Despite the threat still hanging over her head and the distraction of Worf's presence, once Tanesha began her work, she quickly forgot everything else. Her months of preparation notwithstanding, Tanesha had an incredible amount of data to gather and only four days in which to do it. She had to collect and analyze the information simultaneously. There was no time for lengthy pondering; she had to know instinctively how best to synthesize the new material into her proposal.

She lost track of time. Her universe narrowed to her databoard and the particular patch of Etruna that she was standing on. She didn't stop to eat or sleep, and neither could Worf or O'Brien. The transporter chief was kept busy moving her and Worf from one location to another as she finished her work at one locale and called for the next. Ettiquette was forgotten: O'Brien grew accustomed to hearing a terse set of coordinates crackle over the open channel, with no initial hail. Tanesha wasted no time, demanding instant transportation to the new position. The lack of any sort of warning hail called for constant vigilance on O'Brien's part, especially since the time Tanesha spent at any spot varied widely, and by the forty-seventh straight hour, he was visibly trembling with fatigue.

There were other signs too. When Picard called down to the transporter room for a report on Tanesha's position, O'Brien's response was, "They're somewhere on the bloody planet!"

Picard's eyebrows soared and he turned to Riker for an explanation.

"O'Brien's been on duty for two days straight," Riker hastily said. "There are some unusual elements in the Etrunan soil which interfere with our sensors. It's making transporter function unpredictable, and so O'Brien's been handling all of it personally."

"An admirable sentiment, but one's ability to function effectively decreases sharply with fatigue," Picard retorted. "To say nothing of the lapses in one's judgement. Have someone relieve him at once."

"What about Worf? He's been on duty even longer."

Picard frowned. "Dr.LaForge has been working continuously?"

Riker nodded. "She hasn't even stopped to eat. There's water and emergency rations in the suit of course, but..."

"Dr. Crusher, your medical opinion is needed on the Bridge."

Crusher arrived within minutes. "Physically, Worf can go the longest without rest, but even Klingons have to sleep sometime. And as for Tanesha, well, the indestructability of youth is greatly overexaggerated."

Picard pulled at his lower lip. "Are you saying that, medically, there is a risk involved in LaForge's continuing to work?"

Crusher hesitated. "I know the deadline that she's working against, and world wizards are obsessive personalities, but, yes, I would say that there is a medical risk to her continuing."

"Chief O'Brien, when Dr.LaForge next signals, beam her aboard," Picard ordered.

"She won't like it," O'Brien warned.

Picard glanced at Crusher. "I know."

O'Brien's prediction was directly on target. It took several seconds for her location to penetrate Tanesha's preoccupied and fatigue-clouded mind, but once it did, she exploded in fury. "O'Brien, you idiot! I gave you coordinates for -- "

"I instructed Chief O'Brien to beam you up, Doctor," Picard interrupted.

"Why?" Tanesha demanded. "I have -- "

"You need to get some sleep, Tanesha," Crusher said firmly, "and some food. You've been pushing yourself much too hard."

"You have no idea of the size of the task before me. I don't have time to rest."

"You'll have to take the time."

"Fine." Tanesha struggled for calm. "In two days, once I've turned in the proposal, I'll take all the time you want."

"No, Doctor. Now."

"Captain! You're placing this entire mission in jeopardy!"

"Captain Picard has no choice in the matter. As Chief Medical Officer, I have the authority to cancel this mission if it becomes unsafe," Crusher told her, bending the truth a little.

"Doctor, please! If I am too tired, can't you just give me something to boost my energy level?"

"That's not warranted in this case. All you need is some sleep."

"I can't afford eight hours of down time!" Tanesha wailed.

Crusher eyed her calculatingly. "I'll accept six hours in Sickbay with one more for eating."

"Two hours of induced coma with intravenous nutrition," Tanesha countered swiftly.

"Four hours, with intravenous, but a thirty-six hour limit on future shifts."

"Done!"

To Picard's amusement, the haggling worked and the bargain was successfully implemented. Four hours later, Crusher revived LaForge, O'Brien, and Worf from their medically-induced slumber.

Even as she pulled on her environment suit, Tanesha was giving O'Brien their new coordinates.

