Angela woke with a start and regretted it immediately. Sleeping in a chair and slumped over a dressing table, did not do good things for a person's back. With some effort, she raised her hand to begin a neck and shoulder massage, but quickly decided against it. Instead, she pushed herself up from the dressing table, and lurched toward the cabin comm panel.
Angela stumbled to the far end of her quarters, then anchored herself to the wall with her right hand and slapped the panel with her left. "Matthews to sickbay." She did her best to hold herself steady, as every little movement brought a new twinge of pain.
Doctor Crusher's voice issued from the terminal. "Sickbay here, Commodore. What's the problem?" The doctor sounded tense, and Matthews guessed Crusher was more than a tad concerned. Senior command officers as a group, tended to shrug off anything less than a severed limb.
Matthews glanced at the chronometer on the lower left corner of the terminal display, and did the arithmetic. "I fell asleep at my dressing table, nine hours ago." She gave the clock a better look, forcing her eyes to focus on the small numbers again. "I didn't realize you were such an early riser, Doctor."
Doctor Crusher seemed pleasant enough, considering the hour. "Oh-six-twenty isn't that early. By the way, I discussed your request with the Captain, and we agree. I’ll send your new CMO to your cabin. Crusher out."
Well, Angela thought, things were looking up. It certainly would be good to have Kate around again. As she tried to straighten up, Angela wished her friend the doctor was around right then. Matthews concluded she must have been as tired as everyone insisted, to sleep so long in such an uncomfortable position.
As long as she was by the comm panel, Angela decided to get an update. She tapped the comm panel again, asking this time for the second officer. When he responded, Angela inquired, "Mr. Data, what's our ETA, and local time on arrival?"
"We will arrive in one hour, twenty-three minutes," Data responded almost immediately. "Sendatius Minor has a twenty-six hour cycle, which does not vary from an even division of day and night. Enterprise should enter orbit approximately three hours and two minutes before dawn, local time."
"Thanks, Mister Data," Angela offered, thoroughly impressed. "Are you on the bridge?"
"Commander Riker has the morning watch."
That, Matthews guessed, was among the shortest answers she'd ever got from the android. "Thank you Data. That'll be all for now." The pain spread between her shoulder blades and began forcing her to hunch over, but Angela placed one more call.
"Bridge," was Riker's prompt response.
"Commander, would you ask the Captain to convene another staff briefing at his earliest convenience?"
"Certainly, Commodore Matthews. Anything else?"
Angela paused for consideration, then added, "Yeah, have Doctor Sterling join the briefing, please."
She could hear the smile in Riker's voice as he replied, "Acknowledged. Bridge out."
As she lurched away from the panel, Angela wondered if Riker had relieved Data early. She didn't know why the thought occurred to her, but it was something to divert her attention from her stiff back and neck. Angela made her way to a big, plush looking chair, and gingerly lowered herself into it. Where the hell was Kate, anyway?
As though responding to Matthews' mental command, the doorchime toned. "Come in, Kate," Angela called, but didn't budge from the chair.
Doctor Sterling breezed into the cabin with her tricorder up and running. "Relax," she told her old friend, "the cavalry's here." After a quick scan, she put the tricorder away and opened her little medikit. "How'd you do this, Angela?"
"I was brushing my hair," Angela started to explain, "and fell asleep at the---"
"Girl, that was dumb." Sterling prepared a hypospray.
"Thanks Kate, I'd never have figured that out by myself." Turning her attention to the hypospray, she asked, "You're not about to slip me a mickey, are you?"
Without missing a beat Sterling cracked, "No no, I'd never do that to you; that's how I pick up men."
"Oh, get over it." Sterling applied the hypo to Matthews' neck and back. "Now that'll hold you until the muscles can relax themselves. Skip your workout today, or you'll aggravate the injury all over again."
Angela hesitantly rocked her head around, testing the doctor's handiwork. "You know I hate skipping a day; it always throws me off."
Sterling responded with a stiff, argument ending, "Doctor's orders."
Angela sighed, and confessed, "I suppose I'll have to get used to that."
"You, bossing me around." With a wicked little grin, Angela let the cat out of the bag. "I need a good chief medical officer on the Tirpitz; job's yours if you want it."
