Thank Q

THANK Q by Walt Chmara

Lieutenant Commander Data stepped through the swishing door of
sickbay. As it resealed itself behind him, he noted Doctor Beverly Crusher, near
the center of the room.
Crusher’s normally professional manner was interrupted when she saw
who entered. Her facial expression betrayed a this-is-it look, which Data
recognized from a quick scan of his human-watching file. It meant she had
something to tell him which she felt was going to be difficult for one or both of
them.
“You sent for me, Doctor,” he informed her, pleasantly.
She tried to keep a steady gaze into his yellow-tinted eyes, but found that
her own were disobediently wandering about.
“Uh…yes, Data. There is something here which requires your presence,
and I’m not sure which one of us is going to need to sit down more when I tell you
what that is.”
She had rehearsed this moment in her mind for some time, but now was
struck mute. It didn’t help that she wasn’t quite able to believe the facts, herself. In
frustration, she slapped the sides of her blue labcoat, then pulled Data by his right
arm back out the door he had just entered through.
“Data, have you ever considered what the purpose is for creating an
android which imitates a specific gender of human being?” she asked of him, as
she led him through the hall to a destination only she knew.
“Yes, Doctor. It was, in fact, my fourteenth consideration since I had
achieved consciousness. Unfortunately, I was never able to arrive at a satisfactory
conclusion on the matter. Perhaps it is an arbitrary decision on the part of the
creators, since humans only come in the male or female variety, and associating
with one which appears to be neither may be aesthetically
distressing to some.”
They entered the obstetrics office, where they were greeted by three
pregnant women. Crusher didn’t give Data much chance to return the greetings,
towing him straight through to the incubation ward.
Inside, they stopped before a particular fetal development tank, whose
viewport was switched off. Data looked curiously around, as he never had any
business to be here, before.
“How would you react if I were to tell you that you, Data, are a father?”
Data searched his memory banks for an answer that would be as close to
reality as possible.
“With much skepticism, Doctor. That would imply that I was constructed
with an ability to sire offspring, which is extremely unlikely.”
Crusher gave him a wry grin before touching the viewport panel. A small
embryonic humanoid faded into view, floating quietly in the tank’s fluid.
“Say hello to your offspring, Data! Or should I say `Da-da’?”

“Confirmed,” boomed Lt. Worf at his station on the bridge, consulting
sensor data, as well as the screen. “A ship’s recorder-marker. This one came from
the starship *Anaxagoras*.”
Picard nodded, more in confirmation to himself. “The *Anaxagoras*. The
name I had been expecting to hear.”
First Officer William Riker was seated to the left of the captain’s chair.
That name also rang a bell in his memory.
“Wasn’t she lost heading in this direction some eighty years ago? I recall
hearing that the case of her disappearance was never officially closed.”
“Correct, Number One. This volume of space was still unknown territory
back then, and sending a rescue mission out here after them was out of the
question. I wondered if our mission would bring us closer to the solving of that
mystery. I never dreamed it would be this easy.”
Riker agreed. “Incredible to think we’ve found what is probably the last
surviving piece of that vessel.”
“Astronomical,” amended Picard. “But if we accept the evidence of our
sensors, then we must assume that around here, somewhere, the captain of that
ship encountered a threat so overwhelming, that he ordered that to be ejected.
Until we learn what that threat was, I’m ordering a yellow alert.”
Worf stiffened at his post. “Aye, sir. Yellow alert.”
Within minutes, Data and Counselor Deanna Troi emerged on the bridge
to take their stations. Picard ordered a full stop when they were within transporter
range.
“Worf, in your opinion, can it be beamed aboard safely? I would hate to
fall for the old Trojan horse trick. Ah, do you understand the reference?”
“Of course, sir,” Worf told the captain. “We Klingons have several
analogous tales of tactics, though not as simplistic as that one. I’m sure humans,
however, find the Trojan horse to be very clever. I find no evidence of any
dangerous peculiarities around or inside the device.”
“Very well. I want it beamed to Chief Argyle’s worklab.”

Doctor Crusher’s young son, Wesley, had finished school for the day. He
bounded out of the classroom and into the nearest visicom booth, requesting a
link with the planet Belmi, the *Enterprise’s* next scheduled stop. The Belmian
subspace operator soon came on the screen.
Since Belmians were insectoid, the only part of the operator’s face which
was able to move were the sideways-moving jaws at the bottom.
“Whom do you wish tto conttactt, *Entterprise*?”
“The nest of Family Ttorda, please,” answered Wes. “Specifically, Ettil
Ttorda.”
Soon, a youngster of the same race was on screen.
“Wesley! This is a mostt pleasantt surprise!”
“*Gharratt navahrt*, Ettil!” Wes greeted his friend. “It’s good to see you,
too! Did I say that right?”
“With a funny accentt, my friend. When you visitt us, I will tteach you
personally tto chirp like a nattive.”
“And if I fail, will you still want me as your chosen witness into
adulthood?”
“Wesley, you are my friend. Whether you learn my language or nott, we
can always speak yours. When Belmi joins the Federation, I will be one of the
firstt from here who will be able tto converse with other races the way thatt you
do. As far as the ceremony goes, itt is settttled. My family will be honored when
you come tto wittness. Itt will be held in five of your days. You do understtand
how importtantt exactt ttime is tto us?”
“I realize that when a witness doesn’t show on time, the child is disgraced
for life. You are my friend, Ettil. I will not let that happen to you.”
“Thank you, Wesley. I now no longer fear.”

Chief Engineer Argyle and his team looked the device over and gave the
go-ahead for the computer to begin drawing the *Anaxagoras* log out from it.
“It’ll take about an hour to process all the information coming out of it,” he
informed the captain by intercom. “There are some incompatibilities between the
equipment, so I’d rather not take any chances.”
“Understood,” Picard said, on the bridge. “Take your time. We’re not
going anywhere.”
“How true,” drawled a voice from somewhere behind Worf. “Even with
warp drive your kind drags itself irritatingly slowly to the Truth.”
Worf spun, phaser in hand, from his station to the source of the startling,
but still familiar-sounding voice. His eyes narrowed in distasteful recognition of
the being who chose to identify himself as Q.
Or, rather, what Q would look like if he were an officer of the Klingon
Imperial Fleet. Worf wanted to laugh, but only gave the intruder a pronounced
smirk.
“I take it this means we should never believe ourselves to be rid of you,
Q?” asked Picard, who had risen to face the intruder.
“We, the Q, find absolutes to be limiting. Is it not more truthful to simply
say: `One never knows, does one?’?” smiled Q.
“It is in your case, obviously,” muttered Riker, also standing.
“Ah, Riker. Still suffering withdrawal symptoms, I see. No matter. The Q
have chosen another of you to be the focus, this time.”
Q suddenly froze, looking from side to side. “But one of your merry band
is missing! Where is my fiery Tasha?”
The bridge crew remained silent. Troi’s eyes lowered.
“Your kind promised to trouble us no longer, Q,” continued Picard,
patiently.
“Are you implying that I have troubled you thus far, *mon capitaine*?
Hah! You are well versed in the trouble I can dispense. Besides, when we are
through with you, we’ll stitch your insignificant little timelines together so that all
this will never have happened. Everyone’s happy, eh?”
This revelation worried Picard. If Q could do that, how many times could
they have been encountered by Q and have no memories or records of the events?
It was unsettling to be told that the Q could learn all about them, but the Q race
would remain forever a mystery to the Federation.
“Tasha was to have been the one, wasn’t she,” Troi suddenly demanded.
“Yes,” admitted Q. “Although now I see our plans need some amending. I
should have expected poor Tasha’s bullheadedness would be her undoing.”
Nonchalantly availing himself of the latest computer information on one
Lieutenant Natasha Yar, Q read all the details up to and including her demise.
While he did this, Riker edged over to Picard.
“I’m sure Dr. Crusher would have a field day dissecting him, if there was a
way to get him off-guard,” Riker whispered to the captain, who nodded in
agreement.
“I heard that, Riker,” snapped Q, looking away from the computer readout
and straight at the two men.
“I had no doubt in my mind that you would,” Riker answered coldly.
“That’s why I said it.”
“Really, Commander. Never would I have expected such ill feeling from
you. And you, Picard, nodding to the thought of my becoming an opened lab
animal? How barbaric! Perhaps I have been too lenient with you. Maybe some
form of punishment will put you into the proper mode of respect.”
Q began pacing back and forth. “Let’s see. Something really fiendish. I
could drop your entire crew instantly on a planet consisting only of swamps and
carnivores! Wouldn’t that be fun for a few hours? Or I could dissolve your skeletal
frames and watch you flop about helplessly. Or…”
Troi was chilled into speaking up. “We know your power, Q. Frightening
or torturing us will not get you what you want from us.”
“True, Counselor. And anyway, I’ve just thought of something much more
clever. Something I know none of you has any experience in dealing with! I’m
going to unleash it on you when I return.”
Q assumed a Klingon salute, then vanished in a flash of light.
Except for the normal bridge noises, the area remained silent for the next
few seconds.
“Well, that certainly sounded ominous,” LaForge commented, breaking
the tension.
“No doubt it was meant to, Lieutenant,” agreed Picard. “Number One,
until now I always felt that Q had some sort of restraint or limits imposed upon
his interference with us. This time, I don’t get that impression.”
“Nor do I, Captain,” added Troi. “He was definitely feeling free of
authority, as if this time he is answerable only to himself. He was actually
entertaining those possibilities he was enumerating.”
“What if we were to take that assumption one step further. Say he is now a
renegade, possibly because of his last encounter with us. This could be a final
desperation move on his part to get whatever he is after and save face with his
fellow Q beings,” postulated Picard.
“If so,” completed Riker, “if we let him down one more time, his wrath
could be very severe and very permanent.”

“CAPTAIN’S LOG, CONFIDENTIAL. THIS WILL BE MY FINAL
ENTRY BEFORE THE MARKER IS LAUNCHED, IF WE CAN SOMEHOW
MANAGE THAT. IT HAS NOW BEEN TWO WEEKS SINCE MY PREVIOUS
ENTRY AND FOUR MONTHS SINCE I HAVE LOST COMMAND OF THE
SHIP. THE TERRORISTS HAVE LEFT VERY FEW STONES UNTURNED
CONCERNING THE TAKEOVER OF THIS STARSHIP. REMAINING FROM
MY ORIGINAL BRIDGE CREW ARE: MYSELF, LT. COM. HARRIS, AND
CMO T’PLIU.
I BELIEVE THERE IS NO HOPE OF SURVIVAL FOR ANYONE
OPPOSED TO THESE SO-CALLED `TERRA FIRSTERS’. THEY PLAN TO
COLONIZE THE FIRST CLASS M PLANET THEY APPROVE. THE SHIP
WILL BE CANNIBALIZED. AS LONG AS THE THREE OF US LIVE, WE
MUST AT LEAST TRY TO STOP THEM. MAYBE THIS LOG WILL ONE
DAY BE FOUND, AND ITS CONTENTS BROUGHT HOME TO THE
FEDERATION. EVEN IF BELATED, THE TRUTH WILL ALWAYS BE THE
TRUTH.

