The Q Is Silent
written by E. Brooks
At first, the headache was nothing more than a nuisance, a dull ache that crept
into the back of Will Riker's mind and filtered down into his neck and shoulders.
It really didn't hurt, as much as it disturbed. It seemed to lessen his awareness,
and that aggravated him. Especially when he was on the bridge.
He tried standard pain-killers, and for a few days they worked. The ache receded. But then his system seemed to grow immune, and the headache returned, stronger and more persistent. It was no longer a dull ache, but a sharp pain, occasionally accompanied by a slight dizziness. And yet, he continued to ignore it, thinking, perhaps, by so doing, it would eventually go away.
He soon became quite successful in concealing the pain from the bridge crew, and even from the captain. He closely monitored what he said, and how he said it. It was an effort to keep his temper from flaring, and he realized he was smiling more, as if to counterbalance the added weight.
He wasn't sure when he finally accepted what was causing the pain. Maybe he'd known from the very beginning. Perhaps that was why he'd never gone to Sickbay; he knew there was nothing a doctor could have done. Subconsciously, he must have remembered his mother going through the very same motions, hiding the pain until she could hide it no longer. Will knew that the day would come when he, too, could not keep it hidden. But until then, it was his secret. Or so he thought.
The door to Jean-Luc Picard's ready room slid open. He looked up from his desk to see Will Riker's tall frame fill the doorway.
"Number One. Please, come in."
Riker stepped inside, and the door slid closed behind him.
"Have a seat, Will." Picard indicated the chair in front of his desk.
Riker sat, holding himself as stiffly as he did when he stood.
"Relax, Number One."
"Thank you, sir. I am relaxed."
"Yes. Well." The captain hesitated, and Riker felt very unsettled, his headache suddenly intensifying. "As you know, Will, I'm not one to beat around the proverbial bush."
"No, sir," Riker agreed.
"And so, I'm going to come right out and ask." And yet he hesitated once more, but only for an instant. "Are you ill, Number One?"
"Ill, sir?" Riker struggled to maintain his composure. It was too soon, much too soon. There was no way the captain could have known.
"Yes, Will." Picard's voice was soft. "Are you ill, in any pain whatsoever?"
Riker swallowed hard. He felt his heart slamming against his ribs. He was prepared to answer, but he didn't have to. Picard had read the answer in his eyes.
"My God, Will! Why didn't you tell someone?"
Riker shifted uncomfortably.
"I know what it is, sir," he answered. "There's nothing that can be done."
Picard rose from his chair and leaned forward, his hands on his desk. "You know what it is?"
"Yes." And suddenly Riker felt a sense of relief, to finally be sharing it with someone. "It's called cephalic arteriole venous stenosis, more commonly known as Hamilton's Disease."
Picard straightened and began to pace behind his desk. "Hamilton's Disease?"
"I'm sure Doctor Crusher could explain it better than I can. I mean, I know what it is, and I know the symptoms."
"You do? And why are you so sure that this is what you have?"
Riker lowered his eyes. "Captain, my mother died from it."
Picard stopped his pacing and sank into his chair. "Will, I...How bad is the pain?"
"I can handle it, sir," Riker murmured.
"I didn't ask if you could handle it." The captain's voice was gentle, but firm. "I want to know how bad it is."
Will Riker had never lied to the man sitting across from him. In fact, he did not know how he could, even if he wanted to. And he did not want to, for he was tired of hurting alone. "It's bad," he admitted.
"Can you walk to Sickbay?"
"Yes, sir." Riker sighed, lines of pain creasing his forehead.
They both stood, and the captain walked around his desk.
"Captain? How did you know?"
"I was told by someone."
Riker started to ask who as they left the ready room and stepped onto the bridge, but the first pair of eyes he saw looking at him confirmed what he already suspected. Deanna Troi stood next to the aft turbolift. She was waiting for them. The rest of the bridge crew were busy at their stations. No one else seemed to be aware of the situation.
"Any problems, Mister Data?" Picard inquired.
"No, sir," Data replied.
"In that case, I'll be in Sickbay if I'm needed."
