Kidnapped (by Rona)

Synopsis:  There’s a wedding in the works.

Category:  Star Trek, The Next Generation
Genre:  SciFi
Rating:  T
Word Count:  8,155


 

Commander William T. Riker took a last look at himself in the mirror, tugged his collar once more and turned to face his companion. “How do I look?” he asked. “Will I pass?”

Counsellor Deanna Troi tilted her head to one side and narrowed her eyes. “Yes,” she smiled. “I think you’ve cleaned up remarkably well.” She laughed at the pretended outrage on Riker’s face. “When do you meet the Captain?”

“In a few minutes,” Riker answered. “Care to walk me to the transporter room?”

They walked unhurriedly along the corridor to the turbolift, automatically adjusting strides with on another from long habit. “It’s a pity you aren’t coming,” Riker commented.

“Yes,” Deanna agreed. “I’d like to see the look of outrage on the Sunlord’s face.”

“Yes, it would be worth it. But I’d like you along for company. Captain Picard is going to be guest of honour, and I’m stuck with the bridegroom.” Riker pulled a face, and Deanna laughed.

“Will, you’re the best man! Who else would be ‘stuck’ with the bridegroom?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know him! Captain Picard is performing the wedding, and I got nominated for best man, and I wasn’t offered a choice!”

“You’ll make an excellent best man,” Deanna soothed, but the laughter bubbled in her voice.

“Do you know the worst thing?” Riker asked, mournfully. “They drink real alcohol, and I can’t even get drunk because I’m on duty!” Deanna’ laughter pealed out and Riker’s lips twitched, then he, too, burst out laughing.

They arrived in the transporter room just moments after Picard, and Riker was still grinning as they dematerialised.

*****

Captain’s Log, stardate 5634.2. We are in orbit around Centauri III, where I have been requested to perform a marriage ceremony. Centaur III is one of the oldest Earth colonies, and certain traditions are rarely called upon, but must be performed in a specified manner. The marriage of a son and daughter of the two leading families only happens once every fifty years or so. This marriage had come around again, and it has been 65 years since the last, and everyone on the planet is very nervous about it. A starship captain is always required to perform the ceremony, as he is a neutral, and I have agreed to do it. Tonight, Commander Riker and I beam down for the pre-wedding dinner. However, I gather that the bride will to be present, as that is against their traditions. The Sunlord of Centauri is reported to set a lavish table.

*****

The Sunlord’s robes were certainly amongst the most striking Riker had ever seen. They were long and flowing and every shade of red, yellow and orange that it was possible to imagine. The fabric shimmered in the lights, and Riker thought how lovely it would be as an evening gown for a lady. He didn’t quite, even to himself, think of Deanna, but that was who he visualised in it. Judging by the look on Picard’s face, the Captain was quite decidedly not thinking anything of the sort, and Riker swiftly curbed his thoughts.

Diplomatic evenings were Picard’s speciality, and he soon had the Sunlord relaxed. They were of a similar age, and Picard was always well read. He had been swotting up on Centauri III in the last few days, and so was able to draw the Sunlord out about various customs of the Centauri people.

Meanwhile. Riker was left to make friends with the groom, and found it to be much harder than he had expected. They were of an age, but Jelor was reticent to the point of rudeness, answering each question with a monosyllabic grunt, as though that made a conversation. It was going to be a long evening, Riker thought.

The meal was superb. Both Picard and Riker were long accustomed to eating unusual foods and always looked as though they were enjoying them. It was something learned very early on in a Starfleet career. Tonight, the food tasted as good as it looked, and there weren’t too many dishes of odd coloured food. The feast lasted several courses and a couple of hours and by the end of it, both officers were feeling relaxed.

The Sunlord was a terrible stuffed shirt, Picard thought to himself, but when he relaxed and forgot about his dignity, he was a nice enough man. Relaxed was really the wrong word, decided Picard. Drunk covered it better. Of all the guests, and there were about 50, only Picard and Riker were entirely sober. All the others were in various states of drunkenness, from mildly inebriated to passed out under the table. Conversation was quiet and somewhere in the background, music was playing.

Leaning back in his chair, Picard wondered how soon they could decently leave. A manservant cleared his plate away, and another one wasn’t laid in its place. Picard was grateful. He didn’t usually eat as much in one day as he had eaten at the meal – and he had eaten little compared with his host!

Turning his head, he tried to look down the table at Riker, but couldn’t quite see him. A large pillar obscured his vision, as it hadn’t when he had been leaning forward to the table. He knew Riker had had a tough evening with Jelor. The groom was so drunk that he was barely conscious. Any minute, he would probably fall into his plate, or slide quietly under the table.

Turning back, Picard thought he’d better compliment the Sunlord of the meal. As he looked at him, there was an enormous explosion.

*****

As the shock wore off, Picard found himself lying on the floor, covered in dust, but unhurt. The Sunlord was stretched out over the table, and Picard struggled to his feet, and went to his side. The man was alive, but Picard could say no more than that. The room was filled with smoke, obscuring visibility. Bodies seemed to be littered all over the room, but whether drunk of dead, Picard couldn’t tell.

