Shadows Dancing

As the turbolift carried Moira and Emerald toward the holodeck, Moira once again nudged her brother. Paddy, have ya created a full environment program, or will I be needing to link your program to one of my own?

Well, it seemed simplest to just create an augment rather than a full environment or standard library program. That way, my program can interact with any of the other holodeck programs independently, without the other programs needing prior knowledge of my program. And since my program is, ah, more self-directed than most, it won't matter what it's augmenting. It should work fine.

All right. We'll be on our way down now.

"Captain, sir . . ." Kahallan's soft voice was quietly solemn. "We're dealing with a telepathic enemy, Captain, sir. If something were to go wrong, it is very possible that neither O'Shaughnessy nor Drake would be able to inform us that something did go wrong. In that case, it makes little difference if I had one or a hundred officers posted outside the door. A confidential monitor would not only be less intrusive telepathically, but might just be our best way to protect them."

Hitachi could hear Kahallan's trepidation at the possibility of the entity causing trouble through the agency of a possessed officer. He knew that concern, for he shared it himself.

"I agree, Commander," he said, however, the captain has declared no monitors. I am establishing a lockout from critical systems for the two of them. The computer will not recognize any order from them concerning weapons, engineering, life support, navigation, or command functions. I also recommend a medical technician perform a brain patter scan with a tricorder before they enter the holodeck and another once they're finished with their attempt at communication. Hopefully, we'll be able to detect any mental control or whatever in a scan."

Turning to Lucara, he added, "What do you think, sir?"

"If something did happen, Commander, sir," the security chief noted, "catching it with a second, post-incident medical scan might simply prove to be just too late."

Moira stood with Emerald before the door of the holodeck. The indicator light, for the first time in nearly two weeks, showed the holodeck unoccupied and functioning properly. "Computer, run program MMO-87B, augment with PO1."

A few seconds later, a chime signaled the status change of the holodeck and the well-modulated voice the computer said, "Your requested program is now running. You may enter the holodeck."

The women stepped through the doors into a clearing in a grove of tall oak trees. It appeared to be mid-summer; around them, green leaves glistened from a recent rainfall. The such was high overhead, and shafts of light danced among the tree trunks. Moira glanced around, searching.


"I'm here," came the reply.

She spun around to face a young man with neatly trimmed red hair the exact shade of hers. His bright green eyes sparkled. He wore a Starfleet jumpsuit identical to Moira's, the pip on his collar showing the rank of lieutenant. Moira stood transfixed, a fist pressed against her lips and tears gathering in her eyes.

"You did say you thought I was still a Starfleet officer," Padraig said with a smile. Two long strides brought him to Moira, and he gripped her tightly in a bear hug. "Oh, Moira! You can't imagine how much I've missed hugging you!" He loosened his hold, noticing the tears on his sister's cheeks, sensing the intense joy she had no desire to control. Wiping the tears away with the back of his hand, he whispered, "I know, my dearest and always favorite sister . . . but you didn't come down to my new home for a social visit."

Moira shook her head and held one of his hands in both of hers. As she caressed the warm skin, she remarked, "Ya will have done a remarkable job of programming, Padraid. I'm after being fierce impressed!"

Her brother smiled, tipping an imaginary hat in her direction. "I learned from the best." He turned to Emerald, extending a hand in her direction. "Hi, Emerald. I'm glad to be finally meeting you in the flesh, so to speak." Wiggling the fingers of his extended hand, he added, "I don't think you should get any psychic resonance from the holoprogram."

Emerald felt a warmth crawling up her neck and face. "Uh, hi. It's, uh, nice to talk to you directly, finally, Padraig. I've, uh, been looking forward to this for a while." She reached out gingerly to take his hand, and felt his presence behind the artificial existence. She felt as something fell into place, as if a missing piece of a puzzle was found and locked into position. At that moment, both Moira and Padraig seemed to fade from her perceptions, and another reality began to form.

Unfortunately, Moira and Padraig didn't notice.

"Mo, I've tried to contact the entity in as neutral a fashion as possible since you contacted me. I think she's willing to talk and I've done my best to explain how to create and image of herself suitable to us on the holodeck. I guess she wants to, um, 'possess' me for a little bit in order to activate the holodeck systems to create something suitable for her to enter into. I don't know if I trust her, though. She may not let go once she has me, and she's pretty pissed off. Do you think she may use me as some sort of hostage?"

Moira was surprised, perhaps not by her brother's initiative, but at the level of success that he's already achieved in communicating with the alien. She shook her head at Padraig's suggestion.

"Captain Lucara will be quite firm in her desire not to endanger the ship in any way. I know there will not be any ship systems she can reach through the holodeck computers, but she can reach me, and Emerald, through ya. And I don't think I'm caring for that." She paused to consider for a moment. "If the three of us cannot communicate with yon entity psionically, perhaps I'll be reconsidering the suggestion, and only after clearing it with the Captain." Moira sighed. "I cannot afford to trust her that far . . . yet.

"So she'll be fair angry. Will ya know why?"

"She hurt, Moira," Padraig said seriously. "I'm not sure if what we're doing to her is hurting her. But I think she's dying. And she wants revenge. She wants to hurt us, Mo. She wants to tear us into tiny little bits." His eyes widened in his earnestness, and he trembled slightly. He looked from Moira to Emerald, hoping that one of them would have some miracle to perform that would save him. "Maybe if we wait long enough, she'll die or something. Maybe she'll get weak and won't be able to hurt us. Then we can force her to do . . . Well, I don't know." He looked down at his hands.

"I'm scared. But I'm trying to be strong." His eyes were glistening the way they used to when he was a little boy. Gone were the strong lines of hardship endured and of grim determination that marked him as an officer. This entity had reduced him in some way, taken away his strength and his courage and left him as the little boy who was beaten cruelly by his father, frightened and terrified of the thing that he loved most. It was a terrible thing that he had suffered at her hands.

Those memories, images from a childhood no child should have to endure, momentarily held Moira in their torturous grasp. But as swiftly as they arrived, Moira recognized them for what they were and began pushing back at them, building her wall of defenses against the alien's intrusion into her mind. As she'd said to Hitachi, fear was a powerful influence on the human psyche. But these memories were merely that. It was the past; it simply was. Something a long ago teacher once said echoed in her mind: Our personal history defines us, but it does not control us; not now, not in the future.

The defenses of Moira's mind were strong, and the images fell away.

Padraig and Emerald weren't so fortunate, however. Knowing that Padraig's mental barriers had never been as strong as her own, realizing that the shields of the mind had some foundation in the physical body and that Padraig had no physicality to anchor his shields, Moira once again extended her own defenses to encompass her brother's mind. She sensed Emerald was trying to shake off the alien's influence as well, her feelings of shame being pushed away as she sought out the bond she shared with Moira.

Weaving a net of protection as her grandmother had taught her, she surrounded the clearing, encompassing her companions. Both Padraig and Emerald had seen her wards, but these were subtly different. These were meant not merely for keeping at bay the stray thoughts and emotions that bombarded a psi, but were intended to repel even a concerted effort at contact.

Sighing a prayer to her Goddess, Moira built her wall bit by bit. She used not only the light and wounds of the wards she'd previously shown Emerald, but the archetypes of the very elements: the strength of earth, the flexibility of water, the intensity of fire, the endurance of air. Woven within it all was the spirit, her request to the Goddess, a daughter's cry to her Mother for aid. Within these walls, even Padraig, so vulnerable without his own defenses, was safe.

When she was finished, Moira could sense the alien, light-years away and yet seemingly a presence just outside her wards. She sensed the stranger's pain. There was no way to judge the intensity of that pain; after all, the alien was alien, different, unknown. Not knowing how many of her words could be understood, she concentrated on the emotions of serenity and compassion, respect and a willingness to help, all tinged with the tiniest bit of sadness at the way they'd been treated. Then she spoke to the alien.

You hurt. Why?

"YOU BITCH! roared a voice. Suddenly Moira was kicked square in the back with a hard boot, which threw her forward almost five feet before she slammed into the ground with her head bouncing off the polished floors . . . the forest's floor . . . no, the holodeck floor. It was Sean, huge and powerful as she'd always remembered him. "YOU KILLED THEM! YOU KILLED THEM ALL! NOW DADDY'S GOING TO PUNISH YOU!"

Padraig screamed and threw his hands up, but they crumpled like twigs under the fierce blows of the enraged madman who snapped out a large hand that whipped the poor boy's head backward. He fell to the ground wailing and sobbing.

Oh, such a rain of blows of unbridled rage pounding and pounding and pounding on the poor boy before Sean raised up. Then, taking his shiny black boot with its hard edges, he reared back and kicked the boy's face with so brutal a blow as to make poor Moira wince.

"I HURT! he roared, "BECAUSE YOU KILLED THEM! AND NOW I'M GOING TO HURT THE ONES YOU LOVE!! Such rage. Wrath. A fire so hot that it threatened not only to consume the image of their father, but everyone in the room. So much rage that not even the oversized figure of Sean O'Shaughnessy could express all of it. He threw his arms out spastically, wincing as he hit his face, and whipped his head around like a dog gone mad in his attempt to release his rage through this instrument called a body. And the lion's share of that potent emotion poured its typhoon of anguished blows down on poor Padraig.

Moira tumbled to the floor . . . no, to the ground . . . the deck. Her shoulder hit hard, and she immediately knew she'd have a fancy new bruise there later. Her forehead was scraped; she could feel a lump forming, and winced as she wiped away the blood. Her back hurt; a rib was perhaps cracked or at the very least dislocated. As she rose, she saw what appeared to be her father once again beating Padraig, worse than anything Sean had actually ever inflected on his helpless children. "NO!! she screamed. "Computer, end augment program PO1!"

"Unable to comply. Access to programming parameters locked out," came the cool reply of the computer.

She looked at the alien's recreation of her father. Moira had no doubt that it was born wholly from Padraig's memories. But Padraig's memories were slightly different from Moira's, and she'd seen Sean at Padraig's funeral. She doubted her brother had yet overcome the shock of death to heave seen their father then. This simulation bore no resemblance to Sean's current reality. When she'd seen Sean last year, he'd looked older than she could have ever imagined: white-haired, stooped, and frail from the four strokes he'd suffered in the previous two years. Moira no longer feared her father, or her memories of him. She only felt sad, and pitied him for the years he wasted and the alienation he caused in all his children.

Ignoring her pain, Moira flew toward the alien, grabbing at a wrist as she'd done so many times before as a child. Only this time, she was an adult. Bigger, stronger, more in control. And fearless, too -- not with a child's self-centered fearlessness that the world couldn't possibly hurt her, but with an adult's realization that she was in control of her life, and she chose to interact with this alien.

STOP IT!! she yelled as she dug her fingers into the alien's wrist, her mental voice louder than any she'd ever produced before. So loud, in fact, she wouldn't be surprised to find that even non-psis could hear it.

Reaching for the alien Sean's flailing arms was like trying to catch a tornado, but remarkably, Moira's hand clenched tightly to one massive wrist. As he whirled on her with his teeth spreading wide, he snatched Moira's wrist in the same swift way that she'd snatched his.

Moira understood the rage, though. somehow, someone -- whether it was the Eclipse or the pirate vessel or someone else entirely -- had killed others that this alien held dear. Was it her offspring? Her mate? Both? Neither? Moira hoped they could get to the point of finding out just what happened, but they'd never get there if this alien tried to kill them all. Calling up her memories of Padraig's physical death, she projected the associated emotions toward the alien: profound sadness, emptiness, loneliness, the physical pain of a soul being torn apart. The intense wash of emotions seemed to hold the alien for a moment. That was long enough.

Suddenly, his teeth began snapping tightly together. Opening and closing as he drew Moira's hand out and stretched the fingers. Snap, snap, rattle the teeth as he brought her long, thin fingers to their crunching madness. His mouth was opening painfully wide, and then the teeth were snapping together with such a frightful sound from the pain they promised. Lust and glee melted with the alien's powerful desire to make Moira suffer.

Moira had known rage, and she'd known hatred, but this creature was something beyond those emotions. It was simply madness that Moira was sensing from this creature, it was sheer malevolence . . . an evilness, a passion, a very lust to cause anguish. In the back of her mind, she noted that she would need to apologize to the priest.

but then, alien Sean heard something: water, the sound of water, the sound of water breaking on the rocks. A sea of some sort. His head turned as his grip loosened, and his listened. He listened to the sound. It was as though he'd never heard it before. That sounds . . .

"Mhari, be careful!"

Padraig only laughed. "Ah, she'll never get it right! All she's got is a couple of daft dopes for parents. You can count that she'll be no good with the milking."

"Hush up, Pat!" scolded Gloria. "Mind how you're flying; it's much too close to the water."

"Aye, princess, you like it, though, don't you, darlin'?" Mhari's eyes grew wide as her tiny little fists clung to Gloria's tunic. Padraig swept the hovercraft up in one dynamic motion, and Gloria and Mhari screamed together before Padraig spun them over on their heads and brought the hovercraft back down right side up, laughing all the while as Mhari clapped her little hands and squealed and Gloria smacked him upside his head.

"Don't you do that again, Padraig O'Shaughnessy!"

"Moira," came a hollow voice from Padraig. She could hear it too. It was as though they were there. Padraig's beaten and broken face stared horrified into the memory of faces that he'd tried to wipe clean from his mind. It was something coming from Sean, from the alien. She was killing him. Maybe she didn't know it. Maybe she was just listening to the memory. But whatever she was doing, if Paddy relived this moment . . . he would die.

"Moira . . . kill her." His voice was barely a whisper. He was paralyzed with the reliving of a nightmare in which he was the monster, the destroyer of everything he loved. Was it not enough to have lived it once that he should live it over and over in his mind?

But for poor Padraig, death had come knocking . . . twice.

Moira could see the scene that played out before Padraig's eyes. But there was something wrong. Mhari hadn't been with them when he and his wife had died.

Padraig, stop! That will not be how it happened! Don't let her trick ya like this.

She took a shuddering breath.

Sure, 'tis true that ya died, and so did Gloria, but so did near to fifty other people. Don't ya remember, Paddy? Mhari'll be safe with Katie now. The accident, it wasn't your fault, Paddy. 'Twas a computer malfunction. Don't ya remember? This not be what happened!!

Looking the alien in the eye, maintaining her grip on the alien's wrist, Moira said calmly, "I want to help ya. But I cannot help ya if ya don't stop hurting me."

The part of her that was Padraig cowered in terror; the part of her that was Emerald struggled to escape from a living hell. But the part that was Moira was tenacious and confident.

"I know ya be angry, damn it, and I know ya want to hurt something back for the pain ya be feeling." Fierce determination blazed in Moira's green eyes. "But if ya going to be hurting me, ya bloody well better be telling me just what it will have been that I'm supposed to have done!" She squeezed Sean's wrist harder. "Now. By the Lady! Ya will stop this and ya will talk to me!"

From the look in his eyes, there was some recognition, an awareness of sorts. The look had softened for the barest of moments. This last torture of hers was costing the alien some of her strength. But it was clear that she was reveling in Padraig's anguish. She had clearly heard Moira. She clearly understood that the human believed herself to be innocent of harming any that she had loved. But she knew that this human was not innocent.

Moira's attention was focused completely on the alien, and she thought she had the attention of the entity. It seemed to be listening ot her now, but what could she say that would make a difference? She almost wished that the counselor were here, but Lucas was far too intent on destroying the alien because of her very evilness. Moira had to admit that the malevolence she perceived was near to overwhelming, and yet she had to wonder if the alien's evil was inherent or brought on by the madness of her loss. She knew the anguish she'd felt at Padraig's death. If it had been a child of her own soul, Moira knew that the agony would have been magnitudes worse.

"Aye," she said finally, nodding. "Ya want us all to pay for your pain. Keep the cycle of hurt and retribution going." Her voice was quiet, hardly above a whisper. "And then another of our ships will be along to search for ya, or others like ya, and like as not, they'll destroy what they'll not understand." Again, the battered engineer paused. "Ya hate us. And I'm not doubting there will be those among us who'll be hating ya right back. Will it not look like there be no way of stopping this?" Yet another pause, searching for a spark of sanity in Sean's eyes. "But ya know there be a way, don't ya?

"Ya be dying. If there be a way for us to help ya, just tell me. And if there naught be a way, well, I'm blessing ya in the name of the Lady and ya will know ya will be again with your . . . beloved ones." Compassion and, yes, love -- for all creatures were children of the Goddess and deserved that -- washed over the entity.

"Is there naught we can do to help ya?"

Poor Padraig was crippled under the stench of death that hung around him now. His mournful eyes peering into the nightmare that was his reality, a dream, lie from which he couldn't wake himself before the final blow. Worse, to hear the screams and shouts and the tearing of his body once more.

He was done, and the alien turned now to . . . sister . . .

As Sean turned, Moira could see the glowering hatred that burned the tortured soul of this entity.

"Aye, girl, ya can help me, yet." His hand reached gently toward her face. "Ya'll help me like a gud li'l girl, won't ya? Ya'll do what daidí says, aye?" It was so strange a thing to have her head wrapped in the gigantic hand of her father. To feel herself being drawn to him, his eyes leering at her womanly figure.

Not so unfamiliar as all that, really . . .

But then, something broke in those eyes. Even this final torment was beyond her capability to perform. Sean's eyes closed and another's opened. Moira could feel her remorse. Guilt began to swell in her as passion was sated, and sin was the aftertaste. the hand fell from Moira, and the figure of her father stood tall with his shoulders squared and his head turned to the heavens. Tears welled up in those eyes; it was something that no mere program could have conjured. And the broken spirit turned to face his daughter.

"No, you cannot save me, my child. But there is something that you can do. To rest my soul. If you truly care, then you will find it not in my heart, but in yours."

"Warning. Power failure on holodeck two," warned the computer as Padraig and the rest of the program vanished. The room's illusions faded into the yellow- and black-etched lines of the holodeck, but still the alien stood before Moira in the figure of her father. Their eyes met; she was in earnest.

Moira stood for just a moment with the alien, alone on the stark holodeck, tears in both sets of eyes. The alien chose to remain in Sean's form . . . on purpose?

Then the alien was gone.

And as she disappeared, Moira whispered so softly, so gently, "Sea, Daidí . . . I forgive ye." A blink, a breath. "Rest in peace in the arms of the Lady."

As the holodeck systems continued to shut down, Moira was cognizant enough to be surprised to see the lighting system also fail. The computer's usual 'ready' light indicating that it was awaiting commands also went off, and there was only the sound of the ventilation systems keeping the air warm . . . until that, too, shut down a moment later. Where is the emergency lighting that's supposed to come on when the power fails? It was a thought that only faintly registered in the mind of the senior holodeck specialist.

She could sense Padraig in the back of her mind. Without the alien to torment him further, he was quiet, healing, relived. But Moira couldn't sense Emerald. She dropped to the floor in the darkness, tears still streaming from her eyes. She thought she heard Lucara's voice . . . maybe . . . from somewhere far away. But Lucara wasn't important. Imzadi? Emerald . . . where are ya? Ah, Paddy, if I've lost her . . . She didn't finish the thought, merely knelt on the cold floor and cried.

But as the gravity shut down in the region, Moira found herself with nothing to grab hold of inside the holodeck as she drifted off the floor. There . . . somewhere to her left, she could hear Emerald's breathing. But as hard as she searched with her thoughts, she couldn't pinpoint where Emerald was. But there were a lot of excited people heading this way. She could sense the cool emotions of the medical team, as well as a few security teams en route.

Total darkness. And that pesky artificial gravity was gone. Again. Moira groaned. Null gravity was not her ideal environment. Null gravity in complete darkness with nothing to grab onto was even less delightful. She tried not to move . . . just waiting for security and medical.

With a low, soft shush, the turbolift doors closed behind Kahallan, stealing him away from the bridge. Alone then, after the space of a heartbeat, he said, "Deck eleven."

The command was quietly breathed, a chuff of breath, slower and perhaps even softer than his usual. As the lift began its descent, the security chief leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms, closing his eyes.

". . . stupid Ki'allin, stupid. Ye stopped thinking didn't ye . . ."

He took one long breath and held it, leaning his head back until it rested against the curved metal bulkhead.

". . . aye, Kat, I forgot, h'ag'in, didn't I, never forget ti think, that's whit ye h'alwiys sai . . ."

But deck eleven is not far from the bridge, not far at all. A handful of breaths and he was there. As the lift's motors slowed, betrayed by their telltale whine, Kahallan bit his lip and straightened his stance. Thus, by the time the doors whooshed swiftly open, there was no sign of what had been spoken in the turbolift. Safely bottled away, closed tight.

