The away team was on Talia 2 for a routine planetary survey. Cmdr. William
Riker wiped the perspiration from his forehead and squinted as he peered up
at the sun, looming high in the mauve sky. The plain he stood on was rocky and
"Data, you and Wesley check out those ruins in the distance. I want to know what materials and what degree of sophistication were used in its construction," Riker ordered.
"Dr. Selar, take your team and proceed with the collection of biological specimens. I'll give Lt. Pampe a hand in examining the rock formations near the cliff over there," Riker added, pointing off to his right.
"Each team report in to me every 20 minutes and keep an eye out for the locals. Capt. Picard would rather we didn't make contact with them until we learn more about the planet. Okay, split up!"
The members of the away team paired off and went about their duties. Riker and Pampe, the chief geologist, walked over to the nearby boulders and jagged outcrops of highly-eroded sedimentary rock. The outcrops jutted high over their heads. The two climbed around on the rocks for about 30 minutes and the geologist used his laser saw to remove samples of the exposed formations.
Riker climbed down and stood on the cliff's edge. He gazed down at the rushing river, 30 feet below, as it wound its way through the relatively narrow gorge it had cut over the ages.
The river roared so loud, Riker didn't hear the mounted war party approach until one of them shouted. The first officer spun around to see six humanoids armed with bows and arrows. The humanoids sat astride beasts that resembled horses, but had green coats and cloven hooves. Holding his hands out in front of him, Riker spoke to the leather-clad men, "I come in peace. I mean you no harm."
One particularly nervous young warrior fired an arrow at Riker, striking him just above the right knee. Riker's injured leg gave way and he immediately reached to press his communicator. Before he could even say, "Enterprise," another arrow struck the communicator and pierced his chest. Riker tumbled backwards off the cliff and plunged into the raging river below.
Pampe stuck his head up above the rocks to see what was going on. He was promptly rewarded with an arrow through his throat. He gurgled once and quickly died.* * * * * * * * *
On the ship, Troi suddenly stiffened and cried out. Immediately, the captain leaned over and put his hand on her shoulder.
"Deanna, are you all right? What's the matter?" Picard asked.
Troi took a deep breath and replied, "It's Will! He's been hurt. Captain, I have to go to him. He needs help."
"Calm down, Counselor. Let me try to call him."
Picard motioned to Worf to open a channel and the Klingon complied.
"Enterprise to Cmdr. Riker, come in, please," broadcasted Picard.
There was no response.
Picard's concern grew.
"Enterprise to Mr. Data. Please respond."
"Data here, Captain. What can I do for you?" Picard replied, "Counselor Troi seems convinced Riker's been injured. We cannot raise him on his communicator."
Data said, "He was working with Lt. Pampe."
"Enterprise to Pampe," Picard called, but received no answer.
The captain told Data, "I'm beaming you all up immediately." Picard gave his orders to Transporter Chief O'Brien and contacted sickbay,"Dr. Crusher, have a medical team standing by in Transporter Room No. 1. There may be casualties among the away team."
The away team, minus Riker, materialized aboard the Enterprise. The medical team rushed over to the prone body of Pampe, but found it was too late to save him.
Picard, accompanied by Troi, strode into the transporter room. The captain took one look at his dead officer and immediately began questioning Data.
"What happened down there? Where in the devil is Riker?"
Data examined Pampe's body and answered, "From the arrow protruding from Pampe's throat, I would assume he and Cmdr. Riker were attacked by some of the local inhabitants."
"Will was hurt, Captain," Troi put in. "I felt his pain. We have to go back and help him."
"We'll do what we can, Deanna, but I'm not sending anyone back down there until the area is clear."
Painful memories of another first officer, Jack Crusher, and another mission gone awry years ago flooded Picard's mind. The decision he was forced to make then had cost the life of that first officer - his best friend.
"You realize, of course, Deanna, that he may already be dead," Picard told her gently.
"No, he's alive. I can feel it. He may not be alive much longer, though, unless we help him," Troi insisted.
"We'll try," Picard promised, and was interrupted by a call from the bridge.
Worf's voice came over the com, "Captain, Starfleet has just sent a message. They are ordering us to rendezvous with the freighter Mariah in nine hours. We are to pick up a load of vaccine and deliver it to Rebma, which is suffering from a deadly plague."
"Very well, Lieutenant, thank you." Picard thought for a moment then turned to Data and asked, "How long will it take us to reach the rendezvous point if we travel at top warp speed?"
Data made some quick calculations in his head and replied, "Approximately 5.30 hours at Warp 10, sir."
"All right," Picard said. "That gives us about three hours to locate Cmdr. Riker. If we don't find him by then, we'll have to go on, then return here after we deliver the vaccine.
The remaining members of the away team looked downcast, but said nothing.
