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            Captain Matthews swept across the bridge of the Enterprise as though it were her own.   As she left the turbolift car she said nothing, but her attention focused on the main viewscreen.

             The screen displayed a man she guessed to be in his fifties, whose gray-green eyes and thinning, graying hair somehow suggested authority.  The man sat behind a large, tinted plastiform desk, and wore a light blue turtleneck under a dark blue, collar-less jacket.   From suit style and size of his desk, Matthews assumed him to be a man of some importance, but instinctively took an immediate dislike to him.

            Standing between the Conn and Ops stations, Picard noted the arrival of Riker and Matthews as he spoke to the man on screen.   "Governor, would you mind repeating what you just told us, for my first officer's benefit?"   As Riker moved next to Picard, Matthews noted he made no reference to her.    Angela did not introduce herself, and remained in the background, content to hear the governor out.   She knew she would not like it, but she had to listen.

            "Is there anyone else I should be addressing, Captain?"   

            From his manner, Matthews guessed the Sendatius Colony Governor was used to being in charge, and so loath to repeat himself.  Angela marked his tone as tyrannical, but continued to listen quietly.   Part of her---perhaps the Starfleet officer---wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.    However the rest of her wanted to snap his neck like a dry twig.

            On the other hand, Captain Picard was calm and reasonable.   "No Governor.   All my senior staff officers are present, and I'd prefer they heard your report firsthand."

            Matthews had served aboard Enterprise under Picard for three years; and had always admired Picard's ability to speak smoothly after biting his own tongue.  Angela could hear it in his tone, and was certain the other bridge officers knew the Captain's sentiments as well.  Picard's annoyance was so carefully cloaked in the language of diplomacy, only an experienced ear could pick it out.

            Picard had not been completely candid with the colony governor; a senior staff officer was missing.  Doctor Crusher was not on the bridge, but her absence was of no interest to Angela.  Matthews dropped into the vacant first officer's seat and studied her grandfather's accuser, while Counselor Troi studied her.

            "There has been another shooting incident, Captain," the governor repeated.   "I've kept two constables at the cave entrance around the clock, to keep the curious away.   Twenty minutes ago one constable was wounded by phaser fire, and the other reported seeing Matthews in the cave, near the entrance, at the time of the attack."

            Picard's response was obviously well calculated.  "Was the constable badly injured?"

             The governor looked to be almost livid as he snapped, "I'm told his wound is not serious, but I don't see how that makes any difference.   People know of Matthews and his service record.   A lot of them are afraid to set foot outside their homes and I don't blame them.    What I expect, Picard, is for you to do something!"

             Cool as ever, Picard answered, "Governor when we arrive, I assure you we will take whatever action is appropriate.   I suggest you keep the incident area under surveillance, but keep your constables clear of the cave entrance.   Enterprise out."   As he turned, Angela could see it in his eyes; Picard had better things to do than listen to a tirade.   Chief among those was learning Troi's assessment of the governor.

             Unfortunately, Troi could offer little the Captain didn't already suspect.   "Solek's genuinely frightened, Captain," Deanna reported, "but he was holding something back.   It seemed he was using his rage to mask some deeper insecurity---about all I can say for certain, is he wants to perceive Major Matthews as a threat."

             That last bit seemed to startle Picard.   "He wants to?"    There had to be at least a half dozen questions swirling around the Captain's mind, but he needed more---"Data, can you access the colony's central database?"

            Mr. Data replied, "With one eye closed, sir."

             The android’s experiment with snappy comebacks had almost everyone else on the bridge smirking; the exceptions were Picard, Matthews and Worf.   While the effort was lost on her at the moment, Angela guessed Data would consider it a successful experiment to be repeated at the next opportunity.

             Picard was thinking ahead, and apparently registered nothing but an affirmative response.   His order was his usual, "Make it so.   Counselor, find out everything you can about Governor Solek, and what reasons he may have to carry a grudge against Major Matthews."

             As he turned his attention to her, Picard's voice softened.   "I thought you should hear that for yourself, Commodore.  Given the circumstances, I'm grateful for your restraint."

