Watery sunlight filtered through wooden shutters and cast bright shards of light on the features of the occupant on the narrow cot against the wall. Dust motes floated in lazy patterns in the shaft of light from the shuttered window. Long blonde locks fanned out on a clean, but threadbare pillow. She was a tiny woman, small boned, with delicate features that looked pale but peaceful in her slumber. Hers was the desperately needed sleep of the exhausted. Sleep that ended abruptly as a large, fleshy hand gripped her slender shoulder shaking it violently, after seeing the woman come awake he stealthily left the small darkened room. The cot’s occupant sat on the bed for a few seconds then eased her tired body out of the comfort of the mattress. Another long day loomed ahead of her.
The owner stood outside the door for several
minutes, his ear pressed against the thin panel listening to her movements. His
mind filled in details he couldn’t see, the creaking of the bed as her slight
weight shifted then left the comfort she sought there. He imagined the fair
skinned beauty’s attributes as he listened to her wash before changing into
outerwear. Callused hands clenched and unclenched as he strained to hear the
sounds of her morning ritual. As the sounds of footsteps came towards the door
the man straightened and hurried down the cluttered hallway. Seconds later, he
closed the door of his tiny office and prepared to make his report.
“Our informant reported that a woman who closely matched Deanna’s descriptions was first seen in this village approximately two weeks ago. He is certain that the same woman makes an appearance here at the market place everyday at this time. Her appearance has been altered to match that of the native inhabitants.” Riker paused to look carefully around their small group. “Stay alert and report back immediately the moment you see anything unusual. We’ll cover more ground by pairing off. Doctor you’re with me.” Commander Riker watched the rest of the away team move off before turning to the ship’s doctor. “Let’s go, the report said she comes here daily to buy fruit. I want a good view of that vendor at all times.”
They had been sitting for some time watching the market place when Will Riker looked enquiringly at Doctor Crusher, his eyebrows raised, “What is it Beverly? I know that look.”
Beverly scrutinized him through the critical eyes of a physician and the caring eyes of a friend. Riker was wearing down, looking more and more like a man that hadn’t slept or eaten properly for three weeks. He was at the point of grasping at straws. Not unusual in situations like this, but Will, like anyone else, needed to face reality. Beverly wanted to prepare him for the possibility that this was another dead end, but the intensity of his gaze over every petite woman that they passed, and the hopeful expression that lit his features each time limited her remarks. “Will, why are you so certain that this informant’s report is accurate? We’ve traveled to nine solar systems in twelve days with the same results. And this planet is no where near the path that Deanna’s shuttle craft would have taken to the rendezvous point.” Beverly stopped speaking so abruptly that Will turned to look at her. “Wait, can you sense her here?”
Will shrugged, “I just know this is the right place. I know she is here.” He returned to his vigil without adding another word.
Beverly sighed but kept quiet. The fruit vendor was directly in front of them. They strolled up to the cart to look through the unfamiliar produce. Beverly watched as a group of women purchased fruit, then chose several pieces of the same. She rejoined the commander on a stone bench from where the fruit stall was easily visible. She pressed one of her selections into his hand, then watched as he toyed with it, tossing it from hand to hand without taking his eyes off the street in front of them.
“Go ahead try it. You haven’t eaten properly in weeks.” Crusher frowned when Will didn’t offer a scathing comment about her meddling. She tried again, “The fabric that these garments are made of is hardly soothing.” The doctor scratched along her leg where the long narrow skirt hugged her long slender limbs. Will continued staring into the plaza which was rapidly filling with the locals.
More than an hour had passed when Beverly had gotten up to walk around the plaza in the hope of finding some clues as to Deanna’s whereabouts. She looked into other stalls and listened to the soft voices of the people around her. The inhabitants spoke in a soft light tone that was pleasant to the ear. She caught a few words, even if the quick lesson from Data didn’t prepare her to do extensive conversing in the native language. Beverly circled back to see that the commander remained seated on the bench. His sad eyes appeared unfocused as though in deep thought or perhaps reminiscing. Beverly guessed it to be the latter as she got a closer look at his expression. She sat beside him, trying not to consider what this man’s life was going to become if this turned out to be yet another false sighting of her best friend and his wife. She no sooner sat down when Will had jumped to his feet quickly discarding the fruit he had been playing with, to move steadily in the direction of the stall.
“Will, wait!” Beverly had barely managed to grab his arm, before turning to see if their actions had garnered anyone’s attention. She refused to relinquish her hold on him even though he stopped and waited for her. “Where is she?” she too scanned the stall area but saw no one resembling her friend.
