"Captain's Log, Stardate 4143.9. After enjoying the shore leave facilities on Brianna, the Enterprise has been ordered to the Corollian system where an interplanetary war threatens to break out between Corrolas IV and her former colony, Corollas III. The ship will host what may well be the last attempt at a nonviolent resolution to the dispute, and I have been instructed to serve as mediator. After picking up Corollas III's delegate from the nearby world of Fortunato, we shall proceed to Corollas IV to begin the talks."

"What's your reading on the Corollian situation?" Riker and Picard were en route to the Transporter Room to greet the ambassador from Corollas III.

"It's hard to be certain, Number One -- the information I have is sketchy -- but I don't believe either side wishes the matter to escalate further. In fact, they may be closer to an agreement than they realize."

"What's the main point of contention? Isn't there something about a debt?"

Picard nodded. "Corollas III, or Lycea as the inhabitants call it, was originally colonized by Corollas IV over a century ago. The Corollian government invested heavily in the settlement, providing the necessary materials to make the venture a success. Once the colony reached the stage where they were able to produce goods of their own, the government required the Lyceans to repay the original outlay."

"Seems reasonable."

"Ah, but now the Lyceans are charging that the debt has long since been repaid -- with interest -- and they demand that new trade agreements be established."

"And the Corollians disagree?"

"Most strongly," Picard agreed drily.

Riker shook his head. "It sounds as though it'll be a challenge to get these two to work out a compromise. What are the cultures like?"

"Both peoples have a reputation for being ...determined," Picard said after a moment's thought. "They are open minded in most things, but if they feel they are being taken advantage of, they become virtually unyielding. Apparently that has been the problem in the talks to date. Any time the matter of the debt is raised, neither side will even listen to the other's position. In point of fact, the Lyceans and the Corollians are more alike than not, although not all Lyceans trace their heritage back to Corollas. Like many young governments, Lycea actively encourages immigration."

"Have you ever visited either planet?"

Picard nodded. "The Stargazer once had a short liberty on Lycea. A fascinating world. Its atmosphere contains several unusual elements which bend light rays in unique patterns -- their sunsets are unparalleled."

"I've heard something about that; isn't some sort of protective eyewear required?"

"Yes, but the Lyceans have created an entire fashion around the eye shades, transforming a mundane safety device into a personal fashion statement." He paused, giving Riker a sidelong glance. "The eyeshades cover nearly all of the face, and the preferred Lycean clothing is just as unrevealing of the body. I think you might prefer places like Ryza for your shore leaves, Number One."

Riker grinned. "Thanks for the warning."

By then the Lycean delegate was ready to beam aboard, and at Picard's nod, O'Brien initiated transport.

The Lycean materialized on the platform. Just as Picard had foretold, an ornate and completely opaque eyeshade covered the delegate's head and face, revealing only the mouth and chin. Similarly the bulky clothing, replete with pockets, hid any distinguishing features. Even the delegate's gender was uncertain.

Picard stepped forward. "Welcome to the Enterprise. I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard."

The Lycean bowed deeply, a native gesture of respect, and Picard continued, motioning to Riker. "This is my First Officer, Commander William Riker."

Riker moved closer. "Welcome ab--"

His greeting was abruptly interrupted as the Lycean, after a moment of immobility, leapt off the transporter platform and met him with a passionate kiss.

O'Brien and Picard looked on, astounded. "Friendly planet," the Transporter Chief finally managed to gulp.

"Mgrplph!" Riker protested inarticulately, frantically trying to free himself. His bulging eyes met Picard's in a plea of total innocence.

Picard cleared his throat. "Excuse me."

The Lycean finally released Riker, who gasped for air, and stepped back, staring up at the tall commander.

"You bastard! You don't remember me!" The words were accompanied by a solid clout to his shoulder.

Riker gaped down at the Lycean, his composure for once totally shot. "What...?"

"Oh! Of course!" With a gesture of understanding, the Lycean reached up and pulled off the eyeshade. Rich chestnut hair cascaded down, and the face of a beautiful young woman was revealed.

