STAR TREK

THE NEXT GENERATION

Reciprocity

"Shuttlecraft Chawla to Enterprise."

"Enterprise. Go ahead, Commander Madden."

"Captain Picard and the delegates have been dropped off. I'm on my way back."

"Shuttlebay One has been alerted of your approach."

"Much appreciated, Lieuten– Whoa!"

A bolt of energy shot past the shuttle. Madden ducked purely by reflex. He accessed the sensors. "Chapman, did you see that?"

"If you mean that golden ray, yes we did. It's hit the surface, out in the desert. There's been a massive release of energy."

"Origin?"

"No ships in the vicinity."

Madden looked at the readout, then creased his eyebrows. "I'm reading a life-form at Ground Zero."

"We're getting it, too. A Vulcan male. He wasn't there before."

"I'm going down to investigate. Inform Paradise Central."

"Understood, Commander. Enterprise out."

The shuttlecraft touched down near a ten-meter deep hole. Madden got out and surveyed the arid landscape of the desert. Dust was still settling, from both the energy bolt and the shuttlecraft, and heat distorted his view of the horizon. He walked to the lip of the hole, where he saw that the unconscious Vulcan was wearing a white robe and boots. Madden climbed down, took a tricorder reading of his vitals, determined he was merely unconscious, then shook his arm. "Sir?"

The Vulcan groaned as he came around. He put a hand to his head and sat up. He looked around at the hole he was in, then saw who he was in it with. "Where am I?"

"You're on the Planet of Galactic Peace."

The Vulcan looked shocked. "Not Nimbus III?"

"Yes, sir."

Madden looked at him curiously. The Vulcan noticed. "You act as if you've never seen a Vulcan before."

"Not one with a beard, at least. I'm Commander Martin Madden, first officer of the Starship Enterprise."

Suddenly, the Vulcan broke into a wide grin, making Madden move back a little. "The Enterprise! You've survived the encounter!" Suddenly the grin disappeared as he examined Madden's uniform. "I thought Spock was the first officer."

Madden slowly shook his head, confusion on his face. "No, sir. Ambassador Spock retired from active duty nearly a hundred years ago."

"Ambassador?" His eyes widened. "Well, you'll have to tell Ambassador Spock that his brother Sybok is still alive!" Madden's eyebrows shot up in surprise as Sybok continued. "A hundred years, you say? What is the stardate?"

"56928 point… six, I believe."

"I heard Captain Kirk make a log entry that was Stardate 8455.2. That occurred four hours ago, according to my memory."

"Who... are you?"

"Well, if it really has been a hundred years, our journey beyond the Great Barrier must be the stuff of legend."

"Yes, but Sybok- or you- died during the encounter with the entity."

"They obviously never found my body."

"It was assumed you died in the photon torpedo detonation."

Sybok stood up and flung his arms wide. "But here I am, still alive after all this time!" His arms sagged a bit. "And back on this worthless lump of rock."

Madden got to his feet. "I wouldn't call it worthless now. We're having a peace conference here. The Romulans want hostilities to end."

Sybok smiled again. "The Klingons must be furious!"

"We made peace with them fifty years ago."

Sybok laughed incredulously, making Madden nervous. "A lot can happen in a hundred years!" Sybok then grew serious. "I couldn't help but notice your pain."

"Huh? What pain?"

"You know what I'm talking about." He walked closer to the Starfleet officer. "It has poisoned your soul for so long, you have gotten used to it."

Madden looked around. The hole had disappeared, having been replaced by the living room of his boyhood home in Berkeley. His mother slowly entered the room after finishing a conversation on the comm unit. "Marty, that was the investigation team. Mr. Sackett has been cleared of all responsibility in the accident."

Madden turned after hearing a gasp and saw himself at the age of twelve, sitting on the couch. "You mean they're not going to punish him?"

"Honey, anybody can make a mistake when fixing a shuttlecraft."

Madden's face fell. He turned around and saw Sybok. "Don't... don't make me relive this. Please."

"This is your pain, Martin. Each of us hides a secret pain. Share it, and gain strength from the sharing."

Little Marty spoke. "It's not a little mistake! Father died!"

His mother knelt so she could look him in the eyes, and she reached for his hands. "Son... please... just let it go..."

"No!" Martinpulled his hands away. "I won't let it go! I can't! If the authorities won't punish him, then I will!" He turned and stormed out of the room.

Sybok put a hand on Madden's shoulder. "Did you ever punish Sackett?"

