by E. L. Zimmerman


In the comfortable counseling room provided for official use on Starbase 118 - one of Starfleet's favored spots for crew exchanges - Commander Deanna Troi reclined in her floral chair, crossed her legs, and placed her cupped, folded hands on one knee. She noticed that the atmosphere in the sealed room was faintly scented with lilacs, and she admired that the walls were colored a soft shade of blue - almost an aqua. Whomever had designated the room for therapeutic conversation had realized that the traditional Starfleet 'antiseptic white' of the Sciences Division probably wasn't conducive to difficult, open, and frank exchanges between counselor and patient.

Despite the wonderful ambiance, her patient remained tight lipped ...

... as usual.

"Reg?" she broke the resounding silence.


Looking up from his PADD, Lieutenant Reginald Barclay glanced hopefully into her deep eyes. "Yes?"

She studied his expression, and she hoped, to herself, that this wasn't going to be another uncomfortable amorous confession from the lieutenant. To her personal knowledge, he had put those affections for her - and for Doctor Crusher, and Ensign Lefler, and Doctor Selar, and countless others - aside a long time ago. It wasn't as if he had resigned himself to a life of celibacy; rather, he had determined that service to Starfleet was a higher calling, his life's pursuit.

"Reg," she offered, "I can wait as long as you can, but the waiting game won't get us any closer to a solution."


Deflated, he stared back down at the transfer orders brilliantly spelled out in magenta on his PADD's screen. He had served the Enterprise faithfully for so long, and now Starfleet was calling him in ... other directions.

"Is the answer to your current trouble printed there on that PADD, Reg?" Deanna asked.


He swallowed, forcing the bile of nervousness back down his throat. "No," he eventually said, smiling briefly at her. "No, Deanna. It isn't."

"Then let's start by defining the problem. Let's talk about what you're feeling and how we might begin the process to get you past your discomfort."

"Okay," he flatly agreed.

"That is the reason we're both here after all, isn't it?"


Again, he studied her before nodding. "Yes. Yes, it is. You're absolutely right, counselor. That is why we're here."

"Reg, you don't have to refer to me by my position."

"I know. I know. I apologize."


Realizing that perhaps he wasn't ready to begin the healing process, she shrugged. "Would you rather talk about something else?"

"No, no," he blurted out, instantly sliding the PADD aside and then grabbing it back, curling his fingers around the cool metal edges like he was a babe clinging to a security blanket. Smiling to herself, Deanna realized that that analogy might not be very far from the truth. "No, no, no." He smiled, sighing with it, and then he sucked in his display of emotion with an embarrassed jerk. "Commander," he tried. "Deanna," he tried again. "Commander -"

"Reg, we've been friends for a very long time, and, right now, I think it best that you talk with Deanna Troi, your friend ... not Deanna Troi, your counselor. Agreed?"

Once more, he released a smile. "Yes, Deanna. I'm sorry. Really, I am."

"You don't need to apologize."

"Really, I apologize ... for apologizing."

"That's all right."

"I'm sorry."

Interrupting, she was intent on getting this counseling session on track.

"As I understand, you're being transferred back to Earth?"

He nodded once, determinedly. "You're so good at this. I wish I were one-tenth as good at communicating with you as you are with me. Yes. Yes, I am ... being transferred to Earth."

"And this transfer is causing you some anxiety?"

Dropping his guard, he let a tiny smile slip through for her to see. "Yes, it is! Deanna, you can't even begin to imagine the level of career angst this is causing me!"

Relieved that she was making progress so quickly with, perhaps, her greatest counseling challenge ever, she smiled back at him. "And, I'm willing to venture a guess, that the cause of this elevated level of anxiety is the responsibility, the ownership you feel toward the Pathfinder Project?"

Now, nodding eagerly as though his head were about to disconnect, Reg practically bobbed out of his chair. "Yes, Deanna, yes! Thank you for putting it into words so eloquently!" He stopped nodding. "Then again, that's what you do, and this is what I do, and I just don't know if I should up and abandon the Enterprise while the ship is in the midst of a crisis!"

Through the massive viewport before him, William Riker stared out in perfect awe at the Enterprise-E floating in space alongside several Galaxy class starships also docked at Starbase 118. In quiet amazement, he studied the graceful lines of the only home he knew - the ship's now quiet nacelles fascinated him, its main deflector dish calling out to him in the way that one of Earth's ancient lighthouses led sailing boats to safety, the calm of the storm. From here, he could make out the saucer plating that housed the captain's yacht, and he could even trace the lines demarking the ship's escape pods. Arguably the finest ship in the fleet, the Enterprise was easily the most beautiful as well, the most majestic. Its name was legendary, beyond the limitation of the fleet, and the ship was known throughout the entire quadrant. Understandably, only Starfleet's finest had jockeyed to command the variations of the ship, and Will could tick those names off in his head as could any junior officer bucking for a promotion to the revered center seat.









Smirking, he thought quizzically, 'Riker?'

He wasn't fooling himself. Since his assignment to her, Will had always wanted command of the Enterprise. In fact, he had passed up countless opportunities for promotion to the captaincy throughout his career out of the sheer hope that one day - someday - Starfleet Command would make his wish come true, granting him occupancy of the center seat once and for all.

Now, he glanced down at the empty glass before him, aimlessly tracing the top rim, and he couldn't help but wonder if his name belonged on that long, auspicious list.

"Another Saurian brandy?"

Startled, he glanced up at the pretty young server. When he had entered the Captain's Lounge, she had greeted him at the door. Taking his arm in hers in more than just complimentary fashion, she had led him to what she whispered was 'the best seat in the house.' She sat him down there, told him her brief history at the station, and offered him his take of whatever was to his liking. Although he wasn't certain, he guessed that what she was really offering was the chance for an evening with herself, her companionship. Space, after all, could be a very lonely place. But, his thoughts heavy on the responsibilities of his new command, he wasn't absolutely certain of her intentions, so his natural instinct - to flirt politely - went out the nearest airlock, along with his self-confidence. Now, here she was, offering him a second chance. Just as his perseverance in waiting for a chance to command the Enterprise had paid off, William Riker found that even neglected opportunities to explore the final frontiers of passion came back to taunt him ... and he was taking his sweet time in replying to her simple question.

Clearing his throat, he prepared to smooth his tone. "What do you recommend?"

Obviously, she suppressed a smile.

He didn't suppress his, leaning forward, planting his forearms on the table. "Clearly, with a career at serving others as notable as yours, you must have something in mind."

"Well," she said, "Captain ... if you must know, I was curious as to how long you were going to remain ... in port?"

He hadn't lost the charm.

Opening his mouth, fully prepared to release the charm of his infamous Riker Maneuver, he didn't get the chance to utter a word before being interrupted by a familiar voice ... one laced with confidence, security, and command.

"How about two Romulan Ales?"

As Will glanced up, his server turned around to greet the new arrival.

Suddenly, with an air of familiarity, the server wagged a finger at the man. "Now, admiral, you know the rules! You can ask for a Romulan Ale, I can serve you a Romulan Ale from the barkeep's personal stock, but it's supposed to be our little secret!" Will recognized the man immediately.

What he didn't recognize was the rank.

"Admiral," he began, "... Jellico?"

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