FEDERATION'S END III: TWILIGHT
by E. L. Zimmerman
"Let's talk about it for a moment," Deanna insisted.
"I'm game if you are," agreed Reginald Barclay.
"This is no game, Reg."
"Sorry," he said. "That's just an expression I picked up from ... Doctor Crusher."
Shifting in her chair so as to better face her patient, the counselor leaned forward, resting her palms flat on the table's surface. "You feel that the Enterprise is facing a crisis?"
"Well," he mused aloud, "yes. A crisis, of a sort."
"And you're certain that you're not projecting your own feelings onto the ship and its crew?"
"Well," he continued, momentarily studying the room's aqua ceiling, "no, I don't think I am. I don't think so."
"What specific crisis do you feel that the Enterprise is facing?" she asked.
His fingers unconsciously traced the edging of the PADD he held. Glancing up to the left, he replied, "Maybe crisis isn't exactly the word I'm looking for."
"Can you think of a better one?"
Confused, he replied, "No. I can't."
"Then how would you best describe it?"
"It's your position," she explained. "These are your feelings we're talking about."
Sitting back, he finally released the data instrument and tried relaxing. He took a few deep breaths before speaking: "I think that ... Commander Riker ... uh, Captain Riker, that is ... I think he's the finest replacement for Captain Picard that Starfleet could ever hope for ... that the crew could ever hope for ... and, well, I had hoped to serve under him one day, too."
"But," she wondered aloud, tilting her head his direction, "your transfer to Starfleet Command to assist in the Pathfinder Project is denying you that opportunity."
Furrowing his brow, he crossed his arms. "Yes ... and no."
"Reg, is life really this complicated?"
"Deanna," he blurted out her name, not realizing he had done so, "I'm ... worried."
"What are you worried about?"
Sighing, he tightened his arms across his chest.
"About the project?" she pried, realizing that, in previous sessions, she had to press Lieutenant Barclay very hard in order to get him to verbalize his deepest, darkest fears.
"Yes ... and no."
"About the Enterprise?"
"Yes ... and no."
"About the Voyager?"
Again, he said, "Yes ... and no."
"What is it that's bothering you the most, Reg? Sometimes it's much easier to overcome our challenges if we break them down into easily handled increments. It helps to remind us that situations that appear overwhelming are often more readily conquered when we deal with what's most important, then what's the next greatest obstacle, and so on and so forth. Let's try to deal with this one step at a time."
Nodding, he pursed his lips for a long moment. "I guess it's just that ... you see ... I had looked forward to serving the Enterprise throughout my career. Do you understand?" He uncrossed his arms, his emotions starting to loosen, and he leaned into the table, reaching again for the PADD. He gripped it and felt the cool metal in his palms. "Whether I had complied with orders issued by Captain Picard or Captain Riker is irrelevant. The ship could be commanded by any one of a hundred professionals in Starfleet, but I view both Picard and Riker as exemplary role models and, even in my own unique way, as friends as much as I see them as officers."
"That's good, Reg."
"But ... but now Pathfinder has come along, and I don't want them to feel as if I'm abandoning the ship." Forcing himself to relax even more, he laid the PADD flat on the table. "Does that make any sense?"
She smiled, hoping that the warmth she intended to convey came fully across. "Of course, it does."
"Good," he heaved a sigh of relief. "Good. Thank you. Very good. That's what I'm struggling with, Deanna. I don't want anyone to feel as if I'm abandoning ship. Not Captain Picard. Not Captain Riker. Not Geordi." Gesturing politely in her direction, he added, "And certainly not you!"
"Reg," she said emphatically, "you're not abandoning anyone or anything. It isn't as if you're leaving your post while you're on the watch. You're simply pursuing a very specific career interest that's developed since the disappearance of the USS Voyager."
"Right!" he exclaimed. "Exactly! That's it exactly!"
"Can you tell me why it is you would think that any of us aboard the Enterprise would conclude that you're abandoning us?"
