The woman sat on the rock, as she did at the end of each day, and quietly viewed her surroundings. On her lap was a stone, flat sided and slightly abrasive. Her hands worked rhythmically, stroking the shaft of wood back and forth over the stone. The spear tip had already been hardened in the fire, now a sharpness was being created at the tip. She didn't know why she did it, or how she knew what to do. It was the same with everything in her life. Without memory, or communication, the woman went about her days and nights, living in solitude in the cave behind her, something she had done for a very long time.
On this evening, an odd sound caught her attention. A whine, a roar approaching from behind the mountain, caused the woman to lift her head and watch. It never occurred to her to be concerned, she did not know how. Suddenly something new came into view. She had never seen anything like it before. She watched it stoically as it streaked overhead, smoke and flame trailing in it's wake. Over the river it went, it's altitude ever decreasing, clipping the tops of the tallest trees and disappearing behind the forest. She lowered her head to resume her task, when a loud noise shattered the gentle evening. Shortly thereafter, smoke smudged the sky. The woman cocked her head, listening, then collected up her things and entered the cave to retire for the night. It didn't enter her mind that something unusual had happened, she went about her normal evening rituals. The last thing she thought before sleep claimed her, was more meat was needed. She thought this in pictures.

 

 

 

In the gathering darkness, five kilometres from the cave, silence descended. A small craft lay, totally ruined and gently burning, providing light for the unpleasant scene around it. Three bodies were evident, one festooning a tree, all unconscious. Two women, one with dark, curly long hair, the other with striking red hair and a bald man, their uniforms slowly disintegrating on their bodies, as they lay unprotected, revealing injuries and their soft skin to the elements. The craft had skipped twice across an eerily coloured lake, the missing front screen allowing hot liquid to enter in a fine spray, soaking the occupants. Now this liquid was eating their clothing. It would soon attack the skin.
The red haired woman on the ground woke first, the stinging of her skin hastening her wakening. Not understanding what was happening, she did what was instinctive and found a small creek nearby and plunged into it, scrubbing herself thoroughly. She then returned to the crash site and dragged the man to the creek and after washing him, went in search of the other woman. It was her moaning that eventually made her presence known. As gently as she could the woman in the tree was lowered to the ground and dragged to the creek to be washed. The man lay where she had left him, still unconscious. Making her companions as comfortable as possible, the woman with the beautiful red hair lay down and wondered, in her shock, where they were.
She soon began to shiver. The three people were naked, even their boots had been etched away by the corrosive liquid. Rousing herself, she moved her companions together and took position beside the man, hoping their combined body warmth would be sufficient to ward of the coldness of night.

 

 

 

The night passed as it usually did for the woman in the cave. She awoke, always at sunrise, and completed her ablutions quickly. A simple meal, then she was ready for what was necessary. On this morning, she would go beyond the smelly lake to hunt the stripey animals she knew would be in that area. They were easy to hunt, their skin made good clothes and their meat was soft and tasty. She selected the weapons she would need, her last action was to put a club through the loop of her belt... that she always took. Dressed in soft leather skins, she was warm and comfortable and perfectly camouflaged for hunting. She left her cave and struck out towards the smelly lake. She would pick up the spore near the escarpment and travel along the dry gully. The kilometres were covered swiftly. She would stop occasionally to sniff the air and listen and during one of these pauses, she was alarmed to hear the sound of howlers attacking something. They were aggressive large bipeds she hunted for their luxurious white pelts. Their claws and sinews were also prized, although their meat was mostly tough. It wasn't often they ventured this close to her cave. Being semi-intelligent, they were aware of her hunting habits and made an effort to avoid her, so hearing them so close was of interest to her. Feeling curiosity rising, the woman changed course and made her way to the thicket of bush from which the sounds could be heard. She was not prepared for what she saw.

 

 

 

There were three creatures like herself, all naked. Two were shouting and throwing sticks ineffectually at two howlers who were beating the third creature, curled on the ground. Again and again the howlers raised the stout branches and brought them down upon the helpless victim. Tackling two howlers at once was risky, particularly when they were so agitated, but she disliked what she was seeing, so she decided to intervene. Taking her club in her hand she ran first at the women to drive them back, and having achieved that, she turned her attention to the howlers. True to their name, they lifted their heads and howled in unison, making the woman's hair stand on end. Brandishing the club, the woman lifted her lip in a noiseless snarl and took a step towards the nervous howlers. After a moments hesitation, they took a backward step. This continued until the woman had stepped past the injured creature on the ground. She was aware of movement behind her as the other two women moved forward and retrieved their companion and moved him away. A stalemate ensued. The woman remained motionless, the howlers too stayed where they were, weaving their heads back and forwards in frustration. Finally, with a grunt, the howlers, a mated pair, turned and made their retreat. bashing the trees and ground with their branches in ill humour.
Satisfied they were gone, the woman turned and faced the creatures she had rescued. She was stunned. The first thing she noticed was the being she had saved was different from the other two. His body was markedly dissimilar and he had no hair on his head, instead he had hair on his chest and stomach, but when her eyes met his, something passed between them. Almost electric in intensity, the woman's mouth went dry, her heart began to beat rapidly and her stomach felt odd. She stood, frozen in shock. The man was similarly struck. He couldn't move or take his eyes from her. Comparable symptoms afflicted him and he began a small tremor through his body. One of the woman turned to the other and spoke.
"Beverley, what's happening?"
To which the woman replied,
"I don't know, but I don't like it. Can you sense anything Deanna?"
"No, Nothing....from either of them."
The woman was deeply stunned. These beings could make sounds. She wanted to flee, but she couldn't take her eyes off the man.
"Captain......CAPTAIN!", the red haired woman shouted. Then she stood in front of him, breaking the contact. Without a backward glance, the woman turned and fled, running back to her cave. She ran at least a kilometre before she slowed and looked over her shoulder.

 

 

 

Beverley bent forward and ran her hand across Jean-Luc's head.
"Come on, let's see how you fared. Do you think you can stand?"
Grunting his consent, the Captain allowed the women to help him to his feet.
"Wow, are you going to have some bruises!"
Expertly running her trained hands over Jean-Luc's body, she stood back and gave her judgement.
"Well, there are some nasty cuts, which really should be sealed, a cracked rib or two and a broken finger, along with the bruising....and I'm not sure about your nose. It's probably broken...you'll have two shiners from that. When it's a little less tender and the bleeding has stopped, I'll have another look."
"Deanna's right arm is broken and she has a corked thigh. As for me, I've a twisted ankle and I have a very sore back, most likely a disc injury. Considering the crash and the attack, we're lucky to be alive, let alone just mildly injured."
Jean-Luc raised his eyebrows at that.
"Yes, well.....I don't feel....mildly injured.....and I certainly don't like being cast adrift on a hostile planet, stark naked! And don't you dare laugh, either of you!"
"Is that an order?"
"Beverley....."
Helping their Captain to sit, the woman joined him on the ground as they discussed what had happened.
"Who do you think she was?" Deanna asked.
Jean-Luc looked off in the direction she had fled.
"What's more important....where are the others? If we can find her village, maybe we can get some help....and some clothes. She was well dressed and her weapons were both substantial and well made. Beverley, were we able to salvage anything from the shuttle?"
Beverley sighed gently.
"One communicator."
"That's it?"
"Yes, but I think we may be lucky. I threw a tricorder out the window. It should be over there."
The doctor pointed over to the left. Seeing a discreet glance from Beverley, Deanna volunteered to search. After she was out of earshot, Beverley took Jean-Luc's hand.
"Jean-Luc, what happened."
Knowing what she meant, the Captain sighed.
"I don't know. When our eyes met, something happened, something passed between us. It felt....very strong...like I was being drawn to her. I've never experienced anything like it. It was quite extraordinary."
Beverley cocked her head and looked frankly at her Captain.
"Well, if we meet her again, maybe we can ask her what it was."
Just then, the friends heard a triumphant yell from Deanna.
"I found it!"
After Deanna had rejoined her companions, the Captain suggested Beverley scan them all to re-affirm her previous diagnoses and took the communicator in his hand. Looking at Deanna he said quietly,
"Fingers crossed. Picard to Enterprise."
Nothing, just static.
"Enterprise, this is Picard. Please respond."
Nothing.
"They're either out of range, or the planet has an electromagnetic field that's disrupting communications."
Beverley frowned.
"Would that be why our instruments didn't detect the planet? And what about that buoy? Was it emitting a distress call or not?"
The Captain held up his hand.
"All very good questions Beverley, but, for the interim at least, I think we should devote our efforts to finding shelter....and something to cover ourselves. I don't know about you, but I'm cold!"
That brought a smile from both women. The three friends helped each other to stand and they moved slowly back to the creek. The chuckle from Beverley was unexpected.
"What?"
"Oh, nothing.....is this what they mean by "fraternising"? And, by the way, your nose is broken."
"Thanks."

 

 

 

The woman, despite being superbly fit, was out of breath when she jogged into her cave. The lights came on automatically, as she knew they would, and she reached her seat without difficulty. Sitting, she was still dumbfounded by what had happened. She played the pictures repeatedly in her mind, yet all she wanted to do was imagine the man, how he looked, his eyes, his body...so different from hers. She realised she was still holding her weapons and she lowered them to the ground, still lost in thought. They had made noises. Raising her fingers, she gently traced the outline of her mouth. No sound had ever issued forth, not even a whisper. They were very strange beings, so like her, yet so different. They didn't even know enough not to aggravate the howlers. She snorted. Fools. But she was intrigued. They were naked. It would soon be cold. They would die. This she found disturbing. She didn't want him to die. Gathering up a skin, she moved toward the cave exit, then stopped. Looking down at the skin, she frowned, and, as an afterthought, took up two more and left. The lights went off exactly three minutes after she had gone.
The three officers had made a bed of fronds and had used the same plant to cover themselves. Within minutes their body warmth and the fronds combined to make them comfortable. It was Deanna who voiced a concern they all felt.
"Is it just me, or are all of us being covered by a thick, sticky liquid?"
Picard threw off his fronds with disgust. He was covered with runnels of viscous white sap, exuding from the frond stems. Standing, he made the mistake of trying to wipe the offending muck off his chest. His hand stuck fast. Growling in frustration, he irritatedly ran his other hand over his head. Unfortunately, that hand had sap on it too. His hand stuck fast. He stood there, naked, with one hand on his chest, the other on his head.
Beverley broke first and her giggling was infectious. Soon both women were laughing uproariously, that was until Beverley slapped her thigh. Her hand, of course, stayed on her thigh.
"What is it with this damn planet! Toxic lakes and glue in the plants!"
Jean-Luc mustered a chuckle.
"Not so funny now? Deanna, perhaps we should go to the creek. With any luck, this, (he gestured with his chin), will be water soluble.
Having entered the water, Deanna first tried washing her hands, and after a modicum of success, moved to help her friends. With his usual good manners, Jean-Luc allowed Beverley to precede him and it actually took both women a considerable time to clean him. At one stage, the Captain had to remind his CMO that his chest hair was indeed connected to his skin, and was not to be ripped out....in clumps.
Once again clean, the survivors sat glumly on the bank of the creek. With a note of irritation, Beverley asked,
"Now what? We're back to square one."
The Captain was fast losing his sense of humour.
"We'll just have to try another plant."
"That's not a good idea Captain. We could suffer allergic reactions all over our bodies. Who knows what could happen."
"Beverley, if you had scanned the fronds first...."
"Shhh! Look."
The Captain and Deanna stared intently at the tricorder. A silent alarm was activated. it showed an approaching life form.
"What is it? Not those white beasts....."
Beverley frowned.
"No....fully human....but....."
"How close?"
Looking up, Beverley gestured to the bush across the other side of the creek.
"Over there, six metres."
"Six metres? I don't see anyt......"
The woman moved away from the tree. She heard the gasps from the beings. Silently standing she watched, unmoving, again locking eyes with Jean-Luc. This time, after a short hesitation, he spoke.
"We will not harm you."
He lifted his hands, palm out, and showed their emptiness. At his behest, the two women copied him.
The woman frowned and touched her lips with her fingers.
Dropping the skins she carried, she lifted her other hand to her mouth.
Quietly, the Captain whispered,
"Deanna....anything?"
"No, Sir. I sense nothing."
"Can you reach out.....touch her mind?"
Gently nodding, Deanna agreed.
"Yes, Sir. I will try now."
The woman appeared totally immersed in thought, still touching her mouth. Suddenly she jerked her head up in alarm, her face quickly becoming fierce as her piercing gaze settled on Deanna. With devastating speed, she drew the club and leaped across the creek, advancing on the counsellor, with the obvious intention of battering her to death.
With alacrity, the Captain moved between them, raising his hands.
"Stop! She meant no harm. I asked her to do it."
The woman adopted a defensive posture, leaning slightly back, keeping the weight on her back leg. She still brandished the club and was trying to see around the Captain. He kept himself solidly between them, sensing that she wouldn't harm him.
"Please....put down the club. She will not do it again."
As he spoke, he made a repeated waving movements with his hands to indicate the lowering of the club.
Eventually, the woman looked fully at Jean-Luc and some of the tension left her. She slowly lowered the club, and after some minutes of silence, stood upright. She was still frowning and her eyes darted restlessly about, but Jean-Luc was sure the danger had passed. Turning gradually to his friends, he advised,
"No sharp movements, everything fluid and non-threatening. It would probably help to lower your eyes every now and then, to show submissiveness, and I think we should stay together."
The woman was entranced listening to Jean-Luc speak. When he finished talking, she cautiously approached him and looked deeply into his eyes. He maintained the contact for a few moments, then lowered his gaze. She leaned forward a little and delicately sniffed him. She then walked all the way around him, noting with gentle touches, his injuries. Repeating the process with the other two, she crossed the creek, picked up the skins and brought them to the naked humans. She retreated then, allowing the officers to wrap themselves in the soft skins.
Satisfied, she turned and began to walk away, prompting Jean-Luc to call after her,
"Wait! We have been hurt. We must travel slowly."
As he spoke, he pointed at Beverley's damaged ankle and Deanna's hurt thigh.
The woman stood stock still and looked the Captain up and down, then gave a cursory glance towards the women, turned, and again walked away, this time, slowly.
Moving together, the Captain and the Counsellor supported Beverley under her arms and between them started to make a fair pace after the enigmatic woman.
They travelled at a satisfactory rate, the woman stopping to allow rest, and after consulting the tricorder, they knew they had traversed about five kilometres when they came to the base of an escarpment. The woman scaled the rocks easily, the trail only faintly visible, and, after reaching the plateau, looked down at the three officers.
"I hate heights."
"I know Beverley. I'll be behind you, just follow Deanna. Counsellor, can you make it with your arm?"
"I think so Captain."
"Nodding, the Captain, sighed.
"If we wrap these skins around us, leaving our arms free, we should be able to climb up there, no problems."
"Hrumph! Easier said than done.....Captain."
It took considerable time, but eventually all three made it to the top. Throughout the climb, the woman sat, patiently watching. When the friends had regained their breath, the woman turned and walked into a small opening in the rocks. Jean-Luc went first, stooping and putting one arm out in front. He was astonished when bright light suddenly flooded the cave. His companions were also amazed with what they saw. It was more than a cave, it was a cavern. Warmed by thermal springs, it was both clean and comfortable. Without hesitation, Jean-Luc took the tricorder and scanned one of the lights. Frowning he said, without turning,
"Unknown technology. Nothing on record."
Speechlessly, the "guests" made their way around the cavern. It was divided into distinctly separate areas, each area having a different purpose. Sleeping, food preparation, tool and weapon making, washing, all had it's own nook. Everything was clean and orderly. If nothing else, it showed an intelligent mind at work. When the inspection was over, they realised the woman was gone. With nothing else to do, the officers sat around the fire that was gently smouldering in a circular hearth in the center of the floor. She soon reappeared, dragging several heavy white pelts....pelts they recognised as coming from the species that attacked them.
The woman went to an area near her sleeping place and felt the floor with her hand in several places. Satisfied, she lay out three pelts, putting another three on top. She then turned and left them again.
The friends went and sat on the pelts.
"They're so soft! Beverley feel yours."
Beverley was more interested in feeling the floor under the pelts. After a few tries she found an explanation for the odd actions.
"Thermal springs. She was searching for warm spots. Jean-Luc? You're awfully quiet."
"It's those lights. How does a woman, presumably alone, who wears skins and sleeps on the floor, have access to technology we can't identify? The tricorder couldn't even tell me how they worked....or what their power source was. I like mysteries, but not this one."
Before the women could answer, the woman returned, carrying a wooden bowl filled with a steaming liquid and a package, wrapped in a soft skin. Producing a perfectly round, black ball the size of a cricket ball, from her shirt, she set it about half a metre off the floor and let it go. Not only did it stay there, suspended in thin air, it lit up with a bright white light. She went to Jean-Luc and stared at him, then turned and stared at the bowl.
Beverley said gently....
"I think she wants you to go to the bowl."
Nodding his consent, Jean-Luc walked the few paces to the bowl and, after watching the woman sit, seated himself as well. Beverley made to join them, but the soundless snarl from the woman stopped her in her tracks. She opted to sit some distance away, scanning everything with her tricorder.
"Anything Beverley?"
"Nothing on the light. The bowl contains water. In the pouch, there's a herbal paste, some organic thread, some animal bone and claws and a quantity of mould that has antibiotic properties. I'd say you're about to be treated."
Looking over at his doctor, Jean-Luc swallowed.
"Is it safe?"
"There's nothing there that will harm you.....Good luck."
"Thanks."
With surprising gentleness, the woman cleaned Jean-Luc thoroughly, and, after changing the water, cleaned a small curved object, then threaded it with the fine sinew. She then applied a quantity of paste to the three lacerations on Jean-Luc's shoulder, back and side. Leaving those areas, she moved to his nose. Jean-Luc drew back slightly, worried as to what she was going to do. Patiently, the woman sat still and waited for the Captain to settle and when he did, with infinite care, she quickly and expertly realigned the broken nose. Jean-Luc let go a yelp of pain and the woman was instantly startled. She scuttled backwards, a look of alarm on her face.
Holding one hand to his nose to stem the slight bleeding, Jean-Luc gestured with his free hand.
"It's all right....it just hurt a little.....come back....it's all right."
With a look of deep suspicion, the woman slowly moved back to where she had been. She sat quietly, one hand on the head of the club. Jean-Luc lowered his hands and head and waited. After a moment, the woman began to clean away the paste, making Jean-Luc realise he could feel nothing from the wounds. The paste had been an anaesthetic. Again, with great care and skill, the woman sutured the wounds....all Jean-Luc felt was a gentle tugging of his skin. When the stitching had finished, the woman applied a salve to his bruises and scrapes, then offered him a warm brew. The Captain quirked an eyebrow in Beverley's direction and received a nod of consent. He took the wooden cup in both hands and drank the slightly bitter liquid, smiling his gratitude. The woman rose and changed the water, then sat and looked at Beverley.
Swapping places with Jean-Luc, Beverley's treatment was given with the same care and gentleness. Beverley was impressed with the woman's obvious knowledge of medical matters, the binding of her ankle she couldn't have done better herself. Twice Beverley tried to engage the woman in conversation, but the only thing it did was cause irritation, so she stopped, sat still and made herself as compliant as possible, keeping her gaze lowered.
When it came to Deanna, the woman was not so willing to help. She was wary of Deanna, openly showing her teeth in a silent snarl. It wasn't until the Captain took Deanna's hand and sat with her that the woman finally, albeit reluctantly, treated the nervous counsellor. The setting of her arm was thankfully quick, nevertheless Deanna swooned with the pain and Jean-Luc had to hold her up. Beverley rose and had taken two steps toward Deanna when the woman rose and drew her club in one fluid motion.
"Beverley! Lower your head and sit down....now!"
With instant obedience, Beverley dropped to the ground, her head bowed.
The woman stood absolutely motionless, the tension broken when Jean-Luc quietly spoke.
"She means no harm. None of us will hurt you."
He knew she didn't understand him, yet he hoped his voice, the tone of his voice, would calm her. He kept talking.
"We crashed and we can't contact our ship. We need your help."
The woman finally moved and looked down at the Captain. With deliberate slowness, she holstered the club and sat down. Offering the wooden cup, Deanna drank the draught and returned to her bed, where Beverley made her comfortable.
Jean-Luc looked up to find the woman staring at him intently. Lifting one hand slowly, he placed it on his chest, patting gently.
"I am Jean-Luc......Jean-Luc.....you are?"
He pointed at the woman who stared impassively at him.
"Jean-L...."
Without warning, the woman rose and went to clean her implements.
"Well, so much for communication."
"Beverley.....she just needs time. We'll get through....eventually."
Stifling a yawn, the Captain moved to the beds.
"I'm feeling very relaxed Beverley. What was in the drink?"
"A mild sedative. I thought we needed it so I said nothing, it will do no harm. Jean-Luc, none of this makes any sense. How does she know so much about medical technique and the pharmacology of plants? She appears to be alone. Why is that? How the hell did she get here? And what about those lights? You can't tell me she made those."
Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head.
"Obviously I don't know the answers Beverley. Maybe tomorrow we can unravel some of the mystery. Until then, I intend to get some sleep. It's been a rather long day."
Divesting himself of the skin, he snuggled between the soft pelts and was soon asleep, as was Deanna. Casting one final look about the cavern, Beverley joined her friends in slumber.

