Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Final Reckoning Trilogy – Part II
("Admiral, you will always be welcome on the Enterprise….")
Captain Picard to Admiral Nechayev, 2370
Captain's Log: Stardate 50991.8 – As an addendum to my previous log entry, I must report a very strange encounter with the being we know as Q. I believe that the details, are, as yet, too sensitive to become public yet, and so I have attached them to this log to be sealed in Starfleet Archives until the year 2474. It has, however, left me with some unfinished business to attend to....
'I would be immensely surprised,' said Captain Jean-Luc Picard, 'if any of you were aware of the reason for which I have summoned you here.' He looked along the briefing room table.
His senior staff; that is, Commander Will Riker, Commander Data, Commander Geordi La Forge, Doctor Beverly Crusher, Counsellor Deanna Troi and Lieutenant Ghia Hedly all returned to him various puzzled looks. In addition to their presence, Lieutenant Rosanna Thames looked at him from beside Lieutenant Hedly. Picard hid a brief smile, unsurprised by their reactions. However, before he could speak again, Data answered. 'I surmise, Captain, that it has to do with your strange behaviour two hours ago.'
Picard gave the android a piercing look that told him that he was not, as he had professed he would be, immensely surprised. More like immensely annoyed. The android recognised this look, something he had been getting better at since his emotion chip had been fitted, and he fell silent.
However, at this moment, Picard's mood was too expansive to be affected by his second officer's perceptiveness. 'You are correct, Data. It is linked to my strange behaviour.'
He got up and paced around the room as he spoke. 'When we detected a dimensional anomaly in the Neutral Zone approximately four hours ago, we decided to set course towards it.'
'Yes, sir,' interrupted Data, unwilling or unable to let this one go, 'but the anomaly seems to have disappeared and the Romulan Warbirds that scanned the area confirmed it. They may have been lying of course.'
Picard smiled. 'Believe me, they're telling the truth. If they had found what I know to have been there, we would have received a very panicky distress call by now.'
'I don't understand, Captain,' said Riker. 'Maybe you had better explain from the beginning.'
'I fully intend to, Number One,' said Picard, realising, not for the first time, how much his first officer meant to him. 'I have experienced an alternate reality with Q.'
The crew reacted in various ways. Data leaned forward slightly, his face taking on scientific curiosity. Hedly jolted upright, her security instincts taking over. Troi narrowed her eyes briefly, obviously using her empathic powers to ascertain if he was lying or not. Riker, as he seemed to with everything in his life, took it in his stride. Crusher gasped, and La Forge joined her surprised expression with his own. Thames, on the other hand, did not react at all. And, to Picard's gratification, they all took him at his word.
'Is this the alternate reality that you are experiencing, sir?' asked Riker. 'If it is –'
'You would relieve me of command, I know,' said Picard. 'No, I have actually returned from this experience as of two hours ago. I have, in the space of what seemed to you to be a moment, gained the memories of forty years.'
'Forty years?' repeated Crusher, incredulous. 'Sir, that sounds like your experience with the Kataan probe.'
Picard nodded. 'Exactly. At the time, I did not realise that it was an alternate reality. I believed that everything that happened there was happening here. It was only when Q appeared that I even suspected.'
'Sir, what did Q do it for?' asked Troi.
'Good question,' smiled Picard. 'He gave me a set of reasons, most of which I am sure are accurate, but who knows what Q does anything for? He once again informed me of the trial of humanity and once again intimated that it was over.'
'Sir, with respect, after what Q told you last time, he is likely to be leading you up the garden path,' said La Forge sardonically.
'That was my first thought too,' replied Picard. 'However, he seems to have changed somewhat since we first met him. He seems a lot more human than before.'
Riker grinned for a moment. 'Sounds like he's catching our evil disease.'
Picard stared at him for a moment. Another William Riker had said that exact same sentence only a few days before Earth had been destroyed. Troi abruptly leaned forward, her face full of concern. 'Captain, are you all right?'