Seeing the disappointment in their faces, Picard explained, "There are 450,000 lives depending on that vaccine."
He, too, hated the idea of leaving Riker behind. He'd formed a liking for the competent young first officer and thought of him as the son he would likely never have. Picard hoped history did not repeat itself and he did not lose another first officer and friend. Quietly accompanied by his officers, the captain left the transporter room and returned to the bridge.* * * * *
Riker struggled to keep his head above the surface of the rapidly-rushing river. He spotted a large branch floating near him, managed to grab it and hauled himself partway upon it. He did not notice his phaser fall into the river. He was too busy concentrating on holding onto the branch and onto consciousness.
At least the bleeding from his wounds was slowed by the frigidity of the river water. Riker clung to the brand and floated for what seemed an interminable amount of time. The rapids ended in a 20-foot waterfall and the river swept Riker and his branch over it. The impact of landing drove the arrow more deeply into Riker's chest and the shaft broke off. He passed out from the shock and pain.
In a large cave behind the falls, two young lovers lay in one another's arms and watched the cascade of water. They were startled to see a red and black figure fall past the cave opening.
"Romey! I think that was a man!" exclaimed the young woman.
"I saw it too," Romey responded.
He jumped to his feet and dove through the wall of water into the pool of water beyond. He caught sight of the man, face down and sinking fast. Romey swam over to the stranger and latched onto him. Romey pulled the unconscious man around the side of the falls, and with Etta's help, got him up over the rocky ledge and into the cave. * *
Aboard the Enterprise, Data pronounced the beamdown site clear of humanoids. Picard gave his officers the go ahead.
"All right. Data, Troi and Selar, you may beam down, but take two security guards with you. Lt. Worf, it is unlikely those people have ever seen anyone like you. Choose two of your security people, but you'll have to remain here."
Worf nodded then called for two of his officers.
Wesley spoke up, "Captain? What about me? I'd like to help, too." "Sorry, Mr. Crusher, it's much too dangerous down there for ... ah ... inexperienced officers."
"Yes, sir," replied the youth, dejected.* * * * * * *
The away team beamed back down to the planet to search for their lost shipmate. They began the search at the rock formation and Data soon spotted the bloodstains on the cliff's edge.
"Over here!" he called to the others.
The rest of the away team joined him. Deanna was obviously distressed at the sight of the blood. "It must be Will's," she said quietly, her voice full of dread. "This is where he wa working."
Data ran his tricorder over it and pronounced, "It is human blood and it does match Cmdr. Riker's blood type. He must have fallen over the edge or been taken prisoner. I believe we should follow the river for a while and see what we can find."
Data purposely did not mention the alternative possibilities.
Troi assured Data, "Will is still alive. It is faint, but I can still feel his pain."
Data cocked his head and shrugged once. They continued the search without a word. * ** * * * * *
In the cave, Etta examined the stranger they'd found.
"He's badly hurt, Romey. Hand me your shirt and a knife."
Romey stopped shaking the water from his dark hair, stripped off his wet shirt and handed it to Etta, along with the knife from his belt.
Etta prodded the stranger's leg. The head of the arrow in the leg had almost completely passed through and was protruding slightly from the back of the thigh. She pushed it the rest of the way through, then broke off the arrow on both sides of the leg before removing the remaining shaft. She cut away the tunic from his chest and checked the wound there.
"This one is very deep. The arrowhead is barbed, so I can't pull it out without doing more damage. I'm no healer, Romey. I can't cut this out, but maybe I can stop the bleeding." Etta cut her lover's shirt into strips and bound her patient's wounds.
Romey picked up the discarded arrow shaft and examined it.
"This is an Ontag arrow. I recognize my people's markings," said the young man. "This man is an enemy."
Etta snorted in derision, and pointed out, "Well, I'm a Capolite, but the mere fact our people are at war with one another hasn't stopped you from loving me all these months. Besides, have you ever seen garments like these he wears? I haven't."
"No," Romey admitted. "I wonder where he's from."
"Wherever he's from, he needs our help. He's quite fair to look upon," Etta remarked, then added, "almost as fair as you, Romey."
Her lover laughed as their dark eyes met. He reached out, stroked her raven hair and smiled in understanding.*
Three hours into the search, Picard called the away team, "Data, is there any progress in finding Cmdr. Riker?"
Data replied, "We did find bloodstains on the cliff near where he and Lt. Pamper were working. The blood type matched that of Cmdr. Riker, but not Lt. Pampe. We are assuming the commander fell into the rapids below the cliff. We are following the river, now." Picard sighed and rubbed his chin.
"I'm sorry, but our time is up. We're making preparations to leave orbit, now. I'm ordering you and the away team to beam up at this time."
"Captain," Troi interjected. "I volunteer to remain behind and continue the search. Sir, you've always trusted my impressions in the past. Trust me now, when I tell you Will is alive."
