The Essence of Anger

Jean-Luc Picard plucked aimlessly at the short, strong thread that protruded from the hem of the sleeve of the tan coloured overall he wore. The garment was ill-fitting; far too large and made of a stiff synthetic material which irritated his skin as he wasn't allowed to wear anything else under it. His bare feet were encased in rigid elasticised slippers several sizes too big.
His cell was bleak and very small, made completely of some kind of metal, everything, from walls, floor, ceiling and fittings, all cold, featureless metal of the same dull grey.
Against one wall was a narrow moulded bench which served as both bed and seat. On it was a thin, hard mattress, no pillow and two wafer-thin blankets. Either lying or sitting, the cold of the metal underneath the mattress seeped through, making Jean-Luc constantly chilled.
Opposite was a basin with a single spigot. Jean-Luc had discovered water came from it if anything was put under the spigot. It was where he could wash himself and it provided water to slake his constant thirst, a side-effect of the drugs he'd been receiving.
Although the basin was relatively clean, the toilet was not. Instead of a modern bio waste disposal unit, it was a large antiquated metal bowl with a small amount of water in it. He had quickly realised he had to sit to void any bodily waste. When he stood, the toilet automatically flushed. There was an all-pervading odour of urine and faeces coming from the bowl and its interior was coated with a crust of dark granular matter. Jean-Luc doubted it had ever been cleaned.
He was given only one meal per day, but he found it adequate. His jailers didn't stint on the amount he received and it was well cooked and although he couldn't identify what he was eating, it was at least palatable. He was given nothing to drink; it was assumed he would get all he needed from the basin spigot.
It was difficult for Jean-Luc to gauge the passage of time. He knew that a rap on the metal door meant he had to get up and move to the door. A small hatch was opened and he was required to put both hands through. Manacles were attached to his wrists and then he had to step well back into his cell. Only then would the door be opened. He would be given his meal and two guards would wait while he ate it, a difficult thing to do with his wrists manacled and with no cutlery. When he'd finished he was required to make use of the toilet then another person entered, always clad in light blue top and pants, in stark contrast with the blood-red uniforms of the guards. Jean-Luc assumed she was a medic, if not a doctor then certainly a nurse. Utilising an old-fashioned hypodermic syringe, Jean-Luc would be injected into his neck then the two guards, very large males as was usual for their species, would hold his upper arms tightly, but not cruelly until the drug began to take effect. He was then guided to the bed and encouraged to lie down. The manacles were removed and the blankets drawn over him. Everyone would leave then and the closing of the heavy metal door only just registered as the fog in Jean-Luc's mind descended.
He had no idea how long he'd been incarcerated but he had found a short period of partial clarity surfaced about half an hour before the rap on the door. He used this time to try to remember what had happened to get him into his present situation. Obviously he had committed some kind of crime, but what it was, he had no idea. By the healing wounds on the knuckles of his hands he assumed violence was involved and that worried him incessantly as the only thing he could think of that would incite him to physical violence was if his lover or their children were threatened in some way.
Another thing that both confused and vexed him was why he'd not heard from anyone on his ship. He remembered the Enterprise entering orbit of an M class planet called Ereban and he was vaguely aware he had a job to do there, but he just couldn't remember what it was he was supposed to do.
His eyes drifted back to the stub of thread and he sighed. Taking the thread between thumb and forefinger, he got a good grip and tugged sharply sideways. Just as so many times before, the thread stubbornly refused to break and his fingers slipped off. Ignoring the ache in the muscles of his hand, he gripped the thread again. In the face of his addled mind it seemed to be the only thing he could concentrate on. His fingers were bleeding when the rap on the door sounded hollowly.

 

It was a dull ache that woke Beverly. With an almost atavistic movement her right hand went to her lower abdomen and her eyes were closed when a smaller, warm and soft hand covered hers.
"Lie quietly, Beverly, it's over. You're going to be all right."
Beverly Crusher had always found her best friend's voice lyrical and pleasant, but the words Deanna Troi had just spoken made her want to scream in anger and grief.
Keeping her eyes tightly closed, Beverly struggled to control herself enough to speak. In the end she couldn't summon her voice so she whispered instead.
"I've lost it, haven't I. I've lost the baby."
Deanna's hand gently squeezed hers.
"Yes."
"Boy or girl?"
Although Beverly couldn't see Deanna she knew how she would look. Stricken and bereft.
"Beverly..." Deanna said softly. "Don't torture yourself like this."
She gritted her teeth and quickly realised her jaw must have been broken as it was still quite sore. Still, she had to know, but if asked she'd be unable to explain why.
"Boy or girl?" She asked again.
She heard Deanna sigh.
"Girl."
There followed a momentary silence before Beverly whispered quietly,
"Monique will be so disappointed. She wanted a little sister. David gives her such a hard time. Does Jean-Luc know?"
"Not yet."
If Beverly had opened her eyes she would've seen Deanna's silent tears.
"Beverly there are some things I have to tell you, things that you're not going to want to hear, but because David needs you and Selar has said you're strong enough now, I have to tell you."
Beverly's eyes snapped open and she tried to rise from the biobed.
"Jean-Luc! Is he all right?"
It was then that Beverly noticed Deanna's tears.
"Oh God...no...no..."
Two nurses appeared and gently eased the weakened woman back down. Deanna took both of Beverly's hands and said softly and with great gentleness,
"Jean-Luc is alive, Beverly, but Monique...I'm so sorry, Beverly...she has died."
Deanna clearly saw both confusion and denial on Beverly's face.
"No! No, that can't be right!" Beverly was using her voice now but it was gravelly and raw. "She was in the apartment with me. David had beamed back to the ship to get some toy or something and Monique and I were going to make dinner."
She smiled and patted Deanna's hand.
"There's been some kind of mistake, Dee. Monique must be with Jean-Luc and David. Someone has really stuffed up. Check in with Jean-Luc, he'll settle this."
Selar, Beverly's Vulcan colleague, joined Deanna at Beverly's bedside. Her superior hearing had picked up the entire conversation and she had a hypospray loaded with a strong sedative hidden in her hand. Giving Deanna a quick glance and receiving a surreptitious nod, Selar said firmly, but not unkindly,
"Doctor Crusher, you were brutally raped, causing the spontaneous abortion of your child. Your daughter was also violated and murdered. The preliminary post mortem suggests your daughter's violation occurred after her death which was instantaneous. Her neck had been broken. Her death would have been painless. Due to the enormous disparity in size between the Ereban males' sexual organs and those of a human female, your uterus had been perforated in four places. However, I managed to repair the damage, thus avoiding a hysterectomy. You will be able to have further children if you so choose.
"Captain Picard arrived at the apartment while the attack was taking place and in the ensuing fight he killed the three rapists with his bare hands. He is at present incarcerated in the state mental institution awaiting trial. The Erebans have not permitted us to have any contact with him, although we have been advised he will be appointed a state legal representative to assist him at his trial. Unfortunately the precept of Ereban jurisprudence is that one is presumed guilty until proven innocent. He has been charged with three counts of unprovoked murder, the punishment for which is execution by exsanguination. In short, if his guilt is proven, his throat will be slit."
Beverly's expression hardly altered. Her eyes were glassy, but the weird smile stayed in place.
"You've made a mistake, Selar, you must be thinking about someone else. I lost the baby because I fell and hit my stomach." Her hand went to her jaw and the smile became wry.
"I must've really fallen hard!" She patted Deanna's hand again.
"Will you call Jean-Luc for me, Dee? He needs to hear about the baby from me and David will be nearly finished at school for the day and he needs to be picked up and Monique will be ready to leave crèche."
Selar moved quickly, the hiss of the hypo catching Beverly unawares. She had time to try and frown before her eyes closed and she slipped into unconsciousness.
Deanna sighed and wiped and her flowing tears.
"Oh, God, Selar, this is so...hideous. Not only have the Captain and Beverly lost their little daughter, they lost their unborn child as well and when you consider Beverly's injuries..."
Inclining her head, Selar led Deanna to Beverly's office.
"Have you read the full report?"
Deanna shook her head.
"No, once I read that you'd saved her uterus I stopped. Just how bad was it?"
For a Vulcan, what Selar did next was surprising. She frowned and shook her head.
"I have rarely seen such deliberately inflicted sexual violence, Counsellor. In addition to the aborted child and perforated uterus with accompanying haemorrhage, Doctor Crusher had sustained five broken ribs, a broken right wrist, her jaw was broken in three places, five teeth were knocked out, her liver was lacerated and her spleen torn and her hyoid bone fractured by compression on the larynx, which was also damaged.
"And Counsellor, Doctor Crusher had been sodomised. Her anus was badly torn, her rectum rent and her lower intestine torn. There was also evidence of Ereban reproductive matter in her stomach and oesophagus."

Deanna lowered her face into her hands.
"Thank God poor little Monique was dead when they raped her."
Selar sighed.
"The psychological ramifications aside, she would not have survived the attack, Counsellor. Her internal injuries were simply too severe. I have no doubt if she did not die of shock she would have bled to death before any help could arrive."
Deanna looked up. Her face was very pale and dark smudges marked the delicate skin under her obsidian eyes.
"She was four years old, Selar. How could they do that to one so little and defenceless? I mean, Beverly didn't have a chance either, but a child? A little girl?"
With a deep sigh, Selar again shook her head.
"I cannot answer your questions, Counsellor. What drives any sentient being to want to behave violently, sexually or otherwise towards another? I do not understand and I do not think I ever will. From what little I know about Ereban society, they value the family unit above all else. Perhaps it was simply because Doctor Crusher and her daughter were...different. Perhaps they were perceived as some kind of threat? It could even be that what was done was ritualistic...some form of punishment or chastisement?" She shrugged. "I just do not know."
Deanna sighed deeply and pushed her fingers against her closed eyes.
"And what about the Captain? Why have they put him in a psychiatric facility? He was defending his life partner and his children. They say he murdered unprovoked. Unprovoked? What was he supposed to do? Stand back and watch?"
Both women were silent then as they contemplated the situation. Eventually Deanna sighed and asked softly,
"How long will you keep Beverly sedated?"
Steepling her fingers under her chin, Selar levelled her steady gaze at the Counsellor.
"That depends on you. Obviously there has been a degree of dissociation. Whether or not you can bring her out of it and get her to accept what has happened is a task I do not envy you, Counsellor."
"Shall I tell her how much time has passed?"
"Well if you don't, David most surely will. It's his seventh birthday in three days time. Two weeks have passed, Counsellor. He must be very confused."
Deanna nodded slowly and Selar could see the admiration and affection she held for the boy.
"I've told him all I can that's appropriate for his age and he's handling it remarkably well, but he's grieving, Selar and he needs his parents, but what can I do? His father is locked up facing capital punishment, his mother has mentally retreated, he's lost his little sister and the child that was going to be his younger sibling. What on earth can I say to him to ease that kind of pain, grief and anger?"
Selar bowed her head, feeling the weight of Deanna's sorrow and anguish.
"I have no children, Counsellor and a Vulcan child, even one as young as David would have enough training to be able to withstand the emotional turmoil involved in this situation. I cannot give you any meaningful advice other than for you to assist Doctor Crusher back to some semblance of mental stability so she can comfort her son. In fact, they could comfort one another. Doctor Crusher will be grieving also."
Nodding slowly, Deanna looked up and said softly,
"Is there any way we can seal Monique's file? Make it so neither Beverly or the Captain ever find out the true scope and nature of her injuries and cause of her death?"
"I do understand your natural desire to protect your colleagues, Counsellor, but what you ask is unethical. Doctor Crusher is the CMO, only she has the proper authority to seal a medical file. Besides, the Erebans have a copy. No doubt it will be used by the defence at Captain Picard's trial as will Doctor Crusher's medical file."
Deanna's mouth opened and her eyes closed.
"Oh God!" She pinched the bridge of her nose. "If he's in a psychiatric facility because of some kind of mental instability...which is likely considering what he witnessed and what he resorted to, just how do you think he's going to react to finding out about the injuries to Beverly, the loss of Monique and the unborn child and how it all occurred? For God's sake, if he's not in some kind of shock or other mental trauma now he soon will be!"
Getting quickly to her feet, Deanna hurried to the door.
"This is the flagship of Starfleet! It's time her acting Captain started throwing his weight around!"
With that, Deanna stormed out of Sick Bay. Selar sat back in her seat and contemplated how Commander Will Riker, acting Captain and lover of Counsellor Troi was going to handle the determined and very angry woman. Sighing, the Vulcan devoted some thought to the illogic of it all. She had worked and lived amongst humans for a very long time, but she doubted she would ever truly understand them. And somehow she was glad.

 

David Picard sat on the edge of his bed feeling utterly bewildered. Since that terrible afternoon two weeks ago when Aunt Deanna had come to their quarters to tell him the shocking news, nothing had made any sense at all.
He'd been looking for one of his vid games when his aunt came in and he saw by her expression that something was very wrong. He immediately felt frightened and wanted his mother, but his aunt went to him, taking him by the hand as if he were a little boy and not a nearly seven year old and took him to the sofa. They sat close together and in a very quiet, gentle voice, Aunt Deanna told him a story he simply refused to believe.
"How could that be?" He'd asked. "I just left Maman and Monique a few minutes ago. How could Monique be dead, Maman badly injured and the baby gone?"
Slowly and carefully, Deanna explained over and over until he finally believed her. The tears came then. Deanna enfolded David in her arms and held his face against her breast, but for David it didn't help. As much as he loved his aunt, she didn't feel right. Her hold of him was different and she didn't smell the same as his Maman. She held him, stroking his hair and crooning as he sobbed, but it wasn't the same. He wanted his mother. His father, his beloved Papa would hold him, and the warm, strong security David always felt when his father held him was wonderful, but right now what he desperately needed was his mother.
Over the days that followed that fateful afternoon, Deanna had stayed with him constantly and on three occasions (at his insistence) he had been allowed to see his mother. She lay on a biobed covered with a light blanket. Her face was covered in derma patches and the bright blue lights of regeneration beams shone on several parts of her body. David's eyes left his mother's battered but healing face and slowly followed the contours of her body under the blanket. When he got to her lower abdomen he immediately saw the slight roundness of her four and a half month pregnancy was gone. Her stomach was flat and he stared at it fixedly until Deanna gently put her hands on his shoulders and said softly,
"Talk to her, David. Even though she's deeply asleep, she might hear you."
He looked again at his mother's face and his mouth refused to move. He felt stupid and wanted to run away and hide. He remembered something his Papa had told him about facing fear, how fear had the ability to paralyse and confuse and that although it could be very hard, it was always best to face fear, to defeat it before it could take hold of you.
So David gently took one of his mother's hands, relieved that it felt warm, but when he gave it an encouraging squeeze, the gesture wasn't returned. He managed to say very quietly,
"I love you, Maman, please get better soon."
Of course Beverly didn't respond and David had a sudden and overwhelming need to have his little sister with him. They didn't hold hands much any more. Since he'd started school two years ago, he'd begun to look upon his younger sister as a baby and not really worthy of his attention. With his cheeks flaming he recalled that the last thing he'd said to Monique before he'd beamed up to the ship was some snide remark about not being able to help Maman make dinner because she was too dumb. How he wished she was with him now! If he squeezed her hand she would squeeze back just as hard.
Both Beverly and Jean-Luc had noticed the change in the children's relationship with each other. Where once they had been very close, David's two years in school had formed a rift between them. The parents had discussed the situation at length. Beverly wasn't overly concerned. She thought once Monique started kindergarten, which was to be very soon, she felt sure David would begin to see his sister in a different light. Jean-Luc, on the other hand, having been traumatised by his own elder brother's incessant bullying, was very worried; so worried in fact that he insisted on having a long talk with David over the matter.
David recalled the 'talk' vividly. First, David refused to sit on his father's lap. That was something little kids did. Then, when his father began to talk and the nature of the discussion became clear, David became bored and non-communicative. Jean-Luc was careful not to lecture his young son, but he did try to impress upon him the importance of the family tie, the bonds of familial relationships and how, although he might not think too highly of his little sister now, that would change as they both grew older. Jean-Luc also reminded his reluctantly listening son that once the baby was born, Monique would no longer be the youngest. It was that bit of information that had sunk in the most and, as David sat on the edge of his bed, he idly wondered if Monique would've picked on her little brother or sister. He sighed and new tears formed. Nothing made any sense. He seemed to have no control over his emotions. One minute he'd be feeling okay, next he'd be so angry he'd want to break something and then, just as quickly he'd be weeping inconsolably in Deanna's arms. And then there was the bed wetting.
As he sat there he'd studiously ignored the wet sheet and the smell of urine, but his wet pyjama pants were beginning to make him feel cold, so with a disgusted sigh he tugged them off along with his top and took a quick shower. When he emerged from his bathroom, his bed had been changed and the wet linen and clothing removed. Somehow his Aunt Deanna always knew. Most times he was grateful as she never mentioned it, but sometimes it really annoyed him. He knew she was empathic and he understood what that meant, but knowing she was aware of his every feeling, his every mood sometimes made him angry. And of course she knew that too! So it was with a resigned sigh that he left his bedroom to join his aunt in the living area.
Deanna patted the sofa seat beside her and David obediently sat. On the low table was his breakfast. It was a departure from his usual routine. His family always shared breakfast together at the dining table, but he'd noticed that his aunt occasionally broke with routine and it secretly pleased him. Unfortunately that made him feel horribly guilty. Deanna sensed his sudden shift and gently took his hand.
"It's okay, David, everything you feel is okay, just don't suppress what you feel. Either tell me about it or do something to express it. Don't hide."
Summoning a watery smile, David nodded and wiped his finger under his nose. When he spoke his voice was soft.
"Papa told me about facing fear."
That made Deanna offer a sad smile.
"I bet he did and I'm not going to tell you what he told you was wrong, David, but sometimes it's okay to let fear have its place. What you've been through...what you're going through is very frightening and it's okay to be frightened. No one expects you to be an unfeeling robot, David. You're a human, a little boy..."
Before David could protest, Deanna held up her index finger.
"I know! You're nearly seven and that's pretty good, but you have a lot of growing up to do yet."
When David lowered his head and sighed, Deanna gave him a one-arm hug.
"For what it's worth, David, I think you're doing a wonderful job under circumstances that might be too hard for some adults. I'm so proud of you and I know your Maman and Papa are proud of you too."
Looking up, David swallowed the lump in his throat that was so big it almost completely constricted his larynx.
"Have you heard anything about Papa?"
"No, David, but I had a long talk with Uncle Will yesterday and he's going to beam down to meet with an Ereban government official later today. Perhaps we'll know more then."
"And Maman? Is she any better....you know...here."
He tapped his temple and Deanna smiled.
"Yes, she is a little better."
David frowned and picked up a piece of buttered toast off the warmer. Taking a bite he chewed unenthusiastically before asking around his food,
"She knows, doesn't she? About everything?"
"Yes," Deanna said cautiously. "But what happened to her, both physically and in her mind was so bad it had made her want to...go to a safe place in her mind. I've been talking to Selar about it and we think we might be able to coax your Maman to come back to us by using very light sedation. Not enough to make her sleep, but enough to keep her calm so I can talk to her without her feeling the need to retreat."
David thought about that for a while before saying offhandedly,
"I don't think she wants me around any more."
Careful to keep her alarm off her face and out of her voice, Deanna said quietly,
"Why do you say that?"
Taking another bite of his toast and a slurp of juice, David shrugged while he chewed.
"She's my Maman, right?"
"Yes."
"And she's supposed to love me."
"She does, you know that."
He shrugged again.
"Then why has losing the baby and Monique made her go to this...safe place? Aren't I enough to make her want to be with us? Were Monique and the baby more important than me? Maybe if I'd been there..."
Deanna had been expecting this, in fact she'd begun to wonder just when it was going to emerge.
"David there is nothing more important to your parents than their children and not one of you was more or less important than the other. What happened, during and after was not your fault! The fact you weren't there makes absolutely no difference to what happened, it would've occurred anyway and you would've most likely have been killed along with your sisters."
"Maybe that wouldn't have been so bad. With all of us gone, Maman and Papa could start again."
Deanna felt a spike of anger mixed with intense pain.
"David, you're talking about yourself and your deceased siblings as if you're nothing but renewable commodities!"
When he frowned with confusion over the word, Deanna elaborated.
"Children aren't something you simply replace if you lose one, David. Children born to parents who love each other as your parents do are loved and cherished. The loss of Monique and the baby are devastating to your parents, but that doesn't mean their love for you has diminished in any way! In fact it's probably increased, because you are all they have now."
"Why can't I see Monique?"
The non sequitur blind-sided Deanna momentarily. She quickly gathered her thoughts.
"Where did that come from?"
David shrugged, doing his best to appear nonchalant, but Deanna easily sensed his underlying grief.
"I've seen Maman and her injuries...and her flat stomach. I don't want to see the baby, but Monique and me..."
Overwhelming sadness emanated from the boy and his eyes filled with tears.
"Aunt Deanna...the last thing I said to her was..."
He couldn't continue so Deanna gently embraced him while he quietly wept. Eventually he sniffed and said very quietly,
"I want to say I'm sorry...and ...good bye."
Monique's little body was in Sick Bay's morgue. The Ereban officials had released it after the post mortem and Selar herself had carried out another, more intensive investigation of the little girl's horrifying injuries. Deanna was well aware that she had been cosmetically restored and to anyone who saw her she would appear to be simply asleep. Under the circumstances she could see no reason why David shouldn't be given the opportunity to apologise and say farewell to his little sister. The long-term benefits were positive as well so Deanna agreed.
The Counsellor encouraged David to try and finish his breakfast, then she made the call to Selar.

 

Jean-Luc thought perhaps another two days had passed. He had no real way to know for sure, but he was very familiar with his own body clock and, despite the drugs they kept giving him, certain things still occurred that gave him an inkling as to the passage of time. Like the length of his new beard, for instance. It was guesswork to be sure, but it was all he had.
He was in the semi-lucid period and, although he still plucked doggedly at the thread, his mind still tried to figure out what the hell was going on. When the rap came from the door, Jean-Luc, by now so well conditioned, automatically stood at went to the door, waiting for the flap to open. It did and he offered his wrists. They were duly manacled and he obediently stepped well back into his cell.
As the guards came in with his tray bearing his meal, Jean-Luc suddenly asked,
"Why am I here?"
Those four words were the first he'd spoken since his incarceration. The guards looked at each other and one smiled. The other said mildly,
"Sit down and eat your meal. When you're finished, someone will come to talk to you."
Jean-Luc did as he was told, but as he ate he said,
"When I talk to this person, can it be without being medicated?"
He'd deliberately chosen the word medicated rather than drugged. He was careful not to antagonise anyone. Obviously his brain was finally coming on line.

 

Commander William T Riker was not known for his patience. At least not the glacial patience of his Captain. Waiting for anything made Will irritable. It wasn't exactly an endearing quality and certainly not one any Starship Captain should have but it was part of who he was and it was unlikely, at his current stage in life to change. So when he was left alone in a small, drab, poorly lit room to await the arrival of the 'official' he was to liaise with, the longer he waited, the more irritable he became. The fact that it could be worse wasn't lost on the man. When he'd first made contact directly with the Central Government (after Deanna's forthright encouragement), he'd been fobbed off but he persisted. That made things significantly worse, the Ereban government taking it as a diplomatic insult but still, Will pressed on, refusing time and time again when offered underlings and secretaries. Finally after almost four hour's negotiation, he'd won grudging agreement from the Ereban's Minister for Interstellar Affairs to meet with him.
The Ereban people were big. It was the only simple way to describe them. They were very tall, very solidly built, heavily boned and very adequately covered in bulging muscles. The males, Will knew, possessed enormous penises and equally huge testes...four of them. The females had four breasts and single births were rare, the most usual pregnancy would consist of at least four offspring. Gestation was almost two years but, unlike humans, Erebans only had sex to procreate. They utilised other body parts Will was unfamiliar with for another forms of physical pleasure and he had been told it often involved groups of up to ten beings.
Ereban had held a very lucrative trade agreement with the Federation for twelve years and until recently it had always run smoothly. But two neighbouring planets had become increasingly belligerent and Ereban feared being caught up in a conflict they wanted nothing to do with.
The government therefore, had decided to petition to the Federation for membership. On the face of it, it seemed a wise decision; however it did not go down well with the citizenry. Although not xenophobic, Erebans preferred to keep to themselves. Their species put great emphasis on familial ties, the family unit and the extension of blood relatives was uppermost in all aspects of Ereban life. What would be considered nepotism on Earth was taken a completely normal behaviour on Ereban. Their system, despite its obvious flaws worked remarkably well. With a moderate population, the right person for any given job could always be found within any given family group. There were no class systems or echelons of wealth but the main problem with the Ereban way of life was their unshakable but erroneous belief that the strength of their families would be enough to defend against any aggressor. To that end, they had not developed much in the way of defensive weaponry and even their ships, though warp capable, they lacked even adequate shields, let alone weapons. It was for this very reason that the government had decided to join the Federation, but the reality was they merely wanted to hide behind the Federation's skirts until the problems with their neighbours were resolved.
It was a very delicate situation requiring someone with very specific skills. They had to have first class military strategic thinking as well as highly honed diplomatic experience. That man was Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
When Starfleet informed the Ereban government who they were sending to assess them as potential members, the powers-that-be at Command were both stunned and amused when the first thing the Erebans asked was if Jean-Luc was married and with a family.
When informed that yes, he did have children, but no, he wasn't married to the mother of his children, it caused quite a stir and while the Ereban government were desperate enough to overlook such a terrible state of affairs, the population was not. There were demonstrations and protests, but the looming threat of war eventually quietened the agitators and the Enterprise was duly despatched.
Against the most strident protests from both Jean-Luc and Beverly, they were ordered to undertake the negotiations as a complete family, meaning that Beverly and the children had to accompany Jean-Luc for his stay on the planet.
From the moment they beamed down they were met with barely veiled hostility, distrust and, at times, overt disgust. Only highly ranked government officials treated them with any respect. After only a day or two, Beverly, David and Monique began to spend most of their time in their apartment. The day everything went mad was the first time they'd been out for five days. The weather had been so lovely and the children so bored, Beverly decided to take them to a nearby park. It was a decision that cost them so dearly and changed their lives irrevocably.

 

Tired of sitting in a hard chair that was too big for him, (something Will had rarely ever encountered), he was standing at the one small window, hands clasped behind his back, foot tapping when the door finally opened.
The enormous female inclined her head, making her silky, lustrous hair slip forward, momentarily obscuring her face. She wore a brightly coloured sarong-type garment, many females did and some males too. Her four huge breasts strained the material of her clothing and each big nipple protruded confrontingly.
Will kept his gaze firmly on her eyes, which were a startlingly deep gold with elongated feline pupils.
"Commander Riker. Please forgive me..." She made a dismissive wave of her hand. "The pressures of work, you understand."
Her voice was deep and husky but not pleasant to Will's ears. He knew damn well she'd deliberately kept him waiting, wishing, he surmised, to establish dominance.
He had no idea how the roles of the sexes were perceived on Ereban but he was not going to be intimidated or kow-tow to any petty bureaucrat. He pulled himself to his full height, which unfortunately brought him eye to eye with her huge nipples and swallowed before tilting his head back to look up at her. He didn't raise his voice, he didn't have to. The steel in it was obvious to hear.
"As acting Captain of the Enterprise...the Flagship of the fleet, I expected more respect than I've been shown. If you aren't serious about these discussions, we will leave and Ereban will just have to fend for itself."
The minister's face remained impassive, but her pupils narrowed and Will got the distinct feeling he was being sized up. As a meal, perhaps.
"I think you are forgetting your Captain, Commander. He is still incarcerated awaiting trial for capital offences."
Will smiled, but not with his customary warmth.
"It is you who is forgetting your position, minister. Ereban is not yet a member of the Federation and, as you are a warp-capable species, the Prime Directive doesn't apply. Should I order it, Captain Picard will be removed from custody immediately whether you like it or not. In fact, minister, I just might decide to pick three Ereban males to answer for the crimes committed against my people. How would you like that?"
If nothing else, the female was a politician. Her smile was as cold as Will's, but she conceded his point.
"What is it you want, Commander?"
To be fair, Will was entitled to show his shit-eating grin, but for diplomacy's sake, he merely nodded and offered a slightly warm smile.
"We want complete access to Captain Picard, including our legal and medical assistance. We want to see the evidence you have against him. We want to interview everyone connected with his case. We want to present at his trial and we want proper reparation made for the deaths of two of his children and the savage, brutal unprovoked attack on his partner. In short, minister, we want a fair deal and if you find our Captain guilty, I will tell you now, you will not be executing him. Our investigation of this...unfortunate incident does not agree with yours in any way and we will be bringing our evidence to his trial."
Anger and outrage made the female's muscular shoulders bunch and Will readied himself to fight.
She hissed,
"Your demands are unreasonable and, Commander..."She made the word sound like an obscenity, "Your Captain's partner has no legal standing within our society. To lie with a man and produce young and not join in the ceremony of the bond is the action of a lurin. What you...Earthers," again she made the word filthy, "Would call a slut."
Somehow, Will kept his towering anger under tight control.
"One of the precepts of the Federation is tolerance, minister. We of the Federation do not impose our beliefs, prejudices or societal customs upon others. I am bound by my oath to Starfleet to respect your beliefs and customs, minister, but if you ever call my friend, Beverly Crusher a slut again, I may well forget my oath and make my true feelings known."
Given their disparity in size, some may have seen Will's threat as an empty one, but the minister knew truth when she heard it and as unpalatable as it was, if Ereban was to join the Federation, it would seem they would have to get used to confronting this kind of situation. Again, it was the politician in her who spoke.
"I will not say that I am pleased with this turn of events, Commander, but I will...reluctantly, agree with your...requests. You may send down a small delegation...of unrelated personnel to meet with Captain Picard tomorrow morning."
"Thank you, minister."
Will walked past the enormous women but stopped when she gently grabbed his arm.
"You can't possibly think you could best me in combat?"
Will grinned coldly.
"We might not share your preoccupation with family ties, minister, but we are extremely loyal to our friends. Yes, you would easily beat me to a pulp, but I would gladly defend my friends, even if it meant getting the crap beaten out of me."
He left a very thoughtful female in the dingy little room.
"The Federation just might prove to be a valuable friend after all if they're all like him." She thought. "Disgusting habits aside."

 

Jean-Luc didn't recognise the huge woman who came in after he'd finished his meal. She was dressed in a light blue top and pants, so he guessed she was part of the medical staff. Her light gold eyes with their elongated vertical pupils and her long silky yellow hair contrasted nicely with her light tan skin, but her thin wide mouth made Jean-Luc uneasy. She smiled, showing a row of very white, large teeth, further alarming the Captain.
"I am Doctor Absum, Captain Picard." Her voice has remarkably deep and rough. It wasn't pleasant at all. "How are you feeling today?"
Summoning a smile, Jean-Luc lifted his manacled hands and scratched his beard.
"I'm not sure, Doctor. I have many questions I'd like some answers to."
The smile remained on her face but Jean-Luc couldn't help but feel it was predatory.
"Well, as long as you remain calm and show no aggression, I will stay and answer everything I can."
Still with his hands raised, Jean-Luc pointed to the manacles with his chin.
"Can these be removed?"
"I'm afraid not, Captain."
"May I ask why?" Jean-Luc gestured to the guards. "It's not as if I pose any threat."
The Doctor let out a soft snort from her wide, flat nose.
"Do you know why you're here?"
Jean-Luc sighed.
"I don't even know where here is."
Absum's almost invisible blond eyebrows rose.
"Ah." She sighed. "You are in the state mental institution."
"Mental institution?"
"Yes."
"Why?"
Absum smiled sadly.
"You are a very dangerous human, Captain. We have been keeping you controlled with drug therapy. It has been our concern that you might resort to more violence."
Now completely confused and alarmed, Jean-Luc leaned forward and lifted his hands.
"What did I do?"
The Doctor regarded Jean-Luc carefully before gesturing for the guards to move a little closer while she moved a little further away.
"Captain Picard, you killed three adult Ereban males with nothing but your bare hands, something I would've said would be impossible had I not seen the bodies myself."
Stunned beyond belief, all Jean-Luc could say was,
"Why?"
The Doctor sighed.
"I do not know, I've been assuming such outbursts of murderous violence was normal for your species. Is it?"
"NO!" He shouted.
The vehemence of his reply made one of the guards place his huge hand on Jean-Luc's shoulder. Calming himself, Jean-Luc modulated his tone.
"No, Doctor it is most certainly not normal, nor is it normal for me personally. I abhor violence in any form."
With a slight nod from the Doctor, The guard removed his hand.
"Then we have some kind of mystery, Captain. From what I gather, you have no memory of what happened?"
Jean-Luc shook his head.
"No, none whatsoever."
"Hmm. When the government security personnel entered your apartment, you were found standing still in the living room, the bodies of your victims lying nearby and the room in total disarray. You were completely unresponsive, yet docile. You offered no resistance when you were manacled and taken away. In your...altered state, it was decided it would be in your best interests to bring you here, rather than the state correctional centre, where you would have been at a...disadvantage, given your diminutive size and relatively pleasant appearance. Until today, you have not spoken a single word nor have you exhibited any abhorrent behaviour. Now, that could be because of the drug therapy, but my sense is that you're telling the truth. I can see intelligence in your eyes, Captain, but not anger or malevolence."
A deep frown creased Jean-Luc's forehead.
"How long have I been here? When did this...event occur?"
Making sure her unsettling voice was softened, Doctor Absum said quietly,
"A little over two of your..." She tsked. "What are they called?"
"Days?" Jean-Luc offered hopefully.
Absum shook her head, her thin lips pursed. Suddenly her eyes lit up and she smiled and although she seemed pleased, Jean-Luc still found her smile scary.
"Weeks!"
Jean-Luc's mouth gaped and he stared disbelievingly.
"I've been here over two weeks?" He asked incredulously.
The Ereban sighed.
"I know it must come as a shock, Captain, but what could we do? You were in some kind of mental state we didn't understand and given your propensity for incredible violence, we had no other option but to keep you here until such time as you recovered."
Jean-Luc's stare was cold and hard.
"Drugged."
"Well we had to do something!"
"You could have summoned my partner; she is not only a Doctor, but my ship's Chief Medical Officer."
Absum's face hardened, her eyes growing very cold.
Your...partner...is lurin."
The word meant nothing to Jean-Luc, but it was said with such open disgust and venom he decided to let it pass. Whatever was going on here, his main concern was to either get out or contact his ship.
Careful not to upset the delicate balance that had been established, Jean-Luc asked softly,
"Can you tell me if my partner or our children have been made aware of my...situation? May I contact my ship please?"
A strange look appeared on the Doctor's face and she suddenly stood. His questions went unanswered.
"Captain Picard, you have been charged with three counts of unprovoked murder. Now that you seem to be lucid, your trial will be pending. I suggest you get some rest."
She reached into her garment and produced a hypodermic syringe. Jean-Luc knew he shouldn't, but he protested.
"I do not need to be sedated!"
"Now, Captain, stay calm please."
"No, you don't understand. I am not violent. Please don't..."
She moved closer and one of the guards put one hand on top of Jean-Luc's head, the other on his shoulder, effectively immobilising his head.
"Don't try and struggle, Captain, we'll have to leave the manacles on if you do."
"No, please...don't..."
He barely felt the sting of the needle as it slid into the flesh of his neck. He tried to fight the drug but it was useless. They gently eased him into a lying position and covered him with the thin blankets. The cell, which had been so utterly filled by the three enormous Erebans quickly emptied. The manacles were not removed.

 

Beverly was lying quietly in Sickbay and she thought she was dreaming. She was in the apartment on Ereban with Monique. David had just beamed up and she was comforting her little daughter, trying to wipe away the hurt of her brother's parting jibe. She was winning the battle and when she suggested they make crepes suzette for dinner, Monique's face lit up, her hurt forgotten.
There was a sudden loud banging on the door, startling them both. Giving Monique's shoulder a quick squeeze of reassurance, Beverly went to open it to see who had chosen to forgo using the chime.
Her hand utilised the old-fashioned handle and opened the door a little to see who it was. Without warning it was shoved violently wide and before she could react, she'd been punched full in the face. Her broken nose streaming and her mouth filling with blood, Beverly staggered backwards, dazed and in shock. It was her daughter's screams that brought her back to her senses. Blinking away her tears, she made out three huge Ereban males. One was advancing on her, undoing his pants. When Beverly tried to shout to Monique to run, her speech was hampered by her broken teeth which flew from her bloodied mouth. She was backing away from the male, trying to keep an eye on him and locate her daughter but when a muscular arm encircled her neck from behind she tried to scream. The next punch to her face momentarily robbed her of consciousness but the feeling of her clothing being ripped from her body and Monique's continued screaming dragged her back to awareness. The arm around her neck had been replaced by a huge calloused hand, so big it completely encircled her neck. Her eyes bulged and she struggled to breathe as the hand tightened. Through blurred vision a hideous Ereban face appeared close to her.
"You lurin scum! How dare you parade yourself and your illegitimate maggots in one of our sacred gardens! Your very presence there has defiled our ancestors and we intend to make you pay...the only way you understand."
Just then, Monique launched herself at the huge man, leaping up on his back and clawing at his eyes, screaming,
"Leave my Maman alone! My Papa is the Captain! He will punish you!"
Without taking his malevolent gaze from Beverly's frightened eyes, the male said quietly,
"Get it off me and make sure it doesn't annoy me any more."
One of the other males grabbed Monique around her waist and with little effort, pulled her off the male and threw her onto the floor. The remaining male went to her, knelt down on one knee and with no expression other than boredom, grabbed her head and twisted it quickly, as if it were a doll's. Beverly didn't see what happened but she heard the breaking of her daughter's neck. She screamed in anguish and tried to lash out, but the hold on her neck simply increased until she began to black out.
The pressure was released allowing Beverly to regain consciousness. The cruel face spoke again.
"Seeing as how the only thing lurin knows is how to spread her legs, that's what you're going to do. The force with which Beverly was thrown to the floor winded her and she groaned as she tried to take a breath. She wasn't prepared for the sudden invasion of a huge penis into her body, tearing and rupturing her inside. Unable to scream, her body writhed in agony, the males laughing. One of them remarked,
"Look at her. They're all the same, these lurin, they just can't get enough. Give it to her Ribal make her squeal."
Even though in unspeakable agony, Beverly turned her head and saw Monique's lifeless body. Finally her lungs filled with air and she howled in demented grief and agony. She tried with everything she had to fight back, but they were just too big and powerful. They had beaten her, raped her anally, orally and vaginally, leaving her semi-conscious and haemorrhaging, the body of her unborn baby expelled between her legs and were just finishing raping Monique's little body when Jean-Luc pushed the door open. She looked at her lover uncomprehendingly, her mind not able to cope.
At first he was so shocked by what he saw he stood stock still, his mouth partially ajar. Then he went berserk. Fuelled with fury so ferocious it completely consumed him, he was actually unaware of exactly what he did, but the subsequent post mortems of the male's bodies gave a clear picture of how he was able to kill three Ereban males who should have had no trouble killing him with little more than a swipe of one large hand.
If the most vulnerable and sensitive part of a human male is his testicles and he possess only two such organs, then it stands to reason that having four testes and huge ones at that, they would be even more vulnerable and sensitive. And Jean-Luc knew not only was this the case, but they were remarkably delicate.
Being significantly smaller, quick, fit and lithe, and with the males a little weakened by their recent activities, Jean-Luc took full advantage of his training in martial arts and aimed his first attacks at where he felt his adversaries were most vulnerable. His lightning fast kicks hit home bringing the first male to his knees. Dodging under the swinging arm of the second, Jean-Luc punched three times in quick succession, each blow loaded with all his strength. The male yelled, grabbed his crotch and fell sideways. The third male, having seen what had happened to his compatriots was more wary, circling the coldly enraged human, looking for the opportunity to kill him. This Ereban was cagey, careful to protect his groin. Jean-Luc was forced to aim his kicks and punches at the male's face and stomach, all the while avoiding the attempts to manoeuvre him into a position where by he wouldn't be able to avoid the killing blow.
Ten minutes passed and Jean-Luc was beginning to tire. He was unaware of it, just as he was unaware of his bleeding hands and feet, but his opponent was. A cruel, triumphant smile emerged and he had the audacity to chuckle.
"I don't know which one was better. The lurin or your little bastard. She was tight though, the little one...very tight!
He licked his lips and something inside Jean-Luc snapped. If he was out of control before, he now experienced true insanity. His mouth opened in a silent roar, he lowered his head and charged. It was such an unexpected move; the Ereban wasn't ready for it. The top of Jean-Luc's head hit the male squarely in the testicles and he dropped like a stone.
Not stopping for an instant, Jean-Luc went to each helpless male and kicked his throat with every ounce of strength he possessed. In each case there was a crunching sound as their bulbous larynxes, which Jean-Luc knew were incorporated with major blood vessels were crushed and ruptured. Where their hands had been clutching their burst testicles, they now scrabbled at their throats, desperately trying to breathe as they quickly drowned in their own blood.
It was over remarkably quickly and in the ensuing silence Jean-Luc stood motionlessly, staring blankly at the bodies of his partner, daughter and unborn child. It was only a few minutes later that the authorities arrived. Someone had complained about the noise.
Beverly wiped at the tears the streamed down her face and it was that action that made her realise she wasn't dreaming. She was now aware of what her partner had done, but she now remembered what had happened to Monique, at least her murder and she was aware of some of her own violation. With a terrible sinking feeling she realised everything Deanna and Selar had been telling her over and over was true. The two women watching her saw the realisation on her face and Deanna took her hands, holding them tightly and beseeching,
"Let it out, Beverly, for God's sake, let it out."
The howls of anguish, grief and anger reverberated through everyone's mind long after Beverly had finally stopped and descended into broken sobs. Deanna hoped she never heard such a sound from any being again as long as she lived.

 

Jean-Luc's beard was really beginning to annoy him. It itched incessantly and he suspected it was infested with something as was his pubic area, because he was continually scratching. Since his 'interview' with Doctor Absum the manacles had been left on, but the drugs had been gradually withdrawn. Now he was almost completely lucid he was more aware of his surroundings and his body. He smelled very badly of stale sweat and he knew his breath was putrid, his teeth and tongue were covered in scunge.
When the rap came from the door he rose quickly, determined to insist he be allowed to wash properly and shave and change his clothing. With manacles already on his wrists, he didn't have to go to the door; he just stepped back and waited. He couldn't contain his surprise and joy when four familiar faces appeared.
Will, Deanna, Selar and a female Lieutenant he knew was a JAG representative, although her name escaped him, crowded into his cell. If his unpleasant body odour offended them, they didn't show it; in fact, to Jean-Luc's surprise, (and secret delight) Will wrapped him in a bear hug. Jean-Luc allowed it for only a few seconds before saying quietly but firmly,
"Thank you, but that's enough, Number One."
Releasing his CO, Will stepped back and ran a critical eye over him. His smile faded as he noted how gaunt and unkempt his friend and Captain was.
"How are you Sir? Are they treating you well?"
"Oh, I'm fine, Will." Jean-Luc's smile was lopsided and didn't reach his eyes. "I could do with a shower, shave and some fresh clothes, but I'm all right."
Deanna, who had spent the initial time sensing his emotions, felt his confusion and dismay and embarrassment. She knew from what she sensed that he was unaware of what had happened to his family. She had talked at length with Selar about what to do if they found this was the case and they'd agreed it would be best to tell him rather than him find out at the trial. Given what he'd done, there was no telling what the shock of finding out in that environment and under those circumstances would do to him...or what he might do.
Taking his hand, which earned her a stern look of disapproval; Deanna led him to the bench and encouraged him to sit. Still holding his hand, Jean-Luc frowned at his Counsellor, then glanced up at Will. By his grim expression he knew something bad was about to happen.
"What is it?" He said with quiet urgency. "Is it Beverly...or one of the children?"
"Captain," Deanna said gently, "What do you remember?"
He shook his head.
"Nothing, Counsellor, I don't remember anything about what happened to land in me here. But I have been told that I...murdered three Ereban males, apparently unprovoked, however, I cannot for the life of me understand how or why I would've or could've done such a thing."
Taking a deep breath, Deanna saw Selar reach into her pocket and remove a hypospray.
"Captain, it is true that you killed three Ereban males, but it wasn't unprovoked. You entered your apartment after finishing the day's negations to find Beverly lying naked, sprawled on the floor, brutally beaten, raped and haemorrhaging. Lying between her legs was the body of your unborn child."
Jean-Luc's pupils dilated and his mouth opened.
"What?"
Having started, Deanna had to go on.
"Beside Beverly lay Monique. She had been killed, Captain...and after her death, violated."
Tears welled in Jean-Luc's eyes and spilled over his lower lids.
"No...no, please...no..." His voice broke.
Increasing her grip of his hand, Deanna continued.
"Beverly is going to be all right, Captain."
He seemed to be unable to speak before he suddenly said,
"David?"
He's fine, Captain. He was on the ship when...it happened."
He seemed to be struggling to assimilate what he'd been told, but then his eyes darkened.
"So the three males I killed...they ...they raped, beat Beverly and killed our unborn child, then they killed and raped our little girl, our Monique."
Deanna nodded slowly.
"Why? Why would they do that? Monique, she's just a little girl. I don't understand."
Will hunkered down and put his hands on Jean-Luc's knees.
"You know that Beverly was considered what the Erebans call lurin?"
Jean-Luc nodded; a dark scowl on his face.
"Oh yes, she suffered their rudeness and spite until it became too much. That's why she and the children had been staying in the apartment all the time. David had complained to me, wanting to return to the ship."
Will nodded.
"Yeah, well it was probably cabin fever, but Beverly eventually decided to take the kids for a walk in a nearby park. Unfortunately, it was a memorial park of some description and considered sacred. And because of the way they viewed Beverly...you know that lurin thing...well, those three males took it upon themselves to punish her...teach her a lesson. I don't think they actually meant what eventually happened, at least I don't think they intended to kill, Captain, but it seems things got out of control. Maybe it was because Beverly and Monique were aliens or maybe it had something to do with the civic unrest about the negotiations or it could be that they were so incensed that a woman who they considered, well you know, to desecrate the park by walking in it...who knows. The thing is and forgive me, Captain, but as far as Ereban law is concerned, what those males did to Beverly isn't considered a crime."
Clearly outraged, Jean-Luc shot to his feet, and grabbed the front of Will's uniform with his manacled hands.
"What?! Are you telling me it's legal to rape and brutally beat a woman so badly she loses her unborn child? I refuse to believe you!"
Will stayed calm, making no attempt to remove his Captain's hands. Selar lifted the hand containing the hypospray, but Jean-Luc growled,
"Put it away, Doctor. I've had enough drugs!"
Deanna gently laid her hands over Jean-Luc's and said quietly,
"Let's sit down, Captain, it's not Will's fault."
The effort to regain his composure was plain to see. He forced his hands open and released Will, then slowly sat down, but his entire body was rigid.
Again Will hunkered down, but he refrained from touching his Captain, instead resting his elbows on his own knees and loosely clasping his hands.
"It the lurin thing, Captain. Apparently lurin have no legal standing, no rights and no protection under the law. Although it is a crime to kill a lurin, it's not a crime to chastise them."
His voice soft, it lost none of its pent up rage.
"And what about Monique and our unborn?"
The Lieutenant spoke for the first time.
"Had the males who perpetrated the crimes not been...killed, Captain, they would have faced charges of murder, of both your daughter and the unborn child. Also they would have been charged with the defilement of your daughter and with interfering with a ...corpse." She hung her head and whispered,
"I'm sorry, Captain."
Deanna could sense Jean-Luc was closing down. His voice was flat and emotionless as he asked,
"And what would've been their punishment?"
"The children of lurin are not considered valued citizens, however it is illegal to kill them, but with you and your family being...forgive me, Captain...aliens, capital punishment would not have applied. The perpetrators would have faced incarceration in the correctional centre for a lengthy time, Sir, where they would have been required to attend therapy for anger management."
"Anger management? Not sexual violence? Not paedophilia? Not necrophilia?"
No one said anything. What could be said?
After an uncomfortable silence, the Lieutenant said quietly,
"Captain, although we are determined to make sure it doesn't happen, the Ereban government is very keen to see what they consider justice carried out. If your guilt is proven they are insisting the sentence of execution be carried out."
"Execution?" Jean-Luc was withdrawing further into himself, but despite a warning look from Deanna, the Lieutenant continued.
"Yes, Captain. Their method is death by exsanguination. The condemned's throat is slit."
There was no reaction from Jean-Luc; he just sat stiffly, staring at his manacled hands.
"But we're not going to let that happen, Captain! We're going to get you out of here."
Will nodded.
"It's true, Captain. It wasn't murder and it wasn't unprovoked. You acted in defence of your family. The Prime Directive doesn't even count in this case. Ereban is not a Federation member and they're warp capable. If this goes to trial, they'll have to throw it out!"
There was a rap from the door. Without looking up, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"You'll have to go now."
Will, Deanna, Selar and the Lieutenant all looked at each other as Will slowly stood. It was he who said softly,
"Okay, Sir. We'll come back tomorrow."
Just as they moved awkwardly in the cramped space, Deanna bent and whispered in Jean-Luc's ear,
"I'll tell Beverly and David you send your love."
There was no reaction. Once they were gone, Jean-Luc lay down on his back and stared intently at the recessed light in the ceiling. It was bright and hurt his eyes, but he refused to even blink. His memories, all of them had returned.