"Wait a minute," the chief cautioned, just as Picard walked in. "That's in the Kopeckni mountain range."

"So?"

"So our sensors are useless there. We won't be ale to get a fix on you unless you contact us."

"What's that?" Picard asked.

"That mountain range has a weird mix of elements, Captain, that blocks nearly all of our scans. Plus, there's an enormous storm front that sits right over the chain. It's practically the only one on the entire planet, given the thin atmosphere, but it provides enough interference to mix up the few scans that can get through. Our communicators can punch through it, but as far as the sensors go, we're blind as a bat."

"Hm. Doctor, so long as you're out of sensor range, you'd better check in with the ship every thirty minutes."

"What?" Tanesha yelped.

"Lt.Worf can do it; you need not be bothered."

"And how am I supposed to concentrate with the two of you constantly chattering?"

"Once every thirty minutes is hardly constant, Doctor, and it's necessary for us to know that you're safe."

"No!"

Picard's eyes grew steely. "Perhaps you'd reconsider," he suggested, an edge creeping into his tone.

Tanesha looked from face to face, seeking an ally. She found none and reluctantly gave in. "Oh, all right," she grumbled. "I'll meet you in the Transporter Room. I need to get some notes in my room."

"Be sure to refill your air tanks," Worf called after her.

The captain accompanied Worf to the transporter room. "You have forty-three hours until the deadline, Lieutenant. If another attempt is planned, it will have to happen within this period. Be ready."

"Yes, sir."

Tanesha hurried in, her suit not yet sealed. "Ready? Let's go," she ordered, closing the suit and activating it.

O'Brien beamed them down and Tanesha immediately went back to work. Worf kept busy scanning the cliffs and caves for traps and reporting to the ship twice an hour. Tanesha was unusually quiet as she worked. Before, she had kept up a running commentary to herself, which Worf overheard via the open channel, but now all was quiet. She appeared to be wholly focussed on her work and didn't even take time to call the ship with new coordinates. Instead, she pointed out their next position to Worf on her databoard and allowed him to contact O'Brien.

The mountain range stretched from pole to pole along Etruna's largest continent and was the site of several geologic faults. Accordingly, Tanesha devoted a great deal of time to it. After twenty-six hours of work, at thirty-two different sites within the chain, Tanesha moved them into a particularly deep canyon, bordered by steep cliffs and laced with subterranean passags and caves.

"Doctor, in ten hours, we must return to the ship," Worf reminded her.

Tanesha ignored him, playing her scanner over a nearby shelf of rock.

An odd glimmer off to one side caught Worf's eye. "Doctor, I'm going to check that cave. If I don't return immediately, contact the ship."

Tanesha didn't even look up from what she was doing. When the shadow fell across her readouts a minute later, she did raise her head, all set to shout at Worf for blocking the light. Instead of Worf, however, she found herself staring at a heavyset, blue-skinned humanoid in a black and green surface suit. More importantly, she saw that he held a disruptor pistol aimed at her head.

He motioned for her to rise and, as if in a dream, she did so. Waggling the pistol, he indicated that she should move under the shelf of rock she'd been studying. Raising the weapon, he aimed at the shelf, and she realized he meant to cause a rockslide, killing her in yet another "accident".

As her assassin sighted down the barrel of his gun, Tanesha noticed motion behind him. Worf! It was the Klingon, coming to her rescue. The relief on her face must have tipped off the assassin, for he spun around just as Worf leapt.

The gun went off, and the charge, set to bring down half of a mountain, knocked all three down. Tanesha, farthest away from the blast, recovered first, and she rushed to Worf's side. The disruptor had ripped a hole in his suit large enough for her to put both hands through, and air was hissing out, accompanied by alarming quantities of Klingon blood. Gulping down her nausea as she caught sight of the charred flesh beneath the hole, Tanesha fumbled for the emergency kit in her suit. She removed the safety patches and pressed them over the tear. It required the seals from both her kit and Worf's to cover the rip completely, and the pressure she had to exert to make the patch brought Worf snarling back to consciousness.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Tanesha wept, pressing her helmet to his. "I had to press that hard. I know it hurts."