Data and Dr. Selar also requested to stay behind. The security team volunteered, as well.
"I'm sorry, people," Picard replied. "But I am absolutely not going off and leaving my away team on a hostile planet. It's bad enough I have to leave Riker. It's just too dangerous."
Data spoke up, "Captain, I have a suggestion. Could not a pilot bring a shuttlecraft into orbit? That way, if we find Cmdr. Riker or encounter any trouble, the shuttlecraft can come down and pick us up. We can remain in orbit until the Enterprise returns."
Picard considered Data's idea, then answered, "Very well." He turned to Wesley, seated at ops, and said, "Ensign Crusher, Do you still desire to play a part in all this?"
Wesley stood and faced the captain.
"Yes, sir!" answered the youth eagerly.
"Then proceed to the hangar deck and take the Galileo IV into orbit. Contact the landing party when you take up orbit, then remain there until you hear from Cmdr. Data."
"I will, sir," Wesley promised, turning over ops to Worf. He strode to the turbolift, then turned before entering and said, "Thank you, Captain."
Picard smiled slightly and nodded.* * * * * * * * *
Riker regained consciousness to find himself in a huge cave with two young strangers. He groaned and tried to sit up - unsuccessfully. The young couple came over to him. The translator in his commbadge seemed to still be working, but apparently nothing else was, because he did not hear the customary chirp of the badge when he pressed it, nor did he get a reply to his whispered, "Riker to Enterprise."
The commbadge translated the couple's words.
The woman looked into Riker's eyes and exclaimed, "Your eyes! They're the color of the ocean! All our people have dark eyes. Where are you from?"
Riker smiled weakly at her words and replied, "I'm from across the ocean. I came here on my ship, which is out at sea, now, and my captain left us here to explore ..."
Riker had to stop talking because the pain in his chest was making speaking difficult.
The young man beside the girl introduced her and himself, "My name is Romey and this is Etta. My people and hers are at war. I'm afraid you were shot by some of my people."
"I'm William Riker. You two certainly don't act like enemies."
Romey put a protective arm around Etta and replied, "We love each other. We're going to be married - somehow. Both our fathers are chiefs, but they don't know about us. We haven't decided how to tell them, yet."
The commander nodded in understanding, then asked, "Have you seen any of my people? They'd be wearing clothes like mine."
"No, but we're both scouts. We're due to report back to our villages tomorrow. We'll ask around and see if anyone has encountered your friends."
Etta asked Riker, "Are you thirsty or hungry? I'm sorry I couldn't remove the arrow from your chest. It's in too deep. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
Too tired and sore for much conversation, Riker shivered and replied, "Cold."
The girl covered him with the blanket she and Romey had laid on earlier and she got Romey to build a small fire from wood they had stocked in the cave previously.
The soothing warmth lulled the wounded man to sleep.
When the blue-eyed stranger was asleep, Etta settled down beside Romey, trying to get dry beside the fire.
"He needs more help than I can give him," she said. "What are we going to do?"
"I don't know, love. My people did this to him and I doubt yours would treat him much differently. Tomorrow, I'll ride to my village, pick up some supplies and try to get some medicine. Maybe someone will have some information about his people. When I return, you can go home and do the same."* * * * * * *
After the away team had searched fruitlessly for more than two hours, Data's tricorder scans revealed humanoids approaching. "We are about to have company," Data informed the others. "Set your phasers on stun and take cover. Do not fire unless I give the order, or unless you are fired upon."
Everyone but Data hid behind some clumps of purple bushes. The science officer remained in the open to greet the native humanoids, but kept his phaser in his hand, pointed at the ground. Four fierce-looking men and women rode up on green mounts. They pulled up when they saw Data.
"I come in peace," said the android. "Do not attempt to use your weapons. I have no wish to harm you."
The humanoids stared at the golden-skinned figure standing before them. One of the riders drew an arrow from her quiver and started to fit it in her bow. Data quickly fired his phaser at the woman, stunning her.
The other riders gasped and one spluttered, "A wizard! We are sorry if we offended you, great one."
Data motioned for the rest of the away team to emerge from hiding. The Talians reacted with awe and fright.
"More wizards!" Data heard them whisper.
The android addressed the riders, "We are looking for a friend of ours. He is dressed similarly to us. Have you seen any such stranger?"
The rider who appeared to be the leader replied, "Believe me, wizard, we have seen no one stranger than you."
"We are from a land far away," Data explained. "You must be. We are hunters from the Capol territory. If you want, come to our village. Perhaps someone there has seen your friend," the hunting party leader suggested, thinking these strangers would make powerful allies.* * * * * * * * * *
Romey and Etta sat beside the fire, eating fish Romey had speared. In spite of the fire, Riker still shivered from time to time. Etta touched her hand to his forehead, then peered beneath his bandages and examined his wounds. She frowned and turned to Romey. "He's too hot and the wounds are festering. One of us must go to their village tonight and get medicine."
