A light sprinkle began to fall on the team as the dark storm clouds approached the area.
“We need to find shelter,” Will said. “Those clouds don’t look very nice.” He looked around. “I need everyone to scan for any kind of cave or structure we could use for shelter,” he announced. The officers didn’t hesitate to begin their search. They began roaming the area, searching with tricorders for a place of refuge from the coming storms.
Dani instinctively reached for her tricorder, and with a frustrated sigh, remembered that she hadn’t been issued one due to the nature of her assignment to guard Q.
Will turned to Ensign Clements. “Mr. Clements, I need you to keep track of our environmental readings. I want to know of any changes, no matter how small.”
“Aye, sir,” Clements said, nodding and opening his tricorder. He programmed it to detect meteorological readings and began monitoring the planet’s atmospheric changes.
“Is there anything I can do?” Dani asked. She hated feeling useless, which was how she felt now.
Will looked at her and then at Q. “Yes. Keep an eye on him.” Dani and Q exchanged looks. This wasn’t the reply Dani wanted.
“Sir, I’ve found something!” Shields proclaimed.
“What is it, Ensign?” Will asked, walking over to her.
“A system of caves, sir, only about a kilometer east of here,” Shields explained.
“Sir,” Clements began, “precipitation is beginning to fall at a faster rate.”
Will looked up at the darkening sky. As he did so, a drop of rain hit him squarely in the eye. He looked to Clements. The ensign hadn’t yet given him a report on the composition of the precipitation. Although this stuff looked and felt like water, it could very well burn his eye out for all he knew.
“No toxins or dangerous elements of any kind detected,” Clements said, reading from his tricorder. He looked at the commader. “It’s harmless.”
Will nodded. “Let’s go!” he ordered, as a light rain began to fall on the group. Ensign Shields led the way as the group journeyed to shelter.
“This is a peculiar sensation,” Q observed. “I’ve never been wet before.”
“You’re going to be a lot wetter if this rain picks up before we reach the caves,” Dani informed him. As if it had been waiting on Dani’s cue, the sky burst open, it seemed, and rain started to pour down upon the group at an unbelievable rate. Everyone was drenched in a matter of seconds.
Dani looked at Q. “See what I mean?” she asked him.
Q regarded himself with disgust. “This is not a pleasant feeling,” Q said.
“Why do you think we’re looking for shelter?” Dani asked
“This is it, Commander,” Shields announced. Dani and everyone else stopped walking. They had reached the entrance of what looked like a cave. Shields looked at Will, who gave her the go-ahead to enter the cave. She cautiously stepped into the cave while the rest of the group waited outside, cold and wet. Some of the crew were even sneezing.
Dani released her wet hair from the low ponytail it had been confined to and raked her fingers back through it. She waited for word from Shields.
Will tapped his comm badge. “Riker to Ensign Shields,” he said hopefully. He didn’t know if they still had ground communication or not, but it was worth a try.
After a few seconds delay, Shields voice sounded over the comm. “Shields here, Commander,” she said.
“What’s it look like in there?” Will asked.
“It’s habitable, sir,” was Shields’s reply. “It should suit our needs sufficiently.”
“Very good, Ensign. We’ll be joining you shortly. Riker out.” He turned to his group. “Everyone, let’s move in!” he ordered. The group members gladly followed him into the caves. Someone sneezed.
“Everyone’s going to be sick by the time we get back to the Enterprise,” Dani predicted, walking further into the cave. Everyone settled near the cave’s entrance, hoping for a quick end to the storm.
Will turned to Clements who was sitting close to the cave opening, still taking readings, as ordered by the commander. “Can you project an end to this storm system?” Will asked the ensign.
“The tricorder isn’t detecting an end to the system, yet, Commander,” Clements replied.
“What about any possible breaks?”
“No, sir. According to the sensors, it’s a long line of storms with no forseeable end in sight.”
Will didn’t like the sound of that at all. If they were trapped down here for too long, things were going to get serious. With no food or water…he didn’t want to think about it right now.
