PROLOGUE: DISCOVERY

"I have been one acquainted with the night."

Why should that particular passage come to mind?

There was no easy answer, it seemed. Perhaps it was because when his mind roused even for an instant, it was greeted by surrounding darkness. He thought he had overcome this irrational fear long ago, but now it had returned. Sometimes with even greater intensity than ever before. But the dark was not the only thing that gnawed at his mind.

Where am I? Who am I?

It hardly seemed to matter anymore.

How did I get here? Where is here?

He couldn't feel anything. He was aware of his body, but he couldn't use it. Feelings as simple as raising his arm to scratch his ear or taking a deep breath of cool mountain air had become alien to him. He felt like he wanted to cry.

He couldn't do that either.

Had it really come to this? Consciousness without feeling? Living death? He didn't know how to describe it. Even if he could find the proper phraseology for it, who could he tell it to? Who could he tell any of this to?

As far as he knew, his world had ended. Everyone he knew, everyone he loved, gone. Why had he been spared? What was so damn special about him that the fates had decided to destroy all he knew but allowed him to go on? Yet another question which had no easy answer.

What was the point? Why debate with himself?

Unfortunately, he was all that he had left.

He decided to let the dark embrace him again. The darkness was his lover now, why not just give in to her charms?

"I have been one acquainted with the night..."


Commander William T. Riker was feeling particularly ebullient as he sat in the center command seat of the bridge of the U.S.S Enterprise. He had just had a wonderful dinner with Deanna Troi in Ten Forward. They had discussed taking a vacation on Rysa that Riker had proposed several weeks ago. Deanna had had her reservations at first, but Riker had been very persistent and it seemed that she was now ready to just let go and have a few laughs with him on the popular vacation planet.

Riker now surveyed the activity on the bridge. The Enterprise's android officer, Lieutenant Commander Data sat in his usual place at Ops. Riker watched as the android's dexterous white fingers danced across the lighted pads on the station's adjustable control panel. Even after all these years together, the android still amazed Riker. The advanced analytical machinery was only one aspect which Riker admired. He particularly found the android's almost childlike innocence as his most endearing aspect.

Riker then glanced towards the Conn position and found the equally fascinating Bajoran Ensign, Ro Laren making similar motions as Data, though not as rapidly. Ro was an enigma herself. A troubled childhood in and out of Bajoran refugee camps during the Cardassian war had given her an intense, and at times hard to get along with personality. No one seemed to know that much about Ro. No one had gotten really close to her, except for maybe Guinan, Ten Forward's hostess, and if she knew anything, she wasn't saying a word.

Riker shook his head at the thought of the two puzzling individuals at the controls of the Enterprise. He then glanced up at the large, main viewing screen of the bridge. The stars were passing by the ship in elongated streaks. Riker always found the sight of the stars comforting, even when streaking by at Warp 8. It wasn't that they made him feel insignificant, too many other people felt that way. He liked to think of himself as being one with them.

"Commander."

Data's voice snapped Riker out of his musings. He directed his attention towards the human-appearing android.

"Forward sensors have detected an object ahead sir," reported Data.

"Is it in our path?" asked Riker.

"Negative sir," Ensign Ro replied. "It is several degrees off of our present course, but it has fallen within range of the sensors."

"Can we get a visual on it?"

"I believe so sir," affirmed Data.

Riker then watched with no small degree of fascination as the android's fingers danced across the Ops panel at almost a blur. Within seconds, the image on the viewer changed to what amounted to a sideways view of the stars streaking by the Enterprise. Far off in the distance, moving sideways at a much slower rate than the stars themselves was an indefinable silvery object.

Quickly, Riker ordered a magnification on the object. The image on the view screen changed once again, as though it were personally obeying the first officer's orders. The object now appeared as a small vessel of some type. Riker guessed that the ship was about fifteen feet long and came to a nearly pointed snout from a boxlike rear. Two warp nacelles stuck out from the bottom of the craft.