Picard brought himself back, dimly realising that he had gone distant for a moment. He glanced along the table. All of his officers had puzzlement written across their faces, but Thames –
Thames had genuine worry and concern on her face. She covered it well but the distress in her eyes could not be faked. And Picard wondered, How could I have missed it for so long?
'Yes, I'm fine, Counsellor,' said Picard. 'As I was saying, Q was not exactly the same person as we once knew him to be. He seemed to understand us better. He also seemed to be older.'
'Older?' echoed Data. 'From memory, the Q do not age.'
Picard nodded. 'And yet, he seemed older. I cannot explain it.'
'Sir, I think it might be better if you gave us the entire story,' said Riker.
'Correct as always, Number One,' said Picard, taking his seat at the head of the table again. 'However, I must ask you all to not speak of this outside of these four walls and not with anyone other than yourselves. I have sealed the events in Starfleet Archives for one century, but I have specific reasons for telling you.'
One by one they all nodded. Picard knew that he could trust them.
So he told them. He told them of the first contact with the Aralla, of their emergence from the dimensional rift. He told them of their destruction of Korella II, and their unprovoked attack upon the Enterprise. He spoke at length of their almost invulnerable ships, the city destroyers and the mother ships. He told of their destruction of Romulus and of the flight to Earth.
He spoke of their destructive path through the Romulan Star Empire and the Klingon Empire, and of their devastation of Qo'nos. He told of the defence massing at Earth, and of the destruction visited upon Cardassia and Ferenginar.
He spoke also of his crew's promotions and his own to Grand Admiral of Starfleet. As he remembered it, he realised the intense pride that he had found in the office. He spoke Riker's to command of the Enterprise, Data's to command of the Hood, and of the other changes that took place in the complement of the Enterprise. He watched their individual reactions, gaining dark, secret glee from their mixture of horror and pleasure.
Picard went on to the attack on Earth itself; of Deanna's death aboard the Azetbur. Of Admiral Nechayev's duplicity, for which he now had a reason. He spoke of the destruction of Earth, Mars, the moon colonies, and of the entire Solar System.
He told of the retreat to Deep Space Nine, of his own nervous breakdown. He told of the mission to retrieve the Borg Invasive Program from Veridian III and of Beverly's death at his own hands. He spoke of the offer by the Dominion to help them. He told of the final, savage attack on DS9, and of the flight through the wormhole after the destruction of Bajor and DS9.
He told of the savage attack on the Wadi planet by the Jem'Hadar Fleet and of Riker's death in that battle. He told of their retreat to the Delta Quadrant, of Data's resignation and his and Odo's search for the Founders.
He told of the long, tedious journey to the Borg Collective, and of their plan to recruit them into the Fleet. He spoke of Data's journey, as far as he could reconstruct it, and of their discovery aboard the mother ship. He spoke of their successful encounter with the Borg. He also told them the true story of his defeat of the Borg Queen, and his assumption of the leadership of the Collective. He neglected to mention the contact with Voyager, believing that their survival had to be verified first.
Picard told of Odo's death, and Data's subsequent return to the Fleet. He spoke of the audacious plan to defeat the Aralla. He spoke of Data and Worf's mission to the mother ship to retrieve an attack plane and of Worf's death. He told of the infiltration of the fleet by the horribly familiar parasites.
He told of the frenzied preparations for the final battle against the Aralla, and of his, Data's and La Forge's attack on the mother ship. He spoke of their successful planting of the Invasive Program aboard the Aralla vessel, and of their struggle to escape. He recalled the horrific battle against the Aralla and their eventual victory, sending the last Aralla mother ship to the grave, the grave which also condemned the Borg Collective to death by the destruction of the Unicomplex.
He told of the destruction of the Enterprise, and of the crash of the attack plane on Vegryo VII. He told of his discovery of Data and Geordi's bodies, and of his eventual rescue by Ben Sisko.
'So,' Picard concluded, 'that was the Aralla War.'
For a moment, there was total silence. And then, Thames piped up. 'Sir, would you tell us what came after?'
