Revenge Is A Dish Best Eaten Cold
Captain Jean-Luc Picard handed the padd to Commander William Riker, his XO, and leaned back in his seat. "That's it for today, so far," he said. "The Saratoga is due to leave shortly, so I'd like you to go along to the transporter room and meet the new crewmembers."
"Aye, Captain," Riker responded. He grinned at the captain and rose to his feet, glancing at the padd. He crossed the ready room towards the door, then his normally brisk stride slowed.
"Something, Number One?" the captain queried.
"An old acquaintance, I think, Sir," he responded. "From the Hood. Peter LeMare." He met Picard's gaze. "There can't be 2 people of that name in Starfleet."
"I doubt it," Picard responded, getting up and coming across. He took the padd from Riker and re-read the details about LeMare. "Yes, he's coming to engineering. His qualifications are good, if not quite the best, and his work is steady and reliable."
"Sounds like the guy I knew," Riker answered.
"Well," Picard said, handing back the padd, "if you stay in Starfleet long enough, everyone you know pops up!"
"Yes, Sir," Riker said, and grinning again, left the ready room.
There were quite a few people in transporter room three when he arrived. Deanna was there, and Worf, plus one or two other ensigns, who would help the new crewmembers find their quarters. Riker nodded to the transporter chief. "Whenever you're ready," he said.
The familiar blue shimmer appeared on the platform, and several people materialised. Each stepped off and handed their orders to Riker, and he gradually sent them off to their new homes. LeMare was last. He handed his orders to Riker, and looked him up and down. "I thought it must be you," he said. "There aren't 2 of you."
Deanna and Worf exchanged glances. There were 2 of Riker, but that wasn't what concerned them. It was the tone in which LeMare spoke. It wasn't quite insolent, but it certainly wasn't as respectful as it should've been.
"How've you been, Pete?" Riker asked, accepting the padd, and putting his thumbprint on it. "It's been a long time."
"Yes, Sir," LeMare replied, suddenly aware of the other officers listening in. "About 10 years?" he guessed.
Riker made a face. "Could be. Come on, I'll show you to your quarters." He smiled at Deanna and Worf, and led LeMare out of the door.
Riker kept up a stream of conversation on the way to LeMare's quarters. It was all about the ship, regulations, how to find his way about, the standard of work required. It was only when they were in his quarters and alone that Riker brought the barriers down.
"So? How have you been? You didn't say. Married? Kids?" Riker perched on the back of a chair.
LeMare put his bag down and wandered around the room. "Yup, been married, have kids, but it didn't work out. I like space, she didn't. It's no big deal. What about you? Married, kids?"
"Neither one," Riker said. "I haven't had time."
"No, I suppose not. You always were ambitious, Will. And here you are, first officer on the flagship of the fleet." LeMare shot him an oblique glance, one Riker couldn't quite interpret. "So, do I call you Will or Commander?"
"Off duty, in private, you can call me Will. But on duty, or in Ten-Forward, you'd better call me commander. Most of my friends among the crew call me that, even when we are in private."
"Like that, is it?" LeMare commented, snidely. "Has your head grown bigger with your posting here?"
Riker stood, his face unreadable. "You asked, Pete," he said, quietly. "Its not my fault you don't like the answer." He crossed to the door. It obediently hissed open. "If you want to talk, I'm around." He left.
Ten-Forward was busy that night. Many of the new crewmembers had popped in to see what it was like, but there was no sign of LeMare. Deanna, Data, Geordi and Worf were sitting with Riker. "No sign of your friend?" Deanna asked, in an innocent tone.
None of them were fooled, except possibly Data. Worf rolled his eyes, and Geordi might have done, too, except you couldn't see his eyes for his VISOR. Riker grinned. "Going fishing?" he asked. "I wouldn't say Pete and I were friends, exactly. We were in the same year at the Academy, and we were both posted onto the Hood, but that's about it."
"So you are the same age?" Worf queried.
"I guess," Riker said. "I don't know exactly. Why?"
"He looks older than you do," Worf replied. It was true. LeMare was already balding, and was slightly stooped.
"Thanks," Riker said, grinning.
"Worf!" Deanna chided, jokingly. "He's vain enough without you encouraging him!"
"I was not encouraging his vanity," Worf replied, with his usual dignity. "I was merely stating a fact."
Deanna tutted, as Riker and Geordi laughed. Data looked from face to face, and made his very false laugh. Deanna caught Riker's eye, and let him know that she was there if he needed to talk about his relationship with LeMare. Riker's smile assured her that he knew that, but felt no such need. He wasn't offended by LeMare's coldness. Ten years had passed without either one feeling the need to communicate with the other. Riker didn't feel as though he'd lost a friend.
As the first month of LeMare's tour went in, he seemed to settle well, and gradually thawed towards Riker when their paths crossed. Usually, Riker only met him in Engineering, or in Ten-Forward, and LeMare seemed friendly enough. Riker found himself a little uncomfortable in the other man's company, but he was unable to say exactly why. He didn't let it worry him, as they were in the middle of mapping a large star cluster, and his time was spent ensuring that all departments had their fair share of sensor time. Of course, no department actually thought they had a fair share, but Riker tried not to let that worry him either.
After a long day - one of the last, Riker hoped - his door chime sounded. "Come," Riker called, wondering who it was. He didn't expect to find LeMare there!
"Hi," LeMare said. "I was wondering, do you fancy a game of anbo-jytsu? I'm free right now."
"Sure," Riker answered. "If you really mean it. I don't get many offers of a match."
"Oh, are you the champion here? I rather thought it would be Mr Worf." LeMare's tone expressed only interest, but Riker felt it also contained a snide undertone.
"Its not Worf's thing, really," Riker said. "And I'm unbeaten. Hang on while I get changed."
As they prepared for the bout, Riker found himself wondering what LeMare really wanted. He wasn't terribly athletic, but did keep himself fit. He'd been a really bad anbo-jytsu player at both the Academy, and on the Hood. Strapping on the helmet, Riker reproved himself. Perhaps LeMare had been practicing and improved. Either way, he was about to find out.
