Author: Cendari

Disclaimer: I own nothing but Sam; please don't sue me.

Summary: After facing off with the Borg in Earth's past, life on the Enterprise is slowly returning back to normal. Until, after they reemerge from the wormhole into their own timeline, Troi senses a presence that most definitely does not belong with them on the ship. Meet Samantha Mackenzie-O'Brien, a human girl from the 21st century of unknown and very mixed heritage. As Dr. Crusher discovers in a genetic analysis, Sam's DNA is mostly human with a healthy dose of Betazoid and El Aurian mixed in. Follow along as Sam struggles to forge a place for herself in her new surroundings and try to figure out what is causing her blinding headaches, a condition that could well turn deadly.

How can a girl who was born and raised on Earth in the late 20th century have such a genetic background?? How does Guinan know Sam? And what ability does Sam have that Lwaxana is so intrigued by? Find out all this and more in The Inherited Gift.
Prologue

Samantha couldn't shake the eerie feeling that she was being watched. It was an almost familiar sensation now, but no less unsettling despite the frequency. She glanced around; trying to find the source of the feeling, knowing it was futile. She shoved her eyeglasses up her nose, and, with once last peek around, went on her way.

He stood, hidden in the few shadows afforded the brightly lit building. The harsh lighting made him flinch; he was used to soft indoor lights, or the brilliance of a star, nothing like these 'fluorescent' lights that were supposed to be so economical. He had seen on a miniature view-screen that there were just under 400,000 light fixtures in the entire building.

He studied the girl, for she was no more than a girl. Medium height, good posture, dark hair, that ugly, unattractive affectation known as 'glasses'. This was the person who was to save all he held dear; his friends, his family, the place he still considered home after all this time. He recalled the picture he'd seen of her; she looked vaguely familiar. Probably just a coincidence

He was wrenched from his musings as he sensed it starting. The ground shook, the walls flew in different directions, the whole place seemed to momentarily expand, then collapse upon itself. With his mind, he protected her from the worst of it, then, in the midst of all the chaos, grabbed her and escaped through a seam in time and space.

Planting a now unconscious and heavily sedated Samantha into some empty crew quarters proved easy. She should be out for days, giving him enough time to check in with the Traveler, and get back to attend to her and teach her about her new surroundings.

He should have known that nothing ever goes as planned when the Enterprise is involved.

Chapter 1

After the great starship passed through the temporal vortex, the ship's counselor, Commander Deanna Troi, allowed herself to relax slightly. She was still feeling the aftereffects of her first meeting with non-syntheholic alcohol. The ship's First Officer, William Riker, grinned from directly in front of her. Impertinent man. Her hand practically itched to smack him, but right now she lacked the energy to. Tender hangover care be damned, the man was arrogant beyond belief.

While she was preparing to do something distinctly rude and childish, something startled her. A quick sense of confusion, with a tinge of panic. Not emotions normally found on board, unless you counted children.

But the panic was swiftly suppressed, to be replaced with a mounting curiosity. The efficiency with which the emotions were stifled told Troi that they were dealing with no child.

Riker's straightening spine told Troi that he had picked up on her abrupt preoccupation. "Captain," he said, "there's a matter that requires the Counselor's and my attention. Something to do with a crew member."

"I'll be fine without you, Number One, I'm not going to madly crash what I worked so hard to keep," Picard replied dryly.

Riker motioned to Troi and followed her into the turbolift. "Well?" he demanded once the doors were closed.

"Deck… Eight," Troi ordered instead. Then she shrugged. "Sorry, I don't even know what it is. We'll just have to wait and see."

The turbolift stopped and Troi stepped out, moving unerringly for the source of her sudden absorption. She stopped before a set of doors. "In there."

When the doors didn't open or chime, Riker ordered, "Computer, open door."

"Unable to comply. Pass code required," came the impassive response.

"Computer, override lock. Security code: Riker-one-one-gamma."

"Override accepted."

The doors slid open and Riker stepped protectively in front of Troi, refusing to budge even when she pushed at him.

"Will!" she complained. When he didn't speak, she peeked around him and was surprised to find a pair of silver-gray eyes the size of saucers staring back at them out of a pale unfamiliar face.

The girl recovered first. "Who are you?" she demanded. "Where am I?" Riker's height and general intimidating stance didn't seem to faze her at all as she glanced impatiently between them. Only Deanna could feel the fear she was working hard to hide.

"I'm Deanna Troi," the blurry, dark-haired woman said calmly, stepping around her large, equally hazy companion. "This is William Riker."

"Sam Mackenzie-O'Brien."

The man—Riker—moved forward to stand beside Troi. "What are you doing here?"

"I don't know. Where am I?"

"You're on a starship in orbit above the Earth," Riker replied, looking at her like she had just sprouted antlers. At least, that's what she interpreted it as. At the moment, she couldn't exactly make out features.

"WHAT??"

"You're on board a starship that's orbiting the Earth," Troi said, almost soothingly.

"What year is it?" Sam asked hesitantly.

"Should be around 2373."

Sam took an involuntary step back. "My hearing must be going, 'cause I could have sworn I heard you say, '2373' instead of 2002."

"I did."

Sam couldn't help it; she fainted.

Chapter 2

"How do we tell the captain we have an unconscious stowaway from the early 21st Century?" Troi hissed to Riker.

"Very carefully," he replied. "Right now, though…" Trailing off, he moved over to the girl's limp body. "Let's get her to Sickbay." Stooping to pick up the girl, he straightened with her cradled in his arms and headed for the door. Troi followed directly on his heels.

He went directly for the Sickbay doors, a very familiar, if rather unwelcome, sight.

"Beverly?" Troi called, hoping against hope that the doctor had returned to her office while she and Riker were busy with the girl.

"Yes, Deanna?" Doctor Beverly Crusher stopped short at the sight of Riker's burden. "Why, Will Riker, what have you been up to?"

"She's a stowaway, we found her in empty crew quarters," Riker replied as he laid the girl on a biobed. "From 21st Century Earth."

Crusher sent an arrested look his way. "How?"

"Very, very early 21st Century Earth," Riker clarified. "Don't look at me like that, I don't know anything," he warned Crusher.

When she smiled very faintly at him but continued her examination of him while she slowly ran a tricorder over the girl, Riker sighed and turned to leave. "Just examine her, Bev, and tell me what you find. I'll be on the bridge."

"Everything all right, Number One?" Picard asked when Riker stepped off the turbolift onto the bridge.

"Fine, sir," Riker replied, returning to his seat just to the right of the captain's chair. He remained silent for a few minutes then shook his head wearily and turned to Picard. "Uh, captain, can I speak to you for a moment?"

"Of course, Number One. Mr. Data, you have the bridge." Picard went for his ready room as Riker trailed in his wake. Picard waited until he was seated behind his desk before he silently demanded to know what was going on.

Riker shifted a little. "Counselor Troi and I found a stowaway, sir. In Lieutenant Hawk's quarters, to be exact."

"And? I know for a fact there's something you're trying to hide from me, Will."

Riker hesitated. "She says she's from the year 2002, sir."

"Two-thousand-two—…?" Picard repeated, half-standing in surprise.

"Yes, sir."

"Where is this person now?"

"I left her in Sickbay with the Counselor and Dr. Crusher. She was unconscious when I left."

Sam looked up as Riker and a short, balding man entered Sickbay. Riker glanced around a little uneasily but his attention focused instantly on her once he realized she was awake. Once more, he took up a position next to the lady known as Deanna, which, under normal circumstances, would have struck her as adorable. Definite Neanderthal tendencies in that one.

"Hello," the new man greeted. "I am Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of this ship. I understand you claim to be from the year 2002."

Sam took a moment to let the words sink into her still fuzzy brain, and then nodded decisively. "Yes."

"What was the day you left?"

"Last I remember, it was April…fourth… Yeah. I was shopping for a present for my sister. It was our birthday the next day."

"Our?"

"My twin sister." Sam reached up, scratched her forehead, and, as a look of disgusted revelation crossed her face, pulled her hair off. In the place of the ordinary mousy brown was a vibrant shade of golden blonde with generous chunks of auburn interspersed throughout.

The effect was instantaneous. Before she had been uncommonly pretty, now she was a true beauty, especially when she grinned at their slack-jawed expressions. "Pretty cool, huh? Ah, the difference a different hairstyle and color can do for you." Something seemed to register in her mind, for her gaze sharpened and she looked between them with new interest. "How come I can see?"

"We fixed the lenses in your eyes so they focus properly," Beverly said.

"I don't need the glasses any more?" Sam's now-hopeful gaze rested on Crusher.

Who smiled at her. "No. Not any more."

"YES!!" Sam exultantly pumped her arms in the air, then lowered them with a faint groan as the movement jostled her still-sore head. "Ouch. When can I leave?"

Crusher hid a chuckle behind a cough. "I'd like to keep you here for observation until tomorrow morning. Then we'll reevaluate and see what we're going to do with you."

"I personally would suggest keeping me," Sam interjected with what was becoming characteristic cheerfulness, raising a hand in the air as if she were in a classroom. "I mean, obviously whoever popped me here wanted me to stay with you."

"We'll deal with that tomorrow. In the mean time, it's time for you to sleep."

"You're a mother, aren't you?" Sam griped jokingly even as she settled back against the pillows.

"You got it." Crusher moved towards Sam with a hypospray in her hand.

"Aah! No drugs. Let me sleep off the ones that are still in my system, please."

"But we neutralized all the sedatives." Crusher and her nurse looked a little confused.

Sam stifled a yawn as she responded. "No, you didn't." She paused for a few seconds. "Damn, whoever knocked me out must have put the equivalent of a half-dozen T-3's into me…" So saying, she fell asleep.

Chapter 3

"So?" Picard, in complete captain mode, demanded of his Chief Medical Officer.

"The fact that she woke up on her own is incredible. There were enough sedatives in her bloodstream to keep an elephant unconscious for a week. They were in her system for maybe two, three days." Beverly shook her head in emphasis.

"Maybe the temporal vortex disturbed her on some subconscious level," Troi suggested. When Crusher, Riker, and Picard all looked at her, she shrugged. "It's possible."

