by Travis Anderson
Tom Riker strode purposefully through the corridors of his assigned starship. The NCC-26632 USS Gandhi was an Ambassador-class vessel: No longer state of the art, but a valued workhorse amongst the fleet. Riker pondered that fact. The Enterprise-C had been amongst the first of its class constructed. That alone made these ships legendary.
Sure, Will Riker might serve aboard Starfleet’s flagship, the freshly painted Galaxy-class Enterprise-D butTom Riker had his steadfast Gandhi. Of course, the comparisons there weren’t as invigorating. Will was the executive officer while Tom was just the alpha watch Ops officer. Still, that made him the primary Ops officer aboard this ship. He’d certainly proven his ability with Starfleet systems while marooned on Nervalla.
Riker was headed for Downtime Central, a lounge that served the Gandhi much the same way Ten Forward served the Enterprise. It was a social place, a meeting ground for officers and enlisted, where rank held no privileges. As such the ship’s captain, Aryn Moneii, was rarely seen here. The XO, Commander Megan Halifax, was a frequent customer though.
Word was out on Riker. His rather unusual circumstances had become public knowledge thanks to a certain Ensign Mayweather. What had seemed to be leading to a mutually beneficial evening had ended with her spreading his story across the ship. Now everyone looked at him as a slightly different perspective shone in their eyes. Some even stared at him openly as though he were some exotic lifeform.
Riker responded by closing down his social loophole. He’d prove himself through his work. He’d been alone for eight years; what was another eighteen months aboard the Gandhi? At that time, he could request a transfer. Although…word was that Lt. Commander Beenak was transferring off of the Gandhi,which meant the position of second officer would be opening up. Riker was busting his hump trying to prove he was an ideal candidate.
As Riker approached the doors leading to Downtime Central, someone unexpectedly called out his name. He looked to see who it was and saw Ensign Annalise Vallis jogging toward him. Like him, Vallis was a new transfer to the ship. She’d arrived just a few weeks after he had. She was brought aboard as the alpha watch CONN officer. She and Riker sat by each other for at least eight hours a day, and he suddenly realized he hadn’t spoken more than a few words to her throughout that time.
Despite himself, Riker unyielded his most infectious smile. “Going my way, Ensign?”
She responded in kind. “Why yes I am, Lieutenant.”
“It’s just Tom while we’re in here,” Riker informed her.
“In that case, I’m Annalise,” Vallis replied.
“That’s not a common name,” Riker commented.
“That’s why I chose it,” Vallis remarked. “Who wants to settle for being average?”
Now his grin was genuine. “Truer words have never been spoken. Join me?”
“That was my intention,” she shared with a laugh.
They found an empty table and she sat. Riker took her order and went to the bar. He came back and she sipped at her drink as though she were testing it. Suddenly, she broke into a decadent smile.
“Mmm…that’s nice. Did you know that synthehol is unknown on my world?” Vallis asked.
Riker was becoming more and more intrigued. “No, I thought you were human. Was I wrong?”
“No,” she chuckled, “I’m human enough…through unconventional means. I figured you would know that by now.”
Riker was embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I really don’t know much about you.”
“I thought Elizabeth saw to it that everyone knew about me, Vallis said ruefully.
“Elizabeth…?” Riker prompted her.
“Mayweather,” Vallis sighed.
“Ah, I know her as well,” Riker admitted.
“I know. That’s why I’m here,” Vallis admitted.
Riker’s face clouded over and he began to excuse himself. She desperately clutched at his arm. “Please! It’s not what you think!”
Her raw desperation touched his heart. It was a plea born of complete and utter loneliness. He’d spent years in that cesspool, so he recognized the symptoms. He sat back down.
“Then what is it?” he asked, almost afraid of the answer.
“I’m from Mariposa,” she said as though that explained everything. Seeing no recognition in his eyes, she ventured on. “The colony was established by the survivors from a twenty-second century colony ship. There were only five. Three men and two women.”
“A colony like that wouldn’t be genetically viable unless…” Riker’s voice trailed off.