BILMEK RITTER
U.S.S. *ANAXAGORAS*”

Those last two paragraphs completed a lengthy story of a hijacking of a
Ptolemy-class transport tug pulling a starliner and a second cylinder-shaped
container of supplies, by a large number of human fanatics. Starfleet personnel
had been executed. The final implication was that on top of everything else, the
*Anaxagoras* would be used to invade a virgin world, probably in the worst
violation of the Prime Directive now discovered in Starfleet history.
“I’ve never heard of `Terra Firsters’,” declared Worf, among the others in
the briefing room.
“It’s not something humans are very proud of,” explained Riker. “Ever
since the founding of the Federation, there have always been a faction of
xenophobes who have tried to pass Earth’s secession through. It almost happened
a couple of times, if I recall my history correctly. As an official organization,
Terra First, all but vanished since the time of the *Anaxagoras*”
Picard nodded his agreement to all that Riker said, adding, “It was a
suspicion at the time that Terra First was behind it. Captain Ritter’s log now
confirms this. One of Starfleet’s worst nightmares was that a starship could be
used by enemies in ways completely opposite to its creators’ intentions. Hence,
the implementation of remote control codes and even self-destruct mechanisms.
The question now seems to be — now that the damage has been done, did this
group
actually colonize one of these nearby class M planets? And if so, could their
descendants be alive, today?”
“Considering the single-mindedness of the typical fanatic, and the
attitudes of those willing to follow such people, the possibility is very great,”
surmised Troi. “According to this information, the criminals way outnumbered
the Starfleet personnel. To accomplish this, they defeated the odds against what
was considered statistically impossible; the pirating of a
Starfleet vessel. They survived a journey this far into unknown space without
being able to stop at any friendly starbases. And the *Anaxagoras* wasn’t even
designed to accomplish what they…”
Troi stopped speaking at the sound of a chime at the entrance to the
briefing room.
“Come,” called Picard.
The door panel slid aside to reveal Data standing behind it, carrying a box
of an unusual design. A slight smile played upon his lips as he entered.
“I apologize for the interruption, sir. I have received some intriguing news
from sickbay. As I consider every one of you here to be my friends, I felt it was
my duty to do this properly. With your permission, of course, sir.”
“Granted. What is it you have to report?”
Data stepped over to Picard, lifting the lid of the box, so that the captain
could see the contents. It was filled with small light brown cylinders.
Picard’s eyes oscillated between Data’s face and what he was offering. “I
don’t understand.”
“Please, take one. I have just been informed that as of twenty-seven
seconds ago, I have become a father.”
Riker and Troi gave each other incredulous stares, while Picard’s
eyebrows threatened to slide up on top of his head.
Data was taken aback. “They are cigars. Is it not a common practice
among new fathers to bribe their friends with cigars in order to elicit
congratulations?”
“Ah,” said Picard, more in understanding than approval. “Forgive me, Mr.
Data. It is a tradition I’ve never taken part in, much less understood.
Nevertheless…”
He picked one up. “Congratulations. Now will you explain to me how it
can be possible that you have become a father?”
“I am uncertain as to the details, myself, sir,” explained Data, proffering
the open box to Troi, Riker, and Worf, each helping themselves to one. Riker put
his immediately between his grinning teeth.
Worf, seeing this, took a bite out of his, chewed on it, and swallowed it
before anyone could stop him. He grimaced at the remainder of it, muttering that
he could never savor such a bland vegetable. When Riker explained that one was
supposed to smoke it, Worf privately wondered why it wasn’t smoked and
seasoned to taste before serving?
“Four hours ago, Dr. Crusher showed me an unborn infant residing in one
of the gestation tanks, which clearly has many of my characteristics, but which is
also half-human. The sensors on the tank informed her that the child would have
to be released soon. Apparently, the birth has already taken place. It is a shame I
could not have been there, but yellow alert is still in effect. When Geordi heard
the message from sickbay, he allowed Wesley to relieve me so that I might visit
the nursery. I was on my way there when I thought of the cigar ceremony. What
kind of friend would I be if I did not do this first?.”
“Indeed,” grunted Picard. “While I am sure we all appreciate the
sentiments expressed by such traditions, we do not generally consider them as
being supersedant over matters of a much more serious nature, such as a yellow
alert.”
“I see, sir,” said Data, closing the box. “I have presumed too much upon
the human prerogative of `bending the rules’.”
“In this case, Commander, it is fortunate that Lt. LaForge bent the rules for
you because even though, strictly speaking, you are quite capable of efficiently
manning your post, no matter what personal news you receive, both you and he in
combination have alerted me to a highly unusual situation, which you have
correctly termed intriguing. It is so intriguing, in fact, that I am
putting this briefing session on hold until we all return here from the nursery.”

The entire group accompanied Data to the nursery, joining Dr. Crusher
and a female nurse holding up a pale-fleshed infant wrapped in a white blanket
over a special cradle designed to provide maximum comfort to most humanoid
newborns. The baby’s eyes were wide open and the same yellowish tint as Data’s.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” asked Riker, who still had the cigar in his mouth.
Crusher eyed him, knowing full well where Will must have gotten it, and
the knowledge made her eyes twinkle. “Girl. No official name, yet, I’m afraid.
The mother didn’t get a chance to get around to that.”
“Who is the mother?” inquired Troi, as Data, fascinated, went over to the
nurse, who showed him the proper way to hold a baby.
Crusher, again found her eyes wandering around the room, which
contained lots of other cradles with lots of other unremarkable children. “Uh,
about that I had been sworn to secrecy. I’ve told Data, and under the
circumstances, I think that he should be the one to say, if he chooses.”
“Why isn’t she here?” questioned Picard. “For that matter, why didn’t she
choose to undergo the pregnancy herself?”
“Again, I can’t answer that for the same reason. As to your second
question, there are lots of reasons why some women prefer the gestation tank over
natural pregnancy. Sometimes it’s the healthiest option for both mother and child.
For women in Starfleet, the most common reason is that they don’t want their
pregnancy and their duties to ever be in conflict. I remember seriously
considering having Wesley that way. One benefit it does have is the knowledge
that if anything should ever happen to you, at least your baby will live.”
“Data,” Troi went over beside father and child to tickle the infant’s chin.
“Do you wish to reveal the mother’s name?”
“I, too, made a promise to the same person, Counselor. Although she kept
this,” Data indicated the child by lifting it slightly in his arms, “a secret from me,
I have learned from Dr. Crusher that the mother wanted me to know about the
child, in case, for some reason, she could not be with her.”
“All due respect, Commander,” boomed Worf. “But what do you know
about fatherhood?”
“About as much as any new father, I expect,” Riker answered for him,
temporarily taking the cigar out of his mouth and pointing it at the Klingon for
emphasis. “With a much larger capacity for learning.”
Picard motioned Crusher away from the knot of curious people to speak to
her in private. Riker instinctively tagged along.
“Doctor, how can this child be?” he asked of her. “Surely Data is no more
capable of fathering a child than a computer is?”
Crusher shook her head. “I can’t explain it, either. When the mother came
to me requesting the transplantation and telling me who the father was, at first I
thought she was delirious. Obviously, this child is the most unique cyborg in
human history. Born that way! Her skeletal structure is metallic, yet it grows like
bone. There’s an organ in her digestive system which can convert some of the
food she eats directly into electrical energy. And her brain is a perfect melding of
living flesh and computer. She has no choice but to be some kind of genius!”
“What if Data’s creator, Dr. Soong, had planned this?” posed Riker.
“Suppose this child, like her father, turns out to be more than what meets the
eye?”
Crusher only raised an eyebrow and tilted her head. The three of them
returned to the rest of the group in time to hear Data happily asking Troi, “She
has my eyes. Do you not think so?”

