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Burning The Edges. Pt 1

Their lovemaking had been intense, although only one of them felt that way. To the other, it was just sex, unremarkable and cheerless, but necessary to maintain a semblance of normality and useful for relieving stress. Meredith Bower had never quite fitted in. For most of her twenty nine years she had sensed what went on around her, that considered normal, everyday life, was somehow disconnected from her. It was if she stood apart, a minor player in the scheme of things, watching as everything went on around her but never touching her. She was seven when she realised her true sexual identity and eleven when she felt the first stirrings of desire. Over time she’d had many lovers; she had a high libido and used women as a commodity, quickly becoming bored and moving on. The one thing she seemed incapable of was love. Not even her parents or her siblings elicited anything more than dutiful affection. Her partner in the riotously disordered bed wanted to cuddle. Meredith closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. It was always like this and she detested it. The urge to leave the bed and shower before ushering her partner from her quarters was almost overwhelming, but, for appearances, which were vitally important to her, Meredith swallowed her irritation and allowed herself to be embraced. It was an effort to disguise her true feelings-to force her body to relax-but it wasn’t as if this was the first time she’d ever had to do it. Careful to avoid getting a reputation as a shallow, cavalier user, Meredith always made sure her lovers were well satisfied, certainly no one could accuse her of sexual selfishness, but as diligent as she was it was inevitable that word would get around. It was unavoidable on a Starship. People gossiped; it was simply the way things were. However something had changed, something Meredith found amazing and new and astonishing and somehow absurd. Meredith was in love. It had taken several weeks for her to finally discover what these new and disturbing feelings were all about. At first she didn’t recognise what was happening. The object of her fascination seemed to occupy her thoughts constantly although that in itself wasn’t so unusual. In her pursuit of women she often obsessed over them until they submitted but this was something entirely different and, when she eventually came to the obvious conclusion she was stunned. The more she thought about it, the more she was reminded of the only time she’d felt anything for a partner. That the woman had remained Meredith’s companion as long as she had was testament to just how much Meredith cared for her. At the time, Meredith had thought herself in love, but she had been proved wrong. Her partner cheated on her, making Meredith believe she couldn’t have been in love as she would’ve

chosen someone far more faithful to care about. It wasn’t possible that she had misplaced her feelings. No, it was a failing in her partner. It was the most humiliating, painful experience of her life and she’d vowed never to allow anyone to get that close to her again. It didn’t completely shield her from hurt, but she didn’t think about that. Anything that suggested vulnerability was buried, but deep inside, Meredith harboured the hope that one day she would find the one woman with whom she could be her true self. Someone she could trust. And she had found that someone. As if knowing what was going on in her mind, her partner, lazily kissing Meredith’s neck, must have subliminally picked up a hint. She ceased her kisses and sighed impatiently. What she said infuriated Meredith, though she didn’t show it. “I don’t know why you bother.” Meredith said nothing, merely lying quietly, outwardly calm, but listening intently. Her partner huffed. “It’s not as if she’ll ever even notice you!” she said imperiously. “From what I hear, she’s got a thing going with the Captain.” Meredith seethed. How could this creature know about her feelings? She had to find out. “Who says I have the hots for her anyway?” She said with more vexation than she intended to show. Exalted at having ruffled Meredith’s practised, legendary icy exterior, the woman smiled with sly glee. Her fingers idly wandered over Meredith’s breasts. “Aw, honey, you needn’t worry. I haven’t told anybody, your little secret’s safe with me. I’m sure we can work something out.” Her sickly-sweet tone and the implication of blackmail, coupled with her knowledge of Meredith’s deeply held secret sealed the woman’s fate. Meredith smiled, but if the woman had looked carefully, what she would’ve seen in Meredith’s eyes would have frozen her blood.

Beverly Crusher emerged from the bathroom, dressed in a peach satin night gown and matching robe, towelling her damp hair. Having just indulged in a hot water shower she padded bare foot across the carpet to the replicator and retrieved a hot lemon tea. Thus armed

she went to the sofa and lowered herself with a sigh of pleasure. Sitting back, she placed her feet on the coffee table and crossed her ankles. Then, balancing the mug on her chest she let her head fall back to the backrest. Totally relaxed she closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift. “Oh, lovely. What a day.” She sighed tiredly. The sound of the doors opening, then closing, didn’t disturb her in fact it caused a welcome trickle of anticipation. Sure enough his scent reached before he did. A mixture of understated aftershave and that which was uniquely his, a subtle, somehow arousing blend of dry earth and musk. She kept her eyes closed as he placed a gentle kiss on her brow. Listening, she heard him cross the room to the drinks cabinet and the sound of glass meeting glass as he poured what she knew would be a single malt scotch. Then she heard him move to the replicator and rumble quietly as he ordered ice. There a musical tinkling as the ice moved in the tumbler as he made his way to his chair. She knew with absolute certainty he would be carrying the tumbler in his right hand. Still with her eyes closed, she listened as he sat and took a long sip. His voice was soft and very deep and she had always found it compelling. Now was no different as he asked gently, “Long day?” Finally she opened her eyes. Jean-Luc Picard was seated exactly as she knew he would be. Relaxed, elegant, one leg crossed over the other, the tumbler in his right hand. “Hmm.” She replied. “Too long.” “Tell me.” It was yet another aspect she appreciated about their new arrangement. The opportunity to talk to someone about her day. For so many long years she had returned to her quarters after every shift, alone by choice to go through the well-established ritual of a shower, a meal, perhaps to read for a while, then retire to a lonely bed to find sleep. It had been the same for both of them. Solitary by nature and intensely private, they had both come to the conclusion they were destined for loneliness and had become accustomed to it. The one thing they shared was a deep and sustaining friendship that had lasted for decades. They loved each other but it had been Jean-Luc who’d first suggested they take their friendship to a more intimate level. But Beverly wasn’t ready. Years passed and their friendship deepened until one day Beverly decided she wanted the same thing as Jean-Luc. Predictably they didn’t immediately tumble into bed, they discussed the idea thoroughly examining every angle, trying to see every pitfall, anything that might cause damage to their precious friendship, but eventually they were convinced it could withstand the intensity of a sexual relationship.

That was eight months ago, two and a half since she’d moved in with him. The sex was great and their friendship solid, but their cohabitation wasn’t without some tension. Both stubborn and set in their ways, it had taken careful negotiation to find a mutually satisfactory living arrangement. But they had found one and had begun to settle comfortably with only the occasional, minor hiccup. Now Beverly smiled and shook her head at the domesticity of their situation. She sighed and responded. “All day there has been a constant stream of patients coming in. There’s a bug going around. It causes sweats, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea.” Jean-Luc frowned. “Should I initiate a quarantine?” She shook her head and waved one hand. “No,” she said, “It’s not that serious, just damned time consuming. It takes about an hour to successfully treat each patient and with so many to treat none of us has the time to study the samples we’ve taken.” Jean-Luc’s one word solution made Beverly scowl. “Delegate.” Huffing, Beverly said, “It’s not that simple. As you know, they’re only five Doctors, two on duty at all times, two off duty and one in reserve. I’ve had to call all of them to handle this thing and I can’t see us getting to research for some time yet.” Jean-Luc shrugged. “Won’t it eventually run its course and disappear?” “I suppose so,” she said with irritation, “But that’s not how I do my job. I need to figure this thing out so I can stop it in its tracks and probably prevent it from surfacing again in the future.” He mulled over that for a while, then asked curiously, “Will it mutate, do you think?” “I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I might find out if I can study the damned thing!” What Jean-Luc suggested next was said with due caution.

“What about the EMH?” Beverly’s glare was poisonous. “Only if I absolutely have to. I’ll assign it to research. There’s no way I’ll allow that conceited, arrogant holographic parody of a Doctor to treat any patient in my sickbay!” Beverly took a deep breath through her teeth and calmed herself. Summoning a smile she asked, “How was your day?” He lifted his eyebrows and tilted his head. “Nothing out of the ordinary.” He said diffidently. Then, as if remembering something, he snapped his fingers. Mild mischief gleamed in his dark, mossy-green eyes. “I’ve been reliably informed that Lieutenant Vennara is romantically involved with Lieutenant Commander Shettle.” Beverly gaped, her eyes wide. “You’re kidding! Adrian Shettle? You’re sure?” “My source is impeccable.” Grinning wickedly, Beverly removed her feet from the coffee table and leaned forward. “Who told you?” In reply Jean-Luc merely held up one finger. He would not divulge his informant. They often gossiped, it was a game they played and neither would disclose their sources. It was perhaps a game they shouldn’t play in their places of superiority of rank, but it amused them no end. The conversation drifted to a close and Beverly put her feet back on the low table. Jean-Luc quietly finished his scotch then broke the comfortable silence by asking, “Have you eaten?” “No,” Beverly said. “I was waiting for you.” She made to get up, but Jean-Luc waved her back down. “It’s all right,” He said kindly. “I’ll replicate. What would you like?”

Half an hour later they had eaten and were lingering at the table with a freshly opened bottle of wine. By mutual silent assent, they stood, cleared the table and, each carrying a full glass and Jean-Luc carrying the bottle as well, they moved back to the living area. Beverly took her seat on the sofa, Jean-Luc in his favourite chair opposite, the coffee table between them. They drank slowly, the conversation desultory. They had no need to chat constantly; they were relaxed and happy just to be in each other’s company. With the last of the wine poured into their glasses, Jean-Luc rose and joined Beverly next to her on the sofa. He rested his arm across the backrest, his fingers touching her shoulder his other hand holding his glass. She turned to him and their eyes met and held. For several long moments they regarded each other before Beverly broke the spell by saying softly, “You want to have sex.” His reaction to the statement was to lower his eyes to look at his glass. He then tilted his head back, brought the glass to his lips and drained what was left of his wine. Then he turned and gazed at Beverly, a ghost of a smile tugging at his mouth. “No,” He said in the same soft tone Beverly had used. “I don’t want to have sex, I want to make love.” This was one of the many facets he possessed that Beverly loved. Their sex life was healthy and very active and unpredictable. Sometimes, if the mood took them, they might indulge themselves on the floor, over the table, on the sofa, the chair, or, on rare occasions, up against the wall. Or perhaps one might join the other in the shower. They both knew the difference between sex and making love and what they chose depended entirely on their mood. Obviously Jean-Luc wanted to express gentle love and Beverly was more than willing. Offering a slight nod of acceptance, she watched as Jean-Luc placed first his glass, then hers on the coffee table. He then stood and offered his hand, assisting Beverly to her feet. They walked to the bedroom hand in hand. Their foreplay was long and languid. There was no need to rush; they knew exactly what they were doing. That wasn’t to say they didn’t find new things to delight each other. Though they’d been intimate for eight months they were still making new discoveries. Nothing huge, nothing stupendous, but little things that gratified and enchanted them. When Jean-Luc draped himself over her, Beverly wrapped her legs around his waist anticipating his penetration. When it came, their eyes met as their bodies moulded together. Slowly Jean-Luc established a rhythm that Beverly quickly matched. He rose up on one elbow, his free hand snaking between them to find and caress her clit. With their gaze locked he teased her and she felt her inner self beginning to rise. His eyes seemed to glow as she rapidly ascended and, when she came they watched each other intently. He slowed his fingers, allowing Beverly to recover. Watching carefully, he knew when to begin again. As

his fingers began their dance once more, he slightly increased both the speed and depth of his thrusts. Beverly’s second orgasm was a gentle as the first. She sighed, her body completely attuned with his. Still they gazed into each other’s eyes intently. Jean-Luc loved to see her like this. Her skin stained pink with arousal, her beautiful eyes deep blue and mysterious. This is what he saw when he allowed himself to daydream. This is what he’d waited so long to see and it intoxicated him. His pace quickening, he knew it would soon end and he wanted that conclusion, that affirmation desperately. His eyes darkened and he began to thrust hard and fast. His fingers too increased their stimulation and Beverly’s hips began to buck. She knew the approaching orgasms would be far and above what she’d already experienced. Capable of multi orgasms, Beverly eagerly awaited their arrival. She began the climb, her gaze steady. A dribble of sweat trickled from Jean-Luc’s temple, down his cheek and gathered on his chin, wobbling as his body flexed. It finally dripped and fell on Beverly’s jaw to slide down her slick skin and join the sweat on her neck. There were no cries or sighs or moans of pleasure, no whispered endearments; they made love silently, feasting on each other’s gaze. Jean-Luc knew she was coming when she suddenly drew a deep breath and held it, her mouth opening wide and her pupils dilating so wide they engulfed her corneas. The first orgasm hit her and her body went rigid. Then wave after wave of orgasms surged through her. While she was caught in ecstasy, Jean-Luc succumbed to his release. Somehow still able to see, Beverly watched his face as he came. The only outward sign of his orgasm was a sharply expelled breath from his open mouth and his eyes wide and staring. Unlike a lot of men who liked to do so, Jean-Luc didn’t hold himself deeply inside Beverly as he came. As he ejaculated he kept thrusting, prolonging Beverly’s pleasure. Only when he began to soften did he slow then stop. And only then did he allow himself to relax. He sighed deeply and lowered himself until their lips met in a protracted, deliberately slothful kiss. They rested for a little while, but Jean-Luc knew his weight would become uncomfortable for Beverly so he rolled to his side and settled on his back. Beverly turned onto her side and nestled her head on his chest. He curled his arm over her, pulled the covers up and together, happy, sated and content, they drifted off to sleep.

The alarm woke Meredith at precisely six hundred hours. Not one to linger, she was rising from the bed when she detected the unmistakable smell of sex emanating from the sheets. With her face screwed up in disgust, she wrenched the linens from the bed and stuffed them rudely into the recycler. The bed was remade in minutes, but the look of distaste never left her face. A quick shower and into a fresh uniform. She was grateful she didn’t need to decide what to wear, she had no interest whatsoever in fashion. Meredith took care with her appearance but didn’t use makeup or any elaborate hair styles; in fact she kept her hair quite short. She ate a small breakfast then, after a perfunctory inspection in her mirror, left to begin her shift. To the casual observer there was nothing remarkable about Meredith, a conception she was careful to nurture. It served her purposes. Junior school had been largely a non-event, boring and over before she could really begin to hate it. However senior school was a series of tortuous years each one worse than the last. She despised everything about it, the teachers, the students with their petty political schisms, the idolatry nature of the less popular students towards the elite, the curriculum, which she thought beneath her and the constraints of law which required her to complete what she considered to be a pointless waste of her valuable time. Alone, ostracised and, with her newly awakened desires, Meredith eventually found a way to cope. Sex. Alone or with a carefully chosen partner. It passed the time, relieved stress and amused her. In her second to last year, at the age of seventeen and with a reputation for sexual excesses, Meredith set her sights on Eva Carmichael. Like Meredith, Eva was a loner, but unlike her, Eva hadn’t chosen to be so. Mousey, plain and bookish, she was introverted and painfully shy. She had no friends and suffered terribly from loneliness and no self esteem. When she realised Meredith had taken an interest in her, she was dumbstruck, at first paralysed by the thought. Meredith played to that mercilessly, slowly drawing to girl to her, spinning a web of deceit and lies. She pursued Eva relentlessly and eventually the poor girl fell helplessly in love with her. The eventual seduction was ridiculously easy and afterwards, Meredith did what she always did. She not too politely made it clear she wanted Eva to leave. There were two major problems with all this. Eva wasn’t gay. And Eva had never experienced sex before. Confused, frightened and abandoned, Eva went home and avoided her loving family. Eva was a mystery to her loved ones. They, her parents and younger siblings were all outgoing and popular. How Eva had become so timid and withdrawn they had no idea. Having failed to bring her out of herself, they instead pitied her and worried endlessly about her.

Over the next ten days Meredith insisted on meeting for more and more sex. Eva felt helpless in the face of Meredith’s assured superiority and her aggressive sexuality and deep inside her she craved the attention she was getting, so she meekly accepted what was happening. But her despair and terrible confusion grew until it became intolerable. This, on top of her already precarious mental state caused a breakdown. On the eleventh day of the relationship Eva committed suicide. She was found by her youngest brother, returning to their home soon after school. She had hung herself from the balustrade of the stairs in the apartment. Her family were devastated. Meredith was disappointed. There was an enquiry of course and it soon became obvious that Meredith was being held responsible for Eva’s death. She thought that manifestly unfair, although deep inside she accepted that she may have been a contributing factor in what Eva had done. But with little to go on except rumours, the authorities had no tangible proof that Meredith had done anything wrong. She was subjected to psychological testing but managed to convince the investigators of her innocence, partly because she actually thought herself mostly blameless. Eventually a verdict of suicide was handed down and Meredith was exonerated. Suicide was exceptionally rare in the twentyfourth century and most people had trouble accepting the verdict, but in the face of the evidence, they had little choice. Her fellow students knew what had happened and hated her, shunning her completely. That suited Meredith just fine, although it made finding a sexual playmate a little harder, but school wasn’t her only smorgasbord. There were other places. But even though she moved on, a part of Meredith, a remote recess in her mind remembered Eva and what they’d shared and that memory would stay with Meredith for the rest of her life. As did her unresolved sorrow. Scholastically Meredith excelled. She finished her school years with high grades. She fled the school and didn’t go to the graduation ball. Her application to attend Starfleet Academy was handed in the next day. Her decision to join Starfleet was a logical one. She had reasoned that she would only find the mental stimulation she needed by serving on a Starship, the complex nature of the missions the ships undertook she hoped would give her the variety and depth of experience not found in other pursuits. She understood she’d have to curtail her more extravagant sexual excesses, the closed environment of a Starship meant she would soon use up the available partners and she didn’t want the by now familiar rumours to hamper her new career. It would be a pity, but the ends justified the means. A more conservative approach would pay off in the long run. The other thing she knew she had to do was to be more of a ‘team player’. Her solitary nature was only just tolerated at the Academy, indeed it raised quite a few eyebrows and she knew she wouldn’t be able to get away with it on a ship. Neither could she use, then cast aside her chosen partners. Yes, she would have to become very circumspect. It would be difficult, but she was confident and deep down she knew she might find some kind of peace. At least she hoped so. She had no trouble with the tests she sat, but the psychological aspect of the final test caught her out. Instead of gaining a pass, she was ordered to undergo psychological counselling. She seethed with anger, bitter and resentful that the path she’d so carefully laid was being blocked

by people she felt were her intellectual inferiors. However there was nothing to be gained by showing her hand. If she wished to realise her goal, she had to submit. In the end it was easy. Long used to living behind a well-constructed facade, Meredith calmly answered the questions put to her just as she knew they wanted her to and told them exactly what they wanted to hear. To a master manipulator like her, it was child’s play. It took three sessions, but eventually Meredith was passed fit to take her place at the Academy. The Academy gave her no more intellectual barriers than her school had. She breezed through her four years, aloof and disdainful of her fellow cadets, but not without raising some concerns with her teachers and other students, causing Meredith some trouble, but she managed to placate all her detractors. Of course there were the usual rumours, however most, if not all of Meredith’s partners had little to complain about, it was just her casual approach that caused some conflict. Perhaps it was just jealousy that made others talk maliciously about her behind her back. Like school, Meredith didn’t attend the graduation ceremony. She had enrolled at Starfleet Medical. There she did a further two years and emerged as a fully qualified nurse with a rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade. Some may have questioned her choice of nursing, being so unfeeling of those around her, but Meredith had reasoned that being attached to medical would give her freer access to all other departments. The one thing she hoped to avoid was being confined in her work. Despite her unsavoury reputation, her high marks and exemplary attitude to study and work earned her a place on the Enterprise. As she walked the corridors on the way to sickbay, Meredith studiously ignored the other crewmembers she encountered. She had been aboard three months and already rumours were rife, but unlike the Academy, she wasn’t the only one to be the brunt of malicious gossip. In any event it mattered little to her. She ignored it as she always had, but she couldn’t say with any honesty that it didn’t hurt. As long as she quenched her insatiable sexual appetites, all was well as far as she was concerned. Admittedly she was self-absorbed, but no more so than some others she’d met. But Meredith’s true nature was well hidden and rarely seen. She felt safe in her self-imposed bubble. Safe, relaxed and aware. Always aware. She stepped confidently through the double doors and came to an abrupt halt, her mouth gaping. There in front of her, standing under the bright white lights of the central hub of Sickbay, stood the most beautiful thing Meredith had ever seen. Beverly Crusher was highlighted by the light above her. The illumination picked out the variations in colour of her lustrous red hair. Her skin, alabaster and flawless, her eyes a clear cerulean blue...and so expressive! Hands, tapered and elegant, such clever hands. Snapping her mouth closed, Meredith quickly gathered her scrambled thoughts. Her vision cleared and she studied Beverly with a more clinical appraisal. Impudently, Meredith’s eyes slid down, slowly staring longingly at Beverly’s body. Down from her face, lingering at the breasts, then down admiring the flat stomach and pausing at her crotch. Heat began to blossom in Meredith’s centre. Her eyes devoured Beverly’s long legs...dancer’s legs, Meredith knew.

She sighed deeply, imagining those long supple legs around her. Her eyes were just beginning to retrace their passage when Beverly’s voice, carrying a gentle rebuke, startled Meredith out of her mental striptease. “Lieutenant!” Focusing on her boss’s face, Meredith cursed inwardly. Being caught admiring the woman she loved appalled her. It was an unforgivable lapse. As she gave herself a mental shake she saw that Beverly was frowning, obviously displeased. Meredith showed no outward sign, but she was dismayed. “Fuck!” She yelled silently. Beverly tilted her head and beckoned Meredith over. The Lieutenant didn’t know which was worse, her uncharacteristic error or Beverly’s softening, sympathetic face. Standing at attention before her, Meredith didn’t look into Beverly’s eyes, preferring instead to stare at her forehead. “Lieutenant?” Beverly said with care. “Are you all right?” Forcing a smile that only involved her mouth, Meredith replied crisply, “Yes, Doctor, I’m fine.” “You sure?” Asked Beverly. “I’ve not seen you so...distant before. Is there something on your mind?” Panic surged through Meredith, leaving her speechless. Beverly mistook her hesitation for worry. Ever compassionate, the red head placed a maternal hand on Meredith’s shoulder, her eyes soft and inviting. “I’m sure I can help if you’d like to tell me.” Meredith couldn’t stop her eyes from briefly closing, her humiliation growing with every passing second. Again, Beverly didn’t see the real source of Meredith’s continued silence. “Lieutenant?” Beverly said softly. “Meredith, isn’t it? Would you like to come to my office with me? We can talk there.” Finally Meredith found her voice. What came out was a strangled sound, startling both women.. Mortified, Meredith coughed and tried again, this time with more success. “No!” She bit her lower lip and tried again. “No, Doctor, I’m fine, really.” She said in a more normal tone.

Not convinced, Beverly wasn’t going to give up easily. “I had to call you three times. You were obviously engrossed in something. Lost in thought, perhaps?” Meredith conjured up a look of discomfort and overt sadness. “ had a fight with my partner.” She said quietly. Beverly’s concerned expression made Meredith want to scream with self-damnation. “I see.” She said gently. “Well, if you want to talk about it, I’m here, or maybe you want to speak to Counsellor Troi, that’d be fine. And if you want personal time, I can arrange it, but if you turn up for duty, I expect you to leave your problems in your quarters. That may sound harsh, but our work is too important and often too involved to allow the staff to be distracted by personal issues. Do you understand?” Meredith wanted to drag Beverly to the ground to punish her for such humiliation, but all Meredith could do was nod and mumble something incoherent. Satisfied she’d got her message across; Beverly smiled and gestured to the lab. “We’re running an analysis of the samples we’ve taken of the pathogen loose on the ship. I want you to assist the EMH.” Luckily Beverly turned away before she saw Meredith’s reaction to her orders. Indignation made Meredith mute. How could she? How could she demean her like that? In front of everybody! Work with the fucking EMH?! It was worse than banishing her from main Sickbay, it was purgatory! Meredith spun on her heel and stalked stiffly into the lab. The EMH, (Emergency Medical Hologram), was bent over a microscope and tut-tutted as Meredith entered. Without looking up, the balding, acerbic man said archly, “It’s about time I got some help. You there, get me the other slides.” Meredith blinked and her mouth set in a grim line. She marched over to the rude man and hissed in his ear, “Let’s get one thing straight. You exist only as long as I say! You annoy me, you insult me and I’ll simply turn you off. Understand, holoman?” Lifting his head, the emergency medic stared unbelievingly at the angry woman. He swallowed and squeaked, “You wouldn’t dare.”

Meredith said nothing, but her toxic glare made her feelings perfectly clear. With a bob of his head, the hologram said respectfully, “I need the new slides. Would you get them for me please?” As Meredith turned to comply she muttered darkly, “Better. Keep it up.” As they worked, her anger subsided into a slowly glowing bed of embers. Calmer, she dissected the incident with Beverly moment-by-moment and came to the conclusion that it was probably unavoidable, considering her mistake. That’s not to say she accepted it was her fault, but she was willing to forgive Beverly, just this once. She smiled to herself as she remembered how imperious Beverly had looked as she’d admonished her. In her skewed mind, Meredith had seen not gentle guidance, not compassion, but autocracy and cold authority. She frowned as she thought of ways...techniques she could employ that would make Beverly look upon her with more sensual eyes. Yes, all she’d need was time, time to make Beverly aware of how she felt about her. Then, of course, Beverly would be happy to allow Meredith to demonstrate her love. Oh yes, it would be glorious! A stray thought caused her face to contort into a worried grimace. Captain Picard. Although she’d heard the rumours, she simply couldn’t believe Beverly Crusher, her Beverly, would be so vulgar as to have anything to do with the Captain. From what she’d seen, he was a cold fish indeed. She’d even heard they were living together! Preposterous! Beverly would never do such an unthinkable thing! Especially when Meredith Bower wanted her. To even consider anything else was...insanity! No, it simply wasn’t true. Mollified, Meredith hummed quietly as she began to form her plans. She was a point. She shrugged. It mattered not, once Beverly knew she wanted her, she was certain the Doctor would submit happily. Yes, I will love her and she will worship me. Sighing happily, Meredith even forgot the EMH was there.

Just after thirteen hundred, Beverly breezed into the lab and smiled to herself at the EMH’s sour expression. Ordinarily the mere sight of the man sent Beverly’s blood pressure rising, but the smug look on Lieutenant Bower’s face spoke volumes. She went to the young woman and said, “Report.” “We, that is I have managed to isolate the pathogen and we’re in the process of developing a vaccine, Sir.” She said proudly, fully expecting praise. She was a little disappointed, however.

Beverly’s smile was a wide one. “Well done, both of you.” Her eyes left Meredith as she addressed the EMH. “Doctor, would you show me the analysis?” As Beverly went to him, Meredith barely concealed her irritation. She lowered her head so she could watch Beverly from under her brow while the Doctor consulted with the EMH. It irked Meredith that the object of her desires would ignore her in favour of a damned hologram, but being the subordinate in the room, she had little option but to accept the situation as it was. Having learned what she wanted, Beverly turned just in time to see Meredith watching her intently, with hungry, dark eyes. It was only a glimpse, but it stopped Beverly in her tracks. However, Meredith had already cast her eyes down and was busy tapping away on a PADD. The incident had been so fleeting Beverly wondered if she’d really seen anything at all. With a frown creasing her forehead, Beverly said carefully, “Seeing that the EMH has everything well in hand, you can join the rest of the staff in assisting with the influx of patients, Lieutenant.” “Yes, Doctor.” Replied Meredith, barely containing her satisfaction. Working alongside the woman she loved was a joy. Beverly noted the happy smile and the deeply ravenous look and was taken aback. She gave Meredith a long, measuring look and pointed to the door. The nurse’s eyes slid away as she quietly turned and left. It was a very thoughtful Beverly who follower her out. For the remainder of the day they were busy treating patients and Beverly had little opportunity to check up on Meredith, but the Lieutenant had ample time to watch the Doctor. She had manoeuvred herself so that she was the nurse assisting Beverly but made sure she showed nothing but professional detachment. There was too much at stake to tip her hand too soon. Besides, once Beverly knew how she felt, there would be ample time to explore their feelings for each other. Oh yes, Beverly Crusher was something special, something to be treasured. It wasn’t until Meredith had reached the end of her shift that she approached the CMO. Making sure her voice showed no trace of her desire, Meredith said respectfully, “Am I dismissed, Doctor?” Beverly was smiling when she looked up, but that same odd, intense look in Meredith’s eyes wiped the smile from her face. Arranging her features into something bland, Beverly said, “Of course, Lieutenant. Thank you for your assistance.” Meredith’s eyes flickered and she summoned a smile. “You’re welcome, Doctor, I can assure you, it was my pleasure.”

It was a naive and clumsy attempt at coquettishness, but unused to the nuances of courtship, Meredith thought she was being sophisticated. She turned and left Sickbay, her stride confident as she knew Beverly was watching her. And indeed she was, but not with the interest Meredith thought. More like alarm.

Both Jean-Luc and Beverly often worked on past the end of their shift; they knew their positions required they set an example to the crew. So it wasn’t unusual for one or the other, most times both, to be late arriving at their quarters. On this early evening, they saw each other as they rounded opposite ends of the corridor outside their rooms. Beverly offered a tired smile, but Jean-Luc, ever aware of prying eyes, merely nodded. Knowing he wouldn’t like to tarry outside, Beverly entered, followed quickly by the Captain. Once inside the privacy of their quarters, Jean-Luc reached forward and caught Beverly’s hand. She halted and turned, watching with a tender smile as Jean-Luc gently pulled her to him and kissed her. He said softly, “Hello, Beverly.” To which she replied just as softly, “Hello, Jean-Luc.” The greeting was a ritual, and it made them grin like fools. “Would you like to shower while I set the table?” Asked Jean-Luc, solicitously. “Oh, that would be lovely.” Said Beverly, with heartfelt appreciation. Twenty minutes later, Beverly stood at the replicator, dressed in her nightie and robe, queuing their orders for dinner. Jean-Luc always took quick showers so he emerged from the bedroom just as Beverly began taking dishes to the table. He was clad only in a pair of dark blue satin shorts and Beverly grinned as she admired him. Offering a mildly disgruntled snort, he disappeared back into the bedroom and when he came out again, he was wearing his robe. “Spoilsport.” Muttered Beverly, good naturedly, to which Jean-Luc replied, “It was never my intention to sit at the dinner table semi-naked.” “Pity, I was enjoying the view.”

“Hmph.” As they ate their evening meal, Beverly lapsed into silence and Jean-Luc noticed she didn’t seem all that interested in her food. She seemed preoccupied. He considered asking her what was on her mind, but didn’t, deciding that if she needed to talk to him, she would do so in her own time. It was much later, while Beverly sat quietly contemplating the view of the passing streaks of light, a PADD lying unread on her lap and while Jean-Luc was reading a book that she eventually said, “I think I might have a problem with one of my staff.” Lowering his book, Jean-Luc frowned. “What kind of a problem?” He asked. “I’m not sure.” She replied, carefully. It was only because of their relationship that allowed Jean-Luc to hear of this directly. Usually, if there was a problem a crewmember, then the department head involved, in this case Beverly, would submit a report to the First Officer, Will Riker. Only if it was a serious matter would it be brought to the attention of the Captain. “I had a very disconcerting feeling when one of my nurses was looking at me.” Beverly recalled. “That doesn’t sound like much of a problem.” Jean-Luc remarked. Frowning, Beverly shook her head, trying to put her disquiet into words. “I know it doesn’t sound like much, but...I don’t know...” She said cautiously. “I had this terrible feeling, as if I was being studied.” “Studied for what purpose?” Asked a now concerned Jean-Luc. Taking a deep breath, Beverly looked into the middle distance, not really seeing anything. After a few moments she shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know. Just a gut feeling I guess.” She smiled, but her eyes were still troubled. “Well, let me know if there’re any more incidents. I’d rather we snuffed this out now before it grows.” “Oh, I don’t think you need worry about it, Jean-Luc. She’s one of my nurses, I’m sure I can sort it out. It certainly doesn’t need the personal attention of the Captain.” She grinned.

Raising his eyebrows, Jean-Luc opened the book at began to read. When he spoke there was a hint of amusement in his voice. “Of course, Beverly, but if there are any advantages to being the Captain’s lover, discipline would be one of them.” Scandalised, Beverly gaped. “The Captain’s lover? Oh, that’s just lovely! How about the Captain’s woman?” With a sly smirk, she said cheekily, “Okay, if I’m the Captain’s lover...that would make you the CMO’s inamorato.” He kept his eyes on his book and smiled. “But of course.” He said with charm. He could be insufferably smug at times. He raised his eyes and smiled, then sobered. “Really, Beverly,” He said with genuine feeling. “If you think a word from me might resolve things, let me know, I’d be only too happy to help.” With a soft snort, Beverly smiled ruefully. “Thank you, but I don’t think that would go down too well. The woman involved is very independent and a little head-strong. She would most likely react badly to a word from her Captain, no matter how you went about it.” “What is her rank?” Asked Jean-Luc. “Lieutenant. She was promoted very rapidly, mainly because of the two extra years she did at Medical before she graduated. That and her exemplary record pushed her up the line.” Beverly replied thoughtfully. “Although...” “Yes?” Jean-Luc asked expectantly. “Perhaps I might’ve been a little premature.” Beverly sighed and rubbed her forehead. “She seems to have developed a problem in working with others. I’ve noticed recently she’s been a tad remote and reclusive.” Beverly sighed again. “Listen to me! You’d think I’d never come across an emotional young woman before. Just today she told me she’d had an argument with her partner. It’s no wonder she was off kilter.” Jean-Luc frowned.

“So there’s more than one problem with her?” He asked, now clearly displeased. “Beverly, I don’t have to tell you that allowing small problems to fester does no good. I’m certainly not telling you how to run your department, but you have to do something about this.” Slightly irritated, Beverly offered a tight smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Understood. I’ll speak with her tomorrow.” She said coolly. Jean-Luc went back to his book, but cursed softly to himself. That hadn’t gone the way he wanted it to. It was yet another thing they had to negotiate. How to separate the professional from the personal. Beverly had told him of her concerns as his friend and he’d reacted as her Captain. Damn! The longer he stayed silent, the thicker the atmosphere became. Her face set in an angry moue, Beverly rose and began to turn, but Jean-Luc stopped her. “Beverly,” He said softly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you angry, I chose my words poorly.” He took a calming breath and ordered his thoughts. “Speaking as your friend, I can see how unsettling this situation is for you. You wanted nothing more than to tell me about something that concerned you and I overreacted.” He bowed his head and sighed. Having considered his words, he continued. “It was entirely instinctive that I thought as your Captain and not as your friend. In future I will endeavour to put greater distance between the two.” The smile that graced Beverly’s face was a warm one and one that forgave her best friend. Offering a small nod, she said, “Thanks, Jean-Luc.” She snorted softly. “I knew what you were doing...and why, I just...hell, I overreacted too. You needn’t worry; I have the matter in hand.” He smiled up at her. “I knew you did.” He said gently. They shared a moment or two of peaceful silence before Beverly said softly, “I’m going to bed. Coming?” He glanced at the tumbler beside him and noted the amount of scotch in it. It was a nearly full measure. “No, I think I’ll read for a while longer.” He said. “Okay.” Beverly walked to the bedroom, then stopped and turned. “I’ll keep the bed warm for you.” He just smiled at her before returning to his book.

As the last words of the novel were read, Meredith frowned. Instead of leaving her wistful, as the synopsis had suggested it would, she felt nothing but confusion. It had been a romance, a genre she’d rarely read before nor would she ever again if that was all there was to it. How insipid it’d been, how pale. The declarations of love were insincere, lacking heat and power. The heroine in the story had courted and wooed the woman she desired, she hadn’t waited until boldly declaring her feelings, sure in the knowledge the subject of her desires would be happy to know and reciprocate. No, if this was romance it was like nothing Meredith recognised. She sat back and screwed up her face, tabbing the monitor off with more force than she’d intended. “Love.” She said at last, shaking her head. “That wasn’t love. That was...playing a game...seeing who can resist the other for as long as they can. I know what love is. It’s...” Her sight lost its focus as she looked inward and accessed her inner self, the one she kept so very well hidden. The vacant expression on her face was sad. The cold smile was worse, it was tragic. “It’s appetite that can never be satisfied.” She blinked and sighed. “I don’t need sappy romances to tell me what love is. Once I have Beverly, I’ll show her.” Completely convinced of her certainty, Meredith sat back in her seat and tapped her communicator. “Bower to Greensale.” “Greensale, here. What do you want, Meredith?” Said a clearly irritated voice. “You. My quarters, five minutes.” Said an obviously aroused Meredith. “Dammit, Meredith, you can’t just snap your fingers and expect me to...” “Five minutes. Bower out.” She felt so confident her current lover would acquiesce she went to the bedroom and got out some of her toys. In deference to Elsie Greensale she only chose the ones she liked. It wasn’t often Meredith allowed anyone’s preferences to override hers, but she was feeling extraordinarily generous. Besides, in the end it would be Elsie begging for more. Meredith never begged. Never. Safe in her utter conviction she’d settled the question of love, Meredith disrobed and stood by her bedroom door, waiting for her lover. She smiled smugly. She

would make Elsie pay a most delightful price for threatening to blackmail her. The thought that Elsie might not come never entered her head. And she was right. Elsie arrived three minutes later. Such was Meredith’s powers of persuasion and sexual proficiency. She felt warmth pervade her body as she thought about sharing her prodigious knowledge with Beverly. She made a decision there and then. Until she could enchant Beverly into her bed, she would practice on Elsie, perfecting her skills in preparation of what she was certain to be mind-blowing sex with the woman of her dreams.

Several days passed with only one incident. The vaccine had proved effective and the stream of patients had trickled to an end. sickbay reverted to its normally quiet self. Meredith was on night shift and saw nothing of Beverly, however she did have time to spend listening to general gossip and high on the list was the presumed relationship between Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher. Meredith still chose not to believe, but more and more crew were seeing things, subtle signs that the rumours may indeed be true. Having assisted in the delivery of a newborn, Meredith took a break. A mug of hot coffee in hand, she went into the sickbay’s conference room and took a seat while gazing out at the passing stars. It was oh three twenty and on a whim she asked quietly, “Computer, what is the location of Doctor Crusher?” “Doctor Crusher is in Captain Picard’s quarters.” Sitting bolt upright, Meredith ignored the coffee that slopped onto her hand. Her mind raced as she tried to absorb the information. One part of her refused to acknowledge the truth; another part was trying to come up with a plausible explanation. “Maybe the Captain is ill?” She reasoned. There was a way to find out, but she hesitated. Did she really want to know? She shook her head, attempting to think of something else, but one disturbing image kept intruding into her thoughts. Them... her Beverly and the captain. Together. Angry, she lifted her head. “Computer, is Doctor Crusher asleep?” “Yes.”

As Meredith bowed her head, she screwed her eyes closed tightly, trying to erase the image in her mind. “No, not my Beverly. Surely she wouldn’t...not with him.” But the evidence was there. If not in his bed with him, what else would Beverly be doing asleep in the captain’s quarters? Meredith had tried so hard, been so vigilant to prevent this, this exquisite pain. It wasn’t worth it, it never was. But could she deny her feelings this time? This wasn’t like the other times, this thing she felt, this love, could it, would it be denied? Sighing deeply, Meredith studied her coffee as if it had the answers. There was nothing she could do, other than to keep trying, keep her plans going ahead. Surely once she’d made her feelings known, Beverly would accept her? Such was the strength of Meredith’s emotions she was willing, if Beverly insisted, to tolerate Beverly maintaining her relationship with the captain, anything as long as Meredith had Beverly. The nurse suddenly realised something. In accepting that Beverly might not give up the captain whilst in a relationship with her, Meredith had proven yet again it was love she felt. She never accepted anything but total fidelity from her partners. In allowing Beverly to two-time her while she herself remained faithful was a first. Yes, it had to be love! How strange, she thought. I’m changing for her, becoming that which will please her and I haven’t done anything yet! If she needed any more proof than that, she didn’t know where to find it. Without even telling Beverly how she felt, things were already going ahead. What had begun with terrible pain was now nothing but joyous anticipation. Meredith returned to work, her heart light. She had only three more night shifts before she would once again be working with Beverly. She would wait patiently. Time was of no consequence, not now.

Deanna Troi, ship’s counsellor frowned at the monitor, the information giving her cause for concern. On coming aboard for the first time, each new crewmember underwent a psychological evaluation and thereafter had, as all crewmembers had, two every year. Sometimes the transition between postings or indeed for those fresh from the Academy with no Starship experience, could be unsettling, so these evaluations were to help in easing the new crewmember into life aboard their new ship. It was as much for Deanna as it was for the individual concerned. It was her way of getting to know everybody. By and large these

evaluations were a formality, but occasionally the counsellor would come across someone in need of help. Nothing serious, of course, just a helping hand, so-to-speak. But the profile on the screen made Deanna shake her head. She checked the name again. Meredith Bower. Deanna read the record again and sighed. There was something...something not quite right. This crewmember had passed the evaluation, why didn’t she pick up on this then? Deanna thought back, trying to remember anything about the session. When nothing came to mind the only conclusion she could draw was that there wasn’t anything to arouse her interest. Why had it surfaced now? Checking again, Deanna saw that Meredith Bower was a nurse working under her best friend, Beverly Crusher. A quick look at Meredith’s roster told her she was on night shift, but as it was nearly twenty hundred hours, Deanna thought Meredith might well be awake. She tapped her communicator. “Troi to Bower.” There was a well-disguised hint if wariness when Meredith responded. “Bower here, Counsellor.” Choosing her words carefully, Deanna said lightly, “Would it be possible for you to drop by my quarters before you go on duty, Lieutenant?” “Ah, I’m a bit busy, Counsellor. Perhaps some other time?” It wasn’t a refusal, but Deanna couldn’t help but feel she was being fobbed off by a woman who clearly didn’t want to see her. Putting a bit more steel into her voice, Deanna said, “I’m afraid not, Lieutenant. I have an hour free at twenty-thirty. I expect to see you then in my office. Troi out.” Sitting back in her seat, Deanna lifted her hand to her communicator, but paused. Bearing in mind the time, she lowered her hand and sighed. “No, not now. I’ll talk to Beverly about this tomorrow.” She said with certainty. In her quarters, Meredith scowled darkly. “What the hell does she want?” Psych evaluations always caused Meredith’s stomach to sour. She could handle them, quite easily if she really tried, but the thought that someone was wishing to delve into what she considered private territory irked her. She’d never tolerated trespassers, not of her mind or her body. She was only comfortable when she was in control. And to make matters worse, counsellor Troi was a Betazoid/human hybrid capable of sensing emotions. Meredith sighed and rubbed her forehead. Still, it could be worse. Full Betazoids were telepathic. If having your emotions read was bad, having your thoughts heard was far worse. She tried to think of a way out, of

finding an excuse that would keep her from the appointment, but that only led to the frustrating conclusion that even if she did put Deanna off, the counsellor would simply reschedule. No, there was no getting out of it, she had to comply. That left only one course. Somehow she had to discover a method to manage her emotions in such a way that they didn’t become too obvious. It would have to be a very fine balance because too controlled would alarm the counsellor as much as too emotional would. She knew from past experience she was perfectly capable of keeping her emotions under tight control, however, that didn’t mean she was good enough to hide from Deanna. Anything she felt, even muted would be picked up by the empath. Still, she felt confident she could manage. So, faced with the inevitable, Meredith did what she always did. She retreated. Deanna Troi would ask her questions, attempt to lead her into some sort of disclosure and Meredith would tell her exactly what she wanted to hear whilst remaining calm. The lieutenant wouldn’t come across as perfect, far from it. She would have flaws, problems and quirks, just like any normal person. There wouldn’t be any reason for Deanna to suspect that she was anything other than what she saw and heard. Meredith smiled slyly. “It’ll be a bravura performance.” She chuckled then and left her quarters, knowing turning up early, after sounding so wary might just put the counsellor on the back foot.

Deanna sensed Meredith’s approach and scarcely noted the time, so intense was her concentration. There it was, elusive and slippery. The something. She was frowning deeply as the door annunciator sounded. Arranging her features into a pleasant visage, Deanna called out in her soft, musical voice, “Come in, Lieutenant.” Meredith sneered, thinking unkindly that Deanna was showing off by demonstrating her ability to recognise someone through a closed door. Little did she know that Deanna had an awareness of her well before she even left her quarters. The Counsellor was aware of everybody on the ship. It was only close proximity that sharpened her senses. Meredith entered, the sneer replaced by a shy smile, her ‘I’m just a shy, meek nurse’ persona in place. At a gesture from Deanna she sat on the comfortable sofa and folded her hands in her lap, a picture of studied normalcy. Deanna’s eyes were a deep, obsidian black as were all Betazoids and to those who didn’t know her well, it was very difficult to see anything in them. Where one might detect anger or love or fear in a human’s eyes, to the casual observer a Betazoids eyes were blank. One large inky black pupil that seemed to neither contract nor dilate. Meredith tried not to feel any dismay. She’d been through this with her before and she could do it again. She just had to stay calm.

Smiling warmly and with her body completely relaxed, Deanna asked softly, “Do you know why I’ve asked you here tonight?” Offering a confused smile, Meredith shook her head. “No, I’m afraid I don’t, Counsellor.” She said with remarkable sincerity. “But I must remind you, I have to be on duty soon.” Meredith watched Deanna carefully, wondering if she’d overstepped. Damn, it was difficult! Not knowing how far she could push. Deanna seemed serene and unruffled by what she’d said. She nodded, her smile never faltering. “That’s all right, Lieutenant.” She said mildly. “If you’re late I’ll clear it with your shift leader.” “Damn!” Meredith thought darkly, then immediately quelled the emotion that accompanied the mild curse. “Okay, that didn’t work, time to just watch, listen and go along for the ride.” “I was reading your profile,” Remarked a fully aware Deanna, “And I was struck by how quickly you were promoted. Do you think you were ready for that?” “Hmm,” Thought Meredith. “An interesting opening gambit.” She shrugged. “Oh, I think so, Counsellor.” Replied Meredith confidently. “It’s not as if I wasn’t ready for the increased work load.” “Yes,” Agreed Deanna. “But what about the increased responsibility? You have more people working under you now and you’re responsible for their work as well as your own.” Smiling inside, Meredith almost cheered. This was familiar territory. When she’d left Medical as a Lieutenant JG she’d been made well aware of just what that entailed. Her rapid promotion to full Lieutenant was something she’d taken in her stride. Trying not to look too smug and making sure she felt calm, Meredith gave a smile that ended up looking way too condescending. “It’s fine, Counsellor,” She said. “I’m not having any problems.” “You might not be, but what about those under you?” Meredith frowned, not fully understanding the question. “Ah, I’ve not heard any complaints.”

Deanna’s smile was sympathetic and it made Meredith want to sneer. She had yet to learn what a compassionate and highly skilled person Deanna was. Her smiles were always genuine, never false. Softly she said, “You may not hear what you don’t want to hear.” “What kind of psychobabble is this?” Meredith thought with irritation. Deanna’s senses picked it up instantly. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.” She said tightly. Leaning forward, Deanna stared into Meredith’s eyes and it took all her concentration not to look away. “You wouldn’t hear them, Meredith, because you don’t interact with them.” Deanna said gently. “You’re so absorbed in your work you barely notice those who work under you and your remoteness doesn’t make for good working relations. Do you think an Ensign working under you would feel comfortable coming to you with a problem?” Meredith gaped, she couldn’t help it. She almost laughed out loud. “Counsellor,” She said mildly, “I’m a nurse. Rank has little bearing on the kind of work I do. It doesn’t matter much what rank you are, the work is pretty much the same for everyone.” Deanna’s face didn’t show it, but she was highly annoyed. Because she wasn’t yet sure of what exactly it was that concerned her about this woman, she’d tried to elicit some sense of her personality by approaching her through the familiar area of work and, by what she’d sensed so far, not that much was wrong. However, she’d been very effectively shot down. So, another tack, then. Deanna sat back and crossed her legs, clasping her hands over her knee. Her smile was warm and inviting. “So, Lieutenant, tell me about yourself.” Meredith grinned inside. Victory was within her grasp but she carefully damped down her emotions. “Oh, Counsellor,” She murmured with false modesty. “There’s nothing much to say, really. What you see is what you get. All you need to know is in my profile.” It was a veiled statement, not lost on Deanna. Deflecting the throwaway declaration, Deanna said, “Not everything is in a profile, Lieutenant. Your childhood for example. What was that like?”

“Persistent, if not predictable.” Thought Meredith sardonically. Out loud she said, “I had a very pleasant childhood, Counsellor. My parents, siblings and I travelled a lot when I was young, but the household was a stable one.” Keeping her gaze steady, Deanna was aware of how disconcerting some humans found her eyes and exploited it with careful intensity. “I see.” She said evenly. “And your school years?” Unease trickled through Meredith, but outwardly she remained calm. “What can I say? I found junior school rather boring and senior school barely adequate.” She did try not to be complacent. Nodding thoughtfully, Deanna said, “You have a very high IQ.” “Mmm.” The nurse agreed. “I suppose that’s the reason I found school so underwhelming. Not enough stimulation.” A small frown creased Deanna’s brow and she leaned her head slightly to one side. “I find it interesting that you use the word ‘stimulation’. There is an entry in your record that details an incident in your penultimate year in senior school. It involved the apparent suicide of one Eva Carmichael.” Meredith blanched and swallowed hard and Deanna felt the accompanying surge of alarm. Scrambling to recover, she eventually found her voice, though it was barely a whisper. “How did that get into my record?” She uttered, aghast. Leaning further forward, Deanna reached out and put a hand on Meredith’s knee. It was supposed to be a comforting gesture, but Meredith felt only resentment, which Deanna found very interesting. “Lieutenant,” She said gently, “When a person is going to be posted to a Starship, a very detailed profile is generated. Not everyone makes it into space, the rigours of long missions and the constraints of working in a closed environment are factors that have to be taken into account. Of those that are chosen, we have to be sure they can cope. That means we have to know more about them, more then would be usual. The profile developed of you at the Academy was thorough, but not as thorough as this one.” She sat back and paused, watching Meredith. She still couldn’t decide what it was about the woman that set off her alarm. Putting that aside, she returned to her query.

“I would like to talk to you about Eva Carmichael.” Meredith had barely heard what Deanna had said. “This can’t be happening!” She thought, panicking. “Not after I worked so hard.” In her mind she saw everything unravelling. Her job, Beverly...Abruptly brought up, she clenched her jaw and made a concerted effort to control herself. When she felt ready, Meredith engaged Deanna’s gaze steadily and ordered her features. “What do you want to know?” Yes, she thought, that sounded okay. Deanna had easily sensed most of her inner turmoil and marvelled at her ability to gather herself. Unfortunately, Deanna didn’t fully understand the scope of Meredith’s panic, mistaking it for merely not wishing to talk about a matter that was obviously very personal. “Just tell me what happened.” Purred Deanna in her most mesmerising voice. “There’s not much to tell, actually.” Demurred Meredith. “Eva was my lover for a short time. She had problems and they became too much and she took her own life.” Taking a soft breath, Deanna said carefully, “You sound quite detached about it.” With a shrug, Meredith cocked her head to one side. “It was an unfortunate event that happened some years ago.” She said quietly. “I’ve put it behind me.” “I see.” Said Deanna. “Was Eva your first lover?” “No, nor was she the last.” “And how would you describe your relationships?” “I’m not sure I know what you mean, Counsellor.” Meredith was getting annoyed. “Well,” Mused Deanna. “Are they satisfying? Do you maintain good relationships with past lovers?” “I really don’t know what that has to do with anything, Counsellor.” Meredith said testily. “Surely you have better things to do with your time that to ask me about my sex life.” The harsh words flowed over Deanna, leaving her untouched. More telling than her irritated words was the undercurrent of anger, fear and resentment, coming from the woman. Deanna smiled, her black eyes glittering.

“I didn’t ask about your sex life, Lieutenant.” Deanna’s voice carried a hint of decisiveness. “I asked you about your relationships. Do you know the difference?” Quickly rising to her feet, Meredith fisted her hands at her sides. “Counsellor, I protest your invasive questions about my personal life. I fail to see how this is of any relevance with regard to my work.” Clearly incensed, Meredith was only just hanging on to what little remained of her control. “I ask you this, Counsellor. Do you consider me fit to work?” Looking up, Deanna offered a small smile and inclined her head. “Yes. For now.” Without being dismissed, Meredith spun on her heel and stalked from the room. Deanna watched her until the doors closed and hid her from view. It was a very introspective Counsellor who murmured, “Well, that was interesting.” Yet, although she felt she had learned more about the lieutenant, the ineffable something that had first disturbed her remained elusive. Her reactions, though understandable were not what Deanna had expected. Indeed she was left feeling that there was much more to Meredith Bower than met the eye. All the more reason to talk to her boss, Beverly Crusher.

Deanna was up early the next day and called Beverly. She was aware of the Doctor’s current living arrangements and was careful not to disturb her captain. She habitually met with Beverly every morning before breakfast to exercise together. The call was to warn her that she wished to discuss one of Beverly’s staff. As Beverly made her was to the gym, she pondered what Deanna had said and came to the conclusion the discussion had to be about lieutenant Bower. She could think of no one else on her staff that might have raised any concerns of the ship’s counsellor. Of course she may be doing the woman a grave injustice, but Beverly had learned to listen to her intuition. The friends met and started their stretches. It was while they were seated in front of each other, legs spread wide and their hands joined as they pulled gently against one another, that Deanna remarked softly,

“I had an interesting session with Lieutenant Bower last night.” “Did you now?” Beverly said, grimacing slightly as her back complained. “May I ask, who requested the session? You or the Lieutenant?” With her own expression of discomfort on her face, Deanna’s breath hissed through her teeth. “It was me.” She puffed. “I was reading her file and something...” She groaned softly, making Beverly grin wickedly and say, “You’re not as supple as you used to be.” “Hmph!” Deanna scowled. “I’m not the one having monkey sex! No wonder you’re so damned supple.” Scandalised, Beverly’s eyes danced. “We don’t have monkey sex!” She stated firmly. Then with amusement said, “Really, Deanna, can you imagine Jean-Luc...” They both laughed and Beverly blushed. She composed herself and said with a more serious air, “You were saying?” Deanna sobered. “Yes. I can’t honestly say what it was...certainly nothing obvious, but there was definitely something that disturbed me.” “So you scheduled a session.” Deanna frowned and tilted her head. “Not exactly.” She murmured. “Actually, I called her there and then and all but ordered to attend immediately.” Beverly let go of Deanna’s hands and pulled her right ankle until her foot rested on her crotch. “Really?” She said. “You were that concerned?” “Well, yes, but I don’t want to give the impression that I think the Lieutenant’s unstable, she’s least I don’t think so.”

Beverly watched as Deanna thought about the subject some more. While she was occupied, Beverly bent sideways and stretched until her fingers met the toes of out outstretched foot. “I have some concerns about her too.” Beverly said, her voice a little strained. “Really?” Deanna asked, her interest colouring her voice. “What sort of concerns?” Sitting up and arching her back, Beverly frowned. “Well, like you, I can’t really put my finger on’s just a feeling, I guess. I’ve seen her looking at me a couple of times...and her eyes held...something I can’t quite identify. I just know I didn’t like it, although it was odd in a way. As soon as our eyes met, she looked away.” “Hmm,” Hummed Deanna. “I wonder.” “What?” “Oh, I don’t know, I just...” She shook her head and shrugged, saying nothing further. They continued their stretches for a while before Beverly said gently, “You have some kind of idea, don’t you.” Taking a deep breath, Deanna nodded, but reluctantly. “I do, yes, but I really need more information before I can be sure.” “Care to tell me?” “Um...okay, but I want you to know what I say isn’t backed up by any real diagnosis. It’s just a suspicion, nothing more.” “Okay.” Choosing her words carefully, Deanna looked at Beverly and said softly, “Mild autism.” Beverly’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Autism?” She said with disbelief. “But, Deanna, there hasn’t been a case of that in over a hundred and fifty years! We discovered long ago how to identify and successfully treat it.”

“I know,” Agreed Deanna with a frustrated shake of her head. “But from the little I’ve seen and heard it makes me suspect it.” The Doctor shook her head as she thought, not wanting to believe, but gradually she began to make sense of the idea. “Well, I suppose she does exhibit some classic symptoms.” She remarked with care. “But what about her ability to function so normally? Could that be a learned response in someone with autism, albeit mild?” “I think so, yes.” Said Deanna. “Tell me, have you ever noticed the disconnection and inattention so indicative of autism?” Beverly tilted her head and shrugged. “Now that you mention it, yes, I have, but not so prevalent that I’d make an issue of it. Lots of people are inattentive and appear, on the surface at least, to be somewhat remote. I mean, you could look no further than Jean-Luc for remoteness, but we both know he’s only distancing himself to preserve his command persona. In private he’s fully attentive.” “Hmm, you may be right. As I said, it’s only a thought. I’ll know more when I’ve spoken to her again.” “More sessions?” Asked Beverly. “Oh, most certainly! Although...” “Yes?” “Getting her to comply might be a problem.” Admitted Deanna. “Why?” Asked Beverly. “Because I don’t want to order her into therapy, but judging by the amount of hostility she feels towards me at the moment, I might have to and that’s counterproductive.” Deanna sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I might just have to resort to guerrilla counselling.” Beverly snorted, a look of utter disbelief on her face. “Guerrilla counselling?” She said incredulously. “What the hell is that?” With a grimace, Deanna stood and bent double, wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her forehead on her knees. In a somewhat muffled voice she said, “Basically, it’s ambush therapy.” She groaned softly as her hamstrings twanged. “I turn up completely unexpected and inveigle myself into conversation with the patient. Then, with as

much stealth as I can muster, I try to steer the dialogue towards something that resembles a session.” Pulling down the corners of her mouth, Beverly tried not to show her distaste. “Sounds a little...” “Unprofessional?” “Well, yes.” “It is, but sometimes with recalcitrant patients, I have no choice.” A frustrated Deanna admitted. “Of course its effectiveness depends solely on the patient’s eventual goodwill. If there’s any real resistance, it doesn’t work.” “Hell of a way to do your job.” Remarked Beverly, still not happy with Deanna’s methods. “It is, I agree and I rarely, if ever, have to resort to it.” “Well, here’s hoping you won’t have to with Bower.” Declared Beverly. “Oh, I hear you, Beverly and I agree wholeheartedly!” They spent the next fifteen minutes completing their routine, then left. As Beverly walked briskly back to Jean-Luc’s quarters she mulled over what had been discussed. “Mild autism. Damn, could it be possible? Could someone in this day and age slip through the cracks and go undiagnosed?” She walked a bit further and shook her head. “And get through the Academy?” She had a lot to think about.

Jean-Luc had set the table and was at the replicator when Beverly returned. She offered a warm smile and kissed him as she breezed past on her way to the bathroom. JeanLuc knew she would take a quick shower before dressing and joining him. He didn’t complete the order, but waited so breakfast would be hot. They were eating their croissants and sipping hot coffee when Beverly remarked,

“You know that problem I told you about?” “Ah...the one about your staff member?” Jean-Luc said cautiously. “Yes.” Beverly smiled. “I’ve just had a very interesting chat with Deanna about the same person.” Careful to keep the conversation casual, Jean-Luc showed only mild interest. “Really?” He murmured. “And what did she have to say?” Sitting forward and propping her elbows on the table, Beverly held her mug in her fingers. “Well,” She began. “Deanna thinks the nurse might be suffering from mild autism.” Jean-Luc frowned as he struggled to find any reference of the condition in his mind. Eventually he shrugged. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it.” “Nor should you have.” Beverly snorted softly. “It’s a condition that’s been all but eradicated. We long ago learned how to detect and treat it. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a case for over a hundred and fifty years.” She sipped her coffee. “Oh, and by the way, autism in adults was called Asperger’s syndrome. Actually, the complete title is, Asperger’s Spectral Disorder.” Showing he was impressed, Jean-Luc offered a wide smile. “Indeed.” He said affably. “And you know about this how? If it’s been gone for so long, why would you be aware of it?” Tilting her head slightly, Beverly acknowledged his question. “It’s true, I wouldn’t normally be aware of something like that, but you’d be surprised how often references are made to old medical conditions in relation to existing ones. It’s sometimes very helpful to make comparisons. You’d be surprised just how much information there is floating about that concerns old and indeed ancient maladies.” “Hmm, I suppose I could say the same thing. I have access to old logs and mission reports going back a very long time and I have, often I suppose, delved into them when stumped for an answer.” He smiled. “Medical is no different it seems.” They sipped quietly for a short time before Jean-Luc asked softly,

“Can the condition be treated?” Beverly took a deep breath and considered the question. She’d been thinking the same thing. “I’d have to do some research, but from what I can remember, the answer is no. But, in saying that, I should point out that people with mild Asperger’s can lead quite normal lives. In fact some sufferers exhibit extraordinary talents. Mathematical, artistic, their abilities are quite astonishing.” She grimaced. “Unfortunately the old term for these gifted individuals was ‘idiot savant’.” Jean-Luc sighed, dropped his head and shook it in dismay. “You’re right,” He said sadly. “That is unfortunate.” He lifted his head and gave Beverly a measured look. She knew he was concerned but was doing his best to keep the captain out of the conversation. “So, I suppose the question is...Can this woman carry out her duties? Is she fit to work, especially in a starship environment?” He asked carefully. Letting go of her mug with one hand, Beverly sat back and combed her fingers through her hair. “Yes, I think she is. Certainly, I will consult with Deanna about it, but I’m sure she’ll be able to continue.” “Very well,” Smiled Jean-Luc, then he sobered. “But be careful, Beverly.” “Oh, I will, you can be sure of that, but you should know, people with Asperger’s,” She held up her index finger to accentuate her next words, “Provided that’s what she suffers and I’m not completely convinced of that, not yet anyhow, are not dangerous. They may be remote and somewhat self-absorbed, but they pose no danger whatsoever.” Jean-Luc considered what she’d said then spoke carefully. “If she doesn’t have Asperger’s then you are still dealing with a woman who is either somehow upset about something...or is somewhat disturbed. Either way she should be watched.” Beverly nodded and smiled her understanding. “I know.” “In that case,” Said Jean-Luc kindly, I’ll leave it in your capable hands.”