He groped his way towards Riker, and found his first officer and Jelor lying unconscious on the floor. There was a gash along Riker’s head, which was bleeding sluggishly, and bruising was beginning to show already. Picard surmised he’d been hit by a piece of debris.

Whatever had happened, they needed assistance at once. He tapped his communicator. It gave off a flat, buzzy sound. He tapped it again, and there was still no response. Kneeling down, he reached for Riker’s com badge. It, too, gave a closed channel signal. Picard was perplexed. Neither badge was damaged, and there had been a clear channel to the ship earlier.

“Will!” he said, urgently, shaking Riker gently. “Will, can you hear me?”

There was no response, and Picard sat back on his heels, wondering what to do next. Someone appeared out of the gloom, and Picard immediately waved him over. “Quickly, I need help. Get someone to contact the Enterprise. We need medical teams down here immediately. My first officer has been hurt.”

“Right,” the man responded, and bent over as if to look at Riker. A hypospray hissed against Picard’s neck, and even as he fell forward into unconsciousness, he saw it pressed against Riker, too. Then the world went black.

*****

On board the Enterprise, the ‘night’ shift had begun. In the absence of natural light, 10 hours were designated as night, and the ship’s lights were dimmed and fewer crew were on duty. Lieutenant-Commander Data was on bridge duty and he sat in the command chair, his golden eyes seemingly fixed on the planet they were orbiting. In reality, he was thinking of several things at once. He was wondering if Picard and Riker were enjoying the banquet; he was observing the new crew members at ops and the conn; he was keeping track of the data continually fed to the panels on the command chair; he was pleased to notice that Ensign Hopkins had finally given birth to a baby boy, after a long labour and he noted that Dr. Crusher was finally going to bed, three hours after she should have gone off duty. Of course, he was thinking several thousand other things, too, but these thought were at the forefront of his mind.

Data was an android. It was a simple fact, but one which was new to the two young crewmembers taking their first shift on the bridge. Of course, they knew that the Enterprise was the only starship with an android officer. Data was the only android in Starfleet. But knowing something abstractly, and dealing with it first hand were two different things. So far, they were handling it well. Of course, Data mused, there were fewer things to handle on this shirt. No Captain to impress, and fewer bridge staff. There were only two other officers on the bridge, one at tactical, and the other covering all the engineering and science stations on the rear bridge. The bridge compliment was usually eight or more.

The ensign at ops turned. “Commander, there has been an explosion on the planet’s surface, near or at the palace.”

“Hail the surface,” Data ordered, turning all his circuits over to this incident.

“Unable to open a channel, sir,” tactical reported. “There seems to be some kind of interference.”

Ops turned again. “A defensive shield had covered the city, Sir,” she reported. “That’s probably what’s stopping communication.” The girl was pale, but in control, Data observed.

“Thank you,” he said, politely. “Computer, have Captain Picard and Commander Riker returned from the surface yet?”

“Negative,” responded the soft computer voice. Data frowned. He did not feel worry as an actual emotion, but he was concerned for the safety of his superiors. “Senior officers to the observation lounge.”

*****

They were all sleepy, but concern was driving the sleep away. Geordi LaForge, chief engineer, sat quietly, waiting to hear what the problem was, his VISOR catching the light as he turned his head. Beverly Crusher looked a good deal more tousled than she normally did, and Data estimated that she might just have managed to fall asleep before she was summoned. Her glorious red hair seemed less vibrant than usual. Deanna Trio, the ship’s half Betazoid counsellor, was already frowning. Her empathic sense told her that the bridge crew were very tense. LT Worf, the Klingon security officer looked as phlegmatic as ever. They were all waiting for Data to speak.

“I regret the need to awaken you,” Data began. “The sensor noted an explosion on the surface, near or at the palace. Communications with the planet are out, due to some kind of security shield. The Captain and Commander Riker are still on the planet surface, and we have been unable to contact them so far. We have no way of knowing whether they were anywhere near the explosion of not. However, I felt it was correct to inform you. Perhaps we should have medical teams stand by to transport down to the surface when communications have been restored. Our assistance may be of some value.”

For a being with an unfortunate tendency to talk a lot, Data had been mercifully brief. He now looked round the faces before him with something like eagerness.

“Can we scan through this shield, Data?” Geordi asked.

“No Geordi, we cannot.”

“So we have no way of knowing if Captain Picard and Commander Riker are safe,” Deanna said, softly.

“We should send down a security deal and medical team by shuttlecraft,” Worf said. “That way, we are there on the surface to help when the shielding comes done.”

“Good idea,” Beverly nodded. “How long do you think the shielding will be up, Data?”

“I do not know, Doctor,” Data replied. “I, too, agree with Lt Worf. We will send down a shuttle. Please inform em when we are ready to launch.” He looked round. “Dismissed.”

They rose to their feet and headed purposely for the door.

*****

Picard came awake gradually. The silence was absolute. He opened his eyes and gazed with disbelief at the rock walls. Sitting up, he glanced around. He was in a small cave. There were two cots standing nearby on the earthen floor, with blankets and pillows stacked neatly on them. Further over was an open doorway, and Picard could see the glow of a forcefield around the edges of it. There was a table, with a couple of cups and a pewter jug standing in it. Beside him, on the floor, lay Commander Riker. He was still unconscious. His head wound was no longer bleeding, but no attempt had been made to treat it.

