In Search of Hope

 

 

              The hover car cruised slowly down the street in the black, cold night. It was oh one thirty on a Sunday night and most of the homes they passed were dark, but the home at the end of the street seemed to brood in its darkness. The young man at the helm steered the little craft into the driveway and, after positioning the vehicle correctly in its parking spot, carefully settled the car onto the ground. He switched off the lights but kept the power on, maintaining the interior heat against the cold of the exterior, the gentle hum of the rector the only sound in the otherwise silent cabin.

His companion, his sister, sighed in the darkness, her eyes trained on the house before them. She sighed again deeply and when she spoke, her soft lilting voice showed her worry.

“Do you think he made it to bed tonight?”

James Picard shrugged brusquely and although his heart squeezed in sympathy, his voice was derisive.

“Probably not.”

Adele Picard turned to her brother and gently admonished him.
“Don’t be so hard on him Jim.”

The eighteen year old grunted and shook his head.

“He’s so bloody stubborn! Why Delly? Why won’t he just accept the truth?”

“Because he can’t Jim, to do so would be to admit she’s gone.”

In anger and frustration, James hit the steering yoke.

“But it would help him Delly! He’d be able to grieve and get over it. God…the way things are now…and have been for the past two years…surely it would be a relief to him.”

Adele closed her eyes against her pain and sighed.

“He can’t Jim. He’ll keep searching…and hoping…to do otherwise…”

The young man’s eyes glittered in the darkness and he muttered,

“You know about the drinking don’t you.”

Adele lowered her head and nodded, saying softly,

“Yes.”

“If he shows up at Headquarters pissed he’ll lose his job, his reputation…all those bloody years in the fleet, all he’s achieved will count for nothing.”

“I don’t think he drinks during the day, just at night. Maybe it helps him to sleep.”

James snorted.

“Oh yeah…sleeping at his desk in the study doesn’t count Delly. Besides he’s not asleep, he’s passed out.”

The callous disregard for the man saddened the young woman deeply. She sighed.

“Come on Jim be nice, he’s going through hell.”

James turned to look at the darkened house and growled.

“It’s a hell of his own choosing Delly. I can’t find sympathy for a man who insists on wallowing in self delusion.”

Her patience beginning to wane, Adele’s voice sharpened.

“It’s not self delusion James. Look, try and see this from his perspective. There was no body…no incontrovertible proof of her death! You’re asking him to accept the unacceptable. He loved her…loves her with every molecule of his being, James! Until someone can prove to him that she’s really dead he will go on searching and hoping until he himself dies. And James…he needs our support, not our derision. We may not agree with him…we may think he’s chasing phantoms, but he’s our father and he deserves more from us than to be discounted as a fool.”

The shoulders of the young man slumped and he sighed.

“You’re right I suppose.”

He turned to look at his sister, his voice sad.

“I just feel so helpless Dell. I see his pain…his anguish and it kills me. And you know…we miss her too.”

Adele looked up at the house and whispered sadly,

“Yeah.”

They sat in silence for a while before Adele lifted her head and smiled.

“You certainly were getting cosy with Sarah Thompson tonight.”

James folded his arms across his chest and flicked back the lock of dark brown hair that habitually fell across his forehead. He huffed and shook his head.

“I knew there was a reason why I didn’t want to take my seventeen year old sister to that party.”

The girl giggled.

“Oh come on…you needed a chaperone!”

In mock outrage, James pointed to himself.

I needed a chaperone? Who had their tongue down Adam Carnegie’s throat?”

Adele flapped her hand, somehow sounding bored and embarrassed at the same time.

“We were just kissing, Jim.”

Her brother sounded disgruntled.

“Yeah well…find someone else to kiss in future. Adam Carnegie is a dweeb.”

Adele’s voice betrayed her amusement.

“He’s a dweeb who’s taking the same degree as you.”

James snorted.

“Oh yeah…I can see it now. The only thing that slob will ever design is an outdoor toilet.”

His sister chuckled wryly.

“While you on the other hand…”

James made a fist and shook it for emphasis.

“Will design grand edifices!”

He grinned at his sister.

“I am going to be the most famous architect in the Federation.”

Adele’s eyes shone with love and admiration for her brother and when he took her hand and squeezed it, she grinned at him. He shook his head and said softly,

“What about you Delly? Have you decided yet?”

Her grin faded. She lowered her head and sighed.
“No, not yet.”

James tilted his head to see under her brow.

“You haven’t got much more time to make up your mind. You have to choose your subjects for next year. Your final year Dell.”

Adele disengaged her hand and gathered her auburn hair, pulling it back off her neck. She tilted her head back and stared at the roof.

“I know Jim…but…it’s just that…”

James waited patiently while his sister tried to find the words to explain. Eventually she sighed and let go of her hair.

“I want to be a doctor…I really do…but I also want to be an archaeologist.”

She looked at her brother, her eyes troubled.

“Either way I still have to pass my exams for this year. Will you help me with my physics?”

The young man shrugged.

“Yeah of course, but Dad is better at physics than me, he’d be a better choice.”

Adele sighed.

“I know but he’s been so busy with the treaty…and he’s so tired all the time…”

James’s voice grew hard.

“Yeah well if he’d get a decent night’s sleep occasionally instead of wiping himself out every night with alcohol maybe he wouldn’t be so bloody tired.”

Instead of reacting to the angry words, Adele just sighed. After a few moments James spoke again, this time softly.

“Delly…why do you want to be a doctor or an archaeologist?”

Irritation crept into Adele’s tone when she said,

“That’s a dumb question.”

James kept his voice light.

“Why?”

“Because it just is!”

Taking his sister’s hand, James tried to see into her eyes, but in the darkness it was impossible.

“I think you should ask yourself why you would choose professions that our parents are interested in that’s all.”

Adele glared at her brother and pulled her hand from of his grip.

“Well I think that’s a stupid thing for you to say!”

Displaying the calm patience he inherited from his father, James gave a small smile.

“Fair enough, you’re entitled to your opinion but Delly…ask yourself what you’d like to do…not what you think our parents would like you to do.”

Her brows knitted together in a deep frown, Adele activated the door release, saying as she got out,

“I’m going inside. You coming?”

In answer James deactivated the power then exited the car and fell in step with his sister as they approached the front door. While James inputted his security code Adele said softy,

“Will you want my help in getting him to bed?”

The porch and entry way lights came on automatically and Adele caught the look of resigned disgust in her brother’s eyes.

“No thanks Dell, I’ll manage.”

Quelling her sadness, Adele nodded.

“Okay, I’m going up to bed. Goodnight Jim, thanks for taking me to the party.”

Giving his sister and affectionate kiss on the cheek, the tall young man smiled.

“No worries. Goodnight.”

As Adele climbed the stairs to her bedroom, James went through the living room and down the hall to his father’s study. The door was slightly ajar, light spilling out into the dark hall. Taking no care to keep quiet, James pushed the door open and stood still, staring down at the man asleep at his desk with anger and disgust. His head was pillowed on his arms and in front of him the computer monitor glowed soft blue in standby mode. Beside the monitor an untidy pile of PADDs teetered precariously and a half eaten sandwich sat amongst crumbs on a plate. But what caused James’s reaction was the three empty wine bottles standing on the desk in mute testament to what James saw as the man’s weakness.

Striding over to the desk, James took care to save the work on the computer before he turned it off. He then took the bottles; glass and plate to the disposal unit then went back to the desk and tidied the pile of PADDs. He straightened and looked down at the sleeping man, shaking his head as he leaned forward and took his father under his arms.

“Come on Dad, time for bed.”

Ambassador Jean-Luc Picard started and opened his eyes. He blinked and lifted his head, searching for the source of the voice. In a rough deep mumble he managed,

“James?”

James didn’t bother to keep the disgust out of his voice.

“None other. Now come on, get up. I’ll help you up the stairs.”

Jean-Luc stood without his usual grace and, as he turned, staggered and nearly fell. James grabbed him, snarling,

“Jesus Dad…stand up will you!”

The anger in his son’s voice made Jean-Luc look at his son. Even in his inebriated state he could see the disgust and it made him briefly close his eyes. Instead of addressing the boy’s anger, the Ambassador sighed with melancholy, slurring.

“Why don’t you call me Papa any more?”

Ignoring the putrid smell of his father’s breath, James gritted his teeth and slipped the man’s arm over his shoulders as he took him around the waist.

“Because I’m grown up now, Dad.”

James manoeuvred his father out of the study, down the hall and up the first few steps of the stairs in angry silence. Oblivious to his son’s mood, Jean-Luc suddenly lifted his head and said,

“You don’t speak French any more either. You used to speak French with me all the time.”

James ignored his father as he concentrated on negotiating the stairs. At the top he turned right and steered the man down the hall to the master bedroom. He deposited Jean-Luc on the bed; made sure he was sitting relatively steadily, then took off his boots and jacket.  Having divested his father off enough clothing, James none to gently made his father lie on the bed with his head on the pillows. He threw a blanket over the man and made sure there was a glass of water on the side table. Before he called for the lights to extinguish he looked down at the man to see him asleep. James closed his eyes against his despair and sighed. The anger dissipated and he bent and kissed his father’s brow. In a sad whisper he said,

“Bon nuit Papa.”

He stood abruptly and as he strode from the room he muttered,

“Lights out.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     James met Adele at the top of the stairs next morning. They shared a quick greeting, but the smell of freshly brewed coffee hastened their steps down the stairs. They entered the kitchen to see their father leaning against the counter, a cup of steaming coffee in one hand, a PADD in the other. He looked up and smiled.

“Good morning you two.”

Adele studied her father, noting the dark circles under his eyes, his obvious weight loss and pallid complexion. However he had showered, shaved and was dressed conservatively in a light blue polo shirt and dark blue trousers. She also noticed he wasn’t eating.

“What do you want for breakfast Dad?”

Jean-Luc offered a quick smile before returning his attention to the PADD.

“I’m not hungry Adele, besides Captain Mason is due any minute.”

James snorted softly and went to the replicator, ordering scrambled eggs on toast. His muttered comment made his father lift his head and frown.

“I beg your pardon.”

James looked at his father, defiance flashing in his eyes.

“I said…there’re not many vitamins in a bottle of wine.”

Anger flared briefly in the older man as he glared at his son, but it was gone just as quickly. His eyes softened and he sighed before returning his attention to the PADD. Adele watched the two males, a frown marring her comely face. Both Adele and her brother bore a striking resemblance to their father, although Adele’s hair carried the red of her mother and her hazel eyes were lighter than her brother’s. The only things that differed significantly between father and son were James’s full head of dark brown hair and his height. At just on two metres he was tall by any standard. As Adele watched, Jean-Luc lifted his eyes from the device he held and looked up at his son, offering a small conciliatory smile.

“How was the party?”

With a shrug, James chewed on his mouthful, swallowed and made a dismissive wave with his hand.

“Not bad.”

The curt answer made Jean-Luc grit his teeth, but outwardly his face was calm.

“Did you meet the people you will be sharing lectures with?”

“Yeah.”

Knowing her brother would maintain his desultory replies, Adele tried to inject some humour into what was becoming a tense situation.

“Jim spent some time with Sarah Thompson. They were…close...most of the night.”

James glared at his sister while Jean-Luc sipped his coffee, a frown creasing his forehead.

“Sarah Thompson…would that be Douglas Thompson’s daughter?”

James sighed, rolling his eyes.

“Yeah.”

“She’s doing architecture? At the same university with you?”

The young man turned in his seat and gave his father a challenging look.

“Yeah…so?”

Jean-Luc smiled.

“Oh nothing really, it’s just…I went to the Academy with Douglas.”

Adele smiled at her father, then sobered.

“He died a few years ago didn’t he?”

Before Jean-Luc could answer, James muttered,

“A lot of people die in Starfleet.”

The Ambassador glared at his son and this time his anger wouldn’t settle. He tossed down the remains of his coffee and strode from the room.

Adele went to the replicator and while she waited for her order to materialise she said succinctly,

“You can really be a bastard sometimes James.”

The young man shrugged and returned to his breakfast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                Captain Della Mason was deep in thought as she eased the hover car into Hastings Street. She had made this journey most mornings and evenings for the past ten months. She would pick up her boss, drive from the leafy outer suburbs into the heart of Melbourne then transport half way around the Earth to start their working day at Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco. Her brilliant mind was a perfect foil for her boss. He, calm and analytical, she quick tempered and mercurial, they made a formidable team, one that worked with well-oiled proficiency. That she was also darkly attractive was completely lost on her boss. He either never saw, or completely ignored the admiring looks she garnered from the men she encountered, although they were brave if they kept up their pursuit, one look from his steely dark eyes usually made them quickly retreat.

They had known each other in the distant past, in fact they’d been intimate for some very torrid months, but time and their careers pulled them apart. When she had been assigned as his aide she’d hesitated. She knew he was married and recently widowed, but although he had seemed to go on with his life, she had never stopped loving him.

As she steered the car into his driveway, she let out a gasp and braked heavily. There, standing in the gravelled drive was her boss. He quirked a look at the driver and stared pointedly at the very small distance between the front of the hover car and his head. Swallowing to wet her dry mouth, Della landed the car and opened the door.

“Sorry Jean-Luc…I didn’t expect you to be outside.”

The Ambassador gave a nod and found a small smile.

“Indeed.”

He climbed into the car and settled his briefcase on the back seat. When he made no attempt at conversation Della shrugged and lifted off, backing out of the drive and cruising down the street. As she drove she cast a sideways glance at her old friend and frowned at what she saw. He felt her scrutiny and gave her a sharp look. Snapping her eyes back to the controls, she flushed slightly and smirked to herself.

“My God…after all these years he can still make me feel like a bloody first year cadet.”

They flew in silence for ten minutes, Jean-Luc staring out the windows. His sudden, quietly worded question startled Della.

“Have you read this morning’s despatches?”

“Yes Sir.”

“And?”

He asked the same thing every morning and it was slowly driving Della to despair. She sighed and cast her passenger a sympathetic look.

“Jean-Luc…”

His face, so often a stoic mask, hardened even further and he gritted his teeth.

“Is there any news, Captain?”

Della focused her attention ahead and slowly shook her head.

“No Sir, no news.”

Jean-Luc gave a curt nod.

“And what of your enquiry to Penarra nine?”

Della swallowed and briefly closed her eyes.

“That will take some time Sir. My contact there cannot get to a communication device often and he told me the people he needs to talk to would be hard to find.”

“I see. I take it you sent him all we knew.”

Della nodded.

“Yes Sir, but you have to admit…that wasn’t much. A report of the debris analysis and an unconfirmed sighting of an unidentified ship.”

Jean-Luc turned his head and said quietly,

“You think she’s dead too.”

Della risked a quick look at her boss and tried to ease his pain.

“Jean-Luc I’m just trying to follow what we’ve got. She was on the shuttle that was destroyed. What do you want me to say?”

The Ambassador stared out of the windscreen, his deep voice insistent.

“There was no body…not even any evidence of her remains!”

Della spoke quietly.

“Jean-Luc the shuttle was atomised.”

He shook his head, doggedly refusing to believe what the evidence told him.

“Then there should have been remains at the atomic level.”

Patiently Della explained.

“But you know that in an explosion like that which destroyed the shuttle, any organic matter would have been vaporised. Jean-Luc please…it’s time you accepted…”

His harsh voice made her wince.

“NO! I refuse to accept that my wife is dead! If she had been on that shuttle when it was destroyed there would have been evidence…something…”

The pain and despair in his eyes made Della’s stomach sour. She shut her mouth, returned her attention to flying the craft and the rest of their journey was taken in silence.

              Later that day, over a working lunch, Della was gratified to find Jean-Luc a little happier. Her grandmother was from Betazed allowing Della the gift of partial empathy. While Jean-Luc was occupied with his lunch, Della closed her eyes and concentrated her meagre ability to find him calm and in a receptive frame of mind. Taking a deep breath, Della asked softly,

“Do you have to go straight home tonight, Jean-Luc?”

Lifting his eyes from the report he was reading, he frowned and slightly shook his head.

“Ah…no, Adele is studying with a friend until nine thirty and James is researching an assignment at the university library. I don’t expect him home until eleven or so. Why?”

Offering her most charming smile, she flipped back her long black hair and hoped her eyes showed her affection.

“How about coming home and having dinner with Tony and me?”

His eyes darkened and he shook his head.

“I don’t think so, Della, but thank you.”

The Captain weighed the risks and decided to press ahead, regardless.

“Oh come on Jean-Luc…I know you, you’ll go home, have nothing to eat and bury yourself in work until you fall asleep on the sofa. Come on, have a home cooked meal with us.”

His lips curled in a half smile.

“You cook?”

Della shrugged.

“I can if you want; besides it’s been ages since you’ve seen Tony.”

The Ambassador sat back and considered the invitation.

“How old is Tony now?”

The Captain smiled wistfully.

“Twelve.”

Jean-Luc’s eyebrows shot up.

“Twelve? Good lord, when did that happen?”

With a warm chuckle Della shrugged.

“I know…it crept up on me too. Sam would have been so proud of him.”

At the mention of Della’s deceased husband Jean-Luc’s face shuttered and he lowered his gaze. Della cursed to herself and tried to quell her dismay at her lapse. She plastered a sunny smile on her face and made sure her tone was light.

“So what’ll it be? Pasta? Roast? Fish?”

Jean-Luc held up a hand and was about to refuse when Della reached across the desk and took his hand.

“Please Jean-Luc…Tony would be absolutely delighted to see you.”

He stared into her dark eyes and slowly capitulated.

“Oh very well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    Jean-Luc was quiet on the ride to Della’s home. For convenience she had moved to Melbourne to be closer to Jean-Luc, although she lived several kilometres away, in a different suburb. She could sense he was tired and his emotions were unsettled. She pulled into her drive in a pensive mood. Jean-Luc picked up his brief case, prompting Della to say,

“Leave it in the car Jean-Luc. I want you to relax tonight.”

She was surprised by the stern look he gave her.

“Della we’re meeting with the Antorian Ambassador in three days and if I’m not completely up to date with the current reports we may well find ourselves shut out of the negotiations, negotiations we’ve been working on for ten months! Now you might feel you can relax but I cannot.”

Having been upbraided Della lowered her eyes, bowed her head and offered her apology.

“Sorry Jean-Luc, I just thought…sorry.”

He shut the car door firmly and waited for Della to open the front door. As soon as she entered her home a youthful voice called out over the noise of a computer game.

“Hi Mum.”

Della grinned with doting affection.

“Hi love. Come out, there’s someone I want you to see.”

The noise suddenly stopped and a young boy emerged from the living room. He was short and thin, his colouring dark, like his mother, but unlike her English accent, he had a pronounced Australian accent. He stopped in front of his mother and suffered a quick kiss before his eyes appraised the man standing before him.

“Honey do you remember Captain Picard?”

The boy frowned, his eyes wandering as he thought.

“No…I don’t think so.”

Jean-Luc smiled and offered his hand.

“The last time I saw you, you would have been about four years old, so I’m not surprised you don’t remember me.”

Warily the boy shook Jean-Luc’s hand and looked up into his eyes.

“You’re a Captain? My Dad was a Captain. He died at Wolf 359.”

Said so softly, Tony had to strain to hear.

“I know.”

Della placed a hand on her son’s shoulder and gently urged him towards the kitchen.

“Captain Picard is a Federation Ambassador now, Tony. Now how about you give me a hand in getting dinner”

She looked over her shoulder at Jean-Luc.

“You can settle in the living room if you like Jean-Luc. I won’t be long.”

The man smiled, lifting his eyebrow in query.

“Would you like some help?”

She shook her head.

“No, we’re fine. Help yourself to the bar. There’s a good selection of real spirits, glasses are in the cupboard.”

Before he could say anything further, mother and son were gone. He shrugged and went into the living room, going to the bar and pouring himself a large neat scotch. Having then settled into a comfy chair, he opened his briefcase, took out several PADDs and began to read.

              It was with some worry that Della noticed that Jean-Luc kept drinking throughout the meal. He eschewed the wine she offered, opting to continue with the scotch. They chatted through the meal, Tony asking a myriad of questions and Jean-Luc surprising Della by giving good answers, seemingly with limitless patience. After dinner Tony went to his room while the adults settled in the living room.

Della went to the entertainment system and pulled up the music files. She inputted a selection then turned, a wistful smile on her face. Softly she said,

“Remember this?”

The gentle strains of Debussy’s Claire De Lune wafted through the room and Jean-Luc smiled.

“Oh yes. The Seine, autumn, 2340.”

The woman grinned saucily.

“You were thirty five and I was a mere slip of a girl.”

Jean-Luc snorted and took a sip of his drink.

“You make me sound like a cradle snatcher. You were…twenty eight if I remember correctly.”

She came to sit beside the man and leaned her head back on the cushions.

“Ah those were the days. You were Captain of the Stargazer and I was an up-and-coming second Lieutenant. God…those were carefree days weren’t they?”

They sat in companionable silence for a while before Jean-Luc chuckled.

“As I recall, you propositioned me…at a bistro in Paris.”

Della snorted.

“I didn’t proposition you Jean-Luc, I pinched your arse.”

His grin was wicked.

“Same thing.”

“Egotist!”

That brought a muffled guffaw.

“Well what the hell was I supposed to think? I feel my arse getting pinched, I turn around and there’s this gorgeous woman with a saucy smile on her face. How was I supposed to react?”

Della rolled her eyes and flapped a hand.

“Well you certainly didn’t waste anytime in seducing me! My God…we had what…two drinks…then it was back to your hotel room.”

“I was shipping out in a week; I had no time to lose!”

Della turned her head and grinned.

“It was wonderful, wasn’t it.”

His face softened and he took another sip of his whisky.

“Yes…yes it was, and so were the months that followed.”

Della sighed wistfully.

“A grand affair.”

Her eyes sharpened and she moved a little closer to the man.

“Jean-Luc…” she said in a soft voice, “Was your life with Beverly…”

His head snapped around and he glared at his friend and barked,

“Don’t!”

She watched in dismay as he stood abruptly and picked up his briefcase.

“We have a lot to do tomorrow; it’s time I went home. Thank you for a lovely meal.”

He began to walk to the door even as Della was rising from the chair. In some confusion she scooped up her jacket and met him outside, beside the hover car.

The journey back to Jean-Luc’s home was taken in stony silence. It wasn’t until he was getting out of the car that Della said,

“See you tomorrow then.”

Jean-Luc looked at her for the first time since leaving her home and gave a curt nod.

“Yes. Good night.”

He shut the door on her words and walked stiffly to his door. Della waited until the automatic lights came on then left, her feelings in turmoil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 As Jean-Luc entered his home, Adele called from the kitchen,

“Is that you Dad?”

Instead of answering her from the living room, Jean-Luc wandered into the kitchen, smiling at seeing his daughter eating a bowl of ice cream.

“Hungry?”

Adele shrugged, a smile tugging her lips.

“Kinda. Paula and I had some take away but after all that studying I felt I needed a sugar fix.”

Jean-Luc nodded his understanding then asked,

“How’s it going?”

Knowing he meant her exam preparations, she sighed.

“Okay I suppose. I’m doing all right in everything except physics.”

Her father raised his eyebrows.

“Physics? I can help you with that.”

Adele offered a smile, but shook her head.

“You’re too busy Dad, it’s all right, Jim said he’d help me.”

The hurt in his eyes made the young woman inwardly wince. To try and make amends, she went to him and gave him a hug.

“Thanks anyway Dad.”

As he returned the hug, he closed his eyes and rested his head on her shoulder. Adele felt him trembling and said softly,

“It’s okay Dad.”

He abruptly lifted his head, giving it a brusque shake.

“No it’s not!”

He went to leave the kitchen but Adele caught his sleeve.

“Hey Dad…have you had something to eat?”

She could smell the alcohol on his breath and wanted to stall his retreat into his study.

“How about I make you an omelette and a cup of Earl Grey?”

Jean-Luc smiled and shook his head.

“No thank you Adele, I’ve had dinner. What I have to do now is catch up on some work.”

To emphasise his words, he lifted his briefcase. Adele scowled and shook her head.

“Oh Dad…you’re always working! Why don’t you have a night off for a change? Have a long hot shower and an early night? Or maybe you could watch a vid with me?”

Keeping his smile in place, the man gently tapped the tip of his daughter’s nose.

“If anybody needs an early night it’s you my lass. When is your first exam?”

As she rolled her eyes she sighed.

“Oh come on Dad…my first exam isn’t for another week. I can have one late night.”

He shook his head.

“No you can’t! Now it’s…”

He looked at the clock on the wall.

“Ten thirty…high time you were in bed.”

Adele scowled and lifted her hands to flip her hair off her shoulders.

“I’m seventeen Dad.”

He shook his head, trying to keep the smile from his face. He was successful, but it showed in his eyes.

“I’m aware of that Adele, but you still need your rest.”

Outraged at feeling patronised, Adele took a step back and glared.

“Mum let me have late nights.”

At the mention of Beverly, Jean-Luc’s eyes shuttered.

“That may be so, but she’s not here so you’ll just have to put up with me.”

He tried to make his tone light, but his tension was evident. Adele took a speculative look at her father and said in a flat voice,

“She’s not here because she’s dead, Dad.”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

“If that’s what you choose to believe Adele, that’s fine, however I don’t share your views. Now please go and…”

Adele’s sharp retort cut through his gentle words.

“Dammit Dad why won’t you accept the truth? She’s gone! Yes it’s sad…it’s horrible, but you have to give up.”

Jean-Luc turned on his heel and took a few steps towards the door. Adele went after him and grabbed his arm.

“Dad…please….everyone says she’s gone, Starfleet even held a memorial. Jim says…”

Finally provoked into responding, Jean-Luc’s head came up and his intense dark hazel eyes blazed.

“I don’t care what your brother says Adele…and I expected more from you! Can’t you get it into your head? There was no body! No remains! Doesn’t that tell you something?”

Adele softened her voice and increased her grip of his arm.

“Dad the shuttle was completely destroyed. There would be no…”

Wrenching his arm free, Jean-Luc held up his hands.

“NO! If you have so little faith in me then I don’t want to hear your traitorous drivel!”

He spun around and marched from the room. Adele wiped at the tears that slid down her face and sighed. In a soft whisper she said,

“Good night Dad.”

 

 

 

 

                  On his way to his study Jean-Luc went into the living room and took a bottle of scotch out of the bar. Having an almost unlimited supply of wine, courtesy of his sister-in-law, he was accustomed to drinking his family’s vintages, but having started the night on scotch, he decided to finish the same way. He tucked the bottle under one arm, a tumbler and his briefcase in his hands; he didn’t bother with the lights until he entered his inner sanctum. He put the briefcase and tumbler on the desk, then took the bottle, screwing off the lid and pouring a large measure. It went down in one gulp. Another followed, before he poured again and activated his computer. He was well aware his drinking was getting the better of him, but the oblivion it afforded him was far better than the dreams that haunted him otherwise.

He closed his eyes as the memory of the last dream invaded his mind. He was in his office at Command. The door chimed and he frowned, his secretary would normally announce any visitors.

“Come.”

As his eyes swept over his caller, his heart swelled and he stood.

“Beverly!”

His wife’s face shone with happiness as she walked the short distance around his desk. They embraced then kissed, first tenderly, then languidly, then passionately. They parted, slightly out of breath.

“When did you get back? You weren’t due for another four days!”

The stunning red head laughed and kissed her husband again.

“Well…we managed to cut a few corners…and exceed a few speed limits…and here I am.”

Jean-Luc chuckled and shook his head.

“You’re incredible.”

“Hey…I’m a Captain now…and head of SFM. You once told me that Captains can do whatever they damn well please! Seems you were right.”

Jean-Luc’s face shone in a rare full grin.

“I love you Captain Picard.”

“And I love you Ambassador Picard.”

They shared a kiss then Beverly sighed.

“What say we get the kids out of school and go somewhere?”

Nuzzling her neck, Jean-Luc’s deep baritone was a rumble against her skin.

“Where?”

She mewed softly and pulled his shirt out of his trousers, sneaking her hands under the fabric to caress his back and chest.

“I don’t care…somewhere…anywhere.”

Distracted by her sensuous hands, Jean-Luc trailed his fingers up her sides to gently cup her breasts. She groaned softly and he bit her neck, murmuring softly,

“I want you Beverly.”

Throughout the five weeks of their separation Jean-Luc had kept his desire for his wife under a tight leash. The sub-space communications they shared only served to remind him of how far away she was. Now she was here, in his arms and his body yearned for her. He let go of her breasts and lowered his hands to grip her buttocks and pull her to him, grinding his hips against her. She felt his erection and gently bit his earlobe.

“Here?”

His reply was a deep growl.

“Why not?”

As he kissed his way down her throat Beverly lolled her head back and moaned.

“Yes…”

Jean-Luc suddenly stepped back and began to divest his wife of her uniform. His gaze was intense as his hands worked, his deep voice muttering,

“Computer, secure door, authorisation Picard, Delta five two eight. Henderson?”

From the ceiling speakers, the secretary’s voice sounded curious.

“Yes Ambassador?”

“No calls, no comms. I don’t want to be disturbed.”

“Yes Sir.”

Beverly took the opportunity to strip him of his shirt and open his trousers, pushing them and his briefs down to his thighs.

They made love on the desk, then later, again on the sofa. Jean-Luc squeezed his eyes shut as tears welled and overflowed his eyes. He was now painfully erect, the memories making his body respond. He placed his hands on the desk and leaned forward, gritting his teeth and shaking his head.

“Oh God Beverly…you still command me.”

He took a deep breath, straightened and poured another drink. After downing it, he sat with difficulty and poured again. Finally he looked at the computer screen and grimaced, ignoring his body.

“So…the Antorian Ambassador? What do you have up your sleeve my friend?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   The object of Jean-Luc’s query sat back in his seat and studied the man seated with him in the booth. The pub they were in was off the beaten track, a small establishment on the outskirts of the city. A few regulars propped up the bar, but in the main lounge only a scattering of people sat at the tables, the hour being very late.

The Antorian Ambassador pursed his lips and caught the eye of the barman. Holding up two of his seven fingers, he indicated he wanted fresh drinks. His companion watched in silence, his eyes ever restless as they constantly scanned the dim room.

“Is our package all right Darnid?”

The smaller man gave a brief smile.

“Oh yes Ambassador. Safe and well.”

The Ambassador inclined his oddly shaped head, his large violet eyes gleaming on their stalks in the diffused light.

“And she knows nothing?”

Someone approached their booth and the smaller man slunk deeper into the shadows, pulling his cap down over his face. The barman put their drinks on the table and left.

Cold black eyes watched him leave before they continued their never ending surveillance.

“She knows nothing Sir.”

“And she has had no contact with anyone?”

His eyes settled briefly on the big alien before sliding away again.

“In these last two years the only person she’s seen has been her keeper and he’s a mute.”

The Ambassador smiled.

“Excellent. I am well pleased Darnid, you have done well.”

The furtive little alien smiled, showing a ragged row of sharp teeth.

“And how much longer do we keep her Ambassador?”

The big Antorian shrugged his shoulders to settle the cloak he wore. With his eyes situated each end of stalks that protruded from the sides of his elongated head, it was sometimes difficult to see them, as they moved independently.

“Not much longer my little friend, a few more months. Things are moving along quite well but, as the Humans would say, soon there will be a fly in the ointment…and that’s when we will play our little game with the Federation Ambassador.”

Darnid shifted in his seat and frowned.

“I hear he’s a formidable adversary, Ambassador.”

The big alien shrugged again.

“That he is…he serves the Federation well, but I think I have the measure of Jean-Luc Picard…I have his wife.”

The little alien sneered.

“I have seen her Ambassador…she is strikingly beautiful, her hair is red.”

The Ambassador grunted.

“It has never ceased to amaze me…this variation Humans have in their appearance. Hair, eye and skin colour…so diverse.”

Darnid tilted his head back as he drank and the Ambassador stifled a grimace as the folds of flaky skin of his neck parted to reveal grime, sebum and small, red suppurating sores, the odour of which almost made the large alien gag. Smacking his thin lips, his bright green forked tongue appeared to lap up the dribble of alcohol that ran down his stubbled, dirty chin. Beady black eyes briefly settled on the Ambassador and his querulous voice dropped lower.

“And after you play your games Ambassador…what happens to her then?”

The big alien sat forward and shrugged.

“Actually I don’t care; she will be worthless to me once we have Picard in our pockets.”

The forked tongue made another appearance as one of Darnid’s hands left the table to fumble in his trousers. Quelling his disgust, the Ambassador curled his eye stalks and managed a smile.

“She interests you Darnid?”

The little alien’s furtive fumbling increased and he began to pant.

“Oh yes Ambassador. There is a mirror in her bedroom…it is two-way…I’ve watched her…”

With a sharp gasp Darnid’s body stiffened then slowly relaxed. He brought his hand out from his pants and proceeded to lick something thick and milky off his fingers.

“I would very much like to have her Ambassador.”

The big alien steepled his many fingers under his small chin and regarded his employee.

“I suppose that could be arranged Darnid, but it would come out of your earnings. Our agreement never included you ending up with our little prize. After all, it took considerable expense to orchestrate her disappearance and her ongoing upkeep has come at a cost too. No Darnid…if you want her, it will cost you…dearly.”

A scowl crossed the pinched features of the little alien, but be leered soon enough.

“Name your price Ambassador, I will pay.”

Curious about his motives, the Ambassador sipped his drink, his mind sharply alert, but his voice conversational.

“And what will you do with her…apart from the obvious?”

Darnid’s hand went inside his trousers again.

“She would please me Ambassador…as often as I wanted and, when I tired of her…which could take a very long time, I would recoup my losses with the Orions.”

The Antorian sat back and closed his eyes as Darnid brought himself to another climax. Disgust clouded his voice as he said,

“Yes well, we’ll see, shall we? I will go now, expect my payment at the usual time.”

He glanced at Darnid and wished he hadn’t. The diminutive alien had his fingers in his mouth, sucking and licking them. Around his digits Darnid muttered,

“Same time next month?”

The Ambassador nodded and pulled his cloak around his massive body. The next time Darnid looked in his direction he was gone, a surprising feat for one so large.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                          James took the stairs three at a time as he made his way up to his room. Shrugging off his backpack, he elbowed his door open and called for lights. It was just on one am and he was tired. With a very full day of lectures ahead of him, he kicked off his shoes and pulled his jumper over his head. His hands began to strip off his pants when he suddenly stopped and frowned.

“Oh hell,” he muttered. He pulled up his pants and left his room, going down the hall to the master bedroom. One quick look told him all he needed to know. With anger simmering, he went back downstairs and straight to his father’s study. Sure enough, the man was asleep at his desk, the bottle of whisky all but empty.

James closed his eyes and tried to stop the anger from spilling over.

“Damn you.”

None to gently he grabbed his father’s shoulders and shook him.

“Wake up Dad.”

Jean-Luc came awake abruptly and sat up too fast. A vicious cramp knotted the muscles of his back and he groaned, trying to get his fingers to the source of his pain. Heedless of the man’s discomfort, James gripped his father under his arms and hoisted him to his feet. Jean-Luc took an angry swipe at his son and lost his balance, causing both men to fall to the floor. James shoved his father to one side as he scrambled to his feet, growling menacingly,

“Look you stupid old drunk…get to your bloody feet so I can put you to bed.”

Anger turned to fury as Jean-Luc struggled to get his feet under him. He made it upright and surprised his son by grabbing fistfuls of his shirt and backing him up against the bookcase.

“You cocky little upstart! How dare you talk to me like that!”

The tall young man looked down at his father and gripped his wrists. Like Jean-Luc, James’s voice became deadly soft when he was truly angry.

“Let me go, Dad.”

Even drunk, Jean-Luc was a match for any man. His own voice softening dangerously, his dark hazel eyes bored into their twin’s.

“You will apologise to me first my boy.”

James snorted and increased his grip of his father’s wrists.

“For what? For calling you a stupid old drunk, or for being your son?”

Pain sliced through his anger and Jean-Luc gaped.

“What?”

“You heard me! Now let go of me before I hurt you.”

Shocked, Jean-Luc loosened his grip of James’s shirt. In a hushed whisper, the man looked up at his son and asked,

“What’s happened to you James?”

James pulled his father’s hands free and let them go in disgust.

“Me? It’s not me, Dad, it’s you! You’re a deluded fool who won’t accept the simple truth of your wife’s death. Instead you crawl into a bottle! I’m ashamed of you Dad! I’m ashamed to be your son!”

With one final derisive glare James stalked out of the room. Jean-Luc’s legs failed and he slumped to the carpet, staring at the place where his son had stood. He slowly slid to one side until he was lying curled on the floor. He was still there when the sun rose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 The sun that greeted the woman in the bed only served to remind her that another day of incarceration had begun. With absolutely no contact with anyone or anything, she had no idea where she was or indeed, why she was there.

From the outset she’d marked the passage of days with a small stroke on the wall. As she lay in her bed, her cerulean eyes travelled over the marks, making her sigh. With little else to do with her time, she counted the marks fairly regularly and she knew that there were 738 grey marks. She sighed and struggled to keep her tears at bay.

“Two years. Two long years.”

Her routine well established, she rose from the bed and went into the bathroom to relieve herself. Then she showered and dressed, her clothing, like everything else, provided by unseen means. The futility of her incarceration had dulled her mind over time and, as she sat at the table and stared at the door, her thoughts centred only on the coming meal.

She had no way to measure the passage of time other than watching the shadows as they crept across the room as the day progressed.

When the door suddenly clicked open, her eyes flicked to the wall and noted her keeper was on time…as usual.

The alien who entered was an impressive specimen. He was over two metres tall and massively built. The clothes he wore, like hers, were nondescript, giving no hint as to his origins. His dusky brown skin, iridescent green eyes and naked high domed head gave the woman no clue as to his species. From the moment she had regained consciousness in the bed, this was the only person she had seen. For the first few months of her capture she had tried every method available to her to communicate with the being, but his total lack of response afforded her little hope that he either heard or understood her. Not once had he giving any sign that he was even remotely interested in what she was trying to do. Not even sign language raised any reaction in him. One morning, two weeks into her imprisonment, in sheer frustration she had attacked the alien as he brought her meal, striking him several times with what would normally have been telling blows. Without uttering a sound he calmly dropped her tray and grabbed her wrists, squeezing until the woman was on her knees, keening in agony. Having gained her capitulation, the being released her and left the room, returning half an hour later with a fresh breakfast. While she stood by the table, glaring and shouting obscenities, he stoically cleaned the mess on the floor, then silently left. That incident took something from the woman. The hope that had burned so brightly inside her dimmed and she contemplated, for the first time, that she might be in worse trouble than she had previously thought.

Captain Beverly Picard stared at her tray, her hand automatically picking up her plastic cutlery. As she reached forward, the black electronic bracelet she wore caught her eye and she scowled. There was another one on her ankle and embedded in her chest was yet another device. She knew from bitter experience their purpose. The bracelet and anklet gave her captors her position at all times. The device in the muscle under her left breast activated when she approached the door leading to the outside. It caused mild pain, but the closer to the door she got, the worse the pain became. She had only once made it to the door but the agony caused her to lose consciousness. However she learned her lesson. Since that day she avoided the door.

Her prison was pleasant enough. There were three moderately sized rooms, a bedroom, bathroom and larger living room. The living room had a sliding glass door that led to a small courtyard that had a table and a chair. Surrounding the courtyard was a dark plastishield that let in natural sunlight, but remained opaque to the Captain. She had no idea what lay beyond the confines of her little world, no sights or sounds ever reached her.

She had access to generic reading material and a computer, but all it would do was play basic games and display scientific papers that were at least ten years out of date.

In one corner on the living area was situated some exercise equipment.

There was a small treadmill, a static cycle and an assortment of moderate weights. Beverly spent a lot of time using the equipment; the only other breaks to her otherwise stultifyingly boring days were the regular appearances of her keeper as he brought her meals.

As she mechanically ate her morning meal her mind drifted, her thoughts going, as always, to her husband and children. The ever-present ache in her heart swelled to agonising proportions and she closed her eyes, shaking her head as she savagely quashed her pain. She knew if she didn’t keep her anguish under tight control she would certainly go mad. In the early days of her imprisonment she pined for her family, her husband especially. In her waking hours she thought of him and her children…what were they doing? Were they all right? Were they searching for her? Would they ever be able to find her? Her anguished thoughts were bad enough during the day but at night, when sleep finally took her, her dreams invaded her mind and tortured her anew. Visions of her beloved Jean-Luc being tormented by her captors, her children forgetting who she was and not recognising her when she was finally reunited with them or worst of all, Jean-Luc in the arms of another woman. She so often woke, sobbing and distraught, that she slowly taught herself to sleep only very lightly, mostly avoiding the deep sleep her body cried out for. Over time, this quasi sleep deprivation altered her mind leaving her a parody of her former self. Dull, listless and compliant, no one who knew her would recognise the person she had become. Along with her hope and spirit, she successfully buried her self and merely existed. It was the only way she could survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Della surreptitiously watched Jean-Luc as she piloted the hover car into Melbourne. Habitually taciturn, he was even more withdrawn than usual and, as she studied his wan features, her worry increased.

Nothing was said as they transported to San Francisco and, as they entered the suite of rooms that constituted their work place, he walked into his office with a brusque,

“I’ll take my messages in ten minutes.”

 Lieutenant Jeremy Henderson stood, his mouth opening to acknowledge his instruction, but his boss was already closing the door. The young man cast Della a look of concern   and she summoned a small smile.

“He’s a little grumpy this morning.”

The Lieutenant raised his eyebrows and puffed out his cheeks, letting out a long breath.

“Oh great.”

The Captain offered a sympathetic look before going to her own office. Once behind her desk, she activated her computer and scanned through the accumulation of headers. Near the bottom of the list a line of text caught her eye. She sat back and stared, her heartbeat accelerating. Swallowing, she touched the screen, bringing up the message and began to read.

Ten minutes later she was knocking at Jean-Luc’s door, a PADD in her hand. She ignored Jeremy’s,

“Captain, the Ambassador doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

As she brazenly opened the door and marched through.

The Lieutenant was behind her, offering his apologies as Della approached the desk, proffering the PADD.

“I think you’ll want to see this Sir.”

Jean-Luc scowled at Della, but then his eyes settled on the PADD. With a flick of his hand he dismissed his secretary and took the device, grunting his permission for Della to sit.

He read for a few moments, his face a deepening scowl. Looking up, he shook his head.

“This makes no sense.”

Della shrugged.

“I know, but my source is sound.”

Jean-Luc rubbed his face.

“But why would the Antorians even consider this?”

The Captain sat forward and speared Jean-Luc with a measuring gaze.

“One upmanship.”

Jean-Luc shook his head.

“Oh surely not? I’ve been dealing with Ambassador Tar Taz for months now…he gave no indication that anything like this was on his agenda. In fact he’s been very careful to appear very compliant. No…there must be another reason, either that, or your source is wrong.”

With an emphatic shake of her head, Della refuted Jean-Luc’s claim.

“No! My source is absolutely rock-solid.”

Jean-Luc tossed the PADD onto the desk, sat back and folded his hands behind his head.

“All right, what then? I can’t believe it’s as simple as one upmanship.”

Della raised her hands and sighed.

“I don’t know. Like you said, it makes no real sense, besides we’re not offering admission into the Federation. This whole process has been about trade.”

The Ambassador sat forward and picked up the PADD. He read for a while then snorted.

“Well insisting on a delegation at the next sitting of the Council, as well as access to our weapons program…it’s absurd to even think we’d allow it. Those sorts of things are for Federation members only.”

Della waved a hand.

“Which they insist they don’t want. I don’t know Jean-Luc, I smell a rat.”

Tossing the PADD back onto the desktop, Jean-Luc fisted his hands and shook his head.

“Well time will tell. If your source is correct Tar Taz will be making his play soon. The talks are due to end by the end of the month.”

Della gazed at her friend and frowned. Risking his wrath, she said softly,

“Are you getting any sleep Jean-Luc?”

His glare faded and he sighed.

“Not really.”

“Want to talk about it?”
He shook his head.

“No…not unless you can tell me why my son hates me.”

A surprised woman gaped.

“James? James hates you? I can’t believe that.”

Jean-Luc’s face showed his derision.

“Oh you can believe it. He told me as much last night.”

Della lifted her hands and shook her head.

“But why?”

With a dismissive flick of his hand, Jean-Luc snorted.

“Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters Jean-Luc! Look James is eighteen years old. Boys that age often find conflict with their fathers…but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. Talk to him Jean-Luc.”

The Ambassador gave the woman a speculative look then closed his eyes. When he opened them, the subject was done with. Della took the hint and stood, saying gently,

“Would you like to come for dinner again tonight?”

Without lifting his eyes from his computer, Jean-Luc shook his head.

“No thank you, I have too much work to do.”

He didn’t see her sad smile. She left and went back to her office and, once seated, keyed in the code for James’s personal communicator. Fortunately he answered immediately.

“Hello.”

“James it’s Della Mason, your father’s Adjutant. Are you able to talk?”

“Yes Ms.Mason, I’m just on the way to another lecture.”

“Fine. Look James I’m worried about your father, would it be possible to meet?”

“Ah…yes…ah, how about this evening…say nine thirty at the University commissary?”

“Yes that’s fine. Thank you James, I’ll see you there.”

“Okay, bye.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      That evening Della was drinking a tepid tea when James appeared at her table. She smiled up at the handsome young man, savagely quashing her reaction to seeing someone who looked so much like her former lover. James put his cup down on the table, offered his hand and a grin.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced…despite the fact I’ve seen you plenty of times when you pick Dad up and bring him home.”

The Captain stood, her smile warm.

“Hello James.”

James’s grin widened.

“Hello to you Ms.Mason.”

As Della was sitting she chuckled.

“Oh no…it’s Della. I’m not old enough to be called Ms. Mason by someone as old as you!”

The young man laughed and took his seat. There passed a few moments of silence, broken by James.

“You said you were worried about Dad.”

Della sighed.

“Yes I am. He admitted to me that he’s not sleeping very well…and James…he said you hate him.”

James lowered his head and ran his fingers around the rim of his cup while gathering his thoughts. He took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds before slowly letting it out. He looked at Della, a wry smile on his face.

“It’s complicated.”

Della returned the smile.

“When it comes to your father, it usually is.”

James snorted softly and sat back, stretching his arms above his head.

“It’s true about the sleeping, but there’s a little more to it.”

Nodding thoughtfully, Della said softly,

“Can you elaborate?”

James’s smile faded and he frowned.

“Della, my father is a very important man…and his work is crucial to him, both as his career and for his peace of mind. I hesitate to discuss something that may impact on that.”

Della nodded.

“You’re worried about me saying something I shouldn’t.”

With a shrug, James spread his hands.

“You’re his Adjutant. If you thought his ability to work was compromised…you’d be honour bound to say something.”

Della sat back and folded her hands on the table.

“Fair enough, but why don’t we say this is off the record? I can tell you that whatever’s going on…it hasn’t affected his work, so officially I don’t have a problem.”

James gave the woman a long look, then asked,

“How well do you know my father?”

That brought a warm smile.

“Oh I think quite well. James I have to tell you that your father and I shared a relationship many years ago. Meeting him again after all that time only served to reinforce my opinion of him as a superlative Ambassador and a very nice man.”

The snort and derisive sneer took Della aback. Wisely she waited for him to speak.

“Well that superlative Ambassador has been drinking himself into a stupor every night. He says it’s so he doesn’t dream, but the truth is…he won’t accept Mum’s death. He’s hiding in a bottle and I, for one, have had enough!”

Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. Della sat up and sighed.

“I noticed he drank a lot last night…I thought he was just relaxing. What about his food intake?”

James shrugged.

“To be honest I’ve not seen him eat anything in weeks, but I’m not home at meal times much. The person to ask would be my sister, Adele.”

Della nodded thoughtfully.

“Well he usually has a light lunch with me but it’s not much. Is there anyone he can talk to?”

James shrugged again.

“I wouldn’t know Della. Mum and Dad always kept their work away from Adele and me. Once they came home it was just us, as a family.”

The Captain eased back in her chair and rubbed her chin.

“What about Starfleet? His former command?”

The smile that grew on the young man’s face pleased Della.

“Oh yeah, there’s Uncle Will and Aunt Deanna…and Uncle Geordi and Uncle Data.”

Della frowned, but a smile lingered.

“And who are they?”

James held up a hand in apology.

“Sorry. Captain William Riker, Commander Deanna Riker, Commanders Geordi LaForge and Data. All of the Enterprise.”

“That would be the Enterprise F?”

“Yep.”

Della sat forward and idly pushed her cup in circles.

“Do you think he’d talk to any of them?”

James shrugged, something he seemed to do often.

“I’m not sure. I know he still keeps in contact with them and they come to visit when the ship comes back to Earth…and Deanna is still the ship’s Counsellor…”

He shrugged again.

“I really don’t know Della. Maybe.”

The Captain smiled.

“Okay, I’ll look into it. Now James…do you really hate your father?”

James sighed and slumped back into his seat.

“No not really. It’s just…he’s always been in complete control…you know? Nothing ever fazed him, not when he was a Captain and not when he became an Admiral or an Ambassador. But this…he’s lost it Della. His refusal to accept Mum’s death has caused him to hide, not only in a bottle, but from Delly and me. And to be perfectly frank, I’m sick and tired of putting him to bed when I’ve found him passed out in the study.”

Della nodded, her expression one of sympathy.

“I see where you’re coming from James. I’ll make a couple of calls…we’ll see if we can’t help him.”

James looked at his chronometer and smiled.

“Thanks Della. Now I have to go. Would you like an escort to your car?”

The woman stood.

“No thank you James, I can find my way. Thank you for meeting me.”

The grin was rakish and once again Della was reminded of a younger Jean-Luc.

“No problem.”

It was a thoughtful Captain that left the building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Jean-Luc had worked diligently at his computer until nearly midnight. He’d heard James come in, but his son didn’t come in to see him. Adele had though. Just on ten his daughter had poked her head inside the study and said softly,

“I’m going to bed Dad.”

He looked up and turned his head, giving Adele a smile.

“Want me to tuck you in?”

His clear speech and the absence of any bottles made the young woman grin.
“Oh Dad…you haven’t tucked me in for ages.”

Jean-Luc stood and went to his daughter, gently gripping her shoulders and shaking them.

“You’re never too old to be tucked in by your Papa. You go up and I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

The delighted Adele giggled as he turned her and gently pushed her down the hall. He knew if he went back to his work he would invariably forget to go up to his daughter so instead he went into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Ten minutes later a fresh pot of tea was brewing and Jean-Luc was climbing the stairs.

The soft knock at the door made Adele say softly,

“Come in Dad.”

The Ambassador went in and sat on the bed.

“All comfortable?”

She sighed with happiness.

“Yes.”

He bent forward and kissed her brow.

“In that case, sleep tight, sweet dreams.”

He stood but before he could leave Adele sat up and called him.

“Dad?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry about what I said.”

Jean-Luc sat back on her bed and sighed.

“Adele…I understand why you said what you did, but you have to understand I can’t…no, actually I won’t accept your mother’s death until I have incontrovertible proof. As you well know, I have been investigating everything I can about the incident these last two years and there is too much left unexplained. Until I have a satisfactory answer to the entire event I will keep looking…and searching. Adele…I can’t let this go…I love her.”

The young woman sighed and brushed at the tear that tracked down her cheek.
“I do understand Dad, but it was good enough for Starfleet to accept. What could you possibly find that they couldn’t?”

The man sighed and rubbed his brow, feeling his advancing years.

“To be honest I don’t know, but something’s not right Adele, something about this whole situation feels wrong, and I’ve spent too many years of my life trusting my instincts to ignore them now.”

He sighed again.

“You’ll just have to trust me my love.”

Adele summoned a smile and pushed aside her misgivings.

“I do trust you Dad, I always have.”

Jean-Luc kissed her again and went to stand. Adele caught his wrist and looked up at his with pleading eyes. In a hushed voice she said,

“Dad…please don’t drink any more.”

A spike of anger made Jean-Luc close his eyes, but it was quickly followed by crushing guilt. He opened his eyes and smiled down at his daughter.

“I will try Adele.”

Adele smiled at her father and sighed.

“J’taime Papa.”

Tears welled in the man’s eyes.

“J’taime ma belle fille.”

His step was lighter when he went back to his study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   Now, as he shut off the computer and sat back in his chair he contemplated the trial that awaited him. His eyes travelled to the cupboard where he knew several unopened bottles of wine waited, but instead of succumbing to his need, he abruptly stood and stalked from the room, his brusque,

“Lights off!”

Disturbing the silence of the house. Scant minutes later he was in bed, staring at the ceiling in the utter darkness, but despite his fears, sleep eventually claimed him. It was not a peaceful rest though, his dreams came to haunt him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      He stood so straight and proud at the small rostrum in the forward lounge. He’d opted for a plain black suit, a small cream rose in the buttonhole of his lapel. His crisp white shirt was set off by a burgundy tie that had belonged to his brother. At his side stood his first officer also resplendent in civilian clothes. The tall man grinned in his usual rakish way and bent to say sotto voce,

“Did she say she would keep you waiting?”

Lowering his head, Jean-Luc smothered a smile, keeping his face expressionless, but his eyes twinkled.

“No Number One, she didn’t.”

The soft clearing of a throat brought the men to attention. The Captain standing before them in dress uniform frowned and did everything but waggle a finger.

“Quiet you two.”

Captain Jean-Luc Picard schooled his features and straightened his already ramrod straight back. Will Riker stifled a chuckle, tucked in his chin and tried to look serious. Jean-Luc was well aware of his best man’s amusement and sighed inwardly, wishing, not for the first time, that his bride would hurry up.

Suddenly soft music started and he turned slowly. Coming towards him was his beloved Beverly. Dressed simply in a flowing gown of ivory silk. It was unadorned stunningly beautiful, falling to her feet in a shimmering sleeve. In her hands was a posy of small cream roses, nestled within a halo of young fern fronds.

She was statuesque, serene and the most astonishingly gorgeous woman Jean-Luc had ever seen. His mechanical heart swelled in his chest as his eyes welled in tears. As she walked down the short aisle between the seats her progress was suddenly stopped by a tall young man. Jean-Luc frowned as he recognised the man. He whispered,

“James?”

Then watched in horror as his son raised his arm, the overhead light glinting off the blade of a long, sharp knife. His hand dropped quickly and the blade plunged into Beverly’s chest. Immediately blood spread over the fabric of her dress. Beverly’s mouth opened in a silent scream as the knife stabbed again and again. She fell to her knees and Jean-Luc finally found his senses. He took three steps towards his bride only to halt in shock as another person began to assault Beverly. This time he shouted.

“Adele…NO!”

By the time he got to Beverly she was covered with blood and her life was ebbing away. His son and daughter, covered in gore, turned to him and said in unison,

“This is all your fault.”

He dropped to his knees beside his bride to hear her whisper,

“Why Jean-Luc?”

Before a gout of blood bubbled up from her mouth and she died in his arms.

He was wrenched from his nightmare shouting over and over,

“It wasn’t my fault…it wasn’t my fault!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      James sat bolt upright in his bed, his heart pounding in fright. Trying to control his ragged breathing, he listened, attempting to identify what had shattered his sleep. The dark house offered nothing in its silence, but James was unconvinced. Something had woken him, something disturbing. He threw back the covers and exited his bed, ignoring his robe as he went to his door, opened it and stepped out into the hallway. In the dim light he saw his sister and waved her back into her room. Looking left and right in the darkness, his eyes settled on the top of the stairs and his feet began to carry him there, but he hesitated, looking back over his shoulder, down the hall to his father’s room. He sighed, angry that he should even hope that his father would be in his bed. Nevertheless, he turned and stalked to the master bedroom door and opened it, fully expecting to find the room empty. He was very surprised to see a dark shape, hunched over in the bed. As he cautiously approached he heard soft sobs. Very confused and concerned, James stood beside the bed and said softly,

“Dad?”

Jean-Luc, startled and humiliated, stiffened and turned his head away, wiping brusquely at his face. By the light of the moon, peeking in through the partly drawn drapes, James sat tentatively on the bed and laid a gentle hand on his father’s shoulder.

“Dad…what is it? Are you all right?”

Jean-Luc took a shuddering breath and lifted his lowered head, but he refused to look at his son. He spoke softly, but his voice was ragged and very deep.

“I’m fine James…it was nothing, I…I just had a bad dream, that’s all.”

The large warm hand on his shoulder gently squeezed and Jean-Luc grimaced at the concern and sympathy he heard in his son’s voice.

“Was it about Mum?”

The urge to deny the question rose quickly in Jean-Luc, but just as quickly he squashed it. He took another deep breath and struggled to gain control of his emotions.

“Yes.”

James bowed his head and closed his eyes. He spoke so softly Jean-Luc had to strain to hear him.

“I dream about her too.”

The two males sat in silence for a few minutes before Jean-Luc looked at his son and sighed.

“I drank so I could sleep without dreams.”

The admission both shocked and relieved the young man. He sighed and shook his head.

“Dad…”

Hearing the exasperation in his son’s voice made the Ambassador suddenly angry. He shrugged free of James’s hand and slid from the bed, stalking stiffly to the window and staring sightlessly out into the night. James silently cursed himself and tried again.

“Dad you know drinking like that would achieve nothing. Eventually you were going to have to face whatever it is you’ve been hiding from.”

The man spun around and glared at his son.

“You know nothing! You don’t know what its like to be told that the love of your life is gone! How the hell was I supposed to cope?”

James was tempted to stand and confront his father face to face, but showing maturity beyond his years, he remained seated and softened his expression.

“You forget Dad…Adele and I lost our mother. I know…we know how devastating that is.”

Jean-Luc’s voice cracked as he strode around the bed and loomed over his son.

“But James, what if she wasn’t gone? What if she wasn’t on the shuttle when it was destroyed?”

Showing sensitivity he usually kept hidden, but which his parents, especially his mother knew existed, James looked up into his father’s anguished eyes and said softly,

“She’s gone Dad. You have to let her go.”

Jean-Luc straightened and lowered his hands. His shoulders slumped and he suddenly looked older than his years. He sighed and turned, walking slowly back to the window. James stood and went to his father, standing beside him and lifting his head to gaze up at the stars.

“I’m sorry Dad; I wish I could help you.”

The older man sighed and bowed his head.

“You can James…by leaving your mind open. Just trust me, trust that I’m not a deluded old fool who can’t accept a simple truth.”

He turned to his son and gently gripped his shoulder.

“There’s more to this than we know James.”

James looked down into his father’s eyes and something in his heart squeezed. His love and respect for the man welled and he summoned a crooked smile.

“Okay Dad, as long as you stay off the booze.”

With a soft growl, Jean-Luc shook his head, but his voice was tinged with amusement.

“You are as single minded as your mother.”

James’s smile grew and he put an arm around his father’s shoulders.

“And as stubborn as my father.”

Jean-Luc snorted and gently pushed his son.

“Go back to bed.”

James left his father and walked to the door in silence, feeling the man’s eyes on his back. He turned at the door and said softly,

“I love you Dad.”

The voice that replied was strong and full of love and pride.

“And I love you James. Never forget that.”

Once again in his bed, James quickly fell asleep, but his father stayed awake for the rest of the long night, staring out of the window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    Breakfast next morning was more comfortable than it had been in months. Adele cast her brother a questioning look as he sipped his coffee and they both glanced at their father. He was a little pale and the dark circles under his eyes was indicative of lack of sleep, but the eyes themselves were clear and bright as was his demeanour.

He was reading from a PADD as he nibbled on some toast, his hand drifting occasionally to his cup, sipping the strong black coffee. Adele, wishing to take advantage of her father’s improved mood, softly cleared her throat.

“Dad?”

His eyes stayed on the screen, but he raised his head slightly.

“Hmm?”

“Can I stay at Paula’s tonight?”

There was a moment’s silence before Jean-Luc finally looked at his daughter, a frown on his face.

“It’s a school night.”

The young woman swallowed her dismay and tried again.

“Yeah but…”

Her father’s eyes hardened.

“It’s yes.”

Adele sighed and resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

Yes but Paula’s mother said it was okay and we can get so much more studying done and …”

Jean-Luc gently placed the PADD on the table and folded his arms.

“It’s a school night.”

This time Adele couldn’t contain her exasperation. She raised her hands and rolled her eyes.

“I know that Dad, but…”

“No.”

Now clearly angry and frustrated by her father’s implacable front, Adele savagely pushed her chair back and stood, her hands fisting on her hips.

“That’s so unfair! I’m seventeen for God’s sake, Dad. Stop treating me like a child!”

Father and daughter regarded each other, one with calm resolve, the other with fiery tempestuousness. James could see his sister was building up to an out and out display of temper. Wishing to preserve, or at least salvage the earlier pleasant atmosphere, he sat back and said into the tense silence,

“Dad, how about you let Delly stay at Paula’s later than usual? I can pick her up on my way back from the uni.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes travelled from his daughter to his son. With a speculative pursing of his lips, he raised one eyebrow.

“How late?”

James gave a noncommittal shrug.

“Oh…eleven, maybe closer to twelve.”

Jean-Luc frowned.

“It’s still a school night.”

James allowed a sly smile.

“Oh come on Dad. What were you doing a seventeen? You were at the Academy getting into strife.”

His face remained expressionless but his eyes twinkled.

“That may be the case, but Adele knows, as did you, school nights are not for entertainment.”

Adele opened her mouth to protest but the quick glance from her brother effectively silenced her. The young man sat forward, gesturing with his hands.

“Yeah but…”

The raised eyebrow from his father made James sigh theatrically.

Yes but Adele isn’t staying at Paula’s for entertainment, she and Paula are going to study. Come on Dad, Adele’s exams start next week.”

Instead of saying anything further, Jean-Luc reached for the coffee pot and topped up his cup. He then took a sip before settling his gaze on his daughter.

“Are you behind in your studies?”

Seeing the question for what it was, the now cautiously optimistic girl regained her seat and shook her head vehemently.

“No! I just want to brush up on everything, get it into my head again.”

Jean-Luc placed his cup on the table and idly ran his fingers around the rim.

“And your physics?”

Before Adele could answer, James interjected.

“No problem Dad, I’ve been helping her.”

The Ambassador kept his intense gaze fixed on his daughter. Adele, to her credit, held his gaze but her stomach churned. Eventually Jean-Luc sighed and waved a hand.

“Very well. But…”

He held up one finger.

“It’s straight to bed when you get home.”

Adele was out of her seat and hugging her father in one motion.

“Thanks Dad.”

Jean-Luc briefly closed his eyes, savouring the contact with his daughter. He gathered himself as she pulled away, coming to his feet as the front door chimed.

“That will be Captain Mason. Would you like a lift to school?”

Adele was about to accept when James said,

“That’s okay Dad, I can drop her off on my way.”

Jean-Luc offered a nod then planted a quick kiss on Adele’s cheek. He then walked around the table and gave his son’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. With a knowing smile, he left. James sat back and put hands behind his head, a smug grin on his face.

“You owe me…big!”

Adele screwed up her face in mock pain and held a hand to her forehead.

“Oh God…the ignominy! In debt to a tyrant. What’s the payment for your assistance big brother?”

The handsome young man snorted, his face stern, but his eyes danced with glee.

“Assistance? It was more than that little sister! What I did was demonstrate superior intellect. Going toe to toe with our father is no mean feat.”

Adele sidled around the table until she stood beside her brother. She hitched a hip onto the table edge and idly reached down to take a piece of his toast. She took a bite and chewed thoughtfully, her face passive. Her voice, when she spoke was not.

“And how much of your desire to see me liberated tonight had to do with Sarah Thompson?”

James growled and pushed his chair back, glaring up at his sister.

“You really are a troll sometimes Adele.”

She shrugged and took another bite of the toast.

“Perhaps, but you and I both know we have ulterior motives. Yes we both have work to do, but after I study, Paula and I are going to watch the latest vids from Celestial Rock. What are you and Sarah going to do?”

A sly smile spread across her brother’s face. He stood and accentuated his greater height by looming over her and tapping the tip of her nose.

“You’re way too young to understand.”

With an irritated snort, Adele ducked under James’s body and stalked to the sink. Over her shoulder she said archly,

“Well I don’t care how many times you get your rocks off, as long as you remember to pick me up from Paula’s.”

She flounced out of the room and James grinned.

“Ha!”

 

 

 

                     James cursed silently as he hurried to the parking lot. He and Sarah had dallied in the library, forgetting their study and indulging in some heavy petting in a secluded section of the cavernous building. Now it was already five to twelve and he was way behind time. Just as he reached his hover car, a hand reached out to grip his wrist.

“Oh I’m so glad I caught you. Can you give me a lift James? I left my access chip for my car in the library, I went back but it’s closed.”

His silent cursing increased rapidly.

“Look Sarah…I’d love to, but I’m late picking up my sister. If we get home too late my Dad will go ballistic.”

Sarah ran her hand up James’s sleeve and gently caressed his neck.
“Please James?”

Undone by her extraordinary green eyes, James sighed with resignation and unlocked his car.

“Hop in.”

