Assimilation

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Assimilation

by

Tamara W. Bennett

Based on Star Trek, Created by Gene Roddenberry

*1997 Tamara W. Bennett

PROLOGUE

Dusk fell on Vulcan.

The planet’s red sky turned magenta, its twin suns sinking into the horizon,
offering relief from their intense heat to the logical inhabitants of the hot,
arid world. A slight breeze blew, stirring up small dust clouds and ushering
the suns to a night of rest. Light became dim on this side of the planet as
two figures sat on the ground behind a magnificent Terran style chateau,
deep in a mind meld and oblivious to their surroundings.

One, a Vulcan male, had been born there, the other, a human woman, had
been born light-years away on the blue-green planet where the
architecture for the chateau had originated. The two had little in common
save for a single Vulcan ancestor long dead who would have been
forgotten had she not been the purpose for their meeting. The human in
fact showed little of her mixed ancestry; the only outward hint was her
long, black hair and eyebrows that arched a bit higher than usual for a full-
blooded human. She lacked the pointed ears typical of many Vulcan
descendants and her blood was red rather than green. They were cousins,
distant blood relatives who had happened to become friends over the last
few years as a result of the human’s desire to seek out her Vulcan heritage
for answers to a most perplexing problem.

“My mind to yours,” Sokan murmured as he pressed his fingers to
Tresana’s temples. She shivered, not from cold but from the slight shock
of having another’s consciousness enter hers for the first time. She had
allowed Sokan to try this only out of desperation; under any other
circumstances she would never have consented to a meld. The thoughts
that circled through her head constantly were things that she did not want
to reveal to anyone, least of all her cousin and her friend. But she trusted
Sokan, and more importantly, Tresana needed an answer. More than she
needed her privacy.

It was a clear, warm night as the two who would have been strangers sank
deeper into each other’s thoughts, not noticing the stars beginning to
appear in the sky. Tresana loved nights on Vulcan, and she wished that
she were visiting for some other purpose. Any other purpose….

Abruptly, Sokan began to tremble, then shake as he began to utter some
sound that was unintelligible. Tresana could not tell what he was trying to
say; the meld had been broken and she leaned back on her hands,
watching Sokan with some degree of worry. She worried because Sokan
was crying.

“I do not know what to say. How do you live with such pain?” Sokan was
regaining his composure as quickly as he had lost it but his distress still
showed in spite of his Vulcan discipline. “I must apologize for my outburst.
I…do not have a solution for you. The Kolinahr is out of the question, and
training you in the mind techniques of our people would not likely be
successful.”

Tresana breathed deeply of the warm Vulcan atmosphere. “I understand. I
am sorry I upset you so with the meld. But I know now that I am making
the right choice, and I thank you.” Tresana rose to leave, but Sokan was
not finished; he stood and followed her into the chateau where she
gathered her few belongings.

“You mean to do this.” It was not a question.

“Yes. I do.” She faced him now with the same apologetic expression that
she had worn when she had first arrived that day.

“You will be dead to us. In fact I would almost prefer to assist you in ritual
suicide than stand by and watch you do such a horrible thing.” Sokan was
angry; it showed even through his stoic speech, but he did not care. “This
disease is so difficult for our people, and for you it has made itself even
worse in that it will not show you mercy and kill you.”

“My physician has been working on a solution, so there is still hope.”
Tresana paused. “But very little. I still have to go to Deep Space Nine, you
know.”

“You speak to reassure me, but you are not succeeding. What of Captain
Picard? Will you be content to leave him behind as well?” Sokan’s
statement hit home then; Tresana began to feel the first twinges of guilt
and panic . “Does he know of your plans? I doubt if he would approve.
Think carefully, for what you do will be as irreversible as death itself, and
you will never see Jean-Luc again.”

“I don’t want to talk about him now!!” Tresana scrambled for the hypospray
in her pocket and gave herself a long injection. She trembled and labored
to breathe. “I’m sorry, Sokan. I have to leave; the Enterprise will be in orbit
in an hour and I have to be ready for transport.” She raised her hand in
the Vulcan salute.

“Peace and long life, Sokan.”

Sokan did not return the traditional “V” shaped hand gesture. “Long life,
perhaps. But I will not have peace, for I have lost my cousin and my friend.
Be careful, Tresana.” And with that, he went to his bedroom, saddened for
her. He wondered if they would indeed ever meet again, and if his friend
would be the same person if they did.

ONE

Captain’s Log Stardate 94573.2: The Enterprise is en route to Vulcan
where we will pick up Commander Tresana Styles and then continue on to
Deep Space Nine. The commander is due at the station in a week to meet
with a private freighter which recently encountered the Borg and lived to
tell about it. She is convinced that the freighter will provide information
critical to Federation defenses.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise 1701-E, the sixth starship
by that name, was in his quarters as he entered his log, rather than on the
bridge as usual. He put down his PADD and continued to look through his
family photo album that was still tattered from the crash of the Enterprise-
D. He had been meaning to put the pictures into another album but had
never done it; things like photo albums were not readily available in a day
and age of holograms and video files. He supposed he could have
replicated one, but it wouldn’t have been the same; besides, in a strange
way the burnt edges of the pages and the huge gash on the front cover
served as a reminder of a ship that had been lost too soon. Jean-Luc
missed his old ship sometimes.

The last time he had really looked through his photographs had been when
Robert and Renee had been killed in the fire in France; until now he had
had no desire to stir up old memories and grief at the loss of the only
family he’d had left. But he was in an introspective mood, and he had left
the bridge to sit in his quarters for a while and think. He was contemplating
a major personal decision, and now as he leafed through images of his
brother and nephew he found himself longing for a wife and family again.

Picard’s brief time in the Nexus had affected him more as time passed.
After the crash of the Enterprise-D and the bizarre return and death of
James T. Kirk Picard had come to the conclusion that his crew was his
family, but now he wasn’t so sure. The more he thought of it(and these
days, it seemed, he couldn’t help thinking of it), the more he wanted a
family. He wasn’t so distraught that he thought he would have a perfect life
like the Nexus had provided; at least, that was what he told himself, and
he had had enough time to examine himself and his life to believe that this
was not the case. Still, he wished he could talk to Guinan, who always
offered a unique insight into any situation with her ability to seemingly see
beyond time and space. However, Guinan was not on board; ironically she
had taken leave to visit one of her children. This fact only served to drive
home the point that he had no children of his own and in spite of their
sometimes discomforting effect on him he wanted to have them. He hoped
that the woman he was going to ask to share a life with him felt the same
way, and right now he had every indication that she did.

It was no coincidence that the Enterprise was ferrying Tresana Styles to
Deep Space Nine; Picard had pulled in a couple of favors owed him at
Starfleet Command to have the ship’s orders changed so that it would be
possible. An understanding admiral had helped him out, because if Picard
didn’t ask Tresana to marry him now he might not get another chance. On
the eve of the commander’s forty-third birthday rumors were circulating
through the upper levels of Starfleet that she was going to resign, and
Jean-Luc knew that they were very close to the truth. Tresana had not
been on active duty for a year now, and this new assignment seemed to
be an effort to do one last thing before she left Starfleet altogether.
Command was not happy at the prospect of losing one of its top scientists
and an expert on the Borg, and Jean-Luc suspected that was the reason
that it had been so relatively easy to get Admiral Brackett to change the
orders. Starfleet wanted her someplace where it could find her if she was
needed, and Picard, on a much more personal level, wanted the same.

They had met ten years ago and had had a brief romance that fizzled into
friendship when he was called for duty. That would have been the end of it
had he not met her again, oddly enough through Commander Shelby, his
would-be first officer who was now in charge of developing defenses
against the Borg. Tresana was Shelby’s technical adviser, instrumental in
the development of the Defiant class warships and an emerging expert on
the collective mind of the Borg. They had remained in touch, and in the
past year, a romance had once again emerged as Tresana came on board
to see him more frequently and seemed to have more trouble leaving him
whenever it was time for her to go. Picard found that he was having
trouble saying goodbye as well. He loved her.

The chirp of his communicator interrupted his train of thought. “Captain,
we’ll be orbiting Vulcan in fifteen minutes.”

“Thank you, Number One. I’ll be in Transporter Room Three.”

Picard closed his photo album, stood and looked at his reflection in the
window. He hoped he was ready for this; for he had made up his mind that
he would not end up like James Kirk. He would not die alone.

TWO

Captain Picard was not prepared for the figure that materialized on the
transporter before him. He had expected the Commander Styles that he
had seen on their previous visits; a tall, healthy figure with long black hair
and thick bangs that barely touched a set of highly arched eyebrows, ones
that cut oblique lines into a slightly paler than normal complexion. The
Tresana Styles he knew was a strong, well-built woman in her early forties
with cobalt blue eyes that sparkled with intelligence, courage and a vitality
rare for someone who had attained her position in Starfleet at such an
early age. This woman wore the same blue uniform and rank pips but
there the similarities seemed to end.

The first thing he noticed was that she had lost weight. At five feet eight
inches she had weighed about 160 pounds when he had last seen her.
That was a month ago; now she looked to be about 125. Picard examined
her face closely and thought he could detect the reflective properties of
medicinal makeup but quickly decided this could not be the case; what
would it have been for? Such makeup was only used to cover redness and
bruising from surgery or severe injury and Jean-Luc knew that neither
situation was a possibility. Or so he thought.

Had she been ill without bothering to send him a message? It would have
been typical of her; he knew that she rarely saw a physician, and had
never even brought her medical records on board the Enterprise, much to
the chagrin of Dr. Crusher, who had stopped pestering her for the
information a long time ago. Now that he considered it Jean-Luc realized
that even he did not know that much about the commander’s physical
condition. She never complained and he had learned that asking just
aggravated her. But this was too much to ignore; he would definitely ask
later, but only after she was settled, and after he found out why she was
carrying so much luggage.

There was her typical knapsack in which she carried her few personal
items, among which was a gold IDIC symbol on a chain- a gift, she had
told him, from a friend on Vulcan. There were a few clothes, toiletries, and
a holographic imager which when activated produced a likeness of her
grandfather. Jason Styles, former captain of the first Excelsior class
vessel, had been dead for many years now but was not forgotten by the
granddaughter he had raised. Beyond that Tresana never bothered to
carry much besides her Klingon dak tagh knife, but this time was different.
Beside the knapsack there were three large, menacing-looking silver
metallic suitcases, menacing because Jean-Luc thought they looked quite
heavy and he had a pretty good idea who would be carrying them to her
quarters.

