PROLOGUE.

In an mountain glade a group convenes. A man, a woman, an android, a Horta that

appears to be part of the scenery until it moves . The fifth member of the party is also not

immediately obvious but defines, surrounds, and controls the meeting.

  The Horta rumbles over to a bare rock outcrop and stops on it. Steam rises around its

edges as it beds itself into place. The android settles on the ground beside it and allows a

trailing vine to wrap around his shoulder. The man and woman sit on the grass opposite,

join hands, and after glancing at each  other shut their eyes. They both feel a light touch on

their shoulders.

  "Welcome" a voice in the mind.

  "Welcome back Jean Luc"

  "You wished direct contact, we are here, how can we help you?"

  "To make a this decision I need to experience your convictions in a more direct

manner.  Are you willing to interface?"

 Four replies, all affirmative, and it began

 UNION  PART ONE

 Footfalls echo in the memory

 Down the passage we did not take.

T.S. Eliot.

  The Federation had denoted planet 1176JV  a  Heritage Park. The planet was an evolutionary puzzle. Its continents and seas were teeming with plant and animal species, but with no sentient life, and for some reason yet to be determined, no top level predators were found in either the forest or the sea.

As far as could be told by investigators, clean up and scavenging was ably carried out by insect and bacteria, but no being on 'Green' as it was dubbed by all those who visited it, survived on the living flesh of another.

Vast herds of herbivores lived in perfect balance with their environments, population in

complete synchronization with their food supply. How this balancing act was maintained

was fascinating to botanists and biologists throughout the Federation, and research

positions on Green were a coveted prize for the brightest and best minds available. The

planet boasted a population of nearly three thousand scientists, carefully scattered across

the globe in research stations sited underground or underwater to minimize impact on

the pristine world they were studying.

  The planet was also a mecca for any sentient being who wished to experience the

'Great Terran Outdoors' in its most primal guise. Millions of tourists each year stayed in

one of the three great orbiting 'hotels' that stayed in geosynchronous positions

equidistant around the equator.

  Hunting and fishing were prohibited, much to the disgust of many Federation species

to whom this would be a remarkable opportunity for trophies. It was rumored however

that this prohibition had more to do with some unspecified characteristic of the planet,

than bureaucratic red tape. It was true that no one had ever seen a trophy animal,

landbased or aquatic, and the only specimens of dead creatures seen off planet appeared

to have died of natural causes.

   Hunting aside, adventure holidays boomed, with the variety to be experienced only

limited by the imaginations of tourists and tour agencies that operated out of the hotels.

  No permanent structures were permitted to be built on Green but camping was

allowed and other patrons worked a beam down, beam back package that allowed for

days of rugged struggle with the elements followed by comfortable nights and good

meals aboard the orbiting hotels.

  The Enterprise was combining business with pleasure on a long visit to Green. In a

parking orbit the crew and  their families were taking full advantage of the holiday

opportunities provided by this unique shore leave. In business mode geologists, botanists

and zoologists from many cultures had been transported to Green aboard the Starship to

attend an environmental conference being held at the 'Green Regent Hotel', and some of

the scientific groups were using the Enterprises resources to investigate ' Green's 

outstanding puzzles. Federation wide attention was focused on the results of the

conference as Green's environmental balancing act would answer the problems of many

of the sentient species of the settled worlds.

  Jean-Luc Picard sat under a tree fern and dripped. He had been enduring the cold, wet

and discomfort for over an hour and  had cause to think dark thoughts about the

vagaries of planetary weather. The lately despised sameness of the Enterprise's

environment was beginning to look more and more appealing as the unpleasant

conditions turned his peaceful walk into a fiasco.

  Pride also had him in a cleft stick. The knowledge that all he had to do to call for help

was to activate his communicator, was tempered by the fact that he was dammed if he

would let his crew think that their captain could not even go for a simple walk in a forest

without getting lost.

  He was now wet and cold, the last vestiges of his exercise-won warmth fading and the

pervasive damp intruding. An icy trickle ran down his back causing him to shiver

violently.

   Getting to his feet he peered through the trees to see if the mist had cleared at all. He

still didn't know how he had managed to  wander off the path, but supposed that he had

been further lost in thought than he had imagined. Scanning the lush vegetation that

surrounded him he found it ironic that botanists from all over the Federation came to

study in these forests, the same forest that had drawn a mist about its shoulders and

managed to isolate him from any land mark that could help him find his way out.

Making up his mind he decided to give himself a ten minute deadline, have one last go

at finding the path, and then, if he was unsuccessful , call for assistance.

   He followed a likely looking route that ran along the side of the hill. The smell of the

wet vegetation and the close perspective of rain darkened tree trunks giving way to fern

covered branch, seemed to have a dulling effect on his senses. His footfalls were muffled

into silence by the deep leaf litter, and he had difficulty in seeing very far ahead owing to

the fog, the disorientation making him feel as if he was living in some strange dream

where no matter how far he walked no progress was being made.

 Finally he saw a brightening ahead and picked up his pace hoping he had finally

located the path. He noticed the trees becoming spaced further apart and, as he came

closer to the bright area, the ground underfoot started to show rocky outcrops .

  Eager to be out of the oppressive canopy of trees he strode forward, then, realizing 

that the ground was falling away sharply in front of him, grabbed at a bush for support

and found himself teetering on the brink of a cliff. His heel slipped from beneath him,

and he lurched away from the edge, still entangled in the shrub, which proved to have

long hooked thorns that ripped at the skin of his hands and face as he fell over. They also

caught under his communication badge, neatly severing its connection to his jacket. The

branch, released by his quick rolling away from the vicious barbs, sprang up and flicked

the com badge into the void that he had so nearly fallen into. It vanished into the mist

without a sound and Picard realized he was suddenly in some considerable trouble. For a

moment he lay contemplating the bobbing branch and then rolled on to his back and

looked through the trees at the sky.

    "Merde"  he muttered under his breath.

 Deanna Troi hung on for her life, gritting her teeth and wondering why she kept on

letting Will Riker talk her in to these 'fun' events. A wash of foaming water smashed into

her, accompanied by the gut wrenching feeling of the inflatable raft they were on

slipping recklessly down another cascade, carooming off a submerged rock, and

sideslipping into a confused whirlpool.

  " Lean everyone, lean," yelled the guide over the roar of the rapids. He was perched in

the middle of the raft leaning on what he laughingly described as steering oars. The six

members of the party lurched to the left, all yelling at the top of their voices in either

exhilaration or terror, the raft tipped and slid past the whirlpool, skipped wriggling over

a series of cobblestone like ridges in the stream bed, and surfed to a sedate spin in the

broad pool at the base of the falls.

  Amid whoops and cheers the very wet rafters paddled over to the golden sand beach

under a cliff at the side of the pool. They tumbled out of the inflatable loudly discussing

the experience, mostly in monosyllabic exclamations, and gathered by the shore to have

one last look at the rapids they had descended so precipitously. Then the transporter

beam enveloped them and left the river bank empty. The river returned to peace only

broken by the ripple of the water. A green and white creature fluttered over the space

where they had been standing, then, swaying in the updraft created by the water, drifted

out of the gorge and back into the forest.

  Deanna stepped soggily off the transporter platform and was damply considering the

pleasures of a very long, very hot sauna when she was enveloped from behind by an

enthusiastic bear hug and a wave of exhilarated emotion generated by Will Riker.

  "Deanna, was that a blast, was it, was it ?"

  Deanna grinned but pulled loose, turned round and playfully thumped him on the

chest with her helmet.

  "You and your great ideas. I was terrified, I was drenched, I am going to get hot. Go

away."

  " Aw Deanna," he said trailing after her as she left the transport area and headed for a

lift that would take her up to her room. "Don't be like that, it was fun. You know no one

ever gets seriously hurt on Green."

  "Not for the want of trying then," she answered tartly as the lift arrived. Stepping in,

they suspended their conversation, sharing an amused glance as the other occupants

huddled into a corner to avoid getting wet by accident.

  Deanna reached her door first and Will touched her arm, concern starting to draw his

brows together.

 " Deanna, you're not really mad at me are you ? I thought you said you were looking

forward to some outdoor adventures," he grinned reminiscently. "They don't get much

more exciting than white water rafting."

  Deanna closed her eyes momentarily and leaned her forehead against the cool door.

  "Will, how long have you known me?"

  He, having known her long enough to recognize a rhetorical question, wisely

remained silent. She, recognizing the silence as an olive branch, smiled and turned

round to look him in the eye.

  "Let's have dinner tonight. I'll feel a lot more positive after some restorative coddling,

really." She stood on tiptoe and gave him a little kiss on the lips. " Now go away, go" she

gave him solid push " and get dry."

  Grinning again he went down the corridor to his room and obeyed orders.  

  Half an hour later Deanna was feeling considerably more mellow as the heat of the

sauna seeped into her bones and eased the aches and pains accumulated during their

hectic day.

As she relaxed though she became aware of a niggling sense of unease that had been

growing more insistent as the day progressed. Like a warning of an impending headache,

something was bothering the empathic sense she had inherited from her mother. Letting

herself lapse into a light trance she focused her thoughts to track down the source of the

problem. Lightly she touched Will Riker's aura, no problems there, and letting her senses

spiral carefully outward she systematically eliminated the occupants of the hotel and

other orbiting spaceships.

Gently she focused on the planet, becoming aware of the feel of the connection and

realizing that the distinctive presence in her thoughts was one that she knew intimately

from her day to day association with it. Jean-Luc Picard was in some sort of trouble that

was causing him almost equal parts embarrassment and frustration. Tasting the sensation

gently she realized that she felt considerable anxiety from him but no sense of immediate

danger. She let her consciousness come back into the room and decided to get dressed

and contact the Enterprise. Perhaps they would be able to throw some light on the

situation.

  About two hours after his mishap Captain Picard was in a slightly better position to

appreciate the irony of being lost on a planet where legend and hearsay stated "No one

gets lost or hurt on Green". He appeared to have managed to do both.

  After sitting at the top of the cliff until the rain and mist cleared, he had carefully

made his way down the broken slope to the stream at its base, looking all the way for his

frustratingly missing communicator. He had quenched his thirst, washed the cuts on his

hands and splashed water over his face, cleaning by touch the several long scratches he

had sustained .

   He then settled in a comfortable hollow formed by a junction between a grounded

branch and a river boulder and considered his options. They did not seem to be vast. He

knew that in a couple of hours or so he would be missed and the Enterprise would

initiate a search for him. They would home in on his 'com badge so he should stay in the

vicinity, which left him with effectively nothing to do.

