ST:3GEN Episode 1: "United We Stand"

EDITOR'S NOTE:
ST:3GEN was created and written in 1991-92 by myself and a group of my fellow users on Shadowlands BBS, an independent bulletin board system in London, Ontario, Canada.

Before TNG completed its run, before DS9 or VOY ever aired, 3GEN anticipated many plot and character elements that would later become part of canon: a red-haired workaholic female captain, a cynical shapeshifter, a Borg crew member, the return of Moriarty, and many other details that we had no idea were going to occur to the "official" Trek scriptwriters as well. So, if James N'Dok seems oddly like Julian Bashir, or the idea of a hologram as part of the crew strikes you as old hat, try to remember that we actually had both ideas first.

As for any radical differences or departures from later Trek canon (of which I'm sure there are at least some in this story), put it down as an alternate timeline. If you have half as much fun reading these stories as our group did writing them, I'll be very well satisfied.


STAR TREK: THE THIRD GENERATION
on Shadowlands BBS
Created and Edited by Rebecca J. Anderson
Ver. 2.0 (93/01/01)

EPISODE #1: "United We Stand"

CHARACTERS/AUTHORS:
Captain Gabriele Lester....................Lori Hewson
Commander Jacqueline Picard................Rebecca J. Anderson
Commander (Dr.) James N'Dok................Tim Ingram
Lt. Commander Barnabas Cole................Warren Postma
Lt. Commander Nikctalos D'pyrann...........Geza A. R. Reilly
Lt. Commander Mac Moore....................Dan McMillan
Counsellor T'Pryn..........................Rebecca J. Anderson
Centurion Salek............................Adam Gilchrist
Lt. Maverint Slike.........................Steve Mahler


From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

Jack sat in Ten-Forward nursing a cup of Earl Grey and a tension headache that would have killed a healthy Klingon. "You can't have a headache," her mother would have said. "We cured headaches long ago." Mind you, she'd said the same thing to Jack's father just before that whole mess over the U.S.S. _Stargazer_ blew up and Ferengi started popping out of the woodwork.

Jack was pretty sure there weren't any Ferengi hanging around this sector trying to mess with her mind, but that was small comfort. A battle with the Ferengi would be a welcome relief from the strain she felt right now.

The Captain was being impossible. Again. They hadn't told Jack about this when she'd been promoted. Or maybe they had, and she'd been too wrapped up in the thrill of signing on with the legendary _Enterprise_ to notice.

"Can I sit down?"

Jack looked up to see Guinan standing over her. "What? Oh, yes, of course." She liked the woman, but she found it distracting that she had no eyebrows. It always made her want to take out a pencil and draw some on.

Guinan looked back at her with coffee-coloured, startlingly candid eyes. "You're very like your mother, you know. When I see you, it's like watching her ghost. Until you open your mouth, and then I _know_ who your father is."

"Was," corrected Jack automatically.

Guinan shrugged. "Do you see Wesley much?"

Jack shook her head, staring into the steaming depths of her tea. "Hardly at all. He's got a lot on his mind since he took the chair."

"I hear the _Victoria_'s a good ship."

"Not as good as this one. I told him he should have stuck it out, but who am I?"

"His sister."

"Half-sister."

"It doesn't make any difference to him. He adores you, you know that. But he wasn't about to step on your toes. From what I hear, nobody, but _nobody_ wants to do that." Guinan smiled. "Wesley's a good Captain. He was getting too old to be playing First Officer anyway. Someday this ship will come to him...but until then, you're here. There's a Crusher on the _Enterprise_, and that's all that matters."

"I wish it were," muttered Jack.

"Jacqueline," said Guinan softly, leaning forward, "just let it go. You're new here. It's hard, but it'll pass. Soon you won't be able to remember a time when you didn't love this ship and everybody in it like your own breath and blood."

"Even the Captain?"

"Even," said Guinan with a half-smile, "the Captain."

"You sound like a prophetess," said Jack. "I hope you are."

"Trust me."

"Commander Jacqueline Picard," said the intercom, "report to the bridge."

"Responding," said Jack, getting up from her seat. She looked longingly back at her cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot), flickered a smile at Guinan and headed out the door.

Guinan picked up Jack's tea and sipped it thoughtfully. She made a face and put it down. "Gods, Jean-Luc," she murmured to the stars shooting by outside, "what did you ever see in this stuff?"

* * *

From: Doctor James N'dok

Medical Log - Stardate 59801.2

It has been 2 hours since the alien infection invaded Starbase 133. Approximately 20% of the crew and 30% of the colonists have been infected. I am working on a solution in which to heal the ailment: however, all tries so far have been unsuccessful. The disease causes terrible rotting of the skin. I have called the disease "Annexia" and am looking for a cure. It does not respond to conventional treatment. I only hope the cure comes soon...

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

"Hello, Dr. N'Dok," said Jack to the familiar face on the council room monitor, "and how are we feeling today?"

"Gads, you're just like your mother sometimes."

Jack half-smiled at the rueful tone in James' voice. "She was pretty hard on you, as I recall."

"But a good teacher."

"I know. I'm sure the folks at Starbase 133 will be sorry to see you go."

James' eyes went wide. "Go? You mean I've been accepted?"

"Certainly. You'll like Captain K'anrok, I hear the D'Ken's a good ship--"

"A Klingon ship? I didn't even--Jack, you'd better be kidding me."

"We referred you," said Jack serenely. "We'll be taking Dr. Saalen on when we get to Starbase 68--you remember Dr. Saalen, don't you? I hear you and she were great friends back on Delta- V..."

"You've _got_ to be kidding me."

N'Dok sounded so desperate that Jack couldn't help but laugh. "Of course I am, James. Congratulations, and I'll be the first one to welcome you on board the _Enterprise_. We'll be docking at Starbase 133 at 0900 hours."

"Jack," said James, "when I get on that ship, I'm going to take you down to Ten Forward, and buy the biggest stein of synthehol you ever did see--"

"Yes?"

"--and pour every last drop of it over your head."

"Transmission ends," said Jack blithely, and reached over to switch off the viewscreen.

"No," said James. "Not yet."

Now he sounded serious. Jack sat back in her chair and said quietly, "What is it?"

"There's disease here. A bad one, Jack. I've tried everything I could think of, but it isn't enough. I don't know how long it'll take to bring it under control. It may not even be safe for the _Enterprise_ to dock at the Starbase until I can find the cure."

"That bad?" asked Jack.

"Yeah. That bad."

"I'll notify the Captain. Keep in touch, and if we can help in any way, let us know."

"Tell me," said James. "Was there any...opposition to my application for C.M.O.?"

"Well, the Captain didn't know you very well," mused Jack, "and I had to supply some background detail... but otherwise, no. Not from me, if that's what you want to know."

"The Captain didn't--" James looked baffled. "Jack, I thought your half-brother was Captain of the _Enterprise_!"

"Wesley? No. He's on the _Victoria_, for now at least."

"So who's your Captain, then?"

Jack took a deep breath. "You'll meet her soon enough. I've got to go, James. See you in a few hours."

"I sure hope so," said James fervently, and the viewscreen went black.

* * *

From: Doctor James N'dok

"Doctor!" said the voice over the intercom.

"Yes, Commander?"

"N'Dok! The Annexia has become VERY, VERY serious... casualties have risen to 500. And James..." The Commander sounded very worried. "The Admiral has it. It's pretty serious."

James got himself a stress injection. His anxiety levels were very high, and he felt frustrated beyond belief.

"Understood, sir..."

"N'Dok. You're a GOOD doctor, an EXCELLENT doctor. Remember? You're going to be the new C.M.O on the _Enterprise_."

"One disease. I was trained on Delta V! How...?!"

"Just keep trying... That's all we can expect."

"Yes, Commander."

After a brief conversation with the computer, he left the room to visit Starbase 133's Counsellor.

"James!" said the Counsellor as he entered her office.

"Hello, Aliana. How are you?"

"Fine. But you aren't... What's wrong?"

James gazed speechlessly into the dark, warm eyes of Starbase's 133's Counsellor.

"Sit down," she commanded.

"Huh?"

"Sit!" Aliana was a very aggressive woman. Not many disobeyed her.

He sighed. "All right. I know you're going to drag it out of me... So... I may as well tell you."

"Go on."

"You've seen the effects of Annexia, right?"

Aliana paused for a moment. "Yes. I have."

"I can't cure it. I'm a Doctor, Aliana. TRAINED on Delta V. I can't cure it."

"James. Don't be so hard on yourself. You know you're trying. We know. Just do your best. That's all we can expect."

James bolted up.

"Yeah? Well maybe my best just isn't good enough!"

He stormed off out of the room. Aliana's cry of "James!" was never heard.

* * *

From: Mac Moore

Mac stared at his computer screen with horror. "What the blazes is that? I must notify the Captain immediately!"

"Engineering to bridge!" Mac's voice was noticibly agitated.

"Bridge acknowledged." It was the voice of Jacqueline Picard. What had happened to the Captain? Mac had been on the _Enterprise_ now for over a week, and he had still to meet or see the Captain. He was beginning to wonder if the _Enterprise_ had a Captain. Although Commander Picard was more than efficient at filling in for the Captain, whoever that was.

"What's up, Mr. Moore?"

"Well, there's some sort of field breaching the hull. The usual sensors don't seem to pick it up. I wouldn't have noticed except the field seems to be causing strange fluxuations in the warp drive."

"Okay, Mr. Moore. Give us a full analysis and report in one hour. Bridge out."

* * *

From: Captain Gabriele Lester

Captain Lester was standing in the doorway of her Ready Room and the Bridge. She'd heard the conversation between Mr. Moore and Commander Picard. No one seemed to notice her, and that's the way it seemed to have been ever since she arrived at her new command.

She knew very well the capabilities of her First Officer, and was comfortable enought to leave her the Comm. for the time being. It took time for a crew to become used to a new Captain, and a new ship. Most of the _Enterprise_'s complement was made up of new but competent crew members. Captain Gabriele Lester felt it best to stand back and observe the workings of the new crew, and their relationship with their new 'home', the proud flagship of the Federation. If the crew knew they were being observed, or even aware that their new Captain was assessing them, they would be stiff and possibly too eager to please, thus not show her a proper sampling of their behavior.

However, Gabriele was both impressed and disappointed with her new First Officer. True, her capabilities were outstanding--they would have to be--yet the tension between them would be a source of great stress for both of them, if not resolved soon. Professional respect was one thing, but the relationship between Captain and First Officer would have to be one of total trust and an almost single mind to be shared. At least, that was her opinion.

Gabriele had not gone through Starfleet through the command channels, but the sciences. For three years, she served aboard the U.S.S. _Excalibur_ as C.M.O. before making the difficult transfer from Blue to Red. She had even had the honour of meeting Dr. Crusher, her First Officer's mother. Jacqueline was very much like her mother, and much like Gabriele herself, perhaps that was part of their problem.