O'Brien's expression changed to one of frank envy, and Picard relaxed with an exasperated look. Riker stepped closer, confusion still clouding his features. "Who--"

The Lycean put her hands on her hips. "Willumtee! Don't you recognize me now?"

Riker stared at her. "Caroline?"

"'Willumtee'?" O'Brien whispered to Picard.

The Lycean grinned and nodded, and with a shout of laughter, Riker snatched her up in an exuberant hug.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded, setting her down after the embrace.

"I'm the Lycean Minister of Foreign Affairs," Caroline smiled. "I'll be my planet's representative at the conference."

"What? You were born in Denver!"

Caroline nodded. "But I emigrated to Lycea more than a dozen years ago."

"You did? Wh--"

Picard interrupted. "Number One."

Riker swung around. "Sorry, Captain. This is Caroline Evans. We went to high school together."

"How do you do?"

"Hello, Captain. On behalf of my government, I wish to thank you for hosting these talks. The Lycean people are very grateful for the Federation's assistance in this crisis."

"I hope we are able to help you and the Corollians reach an accord, Minister. We should arrive at Corollas IV in just over three hours."

"I have much to prepare before then. Could I be shown to my cabin?"

"Of course. Commander?"

Riker led Caroline away and, after one last shared glance with O'Brien, Picard returned to the Bridge.

"It's so good to see you, Willumtee!" Caroline exclaimed, squeezing his hand. "And First Officer? Very impressive!"

"What about you, Minister? I still can't believe it's you."

"I'm surprised too. I knew you were in Star Fleet, but I had no idea you'd be on the ship they sent for the conference. But once I saw you, and heard the name..."

"How did you ever end up as the Lycean Minister of Foreign Affairs? You nearly failed civics!"

"Now, Willumtee, I'll thank you to keep that to yourself. I have a reputation to consider. Besides, Lycea's present battle is hardly unfamiliar -- it's exactly the same as the American Revolution of the 18th century. The Corollians are adopting the same exploitative, imperialist attitude that Great Britain used six hundred years ago. And they'll find Lyceans to be as determined as the American colonists were."

"I thought the idea was to resolve this peacefully."

Caroline nodded. "If possible. But Lycea has been exploited for over three generations, and one way or another, that's going to end."

Riker opened the door to Caroline's cabin. "These will be your quarters. If you need anything -- "

"I'm sure I'll be fine, Willumtee. I do need to get ready for the first round of talks now, but maybe we could meet afterwards?"

"I'd like that," Riker smiled.

He headed back to the Bridge, encountering Geordi LaForge in the turbolift. "Geordi, you won't believe this coincidence: the Lycean delegate is an old schoolmate of mine."

Geordi grinned. "From what I've heard, the two of you shared more than just class notes."

Riker's jaw dropped. "How did you hear about it?"

"I stopped by the Transporter Room to check the phase converter. O'Brien told me."

"The only thing faster than this ship is its grapevine!" Riker exclaimed irritably. "What else did O'Brien tell you?"

Geordi shrugged. "Not much, just that your taste has always been good." He paused. "Seriously, Commander, did you think this wouldn't get around?"

Riker sighed. "No. I just didn't think it would happen this fast. Not that it really matters."

"Were you good friends?"

Riker grinned, remembering. "Inseparable. We were about 12 when we met -- both of us were having parent trouble. My father was away more than he was home, and when he was around, we were at each other's throats. For Caroline, it was the reverse. Her parents were there, but they weren't interested in her, just their work. We banded together -- us against them -- and one thing led to another. We stuck together through all of high school."

"When did you lose track of each other?"

"When I left for the Academy. I think we wrote once or twice, but that stopped pretty quickly."

"And now she's a member of the Lycean government. Not bad," Geordi observed.

"But not what I'd have predicted."

The lift doors opened onto the Bridge and both men exited.

"The Minister is settled in her cabin, Number One?"

"Yes, sir." Riker grinned. "I wonder if the Corollian delegate will be my old football coach."

That drew a smile from the captain. "If so, I hope he doesn't greet you with a flying tackle."