Ensign's log stardate 4325.7 It's been two weeks since I was back on the Enterprise after being expelled from the Academy and things are doing fine. I'm back to being Ensign Crusher and as captain said Geordi's happy I'm back. Like before I work on the bridge for a while then at the engineering. Captain says even after being expelled I might become officer someday. I will admit I've missed being here and I know captain did. Part of me thinks he was hoping I'd leave and get back. Now that I'm back it's time for more adventures with my friends and family." Wesley said.

Picard, Riker, Data and Worf; N.D.s were needed on the bride. The atmosphere on the bridge was tense they're in the middle of a pursuit and racing against a clock. Red alert is already on.

Wesley had been expelled from Starfleet Academy and was now back to being Ensign Crusher on the Enterprise. He was still ashamed of himself after being expelled but also knew that he would always have his family to help him. He was in the engineering helping Geordi right now.

"Forward tubes armed and ready, Captain." Worf said.

"Fire." Picard said.

"A direct hit, sir."

"The asteroid has shattered. However, the core is still intact and still on a direct collision course with Tessen Three." Data said.

"Is it big enough to be a threat?" Riker asked.

"Yes, sir. It is of sufficient size and density to cause planet wide damage." Data said.

"Time to impact." Picard said.

"It will reach the upper atmosphere in forty-four seconds and impact with the planet eleven seconds later." Data said.

"Ready torpedoes." Riker said.

"Sir, the core is composed of densely compressed nitrium and chordate. It is unlikely that another photon torpedo will have any effect on it."

"Mister Worf, prepare the tractor beam."

"Yes, Captain." he said.

"Time to impact is thirty seconds." Data said.

"Sir, I cannot get a positive lock with the tractor beam. There is magnetic field interference emanating from the core materials." Worf said.

"Suggestions?"

"If we project a particle beam through the deflector dish, we may be able to produce a disruptive nuclear effect in the core." Data said.

"Make it so."

"The target has been destroyed, sir." Worf said.

"The largest piece of remaining debris offers no threat to the planet." Data said.

"Well done. Ensign, put us back on course for the Moselina system. Warp four as soon as we've cleared the debris field."

Later Worf and his son Alexander sat stiffly in Deanna's office side by side but separated by their anger at each other venting it all before a patient TROI.

"My instructions were clear!" Worf said.

"They were not!" Alexander said.

"Before being allowed to play, he was to put his soiled clothing in the garment reprocessor."

"I was not!"

"I sense a touch of hostility here, gentlemen." Deanna said.

"I specifically told you that!" Worf said.

"You told it to me yesterday; not today!" Alexander said.

"If I may suggest," Deanna started.

"You know very well that the same rules apply today that...

"Please!" Deanna started on their silence. "Why not simply draw up a contract, which defines the duties of each family member?"

"You mean he tells me what he wants and I have to do it." Alexander said.

"No, it means you both agree on your responsibilities. And when you've done the things you've agreed to do, then you've earned the privilege of doing things you want to do." she said to Worf. "When he's cleaned his room, for instance, then maybe he's earned a visit to the holodeck to fight his alien monsters."

"You suggest bribery?" Worf asked.

"I suggest working out an equitable system where the rules are spelled out as clearly as possible. For the child and the parent. You must list your responsibilities, too." she said to Alexander. "What would you like your father to promise?"

"No yelling." he said.

"I do not yell." Worf said loudly.

"Then you should have no trouble with that part." Deanna said looking from one to the other. "Well. Why don't you both go back to your quarters and talk it over? Decide on the points each of you wants in the contract..."

"Very well." he said grumpy.

Alexander's answer was a noncommittal shrug.

"One day you'll be glad your father cared enough about you to insist on rules. It may seem hard to imagine right now... but eventually, most children come to appreciate their parents." she said smiling.

"Riker to Counselor Troi. Your mother's just come aboard." Riker said through the com.

Deanna heard this, taking it in then said,

"On the other hand," she started.

"Deanna, my dear, it's mother!" Lwaxana said through the com.

In the transporter room one a Supernumerary stood alongside Lwaxana and Mr. Homn. As she absently gestured Mister Homn to get a move on with the abundance of luggage he carries, she twined Riker's arm in hers.

"And I've got such deliciously exciting news, you're going to be absolutely thrilled! I'm getting married!" she said effervescing into the com.

Later Deanna and Lwaxana were seated in Ten Forward and Deanna was initially immobilized by her shock.

"You know, with just a bit of redecorating here and there, this Ten-Forward room should make a very nice wedding hall." Lwaxana said peering around.

"I beg your pardon?" Deanna asked.

"My dear, where else? Among all my good friends, in the presence of my adored daughter." Lwaxana said.

"Mother, where did you, when did you meet this man? Who is he? I mean, marriage. When did all this happen?"

"Ah, my poor plodding little Deanna, with her questions, questions, questions. Wherever did you inherit such pedestrian genes? What matters, my sweet, is that your mother's happy."

"Mother, if you're happy, then I'm happy for you. I only asked who this man is, and where you met him. Those are not unusual questions."

"He's a wonderful man, my dear; he has such good breeding, I tell you, he's absolute perfection."

"Who is he?"

"He is Campio; third minister to the Conference Of Judges on the planet Kostolain. Royalty, my dear; naturally."

"Naturally. I didn't know you'd ever been to Kostolain. Or was he on some diplomatic mission to Betazed?"

"Well, neither, actually. I haven't exactly met him yet, really. Oh, but the profiles we've exchanged. They're in such accord that you'd absolutely weep, my dear; you'd weep at the harmony between us."

