"Captain's Log, Stardate 4143.2. While en route to Starbase 16 to drop off medical supplies, we have encountered a Federation starship apparently experiencing engine difficulties. Listed as the USS Wayfarer, the ship seems to be of a modified Scout design. We have adjusted course to rendezvous with the Wayfarer to determine whether we can assist her."

"Thanks for the offer, Captain Picard. I appreciate the Enterprise'sconcern, but I think my Engineering officers and I can handle it." Captain Sung, an Asian with the thick musculature of someone raised on a high-gravity world, smiled into the screen.

"Understood," Picard replied. "May I invite you over to the Enterprise for an informal lunch or does your schedule demand otherwise?"

Sung's smile widened into a grin. "No, we're on a fairly relaxed timetable. As soon as we effect repairs, we're headed back to Earth for some R & R. As far as the lunch goes, Captain, I'd be honored, but my presence really is required here. May I send my First Officer in my stead?"

"Of course," Picard responded warmly. "Shall we say 15 minutes?"

"That would be fine. Wayfarer out."

Riker raised his eyebrows. "R & R on Earth? That's somewhat unusual."

"Yes," Picard agreed, seating himself. "And why would a scout be this far inside Federation territory?"

"There were some obvious design modifications to the ship's drive, " Data commented. "Perhaps those are the source of the ship's difficulty."

"I'm sure the Wayfarer's Executive Officer will be able to answer our questions," Picard said. "Counselor, would you arrange for an informal, quiet lunch?"

"Yes, sir," Troi said. "How many will be attending?"

Picard paused. "Courtesy demands that Number One and I attend...Lt. Worf and you will round out the table."

Troi nodded and left the bridge.

"Captain," Wesley spoke up. "The Wayfarer is such a small ship, and I know no families are permitted on scouts because of the dangers associated with their missions. Why would anyone choose to serve on them?"

"The challenge!" Worf answered unexpectedly. "Facing those dangers and defeating them!"

Riker agreed. "It's a thrilling feeling, Wesley. On a ship that size, it's almost like it's just you and the stars, alone in the universe."

"Serving on a scout," Picard mused, "must be like what sailing across the oceans of Earth was, centuries ago. 'All I need is a tall ship --'"

"'And a star to steer her by," Riker finished with a smile.

Wesley nodded, still unconvinced.

"Transporter Room to Bridge." The intercom interrupted the discussion. "Wayfarer reports ready to beam her First Officer over."

"Mr. Data, you have the Bridge. Mr. Worf, go down to the reception area and assist Troi in any last minute details. Number One and I will greet our guest."

Once in the Transporter Room, Picard nodded. "Energize."

A sparkle of light, and then another person was present. "Lt. Emma Hawkins, Acting Executive Officer of the Wayfarer, sir," the blonde woman introduced herself, stepping off the transporter platform. In her late twenties, she positively radiated an aura of competence and good cheer.

"Welcome to the Enterprise. I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and this is my First Officer, Commander William Riker."

"It's an honor to meet you, Captain. I've wanted to ever since studying the Picard Maneuver at the Academy. And you too, Commander. Even the Scout fleet has heard of your expertise in leading Away Teams."

"We're pleased to have you aboard, Lieutenant. I hope your ship's difficulties aren't serious," Riker said.

Emma shook her head, grinning. "To be honest, there's nothing obviously wrong, but Captain Sung doesn't believe in taking chances, even little ones, if they can be avoided. As an engineer by training, he's also more than a little intrigued by figuring out what the problem is. I assure you gentlemen that only a first class engineering puzzle could keep him away from a lunch on the Enterprise."

Picard smiled. "Shall we head to lunch?" He ushered the others out to the corridor. "Has this 'puzzle' gone on long?"

"Well, we're wrapping up two months of testing a prototype drive system -- that's why we're headed to Earth, to report on the drive's performance AND for some earned R & R! -- and for about the past week and a half we've been getting some odd energy fluctuations.

"Up to then, the new drive had worked perfectly, but after ten days of increasingly severe fluctuations, completely unlike any energy pattern the Captain or Chief Engineer has seen before, Captain Sung felt it was time to call a halt to the tests and ferret out the cause."