Getting to his feet, Picard reached automatically for his com badge. It was gone. Glancing at Riker, he wasn’t surprised to see that Riker’s was missing, too. Crossing to the table, Picard discovered that the jug held water, and he filled done of the cups and took it to Riker.

Pouring water over the wound, some of the dry blood loosened, Picard noticed. The water running down his face helped to revive Riker, and within a couple of minutes, he was fully awake and just as perplexed as Picard.

“I don’t understand,” he said, wearily. “What happened? Where are we? Are you all right, Sir?”

“I’m fine, Number One. As to where we are, your guess is as good as mine. There was an explosion. Do you remember? You must have been struck by something, because you were unconscious when I reached you. Then I discovered that I couldn’t contact the ship, and attracted the attention of someone, whom I thought might help me. However, I would guess that if he wasn’t the actual bomber, he was an accomplice. He drugged us both with something, and presumably brought us here, wherever here is.” Picard looked assessingly at his first officer. “Of course, our com badges are missing.”

Riker put his hand to his chest automatically. The movement lacked his usual vigour. “Damn,” he dais, forcefully. “So I suppose all we can do now is sit here and wait for our host to arrive.” His voice was rich in irony.

“So it would seem,” Picard agreed, dryly. “How do you feel?”

“My head aches,” Riker replied, looking away. “And my mouth is a bit dry. Apart from that, I’m fine.”

Getting to his feet, Picard fetched some more water. He had a vague notion that the dry mouth Riker was suffering from related to his head injury, but he didn’t know for sure. But he thought his first officer was probably slightly concussed and resolved to keep him as quiet as he could. Which, given their surroundings, probably wouldn’t be difficult.

The night wore on, and Riker yawned convulsively several times before Picard could persuade him to lie down and sleep. Protesting that he was fine, Riker unwillingly lay down on his cot and was asleep within seconds. Picard covered him with the rough blanket, and forced himself to love down.

He slept only fitfully, coming awake at every real or imagined sound. Riker slept on, his sleep at times quiet and restful, at other times disturbed by dreams. Picard was more concerned than he would admit. They were trapped, goodness knows where, with no immediate hope of either escape or rescue. When morning came, signalled by a faint lightening of the gloom, he had barely slept.

Little more than an hour after dawn, Picard heard footsteps. He was already on his feet, pacing restlessly, and went at once to the forcefield. A young, dark-haired, handsome man was carrying a tray bearing food. He nodded to Picard. “Breakfast,” he announced.

Immediately Picard was furious. But before he could say anything, another young man appeared, and came across to the forcefield. He was carrying a phaser, and pointed it at Picard. “Step back!” he ordered.

Having no choice but to obey, Picard stepped back. “Who are you?” he demanded. “Why are you holding us here?”

“Who we are doesn’t matter, “ replied the first man. “All you need to know is that you are hostages. Do as you are told, and we won’t harm you.”

While Picard was digesting this, Riker sat up on his cot and groaned. Both the newcomers looked at him curiously. Picard drew a deep, calming breath. “My first officer has been injured,” he said. “Do you have a doctor, or a medkit?”

Both men laughed. The noise grated on the nerves of the Starfleet men. “Injured? That’s only a little bump on the head. He’ll live!” the tray with the food was placed on the floor, and the forcefield was turned back on. The two men turned and left. Picard and Riker were alone again.

*****

“Sunlord, I understand that the explosion has been a shock for you. We are thankful that none of your citizens was seriously injured. Perhaps you do not understand. Captain Picard and Commander Riker have disappeared, and we have been unable to find any trace of the. Have you any idea who might have carried out this attack?” Data often found himself simplifying his language, but seldom had he had the impression that he was talking to a backward child while addressing a world leader.

The Sunlord gave no indication that he had understood. Beside and slightly behind Data, Beverly Crusher stifled an impatient movement. Deanna Troi, normally the soul of diplomacy, was looking annoyed, too. “Sunlord, if we don’t find Captain Picard soon, the wedding will not take place on time.”

This got a response. “What? Well, don’t just stand there, find him!”

“As I have already stated,” Data said, “we require some information form you before we can start to locate the Captain.”

“Commander,” Worf said, from behind them. “I have found two com badges.”

Deanna caught her breath as they looked at the badges, looking so mall on Worf’s large, dark hand. There was no doubt to whom they belonged. “Where were they Lieutenant?” data asked.

Turning, Worf led them across the banqueting hall. Behind an overturned chair, he pointed. “There. They were lying together.” Worf bent and indicated the exact spot with his finger. They all gazed at it, as though it would provide the answers they sought.

“Commander Riker was sitting there,” the Sunlord ventured. They all turned to look at him.

“Where was the Captain?” Worf asked. His normal, abrupt manner seemed to frighten the portly politician, who swallowed nervously before taking a few steps further along the table. “Here, beside me.”

