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There were times Captain Jean-Luc Picard thought the Enterprise was too large. He mused on the size and comfort of his ready room, which he thought might actually be more spacious than the bridge aboard his first command, the Stargazer. That was a compact, older ship, and it brought about a certain familiarity among the crew. Later, when he took command of the fifth starship named Enterprise, it was some time before he got used to its size and larger crew.
He truly hoped Pádraig Daniels, one of the more recent additions, would last.
As the captain stared at the service record on his screen, Picard appreciated that the man seemed to be in the right place at the right time, helping the Enterprise and all of Starfleet be saved from the insidious actions of Snowden and his confederates. Below Commander Travec's recommendation, he reread the probationary report his own first officer had added. It confirmed Picard's impressions that Daniels had easily integrated into life aboard the Enterprise, forming solid bonds both personal and professional with the crew. He also was receiving good marks from those under his direct command. Picard noted, though, that he hadn't seen Daniels at Riker's poker games or interacting much with the senior staff. Other than his bond with Data, forged early on, he seemed more a "lower decks" officer, more easily spending time with the rank and file.
The musing was interrupted by a signature beep and the rising of a viewscreen from his desktop. Picard set aside the padd, watching the Federation emblem against a black background, then the incoming message details complete with authentication code to validate the transmission.
The screen changed smoothly to a picture of Admiral Jeremiah Hayes, recently appointed to Starfleet's Strategic Command. They had met only months before, resulting in Starfleet ordering Geordi La Forge to have his VISOR replaced with upgraded optics. He disliked that his first meeting with so decorated an officer put them on opposite sides of an issue. Picard hoped that would not be repeated now.
"Admiral, good to see you again."
"And you, Jean-Luc. Still on course for Deep Space 9?"
"Of course. Has something happened?"
"Not there," Hayes said with a frown. He seemed older to Picard, the ongoing Klingon conflict wearing on him as it did everyone at command.
"At Starbase 19?"
That got a short laugh from the admiral, who had been posted to the starbase not that long before. "No, but an SI operative here has learned of something in the Salva system and we need you to handle it."
"That's in the DMZ," Picard said, pleased he could conjure up the detail nearly as quickly as the ship's computer.
"Close. Since the majority of residents relocated from there to Marva IV, it's been used as an occasional Maquis base. Our intelligence indicates that two cells intend to meet there for a handoff."
Hayes smiled once more, a look that seemed to relax him. "Now that's the question. SI has theories, bu t we need you to investigate and probably apprehend the cells and obtain the item or items."
"That's all rather vague, don't you think?"
"True. But we need to track everything down. Your orders to report to DS9 came straight from the Palais, so I'm not in a position to countermand them. I also don't think we need the flagship for something like this. It's probably better if you just send a detachment. I've sent along the mission specs so you can choose appropriately."
"Splitting forces may not necessarily be wise," Picard mused, comfortable enough with the admiral to raise his concerns.
"Agreed. But you've handled the Maquis before, and this shouldn't be too difficult a mission."
"Famous last words," Picard answered. "No mission ever goes as planned, that's an axiom."
"And probably something we should be adding to the handbook. Best of luck, Jean-Luc, with both missions. Check in when your team finishes at Salva II. Hayes out."
The screen went black and then flashed with an indicator that he had a file waiting. He opened the new file, providing a retinal scan to confirm his authority to read an intelligence file. As he read, his brow knit and he began considering whom to send. The mission to DS9 really required only Picard himself -- he was to try to open talks with Chancellor Gowron in an attempt to end the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.
After ordering himself a cup of tea, he resumed his place at the desk and cleared his mind for a moment. Satisfied he had chosen wisely, he tapped the combadge on his chest. "Commander Riker and Lieutenant Commander La Forge, please join me in my ready room."
Acknowledgments from both men were received and then he waited, filling the time by transferring the report from Hayes to a padd. Moments later, Riker strolled into the room, his face a study of concern. The captain gestured for him to take a seat before the desk. Picard asked innocuous questions about their course and time of arrival at the space station that lay near the wormhole that was the conduit to the Gamma Quadrant, and Riker asked about Picard's visit to the Palais de la Concorde and his talk with the president's chief of staff, Koll Azernal.
