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In spite of her admonition that her teammates get a good night’s sleep, Amy could not. When no amount of relaxation exercise or self administered psychology worked, Amy gravitated to the only place she seemed to be able to find sanctuary of late.

One of the reasons she liked frequenting the Arboretum at night was the music. She had spent time in most of the ecosystems and enjoyed most of the sounds, but she favored the area for Earth plants, for there she could occasionally be treated to piano sonatas.

Plant reaction to harmonics was Biology 101 – it was accepted universally that plants, as do sentient beings, react positively to the harmonic arrangement and frequencies of sound. Tonight, the soft tones of a chamber ensemble filled the area.

She concentrated on the crystilia blossoms just within the perimeter of the area programmed with an acidic environment. The fragrance caught her attention, as usual. The crystilia apparently reacted well to the melody emanating from the oxygen/nitrogen zone, their stalks leaning a few degrees in that direction.

The awareness of another presence washed over her and she instinctively turned around to find Ven-Kal-Dor standing behind her.

“I’m sorry if I startled you.” he said, appearing more as if he was the one who had been surprised. How could she have known that, although this was not the first time he had seen her in the Arboretum in the late night or early morning hours, it was the first time he had found himself unable to resist approaching her?

“You didn’t startle me.” She was telling at least half the truth.

“Then, I apologize for disturbing you.”

“You belong here, I’m afraid I am the intruder.” She made a move to turn and leave when his voice stopped her.

“The Arboretum is open to all, at any time, day or night. Please stay. I was on my way to the culture lab. I work at night, while it is quiet. It allows me time to assist Doctor Kapoor and work on my own projects as well.”

“When do you sleep?”

“I sleep when I am tired.”

“And what are you working on at the moment, Doctor?”

“I asked you to call me Francisco.”

“No, you said your friends call you Francisco.”

“We are not friends?” His expression appeared to be genuine disappointment.

“I suppose we could be, if I knew more about you.” Amy thought, ‘Perhaps this man thinks no one is immune to his charming ways and his penetrating eyes.’

“You still haven’t said what your current project is…or is that a secret?”

“I…have many interests. I like to keep busy.”

Understanding Amy would persist, he elaborated, “My particular field of study is the application of optronic biology to molecular farming…Doctor Kapoor is an accepted expert in the field of exo-agronomy; I was quite fortunate to be allowed to work with him. Currently, I am working on the mass propagation of a triticale type grain indigenous to Tau Ceti III.”

“I see. Is that before or after you give cooking lessons and perform diagnostics on sensitive holographic equipment?”

Francisco smiled. “I have visited your playground, would you like to see mine?”

Francisco motioned for Amy to move toward the other end of the grassy walk and led her to the culture lab. As they made their way, the music changed to a soothing arrangement for piano accompanied by an airy flute.

At one end of the lab was a sterile chamber with in-vitro cultures. Most of the living vegetation in mini ecosystem chambers looked mundane, nothing approaching the exotic quality of the plants on display in the Arboretum. Amy was pleased to find the music inside the culture lab was the same as that in the Earth zone of the Arboretum.

Amy asked, “Do you select the music?”

“Doctor Kapoor has a carefully scheduled set of frequencies he uses for the various eco systems…I suspect he relies as much on his own ancestry as he does his scientific education…one of the reasons this facility is so highly regarded and allowed so much space on this base. He indulges me, within limits.”

“Did you make this selection?”

“Yes. The arrangement maintains the right balance of frequencies to have a positive influence on the plants in the majority in the eco systems we maintain in the Arboretum. It is one of my grandfather’s favorites – and mine. There was always music in the house. But Grandfather is particularly fond of arrangements that feature piano and flute.” Francisco smiled, nostalgically. “Allie…Grandmother…used to tease him by saying that he actually fell in love with her piano and only married her because she was attached to it.”

Unable to hold back a smile, but still telling herself she could maintain an impersonal distance, Amy tried to turn her attention elsewhere, settling it on a chamber containing desiccated and shriveled plants that appeared to have died.

