Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Cold Deal"

Written by Mark Moore

Author's note: This story is based on the TNG episode, "Skin of Evil". Thanks go to the following writers whose ideas inspired this work of fiction: Joseph Stefano, Hannah Louise Shearer, Sandy Fries, Robert Sabaroff, Tracy Tormé, Jean Lorrah, Joe Menosky, Bradley Thompson, David Weddle, Mike Sussman, Manny Coto, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Thanks also go to John Callahan for letting me borrow Jean Lorrah's novel, "Survivors", to use as a reference. Thanks most of all go to Laurie Kelley for beta-reading this story and offering her comments.

I used the script for "Skin of Evil" for this story, not the actual episode itself (I refuse to pay full price for a Star Trek DVD boxed set), so some of the actions and dialogue might be off. Please let me know.

I wrote this story from Sunday, May 1, 2005, 9:00 PM to Saturday, July 23, 2005, 9:30 PM. I reformatted it for submission from 9:40 PM to 9:50 PM. Reviews of all kinds are welcome. Enjoy the story!

Lieutenant Tasha Yar was woken up by a flashing, yellow light and the sound of her computer beeping.

She sat up in bed and yawned.

"Computer, time." Tasha requested.

"The current time is one-hundred-eleven hours." the ship's computer replied.

Tasha wondered who could be calling her at such a late hour. She stood up and tiredly walked over to her replicator.

"Cola, ice-cold, four times the normal caffeine." Tasha ordered.

A glass filled with the beverage materialized in the replicator.

Tasha picked up the glass, walked over to her desk, sat in her chair, and took a sip of her drink.

The Starfleet seal was on the screen.

"Open channel." Tasha instructed.

"This is an emergency communique. It is not to be discussed with fellow officers unless deemed absolutely necessary. There will be no computer record of said transmission." the computer said.

Tasha was surprised by this and forgot about her sleepiness. "Understood."

"Proceed with voice print identification." the computer instructed.

"Yar, Natasha. CSO, U.S.S. Enterprise." Tasha said.

She heard a humming sound for a moment.

"Voice print verified." the computer said.

The Starfleet seal was replaced by the live image of a man sitting at a desk. He was wearing a black uniform.

"Good morning, Lieutenant Yar. I'm sorry to wake you so early." the man said.

"Who are you?" Tasha asked.

"My name is Sloan." the man said. "I'm contacting you, because our department has some information which is pertinent to you."

"Which department do you work for?" Tasha asked.

"Let's just say I belong to another branch of Starfleet Intelligence." Sloan said. "We search out and identify potential dangers to the Federation - any immediate, unusual, or dire threats."

"Am I being investigated?" Tasha asked.

"In a manner of speaking." Sloan replied. "This information that we have for you is in a record that's been in our files since 2155."

Tasha was surprised. "That's pre-Federation."

Sloan nodded. "You know your history. Very good."

"How is that possible?" Tasha asked.

"That's not for me to reveal." Sloan replied.

"What do you want in exchange for this information that you're graciously offering me?" Tasha asked.

"Your loyalty." Sloan replied. "You will work for us whenever we need your services. Our orders will supercede those of the Enterprise crew - including Commander Riker and Captain Picard."

"I don't think so." Tasha said.

"I'd strongly reconsider." Sloan told her. "This information is...invaluable to you."

"Assuming that I agree to your terms, how will I manage to keep these assignments a secret?" Tasha asked.

"We'll work out the details of our...arrangement later." Sloan told her. "Right now, I need a 'Yes' or 'No' answer."

Tasha took a sip of her drink as she thought about Sloan's offer. "Yes."

Sloan smiled. "Very good. I will play the file now."

The screen changed to another man in a black uniform.

"This message is for Lieutenant Natasha Yar, Chief Security Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, registry number NCC-1701-D." the man said. "What I am about to tell you may not be discussed with anyone outside of our department. Over the past few years, we have learned that the 22nd century is a front in something known as the Temporal Cold War. A faction from the future is trying to alter the course of history. We have come across some information that, although trivial to us, would mean a great deal to you. The price of this information is your complete loyalty. Since you are viewing this message, you have already agreed to work for us. My 24th century counterpart will fill you in on the details after this file is done. Now for the information. Later today, you will be killed on an away mission to rescue a fellow officer, one Counselor Deanna Troi, on the planet Vagra II in the Zed Lapis sector. The being that will kill you is known as Armus. He cannot be destroyed. He cannot be reasoned with. Do not be brash. Armus is capable of creating undefined forcefields. In effect, you will be powerless to communicate or use your transporter unless it allows you to. You should receive this information just hours before your death. What you decide to do with this information is up to you. That is all."

The screen switched back to Sloan.

Tasha stared in shock at the screen.

"Shocking, I know." Sloan said. "Get over it."

"I'm going to die." Tasha said.