They mounted the ring together and bowed solemnly to each other, then reached for their visors. Riker clicked his shut firmly, and took up a defensive position, listening for his opponent. LeMare's attack, when it came, was impressive, and Riker had to exert himself slightly to repel him. Even so, he was still a superior player, and scored several points in quick succession.
But LeMare got some unexpected shots in past Riker's guard, and one of them struck him alongside the head. The helmet prevented Riker from being knocked out, but he was off balance, and dizzy. He stepped back, and found himself at the edge of the ring. Reaching out frantically to save himself, Riker was jabbed in the stomach by LeMare's pole, and he fell heavily backwards off the ring.
For several seconds, Riker couldn't get his breath, then it came back with a jolt, and he tried to sit up. He managed it on the second attempt, and became aware of LeMare talking in his ear. Riker's wrist was aching steadily, and he wasn't able to move his fingers. Awkwardly, he unbuckled his helmet with his left hand, and dropped it to the floor. He moved his legs experimentally, and found one of his ankles hurt, too. "Pete," he said, reluctantly, "you'd better get help."
An hour later, Riker was sitting on the examination couch in sickbay as Beverly Crusher put the final touches on his black eye. She had set both his wrist and ankle, commenting on his bad luck on getting them broken when they were on opposite sides of his body. She had also give LeMare his marching orders when one or two of his 'concerned' comments had sounded too much like gloating for her liking. Sometimes, Beverly had a redhead's temper.
"I don't want you to play for at least a month," she warned Riker. "And don't overdo Worf's callisthenics, either. The bones will be as strong as ever in the next few days, but the muscles might take a bit longer to fully knit. And that's an order, Mister!"
"Aye, Sir," Riker responded, dryly.
Beverly laughed, but had noticed that Riker wasn't his usual self at all. She was sure that the accident wasn't entirely to blame. Riker seemed pre-occupied. "Will, are you all right?"
"You don't seem all right. What's bothering you?" Beverly stopped working on the black eye, which was no longer quite as black, and watched his face.
"Something just doesn't seem right about this accident," he admitted. "Pete did do some things I hadn't expected, but he wasn't all that much improved. He shouldn't have been able to deliver those hits. They weren't the moves that should have come from the previous moves he'd made." Riker looked at Beverly's face. "Is any of this making sense?" he asked.
Beverly shook her head. "Not a lot. You're saying that LeMare was making moves outside his range of skill?"
"Yes, that's it," Riker agreed. "Most of the moves were the ones I expected, but sometimes, he would turn and hit me, and he had just been in the wrong position a few moments before, and shouldn't have been able to make those moves. Going from a head strike to a stomach strike is actually against the rules. If you strike the head, you are supposed to back off and let your opponent recover, not follow up with a blow like that."
"So what are you saying?" Beverly asked. "Did he do that on purpose?"
Riker shook his head, and winced slightly. Beverly began working on his eye again. "No, it can't have been on purpose. After all, we were both visored. No, it must just be inexperience coupled with bad luck."
"Well, it certainly was your bad luck," Beverly agreed, and carried on working.
By next morning, Riker couldn't feel any after effects of the accident. He knew, of course, that the story would be all round the ship. It was almost impossible to keep a secret on a starship. However, when he appeared on the bridge, no one gave him as much as a second glance, and wondered if Picard had cautioned them not to mention it. Even Data didn't bring the subject up.
Later, Riker met LeMare on his way to the astro-physics lab. LeMare looked away form Riker, and would have passed him by without speaking. Riker was having none of it. "Pete, sorry our match ended that way," he said. "When I get leave to play again, how about we have a re-match?"
"When you get leave to play?" LeMare repeated. "Are you trying to tell me that the doctor forbade you to play? Yeah, sure!" He laughed, but it wasn't a pleasant sound. "Pull the other one, Will. It plays a tune."
"Are you calling me a liar?" Riker demanded. He took a step closer. Lowering his voice, he said, "If I hear rumours that I am backing out of a rematch, I will have you, do you understand?"
"It was a joke!" LeMare protested, weakly. "Can't you take a joke?"
"Just as well as the next man," Riker responded. "And that wasn't a joke. Remember what I said." He turned and walked away, his head as high as usual, giving no clues with his body language as to how he felt. But to anyone that knew Will Riker well, he was clearly furious!
The routine of the Enterprise went on as usual. They did several planet surveys; drilled a test sight for some miners and carried supplies for a terraforming colony. After that, they were due to host a meeting of galactic ambassadors, who were on their way to a large conference on Galileo V. Riker and Troi organised quarters for the various parties, arranging for the local delicacies to be programmed into the replicator, and changed the environmental settings to suit the different species. They arranged a formal gathering in Ten-Forward on the first night that everyone was present, and kept their fingers crossed that too many things didn't go wrong. A shipload of ambassadors was one of the touchiest things to be found anywhere in the universe!
After criss-crossing several galaxies and solar systems, they finally had their full compliment on board, and the journey to Galileo V began. The dignitaries were only on board the Enterprise for two night and one day, and everyone hoped that no blood feuds would be started in those few short hours.
The party began well. All the senior officers were in full dress uniform. Several of the more junior officers had been roped in to be waiters. Data had drawn bridge watch, but everyone else was there. The noise level rose as the evening went on.
Joining Riker by the bar, Deanna smiled at him. "Good job this is all synthehol," Riker shouted. "If it was real alcohol, goodness knows how many fights we'd have had by now. Some of these guys can really put it away!"
Grinning up at him, Deanna responded, "I've already headed off one quarrel, and Captain Picard another."
"And you're loving every minute of it," he asserted, up on a high.
"Speak for yourself," Deanna retorted, knowing that he was. Riker loved this kind of thing. She found so many people in one confined space rather overwhelming, and knew that she wouldn't stay around for very much longer. She allowed her shields to relax slightly, and felt a rush of warmth from Riker. He grinned at her, and disappeared into the throng.
