One Q Too Many (by Rona)

Synopsis:  One Q was more than enough, but now….

Category:  Star Trek, The Next Generation
Genre:  Sci/Fi
Rating:  T
Word Count:  11,930


 

Deanna Troi watched as the Enterprise shuttle Sakharov came to a standstill on Risa. She was rather surprised that the captain had bothered to send a shuttlecraft, but when the door opened, and two important admirals exited, she realised why. The Klingon transport ship that was to have taken Deanna back to the Enterprise had already gone, and she was just as pleased to have missed the Klingon’s noxious food, as she was to see the shuttle.

But her surprise was even greater a few moments later as Commander William Riker emerged from the shuttle, and gave her his charming grin. “Surprise!” He walked towards her, and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Will!” Deanna exclaimed, grasping his arms and looking up into his face. “Been demoted to shuttle pilot in my absence?”

Riker looked offended, but Deanna knew him well enough not to be fooled. “Really, Counsellor, how could you even suggest such a thing? Captain Picard had to send the best shuttle pilot he had to bring the top brass back. And since you needed a lift, how could I refuse?” He gestured to the shuttle. “Shall we?” Deanna linked arms and they walked towards the craft. “How was shore leave?”

Deanna smiled demurely, and refused to meet his eyes, saying nothing.

That good, huh?” Riker said, obviously impressed.

*****

Captain’s log, Stardate 56437.3. We are awaiting the return of our shuttlecraft bringing Commander Riker and Counsellor Troi from Risa. Our short tour with the two admirals went well, and they seemed pleased with the running of the ship. We have been told to look out for a group of Ferengi raiders, who are sacking every planet they can manage. They are as slippery to hunt through space, as they are to pin down when face-to-face. However, our main mission, as always, is exploration, not police work, and I do not expect to encounter the Ferengi. We should rendezvous with the shuttle in a little over five hours from now. The time will be spent finishing the survey of the remains of the supernova we encountered yesterday.

Deanna looked around the interior of the shuttle. “It looks the same as the old Sakharov, doesn’t it?” she commented.

Riker looked across and grinned. “Sure does. Handles much the same, too.” He leaned back in his seat, appraising Deanna. She returned his gaze without blushing. “You look well. The vacation must have done you good.”

“Thank you, I think. That could mean that I looked dreadful before I left.”

“Don’t fish for compliments,” Riker teased. “You know I was being sincere. Anyway, you did look a little tired. We all do after a while. Heaven knows, we only have our own problems to deal with, but you have the whole ship’s.”

“Well, sort of. But lets not talk of that now. How is everyone?” Deanna laughed. “Listen to me. You’d think I’d been gone for years, not just two weeks.”

“Oh, things are ticking over. There have been no major crises for a while. Peaceful. But there’s bound to be something happen before long.”

Deanna shuddered. “Will, you should be grateful for the peace. Don’t wish yourself into trouble, especially while I’m on board.”

“I wasn’t wishing myself into trouble,” Riker protested. “I was just stating a fact. Out here, things happen.”

“As long as they don’t happen to us.”

“Agreed.” Riker turned back to his instruments, and silence fell. It was a completely comfortable silence, and Deanna could feel Will’s warmth towards her, and knew that he was still her imzadi, a Betazoid word meaning ‘beloved’. Although they were no longer lovers, Deanna knew that every man she looked at had to measure up to Will, and the same situation applied to him. Every woman was compared to Deanna, usually unfavourably. Perhaps one day, they would settle down together, or perhaps they wouldn’t. Deanna was content to let the future unfurl itself. Que sera sera, she thought recalling something her father used to sing to her.

*****

A couple of hours later, Riker contacted the Enterprise. Picard answered. “Ah, Number One. Making good progress home?”

“Aye, Sir. We expect to rendezvous in three hours.”

“Understood, Number One. What is your current position?”

Riker glanced at his console and gave their co-ordinates. “We are passing quite close to Cappella IV.”

“Cappella IV? That’s the topaline capital of the universe, isn’t it? Well, that’s familiar territory. We have your position plotted, and will see you soon. Picard out.”

Riker closed the channel. “Well, at least we have someone to talk to if we get fed up with each other.”

“Thank you so much,” Deanna murmured. The next instant, the shuttlecraft lurched, and a warning buzzer began sounding.

Riker began pressing pads furiously, his casual demeanor gone. “What is it?” Deanna asked.

“Someone’s firing on us!” Riker exclaimed, disbelief in his tones, even as the craft lurched again. “The shields are weakening already,” he muttered tersely. He hit a pad. ”Sakharov to Enterprise. We are being fired upon by an unknown assailant. Our shields are down to 60%. We require assistance.”

The shuttle seemed to stagger, and Riker groaned. “They’ve hit our right warp nacelle. Its gone. Trying to compensate.” He fought with the console, doing everything he could to evade their attackers. The enemy ship swooped past them, going into a tight turn to get the shuttle back within its sights once more. Riker gasped. “Enterprise, we are being attacked by a Ferengi marauder, repeat, the Ferengi!”

“This is Picard. There isn’t another ship closer than us. We are coming full speed. Try to hang on.”

Before Riker could acknowledge, the shuttle lurched again. Deanna was hanging onto her seat nervously. She shot a glance at the console, but Riker told her the problem. “Enterprise, we have lost our shields. The shuttle is going down. I repeat, we are going down. Guidance systems are failing. I hope to make a landing on the planet Cappella IV. Do you copy, Enterprise?”

There was the start of a reply, and then the system failed. Riker spared Deanna a glance. “Brace yourself,” he said, grimly.

*****

“Commander Riker! Respond!” Picard was on his feet, pacing the bridge, staring out at the peaceful starfield in front of him as if he could see his stricken shuttle. “Mr Worf, are they still transmitting?”

“No, Sir,” Worf rumbled. His anxious gaze clashed with the captain’s.

“Ensign,” Picard snapped, returning to the command chair, “warp nine to the last co-ordinates of the shuttlecraft. Engage!”

“Course and speed laid in, Sir,” the ensign at the helm replied. “Engaged.”

Data, the android swung round from his position at ops. “ Sir, even at warp nine, we will not arrive at the shuttle’s position for 30 minutes.”

Picard curbed his irritation. “I know, Mr Data, but what else can we do?”

Data pondered that for a moment, recognised it as a rhetorical question, and swung back to his console. Picard was grateful. The Ferengi! It was too much of a coincidence that they had been warned to look out for the Ferengi, and the shuttle was attacked. It had to be the same group. And around Cappella IV – they must be after the topaline.

“Bridge to Sickbay,” he said.

“Crusher here, Captain.” Beverly sounded quizzical.

“Our shuttlecraft containing Commander Riker and Counsellor Troi has been attacked, and hopefully made a controlled landing on Cappella IV. Please have someone standing by to beam down to the planet surface when we arrive in approximately 30 minutes.” He hesitated. “We have lost contact with the shuttle.”

“Understood, Captain. Crusher out.” Beverly sounded concerned. She wasn’t alone.

*****

Deanna drifted slowly back to consciousness, aware only that she ached all over. For several minutes, she lay still, eyes closed, waiting for her body to tell her if it was seriously hurt, or just shaken up. When the ache remained constant, she cautiously opened her eyes, and looked around. She was lying on the floor of the shuttle, behind the command chairs, and for several moments, she did not know where she was. Then, with a jolt, she recalled the attack. “Will!” she murmured, and crawled to her knees.

The left hand side of the shuttle was caved in, and a very large tree branch had shattered the side-window. Riker lay along the floor, in front of the command chairs. His back was to Deanna, and for a ghastly moment, she thought he was dead. Then Deanna saw that he was breathing, and edged forward, between the chairs, to touch him. Riker groaned, but didn’t move.