"She's right," Crusher agreed. "It is possible. What I want to know is who put her on here. If they can time travel, why not take her all the way to our future and put on some other ship? Why us?"

"Doctor, if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn't even have to ask you. I could just pluck the answer out of your head." Picard glanced sidewise at her.

"Seriously, Captain, what are we going to do with her?" Riker asked the all-important question.

Picard shrugged. "Keep her here until whoever brought her to us shows up. For all we know, it could have been Q and he'll just keep plopping her in our laps until we pay attention if we leave her on Earth."

At the mention of Q, Picard's seemingly archenemy, the others sobered up. Riker's gaze lifted to the ceiling and Picard could almost hear the prayer he was saying in his head, "Please don't let it be Q, please don't let it be Q…"

Sam was in the throes of a rather odd dream, but then again, most of her dreams were odd. She was surrounded by a warm, comforting presence, a maternal-like figure, which seemed to be considerably curious itself. It felt like Sam's mother's presence, but at the same time it wasn't her mother. To quote Alice after she fell through the rabbit hole, it was getting "curiouser and curiouser". For some reason, Sam almost felt like she was being scanned. What prompted the feeling, she didn't know. A soft hand stroked her brow and she gradually fell back into a deep sleep, not even noticing when the presence faded away from her radar.

Chapter 4

When Sam next opened her eyes, it was to completely foreign surroundings - again. She was getting rather tired of this, she thought irritably as she took in her new room. Gingerly, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up, noting the strange fabric of the blanket that covered her. It was, as Alice was fond of saying, "curiouser and curiouser".

A close examination of the chamber gave up a console of some sort on the wall, another close to a door, and a second door that presumably led to a bathroom. Sam was taking a closer look at the bigger console when the doors whooshed open. Taking an involuntary step back, Sam pressed a hand to her heart as the pretty doctor entered.

"You're awake!" She smiled and held out a hand to Sam. "Let's get you cleaned up, huh?"

"Where am I?" Sam asked, finally finding her voice.

"We're on Earth. The ship needs repairs so we're all on shore leave until they're finished with her. Do you want to get clean?" she asked again, beckoning Sam forward.

Warily, Sam approached. The doctor seemed to know exactly what to say and do to keep Sam partially at ease. Soon, Sam had been stripped and was being shown how the 'sonic shower' worked. When she had proved that she was capable of washing without professional supervision, the doctor left promising to return soon with clothes and other toiletries.

Fascinating place, Sam mused when she was alone. And the technological advances! It's mind-boggling!

True to her word, the doctor returned shortly with the promised items, placed them on what had to be the toilet and left. Sam finished her shower and perused the clothing before donning it. Barely managing figuring out how to brush her teeth, Sam completed her toilette and left the washroom feeling refreshed and wide-awake.

"Is there anything I can call you other than Doc?" Sam asked hopefully.

"My name is Beverly. You can call me that," she replied.

"My friends sometimes call me Sammie," Sam admitted shyly.

"All right, Sammie, are you hungry?"

"Starving!" Sam answered with such eagerness Beverly had to laugh.

"Come on, then. I'm sure we can find you something to eat."

Beverly and Jean-Luc watched in amazement as Sam dug into the mountain of food piled on her plate with enthusiasm. She happened to glance up to see the expressions on their faces and demanded, with her mouth full of food, "What?"

"Nothing. When was the last time you ate?" Beverly asked.

"A bagel for breakfast, my last morning there."

Beverly did some mental calculations. "About 60 hours, give or take."

"Are you serious?? My God, it's a wonder my head isn't pounding." Sam's cutlery made a few faster trips to her mouth.

She missed seeing Beverly and Jean-Luc exchange a glance and Beverly shake her head as Sam ate.

"What is this place?" Sam asked when her plate was clean.

"Vineyard," Jean-Luc answered. "It's been in my family for several generations."

"Wow. Can I look around?"

"I will take you on a tour if you wish, yes."

"Really? Thanks, I do wish." An impish, charming smile was directed his way before her nose got buried in a mug of milk.

Chapter 5

Sam spent several quiet days as the Picard Vineyard with Beverly and Jean-Luc, occasionally coming across Jean-Luc's sister-in-law, Marie. An easy camaraderie was struck up between Sam and her new friends who took it upon themselves to educate her in Earth history and attempted to catch her up on studies. She discussed books with Jean-Luc, good-naturedly accepted getting roped into one of Beverly's three-man theatricals, which they performed for Marie, and mostly had a quiet, relaxing time.

"So, Sammie, what would you like to do today?" Beverly asked a week into Sam's idyllic vacation.

Sam looked up from her plate to quickly meet Beverly's and Jean-Luc's eyes before lowering them back to her meal. "I'd like to visit my family, see if I can scavenge any of my things."

The request was one that Beverly would never have refused in a thousand years. "Of course, Sam. Whenever you're ready, we'll go."

"Thank you." Sam quietly and efficiently gathered her dishes, stood up, and went to her room.

"Are you sure?" Jean-Luc queried in concern.

"She has to do this, Jean-Luc. She has to say good-bye to all she knew before she can embrace what she now knows."

Jean-Luc nodded, accepting her advice and sat at the table with her for a few silent minutes.

"I'd like to be alone, if you guys don't mind." Sam faced the headstones of her family and friends, now weathered by the years.

"Sure. We'll be over there if you need us." Beverly tugged Jean-Luc's arm and dragged him off towards the other end of the Los Angeles Graveyard.

Sam's fingers nervously plucked the stems of the flowers she had replicated before leaving the house. "Hi guys," she started. Tears welled up unbidden in her eyes and spilled over. "This is harder than I thought it would be. I miss you. I never thought I'd have to live without feeling you in my head, Mad. Both my head and my heart are silent now. I never thought I'd miss it." She took a shuddering, calming breath. "I'll never forget you guys. I'll even name my kids after you. All of you," she amended with a small smile when a quick breeze ruffled her hair. She glanced down the row, kissed her fingers and pressed them to the headstones she had started talking to. She laid a half-dozen each of the flowers on her sister's and stepfather's graves and left another five roses on the resting places of her friends. The remaining rose was gently kissed and thrown in the air as a sudden gust of wind carried it off. "I love you."

And, when she listened really hard, Sam could have sworn she heard a soft, collective, "We love you, too, Sammie." A sad, yet happy smile touched her lips as she turned and looked for her self-appointed guardians.

"I'm ready."

Beverly turned from her quiet conversation with Jean-Luc and looked Sam over with evident concern. "Are you all right?"

Sam smiled warmly at her. "Yes. I'm fine, Bev. Can we go? I can't wait to see all my stuff again." This was delivered with an impish smile.

Beverly chuckled and linked arms with Sam as they walked back to their transport. "Kiddo, I'm warning you now, some things may be different and catch you off guard."

"Should I be worried?" Sam stopped short and stared as Beverly and Jean-Luc both laughed and passed her. "Uh, guys? Guys?"

Chapter 6

"My jeans!" Sam exclaimed, pointing to a display case after reading the donation plaque where the faded denim garment resided.

She moved to the next case and cast a curious frown at her protective shadows. "Why did they keep my make-up?"

"Beauty and culture. It was all in mint condition," Jean-Luc answered.

Sam gave a soft, "Really?" and flitted around, randomly looking for and at her former belongings.

"Is she all right?" Jean-Luc whispered to Beverly.

"Fine. Right now I'd say the only thing she may be suffering from is surprise and a little bit of culture shock," she responded firmly.

"Is that your professional opinion, Doctor?" he teased.

"Absolutely, Captain."

They trailed after Sam and were preparing to herd her out of the museum when she pressed her face up against a display case.

"My computer!" she murmured happily.

They glanced skeptically between the large, awkward set-up and her. "A computer?" Beverly queried incredulously.

"You don't understand," Sam said as she espied a reflection in the polished plastic, "this was… my… Baby!!" she squealed, spinning on her heel and dashing for the display she had spotted.

She started jingling and she stopped, pulled out a key ring from her pants pocket, aimed it at the artifact and pressed a button. To her obvious surprise and joy the car beeped twice as a clicking sound echoed around them and the headlights on the car blinked. She grinned gleefully even as the museum security came running.

Sam pushed another button and the same thing happened: the car beeped, the doors clicked, and the headlights flashed. A third button got no response from the ancient vehicle. "Why won't it start?" she queried over her shoulder, her joy diminishing.

"The main part of the engine was removed when the automobile was donated to the museum. The battery was left intact," an unfamiliar voice answered.

Sam turned fully, not having noticed the security guards with phasers drawn until then. "Hi." She took a double take on the phasers. "What are those?"

The innocent question spurred Jean-Luc and Beverly into action and they moved to hover protectively beside her. "It's a phaser," Jean-Luc answered. "Remember? We showed you them?"

"Right." She nodded, her memory successfully jogged. "Why are they pointing them at me?" she whispered to him.

"Because your little stunt with the automobile wasn't expected and they're not sure what to make of you," Beverly replied gently.

"Oh. I'm sorry. I don't mean any harm," she said louder, addressing the guards.

Jean-Luc took a step forward. "Everything's all right. She's a visitor, and under my care."

"And who are you?" the same unfamiliar voice demanded.

"I am Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Enterprise. This is my CMO, Doctor Beverly Crusher. She has never been here before," he continued, gesturing towards Sam. "It is only curiosity that prompted her to play with the lights and bells."

"Captain Picard," the owner of the voice stepped through the guards, "how nice of you to visit us. We here have heard much about you. Please, continue your tour. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask for me. I am called Galadriel." The tall, stoic man with pointed ears and green-tinged skin bowed and retreated, taking the guards with him.

"What was he?" Sam whispered when the man was out of earshot.

"That," Jean-Luc replied with sudden amusement, "was a Vulcan."

"I'm not even gonna ask."

Chapter 7

Deanna Troi frowned as she walked the halls of Starfleet headquarters following her debriefing. So great was her preoccupation that she didn't realize he was around until she bumped into him.

"Deanna?" Will peered down, trying to see her face as he took hold of her upper arms. "Hello? Enterprise to Commander Troi?"

"Will! What are you doing here?"

He chuckled. "Same thing you are, I imagine."

