Love Through the Angst.


Beverly Crusher, Chief Medical Officer of the Starship Enterprise was angry. No, actually was furious. For the past month, her best male friend and been making himself scarce.
So, she sat alone in the Happy Bottom Riding Club on her own at the table they'd always shared and glared at her plate, muttering to herself,
"Well I've had it with him and his high-and-mighty attitude. If he can't afford half-an-hour to spend with me, then sobeit. Damn him anyway, I've got better things to do than to be available to his beck-and–call. If he doesn't want my company, then he can go to hell, I've had enough of this."
She angrily stabbed her fork into some, by now, limp lettuce and chewed as it if was rubber. Seeming to have a malevolent aura surrounding her, the other crew members in the lounge left her exclusively alone, and that suited Beverly just fine.

 

Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the ship, sat forlornly in his Ready Room, staring at his sandwich and rapidly cooling Earl Grey tea, hating himself for what he was doing, but seeing no other way to assuage the pain of unrequited love.
He had loved Beverly Howard since the day they first met and continued to love her even though she married his best friend, Jack Crusher. The crushing guilt of that love, compounded by the untimely death of Jack only made Jean-Luc loathe himself more, so he spent only a short time on Earth consoling Beverly before he escaped on the Stargazer into deep space. He didn't reply to her contacts and slowly he put her in the back of his mind.
Twenty years on, Jean-Luc finds himself about to take the Captaincy of the Enterprise, the Flag Ship of the fleet. To his dismay he finds that Beverly has been assigned as his CMO. He does his best to block the posting, but ultimately he has to admit she is the best candidate for the job.
What starts out as stiff formality soon morphs into a tentative friendship, not the strong connection they shared in the past, but neither of them could deny there was an attraction.
Just as Jean-Luc realises he is falling in love with her again, she abruptly leaves the Enterprise to take up tenure as Chief of Starfleet Medical on Earth. Jean-Luc has his suspicions she is running from him, but the overriding feeling is of relief. He misses her sorely, but knows it's for the best.
Then, after a year away, she returns, and, as she steps off the shuttle and their eyes meet, Jean-Luc knows he is still in love with her.
Slowly the friendship grows over the ensuing years. They took to sharing breakfast together and, if they could, lunch and dinner was a given if their schedules allowed.
At first, Jean-Luc was happy with this arrangement. It meant he could spend quality time with the only woman he had ever truly loved and she seemed to be comfortable with things as they were. With Beverly, Jean-Luc could be himself, dropping the mantle of Command. It liberated him in ways he found hard to describe, he just knew he liked it and wanted more...so much more.
Then she became his companion in social diplomatic matters. Dinners, receptions, she was always on his arm and he stood proud and tall knowing he was the envy of most men in the room. He loved her beyond reason and he wanted her desperately...but he couldn't have her.
Once, years ago, they were telepathically linked by an alien race. Beverly discovered Jean-Luc's love for her and though she tried to hide it, he felt her love for him. Later, when they had been separated, he posed the question.
"Should we explore this?"
To which she replied,
"Perhaps we should be afraid."
He was devastated and very confused. If they loved each other...as he knew they did...why not see where it took them? But, being the altruistic and patient man he was, he put his feelings aside to preserve their precious friendship.
Eventually, The Enterprise D was destroyed and a new ship took her place...the Enterprise E. Early in her life her crew encountered the dreaded Borg and Jean-Luc almost lost himself to the ravages of revenge for what they had done to him in the past, but as he recovered there was Beverly, his shoulder to cry upon, his rock and anchor...his universe.
But as time travelled inexorably onwards, Jean-Luc's unreturned love began to cause him significant pain. Too many nights he masturbated, fantasising how it would be to make love to Beverly. What he would do to and for her during foreplay, how she would react to him and finally, how she would look as she came under him. So he slowly began to distance himself from her, making up excuses why he couldn't meet her for their customary meals and attending the one diplomatic soiree that came up on his own. He knew she was confused and angry, but he could think of nothing else to do, the pain was simply too great. He also knew, but ignored it, that eventually the situation was going to come to a head and, as it would be Beverly who would confront him about it, he simply put it out of his mind. Had he known the storm was about to break over him, perhaps he would have done something to prevent it.
True to form, Beverly had had enough. The mercurial red head fumed through the rest of her day before ending her shift and stalking to her quarters. The more she thought about Jean-Luc's behaviour, the angrier she became. Ultimately the bubble burst. She stormed out of her quarters and hurried to Jean-Luc's, not bothering to press the chime, but utilising the entry permission Jean-Luc had given her long ago. She found him in his favourite chair, quiet classical music playing as he read a book. He looked up, startled by Beverly's abrupt entry. Coming to his feet, all he could think to say was,
"Beverly."
Striding quickly across the room, she came face to face with her Captain and poked him in the chest.
"I want to know what the hell is going on between you and me!"
Being so blatantly confronted, the first thing Jean-Luc did was adopt an air of authority.
"If you are going to address me in that manner, Doctor, I will put you on report!"
By now seething, Beverly hissed,
"Fuck the report! You've been avoiding me for far too long. First it was breakfast, then dinner, now lunch. What the hell did I do?"
She knew him well, in fact she knew him better than anyone else on the ship. Her eyes narrowed and she said with quiet malice,
"Or is it you?"
For one millisecond, Jean-Luc considered telling her the truth, but remembered confrontations stilled his tongue.
Suddenly deflated, Jean-Luc's head and shoulders slumped. Turning, he sat in his chair and cradled his head in his hands.
Her anger subsiding, a more concerned Beverly went to her friend and knelt before him.
"What is it, Jean-Luc? Tell me."
He knew this had been coming, but he had no response. All he could do was think of the pain. Abruptly he lifted his head and blurted,
"I'm taking an extended leave of absence."
A shocked Beverly rocked back on her heels, mouth agape.
"You...taking leave? You don't take leave, besides, where will you go?"
Sighing and striving to keep tears at bay, he summoned a steady voice to say,
"I haven't decided yet."
Standing slowly and taking a seat on the sofa, Beverly rubbed her brow.
"Let me get this straight. You've been avoiding me for over a month. I confront you about it and you tell me you're taking an extended leave of absence, but you don't know where you're going. Have I got it right?"
All he could do was nod, his eyes downcast, unable to meet her piercing gaze. Beverly snorted and shook her head,
"I don't understand."
Finally meeting her eyes, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"You don't have to."
Angry again, Beverly spat,
"Listen to who you're talking to! It's me, Jean-Luc, Beverly. If you can't tell me, whom can you tell?"
All anger gone, Beverly lifted her hands, imploring Jean-Luc to open up to her as he'd always done in the past.
"Jean-Luc, tell me! Tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can fix it. Are you unwell?"
He laughed almost maniacally inside his head, but all that emerged was a sad smile.
"I assure you, Beverly, I'm fine. I just need some time away."
Thinking on the run, Beverly said the first thing that came to mind. It was the worst thing she could have said.
"I could go with you. Would that help?"
Suddenly angry, Jean-Luc stood and said in clipped tones,
"I'm tired, Doctor and I would appreciate it if you would leave. I intend to go to bed."
Confused, perplexed and vaguely guilty, Beverly left, knowing by his tone her best friend would not entertain any further discussion on the matter.
She walked slowly back to her quarters and sat on her bed, trying to figure out what was wrong with Jean-Luc. She was a complicated woman, hardened by having to be a single parent to her son. He was now gone, off to explore different planes of existence with an alien guide. His contacts with her were rare and sporadic. She could only hope he was well and happy. In her life there was only Jean-Luc and he too was very complicated. Oh, there had been others, one, Odan, she loved, but that had not worked out for many reasons. But through all her relationships, in the background, there was always Jean-Luc Picard. Solid, dependable...and in love with her. And she loved him, but for reasons she didn't fully understand, she wouldn't admit it. Not to herself and not to him, in fact, she refused to think about it, other than the times she caught Jean-Luc looking at her with love in his eyes. She would fleetingly think..."What if?", Then dismiss it from her mind. No, there could be nothing between them except friendship. Yes, that was safe.
As she sat there, that word kept repeating itself over and over. Safe. She dared to think more.
"Why safe?"
But it was too much. With an irritated shake of her head she rose from the bed and went to the replicator to order her dinner.

 

 

 

In his quarters, Jean-Luc was furious with himself.
"An extended leave of absence! To where? You foolish idiot!"
He paced up and down in front of the view ports, his hands fisted by his sides. Suddenly he punched the clear aluminium, achieving nothing but pain in his hand. But that was preferable to the pain in his artificial heart, which was impossible, but he felt nonetheless. As he massaged his damaged hand he thought savagely,
"Why can't I just insist she confront her feelings for me? I know she loves me...why can't she show me?"
Deciding to act immediately, Jean-Luc lifted his head and said firmly,
"Bridge, this is Picard. Contact Admiral Alynna Nechayev and transfer the communiqué to my quarters."
Admiral Nechayev was a notoriously hard woman. Abrupt, succinct and glacially cold, she was the scourge of fleet Captains, but over the years, despite giving Jean-Luc some very uncomfortable orders, they had developed a good working relationship. So it was to her he turned.
The call came through fairly quickly and Jean-Luc found himself looking at a harried woman.
"This better be good, Picard, I'm busy."
Smiling lopsidedly, Jean-Luc said sardonically,
"As usual."
That brought a smile, changing her hard face.
"Okay, what can I do for you?"
His smile faded.
"I want to take an extended leave of absence, effective immediately."
Nechayev was taken aback. Captain Jean-Luc Picard never took leave, in fact he had over two years of accumulated leave up his sleeve.
"May I ask why?"
Keeping his expression fairly bland, Jean-Luc replied,
"I'm tired."
Nechayev frowned.
"Of what?"
With a sigh, Jean-Luc said wearily,
"Admiral..."
Nechayev leaned forward and dropped all pretence.
"Jean-Luc, are you going to come back?"
He gazed at her for a few seconds and almost whispered.
"I don't know."
The Admiral sat back, staring at Jean-Luc, trying to gauge what was in his mind. Eventually she shook her head and sighed.
"Effective immediately, Commander William Riker is acting Captain of the Enterprise. Let me know when you want to come back, the Enterprise will be waiting."
Relieved, Jean-Luc sighed.
"Thank you Alynna."
Just before the communication was ended, Nechayev said quietly,
"I hope you find what you're looking for, Jean-Luc."
The screen went blank, but Jean-Luc kept staring at it.
"So do I, Admiral."
He rose slowly and exited his quarters, arriving at Riker's. He pressed the chime twice before the door opened and a sleepy, pyjama-clad Will Riker answered.
"Captain? Is there anything wrong, Sir?"
Smiling to ease Will's apprehension, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"No, not at all. May I come in?"
Gathering his wits about him, Will straightened and gestured with his hand.
"Sorry, Captain, of course."
Once inside, without prior warning, Jean-Luc lifted his head and said firmly,
"Computer, transfer all command protocols to Commander William T Riker. Authorisation, Picard, delta two eight."
"Authorisation accepted. The Enterprise is now under the command of Commander William T Riker."
Will's mouth was agape. Jean-Luc turned to him and said,
"I am taking an extended leave of absence. There is a remote chance I may not come back. If I don't I hope you get the Enterprise, Will, no one deserves her more than you."
All Will could say in his shock and confusion was,
"Captain?"
But Jean-Luc simply said,
"I leave in the yacht in the morning. Goodnight...Captain."
After he had gone, Deanna Troi, ship's Counsellor, came out of the bedroom wrapped in a sheet.
"Will, what's going on?"
Still befuddled, Will said distractedly,
"You heard?"
"Yes."
Scratching his rumpled hair, Will shook his head.
"What the bloody hell is going on? The Captain taking and extended leave? And he might not come back? Holy shit Dee, I feel like I've been punched in the guts."
Returning to the bedroom, Deanna said over her shoulder,
"I'd best go and talk to him."
Shaking his head, Will muttered,
"Well someone should."

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was expecting Deanna and had his mental barriers well and truly fortified. Through his mind-meld with the Vulcan, Sarek, he had developed the ability to block Deanna's half Betazoid empathic abilities. Full Betazoids were telepathic, but Deanna's father had been Human. Her ability was to sense emotions.
When the door chimed, Jean-Luc said equitably,
"Come."
Deanna already knew he was blocking her, she sensed it well before she reached his quarters.
After she had entered she smiled and said softly,
"Good evening, Captain."
With a smile of his own, Jean-Luc returned the greeting.
"Good evening, Counsellor, I hope I didn't disturb your sleep."
Keeping her smile in place, Deanna replied,
"Disturbed is an interesting word, Sir. Shocked might be more appropriate."
His smile stayed and his eyebrows rose.
"Really? Surely I'm entitled to take some leave."
Deanna rolled her eyes.
"Captain, you never take leave. You have to be dragged kicking and screaming just to go to the Admiral's annual dinner."
That brought an unexpected chuckle from the man.
"Counsellor, have you ever attended the Admiral's annual dinner?"
Bowing her head and clasping her hands behind her back, Deanna shook her head.
"Ah, no, Sir, I haven't."
"Then take it from me, think yourself lucky."
They both chuckled, then Deanna grew serious.
"Captain, why are you taking this leave?"
Equally serious, Jean-Luc replied,
"I don't see that that is any of your concern, Counsellor. I want some time off and I'm taking it."
"But, Captain..."
Growing tired of what he felt was becoming an inquisition, Jean-Luc said with authority,
"I have made my decision, Counsellor, you are dismissed."
With no other option, Deanna said quietly,
"Yes, Sir." And made for the doors, but as they opened, she turned and said softly,
"Does Beverly know?"
Jean-Luc glared but answered.
"She knows I'm going."
With remarkable courage, Deanna dared to say,
"Does she know you might not return?"
All Deanna got was a clipped,
"Goodnight, Counsellor."
Having made his decision, Jean-Luc went to bed.

 

 

Deanna was a consummate professional and her job required she keep patient confidentiality, but there were times when she felt the need, to help her patients, to share some of what she knew. Finding herself outside Beverly's quarters, she pressed the chime. As with Jean-Luc, she could feel Beverly's emotions, a melange of anger, concern, confusion and worry.
Annoyed at being disturbed, Beverly said testily,
"Computer, who is at my door?"
"Counsellor Deanna Troi."
With a resigned sigh, Beverly called out,
"Come in, Deanna."
As soon as Deanna entered, Beverly said angrily,
"I don't want to talk about it!"
Deanna smiled to herself. If ever there were the two most private individuals in existence, they were both on this ship. Without being invited, Deanna sat on the sofa and said quietly,
"Have you spoken with him?"
Beverly plopped down on her chair and said with exasperation as she ran her fingers through her hair,
"Yes! He's taking an extended leave of absence and he doesn't even know where he's going for God's sake."
This is where it became tricky for Deanna.
"Do you know he might not come back?"
Beverly blanched, her voice a shocked whisper.
"What? Why?"
With a perplexed shrug, Deanna shook her head.
"I've no idea, he won't talk to me either."
Beverly slammed her fist down on the coffee table.
"Damn him and his fucking moods!"
Deanna frowned deeply.
"I don't think this is a mood Beverly. Something's wrong here, very wrong and I think you know the answer. You may not be aware of it, but if there's one person on this ship who would know, it's you."
Anger flashed through Beverly's eyes.
"Me? Dee, he's been avoiding me for the past month! I went to him and I asked what was wrong and he refused to tell me...other than informing me he taking a bloody extended leave of absence. And now you're telling me he might not come back and I'm supposed to know why? Give me a break!"
Deanna was well aware of their feelings for one another, but getting Beverly to admit hers was like pulling teeth. She leaned over the table and took Beverly's hands.
"Look at me Beverly."
She did so, but unwillingly.
"Tell me how you feel about him."
Beverly rolled her eyes and snorted.
"It's no secret we're best friends, Dee."
"Yes you are, but it goes deeper than that doesn't it. Much deeper."
Beverly snatched her hands back and glared.
"I don't want to talk about it. Not with you, not with anybody."
With a deep sigh, Deanna looked at her friend with pity.
"Well, Beverly, one day you're going to have to face your feelings about the Captain. I can only hope it's not too late."
With that, Deanna stood and left.

 

 

Beverly quickly stood and began to pace.
"Damn him, damn, him, damn him!"
With little thought as to what she was going to say, Beverly left her quarters and sped to Jean-Luc's, again entering without permission.
The outer areas were dark and vacated, so she made for his bedroom, expecting him to be in the bathroom. The door quietly hissed open and there, illuminated by the streaking stars outside lay a naked Jean-Luc, eyes screwed shut as he masturbated.
Beverly stood transfixed, shocked, but vaguely aroused as she watched him, his fist pumping his penis hard. Suddenly his free hand gripped his testicles and tugged them down as his back arched. As he came he cried out,
"Beverly!
And opened his eyes.
He saw her almost immediately and choked back a sob of embarrassment and humiliation.
Beverly whispered,
"I'm sorry..."
And fled his quarters.
Jean-Luc rolled onto his side, curled up in the foetal position and sobbed into the pillow.
Later he would shower and changed the bed, but for now his heart was breaking.
"Why?" He thought. "Why did it have to be her to see me like that?"

 

 

Beverly ran back to her quarters, tears streaming down her face. Once inside the safety of her cabin, she stood in the middle of the room, her hands covering her face as she tried unsuccessfully to rid herself of the image of Jean-Luc masturbating. She was filled with guilt and self loathing.
"I drove him to that! To do that alone in his quarters. Poor soul, I wonder how long he's been doing it?"
But she innately knew and was filled with shame.
"I drove him to that. Me. No wonder he may not come back!"
Not knowing when he was to leave, Beverly came to a decision.
"I'm going to insist on lunch tomorrow and I'm going to tell him how I feel. I'm going to tell him I love him!"
She went to bed filled with resolve, but there would be no sleep for Beverly that night...or Jean-Luc.

 

 

Tired of tossing and turning, Jean-Luc was up at oh four hundred. He showered, shaved and dressed in civilian clothing. He packed a few books, everything else he needed he could get from the yacht's replicator. He took one final look around his quarters and clenched his jaw before turning on his heel and leaving.
Once in the Captain's yacht, he contacted the Bridge.
"Picard to Bridge."
"Bridge here, Captain, Lieutenant Blood."
"I'm taking an extended leave, Lieutenant, in the Captain's yacht, departing immediately. Prepare to drop out of warp for launch."
"Aye, Captain. Ah...Sir...your flight plan doesn't seem to be in the log."
Jean-Luc smiled coldly.
"That's because I haven't filed one. Follow my orders, Lieutenant."
The reply was crisp.
"Yes, Sir!"
The great ship came out of warp and the yacht detached itself from under the saucer section of the huge hull.
Jean-Luc inputted a heading and refused to watch as the Enterprise went back to warp. His course lay in the opposite direction. He still didn't know where he was going; he just knew he wanted to be as far away from his ship as possible.

 

 

Beverly was up early too, but unlike Jean-Luc, she went to Sick Bay to work, her panacea for all that ailed her. But the events of the previous night kept nagging at her, so she decided to make her confession over breakfast.
At the appointed time she went to Jean-Luc's cabin and, despite what she had witnessed during the night, walked brazenly inside only to find him absent. Presuming, like her, he had decided to bury himself in work, she tapped her comm. badge.
"Crusher to Picard."
No reply.
Sighing and knowing he would be extremely embarrassed by what she'd seen, she tried again.
"Crusher to Picard, respond please."
When she received no reply again, she snorted and lifted her head to say,
"Computer, where is Captain Picard?"
"Captain Picard is not on the Enterprise."
Shocked, and knowing she was partly to blame for his early departure, Beverly asked,
"When did he leave?"
"Oh four twenty-two hours."
Thinking quickly, Beverly continued.
"Flight plan?"
"Not logged."
Now growing frustrated, Beverly snapped,
"Destination?"
"Unknown."
Panicking, Beverly tapped her comm. badge.
"Crusher to Riker."
"Riker here."
"Will, the Captain has gone."
She could hear the resignation in his voice as he replied,
"Tell me about it! I'm acting Captain and I've been told he may not come back. Hell, Beverly, I've always wanted the big chair, but not like this."
Desperation pervaded every fibre of her being.
"Did he tell you where he was going?"
"Nope, he didn't even log a flight plan."
Coming to a snap decision, Beverly turned and made for her quarters, saying,
"Will, I'm requesting leave, effective immediately."
She clearly heard the regret in his voice.
"No can do, Beverly. We've just received a distress call from Septimus Prime. Their monsoonal rains have caused massive flooding and mud slides. We're the nearest ship and we're travelling at maximum warp; you're going to be working flat out...we can't spare you."
Beverly stopped dead in her tracks.
"Dammit, Will..."
"I hear you, Beverly, but you simply can't go. I'm sorry."
The Doctor in her knew he was right, but the woman wanted nothing more than to go after the man she loved, more than her duty as a Starfleet officer. But duty won out. With a resigned sigh she said wearily,
"Understood Will, I'll set up the cargo bays as triage centres."
Will's voice was filled with pathos.
"Thank you, Beverly, Riker out."

 

 

Jean-Luc sat in the cockpit of the yacht, staring sightlessly out the viewports as the vessel hurtled through space at warp nine point five, her maximum speed. He knew he should slow the ship, lest he over-tax the engine, but his need to put as much distance between him and the Enterprise overrode his good sense. Eventually though, he came out of his fugue state and mumbled,
"Computer, slow to warp five."
"Acknowledged. Slowing to warp five."
Finally thinking about where he should go, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Computer, which is the furthest Star Base on our current heading."
"Star Base twenty-three is the most distant Star Base on our current heading."
"ETA?"
"Fifteen days at our current speed."
Rubbing his lower lip with his fingers, Jean-Luc muttered,
"Increase to warp seven-point-five. ETA?"
"Eight days."
Nodding with satisfaction, Jean-Luc mused,
"That should give me just enough time to figure out where to go."
He left the cockpit and settled in the day area. On the table were several large PADDS, each displaying archaeological digs. Picking one up, he read for a while before casting it aside and picking up another. Before long he had perused all the PADDS without finding what he was looking for. Discontented and frustrated, he sat back and rubbed his face, muttering,
"Surely I can find something."
He then had a thought. Lifting his head he said,
"Computer, what is the status of the archaeological dig on Delos?"
"The dig was suspended on Delos, stardate 4325.9 due to the annexation of Delos to Cardassia Prime as per the dismantling of the Neutral Zone."
Jean-Luc frowned.
"I see. Is there any information that may indicate the Cardassians have pursued an interest in the dig?"
"There is no information to that effect."
Sighing, Jean-Luc rubbed his fingers over his lower lip.
"Computer, have the Cardassians done anything at all with Delos?"
"There is no information to suggest that Cardassia has any plans for Delos. Having suffered considerably during the Dominion war, it is doubtful Cardassia has the infrastructure to do anything but rebuild Cardassia Prime."
To himself, Jean-Luc muttered,
"Interesting."
Then he asked,
"Computer, to what level did the dig extend?"
"Level five. The chief archaeological scientist; Doctor Steve Fleming, reported several significant finds, including intact pottery with ancient pictograms, some intact examples of woven art and some complete sets of tools, though their use was not determined at the time the dig was suspended."
Nodding, Jean-Luc said softly,
"And it was established beyond doubt that the artefacts were from the second Hebician civilisation?"
"Yes."
Jean-Luc shook his head again.
"That is priceless to Cardassia. I wonder if they will ever investigate the dig themselves."
"That information is not available."
Ignoring the computer, Jean-Luc sat in silence for some minutes, thinking hard. A plan was forming, but it was one fraught with danger.
Eventually he came to his decision.
"Computer, set course for Delos, warp eight."
"Warning. Delos lies out of Federation space. Permission is required from Cardassia Prime to visit Delos."
"Override."
"Warning. Likelihood of encountering Cardassian war ships is high."
"Override warning and proceed on new course. ETA?"
"Six days."
Leaning forward, Jean-Luc activated the computer terminal in front of him.
"Computer, retrieve all known information on the Delos dig and display it at this terminal."
The screen came to life and Jean-Luc began to read with renewed enthusiasm.

 

 

 

The Enterprise arrived during Septimus Prime's long night. Having found a place near the main settlement to set up an evacuation centre, teams of personnel both beamed down and arrived in shuttles. Beverly and her emergency medical teams beamed down first.
What they found was utter devastation. Those settlers who had survived the floods and mudslides were wandering around dazed and shocked. The meagre disaster response members were doing their best, but were completely overwhelmed.
While Beverly and her teams began to treat the injured, engineers started the unenviable task of locating the dead and making the settlement safe by building levees and stabilising the surrounding hills.
It was three long days and nights before the settlement was safe and all the living were located and the injured treated, either on the planet or on the Enterprise.
It was an exhausted Beverly who reported to an equally spent Will.
"In total we treated seven hundred and eighty-five people. The death toll stands at one hundred and forty-eight and I don't expect that to rise, although we do have seventeen critical, I have every reason to believe they'll recover. The cargo bays are now empty; Sick Bay can cope with what is left. The portable hospital on the surface has only five patients and I expect them to be discharged by tomorrow."
Will nodded slowly, his face haggard.
"And those in Sick Bay?"
Beverly pushed her hair off her shoulders.
"Three days, maybe four for the worst two cases."
Placing his hand on her shoulder, Will summoned a wan smile.
"You've done a great job, Beverly. Time you got some rest."
She shook her head.
"No I'll see it through, Will. Those poor devils have been through hell, the least I can do is see them well again."
He nodded.
"And your teams? How are they holding up?"
"They're tired, no doubt, but the rotation has been working well. I commandeered everyone who had any medical training to assist. We're okay. How did the engineering teams cope?"
Gesturing the tired Doctor to a seat, Will sat in the Command Chair.
"It was a big job to contain the river and build the levees, but they worked their usual magic. Geordi and Data came up with an ingenious idea to transport material from the more stable areas of the surrounding hills. It set lit permacrete. Those who were detailed to search for the dead will require counselling, but all in all, it's mission accomplished."
"How long will we stay?"
Running his fingers through his beard, Will shrugged.
"About another week, I suppose. There's a hell of a lot of cleaning up to do before the settlement is running smoothly again."
He knew by the glint in her eyes, that there was something else on her mind.
"You still want a leave of absence?"
When Beverly said nothing, Will sighed.
"Well I suppose we can spare you now. Do you know where he is?"
Echoing Will's sigh, Beverly shook her head.
"No idea."
The big acting Captain gave Beverly a frank look.
"So you don't know where to go. This could turn out to be a wild goose chase, Beverly...especially if the Captain doesn't want to be found and you can't be gone indefinitely...you'll have to come home some time, we can't cover for you forever."
Seeing the determined look on Beverly's face, Will felt panic.
"Tell me you're not considering leaving Starfleet!"
All Beverly could do was shrug.
"He might not come back, Will. I have to find him...tell him."
Will was fully aware of Beverly's feelings for Jean-Luc; in fact most of the crew knew...everyone it seems except Beverly herself.
"What if you can't find him?"
Shaking her head, Will saw her determination.
"I'm not going to give up Will, I don't care how long it takes, I owe him that much. He's waited long enough for me."
Will nodded slowly.
"When will you leave?"
"ASAP"
A concerned Will shook his head.
At least get a decent rest."
Beverly lifted her head and gave Will a frank look.
"I can get as much rest as I need on the shuttle."
They shared a short silence before Will said softly,
"I can't talk you out of this, can I? There's no chance you'd be willing to wait for him to return?"
Again Beverly shook her head, but there was an air of sadness around her.
"I have to go Will, you understand, don't you?"
He nodded slowly.
"Yes, Beverly, I understand. I hope you find him."
Beverly stood slowly and offered a lopsided smile. She was exhausted, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.
"Me too."
She headed toward to aft turbolift and Will called out softly,
"Tell the Captain I'm keeping his seat warm."
In response Beverly just smiled and nodded.

 

 

 

The six days of Jean-Luc's journey to Delos passed relatively quickly. On the fifth day he passed the warning beacons informing him he was leaving Federation space and he entered the unknown with care, scanning light years ahead for any Cardassian ships. Delos appeared to the naked eye late on the sixth day and Jean-Luc entered orbit in the evening, deciding to wait until dawn to beam down.
Despite being in hostile space, he slept well. It was as if making his decision to leave the Enterprise had lifted a burden from his shoulders. His only concern was that he may not return, but he pushed that to the back of his mind, along with the ever-present thoughts of his beloved Beverly and focussed his formidable intellect on the dig.
After a light breakfast, Jean-Luc spent some time replicating all he would need for an extended stay on the surface. Two hours later he was standing amid his equipment on Delos.
The Captain's Yacht, the Calypso, was in orbit over the southern pole, ready to be remotely moved when he wanted her. The increased ionisation at the pole would help shield her presence from any scanning ships.
Jean-Luc was a methodical and patient man. He spent ample time setting up his camp, making sure it was situated to be sheltered from the worst of the weather, but not too far from the dig which was located in an area of eighty-seven square metres of flat ground and extending into some nearby caves. Once he was satisfied all was well, he collected his tools and backpack and made the fifty or so metre journey to the excavations.
The length of day and night not were not so dissimilar than that of Earth, so Jean-Luc found he could work steadily at his own pace, yet still make good progress. As usual, when he was engrossed, eating became a nuisance so he didn't stop for lunch or dinner. It must have been summer, as it grew hot and stayed warm and light long into the evening. It was his back and knees that eventually told him to stop. He climbed slowly to his feet tired but satisfied. Slapping the dust from his clothing, he looked ruefully and his scuffed and grazed hands. Shaking his head he muttered,
"You're getting too soft, Picard. Time to toughen up."
He collected the specimens he had won from the hard dark brown soil and grey rock and made his way back to camp. He would catalogue the artefacts once he had washed and eaten a light meal.
Hours later he was in his cot, barely able to keep his eyes open. Yet his last conscious thought was of Beverly.

 

 

In the shuttle, cruising at warp six, Beverly sat on her bunk and tried to figure out where Jean-Luc had gone. When, after an hour of frustration she was no closer to feeling like she had solved the problem, Beverly stood and began to pace in the confined space available. Aloud she said,
"Okay, stream of consciousness thought didn't work. Time to get logical. If I was Jean-Luc, where would I go? Right, what are my interests. Music. Poetry. Classic literature. Exploration of space. Archaeology."
Beverly let out a small gasp.
"Archaeology! Apart from exploration, archaeology is the only thing he can pursue that's not on the Enterprise and the Calypso isn't equipped for exploration of space...so...if it's archaeology, where would he go?"
Punching her thigh, Beverly almost shouted,
"Dammit! I'm back to square one! I don't know!!"
She took a calming breath and sat down again.
"Okay, Beverly, you know Jean-Luc better than just about anyone. Has he mentioned in the past any digs he was particularly interested in?"
She snapped her fingers.
"Yes! The dig on Berima II. Didn't he say he was receiving regular reports from...God, what was her name?...Morgan Tyler! Yes, that's it. Professor Tyler was excavating some ancient ruins on Berima II and Jean-Luc had mentioned he was very interested in her progress."
Moving quickly into the cockpit, Beverly tapped in some commands then said excitedly,
"Computer, contact Professor Morgan Tyler on Berima II."
"There will be a delay of three and a half hours."
"Acknowledged."
Not wishing to put all her eggs in one basket, Beverly resumed her quest.
"So, what else did he say? Come on, Beverly, think."
She closed her eyes and concentrated. Suddenly her eyes snapped open.
"Wait! There was that dig on...on...Godammit where was it...Halcyon. Yes! And another on Bajor...and...oh God there must be hundreds of digs on dozens of planets. Which ones were he interested in?"
After another twenty minutes of fruitless thinking, Beverly decided to contact all the leaders of the most important digs. They all knew Jean-Luc, maybe they might know something she didn't.
The closest dig was two days away by shuttle and the leader responded within fifteen minutes. His name was Brett Lee.
"Hello, Doctor Crusher, how can I help you?"
Smiling, Beverly said carefully,
"I'm a good friend of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. He went on leave recently and I'm trying to track him down. Is he with you?"
The blonde man frowned.
"What was your name again?"
"Crusher. Beverly Crusher."
Brett smiled and snapped his fingers.
"Ah! Jean-Luc has spoken of you. No, Doctor Crusher, he's not here, in fact I haven't heard from him in...oh...three weeks."
Crestfallen, Beverly tried to hide her disappointment.
"I see. Would you know which dig he would most likely visit?"
Scratching his stubbled chin, the archaeologist frowned.
"Well, let me see. He was interested in several digs, but Morgan Tyler's on Berima II would be my guess."
"Thank you Professor, I've already contacted Berima II. I'm waiting to hear from them."
"Very good Doctor, I'm sorry I wasn't of greater help. Tell Jean-Luc he owes me a visit. Lee out."
One by one Beverly called the other digs with no luck. In the end, all she could do was wait to hear from Berima II.

 

 

Over the next day, Jean-Luc developed a system, one he had used on many digs. Just after dawn he checked his map and settled into his previous area and worked until late afternoon. He then forced himself to eat some field rations before resuming his painstaking excavations. At about eight thirty in the evening he finished and retired to his camp to wash, eat and catalogue his finds. He had decided to post his findings on the main archaeological computer site so other archaeologists could share in his work, but he did so anonymously, also keeping the location a closely guarded secret as Delos was officially out-of-bounds to Federation scientists. It was still a risk; the authorities could discover his presence through his posts and they would be obliged to alert the Cardassian government necessitating his removal by a hostile force and that could mean incarceration or worse on Cardassia, something Jean-Luc hoped fervently to avoid. However, the scientist in him required he share his work, after all, what was the point of his efforts if not to increase the knowledge of the scientific community? So, just before he retired for the night he sent a report to the site and made a mental note to be as vague as possible about his identity and location.

 

 

 

 

Morgan Tyler was a handsome woman, about Jean-Luc's age and vibrant, her innate intelligence shining in her green eyes. She too knew of Beverly through Jean-Luc and she smiled widely as soon as she heard Beverly mention her name.
"Well hello there, Doctor, it's nice to meet you at last. I feel I know you already."
Beverly smiled too, her natural gregariousness showing through.
"It's nice to meet you too, Doctor Tyler, but I feel you have me at a disadvantage."
The archaeologist waved a hand dismissively.
"Morgan, please. Don't worry about it Doctor, it's just that Jean-Luc often spoke of you."
With a small chuckle, Beverly shook her head.
"Please call me Beverly, Morgan. It's about Jean-Luc that I've called you. Is he with you?"
Morgan shook her head, frowning.
"Why no, Beverly. I wasn't aware he'd left his ship."
Offering a rueful smile, Beverly nodded.
"He took us all by surprise actually. He left about five days ago, the trouble is, he didn't say where he was going and I need to find him."
Morgan was obviously perplexed.
"That doesn't sound like Jean-Luc. Is he alright?"
Not wishing to reveal all, Beverly hedged.
"Oh he's fine; I think he just needed some time off the ship. It's been ages since he's taken leave."
Morgan snorted.
"Tell me about it! I've been trying for yonks to get him to come to this dig. I know he's really interested but he wouldn't leave that blasted ship of his. I'm really surprised he hasn't showed up here."
Once again hiding her disappointment, Beverly summoned a genuine smile.
"Oh well, I'm sure he'll turn up somewhere, I just have to keep looking, but if he does visit your dig, could you let me know please?"
The archaeologist nodded vigorously.
"You can bet on it, Beverly. I'll give him a piece of my mind too while I'm at it. Disappearing like he has is not what I'd expect from him."
Beverly had to laugh, she could just imagine how Jean-Luc would react to that.
"Don't be too harsh, Morgan, even Starfleet Captains need to get away sometimes."
"I suppose. Nice meeting you, Beverly. Good luck, Tyler out."
With the channel closed, Beverly had run out of options. She had contacted every dig she could think of and Jean-Luc was nowhere to be found. Out of ideas and depressed, Beverly set course for the nearest Star Base. As the shuttle settled into the new course, Beverly contacted Alynna Nechayev.

 

 

 

Jean-Luc felt a tingle of excitement sweep through his body as he caught the glint of green through the dirt. Quashing the urge to hurry, he patiently used his brush to carefully clear away the dirt that had entombed the artefact for so many centuries. At the brushstroke that finally revealed most of the find he couldn't contain a gasp of pure joy and excitement. It was an intact knife; its blade made of jevonite, a rare and exquisite gemstone found only on Cardassia. To Jean-Luc's knowledge it had never been seen anywhere other than Cardassia, making his find extremely significant. With tender care he lifted the knife from its bed and used another, stiffer brush to remove the remaining caked-on dirt. Reverently he turned the knife in his hands, his thumb automatically flicking the sides of the blade to test the sharpness. He was not surprised to find both sides still keen. Even dull with the ravages of time and dust, the jevonite still shone.
He sat on his backside, overcome with awe as the significance of his find hit home. There was only one conclusion he could make. The people who had lived on Delos must have been space faring. How else could the knife with its jevonite blade make it from Cardassia? All his training as an amateur archaeologist told him not to jump to conclusions; to keep digging to build up the evidence, making his suppositions concrete, but this find was hard to deny.
On the spot he decided to keep his find to himself for the time being while he strove to consolidate his conclusion. Only when he was positive beyond all doubt would he let the archaeological community know of his extraordinary discovery. In the back of his mind he also knew he had an ulterior motive. Once news of his find became public his time on Delos would have to come to an end. The Cardassian authorities would be notified and he would be at risk if he stayed. Part of him railed at his selfishness, but he was not yet ready to leave. Besides, the knife was safe. It would just have to wait a little longer to take its place in the limelight. After all, it had lain hidden under the soil of Delos for centuries. What was a few weeks, perhaps a month more?
Deciding to end his work for the day on a high, Jean-Luc went back to his campsite, carrying the knife reverently in his hands.

Beverly docked the shuttle at Star Base echo four and sat back in her seat still vaguely tired. Whist on her journey to the Star Base the enormity of her task hit home. Space was infinite, even Federation territory was vast. How the hell was she going to find Jean-Luc in all the emptiness? She felt intuitively that he would find somewhere to go, the idea of him just continually travelling didn't sit right. No, he would find a planet she was sure, but which one? Knowing him as she did she knew he would keep himself busy, he wasn't one to be idle. So she still felt archaeology would be what he would pursue. There were still plenty of lesser digs she could check, but she felt sure Jean-Luc wasn't interested in them. If she ran dry in other areas she would eventually contact them, but in the meantime she would concentrate on those digs she knew intrigued him. So far she had drawn a blank, however that didn't mean he wouldn't show up at one of them so she had decided to base herself at the Star Base and wait. She would give it three weeks before she took to space again. Meanwhile she would spend her time searching via all Jean-Luc's friends and acquaintances.
Her call to Admiral Nechayev hadn't been helpful. Not only was the Admiral annoyed at being contacted over what she felt was a trivial matter, she gave Beverly no good news. Not even Nechayev, whom Beverly knew Jean-Luc would have needed permission from for his leave knew his whereabouts. Of course the Admiral might be protecting Jean-Luc's privacy, but Beverly sensed the relationship between Jean-Luc and the Admiral, though healthy, wouldn't stretch that far.
So Beverly entered the moderately large Star Base at a loose end, no closer to finding the man she loved.

 

 

Jean-Luc felt renewed. Though the next four days brought only modest success, he knew the enormity of the discovery of the jevonite knife would sustain him for a very long time...perhaps even for the remainder of his life.
At his campsite was a slowly growing collection of artefacts. Since finding the knife, the area he had been working dried up, so he had moved to a new site only a metre of so to the north. Still at level five, he had unearthed several interesting objects. He had discovered a seam that appeared rich in gravel and artefacts, as if a flood had inundated the ruins discovered in the upper levels.
As he doggedly followed the seam, he realised it transected several marked out areas before diving down into a deeper level and meandering towards a cave. Jean-Luc tried to keep his excitement at bay, endeavouring instead to concentrate on being methodical in his excavations lest he overlook something important in haste. But it was indeed tantalising. With each scrape of his trowel or sweep of his brush he seemed to find something. Beside his kneeling form was a growing pile of artefacts he knew he would have intense pleasure cataloguing later that night.
Jean-Luc allowed himself the indulgence of imagining the impact of his report when he finally posted it. Not bad for an amateur. He smiled to himself and shook his head. Hubris wasn't something he allowed in himself, but just for a moment he basked in scientific glory.
He worked that night until even the light from his lamps wasn't enough. Tired but euphoric he retired to his tent, the knowledge that new discoveries awaited him the next day making sleep difficult. Even so, as he finally drifted into sleep, he thought of Beverly.

 

 

 

Beverly was three and a half weeks into her search and still no sign of Jean-Luc. To ward off depression she kept busy during her days, scouring computer records and hunting for any person who may have an inkling as to where Jean-Luc might have gone. But that didn't completely fill her days. She was acquainted with the station's Chief Medical Officer so, to keep busy, she volunteered her services as a Doctor to give the CMO some time off. It wasn't that the station's Sick Bay was all that busy, it was simply, like Jean-Luc, she couldn't stand to be idle. Besides she didn't want time to think, to dwell on the years she had wasted...denied herself and Jean-Luc happiness by refusing to admit her love for him.
She wasn't as patient as Jean-Luc and she was aware her time at the Star Base was coming to a close. Soon she would leave, to journey without a destination in her search.
Two days before her planned departure, Beverly was in Sick Bay when a call came through.
"Doctor Crusher, this is Lieutenant Panesar in the Command Centre. I have a call for you from a Doctor Morgan Tyler."
A surge of excitement slithered down Beverly's spine.
"I'll take it here, thank you, Lieutenant."
Sitting quickly and turning the monitor to face her, the pleasant visage of Morgan Tyler soon filled the screen.
"Beverly! Hello."
Beverly tried to keep the excitement out of her voice, but it leaked through nonetheless.
"Morgan! Any news?"
"As a matter of fact yes, but it may not be as much as you'd like."
Beverly sat forward to the edge of her seat.
"Go on."
"Someone has been posting reports from a dig inside what I believe to be Cardassian space and my gut feeling is it's Jean-Luc."
Swallowing to wet her suddenly dry mouth, Beverly tried to stay calm.
"What makes you think it's him?"
Morgan shrugged.
"I don't know for sure, maybe it's the way the reports are written...that or the fact that I'm almost certain the dig is in Cardassian territory and I don't know anyone other than Jean-Luc who would have the balls to venture there just for scientific research."
Beverly offered a rueful smile.
"He is insatiably curious."
"That he is."
Under the table, Beverly crossed her fingers.
"Do you know where the dig is?"

"Now I'm not certain, you understand, but the only dig I can think of that would arouse that much interest in Jean-Luc...enough to entice him into forbidden territory is on Delos. When Delos was still in Federation territory our scientists found some very significant ruins and artefacts there. They had only just got to the most important levels when the Neutral Zone was abolished and the planet given over to Cardassia Prime. As far as I know, no further work has taken place there. The Cardassians certainly haven't taken up the site; they've got their hands full rebuilding their home planet."
Beverly's tongue slid across her lips in anticipation.
"How successful has he been?"
"Well presuming it is Jean-Luc, quite. There have been some moderately significant finds, but so far whoever it is hedging their bets."
With a frown, Beverly asked,
"What do you mean?"
Letting out a snort of displeasure, Morgan shook her head.
"I can't help but feel whoever it is, is holding back. I say that based solely on what our archaeologists found during their exploration. I would have expected more, that's all."
"But you still think it may be Jean-Luc."
"Yes, I do. I have nothing but intuition to base that on, but I've read plenty of his dig reports and I'd bet a barrow load of latinum it's him writing these new ones."
Beverly sat back and let out a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding.
"Thank you, Morgan, that's great news."
"I'm glad I could help, but what are you going to do?"
Tilting her head in confusion, Beverly asked,
"What do you mean? I'm going to Delos of course."
"But you can't! Beverly it's in Cardassian territory! If they catch you there, in fact if they catch either of you there you'll be in deep trouble...trouble that the Federation won't be able to help you with."
Beverly sighed, but her mind was made up.
"It doesn't matter, Morgan, I must go."
That stumped the archaeologist. She shrugged and thinned her lips.
"Well okay, if you say so, but you'd best take care. Is there anyone you want me to inform of your plans?"
Beverly shook her head.
"No, the fewer who know the better. But thank you."
Thinking Beverly had lost her senses, Morgan shook her head.
Don't thank me, Beverly, I haven't done you any favours. Just make sure you stay safe."
Beverly smiled her reassurance.
"I will. Crusher out."
Beverly sat back in her seat filled with renewed purpose.
"So, Delos it is!"

 

The Cardassian ship entered the star system at a leisurely warp three. It was a routine patrol, taking in the inner systems close to, but far enough away from Cardassia Prime to necessitate the occasional check. The ship's Commander, Gul Nerol, shifted in her seat, discontent and boredom making her even more waspish than usual.
The hapless crewmember at the helm seemed to almost bow under the weight of his Commander's displeasure.
"Lemar, you useless cretin! There are barely four planets in this system. Why did you bring us here?"
Lemar straightened somewhat and swallowed before he turned in his seat to face the cold, pinched face of his superior.
"My apologies, Commander, but our present course was determined by Central Command. Their orders were inputted into our computers prior to leaving Cardassia. I thought you were aware."
Sitting forward and gripping the armrests, Nerol turned up her spite.
"That is your excuse for disobeying my orders? I told you to set course for sector eight one five. We might actually find something useful to do there. The only planet here that can support life has been uninhabited for centuries. Why would Central Command want us to patrol here, it's a waste of time and precious resources."
"As if it's my fault!" Lemar thought bitterly.
Knowing that showing the merest hint of disrespect would bring severe punishment, Lemar was careful to hide his feelings from his Commander.
"My apologies, Commander. Would you like me to ignore Central Command's orders?"
"And risk losing my ship? Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you, Lemar. You think you'd make a fine Glyn, don't you. Well let me enlighten you. You're no more likely to make Glyn than I am to head the Obsidian Order. Cardassia is bankrupt! The few ships we have left are staffed by the left-overs that survived the war. Central Command only exists because the new civilian government needs someone to protect what's left of our borders. Though how they expect a mere thirty ships to do that is anyone's guess. I think Central Command will be disbanded as soon as the rebuilding of Cardassia is complete. What was once a mighty race of warriors will be reduced to mewling merchants within five years. Mark my words, Lemar. You will be lucky to be piloting a garbage scow in the near future."
Risking a further tirade, Lemar said quietly,
"So what do I do, Commander?"
Nerol glared icily, then flapped a hand.
"Continue the patrol as ordered, you brainless troll. With only one planet to check, I presume you can handle it?"
"Yes, Commander."
"Then see to it!"
Almost as an afterthought, Nerol said listlessly,
"What is the name of the useless ball of dirt?"
"Delos, Commander."
She snorted.
"Boring planet, boring name."

The seam of gravel and artefacts was holding Jean-Luc spellbound. He had followed it for several metres crossing under several already excavated areas. Most of the pottery was in shards and chunks, but the metal objects had survived remarkably well. To his immense satisfaction and joy, he had found another implement that had jevonite inlaid in the handle. He had no idea what the implement was used for, it consisted of the grip with its jevonite pattern, a five centimetre shaft made of a metal he was unfamiliar with which was intricately engraved and ending in three elegant hooks which rotated on a beautifully made swivel. Jean-Luc had spent the better part of an hour, sitting on his backside in his trench, bathed on hot sunlight, turning the object over and over in his now toughened hands as he tried to figure out what it was. Ultimately he gave up and returned to his digging, the tug of new discoveries too tantalising to ignore.
By now he had a sizable collection of artefacts back at his campsite. He meticulously catalogued everything, but the sheer volume of finds was taking more and more of his time, meaning to get enough sleep each night, he was having to catalogue into the morning as well. It was an important task for any archaeologist and he certainly wouldn't ignore it, but it rankled him nonetheless that the cataloguing was eating into the time he had to excavate. It was a fine balance, one he had to apply himself to, lest his enthusiasm to dig overcame his common sense.
He had been digging for ten days. On the morning of the eleventh day, instead of going straight to his trench, Jean-Luc took a PADD loaded with the previous dig's reports and looked at the site anew. From this new aspect he could see his trench was leading inexorably towards the cave entrance. He decided it was time to explore inside. He went back to the campsite and retrieved a torch. It was only a matter of minutes before he ventured into the darkness.
He had only covered a few metres when the cold silence inside was broken by a cacophony of hellish screeching. Startled, Jean-Luc dived for cover, lying face down and covering his head with his arms. He felt soft objects hitting his clothing and warm wetness sprayed sporadically over him. As the shrieking subsided he risked raising his head and shining his torch upwards. He wasn't surprised to see the remainder of a colony of bat-like creatures exiting the cave. As he slowly stood, a foetid, dust laden miasma assaulted his nostrils. He covered his nose and mouth with his hand, trying not to gag. Then he realised he had excrement and urine all over the back of his shirt and trousers. He waited several minutes as he became accustomed to the terrible smell. Once he felt able, he removed his hand and swept the cave with his torch light. It wasn't very big, but in the now silent space he realised he could hear running water. Walking carefully towards the back of the cave, he had to stoop as the ceiling dipped downwards. He aimed his torch at where the floor met the wall. There he saw water-rounded gravel and stones and an opening just big enough to wriggle through. It was a significant discovery. With the chance of open galleries and a flowing water course heading into the mountains, Jean-Luc almost salivated at the thought of the treasures he might find. The question was...should he explore this new find?
It was a golden rule of all archaeologists. Never explore alone. But Jean-Luc was curious by nature. Only time would tell if he was willing to break the rules.

 

 

 

Beverly's shuttle had a top speed of warp five, not like the Calypso which could do warp nine point five. It meant she had a longer journey to Delos than Jean-Luc would have had and she found herself dreading the coming days. Boredom was an anathema to Beverly. It made her bad tempered and listless. Her late husband, gone so many years, would, on the rare occasions it happened, assuage Beverly's boredom with sex. In fact Jack Crusher used sex often to amuse Beverly. Though they'd only been married for five years, what with Jack's long absences and Beverly's work as a physician, when they were together sex was just about all they had. That and their son, Wesley. On reflection, and Beverly had had decades for that, she had reached the conclusion their marriage wouldn't have lasted.
Jack had meant well; Beverly knew he had loved her and their son, but her husband had never quite given up his love of space and exploration. He was so like his best friend and Captain, Jean-Luc Picard.
Lost in thought, Beverly sat back in her seat and indulged in a bit of soul searching.
Was she doomed to repeat history? She wondered. Am I, in wanting a relationship with Jean-Luc, only going to find myself playing second fiddle to his job...his first love?
Needing to move, Beverly got to her feet and began to pace the small area available.
Her hand came up to her mouth as her teeth played with her fingernails, a habit brought on by stress she had spent years trying to break.
"Think about this carefully, Beverly." She muttered softly to herself. "You just might find yourself alone yet again."
But then she shook her head.
"No, it won't like it was with Jack. He and I were so young, so naive. Jean-Luc is so much more mature...he's in his seventies...well seasoned as it were. No, Jean-Luc loves me and he wants me, he would never place me second. At least I don't think he would."
Frustrated, Beverly sat again, but found she had to fidget.
"And what about me?" Her voice sounded forlorn in the otherwise empty craft and it irritated her. She knew she had to be brutally honest.
"Okay, what about me? I'm just as dedicated to my career as Jean-Luc is to his. Am I prepared to give myself completely to him? We're both loners, driven by our jobs...more interested in duty than personal needs, set in our ways, opinionated. Is there room in my life for a relationship? Is there room in his?"
Again she stood and began to pace, the need to move undeniable.
"He says he loves me." She continued in the same soft voice. "But does he really? Could it be infatuation? No...surely he's too old, too experienced for that." The fingernails were being worried again.
"Okay, not infatuation. What about the tried-and-true unattainable goal? Could that be it? I know he's loved me since he first met me, before I was married to Jack even. Could I represent some kind of...perfect woman...ideal, but forever forbidden?"
She thought about that then snorted.
"Oh what complete and utter bullshit! God, Beverly, who do you think you are? Jean-Luc's far too sensible for that."
She stilled her pacing and tilted her head.
"So what is it then? What is this unspoken thing between us? Could it be as simple as love?"
Her feet began their restless movement anew.
"Come on, Beverly, be honest. Do you really love him...or is it pity? You know he's loved you for decades and you feel sorry for him. Unrequited love is a bitch. Poets have known it for centuries."
Her eyes widened with an insight.
"And Jean-Luc loves poetry! Is that all this is? Some kind of romantic fantasy on his part, driven by his sentimental streak? " Her eyes narrowed. "Or has it become a habit with him? He has loved me so long it has become familiar and comfortable, kept alive by his inherent loneliness?"
She shook her head brusquely and fisted her hands.
"NO! That is being so unfair to him, you know better, Beverly. Admit it, he loves you unreservedly, no strings attached."
Having come to that conclusion, Beverly stood stock-still and lifted her bowed head.
"Right, now's the time, you coward. You love him with the same intensity, don't you."
Letting out a deep, shuddering sigh, Beverly nodded slowly.
"Yes I do." Two fat tears slid slowly down Beverly's face. She sniffed and sat heavily on the seat. She looked up at the ceiling and sniffed again, her voice breaking as she said softly,
"Oh God, I was in love with him even through my marriage. I married the wrong man...I'm so sorry, Jean-Luc...so very sorry. I love you."
The days ahead stretched out before Beverly like some kind of punishment.

 

 

 

Lemar checked his panel for the third time before he dared disturb his Commander. Straightening his spine, he swivelled his seat and made sure he showed proper deference when addressing the mercurial woman.
"Commander Nerol, our scans are showing Cardassian life forms on the southern archipelago."
Removing her hand from where it had been supporting her chin, Nerol showed some interest.
"Are you sure, Lemar? I wouldn't put it past you to invent something so bizarre."
Swallowing his outrage, Lemar showed nothing but respect.
"I am sure, Commander."
Nerol sat up from her disinterested slouch.
"If I go over there and find you've made your usual incompetent job of interpreting the data I will feed you to my garr'."
As Nerol rose from her chair, a nervous Lemar turned back to his panel, surreptitiously checking his readout again. He sensed Nerol at his shoulder. Her thin index finger with its neat, cropped nail jabbed at some controls before she straightened and frowned.
"It seems you are correct for once in your miserable existence. What are Cardassians doing here and how did they get here?"
They were rhetorical questions, so Lemar kept his opinions to himself. He smelled Nerol breath as she bent forward and squinted.
"Have you completed your scans?"
Finding her breath offensive made it difficult not to turn his head away, but he dare not offend her.
"No, Commander. I have yet to scan the mid great archipelago."
The cuff to the back of his head made his shiny black hair stand up, askew.
"There are only two archipelagos, you fool, the rest is ocean. What's taking you so long?"
Staying completely still with his eyes glued to the panel, Lemar's mouth went dry.
"There are a lot of refractory minerals in the islands, Commander, it makes scanning very difficult. I will endeavour to make haste."
Nerol straightened and gripped Lemar's shoulder, digging her nails in cruelly.
"You'd better."
She then turned to her communications officer.
"Hail the Cardassians on the surface."
"At once, Commander."

 

 

Being a cautious man, Jean-Luc had taken the precaution of setting proximity alarms around both the site and his campsite. His communicator was also open and set on roam, so he clearly heard the Cardassian hail. His hands froze and his head looked up at the sky involuntarily.
"Merde!"
He rose quickly taking his tools and backpack with him as he hurried to his tent. Once inside he opened a secure channel to the unmanned Calypso.
"Computer, initiate a discrete scan around the planet."
The reply took only seconds.
"Scan complete. There is a Cardassian warship, Galor class, in orbit."
Jean-Luc closed his eyes briefly and muttered softly,
"Shit! Computer, how many are on that ship?"
"Unknown. That would require a deeper scan."
He knew about the refractory minerals and could only hope their scans wouldn't pick up his solitary form. Still, he felt exposed. There was certainly no shelter afforded by his tent, but an idea came to him. He grabbed his backpack, tools and a tricorder and made a dash for the cave. He would hide there, hoping he would remain undiscovered whilst still monitoring the Cardassian channel.
The bats had returned and he had to suffer another cacophonous exit, once again being splattered with excrement and urine. It was several minutes before the dust settled and the disgusting smell abated.
The signal to his communicator wasn't as strong in the cave, but it was clear enough to hear.
"This is Gul Nerol of the Cardassian warship Reklar. Respond!"
Jean-Luc waited tensely, knowing his fate was in the balance. Foolishly he hadn't scanned the planet for life forms before he'd beamed down. Such a fundamental mistake was a rarity for Jean-Luc; he could only surmise his enthusiasm to get to the dig had clouded his usually sound judgment. It was an error he would never repeat.
Several brittle moments passed before there was a reply.
"Reklar, this is former Commander Benar. What are you doing here? We did not call for assistance."
"Former Commander? We did not call? Who are you, how many are you and what are you doing on this planet!"
Nerol bridled at hearing the nonchalance in Benar's voice as he replied,
"There are thirty-seven of us, all former officers of the Obsidian Order. I see no reason why I should answer to you."
Even a former officer of the Obsidian Order demanded respect. In a milder tone, Nerol said.
"I see. You are a long way from Cardassia. Can I be of any service?"
The voice of Benar had become frosty.
"No, Commander, we require nothing of you but to be left alone."
"May I ask what you are doing on Delos?"
There was a very audible, longsuffering sigh.
"You are persistent, Commander. We are looking at some ruins. We intend to investigate here before moving to the central archipelago in the coming weeks, depending on what we find here."
Nerol screwed up her face, thinking to herself,
"Archaeology? I doubt it."
Aloud she said,
"Very well, since you require nothing, we will complete our scans and leave."
"Thank you, Commander. One more thing. I would appreciate it if you did not log our presence in your report."
With a sneer, Nerol said in a clipped tone.
"As you wish. Reklar out."
Nerol stalked back to the helm and loomed over Lemar.
"Hurry up and finish the scans. I can smell those Obsidian Order bastards from here. I want to leave and I want to leave quickly."
Lemar's hands flew over the console, before he sat back and reported.
"There are no other life forms, Commander We are free to leave orbit."
"Finally! I suppose we'll be led by the nose to our next destination?"
Risking another cuff, Lemar said carefully,
"If you mean our course is predetermined by our orders, then yes, Commander, our course has already been set. We leave for the K'Nar system immediately."
Nerol sneered at Lemar, took a step closer and hit him again.
"You are an impudent wretch, Lemar. See if you can do your job better before you try and be smart. It doesn't suit you."
Offering a crisp,
"Yes, Commander!"
A relieved Lemar turned back to his panel, grateful his Commander's attention seemed to shift elsewhere.

 

 

Jean-Luc stayed in the cave for half an hour before venturing out again. Having gained the coordinates of the Cardassians sharing the planet with him, he used his tricorder to reconfigure his communicator. It would no longer receive calls on the Starfleet channel; however it would pick up any transmissions the Cardassians made. If they were going to come to his island, he wanted ample time to leave.
Still vaguely unsettled, Jean-Luc wandered to his trench and stared down at his work.
"Is this worth risking my life?" He said softly.
When no answer came to him, he jumped down and knelt to resume his work. It was a stray thought that stilled his hands.
"Beverly would be angry with me for being so foolhardy."
With that thought foremost in his mind, Jean-Luc went back to his work.

 

 

The mental turmoil had taken its toll. The events of the past weeks had caught up, leaving Beverly utterly exhausted. She had taken to her bunk, expecting to be too restless to sleep, but slipped into deep, dreamless oblivion almost immediately.
She woke disorientated and hungry.
"Computer, what is the time?"
"Twenty two thirty hours."
Beverly's eyebrows shot up.
"Nine hours! Whew, I really needed sleep."
She ate a moderately large meal before going into the cockpit to check the settings. It was then she discovered she had been asleep nearly thirty hours. She was shocked, but not upset. As a Doctor she knew her body had needed the rest, but more than that, she was further into her journey than she had anticipated. With renewed enthusiasm, Beverly checked her ETA.
"Only another three days!" She exclaimed. She opened a channel, meaning to call Jean-Luc, but had second thoughts.
"No, it would be better if I turned up unexpected. If he has any warning he might run again."
With a decisive nod, Beverly started to give more thought to Jean-Luc's choice of planet.
"What was he thinking, going to a forbidden area. And for what? To dig around in the dirt? Not my idea of fun. If I were to take that kind of risk it would be for something much more worthwhile."
But she shook her head.
"That's unfair. Archaeology is important, but Jean-Luc is only an amateur. I'm sure he is good at it, but he shines best doing what he has devoted most of his life to: Captaining a Starship. No, he's gone out on a limb this time."
As she mulled over his choices, something occurred to her.
"He must have been very upset to go to such lengths to hide. I must have really hurt him."
She began to nibble her fingernails again.
"Yes I did, but I think it's more a culmination of things. This stupid dance of ours has been going on for years. His patience must have finally broken. Beverly, you have a lot of fences to mend."
Sitting quietly for a while, despair crept into Beverly's thoughts.
"What if it's too late? What if waiting so long has soured his feelings for me? He may still love me, but has given up any hope of a relationship with me."
She suddenly stood.
"What if he won't see me? He may send me away. Oh God, I have to talk to him!"
She rushed to the cockpit and opened a channel.
"Crusher to Picard."
When there was no immediate reply, she called again.
"Beverly Crusher to Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Respond please."
There was no reply, only static. Undaunted, Beverly tapped a control to boost the signal. She tried again but still, there was no response. Somewhat concerned, Beverly said,
"Computer, run a diagnostic on the communication array."
"Diagnostic complete. Communication array functioning normally."
Frowning deeply, Beverly tried something else.
"Computer I am trying to call Captain Picard on Delos. Run a check on the receiving end."
"It appears the signal is not getting through."
"What is the reason for this?"
"Unknown."
Beverly stated to pace.
"What about some kind of interference?"
"The meagre land masses of Delos contain refractory minerals, making scanning difficult. However with a boosted signal strength, you should have been able to get through."
"Is it night time on Delos?"
"No."
Staring intently at the ceiling, Beverly said,
"Well he shouldn't be asleep. Maybe he's not wearing his communicator, or maybe it's damaged."
But Beverly knew better. Starfleet communicators were built to take all sorts of damage and still function, they had to, a person's life could depend on it. Besides, Beverly knew Jean-Luc could repair all but the most severe damage. No, it had to be something else. In the back of her mind a little voice chimed in persistently.
"What if he's hurt? What if he's injured, near death and you waited too long to tell him?"
Savagely quelling the rising voice, Beverly all but shouted,
"No! He's fine, it must be a damaged communicator. I absolutely refuse to believe it's too late!"
She spun around, barking,
"Computer, is there any way to increase speed?"
"Shutting off all non-essential systems will produce an increase of ten percent."
"Not good enough. I want more speed! What else can I do?"
"Taking navigation and deflectors off line will give a further twenty five percent. However such action is ill advised."
Hurrying into the cockpit, Beverly took the pilot's seat.
"I don't give a flying fuck! Do it! Shut down all non essential systems and take navigation and deflectors off line."
Beverly felt the little ship surge. With grim satisfaction she asked,
"Computer, ETA?"
"One day, six hours."
With a curt nod, Beverly snarled.
"That's more like it. Whether you're ready or not, I'm coming, Jean-Luc."

 

 

 

Over the next couple of days, Jean-Luc became used to the soft chatter emanating from his communicator. He listened to it subliminally, devoting only a fraction of his attention to it, but it was enough to stay aware. Though he had doubted their sincerity, Jean-Luc was surprised to find the Cardassians were actually excavating the ruins. The ruins on the southern archipelago weren't as comprehensive as those he was exploring, indeed, not nearly as many quality artefacts had been found there and Jean-Luc was still suspicious...these were former Obsidian Order officers after all, but until he found otherwise he would give them the benefit of the doubt and simply remain alert to their chatter.
He had returned to the trench, putting the cave on the back burner for now. The bottom of the trench had taken a sharp dive down and he had dug quite a deep hole to stay with the seam. He noted it had begun to rain but most of his concentration was on his hands as he started to unearth what he believed was a large metal object. The wind had picked up, but the falling rain had dampened the dust. Soon little rivulets of muddy water began to erode the sides of the trench.
Oblivious, Jean-Luc worked on ignoring the water gathering around his knees. It began to pour, the raindrops beginning to obscure his vision. He was just raising his head to look up at the rain when the trench collapsed. The air was forced from his lungs by the sudden weight of the sodden earth that fell on him. His right hand was jammed painfully under the metal object as it was shoved back into its resting spot. His upper body was violently pushed forward and he tried to brace himself on his arms, but a rock hit him at the base of his head, knocking him out. He toppled forward, his face buried in the mud as the wet earth piled on top of his prone body. As the rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun, little landslides continued to pour down into the trench, covering what little remained of his presence. In all it had taken forty-two seconds.

 

 

Unlike Jean-Luc, Beverly scanned the planet thoroughly. Having found the Cardassians, Beverly assumed she had been mistaken; Jean-Luc couldn't possibly be there as well, but wanting to be absolutely sure, Beverly continued her scan and found the tiny trace of a human life form on an island of the mid archipelago.
Relieved, Beverly stared at the blinking light that represented the man she loved and smiled.
"Gotcha! Here I come, Jean-Luc, ready or not."
She had found the Calypso and knew why Jean-Luc had put her there, so she parked the shuttle alongside the Captain's yacht. She checked the weather only to find there was rain about at his location, so she replicated a waterproof jacket and a backpack with a change of clothing.
Standing on the transporter pad, Beverly felt a tingle of anticipation for what lay ahead. With butterflies taking flight in her stomach, she said,
"Computer, energise."

 

 

 

Jean-Luc woke in a panic. His mouth and nose was full of mud and he could barely breathe. Fortunately the mud had not compacted, leaving him just able to move his left arm. Doing his best to quell the desperate panic, he concentrated on moving his arm until his hand was near his face. Then with small, careful movements, he used his hand to create a small pocket in front of his mouth. Pushing with his tongue and scooping in small increments with his fingers, he managed to clear his mouth of mud and take a small breath. The urge to pant was almost overwhelming, but he controlled himself and began to regulate his breathing. Once the light headedness of oxygen deprivation had passed, he tensed his arms and legs to see if he could lift the weight of mud from his body. He soon discovered it was too heavy.
His predicament was dire. Knowing he would soon run out of oxygen, Jean-Luc tried again to move his body, but the mud held him fast. He tried to stay calm, but the thought of being buried alive made him cry out. Unfortunately, there was no one to hear.

 

 

Beverly materialised half way between Jean-Luc's campsite and the dig. She looked around, but saw nothing of her best friend. She called out,
"Jean-Luc?"
But he didn't answer. She checked the tent, smiling at the carefully laid out artefacts, each with its own identifying tag. Going outside, she shielded her eyes from the bright sun and looked up at the sky. To the south west, dark clouds threatened. Her search took her to the dig site, but a cursory look showed that Jean-Luc wasn't there, either. Frowning, Beverly swept her eyes around and caught sight of the cave entrance. She quickly went to it and called his name again, but still, no answer. She was reluctant to enter the cave, but she knew she had to. When the bats took flight she yelped and covered her head with her hands. The smell and the disgusting mess on her clothing almost made her want to leave, but such was her need to find Jean-Luc, she went further into the cave, going to the sound of running water. She had no torch, but using her hands, she found the hole and wondered if Jean-Luc had wriggled through it to explore. Lying flat, she got her head and shoulders through the hole and yelled loudly to be heard over the sound of the water, but there was no reply.
Reluctantly she left the cave and wandered back to the dig. She stood at its edge, hands on hips.
"Where the hell is he?"
It was then that she spotted Jean-Luc's backpack. She walked over to it and as she got closer, she saw the caved in trench. Alarm immediately swept through her. Dropping to her knees she yelled,
"Jean-Luc?"
At the periphery of his hearing, Jean-Luc thought he heard something. He suddenly stopped his laboured breathing to listen. His eyes were closed, but he was seeing stars and he knew he would soon lose consciousness.
Beverly began to frantically dig with her hands. She yelled again.
"Jean-Luc...can you hear me?"
There it was again, someone calling, but faintly. Jean-Luc tried to call out, but he was nearly out of oxygen. All he could do was hope that whoever it was reached him before he died of asphyxiation.
Beverly placed her feet at the sides of the trench and used her hands to scoop the still wet mud between her legs. She quashed the urge to panic, instead employing a continuous, methodical approach to her digging. She was rewarded ten minutes later when her fingers brushed Jean-Luc's shirt. She called his name again and quickened her digging.
Jean-Luc's time had run out. He gasped his final breath and, just as blackness enveloped him, he thought of Beverly.
More of Jean-Luc's clothing was being unearthed. Beverly concentrated on finding his head and shoulders. Her hands soon uncovered the back of his head, his blood mixed with the mud. With two deep scoops she removed the earth from the sides of Jean-Luc's face and wriggled her fingers under his head until she was cradling his face. She gently lifted his head and turned it.
He wasn't breathing. Beverly yelled his name, but she didn't panic. The Doctor took over and she managed to free his shoulders so she could twist his upper body. He had a weak and thready pulse which encouraged her, but she had to get air into his lungs. It took seven deep breaths from her to him before he suddenly coughed. Beverly wiped as much mud from his face as she could and noted colour was returning to his skin. Gently she said his name again.
"Jean-Luc?"
His eyes fluttered then opened into slits. He opened his mouth and rasped,
"Beverly?"
She smiled down at him, blinking away her tears.
"Yes, it's me. You were trapped, but you're going to be okay. Just let me dig you out."
It took nearly twenty minutes to free Jean-Luc from the clinging mud. While Beverly dug, Jean-Luc felt his strength returning. His head was throbbing and his right hand hurt, but other than that he felt reasonably well.
Once he was free he was able to help Beverly to get him out of the trench. He was filthy but neither cared. They hugged tightly, both reluctant to let go. Eventually it was Jean-Luc who gently pulled back. He turned his head and spat some mud out of his mouth before saying roughly,
"Thank you, Beverly, you saved my life."
She smiled warmly.
"What were you doing down there anyway?"
Before Jean-Luc could answer, Beverly shook her head and held up one hand.
"Stupid question. You were digging for artefacts."
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Uh huh. I have found a seam of gravel left over from a big flood. It is littered with artefacts. I've made some significant finds."
That made Beverly frown deeply.
"At a dig on a planet you're not supposed to visit. Why here, Jean-Luc?"
Just then it started to rain heavily. Jean-Luc sidestepped the question by pointing to the tent and saying,
"Come on, let's go inside."
Beverly knew exactly what he was doing, but let it pass. Once they were out of the rain, Jean-Luc picked up his towel.
"I'm going outside to wash. I won't be long, make yourself at home."
He was outside before Beverly could respond. Ten minutes passed before a clean Captain entered with the towel around his slim waist, and carrying his now clean clothing.
Crooking a finger at him, Beverly said,
"Come here, I want to see the wound on the back of your head."
By the tone of her voice, Jean-Luc could tell she was angry. Instead of his usual protests, Jean-Luc went meekly to her and turned so she could examine him. He winced softly as her fingers probed the wound. Although he couldn't see her, he knew she was shaking her head.
"You have a med kit?"
"Yes."
"Get it."
As he retrieved the med kit he thought,
"She's really angry. Be very careful, Jean-Luc, don't do anything to antagonise her further."
He returned to Beverly and stood still while she healed his injury. Two hands on his shoulder turned him until they were facing each other.
"Have you any other injuries?"
He was about to say no, but the throbbing in his hand reminded him. He silently held up his right hand and Beverly scanned it. She snorted softly as ran a regenerator over it. The throbbing faded away as she remarked matter-of-factly,
"Bruised, nothing more."
They again looked at each other again until Beverly huffed.
"You took a hell of a risk coming here, Jean-Luc."
Not breaking eye contact he said softly,
"I know."
"What about those Cardassians? Did you think they would just ignore you?"
He gaze didn't falter.
"They don't know I'm here."
Beverly's lips parted, her tongue flicking out.
"Why did you beam down when there were Cardassians already here?"
There was a ghost of a smile on his lips as he said in his deep soft voice,
"I didn't know they were here."
Confused, Beverly shook her head.
"Your scans missed them?"
"I didn't scan before I beamed down."
This time Beverly gaped.
"What? You didn't scan before beaming down to a planet in hostile territory? Why the hell not?"
Still maintaining his steady gaze into her eyes, Jean-Luc offered a small shrug.
"I just didn't do it. Perhaps my mind was on other things."
That made Beverly blush and it took several seconds for her to recover. She found his unwavering gaze mesmerising; she's always loved his dark, hazel eyes. In them she could see his intelligence, his warmth and his love. She blinked rapidly in an effort to break the spell.
"Well that was very foolish of you, I would expect better from someone as experienced as you, Jean-Luc."
The barely there smile was back.
"Indeed. Now tell me, Beverly, what are you doing here?"
Caught in his gaze, Beverly panicked.
"What? Oh, um, I was worried about you, that's all. You left the Enterprise with no warning. That's not like you, Jean-Luc."
He said nothing, just continued to stare intently into Beverly's blue eyes.
A voice inside Beverly's head was clamouring,
"Tell him!!"
But her stubbornness wouldn't let her. Instead she went on the offensive.
"You have caused a lot of people to worry, Jean-Luc; running away as you did."
His eyes darkened slightly.
"Who says I was running away?"
Beverly lifted her head haughtily, but maintained eye contact.
"I do."
She expected him to back down, but he didn't.
"Why did you come, Beverly."
This was it. The time had come to confess her love, but she wavered. She didn't see Jean-Luc's hand rise, but she felt his fingers gently caress her cheek His voice was nothing but a deep, mellifluous rumble when he softly demanded,
"Tell me."
His gaze was so intense, so filled with love and determination, Beverly's walls finally crumbled. With her eyes filling with tears and her lower lip trembling she whispered,
"I love you, Jean-Luc. I think I always have."
As he slowly neared her, Beverly closed her eyes. His kiss was so tender she swooned. She felt his strong arm wind around her waist, keeping her on her feet. The kiss grew as she opened to him. Their tongues met and Beverly felt a shiver go the length of her spine as Jean-Luc moaned softly and sensuously.
Their bodies pressed together and Beverly could feel Jean-Luc beginning to harden through the towel. The kiss grew into hot passion as years of pent up desire finally found freedom. Jean-Luc's free hand undid the buttons of Beverly's shirt before sneaking in to cup her breast. Beverly gasped and pulled back, breaking the kiss, but not Jean-Luc's grip of her breast.
Jean-Luc misread her intentions. His face clouded with anger and hurt. He growled,
"Oh no you don't! You want it as much as I do!"
As if to make his point, Jean-Luc squeezed Beverly's breast then found and tweaked her turgid nipple. She let her head loll back as she moaned with desire. He watched as her hand came up to his and took it from her breast. Jean-Luc was devastated. In a broken voice he said piteously,
"Please, Beverly..."
She looked into his moist eyes and smiled. As he watched she began to slowly undress. He blinked away his tears as he realised what she was doing. Desire coloured his skin and darkened his eyes. This time when he said her name, it was with passion.
"Oh, Beverly."
The towel tented with his erection as he watched. Twice he tried to touch her, but she wouldn't allow it. By the time she was fully naked, he was almost overwhelmed with need. Beverly stepped to him, her fingers insinuating themselves under the towel. With a deft flick, the towel fell around his feet. Beverly pressed herself against him and they moaned at the sensation. They kissed as Jean-Luc slowly moved them to his cot. He eased Beverly down, with the intention of indulging in foreplay, but Beverly looked up at him and shook her head.
"I want you now, Jean-Luc."
Her words eroded his control. Carefully covering her body with his, he gently bit her neck as she parted her legs. He slid into her easily, as if she was meant for him alone. He closed his eyes against the heady rush of penetration. Beverly moaned and lifted her hips, grinding against him. He began to thrust fast and Beverly writhed under him. Suddenly he thrust deep inside her, stiffened and groaned. Realising what had happened, Beverly stroked his back and said softly,
"It's okay, Jean-Luc, I don't mind."
It took a few minutes for Jean-Luc to recover from his hasty orgasm. Beverly was surprised when he lifted his head and smiled.
"I'm sorry about that. It's been quite a long time and I've thought about this for so long..."
Beverly interrupted by stroking his face and saying,
"Hey, it's okay, I understand completely."
Jean-Luc's smile grew and he shook his head.
"No you don't, Beverly. Just give me a moment."
He kissed her then and Beverly realised she could feel him begin to harden inside her. When he broke the kiss it was Beverly's turn to smile.
"Oh, my. What a clever man you are."
This time he began to thrust slowly and gently. They slipped into the rhythm easily, each savouring the sensations, kissing and whispering endearments to each other. Slowly Jean-Luc hastened and Beverly abruptly came, crying out in ecstasy. Knowing his own orgasm was near, Jean-Luc deepened his thrusts, making Beverly come again. Jean-Luc lifted himself and stared down at Beverly. The sight of her writhing through her orgasm tipped him over the edge. He plunged deep inside her and screwed his eyes shut as he gave himself to his climax.
It was some time before they recovered. Jean-Luc rolled them to their sides, still connected. Beverly smiled at him and whispered,
"You haven't said it."
His eyebrows lifted.
"Said what?" He asked in a deep rumble.
"Said that you love me."
He smiled.
"I just showed you."
Beverly liked this game. She grinned with mischief and shook her head.
"Uh huh. You have to tell me."
"Do I?" He asked equably as he propped himself up on his elbow.
She pinched his nipple, making him growl.
"Yes you do!"
"Why?"
Her hand left his nipple to tickle his testicles. He stifled a laugh and grabbed her hand, muttering,
"Wench! Tell me. Why do I have to tell you?"
Looking as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, Beverly batted her eyelids.
"Because I told you."
He shook his head.
"But you know I love you. I've been in love with you since I first met you."
Her mischief fled making her eyes fill with tears.
"Yes, my love, I know and I'm so sorry I made you wait so long. I was such a fool."
His tender kiss made Beverly weep. Jean-Luc held her to him, his own eyes filling. In silence they made love again, lying on their sides, Jean-Luc's fingers teasing Beverly's clit. They came in a heady rush and in doing so they cleansed each other of guilt and sorrow. As they basked in the afterglow, Jean-Luc whispered huskily,
"I love you, Beverly. I am incomplete without you."
They slipped into sleep in each other's arms.