"Commander Picard," she said in an authoritative voice. The Commander turned to her, momentarily surprised at her presence.

"Yes, sir?" she replied.

"Can I see you in my Ready Room please?" Gabriele gave the Bridge to Lieutenant Berringer, and headed into the Ready Room. Jack followed.

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

"How may I help you, Captain?" said Jack. She stood before Lester's desk, head held high, legs braced and hands behind her back in formal salute.

Gabriele shook her head ruefully. "At ease, Number One. If there's anyone on this whole ship who should be able to relax in the presence of their Captain, it's you."

Jack let her hands drop to her sides, and assumed a more comfortable position. "As you wish, sir."

"Please, don't call me sir," said Gabriele. "You make me sound like a modern Major General."

A ghost of a smile touched Jack's lips. So the Captain had a sense of humour after all. Perhaps she had judged this woman too harshly. She wasn't ordinarily the type to jump to conclusions about people, but something about this woman had rubbed her the wrong way when they'd first met a week ago on Starbase 165. Funny, though, the more she thought about it the more she couldn't really remember what it was.

"Tell me, Commander," said Gabriele, getting up from her seat and walking over to stand by Jack's side, "do you not feel that a Captain and a First Officer should be able to work together?"

"I do, yes."

"But it seems to me that something is hindering us. Neither of us is foolish enough to think that in a mere seven days two strangers can become the best of friends, but it would lift a great burden from my mind if we could at least get to know each other a little. Do you know that half the ship doesn't seem to know I exist? You've been doing my work for me."

Jack stiffened. "I beg your pardon."

"Don't mistake me," warned Gabriele. "I am not criticizing your performance in the least. You show an almost alarming competence. I do know that before the _Enterprise_ picked me up at Starbase 165, you were in command. Only for a little while, of course, but still it's not an easy thing to give up."

"No," said Jack quietly.

"However," Gabriele continued in a crisper voice, "we are all called upon to make sacrifices. No doubt you will indeed be a Captain someday. But at this point you are my First Officer, and I would very much like to see you work in that capacity."

Jack was silent.

"Do you understand?" asked Captain Lester.

"It is required in stewards," said Jack unexpectedly, "that one be found faithful. She who is faithful in little will also be faithful in much." She smiled, and her eyes met Gabriele's for the first time since the interview began. "I have been under some strain of late. But I will be a good steward of the trust you have placed in me, Captain."

"I could wish for nothing more," said Gabriele. "Now. Shall we conduct the interview with our Chief of Engineering? I hear that Lieutenant Commander Moore has discovered something rather...unusual."

"Certainly," said Jack. "I'll call him in."

* * *

From: Doctor James N'dok

"The CURE!" exclaimed James, leaping up from his computer console. "THIS COULD BE IT!"

He pressed his communicator.

"Commander?"

"Yes? James? Is that you?"

"Yes Commander! I think I've found a cure!"

"A cure? Are you sure?"

"Well, I'm not positive yet, but I'm going to try it with a patient."

"Do that."

Silence. The excitement grew in him. JACK! he thought. I've GOT TO tell Jack!

* * *

From: Barnabas Cole

Barnabas Cole lay in bed, long awake, waiting for the inevitable.

"Commander Cole?"

The young female voice over the intercom held poorly concealed traces of excitement.

He twisted until his arms could reach the console. He gave his bed a fond look over his shoulder and stood up.

"Barnabas here... What have you got Krystan?"

"Yes, Sir. The tests have all been finished. Half of the samples have been contaminated, but the uncontaminated ones are still alive and working. From our first results I'd estimate that with an air recycler built with these active cells, we can turn water into air supplies."

"Uhh. What was in the contaminated specimens?"

"Nicotine, sir."

"These bacteria have a habit? Fascinating. We'll talk later."

His voice took on the tone of a father reproving a daughter. There was a slight pause, a stifled laugh in the background.

"If you say so, sir. Krystan out."

Starfleet was forever given Barnabas Cole the tasks that nobody else wanted. When it came to anything toxic or anything that most teams were too scared to do, Barnabas Cole was given the job. Now, rather unexpectedly, he had been pulled away from the mining planets which he had been assigned to and had been assigned to the _Enterprise_, the proudest and the fastest, the flagship of Starfleet's Nova class ships.

Barnabas walked to the food dispenser.

"Barnabas Cole. Special diet C-7-A."

The dispenser hummed to life. A large glass mug filled with a strong black liquid appeared. He grabbed it and headed to the back of his cabin. The starscape visible through his viewport held a planet in the lower left corner. He saw his own face in the window, and quickly turned away. He ran his fingers through his silver-gray hair, set down his coffee and set off with purposeful strides towards the turbo-lifts.

A younger self smiled from a picture on his commode; his hair was black, his fair skinned features had been chiselled out sharply, and his eyes were a shade of hazel. As the door closed behind him, he pushed down thoughts of the man who had been forever lost, closed his silver eyes, and paused a moment. His lips moved in the silence, while the turbo-lift carried him to the bridge.

His first day of duty on the Starship _Enterprise_ had begun.

Jacqueline Picard was standing outside the turbolift as the door opened. He stood and looked fearfully at her, hoping perhaps she wouldn't recognize him. For the first time that day, Barnabas Cole didn't know what to say.

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

Jack stared at the silver-haired, silver-eyed, pale-skinned man in Starfleet gold as though seeing a ghost. She had expected to see Chief Engineer Moore in the turbolift; instead, there was...him.

"You?" she whispered.

"Yes."

"But you left Starfleet. You said you were never coming back after the--"

"The incident. Yes. But I have the right to change my mind, do I not?"

"What are you doing here?"

"Didn't they tell you? I've been signed on as Science Officer."

"Science--" Her voice was hoarse. She cleared her throat and went on, "That's quite a step up, isn't it?"

"I haven't been idle these past two years, you know."

"You never were."

"Look who's talking," said the figure with a slightly nervous laugh. "Last time we talked, you were just a Lieutenant on the Copernicus. Now you're here--and First Officer, at that."

"Yes, well... it was something I had to do."

"And that's the way I feel about coming back."

"Did anybody--recognize you?"

He shook his head. "Only you. And I'm glad of it, really. I got tired of being poked at by every doctor and scientist in Starfleet... and after a few months I made sure they got pretty tired of me too. That part's over. For now, anyway."

"Good," said Jack. She stepped aside, let him pass by on his way to the Ops console. The Lieutenant who'd been sitting in the chair quietly got up and left as Barnabas approached, though not without a curious glance at his superior's strange appearance.

The glance would have been somewhat more than curious, thought Jack ruefully, if the Lieutenant had only known how Barnabas Cole had become that way. Jack had been there when the incident happened. She'd seen it all. But Barnabas had made her promise not to tell anyone, and she wasn't about to break that promise now.

She took a deep breath, composing herself, and turned back to the Captain's ready room. No doubt Lt. Cmdr. Moore would put in his appearance there soon.

* * *

From: Mac Moore

"Captain Lester, I'm Chief of Engineering Moore. I've got a report about a strange warp field oncoming from Starbase 133."

"Yes, I know who you are Chief Moore. Have a seat please. You've met Commander Picard of course?"

"Yes, Captain, I have." He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Might I say it's a pleasure to finally meet you, Captain."

"Oh...ah, yes. Let's have that report, Chief."

"Well there's not much to tell. Except that the source seems to have disappeared. It was just a steady pulse, getting stronger as we neared the Starbase, and then nothing. But I managed to locate the source. It was coming from the medical section of the Starbase."

"Nothing else to report, Chief?"

"No Captain, that's all I can tell you. One minute it was there, the next...gone!"

"Thank you Chief Moore. Dismissed."

"Thank God for that!" whispered Mac to himself as he left the room. I guess I'll get to the bottom of it some other time, he thought. I don't think I want to stick around for a cat fight either. Commander Picard didn't say a word the whole time I was in there. Scary!

With those thoughts slowly dwindling off, Chief Mac Moore returned to engineering.

* * *

From: Captain Lester Captain Lester watched the Chief Engineer nervously walk out of the chambers. She was rather pensive about the latest occurances that were keeping the ship from gaining the remainder of its crew. The doctor in her, that was still very consuming despite her new position, made her wish she could aid the new C.M.O. in his search for the cure. But, her duties were now far more wide in scale and she couldn't allow herself the luxury of delving yet again into the world of complicated cell structures and electrical/chemical reactions that made up the human body, no matter how tempting.

The Captain now turned to the Commander who looked to be concentrating on something. Her eyebrows were closely knit together.

"Interesting man Number One," said Gabriele, her chair now turned facing Jack. The Commander, taken away from her thoughts, looked at Gabriele as she continued, "Very nervous though, he looked as if he expected one of us to bite him. Perhaps he should run a diagnostic on his own food replicator; his coffee may contain too much caffeine."

Jack smiled. "You may very well be correct, sir..." then paused and corrected herself, "Captain." The thought that she had been lucky to have such a First Officer as Jack crossed Gabriele's mind. Her impression had improved 100% now that they have spoken more.

"I tell you what Number One, when we are alone, why don't we put ourselves on a first name basis. It may be against tradition, but I would think that things will be far more comfortable that way."

"Okay, Gabriele, that sounds reasonable. Now what do you think of the Engineer's report?"

Gabriele was quiet for a moment, then sat back in her chair, and ran a hand through her black, shoulder length hair. "I think that we should have a talk with our new C.M.O. and find out what he is doing."

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

The _Enterprise_ glided in to dock at Starbase 133 only a few hours later. After receiving the all clear, Jack and Captain Lester entered the space station to find a flushed and exultant N'Dok there to greet them. All around them, the station's crew bore livid scars, a sharp reminder of the disease that had gripped the Starbase only hours before. But even these marks were fading fast.

"I did it, Jack!" crowed James.

"So I see. Congratulations. How did you do it?"

"Well, I'd been looking for some sort of organic cure. But then I found that the bacteria could be killed by theta waves. I set up a steady pulse, and--"

Jack held up a hand in sudden comprehension. "Wait. Those theta waves would be pretty powerful, wouldn't they? They'd extend beyond the Starbase, perhaps?"

"Oh, yeah. Definitely."

"Do theta waves have any documented effect on warp drives?"

"Um, I'm not sure. Why?"

"Just a hunch I had. We'll check it out when we get back to the _Enterprise_; I have a feeling this may solve a mystery. Well, are you packed and ready to go?"

"You bet. My replacement just arrived, I've taken my leave-- oh, Captain Lester, my apologies." The young doctor reddened and saluted the amused Gabriele. "I'm so sorry, Captain. I didn't see you."

"Being overlooked seems to be my lot in life," replied Gabriele cheerfully. "I'm getting used to it. I welcome you to the _Enterprise_, Doctor; shall we go on board?"