Struggling hard, Deanna fought with Riker’s chair, which had come loose on impact, and was tilted over at a crazy angle. Eventually, it was tilted over the other way, and Deanna had room to gently turn Will Riker onto his back.

He wasn’t as badly injured as she had feared. The only obvious injury was a deep gash across his forehead. It had been bleeding, but was stopped now. Deanna vaguely wondered how long they had been unconscious. When she tried to ask the computer, she discovered that the whole system had crashed. She had expected as much.

Somewhere on board, there might be a medical kit, and Deanna was pleased to find a very basic one among the supplies. She quickly scanned Riker, and was relieved to find nothing too serious. There were no broken bones, and, relieved, Deanna settled back to wait for Riker to regain consciousness.

Her patience was rewarded. Riker groaned a couple more times, and a few minutes later, opened his eyes. Clarity leapt into them when he saw Deanna. “Are you okay?” he asked, pulling himself upright. “Boy, my head aches.”

“I’m fine,” Deanna replied. “Take it easy. We’re down, and more or less in one piece. That was some piece of flying.” She managed a smile, but it was shaky around the edges. “Don’t try to move too much. You’ve banged your head, but it doesn’t seem too bad.”

Riker nodded. “But we have to get out of here. The Ferengi might send a landing party to look for us, and the last thing we want is to be trapped inside the shuttle.” He hauled himself to his feet, and his ankle began to throb. It must have been twisted when he was thrown from his seat. His head stopped spinning after a few moments, and his ankle would have to do. He extended his hand and helped Deanna to her feet.

It was quite a struggle to get the hatch door opened, but brute force managed it in the end. Riker eased out for a look, and discovered they were resting on a hillside, a couple of metres above the ground. Carefully, so his weight wouldn’t disturb the balance of the shuttle, Riker eased out, and swung down to the ground. His landing, on rocky, pitted ground, wasn’t good, and he had to bite back a cry of pain as his injured ankle folded underneath him. But he hid his pain from Deanna, and helped her to the ground. Deanna had brought the two phasers from the shuttle, and Riker took one from her. “Let’s find some shelter, where no-one can creep up behind us.”

As they clambered over huge tree roots and boulders, Riker found it impossible to hide his limp from Deanna. She became more and more concerned, as he finally had to stop and catch his breath. “Will, perhaps we should stop here. The Enterprise won’t be long before it gets here, and they can beam us up. There doesn’t seem to be anyone following us.”

“There’s a slight snag with that,” Riker said, wiping his face and wincing. “My comm. badge hasn’t survived the crash. O’Brien can’t get a fix on a broken comm.”

Deanna looked at the mangled remains of Riker’s comm, and wondered how she could have missed seeing it, and then she wondered how it had been so badly damaged, and Riker had escaped serious injury. “But we’ll be together,” she protested. “As long as he can get my signal..”

“We might get separated,” Riker said, baldly. “We don’t know what is going to happen You’re a bridge officer, Deanna; I don’t need to tell you what you have to do, if the need arises.” Riker’s voice was harsh, and he was sorry about that.

Deanna blanched. “I know.” She said it very quietly. “Let’s hope it won’t come to that!”

“Amen,” Riker agreed. “Come on, let’s get moving again.” He muffled a groan as he got to his feet.

Deanna put out her hand to support him. “Your foot is really bad, isn’t it?” she said. “You can’t go on.”

“I must,” Riker replied. He put his weight onto his injured ankle, and it collapsed underneath him. Riker plunged to the ground, dragging Deanna along with him. It was fortunate that he did, as a blue flash sizzled over their heads, and vanished. Riker grabbed Deanna and rolled with her into the fragile cover of a large rock.

“What was that?” Deanna gasped.

“A Ferengi whip,” Riker answered, bleakly. “They send a bolt of plasma, and they are really nasty.” Riker shuddered. Deanna recalled that he had faced these weapons once before. “Most of the Ferengi don’t use them any more. A phaser is quicker.”

Another flash passed over their heads, and Riker peered round the rock to return fire. “Try the Enterprise,” he ordered, ducking back. “Keep trying!” He popped up again, fired, and ducked back. He did this several times as Deanna tapped her comm badge, vainly trying to raise the Enterprise. Then he gasped as one of the bolts hit him. His phaser dropped from nerveless fingers, and he fell backwards onto the ground, exposed to enemy fire.

Deanna scrambled to cover him, and try and drag him back to safety, but Riker was a big man, and although still conscious – just – he couldn’t help her. Another bolt flashed past and hit him, and Deanna realised that she was on her own. She touched her comm “Enterprise, beam us up!” She hoped they would be near enough to hear her.

*****

“O’Brien, have you locked on to them?” Picard demanded.

“Aye, Sir, beaming them aboard now.” There was a pause, then O’Brien reported, “They’re here.”

“ Mr. Data, follow that Ferengi ship. Don’t let it get away. You have the bridge.” Picard strode briskly to the turbolift. “I’ll be in sickbay.”

His thoughts were grim as he walked the corridors. They would follow the Ferengi to their base and arrest them, but he couldn’t figure out why the Ferengi would want to steal a mineral that was now extremely common, and less valuable than it had been seventy or eighty years ago.

The doors of sickbay hissed open, and he saw Commander Riker lying on the examination table. Counsellor Troi was sitting on one of the beds, protesting that she really ought to be on the bridge. Beverly Crusher, the chief medical officer, was paying no attention.

“Counselor,” Picard greeted her. “How are they, doctor?”

“Deanna’s fine,” Beverly assured him, “And Will will be too. The gash on his head is superficial, but his ankle is a mess. It would be easier to heal if he’d broken it. But he’s torn all the ligaments from ankle to knee, and they take their time to heal.” As she spoke, Beverly pressed a hypospray to Will’s neck, and his eyes fluttered open.

“The Seventh Cavalry,” he said, and smiled at them. Then his various aches hit him, and the smile faltered and vanished.

“Take it easy, Will,” Beverly told him. “You’ll be here for a few hours until your ankle has healed.”

“Isn’t there any way to speed up the process?” Picard asked. “I really need him on the bridge.”

Beverly frowned. “Well, long ago, they used to put on a plaster, that held the limb immobile, and the patient used crutches to get around. Stasis is quicker, but if you need Will that badly, we could try it.”

Picard looked at Riker, who nodded. “Sure, I’ll try it.” He looked at Picard. “What about the Ferengi?” he asked.

“The ones on the planet were beamed aboard their ship moments after we brought you up. We’re going to follow them until we get some answers from them. They are wanted by the Federation anyway.” Picard broke off and stared in amazement as Beverly Crusher appeared carrying wet plaster of Paris and a pair of crutches.

“This is going to be very heavy,” she warned Riker, as she started to apply the plaster. “And it might take you a bit of time to get accustomed to the crutches. I’m told they’re quite unwieldy.”

“Now she tells me,” Riker groaned. He looked down in amazement as Beverly began to cut away his uniform leg. The sickbay staff crowded round to look.

Picard cleared his throat. “I must go back to the bridge,” he said. “As soon as possible, Number One.”

“Aye, Sir,” Riker said, sparing him a momentary glance, his eyes drawn to the extraordinary process that was happening to his leg. Picard gestured to the door, and Deanna resigned herself to missing all the fun. She preceded the captain out of the door.

*****

Data relinquished the command chair as soon as Picard came onto the bridge, and resumed his seat at ops. “We are still after the Ferengi,” he reported. “We have hailed them on all channels, but they are ignoring us.”

“Thank you, Mr Data,” Picard said. He glanced at the readouts on his chair arms, and nodded.

