Suffer the Weeds
Captain Picard watched the faces of his bridge officers as he announced their next destination as being the planet Risa. Commander Riker’s face gleamed with barely contained amusement. The others had more a look of surprise and question. The captain understood the reactions. He had had the same feelings when the Starfleet admiral notified him of the assignment. Risa needed their help. Risa, a planet known for it’s resorts, leisure and recreation, asked for the Federation’s aid. He caught the quick look from Counselor Troi to Riker. Deanna Troi’s look clearly showed she did not share his view of the planet. She also sensed the captain’s feelings about this summons to one of the entertainment capitals of the universe. He gave them a moment before announcing the expected senior staff meeting in fifteen minutes to go over the details and assignments.
The chairs at the long conference table were filling. The captain had waited until the last chair was occupied before he began. “People, I am not sure what it is we are going to find on Risa, suffice it to say it will be a unique mission. We are going because we are the closest Federation ship to the planet with the personnel aboard capable of handling various situations. The government on Risa was very vague with the details they submitted. What we know is that an unauthorized craft made a landing. The craft was located. It is not known who may have sent it. There appear to be survivors, they have not responded to any rescue attempts, and appear not to want rescued.” The captain watched the effect his news had on his crew.
“Captain, do we have any idea how many survivors there may be?” The counselor looked concerned, already sensing her part in the mission.
“No, the ship is unlike any the Risaian government or the Federation has dealt with before. That brings us to the away team. I want the counselor and Data on the initial team. Do you concur, Number One?”
“I do sir.” Will Riker couldn’t keep the corners of his mouth from turning up.
Picard looked at him, waited a moment then added, “Number One, you will lead the away team, unless of course you would prefer to sit this one out?”
“Sir?” Will had stopped grinning and looked at the captain with genuine surprise. Now it was the counselor’s turn to hide a smile as she sensed the captain’s game with his first officer.
The away team was greeted on the planet with the well-known hospitality and graciousness that had brought so many there over the years. They were shown to the rooms that would be their quarters while they were on the planet. Commander Riker, thanked his hostess and asked that they be taken to the site of the alien craft to begin work.
“Commander, we thought you would like to rest first. It is some distance from the city, and somewhat remote. We had hoped to make you comfortable for your first night, in appreciation for your presence.” The beautiful blonde woman had been looking at Will. She added with a smile, “We would look after your needs too, Counselor.”
“Thank you, but as the Commander has already stated we do need to get to the site. ...”
“What the counselor means is perhaps appreciation would be better shown after the mission has been successfully accomplished.” Riker smiled at his teammate, knowing she was not concerned with the generous offer of hospitality before or after the mission.
The hostess agreed, “You are correct of course, we would certainly have more to celebrate. It would give me pleasure to personally thank you then.”
Troi muttered under her breath, “I bet it would.”
The woman left to retrieve the guide who would lead them to the crash site. Will turned his attention to the counselor, “We don’t want to seem ungrateful to our host do we? We need to keep friendly relations with this planet.” He was grinning at her discomfort, and although she could sense he was enjoying himself, she couldn’t quite get into the game. Something was beginning to bother her about the way they were received.
“Will doesn’t it strike you as a little strange that the Federation had been summoned for help, and now we’ve arrived all they want to do is play games. Something is not as it seems. I get a feeling of deception.” She watched his grin disappear and a look of concentration take its place.
“What do you think it is, are they hiding something?” He turned to the android, “Data have you noticed anything unusual?”
“Sir, from what I have learned of the practices of Risa, I have seen only what you may expect to see from a society that lives for pleasure and instant gratification. Is that why you enjoy coming here Commander?”
“Thank you Data.” The commander cut him off, then exchanged a smile with the counselor. “Okay, you may have a point Counselor. Let’s find this craft and figure out what we need to do about getting the survivors out.”
He had no sooner spoken than the visitor alert sounded from the entrance to the quarters. Riker went to stand at the entrance. “Come."
A tall middle aged man stood waiting. “Commander, I am Tolgar your guide. I have been told you are ready to be shown the site of the crash.”
“Tolgar we would like to be prepared to stay at the site. Where can we find the needed supplies?” Will watched the confidence fade from the man’s face.
“Commander, the area is a bit wild. How long are you planning on staying there?”
