A Gentle Touch.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard looked around his quarters and nodded with satisfaction. The table had been set, the floral centrepiece meeting with his high standards, the replicator programmed and he'd shaved and showered, choosing his wardrobe carefully. The sapphire blue silk shirt was cut in a deep vee, exposing a good portion of his chest and the black linen trousers were cut a little more snugly than was his usual style. He looked around again and sighed. His impending guest was none other than his Chief Medical Officer, Beverly Crusher. Over the ensuing two months they had grown increasingly close, spending almost all of their off time together and he had high hopes of taking their already warm relationship to a more intimate level. He had news for his companion…news that he hoped would tip the balance. If he could only get them both away from the ship…away from their respective positions, maybe…just maybe…
The door chimes interrupted his thoughts and, taking one final look at his preparations, he moved to the centre of the room and softly called,
"Come."
The door whispered open and she entered, the light from the corridor silhouetting her from behind.
"Beverly come in."
"Hello Jean-Luc."
He stepped up to her and took a moment to look into the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. Giving a gentle smile he reserved exclusively for her, he took her arm and led her to his sofa.
"I have a bottle of the '47 open. Would you like a glass?"
She returned his smile and sank into the cushions closing her eyes.
"That would be lovely, thank you."
She felt the movement as he sat beside her and opened her eyes to catch his gentle gaze. He gave her the wine and settled back into the sofa.
"How was Sickbay today? Busy?"
"Not with patients, but the inventory is still in progress. Barring any hiccups, we should be finished in another day or two."
He smiled and sipped his drink.
"Another day or two? That would be perfect."
She tilted her head and smiled at his demeanour.
"Perfect? Perfect for what?"
He gently took her hand in his and brushed his thumb over her soft skin.
"For what I have in mind."
Giggling and intrigued, she squeezed his hand.
"And just what is it that you have in mind?"
He slowly took another sip and held the glass up to the light, studying it. In an almost matter-of -fact tone he said,
"I'm taking leave in three days, there's an archaeological site that's opened up on Rakka Prime. I want you to come with me."
At first the silence was expectant, but soon, as it progressed, he started to become nervous.
"Beverly?"
He noticed the hard glitter in her eyes.
"You just expect me to drop everything and go with you at a moment's notice?"
"Well no…you've got three days."
The sound of the glass being placed firmly on the low table was loud in the otherwise quiet room.
"What about my research? I suppose it means nothing to you that I've got an ongoing study in progress, a study that I've been working on for four months? It didn't occur to you that I might have more important things to do than go gallivanting across the galaxy with you? That I might even be offended by the thought that you seem to think I've got nothing better to do? Well I've got news for you Jean-Luc Picard! You can go and grub around in the dirt to your heart's content, but you'll be doing it alone mister! I'm not going!"
She stood then and glared down at her shocked companion. He tried to regroup.
"Beverly calm down. I just thought…"
Arms akimbo she shook her head.
"Thought? I don't think so! Dammit Jean-Luc you make me so mad sometimes…"
She turned abruptly and strode from his quarters, barely giving the doors a chance to open before she steamed through them.
He was devastated A proud and sensitive man, he was growing tired of her rejections and as he sat a seed of anger took hold and began to grow. The more he mulled it over, the angrier he became.
"Who does she think she is? The Queen of Sheba? Gods if she doesn't want to come then damn her I'll go alone AND I'll enjoy myself!"
He brusquely cleared away the table and replicated himself a light meal. Two hours of brooding found him readying for bed still angry, still smarting. His last thoughts before he fell into a troubled sleep were…
"Self important wench!"

 

 

 

 

 

The next three days were excruciating on board the Enterprise. People close to the warring pair knew something was very wrong but didn't know what. Will Riker dropped by his friend's quarters to try and allay the situation.
"Deanna do you know what's going on between the Captain and Beverly? You could've cut the air with a knife at this morning's briefing. Did you see the way she looked at him? If looks could kill…"
Deanna Troi, ship's Counsellor returned from the replicator with some hot drinks. Motioning for the Commander to sit, she sighed and shook her head.
"I've no idea Will. It doesn't make any sense! They were getting so close…I thought…well…"
Will nodded and stroked his dark beard.
"Me too. The Captain's been so relaxed lately…it was obvious they were happy together…they've been spending all their down time together…Deanna could you talk to Beverly? Would she confide in you?"
Deanna closed her eyes and smiled, nodding her head.
"Yes Will on both counts. I intended to see her this afternoon. I'll let you know as long as it's not breaking a confidence, ok?"
He grinned and stood, opening his arms. Deanna accepted the offering and gratefully stepped into his bear-like embrace, fully engulfed by the big man.
He kissed the curls atop her head and sighed.
"What would we do without you Dee?"
She giggled and stepped back, playfully slapping his chest.
"Shoo Will Riker. Go drive the ship."

 

 

 

Four hours later, Deanna stood at the entrance to Beverly's office, frowning as she watched her friend work. She noted the tightness in the Doctor's shoulders and the scowl with which she looked at her monitor.
"It doesn't help you know."
Startled, Beverly looked up and glared.
"What doesn't help?"
Deanna stepped into the office and gripped the back of a chair.
"Scowling at computers. They can't see you, it's a wasted effort."
Beverly harrumphed and returned her attention to her work. Deanna let her ignore her for a while then said gently,
"I'm not going away."
Beverly clenched her jaw and re-applied herself to the computer terminal.
"Beverly."
Slapping the monitor off with more force than was necessary, she shoved it to one side and sat back in her chair. She glared at Deanna, then shook her head, frowning.
"That man!"
Deanna sank into the chair in front of the desk and tilted her head to see her friend's face.
"Want to talk about it?"
Beverly looked up and grimaced.
"Not here. Have you eaten lunch yet?"
Deanna shook her head and stood as Beverly left her chair.
"Come on let's go to the lounge."

 

 

 

 

 

Some minutes later the two women were comfortably seated in the forward lounge staring at their plates. Deanna reached across and took Beverly's hand.
"Tell me."
"Oh Deanna…why are men so obtuse?"
"What happened?"
Beverly withdrew her hand and picked up her fork, absently pushing her salad around the plate.
"He invited me to dinner a couple of nights ago. Everything was just so…he'd obviously gone to some effort and he looked so handsome…we sat on the sofa drinking wine and he just blurted it out."
"What? What did he just blurt out?"
"He's taking leave the day after tomorrow…apparently a new archaeological site has opened up on Rakka Prime. He's going there and he wanted me to go along. Just like that. No warning, no consideration of my feelings on the matter, just drop everything and go."
Deanna sighed and shook her head gently.
"What did you say?"
"I turned him down of course!"
"That's it? You just said 'no' and left it at that?"
Beverly smirked and blushed slightly.
"Well not exactly. I did vent my opinion…let him know I wasn't happy. We didn't exactly part amicably. In fact I walked out on him and I haven't spoken to him since. Really Deanna, the nerve of that man! Who does he think he is, expecting me to drop everything and take off with him to some Godforsaken dust bowl out in the middle of nowhere?"
Silence settled between the friends as Deanna thought over what she'd been told.
Two proud, independent people butting heads was never pretty. That it was two of her dearest friends pained the Betazoid. Gathering her thoughts, she turned her obsidian eyes upon her companion.
"Beverly…would it be true to say that you and the Captain have been…growing closer these past months?"
Beverly nodded speculatively.
"Well…perhaps the Captain wanted to get closer still. Maybe he thought getting off the ship would be beneficial for you both. You and the Captain hold highly stressful positions, it could be that he simply wanted you both to be just Beverly and Jean-Luc, not CMO and Captain for a change."
Beverly closed her eyes and bowed her head.
"Don't you think I've already figured that out? I know he wants more…and I'm ready to take that step, but the way he just expected me to drop everything….Deanna he gave no thought to my opinion, my feelings…he expected me to go with him and that's what set me off. I'll not be dictated to. Not by him, not by anybody!"
Deanna again took her friend's hand.
"Beverly…do you love him?"
The tears came then, along with a whispered,
"Yes."
"The swallow your pride and go to him. Settle this."
Quickly snatching her hand back, Beverly swiped at the tears.
"NO! It's too late now. If he thinks so little of me…well then maybe it's better we end this before it gets started. It's probably doomed to failure anyway. If you'll excuse me…"
With that Beverly left the troubled Counsellor.

Later that evening Deanna was not surprised when her door chime activated. Sensing her Imzadi, she smiled as she bade him entry. She took one look at him and knew he was in turmoil
"What is it Will?"
He paced the length of her cabin twice before he answered.
"I've just come from the Ready Room. The Captain has informed me he's taking three weeks leave starting tomorrow! He's going to…"
"Rakka Prime."
His startled look was priceless.
"How did you know…"?
They said in unison,
"Beverly."
He took Deanna by the shoulders and shook her gently.
"What the hell's going on? The Captain never takes leave and even if he does….ten hours notice? It doesn't make sense."
"Sit down Will. I spoke to Beverly today. It seems he invited her to go with him and she turned him down."
"Why?"
Deanna sighed.
"It's complicated Will. It has as much to do with the kind of people they are as anything else. Beverly was insulted that the Captain expected her to drop everything and go with him with such little warning. She felt he didn't consider her opinion or feelings. They parted acrimoniously and haven't spoken since."
Will frowned and grumbled,
"Of all the stubborn, pig headed…well, that explains his current mood. He's been like a bear with a sore tooth. Do you know he had the Ensign at ops in tears this afternoon? It was so unlike him…I wondered what was going on, now it all makes sense. He's smarting and she's brooding. Maybe some time apart isn't such a bad thing."
Deanna sat and rubbed her thighs.
"I don't know Will, I think it's more serious than that. This has been a fundamental rift in their relationship. My advice would be to talk it out, not run away from it."
"Well he's leaving at 0600 tomorrow, we're to rendezvous with a transport that's taking him to Rakka. Somehow I don't think he's going to change his mind."
Deanna frowned and shook her head.
"Neither will Beverly."

 

 

 

 

The next morning Jean-Luc stood on the transporter pad surrounded by his gear. Before him stood his First Officer and Counsellor, all of them surreptitiously waiting for Beverly. She didn't arrive. At 0610 the Captain looked at Will.
"Well everything seems to be in order. I leave the ship in your capable hands Commander, see to it that she is returned to me in one piece."
"Aye Sir."

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc materialised on Rakka Prime in a vast forest reserve on the Southern continent. The given coordinates had deposited him in a small clearing on a rise about half a kilometre from a river that would provide him with fresh water. The surrounding bush was tall and lush, the undergrowth pushing up with profusion. Birdsong rang out and, as he scouted out the place for his campsite, he marvelled at the riot of colour from the ground plants.
Having decided on a spot for his tent, he pegged it out and left it to self-inflate while he gathered some rocks to ring his fire-pit. Once the tent was ready, he set up his belongings, changed into a khaki overalls and sturdy boots, and made his way to the excavation site for his first look.
He had already read all he could find about the site and still felt privileged to have been able to secure permission to visit, alone at that.
With a geologist's hammer and brush in his hands, he carefully poked about, gently lifting stones and peering through the detritus, soon becoming completely absorbed. Nutrition forgotten, it was quite late in the afternoon when he finally realised he was hungry, dirty and somewhat fatigued. He was, however, utterly engrossed and very happy. Were it not for the unpleasantness of the past few days and Beverly's absence, he would have been completely content.
Straightening and grimacing at his stiff back, he returned to his campsite and collected his wash bag and water container before making his way to the track that would take him to the river. He had covered perhaps half of the journey when he heard the sound of distant reports. Stopping in his tracks, he listened, hearing two more shots before the natural sounds once again took precedence.
"That's odd, this whole area is a preserve. Why would I be hearing shots?"
He was still mulling over that question when he finally reached the river. He stood above the fast flowing watercourse on a bank approximately twelve metres high. The path descended via a series of rough-hewn steps, using rocks and protruding roots as hand holds. He studied the route before taking his first tentative steps and soon found the rhythm of the descent. Having reached the river, he found a convenient pool, disrobed and washed himself, trying not to gasp at the cold. With his ablutions completed, he dressed, moved upstream and filled the container, then carefully ascended the path and returned to his campsite.
He made himself a modest dinner of re-constituted beef stew and vegetables and was enjoying a cup of Earl Grey tea, his computer on his knees. For the past ten years, whenever he was away from the ship, he always sent Beverly a brief message to let her know he was all right. It had become a welcome habit, but on this night he hesitated. The bitterness of their last meeting was still fresh in his mind and his pride still hurt. He toyed aimlessly with the keys for a while, typing arch comments and cutting remarks until, with a sigh, he keyed in a simple message.
*Arrived safely, campsite up and running…all well. J.L. *
He pressed the 'send' key and stretched out his feet towards the fire. In his mind's eye he saw Beverly reading the message, but he couldn't imagine her reaction.
Her recent behaviour had confused and saddened him. Anger had been foremost, but now he was on the planet…alone…his memory of what he'd hoped this leave would be came back to haunt him.
He loved her. Simply, completely and for a very long time. These last few months, as they had grown closer had been a source of great joy for Jean-Luc. The idea of a long- term relationship had frightened him for a long time. The notion of letting one person that close, to give himself heart and soul and be vulnerable to exquisite pain was not something he ever thought he wanted to do, but slowly he realised he was lonely and the only one who could assuage that loneliness was Beverly. With her he could imagine a life filled with love…and passion, of mental stimulation and fire, a companion, lover and counterpart.
He sighed expansively and shook his head sadly. How could it have all gone so terribly wrong? Was what he did so bad?
Staring into the dregs of his cup, he swirled the liquid and tossed it onto the fire. The dishes were quickly cleaned and he stood and stretched, his eyes lingering on the unfamiliar stars.
"What are you doing right now?"
Noting the growing chill, he entered his tent, undressed and climbed into his bed, his last thoughts drifting towards the distant ship.

