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            Picard had only left the bridge a few moments ago, intent on learning the fate of his away team.   He had hoped to see all three members of the team in sickbay, perhaps a bit unnerved by the assault but otherwise unharmed.   Wishful thinking to be certain, but it was his nature to hope for the best while expecting the worst.

            Instead he'd found Commander Riker on a biobed, badly injured but stable.  Doctor Sterling---the ship's pediatrician, of all people---told a tale of some mysterious sniper.   The Captain had observed Sterling, as she made her report.  She was certainly no line officer, so he made allowances for her adrenaline charged nervousness.   She'd done her best to explain what had happened not only to Riker, but what she thought Matthews was up to as well.

            Thinking of Matthews, Picard's anger went up a notch.   Damn that woman for...what?  Had she done anything he would have done differently?   She sent her team back to the ship, before...

            Picard tossed some cold water on his flames of anger.   He was annoyed with Matthews for pursuing this, attacker.   He couldn't even categorize the away team's assailant.   Since Riker was unconscious and Sterling had seen nothing but laser bolts, the sniper had so far gone unidentified.   Who was this person who had seen fit to fire on Picard's officers?   Why did he attack three people, who at the time were doing little more than milling about?   Did this attack have anything to do with Major Matthews?

            The Captain realized his frustration had grown from having more questions than answers.   Alone in the turbolift, Picard reminded himself this was the nature of life, but his irritation continued unabated.   There was but one way to deal with this particular itch, and in a few seconds he would begin scratching.

            Picard waited somewhat impatiently as the turbolift car slowed.   He could've contacted the bridge while enroute to the Enterprise command deck but for some reason or other, he chose to wait.   He supposed his restraint stemmed from wanting to maintain a sense of dignity and decorum, but disregarded the notion for a more apt motivation.   Picard didn't want to give anyone a clue as to how worried he really was.

            When the lift doors finally parted, Captain Picard launched himself from the car and stormed across his bridge.   His first impulse was to have Worf locate, lock on to and beam Matthews aboard.   Once Matthews was plucked from the danger she'd put herself in, Picard planned a private seminar on command discipline.

            The Captain barked, "Mister Worf, do you have a transporter lock an Commodore Matthews?"

            Worf had the bridge, but held the Conn from his station.   The big Klingon peered down at his captain from Tactical, standing above and behind the Captain's chair.   "Transporter lock confirmed, Captain," Worf replied, then pulled a double take from Picard by adding, "however I cannot locate the sniper."

            Picard was already well into planning his discipline lecture, and turned a quizzical look on his tactical officer.    Several questions came to mind but Picard chose, "How is that possible?"   As he heard himself voice the interrogative, Picard wished he'd chosen one of the others.

            Worf's reply was equally disappointing.   "Unknown at the moment, Sir.   I have been tracking Commodore Matthews, but the sensors register only a trace---an echo, of the enemy soldier, each time he discharges his weapon.  Perhaps, some kind of low intensity cloaking field."

            Picard was shocked to hear himself ask, "Romulans?" 

            The Captain was both relieved and concerned when Worf answered, "Highly unlikely.   A personal cloaking field would do considerable damage to humanoid nervous systems."

            Picard wasn't sure if the still unidentified sniper revived his concern, or because Worf seemed intrigued by the possibility of Romulan experiments with a physically hazardous device.   The Captain understood and forgave Worf his hatred of Romulans, so long as it didn't interfere with the Klingon's efficiency.    Picard gave a passing thought to his own mortal enemies, before returning to the task at hand.

            The Captain had to decide, and quickly, on a course of action.   In the end, Picard concluded he wanted this sniper in his brig.  Unfortunately, the best way to capture Riker's assailant would put more of his crew at risk.   After a few painful seconds of soul searching, Picard gave the word.

            "Mister Worf, beam down and assist the Commodore in apprehending the sniper."  Hearing the enthusiasm in Worf's acknowledgement of the order did not make Picard feel any better.  What the Captain really wanted was Worf and Matthews to return safely to the ship.   If they had the sniper with them, so much the better; if not, Picard would think of something else.

            Captain Picard settled into his chair, and thought it was far too early in the day to feel so tired.