* * *

"We are due in two days to pick up our new Security Officer at Starbase 168. Our Counsellor will be arriving soon afterward, and then we will be ready to undertake our first mission." Gabriele folded her hands and gazed down the length of the council table at her small contingent of officers. Jack was at her right, beside her the mysterious silver-eyed Science Officer Barnabas Cole; across the table sat the curmudgeonly but loyal Chief of Engineering, Mac Moore, and the new arrival James N'Dok, who somehow managed to look rakish even in Starfleet medical green. They were an odd group, and with two officers yet to come, would likely just get odder. But there was promise here, as well.

Jack glanced over at Barnabas, but the chrome-coloured eyes never wavered from their contemplation of the Captain as Gabriele went on, "This is the newly outfitted flagship of the Federation. You well know the glory associated with the name of _Enterprise_. You also know the names of the many great men and women who have served Starfleet aboard this ship over the past two centuries. I trust that each one of you will continue in that tradition, upholding the honour of this ship and making for yourselves a place in history fully equal to those who have gone so bravely before. I do not ask this. I _expect_ it of you, just as I demand it of myself. And from what I have learned of each of you over the past few days I feel that you may very well be able to meet those high but noble expectations."

She paused, her eyes flickering to the viewport beside her and the stars beyond, and a little smile touched her lips. "Well," she said. "I've delivered the speech; very pretty, isn't it? But what It amounts to is this: do your best, and try not to blow us all up if you can possibly avoid it. And if Dr. N'Dok drops any virulent bacterial cultures I want to know immediately--"

James leaped to his feet, eyes widening. "I know you! I had you for first-year virology on Delta V!"

"Well, so you did," said Gabriele pleasantly. "I do hope that's not your bedside manner, Doctor, or I can predict an alarming increase in heart failure among your patients."

Jack bent her head to hide her smile as N'Dok sank slowly back into his chair. Beside her, however, Barnabas' face remained impassive. Jack found herself wondering if, for this one, the old wounds would ever heal...

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

Jack fell into step beside Barnabas as they left the council room. "So," she said, "How does it feel to be Science Officer?"

"Strange," said Barnabas frankly. He stepped onto the turbolift; Jack followed. "Bridge," he said, and the lift began to hum its way up the shaft.

"What do you mean, strange?" said Jack.

"Just what I said. For the last year I've been working on all the most dangerous and dirty jobs in Starfleet. Once the doctors figured out what I could do, my superiors figured out how to exploit those capabilities. Nobody really asked me what I wanted. Then, all of a sudden, this promotion to Science Officer on the flagship of the Federation. Are they trying to make it up to me, or something?"

The muscles of his face were rippling like liquid mercury, the features sliding in and out of focus. "You're shifting, Barnabas," said Jack in a tight voice. "Stop it."

His chrome-coloured eyes flashed to her, startled; then his face eased into its usual shape. "Sorry," he said. "That doesn't happen often."

"No. You're upset, and I can understand why. But there's nothing to worry about now. Whatever the reasons, you've got the Ops position now, and nobody's going to take that away from you. Or they'll have to deal with me. You deserve this, Barnabas. You've worked for it. And nobody in Starfleet could do the job better. I believe that."

The doors hissed open. They stepped out onto the bridge, to find a nervous-looking ensign waiting for them. "I was just about to call you, Commander," he said to Jack. "We've been receiving sub-space transmissions from an unknown ship."

"What kind of transmissions?" said Barnabas sharply.

"We don't know, sir. The computer doesn't recognize the language, but we've got the universal translator working on it."

"That's a good start." Jack tapped her badge. "Captain Lester?"

"Acknowledged, Number One," said Gabriele's voice. "What seems to be the problem?"

"I think you're needed on the bridge, Captain," said Jack.

* * *

"And the translator is still unable to decipher these transmissions?" said Gabriele, eyes narrowing as she scanned the seemingly random waveforms undulating across the Tactical console.

"We've tried modifying the range, and searching for repeating patterns that might indicate common words, and we've sent greetings in over a thousand languages, but...nothing." Barnabas shrugged. "It's got to be a message of some sort, but we can't do anything until we know what it means."

"Are you sure it's a message?" said Jack suddenly. Barnabas and Gabriele looked at her. "I mean," she went on, "what if it's a data transmission rather than an attempt at verbal communication?"

"The computer knows the difference," said Barnabas.

"It would recognize known data formats, yes. But what about a protocol it couldn't recognize? Something new. Maybe it's not meant for us at all. It could be an exchange of data between two alien ships, or stations, or planets, and we're simply getting in the way."

"What might they be transmitting?" asked Gabriele.

"I don't know," admitted Jack. "But it might be enlightening to find out."

* * *

From: Capt. Gabriele Lester

Gabriele was just as stumped at the rest of the bridge crew. The eager Ensign had taken his place at the helm control a little too quickly. That was to be expected of a new crew. Barnabas had taken his place at Science Stn. 1. and was presently flashing his hands about the board with a confidant adeptness that reassured Gabriele.

"Talk to me, Mr. Cole." She was standing behind the Ensign's chair but moved toward her chair when she noticed how nervous he got.

"I'm receiving the same information as before Captain, but now I'm picking up some traces of radiation...curious. That does not indicate a ship."

"On screen, Ensign."

The crew gazed out at the stars. There was not a ship in sight.

"Magnify 100 times."

Now, a small dot appeared in the upper right side of the screen.

"Isolate and magnify 1000 times Sector 23.7, Ensign." said the Commander. There appeared a red planet, still quite far off.

"What can you tell me of that planet, Mr. Leibowitz?" Gabriele asked of the Ensign.

"It is 3000.53 kilometers away. It's called..." He paused, looking for its name on the sector chart. "Mursatt 1."

Barnabas picked it up from there. "Mursatt 1 is a class D planet. Its thin atmosphere is mainly sulfur dioxide, and can protect the planet from the intensely charged particles in the nearby radiation belt. So that's what the reading was." His silver eyes remained on the panel as he read off the vital information. "The planet maintains an enormous magnetic field most likely caused by the highly charged electrocurrents in its liquid metal core." Gabriele and Jack looked at each other and frowned.

"I think I'm beginning to understand now," said Gabriele. "Where is the nearest sun, Mr. Cole?"

"The nearest sun to this planet went supernova three weeks ago."

"I see as well," said the Commander. "If the sun still existed, Mursatt 1 would have captured the charged particles ejected by it. As is now stands, the magnetic field is attracting all interstellar gas and dust. Mursatt 1 must be the largest relative planet in this system?"

"You're correct, Commander."

"So, what we're saying is that it is very likely that the matter in its core can undergo thermonuclear reactions. Do you recall that fact that was drilled into us in Planetary classes? 'The largest planet is a star that failed'. Is it likely, Mr. Cole, that we are picking up intermittent charges of dust, gas, radio particles and electrocurrents travelling to the planet via the radiation belt?"

"Very likely, Captain." He continued to look curiously at her.

"Ensign," said Gabriele, "set course for the next starbase. Warp factor 6."

"Aye, Captain."

"Engage," said Gabriele as she crossed her legs and carelessly tossed her hair behind her shoulders.

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

"You called for me, Captain?" asked Jack.

"Yes," said Gabriele. "Come in, Number One." As Jack stepped into the ready room, and the door hissed shut behind her, the Captain lifted her eyes from the small viewscreen on her desk and smiled. "Have a seat," she said, indicating the chair before her. Jack sat.

"I've just been reviewing the applications for bridge crew," Gabriele said. "As you are aware, we still lack a Counsellor, a Tactical Officer, and a Chief of Security."

"And a Transporter Chief," Jack added.

"Yes. But the filling of that particular position is not as urgent as the others. Have you reviewed the applications at all yourself?"

"No," admitted Jack. "I didn't wish to encroach on your territory, so to speak."

Gabriele's eyebrow lifted. "No fear of that, Number One. I value your input. Well, then. There are some... rather unusual candidates applying for all three positions. Starfleet has already sent me several communiques about these candidates, and other Captains have told me I'd be a fool to look twice at any of them. Still, as you must know by now, I have a slightly warped sense of humour, and the more I look at these personnel records the more these three appeal to me."

"I can't begin to imagine what they must be like," said Jack curiously. "Who's the applicant for Counsellor?"

"Her name is T'Pryn."

"A Vulcan Counsellor?" Jack wasn't easily startled, but the complete ludicrousness of the concept shocked her. "How--"

"You'll have to review her file yourself," said Gabriele. "But despite the warnings from my peers, I think she sounds absolutely fascinating, and I'd like to give her the chance. So far her record has been exemplary--it seems to be the mere concept of the thing that throws Starfleet for a loop. Still, they had no excuse not to let her graduate."

"A Vulcan Counsellor," murmured Jack again. "I can hardly believe it."

"That isn't even the strangest of our applicants," said Gabriele. "There's a Borg and a Romulan in the lot as well--not applying for Counsellor," she amended as Jack's eyes widened, "for Tactical and Security. But all I can say is, we're definitely following in the grand old tradition of the _Enterprise_--the weirdest crew in the galaxy."

Jack whistled tunelessly under her breath. "Captain, I think this might be a little too unusual."

"Maybe," said Gabriele cheerfully. "But something about it tickles my fancy--especially that girl T'Pryn. But don't let me convince you. Review the files yourself--" she pushed a crystal across the desk-- "and let me know what you think."

"I'll do that, Captain," said Jack, taking the crystal and getting to her feet. "Permission to leave."

"Permission granted," said Gabriele. "Oh," she added as Jack turned to leave, "did you notice Ensign Leibowitz's behaviour on the bridge today? I wonder if he's not...perhaps a little inexperienced to be on the bridge?"

"I was thinking that myself," said Jack. "Would you accept a suggestion for a replacement?"

"Certainly. Who did you have in mind?"

"Lieutenant Maverint Slike. He seems to be a responsible sort, and I've heard nothing but good reports of his work so far."

"So have I, and I agree," said Gabriele. "He's married to Dr. Tanthis, isn't he? She's a good worker too--Dr. N'Dok is quite pleased with her. Well, I'll have a talk with Mr. Leibowitz and suggest that there might be a more suitable vehicle for his unique capabilities elsewhere on the ship. Feel free to notify Lieutenant Slike of his new position."

"I'll do that," said Jack.

* * *

From: Nikctalos D'Pyrann

Borg number 889, 349, 246, 345, 001 sat in his quarters at Starbase 168.

Having been isolated within his rooms, barren of any form of creature comfort or appliance, was the only true way for him to show his excitement.

For you see, the Borg designated number 889, 349, 246, 345, 001 was unique in all the universe. He was to be appointed, if accepted by the ship's Captain, to be the Chief of Security on the flagship of Starfleet, the U.S.S. _Enterprise_. What's more, he was the first Borg inducted into Starfleet, having sought political asylum from his Borg compatriots some years ago.