"The Eft. Where is he?" Worf demanded, weakly struggling to rise.

"That was an Eft? He's over there." Tanesha pointed to where their attacker lay. Whether from the force of the explosion or Worf's attack, he was still unconscious. "Worf! Your head is bleeding!" Tanesha noticed with horror that blood was trickling down the side of the Klingon's face.

"The Eft attacked me from behind. He is without honor," Worf growled. "Did you contact the ship yet?"

"No, didn't you?"

"The Eft took my phaser and communicator while I was unconscious. You will have to summon help."

Tanesha looked sick. "Worf, I can't. I disabled my communicator before we left the ship."

"WHAT?" At least he had enough strength left to bellow.

"I didn't want to be distracted by your check-ins with the ship," she explained tearfully. "So when I went to my cabin, I smashed the communicator. It doesn't work at all now. That's why I have to touch helmets to talk to you."

Worf closed his eyes, fighting to control his rage. "Help me up. We must seek cover."

"Why not stay here?" Tanesha objected. "When you don't check in, they'll send an Away Team."

"We have moved a fair distance from where we were when I last contacted the ship. They will not find us immediately."

"So? You shouldn't move in your condition."

"The attacker is an Eft assassin." Worf tried to be patient. "They work in triads. His partners know precisely where he is, and they are most likely coming here right now. We have no weapons and no way to contact the ship; do you still wish to stay?"

Tanesha shook her head, wide-eyed. "Where will we go?" she asked nervously, helping him up.

Worf looked around. "I will take cover behind that rock over there. When the Efts arrive, I will attack them. When I do, you must flee."

"What kind of stupid plan is that?" Tanesha yipped. "Is that what they teach you at the Academy? That's suicidal! You can't even stand up on your own."

"I will die as a Klingon warrior should -- in battle. And you may be able to escape in the confusion."

"Why does anybody have to die? Why can't we ambush them?"

Worf looked at her scornfully. "How? There is no proper cover here to prepare an ambush."

"What is proper cover? Tell me what you need and I'll find you the place that has it. I know this planet, Worf, every nook and cranny. All you have to do is tell me what you need."

After a pause, Worf acquiesced. "A cave, with a shelf on which I can hide. The Eft will come after you, and I will drop on them from above."

"OK! Come with me!" Half-carrying the Klingon, Tanesha led the way into one of the underground passages. The way was rocky and Worf's condition made the going slow. Their helmet lights provided some illumination, but as they went deeper, it began to feel as if the darkness itself were pressing in on them.

"Not much farther," Tanesha panted.

Worf didn't respond. All his energy was turned to moving on, despite the agony in his side and head. Abruptly, he became aware of a faint, insistent beeping. "What is that?"

Tanesha kept her head down as she pulled him along. "My suit alarm. I'm out of air."

Worf jerked to a halt. "That's impossible. The tank holds a three day supply."

"I didn't refill my tank when we were on the ship." Tanesha's voice was nearly inaudible. "I didn't have time after smashing my communicator, and, besides, I figured we could always return and do it. I didn't know this would happen!"

It was a measure of how ill Worf felt that he didn't strangle Tanesha then and there. Instead he merely gritted his teeth. "You will have to attach your suit to my tank."

"But you're nearly out of air too! You lost a lot when your suit was torn."

"I still have more than you. Do it!"

Tanesha flinched back at his roar, then hastened to obey. The two were shortly linked by a half-meter length of tubing.

Half-blind, leaking air from a ripped suit, and sharing a tank already dangerously low, the two finally stumbled into a subterranean cavern. A large shelf, littered with boulders, jutted from the left wall, while numerous stalagmites grew from the floor. "Careful!" Tanesha warned, pointing to a section of the ground ahead of them. "See how that sand lays? That's an area of false crust. Step on it and it'll give way beneath you."

"Help me up on the shelf," Worf ordered. "They cannot be far behind us."

Tanesha assisted Worf in climbing to the outcropping, though his involuntary grunts of pain wrung her heart. The boulders shielded him from view, and he crouched in a ready position.

"Go lie on the floor below," he said, unclasping the hose from the air tank. "That will draw them in, to where I can attack them. Do not move around -- you have only the air that's in your suit."