She wondered if the environmental controls had failed or if a stasis field had been corrupted. Next to it, in an identical chamber was a small clump of fern, rich green and attached to the same kind of barky medium.

“That is the same reaction we get from the kindergartners.”

Had the remark been made by anyone else, Amy would have mounted an indignant protest. But there was not a trace of derision in the way he said it.

Amy remarked, remembering something from her early studies, “They seem…familiar.”

He pointed to the chamber with the lush green fern sample. “Isolation of the dehydrin gene of Pleopeltis polypodiodes was the first breakthrough in the science of terra-forming...you may be remembering it from your elementary biology. This is the plant in its hydrated state. A common variety of fern that grows in particular eco-systems on Earth, both the same plant, except this one,” he pointed again to the dead looking plant, “is a holo-projection programmed at an accelerated rate of change…I constructed this chamber for Doctor Kapoor to use as an educational tool…Thus demonstrating that I do not waste all my talents.”

Amy’s expression relayed a silent touché.

“This plant can lose 97% of its moisture content and survive. All it needs is the slightest rain shower to bring it back to life…Computer, activate program DH235.”

Amy watched as a mist filled the chamber and as the fronds of the little fern began to unfurl and assume their rich green color, like the living plant in the first chamber.

In spite of her earlier reaction to the dead looking plant, the process of plant re-hydration paled next to the monumental task of de-fusing a Klingon from a Borg. Amy’s fascination was more with Francisco than with the transmutation occurring in the bell jar.

“Some plants have been known to survive more than 100 years in their desiccated state without a water source…the first time I saw the transformation in the plant’s real-life environment, I was captivated, especially when I learned of its history and the mystique that surrounded it for centuries before it earned its place in the annals of science. I was newly arrived on Earth and it was the fifth cycle of my first awareness….I was nine.”

Although Amy couldn’t imagine how much mystique could be attached to a common plant, it was hardly a stretch for her to remember the magic of being nine.

“In the deeply religious past of the area where I grew up, it was revered and highly prized. To have it propagate in one’s live oak trees gave a landowner additional prominence. It’s known as resurrection fern.

Francisco captured Amy’s eyes as he spoke, and this time she did not try to avoid them. “The rain does for this little fern what your algorithm will do for Worf...” The simulation in the chamber had taken the fern back to its dead like state. “I know some of what it must be like for him to be in that kind of limbo...” Francisco’s voice trailed off.

In the lab’s ambient light Francisco’s blue-violet eyes had changed to a rose amethyst and they held Amy’s brown eyes for what seemed to her too long, and yet, not long enough.

His voice assumed an intensity, even in its low timbre, that rivaled that of his hold on Amy’s eyes. “The time is almost up. The confinement module may be destroyed if a solution cannot be found in the next 72 hours. Commander Worf will cease to exist even in temporal stasis.”

“Do you know Commander Worf?” she asked.

“We have never met. But I know the circumstances of how he came to be trapped in stasis with the Borg.”

“He sacrificed himself. It was brave and noble,” Amy said softly, still suspended within a force field that seemed to be constantly changing colors.

“Noble, yes – but not because it was a sacrifice. Amy, there is no nobility, no honor, in sacrifice. And from all accounts, Worf is an honorable Klingon...The rest of the galaxy cannot go the way of El-Auria or the thousands of other worlds whose names and histories we will never know. I understand his determination to do whatever was necessary to stop it, even in the split-second he had to make the decision.”

Francisco reached up with his left arm to deactivate the light overhead, exposing much of its markings. As curious as she was, she did not ask the question, admitting to herself that she might not want to know.

Francisco answered the question in her eyes. “It reminds me that I should always trust my instincts.” When he brought his arm down, his hand found Amy’s resting atop the eco-chamber. She felt an energy surge through her that made her inhale a short, silent gasp.

When he slowly withdrew his hand, “It’s getting late,” was all he could manage.

As if an iridescent film surrounding them disintegrated, Amy recovered what she could of her own resolve. “You’re right. You may only need occasional sleep, but I will be worth zilch if I don’t go back to my quarters and try to put in a few hours of rem.”

