One had been looking forward to a quiet, peaceful shore leave. Some shopping for books and equipment, and then perhaps a solitary mountain hike, or if the weather permitted maybe some sailing. It wasn't often that Enterprise reached one of the settled, Earth-like resort worlds of the inner Federation, let alone had a chance to take leave there, and she'd been planning this trip for months. So she was not at all pleased at the garrulous telepath who had somehow managed to latch onto her.
Under other circumstances, One might have been pleased to have an opportunity to talk to a humanoid telepath. She herself was one of the very rare human telepaths, who'd had to study with Vulcans and other groups to learn the techniques she needed to keep her power from overwhelming her, and the end result had been that she'd managed to almost completely shut her telepathy down, neither sending nor receiving... most of the time. But it required absolutely rigid self control and frequent solitude, and she had long thought that she would not be qualified for the starship command she wanted unless she found a way to control it that involved being more... well, being better able to fake being social, anyway. She was by nature an introverted woman, but the extreme level of self-discipline she had to impose would interfere with her ability to establish rapport with a crew, she feared. The crew of Enterprise trusted her, but it had taken some years, and work on Captain Pike's part. So the idea of speaking to a member of a telepathic race, someone completely comfortable with her own telepathy, to learn how her people managed to go among non-telepaths, would have been appealing... if, firstly, she hadn't had other plans, and if secondly, the telepath hadn't been so irritating.
The woman had never given her name. After spending most of her childhood with the New Humans, who gave numbers to individuals instead of names, One hadn't noticed this at first. By now, however, she had observed that every chance she took to ask the telepath her name, the older woman dodged the question. She had learned that the woman was a native of Betazed, the recently discovered world of humanoid telepaths that was in diplomatic talks with the Federation regarding possible eventual membership. She had also learned that the woman had sexual fetishes for humanoid men who were not of her own species, had very strong opinions on clothing and fashion, had owned and loved a set of dolls representing all the races of the Federation that her grandmother had given her when she was a child, claimed that One's work fascinated her and yet kept dragging the conversation around to herself, and despite this had managed not to reveal a single important fact about herself. Well, if you didn't count her opinions on love, men, sex and clothing to be important... which One didn't. She talked endlessly, but about absolutely nothing, and every attempt One had made to extricate herself from the woman, from the polite to the quite blunt, had failed utterly.
She was contemplating being brutally rude when the woman greeted a stranger with great animation. "Thrax! Oh, it's lovely to see you again! Oh, don't tell me you don't remember me; we met on the ship, remember? You were telling me all about your lovely wife at home, and how she doesn't understand you..."
As the blue-skinned alien of an unfamiliar species attempted to convince One's newfound "friend" that it was a case of mistaken identity and his name was not, in fact, Thrax, One decided to take the opportunity to slip away.
And then she heard the woman's voice in her head.
This man is a shapeshifting time traveler. He's here to assassinate Captain Pike to stop him from something he'll do in the future, and he plans to do it by killing you and taking your place in order to get close to Pike. You can't stun him. If you run off like you're planning, he'll just find you at a later opportunity. You have to kill him, now.
"No, no, I'm absolutely sure of it. I never forget a face. You know, on my world I'm actually a very important woman, and my social and political duties require me to have an excellent memory for faces. But don't worry, Thrax! I'm the soul of discretion. If perhaps you're here on an illicit tryst...? My lips are sealed, I assure you."
"Madame, I don't know how many times I have to tell you, I am not this Thrax you're speaking of! I've never even heard of him."
"Oh, of course you're not. Of course. And that dear wife of yours, excuse me, Thrax's, I'm sure she doesn't understand Thrax any better than she did last week. But that's nothing to you, of course! Because you're not Thrax. I fully understand."
I can't kill a man simply because a stranger tells me to! One replied telepathically, outraged.
Look at my face. Look carefully. No, not my eyes, my eyes are one of my best features of course but they're wholly Betazoid. I want you to consider who I resemble, before you accuse me of lying to you about something so serious.
Who she resembled? One didn't much care who the older woman resembled. What did that have to do with...
The woman was in her late middle age, and One was young and in her prime, and One didn't resemble her own mother at all. She wouldn't have drawn the connection if the woman hadn't pointed it out. But aside from a different hair color, and deep black eyes that appeared to be species markers, the woman looked like an older version of One herself. Her personality, so very different, and her age had masked it.
It's true that I know this time traveler's intentions because I've read his mind. But I'm an ambassador, not a policewoman or secret agent or something. I'm here to save you because it affects me personally very deeply if you're killed in the past... Grandmother. After all, you still owe me a set of those dolls.
One opened her mind, painfully, carefully, like pushing slowly at a door that had been wedged open by a poor paint job or unstable materials swelling up. She was instantly bombarded by the thoughts of all the people on the street, and it hurt, but she was One, and she would endure it. She focused her attention on the blue-skinned man, trying to shut out the confusing babble from all around.
He was trying to extricate himself from the woman's irritating babble because it was annoying and because it was interfering with his mission. One couldn't detect anything about his mission under the onslaught of noise. "Stop bothering the man, Aunt," she said aloud. "He's not this Thrax person you think he is, plainly. Although he might be able to help us." She looked at the blue-skinned man. "My aunt's heart condition prevents her from having the physical strength to assist me with repairing my shuttle. Are you at all familiar with shuttle repair?"