Picard nodded. "Sensible."

"So they're hard at work back on the ship, and I'm about to enjoy an Enterprise meal. I knew there was a reason I opted for Security training at the Academy!" Emma finished with a laugh.

The men joined in. "Very far-sighted of you!" Riker remarked. "Have you been Acting First Officer long?"

"Three days before we were scheduled to leave for these tests, the First Officer assigned to the ship learned she was pregnant and decided to decline the position.

Unfortunately, the backup First Officer Star Fleet assigned us had just developed a revolutionary new computer program and Science Section at Star Fleet Command grabbed him. That left us high and dry, and Star Fleet nearly decided to delay our launch date.

"Most of us had been with Captain Sung on the Columbia before she was destroyed in that border skirmish with the Orion raiders --"

"I hadn't realized it was that Captain Sung!" Picard exclaimed, startled.

"Yes, sir," Emma responded proudly. "We lost the ship itself, but we drove off the raiders and suffered no casualties. You know, sir, it was only Captain Sung and the Chief Engineer's skill that held the Columbia together long enough for us to make it to Aldebaran III."

"It sounds like those two are a good team," Riker observed.

"Yes, sir!"

"You were saying, Lieutenant, that most of you had been on the Columbia," Picard prompted.

"Oh yes, and so Captain Sung offered me the post, temporarily, until Star Fleet could provide another First. I'm sure there'll be someone waiting for us, back on Earth."

"Here we are." Picard indicated the door, then led the group into the reception room. "Lt. Emma Hawkins, this is Ship's Counselor Dianna Troi." Troi came forward around the laden table.

"How do you do?" Emma smiled.

Troi smiled back, automatically echoing the greeting, but with a puzzled look.

"And this is our Security Chief, Lt. Worf." Worf stood still, expressionlessly regarding the stranger.

Emma lost her smile, her face becoming as blank as Worf's. She took two steps forward, until she stood directly in front of Worf, her compact form dwarfed by the Klingon. She insultingly looked him up and down, then deliberately turned her back on him. "I'd get a new Security Chief. This one looks useless."

Picard opened his mouth for a blistering reproof, but Worf's full-throated roar drowned him out. With a speed unbelievable for one so big, Worf lashed out at Emma with a killing blow aimed at her neck.

Both Picard and Riker surged forward, but a now broadly smiling Troi held them back. "No. Wait," she insisted.

Emma spun with a speed that matched Worf's, blocking his blow with her crossed forearms and retaliating with an attack on his midsection. Worf dodged and parried with a swipe at Emma's throat.

Emma barely avoided his hand, then countered with a kick. Worf leapt away, and each eyed the other warily across the distance, breathing hard.

"Rakshuuul?" Emma snarled, the Klingon syllables tumbling incongruously from her lips.

"Agreed," Worf growled, relaxing his stance.

Emma too relaxed from her fighting crouch, her smile breaking out anew. "Worf!" she cried, flinging herself into his arms. She entwined her arms around his neck, and he enfolded her in an awkward hug, lifting her entirely off the floor.

Riker, his own grin matching Troi's, glanced at the captain. Picard looked unamused.

Worf looked at his fellow officers over Emma's shoulder. As much as a Klingon could, he seemed embarrassed, and his eyes slid away from Picard's. "Little pest," he rumbled in Emma's ear, "even Klingon necks can be broken by a grip such as yours."

"Oops, sorry!" Emma disengaged herself and landed back on the deck with a thump. "What's the matter, Old Bear?" she asked playfully, fisting him in the ribs. "Getting fat and lazy?"

Worf gave her an annoyed look and glanced pointedly at the trio behind her. Emma lost her grin.

"Captain Picard, " she began guiltily, turning to face him, "I sincerely apologize for any, uh, concern my actions caused --"

"Well," Picard commented drily, "I take it you two know each other."

"Yes, sir," Worf acknowledged stiffly. "Ever since the Academy."

"I'm certain we've all witnessed unorthodox reunions," Picard continued, a twinkle finally appearing in his eye, "but I doubt that any of us has ever before witnessed a ritual combat between a Klingon and human."