 

 

The woman came back into the cavern and watched the sleeping people, eventually leaving to sit on her rock outside. As always, she took something to work on as she watched the descending suns. Tonight she was sewing skins together, making new clothes. Her eyes travelled over the valley, along the river and up to the sky. In her mind she replayed the pictures of the day. They were strange and threatening. She wasn't sure of the women, but the man....the man....there was something....she frowned, unaccustomed to feelings of confusion. She couldn't make a picture that matched how she felt so, sighing, she entered the cave and prepared for bed. She needed to get some fresh food tomorrow and she tried to concentrate on that, but the feeling of sleeping with others for the first time caused an uncharacteristic sleeplessness. She finally found rest after she clasped the club under the pelt.
The day dawned wet, cold and windy. It mattered not to the woman, food was required, so she went and got it. She had gathered sufficient roots and wild vegetables and brought down two stripey animals and had returned to her home before the people had woken. She knew they would sleep soundly. Sometimes, when she felt bad, or when the night terrors came, she would drink the steeped herbs she gave them last night. It always made her sleep a long time, she was amused to see it worked the same for them. No smile graced her face, but the pictures she made of them sitting up and rubbing their eyes made her feel warm. It was very pleasant.
Adding wood to the fire, she made bush bread and brewed some leaves to make a passable tea. It was the aroma of freshly baked bread that roused the sleepers. Wrapping themselves in their skins they moved stiffly to the fire. As they approached the woman, she moved silently away, always keeping distance between them. Placed on a large carapace of sorts, was the fresh bread and three wooden cups of tea. Before they settled to eat, each person smiled their gratitude and thanked the woman for their breakfast.
As they ate, the woman left, returning a short time later with bundles of softened skins in her hands. She put the bundles near the fire, then retreated and watched. Jean-Luc was the first to investigate the skins. Holding them up he smiled broadly.
"Yes! Clothes!"
That got the women's attention. Within moments, the three had retired to different areas of the cavern to put on their prizes. Consisting of a pair of shorts, trousers, shirt and soft shoes, the friends were delighted, meeting back at the fire and marvelling at the fine workmanship evident in the expertly made garments.
"More pieces to the mystery Jean-Luc. These clothes haven't just been roughly thrown together. These are beautifully made, with great care. We're not dealing with some ignorant tribal exile, This woman is intelligent and clever. I strongly suggest we tread very carefully."
Gently fingering the shirt he wore, Jean-Luc nodded.
"I agree. We give her all the space she needs and keep contact to a minimum, especially you Deanna. Let her set the pace."
"Jean-Luc, there are some things we're going to have to ask though. I need a bathroom....rather urgently. Do I just go outside, or should I find out what she does?"
"Hmmm, I see your point. I think we should approach her and use gestures."
Beverley smirked and said quietly to Deanna,
"This'll be good."
Relaxing their postures the friends moved closer to the woman. She immediately put her hand on the club. Making placatory actions with his hands, Jean-Luc crouched down to the same level as the woman.
"We need to relieve ourselves. Where do we go?"
As he spoke the words, he put his hand on his groin.
The woman stared blankly, then resumed the vegetable preparations she was doing.
"Let me try Jean-Luc."
Moving beside the Captain, the doctor gained the woman's attention by coughing.
Placing her hand between her legs, she crossed her legs and made an unpleasant face.
Without a sound, the woman rose and walked across the cavern, entering a rift in the wall, one of several around the sides.
The officers followed, the automatic lighting showing the way. They soon reached a small room that had a pit in the floor, a smooth, solid beam of wood crossed it. Seeing all the people had entered the room, the woman silently left.
"You first Beverley, Deanna and I will wait outside."
In ten minutes a much more comfortable trio came back to the cavern.
While they were occupied, the woman had placed a large shell, similar to a giant clam, on the fire. Into it, she had placed an assortment of the vegetables, cubed meat and water. As it came slowly to the boil, she added some green leaves and some ground seeds. Stirring with a small wooden paddle, she constantly sniffed the stew and, occasionally, added more ingredients. When she was satisfied, she covered the shell with another and pulled out some of the fire's fuel, allowing the food to simmer.
"Beverley, Have you any idea why she doesn't speak? It's pretty obvious she can hear."
"Not really, Jean-Luc. There is something odd though. As I said before, she scans as fully human, but there are some inconsistencies. A few of the tricorder readings show physical abnormalities. I can't decipher what they are, I would need the Enterprise computers for that, but the fact they exist is cause for concern. As for her voice, there is a significant thickening of the larynx, but I have no idea what it is, or how it came to be that way."
Deanna added,
"It doesn't mean she can't understand us though. I feel nothing from her, it's as if she wasn't there. I believe she can't communicate at all, voice or no voice. In any case, it's up to us to keep trying."
"Agreed. She seems to tolerate me best, I'll have another go at teaching her my name when she's finished cleaning up."
"Be very careful, Jean-Luc."
"I intend to, Beverley."
It was half an hour before the woman sat and began fitting flights to some arrows. Jean-Luc crossed the cavern slowly and seated himself near her.
"They look good. May I have a look?"
He held his hand out and waited.
The woman looked at his hand, then at the arrow repeatedly, then, with hesitation, offered the arrow to Jean-Luc. He made a show of examining it carefully, then extended his hand and returned it to the woman.
Jean-Luc sat up straight and pointed at his chest.
"Jean-Luc."
He then pointed at her. The woman looked at his pointing finger, her chest and his, sighed and returned to her work. Jean-Luc decided to try again, but the woman wouldn't have it. Smacking her hand on the cave floor, she snarled in silence. Not wishing to give up, Jean-Luc again asked to see the arrow. This time, the woman's expression was closed, cold. The Captain kept his hand extended, smiled and said,
"Please."
Begrudgingly she shoved the arrow at him brusquely, snorting.
"It's very well made."
He practised the flight with the arrow in his hands.
"I bet it flies beautifully."
He put the arrow down and the woman scowled and snatched it away, adding it to the already completed pile. Undaunted, Jean-Luc continued.
"Where is the bow?"
As he spoke he made motions to show pulling the string of a bow. The woman was dumbstruck. How could he know she had that. The arrows don't work without it. Could he be a hunter too? Immediately pictures of him hunting came to her mind, and just as quickly, pictures of them hunting together. The images made her feel warm and happy. None of these thoughts showed outwardly, to Jean-Luc she remained a stoic enigma. Rising gracefully, she went to a collection of instruments and retrieved her best bow. She was taking a great chance, he may break it, or worse, use it against her, but she felt oddly about this man, this person so different from her. He made her feel calm and strangely warm. She was still frowning when she returned to the seated Captain. He took the offered bow reverently, amazing the woman by whistling his appreciation of her workmanship. Turning the instrument in his hands he raised his eyes in a silent question. Of course the woman made no answer, but her lack of agitation gave him encouragement to continue. He slowly stood and stretched his arm out, holding the bow by it's padded grip. Taking the string between the first two fingers of his other hand, he applied his strength and began to pull the string back. He was surprised at the power in the weapon. It would take great strength and steadiness to use it efficiently. He glanced at the woman with a new sense of wonder. She was watching him with the tenseness of a raptor and her tension didn't lessen until he gently released the pressure on the string and proffered the bow. He hadn't seen her stand, as with all her movements, she was silent. She took the bow and turned abruptly and walked to the other side of the cavern. There she picked up a small animal carapace and balanced it on a small ledge. Returning to the Captain, she picked up an arrow, fitted it to the bow and took up a firing stance. Jean-Luc marvelled at her ability to stand so completely still. Taking aim, she released the bow and the arrow whispered on its flight, hitting the carapace dead center so hard, the arrow pierced the shell, travelling up to half its length until it hit the rock behind it. She lowered the bow and turned expressionlessly to Jean-Luc. To his credit, the shudder he felt was well disguised as he went to retrieve the arrow. Beverley and Deanna had risen and slowly neared the woman. She turned and stared at them, but made no hostile move.
The Captain returned and gestured towards the waiting women. Taking a few steps backwards, the woman allowed the pair to approach. The trio marvelled at the power of the bow and the accuracy displayed by the woman. Jean-Luc held out the shell, and when the woman took it, he motioned toward the bow. The woman went back to the equipment stack and returned with several obviously old arrows. Jean-Luc smirked at the slight and shrugged his shoulders at his friends. Looking back at the woman, he was further embarrassed to see she had put up a much bigger target. She returned and stood, silently watching. With a deep breath, Jean-Luc took up a firing stance and tried to still the tremor in his arm. He let the arrow fly and was gratified to see it hit the very edge of the target, but without enough power to dislodge it. He ignored the giggles from his friends, instead, he turned to the woman and gave a rueful smile. His smile quickly disappeared when he saw the look on the woman. Her mouth was open, her eyes wide, staring at Beverley and Deanna. What was that noise? How did they make it?
"Stay still. I've a suspicion she's never heard laughter before."
Facing the woman, Jean-Luc gave his warmest smile.
"It's alright they were just laughing. It's good to laugh."
The woman snorted silently and returned to the fire.
The three officers amused themselves for some time with target practice, Jean-Luc pleasing himself by improving markedly, and surprisingly, Deanna proved to be a reasonable shot too.
Jean-Luc was very pleased with this small breakthrough. The woman had shown an amount of trust by letting them use the weapon. It was if she was repaying the trust Jean-Luc gave her when he let her treat his injuries. Added to that was the way the woman had let the women join in, she even allowed Deanna to come near.
Jean-Luc gathered the arrows and bow and put then back in the place the woman had got them from. The trio then seated themselves at the fire. The delicious smells coming from the meal in progress made Deanna's stomach rumble, causing gentle laughter from Beverley. The Captain watched the woman. She stared at Beverley and lifted her fingers to her mouth.
Jean-Luc frowned.
*How can it be that she doesn't know what laughter is? Who is she? What has happened to her?*
Jean-Luc's musing was broken by Beverley. Using gestures, she was asking the woman if she could taste the cooking stew. The woman's lack of reaction, the three officers were learning, meant consent. The wooden paddle was next to the woman, so Beverley advanced very slowly, and when she was close enough, she sat, fully expecting the woman to move away, as she usually did. This time, however, she stayed where she was. Jean-Luc noted an increased tension across the shoulders and back of the woman, but said nothing. Beverley picked up the paddle and, with Deanna's help from the other side of the fire, lifted the lid and put it aside. The doctor closed her eyes and drew in a long sniff, savouring the aroma. With a swirling motion, she stirred the stew, then lifted the paddle. It had a slight hollow in the blade and Beverley blew gently on the morsels that sat there. Unable to wait any longer, she gingerly tasted the tantalising food.
"Oh, this is delicious! Here Jean-Luc, taste it."
The Captain did as Beverley had done and used his teeth to draw some of the stew into his mouth. his eyes closed and he sighed as deeply as his injured chest would allow.
"My word, it is tasty, isn't it? I wonder when it'll be ready?"
Deanna was next and she joined her companions in praising the stew. The woman rose and went to the food area, returning with a leather bag. Taking a handful of the contents, she sprinkled it over the stew, then looked at the paddle, then at Deanna, who understood and gave it to her. With another handful from the bag, she stirred the stew, adding the crumb-like material as she went. Within moments, the stew thickened, and when the woman was satisfied, she retrieved some wooden bowls and spoons and began to dish out servings, including one for herself. As they ate, Jean-Luc remembered the unfinished bread from the morning, and putting his bowl aside, went to get it. He shared it out and the four people spent some happy minutes eating the delectable meal.
Delicately wiping her mouth, Deanna asked rhetorically,
"If that was lunch, what will dinner be like?"
Gentle laughter followed, Jean-Luc noting it caused less reaction from the woman.
*She's growing accustomed to us. Good, that's good.*
"Jean-Luc, are you going to continue to hail the Enterprise?"
Nodding, Jean-Luc agreed.
"Uh huh. I thought, if I can get up as high as possible, I'd call morning and evening. We won't be missed yet, we left the conference three days early remember, and I'm not exactly sure where the ship is at this very moment, all I do know is where she will be tomorrow....and that's nowhere near here. The gravity well of this planet pulled us a long way off course. If they find that buoy, they'll find us. In the mean time, we'll just have to be patient."
As he spoke, Jean-Luc placed his hand on his damaged ribs and grimaced.
"Are they bothering you Jean-Luc?"
"Yes Beverley, but only since we were using the bow. That salve that was used on that area kept me almost pain free. I'll ask for more."
Jean-Luc turned to the woman and raised his shirt, putting his hand on the lividly bruised area, and frowning. She cocked her head, put her bowl aside and fetched the bowl containing the salve. Working gently, she applied the soothing concoction, then sat back and looked at the others. Deanna responded first. Rubbing her thigh, she said,
"My thigh is sore. Can you help me too?"
Without hesitation, the woman went to Deanna and applied the salve. Speaking softly, Beverley asked,
"How's your arm?"
"Actually, it's good. Since she splinted it, it barely bothers me. I felt it when I fired the bow, but I think that's fair enough, don't you?"
Chuckling, Beverley agreed.
Now the woman faced Beverley. She raised her chin, saying,
"Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. Yes, my ankle hurts.....mainly 'cause I'm walking on it too much. Go ahead.....treat it."
Noting Beverley's tone of voice, Jean-Luc questioned dryly,
"Do I detect a hint of derision?"
"Certainly not! Frustration maybe....but not derision. She's done a remarkable job, I just wish I knew how."
After the woman had cleaned away the salve and dishes from lunch, achieved by putting them in a hot agitated pool nearby, she sat again at the fire. Jean-Luc moved close to her and picked up a small twig. In some ash on the floor he began to draw. The woman was instantly intrigued, watching Jean-Luc's movements intently. He drew the valley and the river, then the escarpment and the cave opening. Pointing with the twig, he began to speak.
"This is the valley and the river outside. Here is the plateau and the cave entrance. I need to get to the top of the escarpment. Up here."
He drew a line from the cave entrance upward, then he lifted the twig and gestured upwards, his hand above his head. The woman stared at the drawing, at Jean-Luc's face, then at his raised hand. She started making pictures of the places he drew in her mind, ending with the snow covered cap of the escarpment so far above them. Her gaze settled on Jean-Luc's eyes.
His eyes make me warm. It's good. The picture this produced was pleasant and took her mind off what he was asking. Jean-Luc noticed the change and waited patiently, until her eyes cleared. She stood and left the cavern, returning with two long heavy white coats with hoods. Attached to the sleeve ends were mittens. Jean-Luc looked at his friends.
"It would seem it's going to be cold."
But the woman made no further preparations. She sat again on her stool by the fire and began sewing, repairing a torn shirt. Beverley offered,
"Perhaps it's too late to leave now, who knows how far it is. Why don't we go outside for a while? We're not prisoners.....are we?"
"Only one way to find out....after you."
"Ever the gentleman Jean-Luc."
"Not really, if she's going to club anyone to death for escaping......well, you'd be first."
Beverley's jaw dropped in disbelief.
"One of these days, my dear friend, that dry wit of yours is going to land you in BIG trouble!"
They were still sniggering when they came out of the cave, but the bitter wind and driving rain soon silenced them.
"Ok, plan "B". We explore the cavern system."
Deanna spoke up.
"I think I'll give that a miss. I would like to try and get her to be more comfortable with me. I'll stay."
Returning to the warmth of the cave, Jean-Luc caught the woman's attention.
"We want to see the other caves."
He made a sweeping gesture with his arm.
"We need a light."
He pointed at a light on the wall, then pointed at the fissure that led to the toilet.
The woman went to the weapon pile and produced totally black tubular object, about thirty centimetres long. When she lifted it to chest height, it activated, glowing brightly. When she lowered it, it went out.
"I'll be damned!"
She gave it to Jean-Luc and returned to her seat.
Beverley broke the silence.
"I'll bring the tricorder, it wouldn't do to get lost."
"Indeed."
The Captain and the doctor were engulfed in the cave wall as they left. Deanna stood a while watching the woman sew. She went to the fire and sat near the woman, on the floor. The woman looked up and stared at Deanna, but exhibited no aggression.
*No time like the present*
Reaching out her hand, Deanna spoke softly,
"May I see your work?"
The woman sat very still, then slowly gave Deanna the shirt she'd been working on. Deanna was impressed with the quality of the stitching.
*People or leather....talented.*
"My mother showed me some ornamental stitches, may I show you?"
As she asked her question, Deanna made sewing movements with her good hand.
An expressionless stare was her only reply, but she took that as consent and pressed on. As she sewed she spoke softly.
"Now you have to know, it's been a long time since I did this....it may not be very good, but I'm sure you'll get the idea."
She completed a row of various stitches and handed it back to the woman. As always, silently the woman rose and left the cavern, carrying the ball light. She returned shortly with a bundle of white suede clothing. Away from the fire, and after checking the floor was clean, she layed out the items she had made.
Deanna's breath was taken away by the beauty she saw. A shirt, trousers and moccasins, in the softest suede she had ever touched, were decorated in fine stitching, using thin dyed sinews, tiny shells and coloured stones. Across the chest and collar of the shirt, around the waist and down each leg of the trousers and across the top of the shoes. It must have taken hours and hours of painstaking work. Deanna had never seen anything like it.
"We must show the others. This is so beautiful."
As she spoke she smiled warmly. The woman folded the clothes and put them on a stone shelf near the food area. They settled back at the fire, the woman resumed the repair of clothing, Deanna working on a shirt the woman had given her.
Some hours passed, Deanna dozing on her bed, the woman preparing bread and fruit for tea, when Jean-Luc and Beverley returned. They gave the woman the tubular light, then went and cleaned up for dinner.
As they ate, Beverley and Jean-Luc described what they had seen. Jean-Luc was very impressed.
"This is a vast system of caves. We went as far as we dared, but it extends way into this whole mountain range. There are mineral springs and ponds everywhere. Some of the ponds are still, some roiling, there is boiling water and tepid, and to the west, there are glacial streams with ice edges."
Beverley nodded vigorously.
"Yes...and we found her fridge! She has a smallish cave not far from here that's literally freezing. In it, she's stored meat, some whole carcasses, bread, all sorts of things..Speaking of bread, this is really yummy."
The woman had produced some wild honey and the four of them were drizzling the honey over the warm bread. Licking his fingers, Jean-Luc said,
"There is an area for showering, she's even made a toothbrush!"
Deanna looked quizzically at her Captain.
"You know, she's demonstrated a lot of trust in us. She lets us use her things, we can come and go as we please....we're depending on her for everything, and so far, she's been exceptionally generous."
"It's true. We should try and help her with things....if she'll let us."
Deanna nodded at Beverley.
"That's a good idea, but we should take things very slowly."
When dinner was over, Deanna picked up her plate and that of Jean-Luc and Beverley. Smiling broadly at the woman, she went to the cleaning pool and put the plates in the water. The woman watched silently. Beverley went to the food area with Jean-Luc and together they cleaned up after the dinner preparation, joining Deanna at the cleaning pool. Again, the woman watched silently. Gesturing to her friends, Deanna led them to the folded white clothes.
"Wait till you see this."
Raising a questioning eyebrow at the woman, Deanna gently unfolded the clothes, to the delight of her friends.
"My God, Deanna, this work is exquisite. Look at this, Jean-Luc. Can you imagine the hours it would've taken to do this kind of work?"
Jean-Luc was deeply impressed by what he saw, yet he found it hard to take his eyes off the woman. She made him feel....different. He couldn't put a word to how he felt, all he knew was that he liked it. As he watched, Beverley went to the woman with the shirt in her hand. Without thinking, Beverley reached out and gently gripped the woman's arm. The reaction was instant and violent. In a blur, the woman jerked her arm free, grasped and twisted Beverley's arm and had her on her knees crying out in pain within seconds. Jean-Luc immediately shouted,
"NO! Let her go....please, she meant no harm.....please, let her go, you're hurting her."
The woman continued to twist Beverley's arm, staring down at her implacably.
Beverley lowered her head and began to groan. Jean-Luc's distress grew and it showed on his face. The woman looked up from Beverley and saw the anguish on the Captain's face. They stared at each other momentarily, then without warning, the woman released Beverley and walked away. Falling to his knees, Jean-Luc took Beverley in his arms.
"Are you alright? Did she break you arm? Oh God, Beverley.....are you alright?"
Cradling her arm with the other, Beverley managed,
"I'm ok. Nothing broken. What the hell went wrong? What did I do?"
Deanna, squatted next to Beverley.
"We have just been shown, rather emphatically, not to touch her. She obviously won't tolerate it."
"I didn't know! How can we avoid this sort of thing ? I don't want her to do that to me again."
The woman watched from some metres away. She took little notice of anything except the way the man held the woman. The pictures in her mind were dark and disturbing. She didn't like it. Turning on her heel, she left the cavern. She had no need of the light. She knew her way perfectly, turning and ducking where needed. After a walk of nearly half a kilometre, she dropped to her knees and wriggled through a short tunnel. She made the correct turns and entered her special place. She stood upright and let the gently glowing rainbow of light play over her. Covering the walls, roof and floor were millions of tiny creatures, each photoelectric, glowing through the spectrum. They fed on a soft, spongy covering, allowing her to lie and be cradled by the lights. Interspersed throughout the grotto were beautiful gems and nodules of gold. She was unaware of their value of course, they simply added to the beauty of the place. At the back wall, a warm stream entered high up and fell with a gentle splashing, flowing across the floor and exiting through a tunnel the woman knew, led to a spa like pond on the other side. The woman settled on the floor, leaned her head back and unfocused her eyes, making everything a blur of prismatic light. She felt herself relaxing and she drifted in her mind, creating beautiful pictures. It was the middle of the night when she returned to the cavern.

