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Terilynn

ST: HERITAGE

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Good evening all. After a brief discussion with SLW and trying to figure stuff out for myself. I figure it's really, really time to post Beth's story...IN ORDER!

So - here we go.

By the way - as everyone bloody well knows - I don't own Star Trek or its characters but all original characters are all figments of my imagination. So there. :)

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STAR TREK

Heritage

BOOK ONE:

A Break with Tradition

Written by

T.L. Shull

I know this super highway

This bright familiar sun

I guess that I'm the lucky one

Who wrote that tired sea song

Set on this peaceful shore

You think you've heard this one before

Well the danger on the rocks is surely past

Still I remain tied to the mast

Could it be that I have found my home at last

Home at last

She serves the smooth retsina

She keeps me safe and warm

It's just the calm before the storm

Call in my reservation

So long hey thanks my friend

I guess I'll try my luck again

Well the danger on the rocks is surely past

Still I remain tied to the mast

Could it be that I have found my home at last

Home at last

HOME AT LAST

STEELY DAN

“To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond” - Hypatia

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PROLOGUE

Stardate 91921.7

Japori/Onias Sector Border

Independent Supply Frigate Kestrel

Chaina hated the stretch between Adelphous IV and Earth. Captain Spencer would start to tap his ring on the command chair soon and he wouldn’t stop it until they reached the Sol System. Chaina knew that it was really his only bad habit but it was still enough to drive her crazy. She wished she could find a way to listen to music without having to resort to breaching regs and covering her ears.

This was the longest and loneliest stretch they would have to pass. Their delivery to Adelphous IV had gone well and the payment was received. At least Spencer was in a great mood. That meant his ring tapping would have rhythm. She could make up her own songs in her mind to go with it.

She sat at the flight control panel and watched the main viewscreen and the star trails at they passed. She glanced over her shoulder at the captain in his chair. He was smiling - not broadly but his smile reflected his satisfaction with the ease of their last delivery and the fact that the recipient was so pleased by the shipment’s condition that he practically begged to enter into a solid and pre-paid five delivery deal with him.

Spencer was a short, human man. She towered over him as a matter of fact. She had inherited her height from her Daliwakan father. Spencer on the other hand was all human and always on the edge of annoying.

The tapping had begun. Tap. Tap. Taptap. Taptap. Tap.

Great. She already knew…he would repeat this pattern interminably until she brought the Kestrel out of warp just outside Sector 001. She began to quietly hum notes with the pattern his ring made as it banged the arm of his command chair. A nice, rounded dent had already been worn in where he flicked his hand. Tap. Tap. Taptap. Taptap. Tap.

She began to hum, trying to accept the tapping for the happy noise he intended it to be. Tap. Tap. Taptap. Taptap. Tap. She smiled. Tap. Tap. Taptap. Taptap. Tap. She began to bounce her head slowly with the beat. Tap. Tap. Taptap. Taptap. Tap.

Tap. Tap. Taptaptaptaptap…

What the hell? Annoyed, Chaina turned her head to glare at Spencer when she noticed his face. His hand was banging heavily on the arm of the chair. His face was puffed and swollen, his eyes were shut and the skin around his eyes looked wrinkled up near his nose but was flattened out at his cheek. His throat looked pasty and he was making the most vulgar sounds, but suddenly the sound ceased.

Chaina’s three hearts flew into a frenzy. “Spence! Spence! What’s wrong?!” she yelled as she turned and stood from her chair at the conn.

His arms were flailing and there was an awful snap-crunch noise as his head turned in a direction that Chaina knew was not physically possible for a human.

She ran to him.

There was a foul, horrible stench and Chaina fell to the floor before reaching the command chair, her eyes losing focus on Spencer’s limp foot.

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That may very well be the creepiest prologue I've ever read. Excellent pacing and a strong "Oh, SH**!" moment there at the ending. Reminds me a bit of watching a really well done monster flick -- the kind that makes you just a bit horrified. Talk about a good way to open a book!

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SECOND PROLOGUE

Stardate 91921.9

Earth Calendar July 23, 2413

Carlaeli System, Carlaeli Prime

Daystrom Institute Archaeological Council Dig Site #227-B

Digging in wet soil was much more complicated than flicking sand off of pottery but it was also much more fun. It was intricate to sieve through and the results were usually disappointing and if the relic had any organic material, it would never have survived this layer, but he wasn’t solely looking for organic material. He was looking for ceramic - and not just any ceramic but a form of glass-porcelain that would have shamed the ancient artisans of Venice on Earth.

He only had one more day of this humidity and damp and then he could head home to the San Francisco Annex and soak in the sight of it all and share it with the others. When the real fun begins!

This had been his best dig yet. He and his small team had made incredible discoveries that revealed the secrets of this utterly amazing and sadly, dead society from thirty millennia in the past. It was a society rooted strongly in the pure belief of…nothing. Atheism worshipped. Rejection of deities honored. Not even the rulers of this unique civilization thought of themselves as deities as so many on countless other worlds had. They found strength in each other and their arts - pure expressions of freedom, love, hatred and the rejection of technology. He was most amazed that this culture of the godless was also a culture that didn’t subscribe to the need for the knowledge of how everything around them worked. They just created for the pure joy of it. If something didn’t work, they just tried again. They were agrarian and vegetarian. They plowed and tilled to feed themselves but appeared to have spent the remainder of their peaceful days in the creation of everything beautiful. It was a huge empire of artisans – painters, musicians, actors, dancers, sculptors, potters, glassworkers…Jean-Luc would have loved this!

His scanner revealed a potential area for examination and he squatted back into the mire and ran his fingers through the mud until his hand hit a peat-like layer ahead of him. He smiled to himself. This is where objects survive. In the peat. Organic material can survive here… He moved his body to the edge of the mud layer and sank down like a baseball catcher. He pulled his cut-dig tool from his back pocket and began to slice through the peat-like layer with great tenderness and care. The green laser marked the edge of his cut with a fluorescent green numeral to assure the cataloguing of any potential finds.

He heard someone approaching from behind him…quickly. Their feet were getting caught in the mud and the sound they made as they squished and sucked was almost enough to make him a little sick to his stomach. The pace of the footsteps quickened and he heard rattled and heavy breathing associated with the rapidly advancing individual. “Bill!” her voice sounded panicked and she was completely out of breath.

He stopped the cut into the peat-like layer and pushed on his own knees to help hoist himself to the full and impressive height of his standing position and he turned to see Laura, a human woman with black hair, running through the mud with a look of great concern on her face.

“Bill!” she huffed. “Hurry…” she stopped, rested her hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath. “You…forgot your...combadge…again.” she glared at him.

The base camp was almost two kilometers from his dig area and it was clear she had run the entire distance.

He now started to sense her feelings of fear and urgency and his heart-rate shot up. “What is it? What’s wrong Laura?” he moved in to help her stand and his perceptions of her fear were now palpable.

“Call…” she breathed. “You have a call…emergency…from the Panther.” she looked to him with dread.

Bill’s stomach turned and he was hit with a shot of adrenaline. Oh Four Deities! No! Please no! He shot off, leaving Laura behind to recuperate.

It was at times like this he was grateful for his height. His long legs provided him with an enormous stride and the distance to the base would be nothing for him – he ran every day, but he had never run with such fear before.

Bill cleared the mud and found the hard ground and he picked up his pace. He passed the town center where the Carlaelians of this millennium lived in homes that faintly resembled quaint English Earth cottages of the 16th through 20th Century. He leaped the low limestone wall that impeded his last twenty meters before he could reach the tech center of the base camp.

He thrust himself into the geodesic tent and almost tripped directly over Gordon, his Choblik Assistant. Gordon’s implanted cyborg arms raised high from his diminutive ostrich-shaped body and quickly caught Bill at the waist and kept him from falling directly onto the table where the comm rested. Bill looked down to his friend’s large eyes and his deer-like face and breathlessly thanked him with a nod. Gordon flicked the cybernetic claw attached to the tip of his long prehensile tail that protruded in an elegant line from the rear of his body. He released Bill after he was sure he was steadied.

Bill made for the comm and looked at the screen with the Starfleet logo and the dread sat hard upon him. He sat down in the chair that faced the table, trying to catch his breath. His heart was racing and not just from the run. He put his head in his hands and rubbed his eyes, trying to pace his breathing and to calm his fear. He thought twice about hitting the button to begin the transmission and then thought about it once more when Gordon left the tent, presumably so Bill could be left alone to hear the news.

No…please.

His hand slowly reached up for the singular button he would have to press. With trepidation and fright, he touched it.

To his great shock, surprise and almost disbelief the face of his sister appeared on the screen. Her beautiful long, dark brown hair and stunning black eyes turned to him when she realized he had appeared on her monitor. She was wearing a black Starfleet uniform that had thin, dark grey stripes at the shoulder and deep red at the collar and neck line. Four small, round gold pips were plainly visible at her neck. His heart almost broke when she smiled at him and it was only then that she was able to comprehend the look on his face and her smile evaporated.

“Oh…Bill…I’m so sorry. It’s okay. I’m okay. I’m here.” her voice calmed him and her expression of sorrow covered her face.

Still out of breath, Bill nodded and freed a nervous laugh in an emotional release and with heartbroken joy he reached out and touched the screen to his comm, wishing he could touch her face and hug her and show her how happy he was to know she was still alive. He saw her reach for her screen as well.

“What’s the emergency?” he hoarsely breathed out, now worried about their parents. “Mom and Dad?”

“No Bill…they’re fine as far as I know…”

He saw his sister’s smile rupture across her face and for once Bill could see that the emergency was actually good news. “What?! What is it Beth?!” he demanded.

“Bill…when can you make it back to Earth?” she asked.

Bill thought quickly, still trying to catch his breath. “My last day here is tomorrow. I was going to go to Rigel III first but if there’s something wrong I can make it to Earth in under two weeks…what’s up? Tell me Beth!” he roared.

His sister was unable to control her beaming smile and her laugh. “Bill…you are never going to believe this!”

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That may very well be the creepiest prologue I've ever read. Excellent pacing and a strong "Oh, SH**!" moment there at the ending. Reminds me a bit of watching a really well done monster flick -- the kind that makes you just a bit horrified. Talk about a good way to open a book!

Hee hee! Thanks!

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PART ONE

Stardate 91941.1

Earth Calendar September 13, 2413

Federation Starship - USS Enterprise - NCC-1701-G

Bridge

The Briar Patch.

It was the nasty, swirling cloud of deadly gas and star matter that had made the USS Enterprise-E even more famous than she already had been. It now engulfed the USS Enterprise-G. It meant two days of concentration on the helm. It was tiring, boring and tediously slow going and Beth was losing what little patience she had left. She was anxious to get to Ba’ku, the ringed planet that lay inside.

She sat in the comfort of the command chair and looked around the bridge once more in awe. She had been captain of the newly commissioned USS Enterprise-G for just over six weeks and the ship had launched just under two weeks before.

She thought that her crew might be beginning to get used to her style. Now? She just had to get used to them.

The crossing over to the Briar Patch from Earth had been wonderfully non-eventful. Glitches in the Engineering seemed to be smoothed out by day five. The new propulsion and navigation systems’ bugs had all been worked out by the Enterprise’s sister-ship, the USS Determination and Elieth, a Vulcan male and her Chief of Engineering was able to locate the resolutions easily.

Beth had even taken the time to run a surprise battle simulation to get a feel for hull stress limits, helm, engineering and team efficiency. While there were a few serious communication problems, secretly she was ecstatic with the crew’s performance.

As with any new launch, there were other problems that required a more delicate touch. A problem arose with the programming of the food replicators that wasn’t ultimately corrected until day six. The Bolians, Choblik, Pahkwa-thanh, Klingons, Cardassians, Irriol and Ferengi were having fits and Beth was forced to test her “people skills” to navigate through the political nightmare that lack of desired menus wrought upon otherwise rational individuals. I used to be such a nice person. Battle has made me much less tolerant of minutiae, she thought with sick disappointment. She was raised in an environment of enduring tolerance and the thought that she was somehow losing that side of herself was devastating to her.

She glanced to her right and rested her eyes upon her new First Officer. She had asked him to monitor them through this portion of the Patch, not only to get a feel for his style, but also his capabilities at the conn. His Starfleet record reflected excellent piloting skills but his true talent seemed to lie in diplomacy and communication - something she knew she desperately needed help with.

His name was Paul Dryden. A human of ancient African descent, Beth knew he had been born and raised on starships. He had been cordial, professional and respectful at their first meeting the week after she took the command of the Enterprise.

She chose him as her Exec Officer because he appeared to be the complete package. He had the style and charisma that an XO needed to rally the team and the intense intelligence required for the away missions. Yet it wasn’t until his second day on board the Enterprise, three weeks before their launch, that she knew she had nailed it.

She had been in her ready room desperately trying to overcome her telecom discussion with her CO, Admiral Janeway, who had steadfastly refused to let her know what their first mission would be. Dryden had walked in and immediately knew the source of her frustration.

“Screw’em.” he said and it startled her.

“What?” she had responded with a smile and no small amount of shock at his choice of words, although she would have used them herself.

“Screw’em. We’ll be great no matter what the first mission is, whether it’s cleaning up Shentarian subspace messes, tackling the Thraiin Militia or finally getting out to sectors in the Crux Arm to explore.” the laugh that followed was constructed with pure satire, for he knew as well as she that exploration would not be the Enterprise’s first mission.

It was then that she realized that they shared a precisely honed view of their organization, brought on not just by being in it but rather by growing up in it. It was the fact that he had made her laugh that she appreciated. His comment had eased her tension about the unknown. It was at that precise moment she knew she had made the right choice.

Beth breathed in. Dryden was actually doing very well at the conn and she decided to retreat to her ready room in order to break away from the monotony and to give Dryden a break from her.

The ready room was spacious and empty and she thought, perhaps a little sterile looking. She had not even started to think about how she might personalize it. She knew that would come with time.