He looked at the floor, tears forming in his eyes. "No. I learned that was wrong, and I later learned that hurting him would only hurt me further."

"But you still can't put your father's death behind you."

"No. He was a great man."

"Just think about him. His love for you. His sense of humor. The similarities you share. Think of the legacy he left for you."

Madden came close to crying as Sybok held him close. Then, suddenly, the pain vanished. Madden looked up, amazed. "What... What have you done to me?"

"I have released you. This is the true Martin Madden. The man you were meant to be."

"How..." Madden shook his head slowly, disbelieving. "How can I ever thank you?"

"Join me on a very special quest."

"Anything. What are you searching for?"

Sybok smiled that broad grin of his again. "What man has sought since ancient times, and has never found. But first, we have an errand."

Half an hour later, Madden walked onto the bridge. Chapman vacated the command chair and sat at the first officer station. He asked, "How's our mystery guest?"

"He's on his way to Paradise City. He said the walk there would clear his head. Any clues as to the origin of that ray?"

"Here's the flight path." Chapman put a schematic on the main viewscreen, showing the Enterprise in orbit of Nimbus III. A blue line plunged from deep space to the planet's surface. "I've scanned all the way out to maximum sensor range. There's nothing out there that we can see that could have generated that ray."

Madden put his arm on the back of the command chair and looked at the diagram, interested. "What was its approach heading?"

"Zero-zero-zero, mark two."

The Great Barrier. Just like Sybok said. Madden slapped the back of the chair in mock frustration. "Aw, we can guess until the cows come home." Madden stopped, then cocked his head slightly. "Chapman? Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"I think the torque sensors are out of alignment."

Chapman smiled. "Captain Picard has the same sixth sense about things like that. I never thought two people could have the same ability. This one's for the record books." He tapped some buttons. "Torque sensors are aligned properly."

Madden winced. "Must be something else."

"Well, we have a skeleton crew for the time being. I'll go help Commander La Forge pin it down." Chapman left the bridge.

Madden looked at the turbolift doors as they closed. He turned to the only other person left on the bridge, and she was under the communications console replacing optical chips. He went to the engineering station and started typing.

Chapman entered main engineering and looked for La Forge, who was talking to one of his subordinates by the warp core. He finished talking as Chapman approached. "Commander La Forge?"

"Bill. I never got around to congratulating you on your promotion to Lieutenant Commander."

Chapman shifted his feet sheepishly. "Thanks. Uh, Commander Madden is hearing something that only he can hear, and it's bothering him a lot."

"Hmmm... Like Captain Picard and the torque compensators?"

"Almost exactly. What are the odds of that happening?" They walked over to the main status board. "I've checked them, and they're aligned just fine."

Together, they looked over the board. "I don't see anything unusual, except for somebody routing power to-"

Geordi was surprised by his communicator being suddenly slapped from his chest, and surprised even further when it was transported before it hit the floor. He turned around, and the crewman he was talking to previously was gone. He looked at Chapman, who said, "I noticed somebody had rigged the transporters for internal site-to-site beaming, and was routing power for simultaneous transport of everyone on the ship."

Geordi was amazed. "How were you able to figure all of that out so quickly?"

"Seven years in the Delta Quadrant can teach you a lot of things." Chapman looked at the board. "Somebody's been beamed up." He accessed the logs. "It's the same person Madden encountered on the planet."

"The Vulcan?" Geordi asked. "There must have been some mind-meld between them if the commander's doing all of this. But why would a Vulcan do that? What logical reason is there for a Vulcan to be hijacking a starship?"

The warp core started pulsing faster. Geordi looked at it. "We're at warp nine. What's our course and heading?"

Chapman looked at another computer readout. "Zero-zero-zero mark 2." He turned around, confusion on his face. "We seem to be heading for the Great Barrier."

"There's nothing in there but..." Geordi stopped, thought for a second, then went to another console and called up the history banks. "There's a malevolent entity imprisoned on a planet inside the Great Barrier." He quickly read the logs of the Enterprise-A from nearly one hundred years earlier. The picture of a bearded Vulcan appeared on the screen. "Bill, call up a visual of the bridge recorder."

Chapman pressed a few buttons on the console next to Geordi's, and the image appeared. Standing behind the command chair was the same Vulcan on the other screen. "He hasn't aged a day."

"It says here that this Vulcan, Sybok, brainwashed members of Captain Kirk's crew, and they went with him willingly."

"That explains the commander. Why are we on our way back there?"