To Riker's astonishment, the craft appeared to be charred and blackened in several areas where it should have been almost gleaming white. Riker called for an identification of the ship.

"Indications are that the vessel is an old-style, class 4 Federation shuttlecraft sir," reported Data.

"A class 4?" Riker wondered aloud. "They've been out of use for forty years."

"39.0736 years, to be precise, sir," added Data.

Riker smiled to himself almost forgetting Data's precision streak.

"Class 4's were usually attached to starships weren't they?" asked Ro.

"Yes," said Riker. "Data, are there any records of a vessel coming this far out?"

Data sat silently for a moment as his positronic brain computed the question posed. "Negative," he finally answered. "As far as we know, we are the only vessel to probe this part of the galaxy."

"Then what the hell is that shuttle doing out here?"

"Commander!"

Riker turned his head towards Ro. She was making frantic movements up and down the pads on her panel checking and rechecking the data. A look of sheer disbelief further furrowed the ridges of the bridge of her nose. Riker moved towards her and glanced down at her panel. He asked for a report.

"Sir," Ro began. "Sensors are detecting one humanoid life form aboard the shuttlecraft."

Riker turned back towards Data, looking for a confirmation. Data confirmed the Ensign's findings adding, "Heartrate and breathing are at the barest minimum, sir. I would therefore speculate that the occupant is in some kind of cryo-sleep."

Cryogenic freezing? On an old Federation shuttlecraft? It just didn't seem possible. Before Riker could allow the thought to completely engulf him, Data made another report.

"The shuttle's structural integrity is unstable. If it continues on its present course, I estimate that it will break up under extreme stress in approximately ten minutes."

"Ensign, full stop!" snapped Riker. "Plot course to intercept that shuttle."

Ro acknowledged Riker's order, and could feel a slight drop in the pit of her stomach as the Enterprise came to a halt. Within seconds, the great starship turned slightly and began to inch closer to the endangered shuttlecraft.

Three minutes later, the image of the burnt and battered ship completely filled the view screen. Riker stood above Data's station, his hand clenched in a tense fist.

"Can we lock onto it with a tractor beam?" asked Riker.

"I do not believe the shuttle would remain intact under our tractor beam," replied Data.

"Alright, then we'll have to do it the old-fashioned way."

Riker never saw the slightly puzzled look which came across Data's face as he moved over to Ro Laren's station. "Ensign," he began. "I want you to maneuver the ship so that we're just below the shuttlecraft. Can you do it?"

Ro silently nodded.

She then pressed a series of the pads on her console. Riker could feel the Enterprise dropping slowly but steadily; almost like one of her many turbolift elevators. The shuttlecraft on the view screen rose ever so slightly until it was nearly out of the top of the picture. Riker ordered Ro to stop.

With Riker's next command, Ro made the Enterprise inch forward slightly. Riker watched the view screen as the bottom of the shuttlecraft moved seemingly towards the great starship and then disappear from sight. A rear view shot showed the shuttle's front underbelly inch away from the Enterprise as the ship's stern also came into view.

Riker order Ro to stop once again.

"Now," he continued. "I want you raise the Enterprise up again, slowly. Line up the shuttle with the docking bay."

Ro carried out Riker's instructions now realizing what he was trying to do. Fortunately, the Enterprise responded to small, delicate maneuvers with the grace and precision of a cat. Ro managed to get the shuttlecraft lined up almost exactly with the docking bay entrance.

"Docking bay 2," said Riker tapping his comm badge. "Prepare to receive shuttlcraft."

The crewman on duty in the docking bay acknowledged Riker's order. The Commander then ordered Ro to back the Enterprise up at nearly one-quarter impulse power. All those present on the bridge barely detected the Enterprise's movement and seconds later, Data reported, "Docking bay has received the shuttle, sir."

Ro let out an audible sigh of relief. She then glanced up at Commander Riker whose smile was enough of an indication of a job well done.

