It was by chance that Will Riker looked down in time to see a little girl sitting on the deck. He was glad he’d seen her. He would hate to have stepped on her by accident. It was a strange sight, uncommon even on this ship. People didn’t just go around sitting on decks. He stopped walking and looked down at her.
Eight-year-old Dani Janeway looked at the pair of feet that’d just stopped beside her. She followed the legs up to the face of the tallest man she’d ever seen in her life. He was even taller than her dad. He had a beard, wore a red uniform, and was looking down at her curiously.
“Well, hello,” the man said.
“Hi,” Dani replied. When he squatted down, Dani thought that she was going to get yelled at for being somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be without an adult. Instead, he looked at her with kind, blue eyes and smiled. That put Dani at ease.
Will watched as the girl visibly relaxed. Good, he thought. He didn’t want her to be upset. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Will.” He held out his hand. Dani took it and shook it as an adult would. Her eyes fell to the man’s collar. 1, 2, 3 full pips she counted. He was a commander. Commander Riker. She’d never seen him up close before, but she remembered her parents and others speaking of him.
“What seems to be the problem here?” Will asked.
“I hurt my ankle,” Dani replied.
“Oh, really? How did that happen?”
“Oh,” Will nodded. “Well, can you move it?”
“I think so,” Dani said, tentatively moving her foot. “Ow. Okay. I think not.”
“All right, okay,” Will said. “I don’t want you to hurt it anymore. Here, put your arm around my neck.” Dani did as Will instructed, and he scooped her up into his arms. He stood with her. “You all right?” Dani nodded. “Okay. Here we go.” He started to walk with Dani.
A few minutes later, Will walked into Sickbay with Dani in his arms. He looked around.
“Hello, Commander,” Nurse Ogawa said approaching them. She looked at Dani. “Hi, there,” she greeted the girl cheerfully.
“She injured her ankle,” Will said. “My guess is that it’s sprained.”
“Well, we’ll get you fixed right up,” Ogawa said. “Let’s get her on a biobed.” Will walked over to the nearest biobed and placed Dani upon it.
Dr. Beverly Crusher walked out of her office and sighed with relief as she saw who her newest patient was. “There you are,” she said, joining the little group at the biobed. “Everyone has been looking all over for you.” She looked at Will. “Where was she?”
“I found her in the corridor,” he replied. “I think she has a sprained ankle.”
Beverly passed her medical tricorder over Dani’s injured ankle and confirmed Will’s diagnosis. “You’re correct, Commander. This little girl has some way or another sprained her ankle.” She looked at Dani, who sheepishly looked away. As the doctor began to heal Dani’s ankle, she asked, “How, might I ask, did this injury occur?”
Dani hesitated before answering. “I was…running in the corridor, and I fell,” she admitted.
“Mm-hmm…” Beverly said, finishing up the treatment. She turned the little device off. “Ms. Janeway, we’re going to have to do better than this.”
Will’s eyebrows raised. Ms. Janeway? He’d heard that name before. Why did that sound familiar? He looked at Dani. “What’s your mother’s name?” he asked her rather straight-forwardly.
“Commander Kathryn Janeway,” Dani said proudly. Will was amazed. It always amazed him when he met the children of people he’d known before they were parents. He and Kathryn had been in the same Academy class. He looked at Beverly, who had an amused expression on her face. He looked down at Dani. He could see it now. She resembled her mother a great deal, save for a few exceptions here or there.
Beverly looked down at Dani and continued. “We want you in one piece when we meet your mother next week.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Dani said.
“That means being where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be,” Beverly said, in a mildly scolding tone.
“Yes, ma’am,” Dani said again.
Beverly looked Dani over. She reminded her so much of Wesley at that age- bright-eyed, intelligent, and always looking for an adventure. “Will, would you be so kind as to escort our little adventurer back to school room three?” Beverly requested.
“Certainly,” Riker said. He helped Dani off the biobed.
Dani looked at Clements. She’d gotten so wrapped up in telling the story that she hadn’t been keeping an eye on him.
“Don’t worry; I’m awake,” he said.
“You were a bit quiet,” Dani said. “I was just checking.”
“So, continue with your story,” Clements said.
“What more is there to say?” Dani asked. “We ended up together, so it’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know…people don’t just go from having this buddy-buddy relationship to being lovers,” Clements said.