He lay his head back on the branch and studied his surroundings. The stream on his

right chuckled over its stony bed, busily on its way downhill. A strong breeze pushed the

trees around on the top of the small gorge he was at the bottom of, but hardly a breath of

wind reached where he was sitting and the still air rang with the chirps of invisible

insects. The rustling sighing sound of the trees complemented the song of the stream and

Picard found he was relaxing despite himself. He was amused to watch the flutterings of

a red flying creature who, after what appeared to be several attempts, finally managed to

reach the height required to hitch a ride on the breeze, only to be blown rudely away by

a strong blast.

"If you had a hat you'd be hanging on to it with both hands," thought Picard as the now

visible sun warmed the last chill out of him. The smell of the trumpet shaped flowers

hanging from a branch over his head surrounded him in a sensuous wave and he felt his

eyelids growing heavy as the day's exertions caught up with him. He struggled fitfully for

a minute or two to stay awake before finally succumbing and drifting off to sleep.

  The perfume of the flowers intensified for a few minutes and Picard slipped into a

much deeper state of unconsciousness. A curled sprig of a climbing vine drifted down

from the branches above and ended up resting on his cheekbone. From the growing tip a

microscopically thin extension began to grow, a mere four cells wide. With astounding

speed the shoot slipped into the corner of his eye, burrowed behind to the optic nerve

,and followed the nerve to his brain.

 Once in contact with Picard's grey matter the shoot started dividing and growing so

that within half an hour a full analog map of Picard's neural net had been traced by

minute filaments one cell thick. Information flowed chemically through cell walls to

plant mitochondria and back through the climbing vine, then the slow withdrawal

began, the curled stem of the vine tightening like a spring to draw the microfilaments

out.

 At last, an hour and a half after the invasion had  begun, the vine left Picard's body, the

perfume from the trumpet flowers subtly changed its composition and the Captain was

left to wake naturally on his own.

As the sun dipped below the rim of the gorge, the air became noticeably cold and

Picard stirred and woke. He immediately sat up, disturbed to have slept so soundly, and

amazed that so much time had passed.

  "Where on earth is the rescue party ?" he thought, feeling irritated. He could not

believe that his absence had gone unremarked for well over twelve hours. He rubbed his

face, scratching absently at an itch in the corner of his left eye,  stretched and, moving

well away from the stream, attended to some personal needs. That only reminded him

that he hadn't eaten for almost a day and was now ravenously hungry. Moving back to

the stream he tried to work out what to do next as obviously those searching for him

were looking in the wrong place.

After deciding to follow the water downstream, he started to pick a path for himself

along the narrow gorge. The valley floor was reasonably clear of large vegetation, owing

to the rocky nature of the soil, but several large boulders made Picard's progress both

time consuming and dangerous enough to require his full concentration. So it was some

time before he realized that a keening sound he had been hearing subliminally for some

time was getting closer.

 Topping the next boulder in his path he stared at a tangle of branches wedged in the

middle of the stream between two rocks. A plaintive and weak shrilling noise came from

the tangle accompanied by a fluttering and jerking movement. Clearly something was

trapped.

  Jean-Luc squatted on top of his boulder for a while as he visually plotted a route to the

vegetation, a part of him wondering what he thought he was doing, another part simply

unable to pass by a captured being and not help to free it. He reminded himself of the

lack of dangerous predators on Green, another part of his psyche pointing out that even

a mouse would bite if cornered, and resolved to be careful even as he put his plan into

action.

  He made his way across some slippery stones to the mass in the middle of the stream,

flashes of green and white tantalizing his senses as he moved closer to the trapped

creature. The deep evening shadows made seeing what it was impossible. Managing at

last to climb onto the nearest of the two slabs of rock, Picard almost jumped as the

shrilling cut off and he found himself eye to liquid dark eye to the source of the distress

call.

  In the second he had to receive impressions he saw a triangular pointed face, rather

feline in appearance but dominated by a large parrot like beak. The creature was covered

by velvet soft white fur, large pointed ears set high on the head reinforced the cat image,

an image broken again by the possession of vast green wing membranes which

connected shoulder to bird like foot.

  As he took all this in the creature faded from sight like the Cheshire Cat, leaving him

with the after image of eyes full of horror meeting his. He involuntarily reached forward

to where he had seen the creature and his hand met a warm body, at the same time his

consciousness was flooded by impressions of pain and terror, confusion and horror at his

discovery, that had to be coming from the entity in front of him.

   He resisted the urge to jerk his hand back again and tried to send reassuring thoughts

down the link he had initiated. An ironic thought crossed his mind that now would be a

great time for a rescue team to find him, talking to a bunch of twigs in the middle of a

river. They would probably carry him away in a padded jacket.

  The light was fading fast and he tried to communicate his need to see what he was

doing in order to free the creature. At last the white and green entity reappeared and he

set to untangling it from the thorny branch that had snagged a wing and wrapped round

its leg and chest.

  Carefully lifting it out of its prison he noted its almost total lack of weight. The

feelings flowing across the touch telepath link steadied and finally settled to a sort

neutral buzz in the background, the feelings ceasing as he put the creature down on the

riverbank having managed to renegotiate the slippery rocks back to this relative safety.

   The creature hunched down, reminding him of a disgruntled owl, its huge eyes fixed

on him. It stretched both wings alternately and then swivelled its neck sideways to

inspect the tear in its right wing. With an abrupt shake the creature folded its wings and

hopped purposefully towards him.  Jean-Luc was sitting on a handy rock frankly more

interested in his very empty middle than in the activities of the alien.  It hopped on to his

arm, opening the telepathic link again.

  "Hunger, Security?"

  Picard looked at the strange eyes and said out loud

  " Well I am hungry and if you know a place where I would be more comfortable lead

on."

  An impression of a direction was transmitted and the odd couple moved off

downstream and into the dark.

  The activity level on the Enterprise had indeed reached something of a fever pitch,

with nearly everyone who had the slightest concern about the ship's Captain joining in

the search for him.

  Deanna's innocent inquiry as to the Captain's well being had been answered by

Commander Data who, noting that it was four hours since he had beamed down for a

walk, attempted to communicate with him to no avail. A transporter lock on his

communicator resulted in it, the piece of bark it was floating on and about a litre of river

water arriving on the transporter pad, but no Captain Picard. At this point Data had

contacted Will Riker who, with Deanna , had returned to the Enterprise to coordinate the

search.

  Deanna had lost contact with the Captain's emotions at that point and real worry

started to grow in his crew that something serious had gone wrong.

  Search parties beamed down to the point where his walk had started and also to the

position where his communicator had been retrieved nearly ten kilometers away. It was

always going to be a nearly hopeless task to find one, presumably incapacitated man in

such a vast dense forest. All that was established was that he wasn't still on the path he

started on.

  The ship for all its wonderful technology had to watch night fall over that part of the

globe and not know what had happened to Jean-Luc Picard.

  Will Riker presided over a conference room full of very worried people. Deanna sat to

one side and the rest of the command crew and some experts on Green made up the rest

of the party.

  Data finished his summary of the earlier search.

  "I have tried to isolate the Captain's pattern from that of the various tourists that beam

up and back to the hotels, but it is simply impossible. The search area encompasses over

twenty kilometers of densely forested rugged land. There are at least three other native

species of similar body mass and thermal output browsing through the area, and now

that it is dark over the area I cannot isolate an anomalous human pattern, which may be

no more sinister than that the Captain has found shelter in a cave or by some rocks that

are shielding him from our sensor sweep."

  Will and the others looked at Deanna who shrugged and said  "I'm sorry, I was able to

re-establish contact with the Captain's emotions two hours ago but I can't be much help.

The Captain is still alive, does not appear to be experiencing any strong emotion that

would indicate that he is in immediate danger, all I can sense is a feeling of," she paused,

"frustration."

Graham Evans, a biologist attending the conference on Green, who had been asked to

attend the meeting as a local expert, broke in.

  "It is very, very unusual for anyone to go missing on this planet." He frowned and

shook his head, "The legend that no one gets lost or hurt on Green has a basis in fact. As

long as visitors or scientists do not try  to kill the inhabitants of the planet, no harm

comes to them. The conference has heard many papers postulating some kind of 'World

Mind' or 'Geaan' explanation for this global welfare state but the exact mechanism

remains a mystery. Usually what happens to someone who gets lost is that they find that

they are back on their path within minutes of straying off it. People who fall or injure

themselves in adventure related accidents are always found in the minimum time as if the

very planet conspires to make their comfort its concern." He glanced round the table to

make sure that still had everyone's attention then rose and moved to the table's head.

  "The dark side of this is that poachers, trying to hunt or take living specimens are

found dead, beside their victims if they have been hunting, beside their collecting devices

if they are poaching." Seeing everyone's shocked expressions he felt he had to drive home

the point.

"A complete Ferengi ship's crew were found dead in orbit, their ship was fitted out with

sophisticated transporter technology and a cloaking device- didn't do them any good. All

dead as Dodos."

Beverly Crusher half rose and glared at him in some anger. "I hope you are not

implying that Jean-Luc Picard would knowingly damage some life form, or be trying to

collect a specimen."

  Deanna grabbed her arm and pulled her back into her seat. "Don't be silly Beverly, I

don't think that is what he meant at all"

  Graham Evans sat back in his place and matched Beverly glare for glare, then swept

his gaze around the table.

  "Well" he said " Lets have some other hypothesis".

  Will Riker rubbed his eyes and squeezed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and

forefinger in an effort to gain some concentration. He rose and standing at the head of

the conference table he announced.

  "Tomorrow morning at first light we will check out the river bed upstream of where

the Captain's communicator was found. Commander Data, I would appreciate it if you

supervise continued sensor sweeps of the area tonight. Deanna, please inform me of any

change in your perception of the Captain's emotional state. The rest of you keep

thinking, we will have another meeting at 0500 hrs tomorrow morning to work out a

plan. Dismissed ."

The subject of their concern was once again sitting beneath a tree with rain dripping

down the back of his neck. This time his frustration was tempered by some concern

about the state of his health.

  The scratches on his hands and face had begun to puff up and the flesh around them

had gone an angry red color. At least he had stopped feeling hungry but he didn't think

alternate violent shakes and sweats were much of an improvement.

  He tried to take his mind off his troubles by concentrating on the line of thought that

had got him into this mess in the first place. Namely Nella Darrin and just what course of

action he should take about their abruptly suspended relationship. He had not realized

just how much he would miss her. His work on the Enterprise, which until now had

satisfied him completely, had taken on a whole new dimension when he had been able to

share it with her. Now with her gone, he felt so flat that he knew he was going to have to

reassess his whole work ethic and try to find inspiration to continue.