 

 

 

When the friends awoke, the woman had already left to hunt, the only clue she had been there, was her missing club. After making themselves some breakfast, the women went to shower, and when they finished, the Captain took his turn. Feeling refreshed, they went out onto the plateau and waited for the woman's return. The weather had improved markedly, though it was still quite cold, despite the suns which beamed down. The Captain saw her first.
"There she is!"
"Where?......I think you're seeing things Jean-Luc."
"No he's not Beverley, look beside the big tree at the river's edge. She's standing there watching us. I wonder how long she's been there?"
"Are we sure we cleaned up properly? I want to make a new start....try somehow to avoid what happened to Beverley."
"Jean-Luc, that cave is as clean and neat as my sickbay!"
"Good, Beverley, that's very good."
Beverley noticed that the Captain seemed a little distracted, but let it pass.
The woman climbed up to her guests, looking at no one except Jean-Luc. It was there again, the warmth. They all entered the cavern single file and the trio waited to see what the woman had brought down. From a large bloodstained plaited bag she carried over her shoulder, she took out three furred animals about the same size as a medium dog. Jean-Luc noted each kill had been made with a head shot, the arrows having already been removed. With a questioning glance, Deanna reached down to grab onto one of the hind quarters, when the woman suddenly gripped her arm with vice like pressure. Panicking, Deanna shouted,
"NO!"
And tried to pull away. With her other hand, the woman pointed at the hind leg of the animal and Deanna stopped her struggling.
Jean-Luc said softly,
"What is it?"
With her foot, the woman lifted the hind leg, then reached down and pulled back the skin. There exposed was a deadly looking spur, a drip of venom at it's tip. She then extended the animal's neck, showing two more spurs and a wicked row down the spine. By this time the woman had released the counsellor, who stood, massaging her wrist. Moving to stand in front of the woman, she lifted a hand, careful not to touch, and said gently,
"Thank you."
The woman looked at her and Deanna was sure she felt satisfaction coming from her. What she was not prepared for was the exchange of strong feeling when the woman caught the Captain's eyes. They stood motionless, each looking deeply into the eyes of the other, and Deanna felt a distinct rush of desire from both of them. Beverley too sensed something was happening, but was unsure what it was. The moment passed, broken when the woman lowered her eyes and left to go to the gutting room. Jean-Luc watched her leave with the carcasses and sighed.
"Go with her Captain, she may need help."
Jean-Luc looked sharply at the counsellor, then relented and smiled.
"I believe I will counsellor, thank you."
As he left, Beverley moved close to Deanna and whispered,
"What's going on?"
"You haven't noticed?"
"Well, he's been a little distracted lately.....especially when the woman's in the same room......you're not telling me he...and her...that they....both..."
"Yep. In fact, they both do everything except light up. It's funny though, at any other time, I can't sense her....at all."
"Well, I'll be damned."
The two friends wandered over to the food area, idly chatting, oblivious to everything else.
In the gutting room, the woman was pleased when Jean-Luc appeared.
"What do we do?"
He pointed at the animals. The woman took a sharp bone knife and exposed the hind spur. Carefully cutting, she removed the spur and it's venom sack intact, repeating the action on the other leg, the neck and down the spine. Jean-Luc watched entranced. He liked they way she moved, decisively cutting, gripping and twisting. It must have taken a lot of practice to perfect. Having accomplished that task on all three animals, she hefted the carcass and hung it, back to the wall, on a sharp wooden peg, piercing the base of the skull. Using the same bone knife, she slit the body from throat to genitals, stepping back as the entrails spilled out in a slithering wet rush. The offal was of little use, so, using a thin shell like scoop, she shovelled the mess into a hole in the corner. Jean-Luc listened, but didn't hear anything. Next she skinned the carcass with ease, setting the skin aside. Then, after removing the longer sinews and tendons, she dismembered the carcass into manageable portions. Having seen it done with such ease, Jean-Luc was worried he might make a mistake, but the woman guided him with infinite patience and before long the three bodies had been dealt with. Jean-Luc looked down at himself, then at the woman.
"Good God. We look as if we've been in a charnel-house."
He made the action of washing himself and the woman looked back at the entrance.
"To the shower? Lead on."
Arriving at the shower, the woman stripped off her soiled clothing, completely undaunted by her nakedness. The Captain was not particularly worried about his own nakedness, it had never bothered him in the past, but with this woman....the way he was beginning to feel, he wasn't so keen. However, he had little choice but to join her, which he did with pleasure. She picked up some fern like plants from the shelf and rubbed them vigorously together. Jean-Luc was delighted to see suds forming. He had been introduced to coltsfoot. Jean-Luc stayed under the shower long after he was clean. He stayed because the woman was so obviously enjoying herself. Unnoticed, Jean-Luc was able to admire her, her body, her grace, she was captivating. He reached up to rub his face and encountered his beard. With distaste he felt the strong bristles, so he cleared his throat and achieved her attention.
"Have you got anything sharp enough to remove this?"
He pantomimed shaving. The woman reached up tentatively, unsure whether or not to touch him. Lifting his hand, he took her hand in his and very gently placed it on his face. The touch sparked fiery stabs of pleasure in them both. Jean-Luc quickly drew a sharp breath, the woman leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She ran her hand with infinite care over Jean-Luc's entire face, committing to memory every plane and crease, the bristles prickling her finger tips provocatively. As her fingers crossed his lips, he pursed and kissed them, delighting in her sigh. With his free hand, he stroked her throat and her short hair, lightly caressing her face with his finger tips. He had grown aroused and she became aware of this as his erection brushed her thigh. She was startled and looked down, amazed with what she saw. Looking back to his face he tilted his head and, ever so slowly, began to cover the distance between their lips. It was the chatting women on their way to the toilet that broke the spell. They broke apart abruptly, startled out of their desire. The woman left immediately, Jean-Luc opting to stay where he was until things returned to normal. He was pleasantly surprised when she emerged out of the steam, a sharp blade in her hands. She turned to leave, but he stopped her with his words.
"Stay. I want you to watch."
Picking up the coltsfoot, he worked up a healthy lather and applied it to his face. This amused the woman, he could see it in her eyes. When sufficiently lathered, he drew the blade across his cheek. The woman was concerned at first, but relaxed when Jean-Luc seemed no worse for his actions. She watched intently as he shaved all of his face and neck and when he finished, he took her hand again and placed it on his smooth cheek. She was delighted, lifting her other hand to hold his face tenderly. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers, tasting, and when she didn't pull away, he kissed her softly, eliciting a gasp of pleasure and surprise. He was about to kiss her again when Beverley and Deanna re-emerged from the toilet, still chatting. The moment fled, the woman left and didn't return. When he felt once again in control, the Captain left the shower.
When Deanna and Beverley reached the cavern the woman was there draped in a chamois-like skin, looking through her clothing at her bed nook. When Jean-Luc appeared moments later, also draped in a skin, eyebrows were raised, but nothing was said.
After dressing in clean clothes provided by the woman, Jean-Luc walked over to the white pelt coats and picked one up. It caught the attention of the woman, who frowned and wandered over. Taking Jean-Luc by the hand, she led him to the fire. As he had done, she took a twig from the pile and drew in the ash. The rendering of the valley, river, escarpment and above was remarkably like his. He watched with interest as the woman drew the dawning suns.
"Tomorrow?"
He squeezed the hand she still held. When his friends rejoined him at the fire, the woman moved away, preparing the midday meal. Deanna joined her to help, leaving Beverley and Jean-Luc alone.
"You've shaved. It looks good. You must feel better."
"Yes, I like to be clean shaven."
"I see our benefactor doesn't object to physical contact with you."
"No."
"Jean-Luc.....what's going on."
Crouching to feed the fire, Jean-Luc was silent for several moments.
"Beverley, there's something we......there's this thing between us.....I can't explain it. I'm attracted...."
"You felt this the first time you laid eyes on her, didn't you."
"No....Yes....Oh God, I don't know. All I know is....I feel....different....when I'm with her. Desire...yes....love...I don't know....yet. It's all so new. I've never experienced anything like this before."
"Are you happy?"
"Yes. Definitely yes."
"Then pursue it Jean-Luc. Happiness is THE most elusive thing in our lives. If you've found it, hang on to it with both hands. I will help in any way I can. This whole experience has been so bizarre, if you've found your soul mate, so be it. If nothing else, travelling through the stars all these years has trained me to accept the unexpected. What is it the Vulcans say? Infinite diversity in infinite combinations? I would be the last one to argue. Go for it Jean-Luc."
"Beverley, you have been a dear friend for many years, at one time I thought you were the *one*. I treasure my relationship with you, don't ever change, not one bit."
Beverley was still laughing gently when the woman and Deanna carried the shell to the fire.
"Stand aside....chefs at work."
The rest of the day was spent cooking and repairing broken weapons. The woman was very interested to watch Beverley trying to use a woomera. An extension to the spear, the woomera was a flat piece of wood about eighty centimetres long with a hook at one end. The spear was fitted in the hook and the woomera used to sling the spear. It increased the range and accuracy of the spear. After another failed attempt to launch a spear, the woman tentatively raised her hand to touch Beverley. Nodding, Beverley encouraged her.
"It's alright....go on."
The woman placed one hand on Beverley's shoulder, the other on the woomera. With practised ease the woman, through Beverley, launched the spear into the sky.
"So easy when you do it!"
Jean-Luc came out to join them.
"Where have you been?"
"I was intrigued by the blade I used to shave. I think it's mica, what do you think?"
Turning the blade over in her hands, the doctor remarked,
"I'm not sure, but by God, it's sharp!"
The woman entered the cave and re-emerged moments later, looking towards the entrance.
Deanna guessed correctly.
"Lunch is served."
After lunch the friends lolled about the fire. Deanna broke a lengthy silence.
"I think we should give her a name."
"Counsellor, she's not some sort of pet."
Beverley took up the challenge.
"Well, I suppose it would be better than calling her..."Hey you". Come on, Jean-Luc, what do you think?"
"What do you suggest?"
"Oh, I don't know. She's human, what about a human name....something traditional."
Deanna sat up, warming to the conversation.
"Yes! What about....Kate?"
Beverley tested the name a few times, then turned to Jean-Luc.
"Kate. How about it Captain?"
"It's as good as any I suppose. I'll give it a try."
He moved closer to the woman and brushed his hand on her arm. Placing his hand on his chest he said,
"Jean-Luc."
Before she could become irritated, he pointed at her...
"Kate."
She became very still, watching him intently. Again he went through the motions.
"Jean-Luc......Kate."
She blinked several times and looked at the other women.
"I'm Beverley."
"And I'm Deanna."
Jean-Luc went through the mantra again. He pointed to himself.
"Jean-Luc."
He pointed to the doctor.
"Beverley."
He pointed to the counsellor.
"Deanna."
Then he pointed at her.
"Kate."
She stared fixedly at Jean-Luc, frowning. Beverley decided to test her understanding.
"Kate...."
The woman turned to Beverley.
"Yes!"
Everyone started clapping, startling Kate and sending her away from the fire. Jean-Luc held his hand out, beckoning to her.
"Come back....it's alright."
She came to him and lowered her head, placing her forehead on his shoulder. He stroked her hair and murmured,
"It's alright, everything's fine."
She sighed and sat up, putting more fuel on the fire.
The afternoon passed and soon it was time to retire for the night. Jean-Luc watched Kate settle into her bed, wanting to go to her, but concerned about what his fellow officers would think. Despite Beverley's encouraging words, Jean-Luc felt cautious, not wanting to move too fast.
Once everyone was quiet, the lights extinguished and soon came the sounds of sleep. Jean-Luc lay quietly awake. He couldn't get his mind off the woman...Kate. He practised the name in his mind, eventually becoming restless. He tossed and turned, ultimately throwing the covers off in frustration. Rising slowly, he got up and made his way to the sleeping Kate. The lights came on, but everyone was asleep, by the time he reached Kate's bed, the lights went out. He gingerly touched her face and she woke immediately. Smelling his scent, she relaxed and pulled down the pelt that covered her, inviting him to lie with her. As did he, she slept only in the shorts that they all had, comfortable, yet warm. He lay alongside her, his hands exploring her face in the darkness. She was shy, not knowing what to do. He took her hand in his and put it on his chest, slowly descending to his shorts. She felt his changed anatomy and became curious, gently brushing her hand over his hardness. Jean-Luc eased her onto her back and kissed her softly, lightly. She touched his lips in the darkness, wanting more. He kissed her again, this time caressing her lips with his tongue. Instinctively, she opened her mouth, allowing his tongue to enter. She was not prepared for the sensations this caused. Arching her back, she pressed herself to him, wanting more. His kiss deepened, his tongue exploring her mouth as his hands explored her body. Her hand curved over his buttocks, drawing him closer, his gentle thrusting elevating their arousal. She was lost in sensation, never having experienced sexual arousal before. She wanted to touch him all over his body at once....and for him to touch her in the same way. She felt a heat, a yearning, so new to her, so confusing. His hand was slipping under the waistband of her shorts when the earth tremor started. Gentle at first, it grew until items fell from their shelves and a terrible roar overtook the land. Rolling out of bed, Kate ran, terrified around the cavern with her hands over her ears, screaming noiselessly. the shaking caused her to fall, striking her head heavily on the floor. She tried groggily to regain her feet, but Jean-Luc reached her and held her in his arms until the tremor subsided. When he saw the others he called,
"Beverley, come here, she's hurt!"
Somewhat disoriented, Beverley concentrated on her Captain's voice and made her way to him. Kate was still trying to get up, but Jean-Luc prevented it. Beverley stilled her movements and examined her head.
"Nasty cut, slight concussion.....she should be fine. I'll have to suture the cut, where does she keep that package?"
The Captain cast about, finally seeing the bundle on the floor.
"Over there, near the big shell."
Deanna helped Jean-Luc to settle Kate in his lap.
"What was that....an earthquake?"
"Yes. Beverley, don't forget the anaesthetic....Deanna, check the fire, make sure it hasn't spread out of it's hearth."
"Aye, Sir."
"Dammit! the anaesthetic is smashed Jean-Luc. It's on the floor....useless. Deanna, we need some hot water, can you manage?"
"Yes, I'll get it straight away."
"Captain, could you help her sit up more?"
Kate was placed between Jean-Luc's legs, his arms embracing her.
"Could you hold her head?"
Deanna arrived with the water and Beverley began the unpleasant task of stitching a cut closed without anaesthetic. With the first puncture of her skin, Kate jerked in Jean-Luc's hands.
"Steady....it's alright, I'm here."
His voice calmed her and her struggles ceased. With professional skill, Beverley completed her task and dressed the wound with salve.
"She should be fine."
Nodding, the Captain said,
"We should be ready for aftershocks. Make sure everything that can fall is placed on the ground.
We should move the sleeping pelts into the center of the cavern, but not near the fire."
"Yes, Sir."
The precautions took only moments to affect and over the next two hours, three aftershocks were experienced, each being weaker than the one it followed. In the early hours of the morning, the four humans drifted into a restless sleep.
On this new day, Kate did not hunt. She lay in Jean-Luc's arms, trying to make sense of what had happened. The earth tremor she had experienced before. She found them terrifying, something undetectable and sinister she couldn't understand. It was Jean-Luc that filled her thoughts. The pictures in her mind of him were erotic and disturbing. What were these feelings? Why did she feel like this...so powerful....overpowering. She wanted him to.....what? She didn't know, she just knew she wanted him....somehow. He stirred and she lay still. His hand caressed her in his sleep and the feelings began again. Wanting...needing....