Her teeth chattering with fear, Tanesha nodded. She carefully skirted the area of false crust, then, an idea striking her, laid down just behind it.

Although the wait seemed endless, in reality it was just a few minutes before the Efts appeared at the mouth of the cave. They peered in cautiously, not immediately venturing in. All three were present, and the injured one appeared fully recovered.

Tanesha lay very still, hardly daring to breathe.

Apparently satisfied that she was alone, the Efts moved towards her, approaching in a single file. The first was less than three meters from her when he stepped on the area of false crust. Exactly as Tanesha had foretold, the ground caved beneath him, dropping him into a deep pit.

Simultaneously, Worf leapt onto the last Eft in line. The assassin had his weapon drawn, but Worf seized his wrist and forced the gun aside. The shot went wild, striking the ceiling and knocking several rocks loose.

Despite his wounds, Worf managed to grasp the Eft by the throat, and he began to squeeze the life out of him. The Eft fought desperately, but Worf kept every ounce of his strength focussed on the chokehold. He ignored the new injuries the Eft was inflicting and just kept squeezing.

The second Eft, unable to reach the brother who had fallen through the crust, turned to the one fighting Worf. He drew his weapon, but couldn't fire immediately, lest he accidentally strike his brother. Worf shifted position, giving the Eft a clear shot.

Before he could fire, Tanesha snatched up one of the rocks blown loose by the other Eft's stray bolt and brought it down on his head with all her might. He dropped to the floor, and Tanesha quickly rolled him into the pit with the first Eft.

Retrieving the rock, she went to Worf's aid, but his battle was over. The last assassin, his neck broken, lay on the ground; Worf sprawled on top of him.

"Are you all right?" Tanesha panted, dizzy from lack of air.

Eyes closed, Worf fumbled for the tubing and pressed it into her hand. "Hurry. You need air," he ordered, his voice little more than a whisper.

Tanesha nearly blacked out before she was able to reattach the hose, but she finally mananged it. Sucking air into her grateful lungs, she gasped, "What now?"

"We wait for the ship to find us." Worf's voice was very weak. The continuing blood loss and untreated wounds would have been enough to incapacitate most; the ferocious hand to hand battle with the Eft had nearly finished him..

"We can't, Worf! You said it yourself: the ship doesn't know where we are. They'll never find us down here, at least not before our air runs out. We've got to get back to the surface!"

"That won't help. The sensors can't penetrate the clouds."

Stumped, Tanesha thought furiously. "We didn't beat those Efts just to die of anoxia!" she exclaimed in frustration. Her eye fell on the dead Eft's weapon, and an idea slowly began to take shape. "Come on, Worf! We have to get to the surface! Come on -- I can't go alone. I don't have enough air."

Back on the ship, Geordi paced the Bridge in an agony of apprehension. "Where are they?"

A grim Picard and Riker were reviewing a topographical map of the planet with O'Brien.

"I last beamed them to this location," the chief explained, "but they always moved around. Whenever I got the signal to move them to a new position, they'd be anywhere from 2 to 10 kilometers from where I'd set them down."

"There are underground passages throughout that whole region," Riker said. "They could be anywhere. How can we hope to find them without sensors? We don't even know where to start!"

"They're twenty minutes overdue for check-in. Something must be wrong."

"Dammit, Wes!" Geordi shouted from the helm. "You just skipped an entire sector with your scans! Can't you keep your mind on what you're doing?"

Wes exchanged a glance with Data, but only replied, "I hadn't forgotten, Geordi. I wanted to scan this sector while the cloud cover over it had lightened."

Picard came forward and placed a hand on LaForge's shoulder. "We're doing everything we can, Geordi."

Geordi's anger left as quickly as it had flared. "I know, Captain. Wes, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled. It's not like the sensors can tell us anything anyway. I'm just so worried -- " He spun away, staring out the viewscreen.

"Number One, take an Away Team down to the last known position. Perhaps you'll be able to track -- "

"Wait a second," Geordi murmured. "What's that?"

Picard and Riker turned to see where he was looking. The planet appeared the same as always. "What do you see, Geordi?" Riker asked.