As the chief of security arrived on deck eleven, he found that the power had been shut down, and there was something of a blackout in the grid. No computer systems were up and running, and security fields were in place as specified. A quick survey showed the medical team waiting patiently, and trying to make scans of the area ahead was a small armed team of security officers. One of them appeared to be a Cardassian, although he was wearing an earring that looked distinctly Bajoran.

Sure and sharp, clipped and disciplined, his pace quickly took him down the curving corridor. Taut, he wove his way around the crew like a shark or barracuda amid a school of silverfish. Without a word, he pushed forward until he reached the security field. there he stopped a few steps back, eyes narrowed, arms crossed.

"I'm picking up two life signs on holodeck two," reported a somewhat nervous medical type who identified herself as Doctor Sadler. "One of them is stable other than tachycardia and elevated blood pressure, indicating that she's probably under high stress. But the other one is down. Looks like she may be bleeding and have internal injuries from these scans. I'll have to get closer to make a complete diagnosis. I don't have enough for a transporter lock, however."

"Thank you, Doctor Sadler." His words were soft, measured, very calm.

"Listen up, folks . . ." Immediately to the point, without pause or hesitation, his voice didn't modulate from its gentle inflection as he spoke. "The situation is simple. We have our chief engineer, chief science officer, and a telepathic alien all together in the holodeck suite. Their last action was an attempt to break into the ship's computer systems.

"It is isolate and incapacitate time, folks. If they can't think, my guess is that the alien has less to grab a hold of. So far, it only seems to affect those with telepathic tendencies. Let me nnow right now if anyone here has had a sudden uncharacteristically bad feeling about leaving the wormhole area very, very fast . . ."

Then there was a pause while he waited. And when he was done waiting, he said, "Good.

"CPO Danalla . . ." Kahallan indicated the fiery chief petty officer. "Your records say you have experience with this sort of thing, so you watch our backs. We start acting strange, stop us. Aye?

"Davis and Dhrule, Doctor Sadler is your responsibility. You are coming with us, are you not, Doctor?

"That leaves me and you at point, Mister Malik. I have no idea what we'll find on the other side of that door, so we are going to have to think smart and think fast and not forget to think. O'Shaughnessy's and Drake's welfare comes first . . . and I believe that means down and sedated quickly is that correct, Doctor? Set your phasers to stun, don't be trigger happy, but don't be afraid to use them."

As the chief started issuing his orders, Johlann listened carefully. When Kahallan addressed him by name, he automatically, though quietly, corrected him.

"Mister Johlann, sir. Malik is my first name." The he wondered whether he'd have been better off keeping quiet, correcting a senior officer publicly.

"Sorry, sir," he added quietly, staring straight ahead, expression neutral. As the orders continued, he drew his phaser, checking the setting yet again. "Stun, sir."

With a smooth, sharp motion, Kahallan reached for the corridor panel that controlled the cross-corridor security field. And stopped. With the slightest frown, he turned to Johlann.

"If you would, Mister Johlann. The computer is not listening to me at the moment. And raise them back once we're through."

The commander's request concerned him. Why wasn't the commander able to disable the security fields himself? All sorts of possibilities crossed his mind, and he glanced suspiciously at Kahallan. Not wanting to waste time, but needing to satisfy himself that everything was in order, he found himself apologizing for a second time.

"Sorry, sir." The Johlann raised his voice to normal levels. "Computer, this is Ensign Johlann. Please confirm the presence and active command status of Lieutenant Commander Kahallan, and on that confirmation disable the corridor security field at Block 12B."

"Lieutenant Commander Kahallan's security codes have been deactivated by Lieutenant Sullivan, operations officer," came the calm reply of the computer.

But shouldn't the commander still have the authority to raise and lower fields?

Armed still crossed, still patients, the tall security chief gave Johlann a slow, sidelong glance.

"Mister Johlann, think . . . We are dealing with an unknown telepathic entity.

"Of course, all of us who have command-level access have had our clearances disabled until this is over. It would be a good idea to disable the team's clearances once we get on the other side."

As Johlann temporarily disabled the forcefield, Kahallan tapped his comm badge.

"Operations, this is Kahallan. Last word on conditions inside the holodeck?"

"No power except for life support. We're only getting two life signs in there. There are no readings to indicate that anything similar to the phenomenon outside the ship is in there, and no intruder alerts, sir."

"And can you return power to the doors?"

"I think that can be arranged, sir."

Kahallan nodded to his team.

"What does your scan show, Mister Johlann?"

Johlann took a deep breath. "Yes, sir. Scan indicates that the area extending ten meters from the field has no gravity or power, sir."

He paused, mentally kicking himself for volunteering anything. What had happened to his desire for a low profile? But he went ahead anyway. "I think that a lack of gravity and no light is likely to be of more hindrance to us, sir, than to a telepathic entity. Permission to restore them, both on a gradual basis to minimize any possible reaction, to the corridor containment field and the holodeck, sir?""

"The doors have power, sir," reported Operations. "Would you like gravity restored?"

"Thank you, Mister Sullivan. Gravity will help. Bring it up slow . . . we don't want to bounce O'Shaughnessy and Drake off the floor."

"Yes, sir. Gravity will be fully restored in one minute, sir."

Kahallan nodded. "That will be fine, one minute then."

Taking a half step forward, Kahallan leaned against the bulkhead, one hand reaching up to the ceiling, resting, poised, impatient for the passing of sixteen short seconds.

rat a tap tap snap

His fingers drummed against the corridor wall.

"Good thought, Mister Johlann, but Ops has been running the show since the first alarm went up. but it was the right move."

Thirty seconds. Halfway there, half a gee.

Without a pause, Kahallan nodded to Johlann, and then looked back over his shoulder toward the others.

"You hear Ops. Keep sharp. The beastie might just be playing possum. Time to move, folks. Remember what I said." Even if spoken softly, his last words were obviously a firm command. "Follow my lead.

"Mister Johlann, I want to be through those doors as we hit one gee."

Down the hall . . . to the holodeck and O'Shaughnessy and Drake.

* * *

The darkness was comforting, the lack of gravity was not. With knees drawn tightly to her chest, one arm wrapped around them and the other across her eyes -- her uniform sleeve soaking up the tears that refused to stop -- Moira floated. Her back hurt, but it would probably hurt more in full gravity. The bleeding on her forehead had stopped, at least she thought it had. Her shoulder hurt, badly. But of that mattered as her mind searched for her Imzadi. In the place where Emerald had been, there was . . . nothing. Like a missing tooth, it felt wrong, and Moira worried at the spot. From somewhere nearby, she could hear Emerald's ragged breathing, but her Imzadi wasn't there. She wasn't dead, Moira would have known if she was. She she began reaching out . . . searching . . . searching . . .

And stopped.

She could feel the security and medical teams assembling outside the holodeck doors. She would have ignored them, except . . . except Kahallan was one of them. She hesitated. Kahallan. In her mind, Moira looked back and forth, back and forth between the spot where Emerald should be and where Kahallan was, outside the door. Her mind moved outward, seeking . . . and then back again. It was the wolfish grin that held her . . . and the name that sounded like music. Did she even know his given name? Oh, yes . . . Donovan. Again, Moira looked outward, straining, reaching . . . then back.

Ya be holding me here, Kahallan. Why? Looking outward . . . I'm needing to find her. She's . . . lost. but he didn't answer, because he couldn't hear her.

Kahallan . . . somewhere far away . . . alone . . . in the dark . . .

Glass -- and brown wine. . .
Thick -- like blood . . .
Rich -- like honey and blood . . .
Hey, don't you find that funny?
I mean, it's supposed to be blood . . .

What are you staring at?

Haven't you ever seen an accident before?

Of course, there was no answer; of course, he couldn't hear. The empty bulkheads, hull metal gray, twisted and burned, charcoal black, no one could hear through the shattered landscape, no one at all. A chaos of camouflage, jagged patterns of gray upon gray, shadow upon shadow, each rivet ground in so hard, scented with the coppery taste of blood, close blood. So sure, so fierce, strong, aggressive, defiant, unbroken, wild . . .

. . . desperate . . .

. . . feral . . .

Brightness like a hidden star, like a will-o-wisp, like the fey flight of a bluebell, wrapped in golden hair, Ekaterina, a song, a dream, dancing amidst the ruined girders, the deadly serpent cables, just out of reach. A whisper, holding back the empty, an anchor, a place to stand . . .

Broken walls, forced together, lashed with discipline, sure and sharp and clipped . . .

A scavenged fortress, that last forgotten stand against the haunting shadow.


The hunting shadow.

And if this shadow would have a name, it would be an old one, very old, lost amid the twists of time, not something known . . .

A name not quantified, not one of the rational but a name felt, like a cruel winter's forget-me-not kiss.


Her cry is an echo, like the rusk of the slow surf on stone, forever and ever and always, at the very edge of hearing, like the sound of one's own heart.

Her cry is something she has never heard and yet it strikes deep like the talons of a black crow. It is something never wished to hear, slicing like a dagger of ice through an engineer's heart.

Her cry is woven tightly about the wolf's fierce soul.

Her cry is of a starship dying.

Somewhere far away.


In the dark.

Doctor Sadler had a pocket phaser that she palmed in one hand while she held a medical tricorder in the other. The rest of her team was unarmed and she ordered them back one section to allow for the second security field to be dropped.

Centering his attention, creating a focus deep within himself using a Bajoran meditation routine, Johlann stood calmly at the door, phaser at the ready, waiting for the gravity to stabilize and the door to open. A quick glance showed him where the door controls were, and he prepared to use them if the chief didn't have it covered. He watched the figures change.

Moira blinked. Imperceptible at first, then growing stronger . . . yes, the gravity was coming back. She braced herself, not knowing where she was in the darkness in relation to the floor. She discovered that she hadn't floated from it and, as gravity increased, she began her cautious trek toward Emerald. Emerald hadn't been all that far away. It was difficult to determine in the dark how bad Em's injuries were, but judging by how thoroughly Padraig had been beaten by the alien, Moira didn't think Em had fared any better, especially since she wasn't . . . here. Moira sat beside her friend, knees up with her arms wrapped around them. She rested her head on her knees. Tired. So tired.

The room felt cold, and the blackness of it was foreboding. There was still the sensation that someone was there with them, but it didn't seem possible with Padraig more or less gone from the area. She would have known if it were him, in any case. Padraig must be sleeping somewhere, although she had no idea where he went when he wasn't in the holodeck or nattering inside her brain.

But it was good to feel the floor underneath her.

And then something . . . something terrible, horrifying, a sharp, abiding trauma, the stench of death. Moira gasped, her head jerking up. Was it the alien again? No . . . no . . . a vision, a golden phantom, one that Moira thought she recognized. But from where? Her brows furrowed, concentrating . . . where? Recently, yes. Then her head snapped toward the door. She knew where the door was, yes, indeed. And who was on the other side of the door. That's where it was coming from. Because she'd seen that golden girl before . . . only days ago . . . on the bridge.

Why will it be that I'm reading ya so clearly now, I wonder. Can ya tell me that, Kahallan?

But she just sat there and stared at the door. She wanted the answer to that question.

"Gravity restored," came Sullivan's voice from Kahallan's comm badge. "Opening containment field."

With a slight sizzling sound, the containment field rose. The corridor was still dark ahead of them, but scans revealed that gravity had, indeed, been restored. Only the two life signs remained and motion detectors showed only those two. Nothing else seemed to be moving directly ahead of them.

Kahallan was already moving. The darkness didn't slow the security chief down; in fact, he seemed more comfortable quickly stalking through the corridor shadows. Fast, sure, and silent, in a smooth graceful movement, Kahallan had his phaser out, thumbing tot he proper setting, red and green telltales like stars in the darkened hall.

His arm struck out as he spared a quick glance over his shoulder to confirm that both security and the doctor were at his heels. To the side of the door Kahallan stood, his head snapping back around his attention once again at the door, focused just behond the door, by the timehis fingers tapped out the opening command.

Over the comm, just before the door panels parted, he said, "Lights, Mister Sullivan. Bring them up slow."

Then quiet as a wraith, he carefully padded inside to see what he may find.

The holodeck doors slid open, noticeable only as a small chuff of sound, for the corridor beyond them was as dark as the holodeck itself. Not that it mattered. Moira could sense him as he moved through the doorway. She would have to wonder later why she was suddenly so much more perceptive . . . and why Kahallan. Perhaps . . . no. she had other things to worry about before she could begin to think about that.

"I hope ya'll have brought a doctor with ya, Kahallan," she said, her voice betraying her weariness and pain. Despite that, his name crossed her lips as though it were a song, or perhaps a prayer. "Emerald's hurt. Badly."

She could see his face in her mind, those brown eyes full of suspicion. As an officer, she could understand and appreciate that suspicion; after all, he was> the chief of security. It hurt nonetheless.

But if there was any suspicion in his deep, dark eyes when she looked up from the picture in her mind, it was for it, the alien, the stranger, the one who would dare to strike his crewmates. But for her and her companion, there was just simple protection and concern.

Resting her head against her knees, Moira dared to relax ever so slightly. She was so tired. The lights came up . . . slowly, and that was good. The medical and security teams were doing whatever it was they did in these sorts of situations . . . generally acting wary, from what Moira could feel. With a mental shrug, she focused her attention on Emerald. Imzadi?

Half a breath, half a step, and then he was moving . . . fast . . . with only a step to the side to let the fleet-footed doctor past. Narrowed eyes followed Sadler, very sharp, making sure she knew her way around a broken body. His breath exhaled slowly, not happy at all at the way the doctor's dedication moved her between Kahallan and Drake's still form.

Moving in swiftly as the door opened, Johlann was aware of Kahallan to the side of the doctor. He scanned the room, phaser at the ready, and then had a more detailed look to ascertain that there were no visible hostiles or telepathic aliens, assuming that he could see and recognize one if he saw one. He could see that the lieutenant appeared badly injured and her clothes were in tatters. He averted his eyes quickly.

As Kahallan searched the corners, he could find little of meaning there. A ravaged body and another trembling in fear and combative against the staff there. It must surely have been a wild and dangerous moment. But there was earnestness in Moira's voice when she told the med tech to stay away from her, and a feeling that she genuinely felt a sense of danger for the ship.

But it was the way that she was looking at him that made Kahallan hesitate a little. His sense of danger rose swiftly . . . not for the ship or the others, but for himself. There was no immediate danger and no evidence of psionic assault. But the sense was strong and growing quickly.

"Scan negative, no sign of alien presence, sir." Johlann continued to look around the holodeck for signs of anything out of the ordinary. He heard the doctor's comment about the lieutenant being violated. He felt an anger, deep down, toward her offender, offenders.

In the end, intelligence finally fought instinct for Kahallan. And by then, he'd crossed the empty space between the door and his two crewmates. In a smooth motion, he was down, balanced in a low crouch on the balls of his feet. Somewhere between the door and Moira, the phaser was holstered. Now it was nowhere to be seen.

A long look, close and intense, sharp brown eyes unreadable. Trusting his instincts.

Turning from Moira, Kahallan nodded to Doctor Sadler, acknowledging her request for transport. It was just a shift of his head to look up at Johlann Malik.

"Mister Johlann, go with them. Watch over Lieutenant Drake. I do not want to hear of anything bad happening to her, aye? Remember, that boojum's still loose."

Johlann's "Yes, sir," sounded determined as he moved swiftly to the doctor and patient for the beam out.

Kahallan's word's were soft yet firm. "I am . . ."

He paused. His words were unmistakably spoke for Moira, from close next to her. His head was level with hers. But he didn't look at her.

"I am sorry I didn't get here quicker. My fault."

He watched the shimmering stars of the emergency transporter beam steal his crewmates away, bound for Sickbay. And when they were gone, he just looked ahead.

"But Lieutenant Drake, she's in good hands, and between Doctor Sadler and Mister Johlann, she's got good folks looking over her."

For just a moment, his eyes darted to the medical technician left behind.

"The corpsman is probably going to give you something. Which means you probably will be getting a little fuzzy, Commander O'Shaughnessy." His quiet words and demeanor were truthfully concerned. The obligatory report to the bridge could wait.

"Aside tha' obvious . . . you okay, lass?"

The wolf was crouched beside her, his brown eyes not willing to meet her green ones. (Wolves don't have brown eyes, do they? They certainly don't sit in holodecks on starships.) The whine of the transporter scratched her nerves, and Moira blinked. It was Kahallan beside her, and his words sunk in as Emerald disappeared.

"Not your fault, Duffy. And there be naught ya could have done." And hand reached out . . . graceful, strong fingers lightly touched the back of his hand. "I tried . . . I could not protect her, could not protect Paddy." A tear rolled down her cheek.

At the soft touch, Kahallan suddenly tensed for just an instant, the flash of naïve surprise in his eyes. The touch was not uncomfortable, but it was . . . unaccustomed.

Emerald dove into the darkness of her consciousness, desperately seeking to return to her body and her Imzadi. Warning, Moira, my love. Ship in danger. I'm coming back. Captain Lucara, warn her, ship in danger. So much pain.

Kahallan's other words didn't register until the med tech approached again with his hypospray. At that moment, Emerald's scream echoed in her mind. Moira gasped as Emerald's pain washed over her body. Instinctively, her arm lashed out at the med tech, knocking the hypospray across the room. The young man stood there, surprised, open-mouthed.

"NO!" Those strong, graceful fingers wrapped tightly now around Kahallan's wrist. She had to ignore the swirling images and well-ordered thoughts that came crashing into her mind (Damn it, I'll not be the touch telepath! What the bloody hell will be going on?), block out the pain from Emerald.

Softly, urgently, she said, "No drugs . . . the ship . . . 'tis in danger . . . I don't know how or what. Warn Lucara." A squeeze of those fingers, closing the door on his thoughts when all she wanted to do was dive into them, touch them . . . protect him. (Protect Kahallan?? What? Will ya be completely daft, girl?)

With a nod of his head, Kahallan silently listened to the engineer's words, still looking forward, solemn and sure. He was a stable and calm presence, dependable and just there. His trapped arm turned slightly, naturally, understanding. It was easier to grip, hard and steady.

"Lucara needs to talk to Emerald . . . now." Moira struggled to her feet, sharp pain in her back, dull pain in her shoulder, an unpleasantly familiar headache forming behind the lump on her forehead. The psychic overload wasn't helping her head any, either. She noticed her hand still holding Kahallan's wrist; reluctantly, she let go. The med tech had backed away from her (crazy Irish woman), the security team looked to Kahallan for guidance. "I need to get to Sickbay. Are ya coming, Kahallan?" She really didn't look as though she was going to make it to the door by herself, but she was damn well going to get to Sickbay if she had to crawl. The ship was in danger . . . Emerald . . . all of them . . . danger.

Em . . . Imzadi . . . I'm on my way.

A flood of relief washed over Emerald when she heard Moira's thoughts. An enormous aching void was filled with that touch and her breathing eased.

Mo, that entity . . . it was weak. The other, much stronger one, is waking up. Tell Lucara. We have only seconds, minutes at most. Torps might be effective. Other suggestions . . . flee, max speed, don't know if it will be fast enough . . . tractor them, drag them into the wormhole, release them, they might find their way home. Danger from psionic attack, no defense . . . Emerald's train of thought was lost as exhaustion washed over her. Hurry, love . . .

And then . . . then it was back to instincts, pure and simple. Moira moved fast, faster than Kahallan would have expected, given her injuries. His weight was already shifting, leaning just that littlest bit back, looking over her back, his eyes glaring at the poor medical technician, swiftly drawing one finger of his free hand across his neck, an ancient but still valid sign.

Go away.

When she let go and stood, Kahallan followed half a step behind her, signaling the remaining folks to stand clear; he was there, right behind Moira. And at that first stumble, there was support, slipped in naturally, not letting her fall.

Someone to watch over her.

His quiet voice was in her ear, something comfortably calm amid the storm. "Okay, Commander, one step at a time . . ."

Definitely not protocol at all.

"I'm here, I'm not going anywhere. We're going up to the bridge."

Still a half-step behind, Kahallan's movements matched her, one strong arm beneath hers. They were at the computer arch, and he subtly jerked his head in a signal to his chief petty officer.

Now he'd see if Danalla was smart enough to follow at a proper distance.

"Lieutenant Drake will be fine. It's gone. Where did it--"

Moira turned, swiftly, suddenly, finding herself face-to-face, eye-to-eye with the security chief, even though she was looking up . . . and he down.