Dr. Sterling was genuinely surprised. "I suspected you were gunna offer me a job, but Cee-Em-Oh? You're kidding, right?"
"Just like that?"
Angela all but gleefully replied, "Uh huh."
"I'll have to think it over." Sterling packed up her medikit. "Okay, I'm in."
"Good," Angela confirmed. "When we finish this assignment, you'll leave with me."
Sterling's eyes lit up. "Great! Now I can make sure you get a little ar-n-ar."
"Aw, don't start up with that again," Angela groused.
Sterling was quick to point out, "If you tense up, I'll have to treat that neck sprain all over again. Calm down, Angela. I already told the Captain you'd be just fine."
Matthews shields went up. "You spoke to the Captain about me?"
Sterling slowly shook her head, and fought the frustration rising in her. "Relax Angela, I have your back. Besides, Doctor Crusher was the concerned one and since the Captain dismissed me first, I'll bet my stethoscope they talked about me too."
Angela was pleased. "You still have that antique?"
Sterling's expression turned sour. "You gave me that antique when I graduated medical school. I'll have you know it still works and you needn't change the subject. I understand asking my captain's opinion of me is some kind of time honored tradition. You did mention yesterday you wanted me to come work for you, did you not?"
Angela blinked away her surprise. "Nothing gets by you, does it?"
Kate giggled. "You work with kids long enough, and reading grownups becomes a snap. For example, I could tell something besides a nasty sprain was bothering you the instant I came in. Would you like to talk about it now?"
"Nothing gets by you." Matthews smile faded. "I don't know, Kate, I'm just a little...insecure, I suppose."
"Would you rather discuss this with Deanna?"
"I'd rather not discuss this at all," Angela snapped.
"Not an option," Sterling reminded her. "It's me or the counselor, but you will let one of us help."
Angela shrugged. "I've nothing personal against the counselor, but Deanna has a tendency to---I think sometimes she'd rather I let go a little more. I just don't know her well enough for that."
Kate deadpanned, "Wouldn't want 'The Ice Queen' to thaw out, now would we?"
Angela groaned. "People still call me that?"
"You still act like that?"
Matthews slumped back in the chair. "I suppose so, but then look at me. I wouldn't have this robe if Bill Riker hadn't thought ahead for me."
"Is there a point here?" Sterling was perturbed.
"Yes, there is," Angela explained, as she sat up. "I was picked up completely unprepared for any of this. I didn't even have time to pack my silkthetic jammies before I was whisked away on this mission."
Doctor Sterling took it all in, and spent a moment in thought before asking, "Have you eaten?"
"Now who's changing the subject?"
Sterling would not be swayed. "Have you had breakfast yet? I see a replicator over there below the comm panel; have you used it?"
Matthews gave in. "No, I haven't. You saw me when you came in; I had enough trouble calling sickbay."
Kate sank her teeth in with, "Call anyone else?"
"Well, yes," Angela admitted freely. "I asked Mr. Data for an arrival update and called the bridge."
"But you couldn't get even a glass of milk out of that thing?" Kate persisted, pointing at the replicator shelf in the cabin's far wall.
"I see what you're getting at, Doctor, but my little injury was a distraction. Besides, I'm not really all that hungry."
Sterling stood up, and walked slowly to the replicator. With her back to Angela, Kate asked, "Been thinking about the Arcturus again, haven't you?"
Angela wanted to call her friend a pest, but held back. "More like a nightmare, actually."
Kate Sterling spun on her friend and demanded, "Gimme the gist of it."
"You are a pest, Kate."
Sterling's answer was every bit as direct. "I know. Tell me about the nightmare or out comes the hypospray."
"You wouldn't dare!" Angela read the wild look in Kate's eyes, and corrected herself. "You would."
"Damn right," Kate growled.
Angela took a deep breath, held it for a ten count, then let it escape slowly. "Did I ever tell you about Hargrove?"
Kate had to smile. "Tall, dark hair, green eyes and a boyish smile that---"
"I killed him."
Sterling was shocked. "Oh, Angela! You don't really believe that?
