She felt the wave of terror as it flowed over her. Her heart began to race and she filled with dread and fear.
The air had taken on the fetid and ferrous stench of death. The cave was filled with the reeking aroma of the strange mix of blood from several species along with the stink of burning skin and exoskeletons caused by phasers and disrupters. It was an odor she knew all too well – heavy hand-to-hand combat always brought that smell.
But she had been unprepared for the noise and it rocked her to her core.
There was an overpowering dissonance of shouting and shrieking that echoed and resounded in the monstrous cave and her eardrums buzzed with the intensity of it.
She didn’t want to look at the source of the noise but something had forced her head to move and her view was ripped away from the cavern’s heights to the floor in front of her.
Her mind seized when she saw them, a mind-boggling horde of people being slaughtered like cattle. She could tell that there was nowhere for them to run. Hundreds upon hundreds of people from a multitude of races had been herded into this vast cave to be murdered. She recognized a few traumatized faces but the majority were people she had never met.
Her stomach lurched when she saw several Jem’Hadar firing indiscriminately into the huddled crowds. Their energy weapons blew gaping holes into the bodies of the wide-eyed and frenzied victims, their blood flowing freely due to the anticoagulants adherent to the Jem’Hadar rifles. The blood pooled and mixed together and the screams…the screams were so loud they blended into a tonal ring that hummed into her brain.
There were a few Vorta males standing at strategic points issuing orders to the Jem’Hadar soldiers that moved in upon the victims.
Cardassians moved in from behind the Jem’Hadar, using their disrupters to finish off those who hadn’t bled to death or who had somehow evaded the initial attack and had attempted to run after being shot.
She tried to move her arms. She tried to move her legs but she was frozen, her eyes continually taking in the carnage in front of her.
She opened her mouth to scream and she found her voice, but the sound that was produced from her throat, oddly, was not her own. It was deep and guttural and hoarse and distinctly male. She screamed all the same.
She heard a voice in her ear as her head was forced forward once more. “Watch them die. Watch them I said!” The voice was female and vindictively callous. She felt her hair being pulled from the back of her head as a hand forced her frantic gaze from the ceiling of the cavern back down to the screaming, desperate masses fruitlessly trying to block the oncoming fire with their hands, or claws or tentacles.
Her own screams bellowed louder, “NOOOO!!!”
Bodies were hoisted and thrown on top of one another just so the remaining victims could be reached by those who were shooting relentlessly. The blood continued to flow.
Her eyes suddenly focused on a single individual in remaining group.
A woman calmly and stoically stepped forward and separated herself from the terrified pack and she stood remarkably still. The woman’s eyes met her own and locked on.
She was a starkly beautiful woman with dark, short hair. She had Bajoran nose ridges and wore the traditional earpiece, but she bore it on her left ear – the sign of a rebel. Her eyes were dark and serious yet almost instantaneously they softened and she smiled with dignity and pride.
The woman’s lips moved. She couldn’t be heard for the din, but it didn’t matter - her lips were easy to read.
“Remember that I love you. Never forget. Beat them. Promise me you’ll beat them.”
She nodded her head and replied to the beautiful, dark-haired woman knowing she would never be heard, but also knowing her lips could be read just the same, “I love you. I promise I’ll remember. I promise I’ll beat them!” she screamed at her full capacity. “I love you…”
The woman’s smile widened and she nodded softly.
A Jem’Hadar soldier approached the woman and without so much as a warning or a second glance, he shot the woman in the chest. Strangely, the woman’s smile never wavered. She fell to her knees keeping her gaze locked onto her own until she fell face-first to the floor.
“LAREN!!!!!” she screamed in agony. “LAREN!!!”
The sheer horror of the sight of the massacre blended with her own sense of loss of the woman who so bravely faced her death and she began to cry out in anguish and she whispered to herself, “Ro Laren…I promise…”
Her head jerked back sharply as the hand pulled her hair once more. “You watch! You need to see what you have caused. You need to see what your own stubbornness has done.” The female voice growled, “You brought this upon them and yourself!”
Hate raged forward and she tried to move her arms once more but they were bound so tightly that movement itself was impossible. “I will kill you Nekrit!” She barked. “I will!”
There was a hideous and almost lighthearted laugh in her ear. “You’ll never get the chance, human.”
Her head jolted forward when the hand pushed her from behind. As she lifted her head back up, she could see two Jem’Hadar soldiers lifting the beautiful Bajoran woman’s body and heartlessly heaving it onto the pile of dead bodies in the middle of the cavern. She moaned in sorrow and whispered to herself, “Good-bye my Laren...”
Only a few screams remained. Then slowly, painfully, the cavern filled with silence. The quiet became more deafening than the screams.
Everything inside her boiled with rage, hate and crushing, indefinable loss.
