First appeared in GRIP #52, May 1997
The author wishes to express deep gratitude to Peter David, because the last scene in his book "Q in Law" was the inspiration for this story.
(Historian's note: This story takes place before the Seventh Season episode "Parallels".)
Captain's Log, Stardate 47244.7. Commander Riker and Counselor Troi have been to a convention on Risa. Actually, Counselor Troi was a participant in the convention. Commander Riker had some R&R coming up, so....
"Comfortable?" Riker asked, smiling at his co-pilot.
"Hm?" Deanna Troi asked, pulling her gaze from the window. "Oh, yes. Very. Thanks." She turned back.
"You don't look it. You seem preoccupied."
Deanna turned back, smiling. "Since when did you become empathic?"
Riker smiled back. "I'm not. I just know you." The smile faded. "What is it, Deanna?"
She frowned. "Yes, I'm preoccupied. I saw some people on Risa I thought I had forgotten." She sighed. "I wish I had forgotten."
Riker laid a hand on hers. She turned and looked at it, then at him. A corner of her mouth twitched. She turned back to gaze out the window again.
Riker squeezed her hand.
Suddenly, the view out the window became a twisting, writhing sea of energy. The shuttle rocked and the instruments whined in protest.
Riker cursed, wrestling with the controls.
"What is it?" Deanna gasped. "What's happening?"
"Wormhole! Come on, Dee, it's not your first one!"
"In a shuttle it is!" she gasped, clinging to the base of her chair with both hands. "Will! What's that?"
Riker glanced up to see what looked like a pair of shuttle nacelles slide over them. Then they disappeared.
For what seemed an eternity, the shuttle was buffeted around, the starfield spinning rapidly and rocking when it wasn't spinning. They were both grateful for their restraints, fearing injury otherwise. Finally, they were through the wormhole and out the other side.
In the sudden silence, Deanna asked, "Where are we?"
Riker checked their position, and then turned wide-eyed to Deanna. "We're only two light-years off course!"
She blinked. "It seemed a lot longer than that."
"I know." Riker opened a channel. "El-Baz to Enterprise. Come in!"
"Enterprise here," a gravelly voice replied. "Is everything all right, Commander?"
Deanna sighed, smiling. Riker was not so easily cheered. "Worf, we just ran through a wormhole. We've been knocked two light-years off course. Notify Engineering. I want Geordi to check out the shuttle when we get in."
"Understood. He will be standing by."
Riker pushed the engines to Warp Three.
As the pair disembarked from the shuttle, Riker explained to Geordi what had happened. Geordi bent over the nacelle.
Just then, Data came bombing into the shuttle bay. Riker was surprised and amused to see him go straight to Deanna. "Are you all right?" he asked her.
Deanna smiled at him. "Thank you, Data. Yes, I'm fine."
To her shock, Data stepped closer and hugged her! "I was so worried," he whispered into her hair. He let her go. "You are certain that you are all right?"
She stammered, "I... I'm fine, Data. Thank you." She stared at him. There was something about his eyes....
Data smiled slightly at her, the same half-smile he always had. Then he turned to Riker. "And you, Commander. Are you all right?"
"You're not going to hug me, too, are you?" Riker quipped.
Data blinked at him, and then to Riker's amazement, he smiled a full smile. "No, I am not. You are fine." He turned back to Deanna. "I will see you for dinner tonight?"
"Uh..." Deanna looked at Riker. Riker shrugged, and she said, "All right. Tonight."
Data smiled at her and moved to Geordi's side.
Stunned, Deanna moved over to Riker. "Did I see right? He... he smiled!" She blinked her eyes. "And he asked me out!"
"More like you'd already made that date and he was reminding you," Riker said as they left the shuttle bay. "Is there something you're not telling me?"
Data watched them go, and then turned to Geordi. "Most unusual," he remarked. "Geordi, Deanna is acting very strangely. She does not seem to remember our... relationship."
Geordi chuckled. "'Relationship', is it? I thought you two went far beyond 'relationship' a long time ago."
"Funny," Data said. "I am serious, Geordi. I am worried about her!"
Geordi shrugged and turned his full attention to the nacelle.
Data frowned and reached for his tricorder when his combadge beeped. "Picard to Data."
Data tapped the badge. "Yes, sir?"
"Are they aboard yet?"
"Yes, sir," Data said, frowning. "Why?"