"That blinking in the cloud! Don't you see it? Oh, right -- you can't see on that band. Wes, focus in on the high energy particles within that storm front. Can't you see it?"

Wes obediently keyed in the changes, then nearly leaped out of his seat. "Yes! It's a steady pattern!"

"Confirmed," Data agreed, switching the viewscreen so that everyone could see it.

Within the chaotic swirl of the storm, a tiny patch blinked on and off. It would have gone unnoticed within the enormous sea of particles, had it not occurred with such regularity.

"Magnify," Picard ordered.

"Could it be a natural phenomenon?" Riker asked Data quietly.

"No way!" Geordi's grin stretched from ear to ear. "Look at it: dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot."

Picard frowned, an old memory stirring, but Data's positronic brain accessed the information first. "Ah. Morse code. Earth. Nineteenth -- "

"Right! Tanesha and I learned it as kids. She's sending out an SOS!"

"SOS?" Data inquired. "Ah. Save Our Souls. M'Aidez. A distress -- "

"Data!"

"Ah." The android hastily transferred the coordinates to the transporter room, and O'Brien, using a wide field beam, scanned the area.

"Bridge! We've got them!" he yelled. "Transferring to Sickbay -- Dr.Crusher, incoming wounded!" Barely waiting for Crusher's acknowledgement, O'Brien beamed Tanesha and Worf straight on to Sickbay.

Two techs lifted Worf to a bed while two others pulled off his and Tanesha's helmets. Crusher was already scanning to determine the extent of Worf's injuries.

Tanesha, coughing from her prolonged exposure to low oxygen levels, pulled away from the doctor who was trying to examine her. "Is he going to be all right?"

Her question was echoed by Picard as he and Geordi hurried through the door.

Geordi swept Tanesha up into a bear hug which she, for once, wholeheartedly returned.

"He'll be fine -- in time," Crusher said finally, "but for now, no visitors. Out, out!"

Worf seized her wrist. "I will make my report to the captain first," he told her fiercely.

"No, you -- " At his outraged look, she stopped. "Make it short."

Picard listened intently as Worf detailed their battle with the Efts. Geordi groaned when the lieutenant described the problems with Tanesha's communicator and air supply, but refrained from commenting further.

" -- the last assassin. I'm not certain how you located us. By that time, I was... not feeling well."

"I don't know how you managed to stay on your feet," Tanesha chimed in. "But you did, at least until we made it to the surface and I signalled the ship."

"How?" Worf asked blankly.

"I fired the Eft's disruptor into the clouds. The energy bolt wasn't strong enough to be picked up by the sensors, even without all the interference, but I knew it would be enough to ionize a big part of the cloud. I knew Geordi would be looking for a signal, so I gave him one!" Tanesha looked very pleased with herself.

"Well done," Picard told her. As she began to puff with pride, though, he added, "You and I will have to have a little talk about the communicator and air tank later."

"Oh." Deflated, Tanesha snuggled against Geordi's side. "Yes, Captain."

"Say good night, Lieutenant," Crushwer advised, selecting a hypospray.

The others took the hint and left.

"I don't understand why the Efts were involved at all," Tanesha complained. "Their planet isn't even in the competition."

"But the Rigellians are," Picard explained. "And they have a history of using Eft assassins to solve their problems."

"You can't tell the Denebians about this, Captain. If Counsellor Troi is right about them, they'd cancel the competition immediately."

Picard considered. "All right," he agreed at last. "But we will report the matter to Star Fleet Command, and what they decide to tell the Denebians is out of my hands."

Tanesha beamed. "Thank you! Can I go back now?"

"What?" Geordi asked in horror.

"To the planet. Now that I know Worf will be all right, I've got to get back to work. I only have eighteen hours left!"

"Oh, no! Tanesha -- " Remembering Troi's words, Geordi stopped himself. "I mean, do you have to go? There might be more Efts waiting for you."

"I know, Geordi, but I can't quit now."

"All right, but I'm going with you," he said, glancing at Picard.

The captain nodded. "Along with a security team."

"All right, but let's hurry!"