Will gestured with his chin. “There with the basket on her arm. That’s Deanna.”
Beverly looked in the direction that Will was staring, and after a few seconds found the lone figure walking from bin to bin absently picking up fruit and carefully placing it inside her basket. She looked over at Will. It was clear that he was finding it hard not to run to her. “Will, are you sure that is Deanna?”
“I’m sure.” There was no doubt in his voice, not a shred of hesitation. Will spoke quietly into the handheld communicator, and gave the rest of the away team the location of the woman her knew to be his imzadi. He watched as around the plaza the remaining members of the team began closing in on their location. Beverly watched, still unconvinced.
Will tugged her arm. “Beverly, look at how she swings her arms as she walks, the long graceful strides, that’s Deanna. I’ll stake my life on it.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” She muttered under her breath still unconvinced. “So, how are we going to do this?”
“Follow my lead.” Will quickly covered the distance to the stalls, then slowed to amble around as though he too was shopping for produce. He picked up a piece of fruit, then moved to the next stall beside the one where the blonde woman was standing. Beverly moved to her other side and kept the exotic blonde between them. They both tried to keep their actions non threatening, but it was hard not to stare at her, to find something familiar in what was now a stranger’s face. Will reached across in front of her for a piece of the large green fruit, he paused in his attempt to catch her eye and froze. She looked at him and smiled slightly but there was no recognition. Will frowned and the woman reacted, confusion and fear became plainly visible on her face. He tried to repeat the lines Data and he worked out, but when his mouth moved no sound was made. The woman began to back away from him, her eyes darting from side to side as she attempted to find her avenue of escape. Will spoke softly in Standard to reassure her, but without warning the blonde bolted and barreled straight into Data.
Data clasped her shoulders to steady her an began talking in the quiet tones of the planet, but the woman grew more and more frightened. She jerked her arms away from the android and turned to run into another direction, but tripped over the large crates of fruit the vendor was using to fill in his bins. She went down hard and struck her head on a large stone block that served as a stepping stone for the top shelves of the stall.
The three Enterprise officers rushed to her assistance. Will and Beverly were the first to reach her, Data attempted to shield their efforts at reviving her from the vendor when he moved closer to offer assistance. Data reassured the man that Beverly was a healer, while he stood before him talking with him about the woman that lay inside his stall. He guided the vendor far enough away that Beverly was able to scan the unconscious woman with a pocket tricorder. Will waited until the scan was completed then gathered her in his arms and cradled her close to his chest. He stared down at her, only half listening to Data converse with the vendor. From his position on the ground it appeared the to Will the vendor was giving directions. The man pointed along the paved road away from the market place, when he finished the vendor and Data nodded in unison then shook hands. Their business complete the vendor made his way to Will, stood looking into the unconscious woman’s face clucking his tongue. He turned toward the sparse group of curious on lookers and began to clear a path. Will got to his feet with the woman in his arms, following Data’s lead as the group headed up the street in the direction that the vendor had indicated. They entered into a courtyard of a small building, far enough away from the market area and it’s customers where they could wait for the rest of the away team.
Beverly was taking the time to interpret her findings, from the soft chirps it was plain that she was running the same program over again.
“Doctor, has your readings shown this woman to be the counselor?”
“Yes, I believe it does Data. This woman is not an inhabitant of this planet.” Beverly looked up at the man cradling her, “She is part human and part Betazoid.” Will never showed any sign of hearing the doctor, but continued to hold the injured woman. Beverly watched as he leaned his cheek against her forehead holding her carefully to him.
“The vendor has directed us to the large building up on that hill.” Data pointed up toward a large sprawling building. “This woman is said to be the intended of the owner.”
A harsh bark of laughter erupted from the commander, “Not in this lifetime.”
Beverly frown up at him as she spoke over her shoulder, “Data, I’d like you to follow up on this, see what you can learn about the owner, it may give us a clue as to what has happened to Counselor Troi. Report back in one hour. I’ll be in sickbay.” The doctor’s voice was low, nearly a whisper as she stopped to look more closely at the building beore returning her attention to the woman in Riker’s arms.
<<Crusher to Enterprise. Three to beam directly to sickbay.>>
Doctor Crusher quickly led the way to the biobed. She stood waiting but Will held on to the woman he knew to be Deanna. “Will, we need to begin to check her over now. The injury from her fall should be treated immediately, and the readings I took on the planet reveal some abnormalities that I want clarified before doing anything more.”
