Captain's Log, Stardate 47244.7. Commander Riker and Counselor Troi are on their way back to the Enterprise from a conference on Risa. Counselor Troi was attending the conference as a participant and Commander Riker accompanied her there so he could enjoy some shore leave. They told us that they have just passed through a wormhole and been knocked two light-years off course. We have diverted from our mission of mercy to be closer to the shuttle and find out what is going on.
Picard and Data walked into the Shuttle Bay just as the El-Baz landed smoothly.
"Any further communication?" Picard asked.
Data shook his head. "After they said they had 'run through a wormhole', in Commander Riker's words, sensors detected their comm system suffered a severe systems failure."
Picard sighed. "I hope they're all right."
"As do I, sir."
The door to the shuttle opened to reveal Deanna. She stepped down a step and smiled, locking her gaze on Data.
Then her ebony eyes widened and she paled. Her hand went convulsively to her throat and a small cry escaped her lips.
Riker appeared as if from nowhere and grasped her from behind. She turned and whispered something. His eyes widened as he looked at Data, then narrowed a bit. He whispered a reassurance as he led her down the steps.
Picard came over and helped him support Deanna. "Counselor, are you all right?"
She raised her head and exchanged a brief glance with Riker. Riker nodded, and she stood straight, visibly pulling herself together. "I shall be, sir. It was a tiring journey."
"Perhaps you need to rest," Data said, stepping forward. He extended a hand. "Shall I assist you?"
Her face took on a haunted expression. Hesitantly, she extended a hand and took Data's. "Thank you, Data. I would appreciate your... assistance."
He led her out of the shuttle bay. Just before the doors closed, she looked over her shoulder at Riker. Riker nodded at her, and she nodded back.
Picard frowned. "It's more than tiredness, isn't it, Will?"
Riker nodded. "After a week of being around strong emotions, Data's emptiness and... gold eyes stunned her. She'll be all right."
Picard noticed the strong emphasis on the word 'gold'. He shook his head. "I know I'd hate being an empath sometimes."
Riker looked strangely at him. "Oh?"
He nodded. "To have the whole world an open book must be very tiring."
"It certainly is," Riker said under his breath. Picard looked at him, wide-eyed. Riker smiled and said, "At least that's what Deanna says."
Picard nodded. "Is there something you're not telling me, Number One? Something that happened on Risa?"
Riker's smile broadened. "Sir, I can honestly say nothing happened on Risa."
Picard studied Riker's face. There was total honesty on it, but the turquoise eyes shone in a strangely familiar way. Ah, well, Picard thought. I'll figure it out later. "Number One, would you care to join me in my Ready Room after you've had a chance to rest? I'd like to hear about your vacation."
Riker frowned. "Vacation? I joined Dee at the conference." At Picard's startled look, he added, "She asked me to. There wasn't much time for a vacation."
"She asked you to escort her? That conference was only open to empaths and you're mind-blind!"
Riker thought for a second, then smiled. "She asked me as her guest. That way, I was allowed to go."
"Number One, something is going on."
"No, sir. We are both the same as when we left." Riker's smile grew broader. "May I go, Captain? I need to rest a bit. It was a tiring journey, what with the wormhole and all."
"Of course, Number One."
Riker nodded and strode out of the Shuttle Bay. Picard gazed after him a while, thinking.
The doors of the shuttle bay closed behind her and Deanna leaned automatically a bit into Data's arm.
Data noticed it and asked, "Is something the matter, Counselor?"
Deanna straightened up with a jerk.Counselor."No, Data. It's... I'm... I'm just...."
Data stopped. He took Deanna's hand off of his arm and turned her to face him. His golden eyes bored into her black ones. "Take a moment, Counselor. Are you all right?"
A slight look of desperation came into the black eyes. Can you sense me, beloved? Can't you hear me at all?But the android's face never changed expression. Deanna closed her eyes and fought the tears.
"I had best take you to Sickbay," Data said. "You are unwell."
"No," she said, pulling herself together. "No, Data, I'm... I will be all right. I'm so tired...."
"Then allow me to escort you to your cabin. You require rest." He placed a supporting arm rather woodenly around her shoulders and awkwardly took her left hand in his. "If you like, I shall request the Captain remove you from duty for a few days until you regain your strength."
Deanna smiled a bit. There was the caring Data had always had, even before....