Beth idled to her desk and before she sat, she looked to the food replicator and ordered a cup of black coffee. French roast, of course. It was a habit she happily blamed on her CO, although in reality their shared affection for the beverage was pure coincidence.

She sat in her chair, setting the coffee down after taking a sip. She thought about Jean-Luc’s office and smiled when she remembered that it had been crowded with mementos he had gathered over a life-time of adventure. She saddened when she realized how much she missed him.

She stood once more and strolled over to a table on the opposite side of the office and looked to the old leather scrapbook on a book rest. Besides a photograph of her own family that hung on the bulkhead near the door, it was the only decoration in her ready room. The scrapbook lay open to reveal a photograph. The picture showed a fit and handsome Captain Jean-Luc Picard in a red and black Starfleet uniform, standing in a vineyard with his brother Robert and his young nephew René. She remembered Jean-Luc telling her it was the most important picture he had in the book – they were the last of the Picards.

She was still honored he trusted her enough to assure they would never be forgotten. Beth softly touched the edge of the picture. Family is strange that way, she thought and glanced to the two dimensional photo of her own family near the ready room door. It was a photograph of her and her twin brother along with her parents taken just a few weeks prior to her undertaking her last assignment aboard the USS Panther. Beth grimaced, realizing the photo lacked the image of her younger sister. She sighed heavily and turned to look back at the Picard family photos, wondering if any of those photos were missing faces of family members she may never know existed. She tried to shake the sick feeling in her stomach. She yawned and stretched her neck when the bell to her ready-room chirped…

***

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K’Reeg, son of Ch’Targh, had watched his new captain exit the bridge. She looked frustrated and bored like he was. Warriors hate to wait he thought with satisfaction. Impatience is a virtue.

He glanced around the bridge of this clean, sanitary ship and still knew he had made the right decision. Many Klingons had joined Starfleet now and he was just one of hundreds, but there were still matters of honor to attend to on Qo’noS to assure that the family name would hold firm on the home-world.

K’Reeg’s actions at Isla Deneb had solidified his own honor and he took comfort in the fact that his father could now rest easier with his choice to join Starfleet instead of remaining with the Klingon Defense Force.

His father, who had served in the KDF long ago with both Ambassador Rozhenko and Emissary Worf, now held a position of high esteem and K’Reeg did not wish to sully his reputation in any way. Ch’Targh was a well-respected General and commanded the mighty IKS Klag and the feared KDF Fourth Fleet. K’Reeg proudly remembered fighting alongside his father at Isla Deneb and looked forward to the next opportunity to do so.

K’Reeg knew the Enterprise was the elite ship of the Federation fleet and was glad to hear of his father’s satisfaction when K’Reeg was promoted to her.

His thoughts returned to his new captain. She was young. She may have been young but she was fierce. Her last command of a DIvI’may’Duj had produced more kills than a quarter of the of the Klingon forces combined. He would never point that statistic out to any of them of course, unless provoked. She had received two commendations from the Klingon High Council and Chancellor K’Nagh for her deeds at Isla Deneb.

She also had no problems kicking her crew into high gear. He was ecstatic that she threw a surprise battle simulation in their first week after launch. During the simulation K’Reeg thought that the Ensign at the conn station would fall over from panic but surprisingly she found her footing and his faith in her increased substantially. He thought she performed very well for being half-Ferengi. K’Reeg was glad for the simulation. He kept his tactical skills honed and it gave him an opportunity to become more familiar with, and work out some of the bugs with the new weaponry systems.

He glanced down to the new First Officer who was now sitting in the command chair. He was dark-skinned human who exhibited a serious character, but when the captain wasn’t on the bridge, he would ease his demeanor and joke with the crew. K’Reeg actually liked his humor, it was acerbic and dry. The XO also had a valiant battle history, if not as glorious as his captain’s, but that made sense – Dryden had served aboard a large ship, meant for exploration and diplomacy, not on a battle ship like the captain. K’Reeg would work well for him he thought. It just might take a little more time to understand him.

His eyes moved towards the Chief Science Officer. His skin prickled but he ignored it. She was half-Romulan and the Romulan profile, no matter how long they had been peaceful with them, would still make one think twice about trusting them. He had to admit she was an exemplary officer, but she would still take a lot of getting used to.

It was something his father had warned him about – the Federation’s acceptance of any and all species. Before K’Reeg entered the Academy, Ch’Targh had warned him that Federation ships would be filled with all manner of strange animals. He also told him to check twice before eating his meals to make sure he wouldn’t be devouring a fellow Cadet. While it was a joke, when he arrived on Earth and sat down in the Academy mess hall, he found his appetite whetted by at least three of his classmates.

He laughed internally. The Choblik would make a nice snack, if it weren’t for their cyborg implants…

His thoughts returned once more to his captain. He had been two years ahead of her at the Academy. He remembered her treatment there as well. Few were kind to her. Her professors hounded her and she had only a handful of friends. He did recall that the friends she did have were very, very loyal. He thought she had responded to her treatment like a Klingon. She took it, molded it as her own and used it to her advantage. By the time he graduated and moved on to Command School she was already developing into a leader.

He found it odd that so many from Starfleet looked askew at his captain. Yes, for a human she was very young to have such a command but he thought she was wise for her age – for she, like many Klingons, took advice from her elders to heart and used that advice to her and her crew’s advantage. He understood that. It was simple. His father and honored elders were wise and he always took their advice to heart and in doing so, he gained a place of respect and honor. Her actions were nothing different from that.

He walked across the bridge to the ready-room door. There was one small matter to attend to. Something he learned that humans needed to hear. A trick his elders taught him so he would fit in with the humans better.

He rang the bell...

***

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“…Come.” she stated calmly.

Her Second Officer and Security/Tactical Chief walked in. He was an extraordinarily large Klingon, tall and ruddy, and his brown hair was pulled back into a traditionally tied ponytail which reached below his shoulder blades. Beth knew Lieutenant Commander K’Reeg from the Academy as well as through his well-known valor in the Battle of Isla Deneb. When she was First Officer of the USS Panther she had once attempted to have K’Reeg transferred to her ship but his CO on the USS Helsinki refused to part with him. It had been a wise move, as it was largely due to K’Reeg’s efforts that the Helsinki had even survived the battle.

That was two years ago.

Beth turned to address him. “yaS cha’DIchwI’…what can I do for you?” she smiled.

K’Reeg’s head pulled slightly at her use of the possessive Klingon term for Second Officer and he bowed his head slightly. He knew that she had once served under a Klingon, he just didn’t realize that she was so comfortable with the Klingon language. “Captain, I was hoping you had a moment.”

Beth took on a look of serious concern. “Of course I do Mister K’Reeg, the Briar Patch has given me nothing but time.” Beth’s voice echoed her annoyance and his smirk demonstrated to her that he shared the sentiment. “Please, have a seat.” she motioned for him to sit on the sofa on the edge of the room but he moved towards a chair on the other side of her desk. She internally chastised herself for forgetting that Klingons preferred a more formal structure and she stood by her chair as he also remained standing. “Is there anything wrong K’Reeg?”

K’Reeg’s half smile showed his craggy teeth and Beth knew the discussion would be more positive than she had first thought. “No Captain.” K’Reeg’s voice was deep and resonating, “It’s just that this is the first moment I have had since coming on board the Enterprise to express to you how honored I am at having been selected by you and being able to serve with you.” his voice was almost gentle and for a moment Beth was reminded of Worf.

Beth smiled broadly and almost laughed. A Klingon expression of gratitude. Well my, my. Ch’Targh taught you well! “Well Mister K’Reeg, you should know that I understand what that means coming from a Klingon. I will do my best to live up to your standards.”

He shook his head fiercely, confused by her seeming humility. “My standards Captain? You are already known to be honorable and you carry a place of distinction within the Klingon Empire. Your skills in battle are well known.”

She laughed a little. “Maybe so K’Reeg but you need to know I may have to look to you to find my spine every so often. Please do not think less of me when I do.”

K’Reeg stood at attention with a look of determination. “Captain – I will be there when you need me.”

Beth walked around the desk and looked up to the enormity of him. His metal Klingon baldric gave his look of ferocity a nobler air. She grabbed his upper arms and shook him hard. “I thank you in advance!” K’Reeg backed from her then started to walk to the door. “Mister K’Reeg – was that all?” she seemed almost surprised.

“Yes, Captain. That was all.”

yajchu’.” Beth confirmed her understanding and immediately lost her grin to an expression of discomfort. “How much longer do we have in this damned cloud?”

“About three hours Captain.”

“Good. I’m going stir-crazy.”

K’Reeg nodded in agreement and exited the ready room. Alone again, Beth returned to her seat at her desk, smiling broadly. She sipped at her coffee once more as she picked up a padd to yet again explore the personnel roster. It had been just under two weeks and she still had to familiarize herself with hundreds of people. The Panther only had a crew of two hundred and twenty five. The Enterprise had just over eight hundred. It was daunting. It was a little disappointing. A full twenty percent of her crew was human and seventy two percent were humanoid. She was hoping for a more species-diverse crew but assignments were assignments.

The Enterprise-G had 32 decks, a tightened design and a mean look to boot. Her hull was shaped more like a rounded spearhead than the previous starship designs.

War had been a main focus of the Federation for the past five years and starship design was made to fit the agenda. The ship had been outfitted with the new shielding technology that they hoped would outlast any new advances the Shentarians had made since Telanus. She was also rigged with two more torpedo bays than her predecessor. The Federation had high hopes that exploration would begin again, with an emphasis on sectors toward the Crux Arm of the galaxy but the Enterprise-G was built knowing that exploration was on the back-burner…for now.

Beth thought of the Enterprise like she did the Panther, like a Cat. She was a very big Cat - but a Cat nonetheless. The Enterprise was the second starship to be outfitted with the new Federation navigation and propulsion systems that had only previously existed on the Panthera-Class defense ships. Her experience on the Panther gave her the skills necessary to command the massive starship and she knew that the Enterprise had remarkable maneuverability in rough situations. Her recent battle sim had given her a feel for her new ship and it also gave her crew a taste of her battle and command techniques. She secretly nicknamed the Enterprise “Tiger” to acknowledge those capabilities.

She also knew it was a large reason that Starfleet chose her over her older counterparts. There wasn’t a member of her senior staff that wasn’t older than her but she was used to that. She knew that Starfleet chose her because they needed a pilot who understood battle and the intricacies of the new navprop system, not a politician. Battle had been in the forefront of everyone’s minds.

The current war with the Shentarians was the result of what her Interspecies Protocol Professor would have clinically and nasally dubbed a bad result from a poorly planned observation mission. Personally, Beth thought war with Shentarians would have been inevitable. She found them to be an exceptionally emotionless species with a manifest destiny mentality. They had stumbled across the knowledge that there was so much more for them to plunder in the Alpha Quadrant.

The Shentarians were hard-shelled beings that some had called a strange blend of humanoid-insectoid and they weakly resembled Terran crustaceans. While they were tall, their arms were longer than their bodies. Their green exoskeletons were mottled brown and Beth thought their coloration was remarkably like that of uncooked lobster shell. For being so large, they were almost delicate in their forms. Their long, thin arms could easily span three meters from the tip of one of their four spindle-like fingers to the other. Their heads were round and wide and smooth. Their eyes were bright yellow and the irises were crescent-shaped slits. But it was their mandibles that everyone feared. Large, razor sharp and hidden, they only appeared when a meal was to be consumed or slaughter was on the agenda. Beth pushed the memories of the bloodshed out of her mind.

When the Federation first set out towards the Gamma Quadrant to observe the Shentarians, they had been under the unfortunate and mistaken assumption that the planet to be observed was a progressive culture that was on the verge of warp capability. What the Federation observation teams had actually stumbled onto was a penal colony of Shentarians being held by their far more technologically advanced home-world. The home-world ships discovered the Federation duck-blind teams just beginning to arrive on the penal colony and in distant orbit and believed invasion/escape plans were underway. The ensuing massacre wiped out over seven million captive Shentarians and four Federation ships in the area. It was the discovery of the Federation ships that led the Shentarians directly to the Alpha Quadrant.

All attempts at diplomacy had failed as the Shentarians’ only objective was to conquer. Beth compared the Shentarians’ unnerving drive to that of the Borg, but where the Borg wanted to assimilate, Shentarians just wanted lunch. Beth knew they carried a deeper need to rule but it just seemed like everything about them was hunger driven; their hunger for food, their hunger for power and their hunger for suitable living space. Their home world, sixteen colony planets and two remaining penal colonies were severely over-populated and all their hungers merged and became the driving force of the species.

Beth knew that Cardassia had a similar history and that they were able to find the courage to overcome those hungers, yet only after the Dominion killed over 800 million of them. Cardassia had become strong allies indeed, but she didn’t hold out any hope the Shentarians would ever find that courage.

The first Shentarian attacks came upon Federation colonies on the edges of the Gamma Quadrant five years before. The utter destruction and subsequent capture of the planets thrust the Federation headlong into a defensive war it had not anticipated.

While the bulk of the Shentarian forces carried technology that was comparable to that of the Federation, they held a few advantages - and the seldom seen but dreadfully feared whales were a distinct advantage.

The Federation believed that the Shentarians didn’t have many of the colossal vessels for they must have drained the military resources to build. They had developed the technology to create and master the use of subspace bubbles, subtle in form, they were difficult to locate and deadly. If a ship or even its shields touched one of them, there would be no recovery. The whales themselves were almost ten kilometers in diameter and they spun the bubbles from the edges of their bowl-shaped forms. The bubbles would spring forth from the ship and encase everything inside a finely woven cone-shaped net that exuded from the ship. The tactic was incredibly similar to that of the Terran humpback whale feeding technique and was exactly what had given rise to the use of the term whale. To date, there was only one known defense against them and it meant certain death for the ship or ships that had to undertake it.

Most, however believed that the two forces were fairly evenly matched. Isla Deneb became the most blatant proof of that theory.