“Welcome back, Counsellor,” Data said.

“Thank you, Data,” Deanna replied, smiling warmly at him. “Its nice to be back.”

Data gave his quizzical half-nod, as he did when puzzled, and turned back to ops.

The lift door opened several minutes later, and the entire bridge staff gaped at Commander Riker as he awkwardly crutched himself out of the turbolift and down the ramp. He eased himself into his seat, and disentangled himself from the crutches.

“Quite an entrance, Number One,” Picard commented. “Perhaps I should use crutches to gain the crew’s attention. You seem quite proficient with them.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Riker replied. “Beverly tells me I’ll get better with practice. But lets catch the Ferengi so I can get rid of this cast. It weighs a ton!”

“The Ferengi are slowing, Captain,” Data reported.

“They are hailing us,” Worf added, disgust in his tone.

“On screen,” Picard ordered, getting to his feet and tugging down his uniform top. “This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise. Identify yourselves.”

The viewscreen flashed to life and two Ferengi faces peered at them. “Captain Picard? We are honoured. I am DaiMon Kolk. Why were you chasing us?”

Picard bit back his first response. “DaiMon, we were chasing you because you attacked our shuttlecraft and forced it to crash, and then attacked our crew members. That is a direct violation of the agreement that exists between the Federation and the Ferengi Alliance! Prepare to be boarded.”

The DaiMon looked at his companion. “You must have the wrong ship, Captain,” he replied, his tone obsequious. “We are simply returning to the Ferengi home world after a peaceful trading mission.”

Picard’s face hardened. “I am not mistaken. Prepare to be boarded!”

“Don’t push your luck, human,” The Ferengi warned. “We can damage your precious ship in a battle, and we do not want you on our ship. You have no right!”

“I have every right!” Picard declared. He gestured to Worf to cut communications. “Mr Worf, prepare your team!”

The next moment, the Enterprise rocked and the shields came on automatically. Picard reeled, and caught himself. “What on earth?” he gasped.

Data turned. “The Ferengi ship just exploded,” he reported.

*****

 

The senior staff gathered in the observation lounge half an hour later. “What have we discovered about the Ferengi ship?” Picard asked, coming straight to the point.

Data was the first to speak. “We have not had time to do a full analysis of the debris from the Ferengi ship,” he reported, “but the debris pattern matches a warp core explosion. At present, it is unclear if this was a warp core breach, or the result of weapon fire. Both seem unlikely, however,” he continued, “as there were no signs of a breach prior to the explosion, and we detected no enemy ships in the vicinity.”

Picard nodded. “All right, so what did happen? Theorize, Mr Data,” he ordered, cutting off Data’s next remark.

Geordi LaForge took up the story. “There is the chance that the Ferengi activated auto-destruct, Captain. Or, whomever ordered them to Cappella IV had set the computer to destruct if the ship was stopped, and its possible that the Ferengi didn’t know that.”

“Mr. Data?” Picard questioned, looking at the android.

“It is possible, Captain. It seems unlikely that the Ferengi would try to plunder Cappella IV, and all those other planets, without someone stronger backing up their behaviour. Therefore, I think that we should be trying to find out who was working with them.” Data blinked, as though checking that he had said everything relevant to the situation.

“Agreed,” Picard said. “I suggest that we head back to Cappella IV once our analysis is complete. We may find some answers then.” He looked around at the faces of his senior staff. “That will be all.” As they all rose to their feet, Picard added, “Number One, perhaps you ought to return to sickbay and get Doctor Crusher to see to your leg. You can’t lead an away team in plaster.”

“At once, sir,” Riker replied. “Thank you!”

*****

The shimmer of the transporter died away, and the away team reached for their phasers. Satisfied that they were secure for the moment, they holstered the weapons and Data opened his tricorder. Riker looked with distaste at the crashed shuttle, and unconsciously flexed his ankle. There wasn’t even a twinge.

“There is a structure of some kind in that direction, Commander,” Data said, pointing off to their right. “There are no life signs, but there appears to be an energy source there.”

“Let’s go,” Riker ordered. “What kind of energy?”

Data peered at the tricorder more closely. “It would appear to be a wood fire, Commander,” he answered. “Curious. The inhabitants of Cappella IV are very technologically advanced, so why would they be burning wood?”

“The romance, Data,” Geordi answered. “Log fires are special.” Data looked puzzled. “There’s nothing nicer than sitting in front of a roaring fire with someone you love,” Geordi went on.

“Especially if it’s snowing outside,” Riker added.

“Indeed,” Data commented. If he had been human, Data’s voice would have been loaded with skepticism. As it was, the android was simply perplexed, a common state when it came to human emotions. Worf, who had so far remained silent, grunted disdainfully. Riker and Geordi exchanged amused glances.

A few metres further on, they arrived at a medium-sized hut. It was in a man-made clearing, and smoke trailed out of the chimney. All four had been smelling it for a few minutes. Riker halted them at the edge of the trees, and looked at Data. “Any life signs?” he asked quietly.

Data scanned the area. “Negative,” he replied.

Riker looked around again, and then nodded. “All right, let’s go in,” he ordered.

The door swung quietly open at Riker’s touch, and he went in, gaping around in amazement. The inside of the hut was very primitive, furnished with antiques. They could see no sign of any modern technology, and the antiques were all from Earth. “Analysis,” Riker said.

Data already had his tricorder out. “They are all genuine articles, Commander,” he reported. “Mostly circa 1800 –1900. However, I am receiving an anomalous reading from this wall here.” Data walked over to the back wall, and swept the tricorder down the wall. “It is made of a duranium alloy,” he continued. “There is a faint charge coming from it.”

Riker was feeling the wall, and grasped at the surface, which pulled smoothly away to reveal a large metallic door. There was no visible handle.

“Look at that!” Geordi breathed. He ran his hand lovingly over the polished surface. “How do we get in?” he asked.

Riker rubbed his beard. “Open sesame?” he suggested. Data opened his mouth to speak, but Riker forestalled him. “I’ll explain later, Data.”

“Yes Sir,” the android responded.

“Here is something, Commander,” Worf rumbled. He pointed to a small shiny sphere on the wall. “Perhaps this opens it,”

“Try it,” Riker agreed, and Worf pressed it. Silently, the door slid back to reveal a dark space beyond.

They searched long and hard for lights, but found nothing. Riker touched his comm. “Away team to Enterprise.”

“Yes, Number One,” Picard responded.

“We have found a hut and despite all its primitive look, it had a wall made of a duranium alloy of some kind. We’ve got it open, but we need hand lamps.”

“Have you any idea what might be in there?” Picard queried.

“No way of telling, Captain,” Riker said, peering into the gloom once more. “I can see a couple of steps, but it’s really black in there.”

“I’ll send down lamps, but keep an open channel.”

“Aye, Sir,” Riker responded. A few moments later, the lamps appeared, and they all took one. Riker stepped forward. “I’m going in now,” he said, and stepped through the door.

The lamp lit up a huge space below him, and Riker walked down several steps before stopping and looking around. “There are several boxes down here, Captain. Do you want me to open them?”

There was no response. Riker looked at Data, who also tried his comm badge. It, too, seemed dead. Worf was at the top of the steps, and his badge worked. They discovered that the vault must be shielded against communication. Picard was concerned. “I don’t want all of you going in there together,” he decreed. “We must know what is going on.”

“Agreed, Sir,” Riker said. “Data, you come with me. Geordi, Worf, I may get you to change places with Data once we know what’s going on.”

Worf looked disapproving, but nodded without saying anything. Riker and Data entered the vault again.