The alien entity landed lightly on his shoulder and dropped yet another offering of fruit

in his lap. Picard thought his gratitude at the little creature but laid the fruit beside the

other ones on the ground beside him. The creature swivelled its head to look at him and

made a chirruping noise accompanied by a mental comment.

  "Concern"

"Can't do much about it Ariel," Picard had decided to name the creature after Prospero's

spirit. "I seem to be suffering from some sort of allergy to a toxin in those thorns. Come

morning the Enterprise will find me, stop this reaction, everything will be alright."

  "Concern, sorrow."

  "Not your fault" Picard answered reaching up to stroke the creature's downy chest. He

rose to his feet,

  "I've got to keep moving, I'm getting too cold, give me a direction."

Once again Picard moved down stream, stumbling and slow, the creature perched on

his shoulder. Several times over the next couple of hours, he found himself picking

himself up with no memory of having fallen over, the little alien fading in and out of

visibility in front of him as, he supposed , a sign of its agitation.

  His next period of lucidity found him curled up in some dry leaf litter under the

sheltering trunk of a fallen tree. He managed to pry open his gummy eyes long enough

to see Ariel's shadowy form apparently embracing a cliff face in front of him. He must

have made some noise as the alien's mobile neck swivelled round and he found himself

fixed by its dark eyes. The creature faded from sight and Picard drifted off to sleep, too

sick to try to analyze what he had seen.

  The complex sensory system that was an integral part of the vast sentience that

comprised the planet Green finally managed to send a signal that alerted the conscious

rather than the unconscious portion of its immense body. The intelligence felt the

equivalent of an itch and bent its attention upon it.

The intellectual processes of the planet took place almost entirely in the silicon

network contained in a globe circling mountain range. The intelligence had been

contemplating the possibility that it was not the centre of creation as had always been a

given in its thought processes.

  In the last minute fraction of its conscious time creatures had appeared on its surface

and in orbit that had not originated with itself. The planet had had to think for some

time about this astounding concept, and then had directed its thoughts to finding out

more about these strange creatures, hence the isolation and investigation of Picard's

consciousness.

The sentience was shocked, such complexity in such a minute package, such potential

for all aspects of life. Just what had it discovered ?

Deciding to follow up its discovery further it bent its attention back upon the subject it

had isolated from its fellows, only to discover that it was the source of the itch that had

started to bother it.

The peripheral entity, which perforce had a rudimentary awareness of its own, suddenly

had its perception magnified by many factors of ten and a portion of the planet's

intelligence blazed in its eyes.

The small white body hopped carefully away from the rock and perched on the man's

outflung hand.

  "???"

Picard was roused from his semi-conscious state as the telepathic link was forcefully

re-established. Receiving the telepathic equivalent of "Huh" from Picard, and comparing

this response to its model of his usual functioning extracted earlier, the planet found

itself faced with a moral dilemma.

On its scale of functioning the individual was always sacrificed to the greater good, but

the model supplied by Picard insisted on a different way, a way where each sentience was

valued and only sacrificed at great need.

After a brief pause while the sentience considered its options it decided to signal the

being's companions in the satellite identified in Picard's model as Enterprise.

Crystalline structure in the surrounding cliff face realigned minutely, the rocks were

stressed against each other and suddenly the area became a radio emitting beacon.

The Enterprise's sensors picked up the anomaly immediately and a section of Data's Ops

station lit up.

"I wonder...." he thought. On what he vehemently would deny was a hunch , he directed

the ship's sensors to scan the bull's eye like area for possible human readings. In the

middle, a positive if weak trace.

Deanna burst on to the bridge at that moment. Data swivelled in his seat to see her

agitated face and rode his hunch.

"Transporter room three, beam aboard life form at the coordinates I am relaying now."

He rose and collecting Deanna in his wake headed for the turbolift.

In the lift he met Deanna's eye and tapping his com' badge rapped out.

"Medical team to transporter room three, possible injured."

Tapping his badge again he called Will Riker and asked him to meet them urgently at

the transporter room.

Deanna closed her eyes and sagged against the lift wall.

"Counselor?"

"It's him, he's aboard and in a bad way".

"Transporter room to Commander Data, we have the Captain, but we also appear to

have an alien, instructions please."

The turbolift finally arrived at their floor and they converged on transporter room

three, arriving at the same time as the med team lead by Beverly Crusher. Beverly asked,

  "Is it him?" Seeing Deanna and Data nod in unison she entered the transporter room

before Data could warn her about the alien. He compromised by contacting security and

requesting them to stand by for further instructions.

  As the doors opened the Captain was revealed sprawled on the platform, a brief

glimpse of a white and green being perched on one hand was all they saw and then it

faded out of sight, causing everyone except Data to doubt their eyesight.

  Beverly knelt down beside the Captain's still form, quickly taking diagnostic readings

and dictating the results into a medical tricorder.

"He's suffering a massive allergic reaction to some foreign protein that seems to have

infiltrated his whole system. He's suffering from pulmonary oedema," she injected him

with some antihistamines and triox compounds "respiratory failure immanent, cerebral

irritation, the only thing keeping him going is that heart implant of his," she shot the

transporter room operator a fierce look. "Beam us directly to sick bay, I have to get him

in a stasis field or I'm going to lose him."

  While she had been working on the Captain, Data had been taking tricorder readings

and then, giving the ensign working the console the nod to proceed with the inter-ship

transport.

"Security field to be placed round sick bay at my order." He ordered, then waited until

the transport was complete. " Now ."

Finally he turned to the sleep rumpled First Officer who had arrived at the transporter

room just as all the excitement ended.

 " Captain aboard sir. Dr. Crusher has taken him directly to sick bay, he appears quite

incapacitated, unfortunately we also have inadvertently transported a life form from the

surface. I hope that the planet does not take it as a hostile act."

Riker shot him a bemused glance.

"The planet, Data ?"

Data stood his ground, his head cocked at an angle that usually denoted that he was

processing information.

"Yes, Sir the only way that non radio source rocks could suddenly become a distress

beacon is if their subatomic structure was tampered with. We have seen no evidence of

sentience at a species level, quite the contrary in fact. So the intelligence needs to be of a

different order, a conscious sentient planet answers many of the questions posed by

research on Green".

"Let us see if we can elicit any answers from our unwitting guest then " said Riker.

  "Deanna, could you sense anything ?"

Deanna shook her head ruefully, "I was too tightly shielded against all the anxiety," she

headed for the door.

  "I'll try at sickbay."

Riker and Data accompanied her, glad of an excuse to be near sickbay, their anxiety for

their Captain's health hardly allayed by Beverly's diagnosis.

They waited outside the security containment field watching Beverly and her team

working on Jean-Luc, after a seemingly interminable time she stepped away from his

bedside, satisfied for the moment that he was stabilized. She addressed the air by her left

shoulder.

  "Thank you, you helped him hang on."

  She turned wearily, flipping her hair out of her eyes, and then realized that she had an

audience.

Data called out "Be careful doctor, there is a security containment field around sick

bay."

Beverly sat down in a handy chair and looked at them consideringly. She closed her

eyes briefly and, as if a request was being honored, the green and white alien appeared,

perched on her shoulder like an ungainly parrot.

  Deanna Troi gasped and lay a hand on Riker's arm.

"That alien is not what it seems Will, it is being augmented somehow, please be careful

I am sensing a being of great power and sensitivity."

Riker bent his gaze upon her for a considering moment or two and then called out to

Beverly again, as she absently reached up and stroked the being.

"Doctor have you been in communication with the alien ?"

  Beverly nodded then seemed to listen again and stood up, the alien startling the

watchers by spreading its wings and gliding from her shoulder to Picard's chest where it

folded its wings and faded out of sight again,

Beverly walked towards the security screen and stopped just inside it.

" Will, that," she indicated the space where the alien had been, " is a minute portion of

the planet we are orbiting's consciousness. It feels responsible for the Captain's state of

health because of a rather invasive technique it used to try to understand the nature of

our intelligence, so it's been helping me maintain him while we stabilize his vital signs."

She rubbed her shoulder reflectively "Also, Jean-Luc apparently formed some sort of

relationship with part of it, he named it Ariel and it likes the imagery ."

Data looked confused for a moment then brightened "Ah, Shakespeare, 'The Tempest', a

spirit befriended by Prospero and instrumental in the eventual liberation of Prospero..."

"Thank you Data,"  Will Riker cut him off swiftly as once launched he had a tendency to

continue on a theme until petrification set in his listeners. "We know the reference."

  Riker turned to Deanna and included Beverly as he asked   "Recommendations."

Beverly answered. "Will, we're not in a position to argue, if the alien wants on this ship,

here is where it stays, if it wants off, we answer when and do it. It could wipe out all life

on this ship with little more than a thought."

Will cocked an eyebrow in Deanna's direction, she shrugged.

  "I agree, it has power beyond anything I have ever sensed, I do not feel aggression

though, much curiosity but no aggression".

  Data asked "Shall we remove the security screen?"

Riker nodded and the screen was removed on Data's command  

  The alien reappeared shortly after, flew back to perch on Beverly's shoulder and she

indicated that it wanted to return to the planetary surface.

  The transport was completed with minimal delay and Will Riker heaved a sigh of

relief as calm descended on the Enterprise for the rest of the night.

  The next day Data arranged an information transfer for all the surface research

stations on Green, updating them on the Enterprise's discoveries about the nature of the

'Green' intelligence. As each station found itself assigned one of the green and white

sensory remotes as the planet studied the studiers, many mutual discoveries were made.

  The Enterprise remained in orbit for another two weeks completing its mission.

Captain Picard recovered quickly from the effects of his eventful walk, and was finally

released from sickbay three days after he had entered it, when Beverly Crusher could

stand his complaints of cruelty no longer. She could judge the level of his recovery

almost more by the return of his wit than by the information supplied from the medical

sensors.

The ship and crew were preparing for their next assignment, an investigation of

electromagnetic anomalies suggestive of an emerging civilization in the Onecranon

system, when they were diverted by a Priority One message from earth.

  The Enterprise was recalled immediately.

UNION  PART  TWO

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

T.S.Eliot.

Evelyn Darrin reluctantly woke up as she heard the determined padding of feet heading

towards her side of the bed. A small body climbed over her, with scant regard for her

comfort, and quickly settled in the hollow between herself and her husband.

  "Jeffy," she whispered "You know you are not supposed to be in here." Her only answer

was the comfortable snuggling of a hard little head into her shoulder. It being

impossible to resist her son's blandishments, and being far too lazy to get up and put him

back in his own bed, she resigned herself to another night of small feet kicking her in

the leg or side and secret snuggles that almost made the intrusion bearable.  Very shortly

Jeff was fast asleep again, the proximity of his parents chasing away whichever monsters

his overactive imagination had called up to disturb his sleep. Allen snored softly on the

other side of the bed, and Evelyn realized that sleep was now going to evade her for the

rest of the night.

