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About The Book

The thrilling adventure based on the acclaimed TV series Star Trek: Picard!

Following the explosive events seen in season one of Star Trek: Picard, Raffi Musiker finds herself torn between returning to her old life as a Starfleet Intelligence officer or something a little more tame—teaching at the Academy, perhaps. The decision is made for her though when a message from an old contact—a Romulan spy—is received, asking for immediate aid. With the help of Elnor and assistance from Jean-Luc Picard, Raffi decides to take on this critical mission—and quickly learns that past sins never stay buried. Finding the truth will be complicated, and deadly…

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Chapter 1 1
Lieutenant Commander Raffaela Musiker was a whole new woman. Clean, poised, ready for action. Ready for something new—although the jury was out on what that something new might be. But history—whether public or private—sometimes has its own designs. Lays traps for the unwary. Guides you back to places you thought you’d long since left behind. Raffi Musiker didn’t believe in fate, or destiny, but the upshot of this story is that they might well believe in you.

Raffi was in France. In Paris. She’d been here once before, a lifetime ago, when she had been a completely different woman. Young, and in love, and not yet a wife or a mother. She wasn’t young now, nor was she a wife any longer, and she doubted the extent to which she had ever been a mother. But she was, at least, in love, and perhaps this was what allowed Paris to work its charms on her. Stepping out of the public transporter near the Gare du Nord, she clamped down her first impressions—of the pressing crowds, the noise, the crush—and allowed the city to spend the next couple of days ravishing her. Marveled at the light and the gardens. Felt the weight of history. Saw small trinkets she might get for a grandkid—if such a thing were ever to be allowed to enter this new life of hers—and instead picked up kitsch for Seven. A tiny Eiffel Tower. An “I ? Paris” T-shirt. Boxes of chocolate. She missed Seven, and wished she was here. At the Arc de Triomphe, she walked slowly around, counting off the twelve avenues that radiated outward, almost overcome by the choices that lay ahead. A whole new lease on life.

What do I do now? What do I do next? Where the hell do I go…?

She chose coffee and patisserie, and, for the moment at least, less drama. The whole point of coming on this trip was to make a decision, wasn’t it? About what to do next. About the person she was going to be, now that the old one didn’t exist any longer.

On the morning of her third day in the city of light, Raffi picked up the flyer she was using for the rest of the trip and began her journey south and east toward La Barre. The summer had been hot and now, in September, the fields were looking yellow and tired. The harvest would soon begin. She arrived at the house midafternoon, stepping out of the cool scrubbed air of her all-new flyer to hit a wall of heat, the kind so heavy you might have thought someone was messing with the gravity. A woman was walking toward her: dark-haired and perhaps a little older than Raffi. Hard to guess, sometimes, with Romulans.

“Hey,” said Raffi, uncertainly. They didn’t know each other well—although they knew a great deal about each other. Raffi knew that Laris had once been Tal Shiar. With JL, she had helped Laris escape them and get to Earth. Raffi knew, too (and perhaps this could be seen in the lines and shadows that were settling on the other woman’s face), that Laris was recently widowed.

“Hello,” said Laris, folding her arms in front of her. “How was the trip?”

“Fine,” said Raffi. “It’s hotter than I expected. I thought Europe was meant to be temperate. Know what I mean?”

A small smile flickered over the other woman’s face. “It’ll rain tonight.”

“You sure about that?”

“I’m sure. Let me take your bag.”

Laris hoisted up the bag and led her inside.

“Where’s JL?” said Raffi.

“The lord of the manor,” said Laris, “is out with his dog. His—”

“—damn dog,” said Raffi, with her.

“Don’t get me wrong,” said Laris. “I love the beast. But I might wish he was self-cleaning.”

“Robotics,” agreed Raffi. “Daystrom’s missing a trick there.”

Laris’s smile almost became a laugh. Almost. A start. Something to build on.