At the outset of the conflict, the Federation had propelled itself into a period of shipbuilding at a pace to match the efforts that occurred after the massacre at Wolf-359, a battle that happened more than four decades before and almost fifteen years before Beth had even been born.

Three years into the strife, Isla Deneb, a planet that orbits the star Deneb Algiedi, became the site of the largest Federation clash since the Battle of Deep Space Nine which ended the Dominion War. At Isla Deneb, the Federation and its allies took on a formidable Shentarian force and the battle remained undecided. Isla Deneb was unambiguously devastating to the Federation.

The self-sacrificial loss of the Enterprise-F in the battle had buckled everyone’s morale. While their valiance helped end the battle before mutual annihilation was achieved, it was always just a strange given that the Enterprise survives its battles.

It was then that the Starfleet promised that one of the new Determination-Class ships would be designated Enterprise and the strength would arise anew.

At the time, Beth was XO of the Panther and her CO was Captain Esteven Gallegos. She respected Gallegos more than any other of her Commanding Officers during her meteoric career. It was during the battle at Isla Deneb that Gallegos was killed. Beth was field promoted to captain. To everyone’s surprise, especially hers, the promotion held. It was almost unheard of as she was only twenty-eight years old at the time.

Beth’s performance as captain on the Panther and her ability to use her piloting and tactical proficiency impressed everyone in Starfleet Command and they quickly utilized her skills to their best interest. She was given lead of the Panthera-Class ships on numerous missions against Shentarian forces over the past year and a half, every single one of which had been successful and many believed that it was due to these recent missions that Shentarian contacts had decreased in frequency in recent months.

There were five ships in the class and they were commonly referred to as “The Cats.” The USS Panther, Cougar, Puma, Jaguar and Leopard were all developed as modern generation and much larger versions of the old Defiant-Class attack vessels. They were medium-sized and exceptionally heavily laden with firepower. The five of them together were formidable against every opponent they had yet to face.

Beth had been offered the Command of the Enterprise six weeks before. No one needed to ask her twice. She was not about to turn down a dream over false humility. Everything had always been about the Enterprise.

Beth’s mind hit upon the ironic thought that exploration was even being considered by the Federation and she laughed to herself. Her dream, to take the Enterprise to an uncharted area of the galaxy and to discover something new, something wonderful, seemed like a complete fantasy now. Jean-Luc would have hated this.

She had been raised to explore, then retrained to fight. She had no idea the fighting would come so easily to her and sometimes it concerned her deeply. Jean-Luc would have hated that too. Who knew I would be chosen to take the Enterprise because I could kill so easily? Beth shut her mind to the thoughts.

Skirmishes with Shentarians had dwindled over the last six months but the proverbial lull in fighting began approximately two months before. The Federation did not believe by any means the war was over. It was just suspended while both sides licked their wounds.

Underneath the priority of the Shentarian confrontations, Starfleet’s attentions had been frequently pulled towards the Beta Quadrant and the “problem” of the Thraiin militia – a highly organized and well-funded group of mercenaries that had banded together in order to thwart any potential political gains between Romulus and Remus. While the militia had been in existence long before Beth had even entered the Academy, they had gained strength and courage over the past few years and were beginning to make life very difficult for the peacemakers of the Romulan Star Empire.

The Federation had only marginally tolerated attacks by the Thraiin due to its preoccupation with the Shentarian threat, but the Thraiin had gained new technology and with it, an upper hand on many of the most recent confrontations with Starfleet. It was only recently that Starfleet started to take them more seriously and now saw them as a real threat to any peace efforts in that region.

Beth’s eyes fell to her family photo once more and let her heart tug hard.

Her coffee was finished and she had scanned through another fifty personnel files when she set her padd down. She reached for her combadge and clicked it. “Captain to Dryden. Please report to the ready room.”

“Yes sir” is all she heard.

A moment later her door opened and her Executive Officer walked in. She smiled and he returned it. “I just finished going over the duty rosters for the first shift. I think you’ve done an amazing job.”

“Thank you Captain.”

Beth looked him over quietly. He was tall and had closely trimmed hair and a shaven face. His eyes were dark brown towards the center of his iris and they faded to light brown at the edges. He looked proud in his uniform with the command red at his collar and neck. The uniforms themselves were basic black, but the thin lines down the shoulders, sleeves and legs were dark smoke grey. They reminded Beth of the uniforms she remembered as a child, distinguished and not over-embellished.

“Now, are we all set for when we reach Ba’ku?” she asked him.

Dryden finally broke a smile. “Yes, Captain. I know what to do.”

Beth smiled. “Thanks Number One.” and then she realized it was the first time she had used the familiar term with him and she was about to apologize but he shook his head.

“No Captain – I like it.” he grinned.

“Good. For some reason, it just fits with you I think.” Dryden seemed pleased and took it as the compliment it was intended. “I am going to head to my quarters until we reach Ba’ku. I will then come back to the bridge when our guests come on board and you can greet them like we planned.”

“Excellent Captain. I will contact you when we enter orbit.”

“Thanks.” Beth smiled. “For everything.”

She followed Dryden out and looked at her bridge crew at their posts. She smiled and nodded to all of them and then turned and entered the turbolift. She called for deck eleven and when the door opened a moment later she moved out and around a slight arc in the corridor. She moved into her quarters and smiled. The decadence of its size overwhelmed her every time she walked in. She laughed when she realized that her quarters on the Enterprise were almost as large as the bridge itself and larger by far than the bridge of the Panther.

The clouds of colors of the Briar Patch swirled, danced and floated across her windows. It was beautiful. It was dangerous - but beautiful.

Beth moved all the way into her quarters and to her dressing room. She began to prepare for the arrival of the four guests from Ba’ku.

***

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Dryden expertly monitored the Enterprise through the tail end of the gaseous Briar Patch and into the expanse that opened and led to the planet Ba’ku. He turned the conn over to K’Reeg and then went to his quarters to ready himself for their visitors. He was looking forward to this.

He was one of the few who knew that the metaphasic radiation from Ba’ku’s rings kept its inhabitants from aging and in all cases those who were allowed to visit showed amazing reversals of their own aging process. For these reasons, the Federation kept Ba’ku a closely guarded secret. The Federation had a very short list of those who were allowed to visit and even they were limited to stays of no more than eight weeks at a time. A diplomatic quarantine was placed on the planet and access to the planet was intensely scrutinized. Paul knew that the Enterprise herself would be in orbit for less than eight hours before turning around and heading back through the Briar Patch.

The Federation’s last treaty with the Ba’ku and their surviving Ba’ku-Son’a descendants was on the edge of expiring and the Ba’ku inhabitants had invited their dear friends, Admiral William T. Riker and his wife, Ambassador Deanna Troi to accompany another Federation Ambassador to hammer out the terms of the new treaty to ensure Ba’Ku’s safety for the next thirty years. Admiral Riker and Ambassador Troi had made at least ten trips to Ba’Ku over the course of the last thirty five years and even though they were both in their mid-to-late seventies, they looked remarkable. It was usually an accepted practice that visitors would travel to Ba’ku with their spouses so any effects from the planet’s rings would be shared.

Dryden understood that this visit had been a little different than most had been. They had been there for the entire eight week duration and negotiations were not expected to be an issue. They never were with the Ba’ku. It was always in the Federation’s best interest to assure Ba’ku’s safety for if it were to fall into to the hands of an enemy there may be no recovery.

Ugh, immortal Shentarians…that would be bad. Very, very bad, he thought to himself as he straightened his tunic and double checked to make sure all three pips were on his collar.

No, the difference on this trip was the presence of Ambassador Rozhenko and his wife. Alexander Rozhenko, a Klingon and the son of Emissary Worf of the Klingon Empire, had been a Federation Ambassador for many years. He had proven himself to be a valued asset to both the Federation and the Klingon Empire. His human wife, Tatiana, and he had met while she had been traveling to Qo’noS on a diplomatic mission. She had been born and raised in St. Petersburg on Earth. It was there that she and Alexander made a home and she gave birth to two sons. It was a known fact throughout the Federation and the Klingon Empire that Worf spoiled these two children like no others in the galaxy.

Dryden looked himself once more in the mirror. Formal dress uniforms were in order for the arrival of the Admiral and the Ambassador. The white and gold-gilded jacket was form-fitting and regal. He was pleased with what he saw. He was extremely pleased with his new position. He had always thought of the First Officer’s position on the Enterprise as being the trophy. I get to command her at times but I always get the away missions!

Dryden felt strong arms encircle his waist from behind and his smile widened when he saw Clark’s gorgeous face in the mirror over his shoulder. His blonde hair and cocoa colored eyes made him melt every time he looked at him.

“I love you in this uniform.” Clark’s deep voice purred and he snuggled into Paul.

“Well then don’t crease it. I’m meeting the Admiral and the Ambassadors and I’m already late.” Paul teased as he turned. He lifted his hand to his husband’s face and caressed it softly then leaned to kiss him gently. He let his smile beam wide and turned to walk for the door of their quarters.

Clark could see the excitement in Paul’s face and waved. “Go then!”

Paul blew him another kiss and Clark shooed him with his hand. Paul jogged to the turbolift, entered, called for deck seven and leaned against the side of the lift. His smile had not yet waned.

One of his heroes was boarding the ship and he would be the first to greet him. Admiral Riker always let people know that he had a hard time deciding whether his favorite position had been that of First Officer of the Enterprise or Captain of the Titan. When Dryden heard Riker speak at his tenth Academy class reunion, he was inspired to hear that he had passed on several promotions in order to stay on the ship he loved, performing the duties he loved until he finally took a promotion to become the Captain of the USS Titan, a vessel that eventually became as famous as the Enterprise. Paul wanted that kind of legacy. Learn everything about anything, then apply it and make it your own.

The doors opened and he made headway for transporter room four. There, he met up with Transporter Chief Carlos Vega, a thin but athletically built human male. His South American accent was faint. “The Admiral and Ambassadors have just reported as ready, sir.”

Dryden nodded. “Excellent. I would have hated to have been late for this, Vega.” he admitted to the Chief and realized he was glad he remembered his name.

Vega nodded in agreement. “No doubt, sir.”

Vega pressed a short series of commands into the transporter panel and moved his hand up the panel. Four transporter beams began to glisten. Within moments the bodies of the four guests materialized before them.

Dryden was immediately taken by how wonderful Riker looked. His hair and beard were still grey and had thinned over his years but he stood tall, rugged and his strength was irrefutable. He was wearing his red standard Admiral’s uniform. His wife, Deanna Troi looked radiant, beautiful and very happy. Her once dark hair was now heavily tinged with salt grey but her skin was smooth and glowing.

The Admiral moved forward first off the transporter pad, his beaming smile widened when he saw Dryden. He extended his hand and then momentarily caught sight of Dryden’s collar. He had noticed that he was not the captain.

Dryden moved forward, shaking the Admiral’s hand. He was shocked by the strength in the Admiral’s grip. “Admiral, Ambassadors, I am Commander Paul Dryden, First Officer of the USS Enterprise.” Dryden smiled when he heard his own words. “I welcome you to our new home.”

Riker was still smiling but Dryden could tell he was expecting something else. Riker moved on with formalities. “Commander, it’s a pleasure to meet you. To say the least we were shocked when we found out that the new Enterprise was sent to greet us instead of the Persephone. Is there anything that I need to be concerned about?” he asked.

Dryden shook his head firmly. “No Admiral. Your command ship had been summoned to San Francisco upon our commissioning. She’s undergoing some minor repairs and some refits. She was involved in a slight altercation with a Thraiin vessel, but suffered no casualties. Captain Ryan was granted a few weeks shore leave and Admiral Janeway thought it would be a nice way for us to shakedown.” Dryden responded.

Riker seemed to relax. “I’m glad to hear that Captain Ryan and the Persephone are safe…” his eyes took in the newness of the transporter room, “…and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the Enterprise.” Riker moved in to allow Deanna, Alexander and Tatiana forward to greet Dryden. Riker’s smile turned into a questioning scowl. “But tell me…is your captain unaware of protocol when meeting dignitaries?” his voice was low, gruff and serious.

“No sir. However I was ordered to greet you here. The captain felt that introductions would be more appropriate on the bridge. I am to escort all four of you there now.”

Riker grimaced. NOT a good start! He thought to himself. He knew that he was never one for strict military protocol when he was captain, but this captain’s actions were beyond presumptive. He would have damn well been in the transporter room when an Admiral and especially two Ambassadors visited his ship.

Deanna lowered her head. Will, watch the temper…please! He heard Deanna’s voice clearly in his head and realized that she had sensed his thoughts and Riker realized how intense his anger was. Deanna was only able to hear him when his emotions shot off the charts. She reached for his hand and he gripped it tightly.

Riker’s look of extreme disapproval was evident to Tatiana and Alexander as well. Riker was now flat-out embarrassed by the lack of protocol and he shook his head apologetically to the Ambassador and his wife. It’s the Enterprise Deanna! Expectations should be high!

Dryden could see Riker’s displeasure and his face heated through. He quickly turned, leading them out the door and to the turbolift. Dryden then addressed Alexander. “Ambassador, did you enjoy your first visit to Ba’ku?”

Tatiana was a beautiful woman and it was obvious the trip had done her wonders, but Alexander grimaced a little and tried to smile but it was a complete failure. “It was…interesting.” he responded in a deep, almost annoyed voice.

It was only then that Dryden noticed a series of large pustules on the Ambassador’s face. Understanding the Klingon’s response to the rings’ effects a little more, he wisely chose not to pursue the line of conversation any further.

Deanna smiled politely to Dryden. Well, at least he’s not foolish. She looked to her husband and Riker broke a small smile within a snarl.

He’s the First Officer of the Enterprise Deanna. He thought, his anger still brewing. He’s not a complete idiot!

The doors of the turbolift opened and Dryden stepped forward briskly. “Admiral on the bridge!” he announced loudly and thrust himself to attention at the height of the bridge.

