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The Tenderness Of Bravery. Commander William Riker glanced sideways at his Captain, a slight frown marring his genial face. With a surreptitious peek at the chronometer beside him, the Commander wondered what was going through his CO’s mind. Jean-Luc Picard’s shift had ended over an hour ago yet he was still on the Bridge. He had emerged from his Ready Room forty minutes earlier and contented himself by sitting in the command chair, seemingly studying the readouts before him. Will stifled a sigh and gazed at the viewscreen, the vista unchanged as the mapping and cataloguing of the star system progressed, as it had for the past week and would continue for another month. Sensing movement beside him, Will turned his attention to his Captain. The older man stretched and offered a small smile. “Well Number One I believe I will retire for the night.” The First Officer returned the smile. “Actually Captain, your leave started over an hour ago.” Jean-Luc pursed his lips and nodded. “Indeed.” “Is everything at the vineyard set up?” The Captain nodded. “Yes, all is in readiness.” “And you’ve chosen a Doctor?” Jean-Luc nodded. “Yes.” Will grinned. “Well Sir…two days and you’ll be on your way. How long will the trip take?” “Oh about eight days…we’re in no hurry, we have a month and a half yet.” The Captain stood. “Although I am now officially off duty, don’t hesitate to call on me if need be.” Will rose to his feet, his warm affection for his Captain evident in his happy blue eyes. “Of course Captain, thank you Sir. Goodnight.” Jean-Luc nodded and left the Bridge maintaining a straight back and square shoulders, but once he was in the turbolift, he relaxed and rubbed his tired eyes. “Deck eight.” As he exited the lift and approached his quarters, a wistful smile slowly emerged. He hesitated momentarily at his door before stepping forward and triggering the sensor. Her subtle perfume pervaded the air and he closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. A soft feminine voice caressed his ears. “Long day?” He smiled and nodded, but stayed where he was. His eyes opened and settled on the beautiful redhead seated on the sofa. She smiled at him, but he could see her confusion. “Jean-Luc? Why are you just standing there?” He sighed deeply and shook his head his velvety baritone sending a shiver through the watching woman. 1


“I was remembering the countless times in the past I’ve walked into these quarters, tired and frustrated, only to spend a lonely night with no comfort or solace.” The woman rose and moved slowly to him, her bulk making him smile. When she was close enough, he reached out and laid a hand on her distended stomach. In return she lifted a hand and traced a line from his eyebrow to his endearingly dimpled chin. “Those days are long gone Jean-Luc.” He sighed and moved slightly to her side, making it easier to kiss her. “I love you Beverly.” The Doctor tilted her head and rested her cheek against his. “And I you my Captain. Now come and sit down. I want to hear about your day.” He smiled and took her hand as they sauntered over to the sofa. Once settled, Jean-Luc sighed and wrapped an arm over Beverly’s shoulders, gently pulling her closer. “Actually my love, I would prefer to talk about your day. Did the baby shower go well?” Beverly’s giggle took him unawares. “Oh it was a hoot. Did you know there are male Orion dancers?” A frown crossed the Captain’s brow as he shook his head. “No I didn’t know that…but what on Earth was a male Orion dancer doing at the baby shower?” A light flush crept up Beverly’s neck, blooming in full over her face. “Ah…it was Deanna’s doing…she thought a normal shower would be a bit…staid.” There was a moment’s silence before Jean-Luc’s eyes widened. “Are you telling me that male Orion dancers do what female Orion dancers do?” Beverly giggled again. “Uh huh.” The Captain’s mouth opened and closed twice before any sound came out. “But…but…Beverly those women…they…it’s…what they do is positively pornographic! Are you telling me the men do the same...?” The Doctor sighed wistfully. “Yeah.” Jean-Luc sat up and scowled down at his companion. “And this was at a baby shower?” Beverly grinned up at the outraged man and patted his arm. “Settle down Jean-Luc…it was a hologram, not the real thing.” The Captain shook his head. “But didn’t you have a male exotic dancer at your hen’s night?” With deliberate patience, Beverly said evenly, “Yes, but he was Human and quite tame. Look Jean-Luc we did all the traditional ‘baby’ things at the shower and Deanna thought there would be no harm in livening things up a little. Really… it was nothing.” The disgruntled man sat back and frowned with distaste. The Doctor snuggled into his side and gently nibbled his earlobe. “Anyway…you had a buck’s party with the boys. What’s the difference?” Jean-Luc rubbed his nose and sighed theatrically. “Firstly, all I did was have a few drinks with a select few male friends…and second…there were no exotic dancers.” Beverly lifted herself higher and kissed him. “That’s not what I heard.” 2


He pulled back, his eyes wary. “Really? And just what did you hear?” With her fingers idly drawing patterns over his chest, Beverly shrugged imperceptibly. “Oh nothing really…just the bit about the Deltan female…you know, the one reputed to be on heat.” The Captain swallowed convulsively and took a deep breath. “Ah…now you mention it, I do recall a Deltan female in oestrus, but that was Riker’s doing and I made sure I absented myself soon after she was…presented to me.” The Doctor smiled triumphantly. “Hmm. From what I know of Deltan women in that condition, they’re irresistible. It is reputed that their sexual allure is overwhelming.” Jean-Luc lifted his chin and pursed his lips. “Not to me.” The Doctor nuzzled his neck. “Oh I see. So why did you come back to your quarters that night so hot and bothered?” Jean-Luc’s look was disdainful. “I did no such thing.” With a gentle bite to his neck, Beverly’s hand untucked his shirt. “Really? Well far be it from me to point out the obvious my love, but you came through the door that night with a raging hard on. In fact if my memory serves me correctly…you ravished me that night…twice.” Jean-Luc sighed with relaxed happiness as Beverly’s hand caressed his chest. “My dear Doctor…you’ve always had that effect on me.” Beverly chuckle was cheeky. “And a head full of Deltan pheromones had absolutely nothing to do with it?” The Captain turned to her and kissed her with languid passion. “None whatsoever.” With a sultry moan, Beverly slid her hand down his torso to trace the outline of his erection through his pants. “And what about this? What do you suggest we do about it?” With remarkable grace Jean-Luc stood and held out his hands. “Come to bed and I’ll show you.” Beverly took his hands and allowed him to help her to her feet. Being seven and a half months pregnant she found herself cumbersome and unwieldy. Hand in hand they walked to the bedroom and slowly undressed each other before lying on the bed together. Jean-Luc took his time arousing his wife, lingering over her swollen breasts and gently sliding his fingers through her folds. When she was ready, Beverly rolled onto her side and Jean-Luc spooned behind her. He eased a hand under the swell of her belly and gently pushed down, his hand over the fan of her copper curls. With her properly aligned, he gripped his penis and guided it into her and, once fully immersed in her tight silken heat, he returned his hand to her sex and softly teased her clitoris until she began to rhythmically clench him. At feeling the delicious sensations, Jean-Luc started to gently thrust. Beverly mewed sensuously and covered his hand with hers, helping him to pleasure her. Her first orgasm was gentle and languid, her body barely reacting. Jean-Luc was accustomed to this. Her pregnancy well advanced, Beverly’s climaxes were numerous and tended to build in 3


intensity. With that in mind, Jean-Luc continued his gentle thrusts, allowing his skilful fingers to play her like a rare and beautiful instrument. Soon another orgasm washed over her, this one stronger, making her body shudder. With diligence borne of love and the desire to give his lover pleasure, Jean-Luc persisted, eliciting three more climaxes in his wife before she began to pant and writhe. Throughout their lovemaking the Captain had exerted formidable control over his own need, thankful that his slow pace afforded him a chance to regulate his responses to Beverly’s obvious passionate reactions. He gently bit her shoulder as he sensed her final climax gathering. He increased the pressure of his sliding fingers and quickened and deepened his thrusts. His orgasm caught him unawares. He strove to stop it but it was no use. His body tensed and he buried himself inside her and moaned deeply as the release swept him away. Beverly’s body flexed and spasmed, her mouth open in a silent scream as the final powerful orgasm surged through her. Somehow her husband had kept his fingers sliding over her clitoris and, as he softened, Beverly’s body resounded again and again with sensuous aftershocks. Her hand reflexively gripped his and stopped all movement and they lay together, panting and gasping as their bodies recovered. After several minutes, Jean-Luc reached down and pulled up the covers, before wrapping his arm around his dozing wife and kissing her temple. “Goodnight mon coeur.” She mumbled sleepily and Jean-Luc drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face, something that had become common over the recent months.

As ingrained habit demanded, Jean-Luc was awake before the alarm and softly ordered it off line. With his hand spread over his wife’s belly, a tender smile emerged as he felt his unborn child move energetically under his gentle touch. Beverly snuffled in her sleep and shifted slightly, backing further into his embrace. The Captain softly kissed her neck and closed his eyes, allowing himself to slip back to sleep. Two hours later it was Beverly who woke. She took a moment to savour the feeling of being held by her husband before her over-full bladder made her exit from the bed essential. She gently lifted Jean-Luc’s arm and slid from the bed, padding naked across the room and into the bathroom. Having finished and washed her hands, she was making her way back to bed when his deep voice made her smile. “You look absolutely beautiful.” The Doctor slipped into the bed and snuggled into Jean-Luc’s embrace. She sighed and kissed him. “Remind me to ask Selar to check your eyes. There seems to be something wrong with them.” His reaction was to kiss her with languid passion. Tapering the kiss, he pulled back and frowned. “There is nothing wrong with my eyes as you well know.” Beverly stifled a snort and shook her head. 4


“Jean-Luc my love…I look like a beached whale, my hair is a fright and I’ve no make up on.” He tightened his embrace. “And you look absolutely wonderful!” Beverly chuckled. “Rose coloured glasses?” The Captain grinned and gently pushed his wife onto her back, rising on his elbow to stare lovingly down at her. “Possibly, but I have always thought you were the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.” They kissed again and Beverly sighed. Jean-Luc lowered his head to the pillow and placed a hand on her belly. “Junior was very active earlier this morning.” Beverly smiled and nodded. “I know. The little beastie keeps stepping on my bladder.” Jean-Luc chuckled. “What time is our appointment?” “Eleven thirty.” Jean-Luc sighed happily. “Good, that gives us plenty of time. Do you want to shower or bathe this morning?” Beverly chewed her lower lip, mulling over her decision. “Shower I think…on the condition you join me.” Jean-Luc sighed theatrically and closed his eyes. “Don’t tell me…you want help washing your feet again?” The Doctor giggled and insinuated her hands under the covers to tickle his ribs. Jean-Luc guffawed and drew up his knees, grabbing her hands and shaking his head. “Wench! Stop that or I’ll return the favour.” Beverly grinned saucily. “Well what do you expect? You know damn well I can’t even see my feet left alone wash them.” Jean-Luc rolled onto his side, sat up and pushed the covers down; exposing the rise of Beverly’s swollen stomach. He bent forward and tenderly kissed the taut skin, before gently laying his face near her navel. Beverly watched with tender amusement, her hand caressing her husband’s scalp. After a few minutes she said softly, “Help me up sailor. Let’s get this day on the road.”

After a leisurely breakfast and a stroll through the arboretum, the couple made their way to Sickbay. The head nurse, Alyssa Ogawa greeted her boss and Captain and led them to a bio bed, making the preliminary scans while they waited for Doctor Selar. The stoic Vulcan soon joined them and read the results of the scans, studiously ignoring Beverly’s attempts to see them. “Are you getting sufficient sleep Doctor Crusher?” Beverly nodded. “Yes.” 5


Raising one perfect eyebrow, the medic stared hard at her boss. “The scans show recent sexual activity. Do you think that’s wise at this stage?” Jean-Luc lowered his head, trying to hide the flush that rose rapidly over his face. Beverly stifled a snicker, her amusement at Jean-Luc’s discomfort making her want to giggle. “It’s fine Selar, we’re careful…nothing too vigorous I can assure you.” The Vulcan nodded. “Very well. Everything is progressing normally, however your blood pressure is slightly elevated. I will administer something to stabilise it but your physician on Earth will need to know. To that end I will supply your notes.” Beverly frowned. “All right…I suppose it’s associated with the fluid I’m carrying?” “I would say so.” The red head sighed. “Damn.” Jean-Luc took his wife’s hand and addressed his enquiry to Selar. “Is the condition life threatening?” Selar closed her tricorder. “If left untreated yes, but it is in the lower end of the scale and, if treated properly should be of little consequence.” The Captain cast his wife a look and continued, “And our journey? Will it be safe to travel?” Selar nodded. “Yes Captain. I will supply the necessary drug and Doctor Crusher can self-administer.” The Vulcan clasped her hands in front of her and tilted her head. “Are you still unwilling to know the sex of your child?” The couple looked at each other and shared a tender smile. It was the Captain who answered. “That is correct Doctor.” Selar bowed her head. “Very well. Your child is progressing normally and I foresee no problems. You are free to leave.” Jean-Luc helped Beverly off the bed and the couple thanked Selar. As Beverly made to leave, Alyssa caught her arm. “Doctor Crusher?” Beverly smiled at the Lieutenant and encouraged her to speak. The small Asian woman looked shyly at Jean-Luc and he took the hint. Squeezing Beverly’s hand he said softly, “I’ll see you outside.” Beverly threw him a smile and watched him appreciatively as he walked away. Alyssa poked her arm. “Stop that.” Brought out of her reverie, Beverly grinned. “Why? He’s all mine.” Alyssa rolled her eyes. “Yes we know…and you broke a lot of hearts taking him off the market.” Beverly giggled and watched curiously as Alyssa gathered the other nursing staff around her. “Doctor Crusher…we know you’ve had a baby shower but we wanted you to have this.” The petite woman handed Beverly three isolinear chips. Frowning, the Doctor tilted her head. 6


“What are these?” Rayner Kholer smiled and pointed at the chips. “We all recorded our favourite music…nothing I might add that was too…loud…just gentle stuff that maybe your baby might like to listen to.” The Doctor beamed at her friends and sighed. “That’s really lovely. The Captain and I have been careful to expose junior to music all through the pregnancy but…and I’ll hold you to this little secret…because of my ever so cultured husband, it’s been mostly classical. Is there any blues or jazz on these?” Kerry Waghorn nodded eagerly. “Yes! And some swing. Actually there’s music from all over the quadrant. Your baby should have a very rounded education.” Beverly chuckled. “Thank you all very much, this will be great. All I have to do now is convince bubs’s father to allow me to play it.” Everyone laughed and Alyssa took Beverly’s hands. “We’ll all miss you Doctor.” Beverly sighed. “If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be back in six or seven months. It’ll pass quickly, you’ll see.” Her staff all nodded. Taking her leave, Beverly left Sickbay, her step light. Her husband met her in the corridor. “Everything all right?” Beverly smiled and nodded. “Yes, just a last minute gift.” “A gift? What is it?” The Doctor chuckled wryly. “I tell you later.”

That afternoon the couple were enjoying a quiet cup of tea while gentle jazz played in the background. Jean-Luc’s head slowly nodded, his eyes closed. Beverly watched him out of the corner of her eye, amused to find him so engrossed. The music ended and the Captain sighed. Beverly gently squeezed his hand. “Well, what do you think?” The man opened his eyes and frowned slightly. “I liked it…it was relaxing and very mellow.” “There you see…music doesn’t have to be classical to be interesting. Computer play next selection.” The sultry voice of Billie Holliday wafted through the cabin and Jean-Luc smiled. “I’ve heard this before, you play this often.” The Doctor grinned, her blue eyes sparkling. “Uh huh.” The door chimed and Jean-Luc looked over, calling softly, 7


“Come.” The parting doors revealed Deanna Troi, Ship’s Counsellor and Beverly’s best female friend. Unwilling to get up, Beverly beckoned with her hand. “Come in Dee.” Jean-Luc shook his head in silent exasperation and rose to his feet, smiling at their visitor. “Good afternoon Counsellor.” Deanna grinned and clasped her hands behind her back. “Good afternoon Captain.” She looked down at her friend and sighed. “You look insufferably contented.” The Doctor grinned. “That’s because I am.” Jean-Luc went to the replicator and called softly, “Can I get you something Counsellor?” She nodded. “Yes please Captain, a hot chocolate with two marshmallows.” Suppressing a shudder, Jean-Luc placed his order and soon rejoined the women carrying a tray. Noting Deanna was seated, he put her mug in front of her and then handed his wife her chamomile tea, taking his Earl Grey and sitting back to take a tentative sip. “How did the exam this morning go?” Beverly sipped her tea and raised her eyebrows, flapping a hand. “Piece of cake.” “Everything’s okay?” “Yep…couldn’t be better.” Jean-Luc frowned and softly cleared his throat making his wife scowl at him. “Oh all right my blood pressure’s up a tad, but really, it’s nothing.” Deanna leaned forward and stared hard at her friend. “Why do you have hypertension?” Beverly sighed. “It’s a combination of things. One is my age and another is the fact that I’ve developed a bit of fluid. There would also be hormonal considerations too, but honestly Dee, really I’m fine. You don’t think our Captain would be sitting here so smug if me or the baby were in any danger do you?” The Counsellor’s fathomless black eyes shifted to her Captain. He smiled and shrugged. “It’s true Deanna; Selar has given Beverly the all-clear. We leave tomorrow and Beverly will have some medication to self-administer. I’m sure if she had any doubts whatsoever, Selar would have cancelled our trip.” Deanna relaxed and sat back, sipping her drink as a comfortable silence descended. After a few minutes Deanna asked softly, “Captain…may I ask you a personal question?” Jean-Luc’s eyebrows rose and his dark eyes glittered. “You may ask Counsellor.” The petite woman smiled and tilted her head. “But will you answer?” The Captain pursed his lips. “That depends on the question.” 8


Deanna grinned knowingly. “Fair enough.” Folding his arms, Jean-Luc said softly, “Ask away.” Taking a deep breath, Deanna placed her mug on the low table and looked straight into her CO’s eyes. “Captain you have loved Beverly for a very long time.” He merely nodded. “But you never did anything about it…never pursued a romantic relationship with her.” Jean-Luc frowned. “Your question?” “What changed? What was it that brought you two together finally, after all this time?” His dark eyes bored into hers, his face unreadable. Deanna began to feel uncomfortable and was on the verge of apologising when his quiet deep voice broke the silence. “A camellia.” The Counsellor frowned in confusion and Beverly quietly sighed. “A camellia? I don’t understand.” The Captain smiled. “We were to have dinner and I went to the Arboretum to see if Stan had any new blooms. He showed me a new camellia and I inveigled him to give me one specimen. I presented it to Beverly that night…and it seemed to touch her deeply.” He held his hands up. “The rest, as they say, is history.” The Counsellor frowned and looked to Beverly for confirmation. The Doctor sighed and curled her legs under her. “It’s true that the camellia was the catalyst, but the truth is I was finally ready to admit how I felt about the Captain. It was something I’d been agonising over for months…as you well know… and his gesture, so typical of him to try and find something to please me, tipped the balance. I confessed my love and we became a couple.” Deanna sighed. “That really is so romantic. And the pregnancy…was it planned?” The couple shared a wry smile and Beverly shook her head. “No. As you know, the Captain can’t use implants because of his prosthetic heart and I’d been not using any contraception for a long time…I simply saw no need. Well, our physical relationship started immediately and I went to sickbay the next day for an implant, but it was already too late. Unbeknown to either of us, I had conceived.” Deanna giggled slyly. “Serves you right Beverly. You of all people should’ve known the risks of unprotected sex.” Jean-Luc took his wife’s hand and looked into her eyes. “I prefer to think of it as providence Counsellor. This was simply meant to be. We have been married now five months and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.” Beverly smiled tenderly and raised his hand to kiss it. Deanna watched the exchange with delight, never believing she would ever see her reserved, highly private Captain being so demonstrative. “So Will says everything’s ready at the vineyard.” Jean-Luc smiled. 9


“Indeed. The nursery has been refurbished and the family furniture has been taken out of storage. I believe the cradle is the same one I, my brother and generations of my family have used over the years. My sister-in-law is eagerly awaiting our arrival and apparently my village is preparing to welcome the newest Picard, my beautiful bride.” “Beverly will you deliver the child in hospital or opt for a home birth?” The Doctor shifted, her face screwed up with discomfort. Having found a more comfortable position she sighed. “Oh a home birth I think. We’ve asked Paul Chapman from Starfleet Medical to assist; I served with him when I was head of the facility. He’s a damn good Doctor and a dear friend.” Deanna smiled. “Well you seem to have everything under control. One thing before I leave…is this going to be an only child?” The couple looked at each other and both smiled. Beverly answered. “Although being pregnant at my age isn’t much fun, we do hope to have at least one more…a pigeon pair would be nice.” The Counsellor stood and grinned down at her friends. “Wonderful! Thank you for talking to me, I’ll see you tomorrow.” With his customary good manners, Jean-Luc stood and escorted Deana to the doors. Just before the sensor she stopped and turned to look her Captain in the eye. “Will and I are so happy for you Captain…you’ve waited a very long time.” Jean-Luc lowered his head, his deep voice soft. “It was worth it Deanna…I’ve never known such happiness, such utter contentment.” On an impulse, the pretty woman rose up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “Good afternoon Captain.”

They packed slowly, allowing Beverly to rest as often as she needed. They ate a leisurely dinner and retired early, slipping into sleep spooned together tightly. In the morning, Jean-Luc rose first, leaving his wife to sleep while he showered and shaved. He entered the bedroom with only a white towel around his slim waist and shook his head as Beverly growled at him. “You look drop dead gorgeous…come here.” With a cautionary shake of his finger, his mock scowl made the sleepy woman chuckle. “Not on your life, I know that tone of voice. If I get too close to you, I’ll be ravished.” The Doctor stretched languidly and mewed. “I don’t believe it! I’ve never known you to knock back the opportunity for a quickie.” Folding his arms over his chest and deliberately flexing his biceps, Jean-Luc grinned Gallically. “Under normal circumstances you’d be quite right, however we’re due to have breakfast with Will and Deanna in forty-five minutes and you’ve yet to have a shower. To put it succinctly…we don’t have time.”

10


The Doctor sat up and tried to get some semblance of order in her hair. With a frustrated huff, she abandoned the attempt and instead raised her arms above her head, stretching luxuriously and affording her husband an uninterrupted view of her swollen breasts. He growled softly and came to the bed, his hands gently cupping her breasts while he kissed her thoroughly. Beverly sighed into his mouth and reached for the towel, but his hands were too quick. He gripped her wrists and shook his head. “Oh no you don’t. Gods woman you’re a tease.” He stood up and Beverly snickered and pointed to the tantalising bulge pushing the towel out from his body. “What about that?” Jean-Luc closed his eyes and sighed. “You’re incorrigible. Come on I’ll help you wash your feet.” With a disappointed pout, Beverly slid from the bed and did her best to entice her husband to give in to his obvious arousal. He ignored her until he was kneeling before her in the shower and heard Beverly moan. Looking up he was transfixed as Beverly slid her fingers through her folds. His hands moved of their own volition, creeping up her thighs to join her fingers. As he took over, Beverly lifted her hands and teased her nipples, parting her legs and pushing her hips at the crouching man. Intoxicated by her scent and the wanton display, he closed his eyes and leaned forward, replacing his fingers with his mouth. A low moan greeted his ears as his tongue feathered over her clitoris. He gently slipped two fingers inside her and coaxed the first orgasm from her. It was gentle and he continued, the next three climaxes growing stronger. He suddenly stood and turned his lover, encouraging her to brace herself against the stall. As he eased his throbbing penis inside her, his fingers found her clitoris and matched the rhythm of his thrusts. His other hand found her breasts and he gently kneaded the firm flesh, struggling to keep control as she contracted around him. Beverly suddenly stiffened and she gasped, “Oh God…yes…yes…I’m, I’m…” With abrupt suddenness, her orgasm took her. Jean-Luc rested his forehead on her neck and clenched his teeth, continuing his thrusts and caresses until Beverly climaxed again. It was his undoing. With a low cry of liberation he held himself deep inside her as he came, his body flexing and shuddering. The couple regained their breath and Beverly chuckled tiredly. “Gotcha.” Jean-Luc eased himself from her and gripped her shoulders, turning her to face him. After a tender kiss he sighed. “What the hell am I going to do with you? For God’s sake…you’re insatiable!” With the warm water running down their bodies, Beverly gently pinched his nipples. “I’m afraid, my dear Captain, there is only one cure for my insatiable appetite.” She kissed him passionately then giggled. “I’ll give you one guess what it is.” He sighed and shook his head. “Well I can only assume it means sex. Lots of sex. Am I right?” The Doctor hummed happily and gently squeezed his flaccid penis. “Uh huh.” Jean-Luc offered a rare full grin. 11


“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.” Beverly frowned as Jean-Luc turned the water off. He helped her out of the shower and assisted her in drying. They dressed quickly and were setting the table when the door chimed. Beverly winked at her husband and he shook his head, calling out, “Come.” Will and Deanna entered, the big, bearded First Officer grinning at his CO. “Good morning Captain, Beverly.” Jean-Luc nodded, his eyes sparkling with warmth. “Good morning Number One, Counsellor.” With a sweep of his hand the Captain invited his guests to take their seats at the dining table. As the Captain and Doctor carried plates from the replicator, Jean-Luc said, “I hope coffee and croissants are all right. It’s a favourite of ours and just lately our dear CMO can’t seem to get enough.” Beverly coughed into her hand and cast her husband a knowing look. He shook his head then studiously ignored her sly teasing. Will and Deanna both noticed the by-play and Will grinned widely. “Yes Captain, I’ve heard that pregnant women develop voracious appetites. I suppose the trick is to be able to keep up with them.” Jean-Luc placed the coffee pot on its warmer with great deliberation then stared at his Exec, his face unreadable. Will, ever aware of his Captain’s well-guarded sense of privacy, tucked in his chin and cleared his throat. Deanna decided to break the impasse. “Are you packed Beverly?” With a grateful smile, the Doctor nodded. “Yes we finished last night.” “So you’ve got what…three hours ‘til you leave?” Beverly smiled and nodded. “Uh huh. We’re just going to hang around here in the meantime I’m a bit tired.” Deanna kept her sly smile under control, instead turning to her Captain. “You will keep in contact with us Sir?” Jean-Luc carefully applied some strawberry jam to his croissant then smiled at his Counsellor. “Indeed Deanna. We’re well aware of the ship’s pool concerning the date, time, weight, eye colour and gender of our child. Never fear we will supply all relevant information.” The Captain turned his attention to Will. “And you Number One…how many credits have you wagered?” The big man grinned. “Enough to make me very happy if I win any of the categories, but I’m really confident about the date. I reckon I’ve got it nailed, so,” He looked meaningfully at Beverly, “I’m relying on you Doctor. Don’t let me down.” Beverly covered her face with her hands and shook her head. “Oh my lord…the pressure! As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, now I’m solely responsible for the future financial security of the First officer. How will I cope?” Everyone chuckled and Beverly lowered her hands and grinned. Her face suddenly grimaced and she closed her eyes. Jean-Luc gently gripped her shoulder and asked softly, “Are you all right?” The wincing woman nodded and summoned a rueful smile. 12


“Yes, Bubs just kicked something tender. I’ll be fine in a minute.” As she predicted the discomfort soon passed and the four friends enjoyed their breakfast, lingering over their coffee, the men discussing ship’s business at the table while the women went to the sofa for a more relaxed talk. Deanna glanced over at the table then turned back to the Doctor, keeping her voice low. “You’ve got to take it easy Beverly, I’m well aware of what you two were up to this morning.” Beverly flushed and rolled her eyes. “God Deanna can’t you blank us out?” The Counsellor sighed and pushed her hair back, casting her friend an exasperated look. “Normally I do, but you two are very intense and I can’t help but be aware when you have sex. Actually I’m jealous, it must be incredible.” Beverly sighed and briefly closed her eyes. “It is believe me.” “Well anyway you should get more rest. Pretty soon the sex will have to stop.” With an irritated shake of her head, Beverly scowled. “I know and I’m not very happy about it. Can you imagine lying next to such a sexy, sensual man…a man you know from personal experience is very gifted in sexual matters, a man you’ve lusted after for years, and not be able to have your way with him? Honestly…talk about cruel and unusual punishment!” Deanna giggled. “Just remember it was sex that got you into this situation in the first place.” The Doctor wrinkled her nose and poked out her tongue. “Thank you very much.” The Counsellor gaped with feigned innocence. “That’s what friends are for.” Jean-Luc’s quiet baritone ended any further repartee. He had left the table and seated himself next to his wife, surprising both Will and Deanna by taking her hand and tenderly kissing her cheek. Will held out his hand and helped his lover to her feet. “Well we’ll be off. Thank you for breakfast Captain it was terrific.” Jean-Luc smiled up at his guests and sighed. “You are both most welcome. Forgive me, but I won’t escort you to the door, the plain truth is I’d rather sit with my wife and see if I can entice her to have a nap.” A grinning Commander held up his hand. “No worries Captain. We’ll see you off later.” With a gentle nod of his head, Jean-Luc dismissed the two officers and, once they’d left, coaxed Beverly into his embrace and encouraged her to lift her legs to stretch out. Having got her comfortable, the happy man gently caressed her face with his fingertips until she drifted off to sleep. “Sommeil mon coeur. J’taime.”

13


Four hours later Jean-Luc and Beverly we seated in the Captain’s yacht, the Calypso. Will, Deanna, Data and Geordi were on board the craft, each smiling broadly as their Captain settled his wife into her chair. She sighed with exasperation and looked up at her husband. “I would rather sit in the cockpit.” He frowned down then shrugged. “As you wish.” He helped her to her feet while casting their friends a long-suffering look, earning a giggle from Deanna. Beverly cast Jean-Luc a mock glare as the others made way as she went past. She turned her attention to the Counsellor and wrinkled her nose. “It’s taken me weeks to train him, now he’s going overboard!” Will chuckled and shook his head, earning him a glare from his Captain. “I would’ve expected a little back up from you Number One.” The big man grinned, his blue eyes twinkling. “It’s the lesser of two evils Captain. Yes I’m loyal to you…but I have to front up to Beverly for my physicals. Honestly Sir…who would you back?” Once Beverly was comfortably seated, the Captain faced his Exec. “Cowardice Will is a very nasty trait. I expected better of you, however I do concede you may have a point. I too have to endure Beverly’s prodding and poking during my physicals so in this instance I’ll let you off the hook.” He raised a finger and shook at Will’s face. “Only this once mind.” The gathered officers laughed and Will extended his right hand. “Goodbye Captain, safe travels.” As Will bent to kiss Beverly’s cheek, the others bade Jean-Luc farewell. Data and Geordi kissed Beverly, but Deanna hung back, waiting while the men went back into the living area. Jean-Luc gave a curious look over his shoulder but knew better than to interfere. Deanna took Beverly’s hands and said softly, “You will keep in regular contact?” Beverly smiled gently and nodded. “Yes, don’t worry.” The petite woman leaned forward and kissed her best friend, whispering, “And remember…behave yourselves. You need to rest.” As she straightened, Beverly grinned evilly. “Okay, but you remember I’m aware of Will’s…appetites. If I come back and find you’ve been getting by without enough sleep, I’ll be after you.” Deanna snorted. “Will’s appetites? What about mine? I think you should do some study on Betazoid females.” With her eyebrows raised, Beverly smirked. “Really? You’ve been holding out on me.” “No I haven’t…I was sparing you. Before you and the Captain became physical, your sexual frustration was almost impossible for me to bear. You and the Captain have large libidos and the tension was, at times, very intense. If I had told you about my…appetites it would have only made a bad situation worse.” Beverly smiled and batted her eyes.

14


“So selfless! My how altruistic can you get. I’ll ask Jean-Luc to give you a medal…for forbearance.” Deanna giggled and took her friend’s face in her hands. “Take care Beverly.” “I will, I have Captain Courageous to look after me.” As Deanna entered the living area it was to see her lover waiting for her. “Ready Dee?” She nodded and smiled. “Uh huh.” Turning to her Captain she smiled. “Goodbye Sir. Take care.” Jean-Luc nodded and watched as his friends left. He entered the cockpit and took his seat, opening a channel to the Bridge. “This is Picard. Calypso ready for launch, requesting clearance.” The reply was instant. “Bridge here Captain, you are clear for launch. Bon voyage Sir.” Jean-Luc smiled. “Thank you Bridge, Picard out.” The little ship dropped from her docking port and moved away from under the saucer section of the Enterprise. Once clear, she rotated on her axis and jumped to warp. Beverly, watching the monitor, witnessed her home disappear in a fraction of a second. She sighed and turned to her husband. “So we’re on our way.” Jean-Luc inputted the required instructions for the autopilot then stood and held out his hand. “Yes and now there’s no need for you to sit in that uncomfortable chair.” Beverly’s mouth opened in mock outrage. “How the hell do you know it’s uncomfortable for me?” He kissed her tenderly and rested his hands on her thighs. “Because of the way you’re sitting…that and the tight expression. Sure signs of discomfort.” The Doctor huffed but allowed her lover to help her to her feet. As they moved into the living area she sighed. “It doesn’t make much sense. Those chairs have been ergonomically designed, they should be comfortable…they always have been.” Jean-Luc held his tongue until he was certain Beverly was happily ensconced in a soft lounge chair. He then went to the replicator and ordered some teas. When he was seated beside her, he sipped his Earl Grey and pointed out the obvious. “Beverly those chairs were not designed for very pregnant people. You know that.” Beverly sighed and lifted her feet and tucked them under her, closing her eyes briefly. “Yes I do know, but still…” The Captain chuckled. “Perhaps you can add that to your research.” Beverly scowled. “What…how to design chairs that are comfortable for the very pregnant? Give me a break.” Jean-Luc’s chuckle became a laugh. Beverly grinned, delighted to bask in his good humour. He calmed and sipped again, his eyes glittering. He asked his next question softly. “What did Deanna say?” 15


Beverly flushed. “Oh you know…the usual stuff. Take care, eat well, get enough sleep.” The Captain shook his head. “No…the other stuff.” The Doctor adopted an innocent look. “Other stuff?” Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head. “Yes. You were deep in conversation in our quarters and you stopped when I approached, then the same thing happed here. Deanna held back until she could see you alone. What’s going on?” Beverly covered her face in her hands and took a deep breath. Jean-Luc waited patiently. “She is worried I’m doing too much and not getting enough rest.” “Nonsense. You’re getting ample rest. Does she think I’m incapable of caring for you?” Seeing the beginnings of anger, Beverly held up her hand. “No of course not. Look Jean-Luc, she was alluding to our…sex life.” Jean-Luc head shot up and he glowered. “Our what?” The Doctor took a large sip of her tea and sighed. “You’re aware she can sense us all the time?” The Captain’s reply was curt. “Yes, but I also know she can blank us out…afford us some privacy.” “That’s true, but apparently our lovemaking is so intense it infiltrates through her barriers.” Jean-Luc bowed his head and ran a hand over his bare scalp. “Are you telling me she was aware every time we made love?” Beverly nodded mutely. “Shit!” “And so you can see how she would know if I was feeling a little peaky.” The Captain closed his eyes and reined in his anger. Once again in control he sighed expansively. “I see. Well as she was concerned for you well being I suppose I’ll just have to let the matter go. I can tell you; however, I’m very glad to get away from the ship.” Beverly chuckled and finished her drink. “You and me both. If one more person had requested to touch my belly I would’ve been forced to carry a phaser to vaporise them.” Jean-Luc chuckled warmly and came to his feet. “Would you like to read for a while?” She nodded with a smile. The Captain retrieved their books and they settled down to pass a few hours, happy and contented in each other’s company.

For the next three days the couple fell into the rhythm of long-distance space travel. Loping along at warp five, the Calypso proved comfortable and well appointed. They read a lot, slept and made love once; Jean-Luc heartily relieved there was no one to sense their heated passion. 16


They were both in the living area sharing a light afternoon tea when the yacht ploughed head on into a cosmic string fragment. The craft ricocheted off the fragment, its speed reduced to warp three and spinning wildly, its engines offline. The occupants were thrown violently against the forward bulkhead. While their ship careered through space out of control, Jean-Luc and Beverly lay injured and unconscious on the floor. It was over two hours until the Captain groaned softly and rolled onto his side. Opening his eyes, he was greeted with absolute darkness. Suffering pain in several areas of his body and feeling nauseous, he got to his knees and called roughly, “Beverly?” There was no reply. “Computer lights.” Nothing, no response. He crawled forwards until he felt the bulkhead then he began to search with his hands, radiating outwards from the wall. In a few minutes he discovered his wife. He felt his way up her arm to her neck, his questing fingers encountering the telltale stickiness of blood. Finding her neck, he breathed a sigh of relief when he detected her pulse, strong and steady. He bent low to her ear and called, “Beverly can you hear me? Wake up Beverly.” She didn’t respond so he crawled over to one of the recessed lockers only to find it open and its contents disgorged. It took twenty-five frustrating minutes for him to find a palm beacon, but once he did he quickly located a med kit and made his way back to his wife. As he approached her she groaned. Using the light, Jean-Luc took some gauze from the kit and pressed it against the freely bleeding laceration on Beverly’s head. She suddenly jerked and her eyes opened. JeanLuc gently gripped her shoulder and spoke firmly. “Steady Beverly, you’ve been hurt. Lie still while I scan you.” She nodded once and winced at the pain that action brought. The tricorder’s quiet sounds shattered the silence of the darkened craft and Beverly swallowed, blinking away her tears. Having completed the scan, Jean-Luc helped Beverly to sit up and when she gestured for the tricorder, he reluctantly handed it over. She was silent as she read the results then sighed. JeanLuc’s voice was rough and deep. “Are you all right?” “Uh huh. Two broken ribs, sprained right wrist, fractured pelvis and a concussion.” The Captain gently laid his hand on her abdomen. “And the baby?” Beverly grimaced and wiped away an errant tear. “Bruised but stable.” Jean-Luc let out his breath and closed his eyes. He was about to suggest he move Beverly to the bed when she said shakily, “Your turn.” He frowned and shook his head. “No I want to…” Her voice hardened. “Dammit Jean-Luc give me the light and let me scan you!” He quelled his rising fear for his wife and sat slowly on the floor with a soft grunt. Handing Beverly the light and the tricorder, he sat quietly while she scanned him. When her gentle hand pressed some gauze to his temple he sighed. 17


“Well?” She squinted down at the tricorder. “One broken rib on the right, two on the left. Two cracked cervical vertebra, a wrenched knee and a nasty cut to the head. Not bad considering.” Jean-Luc snorted. “Considering what? What the hell happened?” Beverly used the light to sweep across the room. It was a mess. All the lockers had spilled their contents, the furniture was ripped from their moorings and several control panels were black and scorched. “Can you find me an osteo fuser?” Jean-Luc fumbled in the med kit and handed Beverly the requested instrument. She examined it and snorted. “Dammit, it’s useless.” The Captain grunted. “Obviously we still have life support and the inertial dampeners seem to be on line. I’m going to get you to the bed then I’m going to find another light and go to the cockpit. If I can eke some power from somewhere we can send a distress signal.” The Doctor gripped his arm. “I’ll go with you, you might need some help.” Shaking his head his voice took on a command tone. “No. You and our child have been injured. I want you to lie down in bed.” Beverly sighed shallowly. “Okay but you’re going to have to help me, I don’t think I can walk just yet.” Jean-Luc stood, suppressing a groan of pain and helped Beverly to gain her feet. They slowly negotiated the debris and made their way to the bedroom. Beverly supported herself against the wall while Jean-Luc dragged the mattress back onto the bed and found two pillows. Once she was lying comfortably, the Captain found another light and, after leaving her with her own palm beacon, made his way to the cockpit. What he found dismayed him. His initial sight was that of a wildly spinning star scape. The consoles were dead and the communication system was utterly destroyed so he got to his knees and tore open an access panel. By re-routing what little power that remained, he managed to activate the forward sensors but that didn’t help with the craft spinning out of control. As he was re-aligning the isolinear chips there was a gout of sparks and a small explosion. The Captain was set back on his behind with burnt fingers. Grabbing the fire suppressant, he put out the minor blaze and waved away the smoke. The panel was a complete mess of charred chips and scorched wiring, yet Jean-Luc still believed he could coax some power from the unit. Utilising his burnt fingers, he deftly re-wired some circuits and smiled grimly when one of the consoles glowed dimly. He climbed to his feet and attempted thruster control. The little ship answered sluggishly and over several minutes the sickening spinning slowed to a stop. Jean-Luc could see that they were still travelling at warp speed, the elongated prismatic stars flashing by told him that. With the forward sensors on line, he manoeuvred the Calypso until she was travelling forwards. Immediately a warning sounded. Without the aid of the computer to help him, Jean-Luc had to coax the screen to supply a grainy image. A planet was looming up and they were caught in its gravity well. He frantically attempted to launch a distress beacon, but was stymied by dead equipment. His eyes kept straying to the screen as the planet rapidly approached. Through gritted teeth he muttered, 18


“Oh God…I’ve got to slow us down!” Around the front of the little craft, the exterior metal began to glow as they entered the upper reaches of the planet’s atmosphere. With skill borne of many years experience, Jean-Luc fired the failing thrusters and lifted the nose of the ship, skimming and bouncing across the thickening space. He had no way of measuring their speed, but he sensed they were dropping out of warp. Caught within the grip of the planet, he continued to manoeuvre the yacht until he was sure they were at sub-light speed. Then, with his heart pounding, he gently angled the Calypso and made what was a very dangerous entry into the atmosphere. As they made their gentle descent, he tried valiantly to get some information about the planet. Before things became too chaotic he found three things. The planet was class M, the surface temperature was forty-five degrees Celsius and there were no discernable structures. The glow of the super heated exterior made him squint. The atmosphere was particularly thick and the cloud cover extended deeply. Blind and descending too fast, Jean-Luc kept firing the thrusters, attempting to give them as much time as he could. Suddenly the yacht broke through the clouds and Jean-Luc grimaced as he was confronted by an unbroken coverage of tall trees and mountainous terrain. He shook his head, his stomach clenching. He called out, “Beverly can you hear me?” “Yes.” “You’ll have to brace yourself! We’re about to crash land on an M class planet, but we’re coming down much too fast and there’s little I can do about it.” Her voice was surprisingly calm. She replied, “Is there anywhere to put down?” “Not that I can see yet.” “Okay, do your best my love, I trust you.” The Doctor got off the bed and settled against the bulkhead. She placed a pillow over her belly and crunched forwards, wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her head on her knees. She closed her eyes and clenched her jaw. “I’m thinking of you my love.” Jean-Luc swallowed and stifled a groan of despair as a tall mountain reared in front of them. He coaxed the nose of the craft up and fired the thrusters but there was a loud explosion and what little propulsion he had failed. They made it over the mountain crest but nose-dived down the other side. They clipped an outcropping of rock, sending them spiralling. With a Herculean effort, the Captain kept his wits about him and spotted a body of water fast approaching. With what little helm control he had left, he aimed the yacht at the water and grimly gripped the console. As the surface of the water zoomed up at them he groaned, “God help us.” He then lifted his head and yelled, “Hold on Beverly!”

19


The Calypso struck the water on her side, the impact causing her to cartwheel end over end for almost one hundred and seventy metres before she slewed sideways and slowly came to a stop, steam and smoke lazily rising around the ruined craft. Inside two people lay unconscious. Beverly was sprawled on the floor on her back, blood flowing freely from several wounds. Jean-Luc was tangled in the remains of one of the cockpit seats, the ulna and radius of his right arm poking through the flesh of his forearm. Blood covered his face and a spike of metal pierced the muscle of his left hip. The ship began to settle in the lake, the water finding entry through a multitude of rents and holes. Very quickly the Calypso started to fill. Going down by the stern, Beverly’s body was lifted by the water and floated free of the deck. The water infiltrated into the forward section and Jean-Luc, lying curled on his side, inhaled some water and immediately coughed violently. Dragged to consciousness, he was confused and very groggy. He stared uncomprehendingly at the blue-white bones protruding through his flesh and shook his head. He stared blearily back into the body of the craft and, by the daylight streaming in through the cockpit, saw Beverly float into view. He gasped and tried to stand, falling to his side as his left leg gave out under him. Ignoring the intense pain, he dragged himself forward into the deepening water. Reaching Beverly, he realised the yacht was not only filling very quickly but was lifting into a perpendicular position. Using the rising water to help him, the Captain guided Beverly back to the cockpit and with an effort, eased her through the broken front windscreen. He pulled himself up and through the opening just as a blast of escaping air blew out as the craft slipped under the water. Jean-Luc cradled his wife in his arm and looked to the shore, fifty metres distant. With slow steady strokes, he brought them to land and managed to drag Beverly up above the water line. He collapsed beside her, his last thought being one of sorrow. “I’m so sorry my love.”

Beverly groaned softly, rolled to her side and vomited. The hideous retching continued for some minutes before she calmed and flopped gasping onto her back. She lifted a hand to shield her eyes in the blazing sun, her eyes squinting and watering. Her other hand went to her belly as she felt a weak kick. The Doctor swallowed and blinked away her flowing tears. She turned her head sluggishly to see her husband lying beside her. Blood had trickled down his face in several streams from two nasty lacerations, one on his scalp, the other over his eyebrow. Beverly concentrated on her body, attempting an assessment. With gritted teeth, she tested her muscles experimentally and found she could sit up. Her wrist was badly swollen and throbbing but she utilised both hands to examine Jean-Luc, shaking her head as she catalogued his injuries. Taking advantage of his unconscious state, she aligned his broken arm but the pain that caused was enough to rouse him. He curled up and groaned, his stomach heaving. Beverly gently gripped his shoulder and spoke to him. “Jean-Luc? Can you hear me?” The Captain nodded slowly and Beverly eased him onto his back. 20


“Can you open your eyes?” He grimaced but complied, immediately turning his head to avoid the intense light. “We have to get out of the sun Jean-Luc. It’s very hot and we’re already burnt.” Jean-Luc nodded and slowly sat up. Unable to stifle a groan of pain, he cradled his broken arm and gripped his left hip with his free hand. Through a clenched jaw he ground out, “Christ there’s something…” Beverly removed his hand and searched for the reason for his pain. Her fingers encountered a short length of metal sticking out from his trousers. “Can you straighten your leg and lie on your right side?” He grunted and slowly did as she asked, gently easing his broken arm out from his body. The Doctor undid his pants and lifted them free of the shard to find the spike protruding from the flesh of his hip. Frowning deeply, Beverly felt around the injury, causing Jean-Luc to gasp. “Sorry my love. Jean-Luc you have a piece of metal embedded in your hip. I’m going to try and pull it out. Are you ready?” He could only nod. “Okay, hold on I’ll be as quick as I can.” The Doctor gripped the five centimetres that stood above her husband’s skin and applied steady pressure but it didn’t budge. Grimacing in pain, she used both hands but they slipped off, JeanLuc groaning deeply. Wiping the sweat from her face, Beverly tried again but she couldn’t extract it. Jean-Luc heard her exasperated grunt and turned his head. “What is it?” Beverly snorted. “I can’t move the bloody thing; it must have pierced the bone. Can you help me?” The Captain swallowed and closed his eyes. “Can’t we leave it there?” “No my love, I’m worried about infection. If we can get it out we can flush the wound clean.” By now panting and sweating profusely, Jean-Luc gritted his teeth and nodded. “Very well.” His left hand went to the site and Beverly guided it to the spike. They both gripped the metal and Beverly said quietly, “A steady pull Jean-Luc, try to resist jerking it out.” The Captain nodded silently and Beverly took as deep a breath as she could. “Okay on three. One, two, three.” As they pulled Jean-Luc cried out and screwed his eyes shut. For almost a minute they persisted until the Captain shook his head and pulled his hand free. “No…enough.” He lay panting and trembling as Beverly shook the sweat from her eyes. When he’d recovered a little, the Doctor said softly, “We’ll give it one more try my love, and this time we jerk it. One hard quick pull. Okay?” Jean-Luc nodded silently and allowed Beverly to guide his hand to the metal. They both took hold and he waited for her signal. “Okay…NOW!” The violent pull did the trick. As the metal slid from his flesh, blood welled up and poured over his hip. The suffering man let out a cry of agony and Beverly had to hold his hand tightly as he attempted to clutch the injury. 21


“It’s out! Hold on Jean-Luc, the pain will abate…wait it out.” After several minutes Jean-Luc rolled onto his back then slowly sat up. Beverly showed him the spike. He shook his head and grimaced. “Good lord…that must be fifteen centimetres long!” Beverly scowled at the spike and noted the sharp tip. “And embedded some distance into the bone of your pelvis I’d wager.” The Captain looked around and frowned. “There’s some pretty dense foliage over there. I suggest we shelter from this damned sun in it.” The Doctor nodded her agreement. “Good idea, but before we do that we’d better see if that water is drinkable. Dehydration is a danger we must avoid if we can.” Jean-Luc turned his attention to the lake and nodded. “Agreed. Can you make it?” Judging the distance at only five metres, Beverly nodded and eased onto all fours. Jean-Luc copied her and together they slowly crawled to the water’s edge. After allowing Jean-Luc to take an experimental sip, Beverly tried herself and smiled in relief. “It seems all right, it’s fresh at least, but don’t drink too much, just in case.” The Captain smiled his understanding and they sipped the water cautiously. Having slaked their thirst they slowly crawled to the bush that grew in profusion above the shoreline. They crept into the shadows and Jean-Luc took a long look at the sky. “The sun is low, I think it will be dark soon.” Beverly sighed softly. “I wonder how cold the nights are?” With a quick glance around him, Jean-Luc grunted. “I should be able to make us a nest with the available greenery.” The Doctor smiled and lifted a hand to gently caress his face. “Did you get a message out?” Jean-Luc frowned and shook his head. “No, I couldn’t even launch a beacon.” The Doctor was about to ask another question when Jean-Luc gently placed his hand on her belly. He looked into her eyes in silent enquiry. Beverly shook her head. “I don’t know. There has been some movements but weak, not what I’m used to.” Jean-Luc lowered his head and swallowed. “We’re not due at the chateau for another five days. No doubt Marie will contact the Enterprise when we don’t show up. Will can cover the distance a lot quicker than we did and presumably they will find whatever it was that damaged our ship. By my estimation we have perhaps eight or ten days to endure before rescue.” Beverly gently fingered an injury on her cheek and nodded. “Okay then tomorrow we’d better make a proper shelter. Tell me…do you have any idea where we are?” The Captain shook his head brusquely. “No idea. I know we were travelling at warp for some time, but on what course and for how long is anybody’s guess. I can only hope we left enough of a trail to follow.” They sat in silence for a while as the shadows lengthened around them. Jean-Luc eventually stirred and spent some time stripping low branches off the nearby shrubs and fern-like plants, making them a nest on the forest floor. In the gathering dusk they settled down for the night. 22


Will sighed and closed his eyes as his lover ran her tongue up the under side of his penis. She dallied at the head then lifted her face to watch the tense man. “So tell me…what would Acting Captain Riker like me to do?” He growled, opening his eyes and reaching down to gently grip his fiancée’s arms and pull her up to his waiting mouth. They kissed languidly and Will wrapped his arms around her in a bearlike embrace. “What I would like, my sensuous vixen, is to make slow, satisfying love to you.” Deanna mewed and nuzzled his neck. “And what if I want it hard and fast?” The big man gently lifted her head and bit her earlobe. “Then that’s what you’ll get.” Deanna’s fathomless black eyes glittered as she rolled onto her back, pulling her lover with her. “Do it Will…fuck me.” Will grabbed her hands and pinned them to the pillow. The Counsellor opened her legs and gripped his waist, arching under him as he penetrated her in one hard stroke. “Yes! Oh God yes Will…” Rising up on his arms, Will stared down at the woman below him as he vigorously pumped in and out of her. She struggled beneath him, writhing and flexing, her lower body matching his rhythm. He growled and gritted his teeth. “You want it don’t you Dee? Tell me…tell me how much you want it.” The Betazoid tossed her head from side to side, lost in rapturous sensation. “Yes! Yes I want it…do it to me…oh God do it to me Will!” Will closed his eyes and lowered his head, his beard brushing the frantic woman’s cheek. Keeping his punishing pace, Will felt her internal contractions and knew she was close. Suddenly her body stiffened and she cried out, her orgasm transporting her to a state of ecstasy. Undone by her blatant sexuality, the straining man abruptly climaxed, plunging himself deeply inside her as he spasmed and pulsed. Minutes passed before Will’s mind registered one word, repeated time and time again in his head. “Imzadi.” He lifted his head and opened his eyes to see his lover looking up at him, a tender smile on her lips. He sighed and gently rolled to his side, the action separating them. Deanna quickly climbed onto his body, laying along his length and snuggling into his chest. While Will idly stroked her hair, his fiancé buried her fingers in his abundant body hair. His voice was soft and tired. “You surprised me.” The woman lifted her head and raised her eyebrows. “Oh? How?” The big man shrugged. “I thought you were in the mood for something gentle and tender.” It was Deanna’s turn to shrug. “I was.” Will frowned. “Then why did you ask me to fuck you?” A sly grin appeared on Deanna’s face. “It depends entirely on how horny I felt.” 23


Will let out a snort. “How horny you felt? Don’t give me that…you’re always horny.” Deanna’s fingers drifted to his nipple and she teased the nub until it pebbled. “Exactly. Are you aware of how…tense, I’ve been lately?” Will grunted. “You’ve been tense for the last eight months.” “Uh huh and do you know why?” Will shook his head. “Nope.” Deanna sighed and gently feathered her finger over his lips. “Well I’ll give you a clue. How long have the Captain and Beverly been in a physical relationship?” Will was about to say he didn’t know when his penny dropped. “You mean..?” “Yep. Every time they had sex, I knew it and believe me they were at it constantly.” The First Officer frowned deeper. “But Dee you’ve been especially tense these past few weeks. Surely they eased off, I mean Beverly’s heavily pregnant.” Deanna snorted and shook her head. “No, in fact they were even more amorous. They didn’t seem to be able to get enough of each other.” Will’s face registered his shock, then he frowned. “But…now they’re off the ship, does that mean you’ll..?” The Counsellor chuckled and lifted her body, stretching up to kiss him. “No Will. Never fear, my libido will remain unchanged, I’ll just be a little more in control.” The big man sighed with relief. They were silent for a while before Will offered, “You know, I never thought I’d see it, but did you notice the Captain take Beverly’s hand and kiss her in front of us?” Deanna nodded and sighed. “Uh huh. It just goes to show how much he loves her…and how much he trusts us.” “Yeah I suppose you’re right, but jeez Dee, who’d have thought…Jean-Luc Picard, romantically demonstrative in an almost public display.” The Counsellor sighed wistfully. “Actually I’m really happy that he feels so relaxed he can do that in our company. It’s incredible Will…he waited for her for thirty years. Can you imagine what that must have taken?” Will shook his head. “Nope. He’s a remarkable man all right, but Beverly’s something special too. In my opinion they were meant for each other.” “Oh I couldn’t agree more. Almost all cultures have concepts of destiny. To me they epitomise the phenomena.” Will embraced his fiancé and smiled into her hair. “Just think…the next time we see them, they’ll be a family. There’ll be a little Picard running around.” Deanna chuckled. “If we think we’ve seen a side to Jean-Luc Picard we’ve never seen before, wait until we see Papa Picard.” 24


Will snorted. “Oh my God, I bet junior will be the youngest ever Ensign to sit at the helm.” “Maybe you should start another pool? How soon before Papa makes his child an acting Ensign?” Will’s eyes snapped open. “Better still…how young will junior be before Papa allows it onto the Bridge?” Deanna smiled warmly. “It’s so exciting Will…it’s all before them.” The happy man tightened his embrace and kissed the top of his lover’s head. “Of course we should provide a playmate, after all I think it could be considered our duty.” Deanna’s head lifted sharply. “Hold your horses mister…we’ve not discussed the issue of children.” “I know Dee, but we will have some, won’t we?” The Counsellor settled her head on his shoulder and sighed. “Yes, but I’m not sure when.” Will was caught by an expansive yawn. “Okay, we’ll talk about it tomorrow. Goodnight Dee.” Deanna smiled and kissed his skin. “Goodnight Will.” Within minutes they were both asleep.

Jean-Luc woke slowly. As he tried to move, pain shot through his body and he groaned softly. Cracking his eyes open, he squinted up through the foliage only to realise it was raining. He closed his eyes and scowled, his left hand rising to gently grip Beverly’s arm. “Beverly?” The Doctor groaned and found his hand, lifting it and growling softly, “Go away Jean-Luc.” The Captain sighed shallowly and tried again. “Wake up my love, it’s raining.” Beverly lifted her head and sniffed, keeping her eyes closed. “So?” “We should try to keep dry.” Now fully awake, Beverly turned and looked at her husband, her annoyance clearly displayed. “Why? We’re already wet and it’s still bloody hot.” Jean-Luc wiped some rain from his brow and set his jaw. “Are you telling me you’re happy we’re wet? I don’t believe it.” Beverly pulled back her hair and huffed. “If it was cold I’d be concerned but as it is, we’ll dry quickly as soon as the bloody rain stops. In the mean time we can get more sleep.” 25


With a grimace of pain, Jean-Luc sat up and cradled his broken arm. Beverly watched and relented. “How do you feel?” He lowered his head and shook it slowly. “Dreadful. How about you?” Surprised by his admission, Beverly rose up on one arm and sighed. “Actually not too bad. I’m bloody sore of course but considering…I’m okay.” The Captain turned his head and looked at her belly. “And the baby?” Beverly’s hands went to her stomach and she shook her head. “I’m not sure. Like I told you before, there’re movements but they’re quite weak.” Jean-Luc bowed his head and rubbed his brow. They were silent for a while before the Captain lifted his head and stared through the bush. “I’m thirsty.” “Me too. Give me a hand will you?” Jean-Luc turned to see Beverly struggling to her knees. He helped as best he could then raised an eyebrow. Beverly smiled at him and winked. “When we get to the water, after we drink, I want to thoroughly wash that wound in your hip.” Jean-Luc grunted and nodded. “Very well. Shall we?” With stiffness borne of pain they crawled slowly through the thick undergrowth, cautiously approaching the shore. Just as they came to the edge of the greenery Jean-Luc grabbed Beverly’s arm and rose on his knees. The Doctor knew him well enough to remain silent as her eyes followed his. She frowned as she peered through the leaves then stifled a gasp. At the water’s edge were two creatures, one very large, the other smaller, obviously a younger version. As the officers watched, the animals drank, the older one encouraging the more reluctant juvenile to stand in the shallows. Many minutes passed before the creatures slowly turned to leave. Jean-Luc swallowed as he noted the vicious talons and evident teeth. He estimated the adult to weigh in excess of five hundred kilos. The humans kept complete silence well after the animals disappeared into the bush. It was Beverly who eventually broke the tension. In a hushed whisper she breathed, “Do you think it’s safe now?” Jean-Luc nodded slowly. “Yes, but keep your ears tuned for any noise.” Together they emerged and crawled to the water. Having looked carefully around, Jean-Luc indicated Beverly should drink first while he stood guard. Having accomplished that, Beverly watched while Jean-Luc drank. She then gently gripped his shoulder. “Take off your pants.” He shook his head. “No.” Beverly was about to remonstrate with him when he grabbed her arm. ”No Beverly. I want us back under cover. Who knows when those creatures will be back…or what else lives nearby?" Beverly looked fearfully into the impenetrable bush and sighed. “Okay but at least take off your shirt and soak it. I can wash the wound when we’re back at our spot.” 26


The Captain nodded and complied, taking his short-sleeved shirt off and soaking it in the water. He then draped it over his shoulders and together they crawled back to their hiding place. Ten minutes later Jean-Luc lay on his side, his pants around his knees. Beverly squeezed some water over the lividly bruised tissue and gently wiped away the blood and serum. She frowned and took the flesh in her hand, squeezing until the dark hole bled. Jean-Luc gritted his teeth but couldn’t contain a groan. The Doctor shook her head. “I’m sorry my love, but I’m not convinced there’s not something still in there.” Jean-Luc grunted and closed his eyes. “Well it can bloody well stay there. My God…it’s tender.” In the falling rain, Beverly flicked her hair back, sending drips flying. “Okay you can pull your pants up now.” Jean-Luc slowly did as she suggested and lay on his back, waiting for the pain to subside. Beverly gently touched his arm and he opened his eyes, summoning a wan smile. “Do you think you can get me two sticks, both about twenty centimetres long and about three centimetres thick?” The Captain frowned and looked over his shoulder. “I suppose so. What do you what them for?” “I’m going to splint your arm.” Jean-Luc looked down at the ragged gash where the bones had burst through the skin and muscle of his forearm. He nodded slowly and turned onto his side, in preparation to getting on his knees. Beverly gripped his shoulder and smiled tenderly at him. “Don’t go too far my love…and keep your wits about you. In this rain it’ll be hard to hear any approaching wildlife.” Jean-Luc smiled and leaned forward, giving his wife a gentle kiss. “I’ll be careful…and I won’t be long.” Beverly watched as he disappeared into the undergrowth and sighed. She lay back on the fern fronds and settled to wait.

Jean-Luc had no trouble with his task, soon returning with the requested sticks. Beverly had taken off both her blouse and trousers and had managed to tear the shirt into strips. With Jean-Luc sitting quietly, Beverly splinted his arm firmly. The Captain withstood the discomfort stoically and sighed when she finished. “Thank you mon coeur.” The Doctor smiled and picked up another scrap of fabric. “Here, let me look at those wounds on your head.” Jean-Luc shook his head and gently took her hand. “No, allow me to strap your wrist. Judging by the swelling, if it’s not broken, it’s badly sprained and must hurt like hell.”