They went into the kitchen—a cool stone room that managed to combine rustic simplicity with an air of quiet and sustained age—and Raffi took a seat, as directed, at the table. She watched Laris move around. There was a slight hesitation to everything she did, an air of distraction, perhaps, or the habits arising from the presence of another.

“Now where’d you put the damn tea strainer…” she muttered to herself. “Huh. I’d never have guessed.”

Mint tea; refreshing in the heat. They sat at the kitchen table, trying to jump-start a conversation, until Raffi heard a clatter of claws on the flagstones outside the open door. The dog (Number One, if Raffi remembered correctly; oh, but how droll of you, JL) launched into the kitchen like a low-slung, short-haired, snub-nosed missile. Found his target, unerringly, and scrambled into Laris’s lap.

“Great soft lump,” she said lovingly, scratching between his ears. “Daft old thing.” The creature’s tongue lolled out and he looked up at her in adoration.

Footsteps on the path; a shadow in the doorway—and there was JL, stepping inside his family home, a whole new man these days. Raffi rose from her chair, and his face crinkled into a smile at the sight of her. Great soft lump, thought Raffi, moving over to greet him. Daft old thing.

“Raffi,” he said warmly, drawing her into an embrace, which she clumsily returned. “It is so very good to have you here at last.”

“Nice to get here at last.”

“Laris,” he said, eyeing the other woman anxiously. “All well?”

“All’s well,” she said, almost impatiently. “Don’t fuss.”

There was a moment’s awkward silence. Raffi put down her cup. “You know, JL,” she said, “I’ve been here almost an hour and I haven’t had a glass of wine.”

Wine was brought, along with cheese and bread. By some steady and well-established process, this refreshment turned into a bigger but unfussy evening meal, and Raffi had the quiet but undeniable pleasure of watching JL sharply instructed on the correct assembly of a green salad. They moved from the kitchen to an outside terrace that gave a view out across JL’s vineyards. His ancestral lands. Imagine living in a place with so much history, Raffi thought. History to which your own family was so deeply connected. There was plenty of wine now, although Raffi was careful to temper her intake. A new woman, remember. Clean, and dry enough. At the end of the meal came a crème brûlée that Raffi knew would live long in her memory. After this was finished, and contemplated, Laris stood up.

“Oh well,” she said with a sigh. “Table won’t clear itself.”

“Need some help?” said Raffi, making to rise from her chair.

Laris, piling up plates, shook her head. “Number One’ll keep me company. You stay and catch up with his lordship.” And, with the dog trotting behind her, she went back into the kitchen. Raffi waited until she was out of earshot.

“How is she doing?” she said.

“Not well,” admitted JL. “She and Zhaban were together a long time. Sacrificed their lives in order to be together.”

Raffi, whose own losses had—to a great extent—been self-inflicted, pondered what this might be like, to have lived so closely to someone, for almost the whole of one’s life, only to have that partnership suddenly and cruelly ended. “Jeez. There’s no justice, sometimes, is there?”

“Not often,” said JL. “But we try.” He stretched in his seat. “I’m glad you found the time to come here, Raffi,” he said. “But am I right in saying that something is preying on your mind?”

“I’m that easy to read?”

“Only to me.”

“Huh. Well, you’re kinda right. I’m trying to decide what to do next.”

JL was picking at the bread. “I thought you were returning to Starfleet.”

“Yes, that, but—it’s a big outfit.”

“It is.”

“And, to my astonishment, the offers have been… Well, not rolling in, not that, exactly, but there’ve been more of them than I expected.” Raffi held out her hands, as if weighing her options. “Daystrom asked me to consider a temporary transfer there. Join the Grand Tour, bringing the Good News about synthetics to all and sundry…” She trailed off. “I’m not sure.”

“With the best will in the world, Raffi,” said JL, “I’m not entirely sure that public relations could be considered your forte.”

“You and me both,” said Raffi. “Might be fun working with Agnes, though… Hey, don’t give me that look! I like Agnes, god help me. But—no. Not me.”

