It's Always Something by Djinn

Christine Chapel walked out of her office onto the bridge and found the Carter's helmsman and navigator in the middle of a rather impassioned argument.

"I come from a long line of singers, Mark, and I'm telling you that the breath control required for opera is far greater than for some jog."

"Jog? I was on the Academy marathon team."

"Yeah, and how'd you do at the Federation finals?"

The helmsman looked down. "I was recovering from the Vitriclian flu."

Sabuti smirked. "Breath control."

Christine looked at Kavall, who shrugged, obviously trying not to laugh.

Kimble looked outraged. "I ran like the damn wind in the qualifying races." At Sabuti's shrug, he asked her, "Why don't you grace us with a song, Ms. Opera Singer?"

The navigator shook her head. "I'm not warmed up. I could seriously damage my vocal chords."

Kimble laughed. "Yeah, right."

Christine couldn't decide if she wanted to sit down in the middle of the argument. But there was little to do as they orbited Vulcan, waiting for some engine refits to be done and for Spock to finalize his affairs after the death of his mother. It was frankly getting a little dull just sitting around waiting. Shore leave had been authorized for whoever wanted it, but very few lingered on Vulcan. It wasn't really a place that screamed 'good time' to a crew on liberty. Well, unless you were Penhallon. She had to hide a grin. He had managed to finagle an invitation from T'Clev to visit her temple and spend some time with her.

The doors to her office opened and Christine turned in surprise to see Renata Farrell standing there. "I came up the back way," Farrell explained. "Figured you'd be out here." She grinned impishly at Christine. "Redmoon needs help with some calibrations in the bio lab. I said I'd rustle up some skilled labor. You in?"

Grateful for something real to do, Christine nodded. She caught Kavall's eye. "You have the con, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir," Kavall said with a wry grin. Christine noticed that she didn't exchange her seat at the science center for one of the command chairs.

"Everything ok?" Farrell asked as the office door closed and they walked through to the rear lift.

"Crew's a little on edge. Boredom, I think."

"It's a morale killer." Farrell grinned. "Remember the stupid things we'd do at Emergency ops when it got slow." She laughed. "I seem to recall a bet on who could drink more mai tai's after shift?"

Christine nodded, laughing. "I still can't drink rum."

"Me either." The lift opened on deck six. "Fortunately it didn't get boring very often there."

"No. It was damn intense most of the time."

"Yeah," Farrell said with a wistful smile. "I have so many good memories from those days."

"Me too. It was the most stressful job I've ever had, but I had so much fun doing it." She grinned at her friend. "I think it was the company."

"Damn right."

"I never asked you how your leave was?"

Farrell's expression darkened.

"Ren?"

"It wasn't so good. Umachi's not talking to me right now."

"Why?"

Farrell shrugged. "She's upset but she won't tell me what I did."

"I'm sorry, Ren. Hopefully she'll talk to you soon."

"Hopefully. The silent treatment gets old."

"I know. Randall never does that."

"Just one more reason to love him," Farrell smiled at the expression on Christine's face. "He's the perfect guy for you, you know."

"I'm aware," Christine said, trying not to think of what had happened with Spock when Farrell was off the ship. In their own way, both men were perfect for her. It was a shame they weren't Deltans with their extended love families.

"Chris, my god, what are you thinking about? You have the most evil look."

Christine laughed at her own silliness. "Nothing."

They walked through the admin portion of the lab and stopped at the door to the containment room. Redmoon had the walls set to transparent--normally they were darkened so that whoever was in the lab could work free of distractions. He saw them and waved them in. They waited in the small anteroom as the pressure adjusted and the sensors made sure they weren't bringing anything hazardous with them into the lab.

Redmoon smiled at them as they stepped through the second door. "I appreciate your help with this."

"Is there a problem with containment?" Christine asked in concern.

"No. The efficiencies are well within normal parameters. I just think they could be better." He grinned.

"You're bored too," Christine realized.

"I can't tell you how much," he said with a smile. "But this is good for the ship, and good for us. So why not do it?"

"Why not indeed," she agreed.

He handed them instruments and they moved around the room mapping the containment efficiencies. Christine looked at her numbers and began to make some minor adjustments. "I don't think there's much to do here," she said.

Redmoon nodded. "Maybe not. But I'd like to find that out now and not in the middle of a crisis."

"Agreed," Farrell said as she handed her scanner over to Christine. "This is one place I don't want to have to worry if it's safe."

Christine was about to answer when the computer's voice stopped her. "Commander Chapel, Program 'Never Again' has been initiated." The lab windows darkened abruptly.

The other two turned to stare at her. She frowned and said, "Repeat."

"Program 'Never Again' has been initiated."

She felt real panic. This was impossible. "Status?"

"Per your orders, command functions have been locked down, all armories secured, and all off-duty crew confined to their quarters or areas of recreation."

"What's going on, Chris?" Farrell asked as she moved closer.

"Psi 2000 is what," Christine said as she moved to a side panel. "Graphical schematic of ship," she told the computer. The panel lit up with a view of the Carter. "Map virus saturation."

The diagram began to light up. The bridge was bright red; the areas around it were lit with orange and yellow but were becoming red even as they watched. "That's impossible," Christine breathed.

Redmoon moved up. "This can't be Psi 2000. It doesn't spread this fast."

She nodded. "You're right. Normally it's waterborne." She remembered how the virus had jumped from crewman to crewman, passed in sweat and tears. "Computer, obtain samples of virus and send them to the lab for analysis."

"Affirmative, Commander."

As Redmoon walked over to the scope, she pointed to the map. Every area was red, except for two small green spots. "This is us, but what is this?"

Farrell leaned in. "The engine room. The refit team is in there."

"Of course. And they're on respirators." It was standard procedure to flush the chamber and adjust the gravity to make it easier to lift the heavy engine pieces. The refit crew would have no idea that anything was happening. She hit the comm switch. "First Officer to Engineering."

A familiar voice came over the line. "Kettering here, Commander. What can I do for you?"

Farrell leaned forward a concerned look on her face. "I thought you were taking some time off?"

"I was. But there was an emergency on the Caledonia and the techs were sent there instead. And since they'd beamed up the equipment, I thought I'd go ahead and get started. Beats sitting around obsessing that I failed that damn recertification test. "

"So there's no refit crew onboard?" Farrell asked.

"Just us, Commander Farrell."

Christine was a little surprised at Farrell's sudden interest in the crew manifest.

"I think he can handle a simple refit, Ren," she said to Farrell. "You keep working, Commander. We've got a virus loose on the ship but you should be fine where you are." She looked at Farrell, "How long will their respirators last?"

Farrell thought for a second, "About eight hours. And they have enough in their stores to keep a standard 12-person emergency crew going for two days."

"How many people are with you, Commander?"

"Three."

"You should be fine then for respirators. I've locked Engineering down so you won't be able to get out but nobody will be able to get in either. Whatever you do, don't let anyone in. And I do mean anyone. Just keep working on those refits. I'll let you know when we've got things cleared up."

"Aye, sir. Kettering out."

Redmoon waved them over. "It's Psi 2000 all right."

Christine looked at the familiar pattern and felt her teeth clench. She had never hated anything as much as she hated this virus. "Computer, bring up file Chapel 'Take That'."

Both Redmoon and Farrell looked at her.

"It's the antiviral," she explained as it loaded. "Surprisingly simple. But then so was Psi 2000."

"Was?" Farrell asked.

"It's been modified," Redmoon explained. "Same basic structure as the original but engineered for more rapid dispersion."

Farrell frowned. "How rapid?"

Christine pointed at the ship diagram. "That fast, Ren." She looked at Redmoon, "That compound was intended for the original. You'll probably need to tweak it for the new matrix."

"Got it." He went to work.

"And us?"

Christine walked to the map again. "Computer, locate origin of infection."

"Origin is Captain's ready room."

"But he's on Vulcan." She hit the comm switch. "Chapel to Spock."

"Spock here," his voice sounded different, wrong.

"I thought you were on Vulcan with Nako?"

"Nako stayed with my father. I was finished with my business affairs and decided to come back." There was a pause, then in a heavy voice he said, "I had to leave."

"Are you okay?"

"I am sad, Christine."

She closed her eyes for a moment. She had wanted to think that he might be safe from all this. "We have a virus outbreak. It started in your office."

"Ah, that would explain the box."

"The box? What box." "A gift from someone. Quite beautiful. The craftsmanship is exquisite-- Vulcan third century from the look of it." He paused for a moment. "Spock?" "I am here, Commander. Just admiring the box. When I opened it, some sort of trigger mechanism went off and there was a very small explosion."

"You didn't call security?"

"It was going to comm them when you hailed."

"Spock, it's the Psi 2000 virus." She hoped there was enough rational thought left in him to respond to what she was saying.

"Unfortunate," was his response. "Are you affected?"

"No. We were in the lab when it hit." She took a deep breath. "I've initiated procedures to lock down crucial functions on the ship. There'll be no one flying us into a star on my watch."

"I am relieved to hear that." He sighed. "I must retire to my quarters. Meditation may help."

"We'll have an antiviral soon," she promised.

"Christine. How did you know what it was so fast?"

"You of all people know what this virus was like. I came to resent it. A lot. So I made it my business to get to know it, to make sure that if it ever hit again, I'd be ready for it."

"I see." There was another heavy sigh, then he whispered, "I do remember that time. I was sad because of my mother then too."

"Go to your quarters, Spock," she said firmly, cutting the channel and turning to Farrell. "We know Nako's still down on the planet. Find out who else we don't have to account for up here."

"You got it," Farrell said as she turned to a spare terminal and began calling up the personnel lists.

Christine walked over to Redmoon, "What do you think?"

He pointed to the left side of the screen where he'd split off the virus image from his calculations. "There was an initial effect when I applied the antiviral. But then the virus rallied. I think I need to adjust the level of the peptides."

"Keep me posted."

"You're going out there? But the ship's out of danger, right?"

She nodded. "The ship is. Her crew isn't."

--------------------------

Farrell turned to Christine. "The senior staff is on board except for Nako, Sovar, Penhallon, Troi, and Moorehouse. Of the rest of the crew, only a few Vulcans elected to visit their families."

"I've loaded these with tranquilizers." Christine handed her several hypos. "Put gloves on. This thing may be airborne, but I bet it still passes on contact too."

Farrell saw that Christine already had her gloves on. She pulled on a pair and felt the material mold to her hand.

Christine pulled on a full-face respirator, then gave Farrell one. Like the gloves, the material molded itself to her head, making it impossible to accidentally knock the mask off.

Farrell went to a panel in the wall and entered an emergency code. When the panel wouldn't open, she looked over at Christine. "When you locked out the armories did that include the emergency phasers too?"

"Yep. Trust me, in the long run you'll be glad there aren't any weapons loose on the ship. Okay, let's go," Christine said, leading the way out of the lab. They waited for the decon procedures to finish and the pressure to readjust before opening the outer door, then headed for the lift.

The corridor was empty and they hurried on. They were almost to the lift when the door to sickbay opened and Carpenter walked out. She was rubbing her hands together compulsively. "What's happening?"

"Go around her, Ren," Christine said as she stopped. "Go back inside, Delynn. Everything's fine."

"I've washed and washed," Carpenter went on, as if she hadn't heard Christine. "What if I don't get them clean?"

"Go back inside," Christine said.

Carpenter stared at her, then turned and went back inside sickbay.

Christine waited until the doors had closed then said, "Computer lock sickbay"

"Is this what it's going to be like?" Farrell asked.

"This is nothing compared to what it's going to be like. It just gets weirder from here."

"Great."

Christine called for the lift. "We need to find a place to put the people we find roaming. Most work areas are too sensitive to just leave them."

"Like the bridge?"

"Exactly like the bridge. I don't want anyone up there."

