When his shift was over, Data took charge of Alice. After her nap, she was ready for some activity, and once again the holodeck accommodated, this time with a fabulous enchanted forest. After playtime and a meal, Alice went off to her lessons, and then it was Wesley's turn to babysit. Six hours before Carra was due to beam up, Wesley tucked Alice into bed. "When you wake up," he promised, "your mother will be here. See, when the clock looks like this--" he showed her on the chronometer " -- your mother will come aboard."

Alice beamed.

"So fall asleep right away, OK? Then it will seem like your mother arrives more quickly."

When he was certain that Alice was asleep, Wesley left to attend to his own lessons, carefully locking the door behind him.

Almost six hours later, Alice awoke. Remembering Wesley's words, she checked the clock, then excitedly ran out, intent on meeting her mama as she beamed up. Meanwhile, on the Bridge, Data excused himself and went to collect Alice, intending to escort her to the Transporter Room. Even though the Haussans had made no attempts to abduct the child in the past few days, Picard was taking no chances.

When he arrived at the empty cabin, Data made a hasty search, then hurried to the Transporter Room, hoping to find Alice and her mother together there. Carra, in the meantime, had already beamed up and with a short "Thank you," to O'Brien, had tiredly headed to her cabin to see Alice. In the lift, she paused, realizing the little girl might be elsewhere.

"Computer, where is my daughter?"

"Guest Quarters, Cabin C13."

Carra scratched her ear, puzzled, then resignedly ordered the lift to the appropriate level. It would have been nice had Alice been brought to greet her, but her years in Star Fleet had taught Carra tolerance of other species' shortcomings.

"Has Alice been here?" Data asked O'Brien, rushing into the Transporter Room.

O'Brien shook his head. "No, but her mother's beamed back aboard."

"Bridge, this is Data. I have lost Alice."

"Does her mother have her?" Riker asked.

"Apparently not."

"Computer. Locate Dr.Carranazzan and her daughter Alice." Riker's voice was calm, but Troi could sense his rising concern.

"Both are in Guest Quarters, Cabin C13."

"Damn! The Haussans' cabin!" Riker hurried to Picard's Ready Room and quickly briefed the captain.

"What is the present situation?" Picard demanded, shelving for the moment the obvious question of how the Haussans had managed to snatch Alice.

Before Riker could answer, Worf interrupted. "Security reports a disturbance at Cabin C13."

Picard motioned to the door. "Number One."

Riker nodded. Calling for Worf to join him and Dr.Crusher and Data to meet them at the scene, he sprinted onto the lift.

Fatigued after her long ordeal on the planet, Carra was short with the human who answered the door. "I come for my child," she explained, brushing past the woman.

"She's not here," the male human responded belligerently, stepping in front of her.

"Nonsense. I can smell her. Alice?" Carra was impatient, but not yet angry. "Alice!"

"Mama!" The voice was muffled, but Carra's hearing was better than humans'.

"Why is she in the closet?" she demanded, turning to the blustering humans as Alice's cries grew more frenzied.

"She's staying with us!" Arcadia Haussan burst out, unable to control herself any longer. "You keep away from her!"

Carra hissed. Her tolerance was at an end. Pushing the humans aside, she headed for the closet.

The heavy blow from behind took her completely by surprise, and she was knocked to the ground, dazed and bleeding.

Rynald Haussan hefted his heavy walking stick. "Get out!"

Carra's ears flattened. Althenan females are fiercely protective of their family, and Carra considered Alice as her natural child. "Give me my daughter," she growled, struggling to restrain the berserker fury that rose within her.

"Get out! She's our child now!" Arcadia shrilled, oblivious to Carra's now glowing eyes.

The felinoid rose slowly to her feet, warily watching Rynald's club. Her claws slid from their sheaths, the rage sweeping over her.

"Hit her again, Rynald! Make her go!"

Rynald lifted his stick, and with a scream, Carra struck. The Althenan berserkergang, when called forth by a threat to the family, can only be halted by death. Alice's cries from the closet served to spur Carra on, and the two Birceans were suddenly fighting for their lives. Furniture was tossed aside as the three beings battled, and the Bircean couple grabbed frantically for whatever makeshift weapons they could find. Despite the sound baffles, the roar of the fight was audible three cabins away.

By the time Riker and the others arrived, the sounds were much reduced. Worf's Security clearance opened the door, and he and Riker cautiously peered into the room. Arcadia Haussan lay crumpled and bleeding against the far wall, while her husband was sprawled across an overturned couch. Carra, visibly injured herself, spun to face the intruders, no sign of recognition on her face. Snarling, she lashed out.

Worf and Riker jerked back. Behind them, Crusher grabbed for her scanner.

"Doctor, it's all right. We're your friends," Riker soothed, edging forward.

Carra's eyes flashed green fire and with a shriek, she slashed at him.