She rolled over and got up, shaking her entire body as a dog would. It didn't help. She needed to put distance between them, so she made her way to the shower. It didn't help, all she could think of was watching Jean-Luc shave, then his hands, and his changed anatomy....what was that all about? More pictures....disturbing.....heating....she turned her head sharply and struck the rock wall. Pain lanced through her head, emanating from her injury. This won't do. She was to take Jean-Luc to the summit, and to make the return journey in one day, they needed to leave soon. Drying herself, she returned to the cavern to find everyone up and preparing breakfast. She avoided Jean-Luc throughout the meal and while she packed a bag for the day. It wasn't until she handed him his coat that she looked at him.
"I take it it's time to leave."
Without preamble, Kate left the cavern, picking up the tubular light as she disappeared into the fissure.
"I'll leave the communicator on homing signal., that should work better than trying to make contact from this altitude. Take care of yourselves."
And with that, he hurried after Kate. He caught up with her quickly and settled into an efficient pace. The route meandered through many caverns and caves before suddenly rising, becoming quite steep in places. They climbed steadily for most of the morning, the temperature falling the higher they went. Around midday, they stopped and ate the fruit, bread and water Kate had packed, then continued their trek upwards. The air temperature became so cold, they donned their heavy coats, pulled the hoods in place and put on the mittens. Finally, after a rigorous section of climbing, they exited the caves and faced the arctic-like gale assailing the summit. Wasting no time, the Captain set the signal and placed the communicator in a crack in the rock, hastily retreating into the caves. Their descent was undertaken in silence. When they stopped to rest, Jean-Luc tried to talk, but Kate ignored him. It was a very puzzled Captain that was reunited with his friends just before nightfall. After giving a brief report of his journey, he retired for the night, tired and frustrated.
The next few days were uneventful, the trio falling into the rhythm of life, established by the mysterious Kate.
A week had passed when, just on evening, Jean-Luc joined Kate outside. She was sitting on a rock, as she did most nights, honing a new blade on a rock. She knew he was there and to his gentle enquiry, she made room for him on the rock. He sighed.
"I've missed you. Why do you avoid me?"
As he spoke, his hand covered hers. She tried to move it, but he tightened his grip. With his other hand, he turned her face to him and gently lowered his head until their foreheads touched.
"Please, don't shut me out, I need you."
They stayed like that long after the suns had set. He knew she capitulated when the tension left her body.
"I know this is new for you. I won't rush you....we'll take it slowly."
She loved the sound of his voice. It calmed and inflamed her...it was very confusing.
Over the next few days, Jean-Luc was very attentive, gently touching Kate at every opportunity, spending all his time with her. One afternoon, when it wasn't too cold, they all went down to the river to collect fruit from the tall trees that abounded there. Having collected enough fruit, they turned to leave when Jean-Luc spotted a large nest.
"I wouldn't mind betting there's eggs in that nest. Fancy some scrambled eggs Beverley?"
"I don't know Jean-Luc, it's awfully high...."
"No problem. I used to do a lot of tree climbing as a boy. Wait here."
Beverley had to admit, he was good, he scrambled up the tree quickly and reached the nest without problems.
"Oh, hell, it's empty."
"Come on down Jean-Luc, it's time to go in."
The Captain was descending as well as he ascended, that was until he stood on a rotten branch. With a sickly, damp, crunch, Jean-Luc dropped like a stone, falling to the earth with a sickening thud.
"Jean-Luc!"
Running to their friend, Deanna and Beverley crouched beside him, Beverley gently gripping his shoulder.
"Jean-Luc....can you hear me? Where are you hurt?"
The first sound he made was a long groan.
"It didn't hurt this much when I was a boy."
"Stop fooling about! Where does it hurt?"
"Everywhere.....let me sit up."
By now Kate had joined the others, standing a little to one side, both worried and amused. She felt good at hearing his voice and she was interested to see what damage he'd done. It didn't occur to her that she was changing. She was feeling things, reacting to situations in a way she never had before. Where not so long ago she would have been disinterested in what had happened, now she experienced curiosity, concern and humour. It was a huge step forward, but it happened without her knowledge.
"How do you feel now?"
"Beverley, stop fussing. Nothing's broken....that is, nothing extra...my ribs hurt and my hip has seen better days, but, generally speaking, I'm...."
"Fine. I know. Just sit still a minute will you! Deanna, could you get the tricorder please?"
The counsellor left and Kate came to the Captain and sat beside him, tentatively putting her hand on his arm. She tilted her head and examined Jean-Luc thoughtfully.
"I'm fine, really. I challenged gravity and lost....again."
He smiled ruefully as he spoke and Kate felt the warmth again. She suddenly had a powerful urge to take him in her arms. Startled, she pulled back, blinking in surprise. Jean-Luc saw the change and frowned.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
Kate was becoming more confused and scrabbled to her feet, looking down at the Captain with panic. It wasn't what she felt, it was the speed and potency with which she felt it. She was unprepared for the intensity of her desire and didn't know how to handle it. She turned abruptly and left, passing Deanna on her way back to the cave.
Deanna reached the Captain and asked,
"What happened? She looked frightened."
Distractedly, Jean-Luc replied,
"I don't know....I've no idea."
Beverley took control and in a businesslike way scanned the Captain, stating his injuries as she found them.
"Well, Captain....you've been very lucky. There are numerous soft tissue injuries....you're going to be damn sore, by the way, but you seemed to have gotten away with it. Congratulations."
Looking sourly at his CMO, Jean-Luc glanced at the figure climbing to the cave.
"Help me up will you....please."
The women helped their Captain to his feet, then helped him on his slow walk back to the escarpment.
"Can you make it?"
A curt grunt was his only reply, before he began the sluggish climb to the cave. Raised eyebrows were exchanged between the women, Beverley shrugging her shoulders and mouthing the word...Kate.
When the trio entered the cave, three cups of herbal tea awaited them, the Captain's set aside, with the added painkiller steeping.
The women thanked Kate, Jean-Luc merely inclining his head.
"I will drink this, and while I wait for it to work, I will take a shower. If you will excuse me...."
Taking the drink with him, he left the cavern. Kate watched him leave with a worried frown, absently rubbing her thighs.
"Kate..."
She turned and regarded Beverley. Using a scooting gesture, Beverley advised,
"Go....go with him."
Kate stared for a few seconds, then turned and left the cavern.
"Yes!" crowed the women.
Kate found Jean-Luc sitting on a low ledge, trying to remove his shoe. The action caused obvious pain, but she noticed he had drunk the tea. Dropping to her haunches, she stilled his hands with her own. Looking into his face, she glanced to her left, then back to his face.
"What, what are you trying to tell me?"
Rising to her feet, she took his hand in hers. He rose stiffly and followed her slowly out of the shower, into a passage that passed the toilet area, then into complete darkness. He had no option but to trust her as she led him unerringly to her destination. It took a good fifteen minutes, and he was tiring fast. He was about to ask her to stop, when he saw a gentle glow up ahead. They entered a small cave, the entire floor taken up by a gently roiling pool. He could smell minerals, a ferrous odour, but what intrigued him was the light. The water was luminous, giving off a sepulchral glow. Kate turned to him and carefully removed his clothing, then removed her own. Taking his hand again, she led him slowly into the heated water. By now, the herbal painkiller had begun to work and Jean-Luc was feeling very relaxed. The water was chest deep as he walked and Kate guided him to a ledge on which he could sit. He leaned his head back onto the smooth rock and as his eyes drifted shut, he felt Kate's hands begin a gentle massage. His last thought was that he wished he could stay awake....she was very good.
A few hours later, Jean-Luc was roused by gentle hands caressing his face. When his eyes opened, he felt Kate lift him to his feet and usher him from the pool. The journey back to the cavern was dreamlike. In the blackness, Jean-Luc felt as if he was floating. Beverley and Deanna were asleep when they returned and without hesitation, Kate led him to her bed. They lay down together, Jean-Luc reclaimed by Morpheus even before his head hit the pelt's softness.
In the morning, Kate left to hunt, leaving the Captain snugly asleep in her bed. The morning passed quickly and Kate was late getting back. She had suffered an uncharacteristic lack of concentration as she hunted, her thoughts kept creeping back to Jean-Luc, how his muscled body felt under her hands, the soft hair on his chest and stomach...and lower, such an intriguing thing, how it could change....the pictures in her mind constantly distracting her, many opportunities for an easy kill passed until she finally got her mind back on the job. When she returned, Beverley and Deanna had made some bread and Jean-Luc was just rousing.
Kate went straight to the gutting room and didn't return for some time. When she did, Jean-Luc was up, but only dressed in his shorts. He, and the women had eaten, and prepared a meal for her, for which she was grateful....it had been a long morning.
Seeing she was finished with her meal, Jean-Luc who was seated beside her, said softly,
"Take me back to the pool."
Beverley overheard the request and interjected.
"Sorry to pry, Jean-Luc, but I'm a little worried by delayed shock. Must you go today?"
"Yes, Beverley, I do, but thank you for your concern. I'm...."
"Fine. I know, remember. Just take it easy, ok?"
"Will do."
Standing, Jean-Luc led Kate to the shower, then looked over in the direction he thought they'd taken the previous night. Understanding, Kate took his hand. He had decided not to take a light, trusting Kate as he had done before. With the same assuredness, Kate led them to the pool and watched with growing desire as Jean-Luc removed his shorts. He stood very close and began to undress her. Again she was assailed with the powerful emotions, but this time Jean-Luc recognised what was happening.
"It's alright. Trust me as I have trusted you."
His voice was like a salve to her fears. The tension left her and she concentrated on the sensation of being divested of her clothing. Her skin tingled and the by now familiar feelings of heat and arousal began to wash over her.
Jean-Luc was attentive and gentle. He walked into the pool backwards, never taking his eyes from hers. When they were standing within the water's sensuous embrace, he lifted his hands delicately to her face and softly brushed his lips over hers. The next kiss was longer, expressing resolute strength and desire. Gradually, her arms lifted and entwined themselves around his neck. The next kiss was ardent, laced with arousal and raw need. They broke apart slightly panting. Jean-Luc took her hand and guided it to his penis, gasping with delight when she took him in her hand. She was immersed in a sea of sensation, his every caress only serving to arouse her further, and there was the ever present need. She tried to understand it, control it, the strength of it leaving her trembling and panting. She moulded her body to his wanting more contact, more everything. He was nuzzling her neck, one of his large hands cupped her breast, and when he gently pinched her nipple, she thought she would explode with desire. The panic welled up, making her feel truly mad. She was frightened....she wanted....she needed, desperately, the sheer intensity of her emotions engulfing her. Confused and frightened, she pulled back and struck out at him, before diving toward the back wall, making her escape. Jean-Luc didn't hesitate, diving within seconds and following her, at that very moment ignorant to the danger he invited. He swam in the dark water, through a tunnel, against a gently flowing subterranean stream, nearly choking when he saw the incredible display of light ahead of him. His head broke the surface and he looked breathlessly for Kate. He spotted her at the far side of the grotto, knees drawn up, her arms around her legs. With slow grace, Jean-Luc lifted himself from the water and went directly to her. He knelt before her, ignoring the multicoloured lights that displayed around him.
"Why did you leave? I know you feel as I do, I won't hurt you.....trust me, I....I love you."
As he spoke, he caressed her face.
"Please Kate, let me make love to you."
He slipped his arms around her and drew her to the mossy floor. He kissed her, and she reciprocated. He lay on his side, she on her back and when he began to explore her body, she closed her eyes. His foreplay was skilled and generous, and when his fingers found her moist folds she knew she wanted him to do this. In soundless ecstasy, she arched her back, then Jean-Luc touched her clitoris and an incredible wave surged and broke over her, yet Jean-Luc didn't stop. He kept his intimate caress in place, inevitably eliciting another orgasm. Kate seemed to glow in the iridescent light, the prisms undulating across her body. He kissed her again, deeply and took a firm breast in his warm hand, gently tweaking the nipple. Still aroused, she arched to him, wanting more, wanting something she couldn't describe. Moving with care, Jean-Luc covered her body with his and began to enter her slowly. He had been sure she was a virgin, yet this was not the case. Finding no resistance he continued to penetrate her until he filled her completely. He lay quietly, sensuously undulating his hips. Kate was rigid with sensation, incapable of conscious thought. She grabbed his shoulders and he lowered his head and kissed her. Gradually at first, she started to move with him, matching his rhythm, and he commenced to thrust gently, taking care in his movements. Acting on instinct alone, Kate felt his increasing power and she rose to meet his thrusts, the incredible sensations making her gasp inaudibly. It was happening again, the wave building in sync with the inexorable movement of Jean-Luc's penis. She felt it rise through her body and as she wrapped her legs around the sweating man, the wave crashed through her being, wiping out all thought, all fear. Her head thrown back, mouth open in a silent scream, Jean-Luc watched her as his own body surged to his climax and he pulsed his essence deep within her, letting out a cry of elation. His body spasmed and jerked, the after effects of orgasm. As his breathing recovered, he rolled onto his side, taking Kate with him so they could lie together, still joined. He kissed her with reverence, his hand caressing her face.
Kate's eyes drifted shut and Jean-Luc sighed and whispered...
"Bon nuit, ma chere."

 

 

 

Some time later Kate awoke to the distinct pleasure of finding her lover looking softly into her eyes, and for the first time, a smile crept across her face. Jean-Luc's eyes slowly filled with tears as he took her hand and guided her fingers to her lips. With a feather-like touch, she traced her upturned lips with wonder, her smile broadening to match his. Leaving her mouth, her fingers gently brushed away Jean-Luc's tears, and, leaning experimentally forward, kissed him softly. Again, slowly, the foreplay began and the love they made was gentle and sweet. As they rested afterwards, Jean-Luc took the opportunity to survey his surroundings for the first time. He was entranced with the magical quality of the grotto. The lights played prismatically across their bodies, over the walls...everywhere, the stream appearing as flowing light. Tracing her face with his fingers, he whispered,
"We should be getting back, the others will be worrying."
As he spoke he looked at the stream, but she turned his face towards another area. Peering into the moving light, he could just make out an irregularity in the cave wall.
"Through there?" He pointed.
Kate stood and slipped into the stream, soon joined by the Captain. They washed themselves, indulging in gentle play and semi-erotic games, before Jean-Luc took her hand and walked to the rift in the wall.
"After you,", he said with a grin.
Swapping places, Kate lead him a long way, through tunnels where they wriggled and crawled, but eventually they saw the light spilling from the living area.
"Kate....we need something to wear."
His gestures were understood and she slipped silently away, to return a short time later with clothing for both of them. Once again dressed, the lovers joined Beverley and Deanna at the fire. The women knew immediately that something had changed. Not only were the couple holding hands, but Kate was relaxed and at ease with them. They were demonstrative toward each other, happily so, and the women exchanged several glances. While the evening meal was being made ready, Jean-Luc took Beverley aside and , frowning in embarrassment, asked what had been on his mind.
"Beverley.....off hand, do you know when my contraceptive implant expires?"
Beverley blinked, her mouth slightly ajar. Recovering quickly, she said,
"Off hand...I don't know, but you needn't worry. Kate's infertile."
"What! How? Why?"
"I don't know that either. It's one of those physical anomalies I mentioned. I'm sorry Jean-Luc."
"What?....Oh yes...thank you."
Beverley watched him drift back to Kate and she sighed when Jean-Luc slipped his arm protectively around her.
*Dammit Jean-Luc, it's not fair. You deserve happiness.*

 

 

