The Wedding (by Rona)

Synopsis:

Rating:  T
Word Count:  12,200

Author’s note. I wrote this story after reading ‘Imzadi II: Triangle’ by Peter David, and if you have read that book, it might make some of the references clearer. Even if you haven’t read this book, I hope the story makes sense.

 

The Wedding

 

The evening was winding down to a close as they sat in front of a real log fire in their hotel suite. They were drinking red wine and indulging in a long, romantic seduction for two. There was no urgency, as they had all the time in the world. Time is infinite on a honeymoon.

The door to their room suddenly exploded inwards, showering the startled couple with debris. They both leapt to their feet, and gaped in astonishment at the masked, armed intruders swarming into their room.

The man tensed, and stepped protectively in front of his petite wife. He stood 6ft 4in, and was impressively muscled to match. He was also angry. “What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” warned the leader. “We are members of the Maquis. We need your help, William Riker.”

*****

Three of the five Maquis kept their weapons trained on Will and Deanna Riker while the other two packed up the couple’s belongings. Riker had an arm round Deanna, who was taut with a mixture of anger and fear. They were both watching for an opportunity to turn the tables.

Packing over, the Maquis leader turned back to them. “The whole hotel is under our command,” he said. “No one will come to your rescue. You’ll be transferred to our ship and then we’ll release the other guests. By then, we’ll be long gone.”

“If you think we’ll cooperate with you, you’re sadly mistaken,” Riker warned. “As soon as we are reported missing, Starfleet will be on our tail.”

The leader looked at Riker for a moment. “Is that meant to impress me?” he asked. “Oh, and by the way, I am a telepath, and can read your thoughts. Don’t waste time trying to escape.”

Deanna tightened her grip on Will’s hand as she felt the blaze of fury he projected at the man in front of them. It had no visible effect, and after a moment, he relaxed slightly and glanced down at his wife of only 5 days. She met his gaze, and for a moment, no one else existed in their world.

Then harsh reality intruded. “If you’d be so kind as to turn around, Commander.” The leader produced hand restraints.

Riker looked at them disbelievingly, then shook his head. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

“I wasn’t asking,” the leader warned. “Turn around!”

“No,” Riker repeated. He stood a little straighter, but didn’t retreat.

“Very well, we’ll do it the hard way.” Motioning to his fellows, they began to close in on the Rikers.

It was what Will had been hoping for. He feinted left, then dove right, throwing a punch at the Maquis nearest to him. At the same moment, Deanna lunged at the nearest man’s legs. Will’s opponent fell, and he turned to meet the next one. As he turned, something struck him on the side of the head. Stunned, he sank to his knees and tried valiantly to fight off the person who jumped on his back. He failed. His face was pushed into the floor, and when his struggles didn’t subside, his attacker bashed his head off the floor.

By the time his vision cleared, Will was bound hand and foot. Deanna was in the grip of two Maquis. Although dishevelled, she seemed uninjured. “I’m okay” she assured him, her voice laden with concern.

“Me, too,” he croaked. Despite himself, he struggled against his bonds. They were firmly fixed. He heard the leader say “Energise” and they were beamed away.

*****

“Sir, we are receiving an urgent message from Risa,” said Lieutenant Daniels, who was at the tactical station.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard turned to look at him. “Urgent? From the Rikers? Put it on screen.”

Picard was surprised when the viewscreen showed the governor of Risa, not Will or Deanna. “Governor, how can I help you?” Picard rose instinctively when he saw the governor’s face. She looked very worried indeed.

“Captain Picard, I’m sorry to bother you. Last night, there was an armed raid on one of the hotels here. Several people were held hostage. No one was hurt, but when we regained control, we discovered that Commander and Mrs Riker were missing. The person holding us identified themselves as the Maquis.” The governor was wringing her hands. “The door to their room was blown open, and their belongings are missing.”

Picard was horrified. “Governor, the Enterprise is coming to Risa immediately. We will need all the details you can give us. Picard out.” He glanced at the conn officer, and saw that the coordinates were already inlaid, and they were just awaiting his command. “Make it so,” he ordered. “Maximum warp.”

All round the bridge, the officers were exclaiming in appalled whispers. They had all been present when Picard had married Will and Deanna. And now they had disappeared.

*****

Will Riker jerked awake and twisted fruitlessly against his restraints. Instantly, Deanna was by his side, soothing him, calming him, as she had done every time he’d wakened. Will had been mildly concussed, and hadn’t remembered what had happened to them. This time, he remembered what had happened. “Will?”

“Are you all right?” Riker asked. He wriggled around to sit up. Deanna helped him.

“I’m fine,” she assured him. “What about you?” She took his head between her hands and tilted his face up to the dim light. Will’s face was grazed and bruised, but there was no sign of infection. She was relieved to see more clarity in his eyes.

“I ache all over,” Will answered, ruefully. “But I’ll live. I’m sorry I’ve been out of it. No one’s bothered you, have they?”

“No, honestly. I haven’t seen anyone at all since we were put in here.” She looked round the small room, then smiled at Riker and kissed him. “You are allowed to pass command over to me sometimes you know. I am a bridge officer.”

Riker cracked a smile. “I trust you implicitly, Commander Riker.” He kissed her back. “Or do you want to keep your own name? I never thought to ask. I’m sorry.”

Deanna smiled. “No, I’m Deanna Riker. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get too confusing on the Enterprise.” She held out her hand and admired her wedding ring. It was something she’d done several times a day since their wedding.

Will sighed, and shifted his shoulders restlessly. Attuned to his moods, Deanna climbed onto the bunk behind him and tried to massage some of the tension out of his shoulders. She was only partially successful. “I don’t understand,” he commented. “What possible use could we be to the Maquis? I thought they had more or less disappeared when the Dominion War began.”

“I don’t know either,” Deanna admitted. “Even if they thought you could give them access to some restricted area, what makes them think that you would?”

Will was silent. But Deanna was no fool. “No, not me!”

“I’m afraid so, darling,” Will said, turning to look at her. Deanna’s hands dropped into her lap. She looked so desolate that Riker longed to take her in his arms. “Deanna,” he said, gently, “they can’t get access to anything through me. Think! Once Starfleet discovers we’re missing, all our command codes and access codes will be changed. There’s nothing either of us can do about that.”

“Of course, I’d forgotten,” she admitted, but she still looked troubled.

The door suddenly hissed open, startling them both. Deanna drew back in spite of herself. Riker instinctively moved in front of her.

The Maquis leader stood there, looking at them, without his mask! Deanna gasped. “Talen?” She scrambled to her feet and pushed past her husband to confront the man. “Is it you, Talen? What are you playing at?” She sounded furious.

Riker pushed himself to his feet so he could see Deanna’s face. He was right – she was angry. He didn’t understand. “Deanna? Do you know this creep?”

Talen chuckled. “Its me, De.” He stepped into the room, and the door closed at his back. The lights abruptly went up to normal levels.

After hours in virtual darkness, the Rikers were momentarily blinded. When they regained their vision, Talen was standing quite close. Deanna now looked disgusted, as well as angry. “Will, this is my cousin, Talen.”

Will felt his mouth drop open as he looked from one to the other. Deanna had yet to take her eyes from their captor. “You are despicable! How dare you treat us like this?”

Talen’s grin faded. “That’s enough, Deanna.”

“Enough? I don’t think so!” Deanna stepped closer, and raised her hand, as if to strike him.

Talen grabbed her arm, and effortlessly turned her round and began to twist her arm up behind her back. Will instantly threw his weight at Talen, forcing him to release Deanna. Talen dropped Deanna and threw a fist into Riker’s stomach. Riker doubled over. Talen grabbed his head, yanked it up and threw a couple of punches at his face. As Riker began to go down, Talen aided him on his way with a blow to the back of his neck.