She grimaced and hit her forehead. "Right. Of course"

"So, what kinds of questions were they asking you?"

"Probably the same ones they were asking you. I didn't mention the girl though."

"Good. Neither did I." He didn't look the least bit repentant for fudging the truth to Starfleet top brass. Actually, he mostly looked the way she felt. "Do you want to get some lunch? My treat," he offered as an incentive.

"That would be nice. Thank you, Will." They turned as one and walked towards the entrance side-by-side.

"Would you like to do something after lunch?"

"Like what?" She looked amusedly suspicious.

"Oh, I'm sure we can think of something." A playful waggle of his eyebrows bought him a musical peal of laughter.

They had just started tucking into their food when Deanna's head came sharply up and her head swung around.

"Deanna? What's wrong?"

"Beverly and the captain. And the girl."

"Where?"

"Here." And then her attention focused past him where he guessed had to be. Riker closed his eyes, prayed for a little patience, and then turned and lifted a welcoming hand.

"Captain. Beverly," he called, then lowered his arm as Jean-Luc nodded and began wending his way through the tables to stand next to theirs.

"Commander, Counselor. I hope we're not intruding," Jean-Luc sounded a little cautious, if that was possible.

"Of course not. Please, sit," Deanna invited. When Jean-Luc turned away to request more chairs, Deanna slid Riker a rueful glance.

When the three newcomers were seated comfortably and had ordered their own lunches, Jean-Luc turned to Sam. "Sammie, I'm sure you remember Will Riker and Deanna Troi."

"Yes," she said quietly. "It's nice to see you again."

"Same here," Riker replied automatically.

"I appreciate your discretion as well. Beverly and Jean-Luc have informed me that had Starfleet been apprised of my presence I would probably have been shipped of to some research lab, never to be seen or heard from again." Sam seemed a little embarrassed by her little speech and Deanna noticed Beverly's hand moved to cover Sam's.

"So, what have you been doing over the past week?" Will asked genially to lighten the atmosphere.

"I went to visit my family today." Sam's head bowed. Deanna's heart ached as the sensation of Sam's immensely quiet grief washed over her. Deanna smiled inwardly as Will's emotions abruptly shifted in the direction of panic. He hated seeing women cry and had always felt so inept whenever he was forced to witness it. Under the cover of the table, she gently squeezed his hand and was pleased when he squeezed back.

"How are they?"

"Dead. That's about as bad as it gets," Sam replied frankly

Deanna's heart was weeping when she heard Will's voice in her mind for the first time in years.

No, Imzadi, we can't adopt her.

She was about to protest when she realized just what he'd done. Will?

Come on, Deanna. Mind back on the people.

She comforted herself with a mental caress and kiss and then returned her attention to the people around her.

"What else have you done today?" Will was asking Sam.

"We took her to the museum," Beverly answered.

"You people are weird," Sam stated emphatically.

"How so?"

"You kept and preserved three-hundred year old, used make-up and put in a museum display. That counts as weird in my books." Sam quirked an eyebrow at them.

"And what is so odd about wanting to keep some of our history, may I ask?" Will said mock-indignantly.

"Because it's mine."

The offended expression that covered Sam's face made Beverly and Jean-Luc chuckle. "You remember the red automobile in that exhibit?" Jean-Luc asked. When Deanna and Will nodded, he continued, "Well, it's―…"

"My baby!" Sam cried. "They dissected my baby!"

"And?"

"That car was a present for my sixteenth birthday, thank you very much, and I drove it nearly every day for four years!"

"Oh."

"Sammie, you can't use them any more now, so you might as well let the museum have it," Beverly placated.

"Fine. But that doesn't mean I have to like it," she huffed. Her response got a laugh and she grinned at all of them as if that had been her original mission to begin with.

"What are you planning to do this afternoon?" Deanna queried.

Jean-Luc and Beverly exchanged a glance. "We have to go in for debriefing."

"We did that this morning. Beware, Admiral Solunchak is on the warpath," Will warned direly.

"Sam, would you like to spend the afternoon with us?" Deanna questioned.

She automatically deferred to Beverly and Jean-Luc but, when they gave approval, readily accepted. "I'd like that very much, thank you."

"You know who you can introduce her to?" Beverly asked mischievously.

"Data," the four officers chorused.

"Who?"

"You'll see," Will assured Sam. "I think he'll be very fascinated with you, don't you, Deanna?"

"Oh, absolutely."

Jean-Luc and Beverly rose as one. "If you'll excuse us, we should go change into uniform."

They exited the restaurant and as soon as they were out of sight, Will rubbed his hands together gleefully and smiled roguishly at Sam. "We've got her now, Dea. What should we do with her first?"

Sam spent a thoroughly delightful afternoon with Will and Deanna, starting with a tour of Starfleet Academy, moving on to visit their friend Data, and finally ending up wandering the city streets she had been raised on.

As they waved good-bye to Sam from his transport, Will sent to Deanna for the third time in nearly ten years. We may not be able to adopt her, Imzadi, but we sure can try.

Deanna's only response was to cover his hand with her own and gently squeeze.

Chapter 8

A few weeks later, Beverly and Nurse Alyssa Ogawa were reviewing medical files when Alyssa nudged the doctor's elbow and silently gestured towards the observation window in her office that showed the ship's nursery. They watched in silence as Sam moved among the few bassinets, cuddling and comforting babies. One particularly upset child prompted Sam to move quickly to her side and pick the infant up. Sam cradled the baby close to her chest, swaying and murmuring in her ear. Within seconds, the baby was cooing and attempting to grab hold of Sam's nose.

Beverly and Alyssa chuckled and went about their work.

Beverly was going over the information she had of Sam when her eye was caught by two words: "third lobe". Immediately she called up the scan she had done of Sam's brain whilst she was unconscious and sat back in her chair, stunned, as she let this new information take hold.

"Amazing."

The next morning at the Senior Staff meeting, Beverly brought this new information to the other's attention. "I want you all to look at something. This is a scan I did of Sam's brain right after Will brought her to Sickbay." She called up the scan and let it slowly rotate on the display screen. "Notice anything out of the ordinary?"

Deanna took one glance at the screen and looked sharply at the doctor. "She has a paracortex?"

"It would appear so." Noticing the puzzled expressions on the captain and first officer's faces, Beverly relented. "The paracortex is unique to the Betazoid brain. It is the part of their brains that enables telepathy."

"So, you're saying that since Sam has a paracortex, she has Betazoid ancestors?" Picard clarified.

"I'm not saying it, I'm stating it. And more than one would have to have given her it. Sam's is small, but it is functioning. It is most active while she sleeps as well." For some reason, Crusher looked a little apprehensive, but it was gone in an instant.

"Suggestions?" Picard cast out.

"Have a trained telepath come to assess the extent of her abilities," Troi put in.

"We're not far from Betazed. Number One, have the helm lay in a course."

"Certainly, sir."

"Any other business?" Picard looked to each of his senior staff. "No? Dismissed."

Chapter 9

Beverly was the first of the senior staff to find Sam, as she was back in the nursery, cuddling babies.

"Amazing, isn't it?" Beverly offered into the relative quiet. "It never ceases to amaze me."

"Hmm?" Sam looked up, her question written on her face.

"The miracle of birth. I'm always overwhelmed every time I bring one of them into the world," Beverly said.

"I just find them incredibly comforting." Sam gave a tiny shrug and let her attention fall back to the bundle cradled in her arms.

"How so?"

Sam looked a little embarrassed at having said anything, but elaborated. "Even when your entire world or way of life is gone, babies always stay the same, no matter what century you're living in." Her gaze was riveted on the tiny infant the entire time.

Beverly moved forward, relieved Sam of the baby and gently tugged her into her office. "Come. Talk to me, please."

Once they were seated, Beverly turned probing eyes on Sam. "How are you doing? Really?"

Sam squirmed a little but replied truthfully, "I'm fine. Truly, I swear."

"Are you sure?"

Sam visibly stifled an exasperated sigh. "I'm sure. I'm okay, Bev, I promise." Sam had no desire to hurt her friend, that much was obvious. "Can I go? I have a lesson scheduled with Data."

"Of course, go." Sam rose and went for the door. "Dinner's at 1800!" Beverly called just before the Sickbay doors swished closed.

Out in the hallway, Sam rubbed absent-minded fingertips into her temple before walking to the closest turbo-lift.

"…And in 2065, Zephram Cochrane made the first faster-than-light-speed attempt by humans." Data stopped when he realized his student wasn't exactly paying attention. "Samantha, are you all right?"

Sam's head shot up and around to stare at him. "No. I'm fine, Data."

Data looked back skeptically at her but returned back to the data PADD he was reading from, "The warp signature left by Dr. Cochrane's vessel attracted the attention of a Vulcan scout ship that was passing through the sector. First Contact was made on April 5, 2065."

"Listen, Data, do you mind if we continue this tomorrow? My poor head's about to explode from all the knowledge you've stuffed into it." Sam smiled to let him know she was joking.

"I do not understand your meaning, but here is a good place to stop. I will meet you back here at 1400 tomorrow." Data gathered up his data PADD's and left the ones he wanted Sam to study.

"Thanks, Data. I'll be here with bells on," Sam grinned at Data as she saw him out.

As soon as the doors closed, she collapsed against them, running deliberately rough hands over her eyes and temples. Head pounding fit to wake the dead, it was all she could do to stumble to the bedroom and turn off all the lights. Even so, she took care to gently push aside the gift Data's cat, Spot, had given her. A whimper of pain escaped her lips as a single tear forced itself out of her eyes. Sam's eyes closed as she slowly went about the mental technique that would allow her to fall into a deep, healing sleep.

Chapter 10

Sam returned to consciousness to the feeling of a light rumbling echoing through her chest. Forgetting for a moment where she was, Sam peered up.

Only to look into the only-too-pleased glowing green eyes of her kitten, Stripe, who was perched on her chest.

That explained the rumbling, Sam realized as she heard Stripe's purr. "Morning, kitty," she greeted, scratching the kitten's head. Stripe's back arched as if trying to get closer to her hand. A grin emerged on her face as she gave the tiny cat what he wanted. "Computer, what is the time?"

