By Carol Sandford


Chapter 05


Will made his way into the transporter room at precisely 08.55 hours. As he tightened up the last cuff strap, he acknowledge the rest of the waiting away team. "Okay, people, listen up. Once the shuttle has landed, I don’t want anybody, and I mean anybody, going beyond the designated boundary without my direct say so."

Will’s eyes went to each and every member of his team making sure that heard and understood. Geordi nodded his silent agreement as he too double checked his hand equipment before stepping into the shuttle. Data was busy loading Stephanie’s heavy equipment into the shuttle’s cargo hold, checking off against the padd that it was all present and correct, but he turned and acknowledged with his customary and curt reply.

"Understood, sir."

Will approached the final member of the team who at first glance appeared to be ignoring him, but in reality was going through checklist with such concentration that Will had to lightly touch her arm to get her to acknowledge him.

"Miss Carter, that includes you, I might add. I need your assurance that you won’t disappear without telling me. I don’t intend losing anyone on this mission, and I won’t have any member of this team’s life jeopardized because someone decides to go walkabout, do I make my self clear?"

By the time Will had finished speaking, Stephanie was standing barely a foot away from him. Her height forced Will to look down onto her upturned face.

“Have no fear ’MR’. Riker, I have no plans on getting my ass planted in the ice like my parents. You have my solemn word that I will be a very, good girl."

Will gaped at her, too shocked to come with a scathing reproach for her bluntness. Stephy stuck her tongue out at him, and then went back to work. As he watched her turn away from him and continue on with her checklist, Will suddenly found his mind wandering back to the observation lounge the previous night. He reacted the same way to her blunt manner and stood lost for words.

Then Stephy had kissed him. The feeling of shame and discomfort roared to life again, making him wish that Deanna was going with them. It would have been far easier to keep these rogue feelings in check with the cool calm of her presence. No luck there however. Deanna was staying aboard. Will jumped when a cargo case was dropped behind him.

“Damn it watch where you throw those things!” He snarled at the tech behind him. The man’s brows rose but he very wisely kept his mouth shut. Will started to apologize, but the man turned away and went back to his work. Damn!he murmured. She’d managed to make him drift off again.

Will grabbed his pack and hefted it to his back. “Let’s get to it people, and remember, take care of yourselves, and watch out for your teammates.” The team trooped into the tight confines of the shuttle and prepared for launch.


The shuttle landed with a soft bump and Riker’s team sat in silence listening to the howl of the wind as it whipped around the body of their vehicle. The cozy confines of the shuttle changed dramatically as Will activated the door. As it swung away from the hatch opening, gusts of wind whipped inside the shuttle doorway.

The icy fingers of the wind slashed into eyes and found any opening in jackets or hoods. Stephanie quickly pulled the thick hood attached to her thermal coat close around her head. As Will stepped from the pilot’s seat, he caught Stephanie tucking an errant curl into to the top of her hood. He smiled, she’d changed so much and so little at the same time. Her tiny, almost elfin face was barely visible as the fur surrounding the hood framed her delicate features just as she’d looked years ago. Her eyes in contrast, looked huge and anything but child like.

Stephanie felt rather than saw, Will. Her eyes locked with his and within the confines of the tiny shuttlecraft, she smiled. Will grinned. For him the smile was that of two friends. For Stephy, the smile formed an intimate friendship. She needed that before leaving the safe haven of the shuttle for the wilds of the unknown outside.

Geordi held out his hand for the young Geo-physicist as she stepped down from the shuttlecraft. "Thanks, Geordi, Don’t want to fall flat on my face before we’ve unloaded, do we? "

Geordi chuckled at the spunky response, "No, ma’am, The Commander would crucify me if I let one hair on your head get ruffled."

Stephanie stopped short as the tone of Geordi’s voice filtered through. Muttering an unladylike curse, she shook Geordi’s hand from her thickly padded arm. Planting her feet firmly on the icy ground and making sure she was evenly balanced, she turned towards the front of the craft, where Will stood checking their equipment. “Hey, Commander, may I speak with you?”

Stephy shouted over the howl of the wind, which caused most of the team to look in their direction. Will eased his long body from a crouch beside the shuttle’s entrance and straightened gratefully, his breath turning frosty as he exhaled. He made his way to where his chief engineer and Stephanie waited. The tell-tale steely glint in Stephanie’s eye told Will all that he needed to know.

"Will, why’d you ask Geordi to baby-sit me?"

"Stephanie, you said yourself that you didn’t want to get “planted here”, as you put it. So I asked Geordi to keep an eye on you. I would never forgive myself if anything happened to you. You understand that, don’t you, sweetheart?"

Stephanie melted into the intense gaze as Will made point. Her heart soared. Will cared for her and he didn’t want to lose her. She looked for the promise in his eyes, the promise of things to come.