 

 

It was dawn when Jean-Luc awoke. Beverly's back was pressed against him as they spooned in the narrow cot. He stretched and grimaced at his sore muscles. His movement woke Beverly and she too soon discovered just how sore she was. She moaned, making Jean-Luc chuckle.
"You too?"
Beverly groaned again and turned over.
"You'd think there'd be some kind of exercises one could do to keep fit enough for sex."
Jean-Luc offered a lopsided smile, then kissed Beverly gently. She smiled and returned the kiss.
"We should have done this years ago."
Jean-Luc was running his fingers over the skin of her back, making runes. Beverly mewed her pleasure and snuggled closer.
"Perhaps, but I'd like to think that now is the right time."
That made her open her eyes.
"Do you really think so?"
"Uh huh." Was all he said. He was erect, but seemed to be in no hurry to use it. Beverly basked in his caresses growing ever more aroused. With gentle persuasion, she manoeuvred Jean-Luc under her. Slowly she sat up and straddled him. He looked up at her and she gasped softly at seeing the love swirling in his eyes.
"You are magnificent, Beverly."
She smiled and lifted her hips. As she guided his erection inside her she purred,
"We're both magnificent, my love."
Their lovemaking started out languid and slow, but soon became urgent. Jean-Luc grabbed her hips as he thrust up into her and rolled, spilling them from the cot. On the floor of the tent they made love with unbridled passion, bruising each other, biting and scratching until, covered with sweat and blood they came in a cataclysmic shared orgasm, their cries of liberation echoing outside.
They slept where they were, on the floor, tangled together.
Cramp made Beverly yelp in pain, waking Jean-Luc with a start.
"Beverly! Are you all right?"
The cramp bit again and Beverly winced. Through gritted teeth she managed.
"Cramp..."
Immediately understanding, Jean-Luc untangled them and saw Beverly grip her left calf. He quickly knelt between her legs and took the afflicted leg to straighten it, however it wasn't until he bent her foot back that the cramp let go. Beverly relaxed and let out a long sigh of relief. She smiled ruefully and looked down the length of her body at her naked lover.
"I'm not as young as I used to be. That never used to happen."
Jean-Luc grunted his agreement.
"I know what you mean. I'm sore too."
He laid her leg down gently then slowly stood. He held out a helping hand to Beverly, but she was busy admiring his well muscled body. He had to say her name twice before she broke her gaze.
"What? Oh, thanks."
He helped her to her feet and they both smiled shyly. Jean-Luc banished the awkwardness by kissing her. It was deepening until Beverly's stomach rumbled. He broke the kiss with a chuckle.
"I take it you're hungry?"
Reddening, all Beverly did was nod. Jean-Luc shook his head ruefully.
"Very well. You get dressed while I make some breakfast."
Beverly gave him a saucy look and said brazenly,
"Are you going to cook naked?"
He gave a mock glare.
"No I'm not."
She watched with amusement as Jean-Luc sought some fresh clothes and quickly dressed. As he made himself comfortable in his underwear, Beverly licked her lips. Jean-Luc sighed expansively.
"You, Beverly, are insatiable."
She just grinned perkily and said,
"And you, Jean-Luc, are magnificent."
Nothing more was said until they were both seated outside with their plates on their laps. As they ate, Beverly asked gently,
"You were running away, weren't you."
Jean-Luc stopped eating and stared at his plate. Eventually he nodded and said softly.
"Yes."
Beverly sighed.
"It was because of me, wasn't it."
He nodded.
"I'm sorry, Jean-Luc."
He looked up and smiled, but his eyes showed his sorrow.
"There's no need, Beverly. I'm all right now."
He lowered his head again, making Beverly bend to see under his brow.
"I hurt you though, Jean-Luc and you still feel that hurt. I wish we could turn back time."
He lifted his head and reached for her hand.
"We have each other now. I am finally complete, Beverly. Your love has filled my empty heart and I feel reborn. Don't dwell in the past, it is gone. Let's celebrate the now and what's to come."
A gentle, contented silence filled the air as they held hands and gazed into each other's eyes. After a few minutes it settled and they finished their meal. It was then that Beverly revisited a question from the day before.
"Why this planet, Jean-Luc?"
This time he answered her.
"I wanted to hide, but I also needed something to do. I had been following the progress of this dig right up until it was abandoned. It seemed to be the perfect place. I didn't think anyone would think to look here if they were trying to find me."
Beverly nodded slowly, digesting what he had said.
"And were you going to return to the Enterprise?"
With a deep sigh, Jean-Luc bowed his head. His voice was deep and husky.
"I don't know."
"I see. And now?"
He lifted his head and looked into her eyes.
"I still don't know."
Beverly held his gaze and said softly,
"So what do you intend to do?"
His eyes left hers and swept over the dig.
"Stay here and keep digging."
"For how long?"
He shrugged, but said nothing. Beverly took his hand and asked gently,
"What are you looking for, Jean-Luc?"
He shook his head.
"I'm not sure."
She squeezed his hand.
"May I search with you?"
His eyes met hers and he smiled.
"Yes, I think I'd like that."
There was a companionable silence until Beverly asked,
"What about the Cardassians."
Jean-Luc shrugged again and sighed.
"If they come, we will leave."
Wryly Beverly said,
"As long as they don't discover us first."
Reaching into his pocket, Jean-Luc produced his communicator and activated it. Beverly heard the soft chatter of Cardassian voices, making her raise her eyebrows. Jean-Luc grinned.
"We will have plenty of warning."
Sobering somewhat, Beverly gave Jean-Luc a frank look.
"You'd better be right."
Jean-Luc's smile faded as the weight of Beverly's words settled on him. To lighten the mood, he took her hand and began to walk towards the dig.
"Come, let me show you what I've been doing."

 

Former Commander Resan Benar looked up from his digging to see his friend Hessin approaching, carrying some field rations. He straightened and smiled.
"Ah, Hessin, just in time. I was getting hungry."
The woman smiled, changing her face completely.
"You would have to be hungry to want to eat these field rations."
She squatted beside her lover and looked down at the shallow excavation.
"Found anything?"
Benar turned his mouth down and shook his head.
"No, though I do keep trying."
He took a packet of rations and tore it open. Hessin screwed her nose up when he offered her some.
"No thank you! I don't know how you can eat that cold. It's bad enough hot."
Benar shrugged.
"I've eaten far worse."
Silence descended as he ate. Hessin toed some of the dirt near her foot, prompting Benar to ask,
"Have you found anything?"
She looked up from her contemplation of the earth and nodded.
"Yes, this morning I found a pottery shard. Gedna says it's important because it has pictograms on it."
Smiling indulgently, Benar said with amusement,
"What do you think?"
Hessin snorted.
"I think it's a broken bit of pottery."
She looked into Benar's eyes and asked softly,
"What are we doing here, Benar? We're Obsidian Order officers not archaeologists. Apart from Gedna, none of us know what we're doing."
Benar chewed for a moment before saying gently,
"There is no Obsidian Order anymore, Hessin."
"I know that!" She snapped. "That doesn't explain what we're doing here!"
Putting the last bite in his mouth, Benar chewed thoughtfully while Hessin fumed beside him. He swallowed and lifted his head to look at her.
"You have changed these last few months, Hessin."
She rolled her eyes and huffed.
"Don't change the subject!"
"Very well. Tell me, do you want things to go back the way they were?"
Suspicion clouded Hessin's features.
"What do you mean?"
Benar looked over towards the hills and pursed his thin lips.
"I mean the way Cardassia was under military rule. Do you still want to be a Obsidian Order officer?"
Hessin's eyes narrowed, her gaze becoming piercing.
"Yes!"
With a sweep of his hand, Benar lowered his voice.
"Then be patient. I have been reliably informed there is something hidden in the ruins that has the capacity to restore Cardassia to its former glory."
Hessin gaped, then whispered urgently,
"What is it? A weapon?"
Benar shook his head.
"I'm not certain, but it is something powerful. I will know when we find it."
Leaning forward, Hessin hissed,
"And it's hidden in these ruins?"
Benar hesitated, making Hessin blurt,
"Benar?"
He sighed and offered a wry smile.
"If not in these ruins, then in the ruins located in the mid archipelago."
Hessin scowled.
"You don't know which?"
"No." Said Benar, shaking his head. "All I was told was that it was hidden in the ruins on Delos. I chose to look here first because Federation archaeologists had worked for some time on the mid ruins and found nothing out of the ordinary. It seemed logical to start here."
Hessin sat back and chewed her lip.
"Well there's nothing here, Benar, we may as well move to the other ruins."
He shook his head, stating emphatically.
"No! We must be thorough, Hessin. We will not move until we've scoured every square centimetre of these ruins. I want to be in no doubt."
Lowering her head in deference, Hessin said softly,
"Of course, Benar." Then she said carefully,
"Do the others know?"
Benar shook his head.
"Not specifically. I've told them we are searching for something of great value, something that may change their lives, but what that is, they don't know."
Hessin looked over at the others, spread out throughout the ruins, all digging.
"They show great loyalty."
Benar nodded, also watching his companions.
"Yes, it is gratifying. We have all served together a very long time."
Lifting her head, Hessin said with pride,
"Still, we are Obsidian Order."
Benar smiled kindly.
"Not any more."
Hessin looked at him, her gaze intense.
"But soon?"
His smile faded and his dark eyes glittered.
"Yes. Soon."

 

 

Drawn like a moth to fire, Jean-Luc returned to the trench. Over the next two days they dug it out and strengthened the walls. It rained sporadically, but they didn't care, working through the showers, finding relief from the heat of the sun. Finally they reached the gravel seam. Beverly knelt next to her lover and watched as he carefully uncovered the metal object he'd nearly won before the cave in. He held it reverently while Beverly gently poured water from her bottle over it. The first thing they saw was the lustre of jevonite. Beverly gasped and Jean-Luc briefly closed his eyes.
"Oh, Jean-Luc! It's so beautiful. Is it jade?"
He shook his head and smiled.
"No, it's jevonite."
Gaping, Beverly's eyes flicked between the artefact and Jean-Luc. She pointed at the object in Jean-Luc's hands.
"My God...how old is that?"
He smiled as his eyes settled on his hands and the treasure they held.
"Many centuries. The scientists who worked on this dig opined it was the second Hebician civilisation, but I think it was the first. This gravel seam is much deeper than they dug."
Nodding slowly, Beverly said gently,
"So this is important."
Also nodding, Jean-Luc smiled at the understatement.
"Yes, Beverly, very important."
Beverly gently ran her fingers over the inlaid handle.
"What is it?"
Jean-Luc held it up as he inspected it. His laughter took Beverly off guard.
"I have no idea."
His mirth was infectious. Soon they were both in hysterics. Beverly wiped at her teary eyes, gasping as she tried to catch her breath.
"Jean-Luc, stop!"
He shook his head and laughed again.
"Why? It feels so damned good!"
They collapsed in laughter again before Beverly managed,
"What are we laughing at?"
That made Jean-Luc laugh even harder.
"I don't know!"
It was so ridiculous. Beverly had rarely seen Jean-Luc lose himself in laughter. He was usually so reserved, but the laughter transformed him. Beverly had a flash of insight.
"This is what he must have been like as a boy!"
After some hilarious minutes, they began to settle. Jean-Luc wiped his eyes and shook his head.
"My God...that was out of the blue."
Beverly took a deep breath to unknot her stomach muscles. She grinned at her lover, her eyes twinkling.
"I've never seen you do that Jean-Luc. I liked it; you should do it more often."
He looked at her, his eyes still laughing. He remarked drolly
"I don't think it would help my command style."
That made Beverly laugh again. She clutched her stomach and gasped,
"Jean-Luc, stop!"
He chuckled and shifted until his back was against the trench wall. He stretched his legs out in front of him and as Beverly continued to chuckle and laugh, he watched her intently, his eyes narrowing. When he spoke, his soft, deep voice carried the unmistakable ring of arousal.
"Come here, Beverly."
She looked at Jean-Luc to see him holding out his hand. There was a suspicious bulge in his trousers. Her tongue came out to flick over her lips. She crawled to him, straddled his hips and sat on the bulge. His hooded eyes darkened as he slowly undid the buttons of Beverly's shirt. Lowering her eyes, she watched as he parted her shirt and tugged up her bra. Her breasts freed, Jean-Luc took them in his hands and hefted them. He watched Beverly intently as her arousal grew, colouring her alabaster skin pink. She closed her eyes and allowed her head to loll back. Jean-Luc pinched her nipples, his breath quickening as Beverly moaned. She was wearing shorts and Jean-Luc found it easy to slide his hand in one baggy leg and under the elastic of her thong. As his fingers began to explore her, Beverly gasped and ground her hips into Jean-Luc's now throbbing erection. He growled softly and pushed up while inserting two fingers inside her. His thumb found her clit and Beverly mewed in appreciation as he stimulated her. His fingers continued to work their magic as his free hand went to her shorts, tugging them down. Beverly's eyes snapped open and she quickly moved to one side to rid herself of her shorts and underwear. Before she straddled Jean-Luc again, she undid his fly and eased his pants and briefs down to his thighs. He reached for her and she went willingly. She settled on his erection and he groaned, pushing his hips up. One of his hands went back to her breasts, while the other employed itself in her sex. Beverly began to rock, sliding herself up and down his penis as it lay hard and stiff and hot against his belly.
His voice was rough and urgent as he suddenly said,
"Put me inside you."
Beverly looked down at him, the look of raw need on his face making her gasp. She rose and lifted his penis, guiding it to her entrance. He couldn't wait. As soon as he felt his glans nudge into Beverly, he griped her hips and pushed up hard, shoving himself into her. Beverly cried out at the sudden penetration. She couldn't move; Jean-Luc had pulled her down hard and was holding her tightly. She managed to look at him, surprised to see he had a grimace on his face, his eyes screwed shut. It was then she realised he was trembling. She gently caressed his face, crooning softly,
"Relax, my love."
Despite his eyes being tightly shut, two tears appeared and slid down the sides of his face. Still holding her desperately, Jean-Luc struggled for control. Beverly opened his shirt and tenderly caressed his chest and face, continually talking to him in a gentle voice.
"It's all right, Jean-Luc, I'm with you. Try to relax, everything's all right."
He took a deep, shuddering breath and Beverly felt some of the tension leave his body. He deliberately eased his grip of her hips and managed to open his eyes. Beverly smiled down at him and slowly began to ride him. His breathing was ragged and he shook his head in distress. Beverly stopped what she was doing and bent forward to kiss him. His hands went to her face, the kiss heated and passionate. He suddenly broke the connection and sobbed. Beverly put her mouth near his ear and whispered,
"Let yourself go, Jean-Luc. No expectations, no pressure, just do what you want."
She felt him grip her again as he began to thrust up into her. Beverly sat up and placed her hands on his chest. Jean-Luc's eyes were still closed, prompting Beverly to say softly,
"Open your eyes, Jean-Luc. I want you to see me."
With each thrust, Beverly's breasts bounced provocatively. In his eyes Beverly could see his mounting need. To keep pace with him, she slid one of her hands to her clit, rubbing it in time with his thrusts. Faster and faster he pushed and Beverly stayed with him. When he began to shake his head, Beverly panted,
"Don't hold back! Give yourself to me."
Her urgent words tipped him over the edge. With a guttural cry that ended in a choked sob, Jean-Luc shoved himself deeply into Beverly and came hard. He spasmed as he pulsed causing Beverly to fall into her own orgasm. Her internal muscles milked him rhythmically as they both hung on to the lingering aftershocks.
Slowly they calmed. Beverly felt her muscles relax and she opened her eyes to see Jean-Luc quietly weeping. Using her thumb, she wiped away his tears and asked gently,
"What is it, my love? Why do you weep?"
It took a few moments for Jean-Luc to gather himself. He took a deep, ragged breath and looked up at Beverly, his eyes showing his emotions.
"I was overwhelmed, Beverly. Having you here, being able to make love to you whenever I wish after waiting so long...knowing you love me as I love you...it was too much. It snowballed and threatened to swallow me up. I am so fulfilled and I waited so long..."
He shook his head helplessly as words failed him. Beverly bent and kissed him, saying softly,
"I understand, Jean-Luc. This is a voyage of discovery for both of us. I never thought we would get here and I'm still coming to terms with the reality of you."
Concern shone in his eyes.
"But it's all right, isn't it?"
She smiled radiantly.
"It's more than all right, Jean-Luc; it's divine! You were right, we are magnificent."
Finally he chuckled, the tension leaving his body. He shook his head ruefully and sighed.
"I do love you, Beverly."
She grinned.
"I know, and I love you. Now we need to wash."
"There is a river nearby."
Her grin turned wicked.
"Care to skinny dip?"
He thought about it for only seconds. In answer he pulled her down for a passionate kiss.
"And more?"
Showing mock shock, Beverly gasped theatrically. "You, my dear Captain are a lecherous old man."
"He grinned wolfishly.
"Agreed. Come on, wench, my legs are going to sleep."
Beverly felt happiness she thought long gone. She got to her feet and grinned as Jean-Luc did the same. After hitching up their clothes they walked hand in hand to the river.

 

The days passed lazily, neither Jean-Luc nor Beverly paid much heed to the passage of time; they lived only in the now, deliberately not thinking about the future. They spent their days digging, swimming and making love whenever the whim took them.
Two weeks passed and the trench now snaked right across the dig. There was no doubt now, it was headed straight for the mouth of the cave. One evening as they relaxed together after dinner, Jean-Luc brought up what he knew was going to be a contentious subject. Knowing Beverly was watching him, he put down the artefact he had just catalogued and took a deep breath.
"I want to explore the underground watercourse."
Her response was quick and predictable.
"Too dangerous, Jean-Luc."
"It needn't be." He said carefully. "If we take the right equipment and go slowly, I'm sure we'd be all right."
He glanced over at Beverly to see her look of disapproval.
"You have no idea what's down there, Jean-Luc. The whole cave system could be unstable."
Jean-Luc had been in this situation with Beverly many times. They had argued over differences of opinion so often, Jean-Luc had become something of an expert in how to manoeuvre around Beverly's stubbornness.
"We can scan as we go."
She harrumphed.
"The scanners don't work."
Patiently, Jean-Luc remembered to keep his tone light.
"They do at close quarters."
"I'm claustrophobic."
That wasn't exactly true, but Beverly wasn't really comfortable in enclosed spaces. Jean-Luc knew this and knew what to say to negate it.
"You'll be with me, there will be a light on at all times and we won't stay too long."
She was beginning to weaken, but true to form, would not give up without a fight.
"It's still too dangerous. I don't know why you want to go down there, Jean-Luc. Aren't you occupied with the trench? I bet there're still some juicy items to be found yet."
Offering a nod of agreement and a smile, Jean-Luc sat back and tried not to look too smug.
"It's for that reason I want to explore the underground river." He sat forward, excitement shining in his eyes. "Beverly, the seam we've been following is an old creek bed. Sometime in the past, there was a significant flood which is why we're finding so many artefacts, they were washed out of the dwellings and deposited in the creek."
He watched Beverly carefully gauging her mood.
"You've seen where the trench is heading and I discovered waterworn gravel and rocks in the cave. There is more than a good chance that many quality artefacts were carried into the underground river by the flood. Surely we should at least have a look?"
Beverly tried one last protest.
"What about the bats?"
Jean-Luc was ready for that.
"I'll go into the cave first and scare them all out."
With an annoyed sigh, Beverly capitulated.
"Oh, all right. " She huffed, but she had one more barb.
"Jesus, Jean-Luc, you can be so juvenile at times."
He let that pass, content to have won. It wasn't always like that, more often, Beverly had her way.
He smiled to himself. He knew Beverly wouldn't sulk for long. True enough, a happier Doctor said ten minutes later, "Can I help you catalogue?"
Delighted she wished to learn; Jean-Luc nodded enthusiastically and made room on the table.
"It would be my pleasure."
They worked contentedly until late then went to bed, Jean-Luc with happy anticipation of the new day's exploring, Beverly with less than enthusiastic thoughts about the coming adventure.

 

 

Benar's companions were becoming restless. They had begun to grumble amongst themselves, fed up with field rations, less than adequate shelter and what seemed to be aimless digging. Hessin kept Benar informed about the group's mood, making him come to a decision. He gathered the group together and made his announcement.
"We will keep working here for one more week, then we will move to the mid archipelago."
An older Cardassian, his cropped black hair streaked with grey, stepped forward. He was taller than was normal for his race and age had given him a slight stoop.
"I would speak to you, Commander."
Benar smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"Yerok, old friend. Please, you may speak."
The elderly man turned slowly, letting his gaze encompass the entire group.
"We are tired, Commander. We dig and dig, but we don't know what it is we are looking for. You said it was something important...life changing, you said, but we have not found it. Can you tell us more? Can you give us a reason to continue?"
Benar's eyes glittered dangerously.
"There was a time, Yerok, when my word was enough. Have you forgotten your training? Your discipline?"
The aged man shook his head.
"No, Commander, I have not, but we are no longer Obsidian Order. We are nothing. We cannot go back to Cardassia, we are persona non grata. Once we wielded great power, now we have no home."
He again looked at his compatriots, gratified when they all nodded their agreement.
"What are we doing here, Commander?"
There was a time when such boldness would have resulted in death for anyone so foolish as to question their superior. But those days were gone. Benar hoped not forever. Still, a lifetime of severe discipline was hard to forget.
Benar glared at Yerok, the Commander's hand hovering near his disruptor.
"You are treading a very fine line, my old friend. Be very careful."
Showing brazen insolence, Yerok shrugged expansively.
"I am an old man, Commander, I have lived a very full life. You can take that life..." He shrugged again. "To be brutally honest, I don't care. I have no home, no family and without the Obsidian Order, I have no purpose, so you will not take much. But my question remains. If you want me..." He looked around him again. "And the others to keep digging...here or elsewhere, then you're going to have to tell us just what it is we're looking for."
Benar had never experienced a subordinate showing such blatant disregard for his authority. His hand tightened on the disruptor and began to pull it from its holster. His motion was halted by Hessin's slender hand. She whispered urgently,
"No, Benar, not that."
The Commander was about to slap his lover across the face for daring to interfere, but he stilled his hand as he became aware of an angry rumble coming from the group. His head snapped around and he looked incredulously as the group's voices rose as one in protest.
It was Yerok who calmed them. He then turned his attention back to Benar.
"Would you kill us all, Commander? Who will dig for you then?"
It took Benar several long seconds to take his hand off his disruptor. Still seething, the Commander said through clenched teeth,
"What do you want, Yerok?"
The old man shrugged.
"Not much, Commander. You tell us what we're looking for, and we'll decide if it's worth our effort."
Benar was furious, but impotent. There was little he could do, but stand there and listen. Years of ingrained habit did not die easily though.
"You'll decide? And just who are you? I am the Commander here, not you, and I make the decisions!"
The smile on Yerok's face was a sad one, but it infuriated Benar even further.
"You were our Commander, but not now. Now you have to rely on our good will. We came here because we trusted you, but you've betrayed that trust. We've been nothing but slave labour to you...a means to an end. But not anymore. Tells us what it is we're doing here, or you will be digging alone."
Benar was speechless with rage. He quickly drew his disruptor and aimed it directly at Yerok's head. Everybody froze. In the ensuing silence, Benar clearly heard his blood rushing through the veins in his head. Then, as he watched with disbelief, one-by-one, Yerok's compatriots moved to stand in front of him. Benar couldn't believe it. He could barely talk with fury. Still pointing the disruptor he yelled, spittle flying from his mouth.
"This is mutiny!"
Yerok worked his way through the group and stepped closer to the unstable Benar. His age-wrinkled hand gently closed over the disruptor and freed it from Benar's shaking grasp. The old man's voice was gentle when he said,
"We work together, as equals, or not at all. No more threats."
Hessin had been watching the drama unfold and she sensed the fine balance that was forming. Taking a huge risk, she placed her hand on Benar's arm and gently squeezed.
"It's for the best, Benar. Listen to him."
Benar's eyes slid to her, their coldness making her dread the coming night. She would pay for her betrayal. However, Benar finally relaxed. He took a few deep breaths, briefly closed his eyes then gave a curt nod. To the group he said,
"Very well, you seem to have made your point. I acquiesce."
There was a murmur of acknowledgment from the group and tense shoulders relaxed.
Benar wiped his hand over his sweaty brow.
"You want to know what you're looking for? Well I'll tell you what I know."
The group moved forward in anticipation.
"But before I tell you, I want to ask you something."
The group moved closer still.
"How many of you want Cardassia to rise again? To be the super power she once was? Instead of a people ready to kowtow to anyone in order to eat? We used to TAKE what we wanted! And no one starved! Everyone...even the mighty Federation used to quiver in their boots at the mere mention of Cardassia! Now our brothers and sisters beg for any scraps the Federation can spare! Is this the Cardassia you want?"
As one, the group yelled lustily,
"NO!"
"Then listen carefully. When it became obvious Cardassia's Military government would fall, certain people laid the foundations for redemption. Those brave and patriotic souls are now dead, but not before they entrusted a select few to carry on their work. I was one of those chosen. To keep the secret, those chosen were not given all the details, that was to come later, but the war moved too quickly and much of the information was lost. However I was told enough to know how to begin."
The group were utterly spellbound.
"That is why we are here, on Delos. Hidden somewhere in the ruins is something that will make Cardassia great again. I don't know what it is, whether or not it's a weapon or something else...all I know is that I will recognise it when it is found."
Men and women shared glances, some of them uneasy. Yerok lifted his head and scratched his chin.
"And once it's found, what then? Do you become the next leader of our people?"
Benar shrugged, full of self-importance.
"If that is the will of the people."
An anonymous voice piped up from the group.
"I've heard most Cardassians want peace. They don't want another military government."
Benar's eyes glittered dangerously.
"That can change."
The group shifted restlessly before Yerok sighed.
"Well what do you think? Do we stay?"
The anonymous voice was active again.
"It's not as if we anything else to do."
A wave of chuckles swept through the group. With a decisive nod, Yerok looked up at Benar.
"It seems you have convinced us, Commander. We will stay."
Though his grip of command was tenuous at best, Benar was satisfied...for now.
He summoned a smile, nodded, then retired to his tent.

 

 

Jean-Luc came out of the cave, his bald head and shoulders covered in filth, but the bats were gone. Beverly smiled as Jean-Luc bowed and gestured grandly with his arm, beckoning her to enter. She hefted her backpack and swept past him. Her haughtiness was ruined when he slapped her backside. She yelped and glared, but there was no venom in it, besides his rakish grin stole her outrage.
Activating their palm beacons, they moved across the short distance to the hole and removed their backpacks.
Jean-Luc was all business, his voice carrying the unmistakable ring of authority. With his eyes fixed on the hole he said in clipped tones,
"I'll go first. Once I'm down, feed the backpacks through, then I will assist you."
"Understood, Captain."
He frowned at hearing the edge in Beverly's voice. He turned to look at her and realised what he'd done.
"Sorry, Beverly, I just want to be careful."
Her expression softened and she smiled.
"Just as long as you remember we're on holidays, Jean-Luc. This isn't a mission, it's exploring."
His smile was rueful.
"I'll try, my love, I'll try."
Fortunately for both of them, they were slender enough to wriggle through the hole with little effort. Jean-Luc had fashioned a rope ladder, but the drop was only about three metres. Having set fusing pitons, he dropped the ladder and went through. He didn't stop to look around, true to his word, he immediately helped Beverly. Once her feet hit the ground she turned and swept her beam. In the light of their torches, Beverly looked around in awe.
"Oh, Jean-Luc, it's beautiful."
They were both standing in freezing cold, crystal clear, knee-deep water. It was fast flowing, tugging at their bare legs, their waterproof boots maintaining a grip on the rock riverbed. Jean-Luc raised his eyes from the water and swept his beacon upwards. The ceiling wasn't far above their heads, but stalactites hung almost to the river along with chandelier formations of incredible beauty. Beverly turned, sweeping the light around the cavern. The floor was covered in stalagmites, reaching up towards the roof and in places, moulding into their overhead counterparts, forming exquisite columns of coloured calcium carbonate.
Beverly waded downstream a little to inspect one of the closer formations. She gently caressed the limestone with her fingers, then rubbed them together. With her eyes still on the spike of soft rock, she raised her voice to be heard over the running water.
"It's wet."
Jean-Luc joined her and nodded.
"Yes, the process of formation is still working."
Beverly's voice was breathless with awe.
"How old they must be."
Nodding again, Jean-Luc's eyes were looking elsewhere.
"Yes, very old. Come, Beverly, I want to look downstream."
She frowned, wanting to stay in the magical cavern.
"Why, Jean-Luc, it's so lovely here."
Her gentle tone reminded him of why they were there. He brought his attention back to Beverly and took a moment to simply watch her as she admired the formations.
Silently he said reverentially
"Gods, but you are beautiful, my love."
Sensing his gaze, Beverly turned to Jean-Luc and smiled tenderly. Undone, He went to her and kissed her with tender passion. A surprised Beverly tilted her head and asked softly,
"Jean-Luc?"
He shook his head and smiled.
"Nothing."
Not fully convinced, Beverly narrowed her eyes.
"No, really. What is it?"
He shrugged, his smile broadening.
"I love you, that's all."
That brought a wide smile to the Doctor.
"I love you too. Aren't these formations wonderful?"
Shaking his head at her capriciousness, Jean-Luc gently reached out and touched the nearest spike.
"Yes they are."
They stood together for some minutes just admiring the view before Beverly sighed, turned to Jean-Luc and gave a curt nod.
"Right, you've indulged me enough. You want to go downstream?"
Brought out of his thoughts, Jean-Luc blinked.
"Ah, yes. If there are any obstructions in the flow, that's where we might find some artefacts."
"Caught and held fast you mean?"
He nodded.
"Yes. It's a long shot; so much time has passed. This river would have flooded many times over the centuries, but we might get lucky."
Squinting into the darkness, Beverly muttered,
"Ever the optimist, eh, Jean-Luc?"
With a snort, the Captain aimed his light down the course of the river. It went into a tunnel, the inky blackness engulfing the light completely. Beverly swallowed convulsively and said,
"We're going in there?"
Jean-Luc tightened his grip of her hand and nodded.
"Uh huh."
With as much calmness as she could muster, Beverly said with forced lightness,
"Lead on McDuff!"
Jean-Luc Knew Beverly was frightened, but he had to admire her pluck. To ease her fears he didn't linger.
"Come on, mind your head."
They stooped as they entered the tunnel, travelling approximately fifty metres before Beverly suddenly spoke.
"Jean-Luc, look at the glowing lights."
He could see that Beverly's light was on the river, as was his, but Beverly was looking up. His eyes slid upwards and he saw what Beverly had seen. Tiny yellow lights festooned the low ceiling. As Jean-Luc watched in delight, he realised they were moving. He swung his light up and smiled.
"Glow flies."
Nervously, Beverly asked,
"Do they bite?"
Jean-Luc shrugged.
"I don't know. Best not touch them, just in case."
Giving the glowing insects a suspicious look, Beverly ran her finger through her hair.
"As long as they leave me alone."
Jean-Luc knew what was worrying her and smiled. His lack of hair came in handy sometimes.
"Don't worry, Beverly, I'm sure they don't want to get lost in your lovely hair."
Reminding her of her fear didn't go down too well. With a brusque snort, Beverly said testily,
"Let's just keep going, okay?"
Knowing silence was probably his best strategy, Jean-Luc stepped ahead and led Beverly down the river. They heard the obstruction before they saw it. They quickened their pace and soon found the source of the sound. A finger of rock partially blocked the river. The water backed up before eventually breaching the barrier and continuing down the tunnel. As the intrepid pair approached, the water got deeper. Jean-Luc took his backpack off and put it on a dry bit of the rock finger. As she did the same, Beverly watched as Jean-Luc plunged the waterproof palm beacon under the water. She craned her neck and peered into the swirling current.
"See anything?"
Jean-Luc said absently,
"There's a bed of gravel that's built up at the base of the rock."
Using his booted foot, Jean-Luc scraped away the top layer, making the water opaque with fine silt.
"Damn!", He growled. They had to wait a few minutes before the water was once again clear.
The water was up to their stomachs and it was very cold. While they had been walking it wasn't so bad, but now they were standing still, the cold began to permeate their muscles.
"What now?"
In response, Jean-Luc suddenly plunged into the water. He stayed submerged for about a minute before he surfaced, gasping and spluttering. In his left hand was an object.
He was shivering violently, causing Beverly to bark,
"Right! We're out of here. Can you walk?"
His teeth chattering, Jean-Luc managed to nod. Beverly grabbed both backpacks and together they pushed against the current and made their way back to the hole.
By the time they reached the rope ladder, Jean-Luc was blue and Beverly was shivering violently. Beverly gripped Jean-Luc's shoulder, saying through chattering teeth,
"Can you climb up?"
He shook his head and when he spoke, his voice was slurred.
"I don't know."
Beverly glanced at his left hand which still clutched the artefact. She held out her hand.
"Give that to me."
Jean-Luc raised his hand, but couldn't loosen his grip. Beverly saw his difficulty and gently prised his fingers open. The object fell, but Beverly caught it. She paid it no further notice, instead concentrating on the dangerously hypothermic Captain. One at a time, she placed his hands on the ropes, then stood behind him.
"Try, Jean-Luc, I'll help you."
She didn't know if the rope ladder could support both of them, but she had to try. Jean-Luc's movements were sluggish and uncoordinated, but he managed to slowly climb. Beverly was behind him, the grip of her right hand precarious as she still had the artefact. She had slung the backpacks over one shoulder and wondered if she should drop then, however, as she looked up, she could see Jean-Luc beginning to make his way through the hole. He was having difficulties, so Beverly took a step down the ladder and put her shoulder under Jean-Luc's backside. With a steady push she helped him wriggle through. The backpacks went next, then Beverly eased her body through. Jean-Luc was lying on the cave floor, very still. Leaving the backpacks and the artefact, Beverly went to him and began to hoist him to his feet, saying through her panting breath,
"Come on, Jean-Luc, help me!"
He tried, but was rapidly losing any semblance of control over his limbs. Beverly draped his arm across her shoulders and staggered as Jean-Luc slumped against her. Thankful she didn't have to go far, Beverly half dragged her burden out into the hot sunshine. She gently lowered Jean-Luc to the ground, then quickly divested him of his wet clothing. Once his naked body was fully exposed to the sunshine, Beverly began to rub the surface of his skin.
The exertion help to warm her, but her lover wasn't so lucky. He was still blue, and semi-conscious. Frantic, Beverly undressed with haste and covered Jean-Luc with her warming body. She continued to rub any of his skin she could reach and was rewarded fifteen minutes later when Jean-Luc softly moaned. She studied his face and noted he wasn't so blue. Another ten minutes passed and she began to feel warmth slowly come back to his skin. His eyes opened and he started to shiver. Beverly moved off him and let the sun finish warming him. Slowly his shivers subsided and he sighed. Beverly sat up and shook her head.
"That was a damned fool thing to do, Jean-Luc. What the hell were you thinking? That river was far too cold for full emersion."
The Captain swallowed and slowly sat up.
"I had to know, Beverly. After all, that's what we were there for."
"Was it worth risking your life? We should never have been in that river, it was too bloody cold. I should have said something."
A residual shudder swept through Jean-Luc and he rubbed his arms. Beverly saw what was happening and stood, holding out her hand.
"Come on, you need to put some clothes on."
Taking her hand, Jean-Luc gained his feet, but instead of following Beverly to the tent, Jean-Luc made for the cave. Beverly looked over her shoulder, expecting to see her lover's face, but instead she saw his retreating backside. She called out, thinking he was still confused.
"Hey! Where are you going, Jean-Luc?"
He glanced over his shoulder, then pointed in front of him.
"I'm going to get the artefact."
Beverly was incensed. She turned and quickened her pace, soon catching the ambling Captain. She gripped his shoulder and spun him around.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Her face was flushed and her eyes glittered dangerously.
Jean-Luc frowned, somewhat annoyed.
"I told you. I'm going to get the artefact."
Beverly's anger went up a notch.
"Oh no you're not! Come with me!"
She grabbed his arm and began to tug him towards the tent. Now angry himself, Jean-Luc pulled his arm free. Beverly's head snapped around and they glared at each other. Through clenched teeth, Beverly enunciated each word as she said succinctly,
"You...need...to...get...dressed. Your...core...temperature...isn't...back...to...normal...yet."
Furious at being spoken to in such a manner, Jean-Luc's voice was deceptively soft, a sure sign of towering anger. His expression unreadable he said coldly,
"I'm fine, Doctor."
Exasperated as well as angry, Beverly shouted,
"You almost died, Jean-Luc!"
Hearing the fear in her voice, Jean-Luc frowned and some of his anger subsided. He changed his tone to something milder as he said,
"Surely you're exaggerating, Beverly. You got a fright, that's all."
For someone who knew Beverly so well, it was a staggering mistake. He had grossly underestimated just how angry she was and how badly she had been frightened.
She all but screeched,
"You fucking idiot!"
The slap to Jean-Luc's face echoed sharply around the dig. A shocked Captain blinked at his lover, his hand going slowly to his flaming cheek. Beverly fisted her hands at her sides, tears filling her eyes. In a broken voice she said,
"You nearly died, Jean-Luc. You developed hypothermia very quickly. You only just made it out of the river in time. I thought...I thought..."
She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Finally seeing what he'd done, Jean-Luc went to her and enfolded her in his arms, saying softly,
"I'm sorry, Beverly, I'm so sorry."
She sobbed brokenly, her arms going around Jean-Luc to hug him tight. He held her, closing his eyes as he weathered the storm. Eventually Beverly was reduced to hiccupping and sniffing. With her head resting on Jean-Luc's shoulder, she said quietly,
"I thought you were going to die, Jean-Luc. I panicked...the thought of losing you...I..."
He took her face in his hands and looked deeply into her eyes. Gently he said,
"It's all right, Beverly, I'm safe. You saved me again."
Still upset, Beverly tried to shake her head, but Jean-Luc wouldn't let her.
"So close, Jean-Luc...you came so close."
"But it didn't happen, my love. You knew what to do...you saved me."
They stood in each other's arms, two naked people alone on a far-away planet, trying to find their equilibrium.
Slowly Beverly calmed and looked at her lover. He was gratified to see a lopsided smile.
"You still need to get dressed."
He returned her smile.
"So do you."
Beverly stepped back and gave Jean-Luc's body a frank appraisal.
"You've got your colour back."
He risked a shrug.
"I told you, I'm fine."
Irritation flashed in Beverly's eyes, but she took the glib remark for what it was, her lover reverting to form.
Jean-Luc held out his hand and Beverly took it. Together they walked back to the tent.

 

 

Benar had been cruel to Hessin, the marks of his anger clear to see. She had thought she might temper his residual anger with her carnal skill, but he wanted to punish her for her betrayal. It was a long night for Hessin, the morning not coming soon enough to save her from a night of prolonged pain. Benar had been up an hour before the woman limped from the shelter. Most of the damage was to her body, but her face bore the evidence of Benar's displeasure as well. As she slowly approached the dig, Yerok peered at her and shook his head silently. It was one thing to challenge Benar over the dig, it was quite another to mention his private life. He watched under his brow as Hessin stiffly picked up a trowel and slowly sank to her knees.
Benar watched her too, his face contorted by a cruel sneer. Years of the Obsidian Order and their inhuman credo had inured Benar to any semblance of morality. He had lost count of the number of poor souls he had tortured, most to death. He had lost the capacity for either sympathy or love. He had entertained many women in his bed; most of them as cruel as he, but Hessin was still relatively young. She had only been in the Obsidian Order a matter of two years when the organisation was disbanded; not enough time to lose her humanity.
Benar knew she loved him but, perversely, it only served to make him more cruel towards her. It didn't matter to him if she loved him or not; there was always another woman to take her place. He certainly felt nothing for her, other than lust.
With a final, cold look in her direction, Benar went back to his digging. He had more important things on his mind. Six more days here, then he would move everyone to the mid archipelago. Failure to locate the mystery thing at his present location didn't faze Benar; in fact it only made him more excited. If it wasn't here, it must be at the other island group. He was a patient man, his patience acquired by learning the process of torture. The trick was to inflict excruciating pain without killing the victim. He had quickly become an expert. He looked up briefly and nodded to himself. Given enough time and a malleable crew, he would find whatever it was he sought. He was sure of it.

 

 

Beverly had prevented Jean-Luc from retrieving the artefact from the cave for the rest of the day. After they had dressed, Beverly insisted they both drink a large cup of hot tea. Jean-Luc had to admit he felt better for it, but it wasn't until Beverly had thoroughly scanned him did she allow him to go back to the dig.
It was very hot outside the air conditioned tent. After an hour of intense digging, Jean-Luc removed his shirt and used it to wipe his sweaty face. Working only a few metres away, Beverly saw him and muttered,
"Don't get burnt."
He was already quite tanned and, as he stood to move some rocks, Beverly had to admire his physique. Although into his late seventies, Jean-Luc was trim, well muscled and quite beautiful. Dressed only in shorts, socks and boots, he cut a very handsome figure. Beverly licked her lips and said softly,
"Flex."
Jean-Luc's head came up and he frowned.
"I beg your pardon?"
Beverly sat up and put her hands on her hips.
"I said, flex."
His frown deepened.
"Flex what?"
With a sigh, Beverly raised her fists to her head and flexed her biceps. Jean-Luc's eyebrows rose.
"Oh."
Somewhat embarrassed, Jean-Luc flexed his arms, making Beverly purr in appreciation. He was about to stop when she said in that same soft voice.
"And your stomach."
He was going to refuse, but the look in her eyes spurred him.
Beverly's eyes travelled over him and she slowly stood.
"Don't forget your legs."
Feeling vaguely ridiculous, Jean-Luc obeyed. He watched with hawk-like intensity as Beverly slowly walked to him. She came to a stop nose-to-nose with him. He felt her fingers lightly touch the top of his head. He was about to relax when Beverly said sultrily,
"Don't stop."
As he continued to tense his muscles, Beverly's fingers travelled down from his head to linger a while on his chest, dallying in his body hair. Then they moved over the bulges of his wash board stomach. Jean-Luc's eyes had darkened with anticipation as her caresses moved towards his growing erection, but she ignored the protuberance in his shorts and moved her fingers down to his thighs. She shifted closer, their bodies nearly touching. The effort of continually flexing had made Jean-Luc begin to tremble slightly. Beverly whispered softly in his ear,
"You are in excellent shape my love."
He blinked and clenched his jaw as the strain was beginning to become painful. Still Beverly's fingers played over his shivering muscles. She stepped back and looked at him with hooded eyes, noting the fine sheen of sweat covering his golden skin. Seeing he was at his limit, she stepped closer, reached up and took his hands. She gently lowered his arms, saying softly,
"Relax."
He let out a long breath and reached for her, but she shook her head.
"No, my love. You're not up to that kind of exertion today."
He growled and took her face in his hands, kissing her with raw passion. It left Beverly breathless.
"Does that feel weak to you?" He asked in his deep mellifluous voice. Beverly had to muster all her willpower to resist him. She said unevenly,
"Jean-Luc, you nearly died a few hours ago."
Staring intently into her eyes he rumbled softly,
"What better way to celebrate life?"
Beverly began to rally her forces.
"No, my love, you really mustn't exert yourself too much."
He frowned and silently looked down at his erection, then back at Beverly.
"So just what do you expect me to do with that?"
She smiled brightly.
"I have an idea."
Tilting his head slightly, he raised one eyebrow.
"And what is that?"
Beverly placed her hands on his shoulders.
"Lie down and I'll show you."
It wasn't what he wanted, but he suspected he wasn't going to be disappointed. As Beverly watched, Jean-Luc lay down. Beverly knelt between his legs and undid his shorts.
"Now what have we here?"
As she slid his shorts and briefs down his thighs his penis sprung free, slapping softly against his belly. A well-endowed man, Jean-Luc was grateful Beverly was able to do this for him, some of his past lovers baulked at oral sex, he was simply too large.
Using both her hands, Beverly lifted him, then looked down the length of Jean-Luc's body to find him watching her. She smiled and licked her lips, making Jean-Luc lift his hips. She leaned forward and lightly touched the head with the tip of her tongue. Jean-Luc's face was a study in concentration. His eyes were hooded and dark, his gaze intense and unwavering. Beverly felt a heady rush of power as she held him. He wouldn't come until she let him, she controlled everything. It was a measure of their trust in each other that they indulged in this particular act.
Opening her mouth wide, Beverly took as much of him into her as she could. Jean-Luc's eyes shut and he thrust upwards, groaning softly as Beverly's tongue feathered over his shaft. She gently massaged his testicles as she let him slide from her mouth, keeping just the head in her mouth. Her tongue played with the slit, then circled the rim, eliciting another groan from her lover. She gripped him at the base and decided not to tease him too much. Taking pity on him, she applied herself diligently to her task. Faster and faster she slid her mouth up and down his penis, all the time pulling his testicles down and feeling them swell. Suddenly he stiffened even more and Beverly knew his climax was near. She gently squeezed his testicles, took him deeply inside her mouth and inserted her little finger into his anus. He erupted. As he came he lifted his hips, pushing his penis past Beverly's mouth and into her throat. He shouted her name, his fingers tangling in Beverly's hair as he pushed her head down. Beverly concentrated on relaxing her throat so she could take all of him. She swallowed his semen and waited patiently until Jean-Luc began to relax. His penis softened and she let it slip from her mouth. With a tender kiss to the tip, she laid it on his belly and watched as Jean-Luc slowly opened his eyes. His voice was rough as he said,
"That was wonderful, Beverly. Thank you."
She grinned and wiped her thumb over her lips, making Jean-Luc growl.
He propped himself up on his elbows and shook his head.
"That wasn't exertion?"
With a shrug, Beverly cocked her head.
"Well, not as much as it might have been."
He sat up properly and reached for her. She went willingly, mewing with pleasure as he rumbled in her ear,
"Your turn."
Slipping out of his grasp, Beverly stood and winked. As Jean-Luc watched with growing interest, Beverly stripped. She returned to his lap naked and ready. Taking her legs in his hands, he parted them and encouraged Beverly to straddle him. He looked down to see her labia parted, pink and wet. His eyes travelled over body, marvelling at how svelte and beautiful she was. Once his eyes met hers, he gently slid his fingers through her folds, smiling as she moaned sensuously.
"You're so wet, Beverly. What would you like me to do, hmm?"
He pushed two fingers inside her.
"Would you like me to do that?"
Beverly's hands fisted in Jean-Luc's Shirt. She opened her mouth and groaned,
"Oh, God, yes!"
He slid two more fingers into her and began to slothfully slide them in and out. Beverly's hips started to buck in rhythm with his fingers. Jean-Luc loved doing this for Beverly, almost as much as he loved making love to her. The sight of her, the smell, it was enough to make him hard again. As his erection grew under her, Beverly gasped and looked down. All she could say was,
"Oh...oh..."
Jean-Luc suddenly ground his thumb against her clit. Beverly arched her back, her breath hissing through her clenched teeth. Jean-Luc felt her begin to contract around his fingers but, rather than letting her come, he abruptly leaned forward and laid her on the ground. Before she could protest, he covered her with his body and entered her in one long, hard shove. Beverly craned her head back and let out a protracted howl. With the creamy column of her neck exposed, Jean-Luc bit her as he began to thrust hard and fast. It was frantic sex, hot and passionate. Neither was surprised when they came suddenly, their bodies locked in a tight, intimate embrace.
Sometime later, Beverly sighed under the weight of Jean-Luc's relaxed body. He lifted his head and kissed his way from the bloody bite mark on her neck to her lips. They shared a long, tired kiss before Beverly remarked,
"You weren't supposed to do that."
Lifting his head further, Jean-Luc looked down and frowned.
"It's your fault."
"Mine?" Said Beverly incredulously. "Why mine? Everything was going swimmingly until you lost control."
He shook his head.
"Oh no...you pushed me over the brink. You know I can't resist you when I see you in the throes of sexual bliss. Jesus, Beverly, just the smell of you is enough. I had to have you...and you know it!"
She sighed again and gave a nod.
"I should've known better. With a libido like yours, anything is possible."
He was outraged.
"A libido like mine? What about yours? Gods, woman, you're insatiable!"
Beverly chuckled.
"As are you, Jean-Luc."
He smiled and they kissed again. He would have happily stayed there for the rest of his life, but Beverly had other ideas.
"Come on you great lump of a man, get off me, you're squashing me."
He snorted and climbed to his feet, grouching,
"How romantic of you, Beverly."
She smiled and gave him a kiss to repair the damage. She then sighed and shook her head.
"It was irresponsible of me though."
She stepped past Jean-Luc but he caught her with one strong arm and kissed her under her ear.
"I'm not complaining."
Beverly laughed softly.
"You wouldn't complain about that, Jean-Luc."
He nodded and kissed her again.
"True, but look at it this way. I'm nice and warm. Toasty, in fact."
That made Beverly laugh louder.
"You're incorrigible."
He nodded again, his amusement obvious.
"Agreed. Now what? A Swim?"
She stepped back and gaped.
"You've got to be joking! I'll swim, you can sit on the bank."
He sighed.
"Oh, very well. But I can ogle, can't I?"
Bowing her head at his absurdity, Beverly lifted her hands in surrender.
"Okay, you can ogle. I'll try and give you a good show."
He held up his index finger.
"Not too good, or I'll be joining you in the river."
Walking away, Beverly said over her shoulder,
"Haven't you had enough of rivers for one day?"
He chuckled and hastened to catch her.
"Not if it means making love to you again."
Beverly shook her head.
"Incorrigible, definitely incorrigible."
Jean-Luc slapped her bare behind and guffawed.

 

 

 

Much later that night, in the bed they had made on the floor, they made love again, this time slowly. Afterwards, lying in each other's arms, Beverly gently ran her fingers over Jean-Luc's patrician features and asked softly,
"How much longer will we stay here, Jean-Luc?"
His eyes mere slits, he sighed and moved to kiss her languidly.
"Mmm, I'm still not sure."
Beverly returned the kiss, then spent some time tracing the steadily pulsing blood vessel in his neck. Jean-Luc's eyes drifted shut.
"Okay. How about the Enterprise? Are we going back?"
His eyes opened and he blinked.
"We? Beverly...are you considering resigning?"
She smiled and kissed the tip of his nose.
"Now that I've found you, I'm not going to let you go, Jean-Luc. If you resign, so will I."
He pulled back slightly to see her better. His face showed his concern.
"But Beverly...your career."
Her smile faded as she watched him.
"What about yours, Jean-Luc?"
He frowned and said carefully,
"Beverly, I have been a Captain for a very long time, maybe it's time I retired. But you, you're at the height of your career, you have so much in front of you."
"Which is pointless unless I'm with you. Don't you see, Jean-Luc? I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Propping himself up on one elbow, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"But..."
Beverly lifted herself too, meeting his worried gaze with steady determination.
"But nothing. I can be a Doctor anywhere, Jean-Luc. The important thing is that we stay together, whatever comes."
As she held his gaze, an errant thought occurred. She swallowed nervously and asked softly,
"That is, of course, if you want us to stay together."
To reassure her, Jean-Luc cupped her jaw in his large hand and kissed her with all the love he felt. When he pulled back, Beverly's eyes were closed. What he whispered next made her eyes snap open and a small gasp to escape her lips.
"Marry me, my love."
Beverly lifted her hand to run her thumb over his lower lip. She blinked away an errant tear and smiled lopsidedly.
"Are you sure, Jean-Luc?"
She could clearly see the earnestness in his eyes.
"I've never been so sure of anything in my life, Beverly. Complete me, please."
For several long seconds they gazed into each other's eyes. Beverly gave a slight nod, making Jean-Luc tilt his head and ask,
"Are you saying yes?"
She smiled and the nod became more pronounced. Her whispered, "Yes." Caused Jean-Luc to kiss her again. Beverly wasn't surprised to find him weeping softly. She gently caressed his face, saying softly,
"Don't weep, my love, be happy."
He gained some control and smiled through his tears.
"Oh, Beverly, mon amour, I am more than happy! I have dreamt of this, Beverly, for so long I have wanted you...loved you..." He sighed deeply. "Needed you." His arm encircled her, drawing her closer. "And now you are mine."
They kissed and made love again and later they slept.

 

 

Three days later, Jean-Luc was happily digging, more artefacts piling up beside him, when he caught the last words of Cardassian chatter on his communicator. He froze and concentrated, a deep frown marring his handsome face. Luckily the Cardassians hadn't finished their conversation.
"...in three days."
"So it's not here?"
"Seems to be the case. Benar is confident we'll find it in the other archipelago."
"Then why wait three days to move?"
"He wants to be absolutely sure it's not here."
"And the ship?"
"Still in the moon's crater. He can bring it in anytime."
"Well I for one won't miss this dust bowl. I could do with a change of scenery."
"Me too. Still, we're in for more digging."
"Beats the alternative."
"True, you can't dig if you're dead."
"He's coming, I'm going to close.
"Understood."
There was a subtle click as the channel was terminated. Cursing softly, Jean-Luc shook his head with annoyance. He had allowed himself to be lulled into complacency. He was so happy and contented, he had all but forgotten the Cardassians and the threat they posed. He was brought brutally back into reality. Their idyll was over. He stood and walked over to Beverly, admiring her pile of artefacts despite the circumstances. She looked up with a smile on her face, but his expression soon stole it.
"What is it, Jean-Luc?"
He hunkered down beside her and looked into her eyes.
"The Cardassians are coming."
Beverly straightened, all business.
"When?"
"Three days."
She got to her feet, her eyes distant.
"Right, I'll start to pack; you bring the Calypso in. We can begin to beam everything up."
His hand on her forearm made her look at him quizzically. His next words left her dumbfounded.
"I'm not ready to leave yet, Beverly."
She frowned, not fully understanding.
"What?"
Stepping closer, he took her hands in his.
"I don't want to leave."
Still not quite believing what she was hearing, Beverly tilted her head, and tried to understand.
"Jean-Luc, the Cardassians are coming. We have to leave."
Offering a slight smile, Jean-Luc said softly,
"I want you to leave, Beverly. You take the yacht and get out of this system. I'll wait it out here and you can come back and join me once the Cardassians have gone."
She looked at him aghast.
"Are you insane?" She squinted at him and raised her hand to count on her fingers.
"Two things, Jean-Luc. One; I'm not going to leave you and two; the Cardassians will find you."
He shook his head and, with a sinking feeling, Beverly realised he'd already made his mind up.
"No, my love. You must leave. I'll be fine."
Anger began to surface in the mercurial redhead.
"Just how long have you been thinking about this, Jean-Luc?"
In the face of her growing anger, Jean-Luc was resolute.
"Ever since I found out the Cardassians were on the planet."
Her voice was tight; barely controlled.
"And you never told me?"
His position was untenable, but he stubbornly stuck to his plan.
"Beverly, you must listen to me. This will work, I know it will."
The Doctor didn't know which was worse; his blind faith in his plan, or his belief she would go along with it. She shook her head vehemently and shouted him down when he tried to say something.
"No! We're going to leave now!"
Jean-Luc couldn't believe his ears. Didn't she hear him? She had never defied him so completely before. Speaking as if to a child, Jean-Luc said carefully,
"Now, Beverly, you don't mean that."
It was a terrible mistake. With her face congested with blood, Beverly grabbed Jean-Luc's shoulders and shook him violently.
"You're coming with me if I have to sedate you!"
Jean-Luc twisted so suddenly to break her grasp he lost his footing. With flailing arms, he toppled backwards, hitting the side of the trench. It caused a minor earth slide, the dirt covering his legs as he sprawled on the floor of the trench. Angry, he looked up at Beverly, ready to berate her, but something caught the corner of his eye. He glanced quickly at the anomalous glint, then froze, his anger forgotten.
Even as furious as she was, Beverly noticed the change in Jean-Luc. She tilted her head and asked warily,
"What?"
Rising to his knees and with his eyes glued on the source of his attention, Jean-Luc said absently,
"Bring me my trowel."
Beverly knew by the tone of his voice that his request was important. She immediately obeyed him. Once he had the trowel in his hand, Jean-Luc began to carefully unearth the object. Beverly sank to her knees beside him, saying softly,
"What is it?"
He answered as he worked, still distracted.
"I'm not sure, but I don't think it should be here."
Beverly knew further questions were superfluous, so she contained her curiosity and watched as Jean-Luc went about his task. It took a long fifteen minutes before the object was free of the compacted earth. It was some kind of metal, partially encasing a large, oval crystal. Jean-Luc used his hands to wipe off the residual dirt, then turned it over. What he saw made him gasp. Beverly gripped his arm, asking urgently,
"What? What do you see?"
Pointing with a trembling hand, Jean-Luc replied,
"Cardassian! This is a Cardassian object!"
Beverly tried to understand.
"Wait...it's not Hebician?"
Jean-Luc shook his head, wariness in his eyes.
"No, definitely not." Almost to himself he muttered,
"This must be what they were talking about." Then he realised Beverly had heard him.
"Who? What were they talking about?"
Tearing his eyes away from the object, Jean-Luc braced himself for another tirade.
"I have just recently discovered why the Cardassians are here, on Delos."
Beverly interrupted him.
"But we know that...they're excavating the other ruins."
Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head.
"We were wrong, Beverly. They weren't excavating for scientific research, they were looking for a specific thing." He lifted his hands and Beverly's eyes dropped to the object. She tentatively pointed.
"That?"
Jean-Luc nodded enthusiastically.
"Yes!"
His excitement was infectious. Eagerly Beverly asked,
"So what is it?"
Grinning foolishly, Jean-Luc laughed and shook his head.
"I've no idea!"
They both broke into giggles, then outright laughter, the tension between them of only minutes before forgotten. Eventually, Jean-Luc regained control of himself and, through pants of breath, said
"Tricorder, Beverly, I need a tricorder."
Still shaking with residual laughter, Beverly rose to her feet and went the short distance to Jean-Luc's backpack. She was back in mere moments. She looked on enthusiastically while Jean-Luc deployed the device and scanned the mystery object. Her eyes sharpened as Jean-Luc whispered reverently,
"Good God!"
Beverly's eyes slid quickly between the object and Jean-Luc incredulous face. The tension was palpable as she waited for him to speak.
"This is incredible, Beverly...utterly astounding!"
Impatient, Beverly shook her head, asking urgently,
"What is it?!"
He held it up and looked at it with awe.
"With this, I can destroy a star."
Stunned, Beverly whispered,
"How?"
Jean-Luc shook his head, still not believing what the tricorder had revealed.
"This...thing...has the ability to make a star...any star...exceed its Chandrasaka limit."
"And what is that?"
Jean-Luc couldn't take his eyes off the object.
"That is where a star's mass exceeds one point four solar masses. This device causes the star's core to synthesise into more than one point four solar masses of iron. Iron is a death sentence for stars. That causes a catastrophic chain reaction, ending with a super nova and the ultimate death of the star."
Beverly gaped incredulously and pointed at the device.
"That thing can cause all that?"
Jean-Luc nodded, finally out of words. He whispered with growing dread,
"A doomsday device."
Suddenly their predicament became clear. Jean-Luc shook off his awe and started to think clearly.
"Under no circumstances must this device fall into Cardassian hands."
Beverly nodded decisively.
"Agreed. We leave, now."
Jean-Luc shook his head.
"No, wait...think about it, Beverly. If we're caught, this..." He held up the device. "Falls into Cardassian hands."
"All the more reason to leave immediately!"
Patiently, Jean-Luc continued to explain.
"But if we leave now the Cardassians are going to know we've been here! Look around you, Beverly, it's obvious someone has been excavating and very recently. If we suddenly leave, the Cardassians are going to correctly surmise we've found something so important we had to quit the dig instantly and hightail it back to Federation space. Do you really think they'd let us make it? Remember Federation space is five days away at maximum warp."
Beverly shook her head, her urge to flee strong.
"How would they know we were from the Federation?"
"Logic. This was Federation dig. I know of no one else who's been remotely interested in it. Besides, the Cardassian scanners will tell them of the traces we leave behind. Human traces, Beverly."
A feeling of dread spread through Beverly's chest.
"So what do you propose?"
Jean-Luc's voice carried his urgency.
"We have three days. In that time, we put back all the artefacts and return the dig to how I found it. I contact Command and request a ship be sent to wait for us in Federation space. Then we decamp and use the Calypso to beam us to another island. There we hide. Once the Cardassians give up on their quest they will leave, affording us the opportunity to escape."
Beverly frowned, shaking her head.
"But that could take weeks!"
Jean-Luc asked mildly,
"Do you have a better plan?"
She was stumped. Forlornly she uttered,
"No."
Jean-Luc began to walk towards the tent.
"Then we'd best make a start, we have a lot of work ahead of us if we're to succeed."
Beverly followed him, shaking her head worriedly.