Thoughtfully, Data looked at the blackened marks of the explosion. “Was the Captain leaning across the table?” he asked.

“No, he had moved his chair back a moment or two before, as the meal was over.”

Surveying the pillar again, Data said, “I believe that the Captain would have been sheltered from the blast.” He walked to Riker’s seat and bent down for a closer look. He peered intently at the floor, then reached for Worf’s tricorder. “There would appear to be traces of blood,” he said. “Human, Doctor?”

Crouching beside him, Beverly scanned the faint trace on the floor. “Yes, its blood all right,” she announced. “And my initial scan says its contains Commander Riker’s DNA.”

*****

Leaning back in her chair, Beverly pushed aside her finished notes. She hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours and anxiety and exhaustion were warring within her for the upper hand. Medical teams were still on the surface, helping the local doctors with the injured. She still did not know if the blood they’d found indicated that Riker had a serious injury or not.

Pushing to her feet, she indicated to the sickbay staff that she was finally going off duty, and made her weary way to the bridge. Data was in the command chair, as Beverly had known he would be. She essayed a small smile and sank into her usual seat beside Deanna. “Any news?”

“I am afraid no, Doctor,” Data replied. “I have sent more search and rescue teams to the surface, and they are cooperating with eh Sunlord’s guards. However, all we know is that the Captain and Commander have disappeared.”

Deanna looked strained. Beverly patted her arm sympathetically and said “I think you’d better get some rest, Deanna. Making yourself ill isn’t going to help anyone. I know what a strain it is on you when the drew is under unusual pressure like this.”

At Beverly’s words, Deanna had started to bridle, but she soon found herself nodding agreement. “You’re right, Beverly. I need to be alert when it counts.” She rose stiffly to her feet and Beverly rose with her. “Good night, Data,” they chorused.

“Good night,” Data responded, politely. He watched curiously as the two women linked arms, then gave his head the characteristic quirk that meant he did not understand. “Curious,” he commented, then turned back to the main viewer.

*****

Picard woke when Riker touched his arm. It had been a long day, and Picard’s sleepless night finally caught up with him. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep, but he felt rested. “He’s back,” Riker said, in an undertone.

Swinging to his feet, Picard stood up. There was no need to ask who ‘he’ was – their kidnapper had paid several short visits that day, usually carrying food. Each time, he had accompanied by an armed escort of at least one man. Very little had been said. It was almost flattering; the way the man protected himself against two unarmed men. Or it would have been, if they’d been able to get close enough to try to attack and escape.

But escape attempts were out of the question right now, Picard had decided. He and Riker had thoroughly explored their small cell and found nothing. Riker had been a pale shade of grey afterwards, and had fallen into a deep sleep almost at once, and Picard was forced to admit that the blow on the head had left Riker with a concussion. The bruise was red and angry looking, spreading a good way down Riker’s hairline. The welt itself was scabbing over, but was quite swollen. Picard could only hope Riker didn’t have a skull fracture. However, Riker had wakened looking slightly better, and had urged Picard to sleep. Now, a few hours later, Riker was pale, had circles under his eyes, but seemed more alert.

Their kidnapper had brought no food this time. Nor had he a companion, although he was carrying a weapon. “Captain Picard,” he said. “I am Tamon.”

Waiting for a few moments, Picard said nothing. Tamon remained silent, too. “Do you want something?” Picard asked, aware of the irony in his voice.

Smiling slightly, as if at a joke, Tamon said, “You will be held here until the time is correct for the wedding to take place. When the time comes, you will marry me to Yonada, and the political future of this planet will be secured.”

Again there was a pause, as Picard digested this. “And then you’ll let us go?” he asked, sarcastically. When Tamon nodded, Picard added, “And if I don not marry you?”

The man’s face darkened. “You don’t have any choice,” he said, menacingly. “You will marry Yonada and I on the appointed day.”

Turning away, Picard said, “I don’t think so.” He did not look back.

With a hiss, the forcefield went down, and Tamon fired a shot into the cave. Picard ducked, even though he knew he had not been hit. Riker had not been so fortunate. A dart protruded from his left shoulder, and he sagged to his knees. Even as Picard lunged at Tamon, the forcefield hissed back up and Picard was thrown to the ground.

“So you don’t think so, Captain? Well, we’ll see. Won’t we?” Tamon turned and walked unhurriedly from sight.

Getting slowly to his knees, skin still tingling form the forcefield, Picard bent over Riker. The dart had gone through the fleshy part to the shoulder, and lodged against his collarbone. The wound, such as it was, was not serious, but the dart had to come out, and they had no medkit. “Take it out,” Riker gasped. He had his right hand against the barb of the dart. When Picard hesitated, he grasped it himself and tried to pull. His blood-slicked fingers slipped off and he failed.

There was no choice, Picard knew. He had to take the dart out, and he would have to perform the wedding. Tamon had just shown him what would happen if he did not. Like any Starfleet officer, Riker knew he might one day be killed in the line of duty. But Picard could not let his XO, or any of his crew, be murdered simply to uphold what was right. He rose wearily to his feet, and took down a blanket. He tore a strip off, and gave it to Riker to bite upon.