Over the next few weeks, the four humans settled into a comfortable existence. Without noticing, life became tied to the natural rhythm of the planet. They gathered food when the weather permitted and occasionally, one at a time, hunted with Kate. The officers learned to make tools and helped with the repair of broken implements. Just before sunset each night, if it wasn't too inclement, Kate and Jean-Luc would go outside and sit on the flat rock to watch the stars come out. The weather continued to worsen, the seasons following no particular pattern. For now, it was cold, and getting colder. To combat the falling temperature, Kate released further hot water through a system of channels that flowed freely throughout the cave structures, allowing more heat into the living area. Her relationship with Jean-Luc continued to grow and deepen and in their lovemaking, Jean-Luc showed her how to share the delights he brought her. She was eager to learn his body, what pleased him, she felt liberated, as if set free after a long incarceration.
One evening, Jean-Luc began to draw in the ash. He had found this was often the easiest way to ask questions of Kate. She possessed a keen mind, Jean-Luc suspected she was highly intelligent and continued to seek ways to allow her to bloom. She watched as he drew, listening lovingly to his incredible voice.
"What I want to know is, how long have you been here?"
He had drawn a series of pictures depicting sunrise and sunset, repeated over and over. He sat up and swept his arm in an arc. Pointing at the drawings, he touched Kate on the chest and pointed again at the drawing. As Jean-Luc had grown accustomed to her, he had become able to accurately predict her mood by watching her eyes. As he watched, Kate stared intently at the drawings, frowning deeply. She looked up at Jean-Luc, the cavern, then back at the drawings, concentrating fiercely. Some minutes passed when suddenly she sat up and smiled. Beverley and Deanna, who had been observing the struggle were delighted, never having seen Kate smile before.
"My God, her whole face just glows. What a difference! Jean-Luc, how long had she been doing that?"
Jean-Luc just smiled and shrugged, making both women laugh.
Kate stood and held her hand out to Jean-Luc, leading out of the cavern. Beverley and Deanna, obeying the Captain's summons, followed. The path they took was unfamiliar, twisting and turning, until they came to a small cave at the end of a tunnel. As they entered a single light came on.
"Well, here's the junk room."
Beverley, hands on hips, looked about with amusement.
"So! She's fully human after all. Look at this junk."
Kate went to a separate area and showed Jean-Luc stack after stack of thin slate shards. Picking one up, Jean-Luc could see marks neatly scratched on both sides. Counting them, he found there were ten marks on each side.
"Beverley, did you bring the tricorder?"
"Yep."
"Look at this."
His voice had become a whisper that sent chills through Beverley's spine.
"What is it?"
"I think it's a record of the amount of time she's been here. See, on the wall there, she's flaked off the slate as needed. She must come here every day and mark off the day on the slate. There's a total of twenty marks on every piece I've looked at. Can you scan the piles and tally the number of marks?"
Silently, Beverley worked with the tricorder. Kate came to stand with Deanna, not sure of Jean-Luc's mood. He seemed sad....or angry, she wasn't certain, so she kept her distance.
Beverley looked up and sighed. Speaking softly she said,
"Well, if we use the earth standard, she's been here a little over five and a half years."
The Captain's head snapped up, causing Kate to step further away.
"Five and a half years! Alone....no one to....."
He turned to Kate, his intense look and curt gestures frightening her.
"How did you get here! How did you.....get here!"
Kate had begun to tremble. He was angry and she couldn't understand why. She had shown him what she thought he wanted to see. It was so difficult, trying to understand what he wanted to know.
"Captain.....Jean-Luc, take it easy, you're scaring her.....she doesn't understand...."
Taking an audible breath and expelling it forcibly, the Captain reigned in his anger. He felt so helpless, he couldn't imagine how it must have been all that time, alone. His heart ached for her.
He moved to her slowly and, with great care, took her in his arms. It took a few seconds, but the rigidity left her and she returned his embrace. Jean-Luc kissed her softly, his warm hazel eyes mesmerising her.
"Tell me Kate.....How did you", he gently touched her chest. "Get here?" He pointed at the floor, his eyes full of expression. Kate looked about in confusion, panic rising. She felt she knew what he asked, but the subject terrified her. Jean-Luc sensed her distress, felt her rising fear. Taking her hands and wrapping them in his , he got her to look at him, then said,
"It's alright. I'm here....show me."
There last two words were said with an intensity she'd not heard from him before. Her desire to help him began to supersede the fear she felt and she looked at the cave entrance with uncertainty.
"That's it Kate.....show me."
With a huge effort, she put aside her fear and led the trio out of the cave, stopping only to pick up a ball light. They walked deep into the cave system, sometimes warm, sometimes cold, climbing and descending, until Kate began to slow. She started to pant lightly and Jean-Luc could feel her trembling. He squeezed her hand, offering the only encouragement he could. She stepped around a corner....and there it was.
A large inky black module lay suspended ten centimetres above the floor. It made no sound, it reflected no light. Over four metres long, it was a metre thick with curved edges to it's sides and rounded ends. Kate shrank against the wall as the officers approached the object. The sound of the tricorder broke the silence. Jean-Luc, not taking his eyes off the black pod, questioned Beverley.
"Anything?"
"No, nothing. It might as well not be here."
"Deanna, do you sense anything?"
"No, Captain."
Jean-Luc walked around it, circling like a predator. He reached out a hand, eliciting a warning from Beverley.
"Jean-Luc!......careful....."
Looking at Beverley, he placed his hand upon the surface of the thing before him.
"It's warm! Are you sure there's no energy reading?"
"Yes! The tricorder doesn't register the object at all."
He placed both hands atop it's surface and glided them along it's length.
"There's no seams, no panels...nothing. What the hell is it?"
He looked up and searched for Kate. He was dismayed to find her cowering against the wall and went straight to her.
"I'm sorry, it's alright."
Taking her by the shoulders he bent his head to see her face.
"Kate, will you help me?"
He looked at the object, then back at Kate. She knew he would want this, yet still she cowered. The thing terrified her, she didn't know why....she had only a hazy recollection of getting it here, all she knew was that she wanted nothing to do with it. But....she wanted to help Jean-Luc. Suddenly she straightened and walked past him to the thing. As she neared it, a humming started and as she passed her hand over the mid section, it silently began to open.
The officers took a precautionary step backwards, their wariness warring with curiosity. Over the humming of the object, the sound of a processing tricorder could be heard.
"Anything Beverley?"
"No Jean-Luc, nothing. It's the same as with all the technology we've encountered here. It's either shielded in some way, or it's so alien to us the instrument has no idea what it's processing. Either way, we draw a blank."
Stepping closer, Jean-Luc peered inside.
"It hasn't fully opened. That area at the open end may have been for storage. Look, isn't that one of those ball lights?"
"Captain, that sealed tube looks like a life pod."
Inside the object, a tubular container, two metres long, lay inert and mysterious. Jean-Luc pointed at some connections.
"Beverley, what do you make of those interfaces?"
"I haven't a clue Jean-Luc. See if Kate can open it."
Beckoning to Kate, she reluctantly came to the Captain's side. Touching Kate on the chest, then pointing at the tube, Jean-Luc said,
"Can you open it Kate?"
Frowning deeply, Kate again passed her hand over the surface and, with the same silent efficiency, the tube's secret was revealed. Jean-Luc craned his neck to see what lay inside.
It was empty. Instinctively, Jean-Luc reached forward to touch the interior and with a flash of blue light and a loud crack, Jean-Luc was thrown backwards and ended up on his backside some metres from the object.
"Jean-Luc!"
Before Beverley or Deanna could get to the startled Captain, Kate had reached him and was holding his head in her hands, her head tilted to one side.
"It's alright, I'm fine."
"That was a foolish thing to do Jean-Luc. What the hell were you thinking when you shoved your hand in there? Anything could've happened...."
"Beverley, I'm fine. You're right, I didn't think, however,....we can add *force field* to the "known" list."
Jean-Luc stood and dusted off his leather trousers. Kate watched silently as he again neared the pod. Without asking, she went forward and lowered her hand into the guarded area. The humming ceased.
"It's obviously programmed to accept only her hand."
As Beverley uttered this, she was scanning Jean-Luc's hand.
"Slight burn....nothing serious."
"Thank you Doctor. Tell me, what do you make of those?"
The Captain indicated several long slim probes, connected to a sophisticated circuitry that seemed in turn, to be directly interfacing with the unit on the outside.
With the shield deactivated, I might be able to......What? Wait a minute, this can't be right...."
Shaking her head, the doctor repeated her scan.
Captain, there is microcellular debris on the probes....from a human brain, and there are hairs attached to the top end of the probes. My guess...and I hope I'm wrong, is that these probes were inserted directly into the brain."
Jean-Luc looked aghast.
"Why?"
Beverley shook her head.
"You guess is as good as mine.
Coming forward, Deanna asked the question they had all thought.
"Was it Kate?"
"Yes."
Jean-Luc shook his head in anger and frustration.
"None of this makes any sense. Why would Kate be in this? Who put her there and what did they do to her? And the unit....I'd wager it doesn't have it's own propulsion device....how did it get here? The officers looked blankly at each other, Jean-Luc turning back to Kate. Again pointing at her and the object, Jean-Luc said softly,
"Kate where did it come from......where did it land?"
Kate knew instinctively that he would ask that....she'd been dreading it. The pictures came unbidden, random images of fear and dread, pain and sickness. She knew she must take them, yet she hesitated, trying to dissuade her lover in a vain attempt to avoid the fear she would have to face. She tried to turn away, but Jean-Luc had seen the distress pass over her face. Taking her shoulders, he gently turned her to him.
"It's alright Kate, I'll be with you....we all will."
Lowering her head and sighing, Kate turned and left the cave, the others following. Obeying her actions, they dressed for the cold and exited the cavern and struck off in a direction they'd not taken before. Cutting over the shoulder of the escarpment, they descended into thick, unpleasant bush, struggling over fallen timber and clinging vines. Snow fell on them in clumps as they pushed forward, Kate didn't stop to rest until the vegetation started to thin. They crested a rise, giving a view of what looked like a beach, some two kilometres away. The sea was a sullen red colour, the sky above it a sickly light green. An alarm on the tricorder warned of noxious gases, the level rising as they moved down the slanted terrain. Two sets of dunes, one large, the other smaller ones closest to the sea, were the last obstacle to navigate, but Kate turned before they encountered them and took up a path that led to a stand of unhealthy trees.
"Captain, we can't stay here much over an hour. The gasses will cause damage to the mucous membranes, and long exposure would be fatal."
"Understood, Beverley."
Kate walked with her head down. She had been here before and she had thought she'd never have to come back. Deanna saw it first.
"Captain look!"
Following her pointing hand, Jean-Luc saw for himself what she had alerted him to. The remains of a ship lay nestled in the embrace of foetid mosses, evil looking vines and a light covering of purple sand. Letting out a small whistle, he approached the craft with Beverley, the tricorder the only sound evident.
"I suppose you're going to tell me it's negative."
"Sorry Captain. Here, look for yourself, it just doesn't register. I can't even tell you what it's made of."
Deanna look thoughtfully at the wreck.
"You know, it's not very big.....not much bigger than a large shuttle. It may well have been fully automated....no pilot required. If Kate was in the thing in the cave, she would be as uninformed as we are."
Moving to Kate's side, Deanna touched her shoulder, pointed to the craft, then drew a picture of the pod in the sand. Kate looked into the spindly bush some metres away to her right and, after looking at Jean-Luc, slowly began to walk in that direction, followed by the three friends.
They were soon standing in a wide furrow that ended in a pile of earth, sand and destroyed vegetation. The Captain walked to the beginning of the furrow, and turning, noticed how it deepened.
"It would seem that the pod landed here and skidded, ploughing up the ground, until it came to rest there."
Deanna agreed.
"Yes, but how did she get it back to the cave?"
Beverley looked again at the tricorder.
"We'll have to work that out at the cave. If we're going to explore that ship, we better make it snappy. We're running out of time."
They made their way back and spent the next half hour investigating the ruined ship. Suddenly Jean-Luc put his hand to his face.
"Beverley....I seem to be bleeding from the nose."
He looked up, only to see Beverley and Deanna similarly afflicted. Kate had risen from where she had been sitting and went straight to Jean-Luc, pulling at his coat sleeve, a worried look on her face. Beverley snapped the tricorder closed and said urgently,
"Right! That's it. Everyone out of here.....now!"
Kate led them with speed back the way they had come, stopping only when she had reached the top of the ranges above the beach. Beverley pronounced the area safe and the four castaways sat regaining their breath. The nose bleeds stopped, but , as Beverley pointed out, Kate had not been affected.
"Maybe she's built up a resistance to the gasses?"
"Maybe, Deanna, but perhaps it's just another example of how she's been "enhanced"."
Jean-Luc looked up, frowning.
"What do you mean by enhanced?"
"Captain, all I can do is tell you what the tricorder says. I can't offer any explanations."
"Very well, continue."
"As I've said, she's fully human, but......there have been some....modifications. Her muscles, for instance, are stronger, the fibres thicker and more elastic, than what would be considered normal. Her bones are denser, her heart and lungs larger. I'd wager she can see, hear, taste......in fact I'd bet she's better....stronger in every way by comparison to an average human of her age and sex and I've no idea how she came to be that way. Jean-Luc, I take it you've noticed the scars?"
The Captain nodded silently
"As far as I can tell, they're all over her body. I shudder to think how she came by them. It's just another part of the puzzle I suppose, although I don't like it....not one bit."
Jean-Luc lowered his head in silence. So much about Kate was mysterious. He knew his growing love for her was blinding him to the questions he should be asking about her, yet they were still dependant on her for so much. She had saved them all and asked nothing in return. He didn't know what to make of it all, he just knew he wanted to help her in any way he could.
It was just on dark when the travellers returned, tired and hungry. A quick meal of left over bread and dried fruits soon had them full and preparing for bed. By now, Jean-Luc was openly sharing Kate's bed, having overcome his natural reluctance to be public about such things.
The next morning, after breakfast, the Captain took Kate's hand and sat with her at the fire. As he had done before, he started to draw in the ash, and as he drew, he spoke softly to her.
"Kate, what we need to know, is how did you get the pod from the beach to here?"
Kate frowned and made a sour face, not wanting to have anything to do with the object.
"Please Kate, we need to know."
Jean-Luc quietly persisted until Kate abruptly stood with an angry snort and left the cavern. A quick glance passed between the trio and they took off in pursuit of the irritated woman.
They soon found themselves back at the cave, Kate standing silently beside the object. She reached out and held her hand motionlessly above the midsection of the pod. Within a few seconds it rose to her hand, almost, but not quite, touching. As Kate moved, it moved with her. She left the cave and made her way back to the cavern, silently asking Jean-Luc where he wanted her to release it. He chose the far wall, as far away from Kate's sleeping area as possible.
"Well, that explains how she got it here."
"Yes Deanna, if only we could unravel all her secrets as easily."
Still upset, Kate left to hunt, leaving the Starfleet officers to ponder over the sullen black shape. She was somewhat mollified to find, on her return, that the friends had made a passable stew and some fresh bread. Jean-Luc took the carcass from her and headed to the gutting room, while Beverley and Deanna helped her shed her heavy coat and stow the weapons. They smiled gently as she warmed herself by the fire and, to their relief, Kate relaxed, the scowl melting away.

 

 

 

Six and a half weeks had passed and the four humans were well entrenched in the pattern of life. Twice a week, the Captain and Kate made the arduous trip to the mountain top, twice experiencing earth tremors, to check on the communicator, to make sure it was still sending, then make the return to report that all was well. The weather remained cold, snowing on most days, and gradually, fresh food became scarce. Only a portion of each kill was eaten, the larger part was put in the frozen cave, as insurance against the ongoing harsh weather.
The love continued to grow between Jean-Luc and Kate and to the delight of all, Kate smiled often and would, on occasion, place her fingers on the larynx of her friends as they talked, especially Jean-Luc. The lovers would leave the others often, to explore the caves, and make love, their happiness tangible and sustaining.
One morning, several days later, Kate was preparing to leave to hunt and Jean-Luc was attempting to dissuade her. The previous morning, for the first time, she had returned empty handed, which only made her more determined to hunt on this morning. Jean-Luc tried to make her stay, but she wouldn't have it, and eventually he acquiesced. Kissing her gently, he handed her the club and watched her leave, a worried expression on his handsome face. After she had gone, Beverley took his arm and led him to the fire.
"Why are you so worried? She does this every day."
Looking at his friend, he gathered his thoughts.
"She didn't get anything yesterday, she'll go further afield now. I don't like the thought of her going so far from the cave. It's just a feeling I suppose."
"You old softie, Jean-Luc. Stop worrying, she knows what she's doing."
The friends drifted apart and busied themselves with the multitude of small tasks that always need to be done. When lunch time came and went without Kate returning, Jean-Luc became restless.
*She had to go further away....she'll return soon.*
Late afternoon passed and the women began to be concerned. Jean-Luc was pacing, fretting impotently. He picked up his coat and proceeded to put it on.
"Jean-Luc....what do you think you're doing?"
"Beverley, I'm going to look for her. You know as well as I do she should be back by now."
"Captain, I know you're worried, but it will serve no purpose for you to leave. You can't just go out there and begin searching....you don't even know in which direction she went. It would be pointless....and dangerous."
With an angry glare, the Captain faced the counsellor.
"So what am I supposed to do, just sit here and twiddle my thumbs?"
Beverley tried to calm him.
"Look, why don't you sit outside for a while and keep watch?"
Some of the tension left him, his shoulders relaxing slightly.
"Good idea, I'll do just that."
He sat on their rock scouring the valley though the falling snow, not really able to see much, he at least felt better for doing something. Ultimately, darkness and the intense cold drove him inside, almost frantic with worry. He declined to eat with the others, opting instead, to pace near the cave entrance. Beverley and Deanna stayed up with him for several hours, sleep eventually catching up with them, and Jean-Luc. About an hour before dawn, Jean-Luc was roused by a scraping sound. In the few seconds it took for his mind to clear, Kate had made it into the cave, dragging herself along the ground.
"Beverley quickly!"
Jean-Luc was immediately on his knees beside her, wanting to hold her, but wary of hurting her. Her face was covered in blood which was seeping from three long lacerations across her scalp. She had three vicious slashes down the inside of her left thigh and more right across her back.
"Jean-Luc, help me to get her to bed. Deanna, get a big bowl of hot water and some old clothing."
Very gently, Kate was lifted and carried to her bed. Keeping her face down, her clothes were removed and the terrible wounds cleaned.
"I'll have to suture all of these tears, can you get the deadening paste?"
Deanna returned quickly with the paste and Beverley applied if over the ghastly wounds. Carefully threading the beautiful, hand made curved needle, Beverley proceeded to stitch the lacerations. Kate was oblivious to what was going on. She lay quietly, occasionally shivering.
"She's very hot, Beverley...."
"Probably infection. Deanna, I need a bowl of cold water."
Between them, the friends used scraps of leather to wet Kate's feverish body in an attempt to lower her temperature. Beverley scanned her with the tricorder, trying to find the source of the infection.
As dawn broke, windy and still snowing, Kate's heat slowly rose.
Beverley shook her head in frustration.
"There must be a foreign body present, but where?"
Suddenly, Kate's body went rigid and she began to jerk rhythmically.
"Febrile convulsion! More cold water Deanna!"
Jean-Luc held Kate's head while the women continued to splash cold water on her. Looking down her body as they rolled her on her side into the recovery position, Jean-Luc said urgently,
"Doctor! Her leg, the wounds on her thigh.....something's happened to them."
Beverley gasped at what she saw. The thigh had swollen badly, the gaping wounds red and oozing pus
"My god, that's where the infection is....it was so quick.....wait, I'll scan it."
"Oh no....there's something deeply embedded in her thigh. It's too close to the femoral artery."
Jean-Luc looked up quickly.
"What are you going to do? Can you fix it?"
"I don't think so....it's too close to the artery. With what I have available here......no, I can't do it. If I accidentally nick the artery, she would bleed to death. I'm sorry Jean-Luc."
"But what can we do? We must do something.....this infection could kill her anyway! Dammit Beverley......"
"I'll remove the sutures, allow the wound to drain. We can give her that antibiotic brew she has.....and hope for the best."
Later that afternoon, as Jean-Luc continued to bathe her, Kate had a nightmare. She had them often.....nameless terror and pain...always the pain, but since Jean-Luc had started to share her bed, it hadn't been so bad. He would wake and hold her, murmuring comforting sounds, chasing the terror away. But this was different. In her dread she couldn't find him. The pain grew as she searched frantically for him. She was lost. She would die.
Jean-Luc was watching her as the nightmare began. As she had done before, her hands, in a claw like rictus, would rise to her face, her back arching. Her head would stretch back and her mouth would open in a soundless scream, She screamed over and over, until he woke her, trembling and sweating heavily. This, however, was different....worse. When her eyes opened, she saw nothing but the whiteness of terror, Jean-Luc's words meaningless to her. His raised voice brought the others and between the three of them, they tried to break the spell of terror. Jean-Luc, holding Kate's hands shouted hoarsely,
"Kate! Kate for God's sake, wake up!"
Taking a cup of water, Deanna splashed it over Kate's face. With a sharp intake of breath, Kate became rigidly still, then collapsed into a shivering mass, her head rocking from side to side.
"Beverley, what if I take her to the mineral pool, you know, the one she took me to when I fell out of the tree. Maybe the water might help the infection....nothing else has."
Frowning, Beverley looked first at the Captain, then at Kate, her decision made easier when Kate vomited.
"Go Jean-Luc. I'll come with you and monitor her condition....Deanna, could you clean up here?...."
"Of course doctor. I'll be there later."
As gently as possible, Jean-Luc picked up the naked Kate and carried her through the caves to the softly roiling pool. Not stopping to remove his clothes, he waded into the water and made his way to the ledge he knew was there, hitching himself onto it, he cradled Kate in his arms. Beverley, after removing her trousers, entered the warm water and scanned Kate as best she could.
"I wish this was a medical tricorder, Jean-Luc. I'm only getting general information, not specifics....it's so damn frustrating!"
"I know Beverley, believe me, I know."
Beverley stroked Kate's short hair, considering carefully what she wanted to say to the Captain....her friend.
"Jean-Luc.....you love her, don't you?"
Jean-Luc nodded, a speculative look on his face.
"Well, what are you going to do when the Enterprise comes? Have you thought about asking Kate if she wants to leave? How do you think she'll adapt to life aboard a starship? Jean-Luc, there's so much we don't understand about her. Have you noticed that in the seven weeks we've been here, neither you or her have had any hair growth. Your nails haven't grown either, have they? Yet, Deanna and I have experienced hair and nail growth. If it wasn't for your beard growth, I would wager you haven't aged a day since you got here. Have you given that any thought? Were you aware of it?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc lowered and shook his head.
"I saw it in her, not me. She has filled my thoughts Beverley, it's very hard to....I...."
Beverley reached out and clasped her friend's shoulder. Smiling, she muttered softly,
"I know....I felt with Jack."
The two friends lapsed into silence, not stirring until Deanna arrived. Sensing the melancholy emotions, she also kept silent, until Beverley said,
"That's enough for now. We might as well stay here, over there on that moss, we can go back to the water in a little while, when her temperature starts to rise again."
They carried Kate to a moss bed near the entrance and settled themselves around her. Jean-Luc sat with her head in his lap, constantly stroking her hair. Thoughtfully, he looked at Deanna.
"Counsellor, were you able to sense anything when she dreamed?"
Deanna frowned, collecting her thoughts.
"Sometimes......but only bits and pieces, for which I'm very glad.....She feels great terror....and pain, but I can't.......gather the feelings together, they're fragmented....transitory. It's difficult to explain, but I know the nightmares are a regular occurrence. I shudder to think how she suffered before she had you to help her through them Captain."
The hours passed slowly, dozing on the moss bed and periodically staying in the water, Kate's condition continuing to worsen. Not knowing if it was night or day, Deanna went back to the main cavern to get some food, water and pelts to lie on. When she had gone, Jean-Luc looked sadly at Beverley.
"Kate's going to die, isn't she?"
"Jean-Luc....."
"Beverley! I can see it myself, it's quite obvious."
Taking a large breath, Beverley struggled to keep her voice steady.
"Yes. Without the Enterprise's sickbay....I can't help her, she's just too sick."
The Captain lowered his head, two tears slowly descending his face.

