Picard noticed the wayward dig team at the archeological site immediately. The team had four members–not so wayward in that. However, they took and ran, instead of staying to examine. Picard knew that objects were not to be removed from the site. So he did what came naturally from the curiosity of man.

He asked questions.

A seedy bar sat near the dig site, a bar for the many travelers that came through the area. At first, Picard watched from a corner table as the team members interacted with others at the bar. Two of the members were solidly working on getting good and hammered. The other made rounds throughout the bar, talking. The other sat at a table and watched. The two drunks were one male and one female. Picard couldn’t identify their species aside from being humanoid. Both were tall, dark hair, ears recessed into the head instead of sticking out like a human’s. The other member had ridges on his forehead that swept out from just above his nose. Light and white hair also swept out just above the ridges. The rest of the hair on his head fell to his shoulders in a tangled mess. The Starfleet captain watched with growing interest as the third man approached three Nausicaans. Most sane people avoided unattached Nausicaans at all costs. Pirates and thugs, the Nausicaans made trouble for everyone in the quadrant aside from those for whom they worked. The third man seemed to issue a challenge to the largest of the mask-faced humanoids, easily towering over two meters. After issuing the challenge, the third man pointed to the fourth man of the team who sat quietly in the corner.

Noticing the third man pointing at him, the fourth man stood up. As he watched him, Picard felt like amending the term man and replacing it with youth. The boy could be no more than seventeen, eighteen at the most. For his age, he was well developed, lean muscles wrapped his frame, opposite of the hulking Nausicaans, this youth was made to be quick. Out of the four-man team, the youth was the only human and not close to two meters tall. His reddish hair was cropped short and the youth’s gray eyes glared over at the third man. The youth spoke across the room to the third man in a voice carrying a gravity far beyond his scant years. “I don’t think this is a good idea, Baran.”

And thus Picard learned the name of the third man. Baran. On his part, Baran shouted back, “Too bad, I’ve already issued the challenge. There’s to be a fight, one on one, you and this Nausicaan. I believe his name is Grimp.” Baran turned to Grimp. “Grimp, meet Matthew. Matthew, meet Grimp.”

A name for the youth. Matthew nodded at Grimp. Picard noticed the boy’s fists clench.

“And with that, I will take your bets!” Baran announced to the bar patrons. Quickly, the patrons crowded Baran at the bar. Credits were exchanged in ever-growing amounts. “Who do you think?” someone asked Picard as he passed by him on the way to the bar. “My money’s on the Nausicaan. There’s no way a human male can take on a Nausicaan bare handed, not at any size. And that boy’s got no size at all, he’s got muscle, sure, but he’s lean and wiry. The Nausicaan will crush him and not break a sweat.”

“Nausicaans don’t sweat,” Picard replied.

The man snorted and continued on his way.

The money exchange slowed to a trickle. “Betting is closed,” Baran shouted over the din. “Proceed outside to watch our main event.”

Curiosity would not let go of Picard and he moved with the crowd into the night that had fallen on Dessica II. Three floodlights attached to the walls of the bar’s building provided light enough for the audience to watch the two contenders. A circle formed around them, a throng of shouting people, shouting for the blood of a good fight. The fighters moved to the middle. The Nausicaan literally towered over the human youth. The boy, Matthew, stood toe to toe with the larger being, face set in determination and a fury in his eyes to match. Picard realized that the fury was meant for Baran, the man who’d gotten him in this mess, and not the Nausicaan he faced. But the youth would need that fury if he wanted to survive the fight. Matthew kept the glare on Grimp as he backed slowly away, allowing some distance. Due to the Nausicaan’s larger bulk and much longer reach, the boy would have to close distance suddenly and work inside Grimp’s reach, while at the same time, avoid getting crushed by the Nausicaan’s weight.

“Begin!” Baran yelled.

Matthew replied with a shout to Grimp, taunting him. Picard started when he realized that the boy had taunted Grimp in Nausicaan, not an easy language to master. Grimp reacted predictably and immediately charged the boy. Matthew easily dodged the charge, practically dancing around the Nausicaan. Then Matthew misjudged his distance and the Nausicaan’s arm caught his chin, sending him to the ground. Grimp moved in quickly and Matthew rolled out of the way, sweeping with his leg as he did. The boy’s foot caught Grimp’s ankle and sent him down. As the Nausicaan got up, Matthew struggled to his feet. The Nausicaan’s sharp fist armor had cut open Matthew’s cheek and blood dripped down the side of his face.

The the shock and pleasure of the crowd, Matthew grinned and taunted the Nausicaan again. The crowd shouted encouragement. Again, Grimp charged the boy. This time, instead of dancing out of the way, the boy grasped the Nausicaan’s wrist and forearm and sent him crashing into a crowd that scrambled over each other to get out of the way. The circle formed up again, moving with the fighters. As Grimp got to his feet, the boy lashed out with his foot and caught the Nausicaan in the head, snapping his head sideways. Grimp replied by charging again. Matthew danced again, but Grimp had started to catch on and clotheslined the boy as he went diving past. The youth went down quickly, the blow to the throat would flatten anyone, even another Nausicaan. Grimp moved in to take advantage of the boy’s momentary inability to breathe. As Grimp’s feet closed in to crush him, the boy kept rolling out of the way. The Nausicaan moved in again, the boy rolled toward Grimp and met him with a kick upwards. Caught off guard, Grimp fell backwards as the boy jumped to his feet and delivered another kick to Grimp’s head, this time pushing the Nausicaan’s head upwards. Grimp landed headfirst. The boy moved in again and Grimp managed to pull a knife out of his boot.

Picard held his breath. He’d seen this move before and not soon enough, before a Nausicaan had stabbed him through the back and taken Picard’s heart with him. Only the implant of an artificial heart had saved his life. On this backwater planet, there would be no such facility available. The boy would die if he didn’t see the knife. Picard found himself shouting a warning, a warning lost in the din of the excited crowd.

However, Matthew saw the knife himself, caught Grimp’s wrists in a fisted blow, knocking the knife loose. As the knife fell, Matthew dove and snatched it. With blinding speed, Matthew got to his feet. And he taunted the Nausicaan again, pitching the knife from hand to hand. Rage consumed Grimp and he charged the boy without any strategy. Matthew stepped aside, kicked upward and the resulting connection with the Nausicaan’s head sent Grimp to the ground. Matthew followed and held the knife to Grimp’s neck. “This fight is over,” Matthew said in Standard.

No argument came from Grimp or his compatriots. Instead, the other Nausicaans shouted dismay, threw credits at Baran, and transported off, leaving the youth in the circle of the crowd, Grimp’s knife still in hand. Matthew stood, threw the knife to the ground, and walked back into the bar.

Baran collected his credits. Obviously, he’d used this ploy before. The boy was a trained, skilled fighter and his size and youth deceived others. Baran would issue a challenge, bet on the boy, and the takers would lose their money and respect when the boy won the fight. Matthew, however, seemed a very reluctant participant. Picard wondered what sort of hold Baran held over the boy. As the patrons crowded back into the bar, Picard took the opportunity to ask several people about the four-man team. Once he got some vague answers, Picard went back to his corner table to mull them over. A quarter of an hour later, Picard looked up from his drink to find the team surrounding his table.

“You ask too many questions,” Baran said. The first and second recessed eared people trained disruptors at him. The boy stood in the background, holding a dirty bar towel to his cut face. “And it’s time for me to ask mine. What’s your name, human?”

Picard realized that he couldn’t very well give the man his real name and position. He’d be shot in an instant, most likely before he even finished his answer. So he answered with the last name of his archeological professor. “Galen,” he said.

“Galen, what do you want with us?” Baran asked.

“You’re looting archeological sites,” said Picard.

The reply was a shot point-blank from a disruptor pistol.

*

Picard awoke in an unfamiliar ship. Obviously, he hadn’t died. He sat up and took stock of his surroundings. He was in the ship’s excuse for a sickbay, sitting on the only bed they had. “Don’t stand up,” someone said.

Picard looked behind him for the source. The boy stood at a counter, rifling through some supplies. His facial wound had been healed, but blood still stained his neck and clothing, along with the dirt ground in from the fight.

“Why?” Picard asked.

