Summary: A new planet, a new mystery and Deanna Troi is the only one who can solve it.
Notes: For weakinteraction
Captain's Log, Stardate 45861.2. We're currently in orbit around Alumath IV, which despite having the perfect conditions for it, contains no animal life. We're due to spend the next week surveying it in the hopes that it will teach us something about the evolution of intelligent life. However, it is difficult to study as the whole planet suffers from erratic weather patterns.
"Captain." Data looked over his shoulder. When Picard stood, Data continued. "The wind has increased considerably and is bringing a band of heavy rain and high winds to the Survey Team's position far sooner than predicted. The storm is equivalent to a category 1 hurricane on Earth."
"How long do they have?" Picard asked.
"Nine minutes, forty three seconds, at the current speed. Also," he added, as Picard moved a hand towards his combadge, "I am detecting electrical activity in the clouds that could interfere with the transporter."
Picard nodded, then hailed the Survey Team. He spoke to its head, Lieutenant Commander Georges. "Commander, there's a storm headed in your direction. You have five minutes to pack up and beam back to the Enterprise."
It was fortunate that the nature of the weather meant that the scientists only took what they needed down with them, rather than camping on the planet. It meant it would only take them a few minutes to pack everything up. However, there was still a pause at the other end, as if Georges was reluctant to leave.
At last, she said, "Captain, we can continue our investigation if we bring some samples back with us."
"Can you collect them and still make it on time?"
This time her reply was instant. "Yes, Captain."
Picard nodded. "Make it so." When he sat back down, he asked Data to put a view of the planet on screen. They could all now see a ring of cloud heading towards the Survey Team's position.
Riker tried to look as calm and confident as Picard did, but five minutes was a long time, and even at this magnification, the storm still seemed to be barely moving. He shifted in his chair and Troi grinned at him. Her calmness meant he shouldn't worry either, but it was hard when it was a situation none of them on the bridge had any control over. However, Riker did his best to look unconcerned by sitting up straight, hands resting on his legs, and raising his chin. Troi wasn't smiling any more, but her eyes still twinkled.
Only two minutes had gone by when Data spoke again. "Captain, the storm has changed direction."
Data's announcement gave Riker the opportunity to move, and he stood beside Picard to hear the latest.
Data continued, "It will now reach the Survey Team's site in one minute thirty seconds. But it is possible that it may change direction once more and the worst of the winds may miss them."
Picard exchanged a glance with Riker. "Let's hope whatever it does, it leaves them enough time to beam up."
Picard didn't contact the Survey Team again. Riker understood why: they were already packing as fast as they could and the additional warning wouldn't make it any quicker. If the wind and rain hit them before they were ready, then they'd just have to beam up and leave their equipment there. Commander Georges knew that. Besides, there was something about the Enterprise that invited luck. And the tendency of its crew to test that.
It was only a few moments after Data announced the edge of the storm had reached the Survey Team's position that he reported they were all on board and unharmed.
Although Riker relaxed, Troi gasped. It drew the attention of both Picard and Riker.
"Counselor?" Picard asked, sounding concerned.
She shook her head, her eyes squeezed shut. When she opened them, a moment later, she stared straight at Riker. "Such loss. Loneliness."
"Who from?" Picard asked. "All of the Survey Team are on board."
"I don't know, Captain." Despite addressing Picard, she didn't take her eyes off Riker.
"Deanna?" Riker took a step closer to her.
She took a couple of deep breaths. "I'm fine." She gave him a smile that was too small to prove it. "But I can't tell where it's coming from."
For now, Riker took her words at face value because he had to. "It must be related to the Survey Team. Hell of a coincidence, otherwise."
Troi was looking a little less pained as she stood up. "Permission to go and speak to them, Captain."
Picard still looked a little worried, but he had a whole ship of people that were his responsibility and he sat back in his chair, leaving it to Troi to investigate. "Granted."
Troi headed toward the turbolift, but Riker stepped a little closer to Picard. The crew were his responsibility too, but Troi even more so. Quietly, he said, "I should go with her. I felt it too."