Her body was swiftly wracked by intense pain originating from her chest and it split down her extremities. Every nerve was exploding. Her deep voice screamed out loud.
Except this time, it was the only scream heard in the cavern.
Steele jolted on the biobed, her body wracked with tremors. Nurse T’Pala clicked her combadge. “Sickbay to Crusher, please report STAT.”
“I hate this part.” Steele grunted and tried failingly to humorously roll her eyes as she leaned her trembling body over the side of the biobed to heave. Her stomach muscles cramped and she grabbed the side of the biobed tightly as she gagged, Nurse T’Pala held Steele’s hair back from her face and Crusher stood nearby. Troi held Steele’s free hand and Riker stood near the head of the bed.
After she lifted her head, her eyes scanned across the room and she noticed that Thomas was no longer there. Her eyes widened, “Where is he?” she whispered. “He’s gotta be going through the same…”
“He is Captain,” said Crusher. “We’ve moved him to the morgue where we have set up an isolation unit for him. I couldn’t keep sickbay off limits any …” she was cut off by Steele’s heaving once more. “At least I could give him anti-emesis drugs. He’ll be fine.”
Picard entered sickbay. Troi eased herself away from Steele and approached him seeing the deep concern etched across his face. “What happened?’ he asked.
Troi then looked to Crusher who approached directly after her. Crusher was about to speak but she shrugged, shook her head and threw her hands up in frustration, “I’m not sure I understand myself Captain, I think I’d better let Commander Riker explain, he seems to know exactly what’s going on.”
Picard looked to his First who was standing next to Steele’s biobed holding an empty emesis pan near her face. A quick look around sickbay confirmed that Thomas Riker had already been moved to the morgue.
“You said that Thomas is also suffering from these same symptoms?” he asked Crusher.
She nodded curtly. “Yes but I was able to give him an injection to calm his stomach.”
Picard could see that Will Riker looked worried and exhausted. He thought everyone looked exhausted. He quietly approached Steele’s bed. “I don’t think any of us were meant to get any sleep tonight,” he grunted.
Riker nodded weakly in response. “No sir.”
Steele heaved strongly yet again then rolled back onto the biobed. “I hate dry heaves.” She grumbled. “I just hate them.”
Crusher moved forward. “Captain, I wish there was…”
Steele laughed tiredly. “I know Doc…I wish there was too.”
“Again, what happened?” Picard pressed as he moved to the foot of the bed. Steele turned her eyes to his but twisted away quickly once more. Picard thought her skin appeared to have a slight green tint to it and he felt himself feeling sympathy illness for her. He realized then she wasn’t about to answer him – her nausea had not calmed.
Riker handed the empty dish to Crusher who moved in to take his place. He moved with Picard to Crusher’s office and waved for Troi to join them. Riker stalled uncomfortably, “She’ll be physically okay soon but…”
“But what, Will?” Troi asked, seeing and sensing the deep worry he felt and seeing the lines crossing Riker’s brow.
“Deltans are subconsciously telepathic...” his eyes connected to Deanna’s.
“Yes. Which is why I’m surprised I can’t sense her.” Troi replied.
He shook his head, “Toni’s never been able to communicate telepathically and has never been able to sense the thoughts or emotions from anyone. To my knowledge, that has always gone both ways. No one is able to sense anything from her either. No Vulcan or Betazoid has ever been able to sense her or read her.”
“But what is it Will? I know you’re concerned about her, deeply concerned. Did Thomas do something to her?”
Riker slumped against Crusher’s desk and he cringed when he heard Steele retching once more outside the office. “No. Not exactly,” he growled then sighed heavily. “I’ve only seen this happen to her once before, in the Academy.” He stood and walked around Crusher’s desk and absentmindedly began to fiddle with the items that rested upon it, trying to find a way to word his next sentence. “You see, I was injured as a passenger in a scramjet training accident in the beginning of our fourth year. I was trapped in the wreckage and Toni and her team were the first to reach us,” he picked up another medical tool from the top of Crusher’s desk, turned it over and set it back down. “I had several compound fractures.” He cringed with the memory, “I was in horrible pain.”
“I remember you telling me about that.” Deanna offered.
“Yeah, but what I didn’t tell you was how Toni got to me first…” his eyes met Picard’s.
“She took your pain?” Picard asked.
Riker nodded. “I couldn’t stop her.”
Deanna smiled. “She’s stubborn that way I think.”
Picard and Riker both smiled in return. “Yes. She is.” Riker agreed. “But what was really amazing was what happened afterward.”
Picard lost his smile, knowing that he might get his answer to his counterpart’s illness.