Farrell considered the options. "What about the conference room near sickbay? If that gets full we can start stuffing them in the party room."

"Good idea. They'll be close by when the antiviral is ready."

The lift doors opened to the same argument that Farrell and Christine had left. Only now Kimble and Sabuti were on their feet and yelling. Kavall and Saldusta were laughing hysterically. Myrax looked extremely troubled and was trying to make her console do something it was clearly refusing to do. Farrell glanced over and saw that the Manean had targeted the Vulcan defense grid and was trying to fire.

"What are you doing, Lieutenant?" she asked.

Myrax leapt to attention. "Proving that I am a good tactical officer, sir!"

"No one has any doubt of that, Lieutenant. But I don't think firing at our friends is the way to reinforce that impression."

"But sir, there is never anything to fire at."

Farrell tried not to laugh. "Well, this is a 'diplomatic' ship. We tend to avoid firing at people."

"Yes, sir." The tactical officer sat down dejectedly. "What was I thinking when I accepted this post?"

Farrell was about to pat her on the shoulder but then decided not to risk the contact. "Buck up, Lieutenant. There may be a threat someday, and you're just the tactical officer to kick their butts to kingdom come."

Myrax brightened. "Thank you, sir. Do you think that day will come soon?"

Farrell was spared from answering when Christine emerged from Spock's ready room carrying a red lacquer box. "Looks Vulcan," Christine said. "Spock must have brought it up with him from the planet."

"Must have," Farrell agreed distractedly as she tried to herd the bridge crew onto the lift. "Come on kids, let's go," she said.

They had unloaded on deck six and were heading to sickbay when Christine suddenly stopped and looked down a side corridor. "Oh, crap," she said as she took off at a run. Saldusta followed her.

"Hell, let's all go," Farrell said as she urged the rest into a run.

Kimble glanced at Sabuti and said, "Now you'll see. I am the wind." And in a few long strides he caught up to and passed Christine and Saldusta. When they stopped suddenly, he kept going, moving effortlessly until he disappeared around the corner.

"Great," Farrell said, then she saw what had attracted Christine's attention.

Sparks. Coming from the access panel. Christine pried open the cover and reached in, dragging a marine halfway out of the space before he realized what was happening and began to struggle. Saldusta grabbed him from the other side and grinned at Christine. "I will help you. I only want to help you."

The marine struggled harder, but Saldusta seemed to ignore him even as she held on like a terrier. "I want you to be proud of me."

"I am proud of you, Saldusta," Christine gritted, as she pulled the marine the rest of the way out.

"My mother never was. No matter how hard I tried. But I can make you proud of me," Saldusta said as she let go of the marine. "I just want another chance."

Farrell scanned inside the space. There were some scorch stresses but the marine must not have had time to do any significant damage. "What exactly were you trying to accomplish, Private?" she asked the man.

"I'm getting off this damn ship. I can't stand it anymore."

Farrell picked up the cutting torch. "So you were going to just make yourself a little door?"

Christine looked at his nametag. "Lawrence, is it? Just relax. We'll get you off the ship as soon as we can if it bothers you that much." She helped him up, then stepped to replace the panel. "It's just going to be a little while before we can--"

"No more little whiles, no more it's going to get better. I'm getting off now."

Farrell realized too late that he had pulled out a phaser and had a direct line on Christine's chest. "Chris!" she yelled even as he brought the weapon up to fire.

"No!" Saldusta screamed and launched herself between him and Chapel. The weapon fire scored a narrow line down her side and she screamed.

Lawrence was aiming again when a long leg came out and kicked the weapon out of his hand. Myrax followed up her kick with two quick punches to his head and one to the stomach. Farrell had the bizarre impression of watching an angel pummel the crap out of someone--Myrax never lost her normal serene expression as she knocked Lawrence unconscious. As he fell, the phaser dropped. Farrell retrieved it and saw that he'd set it to a cutting beam. Setting it back to stun, she stuck it in her uniform.

"Is he dead?" Kavall asked brokenly.

Myrax looked up. "Would you like him to be?"

"No," Christine ordered as she moved to help Saldusta. "Just bring him to sickbay, if you would, Lieutenant."

Kavall backed up as Myrax dragged Lawrence by her. "They all die."

"No, Nevara," Christine said as she led the group back to sickbay. "They don't all die."

Sabuti seemed unusually quiet. Farrell shot her a glance and frowned. The woman was breathing heavily as if she couldn't get enough air. "Lieutenant Sabuti?"

"It is all breath control."

Christine turned around. "Sabuti, now is not the time for opera."

But Sabuti had already begun to run scales that bore no resemblance to anything that could be called music. Off key didn't even begin to cover the way she was murdering the notes, Farrell thought, as she turned away from the cacophony. Even Kavall stopped crying long enough to look at the navigator with a horrified look on her face.

Saldusta looked up at Christine. "That hurts worse than my side, Commander."

Christine nodded. "Be glad you'll be in sickbay and she'll be in the conference room."

Lawrence started to come around and Myrax looked at Christine eagerly. "May I hit him again, sir?"

"No. Not unless he tries something."

Farrell wondered just how broadly Myrax would define 'something.' Christine had already turned back to Saldusta. Farrell smiled as she watched her friend talk to the young woman. She was an excellent role model, which was a good thing, since Saldusta seemed to be looking for a surrogate mother. But if she was going to make a habit of saving Christine, Farrell didn't see a problem with that.

"What's that noise?" Myrax asked, then realized they could only hear Sabuti. "The other noise," she clarified as she pointed down the corridor.

Then they all heard it. A rhythmic thump thump thump. A few seconds later, Kimble rounded the corner. "I am the wind," he screamed at Sabuti as he passed her.

"You are not," she screeched to his rapidly disappearing back.

Saldusta groaned.

"Boy sure can run," Farrell said to no one in particular, and made a note to remember Kimble if she ever had to put together an intramural track team.

---------------------------------------

Christine sighed as they got the bridge crew and Lawrence safely locked into the conference room.

"You know how cruel it is to lock them in with Sabuti, right?" Farrell asked.

"Well maybe Myrax will knock her out too," Christine said as she helped Saldusta to sickbay. "Computer, open sickbay doors."

"Provide passcode."

"Platonius."

The doors opened.

She saw Farrell's look and shrugged. "One humiliation for another."

"You don't forget, that's for sure. How many years have you been waiting for this virus to hit again?"

"Too many," Christine said as she eased Saldusta onto a biobed. "Can you find me a regenerator," she asked, as she rounded up the sickbay staff. Carpenter's hands looked like she had tried to wash them. Repeatedly. With acid. Christine took the regenerator from Farrell and ran it over the abraded flesh. Then she led the team out to the conference room. Sabuti was still singing. "I'm really sorry about this. I'll make it up to you," Christine said to Carpenter and the rest of the medical staff as she locked the door.

When she got back, Farrell asked, "Won't she need a nurse or something?" She pointed at Saldusta, who was lying with her eyes closed and her teeth tightly clenched.

"No. And I don't want them bothering her." Christine filled a hypo with painkiller and held it against Saldusta's neck.

"You're so good to me, Commander," the woman murmured as she slipped into sleep.

"And you thought you didn't have any kids," Farrell teased.

Christine just smiled wryly as she ran the regenerator over the phaser burn. "Good thing he had the phaser set to narrow beam. If he'd had this on kill..."

"I know." Farrell went to the comm switch. "Farrell to Redmoon."

"Redmoon here."

"Any luck with the antiviral, Doctor?" Christine asked.

"I've made some modifications and the virus is beginning to respond. But I'm a long way from done."

"Understood. We're going to make sure everyone that is loose is locked down. Call us if you need anything."

"Yes, sir. Oh and Kettering called in earlier. He said that he's gotten some very strange requests from crewmen wanting access to the engine room. He finally stopped answering the chime."

"Smart man. If he runs into trouble, let us know. Good luck, Doctor."

"You too. Redmoon out."

Christine turned off the regenerator. "She'll be fine now. A little rest won't hurt her." Without thinking about it, she touched the scales on Saldusta's hair, gently smoothing down a few that had been disturbed in the fight. She looked up and saw Farrell grinning at her. "Okay, so I'm a sucker for a kid in distress."

Farrell was filling more hypos with tranquilizer. "Hey, the kid probably saved your life. He had a bead on your heart. You could have been killed."

A new voice sounded. "Someone tried to kill Christine?"

"Damn. Forgot to lock the door." Christine turned to Kerr, who was standing in the doorway, a look of anxious concern on his face. "I'm fine."

"But she said you were in danger."

Christine took a last look at Saldusta. "She's okay now. Let's lock sickbay up."

As she walked to the door, Kerr caught her up in a bear hug. "I just want to keep you safe," he murmured into her hair. His hands fiddled with her respirator. "Want to touch you."

She jerked away. "Let's leave the mask alone, Randall."

"But I want to keep you safe."

"And the mask is doing that," Farrell interjected.

He turned to her. "You know all I want is to make her happy?"

"And you're doing that, Colonel. But not when you try to take off her respirator. So no more, okay?"

"You know best," he said, turning back to Christine. "Let me keep you safe." He reached for her hand.

She wouldn't give it to him. "Don't you have work to do, Randall? Let's get you back to your office, okay?"

He brightened. "I do. I have a memo to write. I'm going to tell them I just want to do my job. I'm going to keep people safe." His face fell. "They never seem to get that though. It's always do this and do that. Never what I want to do, either. They're always getting in my way." He glared at Farrell.

Christine frowned at her, and Farrell held up her hands, laughing. "Hey, I don't know what he's yammering about any more than you do."

After another brief argument over whether he should carry Christine down the corridor to keep her safe, they finally got him to his office. Christine locked the door and looked at Farrell. "Well, you ready for this?"

"Sure."

Many hours later, when they finally cleared decks eight through twelve, Christine thought she was going to collapse. And they still had the upper decks to check. Stifling a moan at the thought, she tried not to think about how much she needed to scratch her face under the respirator. She felt hot and the air was starting to seem stale. They were headed back to the lab for new respirators when Redmoon hailed them.

"I've got it. It's synthesizing now. Should be ready in about half an hour."

"Fantastic."

"It's going to take a few hours for anyone who has been infected to come out of it. But for us, and the engineering crew, it should provide immediate protection."

"Wonderful. Can you beam some hypos to engineering?"

"Already did," Redmoon replied. "And I'm taken care of. Just waiting for you two."

"We're on our way back now. Chapel out."

Farrell groaned. "So we have to go give all those people the antiviral now?"

Christine smiled. "We just have to get the command crew and sickbay on its feet. Then the sickbay team can take care of the rest of the crew."

"Oh, thank god."

As they headed down the last corridor to the lab, Ritsuko stepped out from a side hall. "Renata, we have to talk."

Farrell stopped. "I want to talk to you too, Machi. But now isn't really a good time."

Ritsuko stepped forward. "No one else calls me that. I missed hearing it."

"Well, you're the one staying away."

"You're the one cheating on me."

Christine felt very uncomfortable listening in but didn't want to leave Farrell in case she needed assistance.

"I'm not cheating on you. Where did you get that idea?"

"Don't lie to me," Ritsuko shrieked at her.

Farrell held out her hand. "Baby, I don't know why you think that I cheated on you but it just isn't true. We need to talk about this but not right now because I'm really busy. I need you to wait for us in the party room, okay?"

"I saw you!" Ritsuko started to walk toward Farrell, her hands clenched tightly, tears pooling in her eyes. "I saw you and her. In the bar. And her little gift. You think I wouldn't notice that she gave you a--"

There was a whine of a phaser and then Ritsuko crumpled to the ground. Christine turned to Farrell in shock. "You shot her. What the hell are you doing?"

"I was out of tranks."

"Well, I wasn't."

"It's on stun," she said defensively.

Christine rushed to Ritsuko and checked her vitals. "You don't need to shoot anyone."

