Quih’l, Chapter One

Will Riker gazed sullenly into the mirror in his cabin. What a mess of contradictions he was. Hair beginning to show just enough grey for folks to attribute wisdom to him. Body as strong and powerful as it was the day he graduated twenty years earlier.

And the biggest pimple of his life glowing like a warning beacon on his left cheek.

The damn thing hadn’t even had the decency to surface beneath his beard. Oh no, this one had to mock him by rising to the surface just above the beard-line.

I look like a damn teenager again!

At least it had waited until he had deposited Ambassador Sorenson safely at Ol’ Faithful Station. With Picard on leave, the ship was his to command and there would be nothing more embarrassing than a dignitary spreading the gossip that Starfleet was putting its premier starships in the hands of acne-ridden kids.

The next worse thing – and he had to face it now – was the scrutiny of the crew.

“Oh well,” he muttered. “No use delaying the inevitable.”

As if to underline his decision, a chime sounded and he heard Data’s voice calling him to the Bridge. He sighed and left his cabin, resisting the urge to fiddle with the pimple.

The turbolift door swished open and Riker was on the bridge.

“Status Mr Data,” he said as he strode for the command chair.

Data, who was vacating that chair, declared, “We are picking up a distress signal from a position just inside the Neutral Zone.”

Riker sat, noticing that Counsellor Deanna Troi seated to his left carried off a perfect double take – glancing at him and then away, only to turn and stare harder at him. He turned to face her with a questioning look on his face, knowing full well what it was that had gained her attention. Troi simply returned her gaze to the forward screen trying to hide a smirk.

“You have something to say, Counsellor?”

She swallowed convulsively and replied, “Only that this situation requires our full attention.” She didn’t look at him.

Riker made an effort to follow her recommendation. “What’s the source of the signal, Data?”

From his new station, the android replied, “A small vessel of indeterminate origin. There are life signs aboard, possibly only a single occupant.” He paused, giving one readout greater scrutiny, then said, “The vessel is being pursued by a Romulan warbird who have just fired on them. It appears to have been a warning shot and the Romulans are slowly gaining on them.”

Now the situation had Riker’s full attention.

“Will they make it into Federation space before the Romulans overtake them?”

“Unlikely, Commander.”

Riker made a split second decision and hoped it was the right one.

“Helmsman, get us to the edge of the Neutral Zone maximum warp.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Let’s see if they can get inside our transporter range before the Romulans catch them.”


The runabout shuddered mildly as Romulan disruptors struck its shields another glancing blow. P’nahl Quih’op kept one hand on his control stick while his other flew across the instrument panels to his right.

It must not end this way.

He drained as much power from the life support systems as he dared, borrowed some from navigation and shut down the pointless distress signal he had vainly hoped might attract the attention of some unknown friendly race – if there was such a thing. He rerouted the extra power into his warp-drive, enabling an extra 7 percent in speed.

I have come too far

Now the Romulans were hailing him. An arrogant voice snarled out of the tiny speaker on his panel.

“Unidentified vessel, this is Romulan patrol ship Tsuwih. Reduce speed, lower your shields and prepare to be transported.”

He ignored it, banked sharply and made superfast mental calculations in vain for a way to direct more power into his warp-drive.

“Unidentified vessel, this is your last opportunity. If you do not comply with our last order, we will fire on you.”

P’nahl did not comply.

Surely there must be something I can do. If only the Underground had been able to steal the cloaking technology of the Romulans. Then I

A warning bleep sounded momentarily before the first photon torpedo struck. This time the shudder was more like a blow. P’nahl’s chest slammed against an intrument panel as the ship careened wildly in the wake of the torpedo’s impact. He felt the stabbing pain of a rib cracking, cried out.

The shields held but only just. He had no power to give them. He banked and swerved again. Another warning bleep. Another blow. This time lights dimmed in the cabin and his speed slowed dramatically. Another warning sound notified him of shield failure.

This is it then.

The next torpedo would finish him. He closed his eyes, resignedly.

Quih’l, I’m so sorry to have failed you all.

Another warning bleep.

The runabout exploded into millions of fragments creating a fireball that spread across a thousand kilometres of empty space.


On the Bridge of the Enterprise, Riker was standing.

“Transporter room! Did you get him?”

“Yes, sir,” came the reply. “We got him.”

Riker grinned in satisfaction, but resisted the urge to punch the air.

“Commander, the Romulans are hailing us.”