“The next day I woke up with the worst nausea after having the strangest dream. It was horrible. I dreamt that I watched my father’s patrol ship crash into a hillside. I rode a horse to the crash site and when I got to the wreckage he was too far gone for me to help. I tried and tried to wake him. I put my hands on his face, on his arms, anything to get him to wake up. I was desperate.” Riker looked to Troi’s dark and saddened eyes. “Except it wasn’t my father…it was Toni’s.”
“What?” asked Picard.
“I was sick for hours.” Riker continued, “I went to the infirmary thinking I had picked up some sort of virus but the doctor said I was probably just having a delayed psychological reaction to the crash the previous day. He gave me a hypospray and sent me on my way. My nausea got better but I couldn’t shake that dream. It haunted me all day.” He stood once more. “I went to her quarters to find her just as sick.” Riker rubbed his eyes tiredly. “It was then she told me that she remembered everything about the day my father…” he faded off.
“The day your father told you your mother was never coming back?” Troi finished for him. “You traded memories?"
Riker nodded weakly. “Shared them is a better term. We still retained our own worst memories, but we took on each other’s. She said that it had something to do with when she absorbs pain.”
Picard scowled. “What do you mean?”
Riker sighed and gazed to Picard. “We took on each other’s most painful memory,” he grumbled. “I remember everything about the day her father died and she remembers everything about the day I accepted my mother’s death.” His faced contorted with concern once again. “I remember everything about that crash Captain…the fear, the terror, the smells, the chill in the air, her screams…everything. When she described my memory she could remember my hate, my shame and how long I cried before I realized my father’s words were true.”
The captain’s brows furrowed. “You think that’s what happened now?” Picard asked, “That she picked up Thomas’ memories when she absorbed his pain?”
“I’m afraid of just that. Her reaction is much stronger this time.” Riker rubbed his eyes. “I’m afraid that…”
“That’s exactly what happened.” Crusher interrupted quietly and looked to Picard. “She wants to talk to you Captain.”
Riker set out from the office first and Picard followed. Picard’s sense of dread deepened when saw the look of devastation on Steele’s face. Steele turned her face to look at him. “Captain,” she addressed him, “Thomas is a witness to the massacre.” She tried to breathe in deeply. “He saw…everything.”
Picard’s own stomach turned, trying to grasp the understanding of Thomas’ experience. He has seen it. He actually witnessed it. He was then struck by a different realization, “You mean…you saw that memory?” Picard unconsciously stepped back. No wonder she’s sick.
She nodded weakly and he could see she was trying to hold on to any fiber or semblance of protocol. “Not only did he witness the massacre – he was forced to witness it, Captain. He was bound and tied and he was forced…” her face contorted as she tightened her abdominal muscles against the need to be sick, “…forced as a punishment of some kind.” Steele laid back once more and her voice cracked slightly, “His lover was among them…”
“His lover?” Deanna asked quietly.
Steel nodded. “A beautiful Bajoran woman.” Steele’s breath shuddered. “He kept calling her name…Laren? Yes…Ro Laren.” Steele turned back to rest on the bed. “He kept calling her name.”
Adrenaline shot through all those standing around her. Riker’s eyes closed. Deanna grabbed his hand. Crusher leaned against the biobed and Picard took another step back, his eyes never leaving Steele’s. He didn’t really want to know but he asked just the same. “Dark hair?”
Steele nodded weakly. “Wore her earring on the left.”
Deanna blurted out a weak cry.
“You knew her, didn’t you?” Steele asked. “I had a strange feeling you all knew her. The memory gave me that impression.”
Picard steeled himself to address her. “Ro Laren was an ensign assigned to the Enterprise-D, Captain. She defected to the Maquis several years ago.” Picard confirmed, yet he let his face show the pain of the knowledge of her death. “We had always tried to hold out some hope…”
Steele shook her head succinctly. “You should all know…she was an extraordinarily brave woman, but no…she did not survive. She faced her death head-on however.” Steele heaved weakly. “Deanna.” Steele turned her eyes to Troi. “Thomas will need…” her voice started to break with the sadness and her hands started to shake and Picard could tell that Steele’s own ability to stand up against the intruding memory was failing and was beginning to overwhelm her. “He’ll need…a lot…” her bottom lip quivered with her grief, “…a lot of help.” Deanna moved in quickly to take Steele’s hand as her tears began to flow. “It was so horrible…” Steele began to weep uncontrollably.
Riker moved around in an attempt to comfort her.
Feeling helpless, Picard touched Steele’s foot, then turned and walked toward the doors. His thoughts shifted to Ro Laren and he found himself weighed down by the knowledge that she had not survived.
He knew that Thomas carried the greater burden of that pain, yet somehow Picard was oddly gratified in knowing that Thomas and Laren had found each other. It felt right. They were a lot alike. He allowed himself a sad and feeble smile. They were made of the same cloth.