She shook her head. No, she wouldn't think of that. This was a different Data, less advanced than hers....
She shook her head again. That was too painful an area to touch right now. She turned to look at Data as they began walking. How she missed the blue eyes and the dry wit!
And the gentle way he would touch her. She squirmed in his grasp, moving the hand from behind her shoulders to supporting her gently around her waist. She extricated her left hand and slid it behind his waist. "This is the way to support a tired woman," she whispered.
He looked down at her and nodded, the half-smile touching his lips. "Thank you, Counselor. I shall remember that."
She smiled, seeing in her mind's eye the half-smile becoming a full one, feeling a phantom squeeze around her waist and seeing the lovely way his eyes would slide closed just before his lips pressed hers and....
Deanna's smile faded. Not this one,she reminded herself. Mine. Not this one.
"We are here," Data announced. He opened her cabin door and released her. "Good night, Counselor. Shall I check on you in the morning?"
She smiled. "I'd like that, Data. After ten, please."
He nodded and turned to go.
She reached mentally after him, and recoiled once more as her grasp found only emptiness.
Deanna slid into her cabin. She found it strangely empty without the desk and playpen.
Then a new ache hit her heart. There was no child here.
Now the tears came, driving her to her knees in their fierceness. "Tasha," she sobbed. "Oh, baby, I miss you! I miss your daddy!"
Riker strode down the corridor on Deck Eight. Everything was slightly different. Alien. As he neared his cabin, he passed Deanna's old one.
And he stopped like he'd walked into a brick wall. He looked at the cabin door and tilted his head slightly, frowning.
Then he adjusted his tunic and pushed the door buzzer.
Deanna raised her head and wiped her eyes. "Yes?" she called, cursing her cracking voice.
The answer came in her mind. It's me, Imzadi.
Deanna replied, "Come on in."
Riker took a step inside. "I... Dee, are you all right?"
She smiled. "Yes, Will." Then her face crumpled. "No, Will." The tears flowed again, out of her control.
Riker closed the doors and led her to the couch. Her grief hit him hard and he rocked her like a child, not trying to shush her. There was no need for words between them, nor had there been since Riker's accident.
When at long last she had cried herself out, he sat her up. His eyes bored into hers.
She nodded, trying her voice. "I'm better, thanks."
He grinned. "And I'm the king of Veranis Four."
Deanna chuckled slightly. "I keep forgetting I can't pull that on you anymore."
"Nope." He turned serious. "I don't think you need to be alone for a while. Come on."
"Where?" she asked, though she already knew the answer.
"My cabin. You know the routine: you take the bed, I take the couch."
"What's the matter with your staying here?"
He fixed her with that unsettling turquoise gaze. "Dee, Data's different and Tasha isn't even here. Do you honestly think you'll be all right in this cabin with those ghosts?"
Deanna didn't speak. She just walked into her bedroom and packed her nightgown.
At exactly one minute after ten the next morning, Data pushed the buzzer outside Deanna's cabin. He frowned at the lack of answer.
"Computer," he said, "locate Counselor Troi."
Counselor Troi is on deck eight, cabin eight-alpha-five.
Data turned to face Riker's cabin. He nodded and walked over to the door.
At the buzz, Riker opened the door. He seemed a bit disoriented, but the impression disappeared as he smiled at Data. "Good morning," he whispered.
"Good morning," Data said. "I--"
Riker put a finger to his lips.
Data nodded and lowered his voice. "Counselor Troi asked me to check on her this morning. I was surprised to find she was here." He looked beyond Riker to the rumpled bedclothes on the couch. "Most gallant, Commander."
"What?" Riker turned and smiled. "Oh. She didn't need to be alone, so she stayed here." He smoothed at the wrinkles on his tunic, and only succeeded in making them more wrinkled. Obviously he had slept in his uniform.
"May I come in?" Data asked.
Riker blinked at him. "Oh... yeah, come on. Sorry, Data. I didn't mean to leave you standing in the hall." He moved aside and Data walked in.
Riker moved to straighten up the mess and Data whispered, "Since your sojourn on Risa, the pair of you have seemed... altered. You seem more disoriented than usual...."
Riker shot him a grin over his shoulder. "Than usual?"
Data held up a hand. "An attempt at humour, sir."