Matthew turned around. “Because you hit your head before you transported and if you stand up, you’ll probably fall over and I doubt I can lift you back up onto that bed.”

Picard frowned. “Transported?”

The boy walked over, supplies in hand. “Yes. Our pistols are equipped with a transporter link. Makes stealing artifacts easier. Point and transport rather than fix coordinates and order a transport.”

“Nice idea,” Picard said.

“It was mine,” replied the boy. “I got tired of treating all the injuries.”

“Your the ship’s doctor?” Picard asked. “You can’t be more than eighteen.”

“Sixteen,” the boy corrected him. “And I’m not a doctor by any means. I’m just the only one who knows some of the equipment and can also treat stuff the old way. You know, stitches, splints, and a whole lot of incidental pain. I don’t exactly have a good supply of advanced technology. Lucky for you, we managed to get this plaser and it won’t hurt you at all fixing this gash in your head.”

“You’re actually concerned about me?”

“Of course not. Concern flows out of me unchecked. Imagine my surprise. Hold still.”

An acerbic remark if he ever heard one. He wondered if Baran often heard remarks like that from Matthew and could see that Baran took his revenge by pitting the boy against foes that would obviously cause him some pain. Picard kept frowning as the boy held his head, shut the wound, and then stood back. Now Picard had a chance to feel something in his neck. His hand went to it and he shot a questioning look at the boy.

“Transponder. Baran equips the entire crew and any passengers with them. He has the control box. Delivers a nasty amount of pain to your entire nervous system if Baran decides you’ve annoyed him. It could also kill you. Try not to piss him off too badly.”

“You don’t have one,” Picard observed.

“I have a condition that allows Baran to cause me greater amounts of pain than that transponder ever could.” His tone left no doubts that he didn’t want to elaborate.

“What’s your name?” Picard asked.

“Matthew,” the boy replied. “And yours is Galen. Baran is coming in soon, he wanted me to tell him when you came around. You’d better do some fast talking if you want to stay alive.”

“As an archeologist, I could benefit this ship.”

“Mmm. I hope Baran thinks so, or I’ll have a body to clean up.” With that, Matthew left as Baran walked in the door.

Baran got straight to the point. “I’m the captain of this ship. You’d better tell me fast what use you’d be to me, or I’ll kill you right here.”

Picard needed information first. “As an archeological smuggler, I could analyze any of the objects you pick up. You leave half the artifacts on the site, you have to be looking for something in particular.”

Baran tapped his foot on the ground. “And you think you can analyze these artifacts better than I could.”
“Without a doubt.”

“Prove it.”

Picard found himself escorted none to gently to the cargo area, shoved into a chair at a console with a bin of artifacts beside it. “You have an hour. If you can’t improve the identification process by at least a factor of five, I will kill you.” Baran left.

The console contained the needed information to set the parameters. It also told him somewhat of what he was looking for. With that information, Picard set to work on the methodology. The subscan routines were taking much too long to provide information. With the long process of the subroutines, all the information wasn’t being correlated before the analysis was produced. He set to work rewriting the routines and hoped he wasn’t too rusty on his programming techniques. Half an hour later, Picard didn’t notice the cargo door open.

Matthew walked in and began rifling through containers.

Picard looked up. “What are you doing in here?”

“I’ve been sent to babysit you. Baran thinks you might try to escape or something stupid like that. It’s not like I have better things to do. Gives me an excuse to look through all the things locked away in here and see if I can find anything interesting.”

“And what would be interesting?”

“Certainly not what you’re looking at. Pieces of clay pots and shards of clay plates. You clean them and study them and analyze them, then cobble them together to make…a clay pot. Which you knew in the first place. I’d rather read a book.”

The last thing Picard expected to find in a mercenary ship was a boy, much less a boy who read.

“Don’t give me that look, Galen. Just because I’m some kid on a twenty fourth century equivalent of a pirate ship doesn’t mean I’m stupid. And unless someone gets hurt or Baran makes some sort of bet or Baran needs some sort of strategic plan, I don’t have much else to do. Books at least show me what else is out there.” With that, the boy turned back to the bins and ignored Picard.

He turned back to his own work. Fifteen minutes later, he was done and had another quarter of an hour to wait for Baran to decide. He’d improved the identification process by a factor of ten. Baran needed him. The boy continued to ignore Picard. Picard watched him, reminded of something. He’d thought of it earlier, in the bar as he watched the youth and found out his name. Then watching the boy fight the Nausicaan, with the confidence only a young man could have and the wicked streak that made him taunt the Nausicaan. But it was the boy’s sense of humor and his physical features that caused Picard’s idea to continue.

Twelve years ago, Beverly Crusher had lost a son. Yet it wasn’t just Beverly who lost her son, it was also Jean-Luc Picard.

A year after Jack died, Picard had lost the Stargazer in the Battle of Maxia. On Earth during his court-martial, Beverly Crusher had been his friend and confidant. She’d helped him get through his self doubt and continue with his career. At some point, he’d admitted to her that he’d loved her since the moment he left her. Instead of sending him away, she said that during those months, she’d fallen in love with him. As Picard waited for the results of the court-martial and then for his next command, they had continued their relationship as best friends and as lovers. His assignment came through, another deep-space mission on the USS Intrepid. With promises to each other to keep their relationship, he’d left. They kept in touch intermittently, messages becoming fewer and fewer as the months passed. Picard received a message that caught his attention more so than any other since he’d left: Beverly was pregnant. He immediately took leave to go back to Earth. He’d wanted to marry her, take care of her and Wesley and the child yet to be born. She had refused. She wouldn’t be another planetside Starfleet spouse waiting while their partner explored space, never knowing if they would come home. Beverly was a match for Picard’s stubborn nature and wouldn’t give in to his arguments. He would be an integral part of the child’s life as his father, but she refused to be his wife.

Picard had departed again for his ship. Beverly sent him updates as her pregnancy progressed, and finally sent him notification that his son had been born. They’d chosen the name Matthieu, after Jean-Luc’s great uncle, an astronomer. Again, Picard secured leave as quickly as he could and went back to visit. He’d been enraptured by his son, something he’d never intended to have because he concentrated on his career. Too soon, he had to leave again for his ship. The years passed and the visits continued. He and Beverly continued their relationship to some degree, but because of their separation, it wasn’t as intense as it had originally been. The distance made them drift apart and if not for Matthieu, would have separated them entirely by the gulf of space caused by Picard’s career and Beverly’s own continuing career as a physician. Soon after Matthieu’s birth, Beverly had been offered a position as assistant chief medical officer at the hospital in the Nehru Colony. She accepted the position on the colony near Cardassian territory.

They arranged a weekend’s vacation on Pacifica to catch up and have Jean-Luc spend more time with Matthieu, who had recently turned three. While on one of Pacifica’s beaches, Matthieu wandered off and out of sight of his parents.

They’d never found him. His body had also not been found and Matthieu was never declared dead. However, searches across the area had been entirely unsuccessful and the planet’s security thought that Matthieu had been abducted. The planetary government had not come forward before about the recent rash of abductions on their planet, as it would ruin their tourist industry. But with the disappearance of a prominent Starfleet captain and doctor’s son, they finally confessed the the problem. They suspected, along with Starfleet, that the abductions were for a growing problem with galactic slave trade and children were a high commodity.

The relentless and fruitless searching drove Beverly and Picard away from each other. After two years with no sign of their son, contact had dwindled to nothing. Seeing Beverly request the position on the Enterprise had shocked Picard and he’d fought it. He didn’t want her to be reminded daily of what she had lost because of Picard: a husband, a son. Yet she was determined to keep the position, it was her career. He’d accepted her decision and they had slowly resumed their friendship and had become best friends once again. But the loss of their son stood between them, and a relationship beyond friendship remained out of the question. By an unspoken agreement, they told no one of their son, their prior relationship, or anything that might pertain to it. No one knew, except perhaps Counselor Troi, if she had read their records carefully. It explained his uneasiness around children, why he no longer liked them or felt comfortable around them.

Wesley had also kept the secret of his long missing younger brother. In fact, Wesley seemed to have rid him entirely from his memory, as if to cope by denying the fact that his brother ever existed. He had illustrated this when he’d asked Picard on the shuttlecraft to Starbase 515 if he ever wished for kids of his own. The pain of the question had been staggering, something Picard never thought still existed.