Riker immediately moved forward out of the turbolift and blindly, almost half-way down the bridge ramp. “Captain…” his voice grumbled.

Beth saw the Admiral’s eyes and cringed. Oh shit, he’s pissed!

Riker slowed almost to a stop, forcing himself to remember his own trick to subdue his anger and he tightened his lower abdominal muscles and breathed in deeply. It was then he noticed the senior staff standing at attention in their blazing white, formal uniforms. He quickly gazed around the bridge.

It was tight looking – streamlined. The dark surfaces and subdued lighting were more reminiscent of the old Enterprise-D’s battle bridge than of her saucer section. The formal white uniforms of the bridge officers were a stark contrast to the blacks, grays and dark browns of the bridge.

A woman stepped forward at attention from in front of the command chair. She was tall, slender and her long, thick, dark brown hair rested in gentle waves below her shoulders. The woman had intense black eyes. Her bright teeth shone when her smile broke wide. Riker stopped cold in his tracks. For a fleeting moment his thought was Deanna.

She cleared her throat quickly, “Admiral Riker. The USS Enterprise welcomes you home, sir.” she said calmly.

The remaining bridge crew all smiled while they remained at attention.

Riker’s anger deflated into pure confusion. “Elizabeth...?” he whispered.

“Elizabeth?” Deanna asked in a hard question and moved from behind her husband to see the floor of the bridge.

Riker, quickly followed by Deanna, walked down to the main level of the bridge and stood directly in front of Beth. She remained smiling and at attention. Riker’s fury was now gone, but his scowl was replaced with a vacuous expression. “What are you doing here?” he asked. His blue eyes met her dark ones and he looked to her collar. The four pips were still there.

“She’s mine, Admiral.” she said softly and then laughed slightly.

“What?” Riker stammered, utterly confused. “What do you mean she’s yours?” He looked around the bridge, trying to find his center.

Dad.” she made him look her directly in the eye. “I mean, she’s mine. I’m the captain.” She stretched to whisper in his ear. “I’m the captain of the Enterprise.”

***

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That's a pretty good start to the whole tale! The characters are interesting; the political systems in place are very interesting. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Shentarians for selfish reasons, but so far it looks like a good start to a long tale. Glad you posted it like this!

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Thanks - me too. I personally hate having to lay out the back story so much in the beginning, but it's really not just the beginning of Beth's book, it lays the foundation on all of them.

Like you, I have an affinity for character driven pieces - which is why I love the interludes so much in these works. I go a little bit forward...take in a little bit of history. Go a little bit forward...take in a little bit of history.

But when it comes to laying the foundations like this...I can only say I appreciate the readers' patience.

And yeah....the Shentarians...they can be reaaaaaal gross. They'll appear, but not for a long while.....

:)

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Thanks - me too. I personally hate having to lay out the back story so much in the beginning, but it's really not just the beginning of Beth's book, it lays the foundation on all of them.

Like you, I have an affinity for character driven pieces - which is why I love the interludes so much in these works. I go a little bit forward...take in a little bit of history. Go a little bit forward...take in a little bit of history.

But when it comes to laying the foundations like this...I can only say I appreciate the readers' patience.

And yeah....the Shentarians...they can be reaaaaaal gross. They'll appear, but not for a long while.....

:)

No way to spread the backstory out a bit further, or is it really dependent on being here? And Beth is a fairly good character; I haven't gotten to see a whole lot of her in action just yet, but she seems sensible so far. Her XO's a sweety, too; most of the characters introduced so far have a decent base to work from.

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YAY!

Terilynn has posted all of these pieces before in her other thread, but its nice to see them in order for once.

I won't give away any details, but Beth is a very good character to read, as are the other crew. You'll enjoy it very much. At any rate, its great to see this stuff again.

I can't wait for parts of the story that I haven't read yet.

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No way to spread the backstory out a bit further, or is it really dependent on being here? And Beth is a fairly good character; I haven't gotten to see a whole lot of her in action just yet, but she seems sensible so far. Her XO's a sweety, too; most of the characters introduced so far have a decent base to work from.

Well, for the most part, the real narrative is over. The next few scenes will contain a little more and will give more outline on Beth (BTW _ you might appreciate her taste in music ;) ) but the dialogue and then the beginning of the plot will finally start to unravel...Once all of that foundation was laid...

trekfan!

Thanks - I'm glad I'm putting it in order too. Now that Beth's tale is almost completely written having it here will help me as a reference when I finally get going on Bill's again.. :)

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Deanna’s hands moved directly to her mouth to cover her audible gasp. Riker stepped back and found her black eyes again. He still couldn’t believe it. Beth however, was not going to continue to be rude. “Welcome to the USS Enterprise Ambassador Rozhenko! Mrs. Rozhenko, it’s very good to see you both again.”

Alexander’s deep Klingon laugh slowly but steadily brewed from the bottom of his gut and with the strength of a locomotive quickly boiled over. He had never seen Will Riker dazed before and he was going to enjoy every moment of it. He shook Beth’s hands with great vigor and Beth reached over and kissed Tatiana once on each cheek.

“Admiral!” Beth called and Riker’s face turned to her once again, the blank expression still painted on it. “Let me introduce my fine crew!”

Riker nodded slightly and Deanna moved in to take his hand. She too bore an expression of wonder and disbelief.

Beth looked to her bridge crew. “Staff – please forgive Admiral Riker if he doesn’t remember your names later on. I’ve seen this look only once before. It took him a few days to lose.” she smirked and Deanna suddenly burst forward and hugged her. Beth laughed out loud. “I should have seen that one coming!” Beth tried again after Deanna let go. “Admiral and guests, you have already met my First Officer, Commander Paul Dryden. I hope my father didn’t give you too much grief for my failure at greeting protocol, Commander.”

Dryden laughed. “He was upset at first but I think you’ve been forgiven.” Paul focused on Riker. “Congratulations Admiral.”

Beth charged ahead as she saw that her father was at least trying to pay attention. “Admiral, my Second Officer is also my Security Chief and Tactical Officer. Lieutenant Commander K’Reeg.”

It was Alexander who spoke up loudly. “K’Reeg! You honor the Empire!” K’Reeg was certainly taken by the Ambassador’s comment and he could do nothing but nod in acknowledgement.

“Next, my Chief Science Officer, Lieutenant Commander Jaden Revaik.”

Riker finally took notice and his head popped up hard. “Revaik. Yes, I know of you. It is a great pleasure to finally meet you in person.” he acknowledged her sincerely.

Deanna also found her voice and smiled to Revaik, “As it is with me, Lieutenant Commander.”

Revaik was visibly pleased with their response. She was a half Human – half Romulan woman and one of the first three individuals of Romulan descent to be allowed to openly enter into the Academy. Her jet-black hair was cut to the typical Romulan style but not as sharply. Her ears came to a soft point and her forehead ridges were only slightly pronounced and her smile was soft. She nodded graciously to her mentors. “Admiral Riker, Ambassador Troi, I am honored to finally meet the people I consider responsible for allowing my entrance to the Academy. I will serve to make you proud.”

Riker lifted his hand and placed it over his heart and looked to Beth. He was beginning to believe it and his smile couldn’t be contained. He looked to Deanna whose face reflected her own sheer lapse of understanding of the entire situation. Are we dreaming this? His eyes turned to Deanna. Deanna’s head showed an almost imperceptible shake. Her mouth was slightly agape and her eyes were once again locked onto Beth’s face.

Beth glanced at her mother and realized that she was as shocked as her father. Now, this is fun! Beth continued. “Ship’s Counselor, Lieutenant Commander Enya Priest, from Betazed.”

She looked up to her father who appeared to be back in form and had graciously nodded to Enya.

Enya had short, sandy-colored hair and the typical black Betazoid eyes. She was shorter than Beth by about ten centimeters and she could not stop staring at Deanna. It was obvious that she held Deanna in high esteem.

“My Chief of Engineering, Commander Elieth.”

Riker’s face lit into a genuine grin. “Elieth! I am very pleased to see you Commander.”

Commander Elieth was a Vulcan man with dark skin. While he appeared young, Beth knew he was eldest member of her crew. Elieth had served under her father on the Engineering team while Riker was Captain of the USS Titan. Elieth’s father, Vulcan Ambassador Tuvok, was well-known to all of Starfleet and the Federation. After serving Starfleet for decades including a long stint as XO on Titan with Riker, Tuvok pursued a new career in diplomacy in the traditions of the Vulcan people.

After the Titan’s decommissioning, Elieth transferred to the USS Leopard where he served with distinction under Captain T’Vyn, another Vulcan. Two years before, Elieth had been set to be transferred to the Enterprise-F but the push for the battle at Isla Deneb caused the cancellation of his transport to the ship. He remained on the Leopard and earned his promotion to Commander and Chief of Engineering until Beth requested his presence on the Enterprise-G. “Thank you Admiral. It is agreeable to see you as well.” he replied calmly.

Beth nodded quickly. “Admiral and Ambassador, this is my Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Kenneth Richardson.”

Richardson was Nordic. He was a tall man and his blonde hair was cream-straw in hue. He had pale blue eyes and a chiseled dimple at the base of his chin. He was the epitome of Northern European sculpture. “Admiral.” he acknowledged Riker with a professional smile and a slight Norwegian accent.

Riker nodded to him in return. “Doctor.”

Beth turned to the Ops station and smiled. “Admiral. I’m lucky indeed to have a familiar face as my Third in Command and Chief Operations Officer, Lieutenant Commander Llewellyn.”

Michael Llewellyn stood upright and proud next to his chair at Ops. He was a short human male with a stocky and athletic build. He had black hair and dark brown eyes.

Riker recognized him immediately and smiled. “Mike it’s very good to see you.”

“Admiral, Ambassador. I am also glad to see you again and looking so well.” Llewellyn replied, his deep voice held low.

Beth looked to her Flight Controller and smiled proudly. “Finally Admiral, my Lead Flight Controller, Ensign Phinod Canrella.”

Canrella was an amazing mix of Ferengi and Bajoran. While her earlobes were very distinctive and broad, they were beautiful and graceful and the ridge of the top of her ears swooped like an artful line over her eyebrows and broke into the typical Bajoran ridges over her nose. Her smile of almost perfect teeth only heightened the grace of her face and her Bajoran earring glittered and gave her an appearance of glamour.

Riker turned to look at her. “Ensign Phinod,” Riker addressed her in the traditional Bajoran way, the use of the surname always came first, “I have heard of you as well. LaForge hasn’t stopped talking about you since you graduated from the Academy. Congratulations on this assignment.”

“Thank you Admiral.” she seemed embarrassed and the upper lobes of her ears flushed with color.

Beth looked to her father. His eyes still seemed wide. She hadn’t seen him like this since she told him she was admitted to the Academy, when she was fifteen.

She had lied to her parents told them she was going with some friends to meet Worf and Alexander on Earth during the school break. While Worf and Alexander covered for her, she had actually taken a transport to Starbase 112 to secretly take the Academy entrance exam. She entered the Academy just after her sixteenth birthday. She remembered it took her father a full day to comprehend her admission, a full day to get over his anger with her for lying to him and a full day to forgive Worf for his help in the deception. By day four he couldn’t contain his pride.

“Why don’t we move into the ready-room Admiral? I think you need to sit.” she turned and secretly looked to Dryden and smiled. He gave her a slight “thumbs-up” sign and she began to push the group into her ready-room. She turned to her XO. “Number One, you have the bridge. After the away team has returned, please move back through the Patch at one-quarter impulse.”

“Aye, sir.” he responded.

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When the door closed behind her she began to cordially show her guests to seats in the room but she found herself being hoisted in the air and squeezed so hard she thought her lungs had deflated. “Dad…” she hoarsely whispered, “Dad – too tight…”

He dropped her suddenly, which freed her arms and she responded to him by throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him.

“I can’t believe it! CAPTAIN OF THE ENTERPRISE!” he roared.

“Does Bill know?!” asked Deanna excitedly.

Riker set her down and almost instantaneously Beth turned and hugged her mother. Beth resembled Deanna. She had the same dark brown hair and the same black eyes, but Beth was noticeably taller than her mother. There was no doubt she inherited her height from her father. Beth’s beauty was unquestionable.

“Yes! Bill was there for the commissioning ceremonies. He said he’ll catch up with you on Earth. He plans on being there for almost the next year. His finds at the ruins of Carlaeli were amazing I guess and he’s going to enlist some doctoral students to help him.” Beth smiled when she thought of her twin brother leaning over a lit table with a bunch of dusty relics laying on it. He always got so excited about that stuff.

“I wish we had been there!” yelped Deanna disappointedly.

“It’s okay Mom, this was much more fun!” admitted Beth. “Now, everyone have a seat, please.”

Before Alexander could sit, Beth grabbed him and hugged him tightly and he returned it with great pleasure. She whispered in his ear. “Remember I told you about the look Dad got when I passed the exam?” He nodded with a smile. “That’s the look!” she smiled and Alexander sat on the couch, holding Tatiana’s hand tightly. Tatiana leaned and rested her head on Alexander’s shoulder. They were enjoying themselves.

Riker and Deanna sat in chairs across from the desk and Beth took her chair behind the desk. Riker leaned forward, his grin splitting his face, “Tell me everything young lady!”

Beth rolled her eyes and looked at her mother. “He still thinks I’m sixteen.”

You are to me too, Elizabeth.

Beth heard her mother’s words crack clearly in her head. They were loud and painful and they ricocheted open a door that let in the noise. “Mother…” she scorned. “You know I hate that. Warn me ahead of time.” her voice was clear and scathing. Beth pushed the noise down, hoping her face wasn’t revealing her efforts, using the only trick she knew her mother wouldn’t detect and she began to play music in her mind, loudly.

“Fine.” Deanna pouted but realized she used to hate when her mother spoke to her telepathically in front of others as well. The problem was? Beth didn’t like to use her empathic abilities at all. Deanna had always been more than disappointed by it.