“I don’t know, I guess it depends on what we find. Let’s be prepared for a day or two.” He looked at the other two who nodded their agreement. The guide looked from one to the other before moving out of the entranceway.
Will stood back a bit to whisper, “Deanna what do your senses tell you about this?”
“Just what was visible, he is not happy about staying for any length of time. Will, we could easily get the Enterprise to beam down whatever supplies we need. Why this?”
“I wanted to get a reaction. It would be comforting to go in with the feeling the host that asked you here, actually wanted your presence.” They followed the guide out of the hotel into the street where a land vehicle had been parked.
The vehicle made two stops at warehouse facilities, where Tolgar picked up several cases of supplies. The guide had not smiled again, but continued to look grim. When they were finished loading the supplies, Tolgar did smile at Troi and asked her to sit in the seat beside him. She caught Will’s look and the raised eyebrows as she took her place, leaving Will and Data to sit in the seats behind them. The empath used this time to try to get more of a sense of the guide's intentions. Her senses told her that something was being hidden and their guide was feeling very unsettled and anxious about it.
They began moving into a remote area. The resorts and bungalows that had surrounded them dissipated. Now tropical forest was gradually replacing the humanoid habitation. The vehicle had a form of climate control that allowed them to travel in comfort without feeling the change in humidity and heat that was radiating off the road they traveled. Troi could sense a world full of life all around them, but they heard none of it. Finally after two hours of straining their eyes looking through trees for anything that may have been a clue as to their location and destination the vehicle began to slow down, then rolled to a stop.
“This is as far as we can go in comfort. Now we must walk.” Tolgar began to unload the supplies, giving each a back pack and water receptacle. He gave much attention to helping the counselor load her pack and put it on. They began walking through the tropical rain forest. At first the birds, insects and other life sounds were almost deafening, perhaps, being startled from their routine by the newcomers. As they moved away from the security of the vehicle and into the forest the sounds became dimmer. The hike took another two hours and the crew was soaked from the humidity and heat when they came to a small clearing where a craft slightly larger than their shuttle crafts perched precariously on it’s side, a hole gaping on the upturned side.
Their guide stood off from them watching their reaction to the sight. Will asked, “Deanna do you sense anything?”
“Not from inside, I sense an intelligence but it is coming from almost beneath us.”
Data scanned the area with his tricorder. “There is a thick layer of rock beneath us. No life signs are detectable through it.”
Will had already begun moving closer to the craft looking at the damage on the exterior. Deanna could sense his desire to get a look at the interior. She too wondered about the life she sensed below them. When she reached Will’s side he asked, “Deanna, what do you sense about these beings?”
“Right now, very little. I sense fear. There is more, but it’s vague. The good part is that this is a being with an intelligence, that much I do sense.”
Will nodded absently, still looking intently at the vessel. “Data what is this material? It seems a bit odd. Do a thorough scan, I’d like a look inside before we meet our nomads, maybe get an idea of what we’re about to face.”
As the two men worked on finding a way to stabilize the craft to allow them to enter it, Deanna walked around the area hoping to get a sense of the exact location of the missing occupants. She moved toward the base of a large vertical incline. The first six feet of the slope were covered in rock. It looked as though there had been a landslide, except the area above the rocks was green with vegetation. The appearance of the rocks was sudden and out of place. She reached to touch the rocks and felt a jarring pull on her emotions, fear, agitation and resignation. Quickly she turned to see what became of Talgor. He stood where he had been since they unloaded the gear from their backs, near the craft. His attention clearly focused on her. She knew the agitation and resignation to be his. The fear was coming from behind and below the ground she stood near. The empath continued watching the guide. He looked nervous and could not keep eye contact with her. To mask his uneasiness he went to the craft, watching and listening as the commander contacted his captain to report the findings of the craft and it’s description. She waited until Will had finished before she called him over to her.
“Will, I believe the way to them is behind these rocks. Does this look like a natural rock slide to you?”
Data who had joined them, scanned the area. “These rocks were brought here. They are not geologically indigenous to this area. Commander, there is an opening about four meters behind them. It appears to be an underground cave.”
Will looked back at their guide, “Were these rocks here when you first located the craft Talgor?”
“They were here the first time I saw the wreck. We have many odd but natural phenomena on Risa. You have been here enough to know that Commander.”