 

 

 

Beverly had had a long day. The inventory was finally finished and things were relatively quiet in Sickbay, but her thoughts kept gravitating to Jean-Luc. She was angry with herself for not going to the transporter room to see him off. It was petty and mean spirited to have him leave without saying goodbye. Deanna was right…she should've had it out with him, not let it fester and grow.
Wearily she plodded through the corridors, the lonely meal she'd had in the lounge sitting heavily in her stomach. Upon entering her quarters, she was surprised to hear her message beeper sounding. Sitting at her desk, she activated her terminal and was delighted to read the, albeit brief, missive from Jean-Luc.
"Well at least he's still thinking of me."
She sat and thought for a few moments before typing…
*Happy to hear from you, have a nice time. B. *
She smiled as she sent the message. Closing her eyes, she could see his dark hazel gaze, the soft look he often gave her…his deep baritone as he spoke. She shivered and prepared for bed, knowing she would sleep better this night.

 

 

 

The next morning Jean-Luc rose early and partook of a light breakfast. He carefully examined and catalogued his findings from the previous day before leaving his tent and venturing into the frosty dawn. Taking up his tools, he ascended the rise to the site and re-acquainted himself with the area he'd been excavating. He'd been gently digging for three hours when he was startled by shots fired quite close to where he was.
Straightening, he walked to the apex of the rise and searched in the direction of the sounds but, apart from some roused bird life, nothing seemed to be amiss. He stayed some minutes before shrugging his broad shoulders and returning to his work.
The day grew hot and at mid day he ceased his labours and made his way to his camp, carefully carrying his precious artefacts. Using some of his water, he gently cleaned the items and spent a good hour pouring over his finds. Deciding to catalogue them later, he was making a belated lunch when he heard more gunshots, this time further away. He frowned and considered contacting the continent's government, eventually deciding to let things be. He was the visitor and he wasn't about to make waves just because his peace had been disturbed.
After lunch he again returned to the dig site and remained there until late afternoon when hunger again made it's presence known. He repeated the previous day's trip to the river to bathe and collect water and soon found himself sat at the fire activating his computer. The message beep was a welcome surprise and he was delighted to read Beverly's greeting. He composed a short, friendly missive and, with some trepidation, signed it "With love". He ate a simple meal and retired for the night a contented man.

 

 

When Beverly read his latest message, warmth spread throughout her body. Not only was the message friendly, he's signed it with love. She smiled and gently stroked the screen wishing he were there so she could tell him how happy he'd made her. Instead she composed a return message.
*Dearest Jean-Luc,
So glad you're enjoying yourself. All is well here…missing you,
Love,
Beverly. *
As she pressed the send key, she placed a kiss on the monitor and whispered,
"Hurry home."

 

The next three days passed much the same as the previous ones. He developed a schedule of work and rest, sheltering from the worst of the afternoon's heat in his tent and cataloguing his finds. He found he looked forward to the evenings, when he'd bathed, eaten and was ready to activate his computer. Without fail, there would be a lovely message from Beverly and he wasn't imagining it; the missives were getting more and more intimate. In her last message she'd made reference to the silk shirt he'd worn that fateful night and how handsome he'd looked in it. He smiled and sighed, pleased that the clothing had had the desired effect. He closed his eyes and saw her…the emerald dress hugging her curves, cut low…the alabaster skin, the ivory column of her neck…how her legs seemed to go on and on…he shook his head and took a large breath, expelling it with force. If he didn't stop this he wouldn't be getting much sleep. By the glow of his fire, he surveyed his campsite and snorted.
"How would she have liked this?"
He knew Beverly would've appreciated the beauty of the area, the wild life had proved curious and he'd seen many small animals around his camp and the bird life was prolific, but what would she have done while he rummaged about in the ruins?
"Probably spent all her time collecting plant specimens I'd wager."
The gunshots would've disturbed her though. Throughout the days there had been sporadic firing, sometimes close, sometimes far away. It was a mystery to him that anyone would be shooting in the preserve, but as long as they left him alone, he would do nothing about it.
He did his dishes, composed another warm message to his beloved Beverly and retired for the night, his thoughts light years away.

 

 

 

Towards the late afternoon on his fifth day, he straightened his aching back and looked down at himself with distaste. The area he'd been working on was very damp, the rubble covered in moss, thickening, as the excavation got deeper. His tan overalls were covered in mud, slime and moss…even his bald head was smeared with grime. He decided there and then to quit for the day and take an early bath.
He made his way to the camp, collected his bag and water container and struck out on the path to the river. He'd taken off his communicator earlier as it was catching on the rocks. As an afterthought, he had taken it from his pocket and tossed it onto his bunk.
It was a good fifteen-minute walk to the river and when he reached the bank he was hot and sweaty. He stood quietly watching a bird drinking from the running water, never knowing he was being stalked.

 

 

 

A gentle breeze lifted the branches and added to the mottled affect of the undergrowth. Two hunters, armed with old-fashioned projectile weapons silently approached what they thought was their illegal quarry. The gained optimum range and raised their rifles, taking aim.

 

 

Jean-Luc reached out to take hold of the nearby branch when he was literally blown off his feet. Two bullets tore through his body with devastating force. One entered his back, ripping through muscle and rupturing his stomach before exiting his torso, the other smashing through his thigh and breaking the femur. The entry wounds were bad…the exit wounds were terrible. He pitched forward head first and tumbled like a broken doll down the twelve metre drop coming to an abrupt halt as his head and arm caught in some rocks and roots beside the river.

 

The poachers, eager to see their kill, raced to the drop and peered over. They were silent for some time until the larger of the two spoke.
"What the hell is that?"
They had never seen a human before. They themselves had four arms and legs…immensely powerful, they had enormous necks that supported huge domed, tufted heads. With nictitating membranes over their elongated violet eyes, they had two rows of fearsome teeth and protruding nostrils that afforded a keen sense of smell.
The slung their weapons and made short work of the climb down to the unconscious Jean-Luc.
The smaller one toed his inert body and bent low to sniff him.
"I'll be damned Ert, I've never seen anything like this before."
"Is it alive?"
The smaller being, named Jux, lifted Jean-Luc's head and felt around his neck with his large taloned hands.
"I think so…I can feel a pulse anyway. What should we do with it? Should we take it back to camp?"
Ert held up two of his hands and motioned his companion to silence.
"We need to think about this. If we take it back to camp and get caught…well you can imagine what would happen then. Not only would they have us for poaching and unregistered firearms and illegal camping, but they would have us for taking this…whatever it is."
"Yeah but what if we leave it and it dies?"
Ert scratched the tufts atop his head.
"Then it dies. Who's to say we shot it?"
"Maybe we should kill it and skin it. You never know…we might fetch a pretty dromad for such an exotic pelt."
Ert bent down and with his powerful arms, tore open Jean-Luc's overalls.
"What pelt? It's practically hairless. Look it doesn't even have hair on its head."
Jux pulled Jean-Luc over onto his back and snorted with distaste.
"It's blood smells awful and it's filthy too. Do you think there could be more of them?"
"Dunno, but we should find where it's been nesting, it could be interesting."
Leaving the stricken man, they ascended the bank and soon found the path. Readying their rifles, they stealthily crept along until the emerged into the clearing. Having made sure they were alone, they started to investigate the campsite.
"Would you look at this? It's better than what we have."
Ert nodded, frowning.
"One thing's for sure, its no dumb animal," he said sarcastically. "Look at this stuff. We can make a small fortune here."
The tent was too small to accommodate two such large beings, so Jux waited while Ert ransacked Jean-Luc's belongings. He emerged with two of his four arms burdened with goods. In one free hand he held the communicator. He tossed it to Jux and said,
"What do you think that is?"
Shrugging all four shoulders, Jux tentatively bit down on it then licked it, finally sniffing it before tossing it back to Ert.
"I've no idea."
Ert squinted at the communicator before dropping it to the ground and grinding it under a large bare foot.
"Well, it's junk now."
Harsh laughter echoed around the site.
"Should we take the shelter?"
Ert shook his massive head.
"No. Too brightly coloured. We'd stand out too easily. Better to keep our camouflaged tent and lay low for a while."
"What…no more hunting?"
"No, not for a few days. Let's see what happens with the creature first."
Jux took a last look around.
"What about all these silver packets with the black writing?"
"Leave 'em. Could be poison for all we know Come on its getting late, we should get back to camp, we've got three heddik to skin."
Five minutes after they left the birds began their final calls for the day.

 

 

 

 

Something was biting his left leg. Every now and then, Jean-Luc could distinctly feel the pinch as something gnawed industriously at his lower leg. It took some minutes before he realised his legs were in water…very cold water.
"Open your eyes."
It was a simple command, but nothing happened. He tried to raise his right arm, but it seemed to be dead, at least he couldn't feel it, so he tried his left arm and achieved some success. His hand made it to his face and his fingers encountered the telltale stickiness of blood.
"What the hell…?"
Raising some spit in his mouth, he wet his fingers and managed to pry his eyes open. It took a few moments to realise where he was.
"I must've fallen…"
The instant he tried to move his body, he roared with pain. Agony lanced through him completely blotting out all thought. The pain was so bad he tried to crawl out of his own body, gaining nothing more than added agony.
Stilling himself, he lay whimpering and panting, waiting for the pain to recede enough for him to think clearly.
It took some minutes, but eventually he regained control and began to take stock.
His entire body was a sea of pain, particularly his stomach. He felt gingerly with his fingers and found the gaping exit wound. Next, he explored his right shoulder only to find it dislocated. He lay quietly trying to formulate a plan.
"Must get out of the water."
Gathering his strength and gritting his teeth against the inevitable pain, he gently rolled to his left and groaned continuously as the agony washed over him.
Nausea suddenly overwhelmed him and he vomited, the effort causing him to pass out.
When he next woke he was surrounded by darkness.
He tried to see around him but it was useless. Without a moon, the nights were completely black. If not for the rushing river, he would've been in total sensory deprivation. Very gently, he moved his left leg and found it to be uninjured, but when he tried his right leg he lost his breath as pain lanced through him.
"Oh God…what?"
He carefully ran his left hand over his thigh only to find the torn flesh of the exit wound.
With the pain in his back and the back of his thigh he realised that whatever had struck him had passed right through.
"But what..? How..? Who?"
Trying to put those thoughts aside, he reached forward with his good arm and managed to inch up the sandy edge of the river, taking time to circumnavigate the roots that threatened to tangle him. Gritting his teeth against the almost overwhelming pain, he continued upwards until he was out of the water.
He lay panting for some minutes until he realised he could still feel something biting his lower leg. He could see nothing in the darkness so he bent his knee and felt with his hand. He encountered a largish water creature, the head of which was deeply buried in the flesh above his boot. Grunting, he gripped its carapace-covered body and pulled. The hooked legs of the creature embedded themselves in his skin, but he ignored this and pulled harder. Abruptly the head separated from the body and, after a few minutes, movements ceased. Jean-Luc grunted with disgust and threw the decapitated body into the river.
Feeling his way gingerly, he moved up the sloping bank until he came to the steep rise of the cliff. Feeling light headed, cold and nauseous, he curled up on his side and wondered if he would still be alive in the morning.

 

 

 

Sometime later, Beverly entered her quarters and strode directly to her computer. Activating the terminal, she was disappointed to see no message from Jean-Luc.
"Perhaps he was too busy…"
Her musings didn't fully convince her but there was nothing she could do about it, so she sent him a warm message, in fact it was the most intimate yet, and grinned slyly as she pressed the send key.
"That should get your attention."

