Changing Nature (by Rona)

Synopsis:

Category:  Star Trek, The Next Generation
Genre:  Sci Fi
Rating:  T
Word Count:  8,085


 

Captain’s log, stardate 4245.6.

We are approaching Teleb 6, where a survey team has been charting the planet for the last six months. We have been trying to raise them, but have received no response. Commander Riker has assembled an away team, and is ready to beam down the moment we are within transporter range.

*****

As the transporter shimmer disappeared, the away team looked around. Data had his tricorder out, surveying the area. “Life signs?” Riker asked.

“Yes, Sir,” the android replied. “They are scattered all around. Human and .. other.”

“Other?” Riker said, sharply. “What kind of other life signs?”

Data peered at his tricorder again. “Unknown, sir,” he replied at last. “It is likely that they are native lower life forms of the planet.”

“All right,” Riker said. “Phasers on stun, spread out, and be careful.”

Lieutenant Worf, Lieutenant Commander Geordie LaForge, Lieutenant Commander Data and Commander Riker spread out, and slowly made their way into the underbrush. William T. Riker was in his early thirties, tall, dark haired and sporting a full beard.

Lieutenant Worf was the ship’s chief security officer. He was the only Klingon in Starfleet, and he was a prickly customer. He and the Enterprise crew had taken a while to get used to one another, but there was mutual respect, if not friendship, on both sides. The Klingons were a warrior race, and looking at the powerfully built Worf, one could well believe it.

Geordie was Chief Engineer. His genius with the warp engines was renown. His VISOR let him see things other humans could not, and it compensated him a little for being blind from birth. There was pain in wearing the VISOR, but Geordie knew he would not have entered Starfleet without it.

Data had pale golden skin, and gold eyes. He longed with all his positronic circuits to be human, but humans still baffled him in a lot of ways. Humour, for example, was a closed book. He was a fount of knowledge, and his super-human strength made him useful in a tight situation.

This was a weird one, Riker thought, pausing under a tree to peer around. Worf was just moving out of sight, and none of the others were visible. The survey team were obviously still on the planet, and still alive. So why were none of them answering the hail? And what kind of creatures had Data scanned? Were they dangerous? Riker unconsciously tightened his grip on his phaser.

There was a movement up ahead. Riker squinted through the foliage. “Hello,” he called. “I’m Commander Riker from the USS Enterprise.” He took half a step, and something fell on him from the tree above.

Riker let out a yell, trying to turn to get this – thing – off his back. Whatever it was, was hairy, smelly and had sharp claws, which were raking into Riker. He bucked, dislodged the beast slightly, and tried to scramble to his feet. The animal caught his ankle, and Riker pitched forward, down into a ravine that had been hidden by foliage. The beast followed him down, growling ferociously, its weight causing more injuries before again pinning Riker to the ground.

Riker was fast losing consciousness. He was bleeding from a dozen places, bones had been broken, and he had a severe head injury, which pumped blood down his face. Vaguely, he heard someone call his name, and then darkness descended.

*****

Up on the ship, Counsellor Deanna Troi gasped, jumping slightly in her seat at the Captain’s left hand. Picard looked at her with concern. “Are you all right, Counsellor?” he asked.

“Yes, I think so,” she replied, her half-Betazoid accent more exotic than usual. “I just got a sudden stab of pain, but its gone now.” Betazoids were renown for their telepathic abilities, and Deanna was an extremely talented empath.

“Well,” Picard began.

“Away team to Enterprise,” came Geordie’s voice.

“Yes, Mr LaForge?” Picard rose to his feet, concern etched on his face.

“Medical emergency! Commander Riker has been injured. Request transport directly to Sickbay.”

“Acknowledged.” Picard swung round to look at Deanna She, too, was on her feet, pale but in command. “Could that have been the source of the pain you felt?”

Deanna seemed to reach inside herself. “Yes, I think so. Will and I …” She didn’t go on; there was no need. Everyone knew of the attraction that burned between the ship’s counsellor and first officer. They were close friends and had once upon a time been lovers. “I’ll come with you to sickbay.”

*****

As they expected, the away team was there before them. Two medical orderlies were easing Commander Riker onto the examination table, and Dr. Beverly Crusher was activating the scanner. The away team moved aside as Picard drew near the table. He couldn’t contain a gasp when he saw his first officer. He moved to prevent Deanna seeing, but he was already too late. Deanna was beside him, her jaw dropped in horror.

Riker’s handsome face was covered with blood and bruises. His uniform was practically torn off, and more blood stained what was left of it. Dirt was liberally strewed over all of him, and from his right arm, a piece of broken bone protruded slightly.

“Doctor?” Picard said, questioningly.

“Multiple broken bones, fractured skull, claw marks, severe blood loss. He’s critical. Let me at him.” Crusher pushed past the Captain, and ran a hand scanner over Riker. “Broken ribs, and right lung collapsed. What attacked him?”

“We are not certain, Doctor,” Data replied. “Lieutenant Worf killed it, as it was impervious to the stun setting on our phasers.”

Crusher looked distracted. “I need some room. Everyone out. I’ll let you know, Captain.”

Picard looked down on his first officer for a long moment, and then followed the others out.

*****

Captain’s log; supplemental. Commander Riker has been seriously injured while on an away mission. The survey team on the surface still do not answer our hails. I am reluctant to send another team down to the surface, and I intend to beam the survey team aboard one by one, if necessary.