Its proportions were really tremendous. The stairs led down thirty steps or more, and the room opened out before them. They flashed their lamps around. The boxes that they had seen from above were large crates made of the same alloy as the door. Data scanned every one, but there were no readings to be gleaned through the metal.

“There’s no dust,” Riker commented, running his fingers along the top of a crate.

“No, Sir,” Data agreed. “There is no change in the air temperature, either, and one would expect that it would be colder this far underground.”

“Yeah, right,” Riker agreed. “What do you think this is, Data?”

“I do not have enough information to hazard a guess, Commander.”

“Are you reading any energy sources?”

“Negative,” Data answered, “But they could be shielded in the same manner that this vault is.”

Riker stopped and looked around. “Its certainly huge,” he commented. “Let’s split up. You go over to that side, and I’ll look over here.”

Data dutifully set off, his tricorder to the fore. There was a sudden flash of energy registered, and Data immediately called Riker’s name. There was no reply. Concerned, Data turned around, and saw Riker standing about 10 metres away. “Commander?” Data called again.

Riker beckoned to him. Data studied his body language, and decided that Riker was excited. He hurried across. Riker said nothing, simply pointed. Data directed his lamp in the direction indicated, and saw a figure sitting a few metres away.

“Stay here,” Riker said, starting to move.

“Commander,” Data said, catching his arm, “there is no life-form registering on my tricorder. This could be a trap of some kind.”

“Perhaps. But I can sense someone’s mind.” Riker was still leaning towards the distant figure, seemingly unconscious of the fact that he was pulling against Data’s grip.

Data was alarmed. Without letting go, he turned his head and shouted for Worf. The Klingon was by his side in a minute. The entire time they were waiting, Riker strained against Data’s hand. Data had gently increased the force of his hand, while being careful not to injure Riker.

“What is it?” Worf rumbled. He peered at the figure ahead. Data gave him a quick run down of events, and Worf grunted. “I sense no presence.”

Thou wouldst not sense my presence in the same manner as thy Commander, Klingon. Thy senses are different.” The voice seemed to speak out of the very air around them. It was low-pitched, pleasant and female.

Geordi’s voice was suddenly heard. “Are you lot okay down there?”

“Yes, Geordi,” Data shouted. “Contact the ship. Tell them that we have encountered…something.”

“Right,” Geordi replied, sounding confused, as well he might

“Commander,” Data said, gently, “Please come away from here.”

Riker didn’t appear to hear him. He was no longer simply straining against Data’s hand; he was actively pulling against it.

Thou must release him, android. Thou hast no right to restrain thy leader.”

“I beg your pardon, whoever you are, but I have every right.” Data was ever polite, and once more tightened his grip on Riker.

“Let’s get out of here,” Worf suggested, gripping Riker’s other arm. He got no further than that, because an energy force hit him in the middle of the chest, knocking him off his feet. Data was hit by a similar force at the same moment. He, too, was knocked over, but unlike Worf, he did not lose his grip on Riker. Riker was dragged to the ground.

Data was still in the thrall of the energy force. It battered at him until his positronic network closed down. His hand opened. Riker struggled to his feet, and walked, stiff-legged towards the figure. Worf regained his feet and dived at Riker, knocking him to the ground. Again, the energy blast hit him, and Riker was fighting him, too. Summoning the last of his energy, Worf punched Riker in the face. Riker’s head snapped back, and he passed out. Worf slumped down.

Thou hast not won yet, Klingon. He will be mine!”

*****

 

Security teams were beaming down as fast as the Enterprise could manage it. Geordi led them into the building, trying to contain his anxiety about his friends, yet perplexed as to what had happened to them.

The handlamps that the away team had been carrying were spilled on the floor and cast odd shadows on the wall. The Enterprise crew could see the three men lying on the floor. Worf appeared to be sprawled on top of Commander Riker.

As they drew nearer, an energy bolt flashed towards them from the darkness. The security teams ducked and scattered. One ensign was hit and fell, groaning to the floor. Geordi alone had spotted the source of the bolts, purely because of his VISOR. Glancing round, he realised that no-one else had seen it. “Fire your phasers at the same place as mine!” he yelled. Without waiting to check that the others had heard him, he began firing.

Several other phasers sprang into life, and a glowing spot appeared on a distant wall It glowed hotter and hotter as the other phasers joined in, and suddenly exploded in a shower of sparks. Some of the tension went out of the atmosphere, but Geordi was suddenly aware of a presence. It made him distinctly uncomfortable. “All right, lets get out of here,” he ordered, and watched as his fallen comrades were carried to safety.

*****

“Please, do not fuss,” Worf said, irritably, to Nurse Alyssa Ogawa. “I am fine.”

Alyssa smiled at him and continued to work on his broken ribs. The Klingon sat stiffly on the bio-bed, looking offended.

Riker lay on the next bio-bed, unconscious, his face bruised and bloody from the blow Worf had given him. A nurse was checking his vital signs with some concern. Being punched by a Klingon wasn’t a recipe for good health.

Data lay on the examination table, with Geordi and Beverly working over him. All this, Picard observed from the doorway. Even as he watched, Data sprang back to life as Geordi cleared the last over-loaded circuit. Picard crossed to his side. “Report, Mr LaForge?”

Geordi shook his head. “Captain, I’m not exactly sure what happened.” He looked at Data. “I found Commander Riker, Commander Data and Lieutenant Worf unconscious in the vault. We were attacked by an energy blast and one ensign was hit.” He indicated the crewman. “We destroyed the source of the energy blasts, then beamed back.”

“Mr. Data?” Picard questioned, nodding his thanks to Geordi. Data told Picard the whole story until the point that his circuits overloaded. Then Worf finished off. Then, poker straight, he added, “Sir, I want to report that I struck a senior officer. That is a court martial offence, and I am ready for your judgement.”

Picard looked at him gravely. “Indeed, Mr Worf, that is a serious offence. But under the circumstances, I can see that you had no other course of action open to you. If you had not struck Commander Riker, none of us can foresee what might have happened. I want to hear no more about a court martial.”

 

“Aye, Sir,” Worf replied, with only the faintest trace of relief in his tone. His ramrod stance relaxed fractionally.

Picard frowned slightly in the direction of his first officer. “I must speak to Commander Riker, doctor,” he said. The nurse was still by Riker, but no longer looking worried.

Beverly nodded, brushing her red hair away from her face. “Give me a couple of minutes to fix that broken nose, then he’s all yours,” she replied. She crossed to Riker’s side, and began work. Five minutes later, Riker was conscious and sitting up in bed.

“I definitely felt a presence before we heard the voice,” he explained. “Then, as we drew nearer, I began to feel as though I had to go closer; like I was consumed with curiosity. I didn’t feel as though there were any danger. I didn’t think about Data or Geordi or Worf.” Riker frowned. “The only thought in my mind was that I was in command.”

“And what do you feel now?” Picard questioned, frowning also.

Riker looked a little startled. “Same as always, I guess,” he said, doubtfully. He shot a sideways glance at Worf, and his devilish grin appeared. “Except my face hurts!” He swiftly sobered as he looked at Picard. “Sorry, Sir.”

Picard had as good a sense of humour as the rest, but the levity annoyed him. “Perhaps I should take that remark as proof of your well being, Number One,” he remarked, dryly. “Nevertheless, I think that Doctor Crusher should run some tests and then you should talk with Counsellor Troi. We must get to the bottom of this. Senior staff meeting in one hour.” Picard turned and strode from the room.

*****

The senior staff were seated in their customary places in the observation lounge when Picard entered. He got right down to business. “In light of the report from the away team, we must now suppose that this being is responsible for the behaviour of the Ferengi ship, which attacked our shuttlecraft. The question is now, how do we proceed?” He glanced around the table and his gaze went from Riker to Beverly. “Doctor?”