With breakfast over they stood and began to clear the table in preparation to leave for their shift. Beverly smiled and said softly, “I appreciate your support, Jean-Luc.” He said nothing but offered a warm smile. As they moved towards the doors, Beverly hesitated and half turned. “And will you tell the Captain something for me?” His eyes twinkled as he nodded. “Tell him, I appreciate him keeping out of it...for now.” “I’ll tell him.” Said an amused Jean-Luc, pleased that he’d handled it correctly. They left their quarters with a light step.

It had taken a good twenty-four hours before Meredith recovered fully. She’d gone straight to sickbay after the brittle session with Deanna and had only just managed to get through her shift. Fortunately the facility was quiet, affording her the opportunity to regain her equilibrium, but it wasn’t until she’d got through the shift, then had a decent sleep that she felt on an even keel again. Knowing she’d somehow piqued the counsellor’s interest was a burden she would rather not have, it was an awkward complication. Having finished her night shifts, she enjoyed the obligatory twenty-four hours off before reporting bright and early for the normal day shift. She was well aware Deanna would’ve reported the session to Beverly and it irritated her, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it, so she concentrated on keeping a low profile and doing her job. With the end-of-month reports due, Beverly spent the first part of the day ensconced in her office. She emerged just before lunch and startled Meredith by sidling up and watching her as she changed a dermoplast dressing on an ensign from engineering. When the task was completed, Meredith summoned a cold smile and sent the junior officer back to work.

There was an awkward silence, then as Meredith turned to put her instruments back, Beverly said softly, “That was well done.” Halted, the lieutenant glanced up and tried to keep her expression neutral. “Thank you, Doctor.” She said quietly. When nothing more was said, she went to move off, but again Beverly stopped her. “Lieutenant...Meredith, I’m going to the lounge for lunch.” Beverly said. “Would you care to join me?” Pure, unadulterated joy surged through Meredith and, when she glanced again at her boss, her eyes were glowing. “Ah, actually...I think I would.” She managed to keep her tone even. “Thank you, Doctor Crusher.” Beverly smiled to cover her unease. If there was a problem with this woman, she had to find out what it was. She may not feel comfortable with her, but that was all right, one wasn’t expected to get on with everybody. With a vague wave towards her office, Beverly said, “I just have to do something. Wait here, I’ll be back in a minute.” “Yes, Doctor.” Once in her office, Beverly tapped her communicator. “Crusher to Picard.” She couldn’t help by smile as his distinctive voice responded. “Picard here, Doctor.” “Captain, I’m having lunch with a colleague today.” “Very well, Doctor. Picard out.” It was usual for the pair to lunch together. They’d been doing it for so long the crew barely noticed anymore. There were those, of course, who speculated about the nature of their relationship, and their actions certainly added credence to the rumours that circulated the lower decks, but since it was common knowledge the officers habitually lunched together it was hardly newsworthy. Having informed Jean-Luc of her plans, Beverly’s next call was to Deanna.

“Troi here. Go ahead, Beverly.” “I’m having lunch with Lieutenant Bower. Are you interested in joining us?” Deanna’s interest was clear in her voice. “Well, it might be helpful. The lounge?” “Yes.” “See you there. Troi out.” Meredith appeared to be waiting patiently, but inside she was a tumult of nervousness. Beverly Crusher, her Beverly had invited her to lunch! When the object of her desires came out of her office, it was all Meredith could do to not shiver with anticipation. She fell into step with the taller red head and said nothing as Beverly chatted amiably on their way to the lounge. They’d been seated only a couple of minutes before Beverly remarked, “I do like this table, it affords such a lovely view, don’t you think?” Having been asked such a direct question made Meredith feel distinctly uncomfortable. To cover her apprehension she casually looked out of the viewports. She knew Beverly was watching her and she couldn’t help but swallow nervously. What Beverly said next didn’t help at all. “It’s all right, Lieutenant, you can relax.” She formed what she hoped would be a confident smile and began to turn her head back towards her boss, but the sight of Deanna approaching their table wiped it from her face. Beverly saw the quick change of expression and thought she knew what’d caused it. She looked over her shoulder and smiled as Deanna arrived at the table. “Counsellor!” Beverly exclaimed with well orchestrated surprise. “The Lieutenant and I were just about to order lunch. Have you eaten?” Deanna glanced at Meredith’s bowed head and frowned slightly. She sensed the intense emotions emanating from the woman and her struggle to rein them in. Anger and betrayal swirled around her making Deanna wonder who, exactly, they were aimed at. She dragged her eyes back to Beverly and summoned a smile. “No, Doctor, I haven’t.” She said quietly.

“Then you must join us.” Said Beverly blandly, hoping she wasn’t being too obvious. The trouble with guerrilla counselling was that it is basically disingenuous and she was certain Meredith was well aware of what was happening. But, maintain the charade, Beverly snapped her fingers. “Oh, damn! I’ve forgotten something.” She grinned wanly. “I’ll be right back.” Having made her escape, Beverly retreated to the other side of the crowded room from where she could surreptitiously observe the pair. Deanna gritted her teeth at the inelegant and clumsy way they’d gone about setting Meredith up. She turned her thinned lips into a smile and said softly, “I must apologise, Meredith.” She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “It wasn’t very professional of us.” Having got control of herself, Meredith raised her eyes long enough to size Deanna up. She then lowered her gaze and shrugged. “It’s not the first time it’s happened to me, Counsellor.” She said quietly. “Perhaps not, but that doesn’t excuse our behaviour.” Said Deanna gently. There was an uncomfortable silence between them as Meredith sat in cold resignation and Deanna sorted through her tightly controlled emotions. Eventually it was Deanna who broke the impasse. “Well, now that we’re here, we might as well talk.” She said, trying to sound positive. Again Meredith only glanced at the Counsellor before returning her gaze to her lap. “About what?” “Well, why don’t you tell me what you’re feeling right now?” Asked Deanna. “Surely you must be angry.” The smile was barely seen with her head bowed. “You know precisely what I’m feeling, Counsellor. You don’t need me to tell you.” “That’s true,” Admitted Deanna. “But I think it would be helpful if you articulated your feelings.” “Helpful to whom, Counsellor. You, or me?” “Both of us, Meredith.” Deanna sighed and briefly closed her eyes. “As I entered the lounge, I felt quite strong emotions coming from you. Would you like to tell me about it?”

Meredith didn’t respond so Deanna continued. “What you were feeling was directed at Doctor Crusher and it felt warm and quite lovely.” Deanna said gently, trying to draw a response from the Lieutenant. When she remained silent, Deanna tilted her head to see under Meredith’s brow. “It’s not unusual for people to be attracted to someone, Meredith.” Deanna said quietly. “And it’s not unusual for crewmembers to become infatuated with their commanding officers. It’s natural and normal, I’ve seen it often. It doesn’t mean you’re unique, Meredith, you’re certainly not the first, nor will you be the last to have these kinds of feelings.” Using a brief pause to gauge Meredith’s emotions, Deanna went on. “What you have to come to terms with, is that your feelings towards Doctor Crusher aren’t appropriate. For one, she doesn’t share your sexual orientation. And I can tell you, although I would ask you not to discuss it with anyone, Doctor Crusher is in a stable, long-term relationship with Captain Picard. So you see your feelings are misplaced. It would be better for everyone if you found someone else” Meredith had lost the ability to mute her emotions. Deanna’s softly spoken words had wounded her deeply and the counsellor was well aware of the effect her words were having. The Betazoid closed her eyes as she felt Meredith’s pain. It took several minutes before the nurse regained control. Somehow she stifled her agony and took a calming breath. Deanna opened her eyes and expected Meredith to show some kind of grudging acceptance. But the woman merely offered a cold smile and stood, coming to attention. She said nothing, just looked vacantly into the middle distance, her emotions under tight control. With a deep sigh, Deanna said quietly, “You may go, Lieutenant.” Giving a curt nod, Meredith stalked out of the lounge, but not before her step faltered when she saw Beverly. Their eyes met and Beverly softly gasped at what she saw. Then the moment passed and Meredith was gone. Shaken, Beverly made her way to the table and sat with an equally disturbed Deanna. “How did it go?” Asked a worried Doctor. “Not well.” Replied Deanna. “In fact I think our problem just got worse.” The waiter came to their table but neither of them had any appetite to eat. Beverly ordered a coffee, Deanna just shook her head. “Do you still think it’s Asperger’s?” Asked Beverly.

“Asperger’s?” Said a confused Deanna. Offering an apologetic smile, Beverly clarified. “Autism in adults.” “Oh, of course.” She nodded. “I don’t know.” Deanna said with frustration. “What do you think?” Beverly shrugged. “I’m not sure either.” She confessed. “I’m going to have to do a hell of a lot more research before I can make that kind of diagnosis.” “Agreed. But there’s still something...” Deanna sighed and plexed for a moment or two. “You know she’s in love with you.” Beverly inclined her head and raised her eyebrows. “I thought as much.” She said sadly. “You know, I’ve had plenty of staff harbour inappropriate feelings for me over the years, I mean, it goes with the job, but never with the intensity I sense from Meredith Bower.” “I know what you mean.” Agreed the counsellor. “From what I sense of her emotions they’re somehow...” She gestured with an upward lift of her hands. “Amplified. It’s as if she feels everything with more strength and clarity, but struggles to express herself adequately. I can’t help but wonder...” “What?” asked an intrigued Doctor. Deanna sighed. “Well, how does she cope? You know what strong emotion feels like, what it makes you want to do, yet she manages to lead a normal life beset, but seemingly not hampered, by a tumult of blaring emotions.” “So she is abnormal?” “That’s a judgement I find hard to make. What is normal when it comes to our emotions? Just because she feels with such intensity doesn’t make her abnormal. Lots of people feel their passions deeply.” “But it is unusual.” Beverly said carefully. “Yes, it is.” Admitted Deanna. “I’ve never come across anything like this before, at least not in a human.”

They considered the situation, then Beverly said softly, “But there’s still that underlining thing, isn’t there.” With a frustrated snort, Deanna nodded. “Yes, there is and I’m no closer to discovering what it is than I was before. What I can say is whatever it is, it’s deep inside her, Beverly and I think it’s probably mixed up with her feelings towards you.” Beverly levelled her gaze at her best friend. “So, do I have a problem?” She asked flatly. Returning her gaze, Deanna sighed. “I don’t know.” Nodding her acceptance of the situation, Beverly said fatalistically, “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.” “And keep our fingers crossed.” A sympathetic counsellor quipped. They stood together and left the lounge. Once out in the corridor, Beverly shook her head and said wryly, “Oh, and no more guerrilla counselling.” That made Deanna chuckle. “Definitely not.” There followed a moment’s silence before Deanna said with embarrassment, “God, what a disaster.” Beverly grimaced. “I know and it’s my damned fault! I’m sorry Dee, I’m not usually so ham-fisted.” With a soft snort, Deanna placed a commiserating hand on Beverly’s forearm. “It’s not all your fault, Beverly.” She said kindly. “I could’ve easily refused the invitation.” She turned to her friend and said softly,

“In fact you may have had more success if you’d just had a simple, quiet lunch with the woman.” “Maybe,” Said Beverly evenly. “But hindsight is twenty-twenty vision, Dee. I’d rather think we’ll get another chance. Who knows, Meredith herself might seek help.” Nodding, Deanna still had her doubts. “That’s if she recognises she has a problem.” “True. Time will tell, I suppose.” Beverly agreed. They parted at the turbolift. Beverly wasn’t looking forward to seeing Meredith in sickbay.

As she’d anticipated, there was a great deal of tension and awkwardness between the two women. Twice Beverly tried to engage Meredith in conversation, but received nothing but curt monosyllables in return. She barely avoided being cited for insubordination. It was obvious the lieutenant was very angry with her. But Beverly was still her commanding officer and she would not tolerate sullen behaviour among her staff, no matter what the cause. So, bearing in mind she was partly at fault and to lessen the unpalatable atmosphere, Beverly asked Meredith to assist lieutenant commander Ogawa in the obstetric room. They had three females of various species in labour. If anything could lift one’s mood, it was the birth of a new baby. Unfortunately, Beverly had no idea that such fundamental feelings weren’t part of Meredith’s makeup. Yes, she did feel her emotions with extraordinary potency, but the wonder of new life, indeed maternity in general didn’t affect her in any way. However, she did find some solace in the work as it was intense and rewarding in its own way. And it kept her away from Beverly while she regained her equilibrium. By shift’s end she’d forgiven Beverly, but not Deanna. No, every time she thought about what had happened, anger swelled up making her jaw clench and her throat constrict. The only thing that was going to assuage that anger was sex. When she’d reached her quarters, she wasted no time in summoning Elsie Greensale. As before, Elsie complained bitterly, but was powerless to deny Meredith. She arrived at Meredith’s quarters just as aroused as Meredith was. The sex was intense and prolonged, leaving them both sated and relaxed. Meredith even accepted caresses and cuddling from Elsie afterwards and, more extraordinary, allowed Elsie to stay. With her eyes mere slits and sleep threatening, Meredith was unprepared for Elsie’s murmured words.

“I could so easily love you, Meredith.” Her eyes snapping open, the lieutenant stared at her partner. “What?” She asked angrily, irritated the languid mood was shattered. “You heard me.” Declared Elsie. “What we have is wonderful. I’ve never had anyone quite like you, Meredith.” Taken aback, Meredith frowned. “You can’t be serious!” She exclaimed. “Why ruin it by talking about love?” With a soft snort, Elsie gently kissed Meredith’s lips. “I know how you feel about Doctor Crusher, Meredith, don’t worry, I’m not asking you to give her up, but can’t you find a place in your heart for me too?” Rolling to her back, Meredith stared up at the ceiling. “Well, that’s different.” She thought. “It might be interesting.” Curiosity made Meredith turn to study her partner. By the woman’s intense gaze, Meredith correctly identified deep affection in her eyes. “Hmm,” Thought Meredith. “How clichéd. Still, it could prove amusing.” Out loud she said softly, “I suppose I could, but I don’t think I want any romance. How about we keep things as they are, but I make more time for you?” It wasn’t what Elsie wanted, but it was more than she’d hoped for. Giving an enthusiastic nod, she kissed Meredith again. By the intensity of the kiss, Meredith knew Elsie wanted more sex. She happily obliged. Upon waking, Meredith was astonished to find Elsie still in her bed. It took a few confused seconds before she remembered she’d given the woman permission to stay. What had she been thinking? Obviously, her encounter with the counsellor the previous day was still having its effect. There could be no other reason. Then she paused and rethought. Elsie. She all but confessed to loving her. Meredith lifted her head and peered in the darkness, just making out Elsie’s profile as her head rested on her pillow. “How do I feel about her?” Wondered Meredith. She sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know!” Now really confused, Meredith slid out of bed and paced around the room.

“What the hell is going on?” She stopped and stared at her sleeping lover. Shaking her head again, Meredith strode to the bathroom, muttering darkly, “Get a grip!” The possibility that she might be developing feelings for Elsie wasn’t something she was prepared to contemplate. So, reverting to form, she simply ignored the entire situation. She had more important things to think about.

As usual Beverly worked beyond the end of her shift, but she wasn’t really concentrating on her work. Not that she was treating any patients; she would’ve most certainly devoted all her attention if that were the case. No, it was the end-of-month reports that she laboured over and not because they were particularly onerous, but that her mind just wasn’t on the job. Finally, irritated by her distracting thoughts, Beverly tabbed off the monitor and stacked the PADDs into an untidy pile and moved them to one side of her desk. Then without a backwards glance, she shoved her chair back, stood and left sickbay walking briskly to her quarters. She was alone for only ten minutes or so before Jean-Luc arrived. They went through their ritual greeting, both deriving pleasure and a form of solace from it. Throughout the rest of the evening, Jean-Luc was aware Beverly was distracted. He bided his time, knowing she would tell him what was bothering her in her own time. By the time they were lying in bed, he’d come to the conclusion she was not yet ready but, just as he began to drift to sleep, her soft voice brought him awake. “Can we talk?” She whispered. “Of course.” Her deep sigh told Jean-Luc whatever it was, she was deeply troubled. “I think my problem has become significantly more complicated.” She confessed. “Your nurse?” He asked softly, his deep voice rumbling through his chest.

Beverly turned onto her side, entwined their legs and placed her hand palm down on his chest, her fingers idly playing with his soft, curling hair. “Yes.” “Tell me.” Again Beverly sighed. “She’s in love with me.” He heard the worry and sadness in those whispered words and he frowned. “Well, I can understand how that would make you feel uncomfortable, but surely you’ve experienced that sort of thing before?” He said carefully. “It’s quite common for junior officers to become infatuated with their commanding officers.” “Of course I am, Jean-Luc, but there are two very distinct differences here. One; she’s not a junior officer, she’s a full Lieutenant and she’s twenty-nine years old. And two; she isn’t infatuated with me, she’s in love with me.” “I see.” Jean-Luc said quietly. “That does make a difference. Have you talked to her?” Embarrassed, Beverly muttered, “Not exactly.” Turning his head, Jean-Luc said, “Lights, ten percent.” In the now dimly lit room, he turned and propped himself up on one elbow. Looking down at Beverly, her hair spread forwards hiding her profile. Using his fingers, he gently pushed the curtain of red hair back behind her ear and then lifted her chin so she faced him. “What does that mean?” He asked with quiet forbearance. Beverly chewed her lower lip, knowing he was going to be displeased. “Well, I sort of set her up.” Beverly said sheepishly. “I involved Deanna in some guerrilla counselling.” “What?” A now annoyed Jean-Luc said sharply. “And what, exactly, is ‘guerrilla counselling’?” With a wave of her hand Beverly hoped was as dismissive as she meant it to be, she said blithely, “Oh, it’s nothing you need concern yourself about, Jean-Luc. All you need to know is that it was a dismal failure. While Deanna did unearth the nurse’s feelings towards me, she wasn’t able to discover what else might be the cause of our original concerns.”

Closing his eyes briefly, Jean-Luc took a steadying breath. “In what capacity are you telling me this? And for that matter just whom do you want to respond?” Offering a half smile, Beverly said quietly, “I’m telling you as my friend and I expect, at least I hope, you’ll respond in kind.” “Hmm.” He was obviously upset. “What about your suspicion she may be suffering Asperger’s syndrome?” he asked. “The jury’s still out on that. Neither Deanna nor I have enough evidence to make a definitive diagnosis.” “But it is a possibility.” “Yes, it remains within the realms of possibility. We certainly can’t discount the idea.” “Then is it normal for people with that disorder to have inappropriate feelings for others?” Jean-Luc asked, feeling his way with his questions. Beverly shrugged. “To be honest, I’m not sure; I don’t know enough about it yet.” She admitted. “I see.” He sighed. There was an uncomfortable silence while Jean-Luc wrestled with the problem. He let out a plosive breath through puffed cheeks and shook his head. “And you’re not telling me this as the Captain?” He asked with a note of exasperation. “No.” Beverly said emphatically. “Well,” He said resignedly. “In that case, I have no option but to leave it in your hands. But...” He held up one finger. “If this gets any worse I’ll expect you to refer the matter to Will and if he thinks it warrants it, I will have no other choice but to become involved in an official capacity.” Relieved, Beverly said demurely, “I understand. Thank you, Jean-Luc.” They settled back down and Jean-Luc called for the lights to be extinguished. In the gentle silence Beverly whispered,

“It’s a huge comfort...being able to talk to you about it.” He draped his arm over her and placed a soft kiss at the base of her ear. Nothing else was said as they found sleep.

A month passed without incident. Elsie Greensale became a frequent visitor to Meredith’s quarters and the lieutenant found herself actually looking forward to the time they spent together. It took a while, but gradually Meredith came to realise she did indeed harbour affectionate feelings for her lover. And as astonishing as it was, Meredith discovered that their lovemaking, already satisfying, became even more intimate. They were adventurous and enjoyed new challenges and Meredith was very surprised to find that, despite her thinking she knew everything there was to know about sex, there were deliciously new things to learn. Together, they explored the realms of erotic, modern sexual literature, introduced by Elsie and made real what they’d read. It was a glorious time for Meredith, but even though she was fascinated and utterly satisfied, she still yearned for Beverly. How this could be so, eluded her. Elsie, herself enraptured, knew with terrible certainty that although some small part of Meredith was hers, the greater part belonged to someone else. And it hurt. No matter how involved Meredith was, if she looked into her lover’s eyes she could see it. Even during the most intimate of times Meredith Bower wasn’t completely there. And Elsie knew exactly who it was that held her lover’s heart. Beverly Crusher. The lieutenant’s work was routine and Beverly was relieved to find her fears eased as Meredith seemed to focus her attention elsewhere, other than her. That was until the evening Beverly had decided to work extra late. Sickbay was quiet and Beverly was taking advantage of the slack time by catching up on her reports. She was fully absorbed in her work and failed to realised someone was standing at the open door of her office. She startled, softly gasped and jerked her head up. Smiling enigmatically and with an indescribable look in her eyes, Meredith Bower’s muted shadow fell across Beverly’s desk. Rattled and filled with momentary panic, Beverly’s hand rose by its own volition to her comm. badge. She did not, however, activate it. Instead, Beverly sat back and adopted a professional mien, while she gathered her scattered wits. “Yes, Lieutenant?” She said, pleased her voice sounded so steady. It was then that Beverly saw that the woman had actually been leaning against the door’s edge, her arms folded and one foot crossed over the other in a very nonchalant pose. How long she’d been there, Beverly couldn’t guess. The almost-there smile grew and Beverly’s sense of decorum was insulted.

In a crisp, no-nonsense tone, Beverly said, “It’s customary for subordinates to show respect for their commanding officers.” Moving with relaxed, almost insolent confidence, Meredith uncrossed her feet, unfolded her arms and slowly straightened up. She did not come to attention. Affronted, Beverly’s lips thinned, but before she could sharply rebuke the woman, Meredith spoke. “I think, Doctor, you work way too hard.” Her voice was soft and surprisingly deep, although Beverly couldn’t detect any trace of hidden menace. “My work schedule isn’t your concern, Lieutenant.” Beverly said, her expression stern. She was dismayed when Meredith merely smiled her not-quite-there smile. Behind her, the main body of sickbay was dim, the lights having been muted for the evening shift. Only if a patient arrived would the lights be ordered to full intensity. With no light of any strength behind her, Meredith appeared even more spectral, unnerving the Doctor. Taking full advantage of her boss’s disquiet, Meredith stepped into the office and said casually, “You should get other staff to take more of the work. That way you’d have more...time...for the Captain.” Outraged, Beverly hissed, “How dare you!” The woman shrugged. “I’m just saying, you work too hard, Doctor.” “Get out!” Offering another nonchalant shrug, Meredith turned and sauntered out of Beverly’s office. The Doctor fisted her hands on the desktop so hard her fingernails left impressions on her palms. Lowering her head, Beverly calmed herself. She then stood and followed Meredith into sickbay itself. “Lieutenant.” Beverly said with quiet authority. The woman turned, her eerie smile in place. “Yes, Doctor?” Her tone was completely guileless. “I find your attitude unacceptable.” Beverly said in clipped tones. “You will apologise to me, then you will report to Commander Riker first thing tomorrow morning for disciplinary action.”

Meredith gaped, a picture of innocence. “Me? What have I done?” “You know perfectly well. Don’t try the innocent routine with me.” Stepping closer to Beverly, Meredith appeared stricken. She held up her hands as if pleading. “Doctor Crusher...please...I think you misunderstand. I simply wanted to offer my help in lessening your work load, that’s all. Everybody knows you work way too hard.” In the face of such contrition, Beverly began to doubt herself. Was she misjudging the woman? Had she misinterpreted her actions? Was her knowledge about the woman’s feelings towards her colouring her judgement? Beverly had always dealt with her staff in a fair and compassionate manner. It would be grossly unfair to cause a reprimand to appear on her permanent record over an unfortunate misunderstanding. Taking a deep breath, Beverly summoned a tight smile. “I see.” She said evenly. “Perhaps I was too hasty.” She held up one finger. “However, I would expect you to adopt a more professional attitude when addressing a senior officer.” Meredith came to attention, the epitome of military correctness. “Yes, Sir!” She said crisply. Beverly half turned, hesitated and said with quiet intensity, “One more thing, Lieutenant.” Beverly’s eyes glistened in the subdued lighting. “Don’t ever presume to comment on my relationship with the Captain again. It’s quite simply none of your business. Understand?” Meekly, Meredith bowed her head. “Yes, Doctor Crusher, of course.” The Lieutenant watched in silent amusement as Beverly stalked back to her office. When Meredith turned to resume her duties, she was grinning from ear to ear. “Phase one, complete.” She murmured. Jean-Luc could tell the moment he saw her that Beverly was upset and it was with some annoyance that he thought he knew why. Foregoing their usual greeting, Beverly stalked to the drinks cabinet, took Jean-Luc’s bottle of scotch and wrenched the lid off. She then slopped a hefty measure into a cut-glass tumbler before tilting her head back and drinking it in one gulp. As Jean-Luc watched, Beverly

lowered her hand, closed her eyes and grimaced before suddenly coughing violently, her hand patting her chest. Drawing near, Jean-Luc said softly and with some amusement, “You might have done better to sip it slowly.” Beverly opened her eyes and he saw they were teary. Her mouth gaped and she shook her head, softly gasping. “My God, Jean-Luc. How can you drink this stuff?” She wheezed. He took the tumbler and placed it on the cabinet, saying mildly, “You know perfectly well why, Beverly, and if I remember correctly, you’ve drunk your fair share of scotch in the past.” Offering a grunt, Beverly left her lover and went to the sofa where she sat heavily, rubbing her eyes with forefinger and thumb. Jean-Luc followed and took his seat in his favourite chair opposite. Beverly breathed in slowly and let the breath out in a plosive burst. “All right, so I’ve drunk a bit of scotch in my youth. At least it was something decent. That...” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder directed at the bottle. “ rotgut.” Well accustomed to her acerbic tongue, especially when she was unsettled about something, Jean-Luc remained unruffled. In his deep, mellifluous voice he said patiently, “What you call rotgut is actually a seventy-year-old authentic single malt scotch, distilled in a village in Scotland and hideously difficult to obtain.” “Yeah, well...whatever.” Sitting forward , placing his elbows on his thighs and lacing his fingers loosely together, Jean-Luc waited a minute or two before saying quietly, “Tell me.” Beverly’s reaction was to close her eyes and flap one hand. She thinned her lips and frowned. Eventually she cracked her eyes open and sighed and by that Jean-Luc knew she had calmed. “I just had a disturbing run-in with that nurse.” Jean-Luc bowed his head and pursed his lips, frowning deeply. “I see.” He said more curtly than he’d meant to.

Beverly chewed her lower lip before running her fingers through her hair. “I know, you don’t have to say it.” She said with a shake of her head. “What happened?” Jean-Luc had modulated his tone somewhat. Beverly looked at her lover for the first time since entering their shared quarters. “That’s just it, Jean-Luc. Nothing much happened.” Rising from his chair, Jean-Luc joined Beverly on the sofa. He turned and placed one hand on her thigh. “It must’ve been something, Beverly to have upset you so. Tell me...please.” As she gazed into his dark green eyes she once again thanked the Gods for their relationship. Being able to talk to him about her troubles was such a comfort; however there was something she had to establish before she could unburden herself. “Am I talking to Jean-Luc, or the Captain?” She asked softly. She could tell by his unreadable expression that he was unwilling to hear what she had to say as her friend. He made his position clear. “Beverly, this has gone on long enough, don’t you think? If something’s occurred to upset you then I think it should be dealt with officially.” He said softly, but firmly.

“I understand your position, Jean-Luc, but I’ve already dealt with it as I saw fit.” Beverly said quietly. “If you act on it now, you’ll undermine my authority.” “I see.” He said, obviously displeased. He then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “All right, under those circumstances, I’ll put aside my misgivings and trust your judgement.” Offering a small smile, Beverly said softly, “Thank you.” “So, what happened?” He asked. Beverly spent a few minutes telling him what had occurred and he was left as unsettled as Beverly, but for different reasons. “Her behaviour is unacceptable, Beverly, regardless of what illness she may suffer or her feelings for you, however inappropriate they may be.” He said, shaking his head. “What she did was a blatant example of insubordination if not outright threatening conduct.”

Beverly took a deep breath and rubbed her brow. “But was it really?” She asked unsure. “All she did was express an opinion that I work too hard. Yes, she may have displayed less than required acknowledgement of my seniority, but to be honest I don’t run sickbay with all that much formality.” With an exasperated shake of her head, Beverly said, “I don’t know, Jean-Luc. She may have been genuinely concerned for me and was simply unsophisticated in how she let me know.” “Still...” He said, unconvinced. “And there’s another thing, Jean-Luc.” Beverly said, her face a study in conflicting emotions. “She volunteered to work well past her shift’s end to do an inventory that my staff have been grumbling about. No one wanted to do it and I knew I was going to have to order it done. I was spared that by her offer.” Jean-Luc gave that some consideration and what he said was nothing more than Beverly expected. “Perhaps she was attempting to ingratiate herself.” “Maybe, but really it’s nothing I’m not accustomed to from her. She may well have issues, but her work is always exemplary.” Beverly said. “And honestly, can I fault her for caring? Isn’t that exactly what I want from my staff? So she was naive in her approach; that could be nothing more than lacking social skills. Who knows how she felt at the time?” Tilting his head, Jean-Luc lifted his eyebrows. “You’re being very understanding, Beverly.” He said quietly. “I’m not so sure I’d be so accommodating.” With a lopsided smile, Beverly said softly, “Put yourself in her shoes, Jean-Luc. She’s in love with me. How do you think a woman who may be quite a novice where it comes to expressing such deep feelings and added to that the situation of being subordinate in rank, go about making those feelings known? I think I have to be somewhat tolerant, don’t you?” When he didn’t respond immediately, Beverly covered his hand with one of hers. “You’re the subject of most of the hero-worship that goes on aboard this ship, how do you handle it?” He sighed and shook his head.

“For a very long time I was embarrassed and dismayed, but I remembered how I’d felt about one of my instructors at the Academy and realised it was normal and natural and something that disappeared with maturity. That we have a constant influx of newly posted youngsters is a source of concern to me, but as you know I keep a certain distance from the lower decks, I think it’s something most Captains do. The job requires an amount of detachment, you know that.” He took a thoughtful breath. “But, Beverly, we’re not talking about hero-worship, are we. This woman is in love with you and has acted inappropriately. It matters not what motivated her, there is a standard I expect from every officer serving on this ship and she failed to meet that standard. The fact you choose to run your department with less formality is up to you I suppose and I acknowledge the nature of your work does lend itself to a more casual approach, but nevertheless, discipline must endure.” Beverly knew he was right, but still resisted. “I don’t have a problem with what you’ve said, you’re right, of course, but I still don’t want to report the incident formally to Will, or for that matter, to you.” Jean-Luc looked into Beverly’s eyes and pursed his lips. “Very well, I accept that, but what about you? Are you going to let this go? Can you maintain discipline in your department if you do?” With so many, many years of friendship between them, Beverly didn’t take offence at his strongly worded questions. He was still responding as her friend, but the Captain was nearby. “I’ll talk to her.” She said as a way to placate both men. Jean-Luc raised his eyebrows and hitched his head to one side. “All right.” He said cautiously. “But, Beverly...” She held up her hand. “You don’t need to say it, Jean-Luc. I know. If she does anything else, I’ll put her on report. She’s used up her quotient of goodwill from me.” No smile appeared on Jean-Luc’s face, but his eyes showed his understanding and acceptance. He rose and stepped around her legs on the way to the replicator. As he passed, Beverly murmured, “It’s Cardhu.” “So you do remember.” He replied with gentle amusement.

“Yes, and I’m surprised you can still get it and that it still makes me breathless when I drink it.” He was at the replicator and smiled to himself. “I told you, it’s to be sipped, not guzzled.” He said quietly. “Such a rare, wonderfully mellow scotch should be savoured.” With their order ready, he took the dish from the device, saying as he did so, “Much like you. Now, if you’re hungry, dinner is served.”

Meredith and Elsie lay in the tangled sheets, sweat drying rapidly. “Wow!” Exclaimed Elsie wondrously as she sprawled carelessly. “What the hell was that about?” Frowning in lazy irritation, Meredith closed her eyes and let her breath out of her nostrils. “I was feeling tense.” She said tersely. “And now?” Asked Elsie, her eyes closed. “I’m not tense any more.” “Obviously.” Elsie said drily. “But what I’m actually asking is why were you so tense?” With an irritated sigh, Meredith frowned. “What does it matter?” She said through clenched teeth. “Just relax.” There followed several moments of silence and Meredith began to think that Elsie had drifted off, but her soft whisper made Meredith grimace. “When are you going to give up?” Despite the fact that Elsie was whispering, her pain was quite plain to hear. Meredith chose to ignore it. “What the hell are you on about?” She hissed.

“You know perfectly well.” “No I don’t!” Meredith was growing angry. She decided if her lover wouldn’t stop annoying her, she would insist she leave. “Yes, you do.” “That does it!” Meredith rolled out of the bed and glared at Elsie. She pointed to the bedroom door. “Get out.” Elsie surprised herself by refusing. “No. Not until we’ve talked.” She said with remarkable calmness. Meredith closed her eyes and shook her head “I don’t want to talk, I want to sleep. Now either shut up and stay, or get out.” Elsie smiled sadly and shrugged. “Kicking me out won’t change anything, Meredith. Beverly Crusher isn’t going to give you so much as the time of day. The sooner you realise that the better.” Her mouth gaping, Meredith seethed. “How dare you? My feelings towards Doctor Crusher are none of your damned business!” “I dare because I love you.” Elsie said softly. “And I want to protect you from getting your feelings hurt.” The gentle declaration caught Meredith unawares. Something wasn’t right. The words filtered through and left an indelible mark upon her heart. What was going on here? Why didn’t she simply tell Elsie to fuck off? Why did it seem important to consider her feelings? Seeing the indecision in Meredith’s face, Elsie mistook it for something entirely different. “Really, Meredith. What can Crusher offer you that I can’t?” She asked enticingly. “Surely you can’t say we don’t have potent chemistry? For God’s sake, take this evening for instance. I mean, wow!” Meredith nodded absently. “” She muttered. “So, you love me.” “Yes.” “Riight.” She said slowly. “When did that happen?” “Oh, Meredith,” Elsie gently admonished. “Don’t play the innocent with me, I know you too well.”

When Meredith didn’t say anything further, Elsie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Oh, very well, if you insist.” She said dramatically. “I’ve been in love with you for some time now. Ever since you started to see more of me.” She tilted her head and frowned.”You love me, don’t you?” Meredith’s eyes narrowed. “What?” She said sharply. Then in a softer voice, “Oh, yeah, of course.” “So you’ll give up that foolish idea about Crusher?” Elsie asked slyly. Meredith gave her a calculating look and smiled coldly. “Actually, Elsie, I have a new idea.” Her voice was tempting. “Really?” asked an intrigued Elsie. “Tell me.” “Not yet. Soon.” Meredith grinned to herself. “Beverly and Elsie.” She mused. “What a tasty combination.” A whole new tableau opened up. Meredith got back into bed and allowed Elsie to snuggle up to her. The lieutenant was awake long after her lover went to sleep and her smile never left her face.

Beverly left their quarters the next morning with a self-satisfied grin on her face. They had made love in the shower. It had been urgent and very passionate leaving both of them wanting more and she knew that the coming evening should prove very satisfying. Usually totally devoted to her work, Beverly had discovered that since entering into her relationship with Jean-Luc, she had found herself daydreaming every now and then at inappropriate times. She had snorted and shaken her head, both amused and annoyed that she should entertain such adolescent love sick romanticism at her age. Still, she couldn’t deny it was comforting in its own way. The smile was still on her face, though not quite so self-satisfied, more sensual as she replayed images of her morning’s activities in her mind. And so, when her staff looked up at her arrival in sickbay they grinned knowingly and cast sly looks at each other. Meredith alone refused to indulge in what she thought as puerile behaviour. Indeed, rather than offer anything but a slight nod of acknowledgement, she followed Beverly’s progress through the facility with brooding, hooded dark eyes.

Once ensconced in her office, Beverly gave herself a mental shake and banished her carnal thoughts. She worked diligently for an hour before leaving her inner sanctum and devoting some time checking on the few patients and chatting with her staff. Meredith noted with growing anger and dismay that her boss seemed to ignore her. Just when the lieutenant was about to absent herself rather than endure any more humiliation, Beverly wandered over to her and said mildly, “Would you join me in my office as soon as your duties permit, Lieutenant?” The Doctor had already turned away before Meredith recovered enough to reply shakily, “Yes, Sir.” As she returned to her work, Meredith was in emotional turmoil. Warring for equal dominance, random thoughts coursed through her mind. “What does she want? Will she declare her feelings for me?” She mused happily. But then, “What if she shuns me...what if that bastard, Picard has poisoned her mind against me?” Fear and anger swirled darkly. More thoughts intruded; each one more desperate than the last. It was in a daze that she realised she’d completed her tasks and was now free to report to her commanding officer. Not knowing what to expect, yet hoping for the best but fearing the worst, Meredith walked in with what she hoped was seen as calm professionalism. She stood before Beverly’s desk, displaying relaxed respect. “You asked to see me, Doctor?” Meredith said in a softly expressed friendliness. When Beverly looked up, Meredith was alarmed to see her boss’s eyes were not displaying their usual warm glow. Instead they were guarded and slightly cold. It was the first time Meredith had seen Beverly in full Command mode. “Yes, Lieutenant.” Beverly said crisply. Meredith noted with growing consternation that Beverly had not, as she was wont to do, offered her to sit. “I wish to discuss what occurred last night. Although, at the time I was willing to let the matter pass with minimal fuss, on reflection I think it prudent that I make myself clear.” “What the hell’s going on?” Thought an increasingly angry Meredith. “She’s been put up to this by the bloody Captain.” She realised bitterly. “Well then, we’ll just have to see about that.” If Beverly saw the hardening of Meredith’s expression, she didn’t react. Remaining stiffly formal in her posture, Beverly clasped her hands on the desktop and set her jaw. “While it isn’t uncommon for junior crewmembers to harbour intense feelings for their superiors,” Beverly said with only a trace of sympathy. “It is generally understood by all that such feelings should be kept private and most certainly not allowed to interfere in the duties

that must be performed with a clear head and with appropriate focus. What happened last night was not only a clear breach of protocol, but also a betrayal of the trust I’d placed in you. By your words and actions you displayed insubordination and a worrying attempt at unsavoury innuendo that I find absolutely unacceptable. “Although I have chosen not to make this official in that I’m not going to put you on report, I want you to be aware that, as of now, I will be taking notice of your performance, not only in your work, but how you interact with your fellow crewmates and your superiors.” She stared implacably into Meredith’s eyes, clearly showing her steely determination. “Be warned, Lieutenant, if anything remotely like what happened last night occurs again, you will be looking at a transfer off this ship with a reprimand in your permanent record. Do I make myself clear?” A sullen Meredith was smart enough to keep any trace of her feelings from her expression and her voice, though it cost her dearly. “Yes, Sir.” She managed, relieved her voice sounded so steady. She expected a curt dismissal, but Beverly surprised her. “Is there anything you wish to say, Lieutenant?” Some of Beverly’s true nature was evident in the softly spoken words. The Doctor disliked having to speak harshly to anyone, especially a member of her staff and if not for the discussion she’d had with her lover the previous night, she would’ve let the matter go entirely. Added to her wish to show some compassion was her knowledge of Meredith’s love for her. It made the situation more complicated than a mere breach of discipline and Beverly wanted to demonstrate that she was sympathetic to Meredith’s feelings by her willingness to hear Meredith’s reaction to her informal reprimand. The lieutenant was put on the spot, having to suddenly decide if she dared voice what was in her heart. Weighing both the danger of rejection and further sanctions against the other consequence of alienating the woman she loved, Meredith was in an unenviable situation. Ever attuned to other people and always aware of their feelings, Beverly correctly identified the source of Meredith’s dilemma. Sitting back and relaxing her posture, Beverly said gently, “Would you like to put aside rank for a moment?” It was a generous offer and one Meredith couldn’t pass up. “Yes, sir.” She said with a relieved sigh. “Then by all means, speak freely.” Beverly said with a soft smile, gesturing for Meredith to be seated. Sinking gratefully into the seat in front of the desk, Meredith took a few moments to gather her thoughts, all the while under Beverly gentle scrutiny. When she lifted her head, Beverly saw the unmistakable swirl of deep emotion in her eyes.

“The thing is, I...that is I have been...” Frustrated by her sudden inability to articulate her love, Meredith snorted angrily and pushed her index finger and thumb into her eyes. As she sat and fumed, Beverly said quietly, “I’m aware of your feelings for me, Meredith and I’m flattered, of course, but you must know, while I understand you’re entitled to your feelings and probably unable to control them, it is inappropriate for you to act on them.” Taking a deep breath and quashing the humiliation she felt, Meredith lowered her hand and gave Beverly a frank look that only caused to unnerve her and make her feel alarmed. “If you’re so sure about my feelings for you, then why don’t you admit your feelings for me?” It was said with such conviction and quiet intent that Beverly was momentarily taken aback. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.” She said carefully, wishing to draw more out of the lieutenant. “Oh, come now, Doctor. I know you want me, it’s obvious.” “How is it obvious?” “I’ve seen the way you look at me. God, you might as well have made a ship-wide announcement.” The snide, vaguely triumphant tone shocked Beverly. As Beverly’s open, warm expression fled, Meredith suddenly knew, with a horrible sinking feeling that she’d gone too far. Now faced with a clearly angry and affronted commanding officer, Meredith scrambled to save what little remained of her dignity. Immediately holding up her hands and closing her eyes, Meredith bowed her head and said earnestly, “Please, you must forgive me, Doctor. What I just didn’t come out like I meant it to.” Her contrition seemed genuine and Beverly had to admit the situation as it was might be cause for an inexperienced person to behave inappropriately. Though not in the least naive and with many years experience in a position of authority, Beverly’s nature still had her looking for the best in those around her. She took a thoughtful breath and decided to allow the lieutenant to explain herself. “I see. Well, just what was it you meant to say?” She said, permitting just a hint of annoyance to show. Offering a timid smile, Meredith tried to give the impression of embarrassed clumsiness.

“Okay, it’s true I’m in love with you.” She said just loud enough to be heard. She blushed and seemed to struggle to go on. “And I accept you probably don’t feel the same way.” Her hands twisted restlessly on the desktop. “But like you said, I can’t help the way I feel and I do understand how inappropriate it is to allow my feelings to interfere in my work, but...” She trickled to a halt and stared at her hands. Beverly frowned and briefly, out of Meredith’s sight, closed her eyes. “It’s not just how it affects your work, Meredith.” Beverly said carefully. “It’s also how it affects me.” At that, Meredith lifted her head and felt terrible at seeing the anguish on Beverly’s face. “It’s common knowledge that I’m in a relationship with the Captain and though it’s absolutely none of your business, or anyone else’s for that matter, it makes it all the more damaging for you to express your feelings for me.” She said softly. “Having said that, however, I certainly don’t expect you to hide from me because of what you feel. This department functions best when I know I can trust each and every one of my staff, you must be aware of the level of informality I allow. But that only goes so far. There is a standard of discipline expected of the crew on this ship which is above what would be considered normal. This is the Enterprise, Meredith, the flagship of the fleet. She is staffed by only the best, from the Captain right down to the lowliest Ensign and it runs smoothly because everyone knows what’s expected of them.” Beverly regarded Meredith carefully, gauging what effect, if any, her words were having. She seemed to be absorbing what she said with thoughtful nods. “Any wrinkle, any deviation from that standard simply cannot be tolerated. The effect of allowing inappropriate behaviour to go unchecked would be catastrophic. If one crewmember got away with it, others would soon follow and the chain of command would be irrevocably broken. Our work, out here in deep space, is dangerous enough without having to cope with a deterioration in discipline. I know that the very fact we work in an enclosed environment exacerbates certain problems, problems that are bound to occur, but we have mechanisms in place to deal with them. Humans have been exploring space for a long time now, and we’re well aware of the difficulties that can arise. Interaction between the crew, be it platonic, romantic or sexual are to be expected and in some cases, encouraged. Starfleet’s regulations on conduct allow for it. is implicitly understood by all that regardless of how one might feel for another, those feelings cannot...must not be at the expense of the standards expected by the Captain.”

“Isn’t that a little hypocritical?” Meredith asked softly, making sure her expression was one of respect. “How do you mean?”

“Well, if it’s the Captain’s standards we’re upholding and if expressing one’s feelings might upset the status quo, how is it that he’s allowed himself the luxury of having a relationship with you?” Although angered by her impertinence, Beverly had to admit it was a fair question. “There are some things you need to know, Lieutenant.” Meredith noted she was now being addressed by her rank and wondered if they were still speaking freely. “Again, it’s none of your business, but to clarify and address your question, I’ll be frank.” Pulling her pursed lips to one side, Beverly frowned and sorted through her thoughts, picking the best way to express herself. “The Captain and I have known each other for a very long time. Also, we have served together for over a decade. We didn’t enter into our current relationship lightly; we gave it a lot of thought weighing up the consequences, not just for ourselves, but how it would impact on the crew and the running of the ship. We discussed it with the senior staff and, having explored all aspects, decided it would be all right. Had we found any impediment, we wouldn’t have entered into the relationship, the smooth running of the ship and our mutual respect and friendship was too important to us.” A wistful expression passed her face. “We walk a fine line, Lieutenant, balanced between the professional and the private and I would be the last to say it’s easy, it’s not. But because we’ve had a lot of experience in our respective positions we understand when we need to ignore our relationship and do our duty unencumbered. “What you have done is quite different. Not only have you allowed your feelings to cloud your judgement, you have made an erroneous assumption regarding my feelings towards you. To make it clear, the only feelings I have for you are those of a concerned superior officer for a junior under my command. Yes, I am more involved in the lives of my staff, but I’ve found that such a relationship makes for a more productive and efficient workplace.” Meredith’s heart sank and it showed on her face. Beverly tilted her head and said softly, “I’m sorry, Meredith.” Summoning a brave smile, Meredith blinked away the moisture in her eyes. “That’s okay, Doctor, I think I understand.” Wishing to escape, Meredith got to her feet, but knew she couldn’t leave without being dismissed. Looking up, Beverly said gently, “Will you be all right?”

“Yes...” Meredith said cautiously. “But...” “But?” Taking a deep breath, Meredith decided she had nothing to lose. “I won’t stop feeling the way I do.” “Just as long as you don’t let it get you into trouble.” “Yes, Sir.” “Dismissed.” Watching Meredith leave, a thoughtful Beverly wondered if that was the end of it. Somehow she doubted it. Beneath what Meredith was willing to show, there was something else, tacit and not-quite discernible, but there, nonetheless. But without any tangible evidence one way or another, Beverly was forced to accept only that which she was able to deal with. If the undertone of something else was destined to cause her any more breaches of discipline, Beverly had no option but to wait and see.

Meredith returned to her work, deeply troubled. It wasn’t just the reprimand, however informal and kindly given, it was her declaration of love, forced from her and clumsily delivered. Also, she had cause to wonder just why the object of her desire and love would lie so blatantly. Meredith recognised Beverly’s attempt to assert her authority, that she understood easily, but it seemed to her that the unequivocal denial of Beverly’s true feelings had another, deeper meaning. She was in no doubt that Beverly’s lover, Captain Picard, had been responsible for at least part of what happened, certainly Beverly was doing her best to protect him, but why would she lie? Somehow, in the space of a few uncomfortable minutes, Beverly had managed to take the initiative away from Meredith, tipping the balance of power in their fragile, unspoken relationship in her favour. This irked Meredith, she was always the one in control. But, as she gave it more thought, allowed the new dynamic to settle in her mind, she realised, happily so, that it might be quite novel to allow her new partner to take the dominant least for a while and at Meredith’s discretion. She smiled to herself as she conjured up situations where Beverly would think she was the one in control when the truth was Meredith’s hands manipulated the strings. It had taken over four hours of intense thought until Meredith had arrived at something she could feel confident about. The meeting in the office, while excruciatingly embarrassing, was helpful. Beverly was now aware that even in the face of her transparent denial of her feelings,

Meredith had maintained her dignity and found the courage to reaffirm her love. Although Meredith still wasn’t convinced as to Beverly’s true motives in lying, she felt sure her boss was obligated either through affection or by direct order to give the impression that her lover hadn’t obfuscated the situation. Of course she knew better. It was disturbing to accept the relationship Beverly had with the captain, but Meredith had already decided she would willingly share Beverly’s affections. But of course that left the one puzzling question. Why did she lie? It didn’t enter Meredith’s mind that Beverly might’ve been telling the truth, that would’ve been soul destroying, it would’ve shattered everything Meredith believed of herself. Elsie could’ve told her that there was probably never going to be a time when Meredith could, or would, accept rejection. Once she set her sights on someone, she wouldn’t be satisfied until she’d conquered them and if that meant waiting and scheming just a little longer, Meredith was certain beyond all doubt, that Beverly would be hers. And so, thus bolstered and once again sublimely confident, Meredith completed her shift and hurried back to her quarters. With any luck, Elsie would be there. Meredith was feeling very tense and she smiled coldly to herself. “Lucky Elsie.” She muttered grimly. “I get to choose the toys.”

The perfectly formed tear that slid across the soft skin caught the ambient light of the room and within its depths, a prism gleamed softly. Because the tear wasn’t crossing the skin of her dream lover, Meredith ignored it. Elsie blinked and the tear swelled with the added moisture of another tear, the prism distorting. “It hurts, Meredith.” She whispered, her face set in a grimace. “So? You can always expect a little pain.” Meredith said dismissively. “Besides, are you complaining?” “No, but it’s more than a little pain.” Meredith’s eyes were closed as she basked in the afterglow of their very energetic and aggressive sex. As far as she was concerned, they were both sated and all she wanted to do was sleep. Elsie’s continuing whining was really beginning to annoy. “It shouldn’t hurt so much, Meredith.” More tears were flowing and they coloured Elsie’s voice.

“Jesus!” Meredith spat. “You’d ruin a wet dream! What the hell are you whingeing about?” She sat up, glaring down at Elsie. The trembling woman placed her hands flat on her lower stomach. “Inside, Meredith, it hurts inside.” Grabbing the sheet, Meredith wrenched it off the bed and glared hotly at Meredith’s genitals. What she saw made her eyes widen and caused her to swallow convulsively. “Oh, fuck.” She muttered. Rising up on her elbows, Elsie looked down her body and saw blood staining the sheets. Her mouth formed a perfect O before she panicked. “What have you done?” She said incredulously. “I’m bleeding!” “I can see that!” Said a shaken Meredith. “Well, what are you going to do about it?” Meredith was outraged. “Me?” She spat. “Why do I have to be the one to do anything about it?” Elsie gaped at her lover, not believing she could be so callous. “Because you caused it!” She yelled. “I don’t remember you complaining. In fact I remember you begging for more!” Meredith hissed. “Do you really think that matters now? For God’s sake, call sickbay!” Exiting the bed, Meredith barred her teeth and glared. “Fuck you, Elsie! I’m not going to be the butt of dirty little gossip mongers just because you’re bleeding a little bit!” Elsie’s face changed from outright anger to sly calculation. “You don’t have much choice...darling.” She cooed. “If you don’t summon help, I’ll leak far more salacious stories than this little gem.” Meredith knew by the insufferably smug look that Elsie was ready and willing to carry out her threat. Boxed into a corner, Meredith was forced to do as she was told.

It was unfortunate for all concerned that Beverly was still on duty when the call came through. Ever the professional, she didn’t ask questions, she simply said, as she left sickbay with a med kit slung over her shoulder, “On my way!” As soon as Meredith had recognised Beverly’s voice she became very subdued. Elsie tried to draw her out, but other than to put a robe on, Meredith said and did nothing until Beverly arrived. She breezed into the bedroom, blue coat flapping. “Right! What’s the problem?” She said briskly. Elsie, seeing that Meredith wasn’t going to have any input, shyly pushed the sheet down and, in her embarrassment, stared stonily up at the ceiling. Kneeling on the bed, Beverly took the small, cylindrical probe from its recessed position on top of the tricorder and swept it back and forth across Elsie’s lower stomach and between her parted legs as she studied the information that scrolled across the tricorder’s screen. “There is a deep vaginal tear, lacerations across the cervix and a small perforation of the uterus.” Years of experience kept any expression other than professional detachment from her face and her voice was crisp and clear. She tapped her comm. badge. “Crusher to Sickbay. I need a gravi-bed brought to my location immediately.” “Aye, Doctor.” While they waited, Beverly softened her expression and asked gently, “What did you use?” Elsie stubbornly refused to look at Beverly. She lifted one hand and pointed an accusing finger at Meredith. “It was one of her...things.” When Beverly turned her attention to Meredith, it was all the lieutenant could to do stay in the room. The urge to flee was almost overwhelming, humiliation and anger making her mute. “Meredith? Enquired Beverly softly. When Meredith refused to respond, Beverly barked, “Lieutenant!” Snapping her head around, Meredith glared defiantly at the woman she loved. The Doctor understood the situation was a difficult one, but she needed information. Meredith’s feelings were irrelevant in the face of Elsie’s injuries. “Would you please show me what was used?”

Silently, Meredith stood and went to the bedside, where she bent down and picked up an enormous dildo that had hard, sharp protuberances along its thick length. Her eyes were bright with anger as she silently handed it to Beverly. The red head examined the toy, forcing her eyebrows to remain level and her face impassive. She said softly, “This is a little...extreme, isn’t it?” Meredith knew she couldn’t maintain her silence when asked a direct question by a superior. “It’s not as big as some.” She said sullenly. “Perhaps not,” agreed Beverly. “But these...” She indicted the dildo, “are supposed to be used judiciously. They are not intended to cause harm.” Elsie didn’t like seeing her lover so...humiliated. She said carefully, “It was a mutual thing, Doctor. I didn’t give Meredith any cause to think I wasn’t...enjoying myself.” “I see.” Said Beverly. “Well I wouldn’t normally make any comment on what you choose to do in the privacy of your quarters, especially if what occurs is by mutual consent, but when such activities involve me as a doctor, particularly if it brings a patient to sickbay, then I am duty bound to counsel you as a health professional. My official stance is that I am obliged to order both of you to undergo education in the safe use of sexual implements. However, I’m not so naive that I think you’re not perfectly well aware of exactly what you should be doing with something like this.” She held up the dildo. Elsie summoned a weak smile. “We just got a bit carried away.” She blushed. “Yes, I can see how that might happen.” Beverly said kindly. Just then the medics arrived with the gravi-bed. Beverly stood and, as Elsie was transferred from the bed onto the glider, she said quietly, “I don’t think anything will be gained by making a fuss about this. I do have to enter it into the log, but there’s no need for anyone else to know about it.” Elsie smiled up at Beverly, obviously relived. The Doctor looked at Meredith expectantly as Elsie was taken from the quarters. “Coming?” Beverly asked. Meredith schooled her features and nodded. “I’ll just get dressed.” She said quietly, now under control. “Fine, I’ll see you in Sickbay.”

Meredith watched as Beverly hurried to catch up with the small group by now out in the corridor. “Fuck!” Muttered Meredith darkly. “What a cock-up.”

The soft strains of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade played gently in the background as Jean-Luc tried to concentrate on his book. He’d been in his quarters for over two hours and, having showered and dressed only in his silk robe, sat in his chair resisting the urge to fidget. All day, since his intense encounter with Beverly in the shower, he’d been involved in a running battle with his mind to quell the arousing images that kept encroaching as he attempted to work. Now, his shift over, he was free to allow his mind to go where it may and that meant straight back to the delightful twenty minutes they’d shared. Aroused and semi-erect he glanced yet again at the doors, wondering in frustration whether he should call Beverly to see what was delaying her. His eyes briefly closed with relief as he heard the sibilant hiss of the doors opening. Setting his book on the arm of the chair and ordering the music off, he rose elegantly but momentarily paused. The lights in their quarters had been dimmed, only a spotlight over his chair provided a pool of bright light. Backlit by the light spilling in from outside, Beverly was caught in profile and Jean-Luc was taken by how classically stunning she was. They hurried towards each other stopping so close they were almost touching. “Hello, Beverly.” Jean-Luc’s voice was very deep and husky, unmistakably sensual. Her eyes hooded and in shadow, Beverly’s breathy, “Hello, Jean-Luc.” Told him all he needed to know. They met in a heated kiss, Beverly’s hands quickly undoing the tie to his robe. While she teased him fully erect, he divested her of most of her uniform. They made love on the floor. Again it was urgent and deeply passionate and when it was over they still wanted more, but they knew they’d have to wait. Jean-Luc was quite capable of having sex two or three times in a night, but he required time to recover. While they lay on the floor, not yet ready to move, Jean-Luc’s hand slid down the plane of Beverly’s stomach, his fingers dallying in the russet curls of her pubis. He said nothing but Beverly understood his silent question.

“No,” She whispered. “I can wait.” “You’re sure?” He rumbled. “Yes. It’ll be worth it.” “Hmm, you can be certain of that.” The blatant masculinity he exuded almost had Beverly changing her mind. For a man as reserved and tightly controlled as he, his capacity for raw passion and sexuality was a source of never-ending delight for Beverly. That he’d proven to be such a good lover didn’t surprise her, nor did her discovery that his libido matched hers, but the depths of his ability to express his passion took her breath away both figuratively and literally. Early in the relationship she’d decided to challenge him sexually, wondering just how far he would go, but no matter what she suggested he was more than willing to try and so far, hadn’t failed. Offering a soft groan, Jean-Luc got to his feet and assisted Beverly. While she went to the bathroom, he shrugged into his robe and ordered their evening meal, bringing it to the coffee table. When Beverly joined him he saw her look of surprise. “I thought a more casual meal would be appropriate.” He smiled. “We haven’t done this before.” Beverly said with gentle amusement. “I thought you always ate at the dinner table.” He only glanced up as he picked up Beverly’s bowl and the chopsticks, offering them to her. Nothing more was said for a while as they ate, then Jean-Luc said around a mouthful, “Actually, I used to eat most of my evening meals here or at my desk. There didn’t seem to be much point in sitting at the dining table.” “Hmph. And I suppose it was usually sandwiches.” Beverly said, chewing. “Not always,” Said an offended Jean-Luc. “Sometimes I had a salad too.” “Oh well, a salad! That makes all the difference.” There was no malice in her voice, just gentle sarcasm. Again there was a silence before, having finished his meal, Jean-Luc put his plate on the table and sat back, crossing his legs and carefully making sure his robe was suitably closed. Such a seemingly prim gesture having just had intense sex on the floor made Beverly shake her head in disbelief. Jean-Luc ignored the gesture and said quietly,

“Everything changed when you moved in.” There was so much that hadn’t been said in that comment, Beverly gave him a measured look and asked softly, “Mostly for the better, I hope.” He smiled. “Oh yes, most certainly. Not only am I living better, but I’m immeasurably happy.” “Even though you have to share your bathroom space?” Although she smiled as she said it, there was an edge of mild confrontation to the question. He snorted softly. It was a running battle between them. In the mornings, when Jean-Luc wanted to shave was when Beverly wanted the bathroom mirror too. It had led to an interesting conflict, not serious or even disruptive, but indicative of their personalities. In almost every other instance, they worked out and accommodated each other’s habits and needs, but in this one, seemingly innocuous situation their stubbornness held firm. As petty as they both knew it to be, neither would back down and so every morning they jostled, mostly playfully, for the greatest use of the mirror. “Admit it, Beverly, you just don’t want to give up.” Jean-Luc said mildly, a small mischievous smile evident. “Maybe,” She conceded, her blue eyes twinkling. “But neither do you.” His smile grew and the moment passed. Each was aware, of course, that their reluctance to give in was merely an attempt to show the other that they wanted to keep a little of their independence and a reminder of their past lives as single people. Both of them knew that eventually they would find a way around the problem, just as they had with everything else, but for now it was simply an ongoing game. Beverly adopted Jean-Luc’s pose, she now dressed in nothing but her robe too. She leaned back, rested her head, closed her eyes and sighed. “I was so damned tense.” She said softly. “All day all I could think about was what we did in the shower this morning and I was so looking forward to coming home to you.” “Then why were you so late?” He tried to not sound aggrieved, but it came out that way anyway. Again Beverly sighed and Jean-Luc could see her frown. “That nurse.” Her voice showed her frustration and irritation. Jean-Luc’s head snapped up, all trace of relaxed ease forgotten. “I don’t believe this!” He barked. “Are you telling me that woman has stepped out of line again?”