Borg number 889, 349, 246, 345, 001 was the first Borg that was separated from the Borglink group mind. He saw himself as an individual, full of hopes and dreams, just like any other sentient, not roped in by the Borg's mechanical mind. His problem was that while he had these feelings, he could not express them. Evolution (or what passed for evolution among the Borg) could only work limited miracles. It had freed his mind, true, but it had not also freed his hands and mouth so he could express those joys and emotions.

But now he had a bigger problem than his lack of social skills. For while he was no longer connected per se to the Borglink, he still needed the fine line of mental contact to survive. In other words, he needed the mental touch of his 'brothers' in order to live, but could do without losing his consciousness to the good of the race.

Unfortunately, the other Borg had different intentions. They did not appreciate his going renegade, and wanted him back, wanted him to conform to the ways and means of Borg society. So they used the Borglink all Borg need to continue living to pound at his mind, in the hopes that one day, he would give in.

And right now, mostly due to the approach of the _Enterprise_, he was mentally weak. The chances of a Borg attack on his brain succeeding were at least possible, and even a possibility when dealing with the Borg is too much.

So, he needed a distraction.

Rising from his seat, he crossed the room to the Computer Control Panel, and plugged his left wrist appendage in.

+Computer.+ he sent to the machine, +Estimated time of arrival, U.S.S. _Enterprise_.+

"Twelve hours, forty-five minutes." the Computer piped aloud, unnecessarily.

+Upon arrival of U.S.S. _Enterprise_ send alert to Holodeck seventeen. End of line.+

He then broke the contact.

Travelling to Holodeck seventeen, Borg number 889, 349, 246, 345, 001 thought of the program he had to run.

For he understood that number 889, 349, 245, 345, 001 was hardly an acceptable title for a fully-fledged Starfleet officer. In order to interact among the Humans, he must have something they all had, something they took for granted, and something which he could only find by scanning the ancient files held within the Starbase's Holodeck.

A name.

* * *

From: Lt. Maverint Slike

Maverint sat in what he liked to call his "easy chair", located beneath the "space"-light window in his living quarters. It was a term he had picked up from a very early holographic record his great-great grandfather had compiled for him to view on his 18th birthday. With that compilation, Mav had learned more about the past than he could ever have learned in any educational center in the galaxy... as far as Mav was concerned. And of the stories Mav's great-great grandfather had left him that were intermixed loosely with important historical occurances, Maverint's favorite was "The Easy Chair". His great-great grandfather always slipped in the fact that no matter what ever happened, how crazy life became, it would all disappear when he slumped down into his comfortable old chair.

Reflecting on that for a moment, Mav put down his tac-board with which he had been calculating possible derivatives that could increase the effect of the tractor beam. Being a Lieutenant qualified him to work more with his brains than his hands, and sometimes that just got to Mav.

"A desk job" Mav thought and laughed softly to himself, recalling another old saying his grandfather used. His eyes drifted across the quarters, very dimly lit as per Mav's preference. Murals and sculptures adorned the room, just as it seemed they did in every other set of lodgings on the ship he had been in.

"Just like everyone else..." Mav sighed. Then his eye caught her silhouette in the more brightly lit doorway leading to the bedroom. "And then again..." he added.

Kate walked over to him, padding across the floor in her bare feet, having just stole a nap between shifts and the adoring arms of her husband of a scant two months. She had come in exhausted and dropped listlessly into Mav's lap as he sat in his chair working. After quicky drifting off, Mav settled her into their bed and resumed his work. Now she padded towards him, her eyes bright and sparkling from the rest. Without a word between them, she took hold of him by the collar, pulled him up and kissed him deeply.

"I forgot to say 'Honey, I'm home' when I came back, didn't I?" Kate said after pulling back into Mav's encompassing arms.

"I forgive you..." he replied smiling, then kissed her again. They both slumped gently down into the easy chair. "We were in the middle of something when you got called in, remember?" Maverint smirked.

"Yes, I do..." her voice trailed off, brushing her cheek against Mav's, breathing lightly into Mav's ear.

Suddenly the attention blip sounded and a voice passed through the air to Mav and Kate seated rather awkwardly in the chair. Mav straightened up in alarm, as did Kate, and he gave a reply for the voice to go ahead.

"This is Commander Jacqueline Picard, Lt. Slike." A slight chill ran down Mav's spine. "I'm sorry I couldn't meet with you in person, but my duties have kept me occupied other than a few moments."

"I understand." Mav replies calmly.

"Your services have come highly recommended for the CON position on the bridge and, as of now, are immediately needed. Will you accept this new assignment?"

"Yes, sir!" Mav responded quickly.

"Understood, Lieutenant," the voice replied. "You are due for duty in 20 minutes. Picard out."

Kate hugged Maverint tightly, herself overjoyed at the turn of events. "My man at the helm..." she purred.

* * *

Maverint walked calmly onto the bridge, giving it only a quick glance. He knew his duty, having served at the CON of the his old assignment aboard a Sovereign Class Battlecruiser for the better part of three years. He excused the ensign from the CON and sat down.

"Good to have you on the team." a voice said behind him from one of the command chairs.

Turning around in his chair, Mav faced Jack. "Thank you, sir." They exchanged smiles, then Mav turned back to the CON.

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

Jack stood by the viewport in her quarters, staring out into space. She wanted to look at the stars, but her eyes refused to obey; they kept flickering back to her own ghostly reflection in the port's glassy surface.

Guinan was right: Jack was the image of her mother. The soft red-gold hair, the fine features, all were Beverly's. All except for those piercing, ice-blue eyes, the eyes everyone who had known Jean-Luc Picard recognized at once.

There was a good deal more of her father's mettle in Jack than her delicate beauty suggested. Ordinarily her voice was soft, but it cracked out like thunder when her temper got the better of her; she could turn heads on the other side of Ten-Forward with that voice, or startle even an admiral into silence. She rarely used it, however. One of the things that had ensured her meteoric rise through the ranks of Starfleet was a cool head and an iron will. And those were things she owed to both her parents.

Right now Jack was exceedingly tired, though her self-control was rigid enough that the only visible mark of that weariness was the pale blue circles beneath her eyes. She hadn't been sleeping well of late. A lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure, maybe a bit of loneliness mixed in with it as well...

"All right," she said to her own reflection, "a lot of loneliness."

She had made many friends on the Copernicus, but had left them all when she signed on to the _Enterprise_. She didn't regret the decision in the least: what could be more exciting than to be First Officer of the flagship of the Federation? But still, it hadn't been easy. Gabriele was a good deal easier to get along with than Jack had dreamed her new Captain could be, but they weren't fast friends--at least, not yet. And of course, there was Barnabas, who used to be a good friend, but the pain of what had happened to him had driven a wedge between them. Every time he saw her, he was bound to remember what his life had been like before the accident. She could hardly blame him for avoiding her. She only hoped, for his sake, that soon he would find somebody-- anybody--to talk to.

Jack pondered whether she felt like going down to Ten-Forward, or perhaps going for a horseback ride on the Holodeck. She didn't really feel like doing either. She could, however, take a look at those applications Gabriele had given her. Crossing the room to her console, she slid the crystal into its slot and sat down, her eyes narrowing as the holographic image of a male Borg coalesced in the air above her. The computer's dispassionate voice began, "Name: Borg number 889, 349, 246, 345, 001. Graduated from Starfleet, Stardate 59712.3. Rank: Lieutenant. Qualifications..."

Jack listened to the entire file and found herself both surprised and impressed. Of course, she had heard about this Borg's defection and his subsequent application for Starfleet: both had made headlines when they happened a few years back. It had been totally unprecedented on the part of Starfleet to accept into the Academy a member of a race still at war with the Federation, but he had passed all of the tests with top marks, and both the psychological profiles and the data the Borg had allowed them to download from his mental coprocessor had checked out so cleanly there seemed no reason whatsoever to reject him. Still, Gabriele had said that she'd been warned against accepting him... were those warnings born of foresight, or merely prejudice? After viewing the file, Jack still wasn't sure. But there were some pretty good testimonials appended to the file from a number of officers and crew at the Borg's previous posting, Starbase 168-- including a brief word in his favor from Captain Solok, who Jack knew from experience to be a canny judge of character and a hard man to impress.

The next file was no less interesting. This was the Vulcan female who'd applied for Counsellor--T'Pryn was her name. She'd been bonded once, but her husband had died shortly afterward in the destruction of the mining colony on Eridani V. After that, she'd entered the Academy. The rest of the file was nothing short of riveting. As with the Borg, T'Pryn's record was exemplary, her psychological profile flawless. Appended to the file was a clip of T'Pryn expertly counselling a distraught cadet. Jack was intrigued -- no, more than intrigued, she was convinced. She could certainly understand why, given the unusual nature of the "experiment" T'Pryn described in the file, so many of her fellow Vulcans would be alarmed at the prospect of her remaining in Starfleet. But was that cause not to accept such a spectacularly qualified candidate? Not to Jack, and she suspected not to Gabriele either.

The third file was an application for an exchange, not a permanent position. A Romulan. She and Gabriele would have to do some serious talking about that one, but again, the record looked good. Jack leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, fingers massaging her temples to work out the tension. Well, she'd done her duty; now she might be able to bring herself to relax. Yawning, she got up from the chair and headed for her bedroom.

* * *

From: Centurion Salek

Salek was fuming. He was in his quarters on board the Amaloch. He had just received news, via subspace, that the Praetor had chosen him to be the exchange officer between the Romulan Empire and the Federation.

_I'm sure the enmity between our families had absolutely nothing to do with your decision, mighty Praetor,_ he thought. There had long been harsh feelings, and not a few deaths, between the Praetor's family and that of Salek's. _This is just his way of getting rid of me. Probably hoping someone in Starfleet will take me out for him._ Salek re-read the orders:

To: Centurion Salek, serving on the Amaloch.
From: Romulan High Command, Praetor's Section

Congratulations, Centurion Salek! Due to the history of your loyal service to the Romulan race, as well as your exemplary performances aboard the Amaloch, you have been selected as an exchange officer. The Federation will be sending your replacement within 3 Myriaps. You will be expected to leave immediately upon his arrival, to rendezvous with the Federation Starship _Enterprise_, NCC-1701-F, where you will serve under Captain Lester.

You will be required to fill out a Starfleet transfer request, which must first be approved by your new Captain. It has been enclosed here. Fill it out and transmit it with all due haste. I am positive you will be accepted.

Division Of Military Transfers
Praetor's Section
Romulas

The order was signed by the Praetor himself.

Salek was a loyal Romulan; loyal to Romulans, not to the Praetor. In secret he despised the fat man who dared to use the title, but not assume the responsibilities.

_However, I will go,_ he had thought. He filled out the application, and transmitted. He was now waiting for the reply, hoping. Whether he was hoping for acceptance or a rejection, he was not sure.