 

 

 

Throughout the long night Jean-Luc drifted in and out of consciousness. Time became irrelevant as he struggled; when he was awake, to try to figure out what had happened.
That he'd been shot was obvious, but why? And by whom? Was it something to do with the shots he'd been hearing? Had hunters mistaken him for game? If he had been shot by mistake why didn't the hunters help him? Where were they now? Were they nearby watching him? Were they waiting for him to die?
Feeling frustrated and utterly helpless, Jean-Luc drifted through the night…it was birdsong that woke him much later, the warming sun helping to dispel the chill of night.
As the sun crept over the mountain, it became hotter and brighter. Jean-Luc was able to get his first look at the damage to his body.
From his chest to his legs, his overall was soaked in blood. The right thigh was also sodden. The material had been shredded with bits of the tan fabric embedded in the wounds. Looking around him, Jean-Luc spied his bag and water container, the former hanging precariously by a branch over the river, the latter thankfully within reach.
Shuffling along on his side to the bank, he gained the container and moved painfully to the water to fill it. In a sluggish pool, presumably where his legs had lain, was the rosy bloom of blood and in the blood stained water, several large insect-like creatures congregated.
He watched fascinated as the creatures swam back and forth, seeking the source of the blood.
"Probably what bit me."
He moved further upstream and filled the container with clean water. He managed to get the strap over his head, but was forcibly reminded of his dislocated right shoulder.
After several moments thought he reached down to his injured thigh and carefully ripped the leg from his overall. It took some manoeuvring, but he managed to get it off his leg and up to his free hand. Following the seam, he tore the fabric three times, producing long strips. One he tied around his thigh, another he strapped around his stomach wound and the third he fashioned into a sling for his right arm. He was now exhausted and lay panting in the sunshine, growing annoyed with the cheerful calls from the birds.
Blood loss and shock were making him drowsy and he fought to keep his thoughts in order. He knew he had to…somehow…get back to his camp. It would be arduous to say the least. First he would have to negotiate the climb up the bank, then the half a kilometre to the campsite. Could he do it?
The only way to find out was to try. Without looking at what awaited him, he rolled onto his side and prepared to see if he could crawl. His right hand weakly gripped the material at his left shoulder and he somehow managed to draw up his right leg. With a mighty heave he rose unsteadily up onto knees and hand and wavered there precariously.
"So far, so good" He grunted.
Coordinating his limbs was difficult, but he managed to get enough of a system going to move the few metres to the climb.
With most of the weight on his left knee, he reached up and gripped the lower roots. Mustering all his strength, he pulled with his arm and pushed with his leg. Surprising himself, he rose to a standing position and stood, gasping in agony as fresh blood seeped through the makeshift bandages.
With nothing else to do but proceed, Jean-Luc gritted his teeth and reached up for a new handhold. Bracing himself with the left side of his body, he again pushed up with his leg and gained another metre. In this fashion he gradually made his way up the incline. At one point fatigue made his grip slip and he slid two metres down, the pain almost making him black out. Only his fist catching in some roots saved him plunging down to a very uncertain future on the rocks below. It took hours for him to reach the top. He was filthy, spent and nearly sobbing with pain as he dragged himself the last few centimetres over the lip. The tear in the back of his overall, compliments of Ert had admitted dirt, twigs and small insects, all of which added to his discomfort. He worried about the dirt entering his wounds and resolved to clean them when he'd regained some strength.
He lay as still as possible, letting his heart and breathing calm. Again drowsiness threatened to overtake him, but he shook it off. Dragging himself to a nearby tree, he managed to sit, propped against it, as he unslung the water container.
His thirst was fierce but he took only sips of the precious water. Tearing more material from his overall, he released the bandages on his leg and torso and did his best to clean the ugly wounds. That they still bled worried him so he made wads with the salvaged fabric and re-tied the injuries. Next, he cleaned the many scrapes, cuts and abrasions on his face, head and hands, noting that the fingers on his right hand seemed to be damaged. Although he could make a weak fist, he couldn't manipulate the fingers. Fearing nerve damage, he flattened the hand against his chest and hoped he would soon regain its use.
He spent some time thinking about why he was shot, but apart from deciding the calibre had been relatively small, he couldn't fathom why it had happened.
When he felt stronger, he began the arduous journey to his camp, metre by painful metre. He stopped frequently to sip the water and rest, but about half way, nausea overtook him and he vomited up the valuable liquid, the pain it brought made him collapse, writhing in his misery.
He soon realised that recovery from these episodes was taking longer each time and soon he wouldn't be able to continue. Re-doubling his efforts, his indomitable spirit helped him to endure, but it was almost nightfall when he finally crawled into his campsite.
At first his tired eyes saw nothing amiss, but then he noted some of his belongings strewn around and the tent open, the flap hanging loosely.
"Mon Dieu… de trop…enough…no more."
Slowly dragging his battered body across the last metres, he entered his tent to see that it had been ransacked. Everything of value was gone. His computer, his tools, clothes, med kit…the communicator!
Crawling to his upturned cot, he searched in vain, looking for the one thing that could save him, only to find nothing but disappointment. It was gone.
Turning onto his side, he cradled his head on his arm and quietly wept, sleep eventually claiming him.

 

 

 

When the second night came and no messages received from Jean-Luc, Beverly began to worry. She'd felt sure he would respond to the last message; it had been worded deliberately provocatively, meant to stir his passions…why hadn't he answered?
Needing to be sure, she called the Bridge.
"Crusher to Bridge…"
"Bridge here Doctor."
"Has there been any contact with Captain Picard?"
"Hold on Doctor, I'll check…"
Slow minutes ticked by.
"Doctor Crusher? No contact, no messages received from Captain Picard for the last 48 hours. The last message was directed to your terminal on…"
"That's ok Bridge, I got it, thank you. Crusher out."
Beverly stared at the blank terminal a worried frown gracing her beautiful features.
"What the hell is going on."?

 

 

 

Jean-Luc awoke to an unremitting sea of pain. His temperature had risen over night and, along with the now familiar agony of his stomach and thigh, a new pain had begun at the site of the water insect bite.
Raising up awkwardly on his left elbow, he pulled up the one remaining pant leg and was treated to a view of a swollen, reddened, suppurating mess where the head of the insect was still embedded.
"Oh God, now what?"
Shivering started and he lay back down, waiting until it eased. He knew he was febrile and, when he felt stronger, used some of the precious water to wet his face and drink a little. He was still plagued by nausea and he doubted he would keep the water down, but he knew it was important to try and keep his fluids up.
He lay quietly looking around at what was left of his possessions. There was the odd article of clothing, some scattered food pouches, his cot…although the sleeping bag and blanket was gone…whoever had done this had left nothing he could use. He rolled out of his bed and slowly made his way outside, wincing as his shredded hand and knees made contact with the ground. Crawling the half a kilometre had done serious damage and the wounds had stiffened as he slept. To Jean-Luc it was just another added pain.
As he exited the tent, the brightness of the sun made his eyes water. He blinked heavily and waited until they adjusted. Outside was much like the interior of his tent. Odd things scattered around, more silver food pouches and one boot were all he could see. He was slowly turning back to the tent when something glinting in the dirt caught his eye.
He painfully crawled over to it and, after brushing aside the soil, was elated to find his communicator.
"Mon Dieu…merci!"
He could see that it was damaged but he tried to activate it anyway. He pressed it and said weakly…
"Picard to Enterprise…Enterprise, this is Picard, please respond…Enterprise…?"
Nothing. Not even static. Clutching it possessively in his left hand, he dragged himself back into the tent and set about getting the back off the instrument.
He was frustrated by the weakness in his right hand. He couldn't move his right arm, but he could move his right wrist, although the fingers and thumb wouldn't respond properly. He was unable to bring his fingers to touch his thumb. All he could do was hold the communicator down with the injured hand and work as best he could with his left. It was intricate work. He was trying to activate the homing signal, a device he was reasonably confidant would work, but he needed two hands. He tried sitting up and placing the communicator on his left thigh, but still the tiny parts defeated him. He just couldn't do it. He almost threw it to the other side of the tent in a fit of anger, but ultimately he realised it would do no real good. He was too weak anyway so he put it to one side, drank a little water and lay down on his cot, trying to think of another way to get help.
He must have slept because when he next became aware, it was late afternoon and starting to get cold. One good thing about his rising temperature; he felt hot no matter what. As he moved on his bed, he realised that he'd been bleeding again. Blood now soaked into the bed and insects were buzzing around, trying to feed on the gore. With disgust he waved them away and inspected the wounds, panicking when he noted small white larvae wriggling around the edges of the injuries. With great care, he pinched out as many as he could, hoping he got them all, but knowing that wasn't possible. He risked the blooming pain to roll out of bed and retrieve the articles of clothing that were left in the tent. Retreating to he bed, he tied the garments around his wounds in the hope of warding off further incursions by the insects. He drank a little more water and again drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 

Beverly rushed to her quarters, worry dogging her steps. She'd just entered when the door chimes activated.
With a distracted call over her shoulder, she bade the caller to enter. It was Deanna.
"Beverly what's wrong? I can 'hear' you three decks away!"
"Just a minute Dee."
Turning on her monitor, she pushed it away brusquely when it showed nothing from Jean-Luc. She placed her elbows on the desk and cradled her head in her hands.
"Beverly?"
She sighed expansively and slowly raised her head.
"I haven't had a message from him for three days."
"From who? The Captain?"
Beverly nodded and fingered the monitor screen.
"Well…maybe he's too busy, or maybe…"
"You don't understand Deanna. For the last ten years, whenever he's been away from the ship, he's always messaged me…always…he's never failed."
"What….every night?"
"Yep."
Deanna frowned and sat on the sofa.
"Ok. Maybe the fight…"
"It's over. It was over when he sent the first message. I could never stay angry with him anyway…I don't know why I try. Deanna something's wrong…I feel it."
Deanna shook her head, trying to understand.
"But Beverly Rakka Prime is a peaceful planet, there's no reason to think anything's happened and even so, at this distance I don't see how you could feel…"
Beverly stood and began to pace.
"Believe it Dee. I'm telling you, something's very wrong and I'm going to do something about it!"
With that she hastily left the room, a startled Deanna in tow.
She marched straight to Will's quarters and pressed the door chime, tapping her foot exasperatedly when he was slow to answer.
"Beverly…Deanna…I was just having dinner. What…"
Beverly barged in and paced in a small circle.
"Will something's happened to the Captain and I want to take a shuttle to go and find him."
"Wait a minute, slow down. Have you heard from the Captain? What's wrong?"
Beverly stopped her pacing and glared at the big man.
"No! That's just it! I haven't heard from him for three days. I'm telling you Will, something's wrong. I need a shuttle…"
Will drew himself up to his full height and adopted a firm tone.
"Look Beverly I can't authorise a shuttle just because you haven't heard from the Captain for three days! Anything could've kept him from messaging you. Maybe he's really caught up in his work, you know how he gets."
"Dammit Will!"
Beverly took a calming breath and came to stand in front of the First Officer.
"How long have you know me?"
"Beverly it's not…"
"How long?"
"About twelve years."
"And have I ever made an unreasonable request?"
"No."
"Then let me insist I'm not making one now. Will, I must go to him. I can't explain it, I can't rationalize it, I just have to go. Now…will you let me have a shuttle…please?"
Will looked down at the determined Doctor then cast a glance at Deanna, receiving a surreptitious nod.
"Yes."
Beverly sighed and gripped his arm.
"Thank you."
"When will you leave?"
"As soon as I pack a bag. Consider me on leave, effective immediately!"
She left before Will could say any more, leaving Deanna to fill him in on the details.

 

 

It took no time for Beverly to pack a few things, the trip to Sickbay to retrieve a med kit was an afterthought, but she erred on the safe side and felt better for it.
The shuttle exited the mighty ship and, with the coordinates inputted, Beverly began her journey.

 

 

When Jean-Luc next awoke he new he was in desperate trouble. A terrible burning sensation had risen up his leg, emanating from the water insect bite. The pain settled in his groin, making him groan in helpless agony. The entire leg was red, hot and swollen, the skin around the bite split and oozing pus and serum. More flying insects had infiltrated his bandages and he found new maggots in his raw flesh. He had vomited in his sleep and lay in his filth, a pitiable mess.
Feeling the need to relieve himself, he slowly rolled out of his bed and crawled outside. He found that even touching himself hurt, the skin hot and burning. Having finished, he turned and was beset by a wave of dizziness. He sagged onto his side and tried to raise his head, losing the battle and succumbing to unconsciousness.

 

 

The poachers stood quietly in the leafy fringes of bush surrounding the clearing. When Jean-Luc collapsed, they came cautiously forward.
Ert toed Jean-Luc's inert body and sniffed expansively.
"Gods it stinks! I'm surprised it's still alive."
Jux scratched himself and belched loudly.
"It's in a bad way, that's for sure."
He bent down and lifted one of the bandages. Grunting he wiped his nose on his hand then smeared the result on Jean-Luc's overall.
"It's got maggots in its wounds and it looks like it's been bitten by a water Grote. It won't be long."
Shaking his huge head, Ert sighed.
"Still, its done well so far. It's a pity it has to die…it's got guts."
"So, what are we going to do?"
Ert looked up and frowned.
"Do? We're not gonna 'do' anything. Nothing's changed. When it dies we don't want to be anywhere near it. For now we keep an eye on it and make sure we leave no trace of our being here. When it's found it'll be just another mystery and nothing to do with us."
"Ok, fair enough, but when can we start hunting again?"
"Tomorrow."

 

 

 

Travelling at warp five, it took Beverly four hours to achieve orbit around Rakka Prime. She contacted the government of the southern continent and waited impatiently as they organised a visa. She was further delayed by a bureaucrat who dithered when asked for the coordinates of the site. Beverly had to beam down and sign an indemnity before he would supply the needed information. She then returned to the shuttle, inputted the coordinates, collected her belongings and beamed down.