Finally, La Forge arrived from engineering and took his place next to Riker. Briefly, Picard explained what he had heard from Hayes, studying their reactions. At the mention of the Maquis, Riker's eyes blazed, but he quickly recovered. Picard was not at all surprised, given how his first officer and friend had been personally betrayed by his "brother" Thomas. Both had also been betrayed by Ro Laren just a few years before as the Maquis cause attracted many feeling disenfranchised by Starfleet. It was a prickly subject for all concerned.
"Since Starfleet Intelligence feels the handoff involves Klingon technology, I want you, Mr. La Forge, to be on hand to study what it is and what the Maquis intend to do with it. If we need it, fine; otherwise we'll arrange a return to the Klingon Empire."
"Dealing with the Klingons is tricky at best right now. Dividing our forces strikes me as risky," Riker said. "We're going to be about five days out from this point and even longer getting back to DS9."
"I can spare you three, I think," Picard said, a tight smile briefly crossing his face. "Data can certainly fill in admirably now that he seems more comfortable with handling the emotion chip."
"Agreed," Riker said and nodded to punctuate his faith in the android second officer. "I do have to say, I was looking forward to getting back to Quark's. But you said 'you three'? Who's the third?"
"I'd like to assign Lieutenant Daniels to the mission." Picard noticed that Riker bristled under the suggestion and suspected it had to do with comfort -- dealing with the Maquis and Tom's legacy would be distracting enough, and to have a relatively untested security chief along would not sit well with him.
"Sir, I think Geordi and I could handle this," Riker began.
"Review the details, then prepare your supplies," Picard said, cutting off his first officer. "I'd like to see you off within the next three hours."
The men rose and Picard added, "A word with you, Number One?"
La Forge knew the two well enough to withdraw silently. When they were alone, Picard gestured for Riker to continue their conversation.
"Daniels is a fine officer and has performed admirably aboard the ship, but let's face it, he has yet to handle a mission off the ship. His year and a half was planetside before coming here, so we don't know how he'll do."
"All the more reason it's high time we got him into such a situation," Picard countered. "The crew seem to like him, and you certainly rated him well."
"True, but neither of us know him that well," Riker said.
"I don't think either one of us would be happy if the Maquis convinced another officer to abandon his post," Riker said tightly.
"Will, I can't make mission choices based on what-ifs," Picard said. "The Maquis will be armed; they're most likely dangerous and won't just hand over whatever they have just because you asked oh so very politely. It's a mission that requires the presence of the ship's chief of security. If it were Tasha or Worf, would you be so hesitant?"
"No, sir. But I wasn't hesitant with Ro, either."
"Regardless, the decision has been made, Number One. Dismissed."
The captain eyed his first officer, looking for any sign this might prove a difficult mission. Not that he'd change the order or personnel, but weighing whether or not he needed to ask Counselor Troi to speak with Riker prior to departure. On the other hand, knowing Will Riker, he suspected that was his first port of call.
"Shouldn't you be packing?" Deanna Troi asked Riker as he settled into a chair in her quarters. He knew she was off duty, most likely asleep, but he needed to talk with her before departing. As usual, their personal and professional lives were all tangled up and he was uncertain what that meant at this juncture.
Riker knew that Troi had not had a serious relationship since she and Worf ended their romance shortly after the Enterprise-D's destruction. Both Troi and Riker were single, and there was really nothing stopping them from rekindling their romance and yet...they weren't. Not that he came to her cabin to discuss that much-discussed issue.
Instead, he wanted to talk about himself.
"I've got time for that. Doesn't take long to pack a few hygiene tools, after all. I'm concerned about the mission to DS9."
"Of course you are," Deanna said lightly. "You think you'll miss a chance at increasing your tongo winnings at Quark's."
"That I'm not worried about," Riker said. "Command is counting on the captain's relationship with Gowron and how that might coax him back onto our side. However, Captain Sisko still harbors some feelings against the captain, and I should be there...just in case."
"I don't think that's what this is all about," Troi said. "After all, managing feelings is my area of expertise, not yours. DS9 will be fine. You're avoiding the real concern about your own assignment."
He slumped deeper in his chair, low enough that he looked up a bit to meet her eyes. "I need to figure out if I can do this."
"Of course you can."
Imzadi. Something in him wanted her to call him that. The word meant the connection was still there, but right now she didn't voice it, and for once it hurt.