"The other one . . . torpedoes, tractor . . . move the ship, get away . . . hurry!"

Before Moira even stopped speaking, Kahallan had tagged his comm badge.


His attention didn't leave Moira while he spoke. There was a feral taste to his gaze, acutely aware of the risk he was taking, and riding it like one might a cyclone's breath.

"Captain, sir! Last warning, the entity's mother is coming and O'Shaughnessy says she is hostile, repeat, hostile. Torpedoes now, or throw them back into the wormhole with the factors, send them back home. We might not be able to flee fast enough--"

He didn't complete that sentence; Moira cut him off.

"'Tis her son," she hissed as the enormity of Emerald's information filtered into her consciousness. "He'll be so much stronger . . ." But the security chief seemed to understand. Moira hoped so, at least. All their lives depended on it.

His attention never wavering from Moira, his soft words were now for her.

"O'Shaughnessy, you better be right, or Lucara is going to have my head."

That wolfish grin of his was back, as if he was much more comfortable when all the world was falling apart around him. And it was obvious that he'd rather be proved wrong for jumping at shadows than letting the shadows strike first.

"Okay, one simple question: It's not here anymore . . . where did it go?"

His quip, perhaps meant to lessen the tension, only served to heighten Moira's awareness. "Oh, I'll be right, Duffy . . . and before all this will be over, ya will be wishing I'm not right, and Lucara will be after your head." His grin was almost reassuring, though.

I'll be counting on you, Duffy. Don't let me down.

"Where will she have gone? I think she died. 'Tis hard to tell, but she'll be gone, that much is certain. But her son'll be coming." Moira looked into his eyes, searching for something.

"I'm to be trusting ya with my soul now, Kahallan. Ya'll not be letting me down, will ya?"

Before he could answer, however, Moira went limp, whispering, "Protect me, Kahallan, so I can protect thee," as she slid toward the floor.

Half a step and she was caught. Having expected a fall, or at least a stumble, here where the Eclipse's corridor bands still flashed a warning amber (the color of finest saffron or a little girl's hair), Kahallan's firm and sure support made sure the chief engineer didn't tumble to the hard steel flooring of the deck.

But then there was the second stumble. This one was so unexpected that Kahallan's legs began to collapse -- not expecting, not knowing, just how far Moira would fall.

One heartbeat. Sometimes a single heartbeat can last forever and ever.

As Moira fell into her trance, the reality of the Galaxy class starship, the USS Eclipse, fell away. Now she was in the Shadow World, the Overworld . . . the place where humans communed with the Elder Ones, the Deities. The spirits who wandered here were those of the dreamers, of those to sought out deeper knowledge, of the shaman and the witch and the priestess. Often these spirits appeared as wraiths; more often they came in the form of their totem animals. Only the power could manipulate the place to their own visions.

Moira found herself surrounded by trees, impossibly tall, and the blackness of night. When the scents of the forest reached her nostrils, she realized that her human form was gone, replaced by that of a great she-wolf. She was surprised, but not terribly so. Ahead of her, as if standing guard over the forest, was a massive gray wolf peering out across a blackened field.


A clipped pace, too precise at time, a bit too conscious . . . sharp brown eyes taking in his surroundings, sure and quick, as if, perhaps, he really did expect that something, anything might go wrong at any moment. But not anxious; that was the subtle thing about the young officer's bearing . . . not anxious or scared, not like a mouse at all, but wary and balanced, like a wolf pacing through his hunting grounds.

And these were his grounds after all. Perhaps they weren't the idyllic forests of old or the mountains of the northwest. But as sure as wild animals did haunt the night, so too did Kahallan stalk the bowels of his ship. He knew each turn and each passage like the predator knew his favorite hiding places . . . the turns that offered security and those that tempted assault. The shadows were his cloak and the glaring lights betrayed his prey.

Behind her, she could feel her crewmates. If she looked, she might have seen the flickering images of Lucara and Hitach and a few others; more substantially, there were Emerald and Padraig. A fierce determination rose within her. They were her pack; she would defend them.

She'd been here only a few times before, and only with her grandmother. Then, she'd been the student. Now, she was teacher and guide and priestess. She was here to protect Kahallan, that much she knew, although the why of it was something to be puzzled out later. She also knew enough to fear the alien that was about to materialize, not only on the physical plane where he could destroy her ship, not only on the psychic plan where he could destroy minds, but also here in the Shadow World where he could destroy souls.

Hers among them.

Trembling, Ekaterina huddled into the wolf's fur of polymers and cotton threats. Her eyes were wide and fearful as the two of them listened to the clattering of footsteps in the Lady Jane. Above . . . below . . . behind . . . and in front. The two gathered in their Jeffries tubes hiding from the attackers in the ancient ship whose finest hour had long since passed.

It was dark in there, and the flashing lights no longer blinked their red eyes at them. The ship was in danger. Her drive systems had long since been fired off, making her a drifting derelict for nearly five years while the two of them scraped to make a life among the rape gangs of the bossma and the bosspa. The world was the corridors, each one marked out between the various gangs. And poor Duffy, despite his strength and courage, was merely a minor player among the wild societies that ravaged each other for food and the simple right to be left in peace.

but now, there were strangers on board. Someone had found their little hellhole and was turning it inside out. Phaser blasts were ringing out through the ship, and systems long forgotten were being coaxed back to life . . . to turn back the invaders and preserve their entropic society.

It was fear of the unknown that drove these madmen to fight against their saviors. They had little idea that those who came into their world meant to save them from it. They had no idea that they even needed to be saved.

And she was at his side, with her eyes asking if he was going to hurt her. Course not. A protective wolf. Kahallan protected and she helped. It was easier with two. It was even safer. She was too young, too small, to survive without Duffy. She didn't see the dangerous parts of their corridor world.

He heard the low guttural snarl of a wolf behind him and Kahallan whirled with his teeth bared like fangs and his hands curled into claws. His legs readied him to pounce, and his heart betrayed his emotions by speeding its pace. But nothing was there. No wolf that hunted the hunter. Eyes moved from side to side, taking in the corridor behind.

Here, they knew their place. Here, they had names and titles and people that feared them and people they feared. Here, there was need and want and desire and hate. Out there, they had no place . . . no names, no titles. No one feared them and they feared everyone. There was no need out there. No want. Antiseptic of hate and, therefore, alien to their own desires that came from the most primitive instincts here aboard the Lady Jane, a society created by bossma and bosspa, the forgotten dream of rescue had become a remembered nightmare.

Ekaterina could not now remember what the world was that wasn't the Lady Jane. Even Duffy couldn't remember anymore. A day in the Lady Jane was longer than any year.

"Duffy," she whispered as he whirled on her to silence her. There were two footsteps outside the Jeffries tube where they hid. Heard ones, heavy ones, clean and shining.

The invaders.

Two phaser blasts sounded out down the hall from them, and two bodies slumped against a wall outside. Their imaginations filled in the details of their savaged flesh among the weapons of the inhabitants of the Lady Jane. But then more shiny boots clattered their way down the corridors; shouts they didn't understand, and the far more familiar screams of some of the youth who struggled against the invaders.

Ekaterina stared at her little finger. She stared at the small drop of blood that ebbed from it. She put it in her mouth and looked up at Duffy.

I'm sorry, she said with her eyes and her face. She'd promised, but promised after it had happened. But no matter, it was only a little cut. Just a little thing, really. Sure, the metals on board had rusted from the malfunctioning environmental systems. but they had all had scrapes and such before. What could it matter.

Eyes closed for a long while.

. . . I mean, it's blood . . . his . . . it was . . . how easily things . . . get . . . broken . . .

He took one breath, and then two, of the stale air, in the forever dark forests of the broken crossbeams and structural framing. And when his eyes opened again, they were -- for a moment, for the space of a single heartbeat -- deep brown, soft, almost human, almost gentle, quiet and calm, safe and reassuring.

"It's okay . . ." That was for her honest admission.

"Thank you." And that was for the promise.

On silent feet, she padded over to Kahallan. He's out there, isn't he? she said to him, knowing that, on this plane at least, he'd probably be able to hear her. You feel him, too. A deep growl rose from her throat as she pressed her body close to his.

(Careful. Wolves mate for life, you know.)

Reaching out to softly brush away tangled red bangs from emerald eyes . . .

But that be wrong, that be bloody wrong . . . like the sheen of water on the snitchy witch's arteries, condensate can kill, if the conduit be live. A shake of his head, should be gold as the stars, eyes of blue, like an electric arc. Dark eyes thinned, narrowed, meeting her gaze, seeking deep, and knowing, deep in his sheltered hear, red or gold, in the end it just didn't matter.

A predator's eyes, a feral heart, words are a promise. Not for just anyone, though. But just for her.

". . . I will not let anything hurt thee, my loverly lass . . ."

A strong hand wraps about a small soft one, sure and quick, and then they be off, a dance through a wilderness of shadows, a world painted in too many shades of gray and black, up the shafts of the world, his pace loose and free and wild, to the counties long since abandoned, the territories of flight and bridge. And his grip is strong, as he always looks forward, taking the steel road not taken before, knowing that it because Kat always said, when the rules don't work, 'Duffy me luv, then we just break 'em, right, don't we?'

Not an easy pace, but one sharp and fast and desperate.

He knows its time that matters, each second a heartbeat closer tot he last, each step a race against the vengeful witch, and he will not let the Lady win, not this race, not this time, even if it means trading her his own broken soul.

". . . let's fly, kitten, like wuffs against the Dark . . ."

Always half a step ahead, half a step from being caught, half a step from a final flying.

". . . they must be come from somewhere, lass . . ."

His hand tightens. One holds a little girl's hand, one hand holds hope. The other carries a broken piece of a starship's bones, a ship-borne wolf's jagged fang, just in case someone stood against him.

". . . and that's where we be going."

In the distance, a form was taking shape, rumbling toward them. With her sharp eyes, she saw it as a huge grizzly bear . . . lumbering angrily toward them. Fighting the urge and losing, her teeth snapped on the nothingness of air.

So, Kahallan . . . do you want to fight in the trees on on the plain?

He answered her question by pushing her back, deeper into the darkness of the trees.

He wants us out there fighting him, and so that's precisely where we're not going to go.

Winding through the blackness, following Kahallan, Moira wondered how he could manage to navigate the paths so easily. For her, each of the trees had a spark of life and she simply avoided them. but this darkness . . . it was total, and it seemed unusual. Hadn't Grandmother said that walking in the Shadow World was like walking in a dense fog? This was certainly not that bright. A thought worried at the back of her mind . . . the darkness was for Kahallan's benefit. Had the altered the nature landscape of the Shadow World? It was possible, although she hadn't thought she was that powerful yet. Or was the Goddess simply watching out for them?

(Protect Kahallan.)

As Ya say, m'Lady.

Quiet and still, a dark wolf among wolves; fast and sharp, cutting his fangs against the Orions and Ferengi, on police duty against smugglers and pirates. Calm, almost comfortable taking point in the alien ships, at home again in hostile corridors.

The scent of prey passed his nose and the wolf's head swiveled on the body of the hunter, following it as it moved past . . . her.

Suddenly, he turned to face her, nose to nose. She felt his breath ruffling the fur on her muzzle.

Break the rules, break the pattern. The place the Lady's culture told them not to go, the last direction the invaders would expect them to go. Her only hope.

But he shouldn't know that.

Memories of medicine.

No matter what it may cost him.

Duffy and Kat crawled up the Jeffries tubes toward the long-abandoned bridge. It was dark, and the going was hard, and Duffy had to let Kat climb on her own behind him. And as he reached deck two, just below the bridge, a light opened beneath him about three decks below.

"Lieutenant, I've got two life signs directly above us!"

"Phasers on stun, get them down!"

A light shined up at them, catching them as they climbed, and Kat began to scream.

Non erit finis . . .

World without end . . .

World without end at the end of the world.

A maze of brittle steel, a tapestry of broken resin and polycarbonate fibers, all in the dark . . . a jagged valley cut between what used to be decks, now it was just a charcoal scar of twisted metal. Somewhere else, the Lady Jane had ripped herself open, a tumor hidden beneath stressed hull plates.

Hells and bells, little one, the bosspas, the bossmas, they'll only hurt ye . . .

It's the Lady who kills.

It didn't matter who be slow, who be fast, never behind was she left, always there, a hand up, deeper, higher into Her ragged corpse. His strong hand drawing her up to the latticework deck, where the rungs of the ancient ladder long ago had vanished, his first pause, the sudden tilt of his head, listening quick, sharp, his strong hand tightening over hers, hearing what be out there before she can, so when the light stabs through the loose weave of metal, he's already pulling her back, harsh and strong, back into the shadows, away from the lighting brightness of the strangers, a dark corner . . .

. . . sanctuary . . .

Smashing back so hard into the far wall, breaking line of sight, but it's his back that slams into the back wall, letting himself cushion her fall.

A breath.

Turn then, a smooth motion, as he shrugs off his battered coat, scavenged a lifetime back. He weighs it in his hand before kneeling at her side.

"Ssssshhhhhhh . . .

"Heart of the Lady, lassie," he whispered, so close, so quiet. "Here I'll stop them for ye . . . Don't want to kill 'em . . . But I will not let them hurt ye. Got to make them understand . . ."

A blink, a pause . . . change the rules. Don't fight them to win. Fight them to ask for help.

"Cause I can't live without ye, kitten."

Listen, he said, there's a danger here . . . sharp, rusted metal.

The image she saw in his mind didn't make sense in the context of the present reality. Broken starships?

Stay away! he snarled. Don't get close.

Well, now do ya take me for a fool, Kahallan, she thought. But his voice held desperation, verging on panic.

Promise me! A beat, and then another. Please.

Then another image erupted in her mind, the gaping maws of steel traps, sharp, rusty, lethal. Moira shuddered.

All right, Duffy. I promise. She rubbed her head along his shoulder.

Stopped. Shook her head. Fighting some primeval urge burbling up inside her.

(Mustn't fall in love with Kahallan. Tsk, tsk.)

Oh, Lady bless! Fighting myself as well as the alien. Just what I need now.

Tucking the feelings away, out of sight.

Kahallan's too dangerous for your tender heart anyway.

Ah, but it hurts to hide away the feelings. And Lady, how can I protect Kahallan if I don't love him?

(Dangerous, child . . .)

I know, Mother. But it matters not if yon alien kills us all.

Another shake of her head and Moira raise her head to look in Kahallan's eyes: polished wood, liquid, warm, compelling. She saw danger there, for Kahallan had his own demons. But there was something else . . . it drew her closer to the fire.

Now what? I'm not much of a strategist, but I can follow orders. A flash of an image crossed her mind: a woman, tall and noble, from another time and place, from a far-off distant land . . . Athena. No, that wasn't her name. It was . . . Lucara. Well, unless I see an opening for a better strike. Wolves don't grin with much humor, which suited Moira's mood perfectly.

Kahallan was leading them deeper and deeper into the forest of the Shadow World, away from the familiar-seeming trees that housed the spirits of her crewmates. Moira could still hear the sounds of the alien stalking them, but the clamor seemed to grow fainter as Kahallan pursued a path that was strewn with his personal demons. He called back over his shoulder, almost in answer to her unspoken question, They must have come from somewhere, and that's where we're going.

Moira growled in response. It made sense. It was unorthodox and crazy, but it made sense. Draw the alien away from the rest of the crew. Of course, that left the two of them alone as targets for the alien's rage. But it would give Lucara a chance to . . . to what? Moira hoped Kahallan knew what he was doing.

Flickering phantoms danced among the trees, just out of reach. She knew that these were Kahallan's devils. Something about them . . . something Moira felt she ought to understand, but didn't.

(Protect Kahallan.)

It was barely a breathy whisper in her mind, but the urgency of the command gave her pause. Protect him from what? From the demons? But they're staying well back from us, from him.

Red hair, blue eyes, blonde hair, bright green eyes. Not right, but does it matter? No. Somehow, even if it is wrong, at least, please, let it just be understood. But it's got to be said, or it will be lost, like rust streaming through your fingers, scattered on an iron wind, a whispered regret forever echoing between the steel bones of a broken starship.

"Love you, Kat."

And then the threadbare coat was thrown, quick and sure and precise, cutting across the searching lights like a fleeing spirit, a target. Because that was what should happen, caught in the light . . . you should run.

The wolf, however, let the decoy attract their attention as he silently, on the pads of his feet, dropped down one deck. Each movement was fast and subtle, for these shadows were his home, his life's blood, the racing of his heart in dark harmony with the Lady Jane's broken pulse, not running, that would be expected, but haunting his darkness, here then gone, strike then gone again . . .

Hunter and prey suddenly redefined . . .

As the wolf turned on the alien.

A blast of phaser fire shredded the tattered clothing as the wolf stole into the shadows with his precious jewel left trembling in the darkness

So smooth, so swift, to find his prey, gliding between the windless walls. He needed no light, for his mind's eye saw the way. He needed no sound, for his mind's ears heard their heartbeats. He knew where they were as one knew his partner in a dance. Their last dance.

So sweet the music, a Spanish cantata tinkling through the silk strings. Come dance with me.

The song of their souls was like a beacon for his lost claws.

A warm, soft little home. Their souls. For his little claws.

"There!" But it was too late, as one whirled to see his partner fall in anguish. He fired a shot, but panicked and missed.

The wolf didn't. Odd. Odd little man that he was. His eyes were so full of fear. Afraid of the wolf. Wrong. Something wrong. To kill. Heard it somewhere before. Something wrong about killing. Better to leave them crippled. Something wrong about killing.

Now was not the time. Heaven could wait when hell was at the door.

Suddenly then, like an icy blast of air from an open door in midwinter, realization dawned on her. She knew, oh, yes, she knew what those demons were . . .

Blessed Goddess! I'm to be protecting Kahallan from his past ?! From his memories?? Ya flatter me, O Great Mother, with your confidence in me.

Did he know what he was doing. The wolf was the only one who was going to be able to stop that alien following them, or so it seemed. What was going on in his mind?

Duffy . . . talk to me. He didn't hear her or was ignoring her. She increased her pace until they were shoulder-to-shoulder. Damn it, Kahallan, I need to know what's going on inside your head. Talk to me!

The demons stalked him as he crept through the trees . . . a dozen, perhaps more, perhaps less. It was hard to tell in the shadows. The moved closer and closer to him. Moira felt a rage burning in her heart. Knowing that her emotions acted as a beacon for the alien, the huge rumbling bear that followed them, she tried containing them.

He's coming, Duffy.

But Duffy couldn't hear her. He was listening to the demons.

Suddenly, radiantly, Moira's fury erupted. She growled, a frightening threatening sound, and leaped at the demon nearest Duffy. Her considerable weight landed square on its chest, and she could feel the bones crack and break . . . heart crushed, lungs punctured . . . she heard the last rush of air escape before unseeing eyes stared toward the tops of the trees. Such weak, pathetic things. Growling and angry, her only thoughts now were for Duffy . . .

(Protect Kahallan.)

She launched herself at another demon. Teeth tearing out a throat, shredding muscle and cartilage, severing artery and vein. Another. And another. Through the bloodlust, Moira knew that the demons could be manipulated by the alien; she'd seen firsthand what unresolved issues of the past had done to Emerald and Padraig. She was not going to let that happen to Duffy. No. Not to her Duffy.

A whispered thought . . . what's that, Duffy? Don't kill them? Oh, no! No, that's not the way it works. The Goddess commands me, the same Goddess who guided Boudicca against the Romans in prehistory. A rather bloodthirsty wench she was, that Boudicca. Of course, she had good reason to be. So do I. the Goddess commands me to protect you, and so I shall. But to cripple them? So they can heal, and return? So they can be used against you by him? Oh, no, Duffy. It just isn't going to work that way.

And then there was only one demon left. Moira stood between her and Duffy.

You're Kat, she said to the strangely beautiful, golden-haired, blue-eyed woman-child before her. I don't want to hurt ya, chind . . . but ya must go. Kat shook her head. Ya must, Moira insisted. It's too dangerous for Duffy if ya stay. Kat continued to refuse; Moira growled and moved closer.

The wolf's ears pricked to the sound of Ekaterina's scream. Three more upstairs. Simple creatures, really. Didn't understand. She was not to be touched. Rules are rules, and everyone knows the rules. They shouldn't be touching her. Simple creatures. Like lambs. Too innocent. They wouldn't have survived a day on the Lady Jane.

At least, not this day.


Coming, dear.

Moira sensed Kahallan behind her, moving slowly, softly toward Kat. From the corner of her eye, she saw another demon. Not another one! But this one was moving toward Kat, not Kahallan. A glance at Kahallan. No, he didn't want to let go of the demon. And in the distance, the alien crashed through the trees.