Deanna launched another attack, this time in Will’s defence. Talen pushed her away and kicked Riker in the guts. Totally defenceless, Riker doubled over, trying to protect his vitals. He couldn’t suppress a groan. Talen pushed Deanna to the floor again and stepped back to the door.

“I didn’t come here to fight with you,” he said, still panting. He threw something on the floor. “Yes, you are my cousin, but you are also my prisoner. Remember that in future. I need your husband to do something for me, and if I have to use you to make him obey, believe me, I will!” Talen rapped once on the door, which obediently opened. He stepped through and was gone.

For several minutes, the Rikers huddled together on the floor. Deanna took Will’s pain to herself, but as the pain began to subside, and Will revived, Deanna sat up. She remembered the object Talen had thrown on the floor, and reached for it.

It was the release for Will’s hand restraints.

*****

Picard stood beside the door, projecting a calmness that he wasn’t feeling. The security teams from the Enterprise were going over the room with a fine-tooth comb, seeking any evidence that there night be. Picard wasn’t hopeful.

The Maquis had been very quiet of late, since the Dominion War. Now that the war was over, and peace was again the norm in the galaxy, Starfleet had assumed that the Maquis would not surface again. After all, the Cardassians had suffered greatly under the Dominion, and the colonies that Maquis had been fighting to free, were now free.

Picard could not figure out why the Maquis had re-appeared and abducted the Rikers. He could think of no reason at all, except some sort of revenge. It was a disquieting thought. Who could possibly hold a grudge against either of them that involved such extensive preparations? Picard could think of no one, which, to him, only meant that his memory wasn’t good enough.

The search turned up nothing, which surprised no one. All the same, they were discouraged as they transported back to the Enterprise. Picard summoned Data to his ready room and asked the android to check into all recent reports that might, however tenuously, be connected to either Will or Deanna. Picard didn’t have high hopes of Data finding anything.

They did get a break, however. Several ships had been in the vicinity of Risa, and some of them had witnessed the speedy arrival and departure of the Maquis ship. After down loading sensor logs, the Enterprise had both the warp signature and original heading of the ship. They set off at once, knowing that the ‘E’ had more speed than their quarry. Perhaps they’d have more luck on the way.

Data approached Picard several hours into the pursuit. “Captain, I have found a report concerning Thomas Riker.”

Picard, who’d been trying to relax on his couch, sat up. “Thomas Riker? We haven’t heard from him since….”

“Since he escaped from the Klingon homeworld after the abortive Romulan plot to assassinate Gowron, the Klingon chancellor,” Data continued.

“Yes, thank you, Data, I remember,” Picard said, dryly. “What did this report say?”

Data flourished a padd and Picard all but snatched it out of his hand. Data looked mildly surprised, but Picard didn’t notice.

Thomas Riker, Will’s ‘twin’ had been found unconscious on planet JD2, a quiet planet commonly referred to as ‘Jade’. He was seriously ill, and the writer of the report doubted if he’d live. Starfleet had been notified, as Tom was AWOL. That was where the report ended. “Is there a subsequent report?” Picard asked.

“I do not know yet,” Data replied. “This is dated one Earth month ago. The computer is checking, and will notify me if there is another report.”

“All right. Let me know the moment you hear anything. Meantime, lets head for JD2, maximum warp.”

*****

Riker yawned convulsively and rubbed his eyes. He had no idea how long he’d been keeping watch while Deanna slept. Deanna had shed bitter tears after her cousin had left, and she had freed Riker’s hands. Riker had cradled her while she cried, understanding, without words, her horror, fear and exhaustion. Once she was calmer, Riker encouraged her to sleep, and forced himself to stay awake, feeling it was a bad move for them both to sleep at the same time.

For quite some time, Riker’s aches and pains had kept him awake, but gradually, sleep threatened to overwhelm him. He forced himself to his feet, and took another tour of their ‘quarters’. There were no hollow-sounding panels; the air ducts were too small to fit more than a hand or foot into, and the ceiling was beyond reach. There was no obvious surveillance point, but Riker assumed they were being watched constantly. He went into the tiny bathroom and extended his hands to the tap. Cold water gushed out, and he splashed his face, wincing at the stinging from both hands and face. Straightening, he squinted in the mirror at the bruising on his face, sighed, then looked at his wrists. His useless struggles against the restraints had torn the skin and left his hands swollen and clumsy. Now, several hours later, his fingers still felt stiff.

Rubbing his hands briskly together, he went back into the main room of the quarters. It was stuffy, which made him feel sleepy again. He paced about until Deanna stirred a short time later.

Riker sat down on the edge of the bunk, and thought how desirable Deanna looked, newly wakened, her hair dishevelled. Deanna gave him a sultry smile; well aware of the direction his thoughts had taken.

Riker sighed and shook his head. “Did you sleep okay?” he asked, his voice a warm caress.

“Surprisingly enough, yes, I did. Have you been awake all along?” She looked down with disgust at the hopelessly wrinkled lounging robe, which she still wore. “Do you think we’re likely to get a change of clothes soon?”

“Not until we’re suitable grateful or submissive,” Riker said, cynically. He yawned, which answered Deanna’s original question. “I think it’s a wonder,” he went on “that we’ve been allowed water to wash with.”

“That’s a thought,” Deanna said, pushing back the blankets and getting up. “I’ll go wash, and you sleep.”

“I’ll stay awake till you get through,” Riker said, but his eyes were already closing. He was asleep before she had crossed the room.

*****

When Deanna emerged from the bathroom, she was appalled to see Talen bending over the sleeping Will. ‘What are you doing?’ she projected furiously at him.

Talen turned. ‘Relax, Deanna’ he thought back. ‘I’m not hurting your precious husband. Look.’ He showed her the object in his hand – a bio regenerator.

Although relieved, Deanna was still angry. “What was I supposed to think?” she hissed. “You’ve kidnapped us; you beat Will up! So tell me, Talen, what am I supposed to think?”

Talen took Deanna by the arm and drew her across the room, away from the bunk. “Yes, okay, I plead guilty to both charges. But I need Will. I’m hardly likely to do him harm.”

“What do you need him for?” Deanna asked. “Why do you think he’ll cooperate with you anyway?”

Talen chucked her under the chin. “I’ve got you, so he’ll cooperate. If he doesn’t, he’s liable to end up in a labour camp on Lazon II – or what’s left of Lazon II.”

For a second or two, Deanna didn’t know what Talen meant, and then it clicked. “You’ve found Tom,” she whispered.

*****

Picard looked down on the man in the bed and felt a profound sense of shock. He had never become accustomed to the presence of Tom Riker, and quite often managed to forget his existence. What disturbed him most was not the similarity between the two men – after all, they were the same person – but the differences. Tom Riker was Will Riker, as Will was Tom. But Tom had gone off the rails somehow. It was probably the result of those 8 years spent alone on Narvala IV after the transporter accident, which had created him. He had attempted to resume his Starfleet career, but he seemed unable to settle, and ended up in the Maquis. When a mission went wrong, he’d ended up in the Cardassian labour camp on Lazon II. Since his escape from there, and from the Klingons, he’d been on the run.

Now, the running had ended here, in this hospital bed, after a brush with death. Tom had been in a coma since the virulent fever he’d had had broken. Unfortunately, it still looked as though the fever would kill him in the end. Tom was extremely thin, his cheeks sunken under the full beard that Will Riker no longer had. There was grey in his hair. The boyish look that Will still had was gone for good in Tom.

Picard raised his eyes to the doctor standing on the other side of the bed. “Will he wake up?” he asked.

The doctor shrugged. “I don’t know. We’ve never come across this fever before. It affected so much of his body. I’m still surprised he lived through it.” He sighed.” I really can’t tell you, Captain. All I can say for certain at this point is that Mr Riker isn’t brain dead.”