"Riker had orders to contact me when they landed. He was going to share the impressions he'd picked up from the delegates on Risa. I haven't heard from him."
"I shall pass along the message, sir." Data closed the channel and sat back on his heels. "Most curious," he murmured. "Dee does not seem to recall me, and Will did not respond as he should have. He even asked me about my intentions, as if he could not sense them. This is getting interesting," he finished, climbing to his feet and quitting the shuttle bay.
"Commander!" Riker turned to see Data jogging to catch up with him. "The Captain wanted me to catch you. He wants to know your impressions from Risa."
Riker nodded. "Well, it was the same as always. A lot of fun." He smiled, then sobered. "But why do I get the feeling that wasn't what you meant?"
Data opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment the corridor lights began to flash red and the computer voice said, "Red Alert, Red Alert! All senior staff to the Bridge!"
Moving as one, Data and Riker bolted for the turbolift. As they came onto the Bridge, Deanna came out of the other lift. Data whirled and grabbed her by the shoulders. "You should not be here!" he hissed.
"They said all senior staff," Deanna replied.
"You are not senior staff anymore!" Data said, his eyes pleading with her. "Please leave before the Captain makes you leave! Go to Ten-Forward, please! I will be there as soon as I can." He kissed her lightly on the forehead as he steered her back into the lift.
As the doors began to close, she saw Data smile, then turn and vault over the ramp to get to his station. With a jolt, she realised what had been bothering her.
He was treating her as though they were... intimate! And his eyes were... blue!
Riker settled into his chair to see a Romulan warbird on the viewscreen. "Shields up!"
"Sir," Worf said, "they are hailing us. Audio only."
"Let's hear it," Picard said.
"Federation starship," the strange, harsh voice said. "We are the warbird Praakan. We are in need of assistance. There was... an explosion off our nacelle as we patrolled the border. We were crippled and have drifted here. Please help us."
"End of message," Worf reported. "Obviously a trick, to attack us."
Picard sat in thought for a moment, and then turned to Riker. "Well, Number One?"
Confused, Riker blinked at him. "Sir?"
"What do you sense?"
Riker's eyes widened. "Sense? I don't know what you're talking about, sir."
Picard's eyes narrowed. "My Ready Room. Now."
As they left the Bridge, Data turned to look at them and frowned.
As the doors to the Ready Room swooshed behind them, Picard rounded on Riker. "Number One, what in the... what was that?"
Riker frowned. "I don't understand, sir."
"Don't give me that!" Picard snapped. "I expect you to keep me apprised of the situation, not play 'touchbase'!"
Riker's frown deepened. "Captain... I have no idea what you're talking about!"
Picard sighed, his eyes closing. "All right." He opened his eyes and glared into Riker's. "There is a Romulan warbird hanging off our port nacelle, claiming to be crippled. Worf suspects it's a trick, and I turn to you to tell me if it is or not and you don't know!?"
By now Riker was thoroughly puzzled. "No, sir, I don't know! I told you that!"
"Oh, come on, Will! You expect me to believe that an Empath doesn't know if it's a trick? You've told me a hundred times if.... Number One? Will, are you all right?"
Riker's eyes had widened. All the colour had drained from his face. "I've told you? An empath? Sir, I'm completely mind-blind! Are you all right?"
Picard's eyes widened. He took Riker's arms and steered him to sit on the couch. He sat beside him. "When, Will?"
"When what, sir?"
"When did you lose your empathic sense?"
Riker made an exasperated sound. "Sir, I have not lost my empathic sense! I have never had any psionic senses to lose -- empathic, telepathic, or otherwise! Counselor Troi is the empath around here."
"Counselor Troi quit the Bridge crew after Tasha was born! Don't you remember?"
"Captain," Riker said softly, "the only Tasha I remember was Lieutenant Tasha Yar. And Deanna has never had a baby... except for Ian."
Picard blinked and leaned back. His face was expressionless. "Look at me. In my eyes. I am placing you under oath, Will Riker. Are you now, or have you ever been empathic?"
"No, sir. I am not, and have not."
"Who is Lieutenant-Commander Troi?"
Odd question, Riker thought. "Counselor Deanna Troi."
Still stone-faced, Picard nodded. He tapped his communicator. "Picard to Lieutenant-Commander Troi. Do not respond verbally. Come to my Ready Room and bring a medical tricorder. Picard out."
