By Carol Sandford


Chapter 03


"What do we know about this planet, Mr. Data?"

"Captain, at present, current information indicates that that the planet is comprised entirely of volatile tectonic plates. This structure is similar to many M-Class planets, differing only in the frequency at which the plates become active. Most planets which are constructed similarly emit heated gasses and lava floes."

"However, in this instance, the entire planet is enveloped in snow and ice. The planet has unusual geothermal properties sir. By which the core is significantly lower in temperature than would be considered normal. It is this factor that has enabled the surface to remain covered by snow and ice for millennia regardless of the proximity of a yellow dwarf star. It is conceivable that this planet is capable of sustaining life, however the Thorians will require considerable assistance from the federation in constructing shelters and learning the technology necessary for the colonists to grow food."

Picard thanked Data for his information and turned to the young Geo-physicist. "The Enterprise has been assigned to collect and analyze data on this planet to determine whether or not it can indeed sustain life. As Data mentioned briefly, a race of people known as the Thorians are in need of a new home planet, as their own world has become almost uninhabitable due to near constant geophysical and geothermal activity. They do however, wish to stay in this particular sector."

"Since this planet is the only one that can be classed as habitable, the Thorians are willing to begin training for survival in such conditions and will accept relocation to this planet despite its hostile weather. Most importantly, whether or not the Thorians are willing, Starfleet wished us to make certain that the planet’s geophysical status is stable before they will allow them to be relocated.”

He turned to look at Stephanie Carter, “That’s where you’re expertise will be invaluable. Ms. Carter. What we need is your professional knowledge and honest opinion as to whether the Thorians could indeed have any sort of future there"

Stephanie nodded, "Understood. Captain. I have already begun my analysis based on the information that Star Fleet relayed to me on Earth. According to present scans, there are no life forms at all on this planet, and virtually no indigenous vegetation. However, I understand that the Thorians will get some help from the Federation, if they decide to settle on the planet. I brought along several probes designed to go into the crust to test just how volatile the plates are. We should have adequate results within 10 days."

At this point Will leaned forward and caught Stephanie’s attention. "Are you certain that ten days is enough time. Stephanie?

Stephy managed to keep her smile neutral even as her stomach flipped. Will’s deep, resonant voice surrounded her. "Nothing’s 100% certain. Commander, but the probes are designed to relay data that clearly define us what has been happening underground within the last million years, and what happens underground is the same as what happens on the surface. Everything is molded from what pours from the soul, it's what makes and shapes."

Deanna watched and listened as Stephanie spoke, noting the way her eyes never left Will's. That last statement was born from her own feelings for Will, rather than a professional explanation.

Deanna cleared her throat quietly and ended the awkwardness of the moment. "How will they feed themselves? They’ll be unable to grow crops, or breed livestock on land that is covered by snow all year round."

Picard provided the answer to her question, not Stephanie as she’d hoped. "Good question. Counselor. Starfleet will send teams of terraforming engineers to clear the land and vast solar paneled buildings will be erected. Everything, including plants and animals will be cultivated or bred within these structures. It will be very much like living in a greenhouse. Although it is a mammoth undertaking, it will be well worth the effort. All of this is, of course, providing the planet’s core is stable. That, ladies and gentlemen is what we are here to determine."

He got to his feet. “Any further questions?” When no one responded, Picard rubbed his hands together.” Very well. We will reach orbit tomorrow morning, so until then, I suggest you all get some rest. The away team will meet in transporter room three at 0900 hours. Dismissed"

As the group stepped from the observation lounge, Will felt a hand slip under his arm, even without looking, he knew it was Stephy. "Commander, can we meet for dinner, catch up on old times?"

Will caught Deanna's laughing eyes, and frowned slightly. What was that all about? he wondered.

Stephy tugged on his arm again... “Well, do we have a date?”

Will patted her hand, and smiled down at her. He missed the subtle intake of breath, Deanna didn’t. “Of course. Tell you what, I'm going to change into civvies, and I'll pick you up in say, an hour?"

Stephy grinned and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Great! I look forward to it. See you then."

Will watched her walk from him and the grin fell away as another deep seated emotion came to the surface. Concern, that Stephanie’s attentions were something more than just the pleasure of reuniting with an old friend. He smiled and waved when she turned and looked back over her shoulder. Then he turned to Deanna.