As the second demon moved to Kat's side, Moira gasped. Padraig?? Gently, lovingly, Padraig touched Kat's shoulder.


Almost there.

Padraig tilted his head to one side, and spoke softly to Kat. Ekaterina . . . little sister. He stretched out a hand to her. It's time for us both to go.


Kahallan moved closer and closer to Kat, although Moira managed to stay between them.


Her brother turned toward her and nodded. Yes, my dearest and best of sisters. It's time for me to go now. I understand now that I only stayed this long so that I could help Ekaterina.

You won't . . .

A promise is a promise. I won't let you go. I'll take care of you.

"Shame we didn't know."

"Should have told us."

"Tetanus, of all things."

"You should have told us, young man."

"Could have saved her."

"Poor little thing, to die like that."

"It's your fault, you know."

"Didn't need to die."

"Survived for five years and then died of tetanus. Hmph."

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"Didn't trust us, little brat."

"I heard he fought with the guards."

"He probably did it to her."

"No wonder he didn't say so."

"She trusted him so much."

"I know."

"Why didn't he tell us?"

"Like some kind of lone wolf. Thinks he's a survivor."

"Brat. Should have told us."

"Shows up just in time to tell us. Then he doesn't."

"If only we'd known."

"I know."

Put her in with the rest of the others."

"Poor little dear."

"What was her name?"

"Beats me. Ask the lone wolf."

There was laughter.

"Go for some coffee?"


"Should've told us. Little brat."

"I know."

"Here, you get her feet."

"Hey, keep ya bloody hands off, ya flashy lady! Just where'n ya want Kat and I to go now?"

The medical officer blinked, very patiently, very professionally.


"Kat. Ekaterina, her . . . She's me . . . she's me . . ."

Quick then, eyes narrowed, firm and resolute, thoughts racing at too high a warp, knowing that the wrong words would let them tear Kat away from him, Kat who had no one else to look out for her, Kat who kept him alive five years in the belling of the broken starship. And then, eyes, sharp, a flash, a hook, a way out . . .


"Kat's me sister."

The officer blinked again, quietly, with no response.

"Kat's me sister, and that's that."

Kat hung on tighter to Kahallan, eyes closed so tight.

"I don't care what ye can find.

"We're the only family we got . . ."

Puff the magic dragon
Lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist
In a land called Honalee . . .

Her rage was spent; Moira felt only grief now. First a whimper, then a howl tore from her throat. No, Padraig! I can't be losing ya again!

There was something very wrong about this. She just couldn't puzzle it out.

He was there beside her: one last hug, one last kiss on her forehead.

Remember me, and I'll never be gone, Moira. Take care of Mhari for me. And tell Emerald I'm sorry we didn't have more time to get to know one another. He turned to Duffy. Be well, Donovan Kahallan, and may the God and Goddess bless you. Don't worry . . . I'll take good care of Kat. She's my own little sister now, and I'll not let anyone harm her.

Emerald floated between two worlds, watching like a voyeur as Moira's wolf form stalked the shadows that were haunting Kahallan. She could feel her Imzadi's draw toward the security chief, a pull that seemed almost as irresistible as the one that brought Emerald and Moira together a scant three weeks ago.

Her body moved under the thin sheet covering her bruised and battered body as she tried to mimic the movements of wolf-Moira and cried out as Padraig appeared.

"No, Paddy, please . . ." she called out loud, her plea unheard by those in the Shadow World. "Noooo . . ." She tried to join Moira, but the Shadow World wasn't her domain. She had no existence there, only aware of it through the link with Moira.

The alien . . . they were distracting the alien . . . to give Lucara the chance to act. Was she? "Wormhole," muttered Emerald, barely loud enough for Hitachi and Johlann to hear. "Send them back . . ."

Padraig walked over to Kat, calm emerald eyes staring into frightened sapphire ones. Gently, gallantly, he took one trembling hand between his. And they were gone.

Some things came full circle, to end where they began. Some things were in the blood -- like music, from his dead father. It was part of an inheritance, something real that Kahallan could attach a faded memory to, and by doing so, hope that he wouldn't forget.

For a second -- surely it couldn't have been more time than that -- she and Duffy stood preternaturally still, absorbing the fact that precious lives had once again been torn from them.

But . . . something is wrong, Moira thought. Something is very wrong about this.

A second of complete and unreal silence, stretching into the farthest reaches of the Shadow World, was broken abruptly by the anguished howls of two wolves in pain.

The alien, bored now with their games, had lumbered off to seek the more succulent prey of the USS Eclipse and her crew. Despite her pain, despite the searing agony of Duffy's pain, Moira knew she had but a moment to warn her captain. How could she bear this pain?

Yellow lights, flashing and hard, colored bars lining the crowded corridor, where there were too many tall folk running this way and that, the yellow bands casting sharp shadows against the polymer walls. Broken words tore out of the starship's address system, some curt and strong, but most were panicked, and all were unintelligible, a cacophony just below the level of hearing, drowned out by the noise of five thousand terrified colonists. Quickly, too quickly, the lights changed, suddenly crimson, like blood, and all was red, but only for an instant, like the darkest night illuminated by a flash of lightning.

I am here for you.

No longer in the Shadow World, no longer held quite so tightly by memories. and yet, for a young woman from County Tipperary in Ireland, at least, and perhaps for a young lad once of the neighboring Great Isle but raised in the rusted girders of a witch called Lady Jane Grey, they were not quite returned to the world of mortals . . .

Half a step and she was caught. Having expected a fall, or at least a stumble, here where the Eclipse's corridor bands still flashed a warning amber (the color of finest saffron or a little girl's hair), Kahallan's firm and sure support made sure the chief engineer didn't tumble to the hard steel flooring of the deck.

But then there was the second stumble. This one was so unexpected that Kahallan's legs began to collapse -- not expecting, not knowing, just how far Moira would fall.

One heartbeat. Sometimes a single heartbeat can last forever and ever.

Little Jackie Paper
Loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax
And other fancy stuff . . .

A stumble and then caught, off-balance, his muscles were suddenly tense, and the strain could be seen, echoed in sharply creased lines. Kahallan slammed into the side of the corridor, taking the hard blow to his shoulder and arm, cushioning O'Shaughnessy against him. Not letting anything hurt her.

Eyes closed tightly shut, awkwardly, obviously more than uncomfortable. Only slowly did they open . . . dark brown . . .

Empty . . .

Like a well that held nothing but shadows.

Together they would travel
On a boat will billowed sails
Jackie kept a lookout
Perched on Puff's gigantic tail

"Da . . ." It was a half-breathed stutter. "Danalla . . ."

Flat tones. Even. Quiet. Soft. Just as softly, Kahallan set Moira down, leaning her oh-so-carefully against the wall and floor of the corridor. Then, it was a slow nod of his head to his chief petty officer.

"Look . . .

"Look after her . . ."

Broken words, just barely above a whisper.

In a jerky motion, Kahallan stood. He didn't seem to notice his jacket was askew, like a ragged old winter coat, one shoulder dragging down as he used the cold, cold wall like a slow, bulky crutch. Reaching up, he clumsily laid his fingers on his communications badge.

"Mister Jungk . . .

"You have the watch."

Noble kings and princes
Would bow whene'er they came
Pirate ships would lower their flags
When Puff roared out his name . . .

Long, gaunt fingers closed . . . a soft tug . . . as dull brown eyes half-closed. A lean, one-armed brace against the wall with palm flat, squeaking as it slipped just the littlest bit. Reaching down, taking Moira's hand, he folded her fingers over the bit of sculpted metal and high-tech electronics: a finely-crafted arrowhead on a simple disc.

His comm badge.

A dragon lives forever
But not so little boys
Painted winds and giant rings
Make way for other toys . . .

The room was dark, made even darker by the door closing . . . the last bit of corridor light a flashing yellow band swiftly, automatically shrinking to a narrow line . . . and then gone.

Still and quiet was the three-room suite.

Still and quiet.

And empty.

He leaned back against the door, eyes so tightly closed, trying so hard not to believe in the silence, not to trust the dead emptiness. And when his eyes opened, all alone, there was nothing but shadows. What little light there was snuck in like a lost little kitten from the crack in a bedroom door, a small light, the softest glow, a child's nightlight.

The nightlight . . . to keep fell nightmare beasties away, to keep a youngling's precious sleep safe and warm while big brother was at work. One halting step, so quiet, past the table made from scraps from Engineering: an old console for a glass patterned top, a small failed shuttle warp core, never refinished, a scavenger's eclectic piece.

Because starships can only be trusted to fail.

His school books were scattered where he'd left them. Academy mathematics, basic physics, a second-year computer theory . . . right next to the box of crayons, a pad of soft white paper, a picture book of pretty planets and all sorts of furry critters with large soft eyes.

A second step, and then a third; he paused at the half-open door, looking in at the undisturbed bed, the small one, the one covered like a chaotic ark of cloth animals, stuffed with only fluff.

Then there was the panic. Not believing, needing something desperately at the edge of the bed, the only illumination from the gentle lamplight . . . needing something real, something he could touch and feel and hold.

The silly little Pegasus for her birthday at Starbase 12. No. Look again. the turtle, a garish orange . . . that was the Paine, a first report card. No. Too many bears, brown ones and gray ones and blue and all the rainbow colors that false fur can come in. the first day on the Anne Bonney, the first day on the Mary Read, the first day on the Hawking. The long-toothed sehlat with the crossed eyes, because the Eclipse was Captin Luky's brand new starship.

There. At her pillow: small, yellow, worn, and stained -- not from lack of care, but from age and patience -- a little triceratops with close black-bead eyes now almost white, faded from the unforgiving starlight. Another survivor of the Conestoga class colonial transport NCC-13013 USS Lady Jane Grey. A little fey dinosaur.


One gray night it happened
Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon
He ceased his fearless roar . . .

In a corner of the room, sitting on the floor, his knees drawn up almost close . . . in his lap was polished wood, the sound box gently curved and inlaid. The fretted neck was darkest black with polished shell fittings and fine metal strings.

Held close, like one might hold a sister's memory.

The little triceratops was snuggled close, too, muffled gently against the back of his father's guitar.

Leaning over the fine instrument, his fingers picked out the simple child's tune. Arrayed about him were all the other little stuffed animals, a silent audience, so very attentive.

His voice cracked every now and then. The Cockney brogue was soft and quiet and hurt.

It was her favorite song, it was.

Ekaterina dearly loved Puff.

His head was bent in sorrow
Green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play
Along the cherry lane

Silent . . . the guitar was set to one side. His audience's ovation was lost in the dark.

His knees were drawn up, so close. He hugged the little triceratops so close, with both strong arms. It was the only thing he had of hers.

At least . . .

At least, this time he remembered to tell her that he loved her.

Without his lifelong friend
Puff could not be brave
So Puff that mighty dragon
Sadly slipped into his cave . . .

But he still couldn't figure out how to say goodbye.

The truth was a little bit simpler . . . a little bit harder . . . a little bit darker. You take off your communications badge when you don't want to be found.

But then, a chief of engineering shared perhaps one trait with a chief of security: Both, if they were confronted with a closed door, if they really wanted to, if they really needed to, both would be able to open the door.

Kahallan did know that. Trusted that. Wouldn't know how to answer, even if he could.

In the sanctuary of his rooms, Duffy finally found a moment's peace from the demons that had haunted his soul. It was quiet in the room with the stars moving by. The ship must be at half-impulse or so. Hard to think. Hard to focus. So quiet, with only the deaf stars to listen to him. Only the emptiness of space to comfort his soul.

Kat. It was not . . . linear.

Moira had opened her eyes to see Kristine Danalla looking at her with something that went well beyond worry. Crouched beside her as Kahallan had been minutes and eons ago on the holodeck, she was disoriented, confused, in so much emotion pain that no language could describe it, and the entirely of all languages could not hold it.


"Sir, I'll take you to Sickbay if you'd like." The chief petty officer's words were soft and kind, something Moira wasn't sure she'd ever noted from Danalla before . . . the kindness, that was. But Moira wasn't really sure of much at the moment.


"You look like you're in a lot of pain, sir."

Finally, Moira blinked. "Danalla," she managed to whisper, "if 'twill be so obvious to ya, I don't think Sickbay can do aught but knock me unconscious." And don't I have something I need to do? Lady, I hurt!

"I meant your back, sir," Danalla said with just the right touch of humor to get through to the other Irish woman.

"Oh." Moira considered that for a moment, then made the mistake of shaking her head. "Nay, but if ya'll be helping me to my feet . . ." WHy did she have a comm badge in her hand? She could feel her own weighing her chest down . . . Oh! "Aye, just help me to my feet, and I'll be returning Kahallan's trinket to him."

"The chief told me to look after you," Danalla said as she helped the engineer to her feet. "If you don't mind me saying so, sir, you don't look so good."

"Don't mind, Danalla, for I'll not be feeling so good." Moira managed a deep breath with less physical pain than she'd expected. "Officers' work will not ever be done, and I've . . ." She just sighed in that world-weary way of Irish folk. Talking was too hard right now.

"Yes, sir. May I at least escort you to your destination?"

Moira turned to look at Danalla, who'd spoken with such sincerity that she wasn't really sure what to make of the woman. She blinked, but remembered just in time to not shake her head.

"No, but I'll thank ya for the offer, and I'll dismiss ya to more important duties than watching an engineer stumble to her quarters. They be here somewhere." She paused to close her eyes. "Near holodeck four." Not that she was going there, but her quarters were definitely on deck eleven, and they definitely were tucked away near one of the holodecks.

"Yes, sir. Well, you're heading in the right direction then."

The lieutenant commander held up the bulkhead until she was sure Danalla was gone, then opened her eyes and started walking. Well, staggering, really.

She wasn't really sure how she managed to get to Kahallan's quarters . . . following a trail of broken tears was what it felt like.

The backlash of emotional pain caused her to sag against the doorway to those questers when she pressed the pad beside the door.

I don't know why I'll have thought ya would answer the door, Kahallan.

She stared at the comm badge in her hand.

Sure now, ya won't be wanting any to be bothering ya . . . Save for me, 'twould seem.

She threw the comm badge as far down the corridor as she could; given her present completely drained condition, it wasn't far. And it certainly wasn't going to fool anyone.

A starship is run by its computer. But sometimes emergencies arise . . . computers break down, power goes out . . . there have to be manual overrides, of course. What if someone were trapped in their quarters? What if someone wouldn't answer the door, and the person trying to get in had had her command codes canceled? Of course, not everyone on the ship knew where the panel was beside each door what would activate the manual overrides. Of course, not everyone would even know how to enable the manual overrides. The chief engineer, of course, would know. And the chief of security would know that the chief engineer would know. Moira opened the panel and keyed the appropriate codes.

The door to Kahallan's suite opened, just a bit, but it was enough for Moira to get her fingers around the door and pull it open . . . just enough for her to squeeze through. It hurt, but she managed it. Then she pushed the door closed as much as possible. That hurt, too.

Darkness. That didn't surprise Moira, though yesterday it might have. A soft, faint light spilled out of the bedroom doorway. He was in there, she knew that. Slowly, careful not to bump into any furniture, she made her way to the door. A wave of anguish, so like nausea, rolled over her as she stared at the shrine Kahallan had created to Kat.

Oh, Duffy . . . believe me, I do understand.

Huddled in the corner -- and how long had she sat like that after Padraig had died? She might still be there today if it hadn't been for their grandmother . . . Grandmother singing . . .

She and Padraig had had a favorite song, and oh, how they'd loved it! But oh, how it made them cry, though. The end was just so sad. And so their mother had changed the words . . . just a little. And Moira could hear the echoes of that song in this room.

The only motion in the room was the doppler passage of the stars, a blur of blue to red across the long arc of the starship windows. There was no reaction to Moira's forced entrance to the suite.

That, in itself, screamed louder than the Eclipse's powerful drives. A hurt animal whose sanctuary was invaded should strike out, harsh and sudden and vicious. What was left of the security chief was that desperate, that torn, that broken. Moira's presence could not be ignored by shattered inaction.

Instead, her presence was accepted.

And trusted.

She crossed to the corner of the room, knelt down beside him. Whispering, one hand stroking soft brown hair, the other resting lightly on a knee. "Ah, I'll be so sorry, Duffy . . . so sorry."

The words came from the heart, they were the right words, but something still felt off . . . wrong.

He froze, suddenly stiff, like a steel spring just about to break. All knotted up and taut, confused at the softest touch, unaccustomed to anything gentle. A sharp intake of breath, immediate and held, brown eyes closed tightly. Not knowing how to respond to a real hand slipping through his ragged mane of hair, or a light touch on his drawn-up knees. His sudden motion disturbed the delicate balance of the beautiful guitar and, with an awkward noise, it slid along the wall to finally bounce once on the floor.

One long, forever heartbeat . . .

"I've a gift for ya . . . 'tis a hard give to give, and a hard gift to receive. But just listen . . . okay, Duffy?"

Her soft, rich, lilting voice sang softly in the darkness.

Puff, the magic dragon
lived by the sea
and frolicked in the autumn mist
in a land called Honalee

Little Jackie Paper
loved that rascal Puff
and brought him strings and sealing wax
and other fancy stuff

Together they would travel
on a boat will billowed sails
Jackie kept a lookout
perched on Puff’s gigantic tail

Noble kings and princes
would bow whene’re they came
pirate ships would lower their flags
when Puff roared out his name

A dragon lives forever
but childhood ends too soon
painted wings and giant’s rings
are left in other rooms

One gray night it happened
Jackie Paper came no more
and Puff that mighty dragon
he ceased his fearless roar

His head was bent in sorrow
green scale fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play
along the cherry lane

Without his lifelong friend
Puff could not be brave
so Puff that mighty dragon
sadly slipped into his cave

But Puff the magic dragon
lives in you and me
and frolics in the autumn mist
in that land called Honalee

Aye, Puff the magic dragon
lives in you and me
and frolics in the autumn mist
in a land called Honalee

Moira wasn't sure if Duffy heard her.

* * *

With a halting exhalation, slowly, so slowly, the wolf relaxed, step by step, his breath matching the soft rhythm of something shared: a simple children's song.

". . . 'an . . ."

Hardly sung, more spoken really, his rough words lacked Moira's Gaelic-laced richness.

". . . 'an frolik'd in tha hautumn mists . . . in tha lind killed 'Oni'lee . . ." Just above a whisper.

Slowly, then, his head leaned back, eyes still closed, arms still wrapped around a silly yellow triceratops.

"I talk to her, ye know," he said softly, his Cockney accent thick, as indecipherable as Moira's own to ears that were as attuned to such things. "I have to. Five years, that be what they said, five years on the Lady, and Kat's small, like a kitten and she couldn't find her way out of a straight corridor unless the way be printed on her button nose, and even if the sheriffs be louder than a fan with stripped gears, she wouldn't notice. That's my job, though, looking out for Kat . . .

"But see me books? Ye can tell, I'm not good at thinking . . .

"I would not be here without Kat. Because she was the smart one . . ."

Then he stopped.

" . . . oh gods . . ."


"She's really gone, isn't she?"

"She'll not be gone so far, Duffy . . . 'tis what Paddy will have said when they be leaving. Remembering . . . 'tis what we'll need to do. Not like ya will have been doing here, Duffy, but just . . . remember Kat. And love her. She'll forever be in your heart just as my brother will forever be in mind. But ya . . . ya will need to let go, Duffy . . .

"I will need to let go . . ."

But that was wrong, wasn't it?

"They'll not be here with us . . ."

Oh, how she hurt! How could she bear her own pain of losing Padraig for the second time, and his pain, too?

Hesitantly, arms wrapped lightly, lovingly, her tear-stained cheek resting on soft hair . . . just holding . . . just caring. No demands. No expectations.

"Ya can go ahead and cry, Duffy, m'love. If ya need to. I'll not tell a living soul."

Silent tears and the soft singing of . . . lullabies. She sang every lullaby she knew. She sang in English. She sang in Irish. She knew a lot of them, for Mam had always sung to the littles, and Moira had sung to Paddy when she learned the words and Sean was especially cruel.

(Don't let go. Protect Kahallan.)

Aye, but who was going to protect her?

He leaned forward then, unconsciously matching Moira's hesitant embrace. A natural fit, his head on her shoulder, his balance subtly shifting. A lullaby passed and, so tentatively, his arms reached out to wrap lightly around her slender frame. One hand still held the little stuffed toy, and Moira could feel it press against her back.