"The time is 18:20 hours," was the almost monotone reply.

It was enough to have her gently displacing Stripe from his resting place despite his plaintive meowing. "Sorry, bitty cat. I gotta run."

Sam took a moment to lean down and plant a kiss on the miniature head before racing off to the bathroom.

She was very, very late. Beverly and Jean-Luc were going to kill her.

Deanna smiled delightedly as the doors to her quarters slid open to reveal Will. "Will, what are you doing here?"

"I've been thinking…" he started.

"Uh-oh, he's been thinking! Somebody call Red Alert!" she teased.

"Be quiet," he grumbled. "May I continue?"

"By all means." She gestured towards her couch.

"It hasn't escaped my notice that Sam could have been ours, if I had met you on Risa like we'd planned." Will either didn't notice or politely didn't comment when Deanna paled. "I mean, have you ever thought about what our children would have looked like?"

Deanna gulped. For ten years, she had managed to avoid this subject, and now he wanted to talk. "No," she squeaked out, then cursed herself for not behaving normally. "No, of course not. Why would I?" she tried again, as if she hadn't done it a million times before. She found herself picturing a tiny, perfectly formed baby, with twinkling blue eyes and a mop of dark hair. With a mental shake, she returned to her present.

"…Why should you, we have been separated for nearly twenty years," Will was saying.

"Uh, Will… I, uh… Really have to do… something. Now." Deanna stammered, willing to say anything if only it meant he would leave.

"Sure, Deanna. Sorry for bothering you," Will uttered as Deanna swiftly ushered him out the door.

As soon as the doors closed behind him, Deanna leaned back against them and rubbed shaking hands over her face.

Oh, gods, this was very, very bad. Will was going to kill her if he found out the truth.

"You're late," Jean-Luc stated repressively when Sam skidded to a breathless, rushing halt beside his chair.

"I know, I'm sorry. I fell asleep after Data left," Sam started to explain.

"Just don't let it happen again," he interrupted. For some reason, Sam thought she was in deep dog doo-doo until she saw the glint in his eyes.

"No, sir. Never again, sir," Sam rapped out, smartly saluting him.

"Sit down, Sammie," Jean-Luc ordered in exasperation, gesturing to the empty chair at the table. They had their work cut out for them when it came to teaching her deference for her superiors. He had no qualms admitting that he had high hopes for Sam, starting with her admittance to Starfleet Academy once she was caught up in her lessons with Data. The android had already expressed his satisfaction with his new student, despite the fact that he had to catch her up on over 300 years of history and technology changes.

"Now, Sammie, we need to tell you something," Jean-Luc said now, looking to Beverly for support.

"You're getting married!" Sam guessed. "I'm so happy!" she squealed, clapping her hands together.

"We're not getting married," Beverly replied with an amazingly straight face. "Well, I'd better start from the beginning."

"'In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.'" Sam recited.

Beverly frowned at her.

"Okay, I'll shut up now." Sam looked a little hurt at having the plug pulled on her fun, but listened attentively.

"The Betazoid brain has three lobes, unlike the standard human brain, which only has two. The third lobe is known as the paracortex, and it facilitates all their telepathy as well as being capable of sending its owner into a healing, meditative state, which allows the brain to heal," Beverly said.

"So, what does all this have to do with me?" Sam queried during a break in the doctor's speech.

Beverly looked pointedly at her.

"Shutting up."

"As I was saying, all Betazoids have a paracortex, including half-Betazoids, like Deanna. As do you."

Sam couldn't keep silent for one moment longer. "I have a whatta?" she demanded, blinking at Beverly.

Chapter 11

"You have a paracortex," Beverly repeated softly. "You have the potential ability to be able to speak telepathically."

Sam was about to say something when Jean-Luc's communicator beeped. "Bridge to Captain Picard."

"Go ahead." There was no worried guardian at all in the mien Jean-Luc suddenly drew over him like a cloak.

"We've just received word from the Betazed authorities," the officer on duty on the bridge stated.

"And?"

"The only telepath they can currently spare is one Ambassador Lwaxana Troi."

Jean-Luc's eyes drifted shut. "Thank you." Tapping his communicator once, Jean-Luc immediately groaned. Feelingly.

"Just what I need," he grumbled. "Lwaxana Troi roaming around here, disrupting my entire ship."

Beverly alternated between being wholly sympathetic and complete amusement.

"Who," Sam asked, "is Lwaxana Troi?"

"Counselor Troi's mother," Jean-Luc answered. "And a greater pain in the neck than I have ever faced."

"Oh, I definitely have to meet her now," Sam said, eyes twinkling merrily.

"Don't worry, you will. She's coming to assess your potential telepathic ability." Jean-Luc's eyes rose to the ceiling. "What have I done to deserve this? First, my ship is invaded and nearly taken over by the Borg. Now, she's going to be invaded and nearly taken over by the second largest thorn in my side."

Sam stifled a not-so-silent chuckle at the self-pity Jean-Luc was heaping on himself and rose from her chair. An unconscious hand came up to rub her left temple. "If you'll excuse me, I think I need to go pump Deanna for information."

Deanna looked up from her contemplation of a holograph picture when her door chimes rang. "Computer, who is at the door?"

"Unknown."

Sam. Deanna rose, shoved the holo-pic back into the box of memories she had brought out, tossed the box into her bedroom area, and swiped at the tear tracks on her face. "Enter," she called, forgetting to check Sam's emotional mood.

Sam's smiling face poked through the door first. "Deanna?" When she spotted Deanna, she grinned and entered fully.

Only to stop short. "Deanna? What's wrong?" she asked worriedly

Deanna made another pass at her face and smiled gamely at Sam. "Nothing. Why do you ask?"

"Because it looks like you've been crying," Sam replied softly.

"No, nothing's wrong. I just got caught up in some memories," Deanna tried to brush it off.

"Looks like they weren't very happy ones."

Deanna's breath caught. "Oh, they were very happy ones," she said, tears threatening to fall.

"You know what, I'm gonna go get Will." Sam turned to the door.

"No!" Deanna cried. "No," she tried again, "getting Will isn't necessary. What was it you wanted?"

"You know what? I forgot." Sam smiled innocently with a little bit of sheepishness. "You sure you're all right?" she checked with concern filling her eyes.

"I'm fine, and no, you aren't going to get Will." Deanna frowned at her.

Sam grinned. "Right. My memory's absolutely abysmal," she claimed, "I can't remember anything for longer than a matter of seconds."

"Unless it's something you're interested in hearing. Remember, Data reports to the rest of us as to your progress with him, and he claims your memory is amazing with the details you can remember." An eyebrow quirked pointedly.

"Right, I forgot about that." Sam smiled brightly as she backed out the door. "I'll see you later, okay?"

As soon as the doors closed behind her, both heaved a sigh of relief. Sam strode to the nearest turbo-lift. "Now to find Will."

Chapter 12

Sam never did find Will and in the end her pounding head forced her to retreat to her room. During the night, someone came in to check on her. Sam wasn't sure, but she smelled and sounded a lot like Deanna. The person sat beside Sam on the bed, brushed her hair back from her forehead, and leaned over to kiss Sam.

"Sleep well, Little One."

The person rose, tugged the blankets more securely around Sam, and turned to leave as quietly as they had entered.

"G'night, Daddy. G'night, Mommy. I love you," the involuntary mumble came from Sam. Feeling as if some ritual had been completed, Sam rolled over and started to drift off to sleep.

From their position at the door, the person muffled a sob, uttered, "I love you, too, Little One," and left quickly.

Come the morning, Sam had forgotten the entire encounter had occurred.

Chapter 13

"Little One!" Lwaxana Troi greeted warmly, her arms held out for an embrace with her only daughter.

"Mother," Deanna replied a little stiffly, returning the quick hug. How many times have I asked you not to call me that, Mother?

Darling, forgive an old woman her habits.

Deanna snorted inelegantly. "Old? Mother, since when are you old?"

Since your brother started leaving me in his dust.

Deanna stifled a chuckle at her mother's annoyed tone. "Mother, remember the rule about speaking telepathically when there are non-telepaths around?"

"Fine," Lwaxana switched to speaking with an annoyed huff. "Now where is this child I'm supposed to meet?"

"For one, she's not a child, physically she's 20 years old, so please don't patronize her like you do me. And she's in her room, waiting for us."

"Well, then?" Deanna's amusement faded to annoyance as her mother stalked from the transporter room and went directly for the turbo-lifts. Praying for patience, she followed.

"Sam, this is my mother, Lwaxana. Mother, this is Sam." Deanna made the introductions and stepped back to observe.

Hello, my dear. How are you today? Lwaxana cast to Sam.

"I'm as well as can be, thank you," Sam responded politely.

Dear, if you want to speak to me, think it. You don't have to speak aloud.

Oh, dear. You aren't feeling well at all, are you? Why don't you go lie down and I'll come in and make sure you're comfortable. Lwaxana sent gently.

Sam winced and rubbed her hand over her eyes, but obediently turned and headed for her bedroom.

Mother, what's wrong?

Lwaxana looked at her daughter strangely. Little One, she's suffering from a massive headache. From what I can gather, they come almost every day.

Deanna took a tiny step back. "What?"

I promised her I'd be right in. Wait here for me?

You know I will.

Lwaxana was back a few minutes later. "I induced the healing state. She's sleeping peacefully." She paused as if something had jogged her memory. "Little One, do you think she's…"

"I don't know, Mother. But, yes, I think it's possible."

"Have you told William?"

Deanna sighed. "No. It never seemed like the right time to."

"Darling, you have to tell him sometime."

"Mother, I don't want to. I couldn't bear it if he hated me."

"The truth has to come out sometime. Better from you, than it coming out by accident at the worst possible moment."

"That does have a habit of happening, doesn't it?"

"Oh, yes. Tell him the truth. All of it. William may surprise you."

"He always does." Deanna exhaled heavily. "All right, when the time is right, I promise I'll tell him."

"There's the daughter I raised. Now, why don't we leave before she wakes before the healing is complete."

In mutual agreement – for once – the women exited.