“You said ‘offers,’?” he prompted.


“One of them is causing you… What is it? Concern? Hesitation?”

Raffi stared out. The fields were dark now, although she could see the lights in the houses of the nearby village. The heat was heavy. Weight of history. “Starfleet Intelligence has asked me to go back to my old job.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Romulan Affairs?”


“You’re considering it?”

“I don’t know. That’s the problem—I just don’t know! You say I’m not cut out for public relations, and—yes, you’re right. I know my strengths—and my weaknesses. I’m a great analyst. I size things up quickly, I make connections, I see what needs to be done, and I get it done. But…”

“But you’re worried that going back into intelligence work will press the wrong buttons,” said JL. “You’re worried it makes you see things that might not be there. Makes you paranoid.”

She leaned forward in her chair. These fears—these truths—were not easy to speak out loud, but how else would she be free of them? “Yes,” she said quietly. “You know, what’s unfair is that it didn’t matter, in so many ways, that I was right. There was this big conspiracy. It still cost me my health. It cost me…” Gabe. Jae. My little boy. My marriage. My old life. “Well, it cost me.”

“And you’re worried what might happen if you drink from that well once again.”

“You always put these things so prettily,” she said.

“You know, Raffi, I spent a long time here—”

“Sulking,” she said.

“Sulking, yes; but also writing. I learned how to turn a pretty phrase. All alone in the hills, with only my thoughts and my books for company. Prospero, on his island.” JL smiled. “There are worse ways, I suppose, to spend one’s later life than sitting in peace, reflecting upon one’s past.”

“What are you saying, JL? That I should go and write my memoirs? The world doesn’t want to know the lousy details of my lousy past—”

“You know full well that I am saying nothing of the sort! But I agree that you are right to reflect on whether Starfleet Intelligence would be the best move for you.” He cleared his throat. “I had, in fact, heard that the offer was out there…”

“Huh.” She narrowed her eyes. “Not much gets past you, does it?”

“Not much. More positively, this means that I’ve also been thinking about what might suit you now.”

“Thinking of little old me?” Raffi put her hand to her chest. “JL! I’m touched! No, truly!”

“Hmm. You know that I’m heading to the Academy.”

“I heard,” she said. “Vice-chancellor. I guess that the titles you’ve not held are few and far between. Might as well collect them all.” Mischief bubbled up inside her. “Hey, is there a special hat? A really good hat?”

“It’s a magnificent hat,” he said, with measured dignity, “which—if I have been correctly informed—I shall be required to both don and doff periodically, and with great ceremony.”

“There’ll be some pretty decent dinners too.”

“Banquets, I dare say,” he agreed.

“Lots of people looking up at you in awe and admiration—”

“Sounds ideal for me, doesn’t it?”

“Sounds made for you,” said Raffi. “But enough about you. You said you’d been thinking about me.”

“I have. I do. Why not come with me?”

“Excuse me?”

“Come with me,” he said, again, and yet not, to her, more intelligibly.

“What?” she said. “To the Academy?”

“To the Academy.”

“To… JL, that’s a really terrible idea. I mean, beyond bad, even for you.”

“Why, Raffi?” He seemed genuinely curious. “Why does it seem so?”

Raffi thought back to her own time at the Academy. She’d enjoyed it, she guessed, although the rules and regulations had been tiresome, and often circumvented. Story of her life. “Well, for one thing—what would I do at the Academy?”

“Teach, I should imagine,” he said. “That being the purpose of the place.”

“JL, seriously? Me? Shaping young minds? With my track record? The mother of the century?”

“Raffi, you were a good mother—”

“Oh no. No. Let’s not rewrite history. I was a terrible mother. I was a disastrous mother.”

“You were a good mother when you were there. You loved him. Love him—”

“Yeah, the problem was that I wasn’t there. And even when I was there, my mind was elsewhere. I was too busy chasing conspiracy theories—”

“Theories which turned out to be true.”