 

 

Deanna had gathered the provisions and bundled them in some fresh skins, when she decided to venture out of the cave to check on the time and weather. As was customary when negotiating the cave entrance, she bent over and ducked her head, stepping forward confidently, when suddenly two strong hands grabbed her upper arms. She shrieked in terror, her voice carried away by the wind howling outside. She flung herself backwards, kicking out with her feet, feeling gratification when she felt a solid kick landing. The grip was torn lose and she turned over, trying to regain her footing.
"Deanna! Deanna, for crying out loud stop kicking me!"
It took some seconds for the words to register. Stilling immediately, she whipped her head around and peered into the gloom of early evening.
"That's better! Gods woman, you almost did me a mischief!"
"Will?.....Will, is that you?"
"None other."
Will was pushed back by the force of Deanna's embrace.
"Oh, Will....Imzadi.....it's so good to see you! We must hurry. There is a very sick woman....Will, we have to get to the ship...."
Taking Deanna by the hand, Will sought to slow her down.
"Whoa, wait a minute.....what woman? Where's the Captain and Beverley? Who....."
"Not now Will, come on!"
Deanna turned and began to hurry to the pool, dragging Will along with her.

 

 

Kate's breathing was becoming increasingly laboured. Her life was ebbing away, and the gallant Captain could do nothing about it.
Quietly closing her tricorder and wiping a tear from her own face, Beverley said softly,
"Jean-Luc.....she's....."
"So soon?"
Beverley could only nod, not able to speak in the face of his anguish. He lifted her limp body to his chest and moaned heart-breakingly,
"No.....not Kate, please, not her."
Deanna stopped dead when she entered the cave.
"NO! Captain, she's still there, I feel it! Will, get us up to sick bay NOW!"
Slapping his communicator, Will shouted,
"Riker to transporter room, five to beam directly to sickbay!"
As their forms dissipated into nothingness, Jean-Luc felt another tear make it's way down his face and by the time it reached his chin, they re-materialised in sickbay. Immediately, Beverley began to order her staff, taking Kate from the Captain's arms and placing her on a biobed. Jean-Luc tried to stay with Kate, ignoring the requests of staff to allow them to scan him, until Beverley curtly ordered him to comply with the staff's wishes.
He was taken to a private cubicle and scanned thoroughly, his minor injuries tended to, a note made that he had lost weight, and all scar tissue removed. Deanna went through the same procedure and soon found herself standing with the Captain and Will at the entrance to Beverley's office. They were standing silently when a staff member came to them with a message from Beverley, to the effect that the Captain was ordered to retire to his quarters to shower, eat and rest and that the doctor would see him soon. Knowing the futility of arguing, the Captain turned on his heel and left abruptly, saying over his shoulder,
"Accompany me number one!"
No other words were spoken, and, as they entered the Captain's cabin, Will wondered what the hell was going on.

 

 

 

The Captain spent the next hour briefing his first officer on what had happened during his seven week absence, giving him the tricorder containing all information stored within, but devoting virtually no time to explain his relationship with Kate. He did say, however, that she was to be a permanent member of the Enterprise compliment and would be sharing his cabin. Will blinked at that, but said nothing, his next visit would be to Deanna, something the Captain was aware of. Towards the end of the briefing, Picard ordered an away team to visit the planet to retrieve all articles belonging to Kate, and that all alien items, including the remains of a small ship, would be beamed aboard as soon as possible, with Geordie LaForge and Data sequestered to examining them. Also, the Captain ordered the buoy in orbit to be brought aboard for study. The Captain dismissed Will and stood, silently watching the door, lost in thought. Breaking out of his reverie, he briskly walked to his bedroom, discarded his tanned skins and took a shower, emerging refreshed and surprisingly hungry. He was delighted to be back in uniform, although after putting the skins through the cleaning cycle, he carefully folded them and put them away, standing quietly, stroking the soft skin, before he closed the drawer. As he was eating a light meal of sandwiches and tea, his door announcer activated.
"Come."
Beverley entered, looking tired and dishevelled. Having changed in sickbay, she hadn't yet eaten or rested, a worried expression clouded her face. Replicating some sandwiches and herbal tea for her, the friends sat down on the sofa.
"How is she?"
"Recovering well. We pulled this out of her leg."
Beverley held up a five centimetre long broken end of a wickedly curved claw.
"We've eradicated the infection and treated all the wounds. She's sleeping now, maybe you could come down in an hour, I think she would like to see you."
Jean-Luc nodded slowly.
"What else?"
Running her hands tiredly through her hair, Beverley shook her head.
"Jean-Luc, I don't know where to start."
Beverley rubbed her hands along the tops of her thighs.
"Beverley....why can't Kate talk?"
"Oh God, Jean-Luc, that might be the worst of all. She can't talk for two reasons. First, her larynx has been utterly ruined, well beyond being repairable. I've taken some cells and we'll clone a new one for her, it should be ready in about ten days. At some time, she screamed until it ruptured and she kept on screaming, destroying it completely. I don't want to think what caused that....it's too horrible. The second reason she can't talk is a little harder to explain. Her brain has been chemically altered. Whole sections of brain, devoted to speech and memory have been isolated and chemically closed down. She has no access to these areas, she would be unaware they existed. She doesn't know she can't speak, and she doesn't understand what we are doing when we do. All she hears are the sounds. Remember when she would touch our throats when we talked? And then she would touch her own throat? She never, not once, attempted to make any sound. It just never occurred to her. Jean-Luc something dreadful has happened to her. Those scars I mentioned? It looks to me like a surgical exploration....removal and reattachment of limbs, organs, eyes....do you want me to go on?"
Jean-Luc nodded silently.
"Her fingernails have been removed and put back! My God, Jean-Luc, who would do such a thing? Her reproductive organs are all present, yet she's infertile. The system simply doesn't work. And she's been....altered... in other ways. Her teeth are stronger, her bones denser, muscles capable of more power....it's as if she's been enhanced to be better able to survive on that planet. Hearing, smell, sight.....all well above established levels. Her hair and nails don't grow and I've no idea why. I took a reading of cellular age when I left, and when I return I will measure it again, and you know what? I bet they haven't aged one iota.......and neither have you, Jean-Luc."
The Captain's head shot up smartly from it's bowed position.
"What? What do you mean?"
"We compared you present readings from the last scan you had. Taking into account the amount of time that has passed, we calculated you stopped ageing at approximately the same time you first saw Kate. Something happened....passed between you both. Can you describe it again for me?"
Irritated, Picard ran his hand over his pate and strode to the window, folding his arms defensively across his chest.
"Look doctor, it was nothing, that is, nothing of consequence. Her appearance took me by surprise, that's all. I'm sure there's another explanation for all this. Have you checked yourself, and Deanna?"
Sighing with exasperation, Beverley joined him at the window and ran her hand over his shoulder.
"Of course we have, Jean-Luc. We're ageing at the normal rate, it's you I'm worried about." "Look, why don't we go to sickbay. I could do some more scans on you, and you could be there when Kate wakes up. She's going to be somewhat confused."
Jean-Luc turned towards his friend, and after a moment, smiled ruefully.
"Alright Beverley, my apologies. I seem to be a little tense, don't I."
"A little?"
Smiling, the two friends left the Captain's quarters, on their way to sickbay.

 

 

 

 

They were on their way through the corridors when they heard the call go out.
"Security to sickbay!"
Hastening their steps, they were nearing the main sickbay doors, when they suddenly opened to disgorge a med tech in a hurry.
"Sanders! What's going on?"
The med tech straightened immediately.
"Doctor Crusher! The woman....the one from the planet....she's gone berserk. She's laid out three security staff and gone through the serum lab window!"
The two officers entered the sickbay to be confronted by mayhem. As the med tech had said, three security staff lay unconscious on the floor, a clear aluminium window was smashed and Kate was shoulder charging the door to the biotechnic lab. Again and again she charged the door and the lieutenant in charge of the security detail was just raising his phaser when the Captain shouted,
"Stop! Lower your weapon, Lieutenant!"
The young man froze at the sound of his commanding officer's voice.
"Yes Sir!"
The Captain walked forward, taking control of the situation.
"Move back, all of you, and put your weapons away."
"Captain...."
"It's alright Beverley, I know what I'm doing."
Jean-Luc made his way through the door and into the serum lab. He extended his hand and said quietly,
"Kate......Kate, it's me. Please stop."
The woman stopped the moment she heard him. Standing perfectly still, her back to him, she closed her eyes and listened, waiting for his voice to chase the terror away.
"Kate, I'm going to touch you....it's alright, no one will hurt you, you got a fright, that's all. Here, look at me."
As he spoke, Jean-Luc grasped her shoulder and gently turned her. He was appalled by what he saw. The clear aluminium had broken into shards, cutting and gouging. Kate was heavily lacerated in many places and an awful piece was deeply embedded in her side. Seeing movement behind him, she grasped the shard in her side and tore it out, brandishing it at the approaching crewman. Jean-Luc looked over his shoulder and barked,
"Get back! Do not come near!"
Once again facing Kate, he reached out, holding the hand with the shard.
"It's alright. You can put that down, no one will hurt you."
Lowering her hand, Jean-Luc managed to relieve her of the wicked piece of aluminium. Taking both of her hands, he said soothingly,
"I will ask everyone to leave, it will be just Beverley, you and me. It's going to be ok......I want everyone, except doctor Crusher, to leave! NOW!"
It took moments for the sickbay to become deserted, Beverley moving into sight beside the Captain.
"Look, it's Beverley.....you know she will help you.....come with me, that's it. Just come over here."
By the sound of his voice alone, Kate quelled the demons and allowed Jean-Luc to lead her to a biobed, and at his behest, sat on it. The Captain was startled to hear Will's voice from the door.
"Captain! What's going on? Are you in need of assistance?"
Taking a calming breath, Jean-Luc looked at Beverley and gritted his teeth.
"We're fine commander, we just need a little quiet, that's all. Please withdraw, and take the crowd with you. I will let you know when you may enter."
"Aye Sir."
Jean-Luc could tell by his tone of voice, that Will wasn't happy, but he would sort that out later. For now, they had to treat Kate.
Very slowly, Beverley ran a tricorder over Kate, frowning at the readings.
"Jean-Luc, we need to get her to surgery. There are several nasty lacerations, and that stab wound is dangerously deep. She's not yet fully recovered from the infection she had.....I really need Alyssa here."
Picard shook his head.
"Not while she's fully conscious. See if she'll let you use a hypospray on her. If we can sedate her, we'll have a better chance of introducing anybody new. Don't render her unconscious, I want her to trust us."
While Beverley loaded a hypospray, Jean-Luc held Kate's hand with one hand and stroked her face with the other. When Beverley was beside him, he said softly,
"This is medicine, to make you feel better. It's alright, it won't hurt."
As he spoke, the doctor applied the hypo to Kate's neck, the soft hiss making her gasp and begin to tense, but the medicine was faster and she gently slumped into Jean-Luc's arms. He was laying her down as Beverley called for nurse Alyssa Ogowa.
She arrived quietly and looked expectantly at her boss.
"Alyssa, remove the coverall and prepare her for surgery."
The Captain stepped back and watched with appreciation as Alyssa went about her duties with gentleness and respect.
"Well, Jean-Luc....would you like to wait in my office? Maybe my staff can tell you what happened. I'll see you when we're finished."
Beverley disappeared into the surgical suit, leaving the Captain feeling drained. He went to her office, calling Will as he went.
"Sit down Will. I suppose the counsellor has filled you in on the...ah, situation, between Kate and myself?"
Will shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Yes, Sir, she has."
"And what do you think?"
"Well, Sir, it's really none of my business....."
Standing straight and lifting his chin, the Captain barked,
"No it isn't!"
Then he relented.
"Look, I'm sorry Will. This is as hard for me as it is for you. I'm in....that is, I ....she and I are....Oh, God, why is this so difficult? We are in love. I'm hoping she will stay aboard with me....although I've not had the opportunity to ask her....she can't....that is, she doesn't...."
"It's alright Sir, Deanna filled me in. I know of her....difficulties. But Sir, is it wise? You...we...know nothing about her. Who knows what she may be mixed up in. I'm just worried that you may be biting off more than you can chew."
The Captain quickly picked up on Will's tone of voice, and didn't like what he heard. Tilting his head to one side he peered at Will.
"You don't approve. Well Will, this may come as a surprise to you, but I don't need your permission."
Taking a large breath, Jean-Luc calmed himself.
"Will, just give her a chance, get to know her. I'm sure you'll change your mind."
Will stood and squared his shoulders.
"As you wish Sir. Is that all?"
"Yes, commander. Send in the senior med tech on your way out."
"Aye Sir."
The Captain was still gathering his thoughts when the rather nervous med tech entered.
"Sir?"
"What? Oh, yes. Please sit down lieutenant......?"
Licking her lips, the shaken lieutenant muttered,
"James, Sir....Sam James."
Jean-Luc smiled to himself over the poor lieutenant's nervousness.
"Right, well lieutenant Sam James, what happened here?"
"I really don't know Sir. Everything was quiet, the patient was asleep, then all of a sudden, she just.....sprang....off the biobed, disconnected all the monitors and fended off anybody that came close. She wasn't violent until the security team arrived. I've got to tell you....she's quick! She had three of them out cold in a flash, in fact I've never seen anybo...."
The Captain held up his hand.
"I'm sure lieutenant. Did you see anybody near her when she awoke?"
Shaking her head, the lieutenant frowned.
"No Sir. She was just quietly sleeping."
Picard had placed his hands behind him, leaning on them, his legs crossed. Pursing his lips, he said,
"Very well lieutenant, that will be all, thank you. Please ask lieutenant Pax to come in."
A very relieved Sam James left to be soon replaced by lieutenant Jut Pax. The Andorian stood rigidly at attention, even his antennae quivering.
"At ease lieutenant."
With the same inflexible approach, the Andorian adopted an "at ease" stance.
*Oh dear, another Worf.*
Using his best "Captain's" voice, Jean-Luc said,
"On encountering the situation in sickbay, what were your first orders?"
"Sir! My first order was to ensign Arto. I ordered her to subdue the patient, Sir!"
Jean-Luc sighed.
"And after that?"
"Sir!...."
"Lieutenant....please.... relax. We'll be here all day if you start and end everything with "Sir". Just tell me what happened."
Allowing his shoulders to fall a few centimetres, Pax gathered his thoughts.
"When the ensign had been dispatched with such ease, I ordered ensign Marks to attempt to subdue the patient. He has trained extensively in martial arts, I thought....he was rendered unconscious in a matter of moments. Ensign Holla entered the conflict without orders, Sir. The result was the same. I was about to fire...on the stun setting...when you arrived, Sir."
Picard steepled his hands and was momentarily quiet.
"I see. Tell me lieutenant, was the patient overtly aggressive at all......did she instigate any of the violence?"
"No Sir. I would say she acted in self defence only, and may I say Sir, very, very, effectively....Sir."
"Thank you lieutenant, that will be all."
After Pax had left, Jean-Luc pondered what he had been told. More pieces to the puzzle. When would the picture be complete?