"Mother. Don't you think you should at least meet the man you're going to marry before committing to spend the rest of your life with him?"

"Deanna, I love you, but you do make everything sound like an epitaph.

"As Worf and Alexander came heading for Deanna's table, they were locked in animated debate.

"I don't want to agree!" Alexander said.

"You have to agree. That's what an agreement is." Worf said then looked at Deanna. "Excuse the intrusion, Counselor, but we are having some difficulty drawing up our contract." he continued then nodded to Lwaxana. "Mrs. Troi."

"He isn't fair!" Alexander said.

"The boy is unreasonable."

"Well of course he's unreasonable; he's a child." Lwaxana said liking Alexander and chucked under his chin. "And such a child. Making little boys reasonable only gives them pimples."

"Alexander, this is my mother." Deanna said.

"Alexander! What a wonderful name. I once knew a tall, handsome warrior named Alexander who utterly adored me. We went everywhere; simply everywhere. Have you been anywhere yet?" Lwaxana said abruptly to Deanna. "Contract? What contract?"

"It's between father and son. A fair and balanced way of achieving a mutual sense of order."

"How ghastly for you." Lwaxana said to Alexander. "And you're doing this to your own child, Mister Woof?" she asked to Worf.

"Mother!" Deanna said.

"It is Worf, Madam." he said.

"Contracts are usually for people who don't really trust each other." she said to him. "A child who is trusted becomes worthy of that trust."

"Mother, will you kindly stay out of this?" Deanna asked.

"If he doesn't perform his contractual duties, I assume he would be chastised?" Lwaxana said to Worf.

"He would be, sanctioned, yes." he said.

"But if you fail to perform your duties, what's the child supposed to do about it?"

"Mother, will you please!" Deanna said.

"I, not perform my duty?!" Worf said getting angry

"Alexander. Life's true gift is the capacity to enjoy enjoyment. Now..." Lwaxana continued and drew Alexander gently toward her; leaning to put herself almost nose-to-nose with the boy cupping his little chin in her hand. "... Have I arrived too late, or..." Then she grinned warmly. "... Can you still smile?"

And, still nose-to-nose with the smiling Lwaxana, he grinned from ear to ear. An unmistakable and very personal one-on-one bonding here. Friendship.

Outside the turbolift Picard and Riker moved along the corridor.

"Married? She's getting married?" Picard said shocked.

"If we hold present course, we'll rendezvous with her intended groom in thirty-one hours." Riker said.

"I will not continue to have this ship used by that woman for her convenience, simply because her daughter is one of my officers.

"Apparently, Deanna's being aboard was only part of the reason."

"The other part being?"

"She seems to think that the honor of giving away the bride should belong to you."

Picard halted, musing; and resumed walking.

"Permission for an on-board wedding is granted, Number One. Nothing would please me more than giving Mrs. Troi away." he said.

As they receded into b.g. along the corridor, a camera discovered along a seam of ceiling in f.g. a moving line of the Twinkling Particles seen earlier outside the ship. As it moved, the line dripped, like dripps of sparkling liquid, through the air to the flooring, where it formed a sort of glittering puddle. Then it disappeared downward through the flooring itself.


Alexander sat, alone and disconsolate in Deanna's office as Lwaxana came.

"Ah! My little warrior. And how are you this morning?" she said.

Alexander, staring sadly at the floor, just shrugged in response.

"Oh, I see." she said gently.

And, having dropped her usual off-handed effervescence, she sat quietly down beside him.

"Being punished for something, are we?"

"It's just my regular time with Counselor Troi. She's not here yet." Alexander said.

"You came early. Well, that's very responsible of you."

"No, I just wanted to be out of my room before..." he said and shrugged.

"Before what?" she asked. "Now if we're going to be real friends, we have to share only the truth.

"Why?

"Well for one thing, it's easier. When you tell the truth, you never have to remember later what you lied about."

Alexander didn't particularly want to smile but he couldn't help it.

"But mostly, a true friend is a person you can always tell the truth to without worrying about it.

"I wanted to leave before my father got back."

"Ah."

"I hate him. I wish my mother was here." he said angrily. "But she died."

She gently hugged him to her, without overwhelming him.

"And that's not very fair, is it?"

"All he cares about are rules. I'm supposed to do everything right all the time." he wiltingly blurted out. "And I don't know how!"

He buries his head against her. She hugs him more firmly; more securely.

"Tell you the truth, little warrior, neither do I." she said. "But I do know one marvelous thing you can do with rules."

Taking his hand in hers, she rose and headed for the exit.

"I'm supposed to wait for Counselor Troi." Alexander said unsure.

"Exactly." she said with a mischievous grin then left.

They were then headed for the (o.s.) holodeck.

"I'll bet you've never been to the colony of free spirits." she said.

"What do they do there?"

"Whatever they want. Artists, philosophers, free-thinkers," she started then leaned and tweaked his nose a little. "people who don't quite fit other people's rules. Personally, I come for the mud baths. You'll adore the mudbaths." Then she looked at Holodeck door. "Computer? I'm assuming you have the Parallax Colony of Shiralea VI?"

"That program is available." the computer said.

"Then run it for us, dear."

As she leaded Alexander through the door Holodeck entered, Lwaxana and Alexander look up.

A large floating sphere was descended toward them. Contained in the sphere was a wild, wonderful alien face.

Lwaxana reacted as the sphere bounced in front of them... then shot back up and out of sight.

"What was that?" Alexander asked.

"A Wind Dancer... he stands guard. Only those whose hearts are joyous may enter."

Now their attention was caught by something ahead.