"I wasn't sure what she was going to do, okay." Farrell's voice sounded more on edge than Christine had heard it. "She's all right, isn't she?"

"She'll be fine. But don't shoot anyone else, you got that?"

Farrell stared down at Ritsuko.

"Ren?"

She nodded numbly. "Don't shoot anyone. I've got it."

------------------------------

Redmoon heard the outer lab door open and went to the window in the door, watching as the two women struggled with their respirators. "Wait until you're inside the lab," he reminded them over the intercom.

They stopped trying to get the masks off and just stood as the deconn did its work. When the inner door slid open, they walked heavily through. He greeted them with a dosage of the antiviral. Christine moved to undo her mask, but Farrell seemed to be having trouble with hers. "Let me," he said gently as he hit the small control that released the respirator.

"Thanks," she said as she ripped the mask off. Her face was red and sweaty. He knew how it felt, had spent enough long hours working in a mask to sympathize.

Christine looked little better. Her normally pale skin was blotchy and her hair had worked loose where the mask had met her skin. She pushed it back impatiently. "How long do we have to wait?"

"About half an hour. Why don't you sit down and rest while I finish loading the hypos."

"Good idea." Farrell said as she headed for one of the stools. Pulling herself up, she leaned forward, crossing her arms to make a pillow for her head. Her eyes closed.

Redmoon was afraid she'd fall off the stool and was about to say something when Christine put a hand on his arm and shook her head. "She's fine. I've never seen her fall. Now, can I help you?"

"Sit down, Commander, before you fall down."

She grinned and did as he said. "It'll be great not to have to wear the respirator."

He nodded, absorbed in loading the hypo. "Vulcans will need a higher dosage."

"Right." She sighed.

He turned to look at her. "Why were you prepared for this virus, Commander?" He'd been trying to work that out in his mind ever since they left and hadn't had much success. Her explanation to Spock had been so cryptic.

She sighed even louder. "When I was on the Enterprise, the ship was infected with it. It made people say things they wouldn't otherwise. Embarrassing things."

"It made people or you?"

She grinned. "Well, both. But yeah, me. I didn't ever think I'd live down what happened."

"It was that bad?"

She nodded.

"So you wanted to be ready in case this virus decided to strike again."

"That's about the size of it."

He grinned. "Your own personal bogeyman."

"We've all got one, right?"

He nodded. "Mine is Nalibrian Typhus." He closed his eyes as he remembered what the victims had looked like--he tried not to remember what they had smelled like.

"I've never had to deal with that."

"Be glad."

She nodded and watched him work for a while. When he finished, he handed her several hypos before scanning her. "You're clear. Let's check sleeping beauty." He walked over to Farrell's stool and began to scan her. The low hum of the machine startled her awake.

"It wasn't like that, Machi," she said, trailing off as she realized where she was. She looked over at Christine. "Time to go?"

"Yep," Christine answered as she gave Farrell some hypos. "There's a certain special forces colonel I'd like to get back on our team. At least before I go into the Vulcan's den."

"That's probably wise," Redmoon said as he grabbed some hypos for himself. "I'll handle the sickbay team, where are they?"

"Conference room," Christine shared a look with Farrell. "Look out for the bridge crew. They're a little out there right now."

"Nevara?" he felt the rush of fear for her that he'd been keeping under wraps as he worked come rushing to the surface.

"She's fine. Just a little emotional."

He frowned as he followed them out. As they headed for the lift, he opened the conference room door. The sickbay team must have been pressed to the door because when he opened it, they all fell through, landing hard on the ground and crawling quickly away. While they were down, he distributed the antiviral, wondering what was making the god awful noise that was coming from inside the conference room.

"Make it stop," one of the nurses begged him.

"Make what stop?" he asked. "What the hell is it?" he muttered as he walked slowly into the conference room, holding his hands over his ears. He never saw the kick that knocked him across the room.

He heard Nevara cry out in terror, "You've killed him."

She means me, he thought, as he blacked out.

-----------------------------

Christine watched Kerr as he worked feverishly on the computer console in his office. He hadn't seen Farrell or her come in. "No firing," she ordered Farrell who seemed to have recovered her composure.

Farrell grinned unremorsefully and said, "Sir, yes, sir."

Christine glared at her then turned to Kerr. "Randall," she called gently.

He spun and smiled when he saw her. "You're safe! I shouldn't have left you. I've been very worried. I wasn't sure anything was really safe." He saw Farrell behind her and his look changed as he asked her, "How can we keep it safe?"

"We do our jobs, Colonel," Farrell answered carefully.

"Our jobs," he repeated with a bleak look in his eyes. "Our jobs are supposed to be to protect people. But they don't even allow that there are people we care about, that we'd do anything to keep safe. How do we change that?" He turned back to the computer he was working on. "I have to figure it out."

Farrell gave him a sour look, then turned back to Christine. "As virus sufferers go, he's really boring, Chris."

"He's just earnest," Christine said defensively as she walked up to him. "Randall, I want you to hold still, all right?"

"Only want to do what's right," he muttered.

She took that as a yes. Holding the hypo spray against his neck, she gave it the long blast that the antiviral required. He didn't react.

Farrell chuckled behind her. "Let's hope they're all this easy to dose."

Christine smiled. "He trusts me." She ruffled his hair. "Randall, can you come with me? I need you to keep me safe, okay?"

He looked up at her. "I need to finish this. Need to send it. They have to know I can't do this if they won't let me keep people safe."

Farrell walked up and studied the document. Smiling at Kerr, she said, "I'll send it for you, Colonel. Let me sit."

He rose reluctantly. "You won't be able to send it. The computer's locked out."

She nodded as she slid into his seat. "I know but I have special accesses. You need to look away while I enter my password."

He seemed about to question her, so Christine took his hand. "We aren't cleared for that, Randall." He finally nodded and as he averted his eyes, Christine saw Farrell rapidly delete the message. Her friend looked up and winked at her. "All gone."

Kerr looked at the screen. "There is no record."

"Of course not, it's very secret that way." Farrell was trying not to laugh.

"Come on, Randall. You've sent your message. Now, I need your help." Christine turned to Farrell. "I'm going to find Spock."

"And I suppose you'd like me to round up your bridge crew?"

"That'd be nice," Christine agreed as she led Kerr out of his office. "Just don't shoot anyone."

"You're absolutely no fun," her friend teased. "Before I go, I'm going to make sure that Colonel Safety here didn't create any other love notes for Starfleet command."

"Good idea," Christine said. She remembered the rash of bizarre memos and private messages that had been delivered all over the Enterprise in the days after Psi 2000 had hit the ship. Randall was quick and efficient; Goddess only knew how many security upgrades and complaints he'd readied. "Keep me posted on your status."

"Roger that, Chris," Farrell said, as she turned back to the computer.

Christine had to fend Kerr off as they walked down the corridor. He tried to sweep her into his arms, then when she resisted attempted to lift her into a firefighter's carry. "Randall, put me down now, dammit. I'm fine."

He set her down gently. "Just want to keep you safe," he said somewhat sulkily as he followed her into the lift.

"I am safe." She smiled at him.

"Never safe, Christine," he said solemnly. "Never ever safe." He seemed very glum as she led him out of the lift and down the corridor to Spock's door. There was no answer to their chime.

"Computer, are Captain Spock's quarters currently occupied."

"Negative."

"Locate Commander Spock."

"Location unknown."

Damn, Christine thought. Wherever he went he wasn't in uniform and didn't have his communicator. Fine, we do this the hard way. "Come on," she said to Kerr.

They found Spock in the greenhouse. He was standing motionlessly, staring at the roses when she and Kerr walked in. His voice was low and raw. "Go away."

"It's me, Spock."

He turned to her. "My mother grew this variety. They never prospered on Vulcan."

Christine turned to Kerr. "Stay here."

He shook his head. "Must keep you safe."

"Fine. Keep me safe from here." She could see he was going to argue. "That's an order, Colonel." Turning away from him, she walked to Spock. "What's this one called?"

"I do not know." He walked to the viewscreen. "Something inappropriate undoubtedly. Humans award flora such whimsical names."

She smiled. "I guess we do." She moved to his side. "Do you trust me, Spock?"

He didn't answer.

"Well, let's hope you do. Because if there was ever a time I need you to trust me, it's now," she said as she held the hypo to his neck. It ran out just as he realized what she was doing.

With a roar, he knocked her away from him. She landed on the grass and felt the wind go out of her. Desperately trying to breathe, she rolled to her side and panted.

"What have you done?" Spock said as he moved toward her.

Kerr was already moving. "Don't touch her!" He launched himself at Spock. The momentum knocked the Vulcan to the ground and Kerr landed on top of him and threw a hard punch. "You leave her the hell alone!"

Spock tried to knock him off but Kerr couldn't be moved. The Vulcan reached up and his hands tightened around Kerr's neck. He began to squeeze even as Kerr's punches became more vicious.

Christine pulled herself up. "Stop it!" She hurried over and tried to pull Spock's hands from Kerr's neck. They wouldn't budge and Kerr didn't stop his pummeling.

She scanned the room for something, anything to use to separate them. Finally she saw the hose and ran to it. As she set it for hard spray, she could see that Kerr was beginning to gasp for air. She turned the water on, and as she sprayed them the frustration and the long hours she'd put in finally made her snap. "Stop it this instant! There will be no fighting. No punching, no kicking, no strangling, no more of this." Her last word ended in a shriek. She didn't stop the water until the two men quit fighting and stared over at her, twin looks of tender concern on their dripping faces.

She was just getting warmed up as she threw the hose down and started to pace. "That's not all either. There will be no cutting holes in the ship, no operatic solos, no cross country marathons, no lover's spats in the corridors, and most especially no making me hose you down like two damn alley cats!"

She turned to see that Kerr had crawled off Spock and was helping him up.

"I don't need this! Do you hear me? I don't need you fighting each other or me. I need you with me. Both of you." She turned away. "Do you understand?"

"Yes, Christine." Kerr's voice was low and intimate. Then she heard Spock's voice echo the words...and the tone.

She looked over at them. They were both staring at her intently. "What?"

Kerr moved first. He stepped to her side and put his arm around her back, pulling her closer. As he nuzzled her neck, he said, "We will be with you."

Then Spock was on the other side of her, murmuring, "Yes, both of us."

"Uh, guys, not quite what I meant," she whispered as they gently but relentlessly forced her down. She tried to pull away, but they held her firmly until she was lying on the grass between them. "You don't understand--"

Spock laid his finger to her lips. "We understand." He began to stroke her cheek.

"I've got you, Christine. Just let go," Kerr whispered to her, his hand caressing her breasts through her uniform.

Just for a moment, she thought, as she let herself surrender to the sensation of both of them touching her. Spock's lips were on hers as Kerr undid her uniform and pulled it from her shoulders, kissing the skin hidden underneath.

She moaned, half-heartedly trying to stop them.

Spock drew away, his expression so tender as he smoothed the hair from her face that she lost whatever little will to fight she had left. She looked over at Kerr who moved up and stared down at her while Spock began to draw her uniform the rest of the way off. As Kerr leaned in to kiss her, a drop of water slid from his hair and hit her in the forehead, breaking the spell she was falling under.

"Sometimes--" she said as she wiped her eyes then fumbled for one of the tranquilizer hyposprays "--I really hate my life." She pressed it to Kerr's neck and he collapsed against her.

Spock looked at the fallen Kerr, then at her, his expression changing from surprise to one of pleasure. "It is only the two of us, my Christine? You have chosen me."

"Not quite, Spock," she said as she adjusted the hypo and laid it against his skin. "You just need a higher dosage." He looked at her in a moment of surprise, then fell away from her.

She gently pushed Kerr off her and got up, refastening her now cold and damp uniform as she tried to brush grass from her backside. At least they had chosen one of the few dry spots of ground. It would be hard enough to explain why the front of her was soaked.

