Author's Note: This was first published as a novella in 1991. It was written under another pseudonym, but it's all mine.
Disclaimer: The story is mine, but the crew of the Enterprise is not.
So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace...
- William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I
He first felt the weakness in his hands. While shaving one morning, his electronic razor slipped through his fingers and clattered into the sink. He reached for it, but there seemed to be a delay, a moment's hesitation between the impulse of his brain and the movement of his hand. Then his fingers grasped it, lifted it up, set it on the counter. He flexed his hand slowly, tentatively, staring at his face in the mirror.
"You're getting old, Jean-Luc," he murmured at his reflection. "Old and tired," he added with a yawn.
He picked the razor back up to finish shaving away the silvery morning stubble and dropped it again.
"Damn." His right hand trembled slightly.
A trace of worry crossed his mind, but he quickly dismissed it. He was tired, that was all. He grabbed the razor again, tightening his fingers around it. This time he was able to keep his grip, and he continued shaving the right side of his face. By the time he finished, he'd forgotten the incident.
It wasn't until later in the day that something else happened to remind him.
He was having lunch in Ten Forward with Beverly Crusher, and he was having a bit of a problem manipulating his fork. He was able to hold it, but the task of actually getting food on it was evading him. Realizing this, he quickly replaced the utensil on the table before Beverly noticed. He sat and watched her eat, continuing their conversation.
"So, you're almost finished with your inventory?" he asked, smiling at his chief medical officer.
Beverly nodded. "We should be by this evening." She sighed. "If I ever have to do this again, it'll be too soon."
"You take on too much, Beverly. You could have assigned the weight of this to one of your staff."
"I suppose. But I wouldn't have felt right about it." She started to lift a forkful of rice to her mouth, but halted her motion mid-way. "You're not eating," she remarked, lowering the fork back to her plate.
"I'm suddenly not hungry," Jean-Luc lied, casting his eyes away from her. Of all people, he did not like being dishonest with this woman.
"Half an hour ago you told me you were starved," she contradicted him.
"That was half an hour ago."
She eyed him probingly.
"Don't go playing doctor with me, Beverly. I'm just not hungry," he stated firmly, giving her one of his I'm-the-Captain,-and-that's-an-order stares.
"All right," her look of concern lightened, "but at least drink your milk."
"If you insist." He reached out and curled his fingers around the tall glass. He gripped it firmly, but apparently not firm enough. He'd no sooner picked it up, when it slipped from his hand, crashing onto the table, breaking into a thousand pieces. The white liquid spread across the surface, dripping over the side, into his lap.
Beverly reacted before he could: jumping up and mopping at the spill with her napkin.
Jean-Luc was acutely aware that every head in the room had turned their way and he felt his face grow hot with embarrassment.
"Here, let me help with that." Guinan had stolen up next to them, a towel in her hand.
Jean-Luc stood, wiping at the milk on his uniform. "Rather clumsy of me," he laughed. "Hard to believe I was a helmsman in my younger days."
He smiled at Beverly, but he could tell she wasn't buying it.
"Guinan, you wouldn't mind clearing this up for us, would you?"
"No problem," the woman replied simply.
"Captain." Beverly's eyes shifted towards the door in an unspoken invitation to follow her. Not waiting for an answer, she turned and left. Jean-Luc was close at her heels, feeling awkwardly like a wayward schoolboy being called out into the hall.
But as the doors slid closed behind them, he breathed a sigh of relief, thankful to be away from the crew's curious stares.
Beverly stood before him, her arms crossed over her chest, all doctor, no nonsense. "What happened in there?"
Jean-Luc looked back at her innocently. "I dropped a glass of milk," he answered.
An exasperated look flashed across her face. "Why weren't you eating?"
"I already told you I wasn't hungry."
Beverly studied his face. Jean-Luc felt as if she were looking through him. "Are you feeling all right?" She reached to touch his shoulder.
He pulled away. "Beverly, I feel fine." He inhaled deeply. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have business to attend to."
Jean-Luc turned and strode away from her, only to stop after a few paces. He looked back.
Beverly stood there, staring at him, concern etched on her brow. Damn, he thought, she knows me too well. In that instant, he almost told her, but he stopped himself.
"I enjoyed our lunch," he offered instead. "good luck with your inventory."
And then he was heading in the direction of the turbolift again. Beverly watched him go, certain there was something bothering him, but not sure of what it was.
It bothered Will Riker. This trip to Taureb Prime. Why, he did not know. But it made him feel uneasy, apprehensive. Maybe because it was a last minute mission, one that Starfleet handed down just the day before, altering their course for Starbase 412 and wrecking many a crew member's plan for some much deserved R and R. His included.
It wasn't an extremely important mission. At least, it didn't seem to be. Not according to the taped briefing he'd listened to the night before. In fact, it wouldn't involve him much at all. It was an archaeological expedition concerning new found ruins on a remote area of the planet.
Will was knowledgeable of Taureb Prime. It was a small, M-class world fairly isolated from any main thoroughfares. The Federation had discovered it a little over fifty years ago. It was surprisingly Earth-like, inhabited by similar animal forms. Extensive explorations however had failed to locate any indication as to intelligent life. The planet possessed nothing of great importance, so after the initial fact finding mission, it was given a name, catalogued, and virtually ignored for half a century. Except for an orbiting probe. And a week ago that probe had detected something new.
The ship's archaeologists and geologists had been briefed, and were in the process of excitedly preparing for the expedition. Scientists, Will Riker thought, love nothing better than falling into a good mystery.