"All right, I'll go," Romey agreed. "The wounds are going bad quickly, aren't they? Our warriors must have dipped their arrows in dung."
Etta sighed and nestled into Romey's arms. "Why is it our people are so good at killing one another, yet so poor at making peace?"
Romey held her close and replied, "I don't know, my love. Maybe one day we can help do something about it."
He stood and extended his hand to her. "I'd better be going."
Etta followed him out of the cave and along the ledge to the river bank where they had staked out their riding beasts. Romey pulled an extra shirt from his saddlebag and slipped it over his head. He leaned over and kissed Etta before mounting the beast.
"I'll be back as soon as I can. I love you," he told her.
"I love you, too, Romey. Be careful."* * * * * * * * *
Not long after dark, the Capolite hunting party escorted Data and the away team to their village. The strangers drew a commotion from the villagers. They all turned out of their mud brick houses to stare and point at the Enterprise officers passing on the straw-strewn village road.
One of the villagers ran down the road to another hut and a tall well-built man with a streak of white down the center of his dark hair stepped out and greeted the newcomers with suspicion.
The hunting party leader presented the away team to the tall man. "Chief Locke, these are powerful wizards from far away," said the lead hunter. "That one with the strange golden eyes," he indicated Data, "pointed a wand at one of my men and felled him. My man awoke shortly thereafter with naught but a headache."
The chief raised his eyebrows in surprise and inquired of the newcomers, "What do you want of us? Are you seeking to take our lands?"
"We are only seeking knowledge," Data assured him. "We were just exploring your land when one of our people was attacked. We are trying to find him and we thought perhaps you might have information regarding such a stranger. He would have been dressed like us."
"We have not seen anyone like that," replied the chief. "However, some of my scouts, including my daughter, may have seen your friend. Please be my guest until they return tomorrow.
"Very well, we accept your hospitality," said Data.
The chief personally escorted the officers to his house, the largest in the village, and ordered food brought to them. It was quite late when Data had a chance to get away and call Wesley to assure him the away team was all right, but had still not found Riker.* * * * * * * * * *
Near the waterfall, just after dark, three Ontag hunters watered their riding beasts and discussed plans for making camp.
"I remember a cave behind the falls," said one hunter. "It would be a perfect place to spend the night. The three staked out their beasts and walked around to the rocky shelf that led to the cave.
Bending over Riker, Etta did not see the hunters slip in at first.
"A Capolite woman!" the first hunter shouted, immediately identifying the markings on her clothing. "We shall have a special treat tonight, my friends." Etta quickly drew her knife from her belt, turned and rushed the three. She fought bitterly and one man went down with a blade through his heart before the other two could subdue Etta.
Riker awoke at Etta's scream. Seeing her predicament, he forced himself to his feet and staggered over to the Ontags. He clasped his hands and clubbed one from behind, knocking the hunter to the ground, stunning him.
Surprise caused the third hunter to loosen his grip on Etta. She broke away just as the second hunter regained his feet and charged Riker. The Capolite girl hesitated for a moment, then fled the cave when Riker shouted for her to run. By the time she reached her mount, the two hunters had beaten Riker into unconsciousness.
Seeing the girl was gone from the cave, the second hunter ran out and saw Etta vanishing into the darkness on her riding beast.
He cursed, "We'll never catch her, now!"
"Never mind," replied his comrade. "We may yet have a prize for our chief - this stranger, here."
"I say, just cut his throat and be rid of him."
"No, stupid. Didn't you see the color of his eyes? And those clothes he's wearing? Have you ever seen anyone like him before? He's certainly not from around here. The Capolites must have some new allies."
They carried Riker outside, propped him in the saddle of the mount belonging to their dead comrade, and tied him on.
* * * * * * * *
Etta galloped into her village, dismounted and went immediately to her father's house, awakening everyone there. She gaped at the strangers there and at once, recognized their uniforms as familiar.
"Do you have a friend named Riker?" she asked them. "He's quite tall and has eyes like the sea. He wears clothes like yours."
"Yes!" responded Troi, jumping to her feet. "Where is he?"
"I last saw him in a cave behind the Danath Falls, about an hour's ride from here. He'd been badly wounded and I was caring for him. But three Ontags found us there. William helped me and I escaped. I hope they didn't kill him. I should have stayed behind, but I panicked."
She hung her head and murmured, "I'm sorry."
Troi sighed and replied, "Don't apologize. He wouldn't have wanted you to get hurt."
The chief interjected, "Tomorrow, we will stage a raid on the Ontags. We'll get this Riker back or avenge his death."