Standing by herself in the clearing, a Fire Artist held a burning firebrand in her hand. She brought it up close to her mouth, and, exhaling deeply, used her breath to create a lovely fire design in the air before it finally disappeared.

Alexander was wide-eyed at the sight.

"Fire sculptor. We'll chat with her later if you're not wearing anything flammable." she said.

As Juggler entered both frame and the conversation. Constantly juggling several multicolored, variously sized balls.

"A few of us were just gathering together for our laughing hour. Would you care to come laugh with us?" Juggler said.

"Actually, we were about to experience a mud bath." Lwaxana said

"Were you! What an idea! My friends and I will join you. One can always..." Juggler started. "... laugh in the bath."

"Do you ever drop one?"

"No, no, no. They are my worlds, and I protect them. I am a master of worlds, and they fly only as I wish."

Emerging from behind a structure were a young, extremely humanoid man and woman.

"We're having guests for laughing hour. Come join us!" Juggler said to the young couple.

"We'd love to!" the young man said.

"No, thank you." the young woman said.

"Yes." the young man said pleasantly.

"No." the young woman said also pleasantly.

"Why do you always say "no" when I say "yes"?

"I don't."

"You just did."

"There you go again. You are the most negative person!"

They continued to argue.

"Why are they arguing like that?" Alexander asked.

"They're friends. They love contradiction... they thrive on challenge... they flourish in conflict..." Juggler said.

"Then why are they friends?"

"Who else can you fight with if not your friends?"

A tall, white-bearded old poet, in white toga, suddenly appeared before them, with hand raised to block their way.

"Hold! What is the lesson for today!?" Poet said.

"Damned if we know. We're just here for some fun and a mud bath." Lwaxana said.

"Every moment requires a purpose."

"No, it doesn't." she said nicely.

"Every purpose requires a plan."

"He does this every day; usually while everybody's food gets cold. Rather boring." Juggler said.

"The higher... the fewer!" Poet pronounced

Nobody knew what the that meant. They all regarded each other quizzically.

"Well, that's a conversation-stopper if I ever heard one." Lwaxana said favoring Alexander.

Then he rushed back to the locale of the still-arguing Young Man and Woman.

"Excuse me!" he said.

The young man and woman paused in their verbal duel to regard Alexander.

"If you're going to argue, you should remember..." he pronounced. "The higher, the fewer!"

They held for a long moment on the young man and woman as they just stood there; trying to fathom that. The fight's ceased as Alexander ran off again.

Lwaxana was delighted with Alexander; welcoming him with a hug.

"So, my little warrior wants to see more in life than just fighting. Ah, the mind opens, and in creeps wisdom." she said and took Alexander's hand. "Onward, to the laughing!

Worf was at his quarters tidying up after Alexander, as his door chimed.

"Come." he said and Deanna came in.

He looked surprised.

"Isn't Alexander supposed to be with you?" he continued.

"He didn't show up for his appointment, so I assumed he must still be here." she said concerned.

"Computer. What is the location of Alexander Rozhenko?"

"Alexander Rozhenko is in holodeck two." the computer said.

"Is he there alone?" Deanna asked.

"He is with Lwaxana Troi."

They exchanged looks for a very dubious second then, without a word, moved quickly to leave.

At the edge of Shiralean VI glade a site fronting one of the tents, Lwaxana, Alexander, the Juggler, the young man and woman, even the old Poet sat side by side in a long, trench-like rectangular mud bath. Up to their shoulders. The Helper is pouring a small final tub of mud into the bath. Only the two green-smocked Learners remain seated out of the mud bath, opposite its occupants; studying and listening.

At the moment, all bathers held high a form of cup, containing some liquid, in a general toast.

"To all the creatures within us!" Poet said.

They all drank to that toast then began munching happily on the now empty cups.

"All the creatures within us?" Alexander asked puzzled.

"Of course. Every one of us has a thousand different kinds of tiny people inside us. Some of them want to get out and be wild; some want to be sad, or happy, or inventive or even go dancing. That's why we have different urges at different times." Lwaxana said.

"Are we ready for the entertainment?!" Juggler said.

"Ready! Yes! Absolutely!" they all said.

"And all those different little people inside us? We must never be afraid to take them with us wherever we go. Who knows when we might need one of them to pop up and rescue us from ourselves. Variety, my little Alex. The great secret is not the variety of life; but the variety of us!" Lwaxana said to Alexander.

As Deanna and Worf arrived the center of Shiralean Glade they looked around. Suddenly, the Wind Dancer descends toward them, a menacing look on his face. The ball dances in front of Worf, blocking him from moving forward. Frustrated, Worf swatted him aside and the Wind Dancer popped. They exchanged a surprised look and moved forward. Music as well. Deanna and Worf began walking toward the sounds.

A Tattooed Female Dancer was entertaining the group.

Worf and Deanna just gaped in total stun hood.


A slightly rigid Troi confronted a thoroughly relaxed Lwaxana at her quarters.

"Mother, I'm trying to help this boy learn the value of responsibility. You're not helping by giving him a lot of mixed messages." Deanna said.

"I exposed you to all sorts of mixed messages at that age, and you still turned out deadly dull; what're you so worried about?" Lwaxana asked.

"Among other things, his relationship with his father. No more holodeck, Mother. Please." Deanna said.

"And why aren't you all absorbed in your wedding plans? It's only three days away.

"Oh, I'm letting Mister Homn take care of all the mundane details. He knows my tastes."

"Mother..." Deanna said dubious.

"There's really nothing to do, you nosey little girl. Campio's already sent me his mother's wedding gown, which Mister Homn is now altering for me. Outside of that..."

"Wedding gown? Mother. Stop. Are you telling me you're not going to be naked at your own wedding?"