He didn't speak a word.

She didn't know when he started, she just knew that she could feel the dampness of his cheek against the curve of her neck, soaking into her tunic collar. Quiet and silent tears.

Right about the same moment, Moira realized it wasn't just her holding him. Like a corbelled arch, he'd reached out, balanced, and now he held her, too . . . to share her hurt, naive, honest, and true.

So she wouldn't have to do it all alone.

Two broken and battered souls seeking comfort in the storm of their emotions. Silent tears . . . the beginning step to healing.

"Scans completed, Lieutenant." Doctor Sadler's face was careworn, but had a concerned look to it. "There are a few broken bones, which I'll have one of the techs re-fuse, and your wounds should be easy to close. But you received quite a mauling in your abdominal and pelvic regions. There's some uterine bleeding. Looks like you lost about a pint there, and some is spilling over into your abdominal cavity. We've given you some numbing medication to take the pain away, but I'm worried about peritonitis setting in. That's an inflammation or infection of your abdominal wall, and it can be quite dangerous. Most likely, it's a reaction to the blood spilling over, but I want to be sure, and the only way to be sure is to do an exploratory surgery. Your broken ribs have inflamed the lining around your lungs, but we don't see any bleeding there. I've got OR two ready, and we'll be moving you there shortly. The surgery has risks of infection and bleeding, although they are minor and usually treatable. You're in good physical health, so I don't expect any complications at this time."

Emerald could tell that the doctor was quite earnest and had every intention of taking her off to the OR, even if it involved some convincing. But she seemed confident things would go well. She opened her eyes to see the doctor, Hitachi, and the Cardassian . . . Bajoran? . . . security officer standing around her, all with concerned expressions.

"As soon as possible, Doctor, please. We need . . . I need to be back on my feet."

Hitachi gave Emerald a tired, sad smile.

"No, Lieutenant, you need to rest and recuperate. You are not to leave this Sickbay until the doctor releases you. That's an order. I'll check on Moira for you. Now rest." She started to reach to pat her hand again, then remembered her pulling back so strongly before. Perhaps she didn't like to be touched. He could certainly understand that!

"Akira, what's our status?" Emerald's voice was soft, quivering. "Moira and Du-- Donovan are suffering from the creature's attacks. Has Lucara started the strike? We're running out of time. They can't distract it much longer."

Hitachi, with shoulders straightened and back stiff, had turned to leave Sickbay. but he stopped for a second, although he didn't turn around again. "Status? I don't really know, Emerald. I was brought here to Sickbay due to a reaction to the entity as well. I'll call you from the bridge. Don't worry, I plan on helping get those things out of here so they can't hurt you ever again . . . ever!" There was a vehemence in his voice that betrayed his anger over the whole situation. Then he walked out the door, heading for the bridge.

"Hitachi to O'Shaughnessy. I wanted to inform you that Emerald just woke in Sickbay and seems to be out of danger."

The words were faint and far away. Aye, I know that, Akira. Of course, ya don't know that I'll be knowing . . . so, thank ya for your kindness.

Moira didn't respond to Hitachi. Duffy needed her arms around him, and her soft crooning . . .

Still, she was baffled. For twenty-nine years, she'd met no one she cared so deeply for . . . and in the space of three weeks, she found herself in love with two people.

Blessed Goddess, I'm just going to have to trust ya that ya know what ya be doing to me.

"Yah, she be gone. They both be gone . . ."

When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now those days are gone, I'm not so self-assured
Now I've found I've changed my mind, and opened up new doors

It was quiet then in the safe comforting darkness; a long time in the shadows until his ragged, broken breath became gentle, slow, and soft. As Kahallan's breathing became even, his embrace became stronger, wrapping protectively and warmly around Moira.

Slowly he leaned back, resting his head against the corner of the wall. Slowly realizing his arms were still wrapped around Moira. A pause and a blink. And then, a slow nod, and if she let him, Kahallan would draw her a little closer, unaccustomed, awkward, but at least a bit more comfortable. And, if she would let them, his arms would remain looped gently around her neck.

As Kahallan shifted his position, leaning more comfortably against the wall, Moira moved with him, easily, gracefully. He seemed so unsure, so hesitant. But Moira wasn't hesitant; she already knew that he'd claimed a place in her hear. Why and how didn't matter. What was done, was done.

"She . . ." Quiet words, barely above a whisper.

"Ekaterina Crystal Lermentov . . ."

His eyes were closed. The name breathed like a melody, like the breath of sun over an old Russian winter. The tears were suddenly unstoppable, the ragged breath was back; it was something he never ever told anybody before. A swallow, a shake of his head, before he could continue . . . trusting Moira with his most precious secret.

The truth.

". . . Ekaterina, Kat, Kitten . . .

". . . and she wasn't even my sister, in the end. But that don't matter, aye?" His voice was thick with emotion, and think with the cadence of English that was spoken back on Earth, in East-End London.

"Have ye ever heard a starship die, lass, gutted like a fish, crippled and maimed? I must have been maybe twelve, thirteen, I don't know, I really don't. The counselor on the Rachel had charts and tables, but they were just names and numbers, that be all. It was just a maze of broken girders and dark corridors, and things kind of got real bade, in the few areas where there was enough life support for a few hundred or so folks to live.

"In the Academy, they laughed at me, because in the Academy they tell ye that on one survives a catastrophic systems failure. It be over in a few seconds.

"It took the Lady Jane five years to die . . .

"I ran into Kat at the bottom of a dead turbolift shaft. All alone, running from the sheriffs of the engineering county, where they made ye work like a dancing wave for a bit of food traded from the hydroponic county or fuel from the stores castle. Kat just ran, and I be there, and everything I know said let her go, don't show yourself, it was not ye business. Duffy comes first, or the Lady will kill ye, send ye flying with not a second thought.

"But that didn't feel right. Still don't, never does. Kat says I be stupid like that, but she always smiled so bright when she did.

"And so I saved her. Kat said instinct. Kat always said I was bad on smart but good on instinct, but that be fine because were were . . .


"Oh . . ."

And then he paused, biting his lip, his brown eyes suddenly unsure, and then resolved again. It was almost funny, to be brave about a simple familiarity . . .

"Oh, Moira . . ." the first time he'd spoken her given name.

"Oh, Moira, she could not have been more than seven, but without her I would not be here today. Five years, bright blue eyes, hair like the dust from the stars, and we were all we had. The Lady never let ones survive very long, but two, Kat and Duffy, well, when I got sick a couple times, and she'd make sure I'd get water and food, and she'd make up stories in her head for me when I was feverish, and only when I was well did I ever realize how much danger she put herself in to make sure I got better. I always made her promise never to do that again, but when she said she was sorry, I couldn't get mad at her. Button nose, pretty smile, and it didn't matter if there was no blood, I was her Duffy and she was me li'l sister Kat . . .

"'Cept when she was feeling fancy. then she was Dear Sister Ekaterina.

"And she was smart. Goddess Jane, she was smart. Always looked at things from a Kat's point of view, which was never the same twice. She taught me when to break the rules and when to use them and when to know the difference. Kept me looking forward, and how not to ever, ever give up. Never give up for her.

"She taught me there be a difference between surviving and living.

"She loved Puff; I must have sang it to her every night for five years . . .

"It was the last thing I ever said to her, because she didn't wake up, the doctors wanted me to see her, and she was sleeping, that's all, so I sang to her, cause then come morning she'd be awake and . . .

". . . we'd . . .

". . . be . . .

". . . together . . .

". . . again . . ."

Soft words, barely a whisper.

"I don't think she ever woke up again, Moira . . ."

A catch, a pause, a held breath; brown eyes so deep and soft, remembering.

"You're the first person I ever told this to. But maybe, just maybe, cause I've told ye, now one more person knows Kat. I think that's important.

"Especially 'cause it be thee . . .

"Kind of like living forever, I guess."

A deep breath then.

"I think she would have like you. And I'd think she'd like it an awful lot of ye called me Duffy. I know I wouldn't mind."

Such a simple thing . . . yet, for some reason, it meant quite a bit to the lone dark wolf's heart. Something special, something not shared with just anybody. He leaned forward then, until their foreheads gently touched. So close, his gazed locked with hers.

"If it's not to forward to ask . . . if ye would, if it would help . . . I would hear who this Padraig be . . .

"For I would help remember him for ye."

A gift returned, and a little more.

Through it all, with her head resting on his shoulder and one hand on his chest over his heart, Moira listened with wonder as he related his tale to her, as he immortalized his beloved Kat. It wasn't so much the words that captivated her -- although they were filled with tenderness and move -- but more the rare talent that made Moira O'Shaughnessy one of the best holoprogrammers in Starfleet . . . or outside, to be perfectly honest. Behind her closed eyes, she could see the corridors of the Lady Jane, see Kat's bright blue eyes. She was beautiful, so much more beautiful than her spirit in the Shadow World; but, of course, what Moira saw were Duffy's memories of Kat. Her fingers twitched almost imperceptibly as they danced across an invisible programming board. But no . . . No, this was one vision that did not need to be recreated. Seen once, it was more than enough for one lifetime.

A tale was told, a healing had begun, a gift was presented . . . a gift of a name not easily given, so she treasured it all the more.

"Ah, Duffy . . ." It was a mere whisper as her hands found his, her strong fingers wrapping around his. There was so much to say, but now they would have the time to say it.

"'Tis so, 'tis like living forever. And now I'll be knowing Kat, too."

She lifted her head so she could look into his eyes as she told him about her brother.

"Padraig . . . my twin brother." Oh, so many things to say about her beloved friend and confidant! "He made me laugh when no one else could. He was so smart, he scared some people . . . only it made Fa so angry, ya know." She swallowed back tears and the terrible memories the alien had dredged up. "I tried to protect him.

"Hair red as mine, eyes just as green, oh, and how he could dance and sing! He loved people, he did. Was a year behind me in the Academy, which was a vexation, but in his last year, I was teaching, so that was fine.

"We wanted to be posted on the same ship, but Starfleet had other plans, of course. He'd gotten married then in his last year. Gloria Whitehorse, such a joy to him and all our family, and hers too. They were posted together on the Venture, while I was out at Starbase One. He teased me terribly about all the adventures he was having, but Gloria assured me nothing was as interesting as the stories Paddy was making up.

"They've a daughter, Mhari. She's a wee elfin thing, that's the truth. Hair as dark as Gloria's, eyes as green as Paddy's. They were visiting the family . . ."

Moira closed her eyes then, though tears still streaked down her cheeks.

"He and Gloria were off on some excursion, or . . . or some errand on the public transport from Cork. I think it was heading up to Dublin.

"There was an accident. No one survived.

"The alien tried to lie to him, tell him that the accident was his fault, that Mhari was dead, too, but it was a lie. It wasn't his fault, it was just . . . just bad luck and bad weather and a hover that was probably too old to be out in such bad weather."

She ducked her head to wipe her tears on her uniform.

"Lady, I was so broken for so long, Duffy. Couldn't work. Couldn't do much of anything but sit on the holodeck and cry. Sure, and wasn't I forgetting to eat? Everyone in the hololabs was worried. They probably would have sent me home if I'd gone on much longer."

She was quiet then for seconds, perhaps minutes, bottom lip caught between her teeth. How to explain? The Wiccan way . . . or the Starfleet way?

"Ya know how the Vulcans have their katras, the . . . souls, I guess, of people who've gone and died? So, one day, I'm sitting in the holodeck feeling so sorry for myself ya'd think I was a Dubliner on a bender. Then I'm hearing Paddy telling me what a mess I am, and that I ought to stop moping about and get bad to work.

"Guess his katra went ricocheting around for a while before landing in my head. So. There's he's been, the great pest, inside my skull for the past year, nearly."

She met his gaze again, smiled shakily.

"Haven't yet told anyone else but Emerald about him."

The smile faded.

"But now he's gone again. I . . . I feel like there's be a great, gaping hole in my soul, and I don't know that it'll ever be whole again."

She took a deep, deep breath.

"They'll both be where they ought to be now, I think . . . and watching out for each other, I don't doubt."

She straightened up, looking almost like an ancient Celtic warrior-queen come to life. "We'll not forget them, Duffy. We'll take an oath on that, will we not?"

Kahallan listened, intently, earnestly, as serious as a child and as penetrating as a dark wild beast. He spoke nary a word, and more than listened. Sharp senses took in all of her, as if there was no one else in the world -- just Moira, her gentle touch, the music of her words, the scent of her hair, the taste of her warm breath as they sat so very close. Duffy’s dark eyes never left hers, trusting, not worrying if he somehow got lost in pools of the brightest emerald. Until, finally, in the end, he gave her the smallest nod, just the slightest, almost imperceptible motion.

"For thee . . ." A pause, a second gift never lightly offered.

". . . a promise . . .

". . . forever and ever."

And then, at last, two very simple words.

"Thank ye."

Moira's hand slid from his cheek to rest under his chin. Leaning forward, her soft lips touched his.

Caught in the kiss, snaring his breath, eyes wide for the shortest moment, surprised, never been cared for before . . .

Then, in less than a heartbeat, Moira's embrace is answered, returned sevenfold; Duffy's fingers light along the curve of her neck, lost in soft, crimson hair, his kiss warm and caring and strong . . .

Sometimes, just one heartbeat does last forever.

* * *

Malik listened carefully as Lieutenant Drake shouted and struggled. Hitting his comm badge, he said quietly, "Commander Kahallan, sir. The lieutenant has regained consciousness and, although rambling, she insists the ship is in danger and is asking for the captain. I thought you should know, sir. Do you wish me to take any action?"

While he waited for Kahallan to respond -- not knowing, of course, the the commander's comm badge was several meters down the corridor outside Kahallan's quarters -- Malik observed the XO and medic having problems, but he stayed with Drake. He was most surprised when he heard the captain's voice. Nervous, he nevertheless responded.

"Uh, Captain, sir, Ensign Johlann, Sickbay, assigned to protect Lieutenant Drake. The lieutenant is now conscious, sir, although severely injured. She is not able to say much but is insistent that she should warn you, sir. I was attempting to contact Commander Kahallan to inform him and obtain any further instructions."

"I see." The captain's controlled voice hung in the air momentarily before continuing. "Warn me what, precisely, Ensign? Explain."

"I don't have any further details at this time, sir," Malik responded. "She was insisting on talking to you herself. She was very emphatic. I wasn't sure whether to report it, but it seemed prudent to refer it upward, sir. I hadn't anticipated quite this far, though." There was a trace of humor in his voice. "Commander Hitachi is present in Sickbay. Should I refer the matter to him? Is there anything else you require me to do, sir?"

"Very well, Ensign," said the captain. "Remain in Sickbay and use a tricorder to record anything further that Lieutenant Drake may say. I would also appreciate it if you could keep me apprised of Commander Hitachi's condition. No one has reported to me officially, but I have received one extremely emotional report from the commander requesting me to change some critical coding for the ship. I am concerned as to his state of health and mind. Will you kindly see what you can ascertain?"

The last was rather politely phrased, hardly a snapped order.

"Yes, sir. I'll be in touch shortly. Johlann out." He remembered to breathe normally at this point, and was annoyed to find himself playing with the earring again. His attention refocused on the lieutenant and, concerned, he looked to see if she was improving, remembering to set the tricorder ready to record. Once he established that everything was normal, he looked around for the XO.

Hitachi swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up, feeling a wave of dizziness assail him for a moment, an after effect of the test, he assume. He slapped his comm badge.

"Hitatchi here, Captain. I felt an alien presence alongside my mind as the doctor gave me the test, and it was searching for the prefix codes. I am ashamed to say that it achieved its objective. It has the codes. Have any attempts been made to access these?"

He stood and tugged his uniform down, then stepped over carefully to where Emerald lay. His gentle brown eyes hardened at the sight of the injury and insult done to her. He began to reach out to give her a comforting pat, but pulled his hand back before reaching her shoulder.

Malik came to attention as Commander Hitachi approached. He'd heard the commander speaking to the captain, and considered that there was now no need for him to report . . . unless the lieutenant provided any further information.

"Lieutenant," Hitachi said, his voice quiet and soft, "I swear that this will not go unavenged if the opportunity presents itself." His expression showed the pain he felt at her predicament.

"Mister Hitachi, the situation is under control," Lucara responded. "There have been no attempts to access the ship's prefix codes, but I have changed them according to your instructions. Are you feeling any effects from the experience? Any odd or untoward emotional attitudes or . . . feelings?"

"Nothing beyond shame at my failure, sir. I will speak with you about it on the bridge, in private if we could, sir."

"Very well then, XO. Come to the bridge directly after you are released from the sickbay. I need your counsel. Lucara out."

Emerald felt Moira's pain, and something else. A hole had opened in Moira's soul like the one that opened when Emerald went away for those few minutes. Emerald tried to fill it, but it was the wrong shape. Moira had another need, one that was as strong or stronger than her bond to Emerald.

The science officer stirred on the bio-bed as she fought the awful pain of loneliness. If it had been within her ability, she'd have transported herself to Moira's side. She loved Moira, deeper and more completely than anyone ever before . . . such was the nature of the Betazoid Imzadi bond.

But Moira was human, and there was something strong between the spirits of Moira and Donovan . . . something ancient and powerful. Emerald listened to her, supported her, loved her more than ever. It seemed as though this was a time of loss. Kahallan had lost his ghost, Moira had lost hers . . . and in the losing, perhaps they would find something else.

Emerald grew still on the bed, patient, watching the exchange between her lover and the security chief.

* * *

The door, still slightly ajar, filled its shaft of light with a figure that poked its head in.

"Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Guess not. Is this the right address?" came a painfully cheerful voice from the doorway.

"This is it, doc. Better get a move on in there, I've got two life signs cowering in the corner."

"Cowering? How can you tell? They could be . . . um, indisposed."

Someone shoved the doctor in through the doorway, and he landed with a clatter on the floor.

"No worker's comp in the twenty-fourth century, you know," he quipped.

"Huh? came the clever reply.

"Nothing." The doctor dusted himself off and took a look around with his tricorder. Not an unusual habit in the twenty-fourth century, although he could turn on the lights.

"Isn't there something written about not pushing around people with this little round thingies on their collar, Petty Office Benson?

"That was repealed last week. Didn't you get the memo?" Benson slipped through the doorway with a grunt. Too many Twinkies. Found the recipe in the replicators.

"Ah, here we are." A slim figure approached somewhat stealthily to the corner with his hands out like he was trying to ward off some wild animal. "Take it easy, kids, I won't tell momma if you don't."

"Screw this," muttered Benson. "Lights!"

The lights popped on as the doctor rolled his eyes at wizened Benson's lack of appreciate for his bedside manners.


"Just trying to help," Benson said, innocent as sin. "You want to bump around in the dark and break your blood neck, be my gue00"

"Cut it out, Benson. These people need tenderness and compassion . . . NOT A WISE-ASS ENLISTED MAN WHO LIED ABOUT HIS AGE TO AVOID RETIREMENT!

There was nothing sweeter than a first kiss. And, quite possibly, there was nothing more annoying than having that first sweet kiss interrupted.

Moira heard the bumbling intruders enter the outer room of Duffy's quarters. In the dim light of the bedroom, she looked at him, a wicked smile played across her lips. "Ya know, Duffy," she whispered. "I don't like folks just busting in on me. So perhaps I will have left the door a bit ajar . . . 'tis no excuse for bad manners."

His eyes narrowed and his breath was let out in a soft, soft growl.

She stood as the noises from the outer room became louder, holding out her hand to Duffy. "Come, my gallant Kahallan . . . we'll be meeting this affront with dignity, or we'll not be meeting it at all." In the relative darkness, he could see that she was smiling and that, for the first time in several days, her smile had reached her eyes.

Moira's offer was taken, his hand wrapping with hers, but for a different reasons. Kahallan didn't need her help to rise, as he gracefully uncoiled from the corner, like a predator suddenly scenting prey. Holding Moira's hand was something he'd just like to get used to.

Dark eyes watched the tumble in the outer room, cutting through the darkness.

"I'm afraid dignity is not one of me strong suits . . ."

It was her smile, reflecting bright in her eyes, that brought the return of the wolfish grin. Never hunted in twos before.

As Moira turned toward the door, however, her smile vanished; her arms were crossed and she had taken a defensive position between Kahallan and the door. Unnecessary, she knew, but it amused her nonetheless. As the lights came on i n response to the intruder's demand, Moira had to fight to keep from laughing as she recalled an old, old vid show Mam liked to watch . . . Laurel and Hardy, it was. Ah, but she succeeded in not smiling, for she had practice staring down the antics of her many siblings. As the two individuals continued their bickering, she glanced over at Kahallan and winked.

