by Lorraine Anderson
Humans are so noisy, Chimera thought to itself as the group approached the alley, chattering and laughing. Especially the young of the species. Not for the first time, it regretted what it had to do. It just knew that it would be driven mad before long. Perhaps it would even start thinking that it was a human. It shook its head and ran its wrinkled hand through its gray hair, not realizing that it was already using human gestures.
But then it thought of its family. It had to do this. Had to.
It looked down the street. As was usual in these sort of groups, there was a straggler a young female, looking in the store windows. As she passed the alley, it fired its tranquilizer. She stopped, her eyes vacant, and it grabbed her arm and pulled her into the alley. Then it ran its hands up and down her arms and through her hair.
Yes. This one's cell structure would be easy to imitate, unlike that last one, who was covered with wrinkles and warts. It was hurried last time, also, and was forced to duplicate one of the few indigents on this godforsaken planet. Luckily, it didn't have to destroy that indigent... who would be checking to see if the creature had a double?
Chimera's skin flowed and smoothed and its hair darkened until it was an exact duplicate of the female. "Take off your clothes," it said lowly to her, as it stripped off the rags that were now much too big for it. She took her clothes off slowly, and it grabbed the outer clothes and put them on. There wasn't much time. "Sit down," it hissed, pushing her roughly. She sat down behind a recycling bin, naked, unaware of the cold and the garbage. It touched her head, and facts flowed into its brain... facts like name, parentage, friends.
And it smiled. Chimera was fortunate, for once. This creature was perfect!
It felt itself sagging, tired. Reading of minds took great effort, and could only be done on a creature that it duplicated. It would sort the knowledge out later. But it was too bad that more knowledge couldn't be transferred, and that the plan required the substitution so early in the creature's life. It felt sympathy for the creature. It wished it didn't have to destroy the girl. But it had no choice.
Chimera took a few cells from the girl and stored the container in a pocket. Perhaps it could get its . . . captors . . . to clone the cells. It would feel better if even a part of her were living.
"Susie, you down there?" A young man was silhouetted at the end of the alley against the street lights.
Damn. Hurried. Chimera hesitated, glancing at the young female, then sighed and dropped a destruct button beside her. "Yes, coming!" it yelled, then ran out the alley on its female legs to follow the group. "Just looking at something," it said with regret.
The destruct button didn't explode. Chimera had forgotten to arm it. Susan Terrance was found the next morning by the police, almost naked, alive, and confused.
When Starfleet Academy picked up Susan, then discovered that she was attending an orientation session that same morning she was sitting in Psychiatry Ward of the Medical Center, the head of the Academy knew she had a problem. A
"You want me to do what?" Picard sat back in Admiral Travis' guest chair, shocked and angry. He tried to rub out an instant headache. He looked up at Admiral Jonah Samuel Travis, Starfleet Security Director, and grimaced. "You are not serious, are you?" he said hopefully.
"Completely," Admiral Travis said. He was a tall, thin, ebony skinned, pepper haired man who tended to look cadaverous unless he was smiling or cracking a joke then it was like the sun coming out. He was not smiling now. He stood up abruptly to look at the on San Francisco bay. The Golden Gate bridge, once again newly restored, poked its red spans above the fog. "The young woman that was found... there was an silent explosive device in the alley. She was not meant to live. And, as you may know, classes started earlier this week. There was... something attending classes in her place." He hesitated and turned back to Picard. "Jean Luc, you know I wouldn't ask you to do this unless I was completely serious."
"Jonah, I agree the situation is serious..." Picard smiled. "But I seem to remember that you also asked me to check out that sewage treatment plant when I took you to Paris... you said you were sure you saw something suspicious... then you diverted one of the waste pipes."
Travis laughed. "You still remember that, Johnny? For heaven's sake, we were still in the Academy! And besides," he leaned on his desk, "you deserved it. You were a cocky..."
"As were you." Picard smiled at him. "Should I go on?"
Travis snickered. "Uh... no." His grin faded and he sat down. "But this is a serious situation. We don't know whether this is an isolated incident, or a calculated plan by some culture we have yet to meet. But I can't help but feel that Starfleet is in serious trouble. This may have been going on for years. Perhaps we have imposters serving on our ships... we just don't know. We're investigating, but we need more help."
Picard sobered immediately. "I agree that it must be investigated. But why don't you just arrest the alien? Bring it in? Question it?"
Travis traced the rim on his coffee cup. "Something the girl said. She remembers the attack, and she thinks she saw regret on the alien's face." He took a drink of coffee. "I don't think the alien is an immediate danger to our cadets. My security is keeping close watch of it. But I need somebody to get close. Somebody that can gain its trust. Somebody that I know is brilliant in this kind of situation."
"But, me? And in that particular way? Surely you can find someone younger. Someone more... in tune with the young people." He tried to stare Travis down. "Besides, you wouldn't dare cancel my shore leave... would you?" Most of the Enterprise complement was on shore leave while the ship was being refitted with new warp drive cylinders. The inaction was driving Picard crazy, but he wasn't going to let Travis know that.
"I would. And you know that the Regenerative Transportation procedure is almost completely safe. You should know," he grinned. "You're the one who started us on this particular line of research."
"Accidentally." Picard recalled grimly the medical tests before and after the transporter accident. "But you are not making me a child deliberately." He hesitated a moment. "Almost completely safe?"
"You won't be a child. You'll be a teenager. We've refined the process." He looked at Picard. "And I misspoke. It is safe. However, anywhere between one and two months, the volunteers started... forgetting. They are completely healthy physically, but they start losing memories. We don't know how far the memory loss goes, and, so far, we're unsure why... once we discovered this, we restored the volunteers, and three days later, they were completely back to normal."
"So we haven't discovered the Fountain of Youth." He looked thoughtful. "Or, rather, the Fountain of Youth exacts a price."
"Yes. Thank God."
"I agree. I would hate to see the transporter being used as a method of cosmetic surgery," Picard grimaced.
"Yes," Travis said. "I was rather relieved myself... Well, about the reason I picked you. You know you have an almost uncanny ability to get to the bottom of a mystery?"
Picard snorted. "You compliment me. I'll admit I play holodeck mysteries for recreation..."
"Not just holodeck games, you know."
"I have been fortunate... so far."
"More than fortunate. That's why I thought of you." He leaned forward. "Johnny, we're trying to stay away from the strong arm method. We could bring it in, but it apparently doesn't suspect that we know. We don't believe it will kill again right away, and we would rather keep it under observation for as long as we can manage." He looked at Picard intently. "It's a hell of a mystery, and we need someone good at that sort of thing who is also part of Starfleet. Someone who is adept at communicating with alien species. You were in the vicinity, for once. And..." he grinned ruefully. "It's extremely convenient that you have a relative attending Starfleet Academy for the first time this semester."
"My nephew Rene," Picard said. "My brother wasn't entirely happy, but he supported his decision. He was hoping Rene would care for the vineyard."
"Hmm. Yes. He's quite an intelligent boy . . . and he looks a lot like you did at that age. Did you realize that?"
"Hmmph. He looks more like Robert." Picard gave a big sigh and looked out at the window. "You can stop complimenting me and my family now. I'll try it." He looked at Travis, unsmiling. "If I can learn to communicate with an alien species, then surely I can communicate with teenagers."
"You have a point." Travis smiled at Picard. "We already put Rene on hold off for a semester, and gave him a reason why, without going into specifics. He wasn't too happy, but his father was ecstatic. Anyway, Rene and Susan Terrance are being tutored in the classes they're missing." He sighed. "We did tell your brother and sister in law, after a thorough background check. Not procedure, but 'Rene' needs parents to call him."
"You had already planned this?"
"I knew I could convince you."
"Damn you, Jonah." Picard smiled.
The lift started upwards. Picard shifted the knapsack on his shoulder and brushed his brown hair off his forehead. In a way, he was more nervous this time than he was the first time he had entered these buildings. But, as Jonah had said, he had been a cocky kid, certain of himself and his abilities. And while He was no less certain of his abilities now, he had also learned his limits. He only hoped his limits would not get in the way of dealing with hundreds of cocky teenagers.
The lift stopped at his floor. He got off reluctantly, looking for his room number. Travis had said that he would be paired with an upperclassman... that it would look odd if Picard didn't have a roommate. He supposed it would, but it didn't make it any less difficult.
He opened the door with a sigh, then stood stock still. It took every bit of acting ability he had not to let his shock show in his face. "Well, hello," the young man said, smiling. He got off of his head and stuck out his hand. "You must be my new roommate. Welcome to Starfleet. My name is Wesley Crusher."
Picard swallowed. He was going to kill Travis, or at least torture him slowly. "I am... Rene Picard," he managed to get out. "But my friends call me Johnny."
Wes frowned. "Picard. That's all the communication said. I wondered about the name, and I didn't have time to look anything up." He looked intently at Picard. "You wouldn't be related to Jean Luc Picard, would you?"
Picard swallowed. "My uncle," he said, then he smiled. It didn't look like Wes was going to figure it out right away... he hoped. "You won't hold that against me, will you?"
"No." He smiled. "No! In fact, it's kinda nice. I know your uncle."
Picard feigned surprise. "You do?"
"Yeah. My mom's Chief Medical Officer on the Enterprise." He hesitated. "You can look it up. A lot of people don't believe me," he sighed.