His tone made Beverly lift her head and open her eyes. “Calm down, it’s not what you think.” She said, trying to placate him. “Well what is it then?” He demanded, not mollified in the least. “Have you spoken with her yet?” Sitting up, Beverly rubbed her forehead. “Yes, I have and I think it went well...” “But?” Beverly let out a long breath through her nose. “I’m still...I don’t know, Jean-Luc. She’s...different.” “Different? How?” “It’s so difficult to describe.” Beverly said helplessly. “All I can tell you is that I sense something...something...different about her.” Trying to understand, Jean-Luc asked evenly, “What does Troi say?” Pulling up her lower lip, Beverly shrugged. “I’ve not spoken to her about it recently, not since the ghastly attempt at guerrilla counselling.” Jean-Luc closed his eyes and shook his head. “Beverly, if this woman is continuing to display what is now looking like a pattern of unacceptable behaviour, then something must be done! You know that.” “She hasn’t done anything wrong!” Beverly insisted. “Then what kept you tonight?” “I can’t go into details, Jean-Luc, it’s a medical matter, but I can tell you that, despite her protestations of love for me, she has a partner, at least a sexual partner.” “I see.” Jean-Luc frowned and bowed his head. “How then does this impact on you? From the outside, it seems to have become more complicated. Did she say anything about her partner to you?” Again pulling her lower lip up, Beverly slowly shook her head. “No, not a word. Until I found myself in her quarters this evening, I had no idea.”

“None?” A surprised Jean-Luc asked. “I would’ve thought the ship’s grapevine would’ve provided you with all the gruesome details.” Jean-Luc was still very uncomfortable with the ship’s crew discussing their private life as if it was the most interesting topic they could think of. The trouble was, that was exactly what they thought. “Nup. Either they’ve been exceptionally discreet, or it’s been going on so long it’s no longer noteworthy.” “Humph! So there’s hope for us then?” he said sarcastically. “Oh, come on, Jean-Luc. The crew have been gossiping about you and me for years. You’re just upset that there’s finally some truth to the rumours and you want to hide it.” Beverly was tiring of hearing his complaints about this. “Well, do you blame me?” He snapped. “It wouldn’t be so bad if what was being said was somewhere near the truth. My God, have you heard what they’re saying?” Offering a sympathetic smile, Beverly nodded. “Yes, and of course I’m appalled, but the more strenuously we deny it, the more fuel they have to perpetuate their fantasies.” Calmer, Jean-Luc shook his head. “It’s not our relationship being speculated about which bothers me, it’s the sexual deviancy we’re being accused of. How on Earth do they think of these things? Isn’t the fact of our relationship enough for them? Do they have to...embroider it?” “The command staff, in particular the Captain are always going to be the focus of the most...imaginative gossip, Jean-Luc, you know that. In fact, it’s your reputation that causes most of it. The lower decks see you as a God-like figure so the mere hint that you’re only human titillates them and makes them fell more powerful.” “It’s still...” he sighed. “...tawdry.” Shaking his head, he let the matter go. “So, what about the nurse? What are you going to do?” With a sigh, Beverly pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head. “I’m not sure there’s anything I can do...or even if I could...should I?” “It is a tricky situation, to be sure.” Jean-Luc conceded. “Wait and see?” Nodding, Beverly summoned a smile.

“I don’t see what else I can do. I’ve told her I’m going to be paying more attention to her’s up to her, I guess.” “As long as she toes the line.” Jean-Luc muttered. “Oh, yes, she knows any more unacceptable behaviour and she’s out.” Beverly said decisively. His eyebrows risen, Jean-Luc asked carefully, “Dismissed from your staff?” “No,” Beverly shook her head, her voice flat. “From the ship.” “You take it that seriously?” Jean-Luc’s voice had dropped to a low growl. “Yes. If she can’t work within the relaxed atmosphere of sickbay, there’s no way she’d cope with any of the more strictly run departments. There’d be no option but to insist she seek a transfer.” They sat in silence for a few minutes, each contemplating the situation. Eventually Jean-Luc gauged the moment was right. Rising, he held out his hand. “Enough.” He said gently. Then in a deliberately provocative tone, said, “We have unfinished business.” Tilting her head, Beverly accepted his hand and allowed him to help her to her feet. “Now there’s a wonderful thought. As it happens, I feel very tense again.” She said saucily. “Really?” he said with sensual sloth. ‘Well, I have just the thing for that.” “Thing?” She giggled coquettishly. “How quaint.” Nothing more was said as they disappeared into the bedroom.

If left to her own devices, Meredith would’ve returned to her quarters alone to get the sleep she so looked forward to, but, under the circumstances and with Elsie’s not-sosubtle hints ringing in her ears, she was forced to invite Elsie back to her quarters to recuperate.

Having had a coffee in strained silence, both women retired to bed, Meredith immediately turning her back to her partner, closing her eyes and willing herself to sleep. However, Elsie had other ideas. “Well, that was...embarrassing.” She whispered. Meredith chose to ignore her, hoping that her icy silence would encourage Elsie to shut up and go to sleep. Unfortunately, that’s wasn’t going to happen any time soon. “I thought Crusher handled it well, though. She could have been a real bitch about it. Can you imagine what would’ve been said about you and me having to front up to education sessions? I to safely use a dildo?” Keeping her eyes closed, Meredith said scornfully, “Aren’t you tired? You’re supposed to be resting.” Elsie’s theatrical huff made Meredith grit her teeth. “You know damned well I’m not the least bit tired!” Elsie hissed. “For God’s sake, I’ve just had a fucking probe shoved up my twat. That’d be enough to keep me awake for a month!” “I would’ve thought you’d enjoy it.” Meredith muttered nastily. “After all, it was just another toy.” “You bitch!” Snapped Elsie. “You’re just jealous it wasn’t you doing the probing! I bet you were wishing it was Crusher on the bed with your hands on the probe!” Rolling over, Meredith speared Elsie with a poisonous, dangerous glare. “Shut up, Elsie.” “Or what? Jesus, Meredith, just who do you think you are? Some kind of fucking martyr? When are you going to get it into your head...Crusher is out of your reach. Not only is she a confirmed hetero, she fucking the bloody Captain for Christssakes! In fact, from what I hear, their tastes border on the extreme. I thought I know...relaxed about the games people play, but some of the things I’ve heard about them...Jesus, it makes you and me look like prudes.” Now incensed and with absolutely no hope of sleep, Meredith rose up and knelt, glaring furiously down at the oblivious Elsie. “Shut your fucking mouth!” She said threateningly. “I can’t believe you’d even consider listening to such utter bullshit! Do you honestly think Picard and Crusher would indulge in such...infantile behaviour? Don’t you think they...especially Picard...would want to preserve their carefully constructed images of exemplary officers? My God, if they carried on as you

suggest they’d lose all credibility, not only in the eyes of the rank-and-file, but the senior staff.” Wincing, Elsie slowly sat up. “I don’t see how what they do in the privacy of their quarters has any bearing on how the crew perceives them.” She shrugged. “I mean, it’s not as if there’s any law against it.” Meredith rolled her eyes. “You’re such a fucking dimwit. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a healthy and interesting sex life, but you yourself admitted how aghast you were at the thought of the most senior officer and one of his senior staff indulging in what some Neanderthal prudes might consider...deviant behaviour.” Meredith shook her head. “Face it, Elsie; you’re as guilty as all the others of a double standard. You declare their right to do as they wish, and in the same breath condemn them. Just who are you to stand in judgement?” Giving Meredith a sullen, venomous glare, Elsie shrugged. “When you put it like that, I guess you have a point, but I’m surprised you’re taking the moral high ground, Meredith. I know just how ripped up you are at the mere thought of your precious Beverly’s twat being stuffed full with Picard’s cock.” She said spitefully. “You’ve got a foul mouth, you slut.” Meredith’s tone was bitter. “Why can’t you just accept it? Why do you have to let your jealously rule your tongue?” Although Elsie felt a twinge of triumph at having got so far under Meredith’s carefully maintained armour, she nonetheless felt terrible guilt that she hurt her so much. By way of apology, Elsie lifted her hand and gently caressed Meredith’s breast whilst saying softly, “You know why, lover. I can’t stand the thought of sharing you, not even when it’s only in my mind. I love you...what we’’s fucking fabulous.” Her gentle fingers began to tease Meredith’s nipple into hardness. “It’s your fault, Meredith.” She murmured silkily. “I’ve never had a lover like you before; I’ve never been so...thoroughly and gloriously fucked before. Do you blame me for wanting you all to myself?” Meredith’s eyes had drifted closed as the gentle caresses slowly aroused her, but now she opened her eyes and stared at Elsie, primal hunger and intense heat swirling in their depths. Fear and delicious anticipation slithered through Elsie as she lay down and looked up at Meredith, offering herself. Having wakened Meredith’s ferocious sexuality, she was now compelled to offer no resistance, to show nothing but meek acceptance. She didn’t mind, for by swallowing her pride and dignity she would experience the best sex she’d ever had. After all, nothing that was worth it came without a price and this was a price she was happy to pay, as many times as Meredith wanted.

Deanna Troi was careful to make her arrival in sickbay as routine as possible. She was well aware Meredith would be watching her intently as soon as she entered, so she made a show of walking straight to Beverly’s office, an unruffled smile on her face, answering the warm greetings with a flash of her obsidian eyes. Just as Deanna knew she would, Meredith tracked her progress through the facility with sharp interest, keeping in the background where she could watch, unobserved. It wasn’t unusual for Deanna to visit sickbay, especially given her deep friendship with Beverly and as ship’s counsellor, therefore part of the medical staff, there were times when she had to liaise with the CMO, but Meredith still viewed her presence with suspicion. Beverly looked up from her monitor, her face splitting into a wide, warm grin. “Deanna!” She exclaimed happily. “What brings you down here?” Deanna’s expression, hidden from the staff, said it all. As if you didn’t know! Taking the seat in front of the desk, Deanna casually crossed her legs and sat back. To the outside observer, it seemed like a simple meeting between two department heads of the same rank, the familiarity obvious in the way they behaved in each other’s company. Keeping her smile in place for the benefit of anyone watching, Beverly asked quietly, “So, what do you think?” During their early-morning exercise together, Beverly had outlined everything that had occurred between her and Meredith, asking Deanna for her opinion. Being the professional she was, Deanna wouldn’t be drawn into forming a hasty diagnosis, nor did Beverly expect her to. Instead, Deanna chose to delay offering any thoughts until she had had more time to think about it and do some research. Although the only pertinent resources she had were Meredith’s profile and the two unsatisfactory counselling sessions, Deanna hoped she could glean some new information that would help her best friend. “It’s difficult to say.” She sighed, glad that her back was to the door, thus obscuring her from the staff...and Meredith. “There’s so little to go on.” Careful to keep her face showing nothing but moderate interest, Beverly said, “What about everything I’ve told you? Surely that must ring some alarm bells?”

“Yes, her behaviour has been...unusual, but I can’t really act on hearsay, not directly, anyway.” She said gently, knowing Beverly wasn’t going to be happy with what she heard. “So what can be done?” “She needs counselling.” Beverly had to concentrate to keep her expression neutral. “Obviously, but how? Ordering her will only antagonise her and that’ll get us nowhere.” “I could always make an oblique approach.” Danna said thoughtfully. “Not guerrilla counselling!” Beverly almost hissed. “It was a disaster the first time and I have no doubt it will be so again if you try it a second time.” Deanna’s eyes hardened a little and she gave a surreptitious shake of her head. “No, not guerrilla counselling. I have something else in mind.” She said patiently. “What?” A now intrigued Beverly asked. “I thought I might talk to her partner, Elsie Greensale.” Deanna could tell by the worried look on Beverly’s face that she wasn’t keen on that idea. To Deanna’s silent enquiry, Beverly said reluctantly, “There was an...incident last night that involved both of them.” “Are they no longer a couple?” “I think they are, although I’m not certain about that...” She stopped to think and came to a decision. “Seeing how this impacts directly on Lieutenant Bower’s treatment, I feel obliged to inform you of what occurred.” Beverly explained about the injuries sustained by Elsie and the circumstances in which she came by them. Deanna’s face remained impassive; there was little that shocked her. “Hmm, that’s quite helpful, actually.” She mused. “It fits with the impression I get of a confident woman, very comfortable with her sexuality and quite forceful in her pursuit of gratification. I’ve heard one or two things about her and although I certainly wouldn’t put any credence in gossip...” Beverly winced and Deanna felt the wave of discomfort wash over her. “I have to concede there may well be a grain of truth to at least some of it. Nothing I would act on, of course, but enough to pique my interest.” Clasping her hands on the desktop, Beverly tilted her head and asked,

“So you think you might get Bower on side by appealing to Greensale?” Deanna shrugged. “It’s worth a try. If their relationship is deep enough, I’m sure Greensale would be happy to volunteer to help me and, should I be successful in gaining her assistance, Bower might listen to her lover where she would dismiss me out of hand.” “Well, better you than me!” Beverly declared succinctly. She then sighed and showed the first sign of stress by rubbing her brow. “I wish there was some other way, Deanna. This whole situation is so...draining. Jean-Luc’s upset about it and threatening to make my dissatisfaction his official business. It’s really only because of our relationship that he’s keeping out of it, but he can be patient only so long. Ultimately this affects him too. It’s his standards that are being lowered by Bower’s behaviour.” “More fine balancing?” Deanna said sympathetically. Offering a lopsided smile, Beverly snorted softly. “We’d make a great high-wire act.” Her smile faded. “I really don’t know how he does it, Dee. It must be so hard for him to put aside what he feels is his duty, in fact his years and years of training to allow me to handle what is fundamentally a serious breach of discipline.” “He loves you a great deal.” There was conviction in Deanna’s softly spoken words. “Yes,” Smiled Beverly sadly. “But I can only hope his love for me doesn’t compromise his captaincy.” “It won’t, Beverly.” Deanna said confidently. “You know that. He’s too good a Captain to allow that to happen. He might be reluctant to hurt you, but when it comes down to it, he’ll do his duty every time.” Before Beverly could respond, Deanna said firmly, “What we have to do is make sure he’s never put in that position, at least not where it concerns Meredith Bower.” This time, Beverly smile was a warm one. “Agreed.” Deanna got to her feet and Beverly could see she was already plotting her course. “Elsie Greensale?” She asked softly. “Yes, I’ll drop by now.” “Good luck.” “I hope I won’t need it.”

Just as she’d done when Deanna had arrived, Meredith now watched as she left. Although she had no idea what had been discussed in her boss’s office, she couldn’t help but feel it somehow involved her. It wasn’t paranoia, more it was a well-defined sense of selfpreservation. “I’ll have to keep an eye on you.” Thought a wary Meredith. Deanna had no idea just how closely Meredith would watch her.

Lieutenant jg Elise Greensale was so engrossed in her work she failed to notice when Deanna appeared at her shoulder. Content, for the time being, to simply watch Elsie, Deanna held up a hand and offered a smile and a small shake of her head when the department head saw her and made to join her. Acknowledging both her superior rank and her silent message with a nod and a smile, he returned his attention to his console. It wasn’t until Elsie’s focus shifted to the LCARS display to her left that she was finally made aware of Deanna’s presence. Letting out a small yelp of surprise, Elsie scrambled to her feet, her mind immediately going into overdrive as she tried to think why she merited an unsolicited visit from the ship’s counsellor. Like Beverly, Deanna had an enviable reputation among the crew so, at least on some level, Elsie knew she wasn’t in any sort of trouble, but what eventually settled into her mind was that the only reason Deanna would have to take the unusual step of coming to her workplace could only be because of the previous night’s embarrassing trip to sickbay. She paled a little and began to lightly perspire when her fears were confirmed. “Hello, Lieutenant, I hope I’m not disturbing you?” Deanna said lightly, deliberately keeping a respectful distance between them. “There is something I’d like to discuss with you, in private.” Now wary, Elsie struggled to keep her voice even. “Of course, Counsellor. Um...I think we could use Lieutenant Drezz’s office.” Making sure her smile was a warm one, Deanna said kindly, “That would be fine.”

Having obtained permission from her boss, Elsie led Deanna into the small office and an awkward situation was resolved when, instead of sitting behind the desk, Deanna perched on the front of it and invited Elsie to sit in one of the two remaining seats. Weaving her fingers together, Deanna was quick to set the mood. “I want to say at the outset, Lieutenant, this is an informal meeting, in fact it could be considered unprofessional of me to request it as my reason isn’t to discuss anything about you, per se, but rather your partner, Lieutenant Bower.” Elsie’s surprise was clearly evident. “Meredith? You want to talk to me about Meredith?” She said, surprise giving way to caution. “Yes.” Deanna said patiently. “It has come to my attention that your partner has been...troubled lately and whatever it is that’s bothering her has begun to interfere in her relations with her superiors.” Deanna saw by Elsie’s expression that she knew exactly what she was referring to. “Please, Elsie, I don’t want to make you feel you’re breaking any confidences, but if you know what it is that’s troubling Meredith, you’d be helping her if you told me.” Deanna had allowed her voice to become quietly confidential, eliciting a response she hadn’t expected. “She doesn’t mean to be so...aggressive.” The fear that flashed across Elsie’s face and flooded into Deanna made her leave her perch on the desk to sit beside the nervous woman. Her senses on full alert, Deanna said softly, “I’m not sure I know what you mean. Would you like to tell me about it?” Elsie closed up immediately. If it wasn’t for the torrent of emotions surging out of the woman, Deanna might’ve believed that was the end of the meeting. Showing her usual perspicacity, Deanna said, “Does this have something to do with last night?” Elsie’s immediate reaction was to ask “What do you know about that?” By the tone of her voice it was clear she was mortified. Rather than answer such a disingenuous question, Deanna said instead, “Elsie, you and I both know what happened was just an accident. You’ve no need to be embarrassed. What people do in the privacy of their quarters...” She tilted her head and weighed up Elsie’s previous statement “...providing it’s by mutual consent...” “Oh, it was!” Blurted Elsie. “Meredith’s never done anything I didn’t want her to!” She declared earnestly. “Then why did you mention her aggression?” “Well...she went a bit too far.” Elsie’s frown deepened. “Not that I’m complaining, I’m not.” She was quick to explain. “It’s because Meredith’s so...intense that our sex life is so good.”

“Yes,” Agreed Deanna softly. “A partner who feels everything intensely can be very satisfying. So...” She said carefully, “You’re in love with her?” Elsie set her face in an expression of resolute determination. “Yes. Yes I am.” “That’s lovely.” Deanna’s voice was warm and exuding the same confidential tone that encouraged people to share their secrets. “And Meredith...she loves you?” “...Yes.” Although that one word was spoken with conviction, the hesitation, albeit slight, spoke volumes. Picking up not only the ambiguity but the underlying emotions that clearly were at odds with her reply, Deanna said quietly, “You’re not sure?” When Elsie stayed silent, Deanna said softly, “It’s not a betrayal to have doubts, Elsie.” There was pain, both on her face and in her voice when she replied, “Meredith says she loves me and I believe her...but I’m not the only one she loves and I keep being put in the background all the time. Even when we’re making love, I’m certain she’s thinking about the other woman.” “That must hurt.” “It does, but what can I do?” Elsie moaned plaintively. “If I say anything we just end up fighting.” “And was it during one of these fights that you were injured?” Deanna’s voice was completely devoid of anything but genuine concern. “No!” Elsie declared. “Oh, God, no...we were having sex, you know...really into it and Elsie was using the dildo and things just was really know how it is, in fact I didn’t even know I was injured until after, and then Elsie called sickbay...she was worried of course and she stayed while I was treated...” Hearing everything that wasn’t being said, Deanna’s black eyes gleamed as she asked, “But you’re not convinced she’s actually sorry, are you.” There was a strained silence, Elsie warring with her desire to protect Meredith and the need to confess her deepest fears, while Deanna waited patiently, aware of her companion’s turmoil but helpless to do anything while things were so precariously balanced. Eventually, Elsie swiped at her eyes, brusquely wiping away angry tears. “It’s not just the fact the she’s in love with another woman. There’s something else...she’s, that’s not right...” She’d been attempting to draw the words she needed out of the air by gesturing with her hands, but failing to adequately articulate her vague feelings, she let

her hands fall to her lap. “I can’t explain it, Counsellor, all I can say is that there’s a hell of a lot more to Meredith Bower than meets the eye. She’s...there’s more, so much more inside her and she won’t let anybody see...and...” Trickling into silence, Elsie sat in dejected defeat, her face showing her dissatisfaction at being unable to clearly define what it was she wanted to say. The trouble was, of course, that she was just as unable as Beverly, or Deanna, for that matter, to do the same thing. To make her feel better, Deanna placed a reassuring hand on Elsie’s arm and said softly, “I think I know what you mean. Sometimes people are so complex it’s not possible to describe them.” Elsie’s eyes showed a trace of sadness and sardonic mockery. “You just don’t get it, do you, Counsellor.” “What do you mean?” Deanna said guardedly. “Meredith’s not complex, not in the least...quite the opposite in fact. She’s base, so innately primitive that I’m surprised no one’s picked up on it before. The feelings...the emotions she expresses, the little she allows, aren’t ones of maturity but borne of a much more primal, instinctive hunger. I doubt she’s capable of what you would recognise as real passion or love, for that matter, but having said that, don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t trade her for anything. You simply cannot know just how intense and utterly satisfying it is to have her fuck you, Counsellor. Long ago, on Earth, there was a saying, used to describe things which were beyond comprehension. “Mind-blowing.’ That’s what she does to me, Counsellor, she blows my mind and it’s that feral quality she possesses that’s so fucking fantastic.” She suddenly sat up and stared intently into Deanna’s eyes as if by sheer force of will she could make the Counsellor understand. “That’s it!” She said urgently. “That’s the thing...the something. Just beneath her veneer of modern, evolved humanity, there’s a feral, insatiably hungry, untamed fucking animal!” Elsie stared at her hands as if they held some kind of answer. “My God, how the hell did she get this far?” Such frank, powerful words weren’t what Deanna expected, neither was the stunning revelation. It wasn’t that she didn’t think Elsie was capable of such depth of perception, but that a normally respectful and somewhat meek junior officer should be so openly brazen. Deanna had said at the beginning it was an informal meeting, but even during sessions she rarely heard language such as Elsie just used. But there was no way Deanna would censure her for it. Elsie’s raw insights told Deanna so much more than she’d hoped for and besides, it would be hypocritical of her to complain when Elsie had only done what she’d asked her to. And of course, perhaps answered the most important question of all.

If Elsie thought she was about to be put on report for showing such disrespect, she didn’t seem to care. Her shoulders slumped and she seemed to sink into the seat. Very quietly she muttered, “And yet...what does that say about me? I’m not a sadomasochistic submissive. At least I didn’t think I was.” She seemed confused and Deanna felt her helplessness. “Somehow I’ve been subsumed, swallowed up by the sheer force of Meredith’s personality.” She let out a bitter laugh. “And I welcome it! I don’t want anything else.” She turned sad eyes on Deanna. “And I certainly don’t want anyone else to have it.” She whispered, horrified. Very quietly, not wishing to break the fragile mood, Deanna asked, “Do you think Meredith’s dangerous?” “I honestly don’t know.” Elsie whispered pitifully. Then a little stronger, said, “She’s capable of being dangerous...who isn’t...but she’s so obsessed, so’s scary.” She sighed and repeated herself. “I really don’t know.” Gently moving her seat closer, Deanna tried to keep her worry out of her voice. “Do you know who the other woman is?” She already knew, of course, but it was important to find out if Meredith had made her feelings known to anyone else. If this was indeed an obsession, harboured by a woman who was clearly unstable, then the situation was far worse than she’d first thought. There was anger and bitterness in her voice when Elsie spat, “Doctor Beverly Crusher!” “What has she said about her?” There was urgency in Deanna’s voice now. “Not much.” Elsie laughed acrimoniously. “There’s more being said on the grapevine about it than Meredith’s deigned to share with me.” This was news to Deanna. Keeping the surprise out of her voice she said casually, “That’s interesting, I’ve not heard anything.” The look on Elsie’s face was almost comical in its incredulousness. “You listen to gossip?” She gasped. Offering a wide, self-depreciating grin, Deanna shook her head. “Not listen, exactly, but I do keep tabs on what’s going around. I have to, in my job.” “Hmph. I never would’ve guessed, but now I think about it, I guess it makes sense.” Taking advantage of the lessening of tension, Deanna said casually,

“Do you think Meredith would listen to you if you suggested she should see me?” Elsie frowned and immediately became wary once again. “You mean professionally?” “Yes.” “I don’t think so, Counsellor. She’d most likely get angry.” The fear emanating from her was real. Deanna smiled and patted her arm. “That’s all right, forget it, it was just an idle thought.” Feeling she wasn’t going to uncover anything more productive, Deanna stood and brought the meeting to an end. As the Counsellor left the room, Elsie watched her go with a worried frown. “Oh, fuck, there’s going to be trouble, for sure.” She thought. Then on a sudden whim, she tapped her comm. badge. But before she spoke, she had second thoughts. “No...this needs to be off the record. No point in giving anyone any more ammunition. This has to be kept private.” Knowing which section of Sickbay Meredith had been rostered to work in that day, Elsie, having surreptitiously cast her eyes about to make sure no one was paying any undue attention, initiated a sequence of commands into her console that opened a direct line of text communication with a similar console in a small laboratory off the main body of Sickbay. Since Meredith’s last talk with Beverly, the Doctor had felt it prudent to keep Meredith, for the most part, away from the general hubbub of Sickbay, reasoning that the Lieutenant would appreciate some time to herself while she gave thought to her future. Elsie was fairly confident Meredith would see her carefully worded message. “Something important. Port observation lounge, deck eighteen, fourteen-thirty. E.” She couldn’t afford to wait too long for a reply, already fellow crew were drifting towards her, it was only a matter of time before one of them came over to see what she was doing, which was an analysis of the background radiation of a dwarf white star the ship had noted three days previous. Tiny beads of sweat broke out over her top lip and she almost lost her nerve, but just when she was about to give up, a line of text appeared. “Acknowledged. M.” Her hands dancing over the console, Elsie erased the messages, then did something she wasn’t supposed to know how to do. During a torrid affair with a woman from Engineering

before Meredith, she had learned some things about how to manipulate the computer. Indeed, the covert communication she’d just used was but one of the things she knew. In the short space of a minute or two, all trace of what she’d done was erased. If she was right, and she was confident she was, no one could retrieve any evidence that there had been any communications of any kind, covert or not. She sat back just as an Ensign appeared. Smiling benignly, Elsie glanced at the small blinking chronograph on her screen. “Two hours.” She didn’t know what was going to happen when she told Meredith about the Counsellor and their ‘meeting’, but whatever it was, she felt sure Meredith was going to be very grateful and that meant only one thing. She grinned to herself. Oh, yes, it would be glorious.

Meredith was waiting very impatiently when Elsie arrived, out of breath and sweating. Before she could say anything, Meredith crowded into her personal space and hissed, “This better be important! I’ve got work to do, you know.” Trying to show she wasn’t intimidated, Elsie lifted her chin and replied with what she hoped was haughtiness, “You’re not the only one!” Taking a deliberate step back to re-establish her position, Elsie felt momentary fear at the fierce way Meredith was staring at her. “You took the usual precautions?” Elsie asked tentatively. “Of course!” Meredith replied disdainfully. “Do you think I’m a complete fool? No one knows I’m here and no one saw me leave.” “You won’t be missed?” “No! Crusher has me shoved in a fucking shoe-box on my own. What about you?” “No problem. I’m supposed to be down on deck eleven downloading some shit. I’m not due back for a good half hour.” “Right. Now what the hell do you want?” Meredith was becoming increasingly impatient.

Before she lost her nerve, Elsie quickly told Meredith about the meeting, speaking so fast it was difficult to keep up. Unfortunately, and injudiciously, Elsie made an appalling mistake. She neglected to leave out the part where she’d shared her insights and perceptions on the true nature of Meredith’s personality. It was a stunning error of judgement. When she’d finished, Elsie took a further step back and waited, her eyes riveted on Meredith’s face. At first, nothing happened, in fact, Meredith’s expression was completely impassive, but after a few moments, a strange light filled her eyes and making yet another monumental error, Elsie mistook it for affection. It was the last mistake she would ever make and it proved to be a fatal one.

Beverly wasn’t in her office when Deanna arrived in sickbay. The head nurse, Alyssa Ogawa quickly told Deanna that Beverly had left to meet with the captain in the lounge. Smiling her thanks, Deanna left immediately and hurried to the lounge. Putting a slice of pickled onion with a piece of hard cheese, Jean-Luc chewed thoughtfully as he contemplated his next bite. Having cheese, onions, crusty bread and a glass of synth-ale for lunch had been Beverly’s idea and at first he’d not been too keen, but she’d insisted and he’d acquiesced. And, he was glad he did, it was delicious. He glanced up at Beverly and smiled before catching her eye and making a gesture with his finger across his upper lip. At first not knowing what on Earth he was doing, Beverly suddenly realised she had a frothy moustache. With a soft chuckle she used her napkin to wipe it off. She was just about to comment on the cheese when Deanna appeared and, by the way she was looking around, Beverly correctly guessed she was looking for her. Holding up her hand to catch Deanna’s attention, Beverly soon waved her over. Arriving slightly out-of-breath, Deanna didn’t wait to acknowledge her Captain, but said urgently, “Beverly, we have to talk!” Jean-Luc knew Deanna well enough to know she would only ignore him if it was absolutely necessary. Beverly looked pointedly at him and he began to rise, saying, “I’ll see you later.” But he didn’t get to leave. Deanna turned to him, saying,

“My apologies, Captain, but I think you should stay.” Now Jean-Luc was sure whatever it was it was serious. He sat back down and gestured for Deanna to be seated also. Keeping her voice low, Deanna gave an abridged report of her meeting with Elsie. When she’d finished, she turned to Jean-Luc. “Captain, I’m aware you’ve had concerns regarding Lieutenant Bower and I know you’ve discussed with Beverly your inclination to make an official report about her behaviour, but what I thought was a case of simple infatuation, has clearly become something else entirely.” Jean-Luc’s dark eyes glittered. “Is she dangerous?” His voice carried his worry. “She’s obsessed, Captain.” Deanna sighed. “And with what I know now, it is my professional opinion she’s unstable...But dangerous?” She shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s quite possible she poses no threat to Beverly, being the object of her obsession, but...” “But?” Giving her captain a measured look, Deanna said quietly, “She would consider you her main rival, Captain.” Beverly leaned forward and gasped. “Are you saying Jean-Luc’s in danger from this woman?” Offering a shrug, Deanna lifted her eyebrows. “I really don’t know! Without having the opportunity to have her in session, I can’t give a definitive answer. She may be capable of violence, or maybe not. I just don’t know.” Rubbing his fingers over his lower lip, Jean-Luc said thoughtfully, “You said she’s unstable. How might that instability manifest itself?” “Well, it could be expressed in many ways, Captain. There could be extremes of behaviour, from outright violence to self harm and total breakdown. So much depends of how she perceives what goes on around her that would dictate how she’d react.” “Well one thing’s crystal clear.” Declared Beverly forcefully. “We have to neutralise her...get her out of circulation. The sooner we get her confined to quarters, the better.” “Hold on, Beverly,” Said Jean-Luc, his hand raised in caution. “She has yet to do anything to warrant that kind of action. Yes, we have the Counsellor’s opinion, which I value, and yes,

she has been exhibiting aberrant behaviour, but her rights must be upheld. I cannot, in fact I will not, sanction any acts against her without evidence of a crime.” Beverly gaped in disbelief. “So, what? You’re just going to just sit on your hands while a mentally unstable woman, who may well harbour violent intentions towards you, runs free around the ship? Are you insane?” By his blank expression and the note of warning in his voice, Beverly knew she’d overstepped the mark. “Doctor!” She didn’t care. The merest hint of danger directed at her lover brought out her fierce protectiveness, unfortunately it was accompanied by her less than politic regard for rank. “I don’t give a shit, Jean-Luc. If I have to, as CMO, I’ll section her myself and be done with it!” Deanna’s voice was soft in the tense atmosphere. “You can’t do that, Beverly, not without proof. The Captain’s right. She hasn’t done anything yet.” Beverly glared hotly at her friend. “All right, what can we do?” “Surveillance. “ Jean-Luc said quietly. “We activate vidcoms in her quarters, we record her on duty and use the vidcom system throughout the ship to watch her when she’s off duty. The instant she does anything that constitutes dangerous behaviour, we act.” Pinching the bridge of her nose, Beverly gritted her teeth. “And hope like hell nothing untoward happens in the meantime!” She said bitterly. “If you have a better idea, I’d welcome it.” Jean-Luc voice was dry. Beverly looked at her lover and shrugged her capitulation. He then turned his gaze to Deanna, his enquiry a silent one. Nodding slowly, Deanna’s tone was reserved. “I can’t see any other course of action. Given the circumstances, I think it’s the best option, sir.” “Then we’re agreed. Make it so.” There was a strong note of confidence and certainty in Jean-Luc’s voice that Beverly could only hope would prove to be warranted. Somehow she doubted it.

It wasn’t ideal, and Beverly wasn’t fully convinced, but there didn’t seem to be any other alternative. The three officers left the lounge, they had work to do.

Meredith emerged from the small lab and walked at a calm and unhurried pace into the main body of Sickbay, keeping her head up and her expression one of mild interest. She went first to check the status of the two patients currently occupying biobeds, then she moved to make a brisk assessment of the latest readouts and finally, with nonchalant ease, walked by an equipment bay and palmed a tissue regenerator. Back in the little room, its monitors displaying the current analysis in progress, Meredith checked the door was locked before taking her tunic off. Running from her shoulder, down the length of her arm and fading to faint pink lines, three deep scratches oozed blood. It was the work of mere seconds to heal them, but the red marks of the newly sealed skin would take a few days to disappear. Luckily the black material of her tunic mostly hid the blood that had soaked in to it and Meredith knew she could successfully disguise it until she could dispose of the garment in her reclimator. All she’d have to do then was order a new one from the replicator. Simple! Or so she thought. She was back in the main room and was about to put the regenerator back when a cold voice behind her made her hesitate. However, Meredith was nothing if not bold. Without seeming to care, she openly put the tool back in its place, then slowly turned. Taller by almost a head, Pauline Bennet had never quite got over Meredith dumping her. Being higher in rank, she took malicious delight in taking petty revenge wherever she could. As she’d stood behind her former lover, the sight of the obvious love bite on her neck made Pauline seethe with jealously. She decided to have some fun. “Is that how you think a delicate, precision instrument should be handled?” Her tone was bilious. Meredith, ever careful to maintain appearances, answered respectfully. “I’m sorry, Sir. I was in a hurry. It won’t happen again.” Silently she thought churlishly, “It’s not delicate you dimwit! How do you think it could be used in the field if it wasn’t at least robust? Fucking idiot!”

Meredith’s outwardly calm, respectful response cut the legs out from under her tormentor. Even Pauline knew that making any further complaints would be pointless; in fact, it would be Pauline who’d end up looking petty and foolish. Besides, she thought, why give the gossip mongers something to bandy about. With an imperious nod, Pauline began to turn, but remembered the love bite. Leaning close, she sneered. “Not like you to go on duty with such evidence of your sex life, Meredith. You’re usually so careful to keep your sordid little liaisons private. Since when do you advertise? Are you bragging...or slumming?” Momentary panic flashed through Meredith, completely misread by Pauline, who actually thought Meredith was showing embarrassment. She was totally unaware of the mark and it certainly wasn’t a love bite. Grinning triumphantly, the taller woman brushed her finger over the red, bruised mark with such implied intimacy that Meredith almost punched her in the face. Afterwards she wouldn’t be able to say how she managed to control herself. When the ordeal was over, Meredith, using the same amount of boldness, took the regenerator and sidled into the crew bathroom. Making sure she was alone, and with little time to spare, she used the mirror to find, then heal the mark. Like the other wounds, it would be a few days before it was completely gone and, with a twisted sneer of disgust, she knew that her fellow crew would make merry with what they could see. She briefly considered trying to conceal it with make-up, but...why bother? If the crew wished to think it was evidence of a healthy sex life, so what? She’d let them gossip, in the end, it was to her advantage. Giving herself a critical appraisal in the mirror, Meredith nodded with satisfaction. “You’ll do. Fuck them.” The regenerator was put back with not the slightest interest by the staff and Meredith went about completing her shift.

The three ensigns who worked directly under Elsie’s command had begun to feel restless. The lieutenant had said she’d be back in half an hour. She’d been gone forty-five minutes now and they knew if she didn’t appear soon, their department head would notice her absence and ask some very uncomfortable questions, the most pertinent being, Why did she do the job in the first place? It was her duty to delegate; that was how junior officers learned. Wishing to protect their immediate boss, the ensigns moved together and, sotto voce, discussed what should be done. It was quickly decided that ensign Puller, the oldest of the

three, should leave to go and find out what was keeping lieutenant Greensale so long. He knew he would have to be quick, lest his absence be noted too. The other two ensigns spent the next fifteen minutes on tenterhooks, but Puller’s sudden reappearance made them sigh with relief. That was until he told them what he’d discovered. “She never turned up!” He whispered urgently. “What?” Said one of his companions. “I spoke to Lieutenant Wilcock. He confirmed she hasn’t been there.” “Well, where the hell is she?” So intent were they on the whispered conversation, none of them heard the soft footsteps as their department head approached. As one, they jumped violently when he barked,

“This doesn’t look like an analysis to me!” Separating, their faces flushed and guilty, the youngsters hung their heads. Lt. Comm. Tom Huskins knew who to address. The furtive glances sent his way spoke volumes. “Ensign Puller.” Jeremy Puller glanced up and swallowed, his large Adam’s apple bobbing in his scrawny neck. “Sir?” Folding his muscular arms across his chest, the squat, solid man’s eyes bored into the hapless Ensign’s. “I have only two questions for you, Ensign. One: Where is Lieutenant Greensale? And two: Where did you scuttle off to?” Puller, caught like a rabbit in a beam of light had no option but to answer. “I don’t know where the Lieutenant is, Sir. As for me, I went to deck eleven in search of her.” “And?” “She wasn’t there, Sir.” His face settling into an irritated sneer, Huskins growled, “Well, where is she?” “I don’t know, Sir.” Puller had begun to sweat. So far the dept. head hadn’t asked the most crucial, as far as the ensigns were concerned, question and the young man fervently hoped he

wouldn’t. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the hopes of the most junior of officers, the sword of Damocles was about to fall. “Assuming she left the department on official business, why didn’t she delegate the task to one of you? As your immediate superior it is her job to stay here and supervise the analysis, not go off gallivanting through the ship! That kind of leg work should be given to the most junior officers. She knows that.” Puller tried to keep calm, but his body betrayed him by trembling. He swallowed again and when he tried to speak, all that came out was a squeak. Mortified, he coughed and managed to spray saliva in the face of his commanding officer. Huskins closed his eyes and took a steadying breath. Puller stared aghast as Huskins slowly reached up and wiped his face. “I’m waiting, Ensign.” He voice barely contained his annoyance. “The download was ready, Sir and Lieutenant Greensale told me she would go and get it.” “I see. Well it’s obvious I’m going to have to have a chat with the Lieutenant. So, you’ve been to the dorsal computer ODN and she wasn’t there?” “No, Sir.” “You’re not telling me everything, are you, Ensign?” Puller noticed his fellow Ensigns had slowly put some distance between them and him. Isolated, and at the mercy of his commanding officer, Puller decided he’d had enough. Elsie Greensale was a nice person and an easy officer to work with, but loyalty only went so far. He wasn’t prepared to take the blame for anything she’d brought on herself. “When I went to deck eleven to look for the Lieutenant, I was told by the core controller that she’d not been there, Sir.” “What?” Huskins barked. “Are you telling me that Lieutenant Greensale left this department on ship’s business and didn’t carry out her job?” Now clearly shaking, Puller muttered, “I couldn’t say, Sir. All I can tell you is that I couldn’t find her and apparently she never showed up at the core.” All pretence of intimidation vanished. It was an obviously concerned commander who asked, “When was she due back?” Puller glanced at the nearest monitor and said,

“Over an hour ago, Sir.” The Commander lifted his head and called, “Huskins to Greensale.” When there was no reply, he tried again. “This is Lieutenant Commander Huskins. Lieutenant Greensale, respond.” That also failed to elicit a response. “Computer, location of Lieutenant Elsie Greensale?” “Lieutenant Greensale is not aboard the Enterprise.” “What?” Huskins was beginning to understand something was very wrong. He made one more call. “Security, this is Lieutenant Commander Huskins in Biometrics. We have a problem.”

Will Riker was a naturally gregarious man and his amiable countenance showed in his ready grin and warm, twinkling blue eyes. He was a big man, tall and husky with a dark, full but short beard and a pleasant voice. Sitting in front of his captain’s desk, in the ready room, he filled the chair completely. As Jean-Luc outlined the problem and the proposed solution, Will grew increasingly concerned. Eventually he had to interrupt. “I’m sorry, Captain, but I think we should adopt a more proactive approach.” His voice was crisp and even. “If Deanna says Lieutenant Bower is unstable and you are in imminent danger, then I don’t think we’ve got much choice. She has to be taken into custody, if not for your safety, then for her own.” Jean-Luc was a very democratic commander, relying on and valuing the opinions of his senior staff. Where some captains tended to micro-manage their staff, Jean-Luc had found that people usually performed at their best when they felt that they contributed to the decision making. For this reason he encouraged his officers to, within reason, question his decisions. “I understand your concerns, Number One, but I have given this matter considerable thought and it’s my belief that we should be more conservative.”

Running his fingers through his beard, Will took time to formulate his reply. “With respect, Captain, my first priority is to protect you and Bower having freedom to get access to her workplace makes my job nigh impossible. Who knows what she could do with what sickbay has to offer?” He shook his head decisively. “I’m sorry, Captain, I have to insist.” Jean-Luc’s face lost its animation and settled into an unreadable mask. “I’m sorry you see it that way, Commander.” His voice was flat. “But, as I explained to Doctor Crusher, I cannot authorise punitive action against Lieutenant Bower when to all intents and purposes, she is innocent of committing any crime.” Will’s eyes gave away nothing, but his mind was busy. “All right, Captain. May I suggest then, that we place a guard...” Jean-Luc started to shake his head. “...a very discreet guard to keep an eye on you?” Jean-Luc studied his first officer and once again admired his quiet persistence. As sure of his convictions as Jean-Luc was of his, Will’s implacable devotion to his duty was impressive...and humbling. With a sigh, Jean-Luc gave in. “Very well, Will.” He held up one finger. “But, it must be done discreetly. I simply cannot work knowing I’m being constantly watched.” Offering a warm smile, Will nodded. “I understand, Captain.” The ready room seemed bigger once Will had left. Jean-Luc sat back and spent some minutes in deep thought. Rousing himself, he felt along the hem of his tunic and located the small, personal phaser. He took it out of its hidden pocket and checked the setting. His face showed no emotion, but his thoughts were grim. “I hope I don’t have to use this.” Having checked the power cell and finding it fully charged he slipped it back into its place. He made an effort to clear his mind of the troubling worry, but the slight protuberance of the phaser where it pressed gently against his body was a constant reminder. He decided to put a positive slant to the problem by assuring himself that being reminded of the phaser’s presence merely reinforced his confidence that, in the worst case scenario, he

could look after himself. Meredith Bower wasn’t some kind of super-being with unnatural powers, she was an unfortunately unstable person who deserved pity and help and...he wasn’t helpless. Resorting to the use of a weapon would his last choice. As in most things, Jean-Luc would first try to reason with any protagonist. Only when all avenues had been explored would he resort to violence. With any luck, the situation would be resolved long before that. He was just settling into his work when the door chimed. “Come.” Will came in, his expression uncharacteristically grave. Jean-Luc looked up and braced himself. “Captain,” Will said, “I think we have a problem. I’ve just received a call from Lieutenant Commander Byan. It seems one of the crew has disappeared.” “Disappeared?” Jean-Luc was understandably nonplussed. “Who has disappeared?” By Will’s continuing grave manner, Jean-Luc knew there was more to come. “Lieutenant Elsie Greensale, Sir. She’s Meredith Bower’s partner.” Not wishing to jump to any conclusions, Jean-Luc asked evenly, “What do we know so far?” “Only that Greensale has been absent from her post for over three hours now. Her department head, Lt. Comm. Huskins, once he noted her absence from her post, made the usual enquiries and, having not solved her disappearance, called security. A search of the ship has failed to locate her.” Rising from his seat, Jean-Luc strode out of his office, followed by Will. On the Bridge, JeanLuc asked, “What does the computer say?” Will shrugged. “Greensale’s communicator isn’t registering, so there’s no bio readout. As far as the computer’s concerned, she isn’t on the ship.” Before Jean-Luc could ask, Will said, “There’s been no transporter activity and all shuttles, runabouts and escape pods are accounted for.”

A deep frown creased Jean-Luc’s forehead. “Then where the hell is she?” It was a rhetorical question and Will didn’t reply. He waited patiently while his captain considered the situation. “Search the ship again, thoroughly...And, Will, make sure the teams understand they might be looking for a corpse.” Grim-faced, Will turned to carry out his orders. Jean-Luc’s next command was softly issued. “Get Bower up here, Number One. It’s time I spoke to her.” Will looked over his shoulder, a protest forming. Jean-Luc silenced it with a stern gaze. “I know that’s Security’s job, but I can’t hide from her, Will. Sooner or later I’m going to have to confront her. It might as well be in my territory.” Giving a curt nod, Will sent a meaningful look at the armed woman standing unobtrusively to one side. She answered the unspoken order by moving closer to her Captain and resting her hand on her phaser’s butt. If Jean-Luc was annoyed by her close scrutiny he didn’t show it. He had too much on his mind. Jean-Luc was seated at his desk, the armed guard just outside the doors when the chime sounded. To his acknowledgement the doors parted and Meredith Bower walked in, tentative, but her eyes showing she was alert and wary. “You wanted to see me, Captain?” He was impressed. She was displaying moderate self-assuredness without appearing over confident. Jean-Luc was well aware he often, without actually meaning to, intimidated junior officers, especially those who’d not been aboard very long. But Meredith Bower showed nothing but respectful interest and steady coolness. While she stood before his desk, at attention, but not rigidly so, he sat back and crossed his legs and folded his hands on his lap, deliberately adopting a relaxed air. “Yes, Lieutenant.” His tone was formal, but not unkind. “I understand you know Lieutenant Greensale.” “Yes, sir.” “How well do you know her, Lieutenant?” “Quite well, Captain.”

He offered a small smile. “Would you say you were close?” “Captain,” Meredith was careful to keep her voice soft and suitably demure. “May I ask what it is you wish to see me about?” Jean-Luc’s expression hardened a little, but he maintained his mild tone. “Just answer my questions, please, Lieutenant.” Meredith’s eyes glittered, but she made no outward sign of her inner anger. “Yes, sir.” “It is my understanding that you are in a relationship with Lieutenant Greensale. Am I correct?” “Yes, Captain.” “And how long have you been in this relationship?” “A month, maybe more.” “I see. I know this might be encroaching on what you consider your personal life, Lieutenant, but I assure you, I have legitimate reasons for asking such intrusive questions. However, I would like to remind you, you are not obliged to answer these kinds of questions. Are we clear about that?” She did a very good job of appearing innocent. “Yes, sir.” “Good. Now we have a situation that we think you might be able to help us with. You do want to help, don’t you Lieutenant?” Now she seemed eager. “Yes, Captain.” Smiling, Jean-Luc allowed warmth into his steady gaze. “Splendid. So, to return to my previous question, how close are you to Lieutenant Greensale?” “Close, sir?”

Jean-Luc knew when he was being played for a fool. He didn’t say anything, merely maintained a penetrating, calculating stare. Meredith decided now wasn’t the time to try and get into a pissing contest with her captain. “Oh, I’d say we’re pretty close, sir.” But she just couldn’t help herself. “The sex is damned good.” Jean-Luc was unimpressed by her attempt to shock him; in fact he found the effort juvenile and trite. The way he ignored her jibe only served to anger Meredith further, but still, she didn’t show it, but that didn’t stop her blurting, “She’s not my only lover, Captain. We’re not exclusive. I find monogamy boring.” Still giving no indication he was the slightest bit perturbed by her salacious declarations, Jean-Luc asked, “Are you aware that Lieutenant Greensale is missing?” Despite her anger, Meredith did a very good job of appearing confused and alarmed. “Missing, sir?” “Yes” He replied mildly. “We’ve been wondering if you might know where she is.” They stared at each other, tension skittering around the room. With each passing second the atmosphere became more and more charged. Jean-Luc maintained his piercing, intense gaze while Meredith’s dark anger boiled just under her stony exterior. Though her body remained still, her eyes blazed. Jean-Luc’s right hand shifted imperceptibly, moving closer to his phaser and he felt the muscles in his arm tense in preparation of sudden use. Just then the door chime sounded. Meredith lowered her eyes and the connection was broken. “Come!” Will, knowing he was interrupting something important, sent his captain his apologies in his meaningful look. Letting out a long breath he’d been unaware he held, Jean-Luc made sure he refrained from showing his displeasure at the intrusion. He was aware Will wouldn’t have disturbed him without good reason. As if to accentuate that, Will moved swiftly to Jean-Luc’s side, bent and whispered close to Jean-Luc’s ear, “We’ve found Greensale, Captain.” Tilting his head slightly, Jean-Luc raised one eyebrow. Will understood the silent question. “She’d dead, sir. Her body was found stuffed into an ODN port on deck eighteen, starboard side.”

Knowing that no cause of death would be issued without a post mortem first being carried out, Jean-Luc didn’t ask Will how she’d died. Instead he nodded his acknowledgement and gestured for Will to wait by his side. The tall man stood with feet braced, his hands behind his back, staring implacably at the lieutenant. Meredith hadn’t moved, her eyes were still downcast. “I have just been informed, Lieutenant,” Jean-Luc’s expression was unreadable. “That we have found Lieutenant Greensale and it is my sad duty to tell you that she is, unfortunately, deceased.” Looking suitably distressed, Meredith conjured up some tears. “Elsie? Elsie’s dead? Oh, my God...How?” “We don’t know, yet, but I have full confidence in my Security Chief. I’m sure we’ll discover how your...partner met her untimely demise.” “Yes, sir.” “If you’re not too upset, I have a few more questions I’d like to ask you.” “I’m sorry, Captain, but I don’t feel very well.” She adopted a bilious visage. “It must be shock. May I be dismissed, please, sir?” “Well played.” Mused a wry Jean-Luc, silently. “Of course, Lieutenant. Perhaps we can continue tomorrow...when you’ve had time to recover?” “Yes, sir, thank you.” After she’d left, Will took his place in front of the desk. “What do you think, sir?” His tone clearly showed his distrust. “I’m not convinced she’s responsible, but what I’ve been told about her is true. There’s a definite feeling of...something, whatever it is, it surrounds her like an aura.” He snorted and shook his head. “Of course one can’t condemn someone on a feeling, but still...” Will glared at the closed doors and grunted. “Well we’ve got a murder investigation to get under way. Commander Byan will be leading the investigation.” “There’s no doubt it was murder?”

Will paled slightly. “None whatsoever, Captain. I saw the body, believe me, Greensale didn’t kill herself.” “Damn. There goes one theory.” “Sir?” “Oh...” Sighed Jean-Luc. “It had crossed my mind that Greensale might’ve committed suicide and a lover, for whatever reason, concealed her body, trying to protect her, perhaps. But...” he gestured with his hand, indicating Will’s statement about being sure it was murder. “Suicide is bad enough, in fact it’s terrible, but murder? My God, Will!” The first officer shared his captain’s horror. Understanding Jean-Luc needed some time on his own, Will said before he left, “Beverly will have the results of the post mortem by fourteen hundred.” Jean-Luc nodded and waited until Will had gone. He rubbed his eyes and let his shoulders slump, muttering sadly, “Jesus, where will this lead?” Little did he know just how far into hell he would go before it was over.

Under the circumstances, Meredith felt she didn’t have to report back to sickbay. Making sure she kept her head down and displaying appropriate expressions of shock and grief whenever she encountered crew, Meredith walked quickly through the corridors on her way to her quarters. Once inside she stripped off her tunic and, savagely ripping her communicator and rank pips free, crammed the bloodied garment into the reclimator and jammed her finger on the reclaim control. She watched dispassionately as the tunic disappeared in swirling, sparkling energy. She stood, transfixed, blinking slowly before she said softly, “Uniform tunic.” The new top duly appeared and, as if in a daze, Meredith affixed the pips and communicator to it, then tossed it carelessly aside. It hit the arm of her lounge chair and slid to the floor where it lay in a softly crumpled heap. As soon as it left her field of vision, Meredith dismissed it from her mind. “What an insufferable prick!” She muttered angrily. “Who the bloody hell does he think he is? Are we close?” She snorted derisively. “Oh, yes, my dear Captain, we were close.”

She went to her small viewport and stared at her reflection. Her anger began to abate and as it eased, her analytical mind resurfaced. “I’m going to have to be very careful, he’s no fool. And he’s going to be pouring poison into her ear. If I’m not really on top of my game, she’s going to be even harder to reach. Shit! He’s all ready got her skittish about me.” She frowned and her eyes drifted away from her reflected image and out into the stars. “He didn’t get to be Captain of this bucket just by virtue of having a big cock.” That made her chuckle and look back into her own eyes. “So they say...” She snorted and shook her head. “What does she see in him? He’s hardly an impressive specimen. He’s not tall, he’s bald and his completely self-absorbed. Jesus, he thinks he’s fucking God! And the idiots on this ship actually perpetuate his inflated opinion of himself.” She let out an irritated huff. “Still, he’s a smart cookie, I’ll give him that.” She grinned at her reflection and offered a wink and a jaunty tilt of her head. “When this is over, and she’s mine, it’ll be that much sweeter for being such a challenge.” Meredith had no doubt whatsoever that Beverly would eventually succumb to her dogged pursuit. Not only that, such was her supreme confidence in her own abilities, she didn’t even consider that she’d ever be discovered as Elsie’s killer. In fact, since the moment when she’d closed the ODN port, thus concealing the pitiful remains of her dead lover, Meredith had simply pushed all memories of Elsie from her mind, including those of her murder. It was an ability she’d had for most of her life and it paved the way for what became the wall she so successfully put between herself and everyone else. Turning from the viewport, she wandered into her bedroom and on, into the bathroom. Stripping off the rest of her clothing and reminding herself to dispose of it, she stepped under the sonic shower and allowed the gentle waves to cleanse not only the residual blood traces, but anything that remained of Elsie from her body.

Jean-Luc felt the weight of Elsie’s death on his shoulders as he entered sickbay. He was early; the post mortem was still in progress. It was sad, he thought, that he knew the way to the morgue. If only there were some other way to get the answers they so desperately needed. He wasn’t squeamish, in fact he had a very pragmatic view of life and death and the inherent frailties of the human body, but when the circumstances were as they were now, that being the violent death of a young woman, seemingly by the hand of a fellow crewmember, it was all the more tragic and deeply disturbing. Of course, many had died under his command, young and old, men and women, but losing one’s life in the line of duty at least served some purpose. Murder, on the other hand, was simply such a waste. Pointless. Would we ever learn, he wondered.

Beverly was wearing a white, shiny full-length apron over her uniform and he winced silently at seeing the smears of blood upon it. He couldn’t remember ever seeing her wear anything like it before. She didn’t look up, having sensed his close presence. By her tone of voice, Jean-Luc knew she was appalled by what she had found. “It was a violent death.” Beverly said softly. His eyes fed him the images of bruises and abrasions on the corpse’s skin. “I’ve found severe internal injuries...broken bones...” Jean-Luc moved a little closer, feeling an up swell of pity for the battered young woman. “Have you determined the cause of death?” His voice sounded hollow to him. “Yes.” Beverly sighed. “Her neck has been broken.” Turning slightly, Beverly placed one gloved, bloodied hand on the cold metal surface of the table. “This...” She gestured towards the body. “Was a frenzied attack. Whoever did this was out of control. But...” Her eyes went back to Elsie’s swollen, darkly mottled face. “The breaking of the neck was clinically done.” Squinting, Jean-Luc tilted his head. “I’m not sure I understand.” Beverly’s small smile was a sad one. “Come here, I’ll show you.” They moved away from the table and went to a screen, inset into the wall and taking up half the wall’s area. Beverly, having peeled off her soiled gloves, tapped a control pad and an image appeared. “This is the cervical spine.” She reached up and touched the back of her neck. “Here. See these vertebra?” Jean-Luc moved closer and peered at where Beverly was indicating on the screen. “Yes.” “Okay, this here...” She isolated the area and magnified it. “See the fracture?” “Uh huh.” “It was done with great force, but also with particular precision.” She folded her arms across her chest, her eyes studying the image. “When a neck is broken, most often there’s quite a bit of damage done. People seem to think that merely twisting the head around will effect death,

but that’s not so. If an assailant wishes to end someone’s life by breaking their neck, it needs to be done quickly and accurately, otherwise all you’d achieve is some kind of paralysis, partial or full depending on how badly it was done. Usually the victim is fighting for their life, making it difficult for the assailant, but...” She tapped her knuckle against the screen “Whoever did this, knew exactly what they were doing and it was done with great care which is at odds with the other injuries which show, as I said, a frenzied attack.” Rubbing his fingers over his lower lip, Jean-Luc’s dark eyes wandered over the grisly image. “So what are you telling me? The murderer, having spent their passion in the attack, suddenly...sobered...and was clear headed enough to cold-bloodedly kill the victim?” “Pretty much.” Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc shook his head. “Such a dichotomy of emotion would seem to suggest an unstable mind.” “Maybe.” Beverly said. “But you could say that about anyone who murders. Let’s face it; deliberately taking a life requires a very disordered mind.” “Or...” Jean-Luc’s eyes left the image and settled on Beverly’s “A very cold and calculating one.” “That’s a scary thought!” They both looked at each other and it was Jean-Luc who asked the obvious question. “Do you think Meredith Bower is capable of doing this?” He gestured to the screen. By way of a reply, Beverly moved to Elsie’s body and stared down at it. “I think what you should be asking is, is she capable of doing that.” She nodded towards the body. Moving back to the table, Jean-Luc couldn’t help but feel deeply disturbed by the evidence of such ferocious violence. Elsie’s battered and broken body silently called for justice. Interrupting his chilling thoughts, Beverly said quietly, “There’s one more thing, Jean-Luc. That method of breaking the neck? Most of us have been trained how to do it. It’s part of the Academy self-defence training.” Jean-Luc’s gaze was sharp as the ramifications of Beverly’s disclosure came home to roost. “So any one of the crew...” He whispered, aghast.

“Yep. How many suspects do you want?” “Merde!” There was a momentary silence while Jean-Luc absorbed the scope of the problem he now faced. Hoping his next question would shed some light on an otherwise very dark mood, he said carefully, “What about trace evidence?” Beverly raised her eyebrows and gave a tentative half-smile, “Well it’s not much, but...” She went back to the screen and brought up a new image. JeanLuc looked over from the table. “We found a concentration of microscopic fibres under the nails of her right hand.” “So...she scratched her killer?” “It looks like it, but only the uniform, there weren’t any skin or even microcellular DNA traces. Just the fibres.” Jean-Luc’s eyes slid back and forth as he thought furiously. “In your opinion, are there enough of these fibres to suggest she scratched with enough force to mark her killer?” “You mean through the uniform? Hmm, that’s difficult to say. The fabric is quite robust. Look at her nails.” Jean-Luc studied the image and grunted . “Damn. Regulation.” “Yep. Trimmed short, neat and clean as per regulations.” “But surely the killer’s skin would bear some kind of marks?” Nodding slowly, Beverly thought she knew where he was going. “Yes. Even if the skin wasn’t broken there would be marks, but they would quickly fade.” “Yes,” Jean-Luc’s voice was eager now. “But if it was done with enough force, even if the skin wasn’t broken...” Beverly snapped her fingers.