Back in the briefing room, Picard addressed Troi, Riker, Worf, and Data,
who left the baby in the care of the nursery.
“All right,” began Picard, standing beside the table. “It now seems clear
that Lt. Commander Data has proven his ability to procreate in a similar manner
as any human male can. Doubtless, this is a large step for the commander in the
direction of acceptance as a life-form, and we rejoice in his double blessing.
However, we have more immediate concerns to deal with here, namely the
implications of the *Anaxagoras* log and the threat posed by Q. Mr. Data, since
you were not present at the initial reading of the log, I am going to replay it for
you at high speed. Are you prepared to receive it?”
“Ready, sir,” replied Data. What took the rest of them over thirty minutes
to read, Data absorbed in five seconds.
“I will ask you for your analysis, later, Mr. Data. Our biggest problem is
Q. He has stated that he will unleash upon us something with which we have
never dealt. We have also seen that there isn’t much beyond his capabilities. The
startling conclusion is that one more defeat for him could spell a vindictive end
for us. I would very much like to hear what each of you has to say on this matter.”
“As would I,” added Q, also sitting at the table as if he had always been
there, except he was completely nude. “Oh, do go on! Pretend I’m not even here.”
“Difficult, under the circumstances,” mentioned Troi, her cheeks blushing
with the combined embarrassment of everyone there who was capable of the
emotion.
“Well, I recall your captain once mentioning his profound disgust at my
choice of wardrobe, so this time I decided to wear nothing at all. Comments,
anyone?”
Silence.
“Don’t particularly care for that, eh? Well, neither do I, really.” A burst of
light swallowed Q for an instant, then he was clothed in a pinstripe suit typically
worn by the mobsters of Earth in the 1920’s. His face became old-looking, his
cheeks puffed up. His voice became hoarse as he spoke. “Picard, I’m-a gonna
make-a you an offa you canna refuse.”
Picard rigidly stood his ground beside the table, expecting anything, as Q
hobbled closer and closer to him. Q placed his two wrinkled hands on each side
of Picard’s face, then kissed him once on each cheek before letting him go.
“Go to da bridge, Picard. I gotta bigga surprise for you.”
In another flash of light, Q was gone.
“Mr. Worf, check your phaser,” ordered Picard. “The same goes for all of
you. When we step out onto the bridge, I want all of us to be prepared for
anything.”
And still, everyone was surprised. Everyone stepping out of the port side
turbolift on the bridge had the same startled expression as Geordi and the other
personnel already there. All eyes were riveted on the young blonde woman, in the
yellow uniform, standing at her old post — the Tactical station behind the first
officer’s seat — with a puzzled look on her own face.
She whirled around to see Riker suddenly step in front of Picard, pointing
his phaser directly at her. Within a heartbeat, she drew the weapon at her side, but
stopped short of aiming it at Riker.
“Freeze, everyone!” barked Picard, coming out from behind Riker. “That’s
an order!”
Yar’s fingers nervously fidgeted with the phaser. “Captain! I –” Looking
down at what she had in her hands, she quickly holstered it, again. “A minute ago
I was –” Her eyes grew wide upon seeing Troi stepping onto the bridge. “Deanna!
You’re safe! I don’t understand what’s going on. Why are you looking like that at
me, Commander Riker?”
Riker’s only response was to turn his cold gaze to Picard.
“Who are you?” asked Picard in a soft, but no-nonsense, type of voice.
Yar looked behind herself, as though expecting some kind of monstrosity
to be standing there. It wasn’t. “You…You mean ME, sir?”
Picard only nodded, his gaze — and everyone else’s, for that matter —
remaining steadily on her.
Yar stiffened. She gave her name, rank, and service number.
“Please put down your weapon, Number One. Whatever Q has in mind for
us requires us to be a complete unit once more, and that clearly includes
Lieutenant Yar.”
“Clearly this cannot be Lieutenant Yar, sir,” answered Riker, unmoving.
“And as Q has given you the Kiss of Death, this impostor may be the instrument
of just that.”
“I agree, sir,” Worf also had his phaser aimed at Yar, but from a position
in front of the captain’s seat.
“Whoever or whatever she is,” interjected Troi. “She has no hostile
intentions.”
“So, gentlemen, if you please…” Picard made a lowering gesture with both
hands.
Both Riker and Worf did as they were told, although their better judgment
told them otherwise. Neither one of them liked this. Not one bit.
“You were about to say something,” Picard reminded Yar. “You were
saying that a minute ago you were…”
“…Down on the planet with that –” Yar stopped herself when she saw for
herself that the bridge viewscreen displayed no planet, only still stars.
“Tell me the last thing you remember before this very moment,” said
Picard.
“Armus,” said Yar, looking to Riker and remembering that he was also
there. “I was trying to get by, when something hit me. The next thing I know, I’m
here.”
“That was months ago!” blurted out Lt. LaForge, who was standing beside
Worf. Picard silenced him with a gesture.
The captain tapped his insignia communicator. “Picard to Doctor
Crusher.”
“Crusher here.”
“Please report to the bridge on the double, Doctor. Bring your medical
tricorder; I want you to verify an identity.”
“On my way. Crusher out.”
When the turbolift doors opened again on the bridge, Dr. Crusher strode in
with the tricorder in her hand — which promptly fell to the deck with a gasp when
she spotted Yar.
“Why is everybody looking at me as though I were a ghost?” demanded
Yar.
“Because for all we know,” answered Picard as gently as he could, “you
may be one.”
Crusher had picked her device up and took her readings.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Yar was clearly on the verge of panic.
“Lifeform,” read Crusher. “Humanoid. No irregularities.”
To Picard, she whispered, “You might have given me fair warning on
what to expect.”
“Why should you be any different from the rest of us?” mumbled Picard in
return. Louder, “Please escort this young lady to sickbay, Doctor. I want you to
check everything and report to me what you find when you find it. Then, and only
then, you may inform her as to the reason for our reactions to her.”
Crusher lowered her tricorder and gently took Yar’s elbow and led her to
and through the turbolift doors. The last thing Picard noticed was Yar’s eyes —
still widened in bewilderment, but now betraying certain unthinkable thoughts
which she did not verbalize.
“Sir, you don’t think that could really have been Tasha, do you?” asked
LaForge when the doors resealed themselves.
“I think we would be wise not to discount any possibility yet, Lieutenant.
Stations, please, everyone,” ordered the captain, seating himself at his proper
position.
Worf assumed the Tactical post, while Troi and Riker sat down to the
captain’s left and right, respectively. Data relieved Wesley from Ops with the
offer of a cigar, which Wesley cheerfully accepted with a pat to the android’s
back. Wes made a mental note to discuss the infant with him, later. For the
moment, the acting ensign chose not to leave the bridge, but stood at attention on
the portside rampway awaiting a chance to speak with the captain.
Picard leaned to his left. “Counselor, was that genuine confusion coming
from our new arrival?”
Troi nodded. “She was hiding nothing, sir. Just before she left, I sensed
what you would call a `heart-sinking’ feeling, as though she were on the verge of
deducing the unpleasant truth, herself. And the answer to your next question is: I
don’t know. Remember that we are dealing with Q, here. If that is not the real
Tasha returned to life, then Q certainly did his homework concerning her.”
“Inquiry,” piped Data. “What kind of home work would Q require to
perform a duplication of Lieutenant Yar?”
“Just another figure of speech, Data. I simply meant Q has done a
thorough job. Tasha’s emotional personality, as I remember it, is not
distinguishable by me from the person Q has presented us with.”
Picard looked at Riker. “You had Q’s power. I recall you were sorely
tempted to restore a dead child to life with it. Looking back, do you feel you
could have actually done it?”
Riker grinned in remembrance. “At that time I felt I could do anything. In
hindsight, though, it occurred to me that Q could have only made it seem as if I
were performing the magic, when, in fact, it was his doing all along.” The grin
vanished. “I’ll never know if I could have, since I gave you my word not to use
that power. And I kept my word.”
“Honor is everything, Commander,” spoke up Worf, sensing that this was
still a sore point with Riker. “The Klingons have a legend about one called
Kahless who lost everything he held dear to himself, rather than go back on his
word. In our language, he is known as `The Unforgettable One'”
“I suppose we shall have to wait for the Doctor’s assessment,” stated
Picard. “Mr. Crusher, I assume the reason why you’re still here is that you have
something you’d like to add to the proceedings?”
Wesley cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Um, yes, sir. I
respectfully remind the captain that we are due at Belmi within the week. If we
continue to remain stationary, we may not make it even at constant top warp
speed.”
Picard’s eyebrows pinched together. “We made no definite rendezvous
plans with Belmi.”
“I’m afraid I did, sir,” Wesley’s gaze was unwavering, but it was plain to
one and all that he was in an uncomfortable situation.
“Explain, Ensign.”
The young man took a breath and began.
“Ever since we’ve been in transmission range of Belmi, I volunteered for
the `subspace pal’ club in school. I’ve been in contact with a young Belmian
named Ettil whose ritual adulthood ceremony is coming up soon. Ettil has already
chosen me to be the witness to the ceremony. If I am not there on time, Ettil will
be branded a child forever, and will live in disgrace until death.”
Picard exhaled slowly. Troi received a familiar sensation from him;
irritation, tempered with a resolve not to let it get the better of him. Picard had
been a single man all of his life, consequently, he felt like a fish out of water
when it came to relating to children as children and not as simply miniature
adults — which, in his private estimation, most were never that way,
behaviorwise. The one saving grace most seemed to have, at least, was the desire
to grow up. Even Wesley, perhaps the most gifted youngster he would ever know,
at times seemed impatient for this.
“Ensign, you should know by now that a starship can be detained from a
desired destination in too many ways for me to enumerate to you right now. You
should have made this clear to your friend before agreeing to participate in such a
serious ceremony.”
“Yes, sir. I felt I couldn’t refuse the honor Ettil was placing on me. At the
same time, having an off-world witness would be a high honor on any Belmian
entering adulthood. Statuswise, it would be like a knighthood thrown into the
ritual. And as Lieutenant Worf said, honor is everything.”
“It seems not only your honor is at stake, but so is the entire Federation’s,”
Picard responded gruffly. “We will all collectively be known as the ones who
disgraced Ettil, if this ship doesn’t meet the deadline of this ceremony. Lieutenant
LaForge?”
“Aye, sir?,” answered LaForge at con.
“Set course and speed for planet Belmi, warp eight.”
LaForge touched the appropriate pads on the panel before him. “Course
and speed plotted, sir.”
“Engage.”

Doctor Crusher put Yar through extensive testing down in sickbay. All the
instruments at the doctor’s disposal were in agreement. This person was
indistinguishable from the young security officer who died under her emergency
care nearly five months ago.
“Finished?” inquired Yar, sitting up from the diagnostic table.
Crusher nodded.
“I shouldn’t be here, should I?”
Crusher’s eyebrows betrayed her shock. “Nonsense. The captain ordered
you here.”
“Technically, the captain doesn’t have authority over a corpse.”
Crusher smiled. “Technically, you aren’t a corpse.”
“I’ll bet the computer lists me as such. Level with me, Beverly, when and
how did it happen?”
Crusher frowned, turning away. “Five months ago. Some unexplained
force Armus threw at you. You were killed instantly. I had you brought back up
here and tried to revive you. It was no good.”
“What about the baby?”
Crusher returned her look, happily. “She had her birthday today. She has a
great deal of her father in her, and I’ll be damned if I can figure out how. Data’s
been the proud papa ever since. He and I have kept your secret. No one knows
who the mother is.”
“I want to see her.”
“I never doubted you would. However, I would advise against it for the
time being. Everything about you — your fingerprints, retinal scans, genetic
patterns, even your memories — fits. I cannot prove you’re not who you seem to
be, but neither can I definitely state with finality that you are Natasha Yar, back
from the dead. You could still be one of Q’s tricks.”
Tasha’s eyes went into a stare. “What if you’re right? Oh, God, Beverly!
What if I only *think * I’m me?”
Beverly put a hand on her shoulder. “I wish I knew how to make this
easier on you.”
“Could I at least see her on a viewscreen?”
The doctor grinned.

“What exactly should her status be, sir?” said Riker. “I mean officially.
Civilian or Starfleet? Chief of Security or trainee? Do we record her appearance
as a continuation of Tasha’s filed history, or do we open up a new one?”
“I’m certain we’ll come up with many difficulties, if we choose to look for
them, Number One. Who or whatever she is, she clearly thinks of herself as
Tasha. We will give her the same respect we would give any lifeform we
encounter: with understanding, but with caution, also. One thing is certain, Q
admitted she was to be the focus of what he has in mind for us. And what he has
in mind for us is something we have never dealt with, before.”
“Sir,” mentioned Data. “Perhaps dealing with Tasha’s resurrection is what
Q has in mind.”
“I would tend to doubt it’s that easy, Data. Q’s interest in us has always
been on the negative side. Trying to prove that our kind is not all we believe
ourselves to be. Acting on his own now, he may need to use every distraction in
his repertoire to get from us what evidence he desires in order to be back in favor
with his fellow Q beings.”
Data nodded, silently mouthing the word “oh”.
“Be that as it may,” continued the captain. “Whatever he has in mind,
maintaining yellow alert won’t matter one way or the other. Cancel it.”
“Aye, sir,” answered Worf. Then, something he saw on the panel made his
eyebrows bear down. “Incoming message, captain.”
“Put it on,” commanded Picard.
“…I say again this is Captain Thorn of the twenty-third Spacebourne
Squadron. Do you copy?”
Picard looked at Riker, who merely shrugged his shoulders.
“This is Federation starship U.S.S.*Enterprise*. We are receiving you
clearly, Captain Thorn. Would you kindly elaborate on your own identification?”
“Copy, *Enterprise*. This is Captain G. J. Thorn, representing the military
spaceforce of the Union of Free Humania. We picked up your vessel on our
long-range sensors, and could not believe the size of it! Of course we knew
almost immediately you had to be Federation. I was dispatched to rendezvous
with you, but at the moment you seem to be heading away from me at a speed
which, frankly, I can’t even match, much less overtake. Unless you slow down, or
better yet, stop, we’ll lose contact at any moment, now!”
“Stop all engines!” ordered Picard. “Hold this position.”
“Aye, sir,” LaForge brought the ship to a dead halt.
“Are they within viewing range, Mr. Worf?” asked Riker.
“Coming into extreme magnification range….now, sir,” answered Worf,
placing the newcomer on the main viewer.