Sloan shook his head. "You don't have to. Of course, if you decide to avoid your fate, then that will be taken as a sign of your commitment to us. The decision is yours. I will contact you on this same frequency tonight. I hope you'll be here to answer it instead of in a casket."

Tasha shuddered at that statement.

"Now, if I was you, I'd get some rest before I go on duty." Sloan smiled. "Pleasant dreams."

The computer's screen went blank.

Tasha stared at it in silence.

Tasha had grown up on the failed Federation colony planet known as Turkana IV. It was a Minshara class planet, the fourth planet in the Turkana system. While officially a Federation protectorate, the planet's government began breaking down in the 2330s. Dozens of factions developed, and civil war broke out. The Turkana government gave emergency power to the two largest factions, the Coalition and the Alliance, who then quickly overthrew the government. Anarchy and lawlessness abounded, and rape gangs were a common threat.

It was on this world that Natasha Yar was born in 2337. She was raised by her parents. Five years later, her younger sister, Ishara Yar, was born. Tasha remembered every moment of what happened shortly afterwards.

She and her parents had just left the hospital with the baby, and they were walking down the street.

"May I hold the baby, mama?" Tasha asked.

"Sure, Tasha." Her mother handed the baby to her.

Tasha smiled as she looked down at her baby sister.

"Her name is Ishara." her mother told her.

"Ishara." Tasha repeated.

Suddenly, two gangs approached each other from opposite sides of the street and opened fire on each other at the exact same time.

Her parents were killed instantly.

Tasha ran into an abandoned building and slammed the door shut.

She waited in the dark with her sister until the gunshots stopped.

Tasha snapped out of her painful memory, sat silently for a moment, and then stood up.

She walked over to the replicator, put her glass in it, and pressed a button.

The glass dematerialized.

Tasha walked over to her bed and lay down.

She found that she couldn't fall asleep.

It was 2348. Tasha was eleven years old. Ishara was six years old.

Tasha returned from the market with a bag full of groceries.

She opened the door to the house that she and Ishara were living in.

"It's me." Tasha announced.

The cabinet opened, and Ishara came out of her hiding place.

Tasha closed the door, walked over to the table, and set the bag of groceries on it.

"Did they get you?" Ishara asked.

Ishara asked this question whenever Tasha returned from somewhere.

"No, they didn't get me." Tasha replied. "I'm still a virgin."

"Tasha, I'm scared." Ishara said. "What if they take me someday. I don't want to be raped."

"Ishara, you're only six years old. I...I don't think anyone would want to rape you just yet." Tasha told her.

Ishara started crying. "I don't want some dirty old man taking my gift."

Tasha hugged Ishara. "Shhh. Don't think about that."

"Sis, will you do it?" Ishara asked. "Will you take my gift, so the mean people won't?"

Tasha was shocked. She looked at Ishara. "I can't!"

"But...you said that my virginity was a gift that should be shared with someone that I love." Ishara said.

"Yeah, I did say that." Tasha admitted.

"I love you, sis." Ishara said.

"I love you, too, Ishara." Tasha told her.

"So, please." Ishara begged.

Tasha stared at her sister and thought about it.

"Okay." Tasha agreed. "Please don't cry, though."

"I won't." Ishara said.

Tasha kissed her sister's lips.

It was 2349. Tasha was twelve years old. Ishara was seven years old.

Tasha walked into the bedroom. She was holding a small pouch in right hand.

Ishara was sitting on the floor.

"Sis! You're home!" Ishara exclaimed, grinning.

Tasha walked over to her and sat to her right on the floor.

Ishara kissed Tasha's lips.

After Ishara stopped kissing her, Tasha smiled and held up the pouch.

"Look what I found." Tasha said.

Ishara took the pouch and opened it. There was a white powder inside.

"What is it?" Ishara asked.

"It's called joy dust." Tasha replied. "It's supposed to make you feel really good."

"Where'd you get it?" Ishara asked.

"I got it off of a gang member that had been killed in a shoot-out." Tasha replied. "The guy that shot him saw me and let me have first pickings."

"How do you use it?" Ishara asked.

"Like this." Tasha said.

Tasha put her right index finger in the pouch, scooped up some of the joy dust, put her finger under her nose, and snorted the joy dust into her nostrils.

Ishara did the same. "Wow!"

"Feels good; doesn't it?" Tasha asked.

"Yeah." Ishara replied.

"Let's forget about all of our problems for a while." Tasha said. "Lie down."

Ishara lay on the floor.

Tasha pulled off her sister's pants and underwear.

Tasha decided to go to the ship's gym to work out, since she couldn't fall asleep.

She got on a treadmill, turned it on, set it to 10 k.p.h., and started running.

It was 2350. Tasha was thirteen years old. Ishara was eight years old.

Tasha and Ishara were sneaking along a street on their way to the market.

