This story commences in 2355, sixty-one years after the presumed death of Captain James T. Kirk aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise-B in Star Trek Generations. It concludes in 2357, seven years before the launch of the Enterprise-D in "Encounter at Farpoint."
He put one foot in front of the other. That was all it took, one foot, then the next, occasionally a swerve or a sudden stop to dodge the other pedestrians who traversed San Francisco's sidewalks, and then, one cluster of citizens or another averted, he continued on toward his destination. In some spots where the streets of days gone by remained, he could easily have walked in those, thereby avoiding most of the foot traffic, but the idea didn't occur to him. His name was William Hall, he was a yeoman second class currently assigned to Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, and he was on a mission.
He did not let his mind drift toward the nature of his mission. His mind didn't drift much at all, for that matter; it was consumed with the process and not functioning much beyond that. One foot in front of the next. Turn left at that corner, up three blocks, cross the street. He came from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, which could have fit inside San Francisco a hundred times over. He'd been to other planets, he'd seen the stars, up close, but a San Francisco street was still, to him, alien and not a little intimidating, filled as it was with members of dozens of races, from planets almost beyond counting.
Most of the other pedestrians were civilians; he wore one of the few uniforms he had seen since he started out on this mission.
As he walked, the sun dipped behind tall buildings, throwing the busy streets into shadow. His destination loomed ahead, one of those same tall buildings. He noted it, and then his mind slipped back into its routine. One more clutch of pedestrians to bypass, gazes to avoid. He made a graceful sidestep to get around them: a family, nicely dressed, heading out to a restaurant for dinner, perhaps, or a play. Two boys and a girl, two older ones who must have been parents. He had parents, back in Pine Bluff.
At the building, he stood in front of the door. The door surveyed him for a moment, noting his uniform, his professional demeanor, scanning his retina and maybe, depending on how up-to-date the security system here was, his DNA. After a moment, an electronic voice asked him, "What is your business here?"
"Official Starfleet business," Petty Officer William Hall said. "Urgent and classified." The door didn't open. Very up-to-date, then. He held a small electronic tag up toward where the door's camera eyed him. He'd been told not to use this unless it was necessary, but it seemed that it was. Like a lot of things about this mission, he had been left in the dark about why he shouldn't use it frivolously.
But he didn't let his mind wander there, either. The door opened for the tag, as he'd been told it would, and he walked inside. There was a live guard in the lobby, middle-aged but fit, with a heavy mustache hiding his mouth, sitting behind a high counter and regarding him with curiosity. But William just showed him the tag and the guard gave a half-smile, a twitch of the bushy mustache, really, and then turned back to his monitors. When William reached the elevator, it opened for him, and he stepped inside. He told the elevator to take him to the nineteenth floor, and the doors closed and then they opened again a moment later and he was there. He stepped out.
The apartment number was 1907, he knew that much. The rest, he had been assured, would become clear when he needed to know it. He found 1907. It would be empty now.
In the corridor, he waited.
* * *
"Most people," Kyle Riker said, "achieve enlightenment, if at all, through living. Through the process of life, going through it, you know, a day at a time. That's most people. Me, I achieved it all at once, through surviving. That's all. Nothing to do with me, just the luck of the draw. But I survived, and what wisdom I have..."
He let the sentence trail off there. It didn't matter. The man he'd been talking to- talking at, running off at the mouth toward, he decided- had ceased to listen and was leaning toward the bartender, signaling for another Alvanian brandy. Kyle, drinking instead a sixty-year-old single malt from right there on Earth, recognized that he had probably reached his own limit. His limits were stricter these days than they had once been, and he was better about enforcing them. Had to be. He gripped the bar with both hands as he lowered himself from the stool, and with a wave at Inis, the shapely Deltan bartender who was two-thirds of the reason Kyle came here in the first place, he headed for the door.