 

 

She materialised between the tent and the dig site. Disoriented, she looked around and spotted Jean-Luc immediately.
"Oh God!"
She ran to him, opening a tricorder as she moved. As she was about to initiate transport to the shuttle, she was startled to hear a gruff voice.
"Don't move!"
She froze, here eyes frantically searching for something to use as a weapon.
Ert and Jux stepped out of the bush, their rifles at the ready. Beverly looked up and said desperately,
"He needs help. Please, I'm a Doctor, let me take him to my vessel."
"You have a vessel? In orbit?
She nodded, wary of the weapons aimed at her.
Ert stepped up to her and reached for her communicator.
"What's this?"
Thinking quickly, she answered,
"It's my universal translator. Without it, I can't speak with you."
Grunting, Ert pushed Beverly back and snatched the pin from her chest. He looked at his companion and laughed.
"Well we don't need to talk…do we?"
He next grabbed the med kit and opened it, snorting when he observed the contents.
He shoved it back into Beverly's hands and took the bag that lay beside her. Rifling through it, he found nothing of importance and left it open, some of the contents lying on the ground.
"I need to treat this man."
Ert looked up, his violet eyes glaring. Jux shuffled all four feet and muttered,
"What did it say?"
"How would I know?"
Beverly slowly stood and moved to put her hands under Jean-Luc's shoulders. When her captors did nothing, she stooped and slung the med kit around her arm then gently lifted Jean-Luc's inert body.
"You could help if you want."
The two beings just stared, so she made her way slowly to the tent and when they didn't interfere, her progress carried her inside. Once in the tent, she carefully hefted Jean-Luc onto the bed and began removing his clothing. What she found made her gag.
His head and most of his face were covered in bruises, scrapes and cuts. The palms of his hand and both knees were raw and seeping serum. His torso was swathed in bruises and, approximately three centimetres to the left of his navel, a gaping eight centimetres long wound presented itself. Crawling with maggots, it was oozing pus and slowly leaking a sluggish flow of bright blood. She moved down his battered body, noting that his testicles were swollen and the glands in his groin were turgid also. The wound on his thigh was also maggot infested and infected, although not bleeding as much as the other wound. Turning her attention to his left leg, she detected a strong foul odour and found the source to be the water insect bite above his ankle. His foot had turned dark purple and the skin was thin and splitting above and below the wound. The leg was hot and swollen; redness covered the entire limb, tendrils of colour extending onto his groin and torso. She felt under his chin and armpits finding the glands there hard and enlarged.
"Oh God Jean-Luc you're in one hell of a mess aren't you?"
She opened the med kit and administered an antibiotic when the tent flap suddenly opened. Without looking up, and using her command tone, Beverly barked,
"I need water!"
Jux hesitated then went back outside.
"It said something…I think it wants something. Maybe you should go in with that thing."
Ert looked down at the hand holding the communicator and grunted.
He made his entrance as loud as possible and was disappointed when Beverly refused to look at him.
He held the communicator to his mouth and said,
"What do you want?"
Beverly turned and slowly stood. She stepped up to him, watching him warily.
"I need water, lots of clean water."
Ert cast his eyes up and down her body, leering as he did.
"Do you now?"
"Yes. If he's to survive, I need to treat him and to do that, I need water."
He left as abruptly as he'd arrived. Once outside he beckoned to his companion.
"Go to out campsite and bring back four of the large water containers…and make sure they're full and bring back some blankets, we're staying here for now."
"Why do I have to…?"
"Just do it will you! I've got an idea."
Jux left grumbling and Ert re-entered the tent.
"Who are you?"
Beverly lowered the tricorder and stared at her captor.
"I am Doctor Beverly Crusher."
"And who is that?"
"He is Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
"Captain? Captain of what?"
"The USS Enterprise."
"The Enterprise? Who does it belong to?"
Beverly smiled to herself. Now for the trump card.
"The Enterprise is a Federation Starship. The Captain and I are with Starfleet."
"The Federation!"
"Uh huh. So I think you'd better either help us or let us go. If you hinder us you'll find yourself in more trouble than you can handle."
Ert growled, the tufts on his head rising.
"Don't you tell me what to do! So, I have a Captain and a Doctor? You both must be worth something, mustn't you? How much will they pay to get you back?"
Sighing, Beverly lowered her head.
"They won't pay you anything. As soon as Starfleet find you're holding us, they will take action."
"They won't risk you!"
"Perhaps not, but they won't pay for us either. You're in a no win situation. Let us go."
"Shut up!"
With that, Ert left and Beverly resumed her inspection of Jean-Luc. She gently rolled him onto his side and noted the entry wounds in his back and thigh; the tricorder registered the damage to his internal organs and the shattered femur as well as his febrile 42-degree temperature. She found the water container and carefully wet some swabs and washed his face, taking care not to disturb the lacerations. Next she dribbled some water into his mouth. He swallowed, but also started to cough, the effort wakening him.
"Hey there, take it easy."
She placed a clean swab over the stomach wound to stem the renewed flow of blood and to shield the ghastly sight from Jean-Luc. She'd left the maggots in place. They were doing more good than harm, eating away the necrotic and infected tissue.
"Beverly?"
"See if you can drink a little more water."
He shook his head, but she encouraged him and he took a few sips more before turning his head and saying,
"No more…I feel nauseous."
Beverly lowered the water bottle and checked the swab on his stomach. He lay quietly, but soon began shivering.
"I'm going to give you an analgesic and something to help your blood to clot. Hold on Jean-Luc."
He heard the characteristic hiss of the hypospray and slowly began to relax.
"Beverly…there's a spider in my stomach."
Startled, Beverly raised the swab and checked before she realised he was hallucinating.
"No Jean-Luc, no spiders. You have a very high temperature and it's making you imagine things. I'll give you something for it."
She applied the hypospray to his neck and felt the heat radiating from his skin.
"Come jean-Luc, stay with me."
He closed his eyes and sighed, tears making their way down his cheeks from under his lids.
"Hurts Beverly…make it stop?"
Beverly frowned and passed the tricorder over his body.
"It should've stopped by now Jean-Luc. Where does it hurt?"
"My testicles…my leg…make it stop Beverly…please make it stop."
Beverly consulted the tricorder and selected another vial of drug from the med kit.
"Here, this should help."
She administered the treatment and again passed the tricorder over him.
"How is it now?"
"No…No good…still hurts…Oh God Beverly make it stop!"
He gripped the sides of the cot and began to arch his back. Gritting his teeth, he moaned then suddenly rolled sideways, vomiting onto the floor. He fell back onto the bed, writhing in agony.
"Hold on Jean-Luc…"
Beverly reacted immediately. Snatching up the appropriate drug, she loaded the hypospray and emptied the dose into his bloodstream. He subsided instantly, his body relaxing as the drug took hold. He was unconscious within seconds.
Beverly observed that, apart from the water he'd brought up, there was also a quantity of blood.
"Not good Jean-Luc, not good."
She heard noises outside and was prepared when Ert came back into the tent.
"Here."
He deposited four large water containers onto the floor and stalked out leaving Beverly to mutter a sarcastic,
"Thank you."
Wasting no time, and wishing to finish before he woke, Beverly took an absorbent towelette from the med kit, wet it, and proceeded to clean him from head to toe. Using his unconsciousness to her advantage, she probed the water insect bite and felt the hard knot of its head in the suppurating flesh.
"Now what have we here?"
Using a small retractor, she opened the wound and managed to grip the object with the tweezers, but couldn't remove it. It was too deeply embedded. Surgery was required and she wasn't able to do it there. She needed the Sickbay of the Enterprise.
With fresh bandages on his many wounds, she gently rolled him face down and continued her cleansing. Around the entry wounds were livid bruises, the tissue jelly-like in appearance. She dressed the injuries and, when finished, she turned him over.
She gently lifted his head and, using her fingers, dribbled some water between his cracked lips. He seemed to be resting comfortably, so Beverly left him and stepped out into the late afternoon sun. Spotting the blankets, she walked over and took two and was about to retreat to the tent when a large hand closed on her wrist.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"I would've thought that was obvious. I need two blankets. One for the Captain and one for me."
"You can have one and I don't care who uses it."
"How kind…thank you."
Ert stood close enough for Beverly to smell his foetid breath.
"You watch your mouth Starfleet. I'm not averse to tenderising your meat."
Not the least bit intimidated, Beverly stood her ground and snarled,
"What do you intend to do with us?"
"Well you'll just have to wait and see, won't you?"
"You shot him didn't you? If he dies, you'll be charged with murder. Do you want that?"
Ert made a deep coughing sound, spittle hitting Beverly's face.
"I told you once before…shut up!"
The slap to the face was unexpected. Beverly staggered but regained her balance to glare at her assaulter. She refrained from rubbing her smarting face, instead whispering,
"You'll pay for that."
With a brusque gesture of his hand, Ert snarled,
"Piss off!"
Mustering all her impressive dignity, Beverly picked up two blankets and stalked to the tent, daring Ert to stop her. He didn't.
Once inside the tent and away from Ert's view, Beverly collapsed onto the floor and gently cradled her throbbing cheek. Picking up a tissue regenerator, she ran the instrument over the bruise and sighed at the relief she felt.
"If only treating Jean-Luc was so easy."
He still slept but his temperature raged unabated and he trembled constantly. Taking the regenerator, she tried again to treat one of the scrapes on his arm, but was unsuccessful. Something was loose in his body and it was fighting all her efforts. Tissue refused to heal, analgesics were ineffective and nothing seemed to be able to bring his temperature down. She suspected the wound near his ankle to be the culprit, but without the resources of the Enterprise, there was nothing she could do. In preparation, she took a blood sample and put it aside. She covered Jean-Luc with a blanket because, despite his temperature, the night was coming and with it, colder climes. She settled down beside him and put her agile mind to finding a way out of their current situation.

 

 

 

 

She roused some hours later to hear her captors talking. She couldn't understand their words, but she knew the tone of voice. Anger and slyness were identifiable in most languages and theirs was no exception. She wasn't surprised when Ert came for her.
Taking her by the elbow, he led her to the campfire and pushed her down to the dirt.
"How is your Captain?"
"He's very sick and getting sicker. Tell me, do you know what entered his leg…here, above the ankle of his left leg."
She showed them the spot on her own leg. Jux sniffed and shifted his four feet.
"A water Grote I'd wager."
"A water Grote? What can you tell me about it?"
"It's an insect that lives in rivers. It attacks anything warm blooded, feeding off the blood. If you try and pull it off, the head detaches and the remains release a poison."
"I see. Is there a cure for the poison?"
Ert cut Jux off with a grunt.
"The cure is not to be so stupid as to try and pull the Grote off in the first place. Everyone knows to twist the body like this…to the right. That way it comes out in one piece."
"On Earth there's an insect called the Paralysis Tick. It does something similar. Have there been any studies on the poison? Have…"
"I don't know! It doesn't matter! He's not going to recover anyway…you're a goner if a Grote gets you, everyone knows that. Soon he'll have trouble breathing, then he'll go off his head, then he'll die! There's nothing you, or anyone else can do. Get used to the idea Doctor."
"In that case you'll be responsible! Let me get him to my ship. I can contact the medical authorities here and…"
"NO! If he dies it's nothing to do with us! The Grote will have killed him, not us."
"But by denying me help, you're implicating yourselves in…"
"Shut up! Just shut your mouth Doctor and leave the thinking to me! Now piss off back to the tent and leave us alone."
Beverly opened her mouth to say more when Ert stepped forward and raised his fist. She closed her mouth and retreated to the tent to find Jean-Luc groaning and twitching.
Using the light from the tricorder, she assessed him and found his temperature had risen one and a half degrees. She was loading the hypospray when he suddenly started to claw at his stomach.
"Stop them! The spiders, they're eating me…nooo stop! They're inside me…no more…stop them…"
"Jean-Luc! Jean-Luc it's me, Beverly…it's alright nothing's there, there's no spiders, come on my love, look at me!"
She held his fevered face in both her hands and turned him towards her.
"Open your eyes Jean-Luc, look at me."
He quietened and slowly his eyes slitted open.
"Beverly?"
He croaked.
"Yes my love, it's me."
"There's no spiders?"
"No."
"But I can feel…"
"Jean-Luc your wounds are flyblown. I left the maggots there because they're doing a good job of ridding you of necrotic and infected flesh. It's that you can feel. They're not killing you at all, just nibbling a little bit."
"Nibbling a little bit? You're sure?"
"Yes. Now drink some water."
He was about to shake his head, but she was too fast for him and he was swallowing before he knew it. She withdrew the blanket and marked the area that the redness had encroached onto his torso. It was higher than before and she worried further for him. She shuddered as she watched the bandage moving with the maggots underneath, but left them to do their work. She changed the reeking bandage on his ankle and bathed the raw wound. He groaned, his good hand moving to his groin to cup his distended testicles.
"Oh God Beverly…it hurts…"
"I know my love, I know. There's a poison loose in your body that's affecting your endocrine system, your glands and testicles."
"Can you…"
"No. I'm sorry Jean-Luc everything I've tried has failed. If it gets too bad, I'll sedate you. That's all I can do."
He nodded and winced as fresh pain washed over him.
"I understand. Just keep those damned spiders away."
"I will."