             Matthews shrugged off his concern; her restraint had earned her a rather well known nickname.    She admired his diplomacy, but could not find it in her to reciprocate.  It was all hitting her where she lived, and her best effort was spent maintaining a flat, noncommittal tone.

             "Aside from an, unflattering characterization, of Governor Solek," Angela confessed, "I really don't know what to think."    To the others, Matthews knew she must have seemed eerily calm, almost tranquilized as she stood, and headed back up the ramp toward the turbolift.

            "With your permission, Captain," Angela offered without waiting for Picard's approval, "I'm going to the phaser range."   Footfalls behind her instinctively forced Angela to turn.   As the first officer hurriedly joined her in the turbolift, she decided to reinforce a point on Commander Riker.


            Back on the bridge, Picard's attention shifted to his chief engineer.   Geordie LaForge stood at the bridge engineering station, and had observed Matthews carefully as she departed with the first officer.   Once the lift doors closed, the engineer turned his sympathetic expression from the turbolift to his commanding officer.

             Lt. Commander LaForge informed Picard, "We've been running at high warp a lot lately, so I'd suggest staying below warp eight point one, Captain."

             Picard's response was to turn to the Conn and order, "Ensign, increase speed to warp eight.  Data, what's our new ETA?"

             When the young helmsman announced the increase in speed, Mr. Data added without missing a beat, "Eleven hours, thirteen minutes at present speed, Sir."

            Picard's mind was racing in several directions at once, when a new variable entered the equation he struggled with; Doctors Crusher and Sterling.   As the forward turbolift doors snapped shut behind them, the pediatrician waited near the ready room door.  Crusher strode briskly across the bridge, catching the Captain as he was about to seat himself.

             Doctor Crusher's quiet, almost conspiratorial tone did nothing to ease his mind.  "Do you have a moment, Captain? Doctor Sterling and I would like a word with you."

            When he met her eyes, he had a sense of what troubled the good doctor.  "In my ready room.  Mr. Data, you have the bridge."  Picard raised himself from his chair and went to his office; but paused in the ready room doorway, zeroed in on Data and told him, "And Data, keep both eyes open."


            Riker tried to break the ice forming in the turbolift by asking, "I thought we were going for a drink?"  Angela leaned against the car wall, arms folded, eyes staring vacantly at nothing in particular.  Looking at his old shipmate, Will shivered.  Angela looked more like a uniform shop mannequin than ever.  She didn't seem to be aware of anything, especially him.  Will believed he could actually feel the air temperature in the lift car dropping.

             Angela's voice bordered on mechanical as she informed him, "I don't feel like a drink just now Will, but I would like to show you something."  Riker had been impressed by her emotional control on the bridge, but now grew concerned.  As the car came to a stop, Angela stepped from the lift, and strode down the passage.

            He wanted to do something, anything to snap Angela out of her trance; but all he could think to say was, "Perhaps this isn't such a good idea."

            Matthews stopped short and turned on him.  In the coldly calm tone she had made her trademark, Angela repeated, "I would like to show you something, Commander.   It won't take long."    She spun round and continued on, simply assuming Riker would follow.

            Will caught himself thinking that was a first.   She'd never pulled rank on him before but then, Angela had never been in a position to exercise authority over him.  Perhaps, he posed, the 'won't take long' she'd tacked on, was as close to an apology as she would come.   However, after a few seconds of introspection he dismissed it all as irrelevant, and used his longer stride to catch her up as Angela entered the phaser range.

            Riker was in time to observe, as Matthews drew a phaser and holster from the range locker.   The holster gave Will some idea of the demonstration he was about to witness, but he figured he should let Angela show off a bit.   Target practice, the first officer reasoned, was as good a way as any to vent frustration.

             Matthews secured the holster to her left leg then shoved the phaser into it, so the weapon's grip lay flat against her thigh.  Angela cracked her knuckles, flexed her fingers and other hand muscles, then shook out her left hand and let it drop near the phaser.  Watching her prepare, Riker was suddenly grateful the range phasers, as a safety precaution, were locked at setting one.  Will suspected he might receive a taste of her phaser, should he utter one careless word.

            After a moment, Will began to think she'd forgotten him; but then she turned her cold blue eyes on him and asked, "Have you ever had to wait your turn at a phaser range?  I haven't, and I spend three or four hours a week at some target range or other."

