It had been a long, and boring diplomatic mission to Jendoken IV, a somewhat troubled little planet had been awarded probationary Federation alliance status a year earlier. On what was supposed to have been a routine inspection visit, Jean-Luc Picard had ended up caught in the middle of a prolonged and intractable negotiation between the planet's two warring species with little expectation of a successful conclusion. In fact, the only bright spot on the horizon had been the promise of the end of it all, even if there were still some kind of ritual meal to endure. Both the Jendo and the Kloz had insisted on providing the hearty feast as part of a long-held tradition of passive aggressive 'sharings' on conclusion of their annual negotiations. At least, whatever Jean-Luc Picard had to tolerate during the social event he had been dreading, would mark the end. Then he could beam back to his ship and they could depart for their next mission.
At the entirely unsatisfactory conclusion of the last round of talks, Captain Picard had remained on the planet for the final banquet gallantly concocting a spurious reason why his First Officer and the Counsellor were needed back on the ship. After months of diplomatic mercy missions, the senior crew had grown tired of endless drinks, banquets, gatherings, and whatever else such social events could be referred to as.
Picard sat in between the supreme leader of the Kloz on his left, and the Premier of the Jendo on his right– both officials had insisted on a double-headed table lest one of the them should appear to be more exalted than the other. He picked at the pile of food heaped onto the emerald green plate before him. There seemed to be a particular flavouring he couldn't quite pin down added to much of the cuisine that he really didn't care for. Something musty… earthy. It reminded him of grape mould… He pushed at the food wishing it would somehow magically disappear so he wouldn't appear ungrateful. The Jendo Premier next to him slapped him hard on the back sloshing a drink in his direction.
"To your continuing health Captain!" he grunted with a ridiculously cheerful expression on his face. "Come on! Eat!"
"And to you." He replied forcing a tight smile and another forkful of what looked like a vegetable into his mouth.
An hour later, and the captain was still seated at the table. He had started to feel rather woozy but put it down to too much rich food, and a little too much of what passed for a type of wine. He turned to the Jendo man next to him and as he did, the room started to spin off its axis forcing him to lean rather like a yacht at sea over to his left. He put down the glass from which he had been about to take another sip. Better to stick to water, he thought. There was a ringing in his ears, and a heaviness in his limbs, all signs he knew very well of too much of a good thing.
It had been a long and tedious mission and it was at least midnight by ship's time. He had started the day with tiredness after a long and sleepless night. Since their unannounced arrival, something just felt off about this whole mission. He'd tossed and turned running it over and over through the night. And now, a whole month of talks that had ultimately gone nowhere... He had suspected the involvement of a whole extra unseen group, spreading some sort of clandestine counter-narrative in order to maintain the status quo that would undoubtedly lead to a major civil war, but he couldn't prove it, no matter how much Data had delved into the planet's coms net.
Hours later, and Riker now paced the length of the transporter room in expectation of the captain's return from the planet. After the fifth time he had asked the computer for the time, he could no longer deny the ripple of anxiety in his belly making its presence known. Why hadn't he returned from the surface yet?
Momentarily, the whine of the transporter kicked in and Chief O'Brien simultaneously announced the captain's imminent arrival.
Before the captain had fully materialised, Riker heard the unmistakable sound of his rich, full, off-duty laugh. He cocked an eyebrow at Chief O'Brien who returned it with the merest hint of his own smirk.
"Bonsoir Numéro Un!" Picard skipped off the pad and slapped Riker on the back before greeting him with a traditional air kiss on each cheek and then striding out of the transporter room leaning a little to port as he passed through the door. Riker glanced back toward O'Brien with a glint in his eye and chased after his CO. It was his ultimate responsibility to ensure the captain made it back from any kind of mission safe, sound, and with an analgesic hypo ready for when he awoke with a raging hangover the next morning.
O'Brien locked the transporter off ready for the handover to night watch and shook his head. He was party to all sorts of weird and wonderful moments, the kind of things that never made it into the ship's logs. The captain arriving home a little worse for the wear definitely ranked up high on his list…
The next morning, Riker paced another lap of the bridge. He'd let the captain sleep in a little later than usual, but he had to admit that being ninety minutes late for his duty shift was pushing it – even if he was the captain. He sat down in the big chair, smoothed the armrest and tapped at the screen. No messages. He got to his feet and stalked off to the ready room. If he was going to make the call, it was going to be done in private.
"Riker to Captain Picard?"
No answer. He tried again, looking in the direction of the comms pick-up embedded in the ceiling panel knowing it made no difference, but thinking it would surely help. "Captain Picard?"
