Night duty was well under way when Deanna arrived at the entrance to the lab. Without a shadow of doubt, she knew exactly who she'd find there, Beverly Crusher. Her dearest friend was hunched over a microscope, fingers tapping blindly at the padd next to her as she recorded her findings. She'd spent much of her shift the same way, and most of her off-duty time of late too.
Without looking up, Beverly spoke. "You don't have to hover, I know you're there."
"I thought I was the empath?"
Beverly stopped what she was doing and turned on her stool to face her friend. She realised, as she straightened up, that she had quite the kink in her neck… physician heal thy self, she thought wryly.
"I know, I know… take a break Beverly, get some rest… a good meal… I know the drill." She said, rubbing at the tightness in her neck, wincing at the growing headache she could feel developing.
"Well, it seems you do listen to me… sometimes." Deanna said, smiling. "Come on, my shout. I've found this amazing chocolate pudding from Intotto Six, you're going to love it."
Beverly closed down her work, knew when she was beaten, and followed Deanna out of the lab toward Ten Forward. Deanna linked her arm through Beverly's as though she were taking her friend under a kind of friendly arrest – there was to be no escaping the counsellor's unique brand of intervention. She would be taking a break tonight, whether she wanted to or not.
Together, still linked, they walked through the doors of Ten Forward and found a table underneath one of the vast viewports that made the place so compelling.
Once they had taken their seats, Beverly started to let herself unwind, felt the tension release from her shoulders and her stiff neck. She watched Deanna order two servings of whatever dessert she'd found, and marvelled at the woman's ability to find new and exotic chocolate combinations… she wondered where she fund the patience, or the time to search so diligently through the replicator.
"I know you're going to love this!" Deanna said as their desserts arrived in front of them.
Beverly took a scoop with her long spoon and tasted it cautiously. She'd been caught out before, Betazoid tastes erred on the side of unusual. As she felt the spoonful melt in her mouth, her eyes popped open pleasantly amazed at the sensation and the taste of the chocolate.
"Told you! It's delicious isn't it?"
Beverly didn't even reply. She was too busy preparing her next spoonful – she was aiming for the exact ratio of chocolate, and whatever formed the wondrously gloopy and sweet sauce that topped the whole dish.
While her mouth was occupied, Deanna seized the opportunity to scope out her friend's emotional landscape. As expected, she was buffeted by waves of tight concern and worry for the captain. There was a supressed element of frustration, as well as a not inconsiderate amount of bitterness. As expected, the whole thing was topped off with a pretty impressive portion of fatigue.
"Come on then, out with it."
"Out with what?" Deanna replied innocently.
"You're about to ask me how I feel about being so far away from the captain. Then you're going to tell me what I'm feeling is normal… that you understand my frustration… that I'm doing my duty blah blah blah."
"Blah blah blah?" she replied, quirking an eyebrow. "Well… if you're going to do my job as well as your own…"
"Deanna, really. I'm fine. You don't need to worry."
"Who said anything about worried? I'm just here to enjoy this dessert. Good isn't it?" she said licking a stray drop of pudding from the corner of her mouth. "But, if you did want to talk, then you know, I'm here. Anytime." She finished, dipping her spoon into the bowl for another turn.
"It just makes me so mad… if I think about it too much. I know this is my job. My duty is to the ship and the crew. I just wish we could have kept him on board."
Deanna played the role of woman in deep contemplation of dessert perfectly. She knew Beverly would stop talking if she realised that she'd fallen right into her trap. "Hmmm?"
"He is just so sick… Really, SB3 is the best place for him and Starfleet… they don't mess about. If they can figure out a way to get their top man the best treatment as well as save that poxy little planet then boy… I mean…" she paused for a breath, she'd really only just got started. "I could have kept him here… Roman has made a lot of progress of course… he would probably still been in stasis but I could have managed. But the planet and everything. Well, no… I did the right thing, made the right choice. This is what is best for him."
Deanna dared a peek. Beverly had forgotten her pudding and was staring out of the huge window seemingly lost in thought. Deanna reached forward and took her friend's hand in her own.
"You did you know."
"You made absolutely the right choice. You said almost straight away that SB3 was the best place, Professor Esho and his team were the right doctors to treat the captain and get him well again…" she paused, let her words sink in. Beverly was an incredible doctor, used to making life and death calls in impossible situations. Only her closest friends ever came close to seeing this side of her, the side that doubted every decision she made. Sometimes, it helped to hear conformation of a choice from someone else, aloud.
"Oh Deanna, what if he doesn't recover?"
"Is that a possibility?"
"It could be. I just haven't seen anything like this before. I've seen plagues, outbreaks of all kinds of weird and wonderful diseases… but most things we have a treatment for, or I can find something close to work from."
"But this is the first case of its kind right?"
