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Planet Nisiam
Forest Grotto


The air in the grotto was thick, moist and heavy. The small stream that trickled out made no noise to be heard. Riker was not surprised to see his duplicate standing at disrupter point on the far side of the small open-air cavern. To his side was a trembling terrified Bajoran man in a blue Starfleet uniform. His head turned when he heard an unfamiliar female voice.

“This is just so damn convenient!” Gul Nekrit snarled as she easily waltzed past the four men now held captive in front of her – Riker and Noyes on one side of the grotto and Thomas and Kaest on the other.

“Please Gul!” whined Kaest as he dropped to his knees in abject terror. “Please! I‘ve done what you’ve asked! Please! Release my family!”

Nekrit rolled her eyes and grimaced. “Bajorans...always such fools. I never could pity them their stupidity.” Nekrit lifted her disrupter and pointed it at Kaest whose eyes widened in fear. “You haven’t had a family in decades. How’s that for a final thought?” She shot him and his screams faded as his flesh disintegrated into thin air.

Noyes shut his eyes and Thomas and Will both growled out loud.

“Now, where was I before that groveling doctor interrupted me?” Nekrit turned quickly. “Ah that’s right, the Riker twins and their convenient combined appearance!”

“Killing us won’t solve your problems Gul,” said Noyes coolly. “It will only cause you more.”

Nekrit giggled lightly. “I have no intentions to kill you Admiral. I have every intention of recapturing a Cardassian outlaw and returning him to face his crimes.”

“His crimes!” hissed Noyes. “What Thomas Riker has done could never…”

“Shut up Admiral.” she moaned. “I don’t care what you think about Riker’s crimes against Cardassia! It’s my job to capture him and bring him to justice!”

“Kill him you mean.” Noyes verified. “I can’t let that happen.”

“You have no choice.”

“You have no idea which one of us is Thomas,” said Riker.

Thomas didn’t move a muscle. He continued to focus his attention on the Cardassian who moved so freely in front of him. When he heard Riker’s statement he froze and looked to his duplicate in confusion. What’s he doing?

Nekrit grinned. “Which is why I was so thrilled that you came along for the ride,” she said. “Too bad it’s only too easy to tell which one of you is which.”

“We look exactly alike. We have the same DNA. You cannot possibly tell…”

“Take off their shirts!” Nekrit ordered her guards.

The Cardassian guards wasted no time tearing the shirts from both Rikers. Nekrit grinned broadly and turned towards Noyes. “You see Admiral, it was all too easy. They always keep the first one. Always. It’s why I make them so memorable.” Her head turned and Thomas looked down to see the small round scar at the base of his right collarbone. “Gul Madred always said to leave a calling card. He used his voice. I use a different signature.” She pointed to the scar on Thomas’ chest. “He was right though. For some wonderful reason, they always like to remember me.”

“I’m going to kill you!” Thomas lunged for her and the guards held him back with ease. She laughed lightly once more, and her hand reached for a small device at her side. Thomas’ eyes flared with recognition as her hand lifted the device and pointed it directly at the small scar on his chest. The moment the device touched the spot Thomas screamed in pain, falling into the grips of the guards at his sides. She pulled the device away and took two steps back from him and set the device back into the pocket at her waist.

“Frankly I would have thought the time in Tholian custody would have added to the collection I gave you but I can see you were all to willing to rid yourself of most of my handiwork. I’m glad that…”

A red beam of light pierced the scene from above. Again and again and again it flared until all four guards were laid out on the ground. Two of them were struck directly in the face. Reactively, Nekrit reached for her holstered disrupter and held it up, keeping the three men around her at bay.

“I suggest you don’t move a muscle Nekrit.” The voice was strong and sullen, female and unmistakably velvet in tone. “No one has ever beaten my aim.”

Without hesitation Thomas bolted for one of the disputers and pulled it from the limp hand of a fallen Cardassian guard. He jumped up and aimed it directly at Nekrit. “NO!” cried Noyes. “Don’t do it Thomas!”

Another beam of red light appeared and another. This time the disrupters were knocked loose from both their hands. Nekrit screamed and ran for another resting by a fallen guard. Thomas flew from his standing position, tackling Nekrit and wrestled her into a headlock on the ground. Noyes and Riker both moved for disrupters lying by their feet and aimed them directly at Nekrit and Thomas.

Thomas was still holding her neck back with his arm – deflecting her attempts to dislodge herself from his grasp. Her voice was choked and wheezed.

“Let her go Thomas!” Noyes yelled! “I will shoot you!”

Thomas only shook his head with disdain “And kill the only one who can testify against her? Let me kill her and we’ll be done with it Admiral!”

“Thomas! Let her go!” Noyes cried once more.