Her smile was a cautious one. “I see you get it. They established a society made up of clones, of which I am merely a single Vallis.”
“But even then, genetic degradation would set in,” Riker assumed.
Vallis sighed, “And it did. I’m the last generation of Vallises. The very last.”
“But you can’t let that happen,” Riker insisted. “There has to be a way.”
“There was. Mariposa had a sister colony in another system. The settlers lived upon Bringloid V. Solar flares destroyed their world, so they came to ours and we began propagating through fluid transfers.” Her last words were said with such disgust that Riker had to laugh.
She became indignant. “What?”
“Have you ever tried a…fluid transfer?” Riker wondered.
“No,” she hesitantly admitted, “But most humans seemed obsessed with them.”
“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” Riker advised. “A maxim for everyday life.”
“Okay,” she reluctantly agreed.
“So what’s with the sudden urge to reach out to me?” Riker asked.
“I thought we could relate because of…you know,” she said lamely.
Riker started to leave again and she pleaded, “Come on, being alone amongst nine hundred crewmen gets lonely. I’ve seen you. You feel it too.
Riker hesitated, so she pressed on. “I just thought we’d share some common ground since everyone thinks we’re both…”
“Freaks?” he offered.
She reluctantly nodded. “Yes. Freaks.”
He sat back down and she let out a long, weary sigh. “I understand. Believe me, I do. Try standing out and making a life for yourself that’s completely your own when you surrounded by a planet full of other women that are also you.”
“Well, I guess I should be grateful there are only two of me,” he allowed.
“As I understand it, there’s no original Riker. You’re both share a common history until the duplication eight years ago,” Vallis shared.
Riker gave her a wry look. “You seem to know my history fairly well.”
“I was understandably curious,” Vallis remarked. “So why does the other Riker get to wear your full name and you lag behind him in rank. Your common actions on Nervalla’s surface garnered him his promotion to Lt. Commander. You were the same person during those moments. Why hasn’t Starfleet promoted you accordingly as well?”
“Because Starfleet would rather pretend I don’t exist,” Riker suddenly blurted. “They left me behind to die, but I survived and that’s an embarrassment on their record. Eight years of my life were spent in a hellhole while everyone thought I didn’t exist. When I was discovered and my existence came to light, it was a grand case of ‘sweep it under the rug.’ The other Riker…”
“Your ‘brother,’ so to speak,” Vallis offered.
Riker smirked. “’Brother’ is a lot nicer term than I usually use.”
“But it’ll do for now,” Vallis urged. “So go on.”
“Anyway, my brother got the career I wanted and abandoned the woman I dreamt of,” Riker revealed.
Vallis was curious. “Why did he do that?”
“Because he’s an idiot,” Riker said sharply. “I spent every day and night holding on so I could reunite with her, and when I finally did, he’d destroyed everything. Including my chance to be with her.”
“But you did get to see her again?” Vallis inquired.
“Yes, but when I left the Enterprise to report here, she stayed aboard. I wasn’t worth transferring for.” Riker’s bitterness was palpable. “I dreamt of that moment, and when it finally happened, it passed by like it had never occurred at all.”
“So what’s your dream now?” Vallis wondered.
“Excuse me?” Riker wasn’t quite certain how to take her question.
“What’s your dream now?” she repeated. “You lived out the dream where you reunite with the woman. It didn’t turn out the way you expected and now you have an opportunity to decide on a new dream.”
“I want to make a name for myself,” he said with conviction. “I don’t want to live in Will Riker’s shadow anymore. I want people t remember that Tom Riker existed and he made a difference.”
“I can drink to that,” Vallis said merrily.
Riker’s comm badge suddenly sounded and he tapped it. “Riker here.”
“Moneii to Riker,” came the captain’s distinctive voice. “Please report to the bridge. And bring Ensign Vallis with you.”
“Aye, Captain,” Riker replied as the circuit closed. He tossed back his drink and looked to Vallis. “Well Annalise, it seems we’re back on duty.”
She had a twinkle in her eye. “Yes, it does, Lieutenant.”