 

 

 

Will was irritated, and it showed. he was pacing back and forth in Deanna's quarters with short, angry steps, his hands cutting through the air as he vented his discontent on Deanna.
"What the hell is going on? You three go missing for seven damn weeks, and when we finally find you, the Captain's fallen for......wonder woman.....dressed in skins no less, and he tells me she's going to come aboard permanently! Who the hell is she? Where is she from? How did she get there, and why, why did the Captain fall for her? What about Beverley? They've been friends for years. If he needed someone.....Deanna, is it me, or is this whole thing really bizarre?"
Deanna had sat quietly through the tirade, waiting patiently for the chance to speak. Having been offered the opportunity, she sat back and crossed her legs.
"Will, who are you more upset with, the Captain, or yourself?"
Will stopped abruptly and glared at Deanna.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Think about it Will. We went missing and it took you seven weeks to find us. Seven weeks through which you fretted and chaffed, then when you find us, the Captain barely has time to say "thank you" as he is totally absorbed with a woman he's fallen in love with, a woman we know nothing about, but without whom, we would have perished. She not only saved us, she took us in. Beverley says she's been through a terrible trauma and needs our help. Once again, you're overlooked. And speaking of Beverley and the Captain, they settled their feelings for each other some time ago, I'm surprised you still hold hopes for them. Beverley is happy for the Captain, why aren't you? Jealousy can manifest itself in many ways Will, are you sure this isn't that.....plain old jealousy?"
The commander drew himself up to his full impressive height and scowled down at Deanna.
"I expected better from you counsellor. I'll be on the bridge."
Without another word, he turned and left, leaving a very bemused counsellor in her quarters.
*Will, when it happens, you're going to have to eat humble pie.*

 

 

 

Jean-Luc sat quietly beside Kate's biobed, thinking, as he had in the last hour, how he was going to explain to Kate, where she was. Beverley had told him that Kate's return to consciousness earlier, had taken every one by surprise. She had been expected to sleep for at least another two hours....more evidence of her enhancement. To forestall a repeat of that unfortunate awakening, Jean-Luc had seated himself at her side the minute she was out of surgery. He spoke quietly to her, hoping that the sound of his voice would calm her, at least keep the nightmares at bay. He held her hand and wished, not for the first time, that she could speak. There was so much he wanted to ask her....more questions than she had answers, he felt sure. He was brought out of his reverie by Kate's movement. Quickly summoning Beverley, they waited by Kate's side for full consciousness to emerge, and when it did, she was stricken with the same terror that had assailed her earlier. She stared with bulging eyes at the ceiling, threw her head back and screamed silently, arching her back and flailing her arms. Jean-Luc grabbed her limbs and, in a commanding voice, stilled her frantic efforts to escape.
"Kate! Kate, look at me, it's Jean-Luc....it's alright....look at me!"
The terrified woman finally heard his voice and locked her eyes on his, sweat and tears wetting her face. Breathing in short gasps, she began to grow quiet, the tension slowly leaving her rigid body. As she relaxed, her eyes darted around the room, desperately trying to see where she was.
"Look, it's Beverley, it's ok, you're safe. I won't let anything happen to you."
Kate listened intently to Jean-Luc's sounds, soothing her and making her feel safe. When she had fully relaxed, Beverley removed the shell which had been covering the top half of her body, and looked at the readings on the monitor.
"She's doing well, Jean-Luc. It would be best if she stayed here for twenty four hours, however, I know she won't co-operate with that so I'll make you a deal. I will release her into your care. You can return to your quarters, provided I can visit frequently to monitor her progress. Deal?"
"I take it you're expecting me to take some time off....... you know, you can be very devious at times.....alright, I accept. May we go now?"
Beverley studied the read-outs one more time and scanned Kate with a tricorder.
"Yes, Captain, you can go, but I want you both to rest. Plenty of fluids and a decent meal is the prescription for you both."
"Seeing as how you like giving orders, how about we reverse the coin. I want you to take some time off, with the same advice. Rest and a meal....fair enough?"
"Jean-Luc......"
"No Beverley, this in non-negotiable. Do we have a deal?"
Shrugging her shoulders, Beverley conceded.
"Agreed Sir!
Nodding with satisfaction, Jean-Luc carefully took Kate's hand and gestured towards the door.
"Come Kate, I'll show you where I live."
The trip through the corridors to Jean-Luc's cabin was uneventful. Kate showed little interest, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on the Captain. After they entered his abode, he disengaged his hand and made a sweeping motion with his hand.
"This is it Kate. This is my home."
Looking around the cabin, Kate was drawn to the sloping windows, transfixed by the scene of stars at warp speed. Cocking her head on one side, she reached out gingerly and touched the thick glass of the window. Her brow furrowed as she watched the stars streak by, eventually turning away, she covered the distance between them and, leaning forward, rested her forehead on Jean-Luc's chest a large sigh escaping her. Jean-Luc wrapped his arms around her and gently rubbed her hair with his cheek. She could feel it rising within her....the heat, the desire....he always made her feel that way. She lifted her head and looked intently into Jean-Luc's eyes, trying to show him the pictures in her mind. He took her hand and led her into his bedroom, slowly removing the blue coverall she wore, then his own clothing. He pulled back the covers and bade her to lie with him, but instead of beginning foreplay, he took her in his arms and spoke softly to her.
"We can't do that yet, you have to rest and recover from your injuries. Sleep Kate, I will hold you, you'll be safe."
Kate was confused. She wanted to make love and she knew from his changed anatomy that he did too, yet he gently turned her over and spooned against her back. Drawing up the covers, he wrapped her in his arms and murmured,
"Sleep now Kate, we have time to spare."
As he closed his eyes, he prayed that it would be true.

 

Kate recovered quickly, pleasing both Jean-Luc and Beverley. She stayed calm and curious, intrigued as Jean-Luc had drawn pictures to show where she was and how she came to be there. He took her to a storage area and showed her that her belongings were safe, Jean-Luc was amused when Kate insisted on taking two of the thick, soft white pelts back to his cabin. He did admit though, the skins did look inviting. Their relationship continued to strengthen, deepen, maturing into a profound bond in a remarkably short time.
Two weeks had passed and the cloned larynx was ready for transplanting. Kate had shown obvious fear at being in sickbay, something she'd been unable to communicate the reason for and it took a lot of reassurance from Jean-Luc for her to enter. Her check-ups had been done in the Captain's quarters, yet she was frightened of anything remotely medical. Kate had made the connection between Beverley and sickbay, although Jean-Luc thought Kate considered the area to be Beverley's quarters.
They stood outside sickbay, just short of the door activator. Jean-Luc took one hand and Kate allowed Beverley to take the other. She was visibly trembling as she entered and almost pulled away. As the doctor had planned, a light sedative was administered with Kate's compliance and she was led into the surgery suite. True to his promise, Jean-Luc stayed with her as she slept, the procedure taking a little over an hour.
"When will she be able to make sounds?"
Beverley looked down at her patient.
"Oh, about a week, maybe a little more. The problem is therapy. She won't know what's going on. It would be like being given a trumpet and being expected to make a sound out of it. Easy when you know how, damned impossible if you don't."
Jean-Luc looked up at his friend, smiling.
"We'll find a way.......won't you?"
"Ha! You can be very cheeky sometimes, Captain."
An unexpectedly boyish grin spread over Jean-Luc's face.
"So I've been told."
Within a few hours, Kate was back in the Captain's cabin, enjoying her first cup of Earl Grey. She smiled in appreciation and drew in the pleasant aroma.
"See, I told you, it's much better than Beverley's chamomile blend. Kate looked at Jean-Luc and made a grinding movement with her hands.
"No, I don't grind the tea, it comes from the repl.....Oh, hell we've been through this before. How do I explain the replicators?"
Kate rose, went to the replicator and pointed to it. She then started to look for the opening that the food came from as she had done several times before. Jean-Luc felt frustration beginning to rise.
*There's so much....how can I explain it all? How can she get by not knowing how things work?*
Standing abruptly, he crossed the room and took Kate's hand.
"Come on, let's go for a walk."
Sensing his tension, Kate stopped him and lifted her hand to his face. Tilting her head she tried to let him see the beautiful pictures he gave her. As he looked into her eyes, he felt the tension leave him and he kissed her tenderly.
"There's something I want you to see."
Hand in hand they left the cabin, Jean-Luc leading them through the confusing maze of corridors, until the came to holodeck three. The Captain activated a computer terminal and spoke to it.
"Initiate program Picard Two eight."
"Program initiated."
"Run program."
"Enter when ready."
They stood together as the doors parted and Jean-Luc was ready for Kate's shock.
"It's alright.....it's called a program, Geordie and Data made it."
As he spoke he smiled broadly, gesturing her to join him.
"Look here's the flat rock at the entrance and over there...see?, we can go in, just as we used to.
Somewhat confused, Kate followed Jean-Luc into the recreation of her previous home. She stood in the middle of the living area and turned slowly about, finally standing still and frowning. Moving to the weapon pile, she started to sort the articles, looking for something and when finding it, she raised it cautiously. It was the club. She pointed to her sleeping place and raised the club again.
"What?"
Kate stalked over to her bed and threw the club down with considerable force, pointing to the bed with a curt finger.
"Ah. You think someone has moved your club? No Kate.......we're in a....."
Holding up both hands in a "wait a minute" gesture, the Captain said firmly,
"Computer, end program."
Immediately, the cave disappeared, leaving them standing in a cavernous black room, the surfaces of which were covered in a yellow grid. Before Kate could react, Jean-Luc ordered the resumption of the program. Kate spun around, making an audible gasp.
"Kate!"
Jean-Luc grabbed her shoulders, turning her quickly.
"Make that sound again.....like this.....Ah. Ah.....come on Kate, you can do it.....Ah..."
Kate angrily pushed Jean-Luc away. Scowling at him, she stomped over to the weapons, snatched up her club and threw it down on her bed. Jean-Luc moved to her and apologised.
"Sorry..... I'm sorry Kate. You don't understand, do you?"
He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. When he pulled back, Kate kissed him, the kiss quickly deepening as they sank onto the bed of skins.
"Computer, lock doors, holodeck three. Authorisation, Picard delta four."
"Doors locked."
Their foreplay was languid and prolonged, Kate twice making audible sighs and, when they made love, she uttered soft cries of ecstasy as orgasms ripped through her again and again.
After, when they had recovered somewhat, Jean-Luc put her hand on his throat and groaned softly. Then he put her hand on her own throat and he groaned again. Kate smiled, amused by his game. He repeated his actions four more times, Kate's amusement growing. Each time he groaned, Jean-Luc made a face, contorting into odd and fearsome visages and on the fourth grimace, when he crossed his eyes, Kate laughed out loud. She stopped in shock, her hand flying to her mouth. She looked at her lover to find him beaming with joy.
"Yes! Yes, that's it! Again Kate, do it again!"
He made the face, crossed eyes and all, and was utterly delighted when Kate chuckled again. This time it was she who put her fingers on his throat, and, after feeling the vibrations as he talked, put her fingers to her own throat and laughed. The grin that spread across her face was all Jean-Luc wanted to see. He hugged her and rained kisses all over her face. The play was becoming more arousing when the com system activated.
"Riker to Captain Picard."
Planting a gentle kiss on her nose, Jean-Luc answered,
"Picard here Will."
"Captain, could you come to the bridge? There's something I think you should see."
"On my way. Picard out."
Picard knew this would happen. It was time he resumed his command of the Enterprise, but what of Kate? She couldn't even order a drink from the replicator. He had given this some thought and had talked to both Beverley and Deanna. It was to the Counsellor he turned.
"Picard to councillor Troi."
"Troi here Captain."
"Deanna, could I meet you at my quarters, in about, ten minutes?"
"Aye, Sir."
Looking down at Kate, he winked and kissed her softly.
"Come on, we have to go."
They rose and dressed, exiting the holodeck and returning to Jean-Luc's cabin, meeting Deanna there.
"Thank you for coming Deanna, I have to go to the bridge. Can you take Kate under your wing until I return.....at, say, seventeen hundred hours?"
"No problem Captain. Beverley and I have worked out a few things to keep her busy."
Turning to Kate, Jean-Luc took her hands in his.
"Kate I must go and work now. I want you to stay with Deanna."
As he spoke, he transferred Kate's hands to Deanna's. Kate was immediately alarmed, pulling her hands free and taking hold of the Captain's arm.
"It's alright Kate. I have to go, stay with Deanna."
These words were said with more strength, Jean-Luc again placing Kate's hands in Deanna's.
Kate stood very still, panting slightly with stress.
"Go Captain, we'll be alright."
With a final squeeze of her shoulder, Jean-Luc turned and walked away. Kate watched him intently, until he rounded a corner and was suddenly gone. Letting out a small cry, Kate tried to pull away from Deanna, but was prevented.
"Kate!"
Kate stood still, tensely watching the spot where Jean-Luc had disappeared.
"Kate, look at me."
Deanna reached up and gently turned Kate's face. When she had Kate's attention, Deanna said firmly,
"Come with me Kate", then more gently,
"I will show you something beautiful."
Reluctantly at first, occasionally looking over her shoulder, Kate allowed Deanna to lead her away. They moved to a turbolift and made the short journey to deck seventeen. They alighted and, after some more corridors, arrived at the arboretum. Deanna took Kate's hand and led her inside. Kate stopped short and stared in wonder at the beauty of the place. Following a laid out path, the two women walked slowly through the proliferation of plant life. Deanna called to Kate and showed her a particularly stunning flowering tree. Deanna reached up and plucked a leaf, and after crushing it, offered it to Kate to smell. Kate leaned forward tentatively, and sniffed delicately, smiling as she enjoyed the fragrance. With the duty botanists permission, the duo made their way amongst the flora, occasionally picking leaves, crushing them and smelling their fragrance. It was in the wet sclerophyll exhibit that Kate took one of the eucalypt's leaves, crushed it in her hand, and brought it to her nose, breathing deeply. Suddenly she stopped dead, a look of confusion on her face. Deanna neared her and placed her hand on Kate's shoulder. Kate shrugged it off brusquely, sniffing the leaf repeatedly.
"What is it Kate?"
Kate looked up, a deep frown on her face. Tilting her head to one side, she offered the leaf to Deanna.
"It's a Eucalypt....that smell is eucalyptus. What Kate......what is it?"
Kate turned to the tree and started to pluck leaves quickly, paying no heed to Deanna's query.
"Kate stop....stop that. You have enough leaves."
Stilling her hands, Kate brought the leaves to her face, closed her eyes and drew a long breath. Still frowning, she proffered the leaves to Deanna.
"I don't know Kate. What is it?"
In frustration, Kate stuffed the leaves into her pockets and trudged towards the exit. The trip to the arboretum was obviously over.
Deanna had to almost run to keep up with the agitated woman. When she had caught her up, Deanna said, panting slightly,
"We need to slow down. How about we go to Ten Forward? There's someone there I think you should meet.
Their trip to deck ten was uneventful, Kate seemed to calm as they left the arboretum behind. It wasn't long before they were seated in Ten Forward. With her customary grace, Guinan wafted to their table and took a seat.
"Guinan, this is Kate. She came on board before you came back from the convention. Kate is the Captain's....friend. Kate this is Guinan."
The two women looked at each other, Kate losing interest and turning to the windows, watching the streaking stars with her usual fascination, absently taking some of the leaves from her pocket and sniffing them.
"She's quite a package, isn't she?"
"What do you mean Guinan?"
Letting her eyes drift to Deanna, Guinan frowned.
"She has a past....she's know much heartache. How close is her relationship with Picard?"
Under normal circumstances, Deanna wouldn't answer that, but Guinan was the exception. She and the Captain shared a history that preceded Deanna's time on the Enterprise. Know one knew what that history entailed, all they knew was that the Captain trusted her implicitly.
"Very close, they're in love."
"She can't talk."
"No, not yet. The areas of the brain that control speech and memory have chemically isolated. Until we find a way to unlock them, she remains unable to communicate with anybody."
"I see. Have you tried to touch her mind?"
Deanna sighed.
"Yes....she reacted violently. If not for Captain Picard, I think she would've beaten me to death."
Guinan pondered this for some moments, then tapped on the tabletop softly. Kate turned, dragging her eyes away from the stars reluctantly.
"Would you like a drink?"
Kate stared at her blankly for a moment or two, then turned to the stars again, sighing.
"I'll get her one anyway. What will you have?"
"An Aldebaran fizz, please."
Guinan moved off just as Beverley came in.
"Beverley, over here."
Taking a seat at the table, Beverley seemed quite excited.
"I'm so glad I caught you! I've had a breakthrough of sorts. I think we might have a way of accessing the isolated parts of Kate's brain."
"How?"
"Well, it's got to be a sort of two pronged attack. If I can achieve a state of deep unconsciousness in her, I think you, with the help of your mother, may be able to "break in". I've noticed the chemical becomes slightly unstable when she's unconscious, it may be a reaction to bio chemicals she produces to protect her brain, in any case it's worth a try, don't you think?"
Deanna frowned and looked at Kate.
"Dangerous?"
Beverley, stretching her hands out on the table, winced.
"I honestly don't know, but she would be closely monitored, in sickbay."
"Have you talked to the Captain about it?"
"Not yet, I thought I'd run it past you first."
"Gathering back up?"
Laughing, Beverley ran a hand through her hair.
"It never hurts to be prepared."
A quiet, warm smile passed between the two friends.
"Beverley, now some time has passed, how do you feel about the Captain and Kate?"
"I'm happy for him....I really am, I just wish it was more an.....orthodox relationship. Look he's happy, she's happy, what more is there?"
"Fair enough."
Guinan glided to their table with the drinks, including one for Beverley, an enigmatic smile on her lips.
"Guinan, how did you.......never mind."

 

 

 

As they did on the planet, Kate and Jean-Luc fell into a routine of sorts. They had breakfast together, then Beverley, Deanna, or another crewman would come by and spend a few hours with Kate, until someone else came along if they were needed. She spent a lot of time alone in the holodeck recreation of her caves, yet all she was really doing was passing time until she could be with Jean-Luc again. The only person that Kate had difficulty with was Will Riker. He didn't like her and nothing the others said would change his mind. Beverley had mentioned the issue of regaining Kate's memory and speech, but Jean-Luc advised caution for a little longer, wanting Kate to be absolutely comfortable on the Enterprise.
One evening Jean-Luc and Kate had met with Deanna, Beverley and Will in Ten Forward for an drink together. Kate seemed to like these meetings, although the presence of Will put her a little ill at ease.
The evening passed well enough, but it was spoiled by Will's attitude. He was non communicative and surly, eventually bringing a curt comment from the Captain. Will stood immediately afterwards and bid good evening to his friends and stalked off, leaving a bewildered group behind. Jean-Luc watched him leave over his shoulder, then turned to Deanna.
"What is it? What is it about Kate that he finds so unpleasant?"
"I'll talk to him Captain, don't worry about it."
The friends broke up soon after and went to their quarters. Deanna went to Will's and activated the door chime. The door opened to reveal an angry commander drying his hands on a towel.
"Will, we have to talk."
Deanna walked past Will and entered his cabin.
"Come in counsellor."
"Alright Will, you've got us all. What is it? What's wrong with Kate, what on earth has she done to you for you to be so adversarial towards her?"
Instead of answering, Will balled up and threw the towel across the room.
"I don't want to talk about it. Not with you, or anybody else!"
"Not good enough! Come on...tell me!"
"I know her type....I've had personal experience! She will live off the Captain, and when he's bone dry, she'll dump him and find another sucker. He will be scarred by that for the rest of his life, wary of ever falling in love again."
Deanna sighed and relented.
"I'm sorry you were hurt like that Will, but this isn't the same. Kate's not like that. Just try to get to know her."
Will scowled and snorted derisively.
"Alright Will, you're off the hook for tonight, but I want to see you after your shift tomorrow, and you'd better show up mister!"
Deanna left the stunned commander fuming in her wake.