He allowed himself a small smile. _At least it's the _Enterprise_. He could have ordered me onto a garbage-scow, instead of the Flagship of the Federation._

His communicator signaled. "Centurion Salek. We have arrived in Federation space for the peace talks. Please report to the bridge."

Salek stood, and walked out of his quarters, leaving all thoughts of the Praetor behind him.

* * *

From: Dr. James N'Dok

"Dr. N'Dok to Cmdr. Picard!"

"Picard here. What's up, James?"

"Commander. I have some news for you..."

"Go ahead, Doctor."

"Well, it's Starfleet regulation for ALL bridge officers to undergo a complete physical. I just called to confirm. You're due first, then the Captain. Since you seem to be getting along with her better than I, could you--"

"Sure. But James, The Captain doesn't bite."

"Oh, I know... But she's, uh, well, different."

Jack dismissed the matter. "Fine James, I'll do it this once. When do you want me to report for the medical examination?"

"ASAP, Commander. I have to do a physical on you, the Captain, Barnabas, and any new personnel coming on board. Which reminds me... What's this about a Borg Security Officer?"

"Heard through the grape vine, eh? You are correct. But I can't give any other information. I can't give the C.M.O access to Starfleet records until the transfer of duty of completed."

"Understood, Commander. - N'Dok out"

Jack pondered this for a moment. How could she have forgotten a simple medical examination?

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

At 1400 hours Jack stood in Sick Bay, tapping her foot impatiently as James circled her, the medicorder humming in his hand. She was glad, at least, that in the 24th century a complete physical took only a moment, and unlike the examinations of bygone days, did not require any embarrassing removal of one's clothes. Jack knew James a bit too well to be comfortable with that idea-- mind you, being examined by a total stranger under those conditions would be no picnic either. Three cheers for modern technology.

"Well," said James as he consulted the reading on the medicorder, "You're in top physical condition--except you're stressed out, which is no good. You're taking on too much, Jack, or taking yourself too seriously, or something. You need to relax more when you're off-duty, get your mind off your work."

Jack was silent.

"And get more sleep," James said firmly. "Gods, girl, didn't your mother bring you up right? If you don't take care of yourself you'll be no good for anything, least of all commanding a starship. Captain Lester's results were almost as bad as yours. Loosen up a little, will you? Both of you." He turned away and picked up a skinjector from a nearby table. "If you find yourself getting too tense, take this. It'll relax your muscles and allow you to sleep better." He pressed the little device into her hand. "Now shoo. I've got Barnabas coming in soon."

Nobody else on board would have dared to say "shoo" to the First Officer, but within the confines of sick bay James was in command, and even the Captain was not immune to his chidings. For all his boyish exuberance, James could be a real mother hen sometimes... Jack stifled a smile as she left the room and headed back to her duties on the bridge.

* * *

From: Lt. Nikctalos D'pyrann

"_Enterprise_, this is Starbase 168. One to beam up from transporter room seven." "Acknowledged, Starbase 168. Transporting now. Nicholson out."

Ensign Nicholson activated the transporter, yawning quietly to herself. It had been a quiet day, despite the _Enterprise_'s docking at Starbase 168, which was commonly seen as one of the more esoteric places to be, due to its host of rather unusual Starfleet officers. Her yawn stuck in her throat when she saw the form of the Borg materialize on the transporter pad.

She had managed to stop her hand from instantly grabbing her phaser and firing by only millimeters. Images raced through her mind, of the stories about the _Enterprise_'s first encounters with the Borg, twenty-some odd years ago, of how they were supposedly indestructible, that if you didn't get them right away, they'd get you. And then she remembered the briefing that the T.C. had given her, about beaming up some rather unusual candidates, including a Borg.

Of course, she thought, I'm being an idiot.

"Commander Picard," Nicholson called, "I think you had better come down to transporter room three."

"Is there a problem?" came Jack's reply.

"One of the candidates has arrived."

"On my way!"

Nikctalos D'pyrann looked down at the Ensign who was currently looking awkwardly at him, her hand hovering near her phaser holster.

Regulations stated that he was not allowed to enter the ship until given express permission to do so, and so he stood there, waiting motionless for the Commander to arrive.

* * *

Commander Jacqueline Picard strode down the corridor towards Transporter room three. She had been steadying herself for this moment, when she must actually face one of the most terrifying races ever encountered by the Federation. She entered the Transporter room.

"Oh my -" she said upon seeing Nikctalos. Even though she had prepared, the sight of the hulking, mechanical monstrosity took her aback somewhat.

Recomposing herself, she stepped forward.

Nikctalos saw the Commander enter the room. Putting himself into the 'at-ease' stance, he said.

"Lieutenant Borg number 889, 349, 246, 345, 001 reporting. Request permission to come aboard. Request permission to begin duties as Chief of Security of Starship NCC-1701-F, U.S.S. _Enterprise_. Request official recognition of name change from Borg number 889, 349, 236, 345, 001 to Nikctalos D'pyrann."

Nikctalos fell silent once again, waiting for the Commander to answer.

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

Jack gave herself a mental slap. _Idiot!_ she thought. _You're the First Officer of the _Enterprise_, not an addle-brained cadet._ She forced her head up and met the Borg's dead eyes with her own defiantly blue ones. "Welcome to the _Enterprise_," she said crisply. "The starbase advised us of your wish to change your name. You may consider your choice officially approved, Lieutenant D'pyrann. I believe the Captain would like to see you in her ready room before you are assigned to duty: will you follow me?"

She turned unhesitatingly to leave, and saw out of the corner of her eye the Borg clanking down off of the transporter pad. For all the heavy-looking hardware, he moved fluidly and with surprising speed. But then, he would have to, to be able to apply for the Security post. He'd have to be downright deadly...

Jack put that thought firmly out of her mind and led Nikctalos out of the Transporter Room, down the corridor and into the turbolift. He followed her silently, his footsteps making no more noise on the carpeted floor than the paws of some great metal cat. The only sound was a soft sighing of compressed air from the joints of his technologically-enhanced limbs, and the almost inaudible high-pitched whine-purr-click as his internal processor assimilated sensory data.

Jack had made a close enough study of the Borg's file to know these things about him--and more. She was almost sure she'd never have to use most of that knowledge, and she certainly didn't want to use it. But it was important for her to know that should anything go wrong, there was at least one person on the _Enterprise_ who knew how to kill Nikctalos D'pyrann.

The turbolift doors closed with a hiss. She was alone with the Borg. "Bridge," she said curtly, and the elevator buzzed its way upward. Nikctalos remained silent, staring at the flashing red light on the wall.

_He must know how to relate to humans by now,_ Jack thought. _He's probably just nervous, a bit tongue-tied. I know I would be._ Still, it was hard to think of a Borg being nervous, even though she knew it was possible. Despite their humanoid appearance, the Borg were so...mechanical. One soon stopped thinking of their human aspects at all and simply thought about machines. She'd have to unlearn that to work with this thing-- _no, this man,_ she corrected herself firmly.

The turbolift door opened; they stepped out onto the bridge. "The Captain's ready room is to your left," said Jack. "I must attend to my other duties."

The Borg inclined his head to her. "Thank you, Commander," he said. Jack gave him a smile that was a little thinner than she'd meant it to be, and walked down the ramp to her chair. Barnabas, seated at the Ops station, gave her a curious look as she sat down, then turned his silver eyes to the Borg, who was standing in front of the Ready Room door, motionless.

"Enter," said Gabriele's voice from beyond the door. Nikctalos stepped forward and vanished.

"Shouldn't somebody else be in there?" asked Barnabas quietly.

Jack shook her head. "He's been through Starfleet, Mr. Cole. And unless the Captain decides otherwise... he's about to become our new Chief of Security."

* * *

From: Lt. Nikctalos D'pyrann

At the sound of the Captains voice, Nikctalos entered the room. It was a nice, well furnished room, as would befit a Captain of Starfleet's flagship. Decorated in soft greys and working blacks, the room blended with its furniture to give the impression of a friendly, easy to work in atmosphere, while at the same time commanding the respect deserved.

Of course, all of this was lost on Nikctalos. He stood directly in front of the Captain's desk, his legs slightly apart, and his hands behind his lower back. The only sound currently was the slight hiss of his respirator, a largely unnecessary device, but he employed it so the Humans around him would feel more comfortable.

The Captain looked up from her holo-screen. "Ah," she said, "Lieutenant D'pyrann, I presume." Nikctalos shifted his gaze slightly to take her features in. She was pretty, by human standards, and fairly young, not at all beyond what most Humans knew as the mating stage.

"Acknowledged." he replyed, "Lieutenant Nikctalos D'pyrann reporting for duty after having received assignment orders from Starfleet command at Starbase 168. Request permission to begin duties as Chief of Security for NCC-1701-F U.S.S. _Enterprise_."

He waited, as regulations clearly stated he must, for an answer.

* * *

From: Lt. Cmdr. Barnabas Cole

Realizing that he was no average person himself, Barnabas tried to rationalize the Borg's presence on the _Enterprise_ away. It had been his experience that the race caused nothing but problems. Having a single Borg on the ship was, in his opinion, just as bad as having a few thousand whirring cyborgs wandering around the ship.

At least, he thought, Jack must have inside information on this creature. For one, she's not stupid enough to let him on the ship if she didn't have an ace hidden somewhere, that was in her genes. Barnabas knew what most Starfleet officers knew about the Borg, which wasn't much, and so he made a mental note to find Jack later when they were alone and question her.

As Science Officer he would have to work closely with this "Nikctalos". His cold features hid the inner repulsion he felt at trying to work with this servomechanically animated shell. Perhaps he might be an excellent resource, though; Starfleet's new biological "lung" project might need all the help it could get.

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

"Number One, report to my Ready Room."

Gabriele's voice echoed across the bridge. Jack exchanged glances with Barnabas, then rose from the command chair and headed for the door as the silver-skinned Lieutenant moved to take her place.

"You called, Captain?" said Jack as she entered the Ready Room. Gabriele was seated at her desk, with Nikctalos standing directly in front of her. Not a muscle on the Borg's tall frame moved; he stared straight ahead.

"Yes, Number One," said Gabriele. "I would like to have your input. You said that you had extensively reviewed the file of Lieutenant D'Pyrann?"

"Yes, I have," said Jack.

"And to what conclusion did you come afterward?"

"I could see no reason why he should not be accepted. With certain necessary restrictions, of course."

"Of course." Gabriele smiled slightly. "Yes, I too have made a thorough examination of the file and feel that while this is an...unusual candidate, to say the least, his qualifications are impeccable and his record exemplary. I wished only to be certain that you were comfortable with the decision, Commander, as it is important that a Captain and her First Officer be in total agreement, especially as far as the bridge crew is concerned. And since you will be leading the away teams, and the Lieutenant will almost without exception accompany you on such missions, it is especially important that you have no reservations. Lieutenant D'Pyrann--" the Borg's head turned slightly to regard the Captain, and his dead eyes focused at the sound of his name-- "it is my pleasure to appoint you to the position of Chief of Security of the U.S.S. _Enterprise_, to take effect immediately. You will relieve acting Chief of Security Lieutenant Mordon, who will become your second-in-command."