Will smiled, “Yes, I’ve met some of them. I am wondering if these beings may have tried to hide themselves here. Counselor, what do you think?” He could tell by her look she believed this to have been a deliberate act of suppression. Will saw the way she had been observing the guide. He knew her well enough to know she had a deep distrust of the man. He also knew her well enough to trust those insights.
She looked up at him, “I think we may have more of a problem then we were originally led to believe. Is there a way we can remove the rock? This is the way to find the survivors. I’m certain of it.”
The commander communicated the new information to the captain, requesting a team of engineers and Doctor Crusher to be beamed down to their coordinates. The engineers were divided into two groups, one to work on removing the landslide. The remaining group quickly aided in stabilizing the craft to allow a thorough investigation into the interior.
Will and Data had been inside the craft for sometime when the entrance to the cave had been cleared. Deanna called to him to let him know the task had been accomplished. He emerged long enough to look at the results, then, knowing her eagerness to get to the occupants of the craft he asked, “Deanna, Beverly, come in here a moment. You may get a better perception of who these people are.”
Both women cautiously followed him, “Will, is there any lighting in here?” They were peering into the dimly lit nucleus of the craft.
“There is very little artificial illumination in this vessel, Counselor. It would appear that the occupants needed little light to accomplish the task of space travel.” Data stood at a control panel moving his fingers quickly over the area that powered and then eliminated the sparse lighting.
Will showed them an area that resembled a nursery. “Something else, we found evidence that the ship has been here for a while. The power system is nearly depleted and the organic substances have decayed. My guess is these people have been stranded here for months.” Will and Deanna turned to see where the guide was, he never entered the craft. “That is interesting. Wouldn’t you think curiosity alone would have driven him in here?”
“He has become very nervous, Will. I don’t think we want him in the cave with us. I don’t trust him.”
“How do you suggest we keep him out, he's supposed to be our guide?" Will watched her expression. “Data and I will keep a close eye on him. If we have an opportunity to send him for supplies or anything else, we’ll use it. In the mean time we all stay together and keep our eyes open.”
Beverly and Data had joined them, “Well it looks like we will be finding their offspring, if any survived down there. I’m going to have more medical supplies beamed down. I want to be prepared for anything.”
The added supplies were distributed among them as the four crew members and their guide entered the cave. The high powered hand held lights did a lot to make even the darkest corners visible. They hadn’t gone far before the counselor had enough of an empathic sense of the beings to take the lead in the search for them. The trail went farther and farther into the depths of the cave. Data began marking their pathway by scorching the stone walls with his phaser.
“I sense a presence very near to us. It is not threatening, however I suggest a slow approach. He is very afraid of us and may react out of that fear.” Deanna whispered to those gathered around her.
When the five of them had to make a ninety-degree turn to travel into a new underground channel, the counselor stopped short. “He is here. Let me go first, the group of us may frighten him more.” Will and Data followed the counselor a few steps, watching warily. Deanna approached a small huddled figure. Until her approach the others had not seen the figure. The small body was so tightly molded to the wall of the cavern. She knelt down and reached out her hand. The others listened but could not make out her softly spoken words. Will turned his light up to it’s highest mark and moved the beam toward the two.
“No! Will, stop! He cannot tolerate the brightness.” Deanna’s voice echoed through the tunnels. She moved quickly to shield the small head with her body blocking the searching beam. Will instantly turned the light off, to watch and wait in the darkness. She moved slowly away from the being and returned to them. “There are many farther in the cavern. I believe them to be mostly children. Will, can I see you for a moment?” She pulled him off to the side. “I don’t want to take Tolgar to them. I’m getting a sense of anger from him, I think he’s dangerous.”
“Okay, I’ll keep him here. The doctor and Data will go with you.” He paused, “You’ve been able to communicate with him then?”
“No, not orally, just empathically. I get a sense of him and his feelings about what I’m feeling...He’s empathic.”
“Deanna be careful they may not intend harm but they may not know what is harmful to us either.”
“Imzadi, you have more reason to be careful. Tolgar does intend harm. He doesn't care who is harmed.” She took his hand to squeeze it. “Please be careful, don’t take any chances with him.”
When they returned to the others, the commander explained their next move. The counselor, doctor and Data were needed to look after the injured and sick. Tolgar and he would follow when the beings became more comfortable with their presence.