"No," said Data emphatically. "We will not conduct hostilities on another people. We will talk to the Ontags and bargain for Riker's release, if they have him."
"The Ontags are savages. You'll be lucky if your friend is still alive," Chief Locke responded.
"Oh, he's still alive," Troi said without thinking.
"How can you be so sure?" asked Etta, looking at Deanna intently.
"I just know," Troi hedged.
Etta took Deanna off to the side and whispered, "I think I understand. You love him, don't you."
Troi's eyes watered, but she smiled and nodded.
Etta confessed, "My lover, Romey, is an Ontag scout. He pulled your man from the river. Romey returned to his village earlier for medicine and supplies, so he might be able to help if William is there.* * * *
Riker's captors dragged him into a small dark cell, bare of furnishings, and reported their chief.
"Chief Montar, we've just returned with a prisoner," said the lead hunter. "He's not a Capolite or an Ontag, but a stranger who may be allied with the Capolites. His clothing is most unusual and strangest of all are his eyes, which are blue."
"Blue eyes?" replied the graying, wiry chief. "In all my travels in this land, I've never seen such! This must be one of the strangers the war party reported killing. Obviously, he survived."
Romey walked in just in time to hear his father's words.
"That sounds like the stranger I pulled from the river," he told them.
Montar turned to Romey and asked, "What do you know of this strange one, my son?"
"He's not an enemy, but a man of peace - a seeker of knowledge, an explorer. Romey addressed the hunters, "Where did you find him?"
"In a cave behind the Danath Falls," said the lead hunter. "A Capolite woman was with him, but she killed Hotha and escaped when the stranger intervened. He must be an enemy if he aided a Capolite."
Romey was relieved to hear Etta had escaped. He said, "Just because he's not an enemy of the Capolites doesn't make him our enemy. He is a friend. We should treat him like an honored guest."
"Take us to him," ordered the chief. The hunters lit a torch and escorted Montar and Romey to the prisoner's cell.
Riker, bleeding again, was now conscious. He blinked in surprise at seeing Romey, but addressed the older man with him.
"Why am I being held captive? I've done your people no harm, though I did try to prevent your men from harming an innocent young woman."
"My son says you are a man of peace and not an enemy to us. I will take his word on this. He asks that you be treated as an honored guest. It will be done."
Montar ordered the hunters to move the wounded Riker to the chief's house. Romey and Montar accompanied them. Riker settled painfully onto a straw pallet on the stone floor of the dimly- lit house.
After sending the hunters for a healer, Montar turned to his son and insisted sternly, "Now, please explain to me your connection with the Capolite woman found with this stranger."
The younger man sighed and replied, "She's the woman I love, Father. We've been seeing each other and meeting at the cave for almost a year. I wish to marry her."
"I forbid it!" thundered the chief.
"Father, you must understand. I love her."
"We will discuss this later," growled Montar. "At least your mother is dead and cannot be shamed by your actions."
"She would have understood," Romey snapped back.
Riker spoke weakly to Montar, "Chief you and your people, as well as the Capolites, would do well to follow Romey and Etta's example. They're both fine young people and they have the right idea. My people learned long ago that in a war, neither side truly wins. The losses are usually great on both sides. Peace is the best answer and is always worth striving for."
"You do not understand," the chief countered. "We have been at war since the time of my grandfather's grandfather. The Capolites have killed too many of our people to allow peace between us."
Riker said, "And your people have no doubt, killed many of theirs. You see what I mean? No one has gained anything."
The chief frowned and said, "There is much truth in what you say, stranger. I must think about this."
Riker shifted his position on the pallet and groaned just as the healer entered the house.
"Help him, Healer Klata," Montar commanded, indicting Riker with a nod.
A short time later, the healer had examined Riker and applied a ground herb to the wounds before bandaging them.
"These wounds have festered badly," he said. "It will be necessary to remove the arrowhead lodged in his chest. "And if the leg does not heal properly, I may have to eventually remove it."
Riker shuddered at the healer's words.
The healer continued, "But there is still time to see if my medicines will work."
He produced a packet of herbs and called for a goblet of wine. Romey poured some from a jug and gave it to Klata, who mixed the contents of the package with the wine and gave the goblet to Riker.
"This will reduce the fever and help you to rest," Klata explained. "In the morning, I will remove the arrowhead."
Riker hesitated for a moment, then drank the foul-tasting mixture. He thanked the healer, who then left.
The first officer looked up at Montar and asked, "Chief, have had any reports of others like me?"
Montar looked away from the piercing gaze and sighed.
"There was one other - the one who was nearby when my hunting party attacked you. I'm sorry, but he is dead. My men took him for an enemy and killed him."
Riker swore, "Damn! That must have been Pampe. He was only taking samples of the rocks so he could study them. We have standing orders not to initiate hostilities."