Angela shrugged. "People tell me I shouldn't feel this way, but…I gave the order to abandon the saucer section. Hargrove went back in after stragglers and got cut off by an emergency bulkhead. When the bulkheads sealed off the saucer…I had to do it Kate. I had to cut off life support to the saucer section."
"No doubt," Kate offered. "Angela, you saved over a hundred and seventy lives. I know how it feels when someone slips out of my grasp. I always feel there was something more I could have done, something I should've tried. Hell I'm still second guessing myself over the first patient I lost, and that was years ago."
"It's not the same Kate, and you know it."
Kate Sterling was close to spewing smoke from her ears. "Yeah, you're right," the doctor fumed. "You command a crew of Starfleet officers and I'm a pediatrician."
"Kate, I'm sorry." Angela was quick to apologize, knowing the doctor had to be dragged away from a lost cause more than once.
Kate got a grip on herself, and seemed almost back to her sprightly self as she observed, "Forget it, Angela; it comes with the territory. I can't save everyone, and neither can you."
Angela slumped back in the chair, her voice sullen. "Then what can we do?"
"We do our best, y'dope," Kate snapped.
"Carve that in stone, Kate."
Kate looked close to containment failure, but held her anger in check. "Angela, you found yourself in a spot line officers pray they'll never wind up in, because most of them know they couldn't do what you did."
Matthews' sarcasm was back, but this time it had a bitter flavor. "You sound like a fan."
Sterling was very near exasperation. "Play it out from the beginning, Angela." The doctor sat on the edge of the unused bed, holding eye contact with her friend.
Angela could see she was trying to help, and surrendered gracefully. Okay, from the beginning. Arcturus was one of those wonderful old heavy cruisers built by the Andorians twenty years ago." She read the blank look on Kate's face, and realized where she lost Sterling.
"She was a lot like the Ambassador class," Angela elaborated, "but with some very useful Andorian touches here and there. I'd say we had the fastest torpedo reloads, the hottest phasers and the hardest shields of any ship in the armada."
Matthews paused for a moment, trying to keep tactical technobabble out of her tale. "We were in a long skirmish line, the first row of a formation that went up and back like a staircase. The idea was to confront the Borg ship, but be in position to fire a full barrage, then break formation without taking friendly fire.
Each of the six ships in the first line launched a full spread of photon torpedoes simultaneously." Dismissively waving her hands, Matthews continued, "Arcturus got off two full volleys. We launched twelve maximum yield torpedoes, bringing the first barrage to thirty-two plus direct hits that did absolutely nothing. We didn't even slow them down.
I was stationed in Auxiliary Control as a precaution, which turned out to be lucky for me. As we turned away, the Borg ship hit us with one blast. It sliced through the saucer section, opened the bridge to space, and sent a power surge through the ship that knocked out all systems."
Matthews paused for a breath, and noted the mixed look of horror and fascination on Kate's face. It was, without a doubt, the first time any of the survivors had shared their story with the good doctor, and she wasn't quite sure how to react. Regardless, Angela continued her tale of combat and survival at Wolf-359 in an even, almost emotionless voice.
Using her open hands as visual aids, Captain Matthews described the action. "We were forced to dump our warp drive reactor core, but somehow got the impulse engines back on line. We executed a slow, sloppy turn and limped off at twenty-percent impulse. As we turned tail, the Melbourne cut across our wake to cover us and was blown to bits for the favor.
Lost, we lumbered through space like a scow for seven months. Arcturus was as dead a ship as you can imagine; no warp drive, barely functional impulse, no shields, almost no sensors, no communications, nothing. When we finally made it to Starbase three fifty-two, I was officially promoted to captain and Arcturus was scrapped. End of story."
"Angela, "Kate observed, "you brought them home. The crew would most certainly have been lost without you, and you make it sound like a parcel delivery."
Sterling dropped a hand on her friend's arm, and told her, "Captain Angela Matthews, you are very good at your job. I'm glad you haven't let all the accolades go to your head but you really should let one in, once in a while."
Matthews stared into Kate's warm, sympathetic brown eyes, and the twinkle she saw brought a smile to her face. "Well, I suppose I am a bit peckish, after all."
Sterling bounced onto her feet and shouted, "That's the spirit." The doctor skipped to the replicator and placed an order. "Computer, I'd like a short stack of buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup, a side of home fried potatoes, three chicken eggs, scrambled, one cup hot black coffee and a half liter of orange juice, cold."