Seconds later, the Ready Room doors opened. Riker jerked to his feet with a gasp as Data walked in. "Sir?" Data asked.
Picard did not take his eyes from Riker. "Scan him. Down to the cellular level."
Riker glanced at Picard, then back at Data. Data was running the tricorder over him. Suddenly, Riker grabbed Data's left wrist.
Picard jumped to his feet. Data stared at Riker; surprise etched over a face Riker had expected to be impassive. Riker's heart leaped into his throat as he realised the eyes boring into his were blue!
Then Data smiled. "It is all right, sir. Will... please release my wrist, and I will show it to you."
Riker released him, and Data brought his left hand level with Riker's eyes. There it was, only a shade darker than Data's skin.
Data wore a wedding ring.
"Troi," Riker whispered. "You... you took her name."
Data's smile became a grin. "It sounded better than 'Deanna Soong'."
Riker winced at the joke.
"Commander," Data said, gently steering him back to the couch. "You are as pale as I. Sit down before you faint."
"Well?" Picard said.
"A moment, sir." Data moved to the replicator. "Water, five degrees." It appeared, and Data took it to a shaking Riker. Then he addressed Picard. "It is Commander Riker, with one large difference. His brain lacks the damage our Riker sustained that rendered him empathic." He sighed. "I have noticed Dee acting strangely as well, as though she does not recall we are wed." He grinned again, the blue eyes dancing with mischief. "She will be surprised tonight!"
"How is this possible?" Picard asked. "How can this be Will Riker and not be?"
"The wormhole," Riker said suddenly. "We hit a wormhole coming back from the conference. We thought it had only taken us a couple of light years away." He smiled shakily. "Seems it took us farther than that."
Picard sighed and tapped his communicator. "Counselor Troi to the Bridge."
"Aye, sir," she answered.
"Captain!" Data gasped.
Picard held up his hand. "Mister Troi, I need some empathic help up here! Tasha will be fine in Primary Care, and Deanna's appointments will understand." He turned to Riker. "After we deal with this Romulan situation, we'll see about getting you home."
Riker nodded and turned to Data. "When did you repair your emotions chip?"
Data blinked at him and tilted his head slightly. "When did I...? Will, my chip was never damaged. Father installed it in me three years ago."
"I thought Lore got it."
"Who is Lore?" Data asked.
Riker blinked, recovered, and smiled slightly. "I'll explain later. A Data with emotions will take me a while to get used to. By the way, Data... who's Tasha?"
Picard smiled and left the Ready Room as Data explained, "Natasha Lal Troi. My daughter."
"Android," Riker nodded and turned for the door.
"No, she is not an android."
Riker stopped in his tracks. "What?!"
Data smiled and stepped closer, whispering one word in Riker's ear. Riker smiled and nodded. "I see."
When they finally got out on the Bridge, Deanna was already there. Riker said to her, "Do I have something to tell you after this is over!"
She blinked at them as they took their seats.
"Hail them," Picard ordered. In seconds, the view of the Romulan bridge filled the viewscreen. "Please explain what you are doing in Federation space."
The severe face looked back at them. "I am Subcommander Rishgaal," she said. "As my Centurion explained, we have sustained damage from an explosion. We are crippled and have drifted here. Our engineers are now performing repairs."
Picard looked at Riker out of habit, before he remembered that this Riker was not empathic. Riker looked over Picard's shoulder at Deanna and imitated her nod.
Satisfied that he was being told the truth, but still preferring to err on the side of caution, Picard said, "Mister Tr -- Mister Data?"
Data nodded, studying his board. "That correlates with my sensors, Captain. They have sustained massive damage."
Geordi turned from Engineering's board. "Sir, request permission to take a team over there."
"No!" Worf spat out. "Do not trust them, Captain!"
Picard nodded. "Mister LaForge, you may go. Mister Worf, I want copious security around our men."
Grudgingly satisfied, Worf left the bridge with Geordi.
Picard turned back to the screen. "Subcommander, we shall aid you in your repairs."
"Thank you, Captain," she said. "There will be no further communication until our repairs are complete." The screen went dark.
Picard sighed. "Well," he said, "I guess that's it. I'm convening a briefing in three hours to deal with our twin dilemmas." He looked around the bridge. "All of you, get some rest."
Deanna moved to Riker's side. "What did he mean, you've got something to tell me?"