“And doing nothing approximating mothering, which begs the question why you think I would be any use as a teacher of young kids.”

“Being a teacher is not the same as being a mother—”

“I mean, what exactly would I teach them? How to rub superior officers the wrong way? How to mouth off at exactly the wrong moment?”

“You could teach them endurance,” he said quietly. “Honesty. Integrity—”

“You’re drunk, JL. Get real.”

“I’m serious,” he said, and she was starting to think that he was. Misguided, perhaps, but serious. “Raffi, I believe you would find teaching at the Academy a truly satisfying and revelatory experience.”

“Oh, I see what’s happening here,” she said. “You think this would put some demons to rest, huh? Am I right?”

“It might do that, but that’s not the reason I’m making the suggestion. Quite the contrary. Raffi, have you considered that as you make your decision about what to do next, you would do better thinking less about setting your past straight, and more about the shape you would like your future to take?”

This, Raffi had to concede, was pretty good advice. But—the Academy? She shook her head. “I suppose there are worse ideas. Jaunting around with Jurati, for one…” She frowned. “Hey, isn’t Elnor enrolling?”

“Elnor?” JL reached for his glass of wine.

No eye contact? A yellow alert sounded in Raffi’s head. “Yeah, Elnor,” she said. “Isn’t he heading to the Academy next semester?”

“He’s considering that option, yes.”

That yellow alert rang more loudly. “JL, is that why you want me there?”

“What?” He looked up from his glass at her.

“Because you want someone to babysit Elnor?”

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “No,” he said. “Anyway, he’s not made a decision yet as to whether or not he’s going—”

“But if he does, it would be helpful if I was there.” Raffi shook her head. “While you’re busy doffing your hat and eating your fancy dinners—”

“Raffi! It’s not like that!”

“You know, I think the Academy could be a great move,” she said. “For Elnor.”

“I’m not so sure,” said JL with a sigh. “Absolute candor does not win many friends.”

“No, but he needs to find them.”


“Friends. People. Anyone he can call his own.”

“You mean a crew?” said JL.

“That’s a revealing insight into how your mind works, Admiral Picard. But I guess what I meant was—a family.”

“Like a mother,” said JL, his eyes twinkling at her over his glass.

“That boy,” said Raffi firmly, “has surely had enough of older women ordering him around.”

Laris came out, bringing coffee, and sat back down in her chair. As JL poured, she looked at Raffi. “Long face,” said Laris. “I’m guessing he’s asked you about the Academy.”

“Yeah,” said Raffi. “And I told him why it’s a bad idea.”

“Huh,” said Laris. “You think it is a bad idea?”

“Yep,” said Raffi. “Why—don’t you?”

Laris shrugged. “If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that life can throw some unexpected curveballs. You never know where you’re heading next. What you’re about to become.”

The word widow hung unhappily in the air. Raffi took the coffee cup and sipped the hot, bitter drink. Fortified, she said, “I’ll think about it.”

“Good,” said JL. “Thank you.”

“I’m not making any promises,” she added. But if there was one thing Raffi knew from her long history with Jean-Luc Picard, it was that he had an annoying habit of getting his own way.

She was still irritated with him by the time she went to bed. Sometimes, in his desire to fix matters, JL forgot that people had desires of their own. He saw that Elnor was lonely, that Raffi was uncertain of her future, and in his mind bringing them together at the Academy (under his benevolent watch, of course) elegantly solved both problems. Whether either of them had any desire to be at the Academy (or, indeed, under his eye) was immaterial. Raffi sighed and turned over in her bed. She was hot, and restless. It was several hours before sleep came.

In the middle of the night, Raffi was woken by thunder. She got up and went over to the window. Lightning crackled on the hills ahead, great blue-white flashing lines, which, in this strange hour, seemed unearthly, more like the inscrutable signal of some mighty alien power than an entirely natural phenomenon. She watched the show, listening to the thunder draw nearer and nearer. It culminated in a great crash directly overhead, and then began its steady move away. Already the air felt fresher. She returned to her bed and let the steady fall of rain lull her back to sleep.

