Deny Thy Father: Star Trek: The Lost Era 2355-2357

Deny Thy Father: Star Trek: The Lost Era 2355-2357

by Jeff Mariotte
Deny Thy Father: Star Trek: The Lost Era 2355-2357

Deny Thy Father: Star Trek: The Lost Era 2355-2357

by Jeff Mariotte



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In this Star Trek novel, the first Starfleet mission of Will Riker is juxtaposed against the dangerous ordeal of his estranged, fugitive father, Kyle Riker. Father and son work different sides of the same crisis: to unlock the truth behind the conspiracy that targeted Kyle Riker for assassination.

In the wake of the Tholian attack that nearly cost him his life, civilian strategic consultant Kyle Riker has become the target of an apparent conspiracy within Starfleet, forcing him off Earth and beyond Federation territory to evade the attempts on his life. But danger is never far off, even on a backwater world where Kyle’s very name brings the promise of death.

At the same time, the Starfleet career of Kyle’s estranged son William Riker is under way as an ensign aboard the Starship Pegasus. And even as Kyle searches for the truth behind the events that have made him a fugitive, Will is pursued as well—by a family legacy he fears he will never escape.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743464109
Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek
Publication date: 12/01/2003
Series: Star Trek: The Lost Era Series
Format: eBook
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 214,630
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Jeff Mariotte is the award-winning author of more than seventy novels, including thrillers Empty Rooms and The Devil’s Bait, supernatural thrillers Season of the Wolf, Missing White Girl, River Runs Red, and Cold Black Hearts, and horror epic The Slab. With his wife, the author Marsheila Rockwell, he wrote the science fiction/horror/thriller 7 SYKOS, and numerous shorter works. He also writes comic books, including the long-running horror/Western comic book series Desperadoes and graphic novels Zombie Cop and Fade to Black. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book business, including bookselling, marketing, editing, and publishing. He lives in Arizona, in a home filled with books, art, music, toys, and love.

Read an Excerpt

Part One: June 2355

Chapter 1

He put one foot in front of the other. That was all it took, one foot, then the next, occasionally a swerve or a sudden stop to dodge the other pedestrians who traversed San Francisco's sidewalks, and then, one cluster of citizens or another averted, he continued on toward his destination. In some spots where the streets of days gone by remained, he could easily have walked in those, thereby avoiding most of the foot traffic, but the idea didn't occur to him. His name was William Hall, he was a yeoman second class currently assigned to Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, and he was on a mission.

He did not let his mind drift toward the nature of his mission. His mind didn't drift much at all, for that matter; it was consumed with the process and not functioning much beyond that. One foot in front of the next. Turn left at that corner, up three blocks, cross the street. He came from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, which could have fit inside San Francisco a hundred times over. He'd been to other planets, he'd seen the stars, up close, but a San Francisco street was still, to him, alien and not a little intimidating, filled as it was with members of dozens of races, from planets almost beyond counting.

One foot.

Most of the other pedestrians were civilians; he wore one of the few uniforms he had seen since he started out on this mission.

One foot.

As he walked, the sun dipped behind tall buildings, throwing the busy streets into shadow. His destination loomed ahead, one of those same tall buildings. He noted it, and then his mind slipped back into its routine. One more clutch of pedestrians to bypass, gazes to avoid. He made a graceful sidestep to get around them: a family, nicely dressed, heading out to a restaurant for dinner, perhaps, or a play. Two boys and a girl, two older ones who must have been parents. He had parents, back in Pine Bluff.

At the building, he stood in front of the door. The door surveyed him for a moment, noting his uniform, his professional demeanor, scanning his retina and maybe, depending on how up-to-date the security system here was, his DNA. After a moment, an electronic voice asked him, "What is your business here?"

"Official Starfleet business," Petty Officer William Hall said. "Urgent and classified." The door didn't open. Very up-to-date, then. He held a small electronic tag up toward where the door's camera eyed him. He'd been told not to use this unless it was necessary, but it seemed that it was. Like a lot of things about this mission, he had been left in the dark about why he shouldn't use it frivolously.