The kiss was heated and the caressing hands left no doubt in James’s mind that Sarah intended to reward him for his gallantry. By the time he got his brain back on line, Sarah was sitting in the car, raising an expectant brow. James swallowed and got into the car, but before he could power up Sarah’s sultry voice brushed his ears.

“Opaque the windows James.”

As she spoke she slid her hand up his leg, stopping just short of his crotch. His eyes never left her as he pressed the control to darken the windows. She kissed him again, her tongue forcing itself into his mouth as her hand covered his growing erection. All thoughts of his sister fled his mind when he felt her opening his trousers. She broke the kiss and lowered her head as she freed him from his briefs. He closed his eyes and held his breath as he waited for the first exquisite sensation of her hot, wet mouth as it descended on his straining penis. He thought he was ready, but as she engulfed him he cried out and thrust up into her mouth. She chuckled sultrily around his penis as she insinuated a hand into his briefs to gently massage his testicles. They had done this before; in fact oral sex was all they had done to each other, wishing to wait a little longer before they had real sex.

James possessed control, he knew that. When he masturbated, or when he and Sarah had plenty of time he could prolong his pleasure as long as he liked but Sarah was aware of his obligations, even if he had forgotten, so she applied herself diligently to her task and quickly broke through her partner’s efforts to stave off his orgasm. He arched his back, pressing his head against the backrest as a particularly devilish application of tongue and teeth brought him to the edge. Panting and groaning he gasped,

“Oh God…Sarah…I’m going to come!”

Sarah smiled to herself and took his considerable size deep within her mouth. While gently squeezing his testicles she sucked hard and feathered her tongue over his fraenulum. It was more than enough. With a soft cry James came in a heady rush. Sarah continued to suck, drawing out his pleasure as he slowly softened. She let him slip from her mouth then sat back to admire him in the dim light. He swallowed twice before he found his ragged voice.

“Holy shit Sarah, that was incredible.”

Daintily wiping her mouth, she gave a wry smile.

“You’re welcome, but…”

She gently ran a finger down his face.

“You owe me.”

He could see the arousal in her eyes and he smiled. His eyes darkened and glittered as he kissed her, his fingers dancing up her thigh but she grabbed his hand, whispering,

“We don’t have time.”

His eyes widened and he gasped.

“Oh shit.”

As he tucked himself in and powered up the car, he cleared the windows and asked frantically,

“Computer, what is the time?”

The gentle feminine voice replied.

“The time is twenty three past twelve, pm.”

“Shit! Shit. Shit, shit!”

The car was in the air when his personal communicator chimed. He took the unit from his pocket and scowled when he read the screen. He pressed the button and tried to keep the panic out of his voice. As soon as the connection was established, Adele’s angry voice sounded.

“Where the bloody hell are you James?”

“Keep you shirt on Delly, I’m on my way.”

“How long?”

“Twenty minutes, tops.”

“You know Dad is going to crack a major sad.”

James sighed and would have closed his eyes but for the fact he was flying.

“Let me handle Dad. Be ready to leave when I arrive.”

His sister’s anger made her curt.

“Just bloody hurry up!”

As he closed the channel he pulled back on the yoke, raising the car out of the stream of traffic in the air up to a faster stream. He opened the throttle and the little car hurtled through the night causing Sarah to giggle.

“Any higher and we could join the mile high club.”

In a good natured grumble he muttered,

“Shut up.”

The silence was comfortable as they approached Paula’s home. They descended through the sparse traffic down to the suburban streets where he guided the craft into the driveway. Light spilled out of the house as the front door opened and closed. James pressed the door release and once Adele was inside, he lifted off and was closing the door even as the craft gained height. Adele’s voice broke the warm silence.

“Sarah? What are you doing here?”

Half turning in her seat, Sarah looked back at Adele and grinned.

“James is taking me home.”

The seventeen year old threw her hands in the air and moaned.

“Oh great! Where do you live?”

Hearing the panic in the younger girl’s voice, Sarah chuckled.

“Hey, take it easy! I don’t live that far from you.”

Adele glared.

“Fifty metres is too far! James do you know the time?”

Her brother refrained from answering the question. Instead he increased speed. Adele sat forward and peeked over her brother’s shoulder.

“Slow down James.”

His reply angered her.

“Shut up.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up! You’re going too fast, slow down.”

Sarah was about to tell Adele to leave her brother alone when suddenly everything went mad. Hover craft traffic travelled at different heights depending on speed. To change streams, one waited until encountering the frequently spaced feeders to either rise or descend into a new stream. Because James was relatively close to his destination, he didn’t bother to rise up into the main flows, but kept low in the local traffic area, an area strictly speed controlled. Zooming too fast above a street, he took a bend too rapidly only to be confronted by another car coming straight at him. With a stifled curse he wrenched the yoke, pulling the craft around too tight. Exceeding the limits of the car, it veered off, spiralling drunkenly before glancing off a tree, slamming down onto the street surface then rising again to a height of eight metres before the reactor shut down and the craft dropped like a stone. The noise of the crash brought residents out of their homes. Two men cautiously approached the darkened wreck, one calling for an ambulance. Between the two of them they managed to get the passenger door open and Sarah tumbled onto the road. The older of the two men turned his head and called,

“Someone bring a light!”

Sarah groaned and sat up, her fingers probing a cut on her brow. She heard James grumbling and chuckled.

“Nice one ace!”

One of the men helped Sarah to her feet while the other pulled at the rear passenger door, helped by Adele as she pushed from the inside with her shoulder. Light suddenly flooded the scene and Adele glanced at her brother, frowning at his odd expression. She was about to speak when Sarah gasped.

“James!”

Adele heard the shock in her voice and abandoned her assault on the door to scoot forward to get a better look at her brother. As her eyes slid from his bloody face, she gasped.

“Oh bugger!”

The yoke had collapsed onto James’s lower abdomen. A dark stain of blood coloured his shirt in stark contrast to his pale face. She gripped his shoulder and whispered.

“Oh James…”

He smiled and wiped at the blood stained sweat that trickled down his face.

“Hey…don’t go all girly on me Delly.”

In the distance the approaching emergency services sirens could be heard. Very quickly the glaring flashes of their strobe lights illuminated the area. An ambulance and a police vehicle settled nearby and two officers jogged to the wreck. Their assessment was brief and professional. Adele was freed within minutes, but it took almost thirty minutes to free her brother. No one was allowed to accompany James to the hospital. Sarah and Adele were checked at the scene and their minor injuries dealt with. Bundled into the police car, they were escorted to their homes.

 

                   Unable to go to bed until his children were home and reluctant to do so because of the nightmares, Jean-Luc was in the study, but his mind wasn’t on the text that glowed on the computer screen. Three times he had picked up his personal communicator only to toss it back on the desk in disgust. He glanced at the clock and glowered. Once again he picked up his communicator, this time opening a channel and beginning to input James’s number.

The front door chime stilled his fingers and his head snapped up, his stomach souring.

“Who the hell could be at the door at this hour?”

He moved through the house quickly, trepidation dogging his steps. The lights were on in the entryway and he could see, through the lead lit side panels of the door, a uniformed figure standing under the light of the porch. He opened the door and saw two things. Adele, with blood on her shirt and two police officers.

“Ambassador Picard?”

“Yes, I’m Ambassador Picard.”

“Sir, there’s been an accident.”

Keeping his voice steady with an effort, Jean-Luc stared into the man’s eyes, willing the news to be good.

“Where is my son?”

The tall sergeant smiled and held up a hand.

“He’s in hospital Sir, but I have been informed his injuries aren’t life threatening, although he is in surgery.”

Jean-Luc gave a short nod.

“I see. Which hospital?”

“Melbourne General.”

Jean-Luc was about to say more when the sergeant said softly,

“There will be charges laid Ambassador.”

“And they are?”

“Exceeding the speed limit in a local area and driving dangerously, causing injury. Your daughter and the other passenger received minor injuries.”

Jean-Luc raised an eyebrow.

“Other passenger?”

The large man consulted a small PADD.

“Sarah Thompson.”

Jean-Luc took a large breath, held it for a few seconds then let it out slowly.

“I see. What is the procedure in this situation?”

The sergeant smiled.

“Once your son is discharged and he’s feeling up to it, bring him and his sister to the station. They can give their statements and the charges will be laid. A date will be set for an informal hearing before a magistrate. Unless he wishes to contest the charges, appropriate punishment will be set then. Hopefully no actual conviction will be recorded.”

Jean-Luc pursed his lips, his eyebrows raised.

“No conviction?”

The policeman smiled.

“No Sir. In cases such as these we feel it disadvantages someone as young as your son to bear a conviction, which, as you know, he would have for life. The judiciary had decided, as long as the guilty party agrees to re education in safe driving techniques, that and performing community service, usually at a hospital, suffices and no conviction is recorded. Oh…there will also be a fine.”

Jean-Luc nodded and gave a wan smile.

“Well all in all, I consider him very lucky. Is that all sergeant?”

The big man grinned.

“Yes Ambassador, good night.”

Jean-Luc ushered Adele inside then took her shoulders and stared into her eyes.

“Are you all right?”

Her voice hushed, she had trouble looking her father in the eye.

“Yes Papa.”

“Fine. I can get someone to come and stay while I go to the hospital.”

The young woman took her father’s hand, her voice breaking.

“No! I want to come too.”

For a few seconds father and daughter stared into each other’s eyes, before Jean-Luc gave a curt nod.

“Very well. Go and get changed, I’ll wait down here.”

Adele turned and took a few steps before she stopped.

“Papa…I…”

He held up a hand and shook his head.

“Not now Adele.”

She nodded sadly and went up the stairs to her room. Jean-Luc went back to the study and contacted the hospital.

The ride to the hospital was taken in silence. Once there, Jean-Luc and Adele were ushered into a dimly lit room. Lying in a bed was James, a white coated woman standing beside him. She turned to the pair and smiled.

“Ambassador Picard?”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes.”

“I am Doctor Lydia Humphries. Your son is doing well; he’s been lightly sedated and will sleep until morning. He told me before he went to sleep that you are not to stay here overnight.”

Jean-Luc smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He looked down at his son and sighed.

“What were his injuries?”

Doctor Humphries picked up a PADD and frowned.

“Nasty, but not life threatening, at least not here in the city. He had a perforated bowel, ruptured peritoneum and ruptured abdominal muscle wall. He’s going to be a little tender when he wakes up.”

With a soft grunt, Jean-Luc wiped a hand over his face. Adele moved closer to her brother and gently touched his face. The Doctor said softly,

“You can’t do anything here, why don’t you go home? We’ll contact you in the morning when he’s ready to be discharged.”

Jean-Luc shook his head and was about to politely refuse, when Adele said quietly,

“The Doctor’s right Dad.”

Father and daughter held each other’s gaze before Jean-Luc sighed.

“Very well.”

The ride home was silent but once they were inside, Jean-Luc went to go to his study but Adele caught his hand.

“No Dad, we need to talk about this.”

The tired man shook his head.

“I don’t think so Adele, perhaps in the morning.”

The young woman gritted her teeth and shook her head.

“No Dad. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but we have to. You have questions, and I need to tell you what happened.”

Growing angry and about to dig his heels in, Jean-Luc saw the determination in his daughter’s eyes and sighed in capitulation. Instead of saying anything, Jean-Luc gestured to the living room. They entered and sat side by side in silence, the air thick with tension. Eventually Adele sighed and rubbed her eyes.

“I’m surprised you didn’t call me.”

Jean-Luc grunted softly.

“I nearly did. When you weren’t home by midnight I really started to worry.”

Adele regarded her father.

“So why didn’t you call?”

That brought a rueful smile.

“Because you’re seventeen and I thought you deserved the benefit of the doubt. Besides, your elder brother was supposed to be picking you up. If anything had gone wrong, I expected him to call me.”

There were several moments of silence before Jean-Luc said quietly,

“What happened?”

Adele shrugged.

“James was late, I don’t know why, but I can guess.”

Jean-Luc nodded slowly.

“Sarah Thompson?”

Adele smiled.

“Uh huh. She was in the car when he finally arrived. We were going to her place to drop her off when the accident happened.”

With a deep sigh, Jean-Luc rubbed his forehead.

“And was he travelling too fast?”

“Yeah.”

Jean-Luc gave his daughter a look and she rolled her eyes.

“Yes.”

“It’s not like you to let your brother drive recklessly.”

Adele sighed.

“I told him to slow down Dad. He told me to shut up.”

Jean-Luc frowned.

“That doesn’t sound like James; in fact driving dangerously doesn’t sound like him at all.”

Adele laughed bitterly.

“Oh come on Dad.”

She enumerated her points on her fingers.

“He was really late, probably because he’d been snogging Sarah and that after talking you into letting me stay out. And Sarah was in the car. Nothing like having your girlfriend by your side to entice a bloke to drive like a maniac.”

Jean-Luc smiled ruefully and nodded.

“I see your point.”

He then sighed.

“Well we can’t do anything about it now. I think we should both try to get some sleep.”

He stood and looked down in confusion when Adele remained seated. She lifted her head, tears in her eyes. Softly she said,

“Dad…I didn’t study the whole time I was at Paula’s. In fact we stopped early to watch the latest rock vids. I’m sorry.”

Smothering a smile, Jean-Luc sat beside his daughter and put an arm around her shoulders. He leaned to her ear and whispered,

“You think I didn’t know? I was young once too.”

Adele gasped softly then flung her arms around her father, hugging him fiercely. Into his neck she murmured,

“J’taime Papa, J’taime.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   Next morning Jean-Luc called his daughter as he passed her room.

“Come on Adele, I’ll get breakfast going.”

Her muffled reply made the man grin.

“Okay Dad. I’ll be down in a minute.”

Once in the kitchen, he put the kettle on, feeling like a real Earl Grey instead of a replicated one, but before he programmed the breakfast order he made three calls. One was to James’s university, explaining his absence. The next was to Adele’s school for the same reason. The last call was to Della Mason.

“Good Morning Ambassador, I’m just leaving.”

“Well you can forget about me this morning Captain. James had an accident last night and is in hospital. I will be going there later this morning and I probably won’t be coming into the office until much later this afternoon.”

“Is he all right?”

“Yes, he’s being discharged very soon.”

“What about the meeting with the Antorian Ambassador? That was scheduled for this morning.”

Jean-Luc scowled and closed his eyes.

“Blast! Look, ask him if we can move it to this afternoon, then call the Federation secretary and tell her I’ll see her later, after I’ve seen the Ambassador.”

He could hear the wince in her voice.

“She’s not going to be happy Sir, that appointment took weeks to arrange.”

Jean-Luc sighed.

“I know. Tell her what’s happened, I’m sure she’ll be sympathetic once she knows.”

“Very well Sir. Tell James to get better soon.”

“Will do.”

Jean-Luc terminated the call just as Adele sauntered into the kitchen. As he went to the boiling kettle he pointed to the replicator and said over his shoulder,

“I’ll have scrambled eggs on whole grain toast.”

Adele nodded silently and placed his order, then hers, bringing the plates to the table.

They ate in silence for a while before Adele asked quietly,

“Dad…how come you don’t have croissants and coffee any more for breakfast?”

Jean-Luc kept his eyes on his plate as he said roughly,

“That’s what I had when your mother was here.”

The young woman frowned.

“But…”

Jean-Luc looked up, his dark eyes hard.

“Leave it alone Adele…just…let it go.”

Adele shrugged, but her heart went out to her father. She was pouring them both a cup of tea when Jean-Luc’s communicator rang. It was the hospital, telling him they could come and collect James.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Jean-Luc knew his son was in discomfort, but resisted the urge to help him as they walked out into the car park. The ride home was tense, nothing much was said. Once in the kitchen, Jean-Luc replicated James a cup of coffee, and a tea for Adele and himself. They all sat in uncomfortable silence before James snorted and rubbed his forehead.

“I suppose I’m grounded for the next ten years?”

Jean-Luc looked at his son, his eyes hard and his voice deceptively soft, a sure sign of brewing anger.

“It’s not funny James.”

The lad sighed.

“I know Dad, sorry.”

Adele, wishing to ease the tension, smiled and said,

“Hey you’ve been wanting a new hover car anyway.”

James smiled his gratitude but his father growled,

“You might have been killed! And what about your passengers? Was speeding and driving recklessly worth injuring your sister? Or Sarah? Or you?”

James sat back and closed his eyes.

“I know Dad…look you’re right, what I did was really stupid, but it’s done. What can I do to make up for it?”

Jean-Luc sighed and made an effort to quell his anger.

“I’m not sure. You will be charged with several offences, you’ll probably be doing community service for a while and you’ll be fined and as for your licence…”
The man shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

James grunted.

“Bloody hell, I need my licence to get to uni.”

Jean-Luc’s anger spiked again.

“Well you should’ve thought of that before you piloted the car like a maniac!”

James sat up and glowered.

“It was not like a maniac! Give me some credit for some sense! Yes, I drove too fast in the wrong zone, but gee Dad, you make it sound like a capital offence!”

Jean-Luc stood and fisted his hands.

“It may well have been if you had killed someone! And far be it from me to point out the obvious, but if you hadn’t been running so late, you wouldn’t have had to speed in the first place! What the hell held you up anyway?”

James reddened and coughed into his hand, wincing as his newly repaired stomach muscles complained.

“Ah…Sarah and I forgot the time…we were at the library studying.”

Jean-Luc folded his arms and glared down at his son.

“The library closes at midnight James. The police told me your accident occurred at nearly ten past one. It’s not that long a flight to Paula’s. What were you doing for nearly half an hour while your sister was waiting for you to pick her up?”

James looked at his father, then quietly said,

“Delly, give us a minute will you?”

Knowing now wasn’t the time to complain at being asked to leave the room, Adele silently stood and left. James took a deep breath while his father waited.

“Sarah and I lost track of time in the library and just as I got to the car, she appeared and told me she’d left her access code chip for her car in the library. Of course it was closed by then and she asked me to give her a lift home. I said okay and…she…well, she was really grateful…and showed me how much…in the car.”

Jean-Luc lowered his head and groaned softly.

“Oh Christ James. Are you using an implant? Is she?”

Reddening further, James tried to keep his voice steady.

“It’s not like that Dad. We had sex, but not…you know, not…intercourse.”

The Ambassador took a deep breath.

“All right, I see. So you wasted half an hour in your dalliance and tried to make up time by speeding?”

“Pretty much.”

Just then Jean-Luc’s communicator rang. He answered curtly.

“Picard.”

“Ambassador the Federation secretary wants to see you urgently. She says it can’t wait.”

“Captain…”

“I’m sorry Sir; it looks like something big has come up.”

Jean-Luc looked down at his chastened son and sighed.

“Very well. I’ll drive to the nearest transport station and beam over.”

“Thank you Sir.”

James looked up at his father and said quietly,

“I’ll drive you Dad.”

Jean-Luc’s glare withered the young man, but to his credit he maintained eye contact.

“I don’t think so James.”

James stood slowly and held out his hand.

“Come on Dad, you know how much trouble there’ll be trying to get the car back tonight…and parking will be horrendous. Give me the chip. I’ll drive you then I’ll come home, pick up Delly and take us both to the police station.”

Painted into a corner, Jean-Luc grunted.

“Oh very well, but I’m not happy about it!”

James grinned but it soon faded as his father muttered,

“This discussion is far from over my lad.”

It was a very subdued young man who smiled wanly at his sister as he went to wait at the front door while his father fetched his brief case.

Jean-Luc explained what was happening to Adele then left, his mind trying to push aside his concerns to concentrate on his job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   Federation secretary Margaret Hick was pacing in front of her desk when Jean-Luc knocked at her door. She stopped her restless movement and called,

“Enter.”

As soon as the Ambassador had set foot in the room, Margaret stalked to him, brandishing a PADD.

“You’re Adjutant tells me you knew about this!”

Showing outward calm, Jean-Luc took the PADD, activated it and read, all the while ignoring the secretary, who had resumed her pacing. He lowered the device and nodded.

“Yes, Captain Mason showed me this a few days ago.”

The woman stopped in her tracks, her face and tone incredulous.

“And you did nothing? Why wasn’t I informed?”

Jean-Luc sighed.

“Because I don’t think it has any bearing on the talks. Look secretary the Antorians can manoeuvre as much as they like, you and I know those demands, and I must point out nothing has been said officially, are not going to be met. These talks are for a treaty, not for admission of Antoria into the Federation. Tar Taz knows that.”

Hick rounded her desk and sat, placing her hands on the desktop.

“But Jean-Luc, that…”

She pointed to the PADD,

“Says they want our weapons specs and a delegation on the Council!”

The Ambassador shrugged.

“We both know both things are patently impossible.”

“Then why?”

Jean-Luc shrugged again.

“Who knows? Until something is said officially my advice is to ignore it.”

The secretary scowled.

“This source is very good.”

“Agreed, but what can we do? If we say anything it may tip our hand, in any case it would certainly compromise our source.”

Margaret sighed, her shoulders slumping.

“You’re right I suppose. I just hate surprises.”

Jean-Luc smiled.

“You and me both. If there’s nothing else?”

The secretary shook her head then frowned.

“Your son…how is he?”

“Oh he’s fine, thank you.”

“Very well. Thank you Ambassador, that will be all.”

Jean-Luc was back in his office in under ten minutes. Della entered with him and went to the replicator, getting them both a cup of tea.

“Are you ready for Ambassador Tar Taz?”

Jean-Luc took his tea with a nod of thanks then smiled grimly.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Della smiled and went to the door.

“Fifteen minutes?”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes, that will be fine.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    Ambassador Tar Taz sighed as he looked at his superior. His accommodations in the Federation’s main building in London were comfortable and well appointed but he had been on Earth too long. He had been supplied with a secure communication system and his twice weekly contact with home was something he looked forward to. He knew by the agitated curling of the eye stalks that his superior was upset.

“But why Tar Taz? You have been in negotiations for over ten months now. Surely you can bring the talks to a close? The Emperor is getting impatient and it’s me who has to deal with him.”

Bowing four times as was the custom of his people to show contrition, Tar Taz bent his eye stalks forward and smiled.

“My apologies Fyn Har. Their Ambassador is s stickler for protocol, I’m surprised we have achieved as much as we have.”

The older being huffed, his eye stalks stiffening.

“That may be so Tar Taz, but what do I tell the Emperor?”

The massive being shrugged and spread his hands.

“I’m afraid I can’t offer any suggestions Sir, although we are making progress.”

The Aide wiped at a sweaty brow and sighed.

“Can you give me anything? Anything at all? A time for the resolution of the talks perhaps?”

Seeming to consider the request, Tar Taz bowed his large head and scratched his receding chin. His eye stalks lifted upright as the being raised his head, a smile in place.

“I think another month should see the treaty ratified Sir. Yes…I’m sure of it.”

Fyn Har scowled but took the news with resigned fatalism. He bowed his ponderous head, his eye stalks lowering as well.

“Very well Tar Taz, I will inform the Emperor. Antoria out.”

Once the channel had been closed, the Ambassador took a device from within his clothing and attached it to his computer. He waited patiently as the gadget integrated itself into the computer and was soon rewarded with a new screen. He inputted a series of numbers and again waited while the computer digested the new information. He knew he had been successful when a new image appeared. It was the great seal of the Romulan Empire. Within seconds a face appeared.

“Yes Tar Taz?”

“We are almost ready my friend. By the month’s end we should have Picard in our pocket.”

The Romulan senator smiled, but all it did was make his visage more cruel.

“And his wife?”

“She is in our safe keeping.”

“Where?”

The Antorian smiled depreciatingly.

“It would be unwise to disclose that, but rest assured, she is close, but far away enough to be safe from prying eyes.”

The Romulan sneered.

“My sources tell me the Humans know about our ship.”

Tar Taz turned his hands palm up and shrugged.

“They know nothing. All they have is an unsubstantiated report of an unidentified ship. As far as I know, no one here has given it any thought.”

The senator shook his head.

“From what I know of Picard, it is highly unlikely he would discount such a report.”

“That may be so, but who would listen to him? Starfleet is so certain the Doctor died in the shuttle; they held a memorial service for her! No my friend, he may have suspicions, but nothing to work with. Trust me, once we spring our little trap he will be ours.”

The Romulan grinned, his hard eyes twinkling.

“And once that occurs, your little coup on Antoria can begin. Tell me Tar Taz, what will your first edict as Emperor be?”

Spreading his arms wide, the Ambassador opened his mouth in a silent laugh.

“Oh that’s easy! To grant unlimited access to Antoria by the Romulan Empire of course. Once your base is constructed you will have a strategic post within striking distance of Federation space.”

The senator nodded.

“And you will have wealth untold. You have done well Tar Taz; I look forward to your next communiqué.”

The Antorian bowed, his mouth split into a huge grin.

“Yes senator I must go. Until next time.”

The screen went blank just as the overhead speaker came to life.

“Ambassador you are due to transport to San Francisco in five minutes.”

He took the device from the computer and secreted it in his clothing. Taking a few seconds to compose himself, he lifted his head and said,

“Very well, I will make my way to the transport room.”

“Thank you Sir.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                As had the meetings of the past few months, Jean-Luc was left feeling frustrated and disgruntled by the latest round of talks. Following a now well established pattern, Tar Taz was cordial and infinitely polite, but, also infuriatingly obtuse. Try as he might, Jean-Luc was unable to move the discussions forward in any meaningful way. Yes the Antorian agreed, at least in principle, that the suggested trade in goods was fair and the exchange in scientific data pertaining to their respective areas of space were also equitable, but as for actually signing on the dotted line…the alien hedged. Tar Taz both sensed and felt the underlying tension in his Ambassadorial counterpart and smiled inwardly. He gleefully listened, laughing inside himself while outwardly projecting nothing but concerned interest as Jean-Luc tried ever so diplomatically to secure a resolution to the talks. He skilfully deflected the Human when he attempted to corner Tar Taz into making a decision one way or the other, but…and Tar Taz found this very interesting, towards the end of the current talks Jean-Luc had, for the first time, allowed his frustration to show. They had been parrying back and forth over the suggested dissemination of mineral ores when Jean-Luc suddenly slammed his PADD down onto the table, lowered his head and closed his eyes. The Antorian looked on with smug satisfaction as his counterpart took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds before slowly letting it out. By the time Jean-Luc raised his head and locked his eyes on the alien, Tar Taz was the epitome of concern.

“Are you all right Ambassador Picard?”

Jean-Luc allowed a small smile which didn’t reach his eyes. He waved away the question, instead asking in a soft voice,

“Do you want this treaty for your people Ambassador?”

Affecting confusion, the large alien made sure his eye stalks curved gently inward as he face frowned.

“I’m not sure I understand.”

Jean-Luc sat back, studying the Antorian.

“It’s just that you seem to hesitate so much. Ambassador the treaty is an equitable one, mutually beneficent to our peoples. What can I do to reassure you as to the Federation’s sincerity? Our charter is open to all, you are free to contact any Federation world for another opinion…this treaty is sound, economically, fiscally…how can I assist you in making your decision?”

The triumphant satisfaction in finally breaking through the walls the Human so resolutely stayed behind almost made Tar Taz loose his composure. To make sure his voice would be suitably contrite when he spoke, he waited a few seconds before sighing.

“Ambassador Picard I can only apologise for my recalcitrance. Antorians are a cautious people, it is the main reason we have eschewed contact with others for so long.”

The large alien lowered his eye stalks and sighed again.

“And I must remind you, I cannot make the final decision on my own. That must come from the Emperor himself and to that end, I have been informed that my Emperor wishes to discuss matters with me, but unfortunately that may take a few weeks, two at least.”

The Antorian lifted his massive head and focussed his unswerving gaze on the Human.

“All I can ask is that you be patient.”

His command façade back in place, Jean-Luc gave a gracious bow of his head and offered a rueful smile.

“I apologise for my lapse Ambassador…it will not happen again. Of course I will wait; the Federation values this treaty, as do I.”

Both beings came to their feet and bowed.

As Jean-Luc strode towards the exit from the building, Della fell into step beside him and cast a side long glance over his angry face. She held her tongue until they entered their building.

“I take it things didn’t go well.”

Jean-Luc grunted as they entered the lift, but when he reached up and rubbed his eyes, some of the tension left his frame.

“In the course of my years of service I have encountered a wide variety of species and in doing so, I have experienced the gamut of personalities and cultural psychs but the Antorian Ambassador would have to be one of the most stubborn, cautious, suspicious beings I have ever met.”

As the lift door opened on their floor, Jean-Luc stepped out, then halted. Deep in thought, he addressed the floor.

“I want to know more about him Captain. I get the feeling there’s more to him than we’ve been made aware.”

Relieved at hearing the resolve in his voice, Della smiled and gave a nod.

“I’ll get right onto it Sir, but before I do, there’s something you should see.”

Knowing such a statement required the privacy of his office to disclose, Jean-Luc remained silent as they crossed the anteroom, waving the young secretary back into his seat. Once inside, Jean-Luc went to his desk, but remained standing as he turned to face his Adjutant. Della stood in front of him and handed over a PADD. Jean-Luc read then snapped his head up.

“How old is this information?”

The Captain frowned.

“That’s a little hard to say. It came via three people in two different sectors, but…it is rock solid.”

Jean-Luc closed his eyes and tried to slow his mechanical heart.

“You realise what this means”
Della’s smile disappeared and she struggled to keep her voice even.

“Jean-Luc it’s not conclusive. Yes the information is sound, but it proves nothing.”

She almost winced at the anger and pain in his eyes.

“Not conclusive? The unsubstantiated, unidentified ship that was reported as being near to Beverly’s shuttle when it was destroyed has now been identified, not only proving its existence, but as Romulan and you still insist that’s not conclusive? What’s wrong with you?!”

Raising her hands to placate her angry boss, Della strove to keep calm.

“Jean-Luc think about it for a moment. Yes the existence of a Romulan ship in the area is suspicious in relation to what eventuated but really, what does it prove? The shuttle was near the Neutral Zone…that ship may have had a legitimate reason for being there.”

Jean-Luc hated the sympathy in her eyes, but swallowed his anger. He took a deep breath to calm himself then straightened his shoulders.

“All right, I agree there’s room for speculation, but I still feel this is of vital importance.”

Della smiled.

“And I agree with you! I’ll keep my sources on the trail for more about that ship. Maybe they can shed some more light on the situation.”

Jean-Luc’s smile made Della’s heart sing.

“Very well. Now if there’s nothing else. I’m going home; I would like to see my children.”

The Captain grinned.

“Well in that case, I’ll go too. Can I run you home?”

Jean-Luc’s smile widened.

“Yes, that would be kind, thank you.”

Della should have quelled the heady rush of emotion his words evoked, but she was too happy. They walked close together on their way to the transporter room and Della was still grinning as they dematerialised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    James and Adele were in the kitchen when Jean-Luc found them. He could tell by their sombre looks that things had not gone well at the Police station. They stared glumly at their mugs while Jean-Luc replicated himself a cup of tea and it wasn’t until he was sat at the table that James looked up and offered a wan smile.

“What was your day like?”

The Ambassador took a sip of his Earl Grey and shrugged.

“About the same as it usually is, but I am more concerned about you. How did it go?”

James sat back and ran a hand through his dark hair, making it spike in unruly waves.

“I’m being charged with dangerous driving involving injury, speeding and misuse of local traffic areas.”

Jean-Luc bowed his head and took another sip of his tea.

“When is the hearing?”

“Next week, the fourteenth.”

Jean-Luc looked at his son, noting the paleness of his skin.

“How are you feeling?”

The lad snorted, then winced.

“I’m okay Dad.”

Adele pushed her mug around in idle circles before summoning the courage to speak.

“Dad?”

Jean-Luc’s eyes settled on his daughter, his eyebrows raised.

“Yes.”

“Sarah Thompson’s mother called, she wants to speak with you…she sounded really pissed.”

His brows immediately descended.

“Adele!”

The young woman held up her hands in exasperation.

“Well she did!”

Jean-Luc’s voice dropped dangerously.

“And she is entitled to be angry! How is Sarah? What were her injuries?”

James sighed and rubbed his face.

“She had a cut on her forehead and two broken fingers.”

“Have you spoken to her?”

“Yeah.”

Before his father could correct him, James held up a hand and amended,

“Yes.”

“And?”

James looked up in confusion.

“And what?”

“What did she say? How is her mother taking it?”

With a look of resigned guilt, the lad reddened.

“Oh well…she’s been grounded for a month and she’s not allowed to see me for a while either.”

Jean-Luc snorted.

“Well that seems more than fair.”

His scrutiny of his son told the Ambassador that there was more bothering the young man. Keeping his voice low and steady, he asked softly,

“Is there something else James?”

Somewhat startled by his father’s perspicacity, the redness on James’s face deepened.

“Ah…the insurance company called.”

“And?”

“They want to talk to you about the wreck.”

“I see. Did they say the policy will be honoured?”

James shrugged, his embarrassment growing.

“They didn’t say.”

Jean-Luc sighed.

“Where is the wreck now?”

“Carmichael’s in Hurstbridge.”

Jean-Luc nodded thoughtfully.

“Is there anything you wish to get from the wreck?”

The lad shook his head morosely.

“No, the police had already got everything out. They gave it to me in a box at the station.”

Jean-Luc stood and tugged down on his shirt, a habit of long standing.

“Very well, it seems I have a few calls to make. When I am finished I would like to speak with you James…Adele, I take it you have study to do?”

Adele looked up at her father and inwardly winced at the hardness she saw in his eyes. She came to her feet and pushed her chair in.

“Yes Dad.”

Just before she left the kitchen she gave her brother’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. He turned his head and smiled wanly up at her, his dark hazel eyes imparting his love and gratitude at her gesture of sympathy and solidarity. Jean-Luc watched this in silence before following Adele from the room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     For the twenty minutes that his father was gone, James sat in his chair in the kitchen staring into his half empty mug. His mind went over the fateful night, colour rising to his cheeks as he recalled Sarah’s erotic ministrations in the car park. To date, he had never had proper intercourse with Sarah, or any other girl for that matter, but their games had been getting more and more torrid and he knew it was just a matter of time before they had full on sex. He looked forward to that time, feeling a stirring in his groin at the thought of penetrating Sarah. Some of his male friends who had had sex told him about the experience and he yearned to discover for himself what it was like. Moving on, his thoughts took him unerringly through his actions that night…his decision to take Sarah home, the dalliance, the race to pick up Adele and the desire to try and make up time on their way to Sarah’s home, all leading to the crash. He sighed and rubbed his face tiredly, muttering,

“You bloody idiot Picard.”

His father’s deep voice made him jump as he said dryly,

“My thoughts exactly.”

Jean-Luc stood by his son’s side and said softly,

“Do you want to talk here or would you rather be somewhere else?”

James snorted.

“Oh I’d rather be somewhere else Dad…preferably not in this house with you.”

Jean-Luc kept his tone reasonable.

“Granted, but I think you know what I mean.”

The lad smiled ruefully.

“Yeah…sorry, yes I know. Here will be fine.”

Jean-Luc took James’s mug and disposed of it in the reclimator. He then replicated himself a cup of tea and a new cup of coffee for James. Once seated at the table he took a sip of his brew and sighed.

“All right, first things first. Mrs.Thompson is justifiably angry, but I managed to placate her. I told her you are not by nature reckless, nor do you normally take a cavalier attitude to your driving. I explained the extenuating circumstances…”

At that James snapped his head up and blushed, but Jean-Luc held up a placating hand.

“I did not, however, tell her about you and your…extra curricular activities with Sarah.”

James swallowed and cleared his voice to mutter,

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. You may also be interested to hear that I managed to get Mrs.Thompson to allow you and Sarah to keep seeing each other.”

James gaped, his eyes shining.

“Oh wow…thanks Dad!”

James’s sudden delight tempered when he saw the stern expression oh his father’s face. The older man held up a warning finger as he said,

But…for God’s sake James try and keep your mind above your groin! Look…I know what it’s like, contrary to popular belief I was young once too and I know how distracting women and sex can be!”

He leaned forwards and said conspiratorially,

“I failed organic chemistry at the Academy because of the charms of a lovely young woman.”

James gaped for the second time.

“You failed something?!”

Jean-Luc smiled ruefully.

“Indeed and no, you may not tell anyone!”

James chuckled and shook his head.

“Well if you hadn’t told me I would never have guessed, not in a hundred years.”

Jean-Luc sat back and sighed wistfully.

“I was quite the lady’s man when I was a lad.”

He sat forward and became serious again.

“But it wasn’t worth it James. That kind of behaviour does no one any good. You can’t compare a loving relationship to a casual encounter. I know I’ve told you before, but there’s huge difference between having sex and making love.”

Feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken; James nonetheless swallowed his embarrassment and smiled.

“I know Dad, I believe you. I feel pretty strongly about Sarah and I think she feels the same way. We haven’t had…you know…intercourse but I think we will soon.”

Jean-Luc smiled and nodded.

“I see. Well as long as one of you is taking precautions…and you choose an appropriate locale, I have no objections.”

He held up his finger again,

“One thing though James…don’t hurt her. If you find the experience isn’t what you thought it might be, don’t immediately blame her. You are both learning and it’s something that should be fault free. Do you understand?”

James smiled.

“Yes Dad, I understand…and thank you.”

The man smiled.

“Good. Now, about the car. The insurance company will pay as long as you don’t lose your licence.”

James grimaced.

“Well that will be in the hands of the magistrate.”

“Agreed. Would you like me to come with you next week?”

The lad frowned, thinking deeply about the offer. Eventually his face cleared and he smiled.

“Yes Dad, I think I would.”

Jean-Luc returned the smile.

“I’m glad. It was going to be hard not to go if you didn’t want me there.”

James nodded.

“Yeah…yes…Adele would probably want you there anyway.”

Jean-Luc’s eyebrows rose.

“She will have to be there?”

The young man shook his head.

“No, she doesn’t have to be there, but she wanted to come. So does Sarah.”

Nodding his head pensively, Jean-Luc offered,

“Well it will probably help you if the magistrate sees that your passengers are willing to support you at the hearing.”

James nodded too.

“Yea…yes, but that’s not why they’re coming.”

Jean-Luc smiled and gently squeezed his son’s shoulder.

“I think I understand.”

Just then the front doorbell rang. Jean-Luc got up and went to the comm. system on the wall, pressing the video link. Seeing Della at his door, Jean-Luc activated the audio and pressed the door release.

“Come in Captain, we’re in the kitchen.”

“Thank you Jean-Luc.”

James stood and went to the replicator.

“What would she like?”

Somewhat preoccupied by Della’s arrival, Jean-Luc stared at his son and said distractedly,

“Hmm? What?”

James’s query was moot as Della entered the room. She smiled at Jean-Luc then raised her eyes at James.

“Still in one piece I see.”

The young man grinned.

“Yeah.”

He sighed and before his father could say anything, corrected himself.

“Yes thank you Captain Mason.”

The woman chuckled and sent a look of mischief.

“It’s Della, James.”

Having already been given permission to call her by her given name, James knew the exchange was more for his father’s benefit than his. He gave a surreptitious nod towards the Captain then asked blithely,

“Would you like something? A drink perhaps?”

Della folded her arms and leaned against the bench.

“Well, that depends.”

Jean-Luc, curious as to the byplay between the two, straightened and entered the conversation.

“On what?”

Della grinned.

“On whether or not you, James and Adele would like to have dinner with me.”

About to shake his head in the negative, he was circumvented as James grinned and nodded.

“Hey that’s a great idea.”

Jean-Luc folded his arms and frowned.

“Where?”

Della shrugged.

“Anywhere you want. You can come home with me, or we could all go out to a restaurant.”

Gently rubbing his lower lip, Jean-Luc asked pensively,

“What about Tony?”

“He’s at a friend’s house for the night.”

James sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Come on Dad, you can do with a decent meal.”

He looked at Della and said sotto voce,

“He doesn’t eat much.”

Adele poked her head around the door and, seeing Della, grinned and came into the room.
“So the third degree is over?”

Jean-Luc glowered at his daughter and shook his finger.

“That’s quite enough out of you my lass!”

Seeing the warmth in his eyes, Adele sidled up to him and wound her arms around his waist.

“Or what? You’ll have me exiled to the outer rim?”

He hugged her and growled into her ear,

“I’ll sell you to the Ferengi.”

She giggled as James said,

“Hey Delly, want to go out for dinner?”

Adele turned her head and nodded against her father’s chest.

“Oh yeah, that’d be ace!”

She sighed as her father grumbled,

“Adele…”

She straightened and smiled.

“Yes, that would be really nice. Where are we going?”

Jean-Luc rolled his eyes and groaned.

“Mutiny, this is a mutiny! Oh very well. Where shall we go Captain?”

Della’s heart soared and she grinned.

“I know a nice little Indian place in Wattle Glen.”

James nodded.

“I know it!”

The Captain turned to him and tilted her head.

“Have you been there?”

James shook his head.

“No, not yet, but I’ve heard it’s really good.”

Della’s smile widened.

“Then tonight’s the night! Ambassador, may I use your comm.?”

Jean-Luc waved to the unit on the wall and sighed.

“Be my guest.”

While Della made the reservations, Adele whispered to her father,

“Dad why don’t you go and get changed?”

The man frowned and looked down at himself.

“Why?”

Sighing with exasperation, Adele pulled him towards the door, much to her brother’s amusement.

“Because you’re going out!” she hissed. “Put on those nice grey pants and your black jumper.”

Jean-Luc resisted her pull to the foot of the stairs and shook his head.

“But…”

She gently pushed him up the stairs saying,

“Hurry up Dad.”

He’d reached the top of the stairs before his mind clicked into gear.

“Oh Lord, she thinks this is some sort of a date!”

He sighed in resignation, vowing to set his daughter right before the evening ended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     They decided to take Jean-Luc’s car as it was bigger than Della’s. As they lifted off, Jean-Luc said,

“Did you make any enquiries about Tar Taz yet Captain?”

Della sighed, rolling her eyes.

“No, but for tonight I’m not your Adjutant, or a Captain, I’m just Della, okay…Jean-Luc?”

His dark eyes glittered but after a soft groan and a…

“Lighten up Dad.” From Adele,

Jean-Luc sighed and offered a nod and a smile.

“Very well, no shop talk.”

Della grinned.

“Thank you.”

In the back seats, Adele caught her brother’s eyes and cast a meaningful look between Della and their father. James frowned, not understanding, causing his sister to roll her eyes and lift her hands in exasperation.

Annoyed by his little sister’s antics, James leaned forward and asked,

“How late can we stay out tonight?”

Jean-Luc’s eyes were focussed on the air space before them, but he glanced in his rear view mirror and frowned.

“Well, tomorrow is Friday, what lectures do you have?”

James pursed his lips and shrugged.

“Well, if I go back tomorrow, I have four lectures, but none too heavy.”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“And you Adele? If you go back to school, what sort of day can you expect?”

“Oh our year group has been given a half day study time. I only have classes tomorrow morning.”

The Ambassador seemed to consider the information before giving a nod.

“Very well. As I don’t have a busy day tomorrow I don’t see why we can’t stay up late. What about you Della? Does that meet with your plans for this evening?”

The woman smiled.

“That’s fine.”

Adele grinned slyly.

“If we get home really late you can stay with us.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.”

Jean-Luc smiled.

“Of course you can. We’ve plenty of room.”

The thought of sleeping in the same house as her former lover made Della flush. Fortunately in the dark interior of the car, it went unnoticed. She had to concentrate to keep her voice light despite her racing heart as she said,
“Well that’s very kind, thank you.”

Adele gently pinched her brother’s thigh and he scowled at her. Again she gave a significant stare at both adults, making James glare and roll his finger at his temple. Adele poked her tongue out and he turned his head to pointedly gaze out the window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Jean-Luc parked the car outside the restaurant and entered with Della at his side. Lagging behind, Adele caught James’s sleeve and said quietly,

“Well?”

James, growing tired of his sister’s seeming insanity, barely kept his patience intact.

“Well what? What the hell have you been going on about?”

Rolling her eyes at her brother’s obtuseness, Adele glanced at the closing door and hissed,

“Dad and Captain Mason!”

James shook his head. He had absolutely no idea what she was on about.

“What about them?”

Punching his arm, Adele growled,

“You are so bloody dense! Don’t you think they make a great couple?”

Light dawned in James’s eyes and he gaped.

“Dad and Della?”

“No…Frankenstein and Dracula! Of course Dad and Della! Who do you think I was talking about?”

James looked at the now closed restaurant door and shook his head.

“No…surely not?”

Adele nodded vigorously.

“Yes! Haven’t you seen the way she looks at him?”

James scowled.

“You’re imagining things Delly. She’s his Adjutant for crying out loud.”

Adele crossed her arms and looked up into her brother’s eyes.

“Mum was his CMO for years, Jim.”

That took the wind out if his sails.

“But…”

The restaurant door suddenly opened and Jean-Luc stepped out, a frown marring his patrician features.

“Are you two coming in?”

James reddened and offered an apologetic smile.

“Yes Dad.”

Della appeared at Jean-Luc’s side and placed a proprietary hand on his arm.

“Everything all right?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“I think so.”

As James pulled Adele into the restaurant she muttered,

“See?”

He bent low and whispered,

“Shut up Delly.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         As Beverly lay in her bed the darkness seemed to enfold her in its embrace. Rather than keep her eyes open for nothing, she closed them to a darkness of her own choosing. In the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, her mind wandered, as it usually did and, again habitually, she went over the circumstances that led her to her current situation.

As head of SFM she had been adamant from the very beginning that she would not be constrained to the confines of the main medical facility, but be free to go where she thought she was needed. Such a need arose when a virulent plague erupted on a small outpost near the Neutral Zone. With barely enough time to inform her husband of her imminent departure, she hastily packed a bag and was ready when the shuttle arrived to take her to the transport ship. Jean-Luc had made it to the shuttle pad, but there hadn’t been time to get the children out of school.

They embraced and shared a quick kiss. He said,

“Be careful and hurry home.”

She smiled tenderly and blew a kiss.

“Fifteen days…tops.”

The three day journey at high warp was filled with work as Beverly and five of her staff worked around the clock to find a cure.

The ship entered orbit around the planetoid and the next few days were a blur as the medical staff battled the plague. They got the upper hand on the sixth day but Beverly saw that another planetoid, this one just inside the Neutral Zone, was the most probable site of the outbreak. Insisting on taking a shuttle to investigate, despite the strenuous objections of the ship’s Captain, she had taken the little craft and crossed into the Zone. All went well until her return. Just at the edge of the Zone the shuttle had suffered a catastrophic explosion. Such was the devastation, there was little for the ship to salvage.

As for Beverly, her mission had gone smoothly. She had beamed from the shuttle down to the planetoid to collect some samples. True to her suspicions, it was indeed the source of the plague. Just as she was ready to beam back up, there was a bright, unnatural light and instead of rematerialising back aboard the shuttle, she found herself on an unfamiliar ship. She turned slowly to be confronted by a Romulan with a disruptor. He smiled evilly and fired.

Instructions for the onboard computer were sent to the shuttle by a sub-space carrier wave. The little ship left orbit to begin its journey back to the mother ship. It never completed it.

Beverly had awoken stiff and sore. The light was dim, but the bed she was lying on was soft and she was covered by something warm. By the chemical taste in her mouth and the lethargy in her muscles she knew she’d been drugged as well as shot with a disruptor.

She opened her eyes tentatively and slowly sat up, wincing at the pain in her body. Judging by the general darkness, she assumed it was night time. She felt very tired and somewhat nauseous so she decided to lie back down, intending to think. Sleep crept up on her quickly. When she next opened her eyes it was morning. She had been up only minutes when her huge keeper appeared. Her incarceration had begun.

Sighing sadly, the Doctor turned over, letting her tears wet the pillow.

“Where are you my love?”

As she slowly entered her light sleep, she silently begged for an end to her suffering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   The dinner had been delightful. Despite his natural reticence, Jean-Luc had relaxed and enjoyed the evening. James and Della spent time in lively repartee, each trying to outdo the other with their sharp wit while Adele happily whiled away the time quietly observing her father and his friend. It was late when they finally left and the ride back to the Picard home was taken in quiet peace. James and Adele went immediately to bed, leaving Jean-Luc to show his guest to her room. He went down to the kitchen and put the kettle on. He had just made a pot of tea when Della appeared in the doorway. She had replicated a silk nightgown and matching robe in peach. Her dark skin and glossy black hair accentuated the ensemble and Jean-Luc couldn’t help but give her an appraising glance.

“Have you made enough for two?”

He smiled and nodded.

“Oh yes, I think so, but it’s Earl Grey, not black tea.”

Della came into the room and stood behind one of the chairs.
“That’s all right, like Earl Grey.”

While Jean-Luc poured two cups, Della sat and lifted her hair off her shoulders, noticing how Jean-Luc watched through his lashes.

He sat beside her and raised his cup.

“To sweet dreams.”

She smiled coquettishly and raised her cup.

“Indeed.”

With a chuckle they clinked their cups and took a tentative sip of the hot brew.

“Mmm, this brings back memories.”

Jean-Luc sighed and sat back, closing his eyes. When warm lips grazed his, his eyes snapped open.

“Della?”

She sighed and sat back in her seat.

“Sorry.”

Unsettled, Jean-Luc stood and took his cup to the sink, where he emptied the contents then muttered a hurried,

“Good night.”

Della watched his retreat with a pensive sigh.

“When will you finally let go my love, and let me love you again?”

 

 

 

 

 

                      Jean-Luc lay in his bed wide awake and restless in the dark of his bedroom. Della’s kiss, though unexpected and unwanted replayed again and again in his mind, but his thoughts weren’t of Della, they were of his beloved Beverly. It wasn’t Della’s lips that brushed his, it was Beverly’s.

He hardened slowly as his mind furnished images of his wife, her hands roaming over his body, their foreplay languid and sensual. His own hands went to his head, covering his face as tears slid down the sides of his face to pool in his ears. He moaned softly as his erection began to throb. His hands left his face to slide down his body to push his shorts down. The sensation of the sheets touching his straining penis made him quietly sob. He lifted his hands and pushed the bed clothes down, exposing himself to the night air. One hand went to his penis, the other to his aching testicles. Behind his closed eyes he could see her, straddling him and slowly rising and falling on his penis. She was never as beautiful to him as when they made love. Her alabaster skin flushed rosy with arousal and her nipples erect and pushing into his palms as he reached up and kneaded her breasts, while below he was sheathed in her tight, slippery heat.

His fist wrapped tightly around his penis, the strokes became shorter and faster. His other hand gently gripped his testicles, pulling them down and squeezing. His hips began to buck as he thrust into his hand. In his mind Beverly bowed her head over him, her luxurious red mane falling forward in a silky cascade. She braced herself on hands spread on his chest. With each of her downward plunges he thrust up into her, lifting them both off the bed. Suddenly her fingers fisted in his chest hair and she flung her head back, a high pitched cry emanating from her mouth. Her internal muscles rhythmically gripped him and he lost his battle with his control. With one final push he came in an overwhelming surge of euphoria. In the throes of his orgasm, Jean-Luc twisted onto his side, his semen spilling over his pumping hand to anoint his lower belly and hip. His body shuddered and spasmed as the aftershocks ripped through him, but as his physical self began to subside, sobs were wrenched from his throat.

In a pitiful moan the stricken man quietly wept.

“Oh Beverly my love…where are you?”

Despite his messy state, he cried himself to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           The dreadful cry tore Della from her sleep. Up and out the door in an instant, she was met by both James and Adele, the siblings standing in the hall, staring at the master bedroom door. Della went to them, saying softly,

“Go back to bed, I’ll see to him.”

Adele acquiesced, but James hesitated. The Captain took his arm and squeezed it for emphasis.

“Really James, it’s all right, he might be more comfortable with me.”

The young man sighed and nodded in the darkness.

“Okay, but please call me if you need me.”

Della nodded and waited until James was back in his room before she padded down the hall to Jean-Luc’s bedroom. She opened the door and stepped silently into the room.

Jean-Luc was curled up in his bed in a foetal position, quietly sobbing. Della went to the bed and gently stroked his back, murmuring,

“It’s all right Jean-Luc.”

At the touch of her hand he tensed and growled,

“Get out.”

The woman ignored him and continued to stroke his sweaty skin.

“Shh Jean-Luc, let me help you.”

Abruptly moving away from her hand, Jean-Luc sat up, pulling the blankets over him to cover his nakedness. In a deep, ragged voice he barked.

“I mean it Della. Get out.”

Not intimidated in the least, Della moved closer, keeping her voice low and soft.

“You don’t mean that Jean-Luc. Talk to me.”

His voice cracked as he tried to maintain his composure.

“I do mean it! I don’t want to talk to you…I want…I want…Beverly.”

He finally lost control, sobbing brokenly.

“I dream…I dream of her constantly, but the dreams…they’re horrible! They torture me every night and I’m so tired…so very tired.”

Wrapping her arms around him, he resisted only a moment before his head found her shoulder. His arms went around her and he clung on to her for dear life, his litany of misery continuing.

“If I could only get some sleep…peaceful sleep. If I don’t get some rest soon…I’ll go mad. Help me Della…please…can you help me?”

Tears slid down her face as she struggled to find her voice.

“I will my love, I will, I promise.”

She held him until he relaxed in her embrace. She then gently lowered him to the pillow, lying beside him, holding within her protective arms. He slipped into a restless sleep, Della lying awake by his side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                            Darnid wiped his mucous encrusted nose with his filthy fingers, inspected the result before flicking out his forked tongue to lap his digits clean. He glanced at the small screen held in his other hand and sneered.

“Come on Ambassador, I haven’t got all day.”

The prearranged signal to let him know Tar Taz wished to speak to him had arrived three hours ago and, since receiving the signal, Darnid had been waiting, though not patiently. His ever-restless dead black eyes slid around the room while his free hand disappeared into his trousers. A far away look crossed his features as the furtive stroking took place and just as he climaxed, the screen came to life.

“Darnid?”

His panting made his wheedling voice even more grating.

“Yes Sir?”

“I have need or your services.”

The little alien grinned.

“I am at your disposal Sir.”

“You are to go to our package and retrieve something for me.”

At the thought of finally having an excuse to interact with the red headed Human woman, his hand dived inside his pants again. As he furiously masturbated, Tar Taz told him just what it was he wanted.

“She wears two gold rings on the third finger of her left hand. The ring I want is plain, unlike the other which is adorned with precious stones. Take it from her and bring it to me as soon as you can.”

With a grunt the obsequious little alien orgasmed and was licking the product off his hand as he nodded.

“It will take approximately six days for my return.”

“That will be fine. Remember Darnid, there are eyes everywhere. Be discreet.”

The little alien grinned slyly and bobbed his grotesque head.

“I will be very careful Sir.”

“Good, I will reward you handsomely. Tar Taz out.”

The venal little alien left the booth and made for the door. Other patrons in the pub gave him a wide berth. He was a Fretan. They were known for three things. Their diminutive stature, their appalling body odour and their over sized genitals, organs completely out of proportion to their small body size.

Once outside he squinted in the bright light of day and fumbled in his pocket for his communicator.

“Kin?”

“Yes?”

“Prepare to leave orbit immediately once I’m aboard.”

“Yes Darnid.”

Already in a seedy part of the old city, Darnid travelled a well-worn path to his favourite merchant. There he purchased six new holo porn novels. As he contacted his ship for a beam up, his hand was back inside his pants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         In the early hours of the morning, Jean-Luc woke, feeling the warm arms surrounding him. For a few blissful seconds he thought it was his beloved Beverly who held him, but reality soon came crashing down and he closed his eyes against his pain. He attempted to extricate himself from Della’s embrace, but the movement was detected by the woman and she spoke softly,

“How do you feel?”

He sighed and tried again to move away. When he spoke his voice was rough and very deep.

“Embarrassed.”

“Don’t be.”

Finally freeing himself from her arms, Jean-Luc sat up and rested his head on his drawn up knees. Della put an arm around his shoulders but he flinched so she withdrew.

“Talk to me Jean-Luc.”

He sighed.

“I’d rather not Della…in fact I would like you to leave my bedroom.”

Risking his wrath, Della gently stroked his arm.

“Jean-Luc you’re going through hell, surely you can let an old friend help.”

He lifted his head and glared in the gloom.

“I don’t want your help!”

Della sighed and moved closer to him.

“Yes you do Jean-Luc. One man shouldn’t have to bear such a burden on his own.”

His tense shoulder sagged and he lowered his head in defeat. His rough whisper made Della grimace.

“It’s so hard.”

There followed a few moments of silence before Della asked,

“How long have you been having the nightmares?”

Jean-Luc lifted his head, took a deep breath and rubbed his face.

“They started a week after…after the accident.”

“So two years ago.”

“Uh huh.”

“And the drinking?”

The man sighed and shook his head.

“I’m not sure…maybe six months ago.”

Della snorted.

“And I suppose you found comfort in the oblivion alcohol provided.”

With gritted teeth, Jean-Luc ground out,

“Not comfort Della, dreamless sleep.”

Suitably chagrined, Della offered an apology.

“Sorry, that was callous of me.”

When there was no response to that, Della sighed.

“I know someone who might be able to help.”

The derision in the Ambassador’s voice made Della frown.

“A counsellor I suppose? Forget it!”

Keeping her voice calm with effort, Della remained steady.

“No not a counsellor. Have you heard of Harry Pickford?”

Jean-Luc lifted his head and frowned.

“Harry Pickford? The name does ring a bell. Who is he?”

Della grinned.

“He’s a vagabond in the traditional sense. I’m not sure just how he does it, but that man travels to places no Human ever goes. He has more contacts…dubious as they may be, than anyone I know.”

Turning to face the Captain, Jean-Luc shook his head.

“And why would I want to know this man?”

Della grinned.

“Because he might be able to help you.”
“How?”

That brought a frown to the woman.

“Well I’m not certain, but if you tell him what’s wrong, chances are he will know something that may help.”

Jean-Luc snorted.

“You’re saying that if I tell this man that I can’t sleep because of persistent nightmares he might be able to do something about it? That’s preposterous.”

Della shrugged.

“That may be so, but what have you got to lose? You’ll be no worse off for telling him.”

Jean-Luc stared at his friend for some seconds before grunting.

“And just how do we contact the illustrious Harry Pickford?”

Della smiled.

“Leave that to me but be warned Jean-Luc. Harry moves in mysterious ways…he’s not given to adhering to appointments or meeting in offices. Most likely he’ll find you at a time and place of his own choosing.”

Jean-Luc grimaced.

“That could be very inconvenient.”

With a chuckle, Della gently punched his shoulder.

“That’s Harry. Look, he’ll be well aware of who he’s dealing with. Harry always does his homework.”

Jean-Luc grunted and rubbed his face again.

“Very well, contact him.”

A delighted Della impulsively kissed Jean-Luc’s cheek, making the man blush. He cleared his throat and summoned a steady voice.

“Now if you don’t mind, I would like to be alone.”

Reluctantly, Della left the bed and sighed.

“Will you be all right?”

Offering a wan smile, Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes, I’ll be fine, thank you.”

She left and Jean-Luc got out of bed, stopping only long enough to don his robe as he went to the window. He stared up into the lightening sky and sighed deeply.

“Where are you my love?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        Not a great deal happened over the next few days. The morning of the fourteenth dawned overcast and cold, the last vestiges of winter showing their faces. Jean-Luc, James and Adele made their journey from the car park to the magistrate’s rooms quickly, the biting south westerly wind cutting straight through their clothing.

The warmth of the interior made them smile as the doffed their coats. They were ushered into the room by a reeve and took their seats at a long table. The magistrate entered shortly thereafter and Jean-Luc was pleased to see it was a relatively young woman. She introduced herself and spent a few minutes reading the charge sheet. She then lifted her head and speared James with the most piercing look the young man had seen on anyone other than his father.

“This doesn’t make very good reading Mr.Picard.”

Opting for silence, all James could do was look embarrassed.

“Speeding in a local zone, causing an accident involving injury…not very intelligent of you.”

Jean-Luc sat on one side of James, Adele on the other. James could feel his father’s tension and gritted his teeth as he stood and said respectfully,

“No Ma’am.”

“What have you to say for yourself?”

Somewhat surprised by the question, James felt, rather then saw his father’s flinch.

“I ah…it was stupid of me Ma’am. By acting so irresponsibly I not only endangered my passengers…I endangered other flyers. It is not something I’m proud of.”

The magistrate looked again at the PADD and shook her head.

“And do you have a plausible excuse for this behaviour?”

James shook his head.

“Not one that justifies my actions Ma’am.”

The woman’s eyes left James and settled on Jean-Luc.

“And you Ambassador Picard. Do you have anything to offer?”

Coming to his feet, Jean-Luc was composed and calm.

“All I can say Ma’am, is that my son usually shows better judgement and has never before shown such a blatant disregard for either flight regulations or his passenger’s well being.”

The magistrate gave a slow nod then asked,

“Who taught him to fly?”

“I did Ma’am.”

The woman smiled.

“I thought as much.”

She turned her attention back to James.

“And I can assume your father never taught you to act so foolishly?”

James grimaced.

“No Ma’am.”

The magistrate held James in her intense gaze for a few moments before a ghost of a smile emerged.

“Well young man you are very lucky. No one but you suffered any significant injuries and as far as I can tell, this incident is aberrant. So…although I find you guilty on all charges I am not going to register a conviction. You will be compelled to complete a safe flying course and undergo one hundred hours of community work, concentrating on the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. I certainly hope that in the future you will take better care when you fly. Case dismissed.”

All parties rose but before the magistrate could leave the room, James called softly,

“Ma’am?”

The woman stopped and turned.

“Yes?”

“May I keep my licence please?”

Stepping closer to the family, the magistrate turned to Jean-Luc.

“The insurance?”

The Ambassador nodded.

“The policy will only be honoured as long as he keeps his licence.”

With a knowing smile, the woman nodded.

“Very well, you may keep your licence Mr.Picard…don’t abuse it.”

James’s face split into a wide grin.

“No Ma’am, I won’t. Thank you very much.”

As they were leaving the building Sarah appeared. James and Sarah shared a hug then sent Jean-Luc an appealing look. He sighed and gestured back into the building.

“You go in there, Adele and I will wait in the car.”

James shot his father a grateful grin.

“Thanks Dad.”

Father and daughter were only metres from the hover car when a man approached. As he got near he quietly said,

“Ambassador Picard?”

Jean-Luc looked up, his face expressionless.

“Yes?”

Pulling his coat further around his body, the capped man kept his face lowered.

“May we talk?”

Jean-Luc subtly placed himself between the man and Adele before asking,

“You can make an appointment with my secretary.”

The man chuckled.

“I don’t make appointments.”

Jean-Luc scowled.

“And you are?”

“Harry Pickford.”

Thinking very quickly, Jean-Luc turned and gave Adele the chip for the car.

“You go and put the heater on, I won’t be long.”

Judging by the stern look on her father’s face, Adele knew not to question his softly given command. By the time she was safely in the car, Jean-Luc and the man had moved off under some nearby trees.

Harry’s eyes constantly scanned the area. Once he was certain they weren’t being watched, he looked at Jean-Luc and smiled.

A man of comparable height to Jean-Luc, his features were craggy. He had several days’ growth of beard and his face was deeply lined, but his most compelling feature was his eyes. They were a startling bright blue and icy cold. Jean-Luc suppressed an involuntary shudder as the intense gaze seemed to see right through him. The smile broadened and the man shoved his hands deep in his coat pockets.

“Della Mason says you want to talk to me.”

Years of command allowed Jean-Luc to remain calm. He showed no stress in his voice as he nodded and said softly,

“Yes, she seems to think you can help me.”

The predatory smile never faltered.

“Really? And what is it you want?”

Jean-Luc folded his arms across his chest and summoned a wry smile.

“Who says I want anything?”

Still that cold smile.

“Everybody want’s something Ambassador. What do you want?”

Tiring of the jousting, Jean-Luc’s smile vanished.

“I am finding it difficult to sleep without being tormented by nightmares.”

Harry nodded slowly.

“I see. And I take it the reason for this is not going to be resolved?”

Jean-Luc’s face hardened.

“Not in the near future.”

“Hmm, an interesting problem.”

Tilting his head to one side, Jean-Luc asked.

“Can you help?”

Harry shrugged.

“I can always help.”

“And what is your price?”

Again the shrug.

“Depends on the help.”

Rapidly growing frustrated, Jean-Luc was about to call a halt to proceedings when Harry suddenly coughed and spat on the ground.

“I will see you here tomorrow, same time.”

With that, Harry abruptly turned and walked away. Jean-Luc was watching him go when James called.

“Dad? Are we going?”

The Ambassador turned to look over at the car to see James and Sarah waiting for him. He gave a nod then turned back, but Harry was gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    The shadow on the wall told Beverly it was nearly time for her enigmatic keeper to arrive with her breakfast. Her eyes were trained on the door and she wasn’t surprised when it opened, but she was surprised when, for the first time in two long years, a new face appeared along with the mute. She stood abruptly and took a step towards the newcomer.

“Hello, who are you?”

Darnid grinned and Beverly was immediately repulsed by his mouthful of rotting teeth. Her eyes travelled over his diminutive form, taking in the filthy clothing, the cloth bag he carried and the distinct bulge in his crotch. As he approached she backed away.

