Ten minutes later, feeling much better and ears still ringing from Beverly's rebukes, both entered the Bridge. Deandra was already there, leaning over Data's shoulder and chatting with him.
Riker went to his place. Billie sat down in Deanna's empty seat.
Picard smiled at Riker. "Number One. How are you feeling?"
He sighed. "Much better, thank you, sir. Somewhat stronger and no longer too sore from the surgery."
Picard nodded and turned his head. "And you, Commander?"
She nodded at him. "It feels good not having to jab a hypospray in my arm every little while. Doctor Crusher wants us to report to Sickbay in a day or so to see if the new pancreases are doing their jobs."
Picard shook his head. "It seems odd, hearing everything in plural."
The pair smiled over his head. "No odder than it does to say it --" Riker began.
"....or to think it," Billie finished.
Picard observed wryly, "It's odder still hearing you complete each other's sentences." He smiled slightly. "If I didn't know you were the same person, I'd swear you two were married!"
That made them both blink.
At Ops, overhearing, Deandra put her head on Data's shoulder and laughed.
"Captain," Data said, tapping Deandra's shoulder. She raised up and studied his board.
"Yes, Mister Data?"
"Three ships dropping out of warp."
Worf was instantly working quickly at his post. "Confirmed," he growled. "Three small ships. Five life signs apiece. They are hailing us."
"On screen," Picard ordered. He stood and stepped forward to address the handsome young man who appeared on the viewscreen. "This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise...."
The young man scowled and the screen went dark.
Before Worf could sound a warning; a photon torpedo hit the Enterprise. Unprepared, shields didn't have a chance to go up.
Tactical sparked, giving Worf an electric shock. Roaring, he sank to the ground, losing consciousness.
Billie and Deandra bolted to the back of the bridge. Billie ran to Tactical, Deandra to Science Two.
"Shields up!" Riker cried.
"Shields are up!" Geordi reported from Engineering panel. "But down to 80 percent!"
"Who are they?" Picard demanded as the ship rocked again. "Why are they still firing at us?"
"Unknown!" Data and Deandra chorused.
"Weapons online?" Picard asked.
"Weapons online!" Billie reported. "Firing phasers!"
"No!" Geordi cried. "Commander, it'll overload --"
Tactical exploded in Billie's face. She was sent flying backwards.
Deandra rose from Science Two, turning to catch her. Billie plowed into her with such force that she was thrown into Science Two. Her lower back hit the edge of the console, and there was a "click".
"Oh, no," Deandra sighed as she sagged to the floor. Her golden eyes closed.
Picard saw Data's back stiffen. He saw the android's head snap up and his arms fall to his sides. "Data?"
"I am alert," Data answered slowly, "but I cannot move."
Geordi knelt beside Deandra and threw the switch. She moaned, opened her eyes, and smiled at him.
Data shook his head and raised his hands back to his board. "I am all right," he reported, going back to work.
"Report, Number One!" Picard ordered. There was no response. "Number One?" Picard turned his head.
Riker was slumped in his seat, unconscious.
"What the..." Picard gasped. "What's going on?"
Deandra reported, "Billie is out! Concussion, broken ribs, twisted hip..."
The Enterprise rocked again. Worf rose to his feet, roaring in Klingonese. He took one look at the ruined Tactical and growled, "Data, transfer Tactical to Science One!"
"Done," Data said.
Worf moved to Science One and reported, "Three ships still firing! Phasers and photons are down! Shields at 20 percent!"
Picard stared at the ships on the screen and said, "I'm open to suggestions."
Suddenly one of the ships was struck by a phaser blast. Picard shot to his feet. "I thought you said phasers were out!"
"That wasn't from us!" Geordi gasped.
"Then who..." Picard mused.
"Captain!" Data said. "The viewscreen!"
More phaser and photon blasts summarily crippled the other two ships. Then came a sight that took everyone's breath away.
Majestic in the blackness of space, a huge silver ship drifted slowly down till she was parallel with Enterprise. She was Galaxy Class, Federation. Picard's voice caught as he read off her registry number.
"NCC-1701D. She's... the Enterprise!"
"Our Enterprise!" Deandra gasped.