Really. "Oh, no," Picard said. "I believe you. I believe my uncle said something about Dr. Crusher." And Beverly is going to laugh herself silly when she finds out. He was glad that she was attending a seminar for the next month.
"Well, your uncle helped me... a lot. A lot more times than I can thank him. It'll be nice to help you along, instead."
Picard smiled and swung his knapsack down onto the vacant bed. "I probably can use all the help I can get." He looked down on his schedule. Unfortunately, he had to take most of the classes the... alien... was scheduled for. And Susan Terrance was wavering between Engineering and Transport Technology. "I'm scheduled for Microcircuits and Advanced Calculus this term. Ever had them?" Wes was far beyond Calculus by the time he was ten, but Rene wouldn't know that. In fact, Wes worked beyond most mathematicians.
Wes looked a little uncomfortable. "Sure! I've had them. I can help you."
Picard started putting his clothing into drawers. Starfleet had to buy him a whole new wardrobe, since nothing fit. Still, Picard would be wearing a cadet's uniform most of the time. "Are they hard?" he probed. He was curious what Wes would say.
The "older" teen blushed and hesitated. "They're hard for a lot of people. I... have them licked now." He rolled off of his bed. "Would you like me to show you around the Academy?"
Nice recovery, Wesley. Picard felt a surge of pride for the boy. Crusher raised him well. In spite of his intelligence, he was not vain. So different than Picard was at his age.
Picard smiled. "Sure."
Boothby straightened up, and looked at the two teens coming down the walk. Absentmindedly, the elderly man knocked a clod of earth off of his hoe, then stared sharply at Picard. "Young Crusher," he said. "I see your new roommate has arrived." He looked Picard up and down and smiled, a glint in his eye. "Rene Picard, I believe."
Wes smiled uncertainly at Boothby. "How'd you know?"
"Ah," the old gardener said. "I keep track of the promising ones." He winked at Picard, who looked at him uncertainly. Did Boothby know? Really? He narrowed his eyes. He knew that Travis trusted Boothby to give him another perspective on the student body, but would Travis tell him about something like this?
Wes laughed. "That's what you said about me!"
"Yes, and look how well you turned out. What's this I hear about not doing so well in Shakespeare?"
Wes blushed. "Why do I have to take Shakespeare?"
Boothby moved down the line and started hoeing again. "A great many truths in Shakespeare, even if you are too young to understand them right now." He reached down, picked up a clod of dirt, and grinned at Picard. "'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.' Hamlet, Act V, scene i, line 184."
Picard grinned ruefully. He knew.
"Aw," Wes smiled. "You have that one memorized just so you can spring it on people like me."
Boothby let the clod drop. "Really?" He glanced at Wes. "I see you have your pocket computer with you... care to test me?"
"I do," Picard said, looking sideways at Boothby. "Macbeth, Act IV, Scene i, line 44."
"'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.' Interesting choice." Boothby started hoeing again.
Wes looked up. "He's right."
"You, young Picard, might consider this verse, also. I'm not sure that you may find it useful." He reached down and picked out a weed. "The Tempest, Act I, scene ii, line 270." He moved down the line. "Forgive me. I have a lot of work to do."
Picard saw Wes working the computer. "What is it?"
"'Thou, my slave, as thou report'st thyself, was then her servant, and for thou wast a spirit too delicate to act her earthy and abhorr'd commands, refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee, By help of her more potent ministers, and in her most unmitigable rage, into a cloven pine, within which rift imprison'd, thou didst painfully remain a dozen years...' Should I go on? Does that mean anything to you?"
"No... not now, anyway. Let's go on." As they left, Picard exchanged a glance with the gardener. What was he trying to say? The alien was being forced? Or what?
"Susie!" Wes yelled, startling Picard out of his revery. The young man was waving frantically at a dark haired girl across the courtyard. The young woman waved back. "Come on, I want you to meet her!" He started running, dragging Picard by his arm.
"Who?" Picard gasped, then falling into step beside Wes. It was lucky that the transporter effect also made his muscles young. He wasn't a slow runner at his correct age, but young men were like jackrabbits. "Who, Wesley?"
"It's my girlfriend."
"Your girlfriend?" Picard's eyebrows raised. He wondered if Beverly knew.
Wes screeched to a halt in front of the girl. "Hi, Wes," she smiled sweetly.
Picard looked at her and felt a chill. It was the alien.
Wes smiled and kissed the alien's cheek. "Rene Picard, I want you to meet Susan Terrance. Susie, everybody calls him Johnny."
So, what was the etiquette in meeting the very thing you wanted to study discretely, and which may have caused indiscriminate harm? Smile, or knock its teeth out?
Picard forced himself to smile. "Hello." And don't come anywhere near to Wesley Crusher.
Picard glanced at the girl next to him. She seemed to be absorbed in the lecture, smiling and nodding. He had been watching "Susan" for almost a month, and the only conclusion that he had come up with was that the alien had a lot to learn about student life. Otherwise, her act was perfect.
He glanced at the rest of the class. . . half closed eyes, pens poised over styluses fitfully taking notes. Not too surprising... it was a late afternoon class. In comparison, the alien was jotting down every bit of calculus the professor was writing on the board. Not only that, she looked like she was understanding it.
Picard glanced at the tall, skinny, bald professor and started writing, sighing slowly. Daniel Joyns was an old classmate of his. Not a bad sort, quite brilliant in mathematics, but he had a reputation of being intolerant of slackers. Which was what he suspected "Rene" Picard was, Picard knew. He had gotten the list discretely from Travis on who was in the know and who wasn't. . . a very short list. . . and Joyns wasn't on it.
Problem was, Picard couldn't concentrate on Calculus and the 'girl' next to him both... and Joyns seemed to home in on that instinctively. So, while he was successfully observing Susan, his grades were plummeting. Picard sighed again. And besides, when did Joyns get bald?
Picard ran his hands through his hair and allowed himself a small smile. While he didn't really miss it, he had forgotten how nice it was to have hair, particularly in cold weather. Joyns frowned at him, put one last equation on the board, and looked at the class. "Write this down, read the text, and we'll discuss it tomorrow. Class dismissed."
The class came to life and clattered out. Joyns blocked Picard's exit. "Picard, I'd like to talk to you."
Picard glanced helplessly at Susan. "See you later, Johnny!" She smiled warmly and left. It was difficult to think of the girl as being a murdering alien. So much for observation. "Yes, Dr. Joyns."
Joyns turned and looked at him. "You do look like your uncle. Sound like him, too... But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. You seem to be infatuated with the young woman sitting next to you." Joyns pressed a button, and the board cleared itself of writing.
Hardly. Even if she were human, she was far too young. "I wouldn't say so, sir. She's my roommate's girlfriend."
"Nonetheless, you can't keep your eyes off of her."
Danny, I'm doing my job. Picard stayed silent and glanced at the floor, and let him interpret the gesture as he would.
Joyns sighed. "Young man, you started strong, but your grades are slipping, and I think it's because of this girl. I know you're capable of much more than you've been doing. Unless you start doing better, I recommend you should drop out and take this class again next semester."
Next semester, Picard would be back aboard the Enterprise, where he belonged. "I'd rather take the class from you, sir."
Joyns grinned, startling Picard. He had never seen Joyns smile before, even as a young man. Well, perhaps even bookworms mellowed out. "Because I have a reputation of being easy?"
"No, because you have a reputation of being fair and knowing your craft." Not the only reason, but not a lie, either. Wesley practically beamed when Picard told him which Calculus professor he had. It seemed that they got together regularly and talked higher mathematics at each other. And any teacher who could keep up with Wes in higher mathematics couldn't be all bad.
Of course, that didn't mean the teacher could teach, but Joyns seemed to do an adequate job of it, from what Picard could see.
"I'll... get my roommate to help me," Picard continued. "I believe you know him?"
Joyns looked puzzled. "I do?"
"Oh, yes!" Joyns smiled. "Smart young man. He'll go far. I don't suppose he told you that he's well beyond the higher mathematics courses that we teach."
Picard kept his face neutral, but he felt like smiling. "No. He didn't."
"Don't let that scare you. He knows Calculus inside and out... he'll help you." Joyns paused a moment and grinned. "He's dating Susan Terrance? He didn't tell me that. Good for him. She seems to be a bright girl."
"I don't suppose he would tell you," Picard smiled.
"No... probably not. She does have an odd habit of staring at me intently, thought. Almost feel like she's reading my mind..."
Picard had noticed that. He wondered if that was what the alien was doing. But, if so, wouldn't it have picked up on Picard's deception?
Joyns shook himself. "You do have the lesson down for next class?"
Picard looked at his notepad. "Down and saved, Dr. Joyns."
"Good. I'll see you then."
"Yes." Picard walked out of the classroom and looked around. Susan was not in sight, which was not too surprising. Well, Travis couldn't expect him to keep track of the alien every second, could he?
Picard sighed and absentmindedly gave his tunic a tug. No, of course he couldn't.
Chimera watched Johnny exit the classroom and sucked at its lower lip. It was bad enough that it had to pretend to be this Crusher creature's... girlfriend. Luckily, it had avoided mating with Crusher, but now it seemed that Crusher's roommate wished to mate with it also. It sighed, and wished it could have duplicated a teacher, rather than one of these cadets. It was too early in the creature's life cycle.
Chimera looked upwards. At least it had collected the cells that it was ordered, and, presumably, the clone was almost grown. The plan was almost ready, and Chimera would be happy to disappear.