But he didn't let his mind wander there, either. The door opened for the tag, as he'd been told it would, and he walked inside. There was a live guard in the lobby, middle-aged but fit, with a heavy mustache hiding his mouth, sitting behind a high counter and regarding him with curiosity. But William just showed him the tag and the guard gave a half-smile, a twitch of the bushy mustache, really, and then turned back to his monitors. When William reached the elevator, it opened for him, and he stepped inside. He told the elevator to take him to the nineteenth floor, and the doors closed and then they opened again a moment later and he was there. He stepped out.

The apartment number was 1907, he knew that much. The rest, he had been assured, would become clear when he needed to know it. He found 1907. It would be empty now.

In the corridor, he waited.

"Most people," Kyle Riker said, "achieve enlightenment, if at all, through living. Through the process of life, going through it, you know, a day at a time. That's most people. Me, I achieved it all at once, through surviving. That's all. Nothing to do with me, just the luck of the draw. But I survived, and what wisdom I have..."

He let the sentence trail off there. It didn't matter. The man he'd been talking to -- talking at, running off at the mouth toward, he decided -- had ceased to listen and was leaning toward the bartender, signaling for another Alvanian brandy. Kyle, drinking instead a sixty-year-old single malt from right there on Earth, recognized that he had probably reached his own limit. His limits were stricter these days than they had once been, and he was better about enforcing them. Had to be. He gripped the bar with both hands as he lowered himself from the stool, and with a wave at Inis, the shapely Deltan bartender who was two-thirds of the reason Kyle came here in the first place, he headed for the door.

You sound like an old fool, he mentally chided himself as he went. The bar was thirty-five stories up, with floor to ceiling windows facing west, and the sun, he could see as he walked out, was an enormous red ball sinking into the sea on the far side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's sunset, he thought, that's the problem. There had been a time when he'd liked sunsets, but that had been before Starbase 311. As he went to the elevator that would take him down to the twentieth floor, from which he could tube across the street to his own building, he remembered another sunset when he'd had virtually the same conversation. He'd stopped himself, on that occasion, at about the same moment, and said, self-pityingly, "This is the kind of story a man should tell his son. If he had, you know, a son he could talk to. Because a boy needs to hear that his dad -- "

"Kyle, dear," Katherine Pulaski had said then, interrupting him, "shut up." She had taken away his drink.

Too many painful memories associated with sunsets, he thought. But the wounds had been fresher then, the scars more raw. He was better now. Obviously not whole -- you don't jabber at strangers in bars like you were doing if you're whole. But better, nonetheless.

When he rounded the bend toward his door, he saw a uniformed Starfleet officer, young and well-scrubbed but with a strangely vacant look in his pale green eyes, standing outside his apartment. A yeoman in a red duty uniform. Kyle had been drinking, but not really that much, and seeing this unexpected sight brought him around to sobriety fast. The yeoman started toward him.

"Are you Kyle Riker?" he asked. His voice sounded odd, as if he were distracted by something even as he voiced the question.

"Yes," Kyle said. Most of his work was for Starfleet. Maybe the young man was a messenger. But he didn't see a parcel, and couldn't imagine any message that would have to be delivered in person. Anyway, he had just been at headquarters before heading home -- well, heading for the bar on the way to heading home, he admitted. If anyone had needed to tell him anything they could have done it there.

"I need to see you for a moment, Mr. Riker," the yeoman went on. His expression -- or lack of one, to be more accurate, Kyle thought -- didn't change. He didn't even blink. "Can we go inside?"

"I...sure, come on in." Kyle pressed his hand against the door and it swung open for him. "Can I ask what this is about?"