Geordi finished reading the log. "This entity nearly killed him, Captain Kirk, Captain Spock and their CMO, Doctor McCoy. It says that this being lured Sybok to the planet by impersonating God and tried to escape by boarding the Enterprise."

"Then why are we going back? Is it calling him again?"

"Probably. He could also want revenge. It says here that Sybok was a Vulcan who indulged in emotions."

"Or rather is." Chapman looked at Sybok on the bridge image again.

"Right. How he survived the photon torpedo baffles me." He turned from the computer, thinking. "We've got to retake the ship. Let's see. How can we mask ourselves from internal sensors?" Geordi scratched the back of his head, trying to think of a way.

"If I've learned anything from serving with members of the Maquis onboard Voyager, it's how to mask lifesigns." Chapman walked to the tool replicator. "Two portable thoron generators." They appeared, and Chapman handed one to Geordi. "These are used by medical technicians to treat burns, but they also neutralize sensor emissions. Remove the focusing emitter, then turn the unit up to maximum."

They did so, then Geordi aimed a tricorder at Chapman. "Huh. Now why didn't I think of that?" He took two padds from a workstation. "We'll need to split up. Turn off the transponder. We can't communicate by voice, so type out your messages. I'll go to the battle bridge and try to isolate command functions. You get to Sybok and Commander Madden. Try to neutralize them."

"Understood, Commander."

"And, Bill, you're a lieutenant commander now. Call me Geordi."

Sybok walked around the bridge. "It's much bigger than Kirk's." He looked at Madden, seated at the helm console. "You say this is the Enterprise-E?"

"Yes. There have been several ships with the name since Kirk commanded the Enterprise-A."

"One hundred years." He saw a computer rendering of how far the Federation had explored. "The face of the Federation has certainly changed in such a short time."

"One of my officers extrapolated the course you took as an energy beam." He displayed Chapman's schematic on the main screen. They looked at it. "Now I tie in astrometrics, and extend the range." They watched the blue line extend further until it hit the Great Barrier, and the planet beyond. The computed distance appeared next to the line. Madden said, "So, it's not really one hundred years; it's more like ninety-six, since you could only travel at the speed of light."

"Ninety-six light-years. And from my perception, it all passed in the blink of an eye."

"We're going to the planet of the entity at warp nine. We're exceeding the warp five restriction, which will definitely attract some attention."

"Warp five restriction? That sounds like a slow crawl."

"Studies have confirmed that warp drive damages the environment of outer space."

Sybok smiled. "There is no environment in outer space."

"Starships travel through subspace, and the barriers around it weaken every time we enter it."

Sybok held up a hand to defray further technobabble. "The only engineering concept I've been able to grasp is defensive shield theory. The entity contacted me, gave me a new theory, and I worked it into Starfleet designs. Speaking of which, we'd better implement my shield, if it hasn't been already been done."

Madden led Sybok to the engineering station. "Captain Kirk scanned the interior of the Great Barrier, and there's nothing else in there except for the planet, so we haven't had much cause to go back in. You'll have to reconstruct the shield."

Sybok smiled wanly. "I was hoping I would only have to do this once."

Madden walked over to his station at the right of the command chair, wondering which seat to sit in, when something on his computer console caught his eye. It showed an engineering readout of the ship's emissions, both internally and externally. He looked closer and saw that the Enterprise's interior emissions were within standard tolerances, except for one spike. He considered ignoring it, but isolated the reading without really thinking about it, a subconscious action that, he had to admit, had saved his life more times than he could count.

Why would we have a thoron radiation spike? He searched the database for onboard devices that use such radiation, and found that none exist outside sickbay. We must have beamed out a medtech in the middle of treatment, he concluded as he went to see how Sybok was doing.

As he passed the command chair, he stopped. His instincts were sounding an alarm, another subconscious response he had learned to trust. He walked back to his station and called up a schematic of where the radiation was leaking.

His eyes widened. It's not radiating from Sickbay, it's coming from Engineering in a path that couldn't possibly exist naturally, and it's headed toward the bridge.

He quickly walked toward the engineering station. "Sybok. Somebody's still on board. Excuse me." Madden took over the console and started tapping buttons.

"What are you doing?" Sybok asked.

"Erecting a force-field around the bridge so they can't get in." He heard the field snap into place, then tapped his communicator. "Computer. Recognize Madden, Martin, commander and first officer, alpha one clearance."

The computer beeped. "Commander Martin Madden recognized."

"Isolate command functions to main bridge only, authorization Madden epsilon four."

"Unable to comply."

Madden's blood pressure rose. "Explain."