Chapter 14

Lwaxana stayed on board for several weeks, working with Sam. Several times she had to help induce the meditative state, and Sam would wake up a few hours later, her headache severely diminished, but never completely gone. In the meantime, she wandered around the ship, charming crew and stealing their hearts. Nobody ever suspected a thing was wrong, with the exception of Deanna and Lwaxana, who shielded Sam and upped her training sessions with the hope that the headaches would disappear.

"Samantha?" Data called, entering her rooms. "Samantha, are you here?" The fact that she had been late for their 'field trip' into Engineering had been enough to arouse his ever-present curiosity. When she had failed to show up after he waited for a half-hour, he had gotten worried and gone looking for her.

Data was about to leave and check the nursery when something caught his eye. It looked like a Starfleet-issue boot, peeking out from behind Sam's couch. Going over to investigate, Data immediately slapped his communicator when he identified the body of Sam, sprawled out on the floor, a data PADD inches from her fingertips.

"Data to Doctor Crusher."

"Go ahead, Data."

"There is a medical emergency in Samantha's quarters. She is unconscious and not responding."

"I'm on my way." There was no mistaking the note of alarm in her voice.

"Well? What's wrong with her?" Picard demanded. Flanking him stood Riker, both Troi's, and Data.

Crusher released a breath. "Her brain is trying to reject the paracortex," she said quietly.

"WHAT?"

"Her brain is trying to sever all connections to her paracortex. It's the strangest thing I've ever seen, especially since both of her parents were part-Betazoid. Every time she gets a headache, it's because her paracortex is trying to exert some power and the rest of her brain is rejecting that kind of take-over."

"So what do we do?"

"I'm not claiming to understand it, but my main worry is that if something isn't done, she could die."

"Again, what do you suggest we do?"

"I could remove the paracortex surgically," Crusher offered.

"No." The reply was instant and adamant from both Lwaxana and Deanna. "Removing it could be akin to killing her. We need another option."

"I can't think of any other," Crusher confessed helplessly.

"I can work with her to strengthen the pathways. I imagine most have been cut. With my help, they may be rebuilt." Lwaxana offered.

Picard's decision was instant. "We'll go with Mrs. Troi's offer, unless a more viable solution presents itself." Unwilling to face the inevitable tide of emotion, he fled.

"Do not attempt to wake her. She must stay in that state for as long as possible," Lwaxana ordered. "I would like to start now, but I will need your help, Deanna."

"Of course, Mother." The younger Troi moved to stand beside her mother.

Not liking the feeling of being helpless, Riker fled in the same direction as his captain. Changing his mind, he headed for the holodeck, and more specifically, Worf's calisthenics program, to work off some steam.

"What would you like me to do, Mother?" Deanna asked.

"I just need you to act as an anchor, dear. Keep me from getting lost."

Lwaxana's eyes closed and then she was entering Sam's mind.

Sam looked around, trying to figure out where she was, when some sixth sense warned her she was about to be joined by somebody. She turned just in time to see Lwaxana materialize.

"Samantha, there you are. Where are we?" Lwaxana peered around curiously.

"I don't know. I was trying to figure that out when you arrived." Sam continued her perusal of the room they were in when a figure materialized not far away. She recognized him at once and grinned happily. "Patrick!" Another man, and then a third appeared beside him. "Mel! Keanu! What are you doing here?"

"Hello, Sammie. We're here to help," the one Sam had identified as Mel replied.

"We couldn't let you just not wake up," Patrick said.

"Who else would we watch?" Keanu asked mischievously.

"Your own families?"

The men all looked at each other and shook their heads as one. "Nah, too boring."

A slightly astonished chuckle broke free from Sam as she regarded her friends. "No, seriously, what are you doing here?"

"Just what we said; we're here to help you. Though we do have one other who is mighty anxious to see you," Mel declared.

A fourth man appeared beside Keanu. "Alec!" Sam breathed in happy excitement as she ran to tightly embrace her stepfather.

"Heya, Mackie. Is it ever good to see you," Alec said, hugging her just as tightly.

"Is Daddy up there?" Sam asked hopefully.

"Yes, he is. Jaden says to say hi and tell you that he loves you. So does your mother." Alec looked past Sam to Lwaxana, who had visibly blanched. "Jaden wants me to say hi to you, too."

"But, as to helping you, Sammie, do you remember when we taught you how to renovate and do your own wiring?"

"Do I ever!"

"Well, picture your brain as one of those faulty wiring jobs we had to replace. What do you do?"

"Replace 'em with something better and stronger," Sam instantly answered.

"And the ones that are okay, but not likely to last very much longer?"

"Reinforce them."

"Bingo, that's what we have to do. Are you ready? This may hurt."

"Ready and waiting."

The four men gathered around Sam and placed their hands on her head.

The seconds seemed like minutes, the minutes like hours, and the hours like days. Lwaxana had no idea how long Sam and her friends stayed in that position, but an eternity later, the men lifted their heads.

"It is done," Alec uttered quietly. "And we have to go."

Immediately, Sam flung herself into his arms. "I don't want you to go! Stay here with me. I need you! Don't go! Don't leave me!" She hugged with a ferocity born of desperation.

Alec embraced her back as tightly, but eventually set her before him. "You're not alone. We'll always be with you. But you belong here now, with your new friends. Live, Sammie, like you were supposed to. Meet a nice man, give your parents and I lots of grandchildren to guard. We all love you; we'll always be with you, even if you can't see us. We'll always be here," he tapped her chest, "and here," he finished, tapping her head. "You will never be alone. I love you, Sammie. I have since the first time I held you in my arms. That will never fade, just as I will never leave you."

"I love you, too, Alec." Sam cried out when he faded away.

"Sammie," the third man said, hugging her from behind. "He's right, you know. We will never leave you. We wouldn't be very good godfathers if we did," he admitted in a stage whisper.

For his trouble, he got a teary chuckle. Sam turned in his arms and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, burying her face in his chest. "I don't want you to go," she quavered.

Keanu briefly rested his head on her hair. "I know. I don't want to go either. But I have to. Just as you have to go back to your new family. You can't hide out here forever."

"But I want to."

"This isn't prom night, cutie. You can't take up residence here because you don't want to face the real world. Be brave, everything will be all right. I promise."

"And you never break a promise?" Sam tipped her face up to his.

"Never, ever." Keanu kissed her forehead, and then set her away from him. He reached out and rested the tip of his pinkie finger on her chest above her heart, touched his own heart, then held up his fist, pinkie extended.

Sam sniffled, repeated the gesture, and locked her pinkie finger with his. They shook on it, and she reached up and kissed his cheek.

He brought their joined hands up to gently caress her cheek, held them in front of her eyes. "Always."

"Always," Sam responded.

"Love you, kiddo."

"Love you, Canoe."

A tender smile crossed his features as he faded.

Sam looked up to find Patrick waiting to say good-bye. "Say hello to that beautiful wife of yours for me, huh." She kissed his cheek, and softly punched his huge bicep.

"You know I will. Take care of yourself."

"I know, I know. Take care of myself or I'll have you to answer to. Yeah, yeah, yeah," she teased.

"I had the time of my life," he crooned playfully at her.

Sam shrieked and covered her ears. "Where are my earplugs when I need them?" she complained, grinning at him. "Go annoy your wife with that horrible voice of yours. Leave my ears alone."

Patrick wordlessly held up one hand and wiggled his fingers at her.

"Okay, okay. I take it back!"

"That's more like it."

"Love you, Pappy."

He growled. "Love you, too, though I don't know why." Sam hugged him close and felt him kiss the top of her head.

Patrick faded as the last of them sauntered up to her. "Guess it's my turn, eh?"

"Keep Nick out of trouble, huh?"

"Keep Nick out of trouble? Keep Nick out of trouble! You should be telling him to keep ME out of trouble!" Mel exclaimed. "Keep Nick out of trouble," he grumbled.

"Gotcha!"

"You little rat." Mel grabbed her and wrapped his arms loosely around her back. "How about you keep out of trouble?"

"You first," she retorted

He made a face, and swooped in to kiss her cheek.

"Yuck! Mel germs!"

"Hey, Sammie?"

"Yes?" she looked up innocently at him.

"Shut up and let me say good-bye."

"Bye, Melly-poo."

He shook his head in exasperation. "We never did manage to teach you how to respect your elders, did we?"

"Nope!" she replied cheerfully.

"Maybe it's about time you learned," he suggested.

"Why mess with success?"

"I love you, Mackie."

"I love you, too, old man."

A reluctant smile appeared. He kissed her forehead and faded as she said, "By the way, I told Mom what you said when I asked you how to attract guys, or keep them away."

The last she saw of him was the horrified expression on his face. Sam giggled and faced Lwaxana. "I'm ready to got back now."

"You go on ahead, dear. I'll be with you in a minute."

Sam shrugged and obeyed.

As soon as Sam had disappeared, a man took shape. He stepped forward so Lwaxana could see him clearly and she gasped even though she knew perfectly well who he was. He was tall, with curly dark hair, and somber, sapphire-blue eyes shining out of a handsome, tanned face.

"Hello, Grandmother."

"Hello, Little One," she responded quietly.

"Tell Mommy not to be so sad. I understand why she did what she did, and I don't blame her for anything." He thought for a moment. "I don't blame Dad either."

"We love you, darling."

"I know, Grandmother. I love you guys, too." With those words, he faded into the background.

Shaken and relieved at the same time, Lwaxana exited with her daughter's help.

Lwaxana lifted her head and gazed down at Sam, who was now wearing a distinctly happy smile. Her head turned until she could see Deanna, hovering protectively by her side. "I saw him," she whispered.

Deanna's knees buckled and she collapsed onto the biobed behind her. "Did he say anything?"

"He loves you, he wants you to stop being so sad, he understands, and he forgives you," Lwaxana reported softly.

Deanna pressed shaking hands to her mouth to catch a sob. "Thank you, Mother."

"You're welcome, Little One. Rest now, you need it." Lwaxana tucked her daughter in and left her and Sam to sleep in peace.

Chapter 15

Sam awoke in her own room, with Stripe perched on her chest once more. For the first time in weeks, there was no pain to greet her and make her want to crawl back beneath the covers.

Good morning, dear. Lwaxana's voice rang in Sam's head.