“What do you want?”

Darnid’s grin grew.

“Why you, of course.”

The little alien turned slightly and gave a signal to the mute. He advanced on Beverly, backing her across the room and into her bedroom. When her legs met the bed she raised her hands.

“Keep away from me!”

At another subtle signal from Darnid, the huge alien grabbed Beverly and ripped her clothing from her. She struggled valiantly but it was useless, her blows, kicks and bites having absolutely no effect. Once naked the keeper picked her up and threw her on the bed. Darnid came to stand beside the bed, his hand in his trousers. He bent over the Doctor, his foetid breath almost making Beverly gag.

“Those rings on your hand. Give them to me.”

Beverly sat up and spat in his face.

“Never!”

Darnid shrugged and began to disrobe. Once he was naked he opened the bag and tossed the keeper four sets of manacles. At a signal the huge alien pounced on Beverly and, after a short struggle, fastened her spread eagled on her back to the bed.

Darnid climbed onto the bed and knelt between her open legs, stroking his huge penis.

“You will enjoy this woman, I know I will.”

Beverly strained against her restraints and hissed.

“Go to hell!”

The ugly little alien spat into his hand and rubbed the thick saliva over the head of his penis then, with no thought for Beverly’s comfort, savagely shoved his erection inside her.

The Doctor cried out her shock and pain as Darnid began to violently thrust. The dreadful smell of the alien only served to add to Beverly’s violation. His putrid teeth sank into the soft flesh of her right breast as he climaxed. He stilled, panting and lapping at the blood he’d drawn. Then suddenly he was thrusting again. Tears slid down Beverly’s face as she endured the agony of her rape. Four more times the horrid alien brought himself to orgasm before he finally withdrew. Gasping and drooling he pulled himself up her body, attempting to kiss her mouth. Beverly tossed her head from side to side until two large hands gripped her head and forced her to keep still. Darnid’s disgusting mouth descended on hers, his forked tongue forcing its way between her lips. She gagged over and over before he finally lifted his head and grinned.

“I enjoyed that woman. Soon you will be mine and we can do it again and again. Won’t that be fun?”

Darnid gave the keeper a signal and he undid Beverly’s left hand. He forced the hand over to Darnid who sat up, straddling Beverly’s stomach.

“Now, the rings.”

He tried pulling the rings off, but they wouldn’t budge. He twisted them and used his ragged, filthy finger nails but still he couldn’t get the rings off her finger. With a guttural growl he forced her finger into his mouth. Beverly shrieked in agony as his teeth bit into the flesh and tore the skin. Jerking his head from side to side, he pulled hard on her hand, dragging her finger over his teeth. Suddenly her finger emerged from his mouth, bloody and wet. Darnid manipulated his tongue then grinned as he spat out two rings. He then expectorated the skin and flesh he’d peeled from her finger.

“See? I told you I would get them!”

He cast a look at the mute who grabbed Beverly’s wrist and held it while Darnid raped her again. When he finished he withdrew and looked down at himself, scowling at the blood that covered his penis. There was blood on the bed clothes and he snarled.

“You are bleeding woman. You’d better be healed when I return.”

With that he left the bed and dressed. Beverly kept her eyes on the ceiling as she struggled to find her voice.

“Why am I being kept here?”

Darnid chuckled.

“You are our little…persuasion.”

Beverly lifted her head, straining to see the alien through her tears.
“Persuasion? I don’t understand.”

Having dressed, Darnid sat on the bed and painfully pinched Beverly’s nipples.

“You may not understand, but your husband will.”

At the mention of Jean-Luc, Beverly gasped.

“My husband? Does he know where I am? Can you give him a message for me?”

The cruel bark of laughter made Beverly’s hopes die.

“There will be no messages woman! Your husband thinks you’re dead! These…”

He held up her rings,

“Will prove otherwise, but by then he will be…compromised…and you will be mine.”

Beverly tried vainly to keep her voice steady.

“Please…”

Darnid ignored her plea. He rose from the bed, went to his bag and took a device from it. It was a small box with a cable connected to it. He went to the keeper and reached up to tug on the huge alien’s ear. The mute dutifully obeyed the silent command and fell to his knees. Darnid pulled at the skin behind his left ear, exposing a small round terminal. He connected the cable to it and then inputted information onto the box. The keeper closed his eyes then nodded ponderously. Darnid disconnected the cable and sealed the terminal. The large alien rose and stood silently while Darnid took the remaining manacles off Beverly, placing them back in his bag. He leered at her nakedness and licked his lips.

“You will wash, eat your morning meal, then you will repair your damage.”

He turned to leave but Beverly slid from the bed and grabbed the sleeve of his jacket.

“Please…at least tell me where I am.”

He shook free of her hand and sneered.

“The only thing I will tell you is to be ready when I return. I will want you again woman. Had I the time I would have you all day….but must go. These…”

He showed her the rings,

“Must be delivered.”

He walked towards the door and Beverly made to follow him, but the keeper blocked her path. She looked up into his impassive eyes and shuddered.

“Oh my God…what’s going on here?”

The door opened and shut and Beverly sank to the floor. Between the pain between her legs, the deeper pain inside and the throbbing sting of her finger she felt absolutely wretched, but the thought of her beloved husband thinking she was dead…her heart seized in agony.

“No wonder they never came! No one is looking for me!”

Overwhelmed with anguish, Beverly was completely unprepared for the huge hands that reached down to grab her arms. She was hoisted to her feet and pushed towards the bathroom. Gathering her wits, she gratefully entered the shower, wishing to wash the stench of Darnid from her body. As she scrubbed herself she silently cried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

              At the appointed time, Jean-Luc kept watch for the enigmatic Harry Pickford. During the day he had pressed Della for information on the man and in the face of her obfuscation, he made discreet enquiries of his own. The sum total of his work was zero. Harry Pickford didn’t seem to exist. If not for meeting him face to face, the Ambassador would have doubted he ever lived.

The quiet voice behind him made Jean-Luc’s eyes darken.

“I see you are punctual Picard, I like that in a man.”

Jean-Luc turned slowly, his face devoid of emotion.

“You are an interesting man Mr.Pickford. As a Federation Ambassador I am not without significant resources at my beck and call, but I have been unable to find anything out about you. Just who are you Mr.Pickford?”

Lifting his head to see from under the brim of his cap, Harry smiled but it didn’t reach his bright blue eyes.

“I am many people Ambassador, in your case I am the bringer of dreamless sleep.”

Jean-Luc returned the smile, but like Harry, it didn’t reach his eyes.

“I see. Tell me Mr.Pickford, just how is it that you are not listed on the central registry. You appear Human. Are you?”

The short bark of laughter lacked any warmth.

“I tend to eschew concepts of species Ambassador. I am what I am. Now, do you want what I have for you?”

Jean-Luc’s smile faded.

“That depends. What is it?”

Harry reached into his coat pocket, making Jean-Luc grip his phaser, hidden deep within his own coat pocket.

“Ah curiosity…another thing I admire.”

He withdrew his hand; his other hand stayed in the coat’s other pocket. He proffered a hypospray.

“I think you will find this very interesting Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc took the hypo and inspected it. He noted the lack of identifying numbers.

“Not Starfleet issue.”

The chuckle was cold.

“Ah…no. It comes from the private sector.”

The Ambassador lifted the device to the sunlight and squinted at the liquid in the cartridge.

“And this is?”

“The answer to your problem.”

“Indeed? You are hedging Mr.Pickford. Exactly what is it?”

Holding out his hand, Harry silently asked for it back. Having got hold of the hypo, he rolled it in his fingers.

“The drug is remarkable Ambassador. What do you know about Human sleep and dreams?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“I know that dreams are important, that to be deprived of dream sleep can lead to insanity.”

Harry grinned mirthlessly.

“Oh yes! Well, what if I told you this drug would allow you to experience dreamless sleep without any detrimental side effects?”

Jean-Luc frowned.

“How is that possible?”

Harry shrugged.

“I’m not a scientist Ambassador; I only know what it does, not how it does it.”

“Where does it come from?”

Pickford stared up into the overcast sky and smiled his cold smile.

“Not from Federation space.”

That brought a scowl.

“Then how do you know it is safe for Humans?”

The eyes that settled on his were completely devoid of emotion.

“Because it was tested on Humans.”

A cold feeling settled in Jean-Luc’s stomach.

“Who did this?”

Pickford’s smile turned predatory.

“You wouldn’t know them Ambassador.”

He handed the hypo back to Jean-Luc and reached into his pocket again.

“It comes with these.”

In his hand was a clear box containing several more cartridges. Jean-Luc stared, his mouth going dry.

“What is the price?”

Harry shrugged.

“Only a little information.”

Jean-Luc looked up and frowned.

“Information? On want?”

Pickford smiled with cold intensity.

“Not what…who.”

“All right then, who?”

Harry stepped closer and lowered his already soft voice.

“Ambassador Tar Taz of the Antorian delegation.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes widened and he took a deep breath.

“You have chosen your mark well Mr.Pickford. I take it you are aware of the talks I am negotiating?”

The cold smile grew.

“Of course.”

“And you must also be aware that I will do nothing to compromise those talks?”

Still keeping one hand in his coat pocket, Harry lifted his other hand and shrugged.

“Yes Ambassador, I am ware of that.”

Jean-Luc gritted his teeth.

“Then, specifically, what is it you want to know?”

The smile grew again.

“Nothing really, just what is Tar Taz’s relation to the Emperor’s family.”

Jean-Luc’s frown deepened.

“And why do you want to know?”

The smile disappeared.

“That is not your concern Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc sighed and shrugged.

“I see. Well if you expect me to give you information like that, I need to know why. I have the Federation’s interests to protect.”

The smile returned.

“I assure you Ambassador, the Federation’s interests are not under any threat. I am simply an information gatherer…a broker if you will. What I learn from you may be of interest to someone else, someone not even remotely connected with the Federation.”

Jean-Luc’s speculative look hardened.

“I see. And can you also assure me that this little exchange of ours will have no bearing on the talks?”

With a solemn nod of his head, Harry’s smile disappeared.

“Yes Ambassador I can. What we share will have absolutely nothing to do with the talks, at least from the Federation’s point of view.”

There was a lengthy silence before Harry grinned rakishly.

“You said I picked my mark well Ambassador. It’s true. I knew of you of course…not many don’t, but I did my homework. I know you are a man of high principles…a man with a moral core, a highly trained and vastly experienced man who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Now I know you know nothing of me, and that makes you nervous…cautious…but I can assure you my motives are aligned with yours. I’m not interested in politics Ambassador, like I said, I gather information, nothing more.”

Jean-Luc’s expressionless façade gave no indication of what he was thinking. He gave a curt nod, his dark eyes glittering.

“Very well. I need to think about this.”

Harry pursed his lips and nodded.

“All right. Tell you what. I’ll give you the hypo…try it and see how it works. If you’re happy, meet me here in two days, same time and we’ll make our exchange. You give me the information and I’ll give you the rest of the cartridges.”

Jean-Luc held Harry’s gaze then nodded.

“Agreed.”

Pickford’s smile showed genuine warmth for the first time.

“And next time, you need not come armed.”

Jean-Luc’s grin mirrored Pickford’s.

“And you’re not?”

Harry chuckled.

“Ah…a sign of the times perhaps Ambassador?”

Jean-Luc’s grin grew.

“Or perhaps two cautious men Mr.Pickford.”

Harry sighed, nodding.

“Most likely. Well, two days then?”

Jean-Luc nodded decisively.

“Two days.”

Jean-Luc turned and strode to his hover car. Upon reaching the vehicle he looked over his shoulder. Harry was gone.

                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

                            When she stepped out of her shower her keeper was waiting. In his huge hands he had a Starfleet issue med kit and a medical tricorder. He waited in silence while Beverly dried herself, then offered her the tricorder. Ignoring her nakedness, he stood passively while the Doctor scanned herself, noting the internal tearing. She gave him the tricorder and he offered the med kit. She chose a tissue regenerator and applied it to her lower abdomen, sighing as the insidious aching subsided. She then repaired the deep bite to her breast then concentrated on her mangled finger. Once she had completed her repairs the keeper allowed her to dress and by the time she emerged from her bedroom, her breakfast was waiting at the table.

She sat, somewhat dazed, at the table, staring vacantly at her food. While she had something to do, especially medically related things, she functioned on automatic, but now left to her own devices, shock set in. The enormity of what had happened bore down on her, crushing her already fragile spirit. Two fat tears slipped free of her eyes and slid unheeded down her cheeks. Her eyes tracked to her naked finger and a soft sob worked its way free of her throat. With a sharp intake of breath, Beverly covered her mouth with her hand and closed her eyes, her efforts to maintain control costing her dearly. She slammed one fisted hand down onto the table, growling,

“I won’t give those bastards the satisfaction!”

She swallowed her shock, grief, outrage and anguish. In its place she concentrated on anger. Anger and determination. She scrubbed savagely at her wet eyes and gritted her teeth, saying softly,

“You may do to me what you will you little bastard, but you won’t break me!”

With a wide sweep of her arm, she shoved the breakfast off the table. She stood and glared at the door, shouting,

“I won’t give up! You hear me? I WON’T give up!”

Where before she had slipped into despondency, now she glowed with resolute determination. Rape may have brought about the change, but the fire that burned within her now was raging.

 

 

 

 

                    Dinner had been very pleasant for Jean-Luc and his children. It wasn’t often they ate the evening meal together, but, as luck would have it, all three were home at the same time. Adele wanted to spend a quiet night studying in her room and James was expecting Sarah later the night. Jean-Luc was waiting for a communiqué from Della but not until after dinner, so the family took advantage of their good fortune and shared a delightful meal. The Ambassador was well pleased with himself when he settled in his study later that evening. He had just poured a cup of tea when his computer beeped, announcing an incoming message. He tabbed the control and Della’s smiling face appeared.

“Good evening Jean-Luc.”

He gave a cordial nod and a smile.

“Good evening Della.”

Returning his smile, the Captain lifted a PADD.

“I have the information you wanted, it makes interesting reading.”

Jean-Luc sat up, his eyes darkening.

“Indeed? Well kindly encrypt it and send it immediately please.”

The woman grinned.

“Sending it now.”

Having inputted his security clearance code, Jean-Luc began to read. Della watched him, a speculative look on her face. With a soft grunt, Jean-Luc sat back and ran a hand over his bald head.

“You’re right, this is interesting. So Tar Taz is an old friend of the Emperor’s older brother? Tell me Captain, why isn’t the elder brother Emperor?”

Della leaned forward, her eyes betraying her enthusiasm.

“Because he was involved with a very seedy scandal as a young man…and one of the three women involved was Tar Taz’s elder sister. The child she bore as a result of the…liaison…is Tar Taz’s nephew…and illegitimate heir to the throne.”

Jean-Luc shook his head, a sardonic smile in place.

“Oh how very interesting! But Della…why are we just finding this out now?”

The Captain sighed, rubbing her eyes in obvious fatigue.

“Because it was buried deep Jean-Luc, really deep! And you have to remember, the Antorians are notoriously shy about what they consider internal matters. To admit to an off worlder something as tacky as the sexual peccadilloes of the royal family…”

The Ambassador held up his hand in surrender.

“I understand. So how much influence does the deposed brother have over the Emperor?”

Della shrugged.

“Good question and the short answer is…I don’t know. There is a rumour…just a whisper…that a deal was done but as to the details…”

She shrugged again.

“That’s anyone’s guess.”

With a pensive nod, Jean-Luc gently ran his fingers over his lower lip.

“It’s curious though, isn’t it. Tell me Della, to your knowledge have the Antorians given any indication of initiating contact with any other worlds?”

The Captain frowned.

“I’m not sure Jean-Luc. They’re so damned reclusive…”

The Ambassador nodded.

“Indeed, but can you find out?”

Della smiled.

“I can try.”

“Good. Now…any other news? Anything from our friend on Penarra nine?”

Her smile faded.

“No, but that’s not unusual. I expect he will contact us soon though, it’s been over a month since his last communiqué.”

Jean-Luc gave a curt nod.

“Very well. If there’s nothing else?”

Della shook her head, but she leaned forward and touched her screen.

“No that’s all, but Jean-Luc…don’t work too hard, you need to rest.”

He gave a reassuring smile and sat back, crossing his legs and sipping his tea.

“As a matter of fact, I’m going to have an early night.”

Della beamed.

“Good for you! Well good night then, see you tomorrow.”

The man grinned, his dark eyes twinkling.

“Good night Della.”

He terminated the link and drained his tea. After a quick trip to the kitchen to dispose of his tea tray, Jean-Luc ascended the stairs to say good night to his children. Adele was in bed, a book tented on her chest. She grinned at her father as he bent to kiss her forehead.

“Are you going to bed now Dad?”

He nodded, a warm smile gracing his handsome face.

“Yes, I thought I’d give it a try.”

Della sat up and gave her father a fierce hug.

“Good on you Dad.”

He chuckled softly, straightened and gave his daughter a cheeky wink.

“Don’t stay up too late.”

She blew him a kiss and shook her head.

“I won’t. ‘Night Dad.”

“Good night Adele.”

His next stop was James’s room. After a soft knock he was granted admittance and smiled at seeing both James and Sarah sitting on his bed watching a holo vid.

“I’m off to bed. Don’t forget to set the alarm when you return from taking Sarah home.”

The young man nodded, absently flicking back the hair that flopped over his brow.

“No worries Dad. Good night.”

“Good night, good night Sarah.”

The young woman blushed.

“Good night Ambassador Picard.”

Once the door had closed James dug Sarah in the ribs, earning him a retaliatory tickle. He chuckled and gently punched Sarah’s shoulder.

“Ambassador Picard? What’s the matter with you? Call him Jean-Luc.”

Sarah gaped.

“Oh I couldn’t James!”

The young man rolled his eyes.

“Oh bloody hell, not you too! Look, my father is just a man…an ordinary man with all the faults and frailties that all ordinary humans have.”

Sarah left the bed and angrily pulled her dark hair back.
“Come off it James. Your father was Captain, then Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. The man is a living legend! I can’t call him Jean-Luc…besides he hasn’t asked me to…it would be impolite.”

James grunted.

“Well have it your own way Sarah, but at least call him Mr.Picard? I don’t want to be reminded of his job in my own home.”

Seeing that James was obviously upset, Sarah went back to the bed and sat with him. She snuggled under his arm and nuzzled his neck. In a softly sultry voice she murmured,
“I’ve got something to show you.”

Enjoying her attentions, James muttered,

“What is it?”

In response, Sarah sat up and pushed her sleeve up her arm, turning her arm over to expose the underside. Somewhat confused, James looked at her arm and frowned.

“What?”

Sarah smiled with a conspirator’s glee.

“See that tiny red mark? The one near my wrist?”

James chuckled and pushed his own sleeve up, mirroring her actions.

“You mean like this one?”

Sarah gaped and looked into his dark hazel eyes.

“You got an implant too?”

The lad nodded.

“Uh huh, this morning at the clinic at Uni.”

Her expression melted from surprise to kittenish in a fraction of a second.

“I went private. So we both have implants.”

James grinned, his eyes sparkling.

“Seems like.”

Sarah snuggled back into his arms and sighed, saying softly,

“My Doctor said it was effective immediately.”

James buried his nose in her hair and inhaled her scent.

“Mine too.”

Her hand crept up his thigh to cup him.

“What say we try them out?”

He was growing hard under her hand but he lifted his head and encouraged her to meet his eyes.

“You’re sure Sarah?”

Her reply was a passionate kiss. They parted, panting, moments later. James looked into her smoky dark eyes and swallowed.

“Computer, lock my door.”

They didn’t hear the computer’s reply as they descended into another searing kiss.

With the impatience of youth they stripped each other of their clothing. Sarah lay on the bed, her eyes smoky with desire as James panted raggedly above her. She opened her legs, but he hesitated.

“Sarah…I’m not sure…I don’t want to hurt you.”

She nodded her understanding and lifted her head to kiss him. In a breathy whisper she moistened his ear.

“Use your fingers.”

James frowned, then smiled. He returned her kiss and eased a hand between her legs, gently caressing her folds. She sighed and raised her hips. He slid his fingers between her lips, feathering over her clit. His mouth descended onto a turgid nipple and Sarah gasped, her body flexing. James tenderly explored her sex before gently probing her entrance with his finger and encountering the barrier. He gently pressed against it while nipping and sucking her nipple. Sarah lifted her hips, panting,

“Yes James…yes…”

Encouraged and ignoring the ache of his straining erection, James pressed harder against the resistance. Sarah groaned, screwing her eyes shut. His own need spiralling almost out of control, James gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, whispering,

“I’m going to do it now.”

All Sarah could do was nod. He shoved his finger hard and the barrier broke. Sarah cried out, then bit her lip, drawing blood. James kissed her brow and kept his finger still while Sarah recovered.

“Are you all right?”

She opened her eyes and summoned a crooked smile.

“Uh huh.”

He frowned.

“Was it bad?”

The young woman frowned, her eyes darkening.

“It was intense but short lived.”

James kissed her again.

“I’m sorry.”

With a wicked grin, Sarah returned his kiss.

“I’m not.”

James looked down at her and sighed.

“You really are beautiful you know.”

Sarah blushed and reached down to take his wilted erection in her hand.

“Now…where were we?”

He smiled and sighed as she gently stroked him. They shared a tender kiss that quickly escalated into a passionate connection. He hardened rapidly and Sarah clenched her internal muscles around his finger. He broke the kiss and panted,

“Is it okay?”

In response she lifted her hips and encouraged him to move his finger. He did so slowly and gently, making her wince, then moan sensuously. His mouth found her nipple, the fingers of his free hand going to its mate. For ten minutes they pleasured each other before Sarah whispered,

“Now James.”

He kissed her as he withdrew his finger. He draped his body over hers and she embraced him, whispering,

“I want you.”

As she lifted her legs around his hips. He reached down and took hold of his penis, sliding it through her saturated folds before finding her entrance. He lifted his head and stared intently into her eyes as he slowly penetrated her. Sarah arched her back and cried out softly as he stretched her. He stopped but she grabbed his shoulders, shaking her head and gasping,

“No…keep going!”

Gritting his teeth against the incredible sensation of her tight, hot embrace, he closed his eyes and continued until he was fully inside her. He stilled then and opened his eyes to see tears running down Sarah’s face. Immediately concerned, he kissed her and used his fingers to caress her face.

“Am I hurting you?”

She summoned a smile.

“A little, but it feels good too. You’re so…there, James…I am so…filled.”

He smiled down at her and when he spoke; his voice was rough with emotion.

“You feel incredible Sarah, it’s so much better than I imagined.”

She undulated her hips, making James groan and close his eyes.

“Make love to me James.”

Instead of giving any verbal response to her plea, he kissed her and slowly withdrew before gently sliding back into her. She gasped into his mouth and reached down to grip his buttocks. Heartened by her actions, he slowly increased his pace and was immensely gratified when she answered his actions with subtle lifts of her hips, meeting his thrusts. His need rose quickly and he realised the control he usually had was absent. He lifted his head and screwed his eyes shut, pleading raggedly,

“Sarah…please…”

Sarah quickly reached between then and roughly rubbed her clit. As James suddenly cried out and shuddered, Sarah arched her back and did her best to stifle her cry of ecstasy as she came.

Several minutes later James eased out of her and rolled to his side. Sarah stared up at the ceiling and chuckled.

“Shit!”

James answered her chuckle with one of his own.

“You can say that again.”

He rose up on one elbow and gently kissed her temple.

“What was it like for you?”

Sarah smiled tenderly.

“It was wonderful…really intense.”

James smiled, then frowned.

“Me too, but…did it hurt?”

Sarah shrugged.

“A little but the sensations quickly overpowered any pain. I just wish it had lasted longer.”

James scowled.

“I’m sorry…I tried to but it was too…I just…I…oh hell Sarah I’m sorry.”

Sarah sat up and ran a finger down his face from brow to chin.

“No James, I’m not complaining…I think under the circumstances it was understandable.”

She offered a cheeky grin.

“What we need is practice.”

James’s grin was delighted, and grateful.

“Yeah.”

Consulting the clock on the bedside table, Sarah grimaced.

“I have to go soon. My place tomorrow night?”

He took her into his arms and nuzzled her neck, making her sigh.

“I can’t wait.”

Within minutes they were dressed and leaving his bedroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Dressed in royal blue, satin sleep shorts, Jean-Luc sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the hypospray he held in his hand. He had been thus for over fifteen minutes, his mind warring with itself over whether or not he should use the drug. With a soft grunt he tossed the hypo onto the bed and rubbed his face with his hands. He was so tired the fatigue seemed to extend into his bones. He shook his head and sighed, whispering to himself,

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

He picked up the hypo and, without any further thought, placed the nozzle against his thigh and injected himself. Sitting very still and concentrating, Jean-Luc frowned as he felt absolutely nothing. His body showed no reaction and his mind seemed to continue to function unimpeded. With a disgusted snort he slid under the covers and settled his head on the pillows.

“Lights out!”

 His seamless descent into sleep came completely unnoticed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                In his private cabin on his ship, Darnid lay naked on his filthy bed, one hand slowly stroking his enormous penis, the other held in front of his face as he admired the gold and diamond ring on his crooked finger. The other ring resided in his coat pocket, bound for Tar Taz, but this ring, this pretty ring, was his reward…and his reminder, of the beautiful red headed woman. He lifted his eyes from his contemplation of the ring to gaze at the screen above his bed, the gyrating couples silently sweating through their copulation. He lowered his hand to employ both hands to stroking his penis, quickly increasing their speed. As two of the males on the screen withdrew and ejaculated across the stomach of the female, Darnid grunted and came over his hands. He lay panting for a few moments before lazily licking his hands clean. The call from the bridge was unwanted.

“Damn you! What do you want?!”

“I am sorry to disturb you Darnid, but there is an urgent call for you.”

Savagely deactivating the holo vid screen, Darnid snarled,

“Send it down here!”

The screen darkened then flickered back to life. The image of Tar Taz grimaced as he saw the little alien blatantly fondling his penis.

“Yes Sir?”

“Have you got the ring?”

Darnid nodded, his gleeful smile exposing his rancid, rotting teeth.

“Yes Sir.”

“Good. Now I have further urgent need of your talents.”

Darnid closed his eyes as he again grew erect, muttering absently,

“Yes?”

Growing impatient with the debauched alien, Tar Taz barked,

“Pay attention!”

His eyes glittering with resentment, Darnid glared at the screen. Tar Taz nodded.

“That’s better. Someone has been poking around in things that are none of their business. Find out who it is, and eliminate them.”

His measured stroking made Darnid sigh.

“That will cost you.”

The sardonic smile and curled eye stalks made the Ambassador seem bigger some how.

“I’m sure it will, but I think we can come to an equitable arrangement. Perhaps we can offset the cost against the value of the woman?”

Barely able to control himself, Darnid nodded eagerly.

“Yes! That would be acceptable.”

“Good. I will…”

Tar Taz turned his face away from the screen as Darnid ejaculated over his stomach. He kept his eyes averted as he ground out,

“I will see you on your return to Earth. Tar Taz out.”

As he wiped his semen up with his hands, Darnid nodded dreamily.

“I’ll see you then Sir.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      James and Adele met Della as they left next morning. The Captain smiled at James and pointed to the front door.

“Is your father ready?”

James snorted.

“As far as I know, he’s still asleep.”

Della gaped and stared at the house, walking slowly towards the door. Adele called gaily as she got into the hover car,

“Make him a cup of tea. That’ll get him out of bed.”

Della nodded absently and vaguely noted the car taking off. She entered the home and stood in the foyer, listening to the silence. She sighed and went to the kitchen, deciding to take Adele’s advice and put the kettle on, knowing Jean-Luc preferred real tea to the replicated variety.

Once the kettle was on, she left the kitchen and climbed the stairs. At Jean-Luc’s bedroom door she knocked twice but there was no reply. Opening the door slowly she frowned, but a smile soon emerged. Jean-Luc was sound asleep, lying on his side with one arm draped over the side of the bed. She approached quietly and said softly,

“Jean-Luc?”

Nothing.

She bent forward slightly and gently gripped his shoulder, giving it a gentle shake.

“Jean-Luc? Hey, come on, wake up.”

The Ambassador mumbled something and was about to turn over when Della shook his shoulder harder.

“Ambassador Picard! Wake up!”

His eyes snapped open and he stiffened. Jean-Luc’s eyes slowly focussed and he found himself staring at two black-clad legs. His eyes travelled up the legs until he saw Della smiling down at him. He scowled and grunted, saying roughly,

“What are you doing in my bedroom?”

The Captain brazenly sat on his bed and shook her head.

“Well, considering it’s oh eight forty, I should ask you why are you still in bed?”

He sat up abruptly, his mouth agape.

“Oh eight forty?! What the hell…”

He glared at the bedside clock and scowled.

“Blast!”

In one smooth motion the vexed man was out of bed and marching to the bathroom, saying over his shoulder,

“I’ll be down directly. Put the kettle on please.”

As she stood, Della chuckled.

“Already done Sir.”

The bathroom door closed on his reply and a highly amused Captain went back to the kitchen to make the tea. Her boss appeared ten minutes later. He accepted the steaming mug she offered and smiled for the first time.

“Thank you.”

A grinning Della reached up and removed some shaving cream from his earlobe.

“Messy, Ambassador. Won’t do you know.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes darkened but he did nothing but smile and bow his head. Della, however, wasn’t going to let the matter rest.

“Don’t tell me you use a blade to shave? Why don’t you use an iso razor?”

Jean-Luc sipped his tea and shrugged.

“I did when I was on Starships, but since I’ve been Earth bound I find I like to shave the old fashioned way, besides, Beverly likes the shaving soap I use.”

At the mention of his wife’s name, Della’s smile faded.

“I’m sorry Jean-Luc.”

The Ambassador shrugged.

“Don’t be, it’s all right.”

Della’s smile returned and she went to the replicator.
“Now, if I remember correctly, you like croissants for breakfast.”

Jean-Luc’s smile was sad as he shook his head.

“No…toast will be fine.”

She sensed his sadness and decided not to question it. She ordered two rounds of buttered toast and took the plate to the table to find Jean-Luc seated, sipping his tea. While he ate she asked,

“How come you slept in?”

He chewed thoughtfully, swallowed then shrugged expansively.

“I’m not sure.”

Della tilted her head and smiled.

“Did you sleep well?”

The grin that emerged on his face transformed his usually stern features into handsome friendliness.

“As a matter of fact I did.”

Sobering somewhat, Della asked quietly,

“Did you…dream?”

Jean-Luc’s smile faded and he frowned.

“Ah…no, I don’t think I did, or if I did, I don’t remember.”

Della’s smile came back.

“Well that’s wonderful. So you had a good night’s rest?”

Jean-Luc finished his toast and gave a nod.

“Yes. Now if I’m not mistaken, we are significantly late in starting our day. Why don’t you go out to the car? I’ll get my briefcase and lock up.”

Della gave a nod and smiled widely.

“Right, see you outside.”

They had been flying for fifteen minutes in companionable silence before Jean-Luc asked his inevitable question.

“Have you read today’s dispatches?”

Keeping her eyes trained forward, Della nodded.

“Yes.”

“And?”

She gave a sidelong glance at her boss and sighed.

“Nothing, I’m afraid.”

Jean-Luc stared straight ahead as he clenched his teeth. He muttered so quietly, Della had to strain to hear him.

“Something will surface. We just have to be patient.”

The rest of their journey was taken in silence; in fact they were entering their building in San Francisco before words were once again exchanged. Della stopped Jean-Luc from going into his office.

“I’m going to check the messages that have come in overnight. I may want to see you.”

The Ambassador nodded.

“Very well, come straight in if you need to.”

Della turned to her office as Lieutenant Henderson stood and handed his boss a PADD.

“This came in this morning Sir. It’s flagged urgent.”

Jean-Luc took the PADD and frowned, saying absently,

“Thank you Lieutenant.”

He was deep in thought when Della came into his office. She had to clear her throat to gain his attention. He looked up, frowning.

“What have you got?”

She handed him a PADD.

“It would seem we stirred something up by making enquiries about Tar Taz’s relationship to the Emperor’s family.”

The Ambassador’s frown deepened.

“How so?”

“Someone has been asking questions, trying to find out who our contact is.”

Jean-Luc tossed the PADD onto the desk and rubbed his face.

“That would tie in with what I’ve just been told by Command.”

Della frowned.

“Can you tell me?”

The man nodded.

“Yes. It would seem that Tar Taz has a go-between, someone with a foot in both camps.”

The Captain sat in front of his desk and scowled.

“Do we know who?”

With a brusque shake of his head, Jean-Luc let his frustration show. His one word reply was curt.

“No.”

Della sighed, running her fingers through her fringe.

“This is bad Jean-Luc. If he has someone with ears on both sides, we could find ourselves at a significant disadvantage.”

The Ambassador picked up the PADD and glowered.

“I know. Tell me Della…could it be Harry Pickford?”

The woman gaped.

“Harry Pickford? I…I don’t think so Jean-Luc. As far as I know he has no interest in politics. He an information gatherer.”

Jean-Luc grunted.

“Exactly Captain! This is just the sort of information he could gather for both sides.”

With an adamant shake of her head, Della’s eyes grew dark.

“No Ambassador, I sure he’s not the go-between. That’s not how he works.”

With a derisive sneer, Jean-Luc tossed the PADD back onto the desktop.

“Not how he works? Captain we know next to nothing about him! Who’s to say he isn’t playing the Antorians off against us?”

Della lifted her hands.

“But Why? He has nothing to gain.”

“What about latinum?”

Della shook her head again.

“No, that’s not how he does business. He trades Jean-Luc, usually information for what ever it is his…client wants.”

Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head.

“Well in the face of our lack of information about him, I would hazard a guess that he’s decided to up the ante.”

Della sat back and gave the Ambassador a speculative look.

“Well you’ve met him…and I happen to know you’re a very good judge of men. What did you think of him?”

She met his piercing gaze with equanimity she didn’t really feel. It was a look she knew made lesser people quake in their boots. Eventually Jean-Luc softened his gaze and sighed.

“Actually he managed to instil a confidence I hadn’t expected to find.”

The Captain said quietly,

“And you had a dreamless sleep.”

His eyes darkened and his voice grew soft.

“Are you aware of what he offered me?”

Della shook her head.

“No, I’m not.”

Somewhat relieved, Jean-Luc sat up and cast off his apprehension.

“Well I’m meeting him tomorrow; I’ll have a little chat with him, see if I can find out exactly what his agenda is.”

Hearing the subtle dismissal, Della stood and picked up her PADD.

“I’ll keep an eye on this. We need to protect our sources.”

Jean-Luc grimaced.

“Indeed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Harry was waiting for Jean-Luc the next day. The enigmatic man lifted his capped head and smiled his cold smile. Jean-Luc gave a noncommittal nod and placed a hand inside his coat pocket, the compact shape of his personal phaser giving him comfort.

“Punctual; as always Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc smiled and inclined his head, silently acknowledging the compliment.

Harry, one hand in his coat pocket, lifted the other hand and rubbed the tip of his nose.

“I am a little pressed for time this afternoon Ambassador. What have you decided?”

Jean-Luc gave a small shrug.

“You have upheld your end of the bargain Mr.Pickford. I have had two nights of dreamless sleep, as promised.”

The erudite Harry nodded, but his eerie blue eyes were speculative.

“I sense hesitation despite your endorsement Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“You are correct Mr.Pickford.”

His restless eyes constantly scanning the surrounding area, Harry sighed.

“And just what is it that disturbs you?”

With darkening eyes, Jean-Luc’s voice dropped to a low rumble.

“I am concerned as to why you want information about Ambassador Tar Taz.”

Shrugging impatiently, Harry snorted.

“I told you Ambassador, I collect information. It’s what I do.”

Jean-Luc huffed.

“Oh I know that, but why? To whom will you sell this information?”

Now growing irritated, Harry glared, his remarkable blue eyes glittering.

“I won’t sell it Ambassador, I will trade it. And as to whom I will trade, quite frankly, that’s none of your business.”

His voice dropping even lower, Jean-Luc practically growled,

“But I think it is Mr.Pickford. It has come to our attention that a go-between has been operating, a spy with feet in both camps. Are you that spy Mr.Pickford? Have you taken advantage of my…problem…to insinuate yourself into my sphere of influence?”

With cold eyes Harry glared at Jean-Luc, then relented and offered a chilly smile.

“I am not your spy Ambassador…however…I might be able to find out who it is.”

Not impressed and still deeply suspicious, Jean-Luc shook his head.

“And find myself in deeper debt? I think not.”

Harry removed his hand from his pocket and raised both hands.

“No Ambassador, hear me out. If you give me the information I originally asked for, not only will I give you the remaining cartridges, I will instigate a search for your spy. If I locate such a person, I will contact you. We can work out payment, a payment mutually beneficial at a later date.”

“And why would you be so generous Mr.Pickford?”

The smile that emerged was predatory.

“Because it’s in my best interest Ambassador. The more I know, the better off I am.”

Jean-Luc studied the nondescript man. The only outstanding feature he had was his eyes, other than that he was quite unremarkable. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, Jean-Luc swallowed his misgivings and lifted his chin.

Very well Mr.Pickford, I will give you what you asked for. As for the other matter, we will discuss it if and when you have some information.”

A hand slowly extended and Jean-Luc took it, indulging in a quick shake.

“Done, Ambassador.”

“Now Mr.Pickford, it would seem that Tar Taz is tied to the Emperor’s older brother by virtue of the fact that the older brother fell foul of the Antorian authorities in a scandal involving himself and several women, one of which was Tar Taz’s sister. There was a child born as a result, apparently the illegitimate heir. The scandal ultimately cost the older brother the throne.”

Although his face showed no outward reaction to the information, Harry’s body tensed.

“How interesting Ambassador. That will prove very useful to my client. Here…”

He handed Jean-Luc the box of cartridges and smiled.

“Well Ambassador, this has been most illuminating. Hopefully, I will contact you soon.”

Jean-Luc gave a curt nod.

“Indeed.”

As Jean-Luc turned to leave he heard a soft chuckle. He looked over his shoulder to see Harry shaking a finger at him.

“You really need not come armed Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc shrugged and offered a wry smile.

“Better safe than sorry.”

By the time he reached his car, Harry was gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

              At eighteen thirty Jean-Luc entered his home and went straight to his study. While he activated his computer, he placed his briefcase on the desk and took out several PADDS. He was entering his security code when he realised he wanted to go to bed. He frowned and checked the time.

“Ridiculous!” He muttered. “It’s only six thirty for God’s sake.”

He pushed the thought from his mind and settled down to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 The next morning Jean-Luc woke to his alarm. He had made sure it was set when he went to bed the previous night, finding without its help, he overslept. He had withstood his desire for an early night, working until just after twenty three hundred, but he was grateful when his head hit the pillow. As he had the preceding two nights, he injected himself and enjoyed deep, dreamless sleep, waking refreshed and alert. He almost bounded down the stairs, hearing his children in the kitchen. Over breakfast Adele said quietly,

“Dad…I think I know what I want to be.”

Jean-Luc looked up over the rim of his cup and smiled.

“Really? What then…Doctor or Archaeologist?”

Keeping her face straight, her worry still showed in her eyes.

“Neither. Dad…I think I want to be a teacher, specialising in mathematics.”

He covered his shock well. Placing his cup in its saucer he nodded solemnly.

“Teaching is a very noble profession Adele, I’m sure you will excel. Will you want to teach primary, secondary or tertiary?”

With a smile of relief, Adel’s eyes twinkled.

“I’m not sure yet Dad, I’ll talk to the school Counsellor…see what the options are.”

The Ambassador stood and took his dishes to the reclimator.

“Well what ever you decide will be fine by me.”

He gave her a kiss, then squeezed James’s shoulder.

“Captain Mason will be here soon, I’ll wait outside. Will you both be home for dinner?”

Adele nodded but James shook his head.

“I’ll be at Sarah’s, Dad. I’ll be home late.”

Jean-Luc gave a nod.

“Very well. Come in and see me when you get in.”

“Okay.”

Once his father had gone, James winked at his little sister.

“Well done Delly.”

The young woman sighed.

“You were right Jim; I really did need to think about it.”

James shrugged.

“Don’t thank me Delly, I inherited it from Dad.”

She stood and gently punched his shoulder.

“Idiot.”

He grinned.

“I know. Want a lift to school?”

She nodded.

“How much longer are you going to use Dad’s car?”

“Until the insurance comes in and I can buy a new one.”

Adele grinned.

“You must love driving his car.”

James smiled ruefully.

“Oh yeah…it’s really cool. I’ll be as old as Dad before I can afford something like that.”

Adele chuckled.

“Of course you’ll be the Federation’s leading Architect…you’ll be able to afford two.”

He threw a napkin at her.

“Now who’s the idiot? Come on, or we’ll be late.”

They were still laughing as they left the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     The past ten days had been difficult for Tar Taz. The time for springing his trap was drawing near and he needed Darnid’s help. As much as he detested the Fretan, he couldn’t deny the little alien was brilliant at what he did. Discreet, efficient and reliable…if a little expensive. Tar Taz grimaced as he recalled the disgusting habits Darnid continually indulged in, but knew he would have to continue to ignore such things if he were to realise his dream. The plans had been laid down over three years ago and it had taken considerable latinum to get it this far. Had not the Romulans agreed to help, he would not have got as far as he had. Yes, soon he would be Emperor with a seat on the Federation Council. All he had to do was remain patient.

Squeezed into the booth in the darkened room, Tar Taz smelled Darnid before he arrived. Quelling the urge to gag, the Antorian Ambassador smiled at his employee, curling his eye stalks in greeting.

“I have been looking forward to seeing you Darnid. Do you have what I requested?”

In answer the little alien reached into his pocket and brought out his hand in a fist. With a flourish he uncurled his crooked fingers to display, lying in his filthy palm, Beverly’s wedding ring. Manipulating his large fingers, Tar Taz picked up the ring and held it near his eyes.

“I believe it is engraved, the same word is also engraved on Picard’s ring.”

He bent towards the dim light and smiled.

Eternity. How sentimental these Humans are.”

Darnid waggled his fingers and the light caught the diamonds in the engagement ring he had stolen. Tar Taz looked at the ring and frowned.

“Where did you get that?”

As the Fretan grinned, saliva dribbled down his chin and his free hand went inside his pants.

“The woman…she gave it to me.”

Tar Taz’s eye stalks straightened.

“Gave?”

Darnid smirked, his furtive stroking making the Ambassador wish he could leave.

“Well maybe not gave…perhaps I took it…when I took her.”

Tar Taz glowered.

“You interfered with her?”

The disgusting alien shrugged, his mouth open and panting.

“I couldn’t help it Sir. She was…she was…ohhhh…”

He stiffened then slumped in his seat. As he licked his hand clean Tar Taz admonished him.

“You were not to interfere with her! Leave her alone until you pay for her!”

The little Fretan shrugged.

“What does it matter? I enjoyed it; she enjoyed it…after all soon she will be mine anyway. Where’s the harm?”

The Ambassador hissed,

“I don’t want her…damaged!”

With a flick of his hand, Darnid dismissed the Ambassador.

“I will make sure she is repaired.”

Somewhat mollified, Tar Taz sniffed loudly, trying to get some fresh air into his nose to dispel the appalling odour coming from the Fretan.

“Just you make sure she is alive and well when we spring our little trap. Now…”

His eye stalks swivelled left and right.

“About the other matter. Have you made any progress?”

Darnid leaned forward and it took all of Tar Taz’s control not to recoil away from him.

“As a matter of fact, yes Sir. I have discovered the Antorian leak, but not to whom the information was given.”

“And?”

Darnid grinned, his rotting teeth emanating their own particular putrid odour.

“The leak has been…sealed.”

“Good.”

Darnid sat back and began to masturbate again. He slitted his black eyes and smiled.

“How much longer Sir?”

Unable to sit with the Fretan any longer, Tare Taz stood and gathered his cloak around his massive body.

“Three weeks, maybe four.”

Darnid’s free hand slipped inside his pants and he sighed.

“Will you be needing me again soon?”

The Ambassador shrugged.

“I don’t know. Why?”

The little alien pulled his pants down, exposing his huge purple penis. He was stroking it slowly with both hands and Tar Taz struggled to keep from leaving immediately.

“I thought I might visit our package again.”

Now desperate to leave, the Ambassador said curtly,

“If you must, just remember…when the time comes, she is to be unharmed.”

Darnid laid his head back on the seat and increased his stroking. His mouth slackened and he drooled.

“Of course Sir.”

Tar Taz left before he witnessed Darnid’s climax. Once out in the night air, he took several deep breaths and decided there and then, that once he was in power, Darnid would have a little accident.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   It was fourteen fifteen and Jean-Luc was at his desk in his office, but he wasn’t working. He was staring at the computer screen, his eyes unseeing as his mind turned over the problem he was developing.

It had been ten nights now that he had used the drug and generally he was pleased with the results. But…every night, at about six thirty, he started to want to go to bed. At first it was just a thought…a vague feeling, but as time went on, the feeling gathered strength until it was almost too strong to ignore. The urge…the driving desire to go to sleep was almost overwhelming, but what puzzled Jean-Luc was that it wasn’t because he was tired. Indeed, since using the drug, he felt rested and invigorated. He couldn’t understand it and it troubled him that soon he wasn’t going to be able to resist the urge to sleep. He sighed and started when a soft voice said,

“You’ve worked through lunch again.”

He looked up, startled to see Della standing in front of his desk, a soft smile on her face. Quickly gathering his wits, he summoned a smile.

“Ah…yes, so it seems.”

Della’s smile widened and she gestured to the low table in front of the sofa.

“Well, I can remedy that. If you please Sir.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes softened as he saw a lunch spread out on the table. He rose slowly, stretched his stiff muscles and left his desk, joining Della on the sofa. They ate hot vegetable soup, crusty warm bread and salad sandwiches, washed down with cups of Earl Grey.

Once finished, Jean-Luc sat back and sighed.

“That was nice Della, thank you.”

The Captain chuckled.

“You don’t remember do you.”

He cast her a look of confusion and frowned.

“Remember?”

“The picnic by the river. Spring, your second leave.”

His eyes cleared and he smiled wistfully.

“Oh yes! That was a glorious day, wasn’t it.”

Della moved closer and ran a finger down his face.

“Uh huh. We made love under that big oak tree.”

His smile faded and he sighed.

“Yes we did.”

She moved closer still and looked deeply into his eyes.

“It was wonderful.”

She kissed him, feathering her tongue over his lips, seeking admittance. His arms came up involuntarily, embracing her as he opened his mouth, but as her tongue slipped inside, he stiffened and withdrew. He looked into her eyes and shook his head.

“No Della.”

She tried to pull him to her, nuzzling his neck.
“Why Jean-Luc? I want you…and I think you want me.”

He pulled free and stood.

“No I don’t, Della.”

The Captain stood and came close to him, running her hands over his shoulders.

“Jean-Luc…she’s gone, it’s time to live again. We were happy once, we can be again.”

Before he could respond, he was paged.

“Ambassador Picard?”

Jean-Luc stepped away and cleared his throat.

“Picard here.”

“Sir there is a call from the Federation Secretary.”

“Thank you Henderson, I’ll take it in here.”

“Aye Sir.”

Jean-Luc didn’t look at Della as he said quietly,

“Thank you for lunch Captain.”

Hurt by his dismissal, Della considered staying, but his stiff posture told her he wouldn’t allow it. She gave a short bow and offered,

“Not at all Ambassador.”

Before leaving.

Jean-Luc looked at the closed door and sighed, rubbing his face.

 

 

 

              Belderand Haz was by nature a cautious man. His passage through life was steady, never a risk taker, Belderand prided himself on his ability to blend in…and never cause waves. His employment at the Imperial palace was a feather in his cap, something he had quietly worked for over many years. Now he sat at the Secretary’s right hand, a trusted confidant and advisor.

The news of the death of his close friend, Mersen Pul, deeply troubled Belderand. They had grown up together, enjoying a carefree existence in Antorian society and getting into much mischief. They had both made it into civil service and Mersen was the first to congratulate Belderand on his appointment to the Palace. Now his dear friend was dead and Belderand had a niggling suspicion his death was under less than clear circumstances.

Having finished his duties for the day, Belderand went to his desk and activated his private safe. From its interior he collected a small chip. He closed and locked the safe, then left the building, catching a commuter shuttle to his friend’s home. Upon entering, he went to Mersen’s study and, having checked to see there was no surveillance, pushed the desk to one side and pulled back the floor covering to expose a floor safe. He utilised his chip, then inputted a security code. There was a moments’ silence before the safe chimed softly and the lock disengaged. He ignored the contents save one medium sized PADD. He took it out and activated it.

Tears welled in his eyes as the image of his friend appeared. The soft, deep voice made his eyes blur with tears.

“Belderand my friend, if you are hearing this, then I must be dead. You know…when we first decided to make these I never thought either one of us would ever use them. I’m only glad it’s not me at your home, hearing you.”

Belderand pressed pause and wiped his eyes. He took several deep breaths then pressed resume.

“As I recall, it was your idea. Once we began to rise in the service you said we should be careful…and you were right, as usual. Always the cautious one eh Belderand?”

The Antorian chuckled and gave a nod.

“Anyway, there are some things you should know and I think what you learn may have something to do with my death, so listen carefully my friend.”

Belderand frowned and checked the recording date to find it was done two days before his friend’s death. He tried to slow the rapid beating of his heart to concentrate on what he was hearing.

“For the past eight months I have been supplying information to the Federation of Planets.”

Haz gasped and shook his head.

“No…Mersen…no!”

The image on the screen smiled tenderly.

“I know what you’re thinking Belderand my friend, but it’s not what you think. Tar Taz is up to something…something detrimental to the Empire. The person who should be watching Tar Taz is the Secretary but he’s more concerned with currying favour from the Emperor, not doing his job as he should. I am not a spy Belderand, I am a patriot. Nothing I supplied to the Federation could harm Antoria in any way, rest assured my friend, I love my world and my Emperor.”

Belderand sighed and briefly closed his eyes.

“About ten days ago I was asked to supply information about Tar Taz’s connection to Kazzarin. As you know, the Emperor’s elder brother is loosely related to Tar Taz through his sister. I did as I was asked, I told my contact about the scandal and the child and I thought that would be the end of it, but several days ago I became aware that someone was on my tail. I came home one night and I’m sure someone has been here Belderand; you know how it is…you just know when your things have been disturbed. Anyway I made some enquiries of my own, but the only name I can come up with is Darnid. Ring any bells my friend? It doesn’t for me, but maybe you can learn more.”

Belderand sat back and frowned.

“Darnid?”

“So my old friend, if my death is related to my activities, so be it, but I have a request to make of you Belderand my dear friend. What I was doing was important, both to Antoria and the Emperor. Take up the challenge Belderand, take my place and help the Federation, because by doing so, you will help Antoria. Be brave Belderand, if I didn’t think you could do it, I would never have suggested it. Good bye Belderand.”

Belderand deactivated the PADD then rested his head on his knees, allowing himself to cry for the first time since he learned of his friend’s death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         Casting another look at her clock, Della glanced at her office door, wishing, not for the first time, that she had waited before making a move on Jean-Luc. She sighed, knowing she may have ruined any chance she may have had in establishing a romantic relationship with him. Her feelings, however, would not be denied. She loved him. The love she felt for him had lasted years…through her marriage, through his marriage…it had never waned and now, now that she felt he should move on, get past the tragic death of his wife, now she thought, was the time for them.

She had said they were happy once, and they were, deliriously so, and she knew, knew in her heart that they could have that again.

She had asked Jeremy Henderson to alert her when Jean-Luc left his office and she wasn’t surprised when he softly hailed her.

“Captain Mason?”

“Yes Jeremy.”

“He’s getting ready to leave.”

“Thanks.”

She picked up her briefcase and was waiting in the foyer when he emerged. He cast her a quick glance, but his face remained impassive. She fell into step by his side and together they left the building.

It wasn’t until they had rematerialised in Melbourne that Della spoke.

“It’s been a long day.”

A noncommittal grunt was her only reply. They remained silent until they were in the hover car. Della powered up the craft, took off then said quietly,

“We should talk.”

The stony, cold silence that greeted her made her grit her teeth.

“Jean-Luc…”

His voice was hard as he barked,

“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind.”

She sighed and gathered her patience.

“Not talking about it won’t make it go away.”

He grunted again.

“I don’t want to talk about it Della, I have nothing to say.”

“Well I do!”

He stared out of the windscreen, studiously ignoring her as she tried to explain her actions.

“Jean-Luc I’m sorry if I embarrassed you…my feelings for you are…dammit I love you. There! I said it! Now if that makes you uncomfortable I’m sorry but I can’t help the way I feel. We had something you and I, something wonderful and I believe we can have that again. All you have to do is…”

He turned to face her, his face a mask and his dark eyes glittering with anger.

“Your feelings for me are irrelevant! I don’t love you Della, I haven’t for years! Please…please don’t make something where nothing exists.”

Quelling the hurt that welled inside her, Della glanced at him and implored,

“Jean-Luc, please, think about it. Remember what we had, what we shared.”

His jaw muscles rippled as he clenched his teeth. His voice grew soft, a sure sign of his growing anger.

“If you can’t control yourself I suggest you request another posting. If you don’t, I will request one for you.”

She stifled her gasp of dismay and struggled to keep her voice even.

“That won’t be necessary Sir.”

The Ambassador looked straight ahead and grunted his response.

“Good. Let that be the end to it, Captain.”

“Yes Sir.”

She landed the craft in his driveway ten minutes later. He left the car in silence and she watched as he went to his front door, entered his code and went inside.

Once the front door was closed, Jean-Luc leaned his back against the door and closed his eyes as he listened to the craft take off. He sighed deeply and swallowed, tumultuous feelings whirling around inside him. He straightened and was going to go to his study, but a surge of desire to go to bed washed over him and he was too weary to resist. He climbed the stairs, stripped off his clothing and picked up the hypo. He injected himself and slipped under the covers, closing his eyes and giving up any resistance to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Tar Taz smiled at the Romulan face on the screen. He held up his huge hand, the ring pinched between two long fingers. The Romulan peered and gave a cold smile.

“That is it?”

Curling his eyes stalks, Tar Taz nodded.

“Yes. With this little trinket I will bring Picard to his knees.”

The cold smile grew.

“How satisfying, I wish I could be there to see it. Tell me…is it true the ring is engraved?”

Tar Taz nodded.

“Yes, apparently both his and hers are engraved with the same word.”

“And that is?”

“Eternity.”

The Romulan’s eyes glittered with cruelty.

“How appropriate! If all goes according to plan, Picard will know an eternity of anguish!”

The Antorian grinned.

“Oh yes, he will know exquisite pain my Lord.”

“And none too soon. That Human has been a thorn in our sides for far too long!”

Tar Taz gave a short nod.

“Well not for much longer! Within the month I will be in power and the Federation will be making every effort to woo me. It will be glorious when the Romulan Empire finally brings them to heel.”

The Romulan grinned and nodded.

“Indeed. Well Ambassador, if there’s nothing else?”

“No my Lord. Be well.”

“And you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    The alarm startled Jean-Luc out of sleep. With a gruff,

“Off!”, he turned onto his back and sighed.

“Another day.”

His fingers went to his wedding ring, idly turning it on his finger as he stared sightlessly up at the ceiling.

“Where are you Beverly? What happened?”

He briefly closed his eyes and savagely quashed the anguish that threatened to overwhelm him. Taking a large breath, he threw off the covers and sat up, his eyes catching a picture, held in an antique silver frame on his nightstand. Beverly stared back at him. It had been taken on their wedding day, the glow of happiness shining clearly in her eyes. He picked the frame up and held it against his chest, gripping so tightly, his knuckles showed white. His deep voice cracked as he almost sobbed.

“I will find you my love.”

Once showered, shaved and dressed, he joined his children in the kitchen.

Adele, already finished her breakfast was busy hurrying her brother when Jean-Luc entered. To his upraised eyebrow she smiled and explained,

“My first exam today Dad, I want to get to school early to study.”

Jean-Luc smiled his appreciation as he poured a cup of tea, causing Adele to flush with pride. He took a sip as his face sobered.

“Are you ready for it?”

Her smile widened.

“Yes Dad, I’m ready, I just want to go over a few things. If I get to school early I can use the library before it gets crowded.”

Jean-Luc placed his cup on the counter and held his arms open.

“In that case, give me a hug. I’ll be thinking of you today.”

The hug was a warm one and Adele giggled as her father kissed her cheek. As she moved out of his embrace he was surprised when his son stepped up in front of him.

“One for me too Dad?”

His surprise registered, but only for an instant. Jean-Luc’s face split into a grin as he gave his son a hug, muttering,

“I thought you were too old for this kind of thing?”

James chuckled and stepped back, grinning wryly at his father.

“Well…I’m not sure who needed it most…you or me.”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“It matters not James, I’m just glad you still feel comfortable enough to do it.”

James lightly punched his father’s shoulder while Adele moaned,

“Okay you two, enough with the male bonding. If we don’t get going James, there’ll be no point in trying to leave early.”

With a shooing motion, Jean-Luc ushered his children from the room.

“Go on then; I’ll see you both tonight.”

Their cheery goodbyes drifted back as the front door closed.

When the front door chimed Jean-Luc was ready to face Della. She smiled her greeting but said little as they flew into Melbourne. She answered his usual question perfunctorily, but not unkindly and it was a calm pair who entered their offices.

Jean-Luc had just taken his seat and was about to ask his aide to bring in the latest communiqués when he was suddenly struck with an urge to go to sleep. He frowned, shaking his head in annoyance, muttering,

“Ridiculous, I’ve just started my day.”

The feeling grew as he struggled to ignore it. To help in pushing it aside, he called for Lieutenant Henderson. The young man came into the office, a smile on his face.

“Here you go Sir, the daily grind, all set out for you.”

The Ambassador summoned a wan smile, making Henderson somewhat nervous, being more accustomed to his boss’s stern façade. The soft deep voice mollified the young man.

“Thank you Lieutenant, that will be all.”

He was only gone a few minutes when the overhead speakers came to life.

“Ambassador Picard, you have a call. A Mr.Pickford wishes to speak with you and he won’t be dissuaded Sir. I told him you were busy, but he was insistent.”

Jean-Luc closed his eyes and sighed, he really wasn’t feeling up to dealing with the enigmatic Harry Pickford. Nonetheless he opened his eyes and sat up in his chair.

“That’s all right Lieutenant, I’ll take the call.”

“Very well Sir, but it’s audio only I’m afraid.”

“Understood.”

Jean-Luc tabbed a key on his computer and smiled grimly when the slightly husky voice came through.

“Good morning Ambassador, I trust you slept well?”

Ignoring the veiled reference to their arrangement, Jean-Luc replied,

“Good morning Mr.Pickford. What can I do for you?”

The chuckle was harsh.

“You mean, what do you want?”

With a wry smile, Jean-Luc acknowledged the man’s perspicacity.

“Indeed. What do you want?”

This time the chuckle was warmer.

“I have some information for you Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes hardened and his back stiffened.

“I see. And when can we meet?”

“How about tonight, at your home?”

Alarm skittered across Jean-Luc’s mind. He recovered quickly and made sure there was no trace of it in his voice.

“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. Would our usual place be sufficient…say seven thirty this evening?”

There was a momentary silence before Harry replied and Jean-Luc could hear the sarcasm in his voice when he said,

“I am not a danger to your children Ambassador, in fact I like kids. They bring a good price on the open market.”

Refusing to rise to the gibe, Jean-Luc remained calm, even smiling sardonically.

“I’m sure they do, but I would rather not conduct business at home.”

The equanimity of his next words surprised Jean-Luc.

“Okay Ambassador, fair enough. Our usual spot then, seven thirty tonight.”

Before Jean-Luc could reply, the line went dead. He sighed and rubbed his eyes, the insidious need for sleep almost overwhelming him. He savagely shook his head, took a deep breath and reapplied his concentration to his work. It was going to be a long day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  Adele was first home that afternoon. She knew her father wasn’t due home for some hours and James often was late, so she was unprepared when Jean-Luc entered the kitchen, just as she was sitting with a hot cup of tea. He walked to his daughter and kissed the top of her head.

“How did it go?”

She grinned up at the man, her heart swelling with love. Putting aside her curiosity at his being home so early, she nodded, her eyes twinkling.

“I think I nailed it Dad.”

He went to the teapot and poured himself a cup before sitting with Adele and settling his intense gaze upon her.

“Tell me about it.”

She shrugged.

‘Not much to tell really. There weren’t any questions I wasn’t expecting and I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable with the entire exam. It was a breeze.”

Jean-Luc sipped then sat back, a knowing smile in place.

“It pays to study, doesn’t it.”

She rolled her eyes and sighed.

“Yes Dad…and you can say it…I told you so.”

He chuckled and took her free hand in his.

“Your mother and I are very proud of you Adele. When is the next exam?”

Adele ignored the reference to her mother and smiled at her father, basking in his love and pride.

“Three days…and it’s the big one, physics.”

Jean-Luc sobered, his dark hazel eyes glittering.

“Are you ready?”

She sighed.

“I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, but physics scares me Dad. I can’t seem to conceptualise it. With all my other subjects, if I’m having trouble, I try and turn the subject into something else so I can understand it better, but physics…”, she sighed again.

“It defeats my efforts to turn it into something more familiar.”

Jean-Luc nodded slowly.

“I see. Has James been able to help you?”

Adele smiled ruefully.

“A little, but he’s so good at it…he must think I’m a dunce.”

Jean-Luc squeezed her hand and shook his head.

“I’m sure that’s not true. Look, I have to go out after dinner, but when I return, how about we have a look at your physics work together. Who knows, perhaps a different perspective might help?”

Adele gave her father a dubious look, but smiled.

“Well…okay.”

The Ambassador grinned and gave a short nod.

“Good. Now…is your brother coming home for tea?”

Adele shrugged.

“I’m not sure, Dad. He and Sarah seemed to be joined at the hip lately. Why don’t you give him a call?”

Jean-Luc stood and placed his cup in the reclimator.

“I’ll do that. In the mean time, what do you want for dinner?”

Adele made a show of giving the question due consideration, only just keeping the devilish grin off her face. Her father looked on indulgently, knowing full well what was going on. Her one word reply didn’t surprise him.

“Lasagne.”

He chuckled and shook his head.

“Ever since you were a toddler you’ve loved lasagne. You realise I will have to replicate? I don’t have time to make it from scratch.”

The young woman nodded.

“That’s okay Dad, but I can grate on some real cheese on it can’t I?”

The man grinned.

“Of course. Well, I’m going to my study for a bit. I’ll give James a call and tea will be at about six thirty.”

“Okay Dad, I’ll be in my room.”

As she stood to leave, Jean-Luc gave her a knowing look.

“Don’t have the music too loud.”

Rolling her eyes theatrically, Adele sighed and flounced to the door.

“Gee Dad…you’re not that old!”

He was still chuckling as he walked to his study.

As it turned out, James did manage to join his sister and father for tea. On seeing the lasagne he guffawed and poked fun at his sister, causing her to grimace at him and complain to her father. Jean-Luc waved off her protests and chuckled at his children’s gentle fun before finishing his meal and standing from his seat.

“I have to go somewhere…I won’t be long. James will you clear away the dishes? Adele, you get those books out and try to outline your major problems.”

He smiled at the cheery,

“Okay Dad.” And left the house.

As usual, Harry was already there when Jean-Luc arrived. In the darkness of late winter, steam gathered around his mouth as he muttered,

“Punctual as usual Ambassador, thank you, it’s too cold tonight for lingering.”

Not wishing to prolong his time away from home, Jean-Luc stuffed his hands deep in his coat pockets and rumbled,

“You said you have information for me.”

Pickford nodded.

“Indeed I do, in fact what I’ve discovered may be more than you anticipated.”

“Tell me.”

Harry’s head swivelled from side to side as his constant surveillance swept the car park. Always vigilant, the mysterious man settled his restless blue eyes on Jean-Luc and speared him with the intensity of his gaze.

“The go between is a Fretan named Darnid. He operates in the shadows, on the peripheries, sometimes paying for information, sometimes killing for it. He has contacts here on Earth and on Antoria. At present he is employed exclusively by Ambassador Tar Taz, but my sources tell me he has also dabbled in contact with certain individuals within the Romulan Empire, in fact, he has been known to accept payment for services rendered from the Proconsul himself. He has a lengthy criminal record, here within the Federation and outside, mostly for crimes of a sexual nature. Being a Fretan, he is obsessed with sex and doesn’t care who, or how he satisfies his…urges. He is utterly ruthless and loyal to whoever employs him.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes glimmered as he breathed out a cloud of steam.

“What a delightful character. Do you know what Tar Taz has been using him for?”

Harry lifted his head and chuckled coldly.

“That my friend, will cost you more.”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“As I recall, we haven’t set the price for what you’ve just told me.”

Harry snorted.

“True Ambassador, but what I know may be interesting to you…personally.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes darkened and his voice dropped to a husky whisper.

“What do you mean?”

Again his head moved as his eyes swept the area.