Dani looked at Will. He was worried, that much was obvious. She walked over to him. “Maybe the storms will move through quickly,” Dani offered optimistically.
Will nodded. She had a point about the speed of the storms. There was no telling how long it would take them to move through the area. If they were lucky and the system turned out to be fast-moving, it might only take a few hours before the Enterprise would be able to beam them up. On the other hand, if the system was a slow one, they could be trapped in this cave for days. That was the worst-case scenario.
Will looked at Clements. “Is there any way to determine the speed of these storms?”
“Not with these sensors, sir,” the ensign responded. “We’d need a computer the strength of the Enterprise computer to determine something like that, sir.” Will nodded.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to do much more than wait and see what happens,” Dani said. She sneezed. “Excuse me.”
Looking concerned, Will looked at Clements. “Clements, keep monitoring those storms.”
“Aye, sir,” Clements said.
Will turned back to Dani, his face still expressing concern. “You’re right. Everyone is going to be sick. These wet clothes.” Will looked down at his soggy uniform. “We’re going to be chilled to the bone.”
“I wish we could get out of these things,” Dani said, referring to the uniforms.
Will was tempted to reply to that statement with innuendo, but decided against it. This was neither the time nor the place for it. “As long as the temperature doesn’t drop, it shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll probably all end up with colds.”
Will and Dani turned to look in the direction of the yell. Q was rubbing his cheek, and a young female ensign was angrily glaring at him. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened.
Dani walked over to him. “Q! What are you doing?”
“I was just-”
“Never mind. I don’t want to hear it. Just-”
“Dani,” Will summoned her. She walked over to him. “Maybe you should just let him do what he wants.”
Dani looked at Will as if he’d just suggested that she eat dirt. “What? If I did that, he-” Dani stopped for a moment and thought. Will was going somewhere with this, she could see it in his eyes. With realization, she continued. “He would get what was coming to him.”
Dani nodded and turned her attention back to Q. “Q, you just do whatever you want to. Do whatever comes natural.”
Q actually looked surprised. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Dani said. “As long as it doesn’t place anyone in danger, go right ahead.”
“Commander Riker,” Ensign Clements began, “the storm is picking up in intensity.” Will rejoined Clements at the cave’s entrance. “I’m picking up severe winds, torrential rain, and lightning.” Clements looked at Will. “It’s a regular disaster area out there, sir.” As he looked back down at his tricorder, a large tree limb came flying from out of no where, it seemed, and struck Clements across the head. The impact of the hit knocked the young man off his feet.
“Eric!” Ensign Shields was at Clements’s side in an instant. Clements looked dazed for a moment before losing consciousness completely.
Dani picked up Clements’s tricorder and scanned him with it. It wasn’t a medical tricorder, and it wouldn’t be able to give her detailed information about Clements’s condition, but it would give her a general idea of what was wrong. “He’s got a concussion,” Dani determined. She attempted to get a more detailed reading from the tricorder, but was unsuccessful. “If that’s the only major injury, he should be okay.” She looked up at Will. “We should probably get him away from the entrance.”
“That’s a good idea,” Will said. “In fact everyone should probably stay clear of the entrance.” He crouched down and grabbed hold of Clements’s underarms. Dani held on to Clements’s right leg, and Shields, his left. They each stood, lifting the young man. They carried him deeper into the cave. They sat him down on the floor of the cave, next to a wall.
Dani stood next to Will. “We should get him dry,” Dani said, lowering her voice. “I can’t be sure of what other conditions he might have, but I do know that he does not need to get too cold. He could go into shock. And the cold combined with the concussion could give him a fever.”
“I know. I’d thought about that,” Will said, also in a quiet voice. “I don’t know how we can do that while leaving Mr. Clements with some semblance of dignity.” If it came down to it, Mr. Clements’s dignity may have to be a secondary concern to his health. Will looked at Shields and called her over.
“Yes, Commander?” she said.
“Are there any nearby room in these caves?” Will asked.