And there it was. The very clear feeling of triumph and excitement, the thought, wonderful! She's playing right into my hands, and the imagery. He visualized repairing the shuttle, killing her, and returning to Enterprise in her form. "As a matter of fact, it's my profession," he said, lying. "I feel bad that my appearance confused your aunt so badly." I could have sworn Thrax didn't have any dealings with One or her relatives before I took his form, he thought, and One realized what the Betazoid woman must have known all along Thrax had been a real person, and now he was dead. It wasn't mistaken identity; the Betazoid had been tweaking the shapechanger, confronting him with every shapechanger's fear someone who knew the source identity, who might be able to see through the disguise.
"I'll have my ship transport us over there," One said. "Some of my purchases are too delicate to entrust to the transporter, so I'll need my shuttle fixed."
"I might be able to help by reading to you from the manual," the Betazoid said. I hope you know what you're doing, Grandmother. You've just made his day, setting yourself up in perfect privacy for him to kill you and take your identity.
I know. That was why I made the offer, so he'd think it. I needed verification.
The word of your granddaughter wasn't good enough? the woman asked indignantly.
You don't exist yet. I have no idea what kind of a person you'll be. So no, it wasn't.
/laughter/ Oh, Grandmother, no wonder you got along so well with us. You're as bluntly honest as any Betazoid I've ever met.
"I'm sure we won't need the help," the shapeshifter said.
"My aunt likes to feel useful," One said. "But perhaps once we get to the shuttle, if there are any tools it turns out we'll need, she can go get them for us."
Excellent. The old woman can go for supplies, and when she comes back, I'll have taken One's identity and I'll claim that my current identity finished up and left. Now that she knew what "voice" to listen for, One heard the shapeshifter's thoughts loud and clear.
She contacted Enterprise, requesting that the three of them be beamed directly to her shuttle.
And as they materialized, she drew her phaser issued to members of the crew even on shore leave, because things could go horribly wrong even on shore leave, and often did set it to kill with the same motion as the draw, and fired before the shapeshifter had time to do more than recognize that she was drawing a weapon. He vanished in a burst of brilliant light.
She turned to the woman. "How did you know what he planned? I understand that you're a telepath; how did you ever encounter him?"
"Oh, my daughter and her crew do temporal mechanics for a living," the woman said, "but actually there was an old friend of mine, another shapechanger, who's a constable on a space station, and he was suspicious of the fellow from the beginning. It was actually fortunate I was able to read him, because I can't always read shapeshifters, but it worked out perfectly. Almost as if it were predestined. Which perhaps it was, because if I hadn't been able to read his mind and follow him through his time portal, then you'd have been killed, and I would never have been born, and since I'm here I must have been destined to be able to read his mind!"
"Of course," One said. "Have you studied temporal mechanics?"
"Oh, dear me, no. I was telling the truth about being an ambassador. I don't really have any head for physics whatsoever." She smiled wryly. "Neither did my mother. Does that disappoint you, Grandmother?"
"I can't see how it would disappoint me, since I have no preconceptions. I haven't even met your grandfather yet. I'm not sure how it is that I would ever end up meeting and having children with a Betazoid, though." There's already someone I love, she thought, privately, her shields back in place.
The older woman smiled sadly. "Oh, Grandma. I know. I know you do," she said. It made no sense as a reply to what One had said verbally; One had to conclude that either the woman had read her through her shields... or knew her well enough to know exactly what she'd been thinking. She went cold.
"Does... something happen?" To Captain Pike? To me? Is it true that it can't work out after all, that my ambition isn't compatible with loving a Starfleet officer, or at least one who outranks me?
"I can't tell you," the woman said. "Why do you think I never told you my name? I'd rather have avoided telling you what I have told you, and honestly my daughter's captain would probably have said I told you too much, but Jean-Luc is so upright, so careful. He's a wonderful man, really, excellent at his job, and so very buttoned up. I really do like men with a great deal of self discipline... it's amazing what they'll do when you get them to let go."
One sighed. "I didn't really want to hear about your sexual interests before I learned that you are my granddaughter, and I most especially don't want to hear about them now."
The woman laughed. "Oh, you'll get over that eventually, Grandmother. That's your human culture talking. By the time you give me those dolls, you'll be almost as Betazoid as anyone born among us." She touched One's cheek. "You're so young. It amazes me. Here I am with my grandmother, and she looks younger than my daughter. You have a long life ahead of you, my dear, full of love and adventures. Enjoy it."
There was a shimmer of light around her. "Oh, that would be the portal," she said. "It's going to pull me back. Just remember what I said, Grandmother."
"The part about your sexual preferences, or the part about the dolls I'm supposed to buy you?" One asked dryly.
The woman laughed. "Definitely the dolls," she said. "I love you, Grandmother. See you on my birthday!"
And she was gone.
One shook her head slowly. How could someone like... that... have come from her? Even a generation removed? What must her grandfather be like?
And what would happen between herself and Captain Pike?
The future isn't written in stone, One thought. And if it is... she said to enjoy my life. If I can't grow old with Chris... perhaps I should take what I can get.
She opened her communicator. "One to Enterprise. Captain Pike, come in?"
"Number One! I didn't expect to hear from you for a few days, yet. Has something happened?"
"I have... an interesting story to tell you, sir. After I bring the shuttle back in, can I meet you back at your quarters to discuss it?"
"Of course," he said. "I'm almost off shift anyway, and you're on leave whether you spend it on the ship or the planet. Or Boyce will have both our heads."
"Oh, trust me, Captain, it's personal business I intend to discuss with you," she said.