Picard didn't understand what that meant. Neither did Riker, although he at least had a better idea of how, given that Troi had reached him telepathically in the past. Picard, though, trusted Riker and gave his permission.
Riker jogged up the ramp to join Troi just before the turbolift doors closed.
"I don't need a chaperone," she said, chin lifted.
"Yes, you do." He knew her well enough not to need empathic abilities to tell when she was lying. He brushed her hand with his, and she took it, fingers trembling. "I'm worried about you. And I want to know what's causing it," he added, because she would never let him look after her just because he was worried. "I never can abide a mystery."
"I just wish I knew what it was." She sighed. "It felt like it was coming from everywhere around me and everyone."
"We'll narrow it down." He squeezed her hand. "Bit by bit, if we have to."
She smiled, and when the turbolift doors opened, he let go of her hand, motioning for her to exit ahead of him.
When they entered the science lab no one noticed them at first. A group of blue-uniformed scientists stood or perched in a rough circle, discussing who was cataloging what and Riker was loathe to disturb them. Sample containers filled the benches, with tricorders nearby. There was a salty smell in the air, as if the sea was nearby. And perhaps it was, given that nearby jars contained clear water. Riker thought he could even see a small piece of seaweed in one. Other jars and trays held leaves and soil.
As Troi drifted over to a bench, looking over everything, Riker caught Commander Georges' eye. She nodded, then turned her attention to an Ensign to answer his question.
Troi leaned over a tray which Riker thought was red soil until he came closer.
"You don't get red sand in many places," he commented.
Troi, distracted, merely grunted in agreement.
As the briefing ended and the group broke up, Troi moved along to stand in front of a tray of sand of a more conventional yellow color.
"Commander, Counselor." Georges' dark hair stuck to her forehead in wet strands, but she smiled at them. "Can I help you?"
"Are these the samples you brought back from Alumath IV?" Troi asked, pointing at the sand.
"Yes," Georges replied, nodding. "These came from the beach. Our survey site was on the edge of a narrow red stripe of sand and a wider yellow stripe. But I daresay the storm will mix them all up."
Troi bent over it to get a closer look. Then she grimaced and reached out for Riker, who took her hand. Just for a moment, he once again experienced an aching feeling of loss, but stronger than it had been on the bridge. He felt as if someone he loved had died. But Troi was right here.
"It's strong in here," she said to Riker, before turning to Georges, dropping Riker's hand. "Are there any lifeforms in the sand?"
"Not that we've been able to detect," Georges replied, "but we've haven't finished our investigation. We've been concentrating mainly on the soil and water, which definitely contain plant life."
"Something is alive in there."
Troi's certainty convinced Georges to grab a tricorder and scan the sand. After a few moments she shook her head. "There's nothing I can pick up. But like I said, we have more tests to do."
"I have to go down to the planet," Troi said to Riker. "I can feel so much more than what's in here."
Georges looked confused. "Long story," Riker told her, then tapped his combadge. "Data, how long until the storm passes the beam down site?"
"At present course and speed, four hours, thirteen minutes."
"That's too long," Troi said. At Riker's questioning look, she continued, "Whatever it is I can feel, it needs to be whole again. Soon, or a part of it will die."
Riker asked Data, "Is there somewhere on the planet where it's daylight and safe to beam down?"
"Yes, Commander. There is a location four hundred kilometers from the site. The storm passed it 49 minutes ago."
Riker looked at Troi. "I think that will be close enough," she said.
"It will have to be. At least for another four hours." He gave her a look that she couldn't argue with.
When they beamed down, Riker could immediately see why the Survey Team hadn't chosen this site. The land was flat and he could see the horizon in every direction. There was nothing to see except brown ground and gray sky. It made the nothingness of the view feel even larger, and himself feel small. He shivered, even though the air wasn't that cold.
Troi put her arms around herself and there was a sadness in her eyes as she looked up at him. "It's all dead, Will."
He put an arm around her and she leaned against him. "Can you feel it here?" he asked.
"Yes, but it's still distant. I need to go where the Survey Team were." Her expression was apologetic. "I think that's the only place I'll find the answer."