"They are attempting to hail us," Worf reported. "Our communications are down."
"Worf," Picard ordered. "Geordi. Get Tactical repaired.
"Captain," Worf said four hours later. "I've established contact with the other Enterprise."
"On screen, Worf," Picard ordered.
Instantly, they found themselves looking at a replica of their own bridge. A dark man raised his eyes to the screen. "Captain," he breathed. "I think you had best see this."
There was a small group of people huddled over Tactical. They all looked up. A woman with silver hair spilling past her shoulders smiled and nodded. "Thank you, Gates." She stepped forward, pulling down first the back, then the front of her tunic.
Picard blinked. "The 'Picard Maneuver'," he heard Riker quip.
"Enough," he whispered.
The silver-haired woman nodded at the screen, and her clear British alto said, "Captain, I must inquire about my officers."
Picard stepped forward. "Madam, if you are whom I believe you to be, you realise they are as safe as if my two were aboard your vessel."
"Captain!" the Klingon woman, half-hidden by the shadows, spat.
The captain raised her hand. "Enough, Wortha. I trust him." She turned her attention to the screen. "Agreed, Captain. We cannot remain here long. The wormhole will be closing in a matter of hours."
"Five," Deandra said automatically, then grinned.
"Did I hear Deandra?" a gentle soprano said. Picard looked over the captain's shoulder to see a woman with short black hair and a VISOR enter the bridge. "She's safe?"
"Right here, Georgy," Deandra chuckled.
"Where's Billie?" Georgy asked.
It was Riker who answered, gingerly touching his side. "She's still in Sickbay. Her pancreas has been regenerated, and she is recovering from the wounds she received in the battle."
"And you should be there, too," Beverly clucked, running a Feinberger over him.
A crash from the other Bridge drew everyone's attention. "Jeannie-Lee?" a trembling tenor whispered. "D-Did I just hear...."
The captain pressed her lips together, then nodded. "Come into frame, Doctor Crusher."
Beverly raised her eyes to the screen, intrigued by what a male version of her would look like. Then her face went dead white and she clutched the back of Riker's chair to keep from fainting. "Jack!" she half-sobbed.
On the screen, Doctor Jack Crusher was in a similar state of shock. "Beverly," he choked out. "Jeannie-Lee, I'm going over."
"No," she whispered. "Jack, I can't permit --"
He dropped his head. "I don't give a hoot what you can permit right now. I told you the night I married you I would always love her. She was your best friend, you loved her too. Come with me."
Unaware the whole other bridge had heard the exchange, Captain Crusher raised her head. "We are coming to your ship, Captain Picard. I trust you have no objections?"
"None," he said, hoping she wouldn't read the shock in his voice.
She nodded and cut the channel.
The entire Bridge was silent. Picard and Beverly's eyes met. After what seemed like an eternity, Picard cleared his throat. "Well, I suppose we had best go meet our guests."
There were four of them. Captain Crusher, Wortha, Jack, and a tall man with curly black hair and a beard.
It was this man who stepped from the padd and walked over to Riker. Except for the blue uniform the stranger wore, they could almost have been the same man.
Suddenly Deanna smiled and walked over to the pair. "She's in Sickbay," she said without any preamble.
The stranger smiled a gentle smile, eyes of an unexpected black turning to meet hers. "Thank you," he said. The accent startled all but Deanna. The eyes turned back to Riker, but he still addressed her. "I can hide nothing from you."
Riker suddenly knew. "No," he said softly. "You can't hide much from yourself, Counselor Troi."
The stranger ignored the gasps from Picard and Beverly and tilted his head in acknowledgment. "My name is Dean, ah...Bill? Will? Will, you are in pain."
Riker shook his head. "It's nothing."
"Bull!" came an explosion from the doorway. A visibly pale Billie stood there, supported on Deandra's shoulder. "You're hurtin' bad as I am! If Dean can sense it, it's there! Mind the Doc and come on!"
Riker chuckled. "That's not the first time I've kicked myself in the ass." He shook Dean's hand.
"And it won't be the last," Dean chuckled.
"Damn straight!" Billie snapped as they exited. She turned back and managed a weak smile. "Come to take me home?"