Kate turned to Angela, jabbed a thumb at the replicator and jubilantly added, "I love these machines. The computer not only synthesizes a delicious, nutritious meal, but somehow delivers the whole thing for less than six hundred calories! I don't know how people live without replicators."
The doctor turned back to the machine, removed a hefty tray from the replicator slot and set it on the nearby table. Angela watched as Kate gleefully rubbed her hands together, and muttered, "So much for being technology independent," but her wisecrack was either unheard or ignored.
As Angela pulled herself from the chair and went to the table, Doctor Sterling stopped her dead in her tracks with, "So what should I order for you?"
Captain’s Log: We have entered standard orbit around Sendatius Minor but due to the local time of our arrival, we have not contacted local government. Instead I have allowed Captain Matthews to conduct a staff briefing, to determine how our investigation should proceed.
Captain Picard entered the observation lounge and found all his senior staff present, ready to report. As the Captain assumed his position at the head of the table, he also took stock of Captain Matthews. Her hair was pulled back and neatly woven, keeping it above the collar of her fresh, unwrinkled uniform.
Matthews still seemed distant and unapproachable, yet appeared far more alert and attentive than she had some twelve hours ago. Picard was well aware of the difference a good night's sleep and a crisp, clean uniform could make, but there was something more.
Yesterday, Matthews looked as though she was carrying a heavy load; now it seemed she had set it aside, at least temporarily. To Picard, this was obviously not the same Captain Matthews his chief medical officer had been so concerned over. Enterprise's Captain reasoned it was just as well; Matthews would need her wits about her for this assignment. Picard had begun to suspect there was more to this mission than they had been told.
He sent a glance around the table, noting each of the officers present. Riker, Worf, Data, LaForge and three members of his medical staff had been assembled for the briefing. Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi were almost always present for such meetings, but he found Dr. Sterling an interesting addition to the proceedings. Picard assumed she was present at Captain Matthews' request, probably as an experience building exercise.
He paused to consider the longstanding friendship between Sterling and Matthews. Judging by her cool, somewhat closed personality, Picard guessed Matthews felt most comfortable with the brash young physician. Different personalities, but it was the same trust Picard shared with his chief medical officer.
Captain Picard turned his attention to his staff and announced, "Since Commodore Matthews will be leading the away team on this mission, I've asked her to conduct this meeting." That said, he settled back in his chair and quietly observed Matthews.
While acknowledging her skill, imagination and resourcefulness, Picard had to admit Matthews had far less command experience than her peers. Unfortunate necessity had brought a number of senior officers their own commands; an unnerving percentage of which had been lost through inexperience.
Picard's interest in Matthews’ abilities was not personal, but mentioned in his part of the assignment. Eyes only orders or not, Jean-Luc kept the evaluation order to himself. He preferred to view the distasteful task as a validation of Captain Matthews' right to her own command.
Matthews, displaying a poker face that rivaled Data's, thanked the Captain and proceeded with the briefing. "Well then, let's start with Governor Solek himself. Counselor?"
Troi explained, "Tal Solek has served as governor of the Sendatius colony for almost twelve years. Holding title to the largest plantation and his skill in marketing colony produce led to that appointment. During his term the colony has prospered, but there have been some disagreements. Governor Solek had made a number of attempts to bring mining and industrial interests to the colony, all of which were defeated by public referendum. Each time the opposition was organized and led by Edwin Matthews."
Angela Matthews commented, "that makes sense. The major was a park service ranger while we lived on Earth. He's an almost rabid environmentalist, but I don't believe it would move him to violence. Perhaps the question should be, has the Major been nuisance enough to be neutralized? If so, does anyone carry a big enough grudge to act on it?"
Worf turned to Matthews. "Then you believe the Major has been, framed?" Worf was uncomfortable with the word, but it seemed to fit.
Matthews was still ice calm as she answered, "We could feed all the information we have thus far into a computer for analysis, and still have no solid leads to follow. As it is we have to trust our instincts, and mine tell me something's wrong with the picture Governor Solek has painted." With a faint trace of a smile showing though, Angela turned to the second officer and inquired, "Mr. Data, you're the mystery buff; what would Sherlock Holmes make of all this?"
