The Q Is Silent

Author's Note: This story was first published in Tantalus 1 in 1990. It was written under another pseudonym.

Disclaimer: The crew of the Enterprise doesn't belong to me.

At first, the headache was nothing more than a nuisance, a dull ache that crept into the back of Will Riker's mind and filtered down into his neck and shoulders. It really didn't hurt, as much as it disturbed. It seemed to lessen his awareness, and that aggravated him, especially when he was on the bridge.

He tried standard painkillers, and for a few days they worked. The ache receded. But then his system seemed to grow immune, and the headache returned, stronger and more persistent. It was no longer a dull ache, but a sharp pain, occasionally accompanied by a slight dizziness. And yet, he continued to ignore it, thinking, perhaps, by so doing, it would eventually go away.

He soon became quite successful in concealing the pain from the bridge crew, and even from the captain. He closely monitored what he said, and how he said it. It was an effort to keep his temper from flaring, and he realized he was smiling more, as if to counterbalance the added weight.

He wasn't sure when he finally accepted what was causing the pain. Maybe he'd known from the very beginning. Perhaps that was why he'd never gone to Sickbay; he knew there was nothing a doctor could have done. Subconsciously, he must have remembered his mother going through the very same motions, hiding the pain until she could hide it no longer. Will knew that the day would come when he, too, could not keep it hidden. But until then, it was his secret. Or so he thought.

~vVv~

The door to Jean-Luc Picard's ready room slid open. He looked up from his desk to see Will Riker's tall frame fill the doorway.

"Number One, please, come in."

Riker stepped inside, and the door slid closed behind him.

"Have a seat, Will." Picard indicated the chair in front of his desk.

Riker sat, holding himself as stiffly as he did when he stood.

"Relax, Number One."

"Thank you, sir. I am relaxed."

"Yes. Well." The captain hesitated, and Riker felt very unsettled, his headache suddenly intensifying. "As you know, Will, I'm not one to beat around the proverbial bush."

"No, sir," Riker agreed.

"And so, I'm going to come right out and ask." And yet he hesitated once more, but only for an instant. "Are you ill, Number One?"

"Ill, sir?" Riker struggled to maintain his composure. It was too soon, much too soon. There was no way the captain could have known.

"Yes, Will." Picard's voice was soft. "Are you ill, in any pain whatsoever?"

Riker swallowed hard. He felt his heart slamming against his ribs. He was prepared to answer, but he didn't have to. Picard had read the answer in his eyes.

"Will! Why didn't you tell someone?"

Riker shifted uncomfortably.

"I know what it is, sir," he answered. "There's nothing that can be done."

Picard rose from his chair and leaned forward, his hands on his desk. "You know what it is?"

"Yes." And suddenly Riker felt a sense of relief, to finally be sharing it with someone. "It's called cephalic arteriole venous stenosis, more commonly known as Hamilton's Disease."

Picard straightened and began to pace behind his desk. "Hamilton's Disease?"

"I'm sure Doctor Crusher could explain it better than I can. I mean, I know what it is, and I know the symptoms."

"You do? And why are you so sure that this is what you have?"

Riker lowered his eyes. "Captain, my mother died from it."

Picard stopped his pacing and sank into his chair. "Will, I... How bad is the pain?"

"I can handle it, sir," Riker murmured.

"I didn't ask if you could handle it." The captain's voice was gentle, but firm. "I want know how bad it is."

Will Riker had never lied to the man sitting across from him. In fact, he did not know if he could, even if he wanted to. And he did not want to, for he was tired of hurting alone. "It's bad," he admitted.

"Can you walk to Sickbay?"

"Yes, sir." Riker sighed, lines of pain creasing his forehead.

They both stood, and the captain walked around his desk.

"Captain? How did you know?"

"I was told by someone."