"Command functions are being rerouted through auxiliary control."

"By whom?"

"Captain John Q. Public."

"Public? I've never heard of him." Madden thought for a moment. "John Q. Public. That can't be a real name." He typed for a few moments, then looked at the screen. "It's a forged command level access."

Sybok looked at Madden. "Who do you know of that can forge that kind of access?"

Madden turned sharply. "'Forge'. La Forge. It has to be him." Madden exhaled sharply as he strode back to his station and tried to counter the command bypass.

Sybok asked, "La Forge?"

"The chief engineer." He pointed to Sybok's station. "Keep working on that shield!"

"If he's anything like Mr. Scott, you're in for a battle."

On the battle bridge, La Forge typed a message to Chapman. WE'VE BEEN SPOTTED. MADDEN IS TRYING TO RE-ESTABLISH CONTROL FROM THE BRIDGE.

The reply came quickly. KEEP WORKING ON IT.

He continued the battle for command, then typed on his padd again. MADDEN'S BEATING ME. HIS ESTABLISHED AUTHORITY AS FIRST OFFICER WILL EVENTUALLY WIN OVER MY HACKED ACCESS.

THERE'S A FORCE-FIELD AROUND THE BRIDGE. I CAN'T DO ANYTHING.

La Forge struggled for an answer as he fought Madden in the computer. One occurred to him. I'LL HOLD HIM OFF FOR AS LONG AS I CAN. GET TO DECK FIVE.

Suddenly, the hum of the warp engines wound down. A beep issued from the padd.

WE'VE ARRIVED.

Madden and Sybok looked at the sight on the viewscreen, which showed the roiling energies of the Great Barrier. It resembled a soupy nebula in a state of flux. He was reminded of the Badlands, yet this phenomenon looked different. There was something mystical about the phenomenon that tickled the latent poet in his mind. He looked at Sybok, who had a small smile on his face, and a clenched jaw. Part wonder, part fury.

"Is the shield on-line?"

"It is."

"Then we're going in at two-thirds impulse." Madden manipulated the helm, and the Enterprise entered the raging mist.

Chapman struggled to keep from falling as the ship shuddered. He was climbing down the ladder between decks three and four, while barely keeping a rare occurrence of space sickness in check.

La Forge widened his stance to keep from falling as he activated the battle bridge viewscreen. Only sparing a glance every few seconds as he quickly typed, he saw their journey through the Great Barrier. The fog was getting thinner.

"At last." Sybok was looking at the screen. He saw a speck that was getting larger.

Madden looked up as the planet swam into view. It had an ethereal glow around it that fascinated him. He went back to his battle with La Forge. He looked at the readout, then pounded the console with his left fist. His advantage was suddenly disappearing. He kept at it, hoping to recover.

"I once thought it was Sha Ka Ree, the planet where God resides." Sybok said, an edge in his voice. "The only thing it deserves now is to be obliterated." He walked to the tactical console. "I assume you've invented something better than photon torpedoes?"

Madden looked up. "What are you doing? I thought you wanted to check on the entity and make sure it was still imprisoned!"

Sybok speared Madden with a look of pure rage. "No! I came here to destroy it once and for all!"

Madden's console beeped. He pressed buttons, but the computer had locked him out. "Damn!"

The same thing happened at the tactical station. Sybok pressed buttons, but the same sound resulted.

Madden stood up. "We're locked out. La Forge beat me." He looked at the helm. "The autopilot is entering us into orbit."

"You…"

The voice was all around them, like the rushing of water on a beach. The image on the viewscreen wavered. Madden and Sybok stared at it as a face assembled itself in the blue aura of the planet.

"You. I thought I was rid of you. And you have come again."

Chapman came out of the starboard Jeffries tube holding a phaser, but halted as he saw the image on the viewscreen.

"Yes," Sybok said, "I came to destroy you for your ultimate blasphemy."

Madden backed toward the weapons locker, but he felt a jab in his back. He turned around and saw that La Forge had pried open the turbolift doors and now held a phaser on him.

"You and the other three are the ones who blasphemed. Two of them dared to question me. You absorbed a fraction of my power and left me alone to punish the other infidels. The other with the pointed ears left with the abrasive one. The third left on a ship that was too small for me to inhabit. But I studied it enough for me to be able to do this!"

A blue hand came up from the planet's surface and grabbed the Enterprise's saucer section.

Chapman ran for the helm. "It's got us in a tractor beam! We're being pulled toward the planet!"

La Forge held a padd to his lips. "B-4! Transfer command functions back to the bridge!"