            Riker shrugged, then answered, "I suppose most officers spend just enough time at this, to keep from getting rusty.   Only Worf and his security people frequent our range."

            Angela nodded, as her face showed her disappointment. "Worf I can understand, but very few people see target practice for its true purpose."

            Riker believed she was thawing out a bit so he prodded, "And what is the true purpose of target practice?"

            Angela actually grinned as she explained, "It's a perfectly mindless task; you don't think, you shoot.  I feel better just standing here---in fact, this has to be the best way to vent excess steam with my uniform on."

            "Captain Matthews, I'm shocked," Riker feigned.

             Angela's grin turned to a wicked little smirk.  "Do you know what my favorite type of, out of uniform recreation is?"

            Will thought Angela was being a bit too flirtatious; but was so pleased to see her come back to life, he felt compelled to hear her answer.  His rakish smile firmly in place, he offered a simple, "Do tell."

            Angela crooked a finger, beckoning him to lean closer. As he did, she stood on her toes to reach his ear, and whispered, "I love snorkeling."

            Riker straightened up, and looked down at his friend. "I've never heard anyone call it that before."  He was off the hook, but kept his smile intact.  Will loved flirting with Angela, but knew nothing would come of it.  Perhaps, he concluded, that explained the pleasure of their pointless exchange of veiled suggestions.

            Even so, Riker was genuinely disappointed when Matthews breathed a sigh, then focused on the range area.  Their little game was over---for the moment, anyway---and the reality of their relationship sank in.  He honestly hoped it wasn't something he'd said; for a moment, he'd seen his old friend Angela, and not the overworked Captain Matthews.

            Angela took a deep breath, let it go, then commanded, "Computer, level twenty."    She winked at Will and explained, "I wouldn't want you to think I was showing off.    Computer, run program."

            Matthews and Riker stepped up, into the firing circle in the center of the large, circular room.  As the range program began swirling colored dots across the walls, Angela took the blue, leaving Will with the gold half of the center platform.  She memorized the target pattern, knowing the computer would begin keeping score with her first shot.

             After a few seconds she looked Will in the eye again, and told him, "I'll bet you've never seen this before."

            Will was about to inquire when Angela's hand flashed away from her hip, her phaser tracking and firing in a blur.   Mere seconds later all blue target lights had been punctured, and Matthews' weapon was holstered.    That was it; the demonstration was over.

             Awestruck, Riker forced his slack jaw back into line.   "You're right...I've never seen anything like that."    Angela could give Data a run for his latinum.

            "Wanna see it again?"

            Will nodded, and braced for another shock as Angela instructed the computer to rerun the target program, at level twenty-five.   Once again her hand moved in a blur, as she drew and fired her phaser, zapping only blue dots in rapid succession.   When the program completed a minute later, he grinned as Angela blew across the phaser's emitter before she holstered it.

            Shocked, Will held his grin as he told her, "I'm glad you're on our side."

            Angela told him, "There's no reason to miss a target that can't shoot back."   Angela met his eyes again as she admitted, "Of course I'm nowhere near as skilled as my teacher."

            As she left the circle, Riker stated the obvious.   "Your grandfather."

            Matthews returned the phaser and holster to the range locker, then turned to Riker.  "Shortly before my seventh birthday, he made me a plastic phaser and a holster to go with.   We practiced at least two hours a day, six days a week and in all this time, I've never seen him miss."

            Riker took a chance by reminding her, "And the eyewitnesses?"

            Matthews thought it over, then shrugged.  "I really don't know.   The Major's a professional---so little of this makes sense."  Just as quickly, she pushed it all aside. "We'll know when we get there," she told him.   "Right now, all I want is a shower, a snack and a good night's sleep.    I assume a cabin's been prepared for me?"

            Riker nodded.  "Saw to it myself," he told her, then felt his grin reappear.  "Come on, Annie Oakley, I'll escort you to your quarters."

            "Annie who?"


            As Captain Picard seated himself at his ready room desk, he discovered Counselor Troi had joined them.   Dr. Sterling and Chief Medical Officer Crusher took the chairs opposite Picard, while the Counselor made herself comfortable on the small couch across the room.   He was beginning to have true doubts about Matthews; concerns that grew with each member of his staff who chose to discuss her.