But it hated to make the young men grieve when Susie disappeared. Well, nothing to do... except... maybe... defuse the situation? Maybe make both of them disgusted with it so it could carry out its plan in peace? Chimera would be happier if they both hated "Susie."
"Come!" Picard looked up from the microcircuitry text thankfully. Although he was adequate at it, he realized why he didn't stay with it... it was deadly dull. Why couldn't Susan have chosen archeology?
The door opened. "Susan," Picard said, startled. "Hello."
"I need to talk to you. Are you going to invite me in?"
Picard looked at it, puzzled. "Yes. Of course. Come in. Wes isn't here right now..." He dropped his hand close to his waist, near to the phaser hidden in his waistband.
The door closed behind it. "I don't want Wes." It smiled. "I want you."
"You... want me." Picard stared at the alien. "What exactly do you mean by that?"
The alien came closer. "I mean, I really want you."
"Oh?" Picard started easing the phaser out.
It sighed. "Don't you want to... take me out?"
Picard wrinkled his nose and surreptitiously put the phaser back in. "You mean... a date?"
The alien stared at Picard. "Of course, a date... You mean, you haven't taken a girl on a date before?"
Picard chuckled. "Of course I have." He hated to do it, but this would be a great opportunity to observe the creature. Still... "Aren't you Wes' girlfriend?"
"We're not joined together." It smiled at Picard, then sat on the edge of Picard's desk. "And I believe you like me, and I like you. What's the harm?"
"None. None at all." And he could get the creature away from Wes. It had concerned Picard that Wes and the creature were so close, but he couldn't come between the two without causing suspicion. If he could be alone with the alien, perhaps he could discover the alien's motives.
"Tonight, then? Meet me at the pizza parlor?"
"Certainly. Tonight." He smiled lopsidedly, trying to look like the love stricken boy he should be.
The alien touched its lips with its finger, then touched Picard's lips. "Tonight." It exited the room, smiling at Picard. Picard smiled back, then collapsed back in his chair as soon as the door shut. "Oh, my." He faced the computer. "Picard. Alpha. Alpha. Zet. Om."
A picture of Admiral Travis showed at the bottom of the screen. "What's wrong, Johnny?"
Picard sighed. "I would... like some backup tonight. I'm going out on a date with Susan Terrance. I would like to have a couple of your security people there just in case things get out of hand."
"Oh. You sly dog. Where?"
"The pizza parlor. Paisano's, I presume."
"My people will be there." He grinned. "Never knew you to need backup on a date before."
Picard narrowed his eyes, then rolled them. "Jonah, as I remember, you were the one who needed the backup." He heard a clattering in the hall. "Picard out."
Jonah's picture blinked out just as Wesley backed into the room. Picard looked at him and raised one eyebrow. "What in the world..."
"Got something for you." It was obvious Wesley had a cart, but his body blocked Picard's view.
Wesley continued pulling, then stood to one side. Faces popped in around the door. "Surprise!"
"What . . . ?"
Wesley smiled broadly. "It's your birthday, you little Denebian slime devil. I bet you thought I didn't know." He sighed dramatically. "And, since I have class tonight, well, here's your cake."
"Oh!" Picard was about to add that it certainly was not his birthday... but he thought again. It was about Rene's birthday, wasn't it? He never could remember the child's birthday. He grinned. Too bad Rene wasn't here to enjoy it. "Thank you!" He looked puzzled. "Who told you?"
"Your father, earlier in the day. He called. You're to call him back tomorrow morning."
His father. Robert. He should have known. He had always known that his brother had a nasty streak in him.
"Well, are you going to cut the cake?" Wesley held the knife out towards him.
"I guess I had better." Poor Wes. He was going out of his way to be nice to his "younger" roommate, and yet in only a few hours Picard was going to repay him by going out with his girlfriend. Picard took the knife and began to cut the cake, then he winced. Pizza on top of cake and ice cream? He hoped his stomach could handle it!
He looked at the slice of pizza with a jaundiced eye. The alien, it appeared, was partial to anchovies. A lot of anchovies. "Do you mind..." he asked slowly. "If I picked the fish off? I had a lot of cake and ice cream this afternoon."
The alien shrugged. "Cake and ice cream?" it asked.
Picard grinned. "It's my birthday."
"Oh." The alien appeared to be thinking, then smiled. "Happy Birthday! And many more."
"Thank you." Picard looked around Paisano's. He knew that Jonah's backup didn't dare make eye contact with him, but he wondered which ones they were. Or if they were even there? The crowd seemed rather young. "Nice place," he said, trying to keep the conversation going. "Do you have a place like this where you come from?"
"Um... no," it said. "I don't think so."
"Really," Picard said. "I thought you came from New York City. And I've seen dozens of pizza parlors in NYC."
"Why, yes. Just none in my neighborhood, I guess." The alien smiled fetchingly.
"Ah. Odd." If Picard were the teenager he pretended to be, his heart would have been thumping wildly now.
Well, two could play this game. He smiled. "As much as I like you, I wonder why did you ask me on a date?"
The alien fidgeted. "Well, you seemed to want to go out with me."
Picard shrugged. "So...?"
"So..." she smiled. "I said it before. I wanted to go out with you."
"So...?" Picard repeated.
"So..." her smile dropped. "Is there something wrong with that?"
Picard smiled and used a tactic he had learned from Counselor Troi. "Do you think there's something wrong with that?"
"Well... um... no." She frowned. "My roommate goes out with a variety of men."
"Ah." Picard decided to leave it at that. He sighed internally. He hated the thought, but it occurred to him the best way to gain information was to become her boyfriend. He smiled. He realized that he could not continue to think of her as an it, and he wondered what Deanna would think of that. "But I don't go out with a variety of women."
She smiled at him glowingly. "I like that."
"I believe in fidelity."
"I know. It seems like I'm cheating on Wesley."
"But we're not engaged or anything like that. In fact," she studied her fingernails. "He bores me."
"Really." Picard looked puzzled. "He seemed like a likable guy to me." He took a drink of water to give her a chance to think about it, then continued. "Of course, I've only known him for a month."
"He's quite a brain, you know."
Picard couldn't resist. "And I'm not?"
"Well, you're smart, but he's a genius. He sometimes makes fun of me because I can't keep up with him."
Wesley? Picard doubted it. "He's never done that with me."
"Well... no, you're his roommate. I'm just his girlfriend."
What was the alien playing at? "Well, you're not just another girl." She certainly wasn't.
She smiled. "That sounds like a compliment."
He put his hand on hers. "What do you think?"
"I think," said the alien coyly, looking down at the table. "That compliments will get you everywhere."
And where had the alien heard that? "Everywhere?" Picard said.
She blushed. "Well, almost everywhere. I do have my . . . pride."
"Ah." Picard, against his better judgement, took a bite of pizza. "Well, you may find that I don't."
Picard sighed as he got on the elevator. The "date" had gone relatively well, and, surprisingly enough, his stomach wasn't hurting. Perhaps youth did provide one with a cast iron stomach. He was almost whistling as he strode into his room.
Then he stopped. The room was dark, and there was someone silhouetted in the window. Maybe he was being paranoid, he thought, but best not take chances. His hand went to his belt, and he eased his pocket phaser out.
The silhouette spoke. "Lights." The lights came on. "You went out with Susie tonight, didn't ..." Wesley caught sight of what Picard was trying to conceal, lunged forward, and grabbed his hand. "Where in hell did you get that?"
Picard raised his eyebrows at the unexpected crudity, but left the phaser out for Wesley's view. Maybe he could still bluff through this...but he doubted it. "You can look at it," he said softly. "I flipped the safety on."
"You know cadets aren't supposed to have those things!" Wesley picked it out of Picard's hand gingerly. "Where did you get it?"
"My father gave it to me."
Wesley looked at him hard. "You're lying."
Picard sighed and closed his eyes. He knew Wesley was trustworthy, but this was a burden he would rather not have placed on the boy. But perhaps his instinct was best . . . "Yes, I am lying, Wesley. I have been lying to you all month, and I am sorry, believe me. But I was under orders."
"Huh?" Wesley looked puzzled at him, then at the phaser, and sat down on his bed. "Under orders?"
"Yes, under orders." He wondered how much Beverly had told Wesley about the transporter accident. "Did your mother tell you anything about an incident on the Enterprise concerning the transporter?"
"No. But there was a rumor going around the Academy last year... something about four people being turned into children. But Mom wouldn't tell me anything..." He paled, then looked at Picard. "No... it can't be."
"Yes, Wesley. I know this is hard to believe. I would rather not have done this myself. But I was coerced." He sat down at the comscreen.
Wesley looked puzzled. "You weren't spying on me, were you? I mean, I learned my lesson about telling the truth three years ago." He shook his head. "No. Of course not. But it must be something to do with Susie, or else you wouldn't have gone out with her. . . can you tell me anything, Captain?"
Picard sighed. Wesley was too intelligent and would probably figure something out shortly. "Let me ask Jonah's opinion. He'll have to be told anyway. I don't want to have you removed from the Academy... it would cause suspicion. But I would rather not second guess him on how much he thinks you should know." He smiled. "This could work to our advantage." He turned to the comscreen. "Picard. Alpha. Alpha. Zet. Om."
It was a second before the screen came on. Travis sat down, rubbing his eyes. "Johnny. Sorry about that, I was asleep." He hesitated. "Twice in one night? Security already reported about..."