An immature-sounding voice came from the padd. "Why? You just told me to route them from the bridge."

"Chapman and I have retaken the bridge! We're in control! Give us the command functions!"

"Understood, Geordi."

The helm console came back to life, and Chapman took control. "Resisting at full impulse, but it's not enough!"

Geordi pushed Madden into the captain's chair. Sybok walked to the viewscreen and addressed the entity directly. "Stop! This battle is between you and me! Leave the others out of it!"

The entity laughed. "At last. I will finally be free of this prison. Closer. Come closer. It is useless to resist."

Geordi looked at a computer screen in the rear of the bridge. It read INCOMING VESSEL. "Computer! Identify incoming ship!"

"Hull registry matches Federation starship U.S.S. Titan."

"Oh, great," Madden groaned, "Riker."

Chapman tracked the Prometheus-class ship. "They're moving into a firing position. Hang on!"

The Titan fired five quantum torpedoes at the source of the entity's hand on the planet's surface.

The bridge of the Enterprise jerked violently as the entity's arm was racked with violent explosions, but its grip held firm.

"Titan's locking on a tractor beam." Tones emitted from his console. "We're being hailed."

Both La Forge and Madden said, "On screen." They then looked daggers at each other.

As the connection activated, the entity's image remained superimposed over Captains Riker and Picard, the latter opening his mouth to speak in outrage before he saw Sybok. He then turned to his right and said, "Ambassador!"

Ambassador Spock entered the image. If he was shocked, he didn't show it. "Qual se tu, Sybok?"

However, Sybok looked quite shocked. "Spock!" He started to smile, but it turned into an apologetic frown. "Again, we meet here. Can you and your ship help us?"

"We will try." He looked behind him. "Commander?"

Riker and Picard turned to regard Worf, who glowered at Madden.

Spock continued. "Is there any way to counteract this apparently Klingon-inspired tractor beam?"

Worf grunted in distaste, then looked at Spock. "The Type-6 tractor beam Captain Klaa used when you both confronted the entity could be disrupted by another tractor beam infused with dekyon particles."

Riker moved off screen to confer with his engineer. Geordi knew he could have the new tractor beam ready in three minutes, and he wondered if the Titan's engineer was as fast.

Picard turned to the screen and said, "Number One, you and I will have a lot to talk about."

As the bridge started rocking, Madden showed no signs of contrition. "I imagine we will, Captain."

Riker walked back into the picture and said, "We're ready." He turned around. "Engage tractor beam."

That was quick, thought Geordi as he held on to the captain's chair. The bridge rocked harder. I wonder who the Titan's engineer is? We'll have to talk sometime.

A voice came from behind Riker. A female voice. "No effect, Captain. The 'hand' apparently has a 'skin' that is dispersing the dekyons."

"Then you'll have to destroy the planet!" Sybok shouted. "Destroy the entity!"

"Increase dekyon concentration," Riker ordered.

Suddenly, the bridge got hotter. Chapman said, "We're entering the upper atmosphere." Flames engulfed the Enterprise as the Titan tried to pry loose the hand's grip.

"We don't have much time left! Destroy the planet!"

Spock said, "We don't know if that will kill the entity, or set it free."

"I don't care! We will deal with it if it escapes!"

"Sybok, we cannot."

Sybok walked toward the viewscreen, arms open in a beseeching gesture. "We're resourceful people! We will defeat the entity again!"

"Sybok-"

"We don't have any time left! Destroy the planet! DESTROY IT NOW!"

"Sybok. Father is dead."

Sybok gaped at the viewscreen, stunned into silence. He stood there with his mouth hanging open, arms sinking to his sides.

Geordi turned to Madden. "Is your transporter program still on-line?"

"Yes," he replied.

Geordi walked toward the tactical console as Sybok spoke. "Sarek… is dead? How?"

"Complications from Bendii Syndrome."

Sybok's eyes lost focus for a moment, then a small smile crept to his lips. "Then he must have been quite emotional before he died…"

The entity spoke. "No. The particles…"

Chapman spoke. "The dekyons are working! He's losing his grip, but in another few seconds it will be too late!"

"Before I join with the ship, I will dispose of the infidel aboard it!"

One of the hand's fingers released its grip, formed a razor-sharp point, and struck. The viewscreen caved in. The entity pulled its finger out, and, as the atmosphere vented, Sybok was instantly sucked out. Geordi braced himself against the tactical console. Madden held on to the captain's chair, and Chapman was pulled over the helm, managing to hook his arms around the console. Madden didn't have a full grip, and he fought to maintain it, but he lost. He flew toward the breach, and Chapman grabbed him with one arm. Chapman's arm started to give.