Riker's reflexes were fast, but the felinoid's berserker-fueled speed was preternatural. If Worf hadn't seized Riker's arm and yanked him backwards, Carra's razor-edged claws would have raked across his eye. As it was, the blow opened a four-inch gash across Riker's left cheek, from the corner of his eye to his jawline.

Involuntarily, Riker's hand flew to his cheek, but Crusher grabbed his wrist. "No!" she ordered, pulling anesthetic sprays and pressure bandages from her kit. Seconds later, the blood was stanched and a makeshift dressing in place.

Worf drew his phaser. "Commander, we have no choice. A stun charge -- "

"Wait!" Crusher exclaimed, once again pointing her scanner at Carra. "In her present condition, her metabolism is severely stressed. A phaser charge, even on stun, could be fatal!"

Arcadia Haussan moaned, and Carra reoriented on her, hissing.

"We must do something!" Worf said, frustrated.

Riker turned to Crusher. "What about a tranquilizer?"

The doctor nodded and dug in her kit. "Here. Can you hold her? It'll take effect in a few seconds."

Riker rolled his eyes, but, motioning to Worf, he once again moved towards Carra. He eased to one side, trying to hold her attention as Worf edged behind her. Alice's hoarse cries were distracting, but he kept his eyes fastened on Carra's claws.

With a shout, Worf wrapped his arms around Carra, momentarily pinioning her arms to her sides. Riker and Crusher rushed forward, intent on drugging the felinoid before she could break free.

While she was unable to throw off Worf's hold at once, Carra was far from helpless. Kicking out with both feet, she sent Riker and Crusher crashing to the floor. Crusher's hypo flew through the air, landing with shattering impact.

Meanwhile, Carra managed to bring up one hand and slash Worf's arm. As Riker struggled to his feet, he saw Crusher grimace in disgust at the sight of her now useless hypo. "Let her go, Worf."

She was almost free anyway, although Worf, bleeding and growling, was struggling to hold onto her. With a final snarl, the Klingon shoved Carra away.

The felinoid came to a halt in the center of the room, twisting from side to side in search of her next enemy. She was panting heavily, the fury exacting a huge toll on her energy reserves.

"We must act!" Worf snarled as Crusher hastily attended to his wound.

"He's right," the doctor agreed, tight lipped. "The Haussans will bleed to death if I don't treat them soon."

Riker thought furiously. Carra's panting and Alice's screams were the only sounds in the cabin; the Birceans were now ominously silent. "We can't stun her, drug her, restrain her, talk to her...She'll stay like this until she believes the danger is past. How --" Riker's mutter broke off. "Computer. On my command, override the lock of the closet door."

"Understood."

Crusher gasped. "Will, I don't know whether Carra can recognize even Alice in this state. What if she just reacts to another human intruder?"

"I'm out of ideas, Doctor, and we're out of time. Worf, stand ready. If Carra doesn't recognize her own child, we'll have to stun her."

"You'll have to use the phaser's highest setting," Crusher said grimly. "A low power burst might not stop her in time."

Worf nodded and took aim. "Computer. Open the door."

The closet door swished open, and Alice tumbled out, tear-stained and wild-eyed. She ignored the chaos of the room and made straight for Carra. "Mama!" With one last ragged cry, she threw herself at the Althenan.

Worf's finger tightened on the trigger as Carra's hand flashed towards the child, but her claws were sheathed, and Alice whimpered in relief at her mother's touch. The glow in Carra's eyes slowly died, and her hiss turned into a low purr.

Riker took a cautious step forward. "Doctor?"

Carra turned to him and he jumped backwards. This time, however, there was sanity in her gaze. Still holding Alice to her protectively, Carra extended one hand, claws sheathed, to the Enterprise officers. "My rregrets."

Riker sighed in relief. Crusher darted forward, calling for more medical personnel as she bent over the Birceans. Carra started to go to her aid, but collapsed after the first few steps.

"Mama!" Alice cried in fear.

"She's just tired," Riker said quickly, hoping it was true.

Crusher ran a hasty scan over Carra. "Normal after such an energy output," she said tersely before returning to Rynald Haussan's side.

The medical team rushed in, closely followed by Picard and Data. "My God," the captain said, staring about him in shock. "It looks like there was a war in here."

"There was." Riker told him.

"Doctor? Casualty report."

Crusher gave final instructions as the medical teams made ready to transport the unconscious combatants to Sickbay. Data followed, carrying Alice.

"The Birceans are the most seriously injured," Crusher said, turning to face Picard. "Blood loss, stab wounds, and assorted internal injuries from being tossed around. Carra took some hard blows from some sort of heavy object, and that berserkergang drained her completely. Will has a serious cut on his face, and Worf's arm needs further treatment too. I escaped with a few bruises."

Picard gazed at the wreckage. "This will require some explanation to Star Fleet."