Her wink was met by a small nod, as Kahallan settled in half a step behind Moira. Like a shadow, he silently haunted her shoulder, his gaze riveting the doctor and the doctor's petty officer.

"Now then, I'm Doctor Quinn," said the . . . physician, his tone saccharine-sweet.

". . . medicine woman," Benson said, not quite softly enough not to be heard.

"Huh?" came the clever replay from Quinn.

"Nothing, sir."

Moira waited until they completed their little squabble, then addressed the one who had introduced himself.

"'Tis so? Ya be a doctor?" she asked in a tone that indicated her disbelief. "And I suppose ya think 'twill give ya the right to walk in on people, is that what ya will be thinking?"

As Moira's words faded off, before the doctor had a chance to speak, Kahallan folded his fingers together and then stretched. His knuckles cracked, a sudden loud and very ominous sound.

Perfectly accented, not a trace of the Cockney to be heard, perfect calm, his words were soft-spoken and so very dangerous.

". . . and do you, Mister Benson, have any idea just whose room you've decided to break into?"

"Well, um, yes, it does actually," said Quinn, somewhat sheepishly to Moira as he began scanning the pair.

"Now, take it easy there, young feller. This won't take but a minute. Hurry up, doc, the natives are getting restless."

"Shut up, Benson. Pardon me, sir. but my scans do indicate that you're both under a great deal of stress. Would the two of you mind coming down to Sickbay with me?"

"Um, excuse me," said Benson somewhat bashfully. "But would it be all right if I used your bathroom?"


"It'll just take a minute."


"I'm really sorry about this."



"Didn't I tell you to go before we left?"

"Well, I didn't have to go then!"

"Can't you just cross your legs and run in place like the rest of us?"

"Look, when you get to be . . . well, my age, then let's see how well you can deny Mother Nature's calling."

"Will you just go already!"

Benson vanished into the lavatory and they could hear a nice long steady stream as he relieved himself.

"Don't mind him, weak sphincter."

"Yada, yada, yada," came the voice from the bathroom.

"Your scans look fine, but I'd like the two of you to come down to Sickbay for a complete look-see. Okay?"

Moira watched with amazement as the rotund Benson pranced into the bathroom to use the facilities, completely ignoring Duffy's question.

She clucked softly, and said in a conspiratorial tone to Quinn, "Ya know . . . 'tis my understanding that we'll be in the chief of security's quarters here. And I'll have heard . . ." She glanced at both Quinn and Duffy, motioning them to come closer, about to let them in on some top-secret information, and speaking more softly. "I'll have heard that our chief of security perhaps will have what ya might be calling a temper. Just a wee one, ya know." Then in a more conversational tone, she added, "Ah, but Doctor Quinn here will not need to be worrying very much about such things, will he, Duffy? After all, 'tis a known fact that red-headed Celtic women will have much fiercer tempers.

"Or so I'll have heard."

A pause . . . she seemed to be considering some new piece of information. A calculation? Analysis? Checking on Emerald . . . in Sickbay, the pain dulled, restless, but resting easier than before. A decision.

"Oh, and Doctor . . . I don't think I'll need to be coming down to Sickbay with ya." She shook her head, flame hair gently floating around her head, her face. To Duffy she said, "Sure now, I'm feeling better than I was . . . and my thanks you, a stór" She turned her attention back to the Less-Than-Mighty Quinn, like a cat about to pounce on a mouse. "Sure now, 'tis a fair mess we'll be having on the ship, and I'll be thinking 'tis best if I'll just be returning to my station. If ya don't mind."

A quizzical look at Duffy, part of the act, part of the play. "Do ya think ya will be returning to your station? After we're escorting these gentlemen out of the security chief's quarters, that is. . ."

She kept an eye on Quinn, and a watch for Benson's return, because she didn't trust either of them.

Not one little, tiny bit. Not at all, no, she did not.

"Doctor, are you keeping a scan on them? came Commander Hitachi's voice from Quinn's comm badge. "Are they okay? We are about to take action on this entity matter and Lieutenant Drake was concerned about their safety. I want you to move in if you think they are in danger, but otherwise remain at your station in the hallway."

Moira could hear the concern in Hitachi's voice, and she felt the tiniest pang of guilt. But then she glared at Quinn.

"Um, actually, we've already entered the chamber," Quinn said, eyeing the redhead, "but I think they're on the way to the bridge. They don't appear to have had any physical injury, but with your permission, I'd like to keep an eye on them for the time being."

Moira downgraded her opinion of the doctor and his tricorder. Her back still hurt like holy hell, and the injury was entirely physical in nature.

"Granted, but keep out of their way," Hitachi ordered. "They have been trying to help distract the entity. Leave them be, if possible."

Moira gave them both an angelic smile and waited for the doctor and medic to leave. Then she exited his quarters slightly ahead of him and strode down the corridor toward the turbolift, gracefully stooping to pick up his comm badge from the floor where she'd tossed it, ignoring the twinge in her back. As they arrived at the turbolift, she placed it in his hand, curving his fingers around it.

"I don't think I'll be needing this now," she said with a smile.

Even relaxed, his gait was clipped and sure, settling in to match his lovely companion's pace, and yet held tightly in rein. A smile smile crossed his face as he quietly accepted the missing comm badge. His fingers tarried at Moira's touch, just the littlest bit, before he retrieved the sparking bit of metal. Slowly and deliberately, Kahallan fastened it to his uniform.

"I figured you would understand." Another small smile accompanied the quiet words.

the two medical personnel exchanged a glance. It was the prerogative of very person to refuse treatment. It was, of course, Quinn's prerogative to deny them duty. He weighed his decision in his mind as he watched the two of them.

"Okay, Benson, head back to Sickbay. I'm going to accompany them to the bridge just to keep an eye on them. If I need anything else, I'll let you know."

Benson nodded and gave the doctor an apologetic look. Quinn patted him on the shoulder and then sidled down the corridor after the departing officers, making sure to keep a safe distance.

When the turbolift arrived, Moira entered, followed by Kahallan. But so very quickly he stopped, a half-step into the lift, just that perfect amount to let only the door close behind him . . . effectively denying the doctor the turbolift even if he had wanted to protest.

Quinn nodded and took the next lift up, although he was a bit miffed. If there was a medical emergency, then he should get there sooner rather than later. And the chief of security should know that. Miffed.

When the door shut, Kahallan just leaned back against the doors.

"Bridge," Moira said.

It felt good to just stand next to Duffy, and so she did.

And she was right. It did just feel good to stand next to someone you cared for . . . so Kahallan did.


In Sickbay, Emerald's eyes closed, she withdrew enough to let the techs do what they needed to, to help ravaged body heal. She let her mind follow Moira's journey toward the bridge, pulling together the events that had transpired while she was traveling and presenting them to Moira, hoping that her state of mind was more suited to analyzing the events.

The smile vanished as she felt the pain from her body rising again. It triggered off other thoughts, feelings that caused a kaleidoscope of emotions, and she felt herself fragmenting again. Is this what Dannon felt? The images from her subconscious were trying to break through, and she didn't have the energy now to hold back any longer. No more hiding.

Mo, I'm slipping, and can't wait anymore, my mind, it's . . . it's hard, love. Hang on, hang tight to Duffy, it's not . . . not . . . ohmyohmyohymy I'm slipping nonononononono . . . The kaleidoscope spun, faster and faster, images of Moira, Duffy, Malik, the doctor, Akira, and others, spinning around, darkness appearing in the center of the pattern, growing, engulfing all the images, covering her . . .


Suddenly, Moira gasped and grabbed his arm painfully . . . eyes closed tightly and teeth clenched for long seconds before a small sound escaped.

"Imzadi!!" Oh, the fear . . . Emerald in danger . . and . . .

At least he did until she started and grabbed his arm. It was instinct, his reaction . . . swift and sudden, the change of balance, the curve of his arm around her to draw Moira up, to be there for her as the sudden shock wrapped around her, stealing her breath. An unspoken promise.

"The captain!" She remembered to breathe and opened her eyes to see Kahallan's concern. "He'll be after the captain!"

Sharp eyes met hers, taking in the seriousness of her gaze and the taste of desperation. For the briefest moment, his head tilted a bit quizzically.

". . . imzadi?" It was half a question and half confusion over a word not in his vocabulary. But Moira came first. His gaze looked deeply into her clear green eyes, making sure it was her he saw and not the reflection of a returning fey beast.

Drawing her close, completing her action . . . But he paused for a second before his hand snapped against his comm badge. A thought . . . remembering just how fast the alien was. Then he tagged the badge with a sudden jagged motion.

"Operations, this is Kahallan . . .

"The entity's going after the captain. Disable Captain Lucara's command codes immediately. Get a medical team up pronto because it could be attacking her right now, hear? If she complains, Captain Lucara can chew me out in person when I get to the bridge.

"Which will be in a few minutes.

"But that's all the time the alien beastie needs."

He snapped back a reply to Commander Hitachi, his gaze dark as if attempting to urge the turbolift forward just by his will.

Turning then, Kahallan reached out . . . and then he paused, a bit unsure. Finally, he rolled the fingers of one hand together, almost like a loose fist. Tucking it gently beneath Moira's chin, he carefully tilted her head to face his.

"Are you okay, Moira?" The question was simple and straight to the point . . . a very important point. "Maybe we were both a little too fast at leaving Doctor Quinn behind . . ."

"Sha, yah . . . I'll be okay." Somehow, the words she needed seemed to have disappeared. But taking a deep breath, she managed to find them again. "Aye, I'll be wanting to go to Sickbay . . . not for me, though, and so 'tis best I'll be doing my duty and getting to the bridge."

Perhaps he could see a tear standing in the corner of her eye, one that she would not allow to fall. Certainly there was an air of sadness surrounding her determination.

Sharp brown eyes saw quite a bit. He gave her a slow, silent nod as an answer. And then he paused before speaking quietly, seriously, his Cockney returning to the fore.

"I don't know if this helps or not, but 'tis something Kat always said to me. When things not be working right, ye have to look at things from another point of view . . .

"Aye, ye could go to the sickbay. And just be there.

"Or perhaps we go to the bridge, where we just might be able to do something that might really help, aye?

"Either way, ye will not be doing so alone."

The turbolift doors opened and the bridge felt as if someone had died. Lucas was deep in prayer and the bridge crew all had an ashen appearance to them. Things were tenser than even Moira had suspected.

"Commander Hitachi?" It was Ensign Johlann in Sickbay. "All activity has ceased on the console but the probes remain active. Sir, I wondered whether we had a channel through to the alien, whether we could learn anything by using them. I'd be willing to volunteer, sir."

On the viewscreen, it was clear that the ship was moving at its best speed toward the wormhole. Kahallan's security panel showed photon torpedoes rigged for an unusual flight pattern.

"Sullivan, get on those codes," Hitachi said, his voice tight. "Kahallan, take over tactical here. Moira, I need a quick judgment from you on the warp signature of the alien vessel as the wormhole opened. Could the warp signature have triggered the wormhole?"

Hitachi stepped away from tactical, turning it over to Kahallan. He stepped down to the command chair sand sat next to the huddled Lucara and Lucas.

Kahallan took in the chaos, his senses prickling at the sharp tension in the air; a sharp look then to Hitachi at the commander's panic over their captain, cutting like a cool dagger. A curt nod -- half a moment later, half a heartbeat later -- as Hitachi quickly recovered. And then there was a glance to his side, just a shift of his eyes to the chief engineer, and a puff of breach, a silent parting as two certain steps took him to the tactical board.

"Father, lay her over there and guard her. Do what you can.

"Helm, give me an estimate until we're in position."

Hitachi let his eyes rest on Lucara's hunched figure for a moment and felt his heart breaking inside. Such a proud and noble woman, and yet so very vulnerable. He wished only to see her smile once more . . . just come back to me, Lucara!

He finally realized he hadn't answered Ensign Johlann's question. He tapped his comm badge.

"Ensign Johlann, this is Commander Hitachi. Do not let anyone touch those probes. I want to consult with our telepath and see what she recommends."

"Yes, sir."

The counselor lifted the captain and briefly considered taking her into her ready room -- it was better for morale -- but followed the XO's orders. From the far side of the bridge, he called for immediate medical assistance, although he wasn't sure that it was going to make a difference.

He maintained physical contact with her and continued to pray. He also prayed for Hitachi; the man had some of the most difficult choices of his career ahead of him now.

At the tactical board, Kahallan's fingers snapped out quick commands, his expression becoming grim as he ran up against authorization limitations, left to only simple things . . .

"Mister Sullivan, those codes . . ." It was a soft, even conversational sort of . . . growl.

rat a tap tap SNAP

His fingers made a rim shot across the boards. Then a quick stab, a simple thing, overlaying a real-time graphic on the main screen, showing the parabolic arc of the fired torpedoes, the long slow curve as they approached the wormhole space.

There was a second stab, laying a more direct bearing toward the objects themselves . . . just in case.

Lastly, a few quick inquiries were made, a review of ship systems statuses, including computer, communications, and security systems access, because they had all been severely compromised over the last hour.

"Mister Sullivan, those codes . . ."

rat a tap tap SNAP

Rather than moving to the bridge's engineering station, Moira stepped to Hitachi's side. Nodding slowly, she said, "Aye . . . aye, it could have."

Tapping her comm badge, she contacted main Engineering. "Jefferson, I'll like ya to see what ya can be doing to modify the Eclipse's warp bubble . . . how long will it be taking to match it to the pirate's signature?"

She turned to Hitachi, smiling wanly. "Ensign will be what ya might call . . . creative."

"Good work, Moira, keep me informed of the progress and let me know the second you have it arranged." There was the barest hint of relief in Hitachi's voice.

The serene appearance of the young Ensign spoke more loudly of his faith in his pantheon of Hindu deities than of how much time he had spent in his quarters tinkering around with such ideas. Moira had had a heck of a time keeping his 'little experiments' from fouling up the works. Finally, she'd allocated a holodeck for his 'little experiments' and asked him to refrain from blowing up the ship.

He tapped a button and immediately a diagram was mirrored on the bridge's engineering console. Although waiting in the wings, he had already foreseen the possibility of this.

"Yes, Commander Moira! From what I have been able to determine, the warp nacelles of the foul pirate's ship were fired up for the purpose of creating a warp bubble of an unusual quality. Much warp plasma was expended, it would seem, to maintain such a configuration. Our scans have shown that they were having some amount of difficulty maintaining this, oh, yes. And this even though they have clearly had much more experience with such things than we. Of course, I believe the physical configuration of their warp engines would have made this so much easier for them to do than for our beloved ship, you see.

"Now, here is their warp signature, yes? The signature as it was intended for their cowardly use. We can only see it for a very small frame of time as they escaped through the wormhole. Computer, please show time index 44572."

The computer displayed the pirate ship firing its weapons on Eclipse’s outer shielding while maintaining a somewhat awkward angle, which later turned out to be pointed into the mouth of the wormhole. The tractor beam strength fluctuated slightly as whoever was working the engines tried to maintain a highly unusual warp bubble. The force of the field seemed to spiral around the ship rather than being uniform.

When the photon torpedoes passed around the ship in the parabolic arc, the warp signature shimmered a bit, as did the opening of the wormhole.

"It is my thinking, Commander Moira, that their chief engineer must have been faced with a choice, yes? To either complete this spiral formation that you see the wormhole is making and flee into that wormhole . . . or to allow the warp bubble to disperse and try again at a later time. Ah, you have seen the most treacherous choice they made!

"But indeed, I believe it will take but ten minutes or so to make modification to our nacelles to match the villain's warp signature," Patel concluded.

Moira gave the young man a tired smile. "Thank ya, Patel. 'Tis a fine job ya will have done. Go to work, lad. The XO will be letting ya know the moment to engage yon grand experiment."

Emerald's fear had been so intense, and she'd kept calling Moira's name, calling her with such desperation and worry that . . . Well, nearly an hour after leaving Kahallan's quarters, here she was in Sickbay, watching over Emerald. The captain was on the bed behind her because the XO had been terrified for the captain. It had been more than just that, of course, but . . . Well, here they all were in Sickbay.

Moira was worried.

"I will attempt to contact this . . . alien," Hitachi said, gesturing to the monitor with the still-active probes.

"I can talk to Emerald," Moira said, frowning. "Perhaps get the answers to questions." She looked at the XO. "Ya should not be risking yourself if ya don't need to be doing such."

He gave Moira a wry grin and shook his head.

"Not in the job description to foolishly expose myself to danger. If you have a link to Lieutenant Drake, then that is more promising than my idea. Is she capable . . . I mean, after the surgery and all?

The tall wraith of the security chief also glanced briefly at the XO.

"I would also advise you not to attempt any contact," Kahallan said, his voice even and low. "Because, Commander, sir, would I be wrong in suspecting your decision in this matter just might not be truly objective?"

Hitachi blushed a deep scarlet but straightened. "No, Commander, I thought I made myself embarrassingly clear before. I find the captain . . . fascinating." He couldn't help but let a tiny quirk lift the corner of his mouth. "But I will not let that interfere or affect my judgment. I agree that Commander O'Shaughnessy and Lieutenant Drake are our best action. I merely am stating that if this fails, I will be the one to use the probe."

He turned to Moira.

"Please proceed with all speed, Commander. The life of the captain and possibly the whole ship is at stake here. Please be careful."

Hitachi gave her a respectful bow, one warrior to another.

"Ah, sure I will, Akira . . . I'll be using all due caution, ya can be sure. And then some," Moira said with a weak smile.

[IF LUCAS SHOWS UP LATER IN THE THREAD ADD THE BITS ABOUT MOIRA CALLING HIM TO SICKBAY: SD Part 07, search for 'yah, judgments, lad'; just above there]

Something tickled the back of her mind as she stared at the tranquil face of her lover. She hadn't actually ever mentioned before this moment that she had any kind of . . . link to the science chief. Captain Yeade had known, she felt sure, and probably Commander Chapel as well. Others might suspect . . . assume . . . make judgments.


Judgments, judgments . . . her glance strayed to the young security ensign, who so loyally guarded Emerald Drake. Her eyes met his, as her fingers again explored the edges of Duffy's jacket. Yah, judgments, lad . . . ya have felt them too, have ya not?

She gave him a tired but sincere smile. "Ya will have noticed the oddities of yon display, did ya not, Ensign?" she asked, nodding at the equipment in question. "Ya did not . . . perceive anything more . . . unusual than that, did ya?"

She noted that the young man seemed startled when she addressed him. A skittish one, he was.

"I'm not sure I understand what you're asking me, sir."

She nodded slightly; what she was asking was fairly unusual for most people.

"What I'll be wondering is this, Ensign . . . might ya have noted, at any time since ya arrived here in Sickbay with Lieutenant Drake, any thoughts or feelings or such that ya might consider . . . out of the ordinary?" Moira sighed, and nodded, helpfully she hoped, to the young man. "I know 'tis a strange thing to be asking, lad, but we'll be dealing with a desperate strange creature here."

"No, sir, all thoughts and feelings have been my own," Johlann said . . . normal volume, military style, responding to a senior office.

He started at her. His dark, round eyes and Cardassian facial structure was devoid of emotion. Several seconds passed and, almost imperceptibly, his features softened. Although still at attention, his body relaxed just slightly, shoulders slumping a fraction. He swallowed and continued hesitantly, quietly, obviously embarrassed, with his eyes averted.

"I have been remembering the past, things I'd rather not remember. And . . ." He took a deep breath. ". . . and, well . . . I . . . I felt a sort of . . . affinity with the Lieutenant . . ." He felt the embarrassment, the color flooding into his face in a very non-Cardassian-like way. He found a spot on the floor that captured his interest and full attention while his left hand crept upward to play with the earring.

"I'm sure none of that has any significance here." The words tumbled out of his mouth. He bit his lip and glanced over at the lieutenant's and the captain's prone forms. Straightening again, he forced his eyes to meet those of Commander O'Shaughnessy. "I do want to help, whatever it takes . . . sir."

Affinity with the lieutenant? Moira's eyes shifted from Johlann to Emerald's prone form and back. A correlation with other words . . . a fascination. Her gaze traveled between Hitachi's face and the captain's still form. Finally, she looked over at Kahallan, a puzzled look on her face. Affinity and fascination . . .

Must I now doubt my feelings for this man? As though they be a compulsion set upon me?

No. It matters not where they came from, for I own them now and . . .

It . . .

. . . feels . . .

. . . so . . .

. . . right.

