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Steele’s face fell in astonishment and her eyes widened with the comprehension and she turned back to the face the shackled man.

“Tone…?” he whispered again. His eyes began to roll back in his head and he weakened in his stance. The guards moved to support him generously.

Picard filled with rage and he moved in on Jellico. “This man needs a physician Admiral! Not shackles!”

“We can’t take the chance Picard. Not until we get him debriefed then placed on board the Enterprise!” Jellico retorted loudly.

“Well dammit, debrief him later! Let’s get him to the ship!” he turned to the weakened man in front of him and he lowered his voice. “Thomas. We’re going to be taking you to the Enterprise immediately.”

Riker nodded his head weakly but his eyes fell back upon Steele with the same expression of disbelief and utter confusion.

“Picard! We need to debrief him first!” Jellico attempted to interject.

Without even acknowledging Jellico, Picard clicked his combadge and moved towards Riker and his two guards. “Picard to Enterprise! Four to beam directly to sick-bay! Myself, one prisoner and two guards. Have Worf meet me there!” He spun on Jellico and glared at him. “Of all people…” Picard grunted then turned quickly to Steele. “Meet us there Antoinette.”

Still in shock, she concurred with a nod and stepped back.
“Picard! I order you to…!” Jellico roared but to no avail, as the shimmering blue light took away Picard, the guards and Thomas Riker.

Steele turned on Jellico whose face had brightened into a flaming shade of red from his anger. “Admiral.” Her voice choked from her horror and alarm. “How could you?” She hissed. Her eyes met those of her counterpart and she could see Hunter’s own disbelief that Jellico put interrogation before medical need. “How could you? I don’t care if he is a terrorist. To bring him here first was wrong!” she barked. “You knew he would be…” she caught her fury in her throat, “You knew!” Steele faced Hunter once more. “Meet me on the Enterprise Captain.” She shot Jellico a parting glare and ran out into the corridor, the door closing behind her.

Hunter stood bolt upright in front of his former CO. Jellico’s fury was mounting and he flared at Hunter. “Captain! I suggest that you…”

“Admiral Jellico!” He cut him off. “I will be meeting my counterparts on the Enterprise and we will meet you there. If you think that you can get me to approve of that last move…” he growled, “…you are sorely mistaken. I’m with both Picard and Steele on this one!”

“Captain Hunter, I order you to…”

“Oh go to hell Ed!” Hunter barked, “You blew this! Report all three of us if you want but you’d be a fool and you know it! You’d better pray he even survives the transport! If you want anything from Riker now, you’re going to have to go to the Enterprise to get it, which is where I will be – waiting to find out what kind of madness you and Grayson have in store for us!” He shook his head with anger.

“Nate…” Jellico said with a bartering tone.

Hunter walked out of the room and made headway for the Enterprise.



Stardate 55728.2
Starbase 214
Mooring Pylon Delta
USS Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
Sickbay



“Get those binders off of him!” Crusher demanded and the guards, too wary of the situation, were hesitant to comply.

At that moment, Worf bound into sickbay. Picard approached him hurriedly. “Worf, Thomas Riker is in custody but requires immediate medical attention. Please assure these guards that they may remove the restraints.”

Worf towered over them and all it took was one look from the great Klingon and the two guards released Riker’s hands. They simply fell forward, hanging limply at his sides.

“Thank you.” Beverly let her frustration out with her voice as she moved to assist Riker. “Alyssa! Help me get him to the sonic room, he must be cleaned before I can do anything to remove these implants!” she ordered.
Nurse Alyssa Ogawa moved immediately to Riker’s other side and they began to walk with him towards the rear of the medical facility. Worf looked to the guards once more and they moved in to assist but also to assure he would not bolt. Worf’s look of approval was met with satisfaction by both of them.

“Thomas Riker sir?” Worf asked Picard quietly. “How did he survive? He was sentenced to life in the Cardassian labor camps on Lazon II after he helped negotiate the release of the Defiant and her crew.”

“Yes Mister Worf.” Picard’s stomach lurched, “He has apparently spent quite some time in Tholian custody as well.”