 

Once outside the cell, Will asked the guard,
"Would it be possible to speak to Captain Picard's legal representative?"
The huge man nodded.
"Yes, I think so. Follow me."
They were led through a labyrinth of corridors past row after row of cells, each with the door firmly shut. What struck Deanna was the absolute silence. She had found Erebans not as easy to sense as humans, but from what she was getting, she could only surmise every patient was sedated.
Eventually they entered a brightly lit, moderately large room. Some effort had been made to decorate it; the walls were painted in soft pastel colours, the ceiling white. The floor was carpeted in a thick plum covering and three landscapes graced the walls. On a shelf under a barred window was a large blue vase filled with what Deanna was sure were artificial flowers. Still, it was better than the cramped metal box their Captain endured.
At a wooden table with comfortably padded (although far too large) chairs they waited half an hour before a harried looking Ereban female joined them. She introduced herself as Advocate Jeran. Will made the introductions of his team taking care to point out the Lieutenant was a JAG officer. Trying not to gloat, the Advocate pointed out that as Ereban was not yet a member of the Federation, the Judge Advocate General had no power or jurisdiction in the case. Will tucked his chin in and stifled the urge to tell her to go fuck herself.
Deanna easily sensed his anger and frustration and spoke to ease the situation.
"We would like to discuss Captain Picard's case, if you don't mind?"
The Advocate shrugged.
"There's not much to discuss, Counsellor. It's pretty much an open and shut case."
Will smiled.
"So you agree he acted to defend his family."
Jeran frowned, obviously confused.
"Sorry? Your Captain has been charged with three counts of unprovoked murder. I can't see how his guilt won't be proven."
"You are his defence Advocate, aren't you?" Will asked curtly.
"Yes." Jeran replied tartly.
"Then why aren't you defending him?" Deanna's soft hand on his knee made him take a calming breath.
"Look, Advocate, the facts are three Ereban males attacked, without provocation, a pregnant woman, savagely beat her, brutally raped her in every orifice and in the process, caused the death of her unborn child. Now if that wasn't bad enough, they also murdered her four year old daughter and after her death, they raped her too, Captain Picard walked in just as they were finishing raping his dead daughter. He saw his battered partner lying semi-conscious in a pool of blood, the body of his unborn child lying between her legs. Beside her was the violated body of his dead daughter. Yes, he attacked and managed to kill the males but he acted in defence of his family! It was NOT unprovoked!"
The advocate sighed and rubbed her forehead.
"If it were that simple, Commander, Captain Picard would not be here, he would not have been charged and he would not be facing trial and execution!"
"Then what's the problem?" Will was getting very exasperated. Deanna sought to calm things down.
"What do you know that we don't?"
With a look of gratitude, Jeran offered a tired smile.
"It was what happened later." She sighed. "How much do you know about Ereban male physiology?"
Will shrugged.
"Not that much I guess, except you're all huge."
That made the Advocate smile, lightening the mood a little.
"Yes we are, and we see humans as diminutive and frail, but human males have one distinct advantage over Ereban males."
"And that is?"
Jeran blushed, turning her tan skin a sallow light gold. "I'm aware that the testicles of a human male are very sensitive and that a blow to that area can render a human male in agony."
Will nodded. "Yeah, so?"
"The same organs of an Ereban male are even more sensitive, but not only that. They are extremely delicate. It's not only the testes themselves, but even the sack that contains them is very easily damaged. Young Ereban males, upon reaching seed are taught how to protect themselves. Even in a fight between Ereban males, they would never even consider attacking that area. Even the slightest damage can render the male infertile and an infertile Ereban male is a thing of great shame. It is not uncommon for an Ereban male to take his life rather than live with the humiliation of not being able to produce seed."
Will frowned and shook his head.
"If it's such a flaw, such an Achilles Heel, why don't your males wear some kind of protective gear? I mean your species is so big and strong and robust. I can't believe your males would allow themselves to be so open to damage if the stakes are so high."
"Our medical scientists have been studying the problem for years. It seems to be some kind of evolutionary error. Forgive me for being so personal, Commander, but I have done some study on the differences between the sexual organs of your species as opposed to mine. I have learned that human male's testes can raise and lower to keep an optimum temperature for healthy seed production, is that correct?"
Will nodded, wondering just where this was going and what the hell it had to do with the Captain.
"And I have also learned that the kind of undergarments a human male wears is important for the same reason."
"Yes. Too warm or cool and sperm production falls."
The Advocate nodded, her blush deepening.
"In Ereban males, the testes, all four of them must hang outside the body with no encumbrance. If the temperature alters even in the slightest, seed production ceases and it does not restart! There is, within the Ereban male's body, an organ which regulates a constant temperature of the testes. Protecting the area with a cover or shield just isn't possible."
Deanna sat on the edge of the huge chair and asked softly,
"What has this to do with our Captain?"
"When Captain Picard entered the living room, he stood motionlessly for several seconds then exploded into action."
Tapping her finger on the table, the Lieutenant asked,
"How do you know this? Captain Picard has no memory of the events."
"The entire thing was recorded."
Will was on his feet in seconds.
"What?"
Gently tugging his sleeve, Deanna coaxed Will back to his seat. The Advocate offered an apologetic smile.
"Your Captain, his lurin and the children were recorded from the first moment they set foot on Ereban. Everywhere they went; everything they did. It was a standard security procedure."
Will's voice was laced with ice as he said,
"Her name is Doctor Beverly Crusher and she is Captain Picard's partner!"
Jeran shrugged and inclined her head by way of apology.
Deanna hoped Will could keep his temper under control. Happily it was the Lieutenant who asked,
"Well if you saw what happened, what's the problem?"
"As I said before, it was what your Captain did after he had rendered the attackers helpless."
Deanna felt alarm.
"What did he do?"
"Your Captain must have been aware of the very specific vulnerability of an Ereban male because he targeted his attack on the groin area. He quickly rendered the first male helpless with a well-aimed kick and the second with a series of extremely hard punches. With only one attacker left, a fight ensued. The third male spent most of his time trying to protect his groin while attempting to get your Captain into a position where he could...nullify him."
"Kill him, you mean." Said Will with barely unrestrained anger.
"Commander, we have to keep emotions out of this. Let's just stick with the facts, hmm?"
Will glared sullenly.
"Your Captain, realising he couldn't land a crippling blow, spent his time punching and kicking the third male's face and stomach and I must say, your Captain is far stronger than he looks. The post mortem shows he actually managed to not only bruise the male, but actually cut him."
Will felt a surge of pride and satisfaction for his CO.
"But he was tiring. The third male noticed and said something to your Captain. The audio isn't very clear, our techs are working on it, but it appears he was saying something about the Captain's deceased daughter, probably trying to goad him."
"Bastard!" Snapped Will.
The Advocate shot Will a hot glare and continued.
"Captain Picard then did something completely unexpected. He opened his mouth wide, although audio picked up no sound, and lowered his head, then charged. The third male was taken completely by surprise. The Captain's head smashed into the male's testicles, bursting all four. He dropped to the floor, utterly helpless. The post mortems show the first male had three burst testes, the second two. Now we get to the problem. Your Captain has now rendered the attackers helpless. There is no more threat. But instead of going to his lur....partner or calling for the authorities, he didn't hesitate but went to each male and did something so shocking I find it difficult to describe."
She took a deep breath.
"The larynx of an Ereban is a sacred organ. It is what gives us our distinctive voice and it is interconnected with the major blood vessels of the neck. To deliberately attack the larynx is an act of blasphemy, but your Captain went to each male and deliberately and with great force, kicked each male in the larynx, thus crushing the organ and rupturing the blood vessels. The males died clutching at their throats, unable to breathe and drowning in their own blood. That is why he has been charged with unprovoked murder and that is why he will be found guilty and executed!"
"Holy shit!" Will gaped. "Captain Picard did that?"
"If he'd only waited a few minutes, Commander. Someone in the apartment block had summoned the authorities with a complaint about the noise. They arrived two and a half minutes after Captain Picard had murdered the last male."
Everyone sat in stunned silence. The Lieutenant's voice was hushed as she asked,
"Why is the execution death by exsanguination?"
The Advocate smiled sadly.
"It's the blood. Blood is what ties us, family life. Life force."
"But why slit the throat? There are many more...humane ways of killing a person by exsanguination."
With a sigh, the Advocate shrugged.
"You remember I told you the larynx is sacred?"
"Yes."
"The blade that is used is very special. It has been made of a metal that has been laser sharpened until it is so keen the convicted criminal barely feels it. The cut..." She frowned and seemed worried. "I will have to make sure the dispatcher does not press too hard, lest he decapitate your Captain." She shook her head.
"Anyway, with an Ereban, the cut is made from the bottom of one ear, down in an arc across the neck to the bottom of the opposite ear, making sure the larynx is severed in half. A special funnel is used to collect all the blood and once the official Doctor has declared the criminal dead, the blood is taken away and processed until it is reduced to a granular powder. The body is then taken and restored, but the larynx is left severed. The family, who are required to witness the execution, are then given the body and the urn containing the granulated blood. How the family dispose of the body is up to them, there are many endorsed methods of disposal, but the urn is taken to the criminal's home and taken to their room where a...what would you call it..?"
"A shrine?" Deanna suggested softly.
"Yes! A small shrine would have been made, containing a few precious mementos. The urn would be put in the centre. In this way, the blood, the family tie is not broken."
"And why is the larynx left severed if the body is restored?" Deanna was intensely curious,
"So the spirit cannot tell of his crimes in the afterlife! Can you imagine what it would be like if you died innocent, larynx intact only to listen to a criminal talk about the crime that led to their execution for all eternity?"
"Ah, I suppose not."
A quiet beeping sounded and the Advocate consulted a small device clipped to her sleeve.
"I'm sorry, I have to go, I have another appointment."
She stood, but paused when Will asked softly,
"How long have you been an Advocate?"
"Twelve years."
"Always for the defence?"
"Yes."
"Ever won a case?"
"No, never."
She left and Will lowered his head into his hands.
"Oh fuck. We're in deep shit."

 

Will, having already established the fact that he would not tolerate being kept waiting unnecessarily, was pleased when the minister for interstellar affairs was only five minutes late for their meeting. As soon as she entered her office (another improvement), he could see by her smug self-satisfied smile that she'd seen the recording of the murders.
She took her place behind her enormous desk and rested her arms on the top.
"How may I help you, Commander Riker?"
Her tone was amicable, but her eyes were cold. Will summoned his best diplomatic smile and tried to look comfortable in the too-large chair.
"Since there has been no date set for Captain Picard's trial yet, I would like to request that he be allowed to return to his ship for a visit. He needs to wash properly, shave..."
The minister held up one hand.
"I'm sorry. Shave?"
Taking a steady breath, Will kept Deanna's words running through his head like a mantra.
"Stay calm, stay calm."
"Human males, upon reaching puberty, grow hair on their bodies. The hair is thicker in some areas than others. One of the places the hair grows is on the face and neck. You may have noticed Captain Picard's cheeks, under his nose, his chin and neck are now covered in stiff hair. If you recall, when he first arrived on Ereban, he was clean-shaven. By that I mean he had removed the hair from his face."
The minister stared openly at Will's beard.
"You do not...shave."
"No, minister I do not, although I do trim and shape my beard. It's a personal choice, ma'am. Some men shave, some don't. Captain Picard prefers to shave."
"And how often does one shave?"
"Every day. Usually in the morning."
"How interesting! Erebans have hair only on their heads as do humans...except Captain Picard. Does he shave his head also?"
That made Will smile.
"No, minister. Captain Picard has inherited what is known as male alopecia. It is commonly called baldness. The hair on his head fell out when he was a young man."
The female looked very confused.
"And he allowed this? Can your medical scientists not prevent it from happening?"
"Yes they can. Not only can the condition be successfully treated, the defective gene could've been removed from his DNA."
"Then why did he not do that?"
With a soft snort, Will offered a small smile.
"You have to know the man, minister. He is very traditional and quite accepting of his appearance. He decided to let nature take its course. Apparently baldness has occurred in the males of his family for generations. Actually, I think he wears his baldness with some pride...like some kind of family badge of honour."
The female smiled warmly for the first time.
"Well, I can understand that. I take it he only lost the hair on top of his head, not anywhere else?"
"No ma'am he's quite hirsute everywhere else on his body."
That made the female wrinkled her nose with distaste.
"Yes well, that aside, I'm not sure it's appropriate for your Captain to be granted the opportunity for such a trivial reason as having a wash and a shave. I'm sure we could arrange for him to do that here."
Will kept his smile in place, but it took an effort.
"It's not just his ablutions, minister. He needs to be with his partner and their son. He is their only surviving child and all three are suffering terrible grief. Captain Picard's health, both mental and physical is deteriorating. He needs to be with his family, if only for a short visit."
The minister's face became cold.
"Captain Picard's trial is pending, Commander and his execution will follow immediately afterwards. If he is suffering as you say, I can assure you he won't have too much longer to wait until it is all over and he will suffer no more."
Pursing his lips, Will said quietly,
"Minister, the Ereban people are not deliberately cruel. Captain Picard needs to see his family and they need to see him. If he is indeed going to be executed, then surely his partner and son should be given the dignity of saying good bye to him in the privacy of their own home. I'm sure you can imagine their anguish at the thought of losing him too."
"A lurin has no..."
"Doctor Crusher is NOT a damned lurin!" He shouted. Will struggled to calm himself. "Just because the Captain and Doctor Crusher are not married does not mean they don't love each other or have not committed themselves to each other to the exclusion of all others! It is their very deep and abiding love for each other that prompted them to have children." He took a deep breath. "Minister, please don't judge us by your standards. To marry or not is a choice for many species, not just humans and just because we do things differently does not necessarily mean that it's wrong. Different is just that. Different! Not right or wrong."
The minister sat back in her chair and raised her pale eyebrows.
"You say their relationship is exclusive. What does that mean, exactly?"
"It is also called monogamy. It means they would only ever be intimate with each other and that means all kinds of intimacy, not just sexual."
"So you're telling me the lurin does not lie with other men?"
Somehow Will held his anger in check.
"Yes, Minister and I can tell you that Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher have been in a monogamous relationship for over twenty years."
"Oh, I see." The minister's surprise was obvious. "Well, that doesn't sound like the behaviour of a lurin, Commander. It seems I...we might have misjudged Doctor Crusher."
"So it would seem." Will remarked dryly. "So, Minister, may Captain Picard visit his family...on the Enterprise?"
Her intense stare made Will understand he was being assessed. Apparently he passed.
"Yes, Commander, he can. I will, of course, insist on guards, a light sedative and restraints but..."
Will shook his head. "No, Minister. No drugs, no restraints and only one guard. And he will not accompany the Captain inside his quarters."
The female blinked her surprise.
"Commander, you are not in any position to dictate to me how I..."
"Actually, Minister, I am. I have at my disposal the means to annihilate every living thing on this planet, in fact, I can destroy the entire planet if I so wish. Now we are willing to allow the trial to take place, because we have evidence that your judiciary may find mitigates the Captain's actions, but hear me now, I will NOT be allowing you to execute Captain Picard, no matter what the verdict is. I will do whatever it takes to liberate him before I permit any part of him to be harmed."
Cold anger seethed from the female.
"Then why bother with the trial? To us it is justice being seen to be done. To you, Commander it is nothing but a charade! What do you hope to achieve? Are you trying to placate us? Do you have some kind of hidden agenda? Are we going to wake up to find Ereban a conquered race with the Federation as our overlords?"
Will sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"That's a little melodramatic, don't you think, Minister? You know enough about the Federation to know that won't ever happen! You speak of justice; well Captain Picard is just as entitled to justice as your people. Now I have told you we have evidence that goes a long way towards explaining...mitigating Captain Picard's actions and we will be presenting it at his trial. We do this according to your law, but my position is unequivocal. Captain Picard is not going to be executed."
Will stood and strode to the door. He took the handle in his fist and turned to look over his shoulder.
"And just so you know, Minister. Ereban will not be joining the Federation. Normally it is the Captain's job to write the report on the suitability of a candidate world, based on his experience and personal opinion but after what has happened here and the fact that your people don't seem to be able to accept even the most basic tenets of the Federation, I can't see the Federation Coucil agreeing to admit you."
The female actually gaped.
"If Captain Picard won't be writing the report, who will?"
For the first time, Will allowed his shit eating grin some time to shine.
"That would be me."
"We will contest your report. It's obviously prejudiced!"
"Really? Minister, we have enough evidence to keep your planet out of the Federation for the next century! As I see it, you have two choices. You can keep going as you are, treating members of your own society as pariahs, executing people with little legal right and carrying on as if your superiority of family ties will protect you from outside aggression, or...and this would be my advice, get your act together and start looking past your own damned noses! There's a whole galaxy out there, minister." Will pointed at the ceiling. "If you think this little local squabble you're so worried about is a problem, think again. Sooner or later, someone is going to come and find you and decide they want what you have and if you don't have the protection of something as powerful as the Federation, then God help you, because we won't lift a finger to help unless you make some big and very rapid changes."
He opened the door and strode out, not bothering to close it behind him. Rarely had he felt so damned good.

 

Beverly was still confined to Sick Bay when Jean-Luc materialised on the transporter pad. David was waiting and went to run into his father's arms, but the man standing on the pad bore little resemblance to his Papa. He was very thin, his hair needed cutting, he had a straggly, moth-eaten white beard and he seemed stooped, the baggy tan overalls and sloppy sippers completing the image. And the enormous being standing at his father's side scared the hell out of him. The boy came to an abrupt halt, his eyes wide and staring. Nothing was said for a few seconds before Jean-Luc slowly lifted his arms and said brokenly,
"David? David, mon petite."
Hearing his father's soft voice broke David's impasse.
"Papa!" He called, running the few metres that separated them. He hit his father's body hard, wrapping his arms around the man and hugging him fiercely, his face pressed against Jean-Luc's stomach. Jean-Luc absorbed the impact and returned the hug, kissing the top of David's head and trying not to weep.
Moments passed before David eased his grip of his father and leaned back so he could see his face.
"You don't look so good, Papa. Are you all right?"
The man smiled, his eyes glistening with unshed tears.
"I'm fine, David, nothing a hot shower, a shave and some nice clean clothes won't fix."
They walked out of the Transporter room together, Jean-Luc immensely pleased when David slipped his hand into his. It had been a long time since his son had done that. When Jean-Luc noticed David kept sneaking scared peeks over his shoulder at the following enormous alien guard, Jean-Luc squeezed his hand and lowered his head to say softly,
"Ignore him. Just pretend he's not there."
At the turbolift, Jean-Luc asked,
"How is Maman?"
The frown that settled on David's face worried the Captain.
"Not so good, Papa. Doctor Selar has fixed her up, you know all the injuries and stuff, but Aunt Deanna has had a lot of problems with her." He sighed. "Papa, Aunt Deanna told me that Maman went to a safe place in her mind. I don't understand why. I mean I know that what happened was really bad..." He sighed and squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to cry and his voice wavered as he continued.
"I really miss Monique. I keep thinking that maybe, if I had been there..."
The lift car arrived and the door hissed open, but instead of entering, Jean-Luc went down on one knee and embraced his son. David rested his head on Jean-Luc shoulder and cried.
After a minute or two, David lifted his head and Jean-Luc kissed his forehead.
"Surely you've been told that it would've made no difference, David, in fact you probably would have been killed too...then what would your Maman and I have done then?"
Jean-Luc drew his son to him and gently held him.
"My sweet, precious son. I need your help and so does your Maman."
David straightened his spine and squared his thin shoulders.
"I'll help, Papa, I'll do anything, anything you want."
"Then let's go home so I can have a shower and stop smelling like Roquefort cheese. Then we can talk, and then we'll go and see Maman."
David smiled for the first time and wrinkled his nose. Another lift car arrived and as they entered, the boy sniggered and waved his hand under his nose, muttering,
"You do smell really bad, Papa."
Jean-Luc smiled.
"I know, but not for too much longer."

 

Standing at his bathroom mirror, scrubbed clean and shaved, Jean-Luc inspected the bright red rash on his face. He'd discovered the same rash over his groin area under the shower. He suspected his guess about some kind of infestation was correct. Turning his head from side to side, he sighed with irritation. Against his pale skin, the rash stood out like a beacon. On closer inspection he could see the skin was covered with hundreds of tiny pustules, the isorazor had taken off their tops and they oozed a milky green fluid. When he thought of the same rash in his groin he grimaced, then found he couldn't resist a sudden irresistible need to scratch his scrotum. The itch was so intense he scratched hard enough to cause pain in the sensitive area. The thought of having to go to Selar for treatment made him close his eyes and lower his head. Still, it was the least of his worries.
Quickly dressing in civilian clothing, he revelled in the feeling of the familiar soft material of his own clothes. A soft knock on the door made him smile, but the pang of grief that followed almost brought him to his knees. Monique used to knock just like that. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, steadied himself and opened the door. He almost smiled when he saw David's overt reaction to seeing his father's face and his efforts to quickly hide it.
"It's all right, David. I seemed to have picked up some kind of infection in the hospital. I'm sure Doctor Selar will eradicate it in no time."
David nodded a little uncertainly and Jean-Luc realised he was worried.
"Really, David, I'm sure it's nothing."
Licking his lips, the boy said softly,
"Do you think it's catching?"
That hadn't occurred to Jean-Luc. He frowned and idly scratched his cheek, his fingers coming away wet with sticky fluid.
"Ah, I don't know, but I'm sure Doctor Selar will be able to tell us. If it is..." He shrugged. "I suppose you'll be treated too."
David's eyes went from Jean-Luc's shiny fingertips to his oozing face and couldn't suppress a shudder. "I think you'd better see Doctor Selar before you see Maman."
With a sigh, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes, that might be best."
They'd had a long talk while Jean-Luc showered. Ever since David was a little boy he had always showered with his father, but once he turned six he decided he wanted to shower on his own in his bedroom's ensuite. But he had developed the habit of coming into the master bedroom ensuite and sitting on the closed toilet seat while his father showered. They'd talk about all sorts of things and the fact that David had chosen to do it at this time was a great comfort to Jean-Luc. The boy had returned to the living area by the time the Captain finally turned off the hot water. It had probably been the longest shower he'd ever taken. He'd remained in the stall for a little while, just enjoying the feeling of being naked and clean. Shaving had been very uncomfortable and he now knew why, but even with the oozing rash he still felt better without the beard.
They left their quarters together, the guard remarkably polite by staying a discreet distance behind. As arranged, he had not entered Jean-Luc's quarters.
Jean-Luc hesitated just outside Sick Bay's main doors, causing David to look up at him. For reasons he couldn't readily identify, Jean-Luc was frightened.
"Papa?"
Summoning a smile he hoped looked convincing, the man said,
"I'm fine. Come on, let's go inside and see Maman."
When Jean-Luc stood beside Beverly's sleeping form he nearly wept with relief that he didn't have to say anything to her just yet. Whispering to David, he said,
"You stay here with Maman while I go and see Doctor Selar. I won't be long...I hope." He was about to leave, but turned back and placed a very soft kiss on Beverly's brow. She sighed in her sleep, but was otherwise undisturbed.
Deanna, who was with Selar in Beverly's office, frowned when she'd felt the surge of relief coming from her Captain. She watched through the window as he spoke softly to his son, then hesitated before kissing his partner and heading their way. She gasped when he entered the office.
"Captain!"
He held up his hand.
"I know; I'm hoping it looks worse than it is." To Selar he said, while gesturing to his face,
"Would you examine me please, Doctor?"
"Of course, Captain. If you will come with me, Sir?"
As they headed out the door, Jean-Luc said,
"You might as well come too, Counsellor, I know you want to talk to me."
In Jean-Luc's private room, Selar scanned his face with a medical tricorder. She studied the screen and slowly closed the device.
"So," Asked Jean-Luc."What is it, some kind of lice infestation?"
"No, Captain, it's a little more serious than that."
"What is it then?"
"It is a type of worm, Captain, a nematode. It burrows into the skin until it breaks through to your blood stream. There it deposits its eggs which travel through your body, forming cysts that grow and attach themselves to your major organs The fluid they excrete is a mixture of their excrement and pus. Your body is producing antibodies in response to the infection, but with so many worms your system is being overwhelmed. I take it you have discomfort elsewhere?"
Doing his best to remain stoic, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes. My groin area and just in the last few days, my armpits."
"That is consistent as the worms proliferate in warm, humid conditions."
"Can you treat it?"
"Yes, Captain, but it is a lengthy process. I need you to disrobe completely and lie on the bed. You may cover yourself with a sheet of you so desire."
Jean-Luc hid his embarrassment well, but Deanna felt its full force.
"I'll wait outside, Captain."
"Thank you, Counsellor."
Within minutes Selar returned to find Jean-Luc was lying naked and uncovered. If she was surprised at his uncharacteristic lack of modesty she didn't show it.
The examination was excruciatingly thorough. When Selar finally switched off her scanner she tilted her head.
"It is a heavy infestation, Captain. Have you felt unwell at all?"
"Not really, although I have no appetite, no desire to eat, but I am constantly thirsty."
She gave a curt nod.
"Common symptoms. I will begin treatment immediately."
He received three injections and was required to swallow a foul tasting liquid.
"Soon you will begin to pass bloody bowel movements which will be loose. I will require you to report to Sick Bay three times a day. The treatment should take approximately four weeks to totally eradicate the infestation and the cysts."
"That's going to be a problem, Doctor. My time here today is limited, I am to return to the...hospital soon and I'm not sure when I can return."
Selar bowed her head in thought.
"Then I will have to come to you, Captain. It is imperative we rid you of the infestation. If one or more of the cysts were to burst, your life would be in danger. And, Captain, my scans show at least two small cysts have already formed in your brain as well as several other places in your body."
The irony was not lost on the Captain. He shrugged and said sardonically,
"Death by burst cyst, or exsanguination. Fancy having a choice in the method of my own demise."
Not knowing what to say to that, Selar simply said,
"You may dress now, Captain."
As he got off the bed he asked,
"Is it contagious?"
He was pulling on his underwear when he just had to scratch around the base of his penis. He'd turned away and Selar had averted her eyes. To ease his embarrassment she answered his question as if nothing was amiss.
"Yes and no, Captain. It isn't generally highly contagious, but skin to skin contact could pass eggs, excreted in the excrement from the host to a new carrier. You probably were infected in your cell; the eggs would have been in your bedding and possibly clinging to the surface of the waste disposal device. The eggs can lay dormant for years until they find a host."
By now slipping on his shoes, Jean-Luc sighed.
"Then you'd best scan Commander Riker, my son and Doctor Crusher."
"I will do so and you needn't worry, Captain. Outside, before the worms hatch, the eggs are easy to find with the appropriate equipment. And judging by the amount of time they were exposed, I feel only Commander Riker may be at risk."
Jean-Luc couldn't help it, he laughed, making Selar frown.
"Captain?"
"That'll teach the Commander not to hug me."
He left the room and with Deanna in tow, made his way back to his sleeping lover.

 

It was as if Beverly knew, albeit subliminally that Jean-Luc was with her. Even in her sleep she smiled and when her eyes opened she wasn't surprised to see him. What did widen her gaze was his rash-covered face. A frown developed as she lifted a hand to touch his cheek, but he gently caught it and smiled.
"Better not, my love."
"Looks like a nematode infestation."
He grinned.
"Spot on."
David, thinking their behaviour was a little odd, given the circumstances, felt unsure what exactly was going on. He'd expected tears and hugs and grief, certainly not idle chatting about his father's rash. He was sitting on the bed, watching and waiting.
"I take it Selar has it in hand?"
"Oh yes," agreed Jean-Luc. "I've had the three injections and the lovely liquid."
Beverly grimaced. "Tastes ghastly, doesn't it? You'd think in this day and age, they could come up with something a little more pleasant tasting."
It was then that Beverly glanced over Jean-Luc's shoulder and saw his guard. Panic shot through her. She clutched at the bedclothes and began to whimper. Tightening his grip on her hand, Jean-Luc followed her gaze and realised the source of her terror. His face hardened and he clenched his jaw.
"Get out!"
The guard, seeing how distressed Beverly was becoming and being sensitive enough to guess the reason why, bowed his massive head and said quietly,
"I will wait outside."
From Beverly a soft keening began which slowly became a wail. Tears flowed from her eyes as Jean-Luc bent and gathered her into his arms. Try as he might, he was helpless to prevent himself from weeping. The couple clung desperately to each other, the weeping quickly becoming wracking sobs. David began to cry and shifted up the bed until he could ease one arm around his mother's back. Watching from a discreet distance, Deanna's face was wet with tears.
"Oh my God...such heartache." Her thoughts went to her lost son, Ian, and the remembered grief at his departure from her life. Although he'd been an alien and only stayed with her for a short time, she had given birth to him and loved him and his abrupt absence had left a hollowness deep inside her that had never fully healed. But even so, although she sensed the terrible grief and anguish coming from her friends she knew she would never truly understand the depths of their loss and part of her was grateful. She comforted herself with the knowledge that with time, she would be able to help them come to terms with what had happened, but she was suddenly brought up short. Her Captain and dear friend was facing execution. How on Earth could she help them with such little time and how would it be possible to get Beverly through his loss. Somehow, even though Beverly would still have David, she wondered if that would be enough. The love Jean-Luc and Beverly shared was deeply profound. Probably the most extraordinary bond between two people she'd ever come across. If indeed the Captain was executed, Deanna seriously doubted Beverly would live without him. And even if she did, her mental capacity would without doubt be severely compromised. Either way, David would effectively lose both parents. He would be alone, an orphan.
Shaking her head in frustrated anger and sorrow, Deanna wiped savagely at her eyes, cursing the fates.
It was some time before Jean-Luc began to regain some control. He took some deep, steadying breaths and lifted his head still clutching Beverly to him, but upon seeing his poor shattered son, he let go with one arm and gathered the boy to him. David rested his head on his father's chest, wrapping his free arm around his torso and softly moaned through his tears. Beverly heard him and turned her head to look under Jean-Luc's chin. The sight of both her partner and son gave her back some strength. Yes, their beloved and irreplaceable little daughter was gone and the loved baby she'd carried was lost, but they still had each other and she knew as long as they stayed together they would, somehow, get through this hideous time.
Beverly had made good progress so far in accepting what had happened to Monique, the baby and indeed her own violation, but what she had yet to accept was Jean-Luc's situation. Although she'd been told what awaited him she either chose not to believe it, or was simply unable to accept it. She removed one arm from her partner and gently caressed David's face, saying softly,
"I'll be out of here in a few days and we can all be together at home. I'll make one of your favourite dishes, David, nachos with real sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. How about that?"
David cast his father a confused look and was further upset when his mother said, "Papa will probably insist on some really posh cheese, but I think I can talk him into some plain old cheddar."
Jean-Luc knew he had to say something but it was so very difficult to find the right words. Leaning back a little, he put a small distance between them and placed his hands so that they cradled Beverly's face. Careful not to disturb the derma patches, he tenderly kissed her and said very gently,
"I can't stay, my love. I have to return to the hospital on Ereban."
Beverly frowned and looked carefully at the rash on his face.
"Scabs are forming Jean-Luc and you said Selar is treating you. Why do you have to go to the Ereban hospital? There's nothing they can do that we can't."
"It's not a medical hospital, Beverly." He said gently.
Now becoming wary and confused, Beverly asked with rising panic,
"Well what sort of hospital is it?"
Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc tried to smile to try and make light of the situation.
"Ah, actually, it's a psychiatric hospital."
"What? Why are you in one of those?"
"Beverly, I killed those males who raped you, killed our unborn child and murdered Monique. Very soon I will stand trial for those killings and the most likely outcome is that I will be executed."
Beverly began to shake her head, her hands dropping to the bed to grip the linens.
"That can't be right! You saved me...you tried to save Monique, Surely it was self defence!"

"The law on Ereban is a little different to ours, Beverly. Instead of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, on Ereban one is presumed guilty until proven innocent and to compound matters, I killed those three males when they were helpless and no longer presenting any threat. In the eyes of Ereban law, I am guilty of unprovoked murder. It is up to my Advocate to prove otherwise."
Her voice wavering and her lower lip trembling, Beverly was struggling to keep a grip on her fragile state of mind.
"And can he? Can he prove your innocence?"
"It's a she. Advocate Jeran. I'm sure she'll do her best, but our case is hampered by the fact that the entire attack was recorded. On the face of it, it seems the case is rather cut-and-dried. Once I had rendered each assailant helpless, I did not call the authorities, I did not summon medical help, I didn't even go to see to you, without a second's hesitation, I killed the three males."
"But, Jean-Luc...unprovoked murder?"
"I know, the thing is, my love, I have no memory of doing it. I can only surmise I was so subsumed by rage I completely lost control."
"But, Jean-Luc, that is in itself a defence! Do you have any memory at all of what happened?"
"Not of the killing, no."
"Then what? What do you remember?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc tried to ease Beverly's head back onto the pillow. David saw what his father was doing and tried to help. Beverly would have none of it. She clung desperately to her anger, her outrage. Her Jean-Luc's life was at stake! Seeing that she wasn't going to give up, Jean-Luc sighed and bowed his head in pain and grief.
"The door was open when I arrived, but I had to push it to see inside. You were lying on your back, your legs apart. You had been brutally beaten and in a growing pool of blood between your legs I saw the little body of our unborn child. Lying near you, not far away, an Ereban male had just finished defiling...." He had begun to tremble and David put a comforting hand on his father's arm. "Monique was dead and they had raped her. I stood motionlessly for a few seconds and I saw you looking at me and suddenly I attacked the males.
"There was a fight, but my memory of that is patchy. As I said, I don't remember how or why I killed them."
David said quietly,
"You must've been really mad, Papa. They are really big and strong and there were three of them."
Jean-Luc's smile was wan.
"Always be prepared, David. On our way to Ereban, part of my research into their culture and society included a broad description of their physiology and I discovered, despite their enormous size and strength, the males have a very obvious and easily exploitable flaw. It was that flaw that I concentrated on. As it turned out I was successful."
Beverly's anger was growing and she was becoming belligerent.
"Okay, so you killed the bastards, why subject yourself to their law? You know damned well they deserved what they got!"
Patiently, Jean-Luc said,
"Although Ereban isn't a Federation member and as a warp-capable species the Prime Directive doesn't apply, my oath to Starfleet includes me respecting the customs and laws of all species we encounter. I have no choice, Beverly. I must comply with their law."
"Fuck that!"
David's eyes were like saucers. He'd never heard his mother say anything even remotely like that before.
"Don't go down there, Jean-Luc! Stay on the ship. There's not a damned thing they can do about it! They summoned us because they lack the technology and weaponry to adequately defend themselves. There's absolutely no way they could forcibly remove you from this ship! They simply don't have the means."
"I can't do that, Beverly, you know I can't."
She seemed to deflate in front of their eyes. Tears welled and her voice broke.
"But Jean-Luc, you and David...there's just the three of us. Monique is gone, the baby is gone....I can't lose you too, I can't...I can't..."
No one had seen Selar's approach but they all heard the hiss of the hypospray. Beverly's eyes closed and her body went limp. Deanna appeared at Selar's side and Jean-Luc saw she'd been crying. Blinking back his own tears he asked quietly,
"How long will she sleep?"
"Several hours, Captain." Selar's eyes showed sympathy he'd never seen before in a Vulcan.
"Then I shall not be here when she wakes. Please give her my love and I will contact her if I can."
He stood from the bed and bent to kiss Beverly's lips. But as he turned to go, David flung himself off the bed and grappled his father, clinging to the man with such force, Jean-Luc found it difficult to breathe. Stoically he embraced his son until eventually the boy let him go. Jean-Luc gently cradled his face and lifted it, kissing first his brow, then both sides of his face.
"Never forget I love you, David. It is a burden one so young should never have to bear, but I beseech you to look after Maman. She is going to need you." With tears streaming down his face, David begged,
"Don't go, Papa, please, please don't go!"
Going down on one knee, Jean-Luc gently hugged his son, kissed him again and said softly
"Adieu, David, J'taime."
As he turned to leave, Deanna stepped up behind David and wrapped her arms around him. The boy twisted in her embrace and buried his face in her breast, his body wracked with sobs.

 

Will Riker was waiting in the transporter Room as Jean-Luc and his guard entered. As the two men took their places on the pad, Will looked into his Captain's eyes and, ignoring the guard, said quietly but firmly,
"You don't have to do this, Captain."
Somehow, Jean-Luc summoned a smile.
"You know I do, Will. It's the price we must be prepared to pay when we take our oath. I cannot be true to myself, or my family if I break my word."
Just before the Captain gave the order to energise, he said to Will,
"Take good care of my loved ones, Will."
The big man nodded, robbed of speech by the constricting lump in his throat. Jean-Luc and his guard shimmered into non-existence and Will's face contorted into rage.
"Fuck! I'll be damned if I let them get away with this...this...travesty!"
He stormed up to the Bridge and barked harshly to no one in particular,
"I want to talk to Command!"
He disappeared into the Ready Room as the officer at tactical sent the request for contact. Wisely, he flagged it as urgent.

 

Admiral Hussein was a harried man. Since the end of the Dominion War three years ago, Starfleet had been severely stretched. Then came the Borg incursion, decimating the Federation. It had only been beginning to take on missions that weren't specifically involved with either reconstruction, relocation or general support for those Federation worlds who had been directly affected. So when the urgent call came from the Enterprise, Hussein was mildly surprised. Of all the serving ship's Captains, the last one he thought he'd be hearing from was Jean-Luc Picard and it had only been by virtue of Jean-Luc's reputation that Hussein had finally taken the call, first trying to redirect it several times.
The Admiral didn't bother to hide his irritation by the image of an obviously angry first officer.
Will nodded, barely suppressing his anger.
"Admiral."
Hussein glowered at the younger man and said tersely,
"Why are you calling me? Why has this communiqué been flagged as urgent? And where the hell is Captain Picard?"
It took over half an hour and Will spared the Admiral nothing. He omitted none of the horrific details, nor did he try to soften the details of what Jean-Luc had done and that the entire attack, from start to finish had been recorded on vid. He told the Admiral everything and watched as the older man sat back, his shoulders slumped and his eyes closed. The audio was sensitive for Will to hear his superior whisper,
"Oh, God, what a fuck up."
Leaning forward, Will made sure his voice was steady, but he couldn't keep the anger out of his gaze.
"Admiral, we must stop this...trial."
"When is it scheduled?"
Will sighed and shook his head.
"We haven't been given a date yet, sir, but the Erebans keep saying it will be 'soon'."
"And this defence Advocate..."
"Jeran, Admiral. Advocate Jeran. A female."
"She's been a defence Advocate for twelve years and she's never won a case?"
"No, Sir."
"Well, Commander is there any way we can get a better Advocate for Captain Picard?"
Will frowned in confusion. "Admiral, it's not a matter of a better Advocate, we have to stop them from trying Captain Picard! Surely you can see that any society that bases its law on the presumption of guilt until proven innocent is archaic! We can't just sit back and feed the Captain to the wolves. We have to do something!"
His voice hardening; Will saw a very different side to the Admiral.
"Commander, I have to look at the bigger picture. Those two planets the Erebans are so worried about? Latest intel is that war is inevitable and Ereban is going to be drawn in whether they like it or not. So my question to you is...do you think Ereban is a suitable candidate for Federation membership?"
"I can't believe this!" An outraged Will shouted. "Those bastards are going to slit Captain Picard's throat for...for..."
"Murder, Commander."
Will's shoulders slumped.
"From what you've told me, Captain Picard killed three Ereban males when they no longer posed any threat. It was a deliberate act on his part and from what you described, cold and calculated. Now I know your Captain, I've known him for a very long time and I consider him a friend and I know he is by his very nature not a violent man. And, speaking as a husband and father, I cannot imagine what he must have felt when he saw what he did. But his actions took place on Ereban soil and so come under their jurisdiction. To be brutally frank, he broke the local law, and now he must allow Ereban justice to run its natural course."
"Justice! You call what they're going to do justice?"
"Commander..."
Will stood, his big frame trembling with anger.
"You can't do this, Admiral! Let me bring him up to the ship. I give you my word not one Ereban citizen will be harmed."
Taking a deep breath, the Admiral pinched the bridge of his nose.
"You haven't answered my question, Commander."
Momentarily thrown off, Will shook his head in confusion.
"Question, Admiral?"
"Do you consider Ereban a suitable candidate for Federation membership?"
Mouth agape, Will shook his head.
"No, Admiral I most certainly do not!"
"Well, your report will be given due consideration, but the feeling here is that it would be to the Federation's advantage if they were."
Will's face turned to stone.
"This is all about politics. You're willing to sacrifice Captain Picard to maintain a lucrative fucking trade agreement."
Hussein gave Will a look of barely controlled anger.
"I will overlook your insubordination, Commander, I understand you've served with Captain Picard for a very long time and you must feel a great deal of loyalty towards him. I know he engenders a great deal of trust from those who serve under him. But this is bigger than one man, even if that man is Jean-Luc Picard." He sighed and for the first time, Will saw pain and deep tiredness in the man. "I can't go into details, Commander, not with you, your security clearance isn't high enough, but there is more going on here than you realise. But...Captain Picard does know."
Sitting up, all traces of tiredness vanished.
"I'm going to give you a direct order, Commander Riker. Under no circumstances will you interfere in the trial or execution of Captain Picard. Do I make myself clear?"
Gritting his teeth, Will barely controlled himself to say curtly,
"Yes, Sir!"
"Hussein out."
The screen went blank, so Admiral Hussein never saw Will grab the monitor and heave it across the room, shouting at the top of his voice, "Fuck you!"

Obtaining a lengthy appointment with Doctor Absum was proving to be extraordinarily difficult. Deanna and Selar had both made requests, but so far all they had heard was that the Doctor was too busy to see them.
Finally, Selar invoked her position as acting CMO and her status as Jean-Luc's personal physician.
Eventually, after almost four hours' waiting, Doctor Absum agreed, albeit reluctantly, to grant them two hours after Selar had been to see her patient, Picard. By the curt, dismissive tone of her voice the Enterprise women knew their visit was unwelcome.
Because Jean-Luc had adequately demonstrated his willing compliance to his confinement, he was no longer routinely drugged, but he was not allowed to receive anyone into his cell without being manacled.
Selar showed no emotion at seeing her Captain clothed in the far too big overalls and slippers, or the manacles on his wrists. She did, however notice that although the pustules on his face had scabbed, he was again beginning to grow stubble.
Having been previously thoroughly searched, Selar had been allowed to bring in the medication Jean-Luc required. In silence she administered three hypos and offered no reaction to Jean-Luc's grimace as he swallowed the vile tasting liquid. He was seated when she reached into her medkit and produced a bar of bright yellow soap, To Jean-Luc's raised eyebrow, she informed him,
"It is a specifically medicated formula, Captain. It will not only assist in hastening the eradication of the worms in your skin, it will greatly reduce your discomfort."
He smiled his gratefulness, saying ruefully, "It is embarrassing, if I am compelled to scratch such private areas if someone is with me."
"I understand, Captain. There is one more thing. Although it will cause irritation to your skin, it would be to your benefit if you could shave all the affected areas."
An image of his freshly shaven face with the tiny holes all over the bright red skin, oozing greenish pus flashed into his mind.
"All areas?"
"Yes, Captain. Opening up the nematode's entry points and exposing them to the medicated soap with greatly accelerate their eradication. I am aware this may be...uncomfortable for you, but really, Captain, it is the best thing to do."
He stared down at the soap held in his right hand and sighed, thinking, "Groin, armpits , face and neck. Wonderful!"
Selar looked around the cell and asked,
"Have any steps been taken to sterilise your...accommodation?"
Snorting with ghoulish humour at her choice of words, Jean-Luc nodded tiredly.
"Yes. When I returned I was told the cell, the bedding, everything had been treated. Apparently this kind of infestation is not uncommon, but Erebans don't suffer quite as much and seem to have a modicum of immunity to it and also the only hair they have on their bodies is on their head, limiting the areas available for infestation. At least an infestation in an Ereban is not fatal. It seems the life-cycle of the worm comes to a natural conclusion and the infestation just dies out. Unfortunately, this doesn't stop the worms excreting their eggs. So the administrators aren't very vigilant in making a concerted effort to rid the facility of the eggs. I have been told I am the first human ever to have been confined here. So they had no idea that I would be so adversely affected."
Selar sighed. "I have spent many hours studying what we know about Ereban physiology and I know Counsellor Troi has spent a similar amount of time investigating their society, basic jurisprudence and spiritual beliefs, Captain. I have conferred with Counsellor Troi and we are in agreement: the Ereban species is a very complex one. Speaking medically, there are several anomalies in the physiology of both genders that I cannot explain. Put simply I do not see how or why these anomalies should be present. I cannot fathom what these anomalous organs do. And, Captain, having studied the data supplied by the Ereban government, I know that there has been an increasing trend towards Ereban children being born with more and more of these anomalies. But the curious thing is, they seem to be all the same."
"You mean the anomalies are the same?"
"Yes, Captain."
Idly scratching his cheek, then belatedly remembering he wasn't supposed to and scowling at the scabby material under his untrimmed fingernails, and knowing that he now had green ooze making a mess on his stubbled cheek, an irritated Captain said gruffly,
"Sounds like evolution in progress. Either that, or there is an outside factor influencing their reproductive process."
Selar nodded, then gently took the soap from her CO and went to the basin. With her hands under the spigot, she made a lather, then went back to Jean-Luc and carefully cleaned his face. While she worked, she said quietly,
"I favour evolution, Captain. Evolved life on Ereban is relatively young. They do not have a long evolutionary history, and I was mildly surprised to find the average life-span of an Ereban is only sixty-five years. Males tend to live on average slightly longer than females.
"They reach sexual maturity at age nine, but although both genders are fertile at that age, it is customary for females to go through two 'cells', which is when they are capable of producing ovum, before they 'bond', which could be taken as equivalent to human marriage, then, having applied for the number and gender they must produce, they are permitted to 'lie' together.
"Ereban couples may only lie together when the female is in cell. She becomes fertile only once every ten months and the gestation of an Ereban pregnancy is almost two years. They have multiple births. The least amount they carry is four offspring, the most, twelve. The male is responsible for the determination of the gender and, in accordance with instructions from the centre for gender stability; he will only release 'seed' which will create the required genders. Each pair of testes has one gender specific seed and the male can control which pair is used. If a mixed 'brood' is allowed, he with utilise all four testes. However, he will only release precisely the correct amount of seed that matches the number of cells which the female has the ability to regulate.
"The act of procreation is not what a human would call pleasurable and is not ever undertaken recreationally. Having said that, it is not an unpleasant experience, indeed, it is a very intimate act, but unlike so many humanoid species, there is not the intense pleasure nor is there an orgasm upon reaching the depositing of seed or cells And, Captain, nakedness is frowned upon in Ereban culture. The only times an Ereban will willingly be naked is either when bathing or when lying."
Pulling down the corners of his mouth, Jean-Luc tilted his head.
"Doesn't seem to give much incentive to procreate."
"Oh, on the contrary, Captain. In both males and females the urge to lie grows with age. In fact in males particularly, if seed is not deposited, it gathers in the testes and can cause a catastrophic rupture which ultimately renders the male infertile. I was astounded to discover that any injury, or even a slight variation in temperature can bring about infertility in males. Apparently this can cause immeasurable humiliation and loss of self-esteem and it is not uncommon for those afflicted individuals to take their own lives."
"And the females? What happens to them if they don't 'lie'?"
"Something similar. Unlike human females who are born with all the ovum they will ever need, Ereban females make the cells as they need them. But only do so when it is certain they are going to lie. If they do not lie for a long period of time, the organ responsible for the cell production becomes diseased and sadly, the progression of the disease is so rapid it often kills the female before medical intervention. However, traditionally, females who find themselves in this situation would rather die than be rendered sterile."
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc's face showed his dismay.
"Why are they so preoccupied with fertility?"
"It seems to have its basis in the ties of blood. Family ties, the extension of family by blood ties is ultimately important. If one cannot contribute to the ongoing line of blood tie, then one is seen to have no worth, no purpose."
"I am aware of this factor of Ereban life, Doctor, it was one of the main stumbling blocks I faced in my negotiations with the Government. Somehow I had to make them see that their unshakable belief that the strength of their family bonds was not going to be enough to protect them from any outside aggressors." He sighed, the asked curiously, "How genetically diverse are they?"
Selar tilted her head, considering the question.
"That is difficult to answer, Captain as their population is not very large, especially given the size of their planet and the habitable land available, but I would hazard a guess that there would be a certain degree of inbreeding. With the emphasis on blood ties, it is inevitable that two people in such a closed environment would be related, albeit distantly."
"So" Remarked Jean-Luc, "The anomalies you've mentioned may be caused through insufficient genetic diversity."
"Possibly, Captain, but I have my doubts. It is my belief that the mixing of closely related individuals does not have the same deleterious effect as it has on humans and many other humanoid species. With the relatively small population, the early sexual maturity and the short life-span, I still tend to think the changes I've noticed in the recent generations are evolutionary in nature."
"I see." Said an obviously intrigued Captain. "Tell me, Doctor, if the act of sexual reproduction is not pleasurable as such, is there any physical pleasure an Ereban can achieve?"
"Yes, Captain. Mature Erebans of both genders have an organ, which when required, protrudes from the side of the chest. If an Ereban, especially a bonded couple who are not in a reproductive cycle wish to experience intense physical pleasure, they go to a 'pleasure centre' where they join in groups of up to ten individuals to enjoy mutual pleasuring. It is considered distasteful for a couple to do this by themselves, the social norm is that the practice be undertaken in groups.
"Sometimes, in males not yet bonded and feeling the urge to reproduce, their reproductive organ, a penis, will attain a state of readiness while the male is indulging in mutual pleasuring. It is considered deviant and the male would be immediately ejected. Such males are also forbidden to masturbate. And Captain...with the exception of lurin, rape is forbidden and punishable by incarceration."
"Why not lurin?"
Selar sighed.
"Again, a difficult question as these females fall into the category of what I believe is evolutionary change. These females are born different. They become sexually mature earlier than normal, they are constantly fertile they have inside their reproductive tube, a vagina if you like, an organ that is comparable to a clitoris which of course means they derive pleasure from penetrative sex. There is one more thing about lurin, Captain. They exude a scent, which the males find irresistible. The males find themselves unable to prevent their penis erecting, nor can they refuse to copulate."
"So this scent...it's like a pheromone?"
"Yes, but much more potent. In humans, pheromones are very subtle, so subtle that most humans are unaware of the effect it has on them although we know it is an integral component of sexual attraction."
Running his hand over his head, Jean-Luc momentarily offered grateful thanks to his loyal colleague for taking his mind off grimmer thoughts in the current discussion.
"If lurin are constantly fertile, wouldn't they be constantly pregnant?"
"Yes, Captain, they are, and this situation causes great consternation amongst both the government and the spiritual leaders because any female born to a lurin is herself lurin and the males are, because they have no family connection, considered outcasts. However, my investigations have shown that in recent generations males born to lurin have been found to have their pleasure organ situated in their penises. It is my belief that Erebans are evolving into a species whereby sexual reproduction will become more prolific and pleasurable, and, may one day be partaken recreationally, undertaken as many humanoid species, merely for pleasure."
"I don't think your findings are going to go down too well, Doctor." Said Jean-Luc with a wry smile.
"Perhaps not, Captain, but so many offspring are being born to lurin that it will only take a few more generations for them to simply outnumber the older example of the species."
"Hmph!" Jean-Luc snorted. "Out with the old, in with the new."
"Indeed."
There came a sharp rap on the door, marking the end of Selar's visit. Assuring her Captain she would return for his evening medication, the Vulcan left to meet with Deanna and Doctor Absum.