“NO!” He continued to tighten his arm’s grip around the Cardassian’s throat. She began to thrash wildly, grasping, tearing at his arms with her nails. Blood began to ooze out of the long scratches she left behind.

“RIKER!” Out from behind them came a commanding, clear and velvet voice, Noyes and Riker spun in their positions.

Thomas held Nekrit firm, but eased his choke-hold on her. Stunned, he looked up to see a set of fiery-green eyes blaze at him from across the grotto. Slowly she began to approach him, her phase-pistol pointed directly at him. “Toni?” he asked, shocked by her presence.

“Toni…what the hell happened to you?” Riker whispered in shock when he saw her. Her face was ashen. Dark, almost bruise-like circles appeared under her eyes. She ignored Riker’s question and kept her focus on the Cardassian struggling against Thomas’ hold.

“Don’t do it. You can’t kill her.” She said calmly, walking slowly towards him.

Thomas tightened his grip on Nekrit, although she continued to thrash, there was no doubt Thomas’ hold on her was resolute. He grimaced in tortured agony, “You don’t know! You don’t understand! She can’t live! Not after what she did!”

Riker and Noyes began to lower their disrupters as Steele was now crossing their site lines as she continued to approach Thomas’ position.

“I understand all too well what she did. I know everything.” Steele muttered with disdain.

Thomas grunted out loud. “Then you know! You know she must die!”

“I know she can’t die!” Steele cried back.

“How can you say that? You know nothing!” He spat back, tightening his grip around Nekrit’s throat once more.

“Look out!” Steele cried in warning as she watched Nekrit’s hand move for her own belt. “The pain device!”

Thomas pulled hard on Nekrit’s throat but she tore away from his grip. He grabbed her hand that contained the cylindrical device and the two rolled atop one another as they fought for possession.

Riker and Noyes both moved forward, disrupters in hand. “Toni, get out of the way!” Riker cried.

“No!” She retorted. “I have this. I won’t let her get away!”

Within moments Thomas had Nekrit under his control once more, but not without sustaining more contusions and bloody scratches to his arms and face. He had her neck pinned to the ground and the pain device set deviously close to her temple. “Now you’ll die the way you should…with the pain!” he roared.

Steele threw her phaser to the ground and lunged towards Nekrit. “I won’t let you kill her!” She screamed, reaching out towards Nekrit’s flailing hand holding her hand over Nekrit’s as a threat.

Thomas’ eyes softened in fury and despair. “Don’t Toni. Don’t do it. Please don’t take this away from me!” he pleaded.

Steele’s gaze met his with determination. “I won’t let you kill her.” She growled then lowered her voice. “Don’t forget. She’s a lot younger than you. She can outlive you.” She looked to her hand hovering over the Cardassian’s then locked eyes with Thomas once more and whispered so softly only Nekrit and he could hear. “We can make her our life-long project.”

Nekrit stopped thrashing and her face contorted in confusion, her throat was still clenched in Thomas’ firm hold.

“What?” Thomas hoarsely asked, not moving a muscle. His gaze never left Steele’s and he nodded his head once. “She will outlive me.” He said softly in return.

“You can’t kill her.” Steele said out loud. “Killing her won’t make you feel any better. Do you understand?”

Thomas nodded his head slowly. “Are you sure?” He asked.

“Not really.” Steele retorted. “But I do know killing her isn’t enough to take away the memories.”

Thomas’s eyes flared. “NO!” He yelled and as if in a blur, Noyes and Riker watched in horror as Thomas pressed the pain control device directly to Nekrit’s head.

Her screams of pain were deafening.

Steele shot forward and grabbed Nekrit’s trembling hand. Nekrit’s screams were immediately replaced with the terrible shrieks of pain from Steele.

Noyes and Riker both rushed forward. “TONI!” yelled Riker in horror.

Thomas yelled in fury, hatred and rage. Anguish pierced his cries as he pressed the device harder against the head of his captive. The small cavern echoed with his and Steele’s vociferous cries of pain and grief.

Nekrit, confused by the sudden disappearance of her pain looked down to see Steele’s hand grabbing hers and her seizing uncontrollably on the floor next to her. It only took a moment for her to realize what was happening. “She’s Deltan!” She began to smile, and her smile widened as her laughter took over. “You’ll never win Riker! The Federation will never let you!” Her laughter brightened in pitch as Steele’s screams continued to emit from her tormented body.

“Captain Steele!” Noyes yelled and he moved into Thomas, pulling harshly at his arm, trying desperately to pry the device away from Nekrit’s temple. “Thomas! Let go! Stop it!!”

Thomas refused to comply and Noyes used every ounce of strength he had left to finally torque Thomas’ hand from Nekrit’s laughing head. He then levered the pain control device from his hand.