Will gently kissed her forehead before easing her down on to the bed. His hand lifting the blonde curls off her face as he continued to scrutinize her features; it seemed he was noting all the familiarities and the discrepancies, memorizing and remembering all that was before him on that biobed. His eyes and fingers continued to reestablish Deanna’s presence again with his heart as well as his mind. He shook his head as he tentatively touched the nearly white blonde hair. He stepped back as the doctor and her staff began to work in earnest upon the unconscious form.
Crusher and her team continued their organized examination and repaired what damage they found. When she had done all that she could Beverly gave instructions to her staff then walked over to where the commander stood.
“Do you know what happened to her Beverly?”
She heard the rough edge in his voice, and instinctively knew that her answer was not going to be enough. “Will, I’ve repaired the physical injuries she had sustained. But it appears her mind was traumatized. I’m not sure how this happened. I’ve never seen anything like it. Physically, other than the injuries Deanna sustained in her fall, I see no sign of any physical trauma.” Knowing the question that she had when they brought Deanna into sickbay, Beverly quickly attempted to quiet the fear she expected was also in Will’s thoughts. “And I found no signs of any abuse.”
His shoulders sagged and he swallowed hard. “Can you help her?” His attention never wavered from the small figure nearly lost among the medical staff surrounding her.
Beverly gripped his forearm, “I don’t know what I’m up against here. I need to pull all my resources and do more research. Have you talked to Lwaxana yet?”
Riker answered without taking his eyes from the woman on the biobed, as though afraid if he were to look away, she might not be there when he looked back. “No. Not yet, I was hoping for some details to pass on to her. I would like to say everything is fine.”
“I’m sorry Will, I’ll do everything I can. I think that Lwaxana should be notified as soon as possible.”
Beverly patted his arm reassuringly, “I’m going to run some diagnostics and see if we can find the extent of the damage. I need to find someplace to begin.” At his nod she returned to her place at the biobed.
The commander’s eyes lost focus as he
remembered the last time he had talked to her, talked to his wife about seeing
her upon her return from Betazed.
Four weeks earlier……
While Commander William Riker impatiently waited for the communication tie in with his wife he found himself reflecting on their relationship and found himself in awe of it all. The two years that they had been together their partings had been few and short, and for the most part necessary. Each in the performance of their duties as crewmember and officers had occasion to be away. They had learned to adjust and adapt to their unaccustomed roles in their newly constructed family. Neither had expected to fill these roles easily and were not disappointed at the uniqueness of their own occasional difficulties.
“Will.” He turned his attention to the view screen and the source of the familiar loving voice.
“Deanna,” he said, even though his mind sent “imzadi”. The term that naturally came to him at her image and was forever engraved on his heart. No one had ever had the affect on his heart and in his life as the woman on the other end of the communication link. She held them more securely than he could have ever imagined possible.
She smiled, “I’ve just heard from Ensign Ridos. I understand our departure will be on the captains shuttle in one hour. We’ll be heading for new coordinates to rendezvous wit the Enterprise.”
He nodded, “We will be leaving immediately for those coordinates. Has the ensign given you a time of arrival?”
“Yes, I should see you in about six hours. Will, Mother would like Solace to stay for one more week, what do you think?” Deanna watched him closely, noting his smile and the gleam in his eye as he spoke to her.
He thought for a moment, “I think that sounds great, but it may be longer than that until we can get back. Would that be a problem?”
She paused before answering him, wanting the few seconds to study his image on her view screen. “I don’t think so, I’ll talk to Mother. Will, this has something to do with this new assignment doesn’t it? What…” she was tugged down out of his sight by two small hands, when she reappeared it was with a young child’s face close to her own.
“Hi, Daddy. Can I stay with Aunt Troi for one more week?” Most of the child’s pretty face was filled by her smile, a smile so contagious that Will found himself grinning in response.
“What? You mean you don’t miss me?”
The small head nodded, dark curls bouncing with each nod, the smile faded. “Yes I do. Can I stay for just two more days?” she pleaded, then added, “Aunt Troi is going to take me to the tribute to hysterical women.”
Deanna leaned down to whisper, “You mean historical woman, sweetie?”
Solace nodded, “Yes, historical women.”
Deanna looked up to catch Will trying to hide his amusement by scratching his beard. “We’ll discuss this with Aunt Troi later, okay?”
As the child turned to leave, Will quickly called to her, she turned and grinned back at the view screen. “I love you too.”
Will smiled, “Me too.”
Deanna interrupted his thoughts, “Are you certain you want her to stay? Will, what’s going on?”
“We are going to be tied up in another sector for sometime. It maybe a couple of weeks until we can arrange to pick her up, she’s never been away from us like this. But this is one time I think I prefer that’s she’s there with your mother.”