Picard nodded slowly. 'We celebrated for days afterward. Although the Fleet left Borg space almost immediately after the final battle, we took our celebration onto the ships. We began planning for the future, and eventually, when we returned to the Alpha Quadrant, we began the task of rebuilding.' His voice became more and more proud of what they had achieved there. 'Eventually, our disparate worlds became part of a single Galactic Federation. We united the galaxy in a way that had never been seen before.'
Picard glanced at them. 'And that is when Q explained it all to me. He clarified things in a way that I had never had before. And that is when he offered me my second chance. To return to the Enterprise and lose all that I had there.' He only just kept himself from glancing at Thames, knowing that she was the biggest thing he had sacrificed to return.
'And I chose you.' He glanced along the table at them all again, keeping their faces in his memory. 'I would like your comments.'
'Our comments are irrelevant,' said Data. 'Your story is masterful.'
Riker nodded. 'It appears, sir, that we have been given a reprieve.'
Picard agreed and said so. 'However,' he continued, 'I have a good reason for telling you all this.'
'Something to do with Admiral Nechayev, sir?' asked Hedly, her security instincts coming back to the fore.
'Correct, Lieutenant,' said Picard. 'I have reason to believe that Admiral Nechayev was infested by one of the parasites that possessed Lieutenant Barclay, and that it is entirely possible that she is still being co-opted by the enemy.'
'But, sir, you told us the Aralla did not exist in our reality,' protested Beverly.
'That is true; however, they have already managed to infiltrate Starfleet once before. I do not intend to allow them to have another opportunity.'
Riker said, 'Are we to begin an investigation on our own?'
'No, Will,' said Picard. 'At this moment, we have no evidence. However, we will be keeping a covert eye on Admiral Nechayev's actions. As soon as she makes a mistake, I will stop her.'
Riker nodded. 'Until then we keep quiet about it?'
'Correct, Number One.' Picard stood slowly. 'If that is all, then return to your posts.'
As his staff filed out, Deanna Troi turned and let the door shut. She faced Picard, who smiled. 'I had a feeling that you would want to remain behind, Counsellor.'
Troi stepped towards him. 'Sir, I am getting some decidedly odd feelings from you. They're emotions that –'
'You've only once felt from me, correct?' said Picard. 'And the last time was when I was involved with Neela Daren.'
'I see you are already aware,' said Troi, a smile on her face.
'Yes, Counsellor, and I have already acknowledged and accepted these feelings.'
'It is Lieutenant Thames, isn't it?' asked Troi quietly. She had already guessed, but she wished to have confirmation.
'Yes, Counsellor. I didn't wish to say it out loud in front of you all, but in this alternate universe, I fell in love with and married Lieutenant Thames. We were husband and wife for forty years.'
Troi whistled softly. 'This must have been a hell of a jolt for you to come back.'
'It has been very joyful as well as stressful, Counsellor.' Picard turned and looked out at the stars. 'I loved her with all of my heart those forty years. But I could never be sure if she had married me more out of pity than love. At the end of the war, I was very nearly a broken man. All of my closest friends had died. My world had been destroyed. My family was gone. I had killed a woman I loved with my own hands. I had so much to do in the future. It seemed that we had so little time for ourselves.'
'And so you always felt that she loved you for what you had lost than for what you were and what you had given?' said Troi.
Picard turned, a half-smile on his face. 'That's it exactly, Counsellor. And now that I've been given a second chance, I don't know what to do.'
Troi saw the way forward clearly. She knew the feelings of both parties and she knew that it would be only fair on Picard if she could confirm Thames' feelings for him. However, her own code could only permit her to give him clues. 'Captain, I don't think you realise how much it must have taken for Thames to marry a man who was more than twice her age.'
'Thank you for reminding me,' said Picard pointedly.
'Sir, when you and Neela Daren were… involved, all I felt between you was a bond in your music, not a true love that could have truly stood the test of time.'
'What are you saying, Counsellor?' asked Picard quietly.
'You and Lieutenant Thames are what Betazoids call Imzadi.'
'I've heard that word before,' said Picard thoughtfully.
'Commander Riker was my Imzadi, sir,' said Troi. 'When we met on Betazed, I could tell that we would be together, always. That was how I knew he was the one.'
