The next morning Riker waylaid Evans on her way to the Conference Room. "You know I can't do what you asked," he said quietly, his eyes searching her face.
With a sigh, she nodded. "Yes. I know. But I had to try."
She managed a smile. "Still friends?"
Caroline's smile trembled and was lost as the tensions of the past week caught up with her. "Oh God, Willumtee. This thing will never be resolved peacefully. I'm going to have to bring war down on my people." Her composure faltered and she began to weep.
Will folded his arms around her. "Sh. Don't, Caroline. It's not over yet."
She lifted her head, tears of despair on her cheeks. "The children! What will become of them? Win or lose, their lives will be shattered."
"Wait for the captain's idea. He'll surprise you." Riker sounded confident, but he was beginning to fear that even Picard couldn't solve this crisis.
As quickly as it had began, Caroline's outburst subsided. With a little laugh at herself, she wiped her eyes. "I'll be glad when this is over. At least once war is declared, this awful suspense will be done with. I know! I know!" She raised a hand as Riker began to speak. "Give your captain a chance. All I can say, Willumtee, is he'd have to be Sarek's equal to find a solution to this!" With a tired smile, she left, bound for the meeting.
Haynar Stoke looked as weary as Caroline did. He nodded a formal greeting as she entered the room, then addressed Picard. "Captain, grateful as my planet is for your assistance, it is time for me to withdraw from these talks. I think Minister Evans would agree that further discussion is pointless. It is, alas, abundantly clear that we cannot reach a peaceful accord."
Evans nodded somber agreement. "We are only postponing the inevitable. Your efforts are appreciated, Captain, but I must agree with Ambassador Stoke. The talks have failed."
"I understand your frustration, Minister, Ambassador, but I would request that you allow me one last opportunity to address your dilemma."
Both delegates nodded resignedly. "Very well."
"Commander Data, report to the Conference Room."
Almost immediately, Data appeared.
"On my orders, Mr.Data has been reviewing all Lycean and Corollian records in an attempt to determine the exact amount of the debt. I am pleased to report he has succeeded."
"That's impossible!" Stoke protested. "No one could view every single record. You're talking about decades' worth of material."
"Commander Data has special talents."
"I am an android, sir, and with the assistance of the ship's computer, I was able to review, compare, and evaluate all relevant material from both planets. I have calculated the precise amount of the original debt, along with the interest due on it, and subtracted the amount already paid by Lycea from the total. This is the balance." At his touch, the viewscreen came to life, displaying a figure.
Picard sighed in relief. He couldn't have fabricated a better figure. It lay almost exactly between the two claims.
"We thought it was higher," Stoke objected.
"Yes, sir, because you neglected to omit the two hundred twelve earthmovers sent to Lycea on local date 3/18/9/2 from your calculation of the interest. A Corollian document dated two months previous clearly indicates that the shipment was to be considered interest-free."
"And we believed it was lower," Evans protested.
"Yes, Minister. Your error was in calculating the dates of seven shipments over the course of one hundred thirteen years. That caused your estimation of the interest to be incorrect as well."
"Further, both planets utilized gross generalizations which served to magnify previous inaccuracies. For example, the Lycean receipt for shipment 712BB619W states that the eighteen medical lasers were nonfunctional upon arrival and therefore -- "
"Enough, Data." Picard turned to the delegates, both staring at the viewscreen. "Well, Minister? Ambassador? We can provide you with a detailed explanation of how this sum was reached."
Evans found her voice first. "Lycea accepts this figure as being the true amount of the debt."
"As does Corollas," Stoke agreed quickly.
"Then since previous discussions resolved future payments and related issues, it would seem our conference is completed. Successfully."
Evans and Stoke stared at each other. Scant minutes before each had been convinced that war was imminent; now even the threat of it was gone. Picard waited patiently as the reality of peace set in.
"Lycea will cease talks with Fortunato at once," Caroline finally gulped. Tentatively, she held out her hand.
For the first time, an honest smile spread across Stoke's face. "And Corollas will immediately remove all soldiers from Lycean soil," he said, seizing her hand and shaking it vigorously.
Both broke into laughter, giddy with relief and delight. "Lycea would welcome cultural exchanges -- "
" -- student exchanges as well? Perhaps -- "
" -- reopen our embassy -- "
" -- medical personnel -- "
The barriers had fallen. The two were chattering like old friends, excitedly suggesting programs to strengthen the ties between their worlds.
After an amused glance, Picard called up a pitcher of Romulan ale, placed it and two tankards on the table, and with Data, left the room. The delegates didn't even notice.
For the first time in a week, Picard stepped onto his Bridge. As Data moved to his post, Picard gazed out the main viewer with a happy sigh.
"Sir?" Riker rose apprehensively, his eyes on Picard.
"Peace has broken out, Number One," Picard smiled, moving down the ramp to his seat.