“Captain, I didn’t think you’d be here when I arrived.” She smiled as she
stepped off the transporter platform and walked over to him. She wanted
to kiss him but restrained herself, knowing that it would make him
extremely uncomfortable, especially in front of Ensign Gable.

“Captain? You’re being rather formal, Commander.” He walked over to
retrieve her luggage.

“Oh, Jean-Luc, don’t, I can-” Her warning came too late; Picard had
already tried to pick up one of the metal containers and let out a groan of
displeasure. He succeeded but the strain of holding it was too much. He
put it down almost immediately.

“Uh, Ensign, please beam the commander’s things directly to her quarters.
What do you have in there, anyway?”

“Oh, just a few things I picked up on Vulcan,” she replied as they left the
transporter room and headed for her quarters. “It is good to see you, Jean-
Luc.” With that she took his arm and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek
before he could protest. They approached the turbolift and entered. “Deck
eight.”

“Tresana, you…don’t exactly look your best. Have you been ill?”

“I’ve had a very nasty Vulcan flu, but I’m feeling much better now,” she
said. The lie rolled easily off her lips as she looked around the turbolift.
She was well aware that she had lost a considerable amount of weight
from the stress she had been under and had concocted the story to avoid
having to go into any detailed explanations.

Jean-Luc was surprised that she didn’t become defensive as usual. He
suspected that there was more to it; that flu did not explain the medicinal
makeup, which he was now sure she was wearing, but he did not pursue
the matter. No sense in starting an argument, especially now, he thought.
“You certainly look like you could use some rest.”

“And a good non reconstituted meal. Don’t worry; I’m going to have Dr.
Bashir look me over when we get to the station.” This much was true, and
she looked at him and smiled as they stepped off the turbolift.

Picard knew that his request was futile but he decided to ask anyway. “I
wish you would see Dr. Crusher-”

“Dr. Bashir is my personal physician, and I don’t want to see anyone else.
We’ve been through this.” They approached the doors to her quarters and
as they entered, Tresana let out a sigh of frustration. “Ensign Gable is fast,
but did he have to beam my things directly in the middle of the floor?”

He was astonished to see her pick up those suitcases as if they didn’t
weigh anything and move them next to the wall. Maybe she wasn’t feeling
as badly as he had thought, or maybe he needed to work on strengthening
his arm. He wasn’t sure anymore but Tresana didn’t give him any time to
think about it because before he could ask, she was standing directly in
front of him with her arms around his neck, kissing him and telling him
what a pleasant surprise it had been to hear that the Enterprise would be
taking her to Deep Space Nine.

Picard told her he was needed on the bridge and left a few minutes later.
Tresana was left by herself, and promptly pulled electronic security locks
for the three suitcases. She couldn’t help opening one to check the
contents before she secured them and set the code; she had gone to a lot
of trouble to get the items that filled those cases and did not intend to allow
anyone to see them. Not that she was afraid of theft, not here; rather she
feared the prying eyes of one Jean-Luc Picard. She should not have let
him see her pick them up and move them; he was unaware of her Vulcan
heritage and consequentially stronger than human muscles. Even in her
half-starved condition she could have easily given Mr. Worf a run for his
money on the holodeck.

She had not been shunning food on purpose; God knew she had tried to
eat, knowing Jean-Luc would ask questions when he saw her again. She
even got hungry, so terribly hungry that she thought she could have eaten
at Quark’s bar on the station, but lately when she got around food she
simply could not eat it. Hunger would vanish and in its place there would
be the feeling that there was a tepid lump of foam in her stomach instead.
She dreaded having dinner with Jean-Luc tonight; how would she ever
avoid his suspicion?

However, she didn’t have time to consider that now; she only had a few
hours before dinner, so she dumped the contents of her personal bag,
gave herself an injection, and retrieved a cartridge. Tresana left her
quarters and headed for the holodeck. She had a very important date.

THREE

Earth’s hot sun beat mercilessly on the lush green fields of the Kentucky
ranch that had been Tresana’s home as a young child, the home she had
shared with her beloved grandfather until she had gone to Starfleet
Academy at he age of seventeen. Grandpa had died shortly thereafter,
and she had always regretted leaving him behind.

Until now. She stood with her hand over her eyes to cut the glare of the
sunlight as she looked into the distance at the horse barn where Grandpa
had spent so much time. It was here that she developed her love of horses
that she shared with Jean-Luc; the two of them had gone riding in settings
similar to this many times before. But not this one. This holodeck program
was something that she had been working on with Lieutenant Barclay over
subspace radio for two weeks, and so far everything was just as she
remembered. She made a note to thank Reg later on, before they reached
the station…before she left for good.

She began walking, then running when she saw the tall figure brushing the
chestnut stallion… Tiberius. Her horse’s name was Tiberius. Grandpa had
always hated that name. It was all coming back to her, but she barely had
time to let it sink in; for at that instant Jason G. Styles looked up at the
stranger and withdrew a very old type one phaser, pointing it directly at the
granddaughter he did not know. “Who are you, and what the hell are you
doing here?”

Tresana couldn’t help smiling; it was such typical Grandpa that she was
having a difficult time recalling that this was a holodeck simulation. He was
younger, and more vigorous than she recalled him, and it was a pleasure
to see him so…”Grandpa, it’s me, Tracy. I’ve come back to see you.”

The former commodore slowly lowered his phaser and seemed to think
carefully. “Tracy, you look so much…older. What has happened to you?”

“I’ve been away for a long time, I know.” At this point Tresana completely
forgot that this was a simulation and her emotions took over. “I’m so sorry I
haven’t come back before now…I’ve missed you so much.”

Jason re holstered his phaser and left the horse’s side. “You seem to have
grown up. How long have you been gone?”

“A long time-”

“I don’t remember…I remember you left for the academy…then…where
have you been?” He shook his head and paced a little before he came to a
dead stop directly in front of her.

“Grandpa, I need your help.” She did not know what else to say. Her voice
quivered.

“Of course, Tracy, you know I would do anything for you. What is it,
honey?”

Tresana extended her hand to him, and he took it, holding it as tight as he
had when she was a little girl. “Walk with me. I have something I need to
ask you.”

As the sun moved into late afternoon, the last two remaining members of
the Styles family walked along hand in hand in the replication of a family
ranch that Tresana had sold less than five days ago for three cases of
gold-pressed latinum- latinum that would buy her passage on a Ferengi
vessel. Tresana hoped and prayed that it would buy her life back.**

Jason Styles faced his granddaughter, holding both of her hands now as
the sun slowly set on them, signaling that time was running out. For both of
them.

“Tracy, you don’t know how heartbreaking it was for me when the doctors
told me that you would develop…this…someday too. Just like your father.”
Jason shook his head again. “My son…my wife…and you. I had hoped that
by this point in your life the Vulcans would have developed something,
anything, to stop this.”

“The research into this disease has been slow. I have found that most
Vulcans are reluctant to deal with it…It causes them a great deal of
shame.”

“God damn them all! They always did have a lot of shitty ideas about
logic!” Jason released Tresana’s hands, removed his antiquated phaser
and threw it as hard as he could. The weapon landed with a faint thud
several meters away. He took her hands again. “I’m sorry.”

“You always did have a way of making your sentiments well-known.” She
smiled again, even through the tears that had started. Abruptly pieces of
the simulation began to fade in and out, leaving gaping black holes in the
sky and making sickly noises. Tresana noticed the ground beneath her
feet alternating between grass and black and yellow grid marks. “Please,
Grandpa, I have to know. We’re running out of time…the holodeck can’t
sustain this complex a program much longer…”

“Tracy, do what you have to do to survive.” He held her close, one last
time. “Don’t let yourself end up like your father.” There was a long pause,
and Tresana feared that the program had given out. “Find a way to live.”

The holodeck arch appeared and the two looked over to see Captain
Picard enter, looking puzzled as he slowly realized what was happening.
Jason opened his mouth to say something to the officer from a different
era but it was too late; sparks flew from the control panel and the entire
program disappeared, leaving Tresana alone in the yellow and black
square grid of an inactive holodeck. Now Jean-Luc held her, not sure
exactly what this holographic commodore had said to her, and wondering
how much of Tresana he had taken with him when he disappeared.

Getting Tresana to talk about the holodeck program had been like getting
her to talk about her medical records- damn near impossible. Jean-Luc
had already given up by the time they had dinner in his quarters that night.

In the wee hours of the morning Tresana lay awake on her side with Jean-
Luc’s arm resting on her shoulder. She listened to him breathe in deep
sleep as she wept softly to herself. She wasn’t so distraught as she was
happy; she had never gotten the chance to say goodbye to her
grandfather. In her own way, during the next few days, she would be able
to say it to Jean-Luc.

FOUR

Two Borg held the captain’s arms as they forcefully guided him through the
corridors
of the cube ship. Jean-Luc heard no sound apart from the soft echoes of
his own reluctant footsteps as they approached their destination. The
Enterprise was gone; destroyed by the Collective because it would be
obsolete in the new order. He understood their reasoning all too well; the
memory of his own assimilation was fresh in his mind as though it had
happened just yesterday.

Come back, Jean-Luc…

They led him through a wide corridor, where he saw many other Borg,
including his newly assimilated crew. Worf… Deanna… Will… Beverly…
Geordi… Ro… Wesley… Tasha.. Data…Vash… Jack Crusher… then he
saw Robert and Renee, waiting for him, and… Tresana was there too…

Locutus, come back, we have her and we’ll have you too, come back…

They approached the table where he would be assimilated once again,
and Barclay was waiting for him, ready with the implants, those painful but
familiar implants… the comfort of the Collective awaited him… Abruptly he
was thrust onto the table and he felt the slight sting of a drill enter his
temple.

Come back, Jean-Luc, come back…

Picard sat up in a cold sweat, his heart racing as he gripped the side of his
skull, half expecting to feel the implants there. He looked beside him to see
Tresana sleeping comfortably and pulled the blankets back a little to see
for himself that she was OK. He slid back into the bed and held Tresana
tightly, glad that she was there even though she was not awake to comfort
him. He did not know why, but there was no mistaking it. The nightmare
had returned.