The turbolift doors opened, and the three of them stepped inside. As soon as the doors closed, Riker leaned heavily against the wall. Picard took hold of his left arm, and Troi his right. He didn't need their support, but he didn't resist. He'd tried to avoid Deanna in the past several weeks, but apparently avoidance hadn't been enough.
"I should have known," Riker remarked evenly.
"I had to tell him, Will." Her dark eyes never left his face. "You had no right to try and keep this from us."
She said "us," but Riker knew she meant "me." He could hear her in his mind: You can't go through this alone, Imzadi.
He rubbed his right hand across his forehead. "It's all right," he whispered. And it was, because she was there.
Several hours later, Picard paced nervously in front of the desk in Beverly Crusher's office. The doctor sat on the other side, watching him.
"Captain, please, sit down."
Picard grimaced, but sank wearily into the opposite chair. "You're telling me Will is right, that he has this...Hamilton's Disease?"
Crusher nodded. "Yes. All my tests indicate that it is Hamilton's."
"I've never even heard of it before."
"It's very rare, although it's been around for a long time. It was discovered in the late twenty-first century-"
Picard winced. "The post-atomic horror."
"That's right. Before the war, we'd cured so many diseases. Afterwards, there were a dozen others to take their place. Hamilton's is a genetic disorder. The exact etiology is unknown, although it's believed to have been a genetic mutation caused by nuclear fallout. It affects the blood vessels in the brain, causing them to deteriorate." She breathed deeply. "Will's mother did die from the disease, and it is hereditary. But case studies have shown that it usually skips several generations before it manifests itself again. The odds of Will contracting it weren't very high. Still, we've both been aware of the possibility, but none of the symptoms have ever showed up in any of his routine physicals."
"You and Will have always been aware of this possibility?" he questioned.
"Will didn't want anyone to know. It wasn't something he worried about, and he didn't want anyone else worrying either."
Picard nervously clinched his right hand into a fist. "What can you do about it?" His tone was sharp, accusing.
"There is no cure, Jean-Luc," she answered patiently.
Picard sighed. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right. It's not an easy thing to accept."
They stared at each other for a few moments, both remembering another time and place, another first officer.
"I can make him as comfortable as possible," Crusher continued. "Give him drugs that will lessen the pain and ease the other symptoms as they develop. But that's about all."
She gazed at him steadily. "He's already in pain, with occasional mild dizziness. Both will intensify. Next he'll begin to have some involuntary muscle twitching, his speech will begin to slur, and his vision will be affected-blurring and occasional double vision."
"Near the end, he'll have periods of blacking out and increasing difficulty with his short-term memory." She paused. "Then, finally, it will affect the involuntary center in his medulla oblongata." When Picard just looked at her blankly, she explained, "He'll stop breathing."
"How long?" Picard asked.
"Three, maybe four weeks."
Shock registered on his face. "That soon?"
Picard lowered his head, and took several deep breaths.
He looked up. "Have you talked to him?"
Crusher shook her head. "Not yet. Would you like to go with me?"
"No, I'm sure he-"
"I think he'd like you to be there," she interjected. "I know I would."
Their eyes caught, and each of them seemed to draw strength from the other.
"All right," Picard agreed.
Riker opened his eyes. Even before she'd said his name, he'd known she was there.
She reached out and gently touched her fingers to his forehead.
"You knew all along, didn't you?"
Deanna Troi nodded. "I also knew that you would never ask for help, so I had to ask for you."
She sat down on the edge of his bed, her fingers still stroking his forehead.
"I'm glad you're here." He stared up at her.
"I'm glad you want me here."
For a few moments their breathing was the only sound that filled the room.
"We don't have to talk, if you don't want to," Deanna said, her voice low and reassuring.
She could feel his fear and uncertainty. "Take your time, Will."
He took a deep breath. "When I was growing up, I would try to remember my mother, and I never could. I was barely three when she died, and after that, my dad...He never even talked about her." Will hesitated. "I realized weeks ago, after the headaches started, that I really hadn't forgotten her. I'd just chosen not to remember her the way she was right before she died."