Data went on. "...and Counselor Troi has seemed less resilient. More..." he groped for the word.
Riker deposited the sheets in the laundry slot and sighed. "The word is 'fragile', Data. And your observation is entirely correct."
"I do not understand, sir. The suddenness and totality of the alterations are alarming."
Riker bit his lip. After a moment, he met Data's eyes. "Data, what would you say if I told you we were exactly the same as we were when we left the Enterprise, and so were you. What would that indicate?"
Data considered, then nodded. "If we are the same as we have always been, and you were the same as you have always been, it would stand to reason that there would be no alterations. But there are significant alterations in your behavior."
"Think, Data. Use that positronic brain of yours. What was that Sherlock Holmes would say about impossibilities?"
"'When all logical alternatives have been exhausted, the impossible, however improbable, must be the truth.'" Data tilted his head. "If you are the same and we are the same, but there are alterations...."
Riker nodded. "Then it would stand to reason that...?"
"One of us is not the same." The android suddenly met Riker's eyes with an intensity that surprised them both. "The wormhole?"
Riker just smiled.
"We are not the same Enterprise you left."
"And we are not the same Riker and Troi who left this ship." Riker sighed, closing his eyes. "We talked for a long time last night, Data. We want to see Captain Picard as soon as possible." He looked over his shoulder at the closed bedroom door. "But give me a few minutes to get her awake and presentable."
Data frowned slightly.
Riker explained: "She is much frailer than your Deanna. The events of the last fifteen hours have been almost more than she could bear."
Data nodded and left the cabin.
Picard looked up from his desk at the chime and said, "Come!"
The door to his ready room opened and a freshly changed Riker and Deanna walked in.
Picard rose, adjusting his tunic. "Come in, you two. Have a seat." As they did, Picard cycled the privacy lock.
He sat down opposite them. Picard noticed Deanna looked a little scared, and Riker was holding her hand comfortingly.
"Let's cut to the chase," he said. "Who are you?"
Riker said, "I'm Commander William T. Riker of the starship Enterprise. This is Ship's counselor Deanna Troi." She nodded, and he went on, "Only this is not our Enterprise."
"That's what Data told me. Did it happen when you went through the wormhole?"
"Yes, sir," Deanna said softly.
"And how did you realise this was not your ship?" Picard asked.
Deanna dropped her eyes. Riker nodded and patted her hand, then answered: "When we saw Data. Our Data has an emotions chip and blue eyes."
"I sensed such... emptiness...." Deanna sounded as if she were about to cry.
"It's all right," Riker whispered to her. "He believes us."
Picard started. "Yes, of course I do," he said. "Surely you won't object to a test? To find out exactly what is the same and what is different?"
"What kind of test?" Riker asked, frowning.
Suddenly, Picard could sense tendrils reaching into his mind. He raised the mental shields Deanna had helped him build after the Borg attack. He saw Riker's frown deepen as he felt the tendrils retract.
"You're psionic, aren't you?" he asked Riker.
Riker's shoulders sagged a bit in relief as he nodded. "An empath, to be precise. With mild telepathy with the three people I love." Deanna smiled up at him.
"Three?" Picard asked.
Deanna turned to face him. "Me, sir. My husband and my child."
That rocked Picard. "You're married there? and a mother?"
Deanna nodded. "That's why it's so hard here. The two people I love the most...one is gone completely and the other is so different it frightens me."
Riker said softly, "She is not the strongest person under any circumstance, Captain. We have researched your Deanna's personal file, and her life is very different."
Deanna chuckled. "Except for her mother."
Riker laughed. "Yes, that's one woman I don't think is any different anywhere!"
Picard chuckled, then turned serious again. "I don't understand -- different how?"
Deanna sighed. "I am not a member of the Bridge crew. I resigned to spend all my time with Ta--my daughter and my counseling." She smiled at Riker. "And my best friend tends to be overprotective. I'm stronger than he gives me credit for."
Deanna shook her head. "But without my husband and child, I am... incomplete."
Picard nodded. "I understand. Is there any way we can help you?"
"Just get me home," Deanna said softly.
And her combadge beeped. Crusher to Troi.
Deanna frowned, and tapped the badge. "Troi, here."
Where are you, Dee? You were supposed to meet me in Holodeck Four for a workout!