"I'm sorry, Riker. Once the arrow flies, it cannot be recalled."
"Exactly my point, Chief. Because of this war, you attack and kill even those who would be friends."
Montar gave a shrug of agreement.
Riker yawned and said, "I guess that stuff I drank is starting to make me sleepy. I think I'll try to get some rest."
Romey and Montar turned and left the room.
The Enterprise officer was soon asleep. As he slept, he dreamed he was walking along a beautiful Earth beach on some tropical shore.
Riker looked out over the water and watched dark storm clouds moving in off the ocean. A bit further down the beach, he came upon an injured seabird, lying in the sand. Picking up the trembling animal, Riker saw its wing was broken. He stroked the bird and tried to reassure it.
"Take it easy, now, I'm not going to hurt you," said Riker.
To his surprise, the bird spoke to him, "I can't trust you. You're a human. It was a human that hurt me."
"Well, I'm going to try to help you," Riker replied. "I'll take you home and splint your wind, then I'll put you in a cage and feed you 'til your wing has healed. Once you're well, I'll release you."
"No!" the bird shouted vehemently. "Kill me now, human. My flock has abandoned me and my wing is beyond repair. Better to die than to live caged. Better to die than to soar no more."
Sweating profusely, Riker awoke in the darkened room of the chief's house. At first, he didn't know where he was, but the pain in his chest and leg reminded him. The dream was still fresh in the commander's mind.
He tried to tell himself the Enterprise had not abandoned him, that someone would come looking for him. But he couldn't help thinking it was more likely they believed he was dead.
Riker tried not to think of what it would be like to be stranded and possibly crippled for life on this primitive planet, stuck between two warring factions. He tried not to think what it would be like never to travel in space again. He called up an image of Troi's beautiful face and felt a pang of loneliness. He lay awake for a long time before succumbing to exhaustion.* * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, once the sun was high enough to provide plenty of light in the house, Klata the healer came to Riker. His teen-aged apprentices brought in a brazier filled with coals, and a large carved bowl full of water. The healer carried a large wooden box with a hinged lid. When he opened it, Riker saw packets of herbs, several sharp knives, a roll of linen bandages and various other accoutrements.
The healer placed the steel knives and what appeared to be forceps into the bowl of water, which he placed on the brazier. He mixed one of the packets in, once again, a goblet of wine and gave it to Riker, instructing him to drink.
The commander made a face and downed the mixture. He was relieved to see the healer boiling his instruments, though. The healer cut away the bandages from the officer's chest and leg. Klata washed his hands and chanted something, then dipped a clean cloth into the water and began cleaning the wounds as best he could. The drug took Riker into sleep.* * * * * * * * *
Etta, her father and the Enterprise away team were traveling by riding beast to the main Ontag village. Data had assured Chief Locke he would allow no harm to come to him or his daughter.
After almost 2 1/2 hours, they arrived, bearing a red parley flag, and were allowed to enter the Ontag village under guard. Romey and Montar came out to meet them. Etta pointed out the chief to Data.
The android addressed Montar, "We understand you are holding our friend, William Riker. We ask you to free him. We come in peace."
"Your friend is not my prisoner, but my guest," Montar assured them. "The healer is attending to him as we speak. I regret it was my people who injured him and killed your other man. We mistook them for enemies. We would like to try to atone for that mistake."
"We are pleased to hear that," said Data. "We would also entreat you to cease this senseless war between you and the Capolites."
"You ask much, stranger. We have been at war for generations," said Montar, his eyebrows drawing together.
Romey spoke up, "Then, Father, isn't it about time we stopped?"
Boldly, Romey crossed over to Etta, took her by the hand and gently led her to Montar.
"This is Etta, the woman I love and intend to marry," said Romey, ignoring the scowl on his father's face.
Etta whispered something in her lover's ear. A look of shock, then joy, came over his face. He looked his father in the eye and addressed both chiefs.
"There is another reason for ending the war. Etta tells me she believes she is with child - our child. She was waiting until she was absolutely certain before telling me, but she decided now would be a good time for this news. If we have to, we'll move far away from here and you two will never see your grandchild. We don't want to do that, but we don't want to bring up a child in a land where his mother's and his father's people are at war."
Montar scratched his head and took a deep breath.
"Well, Locke, under the circumstances, I suppose we should discuss calling a halt to the war. Will you agree to a cessation of hostilities for the time being? To give us a chance to work out the details?"
Locke studied his daughter, who was looking at him pleadingly.
"I suppose so," he replied reluctantly. Etta, we must ride back to our village and carry the message."
"I'll go with you," offered Romey and started to mount.
Montar reached out to stop his son, saying, "First, Locke and I must speak further. Perhaps you and Etta would like to join us?"
Troi elbowed Data and he said, "Chief Montar, if you would be so kind as to direct us to our friend, we would appreciate it greatly."