Riker grinned at her. "Later," he said. "Go to your cabin. I'll be there soon to talk."
Deanna glowered at him, then left the bridge.
Data turned to Riker and winked, then exited out the other lift.
Riker leaned back in his seat and began to chuckle.
Deanna leaned against the rear of the turbolift and sighed. "Deck eight," she said aloud. What did he mean earlier? she thought. I'm no longer senior staff? I'd NEVER do that!
She stepped out of the lift and received a shock. Her quarters were nowhere on Deck Eight. She raced back to the lift. "Take me to the level on which Counselor Troi's quarters are located," she ordered.
The lift obediently took her down another level, to Deck nine. Puzzled, she found her name on the doorplate: Troi. She shook her head and went inside.
Then she shook her head again. The layout was different! There was a strange desk in one corner, a playpen in another! She smiled. Someone must have assumed I'd baby-sit tonight. But whose desk...? Ah, well, I'll figure it out eventually.
Deanna walked into her bedroom. Its layout was the same. She sighed and picked up her hairbrush, relief flooding through her. After brushing her ebony hair, she turned to the bed. Bigger, she realised. Someone must have... but I didn't order....
Trying to calm her whirling thoughts, she stretched out on the bed and kicked off her shoes. She closed her eyes and began some relaxation techniques. Just as she calmed --
The door swished open. Deanna sat bolt upright, then stood. She moved to the bedroom door and peered into the living room. To her amazement, Data stood just inside the doorway. She was even more amazed to see him place his hands on the small of his back and stretch, then unfasten his collar, go to the strange desk, and sit down.
She stepped out of the bedroom. "Data?"
He looked up and smiled at her. "You are home! I was concerned about you. Are you all right?"
"I don't know. Everything is so... hey, wait, I'm the counselor here!"
Data burst out laughing, a sound Deanna had heard only once before. And she was surprised that he got her joke! Then he looked around. "Deanna, where is Tasha?"
"Oh, Data." She walked over to the desk. "Data... Tasha died six years ago. Don't you remember?"
Data frowned at her. He stood up abruptly and moved around the desk to stand in front of her. "Tell me what happened on the shuttle."
She frowned. "We... we hit a wormhole. But when we emerged, we hadn't gone anywhere."
Data nodded and took both her hands. "And... Dee, please, this may sound odd, but... who am I?"
"You are Data. Android Second Officer."
"My full name."
He smiled and led her to the couch. He sat down, pulling her to sit beside him. "My full name is Data Soong Troi." Her head snapped up and her mouth dropped open. "Yes, the same name as yours. And there is a very good reason.... Deanna, we were married six months and five days ago."
Deanna's mouth worked, but no sound came out. Data couldn't hide a grin. He tapped his combadge. "Computer, locate Natasha Lal Troi."
Natasha Troi is in Primary Care.
"Primary Care?" Deanna gasped. "A child?"
"An infant," Data nodded. "Six months old. Our daughter."
"What?" Deana gasped.
"I shall explain in a while," Data said, standing. "Come. Meet her."
Minutes later, they stood at the window that displayed Primary Care. "There she is," Data whispered.
Deanna looked in and instantly fell in love. The baby lying on her stomach on the floor had straight black hair and large, luminous black eyes. She giggled as she rolled a ball back and forth between her hands.
"She's -- she's beautiful," Deanna gasped. "Is she -- is she empathic?"
Data smiled. "She is Betazoid. I would be surprised if she were not." The smile became a definite grin as he noticed her discomfiture. "Come on," he said, taking her hand.
They walked into Primary Care. The baby reached out for Data, who picked her up. "Theresa!" he called.
Lieutenant Theresa Harvey, the xenoanthropologist who pulled double duty as Primary Care director, came from the inner room, smiling at them. "Hello, Mister Troi, Mrs. Troi. A little early, aren't you?"
Data returned her smile. "Theresa, we have a situation on the bridge. Deanna and I will be needed for a while longer. Would it be any trouble if...?"
Harvey's smile grew broader. "No trouble at all. In fact, I was just about to feed her."
"We have time," Data said. "May we....?"
"Of course. Comfort area is all yours for a while." She nodded and went into her office. "If there's a 'situation'," she murmured to herself, "it's going to become a madhouse in here...."
Data nodded for Deanna to follow him. They picked up the baby and carried her into a room with two rocking chairs, a couch, and a broad expanse of clean floor.