Fingers caressing bits of material, the cloud passed quickly from her face as she turned back to Ensign Johlann.

Kahallan stood quietly, just a half-step back, with his arms crossed over his lanky frame, calm and quiet. His words having already been spoke, his duty now was to watch and observe, to listen and notice. Someone to watch over Captain Sir Lucara, over Lieutenant Drake, over Ensign Johlann, Doctor Sadler and her team, Commander Hitachi . . .

And Moira.

A small smile was the answer to her puzzled gaze, as her fingers traced the edge of brightly emblazoned patches, following a colorful totem of his history, almost lost in the oversized jacket.

Moira fit. Natural. Right.

Moira's heart went out to Johlann. It seemed that this encounter with Legion was causing no end of unease and pain, in terms of dealing with issues unresolved from the past. She sighed softly. She hated to have to continue, but . . .

"Not so, Ensign. I'm thinking perhaps 'twill have significance. Tell me, these things ya will rather not remember . . . perhaps they will have something to do with losing someone dear to ya, and perhaps ya will not have finished with your grieving?"

She could sense his honest desire to help, his doubt, and his need to prove himself. She waited with eternal patience, thinking, Ya be doing just fine, lad. Just fine.

Johlann's eyes closed for a moment. Tell her all the things he didn't want to remember? No. No, never. He'd already risked his career . . .

Someone he'd lost . . . could he deal with that? He looked again at the captain, the lieutenant. Words. Just say them as words.

He looked back at the chief engineer, pain in his eyes, fighting his reluctance to say the words. Just words, they're just words.

"My mother." Throat dry. He couldn't do this. He'd heard the others, though. Knew they'd already exposed their pain. Could he do less? Words, just a few more.

"Killed." They did it. She couldn't have, wouldn't have, no . . . no way, no way she'd have left him. No. A few more, just words. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words . . .

"Left alone." He turned away, fighting for control. He'd said more than he admitted in nearly seventeen years. It was only the tip, but it had to be enough. He couldn't give any more. Not wouldn't . . . couldn't. Words did hurt.

Johlann's pain washed over her; Moira's hand reached out, fingers lightly circling his wrist, stopping his words, stopping the withdrawal from the gathering of weary souls huddled in the medical ward. Seconds ticked by as she stood against the tide of his emotions. More seconds, maybe minutes, she offered calm understanding, clear green eyes never leaving his face. Finally, she knew, his self-control returned.

He felt the pressure on his wrist. For a few seconds, he felt almost claustrophobic, fighting the urge to run and hide. His pride and sense of duty reasserted themselves and saved him the indignity of pulling himself from the commander's grasp.

"I'll be so very sorry, Malik," she said as she dropped her arm to her side. "Be at peace, Johlann Malik . . . be at peace."

Breathing deeply, he regained some measure of control, and his eyes moved to meet hers. He felt her sympathy and compassion; that in itself was hard to deal with, not an area he'd had much experience with. Duty reasserted itself, however, and he was grateful that she'd stopped him from making an even bigger fool of himself.

"Thank you, sir," he murmured quietly.

Moira nodded; her expression showed understand and compassion, but not pity. Never pity for those who stood against the greatest tides of life and sometimes failed to hold. No, for those who fought and fell and got back up again, there could only be compassion and admiration. They were all warriors in their own ways.

Then she turned back toward Emerald, her eyes focusing on something in the distance . . . or perhaps she simply focused within.

Em? Can ya hear me? We've half the command staff here worried for ya and the captain.

Mo . . . Her mental voice sounded tired. I'm in a strange place. I don't recognize it. Can you see?

I can't love. I don't see anything. And from your tone, I'm thinking I might be happier not seeing.

Just as well. Emerald shivered, the sight attracting too many recent memories. She pushed the thoughts down and tried to focus, but she felt divided. Part of her wanted to lash out, another wanted to hide, and yet a third yearned for answers. It was all so confusing.

Will Lucara be well?

Yes, the captain is all right. She seems to be comforting . . .? Counseling Legion? He lost someone, I think. I'm . . . not sure.

Confusion was strange to her. She was always so sure of herself . . . now, she was confused. But she wasn't going to let Legion take any of his wrath out on the captain.

Hitachi watched pensively as Moira when into her trance . . . or whatever state it was she entered. He cut a glance at Kahallan to see how he was handling everything. Seemingly a rock, the man was.

Yah? Moira finally said. That'll be what Commander Hitachi will have surmised . . . based on our experiences.

She paused, pain coming to lap at her heart like waves on the beach.

Paddy's gone . . .

I know. Emerald's reply was soft, like a whisper on the wind.

Moira took a deep breath, holding . . . holding . . . holding before finally releasing it. Loss and . . . and not letting go, I suppose ya might call it. That will be perhaps the common threat running through my experiences . . . and Hitachi's . . . and Kahallan's.

Letting go . . . something nagged at the back of her mind.

Can ya communicate with the captain?

Aye, I can. We share the same plane. Legion is . . . crying. The thought started soft, but then hardened.

Moira paused. Be careful, Em. I'll want ya well and back here . . . and Lucara, too.

She wanted to reach out, to stand by Emerald's side. But that plane of existence wasn't safe for Moira. It wasn't her Shadow World, her Overworld of Magic. It was something different.

A minute can last much longer than sixty seconds. Only a minute, but countless seconds later, Moira's eyes refocused, her gaze taking in Johlann and Kahallan before resting on Hitachi.

"His name will be Legion. Emerald is believing he'll have suffered a great loss . . . someone . . . This will fit well with your theory, Akira." She reached up a hand to brush stray hairs off her face, to be captured behind her ear.

"Will there be anything specific ya will be wanting me to relay to the captain?"

Hitachi's attention had wandered, but snapped back to the engineer when she spoke.

"The captain . . . is she okay? Can you communicate with her? If so, then tell her of the common theme of loss and the need for forgiveness that we all experienced. Tell her we aren't attempting any hostilities at present. Tell her . . . to be careful."

"Aye, the captain will be well, and . . ."

Forgiveness . . . a difficult thing. (Yah, daddy . . . I forgive ya.) Cycles of fear and hatred, fueled by an unwillingness to forgive; souls destroyed because people could not forgive themselves.

"I'll be mentioning the bit about being careful, but . . ." Moira shrugged. "Ya know being careful will be a matter of . . . degrees, will it not?"

Her eyes unfocused again, looking at something no one else could see.

We're okay, I think, Emerald said. The captain and Legion are communicating effectively and if he tries anything . . . well, I'll be ready.

Anger welled up in her. She focused it, using it to bolster herself, replenish her weak reserves. She felt part of herself screaming for revenge, retribution . . . yet held it back. IT was talking and she wasn't going to interrupt the captain.

Em, no! Listen, love, this will all be about . . . healing and forgiveness. Ya must let the captain know that. Don't use anger as your shield . . . Despite her fear, Moira's primary emotion in dealing with Legion's mother had been concern, a desire to help. It'll not work.

Please love . . . don't think about him, think about this. She washed Emerald with the deep, abiding love she felt. Ah, Imzadi, I don't want to see ya hurt again.

Emerald could feel Moira's love; in fact, she could sense all the emotions running through her lover . . . fear, worry, sadness, and above it all was a concern for, well, nearly everyone on the ship. And there was a drop of mischievous humor when she spoke next.

Akira will be wishing to tell Lucara . . . to be careful.

Emerald's anger broke then, replaced by a serene calm.

Okay. I'm fine, Mo. Sorry. Legion appears to no longer be a threat. He hasn't hurt or threatened the captain. He's just looking for someone that hurt him, I think. It's still very confusing. He appears to have suffered from a Vulcan mind meld that isn't sitting very well on him. Tell Akira that she's fine. She passed on a mental smile. We should be back soon.

Moira shook her head minutely. Sometimes we've more in common with the 'alien' than we'll think, won't we? Sometimes it was difficult for Moira to remember that Emerald herself was, technically speaking, an alien. I'll let Akira know.

Emerald nodded. We're all . . . mortals, I guess, underneath, and we have the same problems. the scale tends to change, though.

A moment passed, and then another. Em . . . I don't understand what be going on between Kahallan and me . . .

Emerald smiled, her love washing over Moira. I'm not sure either, but it feels right for you two. We'll talk about it after I get out of here, love, but don't worry about it. There's a link now between the two of you, different from the one we have, but no less meaningful. You should explore it.

Moira mentally chuckled. I don't seem to be having a choice in that . . . my heart'll be taking me to a very strange place. She sighed. Yah, we'll talk later . . .

Tell me about it. Legion's gone now. Not sure what he wanted, but he's not here . . . I'm gonna shut down for repairs. Way too much exercise. Have they got my guts back together yet? The captain should be rejoining you all once I shut the link. Legion used my mind to make the link to Lucara. Didja know that? All the way from Sickbay to the bridge. It hurt a lot, but I might not be limited to touch anymore.

Say goodnight, Gracie . . . Goodnight, Gracie . . .

As Emerald drifted off into a healing, healthy sleep, Moira looked at her, perplexed. Gracie?

Had it only been a few heartbeats since she'd given Hitachi the last update from Emerald? It seemed so. She'd always been aware that telepathic conversations were considerably more condensed than spoken ones, but it often still surprised her.

"Emerald will be sleeping now, but she said Legion, the alien, he'll be gone," she said softly to Hitachi. "The captain ought to be rousing in a moment. Ya and Emerald were right, I'm thinking. Dealing with our grief and coming to peace with the past will seem to have been the key."

She looked from Hitachi to Kahallan and finally Johlann.

"We'll have been taught a hard lesson today by an unusual teacher . . . a lesson we'll not be likely to forget. 'Tis so?" It was a rhetorical question, to be sure, though there was an underlying message for young Johlann: Study the lesson well, lad, and ya will be all right.

He felt her eyes on him and looked to momentarily meet the commander's gaze. Johlann felt a flush of embarrassment and averted his eyes, focusing on a flashing red light on one of the medical screens. He felt exposed, ill at ease. Feeling the need to make some response, he nodded once sharply, locking his emotions down tight. No, he was not likely to forget.

Hitachi nodded to Kahallan and O'Shaughnessy. "Good work, everyone. Commander O'Shaughnessy, please stay and see to Lieutenant Drake's wellbeing, if you want. I will call if events warrant it.

"Commander Kahallan, come up as soon as you can."

Moira shook her head. "No, Commander. Sure now, won't I only be in the way down here?"

She watched as the medical personnel moved Emerald to the ICU. She was tired and still sore from her encounter with the alien, but she had one more job she wanted to see finished before she could rest.

"I'll be heading up to the bridge with ya," she said. "Let's see what we can do to fetch our Commander Mulvihill back, shall we?"

Hitachi nodded, a tired smile on his face. "I'd be glad to have both of you on the bridge right now. Frankly, I'm beat and could use all the help I can get. We should get that report on the warp configuration operating the wormhole. Hopefully, it will allow us to go after our missing crewman."

He shifted slightly and laid a gentle hand on Lucara's shoulder.

"I'm going bad to the bridge, sir. Rest and recover." Hitachi turned to leave, wanting nothing more than to sit and wait for Lucara to come back, but knowing that his place was keeping her seat on the bridge ready for her.

"That will not be necessary, Commander." Lucara opened her eyes, sat up, and swung her legs over the side of the bio-bed. "I assure you I am fit. I shall be joining you on the bridge."

"Captain!" Hitachi exclaimed, joy lighting his face. "It's good to see you awake. Are you sure you're okay? No after effects from your encounter."

She stood, looking a lot steadier on her feet than might be expected. "I am fine, XO. Casualties? Aside from Lieutenant Commander Drake, that is. I am aware that she has been very seriously injured."

"Intensive care, Captain, sir." Kahallan's quiet words were familiar and calm, as if nothing at all drastic or untoward had happened. "Based on reports from Medical and Commander O'Shaughnessy, I believe Lieutenant Drake is out of danger. I will be looking in on her." It was, after all, his watch.

With a simple, practiced movement, he reached up to touch his comm badge.

"Security, this is Kahallan . . . stand down."

He looked up then, his even gaze crossing the space to the other security officer. "That includes you, Mister Johlann. Take a break. I don't know how long it will last, we're still missing an engineer, but take advantage of the moment's calm . . . as long as it lasts."

Kahallan gave the young man a darkly wry smile. "Welcome to Security on the Eclipse."

A breath then before turning on his heel to follow the doctor and silent science officer to the ICU, his pace even and sure, yet determined. At the door to the intensive care unit, Kahallan paused, turning again, looking back and seeking out the chief of engineering. One heartbeat, then two, so much exchanged -- a tangled knot of feelings and promises and potential -- all bound together in a simple nod and the meeting of green eyes and brown.

Moira watched him as he followed the medical personnel and Emerald to the ICU, meeting his eyes when he turned, as she somehow knew he would. It was his watch, and the crew's safety was his responsibility. the corners of her mouth twitched in a smile. Later for thee and I, Kahallan. duty calls us now.

She might have been the only one who appreciated the irony -- or even noticed it, for that matter -- of Duffy looking after Emerald.

* * *

From engineering, Moira received the report that Jefferson and Chigara had completed their calculations, and that they should be able to open the wormhole at the captain's discretion. Most of the key ship's systems had been cleared of the virus program, and the triggering mechanism for releasing the virus had been disabled so the parabolic shot of torpedoes should cause any problems.

"It would be nice to meet the mysterious Mister Mulvihill," Hitachi said to the captain. "I would recommend that if the other ship is not immediately on the other side of the wormhole, that the second shift take over and we get some rest. We've been going almost full tilt for . . . what now? Two days?"

Moira blinked at that. Two days? Really? No wonder I feel miserable. She sighed.

"'Tis so, Commander . . . 'twill be very nice to see Commander Mulvihill again." She checked the readings at her station. "Engineering will be ready when ya be, Captain."

"Captain, I don't want to be a prophet of doom, but . . ." Lucas began. "But when a security team goes in, they don't just dash through the door. It seems to me that's what we're about to do. The dem--, ah, plaques just vanished, as far as I can see. They didn't reopen the gate. But they wanted to prevent us from going through. So maybe going through is something we want to be pretty circumspect about.

"We didn't beat them, we didn't even come close to matching them. If you want to steal from a strong man's house, you first tie up the strong man, sir. We haven't tied up these entities, and we haven't tied up the ship that escaped us. We may not intend immediately to go into the wormhole when we open it, but I don't think we should be standing right in front of the door when it opens.

"We can fire the torpedoes from a remote controlled shuttle, and watch from a safe . . . well, safer distance, with a probe ready to go in if nothing comes out at us, sir."

Lucara regarded the lieutenant with serious attention. "You certain have a point, Counselor. We did not send the plaques anywhere, as you have observed. I believe that they left of their own accord but, of course, we cannot be sure. We will take that into consideration.

"This poses a problem, however, if our current theory for opening the wormhole is correct. In this scenario, it would require the combination of the photon torpedoes fired in a parabolic arc -- as I did from the battle section during our skirmish with the pirates -- as well as any energy signature that resembles the pirate vessel.

"I do recall, however, that the pirate hovered in proximity to the wormhole, powered at a level that would have been sufficient to achieve a warp factor of eight. There was a great deal of energy being expended for a stationary craft.

"And, of course, you are correct in your suggestion that it would be illogical to be sitting directly in front of the wormhole when it opens . . . unless, of course, that is one of the criteria for opening it, in which case the logic path changes rather abruptly.

"What safeguards would you suggest, particularly safeguards regarding the protection of psychically sensitive individuals?"

The turbolift doors opened, and Ensign Johlann hesitated for a second or two, just taking it all in. Then, with determination, he moved in quickly. "Ensign Johlann reporting, sir." He moved straight to the security station.

"Thank you, Ensign," the captain said, acknowledging him.

Malik's hand shook slightly as he activated the boards, keying in his security code, but his training reasserted itself and, with growing confidence, he did a complete check of the current situation and locations of the remaining security staff so as to be ready should he need them.

"Well, sir . . ." Lucas replied, not sure he really understood all the technical ins and outs but willing to trust her on this. "I'd like to suggest that we deploy the runabouts and shuttles in a defensive battle array before we open this thing, leave at least one behind to cover our backs and be as sure as we can that we know what's on the other side of that thing before we take the ship in.

"As for those sensitive to attack by the plaques . . . We are aware that they can affect us over such immense distances that if we can't screen it out and don't want to dull the senses of our own people, we'll just have to run the gauntlet. Is there any medical way of telling when someone is being affected by them short of waiting to see who falls over?"

Although busy checking the ship's status from the array of controls before her, Moira had no problem taking the measure of the bridge crew. She couldn't hear is words, but Lucas was concerned, and rightly so, if her opinion counted for anything. She suspected he was still concerned about what might be lurking on the other side of the wormhole they proposed opening. He didn't mind fighting his demons, he just didn't want to be surprised by them. Moira would much rather not see them at all.

She fed a new query into the computer. Working backward from the expected results of the modified warp envelope combined with torpedoes fired in a parabolic arc the would open the wormhole, what other actions and/or procedures might attain the same results?

During the very last stretch, deck three and up, Kahallan rode the turbolift alone. Finally, the bridge was reached. He took one sure and steadfast step and entered the bridge. There, he stopped, once more crossing his arms. Sharp eyes cut across the tight space, quickly making sense of the tense action, the chaos of newly unfolding information. He took a stop to the right against the far wall where he could overlook a rookie ensign working at his boards.

To Johlann Malik, he said not a word. Instead, he looked past the ensign for a moment to the ship's captain . . . back where she belonged.

"Permission to enter the bridge, Captain, sir."

Moira didn't need to turn around at the sound of the turbolift door opening; she knew who stepped out. She couldn't stop herself from turning, however, and smiling at the security chief. by force of will, she kept her hand from reaching out to the neatly folded jacket lying on the chair beside her. Later for thee and I, Kahallan . . . later.

"Permission granted, Commander. How does Lieutenant Commander Drake fare?"

Lucara never took her eyes from the interplay between the viewscreens, her computer, and her PADD. Multitasking.

"Critical condition, currently stable and asleep, Captain, sir," was Kahallan's quiet reply. "There was a complication during surgery, the the lieutenant seems to have weathered it. Doctor Stern recommends checking back in an hour and fifty minutes, but no visitors for another six."

As he reported on Emerald's condition, Moira heard her voice sharp and bright in her mind.

I'm back, Mo.

Moira hadn't realized how much of her energy she'd been expending with worrying about Emerald until she was able to let go of her anxiety.

I'm so glad, love! Ya sleep now and heal. Kahallan will be saying your doctor will not be allowing visitors for another six hours. I'll be coming by later to see ya. She felt Em slipping deeper into her sleep pattern. Six hours? Well, just this once . . . maybe . . . she'd trust the doctor.

Looking up from the boards as the turbolift doors opened, Johlann's nervousness regained a foothold as his chief entered the bridge, and then climbed higher as Commander Kahallan made no move to relieve him. Still, he continued with his job.

"Captain, we are still on red alert. Do you wish to maintain this level?" Malik looked directly at the captain, determined not to glance around to see if his chief was watching. He knew the made would be.

"Until we are assured that the wormhole holds no further threats for us," she responded, then glanced briefly at the ensign. "It does seem as though we live at red alert these days, does it not?"

Her voice was thoughtful, recalling that Ensign Johlann had two young children with him. How long would the civilian personnel of this vessel remain in this state of tension?

"We will attempt to open the wormhole," Lucara continued, "but if we are unable to do so in the next several hours, I believe we will back off for a while and stand down for another rest period. We need it."

The captain shook her head. There was no rancor in her voice. She was well aware of the fact that she needed rest as much as anyone else on board this vessel, for all of the much vaunted Vulcan stamina.

"Keep reminding me that I have said this, people." There was the odd, dry note to her voice again.

Taking a step forward, Kahallan reached out next to Ensign Johlann. Without a word, he tapped out a few swift commands on the tactical boards, segregating a square foot of the console for his own use, although his gaze did take in the entire curved terminal. For a moment, his display mirrored engineering, then sciences, then tactical, and then command.

rat a tap tap tap

"Captain, sir . . ." Kahallan frowned. "The Eclipse can match the pirate's position, velocity, and even mimic their manipulation of their warp field. The only thing we do not have that they do are the golden discs."

He paused.

"We don't know if they even factor into the wormholes, but we do know that the Pakled said they made their ship work better and that the pirates really wanted them back.

"We asked what they were, and where the Pakleds got them, and all that was reported was conveyed in terms of vague responses. Did anyone ever ask them how they made that ancient Ferengi transport of theirs work better? This might be too many ifs, Captain, sir, but if the discs did affect their navigation and drive systems and if we knew what theory or principle was used in doing so, then maybe we might be able to duplicate those effects without the discs."