“And I still have cultures to attend.”

As the music changed to a violin concerto, Amy said, reluctantly, “Well, goodnight then.” For a reason she resisted naming, she did not want to leave and dared not stay.


June 15th, 2386, [Stardate: 63452.62]
Starbase 39-Sierra

5:00 am

The second movement of Q’Bleth’s first symphony Amy had programmed into her alarm only four hours before awakened her to a clarity she had not been aware she was capable of.

She vividly saw every step of a new algorithm and its natural conclusion beginning with the spin of the smallest quantum particle and ending in a fully materialized Commander Worf standing in front of her.

Silently, she made him a promise.

Amy Crawford knew what she had to do:

1. Call Kaitlyn

2. Call Ven-Kal-Dor

3. Call Charles

The first two tasks were accomplished before the third bell of the morning watch.


6:45 am

“You wanted to see me, Adam?”

Francisco stood in front of the desk, a padd in his hand, staring at Adam Quive’s back. The man he was glad to still call friend was installed like a statue in front of the large view port, legs astride and arms crossed. Francisco knew that stance. It meant the Security Chief was mounting an offensive. He awaited the un-named inevitable.

Quive did not make him wait long. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m not sure what you mean?”

Adam turned to look Francisco in the eye. “I mean – What are you doing with the Crawford kid?”

“I am…supervising.”

“You were supposed to maintain a distance and observe. What happened?”

“There was a need for me to join the team.”

“You might tell yourself that, Frisco, but I’ve known you too long – emphasis on the long. You’re three times her age, and before you give me a lecture on the comparison between Human metabolism and Tau Cetan, I mean you’ve already been around the galaxy more times than she’s likely to be in her entire lifetime.”

“If you’re implying there is anything untoward about my relationship with Cadet Crawford, you’re wrong. I appreciate her scientific prowess and her zeal. That is all.”

“Yeah, well just be sure you don’t put any blemishes on that zeal of hers. There are only three reasons you were allowed to supervise this project: one, Vostok’s resources are already strained beyond their limit; two, Dunmore suggested it and Gretchen Metzger thinks Dunmore walks on water; and three, I vouched for you. I can just as easily un-vouch – and you, old friend, will be back to watering the plants.”

“Please, Adam, don’t do that. They are close to a solution, I can feel it. It’s important I remain with the project.”

“I fail to see what difference a change in babysitters will make. I sanctioned you supervising those youngsters because I thought it would be good for you to get back into something that offered more of a challenge – and because you promised you would keep a low profile. I don’t call midnight strolls in the garden and leaving love notes in the form of food trays low profile.”

Watching the color drain from Francisco’s face, Quive twisted the virtual knife he had just thrust into his friend’s sternum, “Do you think anything of any importance happens on this station that I don’t know about?”

“I give you my word, on whatever friendship that’s left between us. There is nothing more between Ms. Crawford and myself than a mutual interest in quantum physics.” Francisco’s face was nearly bloodless.

“Then you just make sure it stays that way. Friendship or no friendship, if I find out differently, I will take you down myself – understood?”

A realization settled on Francisco so heavily that it almost took his breath away. When he finally responded, his reply was barely audible. “Understood.”

As Francisco walked toward the door, Adam rendered a coups de gras. “Look, Frisco, you know that Crawford isn’t the only one I’m concerned about here…..And why don’t you have something done about that damn thing,” he said, pointing at the markings on Francisco’s left arm, “Twenty years is long enough, even for you.”


9:05 am

Amy hesitated before keying the final code that would initiate her call to Doctor Charles Dunmore. She was not sure what she would do if he wasn’t available to take it. Gingerly, she keyed the sequence and fortified herself when his image appeared.

“You are rather late getting in your daily report, Amy, anything wrong?” Doctor Dunmore’s concern seemed sincere.

“Charles,” Amy began, “Kaitlyn and I have revised our algorithm and added a new element. I’ve sent you a formal description paper for the deterministic algorithm that we will be prepared to demonstrate at 1100 hours.”