"I know… I know. I just hate seeing him like that. So helpless, so vulnerable."
"Yes…" she whispered. "I just want him back. I keep expecting him to come walking round the corner, to see him getting breakfast ready… I miss him."
"Beverly, what you're feeling is perfectly normal-" she paused, on seeing Beverly's I told you so expression. "No, hear me out. You and the captain go back a long way. You are great… friends. That you made the choice to put your duty first and stay with the ship, almost single-handedly taking responsibility for the lives of the entire crew as well as the people of Jendoken Four? That is your duty, your responsibility as a Starfleet officer. And, incidentally, exactly what the captain would have wanted you to do."
"It is isn't it?"
"Absolutely. Without question. Duty first."
"Thank you Deanna. Really, what would I do without you?"
"You wouldn't have half as much fun." She replied with a wink. "But it does suck. I completely agree. Duty be damned. Now, tell me everything about what you've learned so far."
Beverly stopped, spoon half way to her mouth, "Suck?"
"An old Earth expression, I thought. Did I not use it correctly?"
And with a giggle, and another spoonful of pudding, Beverly and Deanna spent the rest of the evening putting the galaxy to rights.
"Energise Mister O'Brien."
With that simple command, Riker had sent Data and a small away team of non-human officers down to the planet. For the first time, the Jendo and the Kloz had agreed to meet on neutral territory and with a neutral representative. It seemed the old adage was true, in order to see the path through the woods, you first had to work out who stood to gain most from a war between two factions. And just as that was true, so was the opposite. Whoever had the most to lose, would be the key to peace.
On his journey back up to the bridge, he tried to quash the rising sense of anxiety. Data could handle this. He had to, he was literally the only one who wouldn't fall foul of the illness raging away with no obvious cure. While Beverly had quickly ascertained that non-human crew were immune, he was still glad that a synthetic life form such as their own Mister Data, certainly wouldn't be inflicted with the illness.
As he exited the turbo lift, he took a seat in the big chair, smiling tightly to his left at Deanna.
She shook her head in response, "Give it a little time Will. Data has a lot to do."
"Anything you can sense at all?"
"It's hard to say. There is a distant sense of general panic. It's making it difficult to differentiate the representatives from the general population. They're in trouble down there. They can't handle everything that is unravelling."
She closed her eyes for a moment in an attempt to block the force of Will's own emotional output. His stress levels were in the red zone and her close relationship with him was making it difficult to focus on anyone else.
Riker stood, unwilling to sit still any longer. How did the captain do it? "Enterprise to Data."
"Data here Sir."
"We're ready for an update." He snapped, impatiently. Almost immediately he checked himself, dropped his head and took a deep breath. He couldn't let the pressure get to him now, he needed to find some Picard cool… fast, "If you are in a position to do so Mister Data."
"Of course, sir. We are currently trying to arrange the seating to please both sides. This is proving somewhat challenging."
"Well… when you have something Data, please update with all haste. Riker out."
He threw a glance at Deanna, puffed out his cheeks and raised his eyebrows. The two factions really were intractable.
"Commander? Can I see you in the ready room?" said Deanna, discreetly.
He nodded and turned for the captain's refuge. He had a pretty good idea of what was coming, and in truth, he was glad she would only raise her concerns in privacy.
"Will…" she started as the door closed behind her.
"You don't have to say it, I know… I know." He began, perching on the edge of the desk.
"You can't let this get to you."
"I want this over Deanna. As soon as we can knock their heads together, the sooner we can get out of here."
"And the sooner we can get the captain back?"
"Don't hold back Deanna. Say what you think!" He smiled, she had him there. "It just feels… wrong. He's so far away… he'd have this resolved in no time. I don't think I…"
She rose, turned to him and took his hands in her own, "Will, you can do this. You've seen him in similar situations a million times before. You know what he would do, what he would say."
She raised her hand to quiet him before continuing, "But you also have something of your own to offer. A little Riker magic. You can do this Will, we're all behind you."
Once Esho and Crusher had finally solved Captain Picard's mysterious symptoms and worked out the extent of the arkonar bud modifications, they had quickly worked out a protocol to neutralise the impact. The Starfleet nannites they had programmed had been scurrying away for two days and were well on their way to expiration at which point, they would be extracted and discarded. The captain was visibly improving and while Esho had relished the challenge, he could see that this was going to be a long recovery. They'd made the decision to transfer Captain Picard to Starfleet Medical, they had the facility to deal with long-term patients, not to mention the best of the Federation's resources. Starbases were a step-up from even the flagship but this was the Captain Picard, there wasn't going to be any messing about with this guy. Not to mention the whole Jendoken IV 'situation'… he couldn't quite wrap his head around it but those guys were in one unholy mess. There was now a diplomatic situation… ironically the best person to have figured it out was lying in a semi-conscious state, totally delirious, and still gravely ill right there in front of him. Not the most intense situation he'd ever been embroiled in, but pretty close to it.