            He settled back in his chair, and decided one did not rise to starship command without being dependable.   Of course, he also knew anyone and any time could become unreliable, under the strain of command.   After listening to Troi's initial concerns, Jean-Luc chose to review Matthews' service record.

            Before and after her three tours aboard Enterprise, Angela Matthews had served with distinction.   Now, at the age of thirty-seven, she had been chosen to command the last of the Galaxy class starships.   She had received that assignment almost nine months ago and at the time, Picard believed it was well deserved.   Now he was being forced to wonder.

           The captain chose to open the conversation with a neutral question. "What is it you wish to speak to me about, doctor?"   Jean-Luc glanced from one face to the next, waiting for one of the three doctors to respond.

            Interesting enough, it was Doctor Sterling who piped up first.  "From that grim look on your face, Captain, I think you believe we're here to bury Caesar.  I assure you it's not that bad, yet."

            Picard's response was simple, but the Captain had a way of putting a different spin on every word.   When he repeated "Yet," it sounded both concerned and curious, with a trace of annoyance thrown in.

            All of which went past Sterling at warp speed.  "I'll never understand what makes a starship captain think she---­or he---is indestructible."

            Picard raised shields and asked, "Is that what this is about?"   He considered dismissing the three of them, but realized he had taken Dr. Sterling's comment personally.   Picard turned a steady gaze on the buxom young doctor.   Sterling's bright brown eyes met his stare without a trace of nervousness and in spite of himself, the Captain had to admire her for it.

            Most of his junior officers either hung on his every word or were quickly intimidated.  Even the brash, self-reliant Ensign Ro could be put in her place with one look from Captain Picard.   Sterling just sat there, as though sunbathing under his harsh glare.    It was neither insolence nor insubordination, but pure confidence he saw in her eyes. He found himself beginning to wonder if Sterling had ever been intimidated, by anyone, when Doctor Crusher drew his attention.

            "I have to agree with Doctor Sterling," Beverly said, with an unspoken 'this time' in her tone.   Crusher spoke to the Captain, but stared at the doctor next to her.   Picard--­and anyone else who happened to observe---could see Crusher wished she could spot even a hint of smugness in Sterling's expression to pounce on.

            Finding none, Crusher continued, "Captain Matthews has been pushing herself far too hard lately.   Personally, I'm wondering how much longer she can keep it up."

            Picard was pragmatic.   "So you feel she may become a liability to this mission?"

            Crusher turned her full attention to the Captain and answered sharply, "That's not what I mean at all.    I'm saying she's overworked right now.    Is it wise to add the stress of leading the away team?"

            Picard's answer was direct.   "It would be more stressful for her to be excluded and frankly Doctor, I'm surprised you don't see that yourself."

            "Then you don't believe her personal bias will affect this mission?" was Crusher's genuine concern.

            "On the contrary," the Captain observed, "I'm counting on it.  Overworked or not, Captain Matthews is possibly the only officer aboard who can talk the major out of that cave without further incident."

            Counselor Troi sat up and added, "I agree."

            Picard wanted to know exactly where she stood, so he pressed with, "Then you don't share the doctor's assessment, Counselor?"

            Troi hedged a bit.   "Not completely.   I believe Captain Matthews to be the best person for the assignment, but I do have reservations.   Just now on the bridge, she listened to the Governor's report without twitching a muscle.    For a moment I felt I was observing a Vulcan; Angela keeps a very tight reign on her emotions."

            Picard was comfortable with Troi's description.   "Isn't that what most of us would have done?"

            Troi seemed to struggle for a better analogy,  "Not like this, Captain.  She contained her rage then ignored it, as though it was expected to leave on its own.   You noticed her artificial calmness as she left the bridge."
            Sterling had heard enough.   "You may be overlooking something, Counselor.   I've known Angela since we were girls.   I met her shortly after her grandfather brought her back to Earth and I can tell you, she was one deeply traumatized kid.   Her parents had been killed in the Kolrachian border incursion a few weeks earlier and, as she so morbidly confessed, Angela saw her grandfather kill a man right in front of her.   I suppose that's when she learned to internalize her emotions; when everyone she trusted was taken away from her."