The yeoman nodded but didn't verbalize a response as he followed Kyle into the apartment. For a moment Kyle thought this was all the setup for some kind of elaborate practical joke. Friends would pop out from hiding places and wish him a happy birthday. Except that it wasn't his birthday, nowhere near it, and he didn't have friends with that kind of sense of humor. He didn't have that kind of sense of humor. That was something else he'd left on Starbase 311.

The yeoman came into his apartment and the door swung shut behind him. "I'd really like to know who you are, young man, and what this is all about," Kyle said, more forcefully than before. "Now, before we go any further."

He waited for an answer. But the man's face didn't change, and he didn't speak. Instead, he drew a phaser type-2 from a holster on his belt. Kyle threw himself to the floor, behind a couch, thinking, that's some message.

The yeoman fired, and the phaser's beam struck the wall in front of which Kyle had been standing a moment before, blowing a hole in it. Sparks flew, and a cloud of smoke roiled in the air. "Unauthorized weapons discharge," the apartment's computer said in its toneless robot voice.

Kyle rolled to the side and tucked his feet underneath himself, preparing to spring. "I know," he told the computer through clenched teeth.

The yeoman turned stiffly toward him, phaser still at the ready. Kyle jumped toward the young man, slamming into him with all the strength he could muster. They both went down, crashing onto a low table, and then the table tipped over and they rolled to the floor. Kyle caught the man's wrist and twisted, aiming the phaser anywhere but at himself.

As he did -- panting from the exertion, blinking back sweat -- he noticed that the yeoman's blank expression still had not changed. He could have been waiting for a transport, or watching a singularly unexciting game of chess. Kyle pounded the man's wrist against the edge of the overturned table, once, twice, again; and finally the phaser went flying from his hand. The man gave a soft grunt of pain, but that was the first sound he had made since they had come into the apartment.

"I am alerting the authorities," the computer said.

"Fine," Kyle barked back. He made the mistake of turning away from his opponent for a brief moment, and the man took advantage of the opportunity to reach out with his other hand, locking it around Kyle's throat. Kyle released the now-empty phaser hand and brought both his arms up, hard and fast, knocking the choking hand away. Regaining his feet, he waited for the yeoman to try to rise. When the man did so, his face still empty, Kyle shot out with a right jab to his chin, then a left hook, and another right that cut the flesh above his eye. The man took the blows, air puffing out of him, but showing no evidence of pain or fear.

Then, without warning, he blinked three times in rapid succession. His eyes seemed to focus suddenly, and he looked around, turning his head from left to right quickly. "What...?" he started to ask, and then he stopped, blinked once more, and pitched forward. Kyle stepped back as the man landed in a heap at his feet.

He didn't move. Kyle hesitated a moment, in case it was a trick, then knelt and touched his fingers to the guy's neck. He could find no pulse.

"You alerted the authorities?" Kyle asked the computer.

"They are on the way," was the response.

"Cancel them. Get Starfleet Security, not civilian authorities."

The computer didn't answer, but he knew it was already complying with his demand.

Carefully avoiding the dead man, Kyle sat down on his couch and waited.

His wait was not especially long. Starfleet sent four officers to his apartment, arriving less than fifteen minutes after the yeoman had fallen. They checked the body and confirmed what Kyle already knew. The young man was dead. One of the security officers, a seasoned human lieutenant with hair almost as silver as Kyle's own and heavy, hooded eyes, sat down on the couch next to Kyle while another called for a removal team to come for the body. He had introduced himself as Lieutenant Dugan.

"There'll be a hearing, I expect," he said. "But it looks as if the case for self-defense is pretty strong. Guy was in your house, discharged his phaser. I should arrest you, but given who you are, sir, I feel confident that you'll surrender yourself if I ask you to."