“Thank you, doctor. We’ll arrange for his transfer to the Enterprise as soon as possible.” Picard could not imagine where Starfleet would put Tom Riker, but orders were orders.

“I’ve already spoken with Doctor Crusher, “ the other assured him.

“Excellent,” Picard replied, his gaze drawn back to the bed. “I leave it in your – and Dr Crusher’s – capable hands.”

Beverly joined him a few minutes later. “Jean-Luc?”

He glanced up at her, and focused his thoughts. “Yes.”

“I’ve arranged for an isolation room. I thought it would be better for everyone if Tom wasn’t lying in sickbay.” Beverly looked down at him. “Its uncanny, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely,” Picard agreed, with conviction. “Beverly, what about Kyle Riker? Should he be notified about – Tom?”

If Beverly noticed the hesitation, she showed no signs. “I don’t know,” she replied, sounding troubled. “I don’t know if he knows about Tom.”

That jolted Picard. “Nobody told him? Are you sure?”

“No, I’m not sure,” Beverly replied, testily. “I said that.”

“Good God! What a dilemma! To be told that your only child was duplicated by a freak transporter accident, several years ago, and that the duplicate is in a coma and unlikely to wake again! And Will, the original? Oh, he’s missing, kidnapped by the Maquis and could be dead. Who gets to tell Kyle this marvellous story?” Picard rubbed a hand over his face. “Probably me,” he said, more quietly. “What a mess!”

“I know,” Beverly sympathised. “But what if Tom should die?” Beverly looked troubled.

Picard shook his head. “I don’t know. Pass the buck to Starfleet Command. Let them make the decisions. I don’t even know where to find Kyle Riker. He wasn’t at the wedding – not that that was a surprise.” Picard was pacing, freed from his fascination with the figure on the bed.

“What are we going to do after…?” Beverly gestured to the bed, and Picard knew what she meant.

“Play hide and seek,” Picard responded, cryptically, heading for the door.

*****

Talen drew Deanna over towards the door. ‘Yes,’ he agreed telepathically, ‘we’ve found Tom.’

“Why didn’t you simply say so?” Deanna demanded. The thought of Lazon II brought back nasty memories of how badly beaten Will had been when Worf rescued him. “Why all this nonsense?”

“I couldn’t take that risk. I still can’t. Will may not be willing to help us. He’ll want to draw Starfleet into it, and we don’t want that! Plus, I don’t know how Will feels about Tom.”

Deanna simply looked at him. She knew that Will and Tom had parted on friendly terms on the Enterprise-D, but she had no idea how their relationship was after their last encounter, when Tom had been masquerading as Will. She shook her head slightly. It was all so complicated.

“Anyway, we still need Will to help us, and if I have to use you to persuade him, so be it. Here,” Talen thrust the bio-regenerator into her hand. “You make your husband look presentable. Your clothes are over there.” He rapped once on the door and left.

Deanna looked at the instrument in her hand. Clean clothes and the chance of tomorrow. Why wasn’t she convinced? And she answered herself – what would happen to them once the Maquis were finished with them? They would be killed. There was no chance of tomorrow.

*****

Riker slept deeply for several hours. The smell of hot coffee helped to rouse him. After their meal, Deanna repaired the damage to his face, and he put on clean clothes. He instantly felt better. While he was doing this, Deanna brought him up-to-date with Talen’s little visit. Riker looked thoughtful. “I wished Tom well, but I can’t help Talen. I’m sure Starfleet would turn a blind eye to Tom, as they’ve done all along. But by involving us, Talen has simply ensured Starfleet’s involvement. I don’t think he’s telling us all the story.”

“That’s what I thought, too. So what are we going to do?” Deanna snuggled back against Riker’s broad chest as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck.

“I still don’t know,” he replied. “I can’t make any plans until we know what Talen intends to do.”

*****

Talen was smiling innocently at the senior administrator of the hospital complex on JD2. “So, when I heard that my cousin was here, I had to come. None of the family have seen him in years. We were worried.”

“Yes, I can imagine,” Dr Wilkinson frowned. He had been stunned when Talen appeared in his office, and a discreet message had been sent to the Enterprise. “There are a few things you ought to know. Your cousin has been extremely ill – he nearly died. Unfortunately, he is now in a coma, and I can’t say if he will ever recover. I’m sorry to give you such bad news. Decisions will have to be made about his long-term future care. I presume you’ll want to take him back to his family?”

Talen was shocked. For a telepath, he was poor at reading other people’s minds if they were a non-telepathic race, and the doctor was concentrating so hard to breaking the bad news gently, that Talen couldn’t read him at all.

So it came as an even bigger shock when the office door opened and Picard, Daniels, and a security team came in.

Talen leaped to his feet, and backed off. It never occurred to him that it confirmed Picard’s suspicions, without him ever having said anything. Talen’s mind raced, while he tried to think of a way he could escape. They hadn’t spotted the Enterprise, which had been hiding over the magnetic pole.

“We just want to ask some questions,” Picard said, and introduced himself.

“And you need phasers to do so?” Talen said, sarcastically.

Picard made no movement that Talen could see, but the security teams holstered their weapons. Daniels’ one didn’t waver.

“We were unaware that Mr Riker had any family,” Picard said.

“He’s my cousin by marriage,” Talen said, lightly. He supposed it was true, sort of.

“I see,” Picard responded. Talen strained to read him, but found himself blocked. Picard seemed perfectly calm, and showed no signs of effort at maintaining his mental shields. Talen wondered if he was even aware of what he was doing. After all, Picard had no way to know that Talen was a telepath. “Have you a medical facility in mind for your cousin?”

“I haven’t had a chance to think about it,” Talen snapped. “I only just found out how ill he is.”

It was the right answer, Picard acknowledged. If only he didn’t know this man was holding his first officer and ship’s counsellor as hostage. “How long is it since you’ve seen your cousin?”

“Its been a few years,” Talen admitted. “With the war on, travel hasn’t been easy.”

“Are you sure this is your cousin, then? Would you recognise him?”

“Yes, I’d recognise him when I see him. What is this?” Talen allowed himself to be exasperated. “He is my cousin.”

“By marriage,” Picard added. “How long as he been married to your cousin?”

Talen was thrown. He’d constructed a partial background story, loosely based on the truth, as he’d learned that partial truths were often more effective than an outright lie. But the cover had only gone so far. He hadn’t expected Starfleet involvement at this stage. “I’m not sure,” he blustered. “I can’t remember.”

Picard pretended he didn’t see what a poor lie it was. “Perhaps you should come and identify your cousin for us,” he suggested.

Talen nodded reluctantly, and joined Picard by the door. He was totally unprepared for what followed – the tingle of a transporter beam!

Materialising on the Enterprise, Talen hastily summoned anger. He was a telepath, he chided himself. How come he hadn’t known what Picard had in mind? Why could this man block him so easily? “What is the meaning of this? Talen demanded, fear masquerading as outrage.

“I’m sorry, I should have said something. Your cousin is now on board this ship.” Picard graciously indicated the door. “Shall we?”

“Why is my cousin here?” Talen was horrified. It would be almost impossible to get Tom safely from this vessel.

“You don’t know your cousin very well, do you?” Picard commented, dryly. “He belongs in Starfleet, so we were sent to bring him home.”

“I was told he’d left Starfleet,” Talen said, defensively. He continued to follow Picard along the corridor. Daniels was still at his back, although he had holstered his phaser. Talen knew there was nowhere to run.

Picard entered a dimly lit room. On the bed lay Tom Riker, but he was a shadow of the man Talen had known. Talen could not suppress a gasp. Instinctively, he pushed his thought’s to meet Tom’s, and met only a void. Tom’s brain was functioning only enough o keep his heart beating and his lungs breathing, but there were no longer nay thought to touch. At that moment, Talen knew Tom would never recover.