27


Beverly briefly debated arguing but ultimately acquiesced. She offered the joint and Jean-Luc, with her help, bandaged the offending injury. Beverly sighed and grabbed her hair, pulling it together and squeezing the water out of it. “We really need a med kit, a tricorder and a phaser.” Jean-Luc nodded. “Indeed and I have an idea how we might achieve that.” Beverly’s eyebrows rose. “Oh? How?” The Captain grinned knowingly. “It is my intention, when the sun is at its zenith, to swim out to where the Calypso lies and see if I can dive down to her. If she’s not too deep, I should be able to salvage what we require.” Beverly frowned as she mulled over his words. “Okay…I know the equipment can withstand being under water as long as it’s not damaged, but why wait until the hottest part of the day?” “Because I’m hoping the wildlife will rest during the greatest heat. I really don’t want to bump into anything with teeth or claws, especially like what we saw this morning.” Beverly snorted. “Agreed, although any real protector would slay those beasts to afford me luxurious pelts to lie on.” The Captain bowed his head and sighed shallowly. “Alas my princess, your knight must accede to the beast’s greater power. However, if said knight gains a phaser your pelts might just be available.” Beverly giggled and stroked Jean-Luc’s arm. “I’ll take a rain check.” “Fine. I estimate we have a few hours before the sun is high enough so in the mean time I’ll scout around for something edible. I don’t know about you my love, but I’m hungry.” Beverly nodded. “Okay, I’ll come with you.” The Captain shook his head. “No Beverly I want you to rest.” “But…” “No.” The Doctor scowled at her husband but his warm eyes stole her outrage. She sighed and wiped at the water dribbling down her face. “Oh all right. You be Captain Courageous if you what.” Jean-Luc frowned. “Captain whom?” Beverly flapped a hand. “Never mind.” Still frowning, Jean-Luc shrugged and turned to crawl into the undergrowth. Beverly’s soft voice made him smile. “A hamburger with onions would be nice.” He looked back over his shoulder. “I’ll see what I can do.”

28


Lieutenant Commander Data, second officer of the Starship Enterprise was seated in the command chair on the Bridge. It was half way through the ship’s night cycle and all was quiet as the survey continued. A flashing light on her console alerted the Ensign at Tactical. “Sir I have an incoming message from Command.” Data stood and nodded. “Thank you Ensign. Please send it to the terminal in the Ready Room.” To the Lieutenant at the Con he said, “You have the Bridge Lieutenant.” Once seated behind Jean-Luc’s desk in the Captain’s office, Data activated the computer and focussed his attention. The Starfleet logo disappeared and the android found himself facing Admiral Steven Pascoe. The Admiral smiled and nodded. “To whom am I speaking?” “Lieutenant Commander Data Sir. I am the officer of the watch.” Pascoe inclined his head, his smile widening. “Greetings Commander. I take it Commander Riker is unavailable?” “Aye Sir. As it is the night cycle, Commander Riker is, at present, asleep.” Pascoe’s smile faded. “I see. Well Commander I have new orders for you and I will need to speak with Commander Riker, but it can wait until he resumes duty. Tell me, what do you know of the Harminn Alliance?” Data’s eyebrows rose and he gave a slight shrug. “Only that which is in the data base Sir. The Alliance was formed four standard years ago and consists of six loosely associated planets in the Harminn system.” “Correct Mr.Data and of those six planets, what do you know of the Pran?” “They are the only Humanoids amongst the Alliance Sir, although recent studies suggest all six species are distantly related, a remarkable discovery considering the disparity in the evident DNA.” Pascoe sighed and ran a tired hand over his short hair. “Are you aware of the Pran’s reputation?” “Yes Sir. They are known to be somewhat belligerent and can, on occasion, be overtly xenophobic.” The Admiral briefly closed his eyes and nodded. “Exactly. Your mission Mr.Data is to transport the Leader of the Pran and his delegation as well as a delegation of Garsis and act as mediator in a dispute over the resources of an asteroid belt that lies midway through the Harminn system. If Commander Riker cannot broker an equitable peace, hostilities are likely to erupt and it will destabilise the balance of power in that sector.” Data nodded. “I see Sir. Am I to understand the Alliance sees the Federation in a kind light?” “Yes. Although unaligned, they have extensive trade ties with us and we have come to rely on several key components they supply. If the Alliance falls prey to war they will divide along 29


technological lines and there is a very real chance it could escalate and spill to neighbouring systems as treaties are called in. If that happens the Federation may well be forced to take sides to honour our treaties. We wish to avoid that at all costs.” Data’s golden eyes glittered. “An unenviable situation Admiral.” Pascoe sighed. “Yes it is Commander. I would prefer Captain Picard to handle this, his diplomatic skill is well documented, but as he is unavailable I will have to settle for Commander Riker. Please have him call me first thing.” “Aye Sir.” The Admiral smiled. “I don’t envy the Enterprise this mission Commander but I’m sure your ship and her crew will see it through. Pascoe out.” Data sat still for exactly eight seconds before addressing the computer. “Display all known information on the Pran and the Garsis.”

As Will strode onto the Bridge Data vacated the Command chair and turned to face his CO. “Good morning Commander.” Will grinned, his blue eyes twinkling. “Good morning Data. Anything to report?” “Aye Sir, there was a communiqué from Command at oh three twenty hours. Admiral Steven Pascoe wishes you to contact him immediately. He outlined his message and I am prepared to brief you after you have spoken with him.” Will nodded and turned to Tactical. “Open a channel to the Admiral, I’ll take it in the Ready Room.” “Aye Sir.” Will was absent from the Bridge for just on an hour. When he requested Data to join him, the android was ready. “Take a seat Data.” “Once the Second Officer was comfortable, Will sat back and sighed. “Okay fill me in.” Twenty minutes later the big bearded man was scowling. “God what a mess. Admiral Pascoe told me we’ll be playing this game with our hands tied. Apparently my role as mediator is only at the goodwill of the participants. They can, for whatever reason they feel pertinent, dismiss me or ignore any recommendations I make. My role is mostly ceremonial…the token Federation representative.” Data tilted his head, his golden eyes betraying his concern. “But Commander why request a mediator when they appear to pay the participant lip service only?” 30


Will shrugged and grunted. “I don’t know, but I suspect the Pran have a hidden agenda…and it might just include attempting to incriminate us somehow. I have a feeling I’m going to have to be on my toes.” Data frowned and looked at his feet. “Sir?” Will sighed. “Be very careful, ready for anything.” Data’s eyebrows rose and he nodded. “A wise precaution.” Will stood, bringing Data to his feet. Together they exited the Ready Room and Will requested the ship be directed to the Harminn system. “How long at warp five Ensign?” “Five days Sir.” “Fine. Data assemble the senior staff for a briefing in one hour.” “Aye Sir.”

Jean-Luc had been gone over two hours. The rain had suddenly stopped and the sun soon began to beat down, causing steam to rise everywhere. In the oppressive heat, Beverly struggled out of her trousers, socks and shoes and tried to find a comfortable way to lie on the bed of greenery beneath her. She dozed but was alerted by the sounds of something approaching. She tensed and held her breath as the sounds got closer, but sighed with relief as Jean-Luc appeared. He had removed his pants and made a sling to carry his discoveries. He crawled into their little clearing and stopped dead, his eyes travelling over Beverly’s body, a deep frown forming as he took in the livid bruising. His voice soft and deep, he knelt and gently ran his fingers over her distended belly. “Beverly…” She caught his hand and smiled bravely. “It’s okay Jean-Luc, I’m sure it looks worse than it is.” He looked up into her eyes and shook his head. “It must hurt.” She sighed and grimaced. “It is a little uncomfortable.” With his face contorting in pain, Jean-Luc twisted to sit on his behind. Beverly noted the blood on his briefs and gently pushed him onto his side, her hand pulling down his underwear to inspect his hip. The Captain closed his eyes as she pressed around the wound, then he felt her lay her hand over the injury. “It’s hot Jean-Luc. Dammit there’s infection in there.” He grunted and pulled his briefs up, sitting up and lifting the sling off his shoulder. 31


“Never mind that, look what I found.” Annoyed at being ignored, Beverly was about to remonstrate with her husband when her eyes fell on his treasures. He picked up a dull olive green fruit and grinned. “What do you think?” The Doctor sorted through the various fruits and roots he had gathered and smiled. “You have been busy.” “Uh huh. I found lots more but I ignored the brightly coloured ones. I seem to remember that poisonous animals and fruits often display their danger with bright colours so I chose the drab ones.” Beverly nodded. “Hmm I think you’re right. What about these?” She held up some while tubers. “Oh I found those in a small swamp. They come from the base of a water plant…something like a lily.” Beverly looked up at her lover and grinned. “Well all we have to do now is test them.” Jean-Luc returned the grin and nodded. “Agreed. I’ll go out to the crash site and see if I can salvage what we need.” He took off his boots and socks, making Beverly frown. “You’re going now?” “Uh huh. The sun is high I think now would be a good time.” Beverly shook her head. “No Jean-Luc you should rest.” The Captain took her hand and smiled tenderly. “I’ll be fine. If I can reach the Calypso I’ll be back in no time. Oh, by the way I brought you this.” He reached into the foliage and pulled back a stout stick. Beverly smiled and shook her head. “A wooden phaser?” His deep chuckle warmed her heart. “Something like that. At least it gives you a modicum of protection.” He leaned forward and kissed her. “I’ll be back soon.” Nothing more was said as he crawled towards the shore.

Jean-Luc found the cool water a blessed relief from the blazing sun. His broken ribs and arm curtailed his normal swimming stroke but with gentle movements and shallow breathing he made his way out into the lake until he estimated he was far enough. Putting his face in the water and keeping his eyes open, he scanned the depths while slowly swimming in a circle. He found what he was looking for in under ten minutes. The ghostly shape of the yacht sat below him, perhaps eight metres distant, but he frowned as his bleary vision detected a deep red cloud surrounding the little ship.

32


He lifted his head from the water and concentrated on steadying his breathing before taking everlarger breaths. Although this caused significant pain, he saturated his blood with oxygen then took the deepest breath he could before duck diving down through the clear water. He dropped approximately four metres before he met the red cloud. It occluded his vision and he paused to equalise the pressure in his ears when suddenly he felt a stabbing pain in both ears. He shook his head and continued down but the pain grew worse. He again attempted to equalise the pressure, thinking that was causing him pain but when the pain suddenly escalated to sharp agony he knew he had to surface. He broke into the air and let out a soft cry as the pain deep in his ears continued. He struggled to breathe as the agony nearly overwhelmed him. He struck out for the shore, his eyes blurred and streaming with tears. When his feet finally touched the bottom, he staggered to the beach and collapsed on his knees, his hands covering his ears. He didn’t see the blood trickling between his fingers.

Beverly waited as long as her patience would allow. Thinking that she could at least sit on the shore to watch her husband in his endeavours, she eventually decided to venture out into the sun and took Jean-Luc’s shirt to drape over her head and shoulders. Crawling painfully slowly through the undergrowth, she broke through to the shoreline quite near the stricken man and gasped at seeing him on his knees, his forehead on the sand, his hands either side of his head. She went straight to him and grabbed his good arm. “Jean-Luc what is it?” He groaned and said shakily, “Pain…deep in my ears!” The Doctor saw the blood and gently pulled him upright. “Let me see.” He dropped his hands and fisted them on his thighs as Beverly probed around his ears with her fingers. “Dammit I can’t see anything. What happened?” He took a shallow breath and closed his eyes. “I don’t know. I found the yacht and dived down, but there was a dark red cloud surrounding the ship and when I entered it I experienced a sharp pain in my ears. The deeper I went, the worse it got.” Beverly frowned. “Did you pressurise?” “Yes it was the first thing I did, in fact as the pain worsened I pressurised again but it didn’t help. Eventually the pain became so bad I had to surface.” “How is it now?” The Captain shook his head. “Bloody awful!” 33


Beverly gently rubbed his bare back. “Can you make it back to our clearing?” He nodded slowly and opened his eyes. “I didn’t get anything from the yacht Beverly…I’m sorry.” The Doctor smiled tenderly and took the shirt from her head to put it over Jean-Luc’s back. “You’re staring to burn. Come on let’s get going.” Slowly they made their way back to their nest and Jean-Luc collapsed onto his back with a grunt. Beverly noted the stain over his hip injury and gently pulled down his briefs. The Captain groaned as she inspected the wound. “It’s really inflamed now Jean-Luc. How did it feel in the water?” Placing a hand on his lividly bruised chest, Jean-Luc sighed shallowly. “It was all right, in fact I felt good in the water, it was nice to get out of the sun.” Beverly chuckled. “You weren’t out of the sun Jean-Luc, you were simply in a cooler environment.” His eyes caught hers and he smiled. “Point taken, however it did feel marvellous.” “I bet it did.” Beverly gently took his chin and turned his head to one side. Bending forward, she peered into his ear and grunted. “The bleeding has almost stopped.” The Captain straightened his head and frowned up at his wife. “My ears were bleeding?” “Uh huh.” “Do you know why?” Beverly shrugged. “Not really. Under normal circumstances I’d say you perforated you eardrums, but that doesn’t make sense. How deep did you go?” Jean-Luc sat up and rubbed his face with his good hand. “Well, the yacht lay about eight metres below me and I encountered the red cloud at about four metres, then I went a further metre or two, so in all probably six metres.” Beverly hummed quietly. “Hmm not deep then. And you sure you pressurised properly?” “Yes.” The Doctor huffed. “Then I can’t explain it. How is your hearing?” Jean-Luc closed his eyes and frowned. “There’s ringing, it’s quite loud.” Beverly scowled. “You have tinnitus? Damn.” “What does it mean?” Beverly rubbed her brow and sighed. “There could be some damage Jean-Luc and it may involve the nerves, nothing I might add that I can’t fix, but while we’re stuck here…” The Captain took her hand and smiled encouragingly. “Say no more my love, I understand.”

34


She kissed him softly and they both chuckled when her stomach rumbled. Jean-Luc looked at their collection of fruits and shook his head. “So what do we do now?” Beverly bent over and picked up one of the dark brown fruits. “Trial and error my Captain.” Jean-Luc frowned and grabbed her hand. “No!” Beverly’s eyes hardened. “We have no choice Jean-Luc, we have to eat, who knows how long we’ll be here.” The Captain shook his head. “No not you. I will test the food. If I’m unaffected you can have some.” “But…” “Jean-Luc took her hand and squeezed it. “Beverly my love we have the baby to think of. If you become unwell it could have dire consequences for both of you. Let me do this mon coeur.” Beverly’s shoulders slumped in defeat. She let her husband take the fruit and their eyes never left each other as he took a tentative bite. He chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. “Not bad…a little tart.” As the fruit wasn’t large, he ate all of it then another. They then crawled slowly to the water’s edge and drank their fill before returning to their lair to rest as the sun began its descent.

Will looked around the long table in the Observation Lounge and smiled with contentment. Sitting in the Captain’s chair, the acting Captain tapped his finger on the tabletop, bringing the meeting to order. “By now you would be aware that we are no longer conducting our survey and are at present at warp on our way to a new destination.” There was a murmur of agreement. “We have been given a new mission, one that may well test our patience. We arrive in the Harminn system in five days; our job is to host two delegations, one from Pran, the other, Garsis. I am to be the mediator in some very delicate talks, talks that have a direct bearing on the balance of power in this sector and the Federation’s standing in the area.” The gathered officers all cast looks at each other. The dominant expression, frowns. “As you all know, the Pran are aggressive and can be xenophobic when they want to be. The Garsis on the other hand, are reasonable and almost placid…until provoked. While both delegations are aboard I want everyone to be very friendly, very accommodating. If these talks go sour I want the Enterprise to be above any suspicion of less than stellar performance. In short, I don’t want it to be our fault. Is that clear?” There was a quiet chorus of “Yes Sir.” Will sat back and smiled. 35


“Okay. We have five days to prepare. Let’s get to it.” As the officers filed out, Deanna hung back and when they were alone she leaned forward and took her lover’s hand. Her obsidian eyes looked deeply into Will’s. “You’re troubled.” The big man sighed. “Yes I am.” “Is it the mission, or something else?” Will shook his head. “No it’s the mission. I’m second choice Dee, the Admiralty told me they really wanted Captain Picard.” The Counsellor frowned. “But if they thought you couldn’t handle it they wouldn’t have given it to you. Do you think you can do it?” Will withdrew his hand and scratched his whiskery cheek. “Yes…but do you realise just how high the stakes are? If I stumble, if I stuff this up there will be a war that will eventually involve the Federation. God Deanna I really don’t want that on my conscience.” Deanna placed her hands palm down on the table and clenched her jaw. “Then don’t fail! Look Captain Picard has shown you how to do this often enough…do the research, get to know these people and what drives them. Then be firm. Don’t take any nonsense and use their characteristics to your advantage.” Will grinned, his blue eyes twinkling. “My love, your unstinting support is very welcome, but it won’t be as straight forward as that.” “Why?” “Because Deanna my hands are going to be tied. My position as mediator will be ceremonial only. I will carry no power, nothing I suggest will be binding.” Deanna frowned and shook her head. “Then why..?” “Why do it at all?” “Yes.” Will sighed and closed his eyes. “Because if I don’t they’ll go to war anyway. At least this way there’s a chance we can work something out between them.” The Counsellor lifted her hands and ran them through her hair. “No wonder you’re troubled.” Will chuckled. “Tell me something I don’t know.” “Will you use me?” The First Officer ran a hand through his bread. “You bet, I’m going to need any help I can get. You’ll be an integral part of my team.” Deanna nodded and raised her eyebrows. “Who else?” “Well, considering the dispute is over the mineral wealth of the asteroid belt in their system, I’m going to need mineralogy and commerce…and I’m counting on Data for instant updates on the disposition of their fleets and weaponry.” Deanna sighed. 36


“God…what a mess.” Will smiled sardonically. “Isn’t it always?” Will rose, bringing Deanna to her feet. “I’m going to the Ready Room to begin my studies. I’ll see you tonight.” The petite woman stood by his side and rose on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “I’ll have a cold Alaskan beer waiting for you.” He smiled tenderly and whispered, “I love you.” Deanna trailed her fingers down his face. “I know. See you tonight.” Will sighed as she left.

During the long night the couple in the bush were wakened by something large moving too close to their position for comfort. Jean-Luc took the shaft of timber and hefted it in his good hand while sheltering his wife with his body. In tense silence they waited as the unseen animal blundered by, making its way down to the water, then again as the beast made its way back into the bush. The Captain was staring into the darkness as Beverly gently gripped his arm, making him jump. “Sorry. I’m surprised I had to wake you…didn’t you hear it?” Jean-Luc scowled and shook his head. “No…all I can hear is the bloody ringing!” The Doctor frowned and squeezed his arm, causing him to look at her in the inky darkness. “But you can hear me?” “Yes.” “And the pain? How is it now?” Dropping the wooden staff Jean-Luc opened his mouth and flexed his jaw. “Not so bad…but it feels as though there’s something in my ears. Everything’s muffled.” Frustrated by her inability to help her husband, Beverly sighed. “Well there’s nothing to be done. Let’s see if we can get back to sleep.” Jean-Luc lay on his side and waited as Beverly spooned against him, then gently settled his splinted arm over her side. “Comfortable?” The Doctor sighed. “Truth? No.” Jean-Luc kissed her shoulder and closed his eyes. “Me neither.” Despite their obvious discomfort they eventually drifted off to sleep.

37


In the morning Beverly’s eyes opened and she grimaced as the pain of Jean-Luc’s splinted arm across her side made itself evident. The wood of the splints was pressing into the soft flesh of her abdomen and she needed him to move it. Not wanting to cause him any pain by doing it herself, she called softly, “Jean-Luc.” He slept on. With a large sigh, Beverly tried again, this time louder. “Jean-Luc…wake up.” The Doctor frowned. Usually she had only to say his name and he woke immediately. Taking his injured arm carefully in her hand, she lifted it and turned over to face her sleeping husband. She resettled his arm and stroked his face. “Hey…Jean-Luc.” His eyes slowly opened and he smiled. “It’s about time.” His smile disappeared and he frowned. “What?” “I said it’s about time. I’ve been having trouble waking you.” Jean-Luc’s eyes clearly showed panic. He sat up quickly, his hands going to his ears. Beverly sat up slowly and tried to pull down his hands. “What is it?” Instead of answering, Jean-Luc opened his mouth and let out a low sound. The Doctor was becoming frantic. “Jean-Luc what is it?!” The Captain gave a short shout and shook his head. By now beside herself with worry, Beverly grabbed his head and turned it to face her. “What is it!” Jean-Luc lowered his hands and swallowed, his eyes frightened. “Beverly…I can’t hear!” “What…you can’t hear me or you can’t hear anything?” Jean-Luc frowned and shook his head. “What?” The Doctor pointed to her mouth and articulated, “Can you hear me?” The Captain shook his head. “No!” “Can you hear your voice?” His voice cracked. “No!” Striving to keep her panic at bay, Beverly took a large breath and cupped her husband’s chin. Again clearly enunciating, she said, 38


“Close your eyes.��� He complied and she clapped her hands next to his ear. He didn’t react. She was about to repeat the action with the other ear when the Captain opened his eyes and lowered his head, his fingers going to his head. “I’m deaf!” Beverly gripped his arm and rested her head on his shoulder. They sat in silence for some minutes before Jean-Luc suddenly groaned and grabbed at his lower stomach. Alarmed, Beverly lifted his head and caught is eyes. “What’s wrong?” His face screwed up in pain, Jean-Luc gasped, “I have to go and relieve myself!” He struggled to his knees and crawled off into the undergrowth just as it started to rain. Beverly raised her face to the sky and snarled, “Damn you! Give us a break.” Jean-Luc was gone almost twenty minutes. When he returned he was pale and exhausted. Beverly waited until he was settled before she gently cupped his chin and gained his attention. “What happened?” He swallowed and took a shallow breath. “Diarrhoea.” “Dammit it must’ve been the fruit. How do you feel now? Is it over?” Jean-Luc nodded. “I think so.” “Was there any bleeding?” The Captain shrugged. “I don’t know.” Beverly let go of his face and turned to the fruit. She picked up one of the dull olive green items and, before Jean-Luc could protest, she took a large bite. “Beverly!” Holding up her hand, the Doctor chewed quickly and swallowed. “My turn my love.” As her husband looked on, Beverly ate the fruit then offered Jean-Luc another the same. “You too. We have to eat.” He frowned at the specimen with deep suspicion, only eating it when Beverly encouraged him. She then gently tapped his shoulder, causing him to look at her. “We need to drink.” He nodded and together they crawled down to the beach. After slaking their thirst, Beverly took off her underwear and entered the water, washing herself. She beckoned to her husband who shook his head before taking off his briefs and joining her. Once clean they left the water and crawled naked back to their hiding place. Beverly hung their underwear on the nearby foliage and lay down, letting the rain cover her body. Jean-Luc smiled and gently caressed her belly. His voice was very low and soft. “You look beautiful.” Beverly frowned and shook her head. “What did you say my love?” He shook his head, trying to decipher her question. “What?” 39


With patience Beverly enunciated, “What did you say?” He smiled and winked. “I said you look beautiful.” The Doctor glanced down at the mottled bruising that covered her belly and snorted. She then let her eyes travel over her husband’s equally bruised body and she sighed, tears forming. Watching closely, Jean-Luc took her face and kissed her. “No my lovely, no tears.” Beverly gently wrapped her arms around her lover and buried her head in his neck. He held her stoically, striving to keep his own emotions in check. Tenderly lifting Beverly’s head, he looked deeply into her eyes and smiled ruefully. “We will get out of this Beverly.” Beverly nodded and gently caressed his face. “I know…I just wish I could help you.” Jean-Luc frowned and tilted his head. “What?” Beverly closed her eyes and resettled her head on his shoulder. “Never mind.”

Will had been on the Bridge only ten minutes when the quiet voice of Ensign Michael Tate broke through his thoughts. “We’re approaching Garsis Sir.” The big man stroked his beard. “Very well, drop to half impulse and enter orbit when ready.” The Acting Captain turned to his Second Officer. “Data have you made arrangements in Cargo Bay four?” The android turned to face his superior. “Yes Sir. With the average length of each delegate being over five metres, we have determined the transporters in the Cargo Bay will be able to accommodate them one at a time.” “Fine. And accommodation?” “With Engineering’s help, guest quarters have been created on deck six.” Will sighed and shifted in his seat. “And how many will there be?” “There will be four delegates Commander.” Will’s eyebrows rose. “Only four? The Pran are sending seven.” Data shrugged. “I cannot explain the discrepancy Commander. All I can surmise is that the Garsis are comfortable with their group.” Will ran a hand over his face. 40


“Okay Data thank you.” The ship established orbit and there was only a short wait until contact was made. Will stood and lifted his head. “Counsellor Troi report to Cargo Bay four immediately.” “Acknowledged, on my way.” Will smiled wistfully. “You have the Bridge Mr.Data.” “Aye Sir.”

Will and Deanna stood to attention as the first delegate materialised on the pad. The enormous reptile swished its armoured tail and hissed, its elongated blue forked tongue flicking out sensuously. The muscular five and a half metre long green and mauve scaled body was supported by four thick legs, the feet of which were clawed and webbed. With a flick of its massive head, a universal translator was activated. “I am President Essun.” Will bowed slightly then smiled warmly. “Welcome aboard the Enterprise Sir. I am Commander William Riker.” He gestured to his companion. “This is Commander Deanna Troi, ship’s Counsellor.” Essun hissed sibilantly and the nictitating membranes briefly covered the eyes. “I am honoured to be here.” Will kept the smile in place. “If you will exit the pad Sir, we will beam up the next delegate.” With remarkable speed and grace, the reptile moved off the pad and over the next few minutes the rest of the team were beamed aboard. As Will and Deanna led them through the ship to their quarters, Will was gratified to see the passing crewmembers controlled their reactions to seeing the formidable beings. Once at their destination, Will opened the doors and gestured for his guests to precede him. He took the time to demonstrate the communication system, lighting, replicators and climate control. Having settled the delegates, Will and Deanna left, the First Officer lifting his head and calling, “Riker to Bridge.” “Bridge here.” “Mr.Data please set course for Pran, three quarters impulse.” “Aye Sir.” The officers entered a turbolift and Will sighed. “Can you sense anything from them?” Deanna shook her head. “No, not really.” 41


The big man ran a hand through his hair. “Oh great, just great.” Deanna took his hand and smiled up at him. “Have faith Will.” He grinned down at her. “With you by my side I have more than faith my love.” The doors opened at they stepped onto the Bridge.

Throughout the long searingly hot day the couple sheltered in their clearing, conversation difficult and sporadic. The rain had ceased, as it had the previous day mid morning and they waited until the sun began to sink before slowly crawling down to the lake for a drink. As there had been no adverse reactions to the fruit, more specimens were consumed and, as evening fell, the naked pair were laying together, torpidly exhausted. Beverly had detected heat of a different kind rising from her husband and knew that the infection in his hip wound was infiltrating his body. She rose on her knees and was about to ask Jean-Luc to sit up when she was gripped by pain and a trickle of bloody liquid escaped from between her legs. The Captain, sensing something was amiss, looked up at his wife and frowned, sitting up and grabbing her arm. “Beverly? What is it?” The Doctor steadied her breathing and summoned a wan smile. She faced her lover and enunciated as clearly as she could. “My water has broken and I’ve had a contraction.” Jean-Luc’s eyes widened and his mouth opened. “But it’s early.” Beverly nodded and slowly eased down onto the ferny foliage. “Yes.” As she moved, more bloody water was expelled and Jean-Luc looked into her eyes. “Beverly should there be so much blood?” The Doctor shook her head. “No, not really.” The Captain swallowed and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Something’s wrong?” Beverly nodded worriedly and gripped his hand. He looked at her and she said slowly, “You will have to deliver the child.” Beverly watched as Jean-Luc’s jaw muscles flexed and his face hardened. He nodded and briefly closed his eyes. “Very well.” 42


“How up to date is your first aid training?” He frowned as he concentrated on understanding her words. Realisation dawned and he smiled. “I did a refresher course only three weeks ago. I thought it advisable.” Beverly smiled. “Good. Did you do a birth simulation?” His face fell. “No.” The Doctor bowed her head and closed her eyes. After a few seconds she raised her head and gained his attention once more. “When was the last birth sim you did?” The Captain frowned and shook his head, furiously thinking. He lowered his head and sighed. “At least five years ago.” Taking his chin in her hand, Beverly lifted his head. “How many have you done?” “Four.” “Uncomplicated?” “Yes.” With compressed lips, Beverly pinched the bridge of her nose. After a moment’s hiatus she looked up and smiled. “Okay we’ll just have to make do. Now the baby will be small and we already know it’s been injured.” Jean-Luc nodded slowly. “And with my pelvic fracture it’s going to be difficult.” Jean-Luc’s shoulders slumped and he shook his head. “Beverly will you be able to deliver the child? Will the fracture pose any problems?” Beverly nodded. “I’m afraid so. The fracture is in the right ischium and it depends on whether or not it’s displaced.” Jean-Luc thought about that then stated, “It’s going to be very painful for you isn’t it.” The Doctor shrugged and sighed. “Yep.” The Captain bowed his head and flicked away a droplet of sweat. “Oh God Beverly…we need help.” Beverly tapped his arm, gaining his attention. “You need to prepare. Take what’s left of my blouse and tear two thin strips.” He nodded and did as she requested and as he worked he asked, “Why am I doing this?” “After the baby is born, you need to tie the umbilical cord in two places about two centimetres apart and close to the baby. Once the placenta is delivered, cut the cord between the strips.” Jean-Luc frowned. “Cut it?” He looked around. “With what?” Beverly grimaced. “Your teeth will do the job.” 43


Jean-Luc’s mouth gaped then closed. He nodded and gathered all their clothing. “We can use these for covering the baby.” Beverly grinned. “Uh huh.” Then her face sobered. “You will have to bury the placenta and anything else you can to avoid attracting animals.” He nodded and swallowed. In the waning light he tenderly placed a hand on her belly. “Any more contractions?” Beverly shook her head. “No but it’s early yet. Before it gets dark, can you go to the lake and wet your shirt? Labour is hot work if my memory serves me correctly.” With a gentle kiss, Jean-Luc left her and made his way to the water. Beverly lay her head on the fronds beneath her and closed her eyes. “Help us...please somebody…help us.”

Will’s eyes darkened but that was the only outward sign of his anger. He kept a genial smile plastered on his face and made a concerted effort to relax his hands. The gentle subliminal voice of his lover caressed his mind and his body lost some of its rigidity. “Steady my love, ignore the belligerence and focus on the mission.” The First Officer lifted his chin and widened his smile. “Welcome to the Enterprise. I am William Riker, First Officer and acting Captain.” The tall dusky male glared down and snarled. “I am not interested in dealing with underlings! Where is Picard?” Keeping his voice level with an effort, Will supplied the answer. “He is not aboard Sir. I have been authorised to act as your mediator.” The alien glowered, his skin darkening and the ruff of hair at the back of his neck rose. “Unacceptable! I want Picard! Get him!” Will’s smile faded and his jaw flexed. “I’m sorry Sir, that is not possible.” “Why?” “Because Captain Picard has taken an extended leave and will not return to the Enterprise for some months. He is not even in this sector of space.” The Pran stepped off the transporter pad, his entourage following him. “Then I insist you contact him immediately! Tell him to return.” By now beyond angry and fast approaching fury, Will said through clenched teeth. “I cannot do that Sir.” “Cannot or will not?” Will briefly closed his eyes and calmed himself. “Sir please…” The Pran made a guttural noise and waved his long hand. “Enough! It is patently obvious the Federation has little interest in these proceedings. You might as well transport us back to our planet.” 44


Will raised both hands and smiled with what he hoped was convincing warmth. “There’s no need for that Sir. Please…let me escort you to your quarters and show you the itinerary for the talks. I’m sure once you’ve seen how much effort we’ve gone to to facilitate the matter, you’ll decide to stay.” The alien stared coldly down at Will, his elongated red eyes glittering with indignation. With an exasperated snort and an ostentatious swirl of his floor length black cape, the Pran leader gestured to the doors. Will offered a shallow bow and led the delegation of seven from the room. Deanna followed her lover and, as they entered the corridor, an unmistakable surge of sexual desire buffeted her senses. Her eyes widened and she tried to identify the source but the sender quickly dampened his emotions and all Deanna was left with was a vague feeling of disquiet. She knew it was one of the delegates, but which one was a mystery. It took forty-five minutes for the two officers to settle the prickly aliens. It was with great relief that Will and Deanna left the adjoining quarters and headed for the Bridge. Once in the turbolift, Will ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Bloody hell, what complete hard arses!” Deanna sighed and plexed silently. Her lover cast her a glance and frowned. “Did they upset you?” With a quick shake of her head, Deanna strove to placate the irritated man. “No, not really. They have very strong emotions but they are capable of dulling them, they do have some control.” Will huffed. “Well you’d never know it.” Deanna chuckled tiredly. “You know Will I think the whole belligerence thing is a front to cover a lot of insecurity. It could well be that they feel intimidated.” The big man looked down at his lover incredulously. “Not by me surely?” “Not specifically, no, but this whole situation might not be as cut-and-dried as they’d like us to believe. In fact I wouldn’t mind betting that their insistence on the mediator being ceremonial is to make up for their own deficiencies.” Will scratched his beard and mulled over her words. He frowned and called softly, “Halt.” The lifted stopped and The Commander folded his arms across his chest. “Okay I can buy that, but how do you explain their desire to have Captain Picard as the mediator. There’s no way the Captain would be intimidated by their bluster. He’d see through them in a second.” Deanna sighed and shrugged. “I don’t know but I suggest we do a little digging. There’s more going on here than we’re aware of.” Will nodded slowly and muttered, “Resume.” The lift deposited them on the Bridge and Will went to the Ready Room, calling for Data to follow him. Once both officers were seated, Will rested his hands on the desktop.

45


“Data I have a little job for you. I want you to access the Captain’s logs and see if there’s any connection, no matter how remote, between him and either the Pran or the Garsis and Data…I need you to be both thorough and fast.” The android stood and nodded once. “I will begin immediately Sir.” The Commander sat back after Data left and stroked his beard. “Well we shall see.”

Throughout the long humid night Beverly’s labour slowly progressed. Unable to communicate with her in the dark, all Jean-Luc could do was offer his support and stay with her, holding her hand through the intensifying contractions and reminding her of her breathing technique. Twice he left her to soak his shirt and Beverly appreciated the cool cloth as she sweated with exertion. In the pinking light of early dawn Beverly rolled onto her back and hung on to her husband’s hand. Her face screwed up with pain and her back arched. She rode out the agony, a low moan of distress emanating from her clenched mouth. As the contraction passed she gained Jean-Luc’s eyes. “It’s close now.” He nodded just as the rain began to fall. “I’ve been counting…the last two contractions were only a minute apart.” With the ever-growing light Jean-Luc was able to dimly see Beverly’s body. His eyes travelled over her and settled between her legs. His deep frown made Beverly gasp. “What?” He didn’t hear her so she grabbed his arm, making him look at her. “What is it?” “There is a lot of blood.” About to say more, Beverly was gripped by another powerful contraction. She arched her neck then suddenly lifted her head, a strangled cry shattering the silence. Jean-Luc immediately recognised the bearing down reflex. He moved between Beverly’s open legs and placed his hand on her lower belly. Her muscles rock hard with effort, the protracted contraction stayed with the Doctor forcing her to endure its power. It slowly waned and her body relaxed leaving her gasping. She concentrated on her husband’s soft voice. “Remember your breathing and try to gather your strength between contractions.” She was nodding when the next spasm struck. Her upper body lifted and her hands gripped the foliage beneath her. Through gritted teeth a long soft wail issued and Jean-Luc’s eyes widened as he saw the crown of their child’s head appear. “It’s coming Beverly, keep pushing!” Her face suffused with blood, the straining woman concentrated her strength and pushed for all she was worth. The grinding agony of the fracture’s movement as the baby moved down the 46


birth canal made Beverly shriek and writhe. With the head delivered, she fell back sobbing with exhaustion and agony. She had scant time to recover. Another contraction seized her and she lost all control. As one shoulder of the baby emerged the searing agony became too much and she collapsed unconscious. Jean-Luc looked up in confusion to see his wife lying senseless as the child emerged slowly from her body. He slid his hand under the infant as the second shoulder emerged and nearly dropped the little baby as the rest of its body suddenly slipped free in a rush of fluid and blood. His mouth agape, Jean-Luc glanced up at his wife then back at his newborn son. It was then he noticed the little one wasn’t breathing. Taking a firm grip of his child’s ankles, he lifted him upside down and cradled his head with his other hand. The Captain covered the infant’s mouth and nose with his mouth and gently sucked, drawing out a mouthful of liquid. Jean-Luc turned his head and spat out the fluid then repeated his actions. Four times he persisted until he detected movement from his son’s tiny chest. He lay the tiny body in his good arm and tears welled in his eyes as he witnessed the baby’s mouth open in what he could only guess was a weak cry. The little arms moved and the chest expanded somewhat stronger. Jean-Luc reached beside him and gathered his pants into a soft pad. He gently lay his son down and took the time to tie the two bits of material on the umbilical cord as Beverly had instructed him. Just as he finished, Beverly’s body contracted again and the placenta began to emerge. It took a further four contractions before the organ was delivered but Jean-Luc knew immediately something was wrong. The placenta was incomplete. Some of it was still within Beverly’s body and he was very worried as a slow trickle of blood flowed from of his wife. After checking his son again, Jean-Luc spent several unpleasant minutes biting through the umbilical cord. Once the baby was free he wrapped the infant in his pants and gently moved it up to lie beside its mother. He then gathered two fronds and placed the placenta, cord and as much of the blood soaked sand as he could on top of the foliage. He stopped what he was doing when he heard Beverly moan softly. He moved to her side, checked the baby and gently took her hand. Beverly’s eyes opened slowly and she frowned up at her husband in the tumbling rain. “What?” He smiled and gestured to their baby. “We have a son.” Beverly gasped and lifted her arms. Jean-Luc carefully picked the baby up and placed him on Beverly’s chest. Weak, tiny and with bruising evident over much of his little body, the infant still quested for Beverly’s breast. Without the impediment of clothing, it was easy to guide the baby’s mouth to her nipple and both parents watched with relief as their son suckled. Beverly looked up and smiled tiredly. “Did everything go okay?” Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head. “Not exactly.” The Doctor frowned. “Why? What’s wrong?” Jean-Luc touched the baby’s head as he fed, the downy hair tickling his fingers. He closed his eyes and sighed. “Not all of the placenta came away and you’re bleeding.” Beverly scowled and grunted. “Oh shit!” The Captain looked into her eyes. 47


“How bad is it?” Beverly’s eyes slid to their child. “It’s not good my love.” “Is there anything I can do…either to remove the rest of the placenta or stop the bleeding?” Beverly shook her head. “No.” Jean-Luc lowered his head. “Oh damn.” Her gentle grip on his arm made him raise his head. “Can you get me some water?” He nodded and picked up his shirt. “I’ll go and wet this, but I’ll try to find something to carry water. You’re going to need a steady influx of fluid.” The Doctor smiled and sighed. “Thank you my love.” He kissed her softly and rose to his knees. “I’ll be as quick as I can.” As Jean-Luc disappeared into the bush, Beverly looked down at her little son, gently brushing the rain from his face. She sighed deeply. “Well Jean-Jacques we’re just going to have to hope that your Uncle Will finds us soon.”

Data’s entry into the Ready Room made Will smile. The android took his seat and Will could plainly see he had something of importance to say. “Report Mr.Data.” “As requested Commander, I have been reviewing Captain Picard’s logs and I believe I have found what you have been looking for.” “Indeed? Tell me.” Data sat forward and placed his hands on the desktop. “I must point out Sir, that I did not find what I wanted in the logs of the Enterprise, but in the logs of the Stargazer.” Will’s eyebrows rose. “But those logs are years old Data.” “Yes Sir, in fact the pertinent logs are seventeen years old.” Will nodded. “Go ahead.” “It would seem that Captain Picard has a long standing problem with the Pran. During first contact with the aliens seventeen years ago, the Captain was accused of an inappropriate sexual liaison with the Regent’s eldest daughter. He strenuously denied the accusation and a subsequent inquiry exonerated him, but the Regent…and the daughter maintained their allegation and 48


relations with the Pran were suspended indefinitely. It was only in the last eight years that relations were resumed with them.” Will stood and paced slowly. “So why would they want to see the Captain now?” Data shrugged. “I do not know but I can tell you that the present Regent is the brother of the female who accused the Captain.” Will stopped and frowned. “I take it she’s still on Pran?” “Yes Sir. She is shunned, as she never took a mate. Apparently she is considered…sullied.” Will rubbed a hand over his face. “Damn. So they wanted Captain Picard to mediate in a dispute that has little chance of resolving to what? Make him responsible for the ensuing war? That’s a little…bloody minded.” Data pursed his lips. “There may be more to it than that Commander. It is a custom of the Pran to settle disputes with marriage. Perhaps they hoped to blackmail Captain Picard into taking the aggrieved female as his bride as a way of repairing her reputation.” Will grunted. “And the implied threat being a war if he refused. I think you’re on to something Data. What is the disposition of both fleets?” “The Garsis fleet is stationed around their planet, as yet not deployed. The Pran have sent their forces in three squadrons to different positions in the system. They are at full alert.” Will fisted his hands on his hips and bowed his head. “Damn. Right keep on it Data and keep me informed.” The android rose and nodded. “Aye Sir.” Will stayed in the Ready Room for ten minutes before calling Deanna to join him. He told her of what he’d learned and sighed as he rubbed his forehead. “I’m going to speak with the Regent and I want you with me.” Deanna nodded and stood. “Very well, but may I make a suggestion?” Will nodded. “Have a security detail standing by, out of sight but ready if anything untoward happens.” Closing his eyes briefly Will sighed. “Agreed.” He called for his security chief and outlined his request. The compact woman nodded her acquiescence and left. Will looked down at his fiancé and grunted. “Let’s go.”

49


As the rain continued to pour down, Jean-Luc sat wearily next to his wife and, not for the first time, wiped at his dripping brow. Beverly frowned as she watched their son suckle weakly, the second time the little infant had fed in the last three hours. The Captain, feeling dreadfully unwell, leaned closer and sighed shallowly. “He’s not very strong.” Beverly cradled her son’s head protectively and grunted. Jean-Luc looked at her and said softly, “Beverly?” The Doctor dragged her eyes up to his and tried to stop her tears from falling. “He’s very sick Jean-Luc…something’s wrong.” The man bowed his head and closed his eyes. “Do you know what it is?” Beverly waited until he lifted his head so he could see her as she spoke. “No not specifically, but as you can see by the bruising to his body, he suffered in the crash. He may have internal and skeletal injuries.” Jean-Luc rubbed his face and attempted to rise to his knees. Overcome with dizziness, he collapsed back onto the ground with a low moan. Beverly, alarmed at his apparent difficulty, sat up, cradling the baby and grabbing her husband’s arm with her free hand. “Jean-Luc!” As soon as she touched him, she knew the infection was running rampant, he was very hot. JeanLuc gathered his strength and slowly sat up. “It’s all right Beverly…I was just a little dizzy.” Gently placing their son on Jean-Luc’s wadded trousers, Beverly eased her husband back down and encouraged him onto his right side. His hip was swollen and mottled, an evil green discharge seeping from the dark wound. She was about to turn his head to speak with him when he rolled over and sat up. He pinched the bridge of his nose and swallowed. “Beverly lie down.” When she didn’t move, he opened his eyes and looked at her. “Beverly you’re still bleeding. Please…lie down.” Huffing with anger, Beverly did as he asked and watched as he slowly rose to his knees and began to crawl back into the bush. “I’m going to find something to carry water I won’t be long.” Beverly shook her head, frowning. “No Jean-Luc, you need to…” With his back to her Jean-Luc never heard her words. He disappeared into the foliage and Beverly sighed. Jean-Jacques lay quietly, his unfocussed dark eyes open but his little body still. Beverly took Jean-Luc’s wet briefs and wrapped them around her son as a nappy. With an effort, she sat up and watched the sluggish flow of blood from between her legs. “Damn.” She looked down at her son, noting his shivering. She lay back down and took him into her arms, snuggling him against her breasts. “Sorry little man, everything’s wet.” Just after the rain finally stopped, Jean-Luc returned. He was rolling a large brown object in front of him. Beverly frowned and waited until he looked at her. “What’s that?” The Captain shrugged.

50


“I’m not sure, but I think it’s some kind of seedpod. One end is soft and I think with a little effort I may be able to open it, remove the contents, and use it as a water carrier.” Jean-Luc’s eyes settled on his son and he raised his eyebrows. “How is he?” Beverly sighed. “I put your briefs on him as a nappy but he got cold. I’ve been cuddling him and he’s warmed up now.” Jean-Luc frowned. “He got cold in this heat?” Beverly nodded. “Uh huh. Babies can’t regulate their body heat…they react quickly to any temperature variations.” Jean-Luc grunted and sat with the seedpod between his feet. Taking the wooden staff in his good hand, he raised it and brought it down sharply on the pod. There was a satisfying crack as the weakened end broke. Jean-Luc put the staff down and used his fingers to pry the end open. With a snort of disgust, he averted his face and closed his eyes. “Good God…it stinks!” With a grimace, Beverly turned her head. “Phew Jean-Luc it smells like something died in there.” The Captain didn’t hear his wife’s comment. He gingerly looked inside the pod and held his breath. Beverly gripped his arm, garnering his attention. “Can we use it?” Jean-Luc nodded. “I think so. I’ll take it away and bury the contents then I’ll wash it thoroughly.” Beverly squeezed his arm. “Take that with you.” She pointed to the placenta lying on the fronds, which Jean-Luc had dragged a little way into the bush. The Captain nodded and summoned a wan smile. “I’ll be back soon.” He crawled to the fronds and placed the pod amongst the other items. Carefully gripping the ends of the fronds he slowly made his way into the bush. His progress was difficult, the undergrowth making his task hard, but he covered almost one hundred metres until he found a likely spot. With one hand he dug into the sandy loam, creating a deep hole. He scraped off the biological matter before tackling the pod. With great distaste he eased his hand into the object, feeling his fingers encountering a granular, glutinous mass. As he disturbed the contents a puff of odour rose under his nose. His stomach heaved and he closed his eyes, swallowing several times while turning his head to steady his breathing. Once again in control, the Captain lay the pod on its side and scooped out the matter. It came out in one globular mass and made a sickening sound as it slid wetly into the hole. With quick actions, Jean-Luc ran his hand around the inside of the pod and, satisfied it was completely empty, made haste to fill the hole. He made sure to bury the fronds as well and when he was finished, he sat back and tried to quell his queasy stomach. Knowing Beverly would be wanting to drink soon, he crawled back towards the lake, eventually coming out of the bush some distance from his usual spot. Rolling the pod in front of him, he gratefully entered the water and drank then, using sand, scrubbed his fouled hand. He then filled the pod and it floated at water level. He pushed it with him as he moved along the shore until he was back at familiar territory. Leaving the water he spent ten minutes thoroughly cleaning the 51


pod and although he got it remarkably clean, the odour remained. He re-entered the water and rinsed it several times before filling it and starting his trek back to his wife.

Beverly was dozing when she felt her son’s quivering and jerking. Her eyes snapped open and she rolled to her side, removing Jean-Luc’s shirt from her son and gasping in dismay. The little baby was suffering a mild seizure. Beverly cradled his head and held one of his little hands. Her voice was reduced to a whisper. “No!”

Will and Deanna stood at the doors to the delegate’s quarters and took time to order their thoughts. With a glance at his lover, Will was heartened to see the smile of encouragement on her lovely face. He lifted his hand and pressed the chime and the doors opened almost immediately. Inside was an impressive specimen of male Pran. The alien’s broad shoulders and luxuriant mane of russet hair, accompanied by his tall stature made Will tuck in his chin and stand a little straighter. The being looked down with wary red eyes and muttered, “Yes?” “May we see the Regent please?” The Pran frowned. “The talks don’t begin until tomorrow.” Will summoned a smile. “Ah yes I know, but we need to speak privately with the Regent.” The being squared his shoulders and glared. “Wait.” The doors hissed closed and Will let out an exasperated breath. Before he could say anything to his companion the doors opened once again. “Come with me.” The two officers were led into the enlarged quarters where the Regent was seated in a lounge chair by the viewports. With a wave of his hand he dismissed his aide. “What do you want?” Will smiled and gave a slight bow.

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“Sir some information has been recently made available to us that requires further investigation. We were hoping you could help us with our enquiries.” The regal being stared up at his visitors and shrugged. “What has it to do with me?” Will gestured to the sofa and asked, “May we sit Sir?” With a bored flick of his hand, the leader agreed. Once seated Will gathered his thoughts. “Sir you wanted Captain Picard to be the mediator of the talks.” “What of it?” “May I ask why?” The tall alien shifted in his chair and adopted an air of nonchalance. “What business is it of yours?” “Sir we know about the accusations your sister made towards Captain Picard.” The façade slipped and the Regent glared. “So?” Will sighed. “Well Sir, seeing as how you have a problem with the Captain, I was wondering why you would want him as mediator. Wouldn’t that be counter productive?” The Regent spent some time straightening his colourful robes. “Not necessarily Commander. It may have been beneficial.” “How so Sir?” Again the long hand flicked. “That is not your concern.” Will sat up, his face hardening. “I think it is Sir. If you have a hidden agenda now is the time to confess it.” The Regent crossed his arms, raised his thin eyebrows and smiled in a predatory manner. “Really? And by what authority do you make such a demand?” Will smiled depreciatively and raised his hands. “It wasn’t a demand Sir, I simply want the talks to proceed without any problems. If there’s something you’re not telling me…something that may have a direct impact on the talks, then for the benefit of everyone I ask you to share it with me now before irreparable damage is done.” The Regent lifted his chin and glared. “I do hope you’re not accusing me of being anything but committed to the talks Commander.” Will shook his head. “I’m not Sir.” “Good because I think it wise to remind you of your position. You, Commander, have no power, no leverage to bring to bear. Your job is to act as…an umpire, although one without any authority. You are totally dependent on my goodwill…oh and that of the Garsis. I’ve always found it helpful if the servants were kept in their place. Remember yours.” Will’s blue eyes glittered with suppressed anger. With a tight smile that didn’t reach his eyes he stood and offered a small bow. “Very well Sir, thank you for seeing us.” The Pran leader snapped his fingers and the tall aide appeared. “Show them out.” As the officers crossed the large room, Deanna was once again assailed by feelings of strong desire. Her step faltered and she blinked, but as she narrowed her focus, the sensations waned 53


then disappeared. At the doors she stopped and turned, letting her eyes wander over all the males in the rooms. Seven pairs of red eyes stared implacably back, sending an involuntary shiver down her spine. Will’s strong hand on her elbow broke the spell and the officers left. Once outside Will gently squeezed her arm. “Are you all right?” Deanna looked back at the closed doors and stifled a shudder. “Yes I think so.” The big man sighed. “Did you get anything from the Regent?” Deanna frowned. “He’s hiding something Will…and he’s very angry.” “With me?” The Counsellor shook her head. “No it’s something else Will, something that’s deep within him.” The First Officer ran a hand through his dark hair. “Well we can only hope it won’t interfere with the talks.” Deanna smiled up at her lover, her black eyes twinkling. “I have every faith in you Will.” The Commander chuckled. “Thank God somebody does.”

By the time Jean-Luc reached his wife he was exhausted and very nauseous. Carefully putting down the pod, he collapsed on his side and closed his eyes. Beverly, cradling Jean-Jacques in her arms slowly sat up and watched her husband as he struggled to regain some strength. After ten minutes he rolled over and sat up with obvious pain. Beverly gently gripped his arm and waited until he opened his eyes to look at her. “How are you?” He swallowed and offered a smile. “I’m all right. What about you?” The Doctor returned his smile and shrugged. “Actually I feel a little light headed.” Jean-Luc frowned and watched as his wife tenderly stroked their son’s head. She bowed her head to gain his attention. “Our little boy suffered a seizure Jean-Luc.” The Captain’s shoulders slumped and he wiped at the sweat trickling down his face. “How is he now?” “Sleeping.” Jean-Luc peered at his son and lifted an eyebrow. “Unconscious?” Beverly shook her head. “No just asleep.” 54


Jean-Luc sighed softly. “Have you any idea why he seized?” With a sad shake of her head, Beverly struggled to keep her voice even. “Not really, although an underlying head trauma would be the most likely cause.” “And there’s nothing we can do?” “No.” Turning to his side, Jean-Luc carefully lifted the pod and offered it to Beverly. “Here have a drink.” As she slaked her thirst, Beverly’s nose wrinkled and she closed her eyes. Once satisfied she grimaced. “What a god awful smell.” Jean-Luc nodded. “I know…sorry. I washed it thoroughly but the odour remained.” The Doctor summoned a smile, her eyes warm. “Oh well never mind. By the way Jean-Luc…notice anything?” The perplexed man studied his wife before suddenly gasping. “Your breasts…there’re bigger.” “Uh huh. My milk has come in.” Jean-Luc smiled. “So Jean-Jacques will get milk instead of colostrum.” “Yep. I’m hoping it will help him, but so far he’s been reluctant to feed. Maybe when he wakes up…” Jean-Luc nodded and gently placed his large hand over his son’s back. “Is there anything I can do?” Beverly shook her head. “No not at present. We should have more fruit. How much is left?” Jean-Luc crawled over to the deeply shaded area where he’d placed their store and brought back four items. “Not that much, but enough to keep us going until tomorrow.” He offered Beverly a tuber and she wrinkled her nose. Taking a tentative nibble, her face cleared and she took a bigger bite. Munching happily she winked at her husband. “Not bad.” Jean-Luc devoured his tuber then they both ate a dull brown fruit. That was followed by a drink of water then they settled down to rest. During the night Beverly had to wake her husband as an animal entered their little clearing. Frozen in fear, they could see nothing in the moonless black, Beverly turning her head in the direction of the snuffling she could hear. It was over an hour before she relaxed. Jean-Luc felt her body lose its rigidity and he muttered, “Is it gone?” In the dark Beverly fumbled for his hand and lifted it to her head. Nodding slowly, she let him know the danger had passed. Jean-Luc took his son from Beverly and cradled him in his good arm. “You go back to sleep mon coeur.” Overcome with tiredness Beverly couldn’t argue with him. She settled down and drifted off in minutes. The Captain lifted his son to his face and gently kissed his head.

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When Beverly woke in the morning she knew she was in trouble. The light-headedness was worse, she felt nauseous and there was a deep pain in her lower abdomen. Unwilling and unable to sit up, she felt between her legs with her hand and grimaced at the blood when she inspected it. Just as the ubiquitous rain began to fall, she turned to her husband to see him curled on his side, Jean-Jacques safely within the curve of his body. The infant had voided his bowels and the resultant mess covered Jean-Luc’s thigh. With a little effort, Beverly dragged Jean-Luc’s shirt to her and laid it out, knowing it would soon be soaked. While that was happening she gently gripped Jean-Luc’s shoulder, wincing at the amount of heat coming off his skin. With a gentle shake, she woke her husband. He groaned softly and retched pitifully. Beverly could see that he was going to turn over so she squeezed his arm tightly. He froze and opened his eyes, slowly turning his head. His voice was deep and very rough. “What?” Her smile took a concerted effort. She lifted a trembling hand and pointed to their son. Jean-Luc followed her finger and grunted, nodding once. He gently picked Jean-Jacques up and scowled at the mess covering his son’s nether regions and legs. Beverly picked up the now saturated shirt and beckoned for Jean-Luc to hold their son while she wiped him clean. That accomplished, she took the baby then gave Jean-Luc the shirt, indicating he should use it to clean himself. This done, Jean-Luc held up the soiled garment and grimaced. “I’ll go and wash it.” Beverly nodded then gestured for the pod. Between them they drank what was left and Jean-Luc took the empty vessel, smiling at his wife. “I’ll be as quick as I can.” The weakened man slowly rose to his knees, took a moment to gather his strength then crawled slowly into the bush. A few minutes after he left Beverly gently offered her breast to her son and was overjoyed when the little boy took the nipple and began to suckle.

Holodeck four had been programmed to provide the venue for the talks. With the size of the Garsis to consider, Data had come up with an interesting simulation consisting of a tastefully appointed hall, the roof of which was entirely made of glass allowing the light of a bright day to stream in. At a very long table, Garsis occupied one side, the Pran the other. Will sat at the head, Deanna standing behind and to his right. Will knew all the Pran attending were male but of the Garsis he knew little. He took a steadying breath and smiled warmly. 56


“Gathered delegates we meet here today to discuss the dissemination of the mineral wealth of the mid point asteroid belt that lies within your star system. From the information you have provided, I know that up until recently you both had fair and equitable arrangements for the division of the minerals in question. May I now ask…what has changed?” The First Officer focussed his attention on the Garsis leader, intending to hear him first but the Pran Regent spoke abruptly, causing the Garsis leader to softly hiss. “What changed Commander is that the Garsis suddenly decided to take more than their share.” Will raised his eyebrows and gestured for the Garsis leader to speak. Essun bowed his enormous head and activated his translator. “We take that which is in proportion to the amount of expenditure we put in. If we provide more personnel and equipment we should get a greater share.” The Pran regent scowled and bared his sharp teeth. “You take more than your share because you’ve found a way to make something detrimental to us with the ore.” The reptile shook his head. “Not true.” The Regent sat back and waved his hand dismissively. “Nonsense! Do you take us for fools? We’re well aware of your new weapon Essun. Not only do you steal from us, you now threaten us!” Will held up his hand and calmed the delegates. “What do you say to that Sir?” Essun lifted his upper body and, as Will watched in wonder, the scales on the huge alien strobed with colour. “We have not made a weapon…far from it! What our scientists have provided is a new energy source, one that may well make dilithium obsolete as a means of providing propulsion.” As Will was about to say more, he was rudely interrupted. “And now you will use this new technology to build deadlier ships…ships you will use to attack us!” Outraged, the entire Garsis delegation rose as one, their threatening hissing loud in the cavernous room. Will stood and held up his hands. “Delegates…please!” As the agitated reptiles settled, the Regent’s scornful voice cut in. “Oh very impressive Essun, but no matter how you display, you intend us harm and I’m here to tell you that will not happen. We will launch a pre-emptive strike before we bow to the likes of you.” The Garsis leader suddenly grunted and coughed. With remarkable accuracy he spat a glob of mucous at the Regent, hitting him squarely in the chest. The Pran delegation were immediately on their feet, shouting threats and obscenities. Will shouted until he was hoarse before order was restored. Once calm was achieved he turned to the Regent, his face a stern mask. “It would be very helpful Sir, if you would refrain from making contentious remarks. We are here to find peace, not to exacerbate an already inflamed situation.” The Pran leader stared disdainfully at the Exec and sniffed loudly. “I will not be told how to behave by the likes of you!” Will swallowed and counted silently to ten. He took a deep breath and tried again. ”Please Sir think for a moment what’s at stake. Do your people really want to go to war?” Placing his hands on the tabletop, the Regent leaned close to Will and snarled. 57


“You Commander are only interested in serving the Federation’s agenda. What you’re actually asking is…do you really want to drag a reluctant Federation into a war? I’m interested Commander…just whose side would you take?” Will smiled disarmingly and lifted his hands. “Fortunately Sir, that’s not what we’re here to discuss and, if I may be so bold, if we do our job right, it never will be.” The Pran straightened and raked his long fingernails through his wispy beard. “Tell me Commander…are all Federation citizens so spineless, or is it only Starfleet officers?” Will’s eyes glittered and he stood to his full height. “That Sir, was uncalled for.” The Regent smirked. “Was it? It has been my experience that Starfleet officers are dishonourable dogs. Now hold your tongue and do your job Commander, you are beginning to bore me.” Will clenched his jaw and slowly sat. With ponderous deliberation he turned to the Garsis leader and smiled. “What assurances can you give that would allay the Pran’s fears?” There followed several minutes of intense discussion amongst the Garsis. Eventually Essun hissed softly. “If the Pran give a guarantee they will not attack us, we will share our technology, provided we get enough ore to suit our needs.” Will turned and looked pointedly at the Regent. The imperious being snorted and flicked his hand. “We need to think about it.” Will sat back and nodded. “Very well, I suggest a recess. We will reconvene in three hours.” All present stood and began to file towards the doors. Deanna turned and was about to follow Will when a large hand gripped her arm. Startled, she turned to face a tall Pran. The being bowed and smiled. “You are Counsellor Deanna Troi?” Swallowing her disquiet, Deanna summoned a friendly smile. “Yes I am. And you are?” The Pran bowed again, his deep voice rumbling. ”I am Zet, weapons master for the Regent.” Deanna maintained her smile. “I am pleased to meet you.” The Pran’s smile widened. “I will not be needed during the discussions. May I share refreshments with you?” The Counsellor’s eyes darted to her fiancé but he was already out in the corridor. Her nerves jangling, the Counsellor nodded. “Of course Zet. Perhaps we could meet in the forward lounge in say…half an hour?” The smile became impossibly wider, the Pran’s red eyes glittering with a hunger Deanna found difficult to witness. “I would like that Counsellor. In half an hour.” The imposing male left abruptly and Deanna had to concentrate to stop her trembling. Will was waiting for her as she exited the Holodeck. “What was that all about?” 58


Deanna looked up at her lover with worried eyes. “I don’t know but I didn’t like it Will.” Seeing his fianc��e’s distress, Will gently took her elbow and walked her to a quiet area. There he asked gently, “What did he want?” By now regaining her equilibrium, Deanna shrugged. “He wants to have ‘refreshments’ with me. I suggested the forward lounge in half an hour.” Will frowned. “Deanna I can’t be with you. I have to try and sort this mess out.” The Counsellor patted his arm. “I know. Look it’s all right Will, I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Will pursed his lips and tilted his head. “Tell you what. How about I make sure Data is in the lounge at the same time?” Deanna smiled and sighed. “Thank you Will.” He bent down and placed a gentle kiss to her crown. “Think nothing of it. Now I have to get to the Bridge. Will you be okay?” Giving her fiancé’s arm a quick squeeze, Deanna nodded. “Yes.” With a nod of his own, Will left leaving a very thoughtful woman in his wake.