He needed to bring Doctor Crusher up to speed on the new plans, knowing that not only would she be professionally interested, but that there was also a close friendship between the two to contend with. He waited for the subspace connection to complete before her face appeared on his terminal.
"Doctor Crusher? Good to see you! Do you have a minute?" Esho said gently. He was in the captain's room knowing that she would want a visual even as he slumbered away in the background. He knew he wouldn't disturb the captain, they still hadn't managed to figure out how to fix his hearing, or his language centre.
"Roman, of course. Any time, please. Dare I ask how are the nannites getting on?" she asked, tightly. The damn things always engendered an element of tension for her.
"They're almost done – I'm expecting to extract them tomorrow morning. They've done a great job, really got his immune response under control and cleared up thanks to their implantation directly in the cascade device you and Commander Data engineered."
"That's good, and how are the arrangements for the transfer going?" she asked.
"As well as can be expected. Medical are ready to take him – quite keen to get their hands on him I suspect. We can transfer via shuttle when we have him ready. He's still not lucid enough for my liking but we've at least knocked the infection out while he's been here."
"We have made some progress on suitable medications. We have managed to eradicate the viral reproduction aspect of the bacteria with the nannites naturally, but we're still a little way from clearing the bacteria themselves. Citoxoclin is a fairly radical off-label treatment but with a little synthetic modification, we've managed to make some alterations. The last data set you sent over is the ground-work for that – thank you again Beverly. You've been working hard!""
"I had good motivation Roman. I want my friend back."
"Well, that could be sooner than we think. The hope is that we had the programming just right with a further tweak so that the nannites can fully knock out the bacterial infection before extraction, making the perfect solution to the unique bacterial mechanical conundrum the captain presents us with. I wonder doctor, have you had any previous experience of nannites? Mavellous things…"
Beverly flinched, "Yes, I uh… we crossed paths a while ago." If only she could explain even the half of it. She'd taken Wesley's side, naturally, but the memory of their close call still made her shudder.
"We have him comfortable right now but he has a very nasty case of post-viral fatigue syndrome – it's knocked him right out."
"But-" she interrupted.
"I know... we eradicated it a hundred years ago... I'm thinking it's another nasty souvenir of the programming. A further level of harmful impact if you will. The existing treatments we have just aren't cutting it I'm afraid. There's something different about how his system has responded to the initial immune response - a massive cytokine storm that has triggered residual layers of redundancies in the original nannites. His immune system is still trying to fight on a low level, and of course, what we're dealing with here is ultimately alien.
"I don't know what to say... this is..." she paused, unsure of how to respond. She had read of historical cases of PVFS and it hadn't made for happy reading at all. She was struggling to imagine Jean-Luc suffering the same illness here and now in the twenty-fourth century. It seemed... medieval somehow. For a man as virile and active as him to be struck by something so easy to treat, seemed cruel.
"I thought you might want to see him?" he finished, moving the terminal so Beverly could see the captain with her own eyes.
Via the screen in her office, Beverly could just see that he was starting to look more like himself – the pustules were on their way out and she was reassured by the improved stats that were appearing on her screen in real time. Her attention shifted away from the long-term issues her friend would have to deal with, to more immediate concerns. He was still very sick.
"Okay for now, it's holding though the interface has kicked in approximately once every four hours kicking him back into rhythm." Esho replied as he directed his terminal to the heart monitor.
"Yes, coupled with the damage to the language centre of his brain, there is substantial trauma to his hearing. This we have been able to ascertain while he has been unconscious. There is no hearing in his left ear, and he is down to 25% in his right. He requires a complete cochlea implant in both ears, they are being cloned on Earth ahead of his arrival and should be ready within the week for implantation. You might also notice some substantial muscle wastage that we have been unable to keep on top of despite intensive physical therapy. I assume this is down to the viral infiltrates eating away at his muscle tissue."
"Oh no, another gift of the modified arkonar?"
"I would have to agree doctor. This is one of the most impressive double infections I've seen in recent years. Truly, one of the galaxy's greatest creations."
"I wouldn't go that far…"
"No, quite right. The captain is really suffering but I have no doubt, he is now in the initial stages of recovery. At least we have knocked the fever into neutral finally. And now, regrettably, I must hand over his care. I would have liked to have seen this one through in person though I am happy I will be able to consult via subspace."
"Yes, I'm very grateful. I know he's in good hands but well, your reputation is… I'm glad you've been keeping an eye, got him this far." She smiled, thankful to the man on the screen before her. Even if the captain was still very much in dire straits, he'd had the best care to see him through the danger zone. She just hated being so far away...