FIVE

Two hours after the poker game Commander Riker sat at the bar in Ten-
Forward hunched over a drink and trying not to look up. Counselor Troi,
Dr. Crusher and Lieutenant Barclay watched him from across the room at
their table, suppressing occasional giggle spells and trying not to get
caught watching him. At least, Troi and Crusher were trying not to laugh.
Barclay was trying to hide, not wanting to be seen by the commander.

“Counselor, the commander’s going to be very upset with me when he
finds out I didn’t really have a new holodeck program to wager. We
shouldn’t have tricked him with a phony bet.” Barclay was very quiet, lest
the commander hear of their deception even though they were on the
other side of the room. He was rather pleased that he had been able to be
good friends with Troi and Crusher, especially in light of the holodeck
incident, but he was starting to regret having agreed to trick Riker in the
poker game.

“He’ll get over it,” she replied, spooning into a chocolate sundae and
starting to giggle. She had not forgotten a recent week she’d spent without
chocolate, courtesy of Riker and a lost poker game.

“That’s easy for you to say.” Barclay gulped down a large portion of his
drink, never taking his eyes off of Riker, who was still sulking at the bar. “I
see another broccoli season in my future.” At that Troi and Crusher began
laughing again, and even Barclay smiled a little. The doors to Ten-Forward
hissed open and Captain Picard entered with Commander Styles on his
arm. Abruptly, the trio became deathly silent.

Barclay tried to break the awkward pause. “Commander Styles has, uh,
lost some weight,” he said. He did not know what else to say.

“She hasn’t just lost weight. She looks awful,” Crusher added. “I’m going
over there.” Beverly got up and left. Troi sat motionlessly, spoonful of ice
cream in mid-air, confused by the commander’s appearance and
wondering why she was hearing a desperate cry for help that had not been
there before.****

Commander Styles immediately approached Riker, unaware of his plight.
“Commander, it’s so nice to see you again. Could you have dinner with us
some time this week?”

Riker tilted his face out of view of Picard and Styles, putting his hand up
and shaking his head no. “I’d rather not, if it’s all the same.”

Tresana’s brows furrowed slight confusion. “Will, what is it?”

The first officer turned slowly and lifted his head. Picard couldn’t help
smiling in spite of Riker’s obvious discomfort. Neither could Tresana. “Will,
you’ve changed!” She feigned blindness to his self-imposed condition. “No,
wait. Don’t tell me! You got a new haircut!”

“It’s not funny.” Riker sank further into self-pity.

“Oh, you’ll be OK.” Tresana gave him a small hug. “You look better without
the beard anyway.” She turned to Picard, still smiling at Riker’s misfortune.
“I’m going to go say hello to everyone.” She left, passing Dr. Crusher along
the way. Crusher tried to stop her but was unsuccessful, watching
helplessly as Tresana was absorbed into a group of conversing officers.

“Poker?” Picard asked.

Riker nodded vigorously and turned back to his drink.

“Captain, I need to talk to you.” Beverly grabbed his arm and dragged him
out of Ten-Forward into the corridor.

The doctor spoke in a low, urgent voice. “Jean-Luc, she looks terrible.”

Picard winced. “Not now, Beverly.”

“If not now, when? Every time I see her she’s a little bit more pale, a little
thinner, a little more worn out. There could be any number of things wrong
with her, things I could fix, but she never even brings her medical records
on board. If there was an emergency I wouldn’t have a clue as to where to
begin. It’s a flagrant violation of regulations for her not to have her files
here and you know it!”

“You’re right. I haven’t enforced the rules on her visits like I should. She’s
just…very concerned with her privacy. She’s under the care of Dr. Bashir,
and she said she’s going to see him when we get to the station.”

“Well, she’s going to have to get over it. I want you to order her to report to
sickbay.”

“I will, but not tonight. I promise.” He seemed sincere, and the doctor took
him at his word. “In the meantime, I hope you’ll have a drink with us later.”

“I don’t think I can, I’m suppo-”

He touched her shoulder and looked at her intently. “Please. I’d really like
for you to be there.”

“Alright. I will.” As Jean-Luc went back into Ten-Forward Beverly wore an
expression that turned from bewilderment to astonishment and slight
amusement as she slowly realized why he wanted her there tonight. Well,
she thought, and here I was thinking I’d never see the day.

Troi and Barclay had remained at the table observing their fellow crew
members, not knowing what to think. Barclay especially noticed how
Tresana was mingling with the other officers, seeming to have the time of
her life. “Counselor, I’m not a very good judge of people, but Commander
Styles seems to be acting awfully chipper for someone who looks like she
just got out of a Romulan prison camp.”

“In this case I think you’re right.” Troi stared at her ice cream with her
hands in her lap. She had completely lost interest in eating it and was now
watching as the frozen confection melted into a primordial chocolate soup
with whipped creme on top. “Something is not right here…” Troi looked at
Barclay, confused and a little scared by the negative emotions she was
picking up. “Barclay… she’s here to say goodbye.”

“Reg, I wanted to thank you for writing the holodeck program for me. It
helped me more than I ever thought it would.” Lieutenant Barclay and
Commander Styles stood directly in front of a Ten-Forward window by
themselves as the other crew members mingled in the lounge that was a
lot more crowded than usual. After Tresana left Jean-Luc with Riker she
had dragged the lieutenant from his seat next to Counselor Troi to tell him
how successful the program had been.

“You mean it worked? One of our ensigns had to pry the cartridge out after
it fused with the other components.”

“It ran long enough for what I needed. I just wanted to tell you.”

Barclay looked around the room for Captain Picard and didn’t see him.
“Well, I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention the fact that I wrote it to
the captain. Or anyone else.”

Tresana’s eyebrows furrowed a little. “Oh, why? Reg, what you did was a
work of genius-”

“What I did was disobey a direct order from the captain not to create any
more holodeck programs based on real people. I know, this was a little
different, but I’d rather let sleeping dogs lie.” Barclay looked urgent now,
and Tresana took him seriously.

“Alright. I don’t understand, but I won’t say anything.” Oh, yes. “The
captain wants everyone to join us for a drink later. Why don’t you come,
too?”

“Uh, I don’t know.” Barclay had already heard about that, and from his
snooping through the captain’s personal logs he had a pretty good idea
what it was about. The captain made him uncomfortable anyway, and
Barclay was sure he didn’t want to be there when Picard dropped the
bomb.

Tresana was, however, resolved. “I’ll see you there.” She smiled, having
no idea what was about to happen.

A brief time later Ten-Forward had completely cleared out save for one
little group. Tresana sat next to Jean-Luc at a small table with most of the
bridge officers, along with Geordi LaForge and Lieutenant Barclay from
engineering. To her utter dismay Counselor Troi was seated next to her on
her other side and there was no way for her to move without being
conspicuous. Tresana had spent the last two years avoiding telepaths ever
since a most unfortunate encounter with a Betazoid in the Vulcan Embassy
on Earth and was not looking forward to the next time. Tresana knew that
Deanna was half-human but that didn’t put her at ease, and neither did the
other officers. Jean-Luc’s nervous mood wasn’t helping either; she noted
his discomfiture when he realized that Barclay was staying. She had
wanted to be alone with Jean-Luc tonight; right now that did not seem
likely to happen.

The Enterprise officers had been exchanging memories and anecdotes for
about forty-five minutes and as much as she cared for them all her
patience was wearing thin; she wasn’t sure if it was because of
Commander Data’s incessant laughing and antics with an abandoned fork
or the fact that she desperately needed an injection and couldn’t get away
to give herself one. Riker had still been sulking until Beverly had leaned
over and whispered something to him; now he sat glaring at Barclay as
though the lieutenant had somehow done him a terrible wrong. Tresana
wondered if it had anything to do with the absence of Riker’s beard.

The group finally became silent and when Jean-Luc spoke up to address
them Tresana thought that he would be thanking them for a pleasant
evening and they would be leaving. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
“If I could have everyone’s attention for a moment, I have something I
would like to say.” Picard took a deep breath as they all turned their
attention towards him. “I couldn’t have asked for a better crew than the
one seated here at this table. We have shared so many experiences that
you are like a family to me. And, if you would indulge me for a moment, I
have…an announcement of sorts.”

Tresana was completely baffled as Jean-Luc took her hand. He took her
other hand, and too late she saw what was coming. The next few minutes
seemed to go on forever with Riker, Troi, LaForge, Data, Barclay and
Crusher all staring at her- more to the point, staring at both of them.
Tresana had never been adept at receiving telepathic signals but they
were coming in loud and clear right now, summed up in one word: shock.
Looking back later she would only recall seeing everything as though she
had been a tiny observer looking down on a table full of people frozen in
time.

“…will you marry me?”

Tresana snapped out of her trance just in time to hear the question. She
felt like she had no control over what she was saying; in fact, she thought
someone else was talking when she gave her answer, but there was no
mistaking whose mouth was moving.

She laughed nervously, tripping over the words. “Well…I…don’t see how I
can say anything but yes.” As he put his arm around her, she whispered
that they needed to talk later. She resolved to give herself a very long,
potent injection before they did.

Data, LaForge, and Barclay, previously engaged in a technical debate,
forgot all about dilithium and were speechless. Data, wanting to say
something but unable to think of anything, brought his hand down on the
fork, forgetting it was there. The utensil flew across five tables and landed
in Troi’s forgotten ice cream, splashing chocolate drops on the table upon
impact. Beverly was surprised to find herself slightly envious of
Commander Styles while at the same time she was happy for Jean-Luc.
Riker promptly asked if he could be excused, and asked the captain to
stop by his quarters later. And Deanna, picking up the astonishment of
everyone present and Tresana’s extreme panic, decided it was going to be
a long way to the space station indeed. Only Tresana knew how far.

SIX

“Jean-Luc, I don’t know where to begin.” Tresana sat on the couch in her
quarters, put her head in her hands and looked up again. “You’ve, uh,
dropped quite a bomb here. I…had no idea what was coming.” She felt
herself growing agitated and wished she could think of some viable excuse
to slip away for about five minutes. She wanted an injection so badly she
could taste it.