“All the tests I did on Commander Riker were normal,” Beverly reported. “Whatever it is left no physical trace.”

Picard nodded and flicked his gaze across the table to Deanna. “Counsellor?”

Deanna leaned forward. “I could detect no emotional residue from the being, so I placed Commander Riker under hypnosis. I managed to get his sub-conscious impressions of the being. It is ancient and very powerful.” Deanna shuddered. ”I sensed that it is looking for something, or someone.” She took a steadying breath. “I would guess that it probably is female, but took on a human female form to attract Commander Riker. It may have been skimming the surface of his mind to find a lever to use against him.”

“Hmm,” Picard said. “Is Commander Riker still at risk from it?”

Deanna was silent for a moment, while she considered the matter again. “I would say that we are all at risk, Captain. Certainly, I think the less emotionally driven members of the crew are at a lesser risk, but there is still a risk.” She glanced at Will, who was trying not to look self-conscious, and succeeding quite well. But Deanna could sense the unease coming from all the senior staff.

“Suggestions,” Picard said, curtly. He hated situations like this. Under the Prime Directive, they must tread very carefully, and any situation that put his crew at risk made Picard uncomfortable.

“I could lead the away team,” Worf rumbled.

“We must go back and try to talk to this being, Captain,” Riker said, leaning forward. “Worf would be a good choice to lead the away team, but for one thing; the being is already interested in me, probably because I was in command. It may think that the ship is mine. If I can get it to tell me what it wants, then we’ll have a better idea how to proceed. “ Riker looked at the others. “Once I leave the Enterprise, and until you are certain that my mind has not been subverted by the being, I think you should revoke all my command privileges.” Riker met Picard’s gaze. “That way, it doesn’t get in by the back door.”

Picard thought it through. “The same restrictions would have to apply to all senior officers on the away team. But it does seem workable. Anything else?”

“I would suggest only the smallest away team,” Deanna said. “Although the being was only interested in Will last time, it might try everyone if it felt thwarted. I wonder if it did offer something to the Ferengi.”

“I think perhaps the Ferengi managed to evade the being after agreeing to – something,” Riker said. “Perhaps the being tried to brain-wash them, and it didn’t hold. After all, the Ferengi brain has four lobes. You can’t read them, can you, Deanna?”

Deanna shook her head. Geordi spoke up. “That sounds feasible, Commander. I wonder if the figure you saw was used to lure the Ferengi, too. They are powerfully attracted to human females. I didn’t see a figure, but my VISOR works differently from your eyes, and perhaps the being planted the image on your retina.”

Riker leaned on his chair arm and stroked his beard thoughtfully. “The away team should consist of three member,” he suggested. “Myself, Data and Worf. Then we aren’t exposing another crew member to unnecessary danger.”

Picard nodded, then looked at Beverly. “Is there any way to protect the away team, Doctor?”

Beverly shook her head. “I don’t think so, Captain. A neural suppressor could place them in real danger by slowing down their thought processes. I’m not happy with the risk Commander Riker is taking,”

“Nor am I, Doctor,” Picard said, “But I don’t see that we have much choice. All right. The security teams on the surface will stay in place until this is over.” He paused to look at his senior staff again. “Make it so,” he ordered.

They rose to their feet. There was only one more thing to do. “Computer,” Picard said, and paused for the chimed response. “Withdraw command privileges from Commander Riker, Lieutenant Commander Data and Lieutenant Worf until further notice. Authorize Picard Alpha3.”

The computer chimed again. “Acknowledged.”

Picard met Riker’s sober gaze and nodded. It was done. As soon as his executive officer left the ship, the command codes would be changed. Then even Data, with his voice mimicking abilities, would be unable to take over the ship.

*****

The vault was unchanged. The men had the impression that it was unchangable and had looked the same for decades or longer. They walked forward together, warily. Riker put up his hand to signal a halt. There was total silence. Feeling rather foolish, Riker spoke. “I am Commander William Riker, of the Federation Starship Enterprise.”

Thou hast no need to tell me thy name, Riker. I know that thou art in command of a space vessel. I am known as Guinevere.” At the slight in-take of breath, controlled but audible, the voice continued, “Yes, even yon Guinevere that thou thinkest of as a legend. I canst not explain how I arrived in this place. I know not the words to make thee understand. Know only this; thou art as my beloved Arthur was, and I await thy arrival at my side with bated breath. Come, William Riker, and take thy destiny in both hands.”

Riker appeared dazed. He glanced at his companions in amazement. Worf frowned, appearing puzzled. “Who,” he mumbled quietly “is Guinevere?”

“Guinevere was the legendary Queen of England and ruled beside Arthur Pendragon. Their kingdom was supposed to be charmed and Arthur had a supposedly magical sword called Excalibur.” Data sorted through the various legends of Arthur and added, “Arthur was to return to protect his lands from great danger, but to date has never returned despite Three World Wars….”

“I recall the legend now,” Worf interrupted. Data subsided quite amiably. He was accustomed to being interrupted. “What does she –it- mean about your destiny, Commander?” Worf asked.

“I shudder to think,” Riker replied. “But if it speaks the truth, Deanna was right about it being ancient. The Camelot legend is dated to the 5th century or thereabouts. No-one has ever proven the existence of Arthur.” They were conferring in an undertone.

Dost thou doubt my existence, beloved?” the voice asked, sounding hurt. “Come closer, and I will prove myself to thee.”

Riker took half a step forward, then stopped. Data made a movement, but Riker slightly raised his hand and the android stepped back. “How can I come closer when I can’t see you?” Riker asked, warily. He held his handlamp steady, but its beam revealed nothing. Even the figure they had seen before was absent.

“Thou art not looking in the correct place, beloved. Come and we shall talk about whatever thou desirest, my lord.”

Riker was out of his depth. By their expressions, so were Data and Worf. Yet he had to do something. The compelling need to go to the voice was beginning to filter into his mind, almost unnoticed. There was something new this time, too. Riker’s mind was suddenly filled with images of command – command of thousands of men, who lived and died at his whim. He could almost taste the power. He took another step forward. “I still can’t see you,” he said, as his final try at resisting.

Then look, Lord,” Guinevere’s voice was suddenly closer. A female figure appeared, surrounded by a glowing nimbus of light. It was walking towards them.

Worf hastily drew his phaser. Data followed suit. But they had no chance to use their weapons. There was a blinding flash of light.

When it faded, Riker was gone!

*****

Sitting tensely on the bridge, Picard was startled by a sudden flash of light. Turning his head, he was appalled to see Q, dressed in a Starfleet uniform, sitting in Riker’s command chair. “Jean-Luc!” Q exclaimed. “You look well. Tell me all the gossip.”

Tight lipped, Picard looked away, but not before noticing that Q word the pips of a full Commander. His heart sank.

*****

 

“What do you want, Q?” Picard demanded, striding into his ready room. As he had expected, Q was there before him, sprawled insolently across the couch.

“Why, Jean-Luc is that any way to treat a friend?” Q drawled, knowing full well he was annoying the Captain.

Picard gave him a flat stare and said nothing. He sat down behind his desk and simply waited. Q swung his legs to the floor and gave Picard a smile. “Don’t get in a snit, Jean-Luc. I’ve actually come to help you, though for the life of me I can’t imagine why. You haven’t exactly welcomed me with open arms.” He crossed the room, took a chair, reversed it and straddled it. The gesture was Riker’s. Picard was even more annoyed.

Hiding his irritation, Picard said “And in what way do we require your help?”