“I’ll check my…”

“We don’t have time for you to review it now. Kaitlyn and the others are preparing the demonstration; the results are outlined in the paper I sent you.”

“Amy, I can’t advise you if I don’t review the proposal. And how does one post results…”

“What I sent you is not a proposal, Charles, it’s a technical manual. And I didn’t send it to you for your opinion. As much as I appreciate everything you’ve done for us so far, we don’t need your advice; we need your cooperation.”

She took a breath, but one not long enough to allow for an interruption from a gaping Dunmore. “We will fail in the demonstration. I’ve outlined exactly why and at what point we will fail when the protocols are applied to an optronic copy. The algorithm will succeed – but only when applied to the confinement module and fully realized bio-matter…Once you read the paper, you’ll understand. The demonstration is just proof. So Charles, I don’t care whose derriere you have to kiss and I don’t even care if you have to give it to another team to make sure these protocols are used...Just make it happen.”

Amy shut down the comm-link before Dunmore could respond, leaving him facing a blank viewscreen.

Her voice had been calm and even and without a millisecond’s hesitation while she was talking to Dunmore; by the time the door to the comm. center closed behind her, she was shaking like a gossamer pod in a windstorm, not realizing the relief she had just handed a man who was sorely in need of it.


10:15 am

By the time Amy reached hololab 8b, her body had ceased its involuntary quaking. The team was assembled and already at work performing the individual tasks in preparation for his or her part of the process. Kaitlyn had everything under control.

“Ven-Kal-Dor has programmed the tonal frequencies you requested. We just completed the integration into the final phase. It required rapid calibration of the frequencies required for the opera, but he pulled it off…How’d it go with Doctor Dunmore?”

Amy put her hand out to see if it was still shaking. “I suppose we will find out soon. Are we ready?”

Kaitlyn took a deep breath and said, “We’re ready.”

As Kailtyn returned to her station to do one more calibration check, Amy approached Ven-Kal-Dor. His acknowledgement of her when she entered the lab had seemed lukewarm. She was standing beside him for a few seconds before he turned his attention from his workstation and bestowed it on her.

“I’ve programmed the frequencies…”

“I know. Kaitlyn has already filled me in,” Amy interrupted. It occurred to her that she was making him uncomfortable.

“Amy, I need to speak with you…and there isn’t much time…can we go into the corridor?” he asked – more a plea than a request.

Without saying a word, Amy turned and headed for the lab exit, with Ven-Kal-Dor following. He wasted no time when the doors to the lab shut them off from the rest of the team.

Reaching out for her arm, he swung Amy around and held both her arms with his hands. It startled her, not because of any fear that he would harm her, but because she felt the same surge of incandescent energy she had experienced when his hand had found hers in the culture lab.

The urgency in his voice sent chills through her. “You will free Worf without the Borg escaping, I have no doubt of that; but while maintaining his confinement, it is vital that this Homunculus’ molecular integrity be maintained as well.”

“You do believe the Borg is, or was, El-Aurian, don’t you?”

“Yes…I do…We haven’t enough time for me to explain how I know.” His grip tightened, transmitting the pounding of his heart to hers. “Amy, he did not say, ‘You will be assimilated.’ He asked for asylum. The fact that he refers to himself as Homunculus has some crucial significance – I’m sure of it. I believe that if this El-Aurian Borg is destroyed before we know what that significance is, the consequences for Earth, for Tau Ceti Prime, and for the rest of the galaxy may be irrevocable.”

“Francisco, can’t this wait until after…?”

Her use of his chosen name made his heart pound even harder – Amy could feel the increase in their pulse rates. He closed his eyes and bent his head.

When he recovered as much composure as he could muster, he let her go. The disconnection made Amy feel as if the air had been evacuated from the corridor.

“No. I am leaving 39 after the demonstration. The arrangements have been made.”

Amy managed only a hoarse whisper. “Why?”

Before Francisco could answer, Lieutenant Commander Vostok rounded the corner of the entry portal, followed by Dean Metzger and Security Chief Adam Quive.