Jean-Luc was dreaming and it was a singularly unpleasant experience. In his febrile condition, his nightmares took on grotesque qualities and when he suddenly woke, his heart was pounding and sweat ran freely over his naked body. He turned onto his back and slowly sat up, his stomach rebelling and it took a concerted effort to quell the urge to vomit. Having found control he looked down at his infant son, lying swaddled between him and Beverly. With a frown, Jean-Luc realised Jean-Jacques was crying, the baby’s face contorted and his mouth was open as his frail arms waved feebly. The Captain gently picked his son up and held him to his chest, crooning softly. When he glanced at his wife, his heart missed a beat. Beverly appeared asleep, but she was very pale and sweat covered her face and neck. Jean-Luc could tell the baby was still crying so he gently shook Beverly, calling her name. “Beverly? Hey my love…wake up.” The Doctor groaned and rolled to her side, curling up and placing both hands on her lower belly. Jean-Luc saw the bloody sand beneath her and swallowed, briefly closing his eyes. Shaking a little harder, Jean-Luc tried to rouse his wife. “Beverly please Jean-Jacques is crying.” Beverly’s body suddenly stiffened and she abruptly turned onto her back, her eyes snapping open. Her vision cleared and she raised her arms. Jean-Luc carefully handed her their son and

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watched as Beverly tried to get him to feed. The little one refused and Beverly struggled to sit up. Jean-Luc was about to ask her to remain supine when she looked directly at him and asked, “Help me up Jean-Luc.” He reluctantly assisted her and gently caressed his son’s head. “What’s wrong?” The Doctor sighed. “I don’t know. He should be hungry.” She tried again to offer her breast but the baby fussed restlessly, refusing her nipple. Beverly looked at her husband, her worry clearly evident in her eyes. “He’s so weak Jean-Luc.” Beverly lifted her son to her chest and held him gently, crooning and rocking him. When she suddenly stilled and closed her eyes, Jean-Luc gently gripped her shoulder. “Beverly?” The Doctor took a deep breath and opened her eyes but Jean-Luc could see the pain in their depths. She looked at her husband and tried to smile, but failed. “I don’t feel too good my love.” Being late in the afternoon, the lowering sun afforded more shade in their clearing but it was still torridly hot. The Captain picked up the seedpod but found it nearly empty. With a deep frown he shook his head. “We need more water. Will you be all right for a little while?” Beverly nodded and eased Jean-Jacques from her shoulder to see that he’d quietened. This time she managed a smile and nodded. “Yes we’ll be fine.” Jean-Luc gently kissed his wife and rose to his knees. Once he’d settled his upset stomach he commenced his journey to the lake. He got to the water relatively easily and filled the pod but as he made his way back into the bush he was overcome by a sharp pain inside his head. A surge of dizziness made him drop to his side, holding his head and clenching his jaw. For over ten minutes he lay in agony before the pain diminished but when he shakily rose to his knees, he abruptly vomited. Once the upheaval of his stomach calmed he took several moments to regain himself before crawling slowly back to his little family. When he finally arrived at the clearing it was to find Beverly lying on her side while their son suckled. Attempting to be as quiet as possible, Jean-Luc approached his wife, his relief obvious. Beverly looked up, smiled and winked. The Captain’s grin was the best thing Beverly had seen in days.

Deanna entered the lounge and smiled at the attendant who came to her side. Shaking her head and dismissing the young man, her eyes scanned the room until she found what

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she was looking for. Zet was seated at a table by the viewports, a tall frosted drink in his large hand. Deanna was about to approach him when a quiet voice sounded behind her. “It is I Counsellor, Data. I will watch you from the other side of the room. If, at any time you require assistance, simply raise your right hand and touch your brow. I will come immediately.” Without turning, Deanna smiled and slightly inclined her head. In a soft voice she replied, “Thank you Data.” With renewed confidence, Deanna covered the distance to the table and stood behind the available chair. Zet rose, bowed and gestured grandly. “Please Counsellor, sit with me.” As Deanna sat Zet caught the attention of one of the attendants. He faced Deanna and tilted his head. “What refreshment would you like?” Deanna looked up at the attendant and said, “Mineral water please.” Once again alone, Zet smiled broadly and inhaled deeply, holding his breath momentarily before slowly letting it out. Deanna watched him with guarded curiosity, waiting for him to speak. The dark being smiled ruefully. “You must think us an arrogant people.” The Counsellor’s raised eyebrow made Zet snort. “The Regent can be…difficult.” Smiling softly, Deanna shrugged. “I would not presume to judge your entire species on the behaviour of one individual Zet. That would be manifestly unfair.” The Pran nodded and sighed. “Nevertheless we will be judged by his actions…judged and held accountable.” Silence settled and became uncomfortable. To ease the situation Deanna asked, “Your name…have you another?” The weapons master frowned in obvious confusion. “Another name?” Deana nodded. “Yes. In many cultures including Human and Betazoid it is normal to have two names, a familiar and a family name.” The Pran’s face cleared. “Ah. That is why you are know as Deanna Troi.” The Counsellor bowed her head. “Yes. Troi is my family name.” Zet thought about that then frowned. “But your Captain…he has three names.” Deanna smiled and blinked. “Not really. His familiar name…Jean-Luc is two names but it is considered one. Amongst Humans it is not uncommon to have joined names or three separate names.” The Pran digested that then smiled. “Well I am known only as Zet, or Weapons Master.” Deanna smiled as the attendant delivered her drink. She took a sip and studied the glass. “Tell me Zet, your Regent…what is his name?” 61


Zet’s eyes narrowed and his body stiffened. “It is not my place to speak the Regent’s name. Do not ask again.” Deanna inclined her head. “My apologies Zet.” The tall alien relaxed and took a large sip of his drink. He seemed to gather his thoughts. “Are you mated?” Deanna’s head lifted sharply, her eyes widening. “I beg your pardon?” “Do you have a mate…are you betrothed?” The Counsellor nodded slowly. “Yes I am.” The dark being ran his fingers around the rim of his glass, enduring Deanna’s sharp eyes. “Would you consider me as a suitor?” Deanna shook her head. “No.” Zet scowled. “You find me unsuitable? I can assure you I am well placed within the regal party and my holdings are substantial.” Deanna’s tight smile hid her nervousness. “It’s not that I find you unsuitable Zet. Amongst my people betrothal takes place between two people who have established a relationship based on love and the wish for commitment. Put simply, I want none other but my betrothed.” Zet’s anger and disappointment were plain on his face. “But I want you as my own Deanna!” The Counsellor shook her head. “That is not possible Zet…I’m sorry, it will never happen.” Zet sat back and fisted his hands on the tabletop. His voice dropped to a deadly growl. “I am not accustomed to being denied Deanna.” With slow deliberation Deanna raised her right hand and rubbed her brow. “Nevertheless Zet that is how it will be.” The Pran suddenly leaned forward and attempted to reach for Deanna’s hands. As she was pulling her hands out of his reach, Data appeared at the table. “Counsellor you are wanted on the Bridge.” Deanna stood and sent Data a surreptitious smile of thanks. She lifted her head and smiled. “Thank you for your company Zet.” The Pran watched her leave with hard red eyes.

As Deanna and Data rode the turbolift to the Bridge her empathic senses picked up feelings of worry and fear emanating from her lover. Once the doors opened she saw Will standing in the Command Well talking to the Tactical officer. She went straight to his side. “What’s going on?” The First Officer ran a hand through his beard and let out a large breath. “We have a problem” 62


“What is it?” Will seated himself in the Command Chair and waited until Deanna took her seat beside him. ”We just received a communiqué from Captain Picard’s sister-in-law. She’s been trying to contact the Calypso but so far there’s been no reply.” Deanna’s eyes widened. “When were they due to arrive?” “Another two days.” The Counsellor frowned. “So they’d be not too far from Earth. Did Marie contact Command?” Will nodded. “Yep. They can’t raise them either.” “Did their flight plan take them through any regions of space that might interfere with communications?” The big man shook his head. “No, in fact the Captain plotted his course very carefully. He told me he had a very precious cargo and wanted to protect it at all costs. His route was probably the safest I’ve ever seen.” Deanna’s black eyes searched her lover’s face. “What do you intend to do?” Will sighed. “Well we’ve been trying to contact them…so far no luck. My only other option is to seek permission, both from the delegates and Command to go and look for them.” Deanna scowled. “Do you think they’ll agree?” Will shrugged. “I can only hope that if I can get the delegates to agree, Command will allow us to proceed.” “And the mediation?” “That will continue as we search.” Deanna sighed and lowered her head. “Well it seems to me you have no other choice. When will you ask the delegates?” Will’s voice was uncharacteristically nervous. “This afternoon.” The Counsellor nodded. “Very well, here’s hoping they agree.” Will grunted. “If they don’t our friends might be in deep trouble.” Deanna patted his arm. “I have every confidence in you Will. It’ll be all right.” Will smiled down at his fiancé and nodded. “I’ll make it so.”

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Jean-Luc didn’t want to leave his wife and son. Beverly’s condition continued to worsen and, although he had been removing the bloodied sand from beneath her and burying it, he knew her continued bleeding might attract predators. Jean-Jacques hadn’t fed for over eight hours and the little boy cried weakly and sporadically but unless Jean-Luc noticed and roused Beverly, the infant suffered alone. With the thought of food dogging his thoughts the Captain took his shirt and made a sling before checking once more on his wife and son. With a heavy heart he made his way into the bush. He returned in two hours, the shirt full of fruit. As he deposited his load in the shade, his eyes picked up the feeble movements of his child. He crawled over to him and spent several minutes wiping his little body clean before gently shaking Beverly’s shoulder. He gasped as his hand made contact with her skin, the radiating heat making him pull his hand away. Beverly was curled on her side facing him so, instead of trying to wake her; he gently took his son and tried to coax him into taking the nearest nipple. At first Jean-Jacques refused, his little mouth open in a weak cry, but Jean-Luc persisted doggedly and eventually the baby began to feed. Tears of relief welled in Jean-Luc’s eyes as he watched, but he also noted Beverly’s breasts had decreased in size. He closed his eyes and swallowed, realising that with her deterioration she was losing her milk supply. After several minutes Jean-Luc moved his son to the other nipple and was immensely pleased when the little boy continued to suckle. Throughout the entire time, Beverly remained unconscious.

Will remained standing as the delegates took their seats. With Deanna standing at his side, he felt her calming influence and with it the bolstering of his confidence. Once every one was seated, Will sat and brought the meeting to order. Turning to the Regent he said, “Have you come to any decisions Sir?” The Pran leader stared into Will’s eyes and nodded once. “Yes. We believe the Garsis offer has merit, however we are still unhappy with their continued insistence in taking such a large share of the ore from the asteroid belt.” Will nodded and turned to the Garsis. “What are your thoughts on this Sir?” The reptile hissed softly and lifted his head ponderously. “We take only that which we need and, as I’ve previously stated, it is in accordance with the amount of effort we put in. If the Pran wish to increase their contribution of resources in the mining, extraction and refinement of the ore, then they too can increase their share. We have no objection to that.” Will returned his gaze to the Regent. “That seems fair Sir.” The Pran snorted.

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“Fair? I think not! I’m sure our Garsis neighbours would love to see us deplete our resources by committing more to the mining operations, but surely it is obvious that is a ploy to draw us away from our defence efforts. Once they see we have weakened ourselves they will pounce. No. The Pran are not miners we are warriors and, as we claim equal ownership of the asteroid belt, then its treasures must be shared equally.” Before Will could invite Essun to respond, the Garsis leader snapped his jaws loudly. “We are not interested in conquest! Can’t you see that our offer will benefit your people? It will, in fact, increase your defensive capabilities not weaken them, but if we’re to share our new technology with you…and considering we expend the greater effort to harvest the ore, it is only right that we have the greater share.” The Regent glared at his counterpart imperiously. After several tense seconds he nodded. “We will consider your words.” The Pran turned to Will, expecting the First Officer to call another recess. Instead Will smiled. “I am pleased you are willing to give thought to this mediation Sir, but, if I may, I have a request of both delegations.” The leaders looked at each other and Essun tilted his head. “A request Commander?” Will nodded. “Yes Sir.” The Regent sat forward and placed his hands on the tabletop. “And what is this request?” Taking a deep breath, Will sent a silent prayer to the Gods. “We have been recently informed that our Captain and CMO have been reported as missing. With your permission, I would like to leave this sector and proceed on their flight path to see if we can locate them.” The Regent stiffened, his red eyes glittering. “Picard is missing?” Will nodded. “Yes Sir. He and his wife were returning to Earth for the birth of their first child. No one has been able to contact them.” Essun hissed quietly. “Will your superiors give you permission to do this?” Will grinned. “With your agreement, perhaps.” Essun sighed. “And the mediation?” “It will continue.” The Garsis leader looked at the Regent and hefted his body upwards. “Well Regent…are you willing?” With a calculating stare the Pran grunted. “Very well. Contact your superiors Commander and tell them we agree.” Will bowed his head and closed his eyes. “Thank you Sirs I should have an answer in a few hours. I will let you know of Command’s decision.” The delegate’s rose and filed from the room. Once the room had emptied Deanna sat beside her fiancé and took his hand. 65


“Well done.” Will summoned a shaky smile and wiped at the sheen of sweat on his brow. “Thank you Dee, but perhaps you should hold the congratulations until we hear from Command.” Deanna nodded then frowned. “Will, when you mentioned Captain Picard was missing The Regent’s emotions spiked. He’s doing his best to hide himself from me but something’s going on.” Will stood and stretched. “Well we’ll just have to keep an eye on him. Come on, let’s get to the Bridge.” As they left the holodeck Deanna spared a thought for her friends. “Where are you?”

Will smiled warmly at the Admiral and nodded. “Thank you Admiral Janeway, I really appreciate this.” Kathryn Janeway sat back and studied the man before her. “You know Commander if it were any other ship, or any other Captain…” She sighed deeply. “Well anyway as long as you continue with the mediation we at Command have no objection to you searching for Picard…provided you find him and Crusher. I don’t mind telling you there are several worried people at this end, not the least being me. I’ve known your Captain for a long time and I fully intend to be at the naming of his first child.” Will grinned, a twinkle in his eye. “I agree with you Sir. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find the errant pair and no doubt they’ll have a story to tell. As for the mediation, I’ll give it my full attention.” Janeway adopted a stern look, but her eyes were warm. “See that you do Commander. Janeway out.” The First Officer took a moment to rub his face with his hands before striding out onto the Bridge. He smiled at Deanna, giving her a wink and a nod. “Helm, reciprocal course. I want this ship back at the place where we parted from Captain Picard. Maximum warp and engage when ready.” As he sat, Deanna raised her eyebrows and said softly, “We’ve been given permission to exceed warp five?” The big man nodded. “Uh huh. Command has given this search a priority one designation.” The Counsellor bowed her head. “Indeed? And the mediation?” Will scratched his cheek. “It continues, also a priority one exercise.”

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There were several moments of silence as both officers sat in deep thought. Will sighed and looked up. “Helm ETA at those coordinates?” “Nine point six hours Sir.” The Exec nodded then looked at his lover. “I’m going to go and study the mineral aggregate of the asteroid belt. I’ll see you later.” He stood and gave Command to Data. Deanna watched his broad back as he entered the Ready Room and sighed. As Data took the centre seat she smiled. “I’ll be in my office Data.” The android nodded. “Very well Counsellor.”

Jean-Luc dozed fitfully, lying beside his wife, his son between them, the Captain’s hand resting on his baby’s little body. It was the jerking movements of his tiny chest that roused the sick man. He opened his bleary eyes, the pounding in his head making him wince. He looked down at his child and slowly sat up, picking the infant up and cradling him against his chest. It was then he noticed Beverly’s trembling. Her entire body was shaking and her hands were curled in a rictus-like spasm. Jean-Luc gently put his son down and grabbed the seedpod. Plunging his hand into its depths, he withdrew some water and poured it over Beverly’s face. The Doctor moaned and gagged. Jean-Luc called to her. “Beverly? Beverly can you hear me?” She stirred sluggishly and her eyes opened. She stared unseeing at her husband and he spoke softly. “Beverly you have to drink some water.” Her mouth opened and her voice croaked painfully. Jean-Luc reached to her and gently pushed her shoulder. “Roll onto your back my love.” She complied with no resistance and the Captain moved to her head and eased his hand under her. “Here I’ll help you.” He lifted her head and again filled his hand with water. As he dribbled the liquid into her mouth, Beverly’s eyes locked onto him and, as he watched, they cleared a little. She took a deep breath and nodded, summoning a small smile. Heartened, the Captain picked up the seedpod and held it to her lips. With careful administration, Beverly drank deeply, her eyes closing in pleasure. When she’d had enough Jean-Luc settled her back down then finished the remaining water. Beverly frowned and rolled to her side, reaching for her son. The baby was crying and Jean-Luc shook his head. “Dammit Beverly…I can’t hear him.”

67


She smiled as she offered her breast to the infant, smiling when he took a nipple. She looked up into the Captain’s face and assuaged his sorrow. “It’s all right my love.” Jean-Luc watched his son feed and frowned. “Beverly you’re losing your milk aren’t you.” The Doctor closed her eyes and nodded. He waited until she looked at him again. “What is it?” With a sad smile she informed him, “My temperature is very high…I most probably have septicaemia.” The Captain nodded. “The retained placenta?” Beverly nodded. “Yes.” “There’s nothing I can do?” She shook her head. “No.” Jean-Luc lowered his head and swore softly in his native tongue. Beverly reached for his arm and, gaining his attention, said, “My love if we’re not rescued soon both Jean-Jacques and I will…” Her husband shook his head brusquely. “NO! I will not entertain such thoughts. We will be rescued Beverly, we just have to hold on.” His dark hazel eyes bored into Beverly and she swallowed. With courage she found hard to summon, she smiled and squeezed his arm. “All right…we’ll do our best.” The Captain tenderly kissed his wife and son then picked up the seedpod. “The sun is lowering, I’ll go and get some water.” Beverly smiled and nodded, words unnecessary. As Jean-Luc disappeared into the foliage, Beverly looked down at her little son and sighed. “Here’s hoping you share his strength my little one…you’re going to need it.” Deanna was reading a patient’s file when she sensed the approach of a forceful personality. Facing the door, she was ready when it chimed. “Come in.” Zet entered and bowed, his glossy black hair sliding forward to veil his face. The Counsellor waited while the tall alien composed himself. He straightened and smiled, although his red eyes remained calculating. “Counsellor Troi…Deanna…I hope I am not intruding?” The petite woman stood and smiled in return. “Not at all Zet, however I have only a few minutes between appointments. How may I help you?” Stepping closer, the Pran flexed his muscular physique, his leather jerkin creaking under the strain. “I wish to dine with you tonight.” Deanna maintained her smile apologetically. “I’m sorry Zet, but I will be dining with my fiancé tonight.” 68


The weapons master frowned. “Fiancé?” “My betrothed.” There was an awkward silence before Zet huffed. “Your betrothed is a member of this ship’s crew?” The Counsellor clasped her hands in front of her and nodded. “Yes he is.” Zet drew himself up to his full height, his ruff rising. “Who is it?” Deanna’s eyes hardened. “I don’t see that as being relevant.” The Pran’s smile was predatory. “I do. I wish to know who my competition is.” Forcing herself into a calmness she struggled for, Deanna’s voice was soft and controlled. “There is no competition Zet. Forgive me, but I am not interested in you as anything but a member of the delegation.” Blazing red eyes bored into her as the incensed alien radiated anger and outrage. “How dare you?” he hissed. “I am the weapons master of the Regent, you should be honoured that I show interest in you.” The gentle smile was meant to take the sting out of her words. “I am flattered Zet, but my heart lies with my beloved and your overtures are unwelcome. Please cease asking me to do something I don’t want to do.” In complete silence the towering alien stepped up to the Counsellor and glowered down at her. His large hand rose and, with remarkable gentleness, cradled Deanna’s chin. “I will discover the identity of your betrothed and I will challenge him. I want you my little one…and I will have you.” Before Deanna could respond, the Pran turned on his heel and left. The Counsellor took several deep breaths then walked determinedly to her desk and sat. Tapping her combadge she called her lover. “Troi to Riker.” “Riker here.” “Will I think we have a problem.”

Jean-Luc had to rest several times on his way to the lake. The distance wasn’t great, only seventy metres, but he was dizzy and weak and the nausea that dogged him made him want to retch. He was fifteen metres away from the shore when a low menacing growl rumbled near to his left. Unable to hear the warning, he continued crawling towards the water. It was only as he broke through the foliage that he spotted a young furry creature close to the water’s edge. Too late he stopped and frowned, wondering where the mother was. 69


Behind the Captain, the youngster’s mother approached the Human, her yellow eyes glittering and her long teeth bared. Jean-Luc’s hair stood up on the back of his neck and he froze, the feeling of approaching danger making his mouth go dry. Slowly turning his head he looked over his shoulder and was unable to stifle a cry of horror. A huge furred quadruped reared up on its hind legs and roared at him. In sick fascination Jean-Luc watched as the creature unsheathed its claws. Suddenly stung into action, Jean-Luc turned to face the animal and began to quickly scuttle backwards. Unfortunately that took him in the direction of the young creature. The maddened mother roared again and shook her huge head. Saliva landed on the Captain and he quickened his pace. The female came down on all fours and lunged at the man, swiping at him with her forepaw. Jean-Luc was struck on the side of the head making him see stars. He rolled onto his stomach and crawled as fast as he could but he was doomed. The animal lumbered after him and reached out, raking its claws from his right shoulder, across and down his back and over his left buttock, one of the claws tearing open the puncture wound on his hip. Jean-Luc screamed and writhed on the sand. The animal reared up again and the Captain flung a handful of sand at its face. He watched with dread as it roared silently and pawed at its eyes. Taking the opportunity, Jean-Luc began to crawl away. He only got a few metres before he felt an incredible pressure on his lower right leg. He was suddenly lifted and he got a look at the beast from an upside down perspective before his world went mad. The huge animal shook him violently from side to side; his body whipped back and forth like a rag doll. Throughout the ordeal Jean-Luc felt the bones in his leg snap and the teeth tear into his flesh. Oddly there was little pain. Abruptly he was released and his body flew through the air, landing hard on the shore. The juvenile animal had moved closer to its mother leaving the shore clear. In desperation JeanLuc dragged himself into the water and weakly swam out, praying the beast wouldn’t follow. When he dared stop and look, the female and her young were stalking up and down the shoreline, the mother snapping her jaws in an agitated display of anger. The sun was getting very low in the sky when the beasts finally withdrew into the bush. By now chilled and weak from shock and blood loss, Jean-Luc slowly swam to shore and collapsed on the beach. He lay shivering on the sand for several minutes before thoughts of his wife and son stirred him. Unable to find the seedpod, he somehow got to his knees and began the slow and painful journey back to the clearing, dragging his mutilated leg behind him.

Will Riker looked at his fiancé with amused forbearance. He ran his hand over his beard and stifled the chuckle that wanted to bubble up to the surface. Deanna, seeing his mirth sighed disgustedly “It’s not funny Will.” The big man schooled his features and nodded. “No, of course it isn’t. So let me get this straight. I’m going to be challenged…by what’s his name?” 70


Deanna rolled her eyes. “Zet.” “Ah yes…Zet. He’s the weapons master isn’t he?” “Uh huh.” “Right. So Zet will challenge me for…you.” With her hands clasped in her lap, Deanna strove to keep a serious face. “Yes. I rebuffed his attempts at establishing a relationship and he got angry. He informed me he intended to find my betrothed and challenge him.” Will couldn’t contain a snort. “Your betrothed?” The Counsellor sighed deeply. “Yes! Look Will this is serious. He ignored my protests and showed singular intent in settling this one way or the other.” Finally seeing how upset his lover was, Will frowned. “Look don’t worry about it Dee. I’ll go and see him and I’ll set him straight.” Deanna’s black eyes looked deeply into Will’s. “It might not be that easy Will…I don’t think he’s going to take no for an answer. He told me he’s accustomed to getting what he wants…especially where it comes to women.” That caused the First Officer to scowl. “Well I’ll just have to impress upon him that you’re a free willed woman who’s perfectly capable…and entitled…to make your own decisions about who you see.” Deanna’s eyes fell to her hands. Her voice became a whisper. “I hope you’re right my love.” His long arm encircled her shoulders and he drew her into a gentle embrace. “It’ll be all right Dee, leave it with me.” An hour later Will stood outside the Pran’s accommodation. He swallowed and gathered his thoughts before he pressed the chime. The doors sighed open and the Adjutant bowed. “How may I help Commander Riker?” Will smiled and returned the bow. “I would like to speak with Zet please.” The aide stiffened and glared. “The Weapons Master is in conference with the Regent.” Will kept his smile in place. “Fine. When will he be free?” The aide was about to remonstrate with the Commander when a deep voice stilled him. “Who is it Jun?” Turning slowly, the Adjutant bowed deeply. “It is Commander Riker Sir.” Will watched as a taller being entered his field of view. His smile widened. “Good afternoon Zet.” The imposing alien nodded once, curtly. “Commander.” The aide, keeping his eyes downcast muttered, 71


“The Commander has come to see you Sir.” Zet’s eyes hardened. “Really?” He stared at Will. “And what do you wish to see me about Commander?” Will kept his smile in place and his voice even. “It is a private matter Sir.” Zet’s sable eyebrows rose and he straightened. “I take it you wish to speak…elsewhere?” Will nodded. “Yes Sir.” The weapons master stepped out of the quarters and gestured grandly. “Then lead on Commander, but I warn you. Be brief I cannot be away from my Regent for too long.” The Exec nodded and turned down the corridor. “Of course Sir…if you will follow me?” Together the two men walked a short distance to a small observation lounge. Once inside the Pran folded his arms across his chest and regarded Will with a cold look. The Commander faced the alien and adopted a cool demeanour. “This concerns Counsellor Troi.” Zet remained stoic. Will took a deep breath and pressed on. “I am her betrothed and I feel I should enlighten you as to the rituals of betrothals amongst Humans.” Before he could say more, Zet held up a large hand. “You are her betrothed?” “Yes.” The Pran stalked around Will insolently, his red eyes roving over Will’s body in an obvious assessment. Once again facing the Commander, Zet sneered. “You won’t provide much opposition.” Will gritted his teeth. “There isn’t going to be any challenge Sir.” The alien glowered. “And why not?” “Because it’s unnecessary. Look amongst Human…and Betazoid societies women are considered equal in every way and are free to choose whomever they wish as mates…and to scorn any unwanted advances. Please Sir cease your overtures to her it is both upsetting and unwanted.” Zet took a step back and shook his head. “This is unbelievable! Your woman is dictating who courts her? And you won’t fight for her? The Regent is right…you are dogs!” Will’s blue eyes glittered and he growled, “If you won’t desist in pestering the Counsellor I will have security confine you to quarters.” The alien stepped up to Will and poked a long finger into his chest. “You wouldn’t dare! I am the weapons master! And you are a coward!” With remarkable speed, Will grabbed the hand and turned the wrist until Zet gasped. “Two things Zet. One…don’t touch me. And two…don’t start something you can’t finish.” 72


He released the hand and stared up into the outraged red eyes. The weapons master stepped back and hissed. “You will pay for that insult Riker…and I will have Troi!” He abruptly turned and left the lounge. Will took several moments regaining his control before he tapped his combadge. “Riker to Data.” “Data here Commander.” “ETA at the drop off point?” “Two point seven hours Sir.” Will grunted and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Very well Data, I’ll be there shortly.” He left the lounge a lot more upset than when he entered it.

Data’s quiet voice broke through Will’s dark musings. “We are approaching the coordinates Sir.” Snapping his head up, Will nodded once. “Very good. Helm, drop to one quarter impulse and come to a full stop when we reach our mark.” “Aye Sir.” Within minutes the report was given. “Registering all stop Commander.” Will stood and walked over to the con. “You have the Captain’s flight plan?” “Yes Sir.” The First Officer placed one foot against the pedestal and leaned an elbow on his bent knee. “Right. Lay in a course to follow that plan exactly. Keep the speed to warp two and the sensors on maximum.” “Aye Sir.” The Exec remained at the con, his eyes watching the star scape. With a sigh he retreated to the Command chair. Data’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Commander are you aware of what speed Captain Picard would have chosen?” Will rubbed a hand through his beard. “Well Data seeing as he had the Calypso he could’ve easily cruised at warp eight, but I know they weren’t in any particular hurry so I’m guessing probably warp five. He did say it would take eight days to reach Earth and that suggests a leisurely pace.” The android assimilated that information then formed his next query. “Do we know how far into their journey they were when they went missing?” Will shrugged.

73


“Not really Data. All I know is they were a few days out from Earth when the Captain’s sister-inlaw attempted to contact them and when she failed, she got on to Command and they contacted us.” The big man twisted in his seat to look up at Data, situated at the science station. “Why do you ask?” “Because Sir I am trying to extrapolate how far they went before they went missing. If they have met with a mishap, we will need to be alert for signs. It is my hope that I might be able to narrow the parameters of our search by estimating where the incident occurred.” Will nodded and smiled. “Any luck?” The Second Officer cocked his head. “Not yet Commander.” “Well keep trying Data. Anything might help.” “Data nodded. “Aye Sir.”

It was almost fully dark when Jean-Luc finally made to his family’s side. In the gloom he felt for his son, finding the infant swaddled in Beverly’s pants lying by her side. Laying a gentle hand on the baby, the Captain found that his son was quiet and further investigation determined that Beverly was unconscious. Exhausted and in immense pain Jean-Luc curled up on his side and rested his aching head on the sandy ground. He slipped into oblivion with frightening ease. The morning found the Humans in the dappled sunlight in varying degrees of unconsciousness. Beverly was trembling in her senseless state, the heat radiating off her body causing JeanJacques to squirm. Jean-Luc groaned and twitched, the movement making him gasp and retch. His eyes cracked open and he squinted as the first fat drops of rain splattered on his face. With an effort he pulled himself awake and attempted to cover his son’s face with cloth to protect him from the downpour. The baby was crying fitfully and Jean-Luc watched the silent squalling with a heavy heart. Struggling to a sitting position He gently lifted his son and tried to get him to suckle but it was useless. The heat from Beverly’s body made the baby refuse her nipple and Jean-Luc was almost certain she had no milk anyway. Instead he cradled the infant and offered him the knuckle of his little finger. The little boy latched on and sucked feebly before turning his head and crying. The Captain lifted Jean-Jacques to his chest but could do nothing but hold him, the pain in his body preventing him from rocking. He sat forlornly in the pouring rain, his tears mingling with the water running down his face.

74


The morning on the Enterprise found the delegates assembled on the Holodeck as Will tried yet again to find a solution to their problem. So far on this morning he had established that the Pran were not opposed in principal to the Garsis offer, in fact some progress had been made but they still stuck pedantically to the contention over the dissemination of the ore. After sitting and listening to the delegates snarl and posture at each other for over half an hour, the First Officer tapped his index finger on the table. “Gentlemen please.” The sparring subsided and all eyes turned to him. “If I may…have you considered monetary recompense, or exchange of goods?” The Regent sniffed loudly and shook his head. “What are you talking about?” Will laid his hands palm down on the tabletop and tucked in his chin. “Well think about it. The Garsis claim they should have the greatest share because of the amount of effort and expenditure they put in. On the other hand, the Pran are unwilling to deplete their resources any further to increase their stake, but claim equal ownership of the ore. Okay. To offset this the Garsis have offered to share the technology gained from mining the ore but the Pran fear ulterior motives. How about the Pran pay the Garsis in goods or latinum for the difference? If it worked the resulting balance could lead to a very lucrative trade agreement between you.” The Garsis leader hissed sibilantly and bobbed his head. “That is a very interesting idea Commander.” The Reagent however was scornful. “We are not merchants Commander! That sort of behaviour I would expect from the Ferengi.” Will kept calm with great effort. “Will you at least consider the proposal Sir?” The Pran glared at Will then snorted. “Very well, we will consider it.” Both delegations rose, bringing Will to his feet as well. Bows were exchanged and once the room emptied Deanna placed her hands on Will’s shoulders. “That was very well done.” The Commander huffed and shook his head. “Maybe, we’ll see.” Rising up to tiptoes, Deanna kissed her fiancé’s cheek and sighed. “I’ll be in my quarters for a while, then I’m going to my office.” Will nodded. “Okay, I’m going back to the Bridge.” As Deanna neared the doors she turned. “Let me know if you find anything.” Will grinned. “You bet.” 75


For the remainder of that day and well into the next the Pran delegation stayed in their quarters. Essun, the Garsis President emerged with his chief aide and took a leisurely meal in the lounge but all Will could do was wait. Until the Regent graced them with his presence, the mediation was on hold. It was early the next morning and Data was on the Bridge when the Ensign at the science station quietly called for him. “Commander Data could you please come here Sir?” The android rose and joined the young woman. “Yes Ensign how may I help?” The officer pointed to the display on her screen. “I’m getting some anomalous readings Sir…something I’ve never seen before. What do you make of them?” Data’s golden eyes surveyed the information and analysed the readings almost instantly. His pupils dilated and he spun around, barking, “Helm emergency stop!” The great ship shuddered as the inertial dampeners struggled to compensate for the rapid deceleration. Several of the Bridge crew lost their footing, grabbing frantically at hand holds to prevent falling. The call from the First Officer took only seconds. “Riker to the Bridge.” “Data here Commander.” “What the hell happened? I was thrown out of bed.” Data chose to ignore the smirk on the Ensign’s face. “I ordered an emergency stop Sir.” “Why?” “We were about to collide with a cosmic string fragment Commander.” There was a momentary silence followed by, “I’m on my way, Riker out.” As Data turned back to the monitor, the officer at Tactical said respectfully, “Sir we’re picking up some small amounts of debris.” The android straightened. “Analysis?” The Lieutenant frowned over his readings. “It’s hard to tell Sir. We may have to bring some aboard.” Data moved down to the Command chair, sat and addressed the con. “Helm move us to within two kilometres of the string fragment, five hundred kph, thrusters only, then come to a full stop.” He lifted his head slightly. “Lieutenant Stoddard lock on to debris off our bow and beam as much as you can to Cargo Bay two on my command.” “Aye Sir.” 76


Data heard the lift hiss open and stood, ready to hand command to his superior. Will quickly strode to the centre seat. “What have you got Data?” Before the android could reply, the officer at the con said quietly, “All stop Sir.” Data nodded. “Lieutenant Stoddard, energise.” “Aye Sir.” The Second Officer focussed his attention on Will. “I was called to the science station to analyse some anomalous readings. Fortunately I recognised them as identifying a cosmic string fragment. I ordered an emergency stop. Since then a small amount of debris has been discovered although it is proving difficult to analyse. I have had as much of the debris as we can locate beamed to Cargo Bay two.” Will pursed his lips and nodded. “Well done Data. If we’d ploughed head on into that fragment we would’ve been severely damaged.” He raised both his voice and his head. “Riker to LaForge.” There was a gap of some seconds before a sleepy voice answered. “LaForge here.” Will grinned. “Sorry to wake you Geordi but I need you in Cargo Bay Two to identify some debris.” The Commander could hear the resignation in the engineer’s voice. “No problem Commander, I’ll be there shortly.” Will folded his arms and faced the viewscreen. He could see nothing out of the ordinary. “Data if the Calypso struck the string how do you think they may have fared?” The android cocked his head. “That would depend on many things Commander, not the least being their speed at the time. I should point out however that we have been following a very faint, almost dissipated ion trail all the way from the departure point. Scans show there is no ion trail anywhere in the vicinity.” Will frowned. “Meaning?” “If the Captain’s yacht collided with the string and survived the impact then their progress from this point has been made without warp or impulse power.” Will scratched his cheek. “From the amount of debris can you make a guess as to what happened?” Data shrugged. “There is not enough debris to indicate the destruction of the Calypso.” He paused, his yellow eyes darting from side to side. “It is possible that they did collide with the string, survived mostly intact, but ricocheted off on a new course without power.” The Commander ran a hand through his hair. “If they were doing warp five when they hit would it be possible for them to ricochet off at warp speed?” Data nodded. “Yes Sir.” 77


Will sighed. “Dammit they could be anywhere!” The two officers stood in silence before Will straightened decisively. “Helm lay in a course of ever increasing circles around the string fragment, sensors at maximum. Look for anything out of the usual.” “Aye Sir.” “Data you have the Bridge, I’ll be in Cargo Bay two.” The android nodded and watched his Exec leave.

Will found Geordi crouched over several bits of twisted metal, scanning them with a tricorder. The First Officer hunkered down beside his friend and waited patiently. The engineer snorted and snapped his instrument closed. Facing the big man, his ocular implants contracted. “No doubt about it Commander, it’s a Starfleet craft.” Will grimaced. “But is it from the calypso?” Geordi picked up a fragment of metal and carried to a large analytic computer. “We’ll soon see.” He placed the scrap on the scanner, activated the device and watched the screen expectantly. Within minutes the results were displayed. Geordi sighed. “It’s the Calypso Sir. The duranium of her hull is unique.” Will nodded, his stomach knotting. “Can you tell from where on the ship this debris came from?” The engineer grunted softly. “That may take a while Sir, I’ll have to scan each piece individually, but I can tell you this piece,” He gestured to the scanner, “Was from the port nacelle.” Will closed his eyes briefly, took a large breath and let it out slowly. “From what we can tell so far, it seems they’ve hit a cosmic string fragment and ricocheted off in a new direction, presumably without power and also presumably at warp speed.” Geordi’s eyebrows rose, his sharp intake of breath loud in the otherwise silent bay. “Without power? How do we know that?” “No ion trail.” The engineer whistled softly. “Wow. How the hell are we going to find them Commander?” Will shrugged. “Diligence and perseverance.” The Exec peered at the scrap, then cast his eyes over the remaining fragments and frowned. “Tell me Geordi just how much of the ship is here?” The dark man sighed and pulled down the corners of his mouth. 78


“I’d say about fifteen percent of the hull, although I’ll know more when I finish the analysis.” Will stroked his beard. “Fifteen percent? So if we’re lucky the Calypso should be mostly intact.” Geordi nodded. “Uh huh. Of course it depends on where this stuff comes from, if the ship’s force fields maintained hull integrity…and if the inertial dampeners were able to withstand the collision.” Will grunted. “And if two Humans, one very pregnant could withstand the collision.” The engineer’s voice was very soft. “Pretty much.” Will sighed. “That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ Geordi.” The smaller man shrugged. “Well until we find them we’ll never know. For now all we can do is hope.” The First officer nodded and clasped Geordi’s shoulder. “Well I’ll let you get on with your work. Let me know what you find.” The engineer smiled. “Aye Commander.”

In the searing heat of late afternoon Jean-Luc regained consciousness and blinked sluggishly. Unable to move any more, he struggled to focus his eyes as they streamed uncontrollably. It took several moments for his vision to clear and what he saw broke his heart. His wife lay so deathly still he first thought she had died, but his eyes detected movement in her chest and he breathed a sigh of relief. However when he looked at his child he groaned in despair. The little baby was semi conscious, his ribs jerking spasmodically as he gasped for breath. Jean-Luc could not remember laying his son down, or swaddling him in his trousers, but as he watched the feeble movements of his arms he knew time had almost run out. Without help, very soon, they would all perish. Exhausted, giddy with blood loss and shock and in incredible pain, the Captain laid his head down and closed his eyes. In a ragged whisper he said, “I’m so sorry…so very sorry my loves.” As senselessness overcame him the spreading pool of blood beneath him joined with the large puddle under Beverly. Insects hovered and landed on their bodies, crawling over them seeking a meal in the gore. The scent of the blood rose on the breeze and drifted out into the foliage, wafting low in the oppressive heat.

79


After being hailed by the Regent, the delegation assembled once again on the Holodeck. Before Will could bring the meeting to order, the Regent, refusing to sit, lifted his chin pugnaciously and glared down at the Commander. “We have considered your suggestion Commander…considered it and rejected it. We will not pay, either in goods or latinum for that which we already own!” Will kept his features relaxed and nodded his understanding, but before he could reply he was surprised by the Pran leader as the imposing alien placed his hands on the tabletop and leaned down, bringing his face within centimetres of Will’s “And may I add Commander, your brazen attempt to feather the Federation’s nest is an act of unmitigated gall. How dare you try to instigate a private deal with the Garsis! Do you think us fools, that we wouldn’t see through your deviousness? I once called you Starfleet officers dogs… I was wrong, that would be an injustice to dogs. You are excrement!” Rising quickly to his feet and gesturing the outraged Garsis delegates to silence, Will stood ramrod straight and kept control of his temper. “Sir I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about but I will not stand here and allow you to insult me or my organisation so unfairly. We…” The Regent snorted. “You’re pleading innocence? I don’t believe it! Are you going to stand there and tell me that you have no arrangement with the Garsis to lull us into a cosy trade agreement, one which I’m sure would eventually be as one sided as the ore dissemination, while the Federation reaps the benefits? By the Gods, you must be a bigger criminal than I thought.” “Will gritted his teeth. “Sir there is no deal! I was trying to find an equitable solution to the dilemma, there was never any intention from me or the Garsis delegation to do anything but negotiate fairly with you.” The Pran folded his arms and shook his head. “I don’t believe you. We think the Federation has seen that they can get their hands on the technology and goods we send to the Garsis while we blithely supply the items in good faith. It’s so obvious! And Commander let me assure you…we will not quickly forget this insult…or your part in it.” Without a further word the Regent spun on his heel and swirled his cape ostentatiously as he made his departure. His staff followed him but Zet hung back, his evil grin rattling the astonished Commander. The weapons master stepped forward and muttered, “If you wish to regain any respect from the Regent I suggest you accept my challenge.” He turned abruptly and left. Essun snapped his jaws in exasperation and lowered his head. “It seems hopeless Commander.” Will sat slowly and sighed. “There is an old Earth saying Sir…things are always darkest before the dawn. I’m not going to give up but I admit my patience is wearing thin.” There was a murmur of agreement from the gathered Garsis and Essun nodded. “They are intractable Commander and the Regent is a prime example of their obstinance.” 80


The First Office summoned a smile. “Well they will learn I can be stubborn too.” The Garsis President stood and bowed. “I commend your diligence Commander. I will wait to hear from you.” After they left Deanna sat beside Will and shook her head. “The whole thing was a set up Will.” The big man raised his eyebrows and cocked his head. “How so?” Deanna smiled coldly. “The Regent deliberately manipulated that entire exchange to allow Zet to reissue his challenge, this time adding the weight of the mediation to the situation. They colluded against you Will and I still believe there’s more to this entire circus than what we’ve been led to believe.” Will grimaced. “You mean more that Zet’s interest in you?” “Uh huh. The Regent is angling for something and I’m almost certain it involves Captain Picard.” Will stroked his beard. “So you’re saying they’re deliberately sabotaging these talks, hoping we’ll find the Captain so the Regent can settle his family’s dispute with him?” Deanna nodded. “Yes.” There were several seconds of silence before Will sighed. “It would probably be wise for me to inform Essun of all this…it’s unfair for his delegation to put so much genuine effort into this mediation when there’s no chance of resolving anything.” The Counsellor nodded. “Plus it would allow the Garsis to see the insults and accusations for what they really are… grandstanding.” Will stood and stretched. “Agreed. I’ll go to their quarters now.” Deanna smiled. “Then my love I want you to get some rest. You’ve already worked a double shift.” The big man grinned and bent over, kissing the top of her head. “All right. See you tonight.” Deanna watched the tired man leave then sat quietly plexing as she devoted thought to Zet and his threat.

Will was deeply asleep when the call came from the Bridge. “Data to Riker.” The First Officer groaned and turned over, knuckling one eye. He answered, his voice rough with sleep. 81


“Riker here, what is it Data?” “We have discovered more wreckage Commander…and a small amount of vented plasma.” Will sat up and shook his head. “I’ll be right up.” Data was bent over the Science Station when Will exited the lift and strode onto the Bridge. “Report.” The android straightened and tilted his head. “Since I called you Sir, we have made a subsequent discovery of more wreckage, although its position, speed and trajectory being at opposites to the last piece of the Calypso, leads me to believe the ship was rotating rapidly. That and the pattern in the intermittent traces of plasma lends weight to that theory.” Will stoked his beard and squinted as he read the information on the screen. “Can you extrapolate a course?” Data nodded. “Aye Commander, I believe we can.” “Then make it so Data.” Will made his way to the Command chair as Data issued the necessary course correction. He hesitated slightly and turned to his Exec. “Sir what speed do you suggest?” Will frowned. “Do we have any idea what speed the Calypso was travelling at?” Data’s fingers flew over the console then he turned to face Will. “By calculating how far the wreckage has travelled from the flight path, I would estimate the Calypso was maintaining warp four point six.” Will nodded curtly. “Very well, helm warp five. Engage.” Twenty minutes later Data quietly called, “Commander the plasma has ceased its spiral configuration. I believe someone got control of the craft.” “Will stood and was about to ask for more information when Tactical said tensely, “Commander we are approaching a class M planet. It lies in the direct path of the Calypso Sir.” Will strode up to the Tactical Station and nodded. “Scan for Human life forms.” The young Ensign frowned. “Nothing yet Sir. I can tell you the surface temperature is 48C and it’s an oxygen rich atmosphere.” The Commander fisted his hands. “Right. As soon as we achieve orbit I’ll lead an away team. Data you…” He got no further. The Second Officer straightened and said firmly. “Commander Riker I cannot permit you to leave the ship. As acting Captain your place is here on the Bridge.” Will stiffened his spine and glowered at his friend. “Now look Data…” The Ensign at Tactical broke through the thickening tension. “Sir we’re picking up the remains of the Calypso. It appears to be submerged.” Will glanced at the viewscreen and barked. 82


“Helm come out of warp and drop to one quarter impulse. I want us in a geostationary orbit over the Calypso’s resting place.” “Aye Sir.” Will turned back to Data to continue their argument when the android sharpened his focus. “Commander! Reading…three Human life signs…all extremely weak. And there are two additional life signs…warm blooded very close to their location.” Will lifted his head and barked abruptly, “Three life signs?” Data nodded, peering at his monitor. “Yes Sir. One is an infant.” “Oh God…Beverly’s had the baby! Transporter Room…lock on to three Human life signs on the planet and beam them up now!” There were several tense seconds before they heard, “Commander? I can’t do it Sir, there’s too much ionisation in the atmosphere.” Will took two steps towards the lift. “I’ll take a shuttle…” Data’s cool hand grabbed Will’s forearm. “No Commander, I will go.” The two beings stared into each other’s eyes before Will slumped his shoulders. “All right. Take a security detail with you…and hurry.” Data’s reply was over his shoulder. “Aye Sir.”

The female beast and her offspring picked up the scent of blood as they came down to drink. The older animal lifted her head and bared her teeth as she tested the gentle breeze. With a coughing bark at her youngster she left the water and pushed into the undergrowth, the juvenile following close behind. As the scent grew stronger, the animals became cautious, slowing their steps and repeatedly sniffing the air. With great stealth they entered the little clearing and circled around the three unconscious Humans, each circuit bringing them closer to their quarry. Finally the bear-like beast stood over Jean-Luc and sniffed his body with remarkable delicacy. With one huge paw, she hooked her talons into the Captain’s chest and pulled him onto his back. The younger animal nosed Beverly and snuffled around her side, the nudging causing her to roll face down. The parent beast opened its mouth and snarled loudly, saliva dripping down on the Captain’s body. The animal lowered its head and wrapped its jaws about Jean-Luc’s neck.

83


Data utilised all his exceptional speed and dexterity to land the shuttle within eighteen minutes of leaving the ship. The team, numbering four, exited the little craft on the shore of the lake and, deploying their tricorders, immediately struck off into the foliage. They were very close to the Human bio signs when the heard the snarl. Drawing their weapons, Data lead them to the clearing and froze at what they saw. The female had picked Jean-Luc up by his neck and was turning to drag him off into the bush. The youngster had gripped Beverly’s shoulder and was attempting to do the same thing. With no thought as to his own safety, Data stepped into the clearing and raised his hands. “Hey!” The female stopped abruptly and growled menacingly. Behind Data one of the team muttered. “Sir I really don’t think that’s such a good idea. Without taking his golden eyes off the animals Data replied, “I would prefer not to harm these beasts Ensign. If I can convince the large animal to release the Captain I can…” He got no further. The female did indeed drop the Captain, only to charge the Commander. With his lightning fast reflexes, Data raised his weapon and fired. There was a bright flash and a protracted sizzling sound as the beast vaporised. The youngster growled and released Beverly but unfortunately it too tried to charge the team. It was dispatched quickly and Data ran to his Captain, scanning him with the tricorder and pressing his fingers against a heavily bleeding wound in his neck. . Another crewman went to Beverly and a young female Lieutenant bent and picked the baby up. Her tone was urgent. “Commander this baby is only just alive. We need to get back.” Data gently picked his Captain up and began walking back towards the shuttle. “Agreed. Harmon, Styles, please carry Doctor Crusher…and be gentle but make haste.” Within minutes they were laying their burdens in bunks on the shuttle. They were covered with sheets and as Data entered the lift off commands he contacted the Enterprise. “Data to Riker.” “Riker here…do you have them?” “Aye Sir, we are returning now. Once we clear the atmosphere please beam them straight to Sick Bay.” Knowing the futility of further questions Will swallowed his anxiety and nodded. “Understood.” He then lifted his head. “Sick Bay did you copy that?” Selar’s steady voice answered him. “Yes Commander, we are ready.” “Transporter room have you established a lock?” “Aye Sir…energising in…three minutes.” “Acknowledged.” He strode up to the lift and paused at the threshold. “Lieutenant you have the Bridge, I’ll be in Sick Bay.” He didn’t wait for a reply. Once in the lift he tapped his communicator. “Riker to Troi.” Her reply was sleepy. 84


“Troi here.” “We’ve found them Dee. Meet me in Sick Bay.” Her gasp was clearly heard. “You’ve found them? How? When?” “I’ll explain when you report.” “Understood, I’ll be there directly. Troi out.” The lift doors opened and, as Will hurried out, he was hailed. “Transporter Room to Riker.” ”Riker here.” “We have them Sir. They’re materialising in Sick Bay as we speak.” “Thank you Transporter Room, Riker out.” The doors to the medical facility opened and Will stopped in his tracks. Three teams hovered over three naked bodies, one tiny, lying on bio beds. He knew better than to interrupt so he stood to one side and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his gut. “They have to survive…they just have to!”

It was over three hours until a tired Vulcan met with Will and Deanna in Beverly’s office. Wearily she sat and composed herself before facing her impatient Commander. “Doctor Crusher will regain consciousness in two hours. She had a partially undelivered placenta resulting in septicaemia. She had broken ribs, a fractured pelvis a badly injured wrist and severe bruising over most of her body. All her injuries have been repaired and the septicaemia is being successfully treated. Barring any setbacks she should be discharged in three days.” “Will nodded and felt Deanna’s hand on his thigh Her steady influence helped ease his anxiety. “And Captain Picard?” Selar frowned. “Captain Picard is very ill. We have repaired a hairline fracture of the skull, a compound fracture of both bones of the right forearm, a ruptured cruciate ligament of the knee, broken ribs, lacerations and severe bruising. However he has two distinct infections ravaging his system. One has entered through a deep wound in his hip. We removed this.” The Doctor held up a short piece of dull grey metal. “It was embedded in the pelvis. The infection it introduced has attacked the bone, including the marrow and has infiltrated extensively through his skeletal system. The other infection was introduced through lacerations on his back…our scans show they wounds were inflicted by an animal. That pathogen is assailing his blood, causing the platelets to lose cohesion. We are endeavouring to prevent haemorrhage.” Deanna sat forward, concentrating on staying calm. “Can you identify the bacteria?” Selar shook her head. “Not yet. We are administering broad-spectrum antibiotics but until we isolate the pathogens it’s a stopgap measure at best. We are also battling with wounds to his neck, one of the carotid arteries was punctured.” 85


Will was about to say something when Selar lifted a hand. “There is one more thing. Captain Picard’s aural system has been compromised by an unknown organism. The entire cochlear structure and the cranial nerve have been completely calcified. He is, at present, profoundly deaf.” Will gasped and shook his head, trying to cope with the news. It was Deanna who expressed their last question. “And the baby?” Selar’s eyes darkened and the Vulcan bowed her head in an uncharacteristic display of sadness. “The infant’s condition is perilous. He sustained a fractured skull and fluid build up on the brain. There were green stick fractures of his legs and right arm, broken ribs and internal injuries. He was severely dehydrated and is not responding well to treatment. I do not hold much hope for him.” Deanna lowered her head and brushed at her tears. Will gritted his teeth and sighed heavily. “Is there nothing you can do?” Selar raised one perfect eyebrow and cocked her head. “We intend to give Doctor Crusher treatment to re-establish her milk supply. Perhaps if the infant can ingest his mother’s milk, he may improve. In any event we will not give up, you have my word.” Will’s voice was rough with suppressed emotion. “Can we see them?” The Vulcan stood and gestured to the door. “Of course.” They went into the Captain’s private room to see the little family. Beverly lay quietly, pale and deathly still. The soft blue lights of the regen beams bathed several parts of her body and an intravenous line was attached to her left arm. They moved to the baby next, situated between his parents in a humidicrib. Like his mother, his tiny arm was attached to a central line and a small mask covered his lower face, the gentle hiss of oxygen accentuating the silence of the room. His body was so tiny the regen beam covered his entire form. Finally the officers stood beside their Captain. Will closed his eyes briefly and shuddered. The wounds on Jean-Luc’s back, head and arm were still open and the terrible wound on his hip seeped blood and a sickeningly green matter. Antigrav beams kept his body five centimetres off the bed and Deanna asked what both officers wanted to know. “Why haven’t the wounds been healed?” Selar sighed. “We cannot close them yet, until we can successfully treat the infections they will remain open to allow for drainage and cleaning.” Deanna’s eyes went to the bio readouts on the monitor above the bed. “His temperature is very high.” Selar nodded. “Yes. So far we have been unable to lower it. However that is not necessarily a bad thing, as his body is fighting the infections in its own way.” Will ran his hand through his hair then gently gripped Deanna’s elbow. “I have to get to the Bridge. Keep me informed Doctor.” Selar inclined her head. “Of course Sir.” Once outside Deanna stopped the agitated man. 86


“Do you want me to stay?” He looked down at his lover and smiled. “Yes. Talk to Beverly when she wakes up and let me know how she’s doing.” The Counsellor nodded. “Will do.” She watched as he left then turned back to the Captain’s room.

Geordi and Data were in deep conversation when Will made his way onto the Bridge. He wandered over to the two men and smiled as Data turned to acknowledge him. “Commander.” Will nodded and sighed. “Report Mr.Data.” “We are in the process of recovering the Calypso Sir. Being unable to beam it up, we have sent two class five shuttles with an augmented tractor beams to salvage the craft and bring it back to the ship.” The First Officer pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Make sure there’s absolutely nothing left Data. We mustn’t leave any trace of our presence on that planet.” Data nodded. “Understood Sir.” As Will turned away, Geordi lifted a hand. “Commander?” The big man faced his engineer, his eyebrows raised. “Yes Geordi?” The dark man cast a glance at Data then took a deep breath. “How are they Sir?” Will bowed his head and sighed. “Not too good I’m afraid. Beverly looks like making a good recovery but the Captain and the baby are very sick.” Geordi’s voice was very soft. “Boy or girl?” “A boy.” “Damn.” Will was about to take his seat when he was stopped by the Ensign at Tactical. “Sir the Pran delegation wishes to speak with you.” Letting out an irritated snort, Will pointed to the Ready Room. “In there Ensign.” “Aye Sir.”

87


Sliding into the seat behind the desk, Will activated the monitor and summoned a smile for the Pran Regent. “Good evening Sir, what can I do for you at this late hour.” “My aide has informed me that Captain Picard has been found.” Will made an effort to not grit his teeth. “That’s correct Sir.” “I wish to speak with him.” Taking a steadying breath Will schooled his features. “I’m afraid that’s not possible Sir. Captain Picard and his wife and son were seriously injured and are, at present, in Sick Bay.” “I see. What is their prognosis?” Playing his cards close to his chest, Will sidestepped the question. “It’s too early to tell yet Sir. We may know more tomorrow.” “I see. Keep me informed Commander.” The channel was terminated before Will could reply. He rubbed his face wearily and tapped his communicator. “Riker to Data.” “Data here Sir.” “Let me know the minute the Calypso’s aboard.” “Of course Sir.” “Riker out.”

Deanna sat quietly beside her best friend, her empathic senses noting Beverly’s rise to consciousness. As Beverly’s eyes fluttered Deanna stood and gently took her hand. She felt the Doctor’s fear and confusion and strove to allay it. “It’s all right Beverly, you’re on the Enterprise…you’re safe.” Beverly’s eyes opened and lazily slid, their glassy vacancy only confirming Deanna’s senses. The Counsellor laid a gentle hand against Beverly’s cheek and continued to talk softly. “Everything’s all right Beverly, just relax. You’re safe now.” A small smile graced the Doctor’s face and she sighed. Blinking slowly, her eyes cleared a little and found Deanna. The smile widened and Beverly lifted a shaky hand. Deanna was about to take it when Beverly suddenly gasped and attempted to rise. “Jean-Luc…” Deanna gripped her shoulders and gently eased her down onto the bed. “Take it easy Beverly, the Captain is here.” A deep frown creased Beverly’s brow as she struggled to see her husband. As she turned her head she saw the humidicrib. “Jean-Jacques!” She rolled onto her side, forcing Deanna to grab her arm tightly. 88


“No Beverly, lie down!” Weak and frightened, Beverly allowed Deanna to roll her onto her back. Selar came in and checked the monitors. When she got close enough Beverly reached up and feebly grabbed her sleeve. “How are they?” The Vulcan cast a quick glance at Deanna and saw the surreptitious shake of her head. “They are resting and responding to treatment Doctor. I suggest you rest.” Beverly seemed to think about that then gathered her strength for another question. “How am I?” “You have undergone a curette and are being successfully treated for septicaemia. All your other injuries have been healed.” Beverly nodded, struggling to stay awake. “I want to know about the injuries to my husband and son.” Selar straightened the blankets and looked down at her patient. “Perhaps later Doctor. For now, sleep.” Beverly slowly shook her head but Deanna stroked her brow. “Sleep Beverly, I’ll stay with you.” With great effort, Beverly looked at Deanna and tried to keep her in focus. “Watch over them…” As her eyes drifted closed Deanna whispered, “I will.” Once Deanna was sure Beverly was soundly asleep she called Will. “Troi to Riker.” “Riker here.” “Beverly woke up Will. She was pretty groggy but she’s mostly aware of her situation.” There was a moment’s silence before Will asked. “Does she know about the Captain and the baby?” Deanna sighed. “No not yet.” “Okay, do you want to stay?” The Counsellor closed her eyes and nodded. “Yes…and Will? The baby’s name is Jean-Jacques.” Deanna could hear the smile in her lover’s voice. “Well we know about the ‘Jean’ part, but Jacques…that’s French for Jack isn’t it?” “Uh huh.” “I’ll be damned. Trust those two to honour Jack Crusher somehow.” Deanna sighed sadly. “Let’s just hope he survives Will.” “Agreed. There’ll be a staff meeting at oh nine hundred tomorrow…will you be there?” Deanna smiled. “Yes my love.” “Okay see you then Riker out.” The Counsellor settled into her chair and spent a moment concentrating on Beverly’s emotions. Finding her friend resting peacefully, Deanna began to meditate. It would be a long night.

89


Data and Geordi stood at the main console in Shuttle Bay two as the Enterprise’s tractor beam guided the remains of the Calypso into the bay. When the wreck had settled gently on the deck, the beam was terminated and the two officers stepped closer to survey the damage. Circling the ruined ship, Geordi whistled softly as his ocular implants showed him the extent of the devastation. Data deployed his tricorder and immediately frowned. “Geordi…there are life forms present.” The engineer gasped and lifted his head. “Computer level three containment field around the object on the deck in Shuttle Bay two!” Instantly a sparkling field encased the Calypso. Geordi turned to his friend and asked incredulously, “What sort of life forms Data?” The android studied his tricorder. “A colony of micro organisms. They exist in the water left within the ship.” The engineer frowned. “They didn’t die when the water froze after exposure to the vacuum of space?” Data shook his head. “No. Indeed as the water thaws they are proliferating.” Geordi sighed and tapped his combadge. “LaForge to Riker.” “Riker here.” “Commander we have a problem.” “What is it?” The dark man looked over at the wreck. “It would be better of you came to see for yourself Sir. We’re in Shuttle Bay two.” Will’s voice showed his irritation. “Very well, I’m on my way.”

Will barked his question before he was fully through the doors. “What’s going on LaForge?” Geordi straightened and gestured to the wreck. “When we brought the Calypso aboard we also gained some hitch hikers.” Will scowled, then noticed the containment field. His face paled. “A life form?”