Commander Riker and Tolgar watched as the small group left them. Will tried to observe the features of the small figure that lead them. Without using their lights he strained to see their movements in the darkness. Tolgar spoke for the first time since entering the cave. “You are taking a great chance allowing the women to go with it. You care for that one, yet you allow her to go with such a creature?”
Will scowled, “I thought Risaians were open minded, you claim you know nothing of these beings, yet you exhibit great distrust for them."
“Sometimes seeing is enough, it slithers, it can’t stand light- what living creature would you want around that only wants darkness.” Tolgar watched in the darkness in the direction the others had disappeared.
The small group had not gone far when they turned, entering yet another cavern. The small creature had held the counselor's hand, pulling her along when she could no longer see what lie ahead in the darkness. She could feel four long thin fingers, not of human flesh, but of a more rubbery smoother texture. Earlier when she had shielded it from the glare of light she felt the hairless head and what she imagined may have been antenna. The small being had relaxed a bit, no longer fearful of them. The empath’s senses told her that he was relieved at their arrival. The new cavern was small. They could hear an underground stream somewhere near them. Deanna could sense many of these beings near them, most of them sleeping. Their escort moved cautiously among them until they reached a larger form. A few moments had passed in the quiet cavern, the only sounds to be heard were those of the rhythmic breathing of the sleepers and sporadic high pitch chirping. A dim light was struck. A small stone pile had been lit. It now burned with an intense heat. The cave’s inhabitants moved in unison closer to the warmth. The three crew members remained standing as they were, watching the strange scene around them. Deanna’s escort still held her hand. She could feel one of the fingers moving over hers as though curious about the feel of her skin.
Data was listening to what the other two could not hear. He confided to the two women, “I believe they are discussing our trustworthiness. I am unable to understand the precise wording. However the general conversation seems to center around the comparisons between us and the inhabitants of Risa.”
“I didn’t hear anything. Data, can you communicate anything to them?” Beverly Crusher had covertly managed to have a tricorder in her hand trying to get a reading on the small being.
“I can only get the general idea of the topic they are discussing. The language is very complex and of such a variety of pitch that it would be impossible to replicate without further study. Counselor, what do your senses tell you?”
She was standing close to the smaller of the two beings, looking down at the larger one, who remained in an odd sitting position on the ground, leaning against a wall of the cavern. She answered, moving only her mouth, “There are several here that are in need of medical attention. I believe this is the mother of our small friend here. There is a strong emotional tie between them. They may not be able to communicate with us but they are empathic. They know how you feel about them. Beverly, now may be a good time to go to her and check her physical condition.”
“Deanna, how will I know what I’m looking at. I have nothing to base any readings on. For all we know none of them may be healthy.” As she spoke the doctor was kneeling on the ground near the larger ‘mother’ and moving the tricorder over her. When she had finished, she reached to touch the thin leg trying to extend comfort to the being. Beverly straightened, she looked at the counselor’s face, Deanna already knew. “The older one is dying. She was wounded and is malnourished. Her system is depleted. I don’t know what to do to help. I can try to get the minerals into her that seem to be missing from comparing the two readings. I may actually be doing more harm, how can I know if we can’t communicate anything to them?”
It was then that they heard scuffling and several loud sounds coming from Will and Tolgar’s location. Deanna tried to follow the doctor and Data, but the small hand that still held hers held it now with a strength she would have thought impossible. The counselor looked at the creature beside her. It seemed reluctant for her to leave, but relinquished it’s hold. She hesitated, then ran to catch up to Data and Beverly. When she found them, they were already beside Will. The commander sat rubbing the back of his head. He looked at Deanna and smiled painfully at her. “I know. I shouldn’t have turned my back on him.”
“Let me see.” Beverly moved his hand to look at the injury. She scanned him with her tricorder. “You’ll live but you should go back to the Enterprise and have it cleaned and checked for any infection.”
The commander ignored the edict, “Data, go after him, be careful, he has my phaser. Deanna, Beverly, I want you to go back and stay with the creatures. Do what you can for them.” He hit his comm badge, “Riker to Enterprise." There was no answer from their ship. “It’s probably these caves. We couldn’t get a reading through them from the surface, apparently we can’t communicate from them either.”
The ground beneath them trembled violently. “Move into the deeper caverns, that came from near the entrance. I’m going to find Data.” Riker left in the direction the android had disappeared.