As they approached, Francisco turned to Amy and with sadness in his voice said, “If I stay, I would surely break an oath to a friend.”

There would be no more time for protest from Amy. Vostok was now standing three feet away, expecting Cadet Crawford to snap-to. Two armed security guards who had followed Quive into the corridor were positioning themselves on either side of the hololab door. Two more took positions on either side of the entry portal at the end of the corridor.

“Cadet Crawford, you will be needed inside. Doctor Ven-Kal-Dor, you are excused.”

Amy protested. “Lieutenant Commander, Doctor Ven-Kal-Dor is part of our team.”

Vostok ignored her and turned to Francisco. “You may go, Doctor.” She motioned toward Adam Quive who stood with a grim patience to her right.

Francisco bowed to Amy, held her eyes for a split second then started down the corridor without looking back. Adam Quive followed closely behind.

Vostok keyed the entry to the hololab and entered. Still affected by the rapid decompression of Francisco’s letting go, Amy followed Dean Metzger into the room to find Doctor Dunmore’s visage inhabiting the large viewscreen on the wall. Beyond, the flashing light of the optronic module seemed to speed up to match her heartbeat.

“Well, Cadets,” Dunmore began, “How long will it take you to pack up this gear?”

As if emerging from a fog bank on Galor IV, Amy regained her bearings. She was outraged. “What about the demonstration? Did you even read the paper?!”

Dunmore silenced Lieutenant Commander Vostok before she could call the young cadet down for insubordination. “Of course I did. That’s why you’re packing. No need for a demonstration, Ms. Crawford. Now, how long will it take you and your team to pack yourselves and any of the specially calibrated hardware you will need to apply your algorithm to the confinement module?”

The only two people in the room that did not have dumfounded looks on their faces were Lieutenant Commander Vostok and Gretchen Metzger.

Finally Kaitlyn found her voice. “Four hours, sir.”

Amy took a deep breath and said a silent thank you to her friend.

Dunmore smiled and avowed, “Congratulations cadets. You’ve made an old prof proud. The wheels are in motion. You can use the holodeck on the ship to make any final adjustments.”

After Dunmore’s image faded, all eyes turned to Vostok and Metzger.

“Tell Doctor Metzger what technical assistance you require. I will see you before you leave.” Vostok was an officer of few words and she made all of them count. She left the lab as she had entered it – as if she was in charge of the situation.

Amy asked Gretchen Metzger, “What about Doctor Ven-Kal-Dor? He contributed one of the key protocols.”

“Are those protocols already integrated into the algorithm?”


Gretchen, whose personality was molten lava compared to Vostok answered, “Then I would say he is not a necessity. He has been on 39 far longer than was originally planned as it is. I believe the four of you will be sufficient. If you require any technical assistance, I’m quite sure Starfleet Science will be able to find someone with the skills you need. If it becomes necessary, you can brief them on the way to Starfleet Nevada.”


Before leaving Starbase 39-Sierra, Amy managed only enough time to throw her sparse belongings into a transport container. While Kailtyn, Ynden, and T’Herel supervised the final steps of securing their equipment on the science vessel that would ferry them to Earth, she tried to find out about Francisco.

With barely enough time before the ship disembarked, Amy arrived at the crowded Arboretum and headed for Doctor Kapoor’s office.

Before she could announce herself and request an audience, Adam Quive appeared from behind the kelgi-grass.

“Ms. Crawford?”

“Commander Quive…I came to see Doctor Kapoor and I don’t have much time…”

“I know, Cadet. I thought I would save you some time and trouble. Francisco has already left the station.”

“How did you….When?”

“Almost two hours ago. He arranged passage on the Ferengi freighter that has been docked here for way too long.”

“Where is he going?”

“I’m afraid that’s information I am not at liberty to share.”

Amy and Quive stared at each other far longer than either of them was comfortable with – a proverbial Mexican standoff. There was a plethora or questions running through Amy’s mind, but, although she could not explain why, even to herself, there were none she wanted to share with Adam Quive. She would look for her answers elsewhere.