"Jonah!" Picard cut him off, rubbed his forehead, then winced when he touched hair. "I'm sorry, Jonah. This is my fault. We have a problem." He pulled Wesley in range. "I had to tell him who I am, Jonah."
Travis closed his eyes. "I was afraid of this, but I thought maybe the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages. He knows nothing else?"
"No." Picard looked at Wesley. "With your approval, I'd like to take him into our confidence."
"I will personally vouch for his trustworthiness. You know I gave him a field promotion." Picard smiled. "This could work to our advantage. I'd like to try a 'Picard
Travis chuckled. "Oh, lord. I hadn't thought of that
maneuver in a long time. Suppose it will work?"
"True. It may not help, either. The subject may not have been as reluctant as it seemed. But I almost feel sorry for..." He shook his head, then looked at Wesley for a long moment. "I've reviewed your record, young man. I know that you can keep a secret... even when you shouldn't." Wesley blushed. "Don't torment yourself. I would have thought less of you if you had tattled right away."
Wesley looked at Travis. "Yes, sir."
"Wesley," Picard said. "This might involve danger. If you would rather not be put into danger, we can concoct a story to remove you from the Academy. I would imagine you will be reinstated with full credit." He looked at Jonah, who shrugged and nodded. "Also, I remember how important my grades were when I was here. Your grades may suffer if you help me."
"I imagine we can arrange something," Jonah said drily.
Wesley looked sober. "Captain, do you keep asking your crewmembers whether they would rather not go into danger?"
"No. Of course not."
"I still consider myself under your command, sir."
"Thank you, Wesley." Picard turned back to the screen. "Will you inform your security?"
Travis yawned. "I'll call right now, Johnny."
"Don't go to sleep before you do it," Picard smiled.
"Yes, well... I'm not as young as you are, you know," Travis grinned.
"And if you keep on, I'll tell Wesley what happened on Vulcan when we were there." He looked thoughtful. "You realize, the "Picard Switch" works better with three."
Travis stared at him. "You're not saying..."
"What's good for the goose is good for the gander, eh?"
"It wouldn't hurt you for a couple of days, old man," Picard pointed out. "Besides, you owe me one for putting me in with Wesley without telling me. If not this way, than some other way."
Travis smiled ruefully. "Empty threats, Johnny. Empty threats... I'll see you at 0700. Travis out." The picture on the terminal winked out.
"Never mind." He explained about Susan Terrance, and Wesley sat quietly and turned sober. "Do you have any questions?"
"Susie is alright?"
"Susan is fine. She has been told what the situation is, and she is under guard at a safe location." Picard paused. "How long have you known Susan?"
Wesley looked down. "Since last semester. I really like her."
"Do you know her that well? Be honest with yourself."
"Well, until the beginning of this semester, I would have said yes. But she had changed..." He grinned ruefully. "Of course." He looked thoughtful. "Captain, do you remember Salia? You don't suppose..."
"Salia? Salia... oh. The allasomorph." Picard looked thoughtful. "No, this has nothing to do with her or her people, if that's what you're thinking. Those people are not telepathic, and the evidence seems to suggest that this alien is. No, I would suggest that this is a species new to us."
"But we can't afford to discount the possibility either. We just need to remember that she may have killed in the past, and we know that she tried to murder Susan Terrance."
They sat silent for a moment.
"So," Wesley said. "You're trying the 'Picard Switch'."
He cocked his head and grinned. "What, sir, is..."
Picard smiled, the memory coming back. "Something Jonah and I did to an unfortunate girl a long time ago..."
Picard looked around, confused. He was in a landscape that shifted and flowed around him. Where was he? People appeared and disappeared. People in some sort of uniform. A man with dark hair and a beard. A woman with shoulder length red hair. A man with something on that he seemed to remember was called a VISOR. A yellow man with yellow eyes. An old man who looked like his father. A young child with medium brown hair.
They emerged out of the landscape like bubbles and stared at him with empty eyes. Then they floated away. He thought he should know them, but he couldn't remember their names. If he could remember their names, he could call them back. No. No. This is wrong. He sank to his knees and buried his head in his hands. "Maman, maman," he moaned. Tears started down his face as he called out to his mother.
He gasped and choked with the strength of his sobs.
He shook his head. "Non. No. S'il vous plaît. Please."
"Captain! Jean Luc Picard! Wake up!"
He suddenly noticed the voice calling him. He opened his eyes. He didn't know the young man standing over him with frightened eyes.
"Who are you?" he gasped.
"Captain! I'm Wesley! Wesley Crusher."
The memories started flooding back. "Wesley. Thank God." He noticed the boy was hyperventilating. "Go sit down, Wesley. I'm fine now." He wiped his face.
Wesley sat down heavily on his bed. "Captain. You scared me to death. You were yelling and I couldn't wake you up."
Picard glanced at the clock. Fourteen minutes after three. He sat up and grimaced. His body may be young, but it ached. "I think this means that we're going to have to work faster than I thought."
"There's a time limit on the... transformation. After a month or two, the people start forgetting and apparently revert to the memories that they were at that particular age."
"And you've been here a month."
"Yes," he yawned. "But the memories should return when the process is reversed."
"Lights off," Picard interjected, then turned back toward Wesley. "Yes, Wesley. Don't worry."
He heard the boy lay down in bed. "I'll try not to."
The alarm woke Picard out of a sound sleep, and he sat up with a start. "Zut! Quelle heure est il?"
The boy in the next bed sat up with sleepy eyes. "What did you say, John... Captain?"
The memories came back, and Picard shook his head. "Nothing, Wesley." If Picard had any say about it, this would be his last day as a young man. Not only was he worrying Wesley, he was worrying himself. What if the memory loss wasn't reversible in his case? "It's time to get up."
The boy flopped down. "We just went to bed."
"I know." He made his voice stern. "It's 6:30. The Admiral will be here any minute."
Wesley sat up again. "Yes, Captain. Sorry."
"Did your mother have to drag you out of bed?"
Picard stood up and stretched. "Nevertheless. Today's going to be a long day."
He wished he could stay in bed.
The door chime rang. "Come," Picard said, pulling down on the shirt of his uniform.
The young cadet walked in. Picard stared. Ebony skin, dark hair, thin face, slightly shorter than Picard. "Jonah," he said. "I wasn't sure you would do it."
The young man shrugged. "You convinced me... old man."
Wesley poked his head out of the bathroom. "Admiral?"
"Nothing personal, sirs, but this is just too weird." He emerged a second later, pulling his shirt over his head.
"Has the Captain told you the game plan?"
Admiral Travis smiled. "Then let's go."
Chimera stepped out of its room, then stepped back, startled. "Wesley," it said. "What are you doing here so early?" Maybe the boy learned about its date with Picard last night?
Wesley sighed. "I couldn't stay away. I... need you."
Chimera was confused. "You... need me?"
"I do. I need you to help me."
"With..." the boy motioned towards the floor. Or did he? "... With everything."
"Sounds important," it said lightly.
"Oh, it is. It is! Will you come with me?"
It considered. Its first class wasn't until 10:00... it was just leaving the room early to study. It knew that passing classes wasn't its first priority, but it needed time to implement its plan perfectly. And besides, it liked the classes. "All right. What is so important?"
Wesley was leading her down the hall. "Just wait." He walked her out the door and into the sunshine. The bright Terran sun shone through some early morning fog, and the air stank of water. Chimera felt clammy. It wished the Academy had been located in some southern dry climate, more like it was used to at home. Home. Was it ever going to get back?
Wesley led it to a flower bed. "This."
Chimera looked around. "What?"
"This... rose. Yeah. Look at it. Isn't it perfect?"
"It's... just a flower."
"A flower," said another voice. "A flower? A perfect rose is not just a flower."
"Mr. Boothby," Chimera said, startled. It hadn't seen the old man walk up.
"Just Boothby, please. I lost all need for honorifics a long time ago." The gardener wiggled a finger at the alien. "But this 'flower' is more than just a flower. It's a rose. It's a mystery."
"All flowers are mysteries. The rose in particular. Smell it."
Travis and Picard looked around the corner of the building, then pulled back and looked at each other. "Did you tell Boothby?"
Travis shook his head. "No. Only about you. But he's a canny old dodger. He obviously knows there's something going on. He'll help."
"I just don't want him to get hurt."
"You know his background?"
"I don't think we have to worry."
"Hmmm. No." Picard noticed Wesley glancing over at them. Picard spread his hands, then motioned the boy to pay attention to the old gardener.
Chimera smelled the flower, then sneezed. It had a pungent odor.
"Smells nice, huh?"
Chimera thought. "Yes. It does."
"People have been breeding roses for centuries. In an attempt to gain the perfect looking flower, the breeders lost the smell of the rose. In reality, the rose cannot be perfect without its smell. The same way with the tomato."
"In the twentieth century, before we had the advanced farming techniques that we have nowadays, people had to import their foods across long distances over a long time. No such thing as 'transporters' and 'shuttles' and 'replicaters.'"
Chimera was intrigued in spite of itself. "So...?"
"So, in their efforts to create a longer lasting tomato... which bruises very easily, mind you... they bred out the taste. It became bland. Generations didn't know what a tomato tasted like. Fortunately, we are able to grow good tomatos these days with a minimum of bruising in transportation."
Chimera looked closely at the gardener. "This is interesting. . . Boothby, but what's your point?"