The lightness of her tone was apparently lost on Data. "Holmes would invariably come to a pair of simple conclusions. First, the truth lies somewhere between your assessment and the governor's, and that further investigation is required to find it."
Matthews suppressed a grin, and offered an open interrogative. "Do we know the location of this cave?"
Data answered again. "The cave entrance has been located. It is approximately four point three-seven kilometers northwest of the governor's plantation. It was apparently uncovered during blasting operations meant to expand the governor's orchard of chakka trees."
Before they went any further, Deanna Troi wanted one thing made clear. "If these trees grow wild over most of the planet, then why---"
"The rainforest undergrowth between trees is so dense," Sterling explained, "it has to be removed so the harvesters can get at the fruit."
LaForge wondered aloud, "How big a plantation does this man need?"
Data filled in the blank again. "Obviously more than the two hundred and eighty-seven square kilometers he has already developed."
"There are still a few greedy people in the galaxy," Riker interjected.
Angela snipped off that line quickly. "We have no more evidence of avarice than we do anything else." She seemed to reconsider, adding, "Still, the one with the biggest pile has the most to lose. Counselor, do we know anything else about the Governor himself?"
Troi's response was cautious. "I can't draw conclusions without ever having met the man, but the impression I have thus far is he's a somewhat insecure person. Solek would seem to be prone to acting quickly on a given problem, and determined to take full credit for solving it."
Geordie brought the discussion full circle by asking, "Yes, but is he the vengeful type?"
"The governor would seem, used to getting his own way," Deanna offered, "and would likely take an active dislike to anyone who would oppose him; but at this point, I can be certain of nothing."
Commander Riker tried to help. "All right, how does he go about removing obstacles?"
Troi had little to go on, but was confident in telling them, "By his own admission, Governor Solek does not let anything stand in his way; but we're not talking about an obstacle. Were talking about a man, an opponent."
Doctor Crusher at least looked guilty, yet she was compelled to bring up a possibility mentioned during the last briefing. "We are overlooking the theory that Major Matthews may have committed these murders. There is the possibility, however remote, that he has become mentally unstable---"
"Highly unlikely," Worf gruffly interjected. Picard could see Worf didn't like the insinuation any more now than yesterday, when he brought it up. His sentiment found its way into the Klingon's voice as he reminded the others, "The Major is a master warrior. Nothing in his record suggests such a weakness."
With all eyes on him, Mr. Worf shifted in his chair and raised the most disturbing hypothesis yet. "Major Matthews may indeed be responsible, but his actions may have been an unavoidable necessity.'
"You're suggesting self defense, then," was Riker's question.
Worf thought it over, and did his best to provide a simple answer. In an even, matter of fact tone he stated, "A warrior does not take life indiscriminately. If this is the major's work, I am certain there is an honorable reason for his actions."
Geordie LaForge settled back in his seat and reminded them, "All we really have to go on is some circumstantial evidence, and one accusation by someone who wasn't there."
Riker put a lid on the discussion by saying, "Which adds up to a large pile of nothing."
Captain Matthews had heard enough. "Mister Data, weather conditions around the cave entrance?"
"Cool, clear, with a surface temperature of eighteen degrees. Sunrise will occur in fifty-three minutes." Anticipating her next question, Data added, "The area is densely forested, but explosive detonations have opened a rocky clearing. The cave entrance itself is in a hillside on the northern edge of the blast area."
Angela considered everything she had just been told, and constructed a plan. "Captain Picard, if I may be so bold, I suggest you and the Counselor speak face to face with Governor Solek as soon as possible. I'd rather you didn't mention me, though."
That sounded reasonable to Picard and he said so; then added, "What will you be doing in the interim?" It was a question with an obvious answer, but he wanted to hear her say it.
Matthews was cool as she answered, "I'd like to take a minimal away team to the cave entrance before dawn." She glanced at Data, then continued, "I'd like to see if I can turn up a few clues. At the same time, I'd like Data and LaForge to go over the Major's cottage. See if he's been home lately, or if there have been any intrusions."
Turning her attention to the chief medical officer, Matthews went on with, "Doctor Crusher, I have a perfectly grisly task for you. We'll need autopsies done on all the victims."