Stephanie’s icy breath shuddered from her openly surprised lips, and she knew that her eyes sparkled with tears of joy as she looked into Will’s handsome face. Will cared. He cared enough to entrust her into another’s hand when he couldn’t do it himself. Her voice was husky as she answered him.

"I understand, Will, thank you."

Rendered speechless, Will’s eyes followed Stephanie as she turned away. The last thing he expected was for her to thank him. Bow her stack, rant and rave, stomp her feet, and call him everything under the sun, maybe. But thank way. She was up to something, and a shiver of discomfort came on the heels of the realization that something he said had been the cause of the change. He thought back on his words.

For the odd time that I can’t personally look after you...

I asked Geordi to keep an eye...

I would never forgive myself if anything happened to you...

You understand that, don’t you sweetheart...


Will’s breath caught, Oh shit! Sweetheart! Did I really just call her sweetheart? Once more he found himself in that same position again, watching her retreating back. You have to be more careful, Riker. Stephy isn’t just anyone. You don’t want to see her hurt


Several hours had passed by the time all the equipment was unloaded. The team worked steadily, placing the probes in the positions mapped out on board the Enterprise. As the last probe was set, Geordi gave the all clear for Will to give the order for the ship’s laser to bore a hole deep into the planet’s surface.

The order was given and seconds later a white-blue beam slashed through the whirling snow to bore onto the icy surface. Will watched for a few moments then gathered his equipment. He looked up to see the team heading back towards the shuttle. He grinned at the amusing spectacle. They looked like over stuffed silver penguins, waddling off into the distance.

Will felt really good at that moment, why he had no clue, despite the cold slowly eating away at him,. The way the tiny ice crystals clung to his beard and moustache, and he must look like Santa Claus. He found himself chuckling. Will stared to move towards the shuttle himself, and along the way, took a good look around.

The sky, loomed low with it’s blanket of airborne snow. It was as though he could almost reach up and touch it. It was fascinating. He didn’t realize he had slowed to a stop until he heard Stephanie’s quiet voice. "Beautiful, isn’t it, Will?"

Will looked down into her upturned face as she looked around at the raging whiteness. Will studied her. Stephanie’s cheeks, now rosy with the chilly air, almost glowed. Will’s eyes fell to her lips, which silently shivered with the cold. Her icy breath mingled with his, creating their own personal aura. As Will spoke, his eyes captured hers, and the tranquil moment become theirs, solely theirs. "Yeah...."

The pregnant pause lingered on until Will broke the spell and turned away. This time it was Stephanie who stood breathless as she watched Will move away from her, and disappear into the back of the shuttle. By the time Will eased himself into the comfort of the shuttle’s warm interior, his was angry with himself. His hand shook with it as he reached for the helm controls.

Data caught the tremor and frowned at him. "Commander, are you alright?"

Will cringed as he felt the shuttle’s other occupants turn to look at him, including Stephanie, as she entered the door. Clearing his throat self-consciously, he rapidly looked to each of his comrades, "Humph, I’m fine Data, just want to get off this planet. Are we ready, people?"

It was Geordi who responded, but Will was sure he heard a slight smirk in his voice. "Yes sir! We’re all ready and waiting!."

Will hand paused on the helm as the implications of his words sunk in. Turning quickly, Will turned his eyes to Geordi again, doing a double take when he came face to face with his huge pearly white grin.

Unwillingly his sight moved on to Stephanie. Perturbed, he was taken even further aback when her face held her own secretive little smile. “Enough of that. I meant are you all ready to get the hell off of this ball of ice!” He feigned anger and turned back to face the panel before him as he attempted to collect his wits.

Powering up the engines, Will eased the shuttle through the dense cloud. Flying blind, Will depended on the shuttle’s navigation system to guide them safely through. The air was fraught with tension and silence as the seemingly never ending journey dragged on.

Stephanie jumped when Data’s voice broke the quiet. "We must find a way to exit from this cloud, Commander, the shuttle’s engine’s are beginning to lose power. The lack of oxygen in the upper atmosphere is overloading the intake conduits. The cloud formation has altered in its composition. It is no longer purely water vapor as it was when we descended. At present the clouds appear to contain helium, nitrogen and delenium in concentrated amounts. Its mass is therefore more dense. I suggest further analysis on board the Enterprise as a number one priority sir."

Will broke his intense gaze from the viewscreen briefly to acknowledge Data’s statement. "Agreed, Data, once we’re back we’ll launch a probe. How could we have missed this phenomenon?”

Geordi moved forward to peer through the viewscreen, Will could see his deep frown behind the visor as he spoke. "No clue, Commander. I ran the sensor scans myself and to all when we first got here, this cloud was just what it should have been; pure water. Any probe we may have sent would have given us the same information. This has happened since we landed. How much longer until we break through?"

"Breaking though in 5 seconds, 4, 3, 2,1, we are clear of the clouds."

“Good, I want to get back and find out what the hell is going on.”

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