"Of course." It had gradually dawned on Kyle that this was probably coming. He was innocent, of course, of any misdeed. But until a thorough investigation proved that, he would be under some degree of suspicion, even though his story made sense. As they spoke, the other security officers were busying themselves around the apartment, checking the central computer, inspecting the wall that had been damaged, trying to re-create, as best they could, the sequence of events as Kyle had described it. While they worked, a coroner's team arrived to take the body, closing it into a kind of sled that then hovered waist-high so they could guide it from the apartment and out to a transport. They were quietly efficient. It was possible that Kyle's neighbors didn't even know what had happened.

An hour later they were all gone, and Kyle was left alone. He ordered the computer to repair the wall now that the forensic team was done examining it.

Lieutenant Dugan had recommended that he get some sleep, but Kyle knew that was impossible. Every time he closed his eyes he was back on 311. He could hear the emergency Klaxons, see the flashing red alert lights, taste the adrenaline and fear that had been in his mouth as he scrambled from room to room. No, sleep was the last thing he wanted to try just now. Instead he went to his bookshelves and withdrew a biography of Napoleon he'd been meaning to get to, then sat back on the couch to wait for daylight.

At the Starfleet Command plaza station, Kyle disembarked from the monorail and took the stair-lift down to plaza level. There, he had to pass through a security station where two alert-looking security officers scanned him. Instead of going to his own office, as he normally would have, he headed for the office to which Lieutenant Dugan had asked him to report. The office was in the main Headquarters building, seventh floor, on a long hallway lined with closed, numbered doors.

He was, he had to admit, a little relieved to find that the room really was just an office, and not a cell or a hearing chamber. Dugan sat behind an orderly desk, speaking to his computer, and he looked up when Kyle came in. "Mr. Riker," he said with a friendly tone. "Thanks for coming. Have a seat."

Kyle sat. The office, he noted, was sparely furnished, as if Dugan didn't really spend much time in it. Beside Dugan's desk there was a credenza with globes on it, depicting Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, and two visitor's chairs. Holoimages hung on the walls -- landscapes of planets Kyle couldn't identify but which clearly weren't Earth. The images changed as Kyle watched them, one planetscape dissolving into another in random sequence. "If I were to guess, Lieutenant Dugan, I'd say you were not all that happy about being chained to a desk. You seem to be a man who'd rather be in deep space."

"I've spent some time on a starship," Dugan admitted. "It's always fascinating. But there's nothing wrong with good old momma Earth, either."

"That's my attitude too," Kyle said. "Our own planet is almost infinite in its variety. I like a little trip off-world as much as the next guy, but I'm always glad to see her in the forward viewscreen when I come home."

Dugan glanced at a screen that Kyle couldn't see, and when he looked up again his expression was more serious. "Mr. Riker," he began. "I have a little more information now than I did last night, at your apartment."

"It'd be hard to have less."

Dugan chuckled. "That's true. The man who attacked you was named Yeoman Second Class William Hall. He was assigned here, at Headquarters. His primary duty was as an assistant clerk in Vice Admiral Bonner's command. The vice admiral's office has notified his next of kin, family back in Arkansas, I gather. Do you know Bonner?"

Kyle tried to picture him, and came up with a vague impression of a severe man in his fifties, with thick black hair and a pinched face. "I believe I've met him once or twice, but I don't really know him."

"He's very loyal to those in his command," Dugan said. "My impression is that he barely knew Yeoman Hall, but he's very concerned about what happened to him."

"So am I," Kyle confessed. "Do we know the cause of death?"

Dugan hesitated before answering, as if he needed to decide how much to reveal. "An autopsy was conducted last night. There's evidence of brain damage -- some kind of interference with the operation of his brain's limbic system. More specifically, the hippocampus."

"Caused by what?"

"That we don't know," Dugan replied. "He's still being examined to see if that can be determined."

"And that could have killed him?" Kyle asked. "That damage?"

"Not by itself, no. But the force of your blows, in combination with the preexisting condition, possibly might have."

Kyle looked at the floor, carpeted in institutional blue. "So I did kill him."

"It's quite possible that you did, yes. Or contributed to his death, which would probably be more accurate. I'm sorry."