And on this ship he’d found a boy the same age Matthieu would be now. From a glance at a note the boy had written on the supply checklist, Picard knew that he spelled it the Anglicized way instead of the French version. The boy had the same features of the four year old Matthieu, his father’s gray eyes, hair a reddish blond, combining the two hair colors found on each side. Beverly had often said that aside from the red in her son’s hair, he entirely took after his father, the parentage unmistakable. Picard didn’t want to think he was fooling himself, but felt that he could see the face of his youth in Matthew. He began to hold a secret hope that he had found his lost son. Many questions needed to be answered and on this ship, there was no way to confront them directly.

Instead, Picard focused on ship’s business. “Where is this ship headed?”

“Barradas III,” the boy replied, not looking at Picard.

“What for?”

Matthew turned around with a sigh. “More archeological site raiding, what do you think? There isn’t anything on that planet except for the Debrune ruins.”

“Does it bother you at all the mess you make looting sites?”

Matthew sat on one of the bins and raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think a smuggler like you has much room to talk.”

“I’ve dealt with it in my own way. I wondered about yours since you seem to have a conscience, unlike most of us. You must have a lot of arrest warrants already and you’re young yet.”

“I’ll tell you what I’ve figured out, Galen. There are two laws: a civilization’s laws and Murphy’s law. Criminals and there sort are punished by a civilization’s laws. The good law-abiding folks are punished by Murphy’s law. In the end, you do what you can and try and avoid punishment from any law. Murphy is often more heavy handed than society. At least, Federation society. I’d rather not be caught by the Klingons, I haven’t heard nice things about Rura Penthe. New Zealand doesn’t sound half bad, though.” He dropped down from the bin. “Baran’s coming,” he said, and left the room.

Baran accepted Picard’s work and allowed him to stay on board. The mercenary ship captain rubbed Picard entirely the wrong way. The man kept control of his crew by fear and force. Once a member of the crew, no one could leave unless Baran agreed to it. As the days passed on the journey to Barradas Three, Picard observed and interacted with the crew in the role of Galen. The key players were Baran, the Romulan Tallera, Narik, who seemed to be the ship’s engineer, and Vekor, who acted as a security officer type. Tallera assumed the role as Baran’s first officer. Matthew filled the role as a jack of all trades, including strategist, doctor, engineering assistant, and archeologist. He also held Baran in complete contempt and would incite him at every moment. This tendency of Matthew’s made Picard a natural ally. Other members of the crew threatened Picard more than once, and he took to keeping himself armed and ready, even in his own small cabin. Much of his time he spent in the cargo hold, running artifacts through the identification process. He continued attempts to gain information about the artifacts and about the boy, but no one was particularly forthcoming.

Tallera had provided the most information on one of her supervisory visits to the cargo hold. “Baran controls everyone on this ship with the transponders. Yet Matthew doesn’t have one and to me looks to be the one person on this ship who threatens Baran’s leadership,” he’d asked her.

Tallera had graced him with one of her looks of simple superiority. “Matthew is easily controlled by his condition. He has an illness and Baran holds the boy’s medication. Each dose only lasts for twenty four hours. So if Matthew truly angers Baran, Baran holds the medicine from him. Within twenty four hours, Matthew is rendered entirely useless until Baran decides to give him his medicine. The illness is entirely non-life threatening. Instead, it causes a pain which can’t even approach the pain the transponders cause. The poor boy’s hearing becomes hypersensitive and he has to hide in his cabin, because even a whisper from a crew member will cause agonizing pain. So you see why Matthew is compelled to cooperate.”

Picard saw. He also knew that pain, knew that disease. Shalaft’s syndrome, a rare congenital condition found in Picard males that manifested itself in early childhood. A disease that caused hypersensitivity to sound. The facts continued to add up. A day away from Barradas III, Picard was finally able to get Matthew to talk. The boy had found a baseball and a baseball glove in one of the cargo bins and had contented himself with throwing the ball against the bulkhead and catching it on the return bounce. Five minutes of this activity had irritated Picard beyond all reason.

“Will you stop that!” he said. “I preferred it when you were reading.”

“I got bored. The intermix is fixed, no one is hurt, there’s no need to figure out any battle plans, and I finished the last book on board. So if you can figure out something for me to do other than this, I’ll do that.”

“How did you end up on this ship?”

The boy shrugged. “I’ve been on it for four years. Before that, I was on a Cardassian world as servant. Slave, more like it. I didn’t get paid, but I was fed and clothed. Then the man I worked for lost custody of me in a bet to Baran’s predecessor and I’ve been here ever since.”

“Where were you before Cardassia?”

“I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember anything? Because it isn’t exactly normal for a human child to end up on Cardassia.”

The boy’s gray eyes focused on him in a harsh glare. “I don’t want to talk about it. Think of something else or I’ll start throwing the ball again.” He took the ball out of the glove and moved to illustrate.

“Fine. Why don’t you tell me about the book you just finished.”

Matthew nodded and sat on one of the bins. “Actually, just one thing really stuck with me, something said by one of the Native Americans profiled in the book. ‘If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys’. The ‘them’ he referred to were actually animals, but I think it holds true for most anything. Look at any civilization and its expansion and you’ll see what happens when one side doesn’t understand or even try to understand the other. Even the Klingons and the Federation, there’s still so much they don’t understand about each other, and there aren’t many attempts on either side to truly understand. So people fear Klingons. Yet, it’s the Romulans so many people fear because practically nothing is known about them. So, we fight them instead.”

“You know Tallera.”

“She’s one person. Knowing one person doesn’t change an outlook on an entire civilization. Besides, I know Tallera but I don’t understand her in the least.”

“Do you fear her?”

“She holds a lot of power on this ship.”

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

“No, I’m not afraid of her. Nothing here can compare to Cardassia.” Matthew’s eyes grew vacant for a moment, as if he were remembering the years there.

“Have you ever tried to escape?”

Matthew paused before he answered, as if wondering what Picard was getting at. “No. I’ve thought about it, sure. But escape would mean trying to find food and work and being stuck on a planet. Here, I can at least see new worlds and be in space and know where my next meal will be from. Besides, Baran keeps my medicine away from me like his predecessor did. I couldn’t even tell you what it is, much less what my condition is. All I know is that it controls me and what I do, and until I have a solution for it, I’m stuck here anyway.”

“Your condition?”

Matthew scowled at him. “Don’t play dumb. Tallera told me that she told you.”

Picard nodded, caught. “She did.”

“Why the hell do you keep asking questions about me, anyway? And don’t tell me it’s concern, I haven’t seen you make a concerned face.”

Picard told a half truth. “I’m only trying to figure out why a kid is on a mercenary ship. There has to be some reason, some way you ended up on Cardassia and here on this ship. Obviously, you have human parents somewhere.”

Matthew’s eyes went vacant again. “When I was little, on Cardassia, I used to have this dream. About who I thought must have been my parents. I could remember more then, but as I grew up, it faded, and all I see now are silhouettes.”

Picard could see the boy was growing more and more upset, his face becoming stony, his eyes starting to glisten. But he had to press. “Do you remember anything?”

Matthew dropped down from his perch and walked towards the door. In the doorway, Matthew said in a voice so quiet Picard had to strain to hear it, “My mother had red hair.” Then he left.

Alone in the cargo hold, Picard struggled to keep a lock on his own emotions. He was certain, as certain as he’d been when he first held his infant son. It was him. This young mercenary in a backwater sector was his son. After thirteen years, after giving up hope, he’d found him entirely by accident. And because of the situation, he couldn’t say a word, couldn’t do a thing, still couldn’t protect him, like he hadn’t been able to thirteen years ago.

The following day, Matthew avoided Galen. Arrival at Barradas III provided a much needed diversion from the drudgery of slow galactic travel. A team of three was beamed down to the planet to search through the Debrune ruins. The principal players remained on the bridge, overseeing the entire operation. Matthew was on the bridge as well, in case any other ships showed up. One ship did arrive. The Enterprise.

Matthew announced it from his seat at tactical. “Sensors have detected a ship dropping out of warp,” he said. “It’s a Federation ship. Looks like a Galaxy class.”