“You are aware, Ambassador, that the mystery ship that was reported near where your wife met her death was in fact…Romulan?”

Jean-Luc’s voice grew gravelly

“Yes.”

“Well my sources tell me Darnid negotiated…for Tar Taz…to have that ship there…it was no mere happenstance that put it there. Rumour has it, that at the exact moment your wife’s shuttle exploded, an unauthorised and untraceable transport took place.”

With lightning speed, Jean-Luc’s hands came out of his pockets to grab fistfuls of Harry’s coat. In a menacing growl he asked,

“What are you talking about? Was my wife abducted by the Romulans?”

Harry allowed the manhandling, instead smiling coldly.

“Not by the Romulans...at least she’s not on Romulus as far as I know.”

Jean-Luc almost shouted.

“Then where? Antoria?”

With slow deliberation, Harry raised his hands and pried Jean-Luc’s hands loose from his coat. He straightened the fabric and shrugged.

“I suppose I could find out, but what do you offer in return?”

Trying to control his racing heart, Jean-Luc struggled to keep his voice even.

“What do you want?”

The predatory smile that emerged made Jean-Luc shiver involuntarily.

“Well, for what I’ve told you so far…I want details of the Federation Secretary’s financial dealings with the Vulcan Science Academy. Precisely, who is she paying and what for.”

Jean-Luc took a step back, shaking his head.

“There are no financial dealings with the Vulcans…not with their science academy or anything else!”

Harry’s unnaturally blue eyes glittered.

“Oh but there are Ambassador. Look I don’t care what arrangements have been made…wheels need greasing to turn silently. Do some quiet digging Ambassador and when you have the information, tell Captain Mason and she will contact me.”

Jean-Luc glowered, outrage in his deep voice.

“You can’t possibly expect me to…”

Harry held up a placating hand.

“Calm down Ambassador. I’m not asking you to spy on the Federation, nor will anything you tell me have an adverse affect on it. For me to find the answers to your questions, I have to have a significant bargaining chip. Now the people I’ll be dealing with won’t care about what you tell me…as I’ve said before, this isn’t about politics; it’s about information, nothing else. Besides, once you do your digging and find the information I want, you’ll be able to do something about it…won’t you. After all, corruption should be weeded out, shouldn’t it?”

Jean-Luc’s head was spinning. On the one hand, what Harry said was true, if he found that there were clandestine financial dealings with the Vulcans, then he could, and would put a stop to it. But what tore at him, what made his heart ache, was the chance that Harry might be able to finally lead him to his beloved Beverly. For two long years he had hoped…refused to believe she was dead. As much as he warred with himself over the ethics of what Harry was asking, he knew deep in his heart…knew with a dreadful certainty, that he would do anything to find her. And with a sinking heart he knew Harry knew that too.

Jean-Luc tried to ignore the triumphant smile that split the man’s face as he muttered,

“It will take time.”

Harry clapped Jean-Luc on the shoulder and nodded.

“I am a patient man Ambassador. Just let Captain Mason know when you have something for me.”

Jean-Luc nodded dumbly as Harry stepped back and disappeared into the night. He eventually made it back to his hover car and drove home in a daze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

               Adele knew her father was preoccupied. He had a habit of scratching just above his left ear whenever his mind was somewhere else, but even though his mind was elsewhere, he still managed to help Adele with her physics. For over two hours they worked until Jean-Luc began to lose his struggle against the desire to go to bed. He sat back in his seat and smiled at his daughter.

“Well, how do you feel about it now?”

Adele sighed and offered a wry grin.

“Better than I did before. Thanks Dad, you’ve been a big help.”

The man stood and stretched.

“And do you feel more confident about the exam?”

That brought a thoughtful nod.

“Yes I think so. At least I know I can handle most of what they’re going to throw at me.”

Jean-Luc bent and kissed the top of Adele’s head.

“Good, I’m glad I could help. Well I’m off to bed now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Adele frowned.

“But Dad…it’s only nine forty.”

Covering his consternation with a smile and a shrug, the Ambassador shook his head.

“What can I say? Must be old age.”

Adele stood and frowned at her father, not convinced by either his actions or his words.

“Are you okay Dad?”

“I’m fine Adele…really; I just want an early night. It’s been a long day and I’m tired.”

Still not fully convinced, Adele shrugged nonetheless and managed a smile.

“Well…okay.”

She went up on tiptoe and kissed her father’s cheek.

“Goodnight Dad, and thanks again.”

Jean-Luc gave his daughter a one-armed hug and ruffled her hair, earning him a mock glare as the lass used her hands to right the mess he had wrought.

“No problem.”

It wasn’t until he had changed into his sleep shorts and was sitting on the side of the bed that he realised he had lied to his daughter. He glared at the hypo in his hand and shook his head.

“Well what could I say? I’m sorry Adele, but I really need to go to bed. I’m not tired; I just want to go to sleep.”

He snorted angrily and shoved the hypo against his thigh, pressing the nozzle hard onto his skin. Once the injection was finished he tossed the device onto the nightstand and slid under the covers. He closed his eyes and didn’t even register it when he descended into dreamless sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  Della Mason’s son was asleep, leaving her alone in the living room. In the subdued lighting of the room she sat in her favourite chair, a large PADD in her hands. With a bowed head, her eyes misted as images slowly scrolled across the screen. As one particular image appeared, she pressed pause and sighed as a photo of her and Jean-Luc glowed up at her. It had been taken by a street photographer in Paris many years previous. They were in each other’s arms, facing each other, noses just touching. She had a dreamy smile on her face and he was staring intently into her eyes, his mouth just open. She remembered how, just after the snap had been taken, they had kissed languidly…then  hungrily. What had begun as a stroll through a city park became an urgent race back to his flat where they tumbled into bed and made love for the rest of that lazy summer afternoon.

Colour rose in her cheeks as the memories of that day flooded into her mind. Heat bloomed in her genitals as she let her head rest on the cushions behind her. She tossed the PADD to one side and closed her eyes, letting her mind furnish the images of their lovemaking. She recalled how Jean-Luc had risen up on his hands to stare at her as he thrust slowly in and out of her. The muscles of his chest and arms corded and flexed as his body moved in her, but his face remained a mask of concentration, his dark hazel eyes boring into her, transfixing her with their intensity.

She undid her uniform pants and slipped a hand inside, under the elastic of her underwear and easing her fingers through her wet folds. In her mind’s eye she saw Jean-Luc increasing the force and frequency of his thrusts and her fingers found her clit and teased it. Already highly aroused, she parted her legs and lifted her hips as she quickened her fingers. With her eyes tightly closed she saw Jean-Luc’s mask finally slip as his orgasm consumed him. He closed his eyes and lifted his head, opening his mouth, his lips drawn back to expose his teeth as he emitted a low growl.

She felt her climax approaching and she slipped two fingers inside her, pressing her thumb hard against her clit. As she was vaulted into ecstasy she bit her lip to keep from crying out, lest she wake her son.

She panted through the aftershocks, gently feathering her finger over her sensitive clit. Slowly she recovered until she opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling.

“Oh my God Jean-Luc…I want you…and by God I’ll have you!”

She picked up the PADD, had one last look at the photo and sighed before deactivating the device and going to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   Senator Narwan Jemurl bowed low before the Proconsul, keeping his smile hidden. The Romulan was tall for his race and highly intelligent. The Proconsul watched him keenly as he paid his respects, never once forgetting he was facing a devious and mercenary adversary. Narwan, having given due respect to his leader, allowed his eyes to travel up to meet the eyes of the Proconsul. The powerful Romulan stifled his outrage at this breech of manners, knowing the information his senator possessed was worth the infraction. He also knew there were other…less convivial methods of extracting information, but for now he was content to conform to the niceties of the Imperial Chamber.

“You have spoken to the Antorian?”

Narwan nodded sagely.

“Yes my Lord.”

“Is everything in readiness?”

Narwan’s smug smile irritated the Proconsul but he hid it well.

“Of course my Lord. Once we have Picard and the Federation by default, Tar Taz will be installed as Emperor and we can begin our invasion of Antoria.”

The Proconsul’s smile was cold and cruel.

“And he suspects nothing?”

With a shake of his head, Narwan had to control the urge to laugh out loud.

“No my Lord! He still thinks we will build a base, nothing more.”

The sigh of satisfaction made Narwan glow inside. Already he could see his reward and it made him giddy with happiness. His son would find himself a Commander with his own ship, his daughter would marry into a good family and he…he would finally be able to wipe clean a stain that had existed in his family since his Grandfather had been executed on charges of treason. It was a good day.

With an imperious wave of his hand, the Proconsul indicated the audience was over. Deciding he was magnanimous enough to give another deep bow, Narwan had turned in preparation to leave when the older man’s deep voice stopped him in his tracks.

“Oh senator…remind Darnid that I want the names of the Federation operatives on Antoria.”

Caught flat footed, Narwan turned to face his leader, struggling to keep his dismay from his face.

“Darnid, my Lord?”

The utterly cold smile made Narwan’s recent happiness turn to dust. The Proconsul lifted a hand with affected, bored indifference.

“Oh come now senator…you know full well who I mean. Darnid, the Fretan, the little dog you’ve been feeding scraps to. Did you think you were the only one keeping his leash tight?”

Narwan swallowed and tried to keep his panic from showing.

“Oh by the Gods…I’ve underestimated you!”

The Proconsul’s eyes glittered as he sat forward in his high backed chair and said with cold menace,

“A word of advice senator. Nothing…absolutely nothing goes on without my knowing about it! You would do well to remember that if you truly want to find redemption for you and your family.”

As he bowed again, Narwan briefly closed his eyes and swallowed to wet his dry mouth. It wasn’t until he had left the chamber that he was able to wipe the sweat from his brow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       It was James who answered the chime from the front door. Activating the screen by his bed, he rubbed his sleepy eyes and summoned his ragged voice.

“Della?”

A sheepish Captain stood under the outside light in the dim light of early dawn.

“Sorry to wake you James…is your father up yet?”

James shrugged, still knuckling his eyes.

“Ah…well if he was, he would have answered the chime.”

Della offered an apologetic smile and nodded.

“Oh, well I’m sorry to have woken you James, but I need to see your father.”

The young man smiled.

“No problem, come on in.”

The door lock deactivated and Della reached for the knob, saying softly,

“No need for you to get up James, I’ll just go up to Jean-Luc’s room.”

Already snuggling back under the covers, James mumbled,

“Okay.”

And promptly went back to sleep.

Della smiled, but her nervousness showed in her light step as she ascended the stairs. She passed the closed doors of the children’s bedrooms and approached the forbidding closed door at the end of the hall with growing trepidation, however she didn’t hesitate, opening the door and stepping into the dim light of the room. As usual, Jean-Luc hadn’t completely closed the drapes and, by the pinking light of dawn, her eyes travelled over his sleeping form. Sprawled on his back, one arm flung over the top of his head, the other outflung from his body, across the mattress. The doona was askew, although it was quite cool in the room. His chest was bared and one leg poked out, only partially covered, his foot sticking out over the edge of the mattress. Congratulating herself for being in comfortable civilian clothes, Della silently approached the bed until she stood by its side, listening to Jean-Luc’s soft, steady breathing. She took a deep breath and gingerly sat on the bed before summoning the courage to do what she had come for. With her hand trembling, she lightly feathered her fingers over his nipple, making it pebble. Other than that reaction, Jean-Luc continued to sleep obliviously.  Della smiled tenderly down at the somnolent man then slowly leaned forward and kissed the puckered pap. Still Jean-Luc slumbered on. Growing bolder, Della quickly stood and stripped off her clothing, leaving her in a camisole and thong. Regaining her seat on the bed, she bent and kissed his nipple again, but this time she lightly trailed the fingers of one hand down the mid line of his torso and gently under the waist band of his shorts. When she encountered his flaccid penis he sighed and shifted slightly, bringing his outflung arm up to join its partner above his head. She stilled for a few seconds then, emboldened, flicked her tongue out to tease his nipple while her questing hand gently took hold of his penis and carefully squeezed. She sighed as she was rewarded by his slowly growing erection. As he hardened in her hand she began to gently stroke him while continuing to tease his nipples.

Being unable to dream, Jean-Luc responded in a purely physical way, his response dictated by the stimulation he was receiving. Della lifted her head and licked her lips as the growing light outside revealed more of his face. Shadows still cast their darkness over much of his face, but that which she could see was tense, as if he was waiting for something. Her smile widened as she threw caution to the wind and softly kissed his firm lips. He pursed them and sighed, raising his hips a little as his now full erection sought further stimulation.

Very carefully, Della pushed the doona down then eased his shorts down until his penis was free. She then gently draped herself over his body. He woke as she kissed him, her tongue slipping inside his mouth as he gasped. His hands quickly descended and grabbed her buttocks as he pushed his hips up, thrusting against her. She moaned into his mouth and he growled deep in his throat as he suddenly rolled them, pinning her underneath him.

She looked up at him and caught her breath as his glazed eyes stared down at her. He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her head back, exposing her throat as he thrust hard against her, bowing his head to bite her neck.

Overwhelmed with desire, Della cried out his name and he abruptly froze. His head snapped up and his eyes cleared. Recognition dawned and he promptly rose to his knees, summoning his voice as he pulled his shorts up.

“Della? What the hell…”

Reaching up, Della caressed his chest and smiled.

“I love you Jean-Luc.”

He savagely grabbed her hand, gripping it so hard she winced.

“How dare you come into my home to seduce me! Get out!”

She slowly sat up and, with her free hand, boldly caressed his now limp penis through his shorts.

“Oh come on Jean-Luc…you wanted it…you were rock hard my love.”

He left the bed still gripping her hand. With a strong tug, he pulled her off the mattress then bent to pick up her discarded clothes.

“Get dressed, then get out. I will expect your request for a transfer on my desk when I arrive this morning.”

Startled by this turn of events, Della struggled to free her hand from his vice-like grip.

“No Jean-Luc…please…listen to me. We could be so good together, like we were years ago. All you have to do is let go…let me love you.”

He suddenly released her hand and grabbed her shoulders, giving her a shake.

“I don’t love you Della! I love Beverly, it was Beverly I was about to make love to, not you.”

The Captain lifted her hands to cradle his face.

“But she’s dead Jean-Luc! How much longer will you deny the truth?”

The anger began to wane, replaced by pity.

“Della, she’s not dead, I have received information that almost certainly proves she was abducted. Please Della…I’m sorry you love me and I’m sorry you wanted something impossible, but it cannot be. I love my wife. Now please…leave and don’t come back.”

Della sniffed as tears slid down her cheeks. She dressed then turned for the door, but hesitated and turned back. In a soft whisper she said,

“Please Jean-Luc…don’t make me transfer. This won’t happen again, I promise.”

Jean-Luc took a step back and sadly shook his head.

“It’s for the best Della. If we keep working together it will just prolong your pain. You have extensive experience in a lot of fields…go and see what’s out there. You and Tony deserve some happiness.”

Nothing more was said and, as the bedroom door softly closed, Jean-Luc lowered his head and rubbed his eyes.

“Merde!”

He cast a look at his bed but knew sleep was well gone. With a sigh he went into the bathroom, stripped off his shorts and entered the shower stall, closing his eyes and raising his head under the hot spray. As the water cascaded down his tense body, memories of what Della did to him surfaced and he was surprised when his erection returned. He sighed and ignored it, shifting his head and opening his eyes to reach for the soap, but with the addition of suds to the hot water, the sexual tension rose until he could ignore it no longer. With a grunt of annoyance he gripped his penis and began to quickly stroke himself. Sometimes, when the need became too much he would indulge himself, creating elaborate fantasies involving Beverly, or simply flooding his mind with memories of his wife as he took his time bringing relief, but that wasn’t his intention this morning. With gritted teeth he fixed one image in his mind…that of Beverly, spread below him as she came, shrieking his name. Feeling his climax imminent, he closed his eyes, let his head loll back on his neck and gave himself to his orgasm with a soft cry. As he began to recover he choked back a sob, emitting one heartfelt word, a word of benediction and love.

“Beverly…”

He placed his folded arms on the wall and pillowed his head, allowing the water to needle his back. Tears slid down his cheeks, his breathing ragged. Minutes passed before he finally straightened and shut off the taps. Stepping out of the stall, he dried himself roughly then stood, staring at his image in the basin mirror. His vacant stare was interrupted by a soft knock on his bedroom door. Wrapping a towel around his slim waist, he padded barefoot into the main room and opened the door. James greeted him with a lopsided grin, his dark hair askew.

“Morning Dad, I’ve made a cup of coffee for you.”

Jean-Luc looked down to see the offered cup. He smiled his thanks then sighed, trying to dispel the dark mood that had threatened to overwhelm him.

“Thank you James, that was kind of you.”

The tall young man’s eyes twinkled as he said,

“Would Della like a cup too?”

Jean-Luc’s eyes darkened and the humour left his face.

“She’s not here James.”

James’s face fell.

“Oh…I...I ah…”

He gave his throat an embarrassed clearing.

“Sorry Dad…I thought…”

Jean-Luc had to concentrate to keep the anger out of his voice.

“Well you were mistaken son. Captain Mason has left and won’t be returning.”

James jerked his head up, a frown on his face.

“What…never?”

Jean-Luc gave a curt nod.

“She will be requesting a transfer as soon as possible.”

James shook his head.

“But…why Dad?”

The anger began to creep into his voice and Jean-Luc struggled to stifle it.

“That’s not your concern. Now, thank you for the coffee, I will join you downstairs in a little while.”

Hearing the firm dismissal in his voice, James summoned a smile and a nod.

“Okay Dad.”

Jean-Luc closed the door and made his way back to the bathroom, idly sipping his coffee. With a quick glance in the mirror, he growled softly and shook his head.

“Just shave yourself Jean-Luc…don’t think about anything. Go through the motions…get through the day.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Adele frowned up at her brother, her confusion clear.

“What…she’ll never come back?”

James shrugged.

“That’s what he said. She was to request a transfer this morning and never return here.”

Adele stood, went to the replicator and ordered poached eggs on toast. Her silence stretched as she retrieved the plate and retook her seat. James idly traced his fingers around the rim of his coffee cup as he waited for his sister to comment further. Eventually she snorted, shaking her head.

“It makes no sense. They were getting on really well…and I know Captain Mason had the hots for Dad…dammit James, what a cock up.”

Again the tall young man shrugged.

“Yeah well you know Dad. If Della came on strong he probably reacted badly.”

Adele chewed thoughtfully, swallowed and sighed.

“Yeah, you’re right of course. Geeze James, the way this is going, Dad will never find another woman.”

James snorted.

“You’re forgetting something Delly.”

She raised her eyebrows, chewing quickly.

“He doesn’t want another woman.”

Adele closed her eyes and sighed with resignation.

“Yeah, you’re right.”

They were silenced by Jean-Luc’s arrival. He smiled at his children and went to the reclimator, disposing of his now empty cup. James stood, went to the replicator and said with a smile,

“What would you like Dad?”

“Oh just some toast and tea I think.”

“Marmalade?”

Jean-Luc thought for a few seconds then shook his head.

“No I don’t think so…how about raspberry jam?”

James smile grew to a grin.

“Raspberry jam it is.”

Jean-Luc took his seat at the table, aware that Adele was surreptitiously staring at him. He ignored her until she said softly,

“James told me about Captain Mason. Would you like to talk about it Dad?”

As James placed his breakfast in front of him, Jean-Luc smiled his thanks up at his son, picked up his tea and took a sip, all the while gathering his thoughts.

He put the cup down, picked up a half of toast then lifted his head and smiled at his daughter with what he hoped was sincerity.

“I appreciate your concern Adele, but I’d rather not talk about it if you don’t mind.”

Undaunted, and showing bravery James was unaware she possessed; Adele reached forward and took her father’s hand. Her sympathetic tome made Jean-Luc grit his teeth.

“Dad…”

His smile stayed in place but his dark eyes hardened.

“Really Adele, it’s fine. Now I have a lot on my mind…so if it’s all right with you, let’s just drop it shall we?”

His face was smiling, although his eyes were hard, but what tipped the balance was his deep voice. Despite speaking softly, there was an unmistakable ring of authority and although Adele had been known to get around her father on occasion, she knew with certainty that this was definitely not one of those times.

She briefly closed her eyes to hide her pain and disappointment, sighed then opened her eyes to smile tenderly at her father.

“Okay Dad, but if you want to talk…”

His eyes softened and his smile grew.

“You will be the first person I go to.”

James had already finished his breakfast and Adele was finishing just as her father ate his last bit of toast. They all stood together, grinning widely. Jean-Luc asked,

“Adele would you like a lift to school?”

James was about to interject but his sister cut him off.

“Yes thanks Dad, that would be ace.”

The Ambassador gave a kindly nod then left the room to retrieve his brief case. James grinned at his sister and annoyed her by ruffling her hair.

You’re devious little sister, but be warned, he won’t talk about it, no matter how hard you try.”

The young woman shrugged and laughed at her brother.

“Well you can’t blame a girl for trying.”

James sobered.

“Yeah well…just be ready when he bites your head off.”

Adele went to her brother and hugged him. Into his ear she whispered,

“How are things with you and Sarah?”

James gently pushed her away and tapped the tip of her nose.

“Why…aren’t we nosey this morning.”

Adele chucked and punched his broad shoulder.

“Just answer the question.”

James folded his arms and took on a mock serious face.

“Well, we’re okay. We’ve had sex.”

Adele gasped.

“You have? Real sex…not just fooling around?”

James nodded, his face splitting into a grin.’

“Yeah.”

“Wow! What was it like?”

His grin grew.

“Absolutely wonderful! Honestly Adele, it was ace.”

Adele’s face grew serious.

“And Sarah…did she like it too”
James nodded enthusiastically.

“Oh yeah! At first it was you know…a little awkward and painful, but now…WOW!”

She grabbed his arm, pushing up his sleeve and peering at the underside of his forearm.
“You have an implant?”

Rolling his eyes, James pulled his arm free and sighed.

“We both have. Now I have to go.”

Adele went up on tiptoe and kissed her brother’s cheek. Her eyes were shining when she said softly,

“I’m really happy for you James.”

James sighed.

“Thanks Delly, I love you.”

“You too.”

Jean-Luc knew he had interrupted something when he came in, but brother and sister parted with a smile and left with him, seemingly happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 Lieutenant Jeremy Henderson was confused. He had watched as Captain Mason had cleared out her office. She was already there when he arrived and had made considerable progress in her work before he was able to offer assistance. She refused, saying only that she was requesting a transfer. His boss was late, uncharacteristic for him and the young Lieutenant was beginning to think the world had gone slightly mad.

When Jean-Luc finally arrived, he went straight into his office and it was half an hour before Jeremy was summoned. By this time, Della had vacated her office and left the building.

“Yes Ambassador?”

Jean-Luc looked up from his work and sighed.

“Have a seat Lieutenant.”

Jeremy sat nervously, perched on the edge of his chair.

“Thank you Sir.”

Jean-Luc plastered a smile on his face and took a deep breath.

“I suppose you know that Captain Mason has requested a transfer?”

The young man nodded.

“Yes Sir.”

“Well it will take place as soon as possible, so I will need a new Adjutant. Please inform Command that I require a person of no less rank than Captain, a person with extensive experience in diplomacy and inter planetary governments.”

Jeremy stood, flushed then offered his boss an isolinear chip.

“Ambassador, Captain Mason asked me to give you this.”

Jean-Luc frowned, but took the chip with a soft,

“That will be all Lieutenant.”

“Yes Sir.”

Jeremy turned and left, closing the door quietly.

Jean-Luc sat staring at the chip, debating whether or not he really wanted to play it, but, being the man he was, he sighed and slotted it into his computer. The image of Della showed a woman in pain. Red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes stared out at him and her voice was low and husky.

“Well Jean-Luc, you’ve got your wish. As you can see, I’m gone.”

She paused to wipe her eyes and sighed.

“You said Tony and I deserve happiness…and that’s true, but I thought that happiness would be found with you.”

She looked away, then straightened and set her jaw.

“But obviously that’s not to be. Okay Jean-Luc, you win…I won’t bother you again and I hope you find what you’re looking for…God knows, you deserve it for waiting so long.”

The message ended and Jean-Luc briefly closed his eyes and sighed. He deactivated the screen only to be called by Jeremy.

“Ambassador?”

“Yes Lieutenant?”

“Ambassador Tar Taz is calling Sir.”

“Put him through please.”

The image of the huge Antorian filled the screen. Jean-Luc summoned a smile and donned his diplomatic mantle.

“Ambassador, a pleasure as always.”

Tar Taz smiled, curling his eye stalks in polite greeting.

“And you Ambassador Picard.”

“To what do I owe the pleasure?”

It was disconcerting to watch the being blink his eyes at different times, but Jean-Luc was used to it and ignored it.

“I was wondering if we could meet Ambassador. I have been in touch with my Emperor and I have some questions for you.”

Jean-Luc gave a short nod.

“Ah…would you wait one moment while I check my schedule please?”

The big alien gave a ponderous nod.

“Of course.”

Jean-Luc paused the screen and called Jeremy.

“Lieutenant Henderson?”

“Yes Ambassador.”

“Ambassador Tar Taz has requested a meeting. When am I free?”

“Oh…ah…you have two and a half hours free this afternoon at fourteen hundred Sir.”

‘Thank you Lieutenant.”

Reactivating the screen, Jean-Luc smiled widely.

“Would this afternoon at two be convenient Ambassador?”

The Antorian grinned.

“That would be excellent Ambassador. I will come to your office.”

Jean-Luc gave a small bow.

“I look forward to it.”

The call was terminated and Jean-Luc sat back, idly rubbing his fingers over his lower lip.

“How interesting. Will you show your hand now Tar Taz?”

 

 

 

 

                   Seated in her temporary office at Starfleet Command, Della stared at the computer screen, a deep frown on her face. Jean-Luc may have ordered her from his life but she was unable to simply forget him. She was in love with him, had been for many, many years and she was not about to ‘move on’ as he suggested, not when her heart told her he was nearing danger. The information on the screen glowed softly, casting its subdued light over her face, making shadows where her brow had lowered. She shook her head, sat back and rubbed her face.

“So…it seems his wife may be alive after all.”

One part of her was overjoyed for the love of her heart, knowing what this would mean to him, but another part, a stronger more desperate part suddenly realised just how she could use what she’s just learned. She stabbed off the computer and wandered to the window, staring vacantly out over the bay and, as her mind churned, she whispered,

“What would you do for this information Jean-Luc…just how far would you go?”

She stood motionlessly for over an hour, formulating one plan after another, but no matter how she imagined the scenarios, one thing remained absolute. She was determined to get her man. She wanted him and she’d damn well have him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                It occurred to Jean-Luc, as he watched the Antorian Ambassador sweep imperiously into his office, just how much a person’s image was dictated by the clothes they wore. Since leaving Starfleet to become an Ambassador, he had, for the first time in more years than he cared to admit, been without the mantle of authority his uniform represented. Not being an ostentatious man, he favoured simple clothing, muted colours and simple cuts to his clothes, relying instead on his abilities and extensive experience to put forward his image. Tar Taz, on the other hand, accentuated his massive bulk with brightly coloured capes which came to the floor behind him and swirled dramatically when he turned. He was also in the habit of hunching his broad shoulders to adopt an almost intimidating stance. In his many years of space travel, Jean-Luc had encountered many species, indeed many individuals who had employed various means to intimidate him and so far none had succeeded. Tar Taz seemed to know this but was somehow unable, or unwilling to abandon his tactics, so Jean-Luc chose to ignore it.

With a flourish of his heavy cape, the Antorian took his seat on the sofa, indicating to Jean-Luc he wished this meeting to be informal. Having stood to receive his guest, Jean-Luc went to the lounge and sat, offering a smile.

“The rain this morning was welcome.”

Tar Taz smiled, curling his eye stalks.

“Indeed, but I must admit, I miss the distinctive smell rain brings to my home. Here the odours are so…different, so…alien.”

He smiled apologetically.

 “Forgive me Ambassador Picard; I have been away from home far too long.”

Jean-Luc gave a small shake of his head.

“Not at all Ambassador, I understand completely. Now Sir, you say you have been in contact with your Emperor?”

Noting that his adversary, though always polite, wasn’t about to waste time on any more pleasantries. He smiled, hoping the predatory gleam in his eyes was missed by the Human.

“Yes Ambassador. The Emperor wishes to know if a delegation from Antoria can sit on the Federation Council.”

Said with such deadpan delivery, Jean-Luc almost lost his composure. Knowing in advance that this outrageous request was going to be made didn’t detract from its force when it was delivered. Years of experience held Jean-Luc in good stead. His face remained impassive as he replied,

“But surely Ambassador Tar Taz, you must know that is impossible. Seats on the Federation Council are for member worlds only. Antoria has made no application to join.”

The smile that emerged on the big alien was apologetic, but Jean-Luc was too good at his job not to see right through it.

“I am sorry Ambassador Picard, but the Emperor feels that the treaty is manifestly unfair. Unless we gain a seat on the Council, I’m afraid the terms of the treaty will be null and void.”

With a frown, Jean-Luc stood and looked down at his guest.

“I don’t understand Sir. Does Antoria wish to join the Federation?”

Tar Taz shook his head.

“No.”

“Then why is the treaty unfair? In what way is it unfair? The trade of goods was agreed on, the exchange of information was equitable…you yourself said what a boon it would be to your world. Now you say it is unfair? In what way?”

The Antorian spread his hands and shook his head.

“I do apologise Ambassador, I know how much time and effort has gone into the treaty thus far, but my Emperor feels Antoria is being taken advantage of. The Federation is reaping far more from us than we are getting in return. Now, and I have been authorised to say this, if the Federation was willing to grant us…say…weapons technology…well that would be a different matter entirely!”

This time Jean-Luc gaped, he simply couldn’t help it. The unmitigated gall of the being was just too blatantly manipulative to believe.

Jean-Luc abruptly turned and stalked to his desk where he turned again and faced the alien.

“You have to be joking.”   

Tar Taz stood, hunched his massive shoulders and stiffened his eye stalks in a belligerent display.

“I assure you Ambassador, I am most certainly not joking…and if that is your attitude to my perfectly reasonable request, then I think this meeting, and the treaty, is at an end.”   

While Jean-Luc looked on in annoyed silence, the Antorian left, swirling his cape around him in a final defiant gesture.       

Ten minutes later Jean-Luc was talking to a very animated Federation Secretary.

“Oh Gods…what a mess!”

Jean-Luc lowered his head and sighed.

“I wholeheartedly agree. The thing is…what do we do about it?”

The secretary rubbed her face with her hands and shrugged in resigned irritation.

“They have us over a barrel and they know it! We need that treaty!”

Jean-Luc’s head snapped up, his eyes widening.

“But surely Madam Secretary you’re not advocating bowing to these outrageous demands?”

The tired woman lifted her head and glared.

“Of course not! But we do need to smooth their feathers. I don’t have to remind you, Jean-Luc how vitally important it is that we stay on good terms with these people. The position of their world is of huge strategic importance to us…we need these people on side.”

With a glower, Jean-Luc sat back and ran his hands over his head.

“That may be so, but my hands are effectively tied! I can’t offer them a seat on the Council, nor can the Federation supply weapons technology. Just what am I supposed to do?”

The Secretary smiled but there was no warmth in it.

“Leave that to me. I’ll convince Tar Taz to stay a while longer and in the meantime I want you to cool your heels.”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“Fine by me.”

“Good. Now Jean-Luc, why are you requesting a new Adjutant?”

The Ambassador lowered his head and grimaced, once again amazed at how fast gossip spread within the organisation. He looked up and summoned what he hoped was a bored look.

“Oh just a bit of internal reshuffling.”

The Secretary sat forward, her intense green eyes trying to read every nuance of the Ambassador.

“Are you sure that’s all Jean-Luc. As I understood things, you and Captain Mason got on well. You knew each other years ago didn’t you?”

Sighing to cover his dismay, Jean-Luc nodded slowly.

“Yes, that is so, but Captain Mason is too good an officer to be wasted in this arena. She needs to spread her wings.”

“I see. And was this a mutual decision?”

With his face devoid of all emotion, Jean-Luc’s dark eyes glittered dangerously as he said mildly,

“You would have to ask Captain Mason.”

The Secretary knew Jean-Luc well enough to know she had pressed far enough. She smiled and offered a small chuckle.

“Enigmatic to the last, eh Jean-Luc? Okay, matter closed. I’ll be in touch.”

The screen reverted to the Federation logo and Jean-Luc sat back and sighed. Now that he had some time on his hands he called up an encrypted file and opened it. Carrying out Harry’s request, he had started to sniff around the Secretary’s dealings with the Vulcan Science Academy and so far what he had learned had given him cause to dig further. Harry was right, something was going on.

 

 

 

                  Beverly sweated heavily as she worked with the weights. One good thing had come from the rapes, the fog she had existed in had lifted and she burned with excess energy. As usual, her days were structured around her meal times, but in the interim she no longer stared blankly at a computer screen, or sat listlessly in the courtyard, now she attacked the gym equipment, working out until she was so exhausted she fell into her bed and slept, but something else had changed. She now slept so heavily she dreamed.

She lifted the weights until her arms trembled, the muscles protesting. With a soft grunt, she laid them down then mounted the static cycle. Her knuckles showed white as she gripped the handles, her legs burning as she pedalled as fast as she could. She didn’t hear the door open and with her eyes tightly closed she didn’t see her visitors until a large hand grabbed her upper arm. Crying out in alarm, her eyes snapped open and she gaped.

“Get away from me!”

Her mute keeper stoically dragged her from the cycle. It was then that she saw Darnid. He gestured to the mute and he dragged her struggling to the bed. She fought with all she had, scratching, punching, kicking and biting but the huge alien ignored her struggles and calmly went about shackling her to the bed. Once immobilised, Darnid approached her with a small sharp knife. In a matter of moments he had cut her clothing from her. He then stood back and slowly stripped of his filthy clothes. He then straddled Beverly and grabbed her face, lowering his head until his foetid breath washed over her.

“Ah my pretty, are you ready for me again?”

He moved closer and opened his mouth, preparing to kiss her. Beverly took in his half closed eyes and acted. She suddenly lifted her head and bit his lower lip and chin, not letting go as he pulled back in alarm and pain. He screamed and flailed his arms, attempting to beat her face, but he was too closely connected to her. Beverly bit harder, marshalling all her strength. Blood filled her mouth, making her gag but still she held on. It wasn’t until a large hand reached in and pulled her nose violently upward that she finally had to let go. Darnid left the bed quickly, his hands holding his wounded face. His cold black eyes shone with hate and fury as he spat,

“You will pay for that!”

He found dressing difficult, as he had to hold one hand against his face to try to stem the bleeding. In the end, he held his shirt against his face as he stepped up to the bed and used his free hand to punch Beverly in the face, breaking her nose. As she gasped in pain and shock, Darnid savagely pinched her nipple until she cried out.

“I will return shortly, then you will know my anger.”

While he was gone, Beverly struggled to breathe freely. Blood from her smashed nose was trickling down her throat, making it hard for her to draw breath. She swallowed as much as she could, knowing the blood in her stomach was eventually going to make her vomit. All the while her mute keeper stood impassively at the foot of the bed, his expressionless eyes watching her.

True to his word, Darnid returned after about half and hour, his face repaired. He wasted no time in stripping off his clothes and again straddling her, but this time across her hips, well away from her mouth. With one hand he slowly stroked his enormous, ugly penis while the other hand caused Beverly agony by cruelly pinching and twisting her nipples.

“I have been waiting for this woman…you will please me many times before I leave.”

Between gasps of pain Beverly glared at her tormentor and snarled,

“Go to hell you little fuckwit!”

Darnid’s evil black eyes glittered as he shifted down her body to kneel between her spread legs. He pulled her labia apart then suddenly lowered his head to suck strongly on her clitoris.

Beverly cried out as the sensitive organ was forced to engorge with her blood. Darnid kept sucking, causing Beverly to jerk in unwanted response. Far from pleasurable, it was painful, almost unbearable as he tortured her with his mouth. When he abruptly stopped and sat up, Beverly almost sobbed with relief. That was until he used his ragged fingernails to pinch the swollen little organ at its base. He slowly increased the pressure until his nails penetrated the flesh. Beverly screamed, her back arching as he kept on pinching until her clitoris was almost severed. He withdrew his hand, but before she could even hope to recover he forced his huge penis inside her, tearing her vagina and bludgeoning her cervix.

As the Fretan thrust violently into his victim, he made a curt gesture to the mute. As Beverly continued to scream his large hand covered her mouth and ruined nose. Suddenly unable to breathe, Beverly writhed on the bed, struggling vainly against her attackers. Darnid ignored her actions, closing his eyes as he approached his orgasm. As he came he opened his eyes and bent his head to bite her nipple. Beverly’s vision began to grey, the periphery of her sight closing in. Blood vessels in her eyes burst and her struggles weakened, until she was barely able to move. Just as she was about to lose consciousness, the mute removed his hand. The first gasp of air made her head spike with pain. She coughed violently and drew another breath, blinking rapidly.

A cold, hard hand grabbed her chin and shook.

“Look at me woman!”

Getting her eyes to focus was difficult, but Beverly managed to glare up at the rapist, hate pouring from her eyes.

“That was good…I like it when you wriggle. Now…again I think.”

He pushed himself into her and the searing agony of her damaged clitoris and internal injuries made she cry out in pain and anguish.

This time his thrusts weren’t so violent, but that didn’t diminish the pain. She wanted to stay still, to deprive him of some of his pleasure, but the agony made her writhe, trying to avoid his plunging penis. Again he came quickly and again the hand covered her nose and mouth. Each time she regained consciousness he would rape her again and again. Soon she was almost incoherent, the agony and repeated smotherings robbing of her stamina. When his disgusting mouth covered hers and his tongue invaded her mouth she tried to turn her head, but he grabbed her chin and held tight. He raped her again as he kissed her, and when he finished he bit her as she had bitten him.

Finally he withdrew his bloodied penis and left the bed. He used Beverly’s tattered clothing to wipe himself as he snarled,

“Get cleaned up, I will return later.”

As before, the mute kneeled as Darnid connected a device to his head. After inputting the instructions, Darnid left. The huge alien unshackled Beverly and carried her to the shower. She was unable to stand so he deposited her in the stall and turned on the water. With water cascading over her body, Beverly stared blankly as the alien washed her with surprising gentleness. Blood and semen trickled from her, mixing with the water before disappearing down the drain. The mute washed her thoroughly, although he would not touch her genitals, for which Beverly was grateful. The throb of her injured clitoris pervaded her whole body, even overriding the pain of her internal injuries and her lacerated face. Her head pounded and her sight was unreliable as the alien gently picked her up and laid her on the stripped bed. With the same gentleness he dried her then refastened the shackles. Her blackening eyes were swollen almost shut and she knew the risk of infection in the bite was high, but all she wanted to do was sleep. Shock and blood loss were taking their toll. She fought it though to look up into the eyes of the mute. Summoning her ragged voice she said in an almost whisper,

“Please…don’t let him hurt me again. Let me go…please…I beg you…”

The alien stared emotionlessly at her before turning and leaving the room. Beverly bit back tears and, as she slipped into sleep, she filled her mind with visions of her beloved Jean-Luc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  James nuzzled Sarah’s neck as they lay quietly, savouring the afterglow of their lovemaking. The soft knock at his bedroom door made James lift his head and mutter,

“Yes?”

His father’s voice came through.

“Dinner’s almost ready James.”

“Okay Dad, we’ll be down in a minute.”

There was a slight pause before Jean-Luc said questioningly,

“We?”

James smirked and gave Sarah a quick kiss as she dug him in the ribs.

“Ah yes Dad, Sarah’s here too.”

“Oh I see. What would Sarah like for dinner?”

As James was about to answer the man, Sarah bit his throat. He yelped, making his father say,

“James? Are you all right?”

With a mock-glare, James subdued his minx of a partner and sighed.

“Yes Dad I’m fine. Sarah will have the same as me.”

“All right, ten minutes then.”

“Right, Dad.”

As soon as James felt his father had gone, he pinned Sarah beneath him and tickled her mercilessly. She breathlessly begged for mercy and he relented, but not before he playfully nipped her earlobe.

“That was for teasing me…you wench!”

Her eyes sparkled as she looked up at him.
“You deserved it Picard! Now let me up, we need to shower…and no funny business.”

They entered the stall and James caressed her breasts.

“Not even a little bit?”

Sarah sighed and reached up to cradle his face.

“Not even a little bit lover boy, but I must say…we are getting very good at it, aren’t we.”

James grinned wolfishly, his male pride suitably stroked.

They washed quickly then dried and dressed. Sarah was brushing her hair as James sat behind her, massaging her shoulders.

Sarah…I want to tell you something.”

She paused in her brushing and half turned.

“What?”

He softly cleared his throat, took her hand and encouraged her to turn fully to face him.

“I think I love you.”

Sarah reddened and swallowed. She squeezed his hand and sighed.

“That’s really sweet James, but it’s not necessary.”

The confused young man shook his head.

“Not necessary? What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sarah closed her eyes and lowered her head.

“James you don’t have to say it, we’ll continue having sex. I really like it.”

Now angry, James left the bed to pace the room.
That’s not why I said it dammit! I love you Sarah…I think I have for a while now.”

When she said nothing, he went back to the bed.

“Do you love me?”

She shrugged.

“I don’t know James. You’re really cute and you’re a really nice bloke, but love? I just don’t know.”

The crestfallen young man left the bed again and stared out of his window. When he spoke his voice was low and rough.

“Then maybe we shouldn’t see each other any more.”

Sarah left the bed to join him. She put an arm around his waist and leaned against his tall frame.

“Why James? We’re having so much fun.”

He turned to look down at her.

“That’s just it Sarah…this isn’t just fun for me…it means too much and if you don’t love me, as I love you, then there’s not much sense in going on is there?”

Sarah sighed and shrugged.

“But James it’s just sex. Look, we like each other and at the moment there’s no one else I’d rather be with…can’t we just do it as friends? No strings attached?”

He lowered his face so she couldn’t see the tears in his eyes. Shaking his head he sighed.

“No Sarah…it means too much to me. I suppose it’s the way I’ve been brought up. It’s not that I don’t want to have sex with you, of course I do, it’s just that I want us to both feel the same way about it…that it means something more than just the physical.”

Sarah nodded slowly.

“Okay, I think I understand. Look, let me think about it and we’ll talk again. Okay?”

James gave a relieved sigh and kissed the tip of her nose.

“Okay.”

 They left the room and descended the stairs, the aroma of dinner teasing their senses.

 

                     After dinner the family and guest spent some time together before Adele went to her room, Jean-Luc went to his study and James took Sarah home. The Ambassador found two messages on his computer. One was from a Vulcan friend of his, the other was from Della. He ignored Della’s message to read the former. In essence, his Vulcan friend had found some very disturbing evidence that indeed, the Federation Secretary had been paying three Vulcan scientists for information about a new biological weapon delivery system. Such weapons were banned in the Federation and on Vulcan, even the thought of such a heinous weapon was an anathema to their philosophy. He composed a short missive, acknowledging the message and asking for more information. He then opened Della’s message. It was short and to the point. She told him Harry Pickford would meet him the following evening at their usual spot. The rest of the message was cryptic to say the least. He read it three times before he sat back and rubbed his face with his hands.

“What the hell are you on about Della? It is in your best interest to contact me; I know something you might like to know.”

He was about to send Della a massage when there was a soft knock at the door.

“Come.”

James poked his head in, a wry smile gracing his face.

“Are you free Dad?”

Jean-Luc hid his dismay well. For over five hours he had battled with an almost overwhelming need to go to sleep, but he summoned a smile and waved his son inside.

“Of course James. What can I do for you?”

The lad came in and took a seat, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. His first words took Jean-Luc by surprise.

“Dad…did you and Mum ever have sex when you weren’t in love?”

Jean-Luc took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds then let it out slowly.

“Ah…not really James.”

James frowned, rubbing his eyes.

“Yeah but…”

Seeing his father’s disapproving look, James sighed and corrected himself.

“Yes…but you waited ages for Mum. Wasn’t there a time when you didn’t love her, a time when you could’ve had sex with her?”

With a rueful smile, Jean-Luc scratched the area above his left ear.
“That question would be better put to your mother.”

A surge of sadness washed over James but he quashed it to ask,

“Why?”

“Because there was a time when she didn’t love me…and perhaps entertained the idea of having sex with me.”

James shook his head, confused.

“Would you like to explain that Dad?”

Jean-Luc’s smile grew.
“Well I fell in love with your mother the first time I saw her and, as you know, she married my best friend. Now that was hard, very hard on me and I tried everything I knew to get her out of my mind…”

He sighed deeply.

“But it was impossible. So I hid it.”

James shook his head.

“Why Dad? Didn’t she have a right to know?”

Jean-Luc’s eyes glittered and he slowly shook his head.

“No she didn’t James! She was married to my best friend…a man who meant more to me than my own brother…and…he was my First Officer. I had to hide it son, the alternative was too horrible to contemplate.”

There was a momentary silence while both men digested the words. Then Jean-Luc continued.

“After he died we didn’t see each other for a very long time, then she signed on when the Enterprise D was commissioned. We were awkward with each other at first…I always worried she blamed me for Jack’s death, but slowly, over the years we got closer and closer. Then on one mission together we were telepathically linked and we learned how each of us felt about the other. The rest, as they say, is history.”

James’s frown deepened.

“But you didn’t get together then.”

Jean-Luc smile grew wistful.

“No we didn’t. I offered a closer relationship, but your mother rejected me.”

The young man grunted.

“That must have hurt.”

The chuckle was warm, but James could see vestiges of the pain skitter across his father’s eyes.

“Oh yes…I was devastated, but I loved your mother and I knew she loved me. I had waited nearly thirty years and I was prepared to wait as long as she needed. Luckily I am a very patient man.”

James laughed and shook his head.

“You must have been so happy when she finally came to her senses.”

Jean-Luc’s smile was tender as he nodded.

“Oh yes! The day she told me she loved me…I was the happiest man in the universe. But why are we talking about this James? What’s on your mind?”

James stood, changed his mind and sat back down, flicking his hair off his brow.

“Sarah and I are having sex…and it’s really good, for both of us…but I don’t think she loves me.”

Jean-Luc sighed, briefly closing his eyes.

“And you love her.”

“Yeah.”

Jean-Luc let the lapse pass, instead trying to find the words to ease his son’s pain.

“James you are to be commended for feeling the way you do. Most young men…and I include myself in this, are only interested in having sex as often as possible with as many partners as they can. Love…feelings and relationships are the last thing on their mind. That you think it’s important for you and Sarah to be in love makes you a very special young man. I’m proud of you son.”

James snorted and shook his head.

“Thanks Dad, but it doesn’t help. Sarah says we should just have sex for the fun of it…no strings attached, but I don’t want to. What do I do Dad?…I don’t want to lose her.”

Jean-Luc placed a hand on James’s knee and sighed.

“James I could tell you that you’re young…that you will find another to love, but like you said, that won’t help. All I can tell you is to discuss it with Sarah, make sure you both know exactly how the other feels and try to find a compromise. You can’t force her to love you and she can’t force you to have sex when you don’t feel it’s right. If you’re honest with each other then hopefully you will find an answer without anyone being further hurt.”

James sighed and nodded.

“That sounds like good advice, thanks Dad.”

He stood, bringing his father to his feet. They stared into each other’s eyes for a few seconds before they spontaneously hugged.

James kissed his father’s cheek, saying softly,

“Bon nuit Papa.”

Jean-Luc smiled tenderly and reached up to ruffle James’s dark hair.

“Bon nuit James. Doux reves.”

The young man grinned.

“I’m sure my dreams will be sweet.”

Once James had left, Jean-Luc shut off his computer and left the study for bed. Della could wait until tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

                     When the rough hands grabbed her ankles, Beverly started awake to see a naked Darnid crawling up the bed between her legs. His huge, bulbous penis dragged its tip along the mattress, leaving a silvery trail of precome. He rose to his knees and took his penis in hand, pushing the head against her mutilated clitoris. Beverly cried out, doing all she could to move away from the contact. Darnid laughed and pushed harder. Fresh blood flowed, coating the head of his grotesque erection. He revelled in Beverly’s agony, delighting in making her writhe in her suffering. When he suddenly forced himself inside her she arched her back and screamed. He pumped into her fast and hard, coming within scant minutes. While still inside her, he raised his head and idly inserted a finger into his left nostril. He dug around for a few seconds, withdrew his finger and inspected the dark green object before licking it off his finger and into his mouth. The suffering Doctor turned her head in disgust but his cruel, bony fingers gripped her chin and forced her to face him. He snarled as he kissed her, resuming his quick thrusts as his tongue invaded her mouth. He abruptly lifted his head and growled as he came. Tears blurred Beverly’s vision and she felt her mind begin to close down. She managed to separate her mind from her body, still feeling the agony, but disassociated from it. She filled her mind with images of her husband and their children, floating above her body as Darnid raped her again and again. When he finally left, she was unaware. The mute unshackled her and again took her to the shower, carefully washing her before taking her back to the bed. But this time he didn’t re shackle her. He gently covered her with a blanket then stood at the foot of the bed, watching her as she slept.

 

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                              Although the Federation Secretary had told him to cool his heels, there was other work Jean-Luc had to do. He made it to his office on time, but it was a close thing. He hadn’t heard the alarm the first time it buzzed and it was only by going without breakfast that he’d made it on time.

As he sat at his desk he struggled with the desire to lie on the sofa and go to sleep. Such was the strength of this need, he had put a hypo in his briefcase and the temptation to use it was almost overwhelming. He took a large gulp of scalding black coffee to sharpen his mind and frowned at the desk screen, trying to decide whether or not to use a text message or a video to send to Della. In the end he decided on a text message. He selected the appropriate command and began to quietly speak.

“Della, thank you for passing on Mr.Pickford’s message, I will meet with him as planned. As to your other, rather cryptic message, what is it? You must know I do not appreciate being toyed with. If you have any information, please tell me. Regards, Jean-Luc.”

He tabbed off the computer and again looked longingly at the sofa. He closed his eyes, lifted his head and said quietly,

“Lieutenant Henderson, what is my schedule for today?”

“You are free until thirteen hundred when you have a meeting with the Federation Secretary Sir.”

“Thank you Lieutenant.”

Casting another look at the sofa, Jean-Luc sighed and lifted his briefcase onto the desk. He took out a few PADDs but his eyes were drawn to the hypo. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath then picked it up. He stood and walked to the sofa, calling softly,

“Computer wake me at twelve thirty.”

The gently chimes of acknowledgement went unheard as Jean-Luc injected himself and stretched out on the sofa, closing his eyes and sighing. He was asleep in seconds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Beverly woke several hours later. While lying motionlessly in the warmth of her bed, she could almost ignore the dull aches of her injuries, but as soon as she moved she moaned and curled up into a ball. The blankets were pulled back and two large hands encouraged her to sit up. As her vision cleared, Beverly could see clothing laid out at the foot of the bed. The realisation that Darnid had gone filled her with relief, but this time her injuries had not been seen to. Knowing protests were useless; Beverly slowly and stiffly got out of bed and dressed. She was then led into the living area to the table where a meal awaited her. Wincing, she sat gingerly and stared at the food, trying to control her rebellious stomach. Unfortunately she lost the battle and made a dash for the toilet, only just making it. The blood she had swallowed came back up along with the meagre remains of her last meal. She was sitting on the floor with her head on the toilet seat when the power suddenly went out.

Outside a storm raged and lightning struck frequently. One such strike took out the generator that had supplied the compound she was in.

The mute alien was on his feet immediately. He went to the door and opened it, exiting the room. He closed the door behind him but the automatic lock didn’t engage. The door swung silently open. Beverly, weak and disorientated, got to her feet and staggered into the living area. She was trying to make sense of what had happened when a particularly bright lightning bolt gave enough illumination in the room for her to see the open door.

With no thought for the consequences, and driven by a primal need, Beverly approached the door, fully expecting the shock to stun her. When nothing happened she cautiously stepped through.

Although in pitch black, her senses told her she was in a confined space. She held out her hands, feeling walls on either side. She went forward cautiously, ready to retreat at any second. She came to another open door and this led to a small room. At the far end was another open door and through it she could see outside. She lurched into a staggering trot and was out the door in seconds. Wind and rain nearly knocked her over as she fought to get her bearings. By the flickering light of the raging storm, she could see nothing but thick jungle. Not knowing when her captor might return, she plunged into the thick growth and prayed that she left no evidence of her passage. She pushed on blindly, at times crawling and frequently scratched by the undergrowth. Twice she was bitten on the hands by unseen creatures but she kept going, functioning on adrenaline alone.

Soaked through to her skin and beyond terrified, she forged on, hoping to find a place to hide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   The gentle chime of the computer pulled Jean-Luc from sleep. Disorientated, he sat up and grunted as he remembered where he was. He stood, stretched and went to his bathroom to wash his face. Then he went to his desk and activated the computer screen. There were two messages. The first, from his Vulcan friend he read immediately. Scowling, he digested the information then composed a short reply. He then opened the next message, one from Della. Reading, he sighed in frustration.

Jean-Luc what I have to tell you is of a sensitive nature. Meet me at my home tomorrow night at nineteen thirty hours. Della.

He was about to send a refusal when he hesitated and rethought. He knew Della well enough to know she wouldn’t risk his anger by playing foolish games and he also knew she had sources that reached far across the quadrant. His deep low voice rumbled through the quiet of his office.

“Acknowledged, I’ll be there. Jean-Luc.”

By the time he had taken care of a few more things there was a call from Jeremy.

“Ambassador? Your meeting with the Federation Secretary is in five minutes.”

Jean-Luc left his office and smiled at the young man.

“Thank you Lieutenant, I probably won’t be back after the meeting, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

On his feet, Jeremy smiled and nodded.

“Very good Sir.”

At his usual brisk pace Jean-Luc covered the distance between his office and the Secretary’s in the five minutes he had up his sleeve. The tall, grey haired woman smiled as her secretary escorted him in, gesturing to a seat on the sofa. While he made himself comfortable, she went to the replicator.

“Earl Grey?”

He smiled.

“Yes please.”

She got his drink and hers and brought them over to the low table. She pointed to Jean-Luc’s briefcase and grimaced.

“Taking work home?”

He offered a rueful smiled and shrugged.

“I find I work well at night. All those years on Starships.”

The Secretary chuckled and sighed.

“Your kids don’t mind?”

Jean-Luc shook his head, his smile growing.

“No, at their age it’s me who doesn’t see them, not the other way around.”

“How old are they now?”

His slight frown was well hidden behind his smile, but Jean-Luc was growing increasingly curious as to why the Secretary was indulging in small talk instead of getting down to business, as was her usual style. However, he answered her.

“Adele is seventeen, James eighteen.”

She sighed.

“That’s close.”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Eighteen months apart.”

He picked up his tea and sipped, surreptitiously watching her over the rim. She made a show of sipping her own drink then fiddled with the hem of her dress.

“Jean-Luc…do you know a Vulcan by the name of T’Van?”

Ah,” thought Jean-Luc. “The game’s afoot.”

The Ambassador adopted his best poker face and nodded once.

“Yes, I know him.”

The Secretary smiled nervously.

“My sources tell me you have been in recent contact with him.”

“Yes.”

“May I ask what for?”

Jean-Luc made a show of placing his cup on the table before levelling an uncompromising gaze at the woman.

“I think you know.”

There was an uncomfortable silence while each person watched the other. Eventually the Secretary sighed and rubbed her brow.

“The biological weapon delivery system.”

Jean-Luc refrained from commenting. The woman stood and began to pace.

“I suppose you want to know what’s going on?”

Jean-Luc’s voice was soft and very deep.

“If by that you mean do I want to know what the Federation is doing dabbling in prohibited technology…not to say developing banned biological weapons, then yes Madam Secretary, I do indeed want to know what’s going on.”

The Secretary collapsed into her seat, her shoulders slumped in defeat.

“I knew it would come out eventually. The short answer is I’m being blackmailed. I was given information as to whom to contact on Vulcan and told to pay for what I learned. Then I was to pass it on.”

Jean-Luc sat back, rubbing his fingers over his lower lip.

“That explains your actions, but why are the Vulcans doing this? Biological weapons were outlawed within the Federation centuries ago.”

The woman shrugged.

“I’ve no idea…yet. I have been making my own enquiries, but so far I’ve hit a brick wall. My gut feeling is that the three scientists I’ve been dealing with are being blackmailed too.”

“All right, that’s something we can look into. What are you being blackmailed over?”

The Secretary blushed and closed her eyes.

“It’s a classic case Ambassador. A smutty, tawdry affair. My blackmailer provided vids of me and my lover…needless to say we both need to protect our families…our respective jobs…the whole thing is a mess.”

“Has your lover been blackmailed?”

The woman looked up in surprise.

“I don’t know!”

Jean-Luc speared her with a hard look.

“Well I think you’d better find out. I’ll do what I can; perhaps we can pool our resources?”

Relief flooded across her face.

“Yes…yes that would be good.”

Jean-Luc stood.

“If that is all madam?”

She looked up and frowned.

“What? Oh…no…you have a meeting with Tar Taz the day after tomorrow. He wants to meet at some little pub out in the sticks. He said he’d send a map.”

Jean-Luc scowled.

“Has he changed his mind?”

The Secretary shook her head.

“To be honest I don’t know, but he is willing to meet you, that has to count for something.”

Jean-Luc gave a decisive nod.

“Very well madam, I will be in touch.”

He left the office, anger simmering under his stoic appearance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        Jean-Luc piloted the hover craft through the evening traffic over the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Exiting at the appropriate time, he throttled back and joined the lower bands of slower moving traffic as he negotiated the streets leading to Della’s home.

The lights were on as he landed and cut the power. He was just closing the hatch when the front door opened. Della took a few tentative steps forward but stopped at seeing his cold look. She offered a small smile and gestured inside. Jean-Luc nodded once and entered her home, coming to a standstill in the foyer.

“Please Jean-Luc, come and sit down.”

He shook his head.

“I’d rather not. What is it Della?”

Her pleading look began to melt his resolve.

“Please Jean-Luc, I’m not asking much. Just come and sit down and I’ll explain everything.”

He sighed and lowered his head, muttering,

“Oh very well.”

They went into the lounge and, as Jean-Luc took a seat on the sofa, Della poured them both a glass of white wine. Once seated, she smiled and gave him his glass.

“There now…that wasn’t so hard was it.”

Jean-Luc took the glass, but his hard expression never faltered.

“I’m still waiting Della.”

Hurt skittered across her eyes but she smiled bravely.

“Okay…I received some very interesting information two days ago. My sources tell me that the Romulans have been making contact on a regular basis with Tar Taz. He has a go between…a Fretan named Darnid. This go between has also been in contact with the Romulans, in fact the Romulan Proconsul himself has been dealing with him, apparently without Tar Taz’s knowledge.”

With a stoic sigh, Jean-Luc sipped his wine and shrugged.

“I know all that.”

Hiding her surprise, Della rallied her resolve.

“Perhaps you do, but are you aware that there was an almost untraceable transport initiated scant seconds before Beverly’s shuttle exploded?”

Keeping his gaze steady, Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes.”

With her advantage rapidly disappearing, Della went for broke.

“Okay, but do you know I may have the means to find out where she is?”

That got his attention. He sat forward and put his glass down.

“You can? How soon?”

She moved closer to him and smiled sultrily.

“That depends.”

He drew back, suspicion clouding his dark eyes.

“On what?”

She moved to him again and trailed her fingers down his face. Her voice was a low purr.

“On how much you want the information.”

He resisted the urge to bolt from the room. Instead he lifted a hand to catch hers and lowered his own already deep voice to a mellifluous rumble.

“Oh but I want the information Della…I want it very much.”

She sighed, leaned in and gently nuzzled his neck, whispering,

“Then you would do…anything…to get it?”

He stifled his urge to stiffen and push her away. Keeping control of himself he gently rubbed his cheek against her face.

“What did you have in mind?”

Her arms went around him and she bit his earlobe.

“Make love to me Jean-Luc….I know that once we do you will never want anyone else. I will give you memories to light your way for the rest of your life.”

He closed his eyes and flexed his jaw.

“But Della, if Beverly’s alive…”

The Captain mewed and drifted a hand up the inside of his thigh, brushing his genitals.

“You won’t want her back Jean-Luc, not after she’s been a Romulan whore.”

His eyes snapped open, but he kept control, even though his heart accelerated.

“She’s on Romulus?”

Della’s hand cupped him, gently squeezing.

“I didn’t say that…I don’t know where she is…yet.”

He gently reached down and took her hand, lifting it from his body.
“Then perhaps we should wait until we know more?”

Her mew of dissatisfaction made Jean-Luc frown. She lifted her head and kissed him, slipping her tongue into his mouth. When he didn’t respond she pulled back, her eyes hardening.

“You still won’t give yourself to me, will you.”

He sighed, his eyes pleading for understanding.

“Della…”

She stood abruptly and glared down at him.
“Until you come to your senses and make love to me as you should, I’m not going to tell you what I find out.”

Jean-Luc took the time to pick up his glass and drain the contents. He slowly and gracefully came to his feet and looked at his former lover with pity.

“I won’t be blackmailed Della.”

Her anger faltered and she took a step towards him.

“If you’d only…Jean-Luc it would be like it used to be, don’t you remember how good it was?”

All Jean-Luc did was shake his head.

“Good night Della.”

He took a few steps towards the door then stopped and faced her again.

“If I find you withheld information from me…information that may have freed Beverly and didn’t, I will come after you Della…your life won’t be worth living.”

She was still staring at the closed front door long after he’d gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Dinner in the Picard home was a little tense. Jean-Luc and Adele were half way through their meal when James came in, his tense mood affecting everybody. After the meal, Jean-Luc shot his daughter a meaningful look and she smiled, giving a surreptitious nod.

“I’ll clean up here Dad.”

Jean-Luc offered a warm smile then gently grabbed his son’s shoulder. James understood the gesture and rose to follow his father to his study.

“You’re upset James. Want to talk about it?”

The young man sighed and flicked his hair off his forehead.

“Sarah’s coming over later. She said she wanted to ‘talk’.”

The older man shrugged.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

James snorted.

“She’s been ignoring me at Uni…she wouldn’t even have a look at my new car.”

That raised Jean-Luc’s eyebrows.

“You have a new car?”

James rolled his eyes.

“Come on Dad…get with the program. I picked it up day before yesterday.”

“You might have told me.” he grumbled.

“Yeah….yes well I’ve had a few things on my mind.”

Jean-Luc sat and scratched above his left ear.

“Like what?”

James took a seat and sighed.

“Like fitting in study and lectures in between my community service at the hospital.”

“You’re finding it too much?”

James shrugged.

“Not really, it’s just that I don’t have any spare time.”

Realisation dawned on Jean-Luc.

“Ah…I see. Not enough time for Sarah.”

James’s shoulders slumped.

“Yeah.”

Jean-Luc allowed the lapse and smiled inwardly.

“So you think she may be coming here to give you hell.”

With hands raised in defeat, James shook his head.

“What else could it be?”

Jean-Luc couldn’t stifle the chuckle that rose, earning him a glare from his son.

“James, one thing I’ve learned about women, is that they are rarely predictable. If I were you, I’d just roll with the punches, take whatever she deems to give you and be grateful she took the time to tell you whatever it is she wants you to know.”

A small smile emerged on James’s face and he shook his head.

“What if she wants my hide?”

Jean-Luc’s chuckle grew to a laugh.

“Then give it to her!”

Both men laughed and then James sighed.

“So what you’re saying is, let her have her say and cop it sweet, no matter what it is.”

Jean-Luc stood and squeezed his son’s shoulder.

“Yes, but have faith in her James, she may surprise you yet.”

James stood and hugged his father.

“Thanks Dad.”

Jean-Luc sighed and returned the hug.

“You’re welcome James…anytime.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Just as Jean-Luc was unlocking his hover car, Sarah’s landed in the driveway. He smiled and inclined his head.

“Good evening Sarah, James is expecting you.”

The young woman flashed a dazzling smile, her green eyes sparkling.

“Thanks Mr.Picard.”

Jean-Luc was still smiling when he powered up his car, but it faded as he took off.

“Now Mr.Pickford…what do you have for me?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       James bounded down the stairs as Sarah was closing the front door. He came to a halt at the bottom step and the young couple stood staring at each other. His nervousness showing in his tentative smile, James cleared his throat and jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

“Coming up to my room?”

Taking her time, Sarah sidled up to her boyfriend and gave him a withering glare as she ascended the stairs imperiously. James swallowed to wet his dry mouth and followed her, his heart pounding in his chest.

Once in his room, James went to the replicator and muttered,

“Want anything?”

Her reply was cold.

“No thank you.”

James turned and folded his arms across his chest. His nervousness was beginning to wane, to be replaced by rising anger.

“What are you so pissed about Sarah?”

Her mouth gaped before she quickly rose to her feet and made for the door. James took three long strides and caught her arm.
“Oh no you don’t! You came here because you said you wanted to talk. Okay, talk!”