"It's just the thought that keeps crossing my mind," he explained. "I've been thinking an awful lot about Voyager lately ... clearly as I've been picked by Starfleet to assist on this project ... and I've noticed how the struggle that crew must be facing ... well, it mirrors my own life."
Inadvertently, he had piqued her interest. "In what way?"
Frowning, he replied simply, "Deanna, they're lost."
"Reg," she said softly, her compassion for human feeling obvious. "You aren't lost."
Grimacing, he tried again. "Maybe not so much lost as it is ... driven, but not quite certain that you're going to get there." Before she could interrupt, he pressed onward. "Counselor, I know that I've served the Enterprise well. I'd like to think that I have Picard's and Riker's blessing. I certainly know that they've only had kind words for me ... well, except for a few select occasions ... let's not talk about that ... I know that they think highly of me and that their praise, as of late, has certainly helped me to land this ... this ... this dream assignment of attempting to establish contact with the Voyager and its crew. I mean, who knows how far away from home they are? I certainly don't, and I would imagine that Starfleet Sciences has no idea." Suppressing the desire the fidget with the PADD, he simply touched the device with his fingertips. "But, in their own way, that crew is serving a purpose ... we believe they're trying to get home ... against what very well may be insurmountable odds ... and they don't even have the means to say two words to their loved ones! How absolutely infuriating that must be?
"I've always known that, when my career in Starfleet was winding down, I wanted it wind down with friends," he continued. "People like you, Deanna. People like the captain and all of the others I've shared time with aboard the Enterprise." He paused, finding his breath from his long speech. "Now, I'm heading off to Starfleet, and I feel as if ... as if ... well, as if my career is starting over!"
Carefully, she lifted her hand from the table and leaned even more forward, reaching out and pressing her palm down to the back of Reg's hand.
"Is this it, Reg?" she asked. "Simple contact?"
Hesitantly, he turned his hand over, and he dared to take his palm in hers. Holding her hand, he nodded. "Yes, Deanna. I don't want to lose all of the people I've grown to call family ... but I have to go and give the crew of the Voyager the same chance to know these feelings that I've discovered. I feel ... I feel in some way ... I feel in some way that I owe them that." He stared into her eyes, pleased to see her smiling back at him, and he added, "I have to know that I did all that I could to give them that, and I don't want to sacrifice all I've gained in my own career."
She squeezed his hand, acknowledging his emotions.
"Is that selfish of me?" he asked, his voice cracking slightly.
Pleased that she had again managed to make headway with Lieutenant Reginald Barclay, she nodded. "It is, Reg," she confessed, slowly releasing her hold and sitting back in her chair, "but it's important that you understand one idea that I've learned ... from all people ... my mother."
Admiring, he said, "I've always liked your mother."
"You might stand alone in the category, Reg."
"What's the lesson?"
"Much of what we do in life?" she began, her eyes fixed on his. "It's all selfish, Reg."
She nodded. "That doesn't make it inappropriate, or wrong, or evil, or any other emotion you might be feeling today or you may feel in the future." She returned her palms to the tabletop, ignoring the elation of empathic success and instead focusing on mere words. "There is nothing wrong with being selfish unless it intentionally brings harm to others ... and then you'll find yourself in a position of knowing the mistake you've made, and you'll have the ability to understand how to begin solving it."
He didn't say anything. She trusted that he was sitting there, mulling over the ideas.
"Follow your heart," she concluded. "It'll never lead you into evil, Reg. And I know that your heart is telling you that those people aboard the Voyager need you ... right now ... more than your friends aboard the Enterprise."
He remained silent, his expression slowly changed from a morose frown to one of satisfaction.
"You know how to reach me if you need me, Reg," she stated.
"Of course, I do," he agreed.
"You'll pardon me if I sound selfish, but I would think that our friendship alone - what we've shared, what we've come to admire and understand in one another - would be one of the foundations you take with you wherever Starfleet and life takes you."
He smiled warmly, and she knew that, whatever thoughts were swirling in that unpredictable brain of his, they were the right ones.
"You're not a bad person, Reginald Barclay," Deanna explained, giving him a wry smile she had learned from her Imzadi, William Riker. "You're just ... human."