Riker started to ask who as they left the ready room and stepped onto the bridge, but the first pair of eyes he saw looking at him confirmed what he already suspected. Deanna stood next to the aft turbolift. She was waiting for them. The rest of the bridge crew were busy at their stations. No one else seemed to be aware of the situation.

"Any problems, Mister Data?" Picard inquired.

"No, sir," Data replied.

"In that case, I'll be in Sickbay if I'm needed."

"Yes, sir."

The turbolift doors opened, and the three of them stepped inside. As soon as the doors closed, Riker leaned heavily against the wall. Picard took hold of his left arm, and Troi his right. He didn't need their support, but he didn't resist. He'd tried to avoid Deanna in the past several weeks, but apparently avoidance hadn't been enough.

"I should have known," Riker remarked evenly.

"I had to tell him, Will." Her dark eyes never left his face. "You had no right to keep this from us."

She said "us," but Riker knew she meant "me." He could hear her in his mind: You can't go through this alone, Imzadi.

He rubbed his right hand across his forehead. "It's all right," he whispered. And it was because she was there.

~vVv~

Several hours later, Picard paced nervously in front of the desk in Beverly Crusher's office. The doctor sat on the other side, watching him.

"Captain, please, sit down."

Picard grimaced, but sank wearily into the opposite chair. "You're telling me Will is right, that he has this... Hamilton's Disease?"

Crusher nodded. "Yes. All my tests indicate that it is Hamilton's."

"I've never even heard of it before."

"It's very rare, although it's been around for a long time. It was discovered in the twenty-first century-"

Picard winced. "The post-atomic horror."

"That's right. Before the war, we'd cured so many diseases. Afterwards, there were a dozen others to take their place. Hamilton's is a genetic disorder. The exact etiology is unknown, although it's believed to have been a genetic mutation caused by nuclear fallout. It affects the blood vessels in the brain, causing them to deteriorate." She breathed deeply. "Will's mother did die from the disease, and it is hereditary. But case studies have shown that it usually skips several generations before it manifests itself again. The odds of Will contracting it weren't very high. Still, we've both been aware of the possibility, but none of the symptoms have ever showed up in any of his routine physicals."

"You and Will have always been aware of this possibility?" he questioned.

"Will didn't want anyone to know. It wasn't something he worried about, and he didn't want anyone else worrying either."

Picard nervously clinched his right hand into a fist. "What can you do about it?" His tone was sharp, accusing.

"There is no cure, Jean-Luc," she answered patiently.

Picard sighed. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right. It's not an easy thing to accept."

They stared at each other for a few moments, both remembering another time and place, another first officer.

"I can make him as comfortable as possible," Crusher continued. "Give him drugs that will lessen the pain and ease the other symptoms as they develop. But that's about all."

"What symptoms?"

She gazed at him steadily. "He's already in pain, with occasional mild dizziness. Both will intensify. Next he'll begin to have some involuntary muscle twitching, his speech will begin to slur, and his vision will be affected - blurring and occasional double vision."

"Anything else?"

"Near the end, he'll have periods of blacking out and increasing difficulty with his short-term memory." She paused. "Then, finally, it will affect the involuntary center in his medulla oblongata." When Picard just looked at her blankly, she explained, "He'll stop breathing."

"How long?" Picard asked.

"Three, maybe four weeks."

Shock registered on his face. "That soon?"

"Yes."

Picard lowered his head and took several deep breaths. "Jean-Luc?"

He looked up. "Have you talked to him?"

Crusher shook her head. "Not yet. Would you like to go with me?"

"No, I'm sure he-"

"I think he'd like you to be there," she interjected. "I know I would."

Their eyes caught, and each of them seemed to draw strength from the other.

"All right," Picard agreed.

~vVv~

"Will?"

Riker opened his eyes. Even before she'd said his name, he'd known she was there. She reached out and gently touched her fingers to his forehead. "You knew all along, didn't you?"

Deanna Troi nodded. "I also knew that you would never ask for help, so I had to ask for you."