From the doorway, Stephanie’s breath shuddered as the warmth of that smile spread through her. He wanted to have dinner alone with her. It was too perfect, and had been so easy. She walked across the Bridge on a cloud of sensation. How would she get through the next hour?


Stephanie was ready and waiting half an hour before Will was scheduled to collect her. Half the contents of her wardrobe lay across the surface of her bed, the result of a mad rush to choose the right outfit. In the end she decided on a simple but stunning, dress.

Long, slender and strapless, it was a figure-hugging creation, split to mid thigh and designed for impact. The rich, burnt orange color shimmered between dark brown and fiery orange with every tiny movement, and suited her to perfection. A delicate make-up and amber drop earrings that just brushed her shoulders, finished it off. This should knock his socks off! Stephanie told herself while she looked in the mirror, brushing nonexistent wrinkles from her torso.

Ten minutes later, she wasn’t disappointed when the doors parted to admit Will. "Wow! You look spectacular, Stephy. But you might feel uncomfortable in Ten Forward."

Stephanie’s smile brightened and her eyes glittered. “Well then I guess we’ll just have to go to a fancy restaurant. I know that the holodecks here on the Enterprise could conjure up a girl’s fantasy. This is a special reunion after all. It’s been years, so we should make it special.”

Will looked closely at her, and found her expression sweet and guileless. What harm could it do? One dinner on the holodeck couldn’t possibly cause problems. He’d have dinner with Stephy and then a nightcap with Deanna. Maybe she’s be able to sort out the confusing signals he’d been getting from Stephy. She’ll probably laugh at me.

“Alright, Stephy, how about Dominic’s?”

“Really! You can do that?” She nearly squealed with happiness. This is what she hoped for, and as her eyes swept over Will she was glad she had made the effort to dress formally. Will's overly long legs were clad in deep blue-black pants, and his shirt a lighter blue that matched his eyes. Stephanie's breath shuddered in her throat once more as she lost herself in that intense blue gaze.

“Well, let’s get going. I’m starving.” Will said laughing as he raked a hand through his hair. He felt uncomfortable all of a sudden, as though this dinner was something illicit. I’m reading way too much into this. I mean, this is just Stephy.

Will cleared his throat and turned back to his companion. She looked up at him with her emerald eyes sparkling with excitement. God, she looks she wants to eat me for dinner. Cut it out Riker and take the kid to dinner. Linking her arm within his, Will grinned and led Stephy to the turbolift.

"Deck 11"

"Oooh, what’s on deck 11, Will?"

"The holosuites, what type of food do you like, the choice is yours"

It didn't take long for Stephy to decide. "Cantonese."

Will was surprised. "Oh, then I guess Dominic’s is out. This will be a first, where on Earth did you try Cantonese?"

"Oh, at the academy, groups of us used to go all over San Francisco trying out every type of food and especially most of the alcohol to go with it!" She grinned up at him with a smile full of mischief.

Will found he had to laugh aloud at the expression on Stephanie's face. He remembered well the academy parties where the primary goal of the night was to consume as much alcohol as possible, and bed the most women. Will couldn’t recall spending one night alone in his entire time at Star Fleet academy.


"So, Stephy, tell me what you've been up to in the last eight years."

Once settled into a secluded booth, their meals ordered Will and Stephanie sat back to enjoy the quiet confines of the replica Chinese restaurant. By the time the aromatic food started to arrive, they were chatting, like old, lost friends.

Stephanie popped a crispy prawn cracker into her mouth before resting her head in one hand to prop herself up on the table. "Well, let’s see. After dad's funeral, Star fleet brought in special arctic wildlife forces to exterminate the rest of the wild things. There aren’t any left now and I am not sorry. Those things killed my dad, Quinny, and in a round about way, they killed my mom."

Will gasped at the new found knowledge, "Your mom's dead, Stephy? I am so sorry. I wish I had been there for you, I really do"

Will reached for her hand as a comforting gesture. Stephanie studied their entwined hands as she temporarily lost herself to the long past memory. Her eyes glistened as she caught Will's steady, sympathetic gaze. Her smile was watery when she spoke. "I know, Will, really. But, it was alright; I had Quinny at the time. He was there for me when it hurt really bad."

Will frowned, Quinny?, Surely Stephanie wasn’t talking about Quinton Stone, but then logically she must be. Who else could it have been?

Will’s heart began to pound as an unfamiliar sensation pricked within him. He hated to ask, but had to know. "I take it you and Stone got it together then?”