Deanna smiled. "I'll be there, Beverly. A workout may just be what I need to get my head on straight." She cut the channel and rose. "May I?"
Picard nodded. "Certainly, Counselor. I do want to talk to Commander Riker awhile longer."
Deanna looked into Riker's eyes. Picard saw his eyes shine in that familiar way before he nodded and smiled. Deanna nodded and left.
Riker turned to Picard and the shine faded.
Picard sighed. "That's that light in your eyes, isn't it? You're using your psionics." At Riker's nod, he went on, "She started to tell me the name of her child and stopped abruptly. Why?"
Riker just looked at the floor.
"Was it because if she told me, I would know instantly who her husband is?"
Riker met his eyes and nodded. "She doesn't want his double here to know. It might cause him distress."
"I give you my word, I won't tell."
Riker smiled. "I trust your word, sir. All right. The baby's name is Natasha Lal Troi."
Picard frowned for a second. "Now why does that seem so...?" Then his eyes flew wide open. "The baby was named for Lieutenant Yar?"
Picard frowned again. "But why would Counselor Troi name a child after Tasha Yar?" Then the other name hit him. "Lal? Did you say her middle name was Lal?" At Riker's nod, he sagged deeper into his chair. "Data's android child was named Lal."
"Hindi for 'beloved one'," Riker said softly.
"And Data keeps a holographic image of Tasha in his desk," Picard said, almost to himself. His eyes met Riker's. "Are you telling me that Deanna gave her baby those names--"
"--because they meant the most to her husband."
Picard's eyes widened. "Data is her husband."
Riker nodded once more. "A Data that is as human as an android can get."
Picard blinked. "Well, he must be more human than we thought, if he and Counselor Troi--"
Riker's laugh cut him off. "No, sir. She was adopted. And it's a very long story. Deanna named her Natasha Lal so Data would feel it was his child emotionally. Which she is." His eyes took on a faraway look. "When I scan her, Little Bit has nothing but love for him. He's the only father she knows, and Dee is the only mother she knows. The intensity of an infant's love...." He shook his head and chuckled. "Well, you'd have to sense it to understand."
Picard was smiling now. "You called her 'Little Bit'."
"She's not biologically theirs, but she's a little bit of each one of them nevertheless." He shrugged. "The nickname stuck."
Picard sat forward. "Tell me something. Does Data have a last name?"
"And a middle name. Data Soong Troi." Picard blinked, and Riker smiled. "He said it sounded better than 'Deanna Troi Soong'."
"Were you born empathic?"
The subject shift took Riker off-guard for a second, then the smile returned. "No, sir. Till ten months ago, I was as mind-blind as a human can get. We were on an Away Team mission to Jelaktos 5. A mission of mercy, delivering medical supplies. A bomb went off in the square where we were having lunch. I was thrown headfirst into a solid stone pillar. Worf brags that I hit my head seven times before he caught me, but Beverly says it was more like three.
"The severe blows to my head caused extensive brain damage. Data and Beverly ran several simulations before they woke me up. Every one said the same thing: If Beverly tried to undo the damage, I'd end up worse than a vegetable. If they left me alone, I'd develop psionic empathy." He shrugged. "They left me alone."
"Was it hard to adjust?"
Riker sighed. "It took three months. Dee and Selar spent a lot of time with me, developing shields and automatic blocks." He shook his head. "I still wake up in the middle of the night awestruck."
"You got here through a wormhole. Do you think we can get you home the same way?"
Riker nodded. "Trouble is, will the thing still be there when we get there? We're a good day's journey away."
"We're more than that," Picard said, holding up a datadisc. "Orders. We're to proceed directly to Yarnala 6. They're in the midst of an epidemic, and we're the closest ship."
Riker sighed. "I suppose we divert to a starbase to pick up supplies first?"
"No. We did that just before we picked you up. We've been on our way there ever since. We're scheduled to be there tomorrow afternoon."
Riker frowned. Picard didn't need to be an empath to tell what he was feeling. "We will get you home, Number One."
Riker smiled at him. "I know you will, sir -- and not just because I can sense you're telling the truth." He stood. "But duty must always come before personal concerns, right?"
"Right." Picard stood and handed the disc to Riker. "You'll want to see this. Dismissed, Number One."
Beverly finished running the sonic manipulator over Deanna's shoulder. "How's that?"