Instinctively, she responded in kind. Morning, Lwaxana. Sam could hear a sigh from the other end, and wondered briefly what was wrong.

Everything's absolutely perfect, dearest. Nothing could be better.

That's good to hear.

You just sent to me, didn't you? Lwaxana's mental voice pealed with excitement. This calls for a celebration!

Lwaxana, no, please, I'm begging.

This isn't over.

You can count on it.

Beverly appeared in Sam's doorway. "How are you feeling?" she asked, voice and eyes radiating concern.

"Fantastic," came the immediate response as Sam dislodged Stripe and sat up to stretch.

Beverly exhaled heavily. "That's great news. Why didn't you tell me?" she asked, probing with eyes that still had worry etched in their depths.

Sam looked away guiltily. "I didn't want you to worry. I've been suffering from migraines and headaches since I was a child. They've only gotten really bad over the past several weeks, I swear."

Beverly walked over to sit beside Sam on the bed and brushed her hair out of her eyes. "I worried anyway. Please don't scare me like that again, okay? I'm not sure my poor heart could take it."

Sam looked into Beverly's eyes and smiled reassuringly. "I'm not planning on going anywhere. I want to carve out a life here, and I need to be around for that."

For the first time in weeks, Sam seemed truly happy. "What happened last night? With Lwaxana?"

"I got some sense beaten into me by four guardian angels." Sam grinned. "After my father died, they took my sister and I under their wings. Got us into all sorts of trouble." The happy memories brought a tear to her eye.

"I'm happy for you."

"I know you are, Bev. Thank you for everything." Sam leaned forward and hugged her protector.

"You're very welcome, Sammie."

They stayed like that for a few minutes, quietly embracing, until Beverly drew back with a discreet sniff. "Now, I believe you have a lesson with Data to catch up on?"

Sam's eyes widened as she remembered and jumped from the bed. "I can't believe I forgot!"

"It's understandable, what with being unconscious for most of yesterday," Beverly lightly teased.

Dressed and ready to go, Sam raced over to plant a kiss on Beverly's cheek. "See you later, Bev."

"Have a good day!" Beverly called after her. "That kid is a whirlwind," she chuckled to herself, rising to leave.

Chapter 16

To Sam's immense relief, the headaches didn't return. She strengthened her paracortex by training with Lwaxana, and her gray matter by studying with Data. She was settling into what could be termed a regular routine, though most days were heightened by Picard's constant demands to know when Lwaxana intended to leave them.

Though things had settled down, Sam's sleep was constantly punctuated by the maternal presence she had felt her first night on board. These days, though, the presence had a name and a face. Sam wasn't entirely sure what exactly her name was or what she looked like, but she knew they existed nevertheless.

Sam was preparing to devour some of the best looking food she had seen all day when a shadow crossed her table and dark-skinned woman wearing turquoise robes and a matching hat sat down across from her.

"The Lost One," the woman murmured sagely. "Only, not so lost any more?"

"Can I help you?" Sam asked dubiously. The only thing, she was sure, that could help this woman was intensive therapy.

"More like, can I help you?" the woman responded.

"Please, I'm too tired to play word or mind games. I don't want to appear rude, but if you wouldn't mind stating your business…"

"I am called Guinan," the woman offered suddenly.

"Well, Guinan," Sam said evenly, "like I requested before, please state your business or leave me in peace." She returned her attention to her plate.

"I knew your parents."

That got Sam's attention. "You knew my parents? But, that's impossible!"

"As you should well know, nothing is impossible. Especially when this ship is involved," Guinan looked around fondly. "I was on her predecessor. I served the bar, was the hostess of the Ten-Forward Lounge. When the –D­ was destroyed and they built this one, there was no room for civilian passengers, except maybe families of crewmembers. I have a standing invitation to visit, but it's nothing compared to living here."

"Thank you for sharing that with me. Now, if you don't mind?" Sam gestured broadly.

"Oh, don't stop eating on my account. Please, eat." Sam was only too willing to obey. "Your family has only been on Earth since the mid-18th century, did you know that?"

Sam's head shook in the negative. "Where were they before?"

"Around," was the enigmatic reply. "As I know you've been informed, you have a part of you that is unique only to the Betazoid race. And, I imagine, if you wished to, you could probably read the thoughts or emotions of nearly everyone on board, am I right?"

Sam raised arrested eyes to meet the dark, seemingly all-knowing ones of her companion.

"You have a very special gift, Mikayla Samantha Mackenzie, do not waste it."

"What is this 'gift' you speak of?"

"That you have to figure out on your own. But, you've been experiencing visions, impressions of a woman in your sleep?"

"Yes."

"Follow the woman; she lead you, guide you on your path." That was all Guinan said, for she looked up and greeted the handful of people heading towards her. "Doctor, Commander, Counselor, Data, Geordi, how nice to see you all again."

"Guinan, it is so nice to see you here. Have you come to pump our Sammie for information? What we've been up to since you last saw us?" Will teased.

"No. I have it on good authority, Commander, that you most definitely have not been behaving yourself," Guinan retorted.

"Ooh, better watch out Will. She's been away from us for only a year and she already has sharp edges," Beverly shot.

"Do you mind if we join you, Guinan, Samantha?" Data asked politely.

"Not at all. I have a session with Lwaxana soon." Picking up her plate and glass, Sam rose. "Thank you for the conversation, Guinan, I hope we have a chance to speak again soon."

Guinan inclined her head and watched the young woman leave. "You all have my thanks. You have done wonders with and for her," she said now to her old friends.

"You know her." It wasn't a question.

"Yes. I knew her parents, and her grandparents, and her great-grandparents, and her great-great-great-great-great grandparents, dating all the back to when they settled on Earth. I have been keeping an eye on the family, no matter where I go."

"Why?"

"I'm going to tell you a story. A long time ago, a young El-Aurian roamed the universe, looking for excitement. He wandered across Betazed and was so entranced that he stayed. He fell in love with one of the natives, but they were forced to elope because she was a Daughter of the First or Second House. They traveled to Earth, settled there, had a daughter. And once every year, they would travel back to Betazed, or even back to El-Auria. Their daughter fell in love with a Betazoid, they returned to Earth, had a daughter, and continually returned to one of the home planets. The cycle continued for 200 years.

"Sure enough, the last daughter fell in love with a quarter-Betazoid, one who had been taken to Earth and adopted by her family. They married, had twin daughters and were preparing for the ritual journey when he died. The daughter was so stricken, so heart-broken that she canceled the trip, therefore thwarting Fate and the plans She had for her daughters. The older child was stronger, more innately adept at the skills that came with her heritage, and she had a special gift, one that, had they gone to Betazed, would have been passed down through her children. But, they didn't. And now, that child is here to fulfill her descendant's destiny."

"Sam," Deanna whispered.

"Yes. Samantha."

"What is this gift of hers?"

"I can't tell you that. She has to figure it out on her own. She will need your support, no matter what happens. If she says something that seems entirely unlikely and impossible, believe it. For you know better than anyone that anything is possible on ships named Enterprise."

"Thank you, Guinan."

"Now, I'd leave you all to think about what I've just said and discuss it amongst yourselves, but you are my friends, and I have missed you…" Guinan smiled.

Chapter 17

"Quiz time," Geordi sing-songed.

Sam groaned, "Nooo."

"First scenario: In the middle of a battle, the shields fail. What do you do?"

"Transfer all auxiliary power to the shields," Sam recited.

"And if that doesn't work?"

"Then we're screwed."

"Come on, Sam, try."

Sam sighed heavily. "Fine. Destroy the enemy as fast as we can so they can't try to destroy us. If possible, figure out a way to break through their shields, and find out what the hell happened to ours."

"And if that doesn't work either?"

"We're definitely screwed," Sam said emphatically. "We can say 'bye-bye Enterprise'."

Now Geordi sighed. "Computer, run program, Engineering Shield Failure 1," he ordered.

"Come on, Sam. Show me what you gotta do," he waved at the simulated main room of Engineering.

Sam cast him a dark frown, but moved over to the console where the shields were mostly dealt with. As she worked, Sam abruptly felt this almost over-powering urge to close her eyes and relax. Obeying the impulse, she did, and fell into a world unlike any other that she'd seen.

A distinctly maternal impression forced its way into her consciousness; it was so overjoyed that Sam had found her way in, that it wanted to celebrate.

It startled Sam so much that she closed her eyes and willed herself to be back into her own body. When her eyelids flickered open and she found herself still touching the computer, Sam rocketed backward, tripping over a chair on her way.

Curious, shaking, unwilling to try again, Sam fled the holodeck, ignoring Geordi's questions and concern.

Chapter 18

"I have to tell her, Guinan. I have to show her," a man's voice said insistently.

"No." Guinan's response was as insistent as the man's. "She has to figure it out on her own."

"There's no time, Guinan. Every day that she doesn't know, is another day that could be spent learning how to control it. It's coming too fast, too soon. She has to know soon."

"Let her-…"

"No! Guinan, I know you're attached to her. I know you've spent most of your life watching over her and her family, but I have to tell her! She has to know the truth." The man sounded resigned. "I don't want to do it any more than you want me to. I want to sit back and watch her figure out all the nuances of her gift by herself, but we don't have the time. Time was altered the day her father was killed. We now need to restore it; you know that better than anyone. Please, Guinan, help me, support me in this. If there was another way, you know I'd use it."

"While I don't much care for the crowd you've been surrounding yourself with, I will support you."

"Thank you," his voice rang with relief. "I wouldn't have liked having to go behind your back."

"You would have done it no matter what I said. Now get out of here before someone sees you," Guinan ordered.

"Yes, ma'am." He kissed her cheek, and disappeared.

Chapter 19

"Is Sam all right?" Geordi asked Beverly.

"Why wouldn't she be?"

"In the middle of a test, she seemed to leave – mentally – and when she came back, she was so pale, I'm pretty sure she was shaking, too, and she ran out. I haven't seen her since."

"I'll talk to her, Geordi."

"Thanks. I was getting really worried."

Sam went into her rooms, looking for refuge, and nearly died of a heart attack when she spotted the man lying on her bed. "Who are you?" she demanded.