  She checked the time and, finding it was half past five, decided to get up and steal a

march on the day. She thought she might get a start on some of the case notes she was

always behind in. Running a job and a family was a recipe for advanced inefficiency.

 The door between the sleeping and living areas of their home swished shut behind her

as she headed for the kitchen. Collecting a cup of hot tea from the replicator she walked

through to the living room, only then realizing that she wasn't the first up after all.

  Evelyn's sister Nella was seated at the family's keyboard, earphones on, lost in

whichever piece of music she was playing, tears flowing unchecked down her cheeks.

  "Computer audio keyboard please," requested Evelyn, and the haunting tones of

Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata filled the room. She stood behind Nella sipping her tea

until she came to the end of the piece, then gently removed her earphones and swivelled

her round to face her.

 " Nella," she said, watching her usually imperturbable sister fighting for control. "Nella

since you have come to stay with us I have heard Debussy, Chopin, Brahms, D'Chev,

Loosman, and now Beethoven crying out your distress from this keyboard. Won't you tell

me about it, like who was he that he could do this to you ?"

  Nella shook her head and Evelyn growled in frustration, stomping over to the couch

and flopping down on it. She levelled a piercing look at her sister, who was sitting in

wan apathy on the piano stool.

  "Well I'll tell you something, I've never seen you like this before, and if I do find out

who it is he'll get such a piece of my mind that he'll wish he had never been born.

Obviously it was someone on the Enterprise, big ship it may be but just you wait you'll

see what strings the assistant to the head of Starfleet personnel services can pull."

  Nella looked at her sister in amazement, shaken out of her apathy by her sudden

anger. Evelyn never lost her temper, Nella had got in the habit of leaning on her solid

stability when her own more volatile personality got her in trouble. Her kid sister had

weathered her tantrums and enthusiasms for thirty some years, remaining solidly herself,

choosing her own  course in life, never resenting the fact that Nella had been gifted with

abilities in music and maths that took her to dizzy heights in both fields .

  Evelyn was a competent musician in her own right but never seemed to worry that she

didn't have her sister's spark. She had chosen a career that engaged her own skills in

people management and now had risen to a position in Starfleet's administration where

she could have influence while still being involved in her family life. 

  She had a solid marriage and two children, assets that until recently Nella had

privately scorned as boring, conventional and limiting. Now as she looked at her irate

sister she found herself, not for the first time this week, almost paralysed with jealousy.

  " I don't think that you could understand, " she said finally.

  "I most certainly won't if you don't tell me, " said Evelyn,  but she knew from the set of

her sister's jaw that nothing more would be forthcoming.

  Evelyn's daughter, eight year old Jessica, made her entrance then, and after greeting

her Mother and Aunt with amazement at seeing them up at such an hour, promptly drove

them out of the living room by turning on the entertainment channel. Nella returned to

her rooms and Evelyn swung into her usual slightly frantic routine that saw the family

out the door by eight o'clock.

  Evelyn was annoyed by her failure to pierce Nella's resolve all day, a day that was not

made any brighter by processing Nella's transfer request from the Enterprise. She had

known that something was up when Nella had requested house room for an extended

'holiday' so soon after her appointment as head of Stellar Science on the Enterprise.

Evelyn simply could not credit that the job that Nella had been angling for so long was

that much of a disappointment, nope it had to be man trouble, enough of an amazement

in itself. Nella was a heartbreaker, a loner, she never got into this sort of mess.

  Wrapped in her own thoughts it took a while for the scuttlebutt flying around the

office to penetrate her concentration, but when the word Enterprise was mentioned for

about the sixth time she finally pricked up her ears.

  Casually going out to the office replicator to pick up a coffee she asked her friend in

fleet ops what was going on.

Apparently the Enterprise had suddenly been recalled from its regular mission and the

departments were to be alerted to expect several staff reassignment that needed to be put

on to the highest priority.  The ship had been in orbit for over a day and high level

meetings were going on between the captain and several admirals.

  As she handed over to the Andorian she job shared with at lunch time, Evelyn

wondered how this would affect Nella's transfer request, and whether it would provide a

chance for some sleuthing into the source of Nella's problems. 

  In the afternoon Evelyn occupied herself with Jeff and Jessica, ferrying Jessica to her

after school activities and doing a little shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables. She had

an irrational feeling that naturally grown produce just had to have some advantage over

replicated food, test results notwithstanding.

  She was returning to pick Jessica up from her dance class when she noticed the

program advertised for the local symphony orchestra that night. Chopin played by one of

Nella's good friends and a Beethoven concerto. The family kept a season's subscription to

all the orchestra's performances and Evelyn decided that tonight Allen could baby-sit

while she and Nella attended. A night out would do Nella good, and Allen was fond of

more recent composition anyway. 

  Nella watched casually as Allen returned home that night and greeted his wife and

children with hugs and kisses, scooting the children back to their aunt so he could have

a proper cuddle with Evelyn. Nella found herself once again almost unable to bear the

feelings that rose in her heart as she watched them.

  "Nothing should hurt this much, " she thought putting herself and Jean-Luc in a

similar situation in her mind, tearing herself apart with the impossibility of it.

  "For God's sake he's half way across the galaxy, stop it," she thought to herself with a

flash of her usual spirit, "forget him and get on with your life."

  Evelyn looked up just at that moment and caught the incredibly bleak expression on

Nella's face.

  She disengaged herself from Allen and came across to where Nella was sitting. After

apologizing for rubbing salt in her emotional wounds she explained her plans for the

evening and managed to talk Nella into coming to the concert with her.

  Nella tried hard not to think how much Jean-Luc would have enjoyed the program,

denied any emotional wounds vehemently and agreed to come as part of her new found

resolution to get on with her life.

 The object of all Nella's thoughts was sitting in a state of depression in his ready room

on the Enterprise. The news that he had been given that afternoon in the offices of

Starfleet's  High command had left him feeling as bleak as he could ever remember.

  His door chimes sounded, and as the door opened he was not surprised to see Deanna

Troi coming in to speak to him.

  " Captain," she said. When that raised no more than an eyebrow from him she moved

closer and leaned over his desk, forcing him to make eye contact with her.

  " Captain, what is it ? It's not like you to be so depressed."

  Picard looked up at her and simply gazed silently for a while, until Deanna moved

over to the couch and sat herself down, the invitation plain. Picard sighed and pushed

himself away from his desk with his hands. He rose and came round to sit beside her,

bending forward to rest his elbows on his knees he massaged his eyes with the heel of his

hands, then leaned back and gazed at a point somewhere between the ceiling and the

floor. Drawing a deep breath he said. 

" It was that meeting this afternoon. We knew it had to be something important to

bring us back here so urgently, but I didn't think it would be as bad as this."

  Deanna put her hand on his arm. " It's the Borg, they're coming back, aren't they ? "

  Picard nodded slightly, Deanna felt the great upwelling of grief in the man and

wondered how on earth he could bear it with such outward equanimity.

  " Captain, what has Starfleet planned for us?"

  "I am sorry Deanna, I can't tell you that until tomorrow. I'm sorry you had to know as

much as you do, I wish.." he trailed off not willing even to voice the feelings that were

troubling him so.

  Deanna stood up and looked down at him for a moment.

  " What are you going to tell the crew? "

  Picard gazed at the carpet as if it held some answers for him.

  "Tonight nothing, I'll post notice of a senior officers meeting for ten hundred hours

tomorrow, followed by a ship wide announcement," he finally looked up at Deanna.

  "This is going to be traumatic for everybody, your team will need to be ready."

  "They will be, Captain." Deanna paused on the way out of the ready room and turned

back to him as an idea hit her.

  "Jean-Luc." The Captain looked up startled at her use of his first name, she smiled

gently at him and continued.  "Why don't you take a little time for yourself tonight, it

would seem that all our lives are going to get very busy tomorrow. Take Beverly or Data

to a concert. There's bound to be something on somewhere you would like to hear, it

would do you good."

  " Noted Counselor," was his dry reply, and the idea left his head as Deanna Troi left his

presence.

  Not for the first time the Captain underestimated the tenacity of his ship's counselor.

  Two hours later, when he was off duty, and quite frankly at a loose end in his cabin,

his door chimes sounded and on his command " Come" opened to reveal the bland face

of his second officer.  " Come in. What can I do for you Data?"

  Data entered and stood diffidently just inside the door, looking for all the world like

an errant schoolboy sent to see his headmaster.

  Captain Picard looked at him in some amazement and not a little amusement and

finally said.   "Well?"

  Data looked at him uncertainly and said.  "Counselor Troi suggested that you might

like to go to a concert planetside." Data cocked his head on one side as Picard snorted

with laughter.

  "I am sorry sir, she was obviously mistaken." He turned to go, looking remarkably

hurt for an android with avowedly no feelings. Picard quickly stepped forward and laid a

hand on his arm to stop him.

  "No, Data, I wasn't amused at you, it was Counselor Troi. She is very persistent."

  Data looked quizzically at Picard and raised his eyebrows, finally he nodded. "Yes I

have noticed that about her."

  Picard let go of Data's arm and leaned on the door jamb, his arms folded.

  "Did you have a particular concert in mind, Data?"  Data looked embarrassed again but

ploughed on.

  "Well sir, I have a double subscription ticket to a concert in San Francisco tonight. A

friend of mine is lead violin in the symphony and she has the solo in Beethoven's Violin

Concerto in D. She was a great influence on me in my academy days and I always try to

attend her performances when we are in Sol system. It would be my pleasure if you

would accompany me."

  " Data I would be honored , when do we leave."

  The Captain was rewarded by the gratified expression on Data's face, Data suggested

that they leave immediately, so Picard assumed the heartiest manner he could dredge up

and accompanied him to the transporter room.

  Evelyn paused in the door of her son's bedroom, entertained to hear Allen lecturing

his son on his nocturnal adventures.

  "Now who's bed is this one ?"

  "Mine, Daddy."

  "And who's bed is that in the other room ?"

  "Mummy and Daddy's"

  "And who's bed are you going to stay in all night tonight?"

  "Mine bed Daddy. 'Less I get the dragons 'gain ."

  "Big Teddy will keep the dragons away. Goodnight then ."

  Allen tucked Jeff in beside an enormous teddy bear and kissed him.

  Evelyn came in then for her goodnight kiss. She put his chances of staying in his own

bed at rather less than fifty percent but applauded Allen's efforts anyway.