Will Riker hadn’t gone far when Data met him, “Commander, I strongly suggest we quickly move to the farthest point away from the entrance. Tolgar is using the phaser to seal the entrance by creating a landslide. I had detected an abundance of fresh air and water back in the cavern with the beings.”
They returned to the others. Turning their portable lights down to a dim beam, the two went to the group surrounding the glowing rocks. Both the counselor and the doctor were kneeling beside one of the creatures. The scene they had walked into was sober and subdued. Will looked at the counselor hoping she would explain what was happening, but she was too absorbed in the event to notice their attendance.
Data leaned over to the commander, “I believe we are witnessing the death of the 'old mother'"
Will looked surprised at Data’s choice of words and his perception of the scene. “Old mother, Data?”
“The counselor believed this one to be the eldest among the group and the mother of the smaller being we met in the outer cavern. Doctor Crusher concluded from her examination the creature was dying.”
Will noticed then there were differences between the beings, shadings of their basic coloring differed enough it would become easy to tell one from the other. The moment of death must have arrived. The doctor looked at the counselor with defeat mirrored in her eyes. Beverly then noticed Will and Data had returned and went to them, to explain the circumstances. Deanna joined them after a few moments.
Will relayed the situation with Tolgar adding, “Data believes there is another exit out of these caverns. We need to find the source of the water and fresh air. I think you two are needed here. Data and I are going to do a little spelunking. The sooner we get out of here, the sooner we can assist our friends. Deanna, see what you can learn about them, that would explain Tolgar’s reactions.” They climbed down a slope to the stream below to follow it, out of what may have become a sealed tomb.
Deanna and Beverly watched them climbing over rocks and dodging stalagmites until they were out of sight, before returning to the group. They remained a short distance away to observe the alien’s reactions as a means to understanding this new species better.
The ground beneath them quaked violently. Deanna spoke softly to Beverly, “I think we should consider evacuating everyone from this cavern.”
“Agreed. Let’s evaluate how many are healthy enough to travel.” The doctor pulled from her medical supplies a tricorder for the counselor. Both women wasted little time compiling the information. The results of the completion at the task did little for their confidence. Most of the young were too weak to make a journey without assistance. They counted out of the fifteen only nine could travel unassisted. “I think we should prepare to begin moving out now.”
The commander and Data had followed the stream for three hundred meters when the stream channel began to widen. Will could detect a steady breeze of warm tropical air on his face. An opening to the outside world was now visible. It could only be accessed by means of the stream. The channel banks would not allow passage any other way. The water had been analyzed and the two had carefully waded into the cold water, walking carefully on the smooth slippery stream bed. They made their way out into the center where the water now reached their waist. Data’s curiosity was aroused at Will’s inability to keep his teeth from chattering. The coldness that took his breath away also caused his teeth to chatter, limiting Will’s ability to answer Data inquisitiveness.
They were almost to the opening when a new quaking shook the ground knocking them both to their knees and under the surface of the water. When Will surfaced the entrance was now only barely visible. He saw Data scrambling toward it, his strength and agility allowing him to climb the wet stone to the opening. Will shouted to him to get out and get to the Enterprise for help.
“You may need this sir.” The android perfectly threw his phaser to the commander, then squeezed through the opening into the sun and warmth of the outside, leaving Will to return to the cold dark cavern.
Beverly and Deanna were trying to communicate to those circled around them, the necessity of moving on. It would mean leaving behind the “old one” that had comforted them and cared for them. A few of the adolescents gathered close to the doctor or counselor and shed their inhibitions enough to touch their hair or venture a long finger to feel the texture of their uniforms.
The group had been divided into two. Each group would have two moderately mobile adolescents to help with the weaker, younger ones. The doctor was trying to get her group to begin moving. She would get the two older ones on their feet by holding on to their hands. It never lasted long, they would ultimately revert to their shyness and sit again in the same odd position, feet flat on the ground, knees up toward their chins and arms wrapped around their middles. They resembled, in a rather abstract way, grasshoppers ready to spring and accelerate toward some unknown destination. Beverly and Deanna exchanged looks, then Deanna sat between two of the adolescents mimicking the position and emotion she perceived from them. One reached over to run the long thin finger down her arm to tap her elbow several times trying to convey comfort. Beverly shrugged and followed suit. At least this was progress.
The captain sat facing the android, “Data, you’re telling me this was a deliberate act? This guide -- Tolgar has sealed our people and these others in a cave? For what reason?”