Picard had watched Talen interestedly throughout. He felt sorry for the shock the man so obviously felt. “So this is your cousin Will,” he said.

“No, Tom,” Talen answered, and too late realised his mistake. He made a fruitless dash for the door, but Daniels was ready for him. Briefly, Talen considered sending a mental blast at both men, but discarded the idea. Where could he run to, after all?

“Now, would you like to start again?” Picard asked, in a deadly quiet tone that would have alerted all his crew to his wrath. “I think it would be better if you spoke the truth.”

*****

The door to their quarters opened, and two Maquis came in. Something in their stance alerted the Rikers to danger, and they both got to their feet. It was the first time they had seen anyone other than Talen since their capture.

“You will come with us, Commander.” It was an order.

Riker shook his head. “No. I’m no use to you. For all you know, I look nothing like Tom now.” He fingered the few days’ growth of dark stubble.

“You will come. Now!” The spokesman produced a phaser.

Riker put an arm in front of Deanna. “This is a waste of time, I’m not going to cooperate.”

“Refuse again, and I will shoot.”

“So shoot,” Riker said. “I’m not going to help you!”

Deanna clutched his arm wordlessly. She knew that nothing she said would stop either her husband or their captors. “Step back, Deanna,” Riker said, gently, lovingly. He gave her a small push. “This doesn’t concern my wife,” he said, in his command tone.

“Move, Riker!” When he stood his ground, they stunned him. One man trained the phaser on Deanna while the other struggled to drag Riker’s unconscious body form the room.

“Be careful, Will,” she said, bleakly, knowing he couldn’t hear her. “I would look dreadful in black.”

*****

Picard sat down in his quarters and sighed. They had been unable to get a word out of their prisoner, not even his name. Daniels was sorting through the Maquis files, hoping that his face would be there.

He was tired, Picard realised. Totally exhausted. The tension level on the ship was sky high. You didn’t have to be an empath to feel it. It had leapt up a notch when Tom Riker had been brought aboard. Picard’s calm façade was in danger of cracking, and he was grateful to drop it now.

There were a number of ships in orbit around JD2, and Data was currently trying to match their warp signatures to the ship they sought.

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than Data contacted him. “Captain, I have identified the Maquis ship.”

“I’ll be right there, Data,” Picard responded, pushing himself to his feet, his fatigue momentarily forgotten.

On the bridge, Data stood from the command chair immediately Picard appeared on the bridge. On the viewscreen was the image of a tramp freighter. “They have their shields up,” Data said, launching, unasked, into an explanation. “We have detected 6 life forms on board, all humanoid.”

“Have you tried to contact them?” Picard asked.

“No, Sir.”

“Good. Don’t. Keep sensors on them at all times. I want to know their every movement.” Picard crossed his arms thoughtfully, and plucked at his lower lip. “Have a transporter room standing by at all times. If all 6 people are close enough, and the shields go down, beam them aboard at once.”

“Aye, Sir,” Data replied.

“That’s all for now, Data. I’m going to bed. The bridge is yours.” He left feeling slightly more optimistic.

*****

Picard had only been on duty for a short while the next morning when he was contacted by Dr Wilkinson. “Captain Picard, several of my staff have reported seeing Tom Riker in the hospital, wondering about.”

“What? That’s impossible, doctor. I’ve only just had a report on his condition from Doctor Crusher.”

“Yes. I wondered if perhaps this was your missing officer? What action would you like me to take?”

“None, thank you. I’ll beam down security teams to look into this.”

“That’s not quite all, Captain.” Wilkinson looked uneasy. “Last night, there was a break in at the hospital. The target appears to have been Tom Riker. His was the only room entered, and it was wrecked.”

“I see,” Picard said, thoughtfully. “Have you any clues as to the identity of the intruders?”

“I’m afraid not. However, the authorities here suggest that whoever did it was a professional.”

“Thank you very much.” Picard switched off his computer and leaned back in his chair. Obviously, Will Riker was on the planet, which explained the beam down reported to him very early that morning. But Picard could hardly believe Riker was cooperating with his captors. Were the Maquis threatening Deanna with physical violence? Even if they were, it surprised Picard that Riker – who was nothing if not resourceful – hadn’t found a way to contact the authorities.

*****

Deanna jumped to her feet as the door opened, and Will was pushed into the room. She was horrified when he stumbled and fell, and appalled when she saw that his eyes were dulled. She talked to him for several minutes before she saw a spark deep in the blue depths. He had been drugged, she realised, furiously. There was nothing she could do to help him.

He was still fighting off the effects of the drugs when they returned for him an hour or so later. “Time to go, Commander.”

Like an automaton, Riker got to his feet and walked stiff legged from the room. Deanna went after him. “Please, leave him alone. Get Talen to come, so I can talk to him.”

“Talen isn’t here,” one said, and shut the door in her face.

Deanna could feel the unease behind that casual statement. Despite herself, Deanna felt a surge of hope. If Talen had gone missing, perhaps Starfleet had traced them. Deanna felt a smile on her face, and swiftly brought herself under control. It would never do for her captors to see they had hope.

*****

Riker stumbled along the street, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. He had no idea why he was where he was, but he did know that Deanna’s life depended on his obedience. He had been wondering around form quite some time, his mind frighteningly blank. Thoughts started to form, but he couldn’t grasp any of them.

So when the attack came, Riker had no resources to meet it. He went down under the three men, but after a couple of punches, they realised that there was no resistance. They jerked Riker to his feet. “Well, Tom, thought you’d got away with it, did you?”

“Not… I don’t….No….” Riker found it impossible to form the sentence.

He was being hustled along the street, faster than he was really able to cope with. He stumbled and found himself under attack again. Two other men, who looked vaguely familiar, charged into the group Riker was with. The three men let go of Riker to fend off the attack.

Released, Riker tumbled to the ground, and lay helplessly, being stepped on as the men fought round him. And then things reeled beyond his ability to follow them, as some of the men suddenly collapsed on top of him.

The bodies were pulled away, and a face looked anxiously down at him. “Commander! Are you all right?”

Gazing back at the man, Riker was wordless. Daniels straightened up and looked at his security team. “Secure these men. We’ll want to question them thoroughly. I’ll beam up to the Enterprise with Commander Riker and you’ll get further orders soon.”

The security detail nodded, and set to work. Daniels carefully helped Riker to his feet, unsure if he was injured or not. Riker was splattered with blood, but didn’t appear to be bleeding.

“Daniels to Enterprise. I’ve found Commander Riker. Beam us directly to sickbay.”

*****

Leaping to his feet as Daniels voice filled the bridge, Picard said, “You have the bridge Mr Data.” He was already heading for the turbolift. The atmosphere had lightened a great deal already, and Picard felt more energetic, too.

In sickbay, Riker was lying gingerly on the examination couch, looking around blankly. Beverly was smiling reassuringly at him while running her tricorder over him. Picard came close, smiling, and was met with the blank gaze. His stomach lurched.

“He’s been drugged,” Beverly said. “Naprozine – and lots of it. He’s so spaced out, I doubt if he remembers his own name, never mind who we are.”

Forcing himself to smile at his XO again, Picard looked across at Daniels. “Any sign of Deanna?”

“No, Sir,” Daniels began.

“Deanna,” Riker said. “Deanna…careful…be…Deanna.”

Exchanging a sober glance with Picard, Beverly shrugged. “Its okay, Will,” she soothed him. “We’ll find Deanna.”

“Deanna,” Riker repeated. His vacant gaze wandered away. It was extremely disturbing for his friends.

Drawing Daniels aside, Picard heard his report. “He nodded approval of Daniels actions. “Very good. Go back and question those men. We need to know who they are.”

“Aye, Sir,” Daniels responded. He glanced at Riker, met Picard’s eyes again and nodded. Picard watched his blond security chief leave, and thought how well he was filling Worf’s over-sized shoes.