“I’m sorry if I gave you a jolt.” He sat next to her and put his arm around
her. She pushed him away and got back up.

“Don’t touch me!” She was instantly sorry she had said that but was
powerless to stop herself. Not two hours ago it had felt good to have his
arm around her; now all it did was trigger guilt. Then anger.

Jean-Luc was taken aback and wondered for a moment if this was the
same woman he had proposed to in Ten-Forward. He leaned forward and
pressed his palms together, not sure what was happening; just sure he
was probably not going to like it. “This isn’t about me surprising you, is it?”

“Actually, it is, in a way. It’s about you ambushing me in front of a group of
people and not giving me a choice.”

Now it was the captain’s turn to put his head in his hands. “I’m sorry-”

“Don’t be. I’m the one who’s sorry. Jean-Luc, I can’t do this. Not now.” She
stood at her desk, gripping the back of the chair for support and not
looking at him.

“I didn’t mean to make it seem like there was a rush-”

“Not ever. Jean-Luc, I can’t marry you. I’m leaving Starfleet.” She sat down
now in an effort not to feel sick. It wasn’t working.

Picard was getting angry. “I’m not sure I understand what that has to do
with anything.” He rose from the couch and stood directly in front of her.
“You haven’t been on active duty for a year yet you’ve been on and off this
ship running around the quadrant chasing the Borg, going on mysterious
trips to Vulcan and God knows what else. Tell me the truth; is Starfleet
sending you on some sort of mission?”

Tresana wished she had thought of this herself; it was certainly a good
excuse to disappear into thin air and never be seen again. No one would
have thought to look for her; but her brain couldn’t seem to keep up with
the fast pace of her mouth. “No, nothing like that. I wish it were that
simple.” She tried to change the focus of the conversation. “You know, I
thought you always said that the Enterprise was your home and the crew
was your family.”

“Don’t try to change the subject.” She was still avoiding his gaze and it was
making him crazy; he began pacing to let off some of the excess energy.
“What has happened to you since you were here last? You’ve changed
dramatically and I don’t think I like it. You avoid everyone who cares about
you, you’re secretive, you lie, and quite frankly you look like you’ve been
through a Cardassian prison camp.”

Now she looked at him and clenched her fists under the desktop. “You
know, you’re the second person today who’s told me I look like hell. If I’m
so unpleasant to be around maybe you should leave.” Her voice was quiet
and grated with anger.

“Maybe I will. But I want an explanation from you and I’m going to get it
one way or another.” He turned to leave but turned back around as though
something had just occurred to him. “By the way, I’m ordering you to report
to sickbay. And bring your medical records with you.” After that he left,
punching the wall with his fist on his way to his quarters and wondering for
the life of him what had gone wrong.

Tresana went on a rampage, breaking everything in sight and screaming
thorough angry tears. It wasn’t supposed to be this way; this trip was to
have been a way for her to make peace with her past and now the future
was looking very uncertain. Why did Jean-Luc have to do that? She didn’t
think about the soundproof walls as she put her fist through the computer
monitor but she was thankful for them later. She shattered the desktop by
bringing both fists down on it with her Vulcan strength. Strength not
tempered with Vulcan discipline but aggravated by a Vulcan disease. God
damn them all! Having had enough she went to her bathroom and put
together an injection large enough to knock her out for twenty-four hours.
She would put the mess she had made through recycling and replicate
replacements later but for now she had to calm down somehow before she
killed someone… or herself.

SEVEN

Tresana hadn’t left her quarters since that last hideous argument with
Jean-Luc. She had planned on staying there until they docked at DS9 and
then slipping off the ship unnoticed; until then she did not want to run into
him and repeat the scene from the other night. Just thinking about it made
her sick to her stomach. She looked at the time and headed for the
bathroom, not bothering to shut the door. It was time for another dose.

The hiss of the hypospray was comforting to Tresana but the burn of a
ninety percent solution of trilexorin entering her wrist was almost too much
to bear. She winced and held the offending area tightly as she waited for it
to take effect. She wondered what she was going to do when the drug
stopped working altogether; right now it was only at half of its previous
effectiveness. She put the hypo away in a drawer and looked at herself in
the mirror. She was speechless to see Jean-Luc standing behind her in the
doorway.

Picard had a sardonic air about him that infuriated her almost immediately.
“I hope you don’t mind that I let myself in. Of course, anyone who goes
through someone’s medical records without permission probably doesn’t
care that much about privacy.” She was dumbfounded, as Jean-Luc had
intended, and he continued on without mercy. “You know, you could have
just asked. I don’t have anything to hide from you, but you seem to have
plenty to hide from me. What was in the hypospray, Tresana?”

Abruptly she pushed past him and made her way into the front room where
she wouldn’t feel so cornered. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I just
needed to know-”

“Know what? What the Borg did to me? That’s what this whole rotten mess
is about, isn’t it? You’re afraid of what they did to my mind.” His demeanor
softened a little but Tresana didn’t care; she had gotten his mind off the
hypospray for the moment.

“No…I just wanted to know what it was like, to not feel anything- to feel
nothing. Did you remember anything? Or anyone for that matter?” She
didn’t stop for him to answer. “I’ve been fighting the Borg for so long that I
never bothered to try to understand them. I love you but I can’t marry you,
not now. Not with so many things wrong.”

“You’re not making sense. What things?”

Tresana didn’t get a chance to reply, for at that instant a wave of dizziness
swept through her head and she sat down hard on the floor, holding her
forehead and grimacing. She had finally done it; she had overdosed and
there was no hiding it.

“Tresana, what is it?” He took hold of her shoulders and shook her slightly
in frustration. “Are you ill? I’m calling sickbay-”

“NO!” She looked at him as though he was a demon and leaned back,
backing away on her hands and feet and climbing onto the couch.

Jean-Luc was at a total loss as to why Tresana was acting this way.
“Commander, I am ordering you to report to sickbay.” He was quiet now,
still crouched on the floor because he didn’t want to intimidate her too
much. On the other hand, he thought that maybe he should drag her there
himself. Under other circumstances he would have called Counselor Troi
but Tresana seemed to have an aversion to the Betazoid and he wanted to
keep her calm.

“I won’t go, and you can’t order me. I’m leaving Starfleet. I sent my
resignation in two hours ago. I’m a civilian, and I’m leaving as soon as we
get to the station.”

“We’ll see about that. In the meantime I can confine you to quarters.” He
stood and headed for the door. “We’ll talk more in the morning, when
you’re more rational.” He left, more confused than ever, wondering what
had happened since her last visit with him that had been so bad.

Tresana crawled over to her desk, climbed into her chair and activated the
subspace communication function on her computer. Her Klingon dak tagh
knife glistened on the desktop, drawing her interest so much that she
almost didn’t realize that the link had been established and Dr. Bashir was
on screen.

“This had better be good; it’s nighttime here…” Julian had been sleeping
and was not accustomed to subspace emergency calls. After a moment he
realized it was his long distance patient and was wide awake. “Tresana,
what is it? You look terrible.”

“Julian, I…” She stopped, trying to remember what she was calling for. Oh,
yes. “I need to know what you’ve found out…the trilexorin isn’t helping me
anymore.”

The doctor had to think about what he would say to her. “This is not the
time. Wait until I can see you in person. Then I can explain everything to
you in detail.”

Tresana was suddenly angry with him. “Tell me the truth! You couldn’t find
anything, could you?”

An aeon passed before Julian answered. “No.” Another long pause.
“Tresana, you have to understand that my resources here are limited. I
wish you would allow me to send your records to Dr. Crusher; she could do
a lot more for you.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t care what you do with my records. I’m finished.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Something I should have done a long time ago.” She cut off the link
before Julian could reply. Awake, disturbed, and helpless to do anything
more for his friend, Julian reestablished a link with the Enterprise and
asked for Dr. Beverly Crusher. This had gone on long enough.

Still a day away from Deep Space Nine and her ride to the Neutral Zone,
Tresana felt like a rat in a cage. The knife still lay on her desk, calling her
to use it. She picked it up by the blade and began to cut.

EIGHT

help me

Counselor Deanna Troi awoke to a night that was blacker than usual in
spite of the soft glow of the nighttime lighting in her quarters. She rolled
over and tried to go back to sleep, telling herself that voice she had heard
was the echo of a fellow crew member’s nightmare already forgotten. As a
telepath Deanna was used to the thoughts of others occasionally sneaking
into her mind, but the thoughts weren’t usually as…loud as this one had
been. Or as unfamiliar. She pulled her blankets closer around her and
began to drift back into unconsciousness.

help me

Deanna’s mind was rudely thrust awake again as the unwelcome voice
intruded again. There was no doubt that someone trying to get her
attention, and she knew that she would not sleep until she located the
source. The voice haunted her though she did not recognize it; its
desperation and pain tugged at her soul even as she put on her uniform
and left her quarters in search of the unlucky being.

She went from deck to deck on the dimly lit ship, following a psychic trail
that seemed to be leading her on a morbid chase with more than its share
of dead ends. Where had she heard it before? She knew it and did not
know it, as if someone had whispered a secret to her that she couldn’t
remember. Deanna became frustrated as she came to a row of guest
quarters, touching doors and mentally searching for the person who was
crying out to her.

Deanna

“Will?” She called his name out loud but realized before she finished his
name that Riker was not the one calling to her. Riker’s quarters were not
on this deck, and she knew now that the voice was very close…

MAKE IT STOP

This last message was so intent, so full of torment that the counselor
gripped her head in anguish and fell against a nearby wall. But as quickly
as the pain had surfaced it left again, and she found herself in front of
Commander Styles’ quarters. Commander Styles, who had been
floundering in an emotional fog since she had come on board, even as the
captain had proposed to her in Ten-Forward. Never a telepathic whimper,
something that Troi had found disturbing about the captain’s would-be
fiancee. Now she felt Tresana and all her helplessness through those
doors…

“Computer, override security lock, authorization zero-zero-omega Troi
four.” The doors hissed open, revealing the pitch black interior. “Lights.”
Light flooded the room but Troi saw no one. She quickly scanned the
interior for the commander and found nothing. Then she looked behind the
desk. Commander Tresana Styles sat huddled in a tiny ball behind the
furniture, knees drawn up to her chest and shaking violently.