Suddenly, four men came out of an alley and approached them.

"Run, Ishara!" Tasha yelled.

"No, sis!" Ishara protested.

Tasha pushed her. "Run!"

Instead, Ishara took her knife out of her pants pocket and flicked it open.

"Shit." Tasha took her own knife out of her pants pocket and flicked it open.

The men ran at them.

Using their quick reflexes, Tasha and Ishara managed to dodge their attackers.

Tasha plunged her knife into the back of one man.

Ishara plunged her knife into the chest of another man.

Tasha pulled her knife out of the first man and plunged it into the chest of a third man.

Ishara pulled her knife out of the second man and plunged it into the neck of a fourth man.

Tasha and Ishara pulled their knives out of the bodies, closed them, and pocketed them.

"I'll strip them. You start the fire." Tasha said. "Tonight, we feast on meat."

It was 2352. Tasha was fifteen years old. Ishara was ten years old.

Tasha and Ishara were cuddling in an alley, trying to stay dry and warm each other up during a thunderstorm.

"I'm hungry, sis." Ishara said. "The Coalition sent us out for food. We have to find some."

"No, you have to find some. You joined the cadre; I didn't." Tasha said.

"Maybe we could go out and find some people." Ishara suggested. "No one's gonna miss any rapists. We could follow a gang and kill them. That'll get us through the night."

Tasha was shocked. "Ishara, we can't do that! We've never murdered anyone, and we're not gonna start now! You understand me!"

Ishara nodded, then she looked over at their cat, who was sleeping next to them.

Tasha didn't like the way that Ishara was looking at the cat. "Don't you dare. We'll find something else."

Ishara looked at Tasha. "I'm cold. Kiss me."

Tasha kissed Ishara's lips.

Suddenly, she heard a sound.

Tasha broke the kiss and looked out of the alley.

There was a beam of light, and then two people materialized. It was a man and a woman.

"What in the world!" Tasha exclaimed. "Who are you!"

"It's all right." the woman said."We're not going to hurt you."

The man and the woman approached them.

Tasha shivered.

"You're cold!" The man touched a gold brooch on his chest. "Adin here, I need two blankets to these coordinates - and hurry. And send down a medic - preferably female. We've got two little girls."

"Yes, sir." a male voice answered him.

Tasha was amazed. She hadn't seen much communications technology.

Soon, there was another beam of light, and another woman, holding two blankets, materialized.

The woman walked over to the sisters and wrapped one blanket around Tasha and one blanket around Ishara.

"I'm Dr. Munson. We won't hurt you." The woman held up a tricorder. "This instrument will tell me how badly you've been hurt."

Dr. Munson scanned Tasha and Ishara.

"Mr. Adin, you were right to call me." Dr. Munson said. "These girls are malnourished, need extensive dental work, and are suffering from both internal and external parasites. Please note that the latter means we all go through full decontamination when we beam up."

"No protest on that, Doctor." Mr. Adin said. "Is it all right for me to ask them some questions before you take them to Sickbay?"

Dr. Munson looked around. Dawn was just breaking, revealing the ruined city.

"I can see why your first instinct is to beam the children up, Mr. Adin, but we'll have to have the captain's permission - and also that of their parents." Dr. Munson looked at the girls. "Do your parents know where you are? They must be worried sick."

"They're dead." Tasha replied. "Killed by gangs."

"Who takes care of you?" Mr. Adin asked.

"We take care of each other." Tasha replied.

"My name is Darryl Adin. My friends call me Dare. What are your names?"

"Natasha Yar."

"Ishara Yar."

"Natasha. Ishara." Adin said. "Pretty names for pretty girls!"

"We don't want to be pretty!" Tasha exclaimed. "Attracts the rape gangs!"

"Rape gangs!" Dr. Munson exclaimed. "What kind of place is this!"

"Not exactly the ideal planet for shore leave." Adin replied. "Are you two related?"

"We're sisters." Ishara replied.

"And lovers," Tasha added, "so don't get any ideas."

The three adults appeared surprised.

"We'll take you to our ship for treatment, then you'll be free of this world." Adin told the girls.

"I don't wanna leave." Ishara said.

"What!" Tasha asked in surprise. "Ishara, this is our chance to escape!"

"Sure, leave the first chance that you get!" Ishara yelled at her. "You're a coward!"

Tasha kissed Ishara's lips.

Ishara broke the kiss. "Go! The Coalition will take care of me!"

Tasha stared at her for a moment, then she stood up, turned, and followed the three adults out of the alley.

Adin tapped his brooch. "Adin here. Four to beam up."

"And I'll eat your fuckin' cat!" Ishara yelled.

Tasha had forgotten about her cat. She turned around in a panic.

That's when she felt her molecules being taken apart.

Tasha screamed.

Tasha found herself in a cold sweat.

She slowed down and started taking deep breaths, shaken by her memories of her past.

