bitter dudgeon. If he was merely pretending to be annoyed with her, he was doing a very convincing job of it, inside and out. "Why do you say I'm not ready for therapy?"


"Are you kidding?" He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "All you've done since you got here is obstruct the process. You've dissected my method instead of answering my questions, and you'd rather criticize me than examine yourself." He leaned back and folded his hands in his lap.


"Therapy only works when the patient is willing to participate."


All his accusations were true, and Troi was ashamed of herself for indulging her appetite for denial. "You're right," she said. "I have been sabotaging the session. I'm sorry."


"Don't apologize to me," he said. "Apologize to Crewman Liryok. This was supposed to be his hour."


Troi stared out a window at the wash of starlight streaking past the ship and felt the subtle vibrations of warp flight in the deck under her feet. "I don't know why I'm having so much trouble surrendering to the process."


"Yes, you do," Haaj said, barely disguising his contempt.


She fixed him with a scathing glare. "No, I don't."




He was the most exasperating therapist she'd ever met. "Is this your idea of therapy? Contradiction?"


"You're critiquing me again, Counselor. Why is that?"


She didn't mean to shout, but she did anyway. "I told you, I don't know!"


"And I'm calling you a liar," he said.


The more she felt herself losing control, the calmer he became. There were a thousand things she wanted to yell at him, and they were slamming together inside her mind, a logjam of epithets. Her face and ears felt hot, and her fists clenched while she struggled to put words to her fury.


Then he asked, "What are you feeling right now?" She stared at him, dumbstruck. He continued, "Would you call it rage?"

"Yes," she said, paralyzed by her emotions.


His voice took on a calming tenor. "Breathe, Deanna. Clear your mind, just for a few seconds. Remember your training: What's the difference between anger and rage?"


It was hard for her to pull air into her chest, even harder to hold it there. I'm hyperventilating, she realized. With effort, she did as Haaj asked, and then she closed her eyes.


"Ready?" he said. She nodded. He asked, "What's anger?"


"An emotional cue that something is wrong, that we have been injured or mistreated, or that values we consider important are being challenged or disregarded."


He harrumphed. "I imagine you did very well on the essay portions of your exams.... Now, tell me what rage is."

"A shame-based expression of anger," she said. "And a reaction to powerlessness."


"Powerlessness," Haaj repeated, tapping his index finger against his upper lip. "Impotence. Helplessness." He wagged his finger at her. "You don't like feeling out of control, do you?"


She crossed her arms over her chest. "I don't know many people who do."


"I do," Haaj said. "There are plenty of folks who like not having to make decisions or take responsibility. They're happy to go along and believe what they're told, because it's easier than thinking for themselves."


Troi drummed her fingers on her bicep. "And what does that have to do with me?"


"Nothing," the wiry Tellarite said. "It was just a tangent. Those happen sometimes in conversation." Feigning embarrassment, he added, "I'm sorry, I forget. What are we talking about?"


"Control," Troi said, feeling a new tide of rage swell inside her chest.


He clapped his hands. "Ah, yes! Control." He let the words linger between them for a moment before he added, "You've been feeling out of control lately."


She shook her head. "I don't recall saying that."


"But you've certainly been at the mercy of events," Haaj said.

"Not much recourse when a tragedy like yours happens."


"No, there isn't."


The Tellarite nodded. "It's too bad Dr. Ree isn't skilled enough to correct the problem."


"It's not his fault," Troi said. "Medicine isn't magic. There's only so much he can do."


"True," Haaj said. "I mean, he can't be expected to compensate for your husband's genetic shortcomings. After all, the captain is, as they say, ‘only human.'"


Troi cast a reproachful stare at Haaj. "You're repeating yourself. I already told you it's not about blame."


"Oh, but it most certainly is," he replied. "You're blaming yourself."


She recoiled from his accusation. "I'm not!"


"You're cursing your poisoned womb," Haaj declared, as if it were a piece of gossip everyone else already knew. "To paraphrase Shakespeare, you know the fault lies not in your stars but in yourself."


"There's a difference between an argument and an insult, Doctor," Troi said in her most threatening tone.

Uncowed, he replied, "Do you really expect me to believe you don't blame yourself for back-to-back miscarriages?"


"I don't."


"Then where is all this shame coming from?" He continued as if he was scolding a child. "You said it yourself: You're filled with rage, and rage finds its roots in powerlessness and shame."


Denial had Troi shaking her head as a reflex. "Rage comes from being ashamed of our anger," she said.


"So, you're ashamed of your anger?"




"You just said you were! Who are you angry at? Yourself? Your husband? Some higher power that's betrayed your trust?"

His relentless, vicious badgering forced her to turn away, because her fury had become swamped in the rising waters of her grief. Her chest felt crushed, and her throat was as tight as a tourniquet. All her bitter emotions were bleeding into one for which she had no name. She closed her eyes to avoid seeing her dark reflection in the compartment window. Then she heard footfalls behind her, followed by Haaj's voice, somber and soft.


"You're angry at the baby," he said.


It was the sharpest truth that had ever cut her.


Her hands covered her face as deep, funereal bellows of grief roared from some dark chasm inside her. Tears were hot against her face as she doubled over, robbed of her composure by her wailing cries. Haaj's hands found her shoulders and steadied her. He guided her to a chair and eased her into it.


She stared at her tear-moistened palms. "I don't understand it," she said between choking gasps.


"You and William invested this child with your hopes and dreams," Haaj said. "You wanted it to be your future. But now joy has turned to sorrow, and you resent your baby for failing you, when you've already given it so much."


Troi looked up through a blurry veil of tears at Haaj. "But it's so unfair. It's not the baby's's no one's fault."


"You're right," Haaj said. "It's not fair. But when we're wronged, our instinct is to assign blame. Even if it means hurting someone we love-someone who doesn't deserve it."

Dragging her feelings into the open was a hideous sensation and not at all as cathartic as she had hoped. Worse still, it was forcing her to confront other torments and terrors she would have preferred to ignore for a while longer. "Dr. Ree wants me to terminate my pregnancy," she said. "I told him no."


"The good doctor doesn't make such suggestions lightly," Haaj said. "I presume his concern is for your safety?"


Troi shrugged. "So he said."


"And you think he's wrong?"


"No," Troi said. "I know he's probably right. But I can't do it. I won't."


Waggling his index finger, Haaj said, "No, no, Counselor. I'm afraid you need to choose a verb there. Either you can't terminate your pregnancy, or you won't. ‘Can't' implies that you have no choice in the matter, no capacity to make an affirmative decision. ‘Won't' suggests a defiant exercise of your free will. So which is it? Can't? Or won't?"


She wrestled with the semantics of his question for several seconds before she answered, "Won't. I won't do it."


"Even though it puts your life in danger?"


A calmness filled her. "It's not important."


Haaj looked deeply worried. "Counselor, are you saying you want to die?"


"No," she said. "I don't."


"But you seem ready to risk your life for a pregnancy that's already failed. Why is that?"


Her calm feeling became an emotional numbness, and in a dull monotone she told him the simple truth: "I don't know."

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