"Thank you, Captain Lester," said Nikctalos. "I will carry out your orders as stated."

"Dismissed," said Gabriele, and the Borg inclined his head to her before turning and moving silently out the door.

When he was gone the Captain let out a long sigh of relief. "Quite the interesting one, isn't he?" she said to Jack, who smiled.

"I know exactly what you mean," she replied. "But he is certainly more...approachable than the other Borg I have fortunately not yet been privileged to meet."

"You know more about the Borg than most," pointed out Gabriele. "After all--"

"I know," said Jack. "I grew up with somebody who was part Borg to the end of his days. Not what one would call a stable childhood." She smiled a little. "But I never saw that side of my father, and I have hope that Lieutenant D'Pyrann may yet discover the human side of himself."

"As have I," agreed Gabriele. "Now. The other thing I wanted to see you about was this application for exchange from the Romulans. They would like to send us one Centurion Salek, who would act, in a limited capacity of course, as our Tactical officer for a period of two years."

"Yes, I know. I examined his file as well."

"Again, have you any reservations? If we accept him, we'll need to appoint a Second to keep an eye on him, of course."

"Of course. But apart from that, no, I see no problem. He appears to be a responsible and well-trained candidate, and his psychological profile is unusually promising for a Romulan."

"Yes." Gabriele pondered this. "It makes me wonder why they'd let him go."

"You mean, because he's valuable to them?" asked Jack.

"No," murmured Gabriele thoughtfully, "because as far as the Romulans are concerned, he's dangerous..."

* * *

From: Lt. Nikctalos D'Pyrann

Nikctalos left the Captain's ready room, his respirator trying, and failing miserably, to cope with the emotion of 'bated breath'. For that was how he felt at that moment, excited. He had been accepted as the _Enterprise_'s CoS, and what's more, his enhanced hearing had allowed him to catch part of the Commander's conversation, they thought he may be able to become more human!

The idea had him doing cartwheels, mentally. To think that he could finally express himself, after all of these years of being bottled up! It was exhilarating.

Of course, his pasty-white, inexpressive face gave none of this away as he walked across the bridge to his station.

Arriving at the comm-port, Nikctalos looked straight at the young black man who was currently standing in front of him.

"Lieutenant Mordon." he said, "I am Lieutenant Nikctalos D'pyrann. By order of Starfleet Command, I hereby take on the position of Chief of Security for the starship NCC-1701-F U.S.S. _Enterprise_. You are hereby appointed Second in Command of Security. You are dismissed until 17:50 hours."

Nikctalos turned away, towards the computer holo-screens, leaving one slightly dazed Lt. Mordon in his wake, and jacked into the computer.

He began by familiarizing himself with the computer system of the _Enterprise_. Most people thought all computers in Starfleet were alike. Not so, every computer had it's own unique programs and system operations, thus, every computer was a brand new world to explore.

In a matter of moments, he had memorized all of the pathways within the computer system. If something went wrong with the warp- drive system in engineering, or if a food-slot went down in an ensign's quarters, he would know, as long as he was jacked in. He could access any function of the computer almost instantly, and could just as quickly get a status report on any deck of the ship. Satisfied that he knew the _Enterprise_ like he knew his own neural-nets, Nikctalos ended his work by getting a report from all decks and stations, each signifying that everything was in perfect working order. He then jacked out, and stood at the ready, waiting for the Captain and Commander to come out and supply further orders.

* * *

From: Lt. Maverint Slike

Having completed docking sequence checks at his duty station at CON, Maverint stood from his chair to be quickly replaced by a bright eyed ensign. Mav walked the slope of the bridge and entered the turbolift as its twin doors hissed apart at his approach. He turned and cast a quick glance at the bridge as the doors closed in front of him.

* * *

Kate sighed listlessly as she lay bundled in the blankets of their bed. She rolled over onto her back slowly and turned her head to the left, letting her eyes fix into a stare on a picture of her and Maverint on Erosta propped up on Mav's bedside table. Her mind began to wander with thoughts of her and Mav's lives aboard this starship. Her thoughts were muddled and filled with self pity.

'What about a family? Is our love for the stars always going to overcloud our love for one another... until one of us dies in some strange mishap aboard the fabled _Enterprise_, leaving the other a broken shell of the person we loved?' she thought mournfully. The thought sent a slight chill through her and she rustled the blankets into a tight cocoon in an effort to fend off the uncomfortable sensation.

She thought about her parents on the planet colony of Trenton- II, right beside Maverint's family on its neighbouring planet colony of Hindrid. Her parents' lives always seemed so simple and fulfilling, not complicated with thoughts of duty, desire and family like her own. Of one of the many things she and Maverint had shared with each other in their short time as husband and wife, the one thing that came to Kate's mind at this moment was how it was ironic that their desires to be a part of the stars had brought them together. It was the thought of traveling amongst those burning lights in the skies and travelling to places they could not yet imagine that drove them both to enter the Academy.

With Kate's mother's background as the chief medical officer of the colony, Kate's instant ambition was to follow her mother's example. Kate had graduated with top honours and had been almost immeadiately assigned a post aboard the U.S.S. _Salk_. It was on one of the _Salk_'s missions that she met Maverint. His Royal Sovereign class battlecruiser had been severely damaged by an internal explosion and the number of injuries were great among its crew of 850. Maverint had offered her his help in tending to the wounded, whenever his schedule of repair work would allow it. They became close friends over that time and from there, their relationship grew into love. They were married shortly thereafter and spent a short time on the resort planet Erosta, enjoying their honeymoon.

When they returned to duty as a married couple without immediate plans for a family, they were both reassigned to the _Enterprise_. Kate now wondered if it had been a wise decision to accept their commissions aboard a vessel which forbade the inclusion of children and was renowned for its 'encounters'.

Her eyes began to feel heavy and she closed her eyes, trying to blank her mind of the thoughts of family that seemed to torture her...

* * *

Maverint entered their quarters in the dark. Trying as best he could to be quiet, he walked into the bedroom and saw his wife dozing. Normally, he would have left her to her rest, knowing her shift started just an hour from now. It was the sight of her hand clenched tighly around the edge of the blanket, so tight that even in the dim light Mav could see the knuckles were white, that brought him to sit on the side of the bed. At the movement of the mattress, Kate stirred and sat up. Mav looked into her sleepy eyes, glistening in the dimly lit darkness. They were filled with a look of despair... love... wanting.

In that brief look, Mav understood the source of all of these emotions. He put his arms around her and pulled her close to him. She wrapped her arms around him and they hugged. Mav lightly brushed over her long brown hair with his hand as her head rested against his shoulder. He knew of no words that could come to his lips that would ease her mind... or his own.

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

Jack rapped at the stateroom door.

"Come," said a voice from within.

The door opened, and Jack walked into Barnabas' stateroom to find him seated at his personal tech-console, hands moving restlessly across the touchpad. "What are you working on?" she asked.

"Oh, just bacterial stuff. Really it's Krystan's pet project, but she has this amazing ability to find everything but the obvious." He swivelled around in his chair and looked up at her. "Thanks for coming by."

"Well, when you called I assumed it was important. What's on your mind?" Jack walked over to the settee and sat down, crossing her legs and folding her arms. Barnabas followed and eased himself into the overstuffed armchair, his silver eyes serious.

"It's about the Borg," he said. "Are you...okay about this?"

"Do I wish I could take him apart gear by gear for what the Borg did to my father, you mean?"

"Well, if you want to put it that way, yes."

Jack smiled. "No. Why blame Nikctalos for the sins of his fathers? The fact that he's left the Borg shows that he doesn't approve of their ways, and his greatest desire seems to be finding a way to cut himself off from them forever."

"Seems to be," said Barnabas.

"Yes. I know: he could be a spy. But the Borg consciousness doesn't work like that. They're utilitarian--they conquer by superior technology and armed strength, not by stealth. In other words, they're highly intelligent and exceedingly adaptable, but they're not clever. Spying simply wouldn't occur to them. Being a good spy requires acute psychological awareness, both of oneself and of one's enemies. And the Borg gave that up with their humanity."

"You're saying, in effect, that the Borg don't lie."

"Do computers lie?"

"They malfunction."

"But malfunctions are as abhorrent to the Borg as a loathsome disease would be to us. Any malfunction would be immediately corrected, or the unit would be terminated. And Nikctalos, technically, is in perfect working order."

"But he's still tapped into the Borglink."

"At this point, in order to survive, he has to be."

"What if they take him over? I don't think anyone wants a killer Borg on the loose."

"According to his psychological profile the danger of the Borglink battering through Nikctalos' mental defenses is minimal, and James has just informed me that it may be possible to cut Nikctalos off from the link entirely."

"As your mother did with your father."

"Yes... well, almost entirely."

"Okay," said Barnabas. "But let's take a worst-case scenario here..."

"Barnabas, if this is what you're really worried about, I've made a thorough study of Nikctalos' technical specs. All I'd need would be a second's distraction, and I could take him down. I've also briefed his Second, Lt. Mordon, on this matter. So whatever happens, there's no cause for concern."

The Lieutenant nodded.

"Is that all?" Jack asked.

"Yes," said Barnabas.

"Good." She got to her feet and headed for the door. Barnabas remained silent. Something made her stop and turn back to scrutinize his averted face. His expression was one of guarded melancholy, as usual. "Are you okay?" she asked with more gentleness than was her wont.

He did not look up. "I'm fine."

"Our Counsellor will be arriving soon," Jack said. "You might want to talk to her."

"No thanks," said Barnabas, a bitter metallic undertone creeping into his voice, "I've had enough of misdirected pity. You can't counsel what you don't understand."

Jack was silent. "No," she said at last. "I suppose not." She turned and left the stateroom, and the door hissed shut behind her, leaving Barnabas alone in the half-light, staring out the viewport into space.

* * *

From: Lt. Cmdr. Mac Moore

As the turbolift climbed towards the bridge Mac's stomach swelled. This was going to be his first real mission on board the _Enterprise_. Imagine, Mac Moore, Lieutenant Commander, Chief of Engineering onboard the flagship of the Federation.

The doors opened, and in walked something Mac wasn't expecting...a Borg! "Hello Lieutenant Commander Moore."

"uhhh....Hello...You have me at a loss, sir...You know my name, but I don't know yours?" Of course Commander Picard had told him about the Borg security officer.

"Nikctalos D'pyrann is my name sir."

"Well Nikctalos D'pyrann then it's nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you?...Ahh a form of greeting. I'm sorry I'm still trying to adapt to the ways of non-Borg society."