After a minute, her breathing returned to normal, and her heart rate slowed down.

She decided to go and take a sonic shower.

Tasha took off her pajamas and stepped into the shower.

"Sonic shower on." Tasha ordered.

The shower started.

Tasha felt the cold mist surrounding her and cleansing her at the atomic level.

She stood in the shower, naked, her hands pressed against the wall, her head lowered.

It was 2355. Tasha was eighteen years old.

Tasha walked through a corridor in a building at Starfleet Academy, looking for her room.

She finally located it and knocked on the door.

"Come in." a female voice called.

Tasha opened the door with her left hand and walked into the room. She closed the door behind her.

A young woman with short, black hair was unpacking some clothes from a suitcase and placing them in a dresser drawer.

"Um, hi." Tasha said. "I guess I'm your roommate."

The woman looked at Tasha and smiled. "Oh, hi. Yes, I was told that I'd be paired with a freshman. Standard procedure. They don't want two new students rooming together. They tend to cause trouble."

"Ah." Tasha offered her right hand to the woman. "I'm Natasha Yar. Please call me Tasha."

The woman shook Tasha's hand. "Nice to meet you, Tasha. I'm Deanna Troi."

Tasha smiled. "Nice to meet you, Deanna."

Tasha smiled as she recalled her first meeting with Deanna. Her smile turned into a frown when she remembered that Deanna was soon to be in danger, and Tasha didn't know the outcome.

"Sonic shower off." Tasha ordered.

The shower stopped, and the mist disappeared.

Tasha loved taking sonic showers. They were very relaxing for her.

She couldn't fall asleep upon returning to bed, though.

Tasha was on a rescue mission.

She was a lieutenant junior grade security officer on the U.S.S. Clinton.

Currently, she was traversing a Carnelian minefield to rescue a wounded colonist.

Tasha picked the man up and carried him over her right shoulder.

She traversed the minefield again, set the man on his feet, and handed him over to a medic.

Tasha walked into the captain's ready room.

The doors closed behind her.

"You asked to see me, sir?" Tasha asked.

"Yes, lieutenant."

Captain Keene was sitting at his desk. Standing to his left was another captain - a bald-headed man that Tasha guessed was in his early fifties.

"Lieutenant Yar, allow me to introduce Captain Jean-Luc Picard." Captain Keene said.

Tasha stood at attention. "Sir."

Captain Picard smiled and offered his right hand to Tasha. "No need for formality, Lieutenant Yar."

Tasha relaxed, smiled, and shook his hand.

They released each other's hand.

"I saw you down on the planet." Captain Picard said. "I was quite impressed with you. You risked your life to rescue that colonist."

"It's part of my job, sir." Tasha said modestly.

"Captain Picard has made a request of me, and I, owing him a favor, couldn't refuse, but the final decision, of course, will be up to you." Captain Keene said.

"Sir?" Tasha asked in confusion.

"Lieutenant Yar, I will be assuming command of the newly-commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise early next year, and I'd like you to be my Chief Security Officer." Picard said.

Tasha was surprised. "Me, sir?"

"Do you accept?" Picard asked.

Tasha smiled broadly. "Yes, sir!"

Tasha walked onto the Main Bridge to begin her shift.

The Enterprise was traveling through space on impulse power.

Tasha walked over to the Aft station, where Lieutenant Worf was standing.

"Good morning, Lieutenant." Tasha greeted.

"Good morning, Lieutenant." Worf greeted.

"Anything to report?" Tasha asked.

"Engineering is completing preventive maintenance on dilithium crystals. We are traveling on impulse power." Worf reported.

"Understood." Tasha said.

"Routine deep sensor probe indicates no obstacles, no vessels within a range of three light-years." Worf reported.

Tasha worked the console. "Short-range sub-space radar confirms."

Worf turned to her. "The martial arts competition is in three days. Are you prepared?"

Tasha looked at him. "If you'll meet me on the Holodeck later. I need your help on the Mishiama wrist-lock and break. If it works on you, I can use it on anyone."

"A valid assumption. Who is your first competitor?"

"The Aikido match is with Science Officer Swenson." Tasha said.

"You will defeat him easily."

Tasha nodded. "I'm more concerned with Lieutenant Minnerly's kick-boxing."

"You are favored in the ship's pool."

Tasha just looked at him then smiled, surprised. "You bet on me."

"A sure thing."

"Sir, estimated rendezvous with the shuttle in one hour, ten minutes." Lieutenant Geordi LaForge reported.

"Very good, Lieutenant." Captain Picard looked at Commander William Thomas Riker. "It's not the same around here without Counselor Troi; is it, Number One?"

"No, sir." Riker said. "It seems - "

"Sir!" Worf interrupted. "I am receiving an emergency transmission from the shuttle!"

"Put it on the Main Viewer." Picard ordered.