She stared down at Kerr and Spock. They were lying quite close, both curled toward the spot where she had been lying between them. She started to smile. "Oh, to be a fly on the wall when you two wake up," she said as she gave Spock a dose of the antiviral then turned away and squished across the wet grass. It was time to go help Farrell.

------------------------------

"This won't hurt a bit, Lieutenant," Farrell said as she held the hypo against Kavall's neck. She had found the science officer in her cabin weeping uncontrollably. Her tears hadn't stopped, but at least the awful keening had.

"He's going to die. Just like Tom did." She held up a holo of a smiling young man. "He was so handsome. Don't you think?"

"Not really my type. But yeah, he's easy on the eyes."

"He was a good man. Just like Leon." Her voice rose as she started to sob again. "She killed him."

Don't stun her, don't stun her, don't stun her, Farrell repeated Christine's admonition as if it was a mantra. Kavall's weeping intensified. Remembering the scene in the conference room, Farrell guessed she couldn't blame her. It had looked worse than it was. She had found most of the bridge crew milling around outside the conference room and Redmoon lying unconscious inside. But after a few bad minutes when he didn't seem to be responding, she had gotten him up and walking around. "He's going to be fine. He was just knocked out."

"Have I ever told you about him?"

"Doctor Redmoon?"

"No. You know him. He's such a good man." Her sobs increased. "My husband Tom. Have I told you about him?"

Farrell sighed. "Nope. Why don't you get up and tell me all about him." She saw Kavall eye the picture longingly. "Bring the holo with you if you want."

"It's not very professional to be carrying it in the halls," Kavall said. "But just this once." Still sniffing, she got up and followed Farrell into the hall.

Farrell took a quick head count. "Oh damn, now where'd Myrax go?"

"She is over there," sang Sabuti, her voice cracking as she reached for the high note.

Myrax had cornered a young ensign. "They never told me how boring it would be. Day after day, sitting at that middle console watching the others work. Why did I think being tactical officer on a diplomatic ship was a good idea?"

She towered over the young man, who gulped and said, "Sir, I don't know, sir."

"Neither do I. Do you know how many tactical configurations I have consigned to memory?"

He shook his head, obviously worried that she might recite them.

"Or how many fight styles I am familiar with." She struck an intimidating pose.

The ensign gulped.

Farrell took pity on him. "Lieutenant. Over here." When the Manean didn't move, Farrell yelled, "Now!"

Myrax double-timed it back. "Sir, I serve no purpose on this ship."

"You will if we're ever attacked. Or if we ever need an enforcer squad." Farrell noticed that the rest of the group was starting to disperse and motioned for Myrax to follow her.

"You found her." Sabuti drew the three words out forever. She was horribly off key.

"Shut. Up." Farrell said, giving the navigator her best death glare.

Sabuti was unimpressed and in a low voice that was no more melodic than her high one had been, she answered, "I am not afraid of you."

"Hasn't she stopped yet?" Christine asked as she walked out of the lift down the corridor.

Farrell grinned, relieved to see reinforcements. "Not for a second."

"You have my condolences, Ren."

Farrell realized that the front of Christine's uniform was wet. And was that grass in her hair? "Something you want to tell me, Chris?"

"Not in a million years," Christine answered as she looked at the group. "Kimble's missing."

"Well, missing would imply that I actually caught him at some point."

"And you didn't?"

Farrell shook her head. "To catch him, I would have had to stop him. The man wasn't kidding when he said he could run." She heard familiar footsteps approaching and said, "This is lap seven or so just since we've been here. You might want to back up."

Christine didn't understand until the sound of feet hitting the deck hard and fast became unmistakable. She followed the others' example, and flattened herself against the wall.

Sabuti launched into a barely recognizable version of 'Ride of the Valkyries,' singing, "Oh, here he comes now. Look at him run now. Look at him run now. Look at him run."

Farrell was pretty sure those weren't the real lyrics.

As Sabuti attempted to hit the most stirring part, Kimble came into view. "I am the wind," he yelled as he flew past them.

"Okay then," Christine said as she watched him disappear around the corner. "What do you say we just let the wind run himself out?"

"Sounds good to me," Farrell agreed. "Besides, we're in orbit. We don't really need a helmsman right now, do we?"

Christine laughed. "Damn good point, Ren."

"We don't really need a navigator either," Farrell asked hopefully.

"No shooting," Christine said sternly. She turned to the others. "Okay, to the bridge."

Farrell followed the group to make sure that nobody veered off. As they walked to the lift she wondered why there were grass stains on the back of Chris's uniform.

-------------------------------

Coming slowly to consciousness, Kerr groaned as he realized he was cold and wet. He opened his eyes and saw Spock curled up next to him. "What the hell?" he said as realized they were lying on the grass in the greenhouse.

Spock's eyes opened and he looked at Kerr in query. "Colonel?"

"Oh, shit," Kerr said as he remembered what happened.

Spock seemed to have a similar epiphany. Pushing himself off the grass, he replied, "That would appear to sum up this situation admirably."

Kerr sat up. "I can't believe she just left us here. Anyone could have walked in."

"Knowing Christine, she put a command lock on the door."

Kerr felt slightly mollified. "Well, there's one way to find out."

Spock followed him to the main door. Christine had indeed locked everyone out. Kerr shook his head. "Guess she didn't want to explain this either."

"I would think not." Spock entered his code to cancel the lockout.

"Although..." Kerr couldn't finish his thought.

Spock turned to him. "Although what, Colonel?"

"She did seem to be enjoying it. I mean until she knocked us out."

There was a long silence, then Spock turned away. "A subject I plan to let drop. If you wish to pursue it in private, Randall, that is your business."

"Right, sir. I wasn't suggesting that we..." He trailed off as Spock's eyebrow rose. "Sir, with all due respect, this situation and our conversations just keep getting weirder."

"The mission is yet young, Colonel," Spock said with a glint of amusement in his eyes. "The laws of probability suggest that there will be times when things will be even more complicated."

"That's not very comforting, Captain." Kerr followed him into the corridor. "And not really the issue. What the hell happened here?"

"That is what we need to ascertain." Spock took in the state of Kerr's uniform, looked down at his own. "We are far from regulation. I suggest remedying that."

"Yes, sir."

"Meet me in my ready room when you are changed."

Kerr rode the lift to deck four and headed for his quarters. He saw Kimble slowly jogging toward him, his head hanging in apparent exhaustion. "Lieutenant, what are you doing?"

"I...am...the...wind..." Kimble panted as he struggled by.

Kerr watched him go. "Weirder and weirder," he muttered as he resumed the walk to his quarters.

---------------------------------

It took a few hours for the essential members of the crew to recover. Christine called down to engineering and Kettering reported that his crew was starting to report back to work.

"Glad to hear it, Commander. I'll instruct the computer to return engineering command to your section."

"Thank you, sir. Kettering out."

She looked around at the bridge crew. Except for Kimble's empty chair, the seats were filled by willing if rather embarrassed officers working their now functioning terminals.

Saldusta looked tired but she had insisted on taking her post. "Sir, I'm fine."

Christine wasn't sure of that, but decided not to argue. "Very well, Lieutenant. Welcome back. And thank you for what you did for me."

"You're welcome." Saldusta smiled then fiddled with her earpiece as if embarrassed by the attention.

Chapel hit the comm. "Chapel to Farrell."

"Farrell here."

"Any sign that Kimble's slowing down?"

"He hit the wall--not literally--about ten minutes ago. I imagine he'll be on his way in a couple of hours."

"Where is he now?"

"I sent him to the showers. The wind stunk." Farrell laughed. "Doctor Carpenter is back on her feet. She has a team making the rounds now to ensure nobody misses out on their shots."

"Good work."

"You too. It was like old times."

"It was. Chapel out."

"Sir," Saldusta caught her attention. "Captain Spock would like to see you in his ready room."

"Okay." She turned to Myrax as she walked toward Spock's office. "Lieutenant, you have the conn."

Christine smiled when she walked into Spock's ready room and saw both Kerr and him waiting for her. "It's good to see you two back on your feet."

Kerr grinned sheepishly. "Especially considering it was you that knocked us out.'

"You didn't give me much choice." She turned to Spock. "Either of you."

"We were under the influence of the virus, Commander." He didn't look as uncomfortable as she had expected. But then who knew what embarrassment he was covering up with his Vulcan composure?

"Right," she said with a small smile. She walked to his desk and picked up the lacquer box she had brought back for him to inspect after Redmoon had checked it for evidence and deconned it. "That damned virus. I bet you're sorry you brought this back."

Spock looked at her quizzically.

"From Vulcan." She saw his look. "You didn't bring it?"

"The box was waiting for me when I returned to the ship."

"Then maybe it was left for you, by one of the refit crew?" She continued as she realized the error in that assumption, "But there wasn't any refit crew. Not with the emergency on the Caledonia taking all the available engineers and techs. That's why Kettering was working." She looked at Spock. "So there were no strangers on board."

Kerr took the box from her and studied it. "And those crewmembers that went down to Vulcan were still there. Only the Captain returned."

"So if you didn't bring it up from Vulcan, then somebody on board left it here." She sat down heavily.

"But the transporter's sensors would have picked up the virus," Kerr said, putting the box back on Spock's desk. "I thought they were enhanced that way?"

"They are. If the virus is running live. But properly contained as it was, this wouldn't trigger any alarms. We are a medical ship; transporting a virus is well within mission norms."

"So it could have been here for quite some time?"

She shook her head slowly. "This container isn't designed for long-term storage. I'd say about twelve hours maximum."

"So it was created no more than a day before I found it?" Spock asked.

Kerr looked at him. "Three members of our crew returned from Starbase Six during that time."

"And two of them were conveniently engaged in activities that protected them from the virus," Christine finished for him.

"Kettering and Farrell weren't the only ones," Spock reminded her.

Kerr gave her a strange look as he asked, "Redmoon could have made it in the lab without anyone really guessing what he was up to, couldn't he, Christine?"

"He could have. But I can't see him doing that. I can't see any of them doing that." She suddenly realized why Kerr was in the room. "You two have already discussed this, haven't you? I can't believe any of them would do it. They can't be your only suspects?"

"You're right," Spock said slowly. "They aren't our only suspects." He stood up, took several steps away from his desk. "You were in the lab too when the virus was released. You are skilled enough to have modified the virus. And you are the only one of the four to have been in contact with it before."

She stared at him. "You can't be serious."

"We have to look at all options." Kerr rose and walked toward her. "Why were you in the lab at that particular time, Christine?"

She saw that Spock was approaching from the other side. "Do you think I'm going to run?" she said incredulously. "This is asinine. Renata and I were in the lab because Leon needed someone experienced in quarantine to help him with the containment calibration. Kettering was doing refits because of the Caledonia and to keep his mind off a test he's certain he failed. We've all been working our asses off for hours, with no sleep, fending off whacked out crewmembers--a group that would include the two of you, you might want to remember. And now you think that one of us did it? You think that _I_ did it?"

Kerr's voice was contrite, "I don't think it was you. But I can't know that for sure."

"No, I suppose you can't." She turned on Spock. "But you can." She stared hard at him. "Do you think I did it, Spock?"

"I do not. I would stake my life on it."

She started to relax, but he continued. "Once I staked Jim's life on my faith in someone in a similar situation. I was so sure that I knew Valeris, sure that I could trust her. I found out that I could be fooled. He was very nearly killed. He and Doctor McCoy. But you know all this." He looked down, his voice clearly pained. "I cannot be sure any other way, Christine. I am sorry."

All the fight went out of her. "Do it then."

"A light meld will not accomplish what we need. I must see all."

Christine remembered Uhura telling her about Spock forcing the meld on Valeris and how the woman had cried out, obviously in extreme pain. But Valeris had been trying to hide the truth; Christine just wanted Spock to be sure of her. "I won't fight you," she said softly. "You need to be certain. You both do."