The Ereban Doctor had begun to tap her foot impatiently against the table leg. Every few minutes she would glance pointedly at a small time piece she'd taken from a pocket and placed with obvious irritation on the tabletop. Ever serene, Deanna had given up trying to make small talk when her attempts were met with nothing but grunts and monosyllables. The rising impatience in Doctor Absum made Deanna well aware that she was soon going to leave. To forestall the female, Deanna asked,
"Is rape common on Ereban?"
The question obviously shocked the Doctor; she shot Deanna a venomous look and shifted in her seat. But along with the shock, Deanna clearly sensed great underlying unease. It was then that Selar finally arrived.
Before Absum could even begin to complain or offer any protest at being kept waiting, Selar calmly sat down and said,
"I must insist that Captain Picard be given access to shaving equipment."
Thrown off balance, the Doctor frowned, tilting her massive head and saying,
"Shaving equipment?"
Selar gave a single nod.
"Yes. Not only is it customary for many human males to shave, but with the nematode infestation Captain Picard has, to hasten the eradication and to reduce his significant discomfort he needs to shave the affected areas."
Still confused, Absum said,
"Shave?"
Deanna smiled and said,
"Shaving is the removal of body hair right down to the level of the skin. Usually in males it only involves the hair that grows on the lower face and neck."
Understanding dawned on the Ereban's face.
"Ah! Yes, we noticed when Captain Picard was being processed for admission his body is covered in hair." She frowned with distaste as she remembered. "Except his head. Very strange. And..." She leaned forward, obviously intrigued, "His reproductive organ? It was very small and soft and covered in loose skin. Even the end of it, which was very oddly shaped."
Although Selar showed no outward reaction, Deanna on the other hand, grimaced as she wondered just what indignities her Captain had endured whilst being processed.
"I take it you'd never seen a human male before?" The Counsellor asked.
Absum shrugged.
"Well, no, not naked. In fact we'd never seen a human female naked either. Of course in the information package we'd received before your arrival at our planet, we knew something about human anatomy and the differences in the genders, but to see a specimen up close...to be actually able to handle it...I found it fascinating. Distasteful, but nevertheless, intriguing."
She looked at her large hands, resting on the tabletop.
"Would you be willing to tell me more about your Captain's reproductive organ? Surely it cannot deposit seed in that state? And being so small, how does it reach the bulb?"
Selar tiled her head.
"The bulb?"
Absum's skin paled which the Enterprise women knew signalled embarrassment. Shifting nervously in her seat, the Doctor said tersely, but softly as to not be over heard,
"At the end of an Ereban female's reproductive tube, when she is in cell and has been stimulated enough, a bulb emerges. It is into the bulb that the male deposits his seed. That opening automatically shuts and the top of the bulb opens and the female deposits her cells. Then the bulb seals completely and, over the period of gestation, becomes the vessel in which the brood gestates."
"I see." Said Selar. "Well, human females do not have a bulb, in fact human reproduction is a little complicated. Rather than waste valuable time describing it now, upon returning to our ship, I will send you all the information you need to know."
Not satisfied, Absum shook her head.
"Just tell me how such an unimpressive organ as Captain Picard's can possibly successfully deposit seed?"
How Selar kept her impassive demeanour was beyond Deanna, but Absum seemed to be so keen to know, for the sake of transparency and the will to share knowledge, Selar obliged.
"Firstly, although Captain Picard is only of average size for a human male, his reproductive organ is considered to be well above average size. The human male productive organ, which is called a penis, when aroused changes quite dramatically. From its flaccid state, which is what you saw, it grows. It lengthens and its girth increases. In some males it can more than double in size. This is called getting an erection. The penis becomes very hard and rigid and stands out from the body. In a young male, one who has reached puberty, the erect penis may lift high enough to point upwards. With age, the erection becomes less hard and the angle lowers, but males even over a century old can achieve an erection quite capable of penetration."
"Over a century old?" Absum gasped.
"Yes. The average life span of humans is approximately one hundred and fifty years for both genders."
"So long!"
Selar shrugged, "By some standards that is quite a short life span. My people, Vulcans, live well over two hundred years and there have been examples of individuals living over three hundred years."
"By the All Seeing God, I am stunned!"
Deanna was about to try to bring the conversation back on track but Absum wasn't finished.
"So, this arousal? Is it just something males require or do females require arousal too?"
"Yes," replied Selar patiently "Human females require more arousal than males. It is a complex series of physical and emotional changes that have to take place for her to be ready not only to accept the male but to gain maximum enjoyment."
"So that the act is successful in creating new life?"
"No."
Absum was confused and shocked.
"Then why?"
"Copulation, sex, making love, all these terms refer to the same thing. The act is very, very pleasurable for humans, in fact for many humanoid species. It is for this reason that sex is undertaken just for the physical and emotional pleasure it brings. However, it is the very presence of the overwhelming pleasure that brings about the end result, that being gratification, called an orgasm, that plays an integral part if the couple wish to produce offspring, but orgasm occurs whether or not a pregnancy is required."
Absum sighed and rubbed her smooth brow.
"I do not understand."
"As the couple indulge in the act the pleasure builds until it becomes almost unbearable, at that point, orgasm occurs. In males it coincides with what is called ejaculation. That is when he deposits his seed, which is called sperm inside the female. At the same time the female's orgasm makes her reproductive tube, called a vagina contract rhythmically adding to the pleasure of both and her cervix, an organ at the entrance of her uterus dips repeatedly forward, bathing the opening in the semen, the ejaculate containing the sperm. Now why this is happens you can read and watch a vid in the information I will send you."
Knowing the Vulcan was unwilling to continue, Absum risked asking one more question.
"If it is normal for humans to have single births, how many sperm do the males deposit? One? Two? Or perhaps more?"
If Selar could have sighed in exasperation she would have. Deanna lowered her head and raised her hand to cover her smile because both women knew Selar's answer was going to shock the Ereban Doctor to her very core.
"Millions, Doctor, millions."
Absum's face paled and her mouth gaped. In a trembling whisper she said,
"Millions?"
"Yes. And most human men are quite capable of achieving another erection within approximately twenty minutes and, if their partner is willing they can have sex again and his ejaculate, although not as fertile as his first ejaculation will still contain millions of sperm.
"Some men can continue, especially if they have access to sexual stimulants and a willing partner; achieving erection after erection until they cannot ejaculate anything, not even seminal fluid, however, the physical mechanism of ejaculation, that is the muscular pulsations although not giving the same amount of powerful sensation are still pleasurable. There is no limit to how many orgasms a female can achieve, what usually ends the process is either tiredness or soreness. The sexual organs of humans are exceptionally sensitive and it is that very sensitivity that brings such enormous amounts of pleasure."
Absum scratched her pale blond hair and said, almost as an afterthought,
"What about all that skin on the Captain's penis?"
This time Deanna held up her hand, and by her expression, Absum knew this was the last question that would be answered.
"That is called a foreskin and it retracts automatically when the penis is erect, exposing the glans, which you thought so odd, but which is the most sensitive part of the organ. The foreskin can be retracted manually if the male wishes and usually this is done for personal hygiene."
"Thank you." Muttered Absum meekly. Deanna, sensing it was time, leaned forward and said quietly,
"Doctor Absum, I sense you are holding back information that is very important for us, but whatever it is, you are very reluctant to divulge what it is. In fact, Doctor, I would go as far as to say you are very frightened."
Shock and fear made Absum's face pale so much her usually light tan face appeared chalky.
"How do you know this?" She hissed. "What do you mean by sensing?"
Her mental barriers firmly in place to deflect the worst of the Ereban's outrage, Deanna knew what she was about to say was going to be very hard for the Doctor to accept, both medically and spiritually.
"I possess the gift of empathy. I am empathic. That means I can sense the feelings and emotions of others."
Sitting back in her seat, Absum glared hotly.
"I was not aware humans had this ability. How long have you been spying on us!"
Calmly, Deanna offered a small, placating smile.
"Humans do not possess this ability."
"Then why do you? Have you been surgically altered somehow?"
"No, Doctor. I have my gift because I am not fully human."
"What?" It was said with wariness and fear. "What are you then? You appear human."
"To one not familiar with humans, it is an easy mistake to make. Outwardly, there is little sign, except for my eyes."
Absum peered sceptically at Deanna's eyes.
"They are black."
"Correct. No human has black eyes. They may have eyes that are so dark brown they might appear black, but under bright light the difference is clear. My eyes have no colour. They are completely black which is indicative of my mixed species."
Absum gasped.
"Are you telling me, you are the product of a sexual assault carried out between two different species?"
Taking a deep breath, Deanna shook her head, making her dark curly hair swing back and forth across her upper back.
"No. My parents were in love, married and had two daughters, my older sister Kestra and me."
"And this was allowed?" Absum was having great difficulty accepting what she was being told.
"Not only allowed, but quite common, Doctor. Once the Federation was founded, and different species began to meet, work and sometime live on each other's worlds, it was inevitable that mixed couples would find love and wish to procreate. Sometimes this occurred naturally, the individual's reproductive processes being compatible, but sometimes medical help was required, and sometimes, sadly, it wasn't possible. But there is certainly no restriction or any impediment in the intermixing of species. In fact it is encouraged."
"That is...that is...hideous! How could you allow that tainting of your blood line!"
"We don't see it like that, Doctor. We see it as the ultimate expression of the genetic imperative. One day, there may come a time when there are no more separate species, but a conglomeration of hybrids."
"Hybrids?"
"That is what I am. A hybrid. My father was human; my mother is a Betazoid, from the planet Betazed. Full Betazoids are telepathic and I can communicate with fellow Betazoids in that way, but with almost all other species, my gift of empathy assists me greatly in my dealings with other species especially as ship's Counsellor."
The information, though deeply disturbing was arousing Absum's medical mind.
"So, if the only outward sign of your being a hybrid is your eyes and your gift...are there any internal differences?"
"Yes, although none that are very different from a human. Should I fall pregnant, for instance, the gestation period would be slightly longer and the birthing process not so traumatic as a human's"
She was cut off.
"Human birth is traumatic?"
Sighing and wishing she'd chosen her words with more care, Deanna nodded.
"Yes. But there is no reason these days for a human female to suffer any discomfort in giving birth."
"But there once was?"
"Yes, birth was very painful and sometimes a very protracted process, sometimes, long, long ago, females and often the newborn did not survive." Deanna held up her hand to stop the inevitable questions.
"This is ancient history, Doctor and you are avoiding what I sense. Please tell us what it is that frightens you so."
Bluffing, Absum scowled.
"This is a gross invasion of my privacy!"
"If what you know concerns Captain Picard then we have a right to know!" It was said with such quiet determination and steely will that Absum capitulated. Deanna sensed the relief before the female spoke.
"It does concern Captain Picard, but not him personally."
Selar and Deanna waited while Absum looked over each shoulder to make sure no one could over hear.
"I have been reliably informed that the three males involved in the Captain's case were known to the authorities."
Deanna sat forward sensing there was a lot more to come.
"You're talking about the rapists and murderers."
"Yes."
"And how is it that they are known to the authorities?"
Absum closed her eyes, clenched her teeth and shook her head, obviously not wishing to continue.
"I sense your need to get this off your chest, Doctor. You'll feel better once you unburden yourself."
"I'm sure you are correct, Counsellor, but I could not only lose my job over this, but I may face declassification and possible incarceration."
"And Captain Picard faces execution!" Deanna's black eyes blazed.
"All right! All three males had a long history of...deviant behaviour. Each had spent extended periods of time in this very facility and each had been incarcerated in the correctional centre for long sentences for their crimes."
Selar leaned closer and asked quietly,
"Did they know each other well?"
"No. In fact it has only just come to light that they had somehow made contact with each other whilst in prison, although how this was achieved is unknown as great pains are taken to keep inmates isolated. They do not even see the guards, or even the Doctors who carry out their monthly medical examinations which are done remotely by computers. Everything is automated so as to not interfere with their correctional behaviour modification programs, which they are exposed at all times except while sleeping and even then an audio program runs so that they absorb the information subliminally.
"All we know is that they were released within eight weeks of each other and, according to the law, had to move to a satellite city and undertake tasks in a public service unit. Um...assisting the elderly or helping in hospitals, that sort of thing. But somehow they managed to have their sub dermal identification chips altered and had false identity chips manufactured and re-entered the capital and again, it is not known how, but they ended up living in the same apartment complex. Not only is this strictly forbidden for convicted criminals, especially those convicted of deviant behaviour but should have been impossible to achieve. At present, the authorities are searching for those who obviously aided and abetted them as they must have had help."
Deanna kept her voice soft and low.
"And what was the nature of their deviant crimes?"
At that, Absum covered her pale face with both large hands.
"Oh, by The All Seeing God!" She sighed deeply.
"I am not prepared to identify which of the males is responsible for which crime but I will tell you what each was convicted of."
"Fair enough." Said Deanna.
"The first male I will tell you about was convicted of what you would call rape. It began with his bond mate. His choice was unusual from the start as he made his interest in her obvious before she'd reach cell.
"So she was still..."
"Undeveloped, Counsellor, a child." When Erebans reach the first cell or seed, over a very short time, it's an average of fourteen months they grow and develop. From being gangly thin unimpressive little things, not much taller than your Commander Riker they emerge from their growth as a fully formed Ereban. Bones, muscles, brain, blood supply, even the heart develops two extra chambers to accommodate the massive body it must now serve. For an adult to show any interest in a pre-cell or seed individual is...odd, but having said that, it does occur, but it is rare. Whether or not the adult is willing to wait until the pre-adult develops depends on the amount of attraction between them and in his case, his chosen female was as interested in him as he was in her.
"Now, it is very important for males to wait until females have gone through at least two cells before they can bond, then lie. They are also taught that during the act of lying, they must be gentle. This is because the penis, as you refer to it, is so large the female has to be able to alter herself internally to accommodate it. And she is unable to do that until her third cell. That is because the last thing to fully develop in a female is her reproductive tube and the ability to form a mature bulb.
"I do not know how he did it, but he managed to get permission from both his family and hers to bond. By the time the applications were approved and the permission for a brood with the accompanying gender type and quotient, the female had reached cell and was nearly fully developed.
"The bonding took place but soon after they moved into their new apartment, the male insisted they lie together. The female, although not completely averse, knew she could not accommodate him. She suggested the visit a pleasure centre instead. Only adults can visit pleasure centres and although it is not law, it is generally understood that it is for couples, preferably bonded. That means that any given group has a shared commitment.
"Unfortunately her suggestion only made her bond mate angry and he insisted on lying with her. Feeling she had no choice she consented. Her resulting injuries were serious and her mate took her to hospital where she was repaired, although he somehow avoided answering the obvious questions of the surgeons as to how the injuries were acquired.
"Nothing happened for a few months, then he insisted again. This time she was almost in cell. Her second. She resisted and he overpowered her. Again she was badly injured but somehow a bulb had formed and it resulted in a brood. The Doctors managed to not only repair her, but they saved the brood, although she required constant medical observation throughout the gestation to guard against complications. This time the female confessed to her father what her bond mate had done. The father confronted the male and very strong words, even some threats were made, and the male eventually gave his oath that he would not force himself inappropriately on his mate again. Satisfied that the problem had been rectified, the bond continued. The brood was delivered healthy and their lives seemed to become normal. That was until the male decided he wanted to lie with his mate again when she was not in cell. Again she resisted and this time they fought until he rendered her unconscious. Their offspring were at the time in the care of her family as she was having trouble producing enough breast paste to feed them, no doubt because she was not yet fully developed. He forced himself inside her, deposited his seed, but what he did next was shocking. As if to insult her father he forced his reproductive organ into her waste passage and deposited more seed.
"This was an atrocity of tremendous proportions. He fled, leaving his mate terribly injured and bleeding heavily. She was found soon after and taken to hospital, but she was so badly injured her reproductive organs could not be saved and her waste tube had to be removed. The bond was immediately dissolved and the authorities alerted. The female now lives with her family and as she is now sterile and has a false waste tube extending outside her body she does not leave her home. Her offspring are tainted by their father's actions and it is unlikely they will find any female or male who would wish to soil their family's blood with that of a deviant criminal. So his actions have had serious repercussions for both families.
"The male went on a rampage. He hid in the wilderness reserve on the outskirts of the city, coming into the inner parks at night and preying on any adult female he came across. It soon became obvious through DNA testing that the same male was responsible for all the attacks as well as the fact that he most often forced himself in both the reproductive tube and the waste tube.
"He was eventually caught when a victim's calls for help were heard and he was subdued and brought here. After two years of extensive therapy he was taken, without trial to the correctional centre for a long custodial sentence. He only avoided execution because he had not killed. What happened to all of his victims, I do not know, but I would hazard a guess their lives would be ruined."
Selar asked softly, "Was it ever determined why he was...deviant in his behaviour?"
Shaking her head, Absum shrugged.
"No, in fact there are no adequate reasons, for his behaviour." She sighed heavily. "I have been studying the medical records going back several generations and it seems a very disturbing change is in process. Erebans are undergoing some kind of physical alteration and it is my belief, and I stress this is only my opinion, within as little as four, or perhaps five generations, we will not be the people we are now.
"Take males born to lurin. We know that females born to lurin are themselves lurin, but until recently, males have been normal, although treated as outcasts. Now we're finding males born to lurin have either two pleasure organs, or their pleasure organ is incorporated in the reproductive organ! I have witnessed such a specimen here, in this very facility demonstrating how he could stimulate his reproductive organ...with his hands and produce a seed deposit! And not just the normal amount but far too much, way above what anyone could possibly consider normal. AND he then proceeded to repeat the entire procedure until, like the human males you described, Doctor Selar, he was unable to deposit any more seed and yet, he still attempted to stimulate his reproductive organ! Simply because it felt nice! If this trend continues, that of female lurin being constantly in cell and with the advent of the newly discovered pleasure organ within the reproductive tube and the constantly over seeded males and the propensity for these...creatures to frequently lie together, we will soon be overrun by lurin! They will eventually outnumber normal Ereban.
"Obviously something has to be done, Somehow we have to find a way to make the lurin, male and female sterile."
"Why? Asked Deanna softly. "It may be nothing more than evolution at work."
"I doubt it." Absum said dismissively. "Besides, from what I know of evolution it is unproven science and again from what I know of it, it is supposed to take a very long time!"

"True," Remarked Selar, "But with Ereban life spans being so short, perhaps there has emerged some kind of acceleratory imperative for these changes? Your planet, your way of life may be under threat from outside sources. Maybe this is your species' way of countering that threat?"
Laying her hands palm upwards on the tabletop, the Enterprise women could see the Doctor's anguish.
"But what of the blood! Indiscriminate breeding does not take into account the importance of blood ties. That has always been our strength. How can we become stronger as a species simply by developing the ability to breed more prolifically and with pleasure? How does that help? It makes no scientific sense!"
"I do not know, Doctor, but I agree with you that whatever these changes are, they are happening at a phenomenal rate. But what I do know of evolution is that it is rarely for the detriment of a species. In the information package I will send you about human reproduction, I will include information about human evolution. I choose human because it is so well documented and you might find the writings of a very enlightened man, for his time, called Charles Darwin. What he theorised at first outraged humankind, but ultimately, even now centuries later, he continues to be proven correct and not just in human evolution but other species as well."
Gently tapping her index finger on the table top, Deanna said quietly, "We digress."
Sighing Absum nodded.
"The second male had a very specific deviancy. He became addicted to pleasuring. I have already told you that pleasure groups are customarily made up of bonded couples in groups of usually ten people. Unaccompanied individuals or unbonded couples are not usually tolerated, but the male involved was particularly...engaging. He was outwardly friendly and his demeanour made it easy for people to feel at ease with him. So, using these...talents, which I must point out are a little unusual in Erebans, we tend to be somewhat reserved, he inveigled himself into a pleasure group. A pleasure group that is unbalanced can sometimes have difficulty in reaching flood."
Deanna held up her hand. "Flood?"
Absum closed her eyes and sighed. "Although it does not seem to be as powerful or necessary as a human orgasm, at least from what you've described, flood, what was once called resolution, is the culmination of pleasuring. It comes after perhaps an hours' pleasuring and consists of a surge of emotional release. First, there is a blankness....a disconnection of thought, followed almost immediately by a feeling of intense well being. For some time afterwards, fifteen minutes perhaps, the members of the group stay together, enjoying the collective sensation of peace.
"The male in question began to frequent the pleasure centre more and more often and joined in increasing numbers of groups. He was accepted and eventually trusted, but the owner of the centre slowly became worried as the male spent so much of his time there, it became obvious he was sometimes forgoing his daily meal and sometimes his sleep cycle. Pleasure centres are open thirty hours a day, they do not close. Eventually the owner spoke to the male but he used his unusual charm to allay the owner's concerns. He carried on as usual, but one day, during a pleasure session, his reproductive organ attained a state of readiness. This is considered very distasteful and the individual involved must leave the group immediately and go to the calming room until he, or she is no longer in a state of breeding readiness."
Deanna frowned.
"There are outward signs of female readiness?"
"Yes. Her skin darkens and her breast feeding portals enlarge."
"What happened then?"
"To the male?"
Deanna nodded.
"Once he returned to a normal state he rejoined the group, but it kept happening. And eventually, group after group asked him to leave. The last group, a rather naive group of young, just bonded couples were more tolerant and allowed him to stay within their group despite his unsavoury physical habit. But what happened next even the inexperienced youngsters could not tolerate. During pleasuring he would deposit seed. And to make matters worse, he did not care where it landed. Ereban do not remove their clothing when pleasuring, only that which covers the pleasure organ. So to have one's clothing soiled by a deposit of seed is quite disgusting.
"No one would forgive such a socially disgraceful act and he was summarily banned from the centre. Now you must understand there are literally hundreds of pleasure centres. It seems to be part of the changes that are happening to Erebans. Preoccupation with pleasure is becoming more and more common and to meet demand more and more centres are being built. So, the male simply moved on to a new centre, but of course his deviancy was growing and the same thing happened, only much sooner. Again he was banned and again he simply moved on, but gradually word got around and one sensible owner scanned the male's sub dermal identification chip and sent his details, which included an image of his features and his DNA onto the data stream.
"Finding himself excluded from all the capital's pleasure centres, in desperation he moved out to the satellite cites only to find the same thing as the data stream connects every public building.
"With his need growing, he moved back to the capital and began to prey on unsuspecting victims, mainly in secluded areas of our larger parks. It seems he required a long period of time with his victims and they included male and female."
Selar frowned. "How was he able to overcome his victims? Your species is very strong and quite capable of defending themselves."
Absum frowned, obviously concerned. "I should probably not tell you this, but at the base of our skull there is a small, circular area, when struck in precisely the correct way will render an Ereban senseless for a matter of a few seconds. Apparently the male knew exactly how to do this and, attacking silently from behind, once his victims went down he would then choke them, only allowing enough air to maintain a state of semi consciousness. If an Ereban is fully unconscious, the pleasure organ will not emerge, but in semi consciousness, it can be stimulated into a state where it can be used. Not by the owner, they would feel nothing, but by the assailant."
Deanna tilted her head and said,
"Excuse me, Doctor, but is it possible for a normal Ereban to pleasure themselves?"
Her face distorted with distaste at the very thought, Absum shook her head.
"Oh no! It requires at least two separate organs. Each organ exudes a very subtle chemical, when mixed with the others' excites the nerves that lie just under the quite thin skin of the organ. The skin that covers the organ is also very sensitive."
"And when it emerges, does it change?"
"Not exactly. The organ will emerge ready to use, but as flood approaches it grows a small amount and becomes more sensitive."
Selar tilted her head. "It would seem to share some characteristics with the human penis."
Raising her pale eyebrows, Absum nodded. "You may be right, I hadn't thought about it."
"So how was he caught?" Asked Deanna.
"Well his victims were linked by his DNA, so the authorities knew who they were looking for. But this male was very wily, however the longer he went without capture he became more and more brazen. One thing that had become apparent was that he was depositing more and more seed. That indicated he was spending a lot of time with his victims. In their statements, those who could remember anything, reported this male actually vocalising his pleasure, something a normal Ereban would never do! It seems that he would hold one hand around the victim's throat, regulating their breathing to keep them semi conscious, while his other hand stimulated his reproductive organ. Now we had no proof of this until his capture, when we witnessed him doing just that. Because he was leaving so much seed, we knew he was emptying his testes. That seemed to be when the attack would cease. But with his two final victims he was brazen enough to not only attack in broad daylight, but stay with them, continuing to pleasure himself while he waited until his testes made more seed!"
"And how long would that take?" Asked Selar.
"It depends on the individual male, the young tend to be able to replenish faster than older males, but the average time would be about three hours."
"And how much would be made?"
"Usually, only enough to serve a maximum brood. Twelve seeds. Six in each pair of testes of opposite gender of course, three in each individual teste. The last two of his victims paid dearly for his perversion. The skin covering their pleasure organs were rubbed raw; in places the skin was missing and the underlying delicate tissue exposed and bleeding. The surgeons did their best, taking grafts and shaving the skin to its thinnest, but they could not regenerate the nerves. I know the two victims, both males and they have told me although they can still gain some pleasure, but it is insufficient to achieve flood. A very sad state of affairs."
Deanna sighed.
"And so how was he captured?"
"He had decided to keep his last victim and was caught dragging him towards a hidden ground vehicle. Only the All Seeing One knows what would have eventually happened to that poor male. It was while he was being processed for admission that it was discovered that he possessed two pleasure organs. One in its proper place, the other incorporated in his reproductive organ. Like the young male lurin we were just beginning to discover, this male has the dubious honour of being the oldest we know of and perhaps the first...and of course he was lurin."
Sear leaned forward. "That he was lurin did not show up on his DNA?"
Absum shrugged. "No. None of them do. It is only their behaviour that gives them away and only upon apprehension are the internal differences noted. That is what makes it so very difficult to find them! Where once lurin were rare and exclusively female, it was easy, but now they blend in with society and unless they display abhorrent behaviour, we have no idea they live among us."
Deanna sighed. "I sense there is more about these changes you're not telling us and it feels to me as if it is intensely personal."
"By the God!' Absum spat. "Is there nothing you will spare me?"
To Deanna's steady gaze, the Ereban female lowered her head and sighed.
"It has become very popular, although I must stress this is not something one would talk about with others, I know only because of my position in this facility, in older bonded couples, upon the deposit of seed, the addition of cell and the sealing of the bulb, the process of reproduction is supposed to end. By that, I mean the male is meant to remove his reproductive organ from within his mate and although they may continue to lie together, enjoying the closeness and intimacy, there is no more sexual contact. However, more and more couples are not stopping. The male is leaving his organ inside and sometimes the couple will move again to bring about another deposit. This also makes his pleasure organ emerge. While moving the male will stimulate his mate in such a way as to encourage her pleasure organ to emerge and with practice the flood will occur at the same time as the subsequent deposit. Now, while this is not as yet against any law, be it secular or spiritual (only because few people admit to doing it) it is becoming wide spread."
Even though the admission had been difficult for the Doctor, Deanna sensed there was more. And she thought she knew what it was.
"That's why you were so reluctant to agree with this meeting. You wanted time with your bond mate."
"Yes. My bond mate and I had scheduled time for...I don't believe it has a name yet."
Deanna smiled kindly. "Making love."
Absum's smile was sheepish. "Perhaps."
There was a companionable silence before Deanna said quietly,
"The third male?"
Absum's face screwed up in obvious distress.
"He is the most abhorrent creature I have ever had the displeasure of even knowing about. His crimes were so heinous; I have not been able to find anything like it in our archives. His perversion was to prey on young Ereban and I don't mean those nearing cell or seed, but very young! Every one of his eight innocent young victims died a gruesome, hideous and agonising death. Operating near nurseries, he would snatch his victims, take them to somewhere secluded and where their screams would not be heard and then rape them so viciously..."
Tears welled in the female's eyes and she shuddered through a deep sigh. "The little females were so badly damaged by the size of his organ, which was large even for an Ereban; his organ forced itself right through the body so his seed was deposited on their faces. Then, he would force himself into their mouths and back through their ruined insides so that the next deposit was on their thighs. Young boys suffered a similar fate, but he would use their waste passage as well as their mouths. Normally one who kills is tried and executed, but the public were so outraged it was decided to summarily execute him and dispose of everything about him."
"How was he caught?" Deanna was disgusted and deeply disturbed, but she felt she had to know.
"He had not taken his last victim far enough away and his screams were heard. The searchers found him in the process of raping the boy, but he was already dead. Evidence showed the little one had already been violated three times. This...creature had no physical anomalies and we could find no reason for his perversion, and he is not lurin but the authorities found something that prevented his immediate execution.
"It is illegal to do anything that deliberately causes the extinction of a family, the total loss of the blood line. This...male's family was very small. It had become so small it was almost unsustainable. This had happened because of three major factors. First, the family had a genetically low fertility rate. Then disease struck, wiping out many relatives leaving only about twenty-five related individuals. To try and find a cause for their impaired fertility rate, the family decided to travel from their satellite city homes into the capital for treatment. They all boarded the same flight craft and tragically it encountered mechanical trouble and crashed. There were only two survivors, both female and both the male's relatives. So, the authorities had a terrible dilemma. By law they could not execute the male, as his seed was required because the females, although survivors, were left sterile. There followed a great debate, not known by the public who assumed the criminal had been executed. Some officials argued that seed should be taken from him over a period of time until there was enough to produce many offspring, but the counter argument was the danger that his perversion may surface in any offspring created with his seed. Eventually it was decided to take his seed, lots of it, and fertilise volunteer lurin. Now, I know what you're thinking, but this procedure was to be closely monitored and the offspring carefully watched. Each would have not only the sub dermal chip regularly inserted in every Ereban new born, but a tracking device as well. So far his seed has resulted in the birth of fifty-eight offspring, all lurin of course, but so far, apart from what one would expect from a lurin, no perverted or deviant behaviour has been noted. His family would seem to be extinct, but it is not and if in the future it is needed to be resurrected for whatever reason, we know where the blood relatives are."
Deanna was both angry and confused.
"All right, so what happened to him and why was he released?"
Again Absum shrugged. "While he was here he was kept sedated. Seed removal is painful as the seed is taken straight from the testes and I don't know if you're aware, but Ereban seed is quite large and can be easily seen with the naked eye. It may be that which explains why the male's reproductive organ is so large. Certainly the inner tube and the opening are suitably big."
"Does the male pass liquid waste through the inner tube?"
It was as if Selar had slapped Absum's face.
"What! What kind of question is that? How disgusting!" Then Absum's expression went from abhorrence to horror. "Are you telling me that human males pass liquid waste through the same organ that is used for reproduction?"
Instead of answering, Selar, ever unruffled merely said, "Read the information package and watch the vids."
Deanna gently laid her hand on the Doctor's huge muscled forearm.
"You were telling us about the male."
"Yes..." She took a deep settling breath. "In the four years he was here he was only brought to consciousness three times and that was to test cognitive ability. The thing was we really didn't know what to do with him. Keeping him sedated was not helping anyone, certainly not those who had the dubious and unwanted duty of looking after him, so eventually we petitioned the government to have him transferred to the correctional facility. He was not executed, because of the slim chance more seed may one day be required from him. To our knowledge he is unaware he has offspring. For safety's sake, before he left here, he was implanted with a powerful slow release drug which specifically targeted the pleasure and reproductive centre of his brain effectively castrating him. It was renewed every year of his incarceration and over time tests showed that these centres within his brain had been destroyed. So, after being incarcerated for twenty years and considered an old male, he was released. It was only during the post mortem of his body that we found his brain had rerouted itself and recreated a new pleasure and reproductive centre, and because the drug was so specifically targeted it never affected this new part. That is why he was sexually able when he attacked Doctor Crusher and her daughter."
With some urgency, Deanna's hand gripped the Doctor's forearm.
"This has to be used in Captain Picard's defence!"
"Why?" Asked an obviously nonplussed Doctor.
Staying patient was difficult. "Because it shows a pattern of behaviour that should have never been allowed to be brought back into society. If your authorities and Doctors had done their job properly none of this with Captain Picard's family and his subsequent action would've taken place!"
As if talking to a child, Absum said slowly,
"None of what I've just told you can be admitted as evidence for the defence."
"Why the hell not!" Snapped Deanna with uncharacteristic anger.
"The males are not on trial, Counsellor. They are the victims here! They are dead! It is not their behaviour in the past or what they did at the apartment that is at issue! The trial is solely to prove Captain Picard's already established guilt."
Deanna scratched her scalp in exasperation. "Then why did you tell us!"
Bowing her head, Absum sighed. "Once again I should not be telling you this, but my family was not always devoted exclusively to medical science. One branch was devoted to the law and through my association with my relatives, I know things."
"Like what?" Asked Deanna with curiosity and hope.
"Like ancient laws that are still in effect but have not been used for so long they have been forgotten about."
She sighed and briefly closed her eyes.
"Counsellor, the Ereban public, now that they know that Captain Picard's partner is not lurin, feel a certain sympathy for his position, after all family is what's important and the general public are as yet unaware of the murdered males' criminal histories. But...there is no sympathy for murdering helpless individuals. So there is a certain level of disquiet surrounding the upcoming trail of your Captain. The debates are on the rise and it would not surprise me if there were not protests from either side. My advice to you, my only advice to you is to contact Advocate Jeran and tell her to look into Article 225.1 which she will find in the sub-archive at the central law centre."
The big female rose and stretched as if being seated for so long had stiffened her muscles.
"I wish you well."
Deanna looked at Selar, saying urgently,
"Where is the nearest public communication hub?"
"Just outside, across the road from the entrance."
Both women getting to their feet, Deanna tossed over her shoulder,
"Come on, we have to get to see the Advocate, we've no time to lose!"

 

To the women's impatient irritation all the communication portals were in use. They had to take a place in a line and wait their turn. Thankfully it wasn't long, but that was not the end of their frustration.
Deanna had no trouble connecting with Advocate Jeran's assistant, but getting to speak with the Advocate herself was proving almost impossible. It took all of Deanna's considerable charm and persuasion to finally get the male to agree to ask the Advocate if she would talk to her.
By the curt undisguised irritation in the Advocate's voice, Deanna knew she had to choose her words carefully.
"Advocate Jeran, thank you so much for taking the call."
"I am very busy, Counsellor, what is it you want?"
"It is vitally important that Doctor Selar and I speak with you immediately."
"I'm sorry, Counsellor, I am too busy right now. Perhaps if you made an appointment with my assistant..."
Deanna cut her off.
"We have new evidence that you must hear!"
The sigh was short and angry.
"Counsellor, you have been telling me you have evidence, evidence you claim mitigates the outrageous crimes of your Captain! I have yet to see or hear any such evidence and now you claim you have more? The man is guilty! I do not see how anything you might say can change that. By the All Seeing One, Counsellor, his murderous actions were recorded."
Taking a steadying breath, Deanna said quietly,
"You are Captain Picard's defence Advocate and you have a sworn duty to do your upmost to defend him, no matter how hopeless his case may appear!" Before Jeran could say anything further, Deanna's voice softened.
"We have just spent the better part of an hour with Doctor Absum. She told us some things I believe you already know. And before you tell me it is inadmissible, she said her advice to us....her only advice to us, was to see you! Immediately!"
There followed a tense silence. The only thing, apart from the subdued background noise was Jeran's breathing.
"The office closes at seventh crescent. Come then, but I can't give you too much time, my bond mate is expecting me at home."
"Thank you."
Deanna terminated the call and the two women moved out into the bustling street, feeling very intimidated by the enormous beings around them. Some, casting disapproving looks, made Selar gently take Deanna's elbow and lead her to a quiet corner between two tall buildings.
The Counsellor looked around to ensure their privacy before asking quietly, "What time is seventh crescent?"
Selar made some quick mental calculations. "About twenty hundred hours."
"And it's now?"
"Fifteen forty."
"So, we've got about four hours to kill. I think we should go to the hospital to see the Captain."
Selar shook her head.
"I cannot comply. I have already visited him and I am not due to see him again until it is time for his evening treatment."
Deanna gave that some thought, then came to her decision.
"Very well, you go back to the ship. I'll go to the hospital alone and we will meet later at Jeran's office."
"Do you think that wise, Counsellor? Are you armed?"
Nodding, Deanna's hand went to the hidden pocket in her tunic where her personal phaser was situated.
"I am, but why do you think it unwise?"
Selar sighed and tilted her head, her eyes constantly moving around, ever vigilant.
"Given what we've been told about the changes that the Ereban are undergoing, it might not be safe."
Deanna hadn't thought of that. She surreptitiously slipped her phaser from its pocket and slid the power setting up to heavy stun. Silently watching, the Vulcan remarked softly,
"We can only hope that will work."
Determined, Deanna put her weapon away and lifted her chin defiantly. "I intend to see Captain Picard and I do not intend to be intimidated by these people. Yes, they're huge and yes, there is something very strange happening to them, but right now my Captain and friend needs me."
Selar bowed her head.
"As you wish, Counsellor, but if you will indulge me, stay away from secluded areas such as parks and deserted streets and make your way to the hospital by the most populated route."
"Agreed. I will also contact the ship and get them to keep a permanent lock on my communicator."
"A wise decision."
They looked at each other but only Deanna smiled. Having called for transport, Selar disappeared in seconds. Now alone, the Counsellor was left with the daunting task of making her way through a population that barely tolerated her.
Being of small stature, even for a hybrid human/Betazoid, Deanna was quite accustomed to being jostled in crowds, but by the time she finally reached the hospital she was actually bruised. Her hair was in disarray and her uniform torn in two places. Although her journey had been harrowing and she'd been left battered she could not honestly say that any of her slight injuries or the damage to her clothing was done deliberately. It seemed that most incidents were caused because the Ereban simply didn't see her and in almost every instance of collision or contact, a sincere apology was offered.
Taking time to dust herself off, run her fingers through her long curly hair in an effort to tame it, Deanna had to ignore the small rents in her tunic as she gathered herself to enter the foyer of the imposing hospital building.
Although seated at a large desk, the attendant looked down at Deanna from a considerable height, his facial expression was mild, but his slitted pupils narrowed unpleasantly.
"How may I assist you?" No matter how often Deanna heard the deep huskiness of their voices it never ceased to unsettle her, however she sensed nothing that gave her cause for concern.
Summoning a strong voice, Deanna looked up and said,
"I have come to visit Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
"You mean the human?"
"Yes."
Turning his head slightly to one side, the male consulted a screen which lay flush with the desktop.
"Patient Picard, number 55839 is not receiving visitors at this time."
"May I ask why?"
The male's face hardened.
"He is resting."
"I see." Said Deanna, determined not to give up. "Has he been sedated?"
Again consulting the screen, the male looked down and shook his massive head.
"No."
"Then, as his personal Counsellor, I wish to exercise my right to see him."
"Patient 55839 is a criminal. A murderer. Why would he need a Counsellor, personal or not? Very soon he will be executed and any...worries he might have will be over for ever, at least in this life. What happens to him in the afterlife is up to the All Seeing One."
The smile Deanna offered cost her quite a bit.
"Nevertheless, I want to see him. Now, I can get our acting Captain to contact your government to tell them that you are obstructing me from doing my duty to my Captain. That could be seen as being a matter of diplomatic difficulty. Are you prepared to bear the consequences of that?"
The smile that appeared on the male's face showed genuine amusement and respect. With a nod, he stood and Deanna stifled the urge to flee as he strode over to a locked door and keyed in a code. Stepping back, he bowed slightly and with a very courtly-like gesture, waved her through.
Confronted by a very high ceilinged corridor, Deanna walked briskly, her footfalls echoing dully. Her senses told her Captain Picard was awake and feeling distressed. It was as she quickened her step towards the next set of doors that she realised she could sense nothing of the other patients. The guards, the Captain and staff, yes, but no one else. The doors opened automatically and, as she passed through she saw the surveillance device turn to watch as she entered the body of the building.
"Into the belly of the beast." Deanna thought. Never before had she felt so alone.
She was met at another set of doors and this time she was escorted, the Ereban guard shortening her long stride to accommodate Deanna's shorter steps. They arrived outside Jean-Luc's cell and the guard used an oval metal ring that encircled her right hand to rap on the door. Waiting only a few seconds, the guard opened a flap and Deanna tried not to stare at the bony, pale hands that emerged. Manacles that had been clipped to the back of the guard's uniform were snapped around the wrists that protruded, then once the hands were withdrawn, the guard waited a few more seconds before entering a code that released the door lock.
With an inclination of her head and a mildly friendly smile, the guard bid Deanna to enter, but as the Ereban went to follow her inside, the petite woman shook her head.
"As Captain Picard is a patient of mine, I respectfully request privacy."
The guard's face hardened, but Deanna sensed only a desire from the female to do her job correctly.
"Patient 55839 has been classified as dangerous. As he is no longer sedated, I must accompany you."
Summoning a smile, Deanna sensed the guard was not unsympathetic, just bound by the rules.
"I respect your need to maintain order and your duty to follow the practices of the facility, but I have known Captain Picard for a very long time, not only have I served with him for nearly twenty years, but I have been his Counsellor for all of that time. I can assure you, I am in no danger whatsoever from him."
She sensed the guard beginning to waver.
"He has been restrained hasn't he?"
The female nodded ponderously.
"Then surely he poses no threat. Besides, no doubt you will be here, right outside the door?"
"Yes."
Deanna said nothing else. The guard had to feel she had come to her decision on her own, without being coerced. Eventually she sighed and gave a slow nod.
"Very well, but if you feel threatened in any way-if he attempts any suspect move, you call out!"
Offering a warm, grateful smile, Deanna entered Jean-Luc's cell. He was standing by the rear wall and Deanna was deeply shocked by what she saw. Given it had been only a matter of hours since she'd seen him last, he had shrunk somehow. His shoulders were slumped, his back slightly bowed and his head lowered, he was staring sightlessly at his manacled hands. Moving closer in the small cell, careful not to startle him, Deanna said gently,
"Captain?"
At first, when he didn't respond, Deanna had thought he'd not heard her, so she softly repeated the word a little louder.
"Captain?"
This time he flinched and slowly looked up. Deanna had to stifle a gasp. If she'd thought the first time she'd seen his facial rash was bad, he now looked hideous. Having to shave had removed all the scabbed tissue, not only exposing all the minute holes the nematodes had made and causing the greenish fluid to exude, but also blood. The area where his facial hair grew was now a mass of sticky oozing matter giving him a ghoulish appearance. His eyes were sunken and haunted and, as Deanna's eyes travelled over him, she saw his hands were trembling.
Gently taking him by the elbow, she guided the unresisting man to the bench and eased him down to sit. Taking her place beside him, Deanna said softly,
"Don't give up, Captain. Please, you must hold on."
He sighed and slowly closed his eyes. Deanna had never seen him so defeated.
"Why?" He whispered hoarsely.
In a softly urgent voice, Deanna told him everything she'd learned from Absum. As he listened Jean-Luc's lethargy began to lift. By the time she'd finished, light had come back into his eyes.
"Do you think this can help?"
Deanna was loath to say anything to jeopardise his fragile hold of hope.
"Well, I can only say that Doctor Absum must've had a very good reason to tell us, Captain and when I told your Advocate it was Absum who had spoken to us, where she'd been very dismissive, she suddenly became more...interested."
Looking at Deanna Jean-Luc asked,
"Does Jeran know what it was Absum told you?"
Deanna shook her head. "No, not yet. Selar and I didn't want to say anything over the public communication system. But, as I said, she went from trying her best to avoid us, to agreeing to see us later today."
Jean-Luc gave that some thought, then gazed steadily at Deanna with such intensity she felt intimidated. His barriers were up, but she still got the impression from what little she could sense that he was wary.
"I have been made aware that you and Selar intend to tender some evidence that may mitigate my...actions. Just what is this evidence?"
Deanna sighed, feeling that her Captain already knew the answer, making the question largely rhetorical, however she was duty bound to answer.
Taking a deep breath and maintaining eye contact, Deanna said evenly,
"Your experiences with the Borg, Captain. All your experiences with them."
His head snapped around to face away from Deanna. Although she could no longer see his face, she knew his eyes would be screwed shut and his face contorted in pain. His fists, resting on his lap, were so tightly closed his knuckles turned white. It took several long moments for him to regain his composure and even then, when he was again looking at her, his voice was rough.
"And why is that relevant?"
"Because, Captain, it shows quite clearly just how much it takes for you to be forced into a situation where you would resort to physical violence."
He was about to argue when Deanna shook her head and laid a hand on his forearm.
"No, Captain, don't try to dismiss it. Even after being assimilated you, after a little encouragement, refused to rid the Federation of the Borg forever, simply because you were able to see to do so was an immoral act. You were able to see, even after all that you suffered at their hands that they, as individual victims much like you had been, were not responsible for their actions. Yes, as a whole, the Borg represented perhaps our most deadly threat but you upheld your principles, you refused to engage in wholesale slaughter, no matter how that would've been achieved."
His dark eyes glittered.
"You're rather conveniently forgetting what I very nearly did, intended in fact, during the First Contact incident and again during the Borg's most recent incursions. Had I acted when I had the chance, billions would have been saved."
Deanna's smile was a gentle one. "You and I both know, no matter what came afterwards, you did the right thing at the time. You, Captain, cannot be blamed for the actions of the Borg. Not then, and not what happened later."
Deanna's smile was wry one. "Captain, you and I both know the need for revenge isn't uniquely human, and as a human, admittedly a highly evolved one, you are not immune! What is important, Captain, is that you did NOT go through with your plan to fight to the death, even if it meant killing everyone on board. It may have taken quite some persuasion, but in the end you saw reason and acted rationally."
There was a long silence before Jean-Luc sighed, eventually seeing the futility of persevering with the argument. He changed tacks.
"Do you think it will make any difference, Deanna? I was recorded killing those three males. I can't really see the Erebans accepting my past with the Borg as being enough to sway them. In their eyes...and by my own hands, I am guilty."
Deanna sensed a wave of resignation coming from her CO and she felt both helpless and angry.
"Look, I don't know! All right, maybe they won't accept your past experiences, but Doctor Absum told us what she did for a reason and I have to believe it will help. And so do you!"
The vehemence of her voice shook Jean-Luc out of his lethargy. He seemed to be debating with himself over something and Deanna felt both his reluctance to tell her what it was as well as his need to let her know something he knew was very important. Eventually he sighed and lifted both hands so he could rub his forehead.
"Counsellor, there is more going on here on Ereban than you know."
Her eyes narrowing, Deanna said quietly,
"Has it something to do with their seemingly rapid evolution?"
His gaze sharpened and through the disgusting matter on his cheeks, she saw his jaw muscles clench.
"How do you know about that?"
"Doctor Absum. She's not fully convinced it is evolution at work, but she...and quite a few other medical scientists are becoming suspicious."
"How much did she tell you?"
Deanna shrugged.
"All about the lurin, their offspring and how they will soon, within a few generations outnumber the 'normal' Ereban, the sexual changes and the increased need for pleasure and intimacy during the act of reproduction."
Jean-Luc nodded slowly and sighed. "I've had a similar recent conversation with Selar about the very same thing." He closed his eyes and lowered his head.
"Then I suppose it's time I let you know just what exactly is going on."
Staring at the man, Deanna said quietly, "Yes, Captain. Perhaps you should."
Shifting his gaze to stare fixedly at the opposite wall, Jean-Luc's voice became very soft. "You are aware why the Enterprise came to Ereban in the first place?"
"Yes, you were sent to assess them for membership in the Federation."
He nodded slowly. "And do you know why they want that membership?"
Frowning a little, Deanna hesitated only slightly. "Well, isn't it because they wish to have the protection of Starfleet in the event the hostilities between their neighbours in this system spreads and threatens them?"
Jean-Luc sighed, grunted softly and shook his head. "Tell me, Deanna, from what you've seen; do you think Ereban is a suitable candidate for membership?"
Her eyes shifting to look at her clasped hands, Deanna sighed.
"No, Captain, I don't."
"And so you doubt my report would've been...favourable."
"Yes, Captain. But, Sir, forgive me, but as acting Captain the report will come from Will and I happen to know he's going to be scathing. There's no way Ereban is going to become a member of the Federation, not on Will's recommendation."
Slowly, Jean-Luc turned his head and looked into Deanna's eyes, what she saw and felt made her stomach clench.
"It will make absolutely no difference what his recommendations are, Deanna...or mine for that matter. Ereban is going to become a member. It had already been decided by the Federation Council even before we were sent here."
"Then why? Why were we sent?"
"My task wasn't to assess them for membership; Deanna, my job was to liaise with a very deeply secret government department, whose members are devoted to trying to find a way to undo something that has happened. This department has been in existence for at least five generations and it is staffed by members of one family, generation after generation. As you know, families here on Ereban tend to concentrate on only one or two professions, be it academic, political or even manual labour, there is no distinction. The important thing to them is that they have a purpose, that they serve first the family, and in doing so, they serve their planet and their species as a whole."
Now engrossed, Deanna moved closer to her Captain, but he held up his hand in warning and offered a wry smile. Pointing at his face he said softly,
"Not too close, Deanna, you don't want to end up looking like this."
To ease his worry, Deanna smiled and shook her head.
"I don't have to shave my face, Captain."
He grunted and closed his eyes. "Perhaps not, but my groin and armpits look much the same." He summoned a wan smile.
"Let's just say it would be a lot simpler for you if you minimised the risk of infestation."
Unwanted, Deanna's mind furnished images of what those areas of her Captain's body must look like and she couldn't help but grimace. How he could sit so calmly while enduring such discomfort amazed her as did his ability to hide it from her. All she could say was, "I'm so sorry, Captain."
He shrugged and offered a wry, one-sided smile.
"I've had worse things happen to me."
The sudden thought of his impending execution made both people silent for a little while before Jean-Luc said,
"However, I've digressed. The two planets so hell bent on war with each other went through a period of escalation in recent times. This escalation was mostly technological and scientific in essence and about sixty years ago, they both decided to play with some of the new toys they'd developed."
Deanna's one word comment came out in an angry expulsion of breath.
"Idiots!"
"Indeed." Agreed Jean-Luc. "Especially when you consider their chosen method of killing each other was through biological warfare."
A shocked and sickened Deanna gasped.
"Oh, no!"
"Oh, yes." Jean-Luc sighed and lifted his hands to rub his lower lip, but thought better of it. "The average life span of a normal Ereban is approximately fifty-five years for both genders. And, given their long geostationary period and the fact that 'normal' Ereban females don't become fertile all that often, a generation can be as short as twenty years."
Deanna nodded. "That explains the relatively small population, despite the fact they can produce up to twelve offspring in each mating."
"Yes. It also means that because of their insistence in maintaining blood ties, their genetic diversity is growing smaller and smaller."
Deanna tilted her head, the ramifications of his words becoming clear. "They're inbreeding?"