"So Nikctalos....ummm you're the Chief of Security? Right?"

"Yes that is correct Lieutenant Commander Moore."

"Hey Nikctalos just call me Mac. We're co-workers and equal rank so don't worry about calling me by my full title when we're not on station. Besides titles always bothered me. My mother named me Mac not sir, or Lieutenant Commander."

"Very well Mac I think this is the bridge."

"Yep looks right, time to meet the rest of the new crew. Come on Nikctalos my friend let's go to work."

"Mac?"

"Let's assume our stations Nikctalos."

"I see...Of course Lieutenant Commander Moore."

Mac groaned.

* * *

From: Dr. James N'Dok

"N'Dok to Picard."

"Go ahead, James," piped the pleasant female voice of Jack, the _Enterprise_'s First Officer.

"The Borg has been assigned today, correct?"

"The Lieutenant? Sure! Why do you ask?"

"Well, I've read some medical information on them, and I understand that people _do_ feel undercomfortable around them."

"Right again."

"I _could_ change him back to a human, you know."

Jack was silent.

"Jack?" he asked.

"James, you'll have to give me some time. Besides, he's just getting used to things."

"Sure thing Commander. Just let me know what everyone else, including the Borg, thinks..."

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

Jack sat in the council chambers, gazing at the small viewscreen before her. She had two notices of acceptance to put through: one to Counsellor T'Pryn and one to Centurion Salek. As First Officer, it was her duty to inform the candidates of their acceptance: when they boarded the _Enterprise_ they would be privileged to meet their Captain. Still, not knowing either T'Pryn or the Romulan made things a little difficult. Notifying James had been a lot easier.

But she was not one to hesitate. "Computer, establish a sub- space communication link to Starbase 218."

There was a slight pause. "Established."

Jack sat straight up in her chair and gazed down at the screen with her father's air of cool command. "Starfleet Sub-Space Communication, Stardate 59818.3. Commander Jacqueline Picard to Lieutenant Commander T'Pryn of Starbase 218, greetings. Your application for the post of Counsellor on the _Enterprise_ has been thoroughly examined in accordance with Starfleet regulations, and it is my pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted. We will be arriving at Starbase 218 in 2.5 days, at which point you will be asked to transfer immediately to the _Enterprise_. Congratulations, Counsellor, and welcome to the _Enterprise_ crew."

"Send as dictated?" asked the computer.

"Send," said Jack.

Now for the Romulan. "Establish a sub-space communication link to the Romulan ship Amaloch."

The pause was a lot longer this time, but not as long as it might have been: it was fairly easy to locate a ship that was at the Federation Peace Talks.

"Starfleet Sub-Space Communication, Stardate 59818.3. Commander Jacqueline Picard to Centurion Salek of the Romulan warbird Amaloch, greetings. Your application for exchange has been thoroughly examined in accordance with Starfleet regulations..."

When she had dictated the message to her satisfaction, informing the Centurion of the duties he must perform as Tactical Officer and the limitations of his access to Starfleet records and computer systems, plus the necessity of a Second to keep watch on him in accordance with the agreed-upon terms of the exchange, she closed the communications port and got up. Stretching stiff limbs she moved to the viewport and stared out at the stars streaking by outside.

"A Borg at Security, a Romulan at Tactical, and a Vulcan Counsellor," she murmured to no one. "Starfleet is going to think us completely mad..."

Then she remembered one communication she had not delivered. Tapping her badge she said crisply, "Lieutenant Nikctalos D'Pyrann, report to the First Officer in the counsel chambers immediately."

"Responding, Commander," came the Borg's dead, metallic voice.

Jack sat back down at the head of the long glassy table, crossed her legs, and waited for the Borg to enter. She had only to wait a few moments before the door hissed open and Nikctalos clanked in.

"Lieutenant," she said, indicating the seat to her left. The Borg took it.

"It has been brought to my attention," she said, looking him directly in the eye--well, she supposed that telescopic protruberance served the same purpose as an eye, though it hadn't the same cosmetic appeal--"that our Chief Medical Officer, James N'Dok, believes himself capable of severing you partially or totally from the Borglink, and, possibly, returning you to a more or less human state. I had no intention of accepting such an offer on your behalf; indeed, I was not sure you would be interested. So I told him that I would inform you of the possibilities, and that he must await your decision on the matter."

The Borg was silent, but she could almost hear the gears whirring as he contemplated this unexpected information. "He would remove my mechanical appendages and make me small and pink like you?"

Small and pink wasn't exactly the way Jack would have described herself or indeed humans in general, but she let this pass. "Perhaps--if you wish it. However, I have not the same confidence in the Doctor's ability on this score. I discussed the matter with the Captain, who as you may or may not know is also a doctor, and having made an intensive study of your medical records, she believes that one who has been a Borg all his life could not be deprived of his servo-mechanisms without being crippled or killed. That is a risk neither of us ask you to take."

"Nor am I willing to take it," replied the Borg. "I am Borg. I do not obey the Borg Mind, but even so I will not be other-than- Borg. Borg is--" he paused fractionally-- "what I am."

Jack nodded. "But perhaps he can help with the Borglink. You might wish to consult with him on the matter when you are off- duty."

Nikctalos inclined his metal-shrouded head to her. "I will do so. Request permission to return to duty, Commander Jacqueline Picard."

"Permission granted," said Jack.

* * *

From: Centurion Salek

"Go ahead."

"Centurion, you have a sub-space communication from the Federation Starship _Enterprise_."

Salek was suddenly nervous. Here was what he had been waiting for: the acceptance, or denial, of Starfleet.

"I'll take it here."

He walked across the room to his personal communications screen. When he turned it on, he quickly read the report. Acceptance.

Salek could barely contain himself. All along, he was not sure whether he had been hoping for acceptance or rejection. Now that he had been accepted, he knew.

Suddenly, he stopped his personal celebrations. He thought carefully to himself. Was the name on the communique "Picard"? Glancing back to the screen, he searched for the name. Yes, there it was: Commander Jacqueline Picard.

* * *

Sevana was a Rank 7 Officer. She was also Salek's closest friend.

"Hmmm. I see your dilemma, but I can see only two possible ways to resolve it."

"And those are...?"

"One. Do not accept the assignment."

Salek thought a moment, then shook his head. Sevana sighed. She had hoped he would stay. She had grown quite fond of him recently.

"Two," she continued. "Confront her with it immediately."

Now it was Salek's turn to sigh. "I had already come to that conclusion. I was just hoping for another way around it."

"Well, there is a slight possibility that she doesn't know about it."

"No. Even if that is so, deception is not the way to start off a relationship. Especially not with one's superiors!"

"No," Sevana corrected him. "Commanding Officers. You are Romulan. You have no superiors."

Salek thought to himself, _That train of thought will have to go, if the talks are successful._ "Sevana, thank you. Your advice and your presence have both brought me peace. Will I see you in the mess later?"

She wrinkled her nose. "Not if you will be eating any of that awful Terran food again."

Salek smiled. "No. My last meal will be Romulan."

She smiled back. "In that case, I'll see you then. Oh, by the way, what was it you were eating the other day?"

"A Terran delicacy. I believe they are called 'Sweet Breads'."

* * *

A light bleeped on the bridge. The communications officer responded. "Yes?"

"Officer, this is Centurion Salek. Inform me immediately when the _Enterprise_ arrives. Then, hail them, and let them know I wish to be shuttled over. Request the pilot by name: Commander Jacqueline Picard."

"Understood, Centurion."

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

It was morning, time for Jack to begin her shift on the Bridge. Barnabas, as Second Officer, generally took the night watch plus a considerable overlap; he seemed to require less sleep than ordinary humans.

Jack had awakened at 06:30 hours, and spent an hour in reading and contemplation, as had been her habit for the last fifteen years (though she would never forget the look on her father's face when he'd first caught her studying what he regarded to be primitive religious scribblings). Once that was done she generally took only half an hour to dress, take breakfast in her quarters, and otherwise prepare herself to face the world.

Gazing at herself in the mirror, she drew the front layer of her autumn-coloured hair back from her face and pinned it behind her head, letting the rest fall straight to brush her shoulders. It was a style at once professional and feminine, softly but neatly framing her fine-boned features. There: now she was ready. She turned and headed out the door.

Her communicator clicked just as she was getting into the turbolift. She touched it on and said "Picard here."

"Commander," said Barnabas' voice, "we have just received a communique from the Romulan ship Amaloch. Centurion Salek is on board the ship and wishes to be transferred over to the _Enterprise_ by shuttle. We are currently proceeding on an intercept course with the Amaloch, and shuttle Hawking is primed and ready in Docking Bay #3. We should be within shuttle distance of the Romulan ship in 12.6 minutes."

"Good," said Jack. "Notify one of our shuttle pilots--"

"Commander," Barnabas said, "there was an unusual request from Centurion Salek. He wishes you to be the pilot of the shuttlecraft for the rendezvous."

"Me? Why me?" Jack wasn't easily surprised, but this one was a corker. "Did he give any explanation?"

"He only said that he knew it was highly irregular, but he had some important information which could be disclosed only to you."

Jack shook her head. "Does this smell as funny to you as it does to me, Mr. Cole?"

"He seemed...sincere," said Barnabas. "You don't have to do it if you don't feel comfortable about it, of course. The Captain gave permission for you to be released from bridge duty if you should choose to accept the Romulan's terms, but...it's up to you."

Jack was silent for a long moment, weighing the situation in her mind.

"Commander? Are you still there?"

"Yes," she said. "Tell the Captain I will return as soon as possible to take up my duties on the bridge. I am currently proceeding to Docking Bay #3. You may inform the Amaloch that a shuttle is on its way over--but don't tell them it's me."

"Aye, sir."

Jack touched her com-badge off and spoke into the silence: "Docking Bay #3." As the turbolift began to hum she leaned back against the wall and folded her arms, staring down at the floor between her feet. "Centurion Salek," she murmured. "And he wants to talk to me... but why?"

She couldn't even begin to guess at the answer to that, but she guessed she'd soon find out.

* * *

From: Centurion Salek

Salek looked out the viewport at the _Enterprise_, situated beside the Amaloch. He was impressed.

"Centurion Salek, report to Shuttle Bay #2"

He sighed. This was it. He picked up his personal carrier, and left his quarters.

As he walked the corridors, he was soon joined by Sevana. "Salek. I...I just wanted to wish you good luck."

"Thank you, Sevana. And, congratulations on your promotion."

She looked down on her uniform, the insignia of Centurion blazoned upon it. "Thank you. I wish it were under happier circumstances."

He smiled at her. Of all the acquantances he had made aboard the Amalock, she was special. They had passed through the Bay doors by this time, and turned to each other.

"Sevana, I want you to have something before I go." He reached into his carrier, and pulled out a necklace. It was his family emblem. She gasped.

"Salek! Is this...what I think it is?"

