FIVE STAGES

By Lorraine J. Anderson

Picard slammed his notepad against the wall of the transporter room. O'Brien flinched, but looked questioning at Riker and the rest of the landing party.

Picard noticed and frowned. "As you were, Chief!"

O'Brien straightened, ramrod straight. "Aye, sir!"

"I'll be in my quarters." Picard strode out of the transporter room, barely waiting for the doors to open. The maintenance crew needs to fix those doors, he thought, slamming one fist against another.

A young crewwoman, exiting from the turbolift, smiled at him. Her smile faded at his glance, and she exited quickly, walking swiftly down the hall. As the doors closed, he saw her turn toward him, a questioning look on her face.

She looked like Eline, he thought idly, and immediately put this thought out of his mind.

He reached his quarters and attempted to sit down, but couldn't. He paced his quarters, one wall to the other, his mind focused on the planet below. For a warp-era civilization, the Enol were fractious with each other and completely unreasonable with the Federation Ambassador, Callan McLeod. Of course, he wasn't too pleased with the Ambassador, dismissing him like a schoolboy. Didn't she realize the situation was serious down there? The Enol could die if they didn't…

He slowed down. Of course, he had to admit that he shouldn't have exploded the way he had. He sighed. "Earl Grey, hot," he said to the replicator. He picked the cup up, barely looking at it, and his hand shook slightly. A small amount dribbled on his fingers. He barely noticed the pain as he set the cup down, sitting down in the chair and looking out at the stars.

His door chimed.

"Come."

The door opened and closed. "Counselor," he said, without turning around.

She chuckled. "Telepathic, Captain?"

Picard smiled slightly. "I knew you would follow me. Have you been out there long?"

"Our new Ensign Wagner wanted to know if he could help me, because I was leaning against the wall. I think he thought I have some sort of relationship with you and that we had argued. I'm not sure he believed that I'm a counselor and a Betazoid."

"Did you convince him?"

She smiled broadly. "I finally told him I was the Captain's woman and he should ask Commander Riker if he didn't know what that meant. Which he didn't."

Picard chuckled. "I think I'd like to be in on that conversation."

"I think the wall behind Ensign Wagner will be blistered after that conversation."

Picard laughed, then sighed. "Patient confidentiality?"

"Always, Captain."

"I made a mistake down there."

"Far be it for me to contradict the captain," Troi said, smiling, then her face turned serious. "But do you know why?"

"I've been on edge lately-"

"We've noticed."

"I'm not sure why."

She looked at him steadily for a long moment. "Captain, what do you have in your hands?"

He looked down, surprised that he had something in his hands. "The… the Ressikan flute. The flute that had been in the Kataan probe."

"Why?"

He shrugged. "I just picked it up without noticing, I suppose."

"When did the Kataan people die?"
"One thousand years ago. Your point, Counselor?" He noticed he was clenching the flute and forced his fingers to relax.

Troi shook her head. "Bear with me, Captain." She was silent for a moment. "Are you sure the people of Kataan died one thousand years ago?"

"The study of the planetary system confirmed the date."

She waved that past. "Those are just the scientific facts. When did they die?"

He stared at her.

"The probe gave you a lifetime of memories."

"Yes."

"So when did Eline die? When did Batai die? When did young Batai and Meribor die?"

He was uncomfortable with the intensity of her stare.

Troi finally looked down at the table. "You have been angry for a while. Did you realize that?"

He stared at the stars. "Yes."

"Who are you angry at?"

"The Elons…" He shook his head. "No. I'm angry at the Kataan."

"For…?"

"For giving me those memories."

She shook her head. "I think there's another reason."

He stared at the flute case. "I know. I'm avoiding it. I'm angry at them for dying."

"So when did they die?"

He looked up with sudden realization. "Oh, my God. They died two months ago."

She nodded, leaning forward. "For us, a thousand years; for you-"

He sat silent, stricken.

"But I don't think you want to be angry at them. You lived a lifetime there, had children-"

"I'm taking my anger out on everybody else."

She said nothing, but looked at him expectantly.

"Counselor - Deanna - I miss them. I miss them as much as I missed the Enterprise those first years I was on Kataan." He shook his head. "The problem is, I was never on Kataan. I have no idea if Eline or Batai or Meribor were even real."

"They were real to you." She looked sad. "And you know there's no hope that you'll see them again."

He nodded. They both looked out at the stars. "Is there anything I should do?" he said finally.

"Captain, you're grieving. The important thing is to recognize that." She chuckled. "And you could apologize to Ambassador McLeod."

He grimaced. "Immediately."

"I think you should tell Will. And Beverly. No-one else needs to know."

The second-in-command and the Doctor. "Yes, Captain Counselor." He smiled.

She motioned at the flute box. "Have you played that?"

His smiled faded. "Once."

"It might help." She rose, and he got out of the chair.

"Thank you, Deanna."

She smiled sadly. "As the Vulcans say, 'I grieve with thee.'"

"Thank you."

She exited quietly, and he sat back down. He looked at the flute case, then slowly opened it, picking up the flute with trembling fingers.

Then he played. And played. And as he played, tears slid slowly down his face.