"Kidnapping an Althenan child, ambassadorial status or not, must be viewed as an act of violence!" Worf said angrily, all too aware that Security would bear the brunt of any official blame.

"The confrontation was all but inevitable, given the Birceans' attitude," Riker agreed, looking to Picard for support. "What else could we do, short of locking them up? As it was, we nearly imprisoned Alice."

Picard asked Crusher, "Will they be recovered by the time we return them to Bircea?"

Dr. Crusher nodded.

"Not that that will prevent them from filing a formal complaint," Picard added gloomily.

"I imagine Carra will file one of her own," Crusher said drily.

"We'll still be the ones at fault," Riker muttered bitterly. "I hate playing taxicab! All our 'guests' either try to eat each other or kill each other or, if they're really bored, they come after us!"

Picard raised his eyebrows at Riker's vehemence. "Number One, diplomacy demands -- "

"Diplomats are the worst!" Riker shot back, undeterred. "The others just build fires in the cargo bays or get us involved in interplanetary romances. It's the diplomats that try to kill us -- or marry us!" he added with a pointed glance at Picard.

The captain looked at the doctor. "Number One, perhaps you'd better go to Sickbay and get your cheek attended to," he suggested, a bit at a loss as to how to respond. Riker's sentiments were somewhat improper, but he had a valid point. Picard, for one, agreed wholeheartedly with Riker's reluctance to play chauffeur for Lwaxana Troi again.

Crusher took the cue from a grateful Picard. "Yes, Will, come with me. Now, Worf, as a Klingon warrior, you'll want to keep your scar, but Will, how do you feel?"

Picard watched the trio enter the turbolift, then sadly turned back to regard Cabin C13 once more. Star Fleet would not be pleased.

Six days later, a healthy but much chastened Rynald and Arcadia Haussan were beamed down to Bircea. Two hours later, it was Carra and Alice's turn to be transported to the freighter that would deliver them home to Galen.

"I hope the incident with the Birrceans did not cause you much trrouble with Starrr Fleet, Captain," Carra said as they entered the Transporter Room.

"Actually Star Fleet took it quite calmly," Picard replied. "All things considered."

Dr. Crusher smiled. "The Haussans made the mistake of admitting they had kidnapped Alice and giving their 'reasons' for doing so. They were rather proud of the fact that they'd been able to do so despite our warnings and efforts. That helped convince Star Fleet that we had done our best to forestall the confrontation,"

"Star Fleet recognizes that some people will go out of their way to be stupid," Riker added. "They consider us to have been innocent bystanders."

Carra purred, relieved. "Ssso, there will be no official reperrcussions?"

Picard shook his head. "The success of your mission helped as well."

"I am glad. Commander, I would like, once again, to apologize to you for the injurries I caused. But you sshoud not have apprroached me."

Riker rubbed his healing cheek ruefully. "I'll remember."

Alice looked up at them sadly. "I wish we didn't have to go."

Picard eyed her nervously. "Ah, Chief O'Brien, isn't the Lafayette waiting?"

"Come, Alice." Carra took her place on the transporter platform.

Alice tearfully hugged the Enterprise crew goodbye, clinging to Data longest. He gently released her, and she reluctantly started towards her mother, then turned back. "Captain?"

"Yes?" Picard asked uneasily. He'd taken refuge behind the transporter console, where he'd hoped to remain unnoticed.

"Goodbye," Alice said in a tiny voice, eyes brimming with tears.

Picard swallowed, then bravely took two steps forward and gingerly patted Alice on the head before again retreating to safety.

"Alice." Carra's tone was firm.

Alice smiled tremulously at them as she took her place beside her mother.

"Energize," Picard ordered hastily.

Alice's sad little face and waving hand faded from view. Picard sighed in relief.

"Perhaps things will return to normal now," he said happily, heading for the door.

"Tell me, Doctor," Riker began, winking at her, "is it true that Carra has applied for transfer to the Enterprise?"

Picard jerked to a stop so fast that Data, just behind, bumped into him. "What?" he yelped in horror, spinning around.

Troi and Wesley broke into giggles as the doctor and Riker gazed innocently back at Picard.

"She'd be a fine addition to the crew, Captain," Crusher said enthusiastically. "Shall I suggest to her that --"

"No!" Picard cleared his throat. "I mean, she seems content at Galen, and after all -- "

Even Riker couldn't continue the joke in the face of Picard's agonized protests. He and the doctor joined Troi and Wesley's helpless laughter.

Catching on at last, Picard favored them with an outraged glare, then turned to Data. "Mr. Data, shall we go to the Bridge?" he asked, with all the dignity he could muster.

"Does this mean Carra is not planning a transfer, sir?" Data asked, disappointed. "Perhaps if you offered her a position -- "

Poor Data couldn't understand why his simple suggestion made Picard stomp out of the room and the other officers howl in delight. With a very human shrug, he stored it for future analysis and headed for the Bridge. There was a lot of work ahead.

END