Then he removed the dart.

*****

Picard would never forget the sound Riker made when the dart tore free of his shoulder. It had been a wicked thing, twisted to make the removal more painful than the entry. Riker had gone so limp, that Picard feared he had killed him and felt frantically for a pulse. It was there, banging away erratically, steadying to a more normal rhythm as the adrenalin cleared his system. While Riker was out, Picard sacrificed the rest of the blanket as bandages and sling. When Riker came round, he found his left arm bound tightly across his chest, and when he accidentally flexed a muscle, he was glad of the support. Picard helped him across to a cot, and Riker lay there, trying to control the nausea that threatened to overwhelm him.

It took a while for the room to stop whirling. Once his vision had steadied, Riker saw that Picard was offering him a drink, and he took it gratefully, allowing Picard to support his head while he sipped the water. “Thank you,” he said, lying down again. “Captain, I don’t understand. Why does Tamon want to marry Yonada? I thought this type of wedding was only viable between the sons and daughters of the two main political houses.”

Picard looked at Riker thoughtfully. He had been so busy facing Armageddon that he hadn’t even thought of the why. “Good question, Number One. I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps it might give me some ammunition for our next conversation. Certainly, Tamon has the upper hand right now.”

“Don’t blame yourself, Sir,” Riker said. Picard frowned at him. “I wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way. If I’d moved a fraction quicker, Tamon would have missed altogether!” Picard studied Riker’s face a moment more, then realised that Riker was not trying to excuse his rashness; he genuinely believed he’d been too slow. “The bump on the head must have slowed me down more than I’d realised.”

Despite his gratitude, Picard couldn’t let himself off the hook as easily as that. “Even so, I shouldn’t have provoked him. We are completely at his mercy, and he’d already shown he wasn’t very sympathetic towards us.”

Frowning, Riker said, “Captain, unless some miracle occurs, Tamon will kill us both in the end anyway. Even once he is safely married, he can’t afford to let us go. If the price to keep you alive is my life, then so be it.”

Shaking his head, Picard said, “I’m not going to sacrifice either of us if I can help it, Number One. Tamon needs me, apparently. I need you, and I’d better make that quite clear to him.”

A spasm of pain shot through Riker’s shoulder, and he clenched his jaw against it. When the worst was over, he said, ruefully, “I’d thought earlier of trying to befriend Tamon, but I hardly think he’d believe me now if I said I held no grudge!”

Finding a bitter smile, Picard said, “No, I don’t think eh would. It would have been a good idea, if we’d had the chance.” He squared his shoulders, physically as well as mentally, and sighed. “I’m still sorry, Will. I should have read the situation more clearly. Try and get some rest. Perhaps our miracle will come after all.” Picard got to his feet and walked away. Riker let him go. What, after all, was there to say?

*****

Coming awake from a nightmare, entangled in the sheet, it took Deanna several moments to clam down, and to start thinking rationally about her dream. She could remember feeling pain, and massaged her arms gently as she tried to remember more. The pain had been very real, and the more Deanna thought about it, the more convinced she became that she was sensing someone else’s pain. There was really only one person it could be – William Riker!

Asking the computer for the time, Deanna got up. The day shift was due to start in a few minutes, and she had to find out what news, if any, there was. The senior staff were die to meet at 08.30, and she, at least, would have something to tell them.

As it turned out, there was quite a lot to say. The Sunlord had accused Captain Picard of kidnapping the bride-to-be, Yonada. She had apparently gone missing shortly after the explosion. He didn’t seem inclined to believe Data’s protestations of innocence, and had ordered all the Starfleet personnel off the planet. Data had had no choice but to agree. The protective shielding had been raised, and they were banned form the city, too.

The ship was doing a planet wide scan, but Data admitted that there were several large cave complexes on the surface that were impervious to the ship’s sensors. Data had sent a message to Starfleet Command, requesting permission to beam back to the planet to search these caves, and was still awaiting a reply.

The senior staff, not surprisingly, were not happy with this development.

Once the muttering had given way to silence, Deanna leaned forward. “I had a nightmare this morning,” she said, quietly. “I don’t remember many details, but it was cool, and there was pain. I felt the pain; it was real. I think it was pain that Commander Riker was suffering. I have had a similar experience before, with Armus, when Tasha was killed. Wherever he is, Commander Riker is alive.”

“Well, that’s something,” Beverly said. “We knew he was injured, but now we know he’s alive. Hopefully, that means Captain Picard is, too.”

“You say it was cool, Counsellor?” Worf asked.

“Yes, it seemed cool to me.” Deanna closed her eyes and frowned as she tried to remember more. “Cool and damp.” She opened her eyes and looked at Worf.

“It could easily be a cave, Commander,” he said to Data. “We must get our people down to search the caves.”

“I agree, Lieutenant,” Data replied. However, we have to wait for permission from Starfleet Command.” The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the transmission came through, with the necessary permission.

Immediately, Worf began organising search parties. Geordi volunteered to beam back down to the city with Deanna and speak to the Sunlord again. Data gave the order, and they swung into action.