He ended up beside the Thalian ambassador. They had met previously, and Riker liked the man. He was one of the few ambassadors who could emanate genuine goodwill at all times, even when really annoyed. However, he was very nervous tonight. "What's wrong?" Riker asked, glancing round, just as his guest had done.
Clearing his throat uncomfortably, the man leaned closer. "I've had threats on my life," he reported, sounding almost sheepish.
"Here on the ship?" Riker asked, straightening.
"No, before I left home. I just don't feel totally comfortable right now," he said, apologetically.
"I'll station security personnel near you at all times," Riker said. He studied the man's face. "Please, its no trouble."
After a moment's hesitation, the ambassador nodded. "Thank you, then. I accept." He glanced round again.
From out of the crowd, LeMare appeared, carrying a couple of plates of food. "Commander, Ambassador, I saw you weren't eating, and brought you something. I hope that's all right?"
"Thank you," said the ambassador, and accepted the plate. Riker took the other one just to be polite, and picked at a few things before putting it down and heading off to find Worf.
It wasn't hard to find the Klingon. He stood alone, looking as forbidding as usual. Riker quickly explained what he wanted, and Worf left to set things in motion. Riker began to circulate again.
A few minutes later, he began to feel distinctly unwell. He tried to shake off the feeling, but it grew worse, and within a short time, he could barely stand upright. Sweat poured down his face and his collar seemed to be getting tighter. He made his way towards the door, but had to pause to lean unsteadily on the wall. The room began to spin, and his legs gave way, and he slid down the wall. He distantly heard someone calling his name, then everything went black.
Kneeling beside Riker, Beverly ran her tricorder over him. "What is it?" Picard asked, urgently, bending down to see.
"I can't tell," Beverly said, shaking her head. "But his vital signs are dropping. I must get him to sickbay." She stabbed her combadge, and ordered direct transport. The telltale shimmer was the first sign most guests had that something was going on.
Grinding his teeth in frustration, Picard turned back to the reception. He couldn't leave until all the guests were gone. He didn't dare give the impression that something serious was wrong, as he didn't want to start a panic. He glanced at Deanna, who was white with shock. "Sit down, Counsellor," he said, kindly. With his social smile in place, he began to work the room, reassuring the people who spoke to hi, However, it didn't take long for him to realise that the incident had unsettle the guests, and the party atmosphere was gone. Within half an hour, the last guest had gone.
The Starfleet personnel all flocked to Picard's side. He saw the unspoken question in their faces, and shrugged. "I don't know what's wrong with Commander Riker," he said. "I'm going to sickbay now. Counsellor, Lt Worf, please accompany me. Everyone else, attend to clearing up, and you will hear in due course." He nodded once and turned to leave. From across the room, Guinan caught his eyes. She looked grave. Picard hurried his pace.
Stopping just inside the doors of sickbay, Picard looked at the bustle around. Beverly stood over Riker, who was on life support, and the palest Picard had ever seen. Beside him, Deanna gasped in horror. She slipped past Picard, her hand to her mouth.
Following swiftly, Picard put an arm round her shoulder, lending and receiving support. "How is he, Doctor?" he asked.
Looking at them, her face strained, Beverly said, "He's dying."
The blunt statement caused Deanna to burst into tears. Beverly looked contrite. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said it like that. If we don't find a cure, he'll be dead before morning."
"What is it?" Deanna asked, temporarily mastering her grief.
"Poison," said Beverly.
They had been there for what seemed like months, but had only been hours. Deanna stood beside Riker, willing him silently to fight. Worf had left immediately, connecting Riker's poisoning to the reported threats on the Thalian ambassador. Picard simply stood back out of the way, and put on a mask of clam. Beverly stayed by Riker's side, giving him shots to keep him going and waiting as the computer ran through the thousands of known poisons, hoping to find a match and an antidote before it was too late. None of them voiced the fear that it might be a poison unknown to the Federation.
Riker was delirious, moaning and muttering, none of the words intelligible. He alternately shook with chills and burned with fever. His life signs ebbed and flowed like a tide. One moment he rallied, the next, he lost ground. It was an agonising wait, and Picard finally began to face the fact that this was a battle they might lose.
"His vital signs are dropping again, Doctor," said one of the nurses, looking over at Beverly with a despairing look.
"I know," Beverly replied, and there was the first hint of defeat in her voice. He's dead, Picard thought. What a waste! He looked at Deanna, and saw what this vigil was costing her. He wondered if he would lose two crewmembers that night.
The computer beeped. "Match found," it announced, unemotionally.
Leaping to her feet as though stung, Beverly went to the display unit. "Display findings and antidote," she ordered, and read the resulting printout as fast as she could. Still moving swiftly, she went to the replicator, and a moment alter, came back with a hypospray and administered it.
There was a collective sigh of relief, and Picard could feel the tension draining from his shoulders. That was close! He thought. Too close for comfort! "Well done, Doctor," he said.
Looking up at him, her eyes bloodshot and weary, Beverly said, "He's not out of the woods yet. It might take all day for this to work, and one dose won't be enough. It could be that he's too weak, and this has come too late. We'll just have to wait and see." Beverly gathered herself. "Captain, you must rest."
"Easier said than done," Picard responded, wryly. "But you're right. Good night." He left, casting a final glance over his shoulder. He knew both Deanna and Beverly would be there until the battle was decided - one way or another.
After a few hours of sketchy sleep, Picard found himself back on duty, discussing the night's events with the senior staff. That is, the senior staff who were there. Instead of the usual six, he had three - Geordi, Data and Worf.
"I think it likely the food was intended for the Thalian ambassador," Worf rumbled. "We did not find any trace of the plate used by the commander. The clean-up was over before we got there. However, the ambassador reports that he and Commander Riker were given plates by the same crewman."
Nodding, Picard's thoughts strayed down to sickbay for a moment. "Mr Worf, I want all the ambassadors to have round the clock security until they leave."
"Aye, sir," Worf responded. He didn't say that he had already arranged that.
"Mr Data," Picard said, "I want our journey speeded up, so alert our hosts at the other end that we will be arriving early. Tell them why, because they might want to tighten up their own security. Anything else? Dismissed." They all rose and Picard said, "Mr Data, you have the bridge."
