DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. This story was written for the enjoyment of the author and no infringement of any existing copyright is intended nor is any profit realized or expected. The story contents are the creation and property of Chris Dickenson and copyright 1988 by Chris Dickenson. It is reprinted from Haven.

You Can't Judge a Book

Chris Dickenson

Ro Lauren levered her angular frame into a comfortably padded chair that gave her both a good view of the warp perspective stars and the bulk of Ten Forward. Today was so unlike that day not so long ago when she'd sat defiantly in the center of the room, isolating herself in the crowd. Not to say these people were her friends. No. A smile threatened as she caught sight of Guinan from across the room. Not all of them.

Stretching, Ro let her eyes wander to the view out the portal. It felt good to be back in warp. Four days ago they had been facing the possibility of eminent destruction of the ship. The loss of life during that crisis had been minimal, much less than they could have hoped for while stranded in isolation on a too silent bridge. She had learned something that day. Isn't that what Picard had told her would happen? Hell, yes, Starfleet had a lot to learn from her, but the reverse was also true. There was Starfleet, and then there was ... the smile threatened again ... the Enterprise.

"Not your average ship," she muttered dryly, thinking of the unique blend of personalities and abilities that Picard had melded into a cohesive unit. In the beginning she'd taken them all at face value. And that had been her first mistake. It was a slow thing, but she was gradually becoming aware that what lay on the surface was only a small fraction of what lay beneath. Compassion did not necessarily indicate weakness.

An attendant came and took her order, and Ro caught Guinan's gaze for a moment, held it and then nodded, her harsh expression softening. This place was starting to feel like home.

Ro was about to look away when the bartender tensed, her attention diverting abruptly. Ro followed her gaze and noted Deanna Troi sitting alone at a table in the center of the room. The counselor's stiff posture and the cloudy expression jarred oddly with Ro's usual impression of the Betazoid. Accepting her drink from the smiling attendant, Ro shrugged and turned away. Not her problem.

She turned her gaze back to the portal, but her thoughts centered on Troi's behavior during the recent crisis. She'd taken a risk, a big one. The counselor-turned-temporary-captain had played what had apparently been nothing more than a hunch and had made it pay off. Moreover, being right had only seemed to humble her. Ro had first thought her to be oblivious to the enormity of the situation, but she'd been wrong about that too. Troi had known all along what she was risking. Ro had instantly revised her opinion of Troi as a lightweight at that moment. Like the rest of them, she was learning, there was more than met the casual eye to Counselor Deanna Troi.

Glancing back toward Troi's table, Ro remembered the anguish which had flickered on the Betazoid's face when she'd been faced with her first true command decision. It was not something she'd been trained to do, her situation thrusting her into a role she had never anticipated filling. And she had handled it well.

Guinan appeared at Ro's side, hovering with a tray. Ro made no effort to hide her study of the counselor, Guinan was too intuitive to fool.

"Remind you of anyone we know?" Guinan said softly.

Ro finally tore her gaze from the brooding counselor, picking up her drink and taking a nonchalant swallow before responding. "Maybe." By sheer coincidence, Troi was sitting precisely where Ro had been sitting not that long ago, the day Guinan had become her friend. "Why don't you talk to her?" the Bajoran queried in her usual blunt fashion.

Guinan looked across the room appraisingly, and appeared to be seriously considering Ro's question. It was several moments before she responded.

"Humans as a whole perceive time in a very linear fashion. They put the past in the past, live today, and look toward the future. That's one way of looking at things, and there's nothing wrong with it, but it has its disadvantages."

"How so?" Ro questioned, giving the bartender her undivided attention. She knew Guinan well enough to know that her rambling commentary was leading somewhere.

"Sometimes when you dismiss the past too soon, it has a way of catching up with you. And sometimes you can't sort it out with just anyone. You ever hear of the saying 'birds of a feather flock together?"'

Ro shook her head.

Guinan nodded her head toward Troi. "She's just come from a counseling session, little Tanji Morton. "

Ro shook her head again. "I don't know--"

"Tanji's six. Her father was one of the casualties in engineering."

Ro let that sink in, but she still didn't understand what Guinan was driving at.

"Ian Troi, Deanna's father, was a Starfleet officer. He died in a very similar accident when Deanna was six years old. Like I said, time can catch up with you when you least expect it. " Guinan looked in Troi's direction. "She wasn't expecting it."

Ro's brow furrowed. "Why are you telling me all this?"

Guinan smiled. "Can I get you another drink?"

Ro glared at the enigmatic bartender, her expression contorting into a scowl. "I'm not an empath. You're wasting your time if you think I'm going to--"

"How old were you when you lost your father?" Guinan interrupted with feigned innocence.

"I didn't lose my father," Ro snapped, suddenly angry with Guinan and taking that anger out on her euphemism. "He was tortured to death before my eyes. Where do you come off suggesting that the pampered little princess over there and I could find common ground? My father wasn't shipped home in a tidy Starfleet body bag, Guinan. My mother and I buried the pieces of him that were left." Ro's voice had dropped to a venomous hiss, her glare fired with the intensity of a phaser set to kill.

"Did you ever see what a coil explosion can do to human flesh?" Guinan asked in a polite conversational tone, but her lacquered tray landed on the table beside Ro with a emphatic click. "Deanna has. It's something she doesn't usually talk about."

Ro's eyes widened, and she swallowed hard. "They wouldn't let a six year old see--"

"Remind me sometime to tell you a little about Betazed burial rites, Ro," Guinan said in a dangerously soft tone. "And if you'll take it, how about a bit of advice?"

Ro made no response, her eyes traveling to where Troi was sitting.

"Don't judge a book by its cover," Guinan said softly as she retrieved her tray. "It'll get you in trouble every time."

The hostess was gone as quickly as she'd come, and Ro felt a flush rise to her cheeks. Her anger subsided, but images danced in her thoughts. Terrible images that had haunted her all her life. She'd carried her past like a banner for all to see -- the tough little Bajoran who'd pulled herself up by her bootstraps. All her life she'd resented people like Deanna Troi. People who had had all the creature comforts, the security of a home and family. But maybe Guinan was right. Ro's eyes came to rest on the Betazoid's fragile features, and for the first time she saw the haunted look in the ebony depths of her eyes. Maybe.

Deanna Troi was immersed in dark thoughts, oblivious to her surroundings. She was unaware of how completely she had retreated into herself until a voice drew her attention. Startled, she looked up at Ensign Ro. The lanky Bajoran was standing over the vacant seat at Troi's table, hesitancy in her voice and manner as she toyed absentmindedly with her half-finished drink. "Mind if I join you?"

Troi caught something in Ro's eyes, a flash of something that surprised her. She blinked, then shook her head emphatically. "No, of course not. Please, sit down."

Ro sank into the seat, leaning forward, a near smile tugging at her lips. "You look like you could ... use a friend."

The End