Crusher took it well. "Anything in particular I should be looking for?"
Matthews considered the question, seeming uncertain of how to phrase the answer. In the end, she said simply, "Just tell me if they were killed in a proficient, professional manner. We're talking about a man in his seventies, but the Major's in better shape than some men half his age."
The commodore settled back in her seat, pulled her hands from the table and studied the Enterprise staff for a few seconds. Turning her attention to Picard, Angela said only, "Unless you have something else Captain, I think we've beat this into the ground."
Picard was impressed. "Agreed. I believe it's past time to find some answers of our own. Briefing adjourned."
"Commander Riker, Doctor Sterling," Matthews said as she rose from her chair, "meet me in transporter room two in ten minutes. Mister Data, Mister LaForge, beam down whenever you're ready."
With that, Captain Matthews left the observation lounge. Picard remained seated as his officers filed out and went about their business. After a moment, he found himself alone with Counselor Troi. Their task was to approach Solek; but the Captain suspected the counselor had something else on her mind.
"Well Counselor," Picard observed optimistically, "was that the same officer we were so worried about yesterday?"
Sensing her captain's intent, Troi had remained. "Rested, but still very tense…yes, I believe so."
Picard offered the predictable answer. "Given the circumstances, I'd say that's to be expected."
Deanna looked him in the eye as she asked, "There's a reason you ask that troubles you. Can you tell me what it is?"
Picard shifted, tugged on his shirt waistband, cleared his throat. He didn't like being put in such a position, and wanted that made clear at the outset. "I've been asked to evaluate Captain Matthews' command ability, and ordered specifically not to reveal this to her." Picard lowered his voice as he continued, "She has accepted a very dangerous mission; apparently, someone in Starfleet Command is having second thoughts."
Troi's confusion was obvious. "Why was she given this mysterious assignment, if there were any doubts about her abilities?"
"That's obvious," Picard replied. "At the time, she appeared to be the best choice."
Deanna let a little frustration pass through a quiet sigh. "It would help if I knew what we were talking about."
Jean-Luc thought quickly; mulling over what he knew, and sorted out what he could say about the new ship and its mission. "Captain Matthews’ only command experience was aboard the Arcturus." He paused, opening a painful memory of his own. "I'm sure you've heard of the ship, and it's fate."
"Of course," Troi told him.
Picard suppressed the wave of guilt that threatened to wash over him and said only, "All I'm at liberty to say at the moment is, Captain Matthews' next mission will have much in common with her last months aboard the Arcturus."
"And this lack of command experience has someone worried," Troi observed. "This is becoming a theme, Captain."
Picard straightened up. "Yes, I suppose it is. Still, Angela Matthews and I have a great deal in common. I suppose the one difference is…she managed to get the Arcturus to a Starbase. I had to abandon the Stargazer."
"Does that trouble you?"
Picard was forced to smile in spite of himself; after all, he did eventually recover the Stargazer. "A touch of professional envy, perhaps," he assured the counselor, "but what does trouble me, is this sudden questioning of Matthews and her abilities. She's been with the Tirpitz from the drawing board. There's no one who knows that ship better than her and now that it's nearly complete, her fitness to command it has come into question."
"And that troubles you?"
"In part," the Captain admitted. "It's a little late in the day to question Matthews but what disturbs me is, I don't know where this order came from. I was instructed to include my evaluation in my report, and nothing else."
Troi decided to try a different tack. "So what are you planning to say about Captain Matthews?"
"That's a bit premature, don't you think?"
"Perhaps." Deanna had a way of making a single word into a leading question.
By way of an answer, Picard observed, "You saw her just now. Matthews took it all in, even the unfavorable references to her grandfather, and formed a plan that would seem to cover all bases. What do you think?"
The counselor reminded him, "I remember yesterday's briefing."
Picard shifted in his seat and told Troi, "I suppose I'd have reacted the same way, in Matthews' place; but shortly after yesterday's meeting, our guest came to me with a list of Enterprise officers she wished to approach. Now if Captain Matthews has the presence of mind to do some recruiting while she's aboard the flagship, I'd say she's coping rather well."