Deanna circled the aching arm. "Better. Thanks."
"You're welcome." Beverly closed the tricorder. "Now, could you answer a question for me?"
"Who are you?"
Deanna blinked at her. "What?"
"You heard me. You're too out of shape to be Deanna Troi. All my instruments say you are, but your physical condition is that of a woman who's not exercised for at least...."
"Six months," Deanna finished. "And your instruments are right -- I'm who they say I am. But you're right, too. I'm not the Troi from this ship --" Beverly's eyebrows arched skeptically. "Check with the captain if you don't believe me! And I haven't exercised since my daughter was born."
"Daughter?" She opened the tricorder and ran it over Deanna. "There's no sign you've ever given birth."
Deanna smiled. "She's adopted. My husband is... sterile."
Beverly nodded slowly. "You know, you could have tried artificial insemination."
Deanna couldn't stop the automatic grin. Beverly, she thought, if you only knew how bad of a pun you just made! Aloud, she said, "It... didn't work."
"Hey, it was only a suggestion," Beverly said, feigning woundedness.
"Feeling better?" Beverly asked.
Deanna tested her shoulder. "Yes, thank you. No pain at all now."
"That wasn't what I meant."
Deanna stared at her for a long moment. "You'd make a great ship's counselor."
"I've already got a job. You don't have to be empathic to pick up on the depression that's been radiating from you."
"Geordi could see it without his VISOR."
Deanna winced. "That obvious. Any suggestions, Doctor?"
"Get some sleep. Since you obviously miss your family, find your husband's counterpart and spend time with him. He can't be that different from the man you married."
"He's so different, it frightens me."
Beverly frowned. "See if you can't drag out the man you married. Sometimes people change."
Deanna smiled at her. "I'll do my best." Then she sobered. "But what about my daughter? She doesn't exist at all here."
Beverly thought for a moment, then activated the comm on her desk. "Sickbay to Primary Care." Primary Care. Harvey here,the contralto answered.
Beverly blinked. "What are you doing there, Theresa? I thought I told you to stop holding down two jobs!"
Yeah, Doc, you told me. But I got stir-crazy doing nothing but xeno work, so here I am. What's up?
Beverly shook her head, muttering something about the oddities of the scientific mind, then she cleared her throat. "Could you use some help down there for a few days?"
Laughter came from the channel. Doc, this is Primary Care. We could always use some help!
"Counselor Troi needs the therapeutic touch of children. She'll be assisting you for a few hours a day." Across the room, Deanna smiled, joyously surprised.
Sure, Doc. Send her on. Anything else?
"Yes. At least cut back on your hours there, okay? I don't want your roommate waking me up in the middle of the night complaining that you're singing 'The Laughing Vulcan And His Dog' in your sleep again!"
More laughter. Duly noted. I'll make sure she wears her earplugs. Harvey out.
Beverly shook her head. "I'll never understand that woman...."
Riker downed his second cup of coffee and changed the screen he was scrolling through. He blew out his cheeks, thinking.
His door buzzer sounded. Riker looked toward the door, reaching out mentally. He frowned, finding nothing outside the door.
He then smiled and called, "Come on in, Data."
The door opened and Data walked in. "How did you detect it was me, sir?"
Riker tapped his head. "Somebody was there, but I couldn't sense them."
Data nodded. "Is that how you are able to detect my doppelganger?"
Riker smiled. "No. He has an emotions chip. His emotional aura is the warmest, gentlest, most ideally human I've sensed to date, just as he'd always wanted.
"I am surprised to hear that, sir. I had assumed, should I gain emotional awareness, the experience would alter my personality significantly."
Riker shook his head. "No. In my experience, emotions changed you for the better. The Data of my world is filled with compassion, trust, and genuine love for his friends and his... family."
Data blinked. "His family?"
"Surely you have a family?"
Data considered. "I had a father. I had a daughter. I have a brother." He nodded again. "Yes. One could say I have a family."
Riker frowned. Brother? That must be somebody they have encountered that we haven't. He sighed. "How far out are we from Yarnala 6?"
"We are within hailing range, sir. The Captain tried to contact you, but your combadge is not functioning."