“Crusher to Mackenzie,” paged the nurse’s communicator, while she
tended to the infants.
Mackenzie tapped it. “Here, boss.”
“Mac, I need you to bring Data’s daughter to the viewscreen. There’s an
interested party here with me who would like to see her.”
“Sure thing. I have her in my arms right now.”
“Listen carefully, Mac. Before you activate that screen, I want you to be
certain you have a good grip on that child. I wouldn’t want you to drop her when
you see who’s standing next to me, Okay?”
“Come on, doctor,” smiled Mac, leaving the bottle in the baby’s capable
hands, as she moved over to touch the nearest viewscreen’s activator pad.
“I mean it, Mac!” Crusher’s voice was no nonsense.
“Yes, doctor,” she sighed, cuddling the baby a little more, prior to
touching the pad.
For maybe half a second, Mac continued to smile, but that vanished with a
gasp when she recognized Tasha Yar standing beside Crusher to look at the baby.
“Tasha!” whispered Mac.
The baby calmly pulled the bottle out from her mouth and leaned forward
in the nurse’s arms.
“Is that my mother?” she asked in the voice of a nine-year-old.

Picard watched the image of Captain Thorn blink off, to be replaced by an
image of his five almost needle-shaped craft turning away from the *Enterprise*,
to begin escorting the huge vessel into their solar system.
“Ahead one third impulse, Mr. LaForge,” he ordered. “You have the
bridge, Number One. Counselor, I would like to see you in my ready room.”
Troi followed him past the swishing door.
“Please sit down,” he said on the way to the seat behind his desk.
She made herself comfortable beside the framed depiction of the U.S.S.
*Galaxy*. “You’re worried about Wes and his Belmian friend.”
He nodded. “I’ll need to speak with him, next. But before I do, I’ll need
your help to do that properly. The facts are that Belmi is not a member of the
Federation, at least not yet. I’m aware of the strong emphasis that Belmian society
places on punctuality. It took long and hard diplomatic work to bring them this
close to membership. If Wesley fails to show up on time for his friend’s adulthood
ritual, this individual’s life will be in ruins. Wesley will be forced to live with the
guilt of that for the rest of his own life. Belmi’s fragile relationship with us may
not withstand such a breach of trust committed against one of their own. Now, we
have this Captain Thorn’s word that his world is in imminent danger of alien
attack, and that the mere presence of a vessel of this size would be enough to
dissuade the threat.”
“It would be nice for this ship to be in two places at once, but separating
isn’t exactly a prudent move at the moment,” Troi summed up for him.
“Exactly. I am forced to weigh the prevention of one catastrophe against
another, both equally worthy missions…”
Troi interrupted. “Captain, no one ever said a starship commander is
responsible for all the woes of the galaxy. Most people will congratulate you on
what you were *able* to do rather than condemning you for what you were just
*unable* to do.”
“Understood, Counselor. Decisions of this magnitude no longer frighten
me, as I have made them my bread and butter for a very long time. However,
when an either/or situation arises where each alternative is unacceptable, then it
is time for some creative solutions. I believe there is a way to accommodate both
problems, but this accommodation creates other problems of a more personal
nature with the crewmembers involved.”
“That’s my element. How can I help?”
“Years ago, I had the unfortunate responsibility of bringing Jack Crusher’s
dead body to Beverly and Wesley. He was a good friend and he lost his life while
under my command. In order for what I have in mind to work, I will need
Wesley’s cooperation, which I am sure he will readily give, even though there will
be a great danger involved to his life. Beverly will almost certainly be
against it, and rightly so. Wes is all she has left, yet he is essential personnel.”
“I see,” said Troi. “Well, Beverly is strongly maternal, but she and Wes are
both of a unique breed known as Starfleet personnel. Each knows very well what
the risks are. Obviously, you won’t order Wes on this mission, but you do know
that his guilt will probably override his better judgment. You feel that to Beverly
it will amount to the same thing. Unfortunately, Captain, there is no way around
what Beverly will feel, but there is one thing you can do. Talk to her first. Before
Wes.”
Picard nodded his agreement. As he reached for his communicator to
contact the doctor, he was surprised to hear the doctor’s voice calling him.
“Crusher to Captain Picard!”
“Yes, doctor.”
“Captain, there’s been a new development concerning Data’s daughter. She
has apparently picked up linguistic skills from simply listening to the people
around her!”
Troi’s eyebrows went up, but she said nothing.
“Am I to understand that the child is now coherently speaking?” asked
Picard.
“Well, it sure wasn’t goo-goo-gah-gah! She just asked for her mother.”
“I’m on my way.”

When Picard arrived at the nursery, Crusher and Mackenzie were already
there, trying to quiet the crying infant. Troi volunteered to come along in case her
abilities might be needed.
“Sorry, sir,” apologized Mac. “She won’t stop until she can be with her
mother.”
“What precipitated this?” demanded Picard.
“Tasha wanted to see the baby,” explained Crusher. “I thought it would do
no harm by telescreen…”
Picard nodded, irritatedly. “Bring her here.”
Crusher realized the captain must have put two and two together, but she
thought perhaps the child’s noise was influencing his judgment.
“Captain, I don’t think…”
“Beverly, heaven knows I’m no expert on children, but one thing I do
know. This child has seen what is apparently her mother, and we are keeping
them apart. We may not be absolutely certain of Tasha, but this certainly is
cruelty. Allow them together. On my responsibility.”
“Aye, sir.” Crusher left the room.
The child immediately quieted down to occasional sniffles. Mac could
only look at Troi and Picard in surprise.
“She knows,” said Troi, in wonderment. “There’s no emotional void, as
with Data.”
“Obviously,” added Mac.
“Obviously,” repeated the baby.
Picard stepped forward. “Do you understand me?”
“Yes. I want to understand more. I am hungry for understanding.”
“We all are. That kind of `hunger’ is called curiosity.”
“Curiosity,” affirmed the baby.

Data was in sickbay during his off duty time to speak with Tasha. When
he stepped through the swishing door, he said nothing for about a minute, as if
making up his own mind about her authenticity.
“If it’s maddening for you, just think what it must be like for me,” she told
him.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I may well be one of Q’s creations. The trouble is, I’m just as much in the
dark about that as you are.”
Data tilted his head. “Q did admit to us that Tasha Yar was to be his focus
on this visit. If
you are not her, then Q has certainly done his homework concerning you. One
way or the other, you are the logical continuation of that lifeline.”
“But what if I’m nothing more than a soulless copy of a human being who
is now, in reality, dead.”
“There are those who will even now tell me that about myself, Tasha. Yet,
I do not accept that. As for whether you are soulless or not, I cannot say.”
Tasha perked up at this, but before she could ask who might, Dr. Crusher
entered the room.
“Oh, Data, you’re here, too. Good. I want both of you to join me in the
nursery. Your daughter has expressed an interest in seeing her mother.”
“Wait a minute! We haven’t even established that I am her mother!”
“The captain has,” smiled Beverly. “And somehow, I couldn’t make myself
oppose him. Data, I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but your little girl has
already spoken her first words.”
“Intriguing,” said Data.

When the trio returned to the nursery, not a word was spoken by anyone.
Tasha nervously stepped forward. Mac placed the infant into her arms. Tasha
looked into the small yellow eyes, feeling all nervousness vanish.
“Mother,” said the baby, happily, placing a small hand on Tasha’s cheek.
Tasha felt the sting of tears in her own eyes.
“Yes, your mother’s here,” she smiled, holding the baby closer.
Troi felt an emotion emanating from Tasha which she recognized. “I think
mother and daughter should have some time alone to get acquainted.”
“Data,” called Tasha. “Please stay.”
No one disagreed with that. After filing out, Picard asked Crusher if he
could speak to her in her office.

“Captain Thorn is hailing us, again,” Worf informed Riker.
“Captain Picard?” inquired Thorn’s face on the screen.
“He has some ship’s business to attend to, Captain Thorn. I’m First Officer
William Riker.”
“Ah. You are Earth-human?”
“I am, yes.”
“As am I. Well, a direct descendent of them, anyway. Do you consider
yourself human, or a child of space, Riker?”
“I wasn’t aware that one precludes the other, Captain Thorn.”
Thorn laughed. “Understood. I should be more specific. The Federation is
a multiracial entity, stressing equality between all species, right?”
“Basically. No two races can be equal in all ways any more than any two
individuals can. We have found that most races respond positively to fair
treatment, courtesy, encouragement, and proper appreciation of the gifts they
have been endowed with.”
“I take it, then, by your use of the word `most’ that you have encountered
some exceptions?”
“Of course.”
“We have only encountered one alien race in our system, and they have
taken fierce exception to our existence. To them, humans are on the level of a
virus which has infected their world. Never mind that our people had settled there
over two generations ago without any hint of their existence…”
“With all due respect, sir, I was here when you told your story to Captain
Picard. That’s why we’re following your escort. I assumed you wanted to speak to
him about something new.”
Thorn seemed to reevaluate Riker for a moment before continuing.
“Very well. I’ll save what I had to say for his ears. But since at the moment
I happen to be speaking to you, I would like your personal answer to a question. If
the Gahrto were threatening to wipe all humans off the face of the Earth, would
you defend them or your own kind?”
“I have defended my home in the past. I will continue to do so in the
future.”
“Even if the Gahrto claim that the Earth was theirs since before humans
existed?”
“War doesn’t always have to be the solution to a conflict,” explained
Riker. “If the Gahrto needed the Earth to grow food for their kind, we would be
happy to supply them with whatever assistance they needed.”
Thorn sighed. “I might as well be talking to Picard. He gave me no verbal
assurances that the *Enterprise’s* armaments would be used to save our little
bastion of humanity, either. Let me put it to you this way. Suppose the Gahrto
said, `No, thank you. You are actually what we had in mind as food.’?”
“I thought you said the Gahrto consider humans a kind of virus?”
Thorn smirked with impatience. “You are deliberately trying to avoid
answering my question.”
“Your questions seem to be deliberately phrased to get the answers you
want to hear,” Riker told him. “Tell me, Captain, do you moonlight as a lawyer?”
“Have Captain Picard call me when he can,” Thorn ended transmission.
Riker sighed, turning to face Worf standing above and behind him. “That,
Mr.Worf, is what I meant back in the briefing room about what we humans are
not proud of. Classic xenophobe mentality.”
“I saw only a man who has an almost Klingon pride in his own race,”
replied Worf. “There is no shame in that, especially in war. Or do you consider
me also a `classic xenophobe mentality’?”
“Heaven forbid,” said Riker, quickly. “Pride in one’s people is one thing.
Intolerance of others is another. We’ve only heard the so-called `human’ side. I’ve
a feeling we’ll be hearing from the Gahrto soon enough.”