The first time he fell, there was no one around. He was stepping out of the shower when he slipped, falling hard onto the tile floor, his head jerking back and hitting the shower door. It stunned him so, that he forgot to breath for several seconds. Then he gasped in a chestful of air and forced himself to relax, to calm the quick beating of his heart.
He reached up and touched the back of his head, wincing. There was no blood, but already he felt a knot there, and he knew it would swell and bruise.
"Great," he muttered aloud. "How am I going to explain this?"
There were times when baldness definitely had its disadvantages; a full head of hair would have hidden the injury.
Carefully, he stretched his arms and legs. Nothing else seemed to be hurt, although his backside ached. He suspected it would for a day or two. Must have been water on the floor, he thought, as he slowly pushed himself up. What was it they always said? Most accidents in the home occur in the bathroom. He wondered if that fact extended to starship cabins.
But once on his feet again, he realized it hadn't been water on the floor. His knees were shaking, and his legs felt weak, as if they were too tired to support his weight. He leaned heavily against the wall and then the door frame as he made his way out of the bathroom. He managed to cross the few feet to his bed and stretched out on it. The air was bitingly cold on his wet skin. Shivering, he pulled the blankets half way on top of him. He was so tired, and his head hurt.
"Sleep," he murmured. "I just need some sleep."
He woke several hours later, the insistent sound of his door chime pulling him from a restless sleep. His head was still pounding, but his legs felt a little stronger as he swung them over the side of the bed and stood up. He reached out and picked up his robe from the chair, pulling it on, arms tangling in the sleeves. The chime sounded again.
"Coming," he called gruffly, glancing at the chronometer on his bedside table.
He groaned. No wonder they were beating down his door; he was half an hour late for bridge duty.
He knotted the robe around him, and rubbed his head as he slowly crossed his quarters. He activated the door, it slid open, and he found himself face to face with Beverly Crusher.
"Doctor," he stammered. She was just the person he didn't want to confront.
"Captain, are you all right?" Her eyes pierced through him.
"I'm fine, I just," he hesitated, "overslept."
"Overslept?" Beverly raised her eyebrows.
"I know. It's not like me. But there's a first time for everything."
She stared at him. He was leaning against the door frame, his hand supporting his weight, knuckles white with the pressure. "Can I come in? Or do you want to continue this conversation in the hall?"
He shook his head. "I really don't want to continue this conversation at all. I need to get dressed now and go to the bridge. If you'll excuse me."
"Jean-Luc," she breathed in sharply.
Damn. He'd forgotten his head.
She followed him into the room, the door sliding closed behind her. He felt her fingers lightly touch his skull.
"I fell." He pulled away and looked back at her, her face tight with worry. "It was a simple household accident. I slipped in the bathroom."
"Sit down, Jean-Luc." A request.
"Sit down, Captain." An order.
He sighed and walked over to his desk chair. He sank into it. "It's not that bad," he mumbled.
"It's bad enough." She stood behind him, her strong, sure fingers expertly examining him. "You could have a concussion."
"I could, but I don't." He clenched his hand on top of his desk. "Beverly, please, I'm all right."
"Perhaps," she conceded. "But I still want to check you out in Sickbay."
"Now?" he scowled up at her.
"Now," she insisted.
"Can I at least get dressed first?"
She walked around to the front of his desk and glared down at him. "Yes. But I want to see you there in fifteen minutes. No later."
"Yes, Doctor," he sighed.
She continued to stand her ground.
"I'll be there," he said firmly.
Getting dressed was easier said than done. His arms and legs didn't seem to want to move properly. They felt heavy, awkward, tired. He had to sit on the edge of the bed to pull his pants on. And it took his arms an exceedingly long time to find their way into his shirt sleeves. Finally, exhausted, he zipped up the back of his uniform. He walked over and studied himself in the mirror. He looked fit enough, except for the circles under his eyes. Craning his head around he could barely see the edges of the bruised area. It still throbbed.
He straightened his shoulders and left his quarters, heading for Sickbay. As he came around a bend in the passageway, his right knee buckled, and he started to fall again. He caught himself, his hand braced against the wall. "Easy, Jean-Luc," he whispered as he steadied himself, then carefully tested the leg. After a minute he was able to put his full weight on it. But there was something desperately wrong. For the first time, he admitted it to himself. It wasn't that he was tired, it was something else; something that frightened him.
He turned and walked back to the turbo-lift that led to the bridge. Suddenly, irrationally, the one place he did not want to be was Sickbay. He didn't want to see Beverly, be examined, have her put a name to this something that scared the hell out of him.
He emerged on the bridge from the forward lift. Quickly, instinctively, Will Riker vacated the center command chair, a look of surprise crossing his face.
"You still have the bridge, Number One."
He disappeared into his ready room. Will sat back down, glancing over at Deanna Troi's worried face.
"I thought Beverly was going to get him down to Sickbay," Riker said.
"She wanted to."
Will directed his voice upward. "Bridge to Sickbay. Doctor Crusher?"
"Sickbay, Doctor Crusher here."
"Are you waiting for Captain Picard?" he inquired.
"Yes, I am." Beverly answered tentatively.
Will and Deanna exchanged a look. "Doctor," Will continued tactfully, "I think he's waiting for you in his ready room."
"Oh, is he?" Beverly's voice was hard. There was a momentary silence. And then she spoke again. "I'm on my way. And Will, don't tell him I'm coming. I want to surprise him."
Will sighed. "Glad I'm not our captain right now," he remarked to Deanna.
She didn't respond.
"Deanna?" He leaned towards her.
There was a pained expression on her face.
"Something's wrong, Will. Something's very wrong."