  Goodnights and last minute call backs dealt with she was ready to go out and went in

search of Nella, who was occupying the guest rooms at the other end of the house off the

living room. As she reached her sister's door she was pleasantly surprised to see Nella

dressed becomingly and looking rather more like her usual self.

  "Ready ?"

  "I suppose," Nella replied "though I would much rather be left alone to brood you

know."

  "Tosh. " Evelyn smiled and the two women went out into the night.

  Nella studied the program and then leaned back in her seat enjoying the ambience of

the concert hall. The auditorium was filling fast and the sounds of muted conversations,

the shuffling into seats, the mingled perfumes of the concertgoers added grace notes to

the promise of the lit but as yet unfilled stage.

  They were sitting in the circle, well to the left of centre in the seats they kept from

year to year. Evelyn was crowd watching, pointing out mutual acquaintances from

Starfleet to Nella . The house lights dimmed and there was the usual flurry of last minute

arrivals to the auditorium. Evelyn stood to allow two people to squeeze past towards

their seats further along the row, hearing a gasp to her left she found Nella and an

attractive older man in a Captain's uniform eye to eye and looking as if they may stand so

all night.

  "Jean-Luc, " breathed Nella

  "Nella" said Picard his eyes devouring her as if she were water in the desert. " I've

missed you."

  Evelyn shut her mouth with an almost audible snap and sat, giving Nella's sleeve a tug

as she did so. Nella glanced down at her and then back at the man so close in front if her.

He whispered urgently.  "I must talk to you, at intermission ?"

  Nella nodded and he moved further down the row to join his companion.

  "Jean-Luc Picard,"  hissed Evelyn , "all this has been about Jean-Luc Picard."

  Nella turned a beatific smile upon her sister. Evelyn dropped her head into her hands

and tried to squeeze some sense into it.

"Nella, he's the most eligible and unavailable man in Starfleet. My God you sure can

pick them, why didn't you just fall in love with the Vulcan ambassador and be done with

it."

  "Because that post is currently being held by a female,"   retorted Nella, " now hush,

you can't tell me anything, what do you think I've been agonizing about."

  "Well, I'm going to enjoy giving him that promised piece of my mind anyway," stated

Evelyn mischievously. Nella glared at her, and Evelyn had to work hard at suppressing a

giggle.

Their discussions were terminated by the start of the concert.  A'nayin played Chopin

quite superbly that night, the trade reviews the following day for the performance

credited him with adding vital nuances to the music.

  As far as Jean-Luc and Nella were concerned it might as well have been' 'Twintkle 

Twinkle Little Star'. They tried not to be obvious about looking along the row in the

hope of catching a glimpse of the other but occasionally their eyes met and Evelyn was

surprised that a visible spark didn't light up the air between them.

  After what seemed like an eternity to Nella and Jean-Luc, and far too short a time for

the rest of the audience judging by the two encores demanded, the intermission arrived

and most of the audience poured out into the foyer for chat and drinks.

  Nella and Evelyn waited for Picard and Data at the end of the row. With some restraint

Jean-Luc satisfied himself by taking Nella's hand and they walked out into the foyer

where  mutual introductions were made.   

  Data was well launched into a discussion of the finer points of A'nayin's performance

with Evelyn when Nella interrupted by laying her hand on Evelyn's arm.

  "Excuse me Commander, just one moment."

  Data stopped in mid flow - he was used to being squashed.

  " Evelyn, could I take Jean-Luc home, we have some things we need to talk about ?"

  Evelyn smiled broadly and hugged her sister, "see you later." She turned back to Data,

"perhaps you would sit beside me as it would appear that  our partners are to be

otherwise engaged."

  Data extended his arm to be taken while Nella and Jean-Luc headed for the door with

quite impolite haste.

  Once out on the street Jean-Luc stopped, suddenly indecisive, as he contemplated the

busy street and then glanced at Nella , who was standing beside him.  He reached for her

hand and tucked it in the crook of his arm possessively .

  "Where would you like to go ?" He turned his head to look her in the eye, " we really

do need to talk."

  Nella paused for a moment, she didn't want to go back aboard the Enterprise, that was

his ship, for once she would like to have him deal with her all and her implications on

her own ground.

  "Come back to Evelyn's with me. I'm living in her guest quarters, it is really quite

private."

  He studied her face for a moment then seemed to make a decision.

  "Right, how far, walk or transport."

  "Walk I think, it is only a few blocks, this way."

  She indicated the right and they went off into the neon lit night of downtown San

Francisco.

  They kept the conversation light and cheerful on the way home. Both of them knew

the town well from long association with Starfleet, and had various anecdotes to tell each

other as they passed landmarks.

  When they reached Evelyn and Allen's apartment, Nella briefly introduced Jean-Luc to

Allen. The men shook hands rather stiffly, Jean-Luc feeling embarrassed at invading

Allen's home. Allen feeling ambivalent at meeting a living legend in his very lived in

looking house. 

  He was spared the ordeal of making small talk as Nella made their excuses and

retreated with Jean-Luc to her guest quarters, leaving Allen to his flabbergasted self.

  Nella palmed the privacy lock then turned to watch Jean-Luc as he stalked around the

small sitting room. He finished up in the middle of the floor, looking uncomfortable and

unsure of himself. He gave his uniform jacket a characteristic tug to straighten it and

then ventured to look up to where Nella was standing near the door.

  She had to smile, he looked as if he was afraid she would tell him off. Crossing

quickly over to him she slid her arms around the back of his neck and kissed him.

  Almost hesitantly his arms came around her and for quite a while they were looked in

an embrace that excluded all realities other than that described by their lips and bodies.

  Eventually they came up for air, still closely entwined they moved over to the sofa and

sat.

  Jean-Luc traced the line of Nella's cheek with his fingers, marvelling at the beauty of

this woman who loved him.

  Nella broke the silence.  "Jean-Luc, what are you doing here?"

  He sat back and sighed.  "I might ask you the same question you know ?"

   Nella punched him on the arm in mock fury. "Rubbish, you know why I'm here. I

don't know what you and presumably the Enterprise are doing here. You weren't

scheduled for a visit this year, let alone this month, come on, give ?"

   Watching the lines of worry etch back into his face, and the weight of despair sit

again on his shoulders, she wished  she could call back the question. He closed his eyes

and said quite tonelessly.

  "The Enterprise was called back on a Priority One summons earlier this week. I've just

spent the last two days having meetings with every admiral that Starfleet ever spawned ,

and  the situation is not good. Beyond that I simply cannot tell you until I am given

authorization tomorrow. Suffice it to say that when the Enterprise leaves orbit I will not

be on board."

  Nella absorbed this outstanding news with remarkable equanimity. She knew her man

well enough to know that badgering him for information would result in nothing other

than his swift departure.

  She looked at him silently for some time then, finally leaned over and kissed him

lightly next to his eye. He smiled and leaned back in the chair letting her head rest

comfortably on his shoulder.

  After another weighty pause she sighed.  "There's nothing you can do about any of this

tonight, is there? That is what you were doing at the concert, killing time."

   He nodded. She turned his head to make eye contact.

  " I can think of a better way of killing time. " She grinned at him suggestively, he

cocked an outraged eyebrow at her, and then gave in and answered her passion with his.

  Data and Evelyn went backstage after the concert. Data introduced Evelyn to his friend

Ruella, the symphony's first violin. Her broad middle-aged face lit up at the sight of him

and she enveloped him in a vast hug. She was pleased to meet Evelyn  and thrilled to

learn that she was Nella's sister and that Nella was currently in San Francisco. Evelyn

suspected that Nella's period of seclusion was at an end so didn't feel to guilty at

dropping her in a musical maelstrom.

  Ruella entertained Evelyn with tales of Data's days in the academy and how she had

had to coax him into performing.

  "He always claims that his skills are merely programming, but I have never heard a

computer playing the way he does."

  Data tried several times to put his point of view but, as in the past, Ruella simply

ignored his protests and insisted on attributing motives and feelings to him that he

considered he might aspire to didn't actually experience.

  Evelyn found herself charmed by his diffidence and amused by his courtly manners.

She accepted readily when he offered to escort her home some time later.

  On the walk to her home she was able to find out a little more about Captain Picard

and her sister, and more significantly about why Nella had decided to transfer off the

Enterprise. Data's description of the fire storm and Nella's part in the evacuation chilled

her blood. Not for the first time she thanked her stars for her safe, comfortable, and

boring life on Earth.

  Data left her at her door and went further down the block to the public transport

platform to return to the Enterprise .

Evelyn went indoors and was greeted by her agitated husband who demanded to know

if she knew who it was that Nella had brought home.

  "Well at least she has good taste," said Evelyn, her eyes twinkling at him. "He really is

the sexiest man I have ever been close to."

  " What! " exploded Allen, " he's bald, sixtyish and well known to be married to his

career."

  "Mmmm", replied Evelyn, realizing the impossibility of explaining sex appeal to the

opposite sex.

  "Well I know someone with lots of hair, fortyish and married that I am going to take

to bed."

 She took hold of Allen's hand and led him away down the hall still spluttering. 

  Very much later that night, Jean-Luc let himself quietly out of Nella's rooms, she had

assured herself that he was going to be on Earth for a while, and extracted a promise

from him that he would be back as soon as possible to explain what was happening. They

had enjoyed the luxury of going to sleep together, but Nella hadn't stirred as he kissed

her goodnight just before.

 "Computer, lights, half intensity please." Obediently the house computer brought the

living area into dim visibility sat on a handy chair to put his boots on, then became

aware of a small irregular lump in the middle of the floor. Hiccupping sniffling noises

were coming from it at intervals.

  Jean-Luc worked out after a moment that the lump was actually a small child, huddled

in a ball, a blanket firmly wrapped around its head. He struggled for a moment with his

general reluctance to have anything to do with children, then deciding that he really

couldn't just ignore it, let himself back into Nella's room and gently woke her.

  "Nella, could you come into the living room ?"

 She blinked owlishly at him for a second, taking in his uniform and the concerned

expression on his face, then swung out of bed and, grabbing a robe, came with him.

 Spotting the child on the floor she knelt down  and , lifting a corner of the blanket,

asked.  "Jeffy, why are you in here and not in bed ?"

  Jeff scrambled up, flung his arms around Nella's neck and held on very tight for a

while.

  "The dragons comed back, " he sniffed. "I was going to Mummy's bed but I 'membered

that Daddy said not to, so I thought I might come to  your bed 'stead. The door was shut

and I couldn't get in and it was dark so I went to sleep here. Who's that ? Spotting

Jean-Luc over Nella's shoulder his three year old eyes widened at his red Starfleet

uniform .