            Angela Matthews got the first shot off.   Her phaser beam hit his weapon and knocked it from the soldier's hands.   He stared at the fallen, shorted out weapon as she fired a stun beam into his chest.   The sniper stumbled back as Matthews held the beam on him, but found his footing quickly and staggered toward her.   With no time to reset the phaser, Matthews lowered her weapon and lunged, leaping at the last second.    Her left foot shot forward, cracking the soldier square in the helmet visor.

            Angela landed on her feet, but her kick's impact had sent a shockwave of pain up her back and neck.  It wasn't serious, but hurt enough to make her drop her phaser.  The soldier had fallen flat on his back, but immediately bounced back to his feet and came at her.   Forgetting her lost weapon, Angela went airborne again.

            She spun in midair, winding up a vicious kick that snapped the sniper's head around and knocked him on his back again.   The blow would've killed most any humanoid; yet once more the warrior bounced up, onto his feet and advanced toward her.   Angela backed away, trying furiously to figure what sort of monster she faced but more importantly, how to stop it.  The thing had to have a weak spot, but she had no time to find it.

            Matthews stumbled over an exposed tree root and fell backwards.   Pain from her back and neck seared through her mind, completely immobilizing her as the soldier approached.  Although it intensified her agony, Angela raised her head to stare at the black clad demon.   Suddenly, tracking him into the wood didn't seem such a great idea.

            Matthews let her head recline back against the soft ground, and discovered she couldn't move her hand anywhere near her comm badge.   As It towered over her, Angela earnestly inquired, "I suppose it's too late to discuss this, huh?"

            The warrior towered over her, and stared down at the disabled officer.  Whatever he was going to do, Matthews wished he would get it over with.  The demon soldier seemed to be gawking at her, as though he'd never seen anything like Matthews before.

            To keep an ugly idea out of his mind---and perhaps buy some escape time---Angela grit her teeth against the pain and flung a heel up, between his legs.  The warrior recoiled slightly from the impact, but was otherwise unaffected.    As he stood over her, Angela's pain receded, replaced by cold fear.

            The soldier seemed to have made up his mind, having decided to kill her.  Matthews shut her eyes as he raised a foot, to do what she would never know; for at that instant she heard the most beautiful music of her life.  Angela's eyes snapped open in time to see a phaser beam hitting the soldier in the back.  It turned and took a few lurching steps toward this new assailant, all the while weathering a full power blast to the chest.   A second later it stopped, then fell flat on its face like a cut tree.

            With considerable effort, Matthews got to her feet and stared at the motionless form, then turned to her rescuer.   Trembling, Angela swallowed hard and managed to croak, "Damn good to see you, Mister Worf."    He held out the phaser she'd dropped; as she holstered the weapon, Matthews managed to add, "Who says the cavalry doesn't come over the hill in the nick of time anymore?"

            Worf shifted somewhat uncomfortably, and explained, "I was ordered to assist you in its apprehension."

            "It, is absolutely right, Lieutenant," Matthews agreed.   "I threw everything I had at it and barely slowed it down."   Knowing how close to the edge she'd strayed, Angela shivered as she told Worf, "Have this thing beamed into the brig's maximum security cell, and station an armed detail at the cave entrance."

            "Very well, Commodore," was Worf's gruff reply.

            Matthews stepped past the burly Klingon, and poked with her toe through the underbrush.   Strange, she thought, how the searing pain that nearly got her killed a moment ago had shriveled to mere discomfort.    As she poked around, Angela began to dwell on how close she'd come to making her last mistake.

            If Worf were any species but Klingon, she'd have kissed him.    Of course doing such a silly, feminine thing may have lowered his opinion of her, but Angela didn't really care.  Command image be damned, she would find some way to thank the big lug.    At the moment though, she wished she could just stop trembling.

            Worf watched her search, and seemed on the verge of inquiry when Angela stopped.  "Here it is," she announced.   "I aggravated an injury in the fight, so would you mind picking this thing up?"

            The Klingon officer strode to her side, lifted the sniper's weapon from the forest undergrowth and studied it with a professional eye.    Fashioned from a dark hued metal, it seemed to weigh heavily in his hand.   Worf put up his phaser, and hefted the rifle in both hands.

            Examining the rifle, Worf offered an opinion.   "Almost a meter in length, but it must weigh at least twelve kilos...heavy."

            "I suggest you and Commander LaForge take that thing apart," Matthews said, "and find out what makes it tick."   As Worf held the heavy rifle at port arms, she cracked, "Perhaps after it's been examined, you'd like to add it to your collection."