Time was running out. Without another word, Amy turned toward the exit.

The last thing she saw before the turbo lift doors closed was Adam Quive standing in front of the expansive viewing port, the field of stars a solemn background for a man who suddenly looked much older than his years.


June 18th, 2386, 8:00 am [Stardate: 63461.18]
Starfleet Nevada

Amy felt like the shriveled little fern in Francisco’s stasis chamber – as if the holodeck walls were made of transparent aluminum and she was on display for kindergartners who were waiting impatiently for the magic to begin.

Standing among the baker’s dozen on the observation deck, Jean-Luc Picard smiled in anticipation of success. Only a confrontation with the Borg would have kept him away. Enterprise HQ hovered above the planet, awaiting the outcome with equal anticipation.

However, not everyone assembled on the observation deck had the confidence in the group of twenty-somethings that Charles Dunmore possessed. Neither Amy, nor anyone on her team would ever know the markers Dunmore had called in to make this moment happen. If the algorithm failed, Dunmore would go down with it.

The second before giving the command to begin the algorithm and its subroutines, the four cadets looked at one another, silently acknowledging their readiness to begin. In unison, each turned his or her full attention to the sensors and monitors on the control deck.

“Computer,” Amy commanded. “Begin genitronic algorithm 75a. Deactivate neurogenic field...On my mark; Holoprogram begin.”

In a flash of déjà vu, the fused bodies of Worf and the Borg Homunculus were disgorged from the module onto the deck, held in a shimmering force field and encased in the Talaxian glue that had fused them so tightly together.

The Phased Tunneling Beam initialized and began the process of separating the Klingon from the Borg as the genitronic bio-scanner queried and retrieved Worf’s neurogenic data, sending the results to Ynden’s quantum phase discriminator. T’Herel’s fractal optimized imaging scanner locked onto Worf’s signature and Amy’s adaptation protocol began.

The Borg did not move. The disorientation generator was not engaged.

Instead, from an acoustic generator Amy added as a last step in the algorithm, a rapid stream of carefully calibrated tones were directed at the locked genitronic signature of Commander Worf.

The transporter was engaged and Worf’s separated bio-matter exhibited the familiar iridescence of dematerialization. This was the time to hold their collective breaths; there was no going back.

At the microsecond T’Herel’s fractal optimized image scanner recognized Worf as fully materialized, the Borg was sucked back into the module, glue, force field, and all, like an evil jinn returned to his bottle.

There was a tangibly painful gap between the all-clear signal coming from Amy’s console and the realization that what took only a few seconds from start to finish was now a complete success. Like rain for the resurrection fern, the missing element Amy had envisioned upon waking 46 hours earlier had proven to be the key.

As the observers watched T’Herel scan the length of Worf’s body with a tricorder, Captain Picard was already on his way to the holosuite while Doctor Dunmore completed his narration:

“Cadet Crawford’s team had previously experienced complete success with the adaptation the first time they employed it on the optronic module, but could not retrieve a cohesive Commander Worf. After several unsuccessful attempts to isolate the reason for this, Cadet Crawford realized that, having reduced the time to microseconds, their concern should not be with the disorientation of the Borg, but with the reorientation of Commander Worf.”

Dunmore clasped his hands behind his back, assuming his favorite lecture posture, and continued, “We knew there was activity within the module – something was happening but no sensor known to us could tell exactly the nature of the activity. We got our first glimpse of what might be happening when Cadet MacKenna’s team successfully pulled the copy of Commander Worf from the optronic module - that of mortal combat. Soon-to-be-Doctor Crawford theorized that our Mr. Worf’s honor code would not allow him to let go of the Borg until he had won the day. The contribution by each team member was a brilliant innovation in its own right…Communicating Mr. Worf’s victory to him using acoustic frequencies corresponding to an aria from Aktuh and Maylota – that was insightful and inspired. They told him he could let go; and, obviously, he did.”

Just then, and only for a few seconds, screeching sounds audible to everyone were emitted by the acoustic generator as it reduced the ultrasonic range to more tolerable frequencies. As he bellowed, “maH ‘oH cheghta’!” Worf’s ridged brow furrowed heavily at the four young strangers. Worf was alive, and in good voice.