"Campio is from a different planet with different traditions. He wouldn't approve of a traditional Betazoid wedding, so I'm adapting; simple as that." Lwaxana said and moved to replicator. "Care for some nice jestral tea, dear?"

"I can't believe I'm hearing this from the Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed; Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx."

"Computer... jestral tea, please."

"I think it's time you tell me about this mysterious marriage to a man you've never met."

"Why shouldn't I get married if I choose to? You make it all into such a mystery. There is no mystery, Deanna."

As she spoke, and to her sudden great perplexion, she found herself facing a very long, fat sausage-like food which materialized for her in the replicator and sits in the tea cup.

"... except about this Petrokian sausage. All I wanted was a cup of tea. Dear, I think your replicator's having some sort of nervous collapse."

At the engineering Geordi, Wesley and Data were running a diagnostic at their respective consoles.

Geordi was happy to have Wesley back to help. He knew engineering was one of his favorite places here.

"A Level Four diagnostic of the food replication system has failed to detect any faults in the orientation terminals." Data said.

"That may be, but we've still got almost two hundred reports of replicators malfunctioning." Geordi said.

Data reacted to a beep from the console.

There is an energy fluctuation in one of the utility access corridors.

"Well, we'd better look into whatever it is before the captain decides to order dinner." Wesley said rising.

Geordi, Wesley and Data were in the Jefferies tube crawling toward a panel in immediate f.g. Geordi carried his tool kit; all three of them have tricorders at the ready.

"Dash four three; here we are." Geordi said scanning around with his tricorder; homes in on the small panel. "Some kind of intermittent E-M field pattern." Geordi said.

"I got it. Give me a hand here, will you, Data?" Wesley said.

Together, they removed the panel. Geordi picked up his tricorder; scans.

"No plasma leakage, just a little negative ion charging."

Just as Geordi was about to put his hand up into the space previously covered by the panel, viscous little drops of orange substance dripped from within the space to the flooring right in front of Geordi's nose.

Lwaxana was at her quarters wearing a not-unflattering wedding dress, stands before a mirror as Mister Homns finishes tailoring it on her. Homm wears a large pin cushion around his forearm, and carries pins in his mouth.

"Bad enough having to wear anything at my own wedding. But this. Maybe if we lower the bodice..." Lwaxana said while Mister Homn shook his head. "... Raise the hemline, then." she continued while Mister Homn shook his head again. "What a constant joy you are."

The door chimed. She nodded to Mister Homn, prompting him to the door.

Alexander was facing the door. It opened to reveal Mister Homn's lower extremities at Alex's eye level. As Alexander looks slowly upward along Mister Homn's body, until Alex, and we, are looking far up at the looming face of Mister Homn.

Alexander was wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the living apparition before him.

As Lwaxana saw Alexander at the door she brightened up and waved him toward her.

"My little warrior; come in, come in and give me a hug." she said.

Alexander complied and hesitated only initially as he had to pass the overwhelming Mister Homn on the way in.

"You're not escaping another appointment, are you?" she continued.

"No, Ma'am." Alexander said.

"No... I suppose eventually we all have to live up to our obligations..." she said to herself then was cheerful again. "Now tell me; what brings you here to brighten my day?"

"I wanted to say I'm sorry if I got you in trouble."

"That's very sweet, dear. But I really wasn't in any trouble... until I saw this dress. Come sit down." she said while she got redressed. "Ugly, isn't it?"

"What's it for?"

"I'm getting married."

"Why?"

"Are you sure my daughter didn't send you?" Then quickly continued. "That's only a little joke."

She now dismissed Mister Homn with a gesture which sends him dutifully into the adjoining room.

"People get married because they want to spend their lives with someone." she continued.

"Their whole life? I guess you'd really have to like them a lot."

"If you're young... and lucky... it'll be someone you like a lot, yes." she said. "When you're older..." she continued her voice trailing off and shrugged.

"Are you very old?"

Initially, and for just an instant, she shot the him a look - but then softened again, even more than before. And was now staring ahead at nothing but her own thoughts.

"I'm alone, Alex. And when you do get older... when you can no longer pick and choose from whatever may come your way... Well, then you do what we call "compromise". It keeps you from being afraid."

As Geordi and Data reported to Picard at the main bridge aft science station, Riker was in his command chair; Worf at tactical; and an ensign at the conn. Wesley is on break right now but said he would gladly help if they need it.

"We have traced the failure to a data net interface which routes replicator selections to the correct subprocessors." Data said.

"When we opened the panel, we found that the interface had been transformed... into a gelatinous material that we haven't been able to identify." Geordi said.

Suddenly, the bridge began to shudder. Red alert went off automatically; Geordi turned to his console and Data headed for ops. All present braced themselves to retain their balance.

"We have intermittent failure of the inertial damping system." Worf said.

"Take us out of warp, Ensign." Picard said.

"Primary attitude control has failed; we've gone to secondary systems." Riker said.

The bridge began shaking slightly.

"We have lost helm control." Data said.

The bridge shook more violently.


Later Geordi, Wesley and Data faced Picard and Riker at the observation lounge. On the table before them rested a covered petri dish in which is a glob of the orange goo seen earlier.

"The same thing that happened to the replicator happened to the stabilizer. The transfers in both systems were turned into..." Geordi said while he repetri dish. "...this."

"Some kind of corrosion?" Riker asked.

"We have not yet identified the substance, Commander." Data said.

"Whatever it is, it looks like there's been a conversion process - transforming some of the metal into gelatinous residue. But what caused it is a mystery." Wesley said.