Reassured by Picard's words and Riker's grin, Emma spoke up again. "I am sorry," she repeated, still remorseful. "I shouldn't have initiated the ritual in these surroundings, but seeing Worf again, after so long a time...And I was certain you'd respond correctly, as you did!"

"Hm."

"Very few people recognize the nature of the combat, sir," Worf affirmed. "The ritual insult, duel, and honorable truce are common to a number of cultures."

"Yes," Riker said. "But a Klingon and a human?"

"I would suggest that you choose the location for these encounters very carefully," Picard added. "It was only because of Counselor Troi's presence that Commander Riker and I did not interfere."

"Yes, sir, " Emma said, trying to smother a smile. "We learned that at the Academy graduation."

"The graduation?" Riker echoed, his eyes widening.

"Not the actual ceremony," Worf explained, "but immediately afterwards. When all the family members are present."

"I would imagine that the sight of Lt. Hawkins insulting you would have attracted some attention," Troi commented, her eyes dancing.

"Yes." Worf gave his old friend an irritated look. "Especially as she shouted the charge across the stage."

Picard turned to Emma. "Oh?"

She squirmed. "I've learned quite a bit of tact since then," she assured him earnestly.

"Inciting a riot can do that," the captain agreed.

"At least there were no serious injuries, " she responded with a tentative smile.

"Star Fleet Command must have been pleased," Riker observed.

"They were understanding, on the whole. I think there are still one or two admirals who'd like to assign me to a garbage scow, but mostly they put it down to a cultural misunderstanding. Jimmy -- my husband -- was ready to kill us both though."

"I'm delighted we reacted so properly," Picard said. "Shall we toast to old friendships?"

As they seated themselves after the toast, Riker asked Emma, "You and Worf have known each other since the Academy?"

"Yes. My husband and Worf were roommates our first year. Jimmy and I started seeing each other then, so Worf and I naturally got to know each other. At first, Worf wouldn't take me seriously. You see, Jimmy was in Engineering, but I was in Security, with Worf, and he couldn't believe a human female could pose a threat to anyone or provide any sort of protection."

"That's not so," Worf rumbled. "I was merely surprised by your size."

"That too," Emma agreed. "I kept inviting him down to the gym for sparring practice, and he kept refusing."

"Why, Worf?" Troi asked.

"At that time, " Worf admitted uncomfortably, "I feared I would injure her unintentionally, and I had a recurrent dream of returning her to Jimmy in several pieces."

"To be fair," Emma put in, "Worf, along with the rest of us, hadn't yet learned to control his strength, so the danger did exist. I was confident of my ability to avoid his blows, though. He was also much slower then.

"But finally the day came when Worf saw me as an equal, a colleague, and not just someone to put up with because of Jimmy."

"How did that happen?"

"The three of us went on leave together to a planet in Sector 31 and got lost in one of their major cities," Worf said. "We wandered into unfriendly territory."

Emma picked up the story. "The folks there didn't like Star Fleet much, and they couldn't stand Klingons, so the three of us sent them into hyperspace. A crowd started to gather, and it began to look ugly.

"Jimmy hadn't had any Security training beyond basic self-defense, so we sent him to a 'phone to get help, and Worf and I stood off the crowd. At first they just yelled insults, but then a dozen or so rushed us, and we were suddenly fighting back to back."

"My first impulse was to protect Emma," Worf said, "but with that many attackers, I couldn't. Then, once I'd disposed of most of my men --"

" -- he saw that I'd decked just as many! So he stopped worrying about me, and together we finished off the rest. The others decided not to try their luck and stayed back. It all would have ended fine if we hadn't gotten a bit carried away."

"I was pleased with my -- our -- victory, " Worf explained, "and I began to shout back some Klingon taunts. I became so absorbed in that, I didn't notice the one behind me with a rock."

"I did," Emma put in. "And as he threw it, I shoved Worf out of the way and myself right into its path. It was awfully stupid of me not to just shout a warning, but I was excited and careless and so I got myself knocked out. Poor Worf had to stand guard until the local police arrived."

"The fight was already over," Worf said gruffly.