Steele’s screaming silenced and Riker moved in to pull her away from Nekrit, keeping the disrupter safely pointed in her direction. She hissed at him. “I would rather die than be taken prisoner by you!” she snarled and then stood and bolted. Riker lifted his other arm to reveal the phase pistol that Steele had dropped. He didn’t hesitate to fire upon Nekrit.

Nekrit was thrown face-first to the ground by the pulse. “Too bad. You won’t be dying today,” he said. “Stun works just fine.” Riker turned and moved towards Steele who remained trembling on the ground. “Toni…” he muttered, rushing to her side as she continued to shake helplessly on the ground. He looked up in fury. “We have to get her to sick-bay!”

Noyes held his disrupter at Thomas. “We need to get to the shuttle!”

“Let me go with her!” Thomas yelled then lowered his voice and looked to Picard. “I won’t try to escape Admiral.”

Noyes shook his head with disbelief.

“The others are dead sir.” Riker looked to Steele. “She killed them. Her phaser was set for kill.”

Steele’s weakened voice squeaked from her trembling body. “They deserved it.” She hissed. “They all do.”

“Jaguar to Admiral Noyes!”

Noyes smiled brightly and hit his combadge. “Nice timing Captain Hunter. One to beam directly to sick bay and four to beam directly to the brig. Have a med team meet us there for treatment of a Cardassian prisoner.”

“Aye sir. We’ll send teams down to retrieve the shuttles. Is Captain Steele with you sir? Her shuttle appears to have crashed in the northern fields.”

“She’s the one for sickbay Captain.”

“Understood sir.”

“Toni…” Thomas said sadly as he looked to Steele’s quaking body as Riker tried to console her. “Toni…”

Five blue-white glittering beams of light carried them all to the Jaguar.

Steele was beamed straight into the sickbay, only to have the med team confounded by her condition.

Admiral Noyes and Riker watched as Nekrit’s unconscious body was laid into a holding cell in the brig and the med team confirmed she would recover from her phaser strike unharmed.

Thomas was placed into a holding cell of his own after he was provided wound treatment and a new set of non-Starfleet clothing.

The door to the brig hissed open and Deanna rushed in only to smile brightly when she saw Riker standing safely on board the ship. “Will.” She said.

Riker turned and grinned moving toward her with affection, hugging her and lifting her directly from the deckplate. “Deanna…I’m so glad you’re all right.”

Thomas watched the scene briefly then turned, moved towards the bed in his cell and pulled himself down into a fetal position.


USS Enterprise-E
Bridge


They sat there and watched each other…waiting to see who would emerge from the dusty lanes of the Cluster first.

Picard shifted in his seat trying to remain patient…and hopeful.

Jellico was not so quiet. He walked the bridge incessantly, peering over the shoulders of everyone as he passed, double-checking monitors, tapping one hand against his palm in a constant slap-tapping noise that was really beginning to get on Picard’s last nerve.

Picard was just about to clear his throat in an attempt to bring the annoying habits to Jellico’s mind when Worf’s voice filled the bridge. “The Jaguar sir! She has cleared the Cluster!”

“Hail them Mister Worf!” ordered Picard.

Hunter’s face appeared on the screen. “We’re good sir. See you at home.”

Jellico nodded once briefly. “Did you get the scans?”

Hunter smiled. “All of them.”

“Well done Captain. Jellico out.”

Picard didn’t waste a moment’s time. “Set course for Earth and engage at…”

“We’re being hailed by the Cardassians sir.”

Jellico smirked. “Well, for once I can say…I don’t care.” He smiled at Picard. “Shall we Captain?”

Picard nodded. “By all means Admiral, as I was saying…engage at warp nine.”

“Aye sir,” replied the Ensign at the helm and the Enterprise, followed closely by the Panther, followed the Jaguar towards Earth leaving the Cardassians’ two ships with more questions than answers.


__________



It wasn’t until Jellico and Noyes were quite sure they were safe when the ships stopped to regroup.

The decision was made to have the prisoners transferred to the Enterprise and Steele was also transferred to the Enterprise’s sick bay at her request. She had stabilized to a degree but Crusher and H’rim were unable to stop her constant and low-grade seizures without causing neurological damage. It wasn’t long before she had Riker, Troi, Malek and Picard at her bedside. She attempted to smile but was unsuccessful. “Captain.” She muttered. “I need to see Jellico.”

“He’s on his way Captain.” Malek said reassuringly. “Admiral Noyes told us what you did, that you kept Thomas from killing Gul Nekrit.”

Steele didn’t respond to him. She only looked at the ceiling.

Riker took her trembling hand in his. “You look awful Toni. You need to get some sleep. Malek here told us you haven’t slept for days.”