Riker then strode to the upper level of the bridge towards the main turbolift. He stood before Worf, the Enterprise's burly, Klingon Security Chief. "Have a small security detail report to shuttle bay 2."

"Aye sir," replied the Klingon in his deep, almost ominous voice.

Riker then tapped his comm badge, "Sickbay. Doctor Crusher, please have a medical team report to shuttle bay 2."

"Acknowledged Commander," came Beverly Crusher's curt reply.

As Riker entered the turbolift accompanied by Worf, he tapped his comm badge one last time.

"Captain Picard, please report to shuttle bay 2."


CHAPTER ONE

Captain Jean-Luc Picard was strolling down one of the Enterprise's many corridors at his usually fast pace. Though he kept his outward appearance passive, inside he was slightly irritated.

He had been enjoying a relaxing afternoon on the holodeck, caught up in one of the fictional mysteries of his favorite detective, Dixon Hill. For someone whose library ranged from the collected works of Shakespeare to James Joyce's "Ulysses," many of the crew still found it odd that the Captain's favorite holodeck fantasies revolved around the world of a little-known, 1940's-Earth pulp-magazine gumshoe.

During his time as captain of the Enterprise, Picard had had several members of the crew join him in his holodeck fantasy world just so they could experience the appeal of Dixon Hill themselves. Rarely had any one of them been disappointed.

Picard had often thought how interesting it might be if he were to concoct a holodeck fantasy which crossed the fictional universes of Dixon Hill and Commander Data's favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes. Data had in fact expressed interest in such a scenario and would be willing to try it should Picard ever find the time to formulate it. No doubt the rest of the bridge crew would want to come along too, if for nothing else just to watch.

Somehow, it always seemed that Picard never found the time to actually devise the fantasy. Too many problems requiring his attention kept cropping up when he least expected them.

Like now.

The Enterprise had been heading to various planets to pick up delegates to a major medical conference taking place at Starbase Hippocrates, the Federation's major medical research facility. The mission was relatively simple and Picard had been anticipating no problems.

Then, just as he was about to reveal the murderer of Johnny LaRue to an assembled parlor room of suspects, Commander Riker's message had come down from the bridge. With a sigh of reluctance, Picard froze the program and stored it in the holodeck's massive memory with the hope that he would continue it later. If he could remember the murderer's identity himself.

Picard had rushed back to his quarters, changed into the more comfortable grey shirt and red jacket uniform and began to make his way to Shuttle Bay 2.

When he arrived, he found the bay bustling with nearly as much activity as the bridge during a Romulan attack. Picard noticed Commander LaForge and several members of his engineering corps, including the rather strange Reginald Barclay, inspecting the body of what appeared to be a badly weathered old-style Federation shuttlecraft.

Picard stepped forward past the two security personnel on either side of the bay's entrance towards Commander Riker and Data, who were also surveying the craft. He asked Riker for a report and the first officer briefly relayed the details of the events leading up to the shuttle's presence in the bay.

"Any idea of where it might have come from?" Picard asked.

"Negative," replied Data. "It appears to have been adrift for a considerably long period of time. Possibly a month or more."

"Data, if I'm not mistaken," Picard continued, "a modern shuttlecraft would have lost all motive and life-support power within two weeks."

"That is correct, sir."

"And this is a shuttle of the same series that was decommissioned by Starfleet nearly forty years ago. Its power capacities were considerably less than what we have today, is that not so?"

"Again, you are correct sir."

Picard sighed heavily. "And there are no records of another vessel having probed this sector?"

Riker nodded.

"It appears we have a mystery on our hands."

Picard then walked around the rear of the craft to find LaForge and Barclay continuing to make their analysis of the shuttle. "Commander LaForge, can you identify the starship this shuttle was connected to?"

The stocky black man turned towards Picard, shaking his head. Even with his VISOR covering his eyes, Picard knew the expression of disappointment all too well. "The ident markings have been worn off, sir. There's really no way to tell where this shuttle came from until we can get a look at her record log."