Turning back to Beverly, he found her reassuring Riker again. She patted Riker’s arm, and crossed to Picard. “I need you on stand by,” he said. “I’m going to get Deanna back. How long will it be before Commander Riker is back to normal?”

Shaking her head, Beverly said, “I can’t really tell you. Perhaps 24 hours, perhaps longer. He’s had huge quantities of Naprozine. Possibly as much as twice the normal dose. I don’t quite know how he’ll react as it leaves his system. Ideally, I’d like to sedate him, but I daren’t take that risk. I’m sorry I can’t be more precise, Captain. I’ll do what I can for him.”

“Yes, I know you will, Doctor. Keep me informed.”

*****

Striding purposefully onto the bridge, Picard began to issue orders. “Ensign Zegar, hail the Maquis ship.”

“Aye, Sir,” replied the young Vulcan. He pressed the necessary pads. “No response, Sir.”

“Keep trying, Ensign,” Picard said. “Mr Data, have you located shield control on the Maquis ship?”

“Yes, Captain,” Data replied.

“Excellent. Transporter room, stand by to beam aboard all life signs from the Maquis ship. Security to transporter room.”

He received the necessary responses. Turning to Tactical, Picard said, “Ensign, fire phasers at shield control, enough to disable it only. Transporter room, as soon as the other ship’s shields go down, energise!” He drew a deep breath. “Now!” he ordered.

Zegar fired. “Shields are down, Captain,” he reported.

“Transporter commencing,” Data said. “Completed.”

“I have Counsellor Troi,” came the excited voice of the transported chief. “Oh, I mean Counsellor Riker.”

“Well done, everyone. Security, take the prisoners to the brig. Counsellor Riker, report to sickbay.” Picard turned to the turbolift. “Mr Data, the bridge is yours.”

“Aye, Sir,” Data answered, wondering if he should have had his emotion chip switched on. Judging by the reactions of his crewmates, he would have experienced great joy. What a pity he had missed his chance.

*****

To Picard’s eyes, Deanna looked shaken, but unharmed. She greeted Picard with a glowing smile. “Captain! Thank you for your timely rescue.”

“We’ve been looking for you, Counsellor. All your captors are in custody. Are you all right?” Picard smiled warmly at her, and squeezed her arm gently. He shot a glance at Riker, who was sleeping.

“All our captors?” Deanna said, sharply. “Including Talen?” She gave a brief description of him.

“Yes, we took him into custody a few days ago. Then we rescued Will from the surface, and mounted a rescue attempt to get you back.”

“Captain, Talen Digente is my cousin. He kidnapped us to try and rescue Tom Riker. Quite how he intended to do that, I’m not sure.” She pushed her hair away from her face. “Will refused to cooperate, so they stunned him and dragged him out. When he came back, he was like a zombie.” She glanced at her husband, worry in her eyes. “He was only with me for about an hour, then they took him away again. I hadn’t seen him between then and now.”

Picard had absorbed the shock of Deanna’s revelation. Now, he brought her up-to-date with their side of the story. As he finished, Riker stirred and woke. Deanna glanced at Picard for permission, and went to him. Both Picard and Beverly watched. Deanna was more successful at calming Riker than either Beverly or any of her nurses had been. Riker was still completely disoriented.

Still holding Riker’s hand, Deanna glanced at Picard. “Gently, she freed her hand and came over. “You want my help in questioning the Maquis.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” Picard agreed. “When you’re up to it.” He hesitated. “Deanna, do you want to see Tom?”

Involuntarily, Deanna glanced back at Will. His eyes were closed again, and he looked like himself. Tears began to streak Deanna’s face. “Yes.”

*****

It was a shock, no matter how prepared she thought she was. Even drugged out of his skull, Will Riker had a presence. No on was unaware of him. But Tom Riker had nothing. The body on the bed was simply a shell. That indefinable spark that made him Tom Riker was gone. AS Deanna tentatively probed his emotions, she realised there was nothing there at all. All his emotions were in neutral; there was nothing for her to sense. Here eyes filled with tears.

Picard was standing close by, offering wordless support and comfort. Beverly stepped closer, and hugged her friend. “Its…tragic,” Deanna said, blinking furiously. “He’s gone forever, isn’t he, Beverly?”

“Yes,” Beverly said, regret in her voice. “There is still a little brain function, but even in the short time he’s been here, its lessened noticeably.” She looked at Deanna’s face. “Truthfully, I think it would be kinder if he died. Even if he does regain consciousness, the brain damage is such that he would be totally helpless, unable to speak, think or do anything for himself.”

Sighing, Deanna said, “I wonder how Will’s going to feel.”

Neither Picard nor Beverly said anything. Beverly didn’t want to tell Deanna that Will was Tom’s closet relative, and if necessary, would have to give permission to turn off life support – in other words, having to sign his own death warrant. No, that could wait for later. Much later.

*****

Talen didn’t even turn his head as Deanna and Picard appeared at the brig forcefield. He stayed flat on his back, one knee bent up, the picture of relaxation.

“You’ll have to say something eventually, Talen,” Deanna observed, evenly. “Sorry would be a good place to begin.”

Swinging upright, Talen laughed. “Gods, Deanna, you never let up, do you? You’re so like your mother.”

“Insults won’t get you anywhere,” she responded. “I think I heard them all when we were growing up.” Snagging her cousin with a serious gaze, she said, “Talen, you must tell us about Tom. Why you wanted Will seen in the city. The games are over, Talen.”

He shrugged. “Yes, you’re right. I am sorry, Deanna, but I couldn’t see any other way forward.” Talen rubbed a hand through his hair. “Tom had been in contact with me for about two months. As you know, he’s been on the run for a year or so, and his money and his luck had run out. He’d become involved with a gang of smugglers running minerals and ore across borders, the usual sort of thing.

“Unfortunately, his ship was spotted by a patrol, and in order to escape, Tom dumped his cargo on an asteroid. When he was finally able to go back to retrieve it, it was gone. His masters didn’t believe that it was ‘lost’. They thought tom had ‘diverted’ the cargo and kept the profits. Tom asked me for a loan to try and get them off his back. I said yes, and offered to bring him back closer to home.

“I collected a few other Maquis members. We don’t really have anything to fight against right now, and they were all as bored as me. Then I heard that Tom was ill.”

Looking down, Talen took a deep breath. Deanna could feel his sorrow. “I’d heard through the family grapevine that you were finally marrying Will, and the idea just came to me. I could spirit Tom out of hospital while using Will as a decoy. I didn’t expect the Enterprise to come galloping to the rescue quite as fast. Dumb, I guess.”

Stirring, Picard said, “You said ore and minerals. Who are they selling to?”

“From what Tom said, anyone who’d buy it.” Talen met Picard’s eyes. “Including the Dominion, during the war.”

Picard was disgusted. “Thank you for you honesty. As you know, its not up to me how the authorities decide to punish you, but I will make it clear that you have been cooperating.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Talen watched as they left, then lay down again. In a way, he was relieved it was over.

*****

Will Riker awakened with a four-alarm hangover. Lying on the bed with his eyes closed, he tried to remember what he had been drinking, and when. He failed. Gingerly, he inched open his eyelids, and winced as the light stabbed into his brain. He groaned at the pain in his head, and tried again. By the time his vision has sorted itself out, Beverly was standing by his side.

“Beverly?” he gasped, starting to sit up. Pain stabbed at him, and he flopped down again. “Oh my head!”

“Take it easy, Will,” Beverly said, sounding pleased. “You’ve had an overdose of Naprozine. Here, I’ll give you something to help your headache.” A hypo hissed against his neck, and after a moment, he felt the pain start to recede.

“How did I get back on the Enterprise?” he asked, having had a glance around. “Where’s Deanna?”