"The stabilizers and the replicators. Two totally unrelated systems..." Picard said.

"Yes sir, and we still don't know why the sensors didn't catch the problems." Wesley said.

"Why don't you run a mass spectrometer analysis - find out just what this stuff is." Riker said.

"Transporter room one to Captain Picard. Minister Campio is beaming on board, sir." transporter officer's com said.

"I'll be right there." Picard said to Geordi, Wesley and Data) "The bridegroom."

Deanna and Lwaxana waited at the transporter room one as a Transporter Operator, standing alongside his panel, caused Campio and his entourage of one, Erko, to materialize. Campio was a mid-50's humanoid - patrician in posture and manner; eminently gracious. Erko is an older, pompous-appearing stiff.

"Ah! Campio!" Lwaxana said.

She moved forward with both hands extended. Campio, ever-polite, stepped to meet her and take her hands in his, and regard her with most gracious and complimentary admiration. Erko remained right where he first appeared.

"My dear, your compatibility profile didn't do you justice. I, of course, am Lwaxana, and any introductory compliments you'd care to make will be happily received." she continued.

"Indeed, Mrs. Troi... you are even lovelier in person." Campio said.

Neither tastelessly, nor in an overbearing manner but merely in bright spirit and to be warmly welcoming Lwaxana leaned to kiss him on the cheek.

"That one sounded just fine."

While casually slipping his own hands out of hers, Campio avoided the kiss.

"Now, now... we don't wish to be too familiar at this early juncture." Campio said polite and smiling.

As Picard moved briskly, he entered.

"Please excuse my tardiness; ship's duties. Minister Campio? I'm Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise. Welcome aboard, sir." he said.

He extended his hand, but Campio, still smiling pleasantly and certainly not being a prig on purpose, ignored the outstretched hand and bowed deeply with deference before Picard.

"I thank you, Captain, and greet you with appreciation for permitting this wedding aboard your fine vessel." Campio said.

"Not at all, sir."

"Campio, may I present my daughter? Deanna Troi, meet, uh... well, your future stepfather, come to think of it." Lwaxana said.

"Ah, yes." Campio said with a formal bow. "If I recall the profile, you are the ship's counselor."

"I am, sir." Deanna said matching his bow.

"And my escort, who need not be addressed in this company: Protocol Master, Erko." Campio said.

"Protocol master?" Lwaxana said.

"He is nonetheless welcome." Picard said.

"Campio, dear, personally I adore every ounce of ostentation I can get, but... a protocol master?"

"I would not do you nor our benevolent hosts the disservice of failing to ensure that priorities are observed." Campio said.

"Oh, well that's... very thoughtful." Lwaxana said.

"After all, it would be unpardonable to simply abandon ourselves to the moment, would it not?"

"Unpardonable." she said shell shocked.

Picard and Deanna exchanged a quick, almost involuntary glance of mutual apprehension at this mismatch-in-the-making.

Excepting the Transporter Room Officer outside the room, the group emerges into the corridor as they heard what was going on.

"Of course, it was my thinking that we might just get acquainted a bit. I could show you around and we could... develop a feel for each other, so to speak." she said to Picard. "Jean-Luc?"

"Of course. The ship is yours." he said.

"How very thoughtful of you. But I must remain in the company of Master Erko until the wedding ceremony itself." Campio said.

"You're joking." she said and halted for a minute.

"Is there some objection?"

"No, of course not. But please try to bear with me until I have a little better grasp of your rules, and..." she said deferential, real surrender then glance at Erko. "...protocols."

Deanna was confused and surprised at this suddenly different Lwaxana.

"Certainly. Our culture is so totally new to you. I assure you of my utmost patience. And any tutoring you may desire about our customs, in addition to those regarding the wedding procedures..."

"Captain Picard to the bridge, please." Riker said through the com.

"On my way." Picard said then looked at everyone. "Excuse me." Then he looked at Deanna and said not without humor. "Counselor, I'll trust you to keep everything running smoothly."

"Thank you, Captain." she said.

And Picard turned to head off in another direction.

Geordi and Data were at the main bridge science section worked at the consoles, keying controls, scrolling data, etc. Wesley is at his bridge shift right now but said he'd come help if they need him.

"It looks like the only alloy common to the stabilizer and the replicator is nitrium." Geordi said. "Computer, analyze the nitrium content of the affected stabilizer and replicator." he said to the computer.

"There is no nitrium present in the affected stabilizer or replicator." the computer said.

Data scrolled the computer.

"There is none present in the residue, either." he said.

Geordi keyed more instructions, and the monitor scrolled further.

"According to the mass spectrometer, the elements in the residue have been broken down into simpler molecular structures..." he said.

"That would suggest the nitrium has been organically metabolized." Data said.

Geordi sits back in his seat, musing on this.

"Maybe that's it, Data... if a living organism ingested the nitrium..."

"This residue could be the waste left behind."

Geordi reflected on the implications.

"If that's true, if something's eating away at the nitrium on the ship..." he said uncomfortable. "That means the dilithium chamber is vulnerable... and the power transfer conduits. We'd better get down to engineering."

They got up and left to the turbolift.

As Worf brought food for Alexander and himself at his quarters, the boy was doing a breathing exercise: Holding his hands against the sides of his diaphragm, he first inhaled deeply, held it for a beat, then exhaled with a loud and happy-faced blurt.

"Ha!" Alexander said.

"Eat well, son." Worf said.

"Ha!"

"What are you doing? What is that noise?"

"Ha! It's my laughing hour. Ha! Ha!"

"That is enough, please. It is your eating hour. Eat."

Alexander shook his head.