“It happens all the time, Clements. And yeah – that is pretty much what happened. I was twelve when Voyager became stranded in the Delta Quadrant. When we got back to the Alpha Quadrant, I was 19. We hadn’t seen each other in seven years. I wasn’t the little girl I’d been when we’d left.”
“You can’t tell me your parents were okay with this,” Clements said in disbelief. There was no way. It was a known fact that Riker liked the ladies. There can’t be any way Admiral Janeway and Captain Chakotay would have let their 19-year-old daughter walk into that one.
“You’re right,” Dani conceded. “They had a few qualms. My dad, mostly. He knew about Will’s rep.” She snorted. “Who didn’t? He liked Will. He thought he was a good guy – just not good for his daughter. He was trying to protect me because he didn’t want me to get hurt. I think he probably had a problem with his daughter’s boyfriend being that same age as he. I don’t know. It all worked itself out.”
“What about Dukat?” Clements asked.
Dani looked at Clements. She’d told him earlier that she didn’t want to talk about him, but the tone of that conversation had been different. He’d been attacking her. Now, though, he seemed to have a sincere interest.
She sighed. “Marac Dukat,” she said. “That’s a whole different story. You know, I just don’t know what it was about him. Guess he just had one of those magnetic personalities. I couldn’t explain what drew us together if I tried. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with him at first. I hated him. But I didn’t even know him. After I got to know him, it was different.” She shook her head. “It was just one of those things that you can’t explain. I know we loved each other.” Dani lowered her head. Talking about him brought back all those memories of the day he’d been taken away from her.
Clements realized that Dukat was apparently still a difficult subject for her to discuss. He decided a change of topic was in order, but he didn’t know what to change it to. He couldn’t think of anything to talk about. It was this damn concussion. It was fogging up his mind.
Clements was unexpectedly rescued from his predicament by Dani. “Don’t worry about it, Clements,” she said. “You didn’t know. No one does.” She left it at that. Clements took his cue from her and did the same.
Fifteen minutes later, Will and Ensign Shields walked back into the room. Dani looked at them. She stood and walked over to them. “What did you find?” she asked them.
“Most of the other passage ways are blocked by large rocks at some point,” Will replied. “There are a few more openings, but most don’t go anywhere. They’re little more than rooms resembling this one.” Will’s gaze flicked to Clements and back to Dani. “How’s he doing?”
“He’s doing okay,” Dani answered. “He’s just got to stay awake. If he falls asleep, he could possibly slip into a coma.”
Will nodded. A loud clap of thunder sounded. Dani felt the ground vibrate slightly beneath her feet. She looked up at Will.
“This storm’s getting worse,” Will observed. He looked at the room’s opening as a young officer very excitedly ran inside.
“Commander, the ceiling’s caving in!” he exclaimed. As he said it, rocks began to fall around Will, Dani, Shields, and Clements.
Will and Dani looked at each other in desperation. Will had a decision to make. They could stay put, go deeper into the caves, or leave the caves. Dani had a good feeling that the first option wasn’t going to be chosen. Staying here amidst falling rocks would eventually mean certain death. Dani turned and looked at Clements. He was already getting dressed, with Shields assisting him.
Will looked at Dani, his decision made. “Alright, everyone – let’s move!” he said walking to where the rest of the officers were. “We’re moving deeper into the cave! Let’s move! Quickly!”
Dani turned and looked at Clements. He was fully clothed, and Shields was helping him out of the room. “I’ve got him, Lt.,” she said. Dani nodded at her. She walked out into the main area. Everyone was quickly filing out into another area of the cave system. She could see Will in the front, with a Lt. scanning for a suitable area as they moved.
Dani made sure that everyone was in line and moving out of the area before she joined in at the end of the line. They entered a long narrow corridor, the only passage from the main room that actually went anywhere. The passage was pitch black, and no one had any palm lights. They had to slow down and feel their way along the passage by following the wall.
“Everyone, grab hold of the person in front of you,” Will instructed. “It doesn’t matter if you’re holding hands or holding on to their uniform, just make sure you’re in contact with someone else.”