Romey excused Etta and himself, saying they had things to discuss.
Locke accompanied the Ontag chief as he showed the Enterprise away team to the room in his house where the first officer was staying. They arrived just as the healer was cutting the arrowhead from Riker's chest. He pulled the arrowhead and the remaining piece of arrow loose and cast it aside, then carefully sewed the wound closed. Klata then gently placed an aromatic steaming cloth on the wound and with Selar's help, skillfully wound a bandage around Riker's chest. When the healer went to wash up, Data distracted the natives and Selar pulled a hypospray from her pouch and injected Riker with the contents.
Troi approached, put her hand to Riker's forehead and found it decidedly warm. She was shocked at his marked pallor. She said his name several times, but he did not respond.
Troi spoke to him mind-to-mind, <Imzadi, I'm here. I'm with you.> She grimaced and her eyes stung with tears as she felt the intensity of Riker's pain. <Wake up now, Imzadi. We've come to take you back home to the Enterprise. The captain needs you. I need you.>
After a little while, the wounded officer stirred and opened his eyes. He was quite surprised to see Troi bending over him.
"You came back," he whispered.
Data moved into his view and said, "Actually, we never really left. We have had a difficult time trying to find you. Dr. Selar, can we move him to the ship, now?"
Selar nodded and replied, "The sooner, the better."
Data addressed Montar, "I'm sorry we can't stay longer, but we must get our commander back to our ship."
Montar spoke to Riker, "You are the leader of these wizards?"
"Wizards?" asked the perplexed first officer.
"It was necessary for me to stun one of them sir," said Data, "with my ... ahhh ... magic wand."
Riker smiled slightly and nodded.
"I'm the second in command, Montar," said Riker. "Our captain is aboard our ship, which is at sea."
"You are very interesting people," the chief said. "Do you travel the entire ocean?"
"We travel to many different places in our explorations," replied Riker truthfully.
Before Montar could ask any more troublesome questions, Dr. Selar interrupted, "It would be better if Cmdr. Riker talked less and rested more. Chiefs, Healer Klata, if you don't mind leaving the room, I have some secret wizardly things I must do to help my patient."
The three named left reluctantly.
Selar ran a mediscanner over Riker and pronounced, "You've lost a considerable amount of blood, Commander. These wounds are badly infected and there is some nerve damage as well. You will need further surgery aboard the Enterprise."
She took a unit of blood from her medikit and with an instant i.v. transfused it into Riker. The doctor then affixed a vial of antibiotic and tissue restorer to her hypospray and injected her patient.
"This should help for now," she said. "We're going to let you rest a bit while we get everything ready to leave. I suspect we'll have a small journey before we come to a place where the shuttlecraft can land unseen."
Riker nodded and closed his eyes. He was soon asleep.
Selar took Troi and Data aside and said, "Cmdr. Riker is in very serious condition. I can't vouch for his recovery unless we get him to the Enterprise in a reasonable amount of time."
Data tapped his communicator and called Wesley on the shuttle.
"Galileo IV here," Wesley answered. "Have you found Cmdr. Riker?" he asked hopefully.
"Affirmative. He is seriously injured, however. Have you heard from the Enterprise?"
"No," answered Crusher, "but the system they were going to isn't all that far from here. They should be returning before long."
"Scan the area," ordered Data, "and find a secluded spot to set down the shuttlecraft. Call me when you find it and give me the coordinates."
Troi and Selar stayed with Riker, while Data joined the two chiefs, who were talking to Romey and Etta.
"Well, Chief Locke, Chief Montar," said the android, "have you had a chance to talk and reach an agreement?"
"I believe we have," replied Locke.
"Yes," agreed Montar. "The wedding of Romey and Etta will formally begin the alliance between the Ontags and the Capolites. By the way, you and your people are invited to the wedding. WE're going to hold it in six days."
Data, after referencing the proper reply, congratulated the two young people, and said, "We would very much like to attend and are honored you have invited us, but we must leave today to journey back to the ocean to rendezvous with our ship."
Data returned to Riker's room and waited for Wesley's call. Finally, his communicator beeped.
"Okay," reported Wesley. "I've found a place to land." He gave the coordinates.
The science officer did some swift calculations and replied, "Very well, give us approximately one hour to get there, then I will call you and let you know if it is clear to land."
"Understood, sir. Crusher out."
Data turned to the Vulcan physician and said, "Get Cmdr. Riker ready to travel as soon as possible."
The android then went to Montar and asked for the loan of some riding beasts.
"Certainly," said the Ontag chief and ordered one of his people to bring six riding beasts to his house.
Troi gently shook Riker and awoke him.
"It's time, Will," she said.
Selar injected Riker with painkillers and a stimulant, helped him to his feet and supported him as they went outside.