"Aye, Sir," Data said. He had no need to ask where Picard would be. They all knew he was going to sickbay.
Sickbay was silent, the lights dimmed as though it was still the night cycle. Deanna was asleep in her chair. Riker was totally still and Beverly was nowhere in sight. Quietly, Picard crossed to Beverly's office, and found her sleeping with her head on the desk. At Picard's step, she jerked awake, and looked blearily ay him. "Jean-Luc," she said, and sounded so exhausted that Picard's heart sank.
"Is he…?" he began.
"Much better," Beverly said, and a smile flooded her tired face. "He's been off life support for an hour, but he's still very weak. It'll be a long haul until he's truly better, but Will Riker won the fight!"
Picard sat down in the chair by the desk abruptly. "Thank goodness," he said. "Is there any damage form the poison?"
"There may be some nerve damage, but it doesn't appear too serious. He may have lost some feeling in his hands for a while, but we'll be able to regenerate the nerves quite soon."
"Well done, doctor," Picard said, warmly. "Get some rest! You deserve it!"
She smiled, and they went back out to look at Riker. The lights had been raised slightly, and Deanna Troi was looking around, obviously newly wakened. She smiled at Picard, and stood up, checking on Riker again. Picard joined her.
His first officer was still looking very pale. His dark hair was still sweat-darkened and damp. But he was alive, and that was all that mattered. Deanna put her hand on his and squeezed gently. Riker's eyelids fluttered, and he looked at them for a moment before drifting back to sleep.
Exchanging a smile, Deanna and Picard felt uplifted. Riker was on the long road to recovery.
Entering the bridge form the aft turbolift, Riker stood for a moment, savouring his return. It had been a long three weeks, and they had had no lock catching his poisoner. It was like an exile returning home, he thought, as he took his seat at the captain's right hand. Picard turned his head and smiled at his first officer. "Its good to have you back, Number One," he said, softly.
"Thank you, Sir," Riker responded. "Its good to be back." He let a sly grin lift the corner of his mouth. "Its looks like you've handled things quite well in my absence."
"Well," murmured Picard, his face poker straight, "I tried my best not to let things get on top of me."
Leaning forward, Deanna joined in the gentle banter. "Of course, he had my support throughout," she explained. "He couldn't have done it without me."
"Indeed not, Counsellor," agreed Picard. "Your insight was invaluable. In fact, Number One, I am beginning to wonder if I require your return, given how well we managed without you."
Riker was grinning all over, and Picard finally allowed his smile to break free. The light banter on the bridge helped the atmosphere, Picard felt, although he knew captains who insisted on seriousness on the bridge at all times.
"What's our assignment?" Riker asked. Beverly had been very insistent that Riker be kept away form all ship's business, and he felt as if he had lost his compass. The humour left his face, although Picard swore to himself that he could almost always see mischief lurking in Riker's eyes. He leaned back slightly.
"We're going to deliver some assistance to a group of settlers on Fiora II. They are almost ready to set their power grid in place, but their chief engineer died suddenly a month or so ago, and they haven't found a replacement yet. So we are going to lend a hand. A nice, easy assignment."
Rolling his eyes, Riker said, "The last time we set up an energy matrix, we worked 18 hours a day!"
"I'm glad you remember it so clearly," Picard said. "You won't require much time to check up on procedures then." Picard rose smoothly. "You have the bridge, Number one," he said, and crossed to his ready room without a backward glance.
"You're out of practice, Will," Deanna chided.
Laughing, Riker shook his head. "Not at all," he denied. "I'm simply lulling the captain into a false sense of security." He hooked his ankle over the opposite knee. "Damn, but I've missed this place," he said.
"Really?" Deanna asked. "Given the way you've been plaguing Beverly to allow you to come back, I'd never have guessed. But if there's anything you need to talk about…"
"I know where you are," Will said, smiling at her. "But I'm fine, believe me." He swung his screen round, and began to tap in commands. "I'd better read up on this assignment. Lord forbid the captain should catch me out on some detail!"
Watching him for a moment, Deanna smiled. It was good to have him back on the bridge. She knew that Riker had been disturbed by the poisoning, but he had dealt with it in his own fashion, mostly alone, and seemed fine. And as he said, he knew where she was.
It was raining on the surface of Fiora II. Riker pulled the hood of his waterproof jacket closer round his face, but water still ran down his cheek. "How's it coming?" he yelled over the howling gale.
Glancing over his shoulder, Geordi shrugged. "Everything's so wet, its difficult to tell for sure. WE can't risk switching anything on until it all dries out. And who knows when that will be?"
Grimacing, Riker turned away. Instantly, the wind whipped his hood off, baring his head. He was soaked in the few seconds it took to pull it up again. "What miserable weather," he grumbled. "When will the weather matrix be up and running?"
There was a pause, and Geordi glanced at Riker. "Don't tell me; I know! When everything dries out!"
"Got it in one, Commander," Geordi responded. "I just hope its soon. With the Enterprise called away, we can't even get on board for a shower and a thawing out."
"Tell me about it," Riker agreed. He glanced briefly over his shoulder, and again the wind whisked his hood away. Sure enough, the young girl who'd been following him since they arrived was standing several feet away, ostensibly helping someone else, but looking steadfastly at Riker throughout. The scrutiny was beginning to make Riker uncomfortable, but he pretended not to notice, so as not to embarrass Jane, who was a lovely girl, if very young. Riker resolved to talk to Deanna about it, and get her to have a quiet word with Jane.
Pulling a tarpaulin over the interior of the power complex, Geordi climbed down. "We've done all we can for now. We just have to wait for the weather to clear."
"Let's hope its soon," Riker added, and they headed off to the cook tent for a cup of coffee.
An hour later, the sun was shining, and the ground steamed in the sudden heat. The Starfleet crew doffed their jackets and got to work drying everything out. Riker managed to catch Deanna alone, and told her about Jane. Deanna listened gravely, then smiled. "If you weren't so attractive to women, this would never happen. But don't worry, I'll have a word."