"Uh huh, but unlike humans and many other species, it doesn't seem to have any deleterious effects."
"What about lurin and the changes? Isn't that an obvious effect of inbreeding?"
Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head.
"No, Counsellor. That is a direct effect of their neighbour's penchant for biological interference."
He sighed deeply, ignoring the look of shocked confusion on Deanna's face.
"Command has been aware of the situation in this system for many, many years, but it wasn't until the waring planets had unleashed their biological weapons upon each other that things became a little...muddied."
Unable to resist, he closed his eyes and scratched his groin, grimacing in pain. Deanna averted her eyes; it was the only privacy she could afford him. She didn't look at him again until he began to speak once more.
"First contact was made with all three planets in this system about one hundred and twenty years ago, but of the three only the Ereban were willing to engage in any sort of dialogue. The other two were openly hostile; in fact we don't even know what they call themselves, or their planets. Command gave them numerical designations. We have only recently, through the secret department, learned of their names. Not that it helps in any way."
Jean-Luc stood; wincing slightly and remaining stooped while he went to the basin and put his hands under the spigot. With his cupped hands filled with water, he took a long drink before returning to sit with Deanna.
"The belligerence between the neighbouring planets had been ongoing for nearly two centuries but somehow Ereban had managed to keep out of it. However, after the combatants had unleashed their biological weapons, they found..." Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head as if he found it difficult to understand their stupidity, "That their surviving populations were decimated and unsustainable."
Throwing her hands up in exasperation, Deanna all but shouted, "Well what the hell did they expect!"
"I know," Agreed Jean-Luc softly. "Such insanity is difficult to comprehend, but they didn't stop there, Deanna."
By the ominous tone of his voice, Deanna knew they were getting to the heart of the matter. He sighed and briefly closed his eyes.
"With their planets mostly destroyed and their population on the brink of extinction, they turned their attention to Ereban. Forty-five years ago they formed an alliance...an uneasy one to be sure, but an alliance nevertheless and the sole purpose of that association was to save their species."
Deanna's gaze sharpened.
"Are you saying they are the same species?"
"No. Not exactly, but alike enough and closely related enough genetically to be able to blend each of the three, which includes the Ereban."
"So what exactly have they done?"
"Utilising the naturally occurring solar winds in this sector, the alliance seeded the winds with a biological...message. In effect, it is slowly reprogramming Ereban genetics and adapting them until they reach a point where they will become compatible for breeding with the now combined species of the other two planets. At that time, Ereban will be invaded and absorbed by breeding. Eventually, and in a surprisingly short period of time, evolutionally speaking, a new species will emerge and stabilise.
"Over a long period of time, Command has had agents on the other two planets clandestinely and I must stress, very dangerously gathering information. This was done because of the seemingly inherent belligerent nature of these people, it was always felt that they needed to be watched, very carefully and our vigilance has paid off, because it has been learned recently that the alliance has been making overtures to the Typhon Pact."
Deanna softly gasped, making Jean-Luc nod. "Exactly. With the Federation losing Andoria recently to the Typhon Pact and with other Federation worlds reassessing their membership since the Borg incursion, it was deemed vital by Command to secure this sector for the Federation."
Deanna's eyes darted to and fro as she tried desperately to assimilate the information.
"But, Captain, that doesn't explain why the Federation Council was prepared to admit an obviously unsuitable world. Ereban is simply not ready! They are unsuitable as members and it goes against every tenet of the Federation to accept them."
When Jean-Luc refused to respond, even to refuse to meet Deanna's eyes, she suddenly gasped and whispered,
"Section 31."
Jean-Luc's head snapped around and his intense eyes bored into hers. "You are not supposed to be aware of the existence of that particular entity, Counsellor."
When she did nothing but silently hold his gaze, he sighed and lowered his head. "I am not prepared to say officially whether or not Section 31 is involved, Deanna, but my personal opinion is..." He shrugged, pulling down the corners of his mouth. "It's obvious."
He did not have to say such information was highly classified. Deanna narrowed her eyes and kept her voice low.
"Then why aren't they helping you!"
Patiently, and with a rueful smile that didn't reach his eyes, Jean-Luc said equally quietly,
"Because not only did I fail in my mission, but I rather spectacularly committed a capital offence on Ereban. The moment I set foot on the planet, I was bound by local law. You know that, Counsellor. And..." He gave a soft, tired chuckle. "As they're not yet Federation members, I have to be thrown to the wolves for appearance sake." He snorted and pushed his fingers into his eyes. "The irony is staggering, don't you think?"
Casting aside his fatalistic sarcasm, Deanna shook her head. "It still makes no sense! The Federation has never interfered in the business of non-aligned planets, not for centuries, that's what the Prime Directive is all about, regardless of the consequences. I don't give a damn about Section 31, Captain. It's the Council who hold the power. Why are they allowing this situation with Ereban to influence them? What aren't you telling me? Just what was your mission?"
His eyes held such an intense gaze, Deanna almost looked away. He seemed to be weighing up his options and Deanna saw by his darkening eyes that he'd reached a decision.
"All three species, before the...amalgamation of the warring planets' population...they all carry human DNA."
"What?" Gasped a truly shocked Counsellor. "How is that possible?"
Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc stared at his manacled hands. "That is what I was sent to find out. An encrypted communiqué from the secret government department had been received alluding to the fact that the chosen, secretly researching Ereban scientists had finally discovered the answer. Because I had to go through with the motions of meeting with the Central Government on the pretence of assessing them for membership, I had not yet had the opportunity to contact the secret group. At the time, that wasn't a priority, as my time here had no finite limit. I knew at some stage I would find the opportunity to make contact. "He sighed and shook his head. "The fates, unfortunately, had other plans and matters took an...unexpected turn."
Deanna digested all this and thumped her fisted hand on her thigh. "And I suppose none of this can be used in court."
He shook his head, a wry smile making the crusted ooze on his face split. He winced and sighed.
"No."
"So what happens now?"
Jean-Luc shrugged. "From the little I've been able to gather from our end, these changes that are taking place in the Ereban are irrevocable. Whether they like it or not, they are going to evolve, and relatively quickly, into a different variation of their species. What the Federation has to do is to find a way to prevent the alliance from taking advantage of the situation and carrying out their plans, while at the same time, help the Ereban come to terms with what they become."
Lost in thought, Deanna spoke aloud. "Human DNA. How the hell..."
"What do you know of the Eugenics Wars, Counsellor?"
Deanna shrugged. "Only what I learned at the Academy, Captain. It wasn't on the syllabus at my Betazed schools."
"I see. Are you familiar with Khan Noonien Singh?"
"Yes, Captain."
Jean-Luc smiled kindly. "Then you must know about his sleeper ship and his followers."
"Yes, Captain, this was all covered in our studies at the Academy, including how Khan and his group were destroyed when the stolen Genesis Device exploded on the Reliant, killing the crew as well."
Nodding again, Jean-Luc sighed.
"It seems Khan's sleeper ship was not so somnolent after all. Since the first anomaly was recorded here on Ereban, that being the emergence of the first lurin, the secret group here have been sending covert communiqués to Federation scientists, because in their initial...studies...of those first lurin they discovered human DNA, but it wasn't until a comparison was made with normal human DNA that it was realised by our scientists, that the human DNA the Erebans had found was augmented."
"Are you saying that the genetically enhanced Khan and his followers somehow...bred with Erebans and the inhabitants of the other two planets?"
"It would seem so."
Shaking her head, Deanna used her hands to give her words form. "But, Captain, surely such robust DNA as Khan and his ilk possessed would've become dominant. Why aren't the Ereban more...human?"
"Because...and I was about to find out why when..." He sighed. "Somehow it has remained dormant. The only real evidence it exists within the Ereban at all is their superior size and strength. Apparently they weren't always like that. But, its presence is posing a real threat to the Ereban in light of the changes that are so rapidly taking place."
"Why?"
"Because neither our scientists, nor the Ereban scientists have any idea just what the end result is going to be. There are so many variables to take into account. As you know, evolution, when left to its own devices, usually benefits the species it changes. It is, by its very nature, reactive, it exists to assist the ongoing survival of the species, but with the Ereban we have a...hodge-podge of genetic material, each variant DNA warring for dominance, but at its root, there is no natural evolutionary reason for it."
Deanna closed her eyes tightly, trying her best to see the whole picture.
"All right. Let's say that Ereban is soon to be formally admitted into the Federation. Where does that leave the alliance?"
Jean-Luc shrugged. "You're guess is as good as mine, but it may be that faced with the impossibility of bringing their plans to fruition, it may tip their hand into joining the Typhon Pact." He sighed again, raising his hands to rub his face and nearly did so before Deanna gently caught his wrist. He saw what he was about to do and nodded his thanks.
"The alliance cannot survive without help. Their population, what's left of it, is virtually infertile and their planets' cities and ecostructures have been all but destroyed. We know the Tholians possess the knowledge to undertake genetic manipulation, God...they got it from us! In all honesty, Deanna, I can't see that they have much choice."
"What about us? The Federation can offer just as much help as the Typhon Pact."
Jean-Luc shook his head.
"We are philosophically, diametrically opposed. They are war-like; they're not interested in peace, prosperity or mutually beneficial cooperation. They are xenophobic! No, I'm afraid the Typhon Pact would be the only thing they could stomach."
"So war with the Typhon Pact would be inevitable."
"Yes." Lowering his head, Jean-Luc rested his forehead on his fingertips. "After the Dominion war, things were difficult, but the Borg incursion caused immense upheaval. Worlds that had always been staunch supporters of the Federation began to reassess their priorities. The first to actually leave was Andoria, but I fear they are the first of what may prove to be many. That's not to say that any world that chooses to leave the Federation would automatically align themselves with the Typhon Pact, but the implication is clear. Unless we do something to reassure all the Federation worlds that we're still the benevolent, beneficial entity we've always been, what was fundamental about the Federation will change...irrevocably."
"It has already begun, Captain." Deanna's voice was leaden.
His sharp look made Deanna want to touch him to ease his sorrow.
"The very fact that the Council was prepared to admit an unsuitable world like Ereban simply to try and keep a footing in a strategic area of space tells me that those in charge are trying to pre-empt the inevitable."
Jean-Luc frowned. "Are you suggesting their interference here was a deliberate prelude to war?"
"Yes."
"Why?"
"To force those worlds who are vacillating to make up their minds! If the Federation embarks on a war with the Typhon Pact, then surely everyone will see just what's in store for them under the Pact. You used words like benevolence and mutually beneficial alliances to describe the Federation. That is not what the Typhon Pact is all about and those worlds who are reassessing their membership just might find themselves with little choice but to stay with the Federation...simply for their own autonomy, not to say their very survival."
Jean-Luc lifted his head from his fingertips and stared up at the ceiling. He spoke so softly, Deanna barely heard him.
"We're all nothing but pawns."
There was a loud rap on the door. Deanna glanced towards the sound and sighed.
"I'm sorry, Captain, I have to go now." She stood and looked down at the broken, defeated man before her. She was about to say more when he said huskily,
"You are not to say a word about anything we have discussed."
"But, Captain..."
He looked into her eyes, his determination and authority clear.
"That's an order, Counsellor."
Swallowing, Deanna bowed her head.
"Yes, Sir."

 

Outside Jean-Luc's cell and walking briskly to keep up with the guard, Deanna asked,
"Could you please tell me the time?"
Not slowing, the huge Female hooked her fingers onto a fine chain attached to her belt. Slipping out of a pocket in her robe was a small time-keeping device. The female glanced at it and murmured,
"It is half past sixth crescent."
Realising she must hurry, Deanna waited impatiently while she was escorted through the doors and into the foyer. About to leave, she turned and asked,
"When will you remove Captain Picard's manacles?"
"Patient 55839 will remain restrained until it is time for sleep."
Deanna frowned, a protest forming. She was silenced by the receptionist.
"Your time here is at an end."
Knowing arguing would be futile, Deanna swallowed her anger and stalked out of the immense building. Somehow she had to get through the crowded walkways back to the Advocate's building and she had little time with which to do it. However, one thing Deanna Troi did NOT lack was determination. That and a sharp pair of elbows.

 

David Picard walked slowly beside his mother, holding her elbow. The distance from the Captain's private room in Sick Bay to the morgue wasn't far, but as they approached the doors leading into the short corridor that would take them into the morgue, Beverly's steps became slower and slower until she eventually stopped.
Doctor Selar, following discretely behind, stepped closer and said quietly,
"It is not necessary for you to do this, Doctor Crusher. It can wait until you are stronger, both physically and psychologically."
Shaking her head and lifting her chin, Beverly turned and gave David a smile of appreciation as he increased his grip of her elbow.
"It's all right, Selar, I just need a breather, that's all."
David, sensing his mother's struggle, looked up at her and tried to find the words that would help.
"Maman, maybe Doctor Selar's right. You've only been allowed out of bed for the first time a few hours ago."
Somehow summoning a smile, Beverly blinked back her tears. She bent down to her son and said softly,
"I have to see them, David, I have to see my little girls."
The young lad understood, he'd felt exactly the same way, though not about the aborted baby. Taking a deep breath, he nodded and smiled, despite the tears he could not stop from streaming down his face. Together, with Selar just behind them, Beverly and David made their way into the morgue.
Unable to speak, to Selar's raised eyebrow, Beverly just nodded, letting her Vulcan colleague know she was ready. At the touch of a screen, the alcove opened and the metal slide silently extended. On it, with a pristine white sheet pulled up to her shoulders lay the body of Monique and beside her, in a padded silver box was the tiny body of the unborn girl.
The reconstruction had been perfectly done and, as David already knew, Monique appeared merely asleep. Mutely, Beverly stroked the soft brown hair above the girl's forehead, then bent and reverently kissed her. It wasn't until Beverly straightened and laid her hand on Monique's cold shoulder that the first broken sob was wrenched from Beverly's breast. She collapsed to her knees, David wrapping his arms around her chest.
"Oh, God! Why? Why my little girls? Why my Monique? Why my baby?"
Selar stepped forward with a hypo in her hand, but it was David who shook his head. Showing maturity far beyond his years he shook his head again, saying firmly,
"No, Doctor, leave her alone, please. She needs to do this."
Mother and son stayed by the bodies of their little loved ones for over an hour and it was a calmer Beverly who, once again guided by her son, walked slowly back to Jean-Luc's private room and climbed into the bed. She waved away the hypo Selar offered, instead saying softly, "I want to go down to the planet to see the Captain."
Knowing Beverly was silently asking when that could happen, Selar bowed her head.
"Two more days, Doctor. I will assess you then and if I think you are strong enough then yes, you may go."
"Thank you, Doctor."
David's quiet voice carried the same resolute determination she'd heard so often in his father.
"I'm going with you, Maman."
Beverly turned and smiled at her son, offering a nod of acceptance. As she closed her eyes, Beverly moved over and patted the bed beside her. Wordlessly, David climbed onto the bed and nestled into his mother's embrace. They found sleep together.

 

Her appearance even more disarrayed and dishevelled, a very out of breath and sweating Deanna made it to the Advocate's office and, to the polite knock on the door, the Counsellor winced at the obviously angry voice that gave her permission to enter.
Deanna's eyes registered the fact the Selar was sitting at Jeran's desk, but before she could utter an apology for her tardiness, the Advocate launched into a tirade of abuse.
"Is this what you think is keeping an appointment?" Jeran made a pointed gesture to the time piece on her desk. "I told you to meet me at seventh crescent! It is now past eighth crescent!"
Deanna let the anger wash over her, concentrating instead on the strong undercurrent of barely suppressed sexual tension emanating from the Advocate.
"I have far better things to do with my time...my private time...then sit here two hours past my scheduled work allotment time! My bond mate is..."
Deanna spoke for the first time. "Waiting for you, I know, Advocate and I do most humbly apologise for being so late, it is unforgivable of me, but I was at the hospital visiting Captain Picard and he required quite a lot of my time. I was unaware of just how much time had passed, and I then had to make my way here on foot..." She smiled wryly and gestured to her dishevelled appearance. "And as you can see, I didn't fare too well. People of my diminutive stature are simply not seen by the other pedestrians."
Her yellow eyes still blazing, Jeran snorted derisively and made a dismissive gesture with her hand.
"Why didn't you use the public transport system?"
Smiling, Deanna took her seat, perched on the edge of the overly-large chair.
"Because, Advocate, I cannot read Ereban language, so I was not able to discern which route I was to take. And as the seats are much too large for me, I would have been forced to stand and I'm afraid that might have been more dangerous for me than walking. I would have been crushed. I've seen how crowded your public systems can be."
"Yes, well may I remind you, Counsellor, that most people finish their scheduled allotted work time at approximately the same time. Through your negligence you found yourself on the streets at the busiest time! You should have been far more aware!"
Having already apologised, Deanna was quickly tiring of Jeran's continued abuse, especially as Deanna knew she wasn't the actual cause of the Advocate's tension. Crossing her legs, Deanna gave Jeran a steady, uncompromising look.
"Oh I am aware, Advocate. In fact I'm aware of quite a lot."
Immediately suspicious, the huge female lifted her head and narrowed her eyes, the vertical pupils slitting. "And what, exactly, do you mean by that?"
Keeping eye contact was very disconcerting, but Deanna refused to be intimidated.
"I know why you are so...desperate to get home to your bond mate."
Jeran's skin paled and she swallowed. In the ensuing silence, Deanna said quietly,
"We know, Advocate. Not only did Doctor Absum tell us about the changes, I can sense your very potent sexual tension."
Being a very experienced Advocate, Jeran hid her shock well, but Deanna easily sensed it. Taking advantage of having the female wrong-footed, Deanna said,
"You, Advocate, are lurin. So is your bond mate."
Closing her eyes briefly, Jeran slumped back in her chair and lowered her head. "So you are here to what? Threaten to expose us unless I find a way to free your Captain?"
Keeping her voice gentle, Deanna said softly, "No, Advocate, we would never do anything like that, you have my word."
Looking at Deanna for the first time with something other than dismissive hostility, Jeran said cautiously, "What then? What do you want?"
"Basically, justice for Captain Picard." Before Jeran could protest the futility of the statement, Deanna held up her hand, effectively silencing the Ereban female.

"Advocate, Doctor Absum has told us..." Deanna gestured to Selar who inclined her head, "Everything. We know about the changes, the lurin and what is going to happen within a few generations. That in itself is disturbing, but it is what she told us about the three males our Captain killed that have brought us here. We know about their long criminal history, their years in treatment, incarceration and their inherent, incurable deviancy."
Confused, Jeran shrugged. "But it makes no difference. That information has no bearing on your Captain's case. It is not the males who are on trial! They are..."
"Dead. Yes, we know that. On hearing all that Doctor Absum told us we immediately stressed the need to use the information in Captain Picard's defence, but Doctor Absum informed us that it was inadmissible"
"Then why are you here?" Jeran's tone was exasperated.
Deanna sighed and rubbed her right temple where a headache was developing. "Because, Advocate, we realised there must have been a reason why the Doctor told is all she did! But when we questioned her further, she refused to tell us anything more. In fact, the only thing she would say was to contact you with all haste and request you access Article 225.1 which, apparently, you will find in the sub-archives of the central law centre."
Jeran actually gaped. She frowned deeply and sat back in her seat. "The sub-archives?" She asked, obviously confused.
Sensing the female's confusion, Deanna asked softly, "Yes. What is kept there?"
Shrugging and opening her hands palm up, Jeran pulled down the corners of her mouth.
"The sub-archives contain all the legislation that has been passed over generations that make up the system of jurisprudence we now use."
Selar frowned, her gaze keen. "Is that all?"
Tilting her head to one side, Jeran pushed out her lower lip. "Well...there are the Articles of Challenge."
The Vulcan was outwardly calm, but Deanna knew her well enough to know she was tense.
"And they are?"
"When people have challenged a particular law and set a precedent." Before either Selar or Deanna could say anything, Jeran held up her hand. "No one has gone anywhere near the sub-archive for years...generations in fact. There's been no need. The government and the people are satisfied that our laws, as they stand, are just and equitable. There hasn't been a challenge in..."
Deanna rested her small hands on the wide expanse of the desktop.
"Advocate, Doctor Absum told us..."
Obviously annoyed, Jeran waved her hand. "I don't care what Doctor Absum told you! In fact I don't why she even chose to divulge such...sensitive ...information with, forgive me, aliens."
Not the least perturbed by Jeran's outburst, Deanna said calmly, "Are you aware that Doctor Absum's family are not exclusively devoted to medical science?"
Narrowing her eyes, Jeran shook her head, but said nothing. Deanna continued. "One branch of her family is devoted to law and it is through those relatives, who she has obviously discussed the matter with, that she learned of Article 225.1."
"I still don't see..."
Deanna leaned forward. "You must be aware of the growing division of opinion concerning Captain Picard's predicament within the public?"
Jeran nodded, her tone cautious. "Yes. Since the government made the public aware, through our mass media systems that, despite the...unusual...manner in which your Captain and Doctor Crusher live and the fact that within this strange arrangement they have produced offspring, it has been made quite clear that Doctor Crusher is not lurin. This has caused some sections of the community to see Captain Picard's actions in a slightly more sympathetic light." She held up one long finger. "But...that does not change the fact that he murdered three defenceless males! He was recorded doing it!"
Jeran pinched the bridge of her flat nose and sighed. "The law is quite clear; I really don't see how any of the old Articles of Challenge could possibly be of any help whatsoever."
Deanna rubbed her temple again. "Two things, Advocate. One: Doctor Absum felt it important enough for us to tell you and two: What if the public were made aware of the dead males' criminal history? Their...perversions?"
With an annoyed shake of her head, Jeran scowled. "I can't speak for Doctor Absum; she may have an agenda of her own. As for the other, what do you expect me to say? From a legal standpoint that information is useless, but from a civil standpoint, it could cause riots! The public are only now beginning to get the merest of hints that something is happening. If they knew that deviants lived amongst them and that such behaviour was becoming more and more prevalent, there would be mayhem! Society would break down."
Very gently, Deanna looked into the agitated female's eyes and said, "Aren't you and your bond mate considered...deviants? You are, after all...lurin."
Jeran's expression suddenly became closed and tension was palpable in the air. Very quietly and with an undertone of menace, the Advocate said,
"I thought you weren't going to expose us?"
Deanna didn't smile, she merely held the female's intense gaze.
"I have already given you my word that won't happen. No one will learn it from us."
"What is it you want then?"
"We want you to go to the sub-archive of the central law centre and find article 225.1. What you do with it is up to you."
Turning her head slightly, Jeran stared at the two women.
"You will not force me to act on what I find?"
Shaking her head, Deanna said softly. "No."
There followed a long silence before Jeran slowly nodded. "Very well. But...I warn you, do not get your hopes up."
Abruptly coming to her feet, the Ereban towered over the two women. She glanced at her time piece and looked pointedly at the door. "Now, I must go."
Deanna and Selar both rose and Deanna smiled.
"Thank you for your time, Advocate."
Two minutes later, Deanna and Selar were on the Enterprise. Deanna wasn't surprised to see a very angry Will Riker waiting for her in the Transporter Room.
Taking her by the elbow and ignoring Selar, he ushered her out into the corridor, saying under his breath, "We have to talk!"
They walked so fast along the corridor that Deanna eventually had to say, "Will! Slow down."
Realising what he was doing, the big man not only slowed his pace, but he made a concerted effort to rein in his anger, knowing what it must be doing to his lover's empathic senses. Deanna felt the change immediately and sighed with relief. Without the blanketing, overwhelming fury she was able to sense the other, underlying emotions. Uppermost were frustration, helplessness and paralysing fear. It was the fear that worried Deanna the most. Will Riker was rarely, if ever, frightened.
Given his emotional state, Deanna wasn't surprised when they reached their destination. The doors to Will's quarters opened and shut with a sibilant hiss, leaving the couple standing in the middle of his living area, facing each other. He gently gripped her upper arms and stared intently down into her eyes.
"We've had a lock on you and Selar ever since you left the ship. You've been gone almost all day and I know you've been to see the Captain. What the hell is going on?"
Instead of answering his question, Deanna asked one of her own.
"Why are you so scared, Will?"
He closed his eyes briefly, let go of Deanna and began to pace, occasionally running his hand through his hair. When he spoke it was in staccato sentences.
"I contacted Command. I wanted to speak to someone who could help! Someone who had the balls to authorise me to rescue the Captain. At first I got shunted around...you know how those fucking bureaucrats can be, but eventually I got to speak to Admiral Hussein." Will's normally genial face contorted into a savage sneer. "Ever hear of him, Deanna?"
She shook her head, but refrained from saying anything. Will snorted.
"Me either! But with no one else to turn to, I told him everything! I left nothing out. He acted shocked, very convincing in fact...he even told me he knew the Captain, that they were old friends and how he knew the Captain wasn't a violent man. Okay? So I said...Well you can't let this happen! You can't let those fucking people put Captain Picard through a sham trial and then slit his fucking throat! And you know what he said?"
Deanna went to the replicator and in a quiet voice, ordered two hot, black coffees. Will kept on speaking as if she'd not moved.
"He said...Oh, but we have to respect local law! I couldn't believe it, Dee! So I said, actually I begged to be allowed to just beam the Captain up to the ship. I gave the fucker my word that not one of those Ereban shits would be harmed. He refused! No matter what I said, he wouldn't listen! Then he told me that there was more going on than I knew but he couldn't tell me because I lacked sufficient fucking security clearance! Oh, but he wasn't quite finished.! He said...bold as fucking brass, that the Captain does know! Like that makes it okay! Whatever the hell is going on, those fucking bastards at Command are willing to sit on their fat arses and do fuck all to save the Captain! He had the fucking gall to give me a direct order not to do anything! Jesus!"
By now, Deanna was sitting on the sofa, staring at the wisps of steam rising from the mugs which sat on the low table. Will, having ground to a halt, seemed to deflate. He walked over to the sofa and sat heavily beside Deanna, putting his elbows on his knees and cradling his head in his hands. His emotional bubble had burst and Deanna felt him regaining his composure. Slowly he sighed and when he spoke his voice was soft.
"What's going on, Deanna? Do you know?"
Picking up the coffee, Deanna blew on the contents before taking a tentative sip. She rarely ever drank coffee, she didn't actually like it, but just then, it seemed somehow appropriate to drink what Will preferred.
"I do know, Will, but I can't tell you."
His head snapped up, his blue eyes blazing. There was danger in his voice when he said,
"Captain Picard's life's at stake! If you're using patient confidentiality..."
As the coffee infused her senses she had to concentrate on not grimacing. To try and clear her taste buds, she took a deep breath through her open mouth.
"No, not entirely, but it does play a part."
"Why then? Why won't you tell me?!"
Placing the mug back down, Deanna turned at looked deeply into Will's eyes. "Because the Captain ordered me not to."
Will was on his feet so fast for such a big man, Deanna stifled a gasp. "Jesus!" He shouted. Then he struggled to calm himself and sat back down.
"Deanna, I was given a direct order by an Admiral...a flag officer. I have no choice but to obey. Now I know I have the right to refuse an unreasonable order, but I can't find a compelling argument. To the letter of the law, the bastards are right! You, on the other hand, have been given an order by a man, a patient of yours, under extreme stress and, as a medical officer, you have the authority to refuse any order given to you that you feel is not in the best interest of the person who gave it. Correct?"
"Yes."
"Then countermand the fucking thing!" Realising he was shouting again, will took a deep breath and modulated his voice. "Deanna, we're talking about Captain Picard's life here. What could possibly be so damned important that not only Command, but the Captain himself is willing to offer no resistance? Why is the Captain willing to die?"
Unable to remain seated any longer, Will got to his feet and resumed pacing.
"And what about Beverly and David? What the fuck are they supposed to do without him? Eh? Haven't they been put through enough? Wasn't the brutal rape and beating of Beverly, the loss of the unborn child and the murder and rape of Monique enough? Are you really going to sit there and tell me you're willing to let this happen?"
Deanna was drowning in Will's anguish. She had no answer for him, certainly none he'd accept. She looked up at him and said quietly,
"Will, is the stability of this sector and the lives of countless millions worth more than one man?"
He stopped dead in his tracks and stared open mouthed at his lover. Disbelief showed in his eyes.
"Is that what you're telling me? That if we prevent the execution, there'll be some kind of disaster?"
Deanna rubbed her eyes and grunted in disgust. "No. Actually that will happen regardless."
Will frowned.
"I don't understand. Is the Captain's death pivotal or not?"
"Not specifically, no. But the Captain's death is part of it." She sighed and looked distastefully at the cooling coffee. "Look, Will, the thing the Captain was sent here to do...he failed. The incidents at the apartment were just..." She sighed. "It changed everything, Will because what the Captain did prevented him from carrying out his mission. Command is now faced with trying to salvage something very important and yes, that means the Captain is expendable."
"So...it's about more than just upholding our oath to respect local law."
"Yes."
"Shit."
He went and sat down again, this time leaning back and letting his head fall on the backrest. Defeated at last he said softly, "Is there nothing we can do?"
Leaning against his solid body, Deanna didn't even try to stop her tears.
"Not really. Selar and I have been given some information that might help, but the reality is it's pretty hopeless."
Rubbing his face with his hands, Will's voice broke as he said,
"I can't believe this is happening."
"Neither can I, Will, neither can I. But I'll tell you something. When this mission is over, I'm going to leave Starfleet and once you see what's going on, I think you will too."
Will gaped and gave Deanna a look of frank incredulity.
"Deanna?"
"The Federation we knew Will, the organisation we served and believed in is no more. It simply doesn't exist any more. I'm not sure whether or not it's purely for survival, or something far more sinister, but I'm not going to be part of it. Not any more."
Selar's voice broke the stunned tension in the room.
"Commander Riker, I am due to go down to the planet to give Captain Picard his evening treatment. May I have permission to leave the ship, sir?"
Still with his eyes riveted on Deanna, Will said distractedly,
"Permission granted."
Then he said quietly, "If I went to him, would he talk to me...would he tell me what's going on?"
She smiled to take the hurt out of her words. "I doubt it, Will. He knows you; he knows exactly what you're thinking and what you'd do." She gently squeezed his hand. "Will, the Captain's death may not be an honourable one, but to him, on a very personal level it will have meaning. Try to take some comfort from that."
Tears welled in Will's eyes and it was a moment or two before he could speak.
"And Beverly and David?"
"Leave them to me. I have no doubt Beverly will resign as well once she realises what's going on. I'll make sure they're well cared for."
Wiping his eyes with the backs of his hands, Will said brokenly, "I feel like I've been punched in the guts."
"Yes, me too."
"Jesus, how must the poor Captain feel?"
Deanna had no answer to that and so the couple sat in silence for the rest of the shift.

 

Jean-Luc was much like he was when Deanna had seen him, but, unlike the Counsellor, Selar showed no trace of shock at his appearance.
She calmly went about administering the injections and watched emotionlessly as he swallowed the distasteful liquid, but when she asked to see all the affected areas, he frowned and offered a shrug, holding up his manacled hands.
"My apologies, Doctor, but I cannot disrobe with these confining my hands." He gave a soft snort of embarrassment and humiliation. "I even have to have a guard with me so I can undress to use the toilet. I am not even given privacy to attend to my bodily functions."
Selar didn't hesitate. She went to the door and rapped on its metal surface. It opened immediately, the guard on alert. Holding up one hand, Selar said quietly,
"I need to examine Captain Picard. I require you to remove the manacles so he can disrobe."
The guard was about to refuse, when she gave Jean-Luc an appraising look and decided he posed no threat. Bending to Selar's ear, the guard said confidentially,
"I will release him, but I would appreciate it if you said nothing to anyone about it."
Bowing her head gracefully, Selar said,
"Thank you. You can be assured of my discretion."
The guard removed the manacles, then went back outside, closing the heavy door quietly. Jean-Luc didn't resist as Selar helped him out of the overalls, in fact he was grateful for her gentle assistance. He stood quietly, his eyes closed as Selar not only scanned him with her medical tricorder, but made a thorough visual examination.
Jean-Luc didn't open his eyes until he heard water running. Understanding what was required, he moved to the basin and watched with tears in his eyes as Selar carefully and very gently washed him. Although an emotionless being, the fact that she took the trouble to be so gentle, added to the simple sensation of being touched by another being was overwhelmingly comforting for Jean-Luc.
Although the washing, even done so gently had hurt, he was disappointed when it was over. Selar helped him back into his overalls and they sat together on the bench. It was Selar who broke the lengthy silence.
"I take it you are not allowed to wash often?"
Jean-Luc tried to smile, but he failed. Instead he shrugged and sighed. "No. As I told you, they don't even like me to be able to use the toilet without restraints."
Selar tilted her head and gave her Captain a frank look.
"If I ask you a personal question, Captain, will you answer it?"
He smiled, but his expression was guarded. "That depends on the question."
Selar nodded, but said nothing more. Curious, simply because the request had come from a Vulcan, Jean-Luc said, "Ask me, Selar. You won't know unless you do."
She seemed to consider that, then inclined her head and asked softly,
"Do you have any...faith, Captain? Do you believe in an afterlife?"
Leaning back until his head gently bumped the cold metal wall, Jean-Luc looked up at the ceiling. He sighed.
"No, not really. In my life I have been given cause on one or two occasions to think about it, but I always found I came back to the same conclusion."
"May I ask what that conclusion is?"
His smile was almost wistful. "That there is nothing after death. That death is merely the end of life. Full stop."
Choosing her words carefully, Selar asked, "Then what purpose is there to life?"
Jean-Luc's smile broadened. "You are speaking as a Vulcan, Selar, and not as a humanoid."
"I do not see that there is any discernible difference, Captain."
He huffed and amused breath. "Really? And what of your Katra?" Before she could respond, Jean-Luc held up his hand. "Selar, you are aware of the deaths of my older brother and his son many years ago?"
"Yes, Captain."
"Well, that left me the last of the Picards. The last of my lineage, Selar, the last of centuries and centuries of Picards. It saddened me beyond belief and I felt so guilty, Selar, guilty that I had never considered the burden I had placed on my brother because I chose the life I wanted. Years passed and, although the ache of my situation eased, it never really went away. Then..." He sighed wistfully, "Doctor Crusher and I finally came to our senses and entered into a committed relationship which, happily, produced two children, with one more to come." Sadness made him squeeze his eyes shut, but two tears slipped free and when he spoke his voice was rough.
"Two of our precious children are gone now, but we still have our son. As long as he lives to produce children and they live to produce children and so on and so on, just as my ancestors had done before me, then even though my life is soon to end, some part of me will go on. It may be tiny, insignificant really, but as to your question about the purpose of life? My only answer is the genetic imperative. By passing on one's genes, one has achieved the only form of immortality available to humans, indeed, to most humanoids."
He turned to her and smiled; his eyes moist. "Your species possesses an incredible gift with your Katra, Selar, because not only do you, along with so many other humanoid species pass on your genes to your offspring, but at the point of your death, you can impart the very essence of who you were. I know that it is only so that essence can be taken back to your home, but for as long as it exists, the spirit, some may call it your soul, exists and that is a profound phenomenon. But is it the purpose of your life? No, I don't think so. As remarkable as it is, it does not prevail. We're not talking here about some kind of spiritual reincarnation. Vulcans are just as dependent on the genetic imperative as humans...but think about this, Selar. In the future, millennia perhaps or more, the humanoids of this sector of the galaxy might...just might...become one genetically unified species. Now that has some purpose! And if it occurs, none of us will ever lose the minute thing that made us who we are. If such a thing occurs, then residing in billions of beings will be the genes of all those species, even the individuals themselves who made up the new evolving people."
Selar sat in silence for some time, digesting what her Captain had said. She looked at him, but he was staring at his hands, his thoughts elsewhere. Softly she said,
"You do not fear your death?"
He sighed and pursed his lips.
"No, not the death itself, although I do hope it's not too painful. What I fear is what my death will do to my partner and our son." He sighed again and lifted his head. "It angers me that I can do nothing to ease the pain they will endure afterwards."
Not quite sure she should tell him, but feeling it was relevant, Selar said quietly, "Are you aware your family is supposed to witness your execution, Captain?"
He slowly closed his eyes and bowed his head. When he spoke it was in a pained whisper.
"No."
When she could think of nothing else to say, Selar stood and said gently,
"I am sorry, Captain."
The soft rap on the door went unnoticed by Jean-Luc, his mind was elsewhere. The cell seemed quite silent once Selar was gone, too silent for the distressed man. He would have liked something to muffle the sounds of his sobs.

Advocate Jeran was rapidly losing patience with the archive custodian. Her requests had been repeated three times, but she'd received the same inane replies.
"You want to access the sub archives?"
Gritting her teeth, Jeran ground out, yet again, "Yes!"
"The sub archives."
Deciding she was getting nowhere, Jeran tried a different approach.
"You work for the central law centre, yes?"
The officious male nodded warily. "Yes."
"And your job, as custodian of the archives is to grant access and assist Advocates as they use the archives to do research for their cases."
"Yes. But, Advocate that entails the use of the regular archives, not the sub archives."
Dredging up a grim smile, Jeran made an effort to keep her tone mild.
"Well, the case I'm working on is very complex and I need to access the sub archive as part of my research."
She could see the male struggling with what she'd said. She got the impression he wanted to help, but her request was so unusual he was confused as to what he should do. Eventually he sighed and ran his long, thick fingers through his yellow hair.
"Advocate, it's not that I'm denying you access, it's just that it's been so long since anyone has requested to source anything from the sub archive, I'm not sure I either should or can grant you access. I'm not at all certain I have the authority."
Calming somewhat on realising the custodian wasn't being deliberately obstructive, Jeran modulated her behaviour.
"I see." She even offered a warm smile. "Then who must I see about this? Your superior, perhaps?"
The huge male shrugged.
"Well, yes, I suppose, but even she might not possess the authority. It might be that you will have to petition the law council."
Frowning deeply, Jeran rubbed her forehead. Almost in an undertone she said, "I don't have the time for that!"
The custodian heard her and sighed, his expression thoughtful. He'd heard about Jeran and her celebrated client, the human from Starfleet and he just happened to feel the Captain may need some help. Leaning forward, he said very quietly, "Advocate, I might know someone who may be able to help in this matter, but I must stress you can never divulge who gave you the information."
Willing to clutch at any straw, Jeran nodded solemnly. "By the All Seeing One, you have my word."
The custodian came around from his desk, cupped his enormous hand around Jeran's ear and whispered his information. As he straightened he nodded towards the door.
"I advise you not to make the call from here. Go to a communal communications hub and make sure you use the net-wide connection code, not the local prefix."
Nodding her understanding, Jeran offered a grateful smile and took the male's hand and gave it a squeeze, an unheard of gesture for two unrelated Ereban. Her pupils slitted and she tilted her head, about to take an enormous risk. Very quietly she said, "My bond mate and I are...special. We meet with other special couples. Perhaps you might find it...beneficial to join us?"
His eyes narrowed and his skin darkened. With a slow nod he returned the squeeze of her hand.
"When?"
"I'll let you know."
The sigh the male let out was one of heartfelt relief. "I'm so glad we met, Advocate. I look forward to meeting with you, your bond mate and your friends."
Not another word was shared as Jeran hurried to get out of the building and into the square where the communications hub had its usual queues.
The voice that answered the call had a vid-block so Jeran was unable to see who she was talking to. This wasn't uncommon, but under the circumstances, Jeran recognised it as a necessary and wise precaution. The voice was male, though Jeran got the impression the owner of the voice was not long an adult.
"May I speak with Geen, please."
"This is Geen, who may I ask is calling?"
"I am Advocate Jeran. The archive custodian at the central law centre suggested I might get in touch with you."
"Why?"
"I have a pressing need to access the sub archive and I don't have time to go through the normal process of petitioning the law council."
"Advocate Jeran?" The voice was guarded but interested. "You're representing the human, Picard, aren't you?"
"Yes."
"And am I correct in assuming your need to access the sub archives has something to do with his case?"
Growing a little annoyed, Jeran said tightly, "I do have other cases you know."
The chuckle only made her testier.
"I'm sure you do, but I'm right am I not?"
Through her teeth, Jeran hissed, "Yes!"
"Then meet me in the basement of the central law centre, tonight at fourteenth crescent."
"But the night staff..."
The chuckle was cold, sending a shiver down Jeran's spine.
"You needn't worry about that, Advocate, we will be alone, I assure you."
Feeling she was getting into way too deep, Jeran tried to back out.
"Look, maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I'm sure I can..."
Geen sighed. "Advocate, the moment you made this call you became involved in something far bigger than you can imagine. I'm afraid you can't back out now. Whether you like it or not, you have become one of us."
A cold sweat covered Jeran's body. She was trembling as she asked tremulously,
"And just who are you?"
"Patriots, Advocates, patriots. I will see you tonight. Do not disappoint me."
The line went dead and Jeran disconnected her end in a daze.

 

Will Riker, Deanna and Beverly were seated in the Sick Bay lounge, each deep in their own thoughts. Beverly's pale face still bore the pink stains of new skin as the derma patches had been removed and she didn't seem to be able to stop the slight tremor in her hands, but she didn't appear to notice it. Will leaned back in his chair, running a frustrated hand through his hair.
"Well, I say, fuck 'em. I cannot, in fact I will not sit up here on this ship, Captain Picard's ship, and let those people execute him!"
Sighing with resigned exasperation, Deanna said tiredly, "Will..."
He shook his head, suddenly leaning forward and stabbing his forefinger on the tabletop. "No! And don't give me any of your bloody reminders about fucking duty! If what you've intimated at is true, then I don't want to have anything to do with an organisation that is willing to sit idly by and allow this farce to take place!" He got to his feet and began his restless pacing. "Jesus! Even if it wasn't Jean-Luc Picard, what Command seems to be doing is just wrong! The Federation protects its citizens and Starfleet defends them! Now you tell me...isn't the Captain both? A Federation citizen and a member of Starfleet? In fact, isn't he the most celebrated Captain in modern times?"
When neither woman spoke, Will grunted.
"I'm sorry Dee, but I just can't let this happen."
He stormed out of the room and Beverly sighed, a tear slipping down her face. She spoke so softly, Deanna had to strain to hear her.
"He won't allow it, you know. It'll only make things worse."
Deanna reached for Beverly's hand, frowning at how cold it felt. "He has to do something, Beverly. Will just wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't at least try."
Lifting her desolate eyes to her friend, Deanna was shocked to see how dull they'd become. "Jean-Luc has lived his life as much by his word as his deeds. To take that away from him, especially now, would make what is already an intolerable situation that much worse. I'm not sure how he will find dignity in his death, but if Will interferes it will rob Jean-Luc of any control he still has over how he meets his own destiny." Her body shuddered through a deep sigh and she closed her eyes, forcing two more tears free.
"Don't you think if it was as simple as beaming Jean-Luc up we'd still be here at this blighted damned planet! God, if it were up to me he'd be aboard and we'd be light years away by now."
Swivelling her seat, Beverly stared listlessly at the planet below. "I don't know what's going on, Dee, but whatever it is Jean-Luc thinks it's important enough to die for. It's more important than me and David! You tell me, Deanna, you know Jean-Luc just about as well as I do. You know the man behind the Captain's persona. What do you think?"
Deanna almost howled in anguish, knowing what she did and being unable to tell the one person who needed to know it the most. Somehow Deanna had to find words that weren't platitudes or pale versions of the truth. Taking a deep breath, she said softly, "I have never met another being whose principles were so honourable, Beverly. That he should chose to allow the Ereban to execute him is testament to the man he is. I know that's cold comfort for you and David, but it will provide memories of an extraordinary man who didn't just pay lip service to his word, but lived by it to the point where he is willing to die for it."
The smile that appeared on Beverly's face was so filled with sorrow that Deanna actually gasped.
"You're forgetting something, Deanna."
"What?"
"He promised himself to me. Body and soul. As I promised myself to him the same way. No, we didn't formalise it with a marriage, we never thought it necessary, besides no ceremony could do justice to express what were are to each other." She sighed and bowed her head. "But it seems there is something greater than our love." She gave a soft snort. "God, I never thought it possible. Seems I was wrong."
She rose slowly and walked unsteadily out of the room. Deanna folded her arms on the tabletop, rested her head on them and wept.

 

As the sensation of molecular transport tingled through his body, Jean-Luc closed his eyes and groaned. When he opened his eyes again he was standing on the transporter pad on the Enterprise, the strong hand of Will gripping his elbow, trying to gently usher him off the pad.
Finding strength he didn't know he had any more, Jean-Luc wrenched his arm free and summoned a gimlet-like glare.
"What the hell do you think you're doing!" Jean-Luc's voice was like the crack of a whip.
Standing to his full height, Will lifted his chin defiantly. "Captain, I refuse to allow the Ereban authorities to carry out this travesty! I am fully prepared to bear the consequences of my actions, in fact if necessary, I hereby resign from Starfleet. You can throw me in the Brig, Captain, I don't care, as long as you are on the Enterprise, safe and sound."
Bowing his head, Jean-Luc's posture lost some of its rigidity; he was just too emotionally tired to keep it up.
"Will..."
The First Officer wasn't about to listen to his Captain, instead retaking his elbow and saying gently,
"Come on, Captain, Beverly and David will be wanting to see you, Sir."
Softer and in a tone Will couldn't ignore, Jean-Luc said, "Take your hand off me."
At first Will thought his Captain wished to maintain his penchant for not wanting public displays of affection or physical contact with any of his crew, but when Will looked into his Captain's eyes he knew he'd made a terrible mistake. It was an order he simply couldn't refuse. He released Jean-Luc and gave him a beseeching look.
"Captain...please..." Will had never begged before in his life, but he was willing to do so now. Jean-Luc saw the distress in the younger man and relented, placing a paternal hand on Will's shoulder. Softly, and in a kinder tone, he said,
"Send me back, Will."
Tears welled in Will's eyes. "Please, Captain, God, please no...please stay."
Somehow Jean-Luc found a smile.
"I can't Will. Send me back, do it now before I'm missed."
Mutely, Will shook his head, the war he was fighting inside tearing him apart. Obey his Captain, honour and respect the wishes of a man he'd come to think of as a father-figure and loved, or defy him and risk alienating him from Will's life forever. It would be at a terrible cost, but...he would live! Jean-Luc saw the battle that raged within Will and saw how it was paralysing him. He softly directed his next order to the Ensign at the transporter controls.
"Beam me back to my previous location, Ensign. Energise."
The young man's mouth was gaping and he could do nothing but nod in silence as he did as he was ordered. As Jean-Luc's body shimmered away, Will's cry of anguish could be heard right through the surrounding corridors, making crew stop in their tracks. The Ensign watched as Will crumpled to his knees, bending over until his forehead almost touched the deck. The Ensign, not knowing what to do to help his Commander, immediately called for the ship's Counsellor. Deanna arrived within a minute or two and it was a very grateful Ensign who was dismissed.
Will grabbed Deanna's uniform and sobbed; his heart breaking. Deanna wept too, unable and unwilling to shield herself from her lover's torment and heartbreaking sorrow.

 

It was only after taking the lift to the basement that Jeran realised she was indeed alone. None of the night staff were present and the emptiness of the building was eerily unnatural. With her footfalls echoing she walked swiftly to the custodian's office, finding the door unlocked, but no light on inside.
It wasn't until she'd stepped cautiously into the room that the light came on, momentarily blinding her. A voice she thought she recognised said with mild amusement,
"Punctual, Advocate. A very commendable trait."
With her sight adjusting, Jeran gasped as she realised there were three other people in the room. Jeran gathered her wits and straightened her spine saying haughtily,
"I wasn't aware this was going to be a gathering. You said you would be alone."
The youngest of the three stood up from his position of being hitched onto the edge of the desk.
"There's no need for such attitude, Advocate, we know what you are."
Suspicion and fear skittered through Jeran and the young male saw it. He held up one hand in a placatory manner. "Oh, you needn't worry, Advocate, you're among friends. We're all lurin."
Still not willing to show her hand, Jeran was non-committal. "So?"
The young male lowered his head and smiled. "Your...invitation...to the custodian..." He laughed. "Oh by the All Seeing One! I don't know how he kept a straight face! We've known about you and your bond mate for some time now, Advocate. In fact we..." he gestured to his two companions. "Are part of a group who know who all the lurin are."
Scrambling to make sense of what he was saying and trying to gauge if she was being obliquely threatened, Jeran said quietly, "And just what do you intend to do with this information?"
His dark gold eyes glowed with intensity. "Gather our forces, Advocate. Quietly assemble the right sort of people in the right sort of positions so that when the overthrow takes place we will be in a position to assume power peacefully."
"But it's unlikely to be in our lifetime." Jeran said cautiously. The male shrugged.
"True, but if we lay the groundwork now, our offspring will follow us. It doesn't matter how long it takes, Advocate, the work must begin now, while those in authority are still trying to figure out not what's going on, they think they know that, but what's to come!"
"And you know?"
The male nodded slowly and for the first time in her life, Jeran felt out of her depth. Yet she was intrigued and somehow encouraged and excited by his words.
"Tell me!" She said urgently.
He shook his head. "No, now is not the right time. Do what you came here to do and use what you find. I'm not sure it will help, but anything is better than nothing."
Frowning and still trying to understand, Jeran said quietly,
"The human, Picard. He is important, isn't he."
"More than you realise."
"But his guilt is certain! There's nothing I can do. His execution is a foregone conclusion."
The male sighed and Jeran heard his sadness. "Yes, we know. It is a great pity, but his death will not be in vain."
"What do you mean?" Jeran's frustration was clear.
The male shook his head again. "You will find the lift will take you down to the sub archive and all the computers are on. The file, Article 225.1 should be in the directory and easily accessible." He held up one finger. "But don't tarry, Advocate. Your time here is limited. Get the Article, then leave immediately. Do not contact me again. If we need you, I will contact you. Is that clear?"
Jeran had no option but to agree. At a gesture from the young male she left the office and made her way to the lift. Somehow she resisted the urge to look over her shoulder. She would've seen nothing if she had.

 

When he rematerialised in his cell, Jean-Luc stood absolutely still, listening carefully, fully expecting to hear the sounds of sirens or other alarms, but all was as it usually was, preternaturally silent. Suddenly fatigued beyond measure he sat heavily on the bench and closed his eyes. The temptation to stay on his ship had been so very persuasive; it had taken all his meagre reserves of will to resist the urge to give in to his First Officer, especially given how distraught the younger man was. When Will had mentioned Beverly and David, Jean-Luc had almost given in, but he just couldn't, however he paid a hideous price, the pain not just his, but the pain he knew he was causing his partner and son made him feel like howling his anguish and he very nearly did. The only thing that stopped him was the knowledge that, on hearing him, he would have been immediately sedated.
So he did what he'd done from the beginning of his perdition. Staring down at the hem of his sleeve, he sneered at the little loose thread.
"Why won't you break?" He asked rhetorically. Of course the analogous nature of the question was lost on Jean-Luc in his present state of mind, as, like the thread, he wouldn't break either.
With the same dogged determination he gripped the thread and tugged sideways and, just as it had always done so, it resisted, unbroken despite his continued efforts. Just like his spirit.