Q frowned. “I ought to leave you to flounder around on your own! Don’t you even care that your first officer has disappeared? Look, I even came as a commander to replace him. Oh, just until you get Riker back – supposing that you ever managed to find him.”

“What are you talking about?” Picard demanded. Before Q could answer, Data’s voice was heard.

“Data to Enterprise.” At the Captain’s answer he continued, “Captain, Commander Riker has disappeared.”

*****

The senior staff were again gathered in the observation lounge. Q was there, too, seemingly oblivious of all the unfriendly glances he was receiving. Worf and Data had returned from the planet’s surface, and gave a report on all that had happened. When they had finished, Q was smiling smugly.

“Impressions?” Picard snapped. He was irritated beyond measure that Q was sitting in Riker’s seat. Knowing Q, he was certainly doing it on purpose.

“Well,” Q drawled, “you are dealing with another member of the Q Continuum. We have been playing hide and seek with her for about 1000 years now. But now that you have so conveniently found her for us, I can take her back with me. Simple, really.”

There was a flat silence. Q looked round the faces and sighed. “I’m smitten to the heart by your unbelief,” he declared.

“I wish,” Worf mumbled, looking away. Worf was angry with himself for letting Commander Riker down.

Q glared at the Klingon, but for once let the remark pass. Geordi spoke up quietly. “Perhaps it’s simple for you, Q,” he commented. “But what about Commander Riker? Is he alive? Will this other Q have harmed him?”

“Of course he’s alive,” Q scoffed. “If I know Guinevere, she’s probably making voracious love to him right now. Or at least,” he amended “Teaching him how to make fabulous love to her.” He shot a glance at Deanna. “Does that disturb you, Troi? Knowing that your imzadi is so faithless?”

Deanna did not rise to the bait. “You haven’t told us how you aim to retrieve your errant Q, or Commander Riker.”

“Its simple, really. I’ll arrange for your sensors to be able to read inside the vault. That way, you have somewhere that you can beam down to safely. Then, with your phasers, you can blow the vault to kingdom come, and that will be the end of it.”

“And Commander Riker?” Picard asked, making his voice cool. He thought it was a wonder that the crew were not pulling back from him, so great seemed the heat of his anger. “You are only giving us half answers, Q.”

“Well, perhaps I exaggerated the simplicity slightly. Riker is in danger. Guinevere will use him up and then kill him. Getting him back will be very difficult, or even impossible, depending on how strong his mind is. If he has submitted to Guinevere, then it’ll be too late. And there is only one person who can get him back, alive and in one piece, and that person is…” Q paused dramatically and grinned at Picard. “..Deanna.”

There was a chorus of exclamations from around that table. The only person who did not comment was Deanna herself. She sat there, white-faced and looked at Q. Q met her gaze and for once forbore to make a smart remark. “I shall help you,” he said, gently. “But only you can do it, because only you have an emotional tie to him that goes beyond the norm. Guinevere will be able to sense that tie. It is the only thing that will save Riker. And if it is too late, then you must be the one to kill him, as his tie to you will prevent Guinevere from claiming his immortal soul, and resurrecting him.”

Beverly reached out and took Deanna’s hand, squeezing sympathetically. “Surely, Q, you are over-stating the danger,” she protested.

“Am I, Deanna?” he countered.

“No,” Deanna said, shakily. “No, he’s telling the truth. For once, I can sense his thoughts. “ She swallowed, took a deep breath and looked at Picard. “I’m ready. When do we leave?”

*****

Will Riker sank down wearily on the grass. He had no idea where he was or how he had got there. His clothing – soft boots, hose, long tunic – seemed strange to him. Even the sword he carried didn’t seem right. He knew his name was Will, but knew nothing else. He was in a forest, and had so far fought off three different men trying to murder him. The shield that had doubtless saved his life lay on the grass beside him, but Riker was sure he’d never seen it before.

He had escaped serious injury – more by luck than judgement – but was bruised, and had twisted one knee so badly that walking was becoming increasingly difficult. He rubbed his knee gently, keeping a wary eye on his surroundings. At a rustling in the trees, he raised his sword, but it was only a deer, that panicked when it saw him.

A scream rang out through the trees. Riker reacted swiftly, coming to his feet, and limping towards the sound. A small voice in his mind was urging him that this was not right, but he could not stop walking. The scream came again. Riker burst into a clearing, and saw a stunningly beautiful young woman being ravished by a tall, ragged man. Even as Riker dashed forward, his mind was saying ‘oh yeah?’ But he could not stop.

It was a long bloody fight. This man was much Riker’s own height and weight. He obviously knew more about sword fighting than Riker. They circled and feinted, thrust and parried. Soon, they were both bleeding from numerous small cuts and the end, when it came, was as much a surprise to Riker as it was to his opponent. Riker’s sword slid down his opponent’s with a nasty clashing sound, and then, seemingly of its own volition, slid between the man’s ribs. The man gasped, staggered and fell. Riker wrenched his sword clear and stared, appalled, at the dead man at his feet.

“Will” the woman exclaimed, and threw herself into his embrace. “Thank God thou art uninjured!”

Will disentangled himself. “I’m sorry, who are you?” he asked.

The girl gasped. “I am Guinevere,” she said. “Thou art my betrothed. Dost thou not recall?” she looked into his face, catching both arms. The sudden movement caught Riker off balance, and he almost fell. “Thou art injured,” Guinevere gushed. “Come, and I shall tend thy wounds.” Riker took a step forward, and suddenly several armed men charged out from the trees. Too stunned to lift his sword, Riker was felled by a sliding tackle. His head hit the ground, and he blacked out.

*****

 

“Ready?” Geordi enquired.

“Of course I’m ready,” Q drawled. “Could we just do this?”

Geordi turned from the engineering station on the bridge, and addressed Picard. “Everything checks out, Sir. Ready to fire on your command.”

“Thank you, Mr LaForge. Mr Worf, have the phasers locked on target, and standing by.”

“Aye, Sir,” Worf said. “Sir, the authorities on Cappella IV are hailing you.”

Picard frowned. He had already notified them of the situation. “On screen,” he ordered, and got to his feet, unconsciously tugging down the top of his uniform. “Prime Minister,” he said, politely.

The humanoid on the viewscreen looked agitated, but the Cappellans always did. “Captain Picard, how much longer are you going to take to resolve this situation? The delay is intolerable.”

Picard took a deep breath and stifled his irritation. “As I told you earlier, Prime Minister, we are working as fast as we can. Exactly how long this will take is difficult to say, but perhaps another couple of hours.”

“Another two hours?” he repeated, sounding incredulous. “That’s ridiculous! You are Starfleet officers. Surely it can’t take that long.”

Picard summoned a placating smile. The Cappellans were an infuriating race to deal with. “I’m sorry, Prime Minister, but I’m afraid that it will take that long. I’ll let you know as soon as we are ready to destroy the vault.”

“That’s another thing, Picard,” the Prime Minister interrupted. “I don’t know if you should be destroying this vault without letting us see it first. The Cabinet might want to preserve the vault. It may be useful to us for storing topaline.”

“Prime Minister,” Picard said, in his firmest tone, “that vault is probably the most dangerous place in the universe at the moment. We have had help in configuring our phasers to destroy it, and that is precisely what will happen. Now, if you will excuse me, I am extremely busy.” Picard turned his back and indicated to Worf to end the transmission. The Prime Minister was cut off in mid-protest. “I want no more hails from Cappella IV, Mr Worf.”

“Understood, Sir,” Worf said. Worf admired Picard’s ability to remain civil towards such an irritating person. He would have snarled at the Cappellan Prime Minister, and there would have been serious repercussions.