90


“Uh huh. As you know the Calypso was submerged in water. Well some of that water is still inside her and in that water are millions of micro organisms.” Will shook his head. “But it travelled through space…” Geordi nodded. “Yes Sir and the water froze, but as it thaws the organisms are reanimating.” Data offered his tricorder. “In fact Commander they are proliferating at an astonishing rate.” The Commander ran an exasperated hand through his hair. “What about the bio filters?” Geordi shook his head. “No good Sir. They could only help if we’d transported the wreck aboard. By physically dragging the hulk up here, we inadvertently exposed the ship to contamination.” Will’s blue eyes glittered. “How quickly did you get the containment field up?” The engineer sighed. “Pretty damn quick…as soon as I found out.” Will muttered darkly, “Well we’d better hope to God it was fast enough.” He dragged his eyes from the wreck and faced Geordi. “All right, we need to take a sample of the organisms to try and determine if they’re any threat to us. Data I’ll contact Sick Bay and I want you to assist. Geordi I want you to figure out a way to remove them safely and return them to the lake.” Both officers nodded and said softly, “Aye Sir.” With one final baleful glare at the Calypso, Will strode from the bay.

Selar was in the Captain’s room when Will found her. He noticed Beverly was awake and went to her side, taking her hand and offering a warm smile. “Welcome back Beverly.” The Doctor returned his smile but her eyes kept drifting to her husband and infant son. Will followed her gaze and frowned at the humidicrib as Selar adjusted the flow of Jean-Jacque’s intravenous drip. Will’s voice was soft and full of sympathy “How is he Beverly?” The red head sighed and tried to stifle her tears. “He’s very sick Will, but Selar tells me he improved a little over night. There’s a chance we may be able to attempt to get him to feed this afternoon.” Will’s hand gently squeezed Beverly’s and his eyes shone. “That’s great Beverly. If he’s anything like his parents he won’t give up.” Will saw that Selar was about to leave the room, so he quietly stopped her. “Doctor I would like you to report to Shuttle Bay two to assist Mr.Data in securing a sample of a micro organism we’ve inadvertently brought aboard. I want you to determine if it poses any sort of threat to the safety of the ship.” 91


The Vulcan tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “May I ask Sir, how was the organisms brought aboard?” “They were contained in water left within the Captain’s yacht after its salvage.” Selar’s eyes sharpened. “I see. May I show you something Commander?” Will nodded. “Of course.” He turned to Beverly. “I’ll come back to see you after my shift Beverly. You just rest and get well.” The Doctor and the Commander left the room and Selar led the big man to a computer in the analysis lab. Activating the unit, Will watched as an image appeared on the screen. “What you are seeing Sir, is a sample of the organism that caused Captain Picard’s deafness. They infiltrated through his ear canals, ruptured the eardrum and colonised the cochlear structure. In their attempts to alter the environment to their needs, they calcified the structure then spread to the cranial nerve. Fortunately for Captain Picard they perished before they could travel any further.” Will scowled at the image. “What killed them?” “Lack of water. When the liquid that sustained them dried up and was not replenished they died.” Will’s head shot around and he gasped. “They lived in water?” “Yes Commander. Doctor Crusher told me that Captain Picard attempted to dive on the wreck of the yacht to retrieve much needed equipment. He failed because he experienced significant pain in his ears before he could reach the wreck. He described to Doctor Crusher a red cloud surrounding the submerged yacht. I believe that cloud was the organism” Will was silent for several seconds and when he spoke his voice was full of hope. “Selar…if we find that the two organisms are one and the same, will you be able to restore the Captain’s hearing?” “I do not know Commander. I would have to study the life forms first.” Will straightened and took a deep breath. “All right, one thing at a time. Go to the Shuttle Bay and get the sample and I’ll wait to hear from you.” Selar bowed her head. “Aye Commander.” The Doctor left to do his bidding and Will turned to stare at the image on the monitor. He sighed deeply. “Here’s hoping.”

92


Late in the afternoon Deanna entered the Captain’s room to find Beverly asleep. Not wishing to disturb her friend, the Counsellor went to her Captain’s side and spent several moments studying the information on the monitor above his bed. She sighed deeply and allowed her eyes to drift down to the unconscious man, gently taking his hand and feeling the unnatural heat radiating from his skin. As his body hovered several centimetres off the bed, Deanna bent down to see the vicious open wounds across his back. Beverly’s soft voice made her gasp and straighten quickly. She turned to see Beverly’s blue eyes regarding her with curiosity. “Tell me what you see.” Deanna moved to Beverly’s side and shrugged. “About what you’d expect, considering what we think happened.” The Doctor closed her eyes and grimaced. “I haven’t a clue what happened to his back Dee. Enlighten me.” “Oh…sorry. When Data arrived at your position there were two animals…a large female and a smaller beast, presumably offspring of the adult. The female had hold of the Captain by his neck and had lifted him from the ground and was moving him into the scrub. The younger animal had you by the shoulder and was attempting the same thing. Data tried to distract the older animal but it reacted violently and he was forced to destroy it, and the juvenile. The wounds across the Captain’s back are consistent with being attacked by a large animal and Selar says the bacteria present most probably came from a carnivorous animal. The damage to his leg has DNA that correlates with the wound in his neck.” Beverly shook her head and sighed. “I knew nothing Dee, I was unconscious. He must have continued to look after us for as long as he could.” Deanna smiled and nodded. “That sounds like Captain Picard.” Beverly smiled lopsidedly and muttered, “Captain Courageous.” The Counsellor tilted her head and frowned. “Pardon?” The Doctor shook her head. “Nothing.” Deanna let it pass then turned to look at the baby. “How is Jean-Jacques?” Beverly’s smile faded. “Holding his own, but still very sick.” “Did you try to feed him?” “Uh huh.” “And?” Beverly shook her head again. ”No good I’m afraid, he’s just too weak…plus the sedation is probably too strong. Selar is confident though. At present she’s researching some drugs we may be able to use to bring him towards consciousness without disturbing him. If we can achieve that there’s a chance his instincts will take over and he might suckle.” Deanna’s eyebrows rose. “Even though he’d still be unconscious?” 93


“Uh huh. The suckling reflex is one of our atavistic instincts. If we can find the right level of sedation we may be lucky…it’ll be tricky though. We have to balance his condition and his low weight against the risk of moving him as well as the administration of the drug itself. It’s complicated but Selar’s confident and so am I.” Deanna smiled tenderly. “Well it sounds very promising. Would you mind of I were here when you try to feed him?” Beverly smiled warmly. “Not at all, I’ll ask Selar to call you when we’re ready.” Deanna nodded her thanks then glanced at Jean-Luc. “Beverly how much longer will Captain Picard be sedated?” The Doctor shrugged. “Unknown. It’s being done for pain relief mostly. Selar felt that the pain from his injuries would be difficult to treat but the pain from the infection in his bones would be impossible to deal with. The kindest thing to do was sedate him.” Deanna looked at her Captain again and sighed. “Has there been any progress in treating the infections?” Beverly’s vice showed her distress. “Not really. Selar did have a small victory with the blood infection and the risk of haemorrhage has lessened but he’s still dangerously ill.” The Counsellor took Beverly’s hand and squeezed it gently. “Do you know about the organism they found?” Beverly nodded and Deanna smiled with encouragement. “There’s a chance it may provide a cure for his deafness.” “I know, my fingers have been crossed all day.” Deanna sighed softly. “There’re an awful lot of people sending you, the Captain and Jean-Jacques kind thoughts Beverly. If good will counts for anything, I’m sure all this will soon be over and you and the Captain can concentrate on watching your little son grow.” Beverly smiled but couldn’t stop the tears forming in her eyes. “Oh God I hope so Dee…my life would cease to have any meaning if I lost either of them.” Deanna gently took Beverly into her arms and held her as the Doctor wept. “Have faith Beverly.”

Will rounded the corner at a brisk pace, his stride purposeful and nearly ran into the Pran Regent and his weapons master. The three beings stopped short and caught their balance, Will cursing softly under his breath. The Regent drew himself up to his impressive full height and glowered down at the Commander. “Riker! I suppose it’s provident that we should meet, I was just on my way to see you.” Will summoned a smile. “Hello Sir.” Ignoring the weapons master and provoking his displeasure, Will concentrated on keeping calm. 94


“I’m sorry Sir, I am needed in Engineering on ship’s business. I’m sure…” A large gloved hand was placed squarely on his chest. “You will talk to me Commander…NOW!” Seeing that a refusal was pointless, Will glanced down the corridor and gave a slight bow of his head. “Of course Sir…if you will follow me?” The three beings went several metres down the passageway and into a small lounge. Will called for lights then faced his inquisitors. “What can I do for you?” The Regent sniffed and adopted a superior air. “I wish to see Captain Picard.” Will gritted his teeth. “As I’ve already told you Sir…Captain Picard is in Sick Bay and he’s not receiving visitors. Once he’s recovered I’m sure he’ll…” The Pran leader stepped close to Will and loomed over him. “That is not good enough Commander. For all we know he could be dead! In fact I’m not convinced he’s actually aboard.” The Commander closed his eyes briefly and struggled to keep control of his temper. “Why would we lie? What possible motive could we have to deceive you? Captain Picard is in Sick Bay.” “Prove it!” Will’s voice was beginning to show his anger. “And just how do you envisage me doing that?” The Regent grinned, his sharp teeth startlingly white against his dark skin. “Take us to your medical facility so we may see for ourselves.” The First Officer held the Regent’s gaze. “And if I don’t?” “Then the mediation will cease and we will go to war.” Will sighed. “You seem to be very eager to do that Sir…may I ask why?” With a flap of his hand, the Pran dismissed Will’s question. “Will you take us to see your Captain?” The Human’s eyes glittered. “Do I have your word you will do nothing to disturb the peace of Sick Bay…you’ll just observe the Captain, nothing more?” The Regent bowed his head. “You have my word.” Sighing Will gestured to the door. “Very well.” When no one moved, Will raised his eyebrows. “Is there something else?” The Pran leader smiled cheerlessly and beckoned to his weapon’s master. Zet came forward and stood too close for Will’s comfort. “My challenge has not been met Commander. If you will not honour me I will take matters into my own hands.” Will stood his ground, his eyes glittering with anger. 95


“I will not be forced into something I consider barbaric!” Zet grinned. “Nevertheless, if you refuse what is my right, I will pursue Counsellor Troi…and I will not take no for an answer.” Adopting a gesture Zet used on him, Will poked his forefinger into the alien’s broad chest. “You Sir, will leave her alone!” Zet grabbed Will’s hand and his voice dropped to a husky whisper. “You have two choices Commander. Accept my challenge and settle the matter as warriors…or hide in cowardice and watch as I take your mate.” The two males were becoming very intense and the Regent could see things were going to escalate. Stepping up to Zet, the leader rested a hand on his shoulder. “Enough my brave warrior. Allow the Commander to escort us to Sick Bay…I’m sure this matter can be settled later.” He then turned to Will. “And Commander…just so you know…the mediation also rests on your disagreement with Zet. Refuse his challenge and the talks stop. I’m sure you can imagine the consequences of that.” The Regent’s eyes bored into Will’s and the First Officer felt his stomach sour. Clamping his jaw shut, he nodded curtly and sidestepped the two aliens, pausing at the open doors and waiting while they followed him out into the corridor. Deanna’s gentle fingers wiped the tears from Beverly’s cheeks as both women watched Jean-Jacques feed. The little infant was in a state of twilight sedation but his instinct to suckle once the nipple was in his mouth stood him in good stead. With tender hands, Beverly carefully cradled her son against her breast and sighed deeply, relief and hope surging through her mind. Standing by her side, Deanna smiled and basked in Beverly’s heady emotions as the baby fed, knowing how vitally important to his recovery this milestone was. Selar stood at the other side of the bed, a tricorder deployed and scanning quietly. Beverly lifted her eyes from her study of her son and said very softly, “Well?” The Vulcan nodded, keeping her eyes on the device in her hand. “All is well so far. His cranial pressure is stable and the internal bleeding has stopped. If he can establish a regular pattern of feeding we will be able to discontinue the intravenous line. All his vital signs are stabilising and I am encouraged by the strength of his suckling reflex.” She gently closed the tricorder and brought her eyes up to her superior. “All in all Doctor…I am pleased.” Beverly beamed then suddenly frowned down at the baby. “He’s slowing…I think we’d better let him rest a moment before I offer the other side.” Very gently Beverly withdrew her breast and lifted her son to her shoulder. Resisting the urge to pat his back, she instead lightly rubbed him and was soon rewarded by a small wet burp. Deanna helped wipe the spill and with great care, Beverly changed sides and coaxed his mouth open. As soon as she placed her nipple inside, Jean-Jacques immediately began to suck, bringing smiles from two of the three women. Selar, ever the stoic Vulcan lifted one perfect eyebrow and said quietly, “How gratifying.”

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With her free hand, Beverly gently brushed her fingers over her son’s head. Keeping her gaze on the little one, she asked, “How often can we do this?” Selar clasped her hands in front of her. “Although I am reluctant to move him, I believe the benefits of his mother’s milk outweigh the dangers. Three hourly feeding will suffice and once he is brought to consciousness I am confident he will establish his own schedule.” Beverly nodded, still smiling down at her son. “And when can he come off the drugs?” Selar cocked her head. “I will re-assess him in twenty four hours. The fractures have responded well to regeneration and the internal injuries have healed well since the surgery. My only concern at this time is pain management for the brain trauma. Analgesics for infants of this weight and prematurity can be difficult to regulate.” Beverly nodded. “Yes I can see how that could be problematic.” Deanna tucked the soft blanket under the baby’s chin and asked, “The drug you used to sedate him for this…what was it?” Beverly looked over at Selar and smiled. “It’s called Frenaptine. About eight months ago a new generation of sedating drugs were developed and, thanks to Selar’s diligence, one was found that suited us perfectly. Just recently a whole new family of drugs have become available for use in paediatric medicine and one of them, Frenaptine, was a derivative of one of the new sedating drugs. Actually we’re very lucky. Had this accident happened a year ago, we would’ve been in deep trouble.” Deanna smiled, gently brushing her knuckle over the baby’s soft cheek. “Well it seems not only was Jean-Jacque’s conception lucky, his luck seems to have brought him through this crisis too.” Beverly sighed wistfully. “Well here’s hoping his luck never runs out. Let’s face it…he’s used a big chunk already.” The three women let a gentle silence descend while they watched the baby feed. After several minutes Beverly smiled. “He’s stopped.” Selar took the sated infant from his mother and, with remarkable gentleness, returned him to his humidicrib. Just as Beverly was rearranging her nightie there was a knock at the door. Selar answered the summons and stepped outside. Will and two of the Pran delegation stood in Sick Bay, the First Officer obviously irritated and apologetic. “Doctor Selar please forgive the intrusion but it has become a matter of some importance that the Regent…” He gestured to the tall imperious being at his side, “And his aide be allowed to see Captain Picard.” Selar cocked her head her eyes clear and hard. “I am sorry Commander, but as you know Captain Picard is not well enough to receive visitors.” Will closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “I am aware of that Doctor, however this has become a diplomatic priority. I assure you they will not disturb the Captain nor will they stay long.” The Vulcan studied the man before her and nodded once. 97


“I will allow the visit Commander and I will hold you to your assurances.” Her eyes travelled to the two Pran. “Five minutes gentlemen…no more.” With the grace inherent in her race, Selar stood to one side and the three men entered. Beverly and Deanna exchanged surprised looks and caught Will’s apologetic face. Deanna sent, “What?” And Will replied, “I’ll tell you later.” The Regent and the weapon’s master went to Jean-Luc’s side and stood silently, staring down at the stricken man. The Pran leader’s eyes swept slowly over the medical paraphernalia, his face screwing up in distaste. His deep voice was loud in the otherwise silent room. “So we meet again Captain.” Will came to stand at the Regent’s shoulder, his sympathetic eyes fixed on his Captain’s pale face. The Pran’s question caught him unawares. “Will he live?” Will swallowed his sadness and anxiety and nodded. “We have every hope he will Sir. Certainly everything possible is being done for him.” The Regent lifted a hand and reached inside the cape he wore, bringing into view a soft leather pouch. He opened the bag and dipped his fingers inside. They emerged with the tips covered in a bright red substance. With great reverence the alien moved his hand to Jean-Luc’s head and, before Will could stop him, painted two lines between the Captain’s brows. Both the Regent and the weapon’s master bowed deeply then the leader sighed. “Our Gods will watch over him.” With that they both suddenly turned and left the room. Will swung around and cast a confused look at the two women. “What the hell was that all about? I was under the impression they hated the Captain.” Deanna stood and went to her lover’s side. “As before Will, there’s more going on here than we know. This was deeply significant to them…they need the Captain for some reason and they’ll do almost anything to help him recover.” Will ran a hand through his hair and snorted. “Bloody hell Dee this is driving me nuts!” She patted his arm and sent calming thoughts. “Be patient my love. Sooner or later they will have to show their hand. The trick is to be ready for it.” The big man’s smile was slow in emerging but he relaxed with it. “Agreed.” His sparkling blue eyes travelled to Beverly and she smiled in return. “How’s little Jean-Jacques?” “Better today and slowly improving.” Will winked and turned for the door. “That’s the ticket…I expect nothing else from your son Beverly.” To his fiancé he said. “I have to go to Engineering, I’ll see you at our quarters later.” Deanna nodded and grinned. “Okay…I’ll have an Alaskan ale waiting for you.” 98


He chuckled and pecked her on the cheek. “I knew there was a reason I fell in love with you.” The Counsellor slapped his arm and gently pushed him through the door. “Be off with you!” His laughter hung in the air long after he was gone.

The comparison between the two samples of the organisms had been completed and Selar frowned at the readings. Entering more information, the computer worked silently then text scrolled across the screen, followed by an image. Checking the information, the Vulcan sat back and rubbed her eyes. It was very late in the ship’s cycle and she had been working eighteen hours straight. She downloaded the results of her work on to an isolinear chip and shut down the computer. Quietly entering the Captain’s private room, she cast her eyes over the sleeping Doctor and made her way to Jean-Luc’s side. After carefully scanning the readouts on the monitor, she inspected his wounds and nodded silently. Taking a hypospray from her pocket, she injected the Captain then retrieved a tissue regenerator. With practised ease she closed the wounds on his head and arm then swapped the instrument for a blood collector. Obtaining a sample from his neck, she left the room and went to the analysis lab. The computer completed its work in minutes and Selar nodded with satisfaction. After making some notations on the computer she left the lab and seated herself in Beverly’s office where she amended the schedule for the following day. First thing in the morning Jean-Luc was going back to surgery where his terrible wounds would be closed. They were finally winning the battle with the infections.

At oh seven thirty next morning Will was in the Ready Room talking to Command. Admiral Steven Pascoe shook his head and sighed. “What a mess. I take it you’ve informed the Garsis of the situation?” Will nodded. “Yes Sir and I must say they were very understanding. If I were Essun I would’ve walked out days ago. The Pran Regent is a complete…” He sighed expansively. “Well I think you get the gist Sir.” Pascoe smiled, a wicked gleam in his eyes. “Indeed I do Commander. Is there any way we can force his hand? Make him play his cards?” 99


The Commander sat back and shrugged. “I don’t see how Admiral. Whatever they are keeping from us, they believe it’s worth going to war over.” Pascoe grunted. “And it involves Picard?” “Seems so Sir.” With a curt shake of his head, the Admiral sighed. “And what is Picard’s condition?” Will’s face sobered. “As of last night still critical Admiral.” “Can your Sick Bay cope?” Will placed his hands palm down on the desktop. “I hope so Sir, but there is a chance we may have to bring Captain Picard back to Earth for treatment.” Pascoe scowled. “I see. Do you think the delegates will agree to this?” Will’s down turned mouth showed his scepticism. “Probably not but we may have no choice. If the Pran truly want to find a solution to the problem they’ll concede. The Garsis are reasonable people and as long as they feel the mediation is moving forward positively they’ll most likely agree…but it all hinges on the Pran…and their agenda.” The Admiral grunted sourly. “Very well Commander, contact me as soon as you know more. Pascoe out.” Will deactivated the computer and closed his eyes. His quiet meditation was short lived however. “Selar to Riker.” He sighed, lifted his head and answered. “Riker here.” ”Could you please report to Sick Bay Commander at your earliest convenience?” The First officer’s eyes darkened. “On my way, Riker out.”

Not finding Selar in the office, Will made his way to the Captain’s room, finding her regulating the intravenous drip attached to Jean-Luc’s left arm Will noted Beverly’s sleeping form and kept his voice very soft. “You wanted to see me Doctor?” Selar nodded and gestured to the door. Once outside the Doctor began her report. “We will be taking Captain Picard into surgery within minutes Commander where we will close his wounds. “Will’s eyebrows rose. 100


“You’ve eradicated the infections?” Selar bowed her head. “Almost, however his condition will still be difficult to treat.” Will frowned deeply. “Why?” Selar elaborated. “Killing the pathogens is only the beginning. We now have to treat the damage they caused. His blood is severely depleted of red cells causing anaemia and other problems. We can address that but one of the main producers of red cells…the bone marrow has been extensively damaged. Also the bones themselves have been adversely affected…so much so that much of his skeletal system is in danger of collapse.” Will paled. “All of his skeleton?” Selar shook her head. “Thankfully no. There are some areas that were unaffected and it is from those areas we hope to harvest small amounts of bone marrow that we can introduce into the worst affected areas in the hope of stimulating his body into producing new marrow. The bones however are another story entirely. We may be able to find some undamaged cells we can use for cloning but it will be difficult and, for the Captain, very painful.” Will looked earnestly down into the Vulcan’s eyes. “But you can do it…yes?” Selar sighed. “I’m hopeful.” The big man’s eyes wandered to the door and he scratched his cheek. “What about his hearing? How did you go with the analysis?” The Doctor clasped her hands behind her back. “Unfortunately I can do nothing for the Captain in that regard. The organisms were indeed the same but ultimately that discovery proved useless. The damage to the inner ear has been too extensive to repair.” “You can’t clone new components?” Selar shook her head. “No Commander I cannot. The entire cochlear structure and the cranial nerve have been utterly destroyed. I cannot harvest any viable cells.” Will struggled to keep his voice down. “Then what the hell can be done? What about implants…nerve stimulators?” Selar’s gaze was steady. “They will not help Commander.” Will raised his hands and ran them through his hair. ”Are you telling me Captain Picard is going to be permanently deaf?” The Vulcan tilted her head. “That is a possibility, however there is one option that could be utilised.” “And that is?” “Compatible cadaver donation.” Will’s mouth snapped shut. “The damage could be repaired by organ donation?” “Possibly.” 101


“What do we have to do?” Selar raised her eyebrow. “Get the Captain to Starfleet Medical on Earth as soon as possible.” Will’s heart missed a beat and his stomach soured. “I’ll do what I can.” Selar inclined her head then left the Commander to take Jean-Luc to surgery. Will gathered his thoughts and set course for the Pran’s quarters. It was pain that finally woke Jean-Luc, a deep penetrating distressing pain throughout his entire body that made him contort his face and gasp. A gentle hand gripped his shoulder causing him to groan. A disembodied voice spoke but he didn’t hear it. The hand on his shoulder squeezed harder and his eyes snapped open, his voice a ragged plea. “Stop…please stop hurting me.” Selar looked down at her Captain and spoke softly, “I am sorry Sir.” He frowned and shook his head. “What?” The Doctor held a PADD close to his face and he struggled to focus on the screen. With difficulty he read, “Stay calm Captain I will administer analgesics.” The suffering man gasped again and swallowed painfully. Desperation showed in his eyes as he caused further agony by lifting his hand to weakly grip Selar’s sleeve. “My wife and son…” Selar gently removed his hand and turned her head, obviously talking to someone. Jean-Luc’s heart pounded as he watched in confusion. Suddenly another person entered his field of vision and he let out a soft sob as he recognised his wife. She bent over him and tenderly kissed his cheek. “It’s all right my love.” He didn’t hear her words but he understood the look in her eyes. As a hypospray was placed against his neck he whispered, “Jean-Jacques?” Beverly smiled and nodded, pointing to something out of his view. He tried to lift his head but couldn’t manage it. The red head gently caressed his brow and spoke to him but he frowned and shook his head. “Beverly I can’t hear you.” Selar handed Beverly the PADD and she spent a few moments tapping in instructions. Then she directed her speech at the device and smiled at the result. She brought the instrument close to Jean-Luc and he squinted as he read. “This PADD has been configured to display anything that is spoken. Our son has been very ill but he’s getting better and we expect a full recovery.” Jean-Luc looked up at his wife and closed his eyes as he sighed in relief. Once again in control he opened his eyes and asked, “And you?” Beverly spoke into the PADD then showed it to him. “I’m well on the way to fitness and there are no residual problems.” 102


He smiled but Beverly could see he was still in significant pain. Jean-Luc watched as she spoke to Selar and saw the Vulcan shake her head. Beverly frowned and sighed. When she directed her attention back to her husband he could see her distress. He gritted his teeth and asked what he knew she didn’t want to answer. “What is wrong with me?” Beverly spoke for some minutes into the PADD. Eventually he read, “You were very badly injured my love and you also had two virulent infections…one attacking your blood, the other your bones. Selar has managed to eradicate both infections but there has been a lot of damage. At the moment you’re dangerously anaemic and there has been some resulting organ damage, but treatment for that is fairly straightforward. What is troubling us… and causing your pain is the severe damage to your bones. It is going to take time and significant effort to treat that and until you begin to improve there will be little we can do for the pain short of sedating you. You will undergo bone marrow harvesting and lengthy regeneration treatments…and possibly some surgery but we’re hopeful you will make a complete recovery. It’s just going to be very uncomfortable and time consuming.” Jean-Luc’s eyes lifted from the PADD and his steady gaze showed his determination. In a deep gravelly voice he said, “No sedation Beverly.” She smiled bravely and nodded. “All right.” The Captain licked his lips and fear crossed his face. “What about my hearing?” Using the PADD, Beverly spoke her reply then waited as he read. “At present there’s nothing that can be done. The cochlear structure and cranial nerve on both sides has been destroyed and such is the damage that implants and stimulators won’t work as the nerves that carry the information to the brain are no longer functioning.” Jean-Luc closed his eyes, his mouth a thin line. Without thinking Beverly gently gripped his arm making him gasp in pain. Her hand immediately released him and a very distressed woman waited until he opened his eyes. “I’m so sorry Jean-Luc…I didn’t think.” He didn’t understand her words but he knew what she’d said. He summoned a wan smile that didn’t reach his eyes and sighed. “It’s all right.” Beverly spoke quickly into the PADD and showed it to him. “There is something we think we can do about your hearing but we have to get you to Earth…to Medical.” The Captain frowned, puzzlement and curiosity in his eyes. “What is it?” When he read her reply his heart sank. “Organ donation?” Beverly nodded and Jean-Luc lapsed into a long silence. Beverly waited patiently until he eventually spoke. “Will it work?” The Doctor shrugged. “We don’t see why not.” He read the remark and sighed, his uncertainty plain to see. 103


“Someone will have to die for me to hear again.” Beverly spoke quietly into the PADD and Jean-Luc read slowly. “Yes but they’re not dying for you my love. The fact that you will benefit from their death is beside the point. The person in question would have made a conscious decision to be a donor and I think they would be proud to know such a good man was helped in this way. It’s a very precious gift.” Jean-Luc swallowed and closed his eyes. Sweat had gathered on his brow and Selar pressed a moist cloth into Beverly’s hand. She gently wiped his face and he opened his eyes with gratitude. She bent over him and kissed him softly on the lips. Clearly enunciating she said, “Rest now…I’ll be with you.” He nodded and closed his eyes again trying to put the insidious pain out of his mind.

The Pran Regent looked down at Will with a calculating smile. The First officer shifted his weight and tried to hide his dismay. “Please Sir…don’t do this, it’s all so completely unnecessary.” The Regent’s red eyes glittered with suppressed anger. “Unnecessary Commander? Are you trying to insinuate that our ways are somehow…beneath you? Or is it that Zet was right and you are simply a coward?” Will took a deep breath and kept his temper in check. “No Sir I am not insinuating anything of the sort and I am most definitely not a coward. It’s just that the threat of halting the mediation…and going to war seems to be out of all proportion to Zet’s challenge.” The Regent scowled down at the hapless officer. “Be that as it may Commander my ultimatum stands. If you will not meet Zet in his challenge I will make good on my threats.” Will, instead of simply looking into the Pran’s eyes, lifted his chin and stared defiantly. “May I ask Sir…what does Zet’s challenge have to do with you? Surely this is something between him and me, not a situation that should be troubling you.” The Pran leader rose to his full height and glowered down at Will. “My reasons are my own Commander and you will mind your own business. Now…will you be a proper male and accept the challenge or will you show yourself for the cowardly dog I think you are, and refuse?” Will gritted his teeth and glared back at the Regent. “I accept the challenge Sir…under protest.” The Pran’s hand swept wide and Zet stepped to his side. With a shallow bow the weapons master lifted his head and grinned with affected superiority. “Are you familiar with what you would call a quarter staff Commander?” Will nodded curtly. “Good. We will meet this evening at seventeen hundred hours in Holodeck four. Everything will be provided.” 104


He turned to re-enter the cabin when he paused and turned his head. “And don’t disappoint me Riker.” Will watched in silence as both Pran entered the quarters, the closed door severing his view. With a muttered curse he turned on his heel and left.

Data, working quietly at the aft Science Station, turned down the corners of his mouth and raised his eyebrows. “Fascinating.” He lifted his head and modulated his voice. “Data to Riker.” “Riker here.” “Commander I have some interesting information you may want to hear.” “I’m on my way to the Bridge Data, I’ll be there shortly Riker out.” Data turned his attention back to the screen and read more with astonishing speed. Will found him there minutes later. “What have you got Data?” Turning to face his superior, Data gestured to the screen. “I have been doing as you requested Sir…trying to ascertain just what it is the Pran do with the ore.” Will’s eyebrows rose as he folded his arms. “And?” Data allowed a small smile. “It would seem very little Commander. They do use some in weapon making, but by and large they have been stockpiling it for years now. It is my opinion they do not have a wide use for it.” Will frowned deeply. “Then why the hell are they making such a damned fuss? They shouldn’t give a hoot how much the Garsis take.” Data shrugged. “I do not know Commander.” They stood in silence as Will stroked his beard. Data knew his Commander had made a decision when his blue eyes twinkled. “Data I want to know the circumstances of this mediation. Who asked for it…and when? And Data…I want to know if it coincided with the Enterprise being in or near their system.” The android nodded then asked, “You have some suspicions Sir?” Will grinned and clasped Data’s shoulder. “Yes I do my friend.” “Very well Commander I will begin immediately.” Will smiled widely and nodded. With a spring in his step he went to the Command chair and sat.

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When next Jean-Luc awoke he remembered all he’d been told and managed not to groan in pain. Keeping his body still, he opened his eyes and looked to his side to see his wife seated with their son held gently to her breast. He watched in fascinated silence as the infant lifted an arm and placed his tiny hand against the nipple. Beverly took his hand and smiled as his little fingers closed around her finger. Jean-Luc softly cleared his throat and spoke quietly. “He’s doing well?” Startled by her husband’s words, Beverly looked up and smiled, her nod making Jean-Luc sigh. The Doctor used her free hand to reach for the PADD into which she spoke. She held it for JeanLuc to see. “The drugs that sedated him have been withdrawn and he’s doing very well. Selar said he’s gained three grams since he came aboard.” Jean-Luc smiled and sighed. “I’m so very happy you’re both all right. The last thing I remember…” Beverly shook her head and spoke quickly into the PADD. “Don’t my love. Try and put it from your mind. We’re all here and we’re going to be fine.” Jean-Luc risked a small nod but winced at the pain it caused. Beverly watched as her husband fought for control, her heart clenching in her chest. The Captain opened his eyes and summoned another smile. “Who found us?” Beverly returned his smile and mouthed, “Data.” “Ah. They couldn’t use the transporters?” Beverly shook her head and enunciated, “No…shuttle.” There were no more words for a little while as Beverly shifted Jean-Jacques in her arms and offered him the other nipple. The little boy snuffled around for a moment before latching on and sucking strongly. Jean-Luc smiled and Beverly noted the gleam in his eye. She reddened slightly and shook her head. “Now you stop that!” Jean-Luc didn’t have to hear her words to know what she’d said. He chuckled softly then gasped in pain. Beverly stood and came to his side, waiting for him to open his eyes. “Steady my love.” He blinked his acquiescence and watched as Beverly called someone. Within moments Selar entered and immediately injected Jean-Luc with a potent analgesic. With the slight lessening of his pain, the Captain smiled and swallowed. “Thank you.” Beverly turned to her colleague and asked, “Is that the strongest there is?” Selar nodded. “Yes Doctor and we are risking kidney damage if he is on it for a prolonged period of time.” Beverly’s whispered, “Damn.” Was seen by her husband. He gritted his teeth and lifted his arm to brush her sleeve. “What?”

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Instead of answering straight away, Beverly spent some moments disengaging their son and lifting him to her shoulder. While she rubbed the baby’s back, she wandered around the room, Jean-Luc’s eyes tracking her every move. Having been rewarded by a satisfying burp from their son, the Doctor placed him in his bassinette and turned her attention to her husband. After speaking into the PADD, she presented it to him to read. “We are giving you the most powerful analgesic we have but we can’t use it for long without risking damage to your kidneys.” Jean-Luc closed his eyes briefly and sighed. “I see.” Beverly sat beside him and very gently feathered her fingers down his arm. “There’s always sedation.” The Captain scowled. “No.” Before Beverly could say anything more, Selar stepped forward. “If I may Doctor?” Beverly nodded. “There is the possibility of spinal anaesthesia.” The red head’s eyes widened. “Yes!” Jean-Luc frowned. “What?” Beverly spoke rapidly into the PADD. “We can place a device that interacts directly with your spinal cord. In effect wherever we place it, you’ll have no sensation whatsoever from its position down to your toes.” Jean-Luc digested that then asked, “Where will you put it?” Beverly smiled and bent to him, turning her head and putting her hand on her neck. “Here.” She straightened and watched as Jean-Luc assimilated the information. She knew by his hesitation he was worried. She stroked his cheek and said softly, “What?” He sighed and blinked slowly. “I would be helpless…connected to a bio waste unit…washed by…staff?” Beverly smiled and gently ran her hand over his sensitive scalp. “Yes my love but you’d be out of pain…and I will wash you.” His smile was heart warming. As Beverly wiped at his gathered perspiration he said quietly, “May I think about it?” She nodded, keeping her dismay to herself. “Of course.” Once Selar had left, Beverly bent down to her husband and tenderly kissed his mouth. Enunciating clearly she said, “I love you Jean-Luc.” He smiled up at her and had to swallow the lump in his throat. “And I you mon coeur.”

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At fifteen thirty hours Data pressed the chime on the Ready Room doors. The expected invitation to enter came and he strode in, his golden eyes shining. Will gestured to the seat in front of the desk as he read the last of the information on the monitor. Data waited patiently as his Commander completed his reading then attuned himself as Will lifted his face. “What can I do for you Data?” “I have the information you requested Sir.” Will sat back and picked up the Captain’s crystal shard, twisting it slowly in his fingers as he savoured the impending news. “And?” “The Pran initiated the request for mediation and it occurred when the Enterprise entered the outer reaches of their system.” “Meaning we would be the obvious choice.” “Yes Sir.” Will pursed his lips and ran a hand through his beard. “And the Garsis?” Data shrugged. “From what I can gather, they were unaware of any problems until the Pran contacted them and insisted on the mediation. The Garsis government offered their own suggestions for mediators, which were rejected out-of-hand by the Pran. They were adamant that the mediators be from the Federation. This was a surprise to the Garsis who view the system as autonomous and well able to settle any disputes without outside intervention. It is a tribute to the Garsis that their wish for peace is such that they were willing to accede to the Pran demands.” Will tapped the crystal sliver against his chin, his eyes clouding in thought. “It keeps coming back to Captain Picard. They wait until we’re close; ensuring we’ll be the chosen ship, then they manipulate the talks when they find out he’s not aboard. And now that he is aboard, they continue to play their games…but to what end?” Data leaned forward. “It is most likely pertaining to the incident that occurred seventeen years ago when Captain Picard commanded the Star Gazer.” Will nodded. “Of that I have no doubt Data, but he was exonerated of any wrong doing at the time. What could have happened to bring this up now? What the hell are the Pran up to?” Data shrugged. “I do not know Commander.” Will grunted. “Neither do I. Tell me Data, how much access do we have to the Pran home world?” “Very little Sir, in fact I received no help whatsoever when my enquiries about the Captain’s alleged indiscretion led me to their central information net. I was refused access.” Will sighed in frustration. “Damn. All right Data, thank you.” Hearing the dismissal the android rose and left. Will lifted the crystal to the light and watched the prismatic refraction intently. After Will finished his shift he went to his quarters and changed into a sweat suit. He did some stretching exercises, increasing the effort until he was well warmed and lightly 108


sweating. He allowed his mind to clear of all extraneous thought and settled on the coming challenge. The smile that emerged was sly. By choosing quarterstaves, Zet had put himself at a significant disadvantage. Will was an expert exponent of Ambo Jitsu, a martial art consisting of the use of a quarter staff-like weapon, but with the opponents effectively blind. The ability to sense one’s opponent, then be able to successfully strike that opponent was ingrained in the First Officer and he felt well equipped to acquit himself adequately. When he felt ready, he checked the time and took a final look in his bedroom mirror. With a decisive nod, he left his quarters.

Zet and the Regent were waiting in Holodeck four. Will watched as the weapons master gestured to some articles on the floor. In silence Will extended his hand as Zet offered an item, then observed as the Pran fitted the equipment to his body. Across the chest was a stiff leather bodkin and leather guards were fitted to the forearms. A light metal helmet went on the head and the final piece was a mouth guard. Zet bowed to the Regent who picked up the two staves, each measuring two metres in length. Both protagonists took their weapon and Will scowled as Zet grinned with disdain. “Listen carefully Riker…I will not repeat the instructions. There are no areas of the body that are out of bounds. We fight until either one cannot continue or one yields. Understand?” Will’s answering grin made the weapons master glower. “Completely.” The men separated and the Regent raised his arm then dropped it dramatically. “Begin!” Before Will could heft the staff, Zet swung low, aiming at his legs. Will jumped quickly to avoid the blow and countered with a downward sweep to the arm. Zet twisted lithely and spun, whirling the staff and catching Will across his upper back. He moved with the blow and allowed his body to drop, rolling and using the momentum to aid him in rising on one knee and lifting his staff sharply to hit Zet under his chin. The Pran staggered backwards and Will rose nimbly to his feet and circled the incensed alien, warily watching his opponent. Zet suddenly lunged but instead of the intended strike at Will’s stomach, he dipped the staff and aimed the blow at Will’s groin. The First Officer grunted as he parried the attack, but Zet abruptly altered the line of his attack and struck Will across the side of his head. The helmet did little to soften the blow and Will saw stars. He back-pedalled with Zet rapidly following him, but the alien’s over confidence was his undoing. Always most dangerous when cornered, Will feinted capitulation and, as Zet went in for the kill, suddenly attacked forcefully, hitting Zet three times about the head and driving him to his knees. With admirable courage the weapons master regained his feet but the damage had been done. Will landed a telling blow to Zet’s right arm and he lost his grip of his staff. Will’s next blow was devastating, a full-blooded impact to Zet’s groin. There was a strangled groan as the Pran 109


fell to his knees and Will raised his staff to deliver the final blow to Zet’s head. The First Officer held his pose and said quietly, “Do you yield?” Zet raised his head and spat bloody spittle at Will’s face. “Never!” Will nodded and gritted his teeth. “As you wish.” Just as he was about to end the contest, the Regent stepped between the men. “Enough!” Will froze and dragged his eyes up to the Pran leader. What he saw was disturbing. The Regent’s red eyes glittered with hate and his anger was barely suppressed. Nevertheless he said, “He yields.” Will slowly lowered his staff and nodded. “Very well.” He then looked down at his vanquished opponent. “You will leave Counsellor Troi alone.” Zet snarled but the Regent’s voice silenced him. ”It will be as you wish Commander.” With a soft grunt Will nodded. “And in the morning, with the Garsis’ permission, this ship will leave for Earth.” Will glowered and spent a few minutes divesting himself of the equipment. Ten minutes later he was having an authentic neat scotch in his quarters a sardonic smile on his face. “So that’s diplomacy? I’m sure Captain Picard would be appalled.”

Jean-Luc grimaced and struggled to contain his moan of agony as gentle hands turned him face down on his bed. His decision had been easy as he found it increasingly difficult to endure the pain that permeated his body. He felt Beverly swab his neck and tensed as she marked the site of the incision. She tenderly took his head and turned it so he could see the PADD in her hand. “Selar will administer a local anaesthetic, but you will feel the device as it integrates with your spinal cord. There will be pressure and a little discomfort, then you should feel nothing.” Jean-Luc closed his eyes and grunted, most of his concentration devoted to trying to endure the agony. He felt the hypospray then the pressure Beverly warned him of, but he was unprepared for the spike of burning pain that shot through his neck. Just as he gasped and lifted his head the pain miraculously vanished. He opened his eyes in grateful wonder as his body went blessedly numb. Beverly stroked his brow and said quietly, “Jean-Luc?” She knew he couldn’t hear her but she hoped he would sense her concern. His eyes found hers and he smiled. “I can’t feel anything.” 110


The Doctor smiled and let her eyes drift down her husband’s back, frowning as she saw the fading red lines that marred his skin. He was naked and she adopted a physician’s perspective as she assessed his condition. His buttock and hip still bore the angry marks of injury and the still slightly inflamed area made her inwardly wince. He was still very weak and had lost significant weight but his eyes were bright and clear and now that he was pain free she hoped he would improve. With the help of Selar and two nurses he was turned on to his back and connected to a bio waste unit. Throughout the procedure Jean-Luc stared stoically at the ceiling, his embarrassment and humiliation palpable. Beverly was eternally grateful for the professionalism of her staff and she thanked them softly once they’d finished. Once they were alone and the Captain was covered by the bedclothes, Beverly turned to the bassinette and gently gathered their son in her arms. She carried the infant to his father and laid him alongside Jean-Luc. Unable to move his arms, JeanLuc looked down at his son, the anger and irritation melting away as Beverly pulled the blankets off the little boy so Jean-Luc could see him more clearly. A smile appeared as the stern, stoic Captain of the Enterprise watched his son yawn and wave a tiny arm. He looked up at his wife, his eyes glittering suspiciously. Beverly sat on the bed and enunciated clearly. “He’s due for a feed.” Jean-Luc sighed and his smile widened. His eyebrows rose as Beverly undid the buttons of her blouse then unfastened her bra at the front, exposing one breast. She then picked up their son and offered him her nipple. The infant immediately opened his mouth and quested, grunting softly as he searched blindly for his comfort. He found what he sought and latched on, sucking strongly. Beverly grinned when she heard Jean-Luc’s quiet chuckle, but the Doctor gasped softly when someone cleared their throat. Turning her head to the door she saw the First officer. “Hi Will.” “Hello Beverly, Captain. May I come in?” Beverly looked down at her husband and raised her eyebrows in query. He closed his eyes briefly and nodded. “Yes Will, come on in.” The big man came to the bed and grinned at the sight before him. Seeking and achieving Beverly’s permission, Will gently stroked Jean-Jacques’ head as he fed and shook his head. “He’s a tough little hombre isn’t he?” Beverly sighed wistfully. “Yes, thank God.” Jean-Luc lifted his gaze to his Exec and said, “How is my ship?” Will was about to answer when Beverly held up a hand. “Wait a minute Will…can you get that PADD over there?” The big man turned and picked up the device. “This one?” “Yep. When the Captain asks you a question, speak your response into the PADD and it will display your words as text. You’ll have to hold it for him to read.” Will did as requested and Jean-Luc read, “All is well Sir. We are under way for Earth, ETA three days.” Jean-Luc nodded. “And the mediation?” 111


“Still in progress Captain. I attained the Pran’s permission to make for Earth yesterday but I didn’t speak with the Garsis until this morning.” “And?” “No problem Sir, in fact they’ve been nothing but helpful ever since they came aboard.” Jean-Luc pursed his lips. “I take it the Pran have been…difficult?” Will sighed deeply. “Yes Sir and I would very much like to discuss it with you.” Frustrated by his inability to move, Jean-Luc stifled his irritation and smiled. “Please do.” Twenty minutes later Jean-Jacques was again asleep in his bassinette, Beverly was sitting in a chair reading and Jean-Luc was frowning, deep in thought. Will had told him everything and the Captain was nonplussed. “Well Will I am at a loss as to why the Regent is behaving as he is. When I was last on his planet he was a boy, barely in his teens. I can see no reason why he would have any agenda that involved me.” Will spoke into the PADD and held it for his Captain to read. “But Sir what about his sister? Data tells me despite you being exonerated, she was shunned by her people.” Jean-Luc sighed. “The whole thing was a mess Number One. First I was accused of sexual impropriety and when I denied it vehemently, the charges were changed to rape. A board of enquiry was convened and I was cleared of all charges. Command felt it would be best if I left immediately after the inquiry finished. I never heard another word about it.” Will grunted. “Well something’s happened Sir. It was no coincidence that the Enterprise was the ship chosen for this mediation and the restrictions placed on me from the outset reek of collusion.” Jean-Luc nodded. “Agreed Number One, but until the Regent decides to show his hand, all you can to is proceed with your mission. After all you have to think of the Garsis too.” Will ran a hand through his hair and Jean-Luc felt a spike of envy, wishing he could move. The bearded man swallowed his misgivings and summoned a smile. “Leave it with me Sir…I’ll muddle my way through.” Jean-Luc’s smile was small but his eyes were warm. “Make it so.” Will rose and bid both his friends goodbye then sought our Selar. “Doctor I’ve got a headache…could you give me something for it please?” Selar directed a protesting man to a bio bed and scanned his head. With a raided eyebrow she said, “You have a mild concussion Commander. May I ask how this occurred?” Will reddened slightly and muttered, “Ah…I bumped my head last night.” Selar looked clearly sceptical. “I see. Well I can treat the headache but I suggest you be more careful in future.” Will nodded and sighed gratefully as the hypo delivered its dose of analgesic. He slid from the bed and sidled to the door. 112


“Thank you Doctor…I’ll just be on my way…” As his large frame disappeared through the doors Selar shook her head. “How illogical.”

Jean-Luc called softly for his wife and she was by his side in seconds. He smiled up at her and took a deep breath. “Beverly I want you and Jean-Jacques to go back to our quarters. There’s absolutely no need for you to spend your time here, it would be much better if you and our son settled back in comfortable surroundings and established a routine.” Beverly smiled tenderly, remembering her conversations with Jean-Luc about the importance of routine in a baby’s life. She was about to reply with the PADD when he interrupted her. “Please Beverly, Jean-Jacques needs your undivided attention and really there’s not much for you to do here.” Knowing arguing would be pointless; Beverly sighed and spoke quietly then presented Jean-Luc with the PADD. “All right my love, but I insist you allow me to come in a few times a day to help you with your ablutions and to read to you.” The Captain frowned. “Beverly you are on an extended leave. Enjoy the time you have and get to know our son.” The Doctor shook her head, her lustrous red hair catching the light. “No Jean-Luc. If you won’t agree with my terms I’ll stay here with you full time.” Jean-Luc tried to summon a glare and failed. This was one of those situations he knew was bound to crop up. He had to deal with this as her husband and partner, not as Beverly’s commanding officer, a still new and unsettling experience for him. Unable to simply order her to bow to his wishes, he closed his eyes briefly and willed his exasperation away. When his eyes met hers he had resolved his difficulties. “Very well my love, it will be as you wish.” She bent to him and softly kissed his lips. She spoke into the PADD and he read, “I’m just going to talk to Selar then I’ll come back and get ready to take Jean-Jacques back to our quarters.” He smiled and blinked slowly. With a lingering look, Beverly left the room. Selar was in the office when Beverly found her. The red head took a seat and waited until her colleague deactivated her computer. “How can I help you Doctor Crusher?” “I will be returning to our quarters soon, I take it Jean-Jacques may come with me?” “Yes Doctor. He is progressing very well, but I will require to see him every two days for assessment…and you as well.” Beverly bowed her head in acquiescence. 113


“Of course. Although I am officially off duty, may I have your permission to take an active roll in Captain Picard’s treatment?” Selar nodded once. “Yes Doctor, I would value your input.” “Thank you. When will you do the first bone marrow extraction?” Selar picked up a PADD, activated it and passed it to her boss. “As you can see, Captain Picard’s iron levels are slowly improving but he would benefit from the bone marrow therapy. His weight loss is of concern, as is his general poor condition. However I intend to harvest two quantities of marrow this afternoon. One will be injected into his pelvis; the other will be placed in tissue regeneration. I hope to increase the volume of the amount by thirty percent. If successful, the new marrow will be introduced into the right femur and right humerus.” Beverly nodded absently as she read the information and listened to the Doctor. She frowned and asked quietly, “Have you considered using Beneril? It would increase his body’s ability to manufacture bone marrow and stimulate production of new bone cells.” Selar clasped her hands on the desktop. “I have considered it Doctor but I was concerned with the propensity of the drug to interfere with his fertility. There have been reports of loss of sperm production and libido in some patients using Beneril…and there is the pain factor to consider.” Beverly chewed her lower lip and nodded. “Well pain isn’t an issue at the moment and I think with your treatment regime, he would only need very limited use of Beneril and with careful monitoring it would be possible to protect his fertility. It seems to me that the benefits may well outweigh the risks.” Selar sat in silence for a few moments before slowly nodding her head. “I think perhaps you are right Doctor. I will investigate the issue.” Beverly stood and smiled down at her subordinate. “Thank you. I’ll come back this afternoon.” As she was leaving, Selar called her back. “Doctor I have contacted Starfleet Medical and advised them of our impending arrival and the Captain’s needs. They have alerted the appropriate authorities of Captain Picard’s requirement of an organ donation and the search has begun.” Beverly sighed and smiled her gratitude. “Thank you, I’ll let him know.” As Beverly left Selar reactivated her computer and began accessing all available information on Beneril.

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Jean-Luc lay quietly in his room going over his rather busy morning. Selar had waited until Beverly arrived before starting the marrow extraction procedure. Due to his body being without sensation, what would have been a very painful episode was easy and relatively quick. There was some concern over the healing wounds of his hip but the injection of marrow into his pelvis was successful. After Selar had completed her work Beverly carefully washed her husband and then took the time to shave him and finished by brushing his teeth. Once he was again under the covers she read to him for an hour then bent to his wish that she return to their quarters. As the Captain lay in a semi dozing state he was disturbed by his door opening. After several minutes Selar entered in the company of a tall dark skinned alien, ostentatiously dressed in flowing robes and a long black cape. In his large hand was a PADD. Selar gestured to the male and said, “Captain this is…” The impressive man stepped in front of the medic and stared down at Jean-Luc. A cold smile appeared flowed by a slight bow of his head. “Captain Picard…we meet again.” Jean-Luc successfully lip read the words and frowned. “Myrin Ho’?” The red eyes glittered and the smile vanished. “You will not use my name! I am the Regent of my people and I demand proper respect!” Jean-Luc shook his head, his eyes confused. “What?” The Pran let out a snort of disgust and repeated his protest into the PADD. He brusquely shoved the instrument close to Jean-Luc and the Captain read. With a soft clearing of his throat, JeanLuc’s face showed his contrition. “My apologies Sir.” The Captain’s eyes travelled to Selar and she raised her eyebrow. “You may go Doctor.” With a nod and a sidelong look at the Regent, Selar left the two men alone. Myrin Ho’ studied the Captain, his eyes showing nothing but disdain. “Your Doctor has explained that you cannot move your body or hear my words.” Jean-Luc read and nodded. “Yes, that is so.” The Pran sneered. “You would be better off dead.” Jean-Luc remained silent. In the intervening moments both men watched each other. Eventually Myrin Ho’ crossed his arms over his broad chest. “You are aware of the mediation?” Jean-Luc squinted at the PADD and nodded. “Yes.” “And the consequences if it fails?” “Yes.” The regent tapped the PADD against his chin. “You can end this.” Jean-Luc frowned. “Me? How?” 115


“Return to Pran and restore my sister’s honour.” The Captain sighed. “I cannot do that Sir.” The Pran stepped closer to the bed and leaned down menacingly. “You defiled my sister! Because of you she has been shunned by my people and my family is denied an heir! Because of you the Regency will pass to another family when I die.” In confusion Jean-Luc shook his head. “What of your heirs? Why can’t they inherit?” Myrin Ho’ glowered down then straightened and waved his hand. “I do not prefer the company of women Picard. I will not be producing an heir.” He jabbed his finger through the air and hissed, “You will return to Pran and right the wrong you brought against my family!” Wishing fervently that he could move, Jean-Luc swallowed and briefly closed his eyes. “I did nothing to your family Sir…and I did not defile your sister.” “Liar! Our medical tests showed that she had lain with a man…you!” Jean-Luc shook his head. “Not me Sir! Has it occurred to you that your sister might have had a lover and chose to accuse me of taking her virginity in order to cover the fact?” The knuckles of the hand holding the PADD paled as the Regent struggled to contain his fury. “How dare you! You attempt to slander my sister to cover your own guilt? You are scum! How do you explain being alone with her in her bed chamber?” The words on the PADD made Jean-Luc glare. “You sister tricked me into her bedroom with a fabrication about the diplomatic mission I was on. While I was there she attempted to seduce me and, realising what was happening, I left immediately. I repeat Sir…I did not defile your sister!” The Regent closed his eyes and pursed his lips in thought. “I have heard you are a man of honour Picard yet you ignore what your actions have done to my sister. Return to Pran and marry her Picard…heal the wrong you’ve done.” Jean-Luc sighed. “I am already married Sir and I will not return to Pran. I have done nothing wrong. I’m sorry.” The Regent’s red eyes glittered. “Then the war that will follow will be your fault.” The Captain read the words and he shook his head, his deep voice soft. “You won’t go to war over this Myrin Ho’…not for your honour and not to punish me. Pran can’t afford it in either men or materiel; it would cripple your world and destroy your society. Go home Sir and find the truth about what happened to your sister. I cannot help you.” The Regent’s face became stony and he casually tossed the PADD onto Jean-Luc’s stomach. He shook his head slowly and mouthed, “You are a dog.” Before spinning on his heel and exiting the room. Jean-Luc sighed and stared at the ceiling in frustration.

116


Deanna paused at her computer and looked to her door with concern. The chime sounded and she stood, mentally preparing for what she was about to face. “Come in.” The doors obediently parted and Zet bowed his head. “Counsellor I hope I am not intruding?” Her obsidian eyes sharp, Deanna inclined her head. “Not at all Sir, I am between appointments at the moment.” The tall Pran entered the room and smiled down at the Counsellor, the predatory gleam in his eyes quickly hidden. Deanna kept a professional smile on her face as she asked, “What can I do for you Sir?” Zet stood in silence for several seconds before slowly advancing on the petite woman. Deanna’s empathic senses alerted her to Zet’s tension and she stepped backwards. They continued that way, Zet advancing and Deanna retreating until she came up against the wall. She raised her hand to tap her combadge but Zet’s large hand closed over hers and he pulled the communicator from her chest. “You won’t be needing that.” Deanna lifted her chin defiantly. “What do you want Zet?” As he smiled coldly he ran a finger down her face. “I’ve already told you Counsellor…I want you.” Attempting to duck under his arm, Deanna grimaced as his hand closed on her upper arm, stopping her. “Now where do you think you’re going?” The weapons master grabbed Deanna’s shoulders and leaned down close to her face. “You are exceedingly lucky my little bird…you are about to receive pleasure the likes of which you’ve never known before.” His mouth covered hers and his tongue forced its way into her mouth. Without hesitation, Deanna bit down hard on his tongue while at the same time executing a move taught to her by Worf. She broke his hold and Zet found himself staring at thin air. He spun around to find Deanna standing with arms akimbo. “Get out! Now!” The Pran slowly wiped at the blood trickling from his mouth and glared. “You will pay for that my little bird.” He advanced again and frowned as Deanna stood her ground. When close enough he lunged and caught the Counsellor by the arm. Deanna swung her body sideways, using her assailant’s weight against him. Caught off balance, Zet braced his legs and swung his other arm, aiming his fist at Deanna’s head. Seeing her opportunity, Deanna utilised his body as a counter-weight and kicked upwards into his groin with all the force she could muster. Zet let out a strangled yell and dropped to his knees, clutching his crotch. Deanna aimed her next kick at the alien’s head and Zet hit the deck with a satisfying thump. It took only moments to make sure he was unconscious. Deanna lifted her head and called, “Security to Counsellor Troi’s office.” The reply from the Bridge was instant. “Riker to Troi…report.”

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“Troi here. I was attacked by a member of the Pran delegation. Security and medical assistance is required.” “Understood, they’re on their way, are you all right?” “Yes Commander I’m fine. Between Mr.Worf’s Mok’bara and my assailant’s over confidence, I had little trouble disabling him.” The doors to Deanna’s office opened and a security detail entered, phasers drawn. When the Lieutenant in charge saw the unconscious alien he smiled at Deanna. “Well done Sir.” They waited until a Doctor arrived then beamed the weapons master to Sick Bay under guard. Will arrived just after they left. He stood for a moment assessing his fiancé before stepping forward and taking her in his arms. “Are you really all right? You’re shaking.” Deanna sighed. “I’ll be okay in a minute.” They stood quietly, each drawing strength from the other. Eventually Deanna pulled away and ran her hands through her hair. Will took her arm and gently guided her to the sofa. “Tell me.” She related what had happened and Will cursed loudly. “Son of a bitch! I though this little pissing contest was over when I beat him in his damn challenge!” Deanna’s gasp was loud. “You allowed the challenge? My God Will…what were you thinking?” The First Officer sighed and lowered his head. “They had me over a barrel Dee. It was either submit to the challenge or they would sabotage the talks…and other things.” Deanna’s voice clearly showed her displeasure. “What other things?” “They were going to refuse us to take the ship to Earth for the Captain’s treatment.” The Counsellor stood and stalked about the room, her hands cutting through the air. “How dare they! Who the hell do they think they are Will? Do they think everything revolves around them and their little intrigues?” Will’s chuckled was tired. “Seems like it doesn’t it?” Deanna took a large breath then joined her lover on the sofa. “What will happen to Zet?” Will shrugged. “Honestly? I don’t know. I’ll inform the Regent and insist on punishment but ultimately it’ll be up to him.” Deanna closed her eyes and strove for calm. “Very well.” Will stood and caressed her hair. “Will you be all right?” Looking up at her fiancé with liquid black eyes, she smiled. “Yes my love.” Will nodded and left. Deanna plexed and settled down to meditate.

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The Pran regent glowered when Will reported what had happened. With a muttered curse he asked, “Where is Zet now?” “In Sick bay, under guard.” The Pran leader bristled. “Under guard? That is an outrage! I insist…” Will held up his hand, effectively silencing the agitated alien. “With all due respect Sir, your aide attacked one of my senior officers. Had she not rendered him unconscious it’s quite likely he would have raped her. In the Federation that is considered a very serious offence, one punishable by incarceration and lengthy rehabilitation therapy.” Myrin Ho’ swallowed his angry reply and instead took a large breath and lowered his head. “I see. And what are your intentions Commander?” Will sighed. “As it stands Sir, you and your delegation have diplomatic immunity, however I would ask that you apply a suitable punishment to your weapons master…one that will deter any further… lapses.” The regent glared at Will and the Exec continued. “After all Sir, this whole situation with Counsellor Troi was supposed to be resolved when I won the challenge. If Zet is the honourable man he purports to be, then he will, in future, abide by the outcome. If he doesn’t Sir I will incarcerate him as a matter of ship’s security.” Myrin Ho’ hissed as a long breath escaped his clenched teeth. With glittering red eyes he inclined his head. “Very well Commander, I will speak with my weapons master and, if I find it necessary, I will censure him. Now…may I see him?” Will took a step back and gestured with his arm. “Of course Sir…after you.”

Three security guards prevented Zet from moving away from his bed. Selar turned as Will and Myrin Ho’ approached and one of the guards brandished his phaser as Zet reacted to his Regent’s arrival. “My Lord tell these…Humans to release me!” The Pran leader held up his hand and silenced his aide.

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“Enough weapons master! I have been informed of your actions, is it true you tried to force yourself upon Counsellor Troi?” Zet frowned in confusion and looked into his Regent’s eyes. “I…she…my Lord she wanted it!” Before Will could protest Myrin Ho’ stepped closer to his aide. “Nevertheless Zet, you know you cannot take that which is not yours.” The weapons master snapped his mouth closed and struggled to keep his anger under control. Through gritted teeth he ground out, “I yield to your wisdom my Lord.” With surprising gentleness the Regent clasped Zet’s shoulder. “You have offended Commander Riker and you have acted dishonourably. He bested you in the challenge and you must accept that. You will apologise to the Commander and, when the time is right, you will offer your apologies to the Counsellor. And Zet…you will let this matter drop. It is closed.” With great dignity Zet bowed low. “As you wish my Lord.” He turned to Will and looked into his blue eyes. “My apologies Commander, both for trying to take that which was not mine and for acting dishonourably towards you personally. You won the challenge…I yield.” Will nodded curtly then dismissed the security detail. He turned to Selar and raised an eyebrow. “Is he well enough to leave Sick Bay?” The Vulcan inclined her head. “Yes Commander there is no damage other than that to his pride.” The First Officer smothered a smile and turned back to the Pran. “You may go Zet.” He watched as the two aliens left, frowning at the niggling feeling that something was wrong. He sighed and returned to the Bridge.