They reported to the bridge and relieved the beta watch officers of their stations. Captain Moneii and Commander Halifax were in their seats. The beta watch officers milled about at auxiliary stations and secondary posts to take the place of the senior officers when required.
Lt. Shwren ann’Deri was crisp and poised at tactical. Riker suspected the Andorian had never left her post. Wren was a fast tracker in the making. She had ambitions beyond being the chief tactical officer and head of security. Riker didn’t know her very well, but he liked what he knew.
On the viewer, a transport was fading in and out of sight. It had dropped out of warp and there were signs of some damage to the secondary hull. Apparently Wren had already engaged in some target practice.
“Status?” Moneii asked in Wren’s general direction.
“The torpedo strike collapsed the unknown’s shields and disabled her warp drive. She’s still running on impulse and is apparently trying to cloak. Energy signatures obtained between attempts indicate they have a class four Klingon cloaking device,” Wren reported smoothly.
Moneii glanced towards Halifax, “I bet the Klingon Defense Force would be interested in learning about this.”
Halifax nodded and then asked, “Ship’s ID?”
“Her transponder has been silenced but she is a Lovell-class transport. Unlike a standard freighter, she’s armed with Type-6 phasers and enhanced shields,” Wren summarized. “Barring any undetected enhancements of course.”
“Captain, I’m detecting something,” Riker interjected.
“What is it?” Moneii asked. She seemed instantly curious.
“The ship’s warp drive is down, correct?” he asked. He saw Wren bristle slightly before he added, “I’m still registering three subspace fields.”
“Could I see those readings?” Wren asked.
“They’re on your board…now,” he informed her.
Wren was silent for several seconds before Moneii inquired, “Is there something wrong, Lieutenant?”
“I could be wrong, but these look like they could be traces from isolytic weapons,” Wren said at last.
“What?” Halifax was out of her chair even as she spoke. She moved to Riker’s station and leaned over his shoulder. “Damn. She’s right.”
“Lt. ann’Deri, hail the vessel again. Order them to leave to and prepare to be boarded,” the captain ordered.
Wren did as instructed and she frowned. “They’re still ignoring us, ma’am.”
“Lock phasers and disable their impulse drive,” Moneii instructed.
“Phaser lock is inoperative because of the cloak. I’ll have to target her manually,” Wren admitted.
“Best guess then,” Moneii replied.
Particle beams lanced out from the phaser array and struck the fleeing transport. The impulse drive went down in with a shower of explosions. Next, the Andorian was able to utilize the targeting sensors because the cloak went down. She bracketed the navigational sensors and insured that the ship wasn’t going anywhere. She was deaf, blind, and crippled.
“Transport is disabled,” Wren confirmed.
“Repeat our broadcast of an imminent boarding action,” Moneii commanded.
“Yes, ma’am,” Wren replied enthusiastically. She paused for a moment and then announced, “I’m getting an audio channel. They’re standing down and surrendering.”
Moneii turned to Halifax. “Megan, take Wren and secure that ship.” She turned in Riker’s direction. “Mr. Riker, ready to sift through some data?”
Riker grinned. “Love to, ma’am.”
In that case, join Commander Halifax’s boarding party,” Moneii ordered. “Lt. ann’Deri, assemble a security detail and join the commander in the transporter room.”
Wren’s head bobbed in acknowledgement. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Then let’s get to it,” Moneii urged.
“Find anything?” Wren asked Riker after they boarded the transport. Upon accessing the encrypted computer files, Riker had discovered the ship was registered as the NDT-54312 SS Precarious. Her Federation registration indicated that the transport had been built in 2328, just four years before theGandhi had been commissioned. The computer core had been purged on at least three separate occasions. Unfortunately, someone’s skill in the use of Starfleet’s reconstruction software could rebuild the data trail. Riker had such expertise.
“I can’t find any record of their buyer, but they do have a trail leading to Hadon II. That seems to be where they were meeting the prospective buyer,” Riker stated. “And get ready for the worst news. They’ve made identical runs three times before this.”
“So we’re potentially talking about twelve warheads,” Wren surmised.