"I'm saying, young lady . . . " Boothby stared intently at the form of the girl standing before him. ". . .that you are in danger of losing your original flavor. Best to get it back while you can." The old man took the hoe and started weeding. "Pick the rose. Please. It's my gift to you. Think of our conversation... but watch the thorns."
Chimera stared at the old man. Did he know? How could he? In a automatic human reaction, it blushed, then felt flustered for blushing. It picked the rose carefully.
It had to go ahead with the plan, even though the plan was getting more and more repugnant. It couldn't do anything else. Its family was at stake.
Was its family worth losing its identity? Yes. Yes. Its life, if need be. It thought of its host father, its sperm father, its bond mother, its host mother. What would they want it to do?
More important, what would its current family want? It thought of its bond mate. Would Ch'evesta rather be saved by a traitor, or dead by one who couldn't keep an agreement? Honor was everything... or was it?
"Susie?" the Wesley creature was saying.
Chimera decided. It smiled at Wesley, as he took her hand and walked down the sidewalk.
Picard looked at Travis. "Did you see the expression on her face?"
"Hmmm. Yes. Looked like doubt to me..."
"But we're assuming that the alien feels human emotions."
Travis sighed. "You have a point. It could have been any emotion. Or none at all. I'm going to call it doubt, and press her on it."
Picard brushed his brown hair back from his forehead.
It was getting long. "Go to it, old man."
"Speak for yourself."
Travis ran after the couple.
"Hey, wait up!"
Chimera turned around. Gaining on them was a dark skinned young man. It looked at the boy, puzzled.
"Sammy!" Wesley said. "When did you get here?"
"This morning. Who's this?"
"Hi," Chimera said, sticking out its hand. "I'm Susan Terrance."
"I'm Samuel Travis. Jonah Travis' nephew."
It raised its eyebrows. "Related to the Starfleet Security head?"
The young man gave her a sharp look. "That's the one. I'm following his lead. Just got back from a... field trip."
He studied her closely. "Looks like you doubt me."
"No. No!" Chimera was alarmed. Just what it needed... an amateur security guard hanging around. "How nice," it said.
The boy ignored her. "Look, Wesley, can I talk to you a moment... alone?"
Oh, gods. What was going on here? No, young Travis couldn't suspect anything... they just met. It was only that the old gardener had been so unsettling. "Go on, Wesley," it said, smiling a fetching smile. "Talk to your friend."
"You're sure?" the boy looked doubtful.
"Quite sure." More than likely, just some Academy gossip. "I'll stay right here."
Wesley kissed it. It had to admit, kissing was starting to feel rather good. Its people had other forms of affection. "I'll be right back," Wesley whispered.
He and Samuel walked off and disappeared around a building, just as Johnny Picard walked around the other side.
"Susie!" Johnny grinned. "What are you doing here?"
Chimera smiled back. The boy was nice, in a S'mstra cub sort of way. "Why, waiting for you," it said.
"Really!" The boy offered her his arm, and it got up and took it. "I've been thinking about our date last night," he said as they started walking.
"And... I'd like to continue, if you want."
Chimera sighed inwardly. The charade shouldn't go on for much longer. It had word that the clone was almost ready... just another week...so there was really no harm in leading the boy on. Maybe, instead of making them both disgusted, it could make them both happy. "Of course I do. I wouldn't have asked you out, silly." Silly. Where had that term come from?
It was glad that this mess was almost over. The longer it stayed as a human, the longer it thought as a human. It shivered.
"Not really. Must have been someone walking over my
grave." Now where did that saying come from?
"You're doing fine, young man," Travis said. "In fact, I don't believe I could kiss something that tried to kill my girlfriend."
Wesley smiled and slumped against the wall. "It was kinda hard... but, after all, sir, I've been kissing that thing for the past month." He caught the expression on Travis' face. "That's all we've been doing!"
Travis sighed. "Good."
"I agree, sir." He straightened up and looked doubtfully at the Admiral and chewed his lip.
"What is it?"
"I hate to say anything. It might be nothing."
Travis snorted. "Let me determine that."
"Admiral, did Captain Picard tell you about the dreams he had last night?"
Wesley looked around the corner to where Picard and the alien were walking down the street. Travis grabbed Wesley's arms. "What dreams?"
"Nightmares, really. He didn't say what they were... but he woke up speaking French. After I woke him up, he acted like he didn't know me until I repeated his name."
Travis sucked in his breath. "He told you about the memory loss?"
"You're right to be worried. It could be nothing. But, then again, that's the way all of the experimental subjects acted." He looked around the corner. "Generally, though, it doesn't happen until at least six weeks had passed."
"But, sir, undoubtedly your subjects weren't... spying undercover."
"Hmm. No." He looked at Wesley. "This plan had better provoke the alien into something... because even if it doesn't, you're losing a roommate. Today."
Travis looked around the corner. "I believe it's my turn again."
Picard walked the alien down the walk. "Nice day, isn't it?"
"A little cool."
"Perhaps, then, we should get closer." He pulled the alien to his side and put his arm around its shoulder. Picard sighed and reflected that it had been far too long since he had been this close to a woman... it was too bad the alien wasn't a woman. Or had it been that long? Picard felt a stab of anxiety. No. He musn't start doubting himself. Not now. He just had to make it to the end of the day.
"A credit for your thoughts."
Startled, Picard looked at the girl tucked under his arm. He'd almost forgotten her. "Qu'est ce que vous avez dit?" The alien looked at him, puzzled. "Quoi?"
"What did you say? I mean, I understood... the translator picked it up. But what language were you speaking?"
Picard realized, to his horror, that he had been speaking French. Why in the world was he reverting to French? He had known Standard by this time.
He smiled to hide his fear. "I must have been thinking harder than I thought. I was speaking French." He realized, slowly, that he was speaking Standard with a French accent, as he had before he attended the Academy.
"French is my birth language. I come from France. Didn't you know?"
"I'm sure I told you." He glanced around. It was Jonah's turn. "I have to go into Kirk Hall for a second. Wait for me?"
"Until the end of time."
"No, only just a couple of minutes." Merde, the alien was laying it on thick. He walked quickly into the hall, out the opposite door, and waited for Jonah.
Chimera sat on a bench by the hall. "Hi," somebody said quietly.
Gods, who is it now? Chimera thought. It turned slowly. Young Travis. "Hi," it said with all the enthusiasm that it could muster.
"Wes had to go pick up something. He wanted me to tell you that." He stood and looked at her.
"Oh. Ok." It glanced at the door. It wasn't sure whether it wanted Johnny to come back right now or not. He looked back at Sammy. "Did you want something?"
"Gee, you're pretty."
Oh, gods. Not another one. "Thank you," it said and glanced at the door again. Now it was wishing Johnny would come back.
"Would you like to go on a date?"
That got its attention. "What did you say?"
"A date. Would you want to go on a date?"
Sammy was worse than Johnny. He looked at it with liquid eyes. It didn't have the heart to say no. Besides, it expected to be gone within the next week. "Yeah, ok," it said. "But I have a lot of... homework. How about next week?"
"How about... tonight?" The boy said plaintively, shuffling his feet nervously.
"Um..." it glanced at the door. Still no Johnny. "Well..."
"I'll let you think about it. Ok?"
It felt a bit of relief. "Ok."
"See you later!" The young man disappeared into Kirk Hall.
Chimera slumped. Thank the gods. He was gone.
Chimera straightened up. Gods, it was Wesley. "Hi. I was waiting for you!"
Wes smiled. "That's sweet. Sorry it took so long for me to come back."
"That's ok. Are we going to the library?"
Chimera glanced at the door. What was taking Johnny so long? It decided. "Yes. Let's go to the library." It got up. "Quickly, if you don't mind. I want to get out of the cold."
"The... cold?" Wes looked at it, puzzled. "Didn't seem that cold to me."
"I'm just cold. Ok?" This was going to be one of those days. It could tell.
"Jean Luc Picard," a familiar voice said. "You've been holding out on me."
Picard jumped and looked down from the planter he had been sitting on. He had been musing. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and looked at Travis. "Jonah, it didn't seem that important... this morning."
Travis jumped and seated himself on the planter beside him. "How long has this been going on?"
Picard sighed. "Just this morning."
"Just this morning?"
Picard smiled. "Have I ever lied to you?"
Travis laughed. "Yes! But not recently. Still..." He looked at Picard closely. "... this worries me."
"And it doesn't worry me? Jonah, I'm finding that if I don't concentrate, I'm talking in French and, alternatively, worrying about the Kobayashi Maru test."
"That is going back a ways."
"You should know, old man."
"You're going into sickbay," Jonah said. "Tonight. If this gambit doesn't rattle the alien into some action, today you'll just have to disappear into sickbay a couple of days to recover. Mr. Crusher and I will keep watch of her."
"I concur. I concur, believe me."
Jonah jumped down from the planter. "Well, Crusher and 'Susan' should be in the library about now. Ready?"
Picard sighed. "As much as I will ever be." He smiled at Jonah, and wished he were as confident as he looked.
The bright sun shone down from the west, almost blinding Chimera. It glanced at Sammy and reflected that if it had human nerves, its nerves would be shot about now. It was almost unnerving it almost laughed aloud at the comparison, then brought itself under control. Chimera knew she . . . it. . . was not a natural spy. It couldn't stand more days like this.
They walked into the Cochrane building, hand in hand, and it led Sammy to the classroom.
"Well, here's your class," Sammy said.