Before he could demand to see his captain, the doors opened and Jean-Luc Picard stepped through, with a scowl on his face, demanding, “Mr. Worf, you have jeopardized the life of one of my best officers – explain.” Before Worf could react, his captain broke into a wide smile and extended his hand.

“Mr. Worf, it is good to see you.” Picard shook Worf’s hand so vigorously it made the Klingon vibrate.

The group that had been on the observation deck poured into the holosuite. As guards repositioned themselves next to the confinement module, now with a lone tenant, the hand shaking and back slapping began. Those who had been prepared for failure were relieved by the outcome. Dunmore headed straight for the cadets whom he could hardly call students now.

It took Worf a few more seconds to get his bearings once the shrieking of the opera ceased and he had pronounced the victorious return from battle. More than one of the officers who had surrounded Worf was eager to tell him how long he had been confined and what had transpired to free him.

While Worf was engulfed in a sea of well-wishers, Picard extended his thanks to the four young cadets who, along with Dunmore, were reviewing the essential data T’Herel had gathered with her tricorder before the Borg’s DNA could be disturbed or contaminated.

Finally, when he could manage it, Dunmore led Worf over to introduce him to the cadets who were responsible for that freedom. Then, before he could loose any of the memories about being in temporal stasis with the Borg, Worf was whisked away from the cadets to be debriefed.


Before the uncorking of the first champagne bottle, Captain Picard and Worf met privately with the four cadets to communicate with the bridge of the Enterprise HQ.

Each member of the bridge complement was seated at his or her console, leaving Worf’s station behind the captain’s chair noticeably vacant – their version of the missing man formation broadcasting a silent salute to Commander Worf from his fellow officers.

Standing in front of the captain’s chair, Commander Martin Madden tried to look stoic. It was Geordie La Forge who spoke up first.

“Worf, it’s great to see you. You missed poker night. I won.”

Guinan stepped into view, her expression one of relief and concern. “Before you decided to take your vacation, I laid in a year’s supply of prune juice. I’m glad it won’t go to waste.”

Picard added, “I’m sure I speak for the entire crew when I say, ‘It will be good to have you back at your post, Mr. Worf.’”

Worf almost broke into a grin. “I too am looking forward to returning to my duties, Captain, if only to escape the constant stream of probing I have had to endure since my release from the module. And now, I must endure this gathering Doctor Dunmore has arranged.”

“Believe me, Commander, I do understand. But you deserve the accolades – and the gratitude – as do Cadets Crawford, MacKenna, Tor, and T’Herel. You should be very proud of yourselves.” Picard commanded, as he made eye contact with each cadet as he said his or her name. “We are grateful to you for returning to us a valued member of our crew.”

The swish of the door opening coincided with Kaitlyn’s pronouncement. “I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we’re honored by your comments, Captain Picard, but we didn’t take on this project for accolades, or even a grade.” Kaitlyn, unopposed spokesperson for the team, had everything under control.

“I know why you took it on, Kaitlyn, and why you all kept the faith and the uncompromising search for the truth. That’s why I knew you would succeed.” It was Charles Dunmore.

Through the still open door, the sound of a champagne cork popping could be heard over the noisy conversation in the makeshift reception room beyond. Saying their goodbyes to the Enterprise, the group joined the impromptu celebration that soon escalated into a well attended soirée.

No less than Admiral Nechayev made an appearance to extend her congratulations on the success of the project. When asked about the fate of the confinement module, her answer was short and succinct. “That is something better discussed at another time.”

Throughout the rest of the evening, the cadets did their best to stay together, even though each of them was besieged by someone wanting to know more about Kaitlyn’s use of the Heisenberg compensator, Ynden’s quantum phase discriminator, or Amy’s adaptation. At one point, the Vulcan consul cornered T’Herel, reiterating his request that she return to the Vulcan Science Academy.