“You’ve confirmed that they’re isolytic weapons?” Riker asked.
“Yes,” Wren grimly confirmed. “The origin point is still a mystery though. Everything I’ve studied about isolytics related to the Romulans or the Gorn. This stuff is on par engineering-wise but it’s distinctly unique.”
“So we have a trail but we don’t know where it leads beyond a single world,” Riker mused. “The records show that the crew was trying to beat a deadline because the buyer is about to accept delivery. How would you like to stop that?”
Wren blinked in surprise and then asked, “What are you suggesting?”
“Let’s head back to the Gandhi and I’ll bounce a few ideas off of you,” Riker suggested.
Wren wore a sly smile. “Okay, sounds good.”
Riker and Wren appeared before Moneii in her ready room. Riker was outlining his basic premise. “In order to capture, or at least deter, the end user from acquiring the other isolytic devices we need to approach undercover. We repair the Precarious and head there. Before we set out, we deactivate the warheads now in our possession and place trackers upon them. When they’re offloaded from the ship, we follow them to where they’re all being stored. “
Riker was trying to gauge how Moneii was receiving this, but she was a tough sell. He continued. “The Gandhi would be lying low at the edge of the system and would come flying in when we signal and we capture the weapons smugglers and we make them give up the buyers. At this point, we either hand off the shore of capturing the buyers or we do it ourselves. Whatever Command decides.”
“I’m glad you finally decided to include Starfleet Command into this little scenario,” Moneii dryly remarked. She turned to Wren and asked, “Your opinion, Lieutenant?”
“I happen to like the plan,” Wren admitted. “It gives us a chance to tie off a lot of loose ends that we’re currently sitting on.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. You’re dismissed,” Moneii said.
Wren exchanged a worried glance with Riker as she stepped out. Moneii steepled her fingers and coolly regarded him. “Let me tell you something, Mr. Riker. I don’t like showboating isolationist amongst my crew. You are not better than the rest of my crew.”
“Permission to speak freely?” Riker requested.
Moneii considered it before granting his request.
He decided to be honest. “I’ve tried to acquaint myself with the crew. However, my unique circumstances seem to have established an opinion of me.”
“And that opinion is?” Moneii inquired.
“To be blunt, that I’m some kind of sideshow freak or an anomaly that might prove infectious,” he described.
“Then change their minds,” Moneii urged.
“What do you think I’m trying to do?” Riker vented his exasperation all of a sudden. If Moneii were taken by surprise, she didn’t let it show.
“I know what you’ve been trying to do, Mr. Riker,” Moneii said coldly. “You’re trying to play the pity card. You were abandoned for eight years. So? There are worse fates. You could still be there, after all. So buck up and act like a senior officer for God’s sake.”
Riker weighed his response carefully. “Would you have taken my suggestion seriously if it had come from Wren?”
Moneii stopped moving. For a second she was a living still life. When she recovered, she ruefully admitted, “Yes, I would have. She is a trusted member of this crew and I consider her opinions very highly.”
“How am I supposed to earn similar trust if I’m never given the chance?” Riker asked simply.
Moneii pondered that. Finally she weighed in, “I’ll run this over with Starfleet Command. If they decide it’s appropriate, then we’ll do it. In any case, it all depends on how fast Lt. Commander Borien can get this captured transport running. We’ll have to put a prize crew aboard anyway to take to the nearest inhabited planet and arrange for its transfer into more appropriate hands.”
Riker smiled but Moneii warned him off from celebrating. “I haven’t approved anything yet. After I talk to sector command, I’ll make a decision and not before. Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Riker said enthusiastically. “May I report to the Precarious and assist Commander Borien’s teams?”
Moneii sighed. “I have feeling you’d go even if I said ‘no.’ So in the interest of not writing you up, I’ll simply say ‘yes.’”
Riker rose. “You won’t regret this, ma’am.”
“I already do, Mr. Riker,” she admitted. He left and she paged Admiral Ross. She’d present this fiasco of an idea whether she agreed with it or not. As Wren had said, it did tie off a bundle full of loose ends that they were currently trying to deal with right now.
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