"Yes." Chimera almost hated to go in. It had a feeling that Picard was already in there. It had been that way all day. If one young man wasn't beside it, it was the second... or the third. It was beginning to be paranoid. It didn't know which young man would be beside it when it turned around. And none of them ever saw the next, which was a relief, because it was being forced to be the girlfriend of all of them. It knew humans were monogamous. It was almost afraid of the reaction if they all knew of what it had been doing. In fact, it had half a mind to finish this tonight.
It sighed. "It's been fun. See you later?" It felt... well... it felt like a tic start under its eye. The bad thing about taking on another form and its memories was that automatic reactions were adopted as well. It hoped Sammy didn't see it.
Sammy didn't appear to. "Yeah!" he said enthusiastically. "See you later."
Chimera entered the classroom. It was right. Johnny was already there. He smiled, waved, and motioned "Susie" to a chair next to him.
Gods, it was glad the day was almost over.
Picard was glad the day was almost over. He felt like he was going to melt through the chair. If he lost his concentration for more than a minute, old memories started swarming in and taking over and he would lose track of the mission and his identity. He knew he called Wesley "Jack" at least twice, and Wes started to look worried. Very worried.
Not half as worried as Picard was.
He motioned the alien over to the chair beside him. She was rather cute, wasn't she... he shook himself mentally and concentrated on his identity.
"Hi," he said. "I thought we were going to meet at Paisano's and walk over here together."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I forgot all about it. I was... studying in the library."
Actually, Picard thought, she was being shuffled between Jonah and Wes in the Starfleet Academy cafeteria. At least, that's what was supposed to happen. He hadn't been at Paisano's, either... he had been up in his room reviewing the repairs and refits made to the Enterprise. The action kept his mind on who he was... and, for a while, he could forget where he was, until an ill timed movement put his hair over his eyes.
"Did you get your homework done?" she asked. She did look... rather tired. Almost a bit fuzzy around the edges. He almost giggled, then caught himself.
"Yes. This assignment... was easy." Actually, it hadn't been too bad. He had done it yesterday, before everything had broken loose. His math was coming back which, in retrospect, was not necessarily a good thing.
Danny Joyns walked in. Picard found himself thinking about Danny when he was much younger. He hadn't been quite as tall, nor nearly as skinny, and his hair had been a thick curly black. He tended to squint a bit. He was always carrying around a notepad. Picard had taken special delight in clearing the data from it periodically. Fortunately, Picard reflected, Joyns had always kept backups of all his notes on another machine.
In spite of this, there had been no ill will between the two. For a moment, Picard was back in his Academy days, and he wondered why Danny's father was teaching this class. No. No. Picard was Captain of the Enterprise. Picard was Captain of the Enterprise.
Picard shook himself. Fortunately, during his revery, he had been looking at the alien beside him, so he hadn't fallen out of character. "Yes, Doctor. Sorry," he said.
"I asked you for your homework."
Picard handed him his notepad. "I got it done yesterday."
"Really?" The rest of the class giggled. "I thought maybe you were studying... anatomy." Picard and the alien blushed.
Picard looked over at the alien. Yes. A definite blush. He wondered whether the alien was having the same identity problems he was.
Wesley and Travis moved quickly to a classroom next to Doctor Joyns. There, a monitor had been set up. One of the two security guard looked up, startled, then looked coolly at the two.
"Identification, please," she said smoothly, checking the notepad in front of her.
"Admiral Jonah Travis."
"Cadet Wesley Crusher."
"Check," she said, looking at the notepad, "and check. May I say, Admiral, you never looked better."
"Can it, Jones. This is serious stuff," Travis grinned.
The blonde woman smiled, then turned her attention back to the monitor. "Did you see the tic under the alien's eye, Jonah?"
"I did. Interesting, wasn't it?"
"I think we're getting to her."
Travis sighed. "I certainly hope so. Of course, maybe the tic means that it's mating season." Wesley paled. "I was joking, young man."
Wesley looked closely at the monitor. "I don't believe I've ever seen the Captain blush, Admiral."
"No? I have. Not in the last few years, however. Although I must admit I don't see much of him."
"His body language is wrong."
"It's been... off... all day. I'm pulling him out after this evening."
"Sir, he called me 'Jack' at least five times."
Travis patted Wesley's shoulder. "Relax, son. He'll be all right."
Wesley stared at the monitor. "I just wish I could be in there instead of him."
"So do I."
The class was almost over. Mon Dieu, it had been long. Longer than usual, it seemed to Picard, forced as he was to pay attention to both Joyns and the alien.
"Has everybody gotten the assignment on the board?" Joyns said, looking at Picard.
An affirmative noise came from the class.
The students clattered out, but the alien... who was definitely looking strained... stayed behind. Picard, who was about to go out the door, stopped and stepped back into the room.
"Doctor. May I talk to you?" the alien said. "Johnny, you can go. This... might take a while."
"I'll wait. No problem."
The alien looked at Picard. "I wish you would go."
Picard approached the alien and Joyns. "I'll stay."
The alien sighed. "I'm sorry, Johnny. But I can't stand any more of this." It pulled a flat disk out of its sleeve and threw it towards the center of the room. Before he could react, Chimera grabbed hold of both Picard and the doctor. Picard felt a transporter beam grip him. Before the room entirely faded out, the device in the center of the room exploded.
"My God!" Travis picked himself up from the floor. The emergency klaxon sounded in the background, and the hall was noisy with students. "What the hell happened?" He shook his head. "Don't answer that. The alien must have set the bomb off to make us think they were all caught in the blast. Did anybody focus on that transporter beam?"
Jones got off the floor. "I yelled at the computer to give me a direction."
She looked down at the screen. "Into orbit. Somewhere above the Pacific Basin. No exact coordinates. Hell of it is, nobody shows a ship parking there."
"Cloaked," Wesley said. He brushed dust off of his uniform.
"No doubt." Travis glanced at the monitor. The audio feed, miraculously, had survived the explosion. "Any major structural damage to the building?"
Jones punched at her monitor. "No. Just the room. And we wouldn't have felt it unless we were right next to it."
"So we can stay here."
"Yes. If you want to."
"Well, no," Travis said. "I don't want to. I want to charge after Picard. But sensors can't detect a cloaked ship."
"But we can't do nothing!" Wes said. He blushed at Travis' look. "Sorry, Admiral."
"We need to brainstorm." Travis started pacing the room.
"She was after Danny Joyns... something I find inconceivable. Why? Why kidnap a mathematician? Is there something else in his background that we don't know about?"
The group remained silent. "He is a brilliant mathematician," Wesley ventured. "I've done a lot of work with him. But surely the Romulans..."
Travis looked at Wesley. "Other races have cloaking technology... although the Federation is barred from research. The Ferengi, for example."
"The Ferengi...?" Wesley looked thoughtful.
"What are you thinking, young man?"
"Professor Joyns and I were researching replicator technology in our spare time," he hesitated. "I don't want to seem like I'm lecturing you."
"Go ahead. I know very little about replicator technology."
"Well, sir... replicators can only replicate things made of the simpler substances. It can replicate food, drink, cups, plates... even phasers, but without any power in them."
"I know this."
"We were working on the mathematics of trying to make the more complex substances... we had dilithium crystals in mind. But latinum would fall in that category."
"And the Ferengi covet gold pressed latinum. It's their primary unit of exchange," Travis said thoughtfully. "So the Ferengi are possible culprits. They could stand to gain a lot, even with the expense they've apparently gone to. But how would they know about your research?"
"Well. . . we published a paper under Dr. Joyns' name. But it was only theoretical. There's still a lot of work to do on it."
"Well..." Wesley blushed. "Most of the work was mine. Dr. Joyns double checked me. But there was no way I could publish under my name alone, because I'm just a cadet and because of that shuttle accident, so I insisted that Dr. Joyns do it. It was only a hobby, after all."
Travis stared at him, then laughed heartily and rubbed his forehead. "I'm sorry. This is very serious. But you're telling me that after this much preparation by the alien. . . this much espionage. . . the alien kidnapped the wrong person?"
Picard awoke on his back, staring up at a grey ceiling. For a moment, he was willing to stay there. Something had happened... he couldn't remember quite what right now... so he wasn't quite willing to move. Maybe he had fallen off a horse... yes, that was probably it. He seemed to remember...
"But I brought him! Why can't you...?"
It was a female voice. A young female.
"Quiet. You brought him too early. Now everybody knows something happened!" This voice was male, but high pitched and somewhat whiney. Picard turned his head to the side. His head hurt... he couldn't remember ever having seen this race of beings. This one was small, with large ears running the entire length of his head. A memory tickled. Maybe he did know what they were.
"But the plan was to leave the clone so it would look like a natural death. Not to explode the building. The Federation will investigate!" Yes. Whiney. Also somewhat like a snake.
"Quiet. We shall have to consider on what to do with you." He paused. "You may yet be useful."
"My family...?" The girl looked toward Picard, and their eyes met. "Johnny?"
"Your family... is safe for now. Still eating their weight in latinum. This cadet is useless. I shall have to consider." The little man walked away, turning on the force field to the brig.
The girl walked over to him. "I'm sorry, Johnny. I'm sorry I had to do this. I didn't want you to get mixed up in this. But they're holding my family."
What did she call him? Johnny? No. That wasn't right... well, it was right, but not now. Not in later years. "Non. Je m'appelle Jean Luc."
"What?" The girl looked at him. No. Not the girl. She was a shape changing alien.