Back on the bridge, Picard instructed Worf and Data to set about finding the survey team via the sensors, and beaming them aboard. He busied himself with the tasks of the ship, but his mind wasn’t on it. Finally excusing himself, he went to his ready room, where he could brood in private. After almost an hour, Data interrupted him to announce that all the survey team were on board, and were furious. “Later, Data, later.”

About half an hour after that, the door buzzer went, and Beverly Crusher walked in. She looked exhausted “Doctor!” Picard exclaimed, leaping to his feet. “How is he?”

“Well, all the bones are healing, his lung is re-inflated, and the bleeding is stopped. It’ll take a while, because so many things were broken. He’ll be weak, but he’s going to live.” Beverly smiled. “If Will wasn’t so fit, we might have had some problems.”

“Can I see him?” Picard asked. It was only a formality, because Beverly wouldn’t have come to the ready room, if Picard couldn’t see Riker.

“Of course,” Beverly replied, smiling. “He’s still under restraint, and unconscious, but I’ll rouse him when we go back.”

They arrived in sickbay a few minutes later, and Crusher revived Riker. “Will? It’s Beverly. Don’t try to move, you’ve been injured, and are under restraint for the moment.”

Riker’s eyes flickered, and then opened. He gazed at the ceiling, and frowned, blinking his eyes furiously. “What’s wrong?” Beverly asked, reaching for her tricorder.

“Number One?” Picard prompted, when Riker hesitated.

“I…I can’t see,” Riker faltered.

*****

Beverly finished examining Will’s eyes, and put down her instrument. “Well?” Riker asked, his voice calm.

“The skull fracture you sustained has affected your eyes.” Beverly seemed unwilling to say more.

“Is it temporary or permanent?” Riker questioned, no audible tremor in his voice. Picard admired his first officer more and more.

“I don’t know,” Beverly admitted. “There’s no way to tell. But you’ll be here for several days anyway, and we’ll see what happens.”

Riker tried to move, and failed. “When do I get out of these restraints? I can’t have been that badly injured!” It was not Riker’s normal tone of voice, but he could be forgiven for that.

Gently, Beverly explained. “You broke both legs, your right arm, ribs, fractured your skull and pelvis, and one lung collapsed. Your bones are taking slightly longer to heal than normal, because there were so many breakages. I’ll take the stasis field down in another hour. Until then, be patient.”

“I don’t exactly have a choice, do I?” he commented dryly. “Captain? Did you get the survey team?”

Picard started. “Yes, Number One. I’m just on my way to see them now. Apparently, they weren’t too pleased at being beamed aboard without any notice.” Picard’s voice held dry amusement.

“Really?” Riker said, equally dryly. “Perhaps that’ll teach them to answer their hails in future.”

“I’ll return later,” Picard said, having only just stopped himself from saying ‘see you’. He nodded to Beverly and left. Riker heard the doors hiss shut, and wondered if he was totally alone. But he was too proud to let down his defences to find out if he was alone.

*****

Picard made his way slowly to the quarters assigned to the leader of the survey team, a man called Varis. He buzzed for entry and the door opened at once. Varis was a huge man, well over six feet tall and broad shouldered to match. He also looked very angry. Picard was vaguely surprised at how young he was – no older than Riker.

“Mr Varis, I’m Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the Enterprise. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”

“Are you, indeed,” Varis said, venomously. “Where’s that idiot who caused one of our Taibad to be killed?”

“I beg your pardon?” Picard enquired, mildly. The crew would have taken warning from the mildness of the Captain’s tone, but Varis was too angry to notice.

“Your first officer, Riker. He caused one of our Taibad to be killed. Wait till I get my hands on him! And as for you, how dare you just beam us aboard? We were engaged in our duties! You had no right!” Varis began pacing with a short, choppy stride.

“On the contrary,” Picard said, quietly, “I had every right. You are with Starfleet, and I out-rank you. You did not answer our hails, and when I sent an away team to find you, one officer was severely injured. I had no option but to beam you straight to the ship. Your survey should be completed. You knew we were coming.”

“We aren’t ready to leave,” Varis protested. “Teleb 6 is a marvellous place. And your away team had no business being on the surface! Riker got all he deserved!”

Picard was furious. “It may have escaped your notice, Mr Varis, but you work for Starfleet, and your orders are to transfer to Starbase 24. Commander Riker was doing his job. This Taibad you mention is a beast of some kind, and its life does not have the same value as a member of my crew!”

Varis was flushed with anger, and he loomed threateningly over Picard. “Listen to me,” he hissed. “The Taibad were our friends. They were helping to protect us from predators! They were becoming more intelligent every day, thanks to my help. The Taibad probably thought your away team were predators!”

Picard was not intimidated. “Thanks to your help?” Picard repeated. “What help?”

Varis suddenly clammed up. “So where is this Riker? He and I have a score to settle!”

“Commander Riker’s whereabouts are none of your concern. But I will have an answer from you. What help?” Picard stepped closer to Varis. “You will tell me, one way or another.”

Varis glared at Picard, who glared right back. The moment dragged on, then Varis looked away. “It was nothing much,” he said, shiftily. “I just gave them some pep pills. It made them more alert, brighter. It didn’t do them any harm.”