Zet found it difficult to hold his newly repaired tongue as they entered their suite of rooms. Protocol demanded he wait for his Regent to speak but he burned with indignation. When Myrin Ho’ finally turned to him he was ready. “That was very foolish of you Zet.” “She wanted me my Lord! What was I supposed to do? Let that puny Human Riker take her?” The two men stared into each other’s eyes as the tension rose. The Pran leader smiled and sighed. “You must not let you genitals rule your mind Zet. I’ve told you before that kind of thinking will get you into trouble and I’m getting a little tired of speaking up for you.” A rakish grin surfaced on the weapons master’s face and he shook his head. “But she is lovely my Lord.” The humour left the Regent’s face. 120


“That may be so but we have greater concerns.” Zet was suddenly all business. “You spoke to Picard?” Myrin Ho’ nodded. “Yes and the dog is keeping to his story. But more than that my loyal friend, he knows we won’t go to war. He called my bluff Zet…told me to go home! Can you believe that traitorous dog?” “What do you intend to do?” The Regent shook his head. “There is only one thing I can do Zet.” The weapons master took the unprecedented step of gripping his Regent’s arm. “No my Lord! You must not do this; they will not hesitate to punish you severely! Let me do it.” With an icy glare the Pran leader gained his freedom from Zet’s iron-like grip. “I must! It is me and my family that has borne the shame of his actions, it is only just that I exact revenge.” “But my Lord…” “No! Picard himself has brought this about. Not only does he refuse to acknowledge what he did, he refuses to make amends. No Zet it is my duty to do what I must.” The weapons master sighed. “When?” Myrin Ho’ sat heavily in a chair and ran his fingers through his wispy beard. “This ship reaches Earth in two days…it must be before then. Unfortunately he is helpless…I would rather that were not so, but it is out of my hands.” Zet went down on one knee before his Regent. “Please my Lord…let me assist you.” Myrin Ho’ smiled tenderly and with remarkable gentleness stroked his aide’s face with his fingers. “All right my stalwart warrior. Together we will right this wrong done to my family and restore my sister’s honour.”

Early the next evening Jean-Luc once again found himself face down on his bed as Selar made adjustments to the device attached to his spinal cord. He sighed softly as she worked, keenly missing the ability to hear as the silence of his world pressed in on him. Unable to ask any questions about what she was doing, the Captain had to bolster his patience and wait while the Doctor completed her tasks. He became more aware of his body and the slow burning sensation that spread from his neck down to his toes. Knowing Selar could not answer any queries at the moment, he waited until, after twenty minutes, he was finally turned on to his back. A nurse covered his naked body with the bedcovers as Selar spoke at length into the PADD. She offered the device and Jean-Luc read, “Captain Picard I have finished my recalibration of the spinal anaesthetic. You should be able to feel your body now and, over the next hour or two, more sensation will emerge. Unfortunately 121


you will not have control of your limbs at this stage but I am hoping the increased sensations you feel will help with your recovery. How is the discomfort?” Jean-Luc sighed and summoned a small smile. “Not too bad Doctor, in fact the ability to feel again more than compensates for any pain I experience.” Selar utilised the PADD again then waited patiently as the Captain read. “I understand Captain but you must tell me if the pain becomes too severe. This stage of your recovery is only taken with the knowledge it doesn’t cause you more pain than you can endure. If that were to occur, I would deaden your body again.” Jean-Luc nodded slowly. “Very well Doctor, I will accede to your expertise. Tell me, how did the new bone marrow take to the infusion?” Selar arched her eyebrow. “The procedure went well Captain…your body shows all the signs of acceptance and increased production of both bone marrow and red blood cells. We will harvest more tomorrow, some for immediate infusion and some for accelerated growth.” Jean-Luc closed his eyes and nodded. “I see. And how many more harvestings will you do?” He squinted at the PADD and read, “I envisage three more procedures Captain. After that we will reassess your condition and make whatever decisions are necessary.” The Doctor studied the man lying before her and noted the hardness around his mouth and the frown that graced his features. Speaking into the PADD, she asked what was on her mind. “Captain Picard is the pain becoming too much for you?” He shook his head and took a deep breath. “No I’m fine.” Selar was not convinced. “Sir…” Jean-Luc swallowed and smiled wanly. “No really Doctor…I’m…perhaps I’m a little tired.” Selar’s inscrutable face stayed fixed on the Captain as she mentally went over what she knew about her CO. With a curt nod, she let him off the hook. “Very well Captain, I concede you have had a very full day. Would you like a sedative to help you sleep?” With a shake of his head, Jean-Luc smiled. “No thank you.” “I will leave you then Sir. I will place a call sensor by your hand, please do not hesitate to use it to summon a nurse of your pain becomes too great.” The Captain read, nodding once and watched as Selar left. He sighed and experimentally flexed his fingers, finding them stiff and slow but sluggishly obeying his commands. With a slight smile on his face he closed his eyes and cleared his mind in preparation to sleep.

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Deanna took the teaspoon Beverly had supplied and scooped up the marshmallow from her hot chocolate and slipped it into her mouth, her eyes closing in supplication. Beverly watched on in amused silence as the Counsellor went through this well-established ritual, once again amazed that such a simple thing could bring such pleasure. When Deanna’s eyes opened she grinned at her best friend and sighed. “Delicious Beverly, I don’t know how you do it.” The Doctor chuckled and, on hearing her son begin to fuss, rose and went into the bedroom, only to emerge minutes later with a squirming baby in her arms. Deanna sipped her drink and asked, “Time for a feed?” Beverly nodded, taking a seat on the sofa and undoing her blouse. “Uh huh…the little imp has decided he wants three hourly feeds. I’m not complaining though. He’s gaining weight and growing stronger all the time.” The Counsellor smiled wistfully and watched as the infant snuffled around Beverly’s nipple before latching on and suckling contentedly. Beverly gently caressed his head then drew her eyes up to her friend. “So…tell me Dee.” The warm smile faded and Deanna sighed. “You know about Zet’s…interest in me?” Beverly nodded. “Well he wouldn’t take no for an answer so I told Will and he had a word. Unfortunately that didn’t go over too well and Zet refused to back down. In fact he challenged Will to some sort of contest, the winner getting me.” Beverly scowled. “That’s positively barbaric…not to say chauvinistic and sexist!” Deanna grinned. “Oh I agree…totally, but eventually Will was painted into a corner. It was either agree to take part in the challenge or the Pran would go to war…AND refuse to allow the Enterprise to get to Earth for the Captain’s treatment.” Beverly’s frown deepened. “Wait a minute…you’re telling me they placed all that on the line so Zet could win you in a challenge? My God…what sort of a challenge was it?” Deanna shook her head. “You won’t believe this…they used quarter staves.” The Doctor’s eyes widened. “What? Ye Gods…Will must have been delighted!” The Counsellor nodded her grin spreading. “You bet he was. Anyway, suffice to say he won fairly easily and the matter was closed…or so we thought.” The red head shook her head. “Zet refused to acknowledge the defeat.”

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“Uh huh. He came to my office yesterday and came on very strong…in fact I believe had I not incapacitated him, he would’ve raped me.” Beverly snorted. “You know sometimes testosterone is an insidious thing.” There was silence then as Beverly changed her son to the other breast and settled the baby in her arms. Deanna watched, basking in the gentle emanation of maternal warmth coming from her friend. Satisfied her son was happy; Beverly turned her attention back to the Counsellor. “Thank goodness for Mok’bara.” Deanna chuckled, “Oh yes, I only wish Worf could’ve been here to see what I did, he would have been proud I think.” There followed a companionable silence before Deanna asked, “How is the Captain’s treatment going?” The petite woman felt Beverly’s worry before she saw it on her face. “What?” The Doctor sighed. “We decided to ease the spinal anaesthetic. On the one hand he needs to regain movement to prevent muscular atrophy and to aid the delivery of oxygenated blood throughout his body. However by doing that we increase the amount of pain he feels. Dammit Dee it’s so frustrating! I know when we go and see him in the morning he will do his best to hide his distress, but I’ll know and there’s very little we can do.” Deanna commiserated. “How long will this last?” Beverly sighed deeply, her eyes fastened on her son. “A few days at least.” “We’ll be back at Earth in two days.” Beverly’s eyes lifted to her friend and she nodded. “I know. We’re going to keep Jean-Luc aboard as long as we can…I’m hopeful we can have him on his feet before he has to go to medical.” Deanna studied her colleague and changed tacks. “Tell me about your time on that planet.” Beverly grimaced and sighed. “Oh God where do I start?” Deanna smiled and tilted her head. “At the beginning.”

An hour later Deanna was shaking her head.

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“It’s truly amazing any of you survived. And giving birth with a fractured pelvis, whilst unconscious and with the Captain unable to hear and only being able to use one arm? Incredible.” Beverly turned as she heard Jean-Jacques gurgling in his cradle, but he settled and she returned her attention to her guest. “I know…hard to believe isn’t it?” The Counsellor stretched and pulled her hair off her shoulders. “I haven’t had a chance to read your report but now I think I’ll make the effort.” Beverly chuckled warmly. “You wait ‘til Jean-Luc lodges his. He remained conscious longer than me remember.” Deanna stood and rolled her shoulders. “Well before I do anything I’m going to get a good night’s sleep. I’ll drop by the Captain tomorrow and assess his mental state. I’ll let you know what I find.” Beverly smiled up at her friend and nodded. “Thanks Dee…goodnight.” After Deanna left Beverly sat back on the sofa and placed her stockinged feet on the low table. She raised her arms above her head, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, holding it for several seconds before releasing its slowly. As her body relaxed she finally acknowledged her tiredness. Looking over her shoulder she smiled ruefully. “Better get my sleep while I can, eh little one?” She rose slowly and went to the bedroom. She checked her son, undressed and slid into bed, one hand caressing the cool sheets on the empty place beside her. “Come back to me soon my love…I need you.”

It was oh three twenty and Selar was in Sick Bay, checking on the progress of the tissue accelerator. The bone marrow she had extracted that afternoon wasn’t as healthy as she would have liked and she was curious to see if it was increasing in volume as hoped. She was staring intently at the readouts when she became aware of slightly raised voices coming from the main body of the facility. Stepping outside the lab, she approached three figures and gained the attention of one of them, the night duty Doctor. “Doctor Harmison what is going on here? Why is the quiet of Sick Bay being disturbed at this hour?” The short Human turned to his superior and gestured to the other two. “These…gentlemen…are members of the Pran delegation and they want to see Captain Picard.” Selar looked up at the Regent and bowed her head. “Sir it is very late and Captain Picard is asleep. Surely you can wait until tomorrow?” Keeping his voice low and his anger under control, Myrin Ho’ smiled with what he hoped was warmth. 125


“Doctor it is imperative that we see Captain Picard. It has to do with an important religious rite that we feel will help him in his recovery. I assure you we will not disturb him or stay long.” Selar regarded the tall alien and nodded once. “Very well, but please be brief.” With a nod to dismiss her fellow medic, Selar watched as the two Pran went to the Captain’s door, paused then entered. She returned to the lab and put them from her mind.

Jean-Luc slept lightly, the ever-present pain preventing deeper sleep. He felt his hand being lifted and he opened his eyes, confused as he watched the Regent remove the call sensor from the bed. He opened his mouth to speak when a large gloved hand from someone standing behind him clamped down over his lips. Myrin Ho’ loomed over him and lifted his finger to his lips. “Hush Captain…you do not need to speak. We come to you tonight to right a wrong since you are too much a coward to do it yourself. By our actions tonight we will remove the stain of shame from my family and deliver to you the punishment you so richly deserve.” Jean-Luc shook his head, not understanding the words. His eyes widened as the Regent gathered the bedclothes and pulled them off his body, exposing his nakedness to the cool of the room. The Pran leader reached inside his clothing and withdrew something that caught the light. Holding it up, Myrin Ho’ brought it to his lips and kissed it and Jean-Luc tried vainly to struggle as he identified the object. It was a knife, long, razor sharp and wickedly pointed. Held in the Regent’s right hand, his left traced a line down the centre of Jean-Luc’s body, stopping at his pubis. He then positioned the tip of the blade at that point and looked down at the gasping Captain. “In the name of my Father I take your life.” He pushed down on the knife and, after the momentary resistance of Jean-Luc’s muscles, it slid into his body and the Captain cried out, the sound muffled by the hand over his mouth. With dispassionate ease, Myrin Ho’ pushed the blade deeply down then resettled his grip on the handle. With gritted teeth he exerted more pressure and forced the knife through Jean-Luc’s body up towards his chest, not stopping until the blade hit his sternum. Unable to writhe, JeanLuc craned his head back and screamed. Zet clamped his other hand over Jean-Luc’s mouth and glanced up at his Regent. Effectively disembowelled, Jean-Luc’s intestines bulged outwards and blood welled up out of the ghastly wound and poured onto the bed. Muttering a low mantra, the Regent withdrew the knife and placed it over the Captain’s right breast. “And now I will pierce your black heart.” He put both hands on the hilt and pushed down sharply. The knife disappeared into Jean-Luc’s chest and Myrin Ho’ bowed his head. “It is done.”

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Selar heard the medical alarm and was racing towards the Captain’s room as Doctor Harmison barrelled out of the office. They entered together and Selar sized up the situation first. Without hesitation she advanced on the Regent and sidestepped his swinging fist. She applied a Vulcan nerve pinch to the alien and as he slumped unconscious to the floor, Zet released the Captain to go to his Regent’s aide. Harmison picked up a hypospray, quickly loaded it with a powerful sedative and injected the weapons master before he could react. The young Doctor looked up to see Selar packing the Captain’s gaping wound with super absorbent gauze. Not taking her eyes off her patient, the Vulcan said stoically, “Help me get Captain Picard to surgery.”

The call that shattered Beverly’s sleep carried the unmistakable undertone of urgency that cut straight through her cloudy mind. The baby reacted to the call, startling awake and automatically crying. As Beverly moved to reassure her son, she raised her head. “Crusher here.” “Doctor Crusher it’s Lieutenant Refshauge. There has been an incident Sir…” Beverly interrupted tersely, “What sort of incident?” There was a momentary hesitation. “It’s Captain Picard Sir…some aliens came in tonight and assaulted him.” Now cradling the baby and absently rubbing his back, Beverly stifled her panic. “What are his injuries?” “He was…ah…disembowelled Sir…and stabbed in the chest. It seems the aliens thought his heart was on the right side the same as them. Apart from catastrophic injuries to his internal organs, there has been severe blood loss. He’s in surgery now.” “Who’s doing the surgery?” “Doctors Selar and Harmison Sir.” Offering quick thanks for Selar’s attendance, Beverly closed her eyes. “Very well I’ll be there as soon as possible. Crusher out.” Her next call was to her very close friend. “Crusher to Troi.” A sleepy voice answered. “Troi here.”

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“Deanna the Captain has been assaulted and critically injured. I need you to come and look after the baby while I go to Sick Bay.” Years of experience in emergency situations had Deanna fully awake in seconds. “I’ll be there shortly. Troi out.” Beverly quickly changed her son’s nappy then laid him in the middle of the bed as she dressed. She was brushing her hair when Deanna appeared at the bedroom door. Beverly smiled her thanks and took her hands. “There is milk in the replicator he can have. I’ll let you know what’s happening as soon as I can.” Deanna squeezed her friend’s hands and looked into her blue eyes. “My thoughts will be with you.” As Beverly left, Deanna looked down at the sleeping baby and sighed. “With parents like yours little man, you’d better get used to this.”

When Beverly entered the surgical suite it was to see Selar with her hands within her husband’s body, blood coating her gloved hands up to her forearms. Doctor Graham Refshauge worked on an open wound in Jean-Luc’s chest and Beverly dragged her eyes to the readouts on the monitor at the head of the table. Selar looked up and nodded. “I could do with your assistance Doctor.” Moving with alacrity, Beverly stepped to Selar’s side and watched what she was doing. The Vulcan’s voice betrayed no panic as she said, “Would you clamp the aorta? I have sealed it twice but it keeps breaking down at that point.” Pushing her anguish aside, Beverly did as she was requested then fell into the rhythm of assisting the skilled Vulcan Doctor. As Selar worked she told Beverly what she knew of Jean-Luc’s condition so far. “The wound to his torso extends from pubis to sternum at a depth of nine centimetres. Apart from the obvious external trauma, the peritoneum is ruptured, the bladder has been punctured, there is a two centimetre cut to the sigmoid colon, the ileum and jejunum have been completely severed in places, the transverse colon has been bisected and the stomach has a small incision. I will, with your assistance, repair all of those injuries once I have stemmed the blood loss. The aorta has been slashed in several places and, as you can see, Captain Picard’s blood pressure is almost non-existent.” Beverly glanced up to see two thick catheters snaking down from bags and entering Jean-Luc’s neck on either side. She swallowed and uttered, “You are transfusing through the carotid arteries?” Selar nodded. “Yes we’re pumping in hydroplasma and whole blood as fast as we can and the carotids were the best place to do it, being able to take a greater volume than any veins.” Beverly was quiet for some time as she worked diligently on the devastated aorta. After half an hour, Selar nodded and ran a scanner along the length of the wound. 128


“We have been successful. The plasti-grafts are holding and will grow stronger as he heals. In time they will be absorbed by his tissue.” Beverly sighed and looked up at Graham. “How are you doing Doctor?” The middle-aged man smiled, his eyes showing his concern for his superior. “Nearly finished Sir. The wound sliced through the lobar bronchi and damaged the bronchioles but I’ve repaired everything and I’m just fusing the outer musculature before closing his skin.” Beverly smiled her thanks and turned as Selar said, “When you are finished Doctor I would like your help with the job of repairing the internal organs. Doctor Crusher and I would appreciate your assistance.” Doctor Refshauge nodded, his eyes sliding to the glistening mass of intestines that lay either side of the gaping wound. Selar looked down at the Captain and sighed. “This will take some time Doctor Crusher…are you ready to start?” Beverly smiled and flexed her fingers. “No time like the present.”

Will Riker was angry. The outrage simmered just beneath the surface, making his eyes darken and his usually genial face hard and uncompromising. He strode into the Brig and went straight to Data who stood motionlessly at the force field activated at detention cell two. Will barked, “Report Mr.Data!” The android turned to his Exec and immediately noted all the hallmarks of Human anger. “We have incarcerated the Pran Regent and his weapons master for their unprovoked attack on Captain Picard.” Will glared at the two unconscious figures lying on bunks in the cell. The aliens were dressed in Starfleet overalls and were bare footed. Data gestured to a pile of clothing by the guard’s desk. “We decided to strip search them Commander when we found several weapons on their persons.” Will grunted. “You should’ve left the bastards naked. How much longer will they be unconscious?” “The weapons master should regain consciousness in approximately one hour. As to the Regent…unknown Sir. He was rendered senseless by a Vulcan nerve pinch and, as we know nothing about their physiology, we do not know how they will react to such an action. I cannot give you an accurate time for his regaining consciousness.” Will continued to glare at the captives, his voice gruff. “Do we know why they did it? Or which one was responsible?”

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“No Commander. My report of the incident came from a nurse who spoke briefly to Doctor Selar. She said that, on hearing a medical alarm coming from the Captain’s room, she entered with Doctor Refshauge to find both Pran standing over the Captain, although she did say the Regent was the one with the knife. Whether or not he acted alone is unknown.” Data looked into Will’s eyes. “Commander how is the Captain?” Will clenched his jaw and Data noted his pupils dilating. “It’s not good Data. I called down to Sick Bay and they couldn’t tell me anything but that the Captain was still in surgery…six and a half hours after he was assaulted.” Data’s eyebrows rose. “Six and a half hours Sir? That is not good.” The Commander pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. “No it’s not. I’m going to Sick Bay then I’m dropping by the Captain’s quarters to update Counsellor Troi. After that I’m going to the Bridge. Call me the minute either of these…pricks wakes up.” Data’s remarkable positronic mind furnished him with the meaning of the term pricks and he nodded, turning his attention back to the prisoners. With a quiet, “Aye Sir.” Data listened as his Commander left and mused, “How appropriate.”

Deanna gently patted the baby’s back as he nestled into her shoulder. Having just fed the infant, Deanna sat patiently patting, waiting while her fiancé stalked about the room, quietly venting. “And not only did they disembowel the Captain…the bastards stabbed him in the chest! For God’s sake what the hell did they think they would gain by this…this…atrocity?” Deanna, on hearing Jean-Jacque’s satisfied burp, walked into the bedroom and placed the little boy in his cradle. She watched in silent tenderness as the baby snuffled briefly before succumbing to sleep. With a wistful sigh she brushed her fingers over his head then turned and left, dragging her mind back to the present. Will, unaware of anything but his anger, was still restlessly pacing around the cabin, his hands alternating between fisting at his sides and running through his hair. Deanna sat on the sofa, composed herself and stiffened her mental barriers against Will’s anger. “Will we knew there was something going on between the Pran and the Captain. Everything we found out about this mediation pointed to a hidden agenda.” Will stopped his pacing and frowned. “Hell I know that Dee, but what could’ve precipitated this assault? What they’ve done is tantamount to attempted murder. What changed?” Deanna set her face and looked up at the agitated man. “Will…sit down.” 130


The big man paused and softened his face. In silence he sat and took a deep breath, holding it for several seconds before letting it out slowly. With a rueful smile his kind blue eyes settled on his lover and he nodded. “Okay, I’m calm.” Smiling her appreciation of his effort, Deanna tilted her head and lifted her hand to accentuate her thoughts. “First, we know there is an…unfortunate…history between the Regent and our Captain. Two, it’s pretty obvious the mediation was a ruse, a ruse to get the Enterprise to be the ship that handled the talks, but that went astray when Captain Picard wasn’t on board and the mission was given to you.” Will nodded and clasped his hands between his knees. “With you so far.” “Three, the Regent went to see the Captain only two days ago but we don’t know what transpired, although my guess would be that whatever it was between them went unresolved. Perhaps on the basis of that lack of resolution, the Pran decided to take matters into their own hands? Has the weapon been recovered?” Will grunted. “Oh it was recovered all right. It was sticking out of the Captain’s chest.” “Where is it now?” Will frowned. “In Sick Bay. Why?” Deanna crossed her legs, her eyes clouded in thought. “Because if I’m right, we’ll find that weapon was ceremonial.” Will sat back and scratched his cheek. “So you think that what happened was some sort of rite?” “Uh huh.” Will’s large hands rubbed his face and he snorted with derision. “Well that doesn’t change anything! They attempted to take the Captain’s life and I intend to see they pay for it.” Playing devil’s advocate, Deanna kept her voice low. “What about diplomatic immunity?” The Commander stood and glowered down at the small woman. “To hell with diplomatic immunity! Those bastards attacked a helpless man and tried to kill him for Christ’s sake. They have to pay!” Maintaining her calm, Deanna clenched her jaw. “Neither Starfleet or the Federation will see it that way Will.” Will’s hands cut through the air. “Then I’ll make them see it my way! They attacked a Federation citizen inside Federation space. Or, to look at it another way, they assaulted a Starfleet officer. Either way that’s a crime punishable by Federation law.” “Yes but…” “No! I won’t hear it Deanna! If they get away with this then it’ll destroy all my faith in what we stand for.” Deanna stood and went to her lover, catching his restless hands and holding them tightly. She looked deeply into his eyes and sent him a subliminal message of support. His eyes lost their angry gleam and his body relaxed. With a lowered head he sighed. 131


“Will my love give this time. Wait until you’ve talked with Captain Picard…get both sides of the story and take it from there.” Will bent lower and kissed his fiancé softly on her lips. “Thank you Dee, I’ll do just that.” Deanna released his hands and ran her fingers up his arms. “Good. Now get to the Bridge and contact Command. They need to know what’s happened.” Will’s eyes widened then he grinned. “Aye Sir.” With a parting slap to his behind, Deanna watched his departure with amusement. “Go get ‘em my love.”

Beverly leaned against her desk and wearily pulled her cap off. Tossing it into the recycler with her bloodied gown, mask and gloves, she turned her desk monitor and groaned as she read the time. “God it’s thirteen seventeen! We were in surgery for nine hours.” She plopped gracelessly into her chair and closed her eyes whilst raising her head. “Crusher to Riker.” “Riker here Beverly.” “He’s out of surgery and in intensive care Will.” “How is he?” A slight smile appeared and Beverly sighed. “He’s going to be all right…everything’s been repaired and we don’t foresee any future trouble.” The red head could hear Will’s relief. “That’s great Beverly. When will he be awake?” Beverly rubbed her face and yawned expansively. “It’ll be hours yet Will. Right now he still being transfused and he needs rest. I’ll let you know when you can see him.” “Understood. Riker out.” With tired hands, Beverly threaded her fingers through her hair and stretched. With her eyes closed she felt rather than saw the person standing at the door. She cracked an eye open and summoned a smile. “Hello Dee, come in.” The Counsellor came into the office and took the chair before letting her senses sort through Beverly’s swirling emotions. “How are you?” The Doctor smiled sardonically. “Why don’t you tell me?” Deanna allowed a warm smile then sighed. “You’re exhausted, worried…and very, very angry.” 132


Beverly flapped a hand to dismiss the assessment and yawned again. “So what else is new? By the way…who’s looking after my son?” “Ensign Lefler.” Beverly’s eyebrows rose. “Robin Lefler? From Engineering? She likes babies?” “Uh huh, now stop trying to sidetrack me. Tell me how you feel.” With an exaggerated huff Beverly rose and went to the replicator, raising her eyebrow at Deanna in silent enquiry. With a shake of the Counsellor’s head, Beverly shrugged and ordered a chamomile tea. Deliberately delaying her response, the Doctor sat and sipped but Deanna’s patience was limitless. Eventually Beverly sighed theatrically and closed her eyes. “All right! I’m bloody tired, bloody worried and bloody mad as hell!” Deanna smiled and cocked her head. “There, was that so hard?” Beverly chuckled and rubbed her eyes. “Why him Dee? Why is it always Jean-Luc?” “It’s the nature of the job Beverly…you know that.” Beverly stared down at her cup and idly ran her fingers around the rim. “Yes I know…but for crying out loud, how much more is he supposed to take?” Deanna’s obsidian eyes sharpened and her voices softened. “Why don’t you ask what you really want to know?” Beverly’s eyes came up to meet her friend’s and they misted with unshed tears. In a whisper she said, “When will it happen Deanna…when will the time come that his luck runs out…and he dies?” The Counsellor inclined her head and sighed. “We’re all going to die Beverly, it is the nature of our existence.” The Doctor snorted and leaned forward, propping her elbows on the desktop and cradling her head in her hands. “Apart from stating the patently obvious Deanna, you know damn well what I mean. One of these days he’s going to come to the end of his rope and nothing…not my skill, not our technology…nothing is going to save him. What the hell will I do then?” “You will endure Beverly just as he would if the situation were reversed.” Beverly lifted her head and stared hard at her friend. “You make that sound so simple.” Deanna shrugged. “What’s the alternative? Would you ask him to retire? Sequester yourselves in some safe… boring place to live out the rest of your lives harbouring resentment and acrimony?” Beverly’s head sank back into her hands and she groaned. “Damn you Deanna.” The Counsellor chuckled. “Probably my friend, but not before I do my job.” Beverly looked up suspiciously and gritted her teeth. Deanna smiled benignly and folded her arms across her chest. “For the next twenty-four hours you are relieved of duty. You are to report to your quarters to shower, eat a decent meal then go to bed.” She held up a hand to forestall the expected protest.

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“ And yes I know you’re not officially on duty anyway, however my order stands. A crewmember will be present to see to Jean-Jacque’s needs…you my friend will rest.” Beverly’s head lifted and her hands went to her lap. “May I see Jean-Luc before I go?” Deanna smiled tenderly. “Of course, in fact I’ll accompany you.” Defeated by exhaustion and sorrow, Beverly stood and gestured to the door. On the way out she muttered, “I suppose you’re going to escort me to my quarters too?” Deanna smiled and squeezed Beverly’s arm. “Uh huh. The Doctor rolled her eyes and sighed. “Merde.”

The Regent plucked at his overalls with distaste and said without raising his head, “Is this really necessary Commander?” Will let out an annoyed breath and kept his voice even. “Yes it is. You and your weapons master had several concealed weapons in your clothes so we removed everything as a matter of ship’s safety.” Finally lifting his head, red eyes bored into Will’s and the Regent sneered. “You were afraid of a few little knives?” Will refrained from rising to the taunt, instead he folded his arms across his broad chest and tilted his head. “Why did you do it?” Myrin Ho’ considered acting confused at the question but clenched his teeth and straightened his spine. “Because the cur deserved it!” Will’s eyes darkened but he held his temper. “And why did Captain Picard deserve to be attacked in our Sick Bay while deaf and helpless? Surely such an assault on a man unable to defend himself would be seen as dishonourable by your society?” The Regent sighed and signalled his weapons master to regain his seat on the bunk, forestalling the protest that strained for release from Zet. “You are right of course, what I did was dishonourable in that sense, however my family’s honour was more important. I did what I did because I had to…I was bound by my position both as Regent and as an aggrieved elder brother of a defiled sister.” Will lifted a hand and stroked his beard. “This would be the sister who accused the Captain of sexual impropriety?” Myrin Ho’ sneered and stepped closer to the force field, making it hum.

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“Sexual impropriety? The accusation, Commander, was one of rape! I don’t know how that is viewed within the Federation, but on my world it is a heinous crime.” Will nodded, sighing deeply. “As it is with us Sir, but Captain Picard was exonerated…he was cleared of all charges.” The incensed Pran spat on the floor his anger palpable. “A Federation cover up! If he was innocent, why is it that none of our doctors were allowed to assist in the enquiry? Why were our investigators silenced? And why Commander did your Captain leave so suddenly afterwards…in the middle of the ratification treaty?” The Commander lowered his head and shook it slowly. “I’m not privy to all the aspects of the incident, but I can assure you if Captain Picard said he was innocent, you can believe him. His honour and integrity are beyond reproach.” The two men stared at each other, neither giving way. Eventually Myrin Ho’ snorted. “What do you want Commander? You have us in custody and we admit our actions.” Will stroked his moustache and pursed his lips. “You visited Captain Picard in Sick bay twice before the attack. What did you talk about?” The Regent turned and went to his bunk, waving his hand in dismissal as he sighed. “It is of no consequence Commander.” Will shook his head. “I disagree. Answer the question.” Seemingly abruptly tired, the Pran leader rubbed his face. “The first time I anointed him in the hope it would aid in his recovery.” Seeing Will’s raised eyebrows Myrin Ho’ smiled. “Yes Commander I know it seems unlikely, but at that stage there was a chance your Captain may have been a candidate to join my family.” Will frowned deeply. “I don’t understand. First you try to help him then you try to kill him? What happened in between?” The Regent chuckled and shared a conspiratorial look with the loyal Zet. “The second time I visited your Captain was to ask him to return to Pran to atone for his crime. As a token of respect for his position within your organisation, instead of facing punishment, he was offered the chance of marrying the woman he defiled and siring the next Regent.” The big Human’s confusion was plain. “Why would the Captain be the one to father the next Regent? What about you?” Myrin Ho’ waved his hand and grunted. “It’s none of your business Commander. All you need to know is I won’t be producing offspring and the only one in my family capable of doing so is my dishonoured sister and, as no male on my world will touch a defiled woman, that left only one option. You must see how your Captain forced my hand. By denying any involvement and refusing my very generous offer he gave me no alternative. It’s such a pity…he could have restored my family’s honour and maintained the Regency within my family so easily. Instead he clung to his lies and humiliated me. Really Commander…what choice did I have?” Will took a deep breath and turned his attention to Zet. “I know it was your Regent who did the damage with the knife…what did you do?” The weapons master stood and approached the energy field, his red eyes glittering. “I kept the dog quiet and still while my Lord did what was right and just. My only regret is that the excrement lived.” 135


Will glared stoically back at the imposing alien then abruptly turned to leave. He’d only gone a few steps when Zet’s low voice stopped his feet. “You have a violent streak Riker…perhaps we should indulge in another challenge? One where I wouldn’t feel it necessary to be so constrained?” When Will turned Zet scowled at the broad smile on the Human’s face. “I suppose that could be arranged Zet, but for a man who’s already been beaten twice…once by a tiny woman…I would’ve thought you’d be a little more discerning in who you chose to fight.” The angry reply was lost as Will strode through the doors, his laughter hanging in the air.

The Admiral on the monitor screen was middle aged and prematurely grey. His lined face was at odds with his bright clear brown eyes and his bristling short-cropped hair matched the goatee that framed his thin mouth. Will sat forward and clasped his hands to quell the urge to fidget. “So you see Sir, this is quite serious.” The older man scratched his cheek and closed his eyes. “Yes I can see that Commander but there is the question of diplomatic immunity.” He held up a hand to stifle Will’s protest and sighed. “There’s something else. We have to consider culpability and social tradition. You know as well as I we can’t hold alien cultures to our standards. They’re not Federation members Commander. Our association with the Pran, in fact with all the worlds within the Harminn Alliance is tenuous at best. We have to look at the broader canvas in these situations.” With difficulty, Will repressed the urge to raise his voice. “But Admiral…this was a premeditated attack on a defenceless Starfleet officer. By his own admission, the Pran Regent intended to murder Captain Picard, and very nearly succeeded. Surely Admiral…” The Admiral grunted. “Look right now there’s nothing I can do, this will have to go before the Federation Council. What of the rest of the delegations?” Will sat back and huffed. “The remaining Pran are confined to quarters and the Garsis have been made aware of what’s transpired. You know Sir…the Garsis have been the one bright spot throughout this entire sorry mess. All the way along they have been nothing but helpful, genuinely concerned and they’ve made every effort to make the mediation a success…and believe me they put up with a heap of bull from the Pran.” The Admiral sighed and ran a hand through his short hair. “Yes they have a reputation for being level headed and intelligent. What’s your ETA at Earth?” 136


“A little over ten hours Sir.” With a decisive nod, the Admiral tucked in his chin. “Very well, I’ll beam aboard when you achieve orbit and I’ll address both delegations. Is there anything else Commander?” Will smiled apologetically. “Just one thing Admiral. I would like to ask you to consider sending an investigative team to Pran to reopen the case concerning Captain Picard. I have complete faith in him Sir, but the Pran are convinced the Federation whitewashed the whole thing. I know years have passed but maybe there’s a chance this little knot can be untied? If nothing else it would be a show of concern to the Pran…at least show them we’re listening?” With a curt nod, Admiral Grennik thinned his lips. “I’ll consider it Commander. Grennik out.”

Beverly placed the bassinette on the spare bed and checked to see her son was still asleep. With a tender smile she bent down and kissed his soft hair then straightened to see Selar scanning Jean-Luc’s hip. The red head stepped over to her colleague and looked down at the tricorder, her brows knitted with concentration. “You did another marrow infusion?” The Vulcan nodded. “Yes. I harvested two amounts early this morning and I have just completed the second infusion.” “And?” Selar handed the tricorder to Beverly and turned her eyes to the bio readouts above the bed. “I am satisfied with the results.” Out of sight, Beverly rolled her eyes and sighed. “And?” Selar turned her attention back to Beverly and raised one perfect eyebrow. “I think that may have been the last infusion. With the assistance of the Beneril injections his body was producing new bone marrow successfully and, with the infusions, there has been a marked increase in red blood cells. At this stage in his treatment I would be satisfied to let his body continue with as little intervention as possible.” Beverly’s eyes travelled over her husband and she nodded. “And the blood loss he suffered?” “His blood volume is back up to sufficient levels and his iron levels are approaching normal. Once he completes the regeneration therapy he will be restored.” Beverly’s hand lifted and she gently trailed her fingers down Jean-Luc’s whiskery cheek. She sighed and briefly closed her eyes. 137


“Tell me about his digestive tract.” Selar clasped her hands on front of her and tilted her head. “As far as I am concerned it has been sufficiently repaired, however we will know more once he starts eating solids. There is a chance he may experience discomfort as his systems come back on line, but it should be both short lived and controllable.” Beverly smiled and tenderly rubbed her hand over his chest. “And you have completely removed the spinal anaesthetic?” “Yes Doctor.” The taller woman smiled down at her colleague and winked. “So all we have to do is wake him up.” Selar reached into her pocket and produced a hypospray. “Would you like to do it Doctor?” Beverly beamed warmly and nodded, taking the hypo and gently turning Jean-Luc’s head. The hiss of the instrument was loud in the quiet room and both Doctors watched as Jean-Luc’s eyelids fluttered and he took a sharp breath. His eyes opened and he frowned before suddenly gasping and lifting his arms defensively. With a gravelly shout he called, “NO!” Beverly gripped his shoulders and bent down to him, speaking forcefully. “Jean-Luc! It’s all right…you’re safe.” He didn’t hear her words but he saw her face. Dark hazel eyes fastened on sapphire blue and the Captain swallowed. His voice was very deep and rough. “I was attacked.” Selar tapped one of Beverly’s hands and eased a PADD into her grip. With a quick glace of thanks, Beverly utilised the device and spoke quickly, then held it for Jean-Luc to read. “Yes my love you were attacked, but Selar got to you in time and all the damage has been repaired. You’re going to be fine.” Jean-Luc looked up at his wife and asked, “The Regent and his aide?” Beverly spoke and he read, “Both in the brig.” The Captain was about to ask another question when Beverly’s face lifted up and she frowned. Her hand squeezed his shoulder and he understood she was listening to something. “Riker to Crusher.” “Crusher here.” “Beverly we’re twenty minutes from orbit around Earth. Medical have contacted us and wish to send someone aboard to assess the Captain.” Beverly looked at Selar and the elegant Vulcan inclined her head. “I have no objection.” Beverly nodded her agreement and responded. “That’s fine Will. Beam them straight to Sick bay when we’ve achieved orbit.” “Will do, Riker out.” Beverly spoke into the PADD and Jean-Luc read, sighing and closing his eyes. “What will they do?” Again the procedure was repeated and Jean-Luc huffed. “Test my hearing and the damaged structure? But Beverly that’s already been done.” He read again. 138


“Yes my love but medical may know something we don’t. Starships have up-to-date technology but medical is cutting edge. You never know, they might be able to help where we couldn’t.” Resigning himself to the inevitable, he sighed and nodded. “Very well. When will this take place?” What he read made him frown. “Half an hour? So soon?” His next reaction to what he read made him smile. “A wash and a shave? Am I to be made presentable?” Beverly grinned as Selar left and bent to her husband to kiss his lips. Looking deeply into his eyes, she enunciated, “Sexy rogue.” He returned her grin and caught her sleeve as she turned away. “I love you Beverly.” She looked down and smiled. “I know…and I love you.”

Doctor Richard Damon turned to his colleague and looked down at the PADD she held. The tall Andorian Doctor sighed and inputted some information before scanning the Captain once more. Doctor Damon watched in stoic silence then stepped closer to her shoulder to read the screen on the device. The blue Andorian’s antennae bent backwards in an unmistakable display of sadness. Jean-Luc clenched his jaw as Beverly folded her arms in resignation. “Well Doctors?” Hassel B’Mort, the female Andorian, looked at Doctor Damon seeking his help. Always at a disadvantage when dealing with patients not of her own species, she appreciated her colleague’s willingness to be the voice of their partnership. “We are in agreement with both your diagnosis and prognosis Doctor Crusher. The cochlear structure and the cranial nerves on both sides have been utterly destroyed and, as a result, Captain Picard cannot be considered a candidate for neural implants or audio stimulation. The only viable option will be a cadaver donor.” Selar handed Doctor Damon a PADD and gestured to the screen above the bed. “As you can see, the organism that attacked the structures died when their environment changed. The calcification of the cochlear and nerves is complete, down to the cellular level. It may be worth studying the organism with regard to the treatment of bone disorders. The calcification closely resembles that which Humans make in repairing bone fractures.” The Andorian Doctor nodded slowly, her eyes reading the information on the PADD. “Yes I see that. Have you a living sample of the organism aboard?” Selar shook her head. “Unfortunately no. All traces of the organism were refrozen and taken back to where it came from.” “Pity…although I take it the coordinates for the location are in the ship’s computer?” 139


The Vulcan inclined her head. “Of course.” Growing impatient, Jean-Luc cleared his throat and asked, “Would you mind telling me what’s going on?” Beverly gestured to the others to be silent as she spoke into the PADD. Jean-Luc read the words and sighed. “So I will wait for a suitable donor?” Damon nodded. “Yes Captain.” Jean-Luc didn’t need to PADD to understand that. His next question caused all four Doctors to frown. ”Can I stay aboard the Enterprise?” It was Damon who spoke into the PADD. “It would be better if you stayed at Medical Captain. That way we will have you at hand as soon as a donor becomes available.” Just then Will entered the room and made his way to his CO’s side. Taking the PADD, he spoke quietly then handed it to Jean-Luc. “Captain we’ve got new orders. We’re to escort three terra forming ships to the Dorias expanse…we’ll be gone almost two months.” Jean-Luc lowered the device and sighed. Looking up at his Exec, he nodded. “Very well Number One. What will happen to the delegations and the prisoners?” After a short wait, he read again. “Admiral Grennik has been aboard and spoken to both parties. Apparently the Pran have conceded and agreed on sharing the ore equitably with the Garsis. The Fremantle is going to take them home, leaving at oh nine thirty tomorrow. As for the prisoners, the Council is discussing the matter. We will hand them over to Starfleet Security and let them sort it out.” Jean-Luc pursed his lips and was about to ask more, when Will took the PADD from his hands and spoke again. “Captain I have asked Admiral Grennik to consider sending an investigative team to Pran to try and find a solution to the problem between you and the Regent. I know a long time has passed, but you never know, they might find something to clear the whole thing up once and for all.” Jean-Luc read and smiled. “You know Number One, you’ve got the makings of a fine diplomat.” The First Officer grinned and stood a little taller. With a nod and a twinkle in his eye, he acknowledged his Captain. “Thank you Sir. Well I’ll be getting back to the Bridge.” Jean-Luc only understood half of what was said, but he smiled, confident that he knew what Will was going to do. Once the big man was gone, Beverly gently squeezed Jean-Luc’s shoulder, gaining his attention. With a ‘wait a moment’ gesture, she turned to the two Starfleet Medical Doctors and said, “Well as it’s impossible for the Captain to remain aboard might I make a suggestion?” Both medicos nodded. “I know, from personal experience, Captain Picard will be very unhappy if he’s forced to stay at Medical and, as we don’t know how long his wait will be, would it be all right if he stayed at his home in France? He can be transported back at any time and I will be with him to assist and monitor his condition.” 140


The Doctors looked at each other and the Andorian shrugged in silence. Doctor Damon scratched his cheek and sighed. “Well considering what he…actually both of you have been through I suppose it’s only fair that you recuperate somewhere familiar. We agree Doctor.” Beverly grinned and spoke into the PADD. “We can stay at LaBarre while we wait.” Jean-Luc closed his eyes briefly and sighed. His voice was soft. “Thank you.” The regenerations treatments were finished and Beverly had quickly packed what they needed. Late that afternoon the three materialised in the front gardens of Jean-Luc’s boyhood home.

The Captain’s sister-in-law, Marie, fussed over her guests as she ushered them indoors. Beverly was explaining to her about Jean-Luc’s deafness as he carried the bassinette upstairs to the master bedroom. “So you can see it’ll be a little tricky.” Marie nodded thoughtfully and sighed. “So will an organ donation really fix the problem?” Beverly smiled and took the smaller woman’s hands. “Yes. We’re all confident it will do the job.” “And Jean-Luc…how is he taking it?” Beverly frowned and looked up the stairs. “Well…let’s just say he doesn’t make an ideal patient in the best of circumstances.” Marie chuckled wryly. “If he’s anything like his brother, he’ll be grumpy, short tempered and he’ll sulk.” The red head laughed and shook her head. “You’re correct on all counts. But really, what with the attack and everything…he’s been through an awful lot.” Marie gently squeezed Beverly’s hands and looked up into her eyes. “And you I think.” Beverly smiled at her new friend and sighed. Marie tugged on her hand and said, “Your husband has spirited my nephew away and I want to see him!” Nodding, and with a large grin on her face, Beverly let Marie lead her up the stairs. Both women stopped at the open door to the bedroom to see Jean-Luc standing at the window, cradling his son in his arms. For several moments the women stood in silence watching the stalwart Captain commune with his child. Then Marie pecked Beverly on the cheek and withdrew with a whispered, “I’ll see you downstairs later.” Beverly smiled her thanks and slowly entered the bedroom, not wishing to startle her husband. He seemed to sense her presence and turned slightly, a tender smile on his face. As Beverly came to his side he sighed deeply. “He’s so perfect…small, but utterly perfect.” 141


The Doctor reached into the blankets and encouraged Jean-Jacques to take her offered finger. “Strong too. Our little boy has proved he’s got what it takes.” He didn’t hear her words, but he understood the sentiment. Jean-Luc kissed Beverly’s cheek and she noticed the tears in his eyes. She reached up and caressed his face, clearly enunciating, “Our son.” Jean-Luc sniffed quietly and nodded. “Yes…our son.” They stood together for some time before Jean-Luc regathered himself and gestured with his chin. “Over there…there’s something I want you to see.” Together they crossed the room to the other side of the bed to see an exquisitely carved wooden cradle. Beverly knelt and ran her fingers over the fine woodwork, marvelling at the craftsmanship. She looked up at her husband and shook her head. “Jean-Luc…this is wonderful!” He didn’t need to hear her to understand her. He smiled and laid their son on the soft mattress. “This cradle has been in my family for generations. It served both Robert and me.” Beverly stood and gathered the soft blanket from the chest at the foot of the master bed and tucked their son in. Jean-Luc slipped his hand into Beverly’s and eased her to face him. With breathtaking gentleness he kissed her, imparting all his love. Beverly sighed into his mouth and returned the kiss, their bond never more strong. The kiss ended and Jean-Luc rested his forehead against Beverly’s, closing his eyes and savouring her closeness. The Doctor ran her fingers down his face and he sighed, opening his eyes. “We should go downstairs.” She pointed out the door and Jean-Luc nodded. As they left, the Captain activated the monitor that would alert Beverly when Jean-Jacques woke.

Seated in the deep comfortable chairs in the lounge, Beverly smiled up at Marie as the smaller woman brought in a tray bearing cups of tea. Jean-Luc looked up from his contemplation of the fire to smile at his sister-in-law. Beverly helped her with the tray and they all sat, sipping. Marie lifted her head and frowned. “Beverly…may I ask you a personal question?” Beverly’s smile was warm, but her eyes were wary. “Yes, you can ask, but I warn you, I may not answer.” Marie nodded. “That’s fair.” The Doctor clasped her hands in her lap and fixed her eyes on the Frenchwoman. “What is it?” Marie took a big breath and forged ahead. “Why didn’t you take Jean-Luc’s name?” 142


The man in question watched the exchange with interest, he knew his wife well enough to know she was disturbed, but he relaxed as a sunny smile broke though her serious demeanour. “Actually I have. When we married I took his name legally, but professionally I prefer to be known as Doctor Crusher. I have done a lot of work, research and written many papers under that name and it would only cause confusion if I changed it now.” With a relieved grin Marie shrugged her shoulders. “I’m glad. You must think me very old fashioned.” Beverly returned the grin and winked at her bemused husband. “Not at all…I married a very conservative man remember. Do you really think he wouldn’t want me to take his name?” Marie chuckled wryly. “Well, now that you mention it…it did have me confused. Tell me about the wedding.” Beverly reached out and took the PADD off the low table and spoke into it. She then proffered it to Jean-Luc. “Marie wants to know about our wedding.” The Captain’s smile was wistful as he faced his sister-in-law. “It was a very small ceremony Marie, just five friends and the Captain who married us. It was at Star Base Papa Sierra and my bride…” He looked at Beverly with undisguised love, “Was stunningly beautiful.” Marie sighed and asked, “Are there any holo images or vids?” The red head nodded, a wide smile lighting her face. “Yes we have a few of both. Do you remember Deanna Troi?” Marie nodded. “Well she insisted on taking both images and vids. Would you like to see them?” Marie nodded happily and Beverly rose to leave the room. Jean-Luc frowned and caught her hand. The Doctor looked down at him and smiled. “It’s okay.” Jean-Luc smiled uncertainly and nodded. Before Beverly left the room, she picked up the PADD and handed it to Marie. “Anything you want to say to Jean-Luc, say into this device then give it to him. It will display your words as text for him to read.” Marie smiled self-consciously and looked at her brother-in-law. He smiled his encouragement and she eyed the PADD with suspicion. Jean-Luc watched Beverly as she left then gestured to the PADD. “Go on, give it a try.” At first tentative, Marie spoke softly into the instrument then handed it to the Captain to read. “Was the Captain who married you a friend?” Jean-Luc grinned, his face flushing. “Ah…yes. He and I were at the Academy together. His name is Randolph Carmody.” Marie frowned with curiosity. “Why are you blushing Jean-Luc?” He didn’t need the PADD to decipher those words. With a wry chuckle he explained.

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“Randolph once tried to date Beverly…not long after she met Jack Crusher and he was rather… persistent. He finally got the message when Beverly told him, very loudly and in no uncertain terms, that she wasn’t interested and that if he didn’t leave her alone she would alert security.” Marie tilted her head in confusion. “Well that seems fair enough…why would that be embarrassing?” Jean-Luc’s rumbling laugh made Marie giggle. “Because she did it in a very crowded commissary at the Academy. There must have been two hundred people there at the time.” Marie’s hand went to her mouth and her eyes widened. “Oh my…the poor man!” Guessing her reaction, Jean-Luc nodded. “Yes, well you can see why he was very wary of Beverly after that, although he did eventually form a firm friendship with her after she married Jack. His reaction when I asked him to marry us was priceless…a mixture of delight and apprehension.” Marie’s clearly enunciated…’apprehension’? made Jean-Luc grin. “He was worried about me.” Beverly re-entered the room to find both Picards laughing. She placed a box on the floor and rubbed her hands over her thighs. “Well, where do we begin?” Jean-Luc groaned theatrically and earned a slap to his shoulder. He huffed with wounded pride and stood, gathering his dignity around him. “If you ladies will excuse me, I’m going outside for some fresh air.” Beverly caught his sleeve, causing him to look down at her. “Don’t be too long. It’s cold out.” He didn’t hear what she said, but he guessed correctly. With a long-suffering sigh he nodded. “Very well, Doctor.” Marie caught the sarcasm in his voice and shot Beverly a look. When Jean-Luc had left the room, the Doctor sighed and explained, “He doesn’t like me hovering…never did.” Marie smiled and shrugged in a very Gallic fashion. “Neither did his brother. Perhaps all Picard men are the same?” Beverly rubbed the tip of her nose and grinned. “Then may God grant their wives unlimited patience.” Marie laughed delightedly and the two women settled down to view the holo images and vids.

In the early hours next morning, Jean-Luc awoke to find Beverly lying in bed next to him, feeding the baby. The sidelight was on and the Captain watched as Jean-Jacques eyes rolled with sated pleasure. Beverly lifted him from her breast and settled him on her shoulder, while gently patting his back. After a few minutes there was a loud burp and Beverly congratulated her 144


son before laying him on his blanket between her and her husband. While Jean-Luc watched, Beverly undressed the baby until he lay naked and full, his sleepy eyes blinking owlishly. It was the first time Jean-Luc had the chance to really study his son and he took the opportunity gratefully. He could see the weight gain the infant had made and he chuckled as Jean-Jacques waved his uncoordinated limbs haphazardly. The Captain noted the cloth Beverly held and was about to ask her why she had it when the baby fountained some urine in the air. Beverly quickly covered the leak with the cloth and Jean-Luc laughed. Fearing further…leaks…Beverly put a nappy on the little one and Jean-Luc gently picked him up, laying on his back and settling his son on his chest. Unable to lift his head very much, JeanJacques nestled into Jean-Luc’s body and proceeded to drop off to sleep. Beverly snuggled into her husband’s side and watched as Jean-Luc closed his eyes and sighed deeply. The Doctor caressed his cheek and he opened his eyes. In the dim light she asked, “Happy?” He smiled, his dark hazel eyes gleaming with love. “Very. You?” Beverly gently placed her hand on their son’s bare back and tried to keep her tears at bay. Nodding, her smile was crooked. “I’m ecstatic.” Jean-Luc freed an arm and wrapped it around his wife. Together the little family slept.

The next time Jean-Luc woke, Beverly was spooned against him and their son was back in his cradle. Jean-Luc savoured the sensation of his wife’s body against his and allowed his hand to drift up and down her side, each time rising a little higher until at the end of each up stroke, he was brushing her breast. His erection was slow and he frowned but gently pressed himself up against the firm flesh of Beverly’s buttocks and smiled when she groaned softly. He nuzzled into her neck then kissed his way to her ear where he traced the intricate pattern with his tongue. Still not fully hard, he sighed as Beverly turned to face him, her eyes slits in the wan light of dawn. She kissed him languidly, her hands fluttering over his chest, dallying at his nipples before sliding down to his shorts where they slipped under the elastic to gently squeeze him. He moaned softly into her mouth and tweaked her nipples then gently kneaded her breasts, smiling when milk appeared. He eased her onto her back and lifted her nightie up and off, leaving it forgotten on the floor. With rising desire, he kissed her passionately, his tongue thrusting into her mouth, mimicking the thrusting of his hips. Sensing his urgency, Beverly pushed his shorts down, using her feet to get them completely off. She took his penis in her hands and stroked him, causing him to gasp breathily. She could feel his erection was faltering and she encouraged him to roll over. Once on his back, Beverly slid down his body and took his penis into her mouth. He groaned, trying to stifle the sound lest he wake his son. Beverly lavished him, licking and sucking but he still

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remained only semi-hard. With a frustrated grunt, Jean-Luc lifted Beverly’s head and whispered roughly, “What the hell’s going on? I want to make love to you and I can’t get hard?” Beverly laid herself along his body, reached under the pillow and activated a PADD. With it she communicated with her husband, kissing him before whispering, “It’s all right my love…it’s a side-effect of a drug we used in your treatment. I can give you something for it.” Jean-Luc gripped his wife’s shoulders and hissed, “Will it fix it now?” Beverly shook her head. “No, it’ll take a while.” “A while? How bloody long?” Beverly ran her finger over his glowering brow, trying to ease his anger. “A week…maybe ten days.” “Fuck! I want to make love to you now! For God’s sake I’m desperate Beverly…my balls are aching!” “It’s all right Jean…” His hands grabbed her head and he growled softly, “It’s not all right!” Beverly kissed him gently and caressed his face. “Calm down my love…try and relax. I can give you a light sedative if you wish, but I’d rather not. Just lie quietly and let your mind wander.” Jean-Luc took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds then slowly let it out. With a concentrated effort, he deliberately relaxed his body and closed his eyes. His voice, when he spoke was deep and soft. “At least let me give you pleasure.” Beverly chuckled, making Jean-Luc glare. “What?” “That’s not a very good idea Jean-Luc…you’ll only get yourself all worked up again…and your balls will get in a uproar.” He grunted and closed his eyes again. “Merde, I suppose your right. God what have I done to deserve this torture? Here am I, lying in bed with the most beautiful, sexy, sensuous woman I know…who just happens to be my wife… and I can’t make love to her! I think I’m in purgatory.” Beverly slid off his body and snuggled into his side. “It won’t be for long my love.” He grunted again and wrapped her in his arms. “Try and get some sleep Jean-Luc.” With a deep sigh, Jean-Luc groaned, “That’s easy for you to say.” Beverly’s chuckle was the last thing he felt.

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Breakfast was a happy affair. Marie, using her new replicator, called up hot croissants and coffee, making Jean-Luc and Beverly laugh, and Marie to frown in amused confusion. She asked for an explanation for their obvious mirth but the delighted couple refused to elaborate, instead ushering the smaller woman to her seat and descending on the pastries with gusto. Beverly had expressed several small bottles of milk and Marie insisted Jean-Luc take her on an extended guided tour of the vineyard. Relieved of having to care for their son, a grateful couple headed out into the bright winter’s sun, Jean-Luc taking Beverly’s hand and threading his fingers with hers. They spent some time among the vines, their bare wooden skeletons marching in straight lines over the contours of the land. Their meandering took them to the river at the southern boundary of the property and Jean-Luc lead her to a favourite spot of his, an outcropping of rock that overhung a bend in the river. They sat on the flat stone ledge for some time, admiring the view, but Jean-Luc became restless and soon stood, pulling his wife up with him. His eyes twinkled and the devilish grin made Beverly flush. “What are you up to?” Throughout the morning, their communication had been through touch or Beverly’s wellenunciated words and he found that he knew her so well, her humour, her moods, even her patterns of speech were so familiar, Jean-Luc didn’t need much help to decipher what she said. With a quirked eyebrow he lead her off the ledge and down the side of the outcropping, hesitating at a thick wall of foliage before he stepped boldly through and into a small dry grotto. Light filtered in through the leafy opening and Beverly grinned at her husband as he started to unbutton her blouse. She reached for his belt but he caught her hands and brought them up to his neck, murmuring, “No…this is for you.” He opened her shirt and gently peeled it off her shoulders, letting it slide to the sandy floor. Her bra soon joined the blouse, then her skirt. Jean-Luc eased Beverly down to lie on her discarded clothes and when she was comfortable, he took her panties and slowly slid them down her legs. He slipped her sandals off and knelt between her legs, his eyes devouring her complete nakedness. Beverly’s smoky eyes travelled over Jean-Luc’s face as she raised her arms, silently beseeching him to come to her. He obliged, laying his body over hers and kissing her with heated passion. Although not fully erect, Beverly could nonetheless feel his arousal through his trousers and she pushed up into it, making him growl low in his throat. He suddenly left her mouth and kissed his way down her neck to the valley between her breasts where he lapped and kissed his way over to her right breast. He teased the nipple until it pebbled then he sucked it deep into his mouth and nipped it, smiling as milk filled his mouth. He left that breast and moved to the opposite one, giving it the same attention. He could feel Beverly’s soft moans and it spurred him on as he lapped his way down the flat plain of her stomach and urged her legs further apart. His fingers dallied in her copper curls then descended to part her labia. Beverly’s hips arched and Jean-Luc nuzzled his lips over her folds, his tongue questing gently. As his strong tongue found her clitoris, he slipped two fingers inside her and slowly slid them in and out as his tongue swirled over her bud.

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The Doctor’s hands cupped his head and held him close; her reactions making his heart swell. A third finger was gently thrust inside her and her body stiffened. Jean-Luc increased the action of his tongue and began to curl his fingers inside. Her internal muscles began to contract and she became very slippery. With exquisite timing, Jean-Luc waited until the very last second and, as her orgasm began to consume her, he sucked her clitoris into his mouth and gently nipped it. Beverly erupted. Her body flexed and shuddered, rhythmically jolting in time with his stroking tongue. Three powerful climaxes surged through her before Jean-Luc eased his intimate caresses. He stilled his fingers and lifted his head, his eyes feasting on the vision of his sated wife. She lay panting and softly moaning his name. His testicles were aching and his semi-hard penis had seeped fluid in his briefs but he was happy…exceedingly so. He straightened his body and stretched out beside his wife, taking her head and pillowing it on his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close as she recovered.

Sometime later the dozing Doctor shivered lightly causing Jean-Luc to gently shake her. “Hey…you need to get dressed.” Beverly yawned and sluggishly rolled onto her back, her fingers pulling through her unruly hair. Jean-Luc got to his feet and offered his hand, grinning as Beverly accepted his help and stood unsteadily. She dressed slowly then sat back down and gestured for her husband to join her. She turned to him and waved a hand, indicating the interior of the grotto. “Is this someplace special?” He understood and nodded. “Uh huh.” “Why?” He blushed so deeply, even the tips of his ears turned red. His eyes went to the floor as he picked up a stray leaf and devoted all his attention to it. An amused and very curious Beverly tilted his chin up and looked into his eyes. She spoke slowly and clearly. “Tell me…please?” He shook his head and sighed. In a very soft deep voice he said, “I lost my virginity here.” The Doctor’s eyebrows rose and she smiled. “How old were you?” “I was fifteen, in fact it was on my birthday.” Beverly chuckled and muttered to herself, “Some birthday present.” Before enunciating, “What was her name?” Jean-Luc frowned then his face cleared as he understood the question. “Claudia.” Beverly leaned close and nibbled Jean-Luc’s earlobe before drawing back and asking, “And how old was she?” 148


The blush returned and Jean-Luc swallowed before he replied, “Fourteen...almost fifteen.” They were silent for a while then Beverly idly traced the prominent veins of his forearm. “What was it like…your first time?” Jean-Luc sighed and his eyes became distant. “I was…overwhelmed. It wasn’t my first orgasm by any means, but it was so…intense. It was her first time too but somehow I don’t think she really enjoyed it. I wanted her to…very much, but it was too quick and overpowering. Over a period of time we did eventually get it right…for both of us, but that first time…my God…I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” Beverly took Jean-Luc’s hand and entwined their fingers. She studied their hands then looked at him again. “Was she your first love?” The Captain nodded pensively and sighed deeply. “Yes. We swore we would marry and live happily ever after.” Beverly was surprised. “What about Starfleet?” Jean-Luc grinned ruefully. “When I was alone here with Claudia Starfleet never entered my head.” Beverly laughed and gently punched his shoulder. “The famed Picard libido.” Jean-Luc just smiled. Beverly traced her finger down his face from his brow to his endearingly dimpled chin. She gained his attention and asked, “What happened?” With a snort, Jean-Luc tilted his head back and contemplated the ceiling. “At her sixteenth birthday party she met Henri LaPorte, fell madly in love with him and completely forgot about me.” Beverly hugged his arm, smiling crookedly. “Poor Jean-Luc.” He laughed and shook his head. “Not at all. I was only two months away from my first attempt at gaining a place at the Academy. By that time Claudia had become nothing but an exciting distraction. To my neverending shame I never told her that I no longer loved her. I was so relieved when she fell in love with Henri.” Beverly sighed and kissed his cheek. “Never mind my love. In the end you both got what you wanted and no one got hurt.” Jean-Luc frowned and shrugged, not really sure of what she’d said. Beverly looked around the grotto and grinned. “What’s say we come back here in ten days?” Jean-Luc raised an eyebrow in enquiry and Beverly chuckled. Using signs she elaborated. “You had your first injection this morning. In ten days time you just might be…up…to a little hanky panky.” Jean-Luc grinned wolfishly and grabbed his wife, pulling her into his arms. He nuzzled into her neck and growled, “Oh I’ll be up for it, don’t you worry.” Flustered, Beverly giggled and dug her fingers into his side, making him jerk backwards with a stifled laugh. 149


“All I have to do is remember to give you your injections.” The Captain’s voice became mellifluous. “So I can give you my…injections.” Scandalised, Beverly stood and put her hands on her hips. “You are a rogue!” He clearly understood her words and shrugged. “You married me.” A smile broke out and she gestured for him to stand. “Come on, Maire will be wanting us by now.” Jean-Luc made an accurate guess at what she’d said and took her hand. “Agreed.” They left the grotto, two people deeply in love.