Then Troi saw the blood. On the carpet, the desk, the wall behind her.
There were large tears in Tresana’s sleeves, with gaping cuts underneath
that still oozed slightly. The commander’s hands were in shreds and her
uniform was soaked. What bothered Troi the most was the Klingon dak
tagh knife that lay on the floor beside her. The commander had done this
to herself.

Deanna squatted on the floor and touched Tresana’s shoulder.
“Commander, can you hear me?” There was a long pause, and Troi feared
that Stiles had slipped into a catatonic state and couldn’t see or recognize
anything.

“I’m sorry…” The commander spat out her words in a small, tottering voice
through tears that had begun to roll down her face. The droplets fell to the
floor, mingling with the blood that was already there. “I couldn’t get to my
communicator. I can’t move…you’re the only telepath on board…”

Deanna tapped her own comm badge and sat down with Tresana. “Troi to
sickbay. I need someone in Commander Styles’ quarters immediately.”
She forcefully pulled Tresana’s hands away from her body and held them
as gently as she could so as not to aggravate the bleeding. “Why did you
do this to yourself?”

“Don’t know…needed to. Julian tried to explain it once.” Tresana’s eyes
remained fixed to the floor. “Tell Jean-Luc I’m okay. He worries..” At that
she began to sob uncontrollably and began to have trouble breathing.

“Commander, you are far from ‘okay.'” Dr. Crusher stood behind Deanna
as she scanned Tresana with a medical tricorder. “I wish you had
permitted Dr. Bashir to send me your medical history sooner. We could
have been better prepared to deal with this.”

“Julian sent my medical records? Oh, God…”

“You should have had them with you when you came on board. The
trilexorin isn’t working anymore, is it?”

“No.” It was futile to try to keep it a secret anymore.

Troi was lost. “What is it, Doctor?”

Crusher was taking various pieces of equipment out of her medical kit,
looking frustrated and taking a deep breath. “The commander suffers from
severe depression.” Beverly tried to choose her words carefully. “And
we’re running out of treatment options.” The hiss of the hypospray seemed
to punctuate her statement. Tresana flinched a little, then seemed to begin
to relax.

Troi still looked puzzled. “I don’t understand.” No treatment? For a mere
case of depression?

At this point Tresana decided to confess, looking Troi directly in the eye.
“My great-grandmother was Vulcan. She had Bendii syndrome. The gene
mutated itself by the time it reached my father so that it’s not fatal…but it
takes effect when you’re about 12 or so. It never lets go…” She looked
away now. “My father committed suicide when the trilexorin stopped
working. He was younger than I am now.”

Beverly crouched on the floor now and tried to take on a gentler tone. “I’m
going to have you beamed directly into sickbay. Then we can talk about
this and try to figure out what to do.”

NINE

Less than twenty-four hours after the incident Tresana was back in her
quarters and Dr. Crusher was in Captain Picard’s ready room trying to
explain what happened. She had just finished fusing Tresana’s skin
tissues back together when she was ordered to make a report and she
was forced to leave Dr. Selar in charge of sickbay. Beverly was angry at
Jean-Luc for making her leave for essentially personal reasons, reasons
that could have waited, especially in light of the research she was now
doing.

She had barely had time to review the commander’s medical records and
was on the verge of discovering…something. There was an aspect of
Tresana Styles and her recent stay on the Enterprise that Beverly was
blinded to for some reason and she felt that if Jean-Luc would simply leave
her alone for a minute she would eventually understand what didn’t make
sense. And deep down, on a personal level, she resented being the
keeper of his ill-chosen companion. However, the doctor was never one to
allow personal affairs to interfere with her work; besides, she was too
preoccupied with the condition of her patient’s mental state to think much
about things of that nature.

Styles had been telling the truth for the most part; she was indeed of
Vulcan descent and she certainly carried a mutated form of the Bendii
syndrome gene, but the commander apparently had a gift for
understatement, as well as for just plain leaving things out. As Beverly
combed through her medical records what she found was unsettling to say
the least, and had she known the extent of Tresana’s condition the
commander would never have left sickbay that afternoon. However
Tresana was not likely to leave her quarters for a while, and it wasn’t like
she could leave the ship, or even beam down to DS9 without prior
authorization from someone in medical. Had this been the case the doctor
would have been initiating hearings; as things were she was pondering a
disturbing medical and psychological profile.

She didn’t know where the commander had been getting it or exactly how
long Styles had been using it but tests had shown she had been injecting
herself with a ninety percent solution of trilexorin for quite some time. Not
only was the powerful drug no longer working but the commander was
also addicted to it, and her condition was slowly worsening. Beverly
understood why she didn’t want to get married and burden Jean-Luc with
her severe depressive state, but he deserved to know the reason. Even if
Beverly was only telling him because regulations required she report
anyone on board who might represent a danger to themselves or others,
rather than because he cared.

The captain sat at his desk with head in hands, hard-pressed to believe
what he was hearing. He raised his head and spoke in a quiet voice. “And
you’re telling me there’s nothing you can do to help her.”

“Maybe, maybe not. The Bendii gene itself is complicated enough, and the
mutation she carries is tough to follow, even for a disciplined Vulcan mind
like Selar’s. It would take a long time to develop an effective treatment,
and she…might not be able to endure the symptoms long enough.” Beverly
didn’t want to say the word suicide. Not right now. “Tresana hasn’t stayed
in one place long enough for Dr. Bashir to be able to conduct any viable
experiments. She’s too obsessed with the Borg.”

“Well, it explains the odd way she’s been acting and why she…doesn’t
want to be around me.” Picard had to force those last painful words from
his mouth. “But I don’t understand why the Borg are a part of any of this
save for her engineering pursuits, and she told me she’s resigning from
Starfleet effective immediately. And it doesn’t tell me why she was looking
through my medical history. And if it is Bendii syndrome, even a mutated
form, why hasn’t the crew been affected?” None of this explained the three
cases of gold-pressed latinum either. That was one piece of the puzzle
that really didn’t fit.

Beverly shook her head slightly. “I wish I could tell you. It may be because
only about thirteen percent of her genetic makeup is Vulcan and she
simply doesn’t have the telepathic abilities that someone like Sarek did.
Right now I’ve got to work on a drug that will numb her mind long enough
for me to work out a treatment. I know I don’t really need to ask, but I’m
going to need the Enterprise to make a few stops in the next couple of
weeks…”

Picard continued to look at Crusher but he did not hear what she said. He
only heard three words.

numb her mind

Jean-Luc, I can’t marry you; I’m leaving Starfleet…I looked through your
records because I was curious…I wanted to know how it felt to not feel
anything; did you remember anything? I’ve been fighting the Borg for so
long that I’ve never bothered to try to understand them…I do love you but I
can’t marry you, not now, not with so many things wrong…I wanted to
know how it felt to not feel anything… Jean-Luc, I’m leaving
Starfleet…Jean-Luc

“Jean-Luc!” Beverly jolted him out of his trance, nearly shouting. “What is
it?”

Picard shook his head slightly as if to try to clear his mind. “I’m sorry. Make
whatever arrangements are necessary. This is going to have to wait.”
Abruptly, he got up and headed for the door. “And I would appreciate it if
you would go ahead and initiate those hearings. If she’s planning what I
think she is, we’re going to need all the leverage we can get to keep her on
board this ship and in Federation territory.”

Before Beverly could open her mouth to reply, Picard left and was on his
way to Tresana’s quarters.

Picard stood outside Tresana’s quarters for a full sixty seconds before he
lost all patience. “Computer, locate Commander Styles.”

“Commander Styles is not on board the Enterprise.”

Picard stood silently for a moment. “Computer, who authorized
Commander Styles’ transfer?”

“Transfer authorized by Dr. Selar.”

Picard was already on his way to sickbay as he tapped his comm badge
and contacted Commander Riker. “Number One, take a security detail to
DS9 and search the place. Bring back Commander Styles.”

“Sir, the commander had auth-”

“Not anymore. Just do it!”

“Yes sir.”

The captain nearly ran over a couple of ensigns on his way up to sickbay
and he came very close to stumbling through the doors. Dr. Selar was
running a DNA scan when she looked up and saw him.

“Doctor, why did you allow Commander Styles to leave the Enterprise?”

Selar was ever the calm and matter-of-fact Vulcan as she put down her
PADD and folded her hands behind her back. “There were no legal
grounds upon which I could base her detention.”

Picard shook his head slightly. “Surely…you realized her situation…”

“If by that you mean that I must have known about her desire to seek
assimilation by the Borg because of her medical condition, then you are
correct in that regard.”

“How long have you known about this?’ The captain was deathly quiet at
this point, almost whispering.

“Approximately sixteen hours, twenty-three minutes.”

“Selar, please….”

“I apologize, Captain. I had not considered your emotional ties to the
commander. I presume you have contacted Starfleet?”

“That’s next if we don’t find her on DS9.”

“Captain, I would suggest that Starfleet be contacted immediately. You are
not likely to find the commander on the station. If my calculations are
correct, she has already acquired transportation to the last known location
of the Borg. If she were assimilated, the damage to Federation security
would be incalculable.”

“Then why did you let her go knowing what she would do?”

“Sir, I must respectfully decline to answer the question on the grounds that
I might incriminate myself.”

Jean-Luc took a deep breath, straightened his tunic and struggled to cling
to the one nerve he had left. “Doctor, I want you to send me a full report as
soon as your shift is over.” He paused, not knowing quite what to do.
“And…you’re confined to quarters until a disciplinary hearing.

Riker didn’t have to assemble a security detail; after speaking with Worf on
DS9 the two of them had decided to assemble a group on the station.
Things would have been a lot more simple if Styles had left her
communicator on but apparently she had not been out of sorts enough to
forget to remove it before she left. The station had been sealed, so now all
they had to do was sweep each level, and Security Chief Odo had already
started. This was going to be quick and simple.

The first officer was taken aback to find Geordi LaForge in the transporter
room. “Mr. LaForge, will you be joining the search team?”

“What search team? I was just on my way to visit O’Brien. What’d you
lose?”

“Oh, I didn’t lose anything.” The two Enterprise officers stepped onto the
transporter platform. “But the captain’s looking for his ex-fiancee.
Something major is happening and he hasn’t had time to hold a briefing, I
guess.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised.” Lieutenant Barclay, transporter chief for the shift,
was muttering to himself more than anything else, but LaForge and Riker
heard anyway.