Picard stared at him in disgust. “You are confined to quarters, Mr Varis,” he said, and swept out.

*****

Captain’s log; supplemental. Commander Varis seems, by his own admission, to have been tampering with the life form known as a Taibad, on planet Teleb 6. He is confined to quarters, after threatening Commander Riker’s life. Meanwhile, Commander Riker is recovering from his injuries, but is blind. We do not know if it is temporary or permanent, and he is in sickbay.

Data and Worf were given the task of capturing a live Taibad for Doctor Crusher to examine. Other members of the survey team were questioned about the Taibad, and they reported that the animals’ behaviour had been becoming more erratic lately. They also reported that Varis used drugs constantly, and none were surprised to learn that he’d been drugging the Taibad.

Deanna went to Sickbay to see Riker while the search was on for the Taibad. Riker was sitting gloomily on the edge of the bed, his chin in his hand, gazing at nothing. Deanna hesitated, but Riker lifted his head when he heard the door hiss closed. “Who is it?” he asked, warily.

“Its me, Will,” Deanna replied. “What an improvement on the last time I was here,” she went on, also careful not to mention seeing.

“The last time you saw me, you mean,” Riker replied, bitingly.

“Yes,” Deanna replied easily. “The last time I saw you. How are you feeling?”

“Aren’t you supposed to tell me that?” Riker replied, roughly. “Or am I blocking you?”

Deanna exchanged a glance with Beverly, who had come silently out of her office. “Of course I know how you’re feeling mentally. What I want to know is how you’re feeling physically. Do you have much pain?”

“Deanna,” Will said, and there was exasperation in his voice. “No, I don’t have much pain. You know that, or am I no longer your imzadi?” The word meant beloved in Betazed.

Deanna was obviously startled. She reached for Riker’s hand. “Your thoughts are so strong they block out your physical feelings.” There were tears in her voice, but she didn’t answer his question. “You don’t have to be so strong. No-one will think less of you if you show your true feelings.”

“Yes, they will,” he said, turning his unseeing eyes in her direction. “I will think less of me. I am the first officer of this ship, and it’s my duty to set an example, even now.” He grinned suddenly. “Haven’t we had this conversation before?”

“Yes, in this very room. I’d forgotten. But don’t be afraid to admit you want help, Will. It doesn’t make you less of a man. Anyone would be uneasy in your situation.” Deanna squeezed his hand. After a moment, he returned the pressure. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. Deanna cleared her throat and became very business-like. “Captain Picard has interviewed the survey leader, and we think he may have done something to alter the animal that attacked you. Beverly is having one beamed into a containment field, to examine it.”

“Well, at least I won’t have to see the thing,” he joked. His face grew pensive. “If I could only get out of here! I’m going stir crazy.”

“What would you do if you were out of here?” Deanna questioned, sensing his restlessness.

“I don’t know! Something! Anything!” Will snapped. “I’m not even allowed to walk about. Beverly has me watched all the time!”

Deanna ‘listened’ to his thoughts. “Will, you are barely strong enough to walk about. You know it. Beverly has you watched because you are stubborn. Don’t rush things. Your strength will return. Enjoy this time of calm.”

Riker sighed, and turned his head away. Deanna could feel his anger and frustration. She understood them perfectly. Will was a very physical man. Consequently, he was a lousy patient. She touched his shoulder, and he started at her touch. “Its only been one day,” she soothed. “One day out of your life. Surely you can spare it?”

They were interrupted by the whine of the transporter, and a loud growl. Deanna gasped. Will paled, despite himself. He was suddenly very grateful that he couldn’t see this monster that had caused his troubles. It sounded bad enough. He discovered he was clutching Deanna’s hand very tightly. He loosened his grip sheepishly. Deanna didn’t seem to notice. She was still clutching Riker’s hand.

“Its horrible!” she exclaimed. She suddenly realised how tightly she was holding Riker’s hand. She dropped it like it was red hot. Riker grinned, faintly. Deanna’s reaction to the Taibad had shaken him.

“Good morning, Commander,” Data said, politely. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Fine, Data,” Riker replied. “I see you got one.” He was having trouble controlling his breathing.

“You see?” Data questioned, puzzled.

“A figure of speech,” Deanna said hastily. “He means you caught one.”

“Yes,” the android answered. “Lieutenant Worf and I set a trap for the beast down on the surface, and set the sensors to alert us when the trap was activated. That was accomplished this morning. Then we arranged a containment field.”

“I get the picture, Data,” Riker interrupted. Data tended to talk a lot, and humans frequently interrupted him. “You’re sure it can’t get free?” he asked nervously, as the snarling increased in volume.

“Quite sure, Commander,” Worf rumbled. “I have my phaser set to kill, if anything should go wrong.”

“How comforting,” Will murmured, turning his head away. The whole situation had him desperately uncomfortable. He could not defend himself if this creature should get free. His injuries still twinged a little, enough to remind him of how bad they had been.

Beverly was watching Riker, and saw his discomfort. She approached, clearing her throat to warn him. “I think you can do without this,” she said.

“You mean you’re letting me go back to my quarters?” he guessed, starting to rise.

“Not quite, Commander.” Beverly put her hand on his arm to prevent him getting up. “I think a little rest would do you good.” Beverly pressed the hypospray to his arm even as she spoke. Before Will could even protest, he was unconscious. “Sorry, Will,” she murmured.