Q was looking bored to death, leaning casually against the bulkhead. “Well, now that that little performance is over, Deanna and I will be on our way. We don’t want to delay too long. So long, Picard.” There was a flash of light, and Q vanished. Moments later, Worf confirmed that Q and Deanna had beamed down to the vault. Picard nodded and sat down. Knowing that Q was in charge made him profoundly uneasy.

*****

When Riker came to, his head was clearer. He knew his full name now, and he knew that he didn’t belong in this world. He was also very angry. He realised that his hands were bound tightly behind his back, and he glanced down to see that his ankles were tied with a leather thong. He struggled frantically against his bonds, but only succeeded in tearing his wrists raw. His injured knee was swollen to twice its usual size. He shouted, his voice bouncing off the stone walls of the room he was in. No one came.

Riker was actually dozing when the door finally opened. He jerked awake and glared at Guinevere, who stood in the doorway. “Art thou feeling better, Will?” she asked solicitously.

Furiously he demanded, “What kind of game are you playing, lady?”

Guinevere gave him a spurious smile. “So thou hast regained at least some of thy memory. “ She nodded, and he remembered everything in a rush. But as Picard’s face came into memory, Will repressed it, suddenly recalling that he had to protect his ship at any cost to himself. “Thou art a challenge, William Riker,” Guinevere said, softly. “Breaking you will give me great pleasure.”

“You can try,” Will grated. “You can try.”

Guinevere took Riker’s chin in her hand and forced his head up. She was surprisingly strong. “I will break thee, Riker. Thou wilt submit to me in the end. I can show thee pleasures undreamed of. But first, I will break thee.”

Riker brought his eyes up to meet hers, then let them glaze over. He was immediately aware of her fury as her nails dug into his skin. She dropped her hand and made a gesture. Two large men entered the room. They crossed to Riker. One cut the bonds on his feet, and they dragged him to his feet. “Beg, Will,” she said. “Beg, and I will be merciful.”

A shiver ran down Riker’s spine, but he said nothing. Even had she meant to kill him there and then, he could not have spoken. Guinevere’s gaze hardened, and she gestured with her head. Riker was dragged out.

*****

Deanna walked uncomfortably beside Q through a forest of breath taking beauty. Her clothing was unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable and she felt very self-conscious, which was unusual for her. Q, of course, seemed unconcerned by the fact he was wearing hose and tunic. But then, who knew what Q would usually wear?

They had encountered several armed men, but Q had made them disappear with a single gesture. “Rather like a holodeck programme,” Q said, airily, “But a trifle more dangerous.”

“Is Will still alive?” Deanna asked, more to break the silence than from a desire to learn that he might not be alive.

“Sure, but he may not be much longer. Guinevere is rather turked with him right now.” Q laughed as Deanna quickened her pace. “Slow down, Counsellor. There are one or two things that you should know. You must confront Guinevere alone, but I will help you. First off, you must tell her that Riker is yours. Demand his return. Stick pretty much to the truth. After that, I’ll tell you what to say.”

Q waved his hand, vanished, and when Deanna glanced around, she saw that he’d changed her location, too. She was standing in a small, primitive town. An enormous amount of noise was coming from an area just in front of her, behind a building. Deanna circled round it and entered the town square.

Guinevere stood on a dais, watching gleefully as Riker dodged around a small arena, his hands still bound, trying to avoid the long whip that another man brandished. He was not succeeding very well. Riker was limping heavily, his clothes were torn here and there, and one eye was swollen shut.

Deanna was instantly furiously angry. She pushed her way through the crowd, and no one tried to stop her. Reaching the edge of the crowd, she ducked under the rope fence and shouted, “Stop!”

People froze, gasps of horror coming form all around. Guinevere stepped forward, but did not relinquish her height advantage. “Who art thou, that thou dost challenge me?”

Deanna lifted her chin. “I am Deanna, daughter of the Fifth House, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, and Keeper of the Sacred Chalice of Riix. This man, Will, is my imzadi. I demand that you return him to me.”

“I have not heard of the Holy Rings, Sacred Chalice or Fifth House. Yet, it seems to me that you are telling the truth.” Guinevere paused and Deanna spoke quickly.

“How kind of you to say so.” She realised that she was not in control of her words. “You have abused my imzadi and I demand his return and reparations.”

Guinevere laughed, but it was a sound lacking in mirth. She came down from the dais, and crossed to stand across from Deanna. She was much taller than Deanna. “Thou art a child. How couldst one such as thee keep a man as virile as this?”

“How could you not keep him?” Deanna asked. “Return him, or I shall show you my power.” The watching crowd gave a horrified murmur at this, and they began to back away. Deanna hoped that Q knew what he was doing.

“Go on, then,” Guinevere said, “Use your power.”

Deanna raised her hand negligently and the villagers vanished. The background noise stopped. The man with the whip began to back away, and Deanna nodded in his direction, and he, too, disappeared.

Riker was staring at Deanna incredulously out of his one open eye. Deanna ignored him, keeping her attention on Guinevere. It was as well she did, for Guinevere threw a flash of pure energy at her.

Deanna didn’t even flinch, though that was purely down to Q’s control. He flung up a shield in front of Deanna, and the energy rebounded towards Guinevere. She absorbed it soundlessly, and gave a mirthless smile. “So,” she said.

Riker was edging closer to Deanna, step by painful step. He didn’t understand what was going on, and half-feared that Deanna was simply an illusion, but he decided to get closer to her anyway. He almost expected Worf and Data to materialise from behind Deanna, and save them both. But Riker’s movement attracted Guinevere’s attention to him, and with murderous intent, she bombarded him with pure energy.

A glowing shield appeared around Riker, and the energy was absorbed into it. Riker was obviously unharmed, and looked stunned.

Guinevere was no longer beautiful. Her face was contorted with rage. She lifted both hands and threw everything she had at Riker’s shield. It began to flicker, then faded entirely.

Q’s voice spoke in Deanna’s mind. “Quickly, Counsellor, Thrust this knife into Riker’s heart. Do not hesitate.”

The knife appeared in Deanna’s hand, and she walked swiftly to stand in front of Riker. He had fallen to one knee, and looked at her despairingly. “Deanna,” he pleaded. She hardened her heart, and plunged the knife into his chest. “Imzadi!” she cried.

Even as Riker sank, lifeless, to the ground, Deanna realised, sub-consciously, that the body she was stabbing had no substance and the blood rushing over her fingers had no heat. She pulled the blade out of the body and held it up. Blood dripped to the ground, but her fingers were not sticky, as they ought to have been. Wherever Riker was, he was not lying dead at her feet.

Q’s illusion was perfect, however. Guinevere screeched with rage as she saw all the blood. “What hast thou done?” she raged. “Thy act hast robbed me of mine consort! With his help, I could have regained my rightful place as ruler of the galaxy!”

Q suddenly materialised out of thin air. “Oh, really?” he mocked. “Do we have to put up with all the thees and thous? What was so attractive about that era on Earth? It was all so …primitive.”

“Q!” Guinevere gasped. “NO!”

“Oh, come, Guinevere,” Q said. “You didn’t really think that we wouldn’t find you again?” He shook his head. “Getting a starship wouldn’t have made you queen of the galaxy, you know. We wouldn’t have allowed that. The Continuum wants you back where we can keep an eye on you.”

Guinevere drew herself up to her full height. “I’ll come,” she said, with the little dignity she had left. She turned her gaze on Deanna. “Q protects you now, but if we ever meet again, you are dead!”

Deanna took a step back, her face chalk-white. Q had gone from her mind now, and she was profoundly shaken by Guinevere’s venom. She did not doubt that Guinevere meant every word. Q and Guinevere vanished, and Deanna was left alone with only a corpse for company. She had no idea how to get back to her own time.