“Barclay, do you know something we don’t know?” LaForge smiled a little.

“Uh, not officially I don’t.”

“Well, why don’t you unofficially debrief us when we get back.” LaForge
snickered a little, knowing that the lieutenant used his excessive free time
to pilfer through private computer files for entertainment. “In the meantime,
I’m leaving you in charge of engineering. Energize.” Riker and LaForge
shimmered out of sight and materialized on the DS9 transporter platform.

As the two stepped down, Riker asked, “Why did you leave Barclay of all
people in charge of engineering?”

LaForge couldn’t help smiling again. “Will, that guy has too much time on
his hands. Besides, we’re docked at a Federation station, the only vessel
in sight is a Ferengi marauder, and I’m just a communicator tap away.
What could possibly happen?”

TEN

Data sat at the science station monitoring communications from DS9 and
the Ferengi vessel on the other side of the station. While he monitored, he
was contemplating a new dietary supplement for Spot, plotting a course to
the last known location of the Borg, writing a new holodeck program,
downloading files from the main computer, and speculating as to where
Commander Styles might be. The android’s fingers flew across the panel
entering information even as he read computer responses to several
different entries at once. He was interrupted by a rapidly flashing red light
on his console and a pulsating alarm. He turned his head and saw the
cause for the alarm on the main viewscreen.

“Oh, shit!” Data whirled around in his chair tapping his comm badge but it
was too late. A series of photon torpedoes impacted, knocking him out of
his chair and causing various explosions throughout the ship. Had anyone
been looking at the viewscreen at that moment they would have seen
DS9’s docking pilon flying through space. Electrical impulses ran through
Data’s console and sparks flew from two or three areas on the bridge in a
spectacular fountain of light. Picard emerged from his ready room almost
immediately.

“Mr. Data, what the hell is going on?” Picard headed for his chair but didn’t
sit down. His communicator chirped.

“Riker to Enterprise! What’s happening?”

“We are under attack from the Ferengi vessel, sir!” Data got up off the
floor to get back to his station. The bridge was pure bedlam, with officers
running back and forth taking casualty reports and rerouting power all over
the ship. The red alert beacons were flashing and the whine of their siren
permeated the ship.

“Prepare to fire on the Ferengi ship!”

“Too late; the Ferengi have gone into warp.” Before Picard could reply he
was interrupted by a call from engineering.

“Barclay to bridge!”

“Report, Mr. Barclay!”

Picard could hear chaos in the background of Barclay’s message; the
shouting and coughing nearly drowned the lieutenant’s message out
altogether. “Sir, they knew exactly where to hit us. We’ve got to evacuate
everybody to the saucer section and separate the ship now!”

“Mr. Barclay, are-”

“Sir, there’s no time to explain! She’s gonna blow!”

“Understood. Begin evacuation! Mr. Data, start the separation sequence.”
Picard took exactly one second to allow the situation to sink in. He was
losing another ship.

From the bridge on DS9, Commander Riker and Chief Engineer LaForge
could only watch helplessly on a viewscreen as the ship they’d had for less
than eighteen months headed for a violent premature end.

Barclay was panicking even as he evacuated the lower half of the ship,
ushering people through exits and coughing from the thick smoke. It’s too
soon, he thought madly to himself as he attempted unsuccessfully to
activate emergency measures to control some of the smoke so that people
could at least see their way out. Where was LaForge? Images from his life
began to play themselves in his head; his mother, the academy, Counselor
Troi on the holodeck…”I am the Goddess of Empathy…”

Young Ensign Gable was the last one Barclay knew of. He pushed him
through the door and activated the seal.

“Sir! You’ll be trapped!” Gable began to go back.

Barclay pushed him back through. “Somebody’s got to stay behind to pilot
this thing away from Bajor. I’ll be OK, now get out of here!”

Barclay remained long enough to make sure the seal took then headed for
the battle bridge. He had lied to the ensign; there was no way he was
going to get out of this alive. He decided that if he did he was going to take
extended leave on the holodeck.

Riker, LaForge and most of the senior staff of DS9 stood glued to the
veiwscreen as the Enterprise separated and the battle section ever so
slowly turned and began to inch away from Bajor and the station. Worf
looked up from his console. “One minute, seventeen seconds to warp core
breach.”

“Oh my God.” Geordi massaged his forehead and began to pace.

Riker was mesmerized by the scene before him. “Can they get the battle
section out of range in time?” Where was Deanna? Or the captain? And
why was he here, helpless to do anything?

“Yeah…Worf, can you tell if they got everybody evacuated?” Geordi was
directly in front of Worf’s station now.

“There is one person remaining on the battle bridge.” Worf looked at
Geordi in disbelief, his voice as soft as a Klingon’s could be. “It is
Lieutenant Barclay.”

LaForge and Riker could only stare at the viewscreen with their mouths
half open, partly in admiration and partly in horror as they watched the
battle section and the former Lieutenant Broccoli drift away from the
station toward certain death.

Barclay worked furiously, bouncing back and forth between consoles on
the battle bridge trying to get the ship as far away from the saucer section
and Bajor as possible. He looked at the time. Thirty seconds.

He hit the last few buttons and watched as DS9, the Enterprise saucer and
Bajor shrank. The battle section would be well out of range when it
exploded.

Fourteen seconds.

Barclay sat on the floor, put his head between his fists, closed his eyes
and braced himself for total obliteration. His mind raced as he counted
along in his head, and he thought madly that he would have liked to have
gone to the bathroom one last time…

Eight, seven, six….

…he wondered if it would be over with quickly, or if he would drift in space
for a few seconds…

Picard, Crusher, Data, Troi, and several of the bridge crew watched the
battle section float toward certain doom as helplessly as the crew on DS9.
Troi was crying, grateful that she had been so forgiving of the lieutenant in
the last few weeks and wishing that she had invited him to play poker more
often.

…two, one…..

Nothing. Barclay remained on the floor, convinced that he had somehow
lost count.

Five seconds. Then ten. Barclay finally dared to stand and look at the
console. He couldn’t believe what he saw: the computer was caught in a
preprogrammed loop designed to make the crew think that the ship was
going to explode. He sat down, shaking as he pulled up data on the rest of
the ship and the casualty reports. The warp engines would take a few
hours to repair, and there was certainly damage to the ship, but only
enough to temporarily disable the warp drive. And no one had been
seriously injured. An elaborate ruse, perpetrated by someone who really
knew what they were doing…

…someone like Tresana Styles, who was probably on board the Ferengi
vessel right now, certain that no one would be able to stop her, especially
since the only starship in the sector was now disabled. Barclay didn’t know
whether to be angry or relieved as he sank into the chair, ignoring the
agitated hails from the saucer section and the station. He took a moment
to send a prayer of thanks to whatever deity might be listening. Then he
pulled up a map of the battle section to determine the location of the
nearest restroom.

ELEVEN

The senior staff of the Enterprise had entered the briefing room with a
sense of great relief two hours after the near loss of their ship, but a few
minutes into the meeting the mood had quickly changed to a much more
somber one. Commander Riker, Counselor Troi, Dr. Crusher, and
Commander Data had been listening in stoic silence as Captain Picard
quietly explained what Tresana had done and why. LaForge, still working
on repairs to the warp drive, was not in attendance and had sent
Lieutenant Barclay instead. The most notable of the group, however, was
Commander Shelby, who did not sit at the table as the rest of them but
preferred to pace restlessly about the room with her hands clasped behind
her back.

Picard didn’t know how Shelby had gotten to the Enterprise so quickly after
he had contacted Starfleet Command, but less than ninety minutes after
their close call with disaster Shelby had beamed aboard the ship with only
a standard issue phaser on her hip and a hard expression on her face that
he was accustomed to seeing on fellow officers only in times of great
crisis. He knew that this wasn’t any easier for her than it was for him;
Shelby had orders to kill Styles if she had to, and the two had a long
history of friendship together. Shelby had in fact requested that she not be
assigned this mission because of her personal involvement and had also
begged Admiral Brackett not to send the Enterprise for the same reason.
The admiral had listened to her but had not taken her advice; he wanted
her there because of her expertise on the Borg, and he wanted Picard
there because Styles was likely to listen to him.

Barclay told the group that while repairs were going well, they were not
likely to catch the Ferengi vessel before Styles could make it over to the
Borg ship, and the group made plans for the Enterprise to hide behind a
nearby moon while Picard and Shelby beamed over and retrieved the
commander. “Well, if there are no further questions, everyone is
dismissed.” Picard backed up in his chair to get up but not before one crew
member spoke up. His words stopped Picard cold.

“Um, I have a question- er, comment, really.” Barclay fidgeted as he
addressed the group, wishing that he had Riker’s confidence. “I, uh, think
we should let her go. Sir.”

Picard froze midway out of his chair. “Excuse me?” He sat back down and
glared at the lieutenant at if he had suggested that the earth was flat.

“We should let her go, sir.” Barclay was frightened out of his wits and the
tremors in his voice showed it.

“Lieutenant, how did you arrive at this conclusion?” Shelby had stopped
her pacing and glared at him in a manner that was only slightly less
intimidating than Picard’s.

“Ah, well, first of all, the knowledge that Commander Styles has of our
defenses isn’t worth the risk of getting her back. And we’re risking the lives
of everyone on this ship, not to mention the ship itself to do it.”

Shelby’s forehead puckered slightly. “I think Starfleet disagrees with you
about her, Lieutenant.”

Barclay was growing more confident. “Well, I don’t understand why. She
hasn’t been on active duty for a year now, and unofficially it’s probably
been longer than that. There have been enough technological advances in
our defensive capabilities since then that if she were assimilated the
damage would be minimal. We’re chasing her for a lot of reasons, but her
importance to Federation security isn’t one of them. What will happen to
her if we do recover her?”

Troi, puzzled by the display before her, decided to play along. “She will
probably be sent to the Vulcan Science Academy and the doctors there will
try to develop a treatment.”