*****

“I’ve been thinking,” Geordi said. “Perhaps we ought to have a chat with the bridegroom, Jelor. Find out about his friends and enemies.”

“Good idea,” Deanna approved. “He must be keen to get his bride back. I understand that these marriages must be a love-match, not just forced upon the couple.”

“Mm,” Geordi replied. “Well, when we spoke to him before, he didn’t seem all that concerned that the wedding might have to be postponed.”

“True, but perhaps he thought we’d find the Captain quickly, and there was no need to panic. We’ll soon find out.”

They found Jelor riotously drunk in his room at the palace. Disgusted, they did their best to sober him up, and eventually, he was able to gather his thoughts enough to speak coherently. “A love-match? What a joke! I was ordered to make it a love-match, because I am the eldest son. Doubtless, Yonada was ordered something the same, because she was determined to marry someone else when we were told to go out with each other.”

Geordi and Deanna exchanged glances. Jelor was less drunk than he had been, but still drunk enough to be indiscreet. She nodded fractionally to indicate that Jelor was telling the truth. “Who was she going out with?” Geordi asked, casually.

It appeared that Jelor hadn’t heard. “We’d already agreed that we would have other lovers, and I said I’d claim any child she had as mine. We were doing such a good job of fooling the people, that it wouldn’t have been hard to continued doing it. Then, when my old man popped off, we could have staged a fight and lived apart. It was fool-proof.”

Deanna sensed that Jelor was evading the question. “Perhaps Yonada decided that she couldn’t live like that,” she suggested. “Do you think she’d have run off with this other man?”

He laughed. “Of course she has!” he retorted. “Who else‘d she run away with?” He laughed again, the sound trickling on and on ass if he had no control over it.

“Do you want her back?” Deanna asked.

Finally, Jelor got his hysteria under control. “If you were my old man, I’d say yes. But since its you, no, I don’t.”

“Why not?” I know you said you don’t love her, but surely you’d become fond of each other.”

Dean was not amused when Jelor began to laugh again. “Nah, lady, you don’t understand. Why do you think I said I’d claim any child she had? I won’t be having children. I don’t like girls. Boys are more my style.”

Nodding, Geordi said, “So you wish your rival luck?” in a man-to-man tone.

“You bet it do! He’s welcome to her!” Jelor took another step nearer sobriety when Geordi grabbed his arm in a painful grip.

“So who is he?”

*****

“Tamon!?” The Sunlord looked shattered, sagging back in his throne. “Tamon?”

“Is this not tedious?” Geordi murmured to Deanna. “That’s all he’s said since Data broke the news to him.”

Grinning, Deanna said, “Since he obviously knows Tamon, perhaps he’s trying to think of a plausible reason why it couldn’t be him.”

“It can’t be,” the Sunlord finally stuttered. Deanna shot Geordi a triumphant glance. “No, I don’t believe it.”

“Apologies, Sunlord,” Data said. “Why could it not be Tamon?”

“Tamon is my younger son,” the Sunlord gasped. “It can’t be him. Hew couldn’t be in love with Yonada.”

“Why not?” asked Worf. He was frowning darkly at the politician, who appeared thoroughly terrified of the Klingon.

“Because I told Jelor to fall in love with Yonada, not Tamon. Tamon couldn’t marry her. Jelor is the oldest.” The Sunlord produced a handkerchief and mopped his brow. “I didn’t give Tamon permission to fall in love with anyone.”

Perplexed, the crew turned to Deanna for guidance. “Perhaps not, Sunlord,” she said. “But feelings rarely run the way we might like. Has Jelor not told you of his preferences in that direction?”

“Of course he has,” said the Sunlord impatiently. “But I told him to love Yonada.”

“Love doesn’t work that way,” Deanna reminded him, her tone sharper than usual. “Yonada appears to love Tamon, too.”

“But Tamon is the younger son,” the Sunlord wailed. “Tradition says it must be the older son.”

“Sunlord, with all due respect, perhaps tradition does not need to be upheld so strictly. Will it matter if it is the youngest son, when the houses will be joined together anyway?”

The Sunlord gave it some serious thought. Deanna privately wondered if it was the first genuine thoughts he had ever had. “No, I suppose it is not written in stone. However, I would not like Jelor to feel left out, by granting the privilege to his younger brother.”

“I’m sure Jelor would understand. After all, he is the eldest, and a few years can make a big difference in maturity.”

“No, no, you don’t understand! Tamon is only Jelor’s younger brother by 10 minutes. They are twins!”

As Deanna gazed, dismayed, at the Sunlord, she thought wryly ‘ and I thought this was only going to be difficult!’

*****

I must be getting old, Picard thought, wakening from a doze. I used to be able to stay awake much more easily than this. He shivered, and rubbed his arms briskly. Judging by the chill, morning must be drawing near. It was always coldest about dawn. Tamon would be here soon with some food, assuming he decided to bring them any.

Only moments later, Picard heard approaching footsteps. He got stiffly to his feet, and adjusted his uniform as best he could. It was, of course, his dress uniform, and Picard knew it would be fit only for the disposal until when this ordeal as finally over. Riker’s uniform was in an even worse state.