Shields looked puzzled as she pulled out her tricorder and began a preliminary scan of the area. “Yes, sir. The closest is a few meters north of this room.” She looked up at Will. “Why, sir, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Mr. Clements cannot remain in his wet clothes,” Will began to explain. “He could go into shock or develop a fever. We have to get him dry, which means we have to remove his clothes.” Shields nodded. “Milsap, Gomez.” The two men appeared in front of Will. “We need to move Ensign Clements. We need your help.” Milsap and Gomez nodded. They bent down and picked up Clements. “Follow Ensign Shields,” Will directed. Shields led the way to the adjacent cave, and Will, Dani, Gomez, and Milsap followed.
Once they all entered the room, Will directed the two men to lay Clements down near the cave wall. They stood and awaited further orders. “That’ll be all.” The two men left the room.
Dani walked over to Clements and kneeled. “Help me,” she said. Will and Shields walked over and keeled beside Clements. They all began to remove his boots and uniform. After a few minutes, Clements had been completely disrobed. Will, who had acquired a phaser from one of the security officers, fired on a nearby boulder until flames erupted from the rock.
“That should keep him warm,” Will said. “Dani, I want you to stay here and keep an eye on him. You’ve got more medical training than most of the others here. Keep me posted.”
“Aye, sir,” Dani said.
Will turned to Shields. “We need to map the rest of this cave system.”
“Yes, sir,” Shields replied. Will cast one more glance at Dani before leaving the room with Shields.
Dani looked down at Clements. She took off her uniform jacket, balled it up, and placed it underneath his head before scanning him again. Nothing much had changed in his condition. He still had a concussion, his temperature, at the moment, was normal, and she still couldn’t discern whether he had additional, more serious injuries. She leaned back against the rock wall and looked down at him. He had a nice body. Nice pecs, nice abs. She studied his face a little more closely. He seemed familiar. It was probably that she’d seen him around the Enterprise. But no, she’d only been onboard a few days. Eric Clements…Clements. It then struck her. Eric Clements had been in her graduating class at the Academy. Come to think of it, so had Shields. And Milsap. They’d never been friends, but they’d all been familiar faces around campus.
The Academy. Friends at the Academy. She wondered if Clements, Shields, and Milsap had been friends at the Academy. She wondered if they were friends now. She knew Shields and Clements were, but were they friends with Milsap?
All this thinking about friends made Dani think about her own friends from the Academy. Kyle Hicks, Rane Skara, Emery Bell. She made a mental note to look them up and find out what they were up to when she got the chance.
Clements moved. Dani snapped to attention and opened her tricorder. She began to scan him. He was regaining consciousness. His eyelids began to flutter, and he moaned a little. He began to sit up, but Dani gently pushed him back down.
“Whoa, take it easy,” she said.
Clements breathed deeply and brought his hands to his forehead. “My head,” he said.
“Relax,” Dani said. “You have a concussion.”
He sat up slowly. “What happened?”
“You were taking readings by the cave’s entrance, and a large tree limb hit you on the head. It knocked you out cold.”
“Oh,” Clements said. He looked around the room. “The cave looks different. Where is everyone?”
“We had to move you to a different room,” Dani informed him. She lowered her eyes to his body for a brief moment to alert him of his state. Clements followed Dani’s gaze and realized, for the first time, that he was completely naked. Dani turned away from him so they could both avoid any kind of awkwardness. “Your clothes are over by the fire,” she informed him. “We had to get you out of them so you wouldn’t catch a chill.” Dani turned back to him, making contact with his eyes and his eyes only. “You need to stay relaxed. You still have a concussion. It’s not as bad as it once was, but it’s still a concussion, nonetheless.”
Clements relaxed noticeably and leaned against the wall. He looked at the ground where his head had rested and noted the uniform piece balled up in the form of a pillow. Janeway was missing her uniform jacket, so he put two and two together and surmised that it was hers. He picked it up and tossed it back to her. “So, is there anything you don’t do?” he asked.