"So am I," Kyle said sadly. "I'd like to be able to contact his next of kin, if that's possible, to express my deep regret."

"I'll try to get you that information, sir. In the meantime, we've checked your computer's memory, and it confirms your version of events."

"I could have faked that," Kyle suggested.

"You could have," Dugan agreed, his narrow, hooded eyes fixed on Kyle's face. "But you would have had to work fast. We were there shortly after everything started happening. And the computer was recording events the whole time -- it would have been pretty tricky of you to fake the record without any gaps in the real-time log."

Kyle had intentionally kept the computer recording everything, just for that reason. Once the authorities had been notified, he knew one of their first priorities would be to investigate what the computer had observed from the first phaser discharge on.

"Did Mr. Hall have any genuine reason for coming to see me?" Kyle asked. "Was he bringing a message from Bonner, or anyone else in the command?"

"Not that we've been able to determine," Dugan responded. "He went off duty at eighteen hundred hours, and last anyone knew he was headed to his home in Daly City. There seems to have been no Starfleet-related reason for him to even have still been in uniform, much less passing himself off as on official business. That's how he got through the door of your building, by the way. And he had a Starfleet keytag to make it seem on the level. It wasn't activated -- wouldn't have got past a first-year cadet -- but it was good enough to get into a century-old civilian apartment building."

Kyle felt defensive. "It's a nice place," he said quickly. "Lots of atmosphere."

"I'm sure," Dugan replied. "And substandard security."

"Which is normally not a problem," Kyle countered. "I've been living there for years. This is the first time I've been attacked. So statistically, it's still a good bet."

"Statistically, most people only get killed once," Dugan pointed out. "We're not charging you with anything, sir. And we'll keep investigating Yeoman Hall, to see if we can figure out what he was doing there. But if I were you, I'd be a little careful." He looked away, wordlessly dismissing Kyle.

"I will," Kyle assured him. "And thanks."

His own office on the twenty-third floor of the Headquarters skyscraper tower was, Kyle thought, a good deal more "lived-in"-looking than Lieutenant Dugan's. As he kept books at home, he also had a cabinet full of them here. One wall was entirely covered in old-fashioned paper maps. Some were antiques -- a map of the battleground at Antietam, from the American Civil War, in which one of his ancestors had distinguished himself, for instance, and a map of San Francisco from the twentieth century. Others were nautical charts of the world's oceans, and still others two-dimensional printouts of stellar cartography -- not especially practical, but he still enjoyed looking at them. He liked being able to see the lines on his maps and visualize himself at a particular point in time and space.

Just now, though, Kyle sat at his desk, chair turned away from it, looking at a shadowbox frame above the bookshelf in which there were some other items with a deeply personal meaning to him: his wife's wedding ring, the key to the first house they'd lived in, up in Alaska, and a holoimage of her outside that house, holding their baby boy, Will, in her arms. She had been standing in the shadow of a tall fir, but the sun's rays had fallen on her as if cast there by one of the ancient Dutch masters, picking her and the baby out and limning them clearly against the dark backdrop. Her hair was golden in that light, reminding Kyle of a honey jar in a window with the sun beaming through it, and her smile had been equally radiant.

Less than two years later, Annie was dead, leaving Kyle and young Will on their own.

Kyle turned away, suddenly. That was not why he'd come in here, he knew. He had to figure out why someone would want to kill him, not lose himself in a past that could never be reclaimed.

Starfleet was primarily a scientific, exploratory, and diplomatic agency, not a military one, but there were always conflicts brewing at various points around known space, and therefore always something to which Kyle should be paying attention. Recently, the U.S.S. Stargazer had found itself in some difficulty in the Maxia Zeta System, for instance. The ship had been nearly destroyed, but her crew had survived, drifting in a shuttlecraft for a few weeks until being rescued. Kyle was trying to draw together all the information he could on the attack in hopes of learning who had done it, and what its captain, one Jean-Luc Picard, might have done differently in its defense.