Riker saw a travois-looking contraption behind one of the beasts and saw that they were leading him to it.
"Oh no you don't. I'm not about to be dragged behind the business end of that animal. I'll ride on its back," insisted Riker.
Troi sighed and told Selar, "It's no use arguing with him. We're just wasting time." Data boosted Riker up onto the back of a riding beast. Riker hissed in pain and Troi looked at him questioningly.
"I'm all right," he assured her, and flashed a devilish grin that usually got him his way with her. The rest of the away team mounted up as well.
Romey said to Riker, "I am in your debt for what you did to save Etta."
Riker shook his head and smiled, "You pulled me out of the river. I'd say we're even."
Romey returned the grin and bid them, "Goodbye, my strange friends. I wish you could stay for my wedding."
"Wedding? Then your fathers have decided to make peace?"
"Yes," said Montar. "We're taking your advice and following our children's example."
Troi leaned over and whispered to Riker of Romey and Etta's threat.
Riker said to the chiefs, "I think you'll be glad you did listen to them. Good luck to both your peoples. You've accomplished a great thing today."
Montar told Riker as the team moved out, "Just let the beasts go when you're finished with them. They always know their way home."
Riker promised to do so and the away team rode on.* * * * * * * * * *
By the time they reached the landing spot for the shuttlecraft, the stimulant had worn off and the commander's strength was failing him. He swayed atop the riding beast.
Troi observed him with concern and got Data's attention. The android jumped down and caught Riker as he sagged from his mount. Data eased him to the ground and Dr. Selar attended to him. Data called Wesley to come pick them up. The rest of the team dismounted and slapped the riding beasts on the rumps, sending them home.
Wesley arrived within 15 minutes. The android easily picked up the unconscious first officer and set him down on a bunk inside the shuttlecraft. Wesley took the Galileo IV back into orbit.* * * * * *
The Enterprise called about 6 1/2 hours later and the captain asked if they'd found Riker.
"Yes, sir, we did," replied Data. "He is badly injured, though and Dr. Selar says his condition is deteriorating. What is your ETA?"
"We'll be in orbit and ready for docking in one hour and 20 minutes. I'll have Dr. Crusher and a medical team standing by on the hangar deck."
"Very good, sir."* * * * * * * * * *
After the Galileo IV docked, the medical team transferred Riker to a null-grav gurney and rushed him to Sickbay. Dr. Crusher and Dr. Selar began surgery almost immediately.
The captain and the rest of the bridge crew anxiously awaited news of the first officer. Deanna was beside herself with worry. At last, Beverly Crusher called Picard.
"The surgery's finished, Captain."
"How is Will? Is he going to be all right?" Picard quizzed her.
Troi listened closely to Crusher's words.
"He's going to be fine, Captain. We repaired the nerve damage and cleaned the wounds out thoroughly. He's getting a massive infusion of antibiotics. He'll need rest for a few days, then some physical therapy. He'll be waking up soon, if you'd like to see him."
"Yes, of course," said Picard. "I'll be right down. Data, take command of the bridge."
"Captain," said Troi, her eyes pleading, "may I ..."
Picard smiled and answered her unfinished question, "Certainly, Counselor, come along. I'm sure he'll want to see you as much as you want to see him."
In Sickbay, Picard spoke with Riker, lying in a medibed.
"Well, Number One, you and Data have commendations coming to you. I understand you and he were instrumental in bringing about peace between the Ontags and the Capolites."
"Indirectly," replied Riker in a weak voice. "The son and daughter of the two chiefs deserve most of the credit. Their threat to move away and never let the chiefs see the grandchild that's on the way is what really clinched it."
Riker grinned and Picard chuckled.
Riker added, "Thanks for not giving up on me, Captain."
Picard replied, "Thank Deanna. She refused to let us give up on you - convinced us you were still alive."
Riker turned his head toward her, smiled and extended his hand. "Thank you, Deanna. What made you so sure I was still alive?"
Troi took his hand and squeezed it.
"I could feel you hurting," she answered. "If you'd been dead, there would have been no pain."
"She obviously has a strong link with you, Number One," noted Picard.
Troi and Riker said nothing, but gazed into one another's eyes.
<Imzadi> he heard in his mind. His blue eyes softened in response and he caressed her hand with his thumb.
Dr. Crusher came over and shooed the captain and the counselor out so her patient could rest.
Riker closed his eyes and drifted into sleep. Again, he dreamed. Again, he walked the beautiful Earth beach. It was a fine, sunny day. This time, he carried the now-healed seabird in his arms. The human flung the bird into the air and it soared high in the sky, wheeling and dipping. Along came a flock of other seabirds of its kind and Riker's bird called to them and joined them. Riker heard the bird voice its contentment and pleasure as it flew away with the rest of the flock. The man smiled and was at ease.