            Picard thought it a beautiful summation, but Sterling's speech didn't offer much to his analysis.  "I trust you have a point to make, Doctor?"

            Sterling's expression shifted to one of near total exasperation.   Although he'd never seen it on Sterling before, Picard recognized her look.   Doctor Sterling thought she had laid it out for them so plainly, there could be no room for discussion.   He waited as Sterling rapidly reviewed her statements in her mind, then decided to try a slightly different tack.

            "Well then think of it this way," Sterling offered, clearly hoping they would get it this time.   "We're all sitting here discussing this potential overload, but I'm the only one who's done any sort of maintenance work on this problem."

            Picard posed, "You have no reservations, Doctor Sterling?"

            "I'm saying Angela has a stress problem right now, but she'll have it under control by the time we reach Sendatius Minor.    Frankly I don't know why this meeting is necessary."

            That was it; she had definitely crossed the line this time.    Picard began, "When my chief medical officer has doubts about any---"

            "Sorry, Captain," Sterling began; to her credit, she was equally quick with her apology.  "I guess I'm so used to standing up for Angela I don't know when to stop."

            Captain Picard could see the fire in her eyes, and certainly wouldn't damn Sterling for her loyalty.    "Apology accepted, Doctor Sterling; as long as you understand the importance of continuous evaluation of command performance."

            Sterling retorted, "Will all respect, Captain, doesn't awareness of constant surveillance breed paranoia?"   She backed up her question with a hard, hot stare of her own.

            Picard leaned back, awarding the round to the ship's pediatrician.  The Captain allowed them to see another of his thin smiles as he asked, "Doctor Sterling, just how long have you been defending your friend's honor?"

            Sterling grinned, blatantly savoring the memory she was about to share.  "Grade school.   I met Angela when I decked an older boy who had been teasing her."

            "Well then," Picard answered smoothly, "I suppose I should consider myself among the fortunate."   Even that did not embarrass Sterling.   Her response, however, was confined to one raised eyebrow and a wicked grin.  The captain studied her reaction for a second or two, then ended their sparring match.   "You may return to your duties, Doctor Sterling."

            As Sterling rose from her chair she decided to get the last word, and leave the Captain with one final bit of advice.   "There is one thing I believe we should avoid.   Keep telling Angela she needs to relax and it will most certainly drive her bonkers.   I've already pointed out the problem to her, and she's smart enough to act on her own."   With a curt nod, Kate Sterling took her leave.

            Troi got up from the couch and admitted, "I concur; we could wind up badgering Angela over the edge.    If she's aware of her mental state, then the best prescription at this point would be a good night's sleep."

            Jean-Luc had no problem with that assessment, but wanted all bases covered.  "Even so, keep an eye on Captain Matthews from a discreet distance, Counselor.  We will deal with complications as they arise."

            Troi nodded her acknowledgement, then excused herself as well.    Picard waited for the ready room door to close, then left his seat and padded softly toward his replicator.

            "As long as you're here, Doctor," Picard told Crusher, "I would like to discuss another personnel related topic."


            So this is the bridge, Sterling thought to herself.  She had come to the command center of the Enterprise before, but her visits were generally of remarkable short duration.  With no pressing reason to return to sickbay, the pediatrician elected to hang about, and watch the bridge crew drive the ship.

            Doctor Sterling ventured further from the ready room entrance, chancing a glance over Lieutenant Commander Data's shoulder.    Data seemed totally absorbed in his work, saying nothing as she watched him manipulate control systems from the Ops station.    Sterling wasn't completely certain what the second officer was doing, but it looked important.

            She wandered past Data to observe the young man at the Conn.    Examining the controls, Sterling likened the pilot's console to a duotronic game she enjoyed as a girl.   Recalling her relative lack of skill at that particular game, Sterling concluded she'd made a wise career choice.

            Standing behind and to the helmsman's left put Sterling between the two forward control stations, and offered an excellent view.   Kate Sterling watched as stars streaked by; she knew it was an optical illusion, but allowed herself to be dazzled by it anyway.    Her preference often favored poetic illusion over cold, hard reality.