Could the attack have had something to do with that? Kyle wondered. The Stargazer's assailants were still unknown, and maybe they preferred to stay that way. Of course, Kyle Riker wasn't the only person working on that mystery, not by a long shot. He wasn't even the most high-profile. Why would they come after me? he asked himself. I'm the least of their worries.

Well, not the least, he mentally amended. He was good at what he did, and if -- when -- he found out who was behind the attack on the Stargazer, whoever had done it would be sorry they had survived. But even granting that, it still seemed unlikely that Yeoman Hall had been responsible for an attack so far away, or would have any connection to the mystery attackers.

Still, he noted "Maxia Zeta," down on his padd, and then turned his mind toward his next priority. But before he could continue, his office door tweedled at him.

"Come in," he said.

The door opened and two security officers -- not Lieutenant Dugan -- stood outside. Chief Petty Officer Maxwell Hsu, an aide to Admiral Owen Paris, stepped in, looking more than a little uncomfortable. "Mr. Riker, sir...the admiral would like to see you," he said haltingly.

"He normally just calls when he wants to see me. What makes this time different?" Kyle knew his directness would take the aide off guard, which was why he did it.

Maxwell cleared his throat and examined his feet. "I...I don't know the answer to that, sir," he said. "I just know that he asked me -- " here he raised his hands slightly, as if to indicate the security officers waiting in the corridor.

" -- come and escort you to him."

Kyle pushed his chair back, pressed his palms flat against the surface of his desk, and rose to his feet. "Well, then," he said with forced affability, "I guess we'd better find out what he wants."

They walked briskly through the halls, the security officers a couple of strides behind Kyle at all times, as if they thought he might make a break for it. He didn't know what it was about, but he knew he didn't like the feeling. First, that someone had tried to kill him, compounded by the fact that he had actually, albeit in self-defense, killed his assailant. And now this, being escorted through Starfleet Headquarters as if he were little more than a common criminal. It was infuriating.

And not a little terrifying.

Instead of Admiral Paris's office, they led him to a nearby conference room. Hsu motioned for Kyle to stay put while he poked his head inside. A moment later, he emerged and gestured Kyle in with a halfhearted smile. Kyle walked in, completely at a loss as to what he should expect.

If he'd had hours to think about it, he still would not have expected what he saw.

At the end of a long, oval table polished to a high gloss, Admiral Owen Paris sat rigidly upright, giving him an avuncular, sympathetic smile. To his right, on the table's side, Vice Admiral Bonner eyed him appraisingly. To Bonner's right, an assortment of Starfleet brass, human and non-, most known at least in passing to Kyle. Charlie Bender, F'lo'kith Smeth, Teresa Santangelo, and two others Kyle couldn't put names to.

Admiral Paris half-rose from his chair and swept his arm toward an empty chair, looking very lonely all by itself on the near side of the table. "Come in, Kyle, please," he said, his voice familiarly gruff. "I'm sorry for all the formality."

"I'm sure there's a good reason," Kyle offered, generously, he thought. He took a seat in the suggested chair.

"Do you know everyone?" Paris asked.

Kyle looked at the two strangers. "Almost," he replied. "I haven't had the pleasure."

"Right, sorry," Paris said. With appropriate arm movements, he added, "Captain Sistek and Captain Munro. Kyle Riker."

"Pleasure," Kyle muttered, convinced that it would not be.

The conference room was anonymously Starfleet -- lots of gray and silver, with no windows and mostly undecorated walls. The wall behind Owen Paris had a large reproduction of Starfleet's arrowhead symbol mounted on it, and the wall Kyle faced had a holoimage of the old NCC-1701 Enterprise soaring through space. It looked like a room meant to emphasize that what was discussed in it was more important than the surroundings.

"The reason we've brought you here, Kyle," Paris began, "with all these people and all the special treatment, is that an accusation has been made against you. An accusation that, should it be true -- and let me say at the outset that I don't believe it to be -- but if I'm wrong and it were true, would be a very serious matter indeed."