 

 

 

 

The night was a long one. Every time Jean-Luc woke, he was nearly screaming with agony. Beverly would sedate him then try to sleep before the next episode began. He continued to vomit, gradually dehydrating and slipping closer to irretrievable coma.
She was rudely awakened by Jux in the morning, having a slab of greenish meat thrust at her. She wrinkled her nose and put it aside, Jux shrugged his four shoulders and left the tent. She checked Jean-Luc and poured over the tricorder readings. His temperature hovered at 43.5 so she wet several large swabs and placed them over his body. With her wet hands, she gently stroked his head, frowning as she encountered the heat.
During the night she had formulated a plan. When next one of her captors came in, she was going to attempt to sedate him. What she would do then, she wasn't sure.
She didn't have long to wait. Jux came back in and gestured at the meat. Beverly scowled then pointed at Jean-Luc, beckoning to the hulking being. He stepped forward to look and she pressed the hypospray to his thigh. He fell to two knees and went to shout, when she injected him again. He fell forward, then rolled to his side, trying to regain his footing. Again Beverly injected him and he collapsed and remained still, breathing deeply. She hypo'd him once more and sat back panting.
With little time to spare, she reloaded the hypospray and put it in her pocket. She then moved to the tent flap and stepped outside.
"Hey you, come here."
Ert looked up from the campfire and frowned. He'd sent Jux in to retrieve the meat. If she wasn't going to eat it, he would. He rose slowly and went to the Doctor, proffering the communicator,
"What do you want?"
Deliberately Beverly answered in gobbledegook. Ert scowled and shook his hand. Beverly shook her head and stepped forward, gesturing for him to offer the communicator. Suspiciously, he held his hand out and Beverly took the opportunity to inject him and grab the communicator, activating it. Pressing it quickly, she shouted,
"Computer, lock on to two human life forms and transport aboard!"
Ert fell to one knee, but not before he struck her a full-blooded blow to the face and grabbed her by the neck to deliver another. He drew his hand back just as the transporter took effect. His howl of rage echoed around the campsite.

 

 

 

Beverly found herself sprawled on the shuttle deck bleeding freely from the nose. Ignoring her injuries, she spun around searching for her captain and best friend. He was there, lying on the deck writhing in pain. She went to him and sedated him. Once he was insensible, she hefted him gently into a bunk and went forward to the cockpit. There she contacted the government and reported the poachers, then requested immediate help from the health authorities. Having been given coordinates for a hospital, Beverly contacted the Enterprise.
"Beverly this is Will. What's going on? Is the Captain alright?"
"No he's not Will. He's desperately ill. I'm having him beamed to a local hospital. Amongst other life threatening things, he's been bitten by an insect that's released a poison into his body. I can't treat it…I'm hoping they can."
"Understood. We're on our way, ETA in two hours. Enterprise out."
Beverly took a few moments to treat her broken nose, then inputted the coordinates and waited for the transporter to beam them down to the planet.

 

 

They rematerialised in a bright room in the middle of which stood a diagnostic bed. Jean-Luc was lifted on to it by some four-armed orderlies and a Doctor introduced himself to Beverly.
"I am Dr, Eron Plest. How may I be of service?"
"My patient has gunshot wounds to his stomach and leg and a dislocated shoulder. Treatment has been hampered by the presence of a water Grote head embedded in his leg. The poison is affecting my drugs and instruments. Have you an antidote?"
The Doctor frowned and looked over the twitching Jean-Luc.
"What species are you?"
"We are human. I am female, he is male."
"I know nothing about humans Doctor. I will access the data banks and see if there's anything there about treating humans. Tell me, are you warm blooded?"
"Yes, we're classed as mammals."
"Thank you, I shouldn't be too long. Perhaps you would care to clean up…?"
Beverly watched his gesturing hand and realised she had blood on her uniform from her nose. Blushing slightly, she beamed up to the shuttle and replicated a clean garment. She was back in minutes.
The sound of the medical alarm was loud. She watched as personnel raced to Jean-Luc.
"Doctor, he's having difficulty breathing. Help us to ventilate him!"
Beverly's hands moved of their own accord.
"This can't be happening…it's too soon."
Within minutes, he was intubated and his breathing assisted. It was pure luck they had a tube small enough for a human's throat. The last patient in the ward had been a child and they still had some paediatric instruments left over. When he was comfortable, Beverly retrieved a towel, rolled it into a sausage and placed it under his dislocated shoulder. With gentle pressure, she felt the joint re-locate and she sighed with satisfaction.
"Well, that's one thing I could do."
Soon Eron returned and she knew by the down cast face that the news wasn't good.
"No luck?"
"Not really. There have been some studies on the effects of the bite on indigenous species, but that's of little help to us. How has it affected your patient?"
"His endocrine system is compromised."
"Endocrine system?"
"It's a system whereby products called hormones are released through a series of glands throughout the body. These hormones regulate growth, sexual activity and reproductive cycles and metabolic stability, amongst other things. What is the nature of the poison?"
Eron ran a taloned hand through his tufts.
"It's a neurotoxin…very potent. In indigenous species death is caused due to cerebral atrophy. Scans of brain tissue show cellular degradation along the central axis. The damage is irretrievable. There is also extensive pulmonary impairment with asphyxiation a secondary cause of death."
"Is there a cure?"
"No."
Beverly felt a chill run through her veins at the Doctor's pronouncement.
"My ship will be here soon. I will transfer the Captain to my Sickbay, but I would like it if you came with me. Your knowledge of the toxin is invaluable."
Eron smiled and gently took Beverly's hand.
"It would be my pleasure."

 

 

 

Jean-Luc's condition remained stable as they waited for the arrival of the Enterprise. Although no worse, he still hovered dangerously close to a coma and a very uncertain future.
In due course, the mighty ship arrived and Jean-Luc was beamed up to Sickbay. He was transferred onto life support, connected to an intravenous drip and a bio waste unit.
Marshalling her staff, Beverly held up the vial of blood she took on the planet.
"In here is a mystery. There is a lethal toxin loose in the Captain's body and it's killing him. We need to isolate it and find a way to nullify it and we need to do it quickly. Alyssa prepare the Captain for surgery. I'm going to remove the head of the insect and see if we can extract some of the toxin in its pure form. Eron would you like to assist me?"
He nodded and the Doctors went to ready themselves for the task ahead.
The surgery was uncomplicated, the stubborn head coming free with a little coaxing and it was put in a stasis unit for study. Unable to close the ghastly wound, Beverly cleaned it as best she could and added a strong antibiotic to his drip. She was in the sterile room when Alyssa came in.
"Doctor Crusher the Captain is developing a pulmonary oedema. I think he's getting fluid in the lungs."
Beverly went to him immediately and assessed the situation
"We'll perform a thoracotomy. I don't think beaming out the fluid will suffice."
Soon two tubes, one in each lung, protruded from the sides of Jean-Luc's chest. Connected to vacuum flasks, the suction drew off the fluid and assisted in breathing.
She checked his glands, finding them further swollen, his testicles frighteningly turgid.
"I'm going to see if there's any fluid to be drawn from his scrotum. I want to relieve the pressure."
The procedure was performed and a little fluid was removed, but most of the swelling was from the tissues themselves. If the situation weren't reversed soon, the delicate structures would be irreparably damaged.
"Put a regen unit over his groin, it might slow the progress down. You never know."
Beverly left her dedicated staff to their task and re entered the sterile room.
"Well Ben, any luck?"
"I think so Doctor crusher. We've managed to extract .005 of a cc of a clear liquid from the mandibles. The computer is processing it now."
"Fingers crossed Ben."
Beverly heard the footfalls of a friend and was expecting him when he touched her shoulder.
"Beverly?"
"Hello Will."
"How is he?"
She sighed and took the First Officer into the Captain's private cubicle. Will paled when he saw the regen unit.
"He's not so good."
"Will he make it?"
"I honestly don't know."
"And the regen unit…what..?"
"The toxin is affecting his endocrine system. The unit is to try and prevent damage to his testicles."
"He's on life support."
"Uh huh. He can't breathe on his own."
They both stood silently for a few moments each lost in their own thoughts.
"Oh Beverly, the local law enforcement agency has rounded up your captors. They want you to give a statement when you can."
Beverly allowed a rush of glee to pass through her.
"Good! Those bastards shot Jean-Luc and left him to die. I hope they throw the book at them."
"Were you able to retrieve the bullets? They would be useful to the police."
"No Will, the rounds passed right through him. I don't even know where it happened, although I don't think it was at the campsite. He's crawled quite a distance, as you can see by looking at his hand and knees."
Will stepped closer and took his Captain's left hand in his and turned it over, wincing when he saw the damage.
"Where was he when you found him?"
Beverly joined the Commander at Jean-Luc's side and gently caressed his brow.
"Lying in the dirt about three metres from his tent. He had nothing Will. No med kit, no communicator, no computer…those bastards had taken everything, even most of his clothes! He had a bed. No blankets, nothing. They even took his tools for God's sake!"
Will stroked his beard and frowned.
"If the Captain doesn't make it there won't be any witnesses will there?"
"Oh God don't tell me they could get away with it!"
"I think I'll send Geordie and Data down there to see what they can find. I'll get back to you."

 

 

 

The two officers mentioned, Commander Geordie LaForge and Lieutenant Commander Data, materialised at the campsite. The local police, having conducted their preliminary investigations had left. Opening their tricorders, the friends began by circling the site, searching for the Captain's DNA.
"Here Geordie. There are droplets of the Captain's blood leading away from the tent and down that path."
"Ok, let's go."
They found where Jean-Luc had rested and vomited, the blood trail leading them to the embankment.
"Data, I'm picking up minute traces of cordite. What do you read?"
"The same. It seems to emanate from a point twenty two metres through there."
He pointed through the foliage and the officers moved off in that direction.
Data walked in a small circle and made his report.
"The weapons were fired from this location. There are heavy deposits of cordite on the surrounding foliage."
"What did the police report say they were doing?"
Data cocked his head.
"'Poaching' was the term they used. It refers to the illegal taking of game for profit. It can be…"
"Ok data I get the idea. So what? They spotted the Captain and thought he was game?"
They looked through the dappled undergrowth and tried to imagine what had transpired.
"Geordie do we know what the Captain was wearing at the time?"
"Ah…tan overalls I think."
"He would have blended in then."
"Yeah. Let's go back and see if we can pin-point where he was shot."
The two friends walked back to the bank and scanned with their tricorders.
"Geordie there is a splatter of blood on those plants and rocks. It would indicate he was standing at the edge when he was shot."
"The impact would've knocked him off his feet. He must've fallen down there and ended up in the river. Come on, we're going down."
Carefully, they descended and cast about at the base.
"Data, there's blood in this pool…only a residue, but it matches the Captain's DNA."
"There is blood on these rocks also."
"What's that?"
Data looked to where his companion was pointing and spotted the Captain's bag hanging precariously over the water. He retrieved it without mishap and they quickly established its ownership.
"He must've been coming down here to wash. These clothes are all clean."
Just then Geordie's communicator chirruped.
"Crusher to LaForge."
"Geordie here Doc."
"Geordie I'm sending down Doctor Plest. I want a live specimen of a water Grote. Be very careful…they bite!"
"Will do Doc. Geordie out."
The whine of the transporter was drowned out by the rushing river.
"Hiya Doc. What do you want us to do?"
Doctor Plest looked around and decided to use the same pond that Jean-Luc had fallen into.
"Hopefully you won't have to do anything. I have here a quantity of blood. I intend to put it into the pond to attract the insects and capture one in this container."
Geordie looked around with interest.
"We think the Captain came here to wash. Wasn't he in danger the whole time?"
"Not really. The water Grote dislikes running water, preferring the still pools. It waits until warm-blooded animals come down to drink. They often have small injuries…scratches, blood sucking parasites…it takes very little to arouse them. They attach themselves and feed, dropping off when they're full. It's only when the head detaches that the neurotoxin is released. Other than that, the animal is no worse off for hosting them."
He poured the blood into the pool and within seconds, three Grotes rose from the bottom. He deftly scooped one into the container and bade his companions farewell as he beamed back to the Enterprise.
Data and Geordie continued their investigations.
They followed the trail of blood to the bank and upward, drawing an appreciative whistle from Geordie.
"He climbed up that after being shot twice?"
Data nodded.
"It would seem the Captain has a lot of intestinal fortitude."
"He's got guts alright…"
"I believe I just said that."

 

 

 

Back in Sickbay Beverly was just completing the removal of the head from the insect brought aboard. The .005cc collected had proved insufficient for the computer to make an analysis. As soon as the head was parted from the body, the deadly clear fluid started exuding from the mouthparts. It was collected and soon they had 2 mls to work with. This was placed in the medical computer and the waiting began anew.