"Why hasn't that been accomplished yet?" wondered Picard.

"It's just not been possible, sir. Every system aboard this ship has been frozen. Literally."

"And the occupant?"

"Also frozen, sir," said Commander Data as he and Riker joined the Captain.

"However, we do have indications of life on board," added Riker.

Picard thought for a moment before he announced, "Mr. LaForge give priority to getting the occupant of the shuttle out and safely to sickbay. Perhaps whoever it is will have some of those answers."


"I have been one acquainted with..."

What was that?

It sounded like it might have been...

No. After all this time? Impossible.

Light.

Voices.

Someone is here. Who are you? Who are...?

Shadows. Moving about. Coming over.

Has it finally happened? Is the suffering about to end? They seem to reach out, as if they were beckoning me to join them.

Dare I?

Floating.

It seems the decision has been made for me.

The light. So bright, and warm, and comforting. Perhaps, I will see them soon, my lost compatriots. Will they welcome me? Will they throw wreaths of laurel leaves at my feet?

Or will they spurn me? Stake me to a fire for bringing about their doom as well?

No matter.

Whatever awaits, I am ready.


"Computer, set up isolation field," Doctor Beverly Crusher huffed.

"Working," replied the unemotional but distinctly feminine voice of the Enterprise's main computer. Within seconds an aqua-colored field of energy appeared, surrounding the diagnostic bed upon which was Crusher's latest patient. Satisfied that the field had properly stabilized, Crusher spoke again.

"Now, Computer, decrease room temperature inside the containment field by forty percent."

The computer was silent for a moment. "Unable to comply," it finally stated. "Decrease in temperature would subject the patient to temperatures outside the sphere of human tolerance."

"I realize that, Computer. But his body has already been subjected to those kinds of temperatures. We need to bring him back to a normal temperature very slowly."

In all her time aboard the Enterprise, Crusher had discovered that she still treated the ship's computer almost as if it were another person. She knew, of course, that it was irrational, but then again, people treated Data as a person too. So why should she feel any stranger about the way she talked to the ship's computer from time to time?

"Unable to comply with request," the computer droned.

Especially at times like now, when it tended to be as bull-headed as Wesley had been years ago when he didn't get his way with her. Much to her relief, Crusher heard the doors to sickbay opening and turned her head to see Captain Picard stride through them and into sickbay.

As Picard come over to Beverly Crusher's side, she told him about the computer's refusal to implement her instructions. Picard understood about the safety protocol installed in the computer's software and knew that in order to carry out Doctor Crusher's orders, it would need the override of two senior staff officers.

"Are you sure that's necessary, Doctor?" wondered Picard. "You didn't have this problem the last time we had cryo-sleepers aboard."

"This is different, Captain. Those people were intentionally frozen by artificial means. Because of the conditions we found him in, what this man has experienced is more like a severe case of hypothermia. I have to treat it as such or we could lose him."

"And any chance of discovering what he's doing here in the first place," pondered Picard. The Captain then averted his gaze from Crusher's patient and with a slight upward glance, ordered the computer to override the safety protocol in this instance and carry out Crusher's instructions. The computer bleeped its compliance.

Beverly looked down at the tricorder she held in her left hand. The temperature readings from inside the containment field began to drop slowly until finally, they read close to ten degrees below zero centigrade. Doctor Crusher sighed her relief.

"Thank you, Captain," she said. Crusher then moved over to one of the medical comm panels on the wall nearest to the bed. She moved her hands along the panel's length, her fingers occasionally touching it at various points. This accomplished, she turned her attentions back to her tricorder, where she saw the numerical reading of the temperature within the containment field slowly but steadily begin to rise. Satisfied, she snapped the tiny box-like device closed and once again joined the Captain at his side.

The pair silently scrutinized the mystery man who laid on the bed within the blue aura of the containment field for a moment.

"Now what do we do?" Picard finally asked.

"Now, we wait for his body temperature to adjust to the room."