"Does this have something to do with last night?" Kyle asked. "Because if it does -- "

Owen Paris waved away his question. "No, not at all," he said. "I'm sure you had a terrible night because of that, and I guarantee we'll get to the bottom of it. But this is a completely separate matter."

"Okay, then," Kyle said. "Please excuse the interruption."

"Feel free to speak at any time," Paris told him. "This is not a formal hearing of any kind, just a -- well, let's say a casual meeting to make you aware of what's going on."

"If I'm being accused of something, that doesn't sound very casual," Kyle pointed out.

"That may have been a poor word choice," Paris admitted. "There has been an accusation made, to Vice Admiral Bonner, but so far no evidence has been presented to support it. We're not at the stage of bringing formal charges, or doing anything other than launching an investigation that I suspect will be fruitless. But the matter, having been raised, can't be dropped without the investigation."

Kyle, not having slept to begin with, was beginning to lose patience with the way Paris was dancing around the issue. "So what's the accusation?" he asked.

Owen Paris looked at the others, as if wishing someone else would take the lead. No one did. Vice Admiral Bonner shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and the others remained still, looking at either Kyle or Owen and waiting for the admiral to continue.

Owen cleared his throat before going on. "The attack on Starbase 311," he said. "It's been theorized that you, being the only survivor, might have had something to do with it. That you were somehow in league with the Tholians."

Kyle couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I almost died in that attack!" he exclaimed. "I've had nearly two years of therapy. I still see those Tholians in my dreams, and sometimes when I'm awake, hunting me down, chasing me from room to room, killing with utter brutality."

"And yet, here you are," Vice Admiral Horace Bonner said. His voice was calm and even, with a musical ring to it. A tenor's voice, Kyle thought. Bonner had black hair, neatly cut and combed to the rear off his high forehead. His eyes were small but glimmered with intelligence, and his mouth, set now in a sort of half-frown, seemed extraordinarily wide for his narrow head. A strange-looking man, Kyle assessed, but not necessarily unpleasantly so.

"I'm sure you've heard the story," Kyle said impatiently. "If not, I'd be happy to tell it again. What's thirty thousand times, between friends?"

"We're all familiar with it," Owen assured him. "That's not at issue here."

"It sure sounds like it is," Kyle shot back. "Because in my version there is no part where I conspire with the Tholians to kill everyone on the base."

"It does seem odd, however, that you would have been spared," Bonner observed. "The Tholians went room to room, as you've said. They dismantled equipment, checked ventilation ducts and Jefferies tubes, even went so far as to blast holes in walls to make sure they weren't missing anyone. And yet, they left you alive."

"They thought I was dead," Kyle objected. "Hell, I thought I was dead. Take a look at my medical records. Ask Dr. Pulaski what shape I was in when she started working on me."

"Hardly an impartial witness," Captain Sistek put in. She was a Vulcan, with typical Vulcan features -- straight black hair, slanted eyebrows, pointed ears. The only thing Kyle found unique about her was her nose, which was long and aquiline. She spoke with her head tilted back a little, giving the impression that she was sighting down it, as if it were some kind of weapon.

"My...relationship with Katherine began when I was in therapy," Kyle insisted. "Not before. I was hardly in any position to romance her when they took me off the starbase, unless she has an odd attraction to jellyfish. I was near-dead, more than half the bones in my body were broken, I had lost enormous amounts of blood. Katherine herself said that she had never seen anyone so badly injured. If I was in cahoots with the Tholians, they sure are lousy allies."

"'With friends like that,' eh?" Owen quoted.

"Exactly," Kyle said. "I'd like to know just who is making this charge."

"Should it ever go beyond this stage, to a formal complaint, you will have that opportunity," Owen promised him. "But for now, that person's identity will remain confidential."