            Kate quickly forgot she was staring at a holographic viewscreen, preferring to see a window to the heavens.  Soon even the window was lost, as Dr. Sterling's powerful imagination led her to believe she was dancing amongst the stars, free of any encumbering conveyance.

            "Fantastic, isn't it?"  Commander Riker's voice wafted up to her from behind; Sterling felt her heart skip a beat, as she was dragged back within the confines of the ship.

            Still, she recovered quickly and posed a question.  "Commander, you spend the better part of your day up here." Gazing at the viewer, Kate wanted to know, "Do you ever get bored watching this?"

            Riker's grin spread from his lips to the rest of his being.  "If I ever get tired of it, I hope someone has the sense to bury me."

            Something snapped in Sterling, and the compelling starscape was forgotten.   She turned from the viewer to stare at Riker's upper abdomen, then looked upward to his face and asked, "Speaking of tired, I thought you were with Angela?"

            Riker's answer was friendly, but direct.    "I showed Angela to her cabin, then left her to get some rest.    What brings you to the bridge, Doctor Sterling?"

            Sterling's face screwed itself into an expression of intense self-amusement as she cracked, "The turbolift."    For a few seconds, Kate's eyes crossed in her effort to hold back her laughter.    The look on Riker's face suggested he felt Kate could do with a bit more time among grownups.

            Even so, he rephrased his question.  "Why are you on the bridge, Doctor?  Out sightseeing, perhaps?"

           "I wish.    Came to stand up for a friend, now I'm just malingering.    Hardly ever get to come up here, you know."

            Will Riker knew an opportunity when he saw one.    "Well then, may I show you the bridge?"    He pointed out the Ops and Helm stations, then his seat, the big chair, and the seats reserved for Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher.    Sterling's gaze lingered a bit on the chief medical officer's position, as Riker led her up the ramp to the tactical station.

            The commander concluded his well-polished tour guide speech with, "These are the science and engineering stations, and Lieutenant Worf is at tactical."    Worf bristled at the mention of his name.    Kate could see he wasn't comfortable with being a point of interest on a tour, but he did have something to say.

            The tactical officer seemed almost rigid as he offered, "Doctor, I wish to thank you for...producing the truth of this afternoon's incident in the play room.     It is appreciated, but was not necessary; I accepted Alexander's version of the events."

            Dr. Sterling deadpanned, "You make it sound like I wrung a confession out of the boy."  She became almost serious as she added, "Still, it was the thing to do.    After all, Lt. Marl believed her boy too; but if anyone deserves praise it's you, Mister Worf.   Alexander wanted to bop Jimmy in the worst way, but he didn't.     Talking with him, I got the impression Alexander is learning patience.     He's a fine boy Worf, you're doing an excellent job."

           Worf looked like someone had just pinned a medal on him.  "It is important for a warrior to know how and when to choose his battles."

            Sterling's response was to cock one eyebrow and reply, "Uh, right.    Just keep up the good work."    Worf offered one nod in acknowledgement, then turned back to the tactical display.

            As she and Riker shuffled past the Klingon officer, Sterling muttered, "What separates the two is Alexander's sense of humor."    Kate stopped near the turbolift door and spun on the first officer.    "Hey Commander, are you hungry?"

            Riker was still grinning from her wisecrack as he answered, "I thought you'd never ask."



            Angela slipped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a thick, fluffy white robe.    It was thoughtful of Riker to have a replicator conjure up the garment, along with a few fresh uniforms and various other necessities.    He'd observed she had come aboard without so much as an overnight bag, and had her quarters prepared accordingly.

            As she pulled the robe's sash tight around her slim waist, a pang of guilt stung her conscience.    Thinking of Riker, Angela recalled how she had behaved in the transporter room.  Certainly she had been distracted, but that excused nothing.    When the mission was completed, she would have to find an appropriate way of thinking Bill Riker for both his patience and thoughtfulness.

            Angela towed her flaxen hair dry, then sat at the dressing table to brush her long, silky tresses.    Having washed off what little makeup she wore, Angela could now see the shadowy circles under her eyes.    Combined with her slightly damp hair and slipping posture, in her opinion Captain Angela Matthews looked like hell.