“Counselor Troi had sensed he had developed an insurmountable dislike for the beings and should not have been trusted. This was not unique to the guide. There were others exhibiting the same feeling.”
“Mmm, I’ll openly pursue the diplomatic route with the government on Risa. I want you and Mr. LaForge to find a way of getting everyone out of there, unharmed.”
A soggy and frozen Will Riker stood before the group. His body trembling and teeth chattering, he attempted to convey the urgency of the situation. His crew mates, after one look at him, flew to his aide. Deanna steered him to a place close to the warming softly glowing rocks. The counselor after seating him began to peel off the sodden uniform. He caught her hands, “Deanna, the ssstream is rising fffast. I think they dammed it. We have to move these people.” He stopped long enough to drink the elixir Doctor Crusher handed him, before continuing, answering their questions.
Now that his uniform had dried and he had warmed under one of the blankets the doctor had brought, Commander Riker found his crew anticipating his orders to get under way. He had been briefed on the physical problems of moving the young aliens. He knelt beside one of the youngest, trying to explain how and why he wanted him on his back. Deanna and Beverly had to demonstrate by gently moving the long thin arms around the commander’s neck. Will felt the long fingers moving, tracing his beard. He looked at his two teammates and raised his eyebrows in amusement. The beings were intrigued by the human's hair, there wasn’t a hair that could be seen on their body. The coarse material that swaddled the small being rubbed irritatingly into Riker’s neck. They tore the blanket into strips to fashion a strap around the rump area to help secure the being. The doctor and counselor followed his example, each finding one whom they could help. With both hands freed, each of the humans were able to hold on to two others.
The pace was slow and steady. They were headed the same way Will and Data had previously gone. The water had begun to rise. They were walking in water up to their ankles. There was a high pitched twitter among their companions as the water continued to rise. Riker looked back at the others, “Is everyone okay? I know it’s uncomfortable but it’s the only way out. Deanna how are our friends doing?”
“They’re doing fine. Actually, I think they like the water.” Some of the beings were slapping their flat bare feet in the water, splashing as they went. The fun stopped soon enough. The water rose to the knees of the younger ones. It was tiring on both the humans and their small companions to try to keep even the slow pace.
The captain stood in front of the view screen, his impatience about to break through his diplomatic facade as he tried again to convince the prime minister of the critical situation his people were facing. He changed tactics, going on the offensive, tired of the mewing official and his claim of innocence. “I feel your ignorance of this action taken by those appointed by you for this quasi-rescue attempt is beyond contempt and I’ll see that the Federation will certainly hear of it. It would be a shame to list your planet as undesirable and inhospitable, especially when you could have prevented it.” He turned his back on the screen and signaled the link to be terminated. Moments later the prime minister was asking to speak with the captain.
“Minister, do we have something to talk about?”
“Captain Picard, this group you speak of, is a small group of insignificant proportion and views. They do not reflect the attitude of generosity and respect for all life that is true of the majority of our people.”
“It would seem sir, that the actions of those in even governmental positions belie that statement. Do not make little of this. There is a genuine feeling of bigotry among a population of your people.” He watched as the minister again waived it off. “ Sir, ‘Now tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted. Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden.’ That is a quotation from an ancient earth playwright. Your planet is a haven for those longing to get away from life’s problems a ‘garden of Eden’ in its tropical beauty. Yet, this poison will destroy it and it’s reputation among others if you allow it. Will you help us or not?”
“I will help. Tell me what you need.”
They stood on the narrow bank looking up at the small aperture listening to the commander explain what he expected of them. “Will, I’m not comfortable with this. Are you sure this is the only way.?”
“Beverly, it is. We don’t have the time to wait. We have to move now if we are going to get everyone out. Are you ready?” The doctor nodded. She gathered a few pieces of medical equipment wrapped them in the water tight plastic, then shoved them into her uniform shirt. She and Will began to descend into the rising stream. The currents pulled them to the opening where an unattached rope dangled loosely. He dove under the water coming up beneath the doctor to boost her higher. She grasped at the loose rocks, knocking several into the water. It took several lunges before she was able to find something steadfast enough to give her the support to climb to the opening and through it. She went to work securing the loose end of rope Will had earlier managed to throw there.