Dani caught her jacket and immediately picked up on the bitter tone in Clements’s voice. “You’re welcome,” she said. She tossed the article of clothing back to him, which he picked up. “Keep it. You shouldn’t be resting your head on the hard rock.”
Clements balled the jacket up and placed it under his head as he rested against the craggy cave wall. “I suppose I should be thanking you. Are you our resident medic now?”
“No, but I’m the closest we’ve got down here.” Dani really could do without the crappy attitude this guy was giving her. What was his beef with her, anyway?
“So, how is it that you have the honor of being my doctor?” Clements inquired.
“I trained as a medic onboard Voyager,” Dani told him.
“Of course,” Clements snorted. “Mommy and Daddy’s ship.”
“Look, I really don’t like the attitude you’re giving me.” Dani had never had the opportunity to pull rank before. She was, after all, only a Lt. JG, but she would do it if the situation called for it. This was quickly becoming one of those situations. “You should remember that you’re talking to a superior officer,” she said.
“Permission to speak freely, then, Lt.?”
Dani knew that she would be inviting a verbal bashing by agreeing to give him permission to say whatever he wanted, but she was interested.
“Granted,” she said, responding to his request.
“You’re not a superior officer,” he said. “Just one of a higher rank.”
Dani smarted at the jab she had just been dealt by Clements. She was more curious, than upset, by the remark, however. She wanted to know how he had come to this conclusion.
“And why do you feel this, Mr. Clements?” she asked him. She decided to offer answers for him, because she had a good idea of what he was going to say next. It was the same thing people had been saying about her since she’d started the Academy. “Is it because Starfleet runs in my family? Because I’ve been around it all my life? Maybe, because of all that, I’ve had it a little easier than most of the other officers? People let stuff slide because of who I am. Maybe I caught a break here or there. Is that it? Because I got special treament?” She looked at Clements.
Clements wondered why she was gloating. Everything she was saying was nothing to be proud of. She hadn’t earned anything. Right now, he was utterly disgusted with the woman.
“You don’t know anything about me,” Dani said, her tone of voice changing. She got up and walked across the room. Clements thought what everyone else thought. The problem was, what everyone else thought was wrong. “You don’t know about my life, what I’ve experienced,” Dani continued. She slid to the ground and sat across from Clements, watching him through the dancing flames of the little fire between them. “That’s my main problem. It’s been my main problem for years. Everyone thinks they know when they really don’t.”
Her gaze shifted from him to the flames and she began. “From the moment I returned to the Alpha Quadrant with Voyager, I’ve been in the public eye. It’s not something I was used to. Even before Voyager, I lived a pretty ordinary life. And on the ship, there was no public. We were a family. But when I got back to Earth, it was like I was thrust into this role of…celebrity or something. I don’t know quite how to describe it. What I do know is that I wasn’t ready for it. My parents had tried to prepare me for what it might be like, but there’s only so much you can prepare for. I dealt with it, though. In fact, looking back now, I realize that was the easy part. The difficult part was the backlash of all the attention.”
“What backlash?” Clements asked ruefully. “You seemed to have benefitted well from it.”
“You’re making my point exactly,” Dani said. “It’s that kind of attitude. That’s the backlash I’m talking about. People assume that those who are in the public eye get freebies, so to speak, because they’re famous. Now, because they assume that everyone else is giving this popular person special treatment, they want to do everything in their power to make sure that person doesn’t get any special treatment from them. In other words, they hate you because you’re famous. This is what I’ve had to learn, and it’s been a hard lesson. In the Academy, I had professors who were mean simply because they didn’t like who I was. I had other students constantly at my back because of jealousy and contempt. Most of them held attitudes similar to yours. So, you see, the actuality of it all is that my life has been quite the opposite of what you and most others think. The only ones who really know what my life has been are either the ones who’ve known me for a while or the ones who’ve taken the time to actually listen to me and get to know me.”
A few moments of silence followed. Clements broke through it and asked, “Do you tell that story to everyone you meet or just special cases?” That had been a wonderful story, but Clements wasn’t going to let some sobstory manipulate him.