“Tholian?” Worf murmured then lifted his head with understanding. “That’s why the ships were here.”

"Yes Mister Worf,” Picard verified. “Prisoner exchange. This is still highly confidential Worf – I don’t want this news to get out.” He watched Beverly and Alyssa move Thomas Riker towards the cleaning room then clicked his combadge. “Captain to Commander Riker.”

“Riker here sir.”

“Please report to sickbay and bring Counselor Troi with you.”

“Aye sir.”

He clicked once more. “Commander Data. Please assure that Captains Steele and Hunter along with Admiral Jellico are allowed on board.”

“Captain Steele has already arrived Captain. She is on her way to sickbay. I will make sure the other two are greeted.” Data replied.

“Thank you Data. Please escort Admiral Jellico and Captain Hunter to the observation lounge. I don’t want it too crowded in here. Tell them I will meet them shortly.”

“Aye sir.”

Steele arrived in sick-bay first. She moved directly to Picard. Her look of shock had not worn off. “Thomas Riker?” She questioned. “I can’t believe…I can’t…” She shook her head then glimpsed the rear of the facility where she saw Crusher and Ogawa working furiously over Thomas as he laid on a biobed. The two guards and Worf remained close by.

Thomas was significantly cleaner. The stench he had carried with him had dissipated. His hair and beard were still long but they were no longer matted or filled with debris. She moved towards the foot of the biobed but held back a slight distance, fascinated and horrorstruck by his mutilated appearance. He looks just like him! Of course he does Toni! He IS Will! Will with scars – Will in pain. This Will also knows me, but this Will hasn’t seen me since my wedding. This Will has been a member of the Maquis. This Will has been a terrorist. He has also been a hero to some.

Her sorrow kicked in and she looked to his face, his sunken eyes made him look decades older than she knew he was. What have they done to him? How did he survive? A tear fell from her eye and she watched the doctor anesthetize him so she could begin the process of removing the cruel devices implanted in his chest.

The doctor turned to her and Steele could see Crusher’s revulsion and unbridled fury. “They kept him alive on purpose, just so they could continue to torture him! There is a device which lets the torturers know when death is near just so they could stop in time to begin again later.”

Steele brought her shaking hand up to her mouth in dismay; her eyes fell back upon the familiar bearded face that now looked almost peaceful under the influence of the anesthesia.

The doors to sickbay slid open once more and Riker and Troi walked in. Picard held up his hand and drew them both to one side.

“Will, Deanna. The Federation has just made a prisoner exchange with the Tholian Assembly. We’ll be bringing the prisoner back to the Sol System where we are hoping he will be willing to provide eye-witness testimony against those involved in the Hutet massacre.”

“Eye-witness? He survived the massacre?” Riker asked in astonishment.

“The Tholians?” Deanna questioned and let a concerned scowl cross her face. “How did he get there if he was a Cardassian prisoner?”

Picard shook his head seriously. “I don’t know…but Will, Deanna – there’s more.” He tried to prepare them with his voice but knew it was a pathetic attempt. “It’s Thomas Riker.”

Riker couldn’t hide his surprise or incomprehension. Picard noticed Troi grab Riker’s hand at his side.

His heart racing, Riker moved his eyes to the body on the biobed in the distance surrounded by Crusher, Ogawa, Worf and the guards. He could see Steele watching Crusher’s frantic movements from a short distance. He could only make out glimpses of his double, a duplicate of himself created by a freak transporter accident on Nervala IV. The planet’s atmosphere contained a tumultuous distortion field that made transportation extremely risky. A dual confinement beam was utilized in order to assure the Riker’s safe return from the planet’s surface. After a very rough go, Riker rematerialized on board his ship the USS Potemkin. Unknown to anyone on board, the secondary confinement beam had reflected off the underside of the distortion field and back onto the surface, rematerializing another William T. Riker.

That Will Riker spent eight lonely years stranded on the planet while the other moved onward an upward in Starfleet. That Will Riker was rescued by the crew of the Enterprise, in whose crew his double served as her First Officer. That Will Riker had chosen to call himself by his middle name, Thomas, just so he could be distinguished from himself.