Her face settled into a cold glare as she looked pointedly at his restraining hand. He got the message and released her, gesturing to the bed. With a flick of her head, Sarah walked stiffly to the bed and sat down. James went to his desk, pulled out the chair and turned it, sitting to face her. There was an uncomfortable few minutes before Sarah huffed and tucked some wayward strands of long dark hair behind her ears.

“You’re a pain in the arse James!”

James raised his eyebrows, pulled his mouth down at the corners and nodded.

“I can live with that, but why exactly?”

Sarah folded her arms and rolled her eyes.

“It’s not supposed to be the bloke who’s complicated you know. That’s supposed to be the woman’s job.”

James wisely stayed silent, inviting Sarah to continue with a wave of his hand.

“You got me confused! It was so simple James…we liked each other, we had sex and it was really good, then you had to spoil it by telling me you loved me! Why couldn’t you have just kept you mouth shut?”

James sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He graced Sarah with an intense gaze and sighed.

“Because that wouldn’t have been fair to either of us. I needed to tell you and you had a right to know.”

“But James…”

He opened his hands and looked at them, wanting to ask his question, but not wanting to look at her while he did it.

“Sarah…why are you confused?”

Her sharp reply dragged his eyes up to hers.

“That’s none of your bloody business!”

His smile was small but warm.

“I think it is actually.”

Instead of saying anything further, Sarah stood and went to him, taking his face in her hands and kissing him with urgent passion. He closed his eyes and returned the kiss with equal fervour, but when her hand drifted down his torso to gently caress his penis through the fabric of his trousers, he broke the connection and shook his head.

He was panting slightly as, with an unsteady voice he said,

“I don’t want to have sex with you Sarah…not without…”

She silenced him with another passionate kiss. Drawing back slightly she again caressed his penis and said sultrily,

“I don’t want to have sex either James…I want to make love.”

It took a few seconds before the meaning of the words dawned on James. He looked up into Sarah’s eyes and saw, mixed with undeniable desire, love. He came to his feet slowly, muttering,

“Computer, lock my door.”

They spent several slow minutes undressing each other, kissing and caressing the skin as it was exposed. James gently steered Sarah backwards to the bed, then eased her down onto the mattress, making sure she was comfortable before stretching out beside her. He propped himself up on one elbow and stared down at her, his love plain to see in his eyes and his tender touch.

“You are so beautiful Sarah.”

She sighed and smiled, taking his hand and guiding it to her breast.

“Touch me James.”

He watched his hand intently as his fingers kneaded the firm flesh, drawing ever closer to the protrudent nipple. As he lowered his head to take the nipple into his mouth, Sarah sighed and wrapped her hand around his head, pulling him closer. As he took the turgid nipple inside his mouth, he trailed his fingers down the flat plain of her stomach to dally in the strip of dark hair of her sex. She moaned softly as he teased her nipple and opened her legs, lifting her hips in an unmistakable invitation. He parted her labia with his fingers and teased her clit, one finger dipping in and out of her vagina. So engrossed was he that when she took his penis in her hand and began to stroke him, he cried out, his eyes fluttering shut. She moaned again as he pushed his finger deep inside her, then gasped as he pushed his thumb over her clit. Panting raggedly she gasped,

“Now James…I want you to do it now…”

His own need spiralling almost out of control, he rolled over her and knelt between her open legs. His erection was stiff and throbbing, the head glistening with precome. He wanted nothing else but to plunge into her, but he held back, taking a deep breath and struggling to steady his voice.

“Look at me Sarah.”

She opened her eyes and gasped, licking her lips at the sight of his straining penis. She reached for him, but he shook his head.

“No, not yet. I need to know how you feel Sarah.”

Tears welled in Sarah’s eyes as she shook her head.

“James…please…I need you now!”

Resolutely, he shook his head.

“No…tell me!”

Swirling within the desire and passion in her eyes, anger darkened the irises and James smiled grimly.

“As much as I want you Sarah, you have to tell me!”

She clenched her teeth and hissed,

“For fuck’s sake you bastard…I love you! Now for God’s sake…please…”

The desperation in her voice was his undoing. He took his penis in his hand and took just enough time to lubricate the head in her moisture before suddenly pushing himself into her in one sharp stroke.

Sarah cried out, her hips lifting to meet his hard thrust. He placed one hand on the pillow beside her head; the other hand went to her nipple, where he gently pinched the tightly pebbled flesh in time with each of his deep, long strokes.

Sarah reached up and gripped his shoulders, biting her lower lip to try and stifle her cries of ecstasy.

Knowing she loved him eroded his fledgling control. He tried valiantly to hold back his climax but her intoxicating sounds and her tight, pulsing inner sleeve drew him ever closer to his release. He opened his eyes and pleaded

“Sarah…please…I’m going to come…”

Sarah, close to orgasm herself, opened her mouth and cried.

“Harder…harder James…quickly…”

As his climax surged through him he slammed into her hard and fast. Sarah’s body writhed under him, then suddenly stiffened and flexed as she was transported with physical and emotional bliss. James cried out and shuddered, her rhythmic contractions milking him of his semen, adding to his euphoria.

They lay together after James collapsed onto her, panting and gently whispering endearments to each other. After a while, James went to roll off her, but Sarah stilled him, smiling tenderly.

“No…stay James, you feel so good inside me.”

He smiled and kissed her with languid passion.

“Let me roll to one side Sarah, I can still stay inside you.”

She nodded and he carefully did as he suggested. James looked into her eyes and smiled.

“You really love me?”

Sarah ran her fingers through the hair that was growing all over his chest and stomach.

“Yes James, I really love you.”

His smile turned into a grin and he kissed her again.

“I love you Sarah.”

She giggled and kissed the tip of his nose.

“I think you just showed me.”

His grin turned wolfish and he winked.

“Give me a little while and I’ll show you again.”

Sarah’s twinkling eyes became mischievous.

“Really?”

“Uh huh.”

“Oh goody.”

 

 

 

 

 

                       As usual, Harry Pickford was waiting in the darkness, his hands pushed deep in his jacket pockets and the brim of his cap pulled low. Jean-Luc’s hands were also in his coat pockets, the fingers of his right hand tracing the shape of his personal phaser.

As Jean-Luc approached the enigmatic man, he noticed the ever restless eyes as they swept the car park. Steam wafted from Jean-Luc’s mouth as he muttered,

“Good evening Mr.Pickford.”

Jean-Luc wondered if any of Harry’s smiles ever reached his eyes.

“Good evening Ambassador. Do you have what I require?”

“I do.”

“And?”

Jean-Luc glanced left and right over his shoulders and sighed.

“Before I tell you what I know, I need your assurance that this information will not damage the Federation.”

Harry shrugged.

“Ambassador, what assurance can I give? I have told you that this has nothing whatsoever to do with politics; this is a simple information exchange. What you have to ask is…is what you’re about to tell me worth what I have for you?”

Jean-Luc glared at the man and shook his head.

“You have me at a distinct disadvantage.”

Harry’s predatory smile did nothing to allay Jean-Luc’s misgivings.

“That is the nature of my business I’m afraid Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc took several seconds to make up his mind, but the driving need for information about Beverly drove his concerns out of his mind.

“The Federation Secretary is being blackmailed. She contacted the Vulcan scientists and payed them for information about their clandestine work, but as to why they are doing what they are doing…it’s anybody’s guess, although the Secretary believes they are being blackmailed too.”

Harry withdrew one hand from his pocket and rubbed his stubbled jaw. Jean-Luc was surprised to see he had no fingernails.

“Does the Secretary know her blackmailers?”

“No.”

“I see. And over what is she being blackmailed?”

Jean-Luc sighed.

“An affair.”

Harry took a step back and grumbled.

“This makes no sense!”

Jean-Luc gave a derisive snort.

“No sense? It makes sense to the blackmailers!”

Harry looked up and shook his head.

“If we were talking about plain old latinum, I’d agree with you, but this smacks of something far more sinister. I think, Ambassador, that you might be getting more than you bargained for.”

Jean-Luc frowned.

“In what way?”

Harry chuckled, running his hand over his cap.

“I might be forced to give you something for nothing simply to restore order in the quadrant.”

Confused, Jean-Luc shook his head.

“What do you mean?”

With a wave of his hand, Harry dismissed the question. He sighed, steam wisping around his head.

“I believe you want to know about your wife?”

Jean-Luc’s head snapped up, his heart accelerating.

“Yes.” He said with a suddenly dry mouth.

“As far as I know, Darnid has her and my enquiries have narrowed her location down to one of four planets in the Herrin system”

Jean-Luc’s frown became a scowl.

“But all of the planets in the Herrin system are inhabited by primitive people. They are out of bounds to Starfleet.”

Harry shrugged.

“I don’t make the rules Ambassador, I just collect…”

“…information, I know. Very well Mr.Pickford, thank you.”

Harry smiled his cold smile and turned but Jean-Luc said softly,

“I need more of the drug.”

Looking over his shoulder, Jean-Luc had trouble identifying the expression on the man’s semi hidden face.

“Do you now?”

Jean-Luc resisted the urge to shift his feet.

“What do you offer in return?”

The Ambassador shrugged diffidently. Part of him dreading what Harry might ask as payment. The mysterious man’s eerie blue eyes sparkled and his chilling smile grew.

“Tell me Ambassador…why did Della Mason leave your employ?”

Irritation coloured Jean-Luc’s dark eyes, but he shrugged.

“It was a personal decision.”

Harry shook his head.

“I don’t buy that. I’ve know Della a long time and the woman I know wouldn’t walk away from a plum assignment with an old acquaintance like you, Ambassador. So what happened?”

Anger made Jean-Luc’s voice grow soft and deep.

“I am not in the habit of discussing my personal business with the likes of you!”

Harry’s impertinent smile only served to make Jean-Luc even more angry.

“Maybe so Ambassador, but if you want more of the drug, you’ll answer my question.”

Painted into a corner, Jean-Luc gritted his teeth.

“Very well, seeing I have little alternative…Captain Mason harbours deep feelings for me, feelings that are NOT reciprocated. I felt it was in both our best interests if she sought reassignment elsewhere.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully.

“And did she agree? Did she go willingly?”

His anger now towering, Jean-Luc ground out,

“I am her superior, as a good Starfleet officer, she would not question a direct order.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed.

“And is that what it was…a direct order?”

Finally at the end of his tether, Jean-Luc’s voice grew ever more menacing.

“That is none of your business. I have answered your questions, now…may I have more of the drug?”

Harry’s voice grew oddly sinister.

“Say please.”

The urge to bury his fist in Harry’s face almost overwhelmed Jean-Luc. Instead he turned on his heel and mentally dismissed the maddeningly irritating man, but his soft voice stilled his feet.

“You’ve got no sense of humour Ambassador. You can have the drug; meet me here tomorrow night, same time.”

Jean-Luc didn’t dignify the words with any outward reaction. He stalked to his car and entered, powered up and took off. It wasn’t until he was airborne that he made a concerted effort to relax, but the anger simmered just under the surface.

“Damn you Harry Pickford.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   The thunder and lightning eventually abated but the wind driven rain continued to pour down. She was not dressed for the outdoors, being only clad in a light shirt, slacks and sandals, but although it wasn’t exactly cold, she was soon shivering. As she crawled deeper and deeper into the jungle, Beverly slowly lost touch with time. In the darkness of the alien night she pressed on until, near dawn, she collapsed, exhausted and very weak. There was enough of her thought processes left to recognise the need to find somewhere to hide, but in the gloom she could see nothing. With no other alternative, she crawled under a low growing fern-like plant and curled up into a ball. The foliage offered little protection from the rain and, as she succumbed to an exhausted sleep, the water dripped over her in a steady cadence.

Darnid materialised in the outer room just as the power was restored. His cold black eyes immediately noted the open doors and he ran as he barrelled into Beverly’s former prison. He quickly ascertained her absence and when the mute appeared at his side he made a brusque gesture for the massive alien to kneel. The Fretan entered several commands and the mute closed his eyes as the information integrated into his brain. Darnid disconnected his device, closed the portal and pointed to the door. He followed the mute from the building and out into the driving rain. Brandishing a torch given to him by his master, the mute swept the beam in an arc, but could see nothing of Beverly’s escape route. He went to the edge of the thick growth and walked slowly along its edge until he came to a slightly thinner section where he immediately pushed through into the jungle. The hunt was on.

Darnid went back into the outer room and activated his communicator.

“Beam me up, NOW!”

The reply was lost as his body dematerialised. Once again on his ship, Darnid went straight to the Bridge, barking commands.

“My prize has escaped! Scan the area…find her!”

The Deltan male wrung his hands and began to sweat.

“I’m sorry Sir, but with the ionisation in the atmosphere, we are unable to use our scanners, just as no scanning device will work on the surface. In fact Sir, if it were not for the pattern enhancers built into the walls of the compound, you would be unable to transport anywhere on the planet.”

His legs were short, but Darnid covered the distance to his crewman with remarkable speed. The sharp sound of the blow was loud on the Bridge and the three other beings there immediately concentrated on their tasks, at all costs avoiding eye contact with their furious master.

“I’m not interested in your feeble excuses! If my prize is not recaptured…and soon…I will make sure YOU pay…with your worthless life!”

The Deltan fell to his knees, tears welling in his stunning violet eyes.

“But Sir…please…”

The savage kick to the Deltan’s groin made the unfortunate alien roll to his side, moaning in agony and clutching himself. Darnid hawked back some mucous and spat contemptuously on his victim.

“Get up and get to work!”

Sobbing as quietly as he could, the Deltan rose on shaking legs and went to his console. After minutes of intense study, he turned fearfully to his master.

“It no use Sir…we cannot penetrate the atmosphere.”

Darnid grabbed the Delta and spun him, one hand painfully gripping his already damaged genitals.

“Then how do I find her!”

Barely able to speak, the Deltan managed,

“You will have to mount a ground search Sir.”`

With a cruel sneer, Darnid squeezed his hand tighter, making the Deltan groan piteously.

“And what…lose you cretinous idiots to the natives? You know how hard it was to scare them away from the compound! How do we protect ourselves? If we use our weapons they will rise up and kill us all!”

The Deltan, desperate to escape his torture, spoke without due thought.

“If the natives find the woman they will kill her.”

Darnid roared and twisted his hand viciously. Blood appeared on his victim’s trousers and the Deltan’s eyes rolled in his head as he lost consciousness. With a snort of disgust, Darnid let him go, stepping over his body to glare at the console. When he barked his next question, the next prospective victim began to shake.

“You cannot keep a sensor lock on me?”

“Nno Ssir.”

“Fuck! Very well, I will join Zut in the search. Stay in orbit and keep trying to scan the surface!”

“Yes Sir.”

As Darnid left the Bridge the relieved crewman voided his bladder.

 

 

                    The directions on how to reach the pub were clear enough, but Jean-Luc didn’t like the surroundings as he landed his hover car in the car park. The building itself was dark and far from modern and the environs were seedy looking to say the least. The Ambassador cast his eyes about, conscious of the danger he was facing. Upon entering the gloomy pub, he followed his instructions and went through the bar into what was euphemistically referred to as the lounge. He spotted Tar Taz immediately, the immense bulk of the alien hard to disguise. As Jean-Luc approached the booth, the Antorian turned his oddly elongated head, his eye stalks stiffening. He began to rise, but Jean-Luc waved him to his seat and smiled.

“Good afternoon Ambassador.”

Tar Taz made a show of consulting a small chronometer on his left wrist.

“It is almost evening Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes strayed to the heavily curtained windows and shrugged.

“It was still light when I came in.”

“Indeed. I trust you had no problems with the directions I gave?”
Jean-Luc used his best diplomat’s smile.

“None at all.”

Tar Taz smiled widely, but Jean-Luc couldn’t help but feel a shiver go down his spine. The smile was predatory.

Returning the smile, Jean-Luc clasped his hands on the table while Tar Taz called a waiter over.

“Would you care for something? A drink perhaps?”

About to refuse, Jean-Luc decided a stiff whisky might help dispel the urge he had to sleep.

“Thank you…a whisky please, Haigh if you have it.”

The waiter took their order then went off into the gloom. Tar Taz made a show of settling his cape and offered inane comments about the pub until their drinks were served. They sipped quietly before Jean-Luc’s patience began to wear thin.

“If I may ask Ambassador, why have you asked me here?”

Tar Taz smiled coldly and shrugged his massive shoulders.

“We have grown to know each other over these past months wouldn’t you say?”

Jean-Luc gave a slow nod but said nothing.

“We were very disappointed by the Federation’s intransigence over our legitimate request for Council representation and weapons technology.”

Jean-Luc opened his mouth to protest, but Tar Taz held up a hand to silence him.

“Oh I understand your position Ambassador…your hands are tied. But what if I offered you…an incentive…to change your mind?”

Jean-Luc was immediately on his guard. He shrugged diffidently.

“It matters not whether I change my mind Ambassador. Federation policy is immutable.”

The alien’s smile grew but there was no warmth in it.

“That may be so, but surely the Council would listen to one of its finest and most experienced Ambassadors? I happen to know you have some close friends on the Council.”

The smile on Jean-Luc’s face was fixed, his eyes dark and glittering.

“That may be so, but I happen to agree with the Council on the matter. Unless Antoria joins the Federation…”

Tar Taz reached inside his cape and withdrew his large hand, staring pensively at his closed fist. He lowered his voice and Jean-Luc shifted slightly in his seat, one hand slipping inside his jacket to palm his phaser.

“What if I told you I have something here that would change your mind?”

Jean-Luc’s voice dropped to a low rumble.

“The ‘incentive’ you spoke of?”

The Antorian grinned, then sighed.

“Yes.”

He opened his fist and, nestled in his palm was a gold wedding band. Tar Taz offered his hand to Jean-Luc and the man picked it up with reverence, immediately holding it up to the meagre light to see if it was inscribed. What his eyes beheld made him gasp and whisper urgently,

“Where did you get this?!”

Tar Taz sat back and ran his fingers through the short stubbly hair that grew around his mouth.

“You don’t really expect me to tell you that do you?”

Jean-Luc’s hand came out of his pocket and settled on the table. The Antorian looked down, his eyes widening on their stalks as he saw the business end of a personal phaser. Jean-Luc’s voice was low and deadly.

“Tell me, or I’ll vaporise you!”

The alien carefully placed his hands on the table and summoned a brave smile.

“I am unarmed Ambassador. How would you explain my death? Hmm? Besides you will never learn where your wife is if you kill me.”

Jean-Luc’s smiled was uncharacteristically cruel.

“There are other uses for a phaser.”

“True, you could torture me, but you still won’t learn what you want to know. If you approach where she is being held without me she will die instantly.”

Jean-Luc felt sure he was bluffing. Too many years at the pointy end of alien negotiations had afforded him a sixth sense about it. He sat back and tried to relax.

“Exactly what do you want?”

Tare Taz shrugged and spread his hands.

“What I have already asked for! Antoria wants representation on the Council and we want weapons technology. Really, Ambassador…it’s not too much to ask, surely?”

What Jean-Luc needed was time. He feigned a frown and sighed.

“It will take a while.”

With a magnanimous sweep of his arm, Tar Taz grinned.

“Take all the time you need!”

He downed his drink then stood.

“Call me when you have something I want to hear.”

Jean-Luc sat staring at the ring in his hand, tears threatening to flow. He shook his head, savagely quelling the rising emotions and swallowed his whisky in one gulp. It wasn’t until he was in his car that he allowed himself to begin to form a plan.

 

 

 

 

                   Being one of the pre-eminent Ambassadors in the Federation, Jean-Luc had a sophisticated communications console in his study. As soon as he got home, he went to his inner sanctum and activated it.

“Computer, connect me with USS Enterprise. I wish to speak with Captain William Riker. Authorisation Picard, Alpha Omega two eight five.”

“Connection delay will be four point eight hours.”

“Understood.”

He was back in his hover car in minutes and risked a fine by exceeding the speed limit to make it to his meeting with Harry Pickford. Fortunately the enigmatic Harry wasn’t in the mood for games. He handed over a new case of vials and left with nary a word. Jean-Luc was home in under an hour.

Adele came out of her room when she heard the front door shut.

“Is that you Dad?”

The edgy man sighed and pasted on a smile.

“Yes Adele, it’s me.”

“Have you had any dinner?”

He looked up the stairs to see his daughter looking down at him from the top landing, a frown on her comely face.

“Ah…no, I’m not very hungry.”

She began to descend and Jean-Luc held up a hand.

“No Adele, go back to whatever it was you were doing. I’m going to bed.”

She shook her head in confusion.

“But Dad…it’s only eight fifteen.”

He summoned a chuckle.

“I’ve got some work to do first little one, then I’m going to bed.”

The young woman grinned at her father.

“You haven’t called me little one in ages.”

Jean-Luc grinned.

“What can I say? I’m feeling sentimental.”

The made Adele frown again.

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

Maintaining the grin was beginning to wear. Jean-Luc pointed to his study.

“I’m fine; I just have a few things on my mind.”

Doubtful, but unwilling to press the man, Adele smiled and nodded.

“Okay, but you really should eat something.”

With a wave, Jean-Luc began to walk down the hall, calling softly,

“I’ll have a sandwich later. Good night Adele.”

“Good night Dad.”

Jean-Luc had to force himself to work. Despite the urgency of his need to do something to find Beverly, the need to sleep was dogging him, eating at his stamina. When the computer finally chimed and told him the connection to the Enterprise had been made, Jean-Luc sat up, rubbed his eyes and prepared himself to face his former Number One.

 

 

 

 

                      Will grinned at his former Captain and, with a forceful pang of nostalgia; Jean-Luc could see the man was seated in his Ready Room.

“Ambassador! God it’s good to see you!”

Jean-Luc returned the grin, he couldn’t help it. Will’s genial countenance had always made him smile.

“Hello Captain, how is my old ship?”

She’s just fine Sir…ship shape and Bristol fashion.”

“Just as I left her then.”

Will’s grin grew.

“Yes, but I’d like to think we’ve added some improvements.”

The Ambassador sighed.

“I’m sure you have. And Deanna?”

Will’s smile grew wistful.

“Just fine Sir…due in three weeks.”

Jean-Luc gaped.

“Three weeks? But…she was only two months gone last time we spoke!”

Will chuckled.

“Well it’s been a while Sir.”

With a mock scowl, Jean-Luc shook his head.

“Obviously. Sorry Will, I should have been better at keeping in touch.”

The big bearded man sobered, his blue eyes showing his sympathy.

“It’s okay Sir, you’ve had a bit on your plate.”

Jean-Luc sat forward, his dark eyes glittering.

“Will I’m going to encrypt this transmission.”

The Captain frowned, but nodded slowly.

“All right Sir.”

Jean-Luc lifted his head and said,

“Computer, encrypt current transmission, level five. Authorisation Picard, Alpha Omega two eight five.”

“Encrypted, level five.”

The screen pixilated then cleared. Will sat forward, his attention heightened.

“What’s going on Sir?”

Jean-Luc took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds before letting it out slowly. He stared at his old friend and concentrated on keeping his voice even.

“Beverly’s alive.”

The first expression on Will’s face was surprise, quickly followed by disbelief.

“But Sir…”

Jean-Luc held up a hand.

“I know…and I also know you’ve heard that I never accepted her death, but this isn’t the ramblings of an old fool Will. In the last two days I have had three independent corroborations…she’s alive and being held in the Herrin system.”

All business now, Will’s voice sharpened.

“Why? How? By whom?”

Lifting his hands, Jean-Luc shrugged.

“I’m not sure. The Antorians, certainly, but I have information that the Romulans might be involved too. So far the Antorian Ambassador has tried to coerce me into persuading the Council to allow them to have representation on the Council…and to supply weapons technology.”

Will shook his head.

“But they’re not a member world.”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“I know. He threatened Beverly’s life if I didn’t use my influence with the Council to accede to their demands.”

Will growled softly under his breath then looked straight into his friend’s eyes.

“What do you want me to do?”

Jean-Luc smiled his gratitude but then frowned.

“Will I need to get to the Herrin system and I need to do it in a Starship.”

The big man sat back and stroked his beard.

“The Herrin system is off limits.”

Jean-Luc nodded, a small smile on his lips.

“I know, but I may be able to change that. At the moment, I need you to be at the Crab Nebula in five day’s time. I will rendezvous with you and, hopefully, you can take me to the Herrin system.”

Will ran a hand through his dark hair.

“That would mean changing our orders Sir. We’re supposed to take a delegation of Anticans to Parliament.”

Jean-Luc’s smile grew wicked.

“Leave that with me, you should get new orders some time tomorrow.”

“Okay Sir, I’ll wait to hear from you.”

Jean-Luc sat back and sighed.

“Thank you Will; I don’t need to tell you what this means to me.”

The Captain grinned, the warmth of it making Jean-Luc’s heart swell.

“No problem Sir, you know we’d do anything for you and Beverly.”

Jean-Luc lifted a hand in farewell.

“Picard out.”

He switched off his computer and left the study, slowly climbing the stairs to his bedroom. Stripping off his clothing, he didn’t bother with his sleep shorts. He injected himself and lay down, pulling the covers up and sighing.

“I’ll find you my love…hang on.”

When he woke in the morning he was sorry he hadn’t dreamed of her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      It was the intense heat and humidity that woke Beverly. Her gummy eyes opened, mere slits in her swollen face. She lay curled on her side, trying to remember where she was as a throbbing headache clouded her vision. Without thought she unfurled her body, the groan of pain startling a nearby bird who took off with a loud squawk. Raging thirst drove her slowly from her hiding place, the sound of running water close by encouraging her to crawl stiffly through the undergrowth. The little creek was shallow but running freely, filled by the recent rain.

Beverly dipped her hands into the water and lifted some of the precious liquid to her mouth. She wanted to test the water, taste it to see if it was drinkable, but her terrible thirst overrode her caution. She gulped down the water, before leaning down and drinking directly from the creek. Minutes went by as she slaked her thirst before she finally sat up, wiping her mouth and attempting to look around.

Dense green jungle surrounded her, the calling of birds and the rustling of the foliage letting her know there was abundant wildlife around. She looked at her hands, noting they were swollen and red. Deep scratches covered her arms and her fingers told her her face was marked too, but it was the vicious bite that worried her. She knew her entire face was bloated, but the heat that emanated from the bite told her it was infected. Her lower lip and half of her chin were a throbbing mess. She also knew by the pulsing pain between her legs and insides that her other injuries were most likely infected too.

She slowly undressed, noting the blood on her underwear. Slipping gingerly into the water, she carefully washed herself, then her panties. Then she laid her underwear on the ground to dry as she sat back on the bank and tried to figure out her next move.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Because of his enormous size, the mute alien was having significant difficulties in getting through the thick undergrowth. He had persevered throughout the long night, through the storm and on, enduring the pouring rain, guided only by the light of his torch. It never occurred to him to abandon his search. With his modified brain he could only perform those tasks set him by his master. Once he had been a free being, but his enslavement had gone on so long, he no longer remembered his former life. He lived to do his master’s bidding.

He came upon the creek completely by accident and if not for surprising agility for one so large, he would have tumbled head first into it. His body told him to drink so, going down to his knees, he filled his stomach then stood, noting that the sun was coming up. He switched off the torch and stepped into the creek, deciding to use the clearer passage the watercourse provided to continue his search.

He ignored the deep scratches and insect bites, his program told him to search until he found the woman. He would persist until told to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Her underwear dried quickly in the growing heat of day. She dressed slowly but Beverly found the high humidity difficult to bear so, in an effort to keep cool and hydrated, decided to follow the creek downstream, walking in the shallow water. The cool liquid helped keep her rising temperature down and the frequent drinks she took kept her hunger at bay.

She hoped the creek would lead to another, larger watercourse and hopefully to civilisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                The mute didn’t feel hunger. Thirst was the only thing his body recognised and he took time to drink as he needed to. He had superlative hearing and the constant rustle of animal life around and above him made him frequently pause to listen. His sense of smell was very good too. He often stopped to sniff the air and, although no clue as to his prey presented itself, he felt she wasn’t far away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     The Federation Secretary shook her head.

“I can’t Jean-Luc! The Enterprise was requested by the Anticans, they were very impressed by their last journey to Parliament on your old ship.”

Jean-Luc sighed, keeping his irritation under control.

“That ship is long gone madam. That was the D. We’re talking about the F. It’s not the same ship and it’s not the same Captain.”

“Still…”

Jean-Luc sat forward in his chair and stared hard at the woman behind her desk.

“Madam let’s cut through the posturing. You’re not in a position to deny me my request. I’ve told you my wife is alive. I’ve told you the Antorians and the Romulans are involved and I’ve offered you a solution to the problem that doesn’t compromise the Federation. You really don’t have a valid reason to refuse me.”

Anger flared in the woman and she snarled,

“You would blackmail me too Ambassador?”

Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head.

“No Madam Secretary, but you must admit, my solution is an elegant one and if anything goes wrong, you can wash your hands of it…deny any responsibility. You can put it down to the actions of a desperate man.”

The Secretary sat back and studied the man before her. She knew his record well, most did, but she didn’t actually know him, the man. She sighed trying one last time to forestall the request.

“But what about the Enterprise? How do I explain her presence in the Herrin system?”

Jean-Luc smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“You can say I coerced her Captain…forced him to make an ill formed judgement. Everyone knows Captain Riker and I are good friends. Besides the Enterprise will do nothing but take me to the system. I don’t intend to ask for any more than that.”

“And just how will you get to the Crab Nebula?”

“By private craft.”

The Secretary snorted.

“Who do you know that owns a craft that’s capable of warp travel? It’s a long way out there.”

Jean-Luc’s cold smile grew.

“I own such a craft Madam.”

“Oh. Well you seem to have covered all contingencies Ambassador, but I’m still not happy. If you make a hash of this it may turn into a diplomatic nightmare.”

With a shrug, Jean-Luc stood.

“Then I’ll just have to make sure I don’t.”

As he turned to leave, the Secretary said softly,

“When do you go?”

“Some time tonight.”

She nodded slowly and sighed.

“Godspeed Jean-Luc…and good luck, you’ll need it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                          When Adele came into the house she saw the duffle sitting on the floor at the foot of the stairs. She went to it, frowning as the front door opened and her brother entered. He saw her and came over, his eyes going to the bag.

“Going somewhere Delly?”

She shrugged.

“It’s not mine Jim.”

They looked at each other, James muttering…
“Dad.”

They found Jean-Luc in his study, just ending a transmission. They heard their Uncle Will saying goodbye and Adele gently took her brother’s hand. James cleared his throat and said softly,

“What’s up Dad?”

Somewhat startled, Jean-Luc looked over his shoulder and summoned a smile.

“Oh hello there you two, just the pair I wanted to see.”

He stood to face them and saw the apprehension on their faces

Adele said quietly,

“Are you going somewhere Dad?”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes, as a matter of fact I am.”

James looked at his feet, folding his arms across his broad chest.

“How long will you be gone?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“I’m not sure, several days at least. James will you take care of Adele while I’m gone?”

The young woman rolled her eyes and snorted.

“Dad I’m seventeen! I don’t need James to look after me.”

Jean-Luc smiled tenderly.

“Nevertheless he will.”

Cocking his head to one side, James was becoming suspicious. It was reflected in his voice.

“Where are you going Dad?”

“Ah…to a distant system, I doubt you would be familiar with it.”

“Why?”

“Oh just some official business.”

Adele caught her brother’s edgy voice and something clicked in her mind.

“But Dad…you told us you wouldn’t take any more assignments away from Earth…and why have you packed a duffle? Official business always means you pack a case. You told me about protocol and stuff. A Federation Ambassador wouldn’t show up with a duffle.”

James chimed in.

“And why were you talking to Uncle Will? The Enterprise is light years away.”

Jean-Luc struggled to control his rising dismay.

“Look, I have to go somewhere for a few days, I’ll be back as soon as I can. All right?”

James shook his head vehemently.

“No Dad, it’s not! Something’s going on and we want to know what it is!”

Now his dismay was turning to anger.

“You will do as you are told!”

Adele went to her father and took his hand.

“It’s something dangerous, isn’t it.”

James lifted his chin pugnaciously and challenged his father.

“We’re not little kids any more Dad. If you’re going off into danger, we have a right to know!”

In the face of their united front, Jean-Luc’s resistance crumbled. He wearily dropped into his chair and rubbed his face.

“All right, I suppose you have a right to know.”

He sighed and looked up at his children, standing near him, apprehension on their faces.

“Your mother is alive. She is being held captive and I’m going to try to rescue her.”

Shock registered on their faces. Adele raised her hands to cover her mouth. James shook his head.

“How do you know Dad? You’ve been…”

Jean-Luc sighed and held up a hand.

“I know. You think I’m some deluded old fool, but my information is rock solid, from three different sources. She’s alive.”

He reached into his pocket and took out Beverly’s wedding ring. James looked at it, his eyes widening.

“Is that…?”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes, it’s your mother’s wedding band.”

“Where did you get it?”

Jean-Luc sighed.

“It’s a long story James, but you must admit, it proves she’s alive.”

James’s next words settled like a cold stone in Jean-Luc’s heart.

“I’m going with you.”

With a brusque shake of his head, Jean-Luc’s barked words carried the unmistakable ring of command.

“No you’re not!”

Adele stood beside her brother and, although her voice was soft, there was uncompromising steel in it.

“Yes we are Dad.”

James looked down at his sister, saying before his father could interject,

“No Delly, you stay.”

She shook her head, her determination plain to see.

“Uh uh James, if you go, so do I.”

The young man studied his little sister and came to a decision. He looked at his father and nodded

“She’s right, we’re both going.”

Jean-Luc gaped at their audacity. He snapped his mouth closed and growled,

“When did you become so disobedient? We didn’t raise you to defy your parents!”

The shrug was tense but the grin was laconic.

“You think you’re the only one who can be stubborn? Face it Dad, we’ve got your guts and Mum’s determination.”

Jean-Luc looked at his children with new eyes. He tried to maintain his anger, but the resolute tenacity showing in their eyes eroded his objections. As he was struggling with the problem, James’s next quiet words finally swayed him.
“Besides Dad, do you think you’re the only one who wants to see her?”

It was enough. Jean-Luc lifted his hands in surrender and sighed.

“Oh very well.”

James hid his grin of triumph, saying instead to his sister,

“Go pack bags for both of us. Are you going to take the Dumas, Dad?”

Still deep in thought, Jean-Luc nodded absently.

“Yes, I’m going to rendezvous with the Enterprise at the Crab Nebula.”

James nodded.

“When?”

“ASAP.”

“Right. I’ve got a few calls to make; we can call the uni and Delly’s school from the Dumas tomorrow. Give me ten minutes.”

Jean-Luc nodded, the fingers of his left hand idly scratching just above his left ear.

“And Dad? Once we’re aboard the Dumas you’ve got to tell us everything you know.”

Looking up at his son, Jean-Luc’s vision cleared and he smiled.

“Agreed.”

Suddenly alone in his study, Jean-Luc sighed and muttered,

“Well Beverly, it seems I’m bringing the cavalry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  Darnid materialised in the compound and wasted no time in exiting and scowling at the thick wall of jungle that surrounded the building. He knew scanners wouldn’t work on the surface, but he had an ace up his sleeve. He dug in his pocket and pulled out a small device. As he activated it, he reached inside the back of his pants and scratched his anus, withdrawing his hand and idly sniffing and licking his fingers while his eyes were riveted on the device. On the small screen a pulsing blue dot appeared, accompanied by a gentle beeping. He grinned in satisfaction, congratulating himself on having the foresight to make sure a homing device was placed in the brain of his mute slave. He swept his arm in a slow arc, determining in which direction he needed to go, and, having set his course, pushed off into the jungle, his grin a cruel one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                            Beverly was growing weaker. Despite being in the cool water of the creek, her temperature continued to slowly rise and she was finding the pain increasingly difficult to bear. She stopped frequently to drink and rest, hoping all the time that she might come across someone who could help her. During one rest stop, she sat on the bank of the creek, her feet in the water and her back against a largish tree. Although she struggled against it, her eyes began to droop and soon she was in a light doze.

Immediately images floated through her mind and she smiled as she saw her husband holding their new born son. Beverly vividly remembered how tired she was after the labour, but the feeling of love, triumph and satisfaction she felt as she watched Jean-Luc cradle James in his arms, tears rolling down his face, made her heart swell.

They had not planned on having any children, in fact, Beverly had thought…erroneously as it turned out, that she was well past being fertile. She knew her husband was fertile, he had been unable to use a contraceptive implant since gaining his artificial heart as a young man but it never crossed her mind to check to see if she was still ovulating. Her assumptions came to a grinding halt one day when, whilst at work as CMO on the Enterprise E, she had become, first nauseous, then violently ill. At her husband’s insistence she had subjected herself to a rigorous medical exam that discovered her pregnancy. They had been married five months.

Once over the shock of the discovery, Jean-Luc was joyous, but Beverly less so. She had reservations about being pregnant at her age and it took some coaxing from her husband before she could look at the situation in a kind light. Jean-Luc was extremely solicitous, to the point where Beverly had to give him a stern talking to about letting her carry on as usual, that she was not some hot house flower that needed to be coddled.

The pregnancy wasn’t difficult, but towards the end of it, Beverly tired very easily and spent the last three weeks doing little else but lounging in their quarters. The birth was straight forward, James almost being born in his parent’s bed, but there was a concerted effort on behalf of those caring for Beverly, and she was safely delivered to Sickbay just in time.

The first month after the birth went smoothly. Beverly rested and established a routine for the baby; Jean-Luc worked reduced hours and spent as much time as he could with his new family. She returned to work part time when James was five months old. Beverly was happy to breast feed and was still supplementing James’s feed when, only after nine months, Adele was conceived.

Again felled by nausea and vomiting, when told she was pregnant Beverly shook her head vehemently, saying firmly,

“I’m still breast feeding!”

Doctor Selar, the Vulcan second in command of Sickbay raised one perfect eyebrow and gave her boss a studied look of incredulity.

“Doctor Picard, you know that is not a reliable method of contraception. I’m surprised you even mentioned it.”

Beverly looked at Selar with pleading eyes and sighed, saying weakly,

“But I can’t be pregnant.”

Offering a slight frown, Selar glanced down at the medical tricorder in her hand and gave a shrug.

“But you are.”

Just then Jean-Luc entered Sick Bay. He had James in his arms and a resigned look on his face as the staff hid their grins. The front of his uniform was coated in a wet melange of dribble and liquefied rusk. James pulled the teething rusk out of his mouth and before Jean-Luc could stop him, smacked his father on top of his bald head with it, leaving the resulting mess to accentuate his bare pate.

Somewhat exasperated, Jean-Luc went to his wife and sighed.

“You were supposed to be back at our quarters half an hour ago. Why are you here anyway?”

Beverly tried to quell the glare but it escaped, making Jean-Luc frown.
“What?”

With a grumble and a flick of her hand, Beverly said curtly,

“Show him Selar.”

The unflappable Vulcan proffered the tricorder and Jean-Luc glanced at it before reaching up to grab his son’s hands so he could get a better look. He stared, then frowned, then grinned.

“You’re pregnant?”

Annoyed by his obvious humour, Beverly speared him with another glare and hissed,

“Yes damn you…and it’s your bloody fault!”

His amusement vanished, irritation surfacing.

“Mine? I seem to remember it takes two to tango!”

Before Beverly could respond, James squirmed in his father’s arms, yelling loudly,

“Mamma!”

Her arms automatically went up and the messy little boy was transferred from father to mother. Jean-Luc could see his wife was spoiling for a fight so, ever careful to preserve their privacy, he muttered,

“I’m going to our quarters to change. I’ll speak with you when my shift finishes.”

With another withering glare, Beverly said curtly,

“Fine!”

She watched her husband leave Sick Bay then muttered,

“What is he anyway…some sort of rabbit?”

Selar raised her eyebrow again and, rather injudiciously offered,

“If you are referring to fertility, I would suggest you are to blame Doctor Picard. You should have been menopausal at least three years ago. You cannot blame Captain Picard if appropriate contraception was not taken.”

Now the glare was turned on her subordinate.

“When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it!”

When Jean-Luc approached his quarters several hours later, it was with some trepidation. However, he squared his shoulders and straightened his already ramrod straight back and walked confidently into his abode, an immediate smile gracing his lips at seeing his wife and son on a soft rug on the floor, surrounded by toys and both sound asleep.

Jean-Luc gently picked James up and went into his bedroom, placing him in his cot. He was picking up the toys, when a small, brightly coloured, stuffed targ emitted a low growl and woke Beverly. She blinked owlishly then scowled.

“Oh, it’s you.”

Ignoring the frosty greeting, Jean-Luc bent to place a tender kiss on his wife’s brow. She accepted the kiss, then swatted him away. He shook his head in amusement and surprised Beverly by joining her on the rug. She watched him warily as he stretched out beside her, but when he took her in his arms and kissed her with languid passion, she stiffened and pushed at his chest, breaking the contact.

“Oh no you don’t! That’s what got you in trouble in the first place!”

He tried to offer a serious countenance, but his eyes danced and twinkled with delight.

“Do you know the sex?”

Beverly abruptly sat up, raising her voice.

“I don’t believe you! Can’t you take me seriously just once? I’m not happy Jean-Luc!”

Seeing she was genuinely upset, Jean-Luc’s good humour vanished and he sighed.

“Sorry…I just…sorry.”

Hearing the contrition in his voice, Beverly held up her hands and sighed.

“Oh stop bloody apologising!”

She stood and went to the replicator, ordering two teas, chamomile for her and Earl Grey for him. She took the drinks to the coffee table and lowered herself into the sofa. Jean-Luc stood and joined her. They sat in silence for a while, each sipping their tea, but it was Beverly who spoke first.

“Do you have any idea how much work will be involved in raising two kids only eighteen months apart?”

Knowing he had to tread very carefully, Jean-Luc said diplomatically,

“We can get help.”

Beverly snorted.

“Oh yeah, through the day, no problem, but my ever so private husband doesn’t like people in his quarters after hours! And if you continue on duty, even on restricted hours, you’re going to need a full night’s sleep. Who do you think will bear the brunt of the night feeds then?”

Jean-Luc decided, there and then, to tell something to Beverly that he had been thinking about for some months. He took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds then let it out slowly.

“What would you say if I suggested we take a posting on Earth?”

Beverly gaped then shook her head.

“You mean leave the Enterprise? Where did that come from?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while. The thing is…I don’t think it’s a safe environment in which to bring up children. I don’t want James…”

He glanced at Beverly’s belly,

“Or any other children we may have, to grow up on a Starship.”

Beverly stared at her husband as if seeing him for the first time.

“Exactly how long have you been thinking about this?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“A few months.”

Her voice grew brittle.

“And just when were you going to tell me?”

He tried a smile; saw that it wasn’t received very well, so frowned instead.

“I just did.”

Beverly put her cup down and rubbed her face.

“Jean-Luc…don’t you think we should have discussed this?”

He kept his voice soft and even, but amusement lurked just under the surface and Beverly discerned it.

“Isn’t that what we’re doing now?”

She glared and poked his shoulder with her index finger.

“This isn’t funny dammit! And anyway…if we leave the Enterprise what the hell would we do? And…where would we live?”

Jean-Luc sat back, toed off his boots and crossed his stockinged feet on the coffee table. He looked up at the ceiling, a ghost of a smile on his handsome face.

“I’ve been offered an Admiralty…again, only this time they dangled a very big carrot.”

Beverly, now curious despite her irritation, sat back and mirrored his pose, her head resting on the backrest.

“Such as?”

His ephemeral smile grew.

“A plumb research grant for my wife for whatever field she chooses.”

Beverly’s head snapped to one side, her eyes studying his profile.

“A very big carrot indeed. And may your wife still practice medicine, or is she to be sequestered in a laboratory for the remainder of her days?”

Jean-Luc turned and looked at the love of his life, the smile now a full grin.

“You can do anything you damn well please. Oh yes…one more thing. The carrot comes with a promotion. You’ll be a Captain.”

Beverly returned her gaze to the ceiling, a smile teetering around her lips.

“Okay, I admit that’s food for thought. So where do we live?”

Stretching luxuriously, Jean-Luc cradled the back of his head in his knitted hands.

“Anywhere you want.”

Cautiously, Beverly asked,

“You don’t want to live at the Chateau?”

He shook his head, his eyebrows raised.

“No, not really. I suppose one day I might want to go back permanently, but at the moment I feel wherever we chose to make a home will do. As long as I’m with you and the children I will be content.”

Beverly folded her arms across her chest and sighed.

“Oh yes…we’re back to that…children.”

Beverly turned and looked at her husband, her eyes sparkling, but her face unreadable.

“You’re being insufferably smug about all this.”

Jean-Luc’s plosive chuckle amused Beverly, but she didn’t let him see it.

“You have to admit Beverly…you and I don’t seem to do things the easy way. We spend over thirty years involved in a convoluted foreplay, finally marry and five months later we conceive our son. Now, nine months after his birth we manage, against the odds, to do it again. For two people of our age and circumstance…it’s nothing short of a miracle!”

Beverly muttered under her breath, causing Jean-Luc to say,

“What was that?  I didn’t quite hear you.”

The exasperated woman scowled at her husband, shaking her finger at him.

“Considering we seem to have sex every ten minutes…is it any wonder?”

Jean-Luc stretched out an arm and ran his fingers gently down her face.

“We had a lot of catching up to do.”

Beverly smiled and caught his fingers in her mouth, sucking softly. Jean-Luc moved closer and nuzzled her neck, working his way to her ear, where he whispered,

“It’s been more than ten minutes.”

Beverly sighed, then moaned softly as his hand found her breast and teased the nipple to erectness. He kissed her tenderly before pulling back with an arched eyebrow.

“Do you know the sex?”

Beverly rolled her eyes and poked out her tongue.

“It’s a girl. Now shut up and make love to me.”

He sighed and kissed her again before coming to his feet and pulling her upright.

“I’m too old to make love to my wife on the sofa. Why don’t we move to the comfort of our bed?”

“Hmm.”

Beverly sighed as she remembered how gentle and attentive Jean-Luc was that night. At any time he was a consummate lover, but that night he outdid himself. It was the loud squawk of a nearby bird that roused her from her dreams. Tears slowly tracked down her face as she whispered,

“Will I ever see you again my love?”

 

 

                      Della Mason gaped at the screen as she read the information. It was the answer to her prayers. She immediately opened a channel to Jean-Luc’s office, only to be told by Lieutenant Henderson that the Ambassador was away for the duration. She asked for more information, but the young man hedged, saying only that Jean-Luc had left Earth. Frustrated, Della severed the connection and began to search. For over three hours she scoured her contacts pleading and cajoling until, finally, she hit pay dirt. She was talking to a flight controller at the local airport.

“Yes Della, as a matter of fact I do have something for you. Ambassador Picard called yesterday, asking us to prepare his craft for immediate departure.”

Della’s eyebrows rose.

“He has a private craft? What are its capabilities?”

“Hang on a minute.”

Della waited impatiently while her contact could be heard talking to someone else.

“Sorry about that, I had to clear another flight. Now, you wanted to know about Ambassador Picard’s craft. Wow. It’s a beaut Della. State of the art, warp capable, sleeps six in comfort, armed with phasers and quite adequate shielding…”

The man sighed.

“I hear the engines were designed by Doctor Brahms herself. She was built at Utopia Planitia about…oh twelve months ago, in fact the weapons, shields and computers were all upgraded only four months ago.”

Della grunted, rubbing her brow.

“Name?”

She could hear the grin in the man’s voice.

“The Ambassador’s a Frenchman isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“Figures then. She’s called the Dumas. As in…Alexander Dumas…get it?”

Della sighed.

“Yes Karl, I get it. What’s her top speed?”

“Warp nine point five.”

Della gritted her teeth, muttering,

“Holy shit!”

Karl took that as encouragement to continue.

“Tell me about it! She’s the only private craft I know of that’s capable of exceeding warp five. Pays to be an Ambassador eh?”

“Yeah. Did he lodge a flight plan?”

The bewilderment in Karl’s voice made Della frown.

“Well it’s a funny thing because he produced a classified clearance document from Starfleet Command. I still had to authorise his clearance to take off, but everything else was all hush-hush.”

Della’s voice was tight.

“So you’ve no idea where he went?”

“None whatsoever…but…he did have his kids with him.”

Della sat up.

“He did? Thanks Karl, I owe you. Mason out.”

Her next call was to James’s university. Posing as Jean-Luc’s Adjutant, she asked to be connected to the student coordinator.

“Oh hello, this is Captain Della Mason, Ambassador Picard’s Adjutant. Has James Picard logged his absence?”

“Yes Captain, he called this morning.”

“Ah, good…saves me the trouble. Tell me did he tell you where he was going? I only ask because he’s with his father and the Ambassador is on official business. I just want to know whether or not the lad breached security.”

“Oh! Wait, let me bring up his file, I didn’t take his call.”

There were a few moments before Della heard,

“Captain Mason? Apparently the whole family is going to the Crab Nebula. That’s an odd place to go if the Ambassador is on official business isn’t it? There’s nothing there.”

Recovering quickly, Della muttered,

“Oh the Ambassador promised James a look at the nebula on their way. Well that’s all for now, thank you for your help. Mason out.”

Della sat back at her desk and thoughtfully ran her fingers through her luxurious black hair. She frowned at the screen of her computer and leaned forward, her voice low as she spoke to the device.

In ten minutes she had the Enterprise’s reassigned schedule. She smiled coldly.

“So…the Enterprise will be at the Crab nebula in three days? Hmm…interesting.”

Five minutes after that she had the use of a prototype runabout. She left her office, a message on her computer informing her secretary she would be gone for the foreseeable future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   Adele and James were seated in the lounge while their father was in the cockpit. James was staring at his clasped hands and Adele was gazing at the ceiling. She sighed and scratched her nose.

“So what do you think?”

Her brother shrugged.

“Seems sound enough.”

The young woman speared an intense glance at James and grunted.

“Shadowy figures in the dark, a less than reputable alien ambassador and Della Mason…who Dad seems to now despise. You call that sound?”

James shrugged again.

“Well what do you think? Do you believe that’s Mum’s wedding ring he showed us?”

Adele stood and paced in small circles.

“I don’t know! Yes it was inscribed like it should be, but has he done any tests? Scanned it for DNA?”

James snorted.

“Can you imagine what he’d say if we suggested that? He’s decided it’s real. Adele…”

James stood and went to his sister, gently grasping her arm and preventing her from pacing any more.

“I’m worried about him.”

“Why?”

James released her and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back off his forehead.

“Have you noticed his sleeping patterns lately?”

Adele frowned.

“Now that you mention it…he does seem to sleep a lot. A couple of days ago he went to bed at seven thirty.”

James nodded.

“Yeah, it’s weird. He went from not sleeping at all, then getting himself so pissed he passed out, now he goes to bed early and sleeps like a baby. It doesn’t make sense.”

“And,” said Adele, poking her brother in the chest,

“He’s overslept a couple of times…even slept through the alarm.”

James shook his head.

“What do you think’s going on?”

Adele shrugged.

“Buggered if I know. I tell you what though, it’s screwy. Hey…maybe he’s sleeping better because of these new developments. Maybe he’s just…happy.”

James shook his head.

“No, I don’t think so. Things were bad when he was drinking…he and I…we…well, let’s just say we didn’t exactly hit it off. No, this started happening before he got this new information.”

Adele lightly punched his shoulder and rolled her eyes.

“You didn’t hit it off? Admit it Jim, you were an absolute arse! You gave him hell!”

“Yeah well”, grumbled James, “He deserved it.”

Adele sighed.

“The thing is…what are we going to do about it? Do we say anything?”

With a frustrated shrug, James flopped into his chair.

“What would we say? Face it Delly, we came along for the ride because we believed him. To turn around now and start questioning him…I think it would do more harm than good.”

With folded arms, Adele took her seat and lowered her head.

“Okay, but we should at least ask him to have the ring scanned. As for the sleep business, maybe we should just watch him…see what happens?”

James sighed and rubbed his face.

“Okay.”

The smile that crept onto Adele’s face made her brother scowl.

“Oh no you don’t!”

Adele’s smile grew to a grin and she chuckled.

“Oh come on Jim, he always listens to you.”

With a derisive snort, James gave a flap of his hand.

“Yeah, but you’ve had him wrapped around your little finger since you were a kid.”

Adele’s smile faded and she sighed deeply.

“Oh all right, we do it together.”

James grinned and winked.

“My thoughts exactly.”

 

                     Hunger was gnawing at Beverly. In her already weakened state, the Doctor stumbled in the creek, falling forward onto her hands and knees. She stifled a cry of pain and stared at the running water, seemingly fascinated as her falling tears hit the surface and were carried swiftly downstream. She was struggling to her feet when hands gently grabbed her arms. She yelped in fright, spinning around and blindly lashing out with her fist. The hands released her and Beverly quickly swiped at her eyes to clear them.

Standing in the creek were two beings, both a little taller than her. They were a dusky brown and wore no clothing, but across their backs they carried a woven quiver filled with arrows and in one hand they carried a bow. Around their waists they wore a plaited belt on which was suspended a knife in a woven scabbard. They were remarkably human looking but for their bright orange eyes. Their faces and chests were decorated in scars that were coloured with light pigments to accentuate them and they were obviously male. Their gaze was wary, but steady.

Beverly straightened and took a deep breath, trying to control her racing heart. She summoned what she hoped was a warm smile and slowly lifted a hand in greeting.

“Hello.”

The beings said nothing, but they looked at each other, one shrugging. Beverly, in desperate need of help, tried to convince them of her peaceful intentions.

“I mean no harm; actually, I need your help.”

As she continued to softly speak, one of the beings grunted and nudged his companion. They again looked at each other then one muttered something and they both turned and began to walk away. Alarmed at this turn of events, Beverly called out and took a few quick steps towards them, but she stumbled and fell again.

The beings stopped and turned before one went back to help Beverly to her feet. The Doctor gripped his hand and looked deeply into his eyes, pleading softly,

“Help me…please.”

As she stood on shaking legs, the beings quietly conversed then seemed to come to a decision. They moved to stand on either side of the woman and gently wrapped an arm around her waist. Beverly draped her arms across their shoulders and sighed, smiling her thanks. They slowly moved off together, back upstream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    The mute had managed to catch a small furry animal. It struggled in his large hands but he ignored its fight for life as he put the head in his mouth and bit, twisting savagely until the head was separated from the body. He spat the head out, then proceeded to eat the body, tearing chucks free with his sharp teeth. When he had devoured it completely, he washed his hands in the creek and took a long drink. Suitably fortified, at least for the time being, he sniffed the air and took only enough time to urinate before heading off again. Unlike Beverly, who had to stop frequently to rest, the mute was remorseless in his hunt and in a deep part of his violated brain he instinctively knew he was closing in.

For over two hours he trudged through the water of the creek, his passage masked by the sounds of the rushing water. But to a trained eye his movements could be discerned. The beings helping Beverly suddenly stopped, both staring down at the water. Beverly peered, squinting her eyes against the dappled sunlight that reflected off the surface. She was about to shake her head in confusion, unable to see anything of note; when she suddenly realised she could see something. Fine silt was being carried in the current, disturbing the otherwise crystal clear water. With a soft grunt, one of the beings, who seemed to be senior some how, led them out of the creek and into the thick jungle. They silently urged Beverly to sit, then they both took an arrow from their quivers and split up, one going to the opposite side of the creek. Beverly sat up, knowing she needed to stay quiet and believing an animal was approaching, one that the natives wanted to kill.

She barely stifled a cry of alarm when, around a bend only metres away, loomed the mute. With her eyes glued to his hulking figure, she didn’t see the natives, but the sibilant whisper of their arrows in flight was suddenly silenced as the weapons struck their target. One arrow pierced the mute’s left eye, travelling almost ten centimetres into his skull. The other struck him in the throat, tearing through muscle and cartilage and severing vital blood vessels. The enormous alien’s hands scrabbled at the arrows, ineffectually trying to remove them, but as blood fountained from the throat wound, he staggered backwards then reeled sideways, his mouth gaping in a silent bellow. The natives broke cover and boldly approached the struggling alien. The senior being reached up and, with a clenched fist, struck the base of the arrow protruding from the mute’s left eye. The shaft plunged into the mute’s head and he suddenly stiffened, his back arching. The second native reloaded his bow and calmly fired another arrow into the mute’s temple. There was an odd gurgling sound as the alien dropped to his knees, his hands falling to his sides. In ponderous slow motion he toppled forward as his eye rolled up into its socket. He fell face down in the water, spasmed twice before his body lost all its rigidity and relaxed in death. His blood mixed with the water and flowed away with the silt.

Beverly rose in a daze and staggered towards the body. She watched, transfixed in morbid fascination as the natives dragged the body out of the water before dispassionately using their knives to cut away the flesh and bone to retrieve their arrows, but when they eviscerated the mute and removed his heart, Beverly gagged and abruptly sat, averting her eyes as the natives sliced the large organ open, drank some of the blood and ate a portion of the heart. She didn’t turn her attention back to the natives until she heard them dragging the remains further into the jungle. They then returned to the creek and washed themselves of the gore that covered them.

They were smiling and softly chattering as they approached her. Now dubious about their intentions, Beverly attempted to struggle as they hoisted her to her feet, but they smiled at her and gestured back towards the creek, seemingly elated by their recent actions. With little option but to obey, Beverly allowed them to support her as she summoned the strength to keep going.

 

 

 

 

               Will’s eyes were wide and he tried his best to ignore the pain in his hand as the fingernails of Deanna’s hand broke the skin. Her strength was diminishing rapidly as she entered the eighth hour of her labour. He flicked his head, sending droplets of sweat flying and tried to keep his voice even as he asked for the umpteenth time,

“Wouldn’t it be better to just beam the baby out?”

Before the Doctor could answer, Deanna arched her back and gritted her teeth, her long moan of agony loud in the otherwise quiet room. She held herself rigid for several seconds before collapsing back on the bed, panting as a nurse wiped her brow with a cool cloth. Will looked down at her, shaking his head.

“Enough Deanna…the baby’s too big.”

She opened her eyes and glared at her husband.

“And whose fucking fault is that!”

Will ignored the outburst, instead concentrating on staying calm.

“Dee, Doctor Selar has already told you…the baby’s head can’t fit through the pelvic opening. Please, you’ve tried long enough…give up.”

Selar, the Vulcan CMO of the Enterprise spoke softly, but her voice carried resolute authority.

“Counsellor so far the baby has borne the rigours of labour well, but he will soon begin to show distress. I know you wanted a natural birth and we have done everything in our power to help you in that, but I’m afraid it is just not possible. Even though you have gone into labour prematurely, the baby is simply too big for your small body size to deliver. I urge you to reconsider before I have to make a unilateral decision to intervene.”

Another contraction seized the Betazoid and Will grimaced as he watched his wife bear the pain. It passed and Deanna opened her eyes, pleading softly,

“No…please…let me keep trying…”

Will bent low and shook his head.

“No Dee it won’t work. Please my love, I know how important this is to you, but you have to see to reason. Let Selar beam the baby out.”

The next contraction had Deanna keening, gripping Will’s hand in desperation. When it passed he took a cloth and wiped her tears away. With a trembling lip she sighed and nodded.

“All right…do it.”

The personnel moved immediately. Deanna was whisked into a side room, Will in tow. She was placed in a special bio bed and the medical transporter activated. Within seconds the baby materialised beside her on the bed, the placenta still attached to the umbilical cord and lying in a mass beside the baby. Selar stepped forward and gently cleared the baby’s airways as Will held Deanna’s hand, both parents watching in fascination. After gently wrapping the baby in a soft blanket, Selar looked up at Will and asked,

“Would you like to cut the cord?”

He nodded shakily and took the instrument, severing the cord easily. The little boy was lifted and placed on Deanna’s chest where he immediately began to quest for her nipple. She bared her breast and carefully guided her nipple to the baby. Once it was in his mouth he started to suckle. Will grinned, his eyes twinkling.

“He’s hungry.”

Deanna smiled up at her husband tiredly, but there was mischief in her eyes.

“Another thing he gets from his father.”

Selar picked up a PADD and said quietly,

“I have recorded your son’s measurements. For the file, what is to be his name?”

Will looked to his wife for confirmation and she nodded. It was with great pride that he announced,

“Matthew John Riker.”

Selar entered the information then spent a few moments to inject a drug that would aid in returning Deanna’s internal organs to normal. Will frowned as a call came from the Bridge.

“Captain Riker, we are being hailed by Ambassador Picard.”

Casting his wife a questioning look, Deanna answered the silent enquiry with a tired smile.

“It’s okay Will, take the call.”

Smiling his gratitude, Will lifted his head slightly and said,

“I’ll take it down here Bridge. Riker out.”

“Acknowledged Captain.”

Will’s next words were laced with humour.

“Ambassador Picard? Riker here.”

On hearing his former Captain’s deep rich voice, Will briefly closed his eyes, his smile growing.

“Hello Will, I just thought I’d better let you know that James and Adele are travelling with me. They will require quarters when we arrive.”

Deanna’s delighted gasp amused the big man.

“That will be no problem Sir; we’re looking forward to seeing you all. What’s your ETA?”

“Eighteen hours.”

“Fine Sir. Ah…we have a little surprise for you.”

Will could hear the curiosity in Jean-Luc’s voice.

“Oh? And what would that be?”

Catching Deanna vigorously shaking her head, Will grinned.

“It will have to wait until you get here Sir.”

Now a little wary, Jean-Luc sighed.

“Very well Will, we’ll see you then. Dumas out.”

The big man looked down at his wife, his eyebrow raised.

“Why didn’t you want him to know?”

Deanna sighed.

“Because I want to see his face when you put Matthew in his arms. Everyone thinks he’s so reserved and cold, but we know how warm and gentle he really is. Do you remember how he was when his own children were little?”

Will smiled wistfully.

“Oh God yeah…he was putty in their hands.”

Deanna nodded.

“Yes he was, but can you recall how he looked whenever he cradled the kids when they were little babies?”

Will frowned momentarily, then his face cleared and his smile widened.

“Oh yeah. As a matter of fact, I never thought I’d see him look with such love at anyone other than Beverly. He had it bad.”

“Well I think we’re going to see that soft side again. Not the love, obviously, but our former Captain has a well-hidden paternal streak and I believe little Matthew is going to bring it to the fore.”

With a chuckle, Will grew contemplative and gently touched Matthew’s cheek with his knuckle. The now sleeping baby shifted slightly and Deanna carefully lifted him, offering him to his father. Will hesitated slightly, but swallowed his nervousness and took his son, holding him reverently. Deanna watched him and sighed, saying softly,

“Ambassador Picard isn’t the only one who looks at his children with unabashed love.”

Will smiled and gazed tenderly at his wife.

“I love you Deanna.”

She returned the smile, her heart brimming with happiness.

“I know Will, and I love you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    Having severed the connection to the Enterprise, Jean-Luc sat back in the cockpit seat and closed his eyes. He had been awake for a long time and the urge to sleep, now intensified by genuine tiredness, caused his body to complain loudly and his brain to become a little sluggish. He pushed himself to his feet and went aft, only to find both his children were asleep in their beds. He lowered the main lights and went to his bedroom, silently undressing and debating whether or not to use the drug. He was certainly tired enough to sleep without it, but the thought of the dreaded nightmares was enough to make him come to a decision. He retrieved the hypo and, seated on his bed in his shorts, prepared to inject himself.

Unbeknown to the Ambassador, the small noises he’d made had woken his son. James slid out of his bed and padded barefoot to his father’s bedroom, activating the door. He saw his father inject himself and he frowned, rubbing one eye.

“Dad? What are you doing?”

With the drug now in his system, Jean-Luc knew he had little time in which to deflect his son before he would be forced to lie down and sleep. He nonchalantly placed the hypo on the bedside table and gave a flick of his hand.

“I’m just going to bed. I thought you were asleep.”

James’s frown deepened, noting his father had not answered his question.

“I was. Dad why were you using a hypo?”

Jean-Luc shook his head and again, used his hand in a dismissive gesture.

“It’s nothing son, go back to bed.”

Ignoring the gentle order, James risked his father’s anger by coming into the room and boldly picking up the hypo, examining it closely. Jean-Luc gritted his teeth as he began to feel the overwhelming need to sleep. He looked up at his tall son and lowered his voice.

“Go to bed James.”

Hearing the tense undertone in his father’s voice, James quickly debated the danger involved in defying his father, but concern and curiosity won and he shook his head.

“I’m not tired.”

He held up the hypo, saying softly,

“What is it Dad?”

Jean-Luc was beginning to feel odd. His vision began to slew and he had to concentrate fiercely to speak without slurring.

“It’s nothing, I’m fine.”

He summoned a wan smile and tried to give a confident look but his eyes betrayed him.

Alarmed by his father’s sudden deterioration, James had to reach to steady the man when he slumped sideways and closed his eyes. James gasped and shook his shoulder.

“Dad!”

Jean-Luc struggled to open his eyes, but failed. He slurred,

“I’m fine…jus let me sleep.”

James again shook his father, but to his astonishment, the man had already slipped into slumber. The young man stood upright and stared down at his father, completely nonplussed. After a few minutes James picked his father legs up and straightened him on the bed, making sure his head was on the pillow. He covered the senseless man with the comforter then walked slowly to the door, absently saying,

“Lights out.”