"Jimmy told me how the crowd tried to come forward once I went down!" Emma retorted. She turned to the others. "He held them all off until the security forces arrived and then carried me aboard the transport himself. He wouldn't even let Jimmy touch me until we made it to the hospital."

Worf fidgetted uncomfortably. "Where is Jimmy?"

"Back on the Wayfarer, trying to trace the energy fluctuations we've been experiencing. He's Chief Engineer now."

"Are you sure we cannot provide some assistance?" Picard inquired. "Engineer LaForge --"

"I'm sure no disrespect to your Engineering staff is meant, Captain," Emma broke in. "But Captain Sung and Jimmy were two of the drive's designers. If anyone can spot the problem, they will."

"After you report back to Earth, will you stay with the Wayfarer on her scouting mission?" Riker asked.

Emma nodded. "It wasn't all that easy finding a scout ship with room for both of us. Jimmy and I are very happy with Wayfarer, and the Scout Service is where we want to be."

"It seems like an exciting life, " Troi said.

"It is," Emma agreed. "Not that the Enterprise lacks excitement!"

"We get our share," Riker acknowledged, and for the remainder of the meal, the Enterprise officers regaled their guest with stories of various adventures.

"Captain, I thank you and your crew for this lovely meal," Emma said finally, laying down her napkin, "but I really must return to my ship."

"Of course," Picard agreed. "Mr. Worf, perhaps you'd escort Lt. Hawkins to the Transporter Room."

As the door closed behind them, Picard, Riker, and Troi exchanged a glance. "Not a friendship I'd've guessed," Riker commented.

"The bonds between them are very strong," Troi replied. "Each feels the other saved their life, and on that debt, layers of mutual respect, trust, and caring have developed."

Picard nodded. "I'm pleased they were able to have a reunion, but we had best return to our course for Starbase 16."

Four hours later, the signal came through. "Captain!" Worf called out. "We're receiving a distress call from the Wayfarer!"

"On main viewer," Picard ordered, springing to his feet.

The screen blurred, then resolved into the image of Lt.Hawkins. Unlike the merry companion of a few hours previous, Emma was now drawn and grim. She sat at the helm of the Wayfarer, the bridge behind her deserted and dim, with red alarm signals flashing. "Enterprise, this is the Wayfarer."

"This is the Enterprise," Picard responded. "What is your situation, Lieutenant?"

"Sir, on my orders, the Wayfarer has been evacuated. Shuttlecraft were launched at coordinates 467.32.7194. Can the Enterprise effect a rescue?"

Picard looked at Wesley, working furiously. "Course plotted and laid in, Captain."

"Make it so, Mr. Crusher. Warp 8." Picard turned back to the viewscreen. "We're on our way, Lieutenant. What happened?"

Emma brushed the hair off her face. "About two hours after you left, Captain Sung and Chief Engineer Sherman determined the cause of the energy fluctuations: a flaw in one of the dilithium crystals."

"But that's impossible," Riker objected. "The screening procedures --"

"-- are not perfect," Emma retorted. "Apparently the flaw was originally so minute that all but the most detailed scan would miss it. In a normal drive, it might not have mattered, but with this new system there were unique stresses that worsened and magnified the defect. As soon as the discovery was made, Sherman attempted to remove the crystals. Some sort of critical threshhold must have been reached at that moment, or perhaps the motion of the apparatus was sufficient, because a large explosion occurred."

"Casualties?"

"Both the Captain and the Chief Engineer were seriously injured in the blast, along with four other Engineering staff. When the shuttles left, there had been no fatalities."

"I'll alert Sickbay," Troi said, swinging out her terminal.

"What about damage to the ship?" Picard pressed. "Why did you order the evacuation?"

"The immediate effect of the explosion was to wipe out our warp drive and to severely damage the computer. Secondary effects were even more serious. There has been a steady power drain, which continues as we speak, but more importantly, the explosion weakened the matter/anti-matter containment field. The progressive power loss has caused further deterioration; estimated time to failure is 26 minutes."

"Sir," Data spoke up, "nearly all of the systems in that region are inhabited. A matter/antimatter explosion will --"

"Yes, I know," Emma interrupted. "That is why I'm presently piloting the Wayfarer to the Medean system. I plan to send the ship directly into the dying sun."