There were tears welling up in his eyes, and he turned his face from Deanna. She drew her hand away from his forehead and laid it gently on his chest. "You were just a baby then."
"I grew up, Deanna, and I still chose not to remember. I was just as guilty as my father."
"You're remembering now," she said quietly.
"She was in the hospital for a long time, and I wasn't allowed to see her. Dad would come home, and he wouldn't say anything. Finally I asked if she was ever coming back, and he said no." Will fell silent, remembering those long-ago moments that he'd kept buried. Then he continued, bitterly, "He never even told me what caused her death. I had to ask a family friend when I was twelve."
Deanna took hold of his hand. "About your father, Will."
His eyes flashed. "I don't want him to know."
"No, Deanna." He squeezed her hand. "Despite everything, I love him."
"I don't want him to have to go through this again."
"No." There was a pleading look in his eyes.
"Imzadi." She lifted his hand and held it to her cheek. "Promise me?" He was like a little boy, and she longed to take him in her arms and keep him safe.
"I promise," she whispered. "But aren't we getting ahead of ourselves? We don't know for sure if you have what your mother had."
"I think we do now." He pulled his hand away and looked past her.
Troi turned and saw Doctor Crusher and the captain walking toward them. She stood.
"Counselor." The captain stopped beside her and looked down at Riker. "How are you feeling, Will?"
"A little better, I guess." He glanced up at Crusher, who stood on the opposite side of the bed. "Please, no more tests."
She shook her head. "No more tests."
Riker licked his lips. "Was I right?"
"Yes, Will," she answered. "It's Hamilton's."
Riker closed his eyes and exhaled heavily. A moment later, he opened them and looked up at the doctor. "How much longer?"
"Three or four weeks."
Riker turned to Picard. "We're closest to Starbase 313, aren't we, sir?"
"And the medical facilities are excellent," Crusher supplied as she pressed a hypo-spray to his neck. He looked up at her inquiringly.
"Something to ease the pain."
He smiled weakly. It was beginning to get bad again. "Thanks," he said, stifling a yawn.
"And it'll help you sleep." Crusher returned his smile, patting him gently on the arm.
"Will. I'll look in on you later," Picard said.
"Yes, sir," Riker murmured, as his eyes closed.
"He'll sleep for several hours now." Crusher looked over at Picard and Troi.
Picard nodded. "I'll be on the bridge." He turned to go. "Counselor?"
"If it's all right, I'd like to sit with him for a while." She shifted her gaze from Riker to the captain.
Picard placed a hand on her shoulder. "Stay as long as you want."
He smiled at her, then turned and left.
"Deanna, I'll be in my office if you need me." Crusher glanced down at the sleeping first officer. "But he shouldn't wake up."
"Thanks, Beverly." The two women exchanged a long look. Troi was the empath, but Crusher knew exactly what she was feeling. The doctor walked quietly into the next room, leaving the two of them alone.
Deanna sat back down on the edge of Will's bed. He seemed to be sleeping comfortably. There was even a hint of a smile at the corners of his lips. She picked up his hand and held it securely in her own.
I'm here, Imzadi, she whispered in her mind. I'm here.
Will Riker felt as if he'd only been asleep for a few minutes when something caused him to open his eyes. He looked around, expecting to find Deanna close by, but she wasn't there. No one was. The Sickbay's main examining room was completely empty.
Riker reached up beside his pillow and pressed the call button. He waited a few moments, but no one came. He pressed it again. Still, no one responded.
"Doctor?" he called out.
"Beverly?" he called louder. The sound of his voice echoed in the empty room. It was an eerie feeling.
Riker threw the covers back and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. All he was wearing was a medical gown, and if anyone had been there, he probably would have been a bit embarrassed. Oh, to be embarrassed, he thought, looking around.
He stood up, and was halfway across the room, headed toward Crusher's office, when he realized his headache was gone, completely, no pain at all.
Riker was confused. The drugs he'd been given had only helped to ease the pain. They weren't capable of doing away with it.
"Doctor Crusher?" he called again. "Anybody?"