Riker frowned. He hit his combadge and not even a cheep emerged. He removed it and frowned at it. "Must be a residual effect from the wormhole." He flipped it to Data and moved to the bedroom. "He's gotta keep his -- A-ha!"Riker came out of the bedroom pinning on a spare combadge. He tapped it and said, "Riker to Bridge."
Picard. I assume your badge is working now, Number One?
"No, sir. I borrowed one of... uh...."
Understood. Come on up. They're hailing us.
Riker cut the channel and exited the room with Data.
On the Bridge, Riker moved to his customary spot beside Picard. Picard acknowledged his presence with a nod and asked, "Where is Counselor Troi?"
Riker smiled slightly. "She won't be here, sir. She's not an active Bridge member there."
Picard nodded and dropped his voice. "Well, I guess we'll have to rely on your impressions, then."
Lowering his voice as well, Riker leaned toward Picard. "That's why she could resign so easily."
Picard chuckled. "Channel open, Mister Worf."
A member of the Ruling Council of Yarnala 6 appeared on the screen. He nodded at Picard. "Captain. You have come."
"Councilman Trychos, you requested Federation Medical Aid. Of course we have come. What is your status?"
"The epidemic has spread, captain. Almost one-half of our population has been affected. Please send down the supplies and people to teach us how to use them." Then he frowned. "But... please do not send your fabled empath down."
That made Picard blink. "Excuse me, Councilman?"
"We are suspicious of empaths. We would not feel... comfortable... if she were to accompany the landing party."
Riker frowned. "If that's how you feel, sir, she will not come on my Away Team."
Trychos nodded. "You are the leader of the party? Are you empathic?"
Picard quickly responded. "Councilman, I can honestly tell you that our Commander Riker is as mind-blind as a human can get."
Riker couldn't stifle the grin.
Trychos nodded again. "I await you, sirs." The screen went dark.
Picard sat down, Riker following his example. Picard turned to him. "Well, that's an interesting development."
Riker chuckled. "The honest truth, sir." Then he sobered. "Which is more than Trychos is telling us. There's another reason he wants Deanna left aboard -- he doesn't want any empath there at all." The frown deepened. "And I want to find out why."
Picard nodded. "Make it so, Number One."
Riker stood. "Worf, Data... you're with me." The three strode from the Bridge.
Four hours later, Riker contacted Picard from the surface. "What is it, Number One?"
Request immediate beam-up, sir. Please transport me directly to the Ready Room.
Picard blinked. He walked into the Ready Room. "Transporter room, beam Commander Riker directly to my Ready Room immediately."
Riker shimmered into view and turned to Picard, fury written all over his face. "Captain, we have been swindled."
Picard gestured for Riker to sit down. Riker did and Picard walked behind his desk and sat down. "Explain."
Riker leaned forward. "We went down with the supplies. While the Councilmen made a big show of gratitude, and even took Doctor Crusher to a hospital, I kept getting waves of deceit and satisfaction from Trychos -- like he'd gotten away with a fast one."
Picard shook his head. "I can't go on merely your feelings, Will."
"You don't have to. The waves of deceit got strongest when we got into the council chamber. I circled the room while making small talk, and they got strongest at one point in the room. I signaled Worf and Data, and steered Trychos out of the room while they investigated.
"Data found records of a manufactured plague started by the ruling body. They needed the Tricordonox we brought to eliminate the plague for their own purposes."
Picard frowned, and Riker explained: "The government is supplying arms to a faction on their world. They're funneling the money from the munitions sales to support the faction's opponents in a civil war that if either side wins, the government will probably go down. It's in their interests for the war to continue."
"Now I'm confused. How do the drugs come in?"
"They sell the antidote to their manufactured plague and use the money from the sales to buy the munitions and start the cycle over again."
Picard's eyes narrowed. "They're playing games with innocent people's lives to hang onto their power." At Riker's nod, he sighed and shook his head. "And they used us to propitiate the cycle."
"They've run out of the Tricordonox supply on their world and it will be so long till they can produce more themselves that the war will probably end before they can. They're totally dependent upon the Tricordonox to supply the munitions and support both sides desperately need."
"Without it," Picard mused, "one or the other of the sides will most likely sue for peace."
"And that's bad news for the ruling body."
Picard closed his eyes and shook his head. He then activated his desk intercom. "Geordi," he said softly, "get our people back up here. Inform them they are to bring every bit of the Tricordonox that has not been administered with them."