Two days later the happy couple were in the village of LaBarre enjoying some leisurely window-shopping. Beverly was carrying the baby in a sling across her chest and JeanLuc was waiting for her outside a candle shop. He didn’t hear the approaching teenagers on their gravi-sleds and stepped backwards to better see down the road only to be bowled over by two of the four teens. His head struck the footpath hard, splitting his eyebrow open and stunning him. The two lads tumbled off their sleds sending pedestrians and onlookers scattering. Their mates hooted with laughter until one of them noticed Jean-Luc was slow in rising. The oldest lad, a boy of sixteen, deactivated his sled and went to the Captain, grabbing Jean-Luc’s arm and asking in his native French, “Are you all right?” As Jean-Luc raised his head, the teen saw the blood freely flowing down one side of the Captain’s face. With a startled yelp, the boy called, “Someone call an ambulance!” The two boys who had fallen sidled up to the fallen man, holding their sleds nervously. One of them, his elbow skinned said urgently, “Come on…we have to get out of here!” The lad helping Jean-Luc shook his head. “NO! Can’t you see he’s hurt?” The smaller and youngest member of the group looked around at the gathering crowd and plucked at the older boy’s sleeve. “Marc we must go. You know we’re not supposed to glide on the footpaths! If my father hears about this…” Marc looked up at his three friends and said scornfully, “Go then! I will not leave this man…he is hurt.” The three didn’t hesitate. Pushing through the curious crowd, they disappeared just as Beverly was coming out of the shop to see what all the fuss was about. When she saw Jean-Luc she gasped and went to him, crouching by his side and gently lifting his head. He was groggy and raised a hand to his head. Beverly prevented him from touching the wound and looked at the young man holding Jean-Luc so securely. 150


“Can you tell me what happened?” Marc swallowed and took a deep breath. “He got blindsided by a couple of my friends using gravi-sleds. It’s really weird…he stepped right into their path. Even though he was looking in the opposite direction…he should’ve heard them.” By now Beverly was holding Jean-Luc’s head and looking into his eyes. Without diverting her attention from her husband she informed the young man, “He’s deaf.” Marc’s shock was obvious. “He’s deaf? But…nobody’s deaf…I’ve never known of a deaf person. How..?” Beverly ignored the teen and looked up to the crowd. “Has anybody called for help?” A woman stepped forward and said in French, “Yes Madame, an ambulance is on the way.” The Doctor’s French was good enough to understand. She smiled her thanks just as the siren of the approaching hovercraft became evident. Within minutes a bright white vehicle landed close by and two medics appeared. Beverly introduced herself as a Doctor and requested a scanner. She quickly assessed the Captain and sighed with relief at what she found. After the application of a dermal sealer and a quick tissue regeneration, Jean-Luc was helped to his feet while a medic cleaned the blood from his face and neck and administered a painkiller. The Captain took a deep breath and massaged his shoulder, all the while under his wife’s scrutiny. The crowd dispersed and Marc decided to take his leave…that was until a large strong hand clamped down on his shoulder. “Just where do you think you’re going young man?” Jean-Luc’s voice rang with unmistakable authority. Marc halted, turned and blanched. Now that the blood was gone from his face, the teen got his first good look at Jean-Luc. His voice tinged with awe he gasped, “My God…you’re Captain Picard!” Jean-Luc frowned and looked at Beverly who smiled and patted his arm. Looking at the teen she asked, “How do you know my husband?” Marc swallowed nervously and pointed across the road to the town hall. “There’s a picture of him in there…and one at my high school.” By now frowning deeply, Jean-Luc said gruffly, “What is he saying?” Beverly slipped her hand into her pocket and retrieved the PADD. She spoke into it and showed it to the Captain. “He recognises you. Your picture is in his school and the town hall.” Jean-Luc pinched the bridge of his nose and concentrated on quelling his rising anger. With a steadying breath he trained his hawk-like gaze on the hapless youth. “What the hell were you doing riding those damned machines on the footpath?” Marc bowed his head and shrugged. “Sorry Captain Picard. It’s just…” Jean-Luc barked, “Look at me dammit!”

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Beverly gripped her husband’s arm and gained his attention. With a silent look, she asked him to calm down. To Marc she said, “The Captain needs to see your face when you talk.” Marc’s eyebrows rose in comprehension and he nodded. “Oh…yeah, okay.” As he spoke, Beverly held the PADD close to his mouth. “We found that the surface of the footpaths is better for the sleds than the road or the fields. We can go faster.” Jean-Luc glanced at the PADD and snorted. “That is utterly stupid! What about pedestrians? Did it occur to you…or your friends…that it might be very dangerous, both to yourselves and to other footpath users?” Resisting the urge to bow his head, Marc forced himself to meet Jean-Luc’s piercing eyes. “We didn’t think Sir…I’m sorry.” Again massaging and slowly rotating an obviously sore shoulder, Jean-Luc huffed. “Well I suppose I should thank you for coming to my assistance…especially when your chums fled. Were you one of the riders that knocked me down?” Marc shook his head. “No Captain.” Jean-Luc looked deeply into the teen’s eyes and liked what he saw. He extended his right hand and smiled ruefully. “Well, although I would’ve liked it to be under better circumstances, I am Jean-Luc Picard and this is my wife, Beverly Picard. Oh…and our son, Jean-Jacques.” Marc stared open mouthed at the offered hand and took it slowly. He shook silently and JeanLuc smiled. In a gently amused voice he asked, “What is your name son?” “Marc Harcout Sir.” Jean-Luc turned to his wife with his eyebrows raised. She spoke into the PADD and showed him. He smiled and nodded. “Well Marc Harcout please make sure we don’t…run into each other again, at least not like the last time.” The young man grinned and nodded. “Yes Captain…it’s been an honour to meet you.” Jean-Luc smiled and watched as the teen picked up his sled and left. He turned to his wife and asked, “What did he say?” Beverly chuckled and shook her head. “Nothing, just a little hero worship.” Jean-Luc frowned and inclined his head. “What?” Beverly sighed and grabbed his arm, guiding him down the street. “Come on we need coffee.” Jean-Luc was still trying to work it out ten minutes later.

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As they sipped their cappuccinos, Beverly noticed Jean-Luc was becoming withdrawn and jumpy. He kept glancing around nervously and sharply turning his head. The Doctor peered over the rim of her cup and frowned. With a gentle hand, she reached forward and touched his arm. He jumped and glared. She smiled her apology and enunciated, “What’s the matter?” Jean-Luc closed his eyes and gripped his cup in an obvious effort to calm down. He took a large breath and faced his wife. “I want to go back to the chateau.” Beverly’s confusion was clear. “But we’ve only just begun to…” He dismissed her words with a shake of his head. “I want to go back…now.” Carefully placing her cup on its saucer, the Doctor took his hand and waited until he looked at her. “Okay Jean-Luc, but why?” She was unprepared for the fear that settled in his eyes. “Because its not safe!”, he hissed. “For Christ’s sake I can’t hear! I feel like I’m vulnerable… exposed. Anything could happen and I won’t get any warning.” Beverly fished out the PADD and began to speak into it when Jean-Luc’s hand closed over the device and he leaned forward. “I don’t want to discuss it Beverly! I want to leave.” Deciding to acquiesce…for the moment, Beverly stood and nodded. “Very well.” Jean-Luc was on his feet immediately. He took his wife’s hand and led her quickly through the town and onto the lane that would take them home. Every few metres Jean-Luc would look over his shoulder and his eyes restlessly roamed their surroundings. Beverly eventually stopped, pulling him up short. She reached into her pocket and retrieved her communicator. Jean-Luc watched as she activated it. “Crusher to transport centre.” “Transport centre here.” “Three to beam from these coordinates to the home of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.” “Acknowledged. Standby.” Jean-Luc opened his mouth to speak when the disembodied voice spoke again. “Energising.” They rematerialised on the front lawn of the chateau. Jean-Luc looked warily around him and sighed. Beverly took his hand and together they went inside. While Beverly went to see to the baby, Jean-Luc went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. As the water heated he went upstairs to find Beverly changing their son and settling down to feed him. Massaging his troublesome shoulder, Jean-Luc went over to his wife and sat on the footstool, watching as their son greedily took his meal. Beverly’s gaze left the infant and drifted to her husband and she frowned at the worry on his face. With gentle fingers she touched his cheek and gained his attention. 153


“Tell me.” With a deep sigh, Jean-Luc lowered his head and studied his hands. His voice, when he spoke was deep and very soft. “I feel out of control Beverly.” She slipped her fingers under his chin and raised his head until he was looking at her. “It will get better.” He shook his head, anger clouding his eyes. “Dammit Beverly…I can’t hear! I can’t hear Jean-Jacques cry when he needs attention. I can’t hear your voice…I can’t…” Beverly placed her fingers on his mouth and let him see her love. She shifted in her seat and produced the PADD. Jean-Luc scowled at it and Beverly sighed. When he read her words he wanted to shout. “I know we will eventually get a donor Beverly, but what about the meantime? For God’s sake I’m handicapped. I’ve lost one of my senses and I can’t compensate.” Beverly spoke into the PADD softly and he read… ”What happened today was an accident Jean-Luc, but on top of everything else, it has proved too much for you. You must remember you’re still recovering both from your original injuries, and the more recent damage from the assault. Give yourself time my love…and know this. You are not alone.” The unsettled man lowered his head into his hands and sighed. Beverly gently rubbed his shoulder then squeezed the joint to gain his attention. He looked up and she smiled. “The kettle is singing.” With an, “Oh.” And a smile, the Captain left the room to make a pot of tea. Beverly smiled down at her son and shook her head. “I hope you don’t grow to be as stubborn as your father.” The baby simply snuffled against her breast, oblivious.

Over the next three days Jean-Luc slowly relaxed. Being at his boyhood home helped and with the unfailing attention of his wife and sister-in-law, he gradually eased into a comforting daily routine. Late one afternoon he was in the fields helping mulch the grapes when Beverly wandered up between the vines with somebody with her. Unnoticed by Jean-Luc, his concentration was on what he was doing. The Doctor gestured to her companion to wait while she approached her husband and gently settled her hand on his lower back. The Captain jumped but immediately recognised her touch and relaxed. He stood, turning with a gentle grin on his face, that was until he saw the visitor. His eyebrows rose and he shot his wife a questioning look. Beverly took the PADD out of her pocket and spent a few minutes talking into it. She offered it to her husband and he read,

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“Jean-Luc, do you remember Marc Harcout? He has come to the chateau to talk to you; apparently he’s interested in joining Starfleet. Would you like to talk to him?” The Captain pursed his lips and levelled his gaze on the lad, once again liking what he saw. With a soft grunt, he gave the PADD to Beverly and stepped up to the teenager, noting they were about the same height. “Well Mr.Harcourt, you want to join Starfleet?” Beverly gave Marc the PADD, having already explained its use. The lad lifted it and spoke. “Yes Captain. My grades have been good and I feel I have something to contribute.” Jean-Luc nodded and raised his eyes. “If you didn’t join Starfleet, what else would you like to do?” The Captain waited the necessary seconds before he read, “There’s nothing else I want to do Captain.” Jean-Luc folded his arms and raised his eyebrows as Beverly smiled her goodbye and returned to the house. He watched her go, a wistful smile on his face. Marc shifted nervously and Jean-Luc’s attention was brought back to the young man. With a rueful smile, Jean-Luc gestured for the lad to walk with him. “What does your family think? Have you discussed it with them?” Marc was silent for a while, his face a study in concentration. He eventually sighed and spoke into the PADD. “I do not have the support of my family Captain. My father wants me to join the family business.” Jean-Luc lowered his head and rubbed the tip of his nose, hopefully disguising his dismay. “And what business is that?” “Hover cars. My father, his brothers and their sons build hover cars. Father wants me to get into design and development.” “And you don’t want to.” With an emphatic shake of his head, Marc said, “No Sir!” Jean-Luc stopped and pushed his hands deep into his pockets. With a heartfelt sigh, he said softly, “Starfleet isn’t an easy life Marc. It’s difficult to get into and if you do get in, you have to work very hard for four long years to graduate…then you have to adjust to a life in space…a very dangerous life at that. It’s little wonder your parents aren’t happy.” Marc looked down at his feet and Jean-Luc could see his jaw flex. Remembering to face the Captain when he spoke, Marc lifted the PADD and said, “It doesn’t matter Captain, I’ve wanted to join Starfleet since I was little. If my parents won’t give me their blessing then I’ll go without it.” The teenager’s eyes glistened. “I have to Sir…it’s what I must do.” Jean-Luc laid a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder, his dark hazel eyes showing his understanding. “Come with me Marc, you can help me with the grapes while we talk.” As they strode towards an equipment shed, Marc said, “Captain, may I ask you something?” Jean-Luc read the offered PADD and nodded. “Yes.” 155


Taking a deep breath, Marc asked, “Sir why are you deaf? I’ve never read or heard anything about you being deaf and I’ve studied your career…you’re sort of a hero of mine.” Closing his eyes briefly, Jean-Luc sighed. “My wife and I were stranded on an uninhabited planet some time ago. Whilst there I became infected with an alien organism that damaged the structures of my ears.” “Are you completely deaf? Can you hear anything?” “I an totally deaf Marc, I can’t hear anything at all.” They walked along a few more metres before Marc again spoke into the PADD. “What can be done about it?” Jean-Luc stopped and ran a hand over his scalp. “I am waiting for a cadaver donor.” Marc frowned. “Cadaver donor?” The Captain rubbed his eyes and sighed. “I need a compatible donor Marc. Someone has to die for me to be able to hear again.” Marc blanched and his mouth made an ‘Oh’. Jean-Luc marched onward, the boy in tow. Upon reaching the shed, Jean-Luc went inside and started looking for some twine. Spotting what he wanted up on a high shelf, he scouted about for something to stand on and, finding nothing, grunted and hefted himself up onto the bench in an effort to reach the cone of twine. He teetered precariously but didn’t hear Marc’s warning. “Careful Captain, that bench isn’t too steady. Don’t step back too far.” Jean-Luc’s hands closed on the cone and he snorted with irritation. “Blast you Robert, why the hell aren’t these sheds kept tidy?” He brought the twine down to chest height and stepped back towards the edge. The old bench timbers splintered and gave way. Jean-Luc toppled backwards and collided with Marc, who made a desperate lunge to catch the older man. The Captain’s back hit the floor, knocking out all his wind. His sore shoulder bore a blow and he rolled onto his side, desperately trying to breathe. Marc dragged himself to his knees, grabbing Jean-Luc’s shoulder and shouting, “What’s wrong? What can I do?” By now turning red and groaning breathlessly, Jean-Luc suddenly heaved a stuttering breath and closed his eyes. Twice more he emptied and filled his lungs before he swallowed and opened his eyes. As his vision cleared he could see a frantic boy by his side painfully gripping his damaged shoulder. In a ragged voice Jean-Luc said, “I’m all right…help me up would you?” With Marc’s help he rose unsteadily to his feet and took several deep breaths. When he felt in control, he looked at the young man with a wry smile. “It never fails. When it comes to gravity…any challenge is going to end in pain.” Marc snorted and picked up the fallen PADD. “Are you all right Captain?” Jean-Luc nodded, rubbing his shoulder. “Yes lad. If you would be so kind as to escort me back to the house, my wife will see to my injuries, which I must say, are minor.” With a deep sigh of relief, Marc ushered the Captain through the door, but hesitated and looked over his shoulder. Jean-Luc stopped and asked, “What is it?” 156


Marc pointed to the cone of twine, lying on the floor. With a disgusted wave of his hand, JeanLuc said, “Leave the bloody thing! The workers can take care of the blasted vines…I was only making busywork for myself anyway.” Marc chuckled and together, the young man careful not to touch the Captain, walked slowly back to the house.

Beverly was in the kitchen with Marie helping to prepare dinner when the two men entered. The Doctor took one look at her husband and went to his side immediately, her fingers brushing his hand away from his shoulder. Looking at Marc she asked, “What happened?” “He fell off a bench in a shed.” Jean-Luc was attempting to escape Beverly’s questing hands but she gripped his arm and gained his attention. “Come with me.” He sighed in resignation and gave a look to Marc that spoke volumes. The teenager chuckled and Marie took him by the arm. “Come on young man, you can peel the potatoes.” Beverly ushered Jean-Luc upstairs and into their bedroom. She untucked his shirt and he got the message and took it off. Beverly retrieved her tricorder and walked around his back, tut tutting. He absently rubbed his shoulder and Beverly gently took his hand. Coming around to face him she shook her head. He smiled and tilted his head to see under her brow. “What’s the damage?” Enunciating clearly she said, “Bruising mostly…and some ligament damage.” She pointed at his shoulder and he grunted, nodding his understanding. The Doctor went to her med kit and returned with a regenerator. Jean-Luc felt the warmth of the instrument as it passed over his skin and sighed as the dull ache disappeared. Beverly paid particular attention to his shoulder and he closed his eyes in appreciation as the throbbing eased. When he next opened his eyes, his wife was standing in front of him with a PADD. “Want to tell me what happened?” He read and shrugged. “I got up on a bench in the south tool shed to get some twine. I stepped back and the wood gave way.” “You fell far?” He shook his head. “No not really. Marc took some of my fall. The worst of it was that I winded myself.” Beverly was about to ask further questions when Jean-Luc shook his head and closed a hand over the PADD. “No. I want to talk to you about Marc.” 157


Beverly’s eyebrows rose. ”Oh? Why?” The Captain slowly put his shirt on then sat on the bed. “He reminds me of myself.” Beverly smiled tenderly and sat beside him, taking his hand. “How?” Jean-Luc sighed. “He wants to join Starfleet but his father is against it. He wants Marc to join the family business.” Realisation dawned on Beverly’s face. “Oh I see.” Jean-Luc stared down at his hands and sighed. “I want to help him Beverly, but I don’t know how.” The Doctor spoke into the PADD then showed it to her husband. “Maybe it would be better if Marc worked this out on his own my love. His parents might not like any interference from you.” Jean-Luc growled and fisted his hands. “I don’t intend to interfere Beverly, I just want to help.” Beverly sighed and caressed his cheek. “Then talk to him Jean-Luc. Give him the benefit of your experience and knowledge.” The Captain nodded thoughtfully then watched as Beverly rose and went to the cradle. A grin grew on his face as Beverly brought their son to him and kissed the tip of his nose. “He needs changing. Your turn.” Jean-Luc was still chuckling as he approached the changing table. He stayed a while as Beverly fed their son then, with her urging, left them to return to Marc and Marie. He found them in the lounge, Marie showing Marc photos of a young Jean-Luc. “That’s enough of that Marie.” The Frenchwoman turned to see exasperated embarrassment on her brother-in-law’s face. With a gentle snicker, she placed the framed photo back on the mantle piece and smiled with understanding at the Captain. Looking into his face, she pointed to the door. “I’ll be in the kitchen. Jean-Luc smiled his comprehension then caught Marc’s eye, gesturing to the sofa. They sat and Marc fidgeted with the PADD, wanting to talk to Jean-Luc but not knowing how to start. Sensing the teenager’s dilemma, Jean-Luc grunted and pointed at the photos lining the mantle. “She always does that.” To Marc’s raised eyebrows, Jean-Luc sighed. “She always embarrasses me by showing people photos of me when I was young. I think it’s her way of telling me that despite my…reputation, I was once just an ordinary little boy growing up on a vineyard.” Marc chuckled and nodded knowingly. He spoke softly into the PADD and showed the results to his companion. “I know what you mean. My mother does it too, although it’s my opinion that it’s because I’m her youngest child and only son.” Jean-Luc bowed his head and pursed his lips. “That makes your decision that much harder doesn’t it?” Marc merely nodded. Jean-Luc sat back and crossed his legs. 158


“Marc I am familiar with what you’re going through and I know that the pursuit of your dream is probably the most important thing in your life right now, but there are some things you need to know…hopefully to avoid the pitfalls I experienced.” Marc’s look was one of intrigued curiosity. He said nothing and waited for Jean-Luc to continue. The Captain gathered his thoughts and briefly closed his eyes as painful memories flooded his mind. By force of will, he focussed himself and sighed. “My circumstances were very similar to yours. Ever since I was a small boy, I knew I wanted to go to the stars. As soon as my father and brother found out they did everything in their power to dissuade me…unfortunately that served only to make me more determined. Things grew progressively worse as my first attempt to enter the Academy came. When I failed they took that as proof, not only was I not good enough, I should give up my dream…and I very nearly did. My father’s insistence that I should bow to his wishes to carry on the family tradition with the vineyard was compelling and I dearly wanted his approval but the dream never left me. I applied again and was accepted the next year. My father and brother disdained me and when I left we were estranged. Marc I never mended the rift with my father and he died disillusioned and hurt by my actions. I will not tell you to give up your dream, but you must find a way to make your father see that what you choose to do is every bit as important as his expectations for you. Take it from me, the pain of unresolved angst with your father is a difficult thing to bear.” Marc’s eyes fell to the floor and he sighed deeply. There was silence for a while as both men considered Jean-Luc’s words and the Captain watched the teenager, sad for his dilemma. Eventually Marc sat up and rubbed his hand over his head. “I understand what you’re saying Sir, but how do I make him understand?” Jean-Luc read the words and shrugged. “I don’t know Marc, but it is imperative that you do.” The young man stood and went to the fireplace, his eyes wandering over the family photos. He was smiling when he turned to his hero. “You were a cute kid.” Jean-Luc didn’t hear the words but he made an accurate guess. With a grunt and a scowl, he folded his arms and tilted his head. “What are you going to do?” The amusement left Marc’s face and he sighed, shrugging. “I don’t know.” He moved back to the sofa and plonked down, the weight of the world on his shoulders. JeanLuc was about to offer some sympathy when Marc suddenly sat up. He turned to the Captain, his eyes bright and sparkling. He picked up the PADD and spoke excitedly. What Jean-Luc read caused him dismay. “Would you come and speak to my father?” The Captain started to shake his head when Marc gently gripped his arm. The teenager looked into Jean-Luc’s eyes, pleading with him. “Please Captain Picard, it would mean everything to me…it might just make the difference.” Jean-Luc ran a hand over his scalp, his face pained. “Marc I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to…” The young man shook his head, his grip on Jean-Luc’s arm tightening. “Yes it would!” Marc quickly spoke into the PADD and gave it to Jean-Luc.

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“You would be the perfect person to speak to my father…you’re Captain Jean-Luc Picard! He would have to listen to you.” Still shaking his head, Jean-Luc still attempted to dissuade his young friend. “Marc…” The teenager stood and lifted his arms. “You could explain what happened to you and…” Jean-Luc pointed to the PADD, his eyebrows raised. Marc grunted and spoke into it quickly. When Jean-Luc read his stomach soured. “You could tell my father what happened to you. He will see that his objections will only serve to cause trouble between us. Please Captain, you must talk to him…I beg you…please…” Jean-Luc closed his eyes and gently laid the PADD on the sofa. Marc waited breathlessly and pumped the air when Jean-Luc lifted his hands in defeat. “Very well.” Before Marc could thank him however, Jean-Luc held up his hand. “There is one condition.” The teenager sat, his attention absolute. “I want to wait until I can hear again Marc. I don’t want to do it like this.” He gestured to the PADD and Marc nodded his comprehension. “That’s okay sir, I understand.” Beverly entered the room carrying the bassinette and a blanket. Marc stood and offered Jean-Luc his hand. “I should go. Thank you Captain.” Jean-Luc rose to his feet and shook the offered hand. Marc’s step was light as he left and Beverly watched as Jean-Luc’s smile faded. She spread the blanket on the floor then took their son from his bassinette and laid him on the soft covering. Kneeling beside the baby, she waited until JeanLuc turned to her. His smile returned and he joined his family on the floor. Beverly reached over to the sofa and picked up the PADD. She spoke then Jean-Luc read. “What happened?” The Captain sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I think I shot myself in the foot.” Beverly’s eyebrows rose and she mouthed, “How?” Jean-Luc absently encouraged his son to take his finger and watched silently as the baby waved his arms about. Beverly waited patiently, her curiosity piqued. With a snort, Jean-Luc shook his head. “I must me absolutely insane, but I’ve agreed, once I can hear again, to talk to Marc’s father.” Beverly’s smile was tender. “You really do want to help.” Jean-Luc read the words and nodded. “Yes. If I can prevent for that young man what I went through…well you know.” Beverly’s hand lifted and caressed her husband’s face. “You’re a wonderful man Jean-Luc Picard.” He didn’t need to read that and he flushed, tickling Jean-Jacque’s stomach. “As long as our son knows he can do whatever he wishes with his life and we’ll support him in his choices. It’s just so important Beverly.”

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Beverly leaned over and kissed her husband, imparting her love and devotion. She pulled back and took his face in her hands, enunciating clearly. “Our son is a very lucky boy to have you as his father.” Jean-Luc smiled and returned the kiss. “I love you Beverly.” “And I you.”

Later that evening, after dinner, Jean-Luc, Beverly and Marie were in the lounge reading and listening to soft music. The baby was asleep in the bassinette and the house was warm and quiet. Out of the corner of his eye, Jean-Luc saw both his wife and sister-in-law lift their heads at the same time, obviously hearing something. As their eyes were directed towards the door, the Captain surmised his son wasn’t the source of the noise. With a smile at Beverly and a gentle wave of her hand, Marie rose and left the room. Jean-Luc closed his book over his finger to mark the page and called softly, “What is it?” Gesturing with her hands, Beverly replied, “Communication system.” Jean-Luc nodded his understanding and was about to resume reading when Marie returned and went to his side. He looked up at her and she pointed to the door. “It’s for you.” Jean-Luc cast Beverly a look and stood, placing his book on his seat. He faced the smaller woman and asked, “Who is it?” Careful to enunciate clearly, she replied, “Starfleet Command.” Eyebrows raised in surprise, Jean-Luc again looked at his wife, his curiosity obvious. “I wonder what they want?” Beverly stood and shrugged. With an answering shrug, Jean-Luc thanked Marie and left the room for the study. He entered the room, closed the door and sat at the desk, facing the activated monitor. Before he entered his security code, he entered some commands into the computer, directing it to display all incoming speech as text. Once the system had accepted his code, the screen instantly revealed an old friend. Jean-Luc’s smile was warm and delighted. “Charles! To what do I owe the pleasure?” Admiral Charles De Salvo was a small man about Jean-Luc’s age. His overly large head gave him an odd appearance but his bright blue eyes held innate intelligence that drew one’s gaze. With a genuine grin of his own, the Admiral chuckled. “Jean-Luc Picard you old reprobate! How the hell are you? I hear you’ve been in a spot of bother…again.” Jean-Luc’s grin broadened and he shook his head. “There is a modicum of truth in that.” 161


The smaller man sat back and drilled Jean-Luc with a piercing gaze. “Rumour has it you crashed your Captain’s yacht.” Jean-Luc shrugged in a very Gallic fashion, his palms upraised in front of him. “What can I say? If our sensors can’t detect a cosmic string until we actually run into the bloody thing…that’s hardly my fault!” The Admiral lowered his head and softly groaned. “Yes but another ship trashed? You’re gaining a reputation my friend.” The Captain snorted and tilted his head, folding his arms across his chest. “What are you telling me…that I’m no longer eligible for a no claim bonus on the insurance?” Charles hooted and covered his eyes with his hand. “Oh God…you’re never going to let me forget that are you.” Jean-Luc kept his face deadpan and his voice low. “Well it was your hover car in the foyer of the Academy administration building and you were driving it at the time…” The Admiral held up his hands and shook his head. “All right! Enough, you’ve made your point, you win.” Jean-Luc’s quiet chuckle made his friend smile. Stroking his lower lip, Jean-Luc’s look became speculative. “While you know I enjoy talking with you Charles…why now? It’s twenty one seventeen and you should be at home with Emma.” The smaller man’s face fell and he sighed. “You always could see right through my bluff. It’s the Pran Jean-Luc. They’re making trouble over the team we want to send to reinvestigate the allegations they made against you.” Jean-Luc pursed his lips, his dark eyes glittering. “And what, precisely, is the crux of their objections?” Charles closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “They want you there.” “Why?” “Ostensibly so they can try you should the investigations prove inconclusive.” Jean-Luc unfolded his arms and laid his hands on the desktop. He took a steadying breath and asked softly, “And what is Command’s view?” The Admiral shrugged. “Starfleet Command is doing its level best to put them off. We’ve explained your present difficulties, made them aware that you’re on an extended leave and even reminded them of the assault the Regent perpetrated, but they’re digging their heels in. It may well come down to expediency my friend. You know as well as I how important the Harminn system is to us. If push comes to shove, you might be thrown to the wolves in the name of peace.” Jean-Luc sat absolutely still, his face revealing nothing, only his darkened eyes showed his anger. “I see. Very well I will await the outcome.” The Admiral rubbed his face and tried to lighten the mood. “I hear you’re a father. Congratulations my friend.” Still resolutely stoic, Jean-Luc nodded once, curtly. “Thank you. I only hope my son still has a father in the near future. Picard out.”

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For the third time in as many minutes, Beverly lifted her head and stared at the door. It had been over half and hour since Jean-Luc had left to take the com call and she was beginning to worry. Marie watched her new friend with a mixture of amusement and concern. Finally the Frenchwoman could stand it no longer. In a soft voice she said, “Go to him mon chere.” Beverly’s piercing blue eyes settled on the smaller woman as she debated the wisdom of the advice. A small smile appeared and the Doctor closed her book and rose. She picked up the PADD and nodded her thanks before slowly exiting the room. The door to the study was closed and Beverly knew it was pointless knocking so she opened the door and stepped in. Jean-Luc was seated at the desk, his shoulders slumped, his elbows on the desktop and his head in his hands. Careful not to startle her husband, Beverly went to him and gently placed her hands on his back. He jumped anyway and lifted his head, taking a deep breath. He felt one of her hands leave his back and seconds later the PADD appeared in his line of sight. “What has happened my love?” In reply he closed his eyes, lowered his head and shook it slowly. Now alarmed, Beverly wanted to know more, but she knew that there was times when Jean-Luc was unable to discuss things with her as a matter of security. Needing to know what was wrong, she again used the PADD and showed it to him. “Can you talk about it?” His reaction surprised her. Standing abruptly, Jean-Luc attempted to step past her but her hand shot out and grabbed his arm. His glare was glacier-like but Beverly was unmoved. She returned the glare and enunciated, “Tell me!” His anger melted quickly when he saw the anger and fear in her eyes. Taking her hands, he softly cleared his throat and told her what the Admiral had said. Beverly’s first reaction was to laugh outright. “That’s absurd! Of course you won’t go…what do they think you are…mad?” Jean-Luc swallowed and kept his face neutral. “It’s a little more complicated than that my love. You know how tenuous the peace is in the Harminn system and you must be aware how desperately the Federation wants to be seen in a kind light by the worlds of that system. If it means sacrificing one man to soothe troubled waters, they’ll do it.” Beverly pulled away from his grasp and stalked around the small room, absently slapping her thigh with the PADD. She stopped abruptly and whirled around to face her husband. “Resign! They can’t order you then.” Successfully lip-reading her words, Jean-Luc smiled ruefully. “I’m afraid that won’t work. They’ll simply refuse to accept my resignation.” Beverly threw her hands in the air in exasperation. “There must be something we can do?” 163


Jean-Luc smiled and went to his wife, taking her into his arms and holding her close. “Command is doing everything in their power to make the Pran change their minds. We just have to hope they’re successful.” They stood holding each other for several minutes and when they parted Beverly grabbed her husband’s shoulders and looked deeply into his hazel eyes. “If you go my love, we go with you.” Jean-Luc began to shake his head but Beverly gently shook him. She picked up the PADD and spoke softly into it, then gave it to her husband. “Jean-Luc we waited so long to be together and now we’re a family. I will not let you go alone to face a very uncertain future. If you go, we go together, all three of us…or not at all.” As Jean-Luc stared into his wife’s eyes he could see her determination. With a sigh he closed his eyes and lowered his head. “Very well.” He felt her fingers under his chin and he lifted his head to see her face graced with a tender smile. “Good. Now come to bed.” He nodded and reached down to take her hand. Together they left the study to gather their son and retire for the night.

Over the next four days not much happened. Starfleet Medical contacted Jean-Luc for some information, which he supplied, and Beverly continued his treatment with twice daily injections. Late one night the Captain came out of the bathroom to see his wife settling their son in his cradle. With nothing but a towel around his waist, Beverly’s eyes wandered over his body as he approached, admiring his trim muscular form. Jean-Luc peered into the cradle and smiled at seeing his son cuddled up to a small soft teddy bear, one that he himself had had at a similar age. He braced his hands either side of the cradle and sighed with contentment. Beverly stood behind him and eased her hands around his waist, threading her fingers into the hair of his torso. His response was mellifluous. “Mmm.” She leaned forward and nuzzled his neck. Jean-Luc straightened and allowed his wife’s hands to wander over his chest and abdomen. When her hands dipped lower, he grabbed them and turned in her embrace. “Do you think that’s wise?” The Doctor’s sultry smile made his eyes darken. Instead of vocalising her answer, she kissed him passionately. He resisted the kiss at first but his hands moved of their own volition and soon he was crushing her body to his and deepening the kiss, taking it over and possessing her. Beverly moaned softly into his mouth and, although he didn’t hear it, he felt it and it sent a thrill through his body. His erection slowly grew and he found himself hoping fervently that he would be hard enough to make love to his wife as he wanted to.

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He broke the kiss and took her hand, leading her to the bed. In one swift move he peeled her nightie off and bent to take a hard nipple into his mouth. Beverly arched into his caress and gasped as his hands drifted over her body, one hand easing between her legs and teasing her gently. As her desire grew, Beverly’s hands travelled over her husband, taking the towel and removing it. Her elegant hands gripped his penis and stroked him, encouraging him to harden further. JeanLuc lifted his head and kissed his way up Beverly’s chest to her neck, then to her face. With gentle pressure he eased her onto the bed and manoeuvred her until she was comfortably settled, her head on the pillows. He then knelt between her legs and ran his hands in feather-like caresses over her breasts and stomach. When he bent to kiss her intimately, Beverly arched to him and gently gripped his head, guiding him to her centre. He teased her folds with his tongue, opening her labia and flicking her clitoris continually. Beverly shuddered and writhed in silence and when he slid two fingers inside her she lifted her hips off the bed and pulled him closer to her. The climax, when it came, took them both by surprise. Beverly flexed and spasmed, Jean-Luc feeling her muscles grip his fingers rhythmically. With his own desire reaching huge proportions, he sat up and stroked himself, praying he was hard enough to penetrate her. Although harder than before he still wasn’t fully erect. Nevertheless, he covered her body with his and she wrapped her legs around his waist, silently begging for his entry. He obliged and, with a little care, managed to slide into her with a groan of delight and thankfulness. He started to move, gently and carefully. Beverly understood his difficulty and helped by meeting his tentative thrusts with thrusts of her own. Jean-Luc rose up on his arms and bent his head to suck and nibble her nipples. Beverly moaned softly and cradled his head, her body slowly ascending to ecstasy. The Captain eased onto his elbows and insinuated one hand between their bodies, seeking and finding her swollen clitoris. He stroked the pearl in time with their thrusts and Beverly threw her head back, her body consumed with the liquid flame of exquisite sensation. Her orgasm engulfed her and she writhed under him, her fingernails marking his broad back. Undaunted, Jean-Luc kept going, both with his thrusts and his diligent fingers. Another climax surged through his wife and she bit her lip to contain her cry of liberation. Jean-Luc slowly stilled then lifted his hips, slipping out of her. He rolled to his side and took Beverly into his arms, stroking her hair and kissing her tenderly. It took several moments before Beverly recovered enough to realise Jean-Luc hadn’t climaxed. She rose up on her elbow and kissed him while her hand slid down his body to tease his penis. His hand closed over hers and his deep voice rumbled softly in the darkness. “It’s all right my love.” Beverly shook her head and kissed him again, brushing his hand and away and redoubling her efforts. His erection slowly grew but he still couldn’t attain full hardness. With a determined smile, Beverly kissed her way down his body and ran her tongue up the underside of his penis. Her hand gently massaged his testicles and her smile widened as she heard him sigh felt him roll onto his back. As a Doctor, Beverly knew he was hard enough to achieve an orgasm; she just had to coax him into it. She glanced up at him and, in the dim light, she saw him, with his eyes closed and his mouth open. Using her medical knowledge, she eased two fingers behind his scrotum and pushed her knuckles up into the reactive nerve bundle between the anus and scrotum. Jean-Luc’s hips lifted and he thrust into her mouth.

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A well endowed man, normally she couldn’t take all of him into her mouth, but in his semi hard state she was able to engulf him completely. It took time and patience but when he did orgasm, Beverly felt happily triumphant. It was a small climax but something Jean-Luc needed. He softened quickly and Beverly crept up his body, kissing and lapping at the sweat-dampened skin. When her lips met his they shared a languid kiss before parting to lie in each other’s arms. As Beverly was falling asleep, Jean-Luc muttered, “Merci mon coeur.” The Doctor sighed and snuggled closer, murmuring sleepily, “You’re welcome.”

Two days later another call came from Command. Jean-Luc and Beverly were out in the garden, enjoying some early spring sunshine when Marie found them. Saddened at having to disturb their happiness, she approached and tapped her brother-in-law on the shoulder and pointed to the house. “You have a call.” Jean-Luc nodded and raised an enquiring eyebrow. Marie mouthed, “Command.” The Captain’s eyes sought Beverly’s and they shared a long look. Beverly nestled their son against her shoulder as she bent to pick up a bag and she sighed as she then joined her husband. He took the bag and Beverly linked her free arm with his. Together they walked up to the house. The screen glowed with the Starfleet insignia and Jean-Luc sat, Beverly standing beside him. He entered his security code and the face of Admiral Charles De Salvo appeared. One look at his face told Jean-Luc the news was bad. Without preamble Jean-Luc said quietly, “Tell me Charles.” The Admiral sighed and lowered his eyes. “It’s official Jean-Luc. You’re to leave for Pran tomorrow morning. The Excelsior will take you. A shuttle will pick you up at oh eight thirty.” Jean-Luc eyes darkened and his face settled into his command visage. “I want it known that this is undertaken under my explicit objections.” “So noted.” “And that I insist my wife and child travel with me.” The Admiral’s head shot up, his eyes wide with surprise. “What?” “You heard me. If my family can’t go with me I will refuse to comply. I will take legal action to protect my rights as a Federation citizen.” De Salvo’s face reddened and he spluttered, “You are under orders Captain! Your compliance is not a matter of negotiation. You will obey.” Jean-Luc took a deep breath and stood his ground.

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“With all due respect Sir, I am being asked to submit to an unaligned alien judicial process, the outcome of which may well mean incarceration or capital punishment. Again, with respect Admiral, Starfleet cannot order me to comply. I am a Federation citizen and I have a right to fair and unbiased legal proceedings, something which is not guaranteed in my current situation.” The two men stared at each other until the Admiral sat back and huffed. “But you will go if your family goes with you.” “Yes Sir.” There was a tense silence before De Salvo grunted. “Very well Captain. I will contact the Excelsior to make the appropriate arrangements. De Salvo out.” Jean-Luc sat back, his shoulders slumping. Beverly gently turned his head and looked into his eyes. “We’ll be all right my love.” The Captain closed his eyes and whispered, “Oh God Beverly…I hope so.”

Captain Reynard Steiner stood in the Shuttle Bay of the Excelsior, somewhat nervous. Comparatively young for a Starfleet Captain, Steiner had never met Captain Picard, although he was well aware of Jean-Luc’s formidable reputation. Chewing his lip thoughtfully, he leaned to his Exec and said sotto voce, “Do you think he’ll want a tour of the ship?” Catherine Harding, Steiner’s First Officer shrugged. “I don’t see why. He commands a Sovereign class…we’re small potatoes compared with that leviathan.” Nodding and tucking his chin in, Steiner tensed when the duty ensign said quietly, “The shuttle is ready to enter the bay Sir.” “Very well.” An alarm sounded as the blast doors opened revealing the shuttle. It eased through the force field and settled with little fuss on the deck. The aft hatch opened and the pilot emerged, followed by Beverly and Jean-Luc, the Doctor carrying a portable bassinette. Steiner stepped forward, his hand extended. “Welcome aboard Captain Picard.” Intimately versed in such protocol, Jean-Luc had little trouble interpreting Steiner’s welcome. He shook the proffered hand and summoned a warm smile. “Thank you Captain. May I introduce my wife, Doctor Beverly Crusher and in the bassinette, our son, Jean-Jacques.” Steiner dutifully smiled and nodded at Beverly and had the good grace to make the mandatory gesture of looking in the baby basket. He straightened and introduced his Exec then asked, “Would you like a tour of the ship Captain?” Jean-Luc frowned but guessed correctly. “No thank you Captain. If we could be shown to our quarters? We have some study to catch up on.” Captain Steiner stepped back and gestured to the door. “Of course Captain, please, follow me.” 167


After a five-minute walk through the ship, they arrived at their quarters. “These are our main guest quarters. I hope you will be comfortable here.” Jean-Luc frowned and Beverly, seeing his difficulty, stepped forward and said, “I’m sure it’ll be fine Captain, thank you.” Steiner sensed something was amiss and raised his eyebrows. Beverly bowed her head then turned to her husband, catching his eye. “You go inside, I’ll join you shortly.” Jean-Luc didn’t completely understand what she’d said, but he felt he knew what she meant. He nodded once then entered the cabin. Beverly waited until the doors had closed before addressing Steiner. “Captain my husband is at a significant disadvantage at the moment. He is completely deaf and, although we hope to remedy that situation soon, at present he can only communicate with the aid of formatted PADDs. If you wish to talk to him, please use a PADD so he can read what you say.” Steiner’s deep frown relayed his concern. “I’m sorry Doctor…I had no idea. May I ask…how long has he been like this?” Beverly sighed and tucked a strand of hair behind her left ear. “About a month. We were marooned on a distant planet and the Captain’s ears were infected by an alien organism that destroyed some structures and nerves in his ears.” Captain Steiner crossed his arms and blew out his cheeks. “I’ll be damned. Can it be treated?” “We think so. We are waiting for a compatible donor for an organ transplant.” Steiner rubbed his chin and looked directly into Beverly’s clear blue eyes. “I’ve read the mission brief concerning Captain Picard. This is going to make things considerably harder for him on Pran.” Beverly sighed fatalistically. “I know.” Seeing the distress in her eyes, Steiner placed a hand on her shoulder and gently squeezed. “Starfleet has sent a law specialist along with the investigative team…they’re travelling with us. At the moment she’s studying Pran law and when she’s ready, she’ll be visiting you both to outline the Captain’s defence options. In the mean time, feel free to use any of the ship’s facilities. The Excelsior isn’t a Sovereign class, but we do have some recreational decks and two holo suites.” Beverly summoned a warm smile and picked up the bassinette. “Thank you Captain.” Steiner watched as Beverly entered the cabin then left for the bridge, deep in thought.

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Jean-Luc closed his eyes in appreciation as he sipped his Earl Grey tea. He was seated in an easy chair, Jean-Jacques resting on his chest. The baby had been fed and was attempting to stuff his fist into his mouth, amusing his father who watched with indulgent pride. Beverly had told him what she’d discussed with Steiner and Jean-Luc had nodded before withdrawing to brood. Beverly understood his mood and sought to bring him out of his brown study. After she’d fed and burped the baby, she stood and, without warning, gently deposited the infant on his father’s chest. It took mere minutes for Jean-Luc’s mood to lighten. Seated opposite on a sofa, Beverly kept her head lowered as she pretended to read a book, but she watched her husband through her lashes, suppressing a smile as the Captain lifted a hand and tenderly stroked his son’s downy brown hair. He suddenly looked up, catching Beverly and spearing her with his intense gaze. His eyes softened and he smiled. “He is so perfect.” Beverly returned her husband’s smile and nodded, rising to settle on the arm of his chair. “Yes he is.” “His eyes are still dark. Will they change?” Beverly leaned over and picked up a PADD, speaking into the device. “Probably, but my guess is they’ll be more like yours than mine.” Having read the words, Jean-Luc chuckled and feathered his fingers through the little boy’s hair. “Just so long as he has your hair line.” By way of a reply, Beverly gently ran her fingers over Jean-Luc’s scalp, causing him to sigh deeply and close his eyes. His voice dropped, deep and soft. “I love it when you do that.” Beverly lifted her husband’s chin and kissed him with tenderness and care. Jean-Luc placed one hand on his son’s back and returned the kiss, chuckling when Jean-Jacques gurgled loudly. Beverly snorted and broke the kiss, her eyes sparkling with love. She lifted the PADD and spoke. “Why don’t I put the baby in the bassinette and then order lunch. You can set the table.” Jean-Luc nodded as he read then watched as Beverly put her suggestion into practice. Ten minutes later they were happily eating.

For the next two days nothing much happened. They were largely left alone, with Steiner the occasional visitor. The couple were content to stay in their quarters, relaxing, reading and spending time with their son. Early in the morning of the third day of their ten-day voyage, Jean-Luc slowly rose from a deep sleep, coming half awake and sensing the warm body of his wife spooned into his body. Still in a dream-like state, he pressed himself against her back, rubbing his erection firmly against her buttocks. With his eyes closed he nuzzled her neck and sighed, infusing his senses with her unique scent. Suddenly his eyes snapped open and he stiffened. He frowned then a smile appeared, his eyes closing as he sighed. He had a real erection, hard and rigid. He reopened his eyes and gently 169


lifted his head to peer at his wife, sleeping peacefully beside him. With slow deliberate moves, he pushed his shorts down and worked them off. He then gathered the material of Beverly’s nightie and carefully drew it up her body until it was bunched under her arm. The Doctor frowned slightly and moved restlessly before she settled again. Jean-Luc rested his head on the pillow and moved closer to Beverly clenching his teeth as his hot, stiff penis made contact with the warm skin of Beverly’s lower back. With most of their lower bodies in contact, Jean-Luc placed his hand on Beverly’s hip and slowly trailed his fingers up her side until he met her breasts. He cupped one breast and teased the nipple as he lifted his head and softly tongued the area below her ear. Beverly’s mouth opened and she softly moaned, her back arching as she pushed herself back into her husband. Jean-Luc continued to tease the breast in his hand while rhythmically pressing himself against her. He knew when she tensed that she’d woken. He encouraged her to lift her shoulders, allowing him to slip his free arm under her. With two hands he upped his sensuous assault. The lower hand began to tease the other breast as the upper hand drifted down her body to dally in the curls between her legs. Beverly mewed softly and opened her legs, gasping softly as Jean-Luc gently bit her shoulder while his questing fingers parted her labia and stroked the length of her folds. One of Beverly’s hands slid down her body to join his, her fingers covering his and guiding him as he pleasured her. When he slipped two fingers inside her, she arched into him and bit her lip. He slid his fingers in and out of her slowly, matching the rhythm of the fingers that gently pinched her nipple. Beverly moaned deeply, her fingers feathering over her swelling clitoris. Jean-Luc withdrew his fingers briefly to spread her moisture over her bud before re-entering her and employing his thumb in tantalising her clit. Beverly stopped her hand and gasped, gripping his wrist tightly. Jean-Luc adjusted his hips until his large erection slipped between her thighs and slid over her slick folds. Beverly’s first climax welled up in her with sudden strength. She drew a deep breath and held it as her body went completely rigid with ecstasy. Jean-Luc slowly stilled his actions and waited as she recovered. Then he gently pushed her onto her stomach and parted her legs. He rose and knelt behind her, using his large hands to grip her hips and lift her until she was kneeling, her upper body pressed onto the mattress. He draped himself over her and kissed her neck as his knowing hands teased and tantalised her wet sex. Beverly responded eagerly, pushing back into him and moaning loudly when she felt his throbbing penis slide through her labia. Jean-Luc lowered his gaze and took his penis in his hand, guiding it to her entrance. He placed the head just inside her and stared open-mouthed as he pushed forward and watched himself disappear inside his wife’s tight hot depths. When he was fully embedded he leaned forward and gently coaxed Beverly to raise her upper body. She complied and turned her head, earning a kiss and an endearment in a soft deep baritone. “I love you Beverly.” She was about to reply when Jean-Luc withdrew, then thrust deeply back into her. Beverly’s hands fisted in the sheets and she bit her lip to prevent crying out. One of her husband’s hands went to her breasts, the other to her clitoris. He set a slow tempo, drawing out his strokes and pushing in to maximum depth. After several minutes of this exquisite torture, Beverly began to tremble, her internal muscles clenching in anticipation. Jean-Luc, keenly aware of his wife’s responses, thrust harder and increased the pressure of his intimate caress. Beverly’s head snapped up and her back bowed as her second climax transported her to bliss. Jean-Luc pushed deeply into her and stilled, gritting his teeth and striving for control as his wife contracted around him. As her breathing regained a more normal rhythm, Jean-Luc watched as her head lowered and her body relaxed. He withdrew slowly, causing Beverly to whimper softly… 170


“No…” He gently caressed her skin and said softly, “Turn over onto your back.” Within seconds Beverly was lying on the bed, looking up at her husband, kneeling between her parted legs. His dark eyes wandered over her body, the passion and love clearly showing in their clear hazel depths. As his gaze descended to her glistening sex, he smiled and drew a deep breath, her intimate scent infusing his senses. One of his hands lifted to slowly stroke himself as the other spread her labia and slipped two fingers inside her. Beverly moaned and lifted her hips but her eyes never left her husband’s face. His concentration was absolute, totally engrossed in what he was doing. When his broad thumb slid over her clitoris, Beverly’s breath hissed between her teeth. Jean-Luc let go of his penis and leaned forward, placing his hand on the mattress. With his eyes riveted on the scene before him, he slid the head of his penis over Beverly’s pearl as his fingers continued to slide inside her. Beverly’s hands gripped the bedclothes and she pressed her heels into the bedding, bending her knees and lifting her hips in a wanton invitation. Jean-Luc lifted his gaze to her face and slowly withdrew his fingers. Beverly’s blue eyes smouldered with desire and her voice was low and sultry. She enunciated clearly. “I want you inside me.” Jean-Luc’s eyes darkened and he bent down, kissing his wife passionately as he entered her in one powerful thrust. Beverly gasped into his mouth as her body flexed and her legs wrapped around his waist. She was so tight, hot and wet that Jean-Luc struggled to keep control. Beverly saw his difficulty and broke the kiss, taking his ear lobe between her teeth and biting. Jean-Luc’s body responded immediately. He rose up on his arms and began to thrust hard and fast, his eyes screwed shut. Beverly matched his punishing tempo, meeting his deep thrusts with thrusts of her own. She felt her approaching orgasm and gripped his upper arms tightly, writhing and shuddering beneath him. Jean-Luc’s universe narrowed down to nothing but the sensations he felt. Suddenly his orgasm was upon him and he fell forward, grabbing his wife and pulling her to him as he bit her shoulder and ejaculated deep within her. He was dimly aware of Beverly’s strangled cry as she came, the vibrations trembling through her throat. Her milking contractions heightening his ecstasy. Panting raggedly, Jean-Luc rested his brow on Beverly’s shoulder; his body relaxing as his wife’s elegant hands softly caressed his back. His eyes closed and he sleepily kissed her neck, murmuring deeply, “Oh God…how I love thee.” “Sleep my love, I’ve got you.” Her words were lost to him, but he felt their vibrations in her throat and smiled contentedly. As he slipped into slumber Beverly sighed and wrapped him in her arms, whispering, “I’ve got you my love.”

171


The couple were seated at the dining table, lingering over their second breakfast coffee when the door chimed. Jean-Luc saw Beverly’s head turn to the door and watched her mouth as she called, “Come in.” A female Commander entered, carrying a PADD. She walked over to the table and inclined her head. “Good morning Captain Picard, Doctor Crusher. I am Commander Claire Hain and I’ve been assigned to study the legal system of the Pran.” Beverly smiled and gestured to the spare seat. “Sit down Commander…would you like a coffee?” The attractive woman nodded, her short greying hair catching the light in silvery streaks. Beverly poured a coffee for their guest then spent a moment speaking into a PADD before presenting it to her husband. Jean-Luc read and nodded his acknowledgement. Returning her attention to the visitor, Beverly sipped her drink and asked, “What have you discovered?” The Commander sighed and frowned. “I’m afraid the judicial system of the Pran is both archaic and brutal. There are several fundamental differences between our systems but I suppose the most pertinent is that the presumption of guilt is with the accused. In essence, one is presumed guilty until proven innocent.” Beverly relayed this to her husband and Jean-Luc scowled. “Bloody marvellous! Tell me Commander, how will I be represented? Will it be by you or one of their advocates?” Claire closed her eyes briefly and sighed. “One of the conditions the Pran insisted upon in allowing the investigative team access to their records, was that we not interfere in their legal process. Their legal system is hierarchical, the most startling feature being the absolute power of the Regent in every aspect of the system. The Regent appoints all officers, both for the prosecution and the defence and maintains the right to overturn any decision made by the court.” The Commander patiently waited as Beverly relayed the information to Jean-Luc. He grunted and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “This is nothing more than a kangaroo court!” Claire sat forward and held Beverly’s gaze. “We may be jumping the gun here. There’s every possibility that the Captain will be exonerated.” Jean-Luc read the PADD and shook his head. “I disagree Commander. The Pran Regent has his own agenda…he’s not going to assist the team, in fact he’s going to do everything in his power to hinder the investigation. His honour…his family has been besmirched and he’s decided I’m to blame. The only way he can restore his family’s honour is to punish me.” Beverly clasped her hands in her lap and asked quietly, “What is the punishment for this…crime?” With a grimace, Claire bowed her head. She was about to speak when Jean-Luc’s deep voice made her stop. 172


“Commander I would appreciate it if you would look at me when you speak.” Realising her mistake, Claire lifted her head and offered her contrition. “My apologies Captain.” Keeping her steady gaze on the Captain she answered Beverly’s question. “I’m afraid the punishment is…rather gruesome. The victim is strung up, the genitals are removed then disembowelment takes place…and this is done very carefully, the incision only deep enough to allow the entrails to fall free, and the victim is left for some time in agony. At this point doctors are used to keep the victim alive. After a suitable time the Regent, who has been required to witness the entire proceeding, takes a ceremonial dagger and kills the victim with a stab to the heart. Later, the heart is removed and presented to the accused victim, with the severed genitals, as proof of the accused death.” When Beverly made no move to enlighten Jean-Luc as what had been said, he gently gripped her forearm and said softly, “Beverly?” The Doctor shook her head and stood, going to the viewport and staring out at the elongated prismatic stars. Jean-Luc dragged his eyes away from his wife, knowing something was very wrong. He focussed on the Commander and pointed to her PADD. “Tell me what you just said.” Claire frowned and reluctantly picked up the PADD. Several minutes later Jean-Luc closed his eyes and let out a long breath. “Dear God.” Claire lifted the device and spoke again then handed the PADD to the Captain. “One more thing Captain. While the team conducts their investigation you will be required to stay in the central jail.” Jean-Luc read and glared in outrage. “I’m to be incarcerated without charge?” The Commander nodded uncomfortably. “I’m afraid so Sir.” Jean-Luc threw the PADD down onto the table and stood, his anger palpable. “I suppose this was also one of their conditions?” Claire could only nod. “Aye Sir.” There were several moments of silence before Jean-Luc again spoke. “Is there anything else Commander?” The petite woman stood and shook her head. “No Captain.” Jean-Luc summoned a wan smile and nodded. “Very well, you’re dismissed. Thank you for your efforts, we appreciate it.” Jean-Luc waited until the woman had gone before he went to his wife, standing close behind her and wrapping her in his embrace. In silence they contemplated the stars.

173


The Excelsior entered orbit around Pran at oh ten fourteen. Jean-Luc, Beverly and the baby were escorted to the starboard lounge to await the Pran law officers. Captain Steiner had replicated some hot drinks and was discussing the upcoming investigation with Beverly when the delegation arrived. Accompanied by four Starfleet security personnel, three Pran officers entered and came to attention in front of Jean-Luc. One held an orange garment, another an assortment of chains, a belt and manacles. Jean-Luc’s eyes travelled over the items and he raised an eyebrow. His voice was incredulous. “Surely you don’t expect me to…” The senior Pran officer said brusquely, “Captain Jean-Luc Picard you are hereby declared persona-non-grata. You will remove your uniform and put this on.” The tall Pran shoved the orange garment at the Captain and he looked at Beverly in confusion. “What?” The Doctor spoke quickly into her PADD and allowed Jean-Luc the time to read. His brow furrowed and she shook his head. “Persona-non-grata? But I am a Federation citizen! You cannot…” The disruptor appeared so quickly no one had a chance to react. Aimed at Jean-Luc’s chest, the Pran’s voice was deadly. “You will obey!” Beverly stepped forward and raised a hand. “Please Sir…he can’t hear. Give him time to…” The Pran officer’s eyes flicked to Beverly and in their red depths, Beverly saw only cold hatred. “He will obey or I will stun him and we will drag him out of here.” Biting her lip, Beverly turned to her husband and gently cradled his face in her hands. “Do as they say my love.” She’d spoken slowly and clearly and Jean-Luc had no trouble understanding her. With clenched teeth he slowly took off his boots and uniform until he was standing in his underwear. With obvious reluctance and distaste he put on what turned out to be overalls then, at the urging of the senior Pran officer, put his boots back on. Two Pran officers then stood at his sides, nudging Beverly out of the way. A wide leather belt was fastened around his waist and buckled behind him. Attached to the belt were three chains, one long and two short. At the ends of the chains were steel cuffs. The long chain had two chains from shin length, separating to each foot. These were fastened to his ankles, the shorter ones to his wrists. Finally a steel collar was secured around his neck and two short metal poles were fastened to each side. The two Pran officers gripped the poles and tugged Jean-Luc forward. He stumbled and would have fallen but for the men holding the poles. They yanked upwards and Jean-Luc had no option but to regain his footing. The senior officer came to the Captain and leered down into the Human’s face. “Take short steps…Captain. Otherwise your neck will grow longer.” Beverly looked helplessly at Captain Steiner but the young man could only lower his gaze and sigh. Determined to try and protect her husband, Beverly stepped forward and lifted her chin defiantly. “I demand to accompany Captain Picard.” The three Pran laughed cruelly and the senior officer waved his hand dismissively. “If you want to come to the jail, so be it, but don’t complain when your…delicate sensibilities are offended. Oh…and leave the infant behind!” 174


Beverly hesitated only a second. Answering her dilemma, Steiner stepped to her and gently took Jean-Jacques’ bassinette. Casting the Captain a grateful smile, she whispered, “I won’t be gone too long. There’s milk in the cooling unit in our quarters.” Steiner didn’t have a chance to respond. With a jerk on the poles, Jean-Luc was urged forward. With remarkable restraint, Jean-Luc endured his humiliation with dignity as he was led shuffling through the ship to the transporter room, his face a stoic mask. Unable to walk at his side, Beverly trailed along behind, her mind racing to figure a way out of this mess.

They rematerialised in a sterile room within the jail. Before them was a desk with a computer and scanning equipment. Jean-Luc was tugged forward and his hands were scanned. Next his eyes were scanned and his body was measured with several laser beams. He was forced to remove his boots and socks and, barefoot, was led through a door into the jail itself. Beverly stayed close to her husband and as they went further into the forbidding building, she endured lewd remarks and gestures from many inmates. Eventually the escort tugged Jean-Luc to a halt and opened the barred door of a single cell. He was brusquely pulled into the cell and the restraints removed. However before he could rub his wrists, hand cuffs were applied and the metal collar around his neck stayed, although the poles were removed. The cell was dank and dismal. Mould grew on the filthy walls and the only plumbing, a chipped stained basin and a dilapidated odorous toilet dripped stagnant green water. The floor was stained with dark matter and smelled of excrement and the small cot bolted to the wall was covered with a rotting palliasse and a threadbare blanket. Beverly tried to enter the cell but was held back by two tall Pran officers. The door was slammed shut and the older guard bent low to the Doctor’s ear. “You may stay ten minutes. When I return you will leave.” Beverly nodded her understanding but kept her eyes on her husband. Jean-Luc stood forlornly in the middle of his cell, his manacled hands held at his midriff. Beverly wrapped her hands around the bars and called softly, knowing he couldn’t hear her, but needing to catch his eyes. When he failed to respond, she pushed one hand through the bars and waved. He saw the movement and his eyes focussed, clearing and darkening. A few steps brought him to the door. When he spoke his voice was deep and rough, indicative of stress. “What are you doing here Beverly? You should be on the Excelsior.” Beckoning him closer still, Beverly slipped her other hand through the bars so she could hold his face. “Talk to me Jean-Luc.” He sighed in comprehension and lowered his head, looking over his shoulder and trying to stifle a shudder of disgust. When he returned his gaze to his wife, he summoned a wan smile. “Not exactly the Ritz.” Frustrated to be without a PADD, Beverly enunciated as clearly as she could. 175


“You must be careful to guard against infection.” She looked pointedly at his bare feet then at the basin. “Don’t drink the water.” Jean-Luc nodded, his eyes darting down to the filthy floor, his skin crawling at having to stand in the soiled matter with no shoes on. Beverly gently stroked his face and waited until his eyes again met hers. “I will do everything I can to get you out of here.” The Captain closed his eyes and nodded, his voice a whisper. “Thank you my love.” The Doctor was about to say more when the head guard returned. The tall being gripped Beverly’s arm and unceremoniously started to drag her away. Knowing a struggle was pointless; Beverly held Jean-Luc’s eyes as long as she could. “I love you!” Was the last thing she said as she disappeared from his sight. He raised his chained hands and gripped the bars, lowering his head to rest against the cold metal. In a low mutter he said, “God help me.”