“We’ll presume for a moment that it’s better for Starfleet that way. It
probably is on a public relations level; they wouldn’t be seen as a group of
uncaring people who allowed one of their officers to commit something
akin to suicide. It’s better for the Vulcans, because they’ll be able to use
her for research.” Barclay took a deep breath, knowing that he was about
to tread on dangerous ground, and looked at Captain Picard. “It’s better for
you, sir; you won’t be worried about her. But is it better for her?”

“Of course it is, dammit! We’re talking about the Borg, not a Sunday stroll
on Risa!” Picard slammed his fist on the desktop in anger. Everyone was
shocked by the captain’s display but Picard did not seem to notice, and if
he had he would not have cared. “This is a mental condition, not some
debilitating fatal disease. There’s always an alternative to suicide!”

“Sometimes a mental condition can be just as debilitating as any physical
problem.” Picard’s anger worried Troi, and she exchanged glances with
Riker, who was equally worried about the captain.

“Captain, sometimes there isn’t. While a rare practice, euthanasia has long
been accepted as a viable alternative by the medical community at large.”
Beverly tried to look Picard in the eye but the captain was glaring at
Barclay.

Undaunted, Barclay continued to press on, wondering if the briefing would
end with him and Picard in a fist fight. While some other officers present
had seen Picard this upset before, Barclay hadn’t and he was nervous.
“Just because her pain is emotional doesn’t mean that it’s any less serious.
Who are you to say how bad it is? Who are all of you to deny her the only
cure she can find? And doesn’t she deserve better than to be a guinea pig
wasting away in a padded room somewhere?”

“Lieutenant, you are oversimplifying matters-” Shelby would have
continued, but Picard cut her off.

“The Federation needs her in one piece- I need her in one piece. I’ll tell
you what she doesn’t deserve: assault, surgical mutilation, losing her
individuality!”

“Sir, the Federation may need her, but she’s done her bit for king and
country. And if you’ll forgive my use of the term, what you need from her is
irrelevant. I’ve had depression, sir, and if what I went through was just a
taste of what she has endured for the last thirty-one years then I don’t
blame her at all for doing whatever she has to do to feel better.” Barclay
took a breath and continued. “You’re all thinking of yourselves, what you
want, and you don’t care what she needs. Assimilation…losing her
individuality… may be the only thing that will help her, except for maybe a
phaser set to kill, and everyone is trying to stop her for their own selfish
reasons.” The lieutenant shook his head slightly. “It’s no wonder the
commander was so secretive.”

Picard’s anger was getting the best of him now, and he stood up. “Mister,
you are out of line-”

“Captain Picard, sit down!” Riker almost shouted the words. Picard,
realizing he was out of line, reluctantly obeyed. Everyone was silent for an
instant, then Troi asked a question.

“Barclay, why are you telling us this?”

“Because you all remind me of my mother. When I was still at the
academy, my father developed a fatal blood disease and wanted to end his
life. She said a lot of the same things the captain has said. Out of
deference to her, he didn’t go through with a drug overdose and he ended
up dying a lingering, painful death.” Barclay stopped and looked at the
captain almost sympathetically in spite of his fear. “However this turns out,
sir, I thought you should know in advance that it’s not going to be pretty.
There are no easy answers. You either allow her to do the most hideous
thing you can think of, or you take away her dignity and control and wait for
a cure that may never come. I don’t envy you, sir.”

Shelby was clearly irritated by the conversation and attempted to end the
hostilities. “None of this matters. These orders come directly from the High
Council, and we couldn’t change them even–” She was interrupted by the
chirp of Picard’s communicator.

“Sir, the warp engines are back on line.” LaForge sounded exhausted.

“Acknowledged. Set a course to intercept the Ferengi vessel, warp eight.”
He looked at everyone in the briefing room. “Everyone is dismissed.”

Everyone filed out of the meeting room in a much more sober mood than
they had arrived; Data in particular seemed quite disturbed in spite of his
silence during the briefing. Picard remained seated, his hands carefully
folded on the table, trying to absorb a situation that he had not had time to
think about until now. Only Commander Riker remained behind to confront
him.

“Sir,” he began, not looking forward to articulating the event, “I’ve released
Dr. Selar and returned her to active duty.”

“Why?” Picard stared at some nameless imaginary object, never making
eye contact with his first officer. He had been acting completely out of
character, and Riker was worried. It was why he had stayed behind to talk
to the captain alone.

“As long as Commander Styles was on the new medication she was legally
sane, and Dr. Selar was powerless to hold her. If you had stopped to ask
her, she would have told you that.” Riker swallowed and inhaled deeply as
he sat down in front of the captain, hoping this wasn’t going to be as
difficult as he had pictured it. “Are you planning to board the Borg vessel
with Commander Shelby when we get to the site?”

“I have every intention of it.”

“Then let me take command until we have Tresana back on board.” One
eyebrow inched slowly up Picard’s forehead, making him seem almost
menacing. Riker began to get nervous; this was not going well. “Sir, you
are too personally involved here to be able to make rational decisions. In
the last six hours Commander Styles has escaped, you’ve unjustly
confined Dr. Selar and we’ve almost lost this ship. For the record, if I had
anything to say about it we wouldn’t be warping all over the quadrant and
risking everyone on this ship, not to mention the ship itself, to rescue
someone who doesn’t want to be rescued.”

“We’re talking about the Borg, Will.”

“What the Borg do is awful. It’s hideous, but we can’t allow it to govern the
way we conduct our business. I hope Tresana doesn’t end up setting some
sort of precedent here. But what if she does, and others follow? Can we
stop them? Should we? We’ve had several people defect to the Romulan
Empire in recent years and we didn’t stop them.” Picard opened his mouth
to protest but Riker cut him off. “We don’t have time to debate all the
particulars here, but there’s very little difference between the two. And if I
have to, I’ll argue it before the High Council. Starfleet can’t afford this, and
neither can you.”

“Remember you said that when what’s left of her is speaking for the
Collective, telling us resistance is futile.” Picard felt the grip of the
collective’s iron hand slowly tightening itself around his neck once more.
Every time it let go it had returned, only to grip a little tighter, only to take
another little piece of his life away, until there would be nothing left. He
wondered when resistance would become futile for him as well. Even now
he could feel them calling to him. Come back, Jean-Luc, we have her and
we’ll have you too, come back…

“Give me command, sir. I’ll allow you to beam over to retrieve the
commander because you’re the most qualified to talk her out of there. But I
won’t allow this ship to be put in jeopardy again.” Don’t make me have you
officially declared unfit for command. Please don’t make me do that to you.
I couldn’t stand it.

An eternity elapsed as the two who had served together for that last
decade stared at each other, each waiting for the other to make the next
move. Riker even got up to leave, preparing to do one of the most difficult
things he’d ever done and wondering if his friendship with the captain
would ever be the same. But before he got to the door Picard spoke,
saying the three words that would spare him the misery of a hearing and
the regret of having to hurt his captain even more than he already was.

“Make it so,” he said.

TWELVE

Picard watched the transporter room disappear and the interior of the Borg
vessel take its place. Shelby was next to him, phaser already drawn even
though Enterprise sensors had established that the Borg were in a sleep
cycle. “We’ve got to hurry,” she said. “There’s no telling when they’ll wake
up.” She started to walk and Picard followed.

“We’ll be fine for a couple of hours or so.” Picard couldn’t explain how he
knew; he just did. He could hear the Borg as they scanned the seemingly
endless rows of pathways and chambers, pathways and chambers that he
knew as he had known the Enterprise D… pathways and chambers that
had been taken all too soon…Jean-Luc, it’s been too long…we have
her…you need her…you need us…your mind needs us…come back to the
collective, Locutus, come back…

“No!” Picard shouted as he pressed his fists against his temples, unsure if
what he heard was his own mind or if it was the sound of millions of Borg
begging him to return. He fell to his knees and Shelby knelt next to him.
She placed a hand on his shoulder to try to offer him support but it wasn’t
working.

“Sir, I’m going to have you beamed out. This is too much for you.” She
spoke to him as she might speak to a child. “No one will think any less of
you if you go back.”

“Absolutely not…I’m fine,” he gasped, still hunched over in some mental
prison that only he could understand. Shelby helped him stand and they
proceeded at a much slower pace now, Picard fingering the flap of the
medkit that Beverly had sent as though it contained some kind of holy
water that could save the universe. He just wanted it to save Tresana, or
at least give him enough time to get her out of there…

“Captain!” Shelby was looking up at a platform high above them and he
looked too. Tresana.

“Get out of here!” The former commander shouted as she ripped a Borg
component from the wall and threw it in their direction.

Picard and Shelby had to move quickly to avoid the flying chunk of metal
that sparked with deadly voltage even after it landed. “We just want to talk
to you, Commander!” Shelby still had her phaser in hand. Picard was
unable to say anything. “We have something here for you from Dr.
Crusher!”

“Sure! A one way ticket to a Vulcan funny farm!” With that she threw
another charged piece of wall at them. Tresana’s eyes were raging with
fear. “I won’t live like this anymore!”

Some of the flying debris grazed Shelby’s forehead and she put her hand
up to the small wound as she watched Tresana turn to run. This was
stopping. Now.

Shelby raised her phaser to fire and all too late Picard saw that the
weapon was set to kill. He swung his arm upward to knock the phaser out
of her hand, but he never made impact. He heard the sound of a weapon
firing, saw the sickly green glow of a Borg disruptor…and Commander
Shelby fell to the ground as the beam of deadly light hit her in the back.

Picard withdrew his own phaser and whirled around, almost firing a deadly
phaser blast at… Lieutenant Barclay.

“Don’t shoot!” He shouted, squinting and holding his arms outward. In his
right hand he held a crudely fashioned replica of a Borg disruptor. When
he was satisfied that Picard wasn’t going to vaporize him, he approached.

“Barclay, what the hell are you doing?” Picard re holstered his weapon and
looked around. Tresana was out of sight. Damn.

“Sir, Commander Shelby never had any intention of bringing Tresana back
alive. I had to beam over and stop her.”

“How did you know this?”

“Captain, Shelby and Tresana are very close friends, and Shelby decided
that Tresana didn’t need to suffer anymore. She decided to kill her rather
than allow her to be assimilated or even to be institutionalized. I, uh, read
Shelby’s personal logs, sir.” He saw Picard look at Shelby’s motionless
body on the floor. “She’ll be OK, I just stunned her.” Now Barclay handed
Picard the mock Borg weapon and backed away a little. The captain
examined the bulky piece, not sure what the lieutenant wanted him to do
with it. “You’re going to have to shoot me, sir.”