“Absolutely not, Jean-Luc!” stated Crusher from behind her desk. “The
last time Wesley tried to play diplomat the natives handed him a death sentence!”
“Beverly…” began Picard.
“I mean, he’s only alive right now because you were there to intervene!
Now you want to send him light years away in this contraption of yours?”
“Beverly, it is not what I want. It is an option he can take should he care to
volunteer. And while I admit that this contraption of mine, as you call it, isn’t
exactly a normal way to travel, it has worked before. And he would not be alone.”
“Granted. But certainly you don’t blame me for being worried. Wes has
been moping around ever since he figured out that the *Enterprise* won’t get him
to Belmi on time for his friend’s ceremony. Now you tell me that there is a crazy
way of maybe getting him there on time. What if he still arrives late? What would
they do to him? And that’s assuming he gets there in one piece!”
“I could say that this is a decision only Wesley should make for himself,
but we both know his character,” said Picard. “He will most likely say yes, no
matter how I detail the risks to him. That’s why I’ve come to you.”
“As a mother, I would beg you to not even let him know about this option.
But as a Starfleet officer, it shames me to even suggest such a thing. Okay, tell
him. But I want to be there when you do.”
Picard smiled and tapped his communicator. “Picard to acting ensign
Crusher.”

“So, Data. What do you think of your daughter?” asked Tasha, still
holding the child inside the nursery.
“I am surprised that she exists. I am surprised by her precociousness. I am
surprised that she is fortunate enough to be in her mother’s arms. Why did you not
tell me that you were pregnant?”
“Data, I was ashamed. That day you told me you were fully functional,
something just came over me. It would be easy to blame it on the contamination
we were all suffering from at the time, except I didn’t even try to fight it. And it
was a wonderful experience. Then, when we were all in our right minds, I felt so
bad at what I had reduced you to, all I could think of to do was to
order you to forget it.”
“I was not an unwilling participant.”
Tasha smiled. “You never are, Data. So, needless to say, my added
rudeness made me feel even worse. That day I couldn’t live with myself any
longer, I had to talk to Deanna about it. She told me I wasn’t the only one to react
to the disease the way I did. Anyway, I never dreamed I had to worry about
contraception with you. When Beverly told me I was pregnant, I thought she was
kidding. Then she showed me images of the baby, and I had no doubt that it could
only have been you. She thought *I* was kidding. Nevertheless, I asked her to
transplant the baby to a development tank, before I would start to show. I needed
time to think, and let’s face it, my line of work is not life-insured. Turns out I was
right. I wanted to tell you myself, several times, but
something always got in the way. The next thing I know it’s months later, and I’m
not sure whether I’m me or not.”
“Why?” asked the baby.
“And to top it all off, my newborn is trying to have a real conversation
with me,” laughed Tasha.
“She will have to have a name,” suggested Data.
“Curiosity,” said the baby. “It means `hunger for understanding’.”
“Intriguing,” said Data. “Not unlike the method I used for selecting my
own name.”
“Well,” nodded Tasha, “it certainly fits.”

Wes entered and sat down in his mother’s office, listening wide-eyed as
Picard began.
“The *Enterprise* may shortly be in a battle situation, so that precludes
using her to go to Belmi, even with just the stardrive section. So the problem
becomes: how do we get you to Belmi in time?
“Years ago, when I was commanding the *Stargazer*, a similar situation
came up in which my chief engineer found a creative solution. We took a
passenger shuttle and supplemented her warp drive with modified photon
torpedoes. This gave the shuttle almost a day’s worth of sustained high-warp
speed, much higher than the shuttle was designed for. That mission was
successful, and I believe we can repeat this success with one of our shuttlecraft
and a cluster of
computer-coordinated warp probes. Theoretically, you and a small crew should
be able to reach Belmi even faster than this ship would.”
“Unless something unforeseen happens and the shuttle turns to powder,”
broke in Beverly.
“Which is a very real possibility,” added Picard. “Even with increased
warp and some phaser capability, and assuming that all runs well, you could still
encounter a hostile force which could easily destroy or capture you. Your friend
would still be disgraced, but you would be dead.”
Wesley swallowed hard. “I see.”

When the turbolift deposited Picard onto the bridge, his first officer
informed him of the conversation he had recently had with Captain Thorn.
“Thorn is indeed a product of his civilization,” agreed Picard. “His story is
not unlike that of the ancient Romulans who left Vulcan to find their own way of
life. These descendants of the Terra Firsters who hijacked the *Anaxagoras* have
been nurtured in a xenophobic environment. I don’t wish to speak to them just yet,
Number One. But be prepared to break free of his escort
when the Gahrto fleet is in our sensor range. I’ll want some time to speak with
*their* leaders, if we can.”

It was a breezy but warm day in Scotland. The golf course was green and
neatly trimmed. The ancient castle in the distance was a magnificent-looking
backdrop to the scene as the two players climbed out of the cart which brought
them to this particular trap. Someone somewhere was playing bagpipes.
Geordi LaForge called to his anti-grav caddy to follow, while his opponent
left his clubs behind to just tag along.
“Aye, laddie,” spoke the kilted figure, as they approached the spot where
Geordi’s ball lay. “Ye couldna pick a better day than this fer a nice relaxin’ game
o’ golf. I’ve roamed all over the galaxy in my life, an’ never found a pleasure quite
like this. Just listen to those pipes!”
“I know what you mean,” Geordi shaded his VISOR from the sun with a
hand (just for style, not because he had to) as he scanned the vicinity for the flag
of the next hole. He spotted it.
“Geordi, you and I have been golfing buddies for some time now. Would
ye mind if I made a wee personal observation?”
Geordi ordered the bag of clubs to sit down on the ground and selected a
nine iron from it. “Go right ahead.”
“There’s a lot ye can learn about a man by just watching how he plays the
game. Sometimes yer methods are a wee unorthodox, but they work. Ye’ve got
the makin’s of a great engineer if I’m any judge o’ character. Trust me, I’ve
hand-picked a few winners in my day.”
Geordi swung and watched the ball soar up into the sky. It came down
with a small backward hop, not much closer to the hole but he was now out of the
trap.
To his opponent, he said, “I’m flattered. Coming from you, that’s one hell
of a compliment.”
His opponent’s eyebrows went up in mock surprise. “It’s more than just a
compliment, lad! If ye don’t reach out for your callin’ while yer young, ye’ll regret
it for the rest o’ yer life!”
“Well, Mr. Argyle’s not gone, yet. And a lot rides on who he thinks would
make a good replacement for him. He’s worked with some pretty good people.”
“Aye, and yer one of them,” answered the other in recollection of some of
his friend’s not-so-tall tales.
“Argyle to LaForge,” interrupted Geordi’s badge.
“LaForge, here.”
“Sorry to bother you on your time off,” it continued, “but the captain’s just
given me a job that’s right up your alley. I could really use your help.”
“On my way, Chief. LaForge out.”
“Duty calls, eh?” smiled his opponent.
“Sorry, Scotty. This might be my big break. Exit!”
A bulky pair of doors appeared in the air before them and parted.
“No problem, lad. This Argyle sounds like a decent sort. Do ye think he
plays golf?”
“He just may,” chuckled Geordi, dropping his club on the ground. “Save
program.”
The holodeck became instantly empty, and he stepped back out into the
real world.

Curiosity was fast asleep in the nursery. Data had returned to duty. Tasha
settled down in one of the ship’s guest quarters; her own were now occupied by
someone else. Her emotions were mixed. What good would it do to lament the
late Natasha Yar, who was dead and out of the picture. The new Tasha now
existed. For how long, she didn’t know, but who did? As Data pointed out, she
was the inheritor of that lifeline, and that included the baby.

She had returned her uniform, choosing to dress like a common civilian.
Clearly, there was no place for her on this ship. Worf was now ably filling her
shoes. Yet security was all she ever trained for in her life. But would it be wise to
continue with such a career choice, now that there was a little one who needed
her?
She could get a security post anywhere in the fleet, and maybe even back
on the *Enterprise* again, someday. But there was Curiosity to think of. And
where would Data fit in into this strange family situation?
“Quite a lot for a human mind to ponder,” said Q.
Tasha was startled out of the comfortable chair she was sitting in. She
glared at him, saying nothing.
Q waited a bit and then continued. “Do I have you to thank for my life, Q?
Yes, Tasha, you do. Oh, thank you so much for giving me so precious a gift, Q,
how could I ever repay you? The answer is: you could never even hope to. But a
little courtesy goes a long way.”
“Oh, no,” Tasha shook her head. “You don’t deserve courtesy from me. Or
gratitude. Or anything else. *Who gave you the right to pull me out of my
grave?*”
“By the power vested in me, I pronounced you alive. And here you are.
The *real* Tasha, not some Q fakery. If I needed an automaton to take your
place, you would have been fully programmed, and I wouldn’t be trying to speak
with you now, would I? And if my gift really is so unappreciated by you, you
certainly are free to give it back.”
“Why don’t you just take it?”
“Because although I am many things, I am not an indian-giver. You’ll have
to throw it away, yourself, like you did before.”
Tasha sighed. “Why are you here, now?”
Q smiled. “On speaking terms are we? Good. The truth is, I’m in a teeny
spot with my fellow Q beings. Nothing I won’t be able to extricate myself from
when the time comes, mind you. But it is a little on the irritating side for me just
now. In your own small way, you are going to assist me in my redemption.”
“If I refuse…”
“My dear Tasha, how little you understand the grand scheme of things. I’m
giving you nothing more to accept or refuse, other than your life. Whatever you
decide to do will help me whether you like that notion or not. All I’m going to do
now is let you in on something you don’t know. An acquaintance of yours, one
Wesley Crusher, has chosen to embark upon a mission that will ultimately result
in his death. Now that you have this little glimpse into the future, you are
the only one aboard this ship who can prevent that from happening. If you wish.
You have free will to do what you want.”
“You could be lying.”
“I am capable of that, yes. But feeding you a lie wouldn’t suit my purposes
just now. You know Wesley will die, just as surely as you knew you would have
when I put you in my penalty box. Your friends saved you then. The question is,
can you do the same for Wesley?”
She believed him. “H-how does he die?”
“I’ve overstayed my welcome…”
“Q!”
“…I’m afraid I must be going.”
With that, Q vanished in a blaze of light.
“Damn you, Q!” muttered Tasha.