“Can we fight it?”

Matthew swiveled his chair around to face the captain. “Not if we want to live.”

Baran frowned and fingered the transponder control device, a completely unconscious gesture he had in reaction to hearing information he didn’t want to hear. “We have to get these artifacts.”

Matthew thought for a moment. “We can use the planet’s gravity well to shield us from detection by the ship. Once we get the artifacts, we can proceed directly to warp. Once the ship realizes we’re here, we’ll be gone, and we’re practically untraceable on long-range sensors.”

“Do it,” Baran said to the helmsman.

It didn’t take long for the team on the planet to notify the ship of engaging Starfleet. Baran ordered Picard to the cargo hold to check on the new artifacts. Picard went to the hold, placed the artifacts into numbered bins, all the while wondering about the team on the planet. He felt the ship shudder as it went into warp. They’d escaped. His task completed, Picard went back up to the bridge. As he approached, he heard the conversation inside. Vekor, Narik, and Matthew arguing with Baran over a prisoner and what to do with him. A Starfleet prisoner. All three maintained that keeping him on the ship was deadly and inadvisable. From their point of view, Picard had to agree. Starfleet would chase them to find its officer, never giving up until they were captured. He heard the officer’s name. Riker! It was Riker. A plan formed in his head and he stopped at an engineering console before he strode onto the bridge. “They’re right Baran,” he said. “And you know it. Kill him, now.” Picard glanced just once at his first officer and the man’s barely hidden look of shock.” Baran swung his head around to look at Picard. He continued. “If he has nothing to give us, then we should kill him now and be done with it. Everyone seems to recognize that fact except you.” Picard made his tone harsh and violent.

“I don’t need a consensus to run this ship, Galen,” Baran replied, his own tone ice.

Picard felt the ship shudder as the bridge lights flickered. Narik bypassed the coupling and Picard’s argument with Baran continued. He made Riker out to be a sorry excuse for a Starfleet officer, one facing a court martial. As the matter escalated, the ship shuddered yet again and a high pitched noise emanate from below. He’d locked the flow regulator, knowing that Riker was the only one here who could fix it besides him. Riker followed along, fixing the problem while the crew watched frantically.

With a smug look at Picard, Baran ordered Tallera to put Riker in quarters. As Riker walked past Picard, he said, “Still wish you’d killed me?”

All going according to plan.

Picard wasn’t able to speak to Riker until hours later. He found him waiting in the tiny room left open. Checking the corridor left and right, Picard entered the room. He caught Will’s eye. “We don’t have much time,” he said. He had to get the entire plan out and to Will before anyone realized he’d paid Riker a visit.

Riker regarded him with shock, shock much more apparent than he’d shown on the bridge.

Picard spoke. “I hardly expected to see you here, Will.”

“I was trying to find the people that killed you,” Riker said, voice strained. “People at the bar saw you vaporized.”

That explained Riker’s look. Everyone thought he was dead. He couldn’t imagine what Will must have gone through, what Beverly must still be going through…he stopped that line of thought and explained to Riker how the ship’s transporters worked through their weapons. Then he explained how he’d ended up as a part of the ship’s crew, the oddness of the artifacts that Baran was after, and how Will needed to gain Baran’s confidence.

“There’s more, Will,” Picard said. “But I don’t have enough time to explain.”

Riker nodded.

The door opened as Baran walked in. Picard punched Riker in the jaw.

“What are you doing here?” Baran shouted.

“Getting some answers,” Picard immediately replied. “Just because you couldn’t get him to talk–” He stopped when pain lanced through his entire body, sending him to his knees.

“No one conducts an interrogation on my ship without my permission,” Baran said. “Is that understood?”

Picard answered by getting to his feet, glaring at Baran, and leaving.

*

Arrival at the next planet failed to bring relief. Picard managed to convince Baran to use Riker in order to get to the planet’s surface without destroying the tiny Federation scientific outpost. Riker’s plan failed, but Matthew interfered with Baran’s orders to destroy the outpost. Instead of firing when ordered, Matthew recalibrated the disruptors to fire a phase-resonant pulse, explaining as he went along. “If I can hit their shield generator at precisely the right frequency, I can knock their shields offline with one hit. Firing.” A pause as Matthew read the readouts on the console. “Their shields are down.” The boy turned to face Baran, who gave him a look that burned through the boy and into the computer bank behind him. Picard was certain that if the boy had a transponder, he would be on the floor, writhing in pain.

The Enterprise showed up and only through subterfuge were Riker and Picard able to get the ship through without being blown to pieces by the their former ship. Once out of sensor range, repairs commenced and Picard found himself back in the cargo hold. The visit from Tallera had been most interesting and Picard mulled over it back in his cramped quarters. The door opened and he whipped around, phaser in hand.

“Nice to see you too,” Riker said.

Picard gave Riker a wry grin. “I’ve had a few unpleasant experiences.” He realized Riker was being less than smart in visiting him. “What are you doing here?”

Riker explained Baran’s plan.

“You were always after my job,” Picard said.

Riker smiled. “What else did you have to tell me? This is the first time we’ve had to talk since then.”

Picard sighed, giving his first officer a serious look. “Will, sixteen years ago, I had a son.”

Will sat back, surprised. “Sir, I didn’t know.”

“Not many people do, don’t worry. After the Battle of Maxia, I was court martialed, as usually happens when you lose a starship. During my time on Earth, I stayed with Dr. Crusher, who was my support as my best friend throughout the entire ordeal. Suffice to say we ended up beyond friendship and became involved. Once the court-martial was over, I was assigned to the Intrepid and left Earth. We stayed in touch and one of her messages was that she was going to have a child. I wanted to marry her, she refused because she wasn’t going to be a Starfleet wife again, never knowing if she’d see her husband alive after he left on his ship. Months later, our son Matthieu was born. We got together when we could. Our romantic relationship had ended when she refused to marry me. Yet we remained friends and raised our son together as much as we could despite our careers. When Matthieu was three, he went missing on Pacifica. We never found him.” Picard felt the pain of loss creeping into his words. He stopped talking.

“Where are you going with this? I mean…” Riker stopped. “The kid. Matthew. You think he’s him?”

Before Picard could answer, Riker did himself. “I think you’re right,” he said. “I can see it. When I first met him, I thought he was familiar somehow. Now I see it. He looks like you.” Riker grinned. “Except for the hair.”

Picard gave him a rueful smile. “Thank god he got his mother’s hair.”

“We have to get him off this ship,” Will said.

Picard nodded. “That’s exactly what I was getting at. If we have any moment to get Matthew aboard the Enterprise and keep him there, that’s what we’ll do. I’m not going to lose him again.”

Riker nodded. “I think we’re going to have to start a mutiny on this ship.” He got up.

“Yes. I’ll get to it,” Picard said.

Riker left.

*

As Picard continued his work after a nap, he made sure to stop and talk to members of the crew about the need for a new captain. Once he’d made rounds, he went back to his work in the cargo hold. The door opened behind him and he turned to see Tallera. “Who are you?” she asked.

Picard blinked. “What?”

Her tone became accusatory. “You’re no smuggler, and I don’t think your name’s Galen.”

She pulled a phaser out and pointed it at him. “You will tell me who you are and what you’re doing on this ship or I will kill you right now.”

Picard couldn’t comprehend how she’d figured him out. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I will not play games with you. I found the message you sent to the Enterprise. When Riker sent the command codes to drop their shields, you sent a transmission to them on the same frequency.” Her eyes narrowed. “You’re a Starfleet officer.”

Picard shook his head, opened his mouth to protest.

She interrupted him. “Do not argue with me. It is the only logical conclusion.”

She holstered her phaser. “My name is T’Paal, I’m a member of the V’Shar.”

Picard couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Vulcan Security?”

“That’s correct. I infiltrated this ship a year ago posing as a Romulan mercenary. I am here to investigate a possible threat to Vulcan.”

“What sort of threat?”

“First things first, Galen. Who are you?”

He realized he had no choice. If he didn’t tell her, she would kill him because letting him live would jeopardize her mission. “I’m Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise.”

T’Paal nodded and explained her mission, about the Stone of Gol and and how she wouldn’t allow it to be assembled, even if it meant destroying the ship and everyone on it. Picard nodded his assent. T’Paal left the cargo hold so Picard could think over his options.