Dean smiled back. "Have I ever let you down?"
"I'm pleading Article Three of the Martian Colonies." Billie grinned as she limped away.
Dean and Deanna shook their heads and chuckled.
Jack and Beverly moved to one side. They touched fingertips, then embraced. "I can't stay," Jack whispered.
"I know." She broke the embrace. "You remarried."
He smiled. "Your best friend. After you were killed... and I got through raising Leslie..." He shook his head. "When she and I were linked on that planet, we both knew..."
She touched his lips, silencing him. "You don't have to explain." She grinned at Picard for a second. "I'm still waiting for him to ask me."
Instantly, Picard's cheeks became tinged with red.
Captain Crusher touched his shoulder. "We need to talk."
"Agreed. My Ready Room?"
She grinned. "Only if I can feed the fish."
Laughing, they exited.
The two Crushers stood and conversed in whispered. Dean and Deanna left for Ten-Forward.
Worf and Wortha just glared at each other. Finally Worf said, "This is ridiculous."
"Agreed," she snarled. "I would prefer a room full of Tribbles than to look into your eyes."
"I could arrange that," he growled.
"I'm sure you could."
Worf's voice rose in volume. "Do you take me for such a p'takh?"
"I take you as I take myself. If you see loathing in my eyes, it is only that you feel in your heart of hearts."
Worf opened his mouth to roar a protest, then closed it and grunted.
Wortha spread her hands. "Are we going to stand here and argue all day? Or are you going to buy me a raktageno?"
"I shall not," he said. "But I shall order us both prune juice."
She smiled a slow smile. "A warrior's drink. I accept."
As they left, she asked him, "How strenuous is your calisthenics program?"
Captain Crusher sat in the chair before Picard's desk as Picard moved to his replicator. "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. Two cups."
He brought the drinks to the desk and sat in his chair. "You said we needed to talk."
She nodded, sipping the tea. "Captain, those ships were from our space. They call themselves the Maquis."
"The Maquis. I've heard of them." He set his cup down. "And what would you call them?"
"Pirates. Murderers. From what we could gather, they saw the Pike go through the wormhole and followed her. Perhaps they were intending to raid your dimension's resources. We've cut off their main supply lines."
"And a dimension away is a long way to go for supplies." He leaned forward. "Which brings me to my next question. Why are you here, Captain?"
She sighed, setting down her cup. "To retrieve my officers and seal the wormhole. We don't need the worry of the Maquis coming to your dimension, and I don't think you need the worry of two groups of Maquis."
"You speak of them as if they were the enemy."
"Captain, in the last three months, they have destroyed two starships: Wayfarer and Gemini. Voyager vanished during a skirmish and her crew is presumed dead. When my shuttle vanished, we got suspicious. Then we traced them here."
Picard frowned. "What do you mean, suspicious?"
She leaned forward. "Captain, it's our firm belief the Maquis created this wormhole. They stole an experimental interdimensional travel device from Deep Space Seven and used it in a test near Risa. That was when the Pike vanished. We're hoping to get it back and seal the wormhole forever."
"How do you know all this?"
She smiled for a second. "We've had agents infiltrated the Maquis."
Picard sat in thought for a moment, then asked, "How can we help you, Captain?"
She smiled at him.
Picard nodded as the tractor beam pushed the last of the crippled Maquis ships toward the other Enterprise. "Almost there, Captain."
Suddenly a second beam enveloped the ship. It was pulled gently in line behind the other two. "Got her," Captain Crusher's voice said.
"Maquis transporters disabled," Deandra announced from Ops. She turned and smiled at Picard. "Shuttle bays sealed. They're trapped on board."
"I heard," Captain Crusher replied. "Now, Jean-Luc, if you would be so kind as to return my personnel, we'll be on our way."
"What about the interdimensional travel device?" Picard asked. "
"Aboard the Enterprise," Billie answered from behind him. "We intend to destroy it after we're through."
Deandra nodded, standing. "It is too dangerous." She looked at Data. "We shall never pass this way again."
Data opened his mouth, then closed it and nodded in acknowledgment.
All the other Enterprise's officers were back aboard their ship, save the pair that had originally come aboard. At their request, they went to two different transporter rooms to say their farewells to their doubles in private.