"Computer, what is the current location of Captain Picard?"
"Captain Picard is in his quarters." The computer replied confirming his suspicions; the captain was hungover to hell and had slept through his alarm.
As much as he would enjoy teasing his CO privately later on, he was faced with an immediate problem. How was he going to resolve the captain's unexplained absence without drawing attention to his tardiness to the rest of the crew? He couldn't leave the bridge, he had command of the ship and there was nothing that could draw him away without raising suspicion. He couldn't send Data or Worf, he needed to keep this on a need-to-know basis.
"Riker to Crusher?"
"Crusher here." she answered. Riker could hear the bustle of a busy moment in sickbay in the background.
"Are you alone Doctor?"
"Give me one second, Commander. Crusher out."
Dammit, this was taking far longer than he would have wanted, and still no further on in solving the mystery. He took advantage of the captain's replicator and ordered a hot black coffee. He'd not had time for breakfast this morning, he had known he'd need to pick up a little slack after the captain's ebullient and late arrival the previous night.
"What can I do for you Will?" came Crusher's voice finally.
"Have you seen the captain this morning? At breakfast?" he asked hopefully.
"No, afraid not. Is there something wrong?"
"Would you swing by his quarters and make a good old-fashioned house call? Computer confirms he is in there."
"Will? Are you telling me the captain is now… more than an hour and a half late for duty?"
"Uh, yes. He arrived back a little… worse the wear last night. But still…"
"I'm on my way. Crusher out."
Beverly Crusher grabbed the medical go-bag and strode out of sickbay shouting out instructions behind her, "Selar, you have sickbay. Have a med team standing by and clear biobed 1, we may need it."
Once she had cleared the medial facility, she picked up the pace a little and tapped at her commbadge, "Crusher to Picard?"
Nothing. She ducked into a turbo lift and headed up the four decks between sickbay and the captain's quarters. Taking seconds, she was out of the lift before the doors had fully opened, grateful of the few steps it would take to get to his door.
She didn't bother with using the annunciator, shouting out her override as she made the final few steps.
"Crusher medical override, Captain's quarters." The door opened before her and she scanned the room, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
The rooms before her were pitch black. Thanks to the glow of the lights from the corridor outside, she could just make out the various pieces of a discarded uniform thrown haphazardly toward the low coffee table. His boots, and communicator marked a chaotic trail toward the bedroom that finished with the remaining shards of a glass vase scattered across the floor.
Once she reached the threshold of his sleeping quarters, dodging the broken glass, she could hear the unmistakable sound of a man in a lot of pain. Deep, rough, and agitated groaning was coming from the direction of the bathroom.
The bed was bare, the sheets and duvet tangled in a heap on the floor. The unmistakably acrid smell of vomit filled the air.
"Lights up full." She shouted, not slowing her pace at all. "Jean-Luc?" she called.
More groaning growing in intensity and a locked door.
"Jean-Luc? Can you let me in? It's me, Beverly."
She gave it a second then stealing herself for whatever lay beyond the door, she used her medical override once again.
"Medical override, Captain's bathroom…" she paused at the sight before her. The captain lay tucked into the foetal position on the bathroom floor, half in and half out of the shower. He had a thick winter sweater on, and one leg of some thermal pants. Overhead the shower had thankfully stopped but the computer was announcing the shower override incessantly, repeating every few seconds, "Shower overrun, terminating. Shower overrun, terminating."
The Captain himself looked terrible. His face was flushed a bright red colour, his teeth were clenched tightly, and his jaw was locked as he continued the bizarre agitated groaning. His eyes were screwed shut and every part of his face seemed tense, he was desperately unwell. He did not acknowledge Beverly's presence, and didn't seem to be aware of his surroundings. His body was tucked into position, muscles rigid, and unmoving.
"Jean-Luc? Can you hear me?" she said as she crouched down beside him tricorder deployed instantly. She could feel the heat from his skin without even making contact with him. Beads of sweat dripped down each side of his face, his lips and fingernails were blue, and a strange metallic musty smell coming from him made the tiny room feel claustrophobic.
He managed a raw groan from deep in his throat and cracked open one eye. Beverly placed her hand on his shoulder hoping the contact might give him at least a little comfort and placed a hypo to his neck. He was clearly in a great amount of pain and she need to resolve that before she could do anything further. As she activated the device, he drew his knees in further and started to rock, the groaning intensified. His eyes popped open, unseeing and glazed.
"Okay, there we go," she used as soothing a voice as she could manage, hoping that the fear she felt would stay well hidden. "Let's get you feeling better. Medical emergency, two to beam directly to sickbay. Quarantine protocol on arrival."