Minutes later, Matthew walked through the cargo hold door. He stopped when he saw Picard. “What the hell are you doing here?” he asked. “There isn’t anything else for you to analyze.”

“I could ask you the same thing,” Picard said. “There isn’t anything for you to read here.”

“I’m not here for books, I’m here for supplies. Don’t bother looking for me in a few hours. I’ll be…” he paused. “Indisposed.”

Picard crossed his arms. “Baran didn’t allow you access to your medicine.”

The boy searched through a bin of medical supplies. “No, he didn’t.”

“How long do you have?”

“I told you. A few more hours. And I won’t let anyone in, so don’t try to act all concerned and check in on me or something like that. No one is allowed to see me like that.” The boy faced Picard, his face set exactly how Picard’s was when he’d made a decision that he wouldn’t chance no matter what the opposition. “No one,” he emphasized and walked out.

*

So the moment Baran chose Riker to lead an assault team on the Enterprise, Picard knew that it was their chance to get Matthew aboard the ship. Riker recognized the same opportunity and assigned Matthew to the team. Will practically dragged Matthew to the equipment area, Matthew protesting the entire time. “Look, Riker, I won’t be of any use in about an hour. I’ll be a liability and Baran will kill us all if we fail.”

“It won’t take us that long. If it takes us more than fifteen minutes, we’ll all be dead.”

“You don’t understand! I won’t be able to complete this mission.”

Riker thrust a phaser rifle into the boy’s arms. “You will. You have my word that it won’t take more than fifteen minutes.”

“How the hell am I supposed to be able to take your word? You’re a traitor and a coward, leading an assault on your own ship that you abandoned because you wouldn’t face a court martial. You’re more pirate than I am, you did all of this of your own choosing.”

Riker pushed Matthew up against the nearest bulkhead, grasping him by his shirt collar. “You will do as I say or I will kill you myself,” he said, then let the boy go and picked up his own phaser rifle. He spoke to the entire team, “Get to the transporter room.”

With the threat of being killed, Matthew didn’t offer up any more argument. They transported to the shuttle bay of the bigger ship. Lt. Worf and another security officer were there. Riker shot the other officer and leveled his phaser at Worf. “Don’t,” he said.

Picard began to search the inside of the shuttle with Matthew as Narik searched the outside.

Riker commanded one of the mercenaries to watch the shuttlebay door. Picard and Matthew exited the shuttle. “It’s not in here,” Picard reported to Riker. He turned to Worf. “Where’s the artifact?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Worf replied.

“Where’s the Klingon pilot?” Riker asked. Picard saw Riker give Worf a look to communicate it was safe to tell him.

“He is in the Observation Lounge with Data and Troi,” Worf replied.

“How far is that?” Matthew asked Riker.

“It’s twelve decks away,” Riker replied.

Matthew frowned. “We can’t just waltz right up there and take the artifact. The ship’s security will stop us.”

Riker backhanded the boy, sending him crashing to the ground and skidding to a stop in front of Worf. “That will teach you to keep your mouth shut,” Riker snapped. “We’ll transport up. Worf will be too busy with the boy to stop us.” The remaining four members of the group entered the shuttle and transported to the observation lounge. Despite the coming trials, Picard felt relief that his son was staying aboard the Enterprise, even if Matthew had no idea why.

***

Matthew’s hand went to his face, stung and shocked at what had just occurred. He’d been betrayed by the traitor and handed over the the enemy. He had to escape. As the rest of his team boarded the shuttle, Matthew got to his feet and took a step forward. Worf tackled him from behind, pinning him to the ground. Matthew struggled. This Klingon was a lot smaller than the Nausicaan he’d fought weeks ago. He could get out of this, he had to. Matthew brought his legs up and locked the Klingon in them. Then he twisted and rolled to break the Klingon’s grasp. But the Klingon wouldn’t yield. Instead, Worf grabbed both of Matthew’s arms and twisted them painfully behind his back.

Matthew grimaced, he hadn’t been pinned like that in a long time. He also knew he couldn’t get out of it.

“I advise you to stop struggling,” the Klingon said in a deep voice.

Matthew couldn’t argue with that and stopped.

The Klingon hauled him to his feet and escorted a sullen Matthew to the brig.

Riker found him there half an hour later. The boy was pacing the length of his cell, steadying a glare at the guard. As soon as he saw Riker, he began shouting at him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You double-crossed us, didn’t you? What kind of person are you? This is absolute bullshit.”

Riker scratched his head. He’d known the boy would be angry, but didn’t think he’d be quite this angry. He wanted to talk to Matthew and calm him down before he went and talked to Dr. Crusher about the entire situation.

The boy continued. “You practically gave me to the Federation. Now I’ll be handed over to their authorities. Or maybe I’ll be extradited by the Klingons and spend the rest of my life on Rura Penthe. All while you get off without any sort of punishment for what you did.”

Riker finally found words. “Look, Matthew, this isn’t what it seems. There’s an explanation for this that won’t land you in trouble.”

Matthew crossed his arms. “I don’t believe you.”

“You have to, because I’m telling you the truth.” Riker stopped. Matthew’s hands had gone to his ears to cover them. Will had no idea how to react. He never would’ve thought this kid to use tactics employed by little children. “Stop that. Covering your ears isn’t going to stop me from talking.”

Riker realized something was wrong. Matthew’s face had contorted into a mask of pain and he’s started to sink to his knees. “What’s wrong?” Riker shouted.

Matthew collapsed to the floor, tears rolling down his face, and curled into a fetal position. Riker turned to the guard. “Get that forcefield down,” he ordered.

As the field went down, Riker ran into the cell. He knelt down next to the boy. “What’s wrong?” he asked again.

“Stop!” Matthew shouted. Then he cried out in pain and passed out.

Riker hit his communicator. “Riker to transporter room. Two to beam directly to Sickbay.”

The medical staff rushed into action as they materialized. Dr. Selar called for Dr. Crusher to report to Sickbay for a medical emergency. Riker and two of the nurses lifted Matthew onto a biobed. As they positioned him, Beverly Crusher came through the doors at a fast pace. “What happened?” she asked, pulling out a medical tricorder.

“This is the mercenary that Worf captured during the raid. He collapsed in the brig. He was holding his ears when he fell, obviously in a lot of pain.”

The doctor grabbed a hypospray and administered it to the boy. “That will sedate him until we can figure out what’s wrong.”

Riker realized she didn’t know. And if Matthew’s eyes were closed, she might not see it as quickly and easily as Captain Picard had. “Doctor, can I talk to you in your office? I can give you more information.”

She nodded. “Of course.”

They entered her office and Riker plunked himself in one of the chairs in front of her desk. She sat on her desk and crossed her arms. “What’s going on? Data gave me the rundown on how you and the captain arranged for your ‘death’ so you would be able to stay here and Jean-Luc could mutiny on the mercenary ship. Data mentioned a prisoner had been taken, but he didn’t say that it was a child. Will, what were you thinking? Ordering a child to be held in the brig?”

“Data ordered that,” Will said. “I was still incapacitated. I was going down there to get him out.”

“Tell me about this boy. What was he doing on that ship?”

Riker fidgeted for a second, not knowing how to explain to one of his friends that the boy laying on the bed outside was her lost son. He went slowly. “His name is Matthew. He was a reluctant part of the crew of the mercenary ship. The captain of that ship kept control of everyone through pain, as you found out. I don’t know much about him, except that he’s sixteen and human.”

Riker saw the worry in Beverly’s eyes, a worry he’d seen in Picard’s eyes on the mercenary ship. One entirely separate from the situation with the ship and the mercenaries and whatever artifact was being assembled as a weapon. A worry about hoping for the best and fearing it to be false. He sighed. “Captain Picard thinks that he is your son.”

For a moment, Beverly didn’t move. Then she practically flew to the window of her office and looked out at the biobed, studying the boy and his features. “Will, what color are his eyes?”

“Gray.”

“Did the captain–”

He interrupted her so she wouldn’t have to ask the entire question. “He explained everything to me. I also agree with him. Beverly, I’ve seen him when he’s awake. He’s intelligent, well spoken, stubborn, and has a hell of a temper. When he gets an idea that he won’t change, he gets this look on his face, the same look the captain gets when he’d made a decision and isn’t going to change his mind. He has his father’s eyes.”