Spock looked at Kerr. "Hold her, Colonel."

"She's cooperating. There's no need to--"

Spock cut him off. "Not to restrain her, to support her...to make it easier for her."

Christine turned to Kerr and held out her hand. "It's okay."

He moved to stand behind her, pressing himself against her back. His warmth was comforting, made her feel safe as she leaned against him. His hands tightened on her arms, and she heard him whisper, "I've got you."

Spock moved toward her. She looked up at him, trying to let him know that she trusted him completely. She felt Kerr press more tightly against her and she knew he was offering his support even as Spock's fingers reached for her. Closing her eyes, she felt his mind questing for entry. He won't hurt me, he won't hurt me, he won't hurt me, she chanted to herself.

*I will not hurt you,* he affirmed. His mind touch was gentle and loving. *I am sorry, my Christine.*

*Don't be. If there is a traitor on this ship, I want you to be sure it's not me.*

*Yes.* He moved deeper into her mind. *Do not resist me.*

*I won't.*

Christine tried to give him access to her thoughts and memories. His mind touched her gently but relentlessly, and everywhere it stopped it left nothing unknown. Her body ached, shaking as she tried to stay on her feet. She felt Kerr's arms snake around her waist as he shifted to better support her. His voice was gentle, "It's all right. I won't let you fall. Let go, sweetheart."

She heard Spock's mind from a great distance echoing, *Let go, my Christine,* as he pushed deeper.

With a moan of relief, she let Kerr support her body as she quit trying to stand on her own. She moaned again, and felt his lips on the back of her neck. "I've got you," he whispered again, his breath warm against her neck.

She tried to relax every part of her mind. *Nothing hidden,* she sent to Spock.

*Nothing at all,* he soothed as he returned to her. *It is not you.*

He must have spoken aloud as well, because she heard Kerr echo, "It isn't you."

*I am sorry. I should have trusted you.* Spock's thoughts caressed her. *As you trusted me, just now.*

She suddenly felt a rush of guilt coming from him, nearly overpowering her. *Valeris,* she said.

*I hurt her.*

* She is in the past. I am now and you did not hurt me. You were so careful not to. Let go of the guilt, Spock.* She felt Kerr shift against her. *It is time for words, not thoughts.*

*Yes, my t'hy'la,* Spock said as he gently pulled from her mind.

She allowed her head to fall back against Kerr's chest, not even trying to stand on her own. He was strong enough to hold her.

"Are you all right?" he asked with concern, his arm tightening under her breasts.

"I'm fine." Her eyes met Spock's and held for a few moments.

He touched her cheek then looked away, walking back to his desk to pick up the box. "It is one of the other three."

"But which one?" Christine asked as she finally forced herself to try to stand unsupported.

"I do not know."

"Chair," she said to Kerr, and he stayed with her until she was safely seated. "I can't believe it's any of them."

Kerr sat down next to her. "I think you have to believe it. You're clear, so that leaves the three of them."

"We just have to find out how," Spock agreed.

"And why," Christine said softly.

---------------------------------

Christine hurried down the corridor to the medical lab. Behind her Spock and Kerr followed. "I've got work to do, leave me alone," she said firmly.

They didn't stop following her but they also didn't try to get in her way. She saw Farrell standing in front of the lab. She was holding the phaser.

"Don't stun them unless you have to," Christine called.

"Got it the first time, Chris," Farrell laughed.

Suddenly Ritsuko stepped around the corner. "Renata, stop lying to me."

"Not now, Machi."

Ritsuko's voice rose a level. "Stop lying to me. I saw the two of you. She gave you something, didn't she?"

Farrell calmly raised the phaser and fired. "Shut up, Umachi."

Ritsuko dropped heavily to the floor.

Christine stopped. "Ren?" she asked uncertainly.

"It's just like old times, isn't it," Farrell asked as she shot Ritsuko again and again.

"No!" Christine yelled as she woke up with a start.

"Hey." Kerr eased her back to the bed. "That was some dream."

"Woke me up," she mumbled.

He kissed her and pulled her closer to him. "Woke me up too. What was it about?"

"I have to go. I have to go talk to her." She pulled out of his arms and got out of bed. She grabbed her uniform, trying to get it on as she hopped with one leg in and one out.

He grinned and said, "Sweetheart, it's good that you're raring to go, but have you looked at the time?"

She checked the chrono. She had only been asleep a few hours. "Crap."

He held out a hand. "Come back to bed."

She hung up her uniform, then let him pull her back onto the bed. "And do what?"

"Sleep." He ran his hands down her back. "That is what the bed is for."

"Well that and other things."

He grinned. "And other things. But you're exhausted. Sleep is what you need."

She cuddled against him, and realized he was right. She was beyond exhausted. Sleep came quickly. When she awoke, Kerr had already gotten up. "Morning," he said as he came in with a cup of coffee for her. "I have to meet Spock. And you've got someone to meet if last night's behavior was any indication. You said her...her who?"

Christine suddenly remembered the dream. She had to go talk to Ritsuko. She looked at Kerr and smiled. "Will you laugh if I tell you that I think I might have dreamed something that I was supposed to remember?"

He leaned down and kissed her. "Nope. Dreams are powerful things. I listen to mine." He laughed. "Well except for the one that says to dress up like an Orion slave girl and dance the Charleston. I think that's one that can be safely ignored."

She ruffled his hair. "You're a nut."

He kissed her again. "So you've told me. Have a good day."

"You too." She finished her coffee, before getting ready and hurrying to find Ritsuko. The chef's office was dark, but the catering kitchen looked busy. Several replicators were going, and Ritsuko was taking a tray of something that smelled sinfully good out of an oven. The lieutenant smiled when she saw Christine and held out a plate. "Try one, Commander."

Christine popped it in her mouth and the small morsel melted in an explosion of subtly delicious flavors. "Oh my god, that is good."

Ritsuko laughed as she held the plate closer. "Have another."

"Okay." Christine closed her eyes, trying to identify the spices Ritsuko had used. "What are these?"

"Andorian spice worms," Ritsuko said.

Christine swallowed hard. "You're kidding right?"

"No, really. They're a delicacy. I've wanted to try preparing them but they're pretty involved. I didn't really have the time before." She turned away, but Christine didn't miss the shadow that crossed her face.

"Is everything all right, Lieutenant?"

"No, Commander. But I don't think it would be appropriate to talk about it." Ritsuko took another tray out of the oven.

"I was in the corridor. I heard what you said to Commander Farrell."

Ritsuko shrugged. "I wasn't making much sense. It was the virus."

"You're sure? Because if you're not, I'm here."

Ritsuko gave her a strange look. "Begging your pardon, sir, but you haven't been before. Why this sudden interest in me?"

"That's not true. I'm interested."

"I didn't mean it was a bad thing, Commander. We're in different sections; normally we wouldn't interact much. So if I was just your friend's girlfriend, that's okay."

"Was?"

Ritsuko sighed. "I really have to get back to work, Commander Chapel. You'll excuse me?"

Christine wanted to argue, but the woman was right--Christine hadn't taken much interest in her other than as the woman that her friend loved.

She left Ritsuko in peace, and headed for the turbolift. Speeding to the bridge and lost in thought, she nearly walked into someone waiting on the other side when the doors opened. "Sorry," she exclaimed, then saw who it was. "Oh, it's you."

Penhallon grinned and said softly, "I missed you too."

She gestured toward her office. "Could I see you for a moment, Commander."

He was at his professional best. "Of course, Commander Chapel." But as soon as the doors closed he said, "I guess I missed some excitement around here?"

She nodded. "That's an understatement. Could I ask you a favor?"

"If it's to be more serious, I'm afraid I just can't do that. Life is too short."

"No. A real favor." She leaned forward. "It's important."

His expression changed, became more solemn. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes. But I really can't go into the details." As he started to argue, she cut him off. "Not because it's personal, Commander. I can't talk about it because it has to do with finding who is responsible for what happened here while you were gone."

"You have a suspect?"

She nodded. "But I could be wrong. I want to be wrong, in fact."

"How can I help?"

She hesitated.

He leaned forward. "Christine, if I can help, I will. Just tell me what to do."

She didn't think she had ever heard him so serious, and it was enough to make her ask, "You're friendly with Lieutenant Ritsuko, right?'

He laughed. "One should always be friendly with a chef of her talent."

"Something happened on Starbase Six when she and Commander Farrell were on leave. I need to know what it was."

"Why don't you just ask her?"

"I did. She clammed up."

He frowned. "Then how do you know something happened?"

"When she was affected by the virus, she said something that didn't really hit me until this morning. But when I asked her about it, she wouldn't discuss it, acted like it was nothing. Yet she and Renata don't seem to be talking, so I know something happened."

"So am I trying to find something out about Commander Farrell?"

"Yes," Christine said, refusing to be more specific when she realized he was waiting for more details.

"Very well, I'll find out what I can. This isn't a dangerous situation, is it? Because you'll really owe me if it is."

She shook her head. "I wouldn't ask you if it were."

He gave her a strange look. "For you, I might brave the fierce dragon."

"Oh sure, provided the damsel in distress didn't distract you. Or her maid. Or her maid's grandmother." She rolled her eyes. "Some champion."

"You know me too well," he agreed.

"There's no danger, Penhallon, just some information that I need."

He laughed. "Then I'll bring it back for you." He rose. "And you didn't ask, but yes, the temple of T'Lyar is still standing."

She grinned. "But will the priestesses ever recover?"

"A gentleman never tells."

She waved him away. Once he was gone, she sat back and considered the absurdity of what she was doing. Renata Farrell was her friend. Christine wasn't sure she could have fought the virus without her and she didn't want to believe that Farrell could be in any way responsible for the outbreak. But some inner bell was pealing inside her, telling her that her friend was involved in this.

She tried to work, but found herself increasingly distracted. Giving up on her padds, she went out to the bridge and sat the conn. It took her a few minutes to realize that Kimble and Sabuti were both studiously avoiding interacting with her or anyone else.

"We've had a couple of strange days, haven't we?" she asked no one in particular.

She heard Saldusta and Myrax agree with her.

"I remember the first time we ran into this virus. In fact, I'll never forget it." She noticed Kimble and Sabuti perking up a bit.

"What happened, sir?'' Myrax asked in her normal soft tones.

"I humiliated myself. I mean completely. Felt like I couldn't show my face for days. I thought I was the only one that had made an idiot of myself. But I wasn't, of course."

"So it got better?" Sabuti asked.

"Oh, yes. In time." Years, she thought ruefully. But you don't need to know that part. Before she could say more, the lift doors opened and Penhallon came out. He nodded at her office door and she rose. "Lieutenant Sabuti, you have the conn."

As soon as the doors of her office closed behind them, she asked, "Well?"

"Ritsuko is convinced Commander Farrell is cheating on her."

"I know that. Why?"

She couldn't sleep one night and noticed that Farrell wasn't in the room. She was worried so she went to find her. And did. In the lounge with another woman."

Christine frowned. "Maybe she just couldn't sleep and was talking to a friendly stranger?"

"That's what Ritsuko thought at first. So she stayed hidden to see if she was overreacting. That was when she saw the other woman give something to Commander Farrell."

"What was it?"

"She said it was a red box that both women seemed to find very amusing. She didn't get close enough to really see what was inside it, or even if they opened it."

I know what was inside it, Christine thought, feeling her stomach lurch, and I can guarantee they didn't open it. She hadn't wanted to be right. Had wanted this to be a wild goose chase. But it wasn't. Her friend had brought the virus on board and had left it for Spock to open.

"Commander?"

She looked at Penhallon. "Thank you. That's what I needed to know."

"You were fine until I mentioned the box. I take it that it's significant?"

She nodded.