Will watched as Stephanie failed to hide a small smile as an obviously private thought ran through her mind. She nodded. "Yeah, we did, we were close...for a while. But it didn’t last, it couldn’t. You know what he was like; a total oddball. But he was there for me and for mom, before she...before she died." Stephanie finished on a sigh, "Yeah, we were close."

Her words trailed off again until moments later her trembling voice quietly told Will something that he already instinctively knew. "They got him you too know, the wild things, they got him. I swear to this day, it was just how he wanted it."

Will found himself mesmerized by her voice as he realized that she was totally alone in the universe. Stephanie had no one; no family, no relatives, nobody. No, that wasn’t true. Stephy would always have a family. Him.

Will wasn’t quite sure when or how he got there, but moments later he found himself pulling Stephanie into his huge arms. Without speaking, he poured every ounce of compassion, warmth and love into his embrace. Stephanie took everything that he had to offer, and more.

For Stephanie, the room disappeared the instant that Will took her into his arms Everything that surrounded them, the tantalizing smells, the twangy, somber oriental music faded away. For her it was just the two of them locked in their own private world, healing the still raw, re-opened wounds, building a closeness that would see them through tough times ahead.


The couple left the holosuite soon afterwards and made their way to the observation lounge. Since neither of them felt like being with people, or even wanted other company for a while, Will offered her a tour around the Enterprise. Arm in arm, they entered the empty room and Will led her to the forward viewport. Stephanie stared in wonder at the stars as they whizzed past.

Will propped himself against the viewport's frame with his hands wedged in his pockets as he watched, and silently admired her. She’d matured into a beautiful young woman...and from the signals she’d been giving off, a dangerous one. He’d thought her lost in her memories until she spoke, but continued to stare entranced at the stars.

"After Quinny died, more than anything in the universe, I wished that we’d have had a baby, Will. I felt so lonely, so...abandoned. I would have given anything to have had someone to love and to cherish,"

"So, I left Paradise, I couldn’t stay there any longer. I had nothing to keep me there any longer. It was time to move on. I had a goal to achieve and I needed to leave to make it happen."

Her eyes briefly locked with his, but Will seemed so deeply immersed with her other news that he missed her last comment. She let it slide. Will listened without comment, his soft heart hurt for her more and more, with every word that fell from her lips.

"I didn't head straight for Earth when I left. I traveled a little. I guess it was my state of mind. I felt lost and I went from outpost to outpost trying to find something or someone that would make me feel whole again. I kept at it until eventually I ended up on a transport ship bound for Earth. If that ship hadn’t been going there, I don't honestly know where I would have ended up, but I guess I lucked out, and here I am, the rest is history as they say."

Will frowned openly, but tried to keep the accusation from his voice when he spoke his concerns. "You must have been very young to have been in a relationship with Stone?"

Stephanie smiled at the way Will's mind was working. "I was. I was seventeen when he died, six months after mom. I did tell you that I was mature for my age."

Will pushed himself away from the wall as the memory of Stephy coming on to him back when he was on Paradise, filled his thoughts. He found himself standing in the middle of the room looking at her as she stood framed by the viewport. His eyes swept down her body forcing his hands to go deeper into his pockets. "Damn it, Stephy!, you were only fifteen when I left. Stone was more than double your age, he should have known better. He was a Star fleet officer!"

Stephanie waited for Will to finish, then slowly made her way to stand barely inches away from him. Will found himself caught up in the spell of her as emerald eyes . If his life had depended upon it, Will could not have broken away from the magnetic force that had pulled her to him.

Stephanie made one more step forward that put her body against his. Her eyes fixed on his mouth willing it to lower to her own. Unable to resist the urge, her breathless whisper barely reached his ears before his lips touched. She closed her eyes and shut out reality, focusing only on what she felt.

"I am a woman, Will, and I want you, can't you see that?"

The kiss was feather light and tender. She let the tip of her tongue enter his mouth, but before he could respond, Stephanie stepped away from him. Will’s eyes remained closed. He groaned at the loss of her warmth against him. Stephy watched Will’s eyes open. His hand instinctively reached out to stop her leaving.

Stephanie’s eyes searched his, neither one had an answer to the question that went unspoken. Moments later, the deep rooted ache of a woman desperately in love with the only man who would ever satisfy her, walked out, leaving him standing alone in the middle of the observation lounge.

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