In the morning, the sun had returned but was much softer. The world outside was washed clean. The house was very quiet; her hosts, presumably, were still in bed, or maybe even out already. Raffi went down into the kitchen. Number One, head on paws, perked up at her approach, jumping up and trotting out after her into the cool morning. They walked companionably together for an hour or so, the dog wandering on ahead every so often to sniff out areas of interest, then returning to lead her down some favored path. Raffi thought about the conversation of the previous night. This clear new day, the Academy didn’t seem such a ridiculous idea. This morning, everything felt possible. Maybe she did have something to teach. Maybe there was something—some expertise, some insight—that would benefit others at the start of their career. Right now, it was good simply to feel that there were options.

Back at the house, Laris was up. There was coffee ready, and the welcome smell of bacon cooking. Soon enough they were feasting, and talking about the storm, and how much better the heat was today, and Raffi thought that it was good to be alive—but didn’t say so. After helping Laris to clear away, Raffi wandered through the house until she found the library. JL’s whole oeuvre was on a shelf. “This should be good,” Raffi muttered, choosing a history of the French Resistance during World War II. And it did turn out to be good: meticulously researched by JL and lucidly written. But of course JL would be an excellent historian. Of course.

Midmorning, the man himself appeared at last, a padd tucked under his arm. He took the seat next to her, throwing the padd, with some exasperation, onto the table, and picking up the book that she had been reading. He flicked through this, before putting it back down again next to his padd.

“It’s good,” she said. “You should think about taking up writing as a hobby.”

“Thank you,” he said absently.

So the smiles weren’t going to be easily won today. She wondered why she continued to try to earn them, but tried nonetheless. “Hey,” she said. “I remember that face. That face meant that people were making things difficult for you, and that meant that things were going to be made difficult for me.”

“Well, I sincerely hope that I am not about to make my problems your problems…” He eyed her. “But perhaps you can help…”

Oh hell, thought Raffi. I’m about to get suckered into something, aren’t I? She was right, although she didn’t know at that moment the extent to which she was right. “What’s going on?” she said, resigning herself to the immediate fate of providing a sounding board.

“Would you run away,” he said, “if I said diplomacy?”

“No. I’ve walked far enough today. But diplomacy is definitely not my thing,” she said. “Problem with the Romulans?”

“Not the Romulans this time. Something worse.”

“Worse than Romulans?”

“Cardassians. Also—Bajorans.”

“Ah,” said Raffi. “I guess, in combination, that could be worse than Romulans.” She clapped her hands together. “So. What’s going on?”

“More fallout from the Occupation.”

“Before my time,” said Raffi. She had graduated from the Academy after the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor had ended, going straight to a desk job at Romulan Affairs. This had kept her away from the front during the Dominion War. Her experience of Cardassians was mostly limited to one admittedly intense encounter after that war had ended. Her experience with Bajorans was slim to none. But she knew that Bajor had been a special interest of JL’s at some point or another. So many things had been a special interest of JL’s, at some point or another.

“The Occupation of Bajor is increasingly before many people’s time,” said JL, his voice shifting into what Raffi thought of as lecture mode. Yeah, he was going to love the Academy. “But not quite consigned to history. Not yet. Not while some who were involved in those dreadful events are still alive. But this makes the situation complicated in other ways…”

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s hear all about it.”

“Very well,” he said with a smile. “How cognizant are you of current Bajoran-Cardassian relations?”

“I’m guessing they’re somewhere between…” She waggled her hand. “Frosty and hostile?”

JL gave a low laugh. “Concise and precise. Yes.”

“And I’m guessing it’s something to do with the extraditions?”

“Ah,” he said. “You are up to speed. I’m impressed.”

“You don’t get offers to rejoin Starfleet Intelligence if you’re not up to speed. And you know what I learned over the years? Just because something wasn’t in a box labeled ‘Romulans’ didn’t mean that it couldn’t blow up in Starfleet’s face.”