Beth had turned her attentions back to her father. He sat in his chair upright and strong and she found herself jealous that the two of them got to spend so much time with the Ba’ku. She reprimanded herself and realized that the more time they spent with the Ba’ku the more time she would have with them. She smiled. “You all look great. I take it things went well on Ba’ku? How’s Anij?”

“Beautiful as always.” he looked frustrated. “Damn! I wish there was a way I could tell her!”

“There is.” Beth dropped her head to a nod.

“What?” Riker questioned. He then recalled Beth’s orders to Dryden on the bridge. “Wait – away team? Who’s on the Ba’ku surface?” he was immediately alarmed and feared for any potential breach of confidence.

Beth held up her hand to reassure him. “My Communications Team, Admiral. The Ba’ku are being left with a new communication station. This will replace the one they already had but it’s there in case they want to use it. Its basic signals can actually just barely penetrate the Briar Patch. It can be used to send and receive messages with similarly equipped Federations starships. Since we have regular patrols in this area now any call for help should be heard.”

Riker smiled again, relieved that Ba’ku would still be kept in the pocket of the Federation. “Good, I would like to contact…” his voice seemed to trail off momentarily, with almost a hint of disappointment, “…her.”

“I thought you would.” her face illustrated a slight smile as she cut in. “When you get to the VIP quarters, contact my Communications Chief. Feel free to beam back to the surface if you would like. If not, he’s been told to make his combadge available to you while they set up the station.” Beth’s voice reflected a deference that was not there before.

Beth stood from curvature of the desk and turned to the replicator behind her desk. “Champagne for five.” Five glasses of bubbling champagne appeared in delicate flutes. The other four stood from their seats and she handed Alexander and Tatiana stems. Beth walked around her desk to join the others in the open portion of the room.

Riker brought his arm around Deanna’s shoulder as he stared at his daughter’s smiling and beautiful face. Jean-Luc would be beside himself. His thought was purely his own and he wasn’t sure if Deanna would hear it or not. He smiled wistfully and held out his hand to receive a glass from Beth and momentarily he thought she might be in pain.

Her fleeting grimace morphed into a gentle smile as she looked to her parents and friends. “It’s all I have ever wanted.” Beth’s eyes met her father’s. “For you, for him…and for me.”

Riker’s eyes widened into huge saucers. “You heard me?” he was stunned once more and Deanna perked her head up with confusion.

Beth gave him half-nod. She turned and graciously smiled as Alexander and Tatiana were now expecting a toast. She raised her glass and said, “To Jean-Luc.”

“Jean-Luc.” the rest quietly repeated and they all sipped.

Beth moved across the room to set her glass down next to the old leather scrapbook and moved back to her father. He drew her into his broad arms and hugged her once more. Beth then moved to her mother and hugged her again as well.

“Now – I will take you on a tour after you’ve settled. We still have more than two days to get through the Briar Patch. No new advances have been made on that end. As a matter of fact it will take a little longer for us as the new plasma impulse manifolds of this new ship are more sensitive to the cloud matter than the old ones were.” Beth stated with no small amount of frustration. Technological advancements always seemed to bring backward steps in other ways.

There was a consensus that assignment of quarters was due. Beth showed her guests to the door and asked Dryden to escort them to their rooms. Just as Riker was to follow them, Beth touched his arm softly. “Admiral. I need to talk with you…alone.”

Deanna turned and realized that Beth had to talk about Starfleet matters. She kissed Beth on her cheek and followed Dryden and the Rozhenkos to the turbo lift and she seemed disheartened that she was no longer a part of that world.

Riker backed into the ready-room. He saw the look in his daughter’s eyes. It was business time. “What is it Captain?” he said to her as he sat in the chair across from her at the desk again.

“Admiral.” she was formal. “The Federation President has requested you to contact him on a secure channel as soon as you make yourself comfortable on board the Enterprise. This communication can be made from within the Briar Patch to the USS Puma, who is awaiting our arrival on the other side. They will act as relay to the Council.”

“The Puma’s here?” his concern evident.

“Yes sir and the Jag will be with her by the time we get through. They’re to escort us all the way to Lambda Hydrae system, to Iolus Prime.”

“What?” Riker was heavily troubled. “Iolus Prime? Why are we heading for the Romulan Neutral Zone?”

“That I don’t know Admiral. My orders are to take you there and wait for you as well as the arrival of the other three Cats. I am to receive new orders from there.”

“The other Cats are meeting us at Iolus Prime?” he stood and the gravity of his demeanor changed. Riker felt a weight fall back upon him that he had not felt since he arrived at Ba’ku.

“Yes, sir.” Beth closed her eyes and raised her face towards the ceiling. “Nice parties always happen when the Cats get together.” She was being facetious and he knew it. The Cats only got together when battle was anticipated.

“Thraiin.” he stated as if exhaling.

Beth shook her head. “Believe it or not sir, the Thraiin are not suspected.”

Riker looked shocked. “It can’t be Romulus can it? Is it the Shentarians?” he asked.

Suddenly Beth thought he looked tired. “Neither sir. It’s something else entirely. We’re not sure what to make of the reports we’re getting on the edges of the Onias and Japori sectors. Three freighters have been attacked. We don’t know the cause of the attacks or the species involved.”

“What?” his voice was hushed and he sat again. His eyes darted and met hers intensely, “What have you heard?”

“To tell you the truth? Not much. Only that there are reports of strange activity near the outlining edges of the congruence of the Onias sector and the Neutral Zone.” She sat back in her chair and rubbed her eyes tiredly. “Well, there have been rumors.”

“Rumors, Beth?” his eyebrows lifted.

She smirked. “Yes Admiral. You know, those rumors that always end up having some element of truth about them?”

He laughed a little. “Yes…what are they saying?”

“That the three freighters all lost their captains on the bridge. Whoever or whatever attacked them, sliced through their shields like butter and directly attacked the commanders of the vessels. All three died from what their crew believed were ghosts. Once they were dead, the attacks on the ships stopped.”

Riker saw the look of disbelief in his daughter’s eyes, the same look he used to get when the stories got ridiculous. “Ghosts.”

Beth laughed. “Yes, Admiral. I know there’s more going on here. I just haven’t been make privy to any formal reports yet.”

Riker nodded with understanding. “Command hasn’t finished their investigation yet. When did the attacks start?”

“They started just after you left - about eight weeks ago.” she confirmed. “You should also know that last week, outposts along the reaches of the Delta Quadrant picked up an unusual subspace communication signal. It has yet to be identified.”

Riker’s eyes closed. “Shentaria. Thraiin. Ghosts and now the Borg?” It will never end.

“We’re not sure Admiral. I look forward to talking more about this but I think I’ve delayed your communication to the Council long enough.”

Riker stood once more and she knew to follow him. Before he got to the door he turned to her. He pulled her close with one arm and he raised his other arm and drew his hand over her hair and smiled. He was disappointed he wasn’t at Command to hear the news of her selection and wondered when she had received the offer. “When did you know?”

“When I was five.” she replied.

“Excuse me?” he questioned, her answer was not what he had been expecting.

“When I was five you took the family on the Armstrong to Betazed to visit Grandmother. You sat me on your lap as you piloted the shuttle. That’s when I knew.” her eyes met his in sincerity.

Riker closed his eyes as the memory of her small body on his lap, his arms surrounding her and the sweet smell of her hair came flooding forward. She had asked a litany of questions and he had been having fun answering every one of them. They had turned the entire flight into a game. At the time, he just assumed she’d forget everything, but later that night as they relaxed in their room on Betazed, he found her playing on the floor with a mock-up she had made of the flight panel. She was touching the areas of her pretend panel exactly as she should have if it had been real. Not only had she remembered every single one of his answers, she had put them into practice. He sat on the floor behind her and pretended to be her passenger and watched her with amazement. Deanna looked on, amused from her chair with four year old Cassidy sitting on her lap, while Bill practiced scales on his portable keyboard. Riker remembered telling Deanna as they lay in bed that night that he believed Beth could have flown them back to the Titan by herself.

“You know I’ve always been proud of you.” he whispered to his daughter.

Beth nodded. “You have always told me so.”

Riker smiled and drew her close. “But I’ve never been so proud - you have accomplished what I never could.” his awe, regret and pride were all evident in his voice.

“Dad…”

Riker cut her off with another bear hug and left her ready room. Beth turned back into the room and quickly wiped a tear from her eye. She went to her desk and sat.

***

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It was several hours before the Enterprise was able to make headway back into the Briar Patch. Riker had completed his communiqués and Deanna had settled their belongings in their VIP quarters. Deanna was slowly and gently gliding from one end of the room to the other, her eyes, scarcely parting from the windows and the swirls of color roiling over them. Riker knew she was bothered. “Deanna, what’s wrong?” He looked up to her from the desk where he was sitting. “You’re pacing.”

Deanna looked perturbed. “Will, she’s only thirty.”

Riker’s eyes went alight and his chest puffed like an eagle. “She’s thirty-one now Deanna. Hell of a birthday gift, isn’t it great?!” It was then he realized that this was not what his wife wanted to hear. He shook his head with a laugh. “Deanna. What are you going to do about it? She made captain of the Enterprise at thirty. She’s didn’t beat the record, but she came close, just like she told you she would.”

Deanna’s head spun. “I still think she’s too young.”

Riker’s eyes smiled and he stood and tenderly went to his wife. He enveloped her in his arms. “They always are.” his voice was gentle and soft. “You were upset when Bill went to the Enterprise-E when he was ten. You were upset when Beth entered the Academy at sixteen. You were upset when Bill left for his first dig at seventeen. You were upset when Cassidy entered the Academy early. You were upset when we found out about Beth’s field promotion...”

Deanna started to pull away, “I wasn’t upset about the field promotion Will, I was upset she didn’t tell us!” she barked.

She just wanted something to be mad at and Riker knew it. He brought his wife back into his nest. “She didn’t tell us because she’s Starfleet, Deanna – you know that. Field promotions are rarely something to celebrate.”

Deanna remembered how heartbroken Beth had been after Isla Deneb and she nodded. Her anger evaporated and Riker could see it.

“They’re why we worked so hard to have children, right? We wanted to show ourselves we could do it and do it well?” He beamed. “Damn Deanna, we should have had more! The galaxy would be so much better with more of our children in it!”

“Except Cassidy.” Deanna grimaced.

Riker scowled and huffed. His sadness moved across his face and he drew her close and touched her hair gently and looked into darkness of her eyes. He bent a little and kissed her. He wrapped his arms around her fully and his dropped his voice, it was supple and deep as he looked into his Imzadi’s black eyes. “Strange how the Enterprise, no matter what version we’re on, feels like home.”

Deanna knew exactly what he meant. “Yes.” She rested her head on his chest and her hand roamed down his back. Her worry was still obvious.

“Beth will be great Deanna. She has a great crew and you know she’s got a good head on her shoulders.” He caressed her back gently. “God knows she’s been in battle more than we have now…” Deanna pulled her head back and her face soured. Will ignored it. “She has us and Bill and Worf and Alexander and Geordi and Shenti and Christine and Kathryn and Tuvok and Ranul...”

“I get it!” Deanna laughed. “Yes! You’re right! She has a great support system. I get it Will.”

“So what’s the real problem Deanna?” Thirty-three years of marriage to an empath had made him as intuitive about her as she was with him. Deanna wasn’t sure she liked that so much. He had called her on it and she had to relent. Fair is fair.

“She still shuns her heritage.” she sounded hurt. “She won’t use her skills.”

Riker knew he had to tread lightly on this subject. He exhaled. “I know Deanna. You also know I’m the last person who can talk to her about that. That has to come from you.”

“I’ve tried and you know it.” her voice was indignant.

“Don’t pester her Deanna – you’ll just push her away.” he warned.

Deanna pulled herself back to her husband’s chest. “I know. I can’t afford to do that with another one.”

Riker shook his head in defiance. “Cassidy pushed you away Dee, not the other way around.”

“Only after I started.”

Riker shook her comment off, not wanting to delve into the subject. It was a subject he always tried to avoid. He caressed Deanna’s back softly. “Come on Deanna, we have to get ready for our tour. Our little girl is going to show us her shiny, new ship.”

Deanna laughed.

Gotcha!

***

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Long after the ship’s tour Beth, Riker and Deanna gathered in Beth’s quarters for dinner together. The only thing that could have made Beth happier would have been the presence of her brother. The gathering wasn’t one of Admiral, Captain and Counselor but of parents and a child. They were sitting comfortably at the table, enjoying their food and a bottle of wine.

Riker and Deanna told stories of Ba’ku and how nothing but the children had changed since their last visit. Deanna told her about how the weaving apprentice that she had met on her very first visit had just become an independent artisan after fifty years of study. Beth shook her head and knew she would never have the patience. Riker chortled, she was his daughter there was no doubt.

Riker looked over the familiar scene with great pleasure. He too, missed his son.

Dr. William T. Riker, Jr. had been bitten by the archaeology and anthropology bugs when he was a youngster. When Bill was twenty, Jean-Luc Picard had given him a Ressikan flute and a detailed memoir of his life as a Ressikan amateur scientist on the long-dead planet Kataan.

Riker recalled that when he was Jean-Luc’s First Officer, he had witnessed a strange probe strike down Jean-Luc. It had implanted in him a life-time’s worth of memories from a people and a planet that knew they were doomed. In that life, Jean-Luc learned to play a traditional flute. When Riker and Geordi LaForge brought the probe on board the Enterprise-D, they found a flute stored inside and Picard considered it to be one of his finest possessions. It was this flute Riker’s son now owned. Riker knew then that Bill would be a champion of history.

Bill was Deanna’s son. He had no problem honing his Betazoid capabilities. He was emotional, patient, gentle and very, very handsome. He shared his mother’s dark hair and features but like his sister, shared his father’s height. With some certain amount of pride-regret Riker knew that Bill was every bit the player in love he had tried to be in his youth. Every time they caught up with Bill, he was dating someone new. She was always pretty and always nice but never the right fit. Riker knew that if Bill ever came across someone like Deanna it might click, someone who wise, smart and strong. That just hadn’t happened yet.