Dani clasped hands with the person in front of her and followed along. It was so dark. She couldn’t see a thing. She tried not to think about the fact that each successive step could be a step to her death. Meanwhile, the cave’s ceiling was still coming down around them. Little rocks and dust were constantly raining on her head. She knew that, because she was still wet, the dirt would turn to mud in her hair and on her clothes.
Just when she thought she was going to go crazy with the darkness, she could distinguish a small pinpoint of light in the far distance. Every few minutes, Dani noticed that the point of light grew larger. She wondered if they were coming to an exit from the caves. She hoped not. That meant they’d go back into the rain and wind. But if that’s where it led, then they wouldn’t have much of a choice. They couldn’t stay in the caves with them falling in around them.
As they drew closer to the light source, Dani began to doubt that it was an opening to the outside. She suspected that if they were heading outside, they would’ve begun to feel some of the wind they’d experienced earlier. She also suspected that the thunder they’d been hearing would be getting louder. No, this wasn’t an exit. What was it then?
Dani’s question, which she was sure was everyone else’s question as well, was answered as the passage became more illuminated. The passage opened up into a large room with a large illuminated body of water in the middle of it. It resembled a fountain. Dani would’ve instinctively taken a step forward if the officer in front of her hadn’t warned her to watch her step. Dani immediately looked down at her footing. That step she would have taken would have been her last. A deep, dark ravine separated her and the away team from the fountain. She looked at the rest of the team in front of her and realized the peril they were in. The amount of ground they were afforded to walk on was laughable. No more than a collection of scattered foot- and handholds. One wrong step would send someone falling to his or her death.
Dani’s eyes eventually fell to Will. He was looking directly at her. He looked at the room around them. There was an opening to another passage on the other side. He studied the route they would have to take to get there. It was going to be dangerous, no doubt. He thought back to their journey through the dark corridor. Lt. Varak’s tricorder hadn’t indicated any additional openings they might’ve passed by on their route. No. This was the only way. Will looked to Varak, the young Vulcan officer who’d been taking sensor readings for him. “Are these footholds and handholds stable?” Will asked.
Varak scanned the room with his tricorder. “Yes, sir,” he replied. “Sensors indicate the rock in this room is stable.”
Will nodded. “Okay, everyone,” Will began, “just watch your footing and your handholds. Be careful, cautious. And take your time. You’ll be fine.” Will turned to the first foothold and said a silent prayer as he stepped onto it and reached out for the first handhold. He had to reach back and remember his rock climbing skills. It’d been a long time since he’d last rock climbed. And even then, there’d been safety measures. Here, there were none. It really was life or death.
Before Will knew it, he was moving along the wall. His next goal was to reach the little landing a few feet away. There were a few of them settled along the wall en route to the passageway. They would be good for rests.
Dani was the last to begin the task of braving the rock wall. Her heart was thudding wildly in her chest as she fought the urge to look down. She took a few deep, calming breaths to regain control as she left the security of the landing. Now the only thing keeping her from plummeting into nothingness were the few jutting rocks her hands and feet clung to. She continued slowly and steadily.
Will’s next step took him to that first landing/resting spot. It was only big enough for two or three people at a time, so Will wouldn’t have very long to rest. However, any rest was better than no rest. There was no way he’d be able to make it all the way around that wall non-stop. When he noticed a third person joining them on the landing, he began to get a move on. He stepped out for the next foothold and reached out for the next handhold. He moved off the landing and began moving again.
When Dani reached the landing, she was grateful for the rest. She was a little winded, and the urge to sit down and rest was great, but if she sat down now, she knew it would be all that much more difficult to get up and get moving again. She looked at the path that lay before her, at the number of people climbing and realized that something seemed different somehow. Someone was missing. But she was sure that she’d been the last one. She looked back at the landing they’d all left. That’s when she saw Q standing at the edge looking like a scared little animal.
“Q,” Dani shouted, “come on!”
“I-I-I can’t,” Q stuttered.
“I…can’t,” Q repeated. “I think-I think I’m afraid.”
Dani looked up at the ceiling, not believing this. A scared Q. But he wasn’t Q now, Dani remembered. He was mortal. A mortal who’d never had any rock climbing training before.
“I can’t do it,” Q said again.
“Yes, you can, Q,” Dani insisted. “Just take it one step at a time, Q. You’ll be fine.”
“No, I won’t! I could fall, and there’s not even an end to where I could fall to.”