"There's a hurricane there," he pointed out. He'd been first officer on the Enterprise long enough to know how to ignore personal pleas, even from Troi. But from her it was rare enough that he knew he had to try and find a way to get her what she needed. So he contacted the Enterprise. "Data, is the Survey Team's site safe to beam into?"
"The winds are at the extreme end of tolerance for humans. But the electrical activity in the atmosphere means the transporters cannot be accurate. Since the Survey Team were near the sea, there is a high chance of accidentally beaming you into the ocean, where you would be swept out to sea."
Riker grimaced at the thought of that.
"How about a shuttlecraft?" Troi asked.
Riker could answer that. "Not in those winds. Too much chance of getting caught up and blown off course." To say nothing of the electric disturbance that could leave them trying to fly without power in the worst case scenario.
"If I set the coordinates to further inland it would decrease the chances of you landing in the ocean to five percent," Data suggested. "However, there is no guarantee we would be able to beam you back up again."
"That's it then," Riker said. "We can't go." The Enterprise had beaten worse odds than ninety five percent, but potentially being stuck in a hurricane was what decided him.
"We have to, Will." Troi had a pleading look in her eyes and she put her hand on his arm.
But he couldn't just agree. "Let's at least return to the ship for a coat."
She put her hands on her hips, suddenly defiant. "So you can keep me there? I think not."
He had been thinking that once on board he could convince her to stay until the storm had passed. Or find some other way of ensuring she remained safely on the ship.
She lifted her chin. "I'll operate the transporter myself if I need to."
He shook his head. "Deanna, you're acting irrationally."
"So would you if you felt what I had."
"I have felt what you have," he said softly. "Twice, back on the Enterprise."
She stepped away from him, turning her back. He said nothing, letting her recover her calm and remember her frustration was with the situation, not with him.
It was a minute before she faced him again.
"It's just so overwhelming," she said, looking helpless. "It's so much bigger than anything I've ever felt. I need to do something to help it. Whatever it is."
She was hard to refuse, but he was not going to let her put herself in danger. "All right," he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. "But we do this my way or not at all." He wasn't sure what his way was yet, but it would at least involve talking to Geordi and Data and making sure whatever they did was safe.
She must have sensed his sincerity because she nodded. Goodness knows he was never any good at lying to her.
And that was how they found themselves at the top of a beach of perfectly striped sand, carrying a container of red sand. In a storm. It should have been the eye of the storm, but even there, the electrical activity must have reset the transporter's coordinates.
The wind almost blew Riker off his feet. He caught hold of Troi's arm to stop her from being blown away herself. The wind took the breath away from them and the rain had them soaked in seconds, despite the extra clothing they'd donned. He wished they could have worn environmental suits, but they would have been too difficult to maneuver in. And, at the time, he hadn't thought they'd need them.
Troi took the lid off the jar she was carrying and poured the sand out. Although the wind blew inland, it drifted along the beach to land with the rest of the red sand, two stripes away.
Riker had to shout in Troi's ear in order to be heard. "Did that help?"
She smiled and nodded, futilely brushing a strand of hair away from her face. "I understand now," she shouted back.
He wished he did, but explanations could wait until they were back on the Enterprise. He tapped his combadge but there was no reply.
Troi tried herself, with the same results.
They gave each other worried looks. Their only hope was that Data and Geordi would be able to get a transporter lock on them. It would take longer, given that they weren't where they were supposed to be, even without considering the electrical activity that had already clearly affected the transporter twice. He just hoped their rescue would come sooner rather than later.
"Come on," he shouted, "Let's get out of his storm." He transferred his grip to Troi's hand and started walking. Visibility was terrible and the clouds were black and low, with no respite in sight. He didn't know if the direction he'd chosen was out of the storm, but he was basing it on the image he'd seen on the bridge. However, it could have changed direction in that time. All he could do was put their backs to the sea and hope to find a cave or something similar.
The going was hard and the wind swirled around, so it felt like it was always working against them. After a few steps Riker stopped, waited for the wind to move and then headed into it. They managed two steps before it changed direction again. While they waited he called the Enterprise once more, getting no reply. But he had to keep trying.