 

Jeran's bond mate was waiting for her as she entered their apartment. Before she could put her data holder down he had wrapped his muscular arms around her and was nuzzling her neck. The by now familiar sensation of sexual arousal began without any control on Jeran's behalf and, even though she desperately wanted to study the Article, her body overruled her brain.
It was only much later, while lying together, still joined and gently caressing each other that Jeran's mind came back on line. She sighed and her bond mate immediately felt the change.
"What is it?" he asked worriedly. "Am I doing something you don't like?" He leaned back a little to see where his organ was still inside Jeran. Tentatively, mainly because he didn't want to hear her agreement, he asked, "Do you want me to remove my organ?"
Jeran knew her bond mate very well and both understood and appreciated what it had taken for him to ask. To reinforce her acceptance of his presence in her body, she smiled and used a new technique she'd learned. As she squeezed her reproductive tube tightly and repeatedly, her bond mate gasped, his pale yellow eyes widening with both pleasure and surprise.
"What did you just do? How did you do it?"
Jeran's smile, though lazy didn't hide her growing desire. "I have a friend...a Doctor, who's been getting information packages from the Federation ship in orbit. Just recently, at my friend's request, the information has been all about human reproduction. By the All Seeing One, Murr, humans seem to be built for pleasure! It's as if sex is what they were made for. It's really complicated, especially compared with us, but the things they can do! And it's all about pleasure! What I just did, was to utilise muscles I didn't even know I had, to contract and release making my tube grip your organ. What was it like? Did it feel good?"
By way of answering, Murr moved his enormous organ in and out of Jeran and she almost purred as she realised his was once again ready. Unlike human males, an Ereban male's reproductive organ does not increase in size, it simply hardens, but such it its length and weight, it doesn't lift. The male has to hold it to guide it into his mate. Doing something else Ereban weren't supposed to do, they both groaned softly with pleasure, and when Murr growled gently, "It felt like you were squeezing it with your hands. You know how much I like that and I became ready almost instantly."
Lowering his deep husky voice to a coarse whisper, he confided, "You're not the only one with some new tricks. Do you like this?"
He shifted his body and carefully lifted one of Jeran's legs until it rested over his hip. This was almost blasphemous. But when he thrust, it brought his organ in much closer contact with the clit-like organ inside Jeran's tube. The soft cry of intense pleasure was torn from her throat.
"How did you find out about that?" She gasped. Almost lost in his own sensations, Murr said gutturally, "The intra net." Jeran wanted to protest, to admonish her mate for taking such a terrible risk but she was overcome with pleasure. They quickly reached flood and each felt the expulsion of seed and cell. Having already formed a bulb and accepting Murr's seed in their previous mating, Jeran knew that she would have the distasteful experience of the unused seeds and cells exiting from her tube as soon as she stood up. But that was the furthest thing from her mind. Enjoying the intimacy of the afterglow, Jeran sighed and pressed her four breasts against the wall of Murr's chest. He hummed his pleasure and mumbled,
"Why were you so late tonight? I almost pleasured myself, having to wait so long."
Huffing with annoyed irritation, Jeran lifted her head and glared, the languor quickly dissipating.
"I thought we'd agreed not to do that!" She shook her head. "It's bad enough being lurin and behaving as we do, Murr, let's not compound the issue by acting in a deviant manner."
Careful to be gentle, but showing his disgust, Murr pulled his organ out and left the bed, stalking to the cooler and removing a large bottle which he wrenched off the top and drank from. It had been done to make a point as Jeran had often complained that her bond mate more often than not refused to use a drinking container if he was thirsty. Having slaked his thirst, he further annoyed her by wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and belching loudly. He turned to face her and, as annoyed as she was, she was unable to stop her hungry eyes wandering over his naked body, dallying at his dangling organ. Still, she was an Advocate of many years' experience and she wasn't ready to let the matter drop.
"And using the intra net! You know that's monitored!"
He came to the bed and sat, looking up at the ceiling. "Do you really think it matters, Jeran? You talk about what constitutes deviant behaviour when we ourselves are considered deviant just by our very existence. What does it matter what we do in the privacy of our own home?"
"So you're willing to expose us just to access forbidden material on the intra net? Murr, you're making a decision that affects both of us. Is that fair?"
He turned his introspective gaze from the ceiling to his bond mate. His pale yellow eyes were sad. "Aren't you tired of hiding, Jeran? Wouldn't you like to be able to walk with your head held high and say, I am lurin and I am Ereban. I have as much right to exist as you have! And you have no right to persecute me!"
Jeran sat up, knowing the action would make a mess on the bedding. She traced her finger down Murr's face and smiled. "Our day will come, Murr. If not for us, then maybe for our offspring. I am now in brood. Our young will be lurin, just like so many others. It's up to us to start making changes, subtle, unobtrusive changes that will pave the way for more tolerance, more acceptance for those who come after us. But in the meantime, we must proceed with due care, we must remain hidden within the very society that would ostracise us. After all, what good can we do, if we're locked up?"
Murr smiled and his eyes showed his affection and admiration for his bond mate.
"It's little wonder you're such a good Advocate."
Jeran waved her hand and snorted. "Not so good, Murr. I haven't won a case in twelve years."
"Yes, but that's only because you chose to be a defence Advocate. Anyway, why were you so late tonight? Was it work related?"
"Yes." She sighed and, not willing to stand, asked Murr to pass her the data holder. He did so, then sat beside her as she began to read. There was a lengthy silence which Murr knew not to break, but Jeran's sudden explosive utterance of a particularly vulgar curse made Murr grip her elbow.
"What? What is it?"
"Those bastards! Those damned bastards!"
Unheeding of the mess it would create, Jeran abruptly left the bed and began to stalk around their apartment, brandishing the data holder. "They knew! They knew all along!"
Nonplussed and vaguely frightened, Murr left the bed, went to Jeran and gently gripped her shoulders. "What are you talking about? Who are they and what did they know?"
Her pale golden eyes flashing with barely suppressed anger, Jeran hissed. "They are our legislators! The evidence is admissible!" She shook the data holder in front of Murr's face. "This Article was amended only two weeks ago! Yet it was buried in the sub archive! They wanted it hidden." She began to pace again, muttering darkly. "Something's going on Murr, something so big our government doesn't want the citizenry to know." She spun around and jabbed the air with the data holder. "And it has something to do with what's been happening to people like us!"
The huge male tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. "But...if the Article was only amended in the last two weeks, then it must have something to do with the human, Picard."
"Yes! Obviously!" Shaking the data holder again, Jeran growled, "For some reason they want him out of the way." Her legal mind was in overdrive. "Coincidences!" Confused, Murr said cautiously, "What? What are you talking about?"
"Coincidences, Murr. Too many, far too many. Those three males, the ones Picard was so conveniently recorded killing. Why were they released within such a close period of time to each other? In fact, why were they released at all? And why haven't the authorities been able to find who helped them? Why were they near that particular park when Picard's partner took her young for a walk? And how did they know which apartment she was staying in?"
Murr shrugged, pulling down the corners of his mouth.
"I don't know...but Jeran...what are you suggesting? Are you saying there's some kind of conspiracy at work? Some kind of...plot?"
Frowning deeply, Jeran tapped the edge of the data holder against her large, square teeth.
"I think..." She grimaced and shook a fist. "I think our government, or some secret part of it is in collusion with the Federation."
Murr frowned in confusion. "But why? Picard was sent here to assess us for membership. If the Federation is involved in some kind of deal with the government, why are they willing to let Picard be executed? What possible purpose could it serve? I mean, surely the execution of the very person upon whom we rely on to give a favourable assessment would most likely rule us out as a likely candidate for Federation membership."
Defeated, Jeran forced her thumb nail between her front incisors. Then, frustrated and angry, she threw the data holder across the room and shouted,
"I don't know!"
Murr looked at the mess gathering at Jeran's feet and sighed.
"Go and wash, I will clean the floor and change the bedding."
Jeran looked down and grimaced. "Oh, sorry."
Murr summoned a smile. "Don't be, Jeran. We're both responsible for it."
Offering a grateful smile, as she walked across the room to the washing room, she hesitated and said softly, "You are a good mate, Murr. I was fortunate indeed to bond with you."
His eyes travelled over her naked body and her eyes widened as his organ hardened. "And you, Jeran, are beautiful."
She was still in a daze as she washed under the cascading water. The arousal rose within her and she closed her eyes against its insidious power. Murr had never complimented her before, it was not the Ereban way, but to know her bond mate found her attractive made her feel almost giddy. The steam from the hot water carried her potent lurin scent to Murr. Intent on his task of cleaning the floor, he suddenly froze, his flat nostrils flaring. Standing quickly, he dropped his cleaning implement and hurried to the washing room. Jeran should've been surprised and shocked when he joined her under the falling water, bathing was considered an intensely private thing to do, but when his large hands gripped her around her waist and turned her to face him, she could not deny her desire.
Gently pushing her backwards, he nibbled her ear before whispering, "I know all sorts of ways to lie, Jeran. Later, you and I will sit together at the monitor and I will show them all to you. If you like, we can do any you see that...excites you."
As he spoke he lifted her leg, bent his knees and took hold of his organ. Looking up into her bright eyes he said softly,
"Obviously I have not done this before; I have only seen a vid. If I do anything that you find uncomfortable, just say so and I will stop."
Stroking his face, Jeran's desire was out of control. "Then it will be a first for both of us. Hurry, Murr."
He straightened his legs and pushed with his hips. His organ slipped inside Jeran, sliding deep inside her and she yelped loudly, her head snapping back so quickly it struck the wall with some force. Concerned, Murr, barely able to control himself, managed to say, "Are you all right, Jeran?"
In response she contracted around him and all pretence of control was lost. Ereban males are taught from a very young age that once reaching seed and bonding, when they lay they must be gentle, lest they damage their mate. But it would seem that lurin differ in this way as well, because Murr thrust hard in and out of Jeran and she couldn't get enough. Such was the force of the flood and release, they both ended up on the tiled floor of the water cascade.
Murr recovered his senses first to find Jeran's eyes closed; her body limp. Alarmed, he gripped her chin and lifted it, saying urgently, "Jeran! Jeran are you all right?" Opening her eyes to mere slits, Jeran gasped as Murr moved slightly, causing his organ to slide deeper inside her.
"Murr...what are we? What have we become?" There was wonderment in her voice and a relieved Murr did something else that neither had ever experienced. He kissed her. At first shocked, Jeran blinked but then reached up and wrapped one hand around the back of Murr's head, slowly drawing him back to her lips. Murr had only the vids he'd seen to go on, but when he opened his mouth and gently brushed his tongue across Jeran's lips, it was so natural for her to admit him into her mouth. Tentative at first, their tongues touched shyly, but as arousal grew again, their questing became more powerful. Somehow, in the confines of the cascade stall, they had sex again, but it left them so exhausted and sore, they stayed where they were for over two hours before Murr helped Jeran to her trembling feet and tenderly washed away all evidence of their joining.
Happily, Murr had changed the bedding before he'd tackled the floor, so they were able to tumble into bed. As sleep quickly swept over them, Jeran vaguely made a note to herself to start asking some very subtle questions of some very trusted people.

 

Jeran had never found her desk chair to be uncomfortable. In fact she'd taken particular care in choosing it as she spent quite long periods of time at her desk, but her reproductive tube opening was sore and inside she felt...battered. But, although it made sitting somewhat uncomfortable, every time she felt the discomfort she was forcibly reminded of what she and Murr had done the previous night and that made her smile. She was in a good mood when she'd arrived at the law centre, but upon taking the data holder from her bag her good humour fled. She read the information twice and was just beginning to go over it again when her secretary called on the office comm.
"Advocate, I have Counsellor Troi and Doctor Selar wishing to speak with you."
By the tone of her secretary's voice, Jeran knew he expected her to refuse to take the call, but the two Starfleet women were precisely who she wanted to see.
"Put the call through, please."
The surprised, "Yes, Advocate." Made Jeran smile. The console on her desk was quite sophisticated and by the judicious use of a few additions to the normal system, Jeran could be assured of privacy. She activated those additions now, but refrained from allowing a vid link.
"This is Advocate Jeran."
Deanna's voice was pleasantly surprised. "Good morning, Advocate, thank you for taking the call."
"Not at all, Counsellor, in fact I was soon to contact you."
"I see. A meeting perhaps?"
"Yes." Jeran glanced at her time piece. "Can you be at my office at three crescent?"
"We will be there, Advocate."
"I look forward to it. Goodbye, Counsellor."

 

The slightly built human was feeling very edgy. He didn't like this; he didn't like it at all. He was used to being in control, not dangling on a very delicate thread working at the behest of people who worked in shadows, much like he did. For a being as huge as his contact, the male moved remarkably quietly. He was at the human's side just as the man registered his presence.
The human kept his voice low, the synthesiser masking his true voice.
"I don't like this, it is too compromising!"
"I know," Agreed the Ereban male. "Nevertheless, we thought this the best place to meet."
Trying to keep the derision out of his tone, the human said tersely, "Inside the central government building?"
The big male snorted. "Do you really think they would consider it possible that the spy they hunt with such fervour is right under their noses? Inside their own complex?"
Dismissing the discussion with a wave of his gloved hand, the human said, "He was transported aboard his ship an hour ago."
The male stiffened and gasped.
"What? There were no alarms! I've seen no reports of an escape!"
Calmly, the human held up a device with a screen. It showed Jean-Luc rematerialising in his cell. The male shook his huge head. "I do not understand. He returned? Why? Why didn't he stay on his ship? There would've been nothing we could do about it."
The Ereban couldn't see the wry grin on the human's face as it was obscured by the black balaclava he wore.
"This is no run-of-the-mill human, my friend. This man is rare, he has principles, principles he's willing to die for."
Still confused, the male hissed, "Are you referring to him failing his mission, or his killing of those scum who murdered and violated his family?"
The human shrugged. "Does it matter? The result is the same."
The male glared down at the smaller being. "Yes it matters! You would kill one of your own for failing a mission?"
Again the human shrugged.
"Of course we would! Think of what's at stake! Isn't it worth the life of one man?"
The Ereban male ground his teeth, making a very unpleasant noise. Eventually he asked,
"So, will Ereban be admitted into the Federation?"
The human's eyes drifted down to the device in his left hand. "Why ask me? I don't know. I'm just a worker ant."
"I do not believe you! You are not being...what do you humans say? Frank, with me. I do not like being lied to."
Although only implied, the threat was very real. The human wasn't worried. Not only was he an expert in martial arts, he was also very well armed and, just as Jean-Luc had been, he was well aware of the males' utterly glaring vulnerability. But, although he wouldn't hesitate to kill the Ereban, it would prove to be rather time consuming and inconvenient in getting rid of the body. After all, they were inside the central government building and finding a body inside there was sure to stir up a most unwanted hornet's nest. So he simply sighed and offered a one arm shrug. "Very well. Yes. Ereban is to be admitted. In fact the decision had been made before Picard was even sent."
"And he knew?"
"Yes."
"Then why did he wait? Why didn't he make contact!"
The Ereban couldn't see the human's frown, but even with the voice synthesiser, the male clearly heard the human's confusion. "I can't answer that, my friend. Unless..."
"Unless what?"
"Well it might sound naive, but there is a chance albeit remote, that he was actually attempting to do his job."
"What? What job?"
"Assessing your planet for membership. That is, after all, what he was sent here to do, at least that's the official reason. And, being the man he is, maybe he saw that your planet isn't really Federation material."
The male's voice became deceptively quiet. "I do not like what you're implying."
Clapping a gloved hand on the male's massive shoulder, the human said cockily, "Well it really doesn't matter now, does it? A new Federation delegate is on her way, I'm sure once she makes contact everything will run smoothly."
"This delegate? She is bonded?"
The human rolled his eyes and sighed. "Yes," He said sarcastically. "And she has a couple of brats as well as a husband. I'm sure you'll find her just peachy." He looked again at his device and became all business. "So, you have the right people in place?"
"Yes, They will lay the foundations."
"Good! Right, it's time I was out of here. I take it the way is still clear?"
The Ereban's hands twitched as if he really wanted to break the human's neck.
"Yes. Go back the way you came. You will not be seen."
"Thank Christ; I can't wait to get out of this rat's nest."
Seeming to just disappear into the shadows, the human suddenly left. The male glowered. He didn't know what a rat was, but he was certain he'd just been insulted.
Once outside the building and in a private little alcove, the human requested a beam out. He would make his report to his team leader. Section 31 was very busy, doing the clandestine work the Federation Council insisted did not exist. Deanna was right. The Federation had become corrupt. In their own way, the Federation had become as power hungry and as avaricious as those they accused of being the very same way. The only difference was that the Federation clothed themselves in benevolent, but false pretences.
After enduring the Dominion War, then the disastrous Borg incursion what little remained of the lofty goals of the Federation were snuffed out by the realities of almost ten years of constant war. If the Federation was ever to recover they had to find new, unsuspecting 'members' wherever they could and at the same time, try to find a way to win the inevitable war that was brewing with the Typhon Pact. And if there were casualties like Jean-Luc Picard along the way, sobeit. The sad fact was people like Jean-Luc had become a problem to the Council because he possessed a moral conscience and that made entities like Section 31 just that much harder to carry out their nefarious work.
When this business with Ereban was finally solved, a lot of very good people would no longer serve, not in Starfleet or the Federation, but if the Council had learned anything it was that people could be replaced. Power, real power, could not.

 

Doctor Absum had already begun what Jeran intended. Although not lurin herself, she was sympathetic to them and, as she and her bond mate had discussed the issue at some length, they felt it incumbent upon them to do whatever they could to try and find out just what was going on. The relative who had made her aware of Article 225.1 had become somewhat mysterious and a little nervous when Absum had queried what the Article contained and when she'd asked how her relative knew of its existence, being that anything in the sub archive should've been long forgotten about, the relative refused to say anything more and abruptly left.
It was only after a lot of introspection that Absum came to the realisation that her relative was most probably lurin. At first it had been extremely unpalatable, but, as a Doctor and cognizant of the growing numbers of both male and female lurin, Absum came to the inescapable conclusion that her own extended family...her blood lines had already been tainted and there was nothing she could do but accept it. And with that acceptance came the desire to do whatever she could to assist what she had finally come to believe was the true destiny of her species. Her bond mate, a researcher in the botanical sciences had offered his help as well, just in case the cause was something in the food chain at least the vegetables and grains and he had promised to make subtle enquires with his fellow scientists in the animal sciences to see if the flesh Erebans consumed was somehow at fault.
With these enquires underway, Absum turned her mind to what she knew best. Ereban physiology and genealogy. Unlike the law centre, the medical archives were readily accessible, though strictly regulated and secured. Absum managed to set aside two full days (on the pretext of research, which wasn't a total fabrication, she was researching, just not what her superiors thought), to see if she could find some kind of pattern or, at the very least, try to establish just when the changes had begun. It was her hope if she could do either of these things, she might be able to discover the cause and in doing so, formulate a tentative prediction as to what the Ereban might become and, most importantly, when.
It was late on the second day and the staff at the medical archive were closing up for the night, but Absum had managed to secure permission to work on, having promised to shut down the area when she was finished. The computer she was using wasn't a standard model, its computing power was greater than what was usually required for most tasks, but as she needed to access what was basically ancient history, albeit medical history, the storage and recovery power was much greater than normal.
She had been diligently digging away, slowly amassing some very interesting...and telling...information when suddenly her monitor screen went blank. She frowned and said quietly and with a little irritation,
"Reboot."
Nothing happened and that was almost impossible. She had never had a computer not respond to such a basic command. Unease began to make her skin tighten. Summoning a clear voice, she said firmly,
"Computer, reboot."
The quiet deep voice behind her made her startle violently.
"Do not turn around, Doctor. Your computer has shut down on my command."
Absum froze, sweat breaking out in beads on her brow, making her shiver in the climate controlled cool room.
"Push your chair back from the desk but do not attempt to turn around."
She did as she was told and sensed the air change as the person moved closer. Something hard was pushed into the soft spot at the base of her skull and the pressure on this vulnerable area was enough to make her lightheaded and nauseous.
"You are interfering in things that are none of your business, Doctor. I advise you..." The object was pressed with more force, making Absum's vision grey. "To forget about it. It does not concern you. Do you understand?"
She somehow managed to nod.
"Good. Now, give me the name of your lurin relative."
Swallowing, Absum's huge heart began to race. To betray a family member was absolutely unforgivable. She would be exiled from her family, her bond would be dissolved, her offspring would disown her and she would be disassociated. Everything about who and what she was would be taken from her. Without her family, her bond mate or her career she would be at the mercy of the state. It was not something she would even contemplate, not for so much as a second.
"No." Flat and unequivocal.
She felt the puffs of breath as the male spoke close to her ear. "You do realise we have methods of extracting any information we want?"
Although very frightened, Absum was resolute. "I will not betray a family member."
The male sighed, then said fatalistically "Then you give me little choice." A large, powerful hand gripped Absum's upper arm and, as she was hoisted to her feet, the voice said sinisterly, "Of course if you don't tell us what we want to know, we will use...other...methods to unearth the lurin. And once we have it, it will be made to pay for your defiance."
The pressure on the base of her skull increased as she was dragged backwards, Absum began to say her silent goodbyes to her mate, offspring and family, hoping forlornly the somehow her blood would be able to be extracted from her remains, provided they were ever found, when the main lights suddenly came on. Absum had turned off all the lights except that which shone on her work station. The only way the main lights could've come on was if someone from the staff had entered the archive room. However, the Doctor was shocked to hear the unmistakable sound of a weapon charging. A male voice shouted, "Whoever you are, show yourself!"
The voice at Absum's ear was soft and laced with urgency. "Not a sound, Doctor. Stay silent or you will die."
She was pulled backwards, deeper into the cavernous room. The work stations were placed at regular intervals, but there was insufficient distance between them to afford any cover. Forced down into a crouch, the voice said, "We are going to make our way to the entrance by the far wall." The hard hand pushed her face down and the voice whispered, "On your belly, Doctor. No sound, not a false move or you will most surely die."
Not knowing what was to happen, but bound to obey, Absum crept forward, but she'd only gone a few metres when she heard a grunt and the sound of a blade slicing through flesh. She paused, almost too scared to look back, but she had to see. Lifting her upper body and getting to her knees, she slowly turned. Two males, one holding a smeared knife, the other a blaster, stood over the body of a third, a spreading pool of blood staining the polished stone floor. Transfixed, Absum got to her feet, her entire body trembling. One of the males looked up and offered a sympathetic smile. "I am sorry you have become involved, Doctor, but the moment your relative revealed the existence of Article 225.1, you were dragged into something you were never supposed to know about."
Frowning down at the growing pool of blood, Absum raised a shaking finger and pointed.
"His blood...you must collect it."
The male looked down at the body with open disgust. "It is worthless."
Absum was shocked and angry. "Even if he is lurin, you must preserve his blood! He has the right to..."
Standing to his full height, the male shared a knowing look with his companion and sighed. His voice carried both revulsion and anger. "He is not lurin, Doctor, he is not even Ereban!"
Absum's mouth gaped and she stared down at the corpse. Although she'd not seen his face, by what she could see of his face down body, clothed as was normal in a brightly coloured sarong-like garment, he seemed to be entirely Ereban. She could see nothing unusual about him.
While the silent male began to drag the corpse away, the other male took Absum's elbow and led her back to her work station where he eased her into her seat. Crouching in front of her, he waited patiently for the questions he knew would come. His wait was a short one.
"If he is not Ereban, what is he then?"
"We don't know."
"Then how do you know he's not Ereban?"
"We know."
"But how?"
The male smiled and this time Absum saw genuine warmth. "Tomorrow you will dissect the body. While we know he is not Ereban, what we don't know is what he is. You will tell us."
She shook her head. "I cannot! My allotted time for research ends tonight. Tomorrow morning I must report for my normal work."
The smile widened. "Your superiors will find it necessary to grant you two more days."
Still shaking her head, Absum held up her hands. "But I can't do it in the central morgue! If he is not Ereban the staff will soon know."
"You won't be performing the dissection in the central morgue." Before she could ask, the male placed a hand on her arm, a gesture, coming from an unrelated person, would normally be considered a great effrontery.
"A ground vehicle will come for you very early tomorrow morning. Be outside your apartment block two crescents before the sun rises."
"But my bond mate..."
"Is already in our...care."
Alarm showed on Absum's face and the male shook his head.
"It is all right, Doctor he has not been harmed, nor will he be. We do not wage our struggle against our own people."
"So...he is not a hostage? I am not being coerced?"
"No, in fact, you may refuse to help, but if this..." He pointed at the now reactivated screen. "Is anything to go by, then I think I am right in saying you are highly motivated to carry through with your...investigations."
Absum glanced at the screen and frowned. "What do you expect me to find?"
The male sighed. "We're not certain, until we discovered your...interest, we didn't have someone with your level of medical knowledge to help us. We could've gained access into these archives at any time, but what good would that have been without someone like you who knows, not only what to look for, but recognise and understand it when you found it!"
Absum closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. Bowing her head she said softly, "What has this to do with the human, Picard?"
Her question was greeted with silence. She looked up to see the male watching as three more Ereban were cleaning the floor of the gore, removing all evidence of the violent death. Absently he replied,
"We don't know; other than he is connected somehow, but how..." He shrugged his massive shoulders.
He turned his attention back to Absum. "Will you help us?"
The Doctor snorted. "I don't even know who you are!"
"We are patriots, Doctor. Are you? Do you love Ereban?"
"That can mean so many things! Are you asking if I love my planet? My family? My species? What do you mean?"
Pulling down the corners of his mouth, he shrugged again. "It need not be so complicated, Doctor. I suppose the fundamental question is, do you love our existence?" He swept his arm wide. "Everything, Doctor, from the smallest crawling creature to your fellow beings. Everything, Doctor, here everything is Ereban."
Absum tilted her head, the enormity of his statement shattered so many ingrained thoughts and emotions and teachings. The All Seeing One was supreme and the Ereban were the living embodiment of her. To place the lower life forms at the same level was at best seditious and at worst blasphemous.
"I don't know what to say." She whispered. The male squeezed her shoulder and stood.
"Then you have much to think about, but while you think, will you help us?"
Absum's head nodded before she actually made the intellectual agreement. It was as if her acquiescence was atavistic, almost a survival response.
The hand on her shoulder patted her in a very intimate way, but Absum wasn't the least bit offended.
"Good." Then he bowed so he could whisper, "And the data chip you've been downloading to...make sure it stays safe. We both know the archival files may not be downloaded; in fact the files are not to leave this facility. True?"
All Absum could do was nod mutely. If this male wished to, he didn't have to kill her; he could destroy her life with a mere vid call to her superior. To trust someone outside one's family was unheard of, but what choice did she have? While she was contemplating her fate, the male said quietly,
"Access files at previous reference date and display."
The computer complied and the screen filled with information. The hand squeezed her shoulder and the male's voice was warm and friendly. "I will leave you to your work, Doctor, and I wish you good luck."
He stepped away and Absum turned quickly. "Will I see you again?"
He grinned. "Probably. Perhaps even as soon as you've finished the dissection. But mine is a dangerous occupation, death stalks me..." He looked at his companions as they finished their gruesome work. "It stalks all of us, but..." He sighed. "Like the gallant Captain Picard, we feel the struggle is worth the risks." He looked down at Absum and his smile was a sad one. 'It is a pity though...even if we succeed we won't live to see the final outcome. That will be in times far yet to come."
He left and Absum turned her head, staring at the now pristine place on the floor where a being had died. It was surreal and for a moment she wondered if it had really happened. Then the computer beeped, letting her know that if she didn't tell it not to, it was about to adopt a standby mode.
Her voice didn't sound like hers as she said absently, "Continue."

Jeran was ready when Deanna and Selar took their seats in front of her huge desk. The Advocate had, by initiating her subtle enquires, set in motion more of the underground movement, but of course she was completely unaware of just how complicit she had made herself. Where she thought she was dealing with some sort of government conspiracy, she had no idea of the true scope and complexity of exactly what was going on. Whether or not her ignorance would be enough to save her would be crucial to Jean-Luc's survival.
Before either of the Enterprise women could utter a word, Jeran stunned them by saying, "The information Doctor Absum shared with you about the murdered males' past criminal histories is admissible."
Deanna tilted her head, her eyes narrowing. Cautiously she said, "Article 225.1?"
Jeran bowed her head. "Yes." But before anything further could be said, she held up one long finger. "What I am about to tell you, could be considered treason." Deanna's senses easily picked up the Advocate's deep unease and fear and she wondered just how much the Ereban knew. Holding up a data holder, Jeran said quietly, "The information within the Article was amended as recently as two weeks ago."
It was Selar who said, "But we were under the impression that all the articles held in the sub archives had been relatively undisturbed for generations. You yourself told us that."
Jeran nodded, her expression pained. "And what I told you was true! I am as surprised by this as you."
"Three questions," said Deanna softly. "What was the original article, what was the amendment and who made it?"
Jeran sighed and rubbed her brow.
"The article was a challenge, a successful one as it turned out, which was exactly why it was in the sub archive. Apparently, generations ago, a very similar situation to your Captain's occurred. An Ereban male came back to his dwelling to find another male forcing himself on his bond mate. Enraged, a fight ensued and the bond mate was successful in rendering the assailant unconscious. Then he killed the male. Of course, by Ereban law, he had murdered a helpless citizen. Therefore, the charge he faced was that of unprovoked murder. But...and this is what's important. The authorities discovered that this wasn't the first act of...rape...perpetrated by the dead male, and it was found that if the bond mate was executed for his crime, his family would be severely disadvantaged. So, special dispensation was granted and the assailant's criminal past was allowed to be entered for the defence. The case was won and the arrested male was set free. But...because the evidence had only been allowed to be entered under special dispensation, it was never made an act of legislation. In essence, it never became law."
Frowning, Deanna asked, "Then how can our information be admissible now?" Jeran's smile was grim. "Because this..." She held up the data holder. "Has set a precedent! One I can exploit. I'm not aware how your system of law works, but here, as long as some sort of precedent exists and I can show clear evidence of it, it can be used. It's not going to go down well with the Presider, but she, or he, won't be able, at least not legally, to refuse it."
Jeran sat back and tossed the data holder onto the desk. "The amendment, a clumsily made attempt I must say, was to try to make it seem that the challenge had failed and that legislation had been passed to prevent such dispensations occurring again. As to who did it?" She shrugged. "While the attempt at the amendment may have been clumsy, the effort to erase the identity of the individual...or individuals...who did it was not. So far I have been unable to find out who was responsible. In fact, I have been unable to even find out who, if anyone, has requested to visit the sub archive at all!"
There followed a short, tense silence before Selar asked quietly, "Could it have been done remotely?"
Jeran frowned. "You mean by accessing the data without actually visiting the archive?"
"Yes."
The Advocate frowned deeply, obviously giving considerable thought to something she found hard to believe. Eventually she conceded. "Well I suppose it's possible, but I've never heard of anyone being able to circumvent the government security data protection protocols. I mean, why would they?"
"To do just what has been done." Deanna said dryly. Jeran shot her a hot look, then her eyes slitted. "You know more than you're telling me, Counsellor."
Inclining her head, Deanna made it clear the Advocate was correct. Jeran snorted and thumped her large hands on the desktop. "Then how do you expect me to do my job if my hands are tied? If you know something I can use, then tell me! I am the one responsible for defending the indefensible! How can you withhold information that might save your Captain's life?"
Sighing, Deanna clasped her much smaller hands on the vast expense of the desktop. "Because, Advocate, I have to obey my Captain. He has given me an order that I am compelled to obey."
"I don't understand!" Jeran almost shouted. "Are you telling me your Captain also knows something about what's happening and he's not willing to say anything either?"
In the face of Deanna's stoic silence, Jeran abruptly came to her feet, placed her fists on the desktop and loomed over her guests. "Then answer me this, Counsellor. What use is there in obeying the orders of a condemned man? Will his orders serve any purpose after he's dead?"
Again, Deanna refused to respond. Jeran, frustrated and angry sat down, leaned back in her seat and steepled her fingers under her chin, studying the two women before her. "I find your silence very telling, Counsellor. You, in fact both of you, seem to represent an enigma. On the one hand you are desperate to assist your Captain, yet on the other, you seem to be deliberately hampering my efforts to do just that. What is it you want me to do?"
Deanna smiled, but it lacked any warmth, in fact it was immeasurably sad. "Just do whatever you can for Captain Picard and we will assist you as best we can. That, Advocate is all I can tell you."
Jeran sighed and directed her gaze at the data holder. "I feel like I am forced to work without clarity of vision." She looked up and, mixed with anger was defeat. "Very well, Counsellor, I will do what I can, but I will never understand why you refuse to help me to save the life of a person you profess to hold in such esteem."
Deanna was quickly reaching a point where she felt she could no longer keep her Captain's confidences...or obey his orders but she didn't know who to confide in. Certainly not Will, he would be so incandescent with rage there would be no telling what he might do, not Beverly, already too traumatised. She was lost in thought as Jeran brought the meeting to a close and it wasn't until they were being ushered from the room that Deanna realised she had the perfect confidant beside her. Once out of the building, Deanna said quietly,
"Selar, once you have been to see the Captain, would you come to my office? There's something very important I need to discuss with you."
The Vulcan gave Deanna a speculative look and slowly nodded. "Very well, Counsellor. I had thought you might wish to confide in me."
Deanna was unable to keep the shock off her face. Her whispered, "What do you know?" Was met with a blank expression. "I do not think this an appropriate locale for such a discussion, Counsellor."
Brought back to her senses, Deanna gave and embarrassed nod. "Of course. I'll expect you in an hour or so?"
"Yes, Counsellor." Deanna reached to tap her comm. badge when Selar said softly,
"Do not lower your guard, Deanna. There is danger all around." As she dematerialised, Deanna realised that was the very first time she could recall Selar had ever using her given name.
Unlike Deanna had done, Selar had no intention of either walking or using the public transport system, instead requesting to be beamed to the hospital foyer. By now the staff and the administration had come to understand that Jean-Luc was not a dangerous patient and so Selar found him unfettered and they were afforded privacy without having to ask.
Upon entering Jean-Luc's cell, Selar found him standing at the rear of the room, his head bowed. Selar went to the basin and began to unpack her equipment. Silently Jean-Luc joined her and without any assistance, removed his clothing, then as Selar began to wash him with the medicated soap, he closed his eyes and sighed. Instead of just washing the affected areas, Selar washed his entire body, then, with exquisite gentleness, she shaved the raw areas and then, again with tender gentleness washed the areas again. But, just when Jean-Luc expected her to tell him to dress, she moved behind him and began to massage his tense shoulders and neck. No one other than Beverly had ever touched him with such implied intimacy, although Jean-Luc clearly understood there was nothing sexual at all in what Selar was doing. Naked and completely vulnerable, Jean-Luc surrendered to her knowing hands as she worked her strong fingers, kneading hard, but not painfully so, all the way from his neck, shoulders and back, right down to his buttocks.
It wasn't until she said softly, "You may dress now, Captain." That he realised she was finished. He sighed deeply, greatly saddened at the loss of physical contact. Though an unemotional being, Selar was well aware of the comfort her Captain derived from what she did for him and when she saw that he was having difficulty seeing the closures of his overall through his tear filled eyes, she gently brushed his hands aside and closed the garment for him. As she took his elbow and eased him to sit on the bench, he whispered, "Bless you, Selar."
She thought it odd that he should choose to use those particular words, given that he possessed no faith, but then she realised he was paying acknowledgement to hers. It was rare for Selar to feel gratitude, but she did so now. Once they were seated, the Doctor administered the hypos and the unpalatable liquid and in the space of the time that took, Jean-Luc had composed himself.
Selar judged his mood and decided now was the time to discuss what had been on her mind for some time.
"Captain Picard, in my position as a Doctor, working in Starfleet and in particular on the Enterprise, I have become a very astute student of the nuances of human behaviours. Had I stayed on Vulcan, among my own people I would not have developed these skills, it would not have been necessary, but, because I have spent so many years living and working among humans, I have found it has assisted me greatly in learning how to deal with such unpredictable and emotional beings."
Although it may have sounded insulting, Jean-Luc knew it was simple truth and didn't react. Indeed he kept silent, giving tacit permission for the Doctor to continue.
"It is by utilising these abilities of mine that I have come to the inescapable conclusion that you have shared information with Counsellor Troi that directly impacts on not only your current situation, but on your mission to Ereban and your order to the Counsellor to not divulge what she now knows is greatly distressing her, Captain. I have been observing her increasingly obvious signs of distress. Such is her distress and her need to confide in someone, she has requested I meet with her upon returning to the Enterprise. I can only surmise she intends to unburden herself to me."
Jean-Luc closed his eyes and sighed. Selar, still carefully watching the man, continued. "I am not seeking your approval or permission, Captain, merely informing you of what I believe is going to occur."
He turned and looked at Selar for the first time since she'd entered his cell. "And what do you intend to do with this...information?"
"That depends, Captain, on what it is."
His eyes darkened. "Are you asking me to tell you?"
Selar made a very human gesture in shrugging. "It would help, Captain, especially given Counsellor Troi's difficulties."
Jean-Luc leaned back until he met the cold metal wall behind him. He then allowed his head to bump the wall, closed his eyes and sighed.
"Very well."
Over the next half an hour, Jean-Luc told Selar all he knew, including his suspicions about Section 31, whose existence he had to explain as Selar was completely unaware of their reality. She confessed she had heard rumours of a clandestine entity that existed deep within the Federation, but without any proof, she chose not to believe. That, of course was the Vulcan way. No Vulcan would put any credence to a rumour without any proof as to its veracity. A rumour was just that. A rumour.
When he had finished, he seemed drained as if the telling, again, only served to make his burden heavier instead of lighter. Quietly, Selar asked, "What do you want me to do, Captain?"
His eyes opened and he lifted his body abruptly. "Nothing!" His tone was sharp. "In fact, Doctor, I'm giving you the same order I gave Counsellor Troi. You are not to divulge anything of what I've just told you to anyone, with the obvious exception of Deanna Troi. Is that clear, Doctor?"
Selar's gaze was steady, but she was confused. "Yes, Captain, but may I ask why, sir?"
He closed his eyes and let out a short breath through his nose. "You must now realise there is much more at stake here than my life. Any interference could be disastrous."
"Yes, Captain, I can see that, sir, but what I do not see is why you have to permit your execution. It is illogical, Captain. If what you have told me is true, then the very laws you purport to submit yourself to are inherently flawed."
"That may be, Selar, but it is not my place, or yours to say so. Neither of us is in any position to protest. I have no other option but to accede. My oath to Starfleet demands it."
Tilting her head, Selar said quietly, "You would wish to uphold your oath in the face of what you suspect? Despite what you know sir?"
His smile was a sad one. "Yes, because I have nothing but suspicions. No proof, Selar and I cannot break my word without incontrovertible proof."
"Captain, there is no point in becoming a martyr. It is illogical."
He snorted softly. "I'm not going to become a martyr, Selar, but I do hope my death brings about change. Change for the better for the Ereban people."
The rap on the door was loud in the quiet cell. Selar was reluctant to leave, but Jean-Luc offered her a smile. "If it helps, Selar, I am reconciled to my impending death. My only regret is the pain and distress it will cause my loved ones. I can only hope they will one day forgive me for leaving them, and that they come to understand that, although I seem to do so willingly, in my heart I would've given anything to stay with them, but I simply cannot."
The Vulcan stood and looked down at her Captain. He was immensely humbled when she clasped her hands in front of her and bowed low. "I honour thee, Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
She turned, picked up the medkit and left without another word spoken between them.
She was being escorted out of the building when met by the hospital administrator in the foyer.
"Doctor Selar?"
"Yes."
"I am Cerran, the Administrator here at the hospital. I have a message from Advocate Jeran."
Selar bowed her head.
"The Advocate has been told by the central law centre, that patient 55839 will be scheduled to stand trial as soon as he is deemed healthy."
Tilting her head, Selar frowned. "I do not understand."
Somewhat confused, the administrator said carefully, "What is it you don't understand?"
"Why is it necessary for Captain Picard to be healthy before he stands trial? As I understand it, your intention is to execute him immediately after the trial ends. What does his state of health have to do with anything? It is illogical. You are going to end his life whether he is sound of health or not."
The administrator's eyes narrowed. "Of course it is necessary for him to be healthy! The State does not execute the unwell; that would be barbaric. To enter the afterlife, one has to be as physically fit as possible, just as one enters the world. Would you have the spirits offended?"
Knowing it would be pointless to argue, Selar merely nodded. "I will inform him on my next visit."
She went to tap her communicator when the Female made it clear there was more. Lowering her hand, Selar inclined her head. The administrator reached inside her robe and removed a data holder and gave it to Selar. "The information about the execution is on here, but there are two things you should know, seeing as you're all unfamiliar with our ways, so you can tell the patient and he has time to prepare. First, in the hours before his trial he will be required to produce three separate reproductive samples. Now, with an Ereban, this would have be done under anaesthetic and drugs would be required to encourage production of cells and seeds, but from what I understand, the patient is capable of securing the samples on his own. Is that correct?"
Frowning, but keeping her own counsel, Selar nodded. "Yes, that is so."
"Then please inform the patient that four hours before the beginning of his trial, he will be required to produce the samples. Now, the other thing is that all members of his immediate family are required to attend his execution. They do not have to be at the trial, but their presence is required at the execution."
Selar sighed. "May I ask why either of these requirements are necessary?"
As if speaking to a child, Cerran smiled and said kindly, "Well you wouldn't want his family to be without the means to replenish his blood tie would you? I mean even criminals have some rights!" She then bent down and whispered, "Actually, it's been decided that under the circumstances, your Captain deserves the chance to allow his partner to have another brood. He has a lot of...sympathisers. You mustn't tell anyone about this; it's something we here at the hospital have arranged." She then straightened and became all business again. "As for the other, that's Ereban law. The condemned's family must attend to witness the execution, then wait while the blood is processed and the body restored. Once taking possession, they can leave together."
Glancing at the data holder, Selar nodded. "Very well, administrator, I will inform Captain Picard. Thank you."
Offering a brilliant smile, the Ereban nodded once, then left to return to her office. The Vulcan watched her go, wondering just how this news was going to be taken by either her Captain or his partner. She tapped her comm. badge and requested to be beamed up.

 

David sat in the chair in the living area, as he had done so since very early that morning, watching silently as his mother restlessly paced like a caged animal, her hands constantly wringing each other. He had tried to get her to sit, tried to get her to eat, but although she gave him what she tried to make a warm smile, it got nowhere near her dull eyes and her brittley bright words held nothing, no emotion at all. So he sat, his eyes tracking his mother's passage around the room not even remembering that this day was his birthday. He was now seven years old.
Beverly lifted her head and for the umpteenth time said impatiently,
"Computer, is Doctor Selar aboard yet?"
"No."
Seeing that his mother hand come to a standstill, David rose and went to her, gently taking her hand. "Come on Maman, come and sit with me, I'll get you a cup of tea."
Beverly looked down at her son as if she hadn't been aware he was in the room. "What?" Then she seemed to recognise him and offered the same blank smile. "Oh, no, sweetie, I'm not thirsty."
David closed his eyes and tried once more. "Please, Maman...just come and sit with me."
Suddenly very angry, Beverly snapped, "I said no! For God's sake, David! Leave me be!"
David, his heart breaking, retook his seat and returned to silently watching as his mother resumed her endless pacing.

 

The Commander of the invisible ship smiled coldly as he studied the image of the Enterprise E in orbit around Ereban. Snorting softly he said to no one in particular, "That thing is fucking huge."
A mildly amused voice behind him agreed. "Oh, yeah. She's a bloody passenger liner compared with us."
The Commander's eyes narrowed and his smile became predatory. "What do you think her Captain would say if he knew we could take out his behemoth with one, judiciously aimed torp...through his shields?"
The other voice chuckled. "I don't think he'd say too much, he'd be too busy shitting himself!"
Both men laughed, then the Commander sighed. "With Picard locked up, it's Riker in the big chair, isn't it?"
"Yep."
"Well, at least he's all human."
The unseen man's voice became hard. "You bet. There's no fucking Borg nanites floating around in his body, inert or not."
The Commander grunted harshly.
"Can you believe that fucker Picard was exonerated after Wolf 359?" The Commander asked with malice. "If it were left up to me, I would've sent him back to the fucking Borg...after we'd wiped his miserable brain."
"Hmph!" His companion grunted. "You're too kind, Sir. I'd have taken the bastard somewhere quiet and phasered him into nothingness. And that would've been more than he deserved."
The Commander sighed and scratched his law. "Yeah, well the Director says unless the Council says otherwise, Picard is a fucking hero. Personally, I find his current predicament quite appropriate."
"Oh yeah. I'd just like to be the one to slit his damned throat!"
"Ha! You and me both. Now, my friend, how is our cloak? Everything running okay?"
"Yes, Sir, I ran a diagnostic only half an hour ago."
"Good. Wouldn't do for the fucking huge ship out there to know about us, now would it?"
"Ah...no. In fact that might prove to be a little embarrassing and very difficult to explain."
"Indeed." The Commander swivelled his chair and patted his stomach. "I'm going aft to get something to eat. Can I get you anything?"
"No thanks, Sir."
"Right, well we've got intel due in about two hours, keep an eye out for it will you? I might get some shut eye after I've eaten."
"Will do, Sir. Sleep well."
"I will," He said, clapping the younger man on the shoulder. "Especially once that fucking Picard is stone motherless dead."
The subordinate laughed cruelly and shook his head.
"Do they have flies down on that fucking ball of mud, Sir?"
The Commander shrugged. "I dunno. Why?"
"'Cause I was just wondering what Picard's body would look like riddled with maggots."
The Commander snorted. "Three things, my young friend. One: sorry, no flies. Two: those stupid fucking Ereban shits will restore Picard's body to its pristine glory to give back to that cold bitch of a partner and Three: I don't think even maggots would eat a nanite-infested fucker like Picard. Even they have standards!"
The older man left the Bridge just his subordinate picked up a PADD. On it was the last intel from the Council, courtesy of the neighbouring planets. Raising his head, the young man stared down at Ereban and shook his head.
"You stupid, ignorant fuckers." He sighed and idly scratched his groin. "You have absolutely no idea what's about to happen." Casting a wary look over his shoulder to make sure he really was alone, he lifted his legs and placed his feet on the console in front of him. "Still, I suppose it's for the greater good. It's not as if you're going to have any say in the matter or be able to lift a finger to stop it."
He settled in to wait for the coming transmission.