 

 

 

Jean-Luc continued his slide to oblivion. His kidneys started to fail and he was placed on dialysis and his liver began to malfunction. His artificial heart was the only organ not affected. Its steady beat gave Beverly hope, but it was a desperate situation. He continued to bleed and the maggots had stopped their feeding, entering a new phase in their development. The decision to remove them gave the staff something to do, but it was an onerous task. The jelly like tissue on his back and thigh slowly began to spread. Like the other injuries, it refused all efforts to treat it and it further weakened the blood vessels under the skin, causing sub-cutaneous haemorrhages.
In all, it took the computer seven hours to complete the analysis of the toxin and it proved useless. Beverly was unfamiliar with the chemicals and had no idea what their effects would be on the human body. In desperation she transfused him and was waiting for the results when a call came through from the planet.
"Doctor Crusher here."
"Doctor this is Chief Provost Marat. I would like to ask you some questions if I may."
"Yes of course."
"Doctor when did you first encounter the accused?"
"Almost immediately after I beamed to the campsite."
"Were they belligerent?"
"Well they pointed their guns at me and threatened me."
"I see. Did you see them harm your captain?"
Beverly frowned and put her hands on her hips.
"They shot him, would that do?"
"Did you see them shoot him?"
"Well no, but…"
"Did they harm you?"
"Yes. The big one slapped me across the face and later, during my escape, he punched me in the face, breaking my nose."
"I see. But you never actually saw them harm your captain?"
Beverly sighed in exasperation.
"No."
"Thank you Doctor that will be all for now. An officer will contact you soon for a formal statement."
Beverly was incensed.
"Crusher to Riker!"
"Riker here."
"Will has Geordie and Data returned?"
"Yes."
"Send them to me will you?"
"Will do. Riker out."
The aforementioned officers arrived post haste. Beverly wasted no time.
"What did you find?"
"We found where he was standing when he was shot and where the shots were fired from. We discovered he fell about twelve metres down a steep embankment and came to rest in the river. Doc…I don't know how, but he climbed up that bank and crawled back to his camp. He…"
"Geordie this is very important. Can you tie the shooters to their weapons?"
He thought for a moment and looked at Data. It was Data who answered.
"That is a distinct possibility Doctor. The cordite residue would match the ordinance and there would be residue on the hands and clothing of the individuals."
"Right! Geordie we need to contact the police with this information. Can you handle it? You need to speak to Chief Provost Marat."
"Consider it done Doc."
The men left the Sickbay and Beverly returned to her patient.

 

 

 

 

Two hours later she was engrossed at her desk when a visitor dropped by.
"Beverly."
"Hmm?"
"Beverly…"
Frowning she looked up and sighed.
"Deanna. I'm a little busy right now. Perhaps…"
"When did you last eat or sleep?"
"What? Oh I don't know…I really don't have the time. Maybe…"
"Now."
"Deanna…"
"Now Beverly, or I'll remove you from duty."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Try me!"
The two women glared at each other for some moments. Beverly's shoulders sank.
"Look Dee, I can't leave him. I've got to…"
Deanna sighed and relented.
"I'm not asking you to abandon him Beverly. Eat at your desk if you must, sleep in a cubicle if it suits you, but you must get something to eat and some quality sleep. You won't last otherwise, then how will you be able to help him? You have a dedicated, professional staff…you trust them don't you?"
She nodded resignedly.
"Then let them do their jobs. They'll let you know if anything happens. Come on, let me replicate you a light chicken salad and some chamomile tea. How about it?"
Beverly sighed and smiled lopsidedly.
"Thank God you're not selling used shuttles. You could put a Ferengi to shame."
Deanna's gentle laughter soothed Beverly's ragged nerves. Jean-Luc was now in a coma. The transfusion had failed and his organs could no longer function without full support and the toxin was infiltrating his brain tissue. It was everywhere, even present in his bodily waste. It was slowly killing him and she could do nothing else but watch.
The two friends ate a light meal then Deanna saw to it that Beverly retired for some much needed rest. The staff was relieved, they had been worrying about their boss for some time.

 

 

 

Beverly slowly became aware of someone calling her name.
"What?"
"Doctor Crusher…I have news!"
Coming to full awareness, Beverly was out of bed in an instant.
"News? What news?"
"I've just come up from the surface. Do you remember Jux Brunn, one of your captors? He's come up with some information that may be what we've been looking for."
Taking Eron by the arm, she led him into her office.
"What is it?"
"He recalls a species of primate that have been rumoured to be able to overcome the toxin. Apparently there's a group of them in the forest near your campsite and one of the younger males bears the scars of a Grote bite. The older animals know to twist off the insect, but the juveniles sometimes pull at them severing the head. This young animal was ill…the poachers declined to take it for that reason, but it was later seen fully recovered. If we can locate the animal and capture it, perhaps we could synthesise an antidote from its antibodies. It's worth a try at least."
Beverly became still as her mind raced with possibilities.
"Let's do it!"

 

 

 

It turned out to be a little more complicated than Beverly envisaged. Along with herself and Doctor Plest, there were assigned a group of exo-biologists, park rangers and, with the cooperation of the authorities, Jux Brunn.
The party materialised at the campsite. Beverly turned to the manacled Jux and said,
"Alright Jux, where do we go."
Now eager to please in the hopes of mitigating his sentence, Jux was quick to take the lead.
"This way."
They travelled for two and a half hours when suddenly they heard an eerie howling.
"Attopox!"
Beverly had learned this was the native name for the beasts they'd come to hunt. The hair on her body stood up as the howling ascended to a screeching finale. The birds joined in and the entire forest was a cacophony of sound.
"They're close…this way, follow me. Quiet now, they're very skittish."
Circling around to get upwind, the party crept through the bush, their eyes focussed on the treetops. Abruptly Jux brought them to a halt. Pointing with his chin, he gestured to the trees twenty-five metres away and slightly to their left. It took Beverly some moments, but suddenly she saw movement. An animal with thick dark brown fur leapt from one tree to another. Bearing four arm and legs, it was incredibly agile. The absence of a tail showed the creature was indeed an ancestor of the evolved population. The size of a chimpanzee, it emitted a whooping cough, quickly answered by others in the troop.
Beverly sidled up to Jux and whispered,
"Can you find the animal we're looking for?"
He nodded.
"I think so. This is its family group. I recognise that large male with the lighter fur on its head. The younger males will be nearby."
"What do we do now?"
"We wait."
They made themselves comfortable on the forest floor and settled down to watch the antics of the troop as they fed.
Three quarters of an hour passed before Jux stiffened and slowly raised three arms.
"There!"
The main body of the troop had moved, allowing the young males to come to pick over what the adults had left.
"See the one with the scar on his left hind leg. The leg is slightly smaller…"
"Yes! I see him. Donaldson, you and Parkes set up the stasis unit…quietly now. I'll see if the rangers are ready.
Beverly moved silently to the uniformed rangers and pointed out the target animal. Armed with pneumatic dart guns, the rangers moved into position and took aim.
The tension grew as the group waited for the animal to reach an optimum range. Three crewmembers watched keenly, a strong net in their hands. Their job was to catch the falling animal. At all costs, they sought to minimize harm to the creature.
Suddenly, the animal leapt to a lower branch and the rangers fired. The gentle cough of the rifles went unnoticed by the rest of the troop and the drugged animal fell neatly into the net.
Beverly was at its side with alacrity. She turned it over and found the scar. It was just healed, the skin still flaking, the fur not yet grown over. Her assistant passed her an extractor and she drew off six long vials of blood. While the animal was placed in the stasis unit, Beverly accessed the portable computer and quickly analysed the blood.
"Eron, look at this. What are they?"
Eron consulted the screen and smiled.
"Prions. They're indicative of this breed of primate, something we share with them. They carry the genetic markers of their species. We can screen them out without any problems. I think what you want to see are those."
Beverly leaned close and followed his pointing finger.
"Antibodies?"
"Yes!"
"Right. Come on, we're going back to the ship."
She turned to the others and issued her instructions.
"Keep the Attopox in stasis until you hear from me, hopefully it won't be long."

 

 

 

 

Upon returning to the Enterprise, the two Doctors were immediately immersed in the process of isolating the antibodies. Having done that, they then drew a fresh sample of Jean-Luc's blood and introduced some of the harvested antibodies. They didn't have long to wait. The Attopox cells attacked the toxin voraciously, first engulfing the sinister cells, then destroying them utterly. The result was healthy blood. They had their antidote.
Beverly contacted the others on the planet's surface.
"Donaldson you can administer the countermeasure now and release the Attopox. We have our antidote."
She severed the link and turned a smiling face to Eron.
"Now, do we use the real thing, or do we synthesise it?"
Eron frowned and crossed two sets of legs, leaning back on his chair.
"Best guess? Use the real thing. The toxin is so virulent…we know it works…better let nature wage this battle."
"Agreed."
Taking the remaining vials of Attopox blood, the antibodies were harvested and prepared in an injectable form for Jean-Luc. Beverly approached his bed slowly, muttering a prayer under her breath.
She applied the hypospray to his neck and injected the entire load.
For two hours she sat beside his bed, her eyes switching between his face and the monitors. It was into the third hour that the first changes occurred.
"His temperature has dropped."
Now hovering at 41 degrees, it had come down 2.5 degrees. She checked his bio-waste and found the prevalence of the toxin much reduced. She took a sample of his blood and discovered the antibodies were more numerous than the toxin. He was slowly winning the war.
Later that evening Beverly dozed off in her chair. It was early morning when she awoke.
Her first priority was the monitor. Temperature down to 39, respiration stronger. Fluid extraction from the lungs, negligible. She grabbed a tissue regenerator and passed it over a laceration on his hand. It healed before her eyes.
"Alyssa! Ben!"
The assistants came at the run.
"Prepare him for surgery. We have some repair work to perform."
Four hours later Jean-Luc lay in recovery whole once again. His internal damage had been repaired, his wounds healed. His glands were still somewhat swollen, his testicles distended and his left ankle and foot were going to need extensive regen treatments, but he was on the mend and Beverly couldn't be happier.
"Now all you have to do is wake up."
Beverly busied herself for much of the afternoon and, towards the ship's evening, a constable came on board, allowing Beverly to give a full statement of what had transpired. She was sleeping in a chair beside him when, in the middle of the night, he spoke.
"Is anybody there?"
Instantly awake, Beverly spoke first to the computer.
"Computer lights 25%."
"Beverly?"
"I'm here Jean-Luc. You're in Sickbay, you're all right."
He slowly raised his left hand to his face.
"What?…I…"
"Shh now. Just rest Jean-Luc. I'll stay with you."
She took his hand in hers and, with the other hand, gently stroked his face, feeling the bristles of his days old beard. He drifted back into sleep and Beverly lowered the lights.

 

 

 

It was late in the following morning that he woke again. He was alone and lay quietly assessing himself. When he raised his hand, a soft alarm sounded.
Beverly breezed in and stood over him smiling.
"Hi there, welcome back. How do you feel? Any pain?"
He thought about it for a moment and decided to be honest. He was too tired for games.
"I feel somewhat nauseous, my ankle and foot hurt and my…um…testicles are throbbing."
"All to be expected and all treatable."
She crossed to the bench and retrieved a hypospray.
"This will calm the nausea and this…will ease the pain. Now, how's that."
He sighed with relief and relaxed his lean body.
"How long have I been here?"
"A few days. I found you on the ground outside your tent. We stayed on the planet two days, then you were in a hospital planet-side for a while and then you came up here. All told, since you were shot, I'd say about 7 days have passed."
He thought about that for a while and frowned.
"Who shot me and why?"
"Poachers. Most likely they mistook you for game, but they also ransacked your campsite and left you helpless and alone. Had you died it would've been murder they're facing, not malicious wounding and theft."
"You said you found me. How?"
Beverly lowered her head and blushed slightly.
"When you messages stopped I got worried. I sent you some letters I was sure you'd answer if you could. When you didn't I decided to come looking for you."
"Well I'm very glad you did. Thank you dear friend."
Beverly took his right hand and squeezed, causing him to wince. She noticed it immediately.
"What's wrong? Did that hurt?"
"I don't know. My hand doesn't seem to work properly. I hurt my shoulder and I think it somehow interfered with my hand."
"Can you squeeze my hand?"
"No, not really. I can't touch my fingers to my thumb. It hampered my efforts to rig my communicator to emit a homing signal. A very frustrating exercise I can tell you."
Beverly left him and returned momentarily with a tricorder. She scanned his shoulder and frowned.
"There's been ligament and muscle damage and the nerves seemed to have been bruised. I'll run a regenerator over it and we can add that to your regen regime."
"What else is there?"
"Well, you had a terrible wound near your ankle and it also affected your foot, that's why they're so sore and your testicles are still swollen so they're going to get regen treatments too."
"How delightful. Why were they affected?"
"Do you remember a bite, a large insect bite?"
"Yes."
"Well when you pulled at it the head separated from the body. The remaining head released a toxin that affected you endocrine system, which included your testicles. Your other glands are also swollen but I expect them to return to normal soon."
"I take it I can have these regen treatments done in private?"
She patted his arm and smiled.
"Of course."
She was about to leave to get him something to eat when he spoke softly, his tone of voice concerning her.
"Beverly…"
"Yes?"
"The maggots…did you get them all?"
She returned to him and gently stroked his face.
"Yes Jean-Luc we got them all. They're gone now."