*****

Picard looked up as Beverly Crusher entered his ready room. “Yes, Doctor?”

“I’ve examined the Taibad, and returned it to the surface. Varis had indeed been drugging the creatures, and had caused extensive neural damage. He had been using Zeblund. It’s not a drug you’ll have heard of. Take my word for it, its bad. The Taibad are slowly going mad. In another few weeks, the survey team could have been killed by them. Varis has violated the Prime Directive.”

Picard nodded thoughtfully. “I expected you’d say that.” He touched his communicator. “Commander Data, come to my ready room.” A moment later the door buzzed, and Picard said “Enter.”

“Sir,” Data said, glancing sideways at the doctor.

“Send a message to Starfleet command, priority one.” Picard outlined the message, and Data nodded. He left, and returned a few minutes later.

“Reply from Starfleet, Captain. Varis is to be sent to Starbase 24 as soon as possible, to face charges. He is demoted to ensign, effective immediately.”

“Thank you, Mr. Data. Please forward that message to Mr. Varis’ quarters.” Data left, and Picard looked at Beverly. “Well, Doctor? It seems you have something on your mind.”

Beverly made a rueful face. “You know me too well, Jean-Luc. It’s on my conscience, actually. When we beamed that creature into Sickbay, Commander Riker became distressed. He didn’t say so, of course, but I’m monitoring him constantly, and his heartbeat increased dramatically.” She twisted her hands together.

“So what did you do?” Picard asked, gently.

“I sedated him,” Beverly said, defiantly. “I gave him no choice in the matter. Just went ahead and did it.” Beverly flushed, and brushed her red hair away from her face.

“And how does Commander Riker feel about it?” Picard was amused, but kept his face straight.

“I don’t know, he hasn’t woken up yet,” Beverly confessed.

“Ah.” Picard nodded. “And you want security there for when he does wake up?”

“Yes,” Beverly said, missing the gentle teasing altogether. “Is Deanna free?”

“Of course.” Picard sighed as Beverly left. The sooner they got to Starbase 24 the better.

*****

William Riker was understandably furious when he awakened, but a little sweet-talking calmed him down. Deanna often found that making Will laugh at himself was a good way to diffuse his anger, and now was no different. He soon saw the funny side, and Deanna felt it safe to leave him.

On her way back to the bridge, she fell in with Worf, who was also going back to the bridge. Deanna was telling him about Riker when she got a sudden blast of feeling -despair. Deanna stopped, and tuned in to the feelings. Worf stopped, too. “Are you all right, Counsellor?” he asked.

“Varis!” Deanna exclaimed. “Quickly, we must get to his quarters. He’s trying to do himself harm!”

Worf set off at a run, practically leaving Deanna behind. She raced behind him, and caught him up as he tried to enter Varis’ quarters. Deanna shoved Worf aside and said “Computer! Emergency access, Troi Beta Beta Delta!”

The door hissed open, and they could see Varis on the floor. Blood poured from his wrists, which he had obviously slit with the large knife still in his grasp. He was conscious, but past being able to acknowledge them. Deanna touched her communicator. “Medical emergency, guest quarters 17!”

*****

Varis was in sickbay very quickly. Beverly patiently worked over him, repairing the damage he had done to himself. It didn’t take long. Deanna, Worf and Picard stood by, watching. Beverly stepped back. “That’s it. He’ll be okay in a while.”

Worf spoke up. “Shouldn’t you put him under restraint?”

Beverly glanced back at her unconscious patient. “No, he’s lost a lot of blood, and won’t be up to moving for a while. Just post your guard, that should be enough.”

Picard glanced over to where Riker was reclining on the bed. “Any change?”

Deanna and Worf left, while Beverly weighed her words. “No,” she replied softly. “No change, Riker still can’t see.”

“Keep me posted, Doctor.” Picard left.

*****

Varis lay still. While they thought he was sleeping, the orderlies talked quite freely in front of him. He learned that he wasn’t restrained, and he learned where the guard was positioned. Most significantly, he learned that Commander Riker was in the sickbay, and could not see. Then, when sickbay was quiet, he opened his eyes and looked around. The guard assigned to him was dozing. Riker sat upright on the bed, his back to Varis. There was no one else in sight.

Fumbling through his clothes, Varis found his favourite drug, the one that gave him extra strength. He felt pretty lousy just now, so he took double his usual dose. Within a few moments, Varis felt terrific!

He sat up slowly, and drew his right leg up. With a swift movement, he slipped the sole of his boot aside, and drew the knife he kept hidden there. Beside the bed, an orderly had left a hypospray. Varis pressed it against the arm of his guard, who was unconscious in seconds. The only other person in sight was Riker. Varis was going to get his revenge for the death of one of his pets.

Riker was bored. He was accustomed to doing things, not all this resting. His strength was slowly creeping back, but he still felt weak. All his friends were busy, and he knew the orderlies were not in sickbay, because they’d told him they were leaving. From behind him, Riker heard faint rustling noises, but he knew there was another patient, and assumed that the person was simply restless. Beverly was busy. Riker was really bored.

There was a sudden movement behind him, and Riker instinctively turned to meet it. At the same moment, the door hissed open, and Geordie’s voice shouted, “Look out, Commander!”