“No.” He studied her thoughtfully. “People shouldn’t underestimate you, Raffi.”

“I’ve been saying that for years. So. Extraditions for crimes committed during the Occupation. I thought they’d been happening—or is the problem that they’re stalled? Are the Cardassians refusing to hand someone over?”

“It’s hard to tell.” He sighed. “On the whole, you’re right—the extraditions have been going slowly but smoothly. Considerably better than we might ever have expected. The new castellan is part Bajoran, you know. One of her grandmothers, it seems, had a liaison with a Cardassian officer. Consensual, I hasten to add.”

“That will have helped smooth proceedings, I imagine.”

“It has. And, to be fair to previous Cardassian leaders, the will to hand over the surviving perpetrators of the more egregious actions taken under the Occupation has been, on the whole, fairly consistent since the end of the Dominion War. I suppose making that a condition of continuing aid during the reconstruction didn’t do any harm.”

“That would focus the mind,” Raffi agreed. The Cardassian Union had been all but annihilated by the end of the Dominion War, with over eight hundred million dead by the time the Dominion surrendered, and many more dying in the privation that followed. The numbers would have been vastly worse without Federation assistance during the aftermath. “What’s the sticking point?”

“The Bajorans have requested the extradition of a specific individual.”

“And the Cardassians are refusing?”

“Not quite. The Cardassian government claims that the individual concerned is no longer within their space. Indeed, he seems to have disappeared entirely.”

“Huh,” said Raffi.

Picard pushed his padd over to her, and Raffi read the file with interest—and increasing alarm. The individual concerned was high profile; had served in many roles for various Cardassian administrations both before and after the Dominion War; had even been ambassador to the Federation at one time. The details of his early years were very sketchy; so were the details of the last two or three years. For the previous nine months, there was nothing.

“I can see how this might cause difficulties,” she said.

“The Bajorans are furious.”

“But they can’t think that the Cardassian government is behind this, can they?” she said. “The Cardassians wouldn’t risk a diplomatic incident over this guy, would they? He’s yesterday’s news. They can’t think the Cardassians would hide him—”

“The Bajorans are increasingly indicating that they might come to this conclusion.”

Raffi frowned down at the padd. Diplomacy. Always overcomplicated. But then, that was history all over. Complication upon complication, and the place where the Bajoran and Cardassian peoples intersected was surely one of the most tangled histories of them all. Raffi’s single experience of the fallout from that long and tragic past had been enough to last her a lifetime; she was not keen to revisit it.

“I’m guessing Bajoran Intelligence is all over this?” she said.

JL leaned over to open another file on the padd. “You’re guessing right. Here’s the latest from them. They think they’ve tracked some of his movements since he left Cardassia Prime.”

Raffi read through the file. Near the end, she read that Bajoran Intelligence was certain that their target had boarded a transport en route to a Cardassian colony world. The name was one familiar to Raffi; one she had not thought of for many years. One she had gone to some trouble to forget. Ordeve. She felt suddenly sick, as if she had drawn unexpectedly close to a cliff edge, or a trap that was about to spring. JL was looking at her, very carefully.

You bastard.

Raffi cleared her throat. “I was stationed on Ordeve,” she said. “At the end of the Dominion War.”

“I know,” said JL.

“You know,” said Raffi. “Of course you damn well know. And you want me to go back there, don’t you?”

“Raffi, I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to.”

“Oh, cut the crap, JL!” Raffi glared down at the file, made the text scroll until the information presented was nothing more than a blur. She tried to calm down. “I met him once, you know. Very briefly. When he was on Earth. But you know that too, don’t you?”

“Yes, I did,” he said. “You can assume that I’ve read your report from the time. Assume too that I’ve read the report from the inquiry afterward—”

“We were all exonerated,” said Raffi.