"Then I'm sorry. I know Commander Farrell is your friend."

She felt his hand on her shoulder. A light touch, surprisingly comforting. "Thanks. I don't have to ask you to keep this quiet?"

"I will be the very soul of discretion." His expression was more solemn than his words.

"Thank you for your help."

"You only ever need ask." He gave her an encouraging smile and then left.

Christine sat for several minutes before reaching over to hit her comm button. "Chapel to Kerr."

"Kerr here."

"Can you meet me in the captain's ready room?"

"Sure. I'll be right up."

She got up slowly, creeping reluctance crawling over her as she walked to the rear door. She didn't want to do this. There was still time to let the investigation unfold naturally. She didn't need to point them in Ren's direction.

She kept moving. As she left her office, Kerr arrived on the lift. He took one look at her face and said, "What's wrong?"

She just shook her head and walked to Spock's office. She rang the chime and heard him give permission to enter.

She didn't wait for him to ask her what they wanted, just blurted out, "I know who it is."

Both men seemed to understand at once what she was referring to. They watched her, waiting for her to continue.

She took a deep breath and said, "It's Commander Farrell."

"How do you know this?" Spock gestured for her and Kerr to sit down.

"It was something Lieutenant Ritsuko said when she was under the influence of the virus. About something that happened on Starbase Six. I had forgotten all about it, but then I had this dream..." she trailed off sheepishly. "Anyway, I found out that Renata brought a lacquer box back with her, one that a stranger had given her."

"Then I think we know where to start our investigation." Spock looked at her sympathetically. "I am sorry. I know she is your friend."

Christine nodded. "One of my best."

Kerr sat silently, seemingly lost in thought. She turned to him, "What is it?"

He shook his head. "Just trying to figure out why." His eyes were hooded when he looked up at her, then turned to Spock. "How do you want to play this?"

"I think that is up to Christine." Spock turned to her. "You know her best."

"Call her in now," she said finally. "Ask her about the box."

"And if she comes up with a perfectly reasonable explanation?" Kerr asked.

"The meld should make a handy threat," Christine said firmly.

Spock looked uncomfortable. "I could do it with you because you were willing. To force it on her..."

"I know that you don't want to do it, Spock. But she doesn't. Just try to look ominous or something."

Kerr grinned.

Spock nodded. "Very well." He hit the comm button. "Lieutenant Saldusta, please ask Commander Farrell to come to my ready room."

They only had to wait a few minutes. Farrell entered the room and looked at the three of them with composure and a perfectly controlled "Sirs?" Christine had to admire her nerve.

Spock did not invite her to sit. "You were quite instrumental in battling the Psi 2000 virus, Commander, were you not?"

"I did my part, sir."

"More than your part, I'd say." Spock leaned back and gave Farrell a look full of Vulcan disapproval.

She looked confused. "I don't understand, sir."

"Why did you do it, Ren?" Christine shook her head. "That's what I can't figure out."

Farrell frowned deeply. "I'm sorry, sirs. But I don't know what you are talking about."

Kerr chimed in. "A red lacquer box. About this big." He held up his hands. "With enough virus loaded in it to knock out the entire ship."

Farrell looked at Christine, betrayal in her eyes. "You think I..."

"It's why you stunned Ritsuko. When she was going on about what she thought she saw on Starbase Six. We know all about it."

Farrell shook her head. "You have no evidence."

Spock stood slowly. "The evidence is in your mind, Commander. And I am capable of finding it."

Farrell looked panicked.

Christine stood up and walked to her friend's side. "Ren, we just need to know what happened. And why?"

Farrell stared at them. Christine forced her expression to be hard, unyielding. She knew Kerr and Spock were giving Farrell the same look.

Finally, defiance seeming to fall off her, Farrell said softly, "I told them you'd figure it out."

"Told whom?" Spock asked, indicating she should sit in the seat Christine had vacated.

Farrell slumped, her posture defeated. "The people who made me do this."

"What people?" Kerr asked sharply.

Farrell didn't look at him. "Some people I've worked for in the past. I mean in the course of my duties."

Christine was horrified. "You mean Starfleet people?"

Farrell nodded. "A section you haven't run into, very few ever do."

Kerr looked at her sharply as Spock said, "We need more than that."

"I can't give you any more than that. They said they wanted to test the Carter's ability to handle an emergency."

"And you believed that?" Kerr pushed.

Farrell shrugged and said brokenly. "It's not like I had a choice. They're very hard people to say no to. I tried once in the past." Her eyes were haunted. "I learned my lesson." She turned to Christine. "I didn't know it would be as bad as it was. They said it wouldn't hurt anyone. That it was just a test."

Christine walked over. "Well it wasn't just a test, and it did hurt people. Fortunately not fatally, but it could have." She put her hand on Farrell's shoulder to soften her words. "They're going to pay for this. When we get done with our report they'll wish they'd never heard of the Carter."

"No!" Farrell said fiercely, clutching Christine's hand. "Don't do that."

"Why not?" Kerr asked suspiciously.

Farrell looked down. "It's too dangerous."

"For you," Kerr sounded as if that thought didn't really bother him.

She shook her head. "For Chris." She looked pleadingly at Christine. "They knew you worked on the virus, had developed the quick antiviral. And you did have the emergency program ready for it."

Christine looked down at her in outrage. "You mean they'd try to make it look like I did it?"

Farrell nodded. "Only not try. If they want you to look guilty, you will. There's no try with these people."

Christine looked over at Spock and Kerr. They had suspected her enough to need the meld, and they knew her...loved her. How would it look to a more objective observer if evidence really were produced?

"So what are we supposed to do?" Kerr was very angry.

"Nothing. Just let it die. If anyone asks, it was the act of someone who didn't like the Federation. The people behind this will take care of any questions back at Headquarters."

"Just do nothing?" Spock repeated.

Farrell nodded.

Spock shook his head. "I'm afraid, Commander Farrell, that you are not in the position to tell us what to do. In fact, I would say your position on this ship at all is tenuous." He turned to Kerr. "We will need a discreet inquiry into this. I have no doubt you are up to that challenge."

"Yes, sir."

"But Chris..."

"I have no intention of putting Commander Chapel at risk," Spock said sternly. "But I also do not intend to accept your story at face value."

She looked down. "I understand, Captain. I guess in your position..." She took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry, sir. I should have told you...or Commander Chapel." She looked up at Christine, tears in her eyes. "I didn't want to hurt you, you know that?"

"I believe you. But you very nearly did." Christine took the hand that was offered. "Ren, who are these people?"

"No one you'd want to know."

"We'll be the judge of that," Kerr said harshly.

"Yes, sir," Farrell said, not meeting his eyes.

--------------------------------------------

Ringing Farrell's chime a second time, Kerr attempted to control the anger he felt, trying to channel it into something useful. Finally, he heard her voice say dully, "Come," and the door opened.

She sat at her desk looking up at him, her face a study in contrition. But, when she saw that he had come alone, her expression turned mocking. "Randy, come in."

"You know I hate that name."

She stood, and walked toward him, her swagger making her seem much taller. "I know you do. It's what makes it fun." She laughed mockingly. Her eyes were hard. "Frankly, I would have figured you for getting here a lot sooner. But maybe you stopped for a quick roll in the hay--or was it grass- -with Chris, huh?"

Grabbing her by the collar of her uniform, he shoved her up hard against the wall. "How could you do it?"

"Oh come on, Kerr. It's my job." She leaned into his hand to take the pressure off her windpipe, and said, "Don't you really mean, how come they didn't tell you about it?"

He let go of her quickly. "I don't work for them anymore."

"You'll always work for them, Randy. But hey, if you want to think that you've gone all soldier boy again, that's fine. At least one of us remembers the real reason we're here." Rubbing her neck with a grimace, she walked back to her desk and sat down. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I have a report to file."

"I'm sure they'll be thrilled to hear the test was such a success. What are they going to do with the virus?"

"How the hell should I know?" She stood up. "You're going soft here, you know that. Have you forgotten that we have a job to do?"

"I know what my job here is. It's to be chief of security and special forces."

She snorted, the sound conveying both amusement and disgust. "You just keep telling yourself that."

She went back to her padd as if he wasn't there. Kerr felt his anger dying, replaced by an unfamiliar feeling of panic. The missions, the work he'd helped Farrell and others like her do in the past, had always been a game. But now he had something else, something he cared about and wanted to keep safe. His voice was barely audible as he said, "How the hell am I supposed to investigate this?"

She didn't look up as she said, "I have no idea. But you better come up with a compelling reason to keep me on this ship. Because our superiors are not going to be happy to find out I was put off at the nearest Starbase. In fact, my future may well be non-existent if you don't find a way to keep me here."

"You say that like it's a bad thing." He didn't laugh, neither did she. "I don't want you here, Ren."

She laughed spitefully, looking up at him with a cruel smile. "Oh, but you better want me here."

"I'm having trouble seeing why?"

"Because if I get thrown off this ship, your little romance with Christine is history." Her smile faded and a deadly seriousness replaced it. "I'll tell her how I helped you get her, how I coached you on what exactly would win her heart. How forgiving do you think she'll be when she finds out that you're not the man she thinks you are? How willing do you think she'll be to overlook betrayal?"

Somehow her threat didn't surprise him. "She's supposed to be your friend. Did you ever really love her?"

"She _is_ my friend, Randy. Why do you think she was in that lab with me and not out where the virus could get her?"

"So that you'd have someone to take the fall if Spock decided to push this."

She shook her head. "Redmoon would have worked just as well. The captain wouldn't ruin an innocent man's career. Just as I wouldn't make Chris experience that humiliation again if I could prevent it."

Farrell stood and walked over to him, her hands coming up to rest on his chest as she looked up at him earnestly. "She's one of my oldest friends. I want to protect her. I thought giving her to you would be one way of doing that. But if you get in the way of our mission, I'll take her away from you so fast it will make that handsome if somewhat naive head of yours spin." Her expression turned hard. "You got that, Colonel?"

"This won't work, Ren. The Carter isn't the platform we thought it would be. It's so much more than that. Its mission...to help people, it's a good one. One I want to be a part of. One you should too. I've watched Spock, he's--"

Her mocking laughter cut him off. "God, he's gotten to you too. What is it about that Vulcan that draws you people in?" She shook her head. "You go play the do-gooder if that's what you want. Just stay out of my way. And find a way to keep me here." She turned away. "Or you'll lose her forever."

He grabbed her arm and yanked her back to face him. "If I think you're planning something like this again, 'Lieutenant' Commander--"

"Let me guess. You'll kill me?" She looked up at him, assessing him. Finally she grinned. "Do you think I didn't know that you'd be a problem eventually? And if I hadn't, reading your little 'I quit' memo to the section would have been enough to clue me in. I've already taken steps to make sure that if anything happens to me, Chris will be getting some very interesting information about you?"

"I'll take that risk."

"Then isn't this going to be fun?" She deliberately licked her lips in anticipation as her smile grew.

He thrust her away from him. "I mean it, Ren. Lie low. Or I'll make sure you do."

She chuckled meanly as she strolled back to her desk. "You can try. And while you're at it, try to use that brain of yours to come up with a reason that will convince the captain I didn't have a choice. I need to be on this ship."

"He's never going to let you stay."

"For your sake, I hope you're wrong." Her voice was as mocking as he'd ever heard it. "You have no idea what you're up against, Kerr."

He walked to the door. "Neither do you, Farrell. I guess we're both going to find out."

--------------------------------

Farrell finished her report and tried to access the channel that she used to send information to her superiors. The panel said, 'Access Denied.'

She smiled. "Interesting. And so, it begins," she whispered as she tried the backup channel. Kerr had closed that down too. She encrypted her report and saved it in an inconspicuous location. "We'll see who wins this little game."

She hit the comm switch. "Farrell to Ritsuko."

There was no answer. She sighed. Umachi was dragging this fight out far too long.