Bill was also the only one of their children to take up a musical instrument. Bill played the trombone like Riker but soon developed a love for the saxophone, piano and oboe, all three of which Bill thought were sexier than the trombone and he found he could pick up girls much easier by playing one of them.

The girls on the other hand, loved listening to music. Riker often found them in their rooms with music playing. It didn’t matter what kind, classical or contemporary but often he was happy to hear jazz. While both of them seemed to have an affinity for hard-bop and big band, Beth adored loud music.

Deanna had often commented that Beth frequently played music in her mind, a trait that very few Betazoids had the aptitude of handling and still being capable of concentration on outside matters. Deanna felt that it was a positive trait nonetheless.

Beth flat-out refused to learn to play an instrument. She just couldn’t sit still for the lessons. When it came time for her piano lessons, Riker usually found her in the holodeck flight simulators with hellacious noise blaring. He knew he was the only unfortunate individual who knew about her secret passion for what she called heavy metal music and something else she called punk. Whatever it was, it was loud, screeching, yelling, pounding, horrible stuff he never could understand. Where she got that from, he would never know. He figured it must have been her Betazoid grandmother, Lwaxana. While she was alive, she had always been an instigator.

Riker’s thoughts turned to Deanna. Deanna had always been hurt that Beth shunned her empathic abilities. Especially since the youngest, Cassidy had no empathic ability whatsoever it was painful for Deanna to see Beth squelch that side of herself. She had been doing so since she first started to exhibit the signs of the abilities in her early adolescence – when Beth would be found more often alone in her room, with music blaring and studying.

Riker was always grateful for the soundproof rooms. The girls’ early teen years were definitely not easy to get through. Deanna had tried to warn him that teenage girls and their mothers rarely got along but he didn’t anticipate the intensity of their emotions.

She and her brother both carried a weakened ability to sense the presence and emotions of certain species but not as strongly as their mother. Beth had always been extremely sensitive about the subject and rarely spoke of it. It was as if Beth found her own abilities offensive but he never knew why.

He looked to his daughter’s ebony eyes. Everything was Deanna – the dark hair, the grace and the beauty, but Beth carried herself differently than Deanna. She was confident almost to a fault. While all of the children had inherited his temper, Deanna had once described Beth’s as being industrial strength compared to his. He fondly recalled a day when Beth was fourteen and her temper had flared so badly he told Deanna he wasn’t sure she hadn’t had an affair with Worf and that Beth was really the product of the tryst.

Beth’s temper got her in trouble on more than one occasion. She lost so many points in the Academy in the week before graduation that her rank fell from second to seventh because she couldn’t keep her fury in check and she had verbally attacked her Interspecies Protocol Professor – over what subject he never knew. The insubordination had cost her dearly. It was a very hard lesson for her. Riker still had to laugh, even with her last-minute screw-up she still ranked higher than he did.

“What?” asked Beth, seeing her father’s internal laughter.

Riker shook his head. “You.”

“What, me? What does that mean?” Beth quizzed.

“Did you get the competitiveness from me?”

It was Deanna who laughed loudest. Beth immediately joined in the laughter before taking a sip of her wine. Beth sat back in her chair with a heavy smile and then, with the most sarcastic wit she could muster, she rolled her eyes and pressed her lips and said, “No, I got it from mother. She was always challenging me, always pushing me and always hounding me.” she rolled her eyes again, amazed. “Of course I got it from you, Dad!” Beth shook her head flippantly.

It was then she noticed that Riker looked bothered. She quickly realized the foundation of his worry, furrowed her brow and reached for his arm that was resting on the table. “Dad, you were never anything like your father...trust me.”

He connected his blue eyes to her black ones.

Beth’s voice was strong, sincere and worried. “You made it fun to want to do better - at everything. Not to beat you, just to be better for myself.” she snorted, “Of course, you are the yardstick by which I measure everything…” Riker’s eyes caught hers again in a mix of worry and pride and Beth let loose a laugh. “You and mom have always been supportive. I push myself because I feel the need to push myself. No other reason. It’s who I am, that’s all.” Riker finally laughed with her. Beth looked to her parents, “So what do you think of my crew?” she inquired.

“I think you’re going to have trouble with that doctor.” warned Deanna. Both Riker and Beth looked at her inquisitively. Every move they make is identical Deanna thought and she sighed with disappointment, “If you would use your empathic abilities Beth, you would know.”

Oh here we go! Riker thought regretfully.

Beth growled at her. “Don’t start with me!” but before Deanna could interrupt Beth continued. “Yes. I am aware that Dr. Richardson is a self-important, egocentric…ladies man.” Riker’s head perked as Beth smiled. “He’s pretty obvious.”

“You’re not worried?” Deanna said. “That can be distracting.”

Beth laughed. “Obvious is easy to deal with. I can handle Richardson. Besides, I think it’s kind of funny.”

Riker smiled. “He’s come on to you? Already?” Oh what I would give to be here when he tries! She’ll flatten him!

Beth shook her head. “Not just me Dad, he’s come onto almost every woman on board now.” she looked to her mother again. “I’m not worried about his sexual endeavors but I will tell you I am concerned about his ability to get along with our Counselor. He’s pretty hard science if you know what I mean and I think he thinks the Counselor is...fluff.”

Deanna sensed something more here. “You’re not just worried about Richardson and your Counselor either. You’re worried about your ability to get along with her!”

Beth was struck. She never could get away with it and why she thought she could now made her laugh. “Yes, I am.” She looked to her father. “I let Command assign those two positions for me. I didn’t care. We never had a Counselor on the Panther.”

“But…?” Riker egged her on.

“I didn’t expect a Betazoid.”

Deanna scowled. “What’s wrong with that?”

Beth shifted in her seat. “Let’s just say the first couple of days did not go well.”

Deanna leaned forward over the table. “What happened?”

Beth rubbed her eyes and looked to her mother. Her advice would be invaluable and she knew it. “Well, Enya is a typical Betazoid.”

Riker quickly raised his hand to hide his smile by faking the need to straighten his beard.

“What does that mean?” Deanna sniped and glared at Will.

“It means that there is an automatic assumption that telepathy is to be used when you find out there is another Betazoid in the room.”

Deanna cringed. “What did she do?”

“She wouldn’t shut up! She’s the chattiest, incessantly telepathically verbal and annoying Betazoid I have ever come across and that includes grandmother on a bad day.” her anger was hard to hide.

Deanna sat back. She could feel how assaulted Beth had felt. “She’s a telepath who’s used to communicating that way Beth, you can’t blame her.”

“Yes I can. I asked her politely to stop. I asked her point blank to stop. I finally had to bring her into my ready room and literally yell at her to stop. Trust me when I say it wasn’t pretty.” Beth looked down, maybe feeling a little guilty. “I have hardly spoken to her since.”

Riker cringed now. “You’ve got to forgive her Beth. She just assumed.”

“Excuse me?” Beth was incensed. “She violates me and I have to forgive her?”

“Violates?!” Deanna roared. “Is that what you think? That basic telepathic communication is a violation?”

“Most of the time? Yes.” Beth glared at her mother.

Riker stood, he knew better than to get caught in the middle of the conversation. He knew it was brewing from the moment Deanna brought it up. This was between Beth and Deanna now. He sat on the settee on the edge of the room.

“I can’t believe you feel that way Elizabeth!” Deanna was devastated.

Beth’s voice turned hard and she started to snarl and Deanna was swept back by the flash of anger that her daughter had projected. It wasn’t just anger, it was fury. Her eyes widened and her nostrils flared, “I despise the noise! It’s tenacious. It finds me at the bottoms of my feet and unnerves me to the core. If I push it away it quiets. When another Betazoid is near me the hum is always there. When another Betazoid opens the door it takes me hours to get myself back to baseline.” Beth’s rage was contained but so obvious that Riker began to lift himself from the settee.

Deanna was quieted. “I never knew it was so bad for you.”

Riker watched in horror as he recognized the expression of torture in Beth’s face. She’s never been like this before. Her expression was direct reminder of certain times he would catch Jean-Luc in his ready room, his pained eyes focused on…nothing.

Beth shook her head. “I’ve never been able to control it like Bill has. I don’t know how he does it.” she tried to laugh. “He’s a god-damned master.” she hissed with bitterness.

At that moment Deanna felt something emit from her daughter she did not expect, a hidden animosity about her brother - but just as quickly as the emotion had appeared Beth had squelched it.

Deanna sat quietly. She wanted to ask Beth about their argument but knew she would be touching a raw nerve. She looked to her husband who she thought might also be on the same train of the thought but Will’s face held a different worry and Deanna couldn’t quite make it out.

Deanna recalled when Beth and Bill were sixteen and in the family quarters on the USS Titan, right before Beth left for the Academy, the two of them had a huge argument. The pain and anger that arose caused Beth to refuse to speak to her brother for over five years. Beth rebuffed any idea of coming home to the Titan or even to their new home in Sausalito on her breaks unless she was sure Bill would not be there. Deanna and Riker had tried desperately to reunite the two but to no avail. Both of them refused to tell their parents about the nature of the argument and to this day they refuse to speak of it.

Deanna’s mother died a few weeks after Beth graduated from Command School. It was only then that Beth and Bill had made amends but even that was a scene Deanna and Riker had only heard about through the rumor mill on Betazed. Deanna remembered that Beth and Bill had disappeared after the funeral. They had been seen in a local bar and both of them had been drinking heavily. Their argument had been reported as being loud and ferocious at first and then turned quiet and insidious. The two left the bar and fought physically in the street. The bar matron contacted Deanna and when Riker finally showed up, he found the two of them sitting on the edge of a fountain crying, drunk out of their minds, bloodied and bruised.

They had been almost inseparable ever since. Deanna knew that Bill and Beth communicated constantly and that Beth relied on Bill’s advice more than her own. She was so happy the two of them had reunited that she didn’t question them about the reasons for the division to begin with.

“Beth.” Deanna’s voice was soft. Beth looked to her suspiciously. “I don’t know why you find the emotional noise so hard to deal with. It’s not healthy.” I pray to the Four Deities she’s not like Tam. Beth scowled and Deanna’s caring tone returned. “I know you find it easier to push it away but I fear that it will only get worse with time. You’re going to have to find a way to deal with that side of yourself.”

“Not if I can help it.” Beth stated. It was a hard statement and Deanna flinched.

Riker shook his head. He knew that Beth had always loathed her Betazoid abilities. She had told him once that they weren’t abilities, that they had been faults. He had never told Deanna, it would have crushed her.

“Beth…” Riker spoke up in his best fatherly tone. It was tender and soothing. “Just do us a favor?”

Deanna sighed a bit of relief. Beth would listen to her father and she was grateful for his input now.

“What?” Beth’s face softened.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help if it gets too bad. Okay?” his eyes were locked onto hers. “Don’t put yourself in a position to lose everything you have gained because you’re too proud to ask for help.”

Beth was stung. Damn him! She broke her gaze from her father and dropped her head. The room was silent. Why is he always right? Always!

Beth’s eyes were glazing and she lifted her head and looked to her father and all he saw was suffering. “It’s worse than I have led both of you to believe.”

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“What?” Riker whispered harshly. He moved towards her. Deanna leaned forward.

Beth continued, “Bill has been trying to help but it hasn’t been easy.” Beth swirled the last of the wine in her glass and drank it as a tear fell from her eye. “Remember how Jean-Luc told you that he never was able to rid himself of the voices of the Borg collective?”

I was right! Riker thought and his eyes latched on to Deanna’s and fear crept into their faces.

“That’s what it’s like.” her admission was subdued.

“What?” Deanna’s heart thumped madly in her chest.

“I can’t make it stop. It’s getting pretty tiring. If I’m physically near a Betazoid, especially a full-blooded Betazoid, it’s difficult for me to ignore. I hear what the Betazoid hears – even when the Betazoid doesn’t!” Beth’s anger flowed up and she glared at her mother. “I can’t sit near you or especially Enya without that door being open.”

Beth stood and looked at her mother’s black eyes and opened the door in her own mind. The noise began to rush in. Beth’s voice was almost a grunt, a mix of pain and sorrow mixed with acid as the cacophony entered in. Beth fielded through the thickness of it with mental arms outstretched, pushing back the sounds and the emotions as if they were curtains or foliage. “There’s an Ensign on deck fourteen who’s angry that she just stained her uniform.” she pulled back another curtain. “Dryden has the conn and he’s ecstatic that Dad’s on board.” another layer was revealed, “A Pak’shree exobiologist in the lab is pissed that the male Cardassian is even in the room with her.” but now Beth felt the layers beginning press down upon her. “Richardson is lusting after a woman in Ten Forward. The Assistant Chief of Engineering is panicked because he can’t find the reason for the point zero five percent variance in engine injection fraction. There’s a woman in stellar cartography crying because she misses her husband who was killed at Isla Deneb…on the Cougar.”

The woman’s intense sorrow kicked Beth hard and she wanted to weep with her. She found the noise taking over, filling her head and she reached for the doors to shut them but she was having a hard time finding them and just before the eight hundred and eighteen voices all found their way in, Beth slammed the door but the door only muffled the noise now.

Beth’s eyes were full of fury and she leaned to her mother’s face and her voice became even more deep and guttural, “I….hear….everything! I hear it through you. I hear it through Bill and I especially hear it through Enya.” she turned, walked around in a circle and sat back at the table, broken. “Betazoids are my Borg. They always have been.”

Beth stood slowly once more, cracked her neck, swallowed hard to hold down the nausea and walked around the room slowly - slowly beginning to use the only trick she knew would help get her back to baseline…Back in black! I hit the sack. I've been too long I'm glad to be back, Yes, I’m let loose - from the noose, that’s kept me hanging…

Deanna started to shake. Riker retook his seat at the table near his wife, his eyes wide with anxiety.