Nothing. No sound, save the quick thudding of his heart.
He came to the office door and looked in.
"I should have known," he mumbled under his breath.
"Ah, the redoubtable Commander Riker."
"Q," he stated flatly.
"At your service." The man rose from the doctor's desk chair, and, in a sweeping gesture, extended his arms in front of him.
"What have you done with everyone?" Riker demanded.
Riker stared at him coldly, and then turned and walked back into the examining room. Q followed.
"Aren't you going to stay and converse with me?" Q queried.
"I have nothing to say to you," Riker replied.
"I have nothing to say to you," Q mimicked. He frowned. "Here I come all this way, and you're not even happy to see me. You hurt my feelings."
Riker turned and stared at him. He shook his head. "You have no feelings."
"But I do. In fact, my feelings run very deep."
Ignoring him, Riker walked back to his bed and propped himself against the edge of it.
"I suppose you're wondering why I came?"
Riker did not respond.
"Oh, really now, must I do all the talking?"
Riker looked away.
"I suppose I must. But it will behoove you to listen. I have something of a proposition to offer you. I am aware of your...condition. And it is a most unfortunate situation."
Riker rolled his eyes. "If you came all this way to bemoan my unfortunate situation, I'm afraid you've wasted your precious time. I don't need your sympathy."
"Oh, Commander, you need not worry about time. I don't. And as for sympathy, that is not what I intended. The reason why I am here is simple. If you die, I will miss you."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, but the verdict is already in."
"Not necessarily." Q walked over closer to Riker. "I can offer you life."
"No, thank you," Riker replied.
"Oh, stop being so stubborn. No one wants to die."
"No one would want to live if it meant being indebted to you."
"I'm really not that bad. Why, given half a chance, you and I could become good friends."
"Somehow, I doubt that." Riker scowled as he lifted himself to a sitting position on the side of the bed. "Now, if you would kindly return the crew-"
"So you can get on with the business of dying?"
"Yes," Riker answered. "Try to understand, Q, we are finite. We accept the fact that our lives will eventually come to an end. We may not like it, but we accept it."
"Only because you have to. I, on the other hand, am offering you a choice."
"And I have already given you my answer. Your services are not needed."
"Riker, it's not time for you to die. There are too many things you haven't accomplished yet. Isn't it your dream to become captain of your own ship?"
"Dreams don't always come true."
"They do for me." Q smiled. "And they can for you." He pulled a chair over to the bed and sat down. "William, believe me when I tell you I'm not making this offer for any sort of personal gain. To have you in my debt is the furthest thing from my mind."
Riker sighed and lowered his eyes.
"How can I convince you?" Q inquired.
"Perhaps I can." The voice came from the other side of the room. Riker looked up. He swallowed convulsively, and his hands gripped the side of the bed. The woman standing there was his mother.
"Mama," he whispered. And then he looked away. "Good job, Q, but it won't work."
"Willie." The woman walked over to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. He could feel the warmth through the thin material of the gown.
"Q?" Riker glanced over at the chair. Q was gone, but the woman wasn't.
"Will you look at me?"
He turned his head and looked up at her. And suddenly, it was thirty years ago. The mouth, the blue eyes, the brown hair that curled softly around her forehead and cheeks. It was the same face that had stared down at him in his crib, the face he'd kept tucked away, deep in his memory. And now that face was here, beside him. But it wasn't real. It couldn't be.
"You're not real," he said flatly.
The woman drew her hand away.
"I'm not alive, like you. Not anymore. But I am real."
"No. You're just some figment of Q's imagination."
"I'm your mother, Willie."
"Don't call me that." Riker turned away from her. "Q," he called out. "I'm tired of playing your little games."
There was nothing but silence.
"Will," the woman said gently. "I know this is difficult for you to understand. I'm having a little trouble myself." She paused. "I've missed you. I'm sorry I wasn't there when you were growing up."
Riker stiffened involuntarily.
"I wanted to be," she continued. "I wanted to grow old with your father, and watch you become a man, have a career. You've come a long way, Will. I'm proud of you."