Deanna frowned, “This is serious. I’ll talk to Mother. I’m sure she’d be happy to keep Solace a little longer. She had asked for another week.” Deanna paused then began filling him in on their visit and the child’s progress with her studies in mental exercises. She finished answering his questions to see the wistful look in his face. “I guess I’ll see you in about twelve hours.”
He smiled and promised, “I have a special welcome home evening planned for tonight.”
She gave him a knowing grin, “I’m looking forward to it. It will be good to be back imzadi.”
Will stood in front of the screen for a few moments more before acknowledging the chime at the door. “Come.”
Captain Picard entered the quarters, “Number One, we’ve just been notified that the situation is deteriorating further. More ships have disappeared in the same sector. Have you been in contact with Deanna?”
“yes, she’s preparing to leave now. We should meet at the predetermined coordinates in about twelve hours.”
“Good. I imagine things are a bit quiet since your family has been on Betazed.”
“Yes sir, too quiet, however we have decided that Solace will remain on Betazed with Lwaxana for awhile, until we return from this mission.”
“Deanna agreed? Then she knows the situation?”
“No. I didn’t go into it. ‘Little Ears’ was within listening distance. We’ve found she misses very little.”
Picard smiled nodding appreciatively as he walked over to look at the framed document on the desk. “Which anniversary date will you be celebrating?”
Will came to stand beside him looking over his shoulder at the Prakalian wedding document. “I plan on making an occasion of both. Something quite appropriate to each.” A wicked smile made a slow appearance on the bearded face.
The captain raised his eyebrows but continued looking at the framed items displayed. He picked up a large holograph of Will and Deanna. “Ah, this is good. It was a beautiful day on Betazed for a wedding. You see the convenience of having a ceremony with clothes on; you can openly display these holopics. Number One, you can’t possibly begin to know of my trepidation when Lwaxana insisted on being naked. I don’t believe I could have conducted the ceremony with a naked bride and groom, not to mention Lwaxana Troi. Do you realize she winked at me every time I looked in he direction? That was disconcerting enough, imagine her flaunting herself without clothes.” The captain appeared visibly shaken at the mental imagery.
Will was looking at the picture still held in the captain’s hand. “It meant a lot to both of us to have had you do the ceremony. That ceremony wouldn’t have taken place without your help.”
Picard shrugged it off, “It was my pleasure Will. In a lot of ways you and Deanna are my family. There aren’t two people who needed to be together more than you two. I must say, it was one of the nicest weddings I had been to in a long time.” He turned and smiled at Will before adding , “But then I missed your first one on Prakal. I guess you had to find a way to top that one.”
Will grinned, “That’s one of my favorite stories, have you ever watched Deanna’s face when that story comes up?”
The captain shook his head, “I believe you have provided us all with the opportunity to experience the counselor’s discomfort first hand. I think you may want to stay clear of Beverly while recounting the story of the lightfoot.”
“Yes, I’ve been warned by the good doctor that she’ll have something unpleasant in store for me at the next annual physical.”
Picard looked surprised, “Now that could be
<Data to Riker>
Will’s mind snapped back into focus. He quickly looked back at the biobed to see that nothing had changed. Beverly had a large diagnostic tool pulled over the top of the biobed, watching what Will could only imagine to be Deanna’s brain waves. Beverly read out information as another doctor fed the information into a PADD.
<Commander Riker are you receiving me?>
Will saw Beverly turn to look at him, < Yes Data, I’m here. Go ahead.>
<We are at the premises where the counselor was staying. Sir they have been vacated.>
“Stay there Data. I’m on my way.”
<Understood. Data out.>
Will walked to the biobed, “Anything new Beverly?” his hand sought the smaller still hand under the light sheet covering the still figure.
“I’m working on it. Did I hear you say you were going back down to the planet?” She stopped to watch him.
“I’m beaming down as soon as I leave here. Why?”
“I need any information you can bring back that could help fill in what happened to Deanna. Anything that may remotely deal with her life down there, or for that matter why she was kept there.” Will touched her the blonde hair as his thumbs lightly traced the contours of her cheeks. “Will go.” Beverly’s voice broke into his thoughts he looked at her. “I’ll do my best to have her look more like her old self by the time you get back. As far as the rest goes, I’m working on it.” She gently pushed him toward the door s his hand lingered on the smaller hand een as he turned to leave his fingers slid down the length of the still body until he passed the end of the bed. Then he turned one last time to look back at her. Those several moments were painful to witness, Beverly turned quickly back to her equipment. . All rights reserved.
To be continued...