The loud music still in her mind, Beth took her seat and reconnected her eyes with her father’s. “Okay Dad? I’m over my pride! I don’t know what can be done. It’s been like this since I was ten.” her anger returned. “Now you know why I push it away. Now you know why I don’t use it.” Beth’s head jerked towards Deanna once more, guilt traversed her face. “I never told you because I didn’t want you to think…to think I didn’t want you around. I do. I put up with the noise so I can be around you.” Cause I’m back! Yes I’m back! Yes I’m back in black!

Beth breathed in with Zen precision. “If you know of, or have heard of any exercise or cure, or treatment for this that Bill may not have looked at – I would love to try it. We just haven’t found anything yet. In the meantime, I have to push it away! I have a ship to command and not just any ship – I command the Enterprise!” Beth’s spiteful tone had returned once more, “And if it means I have to be curt with a Counselor and ignore my heritage in order to do so? So be it.” Beth couldn’t have spit the last three words any further.

Deanna and Riker were silenced. Beth shook her head slightly. Silence filled the room for Deanna and Will - but Beth continued to concentrate on dimming the noise behind the door in her mind. Back in the back of a Cadillac - Number one with a bullet, I'm a power pack!

Deanna’s comprehension was clarified. Anger was displaced by understanding and offense gave into deep concern.

Riker looked to his wife. His worry had turned to fear and he decided he had to verbalize what Deanna could not. He faced Deanna when he spoke. “Is this what Tam Elbrun had?” Riker mentioned the infamous Betazoid whose telepathic abilities drove him to the brink of mental instability. He was in involved in two notorious first contact missions. The first resulted in the deaths of fortyseven Starfleet crew members aboard the USS Adelphi, two of whom were Riker’s close friends from the Academy. The second resulted in the destruction of a Romulan warbird and placed the Enterprise-D into grave danger before Tam manipulated his way onto the organic starship nicknamed Tin Man and then chose to remain aboard the entity to relieve his own suffering.

Deanna’s head shook slightly. “No. I don’t think so.”

Beth kept her eyes closed when she spoke. “No. It isn’t. I researched that when I was fourteen when I overheard you two talking about him. My problems started in adolescence. Tam suffered from the moment he was born and he suffered all the time. My problems only arise when Betazoids are near me. I have yet to be affected by any other telepathic race.”

Deanna stood and calmly walked to her daughter and laid her hand on her shoulder. Beth reached up for it immediately. Deanna nodded. “We’ll find a way to help.” Deanna promised.

Beth nodded and leaned her head on her mother’s hand. “Thanks.”

Yes I’m back in black!

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FIRST INTERLUDE – PART ONE

Stardate 75142.8

Earth Calendar February 8th, 2397

Federation Starship – USS Enterprise - NCC-1701-E

San Francisco Fleet Yard – Decommission Bay 12

Captain’s Ready Room

Beth looked at him with awe and wonder. She brought her knees up to her chin and leaned back on the settee and wrapped her arms around her legs. He was sitting at his desk in his ready room. He rubbed his bald head and exhaled deeply. She had been in there for over an hour, just watching him and listening to him, trying desperately to focus on him as she pushed away the increasing din of the Enterprises’ large crew in her head. He was analyzing the events of the day and she needed to know. She needed to know…why.

He was still dressed in his finery – the wonderful white formal uniform that made him appear so regal. She looked out the window to the planet below her. It was the dark side of Earth. The sparkle of the cities from the planet’s surface made it appear as though it was a galaxy in a globe that Beth could just reach out and shake.

Her family was taking one long last tour of the ship and her Grandmother was holding court on the deck below. She just wanted to be with him as he took in the finality of the day and he seemed to be comforted by her presence in the quiet.

Her Grandmother’s exceptional ability to be a conduit even from another deck allowed her to hear his thoughts clearly and it surprised her because he was hearing someone else’s voice speak words in his mind. “…don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship because while you’re there, you can make a difference.”

He was filled with sadness. She would risk it. She had to know.

“Grampa?” she asked quietly.

He raised his soft and tired eyes to her without words.

“Why are you retiring?” she asked him bluntly.

Picard breathed in deeply then stood and crossed the room and joined her on the settee. He leaned back heavily. James T. Kirk’s words split him. He was tired. Retirement in France just felt like the right thing to do now. Would he still feel the same a year from now? He wasn’t sure.

“Because it’s time for Brint to pick up where I left off Elizabeth. I’m tired now. I don’t have the energy any more.” he looked upon her beautiful shining face. “…besides, I’d like to be alive when you accept command of the Enterprise from him.”

Beth wasn’t able to control her grin. “I will you know. That ship will be mine.”

Picard nodded. “I know it will, Elizabeth. I have no doubt you will command the Enterprise one day.” He meant it. He truly believed she would wear the red and direct the new Enterprise to the galaxy beyond where he had been. She would travel farther and experience the wonder and the magic like he had. She had the gift, she had the potential and she had the drive. He saw the future in front of him and she had beautiful, pitch black eyes. The Enterprise would be in good hands. “So you see Elizabeth. You’re my adopted granddaughter. So when you take command, I’ll still be on the bridge, won’t I?”

Beth smiled. “Yes sir. You always will. The Captains never really leave do they?”

Picard touched the hair of the wise fourteen year old and then his eyes fell to the chair behind the desk. The Enterprise-E had been decommissioned and where she would end up he didn’t want to know. A museum? Doubtful. Stripped? Probably. It didn’t matter.

He thought about Beth’s question. He thought of Archer and Kirk. He thought of Spock. He thought of Harriman and Garrett. He thought of himself on the bridge. Now? Brint would be moving forward for him. Then Beth would be after him. He was sure of it. He saw Will in her and Deanna. He saw himself in her. He saw Kirk in her as well as Spock and the others.

“No Elizabeth. They never really leave. The Captains are always there. In every new Captain, the old ones are with them. Always.” Beth smiled and leaned her head on his shoulder and he held the future Captain in his embrace. He kissed the top of her head. “My Elizabeth. You are the sum of those before you.”

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FIRST INTERLUDE – PART TWO

Stardate 76687.1

Earth Calendar February 8th, 2398

Federation Starship – USS Titan – NCC-80102

In Orbit of Remus

Captain’s Ready Room

Beth looked at him with awe and wonder. She brought her knees up to her chin and leaned back on the settee and wrapped her arms around her legs. He was sitting at his desk in his ready room, stroking his beard and thinking. She had been in there for over an hour, just watching him and listening to him and his always thorough internal analysis of the day.

He was still dressed in his finery – the wonderful white formal uniform that made him appear so regal. She looked out the window to the planet above her. It was the dark side of Remus. The sparkle of the cities from the planet’s surface made it appear as though it was a galaxy in a globe that Beth could just reach out and shake.

Beth knew that she could sit in here as long as she remained silent. Bill had left to attend his music lessons and Cassidy was on the holodeck for a scheduled white river run with Ensign Noah Powell, who had just been assigned to the Titan in the exobiology team.

Her eyes turned back to the planet above her head.

She knew the Remans lived in the dark and that they couldn’t live on the other side of their planet because it was too hot.

She had been taught that they had been treated so poorly by the Romulans for so long that they had a hard time trusting them. She also knew that particular knife cut both ways. The Remans had a violent history and just two years before she was born they had destroyed the entire Romulan Senate, leading not just Romulus but Remus itself into a long stretch of political upheavals, strife, starvation and conflict.

Beth was told that in between those stretches of strife there were enormous strides of trust, understanding and cooperation. She remembered her mother saying that when it came to Romulus and Remus, for every step back, they would find a way to take two steps forward. It was a hopeful time.

The last peace treaty had just been agreed to that day. Her mother was exhausted but had reports to finish and remained at her station on the bridge. Her mom knew that her dad liked to be quiet after long days like today.

Her father had told her that if it weren’t for her mother, instead of a peace agreement, another battle may have ensued. She understood her mother’s gift of reason and persuasion and was enormously proud of it. She was actually a little jealous of it. Her mother always had more patience than she did.

But it was at times like this her father fascinated her. He didn’t know she was there to listen. She was just glad her mother was near enough so she could wade through the noise to hear him.

He had spent the last hour going over every move, every detail and every sentence spoken to help him learn how to do it better the next time, for the next challenge. He questioned everything he had done.

In one moment he was filled with relief and yet there was a still level of mistrust, like he didn’t believe the treaty would hold and that it would all just fall apart tomorrow. He had analyzed what could go wrong and how the Federation might be able to approach them again if it did.

Beth felt him as he was quickly overrun with a wave of total self-doubt and his confidence evaporated, convinced he had just screwed things up for eternity.

She dropped her head down behind her knees so he would not see her smile.

Just as quickly, his heart was filled with joy once more and a huge upwelling of pride in their accomplishments.

His thoughts turned to her mother and she began to feel his complete sense of bliss in loving her and Beth began to pull back from her father’s mind, knowing that there were many thoughts that were just too private. His analysis of the treaty was done, as they always were when his thoughts turned to her mother.

Beth rubbed her cheek against her knee and her eyes returned to the planet’s glittering surface once more. Her stomach tied itself into knots. She was set to head for SB 112 the following morning to take the entrance exam. He didn’t know. She didn’t want him to know. First, in case she failed and second in case she didn’t.

She had done nothing but study for a year. It was rare that she even saw her parents. She was glad Uncle Worf and Alexander were helping her out. Uncle Worf seemed to take the project on like a practical joke against her father and she was all right with that.

She felt prepared for the challenge. She felt like she was ready to take the bull by the horns and show them…show them she was ready to move forward.

Again, her eyes were drawn to the lights on the planet above and her thoughts were drawn back to the plight of the Remans. For centuries they were repressed by those on their so-called sister planet and forced into slavery and torture and pain. The hatred gave rise to a coup led by a clone of Jean-Luc, a human who had somehow become the personification of Reman rage. They said they wanted equality but what they really wanted was revenge and the ability to subjugate those who hurt them.

It was her parent’s first mission on the Titan. To try to find a thread, any thread of commonality to slow the downward spiral of violence, first on Romulus and then assuring that Remus was not ignored. Her father used an unorthodox but effective tactic, since the Federation could not intervene without Prime Directive repercussions, he had manipulated an arrangement wherein the Klingon Empire listed Remus as its protectorate, thereby ensuring a Klingon presence in Romulan space and assuring that Romulus would focus on stabilizing its own government, without disregarding the needs of Remus.

Sixteen years later, here sat the Titan once again, looking upon Remus and its new status as a peaceful neighbor of Romulus. They had actually fought together in a scuffle with the Breen which was quickly squelched. It was this opportunity her parents had seized upon to show the two sides what an effective alliance they could have for the benefit of the quadrant.

Suddenly, Beth’s eyes were filled with the vision of the enormous hull of the year-old Enterprise-F as it eclipsed her view of the planet’s surface. It almost looked like it was too close but Beth knew it was more than five hundred meters away and wouldn’t come near to striking the Titan. She smiled without realizing it as her head lifted to watch her dream gracefully glide into view. The saucer section was lit by the Romulan star and slowly and gently the giant nacelles appeared and the ship took up a relative position next to them.

She didn’t even hear her father stand. She didn’t hear him move toward her. She just felt his hand on her shoulder as he joined her in viewing the colossal ship that had maneuvered in alongside them.

“She’s so beautiful.” Beth whispered and she imagined herself in a bright, red -collared uniform on the bridge. She looked to and found the names as written on the hull. First, the name Enterprise NCC-1701-F emblazoned on the underside of her bow and then in much smaller letters, the words Thy’lek Shran, written on the underside of the Captain’s skiff recessed into the hull. Captain Brint named the yacht after an historical Andorian General-turned explorer in the early days of the Federation.

“Yes she is Elizabeth.” he quietly answered back.

“Why is she here? Aren’t we done?” she asked.

She could see Riker’s reflection in the window as they looked upon the flagship in front of them. She thought that the grey in his hair had become even more pronounced but she liked it. It made him look as wise as she knew he was. “Brint is bringing the Federation Ambassador here to tie up the loose ends.”

Beth understood this. Any treaty would need some fine-tuning.

The doors to the ready room opened and Beth saw her mother’s reflection. She looked beautiful in her white uniform. Her smile was genuine and happy and Beth knew it was because she saw her father with his hand on her shoulder. Deanna moved in and Riker drew her into the crevice of his other arm and Deanna brought her arm around his back and she soaked in the sight of the monstrous new ship. He kissed the top of her head like he always did.

He addressed his daughter in the reflection of the window. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us to Betazed? We haven’t had a family outing in a long time Beth.”

Beth tried desperately to hold down her emotions and her mind raced for something honest she could say which might throw her mother off the scent. “Thanks any way but I miss Uncle Worf. I want to see him.” It was an honest statement but she knew that her mother might have caught wind of her ulterior motives.

“Fine then.” Riker could not hide his disappointment. “He seems awfully excited about your visit as well.” he grumbled.

Beth allowed herself to feel the joy of her father’s statement, knowing that it might throw her mother off once more.

“We’ll just miss you.” he said. “Hell, we miss you now Beth. You’ve been locked up in your room for so damned long…”

“Will…”Deanna warned.

Beth smiled, laughed quietly and shook her head. She reached up to her father’s hand that was still resting on her shoulder and he held her hand tightly. “It’s okay Mom. I miss you both too.” she answered honestly. “But I haven’t been off the Titan in a long time and I really do want to see Uncle Worf and Alexander. I haven’t seen the boys in so long.” she was scrambling once again to find words that weren’t lies but wouldn’t reveal her secret.

She sighed heavily as her eyes fell once more to the underside of her dream…her goal, her objective and ambition…the magnificent USS Enterprise.

“Besides…I’ve had these plans for a long time.”

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PART TWO

Stardate 91941.2

Earth Calendar September 14, 2413

Federation Starship - USS Enterprise NCC-1701-G

Bridge

The following morning Beth was on the bridge, monitoring the slow progress back through the Briar Patch. Her parents and the Ambassador were meeting together on their own and Dryden was off duty.