I'm proud of you. The words echoed in Riker's head. They were familiar, the same ones his father had used several months before when he'd come aboard the Enterprise. At the time, he hadn't believed them. He'd always had trouble believing things Kyle Riker said.
"He wasn't an easy man to love." The woman smiled serenely.
Riker flinched. It was as if she'd read his mind.
"But I did love him," she went on. "Very much. Do you know I had to ask him to marry me? He would have never gotten around to it. He had certain priorities. And some things he took for granted."
Riker silently agreed.
"But I knew he loved me. And he loved you."
Sure, Riker thought, that's why he ignored me for fifteen years. But he didn't say anything.
"He cried when you were born.
Riker found that hard to believe. He'd never seen Kyle Riker shed a tear in his life.
"He was proud of you from the start. We both were. And you've come so far."
The sound of her voice was coming back to him, in countless memories of lullabies and soft, soothing words spoken to quiet a little boy's tears. Something stirred inside of him, unbidden, uncomfortable, but at the same time warm, secure.
The woman sat down next to him. He inched away from her until he was sitting at the foot of the bed.
"What can I say to make you believe that I am me?"
Will sighed. There was nothing she could say. She didn't have to. He already believed. It was more than a hunch. It was something he felt, something strong.
"I know it's you," he said simply, quietly, still not turning to look at her.
She moved down close to him and put her arm around his shoulders. He leaned back and allowed her to hold him, her hand softly stroking the back of his head. Dying wouldn't be so bad, he thought. After all, she would be there.
"No," she said firmly, letting go of him.
Will turned and stared at her.
"I didn't come here to let you die."
"You knew what I was thinking."
"Yes." She reached out and touched his cheek. "I don't want you to die, even if it meant that we could be together. There are people here, on this ship, who love you and need you. And there's your father."
"Who never needed me," Will mumbled.
His mother shook her head. "You're wrong. Don't forget, I knew your father very well. He loved you. Still loves you."
It was something he had not always believed. Especially as a boy. But he believed it now.
"I know." Will was quiet for a few moments. "But what Q offers is wrong. Bringing you here was wrong. There is a pattern to things. A plan. I believe that. If I'm supposed to die-"
His mother stood abruptly and walked a few feet away. She spun around.
"I don't want you to die the way I did," she said harshly. "It was awful, painful. Thank heavens you were too young to remember. Your father...Kyle," her voice softened, "was there, every day, and I saw what it did to him. You never really knew your father. Not the way he used to be. A lot of him died with me. You have a choice, Will. Don't let Deanna watch you die."
"Deanna..." he murmured.
"She loves you, and you love her. And you're partly right, Will. There is a pattern to things. But not just one. Many patterns. You have to continue to live. For Deanna, your friends, your father, your children-"
Will held up his hand. "Children?"
She smiled and walked over to him. "Yes. Your children. The patterns of tomorrow." She lifted his hands in hers. "I can't make this decision for you. But, please, consider what I've said."
She leaned down and kissed his cheek. And then she turned and started to move away from him.
"You never said goodbye."
She looked back.
"Before you died, you never said goodbye to me. Why?" Will's eyes were bright with tears.
"Because I never really left you. I never will."
She smiled at him and disappeared. But still he felt her presence. And he knew he always would.
Riker blinked. Q was standing in front of him.
"Sorry I couldn't stick around for the family reunion," he said.
"You weren't missed."
"I didn't think I would be." He sat down in the chair he'd vacated earlier. "Have you reconsidered your decision?"
"Yes," Riker answered. He understood now that Q was merely a part of one of the many patterns of his life. "I can't believe what I'm about to say, but you were right, Q. There are things I haven't accomplished yet."
"Then you accept my offer?"
Riker took a deep breath. "Yes."
Q smiled. "You won't regret it," he exclaimed. "You won't even remember it."
He'd been sleeping forever. At least, that's the way Will Riker felt as he slowly opened his eyes. Looking down at him were another pair of eyes: dark, familiar, comforting. Deanna's.
"Hello, there," she whispered.
"Hello." He smiled back at her, squinting from the light. "How long have I been asleep?"