She sat opposite him, not bothering to add a robe to her diaphanous sleeping gown. They'd seen far too much of each other, dressed and undressed, for any sense of modesty to be an issue. He just made certain to lock onto her large, luminous black eyes.
"The Maquis mean so many different things to me. As a group, they defy everything Starfleet and the Federation stand for."
"We've seen friends and colleagues betray their oaths to join their ranks, weakening us at the outset of a war."
"We've been betrayed on the Enterprise."
"It could have been me."
"Will, you do realize you've just drilled down from something that affected everyone to the one unique betrayal. You could have just started with Thomas."
He continued to gaze at her placid expression, but his body tensed. "I'd rather not talk about him."
"It's why you're here," she said. The calm look changed to one of purpose, the counselor about to perform her job. "You're not in my quarters, waking me from a very sound sleep, thank you, just so you can regret Ro hurting you and the captain or because you're worried about the mission on DS9. It's Thomas that makes this painful, and we need to talk about him."
"You mean me."
"No, I mean Thomas Riker, late of the U.S.S. Gandhi. He's the one who left his ship and crew. He's the one who sympathized with the Maquis position. He imagined he understood what it was like being abandoned. Where he erred was equating his personal experience on Nervala IV with what occurred in the Demilitarized Zone. He acted rashly and is now paying the price for it."
For a moment, Riker tried to imagine the kind of forced labor his twin was enduring on Lazon II. Whatever it had been before, it could only have doubled -- tripled, even -- after Tom's recapture by the Cardassians when the Romulan plot to use Tom to assassinate Gowron had failed so spectacularly. Perhaps the Cardassians had even resorted to torture. He stifled a shiver and continued to think about Tom and the Maquis, not really paying attention to Troi. She raised her voice a bit, capturing his wandering mind.
"Will, you and Thomas had entirely different experiences. Over these last dozen years he's acquired a different outlook on life, the universe...everything. You can't equate your career and choices with his. The captain clearly has faith in you handling this mission. It's one reason he's chosen three of you and not a squadron. You can't possibly be concerned that you'll see him there."
"Then what is it?"
"They represent a path not taken, I think," Riker said after a long pause.
Troi stifled a yawn but nodded and waited.
"The Maquis offered something to Tom that Starfleet couldn't fulfill. I wonder if there's some void I'm overlooking, something that might make them look tempting."
"Will, unless one of them is drop-dead gorgeous or can play the trombone, chances are you will find none of them appealing in the slightest. It's another mission, just one with a little extra baggage."
"And, to top it off, he's assigned Daniels."
Troi nodded and waited for more. Not hearing anything, she added, "I think that's wise. He's done a very good job fitting in with the crew."
"The crew, yes, but not so much the rest of us."
"How does that have a bearing on the mission?"
"I won't know what to expect. How he'll react," Riker said quietly, glancing around the room, not meeting her gaze. There was nothing wrong with Daniels, who seemed a disciplined officer, but he saw how the security chief and Data bonded over painting and he just stepped back and let things develop. Then he allowed himself to get distracted and never made the effort.
"He'll follow your commands, we know that much," she said reassuringly. "There's more."
"He should be watching the captain's back. He'll be dealing with the Klingons, who are far deadlier than the Maquis."
"I'm sure Worf will be somewhat protective of the captain aboard the station. And Odo's an excellent security chief, as well. The captain will be in good hands."
Riker remembered that Troi had met Odo on Betazed when her half brother was born. "We've gone through too many security chiefs to lose another one," Riker said. "Tasha. Then Worf goes to DS9. Addison gets killed before stepping aboard the ship, and Huff dies in action. Now we have Daniels. We lose too damned many of them."
"He's a fine officer, Will," Troi said with assurance. "There's nothing in his record to make us think he'll up and abandon you over some rhetoric on a mission. You just need to learn more about him. What better chance than five days aboard a shuttle?" She punctuated the comment with a wry grin. He, instead, looked glum and unconvinced.
"If you say so."
"I say so. You can do this, Will. The captain has faith in you and so do I. I always will."
Say it, he willed her.
She didn't but offered him her warmest smile and then stood as he rose and gave him an enveloping hug. Despite all the light-years they'd traveled, they could always count on one another.
Copyright © 2008 by Paramount Pictures Corporation