Data and Deandra were in Transporter Room Three. "I shall miss you," Deandra said.
"And I you," Data replied. "It was most intriguing, seeing a female version of myself."
"'Intriguing'." She did not sound pleased. "Well, at least you are improving."
He frowned. "I do not understand."
She grinned. "When you get that chip fixed, you will."
He nodded. "It is time, Commander."
Her smile grew smaller. "Before I go, there is something I wish from you."
"You have only called me by name once this entire time, and that was after I requested it."
"I beg your pardon. I call you by name frequently."
She shook her head. "You call me by my rank and last name. That is not my name, that is my title. You are me, Data. I would like to hear the name I prefer come from you before I leave."
Data just looked at her.
Deandra sighed. "All right. I keep forgetting you are not as far along as I am. Never mind." She held out a hand to him. "Good-bye, Data."
Data took the proffered hand, then drew her into a tender hug. Startled, she released his hand and wrapped both arms around him, closing her eyes and smiling.
He whispered, "Perhaps I am further than you or I suspect. I shall truly miss you, Deandra."
She stepped back, tears glistening on her cheeks. She stepped up on the platform and raised a hand in farewell.
Data moved behind the console and activated the transporter.
The image of her sad golden eyes remained after she was gone.
"'Now I know I've got a heart,'" Data quoted softly, "'Cause it's breaking.'"
Then he added, even more softly, "Again."
Billie and Riker were in Transporter Room Four. "So, this is it," Riker said.
"Yeah, I guess so," Billie said.
"I'm glad you came," he said. "You showed me a few things about myself I needed to face."
She smiled his own smile at him. "And a few I didn't want to. But there is one thing I need to say to you and to myself."
She took both his hands, blue eyes boring into blue eyes. "I really, really like you."
He blinked. "What made the difference?"
"Seeing you. Seeing life wouldn't have been any different if Dad had gotten his wish and I had been male."
"Seeing there was no need to hate yourself," Riker finished.
She laughed. "Your captain was right. This is odd!" Then she nodded. "But you're right, too. It's gonna take awhile to stop beating up on myself. I've done it so long it's become a habit. But Pin said she'd help, and Dean will, too."
He grinned. "Between those two, you don't have a snowball's chance in hell!"
They laughed together, then she dropped his hands. "I need to go."
As she limped onto the platform, Riker asked, "Are you going to be all right?"
She turned and smiled at him. "Uh-huh. Jack said Beverly did a good job, and he'll pump me full of painkillers and finish knitting my bones once I'm home." She nodded at him. "And you'll stop hurting the minute I'm gone."
He nodded. "Because I'm not hurt, just feeling the pain you feel." He shook his head. "This must be what Deanna goes through."
Billie held up a hand. "Don't you start! Dean's been riding me about it since the minute he got here!"
He laughed, then sobered. "I'll miss you. Hard to believe I'll never see you again."
"Oh, you'll see me again."
"Oh, really? When?"
"Every time you look in the mirror." Her eyes glittered with mischief. "IF you ever decide to shed that butt-ugly beard, that is."
Riker pretended to bristle. "I'll have you know it's my best feature!"
She laughed. "Good-bye, Will. Take care."
He moved behind the platform. "I always do. You take care of yourself, you hear me?"
Now she pretended to bristle. "What, and put Jack out of business?"
Her bubbling laugh echoed through his mind long after the padd was empty.
As he exited the transporter room, Riker met Data walking down the corridor. "Is she gone?"
"Billie, too." Riker sighed. "Strange. I miss her, but she's not really gone, because I'm here." He chuckled. "It's confusing."
"Yes, sir," Data said. "Commander, would you excuse me, please? I have an errand to attend to."
"Of course." Confused, Riker watched Data quickly walk away.
Data went to his cabin and locked the door. Then he walked around till he found Spot.
He curled on the bed with her in his arms and petted her until she fell asleep. Then he lay there, absently rubbing Spot, thinking about being as human as an android could be.
Thinking about Deandra.
And not too far away, the other Enterprise, Maquis ships in tow, slid through the buffered wormhole and closed it behind her.
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