Argyle and LaForge surveyed their handiwork in shuttle bay two with
approval. The modified shuttle had shiny black warp probes attached one on the
top and bottom, and one on the port and starboard outside walls for a total of four.
“I’ve heard of something like this being done before,” commented Argyle.
“Even though you and I personally wired her up, I’d be damned if I’d fly her.”
“I hear you,” said LaForge. “All computer simulations say it should work,
yet I can’t help thinking of that old saying, `*Challenger* was go’. But I’ve got to
fly her, Chief. At least if anything did happen, I wouldn’t have to learn to live with
it.”
“Well, however it turns out, this’ll probably be the last time I see you. I’ll
be transferring away with Dr. Crusher when we reach rendezvous,” Argyle held
out his hand. “It’s been nice knowing and working with you, Geordi.”
Geordi took hold to shake it, but was surprised to be suddenly pulled into
a big bear-type hug.
“Come back in one piece, my friend. I intend to recommend you to the
captain as my replacement.”
“Sure, Chief. And thanks.”
Argyle assumed his position at the bay controls, while LaForge entered the
shuttle for the final systems check. Each was still at it when Wesley, Beverly,
Worf, Troi, and Picard entered.
“Is everything ready?” inquired Picard.
LaForge popped out. “Ready as it ever will be.”
Beverly kept a stiff smile on her face, as she hugged her son once more,
but the moistness of her eyes gave away her true feelings. All knew Beverly had
accepted the post of Head of Starfleet Medical, and consequently would also most
likely be gone when they returned. Otherwise, she would have been
accompanying them.
“Let’s get going,” LaForge said. “All aboard.”
When everyone else had filed in, he lingered outside a moment longer to
call out to the engineer.
“Chief! I almost forgot! There’s a holodeck program called `Montgomery
One’ that I think you may get a kick out of. In fact, a character in there asked for
you by name. Be sure to give it a try before you leave!”
“Will do,” said Argyle.
Picard stepped over beside the engineer. When the shuttle was sealed, he
told him to open the bay door.
Suddenly, Tasha burst into the bay, panting and puffing.
“Thank God,” was all she said when she saw the shuttle had not yet taken
off.
“Belay that,” Picard told Argyle. He took Tasha by the shoulders and
asked, “What is it?”
Tasha noticed Beverly nearby, and said, “Permission to speak with you
privately, sir.”
“Granted. Mr. Argyle, tell them to stand by.”
“Aye, sir,” said Argyle, staring at Tasha. He’d heard the rumors, but…
Dr. Crusher saw them move to a corner of the bay where they would not
be heard. Tasha was explaining something to him in a most animated way,
stealing occasional glances at her.

The shuttle passed easily through the containment force field out into
space. LaForge was in constant contact with Data on the bridge, who was
coordinating the launch. Riker notified Captain Thorn’s squadron that a shuttle
launch unrelated to their present mission was being conducted, and that Picard
was on his way to the bridge.
“*Enterprise*, we are beginning shuttlecraft acceleration to maximum of
warp two,” rang LaForge’s voice on the bridge, just as Picard and Crusher
emerged from the turbolift.
“Acknowledged,” answered Data. “Standing by.”
On the viewscreen, the shuttle shot forward and vanished in an instant.
“So far, so good,” came LaForge’s voice. “I am now phasing in the warp
probes…They’re working…I’m going to nudge them up a little more. My
instruments say we are now at warp 4.4 and increasing. Tell the captain the ride is
smooth.”
“I’m here, Lieutenant,” broke in Picard, bending over Data’s shoulder.
“Well done! We’re clocking you now at warp 5.2 and rising. I want to wish you
good luck and godspeed.”
“Thank you, sir. LaForge out.”
“Out of sensor range, sir,” reported Data. “At warp 6.1 and rising.”
“Very well, Mr. Data. Number One, raise Captain Thorn and tell him I’ll
speak with him now.”

On the shuttle, which was now traveling at warp 7.3, Geordi and Wesley
sat up front. Worf and Tasha were directly behind them, with Troi in the seat
behind Worf.
“You’re being awfully quiet, Worf,” noticed Tasha. “Come on, we both
know you’re bursting with questions.”
“I am still not convinced that you are Natasha Yar,” he simply answered.
“Join the club. I didn’t ask Q to do this. But I’m here. The Tasha you knew
is dead, but I have all her memories and feelings. As Data says, I’m the logical
continuation of that lifeline. I’m also the mother of Data’s daughter.”
Upon hearing that, even Geordi and Wesley disregarded what they were
doing at the front to gape at her.
“I’ll bet there’s an interesting story behind *that*,” exclaimed LaForge.
“You needn’t say any more,” Troi cautioned her.
“There isn’t any more to say! Obviously, Data and I made love. Even *he*
didn’t think he was capable of fatherhood.”
“If that is so,” boomed Worf, “You would have stayed with your child
rather than accompany us on this mission.”
Tasha was incredulous. “You think I didn’t *want* to? Q visited me in my
cabin. He told me what Wesley was going to do. If I didn’t intervene in some way,
he told me Wesley would die.”
“And you believed him?” asked Wes.
“I guess you had to be there. It wasn’t a question of believing him.
Somehow I knew it was true.”
“Did he say what exactly is supposed to happen to me?”
She only gave him a wry look. “This is Q we’re talking about.”
“Yeah,” said just about everyone, simultaneously.
Silence predominated for a while.
“So, Geordi, what is our estimated time of arrival at Belmi?” asked Troi.
LaForge studied his instruments.
“If all goes well, we should be there with three days to spare before the
ceremony. Ideally. Anything can happen, so we may be forced to play around
with that schedule.”

Captain Thorn’s face was once again on the *Enterprise* viewscreen.
“One of our technicians nearly choked when you launched your shuttle,”
he laughed. “There is no limit to what human ingenuity is capable of. I notice that
the large-headed fellow you had behind you is no longer there, Captain Picard. Of
what race is he?”
“You mean our Lieutenant Worf. His people are known as Klingons,”
answered Picard.
“Klingons! My granddad told me about them once. He told me they were
hairy, but he never mentioned they had heads like that!”
“Captain, my first officer informs me that in your talk with him earlier,
you felt I had failed to give you assurance that we would use our might to defend
your people if need be. It is one of our primary duties to protect endangered
settlements, and yours certainly qualifies for our aid. It would make our task
ahead a lot easier if we knew what we were up against. Could you tell me
everything you know about the Gahrto?”
Thorn was happy to oblige. “They are insectoids, deceptively passive
when you first meet them, but they can behead a man with one snap of their
saberlike jaws. They don’t communicate with sound the way we do, they must
connect their antennae and think to each other. When the *Anaxagoras* settlers
arrived at the new world they hoped they could live in peaceful coexistence with
the Gahrto, and for a while they actually did. But the Gahrto became jealous of
human
technology, which, naturally, we refused to just hand over to them. This enraged
them into declaring war on us. All of a sudden, they were scrawling `Invaders go
home’ on our walls and committing horrible atrocities on innocent people. In
short, they did whatever they could to force us off the planet. Eventually, we had
to relocate our civilians to a nearby moon, while the military fought them
planetside, but somehow the Gahrto were able to bring the war into space. Now,
we’re fighting them all over the solar system. Although we’ve got the superior
technology, we can’t breed as fast as they do. And we happen to know they have a
traitorous Vulcan working for them.”
“Explain,” urged Picard.
“Her name is T’Pliu. She was the doctor on board the *Anaxagoras*, and
the only person from that time to be alive today. Historically, she is said to have
sided with the Gahrto almost immediately. In recent times, she has been in
disguise among us to gather intelligence for them.”
“Vulcans are noted for their longevity,” Picard said. “But the actions you
describe are contrary to their nonviolent philosophy.”
“I can only tell you what I know, Captain. Perhaps this one has her own
philosophies…”
A voice called to Thorn from somewhere aboard his vessel.
“Captain! Bugs approaching, dead ahead!”
Lieutenant Stanis looked up from her post at tactical. “Captain, three
vessels of similar mass to Captain Thorn’s, bearing zero mark zero, range point
five parsec, closing at one half impulse.”
“Looks like the Gahrto are here,” muttered Riker.
“A scouting troika,” explained Thorn’s image on the main viewer. “They
regularly throw their lives away like this in the interest of gathering intelligence.
Maintain your course and speed, we’ll break away and handle this.”
“No, captain, please let us handle them,” demanded Picard.
“Picard, my people are trained for this. They may already be transmitting
images of you to one of their bases!”
“That may be, in which case any element of surprise is already lost. My
concern right now is to use this contact to gather some intelligence on them.”
Thorn wouldn’t listen. “No time to argue. Just follow my instructions.
Thorn out.”
The screen switched to a view of Thorn’s squadron increasing their speed
to leave the *Enterprise* behind.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” said Picard. “Lieutenant, put tractor beams on
that…enthusiastic bunch.”
“Aye, sir,” smiled Stanis.
“Picard! Are you crazy? What are you doing?” demanded Thorn, from the
viewscreen, once he realized his ships were being held.
“Preventing you from attacking a clearly outnumbered unit and a valuable
source of potential information,” answered Picard. “I will release your fleet upon
receipt of your word that you will stay far behind while we do our jobs.”
Thorn swallowed a considerable amount of anger before answering.
“Very well, you have it.” He abruptly cut the connection.
“You don’t really believe his word, do you?” asked Riker.
“Not for a minute, Number One.” To Stanis, “Release them, but keep
tracking them. We may need to quickly grab them again.”
When the tractor beam released them, the six ships made a mad dash in
six separate directions. The tactic didn’t work. Once again, the *Enterprise* had
them under restraint. Only this time, Picard employed a little warp drive to tow
them far enough out of the area, that it would take them at least two hours to
return under their own power.
Upon the *Enterprise’s* return, the Gahrto ships had already obviously
turned and fled. Picard ordered pursuit and soon caught up with them. The Gahrto
apparently saw there was no escaping this huge new potential adversary, so they
turned and faced the ship.
“We are under sensor scan,” reported Stanis.
“Fine. Then they shouldn’t mind us scanning them.”
While Stanis ran the sensor scanning program, Picard turned to Riker and
asked, “How do you think a mute race communicates at a distance?”
Riker folded his arms. “Assuming they can see, maybe they send written
text to each other. If Thorn was correct about their antennae being the key to what
corresponds to speech for them, then we would first have to know in what way. It
could be mind-link, or merely touch; like Helen Keller feeling sign language with
her hands.”
“Telegraphy or telepathy,” nodded Picard. “Two likely possibilities.
Unless, of course they surprise us with an unlikely one.”
The familiar-sounding hailing chime rang out from tactical. Stanis told
them the transmission was originating from the lead Gahrto vessel, visual only.
“On screen,” Picard told her, facing forward.
A Gahrto appeared, looking more like a terrifically overgrown terran ant.
It’s jaws were everything Thorn said, and more. The creature bent down out of
frame sight, only to sit up again holding a flat surface in front of its face.
Scrawled on it was a sentence in English: “WHAT DO YOU WANT HERE,
U.S.S. ENTERPRISE NCC-1701-D?”
“Sign language!” laughed Riker.
“Literally,” added Picard. “This simplifies things immensely. Prepare a
standard text transmission for their screens. Tell them we mean them no harm,
and that all we know about the hostilities here is what the local humans have
chosen to tell us. We are open to whatever they wish to send us.”