Troi smiled as she slid out of her chair, and pondered what Picard thought of as captain's logic; the ship and crew always come first. However, Deanna paused by the door to offer one last piece of advice. "Perhaps you should focus not on the quantity of Captain Matthews' experience, but on the quality."
Captain Picard took the counselor's suggestion; allowing himself a few seconds of silent reverie before returning to the bridge. After a short mental review of Matthews' experience, Picard decided his report wouldn't be so hard to write after all.
Commander Riker left the armory wearing a phaser tucked into a waistband holster. It was a normal precaution, but this morning he pondered the wisdom of carrying a weapon. If Major Matthews really meant him harm, Riker was convinced the old man would have him well outmatched.
Will was of course qualified as an expert marksman; but seeing what the major had taught his granddaughter had sent chills up his spine. The thought of trying to apprehend a soldier like Matthews was sobering, to say the least. His best hope lay in Angela's confidence in her grandfather.
Riker walked into transporter room two with his head high and shoulders back, doing his best to keep his hands from shaking. He knew it was just the adrenaline that made his heart pound and palms sweat. Leaping into darkness on what could become a deadly hunt was driving him now; the fear would come later. What was it he had said about Wesley's first planetary survey? 'The game’s not big enough, if it doesn't scare you a little'? Will prepared to eat his words.
Captain Matthews was going over the coordinates with alpha shift's transporter Chief, Greg Hidaka. Both wore expressions of concern, but Riker decided to keep it from worrying him.
"I've double checked, Commodore," Hidaka told Matthews, "There's no one down there."
"Perhaps if you widened the scanning field," Matthews offered.
Riker wanted to know, "Is there a problem, Commodore?"
Matthews looked up from the console, then stepped around it to speak with the commander. Will noted she wore a tricorder at her waist, above her right hip, while a standard issue phaser-IIB rode her left thigh, gunslinger style. Riker thought, when they found her grandfather, it would be best to let Angela do the talking.
"Good question, Commander," Matthews answered. "There was supposed to be a pair of constables on watch by the cave entrance, but our sensors can't find them."
Riker felt his heart rev up a bit harder. "You don't suppose…?"
"No, I don't," was Angela's carefully controlled response. "We can't find a trace of anyone, living or dead. Either they bolted in panic, or their bodies have been masked from the sensors---"
"Or they were never there." Riker's sense of humor was evaporating quickly. "As soon as Doctor Sterling joins us, we'll get to the bottom of all this."
"Well I certainly hope so," Sterling added. Determined to get on with the job, the doctor stormed through the doorway and into the transporter chamber. Will's attention turned to Sterling's sparkling brown eyes, then drifted to the phaser she wore on her left thigh, gunslinger style. Kate had told him she and Angela were childhood friends; but never mentioned they were close enough to make Kate the major's second apprentice.
Watching him look at her, Sterling queried, "Something amiss, Commander?"
Will stared at her sidearm, then met her eyes as he thought aloud, "A medikit and a phaser never seem to go well together, but you make it work."
Kate shifted coquettishly. "Starfleet says I gotta pack a rod, so I do."
Will smirked. "A rod?"
Captain Matthews stepped onto a transporter pad and snapped, "You can look it up later, Commander."
With some effort, Riker managed to wipe the grin off his face. He clambered into the transporter chamber, and took a pad to Matthews' left, and turned to face the control station; Hidaka was still smirking. The crewman specialist, through his baby daughter, had firsthand knowledge of the good doctor's quirky sense of humor.
Matthews, however, was still worried about the lack of a guard at the cave entrance. "Are there still no indications of human life in the area?"
The tall, athletic Oriental man's tone was even, but Hidaka's smile remained. "No Commodore, there's no one within fifty kilometers of the transport coordinates."
Angela spent a few seconds in thought, then focused on the transporter operator. "Right then, put us down at the southern edge of the clearing," she ordered, "and keep a lock on us, Mister Hidaka. If one of us calls for beam-out, I want the away team aboard before the echo fades. Energize."
With a sweep of Hidaka's fingers, the away team vanished in a sparkling envelope of light. When the beam faded, he confirmed resolution of the team planetside, then chuckled softly.
"A rod…huh," Hidaka muttered, as he glanced over the control board.