“I know,” Beverly whispered. She turned to him, all business. “Will, tell me exactly what happened.”

“When I walked in, he started shouting at me. He feels that I betrayed him and is quite pissed about it. I was trying to explain, and in the middle of my explanation, he covers his ears. So I think he’s being childish, which is entirely out of character for him. He can be very serious and hasn’t given any impression that he’d act childish. I kept talking and he fell to the floor, curled up. His face was twisted by the pain he was in, I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone in more pain. I got the guard to let the forcefield down and ran to him. I asked him what was wrong and he shouted at me to stop. Then he passed out.”

“I know what’s wrong,” she said, and ran out the door.

She took a hypo and got a sample of Matthew’s blood. She put it in the reader and waited at the display for the results. The DNA strands appeared on the screen. “It’s Matthieu,” Beverly said.

Riker knew from the tone that she meant her lost son. That Matthew the young mercenary was also Matthieu Picard, the three year old abducted from Pacifica.

The doctor was studying the DNA strand more closely. “It’s Shalaft’s syndrome,” she said.

“What?” asked Riker. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s very rare. It’s genetic. It usually manifests itself in early childhood and causes an acute hypersensitivity to sound. A mere whisper can cause untold amounts of pain. When he shouted at you, it must have overloaded his brain, causing him to lose consciousness. Sort of an auto shutdown sequence. There’s a couple ways to treat this. Once is a daily medicine to control the symptoms and keep the patient’s hearing normal. The other is a permanent fix but I doubt a mercenary ship would have had access to the technique.”

“Can you fix it?”

Beverly nodded. “It’s actually a fairly easy procedure.”

“Are you sure that you should do it?”

“Will,” she said in a warning tone.

“Okay,” he said. “But I am going to get Deanna down here.”

The doctor sighed. “Fair enough.”

Riker went into the doctor’s office as she ordered her team into action. He tapped the communications panel. “Riker to Counselor Troi.”

“Troi here.”

“Deanna, I need you to come down to Sickbay.”

“On my way.”

Riker watched through the window as Beverly stood over her son’s bed. He could see her fighting the emotions that had to be rolling through her right now. She traced the contours of the boy’s face, smoothed out the hair on his head. Deanna walked through the sickbay doors. Dr. Crusher didn’t notice her. Riker waved Troi over. “What’s going on?” she asked him.

“I take it you’ve read Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard’s files in their entirety.”

She gave him a puzzled look. “Yes, why?”

Riker tossed his head in the direction of the occupied bed. “The boy on the bed, the one Worf captured from the mercenary ship…Dr. Crusher did a DNA scan. It’s Matthieu Picard.”

Deanna’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God,” she said.

“I know,” he replied. “I know.”

***

Dr. Crusher refused to leave her son’s bedside. They had completed the operation without any difficulties. He was asleep and she would stay there until he woke up. As he slept, she studied him, studied the features of her son that she hadn’t seen since he was three. The lines that had only been hinted to when he was a baby had become fully realized in his adolescence. Before her was a young man, gone was the softness of a small child. She felt like she was looking at sixteen year old Jean-Luc, the same facial structure, same dimpled chin, same body structure, same ears. She knew that when he opened his eyes, it would be more of the same. The differences came out in his nose and hair. His nose was smaller than his father’s, his hair the same reddish blond he’d had as a baby. Beverly had been convinced it would turn to a light brown as he got older, as many Picards had blond hair as children that turned brown as they entered adolescence. Jean-Luc’s nephew René had that hair, the latest pictures sent by his mother Marie had shown the boy’s hair had begun to turn chestnut. But Matthieu’s hair hadn’t changed color. Instead, he’d kept the color inherited from his Howard side.

“How are you feeling?” Deanna Troi asked from beside her.

“I don’t know,” Beverly replied. “Everything. I’m thrilled, I’d given up hope that I’d ever see him again and thought that he was truly gone, perhaps even dead. And here he is, and I realize I missed thirteen years of his life. And I hate that.”

“You aren’t to blame.”

“Am I? If I had kept a better eye on him, if we had kept a better eye on him, but we didn’t even notice until he was already gone.”

Deanna put her hand on Beverly’s shoulder and squeezed it. “You aren’t to blame. You’ve gone over this so many times, both you and the captain.” She paused. “Will said that Matthew didn’t recognize the captain when he was on the ship.”

“He was only three. He might not even remember us.”

“That’s what I was going to say. I didn’t want you to be taken by surprise if he doesn’t recognize you. That if he doesn’t, it isn’t that he rejects you, it’s because his entire world has been turned upside down again and it will take some time to fix. Perhaps being on the ship with you and his father will bring back memories of having parents.”

“I hope.”

Sickbay’s doors opened and Will walked through. He came over to where the women sat. “I wanted to let you know that the situation with the mercenary ship is under control. The mercenaries on the surface of Vulcan were captured, as were the ones left on the ship. Federation Security on Vulcan has taken them into custody. Captain Picard is cleaning up and he said he will be down here shortly.”

The doors opened again and Captain Picard entered the room.

Without missing a beat, Will said, “And apparently he meant it when he said shortly. I’ll be on the bridge,” he told the captain, and took his leave.

Beverly got to her feet. “Jean-Luc,” she said, and found that she couldn’t say anything else, everything threatened to spill out. Picard recognized this and took her into his arms and held her.

“I know,” he said into her hair.

The rest of the medical staff suddenly found things to do in the other rooms of Sickbay. Deanna kept her seat next to Matthew and held his hand, allowing the doctor and the captain privacy.

“He doesn’t know who I am anymore,” Picard said, confirming what Deanna had told her minutes before. “But in a conversation on the mercenary ship, he told me that he used to dream about his parents and all he could remember now is that his mother had red hair.”

His words unlocked the tears she’d held at bay for hours. They fell onto the captain’s uniform, relics of joy and sorrow. She collected herself and looked up at Jean-Luc. Tears had fallen on his cheeks as well. “Let’s go to my office so my staff won’t feel so intrusive.”

He followed her. She couldn’t let go of his hand. She needed him and his strength, as she knew he needed hers. They sat down in two of her chairs. “He was on Cardassia,” he said. “The Pacifica Security was right. He’d been abducted and taken and treated like a slave.”

The pain that laced his words were mirrored in Beverly’s. “How did he end up on that ship?”

“The captain before the current one, he apparently won a bet with the Cardassian that had Matthieu, and he was given as payment.” Picard spit the word payment out as if it were dirty. “He was twelve. He wouldn’t say what happened on Cardassia. Baran…Baran used Matthieu’s Shalaft’s Syndrome to control him. He’d keep the medication from him whenever he made Baran angry. The pain…the pain he must have gone through, it was nothing like the transponder pain. It’s so much worse, I remember from when I was a child.” He paused. “His medication, he told me on the ship that Baran had withheld the last dose and it would wear off within an hour of the team’s departure for the Enterprise.”

“He’s okay, Jean-Luc. Will found him in the brig and it wore off as Will was talking to him. Once he was up here, we were able to fix it permanently. He won’t have that pain anymore.”

The captain’s face grew dark. “But he’ll have other pain.” He squeezed her hand. “I couldn’t protect him. The things they must have done to him.”

“We have to…” she stopped, searching for the words. “He’s safe now.” She couldn’t think of the right words and changed the subject instead. “We should change quarters.”

“Pardon?” he said.

“He can’t live with just one of us, not right now. He needs us both. We all need each other. There’s open quarters that have three bedrooms, we should have the crew move everything from both our quarters into there.”

The captain nodded. “Yes, yes, of course.” He stood up to move to the computer terminal and write orders to be carried out immediately.

Beverly stood with him, keeping his hand in hers. This made him turn. “You’ll have to let me go,” he said. “Or walk over here with me.”

She moved close to him and kissed him softly. Then she pulled away, her hands on his cheeks. “I need you,” she said, surprised by her own actions.

He leaned in and kissed her as she had him, then wrapped his arms around her again. “You have me,” he whispered in her ear. “You always have.”