"I can't." LaForge said. "We are receiving audio only."

"Then open the frequency." Picard ordered.

"Aye, sir." LaForge said.

"What a jolt!" The voice of Lieutenant Ben Prieto was distorted by a crackling sound but was calm.

"Position report." Picard requested.

"Sir, I have an onboard systems failure." Prieto replied. "You'll have to tell me where I am."

"I read coordinates three-zero-seven mark one-two-six." LaForge reported. "Confirm!"

"Can't confirm." Prieto said. "My instruments are haywire."

Tasha felt concerned. She saw that the rest of the bridge crew felt concerned, too.

"Lieutenant Prieto, is Counselor Troi all right?" Picard asked.

"Yes, sir. Just a little shaken." Prieto replied. "We're being buffeted a bit - "

A great static echoed through the bridge.

" - losing more power!" Prieto continued, slightly panicked, the transmission breaking up. "My flight control computer's fried."

"Main Engineering!" Picard called.

"Engineering." came the reply. "Lieutenant-Commander Leland T. Lynch reporting, sir."

"How long will it take to return to warp power?" Picard asked.

"Captain! I'm in the middle of realigning the dilithium crystals." Lynch told him.

"There's an emergency, Lynch. I need warp drive." Picard told him. "How long?"

"Twenty minutes. Maybe more." Lynch replied.

"We don't have it."

"I'll align it by hand. Then power up the core."

"Whatever it takes."

"Aye, sir. Let's go!"

Tasha felt very tense. So did the rest of the crew, she judged by their facial expressions.

"Shuttle, this is the Enterprise." LaForge said. "Coordinates now read two-thirty-seven mark one-oh-one. You're moving in too close towards a large mass."

"I can see it." Prieto said. "The planet's getting closer."

More static filled the bridge.

"The planet is Vagra II of the Zed Lapis system. Uninhabited." Lieutenant-Commander Data reported.

"Lieutenant, report!" Picard ordered.

"This is Counselor Troi. I'll relay, sir. The pilot is...busy. We've lost most of our impulse power."

"Engineering! Status report!" Picard ordered.

"Working on it." Lynch reported. "Three minutes, Captain, but there are no guarantees."

"Deanna, we'll be right there." Picard said.

Tasha became very anxious as the static again filled the bridge.

"We're spinning around." Lieutenant-Commander Deanna Troi reported.

"We're caught in the planet's gravity." Prieto reported.

"We're going to crash." Troi's voice was very controlled.

Tasha looked around the bridge. The faces of her friends reflected their fear and anguish.

"Lieutenant, report!" Picard yelled.

There was no response.

"Captain, this is Lieutenant-Commander Leland T. Lynch. You have minimum warp drive."

"Computer indicates alignment of matter-anti-matter completed, sir." Data reported.

"Course plotted and set for Vagra II." LaForge reported.

"Warp eight." Picard ordered.

"Minimum warp drive, Captain." Lynch said.

"You heard the order." Picard said. "Make it so."

The Enterprise went to warp speed.

The crew calmly but rapidly performed their duties. Riker sat almost immobilized next to Picard. Doctor Beverly Crusher put her hand on his arm.

"Approaching Vagra II." LaForge reported.

"Strange, sir. No emergency signal from the shuttle as yet." Data reported.

"They're designed to withstand almost any impact." Riker said.

Tasha thought that Riker sounded like he was reassuring himself.

"Beginning a deeper probe, sir." Worf said.

"What is this place, Mister Data?" Picard asked.

"There is no information in the library computer, sir, other than the fact of its existence. No signs of any known higher life-form. Virtually no vegetation." Data reported.

"Atmosphere?" Riker asked.

"Minimum for our needs." Data reported.

"Standard orbit." Picard ordered.

"Standard orbit, aye." LaForge said.

The Enterprise entered orbit around Vagra II.

"I could have set up the rendezvous in a dozen alternate sites." Riker said.

"She means a lot to all of us." Picard told him.

"She's not dead." Riker said. "I'd know it."

"I've located the shuttle!" Worf reported.

"Life signs?" Picard asked.

"Not yet, sir. Still probing. It appears to be buried under a lot of debris." Worf shook his head then saw a flicker on the console. "I may have something, sir!"

He made an adjustment on his instruments. Riker got of his chair instantly and looked over Worf's shoulder.

"Faint life signs." Worf reported. "Very faint."

"How many?" Riker asked.

"There's no way of telling from here." Worf replied.

"Can we beam up the injured?" Picard asked.

"No. Our sensors are not fully penetrating whatever the debris is, sir." Data replied. "I cannot explain it."

"That's very unusual." Picard said.

"Yes." Data agreed. "I cannot explain it."

"Captain, this is Lieutenant-Commander Leland T. Lynch. Can I shut down the warp drive now for a full realignment?"