"Don't be scared," he said reassuringly. "I'm not here to hurt you. I brought you here, and we're running out of time."

"Who are you?" Sam repeated.

"My name is Wesley. Everybody, especially my mother, calls me Wes."

"You look a lot like…"

"Beverly Crusher, I know. My mother."

"Oh. Neat."

"We're running out of time. I know Guinan spoke to you of a gift that you possess. It's time for you to discover it."

"What is this gift?" Sam exclaimed.

He rose and stood in front of her. "You can speak to the ship's computer."

She looked at him strangely. "Everybody can speak to the computer."

"No. You can speak with the computer, using your mind, inside the computer."

"What?"

"I know this sounds strange, but you have to work with me. That maternal presence, in your dreams? That's the computer, trying to talk to you. It's also very protective of you, and willing to do almost whatever you ask of it. That day, in the simulation with Geordie, you figured it out almost. I just have to work with you a little, so you can control it."

Sam looked at him blankly.

"Come over here." He grabbed her hand and led her over to her computer console. "Put your hand on it, you don't have to touch any of the controls. Now close your eyes, and reach out with your mind."

Sam obeyed, and instantly found herself back where she had gone during the test as the female impression surrounded her. Wesley's voice continued speaking but it was from a distance.

"You feel her?"

"Yes," Sam whispered.

"That's the computer. Now, there will be no energy drain on the ship, no matter what you do. The ship will actually be gaining energy from you. Go search, explore. You will need to know this ship like the back of your hand, and there's nothing like getting into the computer to do that."

Sam was now beyond listening to anything Wesley had to say as the woman was happily leading her around, showing her anything she might ever need to know about.

"Sam, it's time to come back."

Sam found the woman's enthusiasm so infectious that it was hard to obey, but obey she did, and the computer led her back to the place where they started.

"Now, put yourself back in your body." The voice had deepened into a coaxing, gently coaching tone. "Close your eyes."

Wesley's voice suddenly seemed to come at her from all sides he sounded so close.

"Now open." Sam unexpectedly found herself gazing into warm green eyes that matched Beverly's. "You did very well," he said quietly.

For the first time, Sam found herself the host to a multitude of emotions, the foremost being that she really wanted him to kiss her. Her eyes drifted down to his lips and back up to meet his eyes, and she wondered if her eyes were telling him how much she wanted him to kiss her.

Wesley's face came closer to hers, and she tipped her up as her eyes drifted shut once more. And then…

Magic. He kissed her, his lips gently moving on hers, nibbling, teasing, coaxing, urging. They touched only there, where they were connected, and Sam wished she could stay like that and kiss him forever. His tongue ran across the seam of her lips, and she instinctively opened, let him in. He swept in and gently enticed her to respond. Hesitantly, she caressed him back, the response untutored, sweeping them both away to new heights.

So involved they were with each other, that neither noticed when the doors hissed open to admit someone.

"Sam??" Then, "Wesley!!"

Chapter 20

They sprang apart, breathing heavily, as Wesley turned away from his mother in embarrassment and Sam considered doing the same, but decided to face the intruder head on.

"Wesley Robert Crusher, what are you doing here?" Beverly demanded.

He glanced back and smiled sheepishly. "Hi, Mom. Just, uh… Introducing myself to Sam here."

Beverly scowled at him. "Wesley, don't lie to your mother."

"It's true, Mom! I figured it was past time that I made myself known to her. I did bring her here after all." The last was said a little petulantly. Wesley hated the fact that his mother still had the ability to make him feel like some green kid who had gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. So to speak.

"You brought her here? You sedated her and then left her here for us to deal with? You are definitely not the son I raised." Beverly looked unaccountably disappointed in her only child.

"Mom! When you say it like that, you make it sound as if it's a bad thing."

If it was possible, Beverly's frown got darker. "That's it. You're going to see the captain."

Wesley seemed to shrink into himself as he obviously stifled the urge to turn tail and run. "Do I have to?" he whined.

"Yes. You do. He deserves an explanation for all this."

"Mom, I can't give it to him. Everything's been disrupted enough as it is. All I can tell you is to please trust me. Everything will work out by itself, but for now I need you all to trust me. I'll try answer your questions later when this is all over."

Sam could see it went against every instinct that had been trained into Beverly at Starfleet Academy, but both Sam and Wesley could see when she decided to let him do things his way.

"Fine. But I expect an explanation as soon as this is over."

"You got it. Sorry, but I gotta run." With no remorse apparent, or none that Sam's newly awakened empathy could sense, Wesley kissed and hugged his mother and disappeared into thin air.

Sam blinked rapidly at Beverly. "Is he always like that?"

"I'm guessing it's a fairly recent development." Beverly wrapped an arm around Sam's shoulders and herded her out the door, "Now, even though he's my son, I need to live vicariously through somebody's sex life and everybody around here seems to have taken a vow of celibacy. So, details!"

Sam's eyes closed as she steeled herself for the Spanish Inquisition.

Chapter 21

Sam wandered into Ten-Forward and sat down at the bar. A little further down, she noticed Will, who looked absolutely miserable.

"Will? Are you all right?" she asked with concern coloring her tone.

"Have you ever been in love, Sammie?"

"No," she answered simply.

"Don't. It only leads to heartbreak. I was in love once. We were even going to get married."

Sam goggled at this new information Will-The-Thrill Riker had actually considered getting married once? Who'd have thunk it? "What happened?" She was definitely curious now.

"I stood her up. I left her standing at the altar. Oh, yes, big things were happening for my career," he waved expansively, "and I couldn't get away in time. But you know what I was really doing, even though I loved – love – her more than my life itself?"

"Running scared?"

"Exactly! I thought you said you'd never been in love. Anyway, I was so ashamed that I couldn't have even made time for the woman that made me complete that I stopped speaking to her. I wouldn't answer her messages; I couldn't even face her across a vid-channel. When I saw her again a few years later, Deanna wouldn't have anything to do with me."

"You fell in love with Deanna?" Sam couldn't help her surprise. Bold, brash Will had once been head over heels for the tiny, reserved Counselor? Wow, the things you learn…

"Yep. It didn't help that before I'd even left Betazed, she'd caught me in bed with another woman. That was really bad."

If Sam hadn't known that the bartenders on board only served Synthehol, she would have sworn that he was drunk the way his tongue was flapping.

"But, even with all the things we've been through, and the fact that she is my best friend, I still love her. I'd still give my life to save hers, and no, that isn't Starfleet training speaking," he frowned at her.

"I wasn't going to say anything," Sam said, holding her hands up innocently. "Do you miss her?" A movement at the corner of her eye had her gaze swinging over to see what it was. Ah, she had taken the bait.

"I can't, I see her every day."

"No, I mean, do you miss her being your lover, the woman who loves you like she loves her husband, not like she loves her best friend?"

He stared miserably into his glass. "Every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day. Not a second goes by that I don't think of her, and what we could have been if it wasn't for my stupidity."

"Well, here's your chance to tell her," Sam whispered in his ear, then backed away.

His head snapped up and he looked around. "What?"

Deanna moved forward. "You miss me?"

Will sobered and looked her directly in the eye. "Every miserable second, of every miserable minute, of every miserable hour, of every miserable day I missed - miss – you."

Sam walked out of Ten-Forward with a smug smile on her face and a slight bounce in her step knowing that her unexpected mission had been successfully accomplished.

Well done, dear! That was positively inspired! Lwaxana praised. Taking his emotions and amplifying them so Deanna couldn't help but get worried. I couldn't have done better myself!

Sam grinned and headed towards her quarters so she could practice what Wesley had shown her.

Chapter 22

The trouble began the day after they dropped off Lwaxana at Starbase 61. First the replicators went berserk, and then the turbo lifts starting acting up. Soon, the lights started getting rather unreliable, and the holodecks went off-line. The sensors started recording incorrect information.

The Enterprise had been ordered to patrol the Neutral Zone and was doing so when the sensors spotted a Romulan ship sailing through. That was when they broke. And then the helm said good-bye.

"Damn it, there has to be a reasonable explanation for all this!" Geordi exclaimed. "This isn't all happening for the heck of it. There's something wrong with the ship, but I don't know what it is. I suspect it has something to do with the computer but I have no way of isolating it."

"We're sitting ducks with the Romulans around," Riker forbore to point out.

"I know, Number One. But until we get this all straightened out, there's nothing we can do. Geordi, get all the manpower you can and get started on finding a solution to this. Number One, work with them and see if there's a way to prevent those Romulans from spotting us."

"Aye, sir."

"Dismissed."

"Geordi, Samantha told me she was regarded as a 'computer whiz' in her time. Perhaps she may be able to assist us," Data informed LaForge.

By this time, Sam had been given a communicator so it would be easy for the others to talk to her and track her down.

"LaForge to Mackenzie."

"Mackenzie here. What's up, Geordi?"

"Report to Engineering right away. We need all the help we can get down here."

"I'm on my way."

"What seems to be the problem?" All business, Sam strode in through the Engineering doors.

"Sam, work with Data to see if you can find what's wrong."

"You got it."

"Will, I have to tell you something." Unease rolling off her in waves, Deanna nervously gestured him into her quarters.

"What's wrong? Deanna, whatever it is, you can tell me."

"I'm not so sure."

"Just tell me what's bothering you and we can deal with it together."

If anything, his calm reassurance only seemed to make her more uncomfortable.

"Just spit it out, Deanna."

"Will… I – I – I…"

"What's wrong, Deanna?"

Her chin trembled. "A month after you left Betazed, I discovered I was pregnant. I figured everything would be all right when you got to Risa and we got married, but you never showed up."

"Deanna, what are you saying?"

"I gave birth to a son three months after we were supposed to meet. I named him Jaden. On Earth, it means 'God has heard'." When he gaped at her, Deanna nearly lost her nerve. "I – I couldn't take care of him, Will. I was only barely a child myself. I wasn't mature enough to care for this tiny, perfect being who would rely on me for everything. Which is why I gave him up."

Surprised anger was starting to darken his face. "Deanna…"

"A man offered to take him away, make sure he was raised in a loving, caring home with people who could take care of him. One of the conditions I had to agree to was I could never seek my son out or attempt to contact him. That decision left me sleepless for weeks, Will. You have to understand."