  "Is you going to fix the dragons ?"

  "I am certainly going to do my best Jeff." He reached out to stroke the child's hair

softly, and continued the caress across Nella's cheek.

  "I have to go, will you be OK here ?"

  She nodded, her eyes huge in the dark, and watched him as he went out the front

door. She carried Jeff through to her bedroom and installed him beside her in bed.

  "Do you really think he can fix the dragons ?" The little boy asked sleepily after a

pause.

  "If he says he can he will." Replied Nella, " now go to sleep, I will have to do for now."

  At 1000 hours the next day the conference room on the Enterprise was full and

buzzing with rumors on what exactly all the meetings on Earth had been all about.

Those who knew, like Will Riker, or suspected, like Deanna Troi, remained noticeably

subdued.

  Finally the Captain entered. He swept his eyes round the table, gathering the attention

of his crew, and then paused, as if to fix the scene in his mind. Moving to the head of the

table he commenced.

  "I may now tell you the reason for our sudden recall to Earth. The Federation has to

meet the threat of another Borg ship recently confirmed as operating in the gamma/delta

quadrant. That is not Federation space but Starfleet has decided that we must meet the

Borg when we find them or suffer the consequences of our inaction."

  He paused again, watching his friends reactions to the not entirely unexpected news.

Deanna Troi's hand had crept unobtrusively under Will Riker's on the table, the rest of

the command crew watched him in calm anticipation. A pang of regret knifed through

him at the thought of no longer working with these people, causing Deanna to shoot him

a sharp look that he fielded with the slightest of smiles.

  He continued, "Starfleet is in the process of developing a masterplan to deal with this

threat, however minimal information is going to be disseminated as a precaution against

the Borg again gaining access by capture to vital data. I am being reassigned to Earth to

coordinate this plan as my," he stopped for a second, his mouth twisting with distaste

"Ah, intimate knowledge of Borg functioning is considered to be one of the Federation's

assets.

  Commander Riker has finally been prevailed upon to accept promotion to Captain and

will be taking command of the Enterprise forthwith. " He smiled at Will, genuine

pleasure lighting his features "Congratulations, Captain."

  William Riker stood and moved to the head of the table, he shook hands with Picard

and then Jean-Luc moved down the table to take his vacated seat.

   Captain Riker leaned forward, his hands on the table, his expression serious.

 "You all know my feelings about commanding the Enterprise. I have never wished, and

nor do I now wish to supplant Captain Picard in his position as leader of this crew.

However, " He stood up and held on to the back of the chair, swinging it minutely from

hand to hand,

  "I do know that as a crew we have some chances to overcome the Borg. We are the

best. Commander Data," Data looked up at him.

  "You have been temporarily reassigned to Captain Picard's team ?" Data nodded. "We

will miss you, but we need to fill your position at Ops. Mr. Worf you will take over, I

have every confidence in your abilities. Mr. Evason from the 'Washington' will take over

as head of Security and Commander Shelby will be rejoining us as First officer again."

  Riker sat down and glanced at Picard, ceding him the chairmanship of the meeting .

  "Gentlemen, Ladies, I do not have to emphasize to you the  importance of finding an

effective, long term strategy that the Federation and its allies can use against the Borg.

  It is a shame that out functioning as a crew needs to be disrupted at this time, but

placed against this larger threat our discomfort is minimal. It has been my pleasure to

serve with you all. If we find a solution to this problem perhaps we will be able to serve

together again. Until then I leave you in capable hands."

  He stood up, collected Data and left the room.

  Every person in the room felt that they had been present at the end of an era, with

heavy hearts they turned towards their new Captain for an explanation of their next

course of action.

  That evening, on Earth, Jean-Luc and Nella sat in the park that overlooked the Golden

Gate bridge and tried to sort out their present and future plans.

  Nella watched his face as his eyes kept drifting up to watch the first stars of the

evening twinkling in the haze. It was as painful as watching someone coming to terms

with the fact that they would never walk again; watching him trying to come to terms

with Starfleet's decision to ground him.

  He kept trailing off into silences, after explaining how Data was to take a small one

man scout to investigate the latest Borg incursion. After outlining the Enterprises' role in

protecting and observing Data's mission. After trying to describe a role for himself that

didn't sound as if it could be done by five or six other desk jockeys.

  Finally he wound down completely and sat, hunched against the side of the bench, his

brow furrowed, rubbing at his top lip with his index finger, lost in thought.

  Nella picked on the least controversial of his pronouncements and asked.

  "Why are they sending Data , and why alone ?"

  "Because he has agreed to dump all of his memories of Earth,  and the location in

space of the Federation and its allies, into the memory simulator Commander Maddox

has developed."

  He looked at her his eyes snapping with anger. "The damned thing hasn't even been

tested properly yet, and they are asking Data to entrust his precious memories to it. He

agreed of course. What if they lose his memories of his time at the academy, or for God's

sake of Lal. They should never of asked it of him."

  "Jean-Luc " ventured Nella once she was sure that he had finished.

  " I know how fond you are of Data but you know you can't always protect him. He is

an independent being, legally so at your insistence. He is also not without abilities in

weighing up risks. He wouldn't have agreed if he didn't think that it would work."

  "He is also young, idealistic, and naive, especially about humans and their motivations.

And he's unique, if we lose him there will be no other like him. They should send

someone more expendable."

  "Like you I suppose." Snapped Nella. "I wondered what was at the bottom of all this.

You volunteered didn't you, and they turned you down."

  Reading the silent assent in the rebellious glare he directed at her, she let out a huff of

annoyance and, getting up from the bench walked a few agitated steps away from him.

She turned back to face him and said, anger straining every word.  "And the fact that the

Borg want you back, and the fact that blocking human memories always has long term

side effects, and the fact that humanity needs your expertise here, now, didn't stop you

for one moment, did it ?"

  She walked away from him and crossed to the railings on the other side of the path,

she glared at the bridge as if she could make it dissolve and gripped the railing so hard it

made her knuckles go white.

  She felt him coming up behind her. He ran a hand over her tense shoulders, and then,

when she wouldn't turn, said softly.

  "I'm sorry."

  She felt her eyes mist up, blurring the bridge into a kaleidoscope of lights. Stifling a

sob she turned into his arms and buried her head in his shoulder.

  "I just couldn't bear to lose you again ." She said softly.

  He held her for a moment and then they pulled apart and, joining hands, started to

walk back to Evelyn's apartment.

   "They showed me my desk and office this afternoon, " he growled, making the

inoffensive objects sound like obscenities.

  Nella laughed and he frowned at her, annoyed by her apparent lack of sympathy.

Glancing at him she saw his thunderous expression and gave his arm a tug.

  "You don't have to be pigeonholed by them you know, Jean-Luc. You, " she gave his

arm another tug, " are in control here." She grinned at him. "Set up your department

anyway and anyplace you want. Ye Gods man, if you asked for a Starship in permanent

orbit round Vulcan, with hot and cold running dancing girls, they would give it to you if

they thought it  would aid your ability to come up with some solution to this Borg

problem. Use that creativity I hear in your music, use the system not the other way

round."       

  Jean-Luc started to smile at her and suddenly many windows opened in his mind.

  "Nella " he said urgently, "work with me on this, I know that it will hold up your

career but please, I need you, you keep me thinking."

  "I knew it," she said mock seriously, "My mother warned me about men like you."  She

grinned at his puzzled expression.

  "He'll only want you for your brains, dear." She intoned in a melodramatic voice, the

back of her hand against her forehead.

  He grinned and swatted her on the backside. She squealed and ran off down the path

giggling, he ran after her and catching  up with her swung her into his arms. Their eyes

met and suddenly the significance of their relationship seemed to hang in the air.

"I will not be very good company, I warn you." He said seriously." Do you want to think

about this ?"

Nella looked at him and thought of some of the might of been's in her life.

"I'll take the bits of you I can get, Jean-Luc." She slipped her hand into his and they

walked down the path into the night, nothing resolved except the strength of their bond.


  UNION  PART 3 

And through the spaces of the dark

 Midnight shakes the memory.

T.S. Eliot.

   Data snapped into awareness and took inventory of his surroundings. He was lying on

a bunk in the rear of a small shuttlecraft. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed he

ran an internal diagnostic to find out why he didn't know  where he was or what he was

supposed to be doing.  He cocked his head in a characteristic mannerism of puzzlement

when he found he didn't have any memories of his life before this moment. He knew that

that wasn't right but couldn't have said why. He stood up and moved to the front of the

shuttle. He noted that he was familiar with the craft and, sitting in the pilot's seat, he was

able to power up the controls without conscious thought.

  He sat quietly in his seat studying the panel in front of him and took stock of what he

did know.  He found that he had some basic information about his name and nature and

how he was different from organic life, but could not access any information about the

nature of his mission, or indeed why he felt he must be on a mission in the first place. He

glanced down at the plain black jumpsuit he was wearing, once again experiencing a

feeling that things were not as they should be, and noted a gold badge attached to his

chest. Without thinking he reached up and tapped the badge, wondering at his action as

he did it. Nothing appeared to happen and he felt his confusion growing to quite

alarming proportions.

  His gaze flicked round the small cabin again and then came to rest on the control

panel. A green light had begun flashing. Lacking alternatives he leaned forward and

activated the switch.

  The ship's viewscreen lit up, and the relief Data felt at seeing a known face would have

surprised him if he could have remembered that he didn't acknowledge having any

emotions.

  "Geordi " he said "I appear to be malfunctioning, I have suffered a complete central

memory failure, only peripheral and subjective cores remain." He looked at his friend

with a pathetically puzzled expression.  "What am I doing here ?"

  Geordi said "I am sorry you are feeling so disorientated Data. Access the protected

memory file Data Alpha, I think you will find it informative. Contact me when you have

finished by activating your com badge again. Geordi out."

  The screen flicked off.

  Data found that as Geordi spoke the words, a memory protect block was lifted and he

could access the information previously barred to him.

  File Data Alpha left him feeling ambivalent His mission had been explained fully. He

was to intercept the Borg ship and  capture one of the collective, then utilizing Geordi's

feedback loop, access the Borg programming and find out what the projected movements

of this Borg collective were, return  the Borg to the collective and then return to his

present  coordinates where he would be contacted and picked up.

  One problem remained, "Why should he do these things?"      

  The mission briefing implied that the Borg's infamy was self evident, but he presently

had no memory of their supposed depredations. It was against all his basic programming

to kidnap and assault a member of another sentient race.

  He activated his com badge again and explained his dilemma to Geordi, who looked

at him completely bereft of words.  After a long pause Geordi said

"Data I'll have to get back to you on this one. I know that no one, including yourself,

foretold this reaction."