"Yes." Picard replied.

"Thanks." Lynch said. "That's fine."

"No. Wait." Picard said. "Not yet."

"You'll have full impulse." Lynch told him.

"I understand, but, for the moment, I want all systems at full readiness - especially propulsion." Picard ordered.

"As you wish, Captain."

"Assemble your team, Number One." Picard ordered.

"Right away." Riker said.

"I'll meet you in Transporter Room Four." Crusher told him.

Riker got up quickly. "Yar, Data."

Tasha headed for the turbolift. Data stood up and headed for the turbolift as well.

Tasha, Riker, and Data went and stood on the transporter pad.

Crusher came in with two medical technicians and gear. They went and stood on the pad.

"Do it." Riker ordered.

The Transporter Chief worked the console.

Tasha felt her molecules being taken apart. She never got used to the sensation. Her surroundings disappeared while she was in the transporter beam. Finally, she rematerialized on Vagra II.

Vagra II was arid and desolate with very rocky terrain. It was dusk. The crash site was about ten meters away. The shuttle appeared to have crashed into a hill. It was almost completely buried, obscured by rocks. There was an eerie stillness, a deadness, about the place.

Tasha took readings with her tricorder. "Ben must have had no control left; otherwise, he would have picked a better spot."

"Let's go." Crusher said. "The life signs are weak."

Tasha started to lead the team quickly and cautiously towards the shuttle.

As they neared the shuttle, they ran into an obstacle - a black, shiny, viscous mass lying on the ground.

They stopped and looked at the slime. Data took a tricorder reading.

"What is it?" Riker asked.

"No idea." Tasha replied. "We'll go around just to be on the safe side."

As she led the away team around the slick, it moved parallel with them and stayed between them and the shuttle. The team stopped.

"We'll go the other way." Tasha said.

The away team circled around the other way. Again, the slick stayed between them and the shuttle.

Riker touched his communicator. "Enterprise, this is Riker. We've got a problem."

"What kind of a problem, Number One?" Picard asked.

"I'm not sure yet." Riker replied. "There's some kind of a slick blocking our path. We'll keep you apprised."

"Maintain an open frequency." Picard ordered.

"Aye, sir." Riker said. "Analysis, Mister Data."

Data took readings. "Inconclusive, sir. I cannot tell you what it is - only what it is not."

"Explain." Riker said.

"There is no evidence of neural or circulatory systems. No internal organs. Cellular structure unknown. It does not have any proteins which are known to us." Data reported.

"It's narrower over here." Crusher said. "Can we get over it?"

They tried, but it expanded, so they couldn't pass.

"Wait, Beverly." Riker said. "How is it moving, Data?"

"I do not know, sir." Data replied. "It does not appear to have any skeletal framework or musculature."

"Then what's causing it to move?" Riker asked.

"Perhaps we are." Data suggested. "It appears to be following us, sir."

The slime continued to block their path, blocking any way that they tried to approach the shuttle.

"No readings of intelligence, no brain as we know it, but evidence of thought, Mister Data?" Riker asked.

"Insufficient information." Data replied.

"Number One, can you beam around it?" Picard asked.

"Negative, not enough room, sir." Riker replied. "It seems to be trying to keep us away from the shuttle."

"Data, is it alive?" Picard asked.

"It is possible." Data replied. "It possesses two of the requisites for life."

A shriek was emitted, and the black shroud, Armus, lifted itself off of the ground and blocked the away team's path.

"Very good, tin man." Armus said.

They stepped back, startled, phasers ready. Riker stepped forward. Tasha was alert.

"What is it, Number One? What are you seeing?" Picard asked.

"I wish I had an answer, Captain. The truth is...I'm not sure." Riker replied.

"Go easy, Number One." Picard warned. "Let's find out what it is we are dealing with here."

"Agreed, Captain." Riker said.

"And, Number One, I don't believe the location of the shuttle crash and the proximity of this creature is necessarily a coincidence."

Riker moved a step closer to the creature. "I am Commander William Riker of the U.S.S. Enterprise."

"I am Armus. Why do you intrude into my space?"

"We mean you no harm." Riker told him. "We have an injured crew in that shuttlecraft. We need to get to them. May we pass?"

"That is important to you? That they live?" Armus asked.

"Yes." Riker replied. "Preserving life - all life - is very important to us."

"Why?"

"We believe that everything in the universe has a right to exist." Riker replied.

"Interesting. Irrelevant. But you may now leave if you wish."

Tasha got angry, but then she became startled, and her anger dissipated. This was it. This was her mistake. It was time for her to make a choice.

"Let's do what he says, Commander." Tasha told Riker.

"What?" Riker asked.

"We won't accomplish anything down here." Tasha told him. "We need to formulate a strategy."

Riker was silent for a moment. "Agreed." He tapped his communicator. "Riker to Enterprise. Beam us up."