            Worf was clearly fascinated by the rifle and the technology behind its development.   He raised its muzzle skyward, cradled the rifle in the crook of his elbow and admired its workmanship.   "Interesting, but I do not collect trophies, Commodore."

            "Of course not."   Angela tapped her badge.   "Matthews to Enterprise."

            The voice of the starship's captain came back through her comm badge, "Picard here, Commodore.  Status?"

            "I was tracking the sniper Captain," Matthews confessed, "but I was outclassed.   Worf bagged it for me."

            "It, Commodore?” was Picard's hesitant reply.

            Worf interjected, "The sniper was unaffected by phaser stun and physical assault."

            Matthews went on with, "It took a couple of full power bursts to bring it down, Sir.   It seems dead now, but I'd like it beamed to the brig, just in case."

            Picard considered the request, then responded, "Agreed.   See to it, Mister Worf."

            "Aye Sir," the lieutenant growled.

            Matthews asked, "Captain, what's Commander Riker's condition?"

            Picard's answer was short and taut.   "He was badly injured, but expected to make a full recovery."

            Matthews thought she'd lucked out this time, but said, "I'm glad to hear it.   Could I be beamed directly to the major's cottage, Captain?   There's still some unfinished business there."

            Angela thought it might have been her imagination, but she thought Picard's voice softened as he told her, "Quite right, Commodore.   Enterprise out."

            Knowing she would have a few seconds before Picard's transporter command was carried out, she turned to Worf and confided, "There was supposed to be a pair of constables here, but no one was home when we beamed down.   Something smells, so I want you to escort the Captain when he meets with Governor Solek.   That is a direct order, Lieutenant."

            As the transporter beam began to envelop her, she heard Worf respond, "Aye, Commodore."   Angela hoped Picard would not countermand the order.   Solek lied about the constables, and the thing Worf had stopped certainly wasn't her grandfather.   Matthews could not help but wonder what else Solek had lied about.



            Will Riker blinked, and tried to adjust to the bright, blurry light in his eyes.  For an instant the commander thought he'd gone to his reward, but was reassured by Doctor Sterling's friendly tone.

            "How do you feel, Will?” was the doctor's first question.

            Riker groaned, then swallowed hard.    His mouth was dry, but he managed to croak, "Like I've been shot out a torpedo tube."    As he vision began to clear, a large object blocked part of the bright, overhead lighting array.   He finally managed to focus on Sterling's soft, smiling face.  "For a minute, I thought I was..."   His voice trailed off, and Will closed his eyes.

            Sterling caught his drift, and answered, "Hardly.   I don't think you'd see me in Heaven, Commander."

            Riker's eyes snapped open, as he went for the bait.   "And why would that be, Doctor?"

            Sterling leaned over him; wearing a wicked little conspiratorial grin she whispered, "I really ought to show you sometime."

            Riker forced a grin of his own as she straightened up.   "You'll never have a better chance, Kate."

            "Aw Will," Kate Sterling lamented, "you're all busted up.   You wouldn't be any fun this way."

            Will coughed up a chuckle, then observed, "Dr. Sterling, you have a very interesting bedside manner."

            Sterling's features shifted into a mix of bemused disdain.   "Oh, like you'd know," she scoffed, then allowed her grin to return.   "You know it's been a while since I've had a patient old enough to flirt with."

            She snapped her medical tricorder shut and set it aside.   Will hadn't even noticed her use of the device, and was truly impressed with Sterling's bedside manner.   In his opinion she had brought the art of misdirection to an all time high, and wondered if she would next pull a coin from his ear.

            Even so, he was now noticing a great deal more about the medical section lieutenant.  Sterling's hair was askew, her uniform rumpled and smudged with dirt, and she had not yet returned her phaser to the weapons room.    Her appearance brought it all crashing down on him.   The memory hit so hard it physically hurt, and forced Riker to clamp his eyes shut.

            Sterling quickly scanned the biobed readout, but could see no reason for his discomfort.  "Something amiss, Commander?"

            Riker pried his eyes open again.   "What happened, before...I mean, in the, on---"

            "Settle back, Will," Sterling offered reassuringly.   "Tell me what you remember."

            Riker sighed, and found it stung a bit.   "We were going into the cave.  Geordie signaled, Angela shouted, and...that's all I remember clearly."    It suddenly dawned on him he was in sickbay.   Odd, how that didn't seem important a moment ago.