Riker allowed himself a quick glint of satisfaction before swimming against the current to the others. The small beings sat watching. Deanna aided him getting out. He could see the concern in her eyes. “We’ll start with the weakest, and the strongest. That way there will be someone to help Beverly with the others as we get them across.”
Deanna held the littlest one’s arms around her neck as Will helped secure it with a band of blanket. The counselor did the same with the largest as Will held on to it. The empath could feel their anxiety, yet neither creature did anything to obstruct their efforts. She felt the little one’s chin on her shoulder and it’s fingers lock around her, as it braced for the cold water.
Will climbed down into the water, then helped Deanna, guiding her feet into the foot holds he had found in the bank. She slowly entered the shoulder high water, catching her breath as the frigid liquid saturated her body. Will watched her closely as she turned to face him. “The current will do the work. Allow it to take you to the rocks below the entrance. Grab on to the larger rocks there.” He pointed to where some of the rocks stood out from the rest. “We’ll send one up at a time to Beverly.” They could see the doctor outlined even in the darkened night sky. Will attached his light to his forehead with a band from the blanket. Deanna patted the little arms around her.
They pushed off the bank, Deanna felt the current pull her and Will’s hand on her elbow as they tried to tread water when their feet were swept out from under them. The closer they came to their destination the current changed, swirling around them, as though it too were searching for an exit. It pulled at her from several directions at once, but they managed to find the rocks Will had chosen. Deanna couldn’t control her jaw from clicking as her teeth chattered. The small one on her back didn’t seem to notice the cold. Her senses told her, the little female rather enjoyed it.
They watched the larger one work his way up the rocks to Beverly. He climbed well, pulling himself up more than Beverly had to pull him. The little one was next. They had to make a sling to get her to the doctor. Will put an arm around Deanna’s waist to pull her closer to him. “Are you ready to go back? This is going to be harder, we’ll be swimming against the current.” She nodded her answer. He smiled knowing she’d do what ever was necessary. They reached the other side with the creatures waiting for them. Will climbed out first, then helped Deanna. She was unable to contain the body’s reaction to the cold. She was visibly trembling. Will pulled her to him and vigorously rubbed her arms and back trying to help the circulation. “I promise you when we get back, I have a special evening planned that will make you forget all about ever being cold.” He continued his ministrations, noticing her lips were blue. He bent to warm them without thinking, he could feel her sigh and move back.
“I’m okay. Let’s keep moving, or I may not be able to start again. And I am holding you to that evening, Commander, so don’t do anything heroic just to get out of it.”
They were on their last trip. Will looked across at Deanna. She hadn’t said a word for the past hour. He could see the fatigue and cold were taking their toll on her. He had been getting muscle cramps in his legs and arms from the cold. “This is it. If we can get the last two across, we can get out of here. Can you make it?” She nodded, and began to help him with the last fellow on his back. Her last passenger was the young male they first found. Will helped him up and secured him. Deanna stumbled twice before getting into the water. This time she didn’t notice the cold. The water was up to the level of the bank. They had only to carefully step off to be in it. Will pushed off and started toward the opening. He turned to see Deanna treading water behind him. She was struggling to keep above the water line. He tried to reach behind to get a hold on her, but he was being pulled away by the swirling currents. He decided to make a quick deposit with his charge and go back for her. He had reached the rope and sent his passenger up when he heard Beverly shouting for Deanna. He turned and could not find her in the water behind him. He dove back pushing against the current, he surfaced took a deep breath and was about to dive under again when he saw the hairless head of her companion bobbing up and down trying to get his attention. Will got to them to find the creature had managed to free himself and was holding on to the back of the Deanna. Will grasped her and the being climbed on to his shoulders as they made their way back to the rope. When Will looked up to signal Beverly to begin to pull the little guy up as he held on to Deanna. He was relieved to find Data and the captain waiting in front of a much enlarged opening, Data wasted no time in sliding down the rope to aid the two drenched and frozen officers up to join the rest. When Will reached the outside he took comfort in seeing Deanna sputtering but conscious and in the doctor’s care. He quickly moved to her side to hear her ask, “Beverly, did we get everyone?”
The doctor smiled at Will then back down to her friend, “Yes, everyone is out, safe and sound.” She patted the counselor’s arm, then moved away to join the captain leaving them alone, glancing back over her shoulder to see them embracing.