After a few moments, he let go and went to the desk, transmitted the orders and contacted Will to have them carried out immediately. Then they walked out of the office to go and sit with their son.

*

Matthieu’s eyes opened slowly. When she saw them, Beverly knew exactly what Will hadn’t quite been able to communicate using words. She recognized the eyes immediately, the eyes she’d looked at minutes after he’d been born. If she had seen his eyes when he was first brought in, she wouldn’t have needed the DNA scan to prove who he was. “This is a dream,” Matthieu whispered. “You can’t be real.”

“It’s no dream,” she told him.

“It has to be. I was captured by the Enterprise and in the brig and then the attack came. I must be dreaming, because whenever I was sick, I dreamed of you. I saw you and somehow I felt comforted. So you can’t be real. Gul Ducet said my parents were dead. All I have left are memories that fade with every passing day. You’re one of those memories.”

“You’re awake, Matthieu,” she said, taking his hand. “I’m real. I didn’t die. Your father didn’t die. You were taken away from us when you were three.”

The boy closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the fatigue had left them. He sat up. “I don’t remember. I don’t know who you are,” he said to Beverly. His eyes went to the captain, standing behind the doctor. “And I know your real name isn’t Galen.” Sickbay’s doors opened and Riker strode in, holding a PADD for the captain to read over since he hadn’t been on the ship for weeks and the bridge for hours since he’d returned.

Matthieu noticed immediately and was off the bed and on his feet instantly. “You!” he said. “Traitor! It’s your fault that I was captured.” As he spoke, Matthieu vaulted over the biobed between himself and Riker. “You should be going to Rura Penthe, not me.” The boy managed to land a well placed uppercut on the first officer, caught completely off guard. Riker dropped the pad and went into a defensive stance.

Medical staff came running in at the commotion. Dr. Selar called for Security. Matthieu kept coming at Riker and Riker did his best to fend off the boy without hurting him. Beverly snatched a sedative hypospray from a supply drawer and waited for a moment where she could catch Matthieu before he hurt himself or the first officer. Picard moved in to protect both Riker and Matthieu. The boy noticed Picard’s movements. “And you! Were you an agent on the ship and decided that I was the one to be captured? It was a stupid idea, I wasn’t the important one. You should’ve gone after Tallera, she wasn’t a Romulan, she was a Vulcan.” Matthieu’s feet kept him out of the range of both of the men as they tried to contain him.

“There’s an explanation,” Picard said. “All this isn’t what you think. You aren’t going to be prosecuted.”

“That’s just another lie,” Matthieu said, backing towards the door. “You’re all lying to me, I don’t believe any of you.”

Lt. Worf chose that moment to burst into Sickbay with his Security team. Worf scanned the situation and took an immediate course of action. He executed a perfect tackle and brought Matthieu to the floor. As soon as they hit the deck, the boy had started to reverse the hold and free himself from the Klingon’s grasp. Riker and Picard rushed over and helped Worf hold the boy. Beverly came over, hypospray in hand. “I’m sorry,” she said to Matthieu and administered the spray. Within seconds, the boy went limp. The medical staff hoisted the boy into a biobed and activated restraints for when he would wake up.

The three men straightened their uniforms and caught their breath. “He is a warrior,” Worf said.

Riker rubbed his jaw. “And he has one hell of a right hook.” He turned to the captain. “I think you have your work cut out for you, sir.”

Picard nodded in agreement. “Unfortunately, I’d have to agree, Number One. He doesn’t remember who we are and instead he thinks we’re all enemies out to send him to the Klingons for prosecution.”

Worf drew himself up to his full height. “Captain, Klingons to not prosecute minors who were coerced into crimes.”

“I know that, Mister Worf, but Matthieu does not. And he doesn’t seem inclined to rational discourse at the moment in order for us to explain it to him. Apparently the sight of either Commander Riker or me causes him to be incredibly angry and perhaps violent.”

“A self defense mechanism,” Worf said.

“Explain,” Picard commanded.

“From what Commander Riker has told me, the mercenary ship seemed a lot like a Klingon ship. If you have been betrayed by someone on your ship, you must make sure they cannot do it again. I do not believe he sees you as a traitor, Captain, but as a threat and unreliable in regards to the truth. As for Commander Riker, the boy will continue to either confront him with his betrayal or he will attempt to escape this ship to get away from those whom he cannot trust.” The Klingon paused. “Captain, he must be kept under guard. He is a threat.”

Dr. Crusher couldn’t comprehend that her son would be a threat to the ship or the people aboard it. “Worf, do you really think that’s necessary? He’s only a boy.”

Worf shook his head. “Doctor, your son is a warrior. As you saw, he is not easily stopped and I do not want to take the chance that Security will not be able to respond in time if this happens again.”

“He’s also very good with ships and piloting. Given a chance, he could easily get to a shuttle and off the ship before anyone noticed,” Riker added. “Look, I don’t think he’d truly hurt anyone unless forced to. More than likely, he’ll attack me as a diversion and attempt to escape from the ship.”

Picard sighed. “I saw him fight a Nausicaan and win on Dessica II. Baran tended to use him as some sort of prizefighter. He’d bet with others that Matthieu could take whoever they could offer up and then make Matthieu fight. That’s what happened on Dessica II, and I highly doubt it was the first time.” He addressed Worf. “Mr. Worf, I want you to assign a security detail to Matthieu until this situation is brought under control. Will–.”

“Captain,” Worf interrupted.

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“I request to assign myself to guard Matthieu. While my officers are well trained in hand to hand combat, from what I have witnessed and what you report about the boy, I am not sure that anyone on this ship, aside from myself and Commander Data, could subdue him in an emergency.”

Picard seemed to consider this information for a moment, then he gave a scant nod. “I see your point. Choose a stand-in for you at tactical while you are on this detail.”

“Yes, sir,” Worf replied. “Doctor, may I use your office?”

Beverly had been lost in thought as she listened. “What? Oh, yes, go ahead.” She waved vaguely in the direction of her office.

“Will,” the captain spoke to his first officer again. “What was it that brought you down here in the first place?”

Riker had since retrieved the PADD from the deck. “We are to pick up a delegation of the Cairn in two days in order for them to continue their application process to be admitted to the Federation. They’re a race that previously had no knowledge of verbal communication. They had only communicated with one another by telepathy. Their interpreter and teacher of verbal communication will be accompanying them. She’s…” Riker paused for effect. “An old friend.”

Picard raised an eyebrow. “An old friend?”

Riker grinned. “It’s Lwaxana Troi.”

The captain frowned. “Well. That adds an interesting mix. Number One, I want you to stay out of Matthieu’s way so that he doesn’t have anymore outbursts like this. While we’re underway to pick up the Cairn, you’ll have the bridge so that I can concentrate on other areas.”

The commander nodded. “Of course, sir. I understand.”

“Once things are under control, we’ll work on Matthieu not trying to assault you whenever he sees you.”

“I have full confidence, Captain. I’ll be on the bridge.” Riker exited.

Beverly came out of her reverie when she felt Picard’s hand on her arm. “Beverly?” he said.

“I’m fine,” she replied. “I mean, as fine as you could expect. But I think we’ll need someone neutral to help us gain Matthieu’s trust. I can’t imagine he can even leave Sickbay until he’s able to do that. All he’ll do is try to escape.” She fought her emotions. “What if he doesn’t remember us at all?”

Picard laid his hands on her shoulders in reassurance. “He does. But I understand some of what’s going on because of what happened to me on Minos Korva. You have to hide those memories that make you happy, because if your tormentor sees them, he’ll twist them and take them away, and you won’t have any of them left. He’s been sitting on them for so long that it’s a reflex by now. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it. And he can’t let them out until he feels completely safe, like he’s at home.”

“He hasn’t had a home in a long time.”

“And he hasn’t felt safe, either. We’ll get through this. We have to.”

“I know,” she said. She tapped her communicator. “Crusher to Troi.”

“Troi here.”

“Deanna, could you report to Sickbay? We need you here.”

“On my way.”

It was only moments until the door opened. “I was in my office,” Troi explained. Her office was right next to Sickbay. “Commander Riker had just finished briefing me on what happened.” She gave them both significant looks. “I know what needs to be done. The two of you need to go back to your quarters, your new quarters, and finish arranging things. I can’t imagine the moving crew did it properly. Make your quarters a home, as it had been before. You need to pull up pictures, videos, anything from your time with Matthieu before he was abducted. Beverly, is it safe for Matthieu to be woken?”