You sound like an old fool, he mentally chided himself as he went. The bar was thirty-five stories up, with floor to ceiling windows facing west, and the sun, he could see as he walked out, was an enormous red ball sinking into the sea on the far side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's sunset, he thought, that's the problem. There had been a time when he'd liked sunsets, but that had been before Starbase 311. As he went to the elevator that would take him down to the twentieth floor, from which he could tube across the street to his own building, he remembered another sunset when he'd had virtually the same conversation. He'd stopped himself, on that occasion, at about the same moment, and said, self-pityingly, "This is the kind of story a man should tell his son. If he had, you know, a son he could talk to. Because a boy needs to hear that his dad-"
"Kyle, dear," Katherine Pulaski had said then, interrupting him, "shut up." She had taken away his drink.
Too many painful memories associated with sunsets, he thought. But the wounds had been fresher then, the scars more raw. He was better now. Obviously not whole- you don't jabber at strangers in bars like you were doing if you're whole. But better, nonetheless.
When he rounded the bend toward his door, he saw a uniformed Starfleet officer, young and well-scrubbed but with a strangely vacant look in his pale green eyes, standing outside his apartment. A yeoman in a red duty uniform. Kyle had been drinking, but not really that much, and seeing this unexpected sight brought him around to sobriety fast. The yeoman started toward him.
"Are you Kyle Riker?" he asked. His voice sounded odd, as if he were distracted by something even as he voiced the question.
"Yes," Kyle said. Most of his work was for Starfleet. Maybe the young man was a messenger. But he didn't see a parcel, and couldn't imagine any message that would have to be delivered in person. Anyway, he had just been at headquarters before heading home- well, heading for the bar on the way to heading home, he admitted. If anyone had needed to tell him anything they could have done it there.
"I need to see you for a moment, Mr. Riker," the yeoman went on. His expression- or lack of one, to be more accurate, Kyle thought- didn't change. He didn't even blink. "Can we go inside?"
"I... sure, come on in." Kyle pressed his hand against the door and it swung open for him. "Can I ask what this is about?"
The yeoman nodded but didn't verbalize a response as he followed Kyle into the apartment. For a moment Kyle thought this was all the setup for some kind of elaborate practical joke. Friends would pop out from hiding places and wish him a happy birthday. Except that it wasn't his birthday, nowhere near it, and he didn't have friends with that kind of sense of humor. He didn't have that kind of sense of humor. That was something else he'd left on Starbase 311.
The yeoman came into his apartment and the door swung shut behind him. "I'd really like to know who you are, young man, and what this is all about," Kyle said, more forcefully than before. "Now, before we go any further."
He waited for an answer. But the man's face didn't change, and he didn't speak. Instead, he drew a phaser type-2 from a holster on his belt. Kyle threw himself to the floor, behind a couch, thinking, That's some message.
The yeoman fired, and the phaser's beam struck the wall in front of which Kyle had been standing a moment before, blowing a hole in it. Sparks flew, and a cloud of smoke roiled in the air. "Unauthorized weapons discharge," the apartment's computer said in its toneless robot voice.
Kyle rolled to the side and tucked his feet underneath himself, preparing to spring. "I know," he told the computer through clenched teeth.
The yeoman turned stiffly toward him, phaser still at the ready. Kyle jumped toward the young man, slamming into him with all the strength he could muster. They both went down, crashing onto a low table, and then the table tipped over and they rolled to the floor. Kyle caught the man's wrist and twisted, aiming the phaser anywhere but at himself.
As he did- panting from the exertion, blinking back sweat- he noticed that the yeoman's blank expression still had not changed. He could have been waiting for a transport, or watching a singularly unexciting game of chess. Kyle pounded the man's wrist against the edge of the overturned table, once, twice, again; and finally the phaser went flying from his hand. The man gave a soft grunt of pain, but that was the first sound he had made since they had come into the apartment.
"I am alerting the authorities," the computer said.
"Fine," Kyle barked back. He made the mistake of turning away from his opponent for a brief moment, and the man took advantage of the opportunity to reach out with his other hand, locking it around Kyle's throat. Kyle released the now-empty phaser hand and brought both his arms up,