Beth found herself sitting next to Enya who was, not unexpectedly, very tense and wouldn’t make eye contact with her. Beth was beginning to feel horribly guilty. She knew she would have to talk to Enya and tell her what was going on, but she was still too annoyed. Yes, but who am I more annoyed with, me or her? She would address it at another time and in private.

Beth was also beginning to feel the start of the anxiety - the tense knot in her abdomen that she would feel when she knew that a battle might be on the horizon. She was glad that the Cats would be with her if she was to face some unknown threat, especially in the Neutral Zone. She trusted the captains of the Cats more than any others in Starfleet and she knew they would not let her down. She also knew that the Enterprise was untested in battle and while she trusted her crew, she was hopeful they trusted her.

“Revaik?” Beth called to her Science Officer.

“Yes Captain.” Jaden’s tranquil voice soothed Beth.

“Have you been able to complete the scans of the Briar Patch that Command requested?”

“I have Captain. The analyses are already underway. I am hopeful that we will be able to forward the data to Command upon our exit from the Briar Patch.”

Beth smiled to herself. This would be a full 48 hours before Command had hoped to have them. Revaik was a very determined officer. She was pleased. “Very good.” She replied.

Beth watched Phinod at the conn from behind. Canrella was also going to be an asset. She was fresh from her first assignment out of the Academy. She was initially assigned to the USS Io, another Luna-Class starship like Titan.

The Io’s recent decommissioning was a heart-tug for all of Starfleet. After thirty-two years, she had been the last Luna-Class ship still in service.

Phinod’s CO, Captain Genormin Grieg was immediately offered command of the yet-to-be-completed USS Fortitude, another Determination-Class ship like the Enterprise. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to part with Canrella, a good sign in Beth’s book, but he knew her career would benefit from being assigned to the Federation flagship.

“Sir.” K’Reeg’s deep voice startled her. “Incoming secure transmission for the Admiral is being relayed from the USS Puma.”

Beth nodded and hit her combadge. “Captain to Admiral Riker.”

“Riker here.” the voice on the comm replied.

“Sir, you have an incoming secure transmission from Starfleet Command.”

"Very good Captain, I’ll take it in my quarters.” his voice sounded serious.

“Aye, Sir.” said Beth and K’Reeg followed the order and channeled it to the VIP quarters where Riker was assigned.

*

Riker had broken away from the group gathered in the living area of the VIP quarters and moved into the separate room and swiveled the com on the bed stand towards him. The Starfleet secure channel logo appeared he verbally entered his clearance codes and Admiral Janeway’s face appeared. Her hair was almost pure white and was neatly coifed into a soft lilting cut at the mid-line of her neck.

“Admiral.” Riker acknowledged.

“Good day Admiral.” Janeway replied. “I take it you were surprised?”

Riker laughed. “Kathryn – I should have known you had something to do with it. Of course we were surprised. I still am.”

“Actually Will, you know I only had final approval. I was thrilled with Starfleet’s decision. I am glad that Beth will remain under my command.” she smiled.

“She feels the same.” Riker confirmed.

“What did you think of the dedication plaque?” Janeway’s smile broadened.

Riker was confused. He couldn’t believe it. He was so overwhelmed by the fact his daughter had been given command of the Enterprise, he never thought to look at the plaque. It was tradition that Captains and the XOs were allowed to chose the mission statement or quote for a new launch. He recalled it took him and Christine Vale over two weeks after the actual launch of the Titan to finally agree on “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” They held an impromptu ceremony on the bridge after their first mission to Romulus, but he didn’t even bother to look because the motto for the Enterprise would always be the same… “…to boldly go where no one has gone before.” he looked at Janeway and shrugged. “I haven’t seen it Kathryn… I’ve been in shock for the past twenty four hours.”

Janeway released her perfect smirk-smile and she nodded. “Well then Will, I suggest you look at it the next time you’re on the bridge. There was a slight break with tradition that should interest you.”

“I will Kathryn.” his interest was now piqued, but as usual with his communications of late, his tenor dropped. “What’s brewing on the Iolus Prime? Has anything changed?”

“Yes and no. You and Ambassador Rozhenko are still to meet me on Iolus Prime but the timing has changed a little. We will require your presence two days earlier. The meetings will begin then.”

“Fine. We still have another day to move through the Briar Patch. After we’re out, I will have the Enterprise step up to warp seven to meet the deadline.”

“Thank you Admiral.” she smiled. “I look forward to seeing you. This will be a most interesting gathering.”

“I agree. We’ve waited a long time for this.” he smiled.

“Yes. We have.” Janeway nodded. “Goodbye Admiral.”

“Admiral.” Riker ended the transmission and rejoined his friends.

***

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Later in the day, Richardson appeared on the bridge. His thick blonde hair was perfectly styled and the blue piping on his uniform highlighted the steel blue-white of his eyes. “Captain. Do you have a moment?” he addressed Beth in her chair.

Beth stood and nodded. “Yes Doctor. K’Reeg, you have the conn.” and she entered her ready room and the Doctor followed.

As they entered, Beth could feel him close in on her and she rolled her eyes to herself. He’s almost pathetic, she thought with amusement. The door closed behind her. She turned to face her Chief Medical Officer. “What can I do for you Doctor?”

His smile appeared wicked. She knew that he wanted to come back with a smart remark but he wasn’t that stupid and she found it even funnier.

“A physical.” his eyebrow rose.

“Excuse me Doctor?” she almost went on the defense.

His voice became serious and Beth eased. “Captain. You owe me a physical. Starfleet regulations require that all senior staff complete a physical within the first two weeks of being assigned to a new ship. You are overdue. I thought that while we had time in this hideous cloud, we would finally have time to…complete those requirements.” There was just the slightest hint of innuendo in his voice. Under any other circumstance, Beth would have verbally flattened him but she didn’t feel any threat from him. It was more of a game. She was actually quite amused. If she had been any other rank, she might have actually played along and given time she thought she might still.

The bell to her door rang. “Enter.” she said.

The door opened and Enya walked in, a look of concern and almost anger was apparent on her face. Beth knew that she had been sensing Richardson’s emotions and Beth and was dumbfounded. Richardson was confused by her reaction and straightened himself when he realized why Enya was there. He became angry, then flustered. “As I was saying Captain, I will expect you to report to sickbay this afternoon. I would like to send the completed reports to Command as soon as we break through the Briar Patch.” his glare to Enya was filled with venom. “I will let the Counselor finish her discussion with you.”

Beth acknowledged his request and he stormed out of the office. Beth’s laughter erupted. She actually appreciated him. She didn’t know why she did but she did.

Enya stepped forward, anger filled her tone. “Captain! I cannot believe you find that funny in any way. He’s completely out of line! He’s out of control and needs to be reprimanded!”

Beth turned on her. “Counselor Priest!” Fire lit in Beth’s eyes and she found the fury welling up and she pulled her stomach muscles tight to keep from losing control, just the way her father taught her. Her voice dropped an octave. “What you did was out of line! What I find funny is my business. While I appreciate your intent Enya, my honor does not need protecting by you or by anyone. You have got to learn to keep your nose out of other people’s business!” Beth backed off when she saw the terror in Enya’s eyes. “So help me, I will get you to learn that lesson yet!” Beth breathed in so she could relax a little. “I expect you to apologize to Dr. Richardson.”

“Apologize?!” Enya was incensed. “You want me to apologize?! To him?”

Beth threw her hands up in the air and shook her head. “You don’t get it, do you?” Beth was astounded. “What you did was a complete invasion of privacy Enya!”

Enya was frightened. “But…he was…”

“I don’t care Counselor! That was for me to take care of, not you!” Beth realized that this was somehow new to her. “Your previous Commanding Officers may have relied on you for spying but I think it’s wrong and I can’t believe you were taught anything less. You have no right to spy on your coworkers so you can report to me. Richardson deserves an apology. I expect you to do so - now, Counselor. Dismissed.” Beth was curt and biting.

Enya was devastated and left the ready room. Beth immediately hit her combadge. “Captain to Ambassador Troi.”

Her mother’s voice sounded just a little worried. “Troi here Captain.”

“Will you come to my ready room please? I need to talk to you.”

“I’ll be right there.” Deanna answered.

Beth paced her ready room. She was horrified about how hurt Enya looked after she left but she was adamant that she had been right to reprimand her. The last thing she needed was a personnel conflict, right when she needed everyone to be at their peak. I should have picked them myself! I shouldn’t have trusted Command! She walked over to the food replicator. “Coffee, French roast, black.” She took the coffee from the dispenser, took a deep breath and sat at her desk. She rubbed her face with both of her hands and then slid them back through her long hair. She laughed to herself when she thought that maybe Jean-Luc hadn’t actually been bald. Maybe he just rubbed all the hair off his head out of frustration!

The bell to the door rang. “Enter.” Her voice was tired. Her mother walked in, looking worried. Beth smiled. “Thanks. I need your advice.”

“Of course.” Deanna’s expression lightened.

Beth stood from her chair and motioned for Deanna to sit on the couch. Beth sat next to her. She looked to her mother’s black eyes. Although the color was black, the shape and softness of her eyes reminded Beth of the pictures of her grandfather Ian. Beth would have liked to have known him.

“I had another run in with Enya.” Beth grimaced. “I know I did the right thing, but I think Enya has been led astray by her former COs.”

“What?” Deanna was concerned. Beth relayed the story about what had occurred between her and Richardson and Enya’s interruption. Deanna seemed shocked. “You’re right Beth. Enya had no right listen in.”

“I happen to think that her former COs used her skills to their advantage and she’s just under the assumption that it’s appropriate.” Beth sighed. “If she does it again, my reprimand will be formal.”

“As it should be.” Deanna confirmed. “What do you want from me?”

“I’d like her to have an opportunity to work this out before that ever becomes necessary. After my initial reaction to her, however fair or unfair that may have been she deserves to hear a different point of view.” Bull, the real problem is that my Counselor needs a Counselor! Beth looked to her mother in the eyes again and she saw that her mother had heard her. Especially another Betazoid. Beth wondered whether her request was appropriate. “Will you talk to her? I’m not asking you to do anything but what you are comfortable with.” Beth sipped her coffee. “I just know her confidence is shot now and I need her to be ready to participate as a full-tilt team member in a matter of days. I think she just needs a friend and I can’t be that for her.”

Deanna thought about this to herself for a few moments then touched her daughter’s hair. Beth smiled. “I will be happy to talk with her.”

Beth nodded slightly. “Thanks Counselor.”

Deanna laughed quietly.

***

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Enya was shattered. She found herself walking from the turbolift and slowly towards Sickbay. She felt nauseous. She was confused and hurt and terrified. She had been so thrilled to be assigned to the Enterprise but was now feeling like it was the biggest mistake in her life. She had only been assigned to two previous ships and both of those captains had expected her to use her abilities for them all the time. Her heart was breaking. She knew that Captain Riker had been right, and she was just now beginning to see that she had been breaking the most sacred of rules all along. She had never breached confidentiality of her individual sessions, but outside of the counseling room she had always placed the perception of the Captain’s need to know over that of any subordinate. Williams and Sahmed never seemed to have a problem with it and she was feeling foolish that she let herself be led in that direction. Now she had to apologize…to the letch. She was ill.

Enya turned into Sickbay. It was quiet. Someone was receiving treatment from the Vulcan nurse T’Sau, in the back but Richardson was not in the treatment ward. He would most likely be in his office. Enya breathed in and moved to the office. There she found Richardson sitting at his desk, reviewing his comm. He looked up when he saw her but he did not speak or smile. Enya knocked on the steelplast door jam.

“Doctor. May I speak with you?”

Richardson’s face flooded. “Why don’t you just read my mind Counselor? My thoughts should be pretty clear to you right now.” His spite and bitterness were obvious.

Enya knew she deserved it but she hated how egocentric he was. She bit her tongue. “I have come to apologize for my behavior.”

Richardson stood from his desk. Enya thought he was about to lay into her and she expected the worst but he didn’t attack. His face showed the fury and she knew he was feeling it but he withheld the verbal tirade. “Counselor. You already know how I feel about your…profession. I will also not lie to you and tell you that you are totally forgiven for your intrusion on my person.” He snarled his upper lip and she thought he was going to spit. “But it took courage to come into my office and apologize. I accept your apology. Please don’t do it again. My thoughts and feelings are my own...”

“I know I’m so sorry…”

“Do not interrupt!” he flared. “You are going to have to earn trust Lieutenant Commander. I do not dole it out easily.”

Enya waited to assure that Richardson was done talking. “I understand. Thank you Doctor.”

Richardson sat at his desk and began looking at his comm again. It was only then that Enya realized that the conversation had been terminated at his whim. She turned and walked out of his office and back into the corridor.

“Well, that could have been worse.” she whispered to herself and she realized how true the statement had been. She walked away slowly toward the turbolift. When the door to the lift opened, Deanna Troi walked out. She appeared happy to see Enya and guided her along with her. “Counselor!” Deanna smiled. “Do you have a moment?”

Enya smiled to her, “Why of course I do Ambassador.”

Deanna smiled. “Call me Deanna.”

Enya seemed like this was too gracious a request but Deanna shook her head. “Will you have breakfast with me tomorrow morning? My husband and the Captain will be busy and I will be alone. I would like your company if that’s all right?”

“I would love to…Deanna.” and Enya realized that Captain Riker may have put her up to it. “Did the Captain ask you?” she was beyond embarrassed.

Deanna smiled. “And what if she had? It only means she cares Enya. She doesn’t want to lose you and she fears that you may want to leave.”

“She fears my departure?” Enya was suspicious. “I think she’d be thrilled.”

Deanna knew that breakfast would be too late. She wrapped her arm in Enya’s, turned her back toward the turbo lift and she ushered her into it. She then called for deck ten.

“Deck ten?” Enya questioned.

“Yes. I think you and I need sundaes.” Deanna smiled when she saw the look of confusion on Enya’s face.

You and I have a lot to discuss. Deanna’s telepathic voice seemed to ease Enya.

***

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