 

 

 

 

He rested for the remainder of the day and slept through the night relatively comfortably.
The next morning, bathed and shaved, he was eating breakfast when his First Officer called in.
"Captain! How are you Sir?"
"As well as can be expected Number One. Under Beverly's expert care I'm sure I'll flourish."
The big man laughed and drew up a seat, turning it around and straddling it, as was his custom.
"I've had a few enquiries from the surface Sir. They want you to make a statement. They're pretty keen to move the investigation forward, the trial has been set for next week and you and Beverly have been subpoenaed as witnesses."
"Can't we just give depositions?"
"No Sir, they're quite insistent. You have to attend."
"Very well. Have you told Beverly?"
"Yes Sir."
He smirked and chuckled.
"How did she take it?"
Will smiled, enjoying his Captain's humour.
"Surprisingly well, she wants her pound of flesh. Apparently one of them broke her nose."
"What? She never mentioned that to me!"
All good humour gone, the captain glowered at his First Officer.
"Would you be so kind as to ask her to join me Number One?"
"Aye Sir."
Will did his superior's bidding then made himself scarce.
Beverly glided into his room, her brilliant blue eyes sparkling.
"How was breakfast?"
"Why didn't you tell me you'd been assaulted?"
She frowned and folded her arms defensively.
"It was of no consequence."
"You nose was broken! What else happened?"
"Really Jean-Luc…"
"What else?"
"I was slapped across the face and thrown to the ground."
"How was your nose broken?"
"It was during our escape. Really Jean-Luc it's ok. I fixed it in no time. He only hit me once…a lucky punch…"
He scowled and snarled.
"It's not funny dammit! You were injured and you didn't tell me!"
She walked to him and rubbed his shoulder.
"Well I'm ok now. It's over Jean-Luc. We'll get this trial over and done with and we can leave Rakka Prime behind us. Have you finished your breakfast?"
"You're changing the subject."
"Yes I am, but if you are finished, you have regen treatments pending."
"Oh grand, I can't wait."

 

 

He was in Sickbay three more days before Beverly finally gave in to his nagging.
"Alright! You can be released to your quarters."
He was out of bed like a shot, but Beverly stopped him with a gentle hand on his chest.
"Before you go come and see me in my office."
He changed into casual clothes and collected the few belongings that had been brought to him. Then he joined Beverly in her sanctuary.
She sat back in her chair and cast a critical eye over him.
"Ok there are a few things we need to talk about. First…you must make sure you eat well. You've lost over five kilos and you can't afford it. Second…No duty for the next week at least."
"Beverly…"
"I mean it Jean-Luc, it's my rules or not at all!"
"Very well."
"And third…Jean-Luc I need to know if your systems are functioning normally."
"My systems? What do you mean?"
Beverly reddened slightly and took a large breath.
"Specifically, your testicles. I need to know if you can ejaculate without pain and that there's no blood present in the semen."
"Oh."
"I'm sorry to embarrass you like this, but I've no way of testing…"
He held up his hand, his own face growing red.
"I understand. When do you have to know?"
"As soon as possible. If there're any problems we can continue with the regen treatments. Here's a container and a tricorder already calibrated to do the scan for blood. Collect the sample, scan it and report to me."
He nodded and rose, turning to the door. He stopped however and looked over his shoulder.
"See you at breakfast?"
"You bet."

 

 

 

 

He returned to his cabin and spent the day reading and playing his flute. He put Beverly's task out of his mind and enjoyed reacquainting himself with his possessions.
When the door chimed at 1930 hours he was not surprised.
"Come."
The door opened to reveal Beverly, standing with her legs crossed, her hands behind her back.
"May I come in?"
"Of course."
She entered and joined him on the sofa.
"So how's your day been? Have you eaten?"
"My day had been quiet and yes, I have eaten well, thank you."
"What did you have?"
"Beverly…"
"Ok enough with the food. I don't want you up too late, your body needs rest after what you've been through."
"Yes Doctor."
She laughed and got to her feet.
"Well I'll see you at breakfast."
He stood too and she turned to leave, but at the last moment, she turned back and kissed him gently on the lips.
"Sleep well Jean-Luc."
His lips tingled where she had kissed them. It was a very thoughtful Captain that retired for the night.

 

 

 

 

It was morning and his dreams were filled with her image. Erotic in nature he woke aroused and panting. Pushing down his sleep shorts, he ran the flat of his palm over his erection and let his mind provide the pictures. She lay before him naked and beckoning, pleading with him to make love to her. This scenario was nothing new to Jean-Luc. For all the years he'd loved Beverly, he'd fantasised about this very thing. He tended his need the only way he could. Blindly reaching to his bedside table, he grasped the container he'd left there, opened the lid and placed it beside him on the bed.
He then relaxed and let his mind wander, his hand beginning a slow pumping of his straining penis. He entered her and began to thrust, her hips arching to meet him. Her breasts were pressed between them; he could feel her nipples piercing his chest. He gripped his penis harder and quickened his pace.
She was moaning and writhing, beseeching him to bring her to orgasm. One hand went to grip the base of his erection; the other further increased the tempo. He was close. Panting raggedly he felt his climax approach. He rolled onto his side and grabbed the container just as his release overtook him. As the first jet of semen left him, searing pain lanced through his testicles making him cry out. With each subsequent emission, a deep throb of agony gripped him. He was devastated when it was over. He lay panting, tears in his eyes as his body recovered. When he was able, he scanned the sample and was not surprised to see there was blood present. After the pain diminished, he rose and showered, shaved, dressed and then changed his bed. He disposed of the sample and had the table set by the time Beverly arrived.
"Good morning Jean-Luc. Did you sleep well?"
"I did indeed. Please sit, the croissants are ready."
They ate in companionable silence and, as they were sipping their coffee, he gave Beverly the tricorder. She perused the results and cast a sympathetic eye over her companion.
"Was there any pain?"
"Yes."
"Was it bad…moderate or just a twinge?"
"It was quite bad actually."
Beverly frowned, again consulting the tricorder.
"Ok. I want you to come to Sickbay twice daily for the next three days for regen treatments."
"Then what?"
"Then we repeat the test."
"Oh."
"I'm sorry Jean-Luc, but I…"
"It's alright Beverly, I understand. Could we talk about something else now?"
She smiled and reached across the table to take his hand.
"What are you going to do today?"
"Well I'm sure I've got plenty of work to catch up on."
Beverly sighed with exasperation and closed her eyes.
"Jean-Luc…"
He frowned and broke their connection.
"Oh come on Doctor! Surely you're not going to stop me working in my quarters? You know I don't take kindly to being idle. I may be off duty but that doesn't mean I can't work."
She stared at him thinking, and then came to a decision.
"Ok you can work here in your cabin, but no more than three hours at a time. I want proper breaks for meals and rest."
"But Beverly…"
"Take it or leave it."
He snorted and attempted to scowl at her but couldn't quite manage it.
"As you wish."
"And I'll see you in Sickbay in half an hour."
This time he did scowl. He gave a curt nod as she rose from her chair.
"See you then."

 

 

 

 

Later that morning, Will came by with a visitor.
"Captain this is Provost Marat. He's come to take your statement."
Will left the two men and returned to the Bridge. For the next hour and a half, Jean-Luc recounted what had happened to him. The Provost was sympathetic.
"Quite a tale captain Picard. You're lucky to have survived."
"Indeed. If it wasn't for the timely arrival of my ship's CMO I may well have perished. Tell me, does it matter that I didn't see who shot me?"
"Not at all. With the invaluable aid of your crew, we've been able to tie the assailants to their weapons and those weapons to the assault. They were also in possession of several items belonging to you and they have prior convictions for poaching. They will be incarcerated for some time."
" Provost why were they using such outmoded weaponry? Surely there are more efficient ways of taking game?"
Marat smiled and shook his head.
"There are sensors throughout the preserve that pick up the discharge of any energy device. Because of budget restraints, we cannot yet detect the firing of projectile arms."
Jean-Luc nodded, drawing in a large breath and expelling it forcibly.
"What is expected of us at the trial?"
"It's a fairly simple case. Jux Brunn has entered a guilty plea, the stickler is Ert Gran. He's a nasty piece of work. You will be required to read out your statements and answer questions put by a panel of magistrates."
"Is it adversarial? Will we be cross-examined?"
"No not at all, the evidence is overwhelming. It will be straightforward."
Feeling relieved, Jean-Luc bid his visitor farewell and returned to his work.

 

 

 

The regen treatments completed, Jean-Luc repeated the test and experienced only a very mild discomfort and no blood. Beverly was pleased and ordered only two more days of treatments. On the morning of the trial, the two friends were eating breakfast together.
"I've spoken to Provost Marat. He says it's an open and shut case."
Beverly spread some jam on a steaming croissant.
"I know. Thank goodness Geordie and Data were able to pin the cordite residue to the poachers."
"Beverly I know I've already thanked you for what you did for me, but I want you to know how grateful I am. You went above and beyond the call of duty…you saved my life…again…and I wanted to say…"
"Jean-Luc don't, it's not necessary. You would've done the same for me."
He stood, stepped up next to her and took her hands, pulling her to her feet. When she was standing he took her in his arms and gently hugged her, enjoying the closeness and her delightful softness. He pulled back reluctantly and was surprised when she kissed him gently on the lips. Before she could pull away, he kissed her back and when she didn't resist, he deepened the kiss and poured his heart into the connection. She melted into his embrace and opened her lips. His tongue entered her mouth gently, his heart expanding in his chest. The kiss was becoming more passionate when the door chime sounded. He tapered off the kiss and stared longingly into her eyes, whispering,
"We have unfinished business."
Turning to the door, he intoned,
"Come."
Once again the Captain.

 

 

The courtroom was a modern building in the centre of a large city. The reeve that had been sent to escort them was an interesting man who indulged in amateur archaeology. It wasn't long before he and Jean-Luc were deep in discussion.
"So you think there was outside influence?"
The reeve nodded enthusiastically.
"Yes! There's no way our ancestors could have erected those buildings. Did you see the size of those stones? They had help…outside help, definitely."
Jean-Luc smiled, remembering similar conclusions on other worlds, his own included.
Just as he was about to voice his opinion, the reeve was paged. Beverly and Jean-Luc were offered seats outside the courtroom and settled down to await their summons.
"He should've been with you."
Jean-Luc looked up at his companion and frowned.
"What?"
"The reeve, he should've gone on the dig with you."
"Hmm."
"Jean-Luc? Are you alright?"
He sighed and ran his hands over his uniform pants.
"I just want this over and done with."
Beverly took his hand in hers and looked deeply into his dark hazel eyes.
"It will be, soon. Be patient my love."
With his free hand, he gently stroked her face.
"I like that."
"Like what?"
"Being called 'my love'".
Beverly smiled and leaned her head against his hand.
The moment was broken by the return of the reeve. They entered the courtroom and took seats next to each other behind a table at the front of the room. The accused sat in the dock, directly opposite them. The five magistrates sat behind the dock, at a long table.
Jean-Luc was called first and, as he'd already been advised, all he had to do was read the statement he'd given the police. When he'd finished one of the magistrates prevented him from regaining his seat.
"Captain Picard, why were you camping within the reserve? It's not usually allowed."
"I had been invited to make a preliminary investigation of a new site by the Southern Rakkan Archaeological Society. I have worked on other digs with the convenor…Doctor Pirum."
The magistrate seemed to ponder this a moment, then said,
"I see. Is it usual for Starship Captains to go on archaeological digs?"
Jean-Luc smiled gently and shrugged his shoulders.
"The interests of Captains are many and varied. We indulge those interests in our own time Sir. It just happens that archaeology is an interest of mine."
"Yes…an interest that very nearly got you killed."
Jean-Luc straightened and frowned.
"With all due respect Sir, it was not archaeology that did that, but rather two mercenary men more interested in profit than my well being."
The two men, one Rakkan the other Human, stared at each other. Eventually the magistrate smiled.
"Agreed Captain, my apologies."
Jean-Luc sat and Beverly was called to give her statement then the magistrates, having already heard all other evidence, retired to consider their verdict.
Beverly leaned over and caught the attention of the reeve.
"Will it take long?"
The reeve smiled and shook his head.
"It shouldn't. The evidence was very conclusive."
Beverly sat back in her seat and felt Jean-Luc's eyes on her. She turned to him and was surprised when he took her hand under the table. His smile was both gentle and intimate…her heart missed several beats. She lowered her gaze as a blush crept over her face.
In all it took the magistrates forty minutes to return. All stood as they filed in, regaining their seats after the officials.
Another reeve stood and commanded,
"The prisoners will stand!"
Ert and Jux stood and faced the courtroom, Ert looking straight at Jean-Luc.
"Ert Gran and Jux Brunn it is the finding of this court that you are guilty of all charges. Have you anything to say?"
Ert shook his massive head, but Jux cleared his throat and nodded.
"Very well, proceed."
"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for what I did. Captain Picard we didn't know what you were when we shot you…we couldn't even see you clearly…I just want you to know that if I could've…"
He looked fearfully at Ert,
"…I would have helped you. And Doctor Crusher, I'm sorry for the way you were treated too. There was nothing I could do."
There were several moments of silence until the senior magistrate spoke.
"The court hears you Jux Brunn. Because of the varying degrees of culpability, Jux Brunn is hereby sentenced to five years in a penal colony, with the probability of early release for exemplary behaviour.
Ert Gran, you are considered to be the instigator in this matter and the court notes that you have shown no remorse. You are hereby sentenced to ten years hard labour at a penal colony. There will be no early release. That is the judgement of this court!"
"All stand!"