Deciding she'd worry about that later, Farrell considered calling Christine. Knowing Kerr, he had her safely sequestered in his cabin. Tomorrow would be soon enough, Farrell decided. Yes, it was definitely time to break up this little romance. Planning how to do it occupied her until she drifted into sleep.

The next morning she was surprised to see the ship crawling with strangers. She ran into Kettering in the mess hall. "Refit crew," he explained as she frowned at the unknown personnel. "Now that we're halfway done, they send an armada."

She laughed. "I take it the emergency on the Caledonia is over?"

He nodded. "And I'm happy to give the job back to them. Working in a respirator gets old."

"Tell me about it. But I thought you were trying to kill time until you got your test results."

He couldn't hide his grin.

"You passed! See, I told you that you'd have nothing to worry about."

"You did, Commander. I wish I had as much faith in me as you do."

She grinned. "That's terrific. Congratulations."

"Thanks." He was beaming as he took his tray back to engineering. Farrell decided to follow suit. On her way back to her office, she saw Ritsuko coming down the corridor toward her. The other woman seemed to hesitate, as if she was going to turn and walk back the way she'd come. Farrell called out gently, "Machi, don't."

At the sound of her nickname, Ritsuko turned back. "Why not, Renata?"

"Because you don't need to run away from me."

Ritsuko walked slowly to her. "I'm not the one running."

Farrell realized with a start that Umachi had no idea of her role in the virus outbreak. She'd have to tell her. Eventually. "It's not what you thought."

"Isn't it? You didn't sneak out to meet someone else?"

"It was business."

Ritsuko rolled her eyes.

"I mean it. And you have a right to be mad, but not for the reason you think. I'll tell you about it, I promise. But not here."

Ritsuko's eyes were sadder than Farrell had ever seen them. "Renata, don't make this harder than it already is, okay?"

"Just give me another chance?"

Ritsuko looked away.

"Machi, please?"

"Maybe. But not now, okay. I just need a little time."

Maybe was better than nothing, Farrell thought. "As much as you need. You know where to find me." She started to walk away.

Ritsuko's voice stopped her. "I miss you, Renata."

She turned. "I miss you too."

They stared at each other for a long moment, then Ritsuko turned away. Farrell returned to her office with a much lighter heart. Official reports on the virus outbreak took her the rest of the day. She decided to grab dinner in the mess hall before turning in.

The addition of the refit crews made the mess more crowded than it normally was for dinner at this hour. Farrell saw Kerr sitting by himself at a table in the back. Walking over to join him, she said sarcastically, "Is this seat taken?"

"Yes."

"Thought so," she said, as she sat down.

"What part of don't sit here, don't you get?"

"You didn't say that, Colonel," she said with a malicious grin. "It would look odd if I suddenly got up, wouldn't it?"

"I'm expecting Christine."

"Well, perfect then, because I have so much to tell her."

"Don't threaten me."

"Who's threatening? Unlock my damn accesses or I'll tell her everything the next time I see her." He glared at her, which just made her laugh. "You're not cut out for this game anymore, Randy. You don't have the balls."

Kerr leaned forward angrily, then his expression went carefully neutral and he smiled at someone behind Farrell. "Nako." He nodded.

Nako walked up and stood by the side of their table. "Randall." She turned to Farrell. "Granddaughter, you've been up to a great deal of mischief."

Farrell was smiling for anyone watching, but her tone was deadly. "That is none of your business, Ambassador."

"Isn't it, granddaughter?"

"It's really not. And I'm not your damn granddaughter."

Kerr started to say something but Nako stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "No, Commander Farrell, you are not my granddaughter." She squeezed Kerr's shoulder. "An interesting choice of dinner companions, Randall," she said as she walked to another table.

"What a charmer," Farrell said with a shudder.

"I actually think so. Most people do. Maybe there's something wrong with you, Ren?"

She ignored him. "I have reports to file. Reinstate those accesses."

"Give me back the files you erased."

She laughed. "And I did it right in front of you and Christine. That was the best part."

"If I hadn't been suffering from your dammed virus..."

"You just keep telling yourself that. Easier than thinking that maybe you just aren't that bright."

"Ren, why are you doing this?"

"Because I want to. Because I like to. Because I can," she finished with a smirk.

You're playing a dangerous game," he said softly.

"At least I'm playing." She leaned forward. "You're going to lose her."

He didn't answer.

"You don't have the guts for this game, Randy. Reinstate those channels or I'll tell Christine everything."

"That's a chance I'll have to take." With a hard stare, he rose and said, "I've lost my appetite." He hurried out of the mess.

Farrell saw Nako get up and walk toward her. As she passed Farrell she said sadly, "Things are only going to get worse."

That, Farrell thought, is one creepy old woman. For the life of her, she couldn't see what everyone saw in her. She finished her dinner quickly, then rose and, ignoring admiring glances from some of the refit crew, dumped her tray into the recycler. It was time, she decided as she hurried down the corridor, to make Randall Kerr pay. To hell with her accesses. He was actually going to stay the course and not reinstate them. And he wasn't going to help her retain her position on the Carter either from the look of it. So be it. If she was going to fall, she wasn't going alone. And she was going to enjoy watching his world collapse. She went straight to Christine's quarters, but her friend wasn't there. She would call Christine from her own quarters then.

As she palmed open the door and stepped into her room, the lights went off. She sensed movement behind her, and heard a harsh voice saying, "It's not a game anymore." Then something sharp tore into her flesh.

She screamed and flailed but the blade came down again relentlessly. It was too dark to see who was attacking her, but she kicked out desperately. She hit nothing, and the knife again stabbed into her chest. She fell to the floor, hearing the footsteps of her attacker receding. Trying not to panic, she said, "Computer." Her voice was barely a whisper and the computer did not respond. Spitting blood out of her mouth she tried again. "Computer."

"Yes, Commander Farrell?"

"Medical emergency," she said as she fell back with a groan.

She could barely hear the doctors as they ran through her doors a few minutes later.

"Fix those damn lights," someone said, and she thought she recognized Carpenter as the lights came back on. She wasn't sure; everything was becoming blurry and dim.

"Chris," she tried to say. She made no sound.

But it was enough. "Carpenter to Chapel. Emergency in Commander Farrell's quarters. Get here stat."

Chris, Farrell thought. Come quick. So much to tell you. She didn't have long to wait.

"Oh my god," Christine's voice was close to her ear. "Ren?"

Farrell could just make out her friend's face for a second, then she couldn't see anything at all. "I'm sorry, Chris."

"Shhh. Just let us work."

"Who did this to you," said a new voice.

She recognized it as Kerr and started to panic.

"Shhh, hold still," Christine soothed.

As it all went black, Farrell managed to whisper, "It's not a game anymore."

--------------------

"Ren, stay with us," Christine said as she turned desperately to Carpenter.

"She's gone, Christine." She gently took the instrument from Christine's hand. "Whoever did this knew exactly where to strike."

Christine could barely see through her tears. Between sobs, she gasped, "They did this...those bastards...I don't care what they fabricate--"

Her words were cut off as Kerr jerked her to him. She felt his arms envelope her and he said loudly, "Christine, shhh." In a softer voice he said, "It's dangerous to talk about this."

"I don't care," she whispered.

He pulled her away from Farrell's body. "I do." He led her out of the room and to Spock's quarters.

Spock answered the chime immediately; he took one look at them and let them in. She tried to tell him what had happened, but she wasn't making any sense.

Kerr pushed her into Spock's arms. "Farrell's been murdered. I have to go back and seal the area before it's completely compromised." He saw Spock's tricorder on his desk. "Sir, if I may?" Spock nodded and Kerr scanned Christine's hands. She hadn't realized they were covered in Renata's blood. Kerr finished the scan and looped the tricorder strap over his shoulder. "Take care of her?" It was barely a question.

Spock nodded and led her to the bathroom as Kerr hurried back out. "I'm sorry," he said as he supported her while she washed her hands.

"She didn't deserve this." Christine said, watching the bloody water drain from the sink. "There was so much blood, Spock. Whoever did it wanted to make sure she didn't survive."

"We will get to the bottom of this," he promised her as he dried her hands.

His gentleness undid her. She began to cry again. "Ren," she said brokenly as he pulled her into his arms and held her tightly while she wept.

"I am sorry, Christine," he repeated as he rocked her back and forth. "I am sorry."

Kerr came back in and stood at the door. She turned her head so she could see him. "They did this, Randall. You know they did."

"It's possible. The refit crews have been rotating all day. One of them could have had more on the agenda than just maintenance."

Spock nudged her gently and she let him pull her out of the bathroom. As they passed Kerr, Spock gently pushed her back into the other man's arms and said, "What I don't understand is why they would kill their own asset?"

"She was compromised, sir," Kerr said firmly.

"But that is exactly what I have been trying to reconcile. I would think Commander Farrell was more useful than not. But this task they gave her could only lead to her being revealed as the perpetrator. It is not logical."

Christine sat up. "She was surprised...when Kettering told her the refit crews were all on the Caledonia. I thought she was upset and it didn't make sense to me. But then I passed it off as just the stress of the situation."

Kerr nodded. "The refit crew would have provided the cover she needed. If there had been strangers on board, we would never have been able to prove it was her."

"And she would still be here. Waiting for their next task," Christine said bitterly. "Oh, Ren, why didn't you just tell me?" She looked up at Kerr. "Did you find anything?"

He shook his head.

"Damn."

"I'll keep looking," he promised. "But we may never solve this. If they're as good as she said they were."

Spock said gently, "She needs rest. Why don't you take her back to her quarters?"

"Good idea," Kerr answered as he rose and helped her up.

She let him lead her out of the room and down the corridor to her own quarters. "It was just like old times, Randall. Working with her on this. It was fun." She sobbed louder. "I loved her."

He kissed the tears from her cheeks. "I know you did, sweetheart. And she loved you."

"It's not fair. She didn't ask for this." His arms tightened around her but he didn't say anything. "She was my best friend."

"I know." He pulled her to the bedroom. "Come on, let's lie down for a little while."

"I'll have to call her father." She looked up at him with a stricken look, "I don't remember his name, Randall. How can I call him and tell him his daughter is dead when I don't even remember his name?"

"Shhh, sweetheart, shhh. It'll be in the database. We'll find it together later."

"Thank you. I don't know what I'd do without you, Randall. I love you so much." She lay down and felt him join her, his chest pressing to her back as he wrapped her in his arms and let her cry.

His voice sounded strangely sad as he replied, "You never have to do without me, Christine. Never."

-----------------------------------------------

Kerr listened to Christine breathe, waiting for the lingering sob to go away. When it finally did, he closed his eyes, hoping that sleep would come for him too. It didn't.

Hours later he was still awake. He considered getting out of bed, but this might be his last time in Christine's bed, he reasoned, as his arms tightened reflexively around her at the thought. He didn't doubt that Farrell had prepared the information she'd said and that it was already on its way to Christine. It was only a matter of time before she read it, before he lost her forever. He knew from experience that Farrell was good with a story. Whatever she told Christine would seem completely credible to her. And would be completely damning for him.

I'll fight for her, he thought. But what good was fighting if Christine didn't trust him anymore?

She moaned and moved away from him. He let her go and turned over, staring into the dark and imagining what it would be like to see her every day and not be able to touch her.

His communicator buzzed quietly. He eased out of bed and took it into the other room. "Kerr."

"It's Nako. I need to talk to you."

"Is something wrong?"

There was a long silence. Then she repeated, "I need to talk to you."

"Can't it wait till morning?"

In an eerie echo of Farrell's last words, she said, "It's not a game anymore."

He was suddenly alert. "What?"

"Just come to my quarters." The communicator went dead.

He dressed and hurried down the corridor and around the corner to her quarters. She was waiting for him in the doorway, stepping away to allow him access.