“Quite right,” he said. “But what those reports don’t tell me is your impressions of the place, Raffi. I know—from what I’ve read—that Ordeve had some odd effects on people stationed there—”

“You know why?” said Raffi. “Because everyone there was doing a lot of drugs.”

“Including you?”

“Less than you might imagine,” she said.

“Was that all it was?”

“Yes,” she said. “No… Look, the whole place was strange. There were dreams…”


“I said that people were doing a lot of drugs. Look, JL, I don’t have happy memories of my time there.” But who had happy memories of that time? What made her different from anyone else?

JL leaned back and folded his hands together. His professorial stance. “Tell me more about Ordeve.”

“You said you’ve read the reports.”


She got up from her chair and walked across the room to the window. She stood, her back to him, hands folded behind her, staring at the garden beyond. Charming place. Did he water his own flowers?

“Ordeve was an extrasolar Bajoran colony,” she said. “The Cardassians annexed it during the Occupation and settled there. The Romulans took the place during the Dominion War, but it returned to Cardassian jurisdiction shortly afterward, and has remained in their hands ever since—”

“I know the history,” he interrupted gently. “I was asking for your impressions. Why you think this particular man might be drawn to this particular place.”

“I honestly have no idea why anyone would go there. It’s the middle of nowhere. And you certainly wouldn’t want to go back there.”

“Because of the dreams?”

The dreams had certainly been one thing, but there was more to Ordeve than that. There were the deaths and the losses; the bloodshed and secrets…

“There was a reason that people were self-medicating,” said Raffi. “It was like we all knew that we were in a place where bad things had happened, over and over. And there we were, sitting targets for the Romulans. All we wanted was to get out before the next round of killings began.” She tried to collect herself. “The Romulans killed a lot of Cardassians after the ceasefire, you know. They were warming up to doing that on Ordeve.”

“But they didn’t,” he said. “Those Cardassians must have been glad that Starfleet was there. That you were there.”

“I guess.”

“It must have been a terrifying experience, Raffi.”

He wasn’t wrong. But the events of that mission were not all that had frightened her during her time on Ordeve. Something about the place had been—there was no other word for it—uncanny. “JL,” she said, “do you think that some places are cursed?”

“No,” he said firmly. “No, I do not. I do not believe in the supernatural. I believe that the universe is ultimately explicable, but that we might not yet have found the language or the means by which it can be explained. But I am very interested that you describe the place in this way. What exactly do you mean?”

“I mean… that sometimes it seems there are places with a history of violence that runs so deep that it’s like a wound that can never heal. That some trauma happened there, that keeps being repeated, over and over again. There are scars, that never go away…”

“Traumatic experiences are often relived. Flashbacks. The harm is kept in an eternal present, and never integrated—”

“Yes, that, but… I was fine before I went to Ordeve. It was the place that traumatized…” And had left her, wounded, in some way. Back near the start of her Starfleet career. Had anything gone right since?

“I see,” said JL. He sat up straight, drawing a line beneath their conversation. “Thank you for telling me more, Raffi. I’m sorry to bring that time back.”

She looked out over his land and wondered again what it would be like to be part of a history like this; to have a long connection to such a place. Raffi’s own attempts to build foundations had come crashing down years ago, and it was only in the last few months that she had come to believe that she might, still, create something solid, something lasting, something that might become a home. But when you saw what JL had here, you wondered whether it was worth the effort.

“JL,” she said, “is this why you invited me here?”

“What?” He sounded startled. “What do you mean?”

“Did you know about this, about Ordeve, before you invited me here?”

“Raffi, no, of course not—”

“Only sometimes I think that people”—you—“see me more as a resource than as…” As someone in her own right. As someone with hopes and fears, desires and dreams. Sometimes Raffi felt as if these things were not allowed for someone like her. “As me. As Raffi. As myself.”

She still had her back to him. She heard the creak of the chair as he stood up, and soft footsteps on the carpet as he approached. He put his hand very gently on her shoulder.