            Sterling was quick to fill in the blanks.   "We were fired on, and you were hit by rock shards.   We also think a near miss burned your arm and shoulder."

            "Near miss," Riker echoed.  He let one ironic chuckle escape, before he discovered laughing hurt.   "I remember...I saw a footprint near the cavern, and knelt down for a better look, when..."

            Sterling continued, "Lucky you.   Aside from a concussion, some burns, cuts, bruises and a badly sprained neck, you're fine.    Before you try to move, you should know you're in a full body restraint field.   It's just a precaution, so don't get upset.   You'll be right as rain in a few days."    That wicked little grin returned as she added, "However, I might keep you here a while longer, just for fun."

            That remark perturbed the ship's number one.  "This is fun?  What possible enjoyment could there be in---"

            "Sponge bath," Sterling explained.

            Riker stopped short.   He considered her reply, and settled down.  "I see your point."  His boyish grin came back to him as he cracked, "I thought doctors weren't supposed to---"

            "Actually, we're all taking turns."

            "Doctor, I'm shocked," Riker feigned.

            "You would be," Sterling explained, "but we turn off the restraint field first."

            Riker realized Sterling had been pulling his leg, but didn't say so.   There was no point to starting another round of wisecracks when he had serious questions to pose.  "So if you're here," Riker observed, "and I'm here, then where's---"

               Sterling's consternation bubbled to the surface.  "Every time I'm on a roll, you wanna talk shop."   The doctor heaved a sigh and explained, "Angela's okay, and she's at the major's cottage with Geordie and Data.    She and Lt. Worf tracked down the sniper and brought him aboard.   I don't know the particulars, but apparently the guy's in worse shape than you; he's dead."

            "And it wasn't the major?"   Riker astounded himself with the question.   He couldn't believe he'd blurted out such a thing.   Sterling didn't seem to thank anything of it; she probably attributed his lack of tact to his concussion.

            She was, however, a bit uncertain.   "I'm just a doctor around here, Will.  Nobody tells me anything, but I do know it wasn't the major.   Rumor has it as some sort of humanoid, but that's all I know at the moment.   Doctor Crusher is examining it now, down in the brig."   Kate's face brightened again as she told him, "We drew straws to see who would get to keep an eye on you, and I won."

            Riker thought to himself he could fall for this impish little woman, but decided to keep his professional distance.    He wasn't shopping at the moment but, like Angela, Kate was an excellent sparring partner.  "Doctor Sterling," Will pronounced, "you are incorrigible."

            "No I'm not, I'm in Starfleet."  Sterling's eyes crossed again, as she literally danced away from the biobed.   She made such an effort to hold in her laughter, Riker thought she'd burst.

            That time, he said it.   "Doctor I think you've been around children too long, you're regressing."

            Her answer surprised him.   "By the Great Bird, I hope so.   I'm gonna need all the youthful enthusiasm I can get."

            "Why's that, pray tell?"

            Sterling got hold of herself, and stepped back to the biobed.   "Congratulate me, Commander; I'm gonna be the chief medical officer on the Tirpitz."

            Riker was genuinely happy for her.   "Congratulations, Doctor.   How'd you swing it?"

            "Didn't swing anything," Kate explained.   "Angela asked for me, Captain Picard said yes and so did I."

            "Captain Matthews," Riker started, and then it hit him.

            If Sterling noticed his disappointment, it certainly didn't show.   "Yes!"   Kate gushed, "Isn't it great?   Angela and I, together again."

            Riker had heard of the Tirpitz, but knew little about the "special assignment" the new galaxy class starship was slated for; now he knew why.   When potential captains were discussed, Commander Riker guessed his name hadn't even come up.

            In a harshly controlled tone he hoped would mask his disappointment, Riker answered, "Yes, that is great.    I think you two will make a terrific team."    He really was happy for Sterling, and for Matthews as well.   Still, the first officer had to wonder if maybe, had he---

            "You look a little tired, Will," Sterling noticed, but left the phrase 'all of a sudden' behind in her thoughts.   Quick witted as she was, Sterling pieced it together rapidly.   He could see in her eyes she was sorry she had brought it up, and decided against letting her know she had betrayed herself.   No point in turning their conversation into a pity party for Commander Riker.