“I don’t have to justify myself to you,” Dani said. “I didn’t tell you this story so that I could win you over. I told you because it’s the truth. I couldn’t care less about what you or anyone else thinks about me.”
“That’s a lie,” Clements countered. “Everyone cares about what people think about him a little. I don’t care who you are. That’s just a part of being human.”
“Well, I don’t do things to gain other people’s approval.”
“Obviously. Or else you wouldn’t have been with that spoonhead, Dukat.” Clements had struck a nerve with that one. He could tell. Even through the flames and the smoke, he could see her expression change from one of anger to that of a sad little girl.
“I don’t want to talk about him,” she said quietly.
But Clements was unrelenting. “Why is that, Lt.? Are you ashamed? You should be. Wallowing with the low-life of the universe. You know, they should’ve court-martialed you for that. You were sleeping with the enemy.”
“I said that’s enough, Ensign,” Dani said sternly. “My relationship with Dukat is a personal, private matter.”
Clements nodded. “Okay, I’ll give you that. But your relationship with the commander surely isn’t. You flaunt that relationship like some kind of a flag . It seems very strange how a person could go from someone as detestable as Dukat to someone as upstanding as the commander.”
“What are you getting at, Ensign?” Dani inquired. She had a good mind to shut him up by pulling rank again, but she was genuinely interested in what he had to say.
“You’re attracted to power,” Clements concluded confidently. “It’s no surprise, you’ve been around it all your life. It’s like a drug.” He looked her over, disgustedly. “You want to be as close to it as possible, and if that means falling into the beds of those in power, so be it.”
Dani shook her head and released a rueful laugh. “You’re deluded.”
Clements was silent for a few moments. He closed his eyes. Dani looked over at him, suddenly alarmed. “Clements?” she said. “Ensign Clements?” She stood and walked over to where Clements sat. She kneeled beside him, checking his pulse. He still had one, of course. She checked its rate – good. “Clements?” She shook him gently, and he stirred. “You’ve got to stay awake. Keep your eyes open. You can’t go to sleep. Do you hear me?”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding weakly.
“Stay awake,” Dani said firmly.
Clements breathed in and out deeply. “So, how did you and the commander hook up?” he asked after few more intervals of deep breathing.
Dani watched him intently, glad that he was talking. That was a good sign. The more she could keep him talking, the less chance of him drifting off to sleep. She kept her eyes on him as she answered, determined not to let her voice lull him to sleep. “Will and I have known each other for a long time, since I was a little girl. I don’t even remember how old I was when we first met. Seven, maybe eight. When my parents were away on missions they deemed dangerous, I spent some time on the Enterprise. During the school year, I stayed on Earth with my grandmother. But during the summers, I’d be on the Enterprise. We had a family friend who served onboard and agreed to be my guardian.”
“I don’t understand,” Clements said. “Why not just stay with your grandmother all the time?”
“My parents wanted me to have fun and experience things. Not that Grandma wasn’t fun or anything. It’s just that after nine months of seeing her, I usually needed a change of scenery. Besides, being on the Enterprise made it easier for me to see my parents. If the Enterprise and one of my parents’ ships were rendevousing at the same starbase or something, I could transfer and be with my parents.”
Clements looked at the dirt ground. Janeway had grown up being bounced around from place to place. He hadn’t known that.
Dani recognized Clements’s demeanor and quickly interjected before he got the wrong idea. “Don’t get me wrong, now. It wasn’t as crummy as it sounds. My parents weren’t complete work-a-holics. They did have shoreleaves, which is when they’d come back to Earth. And my dad didn’t work on starships all the time. When I was 11, he started teaching archeology at the Academy. Which meant I could see him a lot more.”
“So, how does Commander Riker play into all this?” Clements asked.
“Well, one day, I remember I was running in the corridor, which I wasn’t supposed to be doing, by the way. I was supposed to be in one of the school rooms, but I’d sneaked out. Well, I tripped over something, and fell and hurt my ankle. Will, thankfully, was coming around the corner… “