“Bruises!” “Exactly!” “Okay, but how does that help? We don’t know where on the killer’s body she scratched. I mean, you can’t just go and ask people to strip to be examined. You have to have more evidence before you even contemplate making a request like that.” “I know, but it would make for a very strong case, wouldn’t it? If we narrowed it down to one or two suspects, it would be the defining piece of evidence.” “Providing the killer doesn’t remove the evidence beforehand.” “Hmm. Well, I suppose that’s a risk we’ll have to take. What else have you got?” “Nothing.” His face clouded and his brow lowered. “Nothing? How is that possible? What about microcellular residue?” Pulling up her lower lip, Beverly shrugged helplessly. “I don’t what to say, Jean-Luc. We processed the body before I opened it up. Apart from microscopic fibres found on its head and right hand...” “What about those fibres? Can you be more specific?” “Not significant, I’m afraid. They are a perfect match to the replicator file for standard duty uniforms. Everyone on this ship is wearing a uniform made from the same file.” Jean-Luc sighed heavily. “What about her uniform? Is there anything on that?” Beverly really wanted to give Jean-Luc some good news, but there just wasn’t any. “Same deal. There are some excess fibres over the tunic, but...” “Not significant. Damn.” He shook his head with frustration. “What about the killer’s uniform? Would it show the scratch marks?”

“I doubt in, Jean-Luc. The fabric has been specifically designed to resist marking or tearing. It’s like I said...very durable.” Absently scratching the short bristles of grey hair above his ear, Jean-Luc was casting his net wide. “Very well, what about her killer? Surely with that amount of violence, he or she would have injuries of their own? Broken knuckles? Abrasions? She...” He tilted his head at Elsie’s body. “Must have fought back. What about defensive injuries? Other than her obvious attempt to scratch?” Rubbing her forehead in frustration, Beverly briefly closed her eyes. “I don’t know what to tell you, Jean-Luc.” “Nothing?” “Nope. Either she managed no more than that one scratch, or she was incapacitated or killed first, then...” Jean-Luc glanced down at the brutally violated body and grimaced. “...Then whoever it was...did that.” Jean-Luc finished for her. Beverly said nothing. Words, at that point were unnecessary. “Mon Dieu.” Jean-Luc whispered. Beverly understood his horror, she shared it. She took her apron off and, taking him by the elbow, led him from the room, with all its grisly connotations and ushered him into her office. He refrained from sitting, so Beverly perched on the edge of her desk. “What are you going to do?” He sighed and massaged his temple, as if he had a headache. While he formulated his reply, Beverly stood and went to her side of the desk and retrieved a tricorder from a drawer. He only knew she was scanning his head when the device’s soft whirring broke his concentration. Irritated, he batted Beverly’s hand away, but the scan was complete. “You have a stress headache, Jean-Luc.” She informed him. “Sit down; I’ll fix it for you.” Knowing to refuse would only cause an argument; he did as he was told. Sometimes, especially with Beverly, discretion really was the better part of valour. She left the office but soon returned and, as she administered an analgesic, he answered her question.

“The short answer is, I don’t know. Of course I won’t be leading the investigation, that’ll be in the hands of our Security Chief.” Nodding thoughtfully, Beverly asked, “How is Lt. Comm. Byan doing anyway?” “Um...fine, I suppose.” Jean-Luc shrugged. “His skills haven’t actually been tested yet, although he is well-qualified and was highly recommended.” But then he muttered, “He’s only held the post for a month.” “Do you think he’s up to it?” “Oh, I think so; Will would never have suggested him for the position if he wasn’t certain he could do the job.” Beverly gave an encouraging nod, but said quietly, “Might pay to check his record anyway.” Pulling his closed lips to one side, Jean-Luc shook his head. “I don’t think that’s going to help. Besides, how many people do you know who’ve investigated a murder? People with that kind of experience are a little thin on the ground.” “Hmm, you have a point. What about command?” He shrugged. “Well, obviously I’m going to have to report it, but as to requesting I want to handle this in-house.” “That’s providing you get a quick result. If it drags on...or, worse you don’t find the killer, you won’t have much choice and the powers that be are going to be royally pissed off that they didn’t get on board the investigation as soon as the murder was discovered.” Jean-Luc’s annoyed glare made Beverly hold up her hands. “I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate, Jean-Luc.” She put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “You have a difficult case here and an inexperienced Security Chief. Maybe it’d be wise to take advantage of all the help you can lay your hands on.” He stood and gave Beverly a warm smile. “I’ll consider it.” Casting a look outside and seeing no one paying them any attention, he leaned in and placed a soft, quick kiss on Beverly’s lips. Before she could react, he was gone. Beverly’s wistful smile faded as she approached the morgue and its sad, cold occupant.

Having been contacted by her captain and told the details of his interview with Meredith and the subsequent murder of Elsie, Deanna had waited until the following day before making any move to approach Meredith. Although somewhat doubtful, Deanna was willing to give Meredith the benefit of the doubt regarding any grief she might be experiencing. Even though what Elsie had said about her lover was compelling, it wasn’t hard evidence. In Deanna’s position, she used many ways of gathering information about her patients, done not to intrude, or out manoeuvre, but to augment what her sometimes reluctant patients had to say. However, she had to be very careful in how she reacted to hearsay. The opinions of a lover weren’t proof, merely the disclosing of another aspect of the individual, as seen through the eyes of someone close to them. Nearing Meredith’s quarters, Deanna couldn’t help but hear Will’s voice in her mind. Before leaving their quarters that morning, she’d told him of her intention to see Meredith. He’d frowned and taken her hands in his. “May I offer some advice?” He said carefully. “Take someone from Security with you.” Before Deanna could protest, he held up one hand. “I’m not saying your guard should accompany you inside her quarters, but that they might wait outside. Just to be on the safe side.” Offering a smile, Deanna shook her head. “I really don’t think that’s necessary, Will.” His next words, though softly spoken, lost none of their chill. “She’s dangerous, Deanna. She may well have murdered Elsie Greensale.” “I can’t assume she’s guilty, Will, nobody can. She, like everyone else, has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.” There was a definite edge to Deanna’s voice. Pursing his lips, Will, nodded. “I know that, but you know as well as I there’s something about her...and I think it’s that she’s unhinged and, like I said, dangerous.” Now clearly irritated, Deanna said sarcastically,

“Is that your professional diagnosis?” He saw the determination in her eyes and the hard set of her features. He gave a nod and said quietly, “All right, just be careful. Okay?’ Some of her irritation abated and she summoned a smile. “Okay.” Now, as she stood outside Meredith’s quarters she rued her stubbornness. Having an armed guard would feel very comforting right now. Still, she had a job to do. There was a very troubled woman beyond the doors who needed her help and she’d be damned if she was going to let fear real or imagined, stop her from offering any assistance she could. Just then Deanna sensed a wave of anger coming from Meredith and she paused, her finger hovering over the door annunciator. Shaking off her alarm, Deanna reasoned anger was understandable, given the circumstances and she went ahead and pressed the tab. Within seconds the anger she sensed surged and again, Deanna hesitated. What lay inside was becoming a mystery to Deanna and the only way she was going to solve it was to enter. Despite Meredith’s reputation as being cold and unapproachable, several people had already dropped by to offer their condolences, although Meredith thought they were only there to spy and gather fuel for their gossiping. “What the hell did they think they’d see?” She sneered. “A bloodied nightie? A pair of Elsie’s dirty knickers?” She grunted, picked up and threw a shoe across the room. “Fuckwits!” Just as the shoe hit the floor, the door chimes sounded. “Computer! Who the fuck is at my door!” “Counsellor, Deanna Troi.” “Fuck!” Meredith’s first reaction was to refuse to see Deanna, citing grief, but that might eventually prove to be counterproductive. The fact was she needed Deanna on side. Casting a look around her quarters and deciding it was just untidy enough to give the impression of someone who was too upset to even consider something as unimportant as housework, Meredith softly cleared her throat, arranged her features appropriately and called, “Come in.”

Although she was very wary, Deanna’s genuinely concerned expression showed nothing of the undercurrent of trepidation she felt. She used the fact that humans were unable to see anything of her emotional state in her black eyes and studied Meredith and, at first glance, saw just what she expected. A woman, grief stricken at the loss of her partner, made worse by the manner of the lover’s death. “How are you, Meredith?” Deanna asked gently. Meredith noted the use of her given name and smiled inwardly. “So, that’s how she’s going to play it? Very cosy. Nice opening gambit, Counsellor.” She thought smugly. Outwardly her face collapsed and she raised her hands to cover it. She felt Deanna gently take her arm as she was led to the sofa and guided to sit. She even managed some tears. “I know it must’ve been such a terrible shock. Do you want to talk about it?” Sniffing loudly, Meredith lowered her hands only to wipe ineffectually at her tears. A tissue suddenly appeared, making Meredith think coldly, “My God, she even came prepared.” Offering a watery look of gratitude, Meredith made a show of wiping her eyes. Deanna monitored the emotions coming from the lieutenant and frowned a little as it seemed as if she really was experiencing genuine grief. What Deanna didn’t know was that although it was true she was feeling grief, Meredith’s emotions were not because Elsie’s death, or her part in it, but more the loss of a willing and very talented sexual partner. Meredith couldn’t have cared less that it was Elsie. Individuals didn’t matter at all to her; it was what she could get out of them that interested her. When it seemed Meredith was able to talk, Deanna said softly, “From what I can gather, your relationship with Elsie was very intense.” “Now I wonder how she knows that?” Thought Meredith, with cruel amusement. “Oh, yes it was, Counsellor. Very intense.” She gulped. “Sometimes, when the death of a loved one occurs, we try to blame ourselves. And, of course if the death is sudden...and violent, we tend to think that maybe, somehow, we might’ve been able to prevent it.” Although Deanna’s voice was soft, her eyes were keen and she concentrated on what she could feel from Meredith. Maintaining her perfectly constructed role, inside and out, Meredith nodded; her expression forlorn. “Yes, I’ve felt that.” She sniffed. “If only I’d done what she’d wanted!” She almost wailed.

“What was it Elsie wanted, Meredith? Deanna was well practised in modulating her voice and not showing when she was keenly interested in what was said to her. “Oh...” Meredith moaned. Fresh tears flowed and with them an accompanying wave of grief. Taking a shuddering breath, Meredith quietly wept. “She...she suggested we take the day off...spend it in...bed.” “Why didn’t you?” “Um...I didn’t want to disappoint Doctor Crusher. She’d asked me to do an analysis on a bacteria she was studying. It wasn’t exactly was one of the Doctor’s personal projects, but she’s such a nice person and we’ve had...that is, I’ve been...” She sighed. “I suppose you know about it anyway.” There was such abject misery in her voice that Deanna almost winced. “If you’re referring to your feelings towards Doctor Crusher, then yes, I know.” Deanna said gently. Meredith shook her head and dabbed at her eyes. “It’s not just that, Counsellor. I’ve made an arse of myself. I’ve acted inappropriately...nothing serious, you understand, but bad enough that Doctor Crusher gave me a stern talking to and threatened me with an official complaint if I ever behaved that way again.” This was news to Deanna and she felt a flash of irritation towards her best friend for keeping such important information from her, especially in the light of recent events. Outwardly, however, she gave no sign of even the slightest discomfit. “I see. Well,” She sighed. “Sometimes, when we feel strongly about someone, our judgement can falter. It’s not uncommon, Meredith and I’m sure Doctor Crusher understands. You have to remember that she has to maintain a certain standard of discipline.” Nodding, Meredith blew her nose loudly. “So does Captain Picard.” It seemed an innocuous remark, but somehow it was out of context. Deanna, her gaze sharpening, homed in on it. “Why do you mention the Captain?” “Shit!” Thought Meredith. Deanna felt a spike of apprehension and wondered briefly why that would be so. “Oh, you know, he’s such a stickler for rules and regulations. It’s just that if Doctor Crusher put me on report, it’d get back to the Captain and I’d probably be in even more trouble.”

“Yes, that sounded okay.” Meredith almost congratulated herself. But Deanna wasn’t about to give up. “And why would you think it would come to the Captain’s attention? It would be Commander Riker’s job to assess the report and take any appropriate action. For the Captain to become involved it would have to be a serious breach of discipline. It wasn’t was it?” Deanna’s voice, though soft, carried a hard edge to it. Meredith’s expression of shocked horror would’ve done credit to even the finest of actors. “Oh, no, Counsellor! Definitely not!” “Then why are you worried about the Captain finding out?” Taking a deep breath, Meredith gave Deanna a look that clearly said, “Can I trust you?” Putting a reassuring hand on Meredith’s forearm, Deanna said quietly, “It’s all right, Meredith, you can tell me.” “Well...everybody knows, so it’s not as if it’s a secret or anything.” Absently dabbing at her eyes, Meredith said softly, “Doctor Crusher...she’s involved with the Captain. I suppose it’s only natural that she’d talk to him about...things.” “And you believe she’d tell him if she put you on report.” “Yeah.” “Meredith, just because Doctor Crusher is in a relationship with the Captain doesn’t mean he would interfere in her interaction with her staff. She is a department head and Captain Picard relies on the heads to run their departments efficiently. To take any action over and above whatever Commander Riker thought appropriate would be completely contrary to the way the Captain runs the ship. Such an action would undermine not only Commander Riker’s authority, but Doctor Crusher’s as well. Do you really think he’d do that?” Scratching her head, Meredith pursed her lips and shrugged. “When you put it that way, I suppose I don’t.” There was a short silence before Deanna asked gently, “Did Elsie know how you felt about Doctor Crusher?” “Careful...” Meredith warned herself. “No. Yes.” Grimacing, Meredith conjured up some fresh tears. “I don’t know...maybe.”

“So, you loved Elsie, but you also have strong feelings for Doctor Crusher.” “Yeah and it made me feel terrible!” She broke into wracking sobs and Deanna rubbed her back, waiting for the episode to pass. When the sobs had subsided to ragged hiccups, Deanna said very gently, “Meredith, did you have anything to do with Elsie’s death?” Again, shock and horror contorted Meredith’s tear streaked face. “NO! Oh,!” The sobs returned and Deanna was nearly overwhelmed by waves of grief that poured from the shattered woman in torrents. The Counsellor sensed there was nothing further to be gained by continuing. She stayed with Meredith until she’d regained most of her composure then left, promising to return at a later date. When the doors closed, Meredith leaned back on the sofa and lifted her head to stare at the ceiling. A wicked grin appeared. “Oh I think that round went to me, Counsellor.” She said. “Now, all I have to do is get through Byan’s interview. Piece of cake!” No one else bothered Meredith until Byan came to her quarters an hour later.

Security chief Byan stood before his captain’s desk in the ready room. A Bolian, he was round and blue as were the rest of his species and Jean-Luc wondered idly if there were any examples of individuals that weren’t so...homogenous. The Captain put aside his speculation and focused on the PADD in his hands. It was the preliminary report of the investigation so far and, as Jean-Luc read, his expectations collapsed as it became clear that Byan and his team hadn’t uncovered anything more than Jean-Luc himself had. Of particular interest was Byan’s interview of lieutenant Bower. There just wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, or at least, what one could expect to find in a situation where a person had lost a loved one to a sudden, violent death.

Her alibi had been thoroughly checked, Jean-Luc silently disgruntled that Beverly herself was one of the corroborating witnesses. It was now twenty-two hundred hours and he was fed up and tired. One thing the post mortem revealed that he didn’t know was the time of death. Put at ten twenty five that morning, eight and a half hours had passed and they were no closer to finding the killer. Jean-Luc sat back and considered throwing the PADD across the room. Of course that was out of the question, so he simply tapped it against his fingers. “Tell me, Commander,” He said mildly, showing none of his frustration. “What is your opinion of Lieutenant Bower?” By the way Byan hesitated; Jean-Luc knew he was unwilling to voice his feelings. To encourage him, Jean-Luc asked, “Would you like to sit down, Commander?” Offering a grateful smile, the Bolian said, “Thank you, Captain.” Once seated, he shifted around, as if trying to fit his round, muscular bulk into a comfortable position. Jean-Luc waited patiently and was rewarded when Byan sighed and shook his head. “To be honest, sir, I’m not sure what to make of her.” “Really? Can you be more specific?” Placing his large hands on his thick thighs, Byan tilted his head, the darker blue markings on his forehead seeming to rise, giving the skin a ridged look. “Well...I’m not sure I can put it into words, sir. It’s not that she behaved inappropriately, on the contrary, I saw nothing that caused, it wasn’t anything she said or did...but...” His massive shoulders heaved as he sighed and shook his bullet-like hairless head. “I’m sorry, Captain.” Jean-Luc let him know he wasn’t upset by sending a small smile. “Don’t be, Commander. You’re not the only one to have reservations about the Lieutenant; in fact it’s very perceptive of you to pick up on it.” Jean-Luc stared at his now cold tea and sighed.

“But...misgivings aren’t proof and without something solid to go on, and in the face of the Lieutenant’s incontrovertible alibi, we must move on. We cannot afford to dwell on unsubstantiated suspicions.” “Yes, Captain...but, sir...where do we go from here? My interviews with the known associates of Lieutenant Greensale have shed absolutely no light on anything that might constitute a motive for murder.” Briefly closing his eyes, Jean-Luc felt drained. “Let it go for now, Commander. Get some sleep and come at it again in the morning. Perhaps a decent night’s rest might give you a new perspective.” The Bolian heard the subtle dismissal and stood. “Yes, sir. Good night, Captain.” Once he’d left, Jean-Luc tossed the PADD onto the desk in disgust. Pushing forefinger and thumb into his eyes, he gritted his teeth. “Somewhere on this ship, a murder is loose. Merde!”

Deanna had decided not to confront Beverly over her withholding of vital information about Meredith until the Doctor had ended her shift. The counsellor was waiting for Beverly as she knocked off and the pair walked slowly to Jean-Luc’s quarters. Beverly was well aware Deanna had something on her mind and assumed it was about Meredith...everything else was. Beverly had been interviewed not once, but three times over different aspects of Meredith’s statement and as her department head and Beverly had had enough. As if she didn’t have enough to do in a normal day, stopping for lengthy periods to answer interminable questions about Meredith Bower and her lover was almost too much. So, when Deanna said casually, “I didn’t know you’d had more problems with Meredith Bower.” Beverly was at the end of her tether. “Oh for God’s sake! Not you too!”

Deanna had been sensing Beverly’s growing frustration and irritation but didn’t react. Instead she just smiled. “Yes, me too. But Beverly, I do have to know. What did she do that made you so upset, you threatened to put her on report?” Knowing that trying to put Deanna off was pointless didn’t stop Beverly from wishing she could simply tell Deanna to go away. However, that wouldn’t work either so a very annoyed doctor told Deanna everything that had happened between her and Meredith, including JeanLuc’s reactions and advice. When she was finished, Beverly closed her eyes and allowed her body to slump into the sofa’s soft cushions. Deanna’s silence made Beverly open her eyes and when she saw the counsellor’s expression, she frowned. “What?” “I’m not sure.” Deanna’s voice showed her uncertainty and surprise. Sitting up, Beverly’s curiosity was roused. “Did she say anything to you that might be construed as a motive?” Beverly asked. Deanna shook her head, but she didn’t seem convinced. “Not exactly...” Then she looked up and gasped. “I know what it is. Meredith made an oblique comment about the Captain and at the time I thought it odd, but now...This has been going on for some time...longer than either of us realised.” Confused, Beverly tilted her head. “You mean her infatuation with me?” “Yes, but more importantly, Meredith’s animosity towards the Captain.” Beverly shrugged, showing her lack of understanding. “What animosity towards Jean-Luc? Are you saying Bower resented Jean-Luc because of my relationship with him?” “More than resentment, Beverly. I’d go as far as to guess it was open hatred.” “But that’s absurd!” Protested Beverly. “If she felt that way, surely I’d have known?” “Why? Bower wouldn’t be likely to let her feelings about the Captain be known to you, it would only serve to alienate you, the exact opposite of what she wanted.”

“So you’re saying she sees Jean-Luc as a rival? For me?” When Deanna said nothing Beverly swore. “Shit!” Then she asked carefully, “Do you think Bower killed Greensale?” Letting out a huff of air, Deanna shrugged. “I don’t know. But the more I learn, the more suspicious I become.” “How so?” “Well...take Elsie Greensale. I cannot find anyone who has a bad word to say about her. She was well liked, popular, even her superiors have entered glowing reports in her file. She was intelligent, diligent, proficient, respectful and showed both competence and initiative, in other words, an exemplary officer. Meredith Bower, on the other hand, was the total opposite. Her contemporaries have nothing kind to say about her, she’s viewed as cold, sexually promiscuous and devious. Her file reads as the quintessential example of what an officer shouldn’t be! She’s remote, haughty she makes it difficult for junior officers to work under her and you yourself knows she can be difficult to get to work in a group.” Beverly shook her head in wonder. “What were those two women doing in a relationship? They were polar opposites!” Deanna sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Look, from what I hear...and I stress this is only gossip, Elsie Greensale’s sexual appetite was only equalled by Bower’s prodigious libido. Maybe their relationship was based on nothing more than a mutually satisfying sex life?” Beverly nodded slowly. “Hmm, I’ve heard rumblings too. Not from Elsie’s former lovers, but Meredith’s. It wasn’t that they were dissatisfied, quite the opposite in fact. Meredith seems to be quite the exponent where it comes to sex. What I’ve heard is that she uses women. Once they no longer amuse her, they get dumped and it’s caused a lot of bitterness.” “Yes, I’ve heard that too, but where does it get us? Having commitment issues or, for that matter, dysfunctional relationships isn’t motive for murder. God, if it were, most of us would be killers.” Beverly let out a mildly amused snort and shrugged.

“Well I for one have no idea and to be perfectly honest, I’ve had about all I can take of Meredith Bower for now.” Hearing the gentle admonishment, Deanna smiled and gave a nod. “Agreed.” As she moved to the door, Beverly called gently, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you everything, Dee.” “It’s okay, Beverly, as long as you told Byan.” “Yes, I did.” “Well that’s fine then. Good night.” “’Night.”

As Jean-Luc walked into his quarters, Meredith Bower eased into her bed. As she’d predicted, the interview with Byan had been relatively easy. She knew her alibi was solid, she really only had to convince him of her grief, which she knew she had. With a selfsatisfied smile on her face, she sighed and closed her eyes. She slept soundly and didn’t dream.

In stark contrast to Meredith’s contentedness, Jean-Luc, though exhausted, was restless and grumpy. Understanding his mood, Beverly kept out of his way and allowed him to decompress on his own. It wasn’t until he joined her in bed that she said more than the bland, idle comments of earlier. “Any news?” He sighed and shook his head.

“No.” “Well maybe something will turn up tomorrow.” He turned his head and, by the starlight, Beverly saw a tired grin. “Ever the optimist.” Turning onto her side, Beverly eased against his body and entwined their legs while drifting her hand onto his chest. When she began to gently tease his nipple, Jean-Luc turned his head and said with disbelief, “Really?” “Do you want to?” Beverly’s tone was hopeful. He looked up at the ceiling and considered the question. Before he could give an answer, Beverly said softly, “It’ll help us both.” He snorted softly. “Stress relief?” “Why not?” She purred. “Besides, it’s always nice.” “Hmm. I have a point.” Later, although sated and as Beverly slept peacefully beside him, a wide awake Jean-Luc looked up at the ceiling, but his eyes saw nothing. Inside his head his mind faithfully displayed every hideous detail of Elsie Greensale’s mutilated body. Sleep, he knew, was a luxury he would be denied this night, and perhaps many more before this terrible situation was resolved one way or another. So, resigned to a sleepless night, he ordered his thoughts and began to look at each aspect of the situation one-by-one. Right. What do we know about the actual killing? He mused. Beverly’s description was very accurate, it was frenzied, but...the breaking of the neck, that was deliberate, calculated. Such extremes! One out of control, the other...premeditated? Hmm. So, are we looking at a crime of passion or a spur-of-the-moment act of violence? What could’ve caused someone to want to kill Elsie Greensale? What do I know about her? He sighed and closed his eyes, ignoring their gritty dryness. He’d already read Elsie’s file three times before finally ending his shift and he was sure there wasn’t anything that might

suggest a motive for murder. Still, taking a methodical approach he was obliged to go over what he already knew. Lieutenant Elsie Greensale. Thirty-one, one hundred and sixty-eight centimetres tall, seventy two kilos, brown hair, green eyes. Class of 2381, finished third in her graduating class. Two postings before arriving on the Enterprise eight months ago. At the time of her death was assigned to biometrics under the command of Lt. Comm. Tom Huskins. A popular and competent officer with excellent potential. Sadness washed over Jean-Luc, it seemed so cold and callous to reduce a person’s existence into several emotionless, curt sentences. Knowing such emotion wasn’t helping his analysis, he moved on. So, there’s nothing there to indicate a motive for murder. What about her private life? He accessed his memory and brought up the interviews carried out by Byan and his team. Generous, a happy disposition, well liked. Past complaints there...long term relationships? Hmm, nothing the time of her death was in a relationship with Meredith Bower. He opened his eyes and stared intently at the ceiling. Meredith Bower. She’s in love with Beverly. So why did she fall for Beverly if she was already in a relationship with Greensale? Hmm, it happens, I suppose, but not usually if the relationship is committed and stable. So, was it? And if it wasn’t could there be reason for conflict? Bad enough for Meredith Bower to contemplate murder? Hmm. Of course, that’s assuming Greensale knew about Bower’s feelings for Beverly. I’ll have to talk to Troi about this. See what she thinks. All right, is there anything else, an incident or falling-out that might be the catalyst for someone to become so enraged that they would be compelled to commit murder? He thought hard but drew a blank. All right. Let’s look at the two components of the killing. Violence and calculation. What is violence? What constitutes the essence of violence? Jean-Luc suddenly realised that in all the literature he’d read, he rarely found anything of note written about violence. Of course that probably had more to do with his personal tastes in literature, but, he thought, perhaps writers found it more rewarding to write about the more redeeming qualities of humankind. Love, yearning, tragedy, mystery, loss. Things of that ilk. He frowned as a new thought occurred. As much as I enjoy reading about those things, there are those who would gain just as much pleasure digesting literature devoted to much darker aspects of humanity, including violence. He sighed.

So, what is violence? Does violence have parts? Can one dissect it? Hmm. What are its base constituents? All right, well there’d be lust and...Envy...Anger of course...Avarice...Hmm...What else?...Oh, vengeance...When nothing else came to him, instead of worrying it like a dog with a bone, he left it as it was and worked with what he had. So, are these things failings or motives? I suppose that depends on the murderer and how they relate to their crime. Anyone intent on murder would be in the grip of these emotions, presumably, but would it be one, some or all? Which would apply? And if these elements...these roots aren’t present, then the killer has committed the murder without feeling. That would suggest a psychopath...or is it sociopath? Centuries ago...murderers who killed several people without remorse...what did they call them? JeanLuc frowned as he struggled to bring the term to mind. His mouth opened slightly as the thought came to him. Serial killers! Yes, that’s it. A terrible sinking feeling gripped him. Mon Dieu, don’t tell me we’re looking at that. No...not more murders! Before his mind ran away from him, he shut down the errant thoughts and brought himself back to his dissemination of violence. Unfortunately his thoughts only circled uselessly and his train of thought reached a dead end. Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc shifted his perspective. Well then, what about calculation? That would seem to suggest some sort of planning. So that would make the murder premeditated. But that doesn’t explain the violence! All right, put that aside for the moment. If the killing was premeditated, there must’ve been something brewing...some thing that set in motion an irrevocable course of action. And that action was murder. Is there any clue, any hint of what the impetus was, what the motive was? He sighed and rubbed his eyes. What kind of person kills with such clinical precision? And was the killing done before or after the violence? He shook his head. No, don’t think about both elements, concentrate on the intent. Was it an act perpetrated by a disordered mind, or a cunning, calculating one? Dammit! The evidence suggests both! All right, could we have someone who is capable of being both? Why not? Jekyll and Hyde. Two disparate personalities in one mind. It’s possible. He grimaced. Probably more common than we’d like to admit. Something else to discuss with Troi. But surely someone with that kind of dysfunctional personality would never have made it through the Academy? And what about Troi? Wouldn’t she have picked up something?

Hmm, how much control would someone like that have over their personalities? Would they be aware of the dichotomy? And which personality would be dominant? Deanna, you and I have a lot to discuss. Feeling he’d reached the end of the analysis, he sighed and closed his eyes. Until the killer was caught, his questions would remain unanswered.

The eyes that watched Meredith as she reported for duty the day after the murder were curious and speculative. As soon as Meredith had entered Sickbay, silence fell like a blanket. Beverly, who was just coming out of her office, felt the tension before she registered the sudden cessation of noise. sickbay usually exuded an undercurrent of friendly warmth, due in most part to Beverly’s stewardship. There seemed to be a constant murmur of voices and soft footfalls as the staff moved about the facility. Once these sounds ceased, the silence was immediately oppressive. It was true, Beverly had deep misgivings about Meredith Bower, but she had been cleared of any involvement in her lover’s murder and so deserved better than to be ostracised. That wasn’t how Beverly intended her staff to treat a fellow crewmember. Not in her sickbay! Summoning a smile, she greeted Meredith with compassion. “Lieutenant Bower,” She said gently. “Are you sure you want to report in? I’m sure I can spare you if you wish to take more time off.” With a sad smile of her own in place, Meredith inclined her head. “Thank you, Doctor Crusher, but I’m okay. I think I want to keep know.” “I understand.” Casting a meaningful look around the room, Beverly made her intentions obvious. “Well, I’m sure you have the support of everyone here. If I can be of any assistance, don’t hesitate to ask.” “Thank you, Doctor.” “Now, that bacterial analysis is still unfinished. Would you like to carry on with it?” Asked Beverly with gentle authority. The thought of being cooped up in the small lab made Meredith silently curse, but outwardly she gave an enthusiastic smile and a nod.

“Yes, Sir, I’d like that.” “Very well. When the current stage has been completed, come and see me and we’ll talk.” “Yes, Doctor. Thank you.” The eyes still followed her but, as Beverly watched her staff, each person lowered their gaze and turned their attention away from Meredith. They may have their suspicions, but Beverly had made it clear by her example that while the Lieutenant was in sickbay she would be treated as a valued member of staff. Outside the medical facility was another matter entirely.

After Jean-Luc’s long night wrestling with his thoughts, he had spent over an hour with Deanna going over his queries. At the end of the discussion, while he was now quiet well informed about mental illness and the reasons behind some forms of aberrant behaviour, he was no closer to discovering either the killer’s identity, or the motive for the murder. Neither were Byan’s team. After conducting exhaustive interviews with everyone who was even remotely connected to Elsie, no new information surfaced. They repeatedly found the same things. Elsie had no enemies and no one could think of a reason why anyone would want to kill her. Meredith wasn’t popular, but again, no one thought she had any reason to kill Elsie, or that she might be capable of committing such an act. Three days after the murder, Jean-Luc met with Will and Byan in the ready room. They discussed the findings such as they were at length and found they kept coming back to same thing. Meredith’s alibi. Will, sitting beside Byan in front of Jean-Luc’s desk, pulled his lower lip up and shook his head. “I can’t see any holes in it. Bower entered the lab at nine forty-eight. We have witnesses who can verify that. She worked in there until eleven fifty and was seen exiting and putting a regenerator in the equipment bay. We have a statement from Lt. Comm. Pauline Bennet who can attest to talking with Bower at that time. She states there was nothing out of order. Bower was calm, and going about her normal duties.” Byan looked at the PADD in his left hand.

“Doctor Crusher has told me that Bower had agreed to do an analysis for her, although it seems it wasn’t part of her usual duties. As I understand it, the work was of a personal nature for the Doctor. Apparently she was doing private research and Bower volunteered to assist.” “Very commendable.” Muttered Jean-Luc and Will thought he detected a soft note of sarcasm. He shot a look at his captain, but as usual, Jean-Luc’s expression was unreadable. “Go on.” Said Jean-Luc quietly. Byan shifted in his seat. “Well, Captain, there’s not much else to report.” “I see. Do we know why Bower had been using the regenerator?” Will and Byan looked at each other and the Bolian shrugged. “Not specifically, sir. A device such as a regenerator would be in almost constant use. Most of the patients who come into sickbay have only minor injuries...cuts, soft-tissue damage and the like. Most, if not all, are treated using a regenerator. And, sir, there’s no evidence to suggest Bower had actually used it. It’s just as likely she was restocking the bay. That would be part of her normal duties.” Rising from his seat, Jean-Luc went to the viewscreen, placed his hands behind him and stared out into the void. “And there’s no other way out of the lab?” He said softly. “Yes, sir, there is. There’s a hatch that leads to a Jefferies tube, but a check of the computer logs show that the hatch hasn’t been opened for at least ten days.” Jean-Luc turned, his knuckles tapping his spine. “Computer logs can be altered.” His tone was mild, but there was an edge to it. “Yes, sir, they can. But we found no evidence of tampering.” Byan had begun to sweat. Bolius was a much cooler planet than Earth and he always found the temperature too high on the ship. Only in his quarters, where he could have the temperature set to his specifications, did he feel comfortable. Everyone who worked with Bolians was aware of the problem so the sight of a copiously perspiring Bolian didn’t cause any untoward reaction. However, in the close environment of the ready room, the sweet odour of the sweat became a little cloying. Bolians had very high standards of hygiene and it was considered, among their people, to be very embarrassing to allow any body odour to be detected. Unfortunately, under the current conditions, that was unavoidable. Still, Byan almost squirmed with humiliation. Jean-Luc knew what was causing

his security chief to flush a darker blue and offered a smile while making a gesture to the doors. “Shall we take this into the observation lounge?” With great relief, the large man stood and waited respectfully for his captain, then the first officer to leave before he followed. As they crossed the bridge, Jean-Luc called evenly, “Mr. Data, will you join us please?” Once in the bigger, airier room, Jean-Luc took his customary seat at the head of the long, curved table, Will on his right, Data to his left and Byan next to the left. Resting his forearms on the tabletop and knitting his hands, Jean-Luc waited until all three officers gave him their attention. “Mr. Data, have you been keeping up with the investigation into the murder of Lieutenant Elsie Greensale?” “Yes, Captain.” “Good. There’s something I want you to do, something that is particularly suited to your remarkable talents.” “Sir?” “I want you to examine the sickbay computer logs from the day of the murder, time index: nine forty-five to twelve hundred hours.” “Can you tell me what it is you are looking for, Captain?” “I’m not sure, but rather than concentrating on what’s recorded in the log, I want you to see if you can identify any anomalies with the log itself.” Data’s head tilted from side-to-side. “You suspect tampering, Captain?” “Perhaps. We have someone whose alibi depends almost entirely on the log. I just want to make sure she’s telling the truth.” Data stood and nodded. “I will begin at once.” He inclined his head towards Jean-Luc. “Captain.” Then to Will, “Commander.” Byan looked again at the PADD. He sighed and ran a hand over his very round, hairless head.

“If Commander Data fails to find anything wrong with the log, Captain, I don’t see how I can take the investigation any further forward. It’s stalled, sir.” Pursing his lips, Jean-Luc turned his attention to Will and raised one eyebrow in silent enquiry. The big man, well used to his captain’s mannerisms, knew what was being asked. “I agree, Captain. We don’t have any suspects and we don’t have a motive. It’s dead in the water.” Bowing his head, Jean-Luc frowned. “That, gentlemen, leaves me with but one option.” Will sighed. “Command.” “Exactly. I’m going to have to request help from Starfleet Command.” Not sure what kind of reaction he’d get to his next question, Will hesitated before he asked it. “Ah...Do they know, Captain?” Pulling his mouth to one side, Jean-Luc nodded. “Oh yes, I informed them as soon as I knew about it. They offered assistance at the time, but...” He sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I told them we could handle it.” “Damn!” Will muttered. “That’s not going to look good in your record, Captain.” “That doesn’t concern me Number One. What’s important is that the murderer is found. It matters not who does it because a killer is walking around the ship, free and believing they’ve got away with it. And, God forbid, they might kill again. I don’t care how I might be treated over my handling of this situation; I know we did our best. Whatever the experts find...” He shrugged. “Is immaterial, as long as they have success.” Byan grunted and his hand tightened its grip of the PADD. “I can vouch for you, Captain. I’m certain everything that could be done, has been done.” A small smile appeared on Jean-Luc’s face but instead of brightening his countenance, it served only to make him look more tired. Will suddenly realised the terrible burden his captain had been carrying and immediately regretted not doing more to ease the load. Of course that was unreasonable. There simply wasn’t anything more Will, or anyone else could’ve done.

“Thank you, Mr. Byan,” said Jean-Luc. “Your loyalty and confidence are much appreciated.” He sat back and rested his hands, open on the tabletop. “Well, if there’s nothing else, you’re dismissed.” Will and Byan stood, but only the Bolian left the lounge. Will, looking down at his Captain, asked quietly, “So?” Jean-Luc sighed and gave a defeated shrug. “We wait to see if Data comes up with anything.” “Fingers crossed.” “Indeed.” As Will turned to leave, he stopped and said softly, “Are you all right, sir?” Jean-Luc’s smile was tired, but warm. “Yes, Will, I’m fine.” As the first officer went back to the Bridge he shook his head. “No surprise there. He’d say he was fine even if his legs were dangling by a thread.” Jean-Luc rose from his seat and went to the large viewports that ran down the entire wall. He placed one hand against the moulded frame and stared sightlessly out into the stars.

Having finished her duty shift, Meredith had gone back to her quarters and retrieved a bottle of rum. It was against regulations for her to be in possession of any real alcohol, that was only permissible for the senior staff. She unscrewed the lid and swigged a mouthful, screwing her face up as she swallowed. It was only after the fourth deep gulp that she finally bothered to get a glass to continue her dinking. Having not eaten all day, the alcohol quickly began to affect her. In her drunken state, she became belligerent and decided

she wished to vent her pent up anger. Leaving her quarters and weaving down the corridor, she made her way to the forward lounge. As had happened in sickbay, once she’d entered and the patrons realised she was there, silence fell and eyes stared accusingly. Chin up and defiant, Meredith walked boldly up to the bar and adopted a haughty air. Unfortunately it was wasted on the serving staff. Although still staring at her, no one moved to take her order. Incensed, but not showing it, Meredith chose the closest waiter and gave him a withering look whilst saying icily, “I’ll have a neat rum!” The middle-aged man could hardly refuse to serve her but he didn’t have to do it quickly. With deliberate sloth, he casually poured a half-measure into a glass then, rather than go to her and place it on the bar top, he sneered and sent it sliding along the shiny surface. There were titters and chuckles, none stifled. Undaunted, Meredith gripped the glass shoved it back along the bar, towards the server saying loudly, “A full measure!” The man’s eyes glittered with anger, but he complied. However, this time, when the glass had been topped up, he walked slowly along the bar’s length until he was standing opposite Meredith. Maintaining eye contact, he slammed the glass down with such force, the alcohol inside shot upwards and spilled, sending rum spreading out across the surface of the bar. Meredith was shocked. “How dare he treat me like this!” She seethed. As everybody watched, she leaned over the bar and grabbed a handful of the man’s shirt. Her voice was low and deadly. “You fuckwit! Get me another drink and this time, mind your manners or I’ll see to it that you’re dismissed and put off the ship at the next star base.” Knowing he had overstepped the mark, the man offered a mumbled apology and did as he was told. With the full glass in her hand, a brazen Meredith turned to face the scowling crowd. She lifted her glass and her chin. “A toast! To Elsie Greensale!” The stunned audience watched in fascinated silence as Meredith tossed back the rum then slammed the glass back down. “Again!” She said loudly to the bar man. Her behaviour was becoming a spectacle and a fellow lieutenant detached herself from the crowd and sidled over. Keeping her voice low, she said,

“That’s enough, Meredith. You’ve made your point.” Meredith disposed of her fresh drink in the same manner as the first. Although she was drinking synthehol now, she had begun to feel its effects, but instead of simply shaking it off, as one could do with synthehol, she embraced the feelings as they were amplified by the authentic rum in her system and grinned wickedly. “Hypocrites!” She shouted. “You’re all so fucking self-righteous. Think you know everything, don’t you?” The lieutenant grabbed Meredith’s elbow and tried to guide her to the doors. “Come on, you’re going to your quarters.” The blow that felled the woman was delivered with such speed, she didn’t have a chance to block it. She fell to her knees, dazed and Meredith raised her hand to hit her again when strong arms pinned her against the wall. Although ferociously angry, Meredith recognised how compromised she was and how foolish she’d been. She didn’t struggle, but relaxed and lowered her head. The doors parted and two security staff entered. Obviously someone had summoned help. While the lieutenant was assisted from the lounge, Meredith was taken into custody and escorted immediately to the brig.

Jean-Luc had just sat in his favourite chair, a tumbler of scotch in his right hand. Beverly was in the bedroom and having decided, if Data found nothing amiss, to hand everything over to command, he felt the accumulated tension of the past days ease. The door chime was an unwelcome intrusion, but an unfortunate part of his life. He never even considered refusing to answer it. “Come.” There was resignation in his voice and Beverly frowned at hearing it as she reentered the living area. Will entered cautiously, upset that he was disturbing his captain. However, Jean-Luc greeted him mildly. “Yes, Number One, what can I do for you?” “I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, Captain, but something’s happened that I think you should know about.”

All traces of relaxation vanished and Jean-Luc’s eyes sharpened. “This evening, in the forward lounge, Meredith Bower was involved in an assault of a fellow officer.” “I see. Is she in custody?” “Yes, sir. She’s in the brig.” The weight was back, dragging his head down. Rubbing his forehead, Jean-Luc said quietly, “Thank you, Will, I’ll take it from here.” “Aye, sir.” He stood and Beverly slipped her hand into his. “She’s been under a terrible strain, Jean-Luc.” “I know.” He said tiredly. “We all have.” As he stepped into the corridor, Jean-Luc tapped his comm. badge. “Picard to Byan.” “Byan here, Captain.” “Meet me outside the detention cells, Commander. Picard out.”

Byan was waiting for Jean-Luc. He straightened as the captain approached and nodded silently when Jean-Luc reached him. “Captain.” “Report, Mr. Byan.” The security Chief gave Jean-Luc a brief description of what had occurred in the lounge and ended by saying, “The victim of the assault has indicated she does not wish to press charges.”

“Very well.” Jean-Luc nodded. “In your opinion, Commander, was there sufficient provocation to justify Lieutenant Bower’s behaviour?” “Difficult to say, sir, but she has been the subject of a lot of unhealthy speculation. I suppose it’s fair to say she been under a significant amount of stress and grief and that she’d just had enough.” Jean-Luc bowed his head and pursed his lips. His voice was low and soft. “And there was real alcohol involved?” “Yes, sir.” “Was she drunk?” “Judging by her state then, I’d say she was, but is now slowly sobering up.” Jean-Luc shook his head in disappointment and exasperation. “Very foolish.” He sighed gave Byan a tired smile. “Very good. Thank you Commander.” Having been dismissed, Byan took his leave. Jean-Luc entered the brig and indicated to the duty officer that he wished to be alone with the prisoner by pointing backwards over his shoulder. As the huge doors trundled closed, Jean-Luc stood in front of the only occupied cell and studied the woman inside. Meredith was sitting in the corner of the bunk, her knees drawn up to her chin, arms wrapped around her shins and her forehead resting on her knees. He’d not often seen someone who appeared to be so broken and forlorn. It wasn’t until Jean-Luc spoke that she realised he was there. “Lieutenant?” Her head came up slowly and by her dazed look, Jean-Luc understood she was still drunk. But, once she recognised him, she unfolded herself and climbed unsteadily to her feet. “Captain.” “Would you like to tell me what happened?” “Sir...I...” She shook her head and sniffed. “I’m not sure, Captain.” “I see. I understand the pressure you’ve been under, Lieutenant, but I can’t condone your actions.”

“No, sir.” “However, given that you have been under considerable stress lately, I am willing to release you to your quarters until this matter is dealt with.” “Thank you, Captain.” Jean-Luc deactivated the force field and walked alongside the stunned lieutenant, escorting her without seeming to do so. It wasn’t until she reached her quarters that Meredith realised what he’d done. She turned to face him and he saw confusion in her eyes as if she was just waking up. “Thank you, Captain.” Her voice was soft and Jean-Luc thought he’d heard a trace of appreciation in it. He nodded and said quietly, “I expect you to dispose of any remaining alcohol, Lieutenant.” Then he left. Inside her quarters, Meredith went straight to her bedroom and flung herself across the bed. “You stupid, fucking idiot! What the hell did you do that for? My God! Jesus, you’ve given them something to chew on now! They’re going to be snapping at your heels. Shit, you might as well have confessed. Stupid, stupid fucker!” She needed to break something. She needed to get her hands around something and squeeze the life out of it. Unable to vent her pent up rage properly, she instead turned her fury on her quarters. When she was finally spent, she collapsed into bed. The devastation she’d wrought would have to wait until morning to be repaired. The pungent smell of rum permeated the room.

Deanna was unsure whether or not Meredith would answer her door chime. The counsellor had been waiting almost five minutes with no response and was considering using her override to gain access. Jean-Luc had briefed her about the events of the previous night and Deanna was quite sure Meredith would be feeling wretched about now. She carried with her a hypospray, loaded with a compound that would alleviate the symptoms of a hangover. Just as she lifted her head to request the override, the doors opened. Tufts of Meredith’s short hair were sticking up at odd angles, her face was puffy and her eyes mere slits. She’d obviously slept in her uniform, it was rumpled and stained. From inside her quarters, the sour odour of vomit and spilled alcohol wafted out in waves and Deanna had to resist the urge to wrinkle her nose in disgust. To compensate, she breathed through her mouth. At first, Meredith just stood there, then she croaked,

“Yes?” She leaned forward slightly and screwed her face up as she tried to identify her caller. “Counsellor Troi?” Her breath was putrid and Deanna almost stepped back, but she swallowed her distaste and summoned a soft voice. “I’ve brought something that’ll help, Meredith. May I come in?” Offering little more than a grunt, Meredith turned and shuffled into the living area. Deanna entered and couldn’t help but gape at what she saw. The room was in utter chaos. All the furniture had been overturned, anything breakable lay shattered on the carpet. Marks showed where things had been thrown with considerable force against the walls. PADDs a monitor, clothing, all manner of things were strewn around the room. As Deanna’s eyes took in the carnage, she saw a smashed bottle and then, nearby, another. The strong alcohol smell was coming from them. Meredith was standing near the viewport, hugging herself. Deanna went to her and administered the hypo. As the drugs worked their magic, Meredith let out a long, slow breath and held up her hands. As she watched, the trembling slowly ceased. Deanna went and cleared some space, then righted two chairs. She sat in one, crossed her legs and waited. Meredith, wary, walked over to Deanna but didn’t sit. Now feeling much better, her usual aloofness resurfaced. Deanna had been expecting this and said nothing, merely kept waiting. Growing increasingly annoyed, Meredith said tightly, “I’m fine now, thank you Counsellor. You can go.” Deanna looked up at Meredith her face impassive. She made no move to leave. “Counsellor, I appreciate your concern, but really, I’m okay now.” Deanna directed her gaze at the empty chair, but didn’t say or do anything. Though she was trying valiantly, Meredith was unable to control her emotions. As Deanna sat passively, she struggled to erect mental barriers to deflect the tumultuous emotions she sensed pouring out from Meredith in a torrent. Deanna was deeply disturbed by the emotions, they were dark, angry and very powerful. Under the circumstances she felt they were understandable, but still, so potent and dark.

Meredith knew what was happening and was helpless to stop it and that only served to increase her anger. In an attempt to gain some semblance of control, Meredith threw herself into the empty chair and tried to regulate her ragged breathing. Eventually she succeeded. Deanna felt the outpouring of emotions ease and opened her mind, unprotected by her barriers. It was a risk, but one she was willing to take. Gesturing with her hand to indicate the devastated room, Deanna said quietly. “What happened?” Not looking at anything but Deanna’s face, Meredith shrugged, but offered nothing by way of an explanation. “How do you feel?” In response to Meredith’s frank look, Deanna smiled. “All right, I sense you’re doing your best to feel calm, but there’s an underlying current of anger, bitterness and...” Tilting her head, Deanna frowned as she tried to pin down the elusive thread of emotion. What she came out with wasn’t quite right, but it was the best she could do. “Shame.” Meredith’s eyes narrowed. “Shame?” She said as if the word left a bad taste in her mouth. “Why would I feel shame?” The air of aloof superiority was firmly back in place. Deanna had to find a way past it if she was going to be able to help. “You don’t think your recent behaviour warrants shame?” The lieutenant shrugged. “I let off some steam, Counsellor, a lot’s happened and I was feeling the strain. I don’t see why I should feel ashamed.” “Most people would go to the gym...take out their more intense feelings on a punching bag.” Deanna said pointedly. “I’m not most people, Counsellor.” “Are you saying you’re different? Special perhaps?”

Again, Meredith shrugged and, although she appeared relaxed and calm, the emotions Deanna sensed were quite the opposite. Still, she did her best to maintain her charade. “Isn’t everybody unique in their own way? I thought people in your line of work stopped pigeon holing individuals a very long time ago.” There was an edge to Meredith’s almost, but not quite threatening observation that caused Deanna to become very wary. “It is true that every individual is unique, but there are certain patterns of behaviour that we all share. Some of these patterns are taught, some are the consequence of experience and thus learned and some are instinctive. But no matter how these patterns are acquired, the individual has certain predictable ways of expressing them.” Sitting back in her chair, Meredith crossed her legs and steepled her fingers under chin. Her appearance was one of smug indulgence, spoiled somewhat by her dishevelled appearance, but Deanna saw right through it. Inside she was tense and wary and anger smouldered dull and hot. “I see. How interesting. So, you think this...” She swept her hand to indicate the room. “Is a result of me reacting to...shame.” “No, not shame, Meredith. Anger. Deep, powerful, pent up rage.” Outwardly she kept her indifferent expression, but inside she seethed and Deanna started to think she should leave. But Meredith surprised her. With a monumental effort, she crushed her emotions savagely, stuffing them down until the only thing Deanna could sense was cruel amusement. It’d happened so fast, the change from furious anger to cold emptiness stunned Deanna so thoroughly she didn’t hear when Meredith spoke. Snapped back into the room, she focused on what Meredith wss saying. “So now not only am I supposed to be feeling shame, but anger too? Really, Counsellor?” Feeling in great danger and extremely vulnerable, Deanna got to her feet and began to move towards the door. Meredith did nothing but watch her with hawk-like intensity. “Going somewhere, Counsellor?” Her voice was low and silky-smooth. “And here was I thinking we were getting along so well.” “I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by me staying.” Nervously gesturing with her hand, Deanna summoned wan smile. “You have a lot to do. Perhaps I’ll come by later.” Meredith’s smile was cold. “Whatever, Counsellor. I’ll be here.”

When the doors closed behind her, Deanna didn’t tarry. As she walked quickly away, she tapped her comm. badge and arranged an immediate meeting with Jean-Luc and Beverly.

“Captain, we have no choice!” Deanna was very upset, her tone urgent and intense. Jean-Luc frowned and stared out at the stars, his back to his officers. The ready room was silent, Deanna and Beverly waiting tensely while he digested the report. Deanna had described her meeting with Meredith and offered the opinion that the lieutenant was definitely psychologically unstable and should be detained, if not for her own safety, then for everyone else’s. Turning slowly, Jean-Luc’s lips were pursed. “I want to clarify something, Counsellor.” He said. “Is this...instability worse now because of the pressure the Lieutenant has been put under, or has it grown in response to something she’s done?” “That’s hard to say, Captain. By asking if it’s because of something she’s done, are you referring to the incident last night...or...?” Beverly’s whispered words chilled them all. “The murder.” Jean-Luc’s dark eyes were piercing. “I’m not accusing her, not without evidence, but I have to consider all possibilities. We’re faced here with a very disturbed woman who may, or may not, have murdered her lover. Either way, her behaviour, all ready less than acceptable, has become worse. The question must be asked. Is this deterioration in her behaviour the direct result of something she’s done? Something so bad, it’s tipped her over the edge?” “It’s impossible to say, Captain.” Deanna’s voice carried her frustration. “But either way, whether it was last night’s outburst or something far more sinister, the undeniable fact remains. Meredith Bower has to be taken into custody.”

Beverly, who for the most part had been content to listen, broke the tension by asking, “Deanna, I know you wouldn’t be so insistent without good cause, but I’m curious. Just what was it about your meeting with Bower that has upset you so much? I’m not suggesting for one second you’re wrong about her, but from what you’ve told us, it seems just a clear-cut case of a mental breakdown. Why custody? Why not medication and confinement to quarters?” Taking a deep breath, Deanna took a moment to plex while she ordered her thoughts. When she was ready, she turned to Beverly and offered a smile, letting her best friend know she wasn’t offended by what Beverly had said. “It was the most frightening thing I think I’ve ever witnessed.” He voice carried her remembered fear. “In those brief minutes I was with Meredith, I saw three completely different people.” Beverly’s eyes narrowed. “Multiple personality disorder?” “No. Three different manifestations of the same personality.” Curious, Jean-Luc left the viewport and perched on the corner of his desk. “Is that possible?” “Yes, Captain, but it’s exceptionally rare.” Edging forward on her seat, Beverly’s gaze was intense. “Exactly how did she present these manifestations?” “I sensed her very easily as I approached her quarters. She was asleep. It took her a long time to respond to the door chime and I knew immediately she was very hung over. Her emotions were subdued, she was more interested in feeling sorry for herself than anything else. My first sight of her merely substantiated what I sensed. She was vulnerable, withdrawn, the total opposite of her usual self.” Jean-Luc had provided hot drinks for his guests and Deanna paused to sip hers. It was now tepid but she didn’t seem to notice. “After I’d administered the hypospray, she quickly reasserted her usual personality. Wary, defensive, yet obliquely aggressive. She did her best to control her emotions, but they were simply too powerful and from what I sensed, consuming.

“It was the final shift that alarmed me and made me fear for my safety. In an extraordinary display of mental discipline, she completely shut down her emotions and became absolutely cold. To me it felt like a void. It was terrifying. Her manner became watchful and was like facing a coiled snake that was about to strike. I knew, without a doubt, that if I didn’t leave immediately, my life would be taken.” Jean-Luc was shocked and it showed in his voice. “Counsellor!” “It’s true, Captain. She’s very, very dangerous.” Having come to his feet, Jean-Luc rounded his desk and sat heavily. He picked up his crystal shard but just as quickly tossed it back on the desktop. He pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a long breath. “Each of us has the authority to request she be taken into custody but, as her Captain, I believe it’s my responsibility. Doctor...” He directed his gaze at Beverly. “Would it be wise to have her sedated?” “Probably.” Beverly turned to Deanna. “How do you think she’s going to react when the order is carried out?” “Given that she already views the Captain as her main rival for your affections, my guess is...violently. It seems to be what she always resorts to when she is put under pressure.” Beverly looked over at Jean-Luc and he saw the alarm and deep worry in her eyes. “It doesn’t have to be you, Jean-Luc. Let me do it. She might find it easier coming from me.” He shook his head. “No, Beverly.” His voice was low and carried his determination. “I should’ve acted on this woman’s behaviour a long time ago. She should never have made it through the Academy, she should never have been posted to this ship and she never should’ve had the opportunity to influence the lives of those around her, including yours and mine. It’s been my mistake and I will rectify it.” He stood, bringing the meeting to an end. The women filed out but Beverly glanced over her shoulder. Jean-Luc was back at the viewport, hands behind his back, but his head was bowed and his shoulders slumped. Not even the stars could lift his spirits.

Whatever else she was, Meredith was above all cunning. She knew precisely what she’d done and what the reaction would be. Somewhere inside her, so deeply buried that she barely acknowledged it, there was a feeling of relief that soon it would all be over and the terrible hunger, the primal yearning would finally ease and she would find peace. But that wasn’t what was in the forefront of her mind. What consumed her in the present was how to extricate herself from her current precarious situation. Typically, her thoughts centred around the use of violence. In particular, how to employ it to affect her escape. A vague plan was forming involving the use of a hostage...or hostages...and a shuttle. She was reasonably certain if she could take a hostage of sufficiently high rank, her chances of success would be significantly raised. “Stupid fuckers.” She thought savagely. “They put the value of a life above anything else. That will prove to be very helpful to me. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about their precious principles. As long as I get what I want, I don’t care who gets hurt ...or killed.” Kicking her way through the debris that littered the floor of her quarters, she found what she was looking for. It was a d’ktahg, the personal weapon of choice of the Klingons. She picked it up and drew it from its scabbard. By pressing a button near the hand guard, two small blades flicked out at an angle to the main blade, a wicked twenty centimetre long steel knife, sharpened to a razor keenness and coming to a deadly point. The centre of the blade was missing allowing the weapon to inflict even more damage on the unfortunate recipient of its cold stab. Meredith had dressed in civilian clothing and combed her hair. Taking a seat in the living area, she idly hefted the d’ktahg while she solidified her plans for escape. When the chimes sounded she was momentarily shaken, but that quickly vanished and the rat-cunning took its place. Sliding her hands, one gripping the handle of the knife, into the side pockets of her loosely fitting top, she arranged he features into something bland and unthreatening and went to the door. It was important to take the initiative and not allow anyone into her quarters. If her plan was to succeed she had to have the element of surprise on her side. Readying herself, she opened the doors. Standing in front of her and flanked by two armed guards stood the bastard himself. Captain Jean-Luc fucking Picard. “Oh yes,” She thought triumphantly. “It just doesn’t get any better that this!”

His face set and his posture perfect, Jean-Luc opened his mouth to speak but all that came out was a rush of air in a soft grunt. At first he thought Meredith had punched him in the stomach, but her hand was gripping his shoulder and pulling him forward and whatever was intruding into his belly suddenly began to hurt. Meredith’s face was near his ear and despite the quickly blossoming agony in his stomach he heard her say, “If you want him to live, back off, or I’ll push this fucking knife right through him until it pokes out his back.” Still bent over and trying to get his breath, Jean-Luc’s mind screamed, “You underestimated her!” She must’ve turned her head slightly, because when she spoke again, he felt the warmth of her breath against his ear. “You’re going to walk backwards, Picard. Don’t think you can be a fucking hero, ‘cause if you give me any trouble, I’ll slit your fucking throat. Are we clear?” All he could do was nod. “Right!’ She said cheerfully. “Let’s get going, shall we?”

The first thing Beverly knew that something was very wrong was when the red alert siren sounded and she knew, she just knew Jean-Luc’s life was in jeopardy. But without any information and with standing orders precluding her from leaving sickbay during such an alert, unless summoned, she could do nothing but wait. The call came from Will only seconds later. “Riker to Crusher!” His tight, grim tone only added to her dread. “Crusher here, go ahead.” “We have a situation, Doctor. Meet me outside shuttle bay three immediately. Riker out.”

She was out the doors before Will had finished.

What Meredith instructed him to do was exceptionally difficult and caused such agony he didn’t think he could successfully comply. With her hand, tightly gripping the handle of the d’ktahg pushed hard into his stomach, he was bent over and she kept him like that by keeping her hand on his shoulder to constantly pull him forward. In that awkward stance she expected him to shuffle blindly backwards. If he went too slowly, she pushed the knife deeper into his belly. If he tried to go faster, he risked stumbling and falling backwards and each movement of his body, no matter how small, caused the sharp blade to cut him internally. He felt the slicing and had to swallow as bile rose in his throat. Time began to blur for Jean-Luc and sweat trickled into his eyes. Twice he’d summoned enough breath to try to reason with Meredith, but her only reaction was to twist the knife. He gave up for the time being, hoping another opportunity would present itself, provided he stayed conscious. The only way he knew they’d reached their destination was when his back collided with a wall. The sudden stop caused the knife to go deeper and he groaned softly. Meredith brought her mouth to his ear. “Oh, I like that!” She still used the same eerily cheerful voice. “I bet you groan like that when you fuck Beverly. Does she groan too? Or does she scream? I could make her scream. In fact, once I fucked her, she’d never go back to you!” She crowed happily. “I bet she...” Whatever it was she was going to say was cut off by Will’s curt order. “Step away from Captain Picard!” Meredith lifted her head and all pretence of cheerfulness vanished. “Shut the fuck up, Riker! I’m in charge here! You do as I say or your fucking Captain will be sliced to ribbons!” Turning his head slightly Jean-Luc strained to see what was going on. He knew by now they were at the doors to a shuttle bay, but he didn’t know which one. The hand that gripped his shoulder tightened and he was pulled roughly forwards while the hand that held the knife was shoved into him. The message was clear. Somehow he got enough air into his lungs to call out, “Do as she says!”