It seemed absurd to be sitting around a fire wrapped in a blanket in the middle of a tropical rainforest, but Deanna Troi and Will Riker didn’t care what it looked like. They were warm for the first time in what seemed ages. “I knew I’d have you under the blankets before we left Risa.” His lay across her shoulders under the blanket but holding the blanket around her, while the held her to him.
The captain, doctor and Data were with their new friends, working with the universal translator. The entire assemblage made their way over to the fire and the two officers still content in warming themselves. Several of the creatures moved near Will and Deanna. “Since you two are determined to fight the doctor’s wishes and stay down here, I want your input in this. We have learned these people call themselves ‘night-wanderers’, they came to this planet because theirs was dying. The elders plotted the course and devised their transportation, but most of them died before the voyage could begin.”
The government official sat quietly, looking only at the humans, avoiding any contact with the creatures. Deanna sensed his discomfort was not at what had been done to the alien visitors. “Sir, once you knew of these visitors why didn’t you try to help them? I believe that our help was enlisted not to aid them, but to remove them for you. Why?”
“I’m sorry young woman, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He looked at her, his face held such a look of disbelief, that had Deanna not been empathic she may have questioned herself.
The young male they had first met began to speak, through the use of the translator they were able to understand him. “Our history began here, on this planet many years ago. Even then we were not accepted by the people of light. We were only able to live in caves, where we would not been seen.”
“Really! Captain you certainly don’t believe any of this!” The minister was on his feet looking offended.
“Doctor would a DNA test answer this?”
“I can find if their DNA matches the structure of life on the rest of the planet.”
“When will you know.”
“A few hours. Captain may I suggest we all return to the Enterprise, where I can give some needed medical attention to some of these people.”
Doctor perhaps you and Data can work out appropriate quarters for our guests to stay in comfort. Counselor, Commander, I believe you may return to the ship, clean up and get some rest.” When the counselor began to protest, she was reassured they would be notified when they were needed.
The dimly lit conference room provided an eerie setting for the meeting, but it met the needs of the aliens. The senior staff, two of the Risaian officials and the ‘night-wanderers’ were all present, all awaiting the captain's presence. When Picard entered the room he noted the atmosphere to be more relaxed then before on the planet. “I’ve just talked to Starfleet, the information we have learned from the tests the doctor ran is not one-hundred percent conclusive. They do tend to back the ‘night-wanderers’ claim. This planet does contain the basic DNA structure of that of the beings, however, we have found similar structures on other planets. Do to the nature of the problems presented, Starfleet has asked the ‘night-wanderers’ to consider habitation on one of these planets that has the properties that would sustain them and would welcome them. We would provide them transportation.”
There was a high pitched chatter among the beings. One large male stepped forward as representative. Using the translator he agreed to allow the transportation on the Enterprise, and thanked the crew for their efforts in rescuing them in the cave and in aiding their future existence.
The captain looked at the Risaian officials, “That is not to say that what was done here has been overlooked. It has been noted. Our hope for you is that you weed out the notion of superiority and desire to have back what was once part of your ecosystem.” The official didn’t attempt to hide his disgust.
The conference room had emptied, except for the original away team and the captain. “The Risaian government would like to stay on good terms with the Federation. They have offered shore leave with all their traditional benefits for you four, should you wish to stay on the planet.”
They looked at on another, then all looked at Will Riker, who seemed to answer for all of them. “No thank you sir. I think we all have had enough of Risa for a while.”
The counselor stood outside the doors to Commander Rikers quarters awaiting his acknowledgement. The doors parted to reveal his form clothed in a light gray sweater and darker gray slacks. He smiled, “I was beginning to think you were going to back out of our dinner. You look beautiful.” The blue eyes drifted over her, taking in the hair style, the bared shoulders and elegant flow of the dress. He took her hand to walk with her to the sofa, “I had thought of programming a bit of Risa in the holodeck, but I knew you would not particularly enjoy that.”
“ Your back up plan then is to…” She watched his face loving the way he would flash the famous Riker grin.
“Just what I promised you, an evening to make your forget past experiences on Risa.”
“Mine or yours?” His grin disappeared, at her words.
“Deanna, this was suppose to be a romantic evening. I hoped you would get a little more into the spirit of it. I did plan a dinner with all your favorites.” She looked over at the table to see the candles and place setting.
“Hmm, exactly what did you have in mind Commander?” He leaned over to whisper in her ear, giving him the opportunity to put into action the very words he was whispering.