The group spent seventeen and a half hours on the planet, standing guard as Tanesha gathered the last of her information. With 23 minutes to go before the deadline, she beamed back to the ship to put the finishing touches on her report.

She dictated to the computer as she showered and changed and was still making last-minute edits as she prepared to beam down and present the proposal. " '-- third Ice Age.' Computer, insert figure 4 here. 'As the accompanying video shows, the geologic changes will modify the terrain so that appropriate crops may be planted within several decades.' Computer, switch tables 3 and 7 and change the scale on graph 6 to indicate hundreds of years, not thousands." She broke off long enough to wave at the group who'd assembled to see her off: Geordi, Picard, Riker, Troi, and Guinan. She signalled to O'Brien to energize even as she began to dictate one last change. "Computer, insert the -- "

Riker let out his breath as the last of the shimmer faded. "That's what I call working right up to the deadline!"

"She's still got thirty seconds," Guinan pointed out drily.

"When will the Denebians announce their selection?" Picard asked.

"No one knows," Troi replied. "But they are a very deliberate people. It's likely to take several months."

"I have a feeling we'll find out, whenever it is they decide," Geordi grinned.

"Mm. As soon as your sister beams back aboard, we'll leave orbit,' Picard said. "After we return her to Omicron, we have a job to do on Relba IV."

The trip back to Omicron, although only a few days in length, gave Geordi and Tanesha the opportunity to get to know each other. For the first time in years, they were able to talk at length and, guided by Troi and Guinan's advice, they realized that they had a great deal in common. Geordi was amazed to find that Tanesha had grown into a witty and sophisticated conversationalist, while Tanesha discovered that, when she wasn't taking offense at everything he said, Geordi was great fun to be with. When they arrived at Omicron, both were genuinely sorry their visit was over.

Geordi escorted Tanesha to the Bridge for a last round of farewells, and so she was present when the call from Commodore Eaglefeather came in.

"Congratulations!" he cried, beaming at them.

Rather taken aback by the commodore's effusive greeting, Picard merely replied, "Thank you, sir. Dr.LaForge is ready to beam down and make her report -"

"You haven't heard?" Eaglefeather interrupted. "They didn't contact you? The Denebians have decided. They chose LaForge's plan!"

Tanesha's piercing shriek nearly set off an automated alarm. Picard flinched away from the noise. "Doctor," he admonished, "please -- "

"We did it!" Tanesha whooped, throwing her arms around her brother. "It's ours!"

Geordi hugged her back. "Congratulations!"

Picard glanced at Riker and shrugged. So much for military discipline.

Tanesha disengaged from Geordi and flung herself at the newly recuperated Worf. "We did it!"

Worf drew back as far as he could, looking as though he wished he were back in Sickbay. "Congratulations."

"Commodore!" Tanesha danced to the front of the Bridge. "When do we start?"

"We can put a terrafarming team together in three months, Doctor. Will you be ready by then?"

"Of course!"

"Excellent. After you beam down, we can work out the details. And congratulations to you and your crew, Picard. An excellent job. Eaglefeather out."

Tanesha skipped back to Geordi. "I got it!"

"I heard," he grinned.

"I don't believe it!"

"You didn't think your proposal would win?" Riker asked curiously.

"Well, no, I always knew my ideas would be the best ones," she replied with unconscious arrogance, "but I wasn't certain of my ability to communicate them. After all, working conditions were a little unusual," she addd, grinning at the captain.

"I think the commodore is waiting for you," Geordi reminded her gently. "And we've got to get to Relba IV."

"I'll be going then," Tanesha agreed regretfully, "but thank you -- all of you! You didn't just save my life, you helped in the birth of a whole new planet! And you helped me meet my big brother all over again. Thank you."

"Good luck, Doctor," Picard said softly.

Geordi gave her one last hug, then Tanesha boarded the turbolift, bound for the transporter room.

"You have quite a sister, Mr.LaForge!" Riker clapped him on the back.

"Yes, sir," Geordi agreed, smiling. "Yes, sir, I do."

"Lay in a course for Relba IV, Mr.Crusher. Warp two."

"Course plotted and laid in, sir."

Picard glanced over to where Geordi was still smiling. "Engage."

FINIS