Then Q’s head appeared in mid-air. “I forgot,” he apologised. There was the customary flash, and Deanna suddenly found herself in the vault, Will Riker, alive, kneeling at her feet. Next instant, the transporter shimmered around them.

*****

 

The transporter room seemed full of people. Picard, of course, was there. Worf, O’Brien, and Beverly Crusher. Two further security people. Deanna didn’t know who to acknowledge first.

Beverly dashed forward and ran her tricorder over Deanna and then Riker. Worf was immediately behind her. He freed Riker’s hands, and then helped Deanna from the transporter platform. Still slightly dazed, Deanna did as she was bid, and then understood as Riker and Beverly were transported directly to sickbay.

Picard beckoned to Deanna, and they left the transporter room to walk quickly to sickbay. Deanna swiftly told Picard all that had happened. Picard listened in near silence, grunting now and then to show he was listening. “Counsellor, I’m indebted to you. Without your help, and Q’s, we might not have survived this. Now all we have to do is destroy the vault and placate the Cappellan government.” Picard eyed Deanna. “You must be exhausted. Why don’t you rest?”

Deanna smiled gratefully. “I am pretty tired. I’d like to see Commander Riker first, then I’ll change.”

Picard nodded, then gestured for Deanna to enter sickbay before him. They could scarcely believe the scene that met their eyes.

Guinevere stood on the examination table, her eyes glittering with anger. Riker crouched protectively over Beverly, as flashes of lightning danced around the room. Riker looked up, his face still puffy and bruised. “Get out, Deanna!” he yelled.

It was too late for that. The doors had hissed shut, and refused to open again. Guinevere laughed. “Now I have you, child. Now will I redeem my promise and kill you! Then I will have Will for my consort.”

Picard tried to speak, but was forestalled by Riker, who struggled to his feet and went to stand in front of Guinevere. “I will submit to you willingly if you leave Deanna alone,” he said.

The lightning stopped. Guinevere looked thoughtfully at Riker. “Very well. Prove it by kneeling to me as a supplicant. Then I will let her live.”

Still looking Guinevere directly in the eye, Riker knelt awkwardly before her. Guinevere smiled. “Put your hands up to beg me for the woman’s life!”

“No, Will!” Deanna cried. She stepped forward, but was met by a burst of energy that knocked her off her feet.

“I beg you for Deanna’s life. I submit to you willingly,” Riker said, his voice steady. He held his hands out in front of him.

Guinevere jumped down from the table and touched Riker’s hands. His arms were suddenly encased in a heavy metal mesh from wrist to elbow. Riker gasped at the sudden weight, and his arms dropped. “You are mine!” Guinevere crowed and a metal collar with a chain leash appeared round Riker’s neck. It, like the mesh on his arms, had no visible join. Guinevere grasped the chain, twisting it round so that the collar forced Riker’s head up painfully. “Now this ship is mine!” she exclaimed.

Picard heard Deanna draw in a sharp breath. He couldn’t see how this rigmarole was helping them at all. Riker had no command privileges and Picard, who had, was trapped with them in sickbay. Riker had sacrificed himself for nothing.

“I have no command over this ship,” Riker said, quietly.

“You lie!” Guinevere shrieked. “Order the ship to do as I want!”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Riker said, choking the words past the collar. “Computer, set course for Earth.” The computer chirped.

“Request denied. Command privileges withdrawn,” the computer said.

“No! No!” Guinevere was beside herself with rage. “You tricked me! You can’t do that!” With a single gesture, Guinevere wrapped a metal band around Riker’s chest and upper arms, and several more around his legs. The sudden, appalling weight drove him to the floor.

“I didn’t lie,” Riker gasped, for Guinevere still held the leash tightly. “I said nothing. But its too late now, isn’t it? You’ve committed yourself to me, as I did to you. I can give you nothing. Goodbye, Guinevere. You must go back into the Continuum, and they will punish you as you deserve.”

“Die, all of you!” Guinevere snarled and gestured. Nothing happened. With an animal shriek, Guinevere vanished.

For several seconds, no one moved, then Riker groaned. Beverly was at his side in moments, seeking helplessly to release him from his bonds. Picard and Deanna were by Riker’s side, too. Deanna was groaning, as she took his pain into herself.

Q popped into being at Beverly’s side. “Oh blast! Why do I have to keep helping you people out?”

“Perhaps because we help you,” Riker grated.

Q gave him a glare, then relented and removed the shackles. “All right, Riker. I couldn’t have done it without your help. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“Its always nice,” Riker responded, as Beverly and Picard helped him to his feet and onto the examination table.

Picard frowned at Q. “What exactly is going on, Q? I thought you had taken Guinevere back to the Continuum. How did she end up here?”

Q gave an exaggerated sigh. “We had to let Guinevere commit herself to one person, because when that happens, she was reduced to the same level of power as Riker. How else were we going to keep her in the Continuum? Now, she is powerless to leave and can concentrate on have babies.”

“So you told Will what to say?” Deanna asked.

“Obviously,” Q replied, peering interestedly over Beverly’s shoulder. “Would you like me to do that? He asked. “It would be so much quicker.”

“I can manage,” Beverly said, tartly. “Is Guinevere tied to Will forever?”

“Yes, she is, but since Will didn’t genuinely submit, he isn’t tied to her. Nice touch, eh? But just to make sure, perhaps Will had better say that he no longer submits.” Q was still watching Beverly. “Are you sure…?”

“Quite sure,” Riker responded. “I no longer submit myself to Guinevere. Why did she choose Guinevere?”

Q transferred his gaze to Riker’s face. “She was Guinevere, Riker. Why else? Arthur was another such as you, but he submitted after only a glance at her and Guinevere was so entertained by the Camelot scene, that she didn’t meddle too much.” As Beverly groaned at the damage done to Riker’s knee, Q sighed, and healed it. “I must say, your mind is easier to direct when it’s in pain, Riker. You are so stubborn.”

“Thank you,” Riker replied, but whether he was thanking Q for a compliment or the healing, no one asked.

“Well, Jean-Luc, its been a pleasure,” Q said. “It isn’t often that your purposes and mine co-incide. Get the Klingon to put a couple of photon torpedoes into the vault, as well as the phasers. Tidies everything up neatly.” Q patted Picard familiarly on the shoulder, and then wandered over to peer at Riker once more. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Beverly. Let me.” Riker was bathed in light. “There, all done.” Q disappeared.

As always, when Q had been around, Picard felt as though he had been left with egg on his face. He tugged down his uniform top rather self-consciously. “As soon as you’re back in uniform, Number One, I’ll expect you on the bridge.”

“Yes, Sir,” Riker said. He swung himself off the table as Picard exited sickbay.

*****

Deanna and Riker walked back to the bridge together. “I really thought you were going to kill me,” Riker commented.

“I thought for a moment that I had killed you,” Deanna responded. “I suppose that it wouldn’t have convinced Guinevere if I hadn’t believed it too. But if Q hadn’t been in control, I couldn’t have done it.”

Riker gave Deanna a loving smile, which she returned. “Quite an adventure,” he said.

The turbolift doors opened onto the bridge. They walked decorously to their chairs. Picard nodded to them both. “Fire!” he ordered. A salvo of torpedoes and phaser fire sped towards the planet and they saw the explosion. “The vault has collapsed,” Data reported.

“Good,” Picard replied. “Ensign, set course for..”

“Captain, we are being hailed,” Worf reported. “The Prime Minister of Cappella IV, and a Ferengi ship.”

Picard groaned. “Cappella first,” he responded. The viewscreen sprang to life and the Prime Minister said, “You could have warned us that the explosion would be so big…”

*****End*****

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