 

 

What Jean-Luc had suggested was a mammoth task and it required both of them to work around the clock. Thankfully, Jean-Luc's meticulous cataloguing had made putting the artefacts back not so difficult, but the amount of soil to be replaced was daunting. Beverly marvelled at just how much had been moved, considering most of it had been shifted with little else but a trowel and bare hands.
It was almost midday the next day when fatigue began to set in. At Beverly's insistence, they took it in turns to have a short nap. Thus invigorated, they were able to continue with their work at a brisk pace, but they were fighting an uphill battle against the need for sleep. They relied heavily on their training, which had prepared them well for the many times they had been on duty for an extended period of time. As Captain and CMO, they were often required to stay at their posts for a long time, where other, less senior crewmembers would be relieved by another. But still, as the hours passed, the sheer constant physical effort needed ate at their stamina. Jean-Luc kept an eye on Beverly as the night wore on. He knew what she lacked in physical strength she made up for with formidable determination, but that had its down side as he knew she would push herself well beyond her limits, to the point where she would harm herself, rather than stop and give in to rest. Under the harsh light of their lamps, he saw Beverly stumble. She valiantly tried to keep her balance, but she was too exhausted. Her legs gave way and she went down heavily on her knees. Jean-Luc stopped what he was doing and went to her, hearing her softly cursing as he got near.
"Here, let me help you."
Beverly waved away his offered hands and got to her feet, but she staggered again and would've fallen if not for Jean-Luc's steadying hand. She lifted her head defiantly and strove for a strong voice.
"I'm okay, Jean-Luc, you can go back to what you were doing."
Ignoring her, Jean-Luc looked down at the blood trickling down her legs.
"You need to clean up those scapes. Come on, I'll help you."
Beverly frowned and looked at him with confused eyes.
"What?"
He didn't bother to repeat himself. Instead he led her to the tent, sat her down and retrieved the med kit. He found Beverly staring down at her bloody knees.
"They sting."
He nodded as he gently wiped up the blood, then carefully cleaned the scrapes. Once the tissue regenerator had done its job there was little to see of the injuries except for some pinkish skin. Taking Beverly by the elbow, he steered her to their bed and encouraged her to lie down. He covered her with a blanket, then gently pushed her hair off her face. Softly he said,
"Sleep, Beverly."
Her eyes drooped, but she fought the incessant urge to sleep. She looked up at Jean-Luc and weakly protested.
"But we have to get the work done."
Jean-Luc smiled and gently stroked her hair.
"I'll keep going...you can help me once you've got some sleep."
She wanted to argue, but she was simply too tired. She closed her eyes, meaning to gather her thoughts, but the instant her eyes closed, sleep claimed her. Jean-Luc felt her relax and nodded to himself.
"Sleep well, my love."
Going back outside, he surveyed the dig, illuminated by the powerful lights and sighed. He had a lot to do.
Jean-Luc worked non-stop through the night and, as dawn broke, he began to lose coordination. His hands refused to work and he kept dropping things. He recognised the signs of sleep deprivation, but ignored it. He had to keep going.
It wasn't until he fell flat on his face two hours later that he finally conceded he had to sleep. Having come to that conclusion, he tumbled immediately into a deep sleep, his body sprawled face down in the dirt.
Beverly stretched as she rose from sleep. Her eyes opened and, for an instant, she didn't know where she was, but she quickly remembered and made haste in leaving the tent. She urgently needed to relieve herself, but first she wanted to check on her lover. Shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand, she looked for Jean-Luc and frowned when she didn't immediately see him, but a closer inspection of the site made her gasp.
"Oh no! Jean-Luc!"
She ran to his unmoving form and quickly pressed her fingers against the skin of his neck. His pulse was steady and strong, causing Beverly to sit on her backside and let out a long sigh of relief. Jean-Luc stirred and lifted his head. One side of his face was covered in dirt and dust, some of it in his mouth. As he felt the grit on his tongue and teeth, he screwed his face up in disgust and spat several times. Beverly watched as Jean-Luc climbed stiffly to his feet. She placed a gentle hand on his arm and asked ,
"How long did you sleep?"
He looked up, squinting against the strong sunlight as he attempted to measure the passage of time. He sighed.
"At least four hours."
"Not enough, Jean-Luc."
Shrugging, he looked around the dig.
"It will have to do. How do you feel?"
Beverly brushed the question aside.
"Don't worry about me, I'm fine."
With a curt nod, Jean-Luc turned, saying over his shoulder,
"Then it's back to work."
The red head watched her lover for a few seconds before she went to relieve herself. She then re-joined Jean-Luc as they bent to their tasks.
Although they had been drinking water regularly, they hadn't eaten for nearly two days. It was early evening, one night and a day to go when Beverly left the dig and disappeared inside the tent. Jean-Luc didn't see her go, but he smelled her return. The aroma of hot food made his mouth water involuntarily. He lifted his head and smiled. They ate in silence, too tired for conversation. With their stomachs full, sleep threatened, but they savagely quashed their need and pressed on.
They were finally beginning to get ahead. Jean-Luc straightened his spine, kneading his fingers into the small of his back to ease the persistent ache as he surveyed the dig with a critical eye. Beverly looked at him, then at the dig. The light of early morning gave the area a sepulchral glow, everything covered with a light coating of dew. What she saw made her smile. To preserve the peace of the morning, she kept her voice soft and low.
"We're almost finished."
Jean-Luc nodded his agreement and kept his voice equally quiet.
"Yes. My guess is we should be finished by midday."
Beverly snorted softly.
"If my back lasts that long."
That made Jean-Luc smile tiredly.
"Mine too. Still, we've done a remarkable job."
Beverly looked around her and nodded.
"You can say that again."
She then gave Jean-Luc a sympathetic look and said carefully,
"I'm sorry about the jevonite artefacts."
With a weary shrug, Jean-Luc turned the corners of his mouth down.
"It doesn't matter, Beverly. I may not have them anymore, but I can still put them in my report. They exist and the impact of their discovery will resonate for years to come."
Beverly was proud of Jean-Luc, yet she felt sorry for him.
"Still, Jean-Luc, you didn't get to keep them."
He shook his head and smiled.
"I wouldn't have kept them anyway. They, and all the other artefacts would've been handed over to the Archaeological Council...and even they couldn't claim ownership. Ultimately they would've been repatriated to Cardassia."
Beverly understood, but still she hurt for her friend.
"Not even one piece, Jean-Luc?"
His smile turned into a grin.
"Well perhaps one little piece of pottery."
"But not the jevonite?"
His smile faltered and he sighed.
"No, not the jevonite."
Scuffing the dirt with her booted foot, Beverly said sulkily,
"I don't think I like archaeology anymore."
Jean-Luc chuckled and shook his head.
"You liked it well enough when you were finding artefacts."
Beverly screwed her face up.
"That's because I thought I could keep what I found! Now I know I have to give it up...well that just sucks."
Pointing to the remaining excavations, Jean-Luc gave Beverly a stern look. She got the message loud and clear, quickly returning to work. The Captain allowed himself a few seconds to admire her before he too went back to his task.
In a way they were lucky; they only had to restore the site to the way it was when Jean-Luc arrived, not make it look like pristine, untouched land. Jean-Luc's estimate had been correct. Just on midday he looked around and gently called to Beverly,
"Enough, my love. There's no more to do."
Wiping her dirty hands on her shorts, Beverly gave the site a quick inspection and nodded.
"This is what you found?"
He squinted his eyes and flicked a droplet of sweat from his brow.
"Yes. Just like this."
"Then that just leaves the campsite. Have you heard from the Cardassians?"
Giving a nod, he turned towards the tent and offered his hand. Beverly took it and as they walked he said casually,
"As a matter of fact, I have."
When he said nothing further, Beverly tugged at his hand.
"Jean-Luc!"
He smiled, but she could clearly see he was worried about something. She asked gently,
"What is it?"
"We've only got three hours. I was hoping we could get some rest before we had to leave."
Silently, Beverly calculated how much time they would need to pack up the campsite, making sure they left no trace and move to another island. She came to the same conclusion she knew Jean-Luc had. It was going to be very tight.
Tightening her grip of his hand, Beverly gave a decisive nod.
"Well, we'll just have to wait until we can rest."
Jean-Luc's spirits were buoyed by Beverly's determination. He smiled to himself as they reached the tent and immediately began to pack up.
In the right breast pocket of his shirt, Jean-Luc carried an ancient watch, given to him by his mother when he was ten years old. It had been in his mother's family for over three hundred years and the Captain had long treasured it. Despite its great age, the watch kept remarkably good time and it was that old timepiece that Jean-Luc was relying on.
All the equipment from inside and around the tent had been packed, leaving just the tent to be dismantled. For the fourth time in fifteen minutes, Jean-Luc consulted the watch.
"We must hurry, Beverly!"
Not stopping, Beverly said curtly,
"You start beaming all this stuff to the new site, I'll dismantle the tent."
It was a risk to open a channel to the Calypso, but Jean-Luc had little choice. He and Beverly had already chosen where they were going to go, however it was going to take at least twenty minutes to transport everything, including themselves to the new island.
With one eye on the watch, Jean-Luc sent lot after lot into the ether and, when Beverly tapped him on the shoulder, he knew she had finished packing the tent. He quickly took Beverly's hand and they stood beside the bundled shelter.
"This is the last lot, we can go with it."
Suddenly Beverly held up her hand.
"Wait!"
She abruptly turned and ran as fast as she could, leaving a befuddled Jean-Luc standing by the packaged tent. She disappeared into the cave, only to reappear within seconds, waving her hand above her head. Jean-Luc beckoned to her, saying urgently,
"Hurry, Beverly...we have to leave!"
Panting slightly and covered with bat filth, Beverly took her place beside Jean-Luc and waited. Jean-Luc took one final look around him and mentally crossed his fingers.
"It will have to do." He thought. Out loud he said evenly,
"Computer, energise."
They materialised in a grassy area surrounded by bushy trees. Immediately their nostrils picked up the smell of salt and Beverly tilted her head, saying happily,
"Is that surf, I hear?"
Jean-Luc nodded, but he was distracted.
"We have to set up camp; we only have a few hours of daylight left."
He took a step towards the scattered bundles of gear, but was stopped by Beverly's hand on his shoulder. He frowned and turned his head.
"What?"
With a smile gracing her face, Beverly lifted her right hand. She said nothing as Jean-Luc's eyes dropped to see what she was offering. He gasped softly when he saw a glint of green.
"Beverly!" He whispered reverently. The red head looked from Jean-Luc to the artefact in her hand. It was the first time either of them had seen it properly.
Beverly opened her hand and her eyes widened. Balanced on her palm was a small, vase-like item, approximately twenty-five centimetres tall. It was made of some kind of brushed metal, but what caught the eye was the pattern of inlaid jevonite that gathered at the base, then sinuously climbed up the sides in sensuous swirls. Unlike the artefacts freed from the earth, this item had be buried in sand and covered with running water for centuries. It had been left polished and perfect. Jean-Luc had to concentrate on keeping his hands steady as he lifted it from Beverly's palm. He turned it over again and again, inspecting every square centimetre while Beverly watched indulgently. Softly he said,
"Oh, Beverly, it's so beautiful. How on earth did you think of it?"
With a shrug, Beverly gently chuckled.
"To be absolutely honest, Jean-Luc, I had no idea what it was, I just suddenly remembered that we'd left an artefact in the cave."
Jean-Luc's eyes widened.
"Thank goodness you remembered. Finding this," He held up the artefact, "Would have tipped off the Cardassians."
Beverly nodded her agreement, then added,
"Not to mention you wouldn't have it in your hands now." She smiled tenderly, enjoying his wonder. "You have your jevonite piece, my love."
His eyes came up to meet hers, but he frowned.
"Beverly, I can't keep this."
Momentarily disappointed, Beverly quickly rallied.
"But, why not, Jean-Luc? No one knows you have it and besides what good would be gained by handing over one small vase? You didn't even find it at the dig! And it nearly cost you your life. Jean-Luc, that..." She pointed at the item, "Is yours. You deserve it."
His first instinct was to disagree, but then he shook his head, dispelling his misgivings. His eyes cleared and he smiled.
"Oh, why not? All right, Beverly, I'll keep it."
She grinned radiantly and hugged him impulsively.
"I love you, Jean-Luc Picard."
He grinned and gave her a one armed hug in return.
"And I love you, but we really need to set up camp."
With a light-hearted giggle, Beverly playfully nipped his earlobe.
"Oh all right you slave driver. Just make sure the bed is the first this you make up in the tent."
One eyebrow rose as Jean-Luc gave Beverly a stern look.
"I hope you have nothing but sleep on your mind, Beverly. We need to rest."
Adopting a look of pure innocence, Beverly said with mock sincerity,
"But of course, Jean-Luc! What on earth do you think I meant?"
He growled softly and shook his head.
"Come on, wench."
She was still chuckling as they erected the tent.

 

 

 

Benar came out of his utilitarian shelter and, arms akimbo, surveyed the dig. Around him, the others of his party were erecting their shelters in silence, standard procedure for the Obsidian Order. Before they had left the southern archipelago, Benar had lectured them sternly. He had noticed discipline had slipped, even to the point of casual familiarity between members. He'd even caught people chatting to each other via their communicators! He moved quickly to stamp it out, but that was only one example of how lax his workforce had become. Of course he conveniently ignored his relationship with Hessin. Rank, after all, had its privileges. As he stood outside his shelter like some kind of conqueror he didn't see the looks of resentment and hatred cast his way by his team. If he had, there might have been dire consequences.
Hessin came to him, standing a respectful two paces behind him and lowered her head. He knew she was there.
"Have you carried out my orders?"
"Yes, Commander."
He smiled grimly.
"Good. Now I'm hungry, get me something to eat."
Behind Benar's back, Hessin frowned worriedly.
"About that, Commander...we're running low on field rations."
Benar turned slowly and glowered at his lover.
"How can that be?"
Keeping her head lowered, Hessin began to tremble.
"I don't know, Sir."
Benar stepped close, his nearness making Hessin take an involuntary step backward. One of his hands shot out and slapped her hard across the face.
"You dare move! You are at attention!"
Resisting the urged to lift her hand to her stinging cheek, Hessin reflexively straightened her spine and squared her shoulders. Her voice was high, but steady when she barked,
"My apologies, Commander!"
Benar sneered, his cruel eyes staring at Hessin's breasts.
"Your apologies are worthless! I expect more from my officers and you aren't setting any sort of example. You had best improve or I will be...displeased."
Hessin shuddered; she knew exactly what that meant. She felt despair and almost sniffed back a tear, but fear of repercussions made her steel herself. She gave a curt nod, saying,
"As you wish, Commander."
Benar once again invaded Hessin's personal space. He did so deliberately; he enjoyed intimidating people, especially those smaller and weaker. He adopted a conversational tone, however he still sounded sinister.
"Now, Hessin my dear, tell me why we are running out of field rations."
Panic slithered down Hessin's spine. She swallowed quickly, desperately trying to stall, to find the time to think of a reply he would accept, but Benar wouldn't wait. He yelled so loudly the others stopped and looked up. When they saw what was happening they quickly dropped their eyes and studiously ignored the situation. It was safer that way.
"Speak, you stupid woman!"
Hessin knew she was in extreme danger. Yerok might have had the courage to stand up to Benar, but he had the backing of the rest of the crew. Hessin stood alone, especially as she was Benar's lover. There was no love lost between her and the others, in fact they hated her. It was with this in her mind that Hessin decided to shift the blame.
"The rest of the crew must have been stealing, Commander."
It was a typical, yet elegant lie. By blaming the workforce, Hessin had cleverly checkmated Benar. Yerok and the others had already established they would not be bullied by their Commander, in fact they had made it abundantly clear they were there only because they chose to be. Being former Obsidian Order officers they naturally accepted discipline, but only so much. They were well aware they were free to make their own decisions.
Benar blinked, shocked at Hessin's audacity. She had surprised him; he hadn't thought her capable of such guile. A cold smile crept over his lips, showing his uneven, discoloured teeth.
"Really? Well you'd best see that they stop stealing, hadn't you."
She dare not look at him, she knew his sarcasm hid his anger. Instead she offered a crisp,
"Yes, Commander!"
She stood still, her back ram-rod straight, waiting to see what he would do next. Anything was possible so she tried to prepare. When Benar spoke there was no trace of anger in his voice.
"Also, I want you to detail four people to begin foraging for edible food. If we're short of field rations, we will simply supplement with what we can find. If that fails, cut the rations to one per person every three days."
Hessin hesitated for a fraction of a second in her response, causing Benar to bark,
"Well?"
Caught in his cruel gaze, Hessin struggled to keep her voice steady.
"With respect, Commander, if you want the team to work as long and hard as they have been, they will need more that one ration every three days."
Benar's smile was back.
"Then you'd best hope they find edible food. You are dismissed."
Hessin turned to leave, but stopped on hearing his soft, menacing voice.
"And I'm still hungry, Hessin, my dear."
She looked back and nodded.
"I understand, Commander."
Benar turned back to the dig and clasped his hands behind his back. His eyes swept over the land as anticipation made him smile. He murmured softly,
"We will find it, I know we will."
He didn't see Yerok's scornful look, nor did her hear the barely audible whisper of discontent from the workers.

 

 

 

By the time they'd set up the tent and scouted the immediate area, both Jean-Luc and Beverly were exhausted. Beverly, however, couldn't go to bed straight away, not with her hair and shoulders covered in bat filth. Jean-Luc glanced at her to see her picking at her hair, her expression one of disgust.
"You won't get it out that way, Beverly."
She sighed in defeat.
"I know, I'll have to wash it. Is there a fresh water source close by?"
Consulting a tricorder, Jean-Luc nodded, but there was caution in his voice.
"Yes, but I think we should see it first before you get into it."
Beverly wandered over to her lover and peered at the screen.
"Hmm, a small lake. What feeds it?"
Pointing, Jean-Luc showed her.
"These three streams."
She gave a nod.
"Okay, well the sea must be close, we can hear it."
"Yes, only about one hundred and fifty metres away."
With a smile, Beverly gently pinched Jean-Luc's backside.
"Sounds good. Coming with me?"
He was going to refuse, but one look into her eyes convinced him he should go. When he nodded, Beverly grinned then gently poked his shoulder.
"You're such a push over, Jean-Luc."
He shrugged, basking in her gentle humour. She took his hand and began to walk towards the unseen beach. Jean-Luc stopped her, tilting his head and frowning.
"Aren't you going to get your wash bag?"
Beverly shook her head, her blue eyes twinkling. There was mischief afoot, Jean-Luc was certain of it. He lowered his brow and said with a ring of caution,
"Beverly..."
She ignored him and tugged on his hand.
"Come on, Jean-Luc," She lifted some of her hair. "This bat shit stinks!"
Still suspicious, Jean-Luc allowed her to lead him through the bush, the sound of the surf getting ever louder.
They soon crested some small dunes, pushing their way through waist high costal grasses before they both stopped dead. It was Beverly who spoke first.
"Oh wow! It's lovely."
Jean-Luc nodded, his eyes tracking the surf as it pounded in. They were facing a small bay, each end truncated by rocky headlands. There were boulders strewn about in picturesque disorder and, on the far right side of the bay, a small stream cut through the sand and met the shallows. Beverly followed Jean-Luc's steady gave and frowned.
"The water in that stream is brown."
Jean-Luc looked down at his tricorder and softly snorted.
"Tannin from vegetation upstream."
"Potable?"
He nodded.
"Yes and clean. We will be able to wash the salt off in there."
Beverly smiled and let go of Jean-Luc's hand to wander onto the sandy beach. As he watched, she shed her clothes then, sashaying extravagantly, made her way to the surf, but not before looking over her shoulder, winking and crooking her finger. His tiredness forgotten, Jean-Luc took his time walking down the dune and undressing, but his eyes never left Beverly who was paddling in the shore break while she waited for him.
As one would expect for a tropical region, the water was warm. Having reached Beverly, Jean-Luc took her hand and together they walked into deeper water, the large waves making them duck under. They washed, then played a while in the surf, Jean-Luc showing off by displaying excellent body surfing technique. Each was aware of the sexual undertone to their playing, but perversely, neither took advantage of it. Beverly even ignored Jean-Luc's erection. It was the return of their tiredness that drove them from the water. Hand in hand they walked to the stream and washed the salt from their bodies then made their way back to the small pile of discarded clothing. By mutual silent agreement they didn't dress, but carried their clothes as they returned to the campsite. Inside the tent they lay on the bed naked and spooned, sleep quickly claiming them.

 

 

Jean-Luc was dreaming and it was erotic. His arm tightened around Beverly as he pressed his erection against the soft skin of her behind. She mewed as she stirred but something alarmed her. She froze making Jean-Luc aware, even in his sleep, that all was not right. His eyes opened and quickly scanned the tent, but saw nothing amiss. Placing his mouth close to Beverly's ear he whispered,
"What is it?"
She whispered back,
"I heard something outside."
Jean-Luc listened but heard nothing. Softly he breathed,
"Can you describe it?"
Beverly shook her head, her eyes glued to the tent door.
"No..I..."
Suddenly they both heard a noise and froze. They listened intently for several minutes, but heard nothing but the thump of the surf and the breeze moving through the tops of the trees. Then it happened again. Beverly whispered urgently,
"What the hell is that?"
Jean-Luc sat up, cocked his head and frowned.
"I don't know." He got to his feet and picked up a phaser.
"But I'm about to find out."
He stepped over Beverly but she grabbed his lower leg.
"Wait, I'll come with you."
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc's eyes tracked the noise as it moved around the tent.
"No, you wait here. Take this." He stooped and picked up another phaser. Beverly took it, checked the setting and said softly,
"You be careful, Jean-Luc."
He nodded as he pulled on his trousers.
"I will."
The door seam slid open silently and Jean-Luc stepped out into the light of early morning.
At first he saw nothing, but he knew whatever it was, it had moved to behind the tent. With the phaser at the ready and his thumb on the activation button, Jean-Luc moved silently on his bare feet, his hearing attuned to the slightest sound. He paused momentarily at the tent's side, took a steadying breath, then stepped around the corner and crouched in a defensive firing position.
For a second or two he saw nothing, then there was a blur of movement and a startled coughing growl. Something launched itself at Jean-Luc, hitting him square in the stomach and knocking the wind out of him. Flat on his back, Jean-Luc felt searing pain as the creature latched on to his midriff and raked its claws down his flanks. He heard Beverly call his name, but he shouted,
"Stay inside!"
He grabbed what he thought was its head and lifted. Infuriated, the animal snapped its jaws only centimetres from his face. It made a sudden lunge at him, aiming for his face, but Jean-Luc managed to jam his phaser sideways in its mouth. With an enraged screech, it shook its head violently, trying to dislodge the obstruction. It braced itself on its front paws and lifted its behind then suddenly raked its hind claws down Jean-Luc's stomach, tearing his flesh open. He yelled, grabbed the butt of the phaser and yanked it free of the creature's jaws. Not giving it any time to react, he turned the weapon and fired point blank. The creature's head vaporised, but the body continued to tear at Jean-Luc. He grabbed the animal's furry neck and wrenched the body sideways. It rolled off him, the paws continuing to move, even in death.
Jean-Luc gave the creature one last look, then, with gritted teeth, looked down at his body. He could see a lot of blood and torn skin. He needed help.
"Beverly!"
She must have already been outside, because she was with him in seconds. She fell to her knees, her fingers quickly probing the tears. Jean-Luc let his head rest on the ground as he stared up at the trees. Although in significant pain, he managed a steady voice when he asked,
"How bad is it?"
Beverly was in physician mode. Crisply she said,
"Some lacerations have torn the muscle tissue and I can see your ribs in others. How's the pain?"
"Tolerable."
Jean-Luc winced slightly as Beverly's fingers probed a particularly deep wound.
"Do you think you can walk?"
He nodded.
"Yes."
"Okay then, come on, I'll help you up."
Jean-Luc couldn't stifle a moan as he stood and, once he was on his feet, he bent forward, hands on thighs. Beverly gave him a moment or two then said gently,
"Come on, Jean-Luc, let's get you into the tent."
By the time she laid him down on the bed, he was covered in blood and sweat and panting heavily. Beverly quickly retrieved the med kit and a clean shirt. She wiped away most of the blood with the shirt and, with professional ease, closed all but the worst lacerations with the tissue regenerator. She dabbed at the oozing blood and said softly,
"I have to heal the muscle tissue before I can close the wounds, Jean-Luc. It will be...uncomfortable."
Somehow he summoned a smile.
"I understand, Beverly. You do what you have to do, I'll be fine."
He clearly saw the sympathy in her eyes as she said,
"You must keep perfectly still."
He nodded and closed his eyes. Beverly knew he was ready. She used her fingers to splay open a wound and ease the end of her instrument into Jean-Luc's flesh. His jaw tightened, but otherwise he didn't react. As quickly as she could, Beverly healed the torn muscle then closed the wound. Not taking her eyes off his body, Beverly said softly,
"One down, five to go. How you doing?"
Through gritted teeth, Jean-Luc said in a husky voice,
"I'm fine."
Beverly glanced at Jean-Luc's pale face and shook her head.
"You'd say that even if your intestines were hanging out."
When he didn't respond, Beverly muttered quietly,
"Okay, number two."
By the time she reached the fifth and final laceration, Jean-Luc was bathed in sweat and ever so slightly trembling. Beverly placed the shirt over the wound and pressed. Jean-Luc moaned softly and Beverly frowned.
"I'm sorry, Jean-Luc, I'm trying to stem the bleeding. This is the deepest wound and the medical tricorder says the muscle is torn right through and that your peritoneum has been punctured."
Jean-Luc grimaced and gasped,
"That's bad, isn't it?"
Beverly nodded.
"Yes, it's serious, but provided I can close it cleanly it should be all right. The trouble is there's too much blood, I can't see properly."
Showing great courage, Jean-Luc said roughly,
"Can I help?"
Beverly thought for a few seconds before she spoke.
"Well, yes you can, but it's going to be very painful for you."
He didn't say anything, he simply shrugged, his eyes still closed. Beverly knew he was gathering himself. She swallowed and said quietly,
"Give me your hands."
He did so and Beverly momentarily admired his calmness.
"I'm going to guide your hands into the wound, right through the skin, subcutaneous matter and through the muscle. When I tell you, pull in opposite directions and open the wound wide.
Jean-Luc grimaced as his fingers slid into the wound, but as his hands pushed further he groaned and began to tremble. Beverly glanced at him to see his face contorted, the sinews standing out across his jaw and down his neck. Knowing she had limited time, Beverly quickly wiped away some blood and positioned Jean-Luc's hands. She then picked up her instrument and, with the shirt in one hand and the regenerator in the other she said,
"Now, Jean-Luc...pull the wound open."
He cried out and his body stiffened as he obeyed Beverly's command. Using the shirt, Beverly swiped the blood away in the wound and skilfully closed the puncture. Then she put the instrument and shirt down and gently took Jean-Luc's hands, easing them out of the wound. It was a matter of only another minute before she had repaired the muscle and sealed the laceration.
As she wiped the remaining blood from his torso away she said gently,
"Relax, my love, it's over."
He let out a long, shuddering breath and opened his eyes. He watched silently as Beverly wiped the blood from his hands. She kept her attention on what she was doing as she said softly,
"You were very brave, Jean-Luc."
When he said nothing, Beverly lifted her head and looked at him. He was smiling. She stopped what she was doing to gently kiss him. He sighed and briefly closed his eyes before lifting his hand to trail his fingers down her face. The smile remained as he whispered,
"You gave me the strength I needed."
Beverly sat up and offered her hand. Jean-Luc took it and sat up, his eyes wandering over his torso. He saw only faint pink lines, making his smile become a grin. He raised his eyes to Beverly and said softly,
"You did a good job."
She gently ran her fingers over the fading lines. She sighed, but there was a smile on her face.
"I had to preserve perfection."
Vaguely embarrassed, Jean-Luc growled,
"Beverly..."
The red head shrugged.
"It's not my fault you're beautiful, Jean-Luc."
Exasperated, Jean-Luc shook his head and moved to stand up. Beverly offered her assistance, but Jean-Luc gently waved her hands away.
"No, I'm fine, thank you."
Beverly had done what she could to wipe him clean of blood, but the shirt was soaked leaving streaks and clots caught in his body hair. Jean-Luc looked down at himself and showed his distaste with a soft snort.
"I need to wash."
Beverly agreed, but she had a nagging concern. She hesitated, then said carefully,
"Jean-Luc, what about the animal that attacked you?"
He frowned, saying confidently,
"It's dead."
Beverly sighed, giving Jean-Luc a hard look.
"I know that. What I'm worried about are its relatives. What if there're more of them?"
That made Jean-Luc frown.
"Well, what do you want me to do, Beverly? We can't scour the entire island, killing everything we think poses a threat."
There was a glitter of anger in her eyes as her voice lost its softness.
"I know that too, Jean-Luc, but we have to do something. I don't know what else is here, however I do know that the animal that attacked you is dangerous. We have to protect ourselves somehow."
What she'd said was true, Jean-Luc couldn't deny it. He thought for a while, then shrugged.
"I suppose we'll just have to be armed at all times. I can't think of what else we can do."
With her teeth worrying her nails, Beverly nodded thoughtfully.
"We'll be setting proximity alarms?"
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Of course."
She sighed.
"Then I guess carrying phasers is all we can do...that and stay together at all times."
"Agreed."
Beverly lifted her head and smiled lopsidedly.
"In that case, my dear Captain, I'll accompany you to the beach."
The cloud of tension lifted and Jean-Luc smiled.
"I would enjoy that, Beverly."
There was a distinct air of mischief about her as she said pertly,
"Oh, you'll enjoy it all right."
With his interest piqued, Jean-Luc followed her from the tent.

 

 

 

Beverly had put on a pair of shorts and a shirt in the tent, but instead of undressing on the beach, she stood with one hand on her hip and her head cocked to one side, obviously waiting. Jean-Luc regarded her with curiosity, idly wondering what was on her mind, apart from the obvious. He soon found out. In a sultry voice, Beverly said softly,
"Take your pants off, Jean-Luc...slowly."
With his eyes on Beverly, his hands undid his fly and slowly pushed his trousers down until the thick growth of his pubic hair was showing. He then shifted his hands to the sides, hooking his thumbs under the waist band and sliding his trousers down further. His eyes were locked on Beverly and he growled softly as she began to play with her breasts, gently squeezing them and pinching the nipples. He felt his penis begin to stiffen so he pushed his trousers down some more and watched Beverly's reaction as it was freed from the confines of his pants. Her tongue darted out to lick her lips and her eyes widened. Jean-Luc quickly pushed his pants to his feet and stepped out of them. He then braced his legs and, as Beverly watched with rapt attention, he took his penis in his hand and began to slowly stroke it.
Their world had shrunk, narrowed down to only each other and what they were doing. They no longer heard the thump of the surf, or felt the touch of the breeze on their heated skin. With their eyes locked, Beverly undressed and immediately slid her fingers through her folds. She bit her lower lip, then whispered urgently,
"Flex."
Jean-Luc didn't hear her, but he saw her lips move.
"What?"
She raised her voice.
"I said, flex."
Jean-Luc frowned but continued his slow stroking of his penis.
"Not that again."
Beverly had begun to pant and Jean-Luc could see the pink flush of arousal creeping over her skin. She gritted her teeth as her fingers quickened their dance over her clit.
"Please, Jean-Luc, just do it for me."
He couldn't refuse her, but he felt ridiculous, standing naked on a beach, slowly masturbating while flexing his muscles. Still, it was worth it. He struck a classical pose and flexed all his muscles. He watched intently as Beverly suddenly splayed her labia with one hand while the other brought her to a quick orgasm. She remained on her feet during the climax; her head craned back as she cried out but fell to her knees as it waned.
His need spiralling out of control by what he had witnessed, Jean-Luc quickly went to Beverly and eased her onto her back. She opened her eyes and looked up at him as he spread her legs with his knees and braced himself on his arms. He hovered there, the head of his penis nudging at her entrance. She traced the prominent veins on his corded arms, then looked into his eyes and said huskily,
"Do it, Jean-Luc."
He thrust inside her and she rose to meet him, their bodies grinding together. Jean-Luc lifted one hand to cradle Beverly's head as he began his rhythm. She wrapped her lissom legs around his waist and gripped his shoulders as he slid effortlessly in and out of her. He removed his hand from behind her head and squeezed her breast before tweaking her nipple. Beverly began to writhe under him so he quickened his pace and was rewarded when she gasped.
"Oh God, yes...yes...harder, Jean-Luc, harder!"
He closed his eyes, his mouth a thin line. His free hand drifted down, his fingers finding Beverly's engorged clit. As he devoted himself to pleasuring his lover, Jean-Luc strove to control his own desire. It took formidable strength of mind and body, but, as Beverly writhed through another orgasm, he tempered his thrusting while she contracted around him and waited while she recovered. He them resumed his rhythm and opened his eyes to watch Beverly begin the climb again. His knowing fingers teased her clit as his penis reached deep inside her, at times pushing beyond her cervix and into her womb. When that happened Beverly cried out, overwhelmed by being so completely filled. Then as he slid out his fingers slid rapidly over her clit. It was too much and she suddenly climaxed again. This time as she shuddered and spasmed, Jean-Luc thrust hard and fast four or five times, then buried himself as deeply as he could. His hips jerked in time with his ejaculations and his body was rigid. Beverly's nails had marked his trembling shoulders and back, the sweat making the scratches sting, but Jean-Luc ignored that and everything else other than the exquisite sensations coursing through his body. As Beverly's internal muscles began to ease their grip of him he slowly lowered his body until he rested on her, his head next to hers. Beverly gently caressed his back, relaxing him. He felt a residual contraction on his softening penis and he moaned softly, attempting to gently thrust. Beverly's hands went to his buttocks, encouraging him to continue. He closed his eyes again and persisted with his thrusting and Beverly began to match his rhythm. He didn't pull back very much, but he was able to push inside her and grind himself against her.
He gritted his teeth; his penis was extremely sensitive and the motion was causing excruciating sensations to assail him, but, spurred on by the woman he loved, he persevered.
Beverly's grip of his backside increased and she began to jerk rhythmically. She bit his shoulder, panting urgently,
"Oh...oh...Jean-Luc, I'm going to come!"
He pushed hard and rotated his hips as he pinched her nipple forcefully. Beverly arched under him and cried out, her body stiff. She held it for several seconds before she slowly began to relax. Letting out a long sigh, she opened her eyes and blinked owlishly. She was still breathless when she spoke.
"Jesus, Jean-Luc, how did you do that?"
He lifted his head to smile tiredly down at her.
"I was inspired."
Beverly gently traced his features, then kissed the tip of his nose.
"If I'd known you were such a skilful lover I would've done this years ago."
His male ego suitably stroked, he smiled smugly and kissed her, but said nothing. Beverly, however, had more to say.
"Your former lovers must've been pleased."
That made him frown. He shook his head and mildly rebuked the inquisitive woman.
"Do you really think it's appropriate to talk about that right now?"
Beverly saucily squeezed his buttock cheeks, making Jean-Luc aware of the bruises she had created.
"And why not?"
He sighed and gave a little push with his penis, causing Beverly to softly gasp.
"That's why, Beverly. We've just made love and I'm still inside you."
Beverly's eyes were twinkling as she traced her fingers over his sensuous lower lip. She pouted then said abruptly,
"I've got sand in my pussy."
Jean-Luc closed his eyes and shook his head in exasperation.
"Beverly..."
She raised her eyebrows and adopted an air of innocence.
"What? Don't tell me you haven't got sand on your balls."
He opened his eyes and gave Beverly a stern look.
"You really don't have a romantic bone in your body, do you."
Beverly tapped her index finger against her chin while she thought about that. Meanwhile Jean-Luc placed one elbow on the sand and rested his weight on it as he cradled his head in his palm. With his free hand he idly drew runes on Beverly's chest and stomach. He didn't, however, withdraw from her body. He was drawn from his study of her when she said matter-of-factly,
"If it's flowers, chocolates and dancing you're talking about, then I'm very romantic, but in the aftermath of good sex all I want to do is eat. Sex makes me hungry."
One of Jean-Luc's eyebrows rose as he digested that. He pulled down the corners of his mouth and nodded thoughtfully.
"I see. Has that always been the case?"
Beverly tilted her head and nodded.
"Pretty much."
Adopting a concerned look, Jean-Luc said with mock seriousness,
"Then we'd better get you back to the tent to feed you. I don't want you taking any more bites out of me."
Beverly's eyes went to the slowly bleeding bite mark on his shoulder and blushed, but she quickly recovered. Giving Jean-Luc a gentle shove she said,
"Oh no we don't! I've still got sand in my pussy; we're going for a swim."
Jean-Luc winced softly as his now flaccid penis slid out. Beverly offered a barely sympathetic smile and asked pertly,
"Sore?"
He growled and pinched her nipple, making her yelp. She scuttled out from under him and bolted
for the water, Jean-Luc hot on her heels.
They played for some time before Beverly's stomach growled loudly. Jean-Luc laughed as Beverly placed her hands on her belly and gave a rueful look.
"Sorry about that."
He shook his head and laughed again.
"Don't be. Come on; let's go back to the tent."
Before she turned to leave the waves, Beverly scooped up some water and splashed it over Jean-Luc's body. She then stood and admired how the water ran down him. He looked into her eyes and saw the unmistakable signs of arousal. His penis twitched as his interest was stirred. Beverly saw it and licked her lips, then turned and sashayed towards the shallows. Jean-Luc followed her, his eyes riveted on her swaying behind. He caught up with her and grabbed her hips. She stopped and mewed as he pressed his growing erection against her. He placed a line of kisses across her shoulder, up her neck to nibble under her ear. She reached behind her, gripped his backside and pulled him harder against her. She said softly,
"Again?"
In response he pushed down on her hips and rumbled,
"Kneel."
She did do and he knelt behind her. His hands snaked around and, as one played with her nipples, the other slid into her sex. Once she became slick with lubrication he placed a hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her down on all fours. Taken by surprise, Beverly looked back and said carefully,
"Jean-Luc?"
He was rock hard and his face was a study in raw need. He slid his penis between her cheeks and closed his eyes. Beverly had never seen him so focussed.
His voice was rough as he said desperately,
"Let me, Beverly, please let me."
She had never allowed this most intimate of acts. She had always refused, not fully convinced she would enjoy it and, to be honest, feared the pain she was sure it would cause. But she trusted Jean-Luc implicitly so, after a moment's hesitation, said softly,
"Okay, but go slow, I've never done this before."
His hand left her shoulder and tenderly traced the nodules of her spine. His smile of love and gratitude lit his face.
"I'll be gentle my love, I won't hurt you, I promise."
He gently played with her clit for a while, reigniting her desire before he used her wetness to cover her anus. Once he was satisfied his fingers were also well covered he gently inserted one finger into her. Beverly frowned at the sensation and concentrated on relaxing her sphincter. Jean-Luc felt what she was doing and gently encouraged her.
"Yes, Beverly, that's it, relax."
He slid another finger inside and Beverly pushed back reflexively. Spurred on by this, Jean-Luc carefully pushed another finger inside, then the fourth. He waited patiently while Beverly became accustomed to being stretched all the while gently playing with her clit. Beverly was caught between the delicious feeling of having her clit teased, while getting used to the sensations coming from her anus. It didn't hurt, exactly, but it was strange all the same. When she was fully relaxed and accepting, Jean-Luc withdrew his fingers and lifted his penis. He placed the head against her puckered entrance and said softly,
"Just relax, Beverly, tell me stop if you need me to."
She nodded, breathless with need. Jean-Luc took a moment to cover the head and shaft of his penis with her lubrication before he pushed steadily until the head suddenly disappeared inside her. Beverly quickly lifted her head and cried out,
"Oh!"
Jean-Luc stopped and panted softly,
"It's all right, just relax."
He slid two of his fingers into Beverly's vagina while his thumb brushed over her clit. Beverly moaned loudly and Jean-Luc gently pushed some more of his penis into her. Beverly was almost overwhelmed; she had never felt so aroused. She instinctively pushed back, encouraging Jean-Luc to slide the rest of his large penis inside her. She didn't know what to do, completely filled and mad with need, she shook her head, all the while uttering unintelligible sounds.
Keeping his free hand busy working its magic in her sex, Jean-Luc slowly and very gently began to thrust. He gripped her hip with one hand and helped her to push back against his thrusts. Although he'd promised it wouldn't hurt, Beverly did feel some pain, but it was pain she'd never experienced before. It seemed to blend seamlessly with exquisite ecstasy, her entire body was singing with sensation.
Jean-Luc too was overwhelmed. He had only done this twice before, with a woman who was brave enough to allow him, however she hadn't enjoyed it at all and eventually forbade him to ever do it with her again. It was a familiar problem; she had told him he was simply too big.
Jean-Luc struggled for control, the love and trust Beverly had bestowed upon him liberated him in ways he'd never experienced before. He looked down at his penis as it appeared then disappeared in Beverly's body and was overcome with love and gratitude. Suddenly his penis swelled and he craned his head back, yelling into the breeze,
"Beverly, I'm going to come!"
Just as the last word left his mouth he came. It shattered him, causing him to cry out gutturally, his back arched as he pushed himself as deeply inside Beverly as he could. The force of his shove, coupled with the weight of his upper body as he collapsed on her made Beverly fall forward into the shallow water. Jean-Luc realised what was happening and rolled them both onto their sides, clearing Beverly's face of the water. Trying to cope with his invasion of her body and his fingers which continued to tease her, Beverly shook her head, unable to speak coherently. Jean-Luc wrapped his free arm around her and said into her ear,
"Let go, my love...come for me."
She'd always found his voice compelling, but never more so than just then. Arching against his body, Beverly laid the back of her head on his shoulder, giving him access to the creamy column of her neck. He bit her as she desperately clung to his arm. With his thumb dancing over her clit and his fingers curling up inside her, he ordered succinctly,
"Come, Beverly, come for me!"
It wasn't what he said, but how he said it that tipped Beverly over the edge. Her body suddenly flexed and she screamed as a cataclysmic orgasm swept her away. Jean-Luc held her tightly, watching with immense satisfaction as Beverly rode her climax. Her eyelids suddenly fluttered and her eyes rolled back as consciousness fled.
Alarmed, Jean-Luc held her even tighter and called her name urgently.
"Bevery! Beverly, are you all right?"
At first she was unresponsive, but after a few moments she cracked her eyes open only to see Jean-Luc's panicking face.
"Beverly! Wake up!"
She summoned a smile and reached up to gently touch his face. Softly she said,
"It's okay, Jean-Luc...I'm all right."
He blinked away tears and laid his forehead on her shoulder.
"I'm so sorry, Beverly, I didn't mean to hurt you."
She frowned and shifted so she could see him properly.
"Hurt me? You didn't hurt me, Jean-Luc. I just had the most powerful orgasm of my life. I want to thank you."
Jean-Luc lifted his head, his expression incredulous.
"You lost consciousness, Beverly."
She grinned.
"I know! Wasn't it great?"
She moved in his arms, causing his soft penis to slip from her. Jean-Luc processed her words as she patiently waited and was gratified when he finally smiled.
"So...it was good?"
Beverly beamed and lifted her arms to hug his head.
"It was the best I've ever had, my love. Was it good for you too?"
He hugged her and she managed to turn in his arms so that they were facing each other. After a protracted kiss, he smiled tenderly.
"It was absolutely wonderful, Beverly. Thank you so very much."
The tide was coming in and the waves were getting bigger. One wave washed over them, leaving them spluttering and laughing. Jean-Luc got to his feet then helped Beverly up. They walked out of the water hand in hand and headed for the stream. It was a comfortable silence they shared as they strolled, but Beverly's curiosity had been roused. She stole a glance at Jean-Luc and smiled at seeing his contentment so obviously displayed. Gently squeezing his hand, she said softly,
"I didn't know you liked it that way."
He reddened slightly, but turned to look at her as he replied,
"I have long held a desire for your arse, Beverly."
Her eyebrows shot up.
"Really? I always thought you were a breast man."
She looked down at herself and tilted her head.
"Or maybe a leg man."
His hand left hers to cover one cheek of her backside. He was smiling as he shook his head.
"No, I'm an arse man. I've been watching yours for years."
Scandalised, Beverly held her hand over her open mouth.
"You? A voyeur? I don't believe it!"
He laughed, delighted with her humour.
"Believe it! I used to try to see you from behind when you bent over."
He growled and Beverly laughed.
"Well. That makes both of us!"
Confused, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"I beg your pardon?"
Beverly chuckled.
"I'm a voyeur too! I used to catch glimpses of your crotch, those black uniform pants manage to hide quite a bit, but they can't completely disguise your package, my love." She reached over and fluttered her fingers over his penis, making it twitch. Jean-Luc grabbed her wrist and shook his head.
"Oh no you don't!"
Beverly giggled, batting her eyes at him.
"What's the matter, Jean-Luc...too sore?"
He grumbled grouchily,
"Wench!" But secretly he was immensely flattered. It was a cause of wonder to him that Beverly loved him as much as he loved her. It was indeed a dream come true. He placed her hand in his and looked into her eyes, his face solemn.
"What did I do to deserve you, Beverly, mon coeur?"
Beverly lifted her free hand and caressed his face.
"I might ask the same thing, my heart."
They washed and went back to the tent, it was time to ease Beverly's other hunger.

 

 

 

The first Benar knew of the brewing mutiny was when he stumbled upon three members of his workforce coming out of the supply depot, their pockets stuffed with packets of field rations. The burly commander drew his weapon and marched the thieves to the dig, bringing the others to a halt. He made the three kneel as he stood behind them and addressed the workers.
"These three," He pointed his disruptor at them, "Were caught stealing your food."
Before he could continue, Yerok stood, a trowel in his dirty hand.
"What do you intend to do, Benar?"
The Commander's eyes narrowed with anger. How dare Yerok use his name instead of his rank? Despite his anger, Benar understood he had to be careful. Rather than make a unilateral decision, he shrugged and put the onus back on his crew.
"What do you think I should do, Yerok? It was your food these men were stealing."
Yerok nodded silently, the tension in the air palpable.
"If we had enough to eat, they wouldn't need to steal."
As Benar watched, other workers stood and dropped their tools. Yerok stooped and put his trowel down. When he straightened, Benar could see the resignation in his face.
"It's over, Benar."
The Commander shook his head and raised his weapon.
"No it's not! We've only been here a few days," he pointed with his free hand.
"There's much to do."
"That may be so, Benar, but it won't be us that does it."
Benar heard movement behind him and tensed, but when Hessin appeared at his shoulder, disruptor in hand, he smiled coldly.
"Are you prepared to die, Yerok?" He waved the weapon in an arc.
"How many of you are prepared to die?"
An angry murmur rippled across the dig. Several workers stepped out of their trenches and moved towards the two officers. Yerok barked,
"Stop! There is no need for anyone to die."
The elderly Cardassian turned his attention back to Benar.
"This is pointless, Benar. Yes, you and your...woman...might kill some of us, but you will most certainly die too."
Acknowledging the impasse, Benar narrowed his eyes and asked warily,
"You have another solution?"
Yerok nodded slowly.
"Yes. Though most of the crew wish to leave, there are some that are willing to stay. My suggestion is you allow those who wish to go to leave peacefully."
Benar's hand tightened on the disruptor. His eyes glittered dangerously as he gave Yerok a look of pure hatred.
"I see. And what about the ship? I have no desire to be stranded here."
The old man had an answer.
"Send two men who are willing to stay. They can bring the ship back."
Benar nodded slowly. His hand relaxed a little and the weapon dropped.
"And what about you, Yerok? Do you stay or go?"
Straightening his bent spine, Yerok bowed his head.
"I will stay, Benar."
The Commander wasn't surprised. Yerok, like most former Obsidian Order had nowhere else to go. Added to that Yerok's age and it became obvious that he would stand by his Commander as he'd done for most of his adult life. With a slow nod of satisfaction, Benar holstered his weapon. To the three men kneeling in front of him he said derisively,
"Get out of my sight, you curs."
Once his eyes left them, in his mind they no longer existed. To the others he said grandly,
"Those who wish to leave will assemble here in one hour. The rest of you, keep digging."
Not waiting for a reply, or expecting one, Benar spun on his heel and stalked back to his tent, Hessin in tow. She had barely entered the shelter when Benar grabbed her and punched her in the face, breaking her jaw. Before she could even try to protect herself, Benar took a handful of her hair and hoisted her to her feet. He then proceeded to punch her face and body mercilessly. A particularly savage blow to her face made her lose consciousness, but the enraged Commander slapped her back to wakefulness. Later she would wish that she'd stayed senseless.
Benar threw her to the ground and kicked her viciously, causing her to curl up into a ball. Unfortunately this made Benar even more furious. In a blind rage he picked up a camp chair and began to beat the helpless woman with it. He spat curses and vile insults at her, spittle flying from his mouth. Hessin was used to being abused by her lover, but never as badly as this. She tried to talk to him, but it was a terrible mistake.
"Benar, please...stop."
When the blows suddenly ceased, Hessin thought she'd got through to him, but it was a forlorn hope. Large cruel hands abruptly wrenched her body out of its defensive posture, then tore at her clothes. Hessin automatically tried to defend herself, but that only brought more blows. Incoherent with rage, Benar ripped Hessin's clothes off, then opened his trousers to reveal his throbbing erection. He dragged Hessin by the hair to a table and bent her over it. The anal rape tore her soft flesh and she screamed piteously. It only seemed to spur him on. He grunted like an animal as he came, but he wasn't finished. He withdrew and picked up the sobbing woman, turning her over and slamming her back onto the tabletop. He forced his fist rudely into her vagina, an insane grin on his face as she shrieked in agony. Just when Hessin could take no more, he removed his fist and raped her savagely again. Delirious with pain, Hessin thought her ordeal was over. That was until she felt Benar grip her hair and pull her head back so far she began to choke. It became worse when he shoved his penis into her mouth. Unable to breathe, Hessin weakly tried to grab his penis to pull it from her mouth, but Benar slapped her hands away and shoved his penis further into her throat.
Hessin's eyes were grossly swollen, nothing more than mere slits, but she managed to look at her abuser, imploring him with her expression, however she knew as soon as she looked at him that she was doomed. Something had snapped in Benar. Always a cruel and heartless man, he was now completely out of control. With her vision beginning to grey, Hessin felt more agony as Benar pinched her broken nose and twisted it. It was a blessing that she never endured what he did next. While he raped her orally, he wrapped his hands around her throat and throttled the life out of her. Minutes later, as he came for a third time, her lifeless body jerked spasmodically as he continued to hit her. It was only when she didn't respond to more pain that he finally stopped.
He sneered down at the body and wiped his penis on her bloodied clothing, before pulling up his pants and making himself comfortable. He stood for a moment, coldly studying the battered body of his former lover and sighed. He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her off the table, muttering darkly.
"Stupid whore."
The body sprawled on the floor and Benar promptly dismissed it from his mind. He consulted a chronometer as he had one final thought on the matter.
"Plenty more where she came from."
He righted a chair and sat, brooding darkly.
There was an air if optimistic excitement around the gathered men and women as they waited for Benar to appear. At their feet were their meagre possessions and in their minds were plans for an uncertain future, their only goal: to get off Delos. Their heads turned as one when Benar finally deigned to join them. He stood regally, his feet braced and his hands behind his back. Of the thirty-five members of the crew, twenty-two had opted to leave.
Benar regarded them coldly before he addressed them.
"Are you sure you want to leave? There is no way I can convince you to stay?"
No one spoke directly to the Commander, but all shook their heads. Benar nodded once and lifted his chin.
"Very well."
What happened next occurred so quickly, no one could've stopped it. Benar snapped his hands around and fired the two disruptors he held. Set on a wide killing beam, the twenty-two vaporised in an instant, barely able to articulate their shock and horror at the betrayal.
There followed an eerie silence, not even the birds were heard. At the sound of a voice, Benar turned, his weapons aimed. The crew froze and for several moments nothing happened. Then Yerok said quietly,
"Return to work, it doesn't concern us."
One by one the remaining thirteen went back to work. Benar stared with his mad eyes before going into his shelter and retrieving a chair. He set in down outside and sat in it, the disruptors in his lap.

 

 

 

Although the constant threat the Cardassians posed was in the back of their minds, Jean-Luc and Beverly began to relax. The days passed almost without notice as the lovers occupied themselves by swimming, exploring and making love. They had two more encounters with wild animals, one ending in the death of the creature, but not before Beverly was bitten.
They had been exploring north of the lake in an area of thick bush. Standing under a particularly tall tree, Jean-Luc and Beverly were admiring some brightly coloured birds when, without warning, one of the creatures barrelled out of the undergrowth and attacked Beverly's lower leg. She screamed and fell, her right hand trying to free her phaser from her shorts pocket. The animal latched on, shaking its head viciously and tearing Beverly's flesh. Jean-Luc had to shout loudly to be heard over Beverly's screams and the animal's savage growling.
"Beverly! Stay still!"
She obeyed instantly. The orange beam from Jean-Luc's phaser lanced past Beverly's body and struck the creature in its side. It stiffened, then its body relaxed. In the sudden silence Beverly slowly sat up and groaned. Jean-Luc stuffed his weapon into his pocket and quickly knelt by Beverly's side. Through gritted teeth she said unevenly,
"Is it dead?"
Jean-Luc prodded the animal then grunted softly.
"Yes."
She leaned forward and grabbed the animal's head. She had begun to tremble.
"Help me..."
Jean-Luc peered at the creature's mouth and, on closer inspection, realised its jaws were clamped down, the teeth embedded in Beverly's leg. He immediately tried to prise the jaws open, but, in death, they had locked tight.
Together they struggled to open the jaws to no avail. Jean-Luc could see that Beverly was having trouble coping with the pain, so he encouraged her to lie down while he continued to work on the jaws. When, after ten minutes of fruitless trying he had failed to get them open, Jean-Luc reached into his pocket and withdrew his phaser. Beverly knew what he was going to do and shuddered, saying brokenly,
"For God's sake, be careful."
He nodded silently as he adjusted the setting on the weapon. Instead of the normal setting, he was narrowing the beam and increasing the power, giving him a cutting implement.
To gain better access, he gently rolled Beverly onto her side, the carcase he manoeuvred into a more amenable position. Then, also laying, Jean-Luc carefully cut the lower jaw from the creature. It still remained in place, necessitating a grisly wriggling to get it to release.
There was a sucking sound and Beverly moaned as the teeth slid from her flesh. Blood flowed freely from the tears and punctures and Jean-Luc lifted the remains of the head, revealing more damage. Getting to his feet, Jean-Luc dragged the carcase to one side, then vaporised it. When he turned back to Beverly, she was wincing as she inspected her wounds. Jean-Luc knelt beside her and took off his shirt. Offering a smile of thanks, Beverly took the shirt and wiped away some of the blood as she continued her assessment. Jean-Luc waited patiently, marvelling at how calm she was in the face of her pain.
After some time, Jean-Luc asked tentatively,
"How is it?"
Beverly lifted her head and her frown disappeared as soon as their eyes met.
"Nothing I can't fix."
Relieved by her words, Jean-Luc stood and held out his hand,
"Can you walk?"
Beverly slowly got to her feet and shook her head.
"I'm afraid not."
"Then sit back down while I find you a stick."
Jean-Luc assisted Beverly to sit, then cast about, looking for an appropriate fallen branch he could fashion into a usable crutch. With so much tree litter he soon found what he was looking for. He used his hands to strip off the twigs and bark, then used the phaser to sculpt a Y shape in the thicker end, making sure it was smooth. He tested the stick with his own weight and, satisfied, took it back to the waiting Doctor. She had tied Jean-Luc's shirt around her wounds, but he could see blood seeping through the material.
He helped Beverly to her feet again and got her to place her arm over his shoulders. With his arm around her waist, Beverly positioned the crutch and they slowly began their journey back to the tent.
It took just over two hours and they were very hot and tired when they were finally able to stop. Jean-Luc eased Beverly into a chair, then raised her leg and propped her foot on the other chair.
While Beverly took off the makeshift bandage, Jean-Luc retrieved the med kit, then he stood by her foot, ready to help if need be, though he doubted Beverly would require any assistance. Now there was nothing he could do but watch as Beverly set about healing her injuries. Fortunately the creature's teeth weren't as long as its claws, so the punctures weren't too deep, but the lacerations were nasty, though not as deep as Jean-Luc's had been.
Fifteen minutes after she had begun, Beverly wiped the last of the blood away and smiled.
"All done."
Jean-Luc gently ran his fingers over the newly healed skin and sighed. His face fell and he lowered his head. Beverly frowned and bent to see under his brow. Gently she asked,
"Jean-Luc? Are you all right?"
He nodded, but Beverly was unconvinced. She took his hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze.
"Hey, it's okay, Jean-Luc...I'm fine."
When he raised his eyes to look at her, Beverly was shocked to see him so stricken. She was about to try and comfort him when he spoke, his voice deep and rough.
"I don't ever want to see you in pain again, Beverly."
She attempted to lighten the mood.
"Oh, I agree wholeheartedly! And that goes for you too, Jean-Luc. Hey, I know! Make it a standing order. No pain for senior officers."
He had to smile, it was so ridiculous. With a rueful shake of his head he said softly,
"What am I going to do with you?"
Beverly removed her foot from the chair and stood. Jean-Luc watched as she slowly undid his shorts. She reached inside his underwear and gently squeezed his penis. When nothing happened, Beverly frowned and looked into his eyes.
"What's wrong?"
Jean-Luc sighed and placed his hands on Beverly's shoulders.
"Are you sure you're up to it?"
Letting out a soft snort, Beverly squeezed him again while saying carefully,
"Jean-Luc, I'm fine!" Then she lowered her voice and intensified her gaze.
"I want you."
He began to harden in her hand. She smiled lasciviously and licked her lips.
"Now that's the Jean-Luc I know and love."
Despite his growing arousal, Jean-Luc had to laugh. He took Beverly's face in his hands and kissed her deeply then said huskily,
"You show a marked lack of respect for my rank, Doctor."
Batting her eyes dramatically, Beverly said coquettishly,
"Oh, I am sorry, Captain. Am I to be punished?"
Jean-Luc looked down at Beverly's hand as it continued to stimulate him, then brought his gaze back up to her eyes. His face was expressionless, but in his eyes, Beverly saw both love and a hint of amusement. His voice, though, carried the unmistakable ring of authority.
"Indeed you are, Doctor. I will not tolerate insubordination."
She barely kept the grin of delight from her face.
"Oh my! What are you going to do?"
He grabbed her breasts and gently pinched her nipples, his arousal increasing as she flushed and gasped. The game was fun, but his need was growing to insurmountable heights. In a deep rumble he declared,
"I'm going to fuck you until you scream."
His vulgar words made Beverly moan wantonly. Jean-Luc took hold of Beverly's shirt and ripped it from her body. She was braless and, as Jean-Luc pushed her gently to the floor, he attacked her breasts with his mouth.
Over the next forty minutes they made love urgently; almost violently until, sweat soaked and covered in blood from scratches and bites, they came with a roar of liberation and Jean-Luc had his way, Beverly screamed. Utterly spent and still tangled together they slipped into a dreamless sleep.

 

 

Their other encounter with the savage animals was far less damaging. They had been swimming and were walking towards the stream to wash when one of the creatures emerged from the dunes and blocked their path. They were carrying their clothes and each had a phaser in their hands, but refrained from using them immediately. Instead they watched cautiously as the animal sniffed and growled, but made no move to attack them. Eventually it ignored them and went to the stream to drink. Jean-Luc and Beverly waited for several minutes after it had gone before they ventured into the stream. The walk back to the tent was a tense one, but they saw nothing of that animal or any others.
Ten days after they'd settled into their new surroundings they woke to the sound of heavy rain. It was hot and very humid, making staying in bed uncomfortable. Both dressed in nothing but their underwear they went outside after breakfast and, carrying their phasers, walked in the drenching rain to the beach. The oppressive conditions had flattened the surf, so they wandered along the shore, idly picking up shells and other curious objects.
Jean-Luc had his communicator clipped to his briefs, something that had greatly amused Beverly. It had been silent for days, but, as they strolled, it suddenly came to life. In whispered tones, a voice said.
"Yerok, are you there?"
There was a gap of several seconds before a cautious voice replied,
"What are you doing using the communicators? You know what he'll do if we're caught."
"Of course I know! Do take me for a fool?"
The response was conciliatory.
"Not at all, you know that. Now what is it? Why are you taking such a risk?"
"I've been talking to the others...we think it's time you took over."
There was another, longer pause.
"You realise, of course, that means you have to get rid of him."
"Yes."
"And that we don't have the access to the codes to bring the ship?"
The voice grew cold.
"I'm sure we can get that out of him."
Yerok's voice was laced with scorn.
"Fool! You won't get anything from him...he is a master."
There was a hint of desperation in the disembodied voice.
"Then what do we do? You saw what he did! We will be next once he has the damned object!"
"Be patient! Wait and see what happens. There will be time to make a move."
The voice was disgruntled, but accepting nonetheless.
"Very well, Yerok. We will wait."
"Good. Now stay off the communicators."
"Understood, Muros out."
Jean-Luc stood still, a deep frown marring his handsome face. Beverly looked out to sea, then back at her lover.
"There seems to be some kind of trouble."
He snorted softly.
"Yes, and that could mean trouble for us."
"Why?" Beverly asked.
"Because they might spread to the other islands, including ours."
"You mean if they can't get access to their ship?"
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Uh huh."
Nibbling her nails, Beverly's eyes swept the dunes.
"Is there anything we can do?"
He shook his head.
"Not really, except to keep monitoring them. Our last resort will be to beam up to the Calypso, but I feel that would show our hand."
Beverly nodded thoughtfully.
"Although, if they don't have access to their ship, we would be able to escape."
"True, but with patrols taking place, I really don't want to take the risk. Neither the Calypso nor the shuttle are well armed. Our only hope would be to outrun any ship we encountered."
Beverly hummed in thought.
"Hmm, I guess you're right, but we're so exposed here. What about another island, one with caves or some other kind of natural defensive formations?"
Jean-Luc shook his head, making Beverly grimace.
"No, there's nothing, I checked before we left. Besides I don't want to use the transporter, they might pick up the energy surge."
Placing her hands on her hips, Beverly shook her hair back.
"Okay, so we just have to keep alert. You set the proximity alarms?"
With a nod, Jean-Luc said,
"And the tricorder is set to let me know if any ship scans, or tries to approach the yacht."
Beverly sighed and briefly closed her eyes.
"But it's still pot luck."
"Yes."
Ever the optimist, Beverly refused to be cowed.
"Right, sobeit. Come on, Jean-Luc; let's see if we can catch a fish."
They had noticed decent size fish swimming in the shallows and had discussed trying to nab one. Jean-Luc smiled at his lover. Obviously now was the time. Hand in hand they walked into knee deep water, then separated and spent a hilarious hour trying, and failing, to catch the fast moving fish. Eventually Beverly tired of the game and called a halt to proceedings. Not ready to give up, Jean-Luc shook his head and was about to say something when a large fish swam right between his legs. With lithe grace he spun and dived in one fluid motion, his arms fully extended in front of him. One hand missed the fish, but the other grabbed it just behind its dorsal fin. A wicked spine shot up, piercing Jean-Luc right through his palm. He reacted instantly, heaving himself from the water, his hand held up; the fish writhing in the air. Beverly clapped and laughed, delighted with his efforts, that was until she saw his face and heard his yell of pain.
It was difficult to run in the water, but she made it to him quickly. He was kneeling, holding his wrist tightly as the movements of the struggling fish jerked his hand around.
Beverly reached for the fish, intending to pull it off his hand, but he shouted,
"No! Don't touch it...look at the spines."
Peering in the driving rain, Beverly's eyes widened as she saw the fish was covered in spines. There was no way she could touch it without being spiked. As Beverly was trying to think of a way to get the fish off Jean-Luc's hand, he suddenly let go of his wrist and flicked his hand violently. He found success. The fish flew through the air, landing in the flat water with a loud slap. It quickly disappeared, leaving Jean-Luc gripping his wrist again, bent over in pain.
Beverly took his hand and inspected it, noting it had already begun to redden and swell. There was a small ragged wound on each side of his palm, though there was very little blood. Jean-Luc had begun to pant, making Beverly say in a business-like fashion,
"Come on, we've got to get you back to the tent."
He nodded jerkily and got to his feet. With Beverly's help they soon made it to their shelter where Beverly ran her medical tricorder over his hand. What she found made her furrow her brow with worry.
"You've been injected with venom, Jean-Luc."
Sweat was trickling down his head and body as Beverly turned his hand over. She was dismayed to see lines of red beginning to creep up his inner arm.
"The venom is travelling. I'm going to put a tight bandage around your upper arm. If I can limit the amount of venom that enters your body, I might be able to treat it."
Beverly retrieved a clean shirt and ripped it into strips. While she strapped Jean-Luc's upper arm, he began to tremble. His voice was hoarse when he gasped.
"Oh, God...it hurts, Beverly."
Her hands worked as she said with pathos,
"I know, my love. I'll try to do something about it just as soon as I can."
It seemed to Jean-Luc that the bandaging took an age. With every passing moment the pain grew insidiously. His eyes were closed when Beverly left him, and he only half listened as she moved about the tent, but he soon recognised the sound of the camp heater. Beverly's voice was soft, yet he clearly heard her worry as she said,
"Centuries ago, scientists found that hot water was very useful in relieving the pain of marine stings. I'm going to try that."
Jean-Luc opened his eyes and gaped.
"You have nothing else?" He managed.
Shaking her head, Beverly tried to keep the desperation from her voice.
"No, my love, I don't. The tricorder couldn't identify what sort of venom it was and I have no counter measures with me. I don't know what I'm dealing with, Jean-Luc and under those circumstances I want to take a conservative approach. Anything other than that could cause you more harm than good."
Jean-Luc's eyes showed his desperation. He shook his head, trying to make sense of what he'd been told, but all he could think about was the growing pain.
"But, Beverly..." He rasped. "The pain...I can't...I..."
Beverly understood, but there was little she could do. The water she was heating began to wisp steam, so she took the container off the heat and tested it with her fingers. Satisfied, she turned to Jean-Luc and said gently,
"I know this is hard, Jean-Luc, but you must trust me. Put your hand in the water. It's hot, but not hot enough to burn you."
The trust between them was implicit so Jean-Luc didn't hesitate. He slowly submerged his throbbing hand into the water, wincing as he did so. His face was screwed up in pain and he barely heard Beverly when she asked urgently,
"Well? Is it helping?"
He shook his head as tears filled his eyes. Beverly's heart wrenched as she gently gripped his wrist.
"Give it more time."
In the end he kept his hand in the water until it cooled, but the pain only increased. When Beverly lifted his hand from the container she gasped at seeing how badly swollen it was. Despite the skin being wrinkled by immersion, the hand was red and mottled and terribly hot. Inspection of the wounds showed a muddy discharge and the red lines had grown up his arm. Beverly already knew the situation was bad, however it had just become deadly.

 

 

 

Two weeks has passed since Benar had brutally murdered Hessin. In the heat of the tropical sun, her body soon began to putrefy. It swelled and insects invaded her orifices. Benar ignored it, though if he were asked, he wouldn't be able to explain why he kept it. He had heard some mumbled complaints about the smell, but that too was ignored. To Benar, nothing, absolutely nothing was important except finding the object. So desperate was he that he had begun to work alongside his crew. In his obsessive state he didn't see the looks of hatred, or hear the murmured groundswell of discontent. He was so focussed he almost paid the ultimate price.
While kneeling in his trench, completely absorbed in his work, Benar failed to see the man approach from behind. At the very last moment, Benar saw his shadow and turned, just in time to deflect a savage blow to his head. Utilising many years of training, Benar soon overcame his would-be assassin and stood with his booted foot across the man's throat. He glanced around the dig to see the others watching intently. As usual, Yerok had prevented them from helping the assassin. With deliberate sloth, Benar bent and picked up a rock as big as a football. He stared down at the struggling man his expression one of anticipation. He said nothing as he raised the rock above his head and brought it down on the man's head. The first blow rendered him unconscious, but Cardassians have hard skulls. The second blow tore the flesh off his forehead, but it was the third blow that was the most devastating.
The skull burst open, the man's brains splattering over Benar's boots. Having made his point, Benar dropped the rock and casually wiped the dust and grit from his hands before saying mildly,
"I am going back to my tent for a short while. When I return, that..." He pointed at the body without looking at it, "Will be gone."
In complete silence he strode to his tent, a cloud of insects taking flight as the door opened.
Yerok looked at his crew and noted the hatred in their eyes as they followed Benar to his tent. He sighed and shook his head. Everything was unravelling, discipline was gone and what was once a cohesive well trained force was now a disagreeable, mutinous mob. He knew he had to instil some kind of purpose in his men. If not the discovery of the object, then something else. But now was not the time. No, he had to be patient, to bide his time until he was ready to act. The trouble was there may not be anyone left. He sighed again and, by way of an example, went back to work. It took some time, but one-by-one, his men did the same.
In Benar's trench, the bloody brains dried in the sun.

 

 

The following morning, as the Cardassians worked, four people, three men and a woman kept glancing nervously at each other. Ever vigilant, Yerok noticed this and quickly realised something was going to happen. Slowly and carefully, so as not to arouse suspicion, he moved away from the main area of the dig seeming to work, but all the while watching as matters unfolded. Benar was in his trench, totally absorbed. The four slowly began to move, spreading out and surrounding Benar. For ten minutes they were content to do nothing but work, though as their hands dug, their eyes were set on Benar. At a silent signal they began to slowly move inwards. Yerok watched as the other crew members lifted their heads to take quick glances. The tension grew to unbearable levels; the only one oblivious was Benar. When the four were only a metre away they stood. Their leader, a middle aged man with a scar twisting his lower lip said quietly,
"Now."
They moved as one, jumping into Benar's trench. With nothing but their trowels, the four attacked the Commander with vicious blows, stabbing him repeatedly in the back. Incredibly Benar got to his feet, swinging his own tool. The woman was sliced across her mouth, the hideous wound gaping as she gurgled a scream while her riven head fell open. The leader plunged his trowel into Benar's stomach but it had no effect, the Commander merely grunted and brought his sharp trowel up in a deadly arc to cut the man's neck so badly, it almost decapitated him. Dust obscured the fight from the watching men and women, but they clearly heard the cries of the dying. Unfortunately, Benar wasn't one of them. Faced with the two remaining assailants, Benar smiled and beckoned them to continue. Had they attacked together, they might have stood a chance, but they made the fatal error of attacking one at a time. The first lunged forward, aiming for Benar's face, but the burly Commander parried the thrust and stabbed the man right through his heart. He fell at Benar's feet, dead before he'd hit the ground. The last man wet himself as he stood panting in front of Benar. He knew his Commander would never let him leave the trench alive; his only hope was to kill the man. Letting out a cry of fear and desperation, he slashed backwards and forwards, emboldened when he felt his trowel meet and cut Benar's flesh. But he became over confident. Stepping too close, his trowel was suddenly struck from his hand and a strong sinewy arm wrapped around his throat. In a reflex action, the man hooked his fingers over the arm and tried to pry it loose, while straining to lift his head to breathe. Benar growled softly and smiled. With slow ease he slipped his trowel between his arm and the man's chin. The unfortunate man immediately understood what was about to happen and redoubled his efforts to free himself. Benar merely tightened his arm. Eyes bulging and blood seeping through his gritted teeth, the man's legs kicked and scrabbled. There was no expression on Benar's face as he felt the blade of his trowel touch the man's throat. He pressed it until blood appeared, then with shocking calmness, began to saw the tool back and forth across the convulsing muscles.
The man made hideous sounds as Benar slowly and calmly cut his head off. The body twitched and spasmed when he dropped it, blood squirting from the stub of neck until the heart stopped beating. The Commander straightened, sweat trickling into his eyes. He wiped a bloodied hand across his face and slowly turned. When he died, there was a look of disbelief and shock on his face. Yerok's hand was firm on the trowel handle as he pushed it further into Benar's head. He'd struck the Commander under his chin, driving the blade up through his head with such force that it burst through the top of his skull, coated in brains.
Benar's mouth opened but no sound emerged. With his eyes open and staring he remained upright only until Yerok released his hold of the trowel. Benar crumpled to the ground as if his strings had been cut.
It was over, the crew were free. In stunned silence they left their work areas and wandered over to Benar's trench. Already the insects were gathering over the bodies. One of the men opened his trousers, took his penis out and urinated over Benar's body. Yerok looked at his hand and, seeing it was covered in Benar's blood, wiped it diffidently on his pants. A woman spoke, her voice loud in the otherwise silent dig.
"What do we do now?"
Yerok glanced up to see all eight people looking at him.
"We bury this...mess...then look for food."
Another voice spoke up.
"What about the ship?"
The elderly man shook his head.
"Forget about the ship, the codes necessary to bring it were lost when Benar died."
The same voice asked in anger,
"So we're stranded here?"
It was unpalatable, but unavoidable. Yerok nodded, however he did have some hope to give what were now his crew.
"There will be patrols; we just have to be patient."
A ripple of murmurs swept through the gathered people. It was the woman who spoke again.
"Not many, Yerok and not often. What do we do in the meantime?"
Yerok knew he had reached the crisis point. If he was going to succeed, it all hinged on what he said next. He chose his words carefully.
"I think we should continue to look for the object."
There were cries of protest, only subdued when Yerok held up his hand.
"Think about it. If it really does exist, and we find it, that puts us in a very desirable position. We'd be welcomed back into Cardassian society, no more outcasts, no more homelessness, we would be feted as the new saviours. Nothing would be denied us...and Cardassia would be great again."
Yerok waited while the gathering digested that, then said evenly,
"And it wouldn't be like it was, not like Benar did it. We would only dig in the cool of the day and have plenty of rest...and food. I'm sure we can find enough to adequately sustain us, after all, there're only nine of us."
The group were beginning to warm to the idea. The woman asked cautiously,
"And what if we find it...what then?"
Yerok smiled, he had already dreamed of this.
"We wait until we're contacted by a passing patrol. They will run scans of the planet, we'll be detected and we have our communicators. They will take us back to Cardassia where we will be installed as the new joint leaders. As I said before, we just have to be patient."
Yerok watched carefully as the members of the group looked at each other. When he felt the time was right, he said with authority,
"Are you with me?"
Slowly the nods of agreement became more enthusiastic. Yerok glowed with satisfaction. Yes, it was all going according to plan. Only he knew that he, and he alone would survive to reap the wind.

 

 

 

Throughout the rest of the long day and right through the equally long night, Jean-Luc had suffered horribly. By dawn he was semi conscious and experiencing bouts of delirium. Beverly had not slept. She had spent her time bathing the sweating man with cold water, the heat emanating from his body enough to make her open the tent door to cool the interior.
Frustrated by her inability to help, Beverly could do nothing but hold Jean-Luc down as he thrashed and convulsed. The red lines on his arm were now up to his armpit. His hand was so grossly swollen it had split in places and now oozed blood and serum. The fingernails had turned black and were beginning to lift off their beds. During a time when Jean-Luc was calm, Beverly allowed herself to quietly weep. She jumped when she heard him whisper. She had to strain to hear him.
"Hide it."
Thinking he was experiencing another bout of delirium, Beverly gently wiped some sweat from Jean-Luc's brow and said softly,
"Hide what, Jean-Luc?"
She was startled again when he opened his eyes. They were unnaturally bright and glassy, the sclera bright red, but even so, Beverly could clearly see Jean-Luc was lucid. He repeated himself hoarsely.
"Hide it."
Frowning and shaking her head, Beverly struggled to understand.
"Hide what? What is it I must hide, Jean-Luc?"
He swallowed painfully and tried to wet his lips. His tongue was swollen and split. Beverly dripped some water from her fingers and he smiled gratefully. Talking was obviously difficult, but he strove to continue. What he had to say was very important.
"The Cardassian object. You must hide it, Beverly. No matter what happens, it must not fall into Cardassian hands."
Exhausted by his efforts, Jean-Luc closed his eyes and panted. With her mind racing, Beverly said urgently,
"Where, Jean-Luc? Where shall I hide it?"
He shook his head slowly, his strength waning quickly.
"Wherever it is, you mustn't tell me. But do it soon, my love, I don't think we have much longer."
Beverly's heart skipped several beats. Did he mean he thought he would die soon, or was it that the Cardassians were coming soon? Needing an answer, Beverly said quickly,
"Jean-Luc? What do you mean?"
Her words fell on deaf ears; Jean-Luc had lost consciousness again.
"Dammit, Jean-Luc!"
Beverly sat back, tears of aguish and desperation coursing down her cheeks. How did he expect her to leave him while she hid the fucking thing? And where would she hide it? The more she thought about it, the more she realised she had to do it immediately, Jean-Luc's condition was only going to worsen and she wanted to be with him to help as best she could. She took her damp shirt and saturated it with water. She then wet Jean-Luc's body, hoping it would cool him enough to last until she returned.
She stood and looked down at her lover, fighting back tears. Clenching her jaw, she quickly retrieved the object and left the tent.

 

 

 

Fifteen minutes after she'd left, Jean-Luc's body contorted through a protracted convulsion. Alone he gurgled and vomited, bringing up nothing but dark green bile. He voided his bladder in a hot rush while his body continued to be wracked again and again. Lying semi conscious in his own filth he was unaware when an animal entered the tent, drawn by the stench of his rotting hand. Warily it approached the naked, helpless man, sniffing and making threatening growls. Jean-Luc heard nothing. Beverly's efforts to cool him had been futile. Once again, waves of heat drifted from him, exciting the animal as it got closer. Cowering, it leaned forward and cautiously sniffed Jean-Luc's swollen hand. It immediately pulled back and snarled menacingly. When there was no reaction from Jean-Luc, it became bolder. Ignoring his hand, the creature sniffed up his arm, occasionally licking his fevered skin until it got to his shoulder. Showing remarkably good balance, it stood on his hind legs and placed its front paws on Jean-Luc's chest. Still not satisfied, it suddenly jumped onto Jean-Luc's torso, then began to sniff with renewed interest around Jean-Luc's open mouth. It licked at the bile covering his chin and neck before forcing its snout into Jean-Luc's mouth. With his breathing obstructed, Jean-Luc coughed, making the creature growl dangerously and dig its claws into his flesh. It had taken Jean-Luc's tongue in its teeth when Beverly walked into the tent. Shocked by what confronted her, she momentarily froze. The animal, unwilling to give up its prize, stayed exactly where it was, its snout still in Jean-Luc's mouth, but its eyes were on Beverly as it growled gutturally. Years of training kicked in and Beverly dropped into a defensive firing position with the phaser steadily aimed. However, with the knowledge of what had happened before, she held her fire. Slowly, she straightened, warily watching the motionless creature. The growling increased, but, other that the claws digging deeper, it didn't move. Not knowing quite what to do, Beverly waved her arms experimentally and shouted,
"Hey! Get out of here!"
The growling grew and stiff hairs rose along its back. Beverly had to get it to take its snout out of Jean-Luc's mouth before she could kill it. Putting herself at great risk, she ran the few short steps to the animal and kicked it. Her actions had the desired effect. Enraged, the creature withdrew its snout and launched itself off Jean-Luc, straight at Beverly's face. Her arms came up defensively and she successfully warded off the attack. The animal didn't have a chance to make a second. As it crouched ready to spring again, Beverly shot it in the head. There was a thump as the headless body hit the floor of the tent, the air was acrid with the smell of burnt flesh and hair.
Beverly dropped the phaser and knelt beside Jean-Luc, the relief she felt on seeing his intact tongue making her feel light headed.
"Thank the Gods." She whispered.
She spent the next half an hour bathing Jean-Luc in an unsuccessful attempt to bring his body temperature down. The sun was rising higher in the sky and, although it was raining, Beverly knew it was going to get very hot in the tent. Somehow she had to cool him down. It was a forlorn and desperate woman who sat beside her lover, wishing she knew how to pray.