She sat down on the edge of his bed, her fingers still stroking his forehead. "I'm glad you're here." He stared up at her.

"I'm glad you want me here."

"I do."

For a few moments their breathing was the only sound that filled the room. "We don't have to talk, if you don't want to," Deanna said, her voice low and reassuring.

"No...I..."

She could feel his fear and uncertainty. "Take your time. Will."

He took a deep breath. "When I was growing up, I would try to remember my mother. I never could. I was barely three when she died, and after that, my dad... He never talked about her." Will hesitated. "I realized weeks ago, after the headaches started, I really hadn't forgotten her. I'd just chosen not to remember her the way she was before she died."

There were tears welling up in his eyes, and he turned his face from Deanna. She drew her hand away from his forehead and laid it gently on his chest. "You were just a baby then."

"I grew up, Deanna, and I still chose not to remember. I was just as guilty as my father."

"You're remembering now," she said quietly.

"She was in the hospital for a long time, and I wasn't allowed to see her. Dad would come home, and he wouldn't say anything. Finally, I asked if she was ever coming back, and he said no." Will fell silent, remembering those long-ago moments that he'd kept buried. Then he continued, bitterly, "He never even told me what caused her death. I had to ask a family friend when I was twelve."

Deanna took hold of his hand. "About your father, Will."

His eyes flashed. "I don't want him to know."

"Will..."

"No, Deanna." He squeezed her hand. "Despite everything, I love him."

"I know."

"I don't want him to have to go through this again."

"But, Will-"

"No." There was a pleading look in his eyes.

"Imzadi." She lifted his hand and held it to her cheek.

"Promise me?" He was like a little boy, and she longed to take him in her arms and keep him safe.

"I promise," she whispered. "But aren't we getting ahead of ourselves? We don't know for sure if you have what your mother had."

"I think we do now." He pulled his hand away and looked past her.

Troi turned and saw Doctor Crusher and the captain walking toward them. She stood.

"Counselor." The captain stopped beside her and looked down at Riker. "How are you feeling, Will?"

"A little better, I guess." He glanced up at Crusher, who stood on the opposite side of the bed. "Please, no more tests."

She shook her head. "No more tests."

Riker licked his lips. "Was I right?"

Crusher hesitated.

"Beverly?"

"Yes, Will," she answered. "It's Hamilton's."

Riker closed his eyes and exhaled heavily. A moment later, he opened them and looked up at the doctor. "How much longer?"

"Three or four weeks."

Riker turned to Picard. "We're closest to Starbase 313, aren't we, sir?"

"Yes, Will."

"And the medical facilities are excellent," Crusher supplied as she pressed a hypo-spray to his neck. He looked up at her inquiringly. "Something to ease the pain."

He smiled weakly. It was beginning to get bad again. "Thanks," he said, stifling a yawn.

"And it'll help you sleep." Crusher returned his smile, patting him gently on the arm.

"Will, I'll look in on you later," Picard said.

"Yes, sir," Riker murmured, as his eyes closed.

"He'll sleep for several hours now." Crusher looked over at Picard and Troi.

Picard nodded. "I'll be on the bridge." He turned to go. "Counselor?"

"If it's all right, I'd like to sit with him for a while." She shifted her gaze from Riker to the captain.

Picard placed a hand on her shoulder. "Stay as long as you want."

"Thank you."

He smiled at her, then turned and left.

"Deanna, I'll be in my office if you need me." Crusher glanced down at the sleeping first officer. "But he shouldn't wake up."

"Thanks, Beverly." The two women exchanged a long look. Troi was the empath, but Crusher knew exactly what she was feeling. The doctor walked quietly into the next room, leaving the two of them alone.

Deanna sat back down on the edge of Will's bed. He seemed to be sleeping comfortably. There was even a hint of a smile at the corners of his lips. She picked up his hand and held it securely in her own.

I'm here, Imzadi, she whispered in her mind. I'm here.

~vVv~