 

As soon as Selar materialised on the Enterprise, the computer informed Beverly. Her ceaseless pacing stopped and she slapped her comm. badge hard enough to bruise the skin under her shirt.
"Crusher to Selar!"
"Selar here, Doctor."
"I want to see you in my quarters immediately!"
"I cannot come immediately, Doctor, I have something of importance I must see to, however, once I am free I will come to you."
Anger spiked in Beverly and she made no attempt to hide it.
"Not good enough, Selar! I'm giving you a direct order. Get to my quarters now!"
Selar's calm, emotionless reply only served to make Beverly angrier.
"I am sorry, Doctor Crusher, but as your current status is one of being relieved of duty, as such you cannot give me an order, direct or not. However, I will come to you as soon as I have concluded my present duties. Selar out."
Mouth gaping, her hands fisted at the ends of her stiff arms Beverly's head turned from side-to-side until her eyes fell on what she sought. In two quick strides she snatched up a beautiful crystal vase and raised it above her head. David shot out of his seat and grabbed her shirt, reaching for her upraised arm and shouting, "No, Maman! Papa gave that to you, don't smash it, Maman, please, don't..."
She didn't hear him, she'd didn't even notice him. With furious force she threw the vase across the room where it exploded against the wall in a mass of chunks and shards. When she growled and turned to make her way to the doors, David tried to stop her.
"Maman, no! You've been ordered to stay here, in our quarters. Aunt Deanna issued the order and if you..."
She hit him so hard across his face he was knocked off his feet and tumbled sideways to the floor. With his hand covering his bruised cheek, he stared wide-eyed and uncomprehending as his beloved mother glared down at him with an expression so fierce he wet himself in terror.
Beverly said nothing; she simply stepped around her son and walked briskly out the doors.
David had been born on the Enterprise and had spent his entire life aboard, so he was well versed in shipboard procedures. Climbing unsteadily to his feet, he lifted his head and said tremulously,
"David Picard to Counsellor Troi."
Hearing his distress, Deanna concentrated and felt him.
"David, it's Aunt Deanna. What's happened?"
"Maman just broke a vase Papa had given her and then, when I tried to stop her leaving our quarters she...she..." He took a deep breath, doing his best to not cry, but failing. "She hit me, Aunt Deanna and then she left. I think she's trying to find Doctor Selar."
"Are you all right, David? Are you hurt?"
Tasting blood in his mouth, David wiped at his tears.
"I don't know...I think so...maybe a little."
"All right, stay where you are, someone will be with you very soon to bring you to Sick Bay. I'll see you there."
"Okay, Aunt Dee, but..."
"Yes?"
"Help her, Aunt Dee, she needs help."
"I will, David, Troi out."
Deanna then tapped her comm. badge.
"Security, this is Counsellor Troi. I want a detail here at my quarters immediately. Sick Bay, send a Doctor to Captain Picard's quarters. I believe his son, David Picard has been injured. Troi out."
Selar looked at Deanna, her gaze intense. "You believe she is dangerous?"
Her face set in a worried frown, Deanna sighed. "You heard David. His mother has struck him. Have you ever known either Captain Picard or Doctor Crusher to ever physically abuse their children?"
"No, I have not and it is certainly atypical behaviour. She will be here soon. I suggest you let me deal with her."
Deanna was about to protest when the discussion became moot. Deanna's black eyes glittered and she took an involuntary step back. Beverly's fury reached her before the woman herself did.
"She's here."
The doors parted and Beverly stalked in, her blue eyes blazing with feral anger. Selar moved to stand in front of Deanna, thus shielding her. The security team arrived just as Beverly began to shout.
"Your insubordination will not be tolerated, Selar! I am the CMO and you will obey my orders!" She took a step closer. "And if you refuse, Captain Picard himself will make sure you're reassigned to another ship where your fucking arrogant behaviour won't affect the fine standards Captain Picard has set!"
Seeing that it would be pointless to try and reason with her, Selar bowed her head and adopted a quiet, submissive tone.
"I offer my apologies, Doctor. You are correct, of course."
Narrowing her gaze with suspicion, Beverly lifted her chin and said coldly, "I was supposed to see Captain Picard today, but the computer says he's not on the ship. Where the hell is he?"
Taking a calculated risk, Deanna stepped out from behind Selar and smiled, earning a hot glare from Beverly, who hissed,
"You! Why did you order me off duty and confined to quarters? What gives you the right to do that? I want to know what the hell is going on! Where is Jean-Luc?"
While Beverly had been haranguing Deanna, Selar had been moving surreptitiously closer to the incensed woman. Beverly's eyes remained fixed on Deanna. She chanced a glance at the security detail and Beverly flinched, spinning around. Selar moved with grace and speed. As Beverly yelled, "What the fuck...?" Selar delivered a nerve pinch, catching Beverly and lowering her gently to the floor as consciousness fled.
The Lieutenant leading the security detail stepped into the room, holstering her phaser.
"Everything okay now, sir?"
Deanna nodded, letting out a long breath. "Yes, thank you, Lieutenant, we can handle it from here." She then lifted her head to say firmly, "Transporter Room, this is Counsellor Troi. Three to beam to Sick Bay from my current location."
"Aye, Counsellor. Energising."
It took mere minutes for Beverly to be placed on a biobed and a restraining field put in place. Seeing David sitting nearby, Deanna went to him and, feeling his confusion, bewilderment and fear, she drew up a chair and took him into her embrace. He resisted as best he could, but the emotions that were tumbling through him won and he lost control, sobbing with heartbreaking intensity.
Slowly he calmed and, just like his father would do, attempted to quash his feelings. Manfully he wiped his face and took the offered tissue silently. Having restored some of his dignity, he managed to ask,
"What's happened to Maman?"
Sighing, Deanna glanced over her shoulder at Beverly's prone form. Turning back to David she said gently,
"Do you know what a relapse is?"
The boy nodded, but he was frowning. "I think so. Isn't that when you're better, but then you get sick again?"
Smiling, Deanna nodded. "Yes, that's right."
David looked over at his mother then back at Deanna. "Is that what's happened to Maman? She's had a relapse?"
"Yes, I think so." Deanna noticed David was feeling embarrassed and couldn't quite reconcile his feelings with what he now knew. Very gently, Deanna took David's hands and looked into his troubled eyes. "What is it, David?"
He bowed his head and sighed. He'd known Deanna all his life and knew his parents not only enjoyed a deep friendship with her, but trusted her implicitly. Added to that David's own love for his Aunt, he decided to make the most humiliation admission of his short life. Barely whispering, he said, "I wet my pants."
Treating the admission with the gravity it deserved, Deanna tightened her grip on his hands. "David that can happen to anyone, even adults given the right circumstances."
He looked up, stricken. "But I'm seven now and it was Maman! I know she didn't mean it."
Somehow Deanna had to make David see that his reaction to shock and fear had been absolutely normal without referring to the fact that although he thought of himself as 'grown up' he was still but a child. "David, if I tell you something really private about your Papa, will you promise me never to repeat it? Not to anyone?"
He nodded solemnly, whispering, "I promise."
"You know that your Papa was assimilated by the Borg." David nodded, but Deanna knew he didn't really understand. When he had started school, his parents had decided to tell him, only so if it ever came up either as teasing by other students or even in the school curriculum, he would already know. Jean-Luc and Beverly had always intended to give him more detailed information as he grew older. For now, he had nothing but a vague impression that whatever it was, it was very bad.
"Well," Said Deanna. "It took a very long time for your Papa to get better after that and even now he still has the occasional nightmare about it. But what I think is important for you to know is that when he was getting better, in the early stages, he would get so frightened he sometimes wet the bed."
David gaped, his eyes wide. "Papa? Papa wet the bed? But he's a grown up."
"Yes and that's my point, David. It can happen to anyone, grown up or a child, even someone as brave as your Papa."
After a few moments. David's gaze left Deanna and drifted to his mother. "Can you make Maman better?"
"Yes," Smiled Deanna. "I think I can."
David nodded, but his expression was unreadable, just like his father. "And she won't...relapse?"
That made Deanna sigh and lower her head. "I can't guarantee that, David. It might happen, it might not."
His hand came up involuntarily to his cheek making Deanna ask, "Are you better now, David? Were you badly hurt?"
Still gazing at his mother, David shook his head, his voice small. "No, I wasn't badly hurt, just a cut inside my mouth, some teeth loosened and a bruise on my cheek. I'm better now."
Yes, thought Deanna. You've had your physical injuries healed, but what about your psychological ones?
To that end, Deanna squeezed David's hands to gain his attention. "She didn't mean it, David. I know your Maman just as well as you do and you and I both know there's no way she would ever use physical violence against you."
His dark eyes glittered with welling tears. "Then why?"
"Remember when she retreated? To that safe place in her mind?"
He nodded silently.
"Well, your Maman is feeling very frightened right now and she can't find that safe place, so she's feeling scared and very confused. Although she loves you with all her heart, right now all she wants to do is be with your Papa. Now that doesn't mean she doesn't want to be with you, David, it's just that although she might not admit it, she knows what your Papa is facing and wants...no...needs to be with him. Doctor Selar had told your Maman that you could both go down to the planet to see him today, but somehow, probably overnight while she slept, things got muddled up in her mind so that when she woke up, she'd forgotten what had happened."
David frowned, lifting his hands to give form to his words. "But Aunt Deanna what about Monique and the baby? Has she forgotten them too?"
Lifting her head to stare at the ceiling, Deanna considered the question.
"Try to think of it this way. When your Maman couldn't find her safe place, she went half way. She is in what we call an altered state. Until I can talk to her, I can't be sure exactly where she is, but it seems certain that it's at a time before she had you or Monique or was pregnant. That's why it's so important for her to get to your Papa. He occupies all of her mind right now."
With a sigh so deep it raised and lowered his shoulders, David showed great maturity by observing, "She doesn't know I exist."
"Not right now, no. But she will, David, don't worry."
Mumbling, Deanna had to ask him to repeat himself.
"I said, that's why she hit me. She didn't even know who I was."
There was little Deanna could say to that, so she encouraged him to his feet and led him, albeit reluctantly, over to his mother. Speaking softly, Deanna said, "She'll be waking up soon, and there's a chance she might be back. Just as she became muddled last night, this sleep might help her to regain herself. Be here, David, when she wakes up. You just might be exactly what she needs to see."
He nodded and sat in the chair Deanna got for him. Giving his shoulder a squeeze, the Counsellor said, "I have to go and talk with Doctor Selar now. I'll come back later."
He nodded, but Deanna felt his unease. It was with some regret that she left him and joined Selar in Beverly's office.

 

The Ensign at Tactical hadn't much experience on the Bridge, or indeed manning the tactical station, but he'd been well trained and when, for the fifth time he noticed the small anomaly he knew he had to say something. Mustering a steady voice he said,
"Commander Riker? Could you come here, please sir?"
Rising from the Command chair, a less than genial Exec joined the nervous young man. The Ensign's nervousness increased when Will said sourly, "What is it?"
Pointing at his screen and trying to keep his finger from twitching, the Ensign said, "I think that is a subspace interphase pocket, sir."
Squinting, Will's law muscles clenched. "How is that possible, Ensign?"
Swallowing, the young man replied, "I don't know, sir, but I've seen the spike five times in the last hour and I know that can't be right."
Will studied the readouts and grunted. "Well done, Ensign." He muttered absently before raising his head and calling, "Riker to LaForge."
"LaForge, here."
"Come up to the Bridge will you Geordi, there's something here I think you should see."
"On my way, Sir. LaForge out."
Regaining his seat, Will glared at the planet below. "Now what?"

 

With his Captain held on the planet, facing a very uncertain future, almost all of the Enterprise's crew were depressed, none more so than the senior staff. For many years, before Jean-Luc and Beverly had finally become a couple, the only members of his crew that Jean-Luc would allow to get close to him were his senior staff and, over the years they had become his closest friends, but even then he kept a certain distance between them and himself. It was only after he and Beverly had become lovers that he slowly began to allow his friends to get closer, to take a greater part in his private life and so given the current situation, it was little wonder feelings of frustration and anger permeated the ship.
Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge was one of the couple's close friends and felt the frustration of not being able to use any of his extensive skills as the ship's Chief Engineer to help his Captain. It was with some relief that he entered the Bridge, glad to have something to take his mind off his depressing thoughts.
Looking over his shoulder, Will gestured to the Tactical station with his bearded chin.
"The Ensign has something to show you, Geordi. See what you can make of it."
Offering a small smile at the obviously nervous young man, Geordi moved to his side and peered down at the console, his blue ocular implants adjusting for clarity of vision.
"So, what have we got?"
"Um...I think...Sir...a subspace interphase pocket."
Geordi's eyebrows rose in genuine interest. "Really?" He tapped a few commands and silently absorbed the displayed information, muttering quietly, "Well, I'll be damned."
Will, having heard Geordi's soft exclamation, rose from his chair and made his way to the station. "What?"
Shrugging and scratching the side of his head, Geordi raised his eyebrows. "The Ensign is right. That..." He pointed to the readout. "Indicates a subspace interphase pocket...and it's nearby."
Trying to curb his impatience, Will took a deep breath and let it our slowly. "Okay, what exactly is a subspace interphase pocket?"
Geordi gestured to the Ensign, giving him tacit approval to answer the Exec's question. The nervous young man ordered his thoughts and took a steadying breath. "It's a relatively newly discovered phenomenon, Commander, we've only known about it for about eight months. It's when a pocket of subspace intrudes...or bulges, if you like, into normal space."
Raising his eyebrows, Will pulled down the corners of his mouth. "Dangerous?"
The young man shrugged, then panicked when he thought such a gesture was probably inappropriate, but neither of the senior officers seemed to notice. "We don't actually know, sir."
That made Will scowl. "So I take it we don't know what causes it?"
"No, Sir, but..."
It was Geordi who said with gentle encouragement,
"It's okay, Ensign, you're doing fine. If you know something, spit it out."
"Well, sirs, the most up-to-date theory is that it could be caused by using the latest generation of cloaks."
Folding his arms over his barrelled chest, Will narrowed his eyes and asked quietly, "And you know this how?"
Blushing, the young man shifted his feet. "I was part of the team who installed the upgrades to the Enterprise's senor arrays and, as part of that team we were instructed in the capabilities of the arrays as they now are."
"Okay," Said Will, "So what are you doing on the ship? Why aren't you still at McKinley Station?"
Glancing at Geordi and gaining courage from his smile, the Ensign began to calm down. "I want to be an Engineer, sir, but really the only way I could advance is to either get on board a ship like the Enterprise, or get myself posted to the Utopia Planitia ship yards, but the wait for rotation to the Yards is huge, so..."
Will's voice showed just a trace of humour when he observed wryly, "It's just as hard to get on the Enterprise, Ensign. We only take the best."
His blush deepening, the Ensign nodded. "I know, Commander, but while the ship was at McKinley, I found out a position was available for an Engineering tech. I applied and somehow, I got accepted, but honestly, sir, I don't know how."
Geordi's voice was laced with sadness as he said, "It was Captain Picard, Ensign. He saw your application and brought it to my attention. I saw how good you were at what you do and that, coupled with your very good recommendations from your team leaders, well, let's just say the Captain was happy to have you."
Bringing the discussion back on track, Will pointed at the console. "So, what's causing it? Could there be a cloaked ship hovering close by?"
Geordi sighed, muttering, "I wish Data was still with us. He'd have this figured out in minutes...if not sooner."
Placing a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder, Will commiserated. "I know, Geordi, we all miss him, but he's not here any more and we're just going to have to figure this out on our own."
The big First Officer looked at the Ensign with warmth. "Ensign?"
The young man smiled. "Wilkerson, sir, Keith Wilkerson."
"Right, Keith. You are now relieved from tactical. Please assist Commander LaForge in finding out just what that is."
With one final glare at the console, Will went back to the Command chair, musing darkly to himself, "As if we don't have enough on our plate! Fuck! Now we have to consider the likelihood of a cloaked fucking ship. Great!"
He glared at the planet and tried to let the low murmurings of Geordi and Keith calm him down.

 

"So," Deanna said, slumped in her chair. "You can see how this whole thing is nothing but some kind of giant...conspiracy."
Selar was also seated. However, unlike Deanna's defeated slump, her posture was perfect.

"Is there any way anything of what you have told me can be verified?" The Vulcan said with a tilt of her head.
Deanna shrugged. "I don't see how. On the face of it this mission was ostensibly to assess Ereban as a potential member of the Federation. How everything else fits in..." She shrugged again. "I've no idea."
Selar's voice was unemotional, as usual, but Deanna knew her well enough to pick up the nuances of her speech and she clearly heard anxiousness. "We must do something, Counsellor. Unless we can uncover the conspiracy, Captain Picard will die a needless death."
Sighing and trying to keep the exasperation out of her voice, Deanna grimaced. "I know, but how? Look, Selar, this involves the very heart of the Federation. The Council itself is implicated and as for Section 31..." She shook her head with anger. "We're not even supposed to know it exists! How the hell can we prove the involvement of something that to all intents and purposes no one knows about? Certainly no one on the Council, the Federation President or even Starfleet Command is going to admit it! That would implicate all of them!"
Frowning, Selar lowered her eyes to stare at her hands. "I do not understand what the ulterior motive is. What could possibly be gained from admitting a clearly unsuitable world into the Federation? And the changes, the genetic shifts; how does that fit with what the Captain knows?"
"He doesn't know." Deanna plexed, feeling the beginnings of a headache. "Like I told you, he never made contact with the covert operative within the Ereban government."
"But was it an operative? From what you said, I gained the impression it was more like a group of Ereban citizens who were working towards uncovering something...hidden."
Deanna sighed and pushed her fingers into her eyes. "Does it matter? The point is he didn't make contact and in the interim disaster struck."
Sitting forward in an uncharacteristic display of eagerness, Selar's gaze was piercing. "Yes, Counsellor, but we know now that the...disaster...of which you speak was most probably orchestrated by someone, or more than one, with a very different agenda to the one the Captain thought he was dealing with. Advocate Jeran said as much herself. Those involved had enough technological assistance to access the sub archive remotely, apparently over and above the level of technology the Ereban current employ."
Looking up at her companion, Deanna's eyes narrowed. "So you're suggesting there's more than Section 31 interfering?"
"Perhaps. Have you considered the Ereban themselves might be in conflict, albeit covertly?"
"Conflict?" Said a confused Counsellor. "Do you mean lurin against 'normal' Ereban?"
"No, not necessarily. It may not be as simple as that. The Captain mentioned the warring neighbouring planets and their intent to conquer Ereban by inducing genetic change through the lurin, but what if there was more to it than that?"
Seeing Deanna's intense gaze, Selar tilted her head in deep thought. "The Typhon Pact is ready for war, the Captain himself knows this, but to what end? All out war with the Federation, or something more subtle? And the Federation. They too are aware of the inevitable conflict that is brewing with the Typhon Pact. So what is at stake here? The quadrant...or one planet?"
Unable to sit any longer, Deanna got up and began to pace. "What are you saying, Selar?"
"What do you know of Eugenics?"
Deanna shrugged. "It was an attempt to create super..." She gasped, her hand going to her mouth. "You don't think..."
With a one shoulder shrug, Selar sighed. "Why not? We know that human DNA is present in all three species in this system."
"But the Captain theorised that was because Khan Noonien Singh's sleeper ship must have somehow ended up here and he and his followers interbred with the local species."
Bowing her head, Selar agreed. "Yes, Counsellor, but I must wonder if that was a random act or a deliberate one?" Before Deanna could protest, Selar held up her hand. "Think about it, Counsellor. What if, at the end of the Eugenics war, Khan and his followers were somehow programmed, perhaps by an embryonic Section 31 or a forerunner, and were meant to breed with a predetermined type of alien species? One perhaps strong and intelligent? Or, on the other hand, perhaps Khan's involvement in this system was completely random, but on discovering what had occurred much later, centuries in fact, the Council chose to take advantage of it? You must admit, once the lurin are the dominant example of the species, the population of Ereban is going to explode. Lurin breed indiscriminately, they are not bound by the normal strictures of Ereban customs or physical impediments of slow reproduction."
Deanna couldn't process what was being suggested. "Are you saying the Federation is deliberately breeding a soldier species?"
Again, Selar shrugged. "If the Federation is facing war with the Typhon Pact, then it would be advantageous to have a ready supply of individuals to fight with, would it not? The ancient Earth term was, I believe, 'cannon fodder'."
Still pacing, Deanna's hands became restless. "All right, let's for the moment say you're right. Why then would there be factions within Ereban society at war with each other?"
"Because I believe there are those who have realised what is happening and wish to take responsibility for their own destiny. Be their own masters, as it were. They may not be able to stop what is happening to them, and certainly in human terms, they won't see change in their life time, but I feel they wish the Ereban, whatever that eventually means, to be autonomous and not slaves to anyone, especially not those responsible for their forced false evolutionary changes."
Danna's face paled. "But if that's the case, then we can't do anything about it!"
Selar merely bowed her head. Deanna gasped. "And what of Captain Picard?"
"It is regrettable; Counsellor, but I cannot see how we or anyone else can help him. Things have progressed too far. He is but a casualty of an undeclared war. In all likelihood, he was doomed before he even set foot on the planet. You know the kind of man he is and so does the Council. They needed to seem, at least on the surface, to be doing the normal, benevolent thing they always did and sent the best man for the job, knowing full well he could not in good conscience give an positive assessment of Ereban. With him out of the way, and seemingly without any interference from the Council, they are now free to send someone who is more aligned with their plans."
"My God!"
"Indeed."

 

The crewman on the hidden ship had been dozing. His Commander hadn't returned from his meal and with nothing much to do, the man became bored and decided to take some time to catch up on some much-needed sleep. It was a quiet beeping that roused him, blinking and grumbling sourly under his breath.
"What the fuck?"
One look at his console had him scrambling upright in his seat and urgently summoning his Commander. The older man came quickly, irritated at being disturbed. "This better be good!" He barked.
Pointing at his console, the younger man gritted his teeth. "They're on to us!"
Being more experienced, the Commander wasn't so easily panicked. "Have they made any move? Given any indication that they know exactly what it is they've found?"
Glancing through the viewscreen at the image of the Enterprise, the seated man shook his head. "No, but they've detected the subspace interphase pocket."
The Commander shrugged. "So? As far as they know, it could be anything!" He glowered down at his subordinate. "Jesus, they've only known about SIPs for a year at most, and only a few ships have the means to detect them! Okay, they might have detected ours, but there's no fucking way they know what it is they've actually discovered."
Taking a steadying breath, the younger man swallowed.
"Okay, sir, so what do we do?"
"What do we do? Nothing! Until they show us they know we're here, ignore them! They're bumbling around in the fucking dark!"
He turned to leave the cockpit, but hesitated and snarled, "And don't be such a lily-livered shit stirrer. Make sure you know what the fuck you're doing before you bother me!"
As the Commander left, the crewman turned to glare out into space, his hatred and anger directed towards the Enterprise.

It had been some days since Jeran and Absum had met and much had transpired. Absum was now sure Jeran was lurin, but where once that information would've disgusted and alarmed the Doctor, she now accepted the Advocate's difference with equanimity.
They had met at Jeran's request and by the seclusion of the venue, Absum was confidently sure that the Advocate had important news. She smiled to herself as she also had something stunning to tell her legal colleague.
In a park on the eastern fringe of the capital, the two females walked, heads bowed in deep conversation. It was Jeran who was speaking and although her voice was soft, her tone was urgent.
"I haven't got to the bottom of this yet, Doctor, but my...enquiries... have led to some very disturbing information." She halted, bringing her companion to a stop as well. Casting a thorough look around to make sure, yet again, that they were alone, Jeran looked Absum in the eyes and said, "You know what I am."
Absum nodded, making sure nothing but calm acceptance showed in her eyes. Grateful, Jeran offered a small bow and a deep sigh of relief. "Thank you, Doctor; I wasn't sure how you would..."
Shaking her head, Absum smiled sadly. "I have been blind far too long, Jeran and what I've witnessed recently has not only opened my eyes fully, but changed my perceptions of who and what I am...and who and what we, as Ereban are going to become. But what I don't know is why?"
Gently taking Absum's elbow, Jeran started them walking again. "I've learned several incredible things. Absum. I now know that these...changes...the development of lurin has been at the hands of outside influences. Someone, and as yet I don't know who, has deliberately...seeded...our atmosphere with microscopic genetic messages. This was done some time ago, at least one generation before the first lurin was ever discovered, perhaps even earlier than that, I don't know, but there can be no doubt. It was a deliberate act!"
Absum nodded, her face grim. "I know. Two nights ago I dissected the most extraordinary being I've ever seen. Outwardly it looked like a normal Ereban, but it wasn't! It was definitely male, but its interior structures, its organs were subtly different as if it had once been very different, but was in the process of becoming like us."
Tilting her head, Jeran narrowed her eyes. "Surgical alteration?"
Absum shook her head. "No, definitely not." She said firmly. "No, this being was close, Jeran, almost, but not quite Ereban."
Jeran didn't want to ask the next question, but she simply had to. "Lurin?"
Absum shrugged. "To be honest, I don't know. It certainly wasn't like any lurin I've ever seen, but perhaps..."
Arching one pale eyebrow, Jeran said softly, "Perhaps?"
Again shrugging, Absum sighed deeply. "Jeran, we're talking about what's to come. I can't discard the possibility that I may have been seeing a version of our future selves and that of course means lurin."
"But how?" Asked an obviously confused Jeran. "How is it possible you saw such an evolved specimen...if that is indeed what it was?"
Absum rubbed her brow, she'd been thinking about this so hard it was beginning to make her head sore. "Jeran, what I'm about to say may sound...irrational, but it is the only plausible thing I can come up with."
"Go on."
"What if the being I dissected wasn't what we're to become, but one of those who were responsible for what's happening?"
Jeran lifted her head and again scanned the area with her sharp gaze while giving the question considerable thought. "You are aware of what you're suggesting? If you're right, then we have, walking among us...aliens who look, at least on the outside, just like us." Raising her hand, the Advocate pinched her lower lip. "So, if it's true, what is their purpose?" Tilting her head, Jeran asked quietly, "Was it genetically compatible? Could it breed with us?"
Absum's face showed her answer before she vocalised it. "Yes, most definitely."
As Absum stood still, Jeran walked in a slow circle around her. "So what do we have? On the one hand we have Ereban like me...lurin...created for some as yet unknown purpose and now it seems there is further interference through what? Alien interbreeding? Why?"
Absum chose her next words very carefully. "While I don't know the answers to those questions, don't you think it interesting...convenient even, that we discover the presence of an alien at the same time our government makes a petition to join the Federation? We have Starship in orbit and its Captain awaiting trial for a capital offence. I don't know about you, Jeran, but I was vehemently against the governments' overtures to the Federation and now that they're here, look what's happened. An explosion in the number of lurin, Ereban exhibiting what could only be described as deviant behaviour and now we know about clandestine groups and aliens among us. There has to be a connection!"
Snapping her fingers, Jeran hissed, "Acceleration!"
Narrowing her eyes, Absum said warily, "What?"
Again taking her elbow, both females resumed walking. "Whatever is going on, for some reason it's being accelerated...brought forward. Obviously things were moving too slowly." She scratched her hair and grimaced. "What we have to find out is what it is they need us for. Why have they changed us and why do they now need those changes to accelerate?"
Sighing, Absum shrugged. "I'm not sure I'm in a position to find those answers."
That made Jeran snort with wry amusement. "Absum, my friend, only a few weeks ago, I was a spectacularly unsuccessful Advocate, and you were content to be a visiting Doctor at the State mental institution, doing a small, but interesting amount of research in your spare time. Now look at us! Meeting in secret to discuss the ramifications of a plot most probably instigated by those who were duty bound to protect us! Neither of us are equipped to answer any of our questions, but answer them we must! It will put us...our families...our bond mates in grave danger. In fact..." Absum sighed deeply, making Jeran move closer. "Absum? What is it?"
Smiling sadly, the Doctor's eyes glittered with tears. "They already have my bond mate."
Jeran gasped. "By the All Seeing One! Why did you agree to this meeting?"
Shrugging with fatalism, Absum shook her head. "It doesn't matter, does it? If they so wish, they will kill him no matter what I do. I might as well try to find out why he died...what he died for. At least, even if it means my own death, I will die knowing why."
Her years as an Advocate had inured Jeran somewhat to sentimentality, but she couldn't help but feel desperately sorry for Absum. Gathering her thoughts and courage, Jeran took Absum's elbow and squeezed it. The spark of defiance growing.
"What sort of contacts do you have?"
Shrugging again, Absum pulled down the corners of her mouth. "Not many, but those I have are well placed."
Jeran smiled coldly. "Mine too. Look, I'm not suggesting we can solve this on our own, but I think together we might be able to make the right people aware of what we know. Maybe it'll be enough to start something."
"Something? That's a little vague, isn't it?"
The Advocate chuckled and shook her head. "Yes it is, and it's mainly because I have absolutely no idea how to start a revolution, my dear Doctor, but if that's what it takes to protect Ereban, then that's what has to happen."
Absum gaped, then swallowed, suddenly feeling nauseous. "A revolution? And you think we can do that?"
"Well, it has to start somewhere."
"But we don't even know for sure..."
Leaning close until their faces were almost touching, Jeran said with deadly intent, "Then we must find out!"
Looking about again, the Advocate put some distance between them and said mildly, "We should go our separate ways now, Doctor. I'll be in touch."
Absum, still stunned, watched silently as Jeran walked briskly away. It wasn't until Absum had reached her ground vehicle on the opposite side of the park that she saw a male sitting in it. With her mouth suddenly dry she got in and stared straight ahead as the male said quietly, "I think we should have a chat about who you should be talking too, Doctor."
As a physician, Absum knew Ereban could not die of heart failure, but her heart began to beat so fast she wondered if she just might be the first.

David knew his mother was regaining consciousness. She took a deep breath and smiled, but just as quickly as the smile had emerged, it vanished to be replaced with a grimace. Her eyes opened then and she sought her son, who'd been sitting on her bed, holding her hand. The restraining field had been removed.
"Hello, Maman, how do you feel?"
Sitting up, Beverly put her free hand over her shoulder and rotated her head. Her frown was a deep one and her tone angry.
"A nerve pinch." Lifting her head, she called,
"Doctor Selar, this is Doctor Crusher. I would like to see you. Now."
There was no reply, further angering Beverly, but Selar's appearance at her bedside mollified Beverly somewhat. "You've given me a nerve pinch. Why?"
With typical Vulcan emotionless delivery, Selar said quietly, "You were irrational, Doctor and considered a danger to yourself and those around you."
"Nonsense!" Beverly spat. "How could you make such a fatuous claim?!"
Calmly, Selar said, "You struck your son, Doctor."
Beverly gaped, her eyes travelling to David who had lowered his head. "What? I hit my son?"
Gently lifting his chin, he kept his gaze lowered. Beverly's voice clearly carried her distress. "David? Is it true? Did I hit you?"
All he could do was nod, but in a small voice he said, "It wasn't your fault, Maman. You couldn't find a safe place and you got confused."
Before Beverly could say anything further, Selar asked, "What do you remember, Doctor Crusher?"
"Remember?" Her eyes narrowed. "About what?"
Deanna, having sensed the strong, turbulent emotion surging through her best friend, arrived at the bed and said, "Where is Monique right now?"
As soon as Deanna saw Beverly's eyes fill with tears she knew the Doctor remembered her four year old daughter was dead. Now she had to ask if Beverly remembered anything of her recent delusional behaviour.
"Do you remember hitting David?"
Mouth ajar, Beverly was shaking her head when she suddenly gasped and brought her hand to cover her mouth.
"No! Oh, my God, no!" Turning to her son, she wrapped him in her arms, sobbing, "Oh, David...I'm so sorry...so very sorry!"
It took some time for Beverly to calm and it was David who helped her to regain her composure. While she sobbed he talked to her softly and in French. When she was finally able to look him in the eye, she smiled tenderly and gently stroked his hair.
"So like your Papa."
Selar moved a little closer and said quietly, "Would you both like to transport down to the planet to see Captain Picard?"
Beverly's lower lip trembled, but she managed to say in a very small voice, "Yes. We would." David merely nodded. Only Deanna knew he was so frightened he didn't really want to go.
"I will contact the medical facility and arrange a time."
Nodding her thanks to the Vulcan, Beverly looked at her son and smiled. "It'll be good to see Papa, won't it."
Again, all David did was nod, his head lowered. Deanna stepped closer and gently took his arm, saying to Beverly, "I just want to have a chat with David. He'll be back soon."
Beverly was annoyed, she'd yet to find out if she'd hurt her son, certainly she knew she'd hurt him emotionally and wanted time to try and heal the damage she'd caused. She couldn't do that if the boy was off with Deanna, but she had no option but to agree. Besides she thought it most likely their 'chat' would be about what she'd done anyway. She was wrong.
Ushering David into the Sick Bay Observation lounge, Deanna sat them together and said quietly, "Why are you so frightened about seeing your father?"
At first David, keeping his head lowered just shrugged, but it was a token show of resistance. He knew his Aunt wouldn't let the matter rest until she had a satisfactory answer.
"I just don't want to see him. Not down there."
"Why?"
He became very angry. His hold on his emotions was tenuous and he felt tears threatening, but the last thing he wanted to do right then was cry. So instead he shot to his feet, fisted his hands and beat them on the tabletop, shouting, "Because I said so!"
Deanna, calm as always simply waited. David began to stalk around the room, shoving chairs out of his way and kicking anything within reach. When the storm finally abated, he collapsed to the floor, curled up in a ball and wept, quietly and forlornly.
Deanna went to him, sat and gathered him into her arms. "It's all right to be frightened, David, you know that. But why don't you want to see your father?"
Barely audible, he said through hiccupping breaths, "I don't want to see him in that place. The skin on his face is all disgusting and he has to wear clothes that don't fit and the people in that place want to kill him and there's nothing I can do! I can't help him and I can't stop them! And they killed Monique and the baby and everything is gone. I want it back like it was, Aunt Deanna, why can't I make it all go back the way it was? We were so happy. If they kill Papa, no one will ever be happy again...not ever."
Struck by the prophetic nature of David's heartbreaking words, Deanna was speechless. All she could do was hold the poor boy and rock him.

 

Beverly and David waited outside while Selar washed, shaved and assisted in redressing her captain. It was only through her Vulcan stoicism that allowed her to show no emotion as she exited the cell and gestured for mother and son to enter.
As soon as they did, Selar said to the guard, "I wish to speak with the Administrator."
"I will advise Administrator Cerran of your request. Please wait."
Nodding her acceptance, Selar watched as the guard summoned another to take her place while she went to deliver the request.
Jean-Luc was seated on the bench not knowing quite what to do. He wanted to hug his wife and son, he wanted to weep and shout out the injustice of his situation, he wanted to take their faces in his hands and kiss them with all the tenderness he could summon, but he did none of these things. He just sat, staring up at them while they, just as confused and paralysed, stood inside the closed metal door.
It was Jean-Luc who broke the impasse by saying something so inane it made both Beverly and David laugh.
"I'm sorry I can't offer you any refreshments."
Their laughter caused Jean-Luc to begin to laugh too, but all three quickly descended into chocking sobs. Taking their places, one each side of him, they gathered in each other's arms and wept brokenheartedly.
It was some minutes before Jean-Luc lifted his head and said, not bothering to even try to stop crying, "I'm so sorry."
Lifting her head from his shoulder, Beverly hiccupped, "You don't...you don't have to...Jean-Luc...don't...please...don't..."
He held her tighter, aware that David too was hugging him fiercely. "I must, Beverly. My oath compels me to..."
Wrenching free of her partner, Beverly shouted, "I don't care about your fucking oath! We never married, we didn't need to, so we never proclaimed our promises, our vows to anyone but to each other! What about those vows, Jean-Luc? Do they mean nothing? Are you saying your oath to Starfleet is more important than your vows spoken to me?"
His head bowed, Jean-Luc's voice was low and rough with emotion. "You know that's not true!"
"Then why are you doing this? Aren't David and I more important to you than any fucking oath you gave as a seventeen year old?"
He looked up, his eyes showing his anger. "Do you not know me at all? Beverly, you know I love you..." He brought David even closer to him. "...and David more than my own life, but I've spent my life, at least my entire adult life living it with integrity, honour and honesty. Isn't that the man you know and love?"
"Yes! But..."
He held up his free hand. "Then what would it make me if I chose to throw away all that I have been, all that I have striven to convey and inspire in others just to preserve my life? I would be a hypocrite! I cannot put forth personal reasons as motive for violating my oath. Beverly..." He let go of David and rose to take his partner's hands. "The plain fact is I broke Ereban law and I must face the consequences of that. I don't want to die! My God..." He momentarily lost the ability to speak. Several long seconds passed before he said brokenly, "I want nothing more than to live out the rest of my days with you and David, but fate has dictated otherwise."
"I can't go on without you, Jean-Luc." Beverly whispered, tears streaming down her face.
"You must, my love. David needs you and you need him." He led her back to the bench. "After I'm...afterwards, leave Starfleet, Beverly...I want you to..."
She frowned, confused. "Leave Starfleet?"
"Yes!" Jean-Luc said vehemently. "Beverly, my love, Starfleet, Command, the Federation Council...it's not all that it seems. Things...things I can't tell you about have been happening...are still happening and once you get wind of it you're not going to want to stay. In fact no one with any conscience or integrity is going to stay, believe me. Will, Deanna, Selar...I've no doubt they'll resign. Walk away, Beverly, walk away and don't look back!"
"But where should we go? The chateau?"
Jean-Luc frowned and rubbed his fingers over his lower lip, something he could now do again. "Perhaps Earth might not be the best place. Caldos maybe?"
"What is it you can't tell me, Jean-Luc? What the hell's going on?"
"I can't tell you, Beverly, it would put you in danger. Once the...execution has taken place, retrieve my remains and get back to Earth ASAP. Have me cremated along with Charlotte and our little girl and inter us in my family's plot at the chateau. Then you and David leave!"
"Jean-Luc..." Beverly was barely able to even whisper. "I don't think I can do it..."
He squeezed her hands and looked deeply into her eyes. "You must, Beverly, mon coeur. Think of it as my dying wish. You can't refuse."
Her mouth slightly ajar and tears running freely down her face, all Beverly could do was nod. Jean-Luc let go of Beverly's hands and turned to his son. He picked the unprotesting boy up and placed him on his lap. "David, my sweet son...I know you don't understand why I'm doing this, I can only hope that with time you will come to terms with my decision. It is my hope, that with your mother's help, you will learn more about me and in doing so realise that sometimes there are situations when the greater good must take precedence over personal concerns. In any event, I can only hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me for what you must feel is my betrayal. But for now I beseech you, take care of your Maman. In the coming days, weeks and months she is going to need you. Help her to move forwards, make a new life for yourselves and my dear son, live your life to the full! Be the good man I know you will grow to be!" Jean-Luc took his son's face in his hands and kissed first his brow, then each cheek, then gently on his lips. He then turned to Beverly and embraced the quietly weeping woman.
"Never forget how much I loved you, my sweet Beverly. Our time together has been the happiest of my life and if I can, I will watch over you...both of you. Our love is eternal, it will not cease with my death."
He released her then and stood. "You must go now and not return until you're required. At that time, be brave and say nothing. All you need to know is that my last thoughts will be of you both. I love you."
Mutely, Beverly stood and took David's hand. They left in a daze, shocked and already grief-stricken.

Administer Cerran smiled down at Selar, offering the Vulcan a seat at her desk. Selar declined with a respectful bow. "I will not take much of your time, Administrator. I am here to state officially that Captain Picard has recovered from the nematode infestation."
The large tan woman's face fell. "Oh. I see. Well, thank you, Doctor Selar, I will inform the relevant authorities."
"May I enquire," said Selar. "When will the trial begin?"
"Well now that patient...sorry, Captain Picard, has been deemed fit and well, probably as soon as tomorrow."
Bowing her head, Selar turned to leave but faltered ever-so-slightly as Cerran muttered, "I'll have to collect the biological samples from him. I take it his seed with survive in stasis?"
"Yes." Selar answered flatly.
"Good. It would be a pity if our...efforts to afford him this...privilege failed because of insufficient technology."
Selar left without acknowledging the remark.

 

The message that summoned Jeran to the 'meeting' had been so subtly embedded in her usual comm. traffic she'd only just found it. She had been instructed to come alone, but she had told Murr too much already, she knew he'd been compromised so, feeling if she was to be eliminated, at least they would die together, Murr had insisted on accompanying her.
The home was on the outskirts of the city, in one of the new 'satellite' suburbs that were springing up to accommodate the sudden upsurge in the Ereban population. During their drive through this new area, Jeran counted fifteen newly opened pleasure centres. And they were large complexes, easily able to service many groups at once. Her unease grew as they entered a sparsely populated area and drew up outside a stylish and obviously new home. It was dark, the street lighting not yet installed. No one saw the group of five enter.
The window coverings had been drawn and the lighting was soft. The interior of the house was unfurnished with the exception of a large, long conference-type table. Jeran came to a halt as Absum caught her eye and sent a frightened smile. Sitting next to the doctor was a male she had only seen once and then as a holoimage. It was Absum's bond mate, Gerron. The four, Absum, Gerron, Jeran and Murr nodded to each other as the advocate and her mate took their seats. The others, including the three who had arrived in the same ground vehicle as Jeran and Murr exchanged quiet greetings, but it was soon obvious the male at the head of the table was the leader.
He focused his attention on the four and offered a tight smile.
"You will not be told our names, it is not necessary for you to know and in the long run, it may save your lives if you remain ignorant of some information."
With typical advocate chutzpah, Jeran swallowed her fear to ask boldly, "What are we doing here? Who are you?"
The male's smile grew, but his pale gold eyes were cold. "As to who we are, you know that already, Advocate. We are patriots and by extension, so are you. And that is why you're here."
Absum shook her head, her face creased in a frown. "That doesn't answer the question."
The male sighed. "You..." he gestured to all four, but his eyes flicked between Jeran and Absum, "...have been asking questions...digging in places you really shouldn't have and generally sticking your noses where they don't belong. Now that in itself isn't too bad, in fact we commend you, if more true Ereban started to ask the questions they should, perhaps what we plan wouldn't be so very necessary."
"And just what is it your plan?" Jeran said belligerently. The male's smile became indulgent.
"This is not a courtroom, Advocate. You cannot cross examine me." His eyes lost some of their coldness and he sat back, taking a piece of dried fruit from a pocket of his sarong and tearing off a bite. He chewed thoughtfully before he spoke again.
"Doctor Absum. The body you dissected. You told one of our operatives that in your opinion it...he...was capable of breeding with true Ereban."
The doctor frowned. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean by 'true' Ereban."
Giving Absum a look of tired boredom, the male sighed. "You know exactly what I mean, doctor. Don't be so disingenuous."
Flushing and quelling the urge to bite back with a sarcastic reply, Absum softly cleared her throat and said mildly, "You are referring to lurin."
"Yes!" the male sat forward, his eyes piercing. "You know full well that within a little as the next two generations, lurin with be by far the dominant example of the Ereban species. You and your ilk, doctor, will die out!"
"Then I can only surmise that you don't consider me or my bond mate to be Ereban." Absum did her best to keep her anger and deep offence at bay.
"Oh, quite the contrary, doctor. There is absolutely no doubt you're both Ereban, but...how should I put it? A soon to be outmoded model?"
Absum and Gerron shared a tender look and the mate gave a surreptitious nod. Emboldened, Absum said quietly, "One doesn't have to be lurin to have changed."
His eyes narrowing, the male said softly, "What is that supposed to mean?"
Again the bonded pair shared a long look. "We discovered some time ago that we could lie without creating a brood and we found intense pleasure in the process."
Waving his hand dismissively, the male said derisively, "Then you are lurin...lurin in denial!"
"No." Absum said quietly and with great dignity. "You forget I am a doctor. We are not lurin. When we found we possessed this...ability, my first reaction was to examine both of us. Yes, we have developed pleasure organs where you would expect to find them in male and female lurin, but we no longer produce cell or seed. And these changes are recent; at least they have occurred within the last five years. We have been covertly 'monitoring' our offspring to see if they've begun to exhibit the same changes. As you'd imagine, they are very reluctant to speak of things so personal, but being in the medical community, they have a vested interest in their society. Of the thirty-eight children we have produced every single one is beginning to change. The eldest have completed the change, the youngest are just now showing the beginnings. Whatever it is that's producing more and more lurin is affecting we...outmoded models. In effect it seems as a trade off because we can no longer breed, we can now indulge in the reproductive act with intense pleasure."
There were dark murmurings around the table until the male slapped his hand down hard, the loud crack bringing silence. "The duplicity!"
"Who is being duplicitous?" Jeran almost shouted. "When are you going to tell us what's going on?"
"Our own government is in collusion with the Federation and our unhappy neighbours. It's been going on for more than a century. Ereban was earmarked as a potential ally a very long time ago, but with the Federation's troubles with the Dominion War, then the Borg incursion, things were brought forward. But still, they had the luxury of time. Or so they thought. That was until our neighbours almost annihilated themselves in their damned war. That set in motion a little plan of theirs involving seeding our atmosphere with a new genetic message. Over the last four generations we have begun a false, vastly accelerated genetic evolution."
"But why?" said a clearly confused Absum. "What possible motive would they have?"
"How does a new species on a lovely clean, mostly underpopulated planet, rich in minerals and resources sound?"
"By the All Seeing One...you mean Ereban!"
"Indeed I do! And just to keep their foot in the door...and our neighbours on the right side, the Federation has helped them! In order to keep them out of the Typhon Pact, the Federation was willing to get into bed with their scientists...offer assistance...in order to manufacture not only a willing ally, but a species of powerful, prolifically breeding males and females with which to bolster their thinning ranks!
"War with the Typhon Pact is inevitable and the Federation had always thought our neighbours would side with the Pact, but the carrot dangled by the Federation was enough to sway our neighbours. In return for saving what little remains of their now joined species, they get Ereban! And that means they get us!"
Jeran shook her head. "And not a drop of blood spilt! They'll do it with a stroke of a pen. By the time our people work out what's happening, it'll be too late."
Absum sat forward, asking urgently "Is there any way we can identify the aliens? Stop them from breeding with us?"
The male laughed coldly. "Even if there was a way to identify them, do you think lurin would refuse? Why do you think lurin were developed in the first place? It is imperative for them to lie! Male and female...they don't care with whom."
Seeing the outraged looks on Jeran and Murr, the male held up his hand. "I apologise. I should have clarified. Non-bonded lurin will lie as often as they can and with whomever they can find. I didn't mean to imply bonded lurin were not faithful to each other."
Mollified, Jeran sat back and rubbed her brow. "All right, so what is your plan?"
"This entire plot was uncovered seven generations ago, but back then, all we knew for certain was that we carried within us human DNA. We didn't know how it got there, but as it seemed to be doing no harm, the discovery was quietly buried. Years...generations passed and things began to change. Then three generations ago, the first lurin appeared. Those of us who knew began to dig. It took a further two generations, but the whole picture began to emerge, but we were powerless to do anything about it! As long as we Ereban relied on our familial ties for everything, we were never going to be able to defend ourselves, either militaristically or scientifically. So a decision was made...a very risky one. We knew of the Federation's involvement but our then government thought if we aligned ourselves with the very people who were so hell-bent on taking us anyway, perhaps we might be able to effect a double-cross. Use our new allies to protect us from our nefarious neighbours.
"Well on the face of it, that seemed to be a reasonably sound idea. But the government had not considered the populations' rejection. It took until the current generation before the citizenry finally conceded. And so a formal petition was made to join the Federation."
The people sat in stunned silence. The male said almost off-handedly, "You know, Doctor, those changes you described? I am no scientist, but I would wager it's happening simply because you carry within you DNA of four species and they've each begun to wish to assert dominance."
"That is absurd!" Absum blurted. "That kind of DNA selection; that being which DNA has dominance occurs at fertilisation, not in grown, mature adults."
"Really?" said the male sarcastically. "Then explain to me the occurrence of sexually deviant behaviour in otherwise normal Ereban adults? People who had up until they changed, had been absolutely normal? And your changes, Doctor. Can you explain them?"
Jeran waved her hand. "This is irrelevant! Again I ask, what is your plan?"
"We have put in place people who have influence. When the time comes, and I stress it won't be in our lifetime, but sooner rather than later, going by the latest statistics, when the 'invasion' begins, we will be ready. That double-cross I mentioned. It's not exclusively aimed at our neighbours, but at the Federation as well. If they want is so badly, they're going to have to take us...and we'll resist with the very weapons and ships they themselves will supply. We will of course up until then be the perfect lap dogs! But by the time everything happens there will be many, many Ereban. More, we think, than the Federation realises."
"And what of the human, Picard? What has he to do with all this?" Jeran was partly curious and partly dreading the answer
The male sighed and actually looked sad. "It is regretful. Our government, again in collusion with an entity within the Federation Council sent Picard as a sacrificial lamb...a lamb to be slaughtered. They knew a man like Picard, possessed with integrity and honour would at least try to do what he'd been sent to do, that is assess Ereban for admission into the Federation and of course he quickly found we were nowhere near suitable as candidates. But he was also supposed to meet with what he'd been told were a clandestine group who wished to elicit Federation assistance with our little 'evolution' problem. He was set up from the very beginning. Even his selection as a man with a family but who had not bonded was taken into account. And as for the three deviants who raped, beat and murdered his family? Hand-picked by our government."
Suddenly on her feet, Jeran slammed her fist down on the tabletop. "What about Article 225.1? I can use it to..."
"NO!" the male calmed himself and motioned for Jeran to regain her seat. "No, Advocate, you can't use it. It will make no difference anyway. The Presider is in the pocket of the Chief Seer. Picard's trial is nothing but a sham. He was doomed even before his ship left orbit to make the journey to Ereban. If the situation with the deviants had failed, something else would've been made available, something that would bring about his execution and if all else failed, he would've been quietly....eliminated."
"Then why bother with a trial and execution at all? Jeran was disgusted and confused.
"Because," the male said patiently, "the government wants the people to see how seriously the Federation is taking our petition. If they're willing to sit idly by and allow our law to run its course and do nothing to protect one of their most illustrious Captains, then surely they can be trusted?"
Absum closed her eyes and shook her head. "And the people will feel justified in aligning themselves with an alien power."
"Exactly."
Jeran sighed, her broad shoulders slumping. "So Picard dies needlessly and in one, perhaps two generations, we will be plunged into war with the Federation."
"Yes. If we win, we win more than a war, Advocate. We win the right to be ourselves...whatever that eventually is." The male stared intently. "And, Advocate. Picard's death will not be needless. He serves a purpose. His death will not be forgotten, not by us or by those to come. He will be forever remembered for what the Federation once was and what we hope to be ourselves, one day."

 

Administrator Cerran stood outside Jean-Luc's cell, staring at the special container in her hand. It was the standard size for an Ereban male, but she knew it was going to be too large for her 'patient', but it was a specially engineered container, specifically designed for its job, so it wasn't as if she had a choice. Yet somehow she felt this situation was different and it made her feel decidedly uncomfortable.
She'd not had a lot to do with her 'patient' but from what little contact she'd had, she'd found him to be intelligent and inherently gentle. How he could've found the excessive violence in him to murder three adult Ereban males...she sighed and shook her head. "He was trying to protect his family...even though he wasn't bonded." She thought sadly.
"Oh well, no time like the present." She muttered. To the guard she nodded towards the cell door and instructed, "Open it."
Jean-Luc was sitting on the bench, staring at his hands which dangled between his thighs. Cerran had to clear her throat loudly to gain his attention.
"Patient Picard, number 55839, as a gesture of good will, we, the staff here at the hospital are affording you a singular privilege. I am going to leave this..." she held up the container. "I will return in three of your hours to collect it."
Confused, Jean-Luc asked quietly, "What is it?"
Flushing slightly, the administrator said curtly, "It is a seed collector."
"Pardon? A what?"
Through gritted teeth, Cerran hissed, "A seed collector!"
"Seed? What kind of seed?" Jean-Luc was growing more confused by the second. Throwing her hands up, Cerran spat it out.
"You are to...stimulate yourself and produce three...samples of your seed!"
Realisation made Jean-Luc gape. "Why?" he asked, aghast.
"Because that is what we wish you to do!"
"And if I refuse?"
Shock, anger and outrage made the usually pleasant face of the administrator darken. "If you refuse, we will take the samples by force and believe me, it is NOT a pleasant or comfortable procedure. Now I am offering you the opportunity to do it in privacy at your own pace and as long as you fulfil your obligation within the allotted time, we will leave you alone. But hear me 55839. Failure to comply will not be tolerated!"
She shoved the largish sealed container at Jean-Luc and he took it, his expression one of distaste.
"You are going to comply?" Cerran said with a trace of threat.
"Yes." Agreed Jean-Luc softly.
"Then I will be back in three hours!"
The door clanged shut leaving an embarrassed and bewildered Jean-Luc still sitting, only now he was staring at the container, wondering just how he was going to be able to 'produce the goods'.

 

It was typical of Geordi to keep working well after his shift had ended. He'd dismissed the young ensign, preferring to study the enigma on his own. Engineering, like all the other crucial departments of the ship was staffed at all times, but the beta shift...the night shift as some liked to call it...was slightly smaller than the 'day' shift, so it was a more subdued environment that afforded Geordi more time to devote to the problem.
It was just on oh four hundred when his head snapped up and he pushed his wheeled chair back from the console in an involuntary gesture. He'd slapped his comm. badge before he even knew he'd done it.
"LaForge to Riker!"
Will had been sleeping so restlessly that Deanna had taken to sleeping on the sofa, but both occupants of Will's quarters woke immediately to the urgency of Geordi's voice.
"Riker here. What is it, Geordi?"
"Sir, I've found something I think you should see. Right now, Commander."
"Acknowledged! I take it you're in engineering?"
"Yes, sir."
"Right, I'll be there shortly. Riker out."
Deanna waited in silence as Will quickly dressed. He was striding to the doors when he hesitated and turned to his lover. She held up her hand and offered a small smile.
"Go. I'll see you later."
He gave a curt nod and was gone.
Geordi had brought up a large image of the area of space on their port side on the main screen in engineering. Will found him peering at one section he'd magnified. Nodding his acknowledgment of Will's arrival, Geordi used the knuckle of his right index finger to lightly tap the highlighted area.
"What is it?" Will asked brusquely.
"A ship, no doubt about, sir. They're using a very sophisticated cloaking device, in fact I've never seen anything like it, but whatever it is, they can't prevent the subspace interphase pocket. It's bulging just like we thought."
"Can you tell what kind of ship? Romulan...Klingon maybe?"
Shaking his head, Geordi grimaced. "I doubt it's either, sir. I don't even think it's any of the Typhon Pact's either."
"Why?"
"Because of its size. I can't be completely accurate, but the readings I'm getting seem to suggest the ship's about a 'Defiant' size. Now if the Typhon Pact had sent a spy ship, surely it would be something much more discreet, smaller and much harder to detect??"
'Yeah, maybe, but a Defiant class can pack quite a punch, Geordi."
"If it's a Defiant class, Commander. I didn't say it was, just that whatever's out there is about the same size, that's all."
Will thought for only a few seconds before saying curtly, "Route that..." he jabbed his finger at the image on the screen. "...to the bridge. You're with me, Mr. LaForge."
Within scant minutes both men exited the lift and strode on to the command centre of the ship. The night shift immediately shoved aside their boredom and listlessness and snapped into ready mode.
"Computer," intoned Will. "I want a full, high-intensity sensor sweep and scan of these coordinates."
He nodded to Geordi who inputted the information. "Activate forward viewscreen and display."
Of course there was nothing to see but the edge of the planet below and above...empty space.
"I don't buy it. Tactical," said Will sharply. "There's a ship sitting cloaked at those coordinates. I want you to send a standard hail, but direct it specifically at those coordinates. I want that ship to know not only do we know it's there, but that we know exactly where."
"Aye, Commander."
Seconds of tense silence was followed by a quiet, "No response, sir."
Will was just about to curse when Geordi shouted, "Whoa!"
Spinning around, Will barked, "What is it?"
"Look, I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure that ship just armed itself and by the sharp jump in the EM band, I'd say they also raised some very heavy-duty shields."
"Not very friendly then." Remarked Will drolly. "Okay, let's reciprocate. Red alert! Shields up to full intensity and bring all weapons online!" He turned back to the viewscreen and said with some satisfaction, "And tactical, lock onto the target."
"Yes, sir!"
On the cloaked ship the captain was swearing with vulgarity his crew had rarely ever heard. Once his expletive ridden tirade, in several languages had ended, he glared at the image of the Enterprise and hissed, "That fucker Riker! Who the hell does he think he is?"
"Shall we deploy the thaleron emitter?"
"No you idiot!"
"But it'll vaporise the Enterprise. Problem solved."
"Listen to me shit-for-brains. If we destroy the fucking flagship, just how do you think we're going to explain it? Hmm? If we blame the Typhon Pact it'll begin the war too soon! And besides, the fucking fallout from the thaleron radiation would annihilate everything on the fucking planet! For Christ's sake, think before you open your stupid fucking mouth!"
No one dared speak while the captain ground his teeth. Eventually he threw his hands up and said, "Right! We bug out! Take us out of the Enterprise's sensor range and keep watching. In the meantime, connect me with the section. Things have just taken a u-turn."
The very tense atmosphere on the Enterprise's bridge lessened a little when Geordi reported, "Commander? The SIP has just vanished. My guess is our mystery ship has left."
Will let out a long breath and sat down. "Okay, but I want continuous sensor sweeps and scans right to the very limit of our capacity. I don't want any more surprises."
"There was a quiet chorus of, "Yes, sir."
There was no point in returning to his quarters, his shift was due to start in an hour or two anyway. Will glared balefully at the planet, a very uncharacteristic sneer firmly in place.