There was the hiss of phaser fire, and someone grabbed Riker from behind. Something cold and sharp pressed itself into his neck. An arm was wrapped round his shoulders. The knife dug in deeper, forcing Riker’s head up. He felt a small trickle of blood run down his neck.

“Don’t move, Commander Riker. I am going to kill you, but not yet. First, you’re going to get me what I want!”

“I wouldn’t bet on that, whoever you are!” The response was automatic. Riker felt totally helpless. He knew enough not to struggle, but it was difficult. Every instinct told him to fight.

“I’m Varis,” he said. “You killed my Taibad!” He tightened his grip.

“I killed your Taibad,” Worf rumbled. “It should be me that you want to kill.” Worf took a step forward. “Take me.”

Varis chuckled. “Good try, Klingon. But Riker was at fault. He led the away team. If he hadn’t been where he was, the Taibad wouldn’t have attacked him, and it wouldn’t have been killed. Riker is going to die for that!”

Geordie and Worf exchanged glances. Varis was completely crazy! Beverly, who had dashed out of her office at Geordie’s shout, said, ”And what is it you want?”

“Get the captain here. Fast! If he wants his first officer to live a little longer, he’ll do what I want.”

Worf touched his communicator. “Worf to bridge.”

“Picard here. Go ahead, Mr Worf.”

“Captain, your presence is required in Sickbay at once.” Worf glared at Varis, who seemed indifferent to the Klingon’s anger.

“On my way, Lieutenant.” Up on the bridge, Picard glanced at Deanna. “What’s going on?”

Deanna shrugged. “I don’t know. I can feel anger and helplessness, and some sort of haze. There’s something odd about the whole situation down there. I’d better come with you.”

They left Data in charge of the bridge, and hurried to sickbay. The situation had not changed. Riker still sat rigidly in Varis’ grasp, the knife still at his throat. Worf no longer had his phaser drawn; it would harm Riker as much as Varis if he chose to use it. Geordie was as taut as a bowstring, and Beverly was white.

“What is going on here?” Picard demanded, taking in the situation with a single glance.

“Easy, Captain,” Varis replied. “I’m going to kill Commander Riker, but only after you return me to Teleb 6.”

Picard glanced at Deanna, who nodded. “He means it, Captain,” she said, softly. “He’s got very little control of himself at the moment.”

“I will not be coerced!” Picard exclaimed.

“Oh, won’t you?” Varis jeered. He moved the knife swiftly, and there was suddenly a bleeding slash down Riker’s arm. Riker drew in his breath sharply, but said nothing. Deanna could almost feel the liquid burning of that slash. ““How long do you think your first officer can live with me cutting him? That was just a nick. Next time, it’ll be a finger, or an ear!”

Picard frowned, but there was nothing he could do. He touched his communicator. “Mr Data, set course for Teleb 6, warp 3.”

“Aye, Sir,” came Data’s puzzled response. “Course altered. Estimated time of arrival at Teleb 6, 12 hours.”

Varis frowned. “You can go a lot faster than that!” He twisted Riker’s arm behind his back. “Why aren’t you going any faster?”

“The warp engines are not at full power,” Picard lied smoothly. “We were going to do a tune up at Starbase 24. Any more than warp 3, and the engines could burn out.”

Varis frowned. He obviously knew nothing about warp engines. “I want the chief engineer to tell me that. “

“I’m the chief engineer,” Geordie said, softly.

Varis looked angry. “That’s a lie!” he shouted. “I want the chief engineer brought here now!”

“Its not a lie,” Riker said, hoarsely. “Listen.” There was a pause. “Computer,” Riker said. “Where is the chief engineer?”

“The chief engineer is in Sickbay,” the computer replied.

Varis jerked back, twisting Riker’s arm even more painfully. “Its a trick!” he blustered. His eyes narrowed. “Its a trick!”

“Check for yourself,” Picard invited. “The computer will answer general questions like that.”

Warily, Varis did so, and got the same reply. “Okay,” he said, turning to Geordie. “Why aren’t the engines at full power?”

“We’ve been away from a Starbase or spacedock for over 8 months,” Geordie explained. “Even staying still in space uses up energy. We must go back to a Starbase every 8 to 10 months, depending on what we’ve been doing.”

Even Riker believed him, and he knew better. The journey was being dragged out for as long as possible, to allow them to try to think of a plan that would leave both Riker and Varis alive. Riker was certain the captain wanted confirmation that Riker understood that, but how could he signal? Normally, they would have exchanged glances. Riker willed himself to see, but the darkness in front of his eyes was absolute. How could he help, when he was helpless?

Beverly glanced at Picard, then drew a deep breath and stepped forward. “I want to treat Commander Riker’s injuries,” she said, quietly.

“No,” Varis responded.

Beverly stopped dead. “What?” she gasped, incredulously. “You don’t mean that.”

“Oh, I do mean that. You see, pretty lady, if he is bleeding, it’ll remind you all what is at stake. It’ll keep him nice and docile, too.” Varis laughed. “But I believe that being blind is calming you down, Mr Riker!”

Will let out an animal sound and tried to wrench his arm free. Varis was ready for him. He moved the knife smoothly and slashed Riker across the chest, just where his sickbay robe overlapped. Will groaned, subsiding immediately. The white material of his robe began to absorb the blood.