"Thank you," he said, fervently, and kissed her cheek. From a distance, Jane was watching. Deanna saw the girl and started to walk towards her. With a look that spoke volumes, Jane turned her back and walked away. Deanna stopped, looking after her retreating figure, and sighed. Her task had just been made even more complicated.
Sensing someone close, Deanna looked round and saw Peter LeMare. "Hi, Counsellor. You look a little lost. Can I help?"
"No, thank you. I just wanted a quick word with Jane, but its not important."
"Jane? Oh, the settlers' kid. She's very young." Peter grinned. "That makes me sound old, doesn't it? I notice she has the hots for Will. Must make it difficult for her when you and he are so close."
Deanna said nothing. She had no intention of discussing this with LeMare. She didn't like him, although she wasn't quite sure why. He gave her another smile, and left.
Crossing to rejoin the group she was working with, Deanna wished the Enterprise was still in orbit. It had been called away to help the Travail move a cometary fragment. It wasn't an arduous mission, but it meant that the away team had had to carry all the gear they might need.
At last, Geordi decreed that the matrix was ready to go on line. It had taken them three days to get everything dried out and all the checks were done. All that was needed was for someone to switch on the main power grid in the power plant - a grand name for a large wooden shed.
The shed had been being used for recreational activities, but in honour of the switch on, all the stuff was being moved to a tent. Only the last few tables and chairs had to go. Since the engineers were busy with the matrix, Riker, Deanna and some of the older kids were moving the furniture. Jane was among the helpers, but she was sullenly silent. Deanna had finally cornered the girl, and had a few words, but Jane had taken it badly.
Glancing round the shed, Riker said, "just the table there, and those 2 chairs," he said to Deanna. "The crates stay. "I'll move the table, you get the chairs/"
"Good," Deanna said. I'll wait here and tell everyone."
"Meet you back here, then," Riker said, and went out. Deanna wiped her hands on her jacket, but it didn't make them less dusty.
The door opened and Jane came in. Deanna smiled and greeted her cheerfully, but Jane didn't respond. Determined not to show the girl up, Deanna said, "just these chairs to go. Why don't you go over to the matrix?"
"You'll be waiting for your lover, are you?" Jane asked, snidely. "I've been told all about you two, and the appalling way you behave on that ship of yours."
"What are you talking about?" Deanna asked. "Who told you all that?"
"I know about Riker," Jane said, ignoring the question. "How you have to warn every woman off, because he can't keep it in his pants!"
"Jane!" Deanna protested. "That's quite enough. You're very young, and someone has filled your head with nonsense."
"He said you would deny it," Jane said. She pushed past Deanna to go over to one of the crates. Frowning, Deanna turned to follow her when there was an explosion.
Fire ripped along the roof of the shed, fanned by the gusty wind. Sparks flew everywhere, but people were now arriving at the scene, and quickly stamped them out. Riker appeared beside Geordi. "My God, is Deanna out of there?"
"Deanna?" Geordi said, clearly startled. Riker knew at once that she was still in the building and ran inside.
The building was full of smoke, but Deanna was on the floor, crawling towards the door. Riker spotted her instantly and stooped to pick her up and raced outside. Already, he was coughing. Geordi took Deanna from him, but she clutched his arm. "Jane," she said, and Riker understood at once.
Not hesitating, Riker plunged back into the shed. He peered through the smoke, pitting hi voice against the noise of the flames and losing. He had no idea where to look, so set off to the back of the shed. The smoke was thick and eddying around him. The heat and noise were intense. Reeling, losing hope, Riker turned his head and through a gap in the gloom, saw the girl curled up in a ball on the floor.
There was no time to see if she were dead or alive. Riker simply scooped her up and staggered back towards the door. He was coughing uncontrollably now, and when Jane suddenly came back to life and started struggling, he lost his grip and she fell.
Leaning down to pick her up again, Riker heard a sudden roar, and threw his arm up in time to deflect a beam falling form the roof. He didn't feel the pain from the burn. They were both coughing so hard, they were in danger of losing consciousness. Distantly, Riker heard Deanna's voice in his mind, and he found his feet, and urged Jane towards the door, following the link with his Imzadi.
Pushing Jane out of the door, Riker collapsed, half in and half out. Eager hands grasped his clothing and pulled him clear only moments before the whole roof caved in. Riker didn't hear it. He lay unconscious on the cold ground.
"Get me cold water and cloths," Beverly ordered, scanning both her patients. Jane had inhaled a lot of smoke, but had escaped major injury. She had a burn on one hand, and a few scrapes, but that was all. She had been very lucky.
Not so Will Riker. His arm had the worst injury, but there were raw places on his face, especially round his eyes, and Beverly hoped that his eyes weren't damaged. Here and there, his hair had burned away, leaving red patches on his scalp. His clothes were charred on his legs, back and even on his feet. Beverly knew he's inhaled way too much smoke, and soon had the oxygen mask strapped onto his face.
They needed the Enterprise. Beverly sedated Riker, and gave Jane something for the pain. "Send for help," she said.
Sitting in the command chair, Picard looked with satisfaction at the comet fragment, tumbling gracefully through space, heading well away form the planet. "Signal the Travail, Mr Worf," he said. "Ask the captain if she would like to coma aboard for dinner."
"Aye, sir," Worf rumbled. He glanced down at the tactical board. "Captain, we are receiving an emergency distress call form Fiora II. Audio only."
"Let's hear it," Picard said, getting to his feet.
"This is Fiora II calling the U.S.S. Enterprise. We have a medical emergency. Dr Crusher requests that you return as soon as possible. One serious burn victim needs urgent treatment in sickbay."
"Send an acknowledgement," Picard ordered. "Tell them we will be there in..." he glanced at Data.
"One hour, ten minutes at maximum warp," Data responded.
"Make it so," the captain commanded. Moments later, they were streaking away from the Travail at warp nine. A brief message had up-dated the Travail; and they had replied with wishes of good luck. Picard thought they might need it. A serious burn victim. Who was it, and how had it happened? Picard ordered the transporter room and sickbay to be on stand by, but all he could do then was wait.