            The ship's first officer admitted, "I sort of woke up tired."

            "Well that's to be expected," Sterling informed him.    "After all you've had a very bad morning, but you've been a very good boy, so---"    She pulled a lollypop from thin air, and held it up where he could see.   "This will be waiting for you, when I decide to let you get up."  Just as quickly, she made the sucker vanish.

            Riker's attention had been focused on the confection, so he didn't notice the hypospray the doctor slid up to his neck.  During her sleight of left hand, Sterling used her right to administer a muscle relaxer.  He began to feel drowsy, as Kate called in the shift nurse.

Will heard Sterling tell the nurse to keep an eye on him, while she went to freshen up.  As he drifted back to sleep, Commander Riker had one passing thought; a lollipop wasn't much of a consolation prize.



            Captain Matthews materialized in her grandfather's living room.  She quickly surveyed her surroundings and could tell right off the place had been ransacked, then hastily squared away.   Angela thought it considerate of Data and LaForge, but unnecessary.

            There was little chance they could hide the damage, as they had no idea what the place looked like before it was overturned, but it was a noble effort.  Matthews elected to say nothing.  Although she realized Geordie and Data weren't so naive, Angela preferred to let them have the illusion, ­even though they had completely reorganized the furnishings.

            As he descended the staircase, Geordie offered a greeting.   "Good morning, Commodore."

            Angela scoffed, "Good morning; now there's an oxymoron if ever I heard one."    She cast about, then asked, "Where's Mister Data?"

            Geordie almost said Data was waiting for her in the bedroom, but caught himself at the last second.   "He's uh, waiting---upstairs, trying to untie the knot."

            Angela allowed a faint trace of her irony to show through as she observed, "Well he can try," then turned her full attention to the chief engineer.   "The sniper that attacked us has been taken aboard the Enterprise.   It's almost certainly some sort of droid, so I'd like you to take a look at it while Data and I open the box.   I'll let you have his expertise when we're done here.   Oh, and inform Worf I'll want a security team here on guard, as soon as he can arrange it."

            "I'll take care of it," the chief engineer assured her, then tapped his comm badge.

            Angela gave Geordie a pat on the shoulder, then headed upstairs.   She found Data sitting cross-legged on the bedroom floor, staring at the storage area's back wall.   The android officer was trying variations of his tricorder's scanning range, hoping to hit on what Geordie could see.   So far he had no success at all, but it didn't stop him from trying.    Angela assumed he would sit there for as long as it took to find the answer, but figured he'd die of mechanical failure before he got it right.

            She stepped around her grandfather's big, solid hardwood bed and gingerly lowered herself to the floor next to Data.   Once again, a twinge of pain snaked up from the small of her back to the base of her skull; she blinked it away, but not quickly enough.

            "Are you injured, Commodore?" was Mister Data's question.    He had become, since she'd seen him last, quite adept at finding proper inflection for his statements.   Matthews thought she heard real concern in his voice.

            Rubbing her neck, Angela confessed, "I just undid some of Doctor Sterling's handiwork."

            Straight faced, Data replied, "No lollipop for you, Commodore."

            A quick chuckle escaped before Angela could cut it off.   "What?"

            "Is the usage incorrect, Commodore?"

            "Oh it's correct, all right," Angela assured him, "but where did you pick that one up?"   As if she didn't know.

            Data's matter of fact reply was, "Doctor Sterling has been instructing me in the proper use of the snappy comeback.   Commander LaForge will not be joining us?"

            "I sent him back to the ship, with an ulterior motive or two for doing so."    Angela swore she could see intrigue in Data's eyes.

            "Indeed.    Will you share your motivations with me?"

            Angela managed a nod and began with, "Mister Data, by my direct order you will not repeat or record in your log, any of the words or phrases I may utter, as I attempt to discern the code phrase that activates this vault.    Is that clear?"

            Data almost looked puzzled.   "Quite clear, Commodore, but why---"

            "Bad enough people call me 'The Ice Queen'."    Angela explained, "I don't need any of my childhood nicknames floating around the ship."

            Data was very reassuring.   "You may count on my discretion, Commodore."

            Matthews breathed a sigh of relief.   Of the entire ship's compliment, she knew only Data would not be tempted to tease her with what she was about to say.   "I'm glad to hear that, Mister Data.    That's reason number one for sending Mister LaForge back to the ship."