  Data sat back in his seat and  accessed the small ship's computer, his curiosity driving

him to fill as many gaps in his memory as he could.

  Geordi sat down in his place in the conference room having finished reporting on

Data's impasse to Captain Riker, Shelby, Troi and Dr. Crusher, who were all looking at

him in astonishment .

  Riker watched everyone exchanging glances and received the distinct impression that

no one wanted to be the first to speak. Finally he sighed and asked the obvious question.

  "Geordi, why weren't Data's memories of our encounters with the Borg preserved ?"

  Geordi looked uncomfortable and shifted his weight in his seat.

  "Well you see Data's memory works as a perfect record of all that he experiences, that

means he cannot remember what the Borg did to Captain Picard without also

remembering that we were in the Sol system at the same time. We found every memory

of Starfleet and his time in it was indelibly linked  with his knowledge of Earth and

humans. The only memories that we could leave were his subjective impressions of his

colleagues. He remembers his friends if he is visually cued into them, and his sense of

self and intrinsic values remains intact. Also, almost all of his manual skills have become

hard wired, operating at an unconscious level, so skills such as piloting and activating

equipment were able to be retained."

  Geordi paused and looked hard at Commander Shelby .

  "Several advisory personnel, including Captain Picard and myself, argued strongly

against such a radical memory dump. Commander Data and the Starfleet Borg advisory

panel," Geordi was pleased to see Shelby squirm a little, "insisted on carrying out the

procedure, believing that the benefits of such a covert mission were worth the possible

price." Geordi looked at his clasped hands, then directed his gaze straight at Riker. " At

that point Captain Picard refused to have anything more to do with the experiment, and

after talking briefly to Data, he left. The memory dump was completed yesterday

afternoon and Data was placed in the specially prepared shuttle with a pre-placed time

delay command he had implemented before the procedure that would wake him when

we reached our present coordinates."

  Riker looked around the table.   "Deanna, Doctor, can you think of any way to

convince Data of the importance of this mission ?"

 The two women looked at each other and Beverly was the first to speak. "Well the

disorientation he is feeling is similar to that I would expect a human to feel if they

suffered such a memory loss. I suppose under the circumstances, he has the right to be

suspicious of a mission that seems to contradict his basic programming."

  Deanna added   "I don't think we can leave him in such a state, he is hardly likely to be

able to weather all the uncertainties of a covert mission if he does not understand the

basic nature of the Borg."

  Riker directed his attention to Shelby. " Recommendations, Commander?"

  Shelby looked at him and then seemed to gather her thoughts for a while.

  "Well not all our gambles pay off, I suggest we recall the Commander and return him

to Captain Picard's research team. Perhaps between them they can work out a better

solution. In the meantime I recommend we consider carrying out Data's mission

ourselves, and hope we don't get captured."  

   "Thank you all. " Riker stood.

  "Geordi, Deanna get Commander Data back and see what you can do for him. I will

contact Starfleet with a report on this problem and see what they recommend.

Dismissed."

  When he was alone in the conference room, Captain Riker moved over to the viewport

and  spent a couple of minutes watching the stars. He thought about how disappointed

Data was going to be with the result of this mission when he got his memory back, but in

a strange way felt pleased that his friend had once again proved himself no one's loaded

weapon. Leaving the stars to their inscrutable selves he strode onto the bridge and

ordered Worf to recover the shuttle and set a course back to Earth.

  Deanna and Geordi were in the transporter room when Data was beamed back aboard

the Enterprise.

  Geordi moved forward to greet him.  "Data, it's good to have you back."

  Data stepped uncertainly down from the platform, a frown creasing his forehead.

  "Geordi, I seem to be having a lot of trouble processing the information I was able to

glean from the shuttle's computer, it also seemed to have large gaps in its data base."

  Geordi took his arm and steered him towards the door past a perplexed looking

Counselor Troi. Deanna put a hand on his other arm as he passed and said.

  "What you are feeling Data, is confusion and apprehension. Let's get you down to

Engineering and see if we can sort you out."

  Seeing Geordi's eyebrows shoot up at her terminology she shot him an answering

defiant look, and added for his benefit "I am definitely sensing emotions from him

Geordi, very much as I did from Lal, " she added with some urgency, " his confusion is

growing , we had better hurry before a cascade failure like Lal's sets in."

  Geordi needed no further urging and they set off.

  Geordi took  Data into the lab alongside engineering, where he had a diagnostic stand

permanently set up to work on Data's unique systems, and suggested he step up on the

podium while he accessed the relevant diagnostic through the computer.

Assuming Data would comply he left him, not noticing his increasing distress. Deanna

felt it however and walking over to where he stood, irresolute, in front of the diagnostic

stand, she moved in front of him and took hold of both his hands.

  "Data, you're terrified, what is it ?"

  Data looked intently at the toes of his boots and answered in a low voice.

  "I have just had a flash of memory of stepping into one of these recently. I do not seem

to want to do it again. "

  Deanna spoke softly but intensely for his ears only.

  "Data, we won't hurt you, I promise we'll get you back in one piece if you let Geordi

work on you. Will you trust me ?  We have been friends for a long time."

  Data's golden eyes met hers for a significant moment and a remarkably sweet smile lit

up his face. " I have to take your word for that, but it feels right,"

 He gently disengaged his hands and started to turn towards the podium.

  " However,I believe I am about to be out of options . "

  Moving past her he stepped up to the stand, and immediately collapsed in a boneless

huddle on the floor.

  "Geordi" Deanna yelled, causing the engineer to swing away from his computer. He

hurried over to Data's inert form and ran a tricorder over him.

  "He has gone into emergency shut down mode. It looks like experiencing emotions is

really disruptive to positronic circuitry, no wonder it is so well suppressed by his main

programming."

  Geordi hefted him into a standing position and then let the restraints built into the

podium take over.

  "I wonder if he will be able to retain his memory of this experience when we return

his core patterns." He stroked the back of one golden hand affectionately. " He has always

wanted to try being human, perhaps he will let go of the idea now."

 Geordi put an arm around Deanna's shoulders and steered her towards the door.

  "Don't worry Counselor, as soon as we are back in Earth orbit we'll beam down and

re-load his memory core, I'm sure he'll be fine then."

  Deanna glanced sideways at him, wondering just who he was trying to convince.

  Jean-Luc leaned back in his chair and considered the face of his former first officer

framed in the view screen.

  "Thank you Will, I will monitor Data's reprogramming carefully here on Earth. I only

wish he hadn't tried the procedure in the first place. Still the failure of his mission leaves

us with some problems of overall strategy."

  On the viewscreen Riker's image nodded seriously.

  "Commander Shelby suggests that we execute Data's mission ourselves using the

Enterprise, her reasoning is that if the Borg do know of the Federation they know

everything worth knowing about this ship anyway. And if they don't know of us, finding

us will at least disadvantage us no more than we are already."

  Jean-Luc nodded and after a pause obviously came to a decision. "Make it so Will."  He

leaned forward and spoke urgently into the screen. "Take all precautions. Finding out

their plans is not as important as retaining the crew's collective abilities in the fight to

come. Only the Star drive is to be sent, keep the personnel exposed to this risk at an

absolute minimum. Good luck, be successful, Picard out." 

  Jean-Luc sat contemplating the Starfleet Logo on the viewscreen for several minutes

then bent to the task of issuing the necessary orders to authorize Will Riker's mission.

  Finishing the administration work, he decided to visit Commander Maddox and

personally ensure that Data was receiving the level of attention he deserved. He very

much wanted to be on hand when Data was re-activated. Given that he emerged from the

experience unscathed he had plans afoot that could profitably include Data's special

abilities.

  Entering Maddox's lab, he was a little shocked by the level of technology interfaced

with various parts of Data's anatomy. Used as he was to watching Data plug himself into

various information sources, it still seemed disturbing to have his machine nature so

revealed.

Bruce Maddox approached Picard in his usual slightly obsequious way. Picard

swallowed his distaste for the man and asked how the procedure was getting on. Maddox

lit up, as usual when expounding in his favorite theme, and gave Picard a very thorough

run down on the maintenance and repair of Data's positronic net. As always, Jean-Luc got

the feeling that he was describing some repairs to a race tuned sports vehicle, rather than

the equivalent of major brain surgery on a valued comrade. Maddox's detachment from

Data's personal qualities had always alienated him from those that appreciated Data's

unique life. 

The Commander wound up, stating enthusiastically that if he would wait for a few

more minutes the core memory implant would be complete and they could reevaluate

Data to see how he was.

  Picard gazed at the man  for a couple of moments, unnerved by Maddox's complete

unconcern for Data's mental well being.

  "I will stay Commander ," he managed eventually, realizing the futility of trying to

raise Maddox's level of understanding.

  He moved across the lab so that he would be in Data's line of sight when he was

reactivated. Seeing Data in the diagnostic stand raised unpleasant memories of

struggling for mastery over the Borg programming whilst in a similar stand on he

Enterprise. Data had been there for him then, he hoped he could repay some of the favor.

  "Activating now," a technician called out, Maddox moved over to monitor Data with a

hand held tricorder, standing to one side as Picard had preempted the position in front.

  Data's eyes opened, his gaze met Picard's and Picard stepped forward and clasped

Data's arm as he deliberately shut his eyes again. Data tilted his head on one side slightly,

and there was a significant pause.

  "Data"  Picard said softly . Data opened his eyes again and met Picard's concerned

look.

 "Data, how much do you remember?"

 A faint smile played about Data's lips as he replied, looking directly at Picard.

  "Everything "

  An answering smile started to show on Picard's face as he continued, relishing the

resonance of the moment.

  " How do you feel ?"

  Data's smile broadened as he completed the exchange.

  "Almost android, Captain."

  The two men clasped hands for a moment, then Picard stepped away ending the

encounter. Holding Data's gaze he said. " I need to see you as soon as you are finished

here. Report at your convenience."

  Nodding briskly to Maddox and the assembled technicians, he turned on his heel and

left the lab.

  Data looked at the Commander  who was frowning at his tricorder as if he could

fathom the nature of the previous exchange from it's data stream.

  "Congratulations, your simulator worked as you expected it too." He reached up to

unplug the cranial interface, raising his eyebrows at the Commander for permission.

  "You have taken all the readings you require ?"

Bruce Maddox   glanced at his team and then nodded curtly to Data. A technician came

across to help disengage him from all the leads.

  Data thanked her gravely as he stepped down from the stand. She handed him a shirt

and watched as he shrugged into it, and with no further ado left the Lab. She found it

difficult to think of him as a machine, even after helping analyze his systems no more

than five minutes previously. She wondered what the exchange with Picard had been

about and was slowly returning to her work station when she caught sight of the

Commander's thunderous expression as he also gazed after Data.