 

 

 

By eleven o'clock it became so stifling in the tent, Beverly knew she had to get Jean-Luc out and somehow cool him down. He continued to regularly convulse, bringing up what little water she'd been able to get him to drink and his hand, though no further swollen, was losing its covering of skin.
Having made her decision as to where to take Jean-Luc, Beverly used the blanket he was lying on as a sled. She gripped the corners and pulled, the blanket sliding across the tent floor quite easily. However, once she got outside it became significantly more difficult. What was normally a ten minute walk took over an hour. She tugged and dragged Jean-Luc all the way to the beach. Having slowly crested the dunes, it was a relief to slide the blanket and its passenger down through the grasses and sand. Instead of going straight into the water, Beverly cut the beach at an angle, heading for the stream and the shade of the boulders. Though her passage was easier on the sand, she was still exhausted when they finally reached the stream. Beverly didn't take Jean-Luc off the blanket; she walked right into the cold water pulling the blanket with her. It was shallow where the water crossed the sand and the blanket quickly became very hard to pull. Jean-Luc's weight stopped any further movement of the blanket across the wet sand, so Beverly let go and knelt beside her lover, scooping handfuls of water over him.
It took time, but it worked. With half his body immersed and Beverly constantly wetting the other half, Jean-Luc's temperature fell. Even the teeming rain helped. She still had trouble giving Jean-Luc water to drink, but she knew he was absorbing water through his submerged skin.
It was late afternoon when Beverly realised there was no point in going back to the tent. As soon as she took Jean-Luc out of the water, his temperature would begin to rise. She gave the matter considerable thought and came to one inescapable conclusion. She would have to move their camp to the beach and that meant leaving Jean-Luc. She sighed and looked at her lover as he lay unconscious in the water. Despite his hand being an angry mottled red, the rest of him was very pale and his eyes were sunken. Beverly gently caressed his face, saying softly,
"I'm sorry, my love, I have no choice."
She knew she couldn't leave him in the water, so, having recovered her strength, she pulled the blanket onto dry sand and manoeuvred it between the boulders until she found a suitable place to leave him. The area was flat, in shade, above the high tide mark and big enough for the tent.
Though reluctant to leave, Beverly steeled herself and placed a kiss on Jean-Luc's cool brow. When she left, she didn't look back.
It was well into the night before Beverly had managed to manually transport all the equipment to the new site. Luckily the tent was self erecting so at least that was taken care of quickly. Jean-Luc was hot again, necessitating Beverly having to drag him on the blanket back to the creek.
The air conditioner in the tent had ceased functioning some time ago, so Beverly had placed the tent so it would be open to the sea breezes. Once Jean-Luc's temperature had fallen, Beverly moved him into the tent and left the door open. His convulsions had calmed, giving Beverly hope that he had begun to recover, but when she inspected his arm, she saw that the red lines had disappeared into the flesh of his armpit. The venom was now loose in his body. His hand, however, seemed to have reached its peak. It hadn't deteriorated any further since midday, though the stench rising from it was nauseating.
Very tired from her exertions, Beverly lay beside Jean-Luc. She didn't intend to sleep, but, around three in the morning her eyes closed and sleep crept over her.
A mere forty-five minutes later, Beverly was woken in fright by Jean-Luc screaming. She sat bolt-upright, momentarily disoriented, but Jean-Luc's blood-curdling screams quickly reminded her of where she was. The Captain was thrashing, his body taut and covered in sweat. Beverly reached for him, meaning to offer comfort. In the darkness she didn't see him swing his grotesque hand. It caught her on the side of her head, the blow softened as the hand burst. Blood, serum and pus spewed outward, splattering over Beverly's face and shoulders. She gagged, the foul odour filling the tent despite the open door. Jean-Luc's scream of terror changed to one of agony. Beverly didn't need to see to know what had happened, but she groped for the light anyway. What she saw made her gasp in horror.
Jean-Luc's hand was now split open in five places. Gaping wounds oozed disgusting matter and, in the mottled flesh, Beverly could see the milky gleam of bones.
"Oh my God, Jean-Luc."
He screamed again and Beverly griped his shoulder, giving him a gentle shake.
"Wake up!"
She shook him again and his screams became moans. Although he didn't regain consciousness, he slowly stopped thrashing, but he still felt the pain of his hand, even through his oblivion. Having failed at everything she'd tried to ease his pain, Beverly had an inspiration. Salt water. She was well aware of its healing and antiseptic properties; in fact she didn't know why she hadn't thought of it before. Picking up a container, Beverly bolted from the tent and, by the light of the stars, made her way into the waves and collected what she needed. Rushing back to the tent, she placed the container beside the now calm man and lifted his hand by his wrist. As she submerged the hand in the salt water, Jean-Luc moaned and weakly tried to remove it but Beverly tightened her grip and shook her head, saying mostly to herself,
"I know it stings, Jean-Luc, but I think it will help. Be brave my love."
As she watched, the once crystal-clear water became muddy with the horrible matter seeping from Jean-Luc's ruined hand. Throughout what was left of the night, and well into the next day, Beverly regularly changed the water until, finally, it remained clear. The swelling was greatly reduced and the flesh less mottled. The skin of Jean-Luc's hand had sloughed off in the water along with what was left of his nails, but Beverly knew it was a good thing. Now, with the dead tissue gone, his hand had a chance to begin to heal. If only she could say that about the rest of him. His formerly pale skin had turned a sickly green and his temperature continued to climb. Beverly had won one battle, but the war raged on.

 

 

In the days following Benar's death, the remaining crew found that Yerok had been right. They had managed to find food and, with better working conditions, had renewed energy for the task. It was in the afternoon, as the rain pelted down, that one of the crew approached Yerok, with an artefact in her hands. The elderly man knew instantly it wasn't what they were looking for and briefly wondered why the woman was bringing it to him. Unlike Benar, who would've been angered by such a trivial thing, Yerok instead gave the woman his complete attention. The woman offered a tentative smile and lifted her hands. Yerok returned the smile and asked quietly,
"What have you there?"
A frown crossed the woman's face as she said respectfully,
"We are finding a lot of these, but I think something's not quite right."
Immediately interested, Yerok moved closer.
"Why?"
Tilting her head, the woman hesitated, trying to find the words to adequately express her concerns.
"It is difficult to explain, Sir."
"Call me Yerok, I am one of you. Now, take your time and tell me what's bothering you."
The woman smiled her gratitude and took a deep breath.
"Well...Yerok...these artefacts should be embedded in compacted soil and covered with dirt."
Patiently, Yerok asked,
"And they're not?"
She shook her head.
"No, they're not. Time and time again we're digging up clean items...and where we're digging...the soil is loose. I think someone has been here before us."
Yerok's eyes narrowed as he considered the possibility. He said cautiously,
"The Federation had conducted this dig before Delos was annexed to Cardassia. Are you sure you're not re-digging over their work?"
She shook her head vehemently.
"No! Besides, why would the Federation archaeologist rebury what they'd found? No, what we're finding has been done recently, within the last weeks. I can tell, because the rain would've settled the soil further."
Yerok's eyes studied the dig as anger and fear began to rise. If his compatriot was right, he had a major problem. But what was the exact nature of the problem? Had another group been there already and found the object? If that was the case, they were all doomed. Word would have got out and the next ship to visit would be there to exterminate them. But then he had another, more interesting thought. What if it wasn't Cardassians? The Federation had shown great interest in Delos before the annexation and with Cardassia concentrating on its rebuilding, it would be an opportune time to sneak in and continue their study of the ruins. The more he thought about it, the more certain he became that it wasn't Cardassians he should be worried about, it was Federation scientists and that, he smiled grimly, was easy to overcome. The only thing they had to do was find them and kill them. He was about to order the crew to stop digging when he had another, more disturbing thought. What if they'd found the object? That would explain why there had been a very good attempt to hide the fact that they'd been there. Indeed, the very fact that they'd made the attempt at all suggested they not only discovered the object, but that they also knew Yerok and his crew were there.
Benar had kept in remote contact with his ship and Yerok knew the regular scans hadn't shown any other ships, but that didn't mean there wasn't one lurking somewhere nearby. After all, Benar had successfully hidden his ship. Not even the Reklar had discovered it. Sly buggers, the Federation. He wouldn't put it past them to interfere in Cardassian business, especially if they could gain a tactical advantage. No, not Cardassians, they would all be dead if that were that case. It was the damned Federation. He sighed, certain of his deductions. Yerok placed a companionable hand on the woman's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
"You've done well. Go and join the others, I will speak to all of you."
Once the crew had downed tools and gathered, Yerok joined them.
"By now you would've guess something is amiss with our search. Thanks to the diligence of Murret, I have been made aware of the situation and I believe I have solved the mystery. Somewhere on Delos, most probably on an island in this archipelago we have some Federation thieves."
There was a restless shifting and angry murmurs from the group. Yerok continued.
"We have a new task. Find them, kill them and take back the object."
The anger in the group rose. One of the men stepped forward and asked brazenly,
"What makes you think they have it? You may have found it and not told us and are going to use the Federation to dispose of us in a needless fight."
Yerok's anger rose but all the group saw was an earnest face and a sincere voice.
"Do you really think I would betray you like that? After all we've been through? Surely you have more faith in me than that! I am in this with you, I have no personal agenda."
The man sneered.
"How quaint, a Obsidian Order officer who thinks of others."
Yerok's voice dropped but he kept the menace out.
"Former Obsidian Order." He took a deep breath and calmed himself. When he spoke again, it was to the whole group.
"This is a problem for all of us! If we want to succeed in our goal we have to rid ourselves of the threat the Federation interlopers pose, not only to us, but to all Cardassia. You can be sure, if they have the object...and I'm positive they do...they will use it to keep Cardassia under their heel. Our brothers and sisters will never again experience the wonder of what power and supremacy brings. We will become nothing but lackeys existing only to serve the Federation! That is what we face! We must act! Now, before it's too late."
Fists raised in defiant fervour, the group shouted their approval. Yerok joined them, to all intents and purposes one of the group, but secretly he had other ideas and the group would pay the ultimate price for them.
Once everyone had settled down, Yerok consulted his scanner and frowned. Aloud, so the group was cognizant of his thought processes he said,
"There are over a thousand islands in this archipelago, however most of them are so small we can discount them. Still, we have to narrow our search."
His fingers wandered over the screen.
"I doubt they would've gone far, my guess is they're waiting for us to give up and leave. So..." He scrolled through map after map before he stopped and peered.
"I've discounted all the islands that have no fresh water and those without enough vegetation to hide them. This island we're on..." He swept his hand without taking his eyes off the screen,
"Is the only one with a cave, the rest consist of either sand or coral or both...except this one." His finger stabbed. "This one is volcanic, consisting of rock and sand. It has ample fresh water and plenty of vegetation. Yes, if they're not there, they will be somewhere close by."
He didn't raise his eyes when a voice said sardonically,
"And just how are we going get there?"
The tone irritated him enough to glare.
"These islands are very close to each other, in fact the greatest distance between islands is only fifteen kilometres. We will make three boats from natural materials and paddle our way."
The group were accustomed to statements like that. Like Starfleet, the Cardassian military trained its members to be able to adapt to any circumstance. And in truth, with the weapons and tools at their disposal, making a sturdy boat wasn't out of the question. They certainly had the raw materials in abundance. No doubt they would get wet and uncomfortable in the crossing, but they would arrive fit, well and ready to fight. Still, there was a note of wariness when someone asked,
"Are you sure, Yerok? It's not some kind of wild goose chase?"
Yerok lifted his head, oozing confidence. He tossed his scanner at the man who caught it deftly.
"Feel free to check yourself; you've had the same training as I have. I'm sure you'll reach the same conclusion."
It took only ten minutes for the group to do what Yerok expected. As one they nodded their agreement. Heady with power, Yerok pointed to the trees.
"We have work to do."
As the group moved to his bidding, Yerok nodded silently to himself.
"Now they're acting like the Obsidian Order officers they are!"
It was a pity he had such terrible plans for them.

 

 

For the next two days, Jean-Luc hovered between semi consciousness, delirium and moments of lucidity. His hand had begun to slowly heal but, during her frequent examinations, Beverly had detected a slow deterioration of his internal organs. Blood began to appear in his infrequent urine and his breath took on a particular odour that told Beverly his liver was malfunctioning. His skin too, changed from sickly green to wan yellow. The venom was obviously attacking his organs one by one. Frustrated by her inability to help in any way, all Beverly could do was search her memory for all the old remedies. Unlike most of her colleagues who put all their faith in modern medicine, Beverly had a background of her Grandmother's teachings. The woman had been a healer and she taught Beverly all she knew about the pharmacology of plants, including herbs and roots, the history of folklore where it pertained to medicine and all the age old remedies for all sorts of situations. It not only made Beverly a better Doctor, but a rarity and an oddity amongst her peers. Faced with Jean-Luc's slow, inexorable deterioration, Beverly put her mind to the task. It was nearly an entire day before she felt she might have an answer. Leaving Jean-Luc, she went into the thick bushland searching for a fungus she could only hope would be there.
Hours went by and she fretted over her worry and need to return but she kept searching. With night approaching she had given up. She decided to search again the next day. In the dim light she made her way down the side of a steep, densely wooded hill and she had almost reached the bottom. She placed her feet carefully, but the ground was unstable and it gave way. Instinctively Beverly shot her hand out to grab a tree, but the bark was slick with rain. She tore her nails as her fingers slid across the tree and she fell on her backside. Fortunately she didn't slide far. She careered into another tree, knocking the wind out of her. She took a moment to gather herself before she gave her body a cursory look. She was lucky, sustaining nothing but a few scrapes and bruises. She was about to get to her feet when she glanced down at the overturned soil and saw a flash of white. Not daring to breathe, she carefully moved the soil to reveal a bulbous, thick node of fungus. It was exactly what she'd been looking for.
She didn't take all of it, ever prudent, she saved some in case she needed more. Using her phaser, she cleanly cut the node from the parent growth. Now she faced the perilous task of retracing her steps back to the beach in the dark.
She stumbled frequently adding to her collection of cuts and contusions, but even though she fell, she protected the fungus carefully. It was close to dawn when she finally made it back to the tent. Having not slept properly for days, she was unsteady with exhaustion. All she could do was check on Jean-Luc before she fell asleep beside him. She didn't notice his breathing was laboured.

 

 

Her sleep was deep and dreamless and very much needed. Several hours passed before she rose from her deep sleep to begin to dream. She smiled as, in her dream, Jean-Luc was in the bathroom of his quarters on the Enterprise. They had made love and showered together afterwards. Beverly had gone back to bed while Jean-Luc brushed his teeth. As she listened to him, the sound of gargling came from the steamy room, making her laugh. It was so blissfully domestic. Who would've thought she would ever hear Captain Jean-Luc Picard do something so mundane as gargle. She lay in the bed, the amusement lingering, but gradually her smile faded as the gargling continued. She frowned and called out,
"Enough, Jean-Luc, your throat must be clean by now."
He didn't reply and the gargling continued. There was something tickling the back of her mind, a vague feeling that something was wrong, but Beverly couldn't put her finger on what it was. Still the gargling persisted, but, as Beverly listened, she finally began to realise it didn't sound quite right. She moved to get out of bed, but her legs were caught somehow in the blankets. At first she was merely irritated, pulling at the blankets while trying to see into the bathroom, but when she couldn't free her legs she kicked angrily only to find it made things worse. The more she struggled to free herself, the more tangled she became and all the while the gargling, which had become a wet gurgling, continued louder and louder.
Panic set in as not only could she not free herself, but the persistent feeling that something was wrong clamoured in her mind. Desperately she fought with the blankets shouting in fear and frustration to no avail and it was a particularly savage kick that finally woke her, yelling and calling Jean-Luc's name. She sat up suddenly and grabbed her foot as pain lanced through her toes. It was then that she realised she had actually kicked Jean-Luc. It was light outside, however she had no idea what time it was, or how long she'd been asleep. She was about to examine Jean-Luc's lower leg when she suddenly understood why she had dreamed as she had. With every laboured breath, Jean-Luc was making a hideous gurgling sound. Alarmed, Beverly put her ear to his chest and listened, scowling as the sound of the fluid in his lungs rattled ominously. Being as gentle as she could, Beverly rolled Jean-Luc on his side and began, with cupped hands, to pummel his back soundly. He moaned loudly as he woke. Beverly couldn't see his face, but she felt his body tense. Over the sound of her pounding hands she asked desperately,
"Can you hear me, Jean-Luc?"
Unable to talk, he moaned again and slowly nodded. Heat rose from him in waves as he struggled to breathe.
"You have fluid in your lungs and it's making it hard for you to take an unobstructed breath. By pounding your back like this, I'm trying to loosen the fluid so you can cough it up."
Jean-Luc nodded his understanding, then looked at his damaged hand. He whimpered softly and held it up. Beverly glanced at it and sighed.
"I know it must hurt and it looks terrible, but it's healing, my love."
He whimpered again, then suddenly his body tensed and heaved as he was wracked by wet coughing. He coughed so hard he saw stars as he couldn't get his breath. Beverly cupped her hand under his chin and lifted his head, saying firmly,
"That's it, Jean-Luc, get as much up as you can."
Fluid dribbled from his open mouth as he continued to hack painfully. Slowly the coughing fit subsided, leaving Jean-Luc sweating and gasping. Beverly placed two fingers on the right of his back and tapped them, listening carefully. She repeated the action on the other side before nodding with satisfaction.
"You've moved some of it and what's left is in the upper lungs. If I can get you to sit up and bend over, I might be able to help you shift what's left."
He groaned softly, unwilling to make the effort, but Beverly was insistent. By constant urging and tugging, she succeeded in getting Jean-Luc into a sitting position. Then, holding his hand up in front of him, he bowed his back. Beverly settled behind him and proceeded to pound his exposed back again. It took fifteen minutes before Jean-Luc had another coughing fit. When it was over he was lightheaded and very weak.
Having dealt with the crisis, Beverly now had to address his temperature. Gently taking his shoulders, she eased Jean-Luc down onto the blanket. As she moved around him, she said lightly,
"Now, my love, I'm going to take you to the stream."
Obviously confused, Jean-Luc managed to whisper,
"Too far."
Beverly smiled to herself and put her mouth near his ear.
"I've moved the camp, Jean-Luc. We're at the beach now."
He closed his eyes and shook his head. His lips moved but Beverly couldn't hear what he said, so she asked him to repeat it while she put her ear near his mouth.
"Can't defend..."
She understood. With a gentle squeeze of his upper arm, she tried to put his concerns aside.
"We're well situated, I put us amongst the boulders near the stream. The proximity alarms have been set, we're well above the high tide mark and the boulders provide protection, they hide us well and give us warmth at night. And we have a fresh water source nearby. I think we can defend this quite well."
Jean-Luc was struggling to stay awake. He concentrated and managed to ask,
"Escape route?"
"Through the boulders we can go back inland or either side of this headland. And of course we can always retreat into the sea to make our way to the next cove."
"Is the object hidden?"
A chill passed through the Doctor.
"Yes."
He had to admit, she seemed to have thought of everything. In his mind he smiled, expecting nothing less. Outwardly he just nodded. Beverly, satisfied she had met with his approval, stood and gripped the corners of the blanket. As she began to pull, she said cheerfully,
"Now you just relax and soon you won't be so hot. Then I'll bring you back to the tent where I will make something I think will make you feel better."
Holding his wrist to keep his hand still, Jean-Luc managed to look up at Beverly and summon a small smile. He whispered,
"Thank you."
But Beverly didn't hear him. She did, however correctly lip-read him. She smiled down at him as he closed his eyes in sleep and said gently,
"You're welcome, my love."
She felt optimistic for the first time in days. Little did she know that would soon change.

 

 

Jean-Luc remained asleep right through his trip to the stream and the journey back to the tent. Beverly settled him and smiled, it was the first time he'd slept, rather than be unconscious for some days. While she had the time, Beverly shaved the node of fungus, added water and set it to boil. As she waited, she treated her scrapes and cuts, wary of infection. Once the water had begun to boil she lowered the heat to simmer her brew, watching carefully. After about five minutes the clear water suddenly turned yellow. Beverly immediately removed the container from the heat and set it aside to cool. In the meantime she tore one of Jean-Luc's shirts into rags. Having waited, Beverly tested the concoction with her little finger and nodded. She poured a quantity into a cup and then gently shook her lover.
"Jean-Luc, wake up."
He roused reluctantly, softly moaning. His eyes opened a little and he frowned.
"Huh?"
Easing her hand under his head, Beverly lifted his head, saying carefully,
"I have something I want you to drink. Can you sit up a little?"
He opened his eyes a bit more to see Beverly's other hand held a cup. With her help, he sat up, his undamaged hand going to his head. Beverly gripped his shoulder and asked,
"Do you feel dizzy?"
Jean-Luc nodded as he screwed his eyes shut. Beverly gently pressed the cup to his lips.
"I know you don't feel well, Jean-Luc, but I think this might make you feel a lot better."
His hand left his head and took the cup. It was trembling so badly, Beverly had to keep her grip on the cup to steady it. Jean-Luc took a sip of the tepid liquid and grimaced. Expecting this, Beverly urged him to drink more.
"Ignore the taste, Jean-Luc."
He was going to refuse. Not only was the liquid vile to the taste, but he felt so nauseous he didn't want to drink anything. Beverly anticipated this. As Jean-Luc began to shake his head, Beverly said,
"Jean-Luc, you're very sick and I have limited recourses with which to help you. Now I know you trust me, so believe me when I tell you that you have to drink all of this brew."
He nodded, but still hesitated. Knowing he had to drink it was one thing. Doing it was another. Keeping his eyes closed, he took a deep breath and held it while tipping the cup and drinking as fast as he could.
Just as the last mouthful went down he gagged and it came back up into his mouth. It took all his control to swallow it again. Once it was in his stomach, Jean-Luc opened his mouth, bowed his head and regulated his breathing, struggling to keep from vomiting. Beverly could do nothing but watch and wait. Eventually the nausea settled a bit and Jean-Luc was able to relax somewhat. He lifted his head and asked ruefully,
"What was that?"
Pleased that his voice was a little stronger, Beverly smiled and looked into the now empty cup.
"It was something I remembered my Grandmother told me about. I found a fungus she called yellow cow and I cooked it in some water until the water turned yellow. The liquid will help heal damaged internal organ tissue."
Although Jean-Luc's eyes were still bright and glassy with fever, Beverly still saw concern in them.
"I have damaged organs?"
Beverly nodded slowly.
"Yes, I'm afraid you have. The venom got into your body and wreaked havoc."
Jean-Luc's eyes strayed to the cup, worry wrinkling his brow.
"What if it doesn't work?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, Jean-Luc, but I have every reason to believe Nanna's remedy will work. If I didn't, I never would've used it."
He was about to say more when Beverly gently pushed his shoulder, easing down onto the blanket.
"Rest now, Jean-Luc. Give the medicine time to work."
Jean-Luc lay down, but worry dogged him and it wasn't his current state of health that concerned him, it was the Cardassians. Beverly was looking elsewhere when Jean-Luc gently placed his hand on her arm. It startled her; she'd been expecting Jean-Luc to drift off to sleep fairly rapidly.
"Have you been monitoring the communicator?"
"Yes." She nodded. "But I haven't heard anything."
She watched as Jean-Luc worried. To cheer him, Beverly said softly,
"They might not come, who knows, we might end up bored stiff and itching to leave."
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"I hope you're right, but I doubt it, mon coeur. They will come and we have to be prepared."
Beverly looked down at Jean-Luc's good hand, resting on her arm. She sighed and tilted her head.
"I don't know what else we can do, Jean-Luc. You have to be near cold water, at least until your fever breaks and even then, I don't know that we could find a better place. Unlike the previous site, we're well hidden here and it's defendable."
Jean-Luc was tiring, but pressed on.
"I'm sure you chose well, Beverly, I'm just trying to make sure all contingencies are covered."
Smiling, Beverly gently brushed her fingers over his brow.
"I know, but you should rest now. Leave the worrying to me."
She was right, after all what was the point of worrying; there was nothing he could do. And he was tired, bone tired, nauseous and in considerable pain. He allowed his head to rest on the blanket and closed his eyes. He didn't notice when sleep claimed him. Beverly sighed as she saw his body relax and his breathing even out. She picked up one of the rags and dipped it in the brew, saturating it. She then began to bathe Jean-Luc's raw hand.

 

 

 

The first indication that he was improving came just after dawn the following day. Twice during the remainder of the previous day and three times during the night, Beverly had dragged Jean-Luc to the stream to cool him. Snatching sleep when she could, Beverly was still tired when a calling seabird woke her. She instinctively reached for Jean-Luc and, as her hand touched his brow she gasped as she registered his cooler skin. She sat up and placed the flat of her palm against his cheek, trying to keep her excitement at bay. Her touch, though gentle, woke Jean-Luc but, instead of opening his eyes, he lifted his good hand and covered Beverly's where it rested on his face.
She smiled and said softly,
"Hey."
He opened his eyes, but said nothing. He was still too warm, but the savage heat was gone from his skin and she noted his eyes were not so glassy. She eased her hand from under his and busied herself by preparing another batch of medicine. Jean-Luc was content to watch her silently until a need made itself known. He frowned and softly cleared his throat. Beverly turned to him and asked,
"How do you feel?"
His voice was a low rumble.
"Better."
Beverly caught the note of caution in his voice and moved closer.
"What is it?"
He hesitated, then said with embarrassment,
"I..um..I need to..."
Understanding immediately, Beverly gave his shoulder a quick squeeze.
"No problem, just wait a moment."
She turned and got up to fetch something and was back in seconds.
"Here."
It was a bowl and Jean-Luc smiled his thanks. He said nothing as Beverly assisted him to sit up, but when she began to help him to his knees, he said softly,
"I think I can manage."
Beverly smiled and turned, giving him some privacy. He urinated slowly and winced at the pain it caused. When he was finished he put the bowl down and slowly lay back down, feeling sightly giddy. He frowned in embarrassment when Beverly picked up the bowl and inspected the contents. It was her long sigh that made him put aside his discomfit and ask,
"What?"
Beverly looked up and smiled, but he could see disappointment in her eyes.
"You still have blood in your urine. Not as much as you have had, but I was hoping to see it clear."
"It hurt when I passed it."
Beverly nodded sympathetically.
"In your back?"
"Yes." He nodded.
Beverly sighed again.
"It's your kidneys, Jean-Luc, they've been damaged."
The water began to boil and Beverly moved to the heater to turn it down. She then left the tent, disposed of the urine and washed the bowl. When she came back inside, Jean-Luc was sitting up and examining his hand. Beverly sat beside the heater, watching the brew. After a while Jean-Luc asked,
"Will it heal completely?"
Beverly kept her voice soft as she said,
"If we can get to a medical facility reasonably soon, the prognosis is excellent."
He turned his hand over and attempted to move his fingers. Beverly saw by his expression that it hurt. He said conversationally,
"And if we don't?"
It was hard to talk to Jean-Luc like this. She had to rely on her Doctor's persona to deliver the bad news.
"The skin will regrow, but there will be nerve damage as well as structural damage. I doubt you'll have the full use of it unless I can treat it properly."
Like Beverly, Jean-Luc had retreated behind his professional mask. The water took on a yellowish hue and Beverly took the container off the heat. Beverly cast an eye at Jean-Luc and his detached expression as he studied his hand worried her. He was never a good patient at the best of times and Beverly knew only too well he would ignore his injuries if he thought he was needed. The trouble was, if the Cardassians did come, they would both have to be prepared to either fight or leave and to do that, Jean-Luc needed both his hands. Beverly closed her eyes as she realised what further damage he would do in forcing himself to use the hand and the pain it would cause. And there was nothing, short of tying him up, that she could do to stop him.
As she waited for the liquid to cool she watched him and saw the resignation settle over him. Beverly lowered her head and said nothing, but she felt despair keenly.
Jean-Luc wrinkled his nose when Beverly gave him the full cup. He gave her a look that said, "Do I have to?" To which she merely nodded. He sighed, took a deep breath and gulped down the brew. This time when he'd finished it he clamped his mouth shut and breathed steadily through his nose. Nausea rose and threatened to make him vomit, but he refused to allow it and instead concentrated on his breathing. Minutes passed and Beverly waited patient, knowing what he was going through. When he finally lifted his head he was sweating and pale, but had won the battle. He lay down, but didn't close his eyes. Beverly moved closer to him and said softly,
"Go to sleep, my love."
He shook his head, saying gruffly,
"I've had enough sleep."
Beverly was dismayed. She needed to bathe his hand again and wanted him to sleep through it to prevent him from feeling too much pain. However it seemed he was determined to stay awake. With no other choice, Beverly adopted a professional tone.
"I need to bathe your hand. It'll be uncomfortable for you."
Jean-Luc nodded stoically, but Beverly saw him clench his teeth. Wishing to get it over with, Beverly started immediately.
She had to admire him. Despite the excruciating pain it caused he was silent and still throughout the procedure. She'd seen him do this before and wondered where he found the strength. The only outward sign that he was experiencing high levels of pain was sweat that covered his body and ran down his face. When it was over, Beverly got a clean rag and some fresh water and proceeded to gently wash him. Jean-Luc closed his eyes and concentrated on relaxing as Beverly cared for him. Reaching his feet, Beverly broke the silence by saying softly,
"Nearly done."
"Thank you, Beverly." He whispered. Beverly thought he might drift off, but he opened his eyes and again inspected his hand. Beverly wished he would stop. The way he looked at his hand, as if it was nothing but an inconvenient lump of meat, worried her.
"It seems less...angry."
Finished washing him, Beverly replied as she wrung out the rag and went to the door to dispose of the water.
"Yes, the fungus is healing it just as it's healing your organs."
He turned down the corners of his mouth in thought. Idly he asked,
"How long until the skin re-grows?"
Beverly had her back to Jean-Luc and closed her eyes at how dispassionately he'd asked his question. She had to struggle to keep her voice steady.
"Oh, not too long. The infection is almost gone...I'd say there should be a thin layer in a few days, certainly no more than a week, especially if I use salt water again. That, and some sunshine will work wonders."
In the same disinterested tone he asked,
"And the nails?"
Beverly turned and went back inside.
"I doubt they'll regrow unless you have regen treatments."
"I see."
Beverly went to Jean-Luc and knelt beside him. Carefully she said,
"I can completely restore your hand if we leave immediately, Jean-Luc."
With his eyes still on his hand, Jean-Luc absently shook his head.
"We can't leave, you know that. Not yet, anyway."
Knowing arguing would be pointless, Beverly tried another tack.
"Okay, but what about getting the object back to Command? Surely the sooner they have it, the better."
He lifted his eyes and finally gave Beverly his undivided attention.
"That's true, but it would be disastrous if we were captured because we tried to leave too soon. Think of it this way. Command doesn't know the object exists...it's not as if they're waiting for it. To do our jobs properly, we have to ensure we don't get captured and that we get the object to Federation space. There's no timeframe in that, Beverly, we just have to do it the best way we can."
Beverly's eyes left his to stare at his hand. Frowning deeply she whispered,
"But your hand, Jean-Luc."
She was surprised when his voice softened. The Captain was replaced by her lover.
"It can wait, my love. There are more important things to consider."
She was grateful he'd chosen those words as Jean-Luc, not the Captain. Still, knowing he was right didn't make the situation any more palatable. Feeling vaguely angry, Beverly snorted and gave Jean-Luc a look of exasperation. He smiled and shook his head, saying softly,
"As long as we're together, we'll get through this."
His gentle words soothed Beverly and she sighed.
"I guess."
Jean-Luc tilted his head, his eyebrows lowered.
"Do you doubt me?"
Beverly immediately shook her head.
"Oh no, Jean-Luc, not at all. It's just..."
He waited patiently.
"It's just...I'm worried about you, that's all."
Smiling, Jean-Luc gently cupped her chin with his good hand.
"You needn't be, my love, I'm..."
"Fine, I know." Although Beverly was smiling, there was a hint of sadness in her eyes. Jean-Luc saw it, but didn't react. He knew Beverly was worried, but his major concern wasn't his health, it was avoiding the Cardassians and getting the object back to Command and to do that, he needed Beverly to put aside the Doctor and become a fighter. To that end he asked crisply,
"How much charge have the phasers got left?"
Caught unawares, Beverly blinked several times before she answered.
"Ah...I don't know."
Jean-Luc kept his voice even when he said,
"Well, can you check them please?"
He sat up and closed his eyes briefly as a wave of dizziness washed over him. When he opened them, Beverly was back at his side. He waved away her look of concern and asked briskly,
"How much?"
"One phaser has an almost full charge, the other, seventy-eight percent."
Jean-Luc nodded, silently calculating how long the weapons could be used in a fire-fight.
He was still thinking as he said absently,
"No doubt we'll be facing a superior force; we have to find a way to conserve our weapons."
He looked up at Beverly speculatively.
"Do you know how to make man traps?"
Beverly nodded cautiously.
"Yes...but I've never actually made one. I was taught how at the Academy, but I've never had to use that knowledge."
"Until now. Beverly, I want you to construct as many traps as you can amongst the boulders. I'll help as best I can. They must be completely hidden...and deadly. I'm not aiming to inflict injury, I aim to kill."
It was a very sober Beverly who nodded. She knew Jean-Luc wouldn't kill unless he absolutely had to, so she didn't argue. Jean-Luc continued and, as he quietly spoke, Beverly realised just how difficult the coming battle was going to be.
"Also, I want you to make weapons. Spears, clubs, rocks...anything you can find or make to defend ourselves."
All business, Beverly gave a curt nod.
"Understood. How long do I have do you think?"
"I'm not sure, but it will be sooner rather than later. The more prepared we are, the better."
Beverly stood, glanced out the open door, then looked down at her lover.
"I'll start right away. Will you be okay on your own for a while?"
He nodded.
"Yes."
She went to the door, but hesitated at the threshold. To Beverly's back, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Go, Beverly, I'll be fine."
He saw her shoulders straighten before she disappeared into the sunshine.

 

 

 

Yerok smiled at what he saw. Together, the crew had worked well, Yerok included, as they cut down trees, gathered vines and extracted gum from plants. It had taken two days and nights, but their efforts paid off. The three craft lay side-by-side, each big enough for three crew, weapons and cargo. Two paddles had been fashioned for each craft and one spare. Space was at a premium, so they were only going to take enough equipment to get by and that meant leaving their shelters behind. The rest they packed up and stowed in the boats. If they stayed away long enough, they would have to rely on making do with temporary shelters made from native vegetation. It was something each of them had done many times before.
Feeling that they were as ready as they were going to be, Yerok stooped and gripped the bow of the nearest boat. The others followed suit.
"To the shore."
It required an enormous effort on behalf of everyone. The boats, though not big, were heavy and it took considerable work to pull them through the thick bush to get to the nearest beach.
Hours after they'd begun, they finally reached the shore and collapsed, sweating and exhausted.
Yerok allowed his crew...and himself...only fifteen minutes to recover before he stood and roused them. He was inordinately pleased when he heard no mutters of discontent. They dragged the boats into the water and pointed them out to sea. Before they launched, Yerok said forcefully,
"It will be dangerous going through the surf. Try to time your attempt between the bigger waves."
He looked over the watching faces and nodded.
"Good luck!"
As one, all three boats were shoved forward, the crews jumping in quickly and paddling with deep, measured strokes. The wicked undertow sucked them out rapidly, carrying them through the shore break. With the larger and far more dangerous back break in front of them, they paddled furiously. They had become spread out and one boat lagged behind. The first two boats timed their run well and managed to make it through the big surf, but the third became caught in a sudden rip. Carried out, then parallel to the shore, the crew struggled to bring the boat around to face the oncoming waves. The wave that got them was enormous. It swelled up, the crest feathering in the strong breeze. The boat, now broadside was smashed by the wall of rushing water. It rolled, spilling its cargo of people and goods. Caught in the turbulent, roiling waters, people, equipment and the boat rolled over and over. Of the three crew, one man came down on the boat head first, breaking his neck and dying instantly, one went under and never resurfaced and the last was smashed onto the sharp rocks to die of blood loss amongst the debris of the shattered boat.
Unable to help their comrades, the remaining two crews continued to paddle doggedly until they were in calmer waters. It was only then that Yerok permitted himself to think.
"Now we are six."
He had no idea how many of the enemy his crew would face, but one thing was certain. They would fight until the last man. None of them looked back as they set course for their target.

 

 

 

The second dose of Beverly's brew was having the desired effect. With the nausea almost gone and the pain at manageable levels, Jean-Luc slowly got to his feet. He still felt lightheaded and very weak, but he was determined to help Beverly in any way he could.
Stepping outside he was immediately saturated by the pouring rain. He lifted his head and closed his eyes, allowing the water to wet his face. It ran down his stubbled cheeks and dribbled off his chin, to run down his bare torso. Despite the teeming rain it was very hot and Jean-Luc idly wondered if the rain would cool him at all. With a shrug, he went in search of Beverly.
The red head had gathered stout sticks, vines and rocks to make two man traps. Even though she'd never actually made one before, she well remembered how to do it from her training.
The first was cleverly hidden between three boulders. Two of the huge rocks were close together with a narrow passage between them. The third boulder sat on top, creating a tunnel effect. The trap was constructed on the seaward side, out of sight to any approaching enemy. Beverly had woven the vines into a net which held the rocks. It was suspended above the sand by the use of the sticks and triggered by a taut vine, hidden in the sand. Beverly was just finishing the second trap when Jean-Luc found her. He was guided to her by her soft cursing. It made him smile as he stood in the shadows of the boulders and took the opportunity to watch.
Though she was absorbed in what she was doing, Beverly's well-honed senses told her she was being observed. She swung around in a crouch, whipping her phaser from her pocket. Jean-Luc's hands went up as he said softly,
"It's all right, Beverly, it's just me."
He moved slowly out of the shadows and Beverly relaxed. She straightened and stuffed her weapon back into her pocket. Frowning, she stepped quickly to Jean-Luc and raised her hand to feel his forehead, saying curtly,
"You shouldn't be out of bed."
Jean-Luc allowed a brief touch before he took her hand and guided it away from his face. He knew Beverly's reaction was partly due to the fright he'd given her, so he made sure his voice was gentle as he said,
"I assure you, Beverly, I'm fine."
Still unsettled, Beverly said in clipped tones,
"I'll be the judge of that."
Wishing to deflect her, Jean-Luc looked past her and gave an approving nod.
"You've done well."
Knowing exactly what he was doing, Beverly shook her head.
"Oh no you don't. Go back to the tent, Jean-Luc. You need to rest."
His patience began to wear thin, but he remained calm. Summoning a smile he said quietly,
"I don't think so. Now, have you made anymore of these?" He pointed up at the trap.
Beverly was growing angry. She gritted her teeth and dug in her heels.
"Jean-Luc, you are in no fit state to be out of bed! Go back to the..."
Jean-Luc's eyes darkened and the muscles of his jaw tensed. When he spoke his voice was deep and soft, carrying unmistakable anger.
"Doctor, in the very near future a force of Cardassians is going to arrive. We have to find a way to defend ourselves and to do that requires both of us to prepare as best we can."
Beverly was used to Jean-Luc adopting this kind of attitude with her. Countless times he had put duty ahead of his own well-being. They had had this particular argument in the past, and they would have it again. Being both stubborn, it often meant a protracted conflict. Beverly, as CMO, had the power to order Jean-Luc off duty, but, knowing him as she did, rarely imposed such edicts. For Jean-Luc, he knew Beverly wouldn't force him to accede and took full advantage. He looked into Beverly's eyes and she saw Jean-Luc, not her Captain. Quietly, his anger dissipating, Jean-Luc said,
"You know I'm right, my love."
With a shake of her head, Beverly acknowledged his victory, but it was grudging. She glared at him, saying,
"Jesus, Jean-Luc, I hate it when you do that!"
He was going to ask just what he'd done, but decided to let it rest. He would ask later, when Beverly had calmed down. He stepped past the angry woman and inspected the trap. Beverly looked over her shoulder and, while he was distracted, ran her eyes over him. Dressed in nothing but a pair of shorts, Beverly noted his weight loss, his pallor and the way he carried his injured hand near his chest. Her anger subsided as she stepped to his shoulder and gently felt his forehead.
"You're still hot."
He ignored her comment to say,
"Have you made anymore of these?"
"You should go to the stream to cool yourself."
He sighed and turned his head to look at her.
"Beverly..."
The Doctor closed her eyes and thinned her lips.
"Damn you, Jean-Luc." She then sighed and gave up. "Okay, yes, I've made one other."
He nodded curtly.
"Show me."
They walked in silence through the jumbled boulders, Beverly leading. They had to stoop to navigate the short tunnel. As they stepped back into daylight, Beverly pointed upwards. Jean-Luc straightened and looked up. His smile and approving nod made Beverly feel a sense of satisfaction. Her Captain set high standards for everyone who served under him. Beverly was gratified she had met his benchmark and she was also relieved he made no exceptions to that high level just because they'd become lovers. She knew instinctively if he was impressed, it must be good. His knowing eyes traced the vine trigger to its hiding spot and nodded again.
"This is remarkable, Beverly. Are you sure you've never made one of these before?"
Beverly looked over her construction and sighed.
"Oh I'm sure. Doctors don't have much cause to build man traps. Especially those meant to kill. We're mostly in the business of saving lives, not taking them."
Jean-Luc noted the hint of bitterness in her voice and sighed. Gently he replied,
"We have no choice."
Beverly's voice was flat.
"I know."
Casting aside the awkwardness, Jean-Luc said crisply,
"Have you made any weapons?"
Beverly shook her head and put aside her misgivings.
"No, but I have gathered some suitable sticks and rocks. I left them in a pile at the back of the dunes."
Jean-Luc offered a conciliatory smile.
"Very well, I'll see if I can fashion some weapons with what you've found. You carry on making traps."
He turned and took three steps before Beverly's soft voice stopped him.
"May I make a suggestion?"
He turned back to her, one eyebrow raised.
"You sit in the stream while you work."
His eyes hardened, but on reflection, it was a concession he was willing to make. He gave a curt nod and left. Beverly smiled to herself and mused.
"I'd call that a draw, Captain."
She turned and made her way back to the nearly finished trap.

The rain kept pelting down for the remainder of the day. As the sun began to set, Beverly returned, finding Jean-Luc sat beside the stream, a long, straight stick held between his feet as his good hand used a sharp shell fragment to shave a deadly point. By the cuts and nicks on his thigh Beverly correctly deduced he had found it difficult to manage the task. He had persevered though. Beside him were four finished spears, two cloth slings and two clubs.
Tired, Beverly sat heavily beside him and dangled her feet in the stream. Not stopping what he was doing, Jean-Luc cast a glance at Beverly and softly grunted.
"You should get cleaned up, I'm nearly finished here."
Beverly looked down at her hands and shook her head. They were nicked, grazed and her nails were ragged. She turned them over, made a fist, then relaxed. Wistfully she said,
"My Nanna used to say I had nice hands."
Jean-Luc cursed softly as the shell slipped off the wet wood and sliced into his thigh. At Beverly soft enquiry he shook his head, letting her know he was all right. He went back to what he was doing, but not before glancing at Beverly's hands.
"I like your hands."
"That's not quite the same thing." She said with mild amusement.
Noting the slight trace of sadness in her voice, Jean-Luc stopped what he was doing and gently took one of her hands in his uninjured one. He studied her hand for a moment, then looked up and into her eyes.
"Capable hands, my love, healer's hands."
With a soft snort, Beverly directed her gaze down and shook her head.
"Once, perhaps, but not now."
Jean-Luc frowned deeply.
"The damage is only superficial, Beverly. You can easily repair it."
Still with her eyes lowered, Beverly nodded.
"That's true, but I'm afraid my hands won't ever regain the beauty of my youth."
Wishing to chase away her melancholy, Jean-Luc said with mock seriousness,
"I used to have hair when I was young."
He was gratified when Beverly chortled. She lifted her eyes and tilted her head.
"How do you feel?"
He sobered and frowned.
"Remarkably good, all things considered."
He sat still, watching as Beverly gently placed her hand on his brow. What she felt made her smile. Jean-Luc's eyebrows went up in silent enquiry.
"Much better. You are still a little hot, but compared with what you've been through, it's a vast improvement."
He smiled and nodded towards the stream.
"Your advice to sit in the water was good. I actually felt my temperature drop."
"Then why are you sitting here, out of the stream?"
Jean-Luc lowered his head and looked through his lashes.
"My skin started to wrinkle."
Beverly smiled, barely containing her laughter.
"Oh well, we can't have that, can we. Captains aren't allowed to wrinkle."
Grumbling softly, Jean-Luc picked up the spear and settled it on his thigh. He clamped the balls of his feet around the shaft, picked up the shell fragment and began to shave the wood. Beverly watched appreciatively until Jean-Luc suddenly yelped and straightened his legs. In obvious agony, He tried to reach for his feet. Beverly grabbed his rigid leg, asking loudly,
"What's happening?"
Through clenched teeth, Jean-Luc ground out,
"Cramp!"
Both of his feet were twisted, the muscles and ligaments contorted and stiff. Cupping her hand tightly around the heel of one foot, Beverly grabbed the end and forced it straight. Jean-Luc gripped his knee with his good hand and yelled. Bending his foot upwards, Beverly kept her eyes on what she was doing as she said loudly,
"Lie down and try to relax!"
With his eyes screwed shut, Jean-Luc lay back as Beverly used the heel of her palm to keep pushing his foot up. The other hand massaged the instep. Gradually the muscles released and the foot loosened. Beverly immediately went to work on the other foot. Several minutes later, Jean-Luc slowly sat up, the cramps gone. He could feel residual pain in his feet and knew they would be very sore the next day, but he was greatly relieved to be free of the agony of only minutes before. He gently lifted one of Beverly's hands and said softly,
"Your hands, Beverly. Healer's hands. Strong, efficient and knowledgeable...yet also lover's hands, soft and tender. Never doubt them again, Beverly. I love your hands."
She lifted her free hand and gently ran her fingers from his brow to his whiskered chin. They shared a tender moment before Beverly said softly,
"It's nearly dark."
He nodded and sighed.
"I wish we had more daylight."
Beverly stood and helped Jean-Luc to his sore feet. They then picked up the finished weapons and walked slowly into the tent. Beverly got the med kit and repaired their many minor injuries before getting them both a light meal. Jean-Luc stoically bore the bathing of his hand, then Beverly went to the stream to wash. Tired, they spooned on the blanket and, listening to the rain belting down on the roof, drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 

Yerok almost lost more crew landing on the island. Both boats were pummelled by the surf but, by some miracle, made it to the beach intact. There was however, damage to some people. One man sustained a broken shoulder and another, a broken hand. Their first aid kit was rudimentary, lacking an osteo fuser; the designated officer unable to mend the bones. Instead he immobilised the afflicted areas and strapped them as best he could. Yerok scowled, ruminating sourly,
"Those two will be ineffective! Now we are four."
One of the injured, a young man, went to Yerok as if he'd read the elderly man's mind. He stood respectfully, his arm in a sling.
"Sir?"
Yerok offered a smile and inclined his head, encouraging the man to speak.
"I can still fire my weapon."
As if to demonstrate, the crewman crossed his body with his free hand, grabbed the butt of his disruptor and drew it quickly. Yerok had to admit, though in considerable pain, his hand was steady. Placing a paternal hand on the man's shoulder, Yerok gave a nod.
"Indeed you can. Join your brothers and sisters, we have much to do."
Deploying his scanner, Yerok frowned over the screen before saying to his gathered crew,
"Spread out and begin to search. If you find them, call for back up; do not engage the enemy on your own. This island isn't large; we will meet at the western shore and then sweep back again. Any questions?"
A woman stepped forward. Yerok nodded to her.
"Once we've dealt with any resistance, do we search for the object, or wait for you?"
Yerok's smile was cold. He admired her conviction that they would win any fight. He wasn't so sure, nevertheless, he nodded sagely.
"We will search together."
The solidarity he implied bolstered the crew. With renewed enthusiasm they turned and left the beach, disappearing one-by-one into the thick scrub.

 

 

The search was completed in under four hours. It was a dispirited and angry crew that reformed back at the boats. They had to wait ten minutes or so for Yerok to emerge from the bush. His stooped form strode across the sand, knowing full well his crew were dangerously mutinous. Before he had reached the boats an angry voice shouted,
"They're not here!"
Calmly, Yerok turned and faced his crew, mindful to keep his tone even.
"I said we may not find them immediately. This is only one of two or three islands they could be hiding on."
The same man spat,
"And I suppose we'll lose more men going to the next island? Just how many of us do you think will be left by the time we do find them?"
Yerok's eyes glittered ominously. Keeping his voice calm, he said softly,
"What is your name?"
"Kenak."
Nodding and summoning a cold smile, Yerok stepped forward and, without warning, slapped the man across his face. His head snapped back and he glared at Yerok, but made no move to retaliate. The old Cardassian's eyes slid from the defiant man and swept over the other four.
"Would you give up so soon? We are Obsidian Order! Have you no pride?"
Kenak said quietly,
"Not all of us has given the Obsidian Order as much as you, Yerok. Most of us still remember what life was like before."
Yerok's piercing gaze settled on the man standing in front of him. To his credit, Kenak didn't flinch.
"Is that some kind of excuse?"
Kenak shook his head and smiled.
"Not at all, we just want you to know that we're not as...devoted...to the Obsidian Order as you. Yes, we want redemption for both Cardassia and ourselves, but we might not be so eager to die in the process as you."
Yerok smiled to himself, thinking coldly,
"If only you knew, you fool."
Outwardly he sighed.
"I see." He stepped past Kenak and addressed the others.
"Does it end here? Or are you willing to try again on the next island?"
Behind him, Kenak said carefully,
"We are willing to continue, Yerok, provided we don't lose any more of us."
The leader gave a nod.
"I understand; we should take more care. Has anybody found an easier way to leave the island?"
A handsome man, the one with the broken hand stepped forward.
"I think so." He turned and pointed with his bandaged hand.
"About half a kilometre that way is a sheltered beach; the surf is much smaller there. We shouldn't have any trouble getting through to open water."
Yerok nodded and smiled.
"Very well, we can drag the boats into the shallows and walk them to the other beach. Are we agreed?"
There were nods all round, so Yerok went to the nearest boat and gripped its bow.
"Shall we?"
It was a much happier group that followed his example.

 

 

 

Throughout the next day, Beverly and Jean-Luc continued to make weapons. Still it rained. The light breeze had died away, leaving in its wake an oppressive, stifling heat. The surf had flattened as if feeling lethargic; reduced to a sullen, oily swell. Overhead, dark, bruised clouds gathered, the air redolent with ozone. Like the previous day, Beverly returned to the tent near sundown to find Jean-Luc sitting in the stream, working on a knife. She was tired and felt listless, the insipid humidity draining her energy. Jean-Luc looked up and she could see by his eyes that he felt much the same. She dropped by his side in the stream and pushed her wet hair back and off her face.
"God, it's so damned hot!"
Jean-Luc nodded his agreement.
"I don't know which is worse, the heat or the humidity. One thing is certain though," He looked skyward, blinking in the teeming rain. "We're in for one hell of a storm."
Beverly looked up, shielding her eyes with her hand.
"It's been brewing for long enough. I just wish it would happen and blow all this humidity away."
Jean-Luc lowered his gaze and shook his head.
"Be careful what you wish for, Beverly. We're in a tropical region and I'm not sure what the weather can do. If it's like the tropical areas of Earth, we may encounter cyclones."
Scooping up some water in her hands, Beverly splashed her face.
"Well whatever it does, I hope it's sooner rather than later." She sighed and wiped at her eyes.
"I'm finding it really hard to work in these conditions."
She cast her eyes over the growing pile of spears, clubs, knives and slings that Jean-Luc had made. His eyes followed hers and he smiled.
"I found it easier to work while seated in the water."
Upon hearing that, Beverly felt his forehead. She smiled and asked,
"How are you feeling?"
He nodded, a small smile on his face.
"I'm fine."
Beverly shook her head and gently poked his shoulder.
"You'd say that no matter what, but..." She sighed. "I'll let you off this time."
He looked into her eyes and she saw his love for her. He said softly,
"You believe me?"
She smiled and nodded.
"I believe what I see and feel."
That brought a frown.
"But not what I say?"
With a shrug, Beverly offered a smile to ease his bruised feelings.
"Like I said, Jean-Luc, you always say you're fine, often when you're most certainly not fine at all."
He thought about that and nodded slowly.
"That may be so, but surely you must know that there are times when I simply have to carry on regardless. As Captain, I have a great responsibility to my crew and to my ship. I cannot give in to injury or illness."
Beverly gave a measure nod. Patiently she said,
"Of course I know that, but I would've thought that, now we're...intimate...you'd be a little more honest with me. Surely I deserve more than your stock answers to my questions?"
Realisation washed over Jean-Luc. He bowed his head and sighed.
"You must forgive me, Beverly, you're right, of course. It will take some time to change the habits of a lifetime."
Her soft chuckle made him smile.
"We have time, Jean-Luc. Now tell me, how are you?"
He grinned slyly.
"I thought you already knew."
Exasperated, Beverly punched his shoulder.
"Jean-Luc..."
He held up his good hand.
"Very well. I feel much better. I have more strength, although I do have to take frequent rests and I felt, for the first time in days, pangs of hunger this afternoon."
Beverly's face brightened.
"Oh good, did you eat?"
He nodded, but his voice carried a note of defeat.
"I did, but I didn't keep it down. I have, however, kept water down."
Beverly's face clouded, her eyes showing her concern. Softly she muttered,
"Damn." She bowed her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. Jean-Luc waited while she thought. Eventually she lifted her head and he saw she'd reached a decision.
"I think you could do with more of that fungus brew, but I've not much left of the node."
Tilting his head, Jean-Luc asked softly,
"Where did you find it?"
Beverly's head turned and Jean-Luc's eyes followed hers.
"To the north of our old campsite."
Jean-Luc pursed his lips thoughtfully.
"Well you can't go now, it's almost dark."
With a sigh, Beverly nodded.
"I know, but I really don't want to wait until tomorrow, you need it now."
Keeping his voice soft, Jean-Luc asked,
"What about the fungus you have left?"
Flicking the rain off her face, Beverly sighed.
"I can make a brew, but it really won't be that strong...and I certainly won't have enough to bathe your hand." She looked down at his injured hand which he carried near his chest. Suddenly standing, she said over her shoulder as she walked to the tent,
"I'll be right back."
Jean-Luc raised his eyebrows and turned down the corners of his mouth. True to her word, Beverly soon returned. In her hand was a palm beacon. She sat beside Jean-Luc and blew out a long breath.
"We might as well sleep outdoors tonight. It's stifling in the tent."
Before Jean-Luc could respond, Beverly took his wrist and brought his injured hand closer to her. She aimed the torch at it, inspecting it thoroughly. Satisfied, she turned it over, only to gasp in dismay. The palm and fingers were lacerated and oozing blood and serum. Knowing what was coming, Jean-Luc closed his eyes and sighed.
"What the hell have you done?!"
Patiently, Jean-Luc said,
"I couldn't work properly with one hand."
His tone irritated the Doctor. Testily she snapped,
"So you deliberately set about ruining all the healing you'd achieved? Jesus, Jean-Luc!"
He gently pulled his hand free and, when he spoke, there was resolve in his voice.
"I had no choice. We need weapons and I couldn't afford the luxury of nursing my hand, I had to use it."
Putting aside the amount of pain he must have endured, Beverly strove to keep calm.
"Okay, I can see that, but couldn't you have at least tried to protect it? Did you have to be so damned cavalier about it?"
Jean-Luc refrained from answering, instead casting his eyes out to the dark horizon and the unfamiliar stars. Knowing he had retreated from the discussion, Beverly snorted in annoyance. There were times, and this was one of them, that she could beat him senseless. They sat in brittle silence for a while before Beverly grabbed his good hand and tugged him to his feet. When she spoke, it was with resignation.
"Come on."
He went with her, but asked warily,
"Where are we going?"
Her reply was flat.
"To the sea."
The walk was short one, Jean-Luc mildly surprised when Beverly didn't stop, but walked into the listless waves. Side-by-side they waded into the water until it covered their knees. Beverly brought them to a halt and said emotionlessly,
"Sit."
Jean-Luc didn't particularly like her tone, but didn't protest. Obediently he sat, Beverly sinking to her knees beside him. He looked at her, waiting to see what she would do next. She did nothing, but spoke softly.
"Put your hand in the water."
He knew it would sting viciously so he braced himself. Wishing to do it quickly, he plunged his hand into the cool water and gritted his teeth as the pain surged through him. He felt Beverly's supporting hand on his shoulder.
"I know it hurts, Jean-Luc, but the salt in the water will help to clean your wounds and promote healing. We have to ward off infection. In this heat and high humidity bacteria flourish and, until I can get more of the fungus, this is the only thing I can think of to treat your hand, especially if you're going to keep abusing it."
He let the arch comment pass unnoticed. The stinging slowly abated and, as he sat in the water, he realised he could feel something touching the flesh of his hand. Quietly he said,
"Beverly, aim the light on my hand."
Alarmed by the tension in his voice, Beverly submerged the torch and shone its light over his hand. They both gasped at seeing a multitude of small fish, nibbling at the torn flesh. Jean-Luc jerked his hand out of the water, but Beverly grabbed his wrist and guided it back under. She couldn't see his face, but Beverly knew his eyebrow was raised in silent query. She quickly explained her actions.
"They are doing you a service, Jean-Luc. By removing the necrotic tissue they are promoting healing."
He grimaced at the sensation of lots of tiny mouths feeding off him. Beverly tilted the light a little so she could see his face. His expression made her say worriedly,
"Does it hurt?"
He shook his head and frowned.
"No, not really, but I can't say it's exactly a pleasant experience."
Patting his arm in sympathy, Beverly said softly,
"Well let them do their job, they're doing you a favour."
After about twenty minutes the fish drifted away, their work complete. At Beverly's urging, Jean-Luc lifted his hand from the water, allowing Beverly to shine the light on it as she examined it. Jean-Luc could see the edges of the lacerations were now clean and neat and, generally speaking, the hand looked battered and raw, but healthy. Beverly must have been happy with what she saw because all trace of her previous annoyance was gone when she said,
"Come on, we need to eat and get some rest. We can come back tomorrow night and do this again."
They rose out of the water and walked back to the tent. When Jean-Luc balked at the idea of eating, Beverly said carefully,
"At least try, Jean-Luc."
He sighed, his stomach muscles tender from all the vomiting he'd done over the past few days. He was going to argue, but common sense prevailed. He knew she was right. If he wanted to continue to work during the day; he needed strength and to get it he needed to eat. Resigned to his fate, he took a large breath, held it for a few seconds, then let it out slowly. To Beverly he said softly,
"As you wish."
Beverly had collected some fruits during her day and produced them after they had eaten a field ration each. They were only small, allowing her to stuff her pocket with them. She washed them in the stream and, with Jean-Luc by her side; they ate them in the darkness. The meal only stayed in Jean-Luc ten minutes. They were lying beside the stream when he suddenly struggled to his feet and lurched off into the blackness, doubled over, his undamaged hand clutching his stomach, his injured hand held near his mouth. Beverly rose to follow him, but he managed through clenched teeth,
"No, stay there."
Seeing someone vomit wasn't unusual for the Doctor, but Jean-Luc didn't see it that way. If he was going to lose the contents of his stomach, he wanted some privacy. Unfortunately he didn't get far enough away to not be heard. Beverly frowned worriedly as she listened to his distressed, strangled heaving. When he finally composed himself enough to return, he was weak and trembling, his voice rough.
While he was washing his mouth out, Beverly said quietly,
"Drink as much water as you can, Jean-Luc. If you can't eat, at least fill your stomach with water. It will help make you feel full and you won't dehydrate."
In silence Jean-Luc drank until he began to feel queasy. He left the stream and sat beside his lover, watching the stars in companionable quietude while his stomach settled. After a short time they stretched out beside the stream and slept.

 

 

 

The Cardassians reached the next island without mishap. It was growing dark as they made landfall so they located a well-hidden spot and settled down for the night, putting off their search until first light.
Yerok woke to find the sun just peeping over the flat horizon of the sullen sea. Sniffing the sodden air, he ignored the discomfort of his wet clothing and studied the dark purple clouds overhead.
Their passage across the sea had been made easier by the lack of waves; indeed, even the surf they'd expected on landing was non-existent. Something was brewing and Yerok knew it would arrive soon, he could sense it.
He quietly roused his crew and, after eating a light meal, they quickly set out to search the island. It was larger than the previous one and it took them almost the entire day to thoroughly scour it. On finding nothing, Yerok had to tell the crew that they would be spending the night there. That didn't go down well. Kenak was the main dissenter. Pugnaciously, he challenged Yerok, causing the others to gather behind him.
"We don't want to stay here, Yerok, we want to make it to the next island."
Keeping his tone reasonable, Yerok stated,
"It's over twelve kilometres across the strait. Have you been watching the weather? There is a storm brewing, don't tell me you want to be at sea, in those..." he pointed to the boats, though well made, were starting to show wear. "We need to stay here tonight and, if the storm hasn't hit by morning, strengthen the boats before we set off."
There was a murmur of agreement, but Kenak wasn't convinced. He stuck his prominent chin out and shook his head.
"If what you're saying is true, all the more reason why we should leave now."
Yerok couldn't believe Kenak's stupidity. He had to concentrate to keep his voice even.
"And be caught at sea when the storm breaks, in the dark, blind and helpless?"
Kenak shrugged, saying scornfully,
"If we do it your way, that might happen anyway. No one knows when the storm will hit."
Clasping his hands behind his back, Yerok rocked on his feet.
"True, but if we go tomorrow, at least it'll be in daylight and in stronger boats."
The growing tension was defused by a woman's calming voice.
"Yerok's right, Kenak. It makes more sense to wait."
Immediately, Yerok took advantage.
"Besides, Kenak, we can use time to find some food. I'm hungry and I know you are too."
Defeated, Kenak had the good grace to accede graciously. He bowed his head and smiled.
"Very well, Yerok, it will be as you wish."
In the ever-present rain, they split up, some to make shelters, the others to find food. Yerok sighed. It was going to be a long night.
The dawn brought with it even more oppressive heat, rain and severe humidity. There were grumbles of discontent among the crew as they ate a small meal of fruit before making repairs to the boats. When they had finished, they pulled the boats into the water and pointed them out to sea. Yerok scanned the horizon, their destination clearly visible, but even as he studied the island's profile, he kept an eye on the dark, brooding clouds above them. Kenak carefully observed Yerok, his own eyes warily assessing the gathering storm. He'd been the most enthusiastic about getting to the next island, but now that he'd seen what the weather was doing, he wasn't so sure. He left his boat and went to stand beside Yerok.
"Do you think we'll have time?"
The elderly man shrugged.
"I don't know. It has been threatening for some time now, but I have no idea when it will come."
Kenak's eyes narrowed in the pelting rain.
"I suppose we should take advantage of the flat seas."
Yerok nodded sagely.
"True, but do we really want to be at sea when the storm hits?"
"What is the alternative?" Asked Kenak bluntly. "We achieve nothing by waiting, and, as you said, we don't know how long that wait could be. The storm could break soon, or it could take days. I don't like it, but I think we should take the chance."
Yerok had arrived at the same conclusion, however he still felt uncertain. It was a huge risk to take. He sighed and turned to the others, patiently waiting.
"Are you willing to chance our luck?"
Their faces showed their worry, but they all nodded. Kenak smiled triumphantly and turned to look out to sea. There was an arrogant sneer on his face. Yerok saw it and sighed.
"Youth is wasted on the young." He thought pensively. "I wonder if you'll be so conceited if the storm hits while we're out there?"
His question went unanswered as they pushed their boats forward, jumped in and began to paddle.

 

 

Beverly could work in the conditions no more. Even though saturated by the ever-present rain, she felt sweat run down her back, making her feel unclean. Leaving the last of her traps unfinished, she wiped at her forehead, smearing her reddened skin with grit and dirt, soon washed away by the rain. Treading the by now familiar path back to the tent, she found Jean-Luc lying on his back in the stream. Like Beverly, he was burnt, more so as he wore only shorts, whereas Beverly wore shorts and a shirt. She noted the two spears and sighed. It would seem the oppressive heat, rain and hideous humidity had got Jean-Luc too. She walked straight into the swiftly running water and abruptly sat. Jean-Luc opened his eyes, but couldn't find the energy to smile. Beverly flopped onto her back and scooped handfuls of cold water over her. Some minutes passed before Jean-Luc asked in desultory tones,
"Are you finished?"
The red head snorted, she too found the effort to speak hard.
"No, but I don't care, I just can't work in these conditions."
He shook his head slowly.
"Me neither."
There followed a protracted silence, the only sound being the rain splattering on the water and surrounding sand. Almost offhandedly Beverly asked,
"Have you eaten?"
Jean-Luc's reply was barely a grunt.
"No. You?"
"Too hot."
As if remembering, Beverly blindly dug in her pocket and produced some fruit. The heat had made them overripe, but still edible. She nudged Jean-Luc and he turned his head to see what she wanted.
"Here."
His eyes travelled to her hand and he grunted again.
"Not hungry."
With a deep sigh, Beverly said plaintively,
"Jean-Luc..."
She heard resignation in his rough voice as he said softly,
"They won't stay down, Beverly and I'm too hot to vomit."
Just then there was a distant rumble of thunder. Beverly lifted her head and smelled increased ozone in the wet air. Jean-Luc watched her and said absently,
"It's been doing that for a while now. It's out there..." He lifted his good hand and pointed out to sea. "Brewing...waiting."
Beverly scowled.
"For what, a gilt-edged invitation? Jesus, why doesn't it just come?"
Hearing the desperation in her voice, Jean-Luc slowly sat up and stared out at the hidden storm that was growing ever bigger over the horizon. He sighed and offered a one shoulder shrug.
"There's nothing we can do, Beverly, except wait."
With a snort, Beverly cut the air with her hand.
"It's all about waiting, isn't it. Waiting for the storm, waiting for the fucking Cardassians! Well, I'm sick and tired of bloody waiting. Surely there's something we can do?"
Jean-Luc heard her frustration, indeed he felt it too, but what could they do? Too weary to offer anything inspirational, Jean-Luc instead lay back down and sighed. Softly he said,
"We've done all we can, Beverly. All we can do is try to keep cool. Lie down and try to relax. We will soon know; one way or the other."
The resignation in his voice startled Beverly; she'd never heard him like that before. She would've taken him to task over it, but she was too damned hot and drained. She let her head fall back into the shallow waters and closed her eyes against the rain. Jean-Luc was right, it was out of their hands.

 

 

Even though their hands were toughened through their work at the dig, the constant wetness and chafing as they paddled caused some wicked blisters. Soon after they had left land, they quickly stripped off their clothing, the rain, heat, humidity and their exertions making their clothes feel unbearable on their bodies. Dressed only in their undergarments they paddled doggedly, with bleeding hands, their efforts made even more difficult by the opposing currents. Yerok had said it was only twelve kilometres, but in the dreadful conditions it may as well been a thousand. For every kilometre they made, they were carried two kilometres off course.
Yerok did his best to alter their course to compensate, but as their strength quickly waned, the power needed was non-existent. All he could do was keep driving them on, pushing everyone well beyond their limits, he as well. They had left just after dawn and it was near dark when the currents they had struggled against all day swept them slowly around the other side of the island. Yerok knew if they didn't make landfall soon, they were doomed. Mustering the last ounce of his formidable strength, he spurred his crew to make one final effort. They protested weakly, but he goaded, cajoled and eventually drew his disruptor and threatened. He was rewarded when they bent over their paddles and, drenched in sweat and rain, they sacrificed everything they had.
It wasn't until Yerok heard and felt the crunch of sand under the boats that he knew they had made it. He roughly called them to halt and they fell over the paddles, utterly exhausted. With lightning flickering all around them and thunder muttering in the dark, Yerok guided his spent crew to the high tide mark where they all collapsed. They slept where they fell. Yerok's last thought was that he hoped they recovered by morning. The outgoing tide carried their boats away, leaving them stranded.
That same night, Jean-Luc and Beverly slept beside the stream, ignorant of the Cardassian's presence on the other side of the island. While they dreamed, the storm crept closer, unbelievably growing stronger still, over the horizon now and beginning to rotate quickly, the winds in the cell reaching speeds of over three hundred kilometres an hour. The system was so vast; the eye of the now fully formed cyclone was in excess of a hundred kilometres across. Unlike the cyclones of Earth, which were largely unpredictable, this monster travelled in a dead straight line. The island was in its direct path and it would reach it just before dawn.

 

 

The harbinger of the cyclone was increased rain. It pelted down with such intensity Jean-Luc and Beverly were unable to sleep in the open. In fact, such was the strength of the downpour that the couple had to hold their arms above their heads for protection as they ran for the shelter of the tent. The drops were huge, stinging any exposed skin where they landed. The rain fell with such force it rebounded upwards from whatever it struck to form an opaque cloud of spray over a metre high. The stream became a raging torrent, the swollen waterway carrying debris from upstream. It quickly overflowed its banks and spread over the sand, eroding the beach and creating a deep, wide gutter.
Fearful of the storm, Jean-Luc and Beverly sheltered in the tent, but even that structure; designed to withstand extremes of weather, began to buckle under the weight of water. It was simply raining too hard for the roof to cope. Water was cascading off the boulders and creating rivers between them. The tent was surrounded, the sand carried away from underneath. The pegs that secured it to the sand fell away, losing purchase as the sand disappeared. As the tent began to shift sideways with the water, Beverly cried out, staggering and gripping the table. Jean-Luc had to shout to be heard.
"Sit down, Beverly!"
Together they clung to each other, cowering as the roof bowed inwards. The tent's progress was stopped by two boulders and it distorted as sand, carried by the rushing water, piled up against the front. The synthetic material bulged and stretched taut under the weight of the sand as it grew deeper. On top of the sand, the water gushed across the front of the tent, further straining its supports. Jean-Luc and Beverly huddled, their senses battered by the terrible noise the rain made. Hour after hour the tent withstood the onslaught, but, unbeknown to the couple, it was but a prelude. With dawn still two hours away, the wind started to pick up. At first it was fitful, lacking any clear direction, but within twenty minutes it had grown into a howling banshee.
The noise it made, coupled with the teeming rain created a cacophony reminiscent of the sound of a twentieth century jet engine on full power.
Jean-Luc had covered Beverly's head with his arms as they cringed together in a corner. The tent was violently shaking, wrenched wildly in every direction in the hands of the insane gale. The roof, previously bowed tight by the rain, now rose and sank in a frenzied parody of respiration. Seen from outside, it was difficult to believe anything could survive inside. Its destruction was inevitable. As the roof suddenly tore off, to fly away in the darkness, the walls billowed outwards, the material shimmering with the strain, before each side abruptly shredded in an explosive decompression. Now entirely exposed, Jean-Luc and Beverly dived for cover as strips of synthetic whipped about with insane menace. Beverly was crying in fear, her hands wrapped around her head. No amount of training could prepare her; or anyone else for this. It was like being trapped in a maelstrom, nature gone mad. In the deadly dark, Beverly felt one of Jean-Luc's arms curl around her shoulders. She then heard his voice, a remarkable feat considering the demented noise of the storm and the snapping, flogging tatters of the tent.
"We have to get out!" He yelled into her ear.
She twisted her head and yelled back,
"How?!"
Water was now rushing across what remained of the tent, pushing those things not carried away against the rock wall of the boulders. Knowing to stay in the remnants of the tent, exposed and subjected to many potentially lethal dangers, Jean-Luc had managed to think clearly and formulate a plan. It was too difficult to communicate by voice, incredibly the fierce wind had increased, making it too loud to be heard over, so Jean-Luc took Beverly's hand in his and, crawling slowly, inched their way towards the dunes.
Under the full ferocity of the cyclone, the sea had bulged, creating a huge tidal surge. One minute they were crawling against the current of water pouring through the boulders towards the sea, the next they were hit from behind by a wall of sea water. If not for the boulders breaking the wall and dissipating much of the force, Jean-Luc and Beverly would've been drowned. As it was they were plunged under and rolled like rag dolls, smashing mercilessly against the boulders like pin balls.
Somehow, with super-human effort, Jean-Luc kept his grip of Beverly's hand. That was until the wall of water reached its peak and started to rush back to the shore. Sucked helplessly along with the torrent, Beverly was slammed into a boulder, her body wrenched wickedly sideways. The sudden jolt broke Jean-Luc's grip and he was pulled down between two large rocks and spat into a small clear area. His head broke the surface and he took a desperate breath before he was sucked under again. He tried to hold onto something, anything to stop being pulled to the now raging sea. He tore both his hands in a futile attempt at gaining a hand hold, but just when he thought he'd failed, another surge raced back through the boulders. His direction reversed, he surfaced again and took a quick breath, his eyes blinking rapidly, trying to see where he was going, but it was useless. With the rain now horizontal and the screaming wind atomising the surface of the water, he could see nothing. He held his arms bent across his face, curling his body and doing his best to protect himself, but he was at the mercy of the elements. He felt his skin scraped off as he was dragged across the surface of the boulders. The surge smashed through the rocks and raced up the small dunes, spilling over the tops and inundating the costal bush. The trees, those that weren't ripped out of the ground, were stripped bare of their foliage and bent almost horizontal by the power of the wind.
Tumbled wildly by the roiling water, Jean-Luc was carried inland, helpless to stop his passage. Once again the surge reached its peak and suddenly began to recede. Barely conscious, Jean-Luc's body got caught in the tangled branches of a destroyed tree and stuck fast as the water level dropped. Not all of the water receded. Vast areas remained under water, though not deep, held a multitude of uprooted and broken vegetation. Jean-Luc's body emerged as the water dropped, draped oddly in the wind and rain, his right arm flapping rapidly in a circular motion. Consciousness fled just before the next surge hit.