“Very well, Mr Data. On screen.”

Riker remained standing and adopted a petulant scowl. The starfield on screen was replaced by a Romulan officer wearing a similar scowl. She too was standing rather than sitting.

“Identify yourseves!” the Romulan demanded.

“Seeing as you are virtually inside our territory, I would think that that obligation falls to you first,” Riker shot back.

The Romulan considered this, turned and sat in her command chair. When she spoke again it was in more level tones.

“Subcenturion T’Kari, Romulan Patrol Ship Tsuwih in pursuit of illegal tresspasser. You are?”

“Commander William Riker, USS Enterprise.”

Enterprise! I am honored. Tell me Enterprise, are you willing to hand over the fugitive you have beamed aboard your ship?”

“We transported no one, T’Kari.”

“You lie. Our sensors recorded your transporter signal.”

“We failed to get a lock before you so heroically destroyed the small craft.”

T’Kari regarded him for a few moments. Riker regarded her back.

“Humans make terrible liars. I am giving you the opportunity to avoid an unfortunate incident here, Commander Riker.” T’Kari managed to make the rank sound like an unpleasant disease. “It is obvious that whoever was aboard that craft was a Federation agent spying on Romulan interests. Equally obvious is the fact that you are here to rendezvous with them. Give them up now and there will be no more unpleasantness.”

“The only unpleasantness we have experienced so far is your own wanton destruction of a defenceless vessel, possibly piloted by a single occupant. And the only incident to which you could possible be referring is that you have almost entered Federation space. Now if you want to take it further, I suggest you power up your shields and disruptors. Or else get back to your own borders.”

The two opponents both knew that a Romulan patrol ship wouldn’t last long in a firefight with a federation starship.

What’s it feel like to be out-gunned? Riker would love to have asked.

T’Kari sat forward coolly. “I cannot prove that you got that agent safely aboard you ship. But we both know you did. We have teleported much of the debris onto our own ship and will be sifting through it for any telltales of your Starfleet’s involvement. Let us hope we find nothing. I look forward to our next meeting, Enterprise.”

The transmission ended abruptly.

“The Romulan ship is powering up its engines,” said Data. “They are turning toward their own territory.

“Have a nice trip,” Riker muttered, still staring at the screen. “Deanna, get down to the Transporter room. I’ll meet you there soon when I’m sure T’Kari isn’t coming back.”

Troi stood and left the Bridge. Riker noticed that Data was regarding him quizzically.

“Something on your mind, Mr Data?”

“I was wondering if your exchange with the Romulan T’Kari might be classified as adolescent?”


“Yes. It seemed you were determined to have the last word and to get your own way. These are characteristics of human adolescents are they not? Also, your left cheek is marked by a small inflammatory swelling known as a pimple which is common to human teenagers.”

At this remark, everyone else on the bridge ceased watching the conversation and busied themselves at their stations. Riker resisted the urge to tell Data to shut up. Instead he said mildly, “And your point is?”

“I’m wondering if what I am observing in your emotional and physical states might be a mid-life crisis, described in several texts as a second adolescence. I have never seen one and am fascinated to understand their nature and origin.”

Riker took a very deep breath. “Mr Data, you have the conn.”

Data blinked and stood. “Of course.”

Riker stalked out of the room and into the turbolift.

Data nodded to himself as he sat back in the command chair. “That seemed to work.”


P’nahl Quih’op was experiencing abject terror. As the final torpedo struck, he had found himself momentarily encased in light, had felt an unsettling sense of vertigo and now was looking at an interior room of another ship.

Unfortunately to add insult to injury, he was looking at it from the floor.

He had been seated at the time of being teleported and of course his posture had not changed en route, so when he had materialised on the Enterprise’s transporter pad, he fell backward with a cry of alarm.

Watching him with weapons drawn were a trio of Quih-like aliens. Above them at a control board, another of the same type was regarding him silently. A door whisked open and two more figures entered, a female holding some kind of device toward him and –


A Romulan female!

The world suddenly became black and still.


Doctor Beverly Crusher had hurried to the Transporter room following an earlier order from Riker and arrived seconds after the occupant of the destroyed vessel had materialised. Holding her medical tricorder in front of her, she noted the unclassified humanoid’s emotional state was extremely stressed, although she didn’t need the help of sensors to discern that.

The man was cowering against the back of the transporter pads, eyes wide with fear. It was when Ensign Tarep – Enterprise’s Vulcan Xenoanthropologist – followed her in that the man’s emotional system seemed to overload. He screamed and half stood then collapsed unconscious.