Picard, Beverly, Deanna, Worf and Geordie had all stepped forward. Worf was balanced and poised to leap Varis, but Geordie put a restraining hand on his arm. There was something odd about Varis, Geordie thought, peering intently at the things his VISOR was telling him about the man. There was something funny about the heat of his body, and the speed his blood was pumping. Suddenly, Geordie realised what it was. “He’s drugged,” Geordie gasped. “Varis is as high as a kite.”

Beverly instantly aimed her tricorder in his direction. “Yes,” she confirmed. “Its the same stuff he was giving the Taibad. No wonder he recovered so quickly. Captain, this drug is illegal. Not even doctors can use it anymore, because of the dreadful side effects!”

Varis laughed. “Do you really believe those fairy stories, doctor?” he scoffed. “Stories that Zeblund can send you mad? What a gullible little doctor you are.”

Beverly flushed. “You are living proof, Varis. Your blood pressure is raised; your heartbeat is high. Your neural patterns are erratic. You’re doing something totally irrational!”

Varis exploded. “Irrational? You’re the ones who are irrational! The only reason my blood pressure is up is because of this man here!” He gave Riker a shake. “I am the only sane person in this room, and I’m gonna get back to Teleb 6 and kill Riker if its the last thing I do!”

*****

It was a very shaken command crew who met in the observation lounge a little later. Picard looked grim. “Options? I want to get this madman under control before he does any more harm. Commander Riker is handling this very well, but it has to be remembered that he is still injured from the away team’s mission, and might crumble at any moment.”

He glanced round the table. By unspoken consent, Riker’s accustomed chair was vacant. It seemed to glare at the others like an open sore. Data spoke up. “Perhaps we could overpower Mr Varis and disarm him?”

“No,” Picard said. “That option is not really viable.”

Worf cleared his throat. “Perhaps we could create a containment field in sickbay and make Varis sleep?” Worf glanced at Beverly.

“Its not really an option right now, Worf,” Beverly replied, regretfully. “He has taken over my office, and I can’t isolate it in the same way. Besides, if he was gassed, and that’s the only way to do what you suggest, he could kill Will before he was out of it.”

There was a pause. Geordie lifted his head and said slowly, “I don’t know if it would work, but we could try and make Commander Riker invisible to the transporter. That way, Varis would transport down, and Commander Riker would be safe.”

Picard nodded. “Mr Data? Is what Mr LaForge suggesting a possibility?”

Data computed momentarily, then nodded. “I believe so, Captain. We would need to alter one transporter pad specifically…”

“Make it so.” Picard said, and rose.

*****

Captain’s log; supplemental. Six hours have passed, and Commander Riker is still a hostage. Commander Data and Commander La Forge are working against time to try and make Commander Riker ‘invisible’ to the transporter. We have no way to know if it works, and no way to tell Riker what we are doing. I do not know how he is holding out. There is no-one cooler under fire, but, in his condition, I do not know how much more he can take. We do not want a tragedy.

Will Riker didn’t know when he had last been so tired. He was kneeling on the floor in Beverly’s office, and Varis still had the knife at his throat. The two cuts he had received burned painfully, constant reminders that his captor wasn’t sane. Varis had demanded and received food, but Riker hadn’t had so much as a mouthful of water. His left arm was completely numb from being twisted up his back, and feared nicked at the edges of his mind, causing him to feel more tired.

Time was running out, he knew. Every hour that passed, Varis told him, gleefully. Varis had twice more taken drugs to keep himself awake, and whenever Will’s head drooped in weariness, he yanked on Will’s arm, or gave him a kick. Will Riker was a tall, strong man, but this situation had sapped his stamina, and he was on the edge of total collapse. I must think of a way to get out of this, Riker thought, shifting uncomfortably. Surely I can help myself.

“What’s wrong, Riker?” Varis asked. “Not too comfortable? Never mind. Only another five and a half hours to go.”

“Why are you doing this?” Riker asked, unable to keep silent any longer. “What satisfaction does it give you to treat me like this?”

“Oh, lots of satisfaction! The more you suffer, the more I enjoy it! Doesn’t your Starfleet training teach you to cope with being a blind hostage?” Varis laughed. “You ain’t getting nothing from me, Mr Riker. I’m going to get my money’s worth from you!”

Angry again, Will shoved himself back against Varis, using his head as a weapon, hoping to headbutt the man. Varis took the blow in the stomach, and yanked on Riker’s imprisoned arm. The numbness fled leaving dreadful pain behind. The knife flashed again, and a second bleeding cut appeared on Riker’s chest – deeper this time.

Riker’s cry of pain brought Beverly to the door at once. Riker’s head was down and it wasn’t until she said his name that he lifted it and turned towards her. Anger ripped through Beverly. “You must let me give him something for the pain at least!” she cried.

Varis gave her a wolfish grin. “No way, lady. He feels everything, or it’s a wasted effort. Get out!” The knife lifted higher, and Beverly retreated, ashamed. “Crusher to Bridge,” she said, touching her communicator.

“Go ahead, Doctor,” came Picard’s voice.

“Varis has just cut Commander Riker again. I don’t know what caused it, but it seems worse this time. Is there nothing we can do?” Beverly had seldom felt so helpless. It was a feeling she disliked intensely. Being unable to treat Riker’s injuries made her feel frustrated, too. All at once, she felt an intense need to scream. With difficulty, she quelled it.