Will shook his head, trying to disperse his lapse of comprehension. “Thomas…?” he whispered. “How did he? How could he have?” Riker couldn’t even form the words.

“He survived Will.” Picard clarified, “I don’t know how. He just did.”

“But I thought he ended up in the labor camps on Lazon II not Hutet…” Deanna inquired.

Picard nodded. “There was a rumor he had escaped the camp on Lazon II and was recaptured. It’s possible they moved him to Hutet to avoid another escape attempt. Admiral Grayson and Ambassador Riva have just gone to great lengths for his return. They must have information that leads them to believe Thomas was at Hutet at the time of the massacre.” Picard turned his head toward the patient once more. “He’s been severely tortured and needs medical treatment.” Picard’s tired and saddened eyes looked to Deanna. “He’ll need your help Counselor.”

Troi’s face twisted with distress. Picard knew she could feel his ache as he fought the flooding of the memories of his own torture at the hands of Cardassians. She moved her other hand to her Captain’s shoulder. He turned his eyes to acknowledge her support. “The doctor has to remove the pain control devices that still…”

Picard’s attention was torn away by the percussive and stabbing sounds of Thomas screaming in pain and agony.
Crusher cried for help and Picard looked up to see Crusher and Ogawa frantically trying to hold Thomas down on the biobed. Blood spewed from an open surgical laceration in his upper chest. The two were immediately assisted by the guards and they tried desperately to press down his flailing body. Thomas’ loud and intense screams of anguish continued to fill the room.

Troi cried out loudly and Picard could see her weaken. Riker turned to her quickly and held her tightly. Picard could tell that Deanna was overcome with sensations of Thomas’ intense pain and emotion and her black eyes filled with tears.

Confused, Riker’s attention was ripped back across the room and his eyes widened when he saw Steele bolt from her position to head for the biobed. “NO TONI, DON’T!” he yelled.

Troi buckled from the overflow of torment and grievingly looked back to the biobed.

The room was suddenly filled with shrieks of suffering from Captain Steele.

As quickly as Thomas’ emotion had overtaken her, Picard could see Troi’s eyes take on a sense of relief and he knew her sensations of the prisoner’s pain were washing away. Picard observed Steele’s body buckling near the bedside, her hand tightly gripping Thomas’ leg. Thomas quieted quickly allowing Crusher and the others to pin him back into a supine position on the bed, yet Steele’s intense screams continued to pierce Picard’s ears.

Steele writhed with her shrieks and she rapidly dropped to her knees at the bedside, her hand never leaving Thomas’ leg.

“Toni!” Riker cried and after assuring Troi’s well-being, tried to move closer to the bed. “Let go…” he begged, almost quietly.

“Hold him down!” Crusher commanded and she grabbed a small tool from Ogawa’s rock-steady hand. Crusher moved in over the hole she had made in Thomas’ chest and using the fine tool, located, secured and removed a fiber-thin trigger device implanted in the fibrous tissue near his sternum. Steele screamed once more and so loudly, Picard recoiled at the sound. In a blinding fury of surgical team precision, Crusher and Ogawa re-anesthetized their patient and he fell under its effect immediately. Steele’s hand slipped weakly from his leg and she collapsed to the floor in a fetal position, on the verge of unconsciousness.

Picard followed Riker as he rushed forward. Riker bent down and lifted Steele wholly from the floor, turned and laid her upon the empty biobed next to him. “Toni! Toni…?” he shook his head in sorrow, “Oh Toni…”

Steele couldn’t answer.

“It was booby-trapped!” Crusher yelled to Picard. “The original pain-control device was removed but this secondary device looks as though it was triggered remotely!”

Picard’s eyes scanned the room and fell upon Worf. “Anyone in this room?!”

“No!” Crusher said as she continued to close her patient’s wound. “From much farther away – kilometers…hundreds of kilometers! It looks like a perimeter trigger.”

“The Tholians.” Picard growled. Picard turned his eyes once more to rest upon Steele, her body weakly responded to Riker’s gentle persuading hands on her face.

Crusher continued, “Whoever it was Captain, the device was meant to force him out of anesthesia,” her appalled and urgent voice penetrated through the sound of Steele’s continuing misery. “…and then kill him.”