Geordi whistled. The Doc's not gonna like that.
Picard smiled slightly. "Let me deal with Doctor Crusher. I'll explain everything later." He cut the channel and stood up. "Trychos will probably be calling us at any moment. Let's go."
The second they entered the Bridge, Worf looked up from Tactical. Picard noticed his replacement was moving toward the turbolift. Worf growled, "We are being hailed sir. Councilman Trychos." He said the name as if it were a disease.
Picard nodded. "I've been waiting for this. On screen."
Trychos came on the screen, livid. "Captain, we contacted you for a mission of mercy! This is how you treat us?"
"Trychos," Picard said, stepping forward, "shut up."
Trychos registered a double take, as did most of the Bridge crew. "Captain?" Trychos gasped.
"We know the reason you needed the Tricordonox. And it has nothing to do with a true epidemic."
Trychos just smiled. "So you know our situation. But it doesn't really matter."
"We studied Federation laws very carefully, Captain. According to the terms of your own Prime Directive, you are forced to leave us the Tricordonox."
Picard took another step forward. "What makes you think that?"
"You are duty-bound not to interfere with the normal development of worlds that are not part of your Federation. If you remove the Tricordonox now, that will be interference." Trychos smiled the smile of a man who knows he has won. "So you see, you have to leave us the Tricordonox."
"No, sir," Riker said softly. "You're mistaken."
Trychos frowned. "Mistaken?"
Riker smiled. "You need to study our laws a bit closer. You contacted us for the purpose of humanitarian aid. According to Article Eight, that invalidates Article One."
"Article... One? What's Article One?"
Now Picard was smiling. "Your request for our aid makes the Prime Directive null and void. We can do whatever we want with the aid we send you. And due to the mitigating circumstances in this case, we choose to withdraw our aid and let you fend for yourselves. I truly wish you the best of luck, Trychos. Perhaps next time you will think twice before attempting to involve the Federation in your internal affairs."
He turned to Worf and made a cutting motion. Trychos was cut off mid-splutter. Picard then turned to Gates. "Get us out of here."
"With pleasure, sir," she said. "Any particular direction?"
Riker nodded. "Back where we reported running through the wormhole. We need to find out if it's still open. Warp Eight."
"Aye, sir," Gates said, fingers beating out a staccato rhythm on her board.
Deanna walked onto the Bridge just as the Enterprise reached scanner range of the wormhole.
"It's still there," she breathed in relief.
Riker nodded, relief in his posture as well. "But it's a lot smaller."
"Estimated time of closure?" Picard requested after a moment.
Data replied, "One hour, fifteen minutes."
"Thank you, Data," Deanna said softly. "Would you please go run preliminaries on the shuttle?"
Data turned from his board, confused. He met Picard's eyes and Picard nodded. "Yes, Counselor." And he was gone.
The second the turbolift doors shut behind him, Deanna asked, "Worf, can you shoot a subspace beam into that wormhole?"
In seconds, the beam was ready. Deanna leaned into the intercom and said, "Deanna Troi to Enterprise. Message for Lieutenant Commander Troi. Please respond!" She repeated the message twice, drawing curious stares from Gates and Worf.
Then a very faint response came. Data's voice, almost unintelligible. Captain! It is Deanna! They are contacting us from the other side of the wormhole!
What?Picard's voice gasped. Riker and Deanna looked at him to make sure he hadn't really spoken.
Then Riker's voice spluttered, You mean the wormhole is still open?
Riker smiled. "That's them!"
"Not for much longer, Data," Deanna said into the intercom. "We've got to take the shuttles through at the same time."
Not for much longer, they say, Data's voice said. The El-Baz must go back through, at the precise moment the other shuttle does.
How do we know this is them? Picard's voice asked.
How do we know you are truly you? the other Data repeated.
Deanna smiled. "When you got your emotions chip, the first words you said to me were, 'Now I realise what Will speaks of when he speaks of beauty'."
Picard shot a grin at a rapidly reddening Riker.
Data's laughter filled the Bridge, startling everyone but Riker and Deanna. It is them, Captain.
"Counselor," Worf said, "we are losing the connection."
"I love you!" Deanna cried into the intercom.
I love you, too, Data's voice said, softening as the connection wavered. Hurry home, love.
She nodded, trying to get her emotions under control. "I will, Blue-Eyes. Kiss Tasha for me."