He debated waking his sister, but decided against it. He went back to his bedroom and stretched out on the bed, cradling his head in his hands, muttering darkly,

“What the hell’s going on?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Darnid had spent the night sleeping in a hollow formed in the roots of an enormous tree. As he slept, many insects, no doubt attracted by his appalling body odour, had infested his matted hair and filthy clothing. On waking, he rolled onto his back and pushed his trousers down. A mixture of sweat, oily body secretions and semen had created a coating of greenish slime over his genitals and several insects were feeding on his penis as he began to masturbate. As usual he climaxed quickly and he licked his semen off one hand as he continued to stimulate himself with the other. Soon erect again he closed his eyes, seemingly oblivious to the insects that crawled over his sticky hands and penis. He brought himself to orgasm four times before he was sated, albeit momentarily.

 He pushed his pants further down his dirt encrusted legs and squatted, releasing a slippery, dark brown semi-liquid from his anus. He grunted loudly with satisfaction then wiped himself with his fingers, before bringing his hand to his mouth to lick the foul mess off with his forked tongue.

He stood, scratched his genitals with gusto, then hitched his pants up before digging in his pocket for his locator. Having again acquired the signal, he stepped away from the tree and pushed back into the jungle.

As the sun rose higher the temperature increased markedly and so did the humidity. His filthy body began to itch and Darnid drew puce blood as his thick, ragged fingernails raked his skin. One particularly intense itch made him stop and abruptly push his trousers down. He bent forward and vigorously scratched his anus. As the flesh was viciously scraped, three white, worm-like creatures wriggled free from the sphincter and dropped to the ground. Darnid grunted and quickly turned, using his fingers to pluck the worms from the ground and stuffing them into his mouth. Seemingly satisfied, he pulled his pants up then released an explosive amount of gas. Dark brown liquid ran down his legs but he ignored it, devoting his attention to his device. The signal was growing stronger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Beverly was beginning to wonder if her benefactors would ever stop to rest. She was panting raggedly and the pain was making her eyes water. Blood soaked the crutch of her trousers and she knew she needed to lie down. Several times she had tried to talk to the natives but they seemed intent on what they were doing. Sticking to the creek, they forged their way upstream until they met the junction of another water course. Beverly noted they seemed to know where they were going as they took the branch and continued to wade up the creek stirring the crystal clear water into a turbid mess. 

After two hours Beverly began to feel faint. She attempted to extricate herself from the native’s arms, but they simply gripped her tighter, continuing their march through the water. Her vision began to grey and nausea surged. Her legs failed and she slumped, her eyes rolling back as consciousness fled.

Beverly slowly became aware of dappled sunlight, making psychedelic patterns behind her closed lids. Strange visions of grotesque creatures billowed in her mind and she flinched, unable to move away from them. Just as she was about to be overwhelmed, gentle hands eased her mouth open and poured in some blessedly cool water. She swallowed then gagged, coughing and spluttering as she rolled onto her side. More water was applied to her face and neck and gradually she regained consciousness.

She was gently eased onto her back and she slowly opened her eyes. At first confused, it took some minutes for Beverly to remember where she was and what had happened. She groaned and tried to sit up, but the movement caused her to gag. Strong hands held her shoulders while she heaved and, when the spasms had finally passed, the same strong hands held her while she shakily sat, leaning against a tall tree.

Beverly struggled to see properly. The Doctor in her was fascinated by the vision disturbances, but as it made her already queasy stomach worse, she opted to close her eyes. Unfortunately the violent patterns that swirled unchecked behind her closed lids was even worse, so she snapped her eyes open and swallowed, blinking rapidly.

As her sight cleared a little, she saw the natives sitting close by, eating. Having seen that Beverly had her eyes open, one of the males offered her some food. Beverly hadn’t eaten for a very long time and, with the vomiting she’d endured; her stomach had been empty for many hours. She tentatively took some of the offered food, relieved to see it was vegetable matter, wrapped in a large green leaf. She took a small bite and chewed, finding the morsel not unpleasant.

As she slowly ate, she felt some meagre strength return. Flying insects were swarming around her crutch, trying to feed on the blood. She waved them away then looked over at the creek, before slowly rising to her feet. The natives watched with curiosity as she braced herself against the tree, then staggered to the creek, only a few metres away.

Ignoring the prying eyes watching her, she stripped and entered the water, bathing before washing her clothes. She took time to carefully wash the wounds on her face, her fingers telling her they were crusted in pus and serum. She knew she was running a high fever but could do little to ease it. Having finished her ablutions, she spread her clothes out to dry and found some soft grass to sit on. One of the natives came to her with some more food. She smiled her thanks but found she could only nibble, her appetite having deserted her.

She was finding it increasingly difficult to think clearly, but with fierce concentration, she evoked an image of her husband in her mind. Lying down on the grass she sighed and tried to smile.

“As long as you are with me Jean-Luc, I’ll be all right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        Adele came out of her room to find her brother sitting at the dining room table, a cup of coffee held in both his hands. His elbows were propped on the table and she could tell by his lowered head, that something was on his mind.

She went to the replicator, retrieved a cup of coffee and silently took her seat. She allowed a few minutes more then sighed.

“What’s up Jim?”

James looked up and scowled.

“The old man.”

With a frown, Adele tilted her head and asked,

“What?”

Putting his cup down with great deliberation, James ran his fingers around the rim while he organised his thoughts.

“Last night I caught Dad injecting himself with something.”

Adele sat up straight, alarm on her face.

“What was it?”

James shrugged.

“I don’t know, he wouldn’t tell me, but whatever it was, it knocked him out pretty quick. He practically passed out while I was talking to him.”

Adele scowled.

“It must have been some sort of sleep inducer.”

James nodded.

“That’s what I thought. Bloody hell Delly, no wonder he’s been going to bed early and sleeping in! He’s been drugged!”

“But wait a minute Jim,” Adele said leaning forward.

“Surely he would’ve needed a Doctor to give it to him?”

It was James’s turn to scowl.

“What bloody doctor would authorise him to have a hypo of drugs to inject himself? It’s insane.”

Adele snorted.

“Maybe not insane, but definitely unethical.”

Conversation halted as Jean-Luc entered the room. He held his head up and summoned a smile as his children’s eyes tracked his passage to the replicator. His deep voice rumbled in the otherwise quiet room as he ordered his coffee and, when he sat at the table, an uncomfortable silence descended. He sipped then cleared his throat.

“We will be rendezvousing with the Enterprise later tonight.”

Adele smiled but James scowled. He looked at his father and sneered.

“Will you be awake?”

Jean-Luc lowered his head and pursed his lips. His voice held a note of warning.

“James…”

Adele, wishing to avoid a confrontation between the males, reached out and took her father’s hand. She looked into his eyes and said softly,

“What’s going on Dad?”

Unused to being interrogated, even so gently, Jean-Luc withdrew his hand and gave a curt shake of his head.

“Nothing.”

James snorted.

“Nothing? I catch you injecting yourself with something that knocks you out…and you say nothing?”

Keeping his temper in check with an effort, Jean-Luc strove to keep his voice even.

“I can assure you it was nothing! It’s none of your concern anyway.”

Adele could see both men were getting angry so she raised her voice.

“Dad! We’ve told you before…we’re not kids! If you’re taking a drug to sleep, at least do us the honour of being honest and tell us!”

Jean-Luc tossed back the rest of his coffee then stood, glaring down at his children.

“Fine! All right…yes, I’m taking a drug, but it’s not to induce sleep, it’s to stop dreams.”

James frowned and shook his head.

“Stop dreams? But we need to dream.”

With a sigh of capitulation, Jean-Luc regained his seat and rubbed his brow.

“Yes we do, but this drug allows me to sleep without dreams but has no deleterious side effects.”

James, mirroring his father’s habit, scratched the skin above his ear.

“But I didn’t know such drugs existed. Who gave it to you? You haven’t been to a Doctor since Mum…”

Adele, watching her father closely, saw him slightly flinch. She knew him well enough to know what it meant.

“You haven’t got it from a Doctor, have you.”

Jean-Luc sighed.

“No.”

James, now completely nonplussed, shook his head incredulously.

“Why the hell not?”

Casting a glare at his son, Jean-Luc bowed his head and took a deep breath.

“Because the drug isn’t available in the Federation.”

That brought James to his feet.

What? You’re using an illicit drug…without medical supervision?”

Feeling cornered, Jean-Luc stood and tugged down on his shirt.

“I had little choice!”

Now becoming belligerent, James also stood and confronted his father.

“No choice? How about refusing!”

Wishing to defuse the situation, Jean-Luc reached up and placed a placating hand on his son’s shoulder.

“I couldn’t refuse James. Do you know why I was drinking so much?”

The lad shrugged.

“’Cause you were having trouble sleeping.”

Jean-Luc nodded and sighed.

“That’s only partially true. Yes I was having trouble sleeping, but it wasn’t sleep itself that was the trouble. What was troubling me was my dreams when I slept.

 They were terrible James and I reached a point where I couldn’t stand it any more. It was either drink myself to oblivion, or go without sleep altogether.”

James peered at his father and slowly nodded.

“Okay, what changed?”

With a tired smile, Jean-Luc took his seat and waited until James sat too.

“What changed was you and Adele. When I realised what my drinking was doing to you two, I stopped, but that only put me back to square one. Then I met someone…someone who has been very helpful. Not only did he find the drug for me, but he found the information that led me to this journey. He confirmed your mother was alive.”

Adele, wise beyond her years and quite cognizant as to how things worked, spoke quietly, but there was steel in her voice.

“What did you have to do in return Dad?”

Jean-Luc chuckled, leaning back in his chair to stare at the ceiling.

“Oh nothing much, just supply some information about sensitive issues within the Federation Council.”

Brother and sister looked askance at each other. It was James who broke the tense silence.

“You did what?”

With a tired wave of his head, Jean-Luc dismissed their concerns.

“You needn’t worry; I’ve not done anything to harm the federation.”

Adele stood and went to her father, taking his hand and saying softly,

“Did you have any choice?”

Jean-Luc smiled tenderly at his daughter, reaching up to run his fingers down her cheek.

“No I didn’t. When it became obvious that your mother was alive, I had to get the information I needed to find her. I would’ve done anything…anything at all to get it.”

Adele bent and kissed her father before looking at her brother.

“Are you satisfied?”

James sighed and shrugged.

“What about the drug? Are you still going to use it?”

It was Jean-Luc’s turn to shrug.

“I don’t see that I have any choice. If I don’t use it, I can’t…actually I won’t sleep.”

Not convinced, James was going to argue further but Adele shook her head.

“No James, let it go. I trust Dad…do you?”

James looked at his sister then his father. He sighed and nodded.

“Yes I do.”

Adele gave a curt nod.

“Good, then let’s say no more about it.”

She looked down at her father.

“I’m hungry. How about you?”

Jean-Luc smiled his gratitude and squeezed her hand.

“Yes, I could do with a good breakfast.”

James stood and went to the replicator.

“Okay, fire away.”

Jean-Luc sighed and briefly closed his eyes.

“You should be proud of your children Beverly, I know I am.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Tony Mason stretched in his seat and cast a look at his mother. The runabout they were in was small, but very fast. However as it was a prototype there was little in the way of comforts. There were two cockpit seats and nothing else. Even the food replicator had a severely limited range of comestibles available.

He tried to stretch his legs but was stymied by the console in front of him. He sighed with irritation and glared at his mother.

“I still don’t see why we have to do this! Why can’t you just send him a message?”

Della turned her seat to face her son. She smiled but the underlying tension took the warmth from the gesture.

“I’ve already told you Tony, the message is too important to send via subspace. Ambassador Picard needs to hear it from me face to face.”

The lad snorted.

“Okay, but why did we have to take this ship? Why couldn’t we have taken a proper runabout? This one sucks.”

Della gave an exasperated huff and turned her attention to the console in front of her.

“Because this one is faster than any other I could get! Look, I know you’re uncomfortable, but it’s not for much longer. We will be at the Crab Nebula in a few hours; you can be patient that long…can’t you?”

Tony folded his arms across his chest and stared balefully out into space. He sighed theatrically and muttered,

“So what’s at the Crab Nebula?”

Offering a conspirator’s smile, Della said softly,

“The Enterprise.”

Tony immediately sat up, his eyes shining.

“The Enterprise? Oh wow! I’ve always wanted to see her…she’s ace!”

“Indeed she is. In fact, I’m just about to contact Captain Riker.”

The boy nodded enthusiastically.

“I’ll be quiet.”

Della’s smile attained warmth and she winked at her son.

“I know you will.”

She opened a channel and called,

“Mason to Enterprise.”

“Enterprise here, go ahead.”

“May I speak with Captain Riker please?”

“Riker speaking. To whom am I addressing?”

“Captain Della Mason.”

“We have you on long range scanners. We do not recognise your warp signature. Identify yourself.”

Della smiled to herself and shook her head.

“This is a prototype runabout, Starfleet designation G1809.”

There was a momentary silence before Della heard,

“Verified. Go ahead.”

Della’s smile turned predatory.

“I wish to rendezvous with you in the Crab Nebula. I carry an important message for Ambassador Picard. What is his ETA?”

The wariness in Will’s voice was obvious as he replied,

“This is highly unusual Captain; couldn’t you have contacted him via subspace?”

Della knew Will would try to protect his former Captain and she was ready for him.

“Are you aware that I am Ambassador Picard’s Adjutant?”

“Yes.”

“Then let me just say that this pertains to some extremely sensitive, on going negotiations he’s presently working on. I can’t go into details, suffice it to say, he needs the information I have and he needs to hear it from me in person.”

Will sighed.

“Very well. Ambassador Picard is due in nine hours. What is your ETA?”

With a grim smile of satisfaction, Della replied,

“Seven hours…and Captain, I would prefer it if you didn’t tell the Ambassador of my arrival. The less said over sub space the better.”

“Understood. See you in seven hours. Enterprise out.”

Tony looked at his mother, a frown on his face.

“He doesn’t sound very friendly.”

Della leaned over and ruffled her son’s hair.

“Don’t worry about it sport, Starship Captains are a grumpy lot…all that responsibility.”

Tony chuckled and was about to put his feet up on the console when his mother said softly,

“Time to hit the books Tony. Homework.”

Knowing complaints would fall on deaf ears didn’t stop the boy from muttering,

“This bucket has no beds, no head and practically nothing in the replicator files, but I have to do my homework. That sucks.”

Della just chuckled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Ambassador Tar Taz was sweating as he looked at the image on the screen. Narwan Jemurl, the Romulan Senator stared implacably at the Antorian, his dark eyes glittering dangerously.

“Where is he going?”

Tar Taz shrugged, his nervousness causing small lumps to form around the base of his eye stalks.

“I don’t know. All I do know is that Picard left Earth with his family yesterday.”

Jemurl sighed.

“And Darnid?”

The Antorian swallowed, flushing a dusky brown.

“I haven’t been able to contact him.”

The Senator sneered.

“I don’t like this Tar Taz. Why would Picard leave Earth so soon after you presented him with proof of his wife’s existence? And why can’t you contact Darnid?”

Wishing he could dispense with the heavy cape, Tar Taz shifted in his seat and sighed.

“Perhaps Picard had business elsewhere?”

Jemurl snorted derisively.

“And leave just as he finds out his wife is alive? I don’t think so! No Tar Taz…I think he’s gone to look for her.”

The Antorian shook his enormous head.

“But that would be pointless! He doesn’t know where she is!”

The Romulan smiled, but it was a cold smile.

“Picard is a very resourceful man Ambassador. It wouldn’t surprise me to find he has contacts we don’t know about. Find him…and find Darnid! That little Fretan may know something we need to find out.”

Tar Taz swallowed and bowed his head.

“Yes my Lord.”

The connection was severed and the Antorian wiped at his brow.

“Where are you Picard? What are you up to?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 By the time Beverly’s benefactors reached their camp, she had long ago lost all sense of time. With the natives supporting her, she stumbled along, heedless of their passage through the water. Following the numerous creeks was the easiest way to get anywhere, the surrounding jungle too thick to easily pass through.

She was being gently lowered to the ground when her eyes opened.

“What?”

Hands carefully divested her of her clothing and she stared vacantly as water was offered. When she didn’t immediately drink, one of the natives gently lifted her head, while the other tipped a small wooden cup to her lips. As the cool water entered her mouth, she swallowed greedily, gulping down the life-giving liquid.

Several minutes passed then she began to feel better. The natives left her and busied themselves around the campsite. Beverly rolled onto her side and shakily propped herself up on one elbow. They were in a small clearing. Two sturdy timber and bark shelters stood facing each other, open at the front with a fire pit in between. She could hear the creek nearby and overhead the impenetrable jungle formed a canopy.

The natives went about their business in silence, seemingly engrossed in what they were doing. Almost half an hour passed before both men approached the Doctor, one holding a wooden bowl. The older of the two gently encouraged Beverly to lie down. One she acquiesced; the younger native scooped something out of the bowl and gently applied it to the wound on her face. As Beverly suddenly realised the pain was diminishing, he applied the substance to her genitals. Although initially very painful at being touched, both wounds reacted very quickly to the treatment. A very distinct smell of mould and vegetable matter reached Beverly’s nose and she smiled to herself, silently congratulating her new friends on their intelligence.

With the external pain now under control, when food was offered, Beverly was keen to eat and the strength that flowed into her body made her relax for the first time since she escaped. She smiled at the natives and tried to communicate with them. Placing her hand on her chest, she said softly,

“Beverly. My name is Beverly.”

The older of the two men grunted and tapped his chest.

“Gruz.”

He gestured to his companion and said,

“Krel.”

Beverly’s smile widened.

“Gruz and Krel. Well it’s very nice to meet you. Thank you for helping me.”

The older man frowned at Beverly, not understanding her words, but he seemed to understand her tone. His face split into a grin and he shook his head, his dusky skin darkening. The younger native chuckled, picking up a twig and throwing at his companion. The playful antics suddenly stopped when both men abruptly lifted their heads, sniffing the air. Without warning they rose in unison and left the camp. Beverly slowly sat up, bewildered and a little frightened.

“Now where the hell have they gone?”

She was left alone for over an hour. The natives returned as silently as they had left. The elder entered the campsite first, smiling at Beverly as he stirred the fire embers and added some wood. He was soon joined by the younger man, who had, over his shoulder, the carcass of a dead animal. He stood stoically while the fire was coaxed into a small blaze, then slung the animal onto the fire, burning off the fur. The smell of singeing hair made Beverly grimace, but the smell of the flesh cooking was worse. She wrinkled her nose and tried not to think about eating the meat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 Using his strong hands, Darnid peeled back the bark from the tree and sniffed at the hole he’d uncovered. With a sharp stone he’d collected from the creek, he forced the wood apart to expose his prize. Utilising the sharp nails of his thumb and forefinger he pinched the grub and gently began to pull. The milky green flesh was delicate and he was careful not to tear it as he patiently exerted the required pressure to extract the grub from its hole. It took over ten minutes before he had his reward. The grub was eighteen centimetres long and seven centimetres thick, the segmented, pulsating body slowly writhing in his hands. Its head was black and shiny, two pincers emerging from its mouth and snapping ineffectually as it attempted to bite its tormentor.

Darnid stared dispassionately as he used his ragged fingernails to pierce the flesh behind the head, then, with a twist, tear the head off. Dark purple and green ooze welled up over his hand as he tilted his head back and opened his mouth wide. He lowered the still squirming creature into his mouth and chewed lustily, his eyes half closed.

His free hand, the one coated in ooze, reached inside his pants and spread the viscous matter on his stiffening penis. Using the ooze as a lubricant, he masturbated furiously, grunting loudly as he came. His forked tongue licked the ooze and semen off his hand and he sighed, turning back to the tree and pulling off more bark. He was hungry and it would take several grubs to satisfy his hunger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 Will and Deanna were standing in the shuttle bay when the Dumas gently settled on the deck. The bay was only just big enough for the craft and Will whistled softly as he looked her over.

“Oh boy…she’s a beauty!”

Deanna sighed, rolling her eyes and nudging her husband in the ribs with her elbow.

Will, brought back to the matter at hand, winked at his wife and, as the aft hatch of the Dumas opened, straightened his spine and took a step forward, eager to see his former Captain.

James exited first, throwing a grin at his Uncle and Aunt before looking over his shoulder at his father and sister. Jean-Luc came out with Adele at his side and together they went to Will and Deanna, Adele’s cry of delight at seeing the new baby making the infant squall. Will stuck out his hand and grinned.

“Welcome aboard Ambassador, it’s good to see you Sir.”

Jean-Luc smiled, raising his eyebrows.

“Thank you Captain, it’s good to be here.”

He leaned forward and gently pulled back the blanket that partially covered the baby’s head. With gentleness he touched the infant’s cheek, rewarded when the little one turned to his finger, mouth open and questing.

His gentle baritone was soothing.

“Hungry I think.”

Deanna nodded.

“Yes, I’m afraid he’s inherited his father’s appetite.”

Jean-Luc snorted.

“God help us all! What is his name?”

Will, with obvious pride colouring his voice, said gently,

“Matthew John.”

Adele joined her father and was further delighted when Deanna smiled and said,

“Would you like to hold him?”

“Oh yes please.”

James smirked and shook his head, saying snidely,

“Women and babies.”

Will chuckled and gently punched the young man’s shoulder.

“Your time will come my lad.”

Deanna, determined to get James involved, linked her arm in his and drew him near.

“Look James, he has my eyes.”

While the others were busy, Will surreptitiously took Jean-Luc aside.

“Sir about two hours ago your Adjutant came aboard.”

Jean-Luc hid his surprise and dismay well, but Will saw his eyes darken.

“Della Mason?”

Somewhat confused by what he saw, Will nodded.

“Yes Sir. She and her son somehow got their hands on a prototype runabout. They flew her like a bat out of hell from Earth. They arrived two hours ago.”

Rubbing his lower lip, Jean-Luc sighed.

“I assume you’ve assigned her quarters?”

“Yes Sir. Ambassador…is something wrong?”

Brought out of his dark thoughts, Jean-Luc looked up at the younger man and gently grasped his shoulder.

“No Will…I ah…just didn’t expect her, that’s all.”

Not convinced in the least, Will frowned.

“She said she had an important message for you…something too sensitive to send over sub space.”

Wishing to end the conversation, Jean-Luc smiled.

“I thought as much. Thank you Will, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Will shut his mouth, unwilling to press his former Captain. Deanna’s soft voice caught his attention and he went to her, a smile forming as he watched Adele lift his son to her cheek.

“Oh Aunt Deanna…his skin is so soft.”

James cupped his hand and gently ran it over Matthew’s head.

“So is his hair. It’s like down.”

Jean-Luc joined them and sighed.

“You both had the softest hair. I remember your mother had a special soft brush for it.”

Will grinned and looked pointedly at Jean-Luc’s bare scalp.

“Not something you have to worry about Sir.”

The glare lacked any real venom, and the deadpan reply made everyone chuckle.

“They say God made few perfect heads Captain, on the rest he put hair.”

Leaving her son in the safe care of her niece, Deanna linked her arm with Jean-Luc’s and smiled up at him with deep affection.

“Come on Sir, I’ll show you to your quarters.”

Jean-Luc bowed his head graciously.

“Thank you Counsellor.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

                Tony was stretched out in his bed, sound asleep. Della sat up and looked out the window as the computer reported,

“Ambassador Picard is aboard.”

She sat back and nodded to herself.

“Ten minutes for greetings, then an escort to quarters. The kids will get their own cabins…he should be alone. Hmm…I’ll give it an hour.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     On Antoria, many, many light years away, Belderand Haz sat at his desk, sweat sliding down his back. With an effort he kept his eye stalks trained forward, as if he was engrossed by what was on his screen. Feigning nonchalance, he slipped the isolinear chip into the computer and began the download. He knew his actions…if he were to be caught, would bring about a grisly and protracted demise, but the death of his beloved partner, Mersen Pul, strengthened his resolve to carry on his mission. His partner had died in pursuit of just the kind of information Belderand had now discovered.

A patriot, Belderand was well aware of what Tar Taz intended and, though only a lowly underling in the present government, he knew he had to let his contact in the Federation know of what he’d learned. It had taken breathtaking skill to hack into Tar Taz’s computer files and the risk of discovery was great, but so were the rewards to his planet. The Federation would not stand idly by while Tar Taz sold Antoria to the Romulans. Their sector in space was too important, too strategic for the Federation to allow what the Ambassador had in mind. The politics didn’t interest Belderand…the ruling families had been bickering for centuries, only the relative stability of their society made the populace tolerate their leaders. No, it was the thought of being under Romulan rule that motivated Belderand, that and the desire to honour his dead partner. He was determined Mersen’s clandestine work would go on.

The download complete, Belderand removed the chip and slipped it into a small, specially constructed cylinder which he secreted inside his clothes. He rose from his desk, concentrating on acting utterly normally, and settled his cape around his massive shoulders. He curled his eye stalks in recognition of the two secretaries who worked diligently at their desks before strolling to the toilet. Once in a private cubicle, he pulled down his trousers and underwear and spent a few uncomfortable moments easing the cylinder into his rectum. He then restored his clothing, exited the cubicle and washed his hands.

Sweat was beading the dome of his head so he washed his face and patted it dry with synthetic towels.

He made it back to his desk and briefly closed his eyes, offering a prayer to the Gods to protect him. A glance at his computer clock told him he had five more hours of work before he ran the gauntlet of security to exit the building. If he made it, the chip would be on its way to the Federation before nightfall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 Deanna was seeing James and Adele to their quarters as Will stood with Jean-Luc in his spacious guest quarters. The Ambassador knew his former First Officer was waiting patiently for an explanation for his behaviour and it gratified him immensely to know the Captain trusted him enough to know he would divulge what was on his mind in his own time. That time had come. Jean-Luc turned to Will and smiled.

“You have questions.”

Will returned the smile and nodded.

“Yes Sir, I do.”

Jean-Luc took a seat and gestured for Will to join him. Once they were both comfortable, Jean-Luc sat back and smiled.

“I take it you want proof that Beverly’s alive…that I’m not just a foolish old man who refuses to accept the truth of my wife’s death.”

Will smiled wryly and shrugged.

“Sir I do believe you…God knows I would follow you into the gates of hell itself if I thought you needed me, but this…this is something else entirely. Not only did you say Beverly was alive, but that the Romulan’s are responsible for her disappearance.”

Jean-Luc nodded slowly.

“Indeed. My sources tell me that someone…most probably Ambassador Tar Taz, has been dealing with the Romulans…at least as far as having Beverly kidnapped. Now since Tar Taz has tried to blackmail me into using my influence with the Council to allow Antoria to have representatives on the Council…and for the Federation to supply weapons technology…without Antoria belonging to the Federation…I can only surmise this whole scheme has been in the works for some time.”

Will sat back and crossed his legs, resting his ankle on his knee.

“But Sir, you’ve been in negotiations with the Antorian Ambassador for months. Why wait so long to spring their trap?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“Unknown. It may have something to do with their agenda, or it may simply be dependant on external factors. It matters not. The point is Tar Taz has played his hand. Now it’s up to me to see if I can get out of this with Beverly in one piece and the Federation none the worse for wear.”

Will chewed his lip thoughtfully, then speared the older man with a steady gaze.

“Forgive me Sir, but do you have incontrovertible proof that Beverly’s alive? It’s not that I don’t believe you, but with the stakes this high…”

Nodding his understanding, Jean-Luc reached inside his trouser pocket, glanced at the hand, then leaned forward and offered the item to his companion. Will gently took the gold ring and studied it. Into the silence of the room, Jean-Luc said softly,

“That is Beverly’s wedding band. I’ve had it tested Will, they extracted DNA…Beverly’s DNA and the gold is a match to my ring. It’s hers and I know she was wearing it when the shuttle exploded. There is no way it would have survived the blast intact unless it was on her finger and she wasn’t on the shuttle when it went.”

Will read the inscription and nodded.

“Fair enough, that’s good enough for me. So we’re going to the Herrin system. Do you know exactly where in the system?”

“Not really”, said Jean-Luc, scratching the skin above his left ear. “But as there is only one inhabited planet in the system, chances are that’s where she is.”

Will sighed.

“Well maybe not. There are three M class planets in total; she could be on any one of them.”

Jean-Luc nodded, a sly smile in place.

“True, but the most stable weather patterns and available food sources are on the inhabited planet, also there is abundant fresh water. No, I think that’s where she is. Our problem will be finding her.”

Will grunted.

“Yeah I’ve been studying the last research vessel’s report. Apparently there is very heavy ionisation in the atmosphere. Limited scanners and no molecular transport without pattern enhancers.”

With a knowing look, Jean-Luc rose and went to his bag, lying on the living area floor. He opened the bag and withdrew a small device. Will watched with growing curiosity as his former Captain regained his seat and offered the device. As Will took it, Jean-Luc explained.

“I have a friend in Research and Development. That…”

He pointed to the device,

“Is the latest effort in defeating ionised atmosphere at ground level.”

With a soft whistle, Will studied the machine.

“A scanner? How accurate…what sort of range?”

Jean-Luc sighed.

“To be absolutely honest, we don’t know for sure. Under test conditions it was able to identify a life form in an ionised saturation level of 75% over a distance of one and a half kilometres.”

Will’s eyebrows rose.

“Impressive. How sensitive is it? Can it differentiate between life forms?”

With a sad shake of his head, Jean-Luc sighed.

“Not really. The sensitivity depends on the level of ionisation, but even under optimum conditions, all it can give is a generic reading and not very strong at that.”

Will scowled.

“But that’s next to useless! You need to know you’re looking at a Human life form, not some ground animal.”

With a tired smile, Jean-Luc took the device and hefted it in his hand.

“Actually, my sources tell me that proximity may be a factor. The theory is, the closer I get to the life form, the more likely I may be able to identify it with the scanner, but again, it depends on the ionisation levels.”

He gave a shrug.

“In any event, it’s better than nothing.”

Will scratched his cheek and nodded.

“Yeah, I suppose.”

His eyes twinkled and he grinned.

“Now are you going to tell me why you were so annoyed at finding Captain Mason aboard?”

Placing the scanner on the seat beside him, Jean-Luc took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, the let it out slowly. He lowered his head and shook it ruefully.

“Not much gets by you Will.”

The big man grinned delightedly.

“I was taught by the best, Sir.”

Jean-Luc let out a snort and lifted his head.

“Della Mason is no longer my Adjutant.”

Will’s good humour disappeared.

“Then why is she here?”

Jean-Luc shrugged, pulling down the corners of his mouth.

“I can only guess that she wishes to pursue a private matter with me.”

“One you don’t want to discuss.”

“Indeed.”

Will stood and nodded.

“Very well Sir, do you want me to confine her to quarters?”

Jean-Luc stood and shook his head.

“No Will, that won’t be necessary, I can deal with her.”

Will smiled.

“Okay Sir, I’ll get going.”

As Jean-Luc walked his guest to the door, he hesitated and asked,

“Will, isn’t Matthew here early? I thought he wasn’t due for another two or three weeks.”

Will stopped and half turned to face his friend.

“You’re right, he is early. Being a hybrid we couldn’t be certain of the exact gestation period, but Selar says he’s two weeks prem.”

Jean-Luc looked surprised.

“He’s certainly a good size for a prem baby.”

Will smirked.

“So Deanna keeps reminding me! He was too big for her to deliver, he was beamed out.”

With a chuckle, Jean-Luc clapped the big man on the back.

“Will, look at you and look at Deanna! Is it any wonder the baby was big and she had difficulties?”

Having the good grace to look embarrassed, Will flushed.

“Well anyway, he and Deanna are fit and well and that’s all that counts.”

Jean-Luc chuckled again.

“Indeed. By the way Will, what cycle is the ship on now?”

Will smiled.

“Just entering gamma shift Sir.”

“Right, time soon for bed. Very well Will, goodnight.”

His lively blue eyes shining with affection, Will grinned.

“Goodnight Sir.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      The oppressive heat and high humidity didn’t bother Darnid. His skin was coated by an olid, oleiferous sheen of sweat and sebum that both insulated and helped to cool him. He had been travelling down the creek for some hours when his large, mucous encrusted nose picked up the scent of putrefaction. His stomach rumbled and he smiled, showing his rotten, snaggly teeth.

Looking forward to an easy meal, he increased his pace through the water, the putrid odour growing rapidly stronger. He actually passed the source before his nose told him the scent was growing weaker. He abruptly turned and waded back upstream, sniffing delicately until he found where the smell was strongest. He peered into the jungle and slowly left the creek, stepping cautiously into the greenery.

He stumbled over the mute’s body, causing a huge cloud of insects to rise from the corpse. Darnid stared down at the body, anger rising quickly. He aimed a savage kick at the corpse and cried out as his booted foot broke through the bloated torso and disappeared inside. A miasma of gasses was expelled and maggots wriggled over his foot. His anger now becoming fury, Darnid reached down and grabbed an arm, wrenching and twisting until it parted from the body. He went back to the creek, where there were less insects and sat down before sinking his teeth into the putrefying flesh. As he ate his meal, his cold, black heart plotted his revenge. Beverly’s days were numbered and her death would be a painful one. Damn Tar Taz and damn the Romulans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      In the line of employees waiting to go through security, Belderand Haz tried desperately not to tremble. He could do nothing about the sweat that formed on his head and body, but in the confines of the room, it was uncomfortably warm, so his discomfort went unnoticed. Ahead of him a female he knew well stepped into a clear cubicle, allowing her body to be scanned. On one side, two security personnel manned a bank of consoles, their eye stalks quivering slightly as the concentrated diligently on their tasks.

The occupant of the cubicle offered a bored yawn as the lights of the scanning beams traversed her body. Within seconds a green light lit up above the cubicle and the door automatically opened. A third guard gestured her forward and she smiled, turning to wave at her colleagues and blow them a saucy kiss. There was a smatter of amusement before Belderand was ushered forward.

He knew the cylinder within his body was made of an organic material that he had been assured would be invisible to the scanners, but he still could not control his racing heart. Butterflies took to flight in his stomach and his pupils dilated. The scan seemed to take forever, but when the green light went on, he almost sobbed with relief. The door opened and he was about to step out when one of the security personnel held up his hand.

“One moment.”

Belderand swallowed and concentrated on not voiding his bladder. Trying desperately to look unconcerned, he straightened his eye stalks respectfully and waited. The guard stared down at his screen and frowned.

“Your heart rate is excessively accelerated, blood pressure is high….adrenaline levels elevated…”

He looked up and glowered.

“What is wrong with you?”

Belderand’s mouth opened but no sound emerged. Sweat ran down his face in rivulets and he began to tremble. The guard stepped around his Console and placed a hand on the butt of his blaster.

“I asked you…what is wrong?”

The contents of Belderand’s bowel loosened and his sphincter contracted violently to prevent leakage. The cylinder moved down and pressed against his anus. Tears welled in Belderand’s eyes as he faced certain death. The snide voice behind him made the guard twist his head.

“He has the hots for Nerri…poor old Belderand always gets hot under the collar when she goes through the scanners. He wishes he could see what the scanners show. Don’t you Belderand.”

There were snickers and shuffling of feet as the waiting employees shared the joke. The guard looked hard at Belderand and shook his head.

“You fool! This is a security checkpoint, not a pick up joint. Get out!”

Not waiting for a second order, Belderand fled the check point, running to the nearest toilet. He only just made it. Having fished the cylinder out of the mess in the bowl, he flushed the toilet then washed both his hands and the cylinder. With his stomach upset he couldn’t put the cylinder back inside his body, but as he was now free of the security measures, he secreted it in his clothing and made his way outside.

He went to the station and waited patiently for a hover rail car, entered and took a seat. It wasn’t until the car began to move that some of the tension began to ease, but it was when he was finally home that he broke down. He ran to his bathroom and vomited before collapsing on the floor and sobbing. It was half an hour before he regained control and another hour before he made preparations to pass the chip on to his contact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        Jean Luc was reading when his door chimed. He had a fair idea who it was and sighed, closing his book and placing it on the low table. He took a calming breath and called softly,

“Come.”

Della entered the quarters and offered a tentative smile.

“Hello Jean-Luc.”

The Ambassador’s face remained impassive, but his dark eyes glittered dangerously. He said nothing as Della walked to the sofa and sat down.

“I suppose you’re surprised to see me.”

She was greeted with continuing silence and her smile faltered. Anger began to build and she shook her head.

“Jean-Luc I have information…important information about your wife.”

Jean-Luc crossed his legs and settled his clasped hands in his lap.

“Tell me.”

Not put off by his coldness, Della sat forward, her veneer of civility gone.

“My information comes at a price.”

Jean-Luc’s deep voice softened, a sure sign of his growing anger.

“And what is that price?”

Della’s answering smile was cold.

“You. I want you Jean-Luc and if you ever want to see your wife again, you’ll give yourself to me.”

“Unacceptable.”

Throwing her hands up in exasperation, Della stood and raised her voice.

“You fucking fool! Don’t you realise that one night with me would make you forget your damn wife?”

 Della went to Jean-Luc, dropping to her knees in front of him and trailing her fingers up the insides of his thighs.

“Trust me Jean-Luc; it will be an experience you’ll never forget. I’ve learned some things since we last made love.”

His hands moving with the speed of a striking snake, Jean-Luc grabbed Della’s wrists and squeezed until she cried out. His voice was low and deadly.

“Get this into your head once and for all Della. I don’t want you! I love my wife and I would never be unfaithful to her…under any circumstances!”

Della overcame her pain to hiss,

“Then she will die! I won’t tell you what I know.”

Jean-Luc released her wrists and smiled coldly.

“It doesn’t matter Della…I know where she is.”

All her anger and bravado collapsed. The woman bowed her head and groaned in defeat, saying softly,

“Damn you Jean-Luc.”

As much as he despised what she had attempted to do, Jean-Luc found pity for her. He took her hands and rose, bringing her to her feet.

“It’s over Della. Why don’t you tell me what you know anyway?”

She looked up into his eyes and sighed, extricating one hand to gently caress his face. In a soft whisper she said,

“You really don’t know what you’re missing.”

Jean-Luc smiled ruefully, his eyes glittering.

“Perhaps, but I’m content to remain ignorant. Now…tell me what you know.”

Della sighed and lowered her head until her brow rested on his chin.

“She’s on Herrin 3, in a specially built compound. Access is by transporter, utilising pattern enhancers within the building.”

Jean-Luc stepped away from the Captain and folded his arms.

“Is that all?”

Della sighed and shook her head.

“No. She is being guarded by a Huuyn who has been surgically altered to be utterly loyal to his master.”

Alarm slithered through Jean-Luc. He had heard of the Huuyn, their immense strength and sinister intelligence well known in the quadrant. He quelled his fear to ask,

“In what way has he been altered?”

Della shuddered.

“He has had implants put in his brain. Apparently his master can program him to do as he pleases.”

Jean-Luc glowered.

“And do we know who his master is?”

“Yes, a Fretan named Darnid.”

Gritting his teeth, Jean-Luc paced to the viewport and muttered,

“Darnid.”

Della moved slowly to the Ambassador.

“Tar Taz’s go between.”

Turning abruptly, Jean-Luc fisted his hands.

“If he has harmed Beverly…”

Gently placing her hand on his forearm, Della said softly,

“You know what Fretans are like Jean-Luc. Chances are he’s…”

The low, deadly voice sent a shiver down the Captain’s spine.

“I’ll kill him.”

There followed a tense silence before Della sighed.

“I take it you know about the Romulan involvement.”

Taking a large, calming breath, Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes, but what I don’t know is who was directly responsible for Beverly’s abduction. Was it the Antorians, the Romulans…or both? Was Tar Taz at the bottom of this…did he act alone in his government, of is there something else afoot, something we, as yet, are unaware of?”

Della wandered to the sofa and sat heavily. She rubbed her brow and shook her head, saying resignedly,

“That business with the Vulcan scientists and the Federation Secretary…was that ever resolved?”

Jean-Luc stalked to his seat and perched himself on its edge.

“Only in so far as I found someone was blackmailing both the secretary and the scientists, but to what end…”

He shrugged.

“I don’t know. Do you think there’s some connection?”

Della shrugged.

“I’m not sure…it’s just a hunch, nothing more.”

Jean-Luc grunted and let the matter pass.

He sighed the settled his gaze on the woman.

“You have a contact on Antoria?”

With a nod, Della rose and went to the replicator, returning with a coffee for herself and an Earl Grey for her companion. While she was at the replicator she said over her shoulder,

“Yes, but he’s a novice…taking over from his partner after he was detected, tortured and killed.”

Jean-Luc watched silently as Della brought the drinks back to the low table and took her seat. He sighed and scratched just above his left ear.

“Nevertheless, he’s a brave individual.”

Della nodded.

“Agreed.”

Jean-Luc lifted his cup and sipped, all the while watching Della over the rim. He placed the cup back on the tabletop with great deliberation and sighed.

“Della, what you have told me is very important. Thank you.”

The dark woman smiled sadly, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.

“I don’t understand Jean-Luc. You’re a hard bastard…but I love you anyway.”

She sighed deeply.

“I wonder if your wife knows just how lucky she is?”

Jean-Luc offered a small smile, his dark eyes glowing warmly.

“Actually I always thought I was the lucky one. Beverly is the love of my life…I have come to believe I was never truly alive before she told me she loved me.”

Della stood and stared down at Jean-Luc, unable to keep the love and sadness out of her eyes.

“I give up. I won’t bother you again Jean-Luc…I only hope one day I meet someone who will love me as you love Beverly.”

Jean-Luc stood and silently watched as Della left his quarters. He turned slowly and looked out at the stars, saying softly,

“If you have harmed her Darnid, the universe won’t be big enough for you to hide from me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    As night gathered the temperature slowly decreased. With the help of the natives, Beverly was moved into one of the open ended shelters just as rain started to fall. What started as a light shower, soon increased to a downpour. Gruz, the older of the two natives, was alone in his shelter. Beverly shared her shelter with Krel.

With the torrential rain teeming down, what little light there was faded to darkness. Lying on a bed of foliage, her head cradled on her folded clothing, the naked Doctor sighed and closed her eyes, letting her mind wander. She was soon dozing.

She was standing in their bedroom, staring down at their infant son, asleep in his bassinette. Her husband’s voice startled her and he steadied her by bringing his arms around her waist and gently nuzzling her neck. She could feel his smile against her skin as he muttered,

“Hello my love.”

She smiled wistfully, tilting her head to give him better access to her neck.

“Hello yourself.”

His large hands drifted up from her waist to cup her breasts and she moaned softly.

“What are you doing here…your shift doesn’t end for two hours.”

He chuckled and gently pinched her hardening nipples.

“I wanted to see my wife and son.”

She sighed and closed her eyes, desire escalating rapidly. She struggled to speak with a steady voice.

“But what of your duty? What would the junior officers think?”

He growled softly and gently bit her neck before tonguing the inside of her ear.

“Beverly, I’m the Captain…I can do whatever I damn well please…and quiet frankly, at the moment I don’t give a flying fuck what the junior officers think…I want to make love to my wife.”

He slowly unbuttoned her blouse then unclasped her maternity bra then eased both garments off her body. She moaned sensuously as he teased her nipples and she gasped as he pressed himself into her behind, his erection hard beneath the fabric of his trousers.

Unable to stand it any longer, she turned in his arms and kissed him savagely, crushing his mouth under hers. He allowed her to control the kiss for a few moments before taking it over. As he kissed her with unbridled passion, he turned her and gently eased her backwards until her legs met the bed. Beverly, her face flushed and her alabaster skin glowing with desire, tore at her husband’s clothing, quickly stripping him. When she took his straining penis in her hand he growled and lowered his head to take a nipple in his mouth. Although she had recently fed their son, a trickle of milk entered his mouth and he smiled, swallowing as he teased and nipped at the turgid bud.

He encouraged Beverly onto the bed and, once she was lying comfortably, he stripped her of her skirt, panties and shoes. Now both completely naked, he stood beside the bed, slowly stroking himself while staring intently down at her through hooded, dark eyes.

Overwhelmed by the sensuousness of his actions, Beverly, almost overcome with arousal, trailed her fingers down her body to part her folds, displaying herself to her husband. He growled low and soft, the sound sending a shiver through the woman. She dipped a finger inside herself, then spread her moisture over her clit. The sensation was wonderful and she moaned loudly, her hips lifting in an automatic gesture. His deep, husky voice made her open her eyes to watch him.

“That’s it Beverly…pleasure yourself…show me what you like.”

Her mouth agape and her nipples hard and straining, Beverly used two fingers of one hand to keep her labia spread open, while the fingers of the other hand alternated between dipping deep inside her, then sliding slowly over her clit.

For several minutes she pleasured herself, her eyes tightly closed, but when she heard his deep voice in the living room, her eyes snapped open. He soon returned with a large hand mirror. The bed dipped as he knelt between her open legs, a sultry smile on his face. He took her hand and placed the mirror in her grasp.

“I want you to see what I see.”

She smiled her understanding and sighed as he took his penis in his hand and pushed the head through her folds, wetting it in her lubrication. Her eyes fluttered closed, but Jean-Luc muttered,

“No, keep you eyes open…watch.”

Panting and moaning, Beverly watched transfixed as he slid his penis inside her.

 She glanced up to see her husband, his mouth open, head thrown back and eyes closed. He took a deep breath, opened his eyes and stared down at his wife, saying softly,

“You feel so good Beverly, so hot and tight. I love you.”

Her eyes glittering with tears, she smiled up at him and whispered,

“And I love you.”

He started slowly, pulling almost all the way out before sliding deeply inside her. Beverly watched the mirror, blown away by what she saw. His long, thick penis appeared and disappeared as he slowly thrust in and out of her and Beverly raised and lowered her hips to meet him. Together, in this intricate dance of love, they slowly ascended, growing evermore impatient to reach the pinnacle.

As Beverly felt the approach of her orgasm, she dropped the mirror and clung to her husband with both hands, her fingers digging into the flesh of his shoulders.

His sudden urgent plea was all she needed to tip her over the edge.

“Beverly…quickly…please, I’m going to come!”

Her voice failed her as she was vaulted into emotional and physical bliss. She was vaguely aware of her husband’s cry of liberation as he spasmed through his climax and the warmth of his emissions triggered another orgasm in her as he continued to slowly thrust.

She expected him to stop and regain his breath, but he surprised her by increasing both the force and frequency of his thrusts. Instead of softening, he maintained his erection and proceeded to make love to her again.

Completely overwhelmed, Beverly shrieked as she quickly came again, followed immediately by Jean-Luc, who ground himself deep inside her as he came once more. All she could hear was him shouting,

“Oh God…Oh God…Oh Beverly…”

He collapsed and Beverly wearily wrapped him within her arms, hushing him as he continued to speak in a deep, ragged voice.

“Hush my love, hush. It’s all right.”

He lifted his head and she could see tears in his eyes.

“Beverly…my love…I came twice. Never, in all my life, has that ever happened to me before.”

She smiled and kissed him tenderly, imparting all her love for him. He sighed into her mouth and relaxed, his body heavy on her. She knew he would quickly sleep, it was his common reaction to sex, but she needed him to move off her. She lifted his head and kissed his nose.

“Hey…wake up.”

He opened his eyes blearily and smiled.

“Hmm?”

“Roll off me my love. You’re too heavy.”

Realisation dawned and he grunted as he rolled to one side. He slipped out of her and they both sighed. He mumbled something and Beverly said,

“What?”

As he settled into the pillow he muttered again but this time she heard him.

“I have to get back to the Bridge.”

Beverly smiled knowingly as he tumbled into sleep. In a soft voice she called,

“Crusher to Bridge.”

“Bridge here.”

“Captain Picard won’t be returning until next shift.”

“Acknowledged Doctor, Bridge out.”

As she snuggled next to his somnolent body, Beverly chuckled softly,

“I’ll explain in the morning my love.”

 

 

                       As the dream faded Beverly sighed in her sleep, a smile on her face. The poultice the natives had put on her wounds had reduced the pain quite a bit, but the internal pain still troubled her. Blood still trickled sluggishly from her vagina and she knew infection had taken hold. She turned over but the movement triggered more pain, bringing her awake. She moaned softly and sat up, squinting in the darkness. The noise of the pounding rain drowned out all other sounds and Beverly scowled in the gloom, feeling vaguely thirsty. Krel, disturbed by her movement, sat up and reached for her in the dark, causing Beverly to gasp as his hand made contact with her arm. His hand disappeared and Beverly smelled smoke as Krel blew on some embers. Flame soon flared and in the light she saw the young native tilt his head and frown. Beverly smiled at him and mimed drinking. He answered her smile with one of his own, then turned to pick up a wooden cup. He shuffled to the open entrance and held the cup under the cascading water. It quickly filled and he gave it to Beverly. She drank the entire cup, smiling her thanks. Krel nodded then settled back down to sleep. As the small fire died down, so the light faded back to total darkness. Beverly lay down and sighed, staring up with unseeing eyes.

“What are you doing now my Love? How are our children?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        Tar Taz had made the remote connection to his private computer and sat, staring unbelieving at the screen. At first he thought it was some kind of glitch, an electronic error of some sort, but as his checks became increasingly sophisticated, so the evidence became more substantial. As impossible as it seemed, someone had hacked into his most private files, their footprint barely noticeable, but there nonetheless.

The Ambassador wiped at the sweat that gathered at the base of his eye stalks and swallowed to wet his dry mouth. This was bad…very bad. He had to find who had done this…and what they had done with the information. He needed Darnid.

He closed the link and called Darnid’s ship. He had to wait twenty minutes but the sickly looking Andorian who answered his call made Tar Taz sneer and bark,

“Where is Darnid? I want to speak with him immediately!”

The blue skinned alien wrung his hands, his antenna stiffening with fear.

“I’m so sorry Sir, the master is unavailable.”

Tar Taz had to struggle to not shout.

“Where is he?”

“He is on the planet’s surface Sir and we can’t contact him.”

The Ambassador bowed his head and took a claming breath.

“When is he likely to return?”

“Unknown Sir.”

Unable to contain himself, the immense Antorian brought his fist down on the desk, making the screen jump.

“It is imperative I speak with him! Inform him immediately he returns that he must contact me!”

The subservient crewman bobbed his head, his eyes bulging.

“Yes Sir!”

Tar Taz slapped the control, severing the connection. He was about to open another channel when his computer alerted him to an incoming message. He knew by the signal code that it was an unwelcome contact, but not one he could avoid or ignore. He dug deep inside a hidden pocket and retrieved a device which he connected to his computer. Having done that, he activated the device and sat back, waiting while the encryption took place. The face of Narwan Jemurl filled the screen and Tar Taz had to find the courage to smile with enough warmth to make it look convincing.

“My Lord, it is good to see you.”

The Romulan Senator smiled, but his cold eyes held no friendliness.

“Oh I doubt that. Have you found out where Picard is going?”

Tar Taz shook his head, inwardly cursing the beads of sweat that were appearing on his domed forehead.

“No Sir, but I have been able to find out he is rendezvousing with the Enterprise.”

The Romulan’s eye brows rose and a speculative look crossed his angular face.

“His old ship? Interesting. A reunion perhaps…or something else entirely?”

Keeping his unctuous smile in place with a concerted effort, Tar Taz nodded enthusiastically.

“Oh a reunion surely my Lord. After all, he took his children. Yes, I’m sure of it.”

The Romulan’s smile turned predatory, making Tar Taz’s stomach sour.

“Really? Well my sources say different.”

Swallowing to wet his suddenly dry mouth, the Antorian’s smile faltered.

“Oh?”

“Yes. Tell me Ambassador, have you ever heard of a Human named Harry Pickford?”

The Ambassador’s penis retracted inside his body. His heart accelerated and he began to feel dizzy.

“Ah…Ah yes, I think I may have heard the name.”

Jemurl leaned forward, his face filling the screen.

“An interesting fellow, by all accounts. Useful in his own way.”

Tar Taz felt a noose being tightened around his neck.

“Oh I’m sure I wouldn’t know.”

“Wouldn’t you? My sources tell me you are not only aware of Harry Pickford, but that you have had dealings with him.”

Desperate to find a way out of the snare, Tar Taz decided on the spot to tell the truth…to a point. He dredged up a look of dawning realisation and snapped his fingers.

“Ah! Harry Pickford…yes I remember now. It is true my Lord, I have had a casual relationship with him. As you say, he can be very useful at times.”

Jemurl steepled his fingers under his chin and sat in silence, his cold eyes boring into Tar Taz. To his credit, the Antorian held the gaze and resisted the urge to squirm. Eventually the Romulan sighed and sat back in his high backed chair.

“Indeed. Well, since you know the Human, I suggest you use him to find out what Picard is doing on the Enterprise. Then, Ambassador, you can tell me!”

The tacit threat implied in the order made Tar Taz tremble. He was trying to control himself when the Senator added,

“And I want to know where Darnid is. My superiors want to talk to him.”

Relieved at finally having something concrete to report, Tar Taz sat up and stiffened his eye stalks.

“He is on the planet where we are keeping Picard’s wife.”

Jemurl sat bolt upright and snarled,

“What the hell is that Fretan doing with the woman?”

The Antorian shrugged.

“Oh I’m sure he’s just having a little fun…you know what Fretans are like.”

The Romulan’s fist slammed down on the tabletop, making Tar Taz jump.

“I know exactly what Fretans are like you fool! She was supposed to be protected...kept safe and uninjured! Tell Darnid to return to Earth immediately!”

The Antorian nodded vigorously, stammering,

“Yyess mmy Lord!”

The connection was severed and Tar Taz covered his face with his large hands. Several minutes passed before he raised his head and sighed fatalistically. He tapped his communicator and summoned an aide.

“Ready my ship for departure.”

As the aide acknowledged the order, Tar Taz removed the device from his computer then made sure there was no trace of the communiqué before switching channels and placing another call. He had only minutes to wait before the face of Harry Pickford appeared.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    In the hollow of the large tree, Darnid lay, semi-reclined, his pants down to his knees. As the rain poured down around him, he masturbated slowly, using the slimy mucous from his nose as a lubricant. He had been doing this for over an hour and had climaxed many times, but as his frenetic brain supplied visions of Beverly as he had repeatedly raped her, so he was able to stimulate himself again and again. He had semen on his stomach, chest, chin and around his mouth. Another orgasm approached and he increased his stroking, suddenly ejaculating over his hands. He immediately brought his hands to his mouth, devouring the semen quickly and snapping his lips when he was finished. He rested for a while, then lifted one leg up so he could pick some parasites from his anus to eat. He scratched for a while before finally pulling his pants up and curling onto his side. He took a deep breath and relaxed, his eyes drifting shut.

Out of his matted, greasy, filthy hair, a large slimy insect appeared. It wriggled free of his hair, onto the skin near his ear. It was making for the dark, waxy, dirt encrusted interior of the ear when Darnid’s hand shot up and plucked it from his skin. He stuffed it into his mouth, chewed a few times then swallowed. His eyes never opened, but he smiled in contentment.

                   The Alpha shift was surprised as they entered the Bridge to begin their stint. Seated in the Command chair was the former Captain of the Enterprise, her current Captain standing at his side. They could tell by the genial smile on the gregarious, tall man that he was enjoying himself. His older companion’s face was less readable, but his amiability was there to be seen.

“So Sir, how does it feel to be back in the big chair?”

Jean-Luc looked up at Will and smiled warmly.

“Oh it feels fine Captain, but I know she’s not mine any more. The Enterprise is yours Will, I’m just visiting.”

Will bowed his head in acknowledgement. Jean-Luc stood and gestured to the ready Room.

“Shall we?”

Will nodded.

“Of course Sir.”

Once both men were ensconced, Will supplied hot drinks and joined his former Captain on the sofa. Jean-Luc took a sip of his hot Earl Grey and sighed his appreciation, before saying,

“I have a definite destination Will.”

The big man raised his eye brows.

“Oh?”

“Uh huh. Herrin 3.”

Will gazed at his friend, his blue eyes serious.

“You’re sure?”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes. She’s there Will and I’m going to find her.”

The Captain stood and paced around the small room.

“You realise Sir, we can’t offer you any assistance.”

With a smile, Jean-Luc stood and gently gripped Will’s arm.

“I know Will, don’t worry, I won’t compromise you any further than I already have.”

Will found a smile and nodded.

“I know you won’t Sir. What about the kids?”

That brought a frown to the older man.

“That may be problematic. They are going to want to come with me, but I can’t risk it Will. There is an enhanced Huuyn guarding her.He HH

The Captain gasped.

“A Huuyn? Ambassador they’re huge…and smart! And you say enhanced? How?”

Jean-Luc grimaced.

“Apparently this one has something in his brain that has enslaved him to one master.”

Will stroked his beard.

“So he can be programmed?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“Presumably.”

Will’s grin was wolfish.

“Then you need to get access to whatever it is that initiates the programming.”

With a thoughtful nod, Jean-Luc hitched his backside onto the edge of the desk.

“Hmm, that’s a good idea.”

“Do you know who the master is?”

The look of murderous anger that crossed Jean-Luc’s usually impassive face made Will take a backward step.

“Sir?”

Jean-Luc’s dark eyes met Will’s and the two words he spoke made the big man scowl.

“A Fretan.”

“Oh shit!”

“Precisely. I’m telling you Will, if he’s hurt her…”

Will grabbed Jean-Luc’s arm and shook his head.

“No…don’t even think about it. You need to concentrate on the rescue.”

Closing his eyes and lowering his head, Jean-Luc nodded.

“You’re right of course. ETA?”

In answer, Will raised his head and intoned,

“Mr.Data, set course for Herrin 3 and give me an ETA at warp five.”

The reply was instantaneous.

“At warp five we will be at Herrin 3 in eight point seven hours.”

“Thank you Mr.Data.”

Jean-Luc stood and smiled at his former Number One.

“Well I’d better go and speak with James and Adele. I’ve a feeling I’m going to have a fight on my hands.”

Will grinned.

“Oh I think that’s an understatement.”

Then his grin disappeared.

“If it’s any help Sir, I can order them confined to the ship.”

With a gentle hand on his shoulder, Jean-Luc let Will know how much he appreciated the gesture.

“I hope it won’t come to that, but thank you nonetheless.”

The Captain watched the Ambassador leave then returned to the Bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     “Are you out of your bloody mind?!”

Jean-Luc bore his son’s anger and remained calm.

“James…”

The tall young man scowled at his father and shook his head.

“No Dad, I’m coming with you!”

Jean-Luc took a deep breath and summoned all his considerable diplomatic skills.

“James you are being unreasonable. This isn’t an adventure…some daring escapade, this is an attempted rescue undertaken in very dangerous conditions. I can’t…actually I won’t expose you to that kind of danger. I am your father, I have to protect you.”

James stood to his full height and folded his arms across his chest. Jean-Luc could see the resolute determination in his eyes and he sighed inwardly.

“And who protects you? Look, I’m not disparaging your capabilities, but you’re getting on a bit Dad, you need my help.”

Jean-Luc tried to hide his smile but failed. James saw it and his anger was palpable.

“What’s so bloody funny?”

Adele, seeing that her brother was becoming increasingly irritated, stepped up to him and gently took his hand.

“Jim…”

He wrenched his hand free and glared at his father.

“I asked you a question!”

Jean-Luc was usually slow to anger, but once aroused, was a formidable opponent. His eyes darkened and his deep voice dropped to a deceptively soft tone.

“You will keep a civil tongue in your head when you address me, James.”

The young man lifted his chin and offered an insubordinate smile.

“Or what? You’ll put me on report?”

The smile disappeared and he almost shouted,

“I’m your son…not some shitty underling!”

Jean-Luc could see this was getting him nowhere. He briefly closed his eyes and tried a different approach.

“James what would happen if I allowed you to accompany me and you were injured…or worse, killed. What do you think your mother would say?”

Before he could answer, Adele retook his hand and said softly,

“He’s right Jim. Mum would be devastated and Dad…”

She turned her gaze on her father…

“Would die inside. Face it Jim, it would be better if you left this to Dad.”

Seeing the opening and taking it, Jean-Luc stepped closer to his son and pressed home his advantage.

“James I will have a better chance of success if I know you and Adele are safe here on the Enterprise.”

James maintained his angry stance, but his eyes softened. He sighed and let his tense shoulders fall.

“I suppose.”

The Ambassador smiled and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder.

“You are right James, I am getting older, but I am trained for this kind of work…I do know what I’m doing.”

James sighed.

“I know that Dad, but she’s our mother and I want to help.”

Jean-Luc gently squeezed the shoulder and offered a sympathetic smile.

“I do understand James, but believe me; you are helping by staying on the ship.”

Finally admitting defeat, James turned and slumped into a chair. Adele perched on the arm and ruffled his hair, making the young man glare at her. She chuckled, then turned her attention to her father.

“So when do you go?”

Jean-Luc smiled warmly at his daughter and took a seat opposite.

We should reach the planet in about seven hours. Once we achieve orbit we have to locate the building your mother is being held in. Then I will beam down…and we’ll see what happens.

James stared hard at his father and asked softly,

“Just how dangerous will it be Dad?”

Jean-Luc sighed and scratched just above his left ear.

“I won’t lie to you, it will be very dangerous. I will be beaming into an unknown situation. All we know is that your mother is being held in a compound and guarded by an enhanced Huuyn.”

It was Adele, who asked,

“A Huuyn? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of them. James?”

The young man shrugged.

“Me either.”

Jean-Luc smiled.

“I’m not surprised. Their home world is a very long way from Federation space and usually they like to keep to themselves. We’re not sure how this Huuyn became involved.”

“Are they dangerous?” James asked.

“Not usually, but they can be belligerent sometimes. They are a very large species and are known for their quick intelligence.”

James frowned.

“So how will you deal with it?”

Jean-Luc’s smile was sardonic.

“I’ll think of something.”

Adele frowned and shook her head.

“Why don’t you just phaser it?”

James sighed.

“Because devices that use columnated energy won’t work in the ionised atmosphere.”

That raised Jean-Luc’s eyebrows.

“You’ve been doing your homework.”

The lad shrugged.

“I found out last night we were going to the Herrin system. There are only three class M planets so I did some study.”

With a nod, Jean-Luc sighed.

“So you know we can’t use the transporters without pattern enhancers and most of our technology won’t work on the surface.”

“Yeah.”

Adele stood and placed her arms akimbo, worry on her face.

“But Dad…how will you protect yourself?”

He tried to laugh her concerns away. With a wave of his hand he said lightly,

“Oh I’ll think of something.”

Now clearly angry, Adele glared at her father.

“It’s not funny Dad. If Mum is being guarded by this…Huuyn, how are you going to free her without any weapons?”

Growing tired of the discussion, Jean-Luc almost barked,

“I’ll improvise!”

James grinned up at his sister and said sardonically,

“See?”

Adele glared at her brother then returned her attention to her father.

“Dad…”

Jean-Luc stood and took her by the shoulders, staring intently into her eyes.

“This is moot Adele. I am going and I don’t want to discuss it any further.”

Knowing any more argument would only make her father angry…and more intractable, Adele backed down and sighed.

“Okay, but we don’t have to like it.”

Jean-Luc accepted her retreat with good grace.

“Nor should you. All you have to do is trust me. Have I ever failed you?”

James stood beside his sister and the siblings looked deeply into their father’s dark hazel eyes. They said in unison,

“No.”

Jean-Luc smiled tenderly.

“And I have absolutely no intentions of doing so now.”

Tears welled in Adele’s eyes.

“We love you Dad.”

A lump formed in Jean-Luc’s throat and he struggled to speak with a steady voice.

“I know and I love you both…very much.”

They all hugged and James whispered in his father’s ear,

“Just come back safe…and bring Mum with you.”

Jean-Luc smiled, blinking back his tears.

“That is my intention.”

The call from the Bridge broke the spell.

“Riker to Picard.”

Jean-Luc stepped away from his children and lifted his head saying,

“Picard here.”

“Sir, long range sensors have picked up a vessel in orbit around Herrin 3.”

With a frown, Jean-Luc’s eyes darkened.

“Configuration?”

“Unknown. Do you want us to hail them?”

“No, but keep an eye on them please. If they break orbit, perhaps we can accelerate to catch them?”

There was a momentary silence before a bemused Will sighed.

“That might be out of our purview Sir.”

Briefly closing his eyes, Jean-Luc gave a curt nod.

“Acknowledged Captain, my apologies. Do what you think appropriate. Picard out.”

James went to his father and said gently,

“Problems?”

Jean-Luc summoned a wan smile.

“In a way.”

James grinned, shaking his head.

“Care to clarify?”

Gesturing his children to their seats, Jean-Luc sat and sighed.

“While Uncle Will has been very gracious in making the Enterprise available to us for transport, he cannot involve the ship, or indeed Starfleet in what I am about to do. The Herrin system has been classified as off limits to ships of the fleet and he has risked serious repercussions just by bringing us here.”

Adele frowned.

“So if you need help, you can’t ask Uncle Will.”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Precisely, nor can I ask him to utilise any of the ship’s systems in my search for your mother.”

“You’ll be completely on your own!”