 

 

The same water that had taken Jean-Luc, threatened to kill Beverly quickly. Sucked as Jean-Luc was towards the sea, she had the misfortune to meet the violent ocean. Still aware and with water in her lungs, Beverly felt some ribs break as a huge wave picked her up and drove her down onto a submerged boulder. She kept her wits about her and ordered her body to relax, to offer no resistance to the raging surf. A vicious current suddenly lifted her to the surface and she took a painful breath, savagely suppressing the urge to cough. Just as quickly as she rose, she was pulled down again, her body wrenched to and fro by the confused water. Though the currents were without direction, the body of water was moving sideways quite quickly. Breaking the surface again, Beverly snatched a gulp of air and tried to keep her head above water. She was successful only for a few seconds before a tumultuous wash of water slammed down on her. Her body was picked up and carried at great speed at the forefront of the wave towards the shore and the broken tree stumps that fringed it. It was moot whether she would drown or die being shredded by the debris.

 

 

Like Jean-Luc and Beverly, the Cardassians had been driven off the beach and into the bush in search of shelter from the teeming rain. It was coming down with such force, it was impossible to breathe in the open without one's mouth and nose filling with water. Unable to construct anything, individuals cowered under shrubs, digging into the earth and making themselves as small as possible.
That was where they were when the wind arrived. Within scant minutes, the plants that had sheltered them suddenly became hideously dangerous, the foliage and branches whipping around with deadly intent, ready to remove an eye or break a bone. Yerok stood, holding onto a tree trunk with all his might, but the wind plucked him free and sent him tumbling along the ground. He snagged a low lying shrub and stopped his wild passage. He couldn't see more than a metre in front of him but, with incredible determination, he crawled back into the teeth of the gale to find his crew. Blindly moving forward, it took several minutes before he stumbled upon one of the crew. He gripped the man's arm and urged him to leave his position. The man understood and linked his arm with Yerok's Together they continued their search. By an amazing stroke of pure luck, all the others were located. Yerok tried to yell his instructions, but his voice was ripped from his mouth by the wind and rain. Using gestures, he got everyone to link arms and begin to crawl inland. They had made perhaps fifty metres into the bush when the first of the storm surges hit them. The wave that had travelled inland was deep and powerful. It lifted all six Cardassians and drove them helplessly, struggling to keep their heads above the water, into the decimated bush. Jumbled up with tumbling branches, uprooted trees and shrubs, the men and women faced their fate stoically. One-by-one they disappeared amongst the debris. Kenak was the last. He shouted defiantly as he went under, but there was no one to hear but the roaring storm.

 

The cyclone smashed the island as it slowly crossed it. For three and a half hours it laid waste to the land before the eye moved into place. In the surreal calm, the sky cleared and the sun, not long risen; came out, adding stark light to the devastation.
Water rushed from the flooded streams, running inexorably to the sea. Still agitated, the ocean moved sullenly, its surface broken by debris and carcasses. Behind the dunes of the north, Jean-Luc's body, his shorts stripped from him by the water, dangled within the branches of a ruined tree, his skin pale in the wan sunlight.
Among the wasteland that had once been lush bush only two hundred metres to Jean-Luc's left, Beverly's still body lay buried under seaweed and sand, only her vibrant red hair showing where she lay.
As if time was suspended, the silent, devastated island waited for the next blow, the killing coup-de-grace. It came as the cell moved on. Clouds reformed, rain abruptly teemed and the demented wind came again, this time from the opposite direction.
It was late afternoon when the cyclone had finally passed over the island. In its wake, the wind dropped markedly but it continued to rain heavily. What was once a tropical idyll; the island resembled a war zone. Little of the vegetation remained, what was still vaguely upright was nothing but bare sticks. In places, the very ground had been swept away, exposing sand, in others, debris was piled metres thick. For hours nothing moved, no sound was heard other than the falling rain. Then, in the south, the covering of debris moved and a pale hand emerged. It bore cuts and abrasions, but there was strength inherent in its movement as it gripped a tangled branch and shoved it sideways. More was revealed. An arm soon became a torso as Yerok slowly sat up, ignoring his swollen-shut eye and the dried blood that covered his face and naked body.
He rested only a minute or two before he struggled to his unsteady feet. Giving himself a cursory inspection, he decided there was nothing seriously wrong. He experimentally moved his limbs and grunted as they responded as they should.
He was pinching together the ragged edges of a long gash on his thigh when he froze. Listening carefully, his head snapped around at the sound he heard behind him. What he saw made him smile coldly. Forgetting the gash, he made his way awkwardly across the uneven, tangled mess of debris to help one of his crew who was struggling to unearth herself.
She too was naked, but, like Yerok, had fared relatively well, sustaining only mildly serious injuries. Over the next hour or so, Yerok and his companion found and assisted the rest of the crew out of the debris. Somehow, by the grace of the Gods, they had made it mostly unscathed, the worst injury being a fractured skull. True, there were broken bones, deep gashes and terrible bruising, but Yerok knew they still had fight in them. The only problem was they were all naked and devoid of weapons. In the persistent rain, Yerok gathered his crew together and spoke to them kindly.
"I am greatly relieved you have all survived, it is testament to our people that we are so resilient."
Despite their many aches and pains, the crew managed a wry smile. Yerok felt a surge of pride and, when his thoughts drifted to his plans, he shoved them savagely aside. Now was not the time to dwell on unpleasantness. He had a job to do. With single minded determination he said softly,
"Are you willing to search?"
Kenak was dumbfounded. He looked at Yerok, then at the devastation that surrounded them. In a hushed voice he said,
"Are you insane? Look around you, there's nothing left."
The group shifted nervously. Yerok smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"I'm not suggesting we search for the object. I realise that would be impossible, but what if some of the Federation scum survived?" He gestured with his hands." Of course I'm not for an instant implying that a mere, puny human is a strong as a Cardassian, but if some of them did survive, they would still have the object."
Kenak sneered and gestured to their injuries.
"We're not in any position to mount a fight, Yerok, besides we have no weapons."
The elderly man's smile grew.
"Do you think they'd be any better off?"
Kenak considered the question before asking slyly,
"Just what do you have in mind?"
Shrugging diffidently, Yerok's eyes slid over the group.
"Only that we first reconnoitre the island and see if any of the enemy survived."
"And if they have?"
Yerok's had lost his two front teeth in the storm, it made him look decrepit and forced him to lisp.
"We kill them and take what is rightfully ours."
Kenak barked his laughter.
"With what, our bare hands?"
Yerok's next words took his humour away.
"If need be."
Kenak's eyes narrowed as he regarded the man standing before him. He said softly,
"You're serious, aren't you."
Standing as straight as he could manage, Yerok said proudly,
"We are Obsidian Order! Nothing is beyond us!"
The beginnings of enthusiasm slowly spread through the group. Yerok watched it and smiled to himself.
"Yes, you will fight for me...and die."
He clasped his hand on Kenak's shoulder and bathed himself in the group's growing strength, feeding both his body and his ego.

 

 

On the north side of the island, a mere nine kilometres away, Beverly's eyes cracked open and she moaned softly. Her lower body was buried under a metre of sand, but her upper body was covered by a layer of seaweed and foliage, affording her some air to breathe. It had saved her life. As she became more aware, her pain grew. She tried to swallow, then grimaced as she realised her mouth was full of sand. With no way to wash it out, Beverly had to put up with it, but that was the least of her problems. She quickly found she was trapped, both by the sand and her injuries. Knowing she had to free herself somehow, she ignored the pain it caused to wriggle one arm up through the tangled mess above her until her hand broke through. Clods of wet sand fell, breaking up to sprinkle over her face and in her eyes. She blinked rapidly, her eyes tearing as the grit irritated her. Having freed one hand, she carefully tried to move her other arm, but it was trapped somehow under her. With little option, she began the slow and tedious task of moving the debris from her upper body bit-by-bit with one hand.
It was her stubborn determination that saw her win her battle. Once she had uncovered her face, she worked doggedly to rid herself of the remaining debris. Finally she was able to shift, freeing her trapped arm. As she carefully brought it from under her, she yelped with pain as she discovered her shoulder was dislocated. With her teeth gritted, she inched her arm out and then across her body until her hand rested on the opposite shoulder.
She blew out a short breath and screwed her eyes shut as the pain slowly abated. Slowly she attempted to lift her upper body. She met with some success, but the sand was too heavy and was too far up her body to allow her to sit up. Faced with the arduous task of digging herself out, Beverly tried to take a deep breath but gasped as the pain of her broken ribs curtailed her attempt. Uttering a soft, "Shit!", Beverly concentrated on relaxing while the pain settled. She opened her eyes and lifted her head to peer down her body. Slowly at first, but soon becoming quicker, she began to scoop the sand away with her free hand. As she worked she called out as loudly as she could,
"Jean-Luc? Can you hear me?"
The rain had washed the sand from her face and with it the blood from a laceration on her hairline. Having received no reply to her calls, Beverly worked harder at removing the sand. She tilted her face up and opened her mouth. It took a while, but she managed to wash away most of the sand in her mouth. Her arm began to ache and cramp threatened in her hand as she struggled with the sodden sand that trapped her, but her dogged persistence eventually paid dividends. With quite a bit of the sand removed, Beverly experimentally sat up. She let out a whoop of triumph as her body pushed the sand back, allowing her to sit upright. With renewed vigour she attacked the sand that covered her legs, quickly freeing them. The moment she saw them, she knew they were injured. The kneecap of her right leg was a mass of blood soaked sand. She didn't disturb it, knowing that the sand was helping to control blood loss. Similarly her shin on the other leg was covered in bloody sand.
While sitting in the rain, Beverly watched with concern as the water began to wash away the clotted sand. She carefully moved her legs and decided she could bear the pain as she attempted to stand. It took several tries, but she eventually got to her feet and slowly climbed out of the depression her body had made. Due to the pouring rain she couldn't see far, but what she did see made her shake her head in awe. Gone was the island she had become accustomed to. In its place was a wasteland. Her need to find Jean-Luc drove her to stumble over the debris, not knowing where to begin her search. She tried not to think about the worst case scenario, that she might come across Jean-Luc's battered and lifeless body, but something in her compelled her to quash the distressing thoughts and instead concentrate on how overjoyed she would be when she found him...maybe not uninjured, but alive, nonetheless. How she would help him with nothing but her hands and knowledge was another thing entirely. She squinted through the rain and cupped her hand under her elbow, supporting her injured shoulder and doggedly stumbled through the debris, calling Jean-Luc's name.

 

 

In the gentle wind that crossed the island, Jean-Luc head tapped against the trunk of the tree in a slow rhythm. The continuous bumping had abraded the skin causing a bleeding sore. He was upside down, caught by his legs in the only two surviving branches of the decimated tree. His body was riven by gashes and lacerations and livid bruising coloured his lightly tanned skin. One of his arms, dangling below him, was twisted and hung at an unnatural angle. Blood ran down his face, over his shoulder and down the length of his arm to drip off his fingers, forming an abstract pattern on the debris below.
It was the dull thumping of his head that eventually roused him. With his nose badly broken, his eyes were mere slits, making it very difficult to see when he tried. Blood from his nose dribbled into his open mouth making him want to spit. When he tried he cried out in pain as he discovered his dislocated jaw. He tried to assess his injuries but found his thinking muddled. He was also extremely disorientated, not understanding that he was upside down. Without realising the danger it posed, he struggled weakly to free himself, knowing only that he was trapped somehow. The compromised timber of the tree gave little resistance to even Jean-Luc's feeble struggles. How it had supported his weight as long as it had was a miracle. With a wet, sickly crack, the trunk snapped and fell to one side, taking Jean-Luc with it. He was lucky. The ground beneath the tree was thick with debris, affording a softer landing than he would've had otherwise. Nevertheless, he landed on his unprotected head and lost consciousness again.

 

 

Beverly had quickly found that trying to walk over the debris was futile, her feet kept plunging through the broken foliage and tangled detritus impeding her so much, she eventually abandoned walking for crawling. By spreading her weight more evenly she was able to negotiate the obstacles better, although with only one useful hand, it kept getting caught.
Having decided to make her way back to the boulders and begin her search there, Beverly had first scoured the surrounding land as best she could, peering into the rain, hoping against hope that she might catch a glimpse of her beloved Jean-Luc. Disappointed, but not disheartened, Beverly had covered half the distance to the rocks when she encountered the stream. No longer the delightful little creek it had been, it was now in full flood, spreading out across the sand in a deeply eroded swathe. As she watched, debris of all kinds was swept along in the torrent, including the carcasses of dead birds and animals. Even large rocks were bowled along by the rapid flow. Beverly knelt and tried to see a way to cross the now raging river. Ultimately she gave up, it was simply too dangerous. She reassessed her plans and turned inland, continually calling Jean-Luc's name as she crawled over what was left of the little dunes, now little more than whittled down, bare humps of wet sand.
Crawling was painful for Beverly. The injury to her kneecap was nasty, the flesh being torn to form a flap that exposed the bone as it moved. Every time she placed her knee on the uneven and sometimes sharp debris, the flap of flesh would shift and, as she put her weight on it, the bone was exposed to abuse. However she ignored the pain it caused just as she ignored all the other pain from her many injuries.
The rain continued unabated as she slowly made her way inland. She had to cross another swollen creek, but it was rushing under a covering of interwoven masses of debris. Tentatively at first, Beverly grew bolder as the mass withstood her weight. She made the crossing as quickly as she could, relieved to once again reach the other side. She had travelled a further seventy metres when she saw, through the rain, a flash of something pale. She frowned, striving to keep her hopes at bay. Moving faster, Beverly closed the distance quickly and, as she got nearer she saw it was a body, but it wasn't until she was very close that she knew it was Jean-Luc. His name was spoken with hope and dread. Casting aside the pain it caused, Beverly hurried the last few metres, not realising she was holding her breath until she placed her fingers on his neck and felt his steady pulse. She closed her eyes and two tears slipped free. Using her hand, Beverly quickly examined him, noting his broken bones, cuts and bruises as she found them. The undersides of his hands were particularly badly damaged, especially his already injured hand. Taking great care, Beverly gently manoeuvred Jean-Luc onto his back. With the help of the rain, she washed away the blood and, while he remained unconscious, did what she could to realign his broken limbs. Her hand had revealed an obviously broken arm, a fractured leg and broken ribs. She could see his jaw was dislocated and it was the work of mere seconds for her to put it back in place. She straightened his broken nose, noting that it was still bleeding.
As for what internal injuries he might have, Beverly could only hope they weren't serious. Having done all she could do for him, Beverly spent the next hour building a shelter out of bits of debris. It was hot, but not unbearably so and the humidity had dropped. The only thing that caused concern was the ever-present rain. Beverly's shelter kept most of the rain off them and, as she sat contemplating their situation, Jean-Luc softly moaned and lifted his bad hand to his chest. Immediately Beverly gently took his wrist and said clearly,
"Jean-Luc? Can you hear me?"
He moaned again and grimaced. He tried to speak but all that emerged was a croak. While Beverly watched intently, he swallowed and his tongue came out. It was bloody. He tried to open his eyes, but they were swollen shut. Beverly could see he was struggling and bent to put her ear near his mouth. She told him,
"Whisper, Jean-Luc, I'll hear you."
He swallowed again, obviously trying to gather himself. What he asked greatly concerned the Doctor.
"What happened?"
Carefully, Beverly replied,
"There was a storm, Jean-Luc. We got caught in it."
He digested that, then asked,
"Where are we?"
Beverly closed her eyes. It was worse than she'd anticipated.
"We're on an island, on a planet called Delos."
Before he could say anything further, Beverly asked softly,
"What's the last thing you remember?"
He took a shallow breath and frowned.
"I..you...no, I was digging. I...it was..." He shook his head. There was fear evident when he whispered urgently,
"Beverly...I don't remember!"
She tried to sound calm.
"It's okay, Jean-Luc, you know me, don't you?"
He managed a small smile.
"Yes. I sincerely hope I never forget you."
She gently squeezed his wrist, offering what encouragement she could.
"Well I'm sure your memories will return. Judging by the lump on your head, you took quite a blow."
They were silent for a while, each listening to the hammering rain. After a while, Jean-Luc whispered,
"Tell me more."
More to pass the time than to bring Jean-Luc up to date, Beverly told him everything, including why he had come to Delos in the first place. The only things she left out were any information about the Cardassian object, intuitively she knew it would be better if he knew nothing about it, until, that is, he regained his memory. The other thing was their newly-found intimacy. She felt it would muddy the waters, so she kept that to herself too. She didn't even tell him she loved him.
When she had finished, Jean-Luc was silent for a while. What Beverly didn't know was that he was still struggling to make his mind work properly. He had listened carefully to what she'd told him, but without the memories to assist him, he struggled to make sense of their situation. He knew who he was and who Beverly was. He knew he was the Captain of the Enterprise and he was aware he had left the ship. Beverly had furnished the reason for that action, but as for the rest, despite Beverly's explanations, everything was a muddled mess. However, even though mentally incapacitated, his training and years of experiences still shone through. Using one of his hands, he forced one eye open and tried to look around him. Beverly was about to ease his hand away from his face when he said in a croaky voice.
"Is there anywhere else we can shelter?"
Pleased he was taking notice of their predicament, Beverly nonetheless sighed sadly.
"The only things not completely destroyed are the boulders at the beach, but we can't get to them."
"Why?"
She had to smile at his attempt to understand.
"Not only do I think you shouldn't be moved, the way to the boulders is blocked by a flooded river. We can't cross it."
He thought about that, then said in a stronger voice,
"You said there was a storm. Was the river flooded because of it?"
Beverly nodded, wondering what he was thinking.
"Yes. Before the storm, it was nothing but a small stream."
He nodded once.
"How long has it been raining like this?"
Beverly pulled the corners of her mouth down and cast her eyes to the roof of the shelter, glaring as she noted the water running through.
"Almost two weeks. It was very hot and humid, getting worse every day as the storm slowly gathered. I had hoped the weather would improve once the storm has passed, but what's left in its wake is this bloody rain."
She could see he was thinking about what she'd said. He frowned deeply, struggling to keep his train of thought cohesive.
"So it wasn't always raining."
Beverly shook her head.
"No, in fact the weather was lovely. Hot, but nice."
"Then..." His thoughts were beginning to fragment. "Then...it changed."
As Beverly had answered his questions, she had become increasing suspicious that there was something wrong. She couldn't base it on anything concrete, it was more elusive than that, but her intimate knowledge of the man told her something was amiss.
Cautiously she said,
"Yes."
He was trying desperately to hold together his train of thought, but it disappeared like wisps of smoke. Frustrated, he bared his teeth and growled softly in anger. Beverly thought she understood what was happening and gently squeezed his shoulder, saying softly,
"Give it time, Jean-Luc. Your memories will return. I'm sure of it."
She'd meant to comfort him, but her gentle words only served to make him more angry. When he spoke, she was shocked by his rancour.
"It's not that I can't remember, dammit...I can't...I can't..."
He lifted his other hand, trying to form words that wouldn't come. He shook his head and a frustrated tear oozed out of his closed eye. He suddenly took as deep a breath as he dared and made a concerted effort to calm himself. After a moment or two he said softly,
"I'm having trouble...that is I can't..." When the words drifted out of his grasp he shouted,
"Fuck!"
Beverly finally understood. She knew he'd react badly to more sympathy, so she made sure her voice was crisp when she said,
"Don't struggle with it, Jean-Luc, it will come back, you just have to be patient."
For a man as intelligent, articulate and erudite as Jean-Luc, his condition was a cruel blow. With no option but to accede, he calmed himself and nodded slowly. Thirty-five minutes passed before he tried again. This time he attempted something far less complicated.
"You...all right?"
Her heart missed a beat, compassion and love welling inside her. Blinking away tears, Beverly struggled to keep her voice even.
"Not too bad. A few cuts and bruises, but nothing serious."
He nodded and before the thought escaped he smiled.
"Good."
When nothing more was said, Beverly thought he was just listening to the rain, but he'd slipped into unconsciousness. She found out when she said softly,
"If we can find a communicator and it works, we can beam up to the yacht." It was said more to lighten the mood rather than communicating any real belief.
He didn't respond, causing Beverly to say with rising fear,
"Jean-Luc?"
He didn't react so Beverly gently shook his shoulder, saying loudly,
"Jean-Luc?"
Dread surged through Beverly. Her medical knowledge told her that it was dangerous for a patient with Jean-Luc's type of head injuries to be unconscious. While he stayed insensate, more damage could occur. Desperately, Beverly struggled to think of a way, other than the obvious, to rouse him. Stymied, she shook her head in frustration as the unpalatable truth became evident. Savagely pounding her fist on the rough debris that formed their floor, she spat,
"Dammit, not that!" Yet even though she railed against it, she knew she had no choice. The obvious was her only option. She strove to calm herself, comforting her inner rebellious self by thinking,
"It's the only way...and he'll not be harmed."
Over and over she thought of the first precept of the Hippocratic Oath. First and foremost, do no harm. Muttering darkly, she said,
"I'm not going to harm him!"
But the reality of what she was about to do made her stomach sour. She took a shallow breath and looked down at the senseless Jean-Luc. Sniffing back a tear she said softly,
"Forgive me, my love."
She reached forward and took his broken nose between her thumb and fingers. Making sure she had a good grip, she suddenly twisted it. Agony lanced through the Captain, bad enough to drag him to consciousness. His body arched and he let out a yell of anguish and pain. Beverly immediately let go of his nose and grabbed his shoulders, saying loudly,
"Jean-Luc! Wake up!"
He shook his head and tried to reach for his nose, but Beverly gripped his wrist, preventing him. He continued to keen piteously, making Beverly lower her voice.
"I'm sorry, Jean-Luc, I know it hurts, but you have to stay awake, it's very important."
He took a shuddering breath and asked raggedly,
"Why?"
Beverly wasn't sure whether he was asking why she'd done it, or why he had to stay awake. Not willing to tell him why she had hurt him, she instead opted to tell him why he had to stay awake.
"You have bad head injuries, Jean-Luc; it's very dangerous for you to...sleep."
His nose was bleeding freely, some of the blood getting into his open mouth. Beverly wiped away as much as she could, but still he grimaced at the taste. A little calmer, Jean-Luc asked softly,
"Why?"
Again the dilemma. Beverly chose to answer the easier question, but before she could speak, Jean-Luc got one of his hands free and gestured to his nose, repeating softly,
"Why?"
Beverly's heart fell. She closed her eyes and confessed.
"It was the only way I knew to wake you. I had nothing else, Jean-Luc, pain was my only tool."
It was an odd concept, difficult to grasp. Beverly had deliberately hurt him. On one level, he thought he understood, but on another he was confused. She had never physically hurt him before and he struggled to put it in perspective. He was helped when Beverly said gently,
"I hated doing it; it went against everything I am, especially as I love you. It was as though I was hurting both of us."
Her words floated through his mind, but he managed to focus on some. He clung to those specific, magical words..."Especially as I love you." The thought began to unravel and he fought desperately to hold on to it. Out loud he said,
"You love me."
Beverly screwed her eyes shut and bit her lower lip. He hadn't asked a question, he'd stated a fact. She thought she could remain silent, but he had other ideas. Somehow keeping his thoughts intact he said forcefully,
"Beverly?"
Compelled to answer, Beverly battled to keep her voice steady.
"It's true, Jean-Luc. I love you."
The rush of raw emotion that swept through him made him gasp. His thoughts crystallized into one incontrovertible fact: Beverly loved him. As she watched worriedly, Jean-Luc's facial expressions ranged from distressed to euphoric. She wondered what he was thinking, though she had a fair idea. When he seemed to calm, she said softly,
"Jean-Luc?"
He took a shallow breath and smiled. Beverly wished she could see his eyes, she'd always found them compelling. Jean-Luc rarely showed his feelings to others but, those who knew him well could always see them in his dark hazel eyes. He found he could concentrate on the one, wonderful thought. His smile widened and he said with resolute strength,
"I love you, Beverly."
Although he'd said it before, it was new to him. He felt a weight lift and his artificial heart soared. Beverly grinned as she realised what he must be feeling and chuckled softly at the situation, though dire, still managing to fill her with delight.
Abruptly Jean-Luc's face changed again as a new, troubling thought occurred to him.
"Is that why you came?"
Beverly sobered and answered carefully.
"Yes."
Realisation struck Jean-Luc. He frowned and asked incredulously,
"So I already knew."
His thought processes were becoming clearer. Obviously the information was so stupendous, it had assisted him in regaining lucidity and holding on to it by sheer willpower.
Beverly was cautious, not knowing quite what he was thinking and not wanting to upset him unduly. She said softly,
"Don't dwell on it, Jean-Luc, you need to rest."
Little did she know just how much he needed to concentrate. He struggled to keep the impatience out of his voice as he said,
"Tell me, Beverly. I knew, didn't I."
Caught, Beverly had no option but to tell the truth.
"Yes."
His reaction surprised her. Instead of the predicted anger, he smiled and offered a wistful, shallow sigh. Bemused, Beverly said gently,
"Are you all right?"
His smile grew.
"Better than all right, Beverly. Do you know how long I've waited to hear you say you loved me?" He shook his head and held up one hand.
"Ignore that, you know already. Damn, I wish I could remember what I said and did when you told me."
Charmed by his gentle declaration, Beverly bent and whispered cheekily,
"We made love."
He sighed again and smiled wistfully.
"It was wonderful, wasn't it."
With a soft snort, Beverly marvelled at his confidence, not to say his conceit. She had to reassess her opinion when he said softly,
"I always knew it would be, I thought about it for so long. How could it be otherwise, you're magnificent, Beverly."
Sadness pervaded her soul as she was reminded just how long he had waited for her. It wasn't confidence, or conceit that made him so sure, it was years of unrequited love. Overcome with emotion, Beverly placed a tender, yet chaste kiss on his split and swollen lips. If he was surprised he didn't show it. Beverly looked down at him and frowned at his unreadable expression. Spurred by concern and a little curiosity, she asked,
"Are you alright, Jean-Luc?"
He nodded but said nothing. Beverly gently ran her fingers down his battered face and sighed. With nothing else to say, she muttered,
"Remember, don't fall asleep."
He offered a small smile.
"I won't."
Still not sure about him, Beverly shifted her gaze outside and felt despair at what she could see. She allowed an errant thought.
"How the hell are we going to get out of this?"
But the events of only minutes before resurfaced and she smiled.
"He said once as long as we're together, we'll be okay. I don't know how, but somehow we'll survive. We have to."
She looked back at Jean-Luc to see he was still smiling.

 

 

 

The Cardassians made slow progress negotiating their way across the debris but found, once they were well away from the beach, it became easier. The only food available came from dead animals and sometimes they came across a branch that still had some fruit left on it. Though bruised and overripe, they ate it nonetheless. The meat they ate raw. Potable water was another problem. They slaked their thirst by drinking from water caught in puddles or by lifting their heads and opening their mouths, but they all knew, even with the falling rain, any standing water would quickly spoil. Already insects were making an appearance, infesting the carcasses and swarming over the rotting fruit. Yerok was aware their time on this island was very limited. They had to get their business done as soon as possible then, using the available material, build two more boats and move to another, intact island.
The wet mud beneath their feet began to rise. Yerok lifted his head and squinted into the rain, trying to see what lay ahead. He could just make out the ravaged remains of a tall forest. The terrain rose into the grey wall of rain and Yerok considered whether or not they should make the climb. The effort required may take too much out of his injured crew. However, the alternative was to go around and that meant fighting through thicker debris. He sighed and looked up the rise again. With a shrug, he lowered his head and applied himself. Behind him he heard Kenak mutter,
"As if it's not difficult enough! Now we're made to slog uphill."
Resisting the urge to turn and confront him, Yerok instead kept walking, his pace a measured one. Over his shoulder he said evenly,
"Think of it this way, once we reach the summit, it'll be all downhill again."
He walked on a bit, then said with a dark edge to his voice,
"And no one is making you, Kenak."
No further complaints were heard. The bare ground had turned into sticky, clinging mud, sliced in places by quickly running rivulets of water as the rain soaked the hillside. Their feet slipped often causing them to stumble into the mud. Using the rain, they cleaned themselves, but they fell so often they eventually gave up. Smeared in slimy mud, drenched and injured, their spirits plummeted. Yerok felt it, but refused to give in and assumed his crew shared his determination. For him, it was an uncharacteristic mistake.
Just before they crested the hill, Kenak stopped and spat out some bloody spittle. The others halted with him. At first Yerok was unaware he continued alone, but his sharpened senses soon told him. He stopped and slowly turned. The tension was palpable as the men sized each other up. Yerok said quietly,
"Do you think you can best me?"
Kenak raised his head and insolently looked Yerok up and down. He sneered and gestured to the others behind him.
"You are one. We are five."
His eyes narrowed as a voice behind him said,
"Don't be so sure, Kenak. No one has said we want you to lead us."
Another voice said angrily,
"No one has said they want to be led! I for one can take care of myself. You...all of you, can go to hell! I've had enough." Kenak refused to turn, keeping his eyes locked on Yerok. Loudly he shouted,
"We must stay together!"
The voice was quickly becoming distant.
"Fuck you!"
Unseen, the remaining three shifted uncomfortably. A woman's voice said,
"Neral's right, we should be concentrating on getting off this damned island, not risking our lives on a fool's errand." The voice hardened. "If you want to die for the Union, that's your business, Kenak, but don't drag me into it, my life is worth more than that. I'm going with Neral."
Despite the teeming rain, Kenak began to sweat. His eyes darted back and forth as he tried to salvage the unravelling situation. A softer voice behind him said quietly,
"You're on your own."
He risked a quick glance over his shoulder to see the last two making their way down the hill. They soon disappeared into the shroud of rain. Yerok's tone was mildly mocking.
"So, Kenak, do you still want to kill me, or are you going to run away with your tail between your legs like the others?"
Kenak's eyes narrowed with venal cunning.
"I want what's best for my people."
Yerok smiled coldly.
"A noble sentiment, I'm sure, but do you mean the Cardassian Union, or those yellow curs who deserted?"
Keeping his eyes fixed on Yerok, Kenak made a show of relaxing.
"My loyalty has always been with the Cardassian Union. I live to serve."
Yerok nodded thoughtfully, his smile never wavering.
"I see, how commendable. And what of the Obsidian Order? Are you as committed to that?"
Kenak drew himself up and stuck out his chin.
"There is no one more dedicated!"
"Hmm, interesting. So what are we to do, Kenak? Do we fright to the death, or do we join forces and continue with our mission."
The taller man frowned, considering the question. He had his own agenda; it was just a matter of how to get what he wanted without being killed. He offered a cold smile and lifted a placating hand.
"You are going to need help, Yerok. There is nothing to be gained by fighting."
His eyebrows slowly rose and the smile faded.
"You change like the wind, Kenak. However, you're right, two would be better than one. I accept your help."
Warily, Kenak covered the distance between them and stared into Yerok's eyes. The older man nodded once, turned and struggled up the hillside until he reached the top. Kenak followed, his gaze centred on Yerok's back.

 

 

 

Jean-Luc smiled as he heard Beverly's stomach rumble. Even though the pouring rain hammered on their shelter, he still heard it. Beverly covered her belly with her hand and offered a lopsided grin. Jean-Luc couldn't see it, but he knew it was there. Softly he said,
"Hungry?"
Beverly nodded, then sighed.
"Uh huh."
His smile faded to be replaced by a frown.
"I don't suppose there's much to eat."
"No, not really."
Now with a clearer mind, Jean-Luc was able to devote his thoughts to his survival training. Beverly had the same training, but she hadn't used it as Jean-Luc had. Where she spent years in medical studies, he had been at the forefront of exploration and had, at times, needed to rely on his training. He took a shallow breath and said quietly,
"How far are we from the beach?"
Squinting out into the rain, Beverly said distractedly,
"Not far, maybe eighty metres."
She shifted her gaze and tilted her head.
"Why?"
"Because there's a chance you could find food washed up by the storm."
Beverly considered the idea and nodded thoughtfully.
"You might be right. I saw dead animals in the water, it stands to reason there should be sea food washed up."
Jean-Luc nodded carefully.
"If you could find some shell food, especially if it's still in the water, it should be edible."
Looking out towards the sea, hidden in the grey wash of rain, Beverly warmed to the idea. But just as she began to feel confident, she closed her eyes and sighed deeply. Jean-Luc heard her and asked,
"What is it?"
He felt her fingers caress his face.
"I can't leave you, Jean-Luc."
He made sure his voice was gentle when he said,
"Of course you can, I'll be fine."
Letting out a soft huff of breath, Beverly shook her head.
"Who's the Doctor here, Jean-Luc?"
He smiled to ease her.
"I'm not disputing that, Beverly, but you must agree we need food. How else are you going to get some, unless you leave me to get it?"
He was right, of course, but his calm delivery irritated the red head. She was about to snap a reply when he asked worriedly,
"Are you too badly injured to go?"
She looked down at herself, noting that the cuts and abrasions had stopped bleeding. She knew the injuries to her legs would open up again if she crawled and her dislocated shoulder would make it very difficult to crawl and carry food, but she felt she could manage. In answer to Jean-Luc's question, she said softly,
"I'm okay."
Not fully convinced and desperately wishing he could see, Jean-Luc nonetheless had to take her word for it. He sighed shallowly and gave a slight nod.
"Very well, you should go. What time of day is it?"
Beverly glanced outside and shrugged.
"Ah...it's hard to tell, I can't see the sun, but I guess it's late afternoon."
Jean-Luc digested that then asked,
"How long do you think it will take you to get to the beach?"
Pulling down the corners of her mouth, Beverly raised her eyebrows.
"Let's see...half an hour perhaps?"
They both calculated how long it would take Beverly to go, find some food and return, against how much daylight there was left. It was Beverly who spoke first.
"My guess is two hours."
Jean-Luc nodded slowly.
"I agree. Take your shirt off to carry..."
She interrupted him.
"I'm naked, Jean-Luc. My clothes...and yours...were ripped off by the storm surge."
Despite their predicament, an image of what he imagined Beverly to look like naked flashed through Jean-Luc's mind. Angry with himself, he shoved the mental picture aside and focused on their discussion. He thought he was successful until he spoke. His voice had a trace of huskiness in it.
"Oh. Can you make something to carry the food? I would imagine it would be difficult to manage with your hands full."
Beverly spoke before she thought.
"I have only one hand, Jean-Luc."
He lifted his head, frowning with concern.
"What? Why?"
Biting her lip at her lapse, Beverly swore softly to herself. To Jean-Luc she said brightly,
"Oh it's nothing really; I've just dislocated my shoulder, that's all. I can't use that arm."
Jean-Luc raised a hand and pulled down the swollen flesh under his right eye. He could just make out Beverly in the shadows and he could see her arm draped across her chest, her hand resting on her shoulder. He tried to see her other injuries, but Beverly gently eased his hand from his face.
"It's okay, Jean-Luc, I'm fine, really. I'll do as you suggest and make something to carry whatever I find."
He had no option but to believe her besides, what could he do? Of the two of them, Beverly was better off than he. At least she could see and move around. He knew this was one of those times when he had to accede. He sighed softly and gave a nod before devoting himself to the situation.
Jean-Luc had seen what devastation could be wrought by storms, especially coastal ones. He clearly remembered how difficult it was to move around through the aftermath. He frowned again, his mind thinking through the problems. As he thought, he spoke out loud.
"There would be debris, a lot, I would think. And in this heat, the dead animals would soon begin to decompose, along with the vegetation, which would start to rot. Yes, food is going to be difficult to find as is drinkable water."
He chewed his lip for a moment, deep in thought. Coming to himself, he nodded saying clearly,
"Don't drink from anything Beverly, not even the river."
Beverly was way ahead of him. Being the CMO of the Enterprise, she had been deployed on many occasions to render assistance and aid in the event of all kinds of disasters, both natural and otherwise. She was well versed in the protocols of disease prevention. However, she didn't interrupt her Captain. He had taken on his duty of delegation and Beverly was pleased to know he was functioning properly, if not under duress. He lifted a hand as he continued.
"Check whatever you find, Beverly. Use your senses, smell, taste...I trust your judgement, but bear in mind that whatever you may find could be tainted by foul water, either salt or fresh."
He suddenly seemed to realise he was preaching to the choir. Offering a rueful smile he said softly,
"I'm sure you know all this, Beverly."
She smiled tenderly and said,
"I do, but it doesn't hurt to remind me."
He appreciated her graciousness and smiled.
"You should go, the sooner you leave, the sooner you'll return."
He heard her sigh shallowly, then he felt a gentle kiss on his lips. Before she could withdraw, he lifted a hand to the back of her head and, despite his split and swollen lips, prolonged the kiss until Beverly softly moaned. He released her and said softly,
"Be careful, my love."
He heard sadness as she replied gently,
"I will, you too."
Nothing more was said. Jean-Luc listened intently, but only the sound of the teeming rain reached his ears.

 

 

 

The four Cardassians who had deserted Yerok and Kenak found themselves confronted by a swollen river. They had discussed their situation and had decided to try and make their way to a small cove they caught sight of as they neared the base of the hill. Together, they had reasoned they would find it easier to build, then launch a boat from the sheltered waters. Unfortunately, they hadn't anticipated anything blocking their way. Neral, nursing a broken arm, shook his head and spat some bloody mucous into the rushing water, thinking,
"How are we supposed to cross that?"
His companions stood in silence. Having assumed the mantle of leadership, although grudgingly given, Neral had done his best to guide his fellow crew to what he thought was safety. The flooded river had laid waste to his plans. He put his fears aside and boldly waded into the water. One of the others said sarcastically,
"What do you think you're doing?"
He stopped, the rapidly flowing water tugging at his thighs. Cradling his broken arm in his hand, he gestured with his chin.
"We can cross here."
The man shook his head, speaking as if to a child.
"The river is flooded, Neral. The water is flowing too fast, besides who knows what else is in the water. Look."
He pointed to a tree, carried swiftly past the gathered group. Neral watched it speed past, then turned back. He pointed again with his chin.
"See how the water lifts there? That means it's shallow. I tell you, we can cross."
The lone surviving woman sighed, her left hand holding her head as blood seeped through her fingers.
"Do you know that for certain, Neral, or are you making it up?"
The leader rolled his eyes and waded further into the torrent.
"I used to live near a river, I know all about them. Trust me, it's safe."
The water was now at his midriff, muddy and flowing fast, it pulled at his body. He felt the silt under his feet shift and took another step to steady himself.
"Well...are you coming?"
Reluctantly, the remaining three gingerly entered the water. Because of their many injuries, they were unable to link arms, so Neral had them gather together, holding each other where ever they could. They moved slowly outwards, feeling their way with their feet. They had almost reached the opposite bank when the bottom suddenly disappeared from under them. Plunged into the torrent, they let go of each other as they struggled against the flow. Forced helplessly downwards by the movement of the water, they became entangled in the debris that was tumbling along the bottom. One-by-one they drowned, never seeing the bank, so tantalisingly close.

 

 

 

Yerok and Kenak found the descent harder than they'd anticipated. The mud was unstable, sliding down in wet mini-avalanches. They had to place their feet very carefully, using the snapped trunks of trees as handholds to control their downward passage. They had travelled perhaps twenty metres when Yerok let out a yell of surprise. The mud beneath his feet suddenly moved, causing him to lose his balance. He shot his hand out, but missed the nearest trunk. He fell on his backside and began to slide out of control downhill. Kenak thought he'd avoided the slip and grinned evilly as he watched his rival career out of sight. He took two steps and yelped as his feet were swept from under him. He twisted violently, trying to grab a trunk, but he fell too quickly. Face down and feet first; it was all he could do to keep his mouth clear as he too slid pell-mell down into the curtain of rain.
Both men ricocheted wickedly through the tree trunks, rebounding again and again. After one particularly hard collision, Yerok was spun around, only to tumble backwards over and over. Kenak too was wickedly struck. Still flying face down and backwards, his legs were spread wide and he never saw the trunk as he rushed towards it. He hit it right at the crux of his legs, crushing his testicles. Screaming in agony, his body, still caught in the mudslide, was swept sideways and down to continue its rush downhill, now head first. All he could do was push his hands out in front of him as he could barely see.
Fortunately the hill wasn't a large one and both men eventually found its base, but their troubles were not yet over. Curving around the base of the hill was a stream. Once it had been only a small, clear creek, but now it was filled with mud and debris. It moved quickly and dangerously. Both men slid straight into it. Yerok struggled desperately and quickly found his feet. The current wasn't all that fast, but instead of just water, the stream was mostly liquid mud and it moved with some force. Where he had entered the stream it was quite narrow, allowing Yerok to lunge at the bank. He got his chest onto the ground and, using both his hands, heaved himself out of the moving morass. Kenak wasn't so lucky. He had entered the creek head first and struck the bottom. Dazed, he didn't know which way was up as he was carried downstream. Something struck his back and he felt his skin tear. Just when he thought he would drown, he felt a hand grip his ankle. As he was dragged sideways by his foot, his legs parted and fresh agony surged through him. Desperate to breathe, he rolled, feeling his ankle twist in the hand that held it. His head broke the surface and he opened his mouth to gulp some air, but as soon as he did, mud poured in. Coughing and gagging, Kenak didn't see his rescuer until he was lifted onto the bank, feet first. He heard a guttural voice yell,
"Help me!"
Weakly, Kenak pushed with his arms and together they got him out of the flowing mud. He took a moment to get his breath before using his fingers to scoop the mud away from his eyes. Standing over him was Yerok, covered in mud from head to toe, an amused smile on his face showing the gap in his teeth.
The pain from his crushed testicles made Kenak roll to his side, bring his knees up and cup his injuries with his hands. Yerok squatted beside the man and patted his trembling shoulder. He waited in silence for Kenak to recover enough to move.

 

 

 

The rain-soaked broken vegetation had settled somewhat since the last time Beverly had to cross it. She had found a large piece of bark which she used like a snow shoe to prevent her hand from pushing through. It helped considerably, enabling her to reach the beach more quickly than she'd anticipated. Ignoring the pain from her legs, Beverly negotiated her way off the wall of debris and down onto the sand. Getting gingerly to her feet, Beverly squinted in the rain as she studied the area she could see. Clumps of seaweed and debris littered the beach, making her passage to the water convoluted. The smell of decomposition wasn't so bad on the shore, but there were rotting carcasses here and there she had to avoid. The breeze carried the odour inland, all Beverly had to do to find relief from the stink was to lift her head and face the sea. When she reached the waterline she paused, examining the water, gauging its clarity. Though green litter and dead fish floated in abundance, Beverly was pleased with what she saw. Since the storm, there had been two cycles of tide and the sea had had a chance to clean itself. With growing confidence, Beverly limped into the water, her eyes downcast, searching for shell food. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a flash of grey and silver. Snapping her head up, she witnessed a large, predatory fish gorging on the carcase of a dead sea creature in the shallows. She suppressed a shudder, vowing to go no further than ankle deep. The rain made it difficult to see through the water, even though it was very clear. Beverly began to feel frustrated. Out loud she muttered,
"How the hell am I supposed to find shell food when I can't see it?"
Then she had an epiphany. A stray memory surfaced and she had to concentrate to keep it, but gradually it became clear. She remembered being taken to a cultural centre by her Grandmother. There she had seen demonstrations of how indigenous people, centuries ago, had used their feet to find food in the sand. Snapping her fingers, she couldn't keep the smile off her face as she wriggled her toes into the submerged sand. She didn't meet with success straight away, but showing uncharacteristic patience she was eventually rewarded when her questing toes discovered a closed scallop-like shell. She bent and used her fingers to bring it to the surface. Lifting it to her nose, she sniffed experimentally and then examined it minutely. It was closed tight, the edges of the two shells fringed with a healthy looking pink membrane.
Satisfied that it was both alive and fit to eat, Beverly resumed her search. In the space of an hour and a half she collected over twenty shells of varying species. Unable to carry the growing load, she had made a pile just above the high tide mark. While she worked, the tide had receded, making her walk further and further to deposit her shells. Deciding she'd gathered enough, Beverly was walking back across the sand when movement caught her eye. A large, scruffy looking bird was pecking at the shells. Being out of the water, the creatures inside the shells were opening the shell covers, trying to find a way back to the sea. Beverly quickened her pace, yelling loudly,
"Scat! Those are mine...go find your own!"
Startled, the bird dropped the shell in its beak, squawked loudly and hopped a few paces, its wings outstretched. With sadness Beverly saw one of the wings was broken. She kept a wary eye on the bird as she put the shells on the piece of bark. Its black and red eyes followed her every move, in fact it was its concentration on Beverly that brought about its demise.
At hearing a loud flapping noise Beverly ducked instinctively. The air above her was disturbed as a huge flying creature swooped down and struck the injured bird, sinking long, sharp talons into its flesh. It squawked in pain and twisted its head, trying to peck its assailant, but the hunter shifted its grip and tightened its talons around the bird's neck. There was an audible snapping sound and the bird suddenly went limp. While all of this was taking place, the attacker kept flapping huge bat-like wings, hovering in the air, the black skin of its wings stretched tight. Beverly sunk to her knees and covered her head with one arm. With the bird dead, the creature flapped harder and rose into the air, sending a mist of spray to shower gently downwards. Even over the sound of the rain, Beverly could hear the whoosh of its wings as it disappeared over the sea. Somewhat rattled by the experience, Beverly made haste, feeling very exposed on the beach.
The piece of bark was thin and pliable, allowing Beverly to gather its edges to form a pouch. With the shells safely inside she made her way back to the metre high wall of debris, climbed on top and proceeded to slowly traverse the distance to her waiting friend and lover.
Beverly couldn't see the sky, in the constant rain everything was grey. Only those things close to her had any colour and even then, most things were faded and dull. She could only guess where the sun was, but it was still light, so she correctly surmised she had time up her sleeve. She had thought she'd find the shelter easily, but her wanderings up and down the beach had disorientated her. Also, the debris had moved, subsiding somewhat in the rain as it began to rot. When she didn't find the shelter, Beverly had to concentrate on not panicking. She stopped, rose on her knees and peered into the rain, trying to identify the structure she'd built. It stood up higher than the rest of the debris, but so much was sticking up in the tangled mess, she couldn't make anything of it. Taking a shallow breath, she called out,
"Jean-Luc? Can you hear me?"
There was no reply; the only thing she heard was the hiss of the rain. An hour passed in fruitless searching and calling. The light had begun to fade and a desperate Beverly knew night was fast approaching. She had gone back to the beach and found her foot prints in the sand, indicating where she'd first set foot on the sand. In the fading light she climbed back on the debris and travelled in a straight line inland, calling all the while.
She had tears in her eyes as her pain and panic began to overwhelm her. Suddenly, over the sound of the rain she thought she heard Jean-Luc's voice. She froze and called loudly,
"Jean-Luc?"
She concentrated hard and was rewarded.
"Beverly!"
Quickly moving towards his voice, Beverly almost sobbed with relief. Out of the gloom she saw the shelter.
"Jean-Luc!"
She had to squint to see him in the dim light. He pulled the skin down from his eye and smiled, opening up the splits in his lips. Casting aside her precious package, Beverly knelt beside Jean-Luc, cupped his chin with her hand and kissed him deeply. He felt her relief and the subsiding fear. He lifted his hands and gently held her face, her tears wetting both of them. The kiss ended and Beverly rested her forehead on his. They remained in silence for a few long moments before Beverly lifted her head and sighed. Jean-Luc heard her and asked gently,
"Are you all right?"
She swallowed and took a steadying breath.
"I am now."
He reached up and Beverly gently gripped his wrist.
"You were gone a long time."
Unseen by him, Beverly nodded.
"I know, I'm sorry, I got lost coming back."
Jean-Luc nodded slowly.
"I see. Well don't think any more about it, you're back now and that's all that matters."
They were silent again until Jean-Luc asked softly,
"Were you successful?"
Suddenly remembering the shells, Beverly grinned, her mood lighter.
"Yes! I found lots of shell food."
He grinned and Beverly chuckled. She turned and pulled the bark to her, picking up one of the larger shells. It had been partially open, but as soon as she touched it, it snapped shut, squirting out a jet of water. Beverly frowned, quickly realising an emerging problem. When she had remained silent for some time, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Beverly?"
She let out a frustrated breath and grimaced. Listening carefully, Jean-Luc knew something was wrong.
"What is it?"
Beverly briefly closed her eyes and gritted her teeth.
"I don't know how we're going to get these shells open. Normally you cook them, either by boiling or by putting them on hot coals, we can't do either."
Jean-Luc gave the problem some thought and sighed.
"They'll open when they die."
Beverly nodded slowly.
"Yes, but it would be best if we ate them while they were still alive. I want to try and avoid poisoning us, Jean-Luc."
Sarcasm wasn't what he wanted to hear, but Jean-Luc let it pass, he knew how frustrated Beverly must feel. He did, however, have an idea. There were some benefits to having grown up in a traditional French household.
"Go outside and see if you can find a strong, very thin stick."
There was barely any light outside, but Beverly did as he suggested. With all the broken vegetation about it was easy to find just what he wanted. She was back in minutes.
"I have one."
"Good. Now pick up a shell and turn it and see if you can find its vent."
Beverly picked up a shell, but frowned and shook her head.
"Its vent?"
He nodded.
"Yes. All the shells that I'm familiar with have a small hole; sometimes it's a short tube, where they can expel excess water. It can be used for propulsion or defence."
Beverly turned the shell in her hand, squinting in the growing darkness. She snorted in frustration.
"I can hardly see."
He smiled his understanding.
"Use your fingers."
Beverly shut her eyes and gently felt the rim with her fingertips. Near the hinge of the shell she found the vent. Grinning, she said happily,
"Here it is!"
"Excellent. Now, insert the stick into the vent and jab the creature inside."
Realisation dawned.
"Oh, I see. I kill the animal and the shell will open."
"Yes. That way the animal is still fresh."
While Beverly set about her task, she said conversationally,
"How did you know what to do?"
He smiled wistfully.
"My father used to buy shell food at the local market and my mother would cook them. Most times she boiled them, but on occasion we would eat them raw, dipped in vinegar. She had a thin metal spike she used and she taught me how to do it."
Beverly felt the shell release and smiled. She forced her thumb inside and prised the shell open. She sniffed the now dead animal and nodded. Triumphantly, she declared,
"I have one, Jean-Luc, open your mouth."
He smiled, but shook his head.
"You first, Beverly."
She shrugged happily and popped the food into her mouth. Chewing carefully, she grimaced when she ground sand between her teeth, but that was a minor hiccup. She swallowed and smacked her lips.
"Delicious. Okay, your turn."
When he held up his hand, Beverly frowned.
"Jean-Luc?"
He sighed shallowly and tried to sound unconcerned.
"I don't think I can eat yet, Beverly. I still feel quite nauseous."
Beverly spirits plummeted, replaced with worry. She put down the stick and felt Jean-Luc's forehead. He was warm, but not hot. Gently she said,
"Please try."
He clearly heard her anxiety and it saddened him. More to please her than anything else he slowly nodded.
"Very well."
Into his open mouth, Beverly put a freshly killed shell creature. Jean-Luc chewed and swallowed, then summoned a smile.
"You're right, they are delicious."
Feeling better, Beverly grinned.
"Even without vinegar?"
He kept his smile in place and nodded.
"Oh yes, I think the sand makes up for it."
She couldn't help but laugh. Over the next twenty minutes they devoured all the shell food. With each swallow, Jean-Luc's nausea rose. He was greatly relieved when Beverly told him there were no more to eat, but before he could say anything, Beverly disappeared outside. She soon returned with the bark piece filled with rain water. Despite feeling desperately ill, Jean-Luc allowed Beverly to gently dribble water into his open mouth. She repeated the action three times before she was satisfied he'd drunk enough. She then saw to her own thirst. Finally, for Jean-Luc, the ordeal of the meal was over. Now all he had to do was keep it down.
Over the following half an hour, vomit rose in his throat many times, but he steadied his breathing and swallowed, forcing himself to keep the food in his stomach. If Beverly was aware of his struggle she said nothing about it, concentrating instead on chatting about searching for more shell food the next day. Eventually she ran out of conversation and settled down beside Jean-Luc. She laid her hand on his chest and said softly,
"I think we should try and sleep now. You should be fine; you seem to have recovered from your head injuries."
Still fighting with his rebellious stomach, Jean-Luc merely grunted softly. Beverly closed her eyes and surprised herself by quickly drifting off. Jean-Luc doubted he would sleep and he was right.
Sometime during the long night he lost his battle. Trying not to disturb Beverly, he partially rolled away from her, but his wretched heaving woke her anyway. The stench was horrible and he didn't need to see the blood in the darkness to know he was seriously ill, the terrible pain was enough. All Beverly could do was gently hold his shoulder, offering what comfort she could.
When the episode had passed, Jean-Luc lay back down, panting and trembling. He was covered in sour sweat and to make matters worse, he needed to pee. Not knowing what to do, he summoned a rough voice to say softly,
"Beverly, I have to urinate."
She thought for only a few seconds. She'd been feeling his beaded forehead, noting he was hot, when he'd spoken. The solution was simple, but she kept her voice soft.
"Just part your legs and let it go, Jean-Luc. It will quickly disappear through the foliage."
Grateful for the inky dark, Jean-Luc did as Beverly told him, but it took a concerted effort on his part to succeed. He let out a shallow breath of relief as he finally began to release his bladder and he was pleased to be able to tell Beverly there was much less pain in his back when he did.
Good news was like treasure. Beverly held onto the report, mentally noting his kidneys must've healed. Ruefully she sighed as she wished she had more of the fungus, but then remembered she had no way to prepare it. She put the thought aside and instead concentrated on the most pressing problem. She gently laid her hand on his stomach and said quietly,
"Are you in pain?"
Jean-Luc immediately understood what she was asking. They were both in pain, but Beverly's question was a specific one. He nodded in the dark.
"Yes, my stomach hurts inside."
"And when you vomit, does the pain increase?"
He sighed.
"Yes."
Muttering to herself, Beverly said softly,
"Dammit, I wish I had a light."
Then to Jean-Luc she said,
"Can you taste blood in your mouth?"
He frowned and shook his head.
"Not really, all I can taste is the vomit. Why?"
Beverly took a small breath and tried to keep her reply soft.
"I think you may be bleeding into your stomach. It would explain the constant nausea and the inability to keep anything down."
Jean-Luc thought about that and shook his head.
"But, Beverly, I didn't bring up blood before the storm and I've been ill for some time."
She gently squeezed his arm
"I know, but you were getting better. I think this is something new."
He shook his head in the darkness.
"Perhaps I was injured in the storm surge."
Thinking hard, Beverly slowly shook her head.
"No, that wouldn't have caused a stomach bleed. Even a heavy blow to the stomach region is more likely to damage the liver or pancreas before the stomach. Do you recall a blow?"
Jean-Luc shook his head, frowning deeply.
"Well, no, in fact I don't remember much at all of anything after the storm began."
"Hmm. I guess we'll just have to wait 'til daylight when I can take a look at you."
Jean-Luc wondered what she might see that she'd not seen before. He shrugged mentally, concluding that she knew more about medicine than he did. But still, with nothing but her hands and eyes he doubted she would find anything but bruises. After all, even a Doctor as good as Beverly couldn't see through skin and muscle.
They were both still awake when the sun rose. The rain continued to pour.

 

 

 

Yerok smiled to himself as he walked side-by-side with Kenak. The younger man was now as stooped as he, the pain from his crushed testicles making him bend as he gingerly walked. They had followed the stream of mud, taking advantage of the flattened undergrowth that was evident of the stream's initial flood. Now receded, but still flowing fast, the creek eventually met another, larger watercourse. It curved away from the decimated timbered area and fell several metres until it found its way to the sea. The two Cardassians left the river and struck out across the centre of the island, making for the northern shore. Keeping in his mind the topographical map he'd seen, Yerok felt that if any Federation people survived, they well may be there. Just how the two of them might overcome an unknown force was irrelevant. First they had to find them. To his credit, Kenak went along with Yerok's assumptions but, unlike Yerok, he wasn't bent of killing. At least not necessarily. If he could locate the object and steal it, well and good. If he had to fight for it, sobeit. He would adopt a wait-and-see approach. He wanted the object, but not at the cost of his own life. Ultimately, surviving, getting off the island and the planet were more important.
Hunger was becoming a problem. Away from the coastal areas there weren't any fruit bearing tree remains or dead animals to pick at. Nor had they found any clean water, other than the ever-present rain. Their training as Obsidian Order officers had prepared them for deprivation, indeed they were well used to hunger and pain, but even they had their limits and if they were expected to fight any time soon, they needed food and water.
Kenak voiced his concerns.
"What are we going to do about food?"
Not breaking his stride, Yerok answered,
"Once we get to the shore, I'm certain we'll find something."
Accepting that, Kenak panted as he said,
"And clean water?"
With a snort, Yerok refused to look at his companion as he said dryly,
"Lift your head and open your mouth."
Kenak growled softly and idly thought about breaking Yerok's neck. He smiled grimly to himself and thought,
"You wouldn't be so damned funny then."
It was testament to the formidable strength of their species that they were able to plod inexorably on, getting ever so slowly closer to Jean-Luc and Beverly.

 

 

As the grey light of dawn seeped into their shelter, Beverly sat up and pulled her ratty hair away from her face. Since Jean-Luc's episode during the night she had lain beside him too worried to sleep. Now, with the sun rising, she would have an opportunity to examine him. But first things first. She glanced at Jean-Luc, but with his eyes swollen shut, she didn't know if he was asleep or not. She was about to say something when he pre-empted her.
"Good morning, Beverly." He rumbled. Beverly smiled thinking, "Always polite, even when injured and marooned."
Out loud she said softly,
"Good morning, Jean-Luc."
She gave him one more look, then moved to go outside. Jean-Luc heard her and frowned, asking warily,
"Beverly?"
She didn't stop, but offered an explanation.
"I need to make myself comfortable, I'll be back in a minute."
He tried to stop the blush that rose. It was ridiculous, they were both well trained, high ranking, experienced Starfleet officers, yet here he was, blushing like some kind of puerile adolescent. He was grateful Beverly hadn't seen his reaction. While she was gone he devoted some moments to consider their new-found relationship. He had already expended a considerable amount of time thinking about it, that was how he occupied himself while Beverly was at the beach, but even though the idea wasn't new anymore, he still gained great pleasure just thinking about it.
"Incredible." He thought to himself. While he should've been thinking about their precarious situation and his deteriorating health, he knew there would be ample time for those things. For now, at least until Beverly rejoined him, he allowed himself the luxury of indulgence.
The wan light of outside dimmed momentarily as Beverly returned, her body blocking the illumination for a second or two. She sat beside Jean-Luc and he made sure there was no trace of his pleasurable thoughts on his face as Beverly began her examination.
He has assumed she would simply prod a bit and look carefully, but she surprised him. Yes, she did prod and poke, she also peered intently, but when she said quietly,
"I want to smell your breath." Jean-Luc had to reassess his assumption. He frowned, but complied, opening his mouth and breathing out. He didn't see Beverly wrinkle her nose, nor could he see her worried frown. She said nothing and Jean-Luc had to stop himself from asking incessant questions. He lay quietly, forcing himself to relax as Beverly pushed and tapped her way over his torso. When she pressed down on his stomach, he couldn't stifle a groan. She whispered,
"Sorry." But continued with her examination. Her thoroughness was ingrained in her. It didn't matter to Beverly that she worked under trying circumstances, that she had no implements to assist in diagnosis or treatment, or the disturbing fact that her patient was the man she loved, she was a healer and she'd been trained to do her job regardless of the situation. Jean-Luc knew this and trusted her completely, in fact he had, in the past, seen Beverly perform her job under the most difficult of circumstances, however he also knew that he being the recipient of her skills had made things doubly difficult.
As Captain he was the focus of attention of all his crew. Their primary concern was his well being, especially for Beverly, his CMO. Putting aside the fact they were lovers, having the most senior officer requiring her services was an added pressure and when their situation was taken into account, Beverly was carrying a terrible load. Being a consummate professional, if she felt the pressure, she didn't show it. Her examination was measured and deliberate, leaving no stone unturned. Even though Jean-Luc thought he was prepared, he was still surprised at how long it took. Eventually her hand left him and she sighed. Tentatively, Jean-Luc whispered,
"Well?"
At first, Beverly's voice carried a Doctor's clinical tone, the only sign that her worry for Jean-Luc was affecting her. But Beverly was innately compassionate, no matter who she was treating. As he listened, her tone changed and the real Beverly shone through.
"You are bleeding into your stomach, Jean-Luc. Not only can I detect a trace of iron on your breath, but there is stiffening and guarding in your abdominal muscles. There are other injuries, of course, but I don't have to tell you about those."
Jean-Luc nodded, his face impassive. He knew, all right, he was aware of all his injuries.
Quietly he said,
"Do you know what's causing it?"
Carefully Beverly said softly,
"I can only think it's the venom from the fish. From what I can feel and smell, I think it's ulcerated your stomach lining and one or more of the ulcers are bleeding."
Beverly sighed again and gently gripped his shoulder.
"I can't fix it, Jean-Luc, not without Sick Bay."
It was nothing he didn't already know, but he hated hearing the defeat in Beverly's voice. He summoned a smile and tilted his head until his face touched her hand.
"Well, I'll just have to get better on my own."
He had meant to lighten the mood, but his words only made Beverly feel worse. When she spoke there was fear as well as defeat in her tone.
"I don't think you understand, Jean-Luc. It won't heal by itself, in fact it will probably get worse. Blood isn't supposed to get into the stomach and the body reacts very badly when it does. Every time you vomit, you exacerbate the injury, causing it to bleed more, and that makes you vomit more. It's a vicious circle, and it's one I can't stop."
Jean-Luc swallowed as the true nature of his injury became evident. He surprised Beverly by keeping his voice steady as he asked,
"How long?"
Beverly grimaced, fighting back bitter tears. One of the reasons she had shied away from a relationship with Jean-Luc for so long was her fear that this exact scenario would occur. It had invaded her dreams, occupied her thoughts and impeded her emotions for years and now here it was. Her worst fear had come home to roost. The question was...could she cope with it? Confronted as she was and in the dire circumstances they faced, she momentarily went blank. She stared sightlessly down at Jean-Luc, all thought, all emotion gone. When Jean-Luc received no reply to his loaded question he feared the worst. With sweat beading his brow and the nausea amplified by anxiety, he struggled to keep his voice even.
"Beverly?"
He frowned at her lack of response. He listened, perhaps she was weeping, but no, there was only the sound of the rain. He lifted a hand and pulled down the flesh under his right eye. He saw nothing of note, except that Beverly was sitting perfectly still, her unfocused gaze staring into the middle distance. That alone set off alarm bells in Jean-Luc's head. He quickly gripped her arm, ignoring the pain it caused. As soon as his hand made contact with her forearm, Beverly jumped like a startled cat and let out a strangled yelp. Now desperately worried, Jean-Luc watched as Beverly tried to gather herself. He strove to keep his voice gentle as he said softly,
"Beverly...are you all right?"
She blinked several times before jerking her head up and down and plastering a grin on her face, a parody of her usual warm smile. It came nowhere near her stricken eyes. His eye began to water and he had to close it. He didn't see Beverly's panicked swipe at her own tears. The lapse began to fade and Beverly regained control over herself. Her training clicked in and she retreated momentarily into her professional facade. Jean-Luc's question burned in her mind. She gave him the news with as little fuss as possible.
"You will bleed into your stomach until your body can no longer withstand the blood loss. Your organs will suffer a catastrophic shutdown and your brain will begin to cease functioning. At that time, you will be unconscious. Death will occur relatively quickly, you will be unaware. It should be painless."
Jean-Luc had long accepted he may not live to see old age, that was part and parcel of the career he'd chosen. All Starfleet personnel knew this, so he was prepared to hear his fate, but he also knew the cost to Beverly that delivering the prognosis had taken. He was aware she was insulating herself behind her occupation; he'd done it himself on occasion, but there would be a price to pay for that and Jean-Luc was unwilling to let her carry that particular burden alone. In the gentlest voice he could muster he said,
"It's all right, my love. It's not your fault."
Bravely, Beverly lifted her head and stared sightlessly at the roof of their shelter, fighting the tears that welled. It took several minutes for her to gain enough control to speak.
"I know it's not my fault, Jean-Luc, but it's so damned frustrating! I'm a Doctor...healing people is what I do! This is...it's..."
Words failed her and she curled her hand into a fist and brought it down savagely onto the floor.
She took a breath and blurted,
"I always knew this would happen! It's punishment, Jean-Luc! Punishment for daring to be happy!"
The dam burst and she began to sob brokenly. The need to hold her was overwhelming, but all Jean-Luc could do was place his ruined hands on her shaking arms and try to console her. However, Beverly's heart had shattered. His gentle words went unheard as she descended into anguish so profound, she briefly wondered if it might not be better if she were dead. Helpless and unable to comfort the woman he loved, all Jean-Luc could do was wait, wait and see what remained after the tempest of heartbreak had abated.

 

 

Her sobs reduced to ragged hiccups, Beverly wiped at the snot dribbling from her nose and tried to take a steadying breath. Jean-Luc had been listening carefully, waiting for Beverly to calm. He heard her shallow breath and how her breathing became less broken. Keeping his hands on her arms he said very gently,
"Beverly, my love, don't be upset. Somehow we'll get out of this."
She looked down at Jean-Luc, a small, sad smile on her face. Her voice was laced with regret as she replied,
"You just don't get it, do you."
Jean-Luc frowned and gritted his teeth. He thought angrily,
"She's given up!"
Out loud he said firmly,
"I understand, Beverly, but I'm not yet prepared to admit defeat...and neither should you."
He heard her snort and his mind furnished a picture of how she would look. When she spoke, Jean-Luc was angered by the flat, expressionless tone.
"Oh, right, I forgot. You're Captain Invincible and you're going to miraculously save us. How quaint."
Summoning his command tone, Jean-Luc barked,
"That is enough, Doctor!" Softening his voice, he continued. "Beverly, this has nothing to do with being a Captain. I love you and I have waited a very long time for you to love me. Do you really think I would give that up so easily?"
He detected sorrow when she said softly,
"That's just the point, Jean-Luc. Look at what's happened to us. We're marooned, hurt and you've got a fatal injury and to top it all off, you have no memory of what we shared! Just what do you think you're giving up?"
He sighed and shook his head.
"I don't see it like that. I..."
She interrupted him.
"God, Jean-Luc, grow up! There is no point in hanging on to something that's gone. I'm not prepared to lose another love, not again. You might as well get used to the idea, it's over."
Jean-Luc gaped, then slowly closed his mouth, fear and panic welling within him. Somehow he kept calm.
"You don't mean that."
"Don't I? You have no idea what it's like to lose your soul mate. Believe me..."
She got no further. Jean-Luc's angry voice drowned out the sound of the teeming rain.
"How dare you! I have lost loved ones, Beverly; it wasn't just you who lost Jack! I loved him too!"
He heard the tears in her voice as she shouted,
"The why go through it again! You remember the pain, don't you? The gut-wrenching, soul destroying, hideous agony that comes with losing the love of your life! I do, Jean-Luc and I vowed never to feel it again!"
His softer voice was in stark contrast to her outburst.
"So you just stop loving me? Just like that." He lifted a hand and made a clicking gesture with ring finger and thumb. "You have some kind of switch, do you? Like Data had? You can simply turn your emotions off? What about me, Beverly? Can you honestly say you believe I can simply stop loving you too?" He sighed.
"It doesn't work that way, my love. Despite what you say, I know you love me. For you to have admitted it only reinforces my belief in you...in both of us. It is true our situation is dire and I don't know if we're going to survive, but I do know what great strength we can gain from each other. We need each other, Beverly. We love each other. That will never change."
In the silence that followed, Beverly gently wept. Jean-Luc rested his hands on her arms and waited, hoping with all he had that she would relent. After a few minutes she sighed and when she spoke there was deep sadness in her ragged whisper.
"What am I going to do when you..."
"Die?"
"Yes."
He sighed too.
"You will go on with your life, Beverly, richer for the experience."
Anger lurked in her voice when she said,
"Richer? Jean-Luc I know what we shared, but you don't. That's kind of one-sided, don't you think?"
Jean-Luc smiled sadly.
"It doesn't matter, Beverly, all I ever wanted was to hear you say you loved me. I can only hope that what we shared was wonderful enough for you to cherish."
He only just heard her whisper,
"It's so unfair. What did we do to deserve this...purgatory."
"Who knows what's in store for them? We take what we get, Beverly and try to make the most of it."
There followed a protracted silence, each contemplating fate. Eventually Beverly said softly,
"I do love you, Jean-Luc."
He whispered,
"I know."
Beverly slowly lay beside Jean-Luc, placing her hand gently on his chest. Jean-Luc wished he could hold her in his arms, but all he could do was drape his arm across his body to touch her shoulder.
After a while Jean-Luc said softly,
"How long do I have?"
He felt her sigh.
"I don't really know. At present the bleed is a slow one and your body is coping with the blood loss, but that can't go on indefinitely. Eventually you'll experience the symptoms of anaemia."
Jean-Luc tried to sound confident.
"That doesn't sound too bad."
Beverly shrugged.
"Anaemia isn't pleasant, Jean-Luc. You will become very weak, breathless and your heart will pound. But there's something else you should know. Every time you vomit, you worsen the internal injury. That makes it bleed and that's going to accelerate everything."
Jean-Luc thought about that, then said diffidently,
"Then I won't vomit."
With a shallow sigh, Beverly shook her head.
"It's not that simple. One: the blood in your stomach will slowly increase, you will digest some, but not all and eventually it will make you vomit. And two, every time you eat or drink, you'll vomit."
"Very well, I'll avoid eating and drinking."
Irritation laced Beverly's voice.
"Don't be absurd, Jean-Luc, you have to eat and drink!"
He pursed his lips.
"Not if it's going to cause added pain."
Exasperated, Beverly asked rhetorically,
"And just what do you think eschewing food and drink will do?"
To that he had no answer. The silence between them became brittle and tense. To break the strain, Beverly took a calming breath and tried to make her best friend see reason. Careful not to sound condescending, Beverly said softly,
"Jean-Luc, you have to keep trying to eat, despite what it might do to you. As for drinking, you know perfectly well what dehydration will do to you and how quickly it'll occur."
His only response was to sigh, so Beverly continued gently.
"I will help you as much as I can, but you have to accept that I know what's best."
The irony wasn't lost on Jean-Luc. He was dying and there was nothing Beverly could do about it, yet she still clung to her training. He sighed, understanding why she did and forgave her. Prolonging his life just for the sake of it didn't appeal to Jean-Luc. Where he might go to great lengths to save someone else, when it came to himself, he was rather pragmatic. Beverly was well aware of this, having read in his medical file that he'd insisted on a DNR, Do Not Resuscitate. In the event of a brain injury, terminal illness or any other condition that would render him permanently disabled, he had left clear instructions that his life should not be prolonged and that all treatment should be ceased. It was common practice in the twenty-fourth century. Assisted suicide and DNRs were part of everyday life. One only had to have a sympathetic Doctor, however, Beverly Crusher wasn't one of them.
Beverly understood his stance and respected his choice, but it flew in the face of everything she was. Although she'd never discussed it with him, she had always hoped to get the chance. Now, in the current situation, she consciously ignored his wishes and strove to do exactly the opposite. And Jean-Luc let her. He simply couldn't bring himself to cause her more pain. So, resigned to his fate he said gently,
"Very well, Beverly."
She said nothing, but she knew exactly what he'd just done. Love, gratitude and sadness welled in her, making it difficult to breathe. It was a forlorn couple who lay quietly, listening to the rain.

