He sat there in his chair for a moment, terrified. His hands now shook more than they ever had before and he looked away from the black screen of the comm. But once more the logo appeared with the words “Incoming Transmission – USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-D.”
His hatred swelled once more and he hit the rejection button – then the rage found its home and the adrenaline found its avenue of escape and he stood and placed his hands on either side of the comm and pulled with every ounce of strength he had. The comm tore from the desk, sending momentary sparks across the room and he flung the piece away from himself.
It sailed like a strange-shaped boomerang. Silently and with grace it flew until it hit and pierced the canvas of a large painting of an arid landscape. It tore clean through – creating a vicious ripping noise; a noise that he knew was the ripping of his own heart.
He found that he was unable to control it anymore. He fell to his knees and screamed in unabashed agony. “PAUL!!!!”
His screams continued, but went unheard.
Thomas sat up on his bed. The morgue was eerily empty except for the two guards and Deanna. His racing heart eased when he watched Deanna move toward him in concern.
“What is it Thomas?” She asked quietly as she reached his bedside.
In confusion Thomas rubbed his eyes. He knew he had experienced the same dream before but the last time it had been worse. He remembered it made him ill. He remembered a doctor giving him a hypospray to help with the nausea. He remembered the entire dream. He could remember sounds, smells and emotions so vividly. This has happened before he thought. I’ve had this dream before…
As if it washed over him, he allowed a memory of a scramjet crash to sweep by him – compound fractures, his screams of pain and agony…Toni putting her hands on my legs…
Another memory swept past him – he was riding a horse to the site of a crash. His father…no…her father was dead. I got that memory from Toni. I remember that. I remember sharing the memories with her after the scramjet crash…But this? Where did this dream come from? Why does it feel the same?
He lifted his gaze to Deanna’s dark, caring and concerned eyes. “Toni.” he said. “Was Toni here?”
Deanna licked her lips in hesitation. She knew she could sense his anguish and confusion but there was a strange duality to it. “Captain Steele was on the Enterprise with us. She is not here now.”
“But she was there? How? How did she? How did I get…?” Thomas was overcome with the realization that Steele had been in the medical ward on the Enterprise. “I heard her screaming. Was she screaming?” he whispered, not wanting the guards to overhear him.
Deanna wavered to answer him. “Thomas, you should really concentrate on trying to relax…I don’t know if we want to delve into this right now, we need to concentrate on your…”
“NO!” he barked. “How?!” His eyes widened with shocked realization and horror, swinging his legs off the bed and his loud retort caused the two guards by the door to begin to move in his direction. “Did she take my pain?!” He lowered his voice once more, “Oh God, she took my pain!”
Deanna waved them back, “It’s okay. I’ll tell you everything that happened.”
Thomas took her hand in his. “She did, didn’t she? She took my pain somehow. When? How? Tell me Deanna…” he urged.
“When you were first brought to the Enterprise, you were placed under anesthesia…”
“Yes, yes, I remember you telling me that. You said the Tholians implanted a perimeter trigger in my chest and that the doctor removed it…”
“Yes, but only because Captain Steele was able to absorb the pain long enough for her to do so,” said Deanna, tightening her grip on his hand.
“What?” he asked, worry and guilt beginning to traverse his face.
“The device pulled you out of anesthesia Thomas. It then began to cause you horrible pain. It was meant to kill you. Captain Steele absorbed your pain long enough for Doctor Crusher to remove the device and get you back under anesthesia.”
He was overcome by the vision of Steele’s hands throwing the comm through the painting once more. The pain of her husband’s loss grabbed him by his throat. He was suddenly overcome with the vision of Ro Laren as she smiled, her body falling upon the blood-soaked ground. His hands started to tremble. Oh. Oh no. No. “She should have let me die,” he whispered. “She should have let me die.”
“Thomas, don’t say that.” Deanna begged, feeling his despair as it oozed from his psyche. “Captain Steele’s okay. She back aboard her ship.”
Thomas’ eyes widened with sadness. “She’s not okay Deanna. She took my pain…that means…” he covered his eyes. “She’s not okay.”
“What do mean Thomas?” Deanna asked. At that moment the doors to the morgue slid open and Dr. Kaest walked in. Deanna urged him forward and Kaest opened his tricorder and began to scan his patient.
Thomas covered his face in sorrow and his fury began to boil from his inside once more. Deanna could easily feel his hatred and rage. “Thomas…”
“Is this not a good time Counselor?” Dr. Kaest moved in with deep concern.
“Doctor, I’m afraid that Thomas may need…”
“No. It’s okay Deanna.” Thomas exhaled, “It’s okay. The doctor can stay.” Deanna was not sure. “You look horrible Deanna. Why don’t you go get some rest?”