Beverly was standing to one side of Will and stepped forward addressing herself to Meredith. “You don’t need to do that.” She deliberately kept her voice soft and her expression one of gentleness. Beverly stepped past Will, shaking off his hand when he’d tried to stop her. His muttered, “Beverly!” Made her give a surreptitious shake of her head. Just before she was out of earshot, she whispered urgently, “Play along!” Now in no-man’s-land, between Will and Meredith who still cruelly twisted the knife, Beverly smiled warmly and inched closer. Meredith and Jean-Luc were standing near the door tab, but Will had used the computer to lock out the controls. Meredith knew this was where he’d make his stand. Although the captain’s safety was his first priority, he had to prevent Meredith from leaving the ship. He was aware the captain would give his life to stop her. As Beverly slowly got closer, she understood what was at stake. “Meredith, this is all so unnecessary. and I...we can work this out, can’t we?” Suspicion made Meredith squint. “What the fuck are you talking about?” Keeping her smile in place was becoming increasingly difficult. Beverly felt her facial muscles begin to twitch. “Oh, come on, Meredith, you know perfectly well what I’m talking about.” “No I don’t.” Her tone had changed. The open aggression had altered to wariness. “What do you mean?” Still moving centimetre by centimetre, Beverly was closing the gap. “You and me.” “What about you and me?” Making her smile coy, Beverly lowered her lashes until she was giving an obvious come-on. She didn’t believe it when Meredith took the bait. “I knew it! I fucking knew it!”

Now only a metre away Beverly could hear Jean-Luc’s laboured breathing and soft moans of agony and see the drips of his blood joining to form a small puddle. “Yeah,” She said shyly. “I didn’t want him to know.” A very good expression of guilt formed on Beverly’s face. “That’s okay!” Meredith said eagerly. “We can leave the ship...go somewhere, just the two of us. I’ll make you so fucking happy! You’ll forget him...” She glanced scornfully at JeanLuc’s bent form and chuckled. “In fact, why don’t I just finish him? That way, we can start with a clean slate.” Half a metre separated them now. “Is that what happened with Elsie?” Meredith’s face darkened and Beverly quickly moved to bring her away from aggression and back to happiness. “I only mention her because...I was jealous.” Meredith’s smile was slow in emerging, but when it appeared Beverly knew she had her again. “Oh, I’m sorry, Beverly. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Elsie was just a fuck buddy, I mean, she didn’t mean anything to me.” “So you...killed her.” “Yeah. She was, you know, getting on my nerves.” Beverly was now within easy reach. Her hands were in the pockets of her lab coat and in her right hand she gripped a hypospray loaded with a powerful sedative. If she could inject Meredith, she’d drop like a stone. But, if she moved too soon, Meredith could use the d’ktahg to kill Jean-Luc. So, Beverly used the only weapon she could. Her potent sexuality. Meredith watched as if in a trance as Beverly moved right up close, placed her left hand on her cheek and kissed her deeply. As Meredith’s eyes drifted closed, Beverly brought up her right hand and, opening her mouth wider to invite Meredith’s tongue deeper inside, she injected her. Meredith’s eyes snapped open and she gasped. Instead of dropping as Beverly thought she would, she had enough time to snarl and shove the knife violently forwards and up. Then her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed.

Without anything to support him, Jean-Luc sank to his knees and toppled forwards to lie curled over the knife in the puddle of his blood. Beverly knelt by his side as Will called urgently for an emergency transport to sickbay.

The next day Jean-Luc was reclining against the pillows in the bed in his private room in sickbay. On the shelf beside the bed rested the d’ktahg having been successfully removed during the long surgery to repair the damage it’d wrought. Will and Data stood at the foot of the bed, while Beverly hovered. Jean-Luc was pale and still receiving painkillers, but he’d got away with it once again. Taking a deep breath, he winced. “Sore, Captain?” asked Will solicitously. “A little. Just residual tenderness.” Will noted his captain’s voice lacked its natural timbre. “He sounds beat.” Thought Will. “Dammit, it was too damned close for comfort.” “So,” Said Jean-Luc. “What did you find, Mr. Data?” “The sickbay logs had been tampered with, Captain. Between the time indexes you stipulated, the log had been erased and an earlier recording put in its place on a continuous loop. To the untrained eye, it appeared nothing had happened, that Lieutenant Bower had been at her post the entire time, when in fact, she had left the lab via the Jeffries Tube.” “So, she was responsible.” “No, Sir.” Jean-Luc’s gaze sharpened. “Data?” “Lieutenant Bower was not responsible, Captain. At least, not for tampering with the log.” “Then who?” “I do not know, Captain.” “How can you be so sure, Data?”

“Lieutenant Bower lacked the skill and knowledge to successfully carry out such a complex operation, Captain. I have made exhaustive enquires, sir. There is no way she could have done it.” Jean-Luc’s face showed his unwillingness to believe what he was being told. “But that only leaves Lieutenant Greensale.” “Yes, Captain.” “Are you saying she did it?” Data tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. “If what I have been told is true, she did posses the necessary skill and knowledge, sir, but as yet, I have no proof.” “If she were responsible....she inadvertently orchestrated her own murder.” “It would seem so, Captain.” Will folded his arms over his broad chest and sighed. “Poor woman.” Brought out of his grim thoughts, Jean-Luc looked up and asked, “Lieutenant Bower?” “In custody, sedated and awaiting transport to star base seventeen.” “Was her confession caught on vidcom?” “Yes, sir.” Beverly bustled in her blue coat flapping. “Enough, gentlemen! My patient needs to rest.” Sending Jean-Luc smiles and receiving a rueful one from him in return, Beverly ushered Will and Data from the room. She came back in on her own. “How do you feel...and don’t you dare say fine.”

He smiled and shook his head. “I am fine, but I admit I feel a little sore and tired.” A few minutes later a pain free and sleepy Jean-Luc settled into the now flat bed. As he drowsily closed his eyes, Beverly’s smile faded and she closed her eyes tight. “Jesus, Jean-Luc. Why? Why you?” Although the words had been whispered, Jean-Luc heard them. He roused himself, battling against the sedative he’d been given. Looking through slitted lids, he said huskily, “Because I’m the Captain, Beverly. I’m responsible.” Unable to stave off sleep, his eyes closed and his body relaxed. This time he didn’t hear Beverly’s distressed sob.

Meredith’s transfer was uneventful, She was unconscious and in restraints throughout the entire procedure. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the shuttle carrying Meredith and a security detail left and set course for the star base.

Jean-Luc was off duty for a week, then allowed back, but on reduced hours. He was seated on the Bridge only twenty minutes before the end of his shortened shift when a call was received from star base seventeen. The news shocked everyone. Meredith Bower had escaped.

At Jean-Luc’s request, the senior staff were gathered around the long, curving table in the Observation lounge just aft of the Bridge. Their faces were grim and their muttered conversation angry. Although Jean-Luc wore his customary unreadable expression, inside he was very disturbed. Gently tapping his finger on the tabletop to stifle the low murmurings of his staff, he turned his attention to his security chief. “Report, Mr. Byan.” The Bolian had a PADD laid on the table in front of him, but as he’d read the relevant information several times, he didn’t need to refer to it.

“On arrival at star base seventeen, Lieutenant Bower was placed in custody in the detention cells and allowed to regain consciousness. She was informed that her stay at the base would be approximately seven days, as her transfer to a long-range supply ship on its way back to Earth wasn’t considered a priority. The next day, the process of psychiatric counselling began and, to all intents and purposes, proceeded without incident. Bower is reported as being calm and in control of her emotions. She exhibited no aggressive behaviour.” “Where did the counselling take place?” Will asked. Byan glanced at the exec and replied, “At first, the star base’s Counsellor sat outside the cell, but after two days, he felt it was safe enough to enter. There were two armed guards present at all times. However, on the afternoon of the fourth day, Bower was permitted to attend treatment in the Counsellor’s office.” “Idiots!” Grumbled Will, earning a look of mild rebuke from his captain. “Go on, Commander.” Jean-Luc invited. “On the morning of the seventh day...” Again he was interrupted. “How many times a day was she receiving treatment?” Will was obviously annoyed. “Twice daily, sir.” Answered an unruffled Byan. Jean-Luc didn’t need to say anything, his pointed look spoke volumes. Byan gave a curt nod and continued. “On the morning of the seventh day, as she was being taken from her cell, she launched an unexpected and unprovoked attack on the duty officer, a young Ensign of limited experience. Before her guards could react, Bower had broken the Ensign’s neck and relived him of his weapon. The fragmented vidcom recordings of the incident show she received a phaser blast, but it was a glancing shot and not powerful enough to incapacitate her. A short fire fight ensued and both guards were killed.” “Obviously she had no qualms about using the kill setting, unlike her guards.” Will muttered darkly. Then he growled, “Whose bright idea was it to order the guards to use such a low setting?” “Counsellor Tyban, sir. And, Commander, I think I should point out that Counsellor Tyban is a civilian. He is on the star base in an exchange program with a private consortium whose members have interests in SFM.” Byan watched as the faces around the table darkened with anger. He concentrated on his report.

“To the hastily convened inquiry held after Bower’s escape, Tyban justified his decision by stating that Bower had shown no aggression and by her own admission, no longer felt any disturbing emotions. She seemed to fully accept not only what she’d done here on the Enterprise, but that her behaviour, especially towards Doctor Crusher was irrational and delusional. Under those circumstances, Counsellor Tyban considered her to be of little threat.” “Jesus!” Blurted Beverly. “How many people needed to die before the fool recognised the truth about her?! Bower brutally and cold-bloodedly murdered Elsie Greensale for no better reason than she’d become an inconvenient liability and she showed absolutely no compunction in almost killing the Captain! How much proof did Tyban need? The woman is certifiably insane. Criminally so!” “Doctor...” Jean-Luc said mildly, his reproving look silencing the angry woman. Byan sighed. “I agree with you, Doctor Crusher, but in light of what’s happened, I’m afraid it’s all hind sight. In retrospect, perhaps we should’ve kept her here until such time as she could be taken directly to a psychiatric facility on Earth.” Jean-Luc frowned. “Why do you say that, Commander? Surely the most prudent thing was to get her off the ship as quickly as possible.” “Yes, Captain.” Said Byan respectfully. “But Lieutenant Bower is particularly cunning, sir. She is able to easily manipulate people, even those who are trained to recognise when that is being attempted and she is capable of controlling her emotions making it very difficult to accurately gauge or even predict her state of mind.” “It’s true, Captain.” Deanna’s voice was soft and laced with sadness. “We underestimated her, sir and Counsellor Tyban made the exact same mistake. People like Meredith Bower exist under our conscious radar; they very early in their lives develop the ability to hide in plain view. And their psychological disorder may not fully emerge for years, if at all. It may be latent, only showing itself when an event or a particular experience triggers it. If not for her fixation on Doctor Crusher, Bower may well have gone on for years without exhibiting anything other than what those around her saw as odd character traits.” “Her remoteness...her reluctance to work in groups...her sexual aggressiveness?” Jean-Luc said thoughtfully. “Yes, sir. When we finally realised what was happening, it was too late. For whatever reason or by what trigger, Meredith Bower had tipped. Her precarious balance was gone.” Beverly sighed and shook her head. “But was it inevitable that she would fall into criminal behaviour? I mean, isn’t it just as likely that she would fall into something more benign?”

Deanna tilted her head and gave the question appropriate consideration. Eventually she said, “In someone else, it’s possible, I suppose, but in Bower’s case I can’t see how she could go any other way. She’d already been exhibiting aggression, albeit controlled, in her sexual interactions. It was inevitable, I’m afraid.” Will shook his head and was about to argue when Jean-Luc again gently tapped his finger on the tabletop. “We digress. Mr. Byan?” The big Bolian nodded. “There are only three recorded sightings of Bower once she escaped the detention cells. Apparently there was a level one diagnostic of the entire vidcom system under way. It has been suggested that Bower was aware of this, in fact she may have been instrumental in causing it, and used the resulting lapses in the security systems to her advantage.” He glanced down at the PADD, knowing his next words would further upset the group. “Three more Starfleet members and one civilian were killed before she left the star base in a stolen shuttle.” “And just how was she able to do that?” Will was outraged. “The same question was asked at the inquiry, sir. Later investigation revealed she had utilised the disruption in the security systems to circumvent the computer controls. Once she’d achieved that, it was relatively easy for her to bypass the launch protocols. She had already left the base before any alarm was raised.” Jean-Luc was incredulous. “Are you telling me there was no alert once she’d escaped from the detention cells?” “Yes, sir. No one knew, not even when she killed the others to get into the shuttle bay.” “How is that possible? Surely someone raised the alarm? You’re telling me an escapee from the most secure area of a star base ran rampant through the base, killed six people, stole a shuttle and left completely unobserved? I’m sorry, Mr. Byan, but I find that very hard to believe!” It had taken quite an effort on Jean-Luc’s part to keep his rising anger out of his voice. To his credit, Byan didn’t take it personally, although his diffident shrug brought a disapproving look from his captain.

“I don’t know what to tell you, sir. The inquiry has raised some very grave concerns about the security protocols, and most certainly there was a deplorable level of laxity, but it has to be said that the level one diagnostic in progress at the time was a significant contributing factor.” Calming himself, Jean-Luc interlaced his fingers and rested his hands on the tabletop. “You mention the possibility that Bower may have been responsible for the diagnostic being run in the first place. Can you elaborate?” Raising his pale eyebrows, Byan shrugged again. “It has been speculated that Bower somehow gained access to the computer grid whilst in Doctor Tyban’s office. While unlikely, it is possible she could have interfered with the system in such a way as to prompt the Security Chief to initiate the diagnostic.” “Two questions.” Will sat forward, hunched over his hands. “While with Tyban, did she have any opportunity to do it? And you say unlikely. How unlikely?” Pursing his thick lips, Byan tilted his head. “Tyban reports that on two occasions Bower was left alone. But he insists it was for no more than five minutes each time and he was in his office, but not in the same room as Bower.” “Jesus!” Spat Beverly. Byan glanced at her and sighed. “As to my opinion, it’s based on my understanding of Bower’s skill in how to manipulate the computer. We know she had enough knowledge to effect her entry and launch from the shuttle bay, but the kind of expertise required to make the computer send false information, especially concerning the security systems...I’m not convinced she could do it.” Data nodded, saying quietly, “That is consistent with what we knew of her. However, my subsequent enquiries after her departure from the Enterprise have uncovered some very interesting information.” At a nod from Jean-Luc, Data continued. “It has transpired that Lieutenant Greensale, through her relationship with a member of engineering, one Lieutenant Commander Asoki Miamoto, no longer a member of the crew, learned a great deal about the computer system, in particular, how to manipulate it. Lt. Comm. Miamoto is a computer specialist. In all probability, Greensale shared her knowledge with Bower.” “So Bower was responsible for the tampering of the sick bay logs?” Beverly asked. Data shook his head.

“I do not think so, Doctor. I still believe Lieutenant Greensale was responsible for that, but I am convinced Bower had learned enough to effect the disruptions on the star base.” Letting out a short, sharp breath, Jean-Luc’s face showed his annoyance. Not with his staff, but the situation. “So! She escaped. The means don’t really matter now, I’m sure the star base will have learned a very valuable lesson. The most important question for us is...Where did she go?” Byan stared at his captain, trying to gauge his reactions. “We don’t know, sir. Part of the interference with the systems disabled the sensors. A belated search was undertaken and an ion trial was detected, but with so much traffic within the base’s precincts, it was impossible to pick up the shuttle’s trail.” Jean-Luc gritted his teeth. “What is the most up-to-date intel?” “Nothing new for three days.” “Three days!” Jean-Luc snapped sharply. “Merde!” Beverly pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. “She could be anywhere by now.” Byan nodded, then sat forward, knowing what he would say next would not be received very well. “Captain Picard, Doctor Crusher, in light of what’s happened, I think it would be wise to assign personal guards to you both. Armed guards.” Predictably, both officers shook their heads. It was Will who backed Byan. “I agree. We can’t risk it.” Jean-Luc’s look was withering. “You can’t honestly believe Bower would be so stupid as to return here? My God, that beggars belief!” Will’s gaze was steady. “Captain, she’s insane. Who can say what she’s going to do? You can’t ascribe rational thought to her.”

“Still...” Jean-Luc wasn’t ready to give in, but he had thought Beverly was on his side. That was until she said quietly, “He’s right.” They looked at each other and Jean-Luc sighed. “Very well.” It was a victory for Will and Byan, but no one smiled.

Over the next four weeks, it was a very tense atmosphere that pervaded the ship and the longer the time went by without something tangible to deal with, the worse the tension became. Will hovered endlessly further irritating an already testy captain and the guards who were assigned to the couple became accustomed to being snapped at. Because there was a guard posted outside Jean-Luc’s quarters, it caused significant tension between Beverly and Jean-Luc. After spending their working hours being constantly watched, they both felt there was little relief within their quarters with the guard constantly outside the doors. The tension they both felt, already troublesome, began to quickly grow. What had started as mild bickering soon escalated over the ensuing weeks into full-blown conflict. After one particularly heated exchange, Beverly threw a mug of hot coffee at JeanLuc’s head. He ducked, fortunately and it smashed harmlessly against the wall, but the sudden explosion of sound, accompanied by the mess of coffee and shattered crockery seemed to reach the warring couple and startle them out of their cycle of fighting. It was Jean-Luc who dragged his eyes away from the spreading stain of coffee to look at Beverly and say quietly, “We need to talk.” Keeping her gaze on the remains of the mug, Beverly nodded, but she was distracted when she muttered, “I thought that was what we were doing.” “No.” Jean-Luc shook his head. “What we’ve been doing is happily going about destroying what we have. We’re imploding, Beverly.”

She turned her head and gave Jean-Luc a speculative look. “Why, Jean-Luc? Why did we do that?” He sighed and slowly walked across the room until he stood with her. “I don’t know.” He stared down at the mess. “With everything that’s happened, we seem to have directed our anger, fear and frustration at each other.” Beverly frowned and let out a forceful breath. “But that makes no sense! We should’ve supported each other, not turned on one another.” “I know.” He agreed. “Perhaps it’s indicative of how each of us coped with what happened? You were very upset about my injury and I was angry about not having done something about the situation with Bower when it first became obvious something was wrong. And now we find ourselves held virtually hostage on our own ship.” Beverly left Jean-Luc’s side and wandered over to the viewport. She stood still, hugging herself as she gazed at his reflection. Her need to put some distance between them worried Jean-Luc, but he was aware of Beverly’s ways and knew by her actions it was the only way she was going to be able to continue to discuss the matter. “So you’re saying,” Her voice carried caution. “That instead of dealing with our underlying anxiety we aimed it inward until it expressed itself by misdirected anger?” Jean-Luc shrugged. “What do you think?” He squatted and began to pick up the larger pieces of broken mug. “Jesus, Jean-Luc, I don’t know. That’s something you should be asking Deanna.” She snapped. Her testy tone belied the fact that she felt very vulnerable. Since entering into their current relationship, both of them had found there were times that tested the strength of their bond. Though nothing serious, it was a reflection of the fact that they had both been alone for a very long time, and were, despite making a concerted effort otherwise, set in their ways and both very opinionated. However, those times when they had clashed in the past were mere wrinkles and they had both realised were inevitable and not worth fretting over. So the potency and vehemence of their current difficulties was a very clear indicator of just how fragile their relationship had become. Jean-Luc realised this and so did Beverly, but being the people they were, neither was willing to make the first move to rectify the situation. It wasn’t a matter of ill-directed pride or even arrogance, it was far simpler than that. It was fear. Fear of the consequences of allowing such a dismantling of their very carefully constructed shells.

Although neither had ever had a partner who knew them as each other did, and they were indeed intimate in every way, both held a secret desire to keep one part of themselves hidden. Perhaps it was a matter of self-preservation, or maybe simply habit, but until they found themselves facing the imminent destruction of their relationship, they’d never had to consider giving up the last remnant of their independence, the last bit of themselves. Beverly stared at Jean-Luc’s reflection, helplessness at what was happening; making her resort to her default position. Attack. She spun around and hissed, “Why the hell shouldn’t we be fucking angry?! We were both violated by that madwoman and you’re saying we shouldn’t show it? Shit, Jean-Luc! You might have success in denial, but not me!” Although expected, Beverly’s outburst confused Jean-Luc. He did his best to control his anger and kept his focus on picking up the shattered pieces of mug. “That’s not what I said.” He tried to be patient, but unfortunately his tone sounded condescending. “Well what did you say?” “I said that we were both feeling a great deal of anger, but instead of venting it outwardly and in a healthy way, we buried it and it festered until it began to manifest in deteriorating behaviour towards each other.” Beverly blinked and shook her head. “That is psychobabble claptrap! You’ve been increasing difficult to live with! I’ve just been reacting to your shitty moods!” “And you think you were any better?” He shouted and immediately regretted it. Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc stood and in the brittle silence, went and deposited the handful of mug bits into the reclaimer. Risking her continued anger, he went to Beverly and stood behind her, looking at her reflection. “Beverly,” He said softly, gently placing his hands on her shoulders. “If we can’t get through this, there’s no hope for us.” When she said nothing he continued. “Think of all the times we’ve been there for each other. The ups, the downs, happy times...tragedies. In all the time we’ve known each other, through everything we’ve shared the one thing that survived was us. Are we going to let this destroy what has taken a lifetime to build?” Beverly looked into Jean-Luc’s reflected eyes and said quietly, “Are you willing to let go, Jean-Luc? Are you really ready to give up, to finally give everything you are to me?”

His gaze was steady. “Are you, Beverly?” She turned and Jean-Luc was struck by how naked her gaze was. Stripped bare, she looked into him and, for the first time in his life he felt as if someone knew him...really knew him and it made him feel weak kneed. “Yes, Jean-Luc. I’m so tired, it seems to me that most of my life I’ve been chasing something that was unobtainable and I did it for so long when I did finally catch it, I didn’t recognise it.” She chuckled but there was no humour evident and her eyes were filled with unfathomable sadness. “You were the prize, Jean-Luc, the ultimate gift, but there’s such a high price to pay for what we have.” She sighed. “But what’s the alternative? I thought we were happy. Didn’t you?” He nodded mutely, so involved in what she was saying he didn’t realise tears were flowing unimpeded down his face. “Yeah, but look what we did!” She sighed. “Talk about old dogs and new tricks. For all our declarations of love, for all our attempts at domestic was all a veneer. I was hiding, Jean-Luc, hiding in our relationship, hiding from you. And you were hiding from me! “I’m tired, Jean-Luc and this business with Bower is the last straw.” He didn’t know why but he felt confident, as if something of great importance was about to take place. He even smiled while tears he was still unaware of continued to track down his cheeks. “Can you imagine just how powerful we will be now that we’re a unified force?” His voice carried his excitement. Beverly frowned and smiled at the same time. But she did give the question some thought. “A unified force? You realise just what it is you’re saying?” He nodded slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. “Oh, yes. For the first time in my life I’m giving up everything, Beverly. No more hiding, no more secrets. Everything I am is yours. I only hope you still want it.” If he thought his declaration would move Beverly to some expression of heartfelt emotion, he was mistaken. She gazed into his eyes and said quietly, “You’re forgetting something, Jean-Luc.”

Tilting his head, his eyes narrowed. “And what’s that?’ “That you have to accept me the same way. Warts and all, Jean-Luc. Are you ready for that?” He tilted his head back and laughed. Beverly gaped at him then abruptly she too began to laugh. What had begun as strange laughter quickly took on an almost hysterical, manic quality. Beverly slid to the floor and Jean-Luc joined her. They were clutching at their stomachs, tears squeezed from screwed-shut eyes, helpless. Just as the laughter had been sudden, so it abruptly turned into sobs. Jean-Luc reached for Beverly and they clung to each other as the emotional tempest raged. Eventually it passed, leaving the couple drained. Beverly moved to sit with her back against the low wall and pulled her legs up. While she hugged her legs, Jean-Luc adopted a similar pose, but rested his arms on his parted knees and let the back of his head rest against the viewport. The silence was a little uncomfortable and it was predictable that it would be Beverly who broke it. “What the hell was that about?” Frowning, Jean-Luc turned his head and asked querulously, “What? The...epiphany or the catharsis?” Beverly’s look was incredulous. “You’re going to use labels? Jean-Luc, I don’t know about you, but I feel as if I’ve been punched in the stomach. Words like epiphany and catharsis don’t quite cover it.” Picking at his thumbnail, Jean-Luc stared fixedly at his hands. “All right,” he said cautiously. “How would you describe what just happened to us?” Beverly thought about it for a few moments and then shrugged. “Due to a very complicated set of circumstances, you and I have been forced to admit each of us has been less than honest with each other...and with ourselves. But that’s okay, because in making that admission we’ve managed to finally cast aside our cynicism and find a way to not only repair the damage, but hopefully move forward.” Jean-Luc turned to her again, his look frankly disbelieving. “Cynicism?”

“Well, yes. Don’t you think it was cynicism?” “What exactly?” He was clearly confused. “Us!” Beverly was obviously exasperated. “You and me! Like I said, we made our declarations of love, we behaved just as we should, but it was a veneer. We...” “Yes, I know,” Jean-Luc was shaking his head. “But how was that cynical?” “Well, wasn’t it? I mean each of us entered into this relationship with an agenda. Sure it was hidden, and maybe we were oblivious to it, but it was nonetheless real.” Jean-Luc sighed and briefly closed his eyes. “That wasn’t cynicism, Beverly, more like hypocrisy.” He sighed and stilled his restless hands. “Either way it was very damaging and I find it hard to believe we did it. For myself I feel betrayed.” He was quick to assuage Beverly’s hurt feelings. “Not by you, but by myself. How could I have accepted our relationship, accepted your love and still refused to be completely honest?” He shook his head as if trying to understand. “I waited so long, I pursued you for so many years and in all that time it never occurred to me that I wasn’t actually going to do what I’d always professed I would.” He sighed deeply. “That’s more than hypocrisy, Beverly, that’s downright self-delusion. And that is unforgivable!” He let his head fall back again and closed his eyes. Beverly let go of her legs and stretched them out. Softly she said, “You’re being very hard on yourself, Jean-Luc. I think you’re forgetting I’m just as guilty as you. I did precisely the same thing and probably for the very same reason.” Keeping his eyes closed, Jean-Luc asked, “And what is that reason?” Her eyebrows rose. “You don’t know?” “No. In fact, I would appreciate it if you could enlighten me, because the alternative is that I have to accept it was nothing but dumb, ignorant habit and that would mean I’m not so bloody evolved or as self-aware as I thought I was!” His voice was filled with scorn and Beverly grimaced. “You’ve already identified it, Jean-Luc.” He opened his eyes, turned to her and frowned. “I have?”

“Yep.” When he said nothing more, Beverly smiled sadly. “Fear.” His mouth opened and his eyebrows rose. “Ah.” “Both of us have spent a long time alone. Even those brief love affairs we had with others only served to make us more wary and each time our hidden self, that little private piece we kept deep inside, retreated even further. By the time you and I finally began our relationship, we were so used to the way things were, neither of us were able...or willing, to change the status quo. I mean think about it. Before we were forced into admitting it, would you have really been comfortable with giving up everything to me? Because I can tell you, I wouldn’t have been. I would’ve felt...I don’t know...violated.” Jean-Luc gaped and Beverly held up one hand. “Okay, maybe not violated, but certainly vulnerable.” He thought about that and had to admit she was right, but that didn’t mean it sat well. He sighed and rubbed his face with both hands. “It’s very confronting, isn’t it.” He said softly. Leaning into him, Beverly let their shoulders touch. “You’re not the only one with an entrenched, well-established persona, Jean-Luc. It’s just as difficult for me.” Just what was in his expressive eyes was hard to define. He gazed steadily at Beverly and said quietly, “Can we change, Beverly? Can the damage be undone?” She smiled and Jean-Luc felt a rush of gratitude. It was, however premature. “I don’t know, maybe. If we can it won’t be easy, but now that we know, maybe we can get through this and reach the other side, stronger and closer. What is it you called it? A unified force? Perhaps it isn’t out of our reach and we haven’t broken anything irretrievably.” His smile was a little watery, but it carried his love nonetheless. He climbed to his feet and offered his hand. Beverly accepted it and rose awkwardly, rubbing her backside.

“I’m going to dismiss the guard and order Byan to stand down. It’s time we put this behind us. Meredith Bower has taken too much from us already.” “Agreed.” The situation remained largely unresolved.

That night while lying awake, Jean-Luc laced his fingers under his head and stared at the ceiling. He was calm and relaxed, probably for the first time in weeks, but for reasons he couldn’t identify, he was unable to get to sleep. He was lying on his back, beside him Beverly lay on her side, facing away. In the silence her whispered voice carried clearly. “Can’t sleep?” He wasn’t surprised she knew he was awake, but he was curious to find she too had woken. Usually Beverly was able to sleep under the most stressing circumstances; it was an ability he’d long envied. Turning his head slightly, he whispered, “No. You?” Her legs shifted and she sighed. “I keep dozing, but I can’t seem to get into proper sleep.” The mattress shifted as Beverly, in irritated, jerky movements, moved onto her back, then spent a few annoyed moments fussing with the covers. Eventually she flung the top cover back and kicked it with her feet. Her actions had left her completely uncovered and Jean-Luc half covered. “Comfortable now?” Jean-Luc asked mildly while he adjusted the covers so he was once again under them. A grunt was her only reply. Silence followed. Then Beverly let her hand slowly creep onto Jean-Luc’s stomach to begin to gently caress him. He wasn’t sure he wanted what she seemed to be suggesting. “Beverly...” In his tone she heard his reluctance. Turning onto her side, she sighed and said softly,

“Okay, but will you at least help me?” There was a sadness in her voice that dismayed JeanLuc. He turned to her and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. “It’s nothing you’ve done, Beverly. I’m just not in the mood.” “I know, I understand, but will you..?” In answer he kissed her again and began to stimulate her. He knew when Beverly was like this what he would do for her would be quick. She sought only the physical release of builtup tension, not the intimate connection of lovemaking. Deftly he brought her to three orgasms, mildly surprised when he gained an erection in the process. Beverly’s eyes glittered when she discovered his tumescence. She took him in hand and stroked him watching him intently. He still didn’t particularly want to have sex, but his body seemed to have other ideas. Afterwards they lay on their backs, side-by-side, each staring up at the ceiling. “That was weird.” Beverly observed. “Yes.” “I don’t think I liked it very much.” “Me either.” “Maybe we shouldn’t do it like that again.” “No, not like that.” “Want to try again?” Beverly wasn’t really sure whether that was a good idea or not. “Yes. No. Maybe later.” “Do you think you can sleep now?” “No.” “Me neither.” Beverly left the bed then and light spilled into the darkened room from the bathroom. She returned soon enough and settled once again, on her back, staring up at the ceiling. More silence ensued. When Beverly spoke it was with uncertainty. “Jean-Luc?”

“Hmm?” “You know I love you, right?” “Yes.” “And I know you love me.” “I do.” There was another protracted silence. “Then how did we get so screwed up?” His sigh was a deep one. “I don’t know.” He sounded lost. This time the silence was brittle. “Do you think we should talk to Deanna?” Beverly asked quietly. She heard, rather than saw Jean-Luc turn his head. “Seek counselling?” He said, warily. “Well, why not? We’ve made such a cock up of our relationship.” “...I suppose.” “So you think it’s a good idea?” “Can I think about it?” “Yeah.” Jean-Luc sat up and swung his legs out of the bed. When he stood and began to walk towards the door, Beverly asked softly, “Where you going?” “Sleep isn’t going to happen, Beverly, not tonight. I might as well work.” He heard the covers rustle as Beverly left the bed. “Me too.”

Morning would find them tired and irritable.

In her position as ship’s counsellor, Deanna Troi saw many people, usually for nothing more serious than work related issues or some other minor problem, so until she’d become involved with Meredith Bower, she’d not had a really serious case to deal with for some time. Starfleet took care when choosing personnel for starship duty. It took a special kind of person and the powers that be were acutely aware of the rigours of deep space and the effects of long missions so the people chosen had to be of stable and adaptive characters. This was especially true of the senior staff. For those who chose to make Starfleet their life and thereby achieving high rank along the way, the responsibilities that entailed required a very specific personality. Not only did these individuals have to exhibit the basic abilities needed for their assignments, but also the talent to command others. Some did it well, even easily, while others struggled or at the very least were less successful. So, although on the surface it appeared as if any ship’s counsellor might have been very busy, the fact was most had little of any importance to do. Meredith Bower was the exception to Deanna’s well-ordered existence. Not only had she proved to be Deanna’s most difficult patient in terms of her mental disorder, but the very fact she’d made it through the Academy and managed to be posted to starship duty...and on the Enterprise at that...had caused an unsettling pall to linger long after she’d been taken off the ship. Because of her empathic abilities, Deanna was constantly aware of the crew’s general mood and she was concerned by the tension and brewing unease that pervaded the ship and, due to her professional interest in the senior staff, she paid special attention to the ship’s captain and CMO. Their increasingly hostile emotions, more often directed at each other, dismayed the counsellor and through the days and weeks that followed the Bower incident (as it came to be known), she became more and more concerned about them. With so much tension on board, she couldn’t devote herself solely to her friends, but they were a constant refrain in the background of her mind. It was still early and Deanna had taken advantage of having no appointments, to go to her office to catch up on some reports. As she settled at her desk, she paused and gave herself a few minutes to concentrate of the captain and his partner.

Deanna knew immediately something had changed. They were both awake, but although she easily sensed their irritability, there seemed to be some kind of underlying unease, almost like sadness. This was quite unlike what she’d been sensing form them recently. In fact, Deanna was so concerned she almost wished they were fighting, at least that would be an expression of some kind. What she was sensing now was tantamount to defeat or some kind of weird lethargy. Obviously something had happened. The problem was should she do anything about it? To act on what she sensed now would be admitting she kept tabs on them and that wouldn’t be taken very well, especially by the captain, a man known for his intense need for privacy. Of course he wasn’t so naive that he was unaware of Deanna’s methods, indeed he actively encouraged it because it facilitated her position and made the best use of her abilities but to be confronted over something so personal would cause a great deal of tension in an already delicate and unpleasant situation. And she had to take into account the fact that the relationship between Jean-Luc and Beverly was relatively new and came with a lot of emotional baggage so it wasn’t without the bounds of possibility that their current troubles might be simply teething problems, common in new relationships, especially in people in high raking, stressful jobs. In essence, it was a mine field, one that Deanna was reluctant to enter into. She decided to wait. She would continue to monitor the situation and hope that it would resolve itself. Somehow.

The cot on which Meredith Bower was lying was made of rough-hewn wood, as was the rest of the primitively built hut, the mattress nothing but a long bag stuffed with native grasses. She was naked and her body glistened with a light covering of sweat. One hand held a PADD close to her face the other gripped the end of a dildo which was deeply imbedded inside her. As her orgasm approached her expression changed little, perhaps her gaze intensified and her nostrils flared, but other than that she barely registered the climax when it washed over her. She lowered the PADD to her chest and closed her eyes. “Oh, Beverly. How he’s deceived you.” She whispered. “I know you love me. I know he has some kind of hold over you. I felt your love, Beverly; I felt it when you kissed me.” She lifted the PADD and smiled. Her madness made her eyes bright. A picture of Beverly filled the PADD’s screen. It had been taken at a function in the forward lounge and Beverly had taken pains to look her best. Her hair was freshly washed and its soft waves glowed in

the subdued lighting. Her makeup was minimal and yet her best assets were beautifully highlighted. The fact that she’d gone to such lengths for Jean-Luc was something Meredith chose to ignore. In her mind, Beverly had presented herself for Meredith alone. Indeed, the escapee had inveigled herself into the lounge on a false pretext just so she could see Beverly and she wasn’t disappointed. In fact she was almost overwhelmed. It was with shaking hands that she’d taken the image covertly, the resulting picture so blurry she’d had to resort to computer assistance to render it clear and precise. Just after she’d taken the image her presence had been noted and she’d been asked to leave. Resentment and anger almost made her refuse, but she realised Beverly would be embarrassed if she made a scene, so she left. The image, however was hers to keep, no one knew she had it. Having set the dildo to operate automatically, she left it where it was and wrapped both arms over the PADD hugging it to her chest. “I won’t give up, Beverly, I’ll free you and we can be together. I promise.” She sighed as the dildo vibrated and gyrated. Around her, on every surface, even the ceiling, were enlarged images of the PADD’s picture. No matter where Meredith chose to look, Beverly’s soft blue eyes looked back, her expression one of tender love. What a pity she’d been looking at Jean-Luc at the time.

A week had passed and with Jean-Luc’s order for the extra security to be stood down, the Enterprise slowly began to return to normal. Everyone seemed ready and more than willing to put the whole Bower incident behind them and for the most part they did, except Jean-Luc and Beverly. Although they no longer fought or even bickered, there was an underlying unease they carried with them constantly. Whether or not it was exclusively pertaining to their fragile relationship or the lingering after effects of the Bower incident or some of both, neither knew. They were civil with each other, Beverly still lived in Jean-Luc’s quarters and they still wanted to be together, but something was stopping them from addressing their problem and the longer the situation went unresolved, the further apart they grew. They’d made one attempt at making love again, but it was a disaster. Jean-Luc, for the first time in his life, was unable to attain an erection and Beverly made the mistake of trying too hard to remedy the situation. It only served to make Jean-Luc more frustrated and humiliated. Eventually he left the bed in anger and disgust with himself, leaving a bitter Beverly to masturbate, leaving her feeling empty and filled with sorrow.

Over breakfast, five weeks after Meredith had left the ship, Beverly propped her elbows on the table and stared at her coffee cup which she held delicately in her fingertips. “Have you given any thought to my suggestion?” She asked idly. Glancing up from his own inspection of his cup, Jean-Luc said mildly, “And which suggestion is that?” Still keeping her eyes fixed on her cup, Beverly said, “The one where I thought we should talk to Deanna.” “Ah.” Like Beverly, Jean-Luc kept his gaze lowered. “Counselling.” His tone was derisive. When he said nothing further, Beverly glared at him and said testily, “Well?” Finally looking at her, Jean-Luc’s eyes were dark and hard. He began to shake his head causing Beverly to slam her cup down with such force that the coffee slopped over the rim. “Dammit, Jean-Luc, we can’t go on like this!” His voice was soft, but he was angry. “I have no intention of airing our dirty linen in public!” Beverly gaped. “In public?” She hissed. “You make it sound like it’s going to be some kind of ship-wide announcement! For God’s sake, Jean-Luc, you know damned well we can trust Deanna. And it’s not dirty linen, it’s us!” He lowered his eyes and stared at his cup again, making Beverly lower her head to her hands. “Jean-Luc,” She made sure she kept her anger and exasperation out of her voice. “Do you think our relationship is worth fighting for?” “You know I do, Beverly, but I don’t necessarily agree we need help to do it.” His superior tone really irritated Beverly. “Well we’ve been doing a bang-up job so far!” Adopting a more conciliatory tone, Beverly lowered her hands and gave her lover a frank look.

“Jean-Luc, if we don’t do something soon, it’ll be too late.” “You’re overreacting Beverly, it’s not that bad.” He had the temerity to sound condescending and Beverly, instead of feeling angry, felt overwhelmingly sad. She slowly got to her feet and said softly, “I’ve had enough, Jean-Luc, I can’t do this any more.” Without a backward glance, Beverly walked out of Jean-Luc’s quarters and out of his life.

The ensign sitting opposite Deanna barely noticed when she flinched. As the session progressed, Deanna’s senses picked up on the escalating emotions coming from the captain and his partner and the abrupt cessation had such finality about it, Deanna feared the worst. It was with some urgency that she brought the session to a close, apologising to the ensign and hastily arranging another appointment. Of the two people involved, Deanna knew it would be Beverly to whom she would go to first. Although the mercurial red head could be very obstinate when angry, at least she would eventually listen to reason. The captain, on the other hand, when dealing with deeply personal issues, would simply withdraw and refuse to discuss it. In fact there was a terrible irony to the current situation. If the captain, (and it was a big if) was going to discuss any personal matter it would be with Beverly. As Deanna hurried through the corridors she shook her head. “Damn. I thought they could do this, we all did.” She whispered. It was true. Jean-Luc and Beverly had been best friends for decades and everyone, friends and crew alike always felt they were meant for each other. They agonised over the relationship, speculating just what, if any, kind of relationship the Captain and CMO entertained. Gossip had been rife for years yet the couple always maintained a dignified silence, never giving any sign one way or another as to the true nature of their bond. When word quietly got around that they had finally become a couple, it was greeted with happiness. To those around them, it was as if something very right had occurred and the crew were justifiably smug in the knowledge that they had been right all along. So it was with sadness and some trepidation that Deanna entered sickbay. What struck Deanna most of all was the lack of emotion coming from Beverly. She was cold and still

inside, devoting every gram of her inner strength to the attention given to the patient currently undergoing treatment. As Deanna quietly approached she saw the puzzled look on the young man’s face. His eyes darted from the injury Beverly was repairing, to the Doctor’s face, trying to decide whether or not to engage her in conversation. He knew Beverly well, he’d been on the Enterprise almost as long as she had and he was well aware she was usually very warm and friendly. Her present mood didn’t invite chit-chat. He gave Deanna a relieved look and quickly left once he’d been treated. Studiously ignoring Deanna, Beverly turned away, ostensibly to move to some other part of sickbay, but Deanna would have none of it. She reached forward and plucked the sleeve of Beverly’s blue lab coat. The Doctor paused, glanced icily down at Deanna’s hand and said quietly and with a hint of warning, “Not now, Deanna.” Deanna could be stubborn too. “I’ll be the judge of that, Beverly.” When she didn’t let go of Beverly’s sleeve, the Doctor glared at her. “Deanna...” She warned with increasing menace. Shaking her head, Deanna’s black eyes seemed to grow in size. “In your office, Beverly. Now.” As angry as Beverly was, she still understood Deanna wouldn’t give in. It was either acquiesce or cause a scene, one which would not only upset the smooth running of the facility, but give way too much fodder to the rumour mill. Gritting her teeth, she glanced pointedly at Deanna’s hand and once the counsellor had released her, she stalked across the room and into her office, followed at a discreet distance by Deanna. With the windows opaqued, Deanna took a seat in front of the desk, behind which sat Beverly, stiff and cold, bristling with indignation and resentment. Deanna’s opening gambit was undertaken gently, trying to calm Beverly down. “I know you’re angry,” She said quietly. “I’m not here to judge or take sides. You know that.” It took several very uncomfortable minutes before Beverly finally closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. Deanna felt sorrow and loss coming from her best friend in waves. “Talk to me, Beverly. Tell me what’s happened.”

Beverly’s derisive snort disguised her anguish, but Deanna felt it anyway. “I don’t know, Dee. It just sort of...crept up on us.” “What did?” Lifting her head, Beverly sat back and flapped a hand. “I don’t know.” Tilting her head slightly, Deanna accurately gauged Beverly’s mood and decided she could stand some harder techniques. “Come on, Beverly, I know you better than that. Stop hedging.” Anger flashed in Beverly’s eyes as she gave Deanna a long, venomous look. The counsellor showed nothing but equanimity, her calmness irritating Beverly further. “Don’t be so bloody smug, Deanna!” “I’m not being smug, Beverly,” Deanna said mildly. “I simply wish to cut through your bullshit.” Beverly blinked in surprise. Deanna rarely used strong language and she said it so matter-offactly, Beverly was taken aback. Deanna crossed her legs and gave Beverly a measured look. “Do you really think I’m unaware of what’s happened?” “Then why ask?” Beverly said waspishly. Deanna almost didn’t answer, but she decided to play along. “Because, although I know what’s happened, I don’t know why it’s happened!” Her tone was mild, but her eyes glittered. Beverly had the good grace to look contrite. There were some moments of charged silence before Beverly let out a long breath. “I’ve left him.” Deanna matched Beverly’s defeated tone with the surge of sorrow and helplessness coming from her. “Why?” The counsellor asked softly, although she had a pretty good idea. Beverly sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I’m not sure.” “Yes, you are.”

That garnered a hot glare. “I’m telling you I don’t know!” The more she insisted the more upset Beverly became. Deanna waited a few moments to allow her friend to compose herself. Quietly she said, “This has been building for some time now, Beverly. Over the last few weeks I’ve sensed escalating tension between you and the Captain, but it seemed to settle recently and I’d hoped you’d found some kind of middle ground. So, for this to have happened, something must have precipitated it.” “I don’t understand.” Beverly’s voice was small and lost. “Tell me what it is you don’t understand.” Beverly sighed and squeezed her eyes shut. “We had this...this...I don’t know. It was...Jean-Luc called it an epiphany, like a boil that finally bursts, you know? And then we experienced this weird...Oh God, I’ll have to quote Jean-Luc again, he called it a catharsis.” Patiently, Deanna said, “Beverly you are perfectly aware of what those words mean, especially given their context in relation to your situation. Why are you being so disingenuous?” “Maybe because I’m feeling petty and bloody minded!” Beverly snapped. Offering a frank look of mild forbearance, Deanna said calmly, “All right. For whatever reason, you and the Captain reached a point where you experienced an epiphany, followed by catharsis. What happened then?” “We talked.” Beverly’s shoulders had slumped and the sorrow was back. “While we didn’t actually reach a consensus, exactly, we sort of found some common ground. Later that night...neither of us could sleep...we had sex and it was really odd. Neither of us liked it.” She shook her head in confusion. “I’ve never experienced anything like it, Dee. We both achieved orgasm, but it left us feeling...I don’t know...empty.” She sighed again. “And ever since we’ve been getting more and more distant from each other. Our relationship was dying by degrees and neither of us was willing or able to do anything to stop it.” “And so?” Still looking confused and sad, Beverly said softly,

“And so I left him.” “I see.” Deanna said. The pain she could feel coming from her best friend disturbed her deeply. Uncrossing her legs, she sat forward, clasping her hands on her knees. “Go back a bit, Beverly. What was it that caused the epiphany and catharsis?” A wave of guilt and hopelessness washed over Deanna. When Beverly didn’t say anything, Deanna said gently, “It’s me, Beverly. You know I won’t judge you.” Beverly believed her friend, but flushed nonetheless. “It was something we finally admitted to each other and it was very damaging.” “Your lack of complete honesty with each other.” Beverly gaped. Deanna smiled sadly. “Yes, Beverly, I know. I’ve known all along.” Beverly’s incredulous expression gave way to one of anger and resentment. “Then why? Why the hell didn’t you say something? You could’ve prevented all this!” Still smiling sadly, Deanna shook her head. “Do you really think it was my place to say something? Come on Beverly, you know damn well it was up to both of you.” Beverly just looked at Deanna as if she didn’t recognise her. Deanna sighed, feeling the strong emotions coming from her friend. “Beverly, it was never my place to interfere even though I knew what was happening would most probably lead to trouble. You and the Captain have known each other for decades! If you both felt you could have a relationship despite not enjoying total honesty, then who am I to judge? You know as well as I do that relationships can take all sorts of forms. What works for one couple might not work for another, you know that. I’m just a bit surprised that you and the Captain had the kind of relationship you did. From what I know of you both, I would’ve expected something different, but having said that, I may be prejudiced. Maybe I had preconceived ideas about you two? In that case, I’m at fault.” Beverly sat back and shook her head. Quietly she said, “So what do we do?” Pulling down the corners of her mouth, Deanna tilted her head.

“That depends.” “On what?” There was wariness in Beverly’s voice. “On whether or not you want to save your relationship. Do you?” Staring at her hands, Beverly nodded slowly. “...Yes.” “All right. I think I can help, but it’s going to take some work. From both of you. I can’t help unless you both want me to.” Still with her eyes downcast, Beverly said quietly, “That’s why I left him. I’d suggested we talk to you a week ago. He said he wanted to think about it, but nothing more was said. I brought it up this morning and he flatly refused. So I walked out.” “Ah. Well, getting the Captain to discuss this is going to be difficult, but there is always the incentive of salvaging your relationship.” Deanna paused and her eyes narrowed. “You do still love each other, don’t you?” “Yes!” Beverly affirmed earnestly. “I only ask because you’ve both been so subsumed by your present difficulties, it’s been hard to sense much of anything else.” With a soft snort, Beverly shook her head. “You know, Dee, I thought I’d finally found the thing I’ve been looking for most of my life. Little did I know it would cause me so much grief.” Deanna stood and went to her friend, placing her small hands on Beverly’s shoulders. “Don’t think of it like that, Beverly, it needn’t be so painful. Look at it this way. When all this sorrow and pain are over, if I do my job right, you and the Captain will have the rest of your lives to explore what will be a brand new relationship, one devoid of any subtext. It’ll be unencumbered and unburdened...and totally honest.” Beverly offered a small smile of hope. “And no Meredith Bower to jam up the works.”

Deanna chuckled softly. “You might find, a long way into the future, granted, that you owe Meredith Bower a debt of gratitude.” Beverly’s expression showed her disbelief. “Gratitude? Why?” “Because without all the trouble she caused, you and the Captain wouldn’t be on the brink of a new life together.” Deanna exclaimed with quiet confidence.. Beverly snorted and by her expression and her hopeful emotions, Deanna knew she had turned a corner. From now on Beverly would do anything and everything she could to save her relationship with Jean-Luc. All Deanna had to do now was tackle the man himself. And that was no small task.

The following ten days had been long and difficult for Jean-Luc. He’d made no effort to contact Beverly; neither had she so much as looked at him. Outwardly he gave little evidence of his inner turmoil; indeed, to those who didn’t know him very well, it was business as usual, but his few close friends noticed the imperceptible signs that something was very wrong. Will, in particular picked up on these minute clues and made the inevitable mistake of being overly solicitous. He meant well of course, but his captain didn’t take it very well. After enduring three full days of Will’s perpetual hovering, Jean-Luc finally snapped and spoke unnecessarily harshly to his first officer. It occurred on the Bridge and in its wake there was a stunned and tense silence. It soon became so oppressive that Jean-Luc, by now regretting his outburst, retreated into the ready room. Unfortunately, the only result of the incident was to reinforce Will’s belief that something significantly bad had happened to his captain and that only served to make him even more determined to help in any way he could. It set in motion an irrevocable clash, one that would have serious consequences. Beverly had been to his quarters while he was on duty and removed all her possessions and had returned to living in her old quarters. He had waited the first night after she’d left him and when she didn’t arrive, he swallowed his grief and feelings of abandonment and spent the evening and the rest of the long first night alone, sitting in his lounge chair, staring at the stars. As he knew it would, sleep became a distant memory. He got by in the nights that followed on brief snatches of restless dozing. Deeply wounded and bereft, he retreated into himself. It was unknown when he would eventually resurface, if he ever would.

Deanna hadn’t been idle. She had spent her time having several sessions with Beverly. She didn’t attempt to counsel her; that would come later, but used the time to gather as much information as she could about the situation. Knowing how difficult it was going to be to broach the subject with her captain, she felt it best to be as well prepared as possible. Thus armed, on the morning of the eleventh day after Beverly’s departure from her captain’s life, Deanna strode onto the Bridge, outwardly calm and confident, but she couldn’t quite quell the lingering feeling of unease. She’d been monitoring the man, well used to his moroseness and harsh self-condemnation so she wasn’t surprised to sense these things as she stood outside the ready room doors awaiting admittance. Jean-Luc didn’t know who was requesting entry, but he suspected it was Deanna. He’d been mildly surprised, but nonetheless grateful, when she hadn’t attempted to see him much earlier. It was with a sense of tired annoyance that he intoned, “Come.” Deanna found him predictably composed and calm. She had to give him his due, he was doing a commendable job of suppressing his emotions and she grudgingly accepted his stance. Even his measured, softly spoken, “Counsellor.” Gave absolutely no indication of any inner turmoil, although there was nothing he could do to disguise his haggard appearance and weight loss. Deanna offered a smile and asked politely if she could sit. Permission was granted, again with no outward sign of any disquiet. “How can I help you, Counsellor?” Calm, professional and cool. Deanna almost sighed and shook her head in exasperation. “Why are you bothering with this game?” She wondered angrily. “You and I both know why I’m here.” Instead she merely smiled, then adopted a gently concerned expression. “Captain,” She said softly. “I’m aware of your current difficulties. I believe you would benefit from some counselling on the matter.” There. She’d said it. It wasn’t out in the open yet, but it was a start. “I don’t think so, Counsellor.” Still no inflection. Still almost glacial. Over the years of serving together, Deanna had helped her captain overcome some brutally damaging psychological and emotional crises; in fact doing so had elevated her in the eyes of her fellow counsellors. Her resulting reports and papers on her experiences with treating her captain were the stuff of legend in SFM circles. It certainly set her apart. She wondered idly why it was he always fell back into the same pattern of behaviour. He knew as well as she did that the only way for him to recover was to undergo counselling. Is it possible, she wondered,

that he has a latent wish for self-destruction? Does he want to be be alone? Has this situation been somehow subliminally engineered? And if so, is he at all aware of it? Marshalling her thoughts, Deanna refused to be put off by his attitude. If she were correct, his next move would be to attempt to intimidate her. It had worked once upon a time, when she was much younger and not used to such powerful and dominant personalities. She sought to forestall him. “Captain,” She said mildly, “This isn’t going to go away, you know that. The only way you’re going to find any peace, either with Beverly or with yourself, is to talk about it.” The stiffening of his already rigid posture gave Deanna ample warning of what was to come. His eyes darkened and glittered dangerously, but she remained calm, at least outwardly, because even through his hastily erected mental barriers, she clearly sensed his quickly rising anger. “I will not discuss it.” Cold. Flat. Clearly enunciated. Deanna stood her ground. “With respect, Captain, I’m afraid you must.” Now his hands, which had been resting on the desktop slowly fisted until his knuckles showed white. “I see no reason why you should be so insistent, Counsellor. My private business has absolutely no bearing on my captaincy. Until such time as my ability to command is compromised, you have no right to ask or expect me to comply.” For the first time his voice carried the colour of his tightly held emotions. Now was when it became very tricky. Deanna had to balance her desire to help a dear friend against her duty as ship’s counsellor. As was often the case, the lines were blurred. The waters muddied. Maintaining her calm demeanour, Deanna said quietly, “My job is to monitor the mental health of the crew, you especially, and to treat whatever I find to be evident of disorder or instability. Beverly Crusher is the closest thing you have to a best friend on this ship and your relationship with her; or lack of it, by its very definition means she has a direct bearing on your mental state. Your current difficulties are affecting you, Captain. I’m not saying your ability to command has been compromised...yet, but can you honestly say the recent events between you and Beverly haven’t weighed heavily on you?” “No.” Cold and very angry.

“Then, Captain,” Deanna braced herself. “You’re deluding yourself. If you are truly unaffected now, I can tell you from experience, it’s only a matter of time before you are affected. Are you willing to allow that to happen? Because when it does, I will relieve you of command.” His jaw muscles bulged as he clenched his teeth. Deanna sensed his immense effort to stay in control. Only the closing of his eyes showed just what a struggle it was. He took a deep breath, opened his eyes and said succinctly, “I see no need for your continuing interest in what I consider a private matter between Doctor Crusher and myself. I would appreciate it, Counsellor, if you would mind your own business. It is not your place to tell me how to handle my private life or for that matter, by extension, how to do my job.” There it was. Refusal. Denial. Deanna sighed. It was so predictable, so very pathetic. “I have explained,” She said quietly, “Why this is not purely a private matter, Captain, because it impacts on your ability to command. I would be remiss if I didn’t compel you to attend counselling.” He rose slowly, at pace with his anger as it seeped out from between the walls of his mental barriers. Such was the force of his fury; Deanna closed her eyes and frowned as she was buffeted by it. Now standing behind his desk, his face was totally devoid of expression, but his darkly glittering eyes told Deanna all she needed to know. “Get out.” Softly said, but barely controlled. Frightening. The petite woman came to her feet and, displaying remarkable courage, stared boldly into her Captain’s eyes. “I’ll leave, Captain, but this is not over. You have an appointment with me later today, I expect you to keep it.” Deanna felt his hot, venomous glare on her back as she walked briskly from the room. Once outside, she ignored Will’s questioning look and strode straight to the turbo lift. It wasn’t until the lift doors closed and she was alone that she allowed herself to let out a long, shuddering breath. Her knees felt weak and she had an almost overwhelming need to sit down. It would take some time for her to regather her mental strength; such was the battering she’d just taken. But recover she must. Round two was looming.

For a full ten minutes, Jean-Luc stood rock-like and motionless behind his desk. Then, in a sudden blur of motion, he grabbed his monitor and threw it across the room with such force it smashed against the wall and broke into three pieces, falling to the floor and emitting an acrid odour. Still ferociously angry, he went to the replicator and ordered a glass of cold water. It duly appeared and he snatched it from the slot and took a long gulp, but as he stood, trembling with pent-up rage, gripping the glass fiercely, it abruptly shattered in his hand. He spat a particularly vulgar Klingon curse and glared down at his hand, which now dripped blood over the carpet. Giving the hand a quick, savage flick, all he achieved was to splatter blood and bits of glass over the surrounding area. He tried to rationalise his anger, but it escaped him, he could find no justifiable reason to be so furious. Yes, he was upset over what had happened between him and Beverly and yes, he didn’t appreciate what he thought of as Deanna’s insensitive interference, but the fury he was feeling seemed to be way out of proportion. He’d been through worse things, he told himself. All he needed was to be left alone. And time. Yes, he just needed some time to find his equilibrium. Faced with the unavoidable fact that he now had to present himself to sickbay only made him feel sick with more baseless anger. Clenching his teeth he growled and curled his damaged hand into a fist, which he drove forcefully into the wall. The added pain helped to centre him. He closed his eyes and regulated his ragged breathing. It took several long minutes, but eventually he gained control. Refusing to look at his hand, he replicated a handkerchief and wrapped it around the worst of the cuts. Then, quashing his humiliation, walked steadily from his office and to the lift, saying mildly, “You have the Bridge, Commander.” Will didn’t get the opportunity to reply, his Captain was gone. Beverly was in her office when Jean-Luc arrived. It was usual practice for the CMO to treat the Captain, but on this occasion Jean-Luc had quietly requested the nurse who first saw him to get the duty Doctor and not bother the boss. The nurse had heard the gossip concerning the pair and, although she obeyed Jean-Luc and summoned Doctor Leonski, she also went to Beverly’s office and quietly informed her that the Captain had been injured and had requested the duty Doctor. Beverly waited only a few minutes before slowly rising from her desk and going into the main room. There, standing at a biobed, his damaged hand resting under a bright light while the doctor worked on it was Jean-Luc. She took a moment to study him, noting his weight loss and the apparent tension in his posture. She silently debated whether or not to approach him, but in the end decided it would cause too much trouble. Besides, not only would she

make her duty Doctor feel uncomfortable, it would provide a rich source of gossip for all the eyes that were watching with keen interest. She went back to her office, knowing she would be able to access his records to find out just what had happened to his hand. In the pit of her stomach she knew it was no accident.

It was sixteen-thirty, two hours past Jean-Luc’s appointment time. Although Deanna hadn’t said what time his appointment was, she knew all he had to do was ask the computer. She’d been monitoring him, but such was her mental fatigue after their earlier meeting, she was unaware of his uncharacteristic demonstration of his anger. She was about to summon him when she became aware of his approach. He seemed calm, but that said nothing about his real feelings. She was ready when the door chimed. Nothing was said as he entered. He walked straight in and took a seat, sitting well back in the chair and crossing his legs. Deanna sighed to herself. “Phase two.” She thought grimly. “Now he’s projecting controlled nonchalance. He thinks he can reason his way out of it.” She sighed again. “Oh, Captain. Why do you bother?” The inevitable predictability of his behaviour made Deanna sad. If only he’d just admit it! You’re hurting, you’re in tremendous pain! You feel betrayed and abandoned. You’re confused and lost. Why don’t you just say it! Why do you make it so hard? For both of us! Instead, Deanna was bound by convention and her knowledge of the man to go through the motions. It was tedious, but if she persisted she might have a chance to help. In keeping with the mood, Deanna said politely, “Thank you for coming, Captain.” But then she added tightly, “I had begun to think you weren’t going to come.” If her comment or her tone bothered him he gave no indication. He offered a cold smile that didn’t reach his eyes and said affably, “Well, under the circumstances, I thought it best.” Oh, yes, thought Deanna. Make it sound like it was your idea. To the captain, Deanna smiled, but like Jean-Luc, it was strained. “Would you like to tell me how you’re feeling?”