An idle thought it was, going back to the very beginning and going down a subtly different road.

"Since we don't have their hammer, Captain, sir, maybe we should be making our own, instead of trying to drive a nail with a spanner."

Hitachi looked up and nodded at Kahallan's idea.

"That is an excellent suggest. Perhaps we should bring the Pakleds up here to the ready room and ask them some questions," he said. "That way, you and Commander O'Shaughnessy would still be available to respond rapidly to any changes here that would require your presence."

Moira mentally sighed when the conversation behind her turned to the Pakleds and their golden coins. Trust Kahallan not to forget that. And he'd volunteered her to interview them, as well. She'd simply have to find some way to thank him for that. Although Akira, bless him, seemed to be volunteering Kahallan to assist as well. That could be very interesting.

She scanned Jefferson's equations for modifying the warp bubble and shook her head. She might have eventually arrived at the same conclusion, but certainly wouldn't have gotten there using his more unorthodox assumptions, and most assuredly not in the tend minutes it had taken Jefferson. But it did look like it would work, assuming they could pump enough power to the engines. She opened a channel to main Engineering, and spoke quietly with her staff.

"Impressive work, Mister Jefferson. Thank ya. Now, Mister Chigara, I'll be wondering how long 'twill take ya and Mister Timor to fine-tune our engines down there to give me the equivalent of warp eight-point-four for Mister Jefferson's brilliant experiment here." She didn't bother to ask Chigara if it could be done. They were engineers; she was an engineer; she assumed that it could be done. "I don't doubt that we'll be needing to shut down a system or two to get up to eight-four . . . what will ya be proposing to leave me with?" It was clear from her tone that she was loathed to give anything up.

"It is not so much the fact that I am mortal," Lucara said, an aside to something Hitachi had said as she made a correction on the computer from something she had worked out on her PADD, "for I am quite aware of that, especially during encounters such as I had with Legion." She looked up suddenly, eyes frankly self-chiding. "It is my illogical assumption that my stamina and energy, and that of this ship and its crew, will persist unabated until that point."

She continued to feed algorithms into the PADD with her left hand while making corrections to the computer with her right.

"You must remind me that we have had a stand-down period of exactly four hours in the last thirty-six, before which the Eclipse was under fire for quite some time. You must remind me that we have a hole in our hull and a non-functional forward phaser array, and that this is not Wolf.

"Commander O'Shaughnessy, please check my configurations and tell me if you think I have cleared Legion's virus from our system." It was an aside.

"And that this is not an academic problem that we are working out here on a science vessel."

Lucara raised her head, met their eyes one by one, from her first officer all the way down to the ensigns at tactical and comm.

"I am Vulcan, people. That doesn't translate to infallible." A flat statement.

"I am in temporary command of a wounded starship and with a limited right to risk additional damage to it and its crew, and that I am asking for feats of talent and energy expenditure from people and systems that may or may not be a logical assessment of their capabilities."

Her voice dropped.

"Lieutenant Commander Drake has already paid for my arrogance. Remind me of that."

Moira turned back to her control board, not wanting anyone to see the pain so evident on her features. Your arrogance, Captain? Ya were not the one so arrogant to think she could protect Em . . . and Paddy . . . only to see them beaten and abused.

Tightly reining in her emotions, her fingers flew across the panel, checking terminal signature files, cross-checking against recent backup files . . . it was a meditative process for her, so by the time her task was complete, she was once again fully in control of her feelings.

"The system will look clean, Captain . . . although I'll prefer to be running a full diagnostic as soon as ya can grant me the time." To her own ears, her voice had a hollow ring to it, evidence of the effort she was making to keep her emotions in check. She'd need to get some rest soon if she wasn't going to find herself inadvertently absorbing everyone else's emotions from across the bridge . . . or the deck . . . or the entire ship. Lady bless, she did some rest!

Malik's attention was firmly fixed on the boards, carefully monitoring the current status of the shields and weapon systems, and keeping a careful watch on the proximity detectors, plus a frequent review of the sensor logs, coupled with the continued monitoring of all security reports. He was busy. But he was also aware of the interactions of the bridge personnel, especially the command officers; he wouldn't be doing his job otherwise. He was doubly, triply aware of his chief somewhere behind him.

He checked everything again. Unable to resist, he cast a quick glance at Kahallan.

The ensign's gaze was met by sharp, cool brown eyes. They didn't waver, they just cut, looking deep into the new officer, measuring, considering.

"Don't worry, Mister Johlann . . ." Kahallan's quiet words were soft-spoken, even, conversational. "You'll be the first to know if you do anything wrong." He paused. "Like turning your head from the boards when you should be monitoring them."

He paused for a heartbeat's time, and then nodded. "You're doing fine, lad."

Moira's attention was back on the quiet conversation with her people below decks. There was a moment of silence across the comm lines and she could almost see her junior engineers rolling their eyes to heaven, throwing arms into the air, and the rare tongue thrust out defiantly at the comm panel. On the other hand, perhaps they were all stroking their chins trying to figure this out. Jefferson certain would be. Timor's ears would be twitching, and maybe his tail, too. If anyone was rolling his eyes, it would be Chigara. Fredriksen? Yes, she'd be throwing her hands in the air. She suspected the one problematic engineer she had, the one who might have been sticking out his tongue, was nowhere in the vicinity.

She smiled softly to herself as she settled the earpiece more comfortably in her ear. This could be a very long conversation.

"Well, sir," Chigara said, "the problem is that the starboard nacelle was damaged during the battle with the pirates. It'll have to be repaired from a bay. As you recall, a few hours ago, we were ordered to put out the fire and seal the damaged sections of the nacelle. While we can generate the power to get to eight-four, I'm not sure we can create a warp bubble of the strength required to get us to eight-four."

"Humble pardons, Chief," Jefferson interjected, "but as I am recalling from the most excellent structural scans that there were damaged parts, indeed, but the basic structure of the Lady's nacelle is intact. Of course, I do agree that the work would be most safe for the Lady and our humble selves to repair form a bay, it is possible for a few experienced personnel in space suits and gravity boots to perform this most urgent repair. I believe. If we wish to take this route, then perhaps we should endeavor to see with our own eyes and inspect our nacelle with our own hands. I would suggest most humbly that there are surely many things that you, Chief Chigara, and I could see about the damage to our mighty ship that no external scan or visual survey by the remote camera could tell us. And together, you and I may be able to patch the foul damage to the nacelle."

"Impractical, Ensign," Chigara insisted. "We'd have to put the ship to less than a quarter impulse for a spacewalk, tear off the seal that we just put on there, and it hasn't even had time to properly set. Then we'd have to figure out what's wrong with it using gloved hands and visored eyes, scraping away ashes and debris, and try to perform repairs that require more than a little bit of dexterity wearing half-inch thick thermal gloves. Now, I'm not saying it can't be done, just that it's impractical as all hell."

"I disagree, Chief." That was Fredriksen. "The gravity boots, while regulated to walks at quarter impulse, can handle up to half impulse by my calculations. Hell, I've done it. But even so, we're practically at a standstill now. Let's at least go out and take a look ourselves at the damage. It's nothing to reseal a broken section."

"There's also another possibility," Chigara ventured. "Instead of trying to repair the broken nacelles, which could be hazardous and we'd probably have to test them, we could also consider altering the configurating of the existing nacelles to match the calculations that we've been studying from Jefferson's warp bubble experiment. They'd have to be adjusted by hand, but they'd be specifically designed to create this warp spiraling effect."

"Oh, yes, Chief," Jefferson agreed. "The only problem with this solution is that we cannot go to warp on a spiral. Oh, goodness, no! This would work for opening the wormhole, but when we got to the place it would lead us, we would need to be most swift in our conversion of the nacelles for standard warp use. Oh, and all that changing around of configurations! So many possibilities for making mistakes in alignment."

"Captain . . ." began Hitachi, "I think that we've all come through these latest events troubled by our perceived failures and self-incriminations. Heaven knows that I had my own doubts about my worth. But we have come through then, through the fires of our personal doubts and private torments, both self-inflicted and those inflicted through the agency of Legion."

He paused for a moment.

"But together we faced these fears and doubts and together we were able to help each other to an understanding of what was transpiring . . . together. It has been my privilege to serve on several fine ships and with some of the best crews in the fleet. They all had one thing in common: they were the best, not through superhuman ability or technological marvel, but through the spirit and dedication that they forged together. We have been in the forge together, and I am honored to serve with each and every one of you."

Moira listened to her teams brainstorming with part of her attention, with the rest of it was given to the XO. A fine, rousing speech it was. She did feel like she was too tired to appreciate, however.

Hitachi looked at each of the officers in turn, and gave them a tired smile.

"Now, let's figure out how to get our lost sheep home. I have tactical analysis ready for review. Mister Kahallan, please review file 24-A and when you're done, let's work out a way to send that black devil ship back to the pits of hell from where it came."

"Aye, aye, Commander, sir," came Kahallan's quick reply. "However, sir, there is one thing I can tell you now. Lend me an engineer and the two runabouts, and we can kit them out like the assault boats on the Paine.

"I'll cut a deal with you, Commander Hitachi. You help me get on board, and I will give you that ship."

Lucara nodded gravely at Hitachi's words.

"XO, I appreciate your enthusiasm, and I share your opinion of the excellence of this crew. I do, however, feel that the personal torments you speak of were a regrettable burden to all of you. It is not your expertise nor your dedication that failed. It was my decision to deploy you in such a manner that lacked the logic of adequate forethought.

"But that is a matter for the log at this point. Our current task at hand is to open the wormhole and retrieve Commander Mulvihill. If I am reading these reports correctly, there is some question as to how to divert sufficient power to emulate the pirates' EM signature."

She took a sip of rapidly cooling tea.

"Now, let us consider this," the captain said. "It is quite customary to shunt power from the warp drives to bolster weapons and shields. Our forward phaser array is non-functional and, as such, cannot be used for offensive purposes. However, it would seem that the power lines are intact to that point. Perhaps we can reverse that system completely and reroute the power back to the warp engines.

"What do you think, Moira?"

Moira smiled at the suggestion. "Are ya sure ya will not be an engineer, Captain?" she muttered to herself, before turning her attention back to the conversations in the Engineering department. "Jefferson . . . I can hear ya slipping those gravity boots on," she said with a grin that nearly matched the ensign's. "Ya will not be walking in space just yet. If I let ya go out there, how many hands will ya be needing to help ya, and how long will it take ya to survey the damage?

"Chigara, how long will it be taking ya to alter the nacelle configurations to match Jefferson's grand experiment? We ought to be able to write a program to bring them neatly back to standard, should we not." It wasn't a question.

While the engineer considered the idea, she added, "Mister Lucas, I think your suggestion to deploy the shuttles is valid. We will hold that idea until we are ready to attempt the opening.

"And Mister Kahallan, if you want to attempt to question the Pakleds, please do so. You may take them to the observation lounge, but I do not want them on the bridge. They are notorious for pirating technology. Ours is not available to them."

"Aye, Captain, sir . . ."

With a nod, Kahallan reached up and tapped his comm badge. "Lieutenant Jungk, this is Kahallan. Would you please escort the Pakled bridge crew to the observation lounge? We'll need their equivalent of captain, navigator, and engineer. Let me know when you've arrived."

A pause.

"And do not let them out of your sight."

A slight frown then, at the future possibilities. Some things just couldn't be put off forever. With a sidelong glance toward O'Shaughnessy, Kahallan took a long breach and then looked back at the captain.

"Captain, sir, I will still be needing an engineer. Some of the questions and their answers might be a bit beyond me."

But then he stopped, quiet for a long, long moment. Dark feral eyes met Lucara's gaze coolly, like a timberline breeze, sharp and cutting through the post-adrenaline-rush haze.

He took a deep breath. Laced with the faintest touch of a Marine's dry, wry humor, he said, "Permission to speak freely, Captain, sir."

Lucara looked surprised.

"Why would you ask for permission to do that, Commander?" she asked quizzically. "You, better than anyone on this bridge, known that I have little use for officers who mince truth in deference to my rank."

"Yes, sir, Captain, sir. You're babbling, Captain, sir."

Moira turned to fully face Lucara then, arms crossed in an unconscious imitation of the security chief's posture. She might be bold enough to disregard an order to abandon ship, but she wasn't entirely certain she would actually accuse the captain of . . . of babbling. She watched Lucara's face.

The captain tilted her head, regarding Kahallan with lips pursed in quite somber consideration of his words.

Moira spoke softly into the silence. "'Tis not so much a problem of not having the power, Captain. As the lads down in Engineering are keen to point out, we'll still have a damaged starboard nacelle. We don't know that we can create a strong enough warp bubble with the damage we'll have taken.

"We perhaps can alter the nacelle configurations to match the calculations for the warp bubble. The we will need to be doing by hand, and I'm after having the lads working on a time estimate for ya. Of course, then we'll need to be shifting them back if ya actually want to be using them as Starfleet intended. Shifting them back will be quicker, I'm thinking, but we'll need to be factoring in diagnostic time as well.

The other option will be having a few of the lads go EVA, assess the damage, and attempt to repair it. That will be taking time, soo . . . and there'll be no guarantee we'll be able to repair the damage."

When her engineer had provided her with more data, Lucara waited a moment before responding, finishing the calculations she was working on, looking up, speaking softly.

"We are flesh and blood, Mister Kahallan, not tempered steel. And we, all of us, have limits. But you are entirely correct about one thing. I am babbling.

"My only explanation for such an illogical lapse is fatigue for, while I agree that we can work beyond or around most of our limitations, fatigue will take its toll on us all. Commander O'Shaughnessy, how long do your engineers speculate it will take to effect the necessary changes needed to emulate that signal? Best estimate. If we are going to be waiting here for a while, some of you may want to stand down for an hour or so."

She shook her head. "I would recommend a longer respite, but we do not know how much distance the pirates have already put between themselves and the other side of this wormhole."

She turned to Kahallan again. "Especially yourself and Mister Lucas, Commander, if you will be back in the runabouts.

"Of course," she added, in a wry tone once more, "that is only if the Pakleds prove uncharacteristically cooperative."

Taking another long breath, Kahallan looked back at Lucara. He slowly shook his head, once.

"Aye, Captain, if the Pakleds prove cooperative." Taking a step forward, the security chief made a quiet observation. "Quite a reputation they've built in the hours they've been here. I still need an engineer, Captain, sir, to confirm my questions and get full value from their answers. Commander O'Shaughnessy, perhaps?"

"Sure, a program can be written, Commander, but it takes a physical alteration of the warp coils to do it," Chigara said to Moira, temporarily breaking off his running debate with the other engineers within earshot. "We'll still have to do it by hand if we're going to take that route. Twenty minutes to make the change to the spiral warp signal, and another twenty minutes to switch them back. Best guess, no promises."

"And we'll need a tech and one of those roving robots to carry stuff and give Jefferson some extra strength," Fredriksen said with laughter in her voice. "We could get him out there in five minutes and give yo a status report fifteen minutes after that. Repairs will depend on the type of damage, but to replace the entire coil assembly in outer space with a crew of fifteen working it . . . we can do it in about two hours."

The chief engineer was enjoying the debate so much that she almost missed Kahallan's continued implication that she ought to have a chat with the Pakleds. The man was daft, no doubt about that.

Kahallan tapped his console where the report on the alien starship scrolled.

"This is what I want, only smaller. That is all she is, just a big black boarding shuttle. You want to hurt her? Don't pound on her shields. Remember, she's designed for close-quarters work.

"Commander O'Shaughnessy . . ." Kahallan gave the engineer a slow, sideways look. "According to this, the alien seems to be backing both its shields and its weaponry with its warp drives, while at the same time, it maintained a high-level, high-power stationary position. Maybe we ought to look at this from a different direction.

"Is there some sort of way we can use our drive systems to place some manner of load on local space, which will force them to unexpectedly shunt power back to their warp drive . . .

"And, thus, away from their weapons and, more importantly, their shields?" He smiled then, bright and wolfish. "Worst it can do is surprise them, aye?"

Hitachi listened to Kahallan and what he could catch of the conversations O'Shaughnessy was having with her team.

"My analysis of the enemy ship shows that its weapons systems are geared to pirating. the two main systems are the improved tractor beam to grapple with the ship and keep it in the range of the other primary weapon, which appears to be some type of multi-phasic disruptor beam that sends a stream of highly condensed energy with a rapid succession of bursts on top of it to overwhelm systems.

"Now, I think that your analogy of the warp engines on the engines on the pirate, Commander Kahallan, is both right and wrong. They're powering their weapons higher through warp power, yes. But I believe the high warp output they had before that was to allow them to remain on this side of the gate.

"While the load idea is interesting, I'm leery of disturbing subspace. What's your feeling on that, Commander O'Shaughnessy? Also, is it possible to disrupt the interference patterns of a tractor beam . . . reverse the graviton force of the beams?"

Moira looked at each of them in turn -- Lucara, Kahallan, Hitachi -- as Chigara and Jefferson continued talking in the background in her earpiece.

"As my lads will have said, Captain, 'twill take a minimum of twenty minutes or upwards of two hours to get the warp bubble configured, depending on how we'll be going about the work. Time will not be the only factor, though."

Hitachi frowned at the engineering estimate for the reconfiguration.

"This bothers me. We already know that the pirate can fly faster than us due to warp level currently at seven-point-four or so. That means we'll be a sitting duck for twenty minutes after opening the wormhole. That's a bad tactical situation."

Moira nodded to the XO, before continuing to address the captain.

"'Tis true, 'twould take less time, and fewer engineers, to simply reconfigure the nacelles to work with Jefferson's wee calculations. However, as Commander Hitachi will have pointed out, that will be leaving us without warp capabilities for at least twenty minutes after going through the wormhole. And I'll be no more fond of that idea than he is," she admitted.

"On the other hand, we can try to repair the nacelles. If we'll need to replace the entire coil assembly, perhaps we can do it in about two hours, but 'twould take a lot of people out there working on it. Ya know that I lost more than a quarter of my Engineering staff in the battle just before ya arrived, Captain. They will all be certified to work EVA, of course, but not everyone will have as much experience as Jefferson, Chigara, and Fredriksen, so Jefferson's estimate perhaps will be a bit low.

"Sure now, I'll like to be seeing the nacelles working properly. But I'll be worrying a powerful worry that the longer we take, the farther away Commander Mulvihill will be." And there's the wee problem that most of us are past exhaustion, she added to herself. "I'm after recommending that we take the time, Captain, and try to repair the nacelles."

Moira then turned to Kahallan, smiling as she responded to his suggestion. "Aye, Commander . . . perhaps there be a way to surprise them, as ya say, while keeping in mind Commander Hitachi's reservations. Let me think on it for a wee bit."

She started to turn back to her console, but stopped and gave him a smile she generally reserved for her brothers . . . when they vexed her.

"Oh, and Commander . . . if ya be wanting an engineer chatting with the Pakleds and actually understand more than a word out of three, I'm recommending ya take Chief Kennedy with ya. Genius he'll be with the engines, and he'll have the patience of a saint."

She turned back to her console and the conversation that still continued in the engine room, waiting on the captain's decision. Standing in front of the bridge engineering station, hands clasped loosely behind her back and eyes darting from display to display, Moira listened to the recommendations of her junior engineers. She shook her head or nodded at some of their comments, occasionally responding with a comment of her own. Kahallan's puzzle had been relegated to the so-called back burner where the majority of her most creative ideas seemed to dwell.

"And that's exactly why we should consider it, Commander, sir," Kahallan calmly replied to the XO, slowly turning from the chief engineer.

It couldn't be seen, it could only be felt, empathic, the firm smile, as she puzzled and pondered, and the faintest tug of reluctance as Kahallan slowly turned away . . .

. . . Starfleet tactics clashing with a wolf's wild predatory instincts.

"As I said, it's a large assault boat. IF you want to go toe-to-toe and slug it out against its weapons, tractors, and shields, that's your privilege, Commander Hitachi. But the Eclipse is battered, underpowered, and you'll be playing by their rules.

"That's an even worse tactical situation. If you want to beat them, we have to set the rules, set the initiative. they seem geared for boarding. Letting them board us plays into their hands, so we should consider boarding them instead. We've seen how dangerous their weapons are. Simple. Take away their ability to use them. Considering the Eclipse's condition and our own fatigue, a standard standup fight isn't going to work. We're going to have to come up with a more imagina--"

© Kelly Naylor