"Will he recover?"

"I don't see why not. I've treated dozens of hypothermia cases." Beverly paused for a moment, leaning in closer to the containment field, her eyes squinted to make out the features of her patient.

She shook her head with a sigh, "But not like his."

Picard nodded with a barely audible grunt.

"Who is he, Jean-Luc?"

Picard copied Beverly's previous action, but shook his head with disapproval. "I'm not sure. His uniform seems to indicate that he's a Starfleet Captain, though."

"But from where? What ship?"

"I suspect, Doctor, that only he knows those answers. I want you to let me know the minute he regains consciousness."

"Aye, sir."

Picard nodded to his Chief Medical Officer, and with a curt smile, turned on one heal and purposefully strode out the doors of sickbay and into the corridor; bound for the bridge.


The doors to the main turbolift parted, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard stepped through the now-open archway onto the plush carpeted floor of the bridge. He returned Lieutenant Worf's nod of acknowledgment and strode down the horseshoe walkway towards his command seat. Commander Riker rose from the chair and retook his own seat to the Captain's immediate right. Picard lowered himself into the chair which was now as comfortable to him as an old pair of shoes.

Picard glanced at the bridge's main view screen, and noticed that the stars which littered the image on it were still. Apparently, the Enterprise had not moved since bringing the adrift shuttlecraft aboard. Probably normal enough, but now that the shuttle and its occupant were safely aboard, was there really any reason to stay here? They did have a medical conference to attend, and there were many more delegates to be picked up.

"Number One," he said glancing over at Riker. "Is there any particular reason why the Enterprise is still at these coordinates?"

"We were investigating the possibility of finding debris, or anything else that might explain the shuttlecraft's presence in this sector sir," said Riker.

Good boy Will, Picard thought. Probably would have done the same thing. "Any conclusions?"

Data turned in his chair to face the Captain. "Scanners have registered no debris within a light year of these coordinates."

"What about some kind of wormhole?" queried Picard.

"Again, all scans are negative, sir," replied the android.

Seems as though we won't find any answers here, Picard thought disappointedly. This whole situation was beginning to have all the earmarks of a classic Dixon Hill mystery. A stranger seemingly from nowhere, in whom it seemed were the only answers to the questions burning in Picard's mind. Answers that he would not hear, at least not until the stranger had awakened in sickbay. Until then, there seemed to be no point in hanging around here. Not while the Enterprise still had a job to do.

"Well," Picard finally said. "Unless someone else has a suggestion as to the reason for the shuttlecraft's presence, we must move on to Hippocrates."

The bridge was silent except for the usual hums and beeps of the computer equipment. That was all the confirmation Picard needed.

"Ensign Ro, lay in a course for our next stop before the conference."

"Aye sir."

Within moments, the view screen on the bridge was filled by the streaking white strands that were the stars as they appeared during warp drive.


Light. But not like before.

Not bright, warm, and inviting. Cold, blue, and frightening.

Shadows running through the light. Or on the other side of it?

No. No, it can't be!

After everything that's happened, how could it be here? Perhaps this is my final punishment; my final damnation for letting them all die.

But what else could I do? We were overwhelmed. Weren't we? Don't know. Can't offer any explanation, any defense.

Wait! What was that?

My finger. It just twitched.

There. It did it again!

My hand! I can feel it again. It clenches! Maybe this wasn't the damnation. Maybe this was the salvation!

A shadow. Moving towards me. Can barely make it out through the light. More blue, but not like the light. And red... could it be? Red hair? Yes, that's what it seemed to be.

The shadow has a face. A beautiful, angelic face smiling. Smiling at me? I think so. The first thing I've actually seen in... how long? No matter.

I couldn't be more pleased to be seeing it.


Beverly Crusher moved over to comm panel at the far end of sickbay. She activated the call button trying to reach the bridge. She grinned slightly to herself upon hearing Captain Picard's voice.

"I think you may want to come down to sickbay," she said. "Our patient is waking up."