Suddenly, a force-field snapped into place. As Chapman and Madden fell to the floor, the intercom sounded. "Auxiliary control to bridge. I have erected force-fields around the breach on Deck 1. Is everybody all right?"

"Just fine, B-4." Geordi had almost said Data, since B-4 had spoken with authority. He stood up and pressed three buttons on the console.

Riker was watching Sybok's body burn up in the atmosphere as he noticed a transporter effect appear inside the wrist of the entity's hand. He recognized the familiar outline of a quantum torpedo just as it detonated. The hand separated from the arm. "Tractor the Enterprise!" he ordered. "Helm! Full reverse!"

His crew complied, and the ship was pulled out of the atmosphere. Both ships were at full impulse, and they quickly moved beyond reach of the entity.

As the hand dissipated, Chapman faced the front of the bridge and sighed.

Madden looked at him. "I agree. That wasn't a good way to die."

"No." Chapman said. "We just had the viewscreen replaced when you came on board."

Within minutes, the Enterprise and the Titan had left the Great Barrier. Picard escorted Madden to his quarters. The first officer asked, "So, what will happen now?"

"A hearing will be convened," Picard said. "I have confidence that you will be given clemency just as the crew of the Enterprise-A had. They were not punished because they had essentially been brainwashed by Sybok into doing his bidding."

"That's just the thing," Madden said, "I wasn't brainwashed. He simply freed me from my pain. I did it all willingly."

Picard looked Madden in the eyes. "Try not to mention that at the hearing."

They walked in silence for a moment, then Madden said, "Sybok's shield isn't on file. How were you able to get through?"

Picard said, "Ambassador Spock may be almost 200 years old, but his memory is fully intact."

They continued walking in an uncomfortable silence for a moment. Madden turned to his captain. "It's a good thing that Captain Riker and the Titan were ferrying Ambassador Spock to the conference at the time we left."

"Yes. Quite fortuitous." Picard ran a finger along the bulkhead, checking for dust. He looked at his finger and saw than none existed there, as he expected. "My experiences have taught me to believe in serendipity."

Madden scoffed at the concept.

Picard turned to him with raised eyebrows. "Have you read about the incident at Ligos VII with the Ferengi?"

"I have. The Enterprise-D was battered and boarded in record time because the Ferengi were using advanced alien weaponry."

"Correct, but I'm referring to how the Enterprise was retaken."

Madden smiled, mostly because of what he read on how it was retaken, but partly because he understood the serendipity involved. "A transporter accident converted Guinan, Keiko O'Brien, Lieutenant Ro Laren and yourself into twelve-year-olds, and you managed to retake the ship by behaving accordingly."

"And you see how the incident would have been different had that phenomenon not happened."

"Yeah, I do."

"There are plenty of other examples as well," Picard said as they arrived at Madden's quarters. Madden walked in, and Picard rested his hand on the frame of the door's computer panel. "Regulations say I have to seal you in."

"I'm not planning on going anywhere, Captain, but I understand."

Madden smiled grimly as the doors closed.

On the battle bridge, B-4 sat at the helm with a somewhat glazed expression as Chapman and La Forge talked.

"So, the hologram of Dr. Brahms lacked essential details, and wasn't truly like the real thing."

Chapman laughed. "You'd think the computer would have remembered the fact that she was married."

"Exactly!" La Forge smiled and shook his head in amazement at his memory of the embarrassing result of the computer's omission.

Chapman looked at La Forge. "Satisfy my curiosity for me, will you please?"

La Forge sobered at the change in tone. "Sure."

"Why didn't Captain Picard and the delegates just beam down to the conference?"

"Good question," La Forge said. "Captain Kirk's transporter was malfunctioning when he first arrived at Nimbus III. It's become a sort of tradition with the captain of the Enterprise ever since. Harriman and Garrett did the same thing."

"Ah. I see."

La Forge kicked the discussion back on track. "Have you ever had a bad date? You strike me as somebody who's nervous around women."

Chapman raised his eyebrows and nodded. "I'll admit to that." He then gave La Forge a wry look. "And the fact that Seven of Nine wanted to date me didn't help matters."

Geordi widened his ocular implants in astonishment. "YOU dated HER?!?"

Chapman rubbed his shoulder. "I've got the repaired ligaments to prove it, from when she tried to spin me at the dance."

Laughter erupted as the ships sailed on.