“We’re working on it, Doctor. Mr Data and Mr LaForge report good progress. Everything will be ready. Meantime, just do what you can.” There was a pause, and Beverly knew what Picard was thinking. “Picard out.”

Deanna came into sickbay by the other door. Varis hated the sight of her, and was even more threatening when he saw her. Deanna knew that he enjoyed hurting Will, and consequently, kept out of sight. Now she touched Beverly’s shoulder and said softly, “Can I do anything to help?”

Beverly sighed. “Not really, Deanna. We just have to wait. I don’t know how Will is coping with this. He had enough on his plate as it was.”

Deanna probed towards the office. Varis’ thoughts were strong and repulsive. Deanna shuddered slightly, and focused in on Will. His thoughts were less easy to get a hold on, partly because of his closeness to Varis, and partly because he was so tired. “He’s exhausted,” she reported. “He’s frightened, but determined not to show it. He also feels pretty helpless, and a bit unwell.”

“A bit unwell?” Beverly said, incredulous, almost laughing. “Are you not – understating – it rather?”

Deanna smiled. “Well, that’s what Will is telling himself – that he feels a bit unwell. He probably feels terrible. He’s been injured before, but the pain has seldom been uncontrolled for long. Those cuts must be agonising.”

Beverly nodded. “Varis must have been slightly unstable before now. Any normal person wouldn’t have touched Zeblund. How did he get past the psych. test?”

Deanna shook her head. “Who knows? Perhaps he’s just become a space case.”

“Wonderful,” Beverly groaned.

*****

Data peered over Geordie’s shoulder at the transporter pad. “I think that does it, Data,” Geordie exulted. “Now all we have to do is feed Commander Riker’s pattern into the computer, and that should be it!”

“I agree,” Data said, going to the transporter console and pressing the keypads rapidly. “There is one thing that concerns me, however.”

“What’s that, Data?” Geordie asked, watching with awe the speed of his friend’s hands. It was something he never became accustomed to.

“How are we going to make sure that Varis comes to this transporter? There is only half an hour of the allotted time remaining. We do not have time to modify all the transporters on the ship.”

Geordie sighed. “We’ll have to ask the Captain to use force fields to seal off corridors so that he only comes here. The thing that worries me, is the transporter chief. Varis is crazy enough to shoot the chief, just before he disappears.”

“I will work the transporter,” Data volunteered. “Perhaps Chief O’Brien could develop a diplomatic illness?”

“Good idea, Data,” Geordie approved. He touched his communicator. “LaForge to Bridge.”

“Yes, Mr LaForge?”

“Everything is completed. Data will work the transporter, as Chief O’Brien has ‘flu’.”

“Understood,” came Picard’s dry reply.

“One other thing, Captain,” Geordie went on. “Could we use force fields to make Varis come to this transporter? Surely we can come up with a valid reason.”

“Good idea. Picard out.”

*****

Doctor’s log. Commander William Riker is in a very bad way. From my covert scanning, I can only guess that it is stubbornness that is keeping him conscious. All his vital signs are dropping, and if this situation isn’t resolved soon, I fear that he may suffer severe collapse. We are arriving at Teleb 6, and I can only hope that our plan works, without causing any more bloodshed.

Picard arrived in Sickbay shortly afterwards. Varis looked even crazier than he had before, and Picard reasoned that he’d kept on taking Zeblund to stay awake. Will Riker was grey with exhaustion, with lines on his face that he didn’t normally have. The last 48 hours had been an enormous strain on everyone, but particularly on Riker.

“We’ll be within transporter range of Teleb 6 in five minutes,” he reported. “Commander Data is going to work the transporter for you, as our Chief has flu.”

“Really?” Varis jeered. “Well, Data will do, I suppose. Get to your feet, Mr Riker.”

Will stumbled to his feet, his body hardly obeying him. But he held his head up, determined to show a good example to the last. Varis was taller, even, than Riker, and had no difficulty using the injured commander as a shield.

“Let’s get going, ” Varis said. “How do I get to the transporter room? I’m not having you lot following me.”

“I thought you’d feel like that,” Picard responded, politeness covering loathing. “So I’ve taken the liberty of putting up force fields to show you the way and to keep the rest of my crew safe.”

Varis glared at Picard, obviously trying to see if it was a trap. “That’s okay, I suppose. Let’s get going.”

Picard stood back, hoping his face didn’t show his worry. He had no way to signal to Riker that they had a plan. He could only watch as Varis dragged Riker out into the corridor. The moment the door snapped shut, he touched his communicator. “They’re on the way,” he reported generally.

Data stood tranquilly behind the transporter console. Worf was hidden in an access tunnel within the room. Geordie was positioned close by with two security guards, round a couple of corners. There was little more they could do.

Varis dragged Riker along with him, swinging him round and round as he kept watch on both where they had been, and where they were going. Riker began to feel dizzy from the abrupt changes of direction, and decided that he must make one last attempt to escape, and stop relying on others. He used the next change of direction to swing his body away from Varis, and hooked a toe behind Varis’ leg.

For a moment, he thought his ruse had worked. Varis was off balance and Riker kept pulling away. There was no point in trying to punch Varis, as Riker could not see. But Varis also realised that he had an advantage. He swung the haft of his knife down onto Riker’s head with enough force to stagger him. As Riker began to fall, Varis released his arm, and took a handful of hair. As Riker landed, Varis smashed his head off the floor. Riker was severely dazed.