"Ha! I promised to meet Mrs. Troi for another lesson in happy wisdom. Ha!"

"Will you stop doing that, please. Alexander, eat your food. Wisdom will wait, I assure you."

"But I promised. Ha! Should I break my promise, Father?"

"No Klingon ever breaks his word."

Alexander rose and moved toward the door.

"Where are you going?"

"You said no Klingon breaks his word."

"I did not mean now. Now you will sit down and eat."

"I don't understand. You're confusing me."

Worf was losing it.

"Understand later. Now, just eat!"

Seeing Worf's overflowing frustration, Alexander's face in no way reflected any kind of defiance but only a gentle concern for his father's agitation.

"Father... ? The higher, the fewer."

As he turned again, and left, Worf's mouth worked, but since he hasn't the slightest idea what that meant, nothing came out. He finally just slumped back in his chair and exhausted.

In her office Deanna sat with a confused, disconsolate Worf. She, too, seemed a bit downtrodden... as weary of dealing with her mother as Worf was of coping with Alexander.

"I do not understand. I have been very clear with the boy as to his obligations. And yet - he continues to ignore me." Worf said.

"I know what you mean. I've been quite clear with my mother about her not interfering with Alexander... but she does what she wants in spite of it." Deanna said.

There was a beat as the two of them reflected on their strangely shared experience.

"When I was six years old, I listened to what my parents said. I obeyed their rules."

She casted him a look so he turned away.

"Most of the time." he continued.

There was silence as she remembered.

"When I was six, she gave me a birthday party. Halfway through it, she disappeared... and finally came back dressed as a Koropian princess... carried in a sedan chair by four young men. It was mortifying."

"My mother would not have done that."

"It seems that all my life I've felt like I'm the parent... and my mother is the child..." she said. "I wonder why I'm at such a loss to put a stop to it?"

"And I wonder why I have lost control of Alexander."

She leaned forward.

"You know... it's been said that grandparents and grandchildren get along so well because they have a common enemy."

Worf gave a half smile and she smiled back.

At Lwaxana's quarter Alexander sat, an interested observer, looking up at her standing on one side of him, and Campio on the other. Erko was in b.g. behind Campio; Mister Homn in b.g. behind Lwaxana.

"I don't wish to be authoritative, my dear, but Master Erko says that now is our proper time for discussion of certain details." Compio said.

"Well, I certainly don't wish to be considered anti-Erko, dear, but I did promise Alexander one more holodeck trip." Lwaxana said ever chipper and took

Alexander's hand.

"So come, my little love."

"Surely there'll be other occasions for you to spend time with the boy." Compio said.

"My goodness, Campio. You and I are going to have the rest of our lives. Tell you what: I'll be back with you in one hour. Exactly. All right?"

"Minister, the woman should not be addressing you in the familiar."

For one second, she shot Erko a look that indicated she'd like to drop-kick him into the next county.

As Alexander approached the doors, they opened and he saw Deanna and Worf just arriving and entered.

"Mother, we need to talk..." Deanna said.

"We certainly do, dear, but not just now." she said to Erko. "How do I address him?"

"Mother, we've come for Alexander." Deanna said to them all. "Please forgive the intrusion, but..."

"Preferably, he should be called by his ministerial title." Erko said.

"Ah. I'll remember. Mister Homn? You make everybody comfortable until we get back; especially..." Lwaxana said to Erko. "... the Minister." she said to Campio. "One hour, darling; see you then."

She started to leave, but Worf happened to be standing between her and the door.

"Mrs. Troi, it is Alexander's dinner hour." Worf said.

"How thoughtless of me." Lwaxana said to Alex; brightly. "We'll have a little picnic before the mud bath."

"But we have business to deal with here. Leaving is simply not acceptable." Campio said.

"Oh, can't we pretend it's acceptable? We'll be back." Lwaxana said.

"You are missing the point."

"Alexander, you will please return to quarters and have your dinner." Worf said.

"But we're going to the holodeck." Alexander said.

"Mother, you are undermining every effort we're trying to make here." Deanna said.

"Don't be absurd." Lwaxana said.

"It is essential that the wedding procedures be discussed now." Erko said.

"Well, then... Minister, darling, perhaps you and the Gerko there can come with us." Lwaxana said quick aside, to Deanna. "Poor dear, don't they ever let you change those colorless outfits?"

"Lwaxana, this exceeds all boundaries." Campio said.

"Oh. Well, half an hour, then. No longer. I promise. Your duties, Mister Homn."

"Counselor Troi, have you no influence?"

"Hah!" Deanna said.

Alexander, recognized that sound, put his hands against his diaphragm and exuded his own laughing hour sound:

"Ha!" Alexander sad.

"Lwaxana, if you will remain, I may allow the boy to stay while we..." Campio said.

"Definitely not." Erko said.

At this point, Lwaxana and Alexander left.

"Definitely not. My son is to return to quarters!" Worf said.

"Nor may a servant be present during a prenuptial consultation." Erko said.

"Well, sir, I'm afraid even the bride won't be present for this one." Deanna said.

Those still present looked around to discover that Lwaxana and Alexander were, indeed, gone.

At the engineering Data, with tricorder, had been examining the dilithium chamber housing. In b.g., tricorder sweeps were also being made by two crew members. Data rounded a corner into the side room where Geordi was inspecting power transfer conduits.

"The dilithium chamber shows no anomalous readings." Data said.

"So far, these transfer conduits are clean, too - hold on, I'm getting something here..." Geordi said as Data moved toward him as he ran his tricorder over an access panel.

"There's a pretty severe energy fluctuation in this access panel..."