Time was passing, and the oxygen cylinder was running low. Beverly kept Riker sedated and dosed up with painkillers. Deanna and Geordi kept wetting the cloths covering his injuries, but Beverly knew that if the Enterprise didn't come soon, Riker might be permanently disabled by his injuries.
It was pointless trying to hide how she felt from Deanna. The Betazoid's eyes were large and dark. Tear stains marked her cheeks. She gave Beverly a bleak look. Behind her Geordi put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "They'll be here soon," he said.
"Yes, soon," Beverly responded. The exchange was pointless, but he was offering what comfort he could. Beverly didn't say that if the ship didn't come soon it would be too late. She anxiously checked the oxygen levels again.
As the needle hit the red zone, the miracle happened. Her communicator beeped. "Enterprise to Crusher. We are standing by."
Sickbay was full of people when Picard arrived. He had been talking to Geordi and the others to find out what had happened. His anxiety was spiralling out of sight by the time he arrived in sickbay. Beverly was working feverishly on Riker, but Picard could already tell that he was beginning to respond. The intense fear had gone from Deanna Troi's face.
As Picard approached, Beverly looked up. "He's going to be okay," she said.
"Excellent news," Picard said, warmly. He privately thought Riker still looked like death warmed up. He shot Beverly a look as she gently placed a pad over his eyes, and bandaged it on.
"Its all right," she said, giving a half grin. "I'm going to treat the skin on his face, and I don't want to damage his eyes now. How they weren't injured, I just don't know."
"How long before he's fit for duty?" Picard asked. He often thought how callous that sort of question sounded, but he knew that Beverly understood he was asking so he could make the necessary adjustments to the crew rotas.
"Twenty four hours for the new skin to settle, plus any time he needs to square this away with his psyche. A couple of days at most, I suppose. Sorry I can't be more exact."
"Very good," Picard said. He gave Deanna a smile, which she returned, and left. He wanted Worf to start investigating this fire at once.
Lying in sickbay, Will Riker tugged against the straps that restrained his hands. The itching on his face as the new skin grew was intolerable. He had already scratched most of it off as he slept, and Beverly, in exasperation, had strapped his hands down. The bandages were still over his eyes, protecting the delicate skin there, stopping him from screwing his face up too much.
Footsteps approached the bed, and Riker turned his head. "Hello, Commander," a voice said, and after a moment, Riker placed it. Peter LeMare.
"Hello, Pete. Nice of you to drop by."
"I thought I'd see how you were doing," LeMare responded. "I didn't' think I'd see you in this position though." LeMare's voice held something apart from an unasked question, Riker thought. The emphasis on the word 'this' carried snide connotations.
"You get all your facial skin replaced, and see if you can resist scratching," he retuned, sourly.
"No thanks. I leave the heroics to other people."
There was definitely something in LeMare's voice. Riker strained against the strap, then forced himself to relax. Perhaps he was imagining the contempt in his friend's voice. Riker suddenly felt very vulnerable. He struggled to keep it from showing in his voice.
"I don't go looking for heroic things to do," he protested. "They just happen, and you have to do what you can."
"I can't understand Counsellor Troi putting you in danger like that," LeMare said, ignoring Riker's comment. "After all, you two are such good friends." The insinuation was clear in his voice that time.
Riker was suddenly angry. "Deanna wasn't placing me in danger," he snapped. "She was telling her superior officer that there was another person in the building. I was the one she told, and it was quickest for me to go looking for Jane. You seem to think this is odd. What kind of procedure did they have on your last ship?"
"It was good of you to risk your life for that kid, especially when she had been such a pest," LeMare went on.
"It didn't matter who was in there," Riker said, trying to make LeMare understand. "I had to get that person out, if I could. The fact that it was Jane is irrelevant."
"You're a saint, Commander," LeMare taunted. "I dare say you'd have gone in there for someone you really hated, too, wouldn't you?"
"What are you getting at, Pete?" Riker demanded. "What difference does it make who was in there? They needed help. You'd have done the same thing."
"Not me," LeMare denied. "I'm not an idiot, like you. Deanna wanted you out of the way, don't you see that? She has her eye on someone else, and you're standing in her way."
"Get out!" Riker said, roughly. He strained against the straps. His heart was pounding. He had no idea why LeMare was behaving like this, but he didn't want to hear any more of it. "Get out, and don't come back!"
Laughing, LeMare backed away. Riker lay tense for several minutes before he was convinced he was once again alone.
"Will?" said a light, female voice, and Beverly gently wiped the sweat from his face. "What's wrong?"
"Get these restraints off," he said. "And get Deanna here. I need to talk to her urgently."
"Easy," Beverly soothed. She released his wrists and helped him sit up. "I'll get Deanna here. Don't touch your face. What's happened?"
"I'll tell you when Deanna is here." Riker drew several deep breaths, trying to calm himself.
"You think Peter is trying to hurt you?" Deanna repeated. She didn't sound in the least doubtful, which was a relief to Riker. He thought there might be some traces of doubt in her voice. She squeezed his hand. "I believe you. His behaviour is rather odd. I was counselling Jane, and she mentioned him, too. He'd been telling her stories about us, and they were unpleasant to say the least. I haven't had time to mention this to the captain, but I think we'd better inform him now."
Before long, Picard and Worf were at Riker's bedside. Beverly had removed the bandages from his eyes, and he was a good deal more relaxed. The skin on his face was looking good. Between them, Deanna and Riker told their story.
When they finished, Picard looked grave. Worf looked phlegmatic, the same as always. "The fire on Fiora II was rigged by someone who knew how the power grid worked," he said. "But there is no proof against anyone. However, I looked into your anbo-jytsu accident, Commander, and reviewed the tapes from the gym for that day. It is little wonder LeMare was able to do you harm, as he did not close his visor during the bout."
Riker's mouth hung open. "I told you, didn't I?" he said to Beverly.
"Computer, location of Lt LeMare?" Picard said.
"Lt LeMare is in his quarters," the computer responded. Worf waited for Picard's nod before heading out the door.