Picard moved toward the foot of the bed where Steele had been set. “What happened Number One? Will she be all right?”

Riker shook his head. “I’m not sure, sir. She just took it all…she took all of it.” He held Steele’s face softly and her hands gripped his arms tightly. Her body shook with tremors and her face was contorted with waves of pain. “I’ve never her seen her so bad.”

Picard watched Troi as she moved slowly toward Steele. He thought she looked confused. “I can’t feel her.” she stated. “I can’t sense anything from her…why?” Picard was going to answer her but noticed that she had reasoned it out for herself and the realization swept over her face. Troi connected her eyes to Picard then back over to Riker, whose worry and concern were etched deeply across his face. Troi’s eyes flew wide. “She’s Deltan!?” she questioned in shock, “Why – how did she feel the pain?”

“Deltan?” gasped Crusher who then nodded quickly and took another tool from Ogawa’s hands to finish closing the surgical laceration in Thomas’ chest. “That explains it.”

“Yes.” Riker responded as he caressed Steele’s grimacing and sorrowful face. Her eyes closed tight against the tears and the pain that had yet to fade from her own body, her moans not yet beginning to weaken. He nodded weakly to Troi and Picard. “Only a quarter. Like all Deltans, she can absorb the pain of others but because she’s mostly human, she actually feels the pain herself.” He offered as he consoled his friend, her voice now carrying soft and tortured whimpers.

Picard nodded from the foot of the second biobed and looked upon Steele with sorrow and sympathy. He turned to look at Crusher who was nodding her head in approval as she looked over her own patient. Ogawa was smiling broadly.

“He’ll be okay for now. I’m going to keep him sedated for awhile,” she breathed out heavily. “Jean-Luc…if Steele hadn’t…” she huffed, “…I wouldn’t have been able to remove the device before it killed him.”

Picard nodded with comprehension then turned back to Steele. Her whimpers had weakened slightly but the pain and agony still contorted her features. He exhaled deeply and looked to Riker whose hands still held Steele’s tormented face. Picard touched Troi’s arm briefly. “Counselor, stay with her and Thomas please. And make sure she’s looked over by Beverly. I will be meeting with the Admiral in the observation lounge. Commander? I want you with me.”

Riker looked to Picard pleadingly but quickly steeled himself and nodded in agreement. He turned to capture Steele’s eyes directly. “Toni. I’ll be right back okay?” he reassured.

“Captain…” Steele nodded feebly and spoke in a cracked voice. “Malek…”

Understanding her request, Picard stepped forward. "We’ll have Malek join us for the briefing Captain.”

“I’d go…” Steele winced sharply and let out a loud whimper. “…but doubt...I’d be useful.”

Picard smiled and noted her attempt to be humorous. “No indeed, Antoinette.” he looked to Riker. “Commander?”

Riker eased himself away from her and stole a good-hard look in Thomas’ direction. He nodded to his CO and followed him out of sick-bay.

Deanna moved in quickly to take Steele’s trembling hand. Steele took it gratefully and held it tight, tears beginning to stream down her face, “Thanks Deanna,” she whined.

Deanna nodded softly in return. “Captain.” Deanna spoke softly, “I should be thanking you. When you took his pain, you stopped me from having to experience his emotions.”

Steele’s eyes revealed her understanding of Deanna’s predicament and she nodded once. “Glad I…could help.” She tried to smile. Deanna grinned brightly and held the captain’s hand as she cried out her remaining misery.

Troi slowly turned her head to look toward the shell of the man stretched out on the biobed next to them. It was the first time Deanna had a clear view of him and she let out a cry of shock when she appreciated the cacophony of scars that were scattered across his disfigured body.

She felt Steele’s hand tighten once more and she looked to the green eyes that seemed to understand so well. Deanna’s fury swelled and she looked back to Steele. “I don’t care what he did.” Troi growled. “No one deserves that.”

Steele let another whimper out. “They wouldn’t…let him die Deanna.”

Deanna took Steele’s other hand and the two shared their horror and anger together.

__________


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