Data nodded. "Of course. There are no inhabited planets in that system, and by piloting into the sun, most of the debris should be trapped in the star's gravitational field --"

"Enough, Data. Hawkins, why are you still on board? Why didn't you set the ship on automatic and eject with the others?"

Emma showed a twisted smile. "Unfortunately, the damage to the computer includes all navigation systems. No courses can be laid in. I'll have to drive it straight into the sun myself."

Data spoke up again. "According to my calculations, the ship will be held irretrievably by the sun's gravity before its radiation causes your death."

Emma's "Thank you; that's very comforting" was nearly lost in the anguished wail from Worf.

"Data," Picard said, turning to the android. "Could the Enterprise follow the Wayfarer in until the gravitational forces have an unbreakable hold on her, then beam Lt.Hawkins aboard, and break free ourselves?"

"I can't permit that, sir!" Lt.Hawkins protested. "The estimated time until the explosion is very rough. I couldn't guarantee the Enterprise's safety."

"That is my concern, Lieutenant, not yours!" Picard snapped. "Well, Data?"

"We should be able to, sir, but it would bring the Enterprise in fairly close proximity to the Wayfarer."

"Bridge, this is Engineering." Geordi LaForge joined the discussion. "Captain, I have an idea that might help."

"Data," Picard ordered, "go to Engineering and consult with LaForge. I want you to calculate the maximum blast range from the Wayfarer, the minimum safe distance the Enterprise must maintain, and the maximum range of the transporter."

"Aye, sir." Data hurried off the Bridge.

"Stand by, Hawkins," Picard said with a reassuring glance at the screen. "We'll have the answers shortly."

"Thanks for trying, Captain Picard," Emma replied with a credible attempt at a smile, "but I'm afraid I won't even be able to do that. The power drain is worsening and just keeping the ship together until I reach the star may be impossible. To delay the loss of the barrier field as long as possible, I've shut down all nonessential systems, including navigation shields and most of life support. Communications is the last to go, but I've got to conserve all possible power.

"Thanks for trying, sir." Emma looked past Picard. "Goodbye, Worf. Tell Jimmy I love him. Wayfarer out."

"Wait!" Picard shouted. "Worf, get her back!"

"Communications have been severed. I cannot raise her!"

"Without navigation shields and life support, the radiation levels will soar," Riker said to Picard.

"And the temperature will plummet." Picard nodded. "Bridge to Dr. Crusher!" he addressed the intercom.

"Crusher here."

"Doctor, have you made contact with the Wayfarer survivors in the shuttlecraft?"

"Yes. Their Medical Officer informs me that some of the injuries are critical, but all are stable for now. I should be able to help them all to a full recovery once they're picked up."

"Can they hold on for another 40 minutes? We have another rescue to attempt."

"Y-es," Crusher said slowly. "But I wouldn't want to let it go much longer than that."

"Captain, in order to beam Hawkins aboard, we'll have to leave our deflector shields down." Riker pointed out somberly.

"I know, Number One," Picard replied, just as gravely. "I cannot risk the Enterprise, but if we can manage to stay out of range of the blast and still pick her up..."

"Sir," Wesley interrupted, "I've plotted a course to intercept the Wayfarer, but how large a distance should I mantain?"

"Stand by, Mr. Crusher. Engineering?"

"Data here, sir. Geordi and I have a plan which may work, but there is an element of risk."

"Send the calculations for minimum safe distance to the Bridge, then meet us in the Briefing Room. Number One? Counselor? Mr. Worf?

"Counselor," he continued as they entered the Briefing Room, "what was Hawkins' emotional state?"

Troi considered for a moment before answering. "She is very frightened, but resigned. She has accepted her death and does not regret the sacrifice she is making. The constant demands of piloting the ship occupy her mind to a great degree. She will not panic, despite her fear."

Data and Geordi entered the room. "Well?" Riker asked.

"Given that we are dealing with a matter/anti-matter explosion and that we will be unable to use our deflector shields for protection since we intend to beam Lt.Hawkins aboard, the distance the Enterprise must maintain to ensure our safety is greater than the normal transporter range."