"Je m'appelle Jean Luc Picard." Suddenly, he realized that he was speaking French. "My name is Jean Luc Picard." Memories started flooding back.
"But I thought..."
"Never mind. It's just another nick name." Picard sat up. So. The Ferengi were behind this. He couldn't guess why. "Who were you after?"
The alien sighed. "Dr. Joyns." She sat down beside him.
"Really?" He wondered why. "And you got me, too." He rubbed his forehead and winced at the hair he found. He looked up and around, hoping that the cell was not being monitored. Probably not. The Ferengis confidence in their abilities was almost obscene. He put his arm around her and whispered in her ear. "I know what you are. I don't want to trust you, but I have no choice. Can I trust you?"
"Yes." The alien looked down at the floor.
"Can you transport yourself back on the ship whenever you want?"
The alien nodded. "I have a hidden transporter control on me."
"Can you duplicate Dr. Joyns?"
The alien's eyes widened, and it looked at Picard. Finally, it nodded.
"Then do it. Admiral Travis will be waiting. You know him as Sammy. Tell him Jean Luc sent you."
The alien stared at him. "My... family."
"Let Admiral Travis know. We'll do what we can." He hesitated. "Don't be surprised at anything I say. I plan to confuse the Ferengi."
The alien nodded and stepped to the brig door. "Damon Cardar! Damon Cardar! I have an idea!"
After a moment, the Ferengi was back. "Of what possible use would be any idea of yours?"
"Let me go back down."
"Are you nuts?"
The alien looked back at Picard. "As Dr. Joyns."
"Susie," Picard said quizzically, "what are you talking about? I don't understand."
The alien smiled. "Who said I was Susie?" It closed its eyes, and its form flowed and shifted. Picard shrank back in a corner and put a look of horror on his face. When the shifting stopped, the alien was an exact duplicate of Picard.
"Mon Dieu!" Picard exclaimed, pleased that the alien caught on so fast. "Je ne compreds pas! I, I don't understand!"
Cardar looked at the alien, rubbing his chin. "Yes. It might work. It might work until the clone is finished." He pulled his phaser and trained it on Picard while he released the force field.
The alien stepped out, and the Ferengi turned the field back on. Picard turned his head toward the wall. He wished that he could have rushed the Ferengi and would not have to depend on the alien's word. Now it seemed he had no choice.
He turned back and looked the alien in the eye. "You won't get away with this."
Cardar laughed. "You have a lot to learn, young cadet. A pity." Picard could still hear them talking as they proceeded down the hall. "I'm putting a timer on your next control. You won't be able to come back up here for a week. The clone should be ready by then."
A week. Picard didn't think he could wait a week. He would surely be lost in his memories then. Best to do something now, while he still had his later memories.
Picard sighed, then remembered his hidden phaser. He eased it out of his beltline and looked at it. How could he have forgotten it? He reviewed the past few minutes. Perhaps it was just as well. But there was no reason why he couldn't do a little damage now. He thought a moment. This ship was probably in Terran orbit, probably cloaked. He looked up and down the hall. No doubt a small ship of Klingon design, very old, one of the smaller fighter classes. It was designed for long distance travel, but it could make surface landings in a relatively small space. He had studied this ship in school, and had, in fact, been in one this year... no, decades ago, he thought, shaking his head... and he thought he remembered the design. Maybe he wouldn't need the cavalry to come charging over the hill.
It was fortunate, Chimera thought, that it knew the location of the bathrooms in the Daystrom building. It had a feeling that the building would be cordoned off, and it didn't want to risk getting past the security guards... or transporting into a crowd. It stepped out, cautious, then shook itself. The time for caution was long past. I'm sorry, Ch'evesta, it thought to itself with sudden grief. I don't think you would have liked what I've been doing. Please be proud of me now. It had no doubts that its family was dead by now.
It walked swiftly back to the classroom... yes, it was surrounded by guards. It walked up to one of the guards. "I need to see Admiral Travis. It's extremely important," it said, nervously.
The guard stared at it, then ushered it into the next classroom. Young Travis... this was the Admiral?..., Wesley Crusher, and a couple of other humans were bent over a monitor.
"Admiral! Dr. Joyns is back!" the guard said.
Travis straightened up from the terminal. "Danny?"
Chimera changed back into Susan Terrance. "No. Dr. Joyns is still a prisoner." It noted that the guard had trained a phaser on it. "Jean Luc sent me."
The Admiral raised his eyebrows. "Did he? You'll excuse me if I don't trust you."
The alien sighed. "I don't blame you. But I'm telling you the truth." It shifted part of the flesh on its arm and pulled out a control. "This will get you on the Ferengi ship however, it's on a timer."
"Jones, scan that."
The woman bent over the computer. "It's not a bomb. It seems to be a transmitter."
Wesley was looking at it. "Why?"
Chimera chewed its lip. "They're holding my family. They said they would kill them if I didn't do what they said."
"You tried to kill Susie."
"I'm sorry." It thought a moment. "I... didn't succeed?"
"I'm glad," it smiled. "That means I haven't killed anybody. You have no idea of the nightmares I've had. Please understand."
Wesley grimaced. "I do and I don't."
Travis straightened up and looked at the two. "The transmitter seems to be blocked by a timing device. If we remove the device, the transmitter apparently will be useless. Can you...?"
Chimera sighed. "On my home planet, I'm a clerk. Not a mechanic, not a spy. I wish I could help." It paced the room. "Cardar set the timer for a week. That's when the clone they were to substitute for Dr. Joyns was... viable. I wasn't supposed to go back so early."
"They meant to substitute a dead clone for the Doctor so that they wouldn't be accused of kidnapping."
"That's an awful big expense," Jones said.
"It's an awful big profit," Travis commented. "We have three options: wait until the week is up, try to remove the timing device, or keep trying to trace the original transporter beam. I don't suppose..." He stopped. "Do you have a name?"
"Chimera. Do you happen to know where the ship is located?"
Chimera shrugged. "I never saw the bridge. I never saw a display."
Travis nodded. "Worth a try. Well, all options are going to take some time, so I suggest we go at it. I'll call some experts."
"Admiral, I'm worried about the Captain," Wesley said. "Can I do something?"
"Um... yes. Talk to Chimera. Maybe the two of you can come up with something."
Wesley looked at the alien, and they went over to a corner. In spite of Wesley's presence, Chimera felt very, very alone.
Wesley took its hand. "I am sorry, I guess. I'm not sure how I would react if my mother were being held and I had to do something like this to rescue her. But how did you get involved with the Ferengi? And if you're an alien... an alien unknown to the Federation, why do you speak Standard?"
Chimera laughed ruefully. "It was a lottery."
"We are not a space faring people yet. Damon Cardar was the first to contact us. They promised us. . . oh, a number of things. Star flight. Medical advances. Anti gravity. Things like that."
"But. . ."
"But they wanted our metals in return. And something they called dilithium crystals."
"Figures." Wesley looked disgusted.
"But that wasn't how I got involved. You see, they held a lottery. The monies were to go into the planetary fund and the winner and family were to leave with the Ferengi to see the sights." It sighed. "I had always been a fan of fantastic fiction. I entered our family into the lottery."
"And you won."
"And we... won. We've been held captive by the Ferengi ever since. Do you now wonder how I spoke Standard so well?"
Picard looked out of the brig door. Just as he thought... just one Ferengi guard, and that one was half asleep. Damon Cardar obviously didn't expect one young cadet to cause any trouble.
But, of course, he just wasn't any young cadet.
On the other hand, even he wasn't entirely sure what to do.
Palming his phaser, he moved back to the far end of the cell and started sobbing loudly for help. "Au secours! Au secours!" That should confuse the alien... Picard knew he was beyond the range of a universal translator. Ferengi pride themselves on languages... but French, in these times, was provincial.
The Ferengi guard moved to the front of the cell. "Quiet, brat!"
"Il a volè mes latinum!" Picard knew that a cadet would not own any latinum, but would the Ferengi?
A light shone in the Ferengi's eyes. "Latinum. What did you say about latinum? Speak Standard."
Picard hiccuped and tried to look like he was gathering himself. "That Ferengi. Damon Cardar. He stole my latinum!"
The guard looked puzzled. "What were you doing with latinum?"
"It was a present. From my father. For expenses." He felt around his shirt, then sighed. "Oh. No, he didn't. It's still here."
The Ferengi was practically dancing with greed. "Let me see it."
"Well, then, cub. I'll have to come in and get it."
The Ferengi lowered his weapon as he turned off the force field. Simultaneously, Picard raised his phaser and shot the guard. He dropped, a look of surprise on his face.
Picard pulled him into the cell and reinstated the force field. He checked the other cell... no Joyns. He didn't think so. He stood in the middle of the corridor, unsure of which way to go. As he remembered, this craft only had a few corridors, and the living quarters were... there. He had no doubt that he would find Danny Joyns there. After all, he was, apparently, the VIP... Very Important Prisoner.
He moved silently up to the living quarters and looked around the corner. Just as he thought. Two guards. He shot down the corridor. One guard dropped. The other brought his weapon up, but too slowly. Picard moved down the corridor quickly, scooped up the Ferengis' weapons, and opened the door.
Joyns looked up. He was dressed in what looked like a hospital smock and a pair of the Ferengi slacks. On his tall body, the combination made him look like a scarecrow. Picard resisted the impulse to laugh, and reflected that "Susie" must be wearing Joyns' clothes. "Wha...? Picard. How did you get past them?"