He kept up a strong front, but inside, Kyle was shaken. The attack the night before had been one thing -- the threat of physical violence was unpleasant, but he had survived violence before. A body could be mended. But this threatened to attack his career, the very thing that had carried him through those bad days after the destruction of 311. Kyle had, for most of his adult life, defined himself through his career. He was an asset to Starfleet, an important cog in the big wheel that kept the peace and explored the galaxy. Without Starfleet, he would be lost.

And it could get worse yet. There could be prison time, if he were found guilty of treason. Starfleet justice was fair but firm. If whoever was behind this had somehow trumped up evidence against him, then he could be looking at a hard fall.

"So," Kyle said, working to keep his concern out of his voice. "Where do we go from here?"

"As I said, there'll be an investigation," Owen replied crisply. "I'll keep you informed of its progress as we go. If formal charges are to be brought, I'll let you know that as well. Kyle, this is not a railroad job, and no one is out to get you. But we need to follow procedure. I'm sure you can understand that."

"I understand," Kyle said. Something else had been nagging at him, and suddenly he realized what it was. He decided not to bring it up now, though, but to hold back in case it was something he could use later on. Vice Admiral Bonner had seemingly known details that he had never reported -- at least, that he didn't remember having told anyone, though his first few weeks in therapy were pretty fuzzy in his mind -- about the attack. He had described the Tholians looking into the ventilation units and Jefferies tubes, but he was pretty sure he had never shared the fact that they had torn apart equipment and walls looking for more victims. That meant that Bonner's source, whoever it was, had some good information -- information no one alive should have had.

His future was looking more bleak by the minute.

"We're dismissed, then," Owen said. "Thank you for your cooperation, Kyle."

The meeting broke up, and Kyle started back toward his office, without escorts and without a backward glance. But Owen Paris caught up to him before he'd gotten very far from the conference room. He tried on a wan smile, but it didn't fit well and he dropped it. "Kyle," he said, taking Kyle's arm in his hand. "I want you to know I feel terrible about this."

Kyle nodded. He just wanted to close his eyes and drift off to sleep right there. He wouldn't go back to his own office after all, he decided, but he'd go home and get some sleep, if he could. If the Tholians in his brain let him. "I know, Owen," he said. "You have to do what you have to do."

"That's right." Owen sounded gratified to be let off the hook so easily. "Say, Kyle. Today's Father's Day. Have you heard from Will? I saw him in class yesterday. He's a terrific lad."

"Will?" Kyle asked. He recognized the sound of his own son's name, but was so tired, so distracted that he almost didn't make the connection. "No. He's in town?"

"Of course he is," Owen answered with a chuckle. "You have had a bad night, I see. Will's at the Academy. Second year. He's in my survival class."

"That's right," Kyle said, trying to cover. "You're right, Owen, I'm exhausted. I'm surprised I know my own name. I'm sure Will's much too busy to remember something like Father's Day, anyway. Boy's got much more important things on his mind."

"Well, he's swamped with work, I can tell you that," Owen said. "Second-year students don't have much free time." He released Kyle's arm and started back up the hall, then stopped again. "You take care, Kyle. If there's anything I can do for you, just let me know."

"I'll do that, Owen. Thank you. And give my best to Thomas."

"I'm on my way home to spend some time with him now," Owen replied. His son Tom was about ten years younger than Will, Kyle remembered.

Kyle continued down the corridor then, mentally berating himself for his ignorance. You should have known Will was at the Academy, he thought. Or you should have remembered, if you did know. He thought maybe he'd heard something about it before, and just forgotten. But the last couple of years had been hard ones for him, and most everything that wasn't immediately crucial to his survival had gone by the wayside in favor of the physical and emotional therapy he had needed to get back on track.

Anyway, Kyle Riker had long ago fallen into the habit of compartmentalizing his life. Recovery was in one compartment, work in another. Family was in another one, by itself. And that one, he didn't go into often.

Not often at all.

Copyright © 2003 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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