Steele turned her vacant and empty green eyes to her oldest friend. “Sleep?” She asked with confusion and hatred beaming from her expression. “Sleep? I don’t think I’ll ever sleep again.” She gazed to the ceiling once more, “And if there’s any real justice, neither will she.”

Riker froze.

Picard took a half step back from his position, tore his gaze away from Steele’s cold expression and looked to his First Officer. “What did you say?” he whispered.

“Death was too good for her.” Steele said factually. “If there’s any real justice, she’ll never sleep again.”

“Captain!” Crusher cried out. “I’ve been summoned to the brig! Gul Nekrit is seizing!”

Picard nodded weakly and watched as the emergency med team left sickbay, only as Jellico walked in. Picard turned to see that Steele had actually broken a small smile. “She’s having seizures, isn’t she?” Steele asked.

Riker’s face had taken on an expression of devastation and loss. “Yes.” He replied sadly.

Troi moved in and placed her hand on Riker’s shoulder. “What? What’s wrong?”

Riker tried to hold his anger in but was having little success, “You did it on purpose?! You and Thomas did it on purpose?! He wasn’t going to kill her, he was just going to cause her enough pain for you to implant the memories?!”

“Oh no, he was going to kill her and frankly so was I. I just happened to realize that there was a different option. One more befitting her crimes, I think.”

“Did what on purpose?” Jellico asked brightly and Malek shrugged in confusion.

Picard held up his hand to cut the Admiral off.

Steele lifted her tired eyes to Jellico. “I hereby request and indefinite leave of absence Admiral.”

“What?” Malek said in concern, moving forward towards her. “Why?”

Jellico scowled with confusion. “Captain…I don’t understand.”

“Just grant it Admiral.” Picard said sharply and turned back with anger towards Steele.

“Of course I will.” Jellico replied, “I’ll have Malek take over for the interim but I still don’t understand why!”

Steele let out a slight and sarcastic laugh. “Interim he says.”

“You and Thomas injected her with the memories, didn’t you?” Riker asked with such heartbroken misery, Troi squeezed his shoulder once more. “Why?”

Steele turned her gaze to him again and said coldly, “Because she needs to know…”

“Antoinette…” Picard whispered with horror. “All for revenge Antoinette?” He asked softly. “Was it really worth taking on her memories as well? You don’t know what she may have had hidden in that terrible mind of hers.”

She peered up to him with dead calm. “What memories could she have that would ever outweigh what she gave him…what she gave me?” Her velvet voice contained an edge that no one had ever heard before. “But now she’ll know. Now she’ll really know exactly what she did!” Steele hissed with pure fury and disdain.

“That wasn’t your call to make Antoinette.” Picard said with deep-seeded sadness.

“Do you really think I care Jean-Luc? Given half the opportunity would you not have done the same to Gul Madred?”

It was a stab directly at his heart and he didn’t know how to answer. Picard backed away from her slowly. “Admiral. Captain Steele has acted in consort with Thomas Riker to assault Gul Nekrit, the alleged war-criminal.”

“What?” Malek barked.

“Alleged?!” Steele screamed and sat up. “She’s a murderer! A torturer! Animals deserve more compassion!”

“Toni!” Riker tried to calm her and she lay back down upon her biobed.

Silence passed among them as the shock of her and Thomas’ assault sank in. Riker looked around with an incredulous expression.

Troi began to comprehend the facts of the matter. “You mean to say that you injected Nekrit with the memories of the massacre Toni?”

“And more,” she smiled. “Not just Thomas’ memories of the massacre, but every single torture session he had to endure…”

Picard closed his eyes with heartbroken disappointment. Jellico shook his head in pure confusion. “What in the hell is happening Picard. I don’t understand!”

Picard nodded weakly. “Commander Malek. Admiral, come with me and I will try to explain.” He turned to Steele with sadness. “Nurse Ogawa, Captain Steele is to be placed on level one Psychiatric hold. Is that clear?”

Alyssa nodded once. “Understood Captain.”

“What’s going on Captain?” Malek grabbed Steele’s trembling foot.

Steele sat up briefly and looked to Malek’s confused face. “Go with them Commander” she said calmly and Malek nodded and turned to go with Picard and Jellico. “Wait!” she cried out. “Malek!”

“Yes Captain?” He spun to her once more.

“My painting…make sure my painting…finds me.”

Malek’s antennae drooped substantially. “Of course Captain.” He turned back around and left with the others.
Steele turned to see the sad blue eyes of her friend. “Will...”

“Yes Toni?”

“Just do me one favor.” She asked softly.

“Anything.”

“Never forget how lucky you were to be the one to make it back to the Potemkin.”

Riker’s heart crushed solid. “Never.” He whispered as he took Toni’s tremor-afflicted hand back into his.


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