James’s scowl was fearsome and Jean-Luc quickly strove to defuse his anger.

“James I knew this was the case and I accepted it. Please don’t make this any more difficult by arguing with me.”

James took a deep breath and relaxed his tense body. He summoned a rueful smile and shook his head.

“Is there anything else we need to know?”

Jean-Luc made a show of scratching his head, looking like he was deep in thought. Adele giggled and went to the man, poking him in the ribs.

“Oh get over yourself Dad…you’re hopeless.”

James chuckled.

“It why he needs Mum back so much…she’s the only one who ever had the ability to put up with him.”

Jean-Luc smiled warmly.

“That’s absolutely true my son. Now, I have some work to do, can you two keep yourself amused for a few hours?”

They both nodded, Adele heading for the door.

“Aunt Deanna asked if I’d like to spend some time with Matthew. I’ll be back later.”

Inclining his head in acknowledgement, Jean-Luc turned his attention to his son. James rolled his eyes and sighed. He pointed to a pile of PADDs on the low table.

“Study. I’ll keep out of your hair.”

With a nod and a smile, Jean-Luc made his way to the desk. Ten minutes later he was immersed in his work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       In the dim light of a rainy dawn, two small figures approached the camp. A soft trilling whistle announced their presence, bringing both Gruz and Krel to wakefulness. The dozing Beverly opened her eyes and sat up sluggishly, peering into the watery light as the newcomers were welcomed. They all crowded into Beverly’s shelter and Krel chattered with the new arrivals as he coaxed the fire back to life. As the small flames added light to the gloom, Beverly could see that the newcomers were two adolescent girls. Like the men they were naked but for a plaited belt worn around the waist. Looped over their brows were woven straps that supported largish bags that dangled down their backs. Both girls carried a nulla nulla, the wood of the clubs shiny with age and well worn. They gracefully swung the bags onto the floor then moved closer to the growing fire, casting wary eyes over the Doctor. Beverly smiled, knowing with her swollen face and the now dried and cracked poultices on her wounds, she must look frightful. She watched in silence as the four natives went about preparing the morning meal. They were obviously relaxed with each other and the occasional show of affection made Beverly’s eyes brim with tears as she remembered sharing breakfasts with her children.

Very soon the meal was ready and Beverly’s stomach grumbled as the aroma of heated grains and fruits reached her nose as they were presented on a large leaf. She scoffed the meal, surprising herself with her appetite. It was followed by cold water then she was encouraged to lie down. With the wary help of the two girls, Gruz washed off the old poultices and then reapplied a fresh amount. As before, the pain Beverly had been aware of all through the meal dissipated and she smiled her thanks, but before she could sit up, one of the young girls gently eased Beverly’s legs apart and frowned at the blood that slowly dribbled from her body. The youngster said something to Gruz and he grunted, shrugging his broad shoulders.

Reasoning that the girl might think she was menstruating, Beverly shook her head and placed a hand over her lower belly, making a face and groaning softly. The girl had seen the damage to Beverly’s clitoris and, after some thought, made what Beverly hoped was the right connection. She stared at the red head and nodded, her eyes showing sympathy. Beverly smiled to reassure her and was about to speak when both girls stood and chattered softly to the men. As the Doctor watched, the girls suddenly departed, but she was surprised to see they left the clubs behind.

Faced with the prospect of spending another long day in the jungle, Beverly sighed and lay back, muttering softly,

“Where are you Jean-Luc? Do you know I’m alive and waiting for you?”

With her external pain under control, and her internal pain bearable for the moment, she closed her eyes and concentrated on relaxing. No doubt with the assistance of the meal she had just eaten and the pain relief, she drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Darnid greeted the dawn in two ways. First he masturbated several times, then he left his shelter and prised five thick moist grubs from the tree and ate them. He then defecated wetly and noisily, splattering faecal matter over his legs and feet. Ignoring both the mess and the frightful stench, he rooted around in a deep pocket and found a treasured item. He held it up to the strengthening light and smacked his thick, peeling lips. The weak sunlight caught the brushed metal surface and he turned it in his hand until the light picked out the dark red, menacing looking tip. It was a phaser, specially modified to function in the ionised atmosphere. Darnid knew it was his ace and the fact that it had been a gift, given to him personally by the Romulan Pro Consul himself, made the disgusting little Fretan grin at the memory. As yet he had not used the weapon, choosing instead to conserve its battery. He would bide his time, knowing that when he needed it, he would have the upper hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Beverly’s nap lasted less than an hour. She came awake, heaving as she rolled to her side, vomiting wretchedly, the resulting mess spreading on the earthen floor.

Gruz and Krel had been sheltering from the continuing rain in the other humpy, but, on hearing Beverly’s difficulties, came to her assistance. She moaned softly as Gruz helped her up, gratefully accepting a cup of water. While Krel covered the vomit with loose earth, Beverly drank the water and tried to get her stomach under control. Eventually, she took a deep breath and nodded her thanks. Gruz watched her intently as she took steady, even breaths, then, when he thought she had recovered sufficiently, offered her some fruit. Struggling to keep her face from screwing up in distaste, Beverly smiled and shook her head. The native seemed to understand, nodding and putting the fruit to one side. Mixed with the smell of vomit was the darker smell of blood. Beverly looked down between her legs and, seeing the dark stain on the earth, sighed and looked out into the lightly falling rain. Gently easing herself to all fours, she crawled out of the shelter and stood on unsteady legs before making the short journey to the creek.

The feeling of the cold water on her hot face was wonderful. She washed off the poultice, knowing the pain would soon return. Washing her damaged clitoris was very painful but, knowing infection had taken hold, she had to do whatever she could to help her body to heal. She stayed in the water for half an hour and felt refreshed but very weak when she emerged. Krel was waiting for her at the camp and assisted her into the shelter where Gruz was waiting with more of the poultice. She welcomed the easing of pain as the poultice was applied then, at Gruz’s insistence, ate a small amount of fruit and had a drink. Exhausted by her activities she lay down and immediately slipped into sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                          “Ambassador Picard to the Bridge.”

Jean-Luc looked up from his work and frowned. James cast a look at his father and asked softly,

“Trouble?”

The older man shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

Lifting his head Jean-Luc responded,

“On my way, Picard out.”

As he stood and made his way to the doors, Jean-Luc looked over his shoulder and said,

“I want you and Adele to wait here until I return.”

The lad smiled.

“Okay Dad.”

As Jean-Luc entered the corridor he frowned and asked,

“Computer, what is the time?”

“The time is thirteen twenty seven hours.”

Realising they must be very near their destination, Jean-Luc felt the anticipation beginning to build. He rode the turbo lift with growing impatience and squared his shoulders when it halted at his stop. With a ramrod straight back, he strode onto the Bridge, intoning,

“Report.”

Will stood, smiling slightly at his former Captain’s lapse. He pointed to the screen where Herrin 3 sat in the darkness of space and above it, barely visible, an orbiting ship.

“As far as we can tell, they haven’t seen us yet.”

Jean-Luc’s head snapped to Will and he frowned.

“What…at this range?”

Will shrugged.

“There has been no change to their operational status and we haven’t been hailed.”

Jean-Luc shook his head.

“What the hell are they up to…they must have seen us!”

Will shrugged again.

“What do you want us to do?”

Jean-Luc turned to face the younger man and growled softly,

“Hail them.”

Will nodded, saying quietly,

“Open a channel.”

Will turned to face the viewscreen.

“This is Captain William Riker of the Starship Enterprise. Please identify yourself.”

In the ensuing silence, the officer at Tactical said quietly,

“They’ve put their shields up and armed weapons.”

Not shifting his eyes from the screen, Will asked,

“Tactical analysis?”

The young Lieutenant smiled as he said,

“They’re no match for us Sir. Pop guns and water pistols mostly.”

Will half turned and scowled at the young man. He blanched and straightened, saying tightly,

“Sorry Sir. Mercalite rockets, low yield phasers and minimal shielding.”

Turning back to the screen, Will muttered,

“Vessel in orbit, please identify yourself.”

There was another silence before a sharp voice was heard.

“Starship Enterprise you are out of your jurisdiction. You have no right to demand we identify ourselves!”

Will smiled, but it lacked warmth. It was an expression Jean-Luc had seen many times at the poker table.

“Ship in orbit, I have made no demands, I merely asked you to identify yourself. Why are you so worried?”

“I am not worried!”

Will’s grin grew.

“Then why the shields and weapons? You must know you cannot harm us?”

“It is always wise to take a proactive stance when faced with an unknown adversary.”

Will paced slowly back and forth, watched intently by Jean-Luc.

“But I am not unknown, I have identified myself…and as far as I know, I’m not an adversary. Is that likely to change?”

“I don’t know…is it?”

Will cast a smile at his former Captain and sighed.

“That sounds like a Ferengi talking.”

The response was outraged.

“I am not a damned Ferengi!”

“Then transmit visually and let’s see each other. That way there won’t be any more mistakes.”

There was a momentary hiatus before the viewscreen suddenly displayed the image of the other ship’s commander. He was a tall Andorian, his blue skin and white hair making a startling contrast. His antennas moved independently as he spoke.

“So, you are a pink skin.”

Will smiled.

“I am Human, yes.”

“What are you doing here? This region of space is out-of-bounds to Starfleet.”

Will tilted his head, the smile still in place.

“Let’s just say I have business here. May I ask what you are doing here?”

While he spoke, Will made a surreptitious gesture and the red alert lights came on silently. The Andorian immediately protested.

“Why have you raised shields and armed your weapons?”

Will’s smile widened and he shrugged.

“Like you, I believe in being prepared.”

Looking nervously at something off screen, the Andorian began to sweat.

“But we pose no threat!”

Will sighed apologetically.

“Oh I know, but who knows what I may have to do to extract answers to my questions?”

The blue skinned man gaped.

“You wouldn’t dare!”

Will shrugged.

“Wouldn’t I? Look at it this way…who would know if I did? I can obliterate you so thoroughly there would be nothing left to identify.”

There were several voices all raised in a babble of confusion on the other ship. Will winked at Jean-Luc and the older man crossed his fingers. The Andorian shouted something and there was silence.

“What do you want to know?”

Giving a slight inclination of his head, Will hid his triumphant smile.

“Who are you?”

The Andorian sighed.

“I am Bedun M’Plaz, First Officer of the Erotica.”

Will frowned.

“Your ship is called the Erotica?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, what are you doing in orbit around Herrin 3?”

“My master is down on the planet.”

Will stroked his beard.

“And who is your master?”

“Darnid.”

One look at Jean-Luc made Will scowl.

“Is he a Fretan?”

The Andorian looked up, his surprise making his antenna stiffen.

“Yes, how did you know?”

Will muttered,

“His reputation precedes him. What is he doing on the surface?”

The Andorian shook his head, his mouth opening and shutting.

“I can’t…I can’t…”

Will said with quiet menace,

“Tactical, target the other ship and lock quantum torpedoes.”

M’Plaz almost shouted,

“No! Darnid is looking for a prisoner of his who has escaped.”

Jean-Luc could no longer keep quiet.

“Escaped? How? Where?”

With a shrug, M’Plaz lifted his hands.

“I don’t know. Our sensors can’t penetrate to the surface with all the ionisation. Scanners are useless too.”

Will lifted a hand to silence the Ambassador and asked,

“Have you had contact with Darnid recently?”

M’Plaz shook his head.

“Not since yesterday. He told us he was searching, nothing else.”

“Nothing about the guard?”

The Andorian shrugged and shook his head.

“No.”

Jean-Luc made a cutting gesture across his throat. The Tactical officer said quietly,

“Channel closed.”

With raised eyebrows, Will silently queried his former Captain.

Jean-Luc smiled coldly and muttered,

“Ask him if he has been contacted by anyone else.”

Offering a grim nod, Will gestured for the channel to be opened.

“Tell me, have you had contact with anyone else?”

The Andorian closed his eyes and blanched.

“Ambassador Tar Taz has called. He desperately wants to talk to my master.”

Jean-Luc muttered,

“I bet he does.”

Receiving a nod from Jean-Luc, Will glanced at Jean-Luc and the older man made a sweeping gesture with his hand. Will gave an imperceptible nod then looked back at M’Plaz.

“Very well, I suggest you leave orbit immediately and make for open space.”

The Andorian blanched further.

“But what of my master? He will not be pleased.”

Will’s smile was cold.

“You leave him to us, I’ve a feeling he is going to spend quiet a bit of time in a Starfleet correctional facility. If you leave now, you just might inherit his ship.”

The Andorian swallowed and gave a jerky nod. As the bridge crew watched, the Erotica turned on her axis and made the jump to warp. Will said quietly,

“Helm, put us in orbit, precisely where the Erotica was.”

“Aye Sir.”

The big man faced Jean-Luc.

“Are you ready?”

The Ambassador shrugged.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Will gave a nod and when the great ship settled into her orbit, he gestured to Jean-Luc to join him in the Ready Room.

“What are you going to use to protect yourself?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“I will take a knife, other than that…”

He shrugged again.

“I’ll have to improvise.”

Will nodded thoughtfully.

“You are aware that there is an indigenous population?”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes, I’ve read the reports.”

Taking a seat behind his desk, Will waited until his guest had also seated himself.

“Do you think they might be a problem?”

Sighing, Jean-Luc scratched just above his left ear.

“I suppose it depends on how Darnid treated them when he built the compound. If he had good relations with them…it may bode well for me should I meet any of them.”

Will grunted.

“And if he didn’t?”

Jean-Luc shrugged.

“Then both Beverly and I are going to be in trouble.”

Picking up a stylus and rolling it in his fingers, Will growled softly.

“I don’t like you going down there unarmed Sir. Too much could happen.”

Jean-Luc smiled ruefully.

“Believe me; I agree with you, but what options do I have? Our weapons won’t work down there and there’s nothing I can do about that. I’ll take a knife…and hope for the best.”

Will tossed the stylus onto the desktop and stood, holding out his right hand.

“Well, here’s hoping you beat the odds!”

They shook hands and Jean-Luc smiled.

“I will need somewhere to beam down to. May I ask if you can pinpoint the pattern enhancers Darnid used?”

The wolfish grin on the younger man telegraphed his answer.

“Oh hell, why not?”

Will was chuckling as they entered the Bridge, saying over his shoulder,

“I’ll send the coordinates down to transporter room two.”

Jean-Luc inclined his head, hiding his smile.

“Thank you Captain Riker.”

Will didn’t turn as his former Captain entered the turbo lift, but he sighed and muttered,

“You’re welcome Ambassador…and good luck, you’re going to need it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         Jean-Luc went straight to his quarters, surprised when he entered to find not only his children, but Della and her son. The Captain rose from her seat and smiled sunnily.

“Hello Ambassador.”

Jean-Luc grunted a greeting, causing Della’s smile to falter.

“I just dropped by to say hello to James and Della. I hope you don’t mind.”

Jean-Luc summoned a smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“Not at all, but my time is limited…so if you don’t mind…”

Della and Tony stood, the boy frowning at Jean-Luc. Adele and James could easily feel the tension in the room, but chose to say nothing. Della offered a conciliatory smile and made for the door.

“Of course, you have a lot on your mind. Goodbye.”

Jean-Luc muttered,

“Goodbye.”

And immediately went into his bedroom, soon emerging dressed in a camouflage outfit, a backpack slung over his shoulder and a long knife at his hip. James went to his father and gripped his shoulder.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?”

Jean-Luc smiled and nodded.

“I’m sure son, I must do this alone.”

Adele came to join the men and sighed.

“Take care Dad…and come back soon.”

The smile remained but his eyes glittered.

“I will and hopefully I will be with your mother.”

Not wishing to prolong the moment, Jean-Luc kissed both his children, turned on his heel ands left his quarters, his back straight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      He materialised in a small room, the lights were on and he had no trouble in his quick reconnoitre, which proved he was alone. He scowled in the bedroom as his eyes saw the blood stained bed and the restraints. He picked up the pillow and held it to his face, breathing deeply. His artificial heart beat at a steady rhythm, but it missed a beat as he recognised Beverly’s unique scent. With fresh determination he left the compound and took his new scanner from his pocket. Facing the wall of jungle, he swept his arm in an arc, the device picking up several contacts. He settled on the largest and resolutely pushed into the foliage, saying a prayer to any god that might be listening.

“Let me find her…please let me find her…and soon.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Darnid was making steady progress upstream in the creek. He had come to a confluence and chosen the left branch. It had finally stopped raining but it was still very hot and humid, although a gentle breeze was blowing into his face. It never occurred to Darnid to wash either himself or his clothing in the water and the frightful stench of his body caused the fauna to fall silent as he passed. It was this disturbance to the wildlife that alerted the natives to his approach.

Gruz suddenly lifted his head, cocking it to one side. He grunted something to Krel and both men moved. Gruz picked up a club And Krel darted for the shelter to get his bow and quiver. Beverly, who had been sitting quietly in the shade, knew something was wrong, but not what. At a curt gesture from Gruz, Beverly scuttled into her shelter, peering out fearfully.

As Gruz attempted to gain cover off to one side, a bright green shaft of intense light caught him squarely in the back. His body stiffened, but no sound emerged from his mouth as he disappeared. Beverly stifled a cry as, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Krel loose an arrow. She heard a loud grunt from the direction of the creek. Krel took that moment to break cover in a crouching run. He had only taken a few steps when the column of light struck him in the side. Like Gruz, he was silent as he was vaporised.

Looking frantically about for a weapon…something with which to defend herself, all Beverly found was a wooden cup. She grabbed it just as a voice called out, chilling her completely.

“Come on out my lovely, I want to play.”

Fear and anguish squeezed Beverly’s heart. She summoned her voice and shouted,

“Leave me alone!”

She heard a cruel chuckle, followed by,

“Leave you alone? When I’ve spent so much time and energy to find you? I think not! Now come out, or I will come in and get you.”

Anger surged through Beverly and she yelled,

“Go to hell you filthy little bastard!”

As he bent to his knees and crawled inside, his body blocked the light. Beverly could smell his foetid breath as he got closer and swung her arm, smashing the wooden cup against his head. He snarled and grabbed her wrist, twisting and wrenching until they both heard the bones snap. Beverly screamed in agony, but still found the courage to struggle as he grabbed her ankles and dragged her outside.

She fought like a demented demon, but two savage blows to her head made her see stars. Her struggles grew weak and she felt blood streaming from her already broken nose. Through teary eyes she glared up at her tormentor and realised she could see blood on his head and chest. Obviously she had hurt him with the cup, and, after several blinks, she realised she could see the short, broken shaft of an arrow, protruding from his right chest. It was with great satisfaction that she registered that Krel had managed to wound his murderer.

As Darnid’s lascivious eyes travelled over her naked body, she saw that he was favouring his right arm. He suddenly grabbed her legs, forcing them apart as he knelt between them. He growled at seeing the poultice on her genitals and used his left hand to roughly wipe the poultice away before rudely shoving two fingers inside her. Beverly twisted to one side, swinging her good hand at his head. She missed and he back handed her then grabbed her throat, squeezing hard. Beverly gripped his wrist, struggling to breathe. He tore at his trousers, pulling them down and freeing his huge, slimy, grotesque, erect penis. As her vision began to grey, he removed his fingers and forced his erection deep inside her. Beverly screamed in agony and writhed, dislodging the hand on her neck. Darnid hit her again and began to thrust hard and fast. Beverly hit him again and again but it had no effect, he was intent on what he was doing and nothing was going to sway him. He abruptly stiffened and grunted loudly, pushing himself as deep inside her as he could. Beverly cried out, trying to get out from under him. The pain from her internal injuries and her severely damaged clitoris made the rape agonising.

He lay panting, his putrid breath washing over Beverly and making her gag. After resting only a few minutes he began to thrust again. Ignoring the pain of her badly broken wrist, Beverly grabbed his shoulders and shoved, twisting her body sideways. Darnid, thrown off balance, slipped from her body as he rolled onto his side. Beverly also rolled, getting to her knees and crawling a few metres away. Darnid was soon on his feet. Three quick strides carried him to the distraught woman and he grabbed a fistful of her hair, pulling her head back in preparation to striking her again. Beverly saw his legs were splayed and fisted her good hand, bringing it up as hard as she could, punching him squarely in the testicles.

Darnid let out a loud, guttural groan and fell to his knees. Beverly rose to her feet and kicked him in the groin before staggering to the club Gruz had dropped. She picked it up, turned and raised it above her head. She froze. Darnid, one hand clutching his bloodied groin, was pointing a phaser at her.

“Put that down, bitch.”

Desperate to end her suffering, Beverly ignored him, willing to die quickly rather than have him rape her again. Before she could act, he lurched to his feet, his whining voice husky with pain.

“It is set on a narrow beam. I won’t kill you woman, I’ll burn you though…I’ll make you scream in agony.”

She hesitated. She could see blood running down his legs and knew she had inflicted significant damage. She lowered the club, then dropped it to the ground.

Darnid changed hands, his weaker right hand going to hold his injured genitals while the left hefted the phaser. He took two quick steps and swung his arm, smashing the phaser against Beverly’s head. She dropped to her knees, her hands holding her head. The vicious kick to her genitals made her pitch forward, groaning as blood pooled under her head.

While Beverly lay curled on her side, struggling to stay conscious, Darnid inspected the damage to his nether regions. Of his four testicles, one had ruptured through his pendulous, filth encrusted scrotum and there was a two centimetre tear in the fleshy flange around the head of his penis. Blood flowed freely from both wounds and he hawked back some thick green mucous, spat on his hand and smeared it over the wounds. The mucous, mixed with his puce blood, immediately inspissated to form a glutinous covering. Insects immediately swarmed over the area and he grunted, absently hitching up his trousers. He toed Beverly roughly, making her lift her throbbing head.

“We will stay here while I heal.”

He limped away into the jungle and soon returned with a length of green vine. Using the club, he drove a stout stick into the ground just outside one of the shelters and tied one end of the vine to the stick. The other end he tied around Beverly’s right ankle. He then roughly pushed her onto her stomach and wrenched her arms behind her back. She cried out in agony as he cruelly bound her wrists with a thin piece of vine.

“While I heal, you will serve me woman.”

Struggling into a sitting position, Beverly glared defiantly.

“Go to hell.”

Darnid smiled coldly and grabbed her chin, twisting until the wound on her face opened and began to bleed.

“You are mine woman; it’s time you got used to that fact.”

Refusing to show the pain his actions caused, Beverly lifted her chin and said with absolute certainty,

“You will never own me you disgusting little troll.”

Darnid let her go and scratched gingerly at his groin.

“We will see woman, we will see.”

 

                            The day was drawing to a close and a tired, hot and despondent Jean-Luc decided to find shelter for the night, rather than pursue yet another false reading. So far he had tracked three arboreal animals, two land based ones and three semi-aquatic animals, all large and all harmless. He had soon found that the easiest way to travel through the jungle was to use the numerous creeks that criss-crossed the land. Unfortunately, the animal life chose to live in great abundance around the watercourses, making the use of his scanner almost pointless. He found a large tree fern and made a nest for himself out of the fronds. Once comfortable, he retrieved some field rations from his backpack and ate a cheerless meal, his mind roiling with thoughts of his missing wife. He injected himself and lay down, sighing as he waited for sleep.

Morning found him wet, tired and stiff. He had slept little through the night and lying on the wet ground had caused painful stiffening of his muscles. Rain was falling heavily in fat drops, hissing through the foliage. He again ate a grim meal before relieving himself then stepping back into the creek. With a sigh he activated his scanner and scowled at the readings.

“Five targets. Pity I’m not an animal collector.”

Deciding to track the closest first, he gritted his jaw and set off, trying to keep his spirits up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         The night was a long one for Beverly. The length of vine allowed her to enter the shelter, but such was the terrible stench emanating from Darnid’s body, she opted instead to sleep outside. The rain started sometime during the night and, though it was hot and humid, she was stiff, wet and uncomfortable when she woke from her fractured sleep just before dawn. As she struggled to sit up, her tortured muscles screamed in agony and she groaned loudly, cramps assailing her arms and shoulders. Woken by the noise, Darnid crawled out of the humpy and snarled at the suffering Doctor.

“Shut up woman. You have disturbed my sleep.”

He stood at the entrance of the shelter and gingerly took his penis from his trousers. He urinated on Beverly, splattering her with the hot, bright yellow liquid. She ignored his display, leaving the falling rain to wash her. He inspected his penis, wetting his fingers with slimy mucous from his nose and gently rubbing them over the head. He began to stiffen and he sighed, a slight smile on his face.

“Soon woman, soon I will be able to play with you again.”

Beverly let the comment pass, choosing instead to see if he would ease her suffering.

“Untie me…please.”

Darnid looked up from his rapt adoration of his penis and glowered.

“Why?”

Keeping her voice even and reasonable with an immense effort, Beverly said,

“Because with my arms tied behind my back, I am in considerable pain.”

Darnid shrugged.

“So?”

Beverly stifled a sigh.

“Please, there is no need to hurt me any more.”

His cold black eyes bored into hers as he slowly lowered his trousers. Very gently cupping his swollen, reddened scrotum and penis, he growled,

“You injured me! You should suffer.”

Her patience growing very thin, Beverly barked,

“Well what did you expect?”

The Fretan pulled up his pants and stepped menacingly over to Beverly. He raised his right hand, but the wound in his chest made him scowl and lower the hand, while the left went to the broken shaft as he closed his eyes. Beverly began to speak.

“I am a Doctor, I could…”

Without warning, he kicked her in the stomach, causing her to fall forwards, retching and gasping. He bent down, grabbed a handful of her hair and lifted her head.

“The only thing I want from you is sex! I don’t care about anything else. I will fuck you until I tire of you, then I will sell what’s left of you to the Orions. Now shut up!”

He stood over Beverly for a few moments then went off to one side, dropped his trousers and defecated wetly. He didn’t bother to bury his mess and the stench wafted through the camp, heavy in the humid air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Jean-Luc found the body of the mute early in the afternoon. It wasn’t his scanner that led him to it; rather it was the smell of corruption and the huge swarm of insects that drew him. He had found the half eaten remains of the arm on the creek bank, so he was prepared when he looked down at the putrefying remains. Foraging animals and rampant insect life had reduced the corpse considerably, but there was enough left for Jean-Luc to identify it as being a Huuyn. He was deeply troubled as he left the remains and continued back up stream. Who killed the Huuyn? Was it Beverly, or did the native population have a hand in his demise. Or Darnid…did he cause the death? One thing was certain, with the Huuyn out of the picture, that meant he only had to deal with Darnid in his search for Beverly…as long as the indigenous people weren’t involved.

He looked down at his scanner and sighed.

“Two largish contacts, nearly six hundred and fifty metres away. Might as well see what they are, then look for shelter for the night.”

 

 

                    Darnid slept for most of the day. Beverly, trying to find some shade, was lying near the side of the shelter when the Fretan emerged and stretched languorously. He scratched for a few minutes, farted loudly and wetly then abruptly left the camp. He was gone half and hour and when he returned he had two grotesque, fat grubs in his hands. His mouth and chin were smeared with green and black ooze and his boots were covered in shit. He went to the stick, driven deep in the ground and grabbed the vine, pulling hard. Beverly, woken from a fitful doze, cried out as her protesting muscles reacted to her being dragged across the ground. She looked up into the cruel eyes of her captor and glared defiantly. He spat on her then dropped the grubs on the ground.

“Food. Eat.”

Beverly looked down at the slowly writhing grubs and shuddered.

“I’m not eating those.”

Darnid shrugged.

“Then starve.”

He began to remove his clothing and Beverly started to panic. Casting about for something to distract him, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“I need a drink!”

He chuckled and shook his head.

“Too bad, I need to fuck you.”

In desperation, Beverly almost yelled,

“No! With your injuries you might do permanent damage.”

He was already erect and he lifted his huge, ugly penis and inspected the healing tear.

“It will be all right woman, but I do appreciate your concern for me.”

He laughed and dropped to his knees, grabbing Beverly’s legs and forcing them apart.

“I am going to enjoy this woman…but if you hurt me again, I will make you pay. Do you understand?”

In answer, Beverly tried to kick her assailant. He grunted and punched her in the head. Momentarily stunned, she couldn’t fight as he cruelly shoved himself inside her. Her scream of agony came from every fibre of her being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                             Jean-Luc was concentrating on the scanner, his heart racing. For the first time, the device was showing promising readings. Only forty-five metres away from his targets, he increased his pace through the water and was about to look up to get a bearing when he heard the scream. Momentarily frozen in shock, he gasped,

“Beverly!”

And began to wade as fast as he could. As he covered the distance, he pushed the scanner deep into his pocket and unsheathed his knife.

The scene he encountered both enraged and appalled him. With a roar he charged at the frantically rutting Fretan, grabbed his filthy, matted hair and wrenched him backwards. Rain began to pour down as the men faced each other. Beverly struggled into a sitting position, her heart soaring as she recognised her rescuer. Not wishing to break his concentration, she called out in a low voice,

“He has a phaser Jean-Luc, in his clothing.”

Jean-Luc’s eyes flicked to the ragged pile of garments lying near the entrance to a shelter. Darnid took the momentary lapse to lunge for the club. Jean-Luc feinted left, then swept the knife in an arc, catching Darnid across his chest. The Fretan’s breath hissed through his teeth as he circled Jean-Luc, bright puce blood mingling with the rain to run down his naked body. Jean-Luc, wary of the club, kept the knife trained on Darnid, ready should he attack. What he was not prepared for was the charge. Taken by surprise, Jean-Luc stabbed quickly, but missed his target. Darnid swung the club, catching Jean-Luc across his right wrist. His arm went numb and the knife flew from his hand. Taking immediate advantage, Darnid swung again, landing a vicious blow to Jean-Luc’s stomach. With the air driven from his lungs, Jean-Luc dropped to his knees, gasping for breath. The next blow was to the right side of his chest. Several ribs were broken and the Ambassador pitched forwards, supporting himself on one arm. Darnid growled as he raised the club again, aiming for Jean-Luc’s head.

Beverly had finally had some good fortune. The knife had landed near her and she had managed to get it into her bound hands. With her arms tied behind her back so long, her muscles and broken wrist screamed in protest as she forced her hands to manipulate the knife so she could cut her bonds. The vine was green and pliable and the sharp knife had no trouble slicing through, but once free, she found she was barely ably to move her arms. Shards of agony accompanied any movement, but one look at her husband told her she had no choice. She forced her hand to use the knife to cut through the vine securing her ankle. Now free, she looked up to see Darnid about to kill her injured husband. She staggered to her feet, her arms dangling uselessly by her sides, but the knife was still in her right hand. She ran in a stumbling gait and cannoned into Darnid just as he swung the club. Jean-Luc’s head snapped sideways as the club caught him a glancing blow, but it was enough to knock him out. He sprawled on his back on the ground as Beverly and Darnid rolled together. Beverly summoned all her strength and wrapped her arms around the Fretan but his oily, sebum covered body was slick with the rain and he easily slipped through her grasp. But Beverly wasn’t about to give up. As Darnid scrabbled to his feet, Beverly kicked upwards, landing a solid blow to his already injured groin. He roared in pain and fell to his knees. Beverly crawled around behind him and willed her arms to lift. She grabbed his hair and pulled his head back, exposing his neck. She placed the knife against his skin and said in his ear,
“Good bye you little piece of shit.”

She drew the knife across his throat, but not with the strength she needed to end his life quickly. Blood gushed from a gaping wound, but there was fight in him yet. He wrenched his body sideways and tore himself out of her grasp. Beverly looked on in shock as he grabbed her broken wrist and squeezed. The knife dropped from her hand and he picked it up, snarling as he waved it in front of her. As he spoke, bloody bubbles frothed in his neck wound.

“You will die with me bitch.”

At first Beverly thought he’d punched her in the stomach. She looked down, confused to see the handle of the knife protruding from her belly. She looked up at Darnid and shook her head.

“What have you done?”

The Fretan’s eyes rolled in his head and he crumpled, falling at Beverly’s knees. There was a protracted, wet, gurgling sound before he twitched twice, ejaculated, then quietly died.

In the pouring rain, Beverly crawled slowly to her unconscious husband and lay down beside him, her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes as oblivion claimed her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    Harry Pickford was an astute man, wary and always on his guard. In his line of business, he had to be. His extraordinary bright blue eyes watched Tar Taz as the immense Antorian did his best to wrest free information from the canny Human.

“But surely Mr. Pickford it would do no harm to tell me what I need to know? After all, the simple matter of accessing fleet deployment would be an easy task for you.”

Harry bowed his head, hiding a wry smile.

“That may be so Ambassador, but I am in the business of information exchange. What do you offer in return?”

Tar Taz blustered, unused to having to bargain for what he wanted.

“Offer in return? My dear Mr.Pickford, to be asked to be of service to the Antorian government is a privilege! You should be flattered I asked you.”

Harry inclined his head in deference and waved his hand.

“Oh but I am Ambassador, but I must insist Sir, I may assist you in your enquiry, but only if you reciprocate in kind.”

Unwilling to concede, Tar Taz sighed.

“Really Mr.Pickford…all I want to know is where the Enterprise has been sent. Honestly, it’s simply a matter of curiosity on my part…I have an acquaintance on board and I just wanted to know where he was going. Nothing sinister in that.”

Harry shrugged.

“Your motives are of no interest to me Ambassador. Yes, it would be easy for me to answer your query, but as I said, I deal in information. Unless you can supply me with something of interest…”

He shrugged again,

“I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

The Antorian sat back and glowered at the Human. To stall for time, he rifled in a deep pocket and retrieved a small, antique gold box. With great delicacy, he opened the lid and, using forefinger and thumb, took a large pinch of something black and granular then snorted it up his left nostril. His head snapped back and his eye stalks curled almost double. He grunted loudly and shook his head, the pupils of his eyes dilated. Harry’s face split into a knowing grin.

“Cosmic dust. I’m surprised Ambassador, that substance is considered illegal in the Federation.”

Tar Taz absently wiped at the small trickle of blood that seeped from his nostril. He took a deep breath, a smile splitting his face.

“What the Earthers don’t know can’t hurt them. Besides, how I choose to relax is my business.”

Harry nodded.

“Indeed. Now Ambassador, do you have anything of interest for me?”

Tar Taz sat forward and sighed.

“You are a persistent Human Mr.Pickford.”

He rubbed his nose and grunted.

“Very well. The Romulan Pro Consul has orchestrated a…situation…involving the Federation Secretary and a select group of Vulcan scientists. By using a little…pressure…he is going to force the scientists to develop a delivery system for a biological weapon they were to manufacture. The Federation Secretary is going to use her position to force certain…colleagues…to accept the Vulcan technology in direct violation of the Federation charter. The Pro Consul would then use his knowledge of this to attack the Council, causing massive disruption, destabilisation and confusion. There is some speculation it could be a precursor to a Romulan incursion.”

Harry’s face showed no emotion, he simply nodded.

“Interesting. All right, I would say you have earned my information. As luck would have it, I know the Enterprise’s itinerary. Three days ago she went to the Crab Nebula, stayed there less than four hours, then left for the Herrin system.”

Tar Taz suddenly choked, turning dark brown as he coughed to clear his airway. He recovered enough to squeak,

“The Herrin system? But I understood that that system was off limits to Starfleet.”

Harry shrugged, lifting his hands and pulling down the corners of his mouth.

“What can I say? Some Starship Captains just don’t follow the rules.”

The Antorian glowered then snarled,

“Do you know which planet in the Herrin system?”

With a shake of his head, Harry smiled apologetically.

“No.”

Tar Taz grunted.

“Very well, I believe our business is concluded. Thank you Mr.Pickford, I hope we can…talk…again soon.”

Harry grinned.
“As do I, it’s been a pleasure Ambassador.  Pickford out.”is mouth and chin were smeared with green and black ooze and he had faecal

Half an hour later Tar Taz was on board his ship, leaving orbit of Earth and ten minutes after that, Harry was talking to a well placed individual on the Federation Council.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                Having completed his task of getting the chip to his contact, Belderand Haz sat in his favourite chair and concentrated on getting blindingly drunk. He looked into his large glass, contemplating the events of the day and deciding that spying was a very dangerous business and not something he thought he would easily continue to do. He tipped his head back and drained the glass, feeling his tongue begin to tingle. He sighed and closed his eyes.

“Not before time.”

He raised his glass and stared at the ceiling.

“To you Mersen Pul. I hope what I have done today will make you proud.”

He jumped violently as his door was blasted off its hinges. Five hulking Antorian security officers crowded into his living room, blasters in hand. The leader stood over the terrified Belderand and said loudly,

“You are Belderand Haz?”

All he could do was nod numbly as he voided his bladder.

“You are charged with treason, theft and conspiracy. You will accompany us.”

He was dragged to his feet, the glass falling from his nerveless hand. As he was taken outside and bundled into a hover car, his neighbours closed the blinds and averted their eyes. It didn’t pay to witness some things.

As Belderand was being taken away, his contact had made it off the planet and was en route to Federation space. Unwilling to transmit the contents of the chip until well clear of Antoria, she instead devoted herself to coaxing more speed from her ageing ship. She did, however, contact her liaison in Starfleet via an encrypted sub space message, letting him know that highly classified information was on its way. She was very surprised when she received his immediate reply.

“Sending an escort. Maintain course and speed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  Jean-Luc woke slowly. Pain radiated from several parts of his body and it was particularly painful to breathe. Rain fell on his face and he squinted when he finally opened his eyes. There was a familiar weight on his right shoulder and he slowly turned his aching head to see his beloved Beverly, seemingly asleep. He carefully raised his left hand and gently stroked her matted, wet hair.

“Hey.”

Her cerulean eyes opened sluggishly, but her smile was radiant. Her voice a mere whisper, she said,

“Jean-Luc…you came.”

Very carefully turning his body towards her, Jean-Luc ignored his pain to tenderly kiss her cracked lips.

“Yes my love, I finally came. I love you.”

As he looked down at her, drips of bloody water fell from his head onto her face. He frowned and wiped them away before he realised his head was bleeding freely. He squinted up into the rain and grunted.

“Come on; let’s get into one of those shelters.”

As he began to rise, Beverly weakly gripped his arm. Immediately sensing something was wrong, Jean-Luc looked down at his wife, worry creasing his face.

“What is it?”

Smiling and trying to ease his concern, Beverly took his hand and guided it to the knife handle. His eyes followed his hand and he suddenly stopped breathing.

“Mon Dieu!”

“It’s all right Jean-Luc…really…”

He let out a plosive breath and shook his head. His eyes darted to Darnid’s body.

“He did that.”

All Beverly could do was nod.

Jean-Luc rose to his knees and closed his eyes at seeing the amount of blood covering Beverly’s belly. The rain was washing most of it away, but it still seeped around the blade in a steady stream.

“We still need to get out of this rain.”

Beverly smiled wanly and nodded.

“Agreed, but it probably isn’t a good idea to move me.”

Jean-Luc studied the distance to the nearest shelter, judging it to be no more than four metres. He looked down at Beverly and gently pushed her hair from her face.

“What if I picked you up under your shoulders and dragged you?”

Giving the suggestion some thought, Beverly sighed shallowly and nodded.

“Okay, but go slowly.”

As Jean-Luc got to his feet, terrible pain attacked him. Breathing was agonising, his head was aching and there was something very wrong in his belly. He put the pain out of his mind and crouched at Beverly’s head.

As he eased his hands under her shoulders he said quietly,

“I will be as gentle as I can.”

Beverly tensed herself but it was Jean-Luc who tried to stifle a sharp cry of agony. As he rose and took Beverly’s weight in his hands, something tore in his stomach. He gritted his teeth, ignoring Beverly’s alarmed,

“Jean-Luc…what is it?”

Nothing further was said until Jean-Luc gently laid Beverly down in the shelter. The Doctor was relieved to find it wasn’t the one Darnid had used. The Ambassador slumped to the earthen floor beside his wife, trying to catch his breath. He felt Beverly’s hand on his arm and summoned a smile.

“It’s all right, I’m just a little winded.”

Blood was trickling down the side of his face and Beverly frowned.

“Let me look at you.”

He slowly shook his head.

“No, I want to get you dry. Is there anything here we can use?”

Beverly thought for a moment then nodded.

“Yes, my clothes are in the other shelter.”

Jean-Luc bent with difficulty and kissed her brow.

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

True to his word, he soon returned with Beverly’s clothes. He gently dried her body and did his best with her hair, now very long since it had not been cut in over two years. At Beverly’s insistence, he took off his wet outfit, leaving him in nothing but a pair of grey briefs. The bruising to his torso stood out in stark relief against his pale skin and Beverly scowled.

“I bet that hurts.”

He shrugged, balling his trousers to make a pillow for his wife.

“Not as much as a large knife stuck in one’s stomach.”

As he had dried his wife, he had seen the sluggish trickle of blood emanating from her vagina. He lowered his voice and shook his head.

“But that’s not all is it? Tell me.”

Tears welled in Beverly’s eyes as she swallowed and whispered,

“He hurt me Jean-Luc.”

He lay down beside his wife and cradled her head tenderly.

“He raped you.”

With a nod, Beverly sniffed, still whispering,

“Many times.”

With tears sliding down his face, Jean-Luc gently kissed her cheek.

“I’m so sorry my love.”

Her sobs were quiet but they shook her entire body. She clung to her husband desperately, fearing she may never stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      The Pro Consul glared down at his Senator. To his credit, Narwan Jemurl stared steadily at his leader, the roiling of his stomach not showing on his face.

“You know his files have been compromised.”

The Senator nodded.

“Yes, the perpetrator has been apprehended.”

The Pro Consul sat back, feigning nonchalance, but Jemurl knew his life hung in the balance. The next few minutes would be crucial.

“What are you doing about it? Surely the Federation will soon know of our plans.”

“The perpetrator is being interrogated, we hope to learn the name of his co-conspirators and, once we have their names, we will act.”

The Pro Consul lifted a hand to smooth an errant eyebrow.

“But what of the Federation? What is your contingency for that?”

The Senator shifted his feet slightly, the first sign of his nervousness. He had been standing before the Pro Consul for some time, and he was finding it increasingly hard to keep still.

“I have no contingency Sir, it was never conceived that this would happen.”

A cold smile settled on the Pro Consul’s face and Jemurl’s bowel loosened.

“Then tell me Narwan…what do you intend to do? Once the Federation knows our plans they will act accordingly. We will lose Antoria and my own…elaborate plans will turn to dust. Do you have any idea how much this has cost in men and materiel?”

Now beginning to sweat, Jemurl shook his head.

“But Sir, we can circumvent anything the Federation does! Once we have the names of…”

The Pro Consul stood and glared down at his subordinate.

“It is too late! There is a ship, even as we speak it has rendezvoused with a Starfleet vessel and is travelling in concert back to Federation space, and on that ship is the spy carrying the information! They already know!”

Clutching at straws, Jemurl tried one last gambit.

“Then destroy the ships!”

The Pro Consul stared coldly down at Jemurl then pressed a button on his chair. From both sides of the cavernous room, security personnel came at the double. With a flick of his wrist, the Pro Consul said quietly,

“Take him away.”

As the desperately protesting Senator was led from the room, the Pro Consul sat and gently rubbed his chin.

“Now then…what to do?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                         James and Adele sat in Jean-Luc’s quarters, both very unsettled. In James’s hands was his father’s treasured holo portrait of their mother. He put in on the low table and activated it, sighing at the vibrant image of Beverly as it shimmered into existence. Adele sniffed quietly and said softly,

“That was taken before we were born.”

James nodded.

“Yeah, I know. She looks beautiful, doesn’t she.”

Adele nodded.

“Yeah. It was their wedding day.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes before James snorted.

“This whole thing sucks!”

With a sigh, Adele rolled her eyes.

“You don’t think you’re stating the bloody obvious?”

James glared at his sister.

“It’s not just now Delly; it’s the whole stupid thing. Think about it! Mum’s been missing presumed dead for two years and we believed it! Everyone believed it…except Dad… and what did people think of him? Oh yeah, that’s right…we all thought he was a deluded, foolish old man who couldn’t accept his wife’s death. And now? You and I are stuck on the fucking ship while our father goes into who knows what sort of situation to rescue our suddenly discovered mother! I’m telling you, it sucks!”

Adele lifted her head and pulled her fingers through her hair.

“Look, I agree with you, but what can we do? Like you said, we’re stuck here…and besides, we told Dad we’d wait here for him.”

James stood and began to stalk around the room.

“He’s been gone three days now Delly. Don’t you think it’s time we did something?”

The young woman nodded, but a deep frown creased her brow.

“Okay, yeah, but what? Uncle Will won’t let us leave the ship and his hands are tied anyway. He can’t help us Jim.”

James’s sly grin told Adele he had already thought of something.

“Della came aboard on a prototype runabout didn’t she?”

Adele nodded thoughtfully.

“Yes.”

“Well why don’t we go and have a chat with her? Who knows what that ship is capable of”

Adele’s grin matched her brother’s.

“She’s in her quarters now.”

They both stood, James grinning widely.

“Let’s go.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    As Jean-Luc watched over her, Beverly slept in a fitful doze. She had cried herself to sleep and Jean-Luc held her, burning with anger at what she had suffered and wishing with all his being that he could change the past. Sleep was impossible for him. Not only was he too emotionally charged, but without the use of the drug, he couldn’t chance falling asleep only to be assailed by nightmares. Beverly would know immediately. So he held her, willing his waning strength into her. He wasn’t aware she had woken until she spoke, softly saying,

“Tell me about the kids.”

He lifted his head and kissed her, smiling as she closed her eyes and smiled. He summoned his voice, but it was rough with emotion.

“You would be so proud of them Beverly. James has just stared an architectural degree at Melbourne University and Adele is just finishing her final exams for this year. She’s decided she wants to be a maths/science teacher in the tertiary level.”

Beverly smiled and sighed.

“Yes, she would be good at that; she’s always had an analytical mind. So James chose architecture. I must say I’m surprised. He was always saying he was going into Starfleet.”

Jean-Luc grinned, wishing he could laugh, but knowing it would be too painful.

“Oh I know. When he told me he was so nervous. He thought I’d be disappointed. Apparently he agonised for months over how to tell me.”

Beverly looked up at her husband, her face unreadable.

“So how did you take it?”

Jean-Luc sighed gently, a ghost of a smile on his face.

“I was delighted Beverly and I told him so. You should have seen his face! I’m telling you, I haven’t seen him so shocked since you gave him that virtual spider when he was six.”

Beverly chuckled then winced, her hands going to the knife. She groaned softly and offered a lop sided smile.

“Remind me not to do that.”

With concern, Jean-Luc eased Beverly’s head down and said softly,

“Maybe you should just rest.”

She shook her head.

“No, tell me more.”

He sighed, unable to refuse her.

“Very well. James has taken after your side of the family; he’s nearly two metres tall now.”

Beverly gasped.

“Two metres? Wow! The last time I saw him he was just on your height. And Adele?”

Jean-Luc grinned.

“My height. And James is wearing his hair longer than when he was younger. He’s always flicking it off his face.”

With a mischievous grin, Beverly said softly,

“At least he still has his hair.”

Jean-Luc nodded, his smile a wide one.

“Indeed.”

As they talked, the female natives returned. They whistled and Jean-Luc suddenly stilled, placing his hand over Beverly’s mouth. He lifted his finger to his lips then whispered,

“I think there’s someone outside.”

Beverly listened and heard the whistle as it was given again. She gripped Jean-Luc’s arm and whispered,

“I think it’s all right. They may be the same young women who came here yesterday.”

Jean-Luc peered outside but could see nothing. Still whispering he said,

“Do you think I should go outside?”

Beverly nodded.

“Yes, they might be able to help us.”

Jean-Luc placed a soft kiss on Beverly’s brow and slowly got to his knees.

“I won’t be long.”

She grabbed his hand, whispering,

“They’re shy Jean-Luc, be patient.”

He nodded and slowly crawled out into the waning light of late afternoon.

Unable to stand upright, he stood as best he could, placing his hands on his upper thighs and bending over. He looked to where he thought the whistling had come from and smiled. At first, nothing happened. He knew he had dried blood on his face, neck and chest and the bruising was livid on his torso, but he hoped the girls would choose to come out of the dense foliage and make contact. He waited ten minutes and was about to give up and go back inside the shelter, when there was a soft rustling and the girls appeared. As before, they had bags slung down their backs and one, the slightly taller of the two, brandished a short stone knife.

Jean-Luc tried to straighten, but the pain in his belly prevented that. He smiled and beckoned them closer, saying softly,

“It’s all right, I won’t hurt you.”

The two youngsters chattered quietly to each other before one pointed to the shelter. Jean-Luc smiled and nodded.

“Yes, Beverly’s inside.”

He looked over his shoulder and called,

“Beverly? Can you say something?”

From the shelter he heard,

“I’m in here girls.”

The taller girl looked at her companion and seemed to come to a decision. She gestured and together they cautiously approached the shelter. Jean-Luc followed them, trying to keep a genial face, but his pain was growing worse and he was finding it increasingly difficult to keep from groaning. He dropped to his knees and was about to enter when one of the girls held up a hand, preventing him. From inside he heard Beverly say,

“I think they want to see me by themselves Jean-Luc. Would you mind waiting outside?”

With a deep frown, Jean-Luc knew he had to acquiesce. Unable to take a deep breath, he swallowed and briefly closed his eyes.

“All right.”

The girls sat beside Beverly, one of them gingerly touching the handle of the knife. Beverly summoned a smile and muttered,

“It’s all right.”

The other girl looked between Beverly’s legs and frowned. She used her fingers to wipe at the mess and held them up for Beverly to see. Blood and pus coated the girl’s fingers and Beverly sighed.

“Yes, I know. There is infection.”

The girls chattered to each other and one of them, the smaller of the two, suddenly left. The other girl went and got Beverly a drink of water. She took the drink with appreciation then lay down, calling softly,

“Jean-Luc? Can you come inside please?”

As he appeared at her side, the native girl shrank away, causing Beverly to lift a hand and say,

“No, it’s all right, come back here.”

Unconvinced, the girl scuttled outside, making Beverly sigh. Jean-Luc wanted to sigh, but couldn’t.

“They’re frightened of me.”

“Yes.”

He gently stroked Beverly’s hair and smiled.

“Well hopefully they will get used to me.”

Beverly nodded doubtfully,

“I hope so Jean-Luc, we need them.”

They settled to wait the return of the girls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        Belderand Haz knew he had little time left to do something to end what was going to be a prolonged suffering. The population was well aware of what happened to traitors, indeed, his beloved Mersen Pul’s body had been so badly mutilated, it was not released for the funeral. He had found out it had been unceremoniously incinerated. It had taken nearly all of his savings to bribe the director of the memorial garden to allow Belderand to have a small plaque dedicated to his lover’s memory. He knew there would be no plaque for him. Around his neck he wore a small locket, inside which was a picture of Mersen. But at the moment, what was more important to Belderand was the feloticin chip that was nestled next to the photo. With his hands manacled behind his back, he turned to one of his guards and mustered the courage to speak.

“Please…will you let me kiss my amulet?”

The guard sneered and shook his head.

“No, be quiet.”

Throwing caution to the wind, Belderand tried again.

“Please…it is such a small thing to ask. You know as well as I, I am doomed. Let me make peace with my God.”

The guard, not unsympathetic, looked left and right before fumbling inside Belderand’s clothing to free the locket. He looked at it, shrugged and held it up to Belderand’s face. Belderand leaned forward, puckering his lips, but as soon as his mouth touched the locket, he lunged forward and took it into his mouth. The guard let out a yell and grabbed Belderand by the scruff of his neck, hauling him backwards and clawing at his mouth. With grim determination, Belderand bit on the locket and forced it open. He felt the chip fall on his tongue and he smiled, oblivious to the beating he was now receiving. The last thought that crossed his mind before his heart stopped was of his beloved Mersen Pul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Della and Tony were reading when the chime sounded. The Captain bade her callers to enter and smiled widely at seeing James and Adele.

“Well hello you two, what brings you here? It’s getting quite late.”

By previous, mutual agreement, James handled the conversation.

“We need to talk to you Della.”

He looked pointedly at Tony and Della gave a surreptitious nod, saying softly to her son,

“Tony I think it’s time for bed.”

The boy stood and stared at his mother, sighing with resignation.

“What you mean is…you want some privacy.”

Della shrugged.

“Okay, yes.”

Tony nodded then grinned at the Picard children.

“She’s all yours.”

James winked at the boy and Adele offered a warm smile. Once he had left the room, Della gestured everyone to seats and gave her complete attention. James took a deep breath and began.

“I suppose you know Dad has been gone three days now.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well Delly and I think it’s time someone made the effort to see if he needs any help.”

Della sat back and studied the two young adults sitting before her. She didn’t know Beverly, but the resemblance the children carried of their father was remarkable and she knew they were blessed with his intelligence. She pursed her lips, choosing her words carefully.

“I take it by someone…you mean you two.”

James shrugged.

“Well yeah.”

“So why are you talking to me? Isn’t the Captain of this ship your Uncle?”

James cast a look at his sister and she nodded, giving him encouragement.

“Yes he is, but he’s not allowed to give Dad any help.”

Della bowed her head.

“Because Starfleet isn’t supposed to enter this system.”
“Yeah.”

Gently rubbing her lips with her fingers, Della tilted her head.

“Okay, but again…why me?”

James took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Adele took his hand and gave it a squeeze.

“You came here in a prototype runabout.”

“Yes.”

“Well Delly and I thought it might be interesting to see just what kind of hardware she has on board.”

Della sat up, her dark eyes glittering.

“She has some enhanced systems…just what do you have in mind?”

James straightened in his seat and stared directly into Della’s eyes.

“We want to go and look for him.”

The Captain frowned and shook her head.

“Impossible!”

Adele felt her brother stiffen in anger and quickly strove to circumvent any trouble.

“Della…please, let us explain.”

Captain Mason nodded stiffly, her body rigid. Adele scrabbled to find the words to defuse the situation.

“Della these last two years…everybody thought Mum was dead. Everyone except Dad and all he got for his refusal to believe what we all thought was obvious, was derision and pity. Now he’s been proved right…Mum’s alive and he’s gone to rescue her. Are you aware of the situation he beamed down to?”

Della shrugged.

“Yes.”

Adele smiled ruefully.

“So don’t you think he could use some help?”

Della shook her head vehemently.

“Starfleet can’t…”

Adele held up her hand.

“Wait, hear me out.”

With a resigned nod, Della sat back and sighed, giving a wave of consent.

“James and I are just as guilty as everyone else in treating Dad like some foolish old man. We want to help Della, we want to help our father rescue our mother…we owe him…we owe both of them. We can’t sit up here any more waiting for word. We have to do something! Can’t you see that? Can’t you see what we’re going through?”

Della sighed, her face showing sympathy.

“Of course I can see, but Adele…what you’re asking…”

James’s deep voice was calm, but absolutely resolute.

“All we’re asking is for you to fly the runabout, we’ll do the rest. That’s not too much to ask…is it?”

Della gave an incredulous laugh.

“And just how do we explain the use of the runabout to your Uncle Will? We’ll need permission to launch and we’ll have to explain just what it is we intend to do. He won’t authorise anything, you know that.”

The Picard children looked at each other then turned their gaze back to Della. In unison they said,

“Uncle Data.”

Della frowned.

“Commander Data? The First officer? The android?”

James grinned.

“Correct on all accounts.”

“Why him?”

Adele sat forward and gave a rueful smile.

“Uncle Data has a special relationship with our parents. We think he’ll help.”

Della abruptly stood and in silence stalked to the replicator. Without asking the Picards if they wanted anything, she got herself a glass of scotch and ice and wandered to the viewport. She stood still, staring out into space before she sighed and bowed her head.

“I must be mad, but if you can get Data on side, I’ll help you.”

She turned and raised her finger.

“BUT…if he refuses this dies here. No more! No more schemes, no more plans…you wait until your father returns, one way or another. Okay?”

The kids looked at each other and shrugged. James nodded, his voice low.

“Deal.”   aig

 

 

 

                     Nausea was rising in Jean-Luc’s stomach and he knew he would soon need to vomit. The smaller of the two girls had returned with some green matter, mosses and earth. While the other girl cleaned the blood away, the smaller girl mixed what she had in a bowl, adding a little water and saliva. Jean-Luc watched for a while, but the pain and nausea eventually got the better of him. Seeing Beverly was engrossed in what the girls were doing, he quietly crawled out of the shelter and around behind it. There he vomited painfully, bringing up bile and blood. He also coughed up a small amount of blood. By the time he went back to the shelter, he was weak and covered in sweat. Luckily Beverly didn’t see him in the gathering gloom. As one of the girls applied the new poultice to her wounds, the other lit a small fire. Soon food was offered but neither Human took it.

Jean-Luc lay beside his wife, cradling her head on his arm. He was surprised when one of the girls said quietly,

“Gruz? Krel?”

She lifted the club she had brought inside and Beverly stirred, sighing shallowly. Jean-Luc said softly,

“What’s happening?”

Beverly swallowed and shook her head.

“What she just said were the names of the two male natives that were caring for me. Darnid killed them.”

Jean-Luc frowned.

“How can we tell them that?”

Beverly shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

The girl held up the club and said softly,

“Gruz?”

Beverly sighed and, looking with sympathy at the girl, shook her head.

“I’m sorry.”

The girl chattered quietly with her companion then said,

“Krel?”

Again Beverly shook her head.

“No, him too.”

The girl’s faces crumpled and they began to rock back and forth, keening very softly. After about five minutes the both left the shelter. In the ensuing silence, Jean-Luc said sadly,

“I wish there was something we could do to help them.”

Beverly nodded.

“I know, me too.”

They lay quietly for a while before Beverly shifted slightly, wincing at the pain it caused. She sighed and stared up at the roof.

“I suppose you thought I was dead.”

Jean-Luc smiled in the gloom.

“No I didn’t, but everyone else did.”

Beverly turned her head to her husband, a ghost of a smile on her lips.

“You didn’t?”

He shook his head.

“No.”

“Why?”

He smiled again.

“Because the evidence wasn’t incontrovertible. The shuttle you were on was utterly destroyed…vaporised, but even so, there was no biological remains. Even with that level of destruction there should have been something, even if only at the atomic level.”

Beverly nodded.

“I see. But everyone else accepted the evidence.”

Jean-Luc nodded.

“Yes.”

“Even the kids?”

“Yes. They, like everyone else, thought I was a deluded old fool who simply couldn’t accept his wife’s death.”

Beverly reached up and caressed his face.

“That must have been hard.”

Jean-Luc sighed but the resulting pain made him cough. He was glad for the darkness so Beverly couldn’t see the blood he brought up and was forced to swallow. Once he regained control he continued to speak, but his voice was ragged.

“At first I was treated with pity, but over time that turned to derision. Eventually I learned not to talk about it, but I kept looking Beverly…I never stopped.”

Beverly sighed and snuggled into his embrace.

“I kept waiting…hoping…but I too eventually trained myself to stop. It was just too hard. I just concentrated on living…trying not to think too much.”

“Did it work?”

“Mostly.”

Quiet descended again. Beverly gently ran her fingers over Jean-Luc’s chest and sighed.

“So what changed?”

Jean-Luc looked down and frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“What tipped the balance…how did you find out I was really alive?”

“Ah. That’s a rather long story…suffice it to say I became aware the Antorians and the Romulans were involved and, as information slowly became available, I acted accordingly.”

Beverly scowled.

“The Romulans? What the hell are they up to? And who the hell are the Antorians?”

Jean-Luc ignored the pain to chuckle. Beverly’s reaction was so typical…and it was wonderful to hear it again.

“I have been in negotiations with the Antorians for many months now. We’ve recently found they are in collusion with the Romulans, but as to what end…we don’t yet know. All we know is that they worked together to kidnap you. Now the Antorian Ambassador tried to coerce me into doing something patently stupid…not to say illegal using you as his bargaining chip, but we still don’t know what the Romulans have to do with it.”

Beverly snorted then said quietly,

“So where are we?”

“In the Herrin system, Herrin 3.”

Beverly tried to sit up, but the pain defeated her. She gripped Jean-Luc’s shoulder and squeezed.

“But the Herrin system is out of bounds! How the hell did you get here?”

Jean-Luc grinned.

“I took the Dumas and met the Enterprise in the Crab Nebula. She took me on board and is in orbit right now.”

Beverly’s grip tightened.

“The Enterprise is in orbit?”

“Yes. And Beverly…James and Adele are on board.”

“Oh God! So where’s your communicator? Why haven’t we been beamed up?”

He gently disengaged her hand and encouraged her to lie down. With gentle strokes, he caressed her hair and kissed her brow.

“There is heavy ionisation in the atmosphere. No transporters, no technology.”

“So how did you get down here? Is there a shuttle?”

He shook his head.

“No, I utilised the pattern enhancers in the compound.”

There was a momentary silence before Beverly whispered,

“So they don’t know we need help.”

Jean-Luc shook his head.

“No.”

“Then how are we going to be rescued?”

She heard the helplessness in his voice.

“I don’t know.”

An idea took hold and Jean-Luc took Beverly’s hand and looked into her eyes.

“Perhaps we can get the native girls to help us? If we could get back to the compound we could contact the ship.”

In the gloom he could just see her dubious expression.

“How far is it?”

Keeping his voice even, he replied,

“Several kilometres.”

She sighed.

“I don’t think I can make it my love.”

He squeezed her hand, begging with his eyes.

“What if we made a litter and carried you?”

Beverly shook her head.

“Well that might work, but what about you? You don’t think I haven’t seen your distress?”

He smiled.

“Oh I’m fine. Look, it may be our only course of action. Why don’t we wait until morning and I’ll see if the girls will help us?”

Still unconvinced, but too tired to argue, Beverly sighed and nodded.

“Okay.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

                          Narwan Jemurl was about to die. His begging had fallen on deaf ears and now, as the moment of death arrived he was reduced to sobbing, screeching in his broken voice for mercy. The stoic executioner ignored the noise; it wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard many times before. With a nod to his assistants, Jemurl was brought forward to kneel, naked with his hands manacled behind his back and his feet tied.

“Narwan Jemurl you have been found guilty of high treason. Sentence will be carried out immediately.”

Jemurl gasped, screaming,

“There was no trial! Let me plead my case…I acted on the orders of the Pro Consul himself! I beg you…Please…”

That was the last word he said. A blaster was placed at his head and the trigger depressed. There was a bright green flash of light and the Senator’s head vaporised. The body pitched forward, shuddering and voiding both bowel and bladder. The dispassionate staff dragged the remains to a coffin and hoisted it inside. The lid was closed with finality.

“Ship it to his relatives.”

As the floor was hosed clean, the executioner took a small communicator from his pocket and activated it.

“Sir? It is done.”

He didn’t wait for a reply. He deactivated the device, put it in his pocket and smiled at his companions.

“All right, who’s next?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    James and Adele entered Data’s quarters with curiosity. They had known the android all their lives, but this was the first time they had visited him in his quarters aboard his ship. Adele went to the covered painting on the easel and said quietly,

“May I look Uncle Data?”

The First Officer nodded once.

“Yes, or course.”

While his sister was occupied, James sat and smiled up at his Uncle.

“So how have you been Uncle Data?”

Data frowned a little.

“My operation does not alter James. I am the same as when you last saw me.”

The young man covered a smile.

“Yes, but you’re a Commander now and the First Officer of the flag ship. How does that feel?”

Data smiled.

“I am gratified.”

James grinned.

“Dad had a lot to do with that.”

With a tilt of his head, Data said,

“I am aware of that, James. If not for the strong lobbying of your father to push the recommendation of Captain Riker I would most certainly not got the position. There are still those in Starfleet Command who are prejudiced against the idea of artificial life forms in command positions.”

Adele joined her brother and sighed.

“You were lucky Uncle Data. Dad was an Admiral then and he knew who to push, but the reality is he wasn’t going to let them deny you. He said you’d earned it.”

Data nodded and sat, gesturing for Adele to sit too. He folded his hands in his lap and levelled a steady gaze on his young friends.

“It is oh one thirty. May I ask why you are visiting me at this late hour?”

James looked at his sister and took a deep breath.

“We need your help.”

Data pulled down the corners of his mouth and raised his eyebrows.

“I see. In what way can I help you?”

With his heart pounding, James said,

“Uncle Data, Dad has been down on the planet for nearly four days now. He beamed into a very dangerous situation and so far we’ve heard nothing. We want to go and look for him.”

Typical of the being he was, Data offered no objection…yet.

“And how did you envisage doing this?”

Adele took up the gauntlet.

“We have spoken to Captain Mason. She told us that if we could garner your help, she would be willing to fly the prototype runabout she brought aboard while we did the looking.”

“I see. I take it there are instruments on the runabout that can help you.”

James nodded.

“She said there was some enhanced hardware aboard.”

Data was quiet for a few moments before frowning.

“You would require me to authorise the launch…in direct violation of standing orders concerning this region of space.”

“Pretty much.”

Data sighed.

“That is a considerable request.”

James nodded, using his hands to articulate his words.

“Yes it is Uncle Data, but this is for Mum and Dad. They need our help.”

Data bowed his head, making millions of computations. After a few seconds he lifted his head and smiled.