“Yes. The sedative was only to keep him from harm.”

“Good. Once you’ve gone, I’ll have Dr. Selar wake him up and I’ll speak with him. Perhaps someone he hasn’t met will be someone he can listen to and understand. It’s a mess for him right now, as it is for both of you. Now go. He’ll be okay.”

Beverly took the captain’s hand as they left Sickbay.

Deanna watched them go, then turned to face Lt. Worf. “As for you, I need you to stay in the background.”

“Of course.”

Troi motioned to Selar as she walked over to Matthieu’s bed. Selar administered the sedative’s antidote and walked away. The counselor watched as Matthieu’s eyes opened. He started sitting up and was stopped by the restraint field. “You’ve restrained me,” he said.

“For your own safety,” Troi replied. “I’m Deanna Troi, the ship’s counselor.”

Matthieu’s head fell back on the pillow. “And I have no idea who I am.” His gaze flicked over to Worf standing against the wall next to the door. “And I’m guessing he’s here because of me.”

“Yes. Again, for your safety. I thought we could have a talk. I sense you’re very upset and confused.”

The boy raised an eyebrow. “Betazoid?”

“Half. An empath, not a telepath.”

“I don’t like talking while lying down and restrained. If I give you my word that I won’t try to hurt anyone or escape, can I sit up?”

Deanna considered this. She sensed no duplicity in him, he was telling the truth. Her trusting him would go a long way to him being able to trust her. “If you give me your word, we can even leave Sickbay and talk in my office. Lt. Worf will remain just outside my office door. He’s been ordered to guard you until further notice, so I can’t make any deals about that.”

The boy nodded. “Okay. You have my word.”

Troi motioned to a tech to shut off the field. Matthieu sat up slowly, rubbing the side of his head. He followed Deanna out into the corridor and into her office. “Sit anywhere you like,” she said.

Matthieu chose the chair closest to the door. His choice didn’t escape Deanna. “Habit?” she asked.

“What?”

“Your seat, you chose the one closest to the door.”

He nodded. “Yeah, habit, I guess. I never thought about it.” He didn’t allow his body to relax. Instead, he studied the room.

“In Sickbay,” Deanna said, “You said that you have no idea who you are. Do you think you could tell me what you do know?”

“I’m on the Enterprise,” he said slowly. “Before that, I was on a mercenary ship. I’ve never been to school, but I’ve read a lot, and am able to pick up languages fairly easily, I speak several. I’ve been trained in combat by various members of the crew as they passed through in service to the ship. A couple Klingons, a Romulan, a human. Before I was on the ship, I was on Cardassia. A slave.” He paused, his voice getting softer as he spoke. “I’m human. I’m one point eight meters tall. I weigh seventy four kilos. I have reddish hair and gray eyes.” His voice became almost a whisper. “And I know my first name is Matthieu.” His eyes went vacant.

“Has it always been Matthieu?”

He didn’t answer. She sense many more emotions from him than she had before. The anger had left, replaced by turmoil, sadness, fear. “What are you afraid of?” she asked.

“That this is real,” he said, still vacant.

“And what happens if it is?”

Matthieu stood up, shoving the chair backwards. “It can’t be!” he shouted. “This is another trick!” A trinket from a table had found its way into his hand. He threw it across the room into the window, where it shattered against the transparent aluminum and dropped in a glittering rain to the floor.

Immediately, Counselor Troi’s communicator beeped. “Worf to Counselor Troi. Do you need me to come in?”

She tapped her communicator. “No. It’s fine. Stay outside.”

Matthieu had paced the length of the room and stood at the far end. “The Cardassians took me back, and now they’re just showing me again what I lost, what I can never have. Why can’t you just beat me? It doesn’t hurt like this.”

Deanna felt the boy’s emotions roll over her and knew that he felt it tenfold in his own mind. He’d been tortured like this, shown his parents as if he’d been brought back, only to have them ripped away, again and again.

“It can’t be real. If I believe it’s real, you’ll take it away.” In one sentence, Matthieu had gone from a shout to a desperate whisper. The strength from his body had disappeared, drained.

“I promise you it’s real,” Troi said.

“I wish I could believe you.”

“You’re on a Federation ship. You’re nowhere near any Cardassians. They can’t hurt you anymore. This is real. You’re home.”

Matthieu looked stricken. He practically fell into the nearest chair. Deanna went and sat across from him, sensing the first flicker of hope in his mind. Until then, she hadn’t been entirely sure that Matthieu had any hope left. “I want to believe you,” he said.

“Let yourself believe what you hope is true and see what happens.”

They sat in silence. Minutes passed. Minutes turned to an hour. Deanna kept quiet, sensing every emotion the boy went over in his head. He had to be given as much time as anyone was willing to allow.

Finally, Matthieu broke the silence, staring outside the window at the passing stars. “It was hot. I didn’t want to go swimming, the water was too salty, so my brother went by himself. Mom and Dad were talking, I didn’t want to interrupt. So I walked down the beach, I was looking for tidepools. I finally found one behind a dune.” A slight smile was on his face yet his eyes held back tears. Deanna realized he was telling her what happened the day he disappeared. The boy continued quietly. “I was so excited, I knew Mom and Dad would like it. I turned around to run back.” His voice cracked. “But I never made it. Someone grabbed me from behind and put me to sleep. When I woke up, everything was gone. Everything.” Tears had managed to escape and he wiped them roughly off his face, valiantly maintaining control, much as his parents tended to do. He took a couple calming breaths and looked directly at the counselor. “I never told them that, no matter what they did to me, I never told them what I remembered. So I told you. And if you were them, I wouldn’t still be here right now.”

She sensed it immediately. He believed it was true.

“I’m sorry about your…” He trailed off and looked over where the remains of her trinket lay. “What was it?”

She laughed. “Don’t worry about it. It’s a candy dish a friend gave to me and I hated it. I think I kept it here hoping someone would break it.”

“I remember that people were trying to tell me what was really going on here, with this ship and the ship I was on before, and with Riker and Galen, who isn’t really Galen.”

“Do you know who he is?”

“My father…He was a Starfleet captain. Picard. It’s him. I mean, he’s him. I remember, I remember his face. How his eyes used to laugh when I did something that Mom tried to scold me for but couldn’t bring herself to finish because she’d start laughing. Then she’d blame him and he would try to look sorry, but his eyes always told the truth. And Mom had hair like fire. She was a doctor, always taking care of people…that was her. She’s the doctor that woke me up and I told her she wasn’t real.”

Deanna felt guilt flood into Matthieu.

“And Dad, I said awful things to him, both of them. They must hate me.”

“Far from it.”

“How do you–.” He stopped. “That’s right, you’re an empath.” He tapped mindlessly on the arm of the chair. “Who is Commander Riker, really? Is he the traitor that I saw, or was there something else?”

Troi sighed. “Commander Riker is the first officer on this ship. He’s actually an excellent, well respected officer. He and the captain used him being a rogue officer as a cover to have Riker gain Baran’s trust. And it worked. The captain had figured out at some point when he was on the mercenary ship that you were his lost son. He told Will that if he had any chance to get you aboard the Enterprise, he had to make sure you stayed.”

“That’s why he hit me in the cargo bay. So that Worf would capture me and keep me on the ship. And it had to look real to the others.”

“Yes.”

“What ended up happening to the ship and the crew?”

“Tallera went down to Vulcan with your father and two other members of the crew. I don’t know their names. But Tallera assembled the Stone of Gal and used it to kill the crew members. The captain knew how to keep the stone from killing and Tallera wasn’t able to kill him or the Enterprise crew members who beamed down to intercept them. The remaining crew members have been taken into custody by Vulcan security and the ship impounded.”

Fear shivered through him. “What will happen to me?”

“You’ll stay here with your parents. Neither the Federation nor the Klingon Empire have pressed any charges against you. You’re a minor and you were coerced. You never committed a crime.”

Relief. He said nothing.

“Do you want to see your parents?”

“I think so.”

“I’ll take you to your quarters.”