He frowned but kept eye contact. “I suppose it’s true that recent events have caused me to feel somewhat unsettled, but I’m sure with the passage of time, I’ll regain my balance.” “Unsettled, Captain?” Deanna had to resist the urge to roll her eyes. What an understatement! “Really? I would’ve thought you’d feel something a lot stronger than that!” She narrowed her eyes and dug a little deeper. “You have waited a very long time for a relationship with Beverly. It must have been devastating for you when she walked out.” He shrugged diffidently, making Deanna grudgingly admire his act, but despise him for it. “These things happen, Counsellor.” “Still, Captain, it must be very upsetting. You had such high hopes for the relationship.” He shrugged again but Deanna both felt and saw his calm exterior slipping. “Perhaps we just weren’t meant to stay together.” There was an edge to his voice and Deanna picked up on it. “Why do you say that, Captain?” She asked carefully, keenly watching and sensing. “You two have known each other for decades. It’s not as if you were strangers to one another. I would’ve thought taking your already well-established friendship into a committed relationship was a logical step. Certainly there didn’t seem to be any reason why it wouldn’t work.” She watched as he took a deep breath, held it for a second or two, then slowly let it out. He was maintaining a grip on his emotions, but it was becoming tenuous. “Yes, well you may be right, but who knows how these things happen? The important thing is that we’ve made a clean break and I’m sure Doctor Crusher will feel as I do that with time, everything will be fine.” “I wasn’t aware there had been a clean break, Captain. In fact I don’t see any evidence of acceptance of the situation from either of you.” “Your point, Counsellor?” He was beginning to feel angry, his act losing its credibility. “My point is, Captain, if you don’t face what’s happened and address the cause, there’ll be no end to your sorrow or anger, no end to feelings of betrayal and loss. Do you want to keep feeling those things?” He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I’m sure, with time...” Deanna interrupted. “You don’t have the luxury of time, Captain! This will fester and eat at you like cancer!” He bowed his head and closed his eyes. In the ensuing silence, Deanna said quietly, “Do you still love Beverly?” He didn’t look up and he barely whispered, but Deanna heard him clearly and she felt the emotion that was ripping him apart. “Yes. Oh, God, yes.” “And you know that Beverly still loves you?” “Yes, at least I hope so.” “Then I have only one question for you. Are you willing to try and salvage your relationship?” When he looked up his expression was so stricken, Deanna almost gasped. “Yes. If it’s possible.” The Counsellor gathered herself. “Good. I can help, Captain, but you’ve got to let me. I know you trust me and I know it’ll be hard for you, but with so much at stake, you’re going to have to let me in. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.” He nodded mutely and Deanna felt a melange of emotions rolling off him. Sorrow tinged with hope were uppermost. She knew that in his present state further counselling would be counterproductive. He needed time on his own to process what she’d said. “That’s enough for now, Captain. I want you to take a couple of days off. Get some rest if you can and we’ll talk again.” He nodded again and climbed to his feet. It was very rare to see the captain displaying anything but correct military posture but he seemed smaller and older, somehow bowed by the weight he carried. He gave Deanna a long, measured look and she couldn’t discern what was in his eyes. Indeed, she was unable to correctly identify his emotions either. He left and Deanna was left wondering just how much he was going to share with her.

She sighed and bowed her head. “Well, I suppose that depends on how much he wants Beverly back.” As much as she wanted to help, she didn’t relish the coming weeks.

Deanna hadn’t seen Beverly for a few days, so the two women met in Beverly’s quarters to share dinner. The doctor was subdued, expected under the circumstances, but Deanna felt saddened by the drastic departure from her usual warm, friendly self. Seeing her two dear friends so deeply grief stricken made Deanna even more determined to do everything in her power to help. After the meal, of which Deanna noticed Beverly ate very little, they settled on the sofa and sipped a glass of wine. Deanna recognised the label on the bottle as coming from the Picard vineyards, but she refrained from mentioning it. As Beverly poured a second glass for herself, she finally acknowledged the bottle’s label and snorted. “You know, he’s everywhere.” She sighed, shaking her head and waving her hand. “I’ve been having trouble sleeping and every damned book I picked up, he’d given me!” Deanna smiled and tried to see if she could open Beverly up a little. “It’s inevitable, I suppose. When you’ve known someone as long as you’ve known the Captain, things like that are bound to happen.” “Yeah, I guess, but Jesus! It’s not as if I need reminding!” They were quiet for a time, each sipping their wine. Eventually Beverly asked softly, “How is he?” It was what Deanna had been waiting for. “About what you’d expect. Morose, withdrawn.” “Angry?” Tilting her head, Deanna asked carefully, “Why do you ask that? Why would you think he’d be angry? It’s not his usual reaction to emotional trauma.”

Beverly didn’t answer immediately. She stared into her wine and contemplated her reply. With a sigh, she said quietly, “He came into sickbay day before yesterday. Lacerations and two broken bones in his right hand.” Deanna sat up, her eyes sharp. “Did you treat him?” “Oh, God no!” Beverly made light of it, but Deanna easily felt her hurt and sorrow. “No, he requested the duty Doctor. Brain Leonski treated him, I just read the report later.” “And what did he say had caused the injuries?” Beverly snorted, and rubbed her brow. “Our illustrious Captain didn’t give an explanation, Deanna. In fact he refused point blank. Poor Brian had to suffer the arrogant prick’s insufferable pulling of rank. It was left to Brian to speculate!” Beverly was using anger as a way to cover her anguish. “So what did Brian say?” “Self inflicted.” Beverly snorted again. “Can you believe it, Dee? He couldn’t raise enough emotion to save our relationship, yet he gets angry enough to hurt himself! Jesus!” “You don’t mean that, Beverly.” Deanna said softly. “You know him better than anyone. You know him, Beverly, you know what drives him. And you know just how desperate he must’ve been to resort to anything like hurting himself. But even so, I don’t believe it was deliberate. And I don’t think you do either.” Beverly drained her glass and reached for the bottle to refill it. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right, but still.” Deanna decided it was time to redirect her focus. “You haven’t told me how you’re feeling.” Having filled her glass, Beverly sat back and let her head rest on the cushioned back of the sofa, balancing her glass on her chest.

“How do I feel?” She grunted softly. “Numb That’s how feel, Dee, numb. Totally devoid of any feeling. And you know what? I think I like it!” “It’s normal and to be expected, Beverly.” Deanna said kindly. “You’re going through a terrible emotional trauma and your way of dealing with it is to hide.” “Hide? I’m not hiding, Deanna.” Beverly said derisively. “Aren’t you?” Deanna took the sting out of the question by smiling. “Beverly I know you. Please don’t try to deflect me. I feel your withdrawal.” Beverly took another sip of her wine and typically changed the subject. “So you’ve talked to him.” Sighing, Deanna agreed. “Yes.” “So what do you think?” “About what?” Deanna felt the fear when Beverly asked, “Is there any hope?” She tried to sound unconcerned but the fear bled through. “There’s always hope, Beverly.” That brought a glare and a flash of the old Beverly. “Oh, Jesus, Deanna! I expect more from you than bloody clichés.” Deanna’s soft chuckle made Beverly glare again, but there was no real venom in it. “Damn you, Deanna.” Beverly huffed amicably. They were quiet for a time before Beverly said softly, “The last time we tried to make love, he was impotent.” “Has that ever happened before?” Deanna asked cautiously. “No, at least not with me and he’s never said it’d happened before.” Beverly shrugged and pulled the corners of her mouth down. “Of course he’d probably not say anything about any past trouble in that area...”

Deanna gently patted Beverly’s arm. “Let it go, Beverly, you’re over analysing. It doesn’t matter, does it? I mean, unless there’s a medical reason for it, I’d feel safe in saying it was probably due to stress.” “Yeah, probably...” Beverly said distractedly. “Beverly, you’re putting too much emphasis on it.” With a deep sigh, Beverly offered a rueful, sad smile. “I know, but it was our last attempt at intimacy. If we’re never to get back together again, I’d like to have a better memory than that disaster.” “Beverly, the last time we spoke you were feeling confident. Don’t lose hope! We’ve only just started.” Her smile was sad, but at least she tried. “I know, Dee. Don’t mind me, I’m just feeling a little depressed.” “I’m aware of that.” Deanna said wryly. Then she asked enticingly, “How about some chocolate?” Shaking her head, Beverly snorted. “You go right ahead. I’ll stick to wine, if you don’t mind.” Having failed at getting Beverly to join her in a chocolate feast, the sweet confection she’d replicated lost its allure. Deanna stayed only half an hour more before she left. Beverly had cheered up a little and the counsellor felt a little more confident about her mental state. As she walked back to her cabin, she sensed Will waiting for her. It brought a welcome sense of happiness and she quickened her step. They would talk and make love and by morning she would feel better. It was a great pity her friends couldn’t share in such a simple, human connection themselves.

An hour later, Beverly, lying in bed felt a deep sharp, quite severe pain on one side of her lower abdomen. It passed and she heaved a sigh of relief. It was the third time it had happened that day and she sighed irritably at the thought of having to have it checked out in the morning. Slightly tipsy from the wine, she fell into a fitful sleep. When Beverly didn’t report for duty next morning it was assumed she was taking the morning off, although it was most unusual for her to not inform her staff. Deanna had been monitoring her friend and frowned at the depth of Beverly’s sleep. Suspicious, she lifted her head and asked, “Computer, location of Doctor Crusher?” “Doctor Crusher is in her quarters.” “Is she asleep?” “Inconclusive data.” “Explain.” “Bio rhythms and brain activity are not consistent with any known form of sleep, however, indications are Doctor Crusher is not fully conscious.” Deanna didn’t hesitate. Taking off at a full run, she yelled as she flew towards the lift, “Medical emergency in Doctor Crusher’s quarters!” Using her override to enter, Deanna found Beverly semi-conscious in bed. She could smell the coppery odour of blood. Stripping back the covers, Beverly’s legs, nightie and sheets were soaked in gore. The medics arrived and very quickly beamed Beverly to sickbay. By the time Deanna had made her way there, Beverly was in the operating theatre. The diagnosis had already been made. It was an ectopic pregnancy. Not only had Beverly lost the baby, she had very nearly bled to death. Having heard the emergency call from the Bridge, Jean-Luc arrived soon after Deanna. He looked terrible, but he strode up to Deanna and asked, “Counsellor, what’s happened?” Gently taking his elbow, Deanna ushered him into Beverly’s office. “I’m not convinced I should be telling you this, Captain, but I found Beverly in bed in her quarters, lying in a pool of blood. She has suffered an ectopic pregnancy. She has lost the

baby and almost her life. She’s in theatre now and I think it would be helpful if you were here when she wakes up.” Jean-Luc blanched and was trying to understand. “Beverly was pregnant?” “Yes, but she probably wouldn’t have known.” “And what kind of pregnancy was it?” Deanna sighed, this was so hard. “Ectopic.” “And that is what, exactly?” “That is when the fertilised egg doesn’t make it into the uterus, but sticks in one of the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies are rarely ever viable, Captain. Beverly’s body suffered a spontaneous abortion, but it invariably caused a haemorrhage. She very nearly bled to death.” “So she didn’t deliberately...” “No! As I said, she wouldn’t have known she was pregnant.” Jean-Luc sat so heavily the seat skittered sideways. “Was it my fault?” Deanna frowned in confusion. ”I’m not sure I know what you’re asking, Captain. Are you asking if it was your child?” He looked up, his eyes sunken and haunted. “No, I’m thinking more along the lines of genetics. I am significantly older than Beverly. Perhaps my sperm is...” “No, Captain, it has nothing to do with your age, in fact a man’s age has no bearing on the quantity or quality of his sperm.” “Then why...?” “Just bad luck. It happens sometimes.”

“What about her implant?” Deanna shrugged. “Beverly’s menopausal, Captain. She probably thought she didn’t need it any more.” “God. When will she be out of surgery?” “Soon, it’s a relatively straightforward procedure. The only thing that’ll keep her here for a while is the blood replacement.” Jean-Luc nodded, then seemed to have a thought. “Will this prevent her from conceiving again?” “Not necessarily, provided the surgery is uncomplicated. Her age would have to be taken into account and having experienced one ectopic pregnancy sometimes causes the propensity for another, but there are things that can be done to prevent that.” He seemed thoughtful and more engaged than she’d seen him in days. “Would you like to wait outside with me, Captain?” He shook his head, then said quietly, “I’ll wait in my private room. Have her brought there to recover.” Surprised, but pleased, Deanna nodded. “Very well, Captain.”

Each time the foul smelling, hideous alien shoved himself into Meredith, her body jerked up the ratty, bug-infested mattress. His grunting only added to her disgust for the creature, but he paid well and that was all that mattered. Unfortunately, the alien was capable of ejaculating several times before he was sated and each time Meredith had to leave the bed, wash her genitals and remove the protective, acid resistant sheath from her vagina and replace it with a new one. All the bodily fluids of the alien consisted of a strong acid. Her

eyes were closed when she felt her shoulder begin to sting badly. Her eyes snapped open and she shouted, “Stop fucking licking me! You know damned well what it does to my skin!” He didn’t listen, too intent on his approaching orgasm. He grunted loudly bent his head and bit her shoulder so hard he drew blood. “You fucker!” Meredith shrieked. Placing her hands on his oddly concave chest, she shoved hard, wincing as his grotesquely shaped penis was pulled out. Not wanting to look at it, she hurried to the filthy bathroom and washed the bite wound with copious amounts of water. The water wasn’t exactly clean, but she had some meagre medical supplies and knew she could treat any mild infection. The most important thing was to wash off the acid. Knowing she had to return to the bed and the impatiently waiting alien made her very angry and that was always going to be very dangerous for her client. “Come on, bitch! I’m hard again!” Putting in a new sheath, she went back and as soon as she was within reach, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her down. “I want to fuck you up your arse.” “No way you sick fuck. You paid for straight sex. No anal, no oral.” “Come on, I’ll give you two more bars.” It was tempting. Two more bars of latinum would be very handy indeed. She’d been making a lot of money the only way a female could in this settlement. On her back with her legs spread. Her current client was the eighth for that day and she was very sore. But the latinum was piling up very quickly. Soon she would have plenty enough for the next phase of her plan. Her train of thought was broken when pain lanced through her left nipple. He was pinching, too hard. “Come on, get on your knees and bend over.” “I said no!” Before she could prepare herself he shoved his penis inside her. Fortunately it wasn’t all that big but it had a bulbous head which flared to a large size as he ejaculated and along the top and underside of the shaft were nodules which exuded thick acid liquid that smelled putrid. These nodules rubbed Meredith raw and he pounded so hard he bruised her. He suddenly

pulled out, making Meredith yelp, but when he tried to force his penis into her anus she lost any semblance of control. True to form, she went very quiet. Surprised she wasn’t struggling or offering any protest at all, the alien incorrectly assumed she was willing. He looked down into her eyes and she smiled a very odd smile. Had he known what she was about to do, he might have had time to escape. But he waited too long, lulled by her behaviour. “That’s it, bitch, open up for me.” Where the head of his penis was poking about was leaving spots of stinging skin, but Meredith barely felt it. She reached up, and spanned her fingers alongside his head, making him think she was going to draw him into a passionate kiss. “That’s more like it, baby!” Her grip of his head increased and he stopped poking with his penis. “Hey! Not so fucking hard! That’s my fucking head!” There was no way he could have prepared himself for what she did. Her thumbs pressed hard into his eyes and she pushed as forcefully as she could. He screamed and tried to pull his head back, but Meredith was remarkably strong. The drugs she’d been taking to increase muscle mass were working very well. Bright blue blood began to squirt from his eye sockets and his screams became louder. She increased the pressure and utilised her thumb nails. His eyes burst with a satisfying popping sound and vitreous humour dribbled down Meredith’s arms. Still she ignored the acid as it burned her skin. Shoving the alien’s body backwards, she reached under the mattress for her knife. All the women kept one nearby. A knife was the weapon of choice here and hers was wickedly sharp. With a quick swipe, she cut his throat and had to shake her head in admiration when he ejaculated as he died. Leaving the bed, she went to the dilapidated shower and washed as thoroughly as she could and removed the vaginal sheath. She then rifled through his clothing until she found the precious bars of latinum. His clothing was tossed casually over his body. The body she would dispose of later, in the dark of night. He would not be missed, no one cared here. It was a distant planet on the edge of Breen space, a refuge for criminals. It was a dangerous place where anarchy ruled and it was a case of look after yourself or die. No one else cared. Men outnumbered the women one hundred to one, so as long as a woman was prepared to spread her legs, the stupid males paid highly for sex. Of course they occasionally tried to not pay, but when a man has his penis cut off for trying to get sex for free, the message is pretty clear and an understanding is reached. After all, everyone had a scam. The women’s was prostitution. Meredith had been there for four months, since leaving the tropical heat of her last hiding place and she figured she could leave in maybe three more weeks, if business stayed brisk

and there was nothing to suggest it wouldn’t. If her genitals hurt, too bad. Her vagina was making her very, very wealthy. Besides, while the men fucked her, she just closed her eyes and thought of Beverly. How her tongue had tasted when it was in her mouth. Its texture, its muscularity. The thought of teaching Beverly how to use that beautiful tongue carried Meredith far away from the rutting men. The fact that her current abode was so disgusting made her decide not to grace it with any image of her dream lover; it would only defile Beverly’s beauty. And what made her day dreams all that much sweeter was she remembered so clearly how fucking good it felt to have Beverly’s tongue in her mouth while she, Meredith Bower was shoving a d’ktahg into the gut of that piece of shit, Jean-Luc Picard. Oh yes, sometimes she got so aroused she nearly came, even with a man’s cock inside her. She went back into the main room and rolled the body in the acid proof sheet. Giving the room a quick once over, she satisfied herself there wasn’t anything too incriminating around. Nothing put a client off faster than seeing too much blood or other bodily fluids lying around. That would mean she’d have to work harder to get the fuckers erect. She shoved the corpse behind a curtain which hid the disgusting toilet, then combed her hair. Her next client was due in ten minutes. She didn’t even consider the fact she’d not worn any clothing of any sort for so long her nakedness was simply normal. Her clients expected it and it was convenient. The quicker the entire transaction took place, the quicker the next client could take his place, his latinum safely hidden away before he got anywhere near her body. She had known what she was in for before she’d even reached the planet. Subtle enquiries, muttered in the right ears and a few greased palms had led her to this place and she was ready for the reception as she got off the dilapidated transport. Word had been sent ahead. New meat was arriving. A fight had broken out between the waiting males, so many species, most Meredith had never seen before, but one thing they all had in common was a penis of some sort and a high libido, which, in the desolate settlement with so few females was rarely being adequately served. She’d been so...busy, two weeks had passed before she’d seen another woman. She was a Betazoid and was quite mad. Why she was there, Meredith had no idea, but one thing was certain, hearing the thoughts of the violent, lust filled men and being constantly fucked had led her into insanity. One afternoon Meredith watched as three males dragged her to the ground in what passed as the main street in broad daylight and repeatedly raped her. She was so far gone she didn’t even expect to be paid. Meredith doubted she’d last much longer and was proven right when the woman’s body was found dumped in what severed as the refuse site. It was only the smell of her rotting corpse that prompted two men to finally cover her body with a thin layer of soil. That night, lying in her filthy, insect infested bed for the few hours rest before resuming her job, Meredith snorted softly and shook her head.

“Fucked to death. Shit, what a way to go.” Although Meredith had never had any sexual contact with a male before coming to the settlement, she had no trouble accepting her role as a prostitute, but she had harboured the hope that she might find a woman who shared her tastes with whom she could at least have some meaningful or satisfying sex with, but the few women who stayed simply had no spare time. Even those who were wanted criminals with a price on their heads, only stayed long enough to make enough latinum to move on. Certainly no women stayed there for the company. And so, as Meredith drifted off to sleep, having learned to ignore the ache of her genitals and internal bruising, she knew her dreams would be filled with images of Beverly, just as she knew she would get through the next day, the one after that and onwards sustained by the knowledge that what she was doing was going to assist her in her plans for a future with the gorgeous red haired doctor. And if in the process she managed to kill the fucker Picard, all the better. In fact, she mused sleepily, she just might do it anyway, just for the hell of it. Once Bevery knew the prick was gone for good, there would be nothing to stand between them.

The quietly efficient staff moved a sleeping Beverly into the bed in Jean-Luc’s private room. He had stood up from his seat to watch as Beverly, dressed in a blue Sickbay gown was made comfortable and the two bags of blood attached to a metal pole. His eyes travelled from the bags, tracking the tubes that ended in a cannula that was inserted into a large vein in her forearm. The covers were pulled up and Selar, who had overseen the work, checked the readouts on the large screen above the bed. Satisfied that all was proceeding well, she turned her attention to Jean-Luc. Before she spoke, he endured her frank appraisal of his appearance, but before she could offer any opinions, he asked, “How is Doctor Crusher?” Normally Selar would not discuss a patient with anyone but a family member or spouse but she was aware of the current situation and at least mostly aware of the history between the pair. Having sent Deanna, who was waiting patiently to one side, a quick glance and receiving a nod of permission, the Vulcan devoted her attention to her captain. “I take it you are aware of what Doctor Crusher has suffered?” Jean-Luc nodded, impatient for more news.

“Yes. An ectopic pregnancy.” “With accompanying haemorrhage.” “Yes!” He said tersely. Selar clasped her hands behind her back. “Doctor Crusher has been fortunate. Not only was I able to salvage her fallopian tube, but I was able to correct the defect that caused the anomalous pregnancy.” Deanna stepped forward and said quietly, “There was a defect?” “Yes. It was fortunate indeed that her previous pregnancy had originated on the opposite side, which is normal. Had she had subsequent pregnancies, it would have been inevitable that an ectopic pregnancy would have occurred at some time.” “What are the long-term effects?” Asked Jean-Luc. “Physically there won’t be any, Captain. Once menopause is complete, Doctor Crusher will have nothing to show for what has happened.” “And psychologically” His tone was worried. “Doctor Crusher has just lost a child, Captain, although it was only a zygote and although some zygotes can be harvested and gestated in an artificial womb, hers was defective. I do not know why, I will be carrying out further studies on the cells. Nevertheless, I am aware of how human women can be adversely affected by the failure of a pregnancy, even one that was...unexpected.” Before Jean-Luc could say anything further, Selar said, “Captain, Doctor Crusher is not the only one to have lost this potential child. You must be upset as well. I suggest you avail yourself of Counsellor Troi’s expertise. You will need to be calm and gently accepting when Doctor Crusher wakes.” “And when will that be?” “Two, perhaps three hours.” “And how long will she be required to stay in sickbay?” Glancing again at the screen, Selar answered,

“If there are no complications, and I expect none, then she can be discharged tomorrow morning.” “Thank you Doctor.” Selar heard the dismissal, but she was not going to leave before expressing her concerns. “Captain Picard, your health has deteriorated rapidly recently. By merely observing you I can accurately surmise you are not eating sufficiently, nor are you getting adequate rest. While Doctor Crusher is convalescing, I am acting CMO and I will not hesitate to relieve you of duty if I feel the need to do so. I would not do it as a punitive action, but as a gesture from a concerned colleague.” It was an extraordinarily open, even slightly emotional thing for Selar to say. Not the pronouncement itself, but the way she said it and as tired and preoccupied as Jean-Luc was, he recognised her attempt to talk to him in such a way as to make him hear her. He gave her a frank look, nodded and said quietly, “I understand, Doctor. Thank you.” This time Selar obeyed the subtle dismissal. Jean-Luc went to Beverly’s side and tentatively picked up her hand, staring at it sightlessly. Deanna moved closer and although she easily sensed his grief and worry, she said very softly, “Talk to me Captain. Tell me exactly how you feel right now.”

Beverly woke slowly, but even so she knew where she was. She even knew, by the slightly muted sounds and the large size of bed that she was in the captain’s private room. Deanna was aware of Beverly conscious state and waited quietly and unobtrusively out of the way while she silently observed. In the hours that she and Jean-Luc had waited for Beverly to waken, her captain had been remarkably candid. He’d told Deanna of his heartache over what he felt was Beverly’s desertion and confessed his struggle to find a way to broach the matter with her. He’d recounted how time and time again he’d gone to Beverly’s quarters to apologise to try and find the necessary words that might bring them back together, but he’d just stand there,

outside her quarters, mute, confused and humiliated. Then, with tears in his eyes, he expressed his grief at the loss of the child they’d created together. Deanna had long suspected, since she’d witnessed his breakdown over the tragic loss of his brother and young nephew years before, that he’d harboured a yearning for a child, but as the years passed it seemed less and less likely it would happen and Deanna knew it was because the only women he wanted a child with was his beloved Beverly, he never even contemplated it with any of his other rare relationships. Now they had, albeit inadvertently, created a child, not only had it been lost, it was defective. It was a double blow and the grief and anguish that surged through the broken man standing by his lover almost overwhelmed the Betazoid woman. That this tragedy had occurred during the emotional turmoil of their separation only made matters worse. Somehow Deanna had to find a way to help these blighted people rediscover their love. It wasn’t that they no longer loved each other, quite the opposite in fact. It was the depth of the love for one another that was the root cause of most of their heartache. Had they not loved each other so much, they would not have been so deeply devastated by the breakdown of their relationship. And now this. Deanna’s attention was drawn to Jean-Luc as she felt then saw his expression change from one of desolate sorrow to one of heartrending, gentle tenderness, something she’d never seen before in him. In fact, the only person to have seen him like that had been Beverly. Her eyes opened and she looked up at Jean-Luc, her face blank. Where Jean-Luc might think she was still under the influence of the medications, Deanna was well aware Beverly’s mind was clear. From what the Counsellor could sense, Beverly was trying to make up her mind as to whether to smile and greet Jean-Luc, or order him from the room. Thankfully she chose the latter. A smile appeared and she tried to speak, but all that emerged was a croak. Jean-Luc bent, placed a soft kiss on her brow and said softly, “Hold on, I’ll get you some water.” He turned and picked up the waiting cup with its bent straw. Manoeuvring his hand under Beverly’s head, he helped to lift her so she could take the straw to drink. She closed her eyes with pleasure as the deliciously cold water went down her parched throat. The straw was withdrawn with Jean-Luc saying ruefully, “I’ve been in this situation enough times to know you shouldn’t drink too much at first.” Beverly smiled and nodded, then asked the question Jean-Luc had been dreading. “What happened?” He took a deep breath and it was then that Beverly realised he was holding her hand because he increased his grip. Very softly he said,

“You suffered an ectopic pregnancy and a spontaneous abortion. There was a haemorrhage, but Selar has operated and all your...internal organs are intact and functioning.” By the look on Bevery’s face, Jean-Luc could see fist shock, then the beginnings of grief. “My God...I was pregnant?” Once again, Jean-Luc didn’t know what to say. The only thing that came to him was manifestly inadequate. “I’m sorry, Beverly.” She looked up at him and frowned. His words were heartfelt, but she didn’t see the grief and anguish in his expression, all she heard was what she thought was a trite platitude. “You’re sorry? Thanks. Thanks a bunch, Jean-Luc. That really helps.” He closed his eyes, wracking his brain for the right things to say, but his usually erudite and eloquent mind was blank. All he wanted to do was take Beverly in his arms and hold her. Deanna knew; she sensed it so clearly it brought tears to her eyes, but Beverly was oblivious. Her curt dismissal was like a knife through Jean-Luc’s heart. “I’d like to be alone now, thanks.” All he could do was nod and with slumped shoulders the defeated and heartbroken man silently left the room. Beverly saw Deanna and said archly, “I don’t want to talk about it, but I would like to speak to Selar. If you won’t go and get her, I’ll summon her myself.” Sighing at the women’s obstinacy, Deanna simply nodded. “I’ll go and get her; she’s probably waiting to see you anyway.” Beverly looked up at the ceiling and forced her tears back by sheer force of will. As Selar entered the captain’s private room, Deanna sought out her captain. At first she’d assumed he’d left sickbay, but she was wrong. He was back in Beverly’s office, sitting quietly in the chair in front of her desk, head bowed, elbows on his knees and his hands hanging limply between his legs. The Counsellor went to him and laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. Jean-Luc rarely allowed physical contact from anyone but Beverly however he drew comfort from Deanna’s gesture. “She just needs some time, Captain.” He sighed and nodded.

“I know, Counsellor, I just wish I could find the words...” She gently squeezed his shoulder. “They’ll come, Captain, once that wall that guards your inner self comes down.” Jean-Luc looked up and frowned. “But...we’ve done that and it didn’t work. In fact it made things worse!” Deanna’s smile was patient, but she felt exasperated that two such intelligent people could be so obtuse and unaware of what was staring them in the face.

“Captain, neither you nor Beverly have demolished that wall yet. You may think you have, but all you did, in actuality was alienate each other by each declaring the wall gone when in fact all you did was pay it lip service.” By Jean-Luc’s gathering anger, Deanna knew she’d hit a raw nerve. “Beverly told me that after the emotional release you both experienced, what you referred to as a catharsis, you made love and it was unsatisfying. Correct?” Quelling his natural desire for privacy, Jean-Luc nodded reluctantly. “And the next time you attempted to make love, you were impotent. Yes?” Now he was clearly angry and embarrassed. “I fail to see what business that is of yours, Counsellor!” Deanna smiled; all he had to do was open his damned eyes! “Captain, don’t you see? The most intimate thing two people in love can do is make love. The very fact that neither you nor Beverly could find that intimacy after the epiphany and catharsis, if in fact that’s what they were, and I doubt it was, tells me that your hidden inner self was safe and secure well fortified behind your walls as was Beverly’s.” All Jean-Luc could say was, “But...” Settling her backside on the edge of the desk and facing her CO, Deanna said softly, “It takes more than a tumultuous emotional outburst, Captain. You and Beverly are alike in so many ways. You’re both intensely private. You’re both in a position of authority and

responsibility, although I do admit your position is more difficult than hers, however where your responsibility could be seen as remote in that you command and your orders are what decide how any given situation is approached and resolved, Beverly often holds life in her hands...literally. And you have both been alone for a very long time, despite the obvious attraction and ever-growing sexual tension between you. So, you two finally cross your Rubicon together and on the surface, everything seems to be just fine. But...deep inside both of you lies the one thing neither of you is willing to expose.” “And that is?” His tone was a mixture of irritation and annoyance. He was very tempted to tell Deanna to shut up and go away. “You’re both as scared as hell.” The smile that appeared on Jean-Luc’s face was cold and surprised the Counsellor. “Too late, Deanna, we already know that. And knowing it didn’t help one iota.” From the man she felt savage disappointment, but Deanna was far from finished. “Oh, I have no doubt you both said the words, Captain, that you both correctly identified the demon within, but what did you do about it?” “Do about it?” His tone was wary. “Yes!” “Well, we...we...” “You did absolutely nothing.” Anger surfaced again. “Well what the hell where we supposed to do?” “Talk.” He snorted derisively. “Oh, I see! It’s that simple is it? We just have a cosy little chat and everything’s honkydory?” When Deanna simply gazed unwaveringly at him, Jean-Luc rubbed his forehead. “Jesus, Deanna, how many times to I have to tell you? I can’t find the words!”

“Captain...” Deanna asked quietly, “Do you really want to find them? Or do you still feel, deep inside, that you actually don’t want to give up that precious little piece of yourself that you’ve kept hidden for so long?” “Why wouldn’t I?” He was actually showing true curiosity. He actually really wanted to know. “Because you would be allowing Beverly to see your true vulnerable self, the self that she and she alone has the power to destroy or nurture. Captain, you’ve never, not in your entire life, trusted anyone enough to let them in that far and neither has Beverly for exactly the same reason.” There was silence as Jean-Luc digested what he’d been told. He then looked up and asked quietly, “Why have we done this Deanna, what is it about us that has made us want to hide, why are we so afraid?” With a shrug, Deanna sighed. “From what you have told me about your childhood and your relationship with your father and brother, I can only assume it was your way of protecting yourself. No matter what they did or said, even though outwardly it might appear to have affected you, inside there was your safe, fortified self, invulnerable and impregnable.” “And Beverly?” “That’s a little more difficult to pin down. It’s not that she’s more complex or damaged than you, but she’s had a child.” Pain lanced across Jean-Luc’s face and Deanna sensed the answering spike of emotion. “I’m sorry Captain, but it’s true. I think Beverly developed her defensive mechanism at Arveda III, but once one becomes a parent, you simply can’t maintain an unbreakable shield. If you do, you alienate your child! You have to let them in. Wesley would have known that his mother had a core, a part of herself she preferred to keep private, but that’s not to say he was excluded from it. On some level he would have known.”

“Then who was she hiding from?” “You.” “Me?”

“Yes.” “But...we love each other!” “Yes, but like you, Beverly is unwilling to allow herself to expose her vulnerability, however, unlike you, she wasn’t protecting herself from destruction, it was much simpler than that.” “What was it?” “Hurt.” “But I would never hurt Beverly!” “Wouldn’t you?” Guilt surged through the man as the memory of how he’d shut Beverly out surfaced. “Oh, God!” Deanna stood and placed a gentle hand back on Jean-Luc’s shoulder. “Now you finally see.”

“Defect?” Beverly had managed to shove her grief and anger aside to discuss her condition with Selar. The Vulcan Doctor nodded. “Yes. The right fallopian tube’s interior was deformed. An ovum was able to enter but it would have been almost impossible, in fact I am astonished it occurred, for even a single spermatozoa to enter the other end to meet, then fertilise the egg.” Beverly sighed and rubbed her eyes. “And you say the zygote was so defective you weren’t able to harvest it for artificial gestation?” “Correct, Doctor. It seems the deformation of the interior of the fallopian tube made it impossible for normal cell division, but I have not yet studied the remains of the zygote, I am only offering a hypothesis.” “Selar, have you measured my oestrogen levels?” “Yes.”

“And?” “Although the levels are fluctuating, you have not reached menopause yet, Doctor.” “Shit!” Beverly muttered under her breath. “Any idea how long until I do?” The Vulcan shrugged. “As you know, Doctor, it varies greatly between each individual, but of course you are also aware that I can accelerate the process at any time and bring about the resolution.” “No,” Beverly said softly. “Unless I suffer any really uncomfortable symptoms, I’d rather let nature take its course.” “That is your choice, of course, but if it is your intent to remain sexually active, especially with Captain Picard, who you know cannot use a contraceptive implant because of his cardiac replacement, then you should have an implant yourself.” Beverly scowled. “Which would play havoc with my hormones and prolong the process of menopause. No thank you!” “Then you run the risk of falling pregnant.” The smile that emerged on Beverly’s face held neither warmth nor humour. “That would mean having sex. Not something I plan to do.” Confused by the continuing illogical, emotional behaviour of her patient, Selar settled on returning to her report. “The surgery was a success; your reproductive organs are now restored. Once your haemoglobin rises to a satisfactory level, and you have sufficient blood volume, the transfusion will cease and I envisage you will be discharged tomorrow morning. I will require you to be off duty for five days during which time I expect you to rest.” “Thank you, Doctor.” Bowing slightly, Selar left the room. Beverly expected Deanna to return. She was unpleasantly surprised when it was Jean-Luc who appeared. Seeing him immediately brought back the anger and grief. “I thought I told you I wanted to be alone.” With growing annoyance, she watched as he wheeled a chair close to her bed and sat on it. They stared at each other in silence, one angry and resentful, the other calm and resolute.

Eventually Beverly snapped harshly, “What the hell do you want?” Jean-Luc smiled, but the sadness inherent in his expression even the angry Beverly couldn’t miss. “Actually, I want you, Beverly. In fact you’re all I’ve ever wanted.” His tone was flatly matter-of-fact, completely at odds with the abject sorrow on his face. Beverly was becoming confused, her anger subsiding to be replaced with a form of curiosity and the smallest spark of hope. Jean-Luc’s eyes travelled from Beverly’s face to her hand, lying by her side. Very slowly he picked it up, holding so gently that Beverly was drawn to say, “Talk to me, Jean-Luc.” Even though two fat tears slid from his eyes, he smiled and offered a soft snort. “Talk.” He sighed. “That’s what Deanna says we should do and it’s precisely what I’ve seemed to have been unable to do.” Her confusion growing along with her concern, Beverly said softly, “Then why are you here?” “Because I think I’ve finally found the words.” “And they are?” He chuckled and shook his head, yet tears still flowed from his dark eyes. “Let me start with a well-worn cliché or two. I love you with all my heart. I’ve have loved you...I have been in love with you since I first laid eyes on you.” Beverly’s bed had been raised so she was sitting up, though slightly reclined. She tilted her head and said carefully, “I know that, Jean-Luc, you’ve told me before.” “Yes, I have. But what I’ve never told you is that loving you has been the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.” Shocked, Beverly gaped, then snapped her mouth closed.

“Why?” He smiled through his tears. “Because loving you to the depths of my soul has finally brought me to the realisation I must give up the only thing that has protected me all my life. I have to give it up, Beverly and entrust it to you.” He slowly lifted her hand and pressed a soft kiss to her palm. “And you, my love, must do the same. For if you don’t, if you cannot entrust me with that which you hold inside, the core of your being that you’ve hidden for so very long, then there will be no future for us. Not as a couple. Only platonic friendship, will be left for us, Beverly and we will go back to the way we were, lonely, unfulfilled and self-deluded.” Tears welled in Beverly’s eyes as the stark truth that she’d feared for so long made its self known. She looked into Jean-Luc’s eyes and saw the terrible naked hope. “Can I do it?” She thought, feeling the beginnings of panic. “I don’t know if I can do this! I don’t know if I can let him in so completely and I don’t know if I want to be so responsible for his happiness.” Jean-Luc saw her struggle on her face and said softly, “I trust you implicitly, Beverly. I have always trusted you, but now I am willing to trust you with my soul.” Blinking to clear her tears from her eyes, Beverly said brokenly, “I want to...I really do...but...” “You’re frightened.” Jean-Luc smiled and shook his head making tears drip off his chin. “So am I, Beverly, I’m scared shitless.” She had to laugh. Under the circumstances, the supercharged emotional maelstrom, he’d uttered an expletive. So Jean-Luc. Sighing deeply, Beverly said ruefully, “I must be insane.” “Is that a yes?” His face remained inscrutable, and his voice soft and steady but his gaze, his dark green eyes were so filled with hope. “Yes, Jean-Luc, it’s a yes. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but for the first time in my life, I am going to expose that which I’ve kept to myself...mostly for self preservation and

like you to me, I will entrust it to you. It will give you the ability to destroy me, Jean-Luc. Use it wisely, for I will never give it to anyone again.” “It is interesting that you say that, Beverly, because it’s the same for me. You can either destroy me, or make me more than I ever imagined I could be. Simply by giving you the essence of what and who I am.” They were quiet for a time, content to simply gaze into each other’s eyes. Then Beverly said softly, “May I offer a cliché?” Jean-Luc shrugged. He had stopped weeping and he had a curious smile on his face Beverly couldn’t recall ever seeing before. “Well, it seems only fair, as I made you endure mine.” That made Beverly snort with amusement. “Okay, here goes. I love you with every fibre of my being.’s not just a cliché, JeanLuc, because in our case, it’s the literal truth.” When Jean-Luc leaned slowly forward, Beverly lifted her head to meet him and they kissed. It was so tender, imparting so many emotions. They parted and Jean-Luc whispered hoarsely, “I’m so sorry about the baby, Beverly.” “Yeah.” She managed, a large lump in her throat. “But it doesn’t mean we can’t try again.” Jean-Luc was so taken aback by what she’d said he stood so quickly his seat skidded across the room as he stepped smartly away from the bed. “What did you say?” He said in an urgent whisper. Beverly shrugged. “Although I’m not keen on fertility therapy, I’m willing to make an exception in our case.” When he did nothing but gape, Beverly sighed and asked, “You do want a family, don’t you?” Still with his mouth open, he nodded mutely. “Well?”

Slowly, as if in a daze, which in fact he was, Jean-Luc moved back to the bed and retook Beverly’s hand. “Do you mean it, Beverly? Would you do that for me?” He was so incredulous. She smiled, tears in her eyes. “You said we had the ability to destroy each other. That may be so, but I’d rather use that kind of power to create something of our commitment, Jean-Luc, of our enduring love, of our admitting to each other our deepest, darkest secrets and proving that you and I are truly capable of excluding everything but our love for each other. And I can’t think of a better way of doing that than creating a child...or maybe two...out of that love.” He smiled tenderly and kissed her again. “And we can endow our children with that power. Freely and without fear or reservation.” He said confidently. “Yes, we can.” “And in doing so, we will not be diminished, but become more than what we are.” “Oh yes! I’ve done it once, Jean-Luc and it changed me forever. But I had thought I’d never feel it again. Now I am filled with anticipation and the delight of watching you discover that about yourself.” This time the kiss they shared carried an echo of passion. When they parted, Jean-Luc whispered close to Beverly’s ear in a decidedly seductive tone. “When do we start?” Beverly snorted and gently pushed him back. “In time, Jean-Luc, in time. We have to rediscover each other first.” He nodded, a rueful smile making his eyes twinkle. “Yes we do and that is the kind of exploration I like best of all. In fact, I believe I excel at it!” Outside, Deanna sighed and smiled broadly. “I knew you could do it, Captain. I knew you loved her enough to take the chance, to risk everything. And Beverly, I knew you’d accept.” Feeling aroused and needing the release of pent up emotions and stress, Deanna headed for her quarters, summoning Will as she briskly walked out of sickbay.

Meredith’s next client was early. He didn’t bother to announce himself, but barged through the flimsy door with force, snapping one of the rusted hinges, making it sag at an eccentric angle. The second Meredith saw him she knew he’d be trouble. He didn’t walk towards the bed, where Meredith was wiping herself, he stalked her as if she was prey and as he approached, he undid his pants. Meredith had seen some very odd penises in the months she’d been prostituting herself at the settlement, but this alien’s was the weirdest by far. It wasn’t particularly large, at least not the shaft, but it was multi coloured and five bulbous heads, covered with pointed sharp-looking nodules and Meredith knew immediately, even with lubricant, which she instinctively knew he wouldn’t allow, he simply wasn’t going to fit. Having taken muscle enhancing supplements, Meredith was now formidably strong, but the alien towered over her and, despite putting up a valiant struggle he soon had his hand wrapped around her throat, squeezing until she lost consciousness. He positioned her on her back, the lumpy stained pillow shoved under her buttocks and her legs splayed wide. He eased his grip of her throat and, while she regained consciousness, he fondled himself making his erection even harder. She regained her senses to find him with one hand stroking his shaft as three fingers of his other hand were buried deep in her vagina. Weakened and trying to gasp through her badly bruised throat, she had no way to prepare herself when he suddenly withdrew his fingers and forced his penis inside her. She felt her vaginal entrance tear then more tearing as the huge multi-headed penis end bludgeoned its way inside. She howled in agony which only seemed to delight the rapist. “Yeah! Take it, take all of it!” Somehow, through a mist of agony so bad she thought she’d pass out, Meredith found her knife. The alien had raised himself up on his long arms, his upper body completely disconnected from Meredith, in fact their only connection was where his penis was in her body. His head craned back as he began to ejaculate. Her mouth wide open in a silent scream, Meredith lifted her upper body and sliced his penis off at its base in one quick sure stroke. At first, nothing happened. The alien seemed to be caught in the physical euphoria of his protracted climax, but then he slowly lowered his head and started uncomprehendingly at the blood that was squirting out of the stub of his shaft with such force it was hitting Meredith’s face.

With a stunned look on his face he said, “You fucking bitch!” He lunged forward, but Meredith was ready for him. With a quick, surgical swipe, his neck opened up in a wound so deep he was almost decapitated. Blood fountained up, spraying the ceiling, walls, floor and Meredith. With his head loosely flopping back-and-forth grotesquely, his body left the bed and took several steps towards the door, one hand clutched to his groin, where blood squirted rhythmically through his fingers, his other hand trying to keep his head connected to his neck. By the time he reached the ruined door he’d fallen to his knees and pitched forward, crawling outside. For ten minutes nothing happened. Then a trembling Meredith gingerly got to her knees, and with tears of pain pouring down her face, eased the severed penis from her body. In complete and utter disgust, she threw it with great force across the room. It hit the chest of her next client. He looked over his shoulder at the body he’d just stepped over, then casually took in the blood spattered room. Meredith herself was covered in blood, some of it her own as it dribbled down her legs. Sniffing loudly and showing slow anger, he took a small device from his pocket, consulted it, then said mildly, “You have one hour. Get this fucking shit hole cleaned up, I’ll be back.” Outside he stepped over the body and stalked to the tavern, situated in the main street. The bar keeper looked up, mildly surprised. “What are you doing here? You only left here five minutes ago. I thought you’d hired the human cunt for two hours?” The few women who were available at the settlement were of different species, so each was known by her species, but all were referred to as ‘cunt’. “Some stupid fucker must’ve tried to fuck her without paying. She cut ‘im up real bad. Shit, the fucking mess! Fucking blood everywhere. I told her she’s got an hour to clean it up before I go back.” The bar keeper pursed his lips and shook his head. “Well, the idiot got what he asked for. I’ve heard she’s a good fuck, but I wouldn’t cross her.” “Oh yeah. I’ve heard she’ll flop around like a fish out of water if you pay her enough.” He tossed back the measure of dark liquid in the dirty glass. Grimacing, he barred his teeth and pointed to the glass for a refill. “I really hate it when the cunts just lie there; it’s like fucking a damned piece of wood. You might as well use your own hand.”

Like before he picked up the glass and swallowed the contents in one gulp. The refill was made without request. He put the glass down, and as it was filled again, he shoved one finger into his third nostril and had a good dig around. On extracting his finger, he inspected the load of greenish globs and wiped them on the bar top. The keeper sneered and wiped the snot off with putrid rag, then proceeded to polish the stained glasses with the same rag. The ‘client’ drank in moody silence for a while before asking, “You got any new vids?” The bar keeper nodded and, without being asked, pressed a button next to the chip reader. The wall behind the bar shimmered into a screen and a pornographic vid began to play. Three Orion women were ‘entertaining’ eight males of varying species. The one thing all the males had in common were exceptionally large penises. Still steadily drinking, the customer said softly, “Turn up the volume.” Both men watched in silence, ignoring the two new patrons who seemed to be so enthralled with the vid they forgot to ask for alcohol. Meredith’s client remarked darkly, “That’s what we should have here...some Orion cunts.” The bar keeper, his trousers bulging, shook his head. “No, what we need are some Deltan females!” “Why? What’s so special about them? A cunt is a cunt.” Sorting at the man’s ignorance, the bar keeper said knowingly, “Deltan females are always on heat and when they are they exude a pheromone that drives men crazy, but the thing is, they love to fuck! They just can’t get enough! You can stick your cock in anywhere and they want more! They beg you for it!” His mood growing ever more dark, the client said, “So where do we get Deltans from?” The bar keeper sighed dramatically and shrugged,

“Delta is in Federation territory. Starfleet guards the fucking planet like it’s made out of pure latinum. They say it’s for their protection. If you ask me, those ‘fleet fuckers are fucking their brains out while the likes of you and me are stuck here in this shit hole with the dregs.” Casting one more long look at the vid, which now had twelve males doing the most amazing things to the Orion women, the client took his time piece from his pocket and grunted. “Well, I’m fucking horny. The human cunt is going to get her visit from me a little earlier than she expected.” The bar keeper chuckled cruelly. “Give her one for me; I’m stuck here ‘til morning.” At the door of the dimly lit room, the client turned with a lecherous grin. “Oh don’t you worry, I’ll fuck her so hard my come will spray out her mouth.” All the men were laughing raucously when he left.

Meredith hadn’t needed an hour; in fact she was ready to leave in just over twenty minutes. A quick shower, and dressing while still wet, she’d gently pushed some torn up rags into her bleeding vagina before stuffing her meagre belongings into a large, heavy back pack. With that slung over one shoulder, she picked up the stiff tube containing the images of Beverly and was out the door, quickly divesting the corpse of its latinum and stowing it in her pack and running even before most of the insects had laid their eggs on the corpse just outside the door. The next transport was due in ten minutes and the terminal, if you could call the ramshackle set of buildings such, was some distance away. At a dead run, Meredith arrived sweating and out of breath just as the first transports had begun. There were a crowd of men waiting, obviously word had got around there was fresh meat arriving. For this reason, the ship hadn’t landed, but hovered fifty metres above the ground, beaming the passengers down. Meredith burst into the office and was confronted by the most corpulent, obese being she’d ever seen. Fronting the desk, she panted, “I want passage on that ship!”

No destination was mentioned. On the settlement, such information was neither asked for or given. “Four bars.” The enormous being said from within some rolls of fat on its face. Smiling and moving very quickly, Meredith produced her knife and shoved it into the folds of fat around what she thought was the creature’s neck and pushed until she felt the knife tip hit something solid. It was hard to tell, as the being’s eyes were so deeply set within the rolls of fat on its face, but Meredith got the distinct impression they widened. “I’m not paying four bars, I’m not paying any bars, but what I will do, is spare your miserable life if you give me my chip.” With its small beady eyes never leaving Meredith’s, its hand pressed a few controls and a chip emerged from a slot. The being plucked it out with sausage-like fingers and pushed it across the desk. Meredith didn’t withdraw the knife until she had the chip in her hand. It was then the being spoke to her again. “I hear you’re a good fuck. You’ll be missed around here. I’d have liked to have tried you out.” It was the first indication of his gender. Meredith grinned and kissed the chip. “Yes, I was a good fuck, but you’ll never know.” As she got to the door, she turned and said, “When was the last time you saw your cock, anyway?” Ten minutes later she was on the transport and five minutes after that the ship left. The client walked into the room, insects already feasting on the blood which was everywhere. “Oh you bitch!” He spat. Out of nothing but spite he went on a rampage, completely wrecking what was left of the hovel. The few worthless possessions Meredith had left behind he piled in the middle of the room and masturbated over them. Then he turned, squatted and defecated. He wiped his backside on the bloodstained sheet, then stalked out to take his pent up sexual tension out on some other unfortunate woman. She would earn her latinum the hard way.

It had been two days and Beverly was feeling fine. Bored witless, but fine. Deanna had dropped by a few times and they’d shared some very productive time talking. Jean-Luc,

interestingly, had not called by; however he spoke via the comm. system three times a day, so when he called on the morning of the third day, Beverly wasn’t surprised. It was just after ten hundred hours and Beverly was lazing on her sofa, still in her nightie. “Picard to Crusher.” Beverly grinned and took a long sip of freshly poured coffee. “Crusher here, Captain. Go ahead.” “Good morning, Beverly. I trust you’re feeling well?” “Yes, Jean-Luc, I’m fine, thank you.” “Good.” He really did sound cheerful. “I was wondering if you’d like to join me for lunch later today?” Beverly nearly spluttered her coffee. “Lunch? You’re actually going to eat a meal at midday?” She heard his sardonic amusement when he said, “I might be motivated if you accompany me.” “Accompany you? Just where are we going?” “That would be divulging too much. However, my invitation stands. Will you join me for lunch please?” Beverly allowed just enough hesitation to make him sweat before saying guardedly, “Okay, I’m in.” “Splendid! I’ll pick you up at your quarters at twelve.” “What should I wear?” “Anything you want, Beverly as long as you’re comfortable. Picard out.” “Hmm.” Mused Beverly. “Cryptic and mysterious. Interesting. What are you up to, JeanLuc?” Dressed in a light blue sun dress and with her hair in a pony tail, Beverly decided against footwear, instead going bare foot. It was something she and Jean-Luc had often done when

they shared quarters. Beverly had been mildly surprised to find that Jean-Luc liked to go bare foot as much as she did. The chime sounded at precisely twelve. Smiling at his habitual punctuality, she was feeling light hearted when she called, “Come in, Jean-Luc.” The doors opened and he stood before her dressed in civilian clothing. He had on an emerald green silk shirt, cut with a low vee showing some of his muscled chest. Tan slacks accentuated his flat stomach, tantalising crotch bulge and toned thighs. Beverly was well aware those particular trousers would also give a very nice view of his tight backside. “Well, you have dressed to impress, my dear Captain.” She thought. “I wonder just what you have in mind?” Ever the gentlemen, Jean-Luc gave Beverly an appreciative smile and said softly, “You look lovely, Beverly.” He offered his arm and they left her quarters. This was a big departure from his usual behaviour in public and Beverly was also confused that he was out of uniform. As far as she knew, he was still on duty. As they walked the corridors, she remarked quietly, “Do you have the Captain’s permission to be out of uniform while still on duty?” Tilting his head slightly towards her, he kept his eyes looking ahead. “As a matter of fact I do. I have it on good authority that Captains can take extended lunches, in civilian clothing, under exceptional circumstances.” Beverly’s step faltered but Jean-Luc gently urged her onward. Slightly off centre she said, “Okay. Extended lunches and exceptional circumstances?” Still not looking at her, Jean-Luc replied, “The Captain’s CMO has been through a very traumatic personal and physical experience. It is the duty of any good Captain, especially one who is so dependent on the expertise of his CMO to make it his business to see that he does everything in his power to assist in her recovery. Hence the extended lunch and the casual clothing.” By now they had arrived at holodeck four. For the first time during the walk through the ship, Jean-Luc turned to Beverly, his face calm, but his expressive eyes were twinkling. “Ready?”

Delighted and curious, Beverly nodded and Jean-Luc pressed the activation of a program that was obviously already running. It was a very surprised Beverly to find herself in complete darkness. Suddenly a bright light clicked on and she looked to see Jean-Luc handing her a powerful lamp. “Follow me.” Is all he said. With implicit trust, she did as he asked and very soon she saw where they were headed. In the beams of their lamps, two deck lounges appeared, a low table between laden with a Champagne bucket in which a cold bottle sweated beads of moisture, two small plates and large platter covered with slices of fruit, pieces of cheese and crusty bread. There was also a variety of cold meats. At his gesture, Beverly took her seat, swung her feet up and lay back. “Where are we?” She asked softly and in awe. Above her was a massive array of stars. The entire sky was filled with sparkling pinpricks of light. “This is Targus II. I visited here when I was a Lieutenant jg on the Stargazer. The planet doesn’t rotate and so we investigated the sunny side first. Nothing much there really, certainly nothing to excite Command, it wasn’t even deemed suitable for colonisation. But my Captain, always wanting to be thorough, ordered the ship to this side and what we found was remarkable.” “What was it” Beverly was now completely intrigued. “Patience, Beverly. Here, have something to eat and drink.” By the light of their lamps, Jean-Luc filled their flutes then Beverly chose some of the food. Jean-Luc’s voice held a trace of anticipation that only those who knew him very well would have heard. “Now, place your plate on your stomach, lay back and sip your wine and enjoy. The show should begin any minute now.” He turned off both lamps, plunging them into inky blackness. Beverly munched happily and sipped her Champagne, but nothing happened. She was just about to query Jean-Luc when she suddenly realised the sky above was beginning to change colour. To her utter astonishment, the sky became a kaleidoscope and in the incredible array of riotous colour, the stars seemed to enlarge, their solitary points of shining bright white light punctuating the melange of hues. “My God, Jean-Luc! How...why...?” “This side of the planet is simply loaded with exotic minerals, but not in great concentrations. The effect you’re seeing is caused by the moon, which will appear very soon and its light will eventually overpower what you’re seeing now. Somehow, and we don’t exactly know how,

the gravitational forces of the moon, in concert with the geological make up of this side of the planet have conspired to load the atmosphere with minute particles of the minerals. They remain invisible to the naked eye and inert until the moon begins to get close enough for its ambient light to ignite the particles.” “Ignite? As in fire?” “No. The process is more like a chemical reaction. The light excites the neurons within minerals, making them glow and the reaction is a cold one. No heat is produced.” “Amazing!” Breathed Beverly. The stunning show began to fade and Jean-Luc sighed. “You’ll see the limn of the moon in a second or two.” Beverly sighed with regret, but then frowned. “If this side never sees the sun, why aren’t we freezing our asses off?” That made Jean-Luc chuckle. “I took some liberties with the program. I saw no reason why we should have to eat lunch dressed in survival suits.” “How considerate of you, Jean-Luc.” The moon had begun to dominate the sky and the wonderful show was over. Jean-Luc switched the lamps back on and they continued their meal. After a companionable silence, Jean-Luc said very quietly, “Beverly, I think I’m ready to tell you everything. What I’ve kept inside for so long.” Sitting up, Beverly swivelled in the lounge until her feet were on the dusty ground. “Okay.” He sighed and bowed his head. “It was Deanna who first made me realise just how long I’ve had place. It formed at a very early age, when Robert first began his campaign against me.” Jean-Luc had mirrored Beverly’s position on his lounge and she was able to reach across and place a hand on his knee. She said nothing, but it was encouragement enough. “It stared at a very early age. I believe Robert resented me from the moment I was born. Favourite toys would disappear or turn up broken and he always made it seem I was to blame and that such a careless child shouldn’t be rewarded by having such nice toys. My parents ignored him, of course, but as I grew, the bullying subtly changed and his sabotage became more and more serious until one day, when an important piece of machinery I was supposed

to be watching was badly damaged. Somehow Robert had managed to set me up and my father beat me as punishment. As I grew older, things only got worse. My father became more and more distant and my brother more and more determined to break my spirit. As an adolescent he would delight in humiliating me physically in front of my peers and God forbid, if I found a girl I liked, he always made sure he either won her from me, or told her such terrible lies about me she would have nothing to do with me. The only source of comfort came from my mother. She was so sweet and gentle and loving, Beverly, but not even her gentle love could protect me or heal the hurt my father and brother caused me. And every time they did it, I retreated inside. Outwardly I did my best to stand up to their constant torment and derision, but in my safe place I nursed my heartache. “It got so much worse when I was about fourteen and my father had begun to make a concerted effort to get me to take an interest in the vineyard. But when it became clear I wasn’t interested and that it was my intention to join Starfleet, it was as if he no longer felt I was any son of his. That of course raised Robert even higher in my father’s eyes and my dear brother could do as he pleased to me.

“Of course you know I failed in my first attempt to enter the Academy. I don’t suppose there’s any point in describing what that year was like as I waited until I could try again, but if it wasn’t for my safe place, I wouldn’t have made it.” “I’m so sorry, Jean-Luc. I knew you’d had a difficult time at home, but I never knew it was as bad as that.” He sniffed and sighed. “There’s more, Beverly and if I don’t tell you now, if I don’t bring it out into the open now, I never will.” “Okay, I’m here, I’m listening.” “Once I was away from home, I went through a dramatic change. I became an arrogant, cocky pain in the arse, and I had sex with anything that was female and willing. By the time I graduated, I had quite a reputation as a cocksman. It wasn’t until I was stabbed through the heart by that Naussican that I finally realised I had to change. When I woke up in the Earhart’s sickbay and I was told I had an artificial heart, I retreated, Beverly. All the old insecurities, all the old fears came back with a vengeance. It took some time for me to realise all my stupid behaviour, all my sexual excesses were my way of overcompensating.” “It’s understandable, Jean-Luc.” He shook his head. “You don’t understand, Beverly, you don’t know the true scope of my sins.”

“Sins? That’s an odd word, Jean-Luc.” “Perhaps, but I think it’s appropriate.” Jean-Luc reached out and took both of Beverly’s hands. By sheer force of will he looked into her eyes. “Beverly, Jack and I were lovers.” Her face remained impassive, but her eyes hardened. Jean-Luc sighed and lowered his head; he just couldn’t bear to see the hurt in her eyes. “You know I loved him, I loved him like the brother I never had, and he loved me, but there was nothing sexual about our love, Beverly, you must believe me! I am not homosexual or bisexual.” He shook his head and rubbed his forehead. “I’ve been living with this for so long and trying to figure it out and I still don’t understand it.” Beverly’s voice was remarkably calm as she asked, “How did it start?” “We’d been in deep space for months and our mission was finally complete. We were on the way back to Earth, but we were so far out it was going to take more than two months to get back. Everyone was so tired, I ordered down time and had the ship manned by a skeleton crew on a short roster so all the crew could get some decent rest. “I was sound asleep in my quarters when Jack came by. He had access to my quarters, as I had with his. He came into my bedroom to see me sleeping mostly uncovered, you know how I tend to throw the covers off. I was wearing my sleep shorts and apparently I had an erection. Jack told me later that he stood there at the foot of my bed, transfixed, seeing me by the light of the passing stars. He told me he’d never seen such a beautiful sight. “Unbeknown to me, he undressed and sat on my bed. I was so sound asleep I had no idea he was there and I didn’t wake when he slipped his hand in my shorts and began to softly stroke me. I thought I was having an erotic dream, then I smelled his aftershave. Suddenly I woke and froze. I didn’t know what to do! One part of me was screaming to get out of bed, to demand him to leave my quarters, but another part, one I was unfamiliar with seemed to want what he was doing because I stayed hard. My eyes wandered over his naked body and I saw he was erect. He seemed to know what I wanted, because he moved without being asked. He lay beside me and continued to stroke me, then he took my hand and put it on his penis and said softly, please, Johnny.