He traced the "hot spot" to the panel seam while he favored Geordi at the access panel opening. As he removed the panel itself then a flood of orange goo came down through the panel opening. As Geordi's recovering from that surprise, he's startled anew by the "escape" of a much larger amount of the "Twinkling Stuff" than earlier.

As it traveled up another seam and disappears into another duct.

Geordi's face reflected his stunned incredulity.


At the edge of Shiralean VI Gland Lwaxana and Alexander sat on the edge of the mud bath, their feet dangling down. The Juggler sat cross-legged nearby; and with nothing to juggle.

"What happened?" Alexander asked.

"I was just juggling... and I happened to catch one in my mouth. It tasted good, so I ate it. Then before I knew it, I'd eaten every one of my worlds. It hadn't occurred to me that, once they were gone, I'd have nothing left to juggle. If you ever have a world, plan ahead. Don't eat it." Juggler said.

Alexander thought it was funny and laughed

"Well, now. Almost time to go back." Lwaxana said.

"Are you sad?" Alexander said.

"Why, of course not. I'm about to be a bride." she said brightly.

"That man you're going to marry? He wouldn't ever come for a mud bath, would he?"

"Oh, he might... Probably not."

As they rose and she took his hand to walk away.

"Maybe this would be a good time to get one of those little people that live inside you to come out and tell you what to do; or help you, or something."

"Alexander, what are you talking about?"

"I'm sorry."

She suddenly put her arm tightly around him. The hug she gave him this time was all heart and gentleness and out of her own need.

"No... Don't you dare be sorry." she said quietly fervent

Then, a gurgling sound was heard. She peered off to see the holodeck wall grid was peeking through. A great gob of Orange Goo flew out of the grid, cutting through the world.

She stiffened with apprehension.

"Something's wrong." Lwaxana said.

She took his hand, rose with him, her eyes still riveted on the Goo. Then she started leading him away, in a direction opposite that in which she's seen the Orange Goo.

"Come, dear, let's not leave everyone waiting for us." she continued.

The Orange Goo continued flowing downward.

Back in the engineering Geordi, Data and now Wesley were with Picard.

Geordi had asked him to come and help them.

"When we saw that photonic trail moving through the walls, we realized we must be dealing with a metal parasite of some kind." Geordi said.

"We believe the parasites came through the ship's hull when we destroyed the asteroid near Tessen Three." Data said.

"Are they attacking anything other than nitrium alloy?" Picard said.

"Not that we can tell. But we've got nitrium everywhere - ventilation, life support, engines, computers... even in the dilithium chamber." Wesley continued.

Picard took this in and mulled it over.

"Mister Data... you said the asteroid we destroyed was rich in nitrium..." he said.

"Yes, sir." Data said.

"That asteroid was from the Pelloris Field... if the rest of that field is rich in nitrium... it would have been a natural feeding ground." Picard said.

"We should think about going back there... it's possible the parasites could be lured back to the asteroids... for a meal that's more appealing than we are." Wesley said.

"How long to the field, Mister Data?"

"At warp nine, five hours twenty minutes, sir." Data said.

"Picard to the bridge..." he said through his combadge.

"Riker here, sir." Riker said through his combadge.

"Set a course for the Pelloris asteroid field - warp nine."

"Aye, sir."

"Captain, with our sensors unable to detect the parasites... and given the speed with which they appear to be moving through the ship -" Data said.

"- then we may not have five hours and twenty minutes. I'm aware of that. What can we do to slow them down?" Picard said.

"In several cases, an exanogen gas barrier has been known to slow the progress of metal parasites."

"They don't like the cold, eh? Make it so."

"The problem is finding them. By the time we spot an energy fluctuation, they've consumed all the nitrium and moved on." Wesley said.

Suddenly, the lights dim alarmingly. Geordi sprung to his console.

"Primary power systems are going down. I'll reroute to the secondary generators." he said.

The lights grew bright again.

"Advise the bridge." Picard said then turned to leave. "Mister Data, with me."

Picard and Data left, leaving Geordi working furiously and Wesley helping annoyed.

As Picard and Data moved briskly to the turbolift, and entered.

"Bridge."

Then the doors closed.

"Commander, do you have any suggestions on how we could encourage the parasites to leave the ship once we reach the Pelloris Field?" he said while they rode upward.

"If we reconfigure a particle beam with a high concentration of nitrium, and project it toward one of the asteroids..." Data said.

"They'll follow the beam... like a trail of breadcrumbs. Very well -"

He stopped, his eye drawn upward by something. They both looked toward:

Orange Goo began oozing out the upper wall vent, spilling down along the wall. It's coming in larger quantities than we've seen before.

Picard and Data reacted to the sight.

"Turbolift velocity is beginning to fluctuate, Captain." Data said.

The turbolift jolted briefly to a halt; almost immediately began rising again.

"Computer; stop at next level." Picard said but got no response. "Computer, acknowledge."

As, after another beat, the turbolift stopped, but the doors remained closed. Data pried them apart enough to peer out.

"We have reached the bridge, sir."

The turbolift doors were pried open by Data to the bridge. Picard slips out, followed by Data, and the doors snapped shut behind them. Red Alert is already on. Picard moved to command and Data to ops.

"Report, Number One." Picard said.

"Life support and ventilation are failing at random spots all over the ship." Riker said.

"Captain, we've dropped to warp five-point-seven." Worf said.

"Picard to engineering."

"La Forge here..." Geordi said through com.

As Geordi labored at his console in the engineering intercutting, a loud, intermittent buzzing sound issues from the engine room. In b.g., crewpersons are spraying a cold gas around wall panels and the dilithium chamber.