Riker relaxed with an audible sigh, while Troi beamed at the captain, reflecting his good mood.
"The credit properly belongs to Mr.Data," Picard objected. "It was he who discovered the true sum."
"I think it was an excellent joint effort," Troi disagreed, smiling.
By the next day, both delegates were ready to return home. Their worlds had been notified, and already wild celebrations were in full swing on both planets. Picard politely declined invitations to participate in the merriment and similarly refused the delegates' request to call the treaty "The Picard Peace".
"I am greatly honored," he told them, "but you must not overlook your own roles."
Caroline frowned. "But it was you who was most responsible. You deserve to be recognized for your perseverance and innovation in establishing the peace."
"I appreciate your motives, but such an honor is, well, uncomfortable."
Stoke smiled. "What if we refer to it as 'The Enterprise Treaty'?"
Picard considered. He might shy away from personal glory, but the reputation of his ship was another matter. "If you insist..."
They smiled. "Then it's settled!" Caroline declared.
"I fear I must take my leave of you," Stoke apologized. "My presence on the planet is required. Minister? Are you certain you can't attend the festivities with me?"
"I'm sorry, but Lycea has already sent a shuttle to retrieve me for our own parties. They'll arrive any moment."
"Another time then. I will see you at the reopening of your embassy though?"
"Yes. That I will not miss."
With a last smile and handshake, Stoke departed.
"Captain Picard, I have a few last questions about the wording of the payment schedule document. Could you call up your notes and confirm my -- "
"Captain?" Riker's voice interrupted. "The Lycean shuttle has arrived for Minister Evans. It's requesting landing clearance in our shuttle bay."
"Granted. The minister and I have one or two details to attend to, Number One. Please greet the Lyceans and inform them that we will be there momentarily."
Riker turned the Bridge over to Data and went straight to the shuttle bay. The Lycean ship had just arrived, and as Riker approached, three people exited the craft. All three were enshrouded in Lycean clothing, giving Riker no clue as to their identities.
Neatly sidestepping the issue of proper honorifics, Riker addressed himself to all three. "Welcome to the USS Enterprise. I am Commander William Riker, First Officer. The captain and -- "
As Riker continued to speak, the biggest Lycean stepped forward, then delivered a solid right cross to the commander's jaw. Taken completely by surprise, Riker was spun about by the force of the blow and crashed to the deck, stunned.
Picard and Evans entered the bay just in time to see the assault. "Security to the Shuttle Bay! Dr.Crusher, you're needed as well!" Picard snapped, hurrying to Riker's side.
"Wha' hobbid?" Riker struggled up, spitting blood.
"Easy, Will." Picard knelt down and steadied him as he tried to rise.
Evans had dashed over to her compatriots and was shouting irately at the commander's assailant. He was replying with equal volume, and the bay rang with the echoes.
Seeing that no further attack was forthcoming, Picard took the opportunity to check Riker's injuries. Tilting Riker's chin up, he squinted critically at the damage. It looked like the blow itself had done little more than bruise his jaw and split his lip, but the fall onto the hard floor may have broken his nose.
"Dammit!" Riker's temper was rising as his head cleared. "What's going on? What was that for?"
At that point, Worf and Crusher rushed in. Picard and Worf moved over to the Lyceans while Crusher made temporary repairs to Riker's battered face. "Minister."
Evans and the man were still arguing in the Lycean tongue, while the other two occupants of the shuttle waited to one side, apparently embarrassed.
Evans broke off and turned back to Picard. "Captain, you have my most sincere apologies for this unforgivable act. Its boorishness -- "
"Arrete! Asho tan'iy ikk t'lay mosh!" the Lycean interrupted heatedly.
Riker, the blood now stanched, appeared at Picard's shoulder. "What the hell is this about?"
The man surged towards him. Worf leapt forward, but Evans was already shoving the man back. "Sash! M'lo neyet katem. You disgrace all of Lycea! Control yourself!"
"Minister, what is going on?" Picard demanded.
Evans ignored him, glaring at her countryman. "Have you gone insane? What are you doing? It is because of these people that we are at peace!"
"Ta'anim l'kro -- "
"Stop! You've caused this scene; at least have the decency to speak a language they can understand. And take off your mask!"
Grudgingly, the Lycean complied, revealing the face of a man roughly Riker's age. He had sandy hair and brown eyes, and although presently flushed with anger, his face looked as though, under different conditions, it would be quite pleasant. "All right?"
"All right!" Evans swung back to Picard. "Again, Captain, my apologies. I have no idea what prompted this. Willumtee, are you all right?"
The man beside her snarled as Riker nodded. "I think so. Who is that?"
Caroline shot a glare at the Lycean. "Difficult as it is for me to believe right now, this is Daras Tikun, my husband."
Riker backpedaled involuntarily, his eyes widening. "Your HUSBAND? You never told me you were married!" he yelped.