'I see your point. Does Rosanna know this?'
Troi frowned. 'Ros-? Oh, I see what you mean.'
'I apologise. After you've been married to someone for forty years, it's sometimes difficult to call them lieutenant again.'
'I understand,' replied Troi. 'Sir, it's against Betazoid practices to give away information about people's emotions. I've been stretching the code just telling you this. However, I informed her that you were experiencing emotions for her, but nothing more.'
'Thank you, Counsellor,' said Picard gratefully. 'I appreciate the favour.'
'Anytime, Captain.' Picard's next question surprised Troi.
'What do you suggest I do now, Counsellor?'
Troi opened her mouth to reply on automatic, and then closed it, making her look like a goldfish for an instant. 'Sir, that's up to you,' she replied at last. Picard had never asked for romantic advice before.
'She's a young officer just beginning her career, while I'm a grizzled old war-horse –'
'Not you, sir,' interrupted Troi, who just couldn't resist.
'Counsellor, she's a young woman who's going to outlive me by quite a few years. I don't want to tie her to one relationship this early in her life. It would be wrong of me.'
'Captain, with respect, Lieutenant Thames might not think so.'
Picard stared silently at Troi for a long moment. 'Thank you, Counsellor. You've given me a lot to think about.'
'My pleasure, Captain,' Deanna replied.
She turned and left the room. Picard paused for a moment, and relegated the matter to the back of his mind. He leaned forward and pressed a button. 'Lieutenant Hedly, can you get me a channel to Deep Space Nine, for Captain Sisko?'
'Aye, sir. It'll take me a little while, because of our distance. When I do, I'll patch the signal to your ready room, shall I?'
'Thank you, Lieutenant,' said Picard, and closed the channel. He now knew the capabilities of this crew better than he had two hours before. He stood and left the briefing room.
Stepping onto the bridge, he paused for a moment, and observed the activity. Lieutenant Hedly was stood at tactical, with Riker looking over her shoulder. Counsellor Troi had just sat in her seat by his command chair, and was looking at a padd. Ensign Bridges was sat at the helm, and Data was at the Ops console. Thames was nowhere to be seen, and Picard felt a faint pang of disappointment.
Gathering himself, he stepped down the side of the bridge and entered his ready room. As he passed Riker, he said, 'Number One, can you just join me in my ready room for the moment?'
Riker nodded and, after a quick word with Hedly, he followed.
Entering the ready room, Picard picked up a padd that was lying on the table. He faced Riker. 'Commander, I have a few crew changes that I would like you to put into place immediately.'
Riker took the proffered padd and scanned it. 'Lieutenant Thames to Ops relief and Ensign Truper from security to command training and full helm duties? Lieutenant Hedly promoted to Lieutenant Commander?' Riker glanced up at his captain. 'Any reason, sir?'
'I have seen a universe where I didn't have any of you to back me up, Will,' said Picard, smiling, as he sat behind his desk. 'In that battle, these three especially served me magnificently as back up to when I lost you all. Ensign Truper turned out to be an excellent helmsman; Lieutenant Hedly to be a security chief as good as Tasha and Worf were. Lieutenant Thames has the ability to take over as Ops chief.' He leaned back in his chair. 'I'm attempting to do something I should have begun a long time ago, Will.
'I'm planning on retiring.'
'He's planning on what?' This from Data, as Riker told them his news around the poker table. Deanna and Beverly both looked stunned, and Geordi and Data glanced at each other in shock.
'Why?' asked Beverly, her voice full of the same disbelief that Riker was feeling.
'He said something about allowing a younger generation to come forward.' At La Forge's sceptical look, Riker added, 'He's serious. He gave me a list of crew changes he intends to implement in the next year or so. Listen: He's moving Lieutenant Thames to Ops to replace Data who will receive a full-grade promotion to Commander and become first officer. Lieutenant Hedly is to be promoted to Lieutenant-Commander. Deanna, you're to become second officer. I'm to be given a full-grade promotion to Captain the day he retires and to take command of the Enterprise. He's named others, but that's just part of it. He's serious about it, isn't he?'