Bringing him up-to-date on most things, Beverly checked out his vital signs on the readout above the bio bed. They were all returning to normal. “You’re going to be fine, Will. Just lie there and I’ll get Deanna.”

Closing his eyes again to let things settle, Will absorbed what Beverly had told him. He had no recollection of being drugged, and he was quite thankful for that.

The sickbay door hissed open, and Riker felt Deanna’s presence. He propped himself up on one elbow and they embraced. “Are you okay?” Will asked.

“I’m totally fine. “Oh, Will, we’ve been so worried.” Deanna sat on the edge of the bed, allowing Riker to lie down again. He still felt a bit jangly.

“What is Beverly keeping from me?” he asked, having seen the gaps in the story he’d been told.

Settling herself more comfortably on the edge of the bed, Deanna laced her fingers through his. “We’ve found Tom.” She studied Riker’s reaction for a moment. “Will, he’s been severely ill,” her fingers tightened on his, “and he’s in a coma.”

For a long moment, Riker just looked at her. He felt nothing – simply numb. “Will he wake up?” he asked.

Hesitating, Deanna realised she couldn’t offer him false hope. “No, darling, I’m afraid not. Beverly says his brain function is dropping off faster and faster.”

There were tears in Riker’s eyes, and Deanna marvelled that, after all these years, he could still surprise her. “Is he in pain?”

“No, no pain.” Deanna waited patiently for Will to sort everything out. She could feel the shock echoing through his mind, and opened herself to him, taking his pain into herself and sharing it.

“Oh, Deanna,” he whispered. “Imzadi, how did it come to this?”

Shaking her head, Deanna said, softly, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

*****

When Picard came into sickbay about an hour later, Deanna was stretched out on the bed, dozing with her head on Riker’s chest. He had his arms around her, and was gazing fixedly at the ceiling. At the sound of the doors closing, he turned his head, and either the movement or the sudden clarity of his thoughts jerked Deanna awake.

“How do you feel, Number One?” Picard asked.

“Better, thank you, Captain,” Riker replied, easing himself into a sitting position. He was relieved when his head didn’t start to spin. That was a definite improvement. “I’m glad you found me when you did.”

“As are we,” Picard agreed. “Dr Crusher tells me that the Naprozine is almost out of your system.”

“When do I get out of sickbay?” Riker asked, aiming the question over Picard’s shoulder.

“In a couple of hours,” Beverly replied, coming forward. “I think you may find that your legs don’t belong to you right now.”

“You want to see Tom,” stated Deanna.

“Yes,” Riker admitted. “Before he dies. Captain, I’ve been thinking. Those smugglers Talen told you about – has anything been done about them?”

“No,” Picard replied. He frowned. “The three we arrested haven’t talked.”

Riker sat up straighter. Beverly was right about his legs, he thought briefly. “Well, how about we carry on with Talen’s plan? I’ll be seen around the city, letting drop that I have the cargo. The smugglers would obviously want both it and Tom. We could, with luck, get them all.”

Crossing his arms, Picard plucked at his bottom lip. Riker waited patiently for him to absorb the details. “It would be extremely dangerous for you,” he objected.

“There are risks,” Riker admitted. “But they are unlikely to kill me without getting their cargo back. If I have a subcutaneous transponder fitted, you can track me continuously. Perhaps Geordi could fix up a few tiny com badges – you know, buttons or flashes or something. Wouldn’t it be worth the risk?”

“Perhaps,” Picard said, cautiously. The idea caught at him. A similar thought had already crossed his mind, but he’d dismissed it, not wanting Riker to be put under any undue pressure after such a traumatic ordeal. But when the idea came from Riker – that cast a different light on things. “I’ll think about it further. You still have some serious resting to do.”

*****

They were gathered in the observation lounge. The Rikers were both back in uniform, although they were still officially on leave. Picard eyed them both covertly. Deanna looked more like herself, rested and calmer. There was still a trace of worry in her eyes, especially when she looked at Will.

Will looked physically better. He was newly shaven, but Picard thought he looked thinner. Worry shadowed his surprisingly blue eyes, and he seemed uneasy. He’d been that way since his visit to Tom. He hadn’t talked to anyone about it, except possibly Deanna. No on intended to ask what he thought or how he felt.

Picard knew that Deanna had spent the previous day moving her belongings into Riker’s quarters. He had seen them early the previous morning, having a playful tug-of-war over a suitcase. They had both grinned at him, totally unrepentant of the shrieks of glee they were letting out. Picard had grinned back, pleased to see them so relaxed.

He would’ve liked to have seen some signs of that relaxation now, but he couldn’t. He was surprised to find himself wondering how he could wangle some more leave for them, as their honeymoon had been – well, ruined was the only word.

“You’ve all had time to read the proposals. Reactions?” Picard looked round the table.

Geordi spoke up first. “I’ve rigged up four miniature communicators. They can all be worn on different layers of clothing. They have to be on all the time, but I don’t see that as a disadvantage in this mission.” The brown of his eyes, which had regenerated while they were in the briar patch, still came as a surprise to Picard, although he knew Geordi was planning to have the implants fitted again. He found his natural eyesight too limiting.

“Very good, Mr LaForge,” Picard responded.

Daniels lent forward. “I have security personnel standing by to become part of the crowd in various bars specified by the Maquis leader. I have made sure they all understand that they mustn’t follow Commander Riker around.”

Nodding, Picard glanced at the Rikers. Neither of them moved to comment.

Next, Beverly spoke. “I can prepare a subcutaneous transponder whenever you give the word, Captain. I can also stimulate Commander Riker’s beard sot that he looks exactly lie Tom.” Picard admired they way she spoke Tom’s name without flinching. “But I have to say I’m not happy about the risk. Commander Riker has already had a tough time over the last few days.”

“I appreciate that,” Picard began.

“It was my idea,” Riker interrupted. His eyes widened as he realised what he’d just done. “I’m sorry, Captain, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.” Riker was mortified at his bad manners.

Frowning at his XO, Picard said, “Forgiven, Number One. I was only going to say the same thing.” Picard wondered if Riker realised how much he’d given away in that ungoverned interruption. “Counsellor? Your thoughts on the matter?”

“Strictly speaking, sir, this is a police action, and we don’t have to get involved at all. The planetary authorities will deal with this. Having said that, what Will is proposing would make it much easier for the authorities. If the smugglers are as successful as Talen says, it’ll help to have people under cover who are totally unknown to them.” Deanna paused to gather her thoughts. “If you decide to go ahead, Captain, I believe we are as prepared as is truly possible. Of course, there are risks. The dangers are quite real, and none of is can predict the future. Will knows this and is willing to go ahead.” Deanna didn’t add that he was determined to go ahead, regardless, feeling that he owed it to Tom.

“Thank you.” Picard thought furiously for a few moments, resisting the urge to drum his fingers. “Very well. This mission will go ahead as planned. Make your preparations, everyone. Dismissed.” He put his hand on Riker’s arm to prevent him from rising. Obediently, Riker resumed his seat.

Once the others had gone, Picard rose and began pacing. “I understand your feelings about this mission, Will. They must be fairly mixed.” He cocked an eyebrow and Riker nodded. “If at any time you want to call it off, say so.” He smiled ruefully. “It hasn’t been much of a honeymoon for you so far.”

“Its had its moments,” Riker responded. “I appreciate what you’re saying, Sir, but I would like to go ahead. I know Tom will never know about it, but I feel I owe it to him.”

“I can understand that,” remarked Picard. He was dying to ask if Riker had contacted his father, but restrained himself. He respected Riker’s privacy too much to violate it out of simple curiosity. “But if your life is put at risk, I will beam you out of any given situation. Hopefully, this will go smoothly. But I can’t afford to lose you, Will, not even to redeem Tom.”