 

 

 

With the vision severely limited by the pouring rain, the two Cardassians blundered slowly through the hinterland, tripping and stumbling across the ravaged ground. It was late afternoon when they finally came across the swathe of debris which ringed the island from the high tide mark to at least one hundred and fifty metres inland. They stopped and peered into the grey wall of rain. Kenak spat and asked,
"What do you think?"
The cagey Yerok smiled slyly.
"I think..." He bent down and picked up a rotting fish. "We're near the coast."
Kenak lifted his head and sniffed before shaking his head.
"I can't smell the sea."
He turned his head and listened.
"Or hear it."
Shrugging, Yerok pointed to some seaweed, entangled in a broken branch. Kenak pulled the corners of his mouth down and grudgingly conceded.
"All right, perhaps you're correct. I take it we have to cross that?"
He pointed to the debris which disappeared into the shrouding rain. Yerok nodded silently and Kenak sighed irritably.
"I don't suppose you know how far?"
Yerok's grin made Kenak wish he had a knife. He would slice Yerok's face clean off his head. The older man shook his head but said nothing. Kenak gritted his teeth and tried to stay calm.
"Very well, after you."
Yerok didn't particularly want Kenak behind him. He bowed and swept his arm. The gesture was clear and Kenak didn't argue; he was too hungry and tired. The younger man carefully walked onto the debris and tried to ignore the danger behind him. Nevertheless, the skin on his back tingled.
The light was beginning to fade by the time the Cardassians had crossed the debris field. Finding it difficult to see, Kenak actually fell down onto the beach. Yerok almost followed him, but stopped just in time. He looked down at Kenak, barely keeping the amusement off his face, but in was in his voice when he asked judiciously,
"Are you all right?"
Kenak glared up at the older man, seething with hatred. He didn't respond as he climbed to his feet, trying to brush off the wet sand. The constant rain had washed the mud from their bodies as well as the blood. Yerok was eager to get to the sea, he knew infection was a danger and that sea water would be beneficial.
Each man made his own path to the water and both knew not to go too far into the sea. Kenak remained on his feet as he doused himself, but Yerok sat, obviously enjoying the bath despite the stinging pain in his many wounds the salt caused.
Eventually it was Kenak who looked to the sky and grunted.
"It's getting dark. We should try to find some shelter for the night."
Yerok nodded, but said nothing. Together, but apart, the two men walked to the edge of the debris and tugged out some broken branches, fronds and seaweed. In a matter of minutes they had a shelter of sorts. It wouldn't keep the rain out, but it offered a semblance of protection. They sat glumly under the roof, knowing the night would be a long one. Kenak lay down, his back to Yerok. Sullenly he asked,
"What do we do in the morning?"
Yerok's voice was bored.
"Keep searching."
Biting back a sarcastic remark, Kenak sighed and said quietly,
"Do you know where we are?"
He heard the uncertainty in Yerok's voice, although the older man hid it well.
"I'm not exactly sure. This is the north side of the island, but I don't know precisely where we are."
"Do you know what we have to look for to establish our position?"
This time he was more confident when he spoke.
"Yes. There is a rock spit and a stream near a small cove. If we can find that, I will know where we are."
Kenak thought about that then asked,
"Do we go left or right from here?"
Yerok sighed irritably.
"I don't know."
Grudgingly, Kenak refrained from criticising. Instead he said evenly,
"Well at least we should find some food while we look."
Appreciating his gesture, Yerok said gratefully,
"Yes, we should."
Nothing more was said while the men waited for sleep.

 

 

 

While the Cardassians were making their way across the island, Beverly had returned to the beach to gather more shell food. To make sure she didn't get lost again, she had found and planted a largish branch at the debris wall, easily identifying where she had come to the beach. Her piece of bark had worn out, so she scouted about until she found a suitable piece of kelp.
Now familiar with the process, she dug up plenty of shells and was making her return in under an hour.
She pushed aside the knowledge that Jean-Luc was reluctant to eat, instead adopting a light tone as she chatted while opening the shells. He was a little reticent; a sure sign there was something on his mind. Half way through the meal and waiting his turn, he said quietly,
"Beverly, how far are we from the boulders?"
She chewed thoughtfully, then said around her food,
"Ah, I'm not sure exactly, but I think we're at the west end of the beach. That would make it...maybe...one hundred and fifty, perhaps two hundred metres to the east?"
Jean-Luc thought about that and opened his mouth obediently when he felt Beverly touch his lip. She deposited a shell fish inside and smiled when he closed his mouth and began to chew. She swallowed and smacked her lips. He heard her curiosity when she asked,
"Why?"
As she opened another shell, Jean-Luc used his tongue to push the masticated animal to one side of his mouth. Then he said,
"We're very exposed here."
Pausing momentarily, Beverly cast a disbelieving look at her Captain.
"Jean-Luc, you don't honestly believe the Cardassians still pose a threat?"
He sighed and forced himself to swallow his mouthful. He tried to ignore the growing nausea, concentrating instead on their conversation.
"While I'm not certain, by any means, I can't help but think that if any of them survived, they may well try to complete their mission. There is little more doggedly determined than a Cardassian. Once they set their mind to something, they almost always finish it."
Beverly thought about that and had to agree, but in the face of what had happened, she doubted any person, Cardassian or not, would continue. It just didn't seem plausible. She expressed this to Jean-Luc.
"But surely they'd be just as disadvantaged as us. I can't believe they survived the storm any better than we did."
"True, however that doesn't mean they've given up."
Shaking her head, Beverly refuted his words.
"No, Jean-Luc, I don't believe it."
In the face of her intractability, Jean-Luc adopted a conciliatory tone.
"All I'm saying is that we should at least consider the possibility."
Beverly popped a morsel into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. With a sigh she nodded cautiously.
"Okay, maybe you have a point. So what do you suggest? That we move to the boulders?"
He smiled.
"It's not unreasonable."
"What about the river?"
He mulled over that for a moment or two then said carefully,
"It should've dropped by now, even though it's been raining so much. Besides, we could always try to cross it via the sea."
Beverly digested that, then swallowed and remained silent while she opened another shell and gave it to Jean-Luc. Stoically, he began to chew, keeping a grimace off his face. She frowned and shook her head.
"Jean-Luc, your injury..."
He had already formulated a response to that particular objection.
"It's not going to make any difference, Beverly."
He was right, but it went against the grain. She scowled down at her hands as she removed the animal from its shell. Jean-Luc waited, knowing she had to come to terms with his plan.
After some minutes she huffed and said curtly,
"Okay, you have a point, but tell me, just what do you intend? You must know that all our preparations have been destroyed."
He nodded slowly.
"Of course, but that doesn't mean we can't utilise what's around us. We can mount a defence with what we have."
Incredulously, Beverly snorted.
"I don't know if you're aware, but I have only one functioning arm and you're incapable of doing anything. Just what kind of defence are you thinking about? We brandish sticks?"
Jean-Luc sighed.
"Why is it..." He thought to himself, " I always have to justify myself to her?" He sighed again, continuing the thought. "Why can't she just accept my authority?"
But he knew why, just as he knew he would patiently explain himself, as he'd done so many times before. Beverly's obstinacy and her querulous need to constantly question his instructions was part of who she was and part of why he loved her so. Not many people dared question his judgement, the fact that Beverly seemed to revel in her ability to second guess him challenged him in ways he found difficult to describe. He had long ago quashed his automatic denial in the face of her arguments, her success in making him change his mind convincing him she was worth listening to, but only to a point. As Captain there were times when he simply had to stamp his authority. He paid a price for that, but wore it with equanimity. She may well despise him for a while, but their friendship remained intact. Eventually she would forgive him and he could once again bask in her gentle companionship.
The same dynamics were at work again. He, implacable and sure, she mercurial and emotional.
He kept his voice soft as he said,
"We don't need to brandish anything, Beverly. Just make a shelter that's defendable, that's all."
Waving her hand dismissively, Beverly tapped her finger against Jean-Luc's lip with more force than was necessary. He ignored the gesture and calmly accepted the food. He knew she had acquiesced when she sighed.
"Oh all right, but you'll have to abide by my decision where it comes to your health."
He smiled and gave a nod.
"Agreed."
Beverly was about to smile at his acceptance of her terms when he said gently,
"To a point."
She immediately scowled.
"What point?"
"That you allow me to assist."
Her voice carried a clear warning.
"Jean-Luc..."
He held up one hand.
"As I said before...it doesn't matter."
His oblique reference to his prognosis sobered the Doctor. Quietly she said,
"You have me at a distinct disadvantage, Jean-Luc."
He gently placed his hand on her arm.
"I know, but not without purpose."
Shaking her head, she asked sadly,
"And what purpose is served by hastening your death.?"
It was a rhetorical question, one she already knew the answer to. They finished their meal in silence. Half an hour later, Beverly held Jean-Luc's shoulder while he heaved wretchedly.

 

 

 

They left their shelter while it was still morning. It was hot, the rain still pelting down, but fortunately humidity was tolerable. Beverly had found some more bark and showed Jean-Luc how to use it. With his broken arm and her dislocated shoulder their passage was slow as they crawled gingerly. They had to rest often. By the time they reached the beach, Jean-Luc was exhausted. Beverly helped him to sit with his back against the debris wall. She checked his temperature and noted his grey pallor. Jean-Luc endured her fussing silently, knowing she had to do something, she was simply unable to resist the need to nurse him.
Once he felt stronger, Beverly helped him to stand and, with his good arm draped over her shoulders, they slowly made their way to the water and turned to their left, walking unsteadily in the shallows.
The boulders remained hidden behind a curtain of rain. It was easier for the couple to walk in the water, there was little in the way of obstacles and they appreciated the coolness on their feet. They maintained a steady pace, but as they covered the distance, Jean-Luc began to lean more and more on Beverly. She found it increasingly difficult to support his weight. Twice she'd suggested they sit and rest, but both times Jean-Luc had refused. His stubbornness was quickly making her angry. Eventually she halted, causing Jean-Luc to say whilst panting,
"Why have you stopped?"
Also out of breath, Beverly sank down into the shallow water. Jean-Luc had no option but to follow her. She could tell he was irritated and that only served to make her more angry.
"I need to rest!"
His lips pressed into a tight, thin line, Jean-Luc took a moment to compose himself. He wished he could open his eyes.
"Beverly, we need to get to those boulders. We shouldn't be out in the open like this."
Huffing with exasperation and disbelief, Beverly said heatedly,
"God, Jean-Luc! When did you become so bloody paranoid? The only danger here is the wildlife and I seriously doubt that's going to be a problem 'cause most of it is dead."
His anger grew at being treated so rudely. He gritted his teeth and said tightly,
"I don't care! Our priority is to find a safe, defendable shelter as quickly as we can, not swan about like a couple of tourists!"
Beverly was incensed.
"Tourists? You damned arrogant sonofabitch! I'll have you know..."
There was quiet menace in his voice as he abruptly cut her off.
"What did you call me?"
With a sinking feeling, Beverly realised what she'd done. Her anger subsided and she sighed.
"I'm sorry, Jean-Luc."
He struggled to calm himself. Taking a shallow breath he said softly,
"No, you're not."
Beverly frowned and tilted her head.
"Not what?"
"Sorry. Not in the least."
She snorted and bumped her head against his shoulder.
"Idiot."
He huffed.
"Oh that's just lovely! Are there any other things you wish to call me?"
She shook her head, but said nothing. They sat in silence for a while before Beverly said quietly,
"I was finding I couldn't support you anymore. It seems I'm not as strong as I thought I was."
He felt for her with his hand. She gently took it and he sighed.
"Never doubt your strength, Beverly; you're the strongest woman I know."
She smiled and kissed his whiskery cheek.
"Thank you."
He turned to her and sighed.
"I'm sorry, Beverly, I should've realised I was getting too heavy for you."
Brightening her voice, she kissed him again.
"Let's say no more about it. Come on, we should be getting off this beach."
He silently acknowledged her gracious acceptance of his concerns and allowed her to help him to his feet. Twenty minutes later the boulders loomed up out of the grey shroud of rain. Between the couple and their goal lay the river. Beverly stopped Jean-Luc and said over the sound of the surf and rain,
"Wait here a minute, I want to check the flow."
He nodded and slowly sat. Beverly wasn't gone long. He didn't hear her return, but she gently touched his shoulder before she sat beside him. All business, Jean-Luc said crisply, "Report." Before he'd realised what he'd actually said. Beverly's eyes widened, but she didn't comment. Adopting a professional tone she stated,
"You were correct, the river has dropped significantly, but it's still flowing dangerously fast."
Jean-Luc considered the information and nodded slowly.
"I see. Is the any debris being carried in the water?"
"Not much, at least not that I could see. That's not to say there isn't debris being carried under the water."
He frowned.
"Hmm, that could be a problem. What is the water clarity like?"
Beverly pulled the corners of her mouth down.
"Not too bad, a little cloudy, but vastly improved on what it was. I have to say though; the risk of infection is still quite high. That water is undoubtedly contaminated."
His own mouth turned down, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Understood. In your opinion, are we capable of crossing?"
Beverly had dreaded that particular question. Until he asked it specifically, the idea of their intention was still abstract, as if they were discussing something remote from them. The unequivocal question forced Beverly to face the unenviable truth.
"Yes, I think we can."
He knew that had been difficult for Beverly, though probably not just how very hard it'd been. He had long ago become accustomed to asking his officers to do things they'd rather not and, although he had inured himself to their discontent, he did, nonetheless still feel some of it. He wouldn't be the fine Captain he was if he didn't feel something. However, to those around him he appeared inviolate. A rock, unperturbed and solid in any crisis. It served him well but it hampered him when dealing with his emotions. He wanted to ease Beverly's fear, hold her and tell her everything was all right, but his instinct told him now was not the time. Later, when they were safe, then he could be tender. If Beverly was having difficulties, so was Jean-Luc. In the back of his mind he thought,
"How do I separate the Captain from Jean-Luc?" But he had no answer and right then wasn't the time to devote any thought to the matter. He cast aside the troubling thought and focused on the now.
"Very well, proceed."
Beverly was aware of why Jean-Luc had reverted to his Captain persona, but it hurt, nonetheless. She thought they'd got past that, that their present situation called for a more...relaxed...interaction than superior and subordinate. Nevertheless, years of ingrained training had her immediately accepting his authority. She assisted him to his feet and together they entered the flowing water.
The bottom of the river changed with each tide. The flow cut channels which snaked along the bed, ready to trip the unwary. Though not particularly deep, or flowing all that fast, the river still posed a tricky proposition. Beverly's warning about submerged debris was timely. The couple hadn't gone very far when a length of timber struck Jean-Luc's shins. He yelped, causing Beverly to ask,
"What is it?"
He shook his head, the wood already gone.
"Nothing...keep going."
Feeling their way with their feet, they came to the first channel. Beverly told Jean-Luc to stop while she felt around with her foot, trying to gauge the depth of the gutter. When her foot touched the bottom, she said to Jean-Luc,
"There's step down, watch out for debris."
Where the water had been around their knees, once they stepped into the channel, the water came up to their thighs. Carefully, they kept wading, but just as they reached the other side of the channel, their feet were swept from under them but a large branch. Their heads dipped under, but they were able to quickly regain their footing. Beverly squeezed her eyes shut and muttered,
"Damn."
Jean-Luc turned to her and asked worriedly,
"What is it?"
She knew he wouldn't accept prevarication. She sighed and gently urged him to continue, while saying,
"It's nothing really, my knee hurts, that's all."
It was a gross understatement. The flap that consisted of her kneecap was being torn back and forth by the water and, when they'd been dunked, she'd brought her knee down directly onto the debris, tearing the skin further.
For her to have admitted the pain made Jean-Luc wince. It must be bad. The only thing he could do to help was to get across the river as soon as possible. To that end he quickened his pace and tried not to lean on Beverly too much.
They negotiated three more gutters before they managed to make the crossing, but the rest was uneventful. Having made it to hard sand, Beverly inspected their open wounds. Her knee was bleeding freely; however all the other injuries appeared clean. She knew better. Taking Jean-Luc's wrist, she led him, both limping heavily, through the boulders to the sea. There she insisted they both sit and thoroughly wash themselves in the salt water.
As they wearily made their way back above the high tide mark, Jean-Luc said softly,
"Well done, Beverly."
His gentle praise lifted her spirits. By now it was late afternoon and they still had to make a shelter. At Jean-Luc's suggestion, they constructed a makeshift lean-to, deciding they were too tired to make anything more substantial. That was something they would do the next day.
A quick inspection by Beverly provided clean water to drink, gathered in a depression in the rocks. With their bellies full of water, they retired to their shelter.

 

 

 

The same slowly dimming light that called Jean-Luc and Beverly to sleep; also drove the Cardassians to find a place to rest. They had passed the place where Beverly had hunted for food and were now but a hundred or so metres from the river. Had they been able to see, they would've pressed on, but with the rain obscuring almost everything, they chose to spend another night on the beach. Separated by little except sand and the river, the two pairs of people slept completely unaware of each other. It is said that ignorance is bliss. In this case, ignorance was merciful. Had the Cardassians attacked that evening, Jean-Luc and Beverly would surely have died. Fate, however, had other ideas.
The dawn broke, wan and wet. Beverly roused an hour later and smiled as she heard Jean-Luc's soft snoring. He'd vomited up the water before they found sleep and Beverly had seen, in the failing light, blood staining the liquid. The horrible reality of his prognosis encroached on her mind, but she savagely shoved it away. She refused to dwell on things she couldn't change. Besides, to do so would only cause her to descend into melancholy. Always proactive, she instead carefully examined Jean-Luc making sure she didn't wake him. He peacefully slumbered on as she completed her study and, satisfied he'd not deteriorated much, she wandered off to scout out things they could use to construct a stronger shelter.
Yerok and Kenak had woken with the sun. They spent a scant half an hour finding and eating some fish, which they found trapped in a pool, created by the receding tide. Thirsty, they moved off along the beach in the persistent rain. Kenak had his eyes on his feet when Yerok's hand grabbed his arm. Immediately alert, the younger man looked first to his companion and, seeing he was peering intently ahead, shifted his gaze to follow Yerok's. The vaguely indistinct jumble of boulders appeared and disappeared in the curtains of rain. The elderly man spoke in a low voice, carrying the edge of caution.
"I know where we are and those..." He pointed at the boulders, "Are where I think the Federation dogs might be hiding."
Caught in the open, the Cardassians instinctively moved up the beach, seeing the cover of the debris field. They climbed up onto the tangled mass and stealthily began to move across it, parallel to the beach. They had traversed only thirty five metres when they were confronted by the river. Just as Kenak was about to say they couldn't cross it there, he noticed Yerok freeze. Dropping into a defensive crouch, both men stared across the debris field. There, a mere fifty metres away was Beverly, blissfully unaware as she pulled a long straight bit of branch from the mass. Using hand signals, Yerok directed Kenak to follow him back to the beach. Once on the sand, the huddled against the wall, whispering conspiratorially. Yerok's eyes were restless as he said,
"She appears to be unarmed."
Kenak leered lecherously.
"She's as naked as we are!"
With a stern look, Yerok admonished the man.
"Forget that, you fool! Where there's one, there'll be more."
Churlishly, Kenak hissed,
"Well what do you expect me to do? What's your grand plan?"
His tone irritated Yerok, but he ignored it. He rose and peeked over the top of the wall, but saw nothing. Next he turned his head and squinted across the river at the boulders. Again, he saw nothing. Sighing, he frowned.
"They must be hiding."
Rolling his eyes, Kenak took an impatient breath.
"We can't do anything until we cross the fucking river! Have you thought about that?"
Yerok's tone was icy cold as he replied,
"We have only two choices. We either go inland and cross where the river is smaller, or we go into the sea and swim across."
Kenak blinked in disbelief.
"You've lost your small mind! We can't go inland...who knows how far we'd have to go. There's no food and no water in there! And as for swimming across the mouth of the river, what about the current? We could be swept out to sea!"
Yerok stuck his chin out belligerently.
"I am a strong swimmer!"
"He's not listening!" Thought Kenak. Taking a deep breath, the younger man said slowly,
"So am I, but we're not exactly in peak physical shape, are we? And have you forgotten our injuries? Not only will they hamper us, but the blood might attract predators."
Tiring of the onslaught, Yerok made a cutting motion with his hand, silencing his companion. Turing an implacable gaze on the younger man, Yerok said firmly,
"Do you have an alternative?"
Struggling to keep calm, Kenak hissed,
"Yes!"
"And that is?"
Closing his eyes briefly, Kenak spoke as if to a person of limited intellect.
"We cross here."
Using the same well-enunciated delivery, Yerok grated,
"Out in the open? What do you think our enemy will do then, while we're exposed and helpless?"
Kenak briefly considered abandoning Yerok and crossing the river on his own. However, he got control of himself, took a deep breath and explained his plan.
"We find some suitable debris, enter the river and sink down until only our heads are above the surface, hiding behind the debris. I doubt it's very deep this close to the ocean. Then we angle across and down, exiting over there."
He pointed to a spot fifty metres downstream, almost at the mouth. Yerok gave the plan some thought and grudgingly agreed.
They spent only a few minutes selecting some straggly branches. There were bare of course, so they had to festoon seaweed and vines through the spindly sticks to give the appearance of foliage and to have something to hide behind. Lying flat on the sand, they slithered to the bank and slid silently into the water. Relaxing their bodies, their feet soon touched the bottom, followed by their free hands. Allowing the current to take them, they moved diagonally across the river, the only hiccup being the channels. They negotiated them carefully, but they were carried a little further downstream than they intended. Washed out into the confused sea, they had to move quickly. With not enough control to move in the deepening water, they discarded their branches and forced their way through the surf and back to the beach, this time on the other side of the river. They moved into the boulders, tense and menacing.
Somehow they missed Jean-Luc. The shelter was hidden in the shadows of two boulders, the site chosen to take advantage of the boulder's position which offered shade for most of the day. Not that the sun was shining, but the couple hedged their bets, thinking the rain must cease some day. The deprivations they had suffered had taken the edge off the Cardassians. As much as they thought there were functioning well, the truth was they were well under par. Having sneaked in and out of the boulders and come up with nothing, they concentrated their efforts on finding and killing Beverly. As they climbed up onto the debris, Yerok picked up a stout branch. He hefted it and tapped it slowly into the palm of his hand. Kenak shivered involuntarily at seeing the look of pure bloodlust on Yerok's lined and worn face. The older man turned and grinned, the gap in his front teeth an incongruous sight. Silently, Yerok signalled for them to split up. Kenak nodded his understanding and moved to his right, following the bank of the river. Yerok moved left, crouching and making an effort to be silent. The younger man stood up as straight as his injuries would allow. He snorted softly as he watched Yerok's antics. "We're only hunting a weak, puny human female." He didn't even bother to arm himself. It was a serious mistake.
In the driving rain, Beverly was unaware she was being hunted. Underfoot, the debris was slimy and slippery, ready to catch the unwary. The stench had got steadily worse in the hot, wet conditions and Beverly breathed through her mouth in an effort to avoid it.
She struggled to walk, unable to crawl as she dragged useful bits and pieces with her free hand.
Thinking she may have more success with her quest, she walked at an angle, towards the river. Her head was down and framed each side by the thick ropes of her wet hair, narrowing her field of vision. Just as she neared the bank, she stopped abruptly when two grey feet suddenly appeared in front of her. Softly gasping, her eyes travelled up the slightly bowed, lacerated legs and onto the bruised and battered torso. By now she was well aware of what she would see. By the time her eyes reached the face, a leering Cardassian had the temerity to bow. In fluent Standard he said smugly,
"Hello, human. Kindly put your hand in the air."
Dropping her load and doing as she was told, Beverly closed her mouth and set her jaw. The man was watching her closely, although he didn't expect any trouble. In fact he was waiting for Yerok. Beverly, however was waiting for no one. When the man made no move, she tried to relax, giving him no reason to suspect she was planning anything. She regarded him carefully, patiently biding her time. Her fist quick inspection of the man had shown her he was injured, but what had briefly caught her eyes was the livid bruising and swollen nature of his scrotum. That, she knew, she could use to her advantage. Not only was she well trained in martial arts, but she had worked for many years learning the ancient Klingon self defence of Mok'bara. Even with only one useful arm, she felt confident she could at least match the man before her. His eyes briefly looked past her and she registered two things. One: he seemed to be looking for someone, and Two: now was her chance. She allowed one quick thought, that being her foot wouldn't slide through the debris when she placed all her body weight on it. Utilising grace, power and balance, she leaned back and to her right and, in a blur of fluid motion, kicked the Cardassian square in the temple. A jolt of searing pain shot up her leg, but she ignored it. The man staggered sideways, but quickly recovered. However, he made the mistake of bracing his legs apart, obviously worried about his footing. Beverly didn't need another chance to act. She feinted to her left, ducked and kicked again, connecting flush with his injured testicles. He yelled, his hands dropping to cup himself. He fell forward and Beverly stepped to one side, taking a fistful of his wet hair and yanking him backwards.
He toppled silently into the river and disappeared. Not giving him anymore thought, Beverly spun around and squinted into the rain. Nothing moved. Frantic with worry for Jean-Luc, she immediately began to limp along the bank until she met the wall. Once on the sand she hurried to the boulders, not daring to call his name.
Going deep into the jumble of rocks, she couldn't contain a quiet gasp of relief when she finally reached their shelter. Jean-Luc was awake and sitting up, his back resting on the closest boulder. The swelling around his left eye had subsided somewhat, affording limited vision. His smile of welcome vanished when he saw Beverly's expression.
As she knelt beside him, he said curtly,
"What is it?"
She swallowed and tried to control her ragged breathing.
"Cardassians!"
He slipped seamlessly into command mode. His voice clipped and strong.
"How many?"
She gulped again.
"I'm not sure. I got rid of one but he seemed to be waiting for more."
Jean-Luc, alarmed at her report, quickly ran his eye over her.
"Are you hurt?"
Ruefully, Beverly glanced at her foot.
"I may have fractured one or two bones in my foot. I kicked him in the head, it hurt like hell."
Jean-Luc allowed a small, knowing smile, remarking dryly,
"Cardassians have hard skulls."
All humour gone, he said crisply,
"Where did this occur?"
"On the debris field, near the river."
He mulled that over, then asked,
"Far inland?"
Beverly shook her head.
"No, only seventy metres or so."
He surprised Beverly by beginning to rise. She offered her hand and helped him to his feet.
"We have to arm ourselves. We should split up and make our way to the debris wall; we should find something useful there."
He glanced up, then realised he couldn't see the sun. Letting out a snort of irritation, he looked down and frowned. As Beverly waited tensely, he pondered their predicament. Suddenly he asked,
"Was the Cardassian armed?"
She shook her head.
"No, not with anything...and he was naked and injured, like us."
"Hmm, interesting. It would seem they're no better off than we are." His musing over he lifted his head and said decisively,
"Right, move out. We meet back here in fifteen minutes, no more."
He turned to the right, Beverly automatically to the left. They separated, but Beverly slowed when she heard Jean-Luc say quietly,
"Take care, my love."
She turned her head and nodded silently. In seconds they disappeared amongst the boulders, each going their own way.

 

 

 

Out on the debris field, Yerok was growing increasingly concerned. Not only had he not found the human female, but neither had he come across Kenak. With the limited visibility he knew he was at risk, the longer he stayed out on the field, but not knowing what kind of force he was facing, Yerok understood he had to find his companion. Working in a methodical zigzag pattern, he moved slowly parallel with the beach until he finally reached the river.
Staying down in his crouch, Yerok glanced into the flow and softly cursed, muttering,
"Where are you? What has happened?"
Realising there was no further point in staying on the debris field, he moved back across, away from the river until he was above the boulders. He then turned sharply and made his way towards the shore, intending to find shelter amongst the rocks while he decided what to do next.
He dropped down from the wall onto the sand, took a few steps and abruptly froze. As his eyes had been focused on the sand in front of him, he suddenly saw the slowly dissipating footprints. Even though the rain was washing all traces away, there was just enough for Yerok to see. His senses heightened, he followed the prints, growing ever more cautious as the marks became clearer as he went. Obviously, whoever had made them wasn't far away.
Where the debris wall started, it mingled with the boulders to create a crazy, tangled undulating mess. Between the boulders, the wall was only a metre high, but against the rocks, the mass had piled up, making it possible to climb onto the top of the boulders.
Once the footprints had become clearly defined, Yerok took the opportunity to climb up onto one of the boulders to scan the surrounding area, limited though his vision was.
Turning slowly, he suddenly stopped and squinted. A little further along the wall, a naked human male was tugging at a piece of wood, trying to free it from the tangle of debris. Completing his three sixty degree scan, Yerok climbed down from the boulder and, using the cover of the rocks, stealthily crept up on his prey.
Jean-Luc was at a distinct disadvantage. With the continual hiss of the rain and the rolling thump and boom of the surf his hearing was all but useless. Added to that the handicap of only having one eye to see through, and with narrowed vision at that, he was in a poor state to be away from shelter. He never heard Yerok's silent approach. The Cardassian moved from his vantage point behind a boulder and boldly walked up behind Jean-Luc. With an expression of utter disdain on his face, Yerok flexed his hands in anticipation. He decided he would strangle his prey, delivering him two outcomes. Not only would he kill the human, but the victim wouldn't have the opportunity to alert his companions. Now quite close, he was reaching forward to grab Jean-Luc's shoulder when the Captain suddenly spun around.
Jean-Luc had been aware he was being watched. When he'd first felt the skin on the back of his neck begin to prickle, he'd thought Beverly was approaching, but when nothing happened and his body began to tense, he knew he was being stalked. If asked, he wouldn't be able to explain how he knew when to turn. Perhaps he was just lucky, but he caught his hunter off balance. The Cardassian was stepping towards him, his right arm outstretched. Jean-Luc snatched the wrist and pulled the man violently forward, trying to yank him off his feet. However the Cardassian was wily and well trained. He allowed himself to lurch forward, but skilfully kept his balance. As he passed Jean-Luc he formed a fist with his other hand and drove it into the human's solar plexus. Letting out a grunt of pain, the air was driven from Jean-Luc's lungs. He bent forward and let go of the Cardassian's wrist. Struggling to take a breath, Jean-Luc turned, readying himself for a renewed attack. The blow came from his blind side, catching him flush on the jaw. Lights sparkled in his vision and he staggered backwards.
Yerok was enjoying himself. The human was obviously handicapped and part of Yerok was disappointed the match wasn't a more even one, but he still savoured the opportunity to punish his enemy, proving his superiority. So, to that end, he checked his power and began to play with his prey. The blows that landed weren't killing ones, meant more to cause pain than to end the contest. With each expression of pain that he elicited from Jean-Luc, Yerok grew more and more confident. He was to find, this was a mistake.
Jean-Luc quickly realised what was happening. He was aware of how strong Cardassians were in comparison to humans and understood that the grey man was toying with him. The blows and kicks hurt, but weren't necessarily doing a great deal of damage. Rather than expending precious energy by trying to retaliate, Jean-Luc concentrated on defence, absorbing the blows and biding his time. Everything was going to plan when he suddenly heard a shrill scream of rage. It took all his concentration not to turn and look. Yerok's eyes shifted for a brief second and Jean-Luc saw him smile. Then there was a blur of movement beside him as Beverly entered the fray, her hand upraised and holding a misshapen length of gnarled wood. She swung it down, but Yerok ducked sideways and the club hit nothing but sand. Jean-Luc lunged and kicked, hitting Yerok under his chin. There was an audible click as his teeth met and then Beverly heaved the club again. Rolling quickly to his side, Yerok swept his feet and caught Beverly, bringing her to the ground. Jean-Luc had to ignore her plight as he dropped to one knee and aimed a killing blow at the Cardassian's neck, but the shrewd man saw it coming and raised his arm, blocking the blow. As his broken arm absorbed the shock, Jean-Luc grunted and clenched his jaw. He wasn't prepared when Yerok threw a handful of sand in his eyes. He shook his head and retreated, trying to regain his vision. Taking full advantage, Yerok spun to see Beverly was again on her feet and circling him warily, the club still in her hand. She ignored his sly grin, watching him intently. He feinted a charge, stopped abruptly and speared his hand forward, hitting Beverly in the throat as she stepped into his space, her hand upraised. Her eyes widened as she dropped the club and clutched her throat. Making strangled sounds as she tried to breathe, she staggered backwards, fear showing in her eyes as Yerok advanced with her. The blow that hit her temple and robbed her of consciousness also saved her life. With her body totally relaxed, she hit the sand bonelessly and lay on her side. The muscles in her throat were released and air once again passed through.
Jean-Luc, his eye tearing, could barely see. Yerok smiled evilly as he approached the helpless human. Deciding he'd had enough of tormenting the man, Yerok grabbed Jean-Luc around the throat and squeezed. As he dispassionately watched Jean-Luc struggle to breathe, he devoted some thought to the carnal fun he would have with the female before he killed her too.
Jean-Luc, his vision beginning to grey, Grabbed Yerok's bony wrists with both his hands, trying to break the grip. Yerok wasn't squeezing as hard as he could; he wanted to prolong the experience. He was studying Jean-Luc's face intently and he didn't notice as the Captain moved his body closer. Jerking his knee up, Jean-Luc hit Yerok in the groin. The Cardassian's breath hissed through the gap in his teeth and his grip on Jean-Luc's throat faltered. Instantly Jean-Luc's hands shot up through Yerok's arms and his forearms struck outwards. It was enough to break Yerok's hold. Using the momentum caused by Jean-Luc's actions, Yerok spun around, hoping to hit Jean-Luc as he completed the turn, but the Captain was waiting for him. He aimed a blow at Yerok's jaw, but the elderly man was prepared. Throwing a punch of his own, their arms clashed. Jean-Luc was first to recover. He shifted his weight and grabbed Yerok's arm, stepping backward and pulling Yerok with him. Unfortunately he stumbled over Beverly's prone body. He fell onto his back, pulling Yerok with him. The stronger Cardassian immediately tried to gain the advantage, but Jean-Luc was again ready. Knowing he was fighting for not only his life, but Beverly's too, Jean-Luc found strength he didn't know he possessed. He rolled and tried to get his hands around Yerok's throat, Pinned, the Cardassian grabbed Jean-Luc's wrists and pushed his arms out wide. As Jean-Luc struggled to break the hold, Yerok twisted his hands. The broken bone that Beverly had realigned contorted and shifted, one of the jagged ends bursting through the flesh of his forearm. Jean-Luc let out a yell of agony, but he didn't give up. His legs were entangled with Yerok's making it impossible to use them. The only thing Jean-Luc had left to use as a weapon was his mouth. Through his still watering eye he saw the thick ropey veins and arteries cording in Yerok's neck. Opening his mouth as wide as he could, he manoeuvred his head until his face touched the skin of Yerok's exposed neck. His bit as hard as he could, hot blood spurting into his mouth. Yerok grunted gutturally and brought his hands inward, towards his body. He then rolled, reversing their positions.
Now on top of Jean-Luc, he tried to lift his head, but Jean-Luc had locked his jaw. Knowing if he tried too hard to dislodge the human he would tear his throat open, Yerok instead untangled their legs and brought his knee up sharply, hitting Jean-Luc in the groin. Agony blossomed through his body, but Jean-Luc clung on. Growing desperate, Yerok twisted his hands again, abruptly breaking Jean-Luc's left wrist. Somehow Jean-Luc used the resulting flash of intense pain to bolster his determination.
The blood had filled his mouth and Jean-Luc was having trouble breathing. His nose was blocked with dried blood and mucous, forcing him to breathe through his mouth. To do that, he had to swallow Yerok's copious flow of blood. He did so, and the action made him gag. Although Yerok was beginning to show his blood loss, Jean-Luc was also weakening. He briefly wondered who would fail first. In the end it was academic. With his eye closed, Jean-Luc never saw Beverly standing beside them. When Yerok's head suddenly jerked violently to one side and his body relaxed, Jean-Luc opened his eye to see Beverly lifting the club for another strike. He freed his teeth from the soft flesh and spat a mouthful of blood from his mouth. Beverly saw what he was doing and noted the Cardassian was unmoving. She braced herself on the lowered club and used her foot to push the flaccid body off her best friend. Yerok sprawled on his back, his life slowly fleeing as his blood pumped out of the wounds in his neck.
Beverly knelt beside Jean-Luc and blinked to clear her blurred vision. He spat again, then said raggedly,
"Are you all right?"
She closed her eyes and struggled with her rebellious stomach, but failed to stop the upheaval that took her. She turned to one side and vomited. Once the nausea had abated, she said roughly,
"Concussion. You?"
He lifted his arm and looked at the compound fracture. Before he could say anything, Beverly said softly,
"Shit."
Somehow Jean-Luc summoned a rueful smile.
"Indeed."
Turning his head, Jean-Luc squinted at the dying Cardassian. Beverly shifted her gaze and stared stonily. She said quietly,
"There's nothing I can do for him."
With a slight nod, Jean-Luc agreed.
"I know."
What she said next made him worry.
"He's not the one I fought with."
Jean-Luc slowly began to sit up, grateful when Beverly helped him. He looked at her and asked,
"Did you kill him?"
She shrugged.
"I don't think so. I pulled him into the river, but unless he drowned, he should still be alive."
Jean-Luc sat quietly for a moment or two then shook his head.
"I don't think there's any more of them, surely we'd have seen them if they were here. They would've attacked in number, I'm sure. We may have only one more to deal with, but we should take shelter in the boulders."
He felt Beverly take his arm.
"Agreed. Can you walk?"
He rose without his usual grace and had to take a moment to steady himself. Beverly too was suffering from vertigo. She adjusted her arm to wrap around his waist. He nodded and, leaning on each other, they made slow progress back into the maze of boulders.

 

 

The lone Cardassian male staggered out of the waves, wet, bedraggled and bent over. His hands cupping his genitals, he stumbled up the beach, weaving in and out of the clumps of seaweed and debris that littered the sand.
Arriving at the debris wall, he turned and sank down onto his backside, his legs bent at the knees. With the rain beating down upon him, he parted his legs and gingerly removed his hands.
As his testicles dropped his breath hissed through his teeth. Blood mixed with rain and sea water covered his hands and the insides of his thighs. Craning his neck, he winced as he used his fingers to lift his scrotum to see where the blood was coming from. He saw a three centimetre tear underneath the sac. The throbbing pain became too much and he again supported himself with his hands. Kenak gritted his teeth and swore softly. He turned his head and peered to his left, just making out the boulders through the curtains of rain. Briefly, he wondered how Yerok had fared, but shrugged when he realised he really didn't care one way or another.
From what he'd seen, the Federation people, if indeed there was more than one, hadn't fared any better than he had. The female he'd encountered was naked, injured and, as far as he knew, alone. Of course he shoved aside the fact that this disadvantaged human female had bested him in unarmed combat. His pride and ego could take only so much.
As he sat in the rain, hungry, thirsty and in pain he came to a conclusion. If he was correct, there was little reason to continue with Yerok's obsessive hunt. He should instead join forces with the Federation. In their current situation he doubted his enemy would do anything but assist him. He grinned slyly, thinking,
"Yes, they're soft. Not only will they welcome me, I will be fed and given water and in return, I will help them and together we will survive."
Having made his decision, Kenak slowly stood, taking a moment or two to allow the pain to peak, then settle. Then still cupping himself, he walked unsteadily towards the boulders. He didn't know for sure if anyone was there, but it seemed like a logical choice.

 

 

With Jean-Luc's forearm gently held in her hands, Beverly examined the compound fracture. At some stage during the fight with Yerok, her dislocated shoulder had been realigned. Though it was still very sore, she had some limited movement and made the most of it by using her hand freely.
Having cleared his eye of sand, Jean-Luc sat quietly, watching Beverly as she carefully inspected the wound. She sighed and looked up at him and he saw sympathy in her eyes. He knew what she was going to say.
"I can realign it, but it's going to hurt like hell."
There wasn't really an alternative and Jean-Luc knew it. He smiled and tried to make light of it.
"So what else is new?"
Beverly offered a soft chuckle, but inside she was dismayed. She was aware she needed to straighten the bone, but without the use of any sort of pain killer it was going to be excruciatingly painful. She was struggling to find the words to tell him, when he said softly,
"Just do it, Beverly."
Giving a quick nod, she put her foot in his armpit, took a strong grip of his wrist and pulled hard. Jean-Luc's head snapped back and through his clenched and bared teeth he howled. Keeping constant pressure, Beverly watched as the bone twisted and slipped back inside the torn flesh. She pulled harder, trying to ignore Jean-Luc's roar of agony. She saw the indentation in his arm that showed the two ends of bone were separated, then, having made sure they were lined up, gently released the pressure until they met. Blood flowed freely from the wound, but Beverly paid it no heed. She gently held Jean-Luc's wrist and bent his arm at the elbow until his hand touched his chest.
Covered in sweat and panting raggedly, Jean-Luc trembled as he waited for the pain to abate. Beverly said softly,
"It's over, Jean-Luc, just give it a moment."
He lifted his other hand, but with his wrist broken he couldn't do anything with it. He put it back down and tried to regulate his breathing. Slowly the pain receded to a dull throb and he opened his eye. Summoning a wan smile, he whispered,
"Promise me you'll never do that to me again."
Placing a gentle kiss on his bearded cheek, Beverly whispered back,
"I promise."
"Good."
Having assured herself that he was indeed recovering, Beverly took the time to inspect the wound. The bleeding had slowed and the tear looked clean, but she knew they would have to wash it in the sea. However, that could wait. For now, they would rest.

 

 

Kenak had frozen when he heard the unmistakable blood-curdling howl of pain. He turned his head, trying to zero in on a precise location. It was coming from within the boulders. He stepped forward, but very cautiously, wondering silently,
"What the hell are they doing? That wasn't a female's voice. There's more than one!"
This altered things significantly. He had convinced himself there was only one, the female, but now it seemed she had company. One thing he didn't want was to be outnumbered. Still, there was always Yerok. Knowing that cagey old man, he could turn up anywhere.
Conflicted, Kenak continued, moving carefully between the boulders until he heard soft talking. He stopped and gave himself one more chance to think.
"Am I doing the right thing?"
His stomach grumbled and he shook his head. With the incessant ache between his legs he made up his mind and stepped around the rocks. He smiled at what he saw.
Jean-Luc was sitting with his back against the rock wall of a boulder. By his side, Beverly sat facing the other way, one of her hands on Jean-Luc's thigh, the other gently stroking his face. Jean-Luc had been sitting with his eye closed, but opened it just as Kenak appeared. He stiffened and said, just as Beverly was reacting to his altered state,
"Beverly, we have company."
Slowly turning her head, Beverly took a long look at the Cardassian, who was motionless. Keeping her eyes fixed, she said softly,
"That's him, Jean-Luc, the one I fought."
Kenak heard Beverly's voice, but not what she'd said. When there were no belligerent moves towards him, Kenak took a short step and proffered his hands, palm outwards. Jean-Luc squinted, finding it difficult to see clearly. He and Beverly were in the darkness of an overhanging boulder and Kenak was standing in the light. As Jean-Luc looked up at him, it seemed as if he had a bright, white halo. Beverly turned and placed herself in front of Jean-Luc. She stood and shook out her arms, readying herself for battle. Kenak smiled and made an effort to make it genuine. He tilted his head and said quietly,
"I pose no threat, human."
Unconvinced, Beverly just stared. It was Jean-Luc, peering around his protective lover who said,
"Are you alone?"
Kenak shrugged and lifted his hands.
"I had a companion until a while ago, but I haven't seen him for some time."
Never taking her eyes off him, Beverly asked,
"What happened to you after you went into the river?"
Anger flashed in his eyes, but it was gone so fast, Beverly wondered if she'd actually seen it. Kenak inclined his head as if to pay Beverly her due.
"I wasn't expecting to find myself struggling for my life in the water. I relaxed and allowed my head to surface. Once that happened I let the current take me."
Her face expressionless, Beverly said icily,
"And?"
Kenak sighed and looked to his left, towards the sea. A shudder passed through him.
"I found myself taken out to sea. I had to fight the waves to get back to shore and ended up on the beach some distance that way."
He pointed to the east and Beverly gave a curt nod. She permitted herself to give the Cardassian a quick look up and down his body. Nothing much had changed since the last time she'd seen him, with the exception of the blood that stained his hands and the insides of his thighs. By the slight stoop, Beverly knew he was experiencing a lot of pain. Part of her thought that was fitting, but the compassionate Doctor frowned.
"You're hurt."
Kenak saw where she was looking and glanced down at himself. He lifted his head and offered a rueful smile.
"Indeed, but you aren't wholly responsible. I was already injured when you struck me, although I must say, that didn't help."
Jean-Luc, having listened to the exchange, said carefully,
"Why have you approached us?"
The grey man shrugged.
"I believe I'm alone. It makes no sense to struggle on my own when I can offer you my skills in return for shared food and water."
Beverly softly snorted and said derisively,
"Not too long ago you tried to kill me. How do we know you won't try again?"
Kenak shrugged.
"I admit, you don't, but what good would it serve me to kill you both? I am in just as much a difficult situation as you are." He sighed and lowered his hands. "I am in no hurry to die, human, and unless I'm mistaken, there are two of you...and only one of me."
His stomach growled and he smiled. Beverly allowed herself to relax slightly, though she was still wary. Jean-Luc said cautiously,
"I agree it would be better if we pooled our skills. What is your name?"
Kenak surprised both Jean-Luc and Beverly by boldly coming closer and sitting without invitation. He did so gingerly and, once he was seated, gently cupped his testicles.
"My name is Kenak."
"Rank?"
"Glinn."
Jean-Luc motioned Beverly to sit beside him. She did so, but kept her eyes on the Cardassian.
"Who led your mission and why are you here, on Delos?"
Kenak's eyes narrowed. He pursed his lips and shrugged.
"I might ask you the same thing, human."
Offering his own cold smile, Jean-Luc said softly,
"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
Kenak's eyebrows rose.
"A Starfleet Captain? Should I salute?"
Jean-Luc ignored the remark, instead he introduced Beverly.
"Commander Beverly Crusher."
Beverly inclined her head and added,
"Doctor Crusher."
Kenak nodded slowly.
"A medical Doctor?"
"Yes."
The young man's eyes slid over Jean-Luc. The smile he gave made Jean-Luc's stomach sour, but his tone made his blood boil.
"How convenient."
Beverly was about to react to the sarcastic jibe, but Jean-Luc silenced her by saying,
"If you wish to be seen by her, I suggest you adopted a more appropriate tone."
Kenak smiled to himself, thinking,
"I knew it! They are so soft! I can't believe they're going to help me. This is so easy!"
Outwardly he composed his features and offered a bow of his head.
"My apologies, Captain Picard."
Somewhat mollified, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Doctor, examine him please."
Beverly's head snapped around, concern and worry flashing in her eyes. Taking his eye off Kenak, Jean-Luc looked into Beverly's eyes and sent her his confidence. The silent message was received and Beverly sighed.
She took only a few minutes to complete her examination, watched all the time by both Jean-Luc and Kenak.
She sat back and shrugged.
"Nothing serious."
As he again cupped himself, Kenak looked first at Beverly, then at his injured testicles. Beverly sighed and rubbed her brow.
"As far as I can tell, there's no permanent damage there, but there is severe bruising as well as a nasty cut. It will heal, but it will be painful for some time to come."
Kenak absorbed that, then asked carefully,
"There's nothing you can do?"
Pulling down the corners of her mouth, Beverly shook her head.
"No. The only thing I can suggest is that you continue to support the area; that will help with the pain."
Nodding, Kenak said quietly,
"Thank you."
His stomach growled again and Beverly asked,
"When was the last time you ate?"
The Cardassian had to think about that. He sighed and frowned.
"Yesterday?"
"And what did you eat?"
Distaste made him grimace.
"We picked at dead animals and rotten fruit."
Beverly frowned.
"I see. Have you experienced any nausea or vomiting?"
Kenak shook his head.
"No."
"Then it seems you were lucky."
The Cardassian gave a nod, then cast a speculative look at Jean-Luc.
"Have you any food?"
The Captain shook his head.
"No, but we know where to get some, provided you help."
Kenak immediately gave an enthusiastic nod.
"Of course!"
Taking the hint, Beverly stood and gave him a long look. He rose slowly to his feet and gestured with one hand.
"After you, Doctor."
As Beverly passed him, he fell into step behind her. The skin on the back of her neck prickled and she had to resist the urge to look over her shoulder. Unseen by both Beverly and Jean-Luc, Kenak studied Beverly's backside and grinned lecherously.

It was the work of only a minute or two to show Kenak how to dig up the shells. Beverly had discovered how to locate the hidden seafood; the animals sifted water and sand through their bodies, extracting minute particles of food. The excess water and grit was expelled forcibly through the vent. That caused a small nodule of sand to appear, along with a bubble or two. All one had to do was stand still in the shallow water and watch.
Only having one foot to dig with, Beverly found it painfully difficult to stand on the injured foot. Nevertheless, rather than letting Kenak see her handicap, she swallowed her pain and doggedly went about gathering food. The Cardassian learned quickly and soon developed the right technique. In half an hour they had more shells than they could carry.
Without being told, Kenak shuffled out of the water and quickly found a suitable piece of kelp. While he was freeing it from some debris, he noticed a particular type of seaweed. He lifted a long piece and took it, with the kelp, back to Beverly.
She frowned when she saw it.
"Why have you got that?"
She pointed to the long, feathery vegetation. Kenak smiled and lifted it higher.
"Do you not recognise food when you see it?
Beverly gave another look and shrugged.
"Are you saying it's edible?"
His smile grew.
"Indeed it is. It's called sea grape. See these bladders?"
Beverly peered in the rain.
"Yes."
"They're edible."
Beverly accepted that, but had concerns.
"How do you know humans can eat it?"
Kenak shrugged.
"I don't, but surely we're enough alike that our digestive systems would be similar?"
Frowning deeply, Beverly pressed her lips together.
"From what I know of Cardassian physiology, you are correct, but there are some differences."
She sighed and rubbed her forehead.
"However, generally speaking, what you can eat, so can we. At least in the short term."
Kenak lowered his arm and gave a nod.
"Well, there you are. Have we completed our task?"
"Yes."
"Then may I suggest we take our food back to your Captain. I for one am very hungry."
Keeping her face unreadable, Beverly nodded silently and left the water. As they were putting the shells on the kelp, Kenak asked,
"Did either you, or your Captain, see my companion?"
Beverly didn't look up, she just said quietly,
"What if we did?"
When nothing was said for a few minutes, Kenak muttered quietly,
"He's dead, isn't he."
Beverly took a shallow breath and kept her eyes on her hands. She gathered the kelp edges and as she stood, she cradled the package in her arm. She took a few steps, noting that Kenak walked by her side. Softly she said,
"Yes."
Kenak showed no emotion, he merely nodded. Beverly waited a moment or two before she asked,
"Was he the only one, or are there others?"
Glancing briefly at her, Kenak shrugged.
"As far as I know, Yerok was the last, apart from me, of course."
Beverly raised her eyebrows.
"Yerok?"
Kenak said evenly,
"You're surprised he had a name?"
Feeling distinctly uncomfortable, Beverly did her best to hide her feelings from the Cardassian.
"Of course not."
Keeping his tone conversational, Kenak remarked,
"It's perfectly understandable, Doctor. It's easier to kill a stranger, I know. Once your victim has a name, it becomes harder."
Beverly felt cold. His comments were so devoid of emotion, so matter-of-fact.
Heatedly, Beverly snapped,
"I don't kill easily, Kenak. My life; or that of someone else has to be at risk."
The grey man's smile was condescending and it made Beverly grit her teeth.
"Self defence? How very commendable. Tell me, Doctor, did you bury Yerok's body? Did you show it any respect?"
His implication angered Beverly further.
"No, Kenak, we didn't and neither would he have done so for us should he have won."
Kenak sighed theatrically. He offered a cold smile.
"You may be right, Doctor, but your actions seem so...brutal. We..."
Beverly cut him off.
"Brutal? How dare you?! Your people, Kenak, took torture to a whole new level. Don't you dare call me brutal! I only kill in self defence. You'd kill me in an instant if you thought you'd benefit by it. The Cardassian military exists through brutality!"
If he was at all affected by her outburst, he didn't show it. Instead he inclined his head and gave Beverly an annoying smile.
"It seems you know quite a bit about my people, Doctor. How is that possible?"
They were nearly at the boulders and Beverly was growing tired of the conversation. She made a soft grunting sound and tried to change the subject.
"Once we're back at the shelter, I'll show you how to open the shells."
Kenak smiled to himself, delighted he'd made Beverly uncomfortable. He wasn't about to stop.
"Doctor?"
Gritting her teeth, Beverly muttered,
"I've had...dealings...with some Cardassians."
"Interesting. You understand our physiology, you think you know about our military, you accuse us of being brutal. Tell me, Doctor, just who gave you this information about us? Dissidents with an agenda, perhaps?"
Beverly stopped abruptly and glared at the man. She was going to respond to his needling, but slowly reined in her temper. Instead she surprised him by smiling.
"I'm sure you will show me how peaceful and selfless Cardassians can be."
Not waiting for his reaction, Beverly turned and continued on her way. Kenak lifted his eyebrows and nodded appreciatively, thinking,
"Well done, Doctor."
As they neared the shelter, the sounds of Jean-Luc heaving reached their ears. Beverly cursed softly and quickened her step, but she was hampered by her injured foot. She uttered a soft yelp of alarm when Kenak took her arm and draped it across his shoulders. She considered refusing his help, but the sounds of Jean-Luc's distress quickly wiped that from her mind. Leaning on the Cardassian, she allowed him to assist her as they moved as quickly as they could through the boulders.

 

 

Lying on his side, Jean-Luc continued to heave even though there was nothing more to bring up. The sand beside him was stained, green from his bile and dark red, almost black, from the blood. Beverly left Kenak and knelt by Jean-Luc offering soft words of comfort. The Cardassian looked on, his face impassive, however his mind was racing.
"The Captain is bleeding internally! Surely that means he will die?"
He smiled inwardly.
"That means I'll have the female to myself. And this time I'll make sure she doesn't get the chance to defend herself."
Beverly had spoken, but Kenak hadn't heard her. She repeated herself and there was irritation in her voice.
"Kenak!"
He blinked and tilted his head.
"Yes?"
"I said I need you to get some water!"
He frowned.
"From where and how will I carry it?"
Keeping her eyes on the wretchedly heaving Captain, Beverly said with exasperation,
"Take the kelp and wash it thoroughly. You'll find the water cascading off the rocks."
Needing no further instructions, Kenak left. Jean-Luc slowly stopped heaving and Beverly eased him onto his back. He was gasping and softly groaning. Gently wiping the sweat from his brow, Beverly said,
"Try to relax, my love. I'll have some water for you soon."
He closed his eye and struggled to control his breathing. He placed one hand flat on his quivering stomach. Breathlessly he whispered,
"Hurts."
Gently covering his hand with hers, Beverly replied,
"I know. Use your mind, Jean-Luc, think about something else, you can do it, I know you can."
His face slowly lost its grimace of pain and became expressionless. He took a shallow breath and said quietly,
"Where is he?"
Beverly admired his force of will. Keeping her sympathy out of her voice, she replied,
"He's gone to get some water."
Lowering his voice, Jean-Luc said,
"Don't trust him, Beverly. Watch him at all times."
Jean-Luc bore no prejudices when it came to alien species, but he'd been mercilessly tortured at the hands of the Cardassians and had learned the hard way that they weren't to be trusted. Beverly knew this, of course; however she merely nodded, aware that Jean-Luc needed the semblance of control.
To change the subject, she said quietly,
"After you've had a drink, I'll take you to the sea to bathe your arm."
He was well aware of her tactics and went along with her. They both fully understood their situation.
"I'm sure that'll be lovely."
What she said next almost made him screw his face in disgust.
"We have some seafood, we can eat once you're arm is clean."
Somehow he smiled and kept his voice steady.
"I look forward to it.
It was a lie, of course and Beverly knew it, but she accepted it with a smile. A brief dimming of the wan light heralded Kenak's return. Beverly took the proffered pouch of water and gently held it to Jean-Luc mouth. He sipped, taking in more than he wanted and struggled to keep it down. Beverly knew by his pallor and laboured breathing that he was battling nausea, but could do nothing to help. It was something Jean-Luc had to overcome by himself. While the couple were distracted, Kenak watched dispassionately, wondering why they bothered. The Captain was a liability; taking food, water and time. Better that he just died...or perhaps someone should...assist...him. Tucking that thought away for later consideration, Kenak sat and said quietly,
"Is there anything I can do?"
Beverly stiffened and snapped.
"No, I can manage."
Then regretting her harsh tone, said softly,
"Thank you, Kenak, but we're fine."
The grey man nodded, but thought coldly,
"You will not be so high and mighty once the Captain is dead."
It was almost twenty minutes before Jean-Luc was able to climb to his feet. With Beverly on one side and Kenak on the other to help him, they made their slow way to the sea.

 

 

The meal was torture for Jean-Luc. At first he'd been interested to watch as Beverly taught Kenak how to open the shells. The Cardassian mastered the technique quickly and ate the animals with obvious relish, however, when it came time for Jean-Luc to eat, he struggled to swallow and keep the food down. And to make matters worse, Jean-Luc found that eating increased the pain in his stomach. He said nothing about it to Beverly, but he knew it was yet another sign of his impending demise.
Worry creased his brow as he began to fret over Beverly's situation once he was gone. Left alone with the Cardassian, how would she cope? It was hard enough to keep an eye on the man now, how would it be faced with the task of survival as well? Jean-Luc clenched his jaw and softly swore. Beverly heard him and mistook his curse for an expression of pain. She stopped eating to ask,
"What is it, Jean-Luc?"
Annoyed at being caught, Jean-Luc summoned a wan smile and shook his head.
"Nothing, Doctor...just wool gathering."
Beverly gave him a hard look, completely unconvinced. However she wouldn't challenge him in front of Kenak. With her mouth set in a grim line she said quietly,
"Well perhaps you should think about something else...something that won't make you swear."
Lowering his gaze, Jean-Luc accepted her mild rebuke. Kenak's soft snort made Beverly turn her attention to him.
"Do you have something to say?"
He shook his head, but his smug expression said it all. He obviously thought it amusing that Beverly would speak to her Captain in such a manner and that he allowed it. Beverly struggled to keep calm, saying carefully,
"The Captain accepts my authority when it comes to medical maters."
Holding up his hands, Kenak adopted an innocent visage.
"I didn't say anything!"
"You didn't have to; it was written all over your face!" Beverly snapped.
Kenak's eyes darkened and he tensed.
"I am not accustomed to being admonished for something I didn't do!"
Now immersed in the argument, Beverly sneered.
"You're as guilty as hell, Kenak! Don't tell me you weren't thinking something sarcastic."
The Cardassian began to rise to his feet, that was until Jean-Luc said sharply,
"That's enough!"
In the sudden quiet, Jean-Luc said more evenly,
"There is no point to this kind of conflict. We have to work together to ensure our mutual survival. Petty bickering is counterproductive, it serves no purpose other than to antagonise."
Beverly and Kenak glared at each other, but it was Beverly who relented. Softly she said,
"He's right, Kenak."
The Cardassian sat back down and lowered his angry gaze. After a few moments he muttered,
"It's going to take a while for me to become accustomed to the way you humans do things."
Beverly looked over her shoulder at Jean-Luc and smiled at the expression of approval she received. Encouraged, she said mildly,
"Well I guess we should make allowances for you. I suppose it can't be easy."
While his eyes were downcast, Kenak glared hatefully at the sand, wishing for all he was worth that he had a disruptor in his hand. Then he would show these filthy humans how a Cardassian warrior defended his honour. He had to struggle to regain control of his emotions before he looked up. When he saw the sympathetic smile on Beverly's face he almost punched it right off. His hand curled into a fist and the muscles of his arm corded, but, somehow he plastered a rictus of a smile on his face and forced his body to relax. Silently he thought,
"Your time will come, human. Then we will see if you still want to smile."
Through his bloodshot eye Jean-Luc watched the Cardassian covertly and what he saw frightened him. He thought about stories he'd heard about wild animals that had been caught and tamed, but in essence remained wild at heart. One never knew when they would revert...and the consequences were always dire. Somehow he had to hold on; he had to protect Beverly from this wild beast that lurked in their midst. Then he had a disturbing thought. Wild animals quickly disposed of the weak. Jean-Luc suddenly realised it wasn't Beverly who was in immediate danger, it was himself and he had no way to defend against the stronger man. It was only a matter of time before Kenak manoeuvred himself into being alone with him. Then, Jean-Luc was certain; the grey man would make his move. He frowned deeply as he grasped that, with his death a foregone conclusion, provided Kenak was careful in how he went about it, he could murder Jean-Luc and Beverly would be none the wiser. She may have her suspicions, of course, but if Jean-Luc was right, no proof.
"Dammit!" He thought savagely. "How the hell can I stop him?"
He briefly thought of making his concerns known to Beverly, but she already had a lot on her plate. Expecting her to guard him as well as doing everything else was asking too much. No, this was something he was going to have to deal with on his own. Somehow.

 

 

Three days passed and Jean-Luc's condition slowly deteriorated. However, he mustered his remaining strength and preserved it carefully. As each day went by, Jean-Luc knew Kenak was getting ready to murder him. In preparation, Jean-Luc had managed to secretly arm himself. It wasn't much, just a sharpened piece of shell and, being naked, he couldn't hide it on his person, but in the shelter, buried in the sand next to where he sat, he drew some comfort knowing it was there.
The rain had finally relented. Gone were the sheets of water that had poured down for so long and in its place were scattered showers. The grey skies began to break up, affording the occasional burst of bright sunshine. The humidity rose a little, but not uncomfortably so and, if it wasn't for the stench of the rotting debris, it might have been said that their location was quite nice.
Although Jean-Luc spent most of his time in the now substantial shelter, he did go out into the sun occasionally and found it most invigorating. Beverly had gained a tan and revelled in the sun, but Kenak shunned it, grudgingly explaining that he lacked the skin pigments necessary for tanning. His burnt skin was unavoidable, but he did his best to stay in the shade.
It was on one of those occasions when Jean-Luc found himself alone with the Cardassian. Beverly had gone to the water to gather food. The sun was high in the sky and it was very hot, although there was a stain on the horizon that indicated an approaching shower. Jean-Luc was finding it increasingly difficult to stay awake. The blood loss had reached a point where he felt constantly weak and often dozed. Knowing he had to stay awake, Jean-Luc sat up straighter and pushed himself backwards so that the skin of his back was in contact with the rock surface of the boulder. Pressing until it became uncomfortable, Jean-Luc used the discomfort to keep himself alert. It ultimately saved his life, or at the very least, delayed his death.
Kenak had been seated near the opening of the shelter, gazing outwards. Jean-Luc thought it odd, as there wasn't anything to see but more boulders and sand. Suspicious, the Captain slowly dropped his hand until it rested on the sand. Then, subtly, he moved his fingers and unearthed his weapon. He palmed it and lifted his hand to let it rest on his stomach.
For over an hour nothing happened. Tiring quickly, Jean-Luc struggled to stay awake. This was what Kenak had been waiting for. With Beverly due to return at any time, he rose slowly and allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness of the interior of the shelter. Moving stealthily, he crept from the entrance and warily approached the seemingly sleeping Captain. He loomed over Jean-Luc and slowly reached forward. When his hand clamped around Jean-Luc throat, both of his eyes opened. He bared his teeth and grabbed Kenak's wrist, trying to break his grip, but the Cardassian merely smiled and said softly,
"Give in to it, human, it's a kindness I'm happy to provide."
Jean-Luc knew he had to act. Using all the strength he could summon, he gripped the shell and slashed it across Kenak's throat. He managed to inflict a terrible wound, but not a fatal one. Blood sprayed outwards, covering Jean-Luc's face, neck and chest, but Kenak's grip never faltered.
Jean-Luc's vision began to grey as he gasped, trying desperately to breathe. Kenak's smile grew and Jean-Luc realised he was being toyed with, Kenak deliberately prolonging the act. With what little strength he had left, Jean-Luc attempted to strike again, but Kenak easily disarmed him, breaking two of Jean-Luc's fingers in the process. Now that he had both hands free, Jean-Luc used them to try and pry Kenak's hand from his throat. The Cardassian chuckled and leaned in until his breath puffed on Jean-Luc's face.
"I never thought this would be so much fun! You've managed to amuse me, human...well done! I might just have to make this last."
The utter cruelty of his offhand remark appalled Jean-Luc, causing him to struggle vainly. Kenak chuckled again and shook his head, his tone disapproving.
"Now, now, human, that won't do. It'll be over soon enough, be patient."
Sand was pushed up in little piles by Jean-Luc's thrashing feet. As his vision began to narrow, he thought he detected a slight alteration in the light. Just as he began to lose consciousness, Kenak's grip loosened. Jean-Luc took a huge gulp of air and blinked rapidly to restore his sight. What he saw made his heart miss a beat.
Beverly stood behind the Cardassian's crouching form, one of her arms around his neck. Both of Kenak's hands were hooked over her arm and the muscles of his arms stood out in stark relief as he employed all his force to overcome her. But, using a Mok'bara technique, Beverly had locked that arm with the other. The only way to break the hold was to either kill, or render unconscious the holder. At least that was what Beverly believed. Kenak threw himself backwards, causing both of them to stagger to the entrance. Beverly leaned back to increase the power of the hold, but Kenak was ready. He suddenly bent violently forward and managed to throw Beverly over his head. The hold broken, he recovered instantly and advanced on the sprawled Doctor.
Beverly scrambled to her feet just as Kenak lunged. She pirouetted sideways and avoided his gasp, but she knew she was at a disadvantage. The last time they fought, Kenak was badly injured, as was she, but he'd made a remarkable recovery and, even with her advanced training, she was no match for him now.
They circled each other silently, Kenak grinning coldly. He had the confidence and temerity to say softly,
"I had plans for you, human. Oh well, I'll feast on your meat instead."
Beverly didn't respond, instead concentrating fiercely on fighting for her life...for both their lives.
Kenak had discounted Jean-Luc, believing he represented no threat, but the Captain wasn't finished just yet. He picked up the shell fragment from where Kenak had discarded it and, when the Cardassian came near enough, slashed the man's Achilles tendon.
His leg gave way and he dropped to one knee. Beverly acted instantly. She took one step and, using her momentum, drove her stiffened fingers into the wound in his throat. Her hard digits broke through the tough inner membrane that protected his trachea. Curling her fingers around it, Beverly gripped it tight and yanked backward with deadly intent.
With a wet, sucking sound, the structure tore and was ripped outwards. Blood fountained in spurts, covering Beverly's hand and forearm. Kenak grabbed her hand, his eyes wide. As his life rapidly drained away his expression was one of disbelief. Once his eyes had rolled back in his head, Beverly released her hold and his body crumpled to the sand.

 

 

It was Jean-Luc's ragged breathing that broke the trance Beverly had fallen into as she stared sightlessly at Kenak's body. She blinked several times before turning and kneeling beside Jean-Luc. He was lying on his back, one hand on his chest, the other hovering over his throat. Stark red marks showed where soon livid bruising would develop in the shape of the Cardassian's hand. The Captain's eyes were barely open and his face was contorted by a grimace. Gently taking his hand and lowering it, Beverly said softly,
"Try to relax, Jean-Luc, it's over."
He gave a slight nod and tried to do as she'd asked, but there was something wrong with his throat. He swallowed and groaned at the sharp stab of pain it caused. Beverly immediately used her fingertips to gently palpate the area above his larynx until Jean-Luc softly gasped in pain.
"Damn." She said softly. When Jean-Luc opened his eyes and lifted an eyebrow, Beverly answered his silent enquiry.
"I'm almost certain you've fractured your hyoid."
He took a shallow breath and said huskily,
"It doesn't matter, Beverly."
Suddenly angry, she snapped,
"Will you stop saying that! Jesus, Jean-Luc, isn't it bad enough without you reminding me?"
His comment had been intended to ease her worry. Obviously he'd miscalculated. He lifted a hand and gently took hers. Nothing was said as she stared down at their hands and Jean-Luc frowned when Beverly turned his hand over and examined it. He knew she was pushing her anger and sorrow away when she said with forced diffidence,
"Your hands seem to be healing. You've a cover of thin skin now."
She paused and seemed about to say more, but instead frowned and shook her head. Jean-Luc waited a moment or two, then said softly,
"We have to get rid of the body."
Realising he was giving her a way out of the uncomfortable situation that had developed, Beverly nodded and cast a reluctant look over her shoulder. There was a stain of blood on the sand around Kenak's head and already flying insects were gathering. Some landed on the sand, but most settled in and around the hideous mess that was all that remained of his throat.
They both knew burying Kenak was out of the question, so Beverly said,
"The river?"
Slowly sitting up, Jean-Luc didn't nod; his throat was too sore. Instead he said,
"Yes, but we should check the flow first. With the rain now gone, the river will quickly drop."
Beverly stood and used her hands to wipe off the sand on her body. She stepped outside and quickly shielded her eyes from the bright sunlight. With her eyes still adjusting, she didn't see Jean-Luc emerge beside her. It wasn't until he gently clasped her forearm that she quickly turned her head and squinted. Like her, Jean-Luc was using his other hand to provide shade for his eyes.
Beverly looked him up and down, using the light for a better assessment of his body.
He was very pale, with dark circles under his eyes, and he was noticeably thin. Angry bruises were evidence of injuries and he was unable to stand up straight. Beverly had never seen him stoop, his posture was always perfect and she suddenly thought, for the first time she could remember, he looked old, as if his vitality was leaking out of him. The irony of that thought made Beverly wince. Jean-Luc heard her and guessed what she was thinking. To assuage her feelings he smiled and increased his grip of her arm.
"Care to take me to the river?"
She tore her eyes off him and glanced over her own body. She too was covered in bruises and the lacerations had scabbed, marring her flawless skin. Her knee was swollen and oozing a little pus and her broken foot was red and also swollen. She snorted softly and gave Jean-Luc a rueful smile.
"Look at us, Jean-Luc. What a pair we make! You want me to take you to the river? How about we take each other?"
Her heart swelled at the tender smile Jean-Luc gave her. His eyes shone.
"Very well, shall we?"
They were unsteady on their feet and the tracks they left in the sand were haphazard. It took several minutes to cover the relatively short distance. They stood on sand the rushing water had sculpted into long, twisting branches. Now receded, the river was almost a stream again. It would take several tides and more rain to restore the surrounding sand to the way it was. Beverly sighed and tilted her head.
"Well we can't use that."
Jean-Luc pursed his lips.
"Indeed, in fact we can't use it for anything. The water will still be contaminated and will remain so for a long time."
"Yes. It's such a pity; it was a really pretty little stream."
Jean-Luc smiled and squeezed her arm.
"It will be again, Beverly. We may not see it, but rest assured, eventually it and the rest of the island will recuperate. And remarkably quickly. With high rainfall and plenty of sun, growth will be rapid. And it will be sun and rain that will hasten the rotting of the debris. The process will put valuable nutrients into the sand and soil, thus promoting even more prolific growth. This island will, perversely, be more lush that before the storm."
Beverly's amused, indulgent expression made Jean-Luc tilt his head and frown.
"What?"
Taking a shallow breath, Beverly smiled.
"It's good to hear you talking like that. It makes all this..." She gestured with her hand towards the debris and the devastated inland, "Seem somehow normal."
Jean-Luc allowed a small silence before he said softly,
"We'll have to dispose of the body in the sea."
Beverly nodded and sighed. She looked out over the surf and pulled her mouth down.
"It'll probably end up back on the beach."
"Perhaps, but there are strong currents out there. Besides, it may be taken by predatory sea life."
Beverly shuddered as she recalled her encounter with just such a creature. She shrugged one shoulder.
"Well, it's not like we have a choice."
"Agreed."
She turned and gently tugged his hand.
"Come on, let's get this over with."
They were silent as they walked back to the shelter; in fact not another word was spoken until they were waist deep in the surf, holding Kenak's floating body. It had been very difficult to drag the corpse across the sand, but they took their time. However, they were tired.
Beverly recalled what the Cardassian had said about respect and she hesitated. Jean-Luc looked up and said loudly to be heard over the waves,
"Beverly?"
She lifted her head and shouted,
"Shouldn't we say something?"
Confused, Jean-Luc looked down at the body, then back up at Beverly.
"I'm not sure I understand." He yelled. Beverly pointed at the body and said,
"Last words. You know, like a eulogy."
Now completely nonplussed, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"I don't know. I'm not familiar with Cardassian death rites."
Beverly frowned deeply and shouted,
"We should say something."
Jean-Luc was a patient man, but he was quickly becoming annoyed.
"Beverly, I really don't think it matters. He's dead."
Exasperated, Beverly shouted back,
"That's the point!"
Jean-Luc let go of Kenak's feet and waded to Beverly. He gently took her hands and disconnected them from the Cardassian's wrists. Beverly didn't resist, but she scowled. Now closer to her, Jean-Luc didn't have to shout.
"It's dangerous for us to be this deep in the water. We should just turn around and get to shore."
Her eyes flashing dangerously, Beverly snapped,
"Just like that?"
He nodded.
"Just like that."
"Fine!"
Angrily, Beverly turned and began to wade towards the beach. Jean-Luc followed her, knowing she would have to stop in the shallows to wait for him as they needed each other's help to make it back to the shelter. The short journey was taken in brittle silence, not broken until they were seated inside. Jean-Luc regarded Beverly evenly and said quietly,
"Are you angry with me, or my situation?"
She refused to look at him. She glared outside, her shoulders tense. Her tone was flat when she said,
"Your situation? How innocuous that sounds." She turned her head and he saw pain and sorrow in her eyes.
"Your situation is dire, Jean-Luc. Your situation is that you're going to die...and I can't do a damned thing about it."
Jean-Luc sighed and lowered his head.
"So you were trying to what...compensate by giving Kenak a eulogy? Hardly logical."
His words were said with such pragmatism that they angered Beverly. She glared at him and stabbed her finger as she spoke.
"Don't you dare try to analyse me! I'll damn well...compensate any way I can!"
Jean-Luc smiled inwardly. Beverly's anger was much easier to deal with than her melancholy. She had always thrived on confrontation and he was often a target. Now was no different. What he said next was a deliberate attempt to provoke more ire.
"I suppose you'll want to give me a eulogy. Nothing too maudlin, please."
She was so angry she could barely speak.
"Damn you! It's not funny, Jean-Luc! How can you trivialise your impending death and my heartbreak! How can you be so fucking insensitive?"
His soft voice was in stark contrast to her heated, loud outburst. He offered a small smile of conciliation.
"I'm not trivialising anything, Beverly, I'm trying to let you know that I've accepted my fate and you should too. There's no point in dwelling in heartbreak, I want you to embrace the future, safe in the knowledge that you made me the happiest man in the universe. I will die happy, Beverly, content to know that I was loved."
Tears welled in Beverly's eyes and she shook her head in mute denial of his stoicism. Jean-Luc continued softly,
"Don't cry, Beverly, celebrate my life with me."
With her lower lip trembling and barely able to speak, Beverly moved closer to Jean-Luc and said quietly,
"How?"
He smiled and lifted one arm. Beverly took the invitation and snuggled into his side. He gently kissed the top of her head and then rested his chin there. He gazed outside and sighed.
"By reliving our time together. I can start by telling you about how I felt the very first time I saw you."
Over the next hour or so, Jean-Luc quietly told Beverly about how meeting her had irrevocably changed his life. Beverly's eyes lifted and she too stared into the light that streamed outside. His deep, mellifluous voice lulled her, calmed her and, when her eyes closed and her breathing slowly evened into sleep, Jean-Luc smiled.