"About four hours."
"And you've been here the whole time?"
She shook her head. "Yes and no."
Will eyed her curiously.
"I was on the bridge for a while, but my thoughts were here. Then something..." She shook her head, then rubbed her hand across his shoulder. "Something brought me back here. It's funny. I can't remember what it was...something..." She shook her head again, then smiled at him. "How do you feel?"
He was silent. A bemused look passed over his face.
"You do, don't you?" Deanna gazed at him, her eyes glittering. "Your headache's gone."
Will smiled at her. "For now anyway."
"Deanna?" Beverly Crusher hurried into the room, staring intently at the clipboard in her hands. "I have the results..."
She looked up and saw that Riker was awake.
"More test results?" he asked.
"Yes. And I've checked them three times."
"Beverly?" Troi looked at her expectantly.
At that moment, the Sickbay doors slid open, and Captain Picard strode in. He crossed over to them. "Doctor?"
Crusher lifted the clipboard in her hand. "Will's test results. I can find no signs of Hamilton's Disease."
"Is that possible?" Picard started. "But I thought..." His voice trailed off.
"I ran a few more tests while Will was sleeping. All the results were negative."
"Perhaps the first tests were wrong," Troi offered.
"No. I was sure of those. Just as I'm sure of these." Crusher smiled broadly at Riker. "I can't explain it. There's no medical answer for it. But, you don't have Hamilton's Disease. At least not now."
"Oh, Will," Deanna leaned in and kissed his cheek. She straightened back up, and blushed slightly when she realized the captain was smiling at her.
"Don't worry, Counselor," Picard reassured. "When miracles take place, kisses are permitted."
Three days later, Beverly Crusher, with a firm suggestion from Picard, reluctantly released Will Riker from Sickbay. She wasn't quite ready to let him go, but she could find no reason for him to stay. Every other test she'd run had come up negative.
Now, with explicit orders to take it easy for a while, Will sat alone in his quarters. In front of him, on the desk, was an old video picture of his mother. He'd been thinking a lot about her lately, how he wished he'd known her better. Sitting there, staring at her, he felt a closeness he'd never experienced before. It was a nice feeling.
He looked up when the door chime sounded. "Come," he called.
The door slid open. It was Deanna. She walked slowly into the room. "So, you finally got sprung."
Will grinned at her. "Finally. I was right in the middle of planning a prison break when I got a pardon from the governor."
"In other words, the captain wanted you back on the bridge."
"You got it." Will laughed. "Of course, I was ready to get back on it."
"I know." She smiled at him. "You seem to be no worse for the wear."
"I suppose not. Except I am now one of the few, lucky crew members who has to endure a complete physical every month. For the rest of my natural born days." He sighed. "Beverly put a permanent notation in my medical file."
"Now that you're healthy again, we're going to keep you that way."
She walked over and stood behind his chair. Will looked back at the picture in front of him.
"Is that your mother?" Deanna asked.
"Yes, she is," he said quietly. "Ya' know, I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I think I know why my father never talked about her. He watched here die for so long, it was too painful for him to remember how she'd lived." He took a deep breath. "I've just been imagining what my life would have been like if some miracle had saved her."
Deanna placed her hands gently on his shoulders. "Perhaps there are things we're not supposed to know."
He leaned his head back and smiled up at here. "Apparently there are."
She bent over and kissed him on the forehead. "I'm glad you're all right."
Will swiveled around in his chair and took her hands in his. "So am I."
They looked at each other for a few moments, and Will felt that bond between them that he knew would always be there. He let go of her hands. "I am really hungry," he said.
"Why am I not surprised?" Deanna sighed.
"Are you intimating that I'm always hungry?" He glared at her, but his blue eyes were laughing.
"I know you too well, Imzadi," she answered.
"Yes, you do," he smiled, "and I'm glad." He took her by the hand and led her over to the door. It opened. "You know where we're going?"
"Ten Forward. For food."
"You got it." They stepped into the corridor, and the door slid closed behind them.
There was a sound of laughter, and in the corner of the room, a flash of light. And then, all was silent.