 

Jeran had only been asleep three hours when an intra net call woke her. She answered quickly, hoping to not disturb the sleeping Murr, but he rolled over, grumbling, "Who would call at this hour? Don't they know it's our day off?"
Giving him a quiet hush, she answered. "Advocate Jeran."
"This is Presider Nellar. A situation is developing at the central justice complex. Your attendance is required immediately."
"I'm on my way, Presider."
"Quickly, Jeran. Things are rapidly spiralling out of control. Enter by an underground route. Do not, I repeat, do not try to enter through the main entry or the peripheral entryways."
"I understand, Presider."
The line went dead and Jeran dressed with haste. Murr said with growing alarm, "Is there anything I can do?"
She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Until I know what's going on, it's best if you stay here. I'll contact you if I can."
She was almost out of the bedroom when Murr's soft, deep voice stopped her in her tracks. "I have never told you, Jeran, but I have always felt it. I love you."
She turned to face him, her eyes misting with tears. "And I have always loved you, Murr. If I never see you again, I want you to know you have made me happy beyond measure."
She didn't give him the opportunity to respond. All he heard was the front door closing softly.
The main city of Ereban was impressive in its own way, mostly because of its size, but that was mostly to accommodate the huge proportions of its citizens, but what the ordinary people didn't know was that beneath their city was a intricate series of tunnels and complexes, a city beneath a city. The entrances to the access tunnels were very cleverly disguised and, as the average Ereban was both trusting and a little naive, they never saw what was in fact, right under their own noses.
Heeding the presider's warning, Jeran drove away from her home in the opposite direction to the central justice complex. She parked her ground vehicle at a public transport hub and entered a nondescript office. There, making sure she was unobserved, opened a concealed pad and inputted her secret code. The well hidden door opened and she entered a lift which descended so quickly her ears popped.
As soon as the lift doors opened she exited and began a ground-eating lope. The distance was at least two kilometres but she covered it easily. Another pad, this one openly displayed accepted her code and she found herself in the sub basement of the central justice complex. A guard stepped in front of her and she brandished her wrist so her sub dermal chip could be read. Having verified her identity, the guard bowed and said respectfully, "You are expected, Advocate. Please follow me."
As they rose in a lift Jeran activated the screen that connected to the security systems surrounding the complex. What she saw made her gape. "What are all those people doing here? By the All Seeing One...are they rioting?"
Her questions went unanswered as the lift stopped and the doors opened. Greeting her was the Chief Presider. Again, Jeran gaped, but quickly recovered. "Oh, I beg your indulgence, Chief Presider. I was expecting Presider Nellar."
The huge male gave a grim look. "This has gone beyond her purview. I am taking over this case."
"And which case is that, sir?"
"Come with me, Advocate."
They walked a short distance to an area Jeran knew well. The door they now faced would lead to a cell where the condemned awaited their execution.
"In there, Advocate, you will find your 'client' the human, Picard. Due to the appalling social unrest the news of his impending trail, which was to be held this morning is causing it has been decided to forego the trial completely and proceed with the execution.
Scrambling to regain her wits, Jeran blurted, "I was not informed the trial date had even been set!"
The Chief Presider sighed. "Things have moved quickly, Advocate and as the decision has been made for a summary execution, it was not necessary to inform you. But protocol demands you accompany your client to his execution. That is why you are here now. Kindly perform your duties with respect and decorum as befitting your station."
"And what of his family? They should be here."
"They have been summoned, Advocate. While we await their arrival, I suggest you...explain matters to your client."
Jeran could only watch in stunned silence as the chief presider turned and walked away.

 

Beverly was feeling her mind beginning to rapidly unravel. Since receiving the urgent message to beam down to the central justice complex, she was finding it harder and harder to do even the simplest of things. David had helped her to dress and now he was brushing her hair. Without his steadying influence, Beverly would've lost her tenuous grip of her sanity completely.
They eventually beamed down and were immediately taken into a cold, startlingly clean, white room. They were directed to set of tiered seats and told to sit and wait. Beverly stared uncomprehendingly, her mind blank, at the odd apparatus situated in the exact centre of the room. Nothing was making any sense. David clung to his mother's hand, doing his best not to wet his pants.

Jeran stood outside the cell she knew contained the condemned man. She schooled her features into a profession milieu and nodded to the guard, giving him the tacit order to open the door, but as soon as she set eyes on Jean-Luc her expression crumpled into sorrow and regret.
Jean-Luc was no fool. He suspected what was about to happen, but he asked anyway. "What is going on?"
Summoning a steady voice, Jeran said quietly, "News of your trial, which was scheduled for this morning had got out. At present the central justice complex is surrounded on all sides by hundreds...perhaps thousands of people, some protesting, some encouraging, but all in conflict. Rioting has broken out and our security forces cannot control the growing unrest. Because your guilt was never in doubt, to restore order, it has been decided that you will undergo summary execution."
To his credit, Jean-Luc showed no outward emotion. His voice was strong, but quiet as he asked, "When?"
"Now."
"I see. Very well, let's get this over with, shall we?"
Admiring his dignity and composure, Jeran struggled to keep her emotions under control. She nodded and said softly, "You must disrobe, Captain. One cannot enter the afterlife clothed. You entered your existence naked and so you shall leave it the same."
With calm efficiency, Jean-Luc stripped. Once he was naked, Jeran knocked on the door. Two huge guards stepped into the large room, each one taking one of Jean-Luc's elbows. The captain stood straight and said quietly, "That is not necessary. I can assure you I require no assistance, nor will I offer any resistance."
Jeran nodded to the guards who released Jean-Luc and stood back. Together, Jeran leading, they walked single file down a corridor and into the execution room. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Beverly and David, but refused to look at them. Instead he concentrated on the apparatus in the middle of the room. It was a large tubular metal frame, open at one end. He noted a padded low stool had been placed within the device and what appeared to be hastily made hand holds had been situated closer than the permanent ones on what he assumed were arms rests.
There were two other Ereban in the room, apart from Jeran and the two guards. One wore robes of dark purple and edged in gold. The other wore nothing but a loin cloth. In his hand was a slight curved brightly gleaming grey blade.
Jeran said quietly, "Go and stand at the open end of the frame. When ordered to take your position, you are to kneel on the stool, lay your arms on the rests and grip the handles. Because your blood must be clean, we cannot offer you anything in the way of a chemical ant-anxiety medication, but should you wish it, you can be restrained and an eye cover applied."
"Thank you, but none of that will be necessary." Jean-Luc's voice was still strong and calm.
Jeran was about to step back and take her place, but she couldn't help but say sotto voce, "I am deeply sorry, Captain Picard. I regret what has happened to you...what is about to happen to you."
Somehow Jean-Luc found a smile. "Thank you." He said softly.
Jeran took her place and the purple-robed figure came to stand at the front of the frame.
"Patient 55839, you have been pronounced guilty of your crimes. Such was the barbarity of your crimes and the overwhelming evidence in your case, it has been decided to forgo the procedure of a trial and go directly to the punishment phase. In your case, that means execution. As is customary, you are to be given the opportunity to make a last statement. Do you wish to do so?"
"Yes." Said Jean-Luc quietly. "Although I do not regret my actions in defence of my family, I do regret the situation that led to my actions. It is my hope my death will bring an end to the unrest among the people of Ereban and it is my fervent hope that your people prosper in the future."
The purple-robed male glowered. "By refusing to repent you will suffer in the afterlife, 55839. May the All Seeing One have mercy upon you."
The robed male took three measured steps back and nodded to the male with the blade. He came to stand behind Jean-Luc and said quietly, "Take your position."
Jean-Luc did as requested, finding the new hand-holds a little too far away to comfortably reach, but he sighed to himself. It made little difference. He reached forward and found a firm grip.
A large hand wrapped around his brow, gently easing his head back. A collector was fastened to the base of his neck, presumably to catch his blood. He kept his eyes open and concentrated, bringing into his mind images of all his family. Beverly, David, Monique and the little girl he would never get to know. He just saw the large hand come across his exposed neck and he felt the slightest of pressure, a cold sensation and then the warmth of his blood as it ran freely down the side of his neck. There was no pain.
The odd flash of light momentarily confused him. "Is that it?" he wondered. "Am I dead?"
The voice both shocked and enraged him.
"I wouldn't move so much as a muscle, mon capitaine. Your carotid artery has been cut, one millimetre more and phft! You'll be gone."
Making sure he kept absolutely still, Jean-Luc managed to say one word. "Q!"
Suddenly he wasn't in the apparatus any more. He was standing naked and bleeding in front of his old nemesis, who for once was dressed in something other than a Starfleet uniform. Q saw Jean-Luc look him up and down and grinned. "I thought, seeing as I was saving you...again...I'd dispense with formality and go casual."
Blood was now pooling around Jean-Luc's left foot. Q looked down and shook his head. "Tsk, tsk, Jean-Luc. Put some pressure on the wound or we'll run out of time."
Annoyed, Jean-Luc nonetheless did as Q suggested. He then looked around the room only to see everything frozen. When he saw the vacant look in Beverly's eyes and how David was gripping her around her waist while he had buried his face in her side almost made him weep. "No...oh, no...Beverly..."
"Yep." Said Q. "Poor old Red. Lost the plot completely, I'm afraid."
Rage surged up in Jean-Luc and he rounded on the omnipotent being. "Is this your idea of some kind of sick joke? Are you so debauched that you have to put my family through your perverted scenarios?"
Q's face lost all his natural capriciousness. "Oh no, Jean-Luc. This is no joke, far from it. This is deadly serious, I promise you."
"Then why? Why have you interfered?" Jean-Luc was completely unconvinced; too many times the butt of Q's cruelty.
Waving his arm in a wide arc, Q said with uncharacteristic exasperation. "Because this timeline is wrong!"
"What do you mean wrong? Timelines are what they are! And you know you can't alter them!"
"Don't you dare to presume to tell me what I can or cannot do, Picard! I know more about time and the universe than your puny simian brain could even hope to comprehend and I'm telling you this timeline is wrong! It was never meant to be this way!"
Struggling to calm himself, Jean-Luc said carefully, "All right. Can you explain why you say this timeline is...wrong?"
Q seemed to appreciate Jean-Luc's efforts to be civil and calm. Sneering distastefully at the still flowing blood from Jean-Luc's neck wound, Q waved his hand and Jean-Luc found his injury repaired and the blood gone. He was, however, still naked. He was about to thank Q when the entity wagged a finger and shook his head. "No, Jean-Luc, don't thank me. If you refuse to do what is right, I'll put you back in that...thing...and let the execution go ahead."
"And what is right, Q? What is it I'm supposed to do?"
"Go back."
"To where?"
"To a time, not too far back, but far enough to stop what's happening here on Ereban...and other places."
Jean-Luc sighed and rubbed his bald head. "Q." He said patiently. "You know I can't interfere with the timeline. We've had this discussion before."
"Yes. But what if I told you that a decision taken by a small fledgling group within the Federation Council over a century ago was fundamentally wrong and led to what we have now...and will lead to a catastrophic event in the very near future?"
"Q..."
Placing a hand on Jean-Luc's bare shoulder, Q bent slightly to look deeply into the captain's eyes. "Jean-Luc you and I both know that the timeline is in a constant state of flux. It is decided every millisecond, its passage directed by the very choices each and every person makes at any given time. Now this decision I mentioned, the one made over a century ago. It has given rise to all that is wrong about the Federation now...and don't tell me you're unaware of what's going on, I know you're aware of at least some of it, but believe me, what you know is just the tip of the ice berg. It has to stop, Jean-Luc! It must be stopped! And you, mon captitaine are perfectly situated to do it."
"How, Q? How do I, a mere ship's captain, stop something as entrenched and powerful as section 31? How do I ferret out those corrupt individuals in Starfleet, not to mention the Federation Council? I can't do it on my own, Q! They have the power and the means to eliminate me without so much as raising a sweat!"
"Like now?" Q's tone was sardonic but he was deadly serious. "You know who's behind all this, Jean-Luc." He swept his arm wide. "You're no fool. A romantic...a martyr perhaps, but no fool."
The two beings looked at each other, one confused and scared, the other intent and committed.
"You know the right people, Jean-Luc. All it would take is some judicious, very quiet dissemination of the truth. They know it anyway, they just need a catalyst. And that catalyst is you, Jean-Luc!"
Still wavering, wanting to believe, wanting to put right what he knew was wrong but the thought of never interfering with the timeline was ingrained. It went against everything he'd been taught. Q saw his dilemma and said quietly. "All right. Time for a little trip into the future. Hang on to your hat, Jean-Luc, it aint going to be pretty." Just as he raised his hand he said with a wicked grin, "Oh...no hat! Sorry!"

 

The next thing Jean-Luc saw was the interior of sickbay on the Enterprise. Beverly was lying on a biobed; obviously deeply unconscious, her eyes taped shut, an intravenous line attached to the crook of her right elbow.
"Beverly..." Jean-Luc whispered; his distress obvious. Q leaned over and said in a normal speaking voice, "No need to whisper, Jean-Luc. No one can see or hear us."
"What has happened to her?"
Q snorted. "I've already told you! She's lost the plot...checked out...dissociated I believe is the medical term."
"Will she be all right?" Jean-Luc was on the verge of tears. Q put an arm around his shoulders. "All right is a relative term, Jean-Luc. Wait and see, you be the judge. Now...your son, David. Let's drop in on him, shall we?"
Another disorienting slip had them standing in the ship's morgue. Three of the chilled alcoves were open. On one lay Jean-Luc's body. Beside him, next in line was Monique's remains and finally, resting in a satin-lined metal box was the tiny body of the unborn girl. All that was distressing enough but standing at his father's side was David. The dry, salty tracks of his recent tears were left untouched on his face as the boy stared down at the body. He stood so still, Jean-Luc had to study him intently to see he was actually breathing. It took a moment to realise David was whispering. Jean-Luc stepped closer to hear.
"Why, papa, why did you leave us? Maman has gone too and I'm all alone. I don't know what to do. You asked me to help, to help maman, but I can't...she has gone away and papa...who will help me?"
Reaching for him and letting out a sob as his hands passed right through the boy, Jean-Luc said brokenly, "Oh, David, David my sweet son..."
The tableau shifted again. They were in a small house and Deanna was in the kitchen. The furnishings were shabby and Deanna's clothing was of poor quality. Q said conversationally, "This afternoon, David celebrated his fourteenth birthday. He's playing with one of his 'gifts' now and in about an hour, when Riker comes home from his job at the factory, everyone will take the public land vehicle to visit old Red. Want to see your teenage son?"
Jean-Luc nodded mutely and Q led him through the small 'home' and walked straight through David's bedroom door. There, lying on a narrow bed was David, passionately kissing another boy of similar age while they indulged in mutual masturbation. Jean-Luc immediately turned and left the room. Q raised one eyebrow and said snidely, "Disappointed your only surviving child is a homosexual?"
"No, Q." Said Jean-Luc sadly. "I just wanted to give him...and his friend their privacy."
"Well how evolved you are, Jean-Luc! But it's going to make perpetuating the old Picard line a bit tricky. The new world government frowns on wasting valuable resources on personal matters like assisted reproduction. Takes from the war effort don't you know."
"What war? And why are Will, Deanna and David living in such..."
"Squalid surrounds?" Finished Q. "I told you, Jean-Luc. This timeline is wrong! The war is being fought on five fronts. The 'Federation' though it's not even remotely what you would remember it as being, is engaged in fighting the Typhon Pact, which grows stronger every day, the Ereban, who have enlisted the help of their former enemies, the Andorians, who are in a struggle with everyone for independence, the Tellarites, now there's a greedy bunch and finally...the Vulcans!"
"The Vulcans?" said an incredulous s Jean-Luc. "I can't believe that! Vulcan is one of the founding worlds of the Federation."
Holding up one finger, Q's eyebrows rose.
"Ah...but that would be the Federation you remember. Let's get all this straight. Within hours of your execution your newly repaired body...and its...samples...was shipped back to the Enterprise and Riker high-tailed it back to Earth. He had quite a bee in his bonnet. Once back home a bun-fight ensued culminating with Riker, Troi, Selar, LaForge...Gods, Jean-Luc over 80% of your old crew resigned."
"But...why?" said a bewildered Jean-Luc. "I know things were bad in the Federation...but..."
"It wasn't just your crew, Jean-Luc. Riker had let the cat out of its proverbial bag. He had enough evidence to show the Federation had been dabbling in things not quite Kosher. A lot of noses were put out of joint, Jean-Luc...too many for section 31 to...disappear. But word was spreading fast. Earth's population complained bitterly, but guess what happened? There was a coup in the Council. Bacco out....and guess who comes in as Federation President? Duras. Toral Duras."
"NO!" shouted an outraged captain. "That entire family is nothing but...."
"Now, now, Jean-Luc, you're dead, remember. No need to get all upset. So anyway, President Duras brings in wholesale changes, Earth's population becomes slaves by proxy. Everything is geared for war production. Food is rationed, energy conserved. The 'new' Federation embarks on a mission of conquer and pillage. World after world are enslaved and stripped bare to keep the wheels of the great war machine turning. So Riker, Troi, Red and David are shunted about from place to place, not trusted because of their past association with the former Starfleet and they fall on hard times. Troi ekes out a meagre wage as a machinist and Riker works in a foundry. David, who had begun to show talent in weapons design has been fast tracked into an accelerated learning course. I suppose he's the only real bright spot."
"And Beverly? What happened to my Beverly?"
"Old Red...dear Beverly, remained in a catatonic state for about 18 months. She was, of course, placed in a 'care facility' but really it was just an institution by another name. She came out of her catatonia, but she was never the same. The doctors refer to it as an 'altered state'. As far as Beverly's concerned, you're still Captain of the Enterprise, David is just shy of his 7th birthday, Monique is soon to begin kindergarten and you and your dear partner have not yet chosen a name, boy or girl, for her 4 month gone unborn child."
"Where is she? Please Q, I must see her!"
Q shrugged and rolled his eyes. "You really are a glutton for punishment, Jean-Luc...but all right."
Again they shifted and Jean-Luc gasped at the seedy room. The linens on the bed were stained and so were the night clothes Beverly wore. She was out of the bed, sitting in a chair that had a badly repaired leg, making it wobble if she moved. The sunlight that found its way through the grime on the window was watery, the atmosphere outside polluted with industrial waste.
Just as Jean-Luc was moving closer to his beloved partner, the room's door opened and David came in. Deanna did too, but she stayed back, unobtrusively waiting near the door. David went to his mother and knelt, kissing her cheek.
"Hello, maman. How are you today?"
Beverly's face turned away from the window and Jean-Luc couldn't contain a sob. Her once lustrous red hair was mostly grey...dry and brittle. Her blue eyes were dull and sunken into her gaunt face. When she smiled at David he saw her teeth were rotten and some were missing altogether.
"David, my young son." She said in a wavering voice. She lifted a trembling, bony hand and ran it through his light brown hair. "How was school?"
"Good, maman."
"And are you helping papa with Monique?" Her free hand went to her lower belly. "Once the baby's born we're all going to have to pitch in, you know."
"Yes, maman, I know."
"Such a good boy...my David."
Shuffling a little closer, David said very quietly, "Maman? Do you remember I told you last time I came, only a few days ago, that it looks like I'm going to be able to not only save some good money soon, but if I do well in my studies, I've been told I might go to the Sorbonne? If that happens I will be able to get you out of here and give you that surprise I've been telling you about."
"You're making something for the baby in school? Oh, David, that's lovely. So thoughtful. But you always were such a good boy." She tapped the tip of his nose. "That's when you're not teasing Monique, of course."
If David felt any despair he didn't show it. He rose and kissed his mother's brow. "I'll be back in a few days, maman. Stay well."
"I will, David...and tell your papa not to work too hard!"
"Yes, maman."
As David and Deanna left the room, Q said, "She'll tolerate Troi in the room, but not too close. Riker...she completely throws a wobbly fit. The medicos think she subconsciously blames Riker for not rescuing you, even though in her altered state she believes you're still hale and hearty."
Quelling his heartache, Jean-Luc asked, "What was David talking about?"
Q grinned and Jean-Luc had a sudden, almost overwhelming urge to punch him full in the face.
"Wait and see, Jean-Luc, wait and see."

 

The next shift had them back in the run down hovel that served as David's home. He was seated on a ratty, torn sofa, his arms around a sobbing Deanna. By the look of pain in his son's eyes, Jean-Luc feared the worst. "Beverly!" he whispered, his gut wrenching. Only the tightly restraining hand on his arm prevented him from going to his son.
"You can't help, Jean-Luc, but for what it's worth, it's not Red. It's Riker. He was...oh, what's the old Earth term..." he snapped his fingers in triumph. "Mugged! Yes, that's it, he was mugged. Street crime is in epidemic proportions as Earth's population struggles to feed, clothe, house itself. Riker had just picked up the pittance he was paid and was assaulted as he made his way to the public transport station. Apparently he would've survived the beating he'd been given if he'd got to a hospital soon enough, but priority is given to military personnel. He'd been given one hell of a whack to the neck. Ruptured a major blood vessel. He bled out before anyone even bothered to report finding his body. So now, Troi is your son's only legal guardian. Oh, I didn't tell you about that, did I? When the Enterprise returned to Earth from Ereban and Red was you know..." he made circular motions around his left temple with his finger. "...she was declared unfit so Riker and Troi who, by the way had three little ankle biters of their own, but that's another story...became David's legal guardians. They only got him because of his age. Any older and the military would've gobbled him up and any younger and the state would've snaffled him for much the same reason. Get 'em young and train 'em hard'"
"Will Riker...dead?" Jean-Luc was struggling to accept his long-time friend was gone.
"Yep. Hard to believe, eh? Anyway, time to move on!"
Jean-Luc almost staggered at the new location. The home was a vast improvement. It was larger, cleaner and was furnished tastefully. Deanna, who had aged badly was sitting in the living room, frowning deeply as David spoke. A young man, quite handsome and very black sat beside him. They were holding hands.
"Aunt Dee, I would like your support not your opposition! I turned 18 yesterday; you're no longer my legal guardian!"
"But David...what you're proposing...it's...grotesque! I've said it often enough, so did your Uncle Will. You should've allowed us to cremate your loved ones as soon as we came back to Earth all those years ago. Keeping them...and the biological samples of your father's in stasis is just...it's a form of denial, David! Can't you see that?"
"What I see, Aunt Dee; is you living a comfortable life. You live in my home, you have nice clothes, you no longer have to work, there's plenty of food in the cupboards...you've done quite well through me! Why can't you support me now, when I need you most?!"
"Need I point out that your exalted position in society is because you design such efficient weapons for our masters? How many people have died through your brilliance, David?"
"Like my father, I am committed to the Federation, not any 'masters!'. You'd do well to remember what happens to detractors, Aunt Dee."
"Are you threatening me, David?"
"No, Aunt Dee. I'm simply reminding you of your obligations. Now Enrique and I are on our way to pick up maman's harvested ova. The doctors have informed me they have ten healthy ova which have been brought to maturity. The sperm in papa's semen is still viable and already the three male and one female have been selected. Once fertilisation occurs and is stable, maman's remaining ovum will be fertilised with papa's sperm at random, I don't care what gender they produce. They'll be kept in storage. Once all that is complete, Enrique and I will donate our genetic input and begin our family. We will, of course be using gender selection." The two men gazed into each other's eyes. "Two boys, two girls. One of the boys will carry the name Jean-Luc and one of the girls, Beverly."
"Your mother, both your parents would never have agreed with what you're about to do David."
"My father was a great man, my mother a brilliant scientist and a damned fine doctor. I lost them, I lost my little sisters. Well, I can't bring my parents back, but I can recreate my family. I'm going to have siblings and children of my own."
"And you're going to take advantage of your position to do it!" Deanna shouted. "How many ordinary citizens, who yearn for a child but can't get access to the technology you so easily bandy about would give everything they have for the chance to do what you're about to do?"
Looking suitably bored, David shrugged. "It's really not my problem, Aunt Dee. I've been working towards this moment since I was fourteen! Would you deny me my chance at happiness?"
"Where are my children, David?"
At last he gave a look of pained embarrassment. "That was nothing to do with me, that was government policy! The babies were taken for their own good!"
"And no doubt reared to become soldiers. Are any of them alive still, do you think, David? Will your siblings....your children be taken?"
The young man abruptly rose, practically dragging his partner to his feet too.
"I've heard enough! If you can't reconcile yourself to what I'm going to do, then perhaps you might consider alternative living arrangements!" He stormed to the door, but hesitated. Half turning he said in a calmer tone, "I won't throw you out onto the streets, Aunt Dee. Perhaps you might like to live at the chateau? Give it some thought."
The door closed quietly and Deanna sank into her chair. "Oh, Beverly, what has happened to your son?"
Jean-Luc looked at Q and asked the same question. The omnipotent being shrugged. "He is a product of his society, Jean-Luc. You can't blame him for taking advantage of his own talents. Come on, we're going for a ride."
Before Jean-Luc could ask where, they found themselves in the back seat of David's flitter. Only the elite could possess such a luxury.
"Well," said Enrique mildly. "That wasn't so bad."
"Hmph!" snorted David. "So holier-than-thou! Still, I'm out from under her thumb now."
"Yeah. So, where to first?"
"To the hospice, pick up the ova. Maman's still sedated but the doc's say she's feeling no pain."
"How long's she got?"
"Dunno, a week? Maybe two. They didn't expect her to last this long. Lucky for us she did. That damned blood disorder the Pact infected her with...Jesus! If our medics hadn't figured out what was going on..."
What was the final death toll from that, anyway?"
"Oh, about eight million. Put a hell of a dent in the war effort. We had to bring in some spares from Bollius 9."
"Pity."
"Yeah. Anyway, once we have the ova it's over to the repo lab, do the business and then we load everything into the flitter and head on over the wide Pacific to Hawaii."
Enrique offered a rakish grin, making David cup his genitals. "The repo lab has all your father's samples?"
"Yep. Everything's ready. This time tomorrow our brood will be happily gestating and you and I will be happily fucking in a quiet cabin by the sea."
"Gods...you say the nicest things, David."
"Yeah, I know."

 

Jean-Luc lowered his head and two tears squeezed out of his tightly closed eyes. "I've seen enough, Q."
"No, Jean-Luc, you haven't. Not quite yet. There's still the denouement."
"Q. Please."
"Just one more shift, Jean-Luc, I promise."
All Jean-Luc could do was sigh. He couldn't stop Q if he tried.
They were in the flitter again, raucously loud music playing. David and Enrique had to shout to hear each other.
"Isn't it fucking fantastic?" yelled David
"What?" asked Enrique loudly.
Jerking his thumb over his shoulder, Jean-Luc had the unsettling feeling his son could see him. "In the cargo space. My siblings and our kids!"
"Oh! Yeah! Fantastic!"
"Want to have some fun?" yelled David.
"Why not?" replied his lover, grinning widely.
David deactivated the sensors and scanners and pushed the yoke forward. The craft nosedived at over seven hundred kph. They flew into a thick blanket of sea fog, making David whoop with delight. Enrique, however, wasn't so happy. David levelled out the craft only about twenty metres above the surface of the sea.
"Don't you think you should re-engage the navigation controls?" asked Enrique nervously.
"Where's the fun in that?" David yelled. "You've got to learn to live your life Enrique, mon coeur!"
The first bird smashed into the port side.
"What the fuck?!" David shouted.
Enrique, his dark eyes like saucers, screamed, "Gannets! Diving gannets! Pull up for God's sake, David...pull up now!"
Too late David hauled on the yoke but all that did was put the flitter on a collision course with the large flock of diving birds. What happened was inevitable. A large bird speared beak first right through the windscreen, hitting David in the throat. The flitter went wildly out of control, Enrique, who couldn't pilot the craft, was left strapped in his seat screaming for David to help. But David had died instantly; the head of the bird, its beak still attached had severed his spine.
The flitter shattered on impact with the sea and sank quickly, taking almost two hours to reach the bottom, three kilometres below. No bodies were ever recovered.
When Jean-Luc uncovered his face he was back in the execution room.

Jean-Luc sank to his knees, overcome with grief and horror. In an uncharacteristic display of sympathy, Q placed a comforting hand on the quietly weeping man. Squatting down, Q said softly, "So, Jean-Luc?"
He would never be able to explain how he found the strength, but Jean-Luc shook his head.
"No, Q. I can't."
"Hmm." Hummed Q. "Stubborn to the last. Very well, Jean-Luc. If I can't convince you through personal means let me fill you in on what eventually happens...on a galactic scale."
Jean-Luc shuddered through a sigh and said weakly, "If I told you to shut up you'd only ignore me wouldn't you."
"You know me so well, Jean-Luc. But that's something to discuss some other time. You recall I told you there would be a catastrophic event if this timeline continues?"
Jean-Luc lifted his head, his gaze stricken. "Yes, Jean-Luc, even worse than what you've seen so far."
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc pleaded. "No more, Q...please, I've had enough, I've heard enough."
"Sorry, that's just it, Jean-Luc, you haven't heard enough, not yet."
Lowering his head into his hands, Jean-Luc let out a soft moan. Q sat beside the bereft man and kept his hand on his shoulder.
"The Typhon Pact. You recall I told you it was growing stronger every day? Well, eventually, after twenty-three long years of war it was the Pact who emerged the victors. They'd managed to defeat everyone and the Pact, which now comprised over six hundred worlds went on a killing spree. I could attempt to put a round figure on it, but really, wholesale slaughter on a scale like that...mere numbers are meaningless. But the Pact bore a lot of grudges, especially towards the Federation. What was their solution? They not only obliterated Earth, but they hunted down and butchered each and every human, even any hybrid being who carried human DNA until no trace of humankind existed anywhere in known space. Now I don't know about you, Jean-Luc, but even the Continuum views that as a catastrophic event."
"What do you care, Q? You've always made it clear to me the Continuum sees humankind as a nuisance anyway." The bitterness and recrimination in Jean-Luc's voice made Q sneer.
"Oh, make no mistake, Picard, we still do! But the wiping out of an entire species like the humans, plus the complete destruction of their home world...well that just wasn't supposed to happen. And with the Typhon Pact now free to wander around, doing whatever they please? No, that simply cannot be allowed. Humans, Vulcans, many of the Federation worlds do have some redeeming features, at least we think so. Perhaps with time, they may even evolve into something truly useful. But the Pact? Nope, not a chance. So mon ami, it all comes back to you. Are the stakes high enough now?"
Jean-Luc spoke so softly, Q had to lean closer and ask him to repeat himself.
"Do it."
His eyes narrowing, the omnipotent being tilted his head, his expression speculative.
"Are you sure, Jean-Luc?"
"Yes. Do it. Send me back."
Q raised his hand, but then placed his mouth near Jean-Luc's ear. "You realise of course, there'll be a price to pay, Jean-Luc? Nothing is for free."
"I don't care, Q. Do it!"

Two things were immediately certain. He was in his darkened bedroom on the Enterprise and he could smell the unmistakable scent of sex. The soft voice near his ear made him freeze.
"Jean-Luc?" whispered Beverly. "What's wrong? Why have you stopped?"
It was then he understood he was in the process of making love with Beverly. His erection, which had wilted began to grow again, but Beverly was still concerned. "What is it? Are you in pain?"
The irony almost made Jean-Luc sob, but instead he buried his face in Beverly neck and hugged her to him, his hips beginning to lift and fall as their intimate dance recommenced.
Such was the overwhelming sense of relief, joy, love and gratitude Jean-Luc felt, their lovemaking was extraordinary. It was, perhaps, the most intimate, profound and satisfying experience of both their lives.
In the morning, while Beverly still slept soundly in the tangled mess of their bed coverings, Jean-Luc rose quietly and crept through their quarters. As he entered David's room his eyes filled with tears. He kissed his son, then went next to Monique's room. He knew by the decor that Beverly wasn't yet pregnant with their third child. They'd redecorated Monique's room as soon as they'd found Beverly was pregnant in an effort to make Monique feel she wasn't being displaced. With tears streaming freely and unheeded down his cheeks, he kissed his daughter and went to his desk.
It was the work of mere minutes to bring himself up to where and when he was. The mission to Ereban was still three months away. The Enterprise was docked at McKinley Station undergoing some upgrades. He was just about to make the first of what was going to be many very sensitive and highly secret calls when a sudden realisation hit him.
Their lovemaking that night. If his calculations were correct, they had just conceived their baby daughter. Again tears ran down his stubbled face, but rather than give in to the remembered pain, anguish and hideous memories, he redirected his emotions to determination and steely resolve. If what Q had shown him was real, and he had no reason to believe otherwise, he had to put in motion the mechanisms of change, but it was going to be extraordinarily difficult and fraught with danger, not just for those he would involve, but his family too.
Somehow, while the turmoil ensued, he had to find a way to keep them safe. He knew he had but one Achilles' heel and his enemies would know exactly what it was too.

 

He was still at his desk, completely engrossed when Beverly's arms wrapped sinuously around his neck from behind. She nuzzled under his ear and tongued his skin. His concentration broken so deliciously, he reached up, taking her hands and guiding her around him to settle her on his lap. He'd surreptitiously tabbed off the monitor and Beverly mewed as he bent to take one of her hardened nipples in his mouth.
Her head lolling back she mewed again with pleasure and said breathily, "My God, Jean-Luc...last night..."
"Mmm..." he agreed. "You were magnificent, Beverly, my love."
"I was magnificent? Jean-Luc...I don't know what or why, but you were..."
"We were, Beverly, it was us...our love."
"Oh...that's so good..." Beverly gently ran her fingertips over the sensitive skin of Jean-Luc's scalp, making him growl. Her next words made him freeze.
"You do realise you're naked and your erection is poking up between my thighs?"
He was just processing that when a sleepy voice came from his left. "Maman? Papa? What're doing?"
Jean-Luc said sotto voce, "And is it now that I point out that you too are naked, Beverly?"
To David, standing just outside his bedroom door, hair askew and knuckling his eyes, his naked parents presented an amusing sight, but even at the tender age of nearly seven, he knew his father didn't take kindly to being teased or laughed at. His mother certainly, but the lad knew his father had to be approached carefully if he was to be made fun of. Jean-Luc knew this of course and, armed with the memories that now resided, unwanted but undeniable in his mind and heart; he decided there and then that he would change that aspect of himself. If his children couldn't laugh at him, who could? Looking around Beverly's bare shoulder, he grinned at his son and winked. "Maman and I are having a cuddle. Would you like to go back into your bedroom...just for a few minutes while we...get ourselves sorted out?"
This new attitude of his father both intrigued and delighted David who possessed a wicked sense of humour. Deciding to test this new situation he threw caution to the winds and asked baldly, "Papa?"
Jean-Luc made sure to keep any inflection of disapproval out of his voice. "Yes? He said lightly. The sly grin on David's face was the only outward sign of the coming bombshell. "Is your willie all big?"
Jean-Luc flushed and wanted to both cringe and glower but Beverly's shaking body as she tried to contain the laughter that wanted to bubble up was enough for him to give a rueful grin. "As a matter of fact, David, yes, it is."
"Thought so." Said the sniggering boy. Without another word, he retreated back into his bedroom, but not before Jean-Luc and Beverly heard him laughing as the doors closed.
Beverly lifted her head and roared with laughter. It took only a few seconds for Jean-Luc to join her. When she'd regained a modicum of control, Beverly looked down at her lover and said, between fits of residual giggles, "Who are you and what have you done with Jean-Luc?"
He hugged her and sighed, forgetting, if just for these few precious moments, the deadly task ahead.
"I am, my lascivious lover, your paramour."
"You're more than that, my love...so much more. I love you, Jean-Luc. Somehow you manage to surprise me just when I think I've got you all worked out."
"Yes, well...worked out is one thing. Worked up...now that's another thing entirely and if you don't remove yourself from my lap, worked up is exactly what I'll be...again."
Giving him a parting kiss, Beverly rose and began to walk towards their bedroom, but she hesitated and half turned, saying over her shoulder, "What possessed you to work at your desk buck-naked anyway?"
He shrugged Gallically; throwing a wolfish grin. Beverly shook her head and sashayed away, affording Jean-Luc a lovely view of her retreating backside. "Oh, Beverly...I do so love you."

 

To say that Jean-Luc had roused a hornet's nest would be putting it mildly. At first, nothing at all seemed to be happening, but he knew, working quietly and diligently behind the scenes, armed with the information he'd supplied, some very brave and dedicated people of high rank and completely trustworthy were burrowing and digging, unearthing names, dates and events, in essence, gathering all they would need to deliver a fatal coup de grâce to not only section 31, but those individuals in Starfleet and on the Federation Council who had corrupted themselves for their own gains.
Timing would be incredibly important. As the weeks turned to months, some deeply hidden operatives within section 31 were trying to bring the 'Ereban situation' to the forefront, trying to find a way to launch the mission they so desperately wanted to commence, but as each mole, each corrupt individual was quietly weeded out, so the power and influence of the section was weakened by degrees.
All those involved in this clandestine war of attrition knew they would never entirely rid the Federation of section 31, there would always be those who either had an agenda or a different opinion on how the Council should either function or on what to base its policies, but armed with what Jean-Luc had told them, those who did the work of identifying the traitors and quietly removing them had enough information and power to also circumvent events as far away as Qo'noS where the Duras family, led by Toral were effectively muzzled and negated. The new Chancellor and leader of the Klingon High Council was Chancellor Mogh, a distant relative of Commander Worf, an old friend, ally and former crewmember of the Enterprise who had immediately pledged his peoples' unshakable allegiance to the Federation.
On the day Beverly announced to Jean-Luc that she was pregnant he had his first unsettling experience. He had been 'back' five weeks and he had, through his reliable contacts, made it so the Enterprise was a long way from Earth, assisting in a terra-forming mission, one of many underway to help provide liveable planets for the many refugees still seeking a permanent home since the Borg incursion.
Even though he knew in advance what Beverly alluded to as her 'surprise' was he was still delighted. They held a small celebration that night, Jean-Luc, Beverly, David and Monique seated around the table as Beverly made her announcement about her pregnancy. The children were guardedly happy, to be expected, both parents knew, but when Beverly turned her dancing eyes on her partner she was very disconcerted to see nothing but vacancy in his gaze. She had to say his name three times, each time louder and with growing alarm before he suddenly snapped out of whatever had taken him.
He blinked in surprise to see Beverly standing by his side, gripping his shoulder hard, while David and Monique stood close by, holding hands and with uncertainty and fear on their faces.
"Jean-Luc, are you all right?! What just happened?"
Scrambling to cover his fear and embarrassment, Jean-Luc summoned what he hoped was a warm, unconcerned smile. "Oh! I'm sorry, Beverly, I was wool gathering. When you made your announcement I was so happy, I was remembering the first time...you know, when you told me you were pregnant with David. All those wonderful feelings came rushing back. I suppose I was a little overwhelmed, that's all."
Giving him a long, speculative look, Beverly decided to believe him. Lately he'd been more demonstrative and relaxed with the children and their lovemaking...she flushed and sighed with deeply satisfied happiness. Even his dealings with the crew, the senior staff in particular had changed.
She was aware something very big was going on at command, perhaps even the Federation Council itself and she had an inkling Jean-Luc was involved. Perhaps that was at the heart of this...change he was undergoing. They'd both been seeing the effects of ever increasingly unpopular policies handed down by the council and discontent had been brewing quietly amongst the fleet, but as far as she could tell, things were settling down. Those whom she relied on for scuttlebutt had made it quite clear that things were 'on the move' and in the right direction. All very cryptic as far as she was concerned, but reading between the lines, Beverly got the unmistakable impression that whatever had been blighting the organisation they served was either undergoing change itself or was being eliminated. Either way, it seemed to be having a very beneficial effect on her lover.
There was only one aspect of the whole thing that bothered her and that was Jean-Luc's reluctance to talk to her about it. Normally they discussed almost everything. Yes, Beverly understood there were times when, as Captain, Jean-Luc couldn't discuss some aspects of his job with anyone below a certain rank, despite their relationship and she had long ago accepted that, but this seemed to be far too broad...too wide spread to be kept so secret and the very fact he deflected her when she tried to talk to him about it, rather than simply tell her he couldn't talk about it only made her more concerned...and suspicious.
Still, his explanation of his lapse made sense, so Beverly dismissed it from her mind. Jean-Luc, however could not. From the moment he'd 'gone' to the instant he 'returned' there was nothing. No memory, no sound, sight, smell, touch...nothing. It unnerved him and he had to admit, frightened him, but unless he asked Beverly to examine him...something he was not going to do, he was just going to have to accept it had happened and forget about it. And hope like hell it didn't happen again.

 

The encryption on the channel was the most secure Jean-Luc had ever encountered. For the first time in his life as a captain, the normal protocol of a voice identification and information of name and rank, followed by the code of the day was insufficient. He had to supply a retinal scan, a palm scan and a remote DNA read before the channel would open and even then it was jacketed and scrambled within a sub space packet.
Having undergone such scrutiny, Jean-Luc breathed a sigh of relief and offered a warm smile at seeing an old friend's face.
"Jeremy! It's good to see you."
"And you, you old dog, Picard. Word's just reached us. You're going to be a father again?"
Jean-Luc's broad smile was justifiably proud. "Indeed I am."
The grin on the Admiral's face became decided lecherous. "If I had a partner as beautiful and sensuous as yours, Jean-Luc, I'd be having kids all the time too."
Rolling his eyes, Jean-Luc tried to look annoyed at the puerile remark, but his male pride had been stroked and even a man as urbane and sophisticated as Jean-Luc Picard knew when to take his due. "Yes, well...can you blame me?"
"Ha!" his friend barked. "Gods, Picard, if I were you, I wouldn't leave the bedroom. How do you get any work done anyway?"
They chuckled for a moment or two before Jeremy sobered. "I have news my friend."
Sitting forward, Jean-Luc became all business. "Yes?"
The one word sent a spike of dread and remembered horror down Jean-Luc's spine.
"Ereban."
Jean-Luc remained silent, giving Jeremy no opportunity to soften his report. "I didn't believe it, you know." He sighed. "All that intel you gave us, the scope of duplicity between the council, section 31, the neighbouring planets and the collusion of certain elements of Ereban's own government...it seemed too...despicable."
He sighed again and shook his head. "But it's true...all of it and it really does go back as far as you intimated. 120 years, Jean-Luc! Over a fucking century! How the hell did section 31, as a fledgling group as they were back then, manage to orchestrate such a long-term plot? They must've known it couldn't come to fruition for years. And the warring neighbours? How much interference from the Federation or section 31 was involved in their part? My God...it beggars belief!"
Jean-Luc bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. "What about the Ereban, Jeremy? Can they be helped?"
"I doubt it, Jean-Luc. This...accelerated evolution? It's worse than even you reported. They're not dealing with three variances of their species, Jean-Luc, but four or five."
"And there's no way to keep them separate?"
Shaking his head, the admiral's expression was savagely angry. "No! With the emergence of the lurin and their propensity for indiscriminate and prolific breeding, it's inevitable there's going to be a blending...a melange...and no one, not us or the Ereban themselves knows what the hell they're going to become! And, Jean-Luc...the inter-species the grumpy neighbours created? They made lurin too. Those 'operatives' present on Ereban are just as programmed to breed and as prolifically as the Ereban example of lurin."
"God...what a mess! Still, it'll be fairly quick, in evolutionary terms." Remarked Jean-Luc. "With the relatively short lifespan of the Ereban, the outcome should become clear in one or two generations."
"Maybe, maybe not." Jeremy grunted. Jean-Luc's eyebrows rose.
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, apart from the population explosion of the 'new' Ereban, it's the DNA, Jean-Luc. If the dominant strands were Ereban or even their neighbours, I'd agree with you, but throw in human DNA and that changes the picture significantly! Even their sexual practices are now more closely resembling human than the old Ereban ways. They now have sex for pleasure and the 'older' example of the species is rapidly becoming infertile. It's like some kind of species selection at work."
"But that sounds more like evolution in reverse. Surely the process, the purpose of evolution is to improve not eliminate what is...or was...a perfectly satisfactory species. What would be the point?"
"You tell me! And think about this. When this...process is over and the Ereban are finished with their evolutionary changes, what then? They will have to deal with the fact that they've been manipulated by foreign powers, both through their own government in the way of the collusion with us and by biological interference, again by outside influences. Despite us being able to rectify a lot of what was to come, we can't change what's already taken place. The Typhon Pact still exists, Jean-Luc and you can't tell me that with the withdrawal of section 31 and the support, albeit clandestine of the council, those belligerent neighbours of Ereban won't take full advantage." He grimaced. "And who could blame them? They know they're not going to survive, even as a blended species unless they're successful with their plans for Ereban and its people. With or without our help, that's already in progress. It just remains to be seen who gets the crumbs. Us or the Typhon Pact."
"Jeremy..." Jean-Luc said wearily and with a trace of distaste. "Ereban isn't a prize to be fought over. Haven't those people suffered enough? Why can't we show them honest good faith for once and protect them while they undergo their changes. At the very least it'll keep the Typhon Pact and the neighbours off their backs while they deal with the repercussions of what's been done to them. And then they can have the luxury...no, the right to choose who they wish to align themselves with...if they wish to be aligned with anyone at all. If I were them, I'd be highly inclined to tell everyone within shouting distance to fuck off!"
Jeremy blinked with surprise. Jean-Luc Picard rarely ever used profanities. It was a sure measure of how deeply he felt about the entire situation.
"Well on the face of it, that's a valid suggestion, Jean-Luc, but I'm not sure how the council will take to it."
"Provided the council is now free of the corruption that's been within it for so long, I can't see how they can deny it." Jean-Luc said quietly. "I suppose we'll never know whether or not Karl Noonien Singh acted on his own or by some implanted imperative, but the fact remains we, the Federation, has been involved in the interference of a species, not only in a political sense, in direct violation of the Prime Directive, but from a biological standpoint and for our own particular political gain! Now you described our actions over the years as despicable and you're quite right. What we have to do now is either help by protecting them or leaving them alone. I think either way, we've done enough damage to Ereban."
"You're right of course. I'll speak to the right people...see what they have to say, but the scope of this, Jean-Luc...the magnitude of what we've done..."
"I know, old friend. The old axiom...what's done can't be undone is true, but we can help. How will be up to the Ereban and if we eventually lose our relationship with them and the Typhon Pact does indeed take advantage of the situation and absorbs the Ereban and their neighbours, well we'll just have to deal with that if and when it happens."
"Agreed. Talk to you soon, Jean-Luc. Lerinn out."

With section 31 all but destroyed, the mission to Ereban never took place. The terra-forming mission kept the Enterprise out in deep space for two and a half months and it was over that time that Jean-Luc made his slow but steady recovery from the effect of his memories.
Now safe for them to return, at least into space closer to Earth, the great ship was taking part in a much anticipated scientific study, something they'd not done in over two years.
Jean-Luc had been working late, something he detested these days as it prevented him from sharing dinner with his family and then helping Beverly bath the children. He had developed the habit of reading to David and Monique each night before tucking them in. As he kissed each child he felt how deeply he loved and cherished them. Then, once they were asleep, he and Beverly relaxed before going to bed, often to make love, albeit more gently these days as her pregnancy progressed.
So it was late as he walked the corridors towards their quarters. The gentle voice of Deanna Troi made Jean-Luc jump. He looked around in confusion, trying to work out where he was and how he'd got there. Hunkered down in front of him was Will, his open face clouded in an expression of concern and worry. Deanna was kneeling in front of Jean-Luc, holding both his hands. "Captain?" she said gently and obviously not for the first time.
"Yes." He replied uncertainly. "What's happened?"
"I was going to ask you, sir. Will found you in the corridor. You were just standing still, unresponsive."
Looking around in the dim light, Jean-Luc finally recognised where he was. "Observation room, deck seven, port side."
Deanna smiled, the relief in her eyes clear to see. "Yes, sir. But can you tell me what happened? Do you remember, Captain?"
"Ah...no, Counsellor, I don't."
"What's the last thing you do remember?"
Rubbing his fingers over his lower lip, Jean-Luc frowned. "I was...I was going home. Yes...I'd had to work late and I was just getting off duty. I was annoyed...I missed dinner with my family and helping Beverly bath the children then read to them." He smiled down at Deanna wistfully. "They'd be asleep by now."
"Captain..." He knew by her tone he was not going to like the question. "Has this..." she waved her hand between them. "...happened before?"
He summoned a smile and made use of his ability to project a calm demeanour. "Oh, no, Counsellor. Look, I just think I've been working a bit too hard, that's all. With Beverly being pregnant I've been taking on a bit more of the domestic chores, you know, helping where I can. What with my recent experiences with Q...I suppose I just got distracted." He made his smile even more engaging. "I do admit I am tired. I'm no spring chicken any more."
Not convinced, but with no reason to not believe him, Deanna rose and let go of his hands. "Well, Captain, I can't say I have any professional reason to compel you to undergo any testing, at least not from a psychological point of view, but if I may, sir, perhaps it would be a good idea to have Beverly examine you? You never did tell me the details of your recent experiences, it could be that you were more affected than you realise."
Jean-Luc rose and kept his smile in place. "I'm sure I'm fine, Counsellor, but I will avail myself of my lovely partner's attentions if I think I need to."
Deanna knew that was all she was going to get, so she moved to give her Captain a clear path to the door. Just as he was about to leave the room she said quietly, "I will have to tell her, Captain."
He turned; the smile still in place but now a little strained. "Of course, Counsellor, I'd expect nothing less."
As he resumed his journey to his quarters he thought darkly, "Shit! That's all I need!" The fear was back in full force.