"No time." He held out one of the Ferengi phasers. "Can you shoot?"
Joyns took the phaser and looked at it distastefully. "It's been a while."
"We're going to take over the bridge."
"Really? Us and what army?"
Picard tossed his head, exasperated. "Don't argue, Danny. I'm not going to do this by myself." He grinned ruefully. "Besides, they won't harm you... you're valuable to them. What in the world have you been doing all these years?"
Joyns looked at him, puzzled. "I don't... know," he finally said. "Well, it's better than staying here."
Joyns helped drag the two guards into the room. Picard set his phaser up a setting and sealed the door, then turned to Joyns. "How many have you seen?"
"Besides these two? About four more."
Picard considered. "Well, we'll see what we have to do."
They moved silently down the corridor, and Picard looked at the unguarded bridge door. "Confident, aren't they? Is your phaser on stun?"
Joyns looked down. "I... think so."
Picard lifted it up and looked at it. "Yes. It is. Go in shooting and take out as many as you can."
"I can't believe I'm doing this."
Picard sighed. "Believe it." He opened the bridge door, shot at the first Ferengi he saw, then stared. Only one Ferengi Damon Cardar on duty, and he was on the deck, underneath a panel. "Go in," he ordered Joyns, and with raised eyebrows, Joyns complied.
After securely locking the bridge door, Picard pulled Damon Cardar out of the way and motioned Joyns to keep him covered, just in case. He looked at what Cardar was working on, then swore silently. Communications. That figured. He pushed a button experimently. As he thought. . . the whole board was out. And, from the looks of the alien circuitry, there was no way he could fix it. "No communications," he told Joyns. "The whole panel's out. I'll have to fly it down."
He sat in the pilot's chair, then stared at the unfamiliar controls. He could remember studying Klingon ship design, but that had been... thirty? forty? years ago. He couldn't remember. Of course, this ship wasn't modern either. But he was a fair pilot, especially in his younger days, and if he could remember. . .?
He felt the old memories try to take over, then thought a moment. Yes. That was an idea. Not one he cared for, but he would rather not wait for Cardar or the other Ferengi to wake up.
"This ship... is cloaked," Joyns said from behind him. "Maybe I should turn off the cloaking device?"
Well, that didn't surprise him. Picard closed his eyes and sighed, then turned around. "No, not in Earth orbit, you don't. Ships circling Terra are supposed to be uncloaked. I don't want to panic some trigger happy hotshot." He stared Joyns in the eyes. "Danny, I have no time to explain all of this. First, you should know that I'm not Rene Picard, I'm Jean Luc Picard."
Joyns stared at him. "You do look like him. But..."
Picard cut in. "In a moment, I may act like I'm confused. I will probably mistake you for your father, Commander Joyns. If I do, you should take command and order me to land the ship in the commons of Starfleet Academy. Don't take off the cloaking until then."
"No buts. It's either that or wait until the Ferengi wake up and re capture the ship." Picard looked away. "I don't have the time. I need to get back before all of my later memories are gone and the change becomes permanent." Picard wasn't sure he was right, but he would rather not take the chance. "I have a feeling that Travis is working on coming after us, but it will take him time. Are you ready?"
Joyns sighed. "Yes."
"You're in command." Picard closed his eyes and relaxed, letting all the later memories drain away. . .
He opened his eyes, looked around him, then gasped. Was he supposed to be here? Last he knew, he was walking down on the Academy commons with his friends. Or was he on a tour of this ship? He looked down at his uniform. It looked odd. Very odd. How...
"Je ne comprends pas," he muttered to himself. Where was he?
"Standard, cadet. Speak Standard."
He collected himself. "Commander Joyns?" At least, he thought it was the Commander. He was dressed even more oddly than himself. "I don't understand. How did I...? You..?"
The commander took on an expression of disapproval. "There's no time to explain. I need you to land in the commons of Starfleet Academy. Can you do that?"
Picard caught a glimpse of an unconscious alien. "Who is that?"
"I asked you a question, cadet."
Picard turned and looked at the controls. "Yes, sir. I just studied this board recently. I can fly us down. Where are we?"
The Commander hesitated a second, and Picard heard him work the computer. "We're... over the Pacific ocean. Northern part. I'm feeding you the coordinates." He hesitated another second. "You can't find our way, can you?"
His tone was condescending.
Picard felt a burst of anger. How dare he imply that Jean Luc Picard couldn't fly this simple ship? "Yes, sir. I can." His voice was just short of mutinous.
"Then do it. Now."
"Yes, sir!" Picard shifted the controls and started the ship back to the Academy angrily. He felt the ship creak around him. He heard the commander gasp, and felt vindicated.
"Easy, Cadet! It's a old ship."
Picard checked the status of the ship. "It will hold, sir."
Five minutes later, the ship was coming in on the Academy and Picard had calmed down. This was a test. It must be. He hoped he hadn't blown it by getting angry. "Coming up on the Academy, sir."
"Set her down, cadet."
Picard landing her gently, making extremely certain there were no life forms below him. As soon as he landed, he shut down the engines. He heard the Commander work the computer, then sigh. "I would suggest we exit the ship now, cadet."
"Did I do all right, Commander?"
Commander Joyns smiled. "More than all right. . . Captain."
Picard looked at him, puzzled.
A security guard burst into the classroom. Travis stood straight, startled. "Admiral! A Klingon fighter just uncloaked on the commons!"
Wesley looked at Chimera. "You don't suppose. . .?"
Travis smiled. "Captain Picard brought the ship in." His smile faded. "I hope." He punched his comlink. "All available security to the commons... on the double." He rushed out of the room, followed by the security guard and Jones.
Wesley looked up at the other security guard. "Can we go, too?"
The guard nodded, and the couple ran out of the room and down the hall to the commons, just in time to see the door open. Dr. Joyns walked out first, followed closely by Picard. Travis broke into a big grin, then motioned for the security team to board the ship as soon as the pair got off the stairway.
"Picard, you stinker! How'd you do it?" Travis said, clapping his hands on his shoulders.
Picard looked at Travis, puzzled, then looked up at Joyns. "Just a minute, Jonah... Did I pass, Commander?"
Travis' smile faded, and his eyebrows went up. He looked at Joyns, who looked as puzzled as Picard. "Jonah?" Joyns said. "Admiral Travis?"
Travis laughed. "In all the excitement, I forgot I was still young. Yes, Danny. It's Jonah. Did Jean Luc explain anything to you?"
"Only bits and pieces. There wasn't time." He turned and watched security carry out Ferengi bodies. One of them stirred. "That's the ringleader."
"Thompson!" Travis yelled. "Put that one in a cell by himself."
Security led out another group, obviously not Ferengi. Chimera ran toward them, then stopped as a security guard aimed his weapon at it. "T'Pri!" Jonah yelled to the guard. "It's all right."
He watched Chimera shift itself to look like the rest of the aliens, then... merge with one. They looked like upright deer, with hands. Tall. Willowy. Their bodies were covered with grey hair. "I wonder what the ecology on their planet is like?" Joyns said in wonderment.
"Commander?" Picard said. "I'm not understanding any of this."
Travis smiled. "That's all right, Jean Luc Picard. Captain Picard. You will later." He looked at Joyns and Wesley. "Care to come? I think you both deserve to see us. . ." he looked down. ". . . change back." He motioned to Jones. "Put the aliens in some guest quarters, but keep a light guard on them. I don't think they'll be any trouble now." He smiled at the alien couple, and one briefly changed form to smile back.
Picard ran his hand over his bald head as he and Wesley walked down the commons. It felt... so right. Thank God the youthening effect was reversible. "Captain," Wesley said. "I didn't do anything to insult you, did I?"
"Insult me?" He recalled all the conversations they had when Wesley had thought he was Rene. "No, of course not."
Wesley sighed. "I was afraid that you might have thought I was... silly."
Picard smiled. "You're a young man. You're allowed to be silly. I just hope you won't spread this all over
the Enterprise. I'd hate to hear what your mother. . ."
The boy looked away. "I saw my mother this morning."
"Admiral Travis had already told her. Then she... pried a few stories out of me. She got quite a laugh out of it. She also said that she was going to keep you on the examining table for a week to check for aftereffects."
Picard sighed. "Wonderful."
"So. Crusher," called a raspy old voice from the nearby gardens. "I hear you're losing a roommate."
"Boothby," Picard smiled. "But he's getting another one. The real Rene Picard will arrive tonight, and we're all going to meet him. . . including the real Susan Terrance."
The old gardener stopped hoeing around the roses. "Really. Susan is a nice girl. You'd like her, Jean Luc."
"I'm sure I would."
"But I'm curious, Crusher. What do you think about having another Picard as a roommate?"
Wesley's eyes danced. "I just hope..."
Picard's voice hardened. "Go on."
"... that this one doesn't snore as loud."
Picard stooped down, picked up a clod of dirt, and threw it at Wesley, hitting him square in the chest. Wesley looked shocked, then smiled.
"Oh," Picard said, straightening his shirt. "Must be one of those aftereffects your mother will be looking for. I shall have to tell her."
Boothby gave him a sharp look. "Of course, Jean Luc. Of course, starship captains wouldn't dare stoop to a dirt fight."
Picard felt a clod of dirt on his shoulder. Wesley looked innocent. He kept his face straight. "Why, no. Of course not."
"In a pigs eye," Boothby said. He started hoeing again.