"Understand? You gave birth to my son, and you never told me? You never even tried to tell me that you'd had our child and then just gave him away?"

"You weren't talking to me then, remember!" she shot back, hurt that he hadn't tried to see it from her point of view. "I did what I thought was best for my son! If you don't think that's good enough, well, you didn't have a say! You stood me up, and then ignored me when I tried to tell you! Don't take that sanctimonious attitude with me, Will! It won't wash."

"What happened to him? Our son?" Will asked quietly, ashamed to realize that she was right, as usual.

"He died in an accident," Deanna replied softly.

Will's head dropped into his hands. "I never knew. I didn't even get to hold him," he whispered.

"Will, Jaden has been dead for nearly 400 years."

"400…?" Will nearly shouted.

"Yes. The man who took him for me took him back in time. But, Will, we have a part of him here with us. That part of him is on board right now. I – I got Beverly to do a few tests, and they check out. Will, we have his daughter. We have the daughter he loved before he died," Deanna told Will tearfully.

"His daughter is Sam, isn't she," Will stated in a moment of insight.

"Yes. Mikayla Samantha Mackenzie-O'Brien is our granddaughter."

"I need to think about this." Abruptly, Will rose and strode for the door.

"Will, please don't hate me," Deanna pleaded, "I couldn't bear it if you did."

Will turned and laid a gentle hand on her cheek. "Deanna, I could never hate you, even if I wanted to. Which I don't, incidentally."

Deanna breathed a sigh of relief. Will leaned down, kissed her upturned forehead, and turned to leave. "Doesn't it feel better?" he asked.

"Doesn't what feel better?"

"Getting it off your chest? You've been hiding that for nearly 15 years. It had to have been getting to you." So saying, Will left.

You were right, Mother. You were right about him, Deanna thought as she sank to the floor to assimilate the knowledge that Will had reacted totally opposite to how she thought he would, and that he didn't hate her for what she had done in the best interests of their child.

Chapter 23

Sam stared at the information the computer was giving her in disbelief. Just to make sure, she requested the same thing. Nope, it was right the first time. "Oh, crap," she said aloud.

"What is it?" came the immediate response.

"Oh, shit." Sam spun to face Data. "Data, is there a way to access the computer's programming?"

The android paused as he considered the query. "I believe there may be a way to," he answered finally.

"Good. Geordi, get over here!" she called to the Chief Engineer.

"Okay, Sam, what is it?"

"Have you ever studied 20th Century computers?" Sam asked.

"No, not really."

"Okay, sometimes there were programmers and hackers with nothing better to do than create destructive programs known as 'viruses'. It would eat away at the infected computer's hard drive until it couldn't even function any more and crashed.

"I think the Enterprise has been infected with a computer virus."

Sam watched as the wheels turned in Geordi's head. "And that would explain―…"

"The power fluctuations, the environmental control glitches, the problems with Navigation, Helm, Tactical, the replicators, the shields, pretty much everything that's been going wrong lately," Sam finished excitedly.

"So, how do we kill this bug?" Geordi asked thoughtfully.

"I need a look at its programming so I can write an Undo program. The problem is isolating the little bugger since it has its fingers in so many pies."

Geordi glanced at an uncommonly silent Data. "Data? Think you can do it?"

"I believe so, Geordi. However, finding it may take some time."

"Get on it."

"I'll help," Sam moved towards another console. "Computer, can you isolate the problem?"

"Unable to comply."

Sam found herself somewhat disappointed, even though she had expected that response. Left with no alternative that she knew of, Sam laid her fingers on the console, closed her eyes, and projected her mind into the computer.

A dull thud brought LaForge's head around and his eyes widened in shock as he saw Sam slump forward and slither to the ground.

"LaForge to Sickbay. I need a med-team in Engineering!"

Meanwhile, Sam was floating through the inner mind of the computer. "I need your help. Data and I are going to get rid of what's messing with you, but we need to find it first. Can you help me?"

In answer, a lovely middle-aged woman appeared before her and beckoned.

Sam was taken on a tour of the inner workings of the computer with the woman as a guide. She knew they were getting close to the virus's headquarters by the destruction of files and programs.

"Computer, can you access it's programming?"

The woman appeared to consider, nodded once, and disappeared. A bare second later, Sam was presented with a pop-up window displaying the virus's programming. To Sam's immense surprise and relief, it was less complex than she had imagined.

LaForge winced as the ship shuddered under the force of the Romulan attack. "Let's get those shields back up, people!" he shouted even as he frantically worked to restore the shields.

Somehow, Sam heard Geordi's order and another window was placed in front of her. Immense satisfaction glowed when she heard the shield generators powering up. Then her attention returned to the painstaking process of shutting down a parasite.

On the bridge, the lieutenant at Tactical had to look twice at the information. "Sir! The shields are back up!"

"Transfer all auxiliary power to the shields!" Picard ordered.

"Aye, sir."

"How's it going, Data?"

"I cannot seem to be able to locate the virus," Data stated, puzzlement ringing in every word.

"Keep at it, Data. It's the best we can do right now."

Sam finished punching in commands into the little PADD and scanned over her work, then handed it to the woman, who had been looking over Sam's shoulder.

"Computer, execute," she ordered.

The woman disappeared with the PADD in hand.

Consoles smoked and debris flew with every blast the ship took. LaForge took a second to take in the lightning speed with which Data worked then returned to the console in front of him.

"Bridge to Engineering."

"LaForge here, Captain."

"Is there any way to move it along faster, Mr. LaForge?"

"We're working the best we can, sir."

"Try to speed up the process as best you can."

"Yes, sir."

There was an explosion, a bright light like the holos Sam had seen of nuclear explosions and stars exploding, followed by a shockwave that spread out an encompassed everything. Then all went black.

"Sir, the weapons are back on line."

"Target the most vulnerable spots and fire at will." Picard watched in grim satisfaction as the photon torpedoes tore into the Romulan ship.

"Captain, their warp core is collapsing."

"Get us out of here."

There was a split-second wait as the warp core fired up, and then they shot forward leaving the doomed Romulans, and their ship, far behind.

Sam looked up as she felt a gentle touch on her shoulder. The same middle-aged woman stood before her, smiling softly.

Rising, Sam took in their surroundings. "Can it be repaired?"

"Yes." The woman spoke for the first time.

"Can you start it on your own? I'll send Data and Geordi in as soon as I can."

"Yes." Then, "No need. All repairs are self-contained."

Sam grinned. "Computer, commence repairs."

"Unable to comply."

"What? Why?"

"Repairs have already commenced. It is not possible to commence again."

Sam laughed freely, relief and sheer joy sending tears down her cheeks. "Can you show me the way I came in?"

Instantly, she was back to where she started. "Thank you."

"No," the woman replied as she faded away. "Thank you."

Chapter 24

Sam awoke with a gasp, flying to a sitting position. Immediately, Doctor Crusher was at her side, urging her to lie back down.

Out of the corner of her eye, Sam spotted Geordi and Jean-Luc, who had both jumped up and now stood off to one side, shuffling their feet.

"Well?" Sam demanded.

"The computer is back to normal and all damage that might have been done has been repaired," Geordi reported happily. "Sammie, what happened?"

"Nothing happened," Sam replied simply.

"Nothing is always something on this ship," Beverly noted with some amusement.

The sound of Picard clearing his throat captured their drifting attention. "As I merely came to ensure that you were all right, I'll take my leave of you now." He fled.

"Don't worry about him. Sickbay makes them all nervous," Beverly whispered in Sam's ear.

Behind him, as the doors closed, Picard heard gleeful, conspiratorial whispers and laughter. He smiled, shook his head, and went to the bridge where he knew the rest of his senior crew were waiting for news on Sam's condition.

Later, after Geordi had left, Sam snuggled back into the bed, idly reflecting that she knew Sickbay better than her own quarters.

Just as she was drifting off to Never-Never-Land, Sam felt a pair of presences at her side that started soothingly stroking her hair. She smiled, turned her head, and drifted off to sleep.

At the threshold of oblivion, she heard a pair of voices – one male, one female – whisper, "Sleep well, Little One."

Chapter 25

They were all there. Picard, Riker, Data, Crusher, Troi, and LaForge. They all looked rather serious, too, Sam noted a little nervously as she entered the conference room. She didn't think she was about to be called on the carpet, but one could never be too sure.

Then Will and Geordi winked at her.

Sam was so busy trying to figure out what the hell they meant that she almost missed Picard clearing his throat.

"It has come to my attention, that you played a major role in the saving of our ship, and in the process was injured."

Sam wondered how he had learned that, and then figured Wesley must have told him on his last visit to check on her. During that visit, he had also… Introduced himself to her further.

"Mikayla Samantha Mackenzie-O'Brien, I hereby promote you to the field rank of Acting Ensign and all the privileges and duties that accompany that rank."

Sam started breathing again, though her face retained the struck-dumb expression. "What's that mean?"

"It means you'll be training and learning under Data and Geordi, and, when they feel you're ready, you'll take the entrance exams for Starfleet Academy," Riker explained with a smile. They all grinned at her, even Data and Picard.

"Dismissed."

Purely out of reflex, Sam snapped to attention and saluted them all, then spun on her heel and left the room, leaving as the occupants started laughing.

Epilogue

"Hey, Guinan," Deanna called the bartender to the table where she, Riker, LaForge, Crusher, and Data were sitting. "That story you told us, about Sam's family."

"What about it?" the hostess smiled warmly and enigmatically at them.

"Who was the young man who settled with his Betazoid wife on Earth?" Riker asked.

"That man," Guinan said, "was my son."

Standing on the hull of the starship, right above the bridge, were three figures. They benevolently watched he oblivious crew go about their duties, including the main object of their attention.

Under the Traveler's kind eye, Q clapped a hand on Wesley Crusher's shoulder. "Good work, lad. We'll make a Q of you yet."

And the Enterprise sailed on to discover new life on new worlds, boldly going where only they had gone before.


Please review --> Constructive criticism is welcome, however flames will be used to roast marshmallows, none of which I will share.

Cen )