“Q, you have to do this. We can’t leave you behind! Now come on – one foot, one hand at a time.” Q was still frozen on the ledge. “Q, you wanted to experience being human. Well, this is it. This is what it’s about. Taking chances, survival. We all have to do it at some point. I can’t come back there and get you, and I can’t stay here forever and wait on you. If you want to live, if you want to accomplish something, you’ll climb this wall.” Dani really didn’t want to leave Q behind, but she couldn’t afford to stay behind all day and wait on Q. She had to keep up with the rest of the team. She knew Q’s father would come and get him eventually if she left him. That was last resort, though. She’d rather he come with them. She stood staring at him, waiting for him to make a move. When he didn’t, she gave up on him.
“See you later, Q,” she said turning her back on him and preparing to retake the wall.
“Wait!” Q exclaimed. Dani turned back around to face him. “I’m coming,” Q said. Dani smiled internally. Something had clicked with Q. She watched as he took the first tentative step to the jutting foothold in the wall.
“That’s it, Q – one step at a time,” Dani encouraged. She watched him slowly make his way over to the ledge. Dani reached her hand out to him, offering it as the final handhold of that leg of the journey.
Will, who’d made his way to another ledge, was watching on. He hadn’t realized that Q had been left behind. He was practically willing him to make it across. This kind of climbing was difficult for those who’d had training. He knew it had to be ten times harder for someone who’d never done it before.
Will wiped the sweat rolling down his forehead. It was burning up in here. He looked at the other members of the group. Many of them had already shed various layers of their uniforms. Will decided to take a lesson from them and do the same. He unzipped the jacket of his uniform and discarded it on the ledge he was on, making sure to transfer his comm badge to his newly-exposed vest. He pushed his sleeves up to his elbows. He instructed the members of the team who arrived on the ledge to continue along the wall without him. He had to make sure Dani and Q caught up with the rest of the group okay.
Q had made it. With one hand, he reached out and took Dani’s hand. He stepped onto the ledge with one foot. When he brought his other foot to the ledge, however, the rock crumbled beneath him, and he lost his footing. He fell and would’ve kept on falling if Dani hadn’t been holding his hand. When Dani almost went over with him, Will nearly jumped off the ledge to try to get to her. His heart beat in his ears, and his stomach turned to jelly.
Dani gripped Q’s hand with both of hers as he dangled from the ledge. She was in a squatting position, pushing away from the edge with her legs and using her body as leverage. “Give me your other hand!” she grunted. He obeyed and brought his other hand up and grabbed Dani’s wrist. Q was no feather weight, Dani realized. He’d grown since they’d last met. Dani mustered all the strength she could and pulled with all her might. She closed her eyes and pulled, not letting up at all. When she realized it was working, she opened her eyes. She was pulling Q back onto the ledge. She continued to pull until Q was safely on the landing. Once he was, she sat back, breathing heavily and sweating profusely. Her whole body ached from that exertion. She looked at Will and saw him breathe a sigh of relief and lean against the rock.
Dani looked at Q. “Are you all right?” she asked him.
Q nodded. “I think so,” he said. “I’ve never been so petrified.”
The common response to that was usually ‘neither have I.’ In Dani’s case, that wasn’t exactly true. She’d been that petrified before on more than one occassion. So, she simply said, “I know.”
“I almost died,” Q realized. “You saved my life. Thank you.”
Dani nodded, acknowledging Q’s apology. “That’s what cousins do,” she said. She unzipped her jacket and left it admidst the pile of jackets and uniform pieces other’s had discarded. She took off the vest, too. She was hot. She pulled her communicator off her jacket and placed it on the chest of her red tunic.
She looked at Q. “You ready?”
Q looked at her and nodded. They both stood.
By the time 45 minutes had passed, everyone had safely made it around the wall to the other tunnel. The team followed the same procedure it had used to navigate the last tunnel to make it through this one. Once again, they were in pitch black darkness. Will was once again at the front of the group with Varak taking sensor readings on directions. Dani had Q’s hand. She was going to make sure he wouldn’t be left behind again.
This tunnel was significanlty shorter in length than the other. After only a few minutes of walking, they ended up in a cave, different from the one they’d originally taken shelter in, but still a cave. And, dark, although, not as dark as the tunnel. But colder. Much colder.