“At some stage one of us got the lubricant out of my bedside draw and we masturbated each other. When it was over, we lay together and it was quite extraordinary. Even my orgasm had been very different. Pleasurable, yes, but somehow indecipherable. It’s hard to explain, Beverly but there wasn’t anything sexual about it, it was more...emotional, as if we had just given something to each other we both needed. “Anyway, we showered and Jack got dressed and went to leave. We’d not said a word to each other, but he turned in my bedroom door and winked at me, saying, good one, Johnny. I changed the bed and laid down and surprised myself my falling into a deep, satisfying sleep. “For the next few weeks, nothing happened and nothing was said. Then, one night I was showered and dressed in nothing but a robe. I was sitting in the living area, listening to music and reading when Jack walked in, unannounced as usual. He walked over to me and just stood there, staring down at me with such longing and hunger. God help me, Beverly, I got hard so quickly I actually felt light headed. I saw Jack had an erection too and without a word he walked into my bedroom leaving me sitting in my lounge chair with a raging hard on. I must’ve sat there for ten minutes, arguing with myself, but in the end I went into my bedroom. In a way it was inevitable. Jack was lying on my bed slowly stroking himself. I lay down beside him but when I went to take him in hand, he brushed my hands away and shifted so his head was at my groin. He played with my testicles then he put my penis in his mouth. I was so shocked I pulled away and shoved him so hard he fell off the bed. He got to his feet slowly with that big grin of know the one...and waved a finger at me. “That’s not going to work, Johnny.” He said. “You’ll like it, trust me.” And to my everlasting shame, I did. I’d always enjoyed women giving me head, but this was so different, I kept trying to get my head around the fact that not only was it a man doing it, it was Jack! And then, just to make things more confusing, when I was about to come, I warned him, expecting him to take me out of his mouth and jack me off. But he didn’t. Not only did he let me come in his mouth, he swallowed my semen. “I didn’t know what to do! I think maybe I was flattered, maybe grateful...I don’t know but still, I didn’t feel sexual about either what he’d done or him himself. I just didn’t feel that way about him. However, the event wasn’t over. He moved up the bed, rolled onto his back and spread his legs like a woman, waving an inviting hand at his erection. Now you have to understand, I’d never even thought about performing fellatio I mean, why would I? But I felt I should at least try to reciprocate. “I continually gagged of course and was totally inept. At times Jack actually laughed and gave me instructions and you know what? I was so stupid it never occurred to me, not once, that he seemed to know a lot more about it than me. “Anyway he didn’t give me the courtesy of a warning that he was about to come, but having a cock of my own I was well aware of the signs, so I took him out of my mouth, with a great deal of relief, and finished him off with my hand. He came over my fist and his belly.

“He laughed at me, telling me I was an ingénue and that as a Frenchman I was manifestly uneducated in the erotic arts. I think I may have said something arch, wouldn’t say that if you were a woman. He just laughed at me and shot that damned grin and went to shower.” Jean-Luc rubbed his face with his hands. “The thing is, Beverly, it’s not just that I had these...encounters with Jack, that was confusing enough, but at the time, I was head-over-heels in love with you! I never told Jack; I mean how could I, that when I came I was always thinking of you. His mouth might have been on my cock, but my mind was on you.” They were silent for a while, Jean-Luc’s stomach sour; sure he’d just ruined any hope they had of getting back together. When Beverly spoke he was both relieved and surprised by how calm she sounded. “He used you, Jean-Luc.” “How? It was consensual.” “Do you remember the first leave after our honeymoon?” Jean-Luc frowned. “Yes. Jack had been granted two weeks leave for your honeymoon, then we left for a long mission. We were gone nearly a year. When we got back we all got four weeks.”

“That’s right. Well, the first four days and nights of that leave, Jack and I didn’t leave our bed. I think bathroom breaks and maybe the odd snack might have got us out, but mostly it was sex and sleep, sex and sleep. Wesley was conceived during that leave. Anyway, I had to go back to SFM, I had finals coming up. I was dead on my feet and I’m telling you, we went at it so hard I couldn’t walk straight. I worked through the day, but I had to stay back to try and catch up on the lectures I’d missed while Jack and I were fucking our brains out. I got home really late and I was so tired. I was shutting the apartment door when I heard these groans. I thought Jack was sick, so I rushed into the bedroom. What I saw will stay in my head until my dying day. There was my husband, kneeling behind a first year cadet, Jack’s cock buried to the hilt in the boy’s arse. There was semen on the sheets and as Jack fucked the boy, he was masturbating him. The noise was the boy, he was groaning in ecstasy! And you know what Jack did? He grinned that fucking grin at me and said come on Bev, get your gear off and join in! Just then he came and as he did, so did the boy. I turned around and left. I spent the next three days at SFM and it wasn’t until Jack tracked me down and begged me to come home that...fool that I was...I went with him.

“He explained that he was bi and that he’d been that way for as long as he could remember. He was even playing sexual games with boys and girls when he was himself only a child. He confessed his love for me, but also made it perfectly clear he wasn’t going to give up men. Of course I reminded him that his partner I’d caught him with was barely a man and he admitted that was a mistake, but apparently the lad had come on to him and he assured me the boy was well used to anal sex. So! I had a choice. I loved Jack, Jean-Luc, no doubt about it, the decision I had to make was could I get used to the fact that I would have to share him? He assured me his encounters with men was purely sexual and that I was the only one he loved, but it was still a very hard decision for me to make. Of course matters were taken out of my hands just before Jack’s leave was over when I discovered I was pregnant. I wanted our child to have a father, bi or not, Jack was the father of my unborn child. So I chose to stay with him, stay in the marriage.” “Mon Dieu! Such deceit. He told me that what we were doing wasn’t being unfaithful to you because I was a man. He only thought he was being unfaithful if he had sex with another woman.” “Hmph!” Beverly snorted. “Don’t think for a minute he didn’t do that too, Jean-Luc. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that Jack was a sex addict. But tell me something. From what you’ve described, Jack came to you. Was there ever a time when you went to him?” His voice broke as he said quietly, “Yes. But only once.” “Tell me.” “It was a similar scenario. Long missions, constant danger and intense situations, then a respite. Tension builds, Beverly, sexual tension. It gets so bad your balls ache and masturbation only goes so far to alleviate it and in those days, regulations stated that the Captain was forbidden to have any sort of sexual relation with a subordinate officer. There was a Lieutenant Commander, a very attractive women who I knew was interested in me. She’s actually made a few passes. I was getting so desperate I’d considered going to her quarters and just doing it. But even as I left my quarters, I felt I was betraying you. I’d convinced myself that I could have sex with this woman and pretend it was you. God...what a fool! What a stupid, stupid lovesick fool I was. I wasn’t surprised when I found myself outside Jack’s quarters and I entered on some kind of automatic pilot. I just wanted release, to feel a body next to mine, to share the emotion of the experience. “Jack was asleep, but I undressed and got into bed with him. I was so hard, Beverly. I think Jack woke as I undressed because I was so desperate I slid my penis between his thighs and his hand went to my knob and caressed it. God, I nearly came there and then. He suddenly moved until we were lying head-to-toe and he grinned at me, saying, “I think you know what to do, Johnny.” A sixty-nine! God, how many times had I enjoyed that with a woman! So

that’s what we did. I still gagged and I can’t say I enjoyed having Jack’s cock in my mouth, but I do remember being happy I was giving him as much pleasure as he was giving me. In fact, I let him come in my mouth for the first time, although I nearly vomited and had to leave the bed in a hurry to wash my mouth out. Fortunately, for me at least, I’d already come.” Beverly leaned forward as Jean-Luc began to weep. “Two days later...he was dead. Happy Jack...Jack of all best friend...was gone.” “That’s why you didn’t stay...after the funeral.” He nodded. “I couldn’t, Beverly. I loved you so much, yet I was responsible for your husband’s death, but more than that, he’d been more to me than just a best friend. I still don’t know what that was, but I can’t help but cherish it.” Beverly got up, walked around the low table and sat beside Jean-Luc, putting her arms around Jean-Luc’s trembling shoulders. “When we made the last attempt to make love...and you couldn’ were thinking of Jack, weren’t you.” He nodded slowly and sniffed. “After we had that outburst, you know that weird hysterical episode, that’s when I started to think about Jack and I began to retreat into my safe place. Somehow I equated the turmoil, the hurt we were going through with what I experienced during our...affair? and Jack’s death. And there’s something else, Beverly. When you kissed Meredith Bower even though I had that damned knife in my guts, I saw you, I watched and I saw your eyes close and your jaw move as you slid your tongue into her mouth and you looked just like you do when you kissed me like that and something inside me snapped. I got mixed up!” He began to sob and Beverly guided his head to her shoulder. All she could do was hold him because she knew when he recovered, it would be her turn to confess her ‘sins’.

The transport that had taken Meredith away from the hated settlement was a dilapidated, slow scow of a vessel, crowded and barely able to cope with the needs of its passengers. Food was at a bare minimum, washing reduced to a quick sixty seconds in a shared, four beings together, sonic shower. Meredith’s vaginal bleeding slowed, but didn’t stop altogether. She changed the packing as often as she could, but even finding suitable strips of rags was difficult, so by the time she reached her destination three weeks later, she was running a high fever and not only blood oozed from her , but pus as well. The odour emanating from her made even her fellow passengers, each unsavoury in their own way, wrinkle their noses in disgust. With her considerable stash of latinum she had no trouble paying for a place in a luxurious clinic. It had been part of her plan anyway, the only hiccup being her illness. The Doctor she insisted on seeing was a cadaverous being with sunken florescent green eyes, long tapered seven-fingered hands and a mop of shaggy blue hair. She didn’t know what species he was, nor did she care. Her sources assured her he and he alone was the one to see for what she had in mind. Looming over her as she lay in the private room’s bed, he shrugged his pointed shoulders so high they actually covered his fleshy ears completely. Without a communicator to translate, she had to rely on the small device he had clipped to his startlingly white coat. “I am not familiar with this pathogen. It is proving resistant to treatment. Where did you say you were when infected?” Meredith scowled. If the translator was giving an accurate approximation of his voice, she knew she would soon tire of it. It was high-pitched and had a whining quality that grated on her nerves. However, she needed this least for the time being. “I didn’t say.” The alien, who was supposed to be a doctor familiar with human physiology, shrugged again. He was used to patients like this. As long as they paid...and paid well, he would not press for answers when the individual was reluctant in being forthcoming. But it did complicate matters, especially at times like this. “I see. Well, if you want the...procedures done you will have to be in excellent health, which clearly at present you are not. That leaves only two choices. Either you wait and continue to worsen while I take the time to isolate the pathogen, then design a treatment, which may or may not be successful, or you can undergo cell transferral.” “Which means what, exactly?” He shrugged again this time pushing out his meaty dark purple lower lip.

“It is a technique by which I remove all your body’s cells, in small groups according to a set pattern. Each group is irradiated using hyper gamma bursts. Of course, this destroys the cells and any lingering pathogens, but I have the ability to regenerate the cells and replace them in perfect health.” “So why don’t you just do that? It seems the most efficient thing to do.” He grinned and the rows of pointed discoloured teeth made Meredith think of some of the more grotesque creatures she’d seen in her time in space. “Because it is extraordinarily painful!” He said it as if it were delightful, as if he was delivering happy news. “Can’t you give me something for the pain?” His face fell in some semblance of sombre sorrow, but the expression lacked any real emotion. “Alas, no. Any drug I gave you would be eliminated in the cells along with everything else.” With a sigh, Meredith flapped a hand. “I can put up with pain.” “I do not doubt you have a high pain threshold, but as I only take small groups of cells at a time, the procedure takes a very long time. Sadly, it is not uncommon for the patient to die, either from shock, or prolonged exposure to unremitting agony.” Staring up at the clean, white featureless ceiling, Meredith had little trouble making up her mind. If she died, sobeit. But...if she survived, her beloved Beverly would be that much closer to being hers. And to get Beverly, Meredith would do anything, even risk her life. The pain would be worth it. Not shifting her gaze, Meredith said softly, “Do it.” She never saw the grin on the Doctor’s face as he pressed a small recessed button on her bedside table. The door to her room slid open silently and a white-clad being entered. “Prepare the patient for cell transferral treatment.”

The alien Doctor had not understated his warning of prolonged agony. If asked later how she not only withstood the seemingly ceaseless agony, but somehow, despite the odds survive it, the only explanation she would be able to give was her ability to focus every atom of her being on one single image, one single thought. Beverly. It was ironic in a way. Beverly’s profession, indeed her life’s passion had been medicine, but more than that, being a healer and the ultimate act of a healer was the saving of lives. So, even though Beverly was completely unaware of it, she fulfilled her vocation and vicariously saved Meredith’s life by sustaining her through the most hideous time of her life. The only problem with this was that the life saved was one which was hell bent on destroying everything Beverly held dear in the perverted belief that the red headed doctor would not only be happy with Meredith, but want to be with her in the first place. Having been immobilised within a stasis field during the procedure, Meredith had screamed and screamed until her voice was ruined. Semi-conscious and almost delirious, once the last group of cells had been treated and replaced, the incoherent woman was taken into a quiet room and given a powerful sedative. She slept for two days and her rise to consciousness was monitored by the flat, circular device attached to her right temple. The door slid open silently and the alien doctor glided in. His three legs hinged backwards giving him an insectoid appearance. Meredith opened her mouth to speak, but the Doctor held up one hand in a cautionary gesture. “Do not speak. Your larynx has been ruptured. Normally, I would have repaired it as a matter of course, but, judging by the amount you require, I thought you might like to include a new voice. It can be higher pitched, lower, male or female, husky or dulcet-sweet.” He grinned again, exposing his fearsome teeth. “I can even give you a voice like mine! My many wives tell me it is my most alluring feature.” No smile emerged on Meredith’s face. She had swallowed, finding the throat numb inside. Seeing she wished to say something, the Doctor alarmed her by placing all his seven fingertips spread across her brow. He smiled down at her and for the first time she saw genuine warmth in his eyes. “Just think it, I will hear you.” Meredith frowned as the torrent of words formed in her mind. She had a lot to say.

Twenty long, silent minutes had passed. Beverly had taken her arms from JeanLuc, letting her hands lay on her lap as they sat side-by-side, shoulders touching as Beverly leaned against him, her head resting on his shoulder. Jean-Luc sat with his hands clasped loosely between his knees, head bowed. He had stopped weeping some time ago. Eventually, Beverly sighed. “Do you feel any better?” He seemed to find that question difficult to answer and he took so long to say anything, Beverly thought he wasn’t going to. “I’m not sure.” He said at last, sighing deeply and closing his eyes. The darkness that surrounded them seemed like a security blanket, hiding each other’s emotions, reducing the risk of exposure. It was Beverly who realised this and lifted her head to say, “Computer, run Holodeck program Crusher three.” The blackness of night disappeared and they found themselves sitting on the crest of a gently sloping hill, covered in knee-high grasses, the valley below filled with mist. Jean-Luc looked around him, taking in the coolness, the overcast skies and the scent of imminent rain. “Where is this?” “Caldos. I used to come up here to think.” They sat close together as before, Beverly leaning against his solid body. He sighed again and frowned. “That question, Beverly was a loaded one.” “Well, we’re here to bare our souls. I guess ridding ourselves of all that is vile and hideous is hard work, but my question stands. Do you feel any better, Jean-Luc?” Jean-Luc thought about that for a little while and shook his head. “Not vile or hideous, Beverly. Yes, some of my hidden secrets were horrible to me and you but even though I may have ruined any hope of us ever regaining what we once had, not only do I not regret telling you, but I can’t regret what Jack and I had.” He stared at his hands, resting on his bent knees. “I’ve told you what I felt for Jack wasn’t sexual and although you may find that hard to believe or understand, it’s the truth. Somehow...and I suppose from what you’ve told me about him, it was totally one-sided, but I loved Jack, the connection we shared was

emotional, at least it was for me. My feelings for Jack; or more precisely my need to connect emotionally with someone, someone I cared deeply about was expressed in what Jack and I did. That it involved sex was incidental.” He shrugged. “But then now I know it was only me who felt that way. I thought Jack loved me, again, not sexually, but like a brother.” He snorted. “Jesus, we might as well have simply shaken hands.” He sighed and bowed his head. Almost inaudibly he rumbled, “And then he was gone.” Picking at a stalk of dried grass, Beverly idly plucked the seeds from the tip. “You never really let him go, did you.” “No.” He sighed. “I was responsible for his death, Beverly. Not directly, I know that intellectually, but as his commanding officer, I sent him to his death, just as I’ve sent so many others to the same fate. And I haven’t let go of them either. I suppose it is one of the burdens of command and although you can learn to live with it, compartmentalise it, it still resides inside. And Jack, although not the first to die under my command, is the one death I cannot forgive myself.” He turned and looked into Beverly’s eyes. “Do you want to know why, Beverly?” She nodded, but was pretty sure she knew what he was going to say. As it turned out, she was right. “Because I don’t know if I put Jack, my best friend and lover and husband of the only woman I have ever truly loved, into a dangerous situation deliberately, subconsciously hoping to get rid of him, so I could have you!” “God, Jean-Luc, that’s pretty fucked up.” It was the mixture of irritation and disbelief that made Jean-Luc scowl. “Oh you bet it is! It’s about as fucked up as it gets!” Beverly turned to look into Jean-Luc’s eyes and he saw her anger. “Since when do you wallow in self-pity?! Would you like me to supply you with something to flagellate yourself with? Jesus, Jean-Luc. Jack died doing his job! Yes, you gave the order, that was your job! But as the Lieutenant Commander in charge of the mission it was his responsibility to get the job done. Okay, he died in the attempt...and so you nearly did too, in your successful and illegal raid to retrieve his body.” She rested a warm hand on his thigh and stared at her fingers. “Jean-Luc, I never blamed you for Jack’s death, you know that, you’ve known that all along. This...self condemnation is all about guilt, but not guilt over the circumstances of Jack’s death, but what you shared with him in life. You say what you felt for Jack wasn’t sexual, that what you shared wasn’t sexual, but your words are at odds with your heart.” He frowned and shook his head.

“But, Beverly, if what you’re saying is true then is my sexual identity confused? Have I been deluding myself? Was my excessive sexual aggressiveness as a youth some kind of overcompensation to bury latent homosexuality? Or bisexuality?” With a soft smile and a snort, Beverly shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t believe this! God, Jean-Luc, you are the most masculine man I have ever met! You exude sensuality and sexuality and my dear friend, it is totally and wholly heterosexual.” His face hardened. “And yet the last time we tried I couldn’t get it up to make love to you because I was thinking of Jack!” Exasperated, Beverly lifted her hands and shook her fists. “Dammit, Jean-Luc! Think! We were so fucked up! Tell you what. I’ll give you one word that explains that single instance of impotence. Stress! No psychobabble, no analysis necessary! This may come as a surprise to you, Jean-Luc, but beneath your Captainly exterior, you are a normal human male and if there is anything as easily influenced by stress in bed it’s a man! Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of performance anxiety!” He mulled sullenly over that, then squared his shoulders, looked Beverly in the eye and said quietly, but with underlying steel, “All right. Time to lance your boil!” She held his gaze and swallowed to wet her suddenly dry mouth. In a very small voice she said, “I killed a man.” Knowing this was a very significant confession, but not knowing in what context it had been made, Jean-Luc waited, saying nothing, asking nothing. His patience paid off. “I know what you’re thinking, Jean-Luc. In the line of duty, we have all killed. And yes, as a Doctor, particularly given the Hippocratic Oath, killing anybody, even in self defence is not only breaking that oath, but is at odds with everything my profession holds dear. I’m in the job of preserving life, not taking it, but there have been times when it has been necessary. Part of being in Starfleet.” Still, Jean-Luc remained silent, but Beverly had his full attention.

“When I was eleven and Nanna and I had just moved us to Caldos, I was raped. The rapist, once he was finished, told me he knew where I lived and that if I told a living soul about what had happened, he would come in the night, take me from my bed and do it again. “Naturally, I believed him. After all, he had just demonstrated his complete power over me. I hid my injuries and tried to live with the ever-constant fear. My Nanna was a loving woman, gentle and caring, but very busy, being the only healer in the fledgling colony. So I guess she didn’t notice when I became withdrawn. Of course she may have noticed and put it down to depression, what happened at Arveda III, the loss of my parents...well let’s just say she never put my behaviour down to anything like sexual assault” Although Beverly smiled it did not reach her eyes. “If it had ended there, maybe what happened later might not have occurred, but that bastard rapist sought me out and on three more occasions over a period of four months he raped me again. I was so terrified of him...I would see him sometimes at the market place and, if he thought no one was watching he’d lick his lips and wink at me. It made me feel sick to my stomach. Then one day he turned up at our cottage. He had hurt his arm, cut it quite badly and had come to seek help from Nanna. It was me who answered the knock at the door and when I saw who it was I vomited over his feet.” Snapping off another stalk of dried grass, Beverly rolled it between her fingers. “Nanna finally realised something was very wrong and although she never asked me about it, the man was encouraged to leave the colony. “Gradually, over the ensuing years I put my experiences behind me, but some part of me was always searching for that man. When I finally left Caldos on my journey to Earth to enter the Academy and begin my medical degree, I stopped off at star base fourteen. You may remember it, it had a reputation for uncontrollable behaviour, mostly because the station Commander was addicted to a banned substance and couldn’t give a flying fuck what happened under his command. In fact the dead beats of Starfleet usually ended their less than stellar careers there.” Jean-Luc nodded slowly, and murmured, “Yes, I know of it. It wasn’t until an Andorian killed the commander over a gambling debt that Command finally did something and decommissioned the base and completely overhauled it from every rivet right up to the new Commander.” “Yeah,” Said Beverly wistfully. “Well, I was due to stay there for four days while I waited for the next ship to take me to Earth. On my third day there, guess who I ran into?” “Oh, Jesus!”

“Yep! My dear friend the rapist. And you know what? He didn’t recognise me! Maybe if I’d laid down with my dress up around my chest, my knickers pulled down and my legs spread he would’ve remembered me! Oh yeah, and of course I’d have to be quietly crying and begging him to stop.” Jean-Luc put an arm around Beverly and felt her trembling, but she pulled away from him. “No, I don’t want your pity! Not until you hear everything.” He nodded his compliance. “I was incensed and I cannot adequately describe how enraged I felt, but the more I thought about it, the more the memories came, which had never faded, the colder and calmer I became. And then it hit me! My grand idea. “I didn’t even have to prepare, well, not too much. Picking my dress carefully, I put on a little makeup, put my hair in a pony tail and went bare foot into the bar. And there he was, just as I knew he would be. And true to form, he gave me the once over as soon as I walked in the door. Having caught his eye, I licked my lips and winked at him. “Even though he’d had a bit to drink, there was a spark of recognition. He got up from his barstool and boldly strode straight up to me grabbing my breast and planting a kiss on my mouth. I don’t know how I controlled myself, especially when he said, “I hope you still like to fuck, my little girl. You may have tits now, but I bet I can still make you wriggle and cry.” “I took his hand and led him from the bar. I might as well have led him by his cock, ‘cause he was already hard. I went only as far as the nearest storage locker and took him inside. While I allowed his hand to tug down my panties while his other freed his cock, I took the longbladed scalpel I’d hidden in my dress. He leered at me, his putrid breath washing over my face as he said disgustingly, “I hope you’re still as tight as you were when you were a little girl.” I smiled and just as he tried to shove his fingers inside me, I grabbed his cock and balls cut it all off at the base. To stop him making any sound, I stuffed his genitals so deep into his mouth he began to choke. Every time he lifted his hands to try to clear his throat, I cut him with the scalpel. Of course he was haemorrhaging and blood was squirting everywhere, but I didn’t care. In fact when he died, which was through choking, I was so disappointed it had been too quick. I stood there, staring down at his body, then I methodically cut him into small pieces. Making sure I did my best work on his face. His eyes I removed and pushed, using my fingers, into his anus. It was as if I was in some kind of trance and to this day, I don’t exactly know how long I spent taking out years of pent up rage and fear on his corpse. “Eventually whatever it was I felt...or didn’t feel...passed. That was when the reality of what I’d done set in. I had successfully carried out my idea. However, I’d not given one thread of thought as to how to extricate myself from this rather compromising situation. Spending

years in New Zealand in Star Fleet’s correctional facility wasn’t what I had planned for my life, so I had to think fast. Happily, I’d used a locker that contained contraband Orion dancer’s costumes. I vaguely remembered some Orion women making quite a bit of latinum in a deal with the bar owner. I took my clothes off, bundled them into a ball, and wiped off as much of the blood as possible. Then, I dressed, if that was what you could call draping one’s self in the diaphanous wisps of cloth the Orion women wore, then, carrying my soiled clothing, I cracked open the door and made sure I hobbled as if I’d just had the fuck of a lifetime. I saw only two people, both men, neither human, who laughed, one suggesting to me that I was in the wrong job if I couldn’t handle it. Somehow I made it to my quarters which thankfully weren’t far away.” She sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Obviously, I was never caught. The body was discovered when someone complained about the smell, but in a rat’s nest like that base he was just another dead body. In small pieces, with his genitals shoved down his throat, but nameless and uncared for. The gossip was that an Orion woman had probably objected, quite forcibly at having given service and not been paid.” Beverly snorted. “I must say, the males on that station were all a little subdued for a while after he was found. Still, I kept a low profile and left just as soon as my ship was ready to go the following day.” Lifting his eyebrows, Jean-Luc said quietly, “I understand revenge, Beverly. Don’t forget what I nearly did to all of you in my pursuit of killing the Borg.” “Oh, yes, I know. But you didn’t become a Doctor and take an oath, the first precept of which is first and foremost...Do no harm! “For some years after that I wouldn’t let any man touch me. Not even to hold my hand. But guess who broke through the ice? Through my so very carefully constructed armour?” Jean-Luc closed his eyes. “Jack.” “Yep. Good old Jack.” She sighed heavily and lowered her head into her hand “You know how I told you once I discovered his dirty little secret I had a dilemma? Well, I loved him so much I allowed him to talk me into a threesome. On more than one occasion.

Sometimes it was with me and Jack and another man, sometimes it was me with Jack and another woman. Do you remember Ambassador Odan?” “Yes.” “When he was placed in the body of a female Trill symbiot, he/she came to me, wanting to continue our relationship and God help me, I so very nearly did! You think you have sexuality identity issues? Ha! Get in line, Jean-Luc, join the queue.” “Jesus.” “Yep, Jesus.” They were silent for a while, each staring sightlessly at their hands. It was a soft snort from Jean-Luc that stirred Beverly, making her ask, “What?” He turned his head slightly towards her, but his gaze stayed on his hands. “Tell me, Beverly, do you feel any better?” Her snort was a little more forceful than his. “Okay, touché. It was a prosaic thing to say and I apologise.” “So you feel like shit, like I do?” “Oh yeah, like someone has hit me over the head a number of times with something hard and heavy.” Jean-Luc smiled and this time when he put his arm around her shoulders, she leaned to him until their bodies touched. “Have I fucked everything up Beverly? Is our relationship irrevocably broken?” Again placing her hand in his thigh, she sighed. “No, I don’t think so, but we’re going to have to start... “At the beginning.” He sighed, closing his eyes and lowering his head. “No, Jean-Luc! We know each other we have all this history behind us! And now there’re no more skeletons. We don’t have to go back, Jean-Luc, we have to go forwards!” “So...there can still be an us?” Bumping her shoulder against his, Beverly said sardonically, “We are an us! Okay, we’ve met some...bumps and I don’t know about you, but getting over those damned bumps has

been fucking hard! But we are over them. She looked at Jean-Luc, gently placing her fingers under his chin to make him look at her. “You and I have the most basic, most fundamental element for any lasting relationship. We love each other! All we have to do now is work out the logistics.” He smiled and shook his head. “You make it sound like a mission.” “It is! You’ve already told me how much you enjoy exploration. “She grinned lasciviously “And how you excel at it!” “I am ever modest, but that is a gross understatement!” “Egoist! But true. Anyway all that bullshit about sexual identity...we know what we are JeanLuc and that’s a perfect fit! Sexually, emotionally and intellectually. Now, you tell me if I’m wrong.” He stared into Beverly’s eyes and it was as if he was seeing her for the first time. He began to harden extraordinarily quickly and at that very moment he’d never wanted has as badly as he did right then. She must have seen his lust/love in his eyes because she shook her head. “No. Not yet.” Before he could protest she held up her hand. “I’m feeling exactly the same way, Jean-Luc, I want you so much it hurts, but if we have sex now all we’ll be doing is fucking. When we’re really ready, physically and emotionally, we will make love! And if I’m right, it will be the most profound experience of our lives because we will know each other like we’ve never known anyone before!” His erection had become so uncomfortable he stretched his legs out and lay back, closing his eyes and trying to will his cock to subside. But he wanted her too badly. Lying beside him on her side, Beverly said quietly, “Watch, Jean-Luc, and while you watch me, take care of your need.” As his eyes wandered over her, she lifted her dress and eased her hand under the low waistband of her panties. The second her fingers met her clit her eyes fluttered and she moaned Jean-Luc’s name. Still he made no move, transfixed by the eroticism of what he was seeing. Then her scent hit him and his penis began to throb so painfully that he quickly undid his trousers, and reached in to not only free his erection but to lift his testicles out. He spread the copious amount of precome over the head and began to quickly stroke himself. Urgently he managed to pant, “Look at me!”

Beverly’s eyes opened and locked onto his. Pupils dilated and their skin flushed. Beverly’s mouth opened and her face screwed up as if in intense pain. Jean-Luc’s jaw was clenched so tightly he thought surely he would crush his own teeth. Hissing his short breaths through his teeth, he said, “Oh God, I’m so close!” Beverly’s fingers moved faster and a small cry emerged. Her body shuddered and suddenly she held her breath. As Jean-Luc realised she was coming his ejaculation overwhelmed him. Through his bared teeth he groaned loudly, his semen jetting over his fist and up onto his shirt. His orgasm lasted for some time, but Beverly came again and again, her fingers seeming to have a life of their own. He was flat on his back, his fist still gently stroking his softening penis as Beverly finally let out an explosive breath and slowed her fingers. “Oh, fuck!” She gasped. “Me too!” Panted Jean-Luc. “The only way that could’ve been any better is if I was deep inside you.” “Oh, yes! Oh God, how I wanted it too.” There was silence then as their lungs and hearts recovered. Jean-Luc rolled onto his side and smiled almost shyly. “You know, Beverly, ever since I had my first sexual experience I’ve always wondered what a woman’s orgasm felt like.” Beverly snorted and shook her head in obvious amusement. Jean-Luc wasn’t sure whether he should be offended, or curious. He decided on the latter. “What?” Her eyes were actually dancing as she chuckled. “When I first started my degree at SFM, I was billeted with three other women. It wasn’t often we were all home together, although where the other three were most often off partying at night and I, being the ice-queen swat stay in, there were times when we found ourselves together with little to do but talk about men and specifically sex. Of course, I didn’t add too much to these...discussions, but there was one thing we all agreed on.” Intrigued, Jean-Luc asked softly, “And what was that?” “If we ever found that we’d been turned into an adult human male, the first thing we’d do was wank to find out what a man’s orgasm felt like!”

They both descended into laughter. Beverly gasped softly as she removed her hand from her panties and Jean-Luc heard her. Before she could move her hand away, he gently caught her wrist and with breathtaking delicacy, slipped her first two fingers into his mouth, sucking and licking them clean. His gesture made Beverly sigh with pleasure and when he removed her fingers and said huskily, “No doubt you’re still wet.” She nodded, feeling the arousal returning. Moving closer, Jean-Luc whispered, “Take your panties off.” Never breaking eye contact she did as he asked but when he went to use his own fingers on her she shook her head. “No...use the other hand, the one with your semen on it.” His eyes darkened and his penis twitched, slowly showing some interest. Complying with her wishes, he wiped his semen covered hand through her folds, watching intently as her eyes slitted. Seeming of its own volition, she reached for him, coaxing, squeezing and stroking until he was hard again. They began to pleasure each other, but Beverly managed to gasp, “We shouldn’t be doing this...we should wait!” “I’m not inside you Beverly; it’s my fingers, not my cock. We’re not making love, we’re exploring, relearning and oh, God, how I love to see you come.”As he spoke those words, Beverly did indeed come. Knowing her as well as he did, he didn’t stop but kept going, pushing three fingers in and out of her while his thumb slid back and forth over her clit. It wasn’t until she gasped, “Enough! No more, no more.” Gently withdrawing his fingers and removing his sodden hand, he rolled onto his back and closed his eyes as he stroked himself, using the combination of her dew with his semen as lubrication. In her multi-orgasmic bliss, Beverly had let go of him. And he knew, having already come, it was going to take a while to achieve his climax. That was until he felt Beverly remove his hand and engulf his considerable length deep into her mouth. He let out a strangled shout at the sudden change in intensity of sensation. He was very sensitive and Beverly’s rough tongue was almost too much. She gripped the base of his cock in one hand and, as he did, utilised their combined fluids to wet her index finger which she slid over and around his anus. Again he couldn’t stop a guttural groan escaping. She was so good at this, he felt his orgasm approaching. Beverly felt him stiffen and pushed her finger deep inside until she touched, then pushed his prostate. His ejaculation, although not as much as the first hit the back of her throat hard, making her have to concentrate on breathing through her nose.

When the last of the spurts had ceased, she swallowed and let him gently slip from her mouth. When he could speak, all he could say was, “Sweet Jesus!” Flopping onto her back, Beverly sighed deeply and closed her eyes just as the threatening rain began to fall. “Ditto!” Smiling to himself, Jean-Luc chuckled tiredly. “See why I enjoy exploration so much?” “Yeah,” She couldn’t quite summon a chuckle, she was too spent. “But God, Jean-Luc, I don’t think I have the energy to walk back to my quarters.” “No problem. You know that Captain who allowed me to do away with my uniform, even though I’m still on duty?” “The same one who said you could take and extended lunch?” “Yes, him.” “Yeah?” “Well, he has the authority to order site-to-site transport whenever he wants.” “Oh, God. I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. What do I have to do to thank him?” That brought an amused snort. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to run a regenerator over his penis which I happen to know is going to be a little sore tomorrow.” This time, Beverly just hummed. “Gladly.” Jean-Luc tapped his comm. badge. “Transporter room three, two to beam from my current position to Doctor Crusher’s quarters.” “Aye, Captain. Energising now.” Once back in Beverly’s quarters, Jean-Luc took her elbow and guided her to the bathroom. He gave his soiled shirt a quick glance and sighed.

“We need a shower, and I need to replicate a clean shirt.” “Okay,” Agreed Beverly. “But then, my love, you’ll have to leave.” If he was disappointed he didn’t show it. They showered together and where Beverly dressed in a nightie, Jean-Luc decided to replicate all new clothing. He went back into Beverly’s bedroom to find her just awake. Kissing her softly, he whispered, “Dinner in my quarters tomorrow night?” “Mmm.” Was her only reply. “I love you, Beverly.” He whispered. She smiled and murmured, “Me too.” Her left thinking to himself, “Well my cock is going to be sore after all. Still, it was well worth it!” Feeling better than he’d felt in weeks, he went to his quarters, informing Will on his way that he was taking the rest of the day off.

Standing in front of the mirror in her luxurious bedroom, Meredith just had to smile. She was naked and her eyes roamed over her muscular, but toned, bronzed body. With one hand on her hip, she put one leg forward, pointing her toes and admiring the play of the long, softly defined power in the thigh. Turning slightly, she studied the firm elongated roundness of her calf. Her free arm she extended, twisting it to see the tendons and muscles slide under her hairless skin. She had no hair anywhere on her body, not even her head. Every hair follicle had been removed including eyebrows and eyelashes. Her breasts had large pads of muscle under them, but special, soft implants had augmented her but not in an overtly feminine way. Rather, when seen naked she resembled one of the ancient androgynous gods she’d seen in her quest to find her perfect image. The surgery to change the colour of her eyes had been time consuming but the results were spectacular. Staring back at her, in their newly shaped sockets were eyes so brightly light blue, they were compelling, but in such a way that there was no doubt that the owner of the eyes was both dangerous and powerful, both physically

and intellectually. Certainly no human who had ever lived had ever possessed eyes like hers. Of course it never occurred to Meredith that she no longer remotely resembled a normal human, male or female. Some, on seeing her even clothed would have difficulty correctly identifying her species. Humanoid obviously, but gender? Species? That was anyone’s guess. What was not in any doubt or could possibly be misconstrued was the underlying potential for violence she now possessed. Her stay at the clinic had been a long one. Along with the body modification, facial reconstruction had taken place. Implants to her cheeks, chin, brow, ears and even her teeth no longer resembled what she once had. She was taller too. The procedure to lengthen her bones had been relatively painless, but annoyingly protracted. Her hips had been narrowed, her shoulders widened and her backside reduced and the underlying muscle tightened and lifted. At one stage she had considered changing her gender to that of male, thinking it might amuse Beverly. Medical science had the ability to reassign gender with remarkable results. She knew that even if she wished to retain her internal female organs, and her clitoris even to the point of keeping the ability to reproduce an offspring, she could still have male genitalia constructed that was not only indistinguishable from the real thing, but would even function, in that she would not only be able to achieve an erection and experience orgasm, but ejaculate! Inside her body and connected to the penis via a tube would be a pouch which could be filled from an unobtrusive valve situated just under the skin, into which she could inject with a white fluid with the same viscosity as average human seminal fluid. Upon ejaculation, the pouch would empty itself in a predetermined amount of spurts. The only thing she could not do, if she chose this path, was to produce sperm. However, should she have the reassignment and wish to produce offspring as a male, sperm could be bought from a collection agency and added to the fluid, which had the necessary sugars and proteins added to sustain the sperm. And there was a huge variety of sperm available. Any species capable of reproducing with a human male was a price, which thanks to her very lucrative stay at the settlement, she could easily afford, just as she paid the clinic with no effort and was now on another planet enjoying the penthouse suite of the most expensive hotel in the capital. The planet was not in the Federation, of course. They didn’t use money...oh no! That was considered beneath their lofty ideals! No, for the next month or two, Meredith would stay in the hotel, paying her way and working on her new body. Her ultimate decision to remain basically female, at least internally and retaining her clit; hadn’t been hard in the end. The Doctors who had offered the options had been very keen for reassignment, given her new statuesque height and muscularity and the alterations to her hips, shoulders and face, they felt a male designation would be the obvious choice, but as soon as Meredith’s mind produced the memories of the stinking, grunting fuckers who rutted in her like animals she quickly made up her mind. Her basic sexual identity had not changed, she was still homosexual, but for her purposes she eventually decided androgyny would suit her best. Besides, once she had her face buried between Beverly’s legs and her new longer and more muscular tongue was

working its magic, she felt sure Beverly wouldn’t care what she looked like; she’d love her unconditionally because she was, underneath it all, still Meredith Bower! Still in front of the mirror she reached down and gently squeezed her Bartholin’s glands, (getting manual access to that was another little...enhancement) and slippery mucous flowed onto her fingers. Whilst staring intently into her own unsettling eyes she slowly masturbated, fascinated to watch as the muscles under her skin began to move and tense, her nipples, which were the same colour as the rest of her skin hardened and as her orgasm approached she exulted in her power and new identity. When the climax took her she howled Beverly’s name, but the hunger, the ever-present yearning persisted even after the orgasm had waned. She wasn’t even slightly out of breath when she muttered, “One day, my beloved Beverly, one day in the not too distant future, you will be mine and then you will know the true meaning of ecstasy!” She grinned at her reflection as she licked her fingers clean. She turned away, then hesitated and looked over her shoulder at her image. “And that fucking piece of shit who’s been defiling your gorgeous cunt with his disgusting cock will be dead.” She strode on her new long legs to the bathroom where she took a leisurely shower, then spent almost an hour slowly rubbing hormonal creams into every centimetre of her body. It was so exquisitely sensuous she almost came again. Although she had an implant that prevented menstruation and ovulation, the creams would keep her skin soft and supple and the nerve ends all over her body, numbering in the millions, which the surgeons had so cleverly increased the sensitivity of, needed to have thinner skin in which to be at their most useful. And that, of course, was while having sex. Meredith’s clit had also been enlarged. She had turned her new body into a vessel designed for sexual pleasure. All she needed was the one person she desired to bring it to its full potential. Beverly Crusher.

Still officially off duty, Beverly was becoming very bored. It was as if her extraordinary time spent with Jean-Luc the day before had released her from some kind of cage. The sex had helped too, banishing the pallor she’d had and giving her a feeling of rejuvenation. However she seemed to be perpetually aroused. Although he didn’t drop by, he called at ten, then again at fifteen hundred. She smiled to herself; he sounded so normal, no

trace in his voice to give any hint of what they’d shared, either emotionally or physically. Just friendly solicitousness. Knowing him as she did, and having lived with him for some time, she knew he customarily ate his evening meal at about nineteen-thirty, but she wanted to be with him. Having checked the roster, she knew his shift ended at eighteen hundred, so she was in his quarters at ten to. Happily ensconced in the depths of the sofa, she didn’t make a sound or move when the doors parted and he strode in, head bowed, PADD in hand, obviously absorbed in something or other. As she knew he would, he went straight into his bedroom and within minutes she heard the shower running. To her knowledge, only the captain had a right to a water shower, she’d only got hers as a favour, albeit slightly against regulations. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander, imagining him washing his gorgeous body. Years of habit made him not dally in the shower; in fact she had taken some time to talk him into incorporating the shower into their sex life. It wasn’t that he was averse; it was just his ingrained training to be able to respond at a moment’s notice to any situation. Sometimes Beverly cursed his rank. He emerged soon enough, casually dressed in dark blue slacks, a white linen shirt, buttoned up the front, but with the collar open and with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and of course, he was bare foot. Still somewhat preoccupied and a creature of habit, he turned to his right, moving to the drink cabinet when he suddenly halted. As Beverly watched with an amused smile, his nostrils flared as if he was picking up a scent. He slowly turned his head in her direction and a small smile appeared, although he didn’t move. “I gave you that perfume two years ago...for your birthday.” She spoke for the first time. “And it remains my favourite.” He continued to the cabinet and poured what Beverly new would be a generous measure of pure single malt scotch, probably the Cardhu. In silence he went to the replicator and spoke very softly, the tinkling in his tumbler proof of his order for ice. Her eyes tracked him as he crossed the room, the tumbler in his right hand of course and he lowered himself into his chair, letting his head fall back and allowing a long breath to escape. Beverly sighed with a type of contentment she found hard to either define or describe. Instead of dwelling on it, she said softly,

“Hello, Jean-Luc.” He brought his head up and smiled, his dark eyes twinkling. “Hello, Beverly.” As he took a long sip of his scotch and closed his eyes in appreciation, Beverly asked, “Hard day?” He snorted and lifted his tumbler, turning it in his hand and watching the ice move. “You’ve no idea.” “Command giving you a hard time? Or is our next mission really tricky?” He chuckled and shook his head. “If only! God, there were times today when I’d have welcomed a surly Romulan or a bloody Ferengi trying to negotiate a price for the ship!” This was something new and Beverly wasn’t sure what to make of it. “So...what’s bugging you? You’re acting like you’ve been flat out all day.” He sighed, took another long sip and lowered his head. “Beverly, all I could think of...all bloody day...was what we did yesterday! I’ve had a damned erection the entire shift that would not go away! I’ve been in my Ready Room the entire shift. God knows what Will thinks I was doing in there all day!” Now Beverly was amused. “Well why didn’t you...take care of it?” “I did! But the damned thing had a mind of its bloody own and kept coming back!” He looked over at Beverly, expecting to see at least a modicum of sympathy, but all he saw was the red head making a very poor effort to contain her laughter. He scowled and when Beverly finally got control she explained, “Oh, Jean-Luc, I’ve spent most of my day spread eagled on my bed taking care of my own...needs. Shit, I probably wore my clit out!” He muttered, “Christ! Now it’s bloody back again!” Batting her eyes, Beverly said coquettishly, “Do you have an erection, Jean-Luc?”

His scowl deepened. “Stop it, Beverly, it’s not bloody funny! My balls are aching.” His expression suddenly changed and his eyes narrowed. She knew that particular look. “Uh huh, Jean-Luc. We agreed.” He closed his eyes, tilted his head and screwed his face up. “Oh, come on, Beverly! For fuck’s sake, can’t we at least do what we did yesterday?” Becoming very uncomfortable herself, Beverly said quietly, “If you knew how badly I wanted to leap over the coffee table and drag you to the floor, rip our clothes off and fuck our brains out, you’d shut up! You think you’re the only one who wants it? Jesus! I want you so bad I ache inside!” Tossing the remainder of his drink down his throat, Jean-Luc rested the tumbler on his right knee as he let his head fall back and closed his eyes. They both sat in brittle silence, the sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a knife. Eventually, Jean-Luc said huskily, “I can smell you. You’re wet.” Equally huskily, Beverly muttered, “And I can smell you, Jean-Luc. Musk and...fresh sweat.” His eyes screwed more tightly shut, “Oh, God, Beverly, I’m so hard!” Closing her own eyes, Beverly breathed through her nose, saying quietly. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll sit here, you stay in your chair and we’ll both...” “No! I want to touch you...feel you...” “No, we stay right where we are! It’s that, or I leave and we take care of ourselves on our own.” He was undoing his straining trousers as he muttered sourly, “Jesus, Beverly!” He was already spreading the precome over the head as Beverly pushed her panties down. As her fingers slid over her clit she winced but didn’t stop. Jean-Luc too was sore, but he paid it no heed, using both hands to stroke himself, making sure one hand went right up and over the sensitive head.

For both of them it was over in mere minutes and it barely scratched the surface of their appetite. In fact, although he softened a bit, Jean-Luc was still half-hard. “Please tell me there’s more?” Gritting her teeth as she eased her fingers out of her sex, Beverly said in an unsteady voice. “Okay, after dinner, maybe we can do each other.” His look was so imploring, Beverly almost gave in. “Oh, God, Beverly, I so want to be deep inside you when we come.” “I know,” She was still out of breath. “It’ll be worth the wait, I promise. Just a little longer, Jean-Luc...please?” He nodded, but his disappointment and frustration were easy to see. “Come on,” Said Beverly, standing and pulling up her panties. “I’ll help you get cleaned up.” He shook his head. “No, it’d be better if you didn’t touch me, Beverly.” Holding his trousers up with one hand and his semi-hard penis hanging outside, he made his way awkwardly into the bathroom. While he was busy, Beverly used the sonic cleaner to wash her hands, then set about laying the table and was at the replicator when Jean-Luc reappeared in fresh clothing. He seemed calmer and Beverly instinctively knew he’d masturbated again. “Okay now?” He nodded and even offered a wry smile. “Is it possible to wear a penis out?” “Ha! If it is, then it must be possible for my clit to be ground to dust!” To that he snorted and they let the matter drop. After dinner he surprised her by sitting beside her instead of in his usual chair. Beverly was further intrigued when he took her hand and kissed her palm. He spoke very softly and with great feeling. “Beverly, I know I’ve already said it, but I want you to know how sorry I am about the baby.” A sad smile graced Beverly’s features and she sighed. “It just wasn’t meant to be, I suppose.” “Yes, I accept that,” Jean-Luc’s deep voice had roughened with emotion. “But we not only lost our child, but I nearly lost you and considering the state of our relationship...such as it was then...Beverly...if I’d lost you...I don’t think I could’ve gone on.”

Confused, concerned and alarmed, Beverly looked into Jean-Luc’s eyes and said softly, almost too frightened to ask, “What exactly do you mean?” He shrugged. “Life would have had no meaning for me without you, Beverly.” When he saw the alarm on her face, he was quick to allay her fears. “No, not that!” He sighed. “If I’d lost you, I probably would’ve retired and gone somewhere quiet to live out the rest of my life, alone.” “You’d have given up your captaincy...Starfleet?” “Yes. It wouldn’t mean anything without you in my life any more, Beverly, especially the way we were at that time. If I’d lost you then, while we were so angry and hurt with each would’ve destroyed me.” Lifting her hand, Beverly gently laid it on Jean-Luc’s cheek. “Oh, Jean-Luc, I’m so sorry.” “Don’t be, my love. But still, we lost our baby and although I know how sad that made me feel, I can only imagine what you must’ve gone through.” She smiled bravely, but her eyes filled with tears. “It’s was so ironic. There we were, almost hating each other, and yet inside me was proof of our love. Poor little thing, it never had a chance.” They were quiet for a time, just gaining comfort in each other’s presence. It was Jean-Luc who said , “Beverly, your offer of having a child...were you motivated to make it to placate me, to ease my sorrow or are you really serious?” Her smile was a bright one, making her eyes sparkle. “Jean-Luc, I can’t think of a better way of making our love for each other permanent than to create a child...or children with that very love! I’m not some infatuated young woman with stars in my eyes, Jean-Luc. If we do this, it’s going to be bloody hard! I’m going to have to undergo fertility treatments and a plethora of tests and examinations, but I think it’s worth it! Don’t you?” His answer was obviously one he’d given a great deal of thought to. “Yes.” He said, but cautiously. “But there’s more to it for me, you know that.”

“Ah...” Beverly grinned wickedly. “Your agenda!” He snorted. “Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that, but yes, I do have more reason than just a physical manifestation of our love in having a child...or children and I have to wonder if the inherent risks to you are worth it.” Beverly considered what he’d said and shrugged. “Either way, I want to do it. I’m certain. The only thing I need to know you want to as well? Are you certain?” He looked deeply into Beverly’s eyes and tried to swallow the lump in his throat to speak. In the end he was reduced to whispering. “Yes, with all my heart, yes!” She smiled, her eyes bright. “Then now, Jean-Luc, now we can make love.” His look was one of joy and confusion. “Oh, God, you know how much I want that, but Beverly, you’re almost menopausal. Surely you have to start treatments before...” “To get pregnant, yes.” She smiled and stood, holding out her hand in invitation. “But up here,” She tapped her temple. “We’re ready, Jean-Luc. We’ve finally reached a point of equilibrium, both mental and physical.” Cradling her face in his hands with breathtaking gentleness, Jean-Luc whispered, “I am going to give you everything I am, Beverly. You will have my body, my heat, my mind and my soul.” They kissed and it was like nothing either had ever experienced before. Yes, there was passion, but tenderness and an ethereal quality neither could define. It seemed to lift them bodily and spiritually. “And you, my love, will fill me, take me and complete me for the first time in my life. I give myself to you, Jean-Luc. I am now and forever yours.”

Leaving the chic office, Meredith smiled smugly. She was now the proud owner of a very useful, powerful, compact and specifically customised, modestly small spacecraft. Her next visit was going to require a certain amount of guile, and, she hoped, violence. She was just in the right mood. Having walked the streets of the capital in her long strides that seemed to eat the distance, she found herself in a very secluded, affluent gated enclave. Showing the computer a false identity chip, the scanner recorded its details, then after only a second or two, the gates swung silently open. She snorted derisively to herself. “Fucking idiots, not even video surveillance.” Meredith had already memorised where she had to go and who she was to see. The thing was, the individual was expecting someone else entirely. She knew he was going to be very surprised. She easily gained entry into the sumptuously appointed office foyer and made a mental note that people who thought a gate and a computer would offer adequate protection really didn’t deserve to live. They were simply too gullible...and stupid. The electronic lock on the inner door proved just as easy to overcome as had the outer doors. The being sitting behind his impressive metal desk didn’t even look up, but waved vaguely in the direction of a chair in front of the desk. “Make yourself comfortable, I will be with you momentarily.” Ignoring the invitation, Meredith continued around the desk on her silent feet and the first thing the being knew about his fatal mistake was when she put one hand across his clammy forehead and yanked his head back, the cold metal blade of her trusty knife, which she had become quite fond of, pressed hard enough against the skin of his throat that it drew a trickle of puce blood. She bent low as the being was quite squat and said softly into the hole in the side of his head where his hearing organ was, “I want the schedule for the Starship, USS Enterprise, 1701E for the next four months and I want it now. If you don’t give me what I want by the time I count to five, I will cut your head clean off your shoulders.” She pressed a little harder and the blade bit deeper, but this rotund, short being had far more nerve than she’d given him credit for. “Five hundred bars. And that’s a bargain.” She couldn’t help but feel admiration. She snorted softly and shook her head, her eyes flicking to her reflection in the highly polished surface of the desk. “ beautiful!”She whispered, making her captive frown. Brought back to the present, Meredith said with a trace of amusement.

“It’s interesting that you think you can name a price, bargain or not. The thing is, what is your life worth? You see, I’m not going to pay you. Not five hundred bars, not even one bar. But...I might let you live if you give me what I want.” Before the being could respond, Meredith put her mouth closer to the being’s ear hole and teased the tip of her tongue into the orifice. “One.” Her tongue began to extrude, not only lengthening but narrowing and becoming rigid. The tip formed into a sharp, hard point which Meredith pushed deeper into the hearing organ. Around her tongue, Meredith said quietly, “Two.” The being began to sweat heavily, making Meredith wrinkle her nose in disgust. His odour was putrid. Deeper into his ear went her tongue and he began to make grunting noises. A dark stain coloured his pants as his bladder voided. “Three.” Obviously in agony, the being slapped his broad hand down on the desk, the noise louder than even his animalistic grunts. “Does that mean we have a deal?” She asked amicably. Not daring to move and in unspeakable agony, he merely blinked. Meredith left her extraordinary tongue deep inside the being’s ear organ for a few seconds, just to make sure her point had been made, then slowly withdrew it. Still with the knife at his throat, she eased his head forward so he could see his hands. “How long?” Her tone was quite conversational. His mouth was so dry he could barely speak. “An hour, maybe a little longer.” “Then you’d best get busy.” If he thought she’d release him, he was mistaken. Not only did the knife stay at his throat, but Meredith amused herself by darting her tongue in and out of his bleeding ear hole, just deep enough to make him grunt in pain each time. The top of his desk became an interactive screen and his remarkably nimble hands worked at an astonishing speed accessing level after level of encrypted firewalls until, after almost an hour and a half, he finally gulped and shook some of the sweat off his face. Lucky for him, none of the droplets landed on Meredith. “You have it?”

He nodded. She reached inside her shirt and gave him an isolinear chip. She didn’t have to tell him what to do. The information was downloaded and he breathed what he thought was a sigh of relief. But his ordeal was far from over. “Now I want you to erase every trace of what you’ve just done.” Panic showed in his eye. “It won’t make any difference. The access would’ve triggered a flag in central Command’s security protocols. They might not know who did it, but they will know someone’s been in and the schedules of all Starfleet ships will be automatically changed.” Taking a deep breath to keep calm, Meredith couldn’t believe he thought she could be so easily lied to. “You and I both know that’s not true. Let me tell you a little secret. I have been to see the Fen.” At the mention of that name, the being defecated. Meredith ignored the sickening odour and smiled. “So you see, I’ve had a download of my own. Look...see? Here?” She turned her head and he knew where to look. Just below her new ear on the left side of her naked head was a tiny metal hole. She turned back, and grinned, displaying her new large, white perfect teeth. “My portal! Isn’t it beautiful?” His single eye looked into her unnaturally bright blue eyes and he saw madness. If he was going to survive this he was going to have to be extraordinarily clever. “I know all kinds of things now. I might even have been able to do what you just did, but maybe not as fast and I must admit...time is of the essence. So, are you going to do as I ask, or am I going to have to...persuade you?” She pushed her tongue into his ear and the grunt took on a squealing sound. His hands flew over the screen and a blue icon appeared. The Greek symbol of Omega. “Excellent! Oh, I’m so pleased. Thank you so much.” She kissed the top of his head. “You’ve been so helpful, I really should pay you somehow.” His head was pulled back so quickly he had no time to prepare. Such was her strength and the sharpness of her blade; it took only three slices before his head fell with a hollow thud onto the desktop. To avoid the distasteful spurting blood, Meredith was careful to make sure the

headless body was pushed back in its chair. Casting a careful look over herself to make sure she was still pristinely clean. She turned and walked to the door. Turning, she blew a kiss at the corpse. “Five hundred bars! Ha! Nice doing business with you.” Happy and humming to herself, her body almost sizzling with pent up sexual tension, she slipped the chip into her pocket and, once in the foyer, spoke to a sub dermal implant in her wrist. “Computer, transport me aboard.”

The love Jean-Luc and Beverly made was like nothing either had ever experienced before. It wasn’t that it was more physically intense or ecstatic, but there seemed to be some kind of cerebral connection, indeed, for most of the time, they kept their foreheads touching. At orgasm, which was extremely intense, they both sensed a blending of their psyches. When the effects of their orgasms waned, they were left in a euphoric state, both mental and physical. Where in the past Jean-Luc had often been able, after fifteen minutes or so, achieve another erection, not only was he unable to, he didn’t want to and neither did Beverly want or wish for more penetrative lovemaking. The skin covering their entire bodies was super-sensitive and lying still joined, they very gently caressed each other, but it wasn’t sexual, it was an expression of their love, another way of proving the evidence of their new connection. How Beverly had been able to so correctly predict this was possible between them, Jean-Luc didn’t know, nor did he care because while they lay together he had never felt so at peace in his life before and, to his immense joy and contentment, he knew innately neither had Beverly. In all the classical literature he’d read there had been hints, clues that in some couples this exact phenomenon was possible, but he’d always assumed it was abstract, the author’s idealised perception of what pure love might...or could be. Never had he ever thought it might be real, that it could actually exist. But as his eyes wandered over Beverly’s face, imprinting her image in his mind as if he’d never seen her before, he realised not only how blind he’d been, but how terribly ignorant! If only he’d seen with more than his eyes, listened with more than his ears and felt with more than his brain, then perhaps this wise, extraordinary women who lay by his side, holding within her emotional grasp his very essence, he might have discovered this state of grace a long time ago.

Morning found them sound asleep, spooned and still sated in a way that left them intensely satisfied. It was when Jean-Luc sighed and tightened his grip of Beverly’s torso that he woke. She seemed to sense this and slowly stirred. As their bodies moved against each other, they both became aware the intense sensitivity remained. Beverly turned over, the sensation making them both gasp. Without a word spoken, their gaze locked, they caressed each other until, after only a few minutes, Jean-Luc climaxed forcefully. Beverly had not even touched his penis; in fact he wasn’t even aware he was hard. His orgasm seemed to trigger something in Beverly; she stared into Jean-Luc’s eyes as, despite recovering from his remarkable orgasm, he still gently ran his fingertips lightly over her breasts. She came just as he’d done, unexpectedly and intensely. He’d not touched her nipples; indeed neither of them had touched each other in an overtly or deliberately sexual manner. When he could speak, Jean-Luc’s eyes showed his curiosity. “I don’t understand.” He whispered. “What has happened to us?” Her gaze intense, Beverly frowned. “I don’t know if it has a name. If it does, I certainly don’t know it, but the only thing that comes to my mind to describe it is...soul mates.” They were quiet for a time before Beverly asked softly, “Do you believe in fate, Jean-Luc?” Still with their gaze locked, he sighed. “I don’t know...I don’t think so.” “Really? You don’t think we were destined to be together?” There was no hurt in Beverly’s voice, merely curiosity. “I have spent most of my life in space.” He said quietly, obviously choosing his words carefully. “I have seen both chaos and order in the minute parts of the universe I’ve seen, and in the science of what little we know so far but one thing is clear to me and that is life is too random for any...plan, divine or predestined. So the existence of something called fate? I can’t make it fit with what I’ve experienced so far.” Before Beverly could say anything, Jean-Luc offered a gentle smile. “Until last night and now. I have no explanation, certainly no scientific one for what has happened to us, Beverly, for what we’ve become. Is it fate? Were we destined for each other? I don’t know.” He sighed and briefly closed his eyes.

“But having said that, I have to admit there is some kind of sense to be made if one takes one’s life’s experiences, good and bad as preparation for something. In some, it might occur early in their lives and in others they may have to wait...” He smiled. “And maybe it’s the waiting makes the end result that much more profound.” Beverly smiled wistfully and gently kissed her lover. Parting, she said, “I have always admired you’re eloquence, Jean-Luc, but I don’t think even you can really put into words what we have found.” “No.’ He agreed. “There are times, not often mind, but yes, there are times when languages are manifestly inadequate to describe some things.” He shrugged. “At least in the languages I know.” His smiled ruefully. Kissing the tip of his nose, Beverly asked curiously, “How many languages do you know?” “You mean fluently?” “Uh huh.” “Oh, well. far as Earth’s are concerned, French...” Beverly sniggered and rolled her eyes. “Of course.” He grinned. “Standard, called English when I was young, Italian, Greek, ancient and modern, Latin, Spanish, German and a smattering of Mandarin.” Obviously impressed, Beverly pulled down her mouth and nodded. “And other worlds?” “Within the Federation?” Rolling her eyes again, she sighed. “Yes.” “Betazed, Vulcan, Andorian, Tellarite, Klingon and I can get by in Bolian and Ferengi...although they’re not really in the Federation, they just have a bloody annoying habit of showing up all the damned time.” Now truly impressed, Beverly had to ask, “And outside the Federation?”