"What's happening, Mister La Forge? We're slowing down." Picard said.

"The parasites must've gotten into the primary warp controller, sir." Geordi said. "I'm trying to do a bypass patch to isolate the backup controllers... but it looks like warp six is the best I can give you."

"At that speed there won't be a ship left to reach the Pelloris Field. Do what you have to."

"Working on it, sir." Geordi said.

"Captain, we're losing life support on decks eleven and twelve." Data said.

"Mister Worf, have security evacuate all personnel from those decks." Picard said.

Lwaxana and Alexander were in the corridor hand in hand, are among the several others being ushered through the corridor by security personnel.

"They're just moving us to another deck. Don't you worry, my little warrior; we'll be fine." Lwaxana said.

She and Alex hurry with the others toward a turbolift.

In the engineering Geordi and Wesley were still at one of the consoles. The crew members continued to spray various parts of engineering.

"Engineering to bridge. We've got warp six-point-five... but I don't know how much more coaxing I can do here." Wesley said through his combadge.

"We need more speed than that, Commander." Picard said through his combadge.

Everybody in the engineering was beginning - visibly - to perspire. Orange Goo is seen oozing from several wall panels. Another alarm sounds, and one of the consoles starts blinking warning lights. Geordi rushed to that console.

"The matter-antimatter injectors are failing... I'm rerouting to secondary injector power now." Geordi said to the crew. "Watch the antimatter containment for any system failure!"

Everybody on the bridge was now not only perspiring profusely, but now having some breathing difficulty.

"Atmospheric systems are down to twenty-seven percent. We're going below tolerable oxygen limits." Riker said.

"We must evacuate decks twenty through twenty-four, Captain." Worf said.

"Make it so... and shut down all life support to those decks." Picard said.

The lights dim again.

By the minute, breathing was becoming more difficult. It was by now labored. Everyone was limp with oxygen and fluid loss. One of the Supernumeraries slumped to the deck, unconscious; others go to help.

"Direct all evacuees to decks nine and ten." Riker said to com.

"Divert emergency life support to those decks." Picard said to Data.

"Yes, Captain." he said.

"Time to the asteroid field?"

"If we maintain current speed - and there is no guarantee that we will - two hours, twenty-three minutes."

"Mister Data. The rest of us may lose consciousness. If we do, it will be your job to execute the plan as discussed."

"Aye, Captain."

Picard slumped back in his chair, trying to preserve oxygen struggling to stay conscious.

Later Data was the only one conscious on the bridge.

"Structural integrity of the dilithium chamber is at thirty-four percent. Estimated breach in one minute." the computer said.

Data keyed instructions, looked up at the view screen.

We see myriad multisided asteroids in a gigantic field.

"Computer, transfer power from warp engines to life support." he said.

"Transfer complete."

During the next, there was a hiss as oxygen begins flowing again, and lights brighten slowly.

"Activate Bussard collector."

"Activated. Breach of dilithium chamber in forty seconds."

"Reconfigure hydrogen-plasma mixture to include thirty percent nitrium."

"Mixture complete."

"Project emitter beam, heading zero-two-four, mark zero-four-one."

Red Alert went off in the bridge... People were beginning to regain consciousness. Picard is waking up, trying to clear his head.

"Structural integrity of the dilithium chamber is at twenty-eight percent and holding."

"Mister Data... ?" Picard said.

"The plan was successful, sir." he said.

"Well done..." he said and looked around him, assessing the situation. "Mister Worf... coordinate your teams with Doctor Crusher and Commander La Forge... assess damage and injury.

"Aye, Captain." he said.

And Picard took deep breaths... sat a little straighter... and realized they've squeaked through once again.

"Captain's log, stardate 45733.6. Temporary repairs to the ship have been completed." Picard said wry. "Our attention now turns to matters of a more festive nature."

From somewhere at the Ten Forward (o.s.), formal (dull) wedding music plays. At the makeshift altar stands Erko, who is to officiate. To his right, Picard and Riker; to his left, Troi and Alexander. In the center stands the ritually robed, pleasantly expectant Campio. All await the (o.s.) bride.

"You'd think she'd at least get to her own wedding on time." Rier said thru closed lips.

The music was now swelling.

She is smiling infectiously, happily, at everyone. Though we see only no censorable parts of her, it is obvious that she has made this appearance stark naked.

Campio was thunderstruck.

Erko was open-mouthed, wide-eyed horror.

The beginnings of a relieved, Troi certainly understanding, smile.

She not only saved her most radiant expression for Alexander, but threw him a conspiratorial wink to boot.

In response, he once again grinned happily from ear to ear.

Erko took Campio's arm.

"Minister, this is infamous. Infamous!... We leave immediately!" he said.

Speechless, Campio was led off by his irked Erko.

Lwaxana shrugged.

She sat contentedly in the mudbath... draws a deep breath of contentment.

"Ahhhhh... heavenly. Every pore is tingling with contentment..." Lwaxana said as she turned her head to see Alexander was sitting next to her. "Isn't it wonderful how things work out, Alexander? I wanted to teach you how to grab the joys of life... and then you turned around and taught me not to let go of them. How very mutual..." Lwaxana continued.

Widen further to discover that, alongside Alexander, sat Deanna.

"We still have to learn how to live in the real world. All of us, Mother." she said.

"When necessary; yes." Lwaxana said to Alexander. "She is right about that, Alexander." Then she looked at Sotto. "But only when necessary."

Now widen again to reveal, seated alongside Troi, Worf. He was utterly blank-faced as the others enjoyed themselves. He peered first at the others; then down at the mud.

"You're just supposed to sit here?" he said lost.