 

As the days passed, Jean-Luc grew steadily weaker. Beverly gave up trying to get him to eat, it was pointless. All it achieved was to make him desperately ill and, every time he vomited, it stole more of his steadily failing strength. The only thing she insisted on was that he drink and most of the time he kept the water down.
Beverly had been correct in her opinion about Kenak's corpse. The morning after they'd disposed of it, it was washed up onto the beach by the tide. As it lay in the hot sun it swelled. Birds feasted on it and small animals emerged from the debris field to take their share. The stench of rotting meat wafted into the shelter, carried on the breeze. Beverly knew when the cadaver burst, the smell would be even worse.
That night the corpse was taken back into the sea by the tide and wasn't seen for a day. It reappeared minus a leg and half an arm. And it had burst. The air was full of insects, attracted by the hideous stench. Even Jean-Luc, weak and semi-conscious was aware of the smell. There was nothing Beverly could do about it until the corpse had rotted enough to break up. Then she could try and bury the smaller pieces.
As it turned out, she didn't have to. The huge bat-like creature landed nearby, hopped awkwardly over to the corpse and intimidated the feeding birds and animals into giving it up. The dusky orange and black creature climbed unsteadily onto the carcass and gripped it with taloned feet. Then, with great strength and flapping that disturbed the air around it, the creature took off, taking the corpse with it.
That afternoon it began to rain again, though not hard, it was steady. The humidity rose sharply making it very uncomfortable. Jean-Luc was fading fast. He had lucid moments, but they were few and far between. His heart struggled to beat rhythmically, he was constantly breathless and no longer had any strength whatsoever. Constantly by his side, the frustration and heartache Beverly felt was overwhelming. Losing Jean-Luc this way was so terrible cruel. A strong, vital man still in his prime, slowly, mercilessly sliding to his death in increments. He may have accepted his fate, but Beverly fought it every step of the way. She may not have been able to do anything to prevent it, but she didn't have to accept it like Jean-Luc had.
Taking a short break from his side, Beverly went and sat in the entrance, staring out into the misty rain. She knew Jean-Luc's death was imminent. While she sat, she listened to his laboured breathing, wishing yet again she could do something to ease his suffering. The thought that popped into her head both appalled and excited her.
"You can help him. You know what to do."
Beverly closed her eyes and shook her head.
"No! I will not!"
Then...
"If you love him as much as you say you do, then putting him out of his misery would be an act of love."
She looked over her shoulder at Jean-Luc and frowned.
"I can't...can I?"
Conflicted and upset, Beverly tore her gaze away from Jean-Luc and glared out into the wan light. Just as she was about to return to Jean-Luc, she was stunned to see a shaft of startlingly bright white light spear down through the cloud and rain. It illuminated a patch of sand before it abruptly vanished. Beverly blinked, thinking perhaps, in her grief and confusion she may have imagined it. That was until it appeared again. As before it shone but for a brief second or two, then was gone.
Six times it appeared, each time in a different place. Beverly wished Jean-Luc was conscious; she needed to talk to him about what she was seeing. She was craning her head outside the shelter when the beam of light suddenly engulfed the structure. Blinking rapidly, Beverly tried to adjust her sight, but the light disappeared. She quickly moved to Jean-Luc's side, a premonition making her frightened. The tingling in her body and the soft whine in the air caused her to take Jean-Luc's hand and hold it tightly. She closed her eyes and thought,
"This is it. We're both going to die."
She never felt the transporter beam that carried both of them away. The tingling stopped and there was absolute silence. Under her there was smooth, slightly warm metal, at least that's what she thought it was. Even with her eyes tightly closed she could see bright light. Cracking her eyes open, she winced as impossibly bright, white light lanced in, searing her eyes. She screwed her eyes shut and moved her hand, trying to find Jean-Luc. She encountered nothing but a smooth, even surface. She widened her search, sliding both hands in an arc across what she thought of as a floor. When she couldn't find him, she called out,
"Jean-Luc? Where are you? Can you hear me?"
Knowing he was unconscious and near death, Beverly didn't expect an answer, but panic was beginning to rise and she desperately needed to do something. She stopped and forced herself to think.
"Okay, I don't know where I am and I don't know where Jean-Luc is. Obviously we're not on the island anymore. So where are we?"
Starting a methodical search, Beverly kept her eyes firmly shut as the blinding light continued. As she crawled slowly, sweeping her hands before her, she called out,
"Why are we here? Who are you?"
She froze as a distorted voice said,
"It is not necessary for you to know who we are. What is more important is, who are you?"
Confused and frightened, Beverly said,
"Where is my companion?"
"He is here."
"Where?"
"That is not important. Who are you?"
Beverly stopped her search and slowly stood. Keeping her eyes tightly shut she said cautiously,
"I don't understand. Are you asking me who I am, or what species I am?"
"What species are you?"
"Human."
The light suddenly dimmed and Beverly chanced opening her eyes. What she saw dismayed her. She was in an utterly featureless room. Three by three by three metres square, it was light grey and completely empty, but for Beverly. She turned slowly looking for anything that might give her a clue as to where she was. Nothing. Not even anything to show how the speaker was communicating.
The voice said gently,
"There are many dead Cardassians on the islands. Are you responsible?"
Beverly was wary, but saw no advantage in lying.
"We are responsible for two deaths."
"The others?"
Beverly shrugged.
"I don't know how many there were. There was a great storm, perhaps they died in that."
"Perhaps."
Beverly frowned and asked,
"How is it you know they're Cardassians, but you didn't know we're human?"
The voice said,
"We are searching for something that was taken from us, something vitally important. We desperately need this thing."
Deciding to let her question pass unanswered, Beverly shook her head.
"So? What has that to do with us?"
"Look."
Momentarily confused, Beverly was about to ask what is was she was to look at when one wall suddenly transformed into some kind of screen. On it was displayed an image of the object she'd hidden on the island.
Beverly had been well trained in how to behave when interrogated. How to remain impassive even when shocked. She thought she'd done quite well, but she couldn't stop her pupils from dilating or her heart from accelerating.
The voice was soft and calm, though slightly distorted as if the speaker had something in their mouth.
"You recognise it."
Should she deny it? Beverly was faced with a terrible dilemma. She was well aware of just how dangerous the object was. Guardedly she said,
"I'm not sure. What is it?"
"You recognise it."
The implacable statement made Beverly realise stalling was futile. She took a shallow breath and nodded.
"Yes, I do."
"Do you know where it is?"
Needing desperately to find out how Jean-Luc was, Beverly tilted her head and said firmly,
"I will not answer anymore questions until you tell me how my companion is and where he is."
The image on the screen changed and Beverly gasped. Jean-Luc lay suspended in white space, hovering unsupported. There was a tube protruding from his mouth, a blood-red line extending from the crook of his right arm and, over his stomach, a bright blue light.
Beverly whispered,
"What are you doing to him?"
"We are restoring him."
"Restoring him? What does that mean?"
"He will live."
Relief and joy suffused every fibre of Beverly's being. She sank to her knees, tears welling in her eyes. The image disappeared and the voice said,
"Do you know where it is?"
She struggled to concentrate, her mind filled with the picture of Jean-Luc. She blinked and shook her head.
"I do know where it is, but I need more information before I tell you."
"Information?"
"Yes. How do you know about it?"
"We created it."
Worry creased Beverly's brow. This was news to her; she and Jean-Luc had assumed the Cardassians were responsible for making the object, especially knowing what it could do.
"How did you come to lose it?"
"It was stolen two of your years ago by a Cardassian agent; a member of the Obsidian Order. We have been searching for it since."
"And just who are you?"
"That is unimportant. We need the device."
"Why?"
There was silence and Beverly thought the question would go unanswered, but the voice said,
"Our planetary system is in crisis. We created the device to alter the space around us, thus saving not only our planets, but our entire species. Look."
The wall changed again and Beverly watched in silence as a vidclip showed a startlingly white square. She instinctively squinted. From the bottom of the screen, a black-clad humanoid figure appeared and moved stealthily across the screen. It stopped and removed something from a pouch at its waist. Its hands lifted and in them there was something bright green in colour, though not very large. The item was left seemingly hanging in the air. Beverly frowned, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. The figure ran out of view and there soon followed what appeared to be a small explosion. Beverly saw smoke, then suddenly the white light was extinguished to reveal a large grey room. The explosive device had been stuck on a wall. Down each side Beverly could see benches and work stations. The figure appeared again, this time running towards the rear of the room. It stopped at an apparatus that held something shiny. The picture changed, zooming in to show the figure grabbing something. The image froze and Beverly gaped. In a gloved hand, the figure was holding the object.
Once again the image changed. Now Beverly could see many mottled grey beings. They were vaguely humanoid and lying on biers. They were naked and seemed to be quite tall and spindly. Their hands and feet were frond-like and their heads bulbous. Beverly counted seventeen. Each had some kind of injury. The voice said,
"These are our most eminent scientists. They are all dead, killed by the agent in the theft of our device."
Beverly whispered,
"I'm sorry."
"We need the device."
Still not willing to divulge her secret, Beverly asked,
"Why don't you just make a new one?"
"Two reasons. One: with the deaths of our scientists we have lost the knowledge to recreate what they did. Two: there is not time. If we do not act soon, we will all perish."
Confused, Beverly uttered,
"But surely your scientists recorded their work? Why can't other scientists copy what they did?"
"Our species is genetically engineered and independently structured. All information is held within the mind of the individual. Nothing is recorded. Over time, each individual becomes a master of their predetermined area of expertise. However, that only occurs after several of your centuries. The scientists that are capable of creating the device will not reach that level of knowledge for many years. As I stated, we do not have time. Will you tell me where the device is?"
Torn, Beverly hedged.
"I am aware of what it can do. How do I know you won't use it as a weapon?"
"We do not use violence in any form. For millennia we have existed peacefully and alone. We do not conquer, nor do we travel outside of our system. We do not want, or require interaction with other species. We need the device."
When Beverly remained silent, the screen activated again and Jean-Luc appeared. Nothing was said, but the implication was clear. Tell the voice what it wanted, and Jean-Luc would live.
Beverly closed her eyes and crossed her fingers. Softly she said,
"Very well, you seem to have the advantage. I do know where it is, but I cannot show you."
"Why?"
"I hid it before the storm. The island has been so devastated I can't readily see where it is."
A thought occurred and Beverly asked,

" Why can't you scan for it anyway?"
"If the device was active, we could successfully scan for it, but in its dormant state it is hidden from us."
Before Beverly could respond to that, the voice said,
"You will go down to the island and find it."
Indignantly, Beverly said,
"Oh no I won't! I'm not leaving Jean-Luc!"
The tingling began in her body, accompanied by the soft whine. Beverly shouted,
"NO!"
But it was too late.

 

 

Feeling the sand under her feet, Beverly opened her eyes and snarled. She tilted her head back and glared up at the clouds, heedless of the rain that wet her face. With her hands fisted at her sides, she yelled,
"Fuck you!"
Having made the outburst, Beverly felt better. She looked around, not surprised to find she was standing near the boulders and quite close to the shelter. She frowned and squinted into the rain, peering inland, trying to make out anything she recognised. Defeated, she shook her head and limped to the stream. The rain had made it bigger, but not dangerously so and it no longer carried debris. She knew in what direction she needed to go and using the stream was the easiest way to begin. She stepped into the water, the current tugging at her legs.
The debris field had settled even further, the process of decomposition accelerating in the hot, humid, wet conditions. She ignored the sickening smell, by now almost inured to it. As she limped against the flow, she looked carefully at the debris wall and was rewarded when she found what she sought. With a determined tug, she wrested a stout stick from the tangled mess she could use to help her walk. She was under no illusions, it was going to be very difficult to find the device, but, with Jean-Luc's life in the balance, she simply had to succeed.
With time to think, Beverly ruminated on what had happened. She was angry that the alien would use Jean-Luc as a bargaining chip. But then she stopped in the water as a thought suddenly occurred. What if she was wrong? What if Jean-Luc wasn't in any danger? The more she thought about it, the more sure she became. Showing her the image of Jean-Luc wasn't meant as a threat, even though she'd taken it as such, it was incentive. The alien had told her they didn't resort to violence. But would they act to save Jean-Luc, or would they let him die? And what, exactly, did 'restoring him' mean?
Her feet began to move of their own volition, Beverly still deep in thought. "I've been led by my nose, played masterfully by using my ingrained instinct that automatically assumes anything not known to me is inherently hostile...or at the very least, untrustworthy." She shook her head and frowned.
"God, Jean-Luc would be so disappointed! I acted like a green cadet. I've been manipulated so easily."
She walked on, not seeing she was clear of the debris field and entering what remained of the forested area. Shattered stubs of trunks stood like sentinels, but although at first glance the scene looked forlorn, on closer inspection, new life was already flourishing. Jean-Luc had been right. The trunks were sprouting new growth and in the sandy soil, seedlings pushed up towards the sun.
Still within her mind, Beverly's feet registered the subtle change from sand to silt, but she didn't pause. More disturbing thoughts swirled through her mind.
"I fell for their simple trap because of my feelings for Jean-Luc. If it hadn't been him on that screen, would I have been so naive? Would I be here now, ready to put into the hands of an unknown alien species a device I know to be devastatingly dangerous? Based solely on their word? Jesus! How could I have been so stupid?!"
Her eyes flashing with anger, Beverly stopped and shook her head vehemently. She was vaguely aware the water had dropped. She glared down and frowned. She expected the water to get shallower as she went inland, but not so soon. With the constant rain, the stream should've been deeper. Confused, she raised her eyes and softly swore. Across the stream, effectively damming it, was a fallen tree. Around it and woven through its branches was debris piled almost three metres high. Water gushed through gaps, creating little cascades, but most of the water had cut channels around each side of the obstruction. It flowed swiftly and fell in two cheerful waterfalls. Beverly wasn't impressed. She scowled and turned to climb out of the stream. It was then she saw the banks were too high. Erosion had cut through the sand and soil creating a deep gully. Closing her eyes briefly, she strove to control her anger. With one last baleful glare at the dam, Beverly turned and retraced her steps.

 

The alien watched as its companion hovered close to Jean-Luc's head. It had placed three shiny, flat discs on his scalp and was attaching clear thin cables to them. The cables were connected to an apparatus that floated near the wall of the room. Having completed its task, the alien withdrew and allowed the speaker to approach. It extended its arms and placed its hands on Jean-Luc head, covering the discs.
Over the next hour, every scrap of information stored in Jean-Luc's brain was harvested. Every memory, every sensation, experience, thought, everything from his earliest recollections, up to his most recent thought was taken. It was not done maliciously or with any sinister intent or to do any harm. It was done purely through curiosity. The aliens knew all about Cardassians, but these humans were something new and they were intrigued.
Throughout the harvesting process, Jean-Luc remained insensate and oblivious. The alien, the one who had spoken to Beverly, disconnected the cables and removed the discs slowly as it was deep in thought. What it had learned from Jean-Luc was troubling. They had performed this procedure on several Cardassians, gaining valuable knowledge about them. They had discovered that though Cardassians were intelligent, resourceful, and able to learn and adapt, they were, nonetheless, inherently aggressive. It was a slightly different story with Jean-Luc's information. Humans, it seemed, shared an unfortunate history with the Cardassians. Like the grey people, humankind had been war-like and suffered thousands of years in conflict. But, unlike the Cardassians, humans had evolved and managed to put behind them their tendency towards violence. However, that trait wasn't gone completely and, although the humans had made a concerted effort to make their entry into space peaceful and non-threatening, they wouldn't hesitate to resort to old habits to defend themselves. The alien learned about the Federation of Planets and had to admire the effort involved in maintaining such a diverse and dynamic polyglot of worlds and people...but...it also learned how, even though the charter of the Federation was one of peace and mutual cooperation, violence wasn't far away. In the face of no other alternative, humans would go to war. The alien was saddened by this revelation. Its own species had, many millennia ago, been somewhat similar, but had learned to forgo all violence, instead turning their technological superiority towards ways to conceal themselves, thereby avoiding all conflict. If no one knew they existed, no one could threaten them.
It felt there was much to like about humans, but they were not yet evolved enough to be trusted. It wondered briefly if the female would keep her word. It had felt the very strong connection the male shared with her and considered it powerful enough to compel the female to do as it bid, but there was always the chance that the irrational human would fail to comply. In that case, the alien would return Jean-Luc, now out of danger, back to the island. Then, somehow, they would have to find the device themselves. A difficult task, to be sure, but not impossible. What concerned it was time. It would be so much more convenient if the female was compliant.

 

Beverly deliberately stopped thinking about Jean-Luc and the aliens. She had to concentrate on what she was doing. Having made her way out of the stream, she traversed the land at an angle from the stream, looking for the base of the main hill. With the ground beneath her swept almost bare, it wasn't hard to navigate through what was left of the forest. Having cleared her mind, she finally noticed the new growth and seedlings. Briefly she thought of Jean-Luc and what he'd said about the island recovering quickly, but brutally shoved the memory from her mind. She couldn't afford to be distracted.
She eventually saw, through the rain, the dark bulk of the denuded hillside. Cutting to her left, she skirted the base and struck off in an easterly direction. She knew she had reached her first destination by the absence of any vegetation. Not even a snapped trunk broke the surface of the ground. This was their original campsite. She stood in the middle of what used to be a clearing and got her bearings. She limped confidently into the wasteland, her eyes sweeping the area around her. She was looking for a rocky outcrop. From memory, it emerged abruptly from the ground, travelled fifteen or so metres before diving back underground. It was close to a very tall tree and a small stream. Beverly knew the tree would be gone, but she hoped to recognise it by the size of the broken trunk it left behind. As for the stream, she couldn't rely on that, as there were numerous streams flowing across the ground, evident of the constant rain.
After walking for twenty minutes, Beverly felt she was close to her goal. She stopped and slowly turned, her eyes scanning the shattered stumps, reminding her of broken teeth. When nothing familiar appeared, she began to walk in ever increasing circles. It was then that she began to think about Jean-Luc again. She returned to the conundrum. Would the aliens reward her by saving Jean-Luc, or, if she failed, punish her by letting him die? Or, conversely, would they save him anyway, regardless of the outcome? Was she worrying needlessly? If Jean-Luc lived no matter what she did, should she continue? It was, after all, not known who these aliens were and she had only their word that they wouldn't use the device as a weapon. Frustrated by both her unanswered questions and the inability to find the device, Beverly stopped and looked up at the clouds. She muttered darkly,
"If you let him die, I'll find you! You won't get away with it!"
It was an empty threat, but it made her feel better. Taking a shallow breath, she resumed her search. With no other way to get back to the alien ship, other than by finding the device, she was forced to comply, regardless of her reservations.
She finally saw the rocky outcrop. To make sure it was the correct one, Beverly searched until she located the splintered tree trunk and the stream. Confident she was at the right place; Beverly knelt and put her stick beside her. She peered intently, trying to find the spot where she'd buried the device, but the torrential rain had significantly altered the ground. It occurred to Beverly that the device may well have been washed away and in that case, it was most likely lost forever.
She gently ran her fingers along where the rock met the ground, the rain having made a channel that was carrying a runnel of water. She traced it along until it abruptly disappeared. Frowning, Beverly probed with her fingers and softly yelped as the ground suddenly fell away. The resulting hole quickly expanded as water ate at the edges. Once it grew until it met thicker ground, it stopped going outwards and began to creep upwards. To Beverly's astonishment, a subterranean tunnel became evident. The runnel gently fell into blackness, but Beverly could hear it splashing somewhere underneath her. She carefully inspected the edges of the gaping hole and decided the upper rim was probably the most stable, having rock along its lip. She moved cautiously, spreading her weight on all fours. Having gained a safe vantage point, she lay face down and inched herself forward until her head and shoulders were over the edge of the hole. She squinted, trying to see in the dim shaft of light that penetrated the darkness. As her eyes adjusted she could make out a rock floor and flowing across it, a watercourse. She moved slightly to one side and, from her new perspective, got a look at the stone wall that was the continuation of the rocky outcrop above ground. What she saw made her smile with grim satisfaction. Balancing precariously on a little stone shelf, the device sat shining in a muted shade of silver.
Beverly carefully withdrew from the edge and sat up. Now she had to figure out how to retrieve it. Out loud she muttered,
"How the hell am I supposed to get the bloody thing?"
She swept her eyes around her, scouring the shattered forest. She knew what she sought was nonexistent, but she looked anyway.
"I need a vine...or maybe a thick branch...something I can climb on."
She thought about the debris field. It would have what she wanted, but she was reluctant to go back, her desire to return to Jean-Luc making her not want to waste any more time than she absolutely had to. That meant she had to improvise. It also meant she had to take risks. She lay back down and again looked into the hole, studying the walls and floor. She estimated the depth to be approximately three metres. Not much in the scheme of things, but just too deep for her to get in or out without some assistance.
She sat up and shook her head. As hard as she thought, she couldn't come up with a solution. There simply wasn't anything available. Faced with this incontrovertible truth, she realised she would have to go back to the debris field after all, whether she liked it or not. She stood and looked down at the hole, scowling angrily. She took two steps away and the ground beneath her feet gave way.
She dropped like a stone and cried out in pain as her broken foot met the unyielding rock floor. She toppled sideways, striking her hip and sore shoulder. Sodden sandy soil fell in wet sods over her. It stopped as suddenly as it had begun and a shocked Beverly lay perfectly still, waiting to see what would happen next. She didn't have long to wait. The tenuous bridge of unsupported soil between the new hole and the original one collapsed with a wet splat.
Looking up, Beverly saw that the entire roof of the tunnel had fallen. Obviously, during the storm, so much water had gushed through the watercourse it had swept away the soil above it, leaving just a thin crust. Slowly sitting up, Beverly massaged her shoulder, rotating it carefully. She kneaded her hip next, wincing as she thought,
"That'll be another bruise."
She gingerly sat up and gently wiped the mud from her foot. She gave it a cursory once over, deciding it wasn't any further damaged. She saw the end of her stick poking out of the soil and she freed it. Leaning on her support, Beverly peered at the shadowed rock wall. The device had been knocked off its shelf and Beverly cursed softly as she sank to her knees and used her fingers to move clods of soil. It took a long ten minutes before she found it. Holding it up to the light, Beverly glared balefully at it, snarling,
"You damned thing, the trouble you've caused."
However, as much as she despised the device, it was her only way back to Jean-Luc. Having found it, she now faced the problem of getting out of the hole. She got to her feet and carefully moved around, scanning the edges and coming to the conclusion that the only part that would support her weight was the rock segment where she'd laid. The only trouble was it was out of her reach. Next she went to the rock wall to see if it was possible to climb it, but a quick inspection showed that it was mostly smooth, devoid of anything she could use as hand or footholds.
The opposite wall consisted of compacted sandy soil. It was very wet and when Beverly tried to scoop out a step, it fell away in slabs. If she persisted it was obvious all she would achieve was a landslide. That left the path of the watercourse, now running under the fallen soil. Looking downstream, Beverly saw a black hole, but it was quite small, definitely not big enough to get through and, without knowing she could get out, there was no point in trying to exploit it. Turning upstream proved more productive. The entry hole was bigger, easily able to accommodate her. Frowning at her feeling of unease, Beverly lay on the wet soil and peered into the blackness. It took a moment or two for her eyes to adjust, but what she saw cheered her. The tunnel sloped upwards and approximately forty-five metres along the tube she saw a small patch of light. Further study showed the floor of the tube was much closer to the surface than her current position. All she had to do was wriggle along the tunnel and enlarge the hole she could see. Then she should be able to climb out.
She tried valiantly to not think about what she had to do. Beverly was somewhat claustrophobic and the thought of being enclosed within the tube, with all the unstable soil above and the water underneath, was almost too much for her to bear. However, there wasn't any choice, she simply had to overcome her fears. If she was to see Jean-Luc again she just had to get on with it.
Taking a few steadying breaths, Beverly slowly entered the tube. In one hand she carried the device and in the other she had her stick. Using her forearms, knees and feet she inched along, keeping her eyes fixed on the patch of light, studiously ignoring the spidery roots that dangled down and trailed over her and the constantly dripping water.
The right side of the tunnel consisted of rock, the rest soil, which made it quite fragile. Added to that the erosion that the water had caused plus the infiltration of the water through the roof and it became clear there was little holding the structure together. Left to its own devices, collapse was a foregone conclusion and, with the falling rain, it was imminent. Beverly knew this and tried to hurry but she had to take great care. Fearing being buried, she made sure no part of her body touched the soil wall. Beneath her was rock and water, it was the dirt roof that scared her. There was a clearance of about thirty centimetres above her, but it was slowly narrowing. The further she went, the less room she had.
She stopped and peered ahead, taking time to regulate her breathing and to calm her hammering heart. The patch of light was definitely closer, but she could see she was going to have to move through an ever diminishing tube. The thought of doing that chilled her to the bone, but she had come this far and she could see her goal. There was no room for hesitation, the only way was forward.
Gritting her teeth, she started again. Occasionally closing her eyes, it wasn't until she felt her head brush against the roof that she mumbled,
"Oh, God, get me out of here!"
She had wriggled a further seven metres when the inevitable happened. A slab of the roof fell, covering her from the shoulders down. Fortunately it was a fairly thin slab and did no damage, but it was difficult to dislodge. However in falling it had given Beverly a little room. The sensation of cold wet soil on her naked body was distinctly unpleasant, but Beverly ignored it as she gently moved her body from side-to-side in a rocking motion. Gradually she shifted the soil off to her sides and under her. Once mostly free she didn't linger, but continued forwards.
Beverly had always been mentally strong. Not only was this a result of her training and years as a Doctor, but it was part of her nature. As a child she had endured the loss of her parents and, with her Grandmother, had survived the tragedy of Arveda III. Only the physically and mentally strong made it through that trial. But, even with her psychological toughness, she was nearing the limit of her strength and endurance. She had travelled over thirty metres in the inky dark, constantly threatened by more collapses and terrifyingly encased as if a stopper in a bottleneck.
With what remained of her sanity she slithered quickly, not caring if she caused a collapse or not, she just wanted to get out. Somehow she reached the patch of light. It was only as big as a cup's saucer, but to Beverly it seemed huge. She let go of her stick and reached up, using her fingers to break away the wet, crumbling soil. It fell on her face and some larger bits fell on her head, but she didn't stop until she had made the hole big enough to get through.
Manoeuvring with care, Beverly got herself into a sitting position. She then gently placed both her stick and the device to her left, as far as she could reach. She had reasoned the ground would be more stable away from the tunnel and the rock wall. To that end, she slowly stood and stretched herself across the ground, picked up her stick and the device and carefully wriggled away. She didn't stand until she was at least ten metres from the hole. The ground was firm and so, without a backwards glance, Beverly limped off into the ragged remains of the forest, knowing she would have nightmares for some time to come.

 

The alien looked down at Jean-Luc and sighed.
"So fragile."
It had been a simple matter to find the cause of Jean-Luc's condition. His physiology was close enough to that of the Cardassians that the aliens were able to identify the cause of the bleeding and treat him without any trouble. However, they only healed that which was about to end his life. The rest of his injuries they left untreated. In a way, it was their version of the Prime Directive. From Jean-Luc's mind, they had learned that Beverly was a Doctor. She already knew he would live, but how this was achieved would, undoubtedly, arouse her curiosity.
Although she would have no way of discovering how it was done, the aliens nevertheless, took steps to ensure she never found out. Once she had access to her technology and examined him, all she would find is healed tissue. No trace of how that was achieved would ever be found. It was the alien's way of staying hidden. Beverly, on reflection, wouldn't be able to say who they were, or where they were from. Yes, she had seen some deceased aliens, but in death, they bore no resemblance to their form when alive. Their natural environment, which consisted of brilliant white light that contained a sustaining gas they floated in, was undetectable to all but the most sensitive scanners. The Cardassians had only learned of their existence by accident. Though never fully explained how, enough was discovered for the Obsidian Order to launch a covert operation to infiltrate the alien's home world. It was that operation that uncovered the existence of the device. Once the Cardassians found out what it could do, it was inevitable that they would steal it. The alien sighed as it recalled how ridiculously easy that theft was...and the terrible consequences it brought. The aliens had known they'd been compromised, but, being pacifists they took no action against the spies, instead believing if they ignored them, they would simply go away. How catastrophic that decision turned out to be. Not only did seventeen members, all of them the most knowledgeable and enlightened of their genetically chosen group die, but the device the deceased had worked on for over a century to create, disappeared.
The two years the aliens had devoted to recovering the device were so very precious. Time was their enemy. When Beverly had admitted to knowing where the device was, the aliens had rejoiced, but her reluctance to assist, coupled with the unsavoury way in which the aliens had been forced to coerce her to cooperate had caused them much regret. If they did indeed recover the device, it would be with the knowledge that they had done so in an underhanded way.
The alien sighed again and regarded Jean-Luc with sympathy. The frail human had given them much. In return they had saved his life, but the alien thought that was a lopsided trade. They would have prevented his death in any event. It thought sadly,
"Will you forgive us?"
Jean-Luc, of course, remained silent and unknowing. The line into his arm had been withdrawn, as had the tube in his mouth. The blue light over his stomach had changed to one of deep gold. The surface of his skin had become translucent under the light, permitting the alien to see inside his body. It shook its head, marvelling at how complicated Jean-Luc's internal workings were.
"So much to malfunction." It thought. The light travelled up a short distance and the alien studied Jean-Luc's artificial heart. By its standards, the cardio replacement was cumbersome and primitive, but there was no denying it did its work well. A frown creased the alien's shimmering face as the memory of how Jean-Luc lost his original heart surfaced. With a deep sigh, the alien shook its head.
"Violence. Will your species ever learn?" Despondency made the alien think,
"Your kind have achieved so much, but unless you rid yourselves of aggression and hostility, you cannot progress. So much more awaits you...if...you can rise above your natural instincts."
It pondered Jean-Luc's memories and felt a glimmer of optimism and hope.
"Perhaps I have misjudged you. It took us so long to find perfection and we are an ancient species. Your kind is young, untested by the ravages of time. Perhaps you will weather the coming storm and emerge an evolved people."
It sighed again and contemplated the irony.
"Time. It all comes back to that. You require time to evolve and we need time to simply survive. I wonder which of us will be here in a thousand of your years from now?" It snorted and amended its question.
"Or half a year from now?"
It looked down at the insensate Captain and smiled almost paternally.
"You are naturally inquisitive, Jean-Luc Picard. Keep exploring, expand your mind, it will not go unrecognised by your people. It is humans like you who will begin the long journey that lies ahead."
With that, the alien left Jean-Luc and moved to a different part of the ship. Activating a screen, it watched with immense satisfaction as an image of Beverly appeared. In her hand was the device.

 

Beverly was rapidly losing her patience. She had found the device and couldn't understand why she was still on the island, limping through the forest, heading back towards the shelter. She had lingered in the area where she'd recovered the device, expecting at any moment to be transported back to the alien ship, but, when nothing happened, she decided to return to the beach. Why, she couldn't say, it was certainly illogical. There wasn't anything at the shelter. As she trudged she eventually convinced herself that the aliens would expect her there, considering that's where they had originally found them.
The rain had mercifully stopped and the sun was beginning to set as she reached the debris field. She paused and looked out across the sea. Beverly sighed and tilted her head.
"I have to admit, that is a beautiful sight."
Framed on either side of the horizon, two islands bracketed the sinking sun. Scattered cloud glowed with luminescence as incandescent light engulfed them. The surface of the sea changed from blue to brilliant orange, shifting to red and gold as the swell rolled across it. A gentle breeze came off the sea, carrying the distant smell of flowers, obviously originating from a land form untouched by the storm.
So enthralled was Beverly, she didn't at first register the tingle in her body, but she clearly heard the faint whine. She looked up and muttered,
"It's about time."
When Beverly had been transported, she held the device in one hand, her stick in the other. She rematerialised with neither. Again in the brilliantly lit room, she immediately screwed her eyes tightly shut and lowered her head. Through her eyelids she saw the light dim. Opening her eyes she lifted her now empty hands and frowned. Muttering darkly, she said,
"Okay, so they have what they want. Now, how about us?"
The gentle voice interrupted her musings.
"You have done well. We thank you for your help."
Sarcastically, Beverly said,
"Oh, you're welcome, I'm sure."
The voice showed no irritation, in fact it showed little emotion.
"You will be returned."
Alarmed, Beverly said urgently,
"Wait! We don't want to go back to the island!"
When nothing was said, Beverly calmed and explained,
"Are you aware of two small vessels in stationary orbit around the pole?"
"Yes."
"They belong to us. Could you send us to the larger of the two ships?"
"Why?"
Curbing the urge to yell, Beverly strove to keep calm.
"We were marooned on the island, with no way to get back to our ships. If you return us to the island, we may not survive."
"We understand. In return for what you have done for us, we will do as you wish."
"Thank you. May I ask...how is my companion?"
There was a trace of amusement in the voice as it said,
"Jean-Luc sleeps."
Surprised by the use of his name, Beverly asked cautiously,
"And what do you mean by that?"
"Just as I said. He sleeps."
"But he is well?"
"He lives."
It wasn't as much as Beverly wanted to hear, but she had to be content with it. Taking a shallow breath, she asked,
"May I see him?"
"Of course."
Her body began to tingle and, over the soft whine, Beverly yelled frantically,
"No! You said I could see him!"
The next thing she saw was the interior of the Calypso. She swung around, desperately searching for Jean-Luc. She found him on the deck, lying on his back, seemingly asleep. She dropped to her knees and gently shook him, but he didn't respond. Quickly rising, she limped to a locker and retrieved a medical tricorder. Scanning him, she was relieved to find him unconscious, but not deeply so. The tricorder showed his stomach was now healed, but that was the only thing that had been treated. Guessing he needed more time to recover, Beverly got a blanket and covered him. She then replicated some clothing and dressed.
Her first instinct was to leave the planet immediately, but she remembered Jean-Luc's concerns about the patrolling Cardassians and swallowed her impatience. She instead spent some time using a med kit to heal as much of their injuries as she could with the instruments she had at her disposal. She placed a pillow under his head and, having done all she could for him, she ate a light meal. With little more to occupy her, Beverly sat in a comfortable chair to wait for Jean-Luc to regain consciousness.

 

Jean-Luc was having trouble thinking. Where normally he could order his thoughts without any effort, now they had become slippery, sliding away when he tried to pin them down. He frowned, growing annoyed. Why was this happening? He took a calming breath and tried another way to access his thoughts. Rather than concentrating on ordering the clutter in his mind, he instead allowed the scattered thoughts to wander where they may. He soon realised, in the background, yet somehow persistent, was a feeling of unease. He focused obliquely, careful not to disturb the meandering chaos, lest it fracture further and send his thoughts too far from his grasp.
"Yes", he thought. Something has happened, but what? Choosing to watch the images instead of trying to investigate the essence of the thoughts, Jean-Luc watched as the pictures wandered across his mind at random. His vision sharpened when he saw an image of an island and Beverly sitting on a beach. However something had occurred, something devastating. The island had been stripped of all its vegetation. From the brief look he got, he assumed it had been strafed by disruptor fire. He was just considering that when a solid thought gelled.
"No, not disruptor fire...a...a storm! Yes! Beverly and I...we were...why were we there?"
He was attempting to force his thoughts into some kind of coherent order when he gasped. The images in his mind winked out to be replaced by horror and his body began to gently convulse.
Beverly had been dozing, her mind and body finally giving in to exhaustion. It had passed her mind that the yacht had a well-appointed bedroom, complete with a large, soft bed, but her concern for Jean-Luc had her remain beside him in the chair. A soft tapping roused her. Confused, she looked about, blinking owlishly and not initially recognising where she was. Just as she identified her surroundings, the tapping caused her to shift her gaze. The source of the noise was Jean-Luc's foot, rhythmically knocking on the carpeted floor. Immediately out of the chair, Beverly knelt beside Jean-Luc and gently turned him onto his side. The convulsion slowly ceased but, behind his closed eyelids, Jean-Luc's eyes were restless, shifting jerkily within the confines of their sockets.
Beverly picked up the tricorder and scanned him. The electroencephalograph showed frantic cerebral activity. She gripped his shoulder and shook it, saying loudly,
"Jean-Luc! Can you hear me?!"
He didn't respond. Now that the convulsion had passed, Beverly eased Jean-Luc onto his back, gently placing his head on the pillow. She could do nothing but watch helplessly while Jean-Luc lay before her, his mind going into overdrive.
The man cried out silently in fear and desperation. In place of thought, his mind had become a raging tempest of electromagnetic static without any discernable point of reference. In essence, Jean-Luc was lost. He didn't know who he was, where he was or what had happened to him. Worse, he didn't know what he was. Time was meaningless, it passed both in a blur and so slowly the agony of its passage made Jean-Luc cry piteously. Somewhere in the storm, a tiny spark remained inert, but active. It was the sum total of all that was left of the being known as Jean-Luc Picard. The spark shifted and slowly began to grow.
Beverly scanned Jean-Luc again, fervently wishing they were in Enterprise's Sick Bay. Despite the frenetic activity shown on the electroencephalograph, Jean-Luc was deeply unconscious. She could only guess the cause, or what was happening. Desperately she'd thought to contact the aliens...to beg for their help, but a quick visit to the cockpit to use the sensors had shown her that no vessels were within range. Knowing the aliens were consumed by the need to return to their system as quickly as possible now that they had the device, and taking into account their sophisticated technology, Beverly had no doubt they were probably long gone. She also suspected they would refuse to help in any case.
She felt frustration on a scale she'd rarely known. She railed against the situation, berating the fates and herself. What good was all her training, all her experience if she couldn't help the one person in the universe that meant anything to her? She stopped that particular thought and amended it. Yes, there were people she loved other than Jean-Luc, people who were dear to her, but, though she had a great capacity for love and shared it freely with those she called friends, she had never loved anyone as much as she loved Jean-Luc.
She thought bitterly,
"Why did you return him to me alive, raising my hopes, only to have him suffer this? What did you do to him? Is this some kind of punishment? Was I too slow finding the device?"
Part of her knew she'd never get the answers to her questions. And she was also aware she was being irrational, but that didn't ease her anguish. Her medical training told her that the human brain wasn't designed for the protracted frantic activity she was witnessing. If it continued at the present level, catastrophic, irreversible damage would occur. Beverly closed her eyes, knowing that under those circumstances, Jean-Luc's wishes would be honoured. His life would be terminated.

 

The tiny spark now had form. It floated free of the maelstrom, observing the chaos dispassionately. Imperceptibly, fragments of the scattered energy attached themselves to the spark bit-by-bit, increasing it gradually until it began to overcome the random electric pulses.
Once it had grown to a certain size it paused, as if considering its next move. Gaining control incrementally, the frenzied melange slowly calmed. It may have been seconds, or perhaps years, but re-incorporation took place. In the resulting complete and utter silence a cautious Jean-Luc tentatively emerged as if from a deep sleep. He frowned, seeking something solid to concentrate on. An image of Beverly came to him and he smiled, relief flowing through him. He knew as long as she was in his mind, everything would be all right. He was aware something new and important had happened to him, but when he tried to remember what it was, it drifted away, like a dream that eluded capture. Giving up the need to know, Jean-Luc instead devoted himself to climbing out of the fog that crept around the edges of his thoughts. It took some effort, but he was rewarded when his eyes opened. At the same time as he regained consciousness, he felt Beverly's hands upon his face. As his vision cleared, he looked up at Beverly, confused to see she was weeping. He smiled, feeling as if he'd been on a long and perilous journey, one that had left him utterly drained, but immensely grateful it was over. He realised Beverly was speaking and frowned, wondering what she was saying. It took several minutes before he understood.
"Jean-Luc? Jean-Luc, my love, can you hear me?" Beverly blinked rapidly, trying to clear her eyes of the tears that ran down her cheeks. "Can you move, Jean-Luc? Can you squeeze my hand?"
Jean-Luc was surprised. "She has my hand?" He thought. "But weren't her hands on my face?" He tried to make sense of it all.
"When did she take my hand?" Deciding it was all too hard, he occupied himself by working out how to make his hand obey his command. It took some creative thinking, but eventually his hand complied. He witnessed Beverly beam at him, her watery eyes twinkling.
"Yes! That's it!"
Jean-Luc was very pleased. He had made Beverly happy. What else could he do? He thought and suddenly knew what he had to do. Concentrating, he summoned his strength and activated his voice. He had meant it to be forceful and clear, but what emerged was a croak. He saw Beverly gasp in joy, but he wasn't satisfied at all. He tried again, this time with more success.
"Beverly?"
The kiss she planted on his lips was unexpected, but nonetheless very welcome. If saying her name got that reaction, what would a question bring? He frowned with the effort involved, but the result was worth it.
"What happened?"
Beverly's arms snaked under him and he was lifted to meet her. The hug was long and tender, Beverly's face against his. He closed his eyes, savouring every second. Beverly sobbed when she felt his arms slowly embrace her. Hiccupping and gulping, Beverly lifted her head and Jean-Luc was struck by how beautiful she looked. She was radiant, a soft nimbus glowing around her head. He had never seen anything more stunningly exquisite. Seeing the look of rapture on his face, Beverly frowned and asked softly,
"Are you all right?"
Breathlessly, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Are you an angel? Am I dead?"
The question was far too close to the truth for Beverly. She was quick to answer him.
"No!"
Predictably, Jean-Luc asked,
"Which one?"
Beverly shook her head, both confused and delighted. Jean-Luc seemed to be recovering himself. She grinned as she asked,
"Which one what?"
"Is it, no, you're not an angel, or is it, no, I'm not dead?"
Laughing out loud, Beverly managed,
"Both!"
Jean-Luc digested that and gave a thoughtful nod. He took a deep breath and suddenly remembered it should've hurt to do that. His hands came up to his chest and he frowned. Beverly said softly,
"I repaired your broken ribs, Jean-Luc, as well as the rest of your broken bones, cuts and bruises."
At the mention of his injuries, memories started flooding through his mind. Moments passed before Jean-Luc had a clear recollection of everything that had occurred. Beverly saw his eyes darken and she said warily,
"Jean-Luc? Are you okay?"
With his mind once again functioning properly, he began to sit up, looking around him. Instead of answering her question, he stated,
"We're on the Calypso."
Beverly helped him as he climbed to his feet. He didn't seem to notice he was naked until Beverly picked up the blanket and wrapped it around him. He winced slightly as he moved, causing Beverly to take his arm, saying,
"I repaired what I could, but there are still some injuries that remain. There is internal bruising and residual pain from traumatised tissue as well as bruising to your brain."
Jean-Luc nodded his understanding and walked slowly to the replicator. As he ordered some clothing, Beverly came to him and asked gently,
"How much do you remember?"
He took the clothes as they appeared, then turned and said softly, his eyes tender,
"Everything."
By the way he said it and the unmistakable depth of love shining in his eyes, Beverly knew he was referring to their relationship as well as everything else. Joy filled her and she impulsively kissed him. He didn't hesitate. He returned the kiss and they both sighed with pleasure and happiness. Beverly pulled back and traced her finger down his bearded cheek. She was reluctant to ask her next question, but she had to know.
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Jean-Luc took a deep breath and frowned, bowing his head.
"Um, I think..." His head snapped up, his eyes glinting.
"I was dying! I remember it was difficult to breathe and I couldn't stay awake and..." He turned his head slightly, his eyes darting to and fro. He suddenly shifted his gaze to Beverly, staring intently.
"I was so weak! I could barely move. How...how did you save me?"
Beverly took Jean-Luc's clothes from his hands and led him to the bedroom. Taking the hint, Jean-Luc dressed as he listened to Beverly.
"I didn't."
He shook his head.
"Then how?"
Over the next few minutes, Beverly told him about everything that had happened. When she was finished, Jean-Luc sat on the bed and absently scratched just above his right ear. It was a gesture she'd seen so many times, its very familiarity in the face of what might have been, made Beverly's throat tighten. She got control of herself just as Jean-Luc said,
"And you have no idea who the aliens were, or where they were from?"
Shaking her head, Beverly sat beside him.
"None whatsoever. They were very careful to keep themselves and any information about them hidden. The only thing I learned was that their system was in crisis, although in what way, I don't know."
"And the device would rectify that?"
"Yep."
Wistfully, Jean-Luc said,
"Imagine, Beverly, imagine possessing the technology necessary to create such a device. Think of what else would be possible with that kind of knowhow."
Offering a rueful smile, Beverly bumped her shoulder against his.
"Yes, but think of the responsibility involved. No wonder there're xenophobes."
Sobering, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes. Oh, God, consider what might have been if the Cardassians had got their hands on that device."
"It would've shifted the balance of power."
"Worse than that, Beverly, the Cardassians would've attained the power to conquer the galaxy."
Realisation dawned. Whispering, Beverly said,
"Humankind would be enslaved."
"Or worse. Certainly Earth would be destroyed, or, at the very least, stripped of every last scrap of natural resources. I doubt there'd be anything left of it, certainly not enough to sustain life."
Showing her awe, Beverly said breathlessly,
"My God."
They sat in stunned silence for a while before Jean-Luc shook his head and rose. He ran a hand through his beard and grimaced. As Beverly looked up at him he said,
"I'm going to shave, then we will have a look at our options."
He disappeared into the bathroom and Beverly sighed. After having gone through so much, both physically and psychologically, Beverly found it hard to believe they had really survived. All they had gone through sat in her mind like a bad dream. She had to shake herself to dispel it. She heard the sound of Jean-Luc's isorazor and smiled. He was alive and well. They had another chance. There and then, Beverly decided to make every moment count. To that end, she joined Jean-Luc in the bathroom to watch him remove his beard. At his silent query, she smiled enigmatically.

 

The surface of the dining room table glowed softly as it morphed into a display screen. Standing together, both Beverly and Jean-Luc bent as they studied the star chart that showed the system they were presently in. Using his index finger, Jean-Luc traced a convoluted flight path across the screen, indicating where he proposed to take them. Beverly frowned, compressing her lips. Guardedly she said,
"Why take such a complicated route? Wouldn't it be simpler to just head straight for Federation space and go like hell?"
He offered a knowing smile, his eyes briefly closing.
"If you want to be caught, then yes, that would be a good idea. However, if you want to get to Federation space in one piece, you have to be sneaky."
Beverly gave him a hard look.
"Sneaky."
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Indeed. We need to take every advantage of every naturally occurring phenomena that lies between us and the border, be it planets, moons, nebulae, asteroid belts...anything we come across."
He indicated such things on the chart.
"We go from one thing to another, limiting our hops to short journeys, masking our trail and, hopefully, not running into any patrols."
"And if we do?"
"We hide. Unlike a normal shuttle, the yacht is equipped with much better shielding and weapons, but still, its no match for a Cardassian war ship. Our only advantage lies in our superior manoeuvrability. But...we will be towing the shuttle. That will hamper us somewhat, we'll have to compensate somehow. But I still believe we'll be better served by our smaller, more agile craft. Although, having said that, of course I'd rather we didn't have to test that theory. Hiding would be our best strategy."
Beverly stared down at the chart, digesting what he'd said. Absently she asked,
"Do we have to take the shuttle?"
Jean-Luc nodded and sighed.
"I'm afraid so. Leaving it isn't really an option. Not only would it be found eventually, casing a diplomatic bun fight, but I don't want even the modest technology of a shuttle falling into Cardassian hands."
Beverly snorted.
"Surely you don't think they already know everything about our shuttles? They're so common."
"I'm sure they do, but I have a duty to protect Federation technology from falling into hostile hands. We can't leave it behind."
Holding up her hands, Beverly gave up.
"Okay, but it sounds pointless to me."
Jean-Luc sighed.
"Oh, I agree, but what choice do I have?"
"Just tell me you'll abandon it if we have to. I'm not prepared to compromise our escape just to save a bloody shuttlecraft."
He gave a rueful smile.
"Agreed."
Beverly showed she held no grudge by offering a warm smile.
"All right, what's our first target?"
Smiling his thanks, Jean-Luc rested his finger by a misshapen moon, orbiting a small gas planet, two parsecs away. Beverly said quietly,
"Computer, magnify section delta four."
The image on the screen changed and Beverly nodded.
"Right, that looks suitable. Half impulse?"
Jean-Luc nodded, his eyes showing his admiration.
"Yes. No warp power until were clear of the system."
Nodding appreciatively, Beverly said,
"No warp power, no ion trail."
"Exactly."
She grinned.
"Sneaky."
He smiled.
"Sneaky."
The little convoy left Delos on its way home.

 

It was a short journey to the odd-shaped moon. While they travelled, Jean-Luc sipped appreciatively a cup of hot Earl Grey tea. Beverly had been cautious in re-introducing food to his stomach after both the trauma and the extended period without food and allowed only a light meal of dry biscuits and slices of fruit. The one concession was the tea and she smiled as she watched him sip, the way he closed his eyes and savoured the brew.
They were seated in the cockpit, sensors covertly sweeping around them, but only short-range. Jean-Luc had wanted to do a wider scan of the area, but the ever-present danger of being detected made him adopt a more conservative approach. They had one other problem, though, until they made it clear of the system, they didn't have to worry about it. The complication concerned the shuttle, obediently following the yacht, enveloped in the Calypso's tractor beam. There was a limit to the speed at which it could be towed. At best, three quarters impulse was the most they could ask of the tractor beam. Above that and the shearing forces would not only terminate the beam, it would tear the shuttle apart.
Jean-Luc had devoted some thought to the problem and could come up with only one solution. If it became obvious that the shuttle was hampering them, he would destroy it, but until that happened, he wanted the extra craft as insurance against anything befalling the yacht. So far from safety, in hostile territory and with the constraint of not being able to call for help, Jean-Luc wanted all the options he could get.
He had managed to convince Beverly that a second cup of tea wouldn't do him any harm and he sipped it slowly, really making the effort to taste it. He had always enjoyed Earl Grey, the flavour of bergamot very pleasing to his palate. The tea had always calmed him, helped him to think and had become a comfort to him. He leaned his seat back and stretched his legs, putting his feet up on the edge of the console, crossed at the ankles. Keeping hold of the mug, he balanced it on his chest, put his other hand behind his head and sighed contentedly. Beverly, watching with a wry grin, said softly,
"I'm going to tell Will."
Jean-Luc closed his eyes and smiled.
"No, you won't."
Liking the game, Beverly said with mock outrage,
"And why not? You're behaving in a most un-captain like manner and I think your First Officer should know about it."
"I don't."
"Hmph! Since when do you put your feet on the consoles and lounge around when you're supposed to be piloting the ship?"
His smile lingered and his voice was soft, lacking any force.
"Since I'm appreciating the fact that I'm alive, with you and..."
He sipped from the mug.
"Enjoying my cup of tea."
Beverly tilted her head and studied his face, seeing it relaxed and she sighed with pleasure. She wasn't, however, ready to end the game.
"Still, your behaviour should be reported to someone." She altered her tone to one of disbelief. "Captain Jean-Luc Picard, commander of the Flagship, Enterprise, slouched in the pilot's seat and obviously disinterested in ship's operations, while in hostile territory? That's got to be worth something."
She snapped her fingers.
"I know! FNS! I'll take a vidclip!"
While she stood and made to get a recorder, Jean-Luc lazily flipped a hand.
"The Federation News Service wouldn't be the slightest bit interested."
Abandoning her search, Beverly retook her seat and grinned.
"Well, I could always take a vidclip for my own amusement...show it to Will as proof you're actually capable of goofing off."
Lifting his chin, but keeping his eyes closed, Jean-Luc muttered around his smile,
"You wouldn't dare."
"And why not? I'd be perfectly within my rights."
He took a deep, satisfying breath and settled further into the seat.
"Because if you tell anyone...or try to gather proof of my...relaxed attitude, I won't do it anymore in your presence."
Beverly gaped, her eyebrows arched. Incredulously she said,
"That's not fair! That's blackmail!"
Jean-Luc smiled smugly. His tone was mildly affronted.
"Oh, I think that's a little harsh. You know I value my privacy."
Beverly smiled, her eyes twinkling. In a softer, seductive voice she said,
"I suppose some things are private."
The sensuous timbre of her voice made Jean-Luc turn his head and open his eyes to look at her. Having gained his attention, Beverly swivelled her chair around until it faced forward. Copying Jean-Luc, she tilted it back and put her crossed-at-the-ankles feet on the console. Her hands went behind her head and she sighed.
"You're on to something, Jean-Luc. This is quite comfortable. I could get used to this kind of flying."
He was confused. He'd picked up the blatant sexual tone, but she didn't seem to be trying to seduce him. He considered his response and decided to be cautious.
"Hmm, perhaps I should make it a standing order."
Softly chuckling, Beverly said,
"Imagine Data, sprawled at the helm position, trying to look relaxed."
Still a little wary, Jean-Luc took her lead.
"Indeed, but I think it'd be Worf that might hold the best image."
Beverly laughed out loud, then lapsed into a curious silence. Not quite sure what was going on, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"You mentioned privacy. I agree, some things should be kept private. Relationships, for instance."
Beverly had closed her eyes and seemed completely relaxed, but, as he watched, he noted his comment stopped her breathing momentarily. When she spoke there was a hint of caution in her voice.
"You think relationships should be kept private? Why?"
Measuring his words, Jean-Luc said softly,
"I just think there're too precious to bandy about. It somehow trivialises the fact."
Turning to one side to face him, Beverly rested on her elbow and concentrated on staying calm. In the same soft tone as he had used she said,
"How? How can going public trivialise a relationship? Surely it'd be strong enough to stand up to any scrutiny?"
They both knew they were talking about their new bond. Beverly was disappointed, sad and not a little angry; Jean-Luc hadn't expressed this view before. She wondered briefly if his recent experiences had influenced his thinking. She wanted to confront him, but held her tongue. She knew him well enough to know he would explain himself.
Casting aside any pretence, Jean-Luc removed his feet from the console and sat up. He placed his empty mug on the floor and turned his seat to face Beverly's. Folding his hands in his lap, he said gently,
"You know I love you."
Beverly did nothing but nod.
"I treasure what we have, Beverly...it's so new, so absolutely wonderful, I don't want to let anyone else know."
He sighed and bowed his head.
"I want to keep it here..."
He placed his hand, palm down, over his heart and lifted his head to stare into Beverly's eyes.
"Hold it close, protect it. Just you and me."
Beverly hitched herself forward and put her feet on the floor. She moved her seat until she faced Jean-Luc. Like him, she clasped her hands in her lap.
"I know how you feel, Jean-Luc...I feel that too and you know I love you, but hiding our relationship makes it seem somehow...tawdry, as if we can't show the world because it isn't...real."
She smiled lopsidedly.
"I want to shout it from the rooftops! I'm so damned happy, Jean-Luc and for more reasons than you might realise."
Curious, Jean-Luc said softly,
"Tell me."
Her smile faded a little and he saw sadness in her eyes.
"Oh, Jean-Luc...where do I begin?"
She rubbed her forehead and briefly closed her eyes. When she spoke it was with remembered sorrow.
"You so very nearly died, Jean-Luc. I sat with you for days as you slowly deteriorated, not being able to do a damned thing to stop your downwards spiral, and in the back of my mind I knew you didn't remember what we'd had. You waited so many years, patiently biding your time, suffering the pain of requited love while I carried on obliviously, knowing I always had you, stalwart, undemanding, self-possessed and tireless, there waiting for me to finally make up my mind."
She blinked rapidly, willing herself not to cry. Jean-Luc bowed his head, saying gently,
"It must've been awful for you."
"Don't..." She pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head. "Don't show me pity, Jean-Luc, I don't deserve it."
Taking a steadying breath, she said with more composure,
"The irony is exquisite, you know. You were dying and you couldn't remember what we'd shared. After you'd left the Enterprise, I had been forced to re-evaluate myself and I realised just how much I loved you. I left the ship in pursuit and, against the odds, I found you. Foolishly, I hedged, I still couldn't admit my feelings. But..."
She smiled sadly.
"You knew. With your infinite patience and gentle love, you helped me overcome my reticence. And God, the joy we experienced!"
Jean-Luc's eyes were suspiciously moist as he said softly,
"I remember."
She snorted gently.
"Now you do, but before...you had no idea." She sighed and studied her hands. "I thought then, and even now, that we...or I...were being punished."
Before he could ask for what, Beverly waved him to silence.
"I know it's not rational, but I couldn't shake it. Now, you say you want to keep our relationship secret. Don't you see? In doing that, you validate my insecurity. I need us, in order to kill, once and for all, my fear, the same fear that's dogged me for years and kept me from admitting my love for you. I have, with your help, finally acknowledged my feelings for you. Don't make us hide it, Jean-Luc."
She was silent for a second or two before she continued.
"You have a very pragmatic view of your life, Jean-Luc and it was one of the things that frustrated me when you were so desperately ill. I knew you'd do nothing to save yourself if you felt you were beyond help. It ate at me like cancer, but, true to form, you did your best to comfort me."
She shook her head.
"You were the one dying, yet your focus was on my feelings!"
She screwed her face up, then relaxed.
"In an effort to console me, you asked me to help you celebrate your life. And we did. But what kind of celebration can we make of our relationship if we have to hide it? What does that say about us...about the strength of our bond? Are we saying it won't stand up to scrutiny?"
Jean-Luc held up his hand.
"I never said that. I admit you have a very valid point, Beverly, and I agree with most of what you've said, but if we're to go public, you're going to have to give me time. I detest people knowing anything about my private life, you know that and this is about as private as it gets! The thought of the speculation, the innuendos..."
He grimaced.
"Disgusting...unacceptable."
Beverly let a breath out forcibly and shook her head.
"Don't you think there was already enormous speculation about us? It's been going on for years, Jean-Luc!"
He said with more sharpness than he intended,
"Of course I knew!" He took a calming breath. "But it was just that...speculation. Nothing based on truth. Now, if we go public, that very speculation will become...sordid. Can you honestly tell me you're happy to have people make salacious remarks about our sex life?"
Beverly shrugged.
"People already do. I can't see the difference."
Through gritted teeth, Jean-Luc muttered,
"But, Beverly, things would've changed! Those same people would be conjecturing about fact, not rumour."
Beverly smiled to ease him.
"It's the same thing, though. The fact is they wouldn't know the truth...the details."
She sighed and gestured with her hands.
"Jean-Luc, people are going to gossip and speculate no matter what we do."
Jean-Luc bowed his head and took a deep breath. He was subdued as he said,
"I hate being the subject of gossip, but I do take your point."
She smiled.
"So?"
His smile was wan, but she appreciated the effort.
"Very well, we go public."
Before Beverly could say anything he held up his finger.
"But...no details! Nobody..."
He peered into Beverly's eyes. "Not even Deanna, has the right to know our private business."
Adopting a serious visage, still Beverly couldn't keep the humour out of her eyes.
"You drive a hard bargain."
He growled with mock sincerity,
"Take it or leave it."
Beverly rose from her seat, moved to him and kissed him tenderly. Whispering in his ear, Beverly said,
"I'll take it any way I can get it."
The double entendre wasn't lost on Jean-Luc. He slapped her backside and said grumpily,
"Resume your post, Doctor!" But she saw the amusement in his eyes. Offering a quasi salute, Beverly regained her seat and made a show of studying the console, her smile plain to see. Jean-Luc grinned to himself and took his original position, feet up, tilted back and utterly content.

Having reached the moon, they paused, ran discreet scans and, once they were as sure as they could be that the surrounding space was clear, at least as far as they had scanned, they ventured out from behind the orbiting satellite and made a controlled dash across five hundred and seventy million kilometres to a class K world whose gravity was much like that of any class M planet. It was a little more difficult to scan this area of space. The planet masked their presence adequately, but the existence of a nearby ion storm scrambled their sensors. With no way to predict with any certainty what the ion storm would do, or in which direction it would move, the couple had a decision to make. Stay hidden, or risk exposure to get to their next hiding place.
Ultimately, they had no choice. The longer they stayed in hostile space, the greater their chances of being detected. So, with that in mind, Jean-Luc eased the two little ships from the protection of the planet and ventured out, the course laid in and set for an asteroid belt, just over three million, six hundred and forty kilometres distant. At three quarters impulse power, it wasn't a long journey, but, just as they were nearing their destination, the proximity alarm sounded.
Jean-Luc and Beverly studied their consoles, Beverly saying tersely,
"I have a ship, wait..."
While Beverly tensely awaited the computer's analysis of the unidentified ship, Jean-Luc was plotting a course within the asteroid belt. He wasn't surprised when Beverly muttered darkly,
"Cardassian war ship, Keldon class, travelling at sub-light speed. I'm reading...I don't get this...it's...it's venting small amounts of plasma and seems to have cobbled together several systems to keep their weapons working. I can't find the field generators, no shields that I can see..."
Glancing up from his work, Jean-Luc said softly,
"Put it on screen."
The image that appeared made Jean-Luc frown. The ship had undergone repair for major damage, but the work had obviously been hasty and of poor quality. Metal of a different kind than that of the hull had been used as patches in many places and those around the warp core were shoddily affixed, hence the plasma leakage. The more he studied the wounded ship, the more convinced Jean-Luc became that it posed no serious threat, as long as they could avoid it.
His stomach unknotting, he said mildly,
"Have they altered course to intercept?"
Beverly shook her head.
"Negative, they're holding course."
"I don't think they've seen us, but I don't intend to stretch our luck. ETA at the asteroid belt?"
"Nine minutes."
Jean-Luc tapped his fingers over the LCARS, (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) display on his console and the viewscreen image changed to a tactical presentation. The Cardassian ship, the asteroid belt and their two vessels were represented by different coloured markers. Keeping his attention on the screen, Beverly gave him quiet updates as their markers crept ever closer to safety. They were only five hundred kilometres away when Beverly softly cursed.
"Shit! We've been spotted."
As Jean-Luc watched, the Cardassian ship altered course and increased speed, but not soon enough. The little ships sailed into the asteroid belt and, as Jean-Luc tapped in the command, slowed to two hundred and fifty kilometres per hour, a snail's pace to be sure, but necessary to safely navigate through the densely populated rock debris.
Jean-Luc knew they weren't out of the woods just yet. He kept his eyes glued to the screen and frowned when Beverly reported tightly,
"They're firing."
Green energy lanced past them and impacted on a large chunk of rock, blasting it to dust. Checking the shield status, Jean-Luc was pleased to see it was unaffected by the detonation. Shaking her head, Beverly said with confusion,
"They're not targeting us..."
Grimly, Jean-Luc replied,
"No, they're shooting at the asteroids...making a path big enough for them to get through."
Beverly looked up from her display and said tensely,
"Can we do the same thing?"
With a sigh, Jean-Luc shrugged.
"We can, but I don't see how it would help. It'd only make their task easier."
"So what do we do?"
Staring intently at the map, Jean-Luc stabbed his finger. Not taking his eyes off the display, he said quietly,
"Route more power to the deflector and the shields, we're going to hide ourselves in an asteroid."
Beverly gaped, but said nothing as she carried out her orders.
As Jean-Luc schemed, he piloted the ship in a very haphazard way. He made it as difficult as he could for the following vessel; he also increased speed. Beverly had complete confidence in his skill, both as a pilot and as a strategist, but his manoeuvres confused her. Softly, so as not to disturb his concentration, Beverly asked,
"Exactly why are we doing this? They'll just follow us."
She saw him smile.
"I don't think they can see us."
Frowning, Beverly cast a look at her console and shook her head.
"I don't understand."
Jean-Luc sent her a quick glance and kept his voice soft.
"Did you notice they didn't detect us for quite some time?"
"Uh huh, but maybe they weren't looking."
"Perhaps, but I think it more likely their equipment isn't functioning at all well. You saw their ship; it was in a deplorable state. Did you notice their sensor array? It was badly damaged."
Beverly brought up a schematic of a Keldon class battle cruiser and studied it.
"Hmm, they're a potent ship, Jean-Luc. Superseding the Galor class, it is 371.88 metres long, 118.7 metres wide and has a height of 70.3 metres. Fourteen decks, a crew of 500 and a top speed of warp 9.7. Oh, boy...they have eight spiral wave disruptors; wow that's heavy fire-power. And, Jesus...two rapid fire ion torpedo launchers, one forward, one aft. Holy shit! They could turn us into space dust!"
"I saw the schematics of one that had been captured during the war. Impressive, I must say, but the ship following us is well below par. Have a look at our scans, you'll see there're only thirty one crew, barely any shields and, as far as I can tell, only three disruptors and, as you reported, they're barely functioning. I think the Union is so crippled they've been forced to pressgang crews and keep in service ships that should've been written off."
Beverly shrugged one shoulder.
"That's all very well, but we're still being pursued by a ship, albeit not the threat it could be, but nonetheless, very dangerous."
"Oh, I agree, however..."
The Calypso banked sharply, the computer's female voice warning of the increased shearing strain on the towed shuttle, then shot forward before diving sharply, making the inertial dampeners struggle to cope.
"I doubt they can keep up."
Beverly shook her head in admiration. She had to admit, where it came to strategy, Jean-Luc was a master. As she watched the screen, the Cardassian ship fell away and slowly disappeared in the debris. Over the next twenty five minutes, Jean-Luc took them deeper and deeper into the belt until he found what he'd been looking for. They had passed several very large asteroids, but none had the features Jean-Luc wanted. His gaze at the console screen was hawk-like in intensity and his eyes darkened when he saw his target. Softly he said,
"Beverly, I'm going to take us deep inside that asteroid, then I'm going to completely power down, except for the artificial gravity. It's likely to be a long wait, so you'd best go aft and get appropriate clothing for both of us. It's going to get very cold."
It was a bold and cunning plan. Beverly quickly left her seat, just as Jean-Luc nosed the yacht into the gaping hole. By the flood lights trained ahead, he guided the Calypso, then the shuttle along a short, winding tunnel, which terminated in a vast cavern. In effect, the huge asteroid was hollow and the little ships were dwarfed by their surroundings. Jean-Luc, having brought his craft to a complete halt and making sure the shuttle was also stationary, cut the tractor beam, then, having bypassed some circuitry to isolate the artificial gravity command, one-by-one, he cut power to the yacht's systems. The last to go was life support, but before that ceased he took the survival gear from Beverly and hastily put it on. Now clad, as Beverly was, in padded and insulated trousers, coat, mittens and balaclava, he waited until Beverly had taken a seat on the bed, surrounded by all the blankets she could either find or replicate as well as four oxygen cylinders, with tubes and masks attached. He took a torch from a locker and switched it on. He raised his eyebrows and smiled.
"Are you ready?"
Her voice was steady and confident.
"Yes."
He pressed a toggle and they were plunged into complete and utter blackness and total silence.
In the beam of the torch, Jean-Luc walked stiffly, his movements hampered by his bulky survival clothing. He sat awkwardly on the bed and used his hands to hitch himself closer to Beverly, not stopping until he was at her side, their bodies touching. Once he settled, Beverly spread the blankets over them, tucking them in. Jean-Luc couldn't see her face, only eyes and mouth were visible, however he knew she must be worried. To ease her fears he said gently,
"With a bit of luck, the Cardassians will give up after a perfunctory search. They may suspect we're in here, but I doubt they have the equipment to prove it. We just have to be patient."
He felt, rather than saw her snort.
"Patient I can do...freeze I'd rather not."
Preferring to keep chatting, Jean-Luc stated,
"I estimate we can withstand the cold for about three, perhaps three and a half hours."
Beverly nodded, but the thick balaclava hid the action.
"That sounds about right. And I think we should be okay with breathable air. I only got the oxygen cylinders out as a precaution."
"A wise move. What are the symptoms of hypothermia?"
Of course he knew, but wanted to keep Beverly from dwelling on the searching Cardassians, even though the subject was a little too close to the bone.
She grimaced, but of course he didn't see it.
"Protected as we are by our clothing, some of the symptoms won't occur. What we can expect is confusion, a suppressed metabolism and, quite quickly, as our body temperature drops, an overwhelming urge to sleep."
"Which we must resist. From what I understand, once one descends into sleep, one doesn't wake up."
There was an uncomfortable silence before Jean-Luc, wishing to lighten the sombre mood, said quietly,
"I asked you to marry me and you accepted."
Glad of the change of subject, Beverly grinned.
"I most certainly did."
"Would you like to discuss your plans for our wedding?"
She turned her head, irritated by the thick head-covering.
"My plans? It's our wedding, Jean-Luc!"
Suitably chastised, Jean-Luc tried again.
"Very well, our wedding. What do you have in mind?"
Before she could protest again, he held up one hand.
"You go first, then I'll tell you my thoughts."
Beverly's eyes widened. The realisation that he'd been thinking about their wedding surprised her, but then she quickly admonished herself, thinking,
"Why shouldn't he? He's never been married, not like me, who has experienced the ritual, albeit a very quiet, small affair."
She smiled at Jean-Luc and he saw the uplift of her mouth. He waited patiently, but part of him was worried, not knowing quite what she'd say. Actually it didn't matter; he'd go along with anything she desired, but...he was, by his very nature, conservative. He could only hope her wishes weren't too elaborate.
"Well, having gone through the ceremony once, I'm really not that interested in too much...spectacle. Something simple, maybe, something like a Captain friend of yours to do the honours and...um...in Ten Forward?"
Relief flooded through Jean-Luc, but he hid it, instead asking softly,
"You don't want something bigger? On Pacifica, perhaps?"
Beverly squinted, trying to see his eyes. She was fairly sure that wasn't what he wanted, but was confused as to why he'd suggest it. Pacifica was a stunningly beautiful planet, one of her favourites, and it would be lovely, but not really what she desired. A honeymoon there, yes, but not the wedding. Carefully she said,
"No, I'd rather it be on the Enterprise, with just our closest friends."
Still believing she was trying to please him, Jean-Luc tilted his head and pursed his lips.
"I see. Well, that's certainly a sensible idea, but I want to be sure that's what you want. Once we get back, I'm sure I can organise to have the ship go to anywhere you wish. Are you sure there's not somewhere you'd rather go? What about Risa?"
Beverly screwed up her nose.
"I don't think so Jean-Luc. Risa's nice, but kinda..."
Jean-Luc snorted softly, knowing exactly what she meant. Risa was a nice place, but, as he recalled the Horga'hn and Risa's preoccupation with sensual pleasures, he knew it was an inappropriate venue. Beverly laid her mittened hand over Jean-Luc's and smiled tenderly.
"Okay, you know what my thoughts on the matter are, what're yours?"
He didn't answer immediately and Beverly wondered why. He took a deep breath and when he spoke his voice was very deep and soft.
"I can't think of anything more lovely, more appropriate than holding the ceremony on the Enterprise...our home. And your suggestion of a fellow Captain, one who is a close friend is also very satisfying. It's odd, in a way, to be thinking about getting married."
He paused and Beverly got the impression he was gazing at his covered hands.
"I never thought I'd marry. I suppose, in my fantasies, I assumed you and I would end up together, I certainly hoped so, but somehow I didn't think we'd marry. I don't know why...it just never occurred to me."
"Yet you asked me."
He nodded slowly.
"Yes, I did...and it seemed completely natural to do so."
With a sigh, he shrugged.
"Perhaps I am more aware of my feelings now that we're a couple."
Beverly gently squeezed his hand, difficult in the mittens.
"Why analyse it, Jean-Luc? We're in love, you asked and I accepted. And I was happy to say so!"
They were silent for a time, then Jean-Luc said softly,
"I have something to confess."
Intrigued, Beverly asked,
"What is it?"
She heard the humour in his voice.
"I can't wait to be married to you."
She grinned ridiculously and bumped her shoulder against his.
"Neither can I."
Two hours later, they were lying together, spooned and their bodies were suffering bouts of trembling. Beverly had told Jean-Luc this was normal and it would soon escalate into shivering. She flexed her hands and feet, advising Jean-Luc to do the same. She was growing impatient and a little concerned. Her breath clouded around her mouth as she said softly,
"How much longer?"
Jean-Luc was about to reply when a very loud bang made them jump. Both of them twisted their heads and stared up at the ceiling, the direction the sound had come from. Nervously, Beverly whispered,
"What the hell was that?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc began to rise, but Beverly hissed,
"No! We'll lose too much body heat."
He settled back down, hyper-aware. Straining to hear in the silence, another smaller sound, more like a thud. Beverly whispered,
"Are we being boarded?"
Jean-Luc shook his head, whispering,
"No, I don't think so. The two sounds have been in different places above us, but nowhere near the docking hatch."
They listened again and suddenly there was a deafening crash and the yacht lurched violently to one side. Beverly slid off the bed and landed awkwardly on the floor. Jean-Luc was off the bed as fast as his body would allow. He rushed into the cockpit and shone his torch out through the forward screen. He swore softly.
"Merde!" He spun around and shouted,
"The yacht is moving! Brace for impact!"