The shuttle from the *Enterprise* arrived at Belmi at just about the
moment LaForge said they would. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing
the end of the journey come without major incident. But there was still the
problem of Wesley…and Q’s prediction.
LaForge contacted Belmian Control, who gave the shuttle permission to
land, as well as landing coordinates.
All was going well as the shuttlecraft began its descent from orbit. But
just as they emerged from beneath the high altitude clouds, an explosion
happened right in front of them. The shock wave hit, and they nosed into the
flack.
“What’s happening?” yelled Troi, while the lights flickered.
“I can’t believe it!” said LaForge, incredulously. “Somebody’s *shooting*
at us! And they mean business!”
“My God! There’s some more incoming!” noted Wes from the sensor
panel. “We’ll never survive that barrage!”
“Wes is right,” agreed Yar, looking over the youngster’s shoulder. “I think
now would be a good time to bail out.”
“I second the motion,” said LaForge. “Suit up, everyone. I intend to blow
the hatch in two minutes.”
Each person had an escape suit under each seat, which was designed to be
slipped on in a jiffy. Individual adjustments could be made later. Once LaForge
saw that everyone’s personal forcefield was on, he gave final warning and
initiated the ejection sequence.
First the ceiling was blown. Then the seats were thrust upwards at several
G’s. Nearly all of them were able to see the shuttle below them get pulverized as
it was hit from all sides.
During freefall, evacuation suit forcefields reconfigured into an
aerodynamic mode, allowing the wearer to glide down safely to the ground,
whereupon a proximity sensor would activate the survivor’s antigrav cushion for
safe touchdown, even if the wearer might be unconscious.
Even though every member of the group was very much awake for the
ride, only two, Tasha and Worf, actually enjoyed it. Neither one had felt this
exhilarated since their academy training days.
There was a certain measure of control one had over the glide down, but it
wasn’t enough to enable the group to stay together. Low clouds, flack, and wind
currents all conspired to separate them, and each was destined to land alone in a
different place.

The Gahrto appeared to be almost convinced of the *Enterprise* crew’s
sincerity in wishing their race no harm. Picard’s diplomacy and the way they saw
his huge ship handle Thorn’s squadron made a big impression on them. However,
they could not bring themselves to reveal to him where their nearest base was.
They suggested that he send a party over to one of their ships which would take
them to the “Baza” who taught them written English. Picard suspected that they
meant a certain humanoid who was probably Doctor T’Pliu of the late
*Anaxagoras*.

Wesley found himself in the middle of a jungle. Even the plants looked
unfriendly, so though it meant running down the suit’s battery, he kept his
forcefield on until he was more certain of his surroundings. He patted the
compartment where his phaser should have been, and felt reassured that it was
there, then touched his communicator and called for LaForge.

LaForge, meanwhile, found himself neck-deep in some vile-looking
liquid. Examining his surroundings, he soon figured out that he was swimming in
the digestive juices of a monster-sized pitcher plant. Echoes of Q’s threats on the
bridge reverberated in his mind.
*I could drop your entire crew instantly on a planet consisting only of
swamps and carnivores. Wouldn’t that be fun for a few hours?*
Here he was almost two days later inside something that was both a
swamp and a carnivore!
“Crusher to LaForge. Geordi, can you hear me?”
LaForge responded. “I hear you just fine, Wes, except I’m literally up to
my neck in it at the moment…”
He explained his situation to Crusher, finishing up with, “…As long as my
forcefield is on, I won’t be able to climb out of here. And I shudder to think
what would happen if it quit on me just now.”
“Can you reach your phaser?”
“Sure. But inside its compartment it’s safe from this corrosive stuff. I’m
afraid if I take it out and try to use it, I’ll just succeed in blowing my own atoms
away.”
“Don’t panic, Geordi. I’ll try to reach the others, and we’ll all begin zeroing
in on you.”
“I’d appreciate all the help I can get.”

Picard expected Thorn to be hopping mad when his face reappeared on
the main viewer. And so he was.
“I knew it! I knew I couldn’t trust you bug-lovers! You are no different
from T’Pliu! I was hoping we Humanians might try reopening relations with our
brothers in the Federation, but now I can see the reason for that ancient split!”
spat Thorn.
“You are free to believe what you wish, Captain,” answered Picard. “You
are even free to continue your war—elsewhere. Right here, at the moment, we
have Gahrto visitors on board who have no quarrel with us. At the same time, two
of my people have agreed to be taken to the Gahrto base where they will meet
with your so-called traitor to get her side of the story. As we are in
negotiations with these people I will not permit you to fire on the two vessels
beside us, or on the third which will eventually return our comrades to us.”
“Your comrades will be tortured to death, Picard! T’Pliu has the power to
suck information out from their brains with just the touch of her hand! Once she
gets what she needs, she’ll let her friends feast on them. I’m sorry, but your actions
against my squadron along with your friendliness to the Gahrto has given me no
choice but to return to my home base and report the *Enterprise* to
my superiors as a hostile invader to this system. You can expect a formal
declaration of war on the Federation within the next three days.”
Picard took a deep breath. “Thorn, this ship could lay waste to all of your
squadrons by itself until there would be none left. The Federation is currently
dealing with thirty-seven declarations of war by simply refusing to participate in
battle. By your own admission, humans do not breed as fast as the enemy you are
already at war with. How long do you think your people could continue to take
defeat after defeat until their inevitable surrender to the Gahrto?”
“The sun will go nova before we surrender!”
“Patriotic rubbish! Sensible heads always seem to prevail at the end of a
war, but by then it can be too late. The vanquished are at the mercy of the victor.
What will life be like for your descendants who will have to live under Gahrto
domination? How will they remember the previous generation who left them such
a legacy?”
Thorn said nothing for a long time. Picard’s words had hit home.
“What other choice do we have, Picard? You made it clear you’re not on
our side.”
“On the contrary. I’ve made it clear to one and all that we will take no
sides of the conflict. You asked us for protection, and we will gladly provide you
with that. The Gahrto also have the same right to ask for the same thing, and have
the same right to receive it. Your choice is, do you forfeit our protection, or will
you allow us to proceed?”

Worf and Tasha found each other quite quickly, and they both found Troi.
With her help, they located Geordi and phasered him out from the plant he fell
into. They dragged him away from where all the acid spilled out, and he
deactivated his force field.
“Whew, thanks,” he said. “The air was starting to get real stuffy. Where’s
Wes?”
“We haven’t found him, yet,” admitted Tasha. “He may have landed much
further away than the rest of us.”
Then she noticed the strange expression on Troi’s face.
“I don’t even sense his consciousness anymore,” worried Troi.
She pointed due west. “The last impression I got seemed strongest in that
direction.”
“Worf, if you and I fork out that way, one of us might find him.”
Worf gave Tasha a short nod. Both set off to search for him, each taking a
different path.

Riker and Data did not have long to wait in the chamber where the Gahrto
had left them. In moments, a middle-aged female Vulcan presented herself before
them.
“I am T’Pliu, once chief medical officer of the starship *Anaxagoras*.”
“William T. Riker, ma’am. This is Lieutenant Commander Data. He’s an
android.”
T’Pliu bowed her head to Data, who did the same.
“Things have indeed changed in Starfleet since my time,” she said.
She told them the story of how her ship had been taken over by Terra First
humans, who made up the majority inside the starliner canister which had been
assigned to them at Earth. During the layover, many crew people were replaced
by members of this dissident group, unbeknownst to the captain, though the first
officer had begun to have his suspicions. The mutiny happened en route to
Androcus. The crew was simply overwhelmed. People she had known for years
were executed by being transported into the matter storage tanks as plasma, while
antimatter was brought up from the starliner’s holds to fuel their journey into the
unknown.
The search was for a suitable planet, where humans could continue their
culture without influences by any alien races.
“Why did they settle on a planet already inhabited by the Gahrto? asked
Data.
“The initial plans were to wipe out the Gahrto, but the colonists soon
learned that they could be trained to do all the monotonous chores that were
necessary for survival, but that the humans felt were beneath their own dignity.
This relationship went on for decades, because the Gahrto were slow to anger.
But pockets of revolt began, peacefully, at first, but human retaliation
was harsh. The Gahrto learned that it was not possible to reason with racism, so
that was when the full-fledged war began.”
“How were you able to survive during this entire ordeal?” asked Riker.
“The captain, first officer and I were the last of the crewmembers left
alive, because we had skills the others needed. Once we arrived at this system, we
knew that the need for us was coming to an end. We made plans to escape the
ship. Captain Ritter thought it was important to secretly send out the log buoy.
That act probably cost him his life. Commander Harris and I reached a transporter
room with the intention of setting the console on automatic and beaming down to
the planet. He instructed me to wait on one of the pads while he set the controls.
We were discovered before he could finish, and apparently thought that he could
at least save me, so he energized. I was able to see a phaser beam strike him
before I materialized on the surface.
“I met the Gahrto long before the others did, and was able to communicate
with them by way of mind meld. I tried to prepare them for what was to come
after me, but they all had minds of their own. They could not conceive of such
concepts as treachery and genocide. They needed to find these things out for
themselves. And they have learned well.”
Suddenly, Riker felt very ashamed. After all, the crime was committed by
his species. As much as he wanted to defend humans in front of this group, it
would have been pointless in light of the facts.