Picard looked at him as though he were out of his mind and Barclay
continued. “Sir, if you don’t shoot me, there’s going to be a board of inquiry
and we’ll all be court marshalled. Even Shelby for disobeying orders. As it
is now we’ve got a chance of getting out of this. With Tresana alive.”

The captain turned the crude pistol around and reluctantly aimed it at
Barclay. “Does anything happen on the Enterprise without you knowing it?”

“I don’t think so, sir.” Had the situation not been so serious Barclay would
have smiled.”It’s her life, sir, her choice. Not Starfleet’s. Go get her.”
Picard still hesitated. “Hurry.”

The captain closed his eyes and pulled the trigger, not opening them until
he heard Barclay hit the floor. Picard tossed the weapon out of sight and
began to climb upward to the platform, thinking that maybe Will had been
right. Starfleet didn’t try to stop people who defected before, why now?
The answer came to him as he hoisted himself onto the platform and
stood; because it was wrong. He walked, scrutinizing the upper levels.
What she had chosen was worse than death, and no one was better
qualified to make that decision than he was. Nothing was so bad that he
should allow this, or her death for that matter. Barclay had tried to tell him
he was being selfish but he disagreed; even if that was the case he was
being selfish for the right reasons. Abruptly, he heard footsteps around the
corner and rushed to follow the sound.

“Tresana, wait!” Picard ran, turning the corner to see her for the first time.
Her skin glistened with sweat as she breathed rapidly, clenching her fists
in preparation for a struggle. Picard held his hands open above his
shoulders and moved much more slowly even as she retreated.

“Go back to the Enterprise, Jean-Luc.” Tresana was laughing now, though
for the life of her she should not discern what was so humorous. “Don’t
make me hurt you.”

“I’m afraid we’ve reached that point already.” Picard stopped, still holding
his hands up and wondering what to say to her. His emotions took over
and he began to plead with her. “Tresana, come back with me. Beverly’s
been working hard on this, and I have a new-”

“I know what you have!” She wiped the perspiration from her face with one
fist and continued. “More false hope from our brilliant pioneering medical
team. Don’t make me laugh, Jean-Luc, I don’t feel like it.” In spite of her
declaration Tresana continued to stifle the wicked chortles welling up
within her and leaned against the wall. She leaned over with her hands on
her knees as the laughter turned to heaving sobs and she screamed with
frustration and pain of thirty-one years of suppressed feelings. The noise
echoed throughout the corridor.

This was the first time that Picard saw the full effects of the Bendii gene on
the woman he had been prepared to marry; he knew that she probably had
not had access to medical facilities on the Ferengi ship, and he thought he
had been prepared for Tresana’s erratic behavior. He wasn’t. He moved
toward her to touch her shoulder. Abruptly her mood changed, and she
stood up not to embrace him but to swing one powerful arm across his
face. The impact of the blow knocked him backward and almost sent him
flying over the edge of the platform before he caught himself on a cable.

“I wish my life could have been different!” Her voice trembled as she
shouted, looking down on him and once more backing. “Go back to your
starship and your family there. I wanted to spend my life with you but I
can’t. Nothing can change that. Nothing!” Tresana ran.

Undaunted Picard got up and went after her, tackling her from behind. The
two rolled along the platform for a moment before she threw him off and
rose to her feet. Picard rose, too, but before he could gain any ground she
hit him again, and again, forcing him to hit back. She stumbled backward,
more from shock than from the impact, wiping blood from her mouth with
the back of her hand and staring at him with insanity in her eyes. The blow
seemed to infuriate her after a split second and she lunged at him with all
the strength of her Vulcan ancestors, strength that was suddenly not
enough in her rapidly deteriorating condition. Jean-Luc grabbed her
shoulders and slammed her against a nearby control panel so hard that
sparks flew on contact.

“You don’t know,” she pleaded, “You don’t know what it’s like.” Tears
mingled with the sweat on her face as she struggled to escape his grip.

Picard slammed her into the wall again. “I know what it’s like to be
assimilated!” Again. Tresana stopped and looked him directly in the eye. “I
know what it’s like to die!”

She looked at him and fell into his arms sobbing uncontrollably. “I’m
sorry…” Picard beheld a moment of relief before she slid her hand up to his
neck, giving him a Vulcan nerve pinch and rendering him unconscious.
She caught him and gently lowered him to the floor.

Tresana kissed his cheek and stood to look at him one last time. “Don’t
worry, Jean-Luc.” She shook violently. “I won’t let them hurt you before you
can leave.”****

Picard awoke to the hiss of a hypospray to see Shelby and Barclay
standing over him with perplexed expressions of worry on their faces. No
one spoke as he accompanied them to the beam-out location; there was
nothing to say about anything. On their way they noticed that the Borg had
awakened from their sleep cycle but were ignoring them as they had
ignored almost every away team. Barclay tapped his communicator to
signal for beam-out, but not before Picard noticed one Borg in particular.
Barclay and Shelby saw it, too, and they grabbed Picard’s arms before he
could run.

Jean-Luc opened his mouth to scream, but the sound never came; the
Borg vessel shimmered slowly out of existence as the newly assimilated
Tresana Styles looked up at them, showing no recognition in a face
obstructed by the implants she had worked so hard to get.

THIRTEEN

Captain Picard entered Barclay’s quarters not quite knowing what to
expect, but was pleasantly surprised to that they were not unlike his own
and there were no holographic projections of Counselor Troi in a goddess
outfit. He mentally chided himself for thinking that way; it was precisely
those kinds of prejudices he’d had about the lieutenant that had brought
him here to Barclays’ domicile to begin with. Barclay emerged from his
bedroom with a giant canvas and set it on the floor. “I didn’t think you’d be
down here tonight, sir.”

“I had a moment so I thought I would go ahead and stop by. May I see
your painting?”

“Oh, I didn’t paint this, sir. Mr. Data made this for me.” He turned it around
to reveal a portrait of himself against a background of space with the battle
bridge of the Enterprise off in the distance. The images were of almost
photographic quality. “I was just trying to figure out where I should hang it.”

“Mr. Data never ceases to amaze me. It’s a fantastic piece.” Picard
straightened his tunic, wondering where to begin. “Lieutenant, I came
down here to say some things to you that I probably should have said a
long time ago. I’ve been somewhat hard on you because of the parody of
me that you created on the holodeck a few years ago, harder than I should
have been-”

“Captain, you had every right to be angry-”

“Please, let me finish. I held a grudge against you because of that, and it
has occurred to me that I was being quite…well, petty. You’ve shown many
times since then that you are a fine officer…and a good person. I don’t
know why I had to watch you almost sacrifice your life and career in these
last few days to realize that. I was wrong about you, and I’m sorry.” For the
thousandth time that week, Barclay was without words. Picard continued.
“At any rate, Vice-Admiral Nechayev informed me an hour ago that you’re
to receive the Starfleet Citation for Conspicuous Gallantry for the actions
you took to save Bajor and the space station. I wanted to be the first to
offer you congratulations.”

Picard offered a handshake, and Barclay took it. “I don’t know if I deserve
it…it was a false alarm.”

“The point is that you thought it was real, as did all of us. You should be
very proud of yourself; this citation puts you in the same class as Admiral
James Kirk.” Picard smiled.

“Oh, sir, I hope not. I don’t want to die without a family like he did.”

Picard knew the lieutenant didn’t mean anything by what he said but the
words stung his heart just the same. “Well, I really should be going. I hope
you have a pleasant evening.”

“Oh, by the way, sir, the bridge crew is meeting on the holodeck at 1900
hours to see my new program. You’re welcome to join us; I think you would
like it.”

“Maybe some other time; I…have some paperwork I need to attend to. But
thank you for offering.”

Barclay decided to hang Data’s painting some other time. Even though he
knew there was a good reason for it, Captain Picard’s presence made him
feel sad, and he wanted to go to the holodeck now. He wished the captain
would have accepted his offer; if anything, Jean-Luc Picard needed his
friends right now.

The holodeck was chock full of people when he arrived even though the
show wasn’t scheduled for another thirty minutes. He decided to start
anyway. “Computer, activate holodeck program Barclay 14.”

A large outdoors setting appeared with birds, flowers, and a grassy mound
in the middle. Then a replica of Barclay himself appeared, but not as the
bridge crew knew him.

“I am the Goddess of Empathy,” the figure declared, sporting flowing white
robes and tossing flower petals at everyone. The Barclay figure wore
heavy, exaggerated make-up, and spoke in an artificially high voice. “Cast
off your inhibitions…”

Barclay himself watched with deep satisfaction as everyone laughed
themselves to tears. Even Riker, whose beard was beginning to grow back
nicely, couldn’t stop chuckling. The lieutenant was glad he finally had so
many friends who could laugh with him, and he was even happier that he
finally felt that he deserved it.

The doors to Captain Picard’s quarters hissed open and Beverly stood in
the doorway for a moment, not sure if she should just go on in even though
they had been unlocked. From her vantage point she could see Jean-Luc’s
photo album lying open on the table, with several pictures next to it; they
were pictures of Tresana Styles in happier times and the captain had been
adding them to his collection. Picard himself stood in front of a window with
his arms folded across his chest looking extremely distraught.

“I’m sorry, I can come back later-”

“It’s alright. Please come in.” Jean-Luc never turned around. The doors
hissed shut behind her, and Beverly approached him slowly.

“I just came back from Lieutenant Barclay’s holodeck program. You really
ought to go see it; I think you’d like it.”

“I will eventually.” He still had his back to her. “I just don’t feel like it right
now.”

“Jean-Luc I am so sorry-” Beverly had to stop before she lost her
composure. She felt as though she might burst into tears; she hated to see
him like this. She wasn’t sure, but he looked as if he had been crying.

“Well, so am I.”

“I did some more research on the treatment. It wouldn’t have worked
anyway.” Beverly placed a hand on his shoulder as a single tear managed
to free itself and trickle down her cheek. “I thought it might help if you
knew.”

“It doesn’t,” he whispered, staring out his window into the gaping
emptiness of outer space, wondering what might have been.

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