"Yes, it is. Before I go, I want to know that you are promised to be mine."

She accepted. He helped her put it on, then faced her again. He saluted. She returned it, smiling.

Just then, the shuttle from the _Enterprise_ entered the Bay. Sevana turned to go, with a last, parting glance.

He approached the shuttle after it had docked. Its doors slowly opened. "Permission to come aboard?" he shouted to the interior.

"Granted." It was a female's voice. He entered, the doors closed, and the shuttle left the bay, as silently as it had entered.

* * *

Salek waited in the passenger area. It must be her, he thought. It has to be.

He estimated the shuttle to take about 40 minutes to reach the _Enterprise_. Ample time to speak with her.

The doors to the pilot's section hissed open. In walked a young woman. Salek stood, and saluted.

"Centurion Salek, reporting as ordered."

"We can dispense with formality for the time being, Centurion. I am Jacqueline Picard. Call me Jack."

She sat down across from him, and he took his seat. They studied each other. Finally, Jack broke the silence.

"Centurion, I was told you requested me personally."

"Yes, I did."

"Well, here I am. Now, what is this important information that you can only give to me?"

"Important information? Is that what they told you? Hmm. Sums it up about right, but delivers a false sense of degree. Yes, it is important, but it is of a personal nature."

He was really getting nervous now. "Commander....Jack. What do you know of the Nibi star system?"

She stiffened slightly. "Nibi? Only what is commonly known. Yellow star, five planets. It was also the system where the former _Enterprise_-D was destroyed by the renegade Romulan warbird, the Decius... but it was there also that the first groundwork was laid for peace between the Federation and the Romulans."

Salek nodded. "Commander, what I am going to tell you, I am telling you because...because you have the right to know. Your father was on that ship, was he not?"

She nodded.

"Records also show that the Commander of the Decius was Tomalak."

"Yes. His ship was also destroyed in the battle."

"And they found that he had willingly cooperated with a parasitic alien race--"

"The Qelb," said Jack, her face contorting with disgust.

"Yes. With his help they had infiltrated the high ranks of the Romulan command, but after the Nibi episode the Romulans admitted what was going on and the Federation helped them."

"Yes. What are you getting at?"

"Well, here is what was not on record: Tomalak had had some very traumatic experiences before. Also, his wife had died recently. Add to that the fact of his disgraceful reduction in rank, it is easy to see why he became...unbalanced."

He paused. He looked up to study Jack a little further, try to find a hint of what she was thinking. Nothing. He sighed.

"Bluntly, he was crazy. Insane. He blamed the Federation for what had happened. Specifically, he blamed Picard. He went out, hoping to gain retribution. Some thought he was possessed by the Qelb, but he wasn't. Just crazy."

Just then, the computer interrupted them. "Shuttlecraft approaching _Enterprise_. Please standby to dock."

Jack got up to enter the pilot section, but paused. "Centurion, I am grateful for the information. What I don't understand is why you felt I needed to know this."

"Because, Commander, I am the son of your father's killer."

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

Jack stared at the Romulan, a sick feeling working its way from her stomach up into her throat. Salek said nothing, but she could read the question in his eyes. What were they going to do now?

If he had been a Klingon he would have expected her to kill him; in that society the son was held accountable for the father's actions. But Romulans no doubt had a different view of things. The fear in Salek's eyes was not the fear of death, just natural apprehension. After all, Jack was First Officer of the _Enterprise_, and the Captain trusted her judgment; if she chose she could send this Romulan right back to the Amaloch. And she couldn't say that she wasn't tempted to do exactly that--though not for the reasons one might expect.

"Were you with Tomalak, when he killed my parents?" said Jack abruptly. The Romulan looked up at her, startled, incomprehending. She rephrased the question: "Did you help him?"

"Of course not. If I'd been on the Decius then, I wouldn't be here talking to you."

"Did you approve of his actions?"

"No." His fist tightened, his heavy brow drawing downward in a frown. "No, I did not. I tried to stop him."

"Well, then," said Jack with a calmness she did not feel, "what difference does it make that he was your father? Welcome to the _Enterprise_ crew, Centurion." She turned and headed into the pilot section; the door sealed itself shut behind her. For a long moment she stared out at the stars twinkling in the blackness around of them, the shadowy bulk of the _Enterprise_ drifting ahead. Then she slumped in her chair and put her hands over her face, taking long, shuddering breaths.

She didn't hate this Romulan; there was no reason for her to hate him. And even if she had felt him to be guilty for his father's sins, it was her responsibility to forgive--once, seven times, seventy times seven if need be--and, as much as she could or should, to forget. She fully intended to do just that.

The only thing that made her wish she could send him back to his ship was that his presence on the _Enterprise_ would be a constant reminder to her of what she had lost in that desperate, senseless battle ten years ago. She knew her parents' sacrifice had not been in vain as far as the Federation was concerned--far from it--but their premature deaths had grieved her deeply. Especially because she knew she would never see them again.

But that was something she must learn to live with. There was no logical reason for sending this Romulan away, and she was not given to fabrication: therefore he must remain, and she must try, as best she could, to endure until the pain had faded and somehow she could make this enemy a friend.

* * *

From: Counsellor T'Pryn

"I've just tried and tried," said the woman miserably, "but I can't seem to get over it. You can't imagine what New Paris was like. I've been here for three years now, and I'm still frightened of my own shadow. Now they're saying that maybe I ought to leave Starfleet."

"Is that what you want to do?" asked the Counsellor.

"No!" The Ensign wrung her hands, eyes filling up with tears. "I know I could be so good if only they'd give me the chance--"

"Are they then trying to prevent you from fulfilling your responsibilities?"

The Ensign blinked. "Well, no."

"Then how are they not giving you a chance?"

"Because they don't understand how hard it is for me! They expect me to do all kinds of things--"

"Like your duty?"

The woman leaped to her feet. "Oh, fine! Now I suppose you're going to tell me I should leave Starfleet, too! Just great. Look, forget I ever came here, okay? I should have known better than to try and explain feelings to a Vulcan. You don't feel anything, do you? You just sit there and analyze the facts." The calm expression in the Counsellor's eyes remained unshaken. "I believe you know better than that, Marielle. I do sympathize very much with your sufferings. However, if your fears are preventing you from being effective in your post here on the Starbase, a leave of absence, time to relax and view your situation from a new perspective, might well be beneficial.

"I would like to say that I can take away your fears. I cannot: I can only listen, and assure you that I care. It is because I care that I would recommend the path that I have mentioned. It need not be forever: only a short time, and then if you wish you could easily return to Starfleet. Will you consider it?"

The Ensign's face was white. "How can you be so cold? This is my whole life we're talking about!"

"Starfleet is your whole life?"

"Yes!"

"Then a leave of absence would certainly be best. There is so much more in life, Marielle. Perhaps you need to find that before you can really decide whether you can give your all to Starfleet, or whether you should choose another path." The Counsellor flicked a fold of blue skirt across her knee. "Count that advice from someone who has seen both sides of the world."

"So you've seen it. But you're in Starfleet now, aren't you?" snapped the woman. "You chose what you thought was the better of the two."

"I chose," said the Counsellor levelly, "what was logical given the circumstances. My husband died, Marielle. I had to do something."

"You--" The Ensign gaped at her. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea--"

The dark-haired woman waved it off. "It is in the past. But do understand; you cannot decide based on what anyone else has done with their lives. I have given my recommendation: it is up to you whether to follow up on it."

Marielle nodded, lips tightening as she fought to hold back tears. "Maybe you're right. I don't know. I'll think about it."

"Good," said the Counsellor.

"Will I--see you next week, then?" asked the Ensign timidly.

The Vulcan woman shook her head. "I fear not. I have been accepted to serve on board the _Enterprise_, and will be beaming over in just a few hours. However, whether you choose to stay in Starfleet or leave, there are many excellent counsellors available to you. Perhaps--they will be more able to understand your needs. I regret any errors I have made in your case."

"No," said Marielle. "No, it's not your fault. You give very good advice. I mean--if I just want a shoulder to cry on, I could go to any of my friends for that. It's okay. I'm sorry I snapped at you. I--well, never mind. Thank you. Goodbye." She backed toward the door, with a thin, sheepish smile, and half- walked, half-ran into the corridor.

The Counsellor took a deep breath. "Well," she said. Then she rose from her chair and continued her packing. The _Enterprise_ would be arriving at Starbase 218 shortly: there was no more time to waste.

* * *

From: Cmdr. Jacqueline Picard

"I hear our new Counsellor is a Vulcan," said Jack to her companion as they walked down the corridor, and suppressed a smile as Barnabas' eyes snapped wide in astonishment.

"A _Vulcan_ Counsellor? Are you out of your mind?"

"Assuredly not," Jack said serenely. "Her name is T'Pryn, if I recall correctly, and we will be picking her up at Starbase 218 very soon."

"Vulcans don't become Counsellors," said Barnabas. "It's ridiculous. What does a Vulcan know about emotions and needs? The diplomacy aspect of the job she could no doubt handle quite admirably, but counselling the crew? Nobody would go to her in a million years."

"You might be surprised," Jack told him. "I've examined her profile and she seems to be quite--refreshing in her views."

"I'll believe it when I see it," replied Barnabas.

* * *

Some hours later, Jack and Barnabas stood in the transporter room and watched silently as the figure of the _Enterprise_'s new Counsellor coalesced on the platform. It was clear that T'Pryn was a true Vulcan, at least in appearance: the small, slight figure had the pointed ears and finely drawn features that were her people's trademark. But where most Vulcan women preferred a clipped, severe style to their hair, T'Pryn's black tresses cascaded down around her shoulders in ripples and curls, and more astonishingly still, there was a decided sparkle in those wide green eyes.

"Greetings, Counsellor T'Pryn," said Jack politely. "Welcome to the Starship _Enterprise_."

"Greetings to you, Commander Picard," replied the woman.

"May I introduce you to Lieutenant Commander Barnabas Cole, our Science Officer," Jack said, turning to the silver-eyed man, and frowned as she realized that the Lieutenant was actually gaping, his eyes fixed on T'Pryn. With a frown Jack turned back to the Counsellor--and nearly gaped herself.

T'Pryn was _smiling_.

* * *

From: Mac Moore

Suddenly the entire ship lurched violently.

"Commander Moore what's going on down there?"

"I'm not sure Captain it appears as though the warp drives have..."

"Commander?"

"Well seized up Captain."

"Seized up?"

"Yes. I'll give you a report as soon as I can figure out what the heck's going on down here."

"Very well Mr. Moore. Captain Lester out."

The drive chamber was completely dark. It was almost as if the reactant simply stopped existing. What had happened--a hole in the continuum or something? Well whatever it was, Mac Moore was going to get to the bottom of it...or die trying.

Thank God we're docked, he thought as he went to work.


Continued in Episode Two: "The Game is Afoot"