“Yes, Captain,” Riker said, thickly. Picard looked more closely at his XO and saw that his eyes swam with tears. He sat down beside Riker, overwhelmed with concern. Riker was more than a crewmember; he was Picard’s friend.

“I can’t imagine how you feel,” Picard said, so softly that Riker wondered if he was talking to himself. “But I can remember how I felt when Robert died. Its not the same, I know, but it’s the nearest I can get.”

For a moment, Riker said nothing. When he did speak, his voice sounded more like hi own. “Tom stopped bein me when we met on Narvala IV. Right up until we met, he thought he was Will Riker.” Riker looked up. “And he was. And is. The thing is, neither of us knows for sure which of us is the original and which the duplicate.”

The thought was profoundly disturbing. Picard buried it again, deep, deep down. It was not the first time it had occurred to him, and probably wouldn’t be the last.

Pretending not to notice the shudder Picard could not suppress, Riker went on “Given the circumstances, I suppose we got on okay. But, Captain, I never sought him out; never made sure he was coping. I didn’t try to do anything for him once the Cardassians caught him. I tried to forget Tom ever existed.” He was twisting his fingers together. “I feel so guilty about that. And I fell guilty that I think it would be kinder for Tom to die.”

“Don’t feel guilty about that,” Picard interjected. “Who would chose a death like that? For Tom, death will be a kindness.” Picard reached out and stilled those twisting, tormented fingers. “Will, you don’t have to do this assignment. We all have regrets, but there is nothing we can do to change things.”

“This is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss,” Riker said. “I’m not just doing this out of guilt. You’re right, Captain. Tom could have sought me out. My life is moving forwards.” He sat up straighter and drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Captain, I didn’t mean to be so maudlin.”

They both stood up. “Its something that will settle in time Number One. And if you are happy to go ahead, then – make it so.”

*****

Deanna looked assessingly at Riker as he self-consciously felt his newly grown beard. “I still like you better without it,” she said, teasingly. The remark brought back memories of the Baku mission for them both and they smiled.

“I kind of like it,” he responded. “It keeps my face warm.”

“Oh I can do that for you,” Deanna teased. “As soon as I start whipping you into shape.”

Riker lunged at her, and she dodged, shrieking. The door chime sounded, and Deanna yelled, “Come!” as she failed to escape Riker’s clutches.

Framed in the doorway was Geordi, who took in the situation with a single glance, and grinned. “Oh please, you’d think you two were newly weds, they way you behave. A little decorum if you please!”

“I am decorous,” Riker replied, not letting Deanna go. “We’re both dressed, aren’t we?”

“Will!” Deanna shrieked, totally failing to sound disapproving, as she’d intended.

Putting down the objects he carried, Geordi said, “Here are your communicators, commander.” He hated to say it, as the playful mood evaporated instantly, as he’d guessed it would.

Letting go of Deanna, Riker crossed slowly over to the table. He picked up each on reluctantly, as Geordi looked on. There was no need to explain anything. “Thanks, Geordi. That’s great.”

“It was your idea,” Geordi said, modestly. “I just put them together. “ He sketched a goodbye and left.

Deanna didn’t waste time trying to counsel Will. He’d never been the type. Instead, she said,” The beard isn’t becoming a fixture, you know.”

Eyeing her, Riker said, “Can’t we negotiate?”

“Compromise, you mean? Okay, I can do that.” She stepped closer and caressed his cheek. “You shave this side, and keep the beard on the other. How does that grab you?”

Laughing, Riker said, “Okay, I submit. The beard goes.” He began to attach the new communicators to his clothing. The door chimes sounded again. “Come,” Riker said, quirking his eyebrow at his wife. “Some honeymoon, what with non-stop traffic in and out.”

“Will!” she chided. They both looked over to see Picard hesitating in the doorway. It was a measure of the danger Riker faced, that Picard had come personally to see him off.

Smiling, Picard said, “That beard reminds me of old times, Number One.”

“See!” Riker said, triumphantly to Deanna.

“I offered to compromise,” Deanna said, reasonably.

Rolling his eyes, Riker said, “Sure. Is it time, Captain?” At Picard’s nod, he took Deanna in his arms and kissed her. “Behave yourself,” he said, lightly. He noticed that Picard was tactfully surveying the empty corridor. “I love you, Deanna.”

“And I love you, Imzadi,” she answered. She smiled gently at him as he left. Tears only drowned her dark eyes when the door slid closed behind him.

*****

Looking distastefully at the glass of synthehol in front of him, Riker decided that he wasn’t cut out for the life of a barfly. He’d lost count of the number of bars he’d been in over the last few days, but it was too many. He’d drunkenly offered his ore to anyone who’d listen, but no one had taken him up on the offer. Most had moved away, wearing disgusted expressions, including the two security officers from the Enterprise.

After that, he’d steered clear of the security people, but it hadn’t hurt to establish that he didn’t know them. Gazing morosely into his glass, Riker wondered how many more days Picard would continue to sanction this mission. Not many, he suspected. The Enterprise would be needed elsewhere. Briefly, he wondered how tom was doing. He didn’t even know if his ‘twin’ was still alive.

Someone slid into the seat next to him, and Riker raised his head and gave the woman a drunken smile. She had a pretty, if rather hard, face, and her hair was dyed shocking pink. “Hi,” he offered.

“Hi, handsome.” She leaned in closer. “Buy me a drink?”

“Sure,” Riker agreed, and gestured to the barman. “One for the lady.”

They sipped companionably. “I heard you have a cargo of ore to sell,” she commented casually.

“I might,” Riker agreed, nodding sagely.

Quite visibly, the woman smothered impatience. Riker pretended not to notice. “I’m Leila,” she said.

“Tom,” he said, and they shook hands solemnly.

“I’m interested in buying your ore,” Leila said. “I can offer an excellent price.”

“Okay, let’s talk,” Riker said, agreeably.

“Not here,” Leila said, looking round. “There are too many ears in here. Let’s go somewhere quieter.”

Adrenalin was pumping through Riker’s system, but he continued to act drunk. “Sure sweetheart, somewhere quiet.” He gave her what he hoped passed for a drunken leer. It seemed to succeed.

They left the bar, Riker giving an artistic stagger on the way. Security noticed him going, and prepared to follow, but not too closely.

Out in the street, Riker drew several deep breaths, and decided he could seem fractionally more sober. He glanced at the woman at his side, and opened his mouth to ask a question – afterwards, he could never remember what it was – when several people dived at him from a side street. A cover was thrown over his head, and his arms were pinioned to his side. Something wrapped itself around his chest and arms, and despite all his struggles, Riker found himself being propelled along. “What are you doing?” he shouted, his voice muffled by the fabric. “Let me go!” Then something hissed again his hand, and Riker knew no more.

*****

Leaping to his feet, Picard said, “Security can you see him?”

“Negative, Captain. Commander Riker has disappeared.”

“Mr Daniels,” Picard began, turning, “do you have the transponder signal?”

“Yes, Captain. He’s moving.” Daniels read off a string of coordinates and Data, unasked, punched up a map on the viewscreen.

The blip from the transponder was reassuringly steady, and the tension level on the bridge subsided. Picard sat down again. “Keep monitoring his communicator channel,” Picard ordered, unnecessarily. “Transporter room, keep a lock on Commander Riker at all times.”

“Aye, Sir,” came the response.

Thereafter, there was nothing to do but wait, which everyone did, ears straining to hear. There was only silence.

*****

The first thing Riker was aware of when he woke was cold. His head lolled against his chest and his shoulders ached. Opening his eyes, Riker saw that all he had on were his pants. His chest and feet were bare. Lifting his head, he became aware that he had an audience, amongst them was Leila. A quick glance confirmed that he was shackled to the walls of the cave in which he found himself. His shoulders ached from the strain of supporting his unconscious body. Riker took his weight on his feet, and the ache eased slightly.