“When did you envisage utilising your plan?”

Taking a deep breath to keep his excitement under control, James limited his response to a smile.

“As soon as possible.”

Data nodded.

“I will need time to make the appropriate arrangements. I will meet you in the main Shuttle Bay in half an hour.”

Both Picards stood, Adele going to her Uncle to hug him, whispering in his ear,

“Thank you.”

                      The night on the planet was a long one. Jean-Luc stayed awake, holding his wife as she slept fitfully. The infections began to ravage her body and her temperature rose alarmingly. The bleeding from her vagina slowed to almost nothing, but the pus that leaked out was odorous. Around the knife blade the flesh reddened and swelled and Jean-Luc knew the internal damage was serious. As to his own health, he discovered that if he kept his breathing shallow, he could avoid coughing. The headache persisted and nausea was a constant companion, but such was his worry for his wife, he simply ignored what his body was telling him. Like sleep, it was something he wasn’t prepared to entertain. The native girls didn’t return to the shelter, but throughout the night Jean-Luc continued to hear their soft keening.

Several times during the night Beverly stirred to an almost wakeful state. She moaned piteously, her hands going to the knife, but Jean-Luc was there, taking her hands in his and talking softly to her, calming and soothing until she slipped back to sleep.

He kept the fire going and waited for the dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        Tony Mason was usually a reasonably placid child. Having a mother who was a Captain in Starfleet had inured him to the vagaries of her job, but being woken at oh two hundred and taken from his warm bed was apt to make even the most tractable child cranky. As his mother gently urged him to dress, he yawned and knuckled his eyes, grumbling,

“What’s going on?”

Della took a blanket from the bed and folded it, then grabbed his pillow.

“We have to leave now.”

The grumble turned into a whine.

“Now? But you said we were going to wait until Ambassador Picard came back on board.”

Stifling a sigh of irritation, Della ushered the now dressed boy into the living area.

“I know what I said Tony, but things have changed. Now I’ve replicated you something to eat, you can have it on the runabout. We’re taking a blanket and pillow, so you can sleep if you want to.”

Tony grimaced and turned, seeing the Picards for the first time. He turned back to his mother, his eyebrows raised. Della smiled.

“James and Adele are coming with us.”

The boy shook his head.

“But there’re no seats other than in the cockpit.”

Della maintained her smile, but her patience was wearing thin. The truth was, she hadn’t expected the kids to get Data’s help, especially not so quickly. She had been asleep when they called and she wasn’t very pleased with the situation.

“Well, we’ll just have to make do. Now Tony, we’re going to have to be quiet. Most of the crew are asleep and we want our departure to be low key. Okay?”

The boy mumbled his agreement and the group left the quarters.

As promised, Data was waiting in the Shuttle Bay. The runabout hatch was open and the pre-flight check already carried out. The android took James and Della aside and spoke quietly.

“I have authorised your launch so you do not have to contact the Bridge. I suggest you conduct your search with alacrity…it would be highly beneficial if you could be back aboard before the change of shift at oh seven thirty.”

Della scowled.

“And if we’re not?”

Data’s face remained stoic.

“In that case I will have a significant amount of explaining to do.”

James smiled and squeezed his Uncle’s shoulder.

“We’ll do our best.”

As they walked over to the runabout, Data said,

“I have inspected the computer you will be using. Captain Mason you are quite correct in your assessment of the runabout’s hardware. The sensors have been augmented, as have the scanners. I would postulate it may be possible to scan through the ionisation; at least once you are through the planet’s outer atmosphere. I would envisage you will not have a great range, but even limited sensors and scanners are better than nothing.”

Della smiled and nodded.

“You are quite right Mr.Data. I had to pull a lot of strings to get this ship. If I dent her I will be strung up.”

James frowned and asked quietly,

“Just how did you get her?”

Della grinned.

“I used your father’s name.”

James chuckled and shook his head.

“You can explain that one to him yourself. I’m going to plead ignorance.”

Data watched as the runabout powered up then, with a press of a lighted button, raised the blast door. As the craft lifted then glided through the force field, Data muttered,

“Hurry back my young friends.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    Tar Taz had snorted a significant amount of cosmic dust and his nose dribbled blood persistently as he lay in the enormous bath in his cabin. His eye stalks were completely relaxed, laying over the back of his head, the eyes themselves closed. His immense mottled body floated like a huge fleshy berg, his retractable penis bobbing and bumping against his dimpled thigh. He sighed expansively, making a surge in the water. The call from his Bridge made him growl deep in his throat.

“Ambassador, ETA at Herrin 3 in six hours.”

Keeping his eyes closed, he scratched his pubic area and replied,

“Understood. What is our current speed?”

“Warp nine Ambassador.”

He farted loudly, the bubbles erupting between his legs like giant effervescence.

“Increase to warp nine point five.”

“Yes Sir. That will make our ETA…four point five hours.”

“Very well. Out.”

He opened one eye and picked up an odd looking item from the side of the bath. It was flesh coloured and almost twenty centimetres long, with a tight, narrow opening at one end. He depressed a small switch on the outside and it began to pulsate. His penis had hardened and he used lubricant from a gland in his neck to coat it before slipping the device over his erection. He sighed and let his body relax as the sensations rolled over him. With a grim smile he muttered,

“This is what you do when a female isn’t available Darnid. Perhaps I should insist you use one of these, at least in public.”

His skin darkened and his testicles emerged from within his body. With four hours to wait, he was determined to enjoy himself for a very long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Dawn found Beverly desperately ill. Jean-Luc eased her from his embrace and took the water cup, but seeing it was empty, he crawled out of the shelter into the rainy morning. Of the girls he saw nothing so he got unsteadily to his feet and walked stooped and painfully to the creek, filling the cup. He made the short journey back to his wife and managed to wake her enough to encourage her to drink, but she would only take a few sips before succumbing once again to sleep. Feeling the heat emanating from her body, he took his top and wet one sleeve, wiping it over her brow. He knew if they didn’t get back to the Enterprise, and very soon, he would lose her.

Once again outside, Jean-Luc stood up and called out,

“Hey! Where are you?”

The hissing of the rain on the thick foliage covered their approach, but when they both emerged, Jean-Luc made sure he smiled. He tried to stand upright, but it was impossible. Every time he tried there was an agonising shard of pain deep in his belly. The girls had painted their bodies with white and ochre. The rain had mixed with the colours making runnels, causing the girls to look grotesque. Across both their brows ran a deep cut, filled with a dark, earthy mass. Jean-Luc could only guess it was all part of their grieving process. He gestured them closer and pointed into the shelter.

“Beverly is very sick. I need to take her to the compound.”

The girls looked at each other then uncomprehendingly at the Ambassador. He sighed shallowly and picked up a stick, gesturing for the girls to follow him into the empty shelter. Just inside, out of the rain, but with enough light to see, he began to draw in the dirt. It was the taller girl who made the connection. She suddenly gripped his hand, stopping what he was doing. He looked up to see her vehemently shaking her head, fear in her eyes. Jean-Luc frowned and said softly,

“No, it’s all right there’s no one there now. It is safe.”

The other girl realised what Jean-Luc was asking and began to cry. Seeing both girls so upset, Jean-Luc left the shelter, gesturing for the girls to accompany him. Once outside he went to Darnid’s bloated body and pointed at it.

“He is dead; he can’t hurt you any more. Take me to the compound.”

Again he began to draw in the muddy ground, but the sudden screech of the smaller girl froze his actions. She drew a stone knife from her belt and plunged it into Darnid’s body. Before Jean-Luc could stop her, she hacked open the corpse from pubis to its gaping throat. His stomach rose and Jean-Luc tried to take a deep breath to gain control, but that caused him to cough. He fell to his knees, wrapping his arms around his chest as he coughed raggedly and wetly. Blood filled his mouth and he abruptly vomited. With eyes streaming with tears, he gasped and heaved, desperately trying to regain control. The gentle hand on his back and the wooden cup pressed to his lips helped as he sipped, eventually calming. As his vision cleared he glanced at the corpse and wished he hadn’t. One of the girls had hacked off Darnid’s genitals and stuffed them in his mouth. Jean-Luc quickly averted his eyes and took the taller girl’s hand. He drew a simple building in the mud then pointed to Beverly’s shelter.

“Please…help me.”

The girls stood, looking down at the kneeling man with sympathy. One went into the shelter, the other helped Jean-Luc to his feet. He waited outside while the taller girl assessed his wife. Within minutes he was joined by both girls and the taller one nodded. Jean-Luc smiled his thanks then gestured for them to follow him back to the empty shelter. There he drew two stick figures carrying another on a stretcher. The girls seemed to understand and spent a few minuted chattering to each other. Having reached some sort of a decision, the smaller girl gripped his shoulder and smiled, then they both left the shelter and disappeared into the jungle. Jean-Luc went and joined his wife, gently waking her. She rose to wakefulness sluggishly and he knew by her clouded eyes that she was in agony.

He wet his hand and wiped it over her fevered brow then tenderly kissed her.

“Beverly, I think I have convinced the girls to help us. If I’m right, they’re going to assist me in getting you to the compound.”

Beverly swallowed and mounted a tremendous effort to keep her pain from her voice.

“Jean-Luc…I don’t think I can make it.”

His eyes darkened and he shook his head.

“No my love, don’t say that. I’ll be with you, I’ll help you.”

With a Herculean effort, Beverly summoned a tender smile.

“I know you will my love, but I think it’s too much. Let’s just wait here…they’ll come looking for us eventually.”

Jean-Luc took her hand and, as he spoke, his voice broke.

“Beverly we don’t have the time. You need help…urgently. If we stay here you will die.”

Beverly began to shake her head, but Jean-Luc wouldn’t have it. He squeezed her hand, tears tracking down his face.

“Beverly please…I can’t just sit here and watch…I have to try. Please my love…please…”

Beverly’s eyes opened and tears slid down her heated skin. She tried to sigh, failed and coughed, the pain making her moan piteously. Jean-Luc gathered her into his arms and held her as she struggled to recover. Eventually her body relaxed and Jean-Luc eased her back down, gently caressing her face. Somehow she found the strength to smile.

“All right my love, we’ll try.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      They waited almost an hour for the girls to return, but their appearance made Jean-Luc smile. Between them they carried a litter. It was made of two boughs, between which was a bed of plaited fronds. The rain had eased to a desultory drizzle, but it was still very hot and humid. Beverly had opted to stay naked and her husband was clad in only his briefs. Jean-Luc gestured for the girls to help him bring Beverly from her shelter. It took time, every movement causing her agony, but eventually they got her on the litter. Jean-Luc picked up one end and the taller girl the other, while the shorter girl led the way. They made the creek first, heading down stream. Jean-Luc remained stooped as he carried his end of the litter, but the strain was tearing at something in his stomach. He ignored the searing pain, gritting his teeth and concentrating on putting one foot after the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   Adele and Tony were sitting in the main body of the runabout while Della and James sat in the cockpit. Tony was asleep.

The tension in the cockpit was slowly rising as they descended through the outer atmosphere. James, having been briefed on how to use the scanners and sensors, sat with his eyes glued to his screens. Della piloted the craft well, but there were some aspects of the engines she was unfamiliar with. Thus they had to vector their approach twice before she could convince herself that the computer had got it right.

They broke through the outer atmosphere and James leaned forward, peering intently. Della’s soft voice broke his concentration.

“Data said he’d inputted the coordinates of the building. We should start there.”

James nodded, bringing up the required information. The computer assimilated the input and altered their trajectory. Della muttered,

“Got it, ETA…seven minutes.”

James stayed silent; his fingers dancing over the console, but his quiet whoop made Della sit up and crane her neck to see his screen.

“You have it?”

“Yep! I can even see the field emanating from the pattern enhancers.”

“Good. Anywhere to land?”

James shrugged.

“We don’t need to land, there’s no one there.”

Della kept her voice even, trying to make James calm down.

“You don’t want to check for any signs your father may have left?”

With a shrug, James shook his head.

“I don’t see the point. Dad would’ve left immediately to look for Mum; I doubt he would have left any messages.”

Della gave that some thought and had to agree with the young man. She nodded and brought the runabout to a halt, several hundred metres above the compound.

“Okay, what are you thinking?”

James inputted some information, waited a few seconds; then re routed the resulting computations to Della’s screen.

“If we start our search in a circular pattern, increasing each pass at the edge of our scanner range, we can cover a large amount of ground in a relatively short time.”

Della considered his plan then nodded. A smile tugging at her face.

“Well done James, that sounds like a good idea. Now…just how sensitive are the scanners? Will they pick up all life forms, or can we discriminate?”

James frowned over his screen then sat back and rubbed his brow.

“I think we can discriminate. Hang on a minute.”

Della sat back, then looked over her shoulder to see Tony sound asleep and Adele standing in the entry way to the cockpit. Her soft voice was calming.

“How are we doing?”

Della smiled and gestured to her brother.

“Not bad so far. James is working out how to fine tune the scanners.”

Before Adele could say anything, James sat back and nodded.

“Okay, I think I’ve got it. Descend to an altitude of seventy metres above ground and begin the search pattern.”

Della gave a curt nod.

“Will do.”

James felt his sister squeeze his shoulder and he turned to smile at her.

“We’ll find them Delly, don’t worry.”

Adele nodded and smiled bravely.

“I know Jim.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     They had travelled almost half a kilometre downstream when they met the confluence of another creek. Jean-Luc remembered it and went to turn onto the new creek, but the taller girl turned her head and frowned.  The shorter girl continued downstream in the original creek and Jean-Luc shook his head and called softly, trying to gain her attention.

She stopped and turned, frowning at him. The taller girl could see he was in significant pain and waded to the bank; Jean-Luc followed and couldn’t stop a groan of agony as their burden was gently laid on the earth. Beverly roused and turned onto her side, her eyes open but glazed and unseeing. Jean-Luc cupped his hands and gathered some water, bringing it to his wife and trying to get her to drink. She took a little, but most of it ran down her injured chin. The smaller girl went to Jean-Luc and pointed downstream. Jean-Luc shook his head, pointing upstream, along the new creek. He sat on the bank and drew the compound again, reiterating his desire, then again pointed upstream. The girls chattered with each other then the taller girl took Jean-Luc’s twig and started to draw. He watched intently as she drew the water courses and he was amazed to see they knew a better way to the building. The creek they were in eventually flowed into a much larger river, which in turn, ran in an arc, quite close to the building. Jean-Luc nodded his understanding then gestured that they should be on their way. The taller girl pointed at Jean-Luc and shook her head, frowning deeply. He thought he understood what she meant and shook his head, smiling.

“I assure you, I’m fine. We should go now.”

He stood and took hold of his end of the litter. The girls looked at each other and shrugged. The taller girl took her end and within minutes they were back in the creek, heading downstream. For an hour they made their way through the water, finally meeting the river. It was flowing quite fast and Jean-Luc could see it was deep in places, but the girls stepped boldly into the water course, seemingly unfazed by the rushing water.

Keeping near the bank, they made their way downstream, Jean-Luc glad they weren’t battling the current. He was beginning to think they might make it when he suddenly experienced searing pain in his stomach. He abruptly vomited, his legs giving way. Although the depth of water was only up to his knees, as he fell, Beverly ended up in the water. She let out a cry of alarm as the taller girl made a grab for her as the current picked up her body. As all three struggled to manoeuvre Beverly to the bank, the litter was swept away. Jean-Luc began to cough, curling up on his side in the shallows, unable to help his wife. Beverly, also lying in the foetal position, moaned continuously as fresh blood flowed around the swollen flesh of her abdominal wound.

The girls could only watch helplessly as the Humans struggled to regain control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     In the hour and a quarter they had been searching, James had stayed silent. The only conversation was the quiet utterances between Adele and Della. The gentle murmurings were beginning to annoy him and he was about to say something when he suddenly stiffened. Adele, constantly watching her brother, stiffened and looked over his shoulder.

“What is it?”

He shook his head.

“I’m not sure…it may be natives.”

Della cast a glance at her screen and frowned.

“What exactly do you have?”

James shrugged in frustration.

“Four life forms…humanoid I think.”

“Can you differentiate?”

“Wait…”

In the tense atmosphere, James did his best to narrow the scan. He sighed and shook his head.

“We need to get closer. Move the ship north west, half a kilometre.”

Della did as he suggested and jumped when he suddenly yelled,

“I’ve got them! Two Human, two native contacts. Keep moving Della, we’re almost on them.”

Through the forward screen, the omnipresent jungle suddenly broke to reveal a river. As they approached, birds took off in fright and several animals left the banks to disappear back into the thick foliage. They aligned the ship with the river and slowly travelled upstream until Adele suddenly pointed,

“There! On the right bank!”

James leaped to his feet, staring intently through the screen. He too pointed and his voice cracked as he shouted,

“Put down Della, it’s them!”

On the ground, it was the girls who heard, over the sound of the rushing river, the gentle rumble of the runabout. They looked up and blanched, letting out cries of horror and fear before immediately bolting into the jungle. Jean-Luc had dragged himself out of the water and was holding Beverly’s head as she attempted to get control of her pain. At the cries of the girls, he looked up at them to see them with their faces raised and their mouths open. He followed their gaze and saw the runabout.

“Beverly they’ve found us!”

He didn’t see the girls’ panicked flight; he was concentrating on helping his wife. Beverly opened her eyes and stared uncomprehendingly at her husband. Jean-Luc could see the confusion in her ravaged eyes so he pointed into the sky and said loudly,

“Look Beverly, they’re here!”

Her eyes sluggishly moved but she had trouble focusing. The noise of the ship was now loud and Jean-Luc could see his son waving at him through the forward screen. He waved back, saying,

“Beverly…it’s James!”

She suddenly went limp in his arms and he looked down at her to find her unconscious. He gently laid her head down and stood, standing as straight as he could. He lifted an arm and waved it, gesturing for the ship to land.

James shouted at Della, waking Tony.

“Land the fucking ship!”

Della snapped back,

“I can’t! There’s nowhere to put down.”

James pounded his fist into the console and would have vented his anger further until Adele’s quiet voice broke the tension.

“Why don’t we get as low to the water as we can?”

Della checked the computer and nodded.

“That would work, I can bring us down to within a metre of the surface, but I can only move to within five metres of the bank.”

James looked down at the river and took a large breath to calm himself.

“That water is running pretty fast…and it looks deep. Do we have any rope on board?”

Della shook her head.

“No.”

James swore softly under his breath and Adele squeezed his shoulder.

“We can form a chain, Maybe Dad can get Mum close enough that way.”

James sighed and shook his head.

“You saw her Delly, she’s hurt and Dad doesn’t look much better either.”

The young woman’s voice firmed.

“We don’t have much choice Jim.”

James nodded, coming to his decision. He looked at Della, determination etched on his face.

“Do it Della.”

Jean-Luc watched as the runabout descended and the aft hatch opened. The craft turned on its axis until the stern was facing him. James and Adele stood just inside and James cupped his hands around his mouth to shout,

“We’re going to form a chain. Can you get Mum over to us?”

Exasperated and very worried, Jean-Luc was about to shake his head, but one look at his wife wiped his reservations out of his mind. He nodded vigorously and stooped to pick Beverly up. The pain this caused took his breath away, but he closed his eyes and continued, ignoring everything but what he had to do. He didn’t look up until he felt the water up to his waist. The current threatened to sweep his feet from under him but he resolutely kept going. Della anchored herself to the hatch with her free arm. She was linked to Adele, who was in the water, her arm linked to James who was the furtherest from the runabout. His toes just scraped the bottom, his hold tenuous. Unable to hold her any more, Jean-Luc eased Beverly into the water, letting the river buoy her. He held her tightly, guiding her across the current, his progress painfully slow.

James went to the absolute limit of his reach and shouted,

“Not far now Dad!”

Jean-Luc looked up, the water now up to his chest. The river bottom was rocky and slippery, twice he misstepped, his head disappearing under the surface, but his grip on his wife never faltered. He came up coughing, bright blood dribbling from his mouth. James kept stretching, his fingers tantalisingly close now. Jean-Luc, felt his feet lift from the bottom and he knew he was out of his depth. As the current took him he lunged, propelling Beverly forward. James caught her outstretched arm and held tight as the swift current took her body and tried to sweep it away. He gritted his teeth and called out,

“Pull me in!”

He was concentrating so fiercely on getting his mother to safety, he never saw his father slip under the water. The current took him quickly as he struggled to come to the surface.

With the help of Della and Adele, James managed to get Beverly back within reach of the open hatch. He gripped her under the arms and together, all three lifted her the metre up into the ship. James and Adele hoisted themselves aboard and it was Adele who saw the knife first. She fell to her knees beside her mother, tears welling,

“My God…James…look…”

James looked down his mother’s body and blanched. He took a deep breath and said quietly,

“You and Della care for her, I’m going back to help Dad.”

He didn’t wait to hear their reply. He lurched to his feet and went to the open hatch, expecting to see his father waiting for him, but there was no one in the water. Frowning, James looked to the bank, then downstream, but there was no sign of his father. He cupped his mouth and yelled,

“Dad? Dad where are you?”

When there was no reply, he rushed back into the ship, making for the cockpit. He activated the scanners and swore loudly.

“Oh shit!”

As he rushed by his sister, she called,

“What’s wrong? Where’s Dad?”

James got to the open hatch and called back,

“He’s been swept downstream! He’s caught in a fallen tree…I’m going to get him. Move the ship when you can.”

He had dived into the river before Adele could stop him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        The rocky bottom was making the river very turbulent. Each time Jean-Luc got close to the surface, he was plunged down again before he could take a much needed breath. He was taken seventy seven metres downstream and, just when he thought he would surely drown, something slammed into his back, driving what precious breath he held from his body. The pressure of the current pinned him against whatever he’d hit making it almost impossible for him to fight against it. Instead he used the current to turn, reaching up with his arms to try to grab something…anything to haul himself to the surface. His hands found some woody protrusions and he clung to them desperately, but his struggle to breathe was lost. His empty lungs screamed for air and the inhalation he took was uncontrolled. Cold water flooded into his lungs and he coughed violently, but even though his vision began to grey, he refused to give up. With his hands gripping what he finally realised were branches, he heaved with all his rapidly waning strength. His body rose, but he was unable to stop the reflex inhalations of water. He felt consciousness begin to fade and he made one last bid for life. He found purchase with his feet and pushed as hard as he could. His head broke the surface but he struggled to clear his lungs of water to take a desperately needed breath. Violently coughing, gagging and vomiting, his grip began to slip. On trembling legs, he pushed up and managed to get his upper chest over a branch. He didn’t notice the deep lacerations on his back, chest and stomach. With his head now dangling, water poured from his mouth and, between gasping, wracking coughs, he took a few life giving breaths. As the oxygen suffused his blood, his vision began to solidify. His limbs and extremities started to tingle and his mind began to clear.

Water, pushed along by the vicious current, slid up his back and over his head to cascade around his shoulders and face. He tried to get more of his torso over the branch, but his abdominal and chest pain was too severe. He knew he had to get free of what he now understood to be a fallen tree, but he was too weak to move. Instead he concentrated on breathing between coughing and vomiting.

When the strong arm went around his shoulders, Jean-Luc cried out and lifted his head, but, over the sound of the rushing water he heard his son’s deep voice.

“It’s me Dad. Hang on; I’m going to help you.”

His ears ringing, Jean-Luc barely heard his son, but he nodded, wishing he could do something to help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 On the runabout Adele and Della had moved Beverly near to the bulkhead. She had been covered with Tony’s blanket and her head rested on his pillow. Still unconscious, Adele was loath to leave her mother, but she knew her brother and father needed her help. Della was already in the cockpit as Adele stood and gently gripped Tony’s shoulder.

“I have to help my brother. Will you watch over my Mum?”

The boy nodded and Adele found a warm smile.

“Thanks Tony.”

She moved to the open hatch to see the ship slowly moving downstream. Della called from the cockpit,

“Can you see them?”

Adele’s rely was instantaneous.

“Yes! About fifteen metres more.”

Della checked her screen and nodded.

“Okay, I’ve got them.”

She manoeuvred the runabout as close to the men as she could. Adele leaned out and yelled,

“James! Can you get to us?”

He took a large breath and called back,

“No…we’re pinned by the current!”

Adele bit her lip before calling,

“Can you get free?”

James nodded.

“I think so, but once we get loose, the current is going to take us…it’s too strong for me to get across with Dad.”

Della joined Adele, cupping her hands and yelling,

“You get free and we’ll follow you downstream until you can get close enough for us to get you both aboard.”

Instead of vocalising his reply, James opted for a simple thumbs up. He took a few deep breaths before wrapping his free arm around his father’s chest and gripping him hard.

As Jean-Luc felt his son’s grip he moaned in agony. James heard him and shouted,

“Dad…what is it?”

Still struggling to breathe, let alone speak, Jean-Luc nevertheless attempted to answer his son. He lifted his head and articulated,

“Broken ribs.”

James didn’t hear the breathy words, but his immediately understood. He swallowed and briefly closed his eyes.

“I’m sorry Dad, I know it hurts, but I have to hold you like this…I have no choice.”

Unable to speak any further, all Jean-Luc could do was nod. James put his mouth near his father’s ear and said loudly,

“I’m going to ease us along the branch until we’re clear. Once the current gets us, I’ll hold you up until we can get aboard the ship.”

Again Jean-Luc nodded his understanding and did his best to brace himself for the pain he knew was coming, but as James increased his grip and began to manoeuvre them along the branch; it was all he could do to not roar in agony.

It took over fifteen minutes to finally get clear of the tree. As the outspread foliage released its grip, the men were swept away, at the mercy of the rushing river.

Standing in the hatchway, Adele yelled,

“They’re free!”

Della, concentrating on piloting the craft, answered the young woman, making sure she kept her voice free of fear or tension.

“Yes, I have them on scanners.”

There was a momentary pause, then Della’s closed her eyes and raised her voice.

“Adele…there’s a waterfall two hundred and thirty metres away. We have to get them on board quickly.”

Adele paled, looking back over her shoulder to say quietly,

“How big?”

Della kept her eyes on her screens.

“Too big…they won’t survive going over.”

“How close can you get to them?”

Della smiled grimly.

“There’s a bend coming up, the river gets quite broad. If they can get into the middle, we’ll have a pretty good chance of picking them up.”

Adele nodded curtly.

“I’ll tell James.”

She cupped her hands and shouted,

“James! Can you hear me?”

He gave a quick thumbs up so Adele continued.

“There’s a bend coming up! Get into the middle of the river! We’ll try to pick you up there!”

Again his upturned thumb appeared and, as Adele watched, James used what strength he had left to work across the current to steer them into the middle.

Della increased speed and overtook them, positioning the runabout over the centre of the flow. She rushed from the cockpit and, without warning, jumped into the water. She reached up quickly and grabbed the ship before she too was swept away. She looked up at Adele and summoned a smile.

“They will be too heavy for you sweetie, I’ll grab them, but you’re going to have to help me get them aboard.”

Adele nodded numbly and looked up to see her brother and father only ten meters away.  Looking back down at Della she saw the woman prepare to grab the quickly moving pair. Just as they were only centimetres from her grasp, an underwater obstacle caused the current to spin them away. James did his best to counter the move and Della lunged. Their hands met and gripped. With Della taking the full load with only one hand anchoring them, the drag soon became almost too much. With a Herculean effort, she heaved, arching her back and pulling with all her might. James waited until he was within reach of the runabout, then let go of Della’s hand to quickly grip the hatchway. Adele, seeing what her brother had done, lay full length on her stomach, reaching down to grab her father under his shoulders. He looked up at her, love and gratitude in his eyes, but his strength had finally deserted him. He gave a helpless whimper and shook his head. Adele smiled and said loudly,

“It’s okay Dad, we’ll get you aboard.”

Della, slightly recovered, managed to heave herself up the metre into the ship. She rested a few seconds before kneeling and taking one of Jean-Luc’s arms. Adele saw what she intended and nodded, taking his other arm. With James lifting from below, they hoisted Jean-Luc on board.

Adele was helping her father to Beverly’s side as James got aboard. Dripping water everywhere, he followed Della to the cockpit and scowled as he perused his screen.

“When were you going to tell me about the bloody waterfall?”

Della let out a wry chuckle and inputted the commands necessary to take them back to the Enterprise.

“I would’ve told you when you needed to know.”

With a snort, James turned to go to his parents, muttering,

“You’re bloody incredible.”

Della smiled and cocked her head saying softly,

“You’re damned right!”

She then asked,

“Computer, what is the time aboard the Enterprise?”

“The time on the Enterprise is oh eight forty three hundred hours.”

With a sigh, Della said sadly,

“Sorry Data.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  The android First Officer stood at attention in front of the desk in the Captain’s Ready Room. Will was seated behind his desk, his usually warm blue eyes devoid of any humour. He looked up at his officer, anger bubbling just under the surface. With an effort he kept his voice soft and controlled.

“Just what were you thinking Data? Were you thinking at all?”

Data recognised the questions as rhetorical and remained silent. Will sighed, rubbed his face with his hands and sat back in his chair.

“You have broken so many regulations…I don’t know where to begin! You do know we’re not even supposed to be in this system.”

Data knew he had to reply.

“Yes Sir.”

“And yet, not only did you authorise a non-sanctioned launch, you aided and abetted a senior officer in contravening Starfleet orders…AND…you allowed Ambassador Picard’s children to go along for the ride! What the hell got into you?”

Data tilted his head and raised his eyebrows.

“James and Adele asked for my help. I found I could not refuse them.”

Exasperated, Will slammed his hand on the desktop.

“But dammit Data…by allowing this…idiocy…to take place you put them in danger! It was bad enough when the Ambassador went down to the surface alone, but sending a Captain, her young son and the Ambassador’s children…Data that’s lunacy!”

Data lowered his head and sighed.

“I understand what you are saying Sir, and I am distressed that I have disappointed you, but the lives of Ambassador and Captain Picard mean more to me than I can adequately articulate. All I can say Sir, is that I was unable to refuse their children’s request for help. I had to do it Sir.”

Will stood, his face stony.

“Very well, you give me no choice but to…”

“Captain Riker to the Bridge.”

Will snapped his mouth closed and marched from his office. The Lieutenant in the Command chair sprang to his feet as Will barked,
“Report.”

“There is a vessel approaching Sir, at high warp, configuration Antorian.”

Will gave a curt nod.

“Hail them.”

There was a moment’s silence before the Ensign at Tactical said softly,

“No response Captain. They can hear us Sir; they’re simply not acknowledging our hail.”

Will scowled.

“Shields up.”

Just then the Ensign at Con said loudly,

“Sir, Captain Mason’s ship is rising from the planet. She is requesting permission to dock in the main Shuttle Bay.”

Will scratched his beard.

“How soon until the Antorian vessel reaches us?”

“Forty-seven minutes Captain.”

“Right. Dock the runabout then…”

Tactical interrupted him.
“Sir, Captain Mason is requesting urgent medical assistance. She has two badly injured aboard.”

Will swung around and barked,

“Does she identify the injured?”

“No Sir.”

He gave a curt nod, lifting his head and calling,

“Sick Bay, medical emergency in the main Shuttle Bay. Two injured incoming.”

“Acknowledged Bridge.”

He turned his attention back to Tactical.

“As soon as the runabout is on board I want full shields and the weapons brought online.”

“Aye Sir.”

He cast a look at his First Officer and said quietly,

“Data, you’re with me, Lieutenant, you have the Bridge, I’ll be in the main Shuttle Bay.”

He ignored the reply from his junior officer as he entered the turbo lift. In silence they made their way to the Shuttle Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Jean-Luc and Adele were kneeling beside Beverly, Adele holding her mother’s hand and gently stroking her face. James knelt beside his father and went to put a hand on his back, but a quick glace at the lacerations stopped him. Instead he put his hand on the man’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

“We’ll soon have her in Sick Bay Dad.”

Jean-Luc nodded, his voice rough and ragged.

“I know, I just hope it will be soon enough.”

James looked down at his mother and grimaced at seeing the blanket tented by the knife handle. He pointed in that direction and asked softly,

“Who did that?”

Jean-Luc sighed, but it brought on a bout of hacking coughing. James wrapped his arm across his father’s shoulders and waited until the spasm passed. When blood dribbled from Jean-Luc’s mouth, James’s alarmed voice made Jean-Luc shake his head.

“Dad!”

“I’m all right son. Just give me a minute.”

Adele looked up, tears in her eyes.

“She’s so hot Dad…and the wound on her face…”

Jean-Luc reached up and gently touched his daughter’s face.

“I know Adele…your mother has suffered significantly during her capture. There was a man…a Fretan called Darnid…he…abused your mother and he was responsible for the knife attack.”

James growled softly,

“Is he dead?”

With a nod, Jean-Luc replied,

“Yes, your mother killed him.”

James’s mouth twisted in a cruel sneer as he ground out,

“Good, saves me the trouble.”

Before any more could be said, Della called from the cockpit,

“We’re about to dock. Stand by.”

The scant minutes required to complete the manoeuvre seemed interminable to the waiting passengers. Tony went to the hatch and was first out as the bright lights of the Shuttle Bay poured in. The large shape of Will Riker filled the hatch as he strode inside with the medical personnel. Seeing that he would be unable to speak to his former Captain, Will stood to one side as the CMO, Doctor Selar, had her patients and their children beamed to Sick Bay. Della caught the hard look Will gave her and offered an apologetic smile, holding up her hand and shrugging.

“I know…you’re pretty pissed.”

Will’s voice was loud and filled with anger.

“You’re damned right I’m pissed! What sort of Captain are you? What you did was utterly outrageous! God…you disobeyed so many orders…how the hell am I supposed to tell Command about this?”

Della sighed, shrugging again.

“Do you have to tell them?”

Will bared his teeth.

“Of course I have to tell them! What sort of a Captain do you think I am?”

He was about to say more when a call came from the Bridge. The voice was urgent.

“Bridge to Captain Riker!”

“Riker here.”

“Captain we are being scanned by the Antorian vessel.”

Will frowned.

“Through our shields?”

“Yes Sir!”

“Understood. Riker to LaForge.”

“LaForge here Captain.”

“Geordi an Antorian ship is scanning us through our shields. What can you do about it?”

“I can remodulate them Sir…and augment them with additional warp power, but I’m going to have to take it from other systems.”

“Do it. Riker out.”

Will turned to leave but Della caught his sleeve.

“Did you say and Antorian vessel?”

Will nodded.

“Yes.”

“I think I may know who’s aboard that ship. Have you hailed them?”

Will grunted.

“Yes and we were ignored.”

Della grimaced.

“May I accompany you to the Bridge?”

Will levelled a speculative gaze at the woman, then gave a curt nod.

“Very well.”

As he left the runabout he gestured to Data.

“You go to Sick Bay Data, keep me informed.”

“Aye Sir.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      As Della and Will entered the Bridge, the young Lieutenant at Tactical turned and said tightly,

“They’re trying something Sir…I think they’re attempting to lock onto two targets to beam off the ship.”

Will scowled, looking out the forward viewscreen to see the Antorian ship, halted off their post quarter.

“Location of targets?”

“Sick Bay Sir.”

Della took two forward steps then spun around to face Will.

“They’re trying to take Ambassador Picard and his wife!”

Will whipped his head around and barked,

“Engineering, we need more power to the shields!”

The voice of Geordi LaForge showed his strain.

“Unless I start shutting down key systems Captain, you’ve got all I can give.”

Will growled then lifted his head.

“Evacuate all non-essential decks and shut off life support to those decks. Geordi, take power from wherever you need it, but strengthen the shields!”

He ignored the reply to bark at tactical,

“Hail them!”

The Lieutenant shook his head.

“No response Captain.”

Will glowered,

“Right! Send this. Unless you cease your efforts to abduct members of this ship’s compliment, I will be forced to fire on your ship.”

The bolt of bright blue energy that detonated against the Enterprise’s shields made the ship shudder. Will muttered a curse then said succinctly,

“Phasers, full intensity. Fire.”

Deadly orange beams lanced out from the graceful ship, impacting on the Antorian’s shields. The ship seemed to stagger, then return fire. As Will issued orders to continue firing, the Ensign at Con spun around in her seat and called,

“Captain Mason, incoming message for you. It is marked urgent and is encrypted at level five.”

Will, on hearing the exchange, gave Della a long look, then pointed to his Ready Room. Della, understanding his meaning, left the Bridge immediately and took her seat behind Will’s desk. She activated the computer and within seconds the authorisation protocol appeared.

“Mason, Della. Authorisation Beta Epsilon, three two nine.”

“Authorisation code accepted.”

“Enable.”

The face of an old acquaintance appeared just as the Enterprise shuddered under another blow. Della gripped the edge of the desk and smiled grimly.

“I don’t have times for pleasantries Derek.”

The man nodded.

“Understood. We have just been informed the Antorian Ambassador, Tar Taz, has been involved in the abduction of a Starfleet officer, for use as a bargaining chip in an attempt to destabilise the Federation. Also, Tar Taz has been working with a select group within the Romulan Empire to overthrow the ruling body of Antoria to take power for himself. He was then going to annex Antoria as a Romulan protectorate. I don’t need to tell you of the ramifications to the Federation if he succeeds.”

Della shook her head.

“No, you don’t.”

“The Ambassador left Earth two days ago, destination unknown, but our sources tell us there have been several key components on both Antoria and Romulus who have been removed from the game. I am aware of your current whereabouts and I would suggest you may have a visit from Tar Taz in the near future. As his ship is equipped with the latest Romulan technology, my advice is to be very cautious. He has too much at stake to cut his losses and run. He will probably attempt to either abduct Ambassador Picard and his wife, or kill them both.”

Della closed her eyes as the ship lurched and the lights momentarily dimmed. She smiled at the screen and looked over at the door.

“We are, at the moment, going toe to toe with an Antorian ship. My guess is that Tar Taz has decided to play his hand.”

“Understood. Do you require reinforcements?”

Della shrugged.

“I really don’t know, I’ll let Captain Riker know it’s an option.”

“Understood.”

The ship tilted alarmingly and Della nearly slipped from her chair. Her contact gave a concerned look then sat up and nodded.

“Good luck Captain, Garrity out.”

On her way from the desk to the door the ship lurched again and Della was thrown off her feet, cracking her head against the wall. She was wiping at a trickle of blood as she entered the Bridge to see smoke, debris and dimmed lighting.

The ships had left orbit and were locked in a deadly game of cat and mouse as they sought to out manoeuvre each other. Will, his face covered with blood from a nasty scalp wound, strode to tactical and said quietly,

“Put some distance between us…enough for us to use our quantum torpedoes.”

The Lieutenant nodded, sweat running down his face, he frowned and shook his head.

“They match everything we do Captain. I can’t seem to shake them.”

Will lifted his hand to squeeze the young man’s shoulder.

“It’s okay Michael, do what you can. Are they still trying to lock on to their targets in Sick Bay?”

“Yes Sir.”

Will nodded and looked up at the ceiling, just as the Enterprise shook under the force of another hit.

“Riker to Selar.”

“Lieutenant Fraser, Captain. I’m sorry, but Doctor Selar is in surgery.”

“Acknowledged. I need to put force fields around Ambassador and Captain Picard.”

The voice of Fraser shook slightly as he replied,

“I’m afraid that’s impossible Captain. Both the Ambassador and his wife are undergoing extensive surgery at the moment.”

Will muttered a curse and sighed.

“Very well, Riker out. Riker to LaForge.”

The harassed voice of Geordi answered.

“LaForge here.”

Will smiled, knowing his chief engineer was doing all he could to protect his ship.

“Geordi is it possible to isolate all of Sick Bay with a force field strong enough to stop the Antorians beaming anybody from the facility?”

The ship staggered again as Geordi responded.

“Maybe Captain, give me five minutes.”

“Make it two! Riker out.”

In a few long strides, Will went back to the command well. He stood behind the helm and sneered at their adversary.

“I’m getting very tired of this game. Come to heading three, eight point five, mark nine point seven and engage at maximum warp. That will take us close by the Antorian ship. When we pass, I want a concentrated burst of phaser fire from all phasers, aimed at her nacelles.”

“Aye Captain.”

“Engage!”

The manoeuvre was executed flawlessly, but the Enterprise took some telling blows as she passed the Antorian ship, however, Will’s plan was successful. Enough damage was inflicted to slow the other ship, allowing the Enterprise to put some distance between them. Will allowed one minute to pass before saying quietly,

“Let me know when we are far enough away to use the torpedoes.”

He only had fifteen seconds to wait.

“Now Sir.”

With a smile of grim satisfaction, Will straightened and said firmly,

“Quantum torpedoes, full spread. Fire.”

Everyone on the Bridge looked through the thinning smoke to watch eight bright blue dots of lethal energy twinkle their way across space. The Antorian ship made a desperate attempt to avoid the oncoming harbingers of death, but it was futile. The torpedoes punched straight through the weakened shields and annihilated themselves against the Antorian ship’s hull. To the watching eyes, the enemy ship seemed to expand before disintegrating in a bright white and yellow ball. With their inertial dampeners damaged, Will opened a ship wide channel and barked,
“Brace for impact!”

The growing shock wave travelled out from the explosion, rapidly gaining speed. It hit the Enterprise, rolling her over twice in a hammer like blow. Everyone was thrown off their feet, but, over the sounds of several blaring alarms, Will’s steady voice was heard.

“Damage report.”

The Lieutenant at tactical hoisted himself to his feet, cradling an obviously broken arm. He brushed burnt remnants from his console, tapped in a few commands then said with as much authority as he could muster,

“Warp engines are down, but we have impulse power. Shields are at thirty one percent. Hull breaches on decks eighteen and twenty-two and the saucer section couplings have been compromised. We are venting plasma, but life support is stable. That’s all I can tell you for now Captain. Several sensors are off line.”

Will nodded, then said quietly,

“Casualties?”

“So far…two hundred and nineteen injured, thirty-one dead Sir.”

He nodded his thanks then lifted his head.

“Bridge to Engineering.”

When there was no reply, Will looked at the Lieutenant. He checked his console and shook his head.

“I’m sorry Captain; intra-ship communications are down.”

With a long sigh, Will said,

“Lieutenant, get down to Engineering and tell Mr.LaForge to get the communications up as soon as possible.”

“Yes Sir.”

Della took a look around the damaged Bridge and sighed.

“Permission to go to Sick Bay, Captain?”

Will nodded tiredly.

“Granted, and tell Data to come up here will you.”

With a nod, Della smiled.

“I’ll let you know how things are going.”

“Thanks.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Sick Bay had weathered the battle fairly well, although there was some damage. Every bed was occupied and Della knew triage was taking place in the available cargo bays. The harried staff paid her little notice once she had refused treatment for her head wound. Having ascertained that Selar would be in surgery for some time yet, and that Jean-Luc was being operated on by the duty Doctor, Della made her way to Selar’s office, only to find Data. He rose to his feet, his golden eyes clear and sparkling.

“Hello Data, I have a message from Captain Riker.”

The android nodded.

“I am to return to the Bridge.”

With a broad smile, Della nodded. Then her smile faltered.

“Data I’m sorry we didn’t get back in time. Are you in trouble?”

Data lowered his head, but Della caught a glimpse of a ghost of a rueful smile.

“Let us just say my Captain is not very pleased with me at the moment, but I knew the risks when I agreed to help the Picard children. I am fully prepared to take the consequences of my actions.”

Della sighed and gently gripped his upper arm.

“Still…it seems unfair to punish you for doing what you did. After all, we have both the Ambassador and his wife back. That has to count for something.”

His smile was a small one, but it exuded warmth.

“Whatever punishment Captain Riker deems fit for me is a small price to pay compared to my joy at having Ambassador and Captain Picard back on board. I cannot tell you how much they mean to me Captain Mason…but surely you face censure for your actions as well. I cannot imagine Captain Riker would be pleased by what you have done, regardless of the outcome.”

Della sighed, her shoulders slumping.

“You’re right of course; it’s difficult for him though. He feels like you do about the Picards, but as Captain of this ship, his hands are tied. He may not want to punish any of us, but Starfleet regulations are quiet clear. We stepped over the line and it’s his duty to see us punished for what we did. I don’t envy him…not one bit.”

Data nodded thoughtfully then turned slightly to pick up a PADD from the desk. He offered it to Della.

“The treating Doctors recorded the injuries suffered by both the Ambassador and the Captain. I will inform Captain Riker.”

With a smile, Della nodded.

“Thanks Data, I’ll wait here.”

With a curt nod, Data left. Della went to the replicator for a coffee, but the unit was off line. With an irritated sigh, she sank into a chair and activated the PADD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                             Adele finally let go of her brother’s hand and looked at the opaqued viewport. In the silence of their cabin, she swallowed to wet her dry mouth and said quietly,

“I think it’s stopped.”

James stood, smiling to himself as Adele stood and took hold of his sleeve. He turned and grinned, gently disengaging her hand.

“I’m just going to clear the ports.”

She nodded silently, wrapping her arms around herself. James pressed the appropriate control and the viewports cleared to show nothing but innocuously empty space.

“What do you think happened?”

James turned to his sister and shrugged.

“Judging by the last hit we took, we either destroyed the other ship, or we’ve both been knocked to a standstill. We’re not moving, I think we’re dead in space.”

Adele sidled up to her brother and took his hand.

“I don’t like this Jim. First Doctor Selar orders us out of Sick Bay and then we’re told to stay in our quarters while the ship gets blasted from pillar to post. I reckon we should get to Sick Bay…I want to know how Mum and Dad are.”

James looked down at his sister and smiled.

“We’ve other options Delly.”

He lifted his head and called,

“James Picard to Sick Bay.”

Silence was the only reply. Adele squeezed his hand, her voice shaking.

“No intra ship communication. I wonder just how badly the ship is damaged.”

James pursed his lips and snorted.

“I think we just ran out of options. Come on, let’s go to Sick Bay.”

As they approached the door, it opened to reveal Deanna. She had her son in her arms. With a smile she asked,

“Where are you going?”

James returned the smile and said,

“Sick Bay.”

Deanna frowned.

“Are either of you hurt?”

James shook his head.

“No we just want to know how our parents are.”

Deanna’s eyes widened.

“Parents? Your mother is aboard?”

Adele nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes! Dad rescued her.”

That brought a deep frown.

“And they’re in Sick Bay? Why?”

James sighed, irritated that they should be delayed.

“Because they were both injured on the planet. Look Aunt Deanna, we really have to go.”

The Counsellor held up her hand.

“I don’t think so James. Standing orders during red alert are for all non essential personnel to stay in their quarters until the alert is cancelled.”

Adele shrugged.

“I think it has been…look.”

Deanna turned to see the optic fibre strips along the wall were unlit. She sighed and shook her head.

“That means nothing. Many of the ship’s systems have been damaged. It could be that the auxiliary lighting has been affected. You should wait until you get the all clear from the Bridge.”

Adele shrugged.

“But the intra ship comm. system is down.”

James was rapidly growing tried of this sparring. He gave an uncompromising look at his Aunt and grabbed his sister’s hand.

“We’re going Aunt Deanna.”

Deanna, seeing the look of determination so reminiscent of his father on the young man’s face, sighed in capitulation.

“Oh very well, we’ll come with you.”

As they walked, Adele asked softly,

“Do you know what happened?”

Deanna frowned.

“You mean with the battle?”

Adele nodded.

“Uh huh.”

With a shake of her head, Deanna shrugged.

“No.” 

 

 

 

        

 

 

 

                            Will glanced up as Data exited the turbo lift. The Ensign answering his question waited until she had his attention again. His eyes found hers and she continued,

“At full impulse, we can reach Earth in two weeks. Mr.LaForge says the warp engines won’t be on line for eighteen hours, at least.”

Will sighed, gesturing Data to come to him.

“How long to the nearest Star Base?”

“Longer than our journey to Earth Sir. This region of space is fairly remote.”

Will ran his fingers through his hair, wincing as he made contact with his scalp laceration. His fingers came away bloody.

“All right. Helm, set course for Earth, full impulse. Engage.”

Data waited patiently until Will looked at him.

“How are they?”

Data’s face showed his concern.

“They are both badly injured Sir, but Captain Picard has the worst of the injuries.”

Will gave a curt nod.

“Go on.”

“Ambassador Picard has several broken ribs and a lacerated lung. He has an abdominal rupture and a torn spleen. His right kidney has been severely damaged and he has a fracture in his right arm. Captain Picard has been the victim of a brutal, sustained sexual assault with accompanying severe internal injuries. She has a deep bite to her face, broken nose and a particularly vicious intimate injury. She has been stabbed with a twenty centimetre knife in the lower abdomen, resulting in significant severe injury to several organs. She has a severe infection that is compromising her body’s ability to heal and her right wrist has been badly broken.”

Briefly closing his eyes, Will sighed, muttering under his breath,

“Bloody hell!”

He then looked at Data, swallowing his anguish.

“I take it they’re both still in surgery?”

Data nodded.

“Yes Sir.”

“Prognosis?”

With a frown, Data shook his head.

“It is good news and iffy news Captain. Doctor Selar expects Ambassador Picard to make a complete recovery, but Captain Picard’s injuries might prove difficult to treat.”

“Because of the infection?”

Data nodded.

“Yes Sir, but that is not all. The intimate injury I mentioned may be beyond Selar’s ability to heal, at least here on the Enterprise.”

Will frowned and lowered his voice.

“Can you be more specific Data? What is the nature of the injury?”

Lowering his own voice, Data muttered,

“Captain Picard has suffered a near complete severing of her clitoris. It was done with a none-too-sharp instrument.”

Will closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Shit!”

Tense moments passed before Will gathered himself.

“Okay Data, thanks. I want you to go down to Engineering to help Geordi. We need the warp engines ASAP.”

Data nodded.

“Very well Captain.”

As Data left, Will went to Tactical and smiled at the harried Lieutenant.

“Can we transmit yet?”

The young man shook his head.

“No Sir, but we’re working on it.”

The tired man smiled again.

“Okay, thanks. Keep working on it.”

The Lieutenant caught Will just as he was about to walk away. Keeping his voice soft, the young man said,

“Sir, everything that can be done is in hand. Why don’t you go to Sick Bay and have that head wound seen to?”

Will was about to refuse the suggestion when he realised he might get a first hand report from one of the Picard’s treating Doctors. He shot the Lieutenant a wide smile and nodded.

“Good idea Harrison. I think I’ll do just that. You have the Bridge.”

The young man stood a little straighter.

“Thank you Sir.”

 

 

 

 

                         Della was mildly surprised when Deanna, James and Adele all trooped into the office. By the look on James’s face, she knew he’d been given short shrift by the medical staff. She smiled up with sympathy and said wryly,

“Too busy to answer your questions?”

James snorted and leant his back against the wall, folding his arms across his chest.

“Not one of them would answer me.”

Deanna sighed.

“James, be reasonable. The ship has been in a battle and there are a lot of casualties, the staff are very busy. Your parents are receiving adequate care; you just have to be patient.”

James was about to argue when the tall shape of Captain Riker appeared in the doorway. Behind him was an unamused Doctor. Deanna gasped at seeing his bloody face.

“Captain, if you would just come and sit on a bio bed…”

Will took in the assemblage and smiled.

“I’m going to ask for an update on your parents. Care to join me?”

Adele was on her feet immediately and James joined her at the door. The young man grinned at his Uncle, gratitude clear in his eyes.

“Lead on.”

Deanna held her tongue, she felt, even with her diminished empathic abilities, due to the birth of their son, that Will was all right, despite his gory appearance.

Once the big Captain was seated on the bio bed, the Doctor began to heal his wound. It took but a few minutes and the grateful man accepted a wet cloth to wash his face. James, growing impatient, said to the Doctor,

“How are our parents?”

The dark medico raised an eyebrow and Will elaborated,

“These are James and Adele Picard.”

“Oh. Well as far as I know, your father is due out of surgery any minute. As for your mother, I don’t expect her to be out for a while yet.”

Just as he finished speaking, three medical personnel appeared with a gravi bed. On it was an unconscious Jean-Luc Picard. Will, seeing Deanna step forward, slid off the bio bed and gestured across the room.

“Take him into my private room.”

The duty Doctor raised a weary smile.

“I’m sorry Captain, but your room already had three patients in it.”

Will frowned.

“Then what do you intend to do with Ambassador Picard?”

The tired Doctor sighed.

“He can rest here in Sick Bay until he regains consciousness. Once we’re certain he’s stable, he can be discharged to his quarters. We will have staff visit him regularly for regen treatments and analgesia.”

Adele took her father’s hand as he was transferred onto the bio bed Will had just vacated.

She frowned down at her father then raised worried eyes to the Doctor.

“Is he going to be all right?”

The woman smiled.

“Yes. He’ll be sore and sorry for a few days and he’s going to need regen treatments for a while, but yes, he’s going to be just fine.”

Will smiled and sighed.

“That’s great news. Can you tell us anything about Captain Picard?”

The Doctor shook her head.

“Not really, but once the Ambassador is settled I intend to go and help Doctors Selar and Masterton with the surgery. If you’d like to wait, I may have some news for you soon.”

The tall Captain smiled and nodded.

“That would be great, thanks.”

Within minutes Jean-Luc had been settled and the staff moved away, intent on other cases. Will procured seats for everyone then smiled at his wife, holding out his arms. She put Matthew in his safe hold and smiled as their son waved an uncoordinated arm. Adele was distracted by the baby, but James kept his gaze on his father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Unlike the blow to his head which had rendered him unconscious and therefore put his brain to sleep, the drugs that had been used to obtain his current unconscious state only dulled his mind. As he slowly rose out of the fog, he began to dream for the first time in many weeks. He became aware of a feeling of vague disquiet that quickly grew. What was merely disturbing, rapidly became terrifying. Horrible, obscene nightmares assailed him, making him scream in his mind. All the nightmares he’d avoided by using the drug now visited him tenfold.

Trapped in a drug induced haze, there was no escape from the terror. He suffered in outward silence, but in his mind he shrieked for mercy.

It was Deanna who realised something was very wrong. She had gone to the only functioning replicator in Sick Bay to get drinks for everyone, when she suddenly winced and held her head. Will noticed and called softly,

“Deanna? What is it?”

Abandoning her quest for refreshments, she took three unsteady steps, trying to focus on the source of her pain. Will was on his feet immediately, handing Adele his son as he strode to his wife, gently gripping her shoulders and trying to see under her lowered brow.

“Dee?”

She suddenly lifted her head and Will was stunned to see tears streaming down her face. “Oh Will…”

Growing frantic, Will gently shook her.

“What is it?!”

She gasped loudly and pointed to Jean-Luc, just as the alarm on his bed went off. James and Adele shot to their feet as a Doctor came at the run. Will helped Deanna walk to the bio bed as she managed shakily,

“He’s having terrible nightmares…Oh God…wake him up! Quickly…wake him up!”

The Doctor barked at the nurse by his side.

“Pentorol!”

Deanna shook her head.

“NO! Don’t sedate him further…he needs to wake up!”

The Doctor shook her head.

“We can’t wake him yet…it’s too soon. He’ll be in agony if we wake him too early.”

Deanna was having great trouble forming her words as she was assailed by Jean-Luc’s terror. She shook her head again, holding onto Will to keep herself upright.

“You don’t understand. If you sedate him further he will have no chance of waking up! He’s terrified…the nightmares will kill him. He has to wake up!”

Will stared at the Doctor and said quietly, but forcefully,

“I’m ordering you to wake him!”

The Doctor gave an exasperated wave of her hand.

“You can’t issue such an order! Look, at this stage of his recovery we won’t be able to adequately control his pain. He needs several more hours of unconsciousness.”

James came around the bed and pointed to the monitor above the bed. Brain activity, heart and respiration rates, as well as blood pressure were all in the red zone.

“You have two choices. Either he wakes up in pain, or he dies in terror.”

The Doctor looked at the monitor then lowered her head and said quietly,

“Hastin.”

The nurse loaded a hypospray and slapped it into the Doctor’s hand. She administered the drug and Jean-Luc suddenly stiffened. Then his face crumpled into a rictus of agony and his mouth opened in a roar of pain. Another hypo was given to the medico and delivered into Jean-Luc’s neck, He took a large breath and the Doctor grabbed his shoulders, saying loudly,

“Ambassador Picard…listen to me! I have just given you the strongest analgesic I can. For the next few hours you will have to bear your pain. I’m sorry; I had no other option or choice.”

He snapped his mouth closed and gritted his teeth, but he couldn’t stop the moan from escaping. James replaced the Doctor and said quietly,

“It’s okay Dad, we’re with you.”

All who stood by the bed could see his struggle to gain control. Minutes went by before he swallowed and took a shaky breath and opened his eyes. The first person he saw was James.

“Hi Dad.”

Jean-Luc some how summoned a smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. When he spoke his voice was ragged and very deep.

“Hello.”

Adele went to the other side of the bed and took her father’s hand.

“We had to wake you up Dad, you were having terrible nightmares.”

He tried to nod, but failed. Instead he sighed.

“Indeed I was.”

Will, seeing that Deanna was still suffering by feeling her former Captain’s pain, looked down at Jean-Luc and said quietly,

“It’s good to see you Sir, but Deanna and I have to go. I’ll come back later.”

Jean-Luc managed a nod this time, just as a nurse appeared with a cool cloth. Adele took it and gently wiped the sweat from her father’s face. Jean-Luc closed his eyes in gratitude and when he again opened them, Della was standing at the foot of the bed. Jean-Luc tried to lift his head but failed. Seeing his difficulty, Della moved closer to the bed head.

“You’re still here.”

Della raised a smile.

“Yep.”

“Why?”

Before Della could answer, James said quietly,

“Don’t you remember Dad? Della helped rescue you and Mum.”

At the mention of his wife, Jean-Luc struggled to sit up. Alarms went off and two nurses appeared, gently forcing Jean-Luc down onto his back.

“Please Ambassador, you must lie quietly.”

It was the pain that defeated Jean-Luc. Gasping, he lay down and closed his eyes. His gravelly voice made Della wince.

“How is she?”

Adele squeezed his hand, saying,

“We don’t know yet, but Doctor Farrin said she might know something soon.”

His strength rapidly waning, Jean-Luc swallowed and managed,

“How long?”

Adele and James looked at each other in confusion. It was Della who answered.

“Several hours Jean-Luc. You were in surgery for just over three hours. We expect Beverly to be in the operating suite for some time yet.”

“Prognosis?”

Della smiled.

“You’re going to be fine. We’re not sure about Beverly. Most of her injuries should respond well, but there is one that Selar thinks may be better treated on Earth.”

Adele wiped his face again and Jean-Luc tried to relax, but he needed to know more about his wife.

“Which injury?”

Della gave a worried look at the kids before sighing.

“Ah…it’s one of her more…personal…injuries.”

Jean-Luc gave a nod of understanding before a nurse appeared. She swabbed the crook of Jean-Luc’s left arm and inserted a cannula into the raised vein. She then attached a bag of fluids to a pole and connected it to the cannula.

Jean-Luc looked up at him and he smiled.

“This is a constant feed of analgesic Ambassador. It won’t completely ease your pain, but it will help.”

Jean-Luc smiled his gratitude and, as he felt the drug do its work, he sighed. Adele squeezed his hand and asked softly,

“Any better Dad?”

He nodded, finding his voice.

“Yes.”

Seeing that he was feeling a little more relaxed, James and Adele took seats either side of his bed. Della went to the replicator, soon returning with a tray.

“Here, it’s going to be a long wait.”

The Picard children accepted the hot drinks with thanks and settled down with their father to wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       Harry Pickford was in his flat, staring intently at his computer screen. The Romulan on the screen was furtive, his eyes darting to and fro as sweat appeared on his brow.

“I have news.”

Harry smiled enigmatically and lifted his pale eyebrows.

“Really? What kind of news?”

The Romulan shook his head.

“Oh no Human…what will you give me in return?”

Harry’s smile grew.

“Oh come now Rellun, you know that depends entirely on what you tell me.”

The nervous alien scratched at his chin and flicked away some sweat. His eyes narrowed and he hissed,

“I’m risking my life by talking to you! If anyone finds out, I’m a dead man!”

Harry shrugged.

“I’m not forcing you to talk to me Rellun, in fact…”

Harry lifted his hand and hovered it over the console.

“I can terminate this link now if you’d prefer.”

The Romulan shot up his hands, his voice strained.

“NO!”

Harry’s smile never wavered.

“Well then?”

“You fucking varoul!”

Harry said nothing, merely waiting.

The Romulan let out a plosive breath and his shoulders slumped.

“There has been a battle. The Antorian Ambassador’s ship has been destroyed and the Enterprise is damaged.  Two Romulan ships have been dispatched to capture the Enterprise and bring her back to Romulus…or destroy her if she won’t surrender.”

Harry sat back, fingering the blond stubble on his chin.

“Interesting, Rellun.”

The Romulan wiped again at his brow, the pupils of his eyes dilating.

“What will you give me?”

Harry’s enigmatic smile gave way to a predatory grin.

“I take it you’d rather drugs…not information?”

Rellun almost barked.

“Damn you…YES!”

“Very well, there will be a kilo of cosmic dust delivered to the usual place in three days.”

Before Rellun could say anything, Harry held up his head.

“Oh by the way…be warned Rellun my friend. This batch is very potent.”

He barely saw the nod before the connection was severed. Harry sat back and smiled up at the ceiling. He sighed in satisfaction then sat forward to open a channel to Starfleet Command.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                             Upon entering their quarters, Deanna went immediately to her chair and sat heavily, cradling her head in her hands. Will deposited Matthew in his crib then joined his wife.

“Can you still feel him?”

She gave a weary nod.

“Yes, but it is muted. Thank God my empathic abilities are limited at the moment.”

Will nodded thoughtfully, then asked,

“But they will come back soon, won’t they?”

Deanna lifted her head and smiled.

“Yes my love, when Matthew is about six months old. It’s for protection…for both Matthew and me. He’s got to mature a little before he can cope with my intrusion, and I need to recover from his birth before I am inundated with his emotions.”

Will grinned.

“Fair enough.”

Then he sobered.

“What the hell was going on with Ambassador Picard?”

With a sigh, Deanna sat back, resting her head on the backrest. She plexed for a few seconds while gathering her thoughts.

“I’m not really sure Will. I’ve never encountered anything like it before.”

The big man scratched his beard.

“But the Ambassador’s had nightmares before….after the Borg…”

Deanna nodded, lifting a hand to silence her husband.

“Yes he has and you’re right, after his assimilation by the Borg he had horrendous nightmares, but they were nothing compared with what I sensed from him just now.”

“So what then?”

Deanna scowled, rubbing her temples.

“I don’t know! It was as if his mind was out of control, like he was drowning in every bad experience he’s ever had…multiplied a thousand times.”

Will sat back, stretched out his long legs and put his feet on the low table.

“Could you make any sense of it? Did you recognise anything?”

Deanna shrugged.

“No, not really, there was just an overwhelming sense of terror. I’m telling you Will, if he hadn’t been woken, he would have either died, or entered some sort of irretrievable catatonic state.”

Will looked aghast and gasped.

“It was that bad?”

Deanna gave a sad nod.

“Worse actually.”

“Well what the hell could have brought it on? Would the trauma of the last few years have done it? After all we all believed Beverly was dead, and by association, thought the Ambassador was a sad old fool for not accepting her death. Would that have done it?”

With a savage shake of her head, Deanna stood and began to pace.

“No, certainly not! Will, Ambassador Picard has one of the strongest minds I’ve ever encountered in a Human. He’s utterly clinical in his thinking, almost glacial. The only times I ever knew him to deviate from that mindset was when he was thinking about Beverly…and later, his children. I simply can’t believe he would allow this to happen! He has more control than that.”

Will sighed expansively.

“Well something’s amiss.”

Deanna smiled wryly.

“Do tell. I think I may have a talk to James and Adele. Maybe they can shed some light on this.”

Matthew’s gentle cries emanated from the nursery. Will stood and patted Deanna’s shoulder.

“I’ll get him.”

He was back within minutes with a freshly changed baby in his arms. Deanna took him and settled down to feed him. As she watched Matthew latch on to her nipple, she sighed.

“You realise of course that the Ambassador will have to remain awake.”

Will frowned.

“Christ…that’s going to be hard. He’s in terrible pain; sleep would be the best thing for him right now.”

“I know, but I think those nightmares will come back if he sleeps.”

“Shit.”

Deanna looked up at her husband and said quietly,

“You’d better go down to Sick Bay and let his Doctor know.”

The tall man stood. With a nod, he turned for the door.

“I’ll go up to the Bridge after. Will you be okay?”

Deanna mustered a wan smile.

“Yes my love, we’ll be fine.”

With a nod, Will left. Deanna did what she could to assemble her mental barriers, but Jean-Luc’s pain seeped through. She sighed, then frowned, lifting her head to say softly,

“Computer, inform me when James and Adele Picard return to their quarters.”

“Acknowledged.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      The Bridge resembled little of its usual pristine self. There were still bits of debris littering the floor and parts of the ceiling were missing. Several consoles were inoperable and the staff worked diligently at effecting repairs.

Will went to Tactical, smiling a greeting at the young female Ensign.

“How are we doing?”

The Ensign sighed.

“Well Captain, we’re doing so so. We still can’t transm