“Sensors indicate a sharp drop in temperature,” Clements quipped, rubbing his arms.
“Noted,” Will said. He looked past the cave’s entrance. Night had fallen. That might account for the dip in temparature. And it was still raining. There wasn’t quite as much thunder or lightning, but it still wasn’t safe. Judging by the erratic motion of those plants, the wind was still pretty high.
“It feels like we’ve stepped into a freezer, sir,” Clements said.
Will looked around at the team. Most of them had stripped out of their jackets, including himself. Many of them had also left the vests behind.
“We can’t stay here,” he said. “Everybody back into the tunnel.”
The group abandoned the cave for the dark tunnel. Immediate warmth greeted them. “Just get comfortable everybody,” Will said. “It looks like we’ve found another place to wait the storm out.” Everyone sat down, some leaning back against the walls.
“So, is this what Starfleet is?” Q asked Dani.
“Part of it,” Dani replied. “Not all the time, though.”
“They train you for all this?”
“Officers are trained for many different scenarios. It’s all about thinking and learning how to make it many different situations. A lot of the stuff you encounter, though, you’ve never been trained for before. It’s totally new. Like when Voyager was stranded in the Delta Quadrant. There’s no training for that. You just kind of have to…wing it.”
“Wing it?” Q asked.
“Yeah,” Dani said.
“Improvising. You know, making it up as you go along. You can’t really know how to be prepared for species you never even heard of before. But that’s what my mother did. And she got us home in one piece.”
Dani rested her head against the rock wall. She didn’t care that it was hard. To her, it was as comfortable as a pillow. She was so exhausted. Her body was a giant knot, and she was sleepy. And she had to pee. She stood. “I’ll be right back,” she told Q.
“Where are you going?” Q asked.
“To the bathroom.”
Dani began to walk away. Then she heard Q ask, “Can I come with you?”
“No!” Dani said. She walked away before Q could protest.
Dani walked toward the cave’s opening. She would have to brave the cold if she wanted to pee in privacy. She didn’t mind. She walked into the cave and found a little aclove that afforded her a little bit of privacy. She quickly took care of her business and walked out again. She would have liked to have washed her hands but realized what a silly thought it was when she looked down at her uniform. She was the picture of filth. Caked mud and dirt adorned her uniform pants. Her shirt was fairly clean, since it’d only recently been exposed to the elements. It was marred only by a few dust patches and sweat spots. She imagined that her hair was a mess with dirt and who knew what else.
And on top of all that, she was getting a headache. Probably from hunger and all the work her body had been through. She walked around a corner and was surprised to find Will standing there. His hair was muddy and in a state of disarray. His face was dirty. His uniform was soiled with dirt and mud.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” Dani replied. “What about you?”
“I didn’t almost fall off a cliff,” he said, taking a few steps closer to her.
“I’m fine. We’re both fine,” Dani insisted. “I’ve got a headache, I’m a mess, and my body hurts like hell, but I’m fine.”
“It’ll be over with in a bit,” Will comforted.
“I hope you’re right. When I get back to the ship, I just want to take a long, hot bath.”
“You know what could make your bath ten times better?” Will asked with a hint of a smile.
Dani had a feeling she already knew what at least part of his answer would consist of, but she asked anyway. “What?”
“Me,” Will answered. Dani knew it. Will had said exactly what she’d thought he would say.
“Is that so?” Dani asked. “Well, we’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
“Is that an invite?”
A bright light flooded the two of them. Both of them instinctively held their hands up in front of them to shield from the light. It was blinding them, and they couldn’t see who was on the other side of the light.
“Commander? Lieutenant?” It was Data’s voice.
“Data?” Will said, unsure because he still couldn’t see. His eyes were still adjusting. “Is that you?”
“Yes, sir,” Data replied. “I have a rescue team here. There was a break in the storms. The captain sent us down to retrieve you.”
Dani and Will looked past Data at the cave’s opening. More Enterprise officers were entering, they noticed. What’s more, the rain, wind, thunder, and lightening had also stopped. Dani and Will looked at each other, smiling.
Data, for the first time noticed their appearances. From the looks of it, they’d had quite a time. “I’m eager to hear your story,” he said. “Judging by the state of your appearances, you had quite an adventure.”
Dani sighed. “You have no idea.”