Tasha felt her molecules being taken apart. Vagra II disappeared while she was in the transporter beam. Finally, she rematerialized on the transporter pad onboard the Enterprise.

The bridge crew gathered around the table in the Observation Lounge and sat down.

"Doctor, what is the status of the shuttle crew?" Picard asked.

"We're still receiving faint life signs, but the sensor readings are fluctuating, and I don't know how accurate they are."

"Armus is capable of creating undefined forcefields. In effect, we are powerless to communicate or use our transporter unless it allows us to." Tasha added.

"How do you know this?" Picard asked.

Tasha was silent for a moment. "I'm not at liberty to say, sir."

Everyone looked surprised.

"If you know what this creature is, Lieutenant, you better speak up." Picard told her.

"I don't know what it is, sir." Tasha replied. "I was given only a few hints."

"When? By whom?" Picard demanded.

"I'm sorry, sir." Tasha replied. "I'm under direct orders from Starfleet Intelligence to not disclose that information."

"What?" Riker demanded.

Picard frowned. "Very well. A powerful creature against whom we seem to have no defense. Number One."

Riker stood up and began pacing. "This creature that calls itself Armus is down on that planet, waiting for us to come back. It wants us to come back. It could have killed us. It didn't. Troi and Ben Prieto are still alive...for a reason. It wants something, and it knows we will not leave so long as Troi and Ben are alive."

"What does it want?" Picard asked.

"The only way we're going to find out is to go back down." Riker said.

Tasha was surprised. So were the rest of the crew, she judged by their reactions.

"Sir, request permission to accompany Commander Riker." Data said. "He may need help, and Armus may allow us through its forcefield only once."

"I am going, too." Crusher said. "There are injured people down there."

"Captain, perhaps I can see something in the creature which will be helpful." LaForge looked at Worf. "Worf, are you coming?"

"Yes." Worf replied.

"Lieutenant Yar?" LaForge asked.

Tasha was nervous. "I will remain on the ship."

Everyone looked mildly surprised.

"The object here is not to engage this creature in battle. The goal is the safe return of Counselor Troi and Lieutenant Prieto. I can best accomplish this from the Tactical Station." Tasha explained.

"Agreed, Lieutenant." Picard said. "Number One, I see no other choice. Prepare your away team."

Tasha was standing at the Aft Console on the Main Bridge.

"Enterprise." Riker called.

"Number One." Picard said.

"We're approaching the shuttlecraft. The creature's covering it." Riker reported.

There was silence for a moment.

"Enterprise, Armus is moving towards us." Riker reported.

"Captain. Look at this." Tasha said.

Picard approached the Aft station.

"The force of the energy field around the shuttle just took a dip. It was almost low enough for us to beam them out. Now, as the creature approaches the away team, the energy field increases." Tasha reported.

Picard was silent for a moment. "Chart it."

"Enterprise, Armus has enveloped and attacked Commander Riker." Data reported.

"I'm beaming you up!" Picard yelled.

"No." Data said after a moment. "Armus says Commander Riker will die, and so will the survivors of the crash."

Tasha was working on a solution to the Armus energy problem.

"Captain, perhaps you should look at this." Tasha said.

Picard stepped over and studied the graphic display.

"We have a chart of the energy field surrounding the shuttle." Tasha said.

"There are a great deal of fluctuations." Picard said.

"Yes, but here is when it absorbed Commander Riker." Tasha said.

Picard indicated points on the graph. "And here and here, where the energy is lowest?"

"Both times, it had enveloped the shuttle and was involved with Counselor Troi." Tasha explained.

"So, when it is provoked in a certain way, its forcefield is weakened." Picard said. "Troi must have the answer. I'm beaming down. You have the Conn, Lieutenant."

Picard walked into the turbolift, and the doors closed.

Tasha waited for word from the away team for what seemed like a long time.

"Enterprise, beam up the away team - immediately." Picard finally said.

"You need my permission." Armus said.

"Do I have it?" Picard asked.

"Yes." Armus replied. "Are you going?"

"No. Not yet." Picard replied. "Enterprise, four to beam up."

"Aye, sir." Tasha worked her console.

"Lieutenant Yar, I'm going to try and break this impasse." Picard called. "Monitor carefully."

"Aye, sir." Tasha replied. She set the computer.

When the energy level reached two point six point two-oh-five, it would automatically beam up Troi and Prieto. It would also do a parallel transport of Captain Picard.

She waited for a moment.

Tasha checked her readings. "Energy shields are way down! Computer is beginning transport."

She waited a moment.

Tasha worked her console and used pinpoint phaser power to completely destroy the shuttle.

Picard soon returned to the bridge.

"Leave orbit, Mr. LaForge." Picard ordered.

"Aye, sir." LaForge replied.

The Enterprise left orbit of Vagra II.