Quickly she buried herself in her work as the last thing she wanted was to attract his

attention.

  Data hesitated on the threshold of Captain Picard's office observing the occupants

without being seen for a few minutes.

       Picard was perched on the edge of his desk, cup in hand, listening intently to Nella

Darrin, who was explaining some of the latest research findings on the sentience known

as  Green.

        "The entities that act as sensory remote have set up touch telepathic relationships

with every different race represented on Green. Through them the planet has requested a

party of fifty Hortas to ease communications.

  Having silicon based life-forms on planet seems to have opened the possibilities of

mutual research, previously limited by the allergic reaction that carbon based sentient

life appears to experience."

  She looked at Picard severely and finished sternly, but with a twinkle in her eye. "And

there was a report from Beverly Crusher explaining exactly  how they found out about

that reaction, which is just as well since I heard nothing about it from you."

  Jean-Luc choked on his tea, hastily rose from his perch on the desk and walked over to

the replicator to get a tissue, and incidently put a little distance between himself and the

irate Nella. As he crossed the office he spotted Data in the doorway.

  "Saved." He thought irreverently, and greeting Data he waved him into the office and

into the chair beside Nella.

  Nella gave Jean-Luc a "Later for you" look, and then greeted Data with warmth, having

come to respect his vast scientific knowledge, ability to work all hours and unusual

viewpoint while working on the Enterprise.

  Data asked Captain Picard why he was following the research on Green, as it did not

seem to have any direct bearing on the Borg problem. Picard did not answer at once but

walked over to the window of his office and gazed over the sunlit city.

  After a short pause he turned back to face Data and Nella, and explained.

  " I've had an idea, Data, I wonder if we may be able to learn how that planet controls

the life force of all the creatures that live on it. We may need that knowledge if we are to

have any chance of coming to a long term solution to the Borg problem. I'm aware that

I'm using an ancient human technique for dealing with the unknown here but I can't see

any other solution."  

  He turned back to face them and realized that Data was completely lost. He quickly

explained. "Pollute it, destroy it or use it for a weapon, Data."

  Data looked thoughtful. "We can hardly exploit a planetary intelligence without its

consent, how are you going to convince it ?"

  "We will go there and talk to it Data. We thought it might be interested in a deal. Its

help in return for a commitment from Starfleet to search for other sentient planets.

"Statistically alone there is a good chance of finding some. If we can predict the life

cycle of a star from protomatter it should be a relatively simple job to find the

parameters for sentience in existing planetary systems."

  Picard perched on the desk in front of them again and fixed Data with his most

serious look. " We need your assistance in the first part of this Data. You should be able

to interface directly with Green as most of your componentry is silicon based. You could

give it the direct experience of the Borg mind you accessed through Hugh and

through...... Locutus. I really don't think we will have much trouble convincing it to help.

Self preservation is pretty universal, and the Borg could reduce the Biosphere to rubble

should it come across it. Will you consider it ?" 

  Data looked from one to the other, weighing up all that they had told him. He realized

that Picard was completely within his rights to simply order him along on the trip, but it

was typical of the man that he gave him the choice.

"I would enjoy the experience Captain, when do we leave."

"In two days Data. We have been assigned a fast scout so the journey should take less

than a week." Picard smiled at him "You will even have time to take in a couple more of

Ruella's concerts."

Riker was on the bridge when special sealed orders were communicated, necessitating

his withdrawal to the ready room to decode them. Emerging at length from his office he

gave Mr. Evason a new course to lay in, then called Shelby into his ready room where

they remained closeted for most of the rest of the morning. Eventually he called a senior

officers meeting for that afternoon and left the bridge to Shelby so he could prepare for

it.

  At the meeting he stood at the head of the table facing Worf, Geordi, Shelby, Evason,

Troi and Dr. Crusher, mentally cataloguing each person's special abilities and wondering

what on earth they had got themselves into this time. What they were about to attempt

seemed almost suicidal, he sincerely hoped that Starfleet and Captain Picard knew what

they were doing.

  "Gentlemen, Ladies these are our new orders, we are to find a way of contacting the

Borg ship. We enter the Gamma Delta sector in three days so we have plenty of time to

think of a suitable communication mode. Once a communication link has been

established we have to find a way to lure the ship to an area of space, the coordinates of

which have been fed directly into the computer so that I am sorry to say I have no idea

where we will be going." He paced up and down, working in the dark made his job so

difficult as to be nearly impossible.

  "I assume Starfleet have some answer to the Borg threat at the end of this trip, I

sincerely hope so because this is one game of cat and mouse that I am not going to relish

at all."

 He glanced at all their trusting faces and sighed. "Recommendations for strategy

people, and they had better be good, the future of the known universe may rest on our

shoulders today."

  After considerable acrimonious thought and planning over the next few days a plan

was decided on.

The stardrive sent out a multi frequency broadcast emulating a thriving trading culture

based on space based population units. They were counting on the Borg's imperative to

assimilate new cultures to attract it to this bait.

  As they quartered the Gamma Delta system trying to draw the Borg's attention they

strained at every sensor device they could devise, almost including holding a glass to the

hull, to detect the first appearance of the Borg ship.

 As the first sensor contact was made the stardrive leapt into warp, purposefully leaving

an ion trail a novice could find. As the Borg ship followed them into warp the stardrive

went to sublight, causing the Borg ship to overshoot. Immediately the stardrive went

back to warp leapfrogging the Borg, who were backtracking to find them.

  The deadly game of hide and seek continued for four hours, the gaps between the

ships narrowing at times to fractions of seconds, and at other times widening to minutes

so that the exhausted crew thought that they had inadvertently lost the quarry.

On the surface of Green the conference called by the planetary intelligence drew to a

close. Picard opened his eyes and taking Nella's hand they walked out of the clearing and

went to sit on a rock .

"What now ?"  Nella avoided Picard's eye as they leaned against each other.

"That's up to Green , we've forced its hand somewhat but I hope it appreciates that we

have put our own lives on the line here."

That wasn't what I meant Jean-Luc, and you know it. Where do we go from here, you

and I. "

Picard rubbed his hand over his face then looked sideways at her . Their stolen week

aboard the scout had only confirmed the attraction they felt for each other, but he just

didn't know how he was going to give up space. He  was not ready to give away the thrill

of command and exploration, and he still could not face having to order Nella into

danger. Basically nothing had changed.

"Let's see if we survive today first, " he said at last and putting his arm around her

shoulders  he gave her a squeeze by way of apology for his evasiveness. Together they

waited for developments as the action took place out of their control.

  With a startling suddenness the last computer assisted jump into sublight left the

Enterprise approaching a jewel-like planet. They had to swing into a high elliptical orbit

to avoid impact and their hearts dropped as the sensitive ecosystems below them were

revealed to the closely following Borg ship.

  Worf called out identification of the planet simultaneously with the Borg ship

swinging into a low equatorial orbit.

 "It's Green sir, it will be completely defenseless against the Borg ship." He stared at the

screen, "Someone has made a terrible mistake."

  Even as they watched in  horror the viewscreen showed the  green bolts of energy the

Borg used to collect planetary material striking down through the atmosphere to start

the process of destruction the Borg were famed for.

  As the Enterprise swung round under Riker's orders to try to engage the Borg ship and

distract it from the planet; distress turned to total confusion as the beams winked out and

the Borg ship went dead, all external lights extinguished, closely imitating a dead square

asteroid.

  "Incoming call Captain," said a stunned Shelby "Onscreen"

 The view of the planet winked out, replaced by the familiar features of Jean-Luc Picard.

  "Well done Enterprise, very well done. If you would like to  rendezvous with us at the

Green Regent some explanations are in order I believe. Picard out."

  William Riker sat dumbfounded in his command chair for a second or two, trying to

assimilate the events of the last few minutes. Eventually he glanced around the shell

shocked looking faces looking to him for instructions.

  "Helm lay in a course for the Green Regent, Worf have you any ideas about what just

happened.?"

  Worf shook his head, "Our instruments registered nothing, but there is a power build

up in the Borg ship, it appears to be about to self destruct."

  "On screen." Ordered Riker, they watched as the hulk was flicked into deep space, a

moment later the sensors registered the massive explosion that resulted from the total

destruction of the Borg ship.

  Worf looked at his instruments in disbelief, then looked back at Riker.

 "The gravitational pull of the planet just reversed locally, and now it is back to normal.

With power like that at its command no wonder the planet had no trouble dealing with

the Borg."

  Riker shrugged, "Lets go and find out what's going on shall we?"

  Riker was almost more confused than illuminated by the briefing on the Green

Regent. It seemed that everything was changing.

  The planet had agreed to deal with any Borg ship that could be lured near enough to

it, but had declined to explain the mechanism it used. Picard ruefully explained that the

model of human functioning it had obtained from him had failed to convince the entity

that humanity was ready for that sort of power. In return Starfleet had agreed to

investigate the existence of other such intelligences and put them in touch with Green,

part of their reasoning being that a network of such planets would probably constitute a

Federation wide defence against any more Borg incursions.

 The Enterprise had been given the mission of coordinating the search, but every

Federation vessel would be expected to lend thought and expertise to the venture. For

the moment their priority was getting back to earth to rendezvous with the Saucer and

take part in a comprehensive debriefing.


Epilogue

Nella woke in the middle of their small ship's night and, rolling over discovered

Jean-Luc's side of the bed empty. Blinking she looked around the cabin and found him, a

short robe pulled round his spare figure, leaning beside the viewport gazing out at the

stars streaking past.

  "Regrets ?"  She spoke softly so as not to break his mood.

  "No," he replied. "Just gratitude that the stars are not standing still, that we are still

here, that the worst didn't happen."

  He came back to bed and slid in beside her. He snuggled in next to her, his arm across

her chest, his head on her shoulder.

  "I do enjoy cuddling you, you know."

  "I'd noticed," she said, and kissed him on the side of his face.

  "Go to sleep."

  "Ummm" he said. And did.

Nella was left to lay wide eyed in the dark wrestling with the fact that she was going to

have to let him go again, in just one day they would be back in Earth orbit and Jean-Luc

would take back the Enterprise.

 Will had been most insistent, he had even threatened to resign if Jean-Luc would not

take back his command because of him. Nella loved him for his selflessness, even as she

hated him for his opportunity to work beside Jean-Luc on a daily basis.

"Ain't love grand." She thought to herself ironically as she peered into the galactic

night, and tried to compose a life for herself once again out of the unrevealed ashes of

her hopes.