"'Normal' transporter range?" Riker repeated questioningly.

Geordi leaned forward eagerly. "I've been working on an idea for some time of tying the main engines into the transporter. With that power as a boost, the range should be increased another 20 - 30."

"It would still be very close, but that margin should enable us to accomplish the rescue," Data finished.

"I've got to warn you, I've only done this in theory. I don't know if it will work, and, if it does, what effect it will have on Lt.Hawkins," Geordi cautioned.

"It seems we have no choice," Picard said decisively. "The two of you go make the necessary modifications. The timing on this must be split-second. Worf, you are to lock in on Hawkins with the sensors. The instant the Wayfarer is committed to its path into the sun, I want the beamover to take place."

"Aye, sir." The three left.

"Number One, I want you to set up a monitor on the Wayfarer's energy fluctuations. If the ship looks like it's about to explode, I want our deflector shields up, regardless of Hawkins' position at the time."

Riker nodded and headed for the Bridge.

Troi gazed at Picard. "I'm concerned about Worf," she said finally.

"Explain."

"He is at a high emotional level. He feels helpless and impotent, and the frustration infuriates him. The fact that the situation involves an old and very dear friend makes it even worse."

"Can you help him?" Picard asked, worry creasing his brow.

Troi looked doubtful. "Worf is a very private individual. He does not acknowledge his feelings easily, let alone share them."

"Recommendations?"

"Be careful," Troi warned. "If we cannot save Lt.Hawkins, his rage may escape his control. He would not intentionally harm anything or anyone aboard the ship, but in a frenzy of grief..."

"Understood." Picard nodded, looking grim.

As the minutes ticked by, the crew worked frantically to put Geordi's theories into practice. The Wayfarer continued on its slow, inexorable path to the sun, and the Enterprise hurtled to intercept her.

"We are at minimum safe range, sir!" Wesley finally reported, two minutes before the estimated explosion time.

"Is the Wayfarer held by the Medean sun's gravity?" Picard demanded.

"...Yes!" Riker reported, swinging his terminal out of the way.

"Mr.Worf?" Picard turned to the Klingon.

"I have a sensor reading on her! Transferring to Transporter Room."

"Transporter Room! Energize!"

"Sir, I can't!" Transporter Chief O'Brien responded frantically. "The Wayfarer's energy fluctuations are interfering with the transporter beam! I can't get a lock on her!"

"Damn!" Picard swore. "Geordi! Data!"

"Working on it!" Geordi dove underneath the transporter console while Data recalibrated the upper controls with inhuman speed.

"One minute to explosion," Wesley reported, his voice brittle with tension.

"Hurry, Transporter Room," Picard said through clenched teeth.

"We have something, sir," Data replied. "But the beam is on wide field; it may not be just Hawkins--"

"I don't care if it's the whole damned Bridge!" Picard snapped. "Energize!"

"Captain, the energy reading on the Wayfarer are changing --"

"Shields up!" Riker shouted, as warning lights began to blink furiously.

An instant later, an explosion lit the main viewscreen, forcing everyone to avert their eyes. As they turned back to the screen, now devoid of any sign of the scoutship, Worf started to keen, a Klingon warrior's salute to a departed comrade. Riker and Picard stared at each other in defeat.

Then, over the intercom came a weak command. "Oh hush up, Old Bear. Nobody's dead, not yet anyway."

Worf stopped in mid-wail. "Emma?"

"Who else, you lazy old soldier?" Her voice was shaky, but she was undoubtedly alive.

Worf dashed to the lift, then caught himself as the doors opened. "Sir?"

"Go on!" Picard waved him through. "Mr. LaForge? It seems your idea works!"

Geordi's grin could be heard over the intercom as he replied, "I guess so, sir!"

"All decks report no damage from the explosion," Riker told the captain, their smiles equally brilliant.

Troi, beaming herself, was the one who reminded them. "Captain, the shuttlecraft."

"Oh yes!" Picard said, startled. "Mr.Crusher."

"Course plotted and laid in, sir," Wesley replied happily.

END

"Then let's go to another reunion. Warp 7," Picard ordered, leaning back and enjoying the ride.