“I swear to you,” he said, “that I had no idea about this when I invited you to visit. I wanted you to come—that’s why I asked! This file arrived very early this morning. When I saw Ordeve mentioned, I remembered it from your file. I know you are pondering what you want to do next. That a return to Starfleet Intelligence was under consideration. I thought that perhaps a mission like this might provide, shall we say… a test-drive. A way for you to see if intelligence work is still to your taste—”

“To my taste?”

“Raffi,” he said, “you must understand that you are in charge of your life now. Whatever happens next, the choices are for you to make. No—I did not invite you here to wine you and dine you and persuade you to take on a mission for me to Ordeve. But when I read the file, I thought it was something that you might like to consider—”

“You’d be glad if I took this mission, though?”

“I’d be glad that this mission was in the hands of someone like you.”

“Nice save,” she said. “The question is—do I really want to go back to that damn place?”

“?‘The unexamined life,’?” said JL portentously, “?‘is not worth living.’?”

“Where do you get this stuff? In a Christmas cracker?”

“I believe that’s commonly attributed to Socrates.”

“Yeah? And how did things turn out for him?”

He laughed and patted her arm. “You’ll go, then?”

“You know I’ll go. How do you turn down a request from Admiral Vice-Chancellor Whatever-You-Are-Now Jean-Luc fecking Picard?”

“You’ve been spending too much time with Laris.”

“Laris has got the measure of you.”

“She does indeed.” JL gave a small, rather tight smile. “Thank you, Raffi, for agreeing even to consider this. Rest assured that you’ll have everything you need at your disposal.”

“Oh, I can’t wait.”

“And the offer to come to the Academy still stands.”

“Oh please,” she said, “hand me the cup of hemlock now.”

Raffi took the dog for another walk. She was in the market for some unconditional love and Number One was happy to supply it. She stomped around the ancestral Picard lands, scowling at every damn ripening grape. She swore never to drink wine again, ever. She swore never to visit France again. As she trudged around, the dog running gamely alongside her, she realized that the most infuriating aspect of this whole damn thing was that JL was right. If she was going to return to Starfleet Intelligence, a mission like this would be a good way to find out whether she was still cut out for the work. Whether she wanted to drink from that well again.

“Damn you,” she muttered. Number One gave her a quizzical look. Raffi crinkled her nose at him. “Not you,” she said. “You’re a sweetie. I’m talking about your damn master.”

Was it her imagination, or did the dog nod back?

“I’m losing my fucking mind,” said Raffi.

Later, at dinner, she was still angry, although JL tried to appear contrite. “Sensing a mood around the table tonight,” said Laris as she poured the wine.

“JL has been JL,” said Raffi, and offered nothing more.

“Ah,” said Laris, with understanding. “That. Don’t let him rope you into anything you don’t want to do, Raffi. Though I’m one to talk.”

Raffi snorted.

“Is this about that business with the Cardassian runaway?” Laris went on.

Raffi glanced at JL, who shrugged. “No secrets at this table,” he said.

“Yes,” said Raffi. “JL wants me to go and find him.”

“And that’s a problem how?” said Laris.

“Because the world where he’s likely to be hiding, Ordeve, was the site of a deeply unpleasant experience I had during my early years in Starfleet.”

“I didn’t know that.” Laris flicked a look at JL. “You didn’t mention that.”

“I understand,” said JL humbly, “that I am asking a great deal.”

Both women sighed and rolled their eyes.

“Read the damn room,” said Raffi.

“Daft fecker,” said Laris fondly. She pushed the cheese toward Raffi. “Try a bit of that camembert. And remember that you can always tell the admiral to get stuffed.”

Raffi helped herself, and, as she did, she laughed—because she never could make JL understand her limits, and she suspected that she never would.

About The Author

Una McCormack is the author of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novels The Never-Ending Sacrifice, Hollow Men, and Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Vol. 1: Cardassia, as well as the Doctor Who novels The King’s Dragons and The Way Through the Woods. She lives in the United Kingdom.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek (October 26, 2023)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982194833

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