As the doors closed behind her, Deanna asked, "A xeno? In Primary Care?"
Data was at the replicator. "Theresa says there is nothing more alien than children." He disentangled Tasha's hand from his hair and addressed the replicator. "Formula. One hundred and seventy-five milliliters. Thirty degrees."
It arrived, and Tasha began to reach for it. Data shushed her and moved over to one of the chairs.
The sight of Data curled into a rocking chair, feeding a baby, was so unexpected and charming that Deanna found herself smiling. As he cooed to the child, she sat on the couch across from him and asked, "How is this possible?"
He smiled up at her, blue eyes twinkling. "How is what possible?"
She stared at him for a moment, then said, "All right. How did you father a child?"
Data's smile faded. "Deanna, I am an android. Believe it or not, there are limits to my abilities." Then he said softly, "She is Betazoid, yes, but she is not yours or mine biologically."
Deanna shook her head. "Then... whose is she? And why is she here?"
Data frowned slightly, his blue eyes turning reflective. "We honeymooned on Risa."
"Risa?" Deanna laughed. "I wonder who arranged that?"
"Will said his imzadi deserved the best for her honeymoon, and naturally, for him, that meant..."
"Risa," they said together, then laughed. Data sobered. "We met a Betazoid there, Trylandra. Her husband served in Starfleet, and was to meet her there for a second honeymoon. She was to have their child in three months."
Data sighed and shifted the child's position. "Deanna -- my Deanna -- became very good friends with her. While we were there, word came that her husband...." he paused, and Deanna saw pain flicker into his eyes. "Her husband had been killed on a First Contact mission. The emotional shock threw her into labor. The Risan doctors could not stop it."
Deanna reached over and stroked the child's arm. "And...this is her child?" At Data's nod, she asked again, "Then why is she not with her mother?"
Data met her eyes and Deanna saw her answer. "Oh, no!"
"With her final breath, she swore Deanna by all the deities of Betazed to take the child and raise her as her own. And that is exactly what Deanna did."
"Did the mother have a chance to name her?"
"No. But Deanna named her as she did to make it seem, for me at least, as though she actually was my child, as well."
"And she named her Natasha," Deanna said. "After...."
"Yar. Yes." Data said, his expression turning wistful. "And her middle name is Lal, after my first daughter." The blue eyes clouded with deep pain.
"When did you change your eye colour?" Deanna asked suddenly.
He smiled again. "When Deanna and I began dating, I tried to appear more human. The skin pigmentation did not 'take'. The eye pigmentation did. Deanna calls me 'Blue-Eyes'."
Tasha, draining the last drops of the formula, coughed. Data draped her over a cloth on his shoulder and began to rub her back.
Deanna asked, "Do you think you can get us home?"
Data's smile faded. He nodded. "I hope so. And I hope my wife returns as you go."
On his shoulder, Tasha turned to face Deanna. Her black eyes looked almost accusingly at her.
"She knows," Deanna whispered. "She can sense I'm not her mother."
Data nodded again. "She knows." He stood up and turned Tasha to face him. "We have to go, Little Bit," he said, kissing her on the forehead. "Be good for Theresa."
Deanna touched the child's arm again. Tasha pulled away and curled deep into Data's shoulder.
Deanna couldn't justify why she felt so hurt.
As they left Primary Care, she turned to Data. "Little Bit?"
Data smiled. "Blame Will. He said she is a little bit of Deanna and myself, even if she is not ours biologically. The nickname stuck." He glanced over at her. "We have two hours and thirty-five minutes before the briefing. You seem full of questions."
"Where are we going now? And don't you have to prepare for the briefing yourself?"
"I did that before I came to meet you. Come on. I believe you need sustenance, and Ten-Forward seems the best place to find it."
Deanna gazed out Ten-Forward's window. "Was your wedding beautiful?"
Data smiled, nursing his sundae. "Exquisite. Deanna wore a gown I designed--"
Deanna turned to face him. "She wore a gown?!?"
"M-hm," Data said, his mouth full of chocolate ice cream. Swallowing, he added, "we agreed to wed in the human manner."
She broke into a grin. "I'll bet her mother loved that!"