Crusher rushed to his side and took some more readings quickly.

“He’s exhausted,” she said to Ensign Lynch, heading up the security detail behind her. “Get a stretcher and get him down to the sick bay.”

Riker and Troi both eventually located them in the sickbay. Lynch was now the only security officer in the room and Tarep was nowhere to be seen, as she seemed to have been the cause of the newcomer’s seizure.

Riker said, “How is he?”

“He’s exhausted, Will. And malnourished. He’ll need a lot of nursing back to fitness. Actually,” Crusher paused to consider her last remark, “I wonder if he’s ever been fit. He seems to have had some kind of vitamin deficiency. We’ll know more later.”

“Alright, now who and what is he?”

“Well, there’s no record of a species like him. Seeing as he came from the direction of Romulan space I’d have to say he’s not one of ours. I’m assuming also that he fainted because he thought Ensign Tarep – a Vulcan – was a Romulan and that he had been captured by them”

The figure on the bed stirred.

“He’s coming round,” said Crusher leaning close. The newcomer was restrained by a force field so she had no fear of him.

When his eyes opened, it was with a start. He looked about him, registering the faces, the various pieces of technology and the exit. He seemed also to be looking for something.

“She’s not here,” said Crusher soothingly.

The stranger stared at her, not comprehending her words. The doctor’s universal translator was of no assistance as there was no language base upon which to build translation. Crusher waved her hands around gently and spoke the same words reassuringly. This time the stranger seemed to understand and visibly relaxed, though what looked a frown remained on his face.

“You have a wonderful bedside manner, Doctor,” Troi remarked.

Crusher smiled. “Years of practise keeping the Captain calm.”

“Deanna, what is our guest feeling?” asked Riker, all business.

“I’m picking up a fading sense of alarm but a steady sense of anxiety. He is in unfamiliar surrounds and it’s incredibly unsettling for him.”

“Is he a danger to us?”

She considered this for a second and shook her head. “There’s no trace of aggressive intention in him. Actually, he seems more possessed by an inquisitive nature. He is amazed by what he is seeing … and also perplexed by our treatment of him. I think he was expecting to be tortured!”

“Obviously he knows the Romulans pretty well. Lynch, I think you can remove the force field restraints, but keep your phaser handy just in case.”

“I intend to, sir.”

Crusher encouraged the man to sit up and Riker took a good look at him. He was probably a tad shorter than himself, with broad shoulders that seemed a little rounded. He was dressed in homespun leggings and tunic, possibly woven from natural fibre. Riker could see no sign of body hair. Instead the newcomer’s skin seemed a little like that of a plucked chicken, grey and dotted with goose bumps. His ears moved slightly to follow sound and from the sides of his face grew 6 long whisker-like tendrils of skin which also seemed to move independently.

But his eyes were very blue, very intelligent and very “human”.

Riker tapped his own chest. “Riker.”

The stranger seemed to understand, tapped his own chest and replied, “P’nahl.”

“Panull?” Riker attempted.

“P’nahl,” the other repeated more slowly. “Trar leiksono se?”

“Sorry, pal,” Riker shrugged. “No comprende.”

P’nahl dipped his head, accepting that there could be no further verbal exchange at this time and began studying the rest of the room.

“Doctor, I assume he’ll live?” Riker said. “I’ll leave him in your capable hands. And yours, Counsellor. Perhaps you’d be good enough to take charge of him?”

Deanna nodded enthusiastically. “It shouldn’t take long for the Translator to pick up his language.”

“Very well. I in the meantime will get us back on course.”

Riker nodded again at P’nahl, but his guest didn’t notice him. He was instead absorbed in the operation of Doctor Crusher’s tricorder.

That’s gratitude for you, Riker thought and turned to go.

Once out in the corridor, he heard Crusher cough politely behind him. She had followed him out. He turned and raised an eyebrow in question.

“Will, I couldn’t help noticing that extraordinarily large pimple you have there.”

“You too, huh?”

She smiled maternally. “I think I still have some of Wesley’s acne cream lying around somewhere if you’re interested.”

“You better believe I’m interested.”

She nodded. “I’ll have Nurse Ogawa leave it your cabin. It should clear that up in 2-3 hours.” She turned back to the door.

“Forget my cabin,” Riker replied as he too turned away. “Have her put it in the ready room as soon as possible.”



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