The light in the room was dim and there was a smell of some potent incense. He sneezed at the overpowering odor.

She smiled at his reaction. "Sit. I have a story to tell you, grandson."

"How about just telling me what you know," he countered.

"Sit."

He cautiously sat down at her table, while she took the seat opposite him. Slowly, she reached over and took his hand in both of hers. Turning it first one way and then another, she murmured, "It should show, shouldn't it?"

He tried to pull his hand away but she held fast, seemingly without effort.

"The killing should show. There should be a sign, don't you think? A warning that here is a man who will kill to protect what he loves."

He frowned. "Is this what you wanted to tell me?"

She let go of his hand. "Have you ever seen a wildfire, Randall?"

He shook his head.

"I saw one once, watched the firefighters try to battle it. You can see it coming all orange flame and dark, gritty smoke. And you can hear a soft crackling noise that gets louder and louder as the fire comes roaring at you. It destroys everything in its path. And once it's on you, you can't even see what's happening...can only run." She paused and looked up at him. "Unless you know how to fight the fire. Then there are things you can do."

"What kind of things?" he said, when she paused.

"You can't beat the fire. But you can divert it by making a firebreak. Scorch the earth yourself; denying the fire a route to travel by taking away its fuel. It's called a controlled burn."

"To protect the things you love?"

She nodded. "Or the way of life that you have grown accustomed to. Or even to protect the future." Her wise brown eyes were as serene as he had ever seen them.

"It's not a game anymore," he said.

She nodded. "Not when the wildfire comes. Some things must be destroyed so others may live."

"_You _killed her? We thought they did. When they knew she was compromised."

"And that is what Spock and Christine must continue to think." She laid her hand next to his on the table, then turned it palm up. "It never shows, does it, Randall?"

"No. It doesn't." He knew from experience.

"She would have destroyed you. She would have made it impossible for you to continue to serve here."

He looked down. "But it was for nothing, Nako. She's already done that. She sent information to Christine. Damning information. "

"Yes, the information was very damaging." At his look of surprise, she smiled. "Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, it somehow ended up coming to me, not to Christine. And I'm afraid that I erased it accidentally before I could forward it to her. It is gone."

"Why?"

"Because you are needed, grandson. Needed here...with my other children." She leaned back in the chair.

He fell silent. "But if you can do all this, why not just stop it in the first place? Why even let her release the virus?"

"When it is the Time, I think and I see what is to come but I cannot stop what will be. I can only think of ways to make the impact less disastrous." She sighed. "And my sight is imperfect. I do not see all. Part of the board is always obscured." She fell silent, seemed to drift as he waited for her to continue.

"Nako," he finally prompted.

She focused on him again. "Commander Farrell thought it was all a game but she failed to understand her true role. A friend of mine once said that God does not play dice with the universe and this may be true but She most assuredly does play chess."

Kerr saw where she was going. "And Farrell was a pawn?"

"Yes."

"Is that what I am too? Just another pawn?"

"Is that what you think you are?"

Wanting to believe his role was more enduring, he shook his head.

She smiled gently. "You know what you are. You're a knight."

"Here to protect my queen?" he asked thinking of Christine.

Nako chuckled. "The queen is not defenseless. And she has protectors of her own." She ignored his frown. "You are here to protect the king, Randall Kerr. To keep him alive so that he can meet his destiny."

"What is his destiny?"

"I'm not sure yet." She smiled. "But I believe in it, nonetheless."

"Enough to kill for it?"

"It's not the first time." She sighed and her eyes seemed suddenly ancient. "It will probably not be the last."

Kerr considered what she had said and done. "I can convince the people here that Farrell was murdered by those she worked for, but her handlers--" he broke off when he saw Nako gently shake her head, with a sheepish look he corrected himself "--our handlers will know they are not the killers. They will send someone to find out what happened."

"Perhaps not," she said as she laid her hand tightly on his. He could feel something forming between their palms. When she pulled her hand away, a matte black disk on a silken cord lay in his hand. The disk was inscribed with a design of wings over a Romulan dagger. Recognizing it, Kerr let it dangle from his fingers. "This is the symbol of the Tal shiar."

"Send it to your superiors and say in your report that you found it clasped in her hand. Make it clear that what you share with them, you have hidden from the Carter crew. The ones you worked for must trust you again, because only if they do will you be able to keep them far enough away to allow you to play the role you are meant to."

"To protect the king," he repeated.

"And love the queen," she said as she reached out to touch the thin disk. "It is of a material mined only on Romulus. You will speculate that it was worn by her murderer." She pulled her hand back. "Include the sensor logs from last night. They will indicate the possible presence of a cloaked ship, and of an unauthorized transport."

"Why do all this?" was the only thing he could think to ask.

"Because there is another wildfire coming. Much bigger and much more lethal than the first. And we need to get those who would otherwise be your enemies focused off of you and onto it."

She stood up, seeming to loom over him and he pulled back in alarm. "Don't be afraid, Randall," she said, her voice more resonant than he'd ever heard it. "Nothing is lost." She leaned up and kissed his forehead. "Now go back to her. Love her."

He knew he should worry about what she'd told him, even be afraid of her. But all he could feel was the tingling place that she had kissed and how the sensation was taking over his whole body. She was a killer, his mind said. And his soul answered back that it didn't care.

-------------------------------

The noise of the wake was overpowering. Farrell had detested funerals-- she'd left instructions in the Starfleet survivors form that she wanted a party not a service, and that's what the crew of the Carter had thrown her. Christine wandered away from the main part of the reception room, tired of talking and listening. She found a viewscreen that was clear and planted herself there, looking out at the stars. She took a sip of her drink and realized it was empty. Damn, she thought, not relishing the walk back to the bar.

"Here," another glass appeared. "You look like you need a refill."

"Why are you always around when I need something?" she asked as she turned to take the drink.

Penhallon shrugged and grinned. "Just lucky I guess." He took a sip of his own drink and nodded at several crewmembers that walked past, then he said quietly, "What are we supposed to think of all this? A virus let loose then a vicious murder on our quiet little ship? The crew is more than a little confused...and scared."

Christine sighed and turned back to the viewscreen.

He didn't press, just continued to stare into the crowd.

Finally she asked, "Do they know she set loose the virus?"

"No. There was some speculation but it's died down." He chuckled. "I'm getting rather good at defusing incendiary rumors."

"You are, aren't you?" She glanced at him and smiled a bit sheepishly. "I've studiously avoided getting to know you, Commander."

"Stephen," he corrected gently. "And yes, I know."

"Stephen...I'm sorry I was harsh when this mission started."

He shrugged. She watched his expression and wondered what he was thinking about that caused the shadow to cross his face.

He realized she was studying him and raised his eyebrows. "What?"

"What were you thinking of just then?"

"Nothing."

"Please?" she asked softly.

His eyes held hers, as he seemed to assess her request. Finally he took a long sip of his drink and said, "I was thinking of my childhood."

She waited for him to go on.

He chuckled. "You don't mean you want to hear about it?"

She nodded. "Was it bad?"

"Bad? No. Hard? Yes. My parents were diplomats. We moved every two years if not sooner. And even though I was a good-looking kid--" he shot her a grin "--I was really shy. It was hard to pick up and move, knowing that I'd be friendless again." He frowned slightly, obviously reliving less than happy memories. "After a while, I decided that I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't sit there in some new lunchroom all alone wondering if someone would sit with me."

"So you quit going with them when they moved?"

"Now, why didn't I think of that?" He laughed and shook his head. "No, I came up with a strategy for being accepted. I'd observe the social hierarchy at the school, and decide where I wanted to be. Then I'd find a girl in that group that was lacking a certain all important adolescent female accessory."

"A boyfriend," she guessed. "So it is calculated."

"Well, it was then. I didn't even like half the girls I ended up with. But they got me accepted and gave me a place to belong." He smiled. "But after a while, I found that I began to choose the girls a little differently. I started going after the ones I really found attractive, not the ones that were in the best place to help me. Over time I became a connoisseur of sorts."

"Well, that's one word for it," she said teasingly.

"Now, now. Not when we're doing so well." He grinned. "I think this is our first non-crisis conversation." He sobered. "Not that a funeral is exactly a non-crisis."

"I know what you mean," she said as she turned and followed his gaze. He was watching Ritsuko. "I'm worried about her. But there isn't much I can do for her. As she pointed out, I haven't made much of an effort to get to know her."

"Why would you have? She's in a different section. Your paths don't cross much. I'm sure, for example, that you've gotten to know the bridge crew much better."

"I'm not so sure," she said, as she picked out Kimble and Sabuti in the crowd. "I've been a little distracted."

He smirked.

"Now, now, not when we're doing so well," she echoed his words. "I think I could do better with them."

"For what it's worth, they like you a lot."

"And of course you'd know that. Do you know everyone on this ship?"

He nodded. "Another survival mechanism, I suppose." He looked at Ritsuko again. "Don't worry about her, I'll look after her." At Christine's look, he chuckled. "Not like that. I doubt I'm her type. I just mean I'll make sure she's doing okay."

"You're surprisingly good at that." She gave him a soft smile, before turning to scan the crowd again. She saw Kerr and Spock on the other side of the room. They were off by themselves and deep in conversation.

"I'm guessing it's a security matter or Starfleet has come up with our next mission," Penhallon suggested.

"Or both," she agreed.

"Do you want me to go find out? Discreetly I mean?"

"Eavesdrop, you mean?" At his look of feigned horror, she laughed. "It's okay. They'll tell me eventually."

"I'm sure they will."

"You're an interesting man, Stephen. You eavesdrop. You give advice for the lovelorn. You know everyone on the crew..."

"And I make a mean martini." He gave her one of the old leers.

She laughed.

He grinned back at her. "I could be a very valuable resource."

She studied him for a moment, then shook her head.

His face fell.

"I think you'd make an even more valuable friend," she said gently.

He stared at her.

"You mean being nice to you was the way to get you to shut up all this time?" she laughed.

His slow grin made her feel unaccountably good. "I guess so."

"I'll have to remember that." She saw Kerr making his way across the crowd.

"Looks like someone is coming to claim his woman," Penhallon said teasingly. "I think I'll go see how Umachi is doing."

As he turned away, she reached out and touched his arm. "Stephen, thank you. For everything."

"For you, my dear..." He raised his glass to her and his expression was the one that used to grate on her so badly. Now she just found it endearing.

"Hope I wasn't breaking anything up?" Kerr whispered in her ear, just the slightest hint of jealousy in his voice. It was reassuring that some things never changed.

"You weren't," she said, looking up at him and wanting to feel his arms around her.

He seemed to read her mind. "You want to get out of here?"

She nodded and they slipped around the crowd and left by the rear entrance. "Come on," she said, pulling him toward the lift. They rode the lift in silence, getting out on deck two. He started to head to her quarters but she stopped him. "I want to go somewhere else," she said leading him the other way.

The VIP observation deck was locked, but her command codes opened the doors easily. She walked to one of the large viewscreens. "For some reason, I want to watch the stars."

"You could have done that at the wake," he said gently as he came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.

"But we couldn't do this," she said as she pushed back, relishing the warmth of his body against hers. "I needed you close to me. It makes me feel safe." She wrapped her arms over his. "Everything is so crazy right now. It's good to know that there is one thing that I can count on." She trailed off as she thought of Farrell. "One person that I don't have to wonder who he is." She thought she felt him tense. "What?"

There was a long silence. Then he pulled her closer. "Nothing." His voice was nearly a whisper, when he asked, "Do you have any idea how much I love you?"

She turned in his arms. "What's wrong?"

He gently brushed her hair from her face. "Just feeling mushy, I guess."

"Me too." She kissed him gently. "I love you. Never doubt that." She kissed him again, then turned to face the stars again. "Just hold me for a while?"

"Forever," he promised. And she knew that he meant it.

FIN