 

Deanna indeed told Beverly of what had occurred and the next evening it was a worried doctor who, after their children had been fed, bathed, read to and put to bed that she brought the subject up. Jean-Luc had been expecting it and had prepared what he hoped was a plausible excuse.
"So, Jean-Luc. Last night, on your way home, what happened?"
He adopted a puzzled expression. "Actually, I don't know. I had been working very hard; I know I was deeply preoccupied, I suppose I got lost in thought again."
Beverly's look was speculative. "That's twice in as many months, Jean-Luc. Since when do you get so preoccupied that you lose touch with reality?"
"Oh..." said Jean-Luc waving the question away. "I wouldn't go as far as that, Beverly. I think that's a little melodramatic."
Annoyed by his casual dismissal, Beverly's tone lost its gentleness. "Jean-Luc, people...healthy people don't experience lapses such as you've had. It just isn't right."
He smiled, saying gently, "Not even people who have had an extraordinary...and upsetting experience with the likes of Q?"
"An experience you still haven't told me about. Look, Jean-Luc, if what he put you through was so traumatic that you're exhibiting mental lapses, then perhaps you should talk to Deanna."
He was shaking his head, forming the words to gently refuse when Beverly said in a no-nonsense tone, "You either talk to her...and tell her everything...or I order you down to sickbay where I'll go over you with a fine toothed comb. Every square centimetre of you, Jean-Luc, inside and out. Your choice."
He tried not to glare but some of it leaked into his eyes. Beverly shrugged and said evenly, "At least I'm giving you a choice, Jean-Luc. Be thankful for that at least."
Even though he was angry, he knew Beverly's reaction was driven by her deep love and concern for him. She was worried, but she was, to a point, giving him the benefit of the doubt. As for a choice, he didn't actually have one. If what he was beginning to suspect were true, Deanna was his only option. He made an appointment to see her first thing the following morning. Reluctantly.

 

 

Even though he had his mental barriers firmly in place, Deanna clearly sensed his presence as he approached her office. It was a tip-of-his-hat to her that he'd agreed to meet in her office. Usually he preferred to meet in his ready room or more seldom, in his quarters. His territory, his advantage, albeit subtle.
She could tell by the slight tightness in his shoulders and the glint in his eyes, though well disguised, that he would rather be elsewhere, but that in itself was nothing new.
Although they'd served together for years and he'd come to trust Deanna he was still reticent when it came to discussing personal issues. That was something he would only do comfortably and freely with Beverly.
So Deanna had prepared her strategy in advance. He appreciated directness, but only to a point. This particular patient had to be approached very carefully. Too much pushing and he'd shut up so tightly, no one would get in. Too soft a touch, and he'd take advantage and dominate the direction of the session and only reveal what he wanted to and not what he needed to.
Even though they were both well aware of this little pas de deux they indulged in, the plain fact was, if Deanna deviated she'd get nowhere. So when he entered to her gentle call, she felt she was ready.
"Good morning, Captain. Thank you for meeting me here, in my office."
"Not at all, Counsellor, you've indulged me often enough. It's time I reciprocated."
"Well," thought Deanna. "A promising start."
"Where would you like to start, sir?"
He sat, taking a short, sharp breath, Jean-Luc's eyes hardened. "Actually, Counsellor, I'd rather not start at all."
"Ah, "thought Deanna. "Here we go, the parrying has begun."
"Really, Captain? Given that it was you who made the appointment, I'd have thought you were willing to be compliant."
"My compliance isn't the crux of the matter, Counsellor. I'm here because my partner, acting as CMO no less made it abundantly clear if I didn't make this appointment, I would be doomed to submit to her not-so-gentle rummaging of my entire body, inside and out."
Offering a sympathetic smile, Deanna inclined her head. "Oh, I see. Well, Captain, I can assure you, although my 'rummaging' will be as thorough as Beverly's...it won't hurt."
His face took on an expression not only had she never seen on him before, but defied her ability to describe it. She was so concerned she leaned forward, placing a hand on his knee and saying carefully, "Captain?"
He blinked and the expression vanished. He sighed and dredged up a wan smile. "Won't hurt, Counsellor? That would depend on what I tell you, wouldn't it?"
Immediately on her guard, Deanna said softly, "What happened, Captain? What is it you remember that causes you so much pain? Pain your trying so hard to hide from me?"
Jean-Luc knew there was no way he could possibly tell her every detail of what he'd experienced...what he'd been witness to. Not only to protect himself but to spare her the horror of the future they'd only just managed to avoid. So, gathering his courage, he gave her an abridged version up to the point where Q first appeared. It was enough. Despite years of experience and professional detachment, when Jean-Luc looked up, Deanna's hand was covering her mouth and tears ran down her cheeks. When she could, she said brokenly,
"Dear God, Captain. I'm so sorry. How...how did you cope with this for so long?"
"I won't try to tell you it was easy, Deanna, but I didn't actually have an alternative, did I? I can't risk Beverly finding out, especially as she's now pregnant, the shock could do her or our baby harm. And as for telling you..." he sighed and closed his eyes. "Remembering it hurts, Counsellor, it hurts in ways I can't adequately describe. So you see I was due for pain no matter what I did."
Again she reiterated, "I'm so sorry, Captain."
"Don't be, Counsellor." His smile became a little stronger. "It never happened, remember. But I do have the memories, which is ironic, don't you think? It's like Kataan all over again." He snorted and briefly closed his eyes. "So I think the occasional 'lapse' on my part is understandable, nʹest pas?"
He'd never used his native tongue with her before and she was momentarily thrown off. She didn't actually understand the words, but she felt she understood their context. As odd as it'd been for him to do it, she let it pass.
"Yes, Captain, perfectly understandable."
"So what will you say in your report?"
She smiled, letting him know Beverly would never be told the details of what he'd revealed. "Only that you've undergone a traumatic experience and are experiencing expected and understandable psychological after effects."
He stood and the look in his eyes as he gazed down at the seated, petite and pretty woman and friend was paternally warm. His deep, soft voice sent a shiver through the counsellor. "Thank you, Deanna. I'm in your debt."
Rising, she took his large hand, staring at it fixedly, so big in comparison to hers and struggled to keep control of her emotions. He'd lowered his barriers and she could feel his relief and gratitude now as well as the residue of his remembered pain.
"No debts, Captain, not between you and me."
His eyebrows rose as she went up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. He smiled again and left, leaving Deanna to struggle to find her equilibrium. She had another appointment within the hour and she knew it would take at least that long to recover.
As Jean-Luc strode with outward confidence to the lift he mentally wiped his brow. "That was close, Jean-Luc. You're going to have to keep tighter control, old man."
The trouble was, of course, he had no control over what had happened and he didn't know if or when it might happen again. Somehow he knew it would and again, he felt dreadful fear.

 

Later that afternoon it was Beverly seated in Deanna's office. Two steaming mugs sat on the coffee table as a relieved Beverly sat back and closed her eyes. "Thank God!" she exclaimed. "I was so worried, Dee."
"Well, although I can't go into details, I can tell you his 'lapses' are perfectly normal."
Beverly sat forward, picked up her mug and took a tentative sip before frowning and saying, "I do wish he'd confide in me though. It's so unlike him to not tell me when something's bothering him, especially when it's something bad. I mean I know if it's a matter of security and he can't, fair enough, but this whole shift in the Federation Council...everyone knows about it and I know Jean-Luc's involved, albeit only on the periphery...at least that's what my info says, but even so, if so many people are blabbing about it, why isn't he talking to me? We always talk...share..."
Taking great care to choose her words judiciously, Deanna said, "Sometimes there're things that people just have to deal with on their own. It's not a reflection on his relationship with you, Beverly, it's not about trust. Just give him his due and let it go."
Finally finding a smile, Beverly nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I don't tell him everything."
"There you go."
Both women giggled and Beverly drained her mug. She stood and was making her way to the doors when Deanna asked off-handedly, "Tell me something though."
"What?"
"Does the Captain often resort to speaking French with you?"
The blush that coloured the doctor's face made Deanna grin. She knew the answer simply by what she sensed from the embarrassed woman.
"Only when we're making love."
Keeping her smile in place, Deanna pressed a little harder. "No other times?"
Beverly began to pick up the subtly of the gentle interrogation. "Well he's teaching the kids, but other than that I've heard he's said 'merde' once or twice."
To Deanna's raised eyebrow, Beverly sighed irritably. "It means 'shit' and I know he's said it once or twice on the bridge."
"I take it the circumstances warranted it?"
Through gritted teeth, Beverly said tightly, "I wouldn't know, I wasn't there."
"But it's only been once or twice over how long?"
"Why do you want to know?!"
Giving a nonchalant shrug, Deanna knew she could press no further. "No particular reason, just curious."
Calming herself, Beverly said in a more reasonable tone. "Ask Will. He'll know."
"Maybe I will. See you at lunch tomorrow?"
"Yep! Usual table in the forward lounge."
"Okay, bye."
Once Beverly had gone, Deanna sat and thought. "Yes, Will. Good idea, Beverly."

 

The last thing Will expected as he relaxed after dinner was the odd question his lover posed.
"Will," said Deanna off handedly, as they sat together on the sofa, feet up and enjoying a brandy. "How many times have you heard the captain use French?"
"What?" Said the confused exec.
"You heard me." Deanna's tone had changed and Will noted the unmistakable trace of professional concern. Now serious, Will answered as best he could. Anything to do with his captain, especially where it came to his well being Will took very seriously.
"Okay...um...I've heard him say...ah...merde; I think is how it's pronounced. I asked Data, you know years ago what it meant and he told me it means..."
"...shit, yes I know that, but what I want to know is how many times he's done it and if he's ever used any other words...examples of his native language?"
Will frowned and took a long sip, baring his teeth as he swallowed. "Well, he used to say it a bit in the early years on the 'D' but he sort of stopped. In fact, I've not heard him use any French at all since those days."
In the ensuing silence, Deanna's expression was closed. Will knew better than to ask, but he did anyway. "Is there a problem?"
The counsellor sighed and took a moment to plex. "No...not exactly."
"Then why do I get the impression you're worried about the captain? Does it have anything to do with that thing, you know...that 'lapse' thing?"
Deanna looked into Will's eyes for the first time and his own worry increased. "What is it, Dee?"
She sighed and took too large a sip, making her swallow too quickly, her eyes tearing and a cough dredged up. When he'd regained her breath, she grimaced. "That's just it, Will," she said in a brandy-roughened voice. "I'm not sure. I get the feeling something's not right, but I can't pin it down. It's not one thing, but a few small things that are making me..." she shook her head, irritated she couldn't properly articulate her concern. "Look, just put it down to intuition."
Will's eyebrows rose. "Intuition?" he said with some disbelief. "You've never relied on intuition, Deanna; you have your empathic senses. Why stoop so low as to try and utilise your human side?"
It had been intended as a joke, but Deanna didn't find it at all amusing. She shot her lover a glare and said tartly, "If you paid more attention to your captain, maybe I wouldn't have to ask these inane questions and this situation...whatever it is, may have been picked up a long time ago!"
Will allowed a few moments before he said, "That was uncalled for."
Deanna seemed to deflate before his eyes. She tipped her head back and drained what was left of the brandy. After waiting a few seconds for the initial effect to wane, she sighed and said softly, "I know and I'm sorry, Will. I guess I'm just not used to being unable to sort something like this out."
"You can't sense him?"
She offered a rueful smile. "He has phenomenal control, Will. Even when I first came aboard the 'D' he was good at hiding his inner self, but after that mind meld with Sarek..." she sighed again, closed her eyes and slumped back on the sofa. "What he learned from that man...these days he has honed his metal discipline to a point where I can barely sense him at all. If I sense anything, it's only what he wants me to get."
"But you think something's wrong."
"I don't know!" Deanna's frustration had made her raise her voice. She placed a placating hand on Will's thigh and gave him an apologetic smile. In a softer voice she said, "The captain underwent a very traumatic experience with Q. Now that alone would be enough to make anyone behave...oddly. And, although I can't give you any details, I can tell you it was traumatic enough to expect him to exhibit...'lapses' both like you saw and other forms of odd behaviour for some time, but I just can't shake the feeling that there's more to this than meets the eye."
"So..." Will asked cautiously, "what can you do?"
"Now that's the gold pressed latinum question! If I keep too close an 'eye' on him, he'll know immediately and react badly. If I make my concerns known to Beverly, she'll haul him down to sickbay and examine down to his molecular level...for which I will get the blame. God, Will, even if I say something innocuous, really oblique like...Beverly, have you noticed anything different about the captain lately? Is going to raise a red flag!"
Will shrugged and finished off his brandy. He leaned forward and picked up the bottle, putting in another generous measure. He only offered to refill Deanna's balloon as a gesture of good manners and he was very surprised when she nodded. She picked up her glass and took what could only be described as a swig. It made her cough and her eyes stream. Will was amused and worried at the same time. Keeping his tone non-committal, he said, "Surely Beverly'd notice if anything was wrong?"
Having found her voice again, as she wiped away her tears, Deanna said, "Under normal circumstances, of course she would. But she's pregnant, Will and the two of them have David and Monique to look after too. I think it's a mixture of her preoccupation with the kids and the changes that occur in a woman's brain during pregnancy that's not blinding her exactly, but making her less aware."
The big, bearded man slowly nodded. "Yeah, and the captain's not going to say anything either, is he."
"Not on your life!" Deanna snorted. "True to form, he'd keep anything about his health to himself until he was forced to admit to Beverly that he needed help and that is even more true now, 'cause he'd want to protect her from any external worry during her pregnancy."
"Then all you...we...can do is sit back, watch very covertly and wait."
"Yes, and I don't mind telling you, Will, it's driving me nuts!"
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gently pulled her to him. After taking a long sip of brandy he whispered, "Welcome to your human side, Dee."
"Shut up, you insufferable...Earther! When I finish this dreadful liquor I'm going to bed and I expect you to accompany me."
His eyebrows rose again, but a lecherous grin lurked. "I take it you're in need of some 'stress relief'?"
"You know damned well I am! This..." she held up brandy filled the balloon."Was a deliberate ploy on your part to illicit a sexual response, just as you knew it would."
"True," Will grinned wolfishly. "But it did work, didn't it?"
Offering a soft grunt, Deanna gulped down the remaining liquor, rose on unsteady legs and made her way to the bedroom, coughing the entire way. Will chuckled softly and swallowed what was left of his drink, loosening his shirt as he followed his lover. "Happy days." He thought, all concern for his captain vanishing as his erection hardened.

 

Beverly was heavily pregnant when the next odd thing happened with her partner. She was only two days from her due date and she and Jean-Luc had been down to sick bay to finalise the birthing procedure. Beverly had opted for an assisted delivery, although she did want to do some of the work herself. Their children would be present and she would utilise the birthing chair, rather than a biobed or the water delivery suite. Because of her age, it had been decided that should she encounter any problems at all, the baby would be beamed out.
It had been a very long day. Being so large and with the constant interruption of nocturnal toilet visits, Beverly wasn't sleeping well and as a result, neither was Jean-Luc. Added to that was the very intricate and delicate negotiations he was embroiled in with yet another Federation world who were reassessing their membership. Jean-Luc was rising early; doing what he could to help Beverly with the children before spending not only all of his normal shift, but hours extra in his efforts to keep the recalcitrant world within the Federation fold.
So it wasn't surprising that he'd dozed off on the one night he'd managed to get home at a reasonable hour. It was just after dinner and the children were off, preparing for their bath. Beverly had filled the tub and had come back with a naked David and Monique to get their father, only to find him asleep at the table.
David was climbing onto his father's lap when the man's eyes snapped open only to have him say curtly, "Quʹest-ce que vous pensez que vous faites?"
David froze, not fully understanding what his father had said. The universal translator had been turned off in their quarters so that the children could learn French, but neither was good enough quite yet. And there was his tone, which was cold and angry as was his expression. Beverly, however, understood every word.
"What do you mean, what the hell are you doing? He's getting on your lap so you can piggy back him while you carry Monique! Their bath's ready."
He lifted David off his lap with obvious distaste, then turned his cold eyes on Beverly, saying tightly, "Vous madame, êtes-vous responsable des ces enfants...? Parce que je troure leur comprtement inacceptable!"
Beverly's mouth gaped as she gathered their confused children to her. David said quietly, "Maman, what's wrong with papa?"
Instead of answering the boy, Beverly stepped forward and grabbed Jean-Luc's shoulder, shaking it hard while saying loudly, "Jean-Luc! Wake up!"
He glared up at her, snarling, "Lâcher une femme ou moi je vais..."
Anger warred with alarm as Beverly said loudly, "Unhand you or you'll what, Jean-Luc? Wake up, for God's sake!"
The man suddenly blinked and looked around in confusion. "What? Where?"
Kneeling awkwardly at his legs, Beverly took his hands and said gently, "Look at me, Jean-Luc." He did so and seemed to focus on her. "Beverly?" he said tentatively.
She smiled. "Yes. It's all right, Jean-Luc, you were dreaming, that's all."
"I don't..." He was going to say that he didn't remember, but caught the words before they left his mouth. "Oh! Yes..." he said. "I was..."
"In France, obviously." Chuckled Beverly. "And not at all used to children."
Seeing the disconcerted look on his son and daughter, he smiled and opened his arms wide. "Seeing as how you're both unclothed, I take it it's bath time."
Monique giggled and climbed up on one leg. David however was a little reluctant. "It's all right, mon jeune fils, everything's all right."
Still not completely convinced, David nevertheless climbed up onto his father's back, but as the man rose, hugging Monique, David whispered, "Papa?"
"Yes?"
"Can we not speak any more French for a while?"
Feeling a pang of deep guilt, but not remembering what'd caused it, Jean-Luc readily agreed. "Of course David. You let me know when you want to start again."
"Thank you, papa."

 

Later in bed, barely awake, Jean-Luc heard Beverly say, "That must've been some dream, Jean-Luc. I mean, asking David what the hell he was doing then telling me to unhand you and then asking me if I was responsible for the kids as you found their behaviour unacceptable! God, if you hadn't been dreaming, I would've slapped your face."
He swallowed to wet his suddenly dry mouth. "Yes, well that's the thing with dreams, isn't it? In any case, I'm sorry."
"Mmm. 'Night."
"Bonsoir, maman."
As he drifted off he didn't realise he'd once again lapsed into French and called Beverly, mum. Fortunately Beverly was already asleep.

 

The birth of their precious little girl was uncomplicated and Beverly was able to give as much input as she wished. Jean-Luc delivered their daughter under Selar's watchful eyes while David and Monique looked on, David with mild disgust, Monique with excited wonder. The parents decided to name her Giselle.
Over the next few weeks, all went well, but on five separate occasions, fortunately each instance in his ready room while he was alone, Jean-Luc experienced more lapses. He only knew they'd occurred by the simple fact that he'd taken the precaution of placing a small, discreet chronometer on his desk and by merely glancing at it he knew instantly how much time had passed during each episode.
His fear turned to dread as she realised the lapses were growing longer. He knew he should do something...say something, but Beverly was so taken up with the new baby and the children were relying on him more and more as Giselle took up increasing amounts of Beverly's time, he convinced himself that whatever it was, it would pass. No, no need to worry an already very busy new mother.
This type of denial, this self-delusion was uncharacteristic for Jean-Luc, usually a man to tackle most things head on but he'd been so affected by what Q had shown him, he pushed it all as deeply into the recesses of his mind as he could. If this...whatever it was had anything to do with that, he didn't want to know.
Somehow he kept his growing problem hidden, but there were some close calls. His explanations, when he'd been discovered were becoming thin, his plausibility losing credibility. Now that Giselle was four months old, Beverly was back at work part-time and had reverted to her old self, sharp as a tack and less likely to be hood-winked. So when she tackled her partner and not very subtly over a report he'd been seen sitting in the forward lounge seeming 'lost in thought' Beverly was none too pleased.
He knew the futility of even attempting an excuse. Quite simply, he'd run dry. So instead he took Beverly's hands and stared into her eyes. "Beverly, my love, we need a holiday."
Wrong footed, Beverly frowned and said warily, "What?"
"You heard me." He said with a warm smile. "Since Giselle's birth we've been flat out, you with work and the children, me with work and doing what I can to help. Why don't we take a break...a long break?"
"How long?" Beverly was still suspicious; Jean-Luc wasn't exactly the 'holiday' kind.
"Five months."
"Five months?!" Beverly almost shouted. "Jean-Luc...what the hell...?"
His enthusiastic expression sobered. "I'm tired, Beverly. With all that's been going on with the council, then Giselle's birth..." he sighed. "I'd like to get away for a while...just us as a family."
"Well..." said Beverly, slowly warming to the idea. "It would be nice. When? When do you think we can get away?"
"Soon." Jean-Luc said firmly. "There're still some things I must do," he made a vague gesture with his hand. "...to do with the council, but two, perhaps three weeks?"
"Okay," Beverly agreed. "But Jean-Luc...this council business. Can you...will you...tell me about it? I mean the rumour mill is full of it yet you've chosen to say nothing, at least not to me."
The hurt in her voice caused him physical pain. Taking her hands, He said softly, "Once we're on holiday, I'll tell you what I can, all right?"
Knowing he had gone as far as he could, or would, Beverly nodded. "Okay. So two or three weeks then? I'd best get busy tying up some loose ends."
"Yes, me too."

 

Two days later, Jeremy Lerinn made another call to the Enterprise. This time the man was in a far better mood.
"I had a very interesting call from Bacco's secretary."
"Really?" replied an intrigued Jean-Luc. "The Federation President's private secretary called you?"
"Indeed he did. And guess what he had to say?"
"I've no idea."
Jeremy leaned forward his dark green eyes twinkling. "The Tholian Ambassador wishes to meet."
Jean-Luc had shifted forward in his seat too in an unconscious movement. "To what end?"
"Apparently things aren't all that sweetness and light within the Pact. With the collapse of the Ereban situation and the weeding out of the traitors here, not to mention removing the teeth from section 31, the Pact has been effectively weakened. Those worlds that seceded? The ones the Pact hoped would join them? Seems quite a few are reconsidering Federation membership. And Ereban. They've made peace with their neighbours, Jean-Luc. We're now looking at...well, maybe not exactly unified, but certainly a much stronger entity. I doubt anyone's going to be forcing them into anything they don't want without one hell of a fight. Of course the Pact knows this and it's another loss to them. Now, as you know there are six core members of the Pact. The founding members are the Tholian Assembly. The others are the Gorn Hegenomy, the Holy Order of Kinshaya, the Romulans, of course, the Tzenkethi Coalition and the Breen Confederacy. Now as I understand it, the Tholian ambassador is representing five of the six, the odd man out are the Tzenkethis. They vehemently oppose any relations with the Federation."
"And what of Ereban? Any contact?"
Jeremy shrugged. "No, but we're hoping they're not a lost cause. With their new-found strength and autonomy, they might, one day, forgive us, but my gut feeling is that they'll sit pat for some time. They have the whole evolution thing to deal with first. Like you said, it'll be at least two, maybe three generations until anyone knows what they're going to be and I guess that'll be the deciding factor. If they feel they can look after themselves, I doubt we'll ever hear from them again."
Jean-Luc sighed. "It's such a pity you know, Jeremy. The Ereban are...or were a decent people...even given the obvious flaws in their society." He gave Jeremy a piecing look. "And that's not unique to Ereban, is it." Jeremy had the good grace to look embarrassed.
"No." He replied softly. "No, it's not."
Jean-Luc frowned, doing his best to keep his frustration and anger at bay. "What's been done to them..." he sighed again and decided to move on. Dwelling on things he couldn't change helped no one. Jean-Luc's fingers were rubbing his lower lip. He took a deep breath and changed focus. "And just what kind of relationship is the Tholian ambassador proposing?"
"Now that I don't know, nobody does. I guess we'll just have to wait and hear what he has to say, although I seriously doubt it'll be the proverbial olive branch. More like a mutual non-aggression deal."
"Yes," agreed Jean-Luc wryly. "Until they can either recruit more worlds or come up with something that gives them the upper hand."
"Uh huh. Anyway, this is basically a heads-up. All Starfleet ships have been notified that any Typhon Pact ship encountered is to be treated as a potential 'friend' at least not as an automatically presumed enemy."
"Except the Tzenkethi." Jean-Luc qualified.
"Yes, except the Tzenkethi."
"Who we know next to nothing about." Groused Jean-Luc. "God, Jeremy, we barely know what their ships look like, let alone what kind of weaponry they possess."
"I know. As far as you space jockeys are concerned, you're going to have to play it by ear, my friend."
"Hmph!" Jean-Luc grunted. "Well I suppose that's better than nothing."
"It would be if not for one last detail."
Sighing, Jean-Luc suddenly felt very tired. "And that is?"
"Marauders. We've had some reports, so far isolated, but growing that some of our ships have been harassed by marauders."
"Presumably Tzenkethi."
"Yep."
"Wonderful."
Both men sat in silence for a few long seconds before Jeremy said mildly,
"I saw your request for leave. Might be a good time to take it, Jean-Luc. Keep your head down until things settle."
"I received permission this morning, Jeremy. Beverly, the children and I will be leaving in two and a half weeks."
"Not a moment too soon. Well, I've got work to do. Enjoy your leave, old friend, you've deserved it. Lerinn out."

Jean-Luc sat back, his mind turning over the situation. That was until he blinked and, disoriented, tried to understand why he felt cold and uncomfortable. It was the smell that gave it away.
With disgust and dismay, Jean-Luc looked down to see his trousers wet with urine. He gasped softly before grimacing. He looked at his little time piece only to see he'd been seated at his desk for over seven hours. The last thing he remembered was thinking about...what? With panic rising he struggled to bring to mind what he'd been doing.
He woke his monitor and said shakily, "Computer, display last use of this monitor."
"Warning. The last use of that monitor was for a level 5 communiqué. Please input proper authentication current for level 5 encryption."
It was the mention of the height of the security that brought the much wanted information to Jean-Luc. He sat back and sighed, then grimaced again at the strong, acrid smell and the clammy discomfort. He rose stiffly and went to his private bathroom, taking a quick shower and replicating a clean uniform. One final look at his chronometer told him it was very late. No doubt he'd have some explaining to do. He had, some time ago, agreed with Beverly that he would contact her if he was going to work late.

His quarters were in darkness when he entered. Having first checked on his children, he went into the en suite off the master bedroom to change, not wishing to disturb either the sleeping Beverly or the baby, still in the nursery. For reasons he would never discover, once naked, instead of putting on a pair of sleep shorts and going to bed, he went to the basin, picked up his isorazor and that's where he found himself next morning with Beverly gently prising the device from, his fingers. He was shivering and had urinated again.
He turned his head slowly, looking at Beverly with obvious incomprehension. She somehow kept her alarm under control and said gently, "It's okay, Jean-Luc. You're okay."
David, standing just inside the bathroom, said with fear, "It's happened again, hasn't it."
Instead of answering, Beverly said, "Would you get my medkit and papa's robe, please, David?"
The lad was just re-entering the en suite when the red alert sirens sounded. It seemed to bring Jean-Luc back, as he blinked and said curtly, "Report to your station, Beverly! I'll get to the bridge."
Before she could stop him, he was putting on the same uniform he'd taken off only hours before. He was out the door and gone in mere moments.
Will rose from the centre seat and pointed with his bearded chin at a small image displayed on the activated forward viewscreen.
"Can we identify it?" asked Jean-Luc curtly.
"No, sir."
"I take it we've hailed the vessel?"
"Yes, sir, all that did was make it increase speed and alter course to intercept."
"And there was no reply."
"No, Captain."
Taking his seat and gesturing for Will to do the same, Jean-Luc crossed his legs and gazed at the fast-approaching ship.
"You've read the intel on the marauders?"
"Yes, sir."
"Well, it's a good bet that's..."
Will looked at his Captain to see the man was staring at nothing. Frowning and swearing softly under his breath, Will said quietly, "Captain?"
Behind him, at tactical, the lieutenant said tersely, "The bogey'll be within weapons range in twenty eight seconds, Commander. Shall I bring our weapons on line, sir?"
"Just wait a minute!" barked Will. A little louder, loath to embarrass his Captain on his own bridge, Will said, "Captain!"
The lieutenant's voice easily carried her growing alarm. "Sir, their powering up their weapons and they've locked on to us!"
With a last ditch effort, Will grabbed Jean-Luc's upper arm and said loudly, "Captain Picard! Orders, sir?"
He'd waited a fraction too long. As the tactical officer reported, "They're firing!" Will shouted, "Shields to maximum!"
Too late. The blast impacted on the secondary hull, shattering the duranium and ripping an ugly gaping hole.
"Evasive manoeurvres! Target that damned ship and give it everything we've got. Fire at will!"
The Enterprise took several more hits, making her shudder violently and yaw, but ultimately she out manoeuvred and outgunned her opponent. Dead in the water, the still unidentified craft sat venting drive plasma and listing badly. Will, wiping absently at a trickle of blood from a wound near his eyebrow, said grimly, "Open a channel. Hail them."
"Channel open, sir."
"Unidentified ship, you have engaged in an unprovoked attack on a Federation vessel. Prepare to be boarded. I intend to..."
The blast of total annihilation made everyone on the bridge squint to protect their eyes. The ship rocked violently as the shockwave hit them. In the sudden quiet, the young officer at the con said incredulously, "They self-destructed."
"Confirmed, Commander." Said the tactical officer. But Will had lost interest. He was kneeling beside the pone form of his captain, sprawled on the floor. Jean-Luc had been thrown from the command chair during the battle but had remained unresponsive. As Will called for medical assistance, tactical said quietly, "I have the casualty list, sir."
Will looked up, his usually genial face grim. "Let's hear it."
"Thirty-eight injured, three dead. And Commander? One of the dead is Commander LaForge."
Will's eyes closed in wrenching pain just as the turbolift doors opened. Beverly hurried down to the deck in front of the command chair, fearing the worst. She breathed a heavy sigh of relief as her tricorder registered Jean-Luc's uninjured state. He was beamed straight to sickbay.

 

It was several hours before Jean-Luc returned to his mind. At first disoriented, the calm, gentle pressure of a hand on his shoulder immediately calmed him. He knew that touch, he'd know it anywhere.
"Beverly." He whispered.
"Yes, Jean-Luc, it's me. Come on sit up."
He did so, still feeling slightly disconnected, but aware enough to see the pain and sorrow in Beverly's eyes. It was time, he'd vacillated long enough. Too long as it turned out.
"It's Irumodic Syndrome, isn't it."
Taking a steadying breath, Beverly replied quietly, "Yes."
"How far...how bad...?"
How she kept from breaking down she never knew, but she answered his questions. "It's well advanced, Jean-Luc. The progression in the degradation of the synaptic pathways has gone beyond anything I can do to slow it."
He took the news stoically, showing no outward sign of distress. In fact his next query was asked so clinically it was as if he was enquiring about someone else.
"I take it peridaxon would be of no use?"
"That's taken as a palliative measure, Jean-Luc. It can't slow or halt the degradation."
There was a brittle silence before Beverly asked, unable to keep the hurt and anger out of her voice, "Why didn't you tell me?"
At first he said nothing and Beverly feared he'd lapsed again, but when he looked at her she saw the light of intelligent recognition in his eyes.
"Fear, Beverly. Simple stupid, cowardly fear. I remember only too well the future Q showed me, what I became under the influence of this damned condition. When the first episodes occurred I denied them, I pushed them away, choosing instead to believe that it was due to Q's latest 'adventure' with me that was causing it to happen, But as it continued to occur I knew." he sighed deeply. "I wanted to protect you and the children, Beverly. Protect you from what's to come."
"Protect us?" Beverly snorted derisively, but then immediately softened her stance. "I'm as much to blame as you, Jean-Luc."
He opened his mouth to protest, to deny her statement, but she held up her hand and silenced him. "No, I know it's true and so do you, if you're brave enough to admit it. I'm not only your life partner, Jean-Luc, I'm your doctor. Deanna was suspicious, so was Will and I admit, so was I, but we all gave you the benefit of the doubt and in doing so we let you down, my love. Instead of following SOP when there was any doubt about a crewmember's ability to do their job...regardless of the rank and position of that person, we just carried on, business as usual. Oh yes, the Captain's had yet another traumatic experience with Q! He'll get over it, he always does. That, Jean-Luc was a form of betrayal. We all assumed you'd pick up the pieces as usual and carry on. I'm so sorry, my love."
He took her hands and lifted then to his lips, kissing them tenderly. "If there's been any betrayal, Beverly, it was by me. I should've come to you, at the very beginning; I should've let you know."
"Yes, you should, but you didn't so now we have to deal with what we have now."
He smiled, trying to ease her pain. "But of course there isn't anything to be done. Is there."
"There's ongoing research, Jean-Luc. Medical science does not stand still."
He let that go, instead asking quietly, dreading the answers,
"I remember being on the bridge with a ship approaching on an intercept course which we were beginning to assume was hostile. What happened?"
Beverly's smile was strained. "You've been through a lot, Jean-Luc. Why don't you rest? We can talk about this later."
He stared uncompromisingly into her eyes. "Beverly, I have maybe five minutes...perhaps ten, if I'm lucky an hour and then I will probably 'lapse' again. I need to know what happened and I need to know while I'm still sane."
Swallowing, Beverly's voice was monotone. "The ship turned out to be a marauder. They hit us before we could raise shields. There was a fire fight which we won. We're at present on course for the nearest star base for repairs."
"Tzenkethi?"
"We don't know, although that's the presumption, it was never established. Will had told them to be prepared to be boarded when they self-destructed. Obviously there were no survivors."
Jean-Luc took a deep breath and said quietly,
"Damage? Casualties?"
"Once we got our shields up we didn't take too much more damage other than what had been sustained in that first unguarded shot. They'd targeted the secondary hull. We have a fairly large hole there, starboard side; force fields are maintaining hull integrity of course."
His dark eyes were intense. "Casualties?"
"Thirty-eight injured; some badly, but there were three deaths."
His eyes closed as he lowered his head. "Who?"
"All were in engineering. Two ensigns, and a lieutenant commander."
At that, Jean-Luc looked up, his face stricken. "No..." he whispered.
Beverly nodded, the tears she'd been keeping at bay finally escaping. "Yes, my love. Geordi."
"Dear God..."
He was still holding Beverly's hands and she brought them to her chest. "Jean-Luc, under the circumstances..."
When he spoke there was a remoteness in his voice that frightened the woman.
"I'm relieved of duty."
"More than that, Jean-Luc. With the diagnosis of Irumodic Syndrome..."
"I'll resign." He then looked into Beverly's eyes and said quietly, "I want you to leave me."
Frowning, Beverly shook her head. "I'm not finished with my examination, Jean-Luc. I still have to..."
"No." He said softly, but brooking no misinterpretation. "I want you to leave me, Beverly. Take the children and start a new life."
Anger and terrible fear warred for dominance. "What the hell are you saying? Damn you, Jean-Luc! Do you expect us to just walk away, knowing what you're facing? How could you even suggest something so grotesque, not to mention cruel?! How could I explain that to our children?"
With remarkable calm, Jean-Luc said quietly, "It is precisely what I'm facing that I make the request, Beverly. I seek to spare you and the children the experience of bearing witness to my eventual insanity, where I won't recognise you or our children followed by my inevitable unpleasant death. You know my wish is for a medially assisted termination, but I know how you feel about that, so I can't hurt you by doing the one thing that would save all of us the pain and anguish. So what does that leave me, Beverly? How do I, how can I protect you all?"
"We don't need to be protected dammit! Jean-Luc I'm your life partner and David, Monique and Giselle are your children. Nothing changes that! The kids will understand because I'll tell them. And no, they won't remember the last bits, they'll remember you well and strong, 'cause I'll make sure of it!"
"No doubt my most recent 'lapse' was the cause of the initial damage and...the deaths?"
"Yes, but..."
He shook his head. "Then there'll be a board of enquiry, Beverly, most certainly followed by a court martial. Disgrace as well as losing my mind? How do you think our children will cope with that? You will, but will they? I doubt it, Beverly. Their lasting memories of me will be of an addled, confused and physically deteriorating old man who will very soon not even recognise them!"
"There'll be no enquiry or court martial, Jean-Luc." Beverly's voice was soft and more tears flowed.
"Why?" He whispered hoarsely.
"Because Command already knows. Will had to submit a report and there was no way he could hide the fact that you were on the bridge, but..."
"I was out of my mind."
"The thing is, once he had to admit you were uninjured and conscious, therefore should've been able to command, they immediately insisted I submit my medical evaluation. I'm so sorry, Jean-Luc, I had no option. This wasn't something I could hide until you recovered. I had to tell them of the diagnosis. Your...'retirement' is effective immediately."
They stayed in strained silence before Beverly said with some mild enthusiasm, "Let's use this to our advantage, Jean-Luc. That leave we were going to take? Well, now we can please ourselves. No time limits, no restrictions. We can go wherever we want for as long as we want."
"I think you're rather conveniently forgetting a few things, Beverly."
She flushed, knowing he'd caught her out. He stated the obvious. "First, you would have to resign. That's unacceptable. Second, at some stage...and soon, I'm going to have to be in some kind of 'care' facility, you're not going to find one of those on Risa or Pacifica, are you? And third, what about the children? Their schooling and sense of stability? No, my love. The idea of a break...a very short one has merit, but certainly not an extended one. A few days somewhere quiet, but only if you can satisfy me that you and the children can cope when I..."
He gestured to his head and sighed. Beverly lifted his hand and kissed it, smiling, but her smile faded as she saw the light of intelligence and awareness vanish from his eyes. He'd 'gone' again.

 

The family left the ship two days later. At Jean-Luc's request, during his lessening periods of lucidity, there was no event, no party, just a private ceremony of change-of-command leaving Will as the temporary Captain of the Enterprise, something everyone hoped would become permanent. Jean-Luc wanted to give his recommendation, but was unable to, being seen now as mentally unstable.
Having been given the use of a shuttle, the family travelled to a planet with the intention of staying four days. Then they would leave; their final destination Earth. In particular, Labarre, France. There Beverly had made arrangements for Jean-Luc to be installed in a specially fitted out section of the house and medical staff employed to assist Beverly in nursing him through his final days. His sister-in-law Marie had died only eighteen months previous and the vineyard was entirely Jean-Luc's now. One thing he had insisted on was Beverly (if possible) keeping the vineyard running. As Marie had aged, she'd taken on a very good vintner-manager and adequate staff and the label was flourishing. Beverly easily remembered how fervent Jean-Luc had been during his brief lucidity in eliciting her promise to do what she could to keep the vineyard going. He'd confessed he'd taken the necessary steps to leave everything to her and their children, but ultimately the choice would be hers. If she felt unsuited or simply not interested, then by all means she and the children could and should live elsewhere, but he'd pleaded with her to keep the vineyard. It was his personal legacy to his children. She hadn't hesitated in agreeing. In fact plans were already in place to situate a private clinic within the house. Once her dear Jean-Luc was gone, Beverly had decided to continue to practice, but what she didn't tell her partner was that as well as run-of-the-mill doctoring, she was going to devote a lot of time and effort in research into Irumodic Syndrome. Somewhere deep inside Beverly she wasn't going to let go. She would fight the damned condition to the bitter end.

As it turned out she never got the chance. On the second day of the four-day holiday, Jean-Luc had expressed a wish to take a short walk. It's been snowing quite heavily and Beverly was at first uncooperative, refusing point-blank to let him out of her sight. But his gentle persuasion finally got through. It was his last plea that broke her walls.
"Beverly, my love, let me have some time to myself, while I still am myself. I won't remember this soon."
Beverly took his hands and looked into his eyes. Clear hazel looked back, undaunted and unafraid. With tears in her eyes she nodded. "Okay. Half an hour, no more."
He kissed her cheek and ran his fingers with exquisite tenderness over her features. "I know soon I won't remember you, my beautiful Beverly, nor our cherished children, but know this, mon coeur. I love you. I have loved you with such intensity..." he smiled ruefully. "...even the thought leaves me breathless. You have given me my heart's desire, Beverly. No matter what the future brings, never forget how much I love you."
Having made his way to his intended destination and hoping with every gram of his failing strength he could stay lucid long enough to complete his task, Jean-Luc undressed down to his briefs. He took care to fold and stack his clothing; his boots left side-by-side like silent sentinels. He stood, already shivering violently. As a mantra, over and over through chattering teeth he said, his breath clouding around his head. "Stay lucid, stay lucid." In the falling snow he didn't see the flash of light, but the voice was annoyingly familiar.
"You needn't worry, Jean-Luc, I have you."
Blinking, his eyelashes crusted with a rim of snow, Jean-Luc said incredulously. "Q?"
"Who else, mon capitaine?"
Jean-Luc dragged his eyes away from the capricious being and stared at the gelid water of the fast flowing creek.
"Not a bad decision, all things considered, Jean-Luc. It'll be quick, painless and you'll leave a relatively decent corpse. Very thoughtful, still, you always were altruistic."
Ignoring the entity, Jean-Luc slid the last metre or so, breaking the icy edge of the creek. He gasped involuntarily at the iciness of the water and hesitated momentarily before beginning to lie down. Q appeared by his side, squatting, his feet above the water. "Do you hate me, Jean-Luc?"
"No." It was becoming difficult to speak. "No, Q, I can't find it in myself to hate you. In fact I find I should thank you."
"Even though the choice I gave you led you to this?"
"You said nothing was for free, Q. I accept my death as payment in full. But may I ask one last thing of you?"
Q gave Jean-Luc a speculative look and gave the answer before Jean-Luc could even ask the question. "I'll watch over them, Jean-Luc, never fear. Your family...and your descendants...will...What is it the Vulcans say? Live long and prosper?"
"My descendents?"
For the first time Q smiled and it was with genuine warmth. "We of the Continuum pay our debts, Jean-Luc. You have fulfilled your part, now we will hold up our end of the bargain. Rest now, Jean-Luc, your work is done."
"Don't let me..."
"I won't, Jean-Luc. You'll be yourself until the end."
He let go of the bank and kept his eyes open, staring up into the falling snow. The greyness that overtook him was mercifully quick. He smiled. He was still himself at the end, his mind filled with images of Beverly and his children.

 

Beverly was preparing a late lunch when David came into the kitchen area and asked cautiously, "Where's papa, maman?"
Smiling at her son, Beverly said, "He went for a little walk. He'll be back soon."
The boy frowned. "Maman..."
By the way he'd said that one word, Beverly felt horrible fear. "What?" she said curtly. David stepped back into the living area and pointed at the large windows. "It's snowing really hard, maman. Shouldn't papa be back?"
"Oh, God!" Blurted Beverly. To her son she said frantically, "David, go and get our coats, boots, gloves, hats and scarves."
Going further into the living room, Beverly bent over Monique who was playing with Giselle. "Monique, sweetie, maman and David have to go out for a little while. Will you be a big girl and watch over Giselle for me until we get back?"
Beaming with pride, the little five year old nodded. "Yes, maman."
Beverly and David were still pulling on their protective clothing as they began to walk away from the cabin. "Where did he go? Do you know which direction, maman?"
Beverly came to an abrupt halt, trying to force her panic down so she could think clearly.
"The creek! The creek at the bottom of the gully!" In knee deep snow they pushed through, making heavy going on the steep downward slope. The creek was frozen along its edges but was full and flowing quickly. Turning downstream they found the terrain a little easier.
It was Beverly who found his body. She'd seen the neat pile of his clothing, his red jacket and hat on top near the bank. He was floating, his body, clad in nothing but his briefs caught in a fallen tree. He'd been dead some time, but his expression, even in death was serene.
Beverly and David pulled him from the icy water and sat one on each side, holding his blue hands. "Why, maman?" David asked quietly. "Why did he do it?"
With surprising calmness Beverly replied, "He did it for us, David, you, your sisters and me. He didn't want us to go through the pain and trauma of what was going to happen to him. So he did the only thing he thought he could do to spare us. It was his final act of love...for all of us."
David, tears sliding down his face said softly, "There're no marks, maman. What...what killed him?"
"Hypothermia, David. It would've been relatively quick and painless."
"So when he went for his walk he knew he was going to do it."
"Yes. I think if we look carefully enough, we'll find something, last messages perhaps for each of us. In the cabin."
"I'll go back, maman and call the emergency team. You stay with him."
Finally Beverly's tears began to fall. All she could manage was a broken whisper. "Thank you, David."
Once alone with Jean-Luc's lifeless body, she leaned down and kissed his cold blue lips. "I love you, Jean-Luc."

 

Jean-Luc had indeed left messages for each of his loved ones. Beverly had found them in the bedside table. David's and Monique's and Giselle's isolinear chips had been marked to be read by them at age 16. Beverly was free to read hers when she felt ready. She smiled sadly, a tear slipping free. "Even then you were thinking about my feelings, my love."

The memorial service had been, at Beverly's request, dignified and subdued. It was well attended but the press had been banned and only three vids were allowed, one edited for public consumption, the other two for Jean-Luc's family and closest friends.
Later, at the family plot within the grounds of the vineyard, a small gathering watched as Jean-Luc's urn, containing his ashes was interred. Deanna Troi, who had been carefully monitoring the entire family, but especially Beverly, had noticed the woman was hiding something, something that was causing almost as much grief as her partner's death.
Manoeuvring close to her, Deanna watched quietly as the niche was sealed and the plaque affixed. Beverly was holding Giselle in one arm and Monique's hand with her free hand, David, looking too small for the black suit he wore stood beside his sister, holding her other hand. Will, ever aware, caught the subtle look from his new fiancé and went to Beverly, saying quietly, "I'll take the kids for a walk, Beverly. I think you need to talk to Deanna."
Sighing at the inevitability of it all, but lacking the emotional strength to resist, Beverly nodded and handed her children over to their uncle Will.
Now alone, as the few close friends drifted away, Deanna said gently, "You knew."
Beverly looked up at the sky, squinting in the bright late Spring sunshine.
"You're talking about me allowing him to go for his...'walk'?"
When Deanna said nothing, Beverly sighed deeply. "Yes, I knew. Jean-Luc had always been an advocate of euthanasia but he was aware of my feelings on the matter so he knew that avenue was closed to him." She lowered her head and gave Deanna a look of such sadness the accompanying wave of emotional pain actually made Deanna stagger. It was Beverly who steadied her.
"In a way, I killed him, Dee. Instead of being with his family, surrounded by love he took his own life alone and in a freezing cold creek on an alien world light years from the planet of his birth."
The two women were silent for a time before Deanna asked gently, "Did he tell you?"
Beverly snorted. "More than he told you, Dee. He told me the whole hideous thing. I know you're aware of most of what occurred up until Q made his appearance...but you have no idea, Deanna, no idea what followed."
To the counsellor's raised eyebrow, Beverly shook her head. "No, Dee, I can't...actually, I won't tell you or anyone else. The kids will find out when they reach 16. Until then, all I will tell you is that Jean-Luc was given a choice, but the reality was there was only ever one choice he could make. Trouble was...it came at a terrible price."
"His life." Deanna whispered.
"Yeah."
The up swell of staggering grief caught Deanna again and she knew there was more to it than Jean-Luc's death. Taking Beverly's hand, the counsellor said, "Tell me. It's destroying you, Beverly. Tell me!"
Beverly looked deeply into Deanna's eyes before slowly kneeling and placing her hand on the new, still-shiny plaque on the niche. "I'm pregnant."
Lowering her head, two tears slipped from Deanna's eyes.
"I was going to tell him on our holiday...when he was...you know...lucid...but..."
Beverly sighed and shook her head, anger and recrimination in her voice. "Why is it that we never say the important things when we have the chance? Why do we wait until it's too fucking late?!"
Deanna knelt beside Beverly and pulled her into her embrace.
"How far along are you?"
"Seven weeks. It wasn't planned, not exactly; we'd just decided to let nature take its course."
There was a long silence, broken when Deanna said very quietly, "You know the gender."
"Yes." Sighed Beverly. "We never did with the others, but under the circumstances...it's a boy."
"He would've been pleased, Beverly, pleased and proud."
Her next question was couched very carefully. "You've had the children tested?"
"David and Monique, yes...and they're okay, there're no defects. Giselle is still too young, but preliminary scans are looking good so far and as for junior here..." she placed her hand over her lower belly. "Fingers crossed."
Deanna got to her feet and helped Beverly up. "So what now?"
"Well," smiled Beverly wanly. "With Will getting the Titan and you and he marrying and you transferring to his ship, I guess there's not much left of the Enterprise family. Data's gone...Geordi..." She sighed. "I think, for a few years at least, I'll just settle down here at the vineyard, raise our children and be a GP."
"You're really resigning from Starfleet altogether?"
"Yes, Dee." She looked again at the plaque."Don't get me wrong, I'm not being maudlin, but this is where Jean-Luc is. That's reason enough to want to stay."
"Fair enough. You know Will and I ship out tomorrow."
"Yes. You can stay here tonight if you'd like."
Deanna's smile was warm. "No. Thanks, but Will has so much brass to negotiate in assuming his captaincy and I have to get up to speed on the Titan's crew. Command is we're we'll be tonight."
"Kay. Keep in touch, Dee. Don't be a stranger."
"I could say the same to you, Beverly. Don't think for a minute that I don't know what you've got in mind."
Beverly shrugged. "Can you blame me?"
"No, just don't let it consume you."
Beverly smiled and took Deanna's face in her hands, kissing both her cheeks. "Bye, dear, dear friend."
"Adieu I think is more appropriate, Beverly."
Will was walking back, Beverly's heart swelling with gratitude as she heard David, Giselle and Monique laughing. The new Captain hugged his old friend and kissed her brow. "Updates, Beverly. I want regular updates!"
"Oh...go on with you Captain Riker."
Will tapped his comm. badge and requested a beam out. Now alone with her children, Beverly kissed her fingers and placed them on Jean-Luc's plaque. "Come on, let's go up to the house, we've got a lot of unpacking to do."
As they walked up the gently sloping lawned area, David, carrying Giselle, said quietly, "And you have your lab to set up."
"Yes I do." Agreed Beverly.
"Do you think you'll find a cure, maman?"
"I don't know, David, but if I don't, it won't be through lack of trying. From this time forward, Irumodic Syndrome has become my personal nemesis."
"Mine too, maman." Said David with conviction.
"And mine." Piped up Monique.
In the dappled sunshine Jean-Luc's plaque shone a little brighter. The inscription was a simple one, the accompanying poem appropriate.
Jean-Luc Picard. 13th July, 2305-32rd March 2376. Aged 71 years.
A life well lived.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not here. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there. I did not die. *

*Mary Elizabeth Frye.

End.

 

 

 

 

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