He looked at her and matched grin for grin, blue eyes glittering with mischief. "Actually, she was not invited." Deanna blinked at him, and he went on: "M-hm. She only found out two months ago. By then, Tasha had fully settled into our lives. But in her transmission, Deanna deliberately neglected to mention I was her husband. You should have seen Lwaxana's face when she found out!"
"I can just imagine!" Deanna started laughing. "'Deanna, darling, how could you?'"
This made Data laugh. "More or less accurate! Her exact words were, 'I need a very stiff drink'... after she realised that Deanna was not jerking her calf."
"'Pulling her leg', Data."
Data blinked. "Yes. So it is. I apologize, Deanna. My metaphors still get mixed at times."
Deanna fingered the bowl of her chocolate sundae and sighed. "Data... is she different?"
"Lwaxana? She is still pompous, arrogant, rude..."
"No. Your wife."
"Mm. My wife. Different from you? Not too much. In fact, you are so alike that there is a clear and present danger that I shall fall in love with you. And then she will be angry." He smiled teasingly at her, but it did not reach his eyes. "So you see, I have to get you and her back where you belong. To protect myself."
Deanna ignored the joke. She saw his smile fade and the deep pain in his blue eyes. "You miss her."
"Part of my soul is gone, Counselor."
Before Deanna had a chance to react to this, Riker entered Ten-Forward and walked to their table. "Mind if I join you?"
"Go ahead," Data said, standing up. "Excuse me, Deanna. I need to check on the repair status of the Romulan vessel." Nodding at Riker, he left the table.
Riker turned back to Deanna, grinning like the Cheshire cat. "So. Are you enjoying married life?" He glanced at the table. "No, don't answer that. Chocolate ice cream with chocolate fudge. You're upset."
"Not upset," she answered. "Rattled. I'm not only his wife, I'm the mother of an infant Betazoid girl we adopted."
"Named Tasha," Riker said. "Data told me." He noticed the other dish and chuckled. "Looks like he's picked up your rather unique way of coping with stress. It must be hard on him, too."
"He told me part of his soul was gone."
That made Riker blink. "His soul? This Data acknowledges he has a soul?"
Deanna dragged her spoon around the melting ice cream. "He is deeply in love with her. His pain is incredible." At his arched eyebrows, she smiled. "Yes, I can sense his emotions. They have the force of a battering ram at times. Especially when he talks about her."
Riker covered her hand with one of his.
Deanna swallowed a spoonful of ice cream and changed the subject. "You keep alluding to something you want to tell me. What is it?"
"You and Data aren't the only ones different here. I'm different, too." At her quizzical glance, he smiled. "People pass me in the halls and suddenly blush or apologize. Everyone thinks I can sense what they're feeling."
Deanna blinked. "You? Empathic?" She burst out laughing. "You are the most mind-blind human I have ever met! And they think you're...?" She began laughing so hard, she was wiping tears away from her eyes.
Riker waited until she had some measure of control, then said, "According to Captain Picard, I -- or rather, my doppelganger -- was in a tremendous explosion on an Away Team mission about a year ago. My double sustained massive brain damage to the cerebellum and cerebral cortex."
"That's where our empathic abilities lie!" Deanna gasped.
Riker nodded. "The damage rendered him empathic. So now everyone assumes I am."
Deanna chuckled again. "The most mind-blind person I know, an empath." She pushed the dish of ice cream towards him. "You need this more than I do."
Data rushed to their table at that moment. "Will, Deanna, come on. The Captain needs us on the bridge."
As the three entered the bridge, they saw Picard conversing with the Romulan once more.
"Thank you, Captain," she said. "Our repairs have been completed most efficiently. The last of your crew should be returning to your ship now."
Data slid into his seat and nodded. "Aye, sir. Transporter room reports all personnel back aboard."
Picard nodded to the screen. "I am glad we could be of assistance. As one final gesture of goodwill, allow us to escort you back to the Neutral Zone."
The Subcommander smiled. "Thank you, but that will not be necessary."
"Captain!" Worf cried. "Second Romulan warbird decloaking!"
The Subcommander's smile grew larger. "As you can see, we have brought our own escort. We shall be leaving your space immediately and, as one final gesture of goodwill, we shall remain uncloaked so your sensors may track us, just to be certain we do not remain in your precious territory. We have enough information about the unstable wormhole to avoid it in the future." She nodded, and the screen abruptly showed the twin warbirds. They turned and warped away.
Worf let out several Klingon curses.