Picard turned to regard him as Caroline's jaw dropped. "What? You too? What difference does it make?"
"Aha!" Daras cried accusingly.
"Stop it!" Caroline shouted, now regarding both men with equal fury. Picard moved over to where the others stood, watching with great interest. "Daras, one more accusation from you and that's it! And as for you, William Riker, just what are you implying? I didn't have a chance to tell you I was married -- so what? It never came up! Did you think I've been pining for you all these years?"
"No, of course not, but --"
"We had a few meals together and that one hike, that's all. Hardly a torrid affair! So what possible difference could it have made if I'd told you I was married?"
"And before you start talking about what might have happened, think again! Don't blame me for your fantasies!"
"I guess it wouldn't have made a difference," Riker finally admitted, his eyes sliding away from the audience.
"You're damned right! And you, Daras! How dare you come here full of accusations and assumptions!"
Tikun was as nonplussed as Riker. "But, but your messages..."
"What about them?"
"You mentioned Riker, and I knew he was your old boyfriend, and ..."
"So you just assumed we'd start up our old relationship where it left off? Daras, that was nearly 15 years ago! What of the time in between? What of my vows to you?"
Tikun stared at the ground. "What can a farmer offer you that a starship officer cannot?"
Caroline's angry pacing jerked to a halt. "Is that what this is all about?"
"Your old lover, now second-in-command of a starship? He can show you the galaxy! What can I show you? How can I compete with him?"
"Daras, there is no competition. You've already won. Don't you understand? Will is just an old friend. When I was 16, he held my world together, but I'm not 16 any longer. Daras, it's you I love. So what if he's got some fancy title?"
Daras looked dubious. "He can take you anywhere."
"So what? I don't want to go anywhere except back home with you. What do you think I could see in a man like that? He's completely unreliable! He flits around the galaxy, never staying in one place long enough to cast a shadow! I like stability, commitment, a man who digs in and makes a place his own. Why, Will could never homestead on Lycea. At the first solar storm, he'd lose his entire crop."
"Really?" Daras asked plaintively. "You don't want to leave me?"
"For Will? Good Heavens, no! Will is an old friend, a good friend, but he's much too flighty for me. I could only love a man who's not afraid of responsibility. I could only love you."
Daras grabbed her in a tight embrace. "Caroline! I was so sure -- "
Evans hugged him back. "Don't be silly."
Crusher was chewing on her lip, trying to hold in her giggles. Poor Will! He'd gotten an undeserved sock in the mouth and then had to stand there while a beautiful woman dismissed him as "flighty".
Riker stared at Caroline, trying to hide the hurt and disillusionment he felt. He had thought that most women found "first officer of a starship" a pretty glamorous position. And to be dismissed as boring was bad enough, but irresponsible too? He was reliable! Why, some would say he was too responsible, that he should lighten up more! He opened his mouth to tell her so, but a stab of pain from his lip forced him to reconsider.
Picard regarded Will sympathetically. The ship's Lothario had just been taken down several notches. Public rejection by an old flame was not exactly conducive to a strong sense of self-esteem. Fortunately, the only witnesses from the ship were himself, Crusher, and Worf.
He frowned disapprovingly at Crusher's mirth, and the doctor managed to adopt a more serious expression. Worf's, as usual, was inscrutable.
"Mm? Oh." Regretfully, Caroline pulled away from her husband. "Captain, I'm terribly sorry for this misunderstanding."
"I'm glad we were able to straighten it out," he replied.
"Will?" Caroline stepped over to him. "I'm so sorry about Daras."
"That's all right," Will said, trying not to sound as deflated as he felt. He edged backwards, keeping a safe distance between them.
"Well, goodbye, Willumtee." Caroline moved forward for one last hug, but Riker forestalled her by sticking out his hand.
"Goodbye," he said politely. "Good luck on Lycea."
"Captain? Again, thank you."
"You're welcome, Minister." Picard shook her hand, then watched as she and the others boarded their shuttle.
"Come on, Will," Crusher said, somehow managing to keep her voice steady. "I still need to finish treating you."
Riker sighed. "Did she really say 'unreliable'?" he asked, a bit forlornly.
"I see I shall have to teach you about women as well," Worf rumbled resignedly. "I hope you are as quick a student as Geordi."
All eyes swivelled to him in shock. Crusher felt the hysteria rising and ducked into a turbolift before the giggles bubbled over.
Picard finally managed to tear his eyes from Worf. "Perhaps, Number One," he said as neutrally as he could, "in the future we should let Mr.Data greet all ship's visitors."
That prompted a genuine chuckle. "Thank you, sir."
"Report to Sickbay with -- " Picard looked around, noticing Crusher's absence for the first time " -- er, Lt.Worf, Commander."
"Yes, sir." Riker gingerly felt his split lip. "And, Captain? I hope our next assignment is something nice and peaceful. Like patrolling the Romulan side of the Neutral Zone."