As always, Tamon appeared with a companion. Picard could smell the food and coffee. He was suddenly ravenous. Tamon looked at Picard for a long moment. “Have you had a change of heart?” he asked.

“As you say, I haven’t got much choice.” Picard hadn’t had much practice at humbling his pride. “But what I don’t understand is why you think Yonada would be willing to marry you. I was under the impression that you only needed the services of a Starfleet Captain if she was marrying into the house of the Sunlord.”

Laughing, Tamon said, “True, tradition does say that. But things must change. Traditions are not written on tablets of stone.”

“Granted,” Picard said. “But if changing tradition is your aim, why are you set to marry at the traditional time on the traditional day?”

“I’ve really got you, haven’t I?” Tamon said, gleefully. “Well, as it so happens, the only change is which son Yonada is going to marry. I may be the Sunlord’s younger son, but Yonada loves me, and she does not love my brother. Isn’t that so, Yonada?”

A beautiful young girl stepped into view. She was slender and fair, with the calm, regal confidence of a princess. Picard now understood why Tamon wasn’t willing to lose the girl. She inclined her head. “Captain,” she said, politely, and Picard nodded back. “I couldn’t stay and marry Jelor. He loves only himself, and Tamon loved me before he knew who I was. I can’t pass that up.” She started as Riker moved, the voices having woken him. She looked surprised at his injuries, then the mask fell back into place.

With a barely suppressed groan, Riker tried to sit up, and failed. Picard moved to help him. “I’ve agreed to your demands,” Picard said. “Now please, give me a medkit.”

The appointed time is not now,” Tamon said, soberly. “You’ll get a medkit when the marriage is performed and not before.”

“Is this Yonada?” Riker asked, hoarsely. “You’re very beautiful. Jelor must be upset to lose you.”

Not in the least provoked, Tamon smiled. “Jelor prefers men,” he said. “I know he won’t be upset. After all, my twin has my best interests at heart, as I have his. This was his idea in the first place.” Gesturing with the weapon, Tamon aid, “Get back.” He switched off the forcefield, and the companion put down the tray of food. The forcefield quickly went back up and, after one last mocking smile, Tamon and Yonada disappeared.

The prisoners exchanged glances. “That wasn’t what I expected him to say,” Riker admitted.

“Nor I, Number One,” Picard agreed. “I suppose we should have seen the likeness between them.”

“I certainly should have,” Riker asserted. “If only they’d been identical, we’d have known at once!”

“Indeed.” Picard helped Riker to the table, despite Riker’s protests that he could manage. He brought the tray over. Riker ate very little, although he drank several cups of coffee. Picard was a tea man himself, and wished for Earl Grey while he swilled the coffee down. At least it was hot.

“How do you feel, Will?” he asked.

“About how I look, I expect,” Riker replied, producing a twisted smile.

Considering that, Picard said, “Then I would guess that you feel terrible.”

Rolling his eyes, Riker groaned. “Captain, you flatter me.” Riker’s humour was forced, but a creditable attempt under the circumstances.

“You’re not eating much,” Picard observed, in a neutral tone.

Making a face, Riker admitted, “It doesn’t have much appeal. The smell makes me feel sick.” At Picard’s enquiring look, Riker looked away. “I have a thumping headache, a dry mouth and I ache all over.” He sounded embarrassed and defensive.

Pouring out the rest of the coffee, Picard said, blandly, “Is that all?”

“Isn’t it enough?” Riker returned, heatedly. “Would you like me to start running a temperature, too?”

“Not really,” Picard answered, seriously. “I think we have enough to deal with right now.” He watched Riker drain the last of the coffee, and privately thought it likely that Riker was already running a slight temperature. If he wasn’t he soon would be, if they didn’t get out of the damp cave. “I have been thinking, Number One, and I think that today is the day of the wedding.”

The defensive look disappeared from Riker’s face, and he looked thoughtful. “Yes, Is, I think you’re right. Do we have some kind of plan?”

“Not at the moment,” Picard admitted. “We have to take any chance that comes out way.”

“Right,” agreed Riker. “How long do you think we have?”

Shrugging, Picard said, “A few hours. Try and get some rest. We may need all our strength.”

Their gazes locked and held. “If you have the chance, go without me, Captain. WE both know that I couldn’t run. I’ll do what I can to slow down any pursuit.” As Picard hesitated, Riker added, “You know it makes sense. One of us must escape, and the first officer is expendable.”

“Make it so,” Picard said, softly, agreeing. He knew Riker was right, but his heart sank at the prospect of leaving him behind.

*****

A few hours later, Tamon appeared. He was wearing an elaborate tunic and headpiece, and looked every inch the bridegroom, apart from the weapon in his hand. With him was the silent male companion, who was also armed. The forcefield was dropped, and Tamon urged Picard out of the cave. “Captain, if you please.”

Picard did as he was told, and the companion stepped back, covering him. Riker, too was beckoned from his imprisonment, and they were prodded, none to gently, along the passage.

At the end of the passage was a large cavern. It felt distinctly warm to the two Enterprise men, and they noted large heating units positioned around the walls. The cavern was furnished with enough equipment to suggest that it had been in use for a long time. Yonada was standing demurely in the centre of the cavern, where a small platform stood. She was also richly dressed, and even more beautiful than before.