"Lieutenant Yar, I'd like to see you in my ready room." Picard said.

Tasha grew nervous.

She followed Picard into his ready room.

As soon as the doors closed, Picard turned to face her.

"Lieutenant, I want you to tell me what was going on." Picard demanded.

"Sir, you know that I can't tell you that." Tasha told him.

"You received information that helped us and perhaps saved lines." Picard told her. "I want to know why."

"I can't." Tasha told him. "It came in on a Code 45 frequency - CSO only."

Picard looked surprised. "Is there nothing that you can tell me?"

"I shouldn't have said this much." Tasha told him. "Not unless it's absolutely necessary. It wasn't. It isn't. The danger is past. Please, just let it go."

There was silence for a long moment.

"Dismissed." Picard finally said.

Tasha swiftly turned around and walked to the doors.

The doors opened, and Tasha walked out of the ready room.

After her shift was over, Tasha headed back to her quarters.

"Lieutenant Yar." Worf called.

Tasha stopped and turned around. "Yes?"

"Since we're both off-duty, would you like to practice on the Holodeck with me now?"

Tasha thought about it for a moment. "Not today. I had insomnia last night. I just wanna go to sleep."

"I understand." Worf said. "Tomorrow?"

"Sure." Tasha replied. "Good night."

"Good night."

Tasha turned and walked to her quarters.

Tasha was woken up by a flashing, yellow light and the sound of her computer beeping.

She knew that Sloan was calling her. She stood up and tiredly walked over to her replicator.

"Cola, ice-cold, no caffeine." Tasha ordered.

A glass filled with the beverage materialized in the replicator.

Tasha picked up the glass, walked over to her desk, sat in her chair, and took a sip of her drink.

The Starfleet seal was on the screen.

"Open channel." Tasha instructed.

"This is an emergency communique. It is not to be discussed with fellow officers unless deemed absolutely necessary. There will be no computer record of said transmission." the computer said.

Tasha yawned. "Understood."

"Proceed with voice print identification." the computer instructed.

"Yar, Natasha. CSO, U.S.S. Enterprise." Tasha said.

She heard a humming sound for a moment.

"Voice print verified." the computer said.

The Starfleet seal was replaced by the live image of Sloan sitting at his desk.

Sloan smiled. "Good evening, Lieutenant Yar. I'm glad to see that you're still alive."

"That makes two of us." Tasha took a sip of her drink.

Sloan laughed. "I'm glad to see you have a sense of humor."

"I take it that you called to formalize our arrangement." Tasha said.

"Actually, I called just to check up on you." Sloan said. "However, we can formalize our arrangement now, if you want."

"Fine." Tasha agreed.

"I will contact you twice per day - more often if necessary - before and after your shift." Sloan told her. "I will give you your assignments and receive your status reports. You will make no official or personal log entries. You will not tell any officers about this arrangement. Is that understood?"

"Yes." Tasha replied.

"Very good." Sloan said. "If that's all, - "

"Actually," Tasha said, "I've got a question."

"What is it?" Sloan asked.

"Why are you interested in me?" Tasha asked.

"We need an operative onboard the Enterprise." Sloan replied. "Someone to report to us on what's going on Starfleet's flagship."

"Why?" Tasha asked.

"That leads to your first assignment." Sloan told her. "You want it at this hour?"

"Sure; why not?" Tasha agreed.

"Some time ago, we became suspicious of problems within the Federation." Sloan said. "Something or someone is trying to destroy the fabric of all that we've built over the last two-hundred years."

"What's your evidence?" Tasha asked.

"I can't go into that. Too many other people are involved." Sloan said. "But, if we're right, this is the most critical time in the history of the Federation."

"What do you want from me?" Tasha asked.

"We don't know if the threat is coming from within or from the outside. We need people that we can trust in strong positions throughout the Federation - people such as you: the Chief of Security on Starfleet's flagship." Sloan said. "We want you to quietly monitor the rest of the Enterprise's crew. Report any odd behavior, anything out of place, and anything suspicious to me."

"You want me to be a spy." Tasha said.

"Yes." Sloan replied. "I'll contact you again before you begin your shift at - "

"One more question." Tasha said.

"What is it?" Sloan asked impatiently.

"How can I be certain that I'm working for a legitimate department?"

"We derive our authority from the Starfleet charter, Article 14, Section 31." Sloan replied.

"Thanks. I'll look it up." Tasha said.

"Is there anything else?" Sloan asked.

"No." Tasha replied.

"Good night." Sloan said.

"Good night." Tasha said.

The computer's screen went blank.

Tasha set her empty glass on her desk and leaned back in her chair.

She had altered her fate. She was still alive, when she should be dead. She wondered if it was worth betraying her fellow crewmembers.

Tasha thought that, in a way, she had changed nothing.

Living or dead, she was still cold.

The End

Copyright 2005 by Mark Moore