 

 

 

A half an hour later, Jean-Luc and Beverly found themselves at a sidewalk café. Their reeve had suggested it and they had to agree, the setting was beautiful Shady trees and a slowly moving river made it a lovely spot to relax and have a drink. Beverly ordered a native tea and Jean-Luc tried a local brew called Amistor. It was hot and very sweet, but oddly refreshing in the afternoon heat.
Jean-Luc placed the cup on its holder and sighed. Looking over at his best friend he said softly,
"Beverly I'm sorry about the fight. You were right, I didn't consider your feelings and I should've talked it over with you first. It was insensitive of me to expect you to drop everything and go with me."
"Oh Jean-Luc, you're not the only one who's sorry. I overreacted and made a mountain out of a molehill. I shouldn't have let you go without clearing it up between us AND I should've come to see you off, it was petty of me not to."
He smiled and held out his hand, which she took gladly.
"Pax then?"
Beverly nodded, grinning broadly.
"Pax."
Jean-Luc sat back and considered his next proposal.
"I have an archaeological board meeting this afternoon. Want to come?"
"No, but I tell you what. You come to my quarters at 1930 hours and I'll treat you to dinner."
He smiled and cocked his head.
"You're on. I'll tell Will not to disturb us unless there's a Borg incursion in this sector."
They spent the following two hours exploring the city before Beverly returned to the Enterprise.

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was back aboard at 1815 and went straight to his cabin. He showered, shaved then lay on his bed in his briefs, the gentle blue glow of the portable regen light bathing his ankle. It was the only area of his body that still required treatment, so Beverly had relented and allowed him to have the portable unit in his quarters. By the time the therapy was complete and he'd dressed, it was 1920. He looked at himself in the mirror, picked off a microscopic piece of lint from his dark blue trousers and replicated a sheaf of roses. He was standing outside Beverly's door at precisely 1930 hours.
The door whispered open and he momentarily forgot to breathe.
She was stunning. The sapphire blue dress had to have been painted on. The material was soft and flexible, shimmering even as she breathed. Low cut and floor length, it accentuated the length of her neck, the colour perfectly matching her eyes. As she turned from him and sashayed across the room, he noticed two things; it was cut dangerously low at the back and she was barefoot.
He realised his mouth was gaping only after she brought it to his attention. It was then he realised she'd asked him a question.
"Umm, what?"
"I said would you like some wine? I happen to know a vintner's brother who has a private stock aboard."
"Do you indeed? Anyone I know?"
Beverly chuckled, the sound sending thrill through Jean-Luc's body.
"I also have some of the '47. Care to indulge?"
*Oh I'd like to indulge all right *
Out loud he laughed.
Beverly led him to the table and poured the drinks. Raising her glass she proposed a toast.
"To intrepid Captains. May they always return home safe."
"And to their Doctors who always make it so."
They clinked glasses and sipped the rich red wine.
"So, what's for dinner?"
Gracefully leaning forward, Beverly uncovered the dish at the centre of the table.
"Good old fashioned roast lamb with all the trimmings, followed by lemon sorbet."
He grinned, his mouth watering.
"Perfect!"
They ate slowly engaging in desultory conversation, savouring their meal. Afterwards they made their way to the sofa, hot drinks in their hands.
"So tell me, how was the board meeting?"
"Reasonably interesting. They had recovered the artefacts I'd retrieved; fortunately our 'friends' deemed them uninteresting. Generally, they were pleased with my finds."
"But…"
"Truth? I lost interest. With all that's happened I just want to get away from this planet. If I never go back to that site, it'll be too soon."
Beverly chuckled and placed her drink on the low table. Jean-Luc took the opportunity to do the same thing and moved closer to her. He slid his arm around her shoulders and cupped her chin with his other hand.
"Jean-Luc?"
"As I said this morning, we have unfinished business."
He moved closer still and captured her lips in a lingering kiss. When she didn't retreat, he deepened the kiss and pulled her gently closer.
He felt her hand press softly against his chest and he tapered off the kiss.
"Jean-Luc we need to…"
"Talk. I know, but for now, just don't say no."
His intense hazel eyes bored into hers and she could clearly see his desire, his need, and his love. She capitulated and met him in a deeply passionate kiss. His tongue gently invaded her mouth, tasting, exploring…claiming her as his. She was surprised when he suddenly broke the kiss and left her. She looked up to see him standing over her, his arm outstretched, his arousal evident.
His deep voice was rough with pent up passion.
"Not here Beverly. I want to love you properly…let me take you to your bed."
She rose from the couch on unsteady legs. He could see her desire; her nipples were erect, her pupils dilated, her eyes smouldering. He led her into her bedroom, calling for the lights to dim. He halted her at the foot of the bed and kissed her again, imparting all his love, all his need.
As he kissed her, he undid the fastenings of her dress and pushed it from her shoulders, gathering the fabric in his hands and peeling it down her curvaceous body. With her silken skin exposed, he left her mouth and kissed his way down her neck and onto her shoulders, blazing the skin wherever he touched, making her moan.
Her hands weren't idle. She undid the buttons of his silk shirt and pulled it from his pants, her fingers finding the closure of his trousers and undoing it. He stilled immediately when she snaked her hand over the bulging briefs and caressed him.
"Beverly…"
He hoarsely whispered.
To distract her, his large hands cupped her breasts, kneading and moulding them, his thumbs brushing over her nipples through the lace material of her bra. Her hands left him and quickly undid her bra; he smiled at her audacity and slipped the garment down her arms and onto the floor. Now his hands had her firm breasts, her skin burning to the touch. His lowered his head and swirled his tongue around the areola, deliberately missing the hardened nipple. Beverly groaned and took his head in her hands, holding him to her. His hand went to the neglected breast and tweaked the nub, before gently squeezing the mound. As he tweaked her again, his tongue found the nipple, lavishing the sensitive peak again and again before suckling hard. She moaned again and he swapped breasts, suckling the other nipple as his hand drifted down her belly, making just the barest contact with her skin. He pushed the dress to the floor and softly stroked her through her panties at the same time sucking on her nipple. She arched to him and shifted her legs apart, giving him more room. Emboldened by her move, he slid her underwear down her willowy legs and ran his fingers lightly up the inside of her thigh. She responded by lifting his head and kissing him deeply as both of her hands crept into his pants, one to cup him, the other to feel his length. She gripped him and squeezed gently, he groaned into her mouth. She left him then and pushed his shirt off his broad shoulders. Next she knelt at his feet and removed his shoes and socks, then she reached up and gently lowered his pants, freeing them from his feet. She slid her hands up his legs and around to his buttocks where she gripped him as she rubbed her face over his erection. Through the material of his briefs, she placed her open mouth over the head of his penis and released a hot breath. He reached down and drew her to her feet, kissing her again. As he kissed her, he gently guided her backwards until she felt the bed behind her knees, She sat slowly, still kissing and took the opportunity to caress him again. He broke the kiss and stood before her. Naked and heady with desire, she watched as he slowly lowered his briefs letting his considerable erection spring free.
He leaned forward and bracing one hand on the bed, gently bade her to lay back. He kissed her again then left her mouth and laid small kisses all over her face, down her neck and shoulders, to linger at her breasts. He suckled each nipple in turn then left her breasts and kissed his way down her stomach to the thatch of coppery curls at her groin.
He knelt between her legs and trailed his fingers along her thighs, teasing her legs further apart. She obliged, trembling with desire. Gently he lifted each leg and draped them over his shoulders and when he leaned in and kissed her intimately, she gasped and arched her back. His tongue gently explored her, seeking out the folds and recesses, learning her shapes. As his tongue lazily explored, his fingers gently infiltrated. First one thick digit, then another slid into her wet depths, gently thrusting. She moaned and reached for him and he took her hand in his free hand, holding it still. She lay back down and he continued his exquisite torture. His tongue lapped at her, swiping up and down the length of her and when he settled on her engorged clitoris, she couldn't contain a shout of joy.
Now, as his fingers languidly thrust in and out, his tongue matched the rhythm, swirling and rubbing, first feathery touches, then bold strokes.
He turned his hand palm up and curled his fingers inside her in a 'come here' gesture. She cried out, sat up part way and gripped his head, pulling him ever closer to her core.
Her lubricant flooded his hand as his tongue made its coup-de-grace. Boldly swirling over her clitoris, he sucked it into his mouth and gently bit it. She shrieked his name as her lissom body flexed and shuddered. She held her pose, jerking and shivering before collapsing onto the bed, panting and groaning.
When next she became aware, she was up the bed, her head on the pillows and in Jean-Luc's arms.
"Welcome back."
She smiled dreamily and snuggled into his chest, loving how he smelled.
"Thank you."
He softly kissed her hair and whispered,
"It was my pleasure."
She lay quietly for a time, then began to idly draw patterns through the softly curling hair of his torso. Aware of his erection, she kept her touch light and undefined, pleased when he sighed and rolled onto his back. Propped up on one elbow, she took the time to study him and was delighted with what she saw. A man in his prime. Lean, well muscled, well endowed and thoroughly beautiful, she was going to enjoy this in more ways than one. She allowed her hand to trail down, dallying around his navel, then slothfully snaking down over his hip and onto his thigh, ignoring the throbbing penis, which occasionally twitched in anticipation. Up the inside of his thigh and softly over the underside of his scrotum, she was thrilled when he moaned and gently thrust his hips. She sat up and moved between his legs, never breaking contact with his skin. Now she could use both hands. Starting at his knees and using just her fingertips, she traced patterns over his thighs, over his sac and around the base of his erection and on up to his belly, which quivered when, she touched it. She leaned over him and kissed him, making sure her pubic hair brushed his penis. His hands went to her hips and attempted to pull her down, but she sat up and kissed the head of his erection instead. He gasped and whispered,
"Mon Dieu…yes…"
She licked up the length of him and took the pearl bead with the point of her tongue. He was large, but she felt if she relaxed, she could almost take him all. She opened her mouth and descended on him, swirling her tongue as she went. He gripped the sheets and thrust upwards, moaning her name. She let him slide almost all the way out then descended again, one hand gently massaging his testicles, the other holding the base of his penis. Four more times she slid up and down when he called to her.
"Beverly…"
She let him slip from her mouth and moved up his body to lie along his length. He took her in his arms and kissed her deeply and, as he did, he rolled them both over.
She thrilled at feeling his weight upon her, She could feel his every straining muscle, and every springy hair; her entire body had become erogenous. She opened her legs and wound her calves over his hips.
"Now Jean-Luc."
He slid into her easily, they both gasped at the sensation. He stilled momentarily to let her accommodate him, then started to thrust slowly.
She gripped his shoulders and met his thrusts, mindless with pleasure. He lowered his face and kissed her passionately, increasing the tempo below. She returned the kiss savagely, entreating him to go faster…harder. He obliged, making the strokes longer and deeper. She writhed under him and bit his lip.
"Oh God…more Jean-Luc…more!"
He reached down and hooked his arm behind her knee and lifted it up, deepening his penetration. He plunged into her, his blood on fire. She felt her climax approaching and spurred him on, clawing at his back and moaning mindlessly.
As the ecstasy washed over her, she called his name and clung to him. He felt her internal muscles contract rhythmically and thrust hard four times. He sensed his onrushing orgasm and stilled, grinding himself into her as he suddenly pumped his semen deep inside her, lost in physical and emotional bliss.

 

 

 

Later they lay intertwined, still joined. Beverly was tracing the outline of his face as he watched her lovingly. She sighed and kissed him softly.
"That was wonderful Jean-Luc, damn but you're good."
He smiled and had the good grace to look embarrassed.
"Thank you, you weren't bad yourself."
She giggled and kissed him again.
"We still haven't had that talk."
He frowned and muttered,
"That's not my idea of an ideal post coital chat."
"Never the less…"
Sighing, he kissed her nose.
"Very well, out with it."
"Well for starters, how is this going to work? It won't be easy you know."
He grinned lopsidedly and said,
"In my fantasies you moved in with me and we just sort of lived happily ever after."
"Jean-Luc…"
He sighed and grew serious.
"I know, I know. I suggest, at least for the interim, that we be as discreet as possible. We give each other all the space we need and take it on a day-by-day basis. On thing though Beverly…I love you…unreservedly and I'm willing to do whatever's necessary to make this work. I've waited too long for this…for us…to muck it up with petty misunderstandings."
Beverly felt the tears well but did nothing about them, letting them spill over her eyes.
"And I love you, Jean-Luc Picard. We'll make this work…I'm damn sure of it!"
He kissed her deeply and she contracted her internal muscles making him harden immediately. The rest of the night was spent making love and, in the morning, their new lives began.