            Data's programmed curiosity was another problem altogether.    "What is reason number two?"

               Angela sidetracked him with, "We'll get to that.    First, let's open the box."    Looking at the dust tracing, Angela began speaking but faltered.    Even with Data's promise, this would be difficult.    Since it was too important to her investigation to bypass, she took a deep breath and forged ahead.

            Angela hoped whatever the safe held was worth uttering, "Pookie bear says, open sesame."    There was no response.    Oh well, Angela thought, realizing she'd have to try something perhaps a little more embarrassing.

            Still staring at the outline, Matthews informed Data, "Well, that was strike one.   If this is like the one the major had back home, it'll give us two more tries, then activate whatever boobytraps the major programmed."    She thought through a string of possibilities but settled on, "Open up, Grampa Bear."

            This time the code phrase had an effect.    A low hum, followed by a tone pulsing twice per second, growled a quiet warning from behind the wall.   Angela's eyes went wide as she sat up.    "Data, why don't you beam back to the ship, just in case?"

            Data asked simply, "In case of what?"

            Matthews confessed, "I think I just armed some sort of trigger device."

            "Then we should beam back to the ship and make the last attempt from the bridge," was Data's recommendation.

            "Won't work, Data," Matthews reminded him.    "Can't use artificially reproduced voice patterns.    Nothing we can do will come close enough to fool the lock."

            "I believe I could reproduce your voice pattern---"

            Angela cut him off with, "It would have to be perfect, or the circuit will close automatically."

            Without offering details, Data told her, "In the past, I have utilized my voice pattern replicator to successfully deceive security systems."

            Angela turned to him, and gazed at the light commander with renewed interest.   For a fleeting second she wished she could get him drunk enough to spill that particular tale.   Since it was impossible to booze up an android, Angela responded, "We've come this far.    I may as well take the third swing."

            Data was still cautious.   "Perhaps we should abandon the safe and its contents."

            "No way," Angela snapped.    "If he went to this much trouble, the major hid something important in there."

            Data seemed determined to discourage her.   "Commodore, it is quite possible your next attempt will be unsuccessful.   As we are uncertain of the consequences we may suffer as a result of failure, I must point out we could be in considerable danger."

            Matthews thought for a moment Data might put a hand over her mouth and beam her to the ship.   She wished she could tell what was really going on behind those eyes.   No, she resolved, this was too important.   Although she'd begun trembling again, Angela's response was, "Nonsense, Mr. Data."   She turned to the safe again and said, "Grampa's perfect little angel."

            That did it; the outlined portion of the wall simply vanished.   Angela stared into the open security vault and chuckled.   "Y'see?"   Data simply stared at her, so she added, "All right I took a chance, but it paid off."    Glancing at her quaking hands, she finished, "Well, at least my neck's stopped hurting."

            For all their effort, there was noting in the vault but a computer padd.   She pulled it from the vault, and as second later the wall reappeared, solid as ever.  The traced outline was gone as well.   As Angela examined the inactive, palm sized computer note pad, Data commented on the security vault.   "Fascinating; remarkable technology."

            With a tight grip on their find, Angela quipped, "Isn't it just?    I have no idea where he found the thing, but it's a real piece of work."    She paused to think, then turned her full attention on Lieutenant Commander Data.

            "Speaking of which," Angela began, "Mister Data, how would you like to be my first officer?"



            Captain Picard strode into the brig's maximum-security detention area, and halted at cell one.   In the active cell, Doctor Crusher and Mister LaForge were examining an apparently lifeless form.   Worf stood by, phaser in hand, with a security ensign stationed by the force field controls.   The Captain watched as his senior medical officer and chief engineer, went over what he could only describe as a corpse, scanning every millimeter with tricorders.

            Picard thought the precautions taken were a bit severe for an autopsy; and found himself wondering just what had this, person, done to the away team.  What worried him most about the scene was Lieutenant Worf.  As a Klingon warrior, it was nearly impossible for the security chief to overreact out of fear; but there stood Worf, with a phaser set for maximum up and ready.   If the lieutenant was so concerned over a dead man, Picard could only guess what this soldier had been like when alive.

            Noticing the Captain, Lieutenant Commander LaForge stood up, and offered a good reason to relax and worry at the same time.   "This is an incredibly complex mechanism, Captain.   It's an android, apparently programmed to carry out some sort of specialized military operation.   Right now I have no idea what makes it go, much less why phasers can eventually stop it, but we did turn up one disturbing bit of information."