Wherever else LeMare was, he wasn't in his quarters. Worf used his security to clearance to open the doors when he got no response, and although LeMare's com badge was in there, he wasn't. Immediately, Worf issued a security alert. He knew from past experience how difficult it was to track down someone who didn't have their com badge on.
Quickly he started searching through LeMare's things. His personal belongings were few, and Worf finally turned to his personal logs. He looked through them, but found nothing that was going to be helpful. Discouraged, he headed back to sickbay.
As he had hoped, Picard was still there, although Deanna had gone. Worf told his story, and mentioned that he'd found nothing incriminating. "I even checked his logs and in-coming personal messages. There were not many, and they mostly seemed to be from someone called Julie."
"Julie?" Riker repeated. "What did they say, Worf?"
Frowning, Worf said, "She mentioned you, and asked LeMare to pass on greeting sot you. She also reminded LeMare that their daughters birthday is soon."
"Julie," Riker said again. His eyes were far away.
"Does this mean something to you, Commander?" Worf asked.
"Back at the Academy," Riker began, "there was this girl called Julie. I don't remember her last name. But she was a beauty! We all fancied her, and Julie went out with most of us. It wasn't serious - a bit of fun - but Pete was in love with her. He was jealous that I went out with her before he did." Riker frowned. "She was a great girl, but we were never more than pals. Pete started going out with her when we were shipped out on the Hood. I lost track of her, and him, completely."
"Mr Worf, look into this further, and tighten security. Go to yellow alert. Tell the crew it's a drill. We've got to find LeMare." Picard stood. "I want security here at all times."
"Aye, Sir," Worf said.
"LeMare married Julie Cartwright and they had twin daughters. The marriage did not last, and she returned to Earth." In his head, Riker could hear LeMare saying 'I liked space, but she didn't'. He nodded at Worf.
"And when Pete was posted here, there I was, large as life. And then Julie immediately started pestering him with questions about me, and he put 2 and 2 together and came up with 5. He never could believe that we were just friends." Riker sighed. He felt tired. Beverly had said he needed one more night in sickbay, just so she could check on the new skin in the morning. He was itchy to get out and try and hunt Pete down. They had found no trace of him so far.
"It looks that way, Commander," Worf agreed. "I will continue to look for him."
"Thanks, Worf," Riker said, gratefully. As his friend left, Riker slid down on the bed and closed his eyes. He wondered how Julie was really, and about the twin daughters she's had with LeMare. He couldn't imagine Julie as a mother, any more than he could imagine himself as a father. He was asleep in minutes.
Returning to her quarters, Deanna was thinking only of a shower, change of clothes, and then a visit to Riker. She knew he wouldn't have dinner until she got to sickbay. She sent her thoughts winging towards him, but go no response. She assumed he was asleep. For all that Riker protested that he was completely over his injuries, she knew better.
A hatch was open opposite her quarters, and someone was working in it. Deanna hesitated when she saw it was LeMare, but nobody had told her he was on the run, and she didn't want him to think she was afraid of him, or disliked him. He ignored her, apart from a slight smile, but as the door to her quarters opened, he jumped on her from behind. Deanna had only a split second of warning, then his hand was over her mouth and they were inside, with the door shut.
"Any wrong move, and I'll kill you," he hissed, and Deanna found that she could read him at last. He no longer had his mental shields up. She shuddered at the blast of feeling she got. He desired her. "We're going to wait here," he said, menacingly. "Then later, we're going to visit your boyfriend in sickbay."
Time passed very slowly for Deanna. At last, the night rotation was well begun, and they made their way through the deserted corridors of the ship. The security guard on duty outside sickbay had fallen asleep. Deanna struggled against the hand over her mouth, but LeMare had a tight grip, and she was unable to shout. He stunned the guard with the palm phaser he carried.
Riker was awake when they went in, taking a drink. He froze, looking with horror at LeMare and Deanna. LeMare gave Deanna a push and she sprawled onto the floor. He hit the pad to lock the sickbay doors, and smoothly fired his phaser at the duty nurses, who sprawled unconscious. "What are you playing at, Pete?" Riker demanded, putting down the glass and sitting up straighter.
"I give the orders here, Will," LeMare said. "Lie down and be quiet, or I'll kill her." He had the phaser aimed at Deanna.
Reluctantly, Riker lay down. Deanna was chalk white with strain. Her eyes met Riker's briefly, then flashed back to LeMare. Riker didn't need their telepathic link to know that she was seriously worried by what she felt from LeMare.
"All right," LeMare said, quietly. "Get that top off him, and strap his hands down nice and tight. His legs too." He gave an unpleasant laugh. "I'm sure it won't be the first time that you've undressed him, is it?"
"Do it, Deanna," Riker said. "That's an order!"
Her heart in her eyes, Deanna did what she was told. Riker held her gaze, telling her mentally what they must do, if the chance arose. Then, her task complete, Deanna looked back at LeMare. He gloated over Riker's helplessness. Riker forced his muscles to stay relaxed, and his face to remain impassive, but he wasn't entirely successful. LeMare laughed, and reached out to run his hand down Deanna's cheek.
"You thought you were so clever, didn't you, Will?" he asked. "You always had to have the prettiest women, and even after you've dumped them, they still hanker after you. And here you are, first officer of the flagship, and you've been offered your own command, too. What a guy!"
"Pete, Julie and I were only friends, nothing more," Riker said, evenly. "And my relationship with Deanna is none of your business."
Letting his hand drop, LeMare came to stand very close to Riker. "Still got a clever mouth, haven't you?" he snarled. "Julie loved me, not you!"
"I just said that," Riker protested. "What is this about, Pete?"
"You've got everything, haven't you? And when I came here, there you were, as arrogant as ever, and with the most beautiful woman on the ship running after you. And then Julie heard you were here, and she wanted to know about you. After all these years! I always hated you, Riker! And now you're going to pay for making my career go sideways."
"I don't understand," Riker said. "How did I make your career go sideways?"
"He's forgotten," LeMare said, to Deanna. "He ruined my career, and he's forgotten. You put me on report. Its marred my record ever since. And you forgot."