“I’m fine.” Deanna retorted.
“Counselor,” the doctor smiled weakly. “Thomas is right. You haven’t slept in over twenty four hours. I’m not due back in sick-bay for awhile. I will stay here with him. Why don’t you get some sleep?”
Deanna was overcome with a mix of her own dread, unease and exhaustion. She looked to Thomas who appeared to have eased and his emotions, although still thick with guilt, had settled. The thought of a soft pillow called to her. “Okay Doctor, but if he needs…”
“I will send for you directly Counselor.” Kaest responded. “Now, off with you. I have tests I need to perform anyway and Thomas and I will be just fine.”
Deanna nodded weakly and patted Thomas’ hand. “We’ll talk later.”
Thomas tried to smile to her. “Yes.”
Deanna turned and exited the morgue.
Thomas looked to his Bajoran physician, letting his sorrow sweep over him once more as he laid his eyes upon the dangling earring, letting the memory of Laren creep back in.
At Kaest’s direction, he laid back down upon his bed, listening to the sounds the tricorder was emitting. The doctor moved around the table and around again. It was only because Kaest began to walk around a third time that Thomas opened his eyes once more.
Kaest was staring directly at him. His eyes glanced once towards the guards and the hair on Thomas’ arms began to stand on end. Kaest spoke to him so softly he had to strain to hear his voice.
“Was it Nekrit?” he whispered.
Thomas’ heart began to thump madly in his chest.
Deanna walked towards the cramped quarters she had been assigned in the bowels of the ship. Few people were there. As a matter of fact…no one but she and the remaining members who had knowledge of Thomas’ presence were there. It was eerie. She was so used to a large and bustling ship’s compliment, the thought that there were few on this entire deck caused a wave of goose-bumps roll over her arms.
She was exhausted. The constant pounding of waves upon waves of grief, anger, fear and guilt that had emanated from Thomas was beginning to take their toll on her. She was beginning to feel the edges of her own psyche fray with each new discussion she had with him. But what really bothered her was a new sensation she had felt, and because of her exhaustion, she was unable to decipher its meaning.
She inhaled deeply, trying to clear her mind of the remnants of Thomas’ guilt and worry. She was actually a little amazed. For all of his torment, he still carried the ability to feel deep concern for another. Maybe that’s all he can feel, she thought. Not once since he regained consciousness and a clearer thought process on the Jaguar had he experienced any concern with himself. He always seemed to be focused on those around him.
She had been troubled by his focus on her.
Troi allowed herself a brief respite from her apprehension when Thomas began to shift his focus onto Captain Steele, but only afterward did she understand that he was more than merely worried for Steele…he feared deeply for her.
She stopped in front of the door to her quarters. Something else was eating at her tired and fatigued brain. She sighed heavily and stretched her neck and was just about to wash that feeling away again when that nagging little part of her said…wait.
She turned on her heel and moved down the corridor to the room adjacent to hers. She pressed the button. At least I know he’s not sleeping.
The door slid open. She smiled when she saw Data looking up at the door from his seated position at a small desk in the room. She allowed her smile to widen when he returned her grin with one of his own. He had initiated his emotion chip, something he frequently did while off-duty. He stood from his chair and moved towards her.
“Counselor,” he cooed. “What can I do for you?” Deanna moved herself into the tiny room and noticed that it was more of an office than a guest room. There was no bed, nor any windows. He lifted a several PADDs from a chair and set them on the desk, offering her a place to sit with a gracious move of his arm, “Please Counselor, have a seat. If you do not mind me saying so, you appear fatigued.”
Deanna chuckled slightly and shook her head weakly. “Thank you Data but I was only stopping by to talk to you briefly before I went to my own room to sleep.”
Data’s smile dropped from his face. “Of course, Counselor. I am glad that you are finally going to take some rest. You have been awake far too long.” His eyes poured over her with concern, “What do you need to discuss?”
Troi folded her arms in front of her, more as a way to steady herself than as a sign of aggression. “Data,” she rolled her eyes in frustration. “I don’t know,” she hesitated once more, “…maybe I’m overreacting.”
Data looked upon the counselor’s face and surmised that she was bothered by something but was having difficulties verbalizing her concerns. A quick review of her history of hunches and observations of others’ emotions led him to calculate that she was indeed having a crisis in that regard. “If I may Counselor…you appear to be having doubts about something. Can I assist you in determining the source of your concern?”
Troi smiled once more, dropped her arms, then held one out to grip Data’s arm and squeeze it. Data knew that it was a sign of affection and he was grateful for it. “Data…” she said softly. “You’re getting better at perceiving the people around you with each passing day.”