Deanna slowly nodded. 'I think so, yes. It's entirely possible that he is still being affected by this alternate reality he told us about.'
'I don't think so. I think he's been thinking like this for a while; possibly since we lost the Enterprise-D. His brother and nephew's deaths hit him pretty hard,' said Beverly.
'I agree,' said Geordi. 'Thing is, what are we going to do about it?'
'Should we do anything?' argued Data. 'It is his decision.'
'I agree with Data,' said Beverly. 'Everything has to come to an end sooner or later.'
There was silence around the table, before Deanna coughed and said, 'I think I know what's brought this on….'
'Captain?' Hedly's voice came clearly through into Picard's quarters. He glanced up from the book he was reading.
'Sir, I'm sorry it took this long, but I've got that channel to DS9.'
'Excellent,' said Picard, putting down his book and swivelling his viewer to face him. 'Put it through down here.'
'Aye, sir,' replied Hedly. A moment later, Ben Sisko's face appeared on screen, looking decidedly cheerful.
'Good evening, Ad- Captain,' he said, suddenly realising his understandable faux pas. 'What can I do for you?'
Picard experienced a moment of recollection. I don't hold you responsible for the death of my wife anymore, Admiral…. 'You remember too, don't you, Ben?' he whispered.
Sisko paused a moment, but remembered who he was speaking to. 'The Aralla?' he asked.
Picard nodded. 'The Aralla.'
'Yes, Captain Picard. I can't remember many of the details, but I do know something. I forgave you.'
'Outside the attack plane?'
'It still counts, Captain, even between universes.'
They talked for an hour afterward.
'I still can't believe this,' said Riker, as soon as Deanna finished speaking. 'Why should the fact that he loves Lieutenant Thames be driving him to retire?'
'I can't explain that, Will,' said Troi. 'All I know is that they love each other but refuse to admit it.'
'You mentioned that there was something more to it, Counsellor,' added Geordi.
Deanna sighed. 'Yes. They're not just in love. From what I have seen, they're also Imzadi.' Riker gave her a sharp look.
'Imzadi?' repeated Geordi.
'It's a Betazoid word. Its closest Earth translation is "beloved", but on Betazed, it means a lot more than that.'
'What does it mean to a Betazoid?' asked Beverly.
Troi glanced quickly at Riker. 'It means those who are bonded. Not telepathically, but spiritually. They are fated to meet because they are perfect for each other. Each half complements the other. It's similar to an old Earth word; "soulmate".'
'Are you telling us that Captain Picard and Lieutenant Thames are fated?' asked Beverly incredulously.
'I know it sounds preposterous, but it is the way Betazoids have looked at it for centuries. Not many are suited like this. For some, it is a close friend rather than a lover or a partner. However, your Imzadi is effectively your other half. And once you meet, you are complete.'
'It is a subconscious reaction?' asked Data, always able to get down past the metaphysics.
'Exactly,' said Deanna. 'Coincidence continually throws these pairs together. Once you have found the other half, you will be content to remain there forever.'
'Look at it this way, Will. Captain Picard is a roving soul. He is an adventurer, not a man to settle down. However, he has met Lieutenant Thames – in another reality he has married her. He was happy there.'
'And he wishes to go back to it?' said Riker incredulously.
'Only the captain can tell you that. All I know is that, sooner or later, coincidence is going to throw them together. And then God alone knows what's going to happen.'
She had heard their screams from afar; felt their deaths in the heat of fire and in the terrible cold of space. She had moaned as the vermin had mercilessly hunted down their last survivors. She had watched their superiority vanish in beams of coruscating energy.
Her pain had diminished somewhat, but oh! the lingering loneliness that remained, long after the last howl had perished along with its maker.
Her only consolation was the knowledge that she herself had not been detected. Still in a position to cause damage, she knew that she would be found soon. She did not intend to become the vermin's prize of war: even in a war they did not know they were fighting.
She would return to her universe, find those who had not come through. She would bring them all and devastate this universe in fire and blood. She would complete in this universe what had failed in the other. Her vengeance would be soon....