Out in the asteroid belt, the Cardassian ship was cleaving its way slowly through the rocky debris. Every now and then, deadly bolts of pure energy lanced out in the darkness to blast, but not destroy lumps of rock. It was done haphazardly, seemingly without any discernable pattern, but the ship's commander was well aware of what he was doing. As Jean-Luc had thought, the Cardassian suspected his prey lurked in one of the larger asteroids, but had no way to find them. However, he wanted the crew alive. The ships had been identified as being Federation and, although he knew the shuttle was of little value, the yacht whetted his appetite. That, and the lure of taking some prisoners made him cautious.
Of course Cardassia was now at peace with the Federation, so technically, taking Federation citizens prisoner was a hostile act and, if discovered, would lead to some very uncomfortable scrutiny by Starfleet. However the Gul in command of the ship didn't care. He burned for revenge, his only son, a mere two years old, lost when the deceitful Dominion bombarded Cardassia Prime as punishment for their betrayal when they turned on their shape-shifting masters and sided with the Federation in the war. That act had tipped the balance and, though bloodied and battered, the Federation was victorious. The death toll from the orbital bombardment was staggering. The Gul, mad with grief, had volunteered for duty and requested a posting that would take him far from home. It mattered not that his ship was a flying wreck as long as it had weapons. He yearned to vent his anger and any target would do and, if he could sell a nice little ship and barter a decent price from the Orions for any prisoners, all the better. Just as long as he fought his own little war, he was happy.
They nosed through the debris, firing carefully, trying to flush out their prey. Of course, there was always the chance that the ships had escaped, either by exiting the asteroid belt somewhere ahead, or by doubling back and fleeing behind, but, with his senses honed by years of war, the Gul was certain the prey was nearby. It was only a matter of time. He hoped.

 

The Calypso, her momentum carrying her sideways and down, was suddenly struck underneath, sending her slowly rolling on a new course. Inside, Jean-Luc and Beverly struggled to keep their footing. Risking discovery, Jean-Luc hit the dark console, years of familiarity making the action automatic, he didn't even have to see to know he'd pressed the correct pad. Light speared out in the void, illuminating the inside of the cavern. Floating around the ships were chunks of rock of all sizes, somehow dislodged from the interior surface of the asteroid. Immediately assessing the danger, Jean-Luc's fingers danced over the face of the console, bringing it to life and activating the shields. He acted just in time. A large lump of rock hit the shields, making them coruscate brightly. He sensed, rather than saw, Beverly behind him. Her voice carried her confusion.
"What's happening?"
"Something's hitting the outer crust. The shock is causing the inner surface to shed chunks of rock."
Another piece of rock struck the shields and the yacht shook. Growling, Jean-Luc scowled.
"We have to get out of here."
Beverly, peering through the viewport, said worriedly,
"What about the Cardassians? Surely they're responsible for this."
"No doubt, but our position in here is untenable. Sooner or later this asteroid will collapse and if we're inside, we'll be destroyed. Besides, having activated our shields, they may've detected our power signature, though unless they knew how to look for it, we might still be hidden from them."
"Okay, how would they need to look?"
Jean-Luc took his mittens off and flexed his hands. He then removed his balaclava and restored life support. His breath puffed out in grey clouds.
"Without functioning sensors and scanners, the only way to detect a power signature is to use a communication array. You have to trawl through the bandwidths, searching for the subspace resonance. Once you find a match, you can track it to the source. Somehow I doubt their ship is capable of doing that."
"Sounds complicated. Would they make that kind of search routinely?"
"No, there'd be no reason to, unless..."
He sighed.
"Unless you had no other way. I suppose it depends on whether their communications array is up to the task."
He inputted some more commands and the yacht's deck plates shivered slightly as the warp drive came on line. There was a sudden brilliant flash and almost immediately the yacht was tipped up from behind and shoved violently forwards. Jean-Luc had enough time to shout,
"The shuttle's blown!" Before the yacht was slammed against the far wall of the cavern. Fortunately the shields protected the ship, but her occupants were thrown about uncontrollably, bouncing about like pinballs. The force of the collision shattered the crust and the yacht spilled out into space, spinning end-over-end. By sheer luck it was on the opposite side to the trolling cruiser. Somehow, Jean-Luc crawled across the littered floor and dragged himself to his knees and brought the vessel under control. With her attitude restored, he activated sensors and scanned the area. With a distracted swipe of his hand, he removed a trickle of blood that threatened to get into his right eye. Beverly appeared beside him and sat heavily in the co-pilot's seat. Not needing any prompting from Jean-Luc, she activated her console and studied the screen, pushing her unruly hair out of her face.
"I don't think they've seen us."
Jean-Luc's reply was a soft grunt. Keeping his eyes on his readouts, using thrusters only, he manoeuvred the yacht away from the asteroid and had just reached cover behind another when the one they had hidden in slowly disintegrated. Keeping the Cardassian ship behind them, Jean-Luc engaged the impulse engine and leap-frogged away, sneaking from rock to rock, the distance slowly increasing.
It wasn't until he was sure they weren't being pursued that he allowed Beverly to examine him. She had already treated her injuries, and it was the work of mere minutes to treat him. The worst he had was a nasty gash over his right eye and a badly sprained wrist.
The temperature had risen in the ship, so they took off the insulated survival gear. It was with some relief that Jean-Luc wiped the sweat from his bald pate. Beverly smiled with sympathy and checked her console.
"We seemed to have escaped."
"Hmm. Too close for comfort."
She nodded her agreement.
"So, now where to?"
Jean-Luc sat in the pilot's seat and studied the chart.
"It'd be foolish to go anywhere near our original course. I suppose we should exit the belt as soon as possible and see if we can find a path to the border that offers some cover."
"Like before?"
"Yes, but I don't think..."
He sighed.
"There's not much for us to hide in, I'm afraid."
With a shrug, Beverly said fatalistically,
"So what's new? It means we're going to have to do as I suggested before. Set a course for Federation space and go like hell."
Letting out a plosive breath through his nose, Jean-Luc pursed his lips.
"You may be right. Still, if we find something, I think we should avail ourselves of it. Who knows how many ships the Cardassians have out here?"
"Okay, point taken. Let's get going."
"Agreed."

 

The Commander of the Cardassian ship leaned forward and peered at the blurry image on the screen. Static interfered and the image vanished, only to quickly reappear. He had already barked an order to clear up the image, but so far, his inept and sullen tactical officer had not been able to comply. He knew it wasn't the officer's fault, even though the man was all but useless, it was the failing equipment that hampered them and it wasn't just the viewscreen. Shields, weapons, communications...so many ship's systems were either not functioning at all, or were only functioning at reduced power. He fisted his hand and thumped his thigh in frustration. His anger boiled and the need to vent it somehow was overwhelming. They had seen the flash that preceded the nearby asteroid's destruction and, although they had tried to discover exactly what it was, they were unable to do so. The Gul's second, a young female who chafed at having been assigned to such a dilapidated ship, remarked that she thought the flash might have been a detonation of a warp core. She was immediately silenced by the Gul.
"Foolish woman! A warp core breach would've destroyed everything around for several hundred metres...including us! It is more probable that what we saw was a plasma flare, prior to one of the ships exploding."
"So...were both ships destroyed in the blast?"
The Commander turned his head slowly and speared the hapless woman with a withering glare. With sarcasm dripping off each word, he asked,
"If I thought both ships had been destroyed, why do you think we're still here, searching?"
The question was, of course, rhetorical, but the second was required to answer her Commander.
"I...I, um..I don't know, Commander."
He turned back at the rolling and blurring image and muttered,
"Then watch and learn!"
He then snapped,
"And get the screen fixed!"
His irritation ate at him. He was sure only one of the Federation ships had been destroyed. He glanced again at his personal storage device and watched the little screen as it showed the flash, soon followed by the slowly collapsing asteroid. Ample time for a small ship to escape. He took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, then let it out slowly. His gut feeling was that his prey had indeed given him the slip, but he had to be sure. The only problem was the limitations of his decrepit ship. He brought his hand down forcibly on the armrest, trying to contain his anger. Despite his yearnings, he would do this methodically. Only when he was certain they weren't still hiding or destroyed, would he move to try and pick up their trail. Somehow.

 

Now free of the shuttle, the yacht sailed smoothly through the debris and out into clear space. Beverly chanced a glance at Jean-Luc and smiled when she saw his expression as he gazed out at the stars. Softly she remarked,
"It's always the same."
He frowned and turned to look at her.
"Pardon?"
"Your face...your eyes. Every time I see you contemplating the stars you get this look on your face...it's..."
She sighed.
"I can't really find adequate words to describe it. It's you, though, it always has been."
He offered a small smile.
"I don't know what you see, Beverly, but my fascination with the stars has been a part of me since I was very young. And I'm pleased to say that it has never waned. The stars still hold me spellbound. I am now, and always have been, in awe. Fascinated. Enthralled. Bewitched."
He sighed again and his smile grew and his voice was soft.
"As I am with you."
His gentle declaration filled Beverly with joy, contentment and love. She smiled tenderly and sighed.
"Jean-Luc...Thank you."
He looked back at the stars and shrugged, a trace of amusement in his voice.
"All that classic literature has had its affect on me. Where it comes to you, I am a hopeless romantic."
She let out a soft snort and shook her head.
"True, but I have no complaint at being the recipient. You can wax lyrical as often as you like."
She lowered her head and, in the soft lighting, Jean-Luc saw her blush. Her next words were very softly spoken.
"It makes me feel...special."
"You are that, Beverly, and much, much more."
He took a deep breath and said gently,
"When we get back to the ship, I want to show you something."
Bringing her head up, Beverly tilted it to one side and asked,
"What?"
He frowned and Beverly thought he looked somewhat embarrassed. Now intrigued, Beverly moved closer to him and said softly,
"What, Jean-Luc?"
He raised his eyes to look into hers.
"I have loved you for so long..."
"Yes."
"I wrote some...poetry."
"Did you?"
"Uh huh."
Moving closer still, Beverly traced her fingers down his face to his endearingly dimpled chin.
"Tell me about it."
He lowered his head and shifted his weight.
"Oh, it's not much, really...in fact I am embarrassed I told you."
Beverly smiled and looked under his brow.
"You shouldn't be. Will you still show me?"
He took a deep breath and nodded silently. Beverly gently lifted his head until their eyes met. She kissed him tenderly and he sighed with happiness.
"Is the poetry about me?"
"Yes."
"I'm very flattered."
He snorted softly.
"I'd reserve my judgement until I read it, if I were you."
Punching his upper arm, Beverly smirked.
"Oh, I think you're being just a little too modest, Jean-Luc. If I know you...and I do, by the way, I'm sure anything you wrote would be just right."
He lifted his eyebrows and smiled lopsidedly.
"With you as my inspiration, you may be right."
Letting the moment go, Jean-Luc settled into the pilot's seat and ran a scan of the area. Having been seen once, he didn't see the need to be discreet. The scan was a long-range one and he grunted softly as he perused the result.
"It seems we're safe, at least for now. Our sensors show the Cardassian ship in the asteroid belt, but I can't see any other threats."
He took one last look before saying decisively,
"Beverly, set course for Federation space, warp nine and engage on my mark."
She took her seat and inputted the commands. She softly repeated her instructions.
"Setting course for Federations space, warp nine."
She looked over at Jean-Luc and grinned.
"Course and speed set, ready to engage, Captain."
Casting a lingering look at her, Jean-Luc said softly,
"Engage."
Seated in front of the Commander, the junior officer at the helm of the Cardassian cruiser glanced at his console as a light flashed on and off. Not wishing to incur his Commander's wrath, he surreptitiously turned his head and sent a meaningful glance at Tactical. Always watching, mostly to serve his own interests, the Tactical officer looked down at his display and saw why he'd been covertly alerted. Choosing his words carefully, the officer said,
"Commander, we have a contact."
The Gul twisted in his seat and speared the younger man with an intense gaze.
"Well?"
Tapping out some instructions, the officer shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Commander, but I can tell you little else."
The Gul gritted his teeth, thinking fiercely,
"Damn this ship!"
To the Tactical officer he snapped,
"That's all? No identification?"
"No, Commander."
"Are we being hailed?"
"No, Commander."
Rising slowly from his seat and glaring hotly, the officer began to sweat.
"Then we can assume it's not a Cardassian ship, can't we."
The officer's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed nervously.
"Yes, Commander."
"Do we know how far it is from our present position?"
"No, Commander."
Briefly closing his eyes, the Gul said through his clenched teeth,
"Can you tell me anything at all?"
Beads of sweat covered the officer's brow. His tongue darted out to wet his lips.
"Commander, our scanners and sensors..."
"I don't want to hear your weak excuses! I want to know more about that contact!"
As the unfortunate young officer desperately stabbed at his console with his fingers, the Gul spun around and hissed at the helm officer,
"Get this ship out of the asteroid belt and headed towards the contact!"
"Yes, Commander!"
The Commander retook his seat and glared balefully at the chaotic static that scrolled across his screen. Furious, he shouted,
"And I want maximum warp once we're clear!"
There was a chorus of, "Yes, Commander!"
Struggling to control himself, the Gul's anger simmered as he thought,
"I see you, Federation scum. I'm coming!"

The dulcet voice of the computer roused Jean-Luc from his doze. He'd been sitting in the living area, his feet crossed at the ankles and resting on the coffee table, reading from a PADD. The recent events had taken their toll and, against his will, his eyes had closed. Beverly had decided to take a nap and had stretched out on the bed. She slept so heavily, she didn't hear the voice.
"Warning, warp core overheating. Advise opening plasma injectors immediately."
Jean-Luc was in the cockpit before the voice had ceased. He checked the readings and complied with the computer's instructions. The yacht came out of warp, the elongated, prismatic stars once again chips of icy, blue pinpricks of light. He engaged the impulse engines and set the speed at half impulse.
He debated waking Beverly, but decided against it. They didn't seem to be in any imminent danger, so he set about rectifying their problem. First, he ran a level one diagnostic, then, having found the cause of the overheating, sat back and ran a annoyed hand over his face, muttering darkly,
"Damn! How the hell am I going to fix this?"
It was with great reluctance that he shut down the warp core.
He checked the readout again and puffed out his cheeks. Being proactive, he picked up a tricorder and left his seat to go aft, to the warp core. Having found the appropriate hatch on the bulkhead, he opened it and scanned the interior. He closed his eyes and shook his head, thinking morosely,
"Geordi, where are you when I need you?"
He put the tricorder on the floor and knelt. A hatch was outlined by its edges and he flipped up the opening mechanism's handle and there was a hiss of exchanged air as he opened it. There was enough room for him to ease his legs into the space between the multitude of cables, circuit boards and isolinear chips and, once his feet found something solid under them, he sat, his backside on the deck. Taking up the tricorder again, he scanned once more and gritted his teeth.
"All right, Picard, time to see if you know as much as you think you do."
He withdrew his legs and climbed to his feet. A quick trip to the replicator had him carry a basic engineer's tool kit. He went back to the deck hatch and, instead of sitting with his legs and feet in the space under the deck, he lay face down with his head and shoulders hanging over the edge. He closed his eyes and pictured what he had to do. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times before carefully picking up a tool and reaching into the intimidating mass of technology.
If he was capable of doing what was necessary, it was going to take some time.
Beverly was dreaming, her eyes darting back and forth under her closed eyelids. Her body jerked occasionally and she softly moaned. Sweat began to appear on her brow and it was obvious she was distressed. Just as the dream started to overwhelm her, she abruptly sat up and gasped. At first disorientated, she blinked rapidly, her heart pounding in her chest. She placed her hand over her heart and swallowed.
"My God!" She said breathlessly. Moving tentatively, she hitched her way to the end of the bed and sat with her legs over the side. Taking a few deep breaths, she frowned as she tried to stop the dream from fading away. Fractured images made her grimace and shake her head.
"What the hell was that about?" She wondered, shaking her head again.
She stood and decided to take a shower, but before she did she called out,
"Jean-Luc?"
When there was no reply she went into the living area, only to find it empty.
"Where are you?" She muttered.
Next she went to the cockpit, but that too was empty. She looked out of the viewscreen and saw that they were travelling at impulse power. A quick check of the console told her all she need to know, including the whereabouts of her Captain.
As she approached him, she heard him softly swearing. She quietly sat beside him and placed her hand on the small of his back. He startled, hitting his head under the edge of the hatch and cursed loudly.
"Shit! Dammit, Beverly!"
Raising her eyebrows and pulling down the corners of her mouth in mock contrition, Beverly said cheekily,
"Sorry." Then, more seriously, she said,
"I saw the results of the diagnostic. Do you think you can fix it?"
Grumpily, he muttered,
"How the hell do I know?"
Shrugging to herself, Beverly tried again.
"Okay, do you know why it happened?"
Testily, Jean-Luc ground out,
"Obviously we took some damage in the asteroid."
Tiring of his attitude, Beverly said with a warning in her voice,
"It's not my fault, Jean-Luc."
She saw him take a deep breath. When he spoke again, it was in a more civilised tone.
"Sorry, Beverly. It's just this damned rat's nest of cables! I need to get to the lateral sub-processor and there just isn't room! I don't know how the hell Geordi can work under these conditions."
"Is there anything I can do?" She asked.
"No, but thank you."
She stood and went back to the living area. After a few moments of thought, she smiled and went to the replicator. Having retrieved her requested item, she went back to Jean-Luc and sat beside him. She said nothing, but waited with a smile on her face.
Slowly, the aroma of the replicated item reached the sweating, frustrated, man. He stopped what he was doing and sniffed. A smile broke out and he wriggled backwards until his head and shoulders cleared the hatch. He sat up and his eyes fell on the mug in Beverly's hands. As he took it, he smiled his thanks.
"I'd know that aroma anywhere."
She nodded, her eyes twinkling.
"I thought a hot Earl Grey might soothe the savage beast."
He smiled ruefully then took an appreciative sip.
"I really am sorry, Beverly."
"Don't be, it's okay. So, can you fix it?"
He sighed, glancing briefly at the open hatch. With a shrug he admitted,
"I don't really know."
"I see. How far are we from Federation space?"
"Over four hundred and fifty light years."
Grimacing, Beverly shook her head.
"So too far for sub-light travel."
"Oh, yes, it would take far too long at impulse power. We need to get there fast."
"Hmm. Okay, that means you have to fix it."
He offered a wry chuckle.
"Your confidence in me is appreciated, Beverly, but I'm not completely sure I can."
With a shrug, Beverly lifted her hands.
"We don't have much choice, Jean-Luc. It's either fix it, or we might as well get out and walk."
He glowered and finished his tea.
"An interesting analogy, however, not only do I not know if I can fix it, I don't know if it can be fixed."
Her smile was sympathetic. She patted his shoulder and said,
"Well, you won't find out up here." She pointed into the hatch.
"Down you go."
He gave her his empty mug and offered a rueful sigh.
"Aye, Doctor."
Her smile faded as Jean-Luc began to work. Her eyes went to the ceiling as she thought,
"Here's hoping."
The only thing she heard from Jean-Luc was soft swearing.
Eventually, Beverly became bored. Like Jean-Luc, she needed something to do, sitting idly by wasn't what she wanted. She stood, stretched out her stiffness and wandered back to the cockpit. There she sat in the pilot's seat and studied the readouts. After a thorough examination of all the current information, she turned her attention to the star charts. The computer had recorded their passage and, with a few tapped commands, overlaid their journey so far on their plotted course.
Tapping her short fingernail against her teeth, Beverly spent the better part of an hour scouring the charts, trying to find a way to either shorten their voyage somehow or placate Jean-Luc by finding some sort of cover, where they could hide while he continued his efforts to effect repairs. She could've done this by simply asking the computer, but she wanted to use up time. In the end, all she did was frustrate herself. There was nothing, no planets, moons, asteroid belts, nebulae or anything remotely like a hiding place within a reasonable distance.
She was engrossed in a new study when an alarm went off. Jerking her head up, she moved swiftly, clearing the chart off the screen and bringing up a tactical display. Moving rapidly towards them was a Cardassian ship. A quick enquiry of the computer informed her it was the same one from the asteroid belt. Just as she was about to call Jean-Luc, he appeared in the cockpit, holding a sub-processor in his hands. He took in the situation seamlessly, his eyes going to the tactical display. Beverly waited, noting the knuckles on his left hand were scraped and bleeding.
Having assimilated all relevant information, Jean-Luc put the processor down and took his position in the pilot's seat.
With a few tapped commands, the yacht's speed increased to full impulse. Beverly said quietly,
"There's nowhere to hide that we can reach in time."
He nodded, then said softly,
"This might get a little ugly."
Beverly dragged her eyes away from her console and regarded Jean-Luc with tender affection. His comment had been a gross understatement, but typical of the man. She smiled and asked flatly,
"What're our chances?"
She saw him purse his lips.
"Better than none. We know their ship is dilapidated and the yacht is far more manoeuvrable..."
Beverly snorted softly.
"But they still outgun us and we can't outrun them."
"True, but we have weapons too, don't forget, and they have no shields."
Raising her eyebrows, Beverly nodded.
"Okay, we have less than five minutes before they're in weapons range. Orders?"
"Shields at full strength, try to divert more power to them if you can, I know with the warp core shut down that will be difficult, but do what you can. I have an idea for the phasers."
He rose and left the cockpit, saying,
"I'll be back in a minute."
Beverly was busy and the time went by without her acknowledging it. It seemed like only seconds before Jean-Luc returned, a grim smile on his face.
"I've tweaked the phaser power couplings. It should make them hotter."
"How hot?"
"Thirty-five percent above standard."
Beverly nodded appreciatively.
"Hot!"
"I'm hoping it will give us an advantage. If we can knock out their disruptors, we may be able to negotiate our way out of trouble."
With a wry grin, Beverly held up her crossed fingers.
"Here's hoping."
Their preparations had eaten time and before they knew it, the little ship staggered under the impact of a disruptor cannon blast. Jean-Luc entered some commands and the Calypso began her evasive manoeuvres. At first, Jean-Luc concentrated on avoiding being hit, but, at the same time, he was attempting to position his ship to be able to return fire.
It turned out to be exceptionally difficult. It soon became obvious that his adversary was just as talented at strategy as Jean-Luc was. The two ships parried and thrust at each other, the smaller ship harrying the larger, less agile ship, but not able to land a telling blow. Executing a tight turn, Jean-Luc rolled the yacht and, as it came out of its spiral, he pressed the firing tab. However, his opponent was ready for him. As the Calypso's orange streak of energy lanced out toward its target, the Cardassian cruiser rolled to port and got off a shot of her own. The yacht's beam went wide, but she shuddered violently as she was struck broadside by the Cardassian's disruptor cannon.
Beverly's terse voice reported,
"Shields down to fifty percent."
"Acknowledged."
Pushing the yacht down, Jean-Luc drove her into a steep dive, pulled up abruptly and fired. His eyes glittered as the computer showed his shot had struck, tearing a gaping, charred-edged hole just aft of the starboard nacelle of the enemy ship. Not wasting time, Jean-Luc corkscrewed over the top of the cruiser, but again, the yacht was hit. This time the lights dimmed as she staggered and Beverly said through gritted teeth,
"Shields down to twenty-three percent and there is a rupture in the ODN lines."
Jean-Luc was already aware of that. The Optical Data Network was responsible for carrying the connections between the main computer core and every interface. With the lines ruptured, the computer would seek to reroute through the fibre-optic network to attempt to re-establish connections. It was a tense wait, his console dark, while the computer did its system analysis. Just as he thought the rupture was too bad to overcome, his console flickered twice, then came on line.
Throughout the time while the Calypso was helpless, Jean-Luc had had very little helm control. His only way of avoiding being hit was to bring the yacht underneath the behemoth and hope that the Cardassians couldn't see them. It worked...in a fashion. Beverly was just about to congratulate him when the yacht lurched under the impact of a disruptor blast. By the way the yacht had reacted when hit, Jean-Luc knew the beam wasn't particularly strong. He nodded slowly as Beverly reported,
"Shields holding, no damage."
"That must've been from one of their damaged weapons. Can you locate the source?"
"Yes...Aft, fifteen metres beyond the last bulkhead."
"How close to the aft torpedo launcher?"
"Hmm, close, five metres forward."
Frowning deeply, Beverly asked,
"Why haven't they used their torpedoes? One of those ion babies would've ended this little skirmish quick-smart."
Jean-Luc turned and shrugged.
"Unknown, but I'd hypothesise either their launchers are inoperable, or they simply don't have any torpedoes to launch. It would be a heavy expense for the Union to equip what remains of their fleet with something as expensive as ion torpedoes."
Further speculation ceased abruptly as they were stuck again. It was as Jean-Luc brought the yacht out from under the cruiser that his console came to life.
Over the next fifteen minutes both ships scored hits, but though the yacht was more manoeuvrable, and the cruiser less than at its most powerful, it still made the most telling blows.
With shields down to eight percent, Jean-Luc knew it was only a matter of time before they were destroyed. It was pointless to continue. He opened a channel and said with authority,
"Cardassian ship, this is Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Cease fire, we surrender."
The response was chilling.
"Federation ship, I refuse to accept your surrender. It is my intention to obliterate your ship with you in it. Prepare to die."
Beverly glared at the image of the cruiser and muttered darkly,
"You bastard!"
Jean-Luc was about to reply, to try to make the Commander reconsider, when a new voice made itself known.
"Commander Nehad, this is Commander Vortin of the Koranak. You will stand down immediately! Federation ship, do you require assistance?"
To Jean-Luc's raised eyebrow, Beverly quickly gained the information from her console.
"It's another Cardassian ship...Keldon class...and it's in reasonably good condition. Approaching at high warp, ETA seven minutes."
Jean-Luc frowned.
"Why didn't our sensors pick it up?"
She shrugged.
"I don't know."
Looking at the screen, Jean-Luc pursed his lips.
"Well, well...this should prove interesting."
He opened a channel to the new ship.
"Commander Vortin, this is Captain Jean-Luc Picard, we do require assistance, thank you."
Keeping a wary eye on the older ship, Jean-Luc was ready when it fired again. He was already manoeuvring in an intricate pattern and just avoided being hit. The approaching ship fired a warning shot and the attacker veered to one side. The Gul was outraged.
"Koranak, what are you doing?! I am about to destroy the enemy!"
There was an edge to the faceless reply, one that clearly carried determination.
"Commander Nehad, cease fire! I will not allow you to jeopardise the peace! If necessary, I will use my weapons to stop you!"
"Are you insane? They are Federation, I am within my rights..."
"You are NOT within any rights, Nehad! The Federation is no longer our enemy. I repeat, cease fire, or I will disable you."
In the face of superior firepower, the older ship deactivated its weapons. Letting out a long breath, Jean-Luc rubbed his face with his hands as Beverly muttered,
"That was a little too close for comfort."
Still somewhat tense, Jean-Luc watched as the protagonist slowly came about and moved away, back towards where it'd come from. The Koranak dropped to impulse speed and took up a position relative to the yacht. The viewscreen changed to an image of their rescuer. The Cardassian was middle aged, but the ravages of war showed clearly in his prematurely grey-streaked hair and the lines around his eyes and mouth. His eyes, however, shone with intelligence. He smiled and it was with genuine warmth. Beverly idly thought she'd never seen a Cardassian look so benign.
"Captain Picard, please accept my sincere apologies. I can assure you, Commander Nehad is not representative of our fleet. I offer you any assistance you require. Have you, or your companion, been injured?"
As Jean-Luc was about to reply, Beverly murmured,
"There's nothing wrong with their scanners."
Shooting her a heated glance that said,
"Be quiet!" Jean-Luc smiled back at his counterpart and inclined his head.
"Thank you, Commander Vortin, your timely arrival saved us from a rather unfortunate situation. We are uninjured, but our ship has sustained some damage. It would be appreciated if you could assist us."
Jean-Luc saw Vortin consult a PADD-like device then nod. He looked back at Jean-Luc and frowned.
"I see your warp core has been shut down. Was that done deliberately, or was it shut down for some other reason?"
Offering a rueful smile, Jean-Luc said carefully,
"We had sustained damage previous to the fight. Our lateral sub-processor is irreparably damaged."
Vortin's face creased in a broad smile.
"Then it will be our pleasure to provide you with a new one. Is the sub-processor suitable for replication, or is it too badly damaged?"
"No, it should be fine."
"Then, perhaps you and your companion would like to visit my ship while we study the sub-processor prior to replication."
"We would be delighted, Commander, thank you."
The image of the smiling Cardassian blinked out to be replaced by an image of his ship. Unlike Nehad's vessel, the Koranak showed little repaired damage, indeed she seemed mostly intact and quite deadly. Jean-Luc's eyes narrowed as he speculated just where this ship had been during the war. It was highly unlikely that she would've got through as unscathed as she appeared if she'd been in the thick of the fighting and, as a Keldon class, he knew how desperately the Union had relied on them. It was with some anticipation that he and Beverly took their places on the transporter pad. Just before they dematerialised, Beverly muttered softly,
"So much for keeping our technology out of their hands."
Jean-Luc just managed to say tightly,
"Shut up."

 

When they rematerialised, Jean-Luc noticed Beverly was smirking. It never ceased to amaze him, with a modicum of exasperated annoyance, how Beverly delighted in baiting him. And, to make matters worse, most times he rose to that bait. He sighed and shook his head, but anything he might have said to her was silenced by the presence of the tall Cardassian before them. She smiled, cautiously, but with honest welcome. With a gesture, she ushered the couple off the pad. She towered over Jean-Luc and Beverly, but despite her height, she was very attractive, with emerald-green eyes, lustrous black hair that hung down her back in two long braids and a slim, well-toned body. Rather than be caught staring, Jean-Luc inclined his head as the Cardassian female said in a softly accented voice,
"Welcome aboard, Captain Picard. My name is Glinn Demarra and I have been sent to escort you to the Bridge. Commander Vortin is waiting for you there."
As he stepped down, he gave the sub-processor to a waiting crewman. He then turned to Beverly and smiled.
"Glinn Demarra, this is Doctor Beverly Crusher."
Offering a slight bow, Demarra gestured to the double doors.
"If you will follow me?"
Their journey through the ship was very enlightening. Wishing he had a tricorder to record everything he saw, Jean-Luc had to console himself by committing everything to memory. Beverly, on the other hand, was busy asking questions, mostly about Koranak's Sick Bay. Eventually, the Glinn smiled and shook her head, making her braids swing from side to side.
"Perhaps Commander Vortin will agree to allow me to take you to our medical facility so you can see for yourself our methods, equipment and pharmaceuticals. Our head medic, Doctor Jesen, I'm sure would be delighted to meet you."
Mollified, Beverly quietened and stole a look at Jean-Luc. By his intense expression she knew he was concentrating hard. Although she knew well what he was doing, she nonetheless took his hand and gave it a quick squeeze. It worked and he turned his head to look at her. Having gained his attention she mouthed, with her eyebrows raised to their highest,
"WOW!"
Jean-Luc rolled his eyes then looked pointedly at their escort, walking oblivious in front of them. Beverly grinned mischievously and would've prolonged her aping but, with a stern look from her Captain, lowered her eyes and behaved.
Jean-Luc absorbed everything, sights, smells and sounds and, by the time they had completed their journey to the Bridge, he was suitably impressed. Vortin rose from his command chair and Beverly noted the scar that was visible on his wide neck and disappearing under his uniform. By its thick, cord-like appearance, she correctly guessed the wound hadn't been treated, but healed on its own. She marvelled at the resilience and ability to not only heal well, but to withstand the pain it must've caused. By the look of it, the major blood vessels of that side of his neck must have been compromised. How he'd survived the wound was a miracle.
The Commander smiled warmly and extended his right hand. Jean-Luc took it and, while they shook hands, Vortin said quietly,
"Welcome to the Koranak, Captain Picard. I know this is how humans greet each other."
Jean-Luc returned the smile, saying,
"I am honoured to meet you, Commander Vortin. May I present my companion, Doctor Beverly Crusher?"
Vortin and Beverly shook hands and then the Commander swept his arm and said with obvious pride,
"What do you think of my ship, Captain?"
"Oh, she's a fine vessel, Commander. You must be very proud of her."
The grey man smiled, but frowned at the same time.
"Why is it that humans refer to ships as female?"
With a soft breath through his nose, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"That, Commander, is a long story. Suffice it to say, it has been that way for so many centuries that I'm afraid it will always be that way."
Raising his dark brows, Vortin shrugged.
"Well, I won't say I understand, but it is an endearing habit."
Lowering his head slightly, Jean-Luc asked softly,
"Commander, may I ask why your ship didn't show up on our sensors?"
Vortin's eyes glittered and Jean-Luc thought he was going to refuse to answer, but the older man took a deep breath and inclined his head.
"We were cloaked."
Speaking more sharply than he meant to, Jean-Luc said,
"Cloaked?"
Calmly, Vortin explained.
"Yes, cloaked. This ship, along with several other Keldon class vessels were fitted with cloaking technology and handed over to the Obsidian Order."
Silently, Jean-Luc thought,
"That explains quite a lot."
To Vortin he said carefully,
"What happened to them? I'm not aware of any Federation ship encountering a cloaked Cardassian ship during the war."
Vortin's smile faded and his expression became pained.
"Most of the ships were destroyed by the Jem'Hadar in the Orias system"
Jean-Luc successfully suppressed his surprise. He knew about that massacre. The Cardassians had joined forces with the Romulans and their secret intelligence organisation, the Tal'Shiar. Together they had sent a combined fleet to the Orias system with the intention of attacking the Founder's homeworld, but were met by the ruthless Jem'Hadar and annihilated. What Jean-Luc didn't know was that the Obsidian Order had been involved, though, on reflection, it seemed to make sense. He was aware that the Order had been destroyed but until now he hadn't known how that had occurred. The defeat had weakened Cardassia and forced them into an alliance with the Dominion. It wasn't until much later that the Cardassians switched sides, tipping the balance of power towards the Federation and ultimately helping them win the war.
It was like putting the final piece in a jigsaw. Now Jean-Luc had the complete picture. Starfleet Command would be very interested in this intelligence and Jean-Luc was grateful that Vortin had been so cooperative. Both the Commander and the Captain were well aware of just how sensitive the information was. It was a measure of the strength of the new peace that the former enemy would share such details. With renewed respect, Jean-Luc bowed his head. Vortin acknowledged the gesture in silence, words were unnecessary.
Demarra approached her superior and whispered something to him. He smiled and looked at Beverly with an impish gleam in his eyes.
"You are curious about our medical facility, Doctor?"
Offering an embarrassed smile, Beverly nodded.
"Yes, I am."
"Then by all means..."
With a nod in her direction, Demarra inclined her head and Beverly followed her off the Bridge. Turning his attention back to Jean-Luc, Vortin asked,
"I assume you Command something more substantial than that in which I find you?"
"Yes, I do." Grinned Jean-Luc. "I command the Enterprise."
Vortin's eyebrows rose.
"Ah, yes, I have heard of that ship. In fact..."
Placing his hand on Jean-Luc's back, Vortin guided him on a tour around the Bridge.
"...I think I know of you too. You have been a thorn in our side for a very long time."
Stopping at what appeared to be a science station, Jean-Luc said softly,
"Oh, I'm sure you're mistaken."
With a knowing smile, Vortin said with amusement,
"You are too modest, Captain. That is yet another human trait that intrigues me. No Cardassian, with a reputation like yours, would downplay it. We don't do modesty, Captain. More likely, we'd exaggerate as much as we could!"
With a dry chuckle, Jean-Luc replied,
"That's not exclusive to Cardassians, Commander. I've know many Captains who would do exactly the same."
They shared a quiet snort of agreement before Vortin asked,
"Is there anything in particular you would like to see?"
Jean-Luc briefly closed his eyes before shaking his head.
"This is going to take some time to get used to, Commander."
Vortin grinned.
"For me also, Captain, but I believe, wholeheartedly, in the peace, Cardassia simply cannot afford to go back to her old ways. The Federation has been extraordinarily generous in assisting us in rebuilding and, I for one, will do all I can to facilitate good relations with you."
Humbled, Jean-Luc nodded.
"I too am a man of peace, Commander. I congratulate you on your ability to change. It is something many find difficult."
Vortin sighed deeply.
"You are right, Captain. Even among my crew there are those who resist change. People like Nehad...deeply traumatised and seeking revenge...it is people like that who we must weed out for they will surely drag us backwards."
He shook his head.
"I sometimes fear for my people, Captain."
They were both silent for a time before Vortin shook off his worry and said brightly,
"So, a tour of the ship then?"
With a wide smile, Jean-Luc said with genuine pleasure,
"That, Commander, would be grand. Thank you."
It only took half an hour to study, then replicate a new sub-processor. However, Jean-Luc and Beverly weren't ready to leave the Koranak for three hours. What Vortin had said about some of his crew was true, Jean-Luc noticing the hard, suspicious looks he got, but generally, he was well received and felt quite at ease. His host proved to be erudite and well-read, the Captain fascinated to discover Vortin was aware of and liked, Shakespeare. To Jean-Luc's amazement, Vortin explained that his father had been a scholar and had introduced all his five children, of whom Vortin was the eldest, to as much literature as he could find, including the pre-eminent authors from as many worlds as he could access. Having been given such a well-rounded education in the arts, Vortin had hoped to follow his father in scholarly pursuits, but, with Cardassia's voracious appetite for conquering and expanding, he was pressured into joining the military. Jean-Luc commiserated as Vortin expressed his sorrow that he'd had to give up what was considered perverse, or seditious, the literature from other worlds he'd so enjoyed.
Intrigued, Jean-Luc was driven to ask,
"I take it the Shakespeare you read had been translated?"
"Yes."
"Have you ever read it in its original Elizabethan English?"
With a rueful smile, Vortin shook his head.
"Alas, no. I must admit I have always been curious to know what it was like in its original form. No doubt it must have lost some of its power in the translation."
Nodding, Jean-Luc said,
"If you would like, I can provide you with a copy of the Complete Works, in the original language. Of course I will make sure you have access to a translator that can interpret the old English into the closest approximation in Standard. Having done that, it should be a simple matter to swap it for Cardassian."
Vortin smiled indulgently, knowing what he would say next would shock the human.
"It may come as a surprise, Captain, but not only am I fluent in Standard, as you well know, but I can also read Elizabethan English and iambic pentameter. Shakespeare wasn't the only ancient Earth author I read, although my father was unable to acquire a copy of his works in the original language."
Jean-Luc's mouth opened, closed and opened again, but no sound emerged. Vortin grinned and placed a steadying hand on Jean-Luc's shoulder.
"My father was very thorough, Captain. He insisted if we were going to read alien literature, then we should do so in their original form. That way he could be assured we understood it and that nothing of the essence of the works would be lost by either shoddy, or simple lack of literal translations. It is a great pity I never read Shakespeare as it was written, but I am familiar with others of the same genre."
Quickly recovering himself, Jean-Luc inclined his head.
"Your father," He said respectfully, "Must have been a liberal thinking man, Commander. It's a great pity more of your kind didn't share his views."
Vortin's eyes narrowed, initially thinking that perhaps the human had just insulted him, but then, giving the comment some thought, he decided that the Captain was right. If indeed those in power had cared to broaden their minds, then maybe Cardassia wouldn't be in such a deplorable mess.
Beverly joined the men and smiled at her host.
"Commander", She said with gratitude. "I have had such a lovely time! Your Chief Medic, Doctor Jesen, has given me a very comprehensive tour of your medical facility, your medical equipment and so much more. I feel like I know your people so much better." She flushed slightly. "I'm afraid I have to confess I had only a basic knowledge of Cardassian medicine as applied to prisoners of war. It is a shortcoming I am relived to have overcome."
"It may have seemed we were a savage people, Doctor, and unfortunately our government did little to change that opinion of us, but I think, now that we are allies of the Federation, many such misconceptions can be put to rest."
"If our experiences are anything to go by," said Jean-Luc, "Then I'm sure it won't take long for a new impression of the Cardassian people to form. An impression of an enlightened and thoughtful people that I will be only too happy to spread."
Bowing his head in acknowledgement, Vortin offered a warm smile. Their visit had come to an end. Escorting them himself, Vortin took the couple back to the transporter room. Before they stepped onto the pad, the Commander said carefully,
"Captain Picard, please don't misunderstand me, but I think it prudent if we escort you to the border. Though it would be unlikely that we should encounter anymore of our ships...or that if we did they would be commanded by officers like Nehad, I would prefer we took no chances."
"I understand", said Jean-Luc. "And if I were in your position, I would do the same thing."
"Good, I'm glad you agree."
A crewmember handed Jean-Luc the new sub-processor and the Captain smiled his thanks.
"It will take me a little while to install this."
"That is not a problem, Captain. Just let me know when you're ready to depart."
Offering a nod and a smile, Jean-Luc and Beverly stepped up onto the pad. They next thing they knew, they were on the yacht.

As Jean-Luc installed the new part, Beverly shook her head and marvelled at his ability to swear in so many languages. However, despite his apparent bad temper, he managed to fit the processor with minimal trouble. When he finished and got back to his feet, Beverly was standing nearby, waving a tissue regenerator. Jean-Luc smiled and silently lifted his hand and watched as Beverly repaired the scraped knuckles.
Once again in the cockpit, Jean-Luc gave Beverly an expectant look, making her flip a mock salute. Knowing what he wanted, Beverly inputted a course that took them directly to the border at warp five. She looked up from her console and said cheerfully,
"Course and speed set and laid in, Captain."
He nodded, his face unreadable, but Beverly saw the warmth and humour in his eyes.
"Very well, open a channel to the Koranak and transmit our intended course and speed, as well as our readiness to depart."
Beverly ruined the game by saying pertly,
"Okay, mon Capitaine."
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc grinned.
"Engage."
Calypso jumped to warp, followed precisely two seconds later by Koranak.
It took just on three days to reach the border. During that time Vortin had devoted several hours of each day allowing any members of his crew who wished it to interact with Jean-Luc and Beverly, asking questions, comparing technology and generally familiarising themselves with the Federation. Once again, the couple were immensely impressed by Vortin's attitude and were heartened by the knowledge that he wasn't alone in his thinking.
Both ships came to a halt at the border and it was with genuine regret that they had to part. Jean-Luc assured Vortin that he would do everything he could to make sure their experiences with Vortin and his crew were made common knowledge. It was time the old animosity towards the Cardassian people was finally put to rest. And Jean-Luc had good reason to be confident it could be done. The Klingons, long known for their war-like and violent attitude and indeed once an implacable enemy, were now staunch allies. If the Klingons could find a place in the Federation, so could the Cardassians. Beverly opened a channel and Jean-Luc was pleased to see Vortin.
"Commander, it is time we took our leave." He said. "Once again, I would like to express our gratitude. You and your crew have been very helpful, indeed, you saved our lives. We won't soon forget that. Rest assured, I'm sure you will hear from us in the very near future."
The smile that graced Vortin's face was warm and genuine.
"It has been our pleasure, Captain. I wish you both a safe journey home."
With that, the channel closed. The Calypso crossed the border and Jean-Luc wasn't surprised to see the Koranak stayed in position long after they'd made it into Federation space. It was with some sadness that he saw her finally turn and set course back the way she'd come.
Beverly noted his pensiveness and said softly,
"What an adventure."
"Hmm, some of it I wouldn't like to repeat."
"True", Beverly said with a soft snort. "But it'll make our homecoming that much sweeter."
Smiling warmly, Jean-Luc stood and held out his hand. Beverly took it and together they went into the dining area. While Beverly sat, Jean-Luc went to the replicator and retrieved two hot drinks. He then settled into a comfy chair. They sipped in silence for a little while before Beverly said gently,
"It's such a pity we encountered such aggressive people like Kenak on Delos. Having met Vortin and his crew, it has completely changed my perception of Cardassians."
"Indeed." Jean-Luc agreed. He sighed and shook his head. "I must admit, I am ashamed that I had harboured prejudiced views but in my defence, Kenak and the other one were more like our established opinion of Cardassians. It was so refreshing to meet Vortin and his crew. It gives such hope for greater understanding and tolerance."
Beverly snorted.
"Ever the optimist."
He frowned.
"You have doubts?"
She shook her head.
"No..." She tilted her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I have no doubt that Cardassia will eventually find a lasting peace, not only with the Federation, but with themselves. What concerns me is that people like Vortin might not be heard. He is one voice, Jean-Luc, in a cacophony of disarray. I have to wonder just how many more are like him? Because it's going to take a lot to make a difference."
Jean-Luc considered her words and had to admit, she had a point. However, he chose to put his faith in the fragile peace. He said with confidence,
"Sometimes it only takes one, Beverly. History has shown that time and time again."
She smiled and nodded.
"Then I hope that is the case with Cardassia."

 

Several hours later they shared a companionable meal then retired for a well-earned sleep. Upon awakening they made gentle love and Beverly was delighted with Jean-Luc's capacity for tenderness and thoroughness. Of course she already knew these things about him, but so much had happened to them that the reconnection, the reaffirmation was as if it was new. Certainly Jean-Luc approached their lovemaking with almost reverence. It had taken Beverly some time to encourage him to put behind him all that had occurred. She had needed more than his gentleness, she wanted to erase from her mind the sorrow and grief she had felt when it seemed certain Jean-Luc was going to die. It was in the throes of intense orgasm that Beverly banished those thoughts from her mind, but it took more than one climax and Jean-Luc was more than happy to oblige. Using his formidable control, he'd delayed his own orgasm to bring Beverly to three climaxes before he succumbed. Then he applied his intimate knowledge of Beverly's triggers to elicit two more. Finally sated, Beverly wrapped herself around Jean-Luc and sighed, closing her eyes. Jean-Luc assumed she would sleep, as she so often did after sex, but he was mildly surprised when she said softly,
"How much do you remember...really?"
"Exactly what are you referring to?" He asked warily.
She smiled sleepily.
"You know."
Not wanting to disturb his sated, relaxed numbness he tried to avoid the question with one of his own. He chose something bland.
"What did you think of Doctor Jesen's staff?"
He was moderately disappointed when Beverly shook her head and refused to answer. Instead she opened her eyes and stared at him with intense scrutiny.
"How much?"
When Beverly was in this mood, nothing would shift her focus. Trying to would only end in an argument and having just made love, Jean-Luc was unwilling to break the spell. He sighed and bowed to the inevitable.
"Everything."
Not fully convinced, Beverly asked for specifics.
"What do you remember about those days you spent in and out of consciousness?"
"Which ones?" Asked Jean-Luc carefully. He was aware of Beverly's need to expunge her feelings about what had happened and he couldn't understand why she wanted to drag it all up.
Her voice was flat as she elaborated,
"The ones when you were near death."
He sighed and briefly closed his eyes. He felt he knew where this was heading.
"Beverly", he said resignedly, "We've been over this. Why bring it up now?"
"Because," she said bitterly, "You didn't go through what I did! I never understood your pragmatism about life, Jean-Luc, especially yours."
The mood was quickly unravelling. His languor was evaporating and he briefly considered trying to arouse her again, but just as quickly dismissed the idea. Taking a deep breath he gave up trying to hang on to his torpor and ordered his thoughts. Keeping his voice soft and even he said,
"I'm not pragmatic about life per se, just my own."
She was annoyed at how plaintive she sounded.
"Why?"
"Because I don't put that much value on my life if I am rendered incapable of sustaining it." He said gently, knowing she didn't agree with him. "I have seen so much, experienced so much, I have formed the opinion that life, as long as it is lived well, shouldn't be extended if it has come to a natural conclusion."
Beverly wanted to shout, to pound her fists against his chest, but didn't. Instead she took a calming breath and forced herself to consider what he'd said. Having balanced his words against her feelings, she felt ready to express herself.
"But, Jean-Luc, with the advances in medicine life doesn't necessarily have a finite conclusion, at least not the conclusion you're referring to. We've known a long time that life doesn't have to cease because of trauma or disease. Yes, of course sometimes we can't do anything to prevent death, but more often we can. Your fatalistic view is outdated."
He smiled then and it annoyed Beverly. On another person such an expression could be seen as condescension, but she knew him better than that. His smile was an attempt to ease her angst.
"Perhaps, but you're avoiding a fundamental truth."
"And that is?"
"That it's my life."
That, of course, was the crux of the matter. No matter how long they debated...argued, they would always come back to that one fact. And Beverly knew he wouldn't be swayed. For whatever reason, Jean-Luc had decided long ago he wouldn't allow himself to linger. He would rather end his life with what he believed was dignity. Frustrated, Beverly left his embrace and lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Jean-Luc frowned, knowing she was upset, but not knowing how to placate her. While he fretted, Beverly said softly,
"Do you think you might change your mind if you were a parent?"
That brought him up short. It was an odd thing to ask, he thought. Still, the question required an answer.
"Well," He said cautiously. "I suppose it would have a bearing on my decision, but it would depend on the circumstance."
"You don't think being a parent would make you want to hold on to life, no matter what?"
Puffing out his cheeks and raising his brows, Jean-Luc said with uncertainty,
"Beverly...I don't know...I've never been a parent, you know that."
"So are you saying you don't want to be a parent?"
"No, it's just that I've not given it a great deal of thought."
Something suddenly occurred to him.
"Why? What are you suggesting?"
Her facial expression clearly showed her conflict. Choosing her words with care, she said gently,
"Would it be so bad, Jean-Luc? Would having a child, maybe more than one, be such a inconvenience?"
He gaped and shook his head.
"I never said it'd be inconvenient or bad! I'm just saying I've not thought about it much."
"So can you think about it now?"
Confused by her mood and the subject, Jean-Luc scrambled to get his thoughts in order. Taking a calming breath he asked slowly,
"Beverly, what, exactly, are you asking me?"
She took a deep breath and turned to look into his eyes. Her vulnerability made him take a sharp breath.
"I want children, Jean-Luc...with you."
"I see." Was all he could manage. Worried by his reticence, Beverly asked softly,
"What are you thinking?"
Jean-Luc rolled onto his back and clasped his hands on his chest. He mulled over the thought, turning it this way and that in his mind. Beverly waited patiently but with suspense. She thought she knew what his reaction would be, but there was always the chance she was wrong. Eventually, after ten minutes or so, Jean-Luc took a deep breath, held it for some seconds, then let it out slowly. Keeping his eyes on the ceiling he said softly,
"I am reminded of something I said to Wesley many years ago. He had offered the opinion that I would've made a good father and that it was a pity I had no children. My response was to tell him that for those dedicated to a career in Starfleet, certain sacrifices had to be made. I would be lying if I said I never wanted children, indeed as I grew older I felt sad about some of the choices I'd made, but I was determined in my goals and I came to understand that my decisions were right for me. However, your confession has reawakened certain long held desires of my own and I am forced to admit, I'm not averse to the idea of children. I already know what a wonderful mother you are. I think, I would be happy to have children with you, Beverly, but I would need your help."
Relief flooded through the Doctor followed by joy. Maintaining her position on her back, she stared up into the darkness. Gently she said,
"I don't think you'll need all that much help, Jean-Luc. Remember Kataan?"
He sighed and whispered sadly,
"That never actually happened."
Showing her sympathy, she said gently,
"Perhaps not, but you still have the memories."
He decided to shift the focus of the discussion. Rolling onto his side, he gently caressed Beverly's face.
"If we're to become parents, then I am going to have to reassess some decisions I've made."
Although he hadn't actually said it, Beverly knew exactly what he was talking about. She took his hand and kissed his palm, whispering, "Thank you, my love."
They settled down in each other's arms and dozed until hunger drove them from the bed.

 

Lazy days followed more lazy days. They passed the time reading, talking, arguing with eager zeal, and calling an occasional truce to make love. Six days after crossing the border, Jean-Luc said from the cockpit,
"We're approaching Star Base 33. We can dock there while I call the Enterprise and get an update from Will."
Beverly joined him and stood at his side, one hand resting on his shoulder. Peering out through the viewscreen, she muttered,
"Why don't you just call him now and set course for a rendezvous?"
Keeping his eyes on the console, he replied,
"Because if I'm right, the Enterprise may be well out of range, at least from the yacht's communication system. You have to remember we're a long way from settled space. Even though we've travelled for six days, it's still considered the outer reaches of Federation territory here. At the Star Base we can avail ourselves of a much more powerful array and I can get from Command the Enterprise's latest mission and that will tell us where she is."
"Clever you." Beverly said with a smile. She then checked their position relative to the Star Base.
"So, two hours?"
"Uh huh."
Nodding, Beverly squeezed his shoulder.
"It'll be nice," She said, "To walk around the base. I must say I'm feeling a little cramped."
"Me too." Jean-Luc agreed. "I'm looking forward to going for a long run. I hope they have adequate holodecks."
"They should."
Having opened a channel to the base and acquiring permission to dock, the time passed quickly and soon they were stepping through the airlock and into the base. They were met by the station commander, Captain Frederick Harris. A short, balding, overweight man, with a pink, dimpled almost cherubic face, he greeted the couple warmly, shaking their hands in both of his. His high pitched voice was loud as he exclaimed,
"Oh, we so seldom get visitors! And none other than Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the CMO of the illustrious Enterprise, Beverly Crusher. Welcome!"
A little taken aback by the man's ebullience, the couple thanked the Captain and allowed themselves to be ushered to the command centre. For the entire length of their journey, Captain Harris kept up an unending commentary of everything he could think of. Beverly had never heard such verbal diarrhoea. She caught Jean-Luc's eye and rolled hers. He sent her a stern look, but that only made her grin impishly. All he could do was pray she held her tongue.
Having reached the command centre, Jean-Luc held up a hand and Harris finally shut up. Quickly taking advantage of the lull, Jean-Luc said crisply,
"I need to use your communications array if I may?"
Harris's face creased with delight.
"Oh, of course!' He enthused. "It would be my pleasure!"
Thanking him with a smile, Jean-Luc stepped away towards the communication console, leaving Beverly with the verbose man. She offered him a wan smile softly cursing Jean-Luc under her breath.
It took thirty-five long minutes before Jean-Luc rejoined them. To Beverly's raised eyebrow he said softly,
"Later."
The constant stream of small talk was only stopped when Jean-Luc placed a hand on Harris's shoulder. In the abrupt silence Jean-Luc said kindly,
"We're a little tired. Could you show us to quarters, please?"
The short man's pink face creased into a wide smile.
"Oh! Oh, yes, certainly!" He gushed. "Follow me!"
The suite of rooms was tastefully appointed, but was still somewhat small. Having taken a shower together, the couple dressed and went for a stroll. It was good to stretch the legs. While they walked, Jean-Luc filled her in on his contact with command and the Enterprise.
"Our ship is a long way away. She's ferrying diplomats to a conference at Parliament. I'm afraid they won't be able to rendezvous with us for about ten days. And even then it'll be tight as they have to get to Vulcan to pick up three scientists from their science institute and take them to Earth."
Beverly halted, putting her hands on her hips.
"Ten days?" She huffed. "That's an eternity." As she spoke she gave her surroundings a meaningful look. Jean-Luc sighed and shrugged.
"It's not as if I can do anything about it."
She heard the note of irritation in his voice and commiserated.
"I know," she said sympathetically. Then, with mischief she said,
"But we have to avoid Captain Harris! If I have to listen to him for more than five minutes I may well kill him."
That made Jean-Luc smile. He nodded saying carefully,
"Oh, yes, I understand completely...I share your feelings, but I don't think we can..."
Beverly held up her hand and shook her head.
"I don't want to hear it, Jean-Luc!" She grumbled. "You're the captain; it's your responsibility to socialise with the base commander, not mine."
He gaped
"You can't be serious!" He said incredulously. "Surely you don't expect me to endure his company on my own?"
Her smile was beatific, but her eyes showed her ruthlessness.
"Believe it!" She purred. "I refuse to be punished for being your partner."
Resigned to his fate, Jean-Luc grumbled,
"Very well, but I think you're a coward!"
They both smiled and Jean-Luc gestured for them to continue their walk. He asked companionably,
"What are you going to do with yourself while I'm being...entertained?"
"Hmm." She hummed, putting her finger to her chin. "I think I'll start by offering my services in Sick Bay, although they probably don't have much to do. Still, it might be interesting. Apart from that, there's always the holodecks, I suppose."
"Lucky you." Jean-Luc grouched.
They completed their walk and returned to their quarters.

 

They left the Star Base late the next day and set course for their rendezvous with the Enterprise. It went off without mishap and it was a very grateful couple who docked the yacht to be warmly greeted by Will and Deanna. They separated then, Jean-Luc to his quarters to change into his uniform before meeting Will in his Ready Room to be brought up to date on ship's business.
Beverly went straight to Sick Bay, received an update and, carrying several PADDs made her way to her quarters and a long, hot shower.
Having spent so long in each other's company, Beverly found herself missing Jean-Luc and it seemed like hours before her door annunciator sounded. Smiling with eager anticipation, she called brightly,
"Come in, Jean-Luc!"
She looked at the doors expectantly, but frowned when another person was revealed.
"Deanna!" She exclaimed. Then remembering her manners, gave a contrite look and said with warmth,
"Come in, Dee."
The ship's Counsellor, Deanna Troi, came in with her hands behind her back. Her grin was a happy one. She joined Beverly on the sofa and gave her an anticipatory smile, but said nothing.
Beverly rolled her eyes and huffed. That made Deanna chuckle. When she still said nothing, Beverly closed her eyes and grimaced.
"You're like a water torture." Muttered Beverly darkly. "You'd wear down solid rock!"
Taking pity on her best friend, Deanna reached out and squeezed Beverly's hand.
"Don't worry, Beverly. I can sense how happy you are." She said. "Are you going to tell me, or will I have to drip on you for a century or two?"
Both women laughed and Beverly shook her head.
"If only I thought that was a joke!" She chuckled. "All right I suppose I can tell you."
Then Beverly said nothing. Deanna's obsidian eyes widened and she poked Beverly in the arm.
"Give!" She ordered.
"Jean-Luc proposed." Beverly said happily. Deanna gaped, then snapped her mouth closed and demanded,
"What did you say?"
Offering a warm laugh, Beverly inclined her head and said pertly,
"What do you think I said?"
The Betazoid woman almost screeched.
"Yes!"
Beverly merely nodded, a knowing smile gracing her face. Deanna launched herself at her friend and they hugged.
"Details!" Deanna exclaimed eagerly. "I want details!"
When Beverly shook her head, Deanna ceased her excited babbling and frowned.
"Is there something wrong, Beverly?" She asked. Then, as if a disturbing thought occurred, asked carefully, "You did say yes, didn't you?"
Beverly's smile told Deanna everything was all right. The Doctor's face then became serious.
"I can't tell you any details, Deanna." Beverly said softly. "Although we've decided to go public with our relationship, Jean-Luc wants the details to be kept private and although I know you'd respect our privacy, I have to honour his wishes."
Deanna's face fell, but she offered a sympathetic smile.
"That's all right, Beverly, I understand." She said kindly. Then she grinned wickedly.
"I'll just have to console myself by sensing your feelings! And the Captain's!"
Shaking her head, Beverly closed her eyes and muttered,
"Why do I think you're going to know more about our relationship than we do?"
They laughed and settled down with hot drinks while Beverly told Deanna all that happened while they were gone.

As the ship was on her way to Parliament, Jean-Luc contacted an old friend of his, Captain Lorna Delaware. He suffered through her cheeky remarks once he'd told her why he was communicating with her and she ended by saying,
"You've been the most eligible bachelor in Starfleet for a hell of a long time, Jean-Luc. It's about time you settled down and I can't think of a better choice of partner than Beverly Crusher!" The Grey-haired woman remarked happily. "I would be honoured to do the honours."
Letting out an amused puff of air from his nose, Jean-Luc inclined his head.
"Thank you, Lorna. Parliament in five days then."
"I'll see you there. Delaware out."
Sitting back, Jean-Luc grinned to himself and shook his head. After a few minutes he composed himself and called for Will to join him. The big, bearded First Officer strode in, his usual grin in place.
"Captain?" He said cheerfully. With the Captain and Beverly back on board, all was once again well in Will's world. Jean-Luc gestured for Will to take a seat.
"I have a request, Number One." Said Jean-Luc evenly.
Will nodded and said,
"Yes, Sir?"
"It's personal."
A slight crease of worry marked Will's forehead.
"Sir? Is everything all right?" He said cautiously.
Jean-Luc allowed a small smile.
"Yes, everything's fine." He said calmly. Then in a more serious tone said, "I need you to take part in an ancient ceremony with me."
Thinking it was something to do with a coming mission, Will sat forward and devoted his entire attention on his Captain.
"Yes, Sir."
"I believe," Deadpanned Jean-Luc. "It's called marriage. And I require a best man."
Will frowned, then as he made sense of the statement, gaped. He half rose, sat, then half rose again. Jean-Luc waved him to his seat and smiled.
"You seemed to be finding your seat uncomfortable." He remarked mildly. Will shook his head, not quite believing what he'd heard.
"You're getting married?" He asked incredulously. Then remembered his manners.' "Sir?" Then he blurted, "To Beverly?"
Tilting his head to one side, Jean-Luc pierced him with an intense look and asked dryly,
"Who else?"
Realising his error, Will scrambled to atone.
"Oh, I...Captain, I...That is...You...I..." He snapped his mouth closed and took a deep, calming breath. Having gathered his wits he said clearly,
"Of course, Captain. Congratulations! I'd be honoured to be your best man, Sir."
Jean-Luc studied the man for a few long seconds, just long enough to make Will begin to sweat. He then offered a warm smile, his eyes showing his amusement.
"Thank you, Will."
"When will it be, Captain?" Relaxing, Will loved to see his Captain put aside the mantle of command, if only for a short time.
"While we're in orbit of Parliament." Jean-Luc replied. "I've contacted an old friend of mine, Captain Lorna Delaware of the Ark Royal to officiate."
Will nodded thoughtfully.
"That works out nicely, Sir, with the Ark Royal bringing the delegates from Andoria." Will commented.
"Yes," Jean-Luc said. "A happy coincidence."
By the way he shifted in his chair and squared his shoulders, Will new the moment was over. Once again in Captain mode, Jean-Luc said crisply,
"I'll let you know more as I learn it, Number One."
Will got to his feet, all business, but still with a faint hint of a smile.
"Yes, Sir."
Having taken his seat in the command chair, Will allowed himself to grin. Silently he thought,
"Holy shit, wait 'til I see Dee!"

 

The ensuing days were busy, Jean-Luc taking over hosting duties and finding it difficult to spend quality time with Beverly. They met once for dinner in Jean-Luc's quarters and eagerly discussed the preparations for their upcoming wedding. Being so absorbed in his duties, Jean-Luc had little in the way of input so he made sure he let Beverly know exactly what was on his mind. Happily his preferences matched hers...for the most part. She smiled tenderly when he told her he had chosen Will as his best man and Beverly took great pleasure in telling him she'd chosen Deanna to be her matron-of-honour.
With only seven days to prepare, both were flat out fitting wedding preparations into their busy work schedules. It was very late that night when Jean-Luc called a halt to the evening. A sudden awkwardness overcame them as Beverly was about to leave. They were at the door, just shy of the sensor when they looked into each other's eyes and spoke in unison.
"Stay, Beverly."
"I don't want to go."
They grinned at each other and Beverly blushed. Jean-Luc lowered his head and sighed.
"We're both adults, Beverly." He said with a note of amusement. "I'm sure it would be all right if we shared the night together."
Beverly raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, trying to sound casual.
"Well, it's not as if we haven't done it before." She said wryly.
Jean-Luc smiled then, after an uncomfortable moment or two, held out his hand. Beverly took it and allowed Jean-Luc to lead her to his bedroom. They made love quietly and slept until the alarm woke them. They ushered in the morning by making love again, then showered, ate a quick breakfast and went to their respective posts. Neither could keep the smile off their faces.

Jean-Luc was in his Ready Room when Will called from the Bridge,
"We've entered orbit of Parliament, Captain. The Ark Royal is already here and is hailing us."
Smiling, Jean-Luc sat forward and tabbed his monitor on while saying,
"Thank you, Number One. I'll take it in here."
"Very good, Sir,"
The blue-and-white Starfleet logo disappeared and the grinning face of Lorne Delaware appeared. She inclined her head and tried to hide a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
"How's the groom?" She asked cheekily. "Any last minute jitters?"
"Hardly." Said Jean-Luc dryly. "Remember who you're talking too, Lorna. You and I were at Falstead together, as I recall."
Brief remembrance crossed Lorna's face.
"Ah, Falstead. We were lucky to get out of that, weren't we." She said softly.
"Two scared little Ensigns who thought they knew it all, but in fact knew nothing." Agreed Jean-Luc. "They do say ignorance is bliss."
Offering a rueful smile, Lorna nodded.
"Indeed." She smiled. "Okay, so a little wedding won't scare you."
She grinned then quickly frowned.
"It is going to be a little wedding isn't it, Jean-Luc?"
He smiled and briefly closed his eyes.
"Yes, quite small." He informed her.
"How did you talk Beverly into that?" Asked Lorna with mild amusement.
Feeling love and pride for his lover, Jean-Luc tried not to sound too smug.
"It was her idea, actually."
The soft snort made Jean-Luc huff.
"Lucky you! Do you have an order of service for me? It would be nice to know what I'm doing!"
His smile a warm one, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes, it's one of the few things I've been able to organise. I'm sending it to you now."
Lorna's eyes darted sideways and she grinned.
"Yep, I have it. Oh, lovely...the traditional ship's Captain's ceremony." She said happily. "Very apt, Jean-Luc."
"We thought so."
"Right, no problems here. So...where are you going for your honeymoon?"
Her waggling eyebrows made Jean-Luc growl.
"Lorna!" He warned.
She held up a hand.
"Oh, all right, Jean-Luc, keep your shirt on." She shook her head. "You always did rise so easy to the bait." She laughed warmly.
Before he could say anything further, Lorna looked to her left and nodded to someone Jean-Luc couldn't see.
"I have to go, Jean-Luc. I'll beam over in about two hours and get together with you and Beverly, if that's okay with you?"
"That's fine, we look forward to it. Enterprise out."

 

The wedding was only twenty-four hours away when Jean-Luc was seated on the Bridge. The Tactical officer frowned at his console and reported,
"Captain, there is a civilian ship approaching at high warp, Sir."
Twisting in his seat, Jean-Luc looked up at the young woman and asked,
"Registry?"
"It's from Earth, Sir. A mid-size pleasure cruiser."
"Hail them."
"Yes, Sir." There was a short hiatus before the officer said, "I have them Sir."
"On screen."
The face that appeared made Jean-Luc grin with genuine pleasure. Then he frowned in confusion.
"Guinan! What are you doing here?"
The enigmatic El-Aurian steepled her fingers under her chin and regarded Jean-Luc with a steady gaze.
"There's going to be a wedding I hear."
Jean-Luc's face showed his astonishment.
"How did you...?"
"Don't you think I'd know when two dear friends were going to be married?"
"Yes, but..."
He stopped and smiled. Guinan was as mysterious now as she'd been when he'd first met her, many, many years ago. Sometimes with her it was just a case of simply accepting that which he clearly did not understand. He bowed his head and said with heartfelt humbleness,
"We would be honoured for you to attend, Guinan."
"I know, Picard." She said with her usual inscrutable smile. "Permission to come aboard?"
"Of course!" Said Jean-Luc enthusiastically. "I'll meet you in the Transporter Room."
"So you should. Southern Cross, out."

As they had wanted it, the Happy Bottom Riding Club was only moderately filled with people, though bowing to popular demand, the ceremony was broadcast throughout the ship. It was a measure of the popularity of the bride and groom that this demand was met, albeit with some reservation from Jean-Luc.
Lorna, Jean-Luc and Will all wore their dress uniforms, while Beverly and Deanna were both dressed in form-fitting, floor-length silk sheaths, Beverly's ivory, Deanna's midnight blue. In her hands, Beverly carried a bouquet of cream orchids, one of the same flowers graced Jean-Luc's uniform tunic. Her hair was piled up softly on her head and tastefully adorned with orchids. Jean-Luc thought he'd never seen her look more stunningly beautiful.
The service was an ancient one and all present felt it was perfect for the couple. It was over quite soon and Jean-Luc, despite a long held presumption that he didn't, led Beverly in a faultless bridal waltz.
The party afterwards was lovely, the genuine happiness and sincere confidence of the rightness of the couple's relationship made it that much more joyous. What nobody knew at the time, not even the newlyweds, was that the bride was pregnant.
The coming years would prove to be very interesting.