Young Ettil Ttorda received the news at about the same time as the
general population did, by public television broadcast. The special report said that
a Federation shuttlecraft was shot down somewhere over a Belmian nature
preserve, by presumed terrorists who were still being sought.
Naturally, the whole world was stunned. Besides just being an act of pure
barbarity against a small band of peaceful visitors, this was the kind of
catastrophe that would at the very least sour relations with the Federation. What
the most was, no one wished to contemplate.
When the first sketchy reports came in, Ettil fervently hoped that it wasn’t
an *Enterprise* shuttle. Subsequent reports confirmed that it indeed was, forcing
Ettil to hope that maybe Wesley Crusher wasn’t aboard. Interplanetary Flight
Control listed him as one of the passengers. Another hope down the drain.
*Maybe Wes will be among the survivors*, was the final hope Ettil could
retreat to. But investigators said there was practically nothing left of the shuttle.
What was left of the bodies would be even more difficult to find, especially in
such a large area which was intentionally kept wild.
Ettil knew there was plenty of time left before the adulthood ceremony to
find a new witness. There were many who would be honored to stand in for Wes.
For some reason, the Belmian youngster didn’t even wish to discuss the matter.
Not yet.

The lead Gahrto vessel returned to its place in the troika in front of the
*Enterprise*. Riker’s team came back with much to tell Captain Picard.
“We even got a look at a typical Gharto nursery,” said Riker. “Apparently
their reproductive systems work in direct proportion to perceived threat. And
judging by the amount of larvae we saw hatching, they feel extremely
threatened.”
Picard visualized it. Obviously, the Gahrto had only shown them the tip of
the iceberg, so far as the coming population explosion was concerned.
“A pity you couldn’t bring back a picture of it, Number One. If the human
settlers could see what they will soon find themselves up against, it may help
them reconsider continuing their losing battle.”
“They are already aware of what they are up against, sir” said Data. “Dr.
T’Pliu has many friends among the humans as well as the Gahrto. The humans are
no strangers to the numbers the Gahrto can produce.”
“Presumably she chose not to accompany you here?”
“That is correct. She is coordinating a small, but growing, anti-war
movement among both groups. As it places her in constant risk from elements of
both who wish to see her dead, she restricts her travels to within preferred circles.
When we offered her safe return home, she replied she *was* home.”
“Well, Thorn has taken his squadron home,” said Picard. “He said he
would return with a career diplomat to speak to me, as soldiers make poor
negotiators.”

Tasha was the one who came across the unconscious figure of Wesley on
the ground. His personal forcefield was still on, and set to full intensity,
preventing any fresh air from reaching him. She quickly turned on hers, phasing it
to interfere with his, so that she could reach in and deactivate it.
This done, she turned off hers and began checking for vital signs. They
were weak, but there.
“Wake up, Wesley,” she tapped his cheeks until he came around.
“Wha-what?”
“You passed out. I thought you knew better than to almost smother
yourself with your forcefield.”
Wesley sat up, putting a hand to his pounding head. “Geez. So did I. Wait!
Geordi’s in trouble!”
“Not any more,” smiled Tasha. “Come on, let’s rejoin the group and figure
out how to get you to your friend’s ceremony.”
Tapping her communicator, she said, “Worf, the search is over.”
They barely heard his acknowledgment. Something big rustled out of the
bushes and charged at them. Tasha always prided herself on her quick draw, but
this large beast slammed into her before she could even touch her phaser. There
was a loud snap, which accompanied a sudden circular windstorm.
The six-legged hairy digestive system slumped to the ground, as a
helicopter full of Belmians, one with a smoking weapon, descended to them.
*I sure hope that’s a rescue party*, thought Wes.

Captain Picard stood inside his ready room, studying the stars outside the
viewport, while his mind pondered recent events. The door chime signaled.
“Come.”
Riker entered. “The Humanian diplomat has transported back. Their ship
is heading home.”
Picard sighed, turning to face his first officer. “It appears that this mission
will not have a happy ending, Number One.”
“You intend to leave the humans at the mercy of the Gahrto.”
“It is their world, Will. Granted, the current generation of humans there
cannot be held responsible for the alleged crimes of their grandparents. But that is
only how we see it. The Gahrto see that they have tried to be nice, and that being
nice to humans doesn’t work. So, now they’re trying a new approach which,
unfortunately, involves annihilation.”
“The humans have expressly asked for our help. Defending human
colonies is one of our mission objectives,” Riker reminded him.
“Yes. The assumption has always been that we humans need defending in
the final frontier. There are enough hostile forces, certainly, to justify that. Yet, I
wonder, just how far is too far?”
“Sir?”
Picard sat down and leaned forward. “`Protecting our own’ is one thing.
When that excuse is used to force us to act as a shield, while those we are
`protecting’ remain free to strike at will, merely reduces us to another front in
someone else’s war. We have chosen a side. A choice based on solely racial
concerns.”
Riker understood. “It boils down to a prime directive problem.”
“Precisely. The Gahrto may not be human, but they are a reasonable
people, equally deserving of our protection under the Federation applicant clause.
I fear that playing Organian for these two races across an entire solar system
would prove to be a bigger job than this ship and crew are prepared to handle.”
“A full-time job. Agreed,” said Riker. “What about an evacuation of
noncombatants who wish to leave?”
“The *Enterprise* could possibly carry all such humans away from here, but
wouldn’t T’Pliu demand the same for her Gahrto friends. By what lottery then, do
we choose who comes with us and who stays? And lets not forget that removing
some noncombatants will make the rest an even smaller minority. The war will
only last that much longer.”
Riker folded his arms. “I’m beginning to see why Thorn was so upset with
you.”
“One should never make promises one may not be able to keep, Number
One.”

Q was in his continuum, in his own form, delightedly watching all the
events unfold, when he was approached by other Q.
“This is not good, Q” they told him.
“Hold on. I’m telling you, these humans are not hard to fathom at all.
Surely you have no problem with me applying the scientific method to them?
Experiment and control. First I’m going to see what happens with the Tasha
factor, and then restore it all minus the Tasha factor, the way it would have
naturally gone in the first place!”
“We have no problem with your idea, just your approach. The humans
have a saying: `You robbed Peter to pay Paul’.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Obviously. Tell us, which method did you use to create the resurrection
effect?”
“The easiest. I borrowed a Tasha from a parallel timeline. I was always
intending to wipe her mind and put her back where I got her.”
“We know. That’s not where the problem is. Did you ever stop to think
that putting a hole in the fabric of time and closing it would cause problems
elsewhen?”
“Uhoh.”
“Uhoh is right. While you were concentrating on your little experiment,
you caused a counterreaction later on in *Enterprise* history…and earlier on.It
was a lot of work to restore your mess, and we still didn’t do a perfect job of it.
Another one of your Tashas ended up lost in history and having a child by a
Romulan of all things…”
“I-I feel so responsible!” said Q. “Look, as soon as I’m done with this, I’ll
go and straighten out that little detail.”
“You’ll do no such thing! We put time professionals on the job and still
screwed it up. Putting you on it is only going to make a bad situation worse. Just
finish up what you’re doing now and meet us in Q court.”
“This is not good, Q,” Q muttered to himself, before sending himself to
Belmi in a flash of light.

The Belmian religious figure drew the ceremony to its end.
While Ettil stood proudly before the priest, the group from the
*Enterprise* stood among Ettil’s friends and family.
The priest held up a wax tablet in one appendage and chirped something
to Ettil in the native language.
A family-Ttorda cousin translated for the group.”The priest has just asked
Ettil, `Do you forsake the pardonable offenses of childhood now and forever in
exchange for the difficulties and the respect of adulthood?”
Ettil chirped affirmatively.
“Then take this symbol of your infancy and destroy it for all to see.”
“On that tablet is written all of Ettil’s misadventures as a child,” continued
the cousin.
Ettil accepted the tablet and placed it in a receptacle containing flame.
The tablet melted into liquid, and whatever was written on it was lost forever.
“Congratulations, Ettil Ttorda. You now share the sorrows and the joys
that only adults may know, for you are now one of us.”
Counselor Troi could easily tell all the witnesses were deeply moved by
the ceremony. But what she and everyone else failed to notice, is that Tasha Yar
suddenly disappeared from their midst in a flash of light.

She found herself hanging in empty blackness. The only other thing she
could see was Q in his human form.
“So many creatures in this universe make such a big deal over this
pretended transition from childhood to adulthood. Yet I’ve noticed that in reality,
there is no mutually agreeable place to draw this imaginary line.”
“What do you want from me, now?” demanded Tasha.
“Only your opinion. Remember when I told you I was quite capable of
lying if it suited my purpose? Well, with you I went beyond ordinary lying. I’ve
given you a lying memory. You don’t really have a child. At least not yet. And
certainly not by that ridiculous android. That whole business with baby Curiosity
was just a fanciful figment of my imagination. A distraction designed to keep you
off balance, just a tad.”
Tasha said nothing, but her eyes grew moist. It was true. As the lie died in
her mind, she knew there never was a half android baby who chose her own
name. The infant she held in her arms, the one who called her “mother” was just
another Q joke.
“Oh, come on, let’s have none of that,” said Q, causing a glass of water to
materialize in front of her.
Suddenly, it threw its contents in her face. She wiped the water away with
her hands, only loathing remaining in her eyes.
“*That’s* the Tasha I know,” smiled Q.
“I suppose I never existed during that entire time, either,” she growled.
“Not in the timeline I placed you in, no. That *Enterprise* crew did
indeed lose their poor Tasha on Vagra Two, and they’ve been living without you
ever since. But in your own timeline, that incident never happened. And it’s back
to that timeline I’m returning you, after a selective clearing of your memory, of
course.”
Tasha gaped, “You mean I actually come from a parallel universe in
which I survive Vagra Two? I don’t understand why you didn’t just study me
there, instead of transplanting me into the place of my less fortunate double?”
“Even a human mind should be able to grasp the reason! I wanted to
watch your shipmates’ reactions to you suddenly coming back from the dead! I
wanted to see how you would react in return. And it has all been terribly
entertaining, even if I do say so myself.”
“Yes,” whispered Tasha, her mood brightening. “Yes, it has, hasn’t it? You
know, Q, I still hate your guts, but I must admit, after all the experiences you’ve
put me through the past few days — which I never would have had without you — I
find myself wishing I didn’t have to forget them.”
This surprised Q. For the first time since his initial encounter with
Picard’s crew near Deneb, this was the closest thing he had ever gotten to
approval from any of them. He was genuinely touched.
“I, uh, I suppose I could let you keep some memories in the form of a
vivid dream…”
“Thank you, Q,” was all she had time to say before she vanished in a blaze
of light.

When the *Enterprise* finally arrived at Belmi weeks later, Picard was
both dismayed and relieved to hear about the shuttlecraft being shot down, but
that all the crewmembers who were aboard it were safe and accounted for:
LaForge, Troi, Worf, and Wesley. Yet, even when they returned to the ship, he
still could not shake the nagging feeling that something was missing.

————–70A72C223E5B–

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