            Picard probed, "And what would that be?"

            Doctor Crusher packed the last of her equipment up, but paused to answer the Captain's question.   "We think it might be a series number."

            Worf nodded to the ensign across from him, who deactivated the field.   Once Crusher and LaForge left the cell, the ensign re-energized the invisible barrier and Worf holstered his phaser.   Picard stole a quick glance at the big Klingon, and once again wondered just what transpired on the planet surface.

            Geordie LaForge crossed the detention area to the duty officer's desk, and continued his report with, "Worf also brought this back with him."   With some effort Geordie lifted the heavy rifle, then handed it to Worf.    "It was armed with this," the engineer explained, "apparently as its primary weapon."

            Picard stared at the big gun as he said, "Dr. Sterling thought it was using some sort of high-powered laser."

            "Score one for the doctor," LaForge replied.  "This is, as near as we can tell at the moment, a one megawatt laser rifle.   We'll know more after a detailed analysis."

            Picard held his mixture of irritation and excitement in check.   "Then continue your analysis.   I want to know what we're facing in one hour."



            Crusher came up on the group from behind and interjected, "Captain, I'll be heading back to sickbay now."

            The doctor had her captain's full attention for nearly three seconds, as Picard told her, "Yes Doctor.   Commend Doctor Sterling for me."

            Crusher grumbled, "I'll do that, Captain."   The medical officer's annoyance was completely lost on the Captain and his fellow officers.  With one slow turn of her head, the nearly invisible Beverly Crusher left the brig.   As Crusher turned to leave the detention area, she saw Captain Picard accept the cumbersome weapon from Lt. Worf. Jean-Luc held the rifle up, and looked it over with what the healer considered morbid fascination.    Beverly was glad when the brig doors closed between her, and the boys.

            Crusher turned and walked to the turbolift at the end of the passage, each step faster and harder.   She thought about the away team, and the one team member laying flat on his back in sickbay.    The three senior officers seemed to have forgotten the weapon that held them so spellbound very nearly killed Commander Riker.   What galled her the most was, if he could get out of sickbay, Riker would be in there with them.    Doctor Crusher stomped into the turbolift, and was quite happy to have the car to herself.

            She looked upward and shouted at the turbolift control system, "Sickbay!"

            As the lift car proceeded toward her destination, Beverly realized she had just yelled at a machine.    She began to mutter an apology, but decided it would be equally silly.    Next she would be saying please and thank you to food replicators, as Gomez liked to do.

            Beverly silently reminded herself getting angry doesn't solve anything.    She chastised herself for losing her temper, and began what any good scientist would do; she analyzed the data at hand.

            Three people fired on and one seriously injured, but the gravity of the situation didn't stop her friends from passing that rifle around like some sort of prize.   Crusher wondered if the damage the android and its weapon had done, even registered on them at the moment.

            Wishing she could say the Captain, chief engineer and tactical officer were behaving like boys, Crusher felt the description didn't quite fit.   After all, she'd never seen Wesley play with toy phasers or even laser duel.   Her son had never seemed interested in such things; Wes had always been the constructive type.

            On the other hand, Beverly never allowed Wesley's friends to bring such toys into her home.    Perhaps he sensed his mother's disapproval, and feigned disinterest to please her.  Doctor Crusher fixed on an appalling thought; did Wes ever play with toy weapons in secret?

            Beverly pushed everything down a mental refuse reclaimer and forgot it.   She had raised her son well, of that she was certain.    Three grown men had set her on this course, and Crusher focused on them as the lift's doors opened.

            She touched briefly on another troublesome thought.    She could just as easily picture three intelligent, relatively cultured officers of centuries past, examining such a...'war trophy'.   Crusher supposed some behavior would always be gender specific.    The evidence, albeit anecdotal, was back in the brig.

            Three educated, civilized men, gawking over an instrument of destruction.  Doctor Crusher remembered an old expression from her adolescence, burned into her mind by her mother.  "The difference between men and boys, are their toys," or so Mother had insisted.    Beverly had never subscribed to the theory...until now.

            Doctor Crusher shrugged off the attitudes of her comrades with a pleasantly vindictive observation.    Their behavior would be different, if men bore children.