I shall, Imza--
Worf shook his head. "The connection's gone. I am sorry, Counselor."
Deanna was trembling as she looked at Riker, a message passing between the two empaths.
Riker nodded. "Come on. Let's get that shuttle ready."
Picard, Riker and Data walked into the shuttle bay just in time to see Data finish the preliminaries. "The shuttle is ready to go, sir. All systems now functioning normally."
"Thank you, Data," Riker said. He took Data's hand and shook it. "Godspeed, my friend."
Data nodded as Riker dropped his hand. Data then turned to Deanna. "You sent me from the Bridge. Why?"
"I am... close to your doppelganger, Data. I thought it would make you uncomfortable to see how close."
He nodded. "Your concern was unnecessary, Counselor."
She dropped her eyes. "I know." Then she met his golden ones and smiled. "But I can dream." Deanna closed the distance between them and kissed Data on the cheek. "Goodbye, Data."
Data stared mutely after her as she walked to Picard.
Riker was shaking Picard's hand. "It was interesting, sir."
Picard chuckled. "Yes, it was. But I'll feel a bit more at ease with our mind-blind First Officer."
Riker laughed as he dropped Picard's hand. "It was unnerving for you." Picard's smile grew and Riker nodded. "And I've just proved your point. Goodbye, sir."
"Goodbye, Number One. Godspeed." Riker moved away and Picard took Deanna's hands. "And to you and your family, Counselor." He leaned forward and whispered, "Take care of that little girl."
She smiled up at him. "I always do, sir. Goodbye."
Picard and Data stood shoulder to shoulder as the El-Baz from another dimension soared out of the shuttle bay.
Riker stopped the shuttle just outside the wormhole and looked over at Deanna. "Ready?"
She smiled at him. "I want to go home."
Riker nodded, leaned forward, and activated the intercom. "Ready, Commander?"
As I'll ever be,came his own voice from the grille.
Deanna? Counselor Troi's voice came from the panel.
Deanna shot a glance at Riker, who looked at her in confusion. Deanna leaned into the microphone. "I'm here."
I just want you to know... your husband is a perfect gentleman. He and your daughter love you very much.
Riker leaned over and squeezed Deanna's hand. Deanna bit her lip to keep the tears of joy inside. Then she sighed and managed to say, "Thank you. I know. Luck to you... friend."
Riker smiled proudly at her.
Riker's voice from the panel said, On three, then?
Riker nodded. "On three. One... two..."
"Three." The shuttle entered the wormhole.
Again the twisting and writhing sea of energy. Again the relentless buffeting. Again the quick glimpse of nacelles as the shuttles passed. But this time, Riker blinked as they passed. "What in the world...?"
Finally, they were through. Riker activated the aft view, and they saw the wormhole begin to collapse.
Riker reached out mentally, and sensed and entire ship full of friends waiting for them. He glanced at Deanna, and saw the rapture on her face as she sensed her husband and child.
Smiling, Riker activated the intercom one last time. "Thank you. We're back where we belong."
Before the other Riker could respond, the hole in space faded out of existence.
The El-Baz limped into the Enterprise's shuttle bay. Data stood there alone, anxiety and eagerness on his face.
The instant the shuttle touched the deck, Deanna deactivated her restraints and practically flew toward the ramp. The next instant, she was out of the shuttle and in her husband's arms.
Riker couldn't tell which of the Trois was crying the hardest. He did the postflight checks and exited the shuttle.
Data was kissing Deanna, holding her so tight she had to softly remind him to loosen his grip or he'd break her ribs. He released her and gasped, "I missed you so much!"
"And I you," she replied, touching his cheek under his shining blue eyes. "Tasha?"
"In Primary Care." He leaned into her touch. "She knew she wasn't you, Beloved! She knew!" He kissed her again.
Picard chose that moment to call them to the Ready Room for debriefing. The Trois exited arm in arm, content to be together.
Riker basked in the almost physical glow of their love as they left, then he turned and looked out the shuttle bay windows toward the way they'd come. "Godspeed, Deanna... Will."
His smile grew as he remembered what he'd sensed as the shuttles had passed again. "Will. Perhaps...." He steepled his hands at his grinning lips and completed the thought silently.
Perhaps you're not as mind-blind as you think.
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