Urging Picard onto the platform, Tamon stepped back. He indicated to his companion, who forced Riker to his knees a short distance away, and slightly to one side. Riker’s one good arm was twisted up behind his back, and the weapon was placed against his head. Picard looked on in growing anger and disgust.

“Now, Captain,” Tamon said. “Commander Riker here is our guarantee of your good behaviour. Once the wedding is over, you will both be dumped somewhere your precious crew will find you. By then, Yonada and I will be long gone. But one false move, and I will have Riker taken apart one piece at a time.”

Neither Picard nor Riker doubted that Tamon meant every word. Picard simply nodded, and did nothing as Tamon presented him with a book containing the wedding ceremony. The book was large enough That Picard needed both hands to hold it, and solid enough to give him ideas about how else it might be used!

One of Tamon’s band took a stance behind the platform and gave Picard a dig in the ribs with his weapon. “Start!” he ordered.

Picard took the hint.

*****

Lifting his hand, Data brought the away team to a halt. When Worf opened his mouth to speak, Data hushed him. They all strained their ears, trying to hear what the android could hear. They all failed. “What is it?” Geordi whispered.

“I can hear Captain Picard’s voice,” Data responded. “He would appear to be reading the Centauri wedding ceremony.” He cocked his head, obviously listening more closely. “It would seem that he is nearing the end.” Data concluded.

“Come on then,” Worf grunted, and they moved forward, hurrying now as they neared their goal.

It was hard to say who got the bigger shock when the Federation team entered the cavern, Picard or Tamon. Picard reacted immediately, turning and clobbering the man behind him with the heavy, sacred book. It proved a most effective weapon.

Data was issuing a warning about nobody moving, but Tamon ignored it. Almost as quickly as Picard, he was in motion, throwing himself sideways at the helpless Riker. Even as Worf fired at him, missing, Tamon hit Riker full on his left side, driving him over sideways, trapping his right arm, which had been twisted up behind him.

The man guarding Riker swung his weapon up and fried at Picard, who dodged barely in time. There was an exchange of fire, and then Worf and Data were crossing the cavern at a run, and bodily lifting Tamon from Riker. An Enterprise security man had Yonada firmly by the arm.

Moment later, Beverly Crusher appeared at Picard’s side, scanning him with her tricorder. “I’m all right,” Picard said, getting to his feet. “But Will is injured. Quickly!”

Nodding, Beverly wasn’t surprised to find that Deanna was kneeling by Riker, who was spark out on the floor. Picard smiled at this crew. “Thank you, everyone. Mr Data, perhaps you will lead us out of here when Doctor Crusher is ready.”

Frowning, Data said, “Of course, Captain. I would have done so without your request.”

Picard was unable to hide a smile. Some things never changed. Data went to help Riker to his feet.

*****

Several hours, a square meal and hot shower later, Picard was sitting in the observation lounge. The Sunlord’s image was on the viewscreen before him. The portly politician was sweating as he stumbled his way through an apology. “Rest assured, Captain, Tamon will spend a long time in repenting his crime.”

“I’m sure,” Picard responded dryly. “I see no reason to take this further. However, should anything else occurs, I won’t hesitate to contact the authorities. Picard out.”

Rising, he went to the turbolift and down to sickbay. He was officially off duty until Beverly said he was fit, so he thought he would visit Will and see how he was doing. As he went in, he saw Beverly talking to Will and Deanna. “I thought I told you to go to bed,” Beverly said.

“I will after this,” Picard agreed. “I came to see how Will is doing.”

“I’m well on the road to recovery,” Riker said, grinning. His fingers were entwined in Deanna’s. “But the good doctor informs me that I’ll be here for a day or so yet.”

“Nothing too serious?” Picard enquired.

“The shoulder wound wasn’t great, but could have been worse,” Beverly said. “He couldn’t crack that think head if he tried, so that’s mending. His main problems are blood loss and exhaustion.” Beverly glanced up sideways at Picard. “His last surgeon wasn’t as skilled as I am.”

“I quite agree, doctor,” Picard said, briskly, ignoring the poorly controlled smirks from Riker and Troi. “I’m sure the fellow will be struck off, as soon as he’s found.”

“Maybe,” Riker said, still grinning, and sounding altogether too cheerful. “But he was kind of handy to have around in a crisis.” He glanced at the Captain, and saw his thanks had been understood.

“A crisis?” Picard echoed. “Number One, once you have your own command, our little escapade on Centauri III will seem like a holiday in the country!” So saying, Picard exited briskly, before anyone could say anything.

Exchanging glances, Riker, Deanna and Beverly burst out laughing. “I thought country air was supposed to do you good?” Riker wheezed. “What went wrong with me?”

“You’re not the country air type,” Deanna offered. “Jazz and country air don’t go together!”

“Oh thanks, Imzadi,” Riker said, trying to sound offended, and failing.

“I’ve been prescribing country holidays for years,” Beverly said, thoughtfully, which set Will and Deanna off again.

*****End*****

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