Once back on the Excelsior, Beverly called Commander Hain. The reply was instant. “Could you come to my quarters please Commander?” “On my way Doctor.” Beverly thanked the female Lieutenant assigned to care for her son in her absence and was holding the infant when her door chimed. “Come in.” Claire Hain entered and smiled at seeing the baby, dressed only in a nappy and singlet. The petite woman stepped over to Beverly and held out her arms. “May I?” With a warm smile, Beverly gave her son to the Commander and took the opportunity to gather a romper suit and a soft baby blanket from the bedroom. As the Doctor re-entered the living area, Claire said softly, “I hear you went down to the jail.” Beverly said nothing as she took Jean-Jacques from Claire and proceeded to dress him. The Commander pressed on with her questions. “What was it like?” Beverly’s reply was a snarl. “Barbaric! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed such a place could exist. I thought the Pran were civilised!” Claire sighed and rubbed the tip of her nose. “It has to do with the way the convicted are seen by the population. Remember they were considered guilty before any trial took place. In the eyes of the citizenry, the convicted do not deserve humane treatment. They are in jail to be punished.”

176


Having finished dressing and swaddling her son, Beverly held him gently in her arms and watched as his eyes began to droop. With her attention on the baby, Beverly said softly, “But there’s no rehabilitation, no chance for redemption…the inmates are treated worse than animals used to be treated. Surely an enlightened society must see…” Claire sat down next to the Doctor and leaned over to watch the sleeping baby. “We cannot…in fact we must not hold our standards up to other cultures Doctor…you know that. What is enlightenment to one society is seen as weakness in another. Take the Klingons for instance. Their penal system is brutal by anyone’s standards and the Federation says nothing.” Beverly’s blue eyes lifted to stare at the woman beside her. “But still…what about common decency?” Claire shrugged and raised her hands. “What can I say? The crime rate on Pran is very low. Perhaps, for them, their system works best.” Beverly snorted and shook her head. “Commander we have to do everything in our power to get Captain Picard out of that jail.” Claire stared at her boots and shrugged. “I hear you Doctor but I’m not sure there’s anything we can do. The Pran made it quite clear what they intended with the Captain in return for letting the team have access to their records. We did agree to their demands.” Beverly rose abruptly and disappeared into the bedroom, soon reappearing without her son. She stalked over to the seated Commander and towered over her. “For Christ’s sake we’re here to help them! Wasn’t the objective to clear up this whole mess? To see if, one way or another, we could find out who was responsible for defiling the Regent’s sister?” Claire nodded cautiously. “Yes.” “Then why the hell are we bowing to these people? We’re doing them a favour and they’re stabbing us in the back!” The Commander sighed. “Doctor I think you’re forgetting how important the Harminn system is to the Federation. If the Pran decide to turn on us, they could influence several other worlds and we could be in deep trouble.” “So we bend over, bare our arse and ask to be shafted? We offer an innocent Starfleet officer to placate wounded pride? Since when did the Federation give up their principles?” Claire’s eyes hardened. “You know that the Federation is worth more that one man!” Beverly’s smile was sardonic. “One man yes, but what about what he represents? Wasn’t the Federation founded on justice and integrity? Where’s the justice for Captain Picard?” The Commander lowered her head and sighed. In a small voice she asked, “How is he?” Beverly lifted her hands in exasperation. “How the hell do you think he is? He’s been abandoned by the organisation he’s served faithfully for most of his life, stuck in a stinking shit hole, facing a kangaroo court and a gruesome execution. How would you feel?” Claire stood and faced the incensed Doctor, her eyes saddened. 177


“I understand how you feel Doctor, but…” Beverly waved her hand impatiently. “No you don’t! Look I know your hands are tied but will you do one thing for me?” Claire sighed and nodded. “I want you to get me an audience with the Regent.” Claire shook her head. “Impossible Doctor, I’m sorry.” Beverly bit her lip in thought, then snapped her fingers. “All right, how about his sister? Surely she wouldn’t object?” The Commander frowned, her face a study of concentration. Several seconds passed before she gave a curt nod. “Very well Doctor, I will try to get you an audience with Gerrance Ho’.” Beverly placed a warm hand on the Commander’s shoulder and smiled widely. “Thank you.”

Jean-Luc’s sleep was restless. Hungry, and with a mild headache, he slept on his left side facing the wall, his manacled hands curled into his chest. He didn’t hear the cell door open or the guttural command from issued from behind him. “The prisoner will stand in the presence of a guard!” When the Captain continued to sleep, the Pran guard reached down, grabbed a handful of collar and wrenched Jean-Luc off his cot and hoisted him to his feet. Startled and confused, Jean-Luc struggled to get his brain on line. “What the hell...?” The guard lowered his face close to the Captain, the musty scent of his breath buffeting the Human. “You will come to attention and address me as Sir!” Jean-Luc frowned and shook his head. “What?” He lifted his hands to touch his ear. “I can’t hear you.” The sharp blow to the side of his head made him see stars. Trying to protect his head, his actions earned another blow, this one harder and splitting his lip. “You will not resist! Lower your hands!” The salty tang of blood invaded Jean-Luc’s mouth and he looked up at the guard, his hands still lifted to protect his head. “Stop!” The hefty punch to his stomach doubled him over, the breath driven from his lungs. If not for the large hand gripping his collar, he would have collapsed to his knees. Gagging and striving to prevent vomiting, he was unprepared for the hand that enclosed his chin and raised his head as his body was lifted upright. With tears in his eyes, Jean-Luc tried to focus on his tormentor. 178


“Will you obey now?” It was said slowly and mercifully, Jean-Luc understood. He gave a curt nod and the fierce grip of his chin relented. “Stand up!” Jean-Luc complied with difficulty, nausea threatening to overwhelm him. His guard released his collar and stepped back, gesturing to someone outside the cell. A tray was placed on the floor just inside the door and the guard pointed to it. “You will receive one meal a day, I suggest you eat all of it. And to avoid any further… unpleasantness, you will remember to come to attention when a guard enters your cell. Is that clear?” Unable to comprehend what was said, Jean-Luc shook his head, his eyes pleading for understanding. “I cannot hear you. I am deaf.” A large hand gripped Jean-Luc’s face and the Pran leered with amused cruelty. “I don’t care, that’s not my problem. Obey the rules or suffer the consequences.” With that, the guard abruptly released the Captain and left the cell. Trembling with nausea and pain, Jean-Luc sat on his cot and wiped at the blood trickling from his mouth. Taking deep even breaths, he slowly quelled his churning stomach and looked distastefully at the tray. His hunger had disappeared but he knew it was important to keep his strength up. Rising slowly, he gathered the tray and took it to his cot where he sat again and inspected the food. On a metal plate there was a stale slice of mouldy bread, a scoop of cold congealed grains, some watery marrow type vegetable and two slices of old, dried, stiff meat. In a covered metal cup there was water, which when tasted, proved to be flat and stale. Swallowing his disgust, Jean-Luc looked at his hands, wishing he could wash them, as it was with his hands he had to feed himself. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before beginning his meal, summoning all his control to stop his stomach rebelling.

Lieutenant Justin Langer turned as his immediate superior entered the small, stifling room. He had been hunched over his computer for several hours and the humid heat of the room, added to his aching back, made for unpleasant working conditions. Commander Edward Dunlop approached the desk and hitched his hip on its edge, watching as the Lieutenant accessed more documents. Keeping his voice low, he asked, “How is it going?” Justin sat back and stretched, resisting the urge to groan. “Truth Sir? It’s a dog’s breakfast. I’ve been at this seven and a quarter hours and all I’ve managed to do is find the official charge sheet relating to the accusations.” He gestured to the screen, his face mirroring his disgust. “As to witness statements, evidence, procedural techniques…there’s nothing so far, at least nothing I can find.” Dunlop scowled and ran a distracted hand through his long black hair. 179


“What about Captain Picard’s statement?” Langer shrugged and pointed to the screen. “Nothing Sir. If I didn’t know better, I’d say most of the information we’re looking for has been either moved…or deleted.” Dunlop slid his tongue over his lower lip, deep in thought. “Would you be able to find evidence of tampering?” Langer’s smile was sly. “Yes Sir, I think I could. This system isn’t as sophisticated as ours. I’m pretty confident I could find what you’re looking for, provided I have two important things.” Dunlop raised his eyebrows and smiled. “And there are?” “Your permission to go places within the system I’m not supposed to, and the freedom to transfer whatever I find to the Excelsior’s computer.” The Commander scratched his cheek. “Why the Excelsior’s computer?” Justin clasped his hands on his lap and pursed his lips. “Because Sir, if I find what I think I might find, we have to preserve it safely, because if the Pran government finds out, they won’t be very happy, in fact they’ll do anything they can to destroy the files, provided of course they’ve not been destroyed already.” Dunlop snorted and shook his head. “Bloody hell.” With a deep breath he came to his decision. “Very well. How much time will you need?” “That depends Sir, but I should have something within twenty-four hours.” With a decisive nod, Dunlop stood and straightened his tunic. “Right. I’ll make regular checks, but I want you to notify me the instant you find anything.” Langer nodded, a smile on his young face. “Aye Sir.” With some relief Commander Dunlop left the pokey little room and walked a short distance down a corridor before entering a larger room, this one brightly lit and connected to an air filtration system. Wiping at the thin sheen of sweat on his brow, he addressed the three occupants, a Lieutenant junior grade and two ensigns. “Report Lieutenant.” The young woman straightened and gathered her thoughts. “Sir we are experiencing some…obstacles in our enquiries.” Sighing and shaking his head, Dunlop said sarcastically, “Do tell? And what, exactly, are these obstacles?” The Lieutenant offered a PADD. “As you can see Sir, the Pran forensic team states there is physical evidence to categorically implicate Captain Picard in the crime, specifically, they claim to have a semen sample taken from the victim which they’ve identified as coming from the Captain.” Dunlop lifted his eyes from the PADD and tilted his head. “But?” The woman sighed. “They refuse to give us access to it Sir. The deputy director of the forensic laboratory insists he cannot authorise any release of evidence.” 180


Dunlop rubbed his face in frustration and barked, “Well who can authorise it?” “The Director Sir, but he’s holidaying in the southern province and left strict instructions not to be disturbed.” The Commander expressed his anger by slamming the PADD onto the tabletop, making all three junior officers flinch. With a concerted effort he reined in his temper and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dammit they’re doing everything they can to stymie us. Very well leave this to me. Keep looking for physical evidence, I’ll check in later.” He tuned from the officer and walked briskly toward the door, tapping his combadge. “Dunlop to Hain.” “Hain here.” He exited the room and stood in the corridor, his face a mask of concentration. “Claire I need to speak with Gerrance Ho’ as soon as possible.” The reply easily carried Claire’s frustration. “As a matter of fact I’ve been trying to contact her about another matter. She’s refusing our requests Edward, she’s not granting any interviews.” “Shit! These people are really beginning to irritate me! All right Claire, I’m heading over to Government House. I’ll contact you in an hour. Dunlop out.” As he strode down the corridor towards the exit he muttered, “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammad…”

Over an hour later Edward Dunlop tried to keep his teeth grinding to a minimum as he parried with the Regent’s Under Secretary. Knowing his communication with Commander Hain was overdue; he pushed that to the back of his mind and devoted more of his dwindling recourses to keeping his temper under control. Taking a deep breath, he schooled his features into sympathetic lines and tried again. “I do understand how busy the Regent is Sir, bit I must insist. My request to see him is not asked lightly and is of the utmost importance.” The imperious older Pran sat back in his high backed chair, his red eyes lazily gliding over the Commander’s form, further infuriating the Human. The casual disdain was patronising in the extreme but Dunlop had little choice but to endure the insulting behaviour. When the Under Secretary spoke, his voice was laced with derision. “And just what is this important matter of which you speak?” Summoning a smile, Dunlop said apologetically, “I’m sorry Sir, I’m not at liberty to discuss that with anyone but the Regent himself. You understand, I’m sure.” The Pran sighed and flicked one long hand.

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“What I understand Commander, is that you have bullied your way through several layers of this government, intimidating and prevaricating through the more junior level secretaries until you found yourself here facing me and still you insist on utilising your outrageous tactics. Can’t you see that I won’t be swayed?” The Under Secretary leaned forward and pointed to the huge double door. “The exit is over there. I suggest you leave…now.” Dunlop placed his hands on the high desktop and leaned forward, mirroring his opponent’s stance. Nose to nose, their eyes locked in a seething battle of wills. With willow grace, the Pran stood and Dunlop straightened until he was looking up into the Pran’s face. He was about to voice his disgust with the entire situation when the Regency office door slid open at the Regent strode into the outer office. He looked up and froze, the tension in the room electrifying. He took in the scene and barked, “M’Hun…what is going on here?” Not breaking eye contact, the Under Secretary answered his Regent. “My Lord I was just asking Commander Dunlop to leave.” Seeing his opportunity and seizing it, Dunlop came to attention and tore his eyes away to face the Regent. “Sir I have come to see you on a matter of great importance. May I be granted an interview?” Waving the folder in his hand dismissively, Myrin Ho’ shook his head. “I’m sorry Commander…I am too busy.” Risking his safety, Dunlop to a step towards the Regent, bringing the Under Secretary from behind his desk and tensed, ready to protect his leader. The Commander slowly raised his hands and smiled in a reassuring manner. “Please Sir, It won’t take long.” With a soft grunt, the Regent suddenly gestured to his office and gave his aide a look of apology. “Five minutes Commander, no more.” Giving a grateful nod, Dunlop entered the Regent’s office. Having seated himself behind his immense desk, Myrin Ho’ sat back and sighed. “Very well Commander, what do you want?” Dunlop concentrated on staying calm and keeping his voice steady. “Sir we…that is the entire team, are experiencing great difficulties accessing information pertaining to the case. Are you aware the Director of the Forensic laboratory is on holidays with instructions not to be disturbed?” The Regent shrugged with boredom. “What of it? He takes his holidays at this time each year.” “Yes Sir, but he’s the only one authorised to release evidence. We can’t gain access to any of the physical evidence without his authorisation.” The two men stared at each other before the Pran leader abruptly slapped his hand on the desk then pressed a button. The answering call came from the Under Secretary. “Yes my Lord?” “Contact Fesun B’rot. Tell him to send an authorisation for the release of evidence to the Federation team.” “At once my Lord.” Dunlop smiled and bowed his head. “Thank you Sir.” 182


The Regent stood and settled his cape. “Is there anything else?” Dunlop hesitated then decided to go for broke. “We are at present, investigating what appears to be an incident of tampering with the official files of the case. They have either been hidden or destroyed. Can you shed any light on this mystery?” The glower that appeared on the Regent’s face was fearsome indeed. He straightened his body in indignation and hissed, “That is an outrageous accusation Commander! How dare you?” Displaying courage in the face of such unbridled anger, Dunlop stood his ground. “I apologise if I’ve offended you Sir, but my job is to get to the bottom of this case and I intend to do just that. After all, Captain Picard’s life hangs in the balance.” At the mention of Picard’s name, Myrin Ho’s eyes glittered. “You needn’t trouble yourself over the Captain. The trial commences tomorrow morning and it should be over by lunch.” Dunlop’s face paled and his voice was a hushed murmur. “But Sir…our investigation…” “Is irrelevant! It will serve to give the archivists something to pour over during the winter nights…nothing more.” The Commander shook his head. “But Sir…how can you try Captain Picard without us completing the investigation? You won’t have the complete picture.” The short laugh was harsh. “Complete picture? I already know he’s guilty Commander…I’ve know for seventeen years!” Dunlop tried one more time, “But Sir…please…” The Regent pressed the button on his desk and spoke in a low voice. “The Commander’s five minutes are up. See to it that he is escorted from the building.” “Yes my Lord.” Dunlop was still staring incredulously at the Regent when a powerful hand gripped his arm. The voice near his ear was menacing. “This way Commander.” Several minutes later he was outside the building. In a dazed stupor he tapped his combadge. “Dunlop to Hain.” “Hain here.” “We’ve got a problem Claire.”

Twenty minutes later a group of officers was gathered in Beverly’s quarters. Captain Steiner, Commanders Harding, Dunlop and Hain sat around the low table, their drinks cooling quickly as they ignored them. Beverly ran her hands through her hair and sighed. 183


“So what you’re saying is, Captain Picard is screwed.” Captain Steiner rubbed his face and grunted. “From what I know of this mission, the Pran always had their minds made up. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.” Commander Dunlop sat back and folded his arms across his chest. “Look it’s one thing for them to have a particular mind-set, but to blatantly discount…no, ignore the investigation…surely that’s in itself a criminal act.” Commander Hain held up a hand. “We mustn’t lose track of the big picture. The Federation…” Beverly stood abruptly, her voice rising. “I don’t give a damn about the bloody Federation! We’re talking about the persecution and execution of an innocent man! What we have to do is to try and find a way to either get Captain Picard out of that hell-hole he’s in, or at least find a way to fairly represent him at this so called…trial.” Claire Hain snorted derisively. “Well I don’t see how. The Regent has made it clear he wants no contact with us and his sister is refusing all efforts to communicate with her.” Commander Catherine Harding leaned forward and clasped her hands together. “What if we look at this another way?” Beverly turned and sat down. “Go on.” “Well, from what Commander Dunlop told us we know we’ll soon have access to most, if not all of the physical evidence. And if Lieutenant Langer can either find the missing files, or prove their destruction, surely that will give us some leverage? The trial doesn’t start until tomorrow morning. We have sixteen hours at best to come up with solid evidence to present to the court. You never know, it may be enough to slow things down, if not exonerate the Captain all together.” Beverly smiled, her cerulean eyes glittering. “Sounds like a plan.” She focussed her attention on Edward and Claire. “What do you thunk?” The Commanders looked at each other and a slow smile appeared on each face. Dunlop turned back to Beverly and nodded. “I think we may be on to something.” The meeting broke up and Beverly sat quietly, staring out at the lazily spinning planet below. Her musings were interrupted by a gentle cry from her son. With a sigh she rose to see to him.

Jean-Luc’s head bumped against the filthy wall, making his eyes snap open. Desperately tired, he was loath to sleep lest he not be aware of anyone entering his cell. He sat

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with his back against the wall, his knees bent and his feet on the cot. His manacled hands rested on his knees and his face fell as he saw the red welts forming around his wrists. For the last two hours he had become aware of ever-increasing pain gathering low in his belly. The nausea had slowly increased and he suspected the food was disagreeing with him. After a particularly intense surge of pain, he straightened his legs and stiffly gained his feet, standing beside his cot and taking deep breaths. The pain made him bend over, his hands clutching at his lower abdomen. With dreadful certainty he knew he needed to relieve himself. He glanced at the putrid toilet with disgust then realised with dismay that he couldn’t take off his overalls with his hands manacled. He undid the fasteners down the front but he couldn’t lower the garment. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as another griping surge of pain assailed him. When it passed he moved to the cell door and called, “Guard!” There was no response. Gathering his courage he called louder, “Guard! I need some help.” Being unable to hear anything he was unaware when someone yelled, “Shut up!” Determined to get some help he called again. “Guard please I need help.” The reply was menacing but Jean-Luc didn’t hear it. “If I have to come down there to shut you up, you’ll be sorry.” Jean-Luc grabbed the bars of the cell door and shook them. “Guard!” He was about to call again when a huge Pran, large for even his species, appeared at the door. With a sharp strike, he struck Jean-Luc’s fingers a painful blow with a truncheon. With a gasp of pain, Jean-Luc released the bars and staggered backwards, his hands held up before him, some of his fingers broken. The cell door was flung open and the huge alien struck Jean-Luc in the stomach with the baton. The Captain dropped to his knees, retching. The guard gripped his collar and dragged him to his feet and slammed him against the wall. He pushed the truncheon under Jean-Luc’s chin, forcing his head up. Once the Captain’s tearing eyes met the guard’s he spoke. “What do you want?” The suffering Human could only guess what had been said. Gasping for breath he managed, “Please I need to relieve myself and I can’t get my clothes off with these.” He held up his hands and the guard laughed. “You called me in here for that? What do you think I am…a valet?” The pain in Jean-Luc’s bowels intensified and he groaned. Unable to understand the guard, he tried once more. “Please…” The Pran again slammed him against the wall and snarled, “Soil yourself you low-life scum…I don’t care!” He abruptly released the Captain who fell to the floor and rolled onto his side. The savage kick to his stomach proved too much. His bowels released in a loud, slippery, wet rush and the guard grunted his disgust. “You filthy animal!” He rained three vicious blows with the truncheon upon the helpless man before turning and leaving the cell, slamming the door behind him. After several minutes Jean-Luc tried to rise only to be overcome with vomiting. Lying in his own filth he slipped into unconsciousness. 185


It was oh three twenty and Beverly was exhausted. Her back ached, her eyes were bleary and her swollen, hot breasts told her she should return to her quarters to feed her son, but the semen sample had arrived two hours ago and she was determined to solve the mystery it represented. The CMO of the Excelsior, Sue Taylor, grunted over the microscope and lifted her head, wearily rubbing her neck. “I don’t know why they even bothered. There’s no sperm present and we know Captain Picard is fertile. How they think we’ll accept this as his…it beggars belief.” Beverly sighed and flipped her hair off her shoulders. “Oh I hear you. The genetic manipulation was crude…this isn’t even a Human sample.” Taylor’s eyebrows rose and she slowly stood. “Pran?” “Most definitely.” “And the absence of sperm?” Beverly frowned and shrugged. “Unknown, but if I had to guess, I’d say whoever did the genetic manipulation also removed the sperm, probably to hide the fact that Pran sperm and Human sperm are different.” Doctor Taylor stretched and went over to the analysis screen. “What about the fingernail scrapings?” “Same thing. An attempt has been made to mimic Human tissue and to pass it as Captain Picard’s tissue, but again, the method was not very sophisticated. It’s Pran tissue, no doubt.” Sue folded her arms and frowned. “Well that’s pretty conclusive then. It’s obvious…the person who defiled the Regent’s sister was Pran, definitely not Captain Picard.” Beverly nodded tiredly and arched her neck, her long fingers massaging her scalp. “Agreed but that doesn’t explain why they were so keen to falsely implicate the Captain…to the point of attempting to pass off these samples as Captain Picard’s when they must have known we would see straight through such ham-fisted fakery.” Sue nodded and yawned. “And there’s the kangaroo court to consider. If they knew the Captain was innocent, why proceed with the trial?” Beverly shrugged. “I don’t know but I feel we have enough to present to the court. If Lieutenant Langer can locate the missing files, we should have iron-clad proof of the Captain’s innocence.” The CMO nodded, a warm smile on her face. She stepped closer to the red head and took her hands. “Go to bed Doctor.” Beverly thought to argue but capitulated. “Oh all right.” 186


Sue watched her colleague leave the lab and shook her head. “I hope this all works out okay.”

The chime to Beverly’s quarters sounded at five oh nine. A sleepy Doctor dragged herself out of bed and pulled on a robe, stumbling slightly as she left the bedroom. Summoning her voice, she called softly, “Come in.” Commander Dunlop entered, a smile on his genial face. “Good morning Beverly…I come with good news.” Beverly’s heart skipped a beat and she gestured to the chairs. Once seated she gathered her thoughts and nodded. “Tell me.” Dunlop took a deep breath and sat forward. “I’ve just come from the surface. Lieutenant Langer has found the missing files.” Beverly swallowed, trying to wet her suddenly dry throat. “And?” “There’s absolutely nothing to implicate Captain Picard. No eye witnesses, no evidence, not even circumstantial evidence to link your husband to the crime.” Letting out a breath she was unaware she was holding, Beverly rubbed her forehead. “Where were the files?” “Hidden in a computer belonging to the Regent’s sister’s lady-in-waiting.” Beverly bit her lower lip. “And where are they now?” Dunlop smiled and sat back. “Resting safe and sound in the Excelsior’s computer core.” Beverly fisted her hands and struck the low table. “We have them Edward!” The Commander beamed. “Indeed we do! Captain Steiner and Commander Hain have requested an urgent meeting with the Regent. We’re waiting to hear from him.” Beverly stood and glared balefully at the planet below them. “I’m going to shower and dress. Will you wait?” The tall man nodded amicably. “No problem.” After Beverly left the room, Dunlop stared at the planet, his thoughts uncharitable. “Gotcha you bastards!”

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Jean-Luc regained consciousness during the long night. Four more times he helplessly endured the humiliation of soiling himself, unable to do anything about it. He was curled up on the floor in the corner, fitfully dozing when the door to his cell opened. Rough hands grabbed him by the collar and he was unceremoniously dragged from his cell and down a corridor. Frightened and confused, Jean-Luc tried to lift his head to see where he was going, but all too soon he was dumped on the floor of a new cell and dragged to his feet. The manacles were removed and he was roughly shaken. “Take off your clothes you disgusting pig!” Jean-Luc shook his head. “What?” Two Pran guards grabbed his overalls and ripped the garment from his body while another guard held him upright. Once naked, he was shoved against the wall and the guards abruptly left. Dazed and confused, Jean-Luc turned his head to look around his new cell when a savage blast of icy water hit him squarely in the stomach. The powerful jet of water moved lower, pummelling his genitals. He tried to cover himself with his hands, but the blast of water was too strong. Instead he turned, presenting his back and trying to catch his gasping breath as the water scoured the skin of his back, buttocks and legs. The stream of water was so powerful, that when it reached down to his calves, it swept his feet from under him. He curled reflexively into a ball as the water continued its assault. Just when he though he would surely drown, the jet suddenly ceased. He was jerked upright and another garment was shoved into his shaking hands. “Dress yourself Human and hurry up!” When Jean-Luc didn’t react, cruel hands began the painful process of dressing him. Realising what was happening, Jean-Luc found his voice. “No…I can do it.” The hands withdrew and the Captain slowly struggled to dress his wet body. When he finally succeeded the belt was fastened around his waist and the chains attached to the cuffs around his wrists and ankles. The poles were secured to his metal collar and he looked up into the hard red eyes of the chief guard. His smile was leering. “There…aren’t you pretty? You’re off to court this morning Captain.” The guard took a handful of Jean-Luc’s overalls and pulled him closer. “Behave yourself!” Jean-Luc could only stare at the guard; he had no idea what he had said. The Captain was dragged from the room to begin his journey to the courtroom. He was unshaven, wet and bruised, confused and frightened.

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“What do you mean he’s refusing our hails?” Commander Harding shrugged, her expressive face clearly distressed. “Just as I said Doctor. The Regent’s Under Secretary informs us the Regent is…indisposed…and not taking any calls.” Beverly sat heavily on the sofa, her perplexed eyes pleading for understanding. “But Commander, the trial starts within the hour. We have to speak with him!” The tall, slender Commander ran an exasperated hand through her short hair and joined the Doctor on the sofa. “I know Doctor, but there’s nothing we can do.” Beverly’s eyes hardened and she muttered darkly, “Oh yeah?” Sensing trouble, Catherine sat up and frowned. “What are you up to?” Refusing to answer the question, Beverly instead asked one of her own. “Where is Commander Hain?” Peering suspiciously at the Doctor, Catherine replied, “Claire is with Commander Dunlop, going over all our information.” Beverly lifted her head and slightly raised her voice. “Crusher to Hain.” “Hain here.” “Could you and Commander Dunlop report to my quarters please?” There was a moment’s hesitation before the reply came. “On our way.” Beverly turned to Commander Harding and smiled. “I have no intention of letting the Regent execute my husband.” The Commander nodded, her face carefully neutral. “I see. And just how do you intend to stop him?” They were interrupted by the door chime. At Beverly’s behest, Commanders Hain and Dunlop entered and at Beverly’s invitation, sat around the low table. Beverly took a deep breath and prepared to inform her fellow Commanders what she had in mind. Turning first to Dunlop she asked, “Okay. In a nutshell, what do we have?” The tall man sat back and opened his hands. “We have the original transcripts of the initial investigation. In them there is no evidence to implicate Captain Picard in the crime. In fact, aside from the fact that he did indeed go to the private chambers of the Regent’s sister, he was there a very short time…less than five minutes. There is not one witness that can implicate him in any way. Basically it comes down to the Captain’s word against Gerrance Ho’s and without any hard evidence to connect him, a verdict of not guilty has to be reached.” Beverly grunted softly and nodded. “Right. And you Claire…what have you found?” The petite woman sighed. “Well as you know the much vaunted semen sample was a sham. It wasn’t even Human in origin and as far as we can tell, it seems it only…surfaced eight months ago. There is no mention of it in any of the evidence files from the original investigation.” Beverly nodded thoughtfully, keeping her attention focussed on her colleague. 189


“I see. And I take it the same goes for the tissue scrapings?” Claire nodded. “Yes. Again there has been some very sub-standard genetic manipulation undertaken, presumably to try and fool us into believing the samples were indeed from Captain Picard.” Gently chewing her lower lip, Beverly sat back and crossed her legs. “Okay. So what we have is a government that when faced with lack of witnesses or hard evidence to prove guilt, embarked on a clandestine attempt to manufacture evidence to tie Captain Picard to the crime.” The three Commanders glanced at each other before Edward shrugged and grimaced. “Pretty much.” Beverly scowled and lifted her hands. “Then why the hell are they proceeding with the trial before we can present our findings? If the Regent isn’t behind this blatant attempt to pervert the course of justice then who is?” Claire snorted and rubbed her face tiredly. “I’m not sure he isn’t the one at the bottom of all this. He already told us he considered the Captain guilty and it’s he who will make the final judgement of Captain Picard. It is his family who has suffered the ignominy of shame as a result of the crime and we mustn’t forget he has tried to assassinate the Captain before.” Edward pinched his lower lip and shook his head. “Granted, but apart from restoring his family’s honour, what else has he to gain from this?” Commander Harding sat forward, her intelligent eyes glittering. “Leverage.” Beverly’s head jerked up and she gasped. “You’re thinking about the Federation Council…aren’t you.” Catherine nodded slowly and lifted her head. “Computer has the vacancy on the Federation Council been filled yet?” “No.” Before the Commander could say more, Dunlop protested. “But Pran is unaligned! Only Federation members can sit on the Council.” Harding’s smile was sardonic. “With the delicate balance that exists in this system, how powerful do you think Pran would be if they were admitted into the Federation?” Hain and Dunlop looked at each other, their eyes widening. Claire’s voice was hushed. “They would hold the upper hand.” Catherine nodded. “Agreed. Now consider how the Regent bullied the Federation into bowing to his demands concerning Captain Picard. This whole sorry mess isn’t about family honour; it’s about gamesmanship and politics. The Regent forced the Federation into conceding to his demands to prove their willingness to keep the peace in this sector. What do you think the Federation will say when, in say six months, the Pran government suddenly asks to be admitted?” Beverly’s reply was bitter. “They’ll fall over themselves in the rush to comply.” Catherine nodded. “Exactly. We have to face the fact that Captain Picard was doomed the moment he entered their space. To the Pran he’s nothing but a show of strength, a way to rattle a sabre without the threat of retaliation.” 190


Beverly’s face paled, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. “He’s a damned bargaining chip…cheap and expendable.” The four officers sat morosely, each lost in their own thoughts. Eventually Beverly stood and regained her composure. “Well I for one am not going to give up. If that callous bastard won’t answer our hails, I’ll go to the bloody courtroom myself and shout until they hear me.” Her companions stood, each with a look of determination. It was Edward who spoke. “And you won’t be alone.” Summoning someone to mind the baby, the four officers silently contemplated their mission. Save Jean-Luc’s life.

The Transporter Chief sighed and shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry Doctor Crusher, but I can’t beam you into the court building, it’s shielded. The best I can do is the forecourt.” Beverly suppressed her irritation and lifted her head. “Computer what is the time?” “The time is ten eighteen.” Beverly turned to her companions. “Presumably the trial has been in progress over an hour. We will have to get inside as soon as we can.” She redirected her attention to the Chief. “Okay, beam us to the forecourt.”

They rematerialised in the beautifully paved area just outside the massive, intricately carved double doors of the stone high court building. The four officers wasted no time gawking, instead marching purposefully towards the steps leading to the doors. As they approached, two huge Pran soldiers stepped into their path, their hands on their weapons. The senior guard asked brusquely, “Where do you think you’re going?” Beverly took the lead and straightened her spine. “We are from the Federation ship in orbit and we have important information pertaining to the trial taking place inside.” The higher ranked Pran shook his head. “It is a closed court. You may not enter.” Commander Hain stepped up to Beverly’s shoulder and looked fearlessly up into the red eyes of the soldier.

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“There is a Federation citizen being unfairly dealt with. We have a right to intercede on his behalf.” The grin that appeared on the soldier’s face was chilling. “Pran is not a member of the Federation…neither you or the accused have any rights here.” Commander Dunlop held up an isolinear chip. “We were given permission by your government to investigate the matter now before the court. It is vital we present our findings.” With nonchalant boredom, the soldier unholstered his disruptor and checked its setting. Keeping his eyes on the weapon he said, “I have already told you, you may not enter. Now I must return to my post…you have ten seconds to leave the area.” He hefted the weapon and dragged his eyes up to sweep over the small group. The implied threat was obvious and the Starfleet personnel had no option but to obey. In silence they turned as one and left the forecourt, crossing the plaza and settling at the outdoor tables of a café. Beverly ignored the waiter and only half heard her colleagues ordering hot drinks. Her eyes were glued on the court building, her mind sending her husband messages of support.

The journey from the jail to the courthouse was, mercifully, short. Entering the courtroom from a door at the rear of the room, Jean-Luc’s guards led him shuffling to an ornate wooden and metal dock. He was pushed into position and his ankles and wrists were fastened to ring bolts in front of him. The poles attached to his steel collar were secured to points either side of him, the result being he was virtually immobilised. His eyes travelled over the large room. He was centrally located approximately eight metres from the arrangement of desks and chairs that made up the front of the room and facing them. Behind the desks was a raised platform on which sat an immense desk and an ornate high-backed chair. To his left was a large screen and beneath it a bank of computers. On his right were two seated Pran, in front of them a console. Unable to move much, Jean-Luc twisted his head around as far as he could but behind him was an empty space then the wall and its double doors. The Captain faced front again and frowned. “No gallery.” He was contemplating this when a Reeve entered carrying a mace. He struck it loudly three times on the floor and shouted, “All will stand!” Once the rustling and shuffling had ceased. The Reeve used the mace to rap on the door behind him. In response it opened and one-by-one the magistrates entered and took their places. Following them came the members of the prosecution and defence. All the occupants of the room were male and all stood facing the door through which they had entered. It opened again and four high-ranking soldiers entered then Zet, the weapons master swept into the room and made a 192


show of scanning the interior, his eyes settling on Jean-Luc and his face twisting into a cruel sneer. Satisfied all was in readiness, Zet nodded to the Reeve who called out, “Bear allegiance to the Regent!” As Myrin Ho’ strode imperiously into the room, all the Pran bowed low and stayed that way until the Regent was seated. The Reeve then struck the mace on the floor. “This trial will now commence. May the Gods grant our Regent wisdom.” Jean-Luc watched the proceedings with mounting apprehension. Unable to hear anything, he could only guess at what was going on. Over the next two hours his eyes furnished him with images of Pran officers arguing and gesticulating, occasionally pointing at him. Twice the screen was activated and Jean-Luc saw images he didn’t understand, but could see were of great significance to the court. As the hours slowly ticked by, the Captain’s frustration grew. “Won’t I get the opportunity to speak?” Eventually, at thirteen fifteen, both the prosecution and the defence ended their arguments. They sat and folded their hands on the desktops, their eyes trained on the magistrates. Each of the five men had their hair done up in elaborate buns, over which lay white lace covers. One by one they stood and delivered their verdicts. Each intoned… “Guilty.” Jean-Luc watched in sick fascination as each Pran sat and turned to the Regent. As the final verdict was given, Myrin Ho’ bowed his head and lifted his hands. “It is done.” With great deliberation he picked up a black headdress and placed it upon his head. He then opened a wooden case and withdrew a large green dagger. He placed the blade against his brow and offered a silent prayer before slowly standing and settling his eyes on the accused. “Jean-Luc Picard you have been found guilty on all charges. Have you anything to say before I pronounce your punishment?” In the ensuing silence Jean-Luc correctly guessed what was happening. Gathering his courage, his deep, commanding voice rang out. “I am innocent! I did not rape or defile the Regent’s sister and I demand to be released!” The Regent sighed and shook his head. “It is always a great pity when the convicted refuses to confess their crimes. Very well, so be it. You will be taken…” Jean-Luc shook his head. “I am innocent! This court is a farce! This entire proceeding is nothing more that an attempt by the government to…” Zet stood and shouted, “Silence the prisoner!” Two Pran guards immediately attacked Jean-Luc with truncheons. As the savage beating took place the Captain kept shouting, “I…am…innocent! This…is…a…travesty! I…demand…” The blow to his head stopped him as consciousness fled. Sagging within his bounds, the metal collar began to choke the Captain. With a wave of his hand, Zet directed the guards to hold the senseless Human up. The Regent settled his robes and continued. “As I was saying, you will be taken back to the jail to await the ceremony of Harrad M’Rai. May the Gods grant you peace in the afterlife.”

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The Guards waited until everyone had left before releasing Jean-Luc and dragging him from the room.

Beverly’s eyes had not left the front of the courthouse. When people started to exit the building, the Doctor suddenly stood and began to stride over the distance. The other three officers scrambled to follow her. A number of hover cars had begun to settle and the black-robed magistrates were lining up to get in them when Beverly and her party reached them. The security team saw her approach and blocked her path. In frustration she called out to the nearest magistrate, “Sir! May I speak with you please?” The old Pran turned and stared at the Doctor, a deep frown on his weathered face. The other four magistrates paused and turned, each curious as to what the Human wanted. After a few seconds the elderly Pran waved away the guards and beckoned for Beverly to come nearer. “What do you want?” Plastering a warm smile on her face, Beverly tried to calm her racing heart. “Sir were you involved in the trial of Captain Jean-Luc Picard?” The old magistrate nodded. “Yes…we all were.” Gathering her courage, Beverly pressed on. “Are you in recess now?” The Pran shook his head. “No, the trial is over.” Commander Dunlop sidled closer to Beverly and gently gripped her hand. The Doctor steeled her nerves. “I see. May I ask Sir…what was the outcome?” The five magistrates looked at each other and the eldest one peered closely at Beverly. “Why? What business is it of yours?” With a steadying breath, Beverly replied, “Captain Picard is my husband.” The magistrate’s face fell, his red eyes showing sympathy. “Oh…that is most unfortunate.” Commander Hain stepped forward and asked “Why? Why is it unfortunate?” The Pran clasped his hands in front of himself and bowed his head. “Because Captain Picard was found guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to Harrad M’Rai.” Catherine Harding swallowed and asked what they all wanted to say. “And just what is that Sir?” A younger magistrate stepped to his older colleague and rested his hand on the elder’s shoulder. “It is a ritual execution as prescribed by the texts.” 194


Beverly looked with distress into Claire’s eyes and the Commander nodded. “Yes Doctor…as I described.” Beverly’s hand covered her mouth, the colour draining from her face. “Oh God.” Edward lifted his head, his voice gruff. “When will the sentence be carried out?” The younger magistrate shrugged. “That is up to the Regent. It may be this afternoon or days away.” Recovering slightly, Beverly asked quietly, “May I see my husband?” The elder magistrate shook his head. “No, I’m sorry…the condemned have no visiting rights.” Beverly stepped closer and reached out, gently taking the old alien’s hand and beseeching with her eyes. “Please Sir…my husband is deaf, he won’t know what’s happening and we have an infant son… couldn’t I at least let him see his child?” The taller being looked deeply into the Human’s eyes and sighed. He turned to his colleagues and lifted his hand. “What do you think?” They muttered amongst themselves for a few moments before coming to a decision. The older magistrate turned back to Beverly and smiled softly. “Very well. We will leave word at the jail that you may visit with your child. We are sorry for your loss.” With that the magistrates went to the hover cars and left one by one. Beverly lowered her head, struggling to keep her tears at bay. The officers gathered around her and Commander Harding tapped her communicator. “Excelsior, four to beam up.”

When Jean-Luc regained consciousness he groaned softly and opened his right eye. His left eye was swollen shut and he could taste the rusty tang of blood in his mouth as he lay curled on his side. At first he thought his eyesight was damaged but he soon realised he was in complete darkness. Groaning deeply in considerable pain, he struggled to his knees and then attempted to stand. He was half upright when his head hit the ceiling. With a startled grunt, JeanLuc lifted his manacled hands and felt in the inky blackness. His new cell was tiny. Unable to stand, he continued to feel the boundaries only to find he was in a box-like structure with only enough room to sit. He found a bucket in one corner but nothing else. He was also dismayed to find his ankles were fettered. Savagely quelling the panic that rose within him, he steadied his breathing, closed his eyes and concentrated on assessing the damage to his body. 195


Over the next ten minutes he discovered the beating had been extensive. He already knew several fingers were broken. To that he could add lacerations and swellings to his head and face and a possibly fractured nose and at least one broken rib on either side of his chest. In the darkness his hands found areas of tenderness and more swellings over his body and when he was finished he sighed shallowly and eased himself back onto his side. Opting for blackness of his own choosing, he closed his eye and thought of his family. “Where are you Beverly my love? Are you and our son well?”

Having dismissed the baby sitter, Beverly sat with her son in her arms in the silence of their quarters. The little boy was awake and sucking his thumb, his unfocussed eyes staring up at his mother. She absently kissed his head as fat tears rolled down her face. The call from the Bridge barely registered. “Harding to Crusher.” Beverly lifted her head and sighed. “Crusher here.” “Doctor there is an incoming communiqué for you. It’s from Starfleet Medical.” Her brow furrowing, Beverly called, “Thank you, pipe it down here please. Crusher out.” Keeping her son snuggled against her; she rose and went to the desk, activating the computer and sitting. The screen logo disappeared to reveal a young woman. She smiled and bowed her head. “Doctor Crusher?” Beverly nodded. “Yes.” “I am Doctor Camille Schaffer. I have some good news.” “And that is?” “We have a compatible donor. A young man of twenty-eight years was killed in a ground car accident four hours ago. He is a perfect match. How soon can Captain Picard return to Earth?” Beverly shook her head. “I’m afraid he’s been…detained…indefinitely.” The young woman’s face fell. “Oh that’s a pity. Do you have any idea as to when he might be available?” “No not really. How long can you wait?” Schaffer shrugged. “Well we can harvest the organs and put them in stasis, but it’s time dependant. We will have two weeks at most before the organs will become unviable and we’d have to begin the search again.” Beverly schooled her features, refusing to show her anguish. “Very well, we’ll make every effort to get back in time. Thank you Doctor, Crusher out.” 196


Slumping back in her chair, Beverly closed her eyes and gently hugged her son. “Dear God…what do we do now?”

Beverly had bathed and fed her son and was letting him kick on a rug when the Bridge hailed her. “Harding to Crusher. “Crusher here.” “Doctor there has been a transmission from the surface. You are now free to visit Captain Picard.” Beverly closed her eyes and acknowledged the message. “Thank you Bridge, Crusher out.” Within ten minutes Beverly was in the transporter room. Jean-Jacques was nestled in a sling against her breast and she carried a PADD. The Ensign on duty looked up expectantly. “Two to beam to the city jail.” The anteroom was drab and sterile. The Doctor approached the desk, the bored guard looking up disinterestedly. “Can I help you?” Beverly wrapped one arm around her son and lifted her chin defiantly. “I am here to see Captain Jean-Luc Picard.” The guard grunted and accessed a monitor. As his fingers manipulated the console he muttered, “You realise the condemned are not allowed visitors?” Before Beverly could explain, the guard snorted and pushed his chair back. “It would seem you have clearance. Leave the device here.” He stood and looked at Beverly, expecting compliance. Instead the Doctor shook her head. “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. Captain Picard is deaf and I need this PADD to communicate with him.” The Pran sneered and leaned over the desk, his dull red eyes boring into her. “I don’t care! Just because you somehow got permission to visit the criminal, doesn’t mean you can flout any other rules. You cannot take the device inside! Is that clear?” Biting back her angry protest, Beverly chose instead to acquiesce. She placed the PADD on the desk and stood ramrod straight, defying the guard to see any weakness. He glared, his eyes travelling the length of her body insolently. With a derisive huff, he went to the door and unlocked it. “Go down this corridor. The guard at the other end will take you to the criminal.” Without any hesitation Beverly tightened her grip on her son and walked through the door, not giving the guard any more thought. She met the other guard and was led deeper into the jail, enduring the calls and obscene gestures of the inmates as she walked past their cells. Eventually she was led into a dim room in which sat a one and a half square metre metal box, its solid door padlocked. The guard pointed to the box and muttered, “He’s in there.” Beverly looked incredulously at the guard before turning her disbelieving gaze on the box. The Pran turned to leave, but Beverly’s hard voice stopped him. “I want to see him!”

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The alien glared and stomped over to the box, sliding a metal partition to one side, exposing a small grilled opening. “You can talk to him through that.” Beverly shook her head. “Not good enough! He’s deaf, he won’t hear me.” The guard shrugged. “So?” The Doctor’s eyes glittered dangerously. “I have permission to be here from five senior magistrates. My clearance gives me the right to see Captain Picard. Are you going to suggest you have greater authority than the magistrates?” The guard shuffled uncomfortably and gave a loud wet sniff. With great reluctance he took some keys from his pocket and undid the padlock. He glared at the Doctor and hissed. “I will check on just exactly what your clearance allows you Human.” He left abruptly but Beverly was already ignoring him. With an effort she swung the heavy door open and peered inside. As her eyes adjusted she could see her husband curled on his side, his back to her, apparently asleep. “Jean-Luc?” She sighed as her words went unheard. Getting down on all fours, she crawled into the box and gently shook his shoulder. The Captain groaned and lifted his head. Seeing the light, he grunted and turned. With the light behind her, Jean-Luc couldn’t see who it was that had entered his hellish cell. He backed up slowly, his one open eye wary. Beverly reached out and caught his sleeve, gently tugging towards the door. As she moved backwards the light caught her hair and Jean-Luc gasped. In a gravelly voice he exclaimed, “Beverly!” He moved forwards with difficulty, not stopping until he was free of the box. He sat awkwardly as Beverly quickly examined him, her eyes brimming with tears. “My God…what have they done to you?” Jean-Luc closed his eye and revelled in the feel of his wife’s tender hands gently running over his battered body. The baby started to whimper and Beverly sat back, rubbing the infant’s back through the sling. With the absence of her touch, Jean-Luc opened his eye and watched with deep happiness as Beverly crooned softly to their son. He lifted a hand and gently caressed the baby’s head. With a soft voice he asked, “How is he?” Quelling her distress over her husband’s condition, Beverly smiled and blinked back her tears. Enunciating clearly she replied, “He’s very well…and growing.” The Captain nodded, finding a smile. “And you?” “I’m fine. What happened to you?” Shrugging painfully, Jean-Luc sighed. “They didn’t like what I had to say and the only way they could find to stop me was to beat me.” Moving to sit closer, Beverly gently caressed Jean-Luc’s face as she lost the battle with her tears. She felt his fingers as they brushed away the tracks of her emotion from her cheeks and she gathered the courage to look deeply into his eyes. With deliberate slowness, she said, “You know what they intend to do?” Jean-Luc’s face hardened and he nodded. 198


“Yes.” Beverly gently gripped his chin and forced him to see her determination. “I will do everything I can to prevent it.” Jean-Luc summoned a smile and leaned to kiss his wife. They parted and he asked, “May I hold the baby?” Beverly nodded and gently eased their son from his cocoon. Ignoring the pain of his broken fingers, Jean-Luc cradled his son and lifted him to tenderly kiss his head. “Beverly?” The Doctor lifted her eyes and answered, “Yes?” Taking as deep a breath as his broken ribs would allow, Jean-Luc found the courage to continue. “Tell him about me my love.” Grabbing her husband by his shoulders, Beverly shook him gently. “You are not going to die! I won’t allow it!” About to say more, the Captain was interrupted by the returning guard. “Time’s up! You will leave…NOW!” Beverly began to protest but the guard grabbed Jean-Luc’s collar and shook him like a rag doll. The tall Pran glared down at the seated Doctor. “If you don’t leave immediately he will be punished for your recalcitrance.” Realising what was happening, Jean-Luc handed Jean-Jacques to his mother and quickly kissed her. As Beverly scabbled to her feet, Jean-Luc was brusquely shoved back inside his cell and the door slammed shut. The double click of the lock sent a chill through Beverly and she was standing staring at the locked door when the guard gripped her arm, tugging her to the exit. She left without protest and was back aboard the Excelsior in under five minutes.

Commander Claire Hain paced with infuriating preciseness back and forth in front of the seated Doctor. Ten measured steps then turn and repeat. Beverly chewed the inside of her mouth furiously, striving to keep her anger at bay. Sighing at the inevitability of her irritation, she briefly closed her eyes and asked softly, “Has she said why she won’t see me?” Claire came to a halt and shook her head. “No, although I’ve yet to speak with her directly. I’ve only been able to contact her lady in waiting.” The Doctor rose and wandered over to the replicator, deep in thought. Retrieving two hot drinks, she went back to her chair, sat and said absently, “For God’s sake sit down Commander. Here have a drink.” Caught unawares, Claire blushed faintly and obeyed Beverly, offering an apology. “Sorry…I tend to pace when I’m vexed. It helps me to think.” With a wave of her hand, Beverly absolved her fellow officer. “No problem.” 199


She sipped her drink, her frown deepening. “I take it we can’t beam into the palace?” Claire shook her head and made a cutting gesture with her hand. “Absolutely not. In fact we can’t transport inside any of the government buildings…they’re all shielded.” Beverly’s eyes narrowed and she smiled mischievously. “And the Chief Engineer of this ship can’t do anything about it?” The Commander’s reproachful look made Beverly wince. “You know damn well we can’t even ask her to! To do so would be a gross violation of the Pran’s sovereignty. I’m surprised you even mentioned it.” The chastened Doctor sat back and ran her fingers through her hair in frustration. “You’re right of course…my apologies, but we have to do something for Christ’s sake! You know what those barbaric pricks are going to do! I have to find a way to stop them.” Claire grunted and pinched the bridge of her nose. Silence descended for a few minutes before the Commander sighed and scooted to the edge of her chair. “This will probably get me in very hot water, but the last time I spoke with the lady in waiting I got the distinct impression she was fishing for something.” Beverly sat up, spearing Claire with an intense gaze. “What do you mean?” The Commander sighed and stood, her hands giving form to her words. “It’s nothing tangible, but she made some veiled references to the hidden files and I got the feeling she would be willing to be forthcoming with information if the price was right. If she’s open to negotiation I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find we could enlist her help in getting you an interview with the Regent’s sister.” Beverly’s cerulean eyes clouded in thought as she pinched her lower lip. Looking up at the Commander she asked, “What do you think she’ll want in return?” Claire shrugged. “I’ve no idea.” The Doctor stood and went to the viewport, wrapping her arms around herself and staring at the planet below. “It’s risky.” Claire’s reply held a trace of humour. “Well you know what they say…fortune favours the brave.” Beverly turned her head and regarded her colleague with growing respect. With a decisive nod she smiled wickedly. “Damn right! Contact her Commander but before you agree to anything, come to me first.” Claire gave her assent and left. Beverly turned back to the viewport and placed her fingers against the cold clear aluminium, whispering, “Hold on my love.” Claire returned to Beverly’s quarters an hour later. Her expression was one of guarded optimism but Beverly reined in her anticipation, curbing her impatience long enough to remain silent until the commander was seated on the sofa. The petite woman settled her hands on her thighs and smiled. 200


“I think we’re on to something.” Beverly tensed and clasped her hands. “Tell me.” “She’s willing to help…for a price.” Beverly’s eyes hardened and she muttered, “And just what is the price of her aid?” The Commander sighed sadly. “Actually she surprised me. I thought she’d want something for herself, but that’s not the case. She has a five-year-old daughter who lost a leg in an accident eighteen months ago. She wants us to clone a new limb and attach it.” Beverly’s shoulders sagged and she rubbed her brow. Claire could hear the disappointment and defeat in her voice. “Bloody hell…I don’t think we can do that.” Claire frowned and shook her head. “Are you speaking medically?” Beverly snorted. “No…it would be relatively simple to do as she requests but I’m not sure Captain Steiner would allow it. These people aren’t Federation citizens Commander. Our presence here was for the investigation only, nothing else.” Claire scowled and folded her arms across her chest. “But Doctor, considering what they’ve done…and intend to do to Captain Picard…and their apparent future intentions concerning the Council, surely Captain Steiner will cut us some slack?” With a fatalistic shrug, Beverly sat and cradled her head in her hands. Claire watched in dismay and gently sat beside the distraught Doctor. She took Beverly’s hands, encouraging her to lift her head. “I’ll talk to him Doctor…don’t give up hope.” Her eyes brimming with tears, Beverly summoned a wan smile and managed to squeeze Claire’s hands. Once Commander Hain had left, Beverly toppled sideways in the chair, curling up and quietly sobbing.

Jean-Luc sighed shallowly and opened his eye. There was absolutely no difference in the complete and utter blackness of his cell whether his eye was open or closed. Without his sight and hearing, he was reduced to relying on touch to keep him aware of his surroundings. He hadn’t eaten for over thirty-five hours, not since his disastrous digestive calamity and he was unwilling to risk further trouble by tempting fate. As before, he was given food and water once a day, but he only drank the small cup water, brackish and stale as it was. He knew he wasn’t getting enough fluids and the growing headache was a harbinger of dehydration. On the

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unyielding metal floor of the box, Jean-Luc lay curled on his side; his mind slowly growing sluggish as the results of his concussion and his other injuries began to have their effect. Refusing to dwell on his impending execution, he instead focussed his thoughts on his wife and child. As his mind furnished images of them both he smiled in the darkness, his heart swelling with love and pride. Thoughts wandering, he mused over his life’s experiences, starting as far back as he could remember. Memories of his childhood, his beloved Mother flooded his mind and he began, for the first time in his life, to see his home life from the perspective of a parent. He remembered the interminable conflicts with his father and brother and how his gentle mother always comforted him, never judging, never admonishing just loving and supporting him unconditionally. His eyes filled with tears of regret and frustration as he realised he would never have the opportunity to offer his own son the same unshakable love. He had waited so long to find complete happiness. For over thirty years he had loved Beverly in silence, waiting…hoping one day she would allow him to express his love…and love him in return. And it had finally happened. Innocuously and with a suddenness that surprised them both, they tumbled head first into love, greedily relishing every facet of their burgeoning relationship like people long starved of food would feast given the opportunity. The day they married JeanLuc thought he could not be happier, that his joy and contentment couldn’t possibly be any greater…that was until the day his wife told him she was pregnant. He was so shocked his legs had given way and, if not for the chair behind him, would have found himself on his backside on the floor. Mouth agape and eyes wide, he watched as his amused wife knelt between his knees and took his hands. “Are you all right?” His mouth opened and closed twice before an odd, strangled sound emerged. He frowned in consternation and cleared his throat. “You’re what?” Her smile widening, Beverly rested her elbows on his knees and idly traced her fingers up the insides of his thighs. “I’m pregnant. With child. Up the duff. I’ve got a bun in the…” Jean-Luc grabbed her wandering hands and said gruffly, “Beverly! I understand the term. How did this happen? Aren’t you using an implant?” Somewhat annoyed that he would choose to interrogate her at this moment instead of showing his emotions, Beverly’s smile faded and she shrugged. “Not at the time, no. I haven’t used one in ages…I simply saw no point. Besides there was always the chance I was infertile…I am getting on a bit my love.” There was a moment’s silence until Beverly sighed. “You’re not happy.” Jean-Luc’s clouded eyes cleared and he looked deeply into his wife’s eyes. His incredulous voice was deep with emotion. “Happy? Beverly I’m overjoyed!” The Doctor frowned and tilted her head. “Well you’ve got a funny way of showing it.” Realising his reactions had worried her, Jean-Luc stood, drawing Beverly to her feet. He cradled her head in his hands and kissed her with all the love and tenderness he could muster and was gratified when he felt her body relax into his embrace. After a while he tapered the kiss and rested his brow on hers. In a husky whisper he said, 202


“My beloved Beverly I did not, until this moment, believe it was possible to love you more, but I have been proved wrong. Words at this point in time are woefully inadequate but I want you to know that you have made me the happiest man in the universe. I love you with every fibre of my being and I will love our child no less. You have completed me my love…without you I would simply cease to exist.” Tears slid down Beverly’s face as his words permeated her soul like a soothing balm on a burn. She nudged under his nose and kissed him as her arms encircled his head. With breathy sultriness she moistened his ear. “Make love with me Jean-Luc.” He turned and gently bit her neck, his deep growl sending a shiver down her spine. He picked her up with fluid grace and carried her into the bedroom, his intention to give her the greatest pleasure he was capable of. She wasn’t disappointed, their lovemaking was protracted and extraordinary and as they drifted off into an exhausted slumber, Jean-Luc made himself a promise. “I will love and protect you both as long as I live.” In the inky blackness of his metal box, Jean-Luc felt his hot tears slide down his whiskery cheeks. He screwed his eyes closed and clenched his jaw. “What of your vow now you foolish old man? How can you protect your wife and son when you’re about to be executed?” He grunted and lifted his manacled hands to wipe savagely at his tears. “Why? Why the hell did you put the political machinations of the Federation before the needs of your family? What on Earth were you thinking? All you had to do was refuse! With legal representation there was every chance they wouldn’t have been able to force you to go. You could’ve retired…stayed at LaBarre and spent your days loving your wife and watching your son grow, but no…you had to put duty first.” He sighed and groaned, disgusted with himself. “Fuck! You’re a damned fool Picard and your obstinate pig headedness is going to cost your life and condemn the woman you purport to love to spending her days mourning another lost love and forcing her, once again, to be a single parent.” He knuckled his face, trying to scrub away the flowing tears. “Another fatherless child. My God…how could I have been so utterly stupid?” In the timeless black void that had become his world, Jean-Luc descended into self-loathing. Gone were the tender memories of his wife and child, instead his mind was full of bitter regret. He slipped seamlessly into sleep but his rest was tortured, inhabited by nightmares filled with fear and agony.

Beverly startled awake, her disturbing dream incorporating the noise that had woken her. Under her hand, her infant son slept beside her in the bed, face down and totally relaxed, his thumb stuck in his mouth. Beverly’s lips curled in a smile and she was about to lift him when the door chime sounded again. Realising it was that which had awakened her, the Doctor rose sluggishly, pulling on a robe and trying to tame her unruly red locks. “Computer who is at my door?” “Commander Claire Hain.” 203


By the time Beverly reached the living area, she’d managed to get her hair into a ponytail and tie her robe. Casting a look at the untidy room, she grimaced in distaste before calling, “Come in.” The Commander entered, looking disgustingly bright and chipper, her uniform crisp and clean, not a hair on her head out of place. Beverly forced a smile as she stooped to pick up the blanket and soft toys, her rueful greeting bringing a smile to the Commander’s face. “Make yourself at home…I’ll be with you in a moment.” Claire chuckled quietly and went to the replicator. “What’s your usual morning poison?” Beverly looked over her shoulder and grinned. “Coffee. Hot, black and no sugar.” Claire snorted, her brows raised. “Wow you take it seriously then.” Beverly picked up the last of the baby clothes and towel, left over from the previous night’s bath and nodded curtly. “You bet. There’s nothing like a good shot of strong black coffee to start your heart and clear your head in the morning.” Retrieving the hot drinks, Claire made her way over to the low table. “Well I’m not so brave. Coffee’s my drink of choice too, but with milk and sugar.” The two women spent several moments sipping before Claire set her mug down. “I’ve spoken to Captain Steiner.” Mirroring the Commander’s actions, Beverly put her mug down and sat forward. “And?” “He’s not unsympathetic.” “But?” Claire shrugged. “He has some…concerns…misgivings if you will.” Beverly folded her arms and lowered her head. “So he’s going to refuse.” Claire shook her head. “No. In fact I think he will acquiesce, but he wants to talk to you first. From what I gathered, he’s not going to say anything to Command either.” Beverly’s eyebrows rose, her icy blue eyes incredulous. “My God…he is going out on a limb! All right, when do we meet?” The Commander grinned. “As soon as you’re ready, although he did say he wanted you to have breakfast and change out of your night clothes.” Seeing Beverly’s confusion, Claire clarified, “It’s oh six thirty.” Beverly’s face reddened as she stood. Flashing both open hands she muttered, “Give me ten minutes. While I’m getting ready, replicate some croissants and some more coffee.” As Beverly moved to the bedroom, Claire called, “Shall I summon Lieutenant Carmody?” The Doctor reappeared at the door. “Uh huh…and tell her I’m sorry and I’ll try and find a way to make it up to her.” 204


“Will do.”