Feeling a little embarrassed, Jean-Luc shrugged. “Ah...I can get by in Cardassian, Romulan and Tholian.” “How is it you can do that? My God, that’s...nineteen languages!” He shrugged again. “At home, until I was about five, I spoke nothing but French. My father insisted on it and wouldn’t allow either Robert or me to utilise the standard introductory lessons in English. It was an impediment when I first began school; because of course all the other students were bilingual. It was my mother who organised my first language teacher, an Englishman called Nigel Harris. It turned out I had such an ‘ear’ for languages that I very quickly learned to speak English, but not only the language, but with the accent of my teacher. I was the only student in my school who spoke English without a French accent, which, I might add did not make me very popular with my fellow male students...but the girls liked it, they thought me quite exotic.” They both chuckled. “But by the time I went to the Academy it just caused confusion. I was the young man with the French name from France who spoke Standard with a perfect English accent. It was in the Academy that I stared to pick up the other Earth languages from the other cadets. And, like English, I imitated what I heard, thus enabling me to speak their languages like a native. It really used to annoy some of them.” He sighed and briefly closed his eyes. “Of course, ancient Greek and Latin were on the syllabus, so that was a given. The other Federation languages I either picked up at the Academy or in my travels. The outside languages...well, let’s just say that as a ship’s Captain, it comes in handy. But really, it’s just something I can do.” Beverly sighed, her eyes beginning to droop. “You are a remarkable man, Jean-Luc. Somehow there always seems to be more and more to discover about you.” Before she slipped into sleep, she murmured, “I hope our kids inherit your abilities.” Jean-Luc frowned at his now sleeping lover. They were lying on sheets wet with his semen and she didn’t seem to care, so with a shrug, Jean-Luc settled on the pillow, closed his eyes and relaxed. He never felt the quick, gentle transition into slumber.

Meredith was hunting again and the prospect of her next meeting made her ache with arousal. Her visit to the Fen had cost her almost every bar of latinum she had left, but it was worth it and she was now on her way to addressing her current deplorable state of financial affairs. As she sat naked in the cockpit of her new craft sensuously rubbing in the hormone creams, she allowed her mind to wander back to the extraordinary experience that was the Fen. But then she frowned, her eyes slitting as she wondered yet again just who...or what the Fen was. Because she’d not actually seen anyone. It had been extraordinarily difficult just to discover his/her/its existence let alone find a way to get into contact. She huffed. And damned expensive too, but when she found herself outside the nondescript building in the outskirts of a mildly large city on a planet just outside Federation space, she felt a slither of fear slide up and down her newly lengthened spine. It both thrilled her and angered her. No one could make Meredith Bower frightened! Swallowing the unwanted feelings, she inspected the door, but found nothing. No annunciator to press, no code pad, not even so much as an old-fashioned knocker. She took a step back and scrutinised the surrounds. Nothing. The door was seamless and there appeared to be no surveillance apparatus of any kind, at least none that she could detect by sight or sense. Of course her instructions had been to arrive dressed in nothing but a one-piece overall and sandals. No underwear, no adornments and absolutely no technology in the way of scanners or communicators. She had even been instructed to forego her creams and to make sure her hairless scalp was clean. She stood outside the door, growing increasingly impatient. The new Meredith Bower was not accustomed to being kept waiting. She had arrived at the appointed time and fully expected to be seen immediately. Ten long minutes passed and, in the gathering gloom of an approaching rain episode, she spat on the enigmatic door, spun on her heel and took two long strides before she felt the subtle change of atmosphere behind her. She stopped and turned to see the door was now open. She approached cautiously, but the interior was so dark she couldn’t see inside. Again the frisson of fear skittered through her, but she savagely shoved it aside. Chin up and broad shoulders squared, she stepped boldly inside, every sense on alert. The door shut so silently that Meredith was only aware it had happened when she felt an alteration in the air pressure. About to try and leave, a soft light came on overhead. A quick inspection showed her she was in a small empty ante room, the walls, ceiling, floors and the two doors she could see all the same neutral beige colour. The door opposite opened silently and a softly accented, but obviously computer generated voice instructed her to enter.

She did so and found herself in a slightly bigger room, just as devoid of features as the ante room. But sitting in the exact centre of the room was a surgical chair with an overhead bright light and the sight of it sent a bolt of sharp desire deep into Meredith’s newly tightened and elongated vagina. The voice, which she couldn’t decide was male or female quietly instructed her to sit in the chair and to place her wrists and ankles in the recesses provided. Every instinct told her to turn and leave immediately, but if what she’d heard about the Fen and what he/she/it could do were true, she wanted it almost as much as she wanted Beverly. Doing as she had been told, she was surprised to find the chair padded and warm. Relaxing slightly, she let her head rest back but when a metal clamp suddenly snaked out and gripped her around the forehead she called out. “No!” But even as the word left her mouth, her wrists and ankles were similarly tightly immobilised. Striving for calm, Meredith said evenly, “I do not require restraint. I can stand considerable pain.” That was the last thing she remembered. When she next opened her eyes she was prone, lying on a moderately soft surface, naked and covered in a soft warm blanket. She was on her back without a pillow and her head was being held in place by three clamps. There was no pain. It was completely black, she had no idea where she was, in fact it was with some surprise that she realised she had no idea who she was. She closed her eyes and again, there is no memory of what happened next. It was through her eye lids that she discerned the light. Her eyes opened and she blinked several times. A soft voice sounded in her mind. “The reboot and download will now commence.” Slack-jawed and barely conscious, all Meredith’s memories came flooding back, even those which had been lying encoded but inaccessible as they were created so early in her life. But...and this is what she’d come for, travelled so far and paid so much for, information began to download. It was as if an enormous library, containing detailed information on every subject somehow compacted into a series of pulses that were delivered into several different parts of Meredith’s brain. And, as a special part of her...agreement, (at extra cost of course), details of the lives of Beverly Crusher and Jean-Luc Picard were included. Every known fact and even every slightly substantiated rumour about them was inputted. The download took five hours and it wasn’t until a mechanical arm gently disconnected a thin metal tube from a new tiny portal under her left ear that the voice said, “Download complete. Wait while integration occurs. In the event of rejection, euthanasia will take place and cadaver disposal will be as agreed.”

The words registered, but Meredith didn’t react. She simply remained seated? Lying? While the process commenced.

On the craft, Meredith suddenly became aware she’d been sitting absolutely still, her right hand motionless on her thigh, caught in the process of rubbing in the creams. It was then that she realised she didn’t actually remember what happened between that time and when she found herself lying in a bed in a modest hotel in the centre of the city. How she’d got there, who had dressed her, she had no idea. She had slowly sat up, feeling quite normal, apart from a mild headache. It wasn’t until she was in the shower that she abruptly grabbed her head and gasped as information began to crowd into her thoughts at a phenomenal rate. Random facts, images, experiences...everything from art to literature to mechanics, science, architecture, everything known to exist, the sum total of humankind’s knowledge now resided, in an abridged fashion in Meredith’s brain. She staggered and fell, as if the weight of all this knowledge was too great for her to physically bear. She had no idea how long she sat crumpled in the shower, but eventually she managed to shut the water off and crawl into the bedroom and onto the bed. There she lay for four days, while her mind accustomed itself and learned to cope, her body carried on as usual, urinating and defecating as it needed to. Meredith would never be sure just what it was that brought her back, integrating body and mind, but as soon as she realised she was one again her first action was to slake her raging thirst. That done, she bundled the filthy bedding and disposed of it before taking another shower and, after eating a light meal, with her possessions residing elsewhere, made her way back to her original lodgings. Now she had a new mission. Her very subtle enquiries had unearthed a Ferengi known for two things. His penchant for keeping his staggering wealth at his home and his seemingly insatiable appetite for sex with very young children, species negotiable as was gender, although rumour had it he did prefer females. Meredith knew his palatial household was staffed by several Ferengi females, some married to him and all kept naked and enslaved as per Ferengi tradition. Resuming her pleasurable application of the cream, Meredith lifted her long toned leg and placed her foot on the cockpit console. She spent a moment or two admiring the play of her muscles under the golden skin, a wistful smile on her face. She had but one stop to make on her way to Ferenginar. Her new-found knowledge told her exactly what was required and, if she was right, her target would have no idea just what he was being exposed to...providing she was successful. Nothing like possessing the right kind of bait.

Nrug leaned back in his chair, his small sunken eyes closed as his hands gripped the waist of the naked young female child whose half-slitted eyes showed her drugged state. With one wife standing each side of him, giving him expert umox, he lifted up, then pulled down the child, his penis embedded in her. Boldly, the wife on his right side said in a whiney voice, “Why is it drugged? You usually like them to wriggle and cry.” Nrug kept his eyes closed but the lazy slap to his wife’s face showed she had annoyed him. However he did deign to answer her. “This one is a Kellen you stupid female and at this age they are very tight. If I hadn’t drugged her, it would’ve meant expending far too much energy to subdue her. I don’t do this for the exercise! I just want to fuck her, not fight her! Have you seen her claws?” Blood had dribbled from the young female and covered Nrug’s groin. He stared down at it and smiled. “See? Proof of my prowess! I am so large I have penetrated so deep she bleeds! When I am finished with her, I want you two to wash her, then tie her up with the others. Later today, I will want her again, but this time, no drugs. Now that she has had me inside her, she will want me again!” The wife on the left, careful to continue the umox, reached down to gently fondle Nrug’s balls. He kept his measured lifting and lowering of the little female, but gave his wife a suspicious look. “What are you doing?” She bobbed her head and smiled, her snaggle teeth protruding at odd angles. “It has been a long time since you visited my bed.” She said in what she hoped was a seductive tone. Ignoring his wife, Nrug closed his eyes and suddenly stood before kneeling, then lying down, the little female under him. With frenzied movements, he shoved himself in and out of her before abruptly grunting. He was panting as he pulled his penis from the violated child and turned to glare at his wife. “You are old and ugly! Why would I come to your bed, when I can have something young, fresh and unopened like that?” He pointed down at the bleeding whimpering child. He was climbing to his feet and hitching up his pants when another naked Ferengi female came to him and bowed low. He ignored her while he watched his wives lift the child from the floor and take her away. Raising his voice he reminded them, “I want her clean and alert!” He then turned and sneered at the bowing woman.

“What do you want? Can’t you see I’m busy?” Before he put his bloodied penis back into his pants, he went to the bowing female and wiped himself on the back of her bald head. She made no protest and didn’t move until Nrug was comfortable and once again seated in his favourite chair. Shuffling forward, she said quietly, “I have news.” Normally, Nrug would’ve either dismissed her, or, if he felt in the mood, raped her. She was still quite young and for a Ferengi, quite attractive. He watched as she began to tremble, enjoying her fear as she tried to anticipate what it was he intended to do. He decided to amuse himself. “Come closer.” She shuffled nearer to him but not close enough for his liking. He grabbed the small nipple of her still forming breast and pulled cruelly. “I said, come here!” Tugged forwards, she fell between his open knees. He stared down at her for a moment or two, savouring her fear. When he spoke his grating voice showed his desire. “Take it out and suck it.” With trembling hands, the female undid his brightly coloured pants and lifted out his flaccid penis. For such a small being he was very well endowed. While she did as he ordered, he reached into the pocket of his vividly adorned coat and pulled out a hypospray. Injecting himself, his erection was almost instant. He studied the hypo and offered a humourless chuckle. “Who would’ve thought that Federation scientists would be responsible for such wonderful sexual stimulants!” He suddenly stood, pushing the female off balance. His penis slipped from her mouth and he snarled, aiming a vicious kick at her crotch with his booted foot. She cried out but had no further way to articulate her pain as he fell on her, one hand going around her throat, the other used to hold his penis while he forced it inside her. It was only the second time she’d had sex and it hurt, but even though a novice she knew to keep quiet and still. Any sound she made, especially those of pain or distress or any movement that made him aware of the pain he was causing only spurred him to more cruelty. Barely able to breathe, she endured the violation until, thankfully, he grunted loudly and ejaculated. But what he did next both surprised her and disgusted her. He pulled out and straddled her chest, masturbating, until he suddenly said with a nasty leer, “Open your mouth!”

She did and he ejaculated into her mouth, some of the semen spurting over her nose and eyes. When he stayed hard, she knew her ordeal was not yet over. However, he seemed content, at least for a while, to let her speak. Releasing the hold on her throat, she knew not to cough or show any discomfort, but she couldn’t keep the raspiness out of her voice when she all but whispered, “Qwet has made his report.” “And?” “She is on her way.” “How close? Where is she?” “Qwet reports she stopped somewhere, but he’s not certain where or for how long.” Nrug grinned evilly. “Acquiring a present for me, no doubt.” The female nodded. “There has been a report of a young female child having been abducted, but from where he doesn’t know, but the information he has suggests it’s a Deltan.” The Ferengi sneered. “A fucking waste of time! Everyone knows the Deltan females don’t produce their famous fucking pheromones until they reach breeding age! And then they’re too fucking old! Stupid alien female! She’s supposed to know what I like!” Nrug grabbed her throat again and squeezed just enough to make breathing very difficult. “I asked you where she is!” He didn’t release the pressure, so the female couldn’t answer him. He knew this of course, he was simply amusing himself. “You go a lovely colour when I do this.” He said conversationally. “I like it.” Reluctantly, he let her go. She took a chance and swallowed. By the look on his face she knew she would pay for such a lapse. “Qwet estimates she is two days away.” She rasped. Nrug once again gripped the female’s throat, making her face darken and her piggy eyes bulge. She was no longer able to breathe at all. He moved down her body and shoved himself inside her. While he began to thrust so hard they actually moved across the polished tiled floor, he said idly, between grunts, “I haven’t fucked an adult alien female before. This will prove very...interesting.”

He was so preoccupied that he didn’t realise the female had died. He kept on thrusting until he came. On finding her dead, he pulled out and climbed to his feet, bellowing, “Get this fucking thing out of here!” Two naked females scurried into the room and began to drag the body away. Nrug sneered, saying scornfully, “Get me another one! And younger! And I want the Kellen brought to me immediately!” He lifted his still erect cock and held it reverently in both hands. Staring down at it with admiration, affection and adoration he muttered, “I’m not going to waste a perfectly good, magnificent hard cock! That stimulant will keep me hard for at least another hour. Lucky little girls!”

Meredith’s new abilities, thanks to her prodigious knowledge, allowed her to access the main computer banks of the Ferenginar Board of Commerce, the most powerful body on the planet. Her infiltration went unnoticed, as were the extensive rearrangements and additions of information she instigated. Having done all she wanted, she exited and utilising the myriad of fibre optic connections was soon perusing Nrug’s personal computer. She grinned at the prodigious security he’d employed to protect the most deeply hidden files, but it was child’s play to access them. Now armed with everything she needed to know and having achieved her goals, she cruised through his employees...male of course...looking for and finding Qwet’s computer. Like Nrug, he’d made quite an effort to keep his business private and when Meredith discovered Nrug was not only aware of her existence, but was preparing for her arrival, she wasn’t surprised and the predatory smile that emerged would’ve chilled the blood of any sane being. “So, my little friend. You want to play a game? Good! I like games!” She sighed happily. “You think you’re ready for me? Ha! This should be fun.” A quiet noise from aft of the cockpit made Meredith sigh. Rising gracefully, the naked woman went to her little passenger and stroked her bright purple hair. “Don’t worry, I know you’re impatient, but soon we’ll arrive and once I take care of one or two things, you and I will pay a little visit to your new toy.” Meredith smiled, appreciating the predatory gleam in the young female’s bright orange eyes. “Yes, that’s right, the one I’ve told you about, the one who takes children from their families and fucks the little boys and girls, sometimes killing them for no other reason than that he’s a perverted little fucker.” The female child whimpered impatiently again and Meredith summoned a cold smile. The female was only five human years old, but her species was extremely sexual. They were born sexually aware and from infancy, engaged in sexual play with either gender until reaching breeding age at six. Although their reproduction was achieved by penetrative sex, it was by

mutual agreement which of the two partners gestated the developing offspring. Both male and female ejaculated at orgasm and both possessed the organs for gestation. Like the marsupials of Earth, the developing embryo emerged not fully formed from a sphincter just under the chest region and with the gentle assistance of the chosen gestator; the grub-like immature creature was eased into a pouch where the rest of the development occurred. In all, from conception to emergence from the pouch, was only three human months. Even as soon as a week or two old, either gender could be calmed by the parents gently masturbating them and, although they would be too young to ejaculate, they still achieved a form of orgasm. On Merran, the home planet of this species, genital caressing was the most common form of greeting, stress relief and play. Sex was so important to the Merrans, especially the importance of both partner’s enjoyment of the act that being told an alien was abducting the young of many species to violate for no better reason that to satisfy lust, was abhorrent. Although the Merrans were generally friendly and not particularly aggressive, if denied sex with a fellow Merran for too long, or when faced with a situation where they found themselves in a position to right a terrible wrong, they could be absolutely merciless and ferocious in the extreme. And, just because Meredith’s companion was only five human years old, took nothing away from her abilities. Her species only lived until the age of fifteen, so she was considered, although not yet quite at breeding age, old enough to function independently. Meredith had made sure the governing body on Merran knew why she wanted the child and, having gained the child’s permission as well as her governments’, Meredith knew she now had a very potent weapon, one which she knew Nrug would find irresistible. She smiled coldly, “That little Ferengi fucker has no idea what’s in store for him. Hmm, nothing like the feeling of impending doom for someone! That fucking little Ferengi is going to end up destitute and in Rog prison. And, if I really feel in a playful mood, he’ll be without his precious cock.” She giggled, her insanity making the sound chilling. “And all his coveted latinum will be mine. Then...finally, finally, once I’ve set up our little nest, I’ll be ready to come and get you, Beverly, my love. And we can share all my new toys. Oh, how you’re going to love what I can do now! If you think you’ve experienced ecstasy,” She chuckled again and squeezed some fluid from her Bartholin’s glands as she began to masturbate. “You have so much to learn! You’ll never want to even look at a cock again...” She sneered angrily. “Especially that fucker Picard’s.” Her orgasm seemed to make her glow, her little companion grinning up at her as she experienced her own climax. Sucking idly on her fingers, Meredith went back to the cockpit. “Right, time to set up your downfall, Nrug. God, I do wish I could see your face in about three hours’ time.” Her laughter soon became manic.

“Now, as you are well aware, Doctor, this injection is only the first of many, although it will begin its work immediately. However, the process by which your body will return to a pre-menopausal state and you will begin to ovulate regularly may take some time, perhaps a few weeks.” Selar frowned, and tilted her head. “May I ask a personal question, Doctor Crusher?” Jean-Luc, standing next to Beverly, who was seated on a bio bed, bowed his head and frowned. He felt he knew what the question would be and, although Selar had chosen to ask Beverly and not him, he was still uncomfortable. Beverly sensed her partner’s discomfit and tried her best to stifle her smile. “Of course, Doctor.” “May I ask,” Said the blunt Vulcan, “Why are you pursuing this avenue? Surely it would be easier for all involved to simply harvest an ovum, mature it then fertilise it with an appropriate...donation, then gestate the resultant zygote until such time as your body is ready to accept and successfully complete the gestation?” Beverly bowed her head to try and hide her grin. The only outward show of his embarrassment was a slight shifting of his feet. Jean-Luc kept a stony silence. Having gathered some control, Beverly lifted her head and, although her expression was one of calm detachment, her eyes danced with humour. “Um...the Captain and I would rather take a more...traditional approach.” Selar digested that but, unheeding of her Captain’s growing discomfort, continued to question her boss. “But, Doctor, that is illogical. Not only will it take some time for you to become regularly fertile, that is where you have a dependable, regular cycle, it still leaves the conception to chance. Indeed, even the gender of any child you conceive will be completely at random. I do not understand why you do not use a more scientific method. Neither you or the Captain are getting any younger and there is no telling when you may achieve success.” At that, Jean-Luc looked up and glowered, but it was lost on the emotionless Vulcan. Beverly’s soft hand on his arm forestalled any brusque words that he might have said. Instead, Beverly said calmly, “We just want to do this the way nature intended.” Then she chuckled. “With a little help, of course.” As she slipped off the bio bed and prepared to leave, she looked over her shoulder and said to the puzzled Selar, “And trying to get pregnant is so much fun.” It wasn’t until they were out in the corridor that Jean-Luc finally spoke and when he did, his irritation was clear. “Was it absolutely necessary for you to make that last comment?”

Beverly grinned and, having a quick look around to see they were alone, took Jean-Luc’s hand and squeezed it. “No, but you have to admit it was the truth.” She then leaned closer and whispered, “Can you spare an hour?” Frowning, Jean-Luc pulled down the corners of his mouth and shrugged. “Ah, I suppose. Why?” He actually jumped when the tip of Beverly’s tongue outlined the contours of his ear, followed by a breathy, “’Cause I want to start trying.” He turned and she could see desire warring with his ingrained sense of duty. “Now?” He whispered incredulously, but not without a hint of interest. “Uh huh.” Confused, but not completely averse, Jean-Luc asked carefully, “But the hormones won’t work for some time, yet, will they? I mean...” He looked into Beverly’s eyes and saw her hungry look. It was enough to make up his mind as his body had already come to its decision. Doing a quick reconnoitre of his own, Jean-Luc’s eyes darkened and he lifted his hand to gently rub his thumb over Beverly’s lips, making them purse. In a soft, deeply sensuous voice he said, “I think we’re going to enjoy this...process.” He looked up and down the corridor again. “Does this mean we can make love any time we want, day or night, on duty or not?” “Yep.” Grinned Beverly, watching as Jean-Luc’s eyes travelled over her body, stopping at her protruding nipples. “And you want to know something else?” He nodded silently, his hooded gaze intense. “The hormones I’m being injecting with are going to substantially increase my libido.” Jean-Luc blinked and his mouth opened a little. Giving her words some thought, Jean-Luc muttered. “Beverly...I think I’m going to need...” She reached into her coat pocket and produced a hypo. Jean-Luc’s eyes shifted to it, one eyebrow arched. “Is that what I think it is?” He asked incredulously.

“Uh huh.” Said a very aroused Beverly. “I know your libido has always been perfectly adequate to match mine, but, you’re right, you might need a little help, at least in the coming weeks. This...” She rolled the hypo in her long fingers, “Is a sexual stimulant.” His smile was slow in emerging but it was definitely lascivious. “You, Beverly, are fucking unbelievable. You tell Selar we want to do things as naturally as possible, yet you were already in possession of a sex stimulant! My God, you were miles ahead of everyone.” His smile became a grin. “And I suppose that...” He pointed at the hypo, “Will not only afford me endless erections but greatly increase my sperm production.” Beverly’s grin was wolfish. “Ha! Not only that, lover, but it will hasten the maturation of your sperm. You must know that only mature sperm are released for ejaculation. Without, even though you might ejaculate until you run dry, only the first one or two ejaculations would be really fertile. The rest would be mainly just seminal fluid. With this...” She held up the hypo, her eyes smoky. “You’ll be as fertile as a vole. As long as you can produce seminal fluid, which, I might add, will be greatly increased, it’ll contain lots of healthy little swimmers.” The man’s eyes glittered as he sighed. “I would rather not be compared with a particularly hideous Cardassian rodent, if you don’t mind.” Giving a one-shouldered shrug, Beverly raised her eyebrows and pulled down the corners of her mouth. “Well, they fuck continuously and produce prodigious numbers of young. I thought the analogy was apt.” Without a word, Jean-Luc turned and began to walk towards the nearest turbolift, Beverly hurrying to keep up. Having given the order for the lift to proceed to deck nine, nothing was said until they exited and were walking alone together towards Jean-Luc’s quarters. Just as they approached the doors, Jean-Luc said quietly, “I take it you have a tissue regenerator?” Grinning, Beverly reached into her other pocket and produced the device. “Ta da!” She grinned impishly. As they entered, Jean-Luc tapped his comm. badge. “Picard to Riker.” “Riker here, Captain.”

With his eyes riveted on Beverly as she disrobed as she sashayed to the bedroom, Jean-Luc had to concentrate on keeping his growing arousal from showing in his voice. “I’ll be in my quarters until further notice, Number One. Although I would prefer not to be disturbed, if I am needed don’t hesitate to call.” He didn’t give his exec time to reply. “Picard out.” Moving quickly across the room to the open bedroom door, Jean-Luc was treated to the sight of Beverly lying naked on his bed, one hand dallying in her sex, the other holding up the hypo. He was getting hard as he quickly undressed, but when her intimate scent reached him, his erection hurried to full stiffness. Beverly’s estimation of an hour was manifestly inadequate. In fact, neither Jean-Luc nor Beverly returned to duty for the rest of the day. And the tissue regenerator was often used and much appreciated.

Having finally run out of both energy and semen, Nrug sat, longing in his chair while one of his wives knelt between his legs, gently licked his still erect penis clean. The female who scurried in, bowing low really annoyed him as it roused him from his sated stupor. “Husband! The FBC! They’re calling you!” Flapping a lazy hand, Nrug sneered and shifted his hips, giving the female more access to his penis. “That will be my cousin, Blin. Tell him unless it’s about my increasing profits, I’m busy.” He covered one nostril with his fingers and blew hard, the resulting snot hitting the back of the female licking him. He was repeating the action with the other nostril when his messenger bowed low and said softly, but with great fear and trepidation, “It is not Blin, husband.” That made Nrug focus his attention. “What? Blin is the Grand Negus’s under secretary. I pay him to keep me informed and to keep other greedy bureaucrats off my fucking back! He should have prevented anyone else contacting me.” Not knowing what else to do, the unfortunate female prostrated herself on the floor and began to weep.

“I don’t know what to say to you, husband! It is the FBC, you know you have to answer their call immediately.” Swearing with gusto, Nrug shoved the female from between his legs and stood, pushing his rigid penis into his pants, then cursing loudly when he had trouble fastening the flap. “The fucking Ferengi Board of Commerce is staffed by Ferenginar’s biggest and most avaricious thieves! Someone will pay dearly for disturbing me at my home when I’m relaxing!” As angry as he was, even someone as wealthy and powerful as Nrug couldn’t afford to ignore a call from the FBC. His office was deep inside his palatial home and he curtly waved away the females who tried to follow him, grovelling and plucking at his coattails. “Go away! This is males’ business, you know that!” He growled; irritation and unease making him even more abrupt and unpredictable. As he got to the door of his office, he turned and snarled, “I’ll be wanting some company when I’m finished here!” Just in case his wives misunderstood, he grinned cruelly and elaborated, “Very young company!” Then, in typical Ferengi fashion, he looked all around, cupped his hand over the entry code pad and entered his secret sequence of numbers and symbols. The door sighed open, but that only gave him entry into the outer chamber. Walking awkwardly with his erection straining the material of his garishly coloured pants, he got to the next door, and placed his palm on a gel pad while leaning forward so that a retinal scanner could read his right eye. The inner office was decorated much as the rest of the house. Vividly mixed coloured fabrics lined the re-enforced walls and ceiling and the floor was criss-crossed with minute microfilaments embedded in the blastcrete. And everywhere there were listening devices, recording devices and surveillance equipment. No one could breach his security. Or so he thought. His desk was highly ornate, inlaid with a swirling pattern when viewed obliquely, depicted a remarkably good image of Nrug having sex with a very young female Ferengi. That the inlay material was solid latinum made Nrug grin with pride, that he should be so rich that he could afford such luxuries. The monitor on the desk was glowing bright red, the automatic standby mode. As soon as he sat in his high-backed chair, the movement activated the screen. Nrug almost gasped as he saw who was looking at him, remembering just in time to show appropriate deference. “Grand Negus!” He hoped his smile looked genuine. His hands came up to his chin, clasping as he bobbed his head. “What an honour!” Since Krax had inherited the position of Grand Negus from his father, Zek, Nrug had enjoyed a very cosy arrangement with the FBC having paid for his eldest son, Mran to be married to

the Negus’s youngest daughter. Of course that meant Krax and Nrug were related by their children’s marriage, but on Ferenginar, such ties are trivial. What mattered most of all was the acquisition of property and wealth. In Nrug’s eldest son marrying the Negus’s daughter, he had established a foothold through his superior wealth, in the most powerful entity on the planet. So, his obsequiousness, although ingrained, was in part for show. Still, such a call was both unusual and damned annoying. “Yes, it is.” By Krax’s cold and distant manner, Nrug immediately thought his son had done something stupid, something that would probably be expensive to fix, but nothing really troubling. Nrug had three sons; each was now earning healthy profits on their own, paying their father their expected weekly dues as they should. Nrug had absolutely no doubt he could buy his family out of anything. It never crossed his mind that the call, coming from the Grand Negus himself, might be the harbinger of financial ruin. “The Ferengi Commerce Authority and the Ferengi Futures Exchange have just given me some very interesting news, Nrug.” Nrug’s erection suddenly subsided. Immediately suspicious, Nrug, keeping up appearances, grinned, saying, “Ah yes, my worthless sister’s son and my younger brother both work within the Tower of Commerce.” “Yes, they do.” Still cold and emotionless. Nrug couldn’t understand why the Negus was acting as he was. They had enjoyed years of very lucrative business dealings. In fact it had been Nrug’s superior business acumen that had afforded them both such immense profits. And Nrug, being the wealthier of the two by far, should be now be seeing more respect from his old partner. “However, they don’t work there any more. Neither does your cousin, or any other member of your family, no matter now distantly related.” Spreading his hands under his chin as custom dictated (you never knew who might be watching), Nrug whined, “But my eldest son...he is married to your daughter.” The cold glitter in the Negus’s small eyes showed clearly on the screen. “Not any more. I have dissolved the marriage as being unprofitable and of course I have absorbed all your son’s assets.” Shock and outrage made Nrug shout. “That is preposterous! The male is awarded ALL assets in the dissolution of an unprofitable marriage! You cannot do that to my son! Or to me! I underwrote that marriage!”

The Negus smiled coldly and Nrug growled low in his throat. “Are you questioning my authority, Nrug?” If he could grind his snaggle teeth together he would have. Somehow he summoned a smile. “Of course not, Negus, you must forgive me.” He tilted his bulbous head and adopted a conspiratorial air. “Tell me, what did he do, and how much will it cost me to put things right? I’m sure we can come to a mutually agreeable arrangement.” Krax made a show of inspecting his purple nails before sighing and shaking his head. “I’m afraid you can’t buy your son out of trouble this time, Nrug.” The little alien seethed, wondering just what it was his worthless son had done that was so bad he had to forego the time honoured custom of bargaining. “Very well, Negus. Name your price.” All Krax did was shake his head, the predatory smile never leaving his face. “You don’t understand, Nrug.” His condescending tone made Nrug boil with suppressed anger. “You can’t buy your son out of trouble because you lack sufficient funds.” Those particular words-‘You lack sufficient funds’ were probably the most insulting thing one Ferengi could say to another. Especially one as wealthy as Nrug. It was true he had a very substantial amount of latinum in his strong room, but his business dealings were spread across the quadrant. He not only had interests, if not outright ownership of so many enterprises and shady deals even he sometimes lost track. All he knew was that the profits generated by his holdings not only kept him in an enviable lifestyle, but was such he had never had to touch even so much as one single bar of actual latinum. Even his little ‘toys’ were put down as entertainment, therefore deductable as tax. Besides, when he’d tired of them, he always sold then for a good price, especially as they had the erotic arts, those that survived, that was. Such was his influence he didn’t even have to pay much for his relative’s positions in the commerce system of his government. For fuck’s sake, they were grateful! So he just blinked and managed to squeak, “What?” Sitting back in his hugely padded and ornate chair, Krax shrugged. “It’s true, I’m afraid, Nrug. All your holdings, shares, titles, enterprises and schemes have been absorbed.” Another deeply insulting word.

“What do you mean absorbed? By whom? Who would dare to steal from me?!” Krax snorted softly, idly surprised when some snot shot out of his left nostril. He stared at it on his desk before bringing his focus back to the incensed Nrug. “It wasn’t theft, Nrug It was all quite legal, I assure you.” He sighed, seeming bored. “Do you remember the Great Monetary Collapse?” Nrug merely nodded, too incandescent with rage to speak. “Then you must remember the amendments to the Rules of Acquisition.” “Of course I do! Every Ferengi knows them!” Nrug hissed. “Good. Then I only have to remind you of three. The ninth Rule: Opportunity plus instinct equals profit, The seventh Rule: Keep your ears open, and finally the twenty-first Rule: Never put friendship above profit.” Leaning forward, Krax clasped his small orange hands on his desktop. “It would seem you have made some very powerful enemies, Nrug, so powerful no one is going to lift a finger to kelp you. In fact, to even be near you is now very dangerous. The FBC has frozen every remaining, albeit small, assets you have left. My suggestion is you leave Ferenginar immediately as the repossessors will arrive soon. You, Nrug are in a lot of debt and I can’t see how you can avoid Rog prison. You didn’t keep your ears open, Nrug, you were too busy fucking children.” The Negus shrugged. “Not that I blame you, of course, the young do have their charms. But...obviously someone has taken the Ninth Rule to heart and used it to destroy you and...old friend, I have broken the twenty-first Rule by warning you.” He grinned and shrugged. “Call me sentimental.” He reached forward to terminate the call, when he paused. “Oh, one more thing, Nrug. Rog prison? You and your sons will be in the debtors section.” The screen went blank and Nrug felt urine trickling down his leg. Moving slowly at first, he gathered speed as he rushed out of his office, through the anteroom and into his home, screeching, “Get me Qwet!” His order was greeted by an eerie silence. “Wives! Get in here immediately!” He’d never heard his voice echo in his home before. Whirling around, he began to run from room to room only to be confronted by empty closets and hastily vacated rooms. Back in his favourite room, he gripped the back of his chair, staring at his bright blue boots. The quiet, deep voice behind him made him spin around so fast he lost his balance and staggered sideways.

Meredith, holding the little female’s hand, her other hand holding a small bag, let her inhuman eyes wander over Nrug’s form. She smiled, but there was no warmth, just a predator’s chilling appraisal of her intended prey. “I believe you’ve been waiting for me?” More urine puddled at Nrug’s booted feet. His small sunken eyes took in Meredith’s statuesque, naked and hairless body and he stammered, “What are you?” Meredith’s smile widened.

“I am your worst nightmare, Nrug.” In a burst of sudden panic, Nrug lunged at the chair arm, savagely and frantically pressing a hidden button again and again. Still standing and watching with her smile now an amused one, Meredith said happily, “Qwet won’t come, Nrug, no one will. Even the repossessors know to stay away...for now. While we have” The Ferengi all but screamed, “Where is Qwet?! I employ him to look after me! Him, I pay well!” Nrug screeched. Taking two long steps brought Meredith and the little female too close for Nrug’s comfort. He rushed around the chair, putting it between them. Meredith’s unsettling eyes glittered. “Let’s just say that Qwet is...entertaining some flies.” She said softly. Nrug scowled. “Flies?” He said querulously, not understanding the word. “Oh, you don’t have flies on Ferenginar?” Meredith adopted a surprised look, then one of contrition. “Oh, I do apologise! I’ll explain. Flies are insects that feed on blood and dead things...and shit like you.” Showing courage that was definitely not in a Ferengi’s normal character, Nrug pulled himself up to his full height and snarled, “You are a female! You will show me proper respect!” With a soft snort, Meredith lowered her head and shook it, making the little female chuckle.

“You want respect, you little child fucker? All right, I offer you my little friend here as a gift...a show of good faith.” With a small gesture, Meredith encouraged the child to move towards the Ferengi. Obviously suspicious, he snarled, “Stay away from me! I want nothing from you, female, not your gift, or you! Now get out!” Tapping her fingers against her chiselled chin, Meredith tilted her head and sighed. “No, I don’t think so. Not until we get what we came for.” “And what is that?” Meredith’s grin was so chilling, Nrug defecated. Meredith snapped her fingers and pointed at him. “You know, I think he’s beginning to get the idea!” From the pouch on the little alien’s chest she withdrew a small, but deadly-sharp knife and a thin, flexible circular band that she stretched between her fingers. Mesmerised and unable to move, Nrug watched in sick fascination as she slowly approached. He heard Meredith, but he never took his gaze from the child’s eyes. “Merrans are known for the way they can hold their prey with intense eye contact.” She snickered. “Of course it doesn’t work on me.” She added, seeming to think it important he knew. She stepped closer so she could see what was going to happen. “When your little gift does what she came to do, I want you to think of all the little children you violated, you fucker!” The little alien paused and turned; a frown on her face, making Meredith grin ruefully. “Oh, all right, that was a bit over the top, wasn’t it. Okay, I admit I couldn’t care less, but I know you enjoy.” Within the matter of a few minutes, Nrug’s screams of agony echoed around his empty mansion. It made Meredith so aroused she masturbated three times before the little alien turned, holding up her prize with a satisfied grin. Nrug would never violate another child. He’d been completely emasculated. Writhing on the floor, Nrug’s hands clutched at the raw wound where his genitals had once hung from his body. To Meredith’s disappointment, there was little blood, and on closer

inspection she saw why. The thin, flexible ring the little Merran had in her hand was now tightly gripping the short stump where the cut had been made. Meredith looked down at her companion and ruffled her hair in admiration and, surprisingly, some affection. “Well done, my small friend. But it would’ve been more entertaining had it been a bit messier. Pain is one thing, but when they see their own blood it really adds some flavour to the moment. You might want to work on that.” In response, the Merran held up the gruesome prize, her gaze a steady one. Meredith chuckled and bowed her head. “Oh, all right, you’ve made your point.” Toeing Nrug onto his back, Meredith bent and gripped his chin hard enough to get his attention. “I know all about your security measures, Nrug and I know the gel pad and the retinal scan won’t work unless they detect not only your specific readings, but your pulse and galvanic skin responses. So, I guess you’d be thinking I have to keep you alive, at least until I get into your strong room.” Her grin was so utterly evil and devoid of sanity, Nrug urinated in terror through the severed stump of his penis, the urine squirting between his fingers and mixing with the sluggish dribble of blood. “However, I think I should let you know that that’s not actually true. I can use your body parts even after death and still gain access, but what would really amuse me is to use them in a very entertaining way while you’re still alive.” She stood up and straddled his body, stretching with lithe grace. “Take the retinal scanner for example. That knife my little friend has? She is very adept at using it...”Meredith grinned. “But of course you all ready know that, anyway, she can pluck your right eye out, just like that!” She snapped her fingers and bent down again, her face filled with eager wonderment. “Are you aware just how far one can pull an eye out of its socket while still attached to the optic nerve? Ha!” She reached down and pushed hard at the flesh under Nrug’s right eye, making it bulge. “Of course we probably wouldn’t have time to put it back; in fact I don’t see why we’d leave the other one in your head. I mean it’s got to be one thing or the other, doesn’t it? Both in or both out. It’s all about symmetry, Nrug, symmetry.” She smiled and Nrug had never seen anything so utterly alien. In the back of his mind he’d finally registered she may once have been human, but he’d never known of a human like her. That information, however, didn’t help with his present situation. He could only try to cope with his agony while she kept chatting as if nothing unusual was going on. “Then there’s your hand.” She remarked, her eerie eyes watching her own arm as she flexed her muscles. “Same deal, really. Separate the skin, bones, muscles and larger tendons, and the whole thing comes away from the body, still attached to the sinews and blood supply.” She grinned and tilted her head back to sigh. “And of course, both hands would have to get the same treatment. Symmetry, remember.”

She held out both arms and watched, seemingly fascinated by the play of muscles under her golden hairless skin. “Aren’t I beautiful? I am perfection, Nrug. I am the embodiment of symmetry. I can only offer you the same. Think of it as my gift to you.” With no effort at all, Meredith used her foot to roll Nrug over onto his stomach. Then bending, she grabbed the collar of his jacket and shirt and walked across the room, dragging the squealing Ferengi with her, the streaks of his blood leaving a grisly trail on the highly polished, tiled floor. She went confidently through the house to the strong room. Going unerringly to the outer door, Meredith dropped the being and shoved him with her foot. She had to raise her voice to be heard over his screaming. “Nrug! Shut up; or I will really give you something to yell about!” The mogul abruptly stopped and, at Meredith’s curt gestures, somehow managed to sit upright. She grinned down at him, then winked at her little accomplice. “I bet when you thought up the code to this...” She tapped the pad with her knuckle. “That no one could ever crack it, that it would be an impossibility.” She sighed with happiness and slowly opened the small bag she’d been carrying. “Watch Nrug and I will show you something quite remarkable, something I doubt you’ve ever seen before.” Her long fingers reaching into the bag, Meredith lifted out a thin metal coiled cable, its shiny pointed end making Nrug swallow convulsively. Never taking her eyes off the Ferengi, Meredith calmly pushed the solid end into the tiny portal at the base of her left ear, then gently pressed the small, circular disc at the other end to the pad. She then closed her eyes and smiled, saying softly, “Watch, Nrug, watch my magnificence.” His mouth agape, saliva dribbling down his chin, Nrug watched in sick disbelief as, one-byone the green lights of acceptance lit up on the pad. Dumbfounded, Nrug whispered, “I spent hundreds of bars on the entire security system! How did you...?” Meredith’s smile was serene, as if what she was doing was giving her intense pleasure. Without opening her eyes, she said softly, “I’ve been to see the Fen.” Nrug couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. In fact when he began to weep, he wasn’t sure exactly what was happening to him. He had only heard of the Fen and even then only vague unsubstantiated rumours, but that had been enough for him to know he was doomed. No Ferengi would balk at begging if he thought it would get him what he wanted, and, as it was his very life at stake, Nrug knew that beg was all he could do. But even before he began, he knew it was pointless, he even knew his tormentor would gain immeasurable pleasure from it. Nevertheless, it was instinctive. “Please!” He sobbed. “I will give you anything! I will give you everything I own. My wealth, my home, my sons, everything! Just don’t kill me...please, I beg you!”

Hunkering down beside the grovelling little alien, Meredith gripped his chin and raised his head. Her smile was icy. “I already have all those things, Nrug. You are destitute. There is nothing you can offer me, because you have nothing!” She squeezed hard enough to grin when the bone of his jaw broke with a sharp crack. Nrug screamed and Meredith said loudly, “Did all those little girls and boys you violated beg, Nrug? Did they cry and weep, begging you to stop? Did they call for their parents? Their Gods?” The Merran gently placed her hand on Meredith’s arm and the tall woman looked at her and sighed. “Sorry, not my place. I do get carried away, don’t I?” Smiling, Meredith winked. “I’d make a wonderful actor!” She stood and waved her hand. “Please, by all means, be my guest.” While Meredith disconnected the cable and coiled it up, she watched dispassionately as the little girl expertly eased the blade of her knife under Nrug’s right eye and flipped it out of its socket. Screaming so loudly that Meredith kicked him violently in the groin to silence him; she once again grabbed him by the collar and dragged him into the now open outer room. Continuing to hold him up, the Merran took only a few minutes to separate Nrug’s right hand. With little effort, Meredith hoisted the now semi-conscious Ferengi upright and, with the Merran’s help, aligned his grotesquely hanging eye and hand to their respective readers. The inner door hissed open and Meredith sighed, closed her eyes, lifted her head and flared her nostrils. “I can smell it, my little friend. Can’t you? All that lovely latinum!” Feeling the gentle caress on her thigh, Meredith opened her eyes and looked down at the intense eyes of her companion. Smiling with some tenderness, Meredith said softly, “Of course. You know where they are?” Nodding, the Merran turned, but as she left the room, Meredith said coldly, “If you find any of them dead, come back. I’m sure we can encourage this bag of shit to scream some more.” Leaving Nrug just inside the strong room, Meredith lifted her hand and spoke to her wrist. “Computer, send down prearranged equipment to my location.” Tilting her head, Meredith could see, even through his unspeakable agony, Nrug was still shocked. Squatting, the woman idly flipped his dangling eye back and forth with her forefinger. “Yes, Nrug, I can beam anything I out. Once one has been to the Fen, nothing is impossible.”

There was a gentle whine and several hundred unidentifiable small objects appeared. Walking around the huge stacks of latinum bars, Meredith placed the objects at strategic places. In all, it took her almost forty minutes until she was finished. Smiling wolfishly down at the hapless Ferengi she said succinctly, making sure he could hear her clearly, “Computer, activate transport protocols and initiate prearranged security. Energise.” There was no vocal reply, but as Nrug’s one functioning eye watched, his fortune disappeared. That was devastating, but nothing compared to him seeing Meredith slowly approaching, her right hand taking a wicked looking knife out of her bag. “Now then, my little Ferengi fucker, let me introduce you to a very dear friend of mine.” She held up her knife. “I believe we have some symmetry to achieve.” In the time it took for Meredith to pop out Nrug’s remaining eye and partially sever and yank out his other hand, the Merran returned. Meredith stood, staring at her bloodied hands with distaste. One look at her companion made her chuckle, an expression of disbelief on her face. “Oh, this is too much! Don’t tell me you found some of them dead?” The Merran nodded solemnly. Shaking her head in utter incomprehensibility, Meredith asked incredulously, “Okay, in total, how many did he have captive?” Making a sign with her hands, Meredith glared down at the whimpering, sobbing Ferengi. “And how many of them are dead?” Again, the Merran made a gesture. Barely controlling herself, Meredith bent down and grabbed the ghastly wound in Nrug’s groin and squeezed. “You little shit bag! You had twelve children captive and three of them are dead! For that alone you should die a very slow and hideously painful death, but we intend something far more...fitting. You will die, but not quite yet and not by our hands. You have a very valuable lesson to learn first.” Standing, Meredith looked at the Merran and smiled. “He’s all yours. Just remember he must be alive when you’ve finished and able to recover enough to be thrown into the debtor’s section of Rog prison. I’ve made arrangements that neither he, nor any member of his family will ever be released and of course without any funds, this pus packet won’t be able to pay to have his body reconstructed. And...” She grinned coldly. “I’ve engaged some Ferengi inmates, males with particular tastes and large cocks, to pay our little friend here regular visits.”

Again the Merran stared up at Meredith and the tall woman smiled affectionately. “Don’t worry, with no money, no assets, no family and completely disabled, he will Rog prison, probably either of a slow acting sexually transmitted disease, or certainly with a cock up his bleeding arse. And I’ve made sure every time he’s raped, he is to be reminded of all the kids he fucked.” She winked. “Are we good? Is that payment enough for your invaluable assistance?” The Merran nodded solemnly and slowly turned to stare at the terrified Ferengi, her mouth beginning to water. Smiling for the first time and showing her sharp teeth which she was about to put to good use, Meredith crossed her arms and watched. Yes, it was always good when someone paid and she was pleasantly surprised to learn that watching a master at work was almost as good as doing it herself. Almost. Despite the gore on her hands, Meredith enhanced the experience by masturbating. Why not make the most of a very entertaining situation?

Predictably, Jean-Luc and Beverly made love next morning, but Jean-Luc resisted Beverly’s suggestion they use the stimulant again. He sighed and rubbed his eyes, making Beverly realise he had something on his mind. They were lying together, sated and relaxed, the bedding still tangled around their legs. Rising up on one elbow, Beverly placed her hand flat on his chest, looked down at her lover and said softly, “What is it, Jean-Luc?” He sighed again and gave Beverly a look of one seeking forgiveness. “Beverly, my love, yesterday, last night and this morning were wonderful, but...” When he said no more, Beverly simply waited. With their new-found honesty and connection she knew he would tell her what was in his heart and she wasn’t worried. “I can’t continue to neglect my duty just to indulge in...” Playfully, Beverly tickled his ribs. “Baby making?” She giggled her question. He snorted and gripped her hands, saying with mild indignity, “Stop that!” Then he smiled and moved to nuzzle her neck. She mewed but knew he was only trying to ease any hurt feelings, not initiate arousal. Muttering into her neck he said,

“I can’t do it, Beverly. As wonderful as it is...and as much as I want to, I can’t. When I’m rostered for duty, I have to comply. I simply cannot afford the luxury of this...exquisite indulgence. I have to set the example, be the leader I’m supposed to be. If word got out that I flouted my own rules...” To make him feel better, Beverly giggled and tickled him again. While he attempted to grab her hands again, she said through her laughter, “People wouldn’t turn up for duty; they’d stay in their quarters and fuck all day!” Giving up, he flopped onto his back and let out a soft chuckle. “And of course, nothing would get done!” He grinned and turned his head and very gently ran one finger down Beverly’s face. “Nothing official. But by God, there’d be a lot of happy people aboard!” They both chuckled. It was her turn to nuzzle him and he sighed, gathering her into his arms. “You do understand, don’t you?” Suddenly sitting up, Beverly gazed steadily down at her lover and nodded; her expression totally serious. “Of course I do, Jean-Luc.” He sat up and took her face in his hands. “I haven’t hurt your feelings?” She smiled tenderly. “No, not in the slightest.” They shared a soft kiss and Jean-Luc began to turn to leave the bed. Beverly’s gentle grip of his upper arm arrested his movement. Her whisper moistened his inner ear. “Just as long as you know I’ll be waiting once your shift is over. Then, Jean-Luc, your duty will be to serve me.” He closed his eyes and swallowed, his erection slowly growing. He stood, turned and watched as Beverly’s eyes travelled over him, settling on his hardening penis. She licked her lips, making him roll his eyes. “That, Beverly, was deliberately provocative. Now I have to spend the entire day with that particular thought running through my head. Thank you very much.” Grinning impishly, Beverly winked and, with premeditated sensuousness, licked her lips again and pinched her nipple. Jean-Luc shook his head in exasperation and stalked to the bathroom, muttering loudly, “You are unbelievable!” Beverly grinned and flopped back onto the bed, saying just loud enough for him to hear, “And you, my love, are putty in my hands!” When he came out of the bathroom sometime later, showered and shaved, Beverly went to him and kissed him, gently pulling back his foreskin and caressing the head of his still erect penis. He sighed and shook his head. “Are you deliberately trying to make my day hard?”

She smiled enigmatically and said as she left to go to the bathroom, “Not your day, Jean-Luc, just your cock.” He got into his uniform and swore softly as he had trouble stuffing his stiff penis into his trousers. Doing up the fly caused discomfort and when he looked down at himself, the large bulge was obvious. Beverly appeared at his side and made matters worse by running a fingernail over him. Swearing darkly, he left the room and went to the replicator to order breakfast as Beverly dressed. They sat at either end of the dining room table, Jean-Luc studiously ignoring the sultry looks Beverly kept sending him. Eventually he put his coffee cup down and sighed with his head bowed. “All right, I give up. What is it you want?” Beverly made a show of raising her eyebrows in mock surprise and feigned innocence, her hand spread on her breasts. “Want? Who, me?” Scrunching up one side of his mouth, Jean-Luc gave her a frankly disbelieving look. Beverly waited a few moments then laughed lazily. “Oh, nothing, Jean-Luc, I was just teasing.” He sighed and shook his head. “Well it worked, but I still have a hard on and I still have to get through the day.” Rising from her seat, Beverly went and hitched her backside on the table edge beside JeanLuc. Bending, she kissed his bald pate. “Sorry, but if it’s any consolation, I’m horny too and I will be all day.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “Oh, that’s just great. That helps a lot, thanks again.” He stood and Beverly couldn’t help but grin at seeing the tantalising bulge in his trousers, straining the material. Pulling her mouth to one side, she scratched her ear. “Well, all I can say is...hold that thought.” She kissed his cheek and breezed out of their quarters. Jean-Luc looked down at himself and swore in nine different languages. None helped. He had only one option and that was to wait until he subsided. Masturbation was out of the question as both he and Beverly wanted his semen to be as fertile as possible. So he was late for the morning briefing, earning a sinful look of amusement from his lover, seated oh-so innocently at her place, patiently waiting with the rest of the senior staff for their uncharacteristically tardy captain. Thankfully no one had the temerity to ask why he was late, and he offered nothing by way of explanation. Sometimes it was good to be the king. Frustrating, yes, but it had its advantages.

Having dropped the little Merran back on her planet, a naked Meredith laid in a new course and heading, set the speed and engaged the auto pilot. She then left the cockpit of her vessel and made her way to the bedroom. Long before she’d ever reached Ferenginar, Meredith had already begun the process by which she could establish herself within her chosen planet’s society, although she had absolutely no intention of mixing with the locals. The very thought made her skin crawl. She was now exceptionally wealthy. Not only did she possess enormous demonstrative wealth in the latinum now safely on its way via a secure drone craft to a predestined destination, but now that she was the owner of all Nrug’s holdings and assets, the director of every one of his former schemes and deals, she knew she would have a constant, regular and very lucrative stream of income and, for what she had in mind, that was vital. Of course her wealth was meaningless within the Federation and that was fine by her as she had no intention of settling anywhere near their borders. Indeed the planet she’d chosen was quite some distance away, but...and she really had to smile at this...her new craft possessed technology the Federation was only just beginning to investigate. A distance that might take a starship months to travel, Meredith could so in days. So, after making a suitable effort to study the options, Meredith chose a small, very prosperous planet well out of the way where wealth such as hers was important and those with great wealth were treated with the deference she thought she not only deserved, but was her right. However, the government of this planet were very selective about just who was permitted to become a citizen, to a point, and Meredith was annoyed to find out just what that point was. She was mildly surprised to find immense wealth alone wasn’t enough, (although it certainly helped). One had to be found...acceptable, although one was never asked just how one came to be so very wealthy. She, to her great irritation had to submit a profile, a resume if you will, outlining her species, gender, origins, past associations (including any criminal convictions), intentions in wanting to stay, if gaining citizenship and last and most importantly, the total of her wealth, expressed not only in mere amounts of latinum, but by her entrepreneurial skills in running and maintaining a profitable and stable source of income. At first, Meredith had balked at composing this profile as she knew it would necessitate some very skilful and imaginative bending of the facts and completely obliterating others, but once she’d been to the Fen she knew the profile was meaningless, as all it garnered was the attention of the treasury of the planet to extract the initial ‘encouragement’ payment, meant (so it was stressed) to begin the process of investigation. However, Meredith knew the real reason for the profile and the ‘payment’ was to simply separate the wheat from the chaff. If she could afford the initial payment, then eyes could be ‘diverted’ when checking the veracity of her profile.

So, not long after leaving the Fen her profile had been sent. That she had never even considered she’d fail in her business with Nrug didn’t even enter her head. She knew she’d be successful. With her vessel on its way, she sprawled on her oversized bed, its pure white linen contrasting nicely with her smooth, golden skin as she perused a large PADD. Until she read all the information on the device, she wouldn’t know exactly just how wealthy she was. Given that her profile had already been sent and the amounts stated had been a conservative estimate, Meredith was eager to know the facts. What she found pleased her immensely. Half an hour later, she rolled onto her back and stared lovingly up at a huge image of Beverly’s face which graced the entire ceiling of the room. “Well, my beloved Beverly, you will never go without anything. There is nothing you can think of that I can’t provide.” Meredith sighed and pursed her lips, as if in anticipation of a kiss. She knew, by the last communication, that her profile and payment had been accepted. In response, she’d sent a brief document, describing her wish to buy a large area of land, specifically by the equatorial ocean, where she would have dwelling constructed, built to her personal specifications. She also made it clear not only was she happy to pay the rest of the citizenship admission payments, but that she would, in gratitude of course, pay above the usual newcomer tax rate. In return, she stipulated that once the building had been completed and she was in residence, she was to be left strictly alone. All communications with the appropriate government departments and the infrastructure of the population would be done remotely. No one was to see her, visit her or call her. As added incentive, just to demonstrate how eager she was to join the citizenry, Meredith sent the chief minister of the treasury a very healthy sum, meant of course to assist her and her family in such mundane but noisome things like the education of the offspring and the odd encouragement payments the minister needed to outlay to keep the government running smoothly. Meredith sighed and stretched one long arm to open the drawer beside her bed. Extracting a very large dildo, she squeezed out some lubricant from her glands, made sure the device was well coated and, with her eyes glued to Beverly’s image, slowly inserted inside her. At first she was content to just leave the oversize toy in her remarkable vagina; content to tease out her new bigger clit from where it was hidden inside her body, enjoying the sensations of tantalising her hyper sensitive clit as well as being filled so deliciously. As her clit erected, Meredith said softly, “I have spoken with my doctors, dear Beverly and I have made a tentative booking for your surgeries. We’ll have such a lovely time, going through all the information. I can’t wait to watch your face as you see what’s available! SFM have nothing like it, nor would you find this level of expertise anywhere in the Federation. Oh...” As much as she wanted to keep her eyes open all the time, her gaze fixed on Beverly’s image, the sensations were so intense she just had to close them occasionally. “Oh...Beverly, Beverly, my beloved Beverly.” She opened her eyes again and they seemed to glow and glitter. “There’s so much I want to show

you! Do to you! Share with you!” Arching up, her unnaturally long spine bending alarmingly, Meredith reached down with her free hand and activated the dildo while she continued to tease her huge clit. A similar size to an average human male’s erect penis, she was able to actually stroke it. “Once you see me, Beverly, witness my perfection, I know you’ll want to be the same. Together we shall discover heights of passion and ecstasy no being has ever before reached.” With her heels digging into the mattress, Meredith’s body flexed and from her wide-open mouth came a protracted, but softly articulated sound of release. Such was her augmentation, the orgasm went on for nearly five minutes, indeed, it was a conscious decision of Meredith herself that ended it. She had been experimenting, seeing just how long she could stay in a state of orgasm and she knew she had much to learn yet. It did occur to her that she might not have any limits and the thought intrigued and delighted her, especially when she imagined what it would be like to spend several hours with her Beverly, locked together and floating in an endless sea of emotional and physical euphoria. An eternity of orgasm. Slowly relaxing, she switched off the dildo, but left inside her, enjoying how she could move it with her immensely strong internal muscles and idly but very gently, kept stroking her clit. She wasn’t trying to achieve another orgasm, she merely liked the sensations, she felt, when in the aftermath of an orgasm, with her adoring gaze fixed on Beverly’s image, she did some of her most creative thinking. Her mind wandered, going over the logistics of helping Beverly choose her enhancements, getting her to the medical facility and back, making the very discreet payments (untraceable, of course) and settling down to a life of extraordinarily satisfying sex and intellectual stimulation. Of course that meant Beverly would have to visit the Fen, but the alternative was impossible, in fact she wouldn’t even contemplate it. Meredith could now only exist with her equal, someone like her. Everyone else was so...inferior. No, Beverly would have to visit the Fen; there was no way around it. It never crossed Meredith’s mind that Beverly may not want any of these things, that she may want to stay just the way she was. By now so far removed from sanity and reality, Meredith was incapable of thinking of anything but herself. She had become the living, breathing example of the perfect egoistic hedonist. In all history, even in legend, nothing like Meredith had ever lived and Beverly was the sole focus of her attention, not just her perception of self, but her reason for being. So of course, Beverly had to be raised, brought up to Meredith’s impossible heights. Only then could the beautiful red haired doctor take her place at Meredith’s side. The image of Beverly had been broken down into various parts, greatly magnified images of her lips, eyes, cheeks and other facial features were scattered around the ship. Letting her eyes wander from Beverly’s complete face, Meredith’s gaze settled on an enlarged image of her lower lip. She grinned then and had a very amusing thought. “I know, my sweet Beverly. What we need is a trophy! A memento! And I know exactly what it should be! Oh dear God, you’ll love it!” She giggled manically and crowed before saying breathlessly, “Picard’s cock and useless balls, mounted on the bones of his pelvis!”

She was so pleased with this new idea she increased her stroking and reactivated the dildo. When she came she stayed in orgasm for seven minutes, screaming Beverly’s name over and over. Much later a calmer Meredith studied the plans for her new dwelling. She had already received the estimate of time it would take to build it and in the interim; Meredith would reside in the penthouse of the most exclusive hotel on the planet, in total seclusion, of course. Next she accessed the Enterprise’s anticipated schedule. As long as nothing unforseen took place, she should be able to make her move within a month, perhaps a month and a half. She knew where the ship would be around that time and she already had her strategy in place. Childs’s play. Especially since she was dealing with nothing but children, by comparison to her, of course.

Burning The Edges Pt. 2  

A psychotic gay crewmember has her sights set on Crusher. Only Picard stands in the way of her achieving her fantasy of a life with her love...

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