After a few minutes they hadn't even made it one hundred meters from where they started. They'd seen nothing that offered any shelter. Although there could be something just a few meters away and they wouldn't see it. It was hard enough just keeping their eyes open when the wind battered them with rain and dust from the trees that bent over in the wind.
Troi tripped and fell, almost bringing Riker down with her. He pulled her up and put his arm around her waist. She shouted something, but the wind took her words away. In his head, he heard her call his name and felt a general sense of exhaustion. But whether that was coming from her or him, he couldn't tell.
A few more steps and this time he stumbled, unable to stop himself falling, and pulling Troi down with him.
"I can't go on," she shouted into his ear and he was inclined to agree. But they had to, they had no other choice.
He pushed himself up and leaned down to help Troi up. They both now had mud clinging to them and shivered, Troi's teeth chattering.
"I can't block it out," she shouted, grabbing on to his coat.
He put his arms around her, struggling to think of a solution, when there was a burst of static from his combadge, followed by the familiar feel of a transporter beam.
Once on board they no longer needed to stand upright and they both slumped to the ground, lying on the transporter platform and still holding on to each other. There was a smell of burned electrical components in the room. Geordi and Data were at the transporter console, Geordi smiling.
Dr Crusher was there with thermal blankets, which she draped around them. Riker still kept an arm round Troi, who clung to her blanket, pulling it tight around herself. Picard was not far behind Crusher, looking relieved.
"Captain, the planet is alive," Troi said, while Crusher scanned them with her medical tricorder.
"The planet itself?" he sounded skeptical. Riker didn't blame him. They'd seen a lot of strange things, but it didn't mean anything new was easy to understand. Easier perhaps, but not easy.
She nodded. "And everything on it is part of the whole. It's not intelligent, it doesn't think, but it feels. And all of it, every part, reacted to part of it being separated from the whole."
"It dies if any part of it is removed," Riker said, realizing what they'd seen in that first, dead location.
"Yes." Troi nodded.
"If we take all the specimens back, will it recover?" Picard asked.
"It should. But it will have to be every grain."
Riker looked down at himself and grimaced. If the mud had to go back down there too, so did his clothes and boots.
While the science team were busy packing up every bit of the planet they'd brought back with them, and the engineers were finding ways to get them down and back up safely, Riker and Troi were being tucked into beds in sickbay.
"I'm fine," Troi protested. "I'm not cold any more."
Now he was dry, Riker did feel warm, but was content to remain beneath the covers and enjoy that feeling for a little while longer.
"It's because your blankets are thermal," Crusher replied. "And you're staying here for a few hours for observation. No matter what happens on the planet."
Riker smiled, until Troi glared at him. Then he shifted position and stared at the ceiling. He understood her wanting to get out and do something, but they had to leave this to the experts. He felt a moment of empathy for Picard, having to stay behind when an Away Team had all the fun.
"Try to get some sleep," Crusher said, touched Troi's shoulder and left them.
Riker dozed for a little while, until Picard came to see them. Then he sat up, holding the blanket around himself, Troi following suit.
"It feels whole again now," Troi said, smiling, before Picard could say a word.
"I'm glad you're feeling better." Picard smiled himself, looking between them. "The engineers outdid themselves, boosting the transporters so they could beam all the matter from the planet straight through the eye of the storm."
If only they could have done that earlier - but then earlier they hadn't known their solution wasn't enough. Riker and Troi had been the unwitting guinea pigs. But Riker couldn't quite regret it and he knew Troi had no misgivings.
"I'll let you both rest," Picard said.
"Thank you, Captain," Troi answered for both of them.
When he'd gone, Troi turned to Riker. "Thank you for trusting me."
Riker slid off his bed and onto Troi's, to sit beside her. "On the bridge, when you first felt the planet cry out," he said, "I felt it too. And again in the science lab." He'd mentioned it before, but now was the time for some explanations and he knew she'd understand his implied question.
"I felt like I'd lost a part of me," she said, holding his gaze. "I instinctively reached out for you."
"Imzadi," he said softly, and leaned over to kiss her.
Alumath IV is named after Alum Bay, on the Isle of Wight, which has coloured sand. I've lovingly stolen the basic idea of a living planet from the Blake's 7 episode Sand.