When Beverly re-emerged dressed and with her son in her arms, two women greeted her. They sat at the dining table and as they ate the hot pastries, Beverly fed her son. Within twenty minutes she was ready to leave. “Right Lorraine, there’s plenty of milk in the cooling unit…thank God I’ve been expressing so much. You know where everything else is…I’ll be back as soon as I can.” The young Lieutenant stood and took the baby. “No problem Doctor. I’ll change him and let him play for a while before I put him down.” Beverly smiled her thanks and left with Claire. She was surprised to be led to the Captain’s quarters, somehow expecting to go to his Ready Room. He answered the chime in a measured tone. “Enter.” He was seated at his dining table, a plate of bacon and eggs in front of him. He gestured to the seats and the women sat. Placing his cutlery beside his plate, he lifted his mug and took a long sip of his coffee. “So Doctor Crusher…we have a problem.” In typical Crusher fashion, Beverly frowned and shook her head. “Not a problem exactly Sir…more like a…hiccup.” Steiner took another sip of his drink and smirked. “A hiccup? Let me get this straight. You want the medical staff of this ship to clone a new leg… then perform the surgery necessary to attach it…for a young girl from an unaligned planet, the government of which is about to execute an innocent member of Starfleet for a crime he didn’t commit, to make a political point? How am I doing so far?” Beverly smiled ruefully and nodded. “Spot on Sir, but there’s more to it than that.” Wiping his mouth with his napkin, the Captain sat back and picked up his mug. With a wave of his hand he said, “By all means…enlighten me Doctor.” Casting a quick look at Claire and receiving her nod, Beverly settled into her seat and began. “Captain we need to speak with the Regent’s sister. She, and she alone, holds the key to this whole mess, including the means to exonerate Captain Picard. I take it you’ve read all the reports?” The Captain nodded silently. “Do you remember the semen sample…the one they tried to pass off as coming from Captain Picard?” Again the silent nod. “Well Sir I believe that was a very telling piece of evidence.” The Captain’s eyebrows rose. “You believe it’s genuine?”

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“Yes Sir, without a doubt. It is my belief that Gerrance Ho’ lost her virginity to a Pran male that day and tried to set Captain Picard up to take the blame. With her chastity being so important, if she had sex with a Pran male and it was discovered…all hell would break loose. She knew this and concocted the rape allegations against Captain Picard to cover herself.” There was silence while the Captain mulled over her words. He set his mug down and ran his fingers around the rim. “But what about the semen sample? Whoever tried to do the genetic manipulation must have known it was Pran and not Human.” “Agreed and I think we can find out about it if we can talk to the Regent’s sister.” Reaching over to a small plate, Steiner took a piece of toast, tore it in two and mopped up some egg yolk. He ate thoughtfully then sipped his cooling drink. “And you think she can stop the execution?” Beverly sighed and lifted her hands. “Truth? I’m not certain, but if we can get to the bottom of this and find a way to get her to admit Captain Picard is innocent, then the legal precedent for his execution will be null and void. They will have to release him.” Steiner grimaced. “And the political one upmanship?” Beverly shrugged. “Moot. Because of the Dominion war, the vacancy on the Council will exist for months…you know that and so does the Regent. Yes he may lose some leverage but the Federation will still welcome Pran with open arms. He’s in a win-win situation.” Setting his mug down, the Captain folded his arms. “And what do you envisage for the medical procedure?” Beverly swallowed nervously. “Ah. That may be a little tricky.” The Captain raised his eyebrows in enquiry. Beverly held up her hand and shook her head. “Not medically speaking, it's a relatively simple procedure. The problem is time. If we can secure Captain Picard’s release, we have to get him back to Earth as soon as possible. Medical have found a compatible donor to cure his deafness, but, although the harvested organs are in stasis, they’re time dependent. That would mean leaving the system with the cloning process underway and the Excelsior returning later to finish the job.” The Captain snorted. “Without you on board.” Beverly smiled with embarrassment. “Yes Sir.” Steiner picked up his napkin and folded it with great deliberation. His sigh made Beverly’s heart sink. He stared into his coffee; deep in thought then lifted his head, a small smile on his face. “Very well Doctor, you have my blessing. Proceed.” In stunned silence, Beverly allowed her mouth to gape. Snapping it closed she swallowed and asked breathlessly, “Pardon Sir?” The Captain frowned and leaned closer. “Go. Set up the meeting and free your husband.”

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Beverly was out in the corridor with Claire before she realised she hadn’t thanked the Captain. With a shake of her head she increased her pace, heading for her quarters.

Chewing fingernails wasn’t something Beverly habitually did, but as she sat in her chair listening to Claire wheedle and cajole the reluctant maid in waiting; it was all she could do to calm herself. Hearing the suspicious allegations of reneging echoing through the room, Beverly eventually had enough She stood and raised her voice. “This is Doctor Beverly Crusher. What is your name?” After a momentary silence, a cautious voice answered, “Lerril M’haban.” “May I call you Lerril?” “I suppose so.” Pacing slowly about her quarters, Beverly strove for calm. “You can call me Beverly. It is my husband that’s in jail awaiting execution Lerril. On his life I promise you we will do as we say. We will take the necessary cells from your daughter and we will clone her a new leg. Then we will attach it…but…it may be that we have to leave then come back. Now I know Commander Hain has explained all this to you but I want you to know you have my word…as a wife and mother…we will not let you down. If you get us an interview with Gerrance Ho’…today…we will honour our end of the bargain.” Silence greeted her words and the two women looked at each other, Claire offering a small shrug. When Lerril’s voice came through, Beverly closed her eyes with relief. “Very well…Beverly. I will contact you soon. M’haban out.” Beverly plopped down into a chair and rubbed her forehead. Claire sat beside her and gently punched her shoulder. “Well done Doctor.” The red head grinned ruefully and sighed. “I think it’s about time you called me Beverly too.” The Commander grinned. “Then I’m Claire.” Lieutenant Carmody emerged from the bedroom with Jean-Jacques, the little boy grizzling. With a shake of her head, the Lieutenant let Beverly know she wasn’t needed as she went to the cooling unit and took out a small bottle. After warming it in the replicator, the young woman sat and fed the baby while watching the two older women. Just as the silence was becoming oppressive, the comm came to life. “Bridge to Doctor Crusher.” “Crusher here.” “Doctor there is an incoming transmission for you from the surface.” “Thank you Bridge, please send it down here. Crusher out.” The channel opened and a tentative voice sounded. “Beverly?” The Doctor smiled. 207


“Yes Lerril.” “It is done. Do you know the garden at the rear of the palace?” “Yes.” “Transport down there in thirty minutes. Gerrance Ho’ will be in the garden at that time. I will make sure you’re not disturbed but you won’t have long.” “Thank you Lerril. Someone from the ship will be down soon to see your daughter. Crusher out.” Beverly turned her attention to Lieutenant Carmody. “Will you be able to stay?” The young woman nodded. “Yes. Captain Steiner has put me at your disposal Sir.” With a grateful smile Beverly contacted Sick Bay and organised someone to go down to the surface to gather the required cells from Lerril’s daughter. Then she turned to Claire. “Are we ready?” The Commander nodded decisively. “Ready as we’ll ever be.” Beverly stood and adopted her husband’s habit of tugging down the front of her uniform. Comforted by the gesture, she took a large breath. “Right…let’s go.”

Beverly and Claire rematerialised under the spreading boughs of an enormous umbrella-shaped tree. They looked about in awe, the extensive gardens stretching around them in well-manicured glory. An elaborate fountain splashed several metres away and, as Beverly looked, a tall stately woman stepped around its perimeter. The Doctor grabbed Claire’s sleeve and gave a gentle tug. Having gained the Commander’s attention, Beverly inclined her head towards the Pran woman. With a small nod of acknowledgement, the two officers slowly emerged from the shady tree. As they approached the Regent’s sister they noticed she kept her eyes focussed to her left, seemingly staring off into the sculptured foliage. With her obvious preoccupation and the noisy fountain, she never heard the officer’s approach. Beverly spoke, her voice soft. “My lady?” The Pran woman’s head snapped around, her hand going to a weapon, hidden in the folds of her flowing cape. Beverly raised her hands and smiled. “There is no need for alarm my Lady, we are here to talk to you, that’s all.” The deep red eyes of the regal woman slid over both Beverly and Claire in a cold study before the hand was withdrawn empty of the weapon. Her voice was brittle and wary. “Who are you and why do you dare to enter my garden without permission?” Keeping her disarming smile in place, Beverly gestured with her hand. “I am Doctor Beverly Crusher and this”, She placed her hand on Claire’s shoulder, “Is Commander Claire Hain. We are sorry to have disturbed you my lady, but we need to speak with you about something very important.” 208


The Pran woman drew herself up to her full height and glared down at the two Humans. “You are the wife of the criminal Picard! I have nothing to say to you. Go back to your ship or I will summon the guards.” With a slow shake of her head, Beverly let the woman see the determination in her eyes. “No. We won’t leave until we’ve said what we came to say and you won’t call for help.” Gerrance Ho’ sneered and lifted her chin defiantly. “And why is that?” Beverly stared up into the woman’s eyes and said quietly, “Because you know Captain Picard is innocent.” So many emotions crossed the woman’s face; it was difficult for Beverly to decide what she was thinking. The Regent’s sister looked nervously over her shoulder before abruptly turning and stalking off into the gardens. Beverly and Claire followed without hesitation, their short journey taking them to a small clearing adorned with wooden furniture. Gerrance Ho’ sat on a large bench seat and ignored the Humans as they sat in chairs in front of her. For several minutes there was silence, the sound of the fountain muted by the distance. Eventually the Pran lifted her head and stared at the ground. When she spoke her voice was hushed. “How do you know?” Beverly sat forward and clasped her hands between her knees. “Our technology helped, but I know my husband my Lady. He would never do what you accused him of.” Glancing off to her left, the regent’s sister nervously chewed her lip and shook her head. “What do you intend to do?” Beverly shrugged. “About what? There’s nothing we can do to stop the execution…you know that.” Red eyes stared beseechingly into Beverly’s blue eyes, the tall woman seeming to shrink before their eyes. “Are you going to tell the Regent?” The two Humans looked at each other in confusion. Claire asked softly, “He doesn’t know?” With a shake of her head, Gerrance Ho’ tiredly rubbed her forehead. “No.” Again the Humans shared a look. Claire sat forward and adopted Beverly’s pose. “May we ask why?” Gerrance Ho’ sat back and flapped her hand in a dismissive gesture. “This all happened nearly eighteen years ago. What difference does it make?” Beverly reached with her hand; gently tweaking the sleeve of the brightly coloured tunic the Pran woman wore. “Please my Lady.” With an expansive sigh, the Regent’s sister capitulated. “Oh very well. When the incident occurred my father, Hirrud Ho’ was Regent. He liked Captain Picard…liked and respected him. When I made my accusations against your husband my father was doubtful. He suspected something entirely different had taken place, but, at the time, he couldn’t prove anything. When the initial investigation cleared Captain Picard, my father was inclined to refuse the request for the Captain to leave. He wanted to find out exactly what had happened, but he had no legal precedent to keep the Captain here on Pran, so he granted him permission to leave. Because of my father’s feelings towards your husband, the matter would 209


have rested there but fate dictated otherwise. Although I was only fifteen at the time, I had considerable influence over my closest staff. These people had faithfully served my family for generations and were utterly devoted to us. Through my connections to the government I was able to make sure the evidence and the transcripts were buried. Not only that, but the scientists who were aware of the fact that the biological sample taken from me was Pran and not Human were…encouraged to stay silent. Within our society Captain Picard was considered guilty…the alternative was too difficult to bear. Everything was proceeding without trouble until three years ago when my father died and my brother succeeded him as Regent. Myrin Ho’ had always chafed at the idea of my father allowing Captain Picard to leave. He never believed the investigation that cleared him and had always vowed revenge. When he took the Regency he promised me he would make the Captain pay for what he’d done. As you can plainly see…he made good on his vow.” Beverly sat back and ran her fingers through her hair. She closed her eyes briefly and sighed. “What really happened that afternoon my Lady?” Tears welled in the Pran woman’s eyes and she covered her face with her hands. The two Humans allowed her some time before Beverly said, “Please tell us.” Recovering her composure with difficulty, Gerrance Ho’ sat up and swallowed. “I had fallen in love with a young palace guard. It was he who was with me that afternoon. I gave him my most sacred gift and he pledged his undying love. It was only afterwards that I realised my folly. For all of my life I have undergone a medical check each morning. One of the most important things that is verified is my virginity. As the daughter of the Regent, it is forbidden for me to lay with a man outside of marriage. Although I would suffer the shame of being sullied, whoever took my maidenhood would be summarily executed. I had to protect my lover.” Striving to control her anger, Beverly sighed. “So you decided to lay the blame with Captain Picard? Why him?” With a sigh of her own, the Regent’s sister had the good grace to show embarrassment. “Two reasons. Firstly the visit by a Federation ship was regarded with deep suspicion by both the government and the people. It was only at my father’s insistence that Captain Picard and his staff were allowed to set foot on our planet, but the minute I met the Captain, and this is the second reason, I was captivated…and somewhat attracted. I was deeply troubled by my reactions…he was an alien after all, but there was something about him…a nobility…and an unmistakable aura of authority…even at my tender age I found him compelling. When I was searching for an answer to my dilemma he quickly came to my mind. I summoned him and, I’m embarrassed to say, attempted to seduce him. He immediately recognised what I was doing and very gently let me know my advances were unwanted. He then left my room and despite his tact and diplomacy…and his gentleness in refusing me, I was left feeling hurt and humiliated. As the daughter of the Regent I was unused to anyone denying me. Your husband had the effrontery to refuse my seduction and the unmitigated gall to be somewhat amused by it, although he hid it very well. Being so young I allowed my outrage to colour my actions and my anger helped me maintain my determination to make the accusations against him.” Beverly shook her head and sighed. She rubbed her face and crossed her legs, sitting back in the seat and settling her eyes on the red eyes of the Regent’s sister. “So for the last seventeen years you have perpetrated the accusations and never admitted the truth. Why didn’t you say something when it became clear your brother was going to pursue Captain Picard? I mean surely you knew what would happen if the Captain returned?” 210


Gerrance Ho’ nodded tiredly. “Yes I knew, but by then the political situation here on Pran had shifted greatly. We knew the Garsis and two other planets within our system were passing us in technology. The balance of power was subtly shifting and we knew, albeit with great reluctance, that an alliance with the Federation was going to be the only way we would be able to retain our long held superiority. When Myrin Ho’ told me of his plans I knew I had to stay silent.” Anger and outrage welled in Beverly and she had difficulty containing it. “So you were willing to sacrifice an innocent man to help your brother gain points in a political game? My God…how could you?” The red eyes of the Pran woman glittered and she hissed, “That’s not the only reason Doctor!” Throwing caution to the wind, Beverly sprang to her feet and shouted, “Well what then? Tell me why you’re willing to let my husband die!” With her hand on her weapon, the regent’s sister stood and towered over the incensed Doctor. Her voice was low with menace. “How dare you! You will not speak to me like that!” By now rising to fury, Beverly ignored Claire’s hand as it gripped her arm. “I’ll speak to you any damn way I want! Answer the question!” Gerrance Ho’ withdrew her hand, brandishing a dagger. She waved it in Beverly’s face and growled, “Leave or die!” As the Doctor took a defensive pose a deep voice came from the foliage to her right. “That is not necessary my Lady. Lower your weapon.” Beverly glanced over her shoulder to see a male Pran step into the clearing. Gerrance Ho’ turned to him, her voice urgent. “No! Badet Ne’ you must go.” The tall Pran, dressed in the uniform of the Regency guards, went to the Pran woman’s side and gently gripped her wrist. “My love…the time for lies is past. Now we must tell the truth.” With agonising slowness, the dagger was lowered and the two Pran spent several seconds staring into each other’s eyes. It was the male who broke the impasse. He turned to the two Humans and bowed. “I am Sentor Badet Ne’. It was I who was with her Ladyship that afternoon. We betrothed our love that day…a love that has stood the test of time.” The Pran couple joined hands and sighed. Claire frowned and shook her head. “I don’t understand. If you love each other why aren’t you married? You could have averted this whole episode years ago.” Sadness crossed the male’s face and he sighed, refraining from answering as he ushered his lover to the bench. When his eyes settled on the Starfleet officers they saw his resignation. “Marriage between us is impossible. My Lady is high born, I am lowly born.” Beverly regained her seat, her voice incredulous. “This entire situation is one of castes?” Gerrance Ho’ nodded. “Yes. We cannot marry; in fact if our relationship were to become public there would be great trouble for both of us. I would be forced to enter the sisterhood and Badet Ne’ would be consigned to the mines, but despite the threat of punishment, the worst thing would be our separation.” 211


They looked into each other’s eyes and sighed. It was Badet Ne’ who voiced their thoughts. “We would surely die.” Beverly cradled her head in her hands and sighed. “What a s bloody mess!” Badet Ne’ held his lover’s hands as he turned and set his solemn gaze on the two Humans. His deep voice was soft. “There is more. My beloved Gerrance Ho’ is with child.” Beverly’s head shot up. “But that’s great news! The Regent wanted an heir…this is wonderful.” Gerrance Ho’ shook her head vehemently. “No it isn’t! I am unwed and the father of my child is lowly born. This is a disaster! The only good thing is that the father of my child is the same man who took my virginity. It may be the only thing that saves him when my brother finds out.” Claire frowned and asked, “Why would it be important for the father to be the same man who took your virginity?” The Regent’s sister sighed expansively. “Because that is the only way an heir can be produced. No other man can produce an heir other than the first.” Beverly stood and paced slowly between the seats. “But doesn’t this strengthen your position? Your brother was so desperate for an heir he asked Captain Picard to return to your planet to become your husband for that very reason.” The Pran woman scowled. “That was because my brother believed your husband had taken my maidenhood. In his eyes no other male would do.” Striving to keep calm, Beverly persisted. “But my Lady think! Everything your brother wanted is right here before us. You two are in love. Badet Ne’ was your first lover and is now the father of your child. Surely these things override the discrepancies of your stations? The issue of caste is irrelevant in the face of what you represent to Myrin Ho’. He must see that…surely?” The Pran woman shook her head but her lover gently squeezed her hands. “My Lady perhaps the Human is right. In any case we will soon be forced to admit your condition as you’re beginning to show. Your loyal courtesans can hide you only so long. Sooner or later your brother will find out.” Tears welled up in the red eyes of the Regent’s sister. “But my love…he will kill you.” The Pran male shrugged. “Perhaps…perhaps not. Either way we must confront him. It is time my beloved.” The couple stood and Gerrance Ho’ regained her composure to ask, “You will accompany us to the palace? I will contact my brother.” Both Starfleet officers nodded and in silence the group made their way through the gardens to the imposing façade of the rear of the palace. Once inside, Gerrance Ho’ dismissed the servants who came to her and gestured for the group to follow her into a ground floor office. Taking seats, they waited in a foyer while the Pran woman entered the inner office. She was only gone a few minutes. Her hurried return and worried frown boded ill. Beverly was first to react. “What is it?” Gerrance Ho was so distraught she was wringing her hands. 212


“The Regent is not in the government buildings.” With fear dogging her pounding heart, Beverly asked softly, “Where is he my Lady?” “At the prison.” Claire abruptly stood and gripped Beverly’s arm. ”We have to get there! The only reason the Regent would be at the jail is if Captain Picard’s execution was to take place.” With a monumental effort, Beverly stayed calm. “We can’t get into the prison my Lady. Can you get us in…can you stop this?” The lovers shared a look, Badet Ne’ taking charge. “We will all go together. My guards are escorting the Regent. Hurry!” As the group ran from the palace, servants and guards scattered, never before having witnessed anything like it.

In the stifling confines of his metal box, Jean-Luc sweated and dozed fitfully. As his jailers had noted he refused the food they brought, they stopped bringing his daily meal altogether. Unfortunately that meant no water. By now weakened by lack of food, water and his injuries, the wretched man pulled his legs up in a useless effort to find a comfortable way to lie. He did not hear the door to his box open and when two large hands gripped his ankles and pulled him from the box, he yelped and tried to protect his eyes from the harsh glare of the overhead lights. The restraints on his wrists and ankles were removed and the accompanying order delivered with a sharp kick to his back. “On your feet!” Unable to hear the order, Jean-Luc nonetheless attempted to rise to his feet. Getting slowly to all fours, Jean-Luc struggled to stand, but not fast enough for his guards. A savage kick to his stomach sent him to his side, curled in a ball. Rough hands grabbed his garment collar and hauled him to his feet. When he staggered he received a vicious blow to his knee with a truncheon. The guttural voice was close but went unheard. “The prisoner will stand!” The Captain’s hands covered his stomach as he bent forward to ease the pain in his midriff. A truncheon was jammed under his chin and wrenched upwards, forcing him to straighten and lift his head. Metal poles were attached to his steel collar and he was dragged towards the door. His pleas for a slower pace were ignored. Fortunately his journey was a short one. Still trying to gain his footing, he was dragged into a large room and unceremoniously dumped onto the floor. The order to stand went unheard and the following blows to his feet made him howl in agony. Hands gripped his arms painfully as he was hoisted to his feet. The searing agony in his feet made it almost impossible to stand, but the threat of further punishment made Jean-Luc rally his courage to bear the pain. Gritting his teeth, he forced his eyes open and took in his surroundings. The room was moderately large and glaringly white. All surfaces gleamed, reflecting the brilliant light of the bright meshed fixtures in the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a sinister black frame. Star shaped, it was 213


fashioned of heavy native timber and had restraints fastened to the extremities and at its centre. Two guards stood at either side and a third male, dressed completely in black, stood to the right of the frame. Before him was a table, painted white and on it were a box and a thin strip of what looked like leather. The black-clad male gestured to the men holding the captain and they immediately stripped him of his clothing. Once naked, he was shoved to the frame, turned so that his back was to the wood, and strapped to its surface. When the guards stepped back Jean-Luc was utterly immobile. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing his terror aside so that he could fill his mind with thoughts of his beloved wife and son. The hand that gently gripped his chin made him open his eyes and he stared into the implacable red orbs of Myrin Ho’. “So Picard…it has come to this.” Jean-Luc tried to say something but the Regent shook his head. “No…words are useless now. I know you can’t hear me Picard but I will tell you anyway. I am aware of where your mechanical heart is now and I won’t miss it a second time.” The Regent stepped back and dragged his fingers over Jean-Luc’s left chest. “You raped my sister and now you will pay.” He turned to the black-clad male and gestured curtly. “Prepare him!” As the order was obeyed, Jean-Luc said quietly, “Let me go Myrin Ho’. I am innocent…please…let me return to my family.” The Regent remained silent merely watching dispassionately as the black-clad male took one of the thin leather strips and tied it tightly around Jean-Luc’s genitals. The Captain groaned and closed his eyes as the agony shot through his body. The executioner next went to the table and opened the wooden box. From its interior he withdrew a ceremonial dagger. With great reverence he presented it to his Regent and Myrin Ho’ touched the blade, murmuring a blessing. Having gained the benediction, the hulking male returned to the helpless Human and gripped his genitals. He placed the blade under the scrotum and uttered, “With these organs you defiled the Regent’s sister. I will remove them so in the next life you will not be able to rape again.” Jean-Luc squeezed his eyes shut as he felt the cold blade press against his flesh and tensed his body, awaiting the sting of the first cut. He didn’t hear the commotion at the door. Beverly’s voice rang out loudly, freezing the executioner’s hands. “Stop!” Myrin Ho’ whirled around, outrage plain upon his face. “How dare you! Get out!” Guards moved forward quickly but hesitated at seeing their Sestor. Badet Ne’ entered the room and bowed low to his Regent. “My Lord we have important information you must hear.” The Regent waved his hand dismissively. “I don’t care what your information is…females are forbidden in the execution room. You know that!” Going down on one knee to show his reverence, Badet Ne’ lifted his fist to his forehead. “My Lord what we have to say is more important than the traditions of this room.” Myrin Ho’ had known his Sestor since boyhood. Badet Ne’s family had served the Regent’s loyally for generations and it was with this in mind that the Regent held up his hand. “Very well my brave Sestor. Rise and face me.”

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Badet Ne’ glanced over his shoulder and summoned Gerrance Ho’ Once his lover was by his side, the tall Pran officer faced his Regent. “My Lord Captain Picard is innocent. He did not defile your Sister.” Myrin Ho’ folded his arms across his chest and frowned. “And you know this how?” With great courage, Badet Ne’ kept his voice strong and even. “Because it was I who took her maidenhood my Lord.” An ominous silence descended. Gerrance Ho’ took her lover’s hand and said softly, “We loved each other then as now my brother. I accused Captain Picard to protect Badet Ne’ just as I will endeavour to protect him now when I tell you I carry his child.” The Regent flinched as if struck. He stepped back, looking aghast at his sister. “You gave your gift to a lowly born and now you carry his child? By the Gods…I will see him hung! And you…you will suffer for what you’ve done!” Beverly came to Gerrance Ho’s side and lifted her hand. “Sir please…think about this. Your sister carries the heir for the Regency. Apart from the difference in their stations, all the parameters have been met. Badet Ne’ was your sister’s first lover and as such is the only man to be in a position to father an heir. Your dreams of keeping the Regency in your family can come true…if…you allow them to marry.” The Regent’s face screwed up in a disdainful sneer. “Impossible! The law is absolute. She must marry within her caste.” Beverly smiled and gestured around her. “If I may Sir…the law has already been broken today. You are talking to females inside the execution room. Sometimes we have to look at the law to see if it’s still valid. Perhaps you will see that in this case, an exception can be made.” Myrin Ho’ was about to say more when Beverly shook her head. “Sir, with the confession of Badet Ne’, the legal precedent for holding my husband is no longer valid. Release him…please.” Myrin Ho’ spun on his heel and gave a curt, angry nod. The black-clad male let go of Jean-Luc’s genitals and withdrew the dagger. It took only seconds to undo the restraints and Jean-Luc fell to the floor, unable to stand. Beverly was at his side instantly, calling for a blanket to cover the suffering man. The Regent ignored the Doctor and her husband, instead turning his attention to his sister. He went to her and spoke with anger and confusion. “Do you realise what you’ve done? Not only have you besmirched our family, you have damaged my plans for our world’s future. What price will we have to pay for your sordid, tawdry affair?” With courage she didn’t know she possessed, Gerrance Ho’ faced her brother. “There needn’t be any price my brother. I have been told the vacancy on the Federation Council you covet will remain for many turns. Pran will be accepted into the Federation and you will have ample time to lobby for your position on the council. And…my Lord…you can take your place within the Federation knowing the Regency will remain in our family, as it has for generations. It is a time of change Myrin Ho’ from within and without our world.” Claire Hain crouched beside Beverly and took her jacket off, placing it with Beverly’s over the groaning man. Jean-Luc weakly grabbed his wife’s arm and gained her attention. “Please…undo this…”

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He gestured to his groin and Beverly winced. After trying to undo the leather strip without success, she growled up at the executioner, “Give me that bloody dagger!” The imposing Pran shook his head. “Impossible. Females may not touch the divine blade.” Keeping her temper in check with difficulty, Beverly ground out through clenched teeth, “Then get me something to cut the strip…NOW!” The black-clad male glanced at his Regent only to find him in deep conversation with his sister and her lover. He hesitated for a few seconds before approaching the nearest guard and speaking softly to him. He soon returned bearing a small knife. Beverly nodded her thanks and carefully severed the leather strip. Jean-Luc’s genitals were darkly swollen and as circulation was restored, he curled up and whimpered, his hands going to his crotch. The two Starfleet officers watched helplessly as he suffered, frustrated by their inability to help him. Claire rose and went back to the Regent, waiting respectfully until he acknowledged her. He lifted a hand and turned. “What do you want?” “Sir we need to transport Captain Picard back to our ship as soon as possible. We can’t transport within the jail and we need someone to carry him to where we can transport. Can you help us please?” Myrin Ho’ pursed his lips and gave his Sestor a long look. Coming to his decision, he nodded. “Badet Ne’ you will carry the Captain to the reception room and see these officers safely to their ship. Then you will join me and my sister back at the palace. We have much to discuss.��� The Sestor bowed low the turned to Claire. Together they rejoined Beverly and the Captain. With gentleness belying his enormous size and strength, Badet Ne’ picked Jean-Luc up, cradling him in his arms. A guard arrived with a blanket and it was draped over the man, affording him a modicum of comfort and privacy. Their journey to the reception area was mercifully quick and Beverly smiled her encouragement as she tapped her com badge. “Excelsior, four to beam directly to Sickbay.” They didn’t hear the acknowledgement. Rematerialising in the medical facility, the staff immediately surrounded the tall Pran and gestured for him to lay his burden on a bio bed. This he did then Beverly instructed a staff member to take the Sestor to a transporter room for his return to the planet. Receiving a surreptitious nod from the CMO, Beverly joined the doctor as she scanned the Captain, her frown showing her displeasure at his condition. As the CMO worked, Beverly felt a gentle pressure on her arm. She turned her head and raised her eyes to see Claire by her side. “I’m going to report to the Captain, then I’ll contact Lerril M’haban to tell her we’ll be leaving soon. How much time do we have to get back to Earth?” Beverly frowned, shaking her head. “Eight days.” Claire grinned. “Then I’d better suggest maximum warp. I’ll check on the cloning progress before I leave.” Beverly nodded. “Good idea. The mother will want to know.” As Beverly turned her attention back to her husband, the Commander left. The CMO finished her scans and sighed. “Well I think we can avoid surgery, but we’ve got plenty of work to do.” 216


She turned to her head nurse. “I need an osteo fuser, a tissue regenerator and deep regeneration apparatus. Also, I want him on a dextrose drip and I’ll be needing two hyposprays, one with telopine and the other with sentomine.” Beverly nodded. “An anti-inflammatory as well as a potent analgesic.” The CMO nodded. “Yes he’s going to need both…in abundance.” With well-oiled efficiency, the staff treated the Captain and within two hours he was in a quiet alcove, clean, healed and resting. The analgesic chosen had a sedative effect and, as he dozed, Beverly sat by his side. The gentle voice of Lieutenant Carmody interrupted her thoughts and she looked up, a warm smile spreading across her face. “Well hello there.” The Lieutenant placed a bassinet on the table and gently lifted the sleeping baby from his warm nest. She placed the little boy in his mother’s arms and smiled down at the pair. “We’re almost out of milk and I thought by now…” Beverly grimaced ruefully and nodded. “Oh yes…I’m more than ready to feed him, thank you.” Sensing his mother’s presence, Jean-Jacques turned his head and snuffled sleepily against her breast. Although being in uniform made it somewhat difficult, Beverly managed to feed him and enjoyed gently rubbing his back to encourage the wanted burp. An hour later the baby was lying beside his father, naked and waving his limbs about with uncoordinated fascination. Jean-Luc stirred and Beverly gently took his hands. “Steady my love.” The Captain’s eyes opened sluggishly and he looked up at the ceiling, not having heard his wife. His voice was deep and husky. “What?” Gentle hands lifted his head and he felt a cup pressed to his lips. “Have a drink Jean-Luc.” As he sipped, his eyes finally found his wife. They glittered with intensity as he watched her, causing Beverly to smile tenderly. She picked up a PADD and spoke. “How do you feel?” He finished the drink and sighed, his voice clearer. “Not too bad…a few aches and pains.” Beverly spent a few moments putting a nappy on their son before picking him up. She again utilised the PADD. “Well considering what you’ve been through I’m not surprised.” Jean-Luc lifted his head and scowled at the regen beams aimed at several parts of his body. “What’s the damage?” The Doctor sat on his bed and gently laid the baby next to his father. Jean-Luc placed his hand on his son’s chest and smiled as Beverly answered his question with the PADD. “Several fingers were broken, as were some ribs. Severely bruised kidneys, liver, stomach and feet. Fractured cheek bone and eye socket, concussion, severe dehydration and an irritated bowel. Too many soft tissue injuries to note and swelling and bruising to your genitals.” Jean-Luc grunted and shifted in the bed so he could kiss his son’s head. “I take it everything’s been fixed?” 217


Beverly smiled. She spoke into the PADD and Jean-Luc read. “Uh huh, but you’ll be having regen treatments for twenty-four hours.” The Captain scowled. “So I will have to stay here?” Beverly nodded. “I’m afraid so my love, but we’ll be here with you.” He read then shook his head. “No Beverly. Visit by all means, but take Jean-Jacques back to our quarters. You’ll both be happier there.” About to argue, the Doctor was halted by her husband’s hand. “What is our status?” Beverly huffed, a scowl on her face. She almost shoved the PADD at him. “We’ve left Pran and are proceeding to Earth at maximum warp.” The Captain frowned, shaking his head. “Why so fast?” “Because Medical has a compatible donor for you, but we have limited time in which we can use the harvested organs.” He read and sighed. “What happened on Pran?” Beverly snorted and took the PADD, speaking for some minutes. Jean-Luc read and rubbed his face. “The whole thing was to protect her lover? And now she’s pregnant to him? God what a mess. What did the Regent say?” Beverly took the PADD and sighed. “He was outraged at first, in fact he was going to kill Badet Ne’ and punish his sister, but thankfully, he saw reason and realised he could still get everything he wanted. All in all it turned out well.” Jean-Luc read and nodded. “I take it I have several people to thank?” Beverly nodded and was about to say more when Captain Steiner arrived. He smiled at the little family and gestured for the PADD. “Captain Picard I’m very happy to see you. For a while there I thought we wouldn’t see you again.” Jean-Luc read and smiled. “You and me both Captain. I must thank you for all your help…your staff have been wonderful.” Steiner shrugged and smiled, enunciating clearly, “Think nothing of it.” Jean-Luc and Beverly both chuckled, startling their son who wailed. Taking the baby in her arms, Beverly hushed him and he eventually quietened. Steiner sighed and turned to the Doctor. “Well I’ll be getting back to the Bridge. Let me know if you need anything.” “Thank you Captain.” As the younger man left, Jean-Luc yawned expansively. He blinked his tears away and gently took Beverly’s hand. “Go back to our quarters…I’m going to sleep.” Realising the futility of arguing, Beverly nodded and put their son in his bassinet. She bent and kissed her husband and he smiled. 218


“See you later.” As she left the alcove, Beverly lowered the lights and whispered, “I love you Jean-Luc.” He was asleep before she got out of Sickbay. Jean-Luc was discharged late the next day. His return to their quarters was celebrated with a small meal and a glass of wine before the Captain succumbed to sleep. Over the next three days he slept a lot, his body taking the opportunity to restore itself. In the afternoon of the fifth day the chime of the door made Beverly lift her head from her book and cast her husband a curious look. He frowned and asked, “What?” She pointed at the door, mouthing, “There’s someone at the door.” The Captain resettled his sleeping son on his chest and grimaced. “Do we have to have visitors?” In answer, Beverly lifted her head and called, “Computer who is at our door?” “Commander Claire Hain, Commander Edward Dunlop and Commander Catherine Harding.” The Doctor’s eyebrows rose and she picked up her PADD. After speaking into the device she went to her husband so he could read it. “These are important visitors my love…we should see them.” With a sigh, the Captain nodded. “Very well.” “Come in.” The three officers entered, each smiling. Claire carried a bottle of wine, Edward a posy of flowers and Catherine a small stuffed toy. Beverly ushered them to the seats and grinned as JeanLuc accepted the toy for his son with an embarrassed smile. Once the wine had been opened and poured, Beverly took the posy and placed the flowers in a vase. Then an awkward silence descended. Catherine coughed quietly and picked up the PADD, speaking softly. With a glance at the Doctor for reassurance, the Commander gave the PADD to Jean-Luc. “Captain Picard we’re so happy everything worked out so well and that you have fully recovered from your injuries. For a while there things looked pretty grim, but Beverly never gave up. In fact if they hadn’t released you I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Doctor talked Captain Steiner into using the ship’s phasers to secure your freedom.” Jean-Luc lowered the PADD and sent his wife a loving look before facing the assembled officers. “Thank you Commander but I’m well used to my wife’s determination. I had no doubt she would rescue me. However your contribution…and that of your staff cannot be downplayed. Your dedication to your duty went above and beyond the norm and I, for one, am eternally grateful for your diligence. My very presence here today is testimony to your perseverance. You have my heartfelt thanks.” Beverly lifted her glass, gesturing for the others to do the same. “To dedicated officers willing to go that little bit further.” In his silent world, Jean-Luc watched as smiles spread and the toast was drunk. He sipped his own drink, wondering what had been said. Claire picked up the PADD and spoke softly, before handing it to the Captain. 219


“Well Sir, three more days to Earth then surgery to repair your hearing. Are you ready?” Jean-Luc snorted softly, making his son snuffle. “Am I ready to hear again? I most certainly am! This last month has been trying to say the least. The surgery can’t come soon enough for me.” Catherine stood, bringing the other Commanders to their feet. She went to the Captain and took the PADD. “Very well Captain Picard, we’ll go now. Commanders Hain and Dunlop will disembark once we reach Earth so we’ll try to see you before you leave, but in case we don’t…Good luck Captain.” Jean-Luc smiled and shook each officer’s hand. He watched them leave and sighed. “I’m a very lucky man.” Beverly came to sit on the arm of his chair and ran her fingers down his face. He looked up into her eyes and felt his heart swell at the love he saw shining so brightly. When she lowered her head and kissed him, he sighed and closed his eyes. “Very lucky indeed.”

Captain Steiner escorted his guests to the transporter room, amusing Beverly by insisting on carrying the bassinet. Both Beverly and Jean-Luc carried a bag and Jean-Luc had his son nestled in his arm. Upon reaching the transporter room, the luggage was placed on the pad and the couple turned to face their host. Jean-Luc offered his hand. “Thank you for all you’ve done Captain, I…we appreciate it.” Steiner accepted Jean-Luc’s hand and shook it warmly. He then placed his hand on Jean-Luc’s shoulder and gently squeezed, while enunciating, “I hope everything goes well.” The older man’s eyes sharpened as the meaning of the words became clear. Jean-Luc smiled and nodded. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.” While Jean-Luc took his place on the pad, Beverly quietly asked, “Have Commanders Hain and Dunlop already disembarked?” Steiner nodded. “Yes, as soon as we established orbit. Their talents were required elsewhere.” Beverly sighed and shrugged. “Pity. We would’ve liked to have said goodbye. Will you tell Commander Harding goodbye from us please?” Captain Steiner grinned. “No problem, it’ll be my pleasure.” Beverly joined her husband and nodded to the transporter operator. Steiner’s quiet,

220


“Energise” was the last thing she heard before they rematerialised at Medical. There they were surrounded by staff, each with a tricorder and a PADD. A middle aged woman stepped forward and offered her hand. “Doctor Crusher? I’m Linda Smallman, Chief ENT surgeon. If you will bring the Captain… everything is waiting for him.” Beverly frowned and shook her head. “Wait…can’t we settle in first?” The surgeon shook her head. “There’s no time doctor. We must begin the procedure as soon as possible.” Beverly swallowed and nodded her acquiescence. She turned to her husband and gently gripped his arm. He looked into her eyes and she said slowly, “The operation…now.” As Jean-Luc frowned and shook his head, Beverly took the baby from his arms. She reached into a bag and liberated her PADD. She spoke rapidly and Jean-Luc read. “Apparently we’re almost out of time. Go with the staff and I’ll get Jean-Jacques settled. I’ll see you as soon as I can.” Jean-Luc had enough time to nod before he was hustled away. Beverly was left with a young male Ensign, assigned to showing her to their quarters.

In all it was three and a half hours before Beverly made it back to the surgery suite. Her son was in the care of a young female Ensign and it had taken time to feed him and then express extra milk. In the anteroom of the theatre, Beverly found a place to view the surgery and sighed at seeing it was nearing its end. With the surgeons making their final adjustments, Beverly left the suite and went to the recovery room, finding out where Jean-Luc was going to be placed and securing a chair to await his arrival. Her wait wasn’t long. Jean-Luc arrived on a gravi bed and was placed on the bio bed still unconscious. Dermaplast patches adorned both sides of his head and his ears were covered by small, soft insulated cups. Beverly stood to one side as her husband was settled then spoke softly to his surgeon. “How did it go?” The specialist smiled, her light green eyes warm. “Very well. Our initial tests show almost perfect functioning of both the cochleas and cranial nerves. There will be some swelling but we anticipate a complete recovery within a week.” Beverly nodded, her gaze intense. “There won’t be any distortion? No residual tinnitus?” Linda shook her head. “We don’t think so. It was an excellent donor match and the deceased had faultless hearing. There is absolutely no reason why your husband shouldn’t have perfect hearing as a result of the transplant.” A smile finally emerged on Beverly’s face and she sighed. 221


“And the cups over his ears?” Linda folded her arms and smiled. “A precautionary measure. In cases like this, we like to minimise the reintroduction of sound. After such a period of complete silence, sound can be a little startling…and quite disturbing. Over a few days we will reduce the insulation of the cups until Captain Picard can bear sounds without discomfort.” Beverly nodded thoughtfully. “But in the meantime he can hear?” “Oh yes, just a little…muffled.” With a winning smile, Beverly’s eyes sparkled. “Thankyou Doctor, it seems you’ve done a marvellous job.” Linda returned Beverly’s smile and gently bowed. “You’re entirely welcome. He’ll wake soon and provided everything’s stable, he can return to quarters later this afternoon.” Beverly cast a look at her sleeping husband and nodded. “How long will we have to stay here at Medical?” Linda shrugged. “Only until the cups come off. Once we know he can tolerate sound there’ll be no reason to remain. You’ll be free to go.” Seeing that the staff had completed their duties, Beverly moved back to her chair. “Well then Doctor it seems we will be seeing you frequently over the next three days.” The ENT surgeon chuckled. “Oh you can bet on that Doctor. If there’s nothing else, I’ll get going. I’ll be back this evening to check on him.” Beverly nodded and bowed her head. “Thank you again.” Once alone with Jean-Luc, Beverly settled into the chair and allowed herself to doze.

The ensuing three days went quickly. As the cups were changed to allow more sound, Jean-Luc adjusted quickly, eventually becoming predictably impatient to not only hear unimpeded, but to leave the facility and return to his home in LaBarre. Throughout his recovery Beverly noticed he was quiet, almost withdrawn, as he had been since his rescue. Knowing he tended to isolate himself during times of stress, she let it pass, but her worry for him went on unabated as she waited, hoping he would eventually unburden himself to her. The last cups were removed, along with the Dermaplast patches at midday on the third day. In a measured tone of voice, Linda asked, “How do you feel Captain?” Summoning a small smile, Jean-Luc held the Doctor’s intense gaze. “I feel fine Doctor.” The surgeon nodded. 222


“And your hearing…any distortion…any associated pain?” Jean-Luc shook his head. “None whatsoever.” Linda allowed a triumphant grin. “In that case Captain you may leave with my blessing.” Jean-Luc took a large breath, held it for a few seconds before slowly letting it out. His eyes went to his wife and son and he smiled. “Are we packed?” Beverly chuckled. “Oh yes…since early this morning.” “Then let’s get out of here!” After thanking the Doctor and her staff, Jean-Luc and Beverly paid a quick visit to their quarters then went quickly to the exit. As they stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine, Jean-Luc stopped, closed his eyes and tilted his head. Beverly stopped beside him and asked softly, “Jean-Luc? Are you all right?” He didn’t answer immediately and Beverly frowned. When he did speak, his voice was filled with wonder. “My God Beverly…listen.” The Doctor looked around, her frown deepening. “To what?” Jean-Luc, still with his eyes closed, smiled. “To the wind in the trees…to the birds…I can even hear the Starfleet flag flapping on the mast and the halyard slapping.” Beverly gently took his hand, causing him to open his eyes and sigh. “I guess we take it all for granted don’t we?” Jean-Luc slowly nodded. “I suppose we do, but if I’ve learned one thing from this experience…I will forever appreciate the ability to hear, even the little things.” They arrived at the shuttle dock and were on their way to France within the hour.

In the early hours of the following morning, as the sun was just creeping over the horizon, Jean-Luc was wakened by the soft caress of his wife’s fingers over his stomach. She was lying behind him, spooned against his back. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sensations as her questing fingers moved ever lower, slipping under the waistband of his shorts to gently dally in the thickening growth of his pubic hair. As his erection grew, he shifted slightly, causing Beverly to still her hand and push her body closer against him. When she felt he’d settled, she recommenced her explorations, her fingers finding the base of his penis and sliding around the thick trunk to gently massage his testicles. He sighed and allowed a soft moan to escape as the knowing fingers moved upwards to skim over his shaft and gently caress the 223


head. Unable to resist the urge to touch his wife, Jean-Luc shifted onto his back and reached for Beverly, only to have her release his penis and push him back down onto the mattress. In the dimness of the rising dawn, Beverly whispered, “No my love. Just relax and enjoy.” He lowered his hands and watched as Beverly sat up and pushed the blankets down. Keeling beside her husband, she eased his shorts down and off then feathered her fingers up the insides of his thighs, causing him to open his legs. With an uninterrupted view of his body, Beverly smiled sultrily and trailed her fingers over his turgid penis. He sighed and lifted his hips, silently asking for more. Beverly’s response was to lower her head and drag her tongue up the underside of his shaft. She dallied at the head, sliding her tongue over the glans and teasing the frenulum. She felt Jean-Luc’s hands touch her head and his fingers entwine in her hair. She teased with her tongue and fingers until he started to gently thrust into her mouth. With a sly smile, she opened her mouth wide, relaxed her throat and took his entire length into the warm wet orifice. Jean-Luc gasped then groaned sensuously, gently pushing her head down and pushing up into her mouth. As he did this, Beverly took his testicles in her hand and softly squeezed, gently pulling them down. Jean-Luc groaned through clenched teeth and warned, “Beverly…” Knowing he was at his limit, Beverly relented and lifted her head, allowing him to slip free. His penis fell from her mouth and rested over his lower belly, throbbing and glistening in the soft light. Beverly released his testicles and sat up, slowly ridding herself of her nightie. With JeanLuc’s dark hazel eyes glittering as he watched her, the red head straddled his hips and leaned forward, kissing him with passionate ardour. He fell into the kiss as his hands went to her breasts, kneading the firm flesh and rolling the nipples between his fingers. Still maintaining the kiss, Beverly rose and took his penis in hand, lifting it and guiding it to her entrance. As she slowly descended and took him into her body, Jean-Luc arched his back and opened his mouth in a silent gasp. Beverly placed her hands on his chest and squeezed her internal muscles making her husband thrust up into her. As Beverly leaned forward to kiss him, Jean-Luc gripped her hips and pushed himself in and out of her quickly, his short hard thrusts making Beverly moan into his mouth. She had intended this to be a languid, protracted lovemaking but Jean-Luc’s need was spiralling out of control. With a powerful heave, he rolled them and took his wife’s wrists, pinning her hands to the pillow as he rose above her and proceeded to pound into her with vigorous, single-minded intensity. Swept up in his powerful display, Beverly wrapped her legs around his waist and matched his thrusts, her vocal encouragements causing him to lower his head to her neck, closing his eyes tightly as he relinquished any semblance of control. Grunting with effort, Jean-Luc felt his climax gathering and called breathlessly to his lover. “Beverly…I’m going to…” His body suddenly stiffened and he bit her neck as he ejaculated powerfully, deeply embedded inside his wife. Beverly’s body shuddered and flexed as his warmth flooded her, the milking contractions of her orgasm making him spasm uncontrollably. As they lay gasping, their eyes closed and their hearts racing, the sound of their son’s wailing finally broke through. Jean-Luc momentarily held his breath before expelling it with force. “Damn.” Beverly raised a tired chuckle and kissed the side of his head. “I believe it’s your turn.” He snorted softly. 224


“I know…you don’t have to rub it in.” With the baby’s cries getting louder, Jean-Luc withdrew from his wife and slowly exited the bed. He padded naked into the nursery and emerged some minutes later, a freshly changed and fretting son in his arms. Beverly had straightened the bedclothes and welcomed her husband and son, settling the blankets around them as she prepared to feed the baby. Jean-Luc handed his son to his wife then rested his head in his hand as he watched Jean-Jacques greedily suckle. Propped up with pillows, Beverly eyed her husband and decided now would be a good time to ask him what had been bothering him. “So tell me Jean-Luc…you’ve been very quiet lately. What’s up?” With an expansive one-shoulder shrug, Jean-Luc pulled down the corners of his mouth and sighed. “I’ve had a lot on my mind.” Beverly let her eyes fall to her son and kept her voice soft. “Want to tell me about it?” Jean-Luc was silent so long she thought he wasn’t going to answer. However he grunted and frowned. “What would you say if I said I was thinking of retiring?” Beverly strove to keep her voice even. “I would ask why.” The Captain reached out with his free hand and gently stroked his son’s head. “When I was kept in the box I had a lot of time to think and the overriding thing that came to mind was that I was in that situation because I’d put the needs of the Federation above the needs of my wife and son and I realised I can’t…no, actually I won’t ever want to do that again.” He lifted his eyes to his wife, tears glistening in their depths and his voice thick with emotion. “Beverly you and Jean-Jacques are the most important things in my life now. You two take precedence over everything. Over the Federation, Starfleet and duty. You and our son are my life…my very existence and if I can no longer devote myself to the organisation I serve I should leave.” In the ensuing silence Beverly eased her son from her breast and encouraged him to take the opposite nipple. Once he was again contentedly feeding, she looked at her husband. “Jean-Luc I want you to do whatever makes you happy. I don’t care what that is, as long as we’re together.” Jean-Luc nodded, his gaze intense. “But if I retired what would you do? Would you stay in Starfleet or would you get into private practice?” Beverly gave that some thought and shrugged. “Well while Jean-Jacques is growing up I’d like to be able to spend my time with him. I missed so much of Wesley’s childhood because of work. Of course if you’re retired we can share his childhood, there’d be no reason for either of us to miss it.” Jean-Luc smiled and sighed. “I’m so looking forward to watching him grow. But what of your work Beverly? Surely you wouldn’t give it up completely?” The Doctor shook her head. “No I wouldn’t. What I’d probably do is get some part-time work at a local clinic. As for my research, there’s no reason why I couldn’t continue that on a part-time basis too. I’m sure Starfleet will be happy to accommodate me as long as I share my results with them. But what 225


about you my love? I can’t imagine you puttering around the vineyard every day. You’d be bored stiff within a week.” Jean-Luc sat up and watched as Beverly detached the now dozing baby and handed him to his father. The Captain placed his son over his shoulder and commenced rubbing his back. “I’ve got a few things in mind. I would like to teach a few classes at the Academy and Louis is still badgering me about a consultancy on the Atlantis Project…and I am interested in the vineyard, I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at wine-making.” He chuckled softly, “As long as Philippe will help me.” Beverly joined in his soft laughter. “That manager of yours will end up losing the rest of his hair if you keep pestering him about the yield. My God I thought he was going to throw you in the vat last time.” Jean-Luc sighed. “I know. His patience is not without limits but he has great forbearance.” Having elicited the required burp from his son, Jean-Luc laid the baby between them and smiled tenderly and the little boy found his thumb in his sleep. Jean-Luc sighed wistfully. “Maman told me I did that when I was a baby.” Beverly chuckled and gave her husband a wink. “Well as it turns out, so did I.” The Captain grinned. “Poor Jean-Jacques…he was born to be a thumb-sucker.” As Beverly settled back under the blankets, Jean-Luc did the same and allowed himself to relax. Beverly’s soft question made him open his eyes and sigh. “When will you contact Command?” He swallowed and took a deep breath. “Tomorrow.” “You mean today.” He grunted with amusement. “Ah yes. All right…later today.” “Fair enough. Now let’s get some sleep. I for one am exhausted.” Jean-Luc snorted with effrontery. “And whose fault is that? You started it.” With his eyes closed he didn’t see the swat coming. The gentle blow to his shoulder made him smile. “All right it’s my fault but I’m still tired so stop your grumbling and go to sleep.” With a contented sigh, Jean-Luc mumbled. “As you wish.” They were asleep within minutes.

226


As promised Jean-Luc contacted Command later that day. There was some spirited resistance to his plans and, as a result, he was called to San Francisco the next day. He spent most of the day in one meeting after another, spending his time convincing Admirals that he was determined to retire. Eventually their dogged persistence paid off and the Captain finally left Command an Admiral in the reserves. It wasn’t what he’d intended but there was still enough of his sense of duty to see the sense in the arrangement. He arrived back at the vineyard in the afternoon, tired and somewhat vaguely disgruntled. Beverly knew immediately that something was amiss, but another problem needed to be addressed. Walking with her arm linked with his, the couple wandered through the garden on their way to the back door. Jean-Luc’s silence caused Beverly to hesitate before broaching her subject. “Jean-Luc…do you remember Marc Harcourt?” The Captain grunted and nodded once, curtly. “I’m not likely to forget him. He and his friends ran me over.” That wasn’t entirely true, but the Doctor let it pass. “That’s right. Well, do you recall the agreement you made with him?” Jean-Luc came to an abrupt halt and cocked his head. “Yes…why?” Beverly reached for his hand and looked into his eyes in a silent plea for calm. “He’s here my love…with his father.” Anger brewed in Jean-Luc’s eyes and his voice was tight. “What?” The Doctor sighed and stepped closer to him. “They arrived about an hour ago. I told them you weren’t home but they were so intent on seeing you…I didn’t have the heart to send them away.” The muscles in Jean-Luc’s jaw tensed as he said through gritted teeth, “How the hell did they know I was back on Earth?” Beverly sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “It’s in the papers.” “Merde! Look Beverly I don’t want to see them right now, I’m tired and I have a lot on my mind.” Beverly bit her lip and looked under his lowering brow. “Not even a few minutes? I think it would mean a lot to them my love.” Pulling his hand free of her grip, Jean-Luc stepped away from his wife and angrily gestured with his hands as he spoke. “That young lad wants me to convince his father that his choice to join Starfleet is the right one and that his father should relinquish his dream of having his son work in the family business. Now on the surface that seems fairly straight forward, after all I am intimately aware of what damage can be done if problems such as these between fathers and their sons aren’t resolved. But Beverly I have just returned from Command after attempting to resign because I wasn’t willing to put duty ahead of my family! Can’t you see the hypocrisy in this? What am I saying…don’t do as I do, do as I say? How can I support the boy in his dream to enter an organisation that relies on its members putting duty ahead of their family when I myself can no longer do that very thing? What do I say to his father? Allow your son to follow his dream so he can lose his connection to his family? I can’t do it Beverly!” To her credit, Beverly didn’t react to his mention of attempting to resign. Instead she stepped to him and gently ran her fingers down his arm. 227


“No one is asking you to lie Jean-Luc. All you have to do is tell the truth and that is for most of your life you devoted yourself to serve an organisation you firmly believed in. That changed when, much later in your life, you married and started a family of you own. You would be hard pressed to find a person who would begrudge you your feelings now Jean-Luc. Look at it this way. Marc feels right now about Starfleet the same as you’ve felt for most of your life…and that should be encouraged, but later, when he’s matured who’s to say what may happen to him? He may find his life’s partner and wish to start a family and, like you, his priorities might change. All you have to do is be honest in your feelings about Starfleet and how it pertains to Marc. If you believe he would benefit from serving then you can tell his father that it is the right thing for the boy…and do it with a clear conscience. No one is asking you to decide for the boy, he’s already made up his mind.” Jean-Luc’s dark hazel eyes gradually softened and he sighed with a rueful shake of his head. In an amused tone he asked, “Is this a lesson in parenting?” Beverly returned his smile and nodded. “Uh huh. Marc may not be your son, but the situation can be construed as a forerunner of future situations with your own.” Briefly closing his eyes, Jean-Luc bowed his head. “Very well. Where are they?” “In the library.” Jean-Luc’s head turned to the house and he straightened his spine and squared his shoulders. Beverly watched as he strode to the chateau, pride and love warring for dominance.

Jean-Jacques stared up at his mother as she quietly sang to him. Occasionally opening his mouth and waving his arms, the little boy lay quietly in her arms, seemingly fascinated by her dulcet voice. The Doctor easily recognised the approaching footfalls and smiled as the large hand appeared to gently caress the baby’s cheek. “He’s listening to you.” Beverly nodded and inclined her head as her husband’s hand left their son to gently cup her jaw. She sighed with contentment and asked, “How did it go?” Taking his place beside his wife, Jean-Luc sighed. “Actually it went surprisingly well. As it turned out, the father wasn’t opposed to Marc’s joining Starfleet per se; he just wanted reassurance from someone with experience in the organisation. He wanted to know if it was a wise career move, one that would be a move in the right direction for his son. I can’t say I can fault him for that.” Beverly chuckled softly and shook her head. “So it was a case of Marc over dramatising the situation?” 228


Jean-Luc shrugged. “Perhaps a little. They have a strong bond…I think there was fear on both sides, fear of hurting each other that stifled communication between them. All it took was a third party to free things up. When they left they were talking very animatedly. It was good to hear.” The couple lapsed into a companionable silence as they watched their son. Lifting her head, Beverly gained her husband’s attention. “What happened at Command?” The frown that settled on Jean-Luc’s brow saddened the Doctor. With an annoyed shake of his head, the Captain snorted. “I was painted into a corner.” “How so?” With a forceful expulsion of breath, Jean-Luc explained. “They wouldn’t let me retire! As it stands I am now an Admiral in the reserves. I am free to teach, take on whatever private sector work I want and live relatively unmolested by Starfleet… however…in the event of an emergency I would be required to activate my commission.” He was surprised by Beverly’s knowing smile. “Me thinks you protest too much my love.” Jean-Luc scowled and drew away from his wife, giving her a look of annoyance. “What is that supposed to mean?” Shaking her head, the smile widened. “Jean-Luc you and I both know they wouldn’t have been able to talk you into this if some part of you didn’t want it. You have served Starfleet for most of your life…it’s not surprising that you can’t abandon it completely. Admit it my love…there is a part of you that will always belong.” With grace Jean-Luc rose to his feet and walked the few steps to the veranda railing. He gripped the wood, his shoulders tense. When he spoke his voice was deep and rough. “Are you angry with me?” Beverly’s voice granted him absolution. “No my love. Loyalty and commitment are things to be admired.” He turned to his wife and showed her the love in his heart. “Just as long as you know you and our son hold the lion’s share of my loyalty, commitment and love.” Returning his intense gaze, Beverly smiled tenderly. “I know.”

A year had passed and Jean-Luc was seated on the floor of the lounge, playing with his son. Beverly was nearby, settled in a comfy chair, her nose in a book. Jean-Jacques was busy retrieving then throwing soft toys at his father. Occasionally the little boy would stand before overbalancing and plopping down onto his behind, causing his father to chuckle. Jean-Luc tossed a small stuffed tiger close to his son and Jean-Jacques quickly crawled to it, picking it up and waving it triumphantly. He transferred the toy to one hand and slowly stood, but this time,

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instead of falling, he suddenly tottered to his father. The astonished and delighted man gathered his son in his arms and laughed. “Beverly…did you see that?” He knew by the warmth in her eyes that she had. She placed the book on the arm of the chair and slid to the floor. Opening her arms wide she called softly, “Hey JJ…come to mamma.” Jean-Luc turned his son and steadied him. Jean-Jacques’ eyes settled on his mother and he grinned. “Mamma!” And offered the toy. Beverly nodded and waved her hands. “Come on little boy…walk to mamma.” To the everlasting delight of both parents, Jean-Jacques did just that. Beverly hugged him and kissed his soft cheek. Keeping her voice calm, she said nonchalantly, “I went to see Bryce today.” Jean-Luc looked at her and frowned in confusion. “You saw Bryce? As a patient?” “Uh huh.” Jean-Luc scooted over to his wife, his voice showing his concern. “Why…are you ill?” She shook her head, barely concealing her joy. “No, not ill. I needed Bryce to confirm something for me.” Jean-Luc’s frown quickly became a scowl. “Beverly! What the hell do you mean? Why would you go to your partner to confirm something as a patient?” “Because my tricorder said I was pregnant and I wanted a second opinion.” The Admiral’s mouth gaped then snapped shut. “Pregnant?” Beverly took her son’s hands in hers and clapped them together. “Uh huh…a little girl.” Jean-Luc moved closer to his wife and leaned in enough to kiss her softly. His eyes were bright and glittering. “A daughter.” “Yes.” “You’re absolutely wonderful…you know that don’t you?” Beverly chuckled and returned the kiss. “You’re not bad yourself.” The happy man lifted his son from his mother’s hands and held him high. “You’re going to have a little sister!” With her heart swelling with love, Beverly sighed. “I have one request Jean-Luc.” Immediately sobering, Jean-Luc lowered the boy and held him against his chest. “Anything mon Coeur.” “In the last months of the pregnancy I’m staying put. No shuttle craft, no travelling. I want a home birth with no complications.” Jean-Luc grinned. “Oh really Beverly…where’s your sense of adventure?” 230


The stuffed tiger hit him squarely between the eyes. “Don’t be so bloody insufferable! I want a soft bed…and pain relief!” Jean-Luc’s face became serious. “Then you shall have them. I love you Beverly.” The Doctor smiled and moved to take both her son and husband into her arms. “And I you Jean-Luc.” They kissed and parted, resuming their game with their son, their future stretched out before them.

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The Tenderness Of Bravery