           Small wonder everyone was telling her she needed a rest.    When this mission was completed, Angela promised herself she would inform Starfleet she'd be taking a few extra days to return.     Not an extended leave; just a little time to get her bearings.

           Looking at the tired old woman in the mirror, Angela could see she was pushing herself too hard.    The task of preparing a new ship was weight enough for any captain, but her case was a little different.    After a proper shakedown period, she and her crew would truly be going where no one had gone before.

            Long, arduous months of preparation may not be enough, considering the assignment she'd accepted.  There would be no assistance, no friendly ports of call.  Nothing but what they had brought, what they could find along the way and most important, what she and her crew could improvise; but to Captain Matthews, the job seemed like old times.    She had already performed an incredibly difficult feat and for her next trick, she would take a crack at the impossible.

            Angela remembered how she had leapt at the chance.  Her performance aboard the Arcturus had put her at the top of the list for this command, and she wasn't about to let the plum assignment of her career slip away.    Yet Angela didn't think of herself as an ambitious person.  She considered herself to be a driven but patient, highly motivated career officer, completely unconcerned with what others thought of her.

           Matthews put the brush down, and stared herself in the eye.  Be honest, she told herself.  There were times when she wondered how others perceived her.     Because she held a positive image of herself, didn't mean everyone did.  The possibility she could be thought of as ambitious, self-serving or worst of all, reckless, troubled her greatly.

            In the course of hand picking her crew, she had met a number of such officers.  These were people she could not and would not work with; officers who wanted only to serve aboard a Galaxy-class starship, to use such an assignment as a stepping stone to further their own careers.

            The most obnoxious were the volunteers who wished little more than to be associated with the Captain Matthews; as if some greatness would rub off.   Angela wondered how many of them would reconsider serving with the heroine of Wolf -359, were they aware of her new mission.    She pictured quite a few of them politely backing toward the door; no glory in this assignment, to be sure.

            Angela stopped herself short with a startling question; did Captain Picard have problems like this?    As he was the type of captain who seemed able to pull off almost anything, Angela assumed he had his share of admirers---she was one.   How often had she found herself in a tight spot, wondering how Picard would handle it?    In the end she always came up with an answer, but it helped to have the captain of the Enterprise for an instructor.

            Angela didn't see herself as a teacher; more as an officer who had played a very bad hand as best she could. This wasn't something Angela felt could either be taught or learned, but Starfleet Command believed otherwise.   After the Arcturus and a short leave Angela found herself in an Academy classroom, trying to teach an instinct.

            Then, the chance of a lifetime.    Angela had been told she was the first choice for the assignment, which compelled her to wonder who else had made the list.    Angela abandoned the mystery when she could think of only one other starship captain who could pull such a proverbial rabbit from his hat: Picard.

           Now another interesting possibility had raised itself. If she had turned the job down, would Command have asked Picard?  Would he have accepted?  If he had, who would've assumed command of the Enterprise?  Angela came to a shocking realization; she could very well have been assigned to command a Galaxy-class starship, regardless of her decision.

            The possibility made her dizzy.   Angela folded her arms on the dressing table, and lay her head on them.   She was allowing her imagination to run wild and in her present state, was having trouble focusing.  It was just too much to assimilate.   Could she have asked for any assignment?

            Angela thought not.    Starfleet Command most definitely did not hold out starships like cookies to bright children.   She had earned her command and was damned proud of it---even if she was working herself into a sickbed over it.   Matthews decided a reputation, good or bad, was a difficult thing to live with.   The Federation, as well as Starfleet, expected great things of her.   Angela had to wonder how many rabbits were in her particular hat.  Would she be able to keep up, or was accepting the mission a terrible mistake?

            There was an ironic smile on her lips, as she closed her eyes.  "I must be more tired than I thought," Angela muttered to herself.    As darkness closed around her mind, she put all her worries aside.    She knew they would still be waiting when she woke, but there just, wasn't, time...

            "Captain, life support systems are faltering."

            Angela sat up with a start, uncertain of her surroundings.    Rubbing sleep from her eyes, her answer was reflexive.   "Can you be more specific?"

            Casting about, Commander Angela Matthews found herself back in the Arcturus auxiliary control center.