"Pete, that was a simple mistake you made. Anyone might have made it, but I had to report you. It didn't ruin your career." Riker could hardly believe his ears. All that hate festering in LeMare from one mistake many years ago.
"Shut up!" LeMare screamed. "You, get me a laser scalpel. Hurry up!"
Startled, Deanna looked at Riker. "Its an order," he said again, taking the responsibility from her.
"Will, no," Deanna said, but he just looked at her, and she reluctantly went across to the unit where Beverly kept her scalpels. She picked on up, and then deliberately dropped it. Bending to pick it up, she said, "Computer, security alert in sickbay. Override door lock, code Troi Three Beta."
In two strides, LeMare was across the room. He grabbed Deanna, swung her around, and punched her in the face. Riker struggled against the straps that kept him captive to no avail. "LeMare, you bastard!" he bellowed, and LeMare left Deanna where she fell and crossed back to Riker, the scalpel in his hand.
"Die, Riker!" He shirked. "Die, for all you've done to me!"
He activated the scalpel, and ran the instrument down Riker's chest from shoulder to hip. The pain was excruciating. Riker bit his lip to stop himself crying out. "How does that feel?" LeMare asked, leaning in close. Riker looked at him, pain blurring the edges of his vision.
"I'm still the better man," he ground out. "I've taken responsibility for my life, mistakes and successes. No wonder Julie still asks after me."
That last comment was a mistake, Riker thought at once, but he wasn't entirely in control of his thoughts. He wondered where security was. The thought slid away as LeMare dragged the scalpel across Riker's belly. He was barely conscious, and coherent thought was beyond him. Dimly, he heard noises, then there was a burning pain along his cheek and his abused body gave up the fight, and he slipped into unconsciousness.
The noise he had heard was Worf on the warpath. He sprang through the doors of sickbay and saw at once what was happening. With a roar, he launched himself at LeMare, and hit him square in the back. LeMare went down, but not before the scalpel traced a gash along Riker's cheekbone. LeMare fought like a tiger, but he was no match for the enraged Klingon, and it took Worf less than a minute to subdue him.
By then, sickbay was filling with people. Beverly came racing in along with Picard. Deanna was sitting up, nursing her bleeding face, and trying to get to her feet to go to Riker. Another two security guards appeared, and Worf handed LeMare over to them. "Get Deanna onto that bed," Beverly ordered Worf, and crossed to Riker. She couldn't contain a gasp, and immediately began to treat his injuries.
Several hours had passed. Deanna was sleeping off the sedative Beverly had given her when she set her broken nose. Riker was still out, but showing signs of coming round. He had needed a blood transfusion, and Beverly had feared for a while that he had suffered severe internal injuries. By a miracle, all the major organs had survived the attack unscathed. Mute testimony to his struggles had come form his wrists as Beverly had released him from the restraints. His wrists were raw where he had fought for freedom as Deanna was attacked.
"Has LeMare said anything?" Beverly asked Picard as she sat down wearily in her office.
"Nothing coherent," Picard replied. "We'll have to wait until we get him to a starbase to be seen, but I think he might have lost his reason."
"Doctor," said Alyssa Ogawa, "Commander Riker is awake."
Quickly, Beverly went out to him, Picard following. "Hi," she said, softly, smiling at him.
"Deanna?" Riker said, hoarsely.
Helping him to drink, Beverly said, "She's fine. She's asleep now. You must rest, Will. Don't try to sit up."
"It was LeMare," Riker said, obviously unsure if they knew what had happened. "He was jealous of me, and used Deanna as a hostage to get at me. He hit her." Riker swallowed. "Then he attacked me. He wanted to kill me, because he thought I'd ruined his career by putting him on report many years ago. And because his ex-wife asked after me. He was jealous of me."
"He's in custody," Picard said. "Its over, Number One. Just rest and get better."
Riker mumbled something, but he was practically asleep, and moment later, his steady breathing told them he slept again. Beverly drew Picard away. "That answers that," she commented.
"Indeed it does," Picard said.
Starbase 213 was a bustling port, with many attractions. But Will Riker sat in his quarters and resolutely did not look out at the base hanging just outside his window. LeMare was there, and the Betazoid counsellor who had examined him had declared him insane. After a great deal of difficulty, they had established that LeMare had set the fire on Fiora II, and had also poisoned Riker at the ambassadorial get together. Whatever happened, he was due for a spell at a penal colony, after he had been treated at a mental institution.
It was taking Riker some time to get his head round everything. He knew the facts, but they took some believing. Riker had always been his own person, confident and sure. He had trouble imagining how someone could place the blame for their own failings and successes on someone else. Checking back over LeMare's personal logs for several years, they found references to Riker littered all through them. His promotions were always compared to Riker's, and any problems were placed squarely at his door. And all because of one report in his file.
The door chime went, and Riker said, "Come in, Deanna." He turned to look at her, and found a smile. Picard had insisted that they both have counselling for this incident, and so they had done it. But Riker thought that the only person who truly understood how he felt was Deanna. After all, they had been through it together.
Sitting beside him, Deanna took his hand. "Peter left an hour ago," she said.
Making a face, Riker nodded. He twined his fingers in hers. "I've learned something," he said. "I love you, and I don't want to lose you. We came too close." He leaned in and kissed her softly. Passion flared between them and he reluctantly broke the contact to look into her face. "De?"
"I love you," she replied, simply. She rose, drawing him with her, and led him towards the bedroom. In the doorway, she stopped and looked at him. He bent his head and kissed her again. "Will," she murmured. He lifted his head slightly. Her eyes were luminous. He thought she had never looked so beautiful. "Will you marry me?" she whispered.
For an instant, Riker didn't believe his ears. Then a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "Is this a leap year?" he asked, softly.
"Will you?" she persisted. Tears welled in her eyes, but didn't fall.
"Yes," he said, and kissed her again. "Yes, I will marry you. Deanna, I love you. Why did we think we could only be friends?"
"It doesn't matter," she said, and her hands began to unfasten the buttons on his shirt.