Picard sank into his chair. "For once, Mister Worf, I completely agree."
Worf's attention was diverted by a light on his board. "Commander Troi? You had better see this."
Deanna turned, but it was Data who moved to Worf's side. He frowned. "Subspace? From where?" He opened the private channel.
Suddenly his eyes widened. He had to grip Tactical to keep upright. "Captain! It is Deanna! They are contacting us from the other side of the wormhole!"
"What?" Picard gasped.
"You mean the wormhole is still open?" Riker sputtered. "The Romulans--"
"I do not think they wish to explore its possibilities," Data reported. "It will not remain constant much longer. The El-Baz must go back through it, at the precise moment the other shuttle does."
"How do we know this is our missing crew, and not some Romulan ploy?" Picard asked.
Data relayed the message, then looked up, a sheepish grin on his face. "I assure you, Captain. It is my Deanna."
Minutes later, the shuttle was ready. Riker went inside to make the preliminary checks.
Deanna turned to Data. "She will be back soon."
"I know." He smiled at her. "Deanna...." But he had no words. Instead, he took her in his arms and kissed her. Soundly.
Riker, watching from the shuttle, did a double-take.
When Data released her, Deanna was glassy-eyed. He had opened up his mind, and she had been battered by the full force of his love for her double.
Data led her to the ramp. As the doors closed, her last impression of him was a sad smile and huge blue eyes.
Deanna went up front and sank into her seat. Riker turned to her, and she held up a finger. "Not... one... word."
"Who, me?" Riker asked, the picture of innocence.
"Picard to Riker," came the word. "All checks complete. Good luck, Number One."
"Thank you, sir. We're ready to go and eager to get there. Riker out." He turned to Deanna. "Let's go."
Within half an hour, the shuttle was back at the wormhole site. Indeed, it was smaller. They had little time left.
The intercom crackled to life. "Ready, Commander?" Riker's voice came through.
"As I'll ever be," Riker responded, activating the restraints.
Deanna touched his arm and leaned forward. "Deanna?" she asked.
After a short pause, her own voice answered: "I'm here."
"I just want you to know... your husband is a perfect gentleman. He and your daughter love you very much."
A longer pause. When she answered, the voice was choked with emotion. "Thank you. I know. Luck to you... friend."
Deanna nodded at Riker, who smiled and addressed the intercom. "On three, then?"
"On three." It was strange, hearing his own voice respond. "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.
Finally, they were through. Riker activated the aft view, and they saw the wormhole begin to collapse.
Just before it closed, Riker's voice, soft with distance, came from the panel. "Thank you. We're back where we belong."
Then the hole in space faded out of existence.
The El-Baz limped into the Enterprise shuttle bay. To their surprise, Picard and Data were waiting there.
Before they unfastened the restraints, Riker activated another view on the small screen: a telescopic view of Data's face. Golden eyes shone from the pale skin.
Both he and Deanna let out a sigh of relief. The restraints were released, and they exited the shuttle.
"Welcome home, Number One," Picard said. "It... is Number One, this time?"
Riker grinned at him. "Mind-blind as ever, sir."
With a nod at Deanna, Picard herded Riker out of the shuttle bay. "I want a full report, Number One," were the last words Deanna heard.
Deanna stepped over to Data. "I... hope she didn't cause too much trouble."
She half-expected a grin and a teasing "trouble? her?" -- but all that happened was that Data tilted his head slightly.
"I do not understand."
"Did she act differently toward you?"
"No. Not at all. She did appear a bit stricken when they left the shuttle, but she recovered remarkably." He frowned slightly, shaking his head. "Did my... doppelganger cause you any distress? She gave me the impression they were...."
While he groped for the word, Deanna interrupted. "They were... very close, Data." She realised her double had not told him about their being married.
Data nodded, satisfied.
While they stood there in the suddenly awkward silence, Data's combadge beeped. "Data here."
"Mister Data, you are needed on the bridge," Picard said.
"Acknowledged, sir." Data tapped his combadge and nodded at Deanna. "Counselor."
So softly only Data could hear, Deanna said, "Mister Troi."
Data stopped in his tracks. He turned slightly back, a confused air about him. He stood there for a moment, his face never changing expression. Then he blinked his golden eyes, shook his head slightly, and left the shuttle bay.
And somewhere deep inside, Deanna Troi felt her heart break.
Return to The Realm