Data allowed a surprised grin to erupt from his shining gold face. “I do try.” He stepped back a little to allow Troi more freedom to move in the restricted space of his temporary quarters. “I am sorry there is so little room. I am afraid the lower decks of these defense ships were not built with many of the comforts available to us on the Enterprise. Are your quarters satisfactory?”
Troi giggled slightly. “They’re fine Data. I have a place to sleep and wash up. It’s true this deck was never really meant to house someone for long periods of time. These rooms were designed for troop transport in times of conflict.”
“Yes. I appear to have been assigned a briefing room,” he concurred.
Deanna nodded once more then let her scowl return. “Data…something is bothering me and I’m not exactly sure if I’m not just letting my fatigue get to me.”
Data pulled his head back with understanding. “Counselor, there is one thing I have learned over the years of working with you and that is when something bothers you, there is a ninety seven point eight two percent chance you have a solid basis for that concern, regardless of your level of fatigue.”
Troi sighed once more. “Well, what about the other two point one eight percent?”
Data grinned. “When you play poker.”
Deanna laughed out loud. “Data! What a wonderful joke! You’re doing much better!”
Data dropped his head with what appeared to genuine humility. “Thank you Counselor. I have been studying the interactions between sets of friends as you have suggested. I am happy that my observations appear to have a positive affect on my ability to grasp and work with humor.” He dropped his eyes, “However, I can see that you are indeed worried. Now, what has troubled you?”
“Data,” she began. “Ever since Thomas regained consciousness here on the Jaguar, I have been…well…a little overwhelmed with his emotions.”
“Thomas Riker has been through an extraordinary ordeal and if I may say so, he will be facing even more challenges when he reaches Earth.”
Deanna nodded. “He will require extensive psychological and psychiatric care there’s no doubt. He will only be in a position to testify only after weeks if not months of therapy.” Her eyes fell upon him with a strange new worry. “You don’t believe that he will be prosecuted…do you Data? Because I don’t think…”
“No Counselor. Captain Temmett has already developed the briefs outlining the terms of the immunity agreement. Although Admiral Jellico seemed displeased with the terms, he has no choice but to accept them. Thomas Riker will not be facing any charges for any alleged illegal activities while a member of the Maquis.”
Deanna nodded and swallowed with relief. “Good. Because I’m not sure that being one of the few, if not the only, Maquis survivor won’t also affect his ability to recover.”
“Agreed,” he said, “But what else concerns you?”
Troi exhaled again, almost letting her eyes close from her exhaustion. “Doctor Kaest,” she said.
“Yes Data.” Troi began to pace inside the tiny office space, Data watched her intently. “I never really noticed it until this evening, and frankly I might still be overreacting. Since I have been so focused and so overwhelmed by the flood of intense emotions emitting from Thomas, I never really thought twice about them, but Doctor Kaest has had a peculiar reaction to Thomas every time he enters the room.” Data coaxed her with a look and upon seeing his comprehension, she continued. “You see, Kaest’s anxiety level is…well…not normal.”
“Can you be more specific Counselor?”
Troi grunted in frustration. “Not really Data. Again, I may be getting inaccurate signals from him due to my focus on Thomas, but it bugs me. Every time Kaest enters within a few feet of Thomas his anxiety level jumps.”
“Could that not be attributed to normal tension levels considering the delicacy of this mission and his presence on board his ship?”
“Maybe,” she relented. “But it just feels more intense than I would have expected.”
Data stood and walked towards her. “Then I will increase my monitoring of the situation to see if your apprehensions are correct.”
Troi was washed over with a sense of relief. “Thank you Data.”
“Where is the Doctor now?”
“With Thomas. They’ve been together since I left the morgue. The guards are still there.”
“Then I will remove myself back to the morgue. I can continue my work there without a problem.”
“Again. Thank you. I don’t want anything to happen to him.”
“Nor do I Counselor. If he is able to provide the testimony we think he might, then there is a real chance that the military’s dominance over Cardassia will finally falter. That can only be beneficial to the Federation.”
“And the quadrant…maybe even the galaxy.”
“Indeed Counselor.” He reached his arms out and touched her shoulders gently. “Now however, you require sleep.”
Troi nodded quietly. “Yes. Good night Data and thank you for indulging my crazy notions.”
Data escorted her to his door. “Again Counselor, I have yet to be confronted with a time when your crazy notions as you call them, have lacked foundation.”
Troi swallowed hard, nodded and left Data’s room. She walked toward her quarters and when the door opened, she moved directly into her room. She didn’t even bother to undress herself, she just fell upon the bed and just as her eyes closed and she felt the comfortable heaviness of sleep fall upon her, her mind let out only one thought…Good night Imzadi.