“Where am I?” he asked. Nearby, he could see his clothes. He hoped the communicators were still working, and close enough to pick everything up. The only garment without a com badge was his pants.

“Does it matter where you are?” one man growled. “I’m glad you didn’t decide to play dumb and ask who were are. That would have made me really angry.”

Swallowing against the dryness in his mouth Riker said, sarcastically,” We wouldn’t want to make you really angry.”

The man nodded, and an electric shock seared agonisingly through Riker’s body. Despite himself, he moaned.

“That was a mild one,” commented the spokesman, getting to his feet and coming closer.

Shifting he weight in preparation for lunge at the man, Riker discovered his feet were shackled tightly to the floor. Frustration flooded through him.

“Now, Tom, save yourself a lot of pain and tell us where the ore is.”

Riker said nothing. The Enterprise had made a thorough sensor sweep of the sector looking for the ore, but it was gone, probably chanced upon by another smuggler. He braced himself for another shock.

This time, it was stronger. As Riker recovered enough to lift his head, he saw another man swing a punch at his stomach. A third man held a club and Leila – his stomach contracted – held a glittering dagger.

“Our ore!”

“Our ore!”

“Give us our ore!” Leila ran the point of the dagger lightly down Riker’s breastbone, leaving a thin trickle of blood behind. Riker, still gasping from the blow to his stomach, wondered at the lack of pain.

“I don’t have it,” he gasped. There was a tremendous thud on his wrist and pain blossomed up his arm. Riker realised that the man with the club had hit him. From the pain, he guessed his wrist was broken.

That was when Leila chose to start tracing a complicated design on Riker’s chest and stomach with the point of the dagger. A line of fire followed the knifepoint as she drove it deeper and deeper into his flesh.

After several more dreadful blows from the club and punches, Riker was broken and bleeding. He’d been begging to tell them where the ore was for a while, but couldn’t get the words out because of the pain. “I’ll tell you,” he gasped.

“Wait.” The leader stepped in and lifted Riker’s head. Riker’s lips were split, and his nose was broken. Blood trickled down his chin. “Tell me then.”

“I sold it yesterday,” Riker mumbled. “The guy is docked for repairs. His shuttle is at landing bay 1. The Laramie.”

“Thank you. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just tell us in the first place?” He stepped back. “By the way, no one will ever find you here. We’re a good bit away from the city, and the temperature drops dramatically at night. Goodbye, Tom.”

“No!” Riker shouted. “You can’t leave me here!”

“Oh he can, lover,” Leila assured him She plastered herself to him, deliberately squeezing his broken ribs. “I have one last gift of you to enjoy while you die.”

Some instinct warned Riker, and he drew back as far as he could. It wasn’t far enough, of course; but the blade only caught his face a glancing blow as she plunged it into his shoulder. Riker let out a roar of agony. Leila laughed as the group transported away.

Riker was alone.

*****

To Riker, it seemed like an eternity until his crewmates came to his rescue. In reality, it was only a few seconds. They transported in, and Data moved immediately to free Riker from his shackles, while Beverly gave him something for shock and pain.

Data gently supported Riker as Beverly wrapped him in a blanket, avoiding the knife, which she didn’t want to remove in the cavern. Seeing that Riker was incapable of walking, Data casually scooped Riker up into his arms, and moved to the beam out point. The two security guards who’d been on watch moved in closer, and Beverly tapped her com badge. “Energise.”

As they rematerialised in sickbay, Beverly began issuing orders. “I need warm blankets; stat! Regenerators! Pressure pads!” She swung round to Data. “That bed, Data.”

Riker groaned as Data accidentally jolted him. It was the first sound he’d made since they found him. “Its all right, Will,” Beverly said, soothingly. She was scanning and noting all his injuries. Broken nose, slashed cheek, stab wound, broken ribs, broken wrist, multiple knife cuts and mild exposure.

The warmed blankets appeared and Beverly swiftly tucked them closely around her patient. His body temperature was very low, and priority had to be given to raising it. The other priority was removing the knife and she eased it out.

Giving Riker more painkillers, she issued more orders. “Replicate some bandages and strap up that wrist for now. Put a patch on his cheek. Computer, raise ambient temperature 2 degrees.”

The computer chimed softly to acknowledge her order.

There was a faint blue glimmer beneath Riker swollen, bruised eyelids. “Don’t fight sleep,” Beverly said, leaning closer. “You’ll feel better when you wake up.” Riker’s eyes closed. Gradually his body relaxed, and he slept.

Looking at the readout on the biobed, Beverly saw Riker’s temperature was beginning to climb. She straightened up and drew breath. Only then did she become aware of her audience. Deanna and Picard stood close together, wearing identical expressions of worry. “He’s going to be fine,” she said.

*****

“We can’t thank you enough, Captain Picard,” finished the president of JD 2.

“I’m pleased it all worked out,” Picard responded. He was seated at the desk in his ready room.

“I’d hoped to thank commander Riker personally,” the president went on, “but I understand he is still resting.”

“Yes, his injuries were numerous, and our doctor wasn’t happy about allowing him to testify, and has him confined to quarters.” Picard’s fingers twitched towards his cup of cooling tea, and he sternly repressed the movement.

“I have forwarded the details to Starfleet, of course, “the president said. “In it, I have included a special commendation for Commander Riker. Please, pass on out grateful thanks.” The man smiled and shook his head. “Thanks doesn’t really cover it.”

“I understand, and I’m sure Commander Riker will, too,” Picard assured him. “Good bye Mr President. Picard out.”

He sipped from his cup and put it down in disgust. Too cool. Rising he dumped the cup in the replicator. “Picard to Riker.” Even as he said it, Picard winced. There were three people on board with the designation ‘Riker’. However, Deanna responded. “Counsellor Riker here.”

“Counsellor, I was wondering if your husband was up to a short visit?” Picard hoped his tone sounded normal.

“I think he could handle that, Captain. We’ll expect you.”

Making his way swiftly to their quarters, Picard thought over the last few days. Riker had been confined to bed for several days after testifying, but Picard was relieved to find him up and about. He found bedside visits very awkward.

Accepting a cup of fresh tea from Deanna, the captain seated himself comfortably in a chair. Deanna resumed her seat beside Riker and unconsciously leaned against him. Picard hid a smile in his cup.

He passed on the message from the president of JD2, which Riker shrugged off modestly. Then came the difficult part – Tom.

Tom existed – even Beverly hesitated to call it living – in a twilight world that no one could enter. The drop in his brain function continued, and Will had agreed that when he could no longer breathe unaided, Tom should be allowed to die naturally.

“We are due to rendezvous with a medical transport ship in 2 days. They are headed back to Earth, and will take Tom back to a medical facility in Alaska.” Picard examined his tea closely for several seconds, the looked at Riker.

As expected, Riker was white and pinched looking around the nose and mouth. “Its for the best,” he said, evenly. “Thank you, captain.”

“I shall contact the ship and confirm the arrangements then,” Picard concluded.

“Alaska is Tom’s home, too,” Riker said.

Rising, Picard said, “I have arranged with Starfleet command for you both to receive an extra week’s leave. We can be at Risa in – I forget how long.”

Both Will and Deanna were on their feet too. They exchanged a glance, then grinned. “I think, if you don’t mind, Sir, that we’d prefer to spend that week on the ship,” Will said.

Batting innocent eyes at Picard, Deanna added, “We’re less likely to be kidnapped, and for some reason, that seems to be very important to Will right now.”

Smiling as they nudged one another, Picard shrugged. “Fine by me,” he replied. He walked towards the door, which slid obediently open. “Of course, I can’t guarantee that I won’t schedule some extra shifts for you.” He gave them his best bland smile, and beat a hasty retreat.

*****End*****

Return to Rona’s Star Trek Home Page

 

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