Varis dragged Riker upright, and gazed into his face for a moment. “Oh no, Commander,” he said, softly. “I’m not going to kill you here, where they can revive you again quickly. Oh no. You’re going all the way with me.”

The grip on his left arm was quickly re-established, and Varis again shoved Riker along the corridor. Riker was silent, trying not to groan with the pangs of pain shooting through his skull. He slitted his eyes open, and a flash of light sent shock waves through his body. After another moment, Riker cautiously opened his eyes again. Again pain hit, but this time he was more prepared for it. Yes, he could definitely see … a blur! After days of darkness, the light was extremely painful, but Riker began to believe he might have a chance after all.

As the door to the transporter room drew closer, Riker gathered his strength again. His eyesight was still very poor, but enough to allow him to fight Varis, he hoped. Varis, too, seemed to realise that his escape route was close, as he relaxed fractionally.

It was the moment Riker had been waiting for. He wrenched himself from Varis’ grasp, and stabbed the com-panel on the wall. “Help me,” he bellowed and swung round to meet Varis’ charge. Riker ducked a wild stab, but met a fist. He went down and rolled against Varis’ legs. The other man tumbled to the floor, and Riker leapt on him, trying to make him release the grip on the knife.

But Riker’s weakened condition worked against him, and after a few moments of struggle, Varis managed to get on top. Riker held off the knife hand as best he could, but the fight was rapidly going against him.

Just as Riker’s grip on Varis’ knife hand slipped, Worf charged round the corner, closely followed by Geordie, Data and the security men. Varis was distracted, and Riker edged away slightly. But he was still pinned under Varis, and the madman wasn’t going to give up that easily. The knife plunged down, and Riker screamed. Worf fired, and suddenly it was over. “Worf to Sickbay. Medical emergency,” he said, calmly.

*****

The Enterprise had been docked at Starbase 24 for two hours now, and Will Riker hadn’t even looked out of the window to see it. Varis was already off the ship, and the Enterprise would be leaving again with an hour. Riker sighed and said “Beverly?”

“Not yet, Will,” she replied, soothingly, not even looking at him. “You need to rest. I know you slept on the way here, but you aren’t recovered yet. You are under direct orders to stay here.”

Riker sighed again. He knew that the authorities on Starbase 24 would want to talk to him, and he didn’t fancy doing it from flat on his back. Pride, he expected, but pride had helped him through his ordeal. The stab wound in his shoulder had been bad, but Beverly had done a nice job of patching him up, and his eyesight was improving with every moment that passed. By now, he could see almost as well as ever.

“You don’t have to pin me down,” he said, trying again. “I promise I’ll stay here.”

“I know you’ll stay,” Beverly agreed, looking at the reading on the tricorder. “But the stasis field stays in place until I am satisfied.”

“I don’t understand,” Will admitted. “I’m much better, nothing is broken. Why the stasis field?”

Beverly sighed, and flipped the tricorder closed. She laid it on a table, and turned to look at Will. He looked right back, and gave her a devilish grin. She smiled back, and Will thought he was winning. “You’re staying put until all the blood loss is made good. You’ve had several nasty injuries that haven’t had time to heal properly.”

“What hasn’t healed properly?” Will asked, suspicion in his eyes.

“Your pelvis. I detected a crack at the sight of the original fracture, and you are going to stay there until it’s healed properly this time. It won’t do any of the other breakages any harm, either. Now stop arguing. The authorities from Starbase 24 will be here soon.”

“I’m not talking to anybody from flat on my back,” he said, mutinously. “At least let me sit up.”

“No,” Beverly replied calmly. “And if a person’s culture demanded you lie flat on your back to greet them, you would.”

“That’s different,” Will replied, cornered. “I never heard of a culture like that.”

“Neither have I,” Beverly agreed, serenely, “but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist somewhere.”

Riker glared at her, but after a moment, his sense of humour re-appeared. “I can see why O’Brien hates playing poker with you! And tonight’s the next poker game. Will I be out of here by then?”

Beverly smiled. “No,” she replied and made a hasty exit.

“Beverly!” Will shouted.

The sickbay door hissed open. Captain Picard stood there, with Admiral Kochek, who happened to be at the Starbase, and was conducting the investigation against Varis.

“Admiral,” Will said, trying desperately to convince himself that he wasn’t embarrassed, and failing dismally. He felt a slow flush crawl up his neck.

Kochek, whom he had met before, smiled. “At ease, Commander. Just a few questions, then we’ll be on our way, and you can rest up.”

Riker forced a smile. His eyes strayed briefly to Picard, who smiled faintly. “Problems, Number One?” he asked, blandly.

“No, sir,” Riker replied. “I think Doctor Crusher was just testing my reflexes, or something,” he finished lamely.

Kochek chuckled. “Missing the weekly poker game?” he inquired. “Pity the Enterprise has to leave so soon. I might have taken your place, Commander.” He bent closer and whispered, “I hear the Doctor is a real mean player!”

“You could say so,” Riker agreed weakly. “A real mean player!”

*****End*****

Return to Rona’s Home Page

Return to the WWB Author Index

Return to the WWB Library

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.