After excusing herself from the dean of Starfleet Academy, who suggested she transfer to Starfleet Nevada, Kaitlyn gathered her flock. Worf never strayed too far from the group, watching over them like a mother Horta.

Finally alone again with the cadets, Worf confessed, “Whenever I listen to Aktuh and Maylota it will remind me of the four of you. How did you know that using the victory aria from that opera would communicate the correct message to me?”

Amy cleared her throat and answered, honestly, “We didn’t. We asked your mother – you know for a non-Klingon she sure has you pegged.”

Before Kaitlyn or Ynden could add a comment, T’Herel offered her own. “It was also the most logical guess on which we could all agree.”

The innocent look on the young Vulcan’s face as she said it made Worf appear disconcerted. He squirmed in his uniform and finally asked warily, “Do any of you play poker?”


When it was time for the gathering to end and most of the well-wishers had departed, Worf offered to escort the cadets to their assigned quarters. As Kait, Ynden, and T’Herel exited the reception room with Worf following closely behind, Amy stayed behind with Charles Dunmore.

“What are your plans now, Amy?”

“I’m a first year cadet. Better to ask what Starfleet’s plans are for me – for all of us.”

“Amy, the galaxy is your oyster.”

“My father taught me a lot, Doctor, but I don’t really know what that means.”

“It means the four of you can write your own bus ticket from here. Starbase 39-Sierra wants all of you back. I want you all to stay here. But if you choose, each of you could wangle a choice assignment on a starship where you could finish your studies and your training. Right now, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to speculate that you could even manage to get that assignment together.”

Amy studied Dunmore for a few seconds before asking, “Charles, where will the confinement module be?”

“Here, on Earth, for as long as we can maintain it without danger of the Borg escaping.”

“And where will you be?”

“With the confinement module.”

“I can’t speak for Kait or Ynden or T’Herel, but I am with you and the Borg.”

Charles would normally have beamed with pride over her choice, but that seemed inappropriate. He simply said, “I’ll make the arrangements.”


June 21st, 2386, 6:30 pm [Stardate: 63470.06]
Earth, Southern Louisiana

The hovertrain sped over a long swampy stretch of the landscape. The monotony of it filled Amy with anxious anticipation. ‘What would she find? Would she be welcome?’

Their debriefing at Starfleet Nevada had seemed to go on forever. After the reception, the atmosphere of the place was deadly serious and the security was as tight as an Aldebaran drum kit.

The message on the padd in her lap contained nothing more than a short, cryptic dispatch followed by an address. T’Herel had delivered it after Kaitlyn and Ynden left to visit Kait’s relatives for the week they had all been granted leave. After trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Amy that she should go with them, Kait had finally given up and left without her.

Sitting in the isle seat next to Amy, T’Herel was engrossed in a medical journal. Amy didn’t know why T’Herel, who was bound for Prague, had offered to ride with her as far as New Orleans Global transport terminal – LAG would have been much closer. ‘Possibly the same reason Adam Quive had chosen T’Herel to deliver the message,’ Amy thought. She accepted the gesture without comment or question.

Suddenly, Amy thought of Bjorn Gustavsen and wondered where he was.


At 8:03 pm, when the aircar pulled up to the front of the house, the sun was just visible through the tree tops. Galor IV had beautiful sunsets, but nothing to compare with the glow that was coloring the clouds sitting atop the trees with what she would come to know as sky blue pink.

Standing on the old, French Creole style porch, with its thick columns and chalky white balustrade, Amy surveyed the long dirt road that led up to the house. The drive was lined with centuries-old live oaks, their branches drooping with age, dipping to rest on the earth, each covered with a shawl of green fern enriched by the sparkling drops from the recent rain glistening on the fronds.

Amy thought of Commander Worf and what he had risked to stop the Borg. He could never stand outside the fire – and neither would she. And she could never think of rain in the same way again.

The man who opened the door extended his weathered hand to her and said, “Welcome, Amy Crawford. I have been expecting you.”

Putting her hand in his, Amy crossed over a threshold that had seen 600 years of history, taking the next step of a journey she would never before have imagined.


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