 

 

 

The next morning Jean-Luc waited for his first officer on the bridge. He intended to take Will into the ready room and have a little "discussion" with him about his attitude towards Kate, but he didn't get the opportunity.
"Riker to Picard."
"Picard here commander."
"Sir, I'll be a little late, something's come up I need to see to."
"Very well commander, I will see you when you come up."
"Aye Sir."
Will left his quarters and was approaching the Captain's when ensign Fuller appeared from the opposite direction.
"Good morning Sir."
Will nodded.
"Ensign. You won't be needed this morning. I will be taking care of Kate......a slight change in plans."
"Very well Sir."
The ensign left, leaving Will staring at the Captain's door. He stepped forward and activated the chime, the door opening almost immediately.
Kate was instantly on her guard. She felt the commander's animosity and it disturbed her deeply, creating unpleasant pictures. He stepped into the cabin and forced a smile.
"I thought today, I might take you to the holodeck. Would you come with me?"
Will gestured to the door and Kate understood she was to go with him. She was confused. She knew this man was linked to Jean-Luc, as were Deanna and Beverley, but he was dangerous, she felt it. Did Jean-Luc send him? Would he take her to Jean-Luc? She had no choice, she must go with him.
They left, Kate watching him openly, unsure of what this was all about. She relaxed slightly when they reached the holodeck. She liked it here, it was safe.
The doors opened and they entered, Kate looking around with interest. It was very plain, the walls a light grey, the floor padded in a soft blue sponge like material. She turned to face Will, her head cocked to one side in question.
"I heard you were pretty good at self defence. Shall we go through a few moves?"
Will adopted a "ready" stance, Kate just watched him, her hands by her side. He moved in, feinted to the left and attempted to hit her with his left foot. Kate blocked the blow easily, and the following three attacks, becoming increasingly puzzled. As he continued to attack, Will became more angry with each parried blow. He wasn't having any affect, in fact, Kate had started to humiliate him. Now, when she deflected each blow, she tweaked his nose or ear and when she placed her foot on his rear and pushed, sending him sprawling, he really lost his temper. He stood upright and started to yell at her.
"Who the hell are you?! What do you want with the Captain?! I know your type. You'll lead him on until his completely besotted and then you'll miraculously recover and take him for all he's got! Well I won't have it! You hear me? You'll have to deal with me first!"
Kate had been standing watching him shout. Her hands were by her sides as she tried to understand what was happening. Without warning, in mid sentence, Will slapped her across the face, hard. The blow had come completely by surprise and Kate was momentarily stunned.
She tasted blood and slowly reached up and touched her fingers to her lip, then looked at the redness on her fingertips. Looking up, a snarl started as she pulled back her lips.
"That's right. You get good and angry, and I will give you the lesson you deserve!"
Kate started to circle Will, fury quietly building. The commander rushed in and Kate had landed a bone breaking blow before he could even raise his hand. He didn't see it coming, that blow or the others that, by feet and fists, rained down on him. It was over in minutes, he'd never stood a chance.
Kate stood absolutely still, her head slightly tilted, watching Will intently. The blood was spreading around his head as she poked him with her foot. She stood up and the pictures that came to mind were unpleasant. She was sure Jean-Luc would be angry...she didn't know what to do. After a few moments she went to the doors, and when they opened, she exited and stood in the corridor. It was some minutes before a crewman came along, but she got his attention and pointed to the holodeck doors. The crewman hesitated, then activated the door. Kate didn't go in with him, but she heard his frantic call.
"Medical emergency! Holodeck four!"

 

 

 

Kate stood, in her customary silence, in Beverley's office with Jean-Luc. He was trying to find out how this had happened, and up until that moment he had achieved nothing. Beverley, having seen to Will's injuries, joined them.
"Any luck?"
Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head.
"Nothing. Oh, Beverley, Kate has some injuries to her hands, and I noticed her limping. Could you see to her please?"
"Sure. Come with me Kate."
Obeying Beverley's gesture, Kate followed her into the sickbay, nervously sitting on a biobed.
"Well, we know how she did this. Let's see. We have contusions, broken skin, all the hallmarks of fisticuffs. Why, why the hell, did this happen?"
Beverley, still frowning, looked up at Kate to find her staring at the cubicle where Will was.
"You worried about him? Come on, I'll take you, Jean-Luc, you'd better come too."
"Will, you up for some visitors?"
A grumbling could be heard, Will eventually clearing his throat.
"Sure! Come right on in."
The smile left his face when he saw Kate. She stood silently beside his bed, her head lowered. Slowly, she reached forward and touched his shoulder, raising her head and looking at him.
"Will...."
"I know Beverley, I know."
He took her hand and gripped it gently.
"I'm sorry Kate, I provoked you....I asked for it."
Will smiled, easing the tension in the room.
"Commander, would you like to explain exactly what happened?"
"Yes, Sir. I dismissed ensign Fuller and took Kate to holodeck four with the intention of intimidating her into revealing her as a fraud. I was convinced she was putting on an act with the aim being to deceive you Sir. I had suspected her since she came aboard.....I was wrong, I see that now, and I apologise, whole-heartedly...Sir."
The Captain looked stonily down at his first officer.
"While I can't fault you for acting in my best interest, I deplore your methods, and it's not me you should be apologising to commander, it's Kate."
Will, still holding Kate's hand, turned to face her.
"Kate, I'm so sorry for the way I've treated you. I was wrong.....I hope we can be friends..."
Everyone was stunned when Kate smiled. She didn't understand his words, but the tone was gentle and kind and it made her feel good. Freeing her hand, she did as Jean-Luc did to her during moments of quiet affection, she placed her hand on Will's face and kissed his nose, bringing a laugh from everyone there, including Kate.
"When you have recovered commander, we need to have a little....chat."
"Aye Sir."
"Well, if you ladies will excuse me, I will return to the bridge."
Beverley reached over and gently held Jean-Luc's arm, preventing him from leaving.
"Could I see you in the office Captain?"
When the two officers were settled in the office chairs, Beverley clasped her hands on the desk.
"Jean-Luc, have Geordie and Data come up with anything on the alien technology we recovered from the planet?"
"No, nothing. They can't even activate the opening sequence. Every time they need to do anything with the pod, they have to get Kate to help them. There's absolutely nothing, not even remotely like that ship on the data banks.....in fact the only things we can study at length are the lights, the tube ones anyway. The hovering ball is still defeating us, we simply don't understand the technology involved.....why?"
Beverley bit her lower lip in thought.
"I think I may have found a way to unlock Kate's brain , but I would like to know if doing that will trigger any defensive programs in the pod."
"You can do it, you can give her back speech and memory?"
Sitting back, Beverley drew up one leg and hugged it, her somewhat relaxed posture the opposite of the tension displayed by the Captain.
"I think so....but it will be dangerous. It involves drugging Kate almost to the point of death, and, with the help of Deanna....and possibly her mother....., invading her mind and breaking down the chemical walls. The chemicals rely on the right balance of biochemicals in Kate's brain. When she's unconscious, those biochemicals change and the hold weakens. It's risky......but it's the only thing I can offer."
"Have you contacted Lwaxana?"
"Yes."
"And?"
"She's willing, so's Deanna."
The Captain sat back, running his hands over his pate and sighing.
"Let me consider this for a while.....I'll get back to you."
With that, Jean-Luc left on his way back to the bridge. Beverley went back to Will and Kate, smiling when she saw Will showing Kate where his worst injuries were.
"Beverley....you should've left the bruises, they'd be much more spectacular than this pink skin."
Placing her hands on her hips, Beverley said menacingly,
"You wouldn't be complaining, would you....commander?"
Will placed his hands on his chest, adopting an innocent look.
"Me?....Complaining? Not I, doctor, never!"
"Hmmm, I'll reserve my judgement on that, now scoot, be gone! This facility is for sick people." "And Will, you know the drill, anything wrong, you come straight back, ok?"
"No worries Beverley! Come on Kate, I'll show you the callisthenic program from hell."
"Will!"
"Joking doctor, just joking."

 

 

In his ready room, Jean-Luc sat on his sofa deep in thought. He desperately wanted to restore all that Kate had lost, but he had to balance his wishes with what was best and safest for his ship and her crew. To that end, he called his chief engineer, and second officer.
When they were comfortably seated in his ready room, he aired his thoughts.
"Data, Geordie, are we any further in our studies of the alien technology?"
Data answered.
"No Sir, we have learned nothing more since you last enquired."
"I see. Is there any chance that it will change anytime soon?"
Geordie held up his hand to Data, sensing there was more to the Captain's questions than just a progress report.
"Sir, we might as well be cavemen looking at our computer. We simply don't know what it is, or how it works. We don't even know if it's old, or new, ancient or avant-garde. Sir, what's on your mind?"
Picard rubbed his hands along his thighs.
"Doctor Crusher thinks she may have devised a way to break down the chemical barriers in Kate's mind, but she's worried....and so am I,....that it might provoke a defensive reaction from the pod. It's obvious connection to her could endanger her and the ship. I would like to avoid that, if possible. Any thoughts?"
The three sat in silence for several moments, each mulling over the problem in their own way.
Data spoke first.
"Sir, would it be safe to say, that any link would be telepathic?"
"Probably, yes."
"Then blocking the link would be desirable, would it not?"
The Captain rubbed his fingers over his lower lip.
"Geordie, have you detected any emissions, signals, coming from or to the pod?"
"No Sir, but that doesn't mean it's not happening."
"Quite. Well, would it be possible to place the pod in stasis, put a dampening field around it?"
Geordie and Data looked at each other, Geordie shrugging his shoulders.
"I don't see why not. When would you like us to begin?"
Standing decisively, Jean-Luc tugged his jacket down.
"As soon as possible. Tell me, what of the remains of the ship? Is it totally inactive?"
"Yes Sir....as dead as a doornail."
"Very well, make it so."
The officers left and Jean-Luc regained his seat.
*Gods, I hope we're doing the right thing.*
Before his courage left him, he called sickbay.
"Yes Captain."
"Beverley, how long will you need to set up for Kate?"
"No time at all, but we will have to wait for Lwaxana, although she's nearby.....at the Callox convention, she's Betazed's Delegate."
"Very good. Ask the counsellor to contact her mother, extend my greetings and request her presence. I will make a shuttlecraft available."
"Aye Sir."
Jean-Luc leaned back in his chair and sighed then, after a moments pause, went back to ship's business.

It was four hours before the call came from Data and Geordie.
"Captain, we're ready to try the dampening field."
"Very well, proceed."
"Activating now Sir."

 

 

Kate was in the gymnasium, learning to play tennis, when she suddenly stood stock still and raised her hands to her head. Feelings of panic and fear welled up and she began to turn in slow circles trying to sense what was happening. Her tennis partner, a crewman from astrophysics, went to her and tried to find out what was wrong.
"Are you alright? What's happening....are you in pain?"
Kate shoved the crewman out of the way and looked frantically for the door and, spotting it, bolted for it at a flat run. The crewman acted swiftly.
"Manx to Commander Riker!"
"Riker here."
"Sir the woman....Kate, she's just left the gym. Something happened Sir, she's alone and in one hell of a hurry."
Riker rose from the command chair and went straight to the ready room.
"Sir, Kate's on the loose somewhere in the ship. Something upset her and she took off."
The Captain stood and called engineering.
"Geordie, is the dampening field in effect?"
"Aye Sir."
Turning to Will, the Captain said,
"That must be it. She may be trying to get to engineering.....she can't use a turbolift....computer, location of passenger, "Kate"."
"Kate is on deck twelve, section two B."
"She can't make it to engineering, that's on deck thirty six. She must be running blind. Come on Will, we have to find her."
Will held up his hand.
"Sir.....we should warn the crew....she may be....agitated."
Realisation dawned on Jean-Luc.
"You think she might hurt someone?"
"It could happen.....if she felt cornered, or someone tried to stop her."
"I'll make a ship wide announcement.......This is the Captain. Be advised, crew members are not, repeat not, to approach the passenger know as Kate. If sighted, she is to be left alone and her whereabouts reported to myself or commander Riker. That is all."

 

 

Kate felt trapped. She had an overwhelming urge to get to the pod, but she didn't know how. She knew it was somewhere on the ship, she had seen it many times when she helped the man with the eye-cover and the man with the yellow eyes, yet she couldn't get to it. She entered the turbolift, she did that often, but she couldn't make the sounds. She tried laughing, she said "ah" and crossed her eyes, but she couldn't make it work. She ran out of the turbolift and along the corridor, but all that led to was another corridor, the same as the one she was just in. It was worse than the caves, at least they were all different, this was an endless maze and her panic was growing. Running down another featureless corridor brought her to a door. It didn't open so she shoulder-charged it. Again and again she charged and by the fifth time, the door started to bend inwards. She backed up for another try when she heard his voice.
"Kate! Kate, stop."
She turned to see her beloved Jean-Luc and Will running towards her. She ran at him and took his hand. Still running, she led him into a turbolift and touched his lips with her fingers.
Jean-Luc looked at his first officer.
"Engineering?"
"Might as well."
The Captain gave the order and the lift swiftly travelled to it's destination. The doors swished open and Kate, still holding Jean-Luc's hand, barrelled out, searching for the pod.
"Kate, this way, and we'll walk"
Slowing her down proved a difficult task, She pulled at his hand like a frightened animal, desperate to get to her goal. They rounded a corner and there it was. She ran to the pod and tried to touch it, encountering the dampening field and letting out a cry of anguish. She tried again to make contact with the pod with the same result. Nearing terror, she dragged Jean-Luc closer and pulled at his arm, pointing repeatedly at the pod.
"No Kate, you don't need it. Look at me Kate......Kate! Look at me!"
Jean-Luc grabbed her shoulders and forced her to look at him.
"You don't need it!"
He took her in his arms, dismayed at her trembling. Quietly, over her shoulder, he asked Data,
"Anything detectable?"
"No Sir, nothing."
Rubbing his hands up and down her back, Jean-Luc repeated,
"You don't need it Kate, it's alright, we'll help you."
A crewman approached Will and spoke quietly to him.
"Captain, the shuttle has arrived with Mrs.Troi. Shall I ask her to join us?"
"Yes Will, I think that would be beneficial. Mr. LaForge, some chairs would be helpful."
Geordie retrieved the chairs, allowing Jean-Luc and Kate to sit. Jean-Luc kept reassuring Kate, holding her hands and talking gently, waiting for Lwaxana to arrive. It didn't take long.
"Jean-Luc! I could sense you ten decks away! What's going on? Is that your woman?"
Sighing, the Captain closed his eyes momentarily.
"Mrs.Troi.....this is Kate, the woman you have been summoned to help. She is very agitated at the moment, since we severed her apparent telepathic contact with this alien pod. Can you sense anything from either the pod, or Kate?
"Nothing from the pod, but I don't think you need me to tell how distressed the woman is, I can tell you, however, she is greatly comforted by you, Jean-Luc."
"Thank you, and Mrs.Troi?, it's Kate."
"Of course......Jean-Luc, she has been unaware of her tie to the pod. This has come as a complete surprise to her..... She's frightened of it...she has been for a long time."
Jean-Luc tightened his grip on Kate.
"I know. Has your daughter briefed you on what Doctor Crusher wants to do?"
"Yes, she has."
"What do you think?"
Lwaxana took the offered seat and spent some time forming her reply.
"It's risky, make no mistake, but I can't think of another way. If we can help her over this de-attachment, I see no reason whatsoever not to try."
"Very well. Can you help her now?"
"I could try.....Deanna told me what happened when she touched...Kate's...mind, I would appreciate it if you had some of those security persons....Woof's friends, to ensure my safety."
Sighing again, Jean-Luc answered,
"Of course Mrs.Troi....and Mrs.Troi?, Mr. Worf is no longer aboard."
"Mr.Alder, you may stand by with your phaser on light stun. If Kate makes any aggressive moves towards anyone, you have my permission to shoot. Understood?"
"Yes, Sir!"
"At your convenience, Mrs.Troi."
Lwaxana settled in her chair and closed her eyes. Letting out a tendril of thought, she reached across the distance and gently touched Kate's mind. The effect was immediate and ugly. Kate's head jerked up and she swivelled around to face Lwaxana, her lips drawn back in a fierce snarl, this time the menacing growl was audible.
Jean-Luc reacted with haste.
"Kate! Stop it! Look at me, she won't hurt you....let her do it...Kate, please..."
He raised his hands and cradled her head.
"Let her Kate...."
Kate closed her eyes and tried to calm herself. So much was happening. She knew Jean-Luc was upset and that he wanted her to do something, but what? She could feel the presence of another in her mind and she didn't want it there. Using pictures, she tried to scare it away. She was dismayed to find it only grew stronger. Then an odd thing happened. The presence was nice. It gave her nice pictures, pictures of beautiful places she'd never seen before, and pictures of a smiling Jean-Luc. She calmed instantly and became hyper-aware, waiting for the next picture.
"Lwaxana, what's happening, she's very tense."
"It's alright Jean-Luc, she's listening."
Kate was beginning to enjoy herself. She found if she made a happy picture, she would receive a picture of similar kind. She thought the picture of Jean-Luc with his eyes crossed, and she received a picture of the Captain carrying a suitcase that was very heavy. Kate laughed out loud. She sent a picture of Jean-Luc shaving and, in return, she got a picture of him having a haircut. Her next thought was of him making love....and the connection was severed.
Fanning herself, Lwaxana cleared her throat.
"Well, Jean-Luc, that was a resounding success. I think with my little one helping me, we should be able to find Kate."
Then she became serious.
"I must tell you though Jean-Luc, there's much....darkness....there. Something very bad has happened to this woman."
"Thank you Mrs.Troi. I will see you again soon."
Lwaxana left to find her daughter and Jean-Luc spoke to Geordie.
"Was there anything discernible from either the probe or Kate?"
"No, Sir."
"And what of the buoy? Have we been able to discover it's origin? Was it only a signal device, or did it have another function? Are we sure it was connected to the ship and the pod?"
Geordie gave the captain a PADD.
"All we know, which isn't much, is on there Captain. We've run every scan, performed every test, and we know now exactly what we knew when we brought it aboard.....nothing."
"I see. Well, Mr.LaForge, keep trying, I'll look this over later."
Taking Kate by the hand, Jean-Luc and Will left engineering, on their way to sickbay.
Beverley was talking to a technician when the three arrived. She smiled and went straight to Kate.
"Hello, how are you today?"
Kate smiled shyly and held Jean-Luc's hand tightly.
"Beverley, we need to work on Kate's voice. It looks as if we may be able to probe her mind very soon. It would seem that Kate was....linked...somehow to the pod, and we've been able to sever the link, apparently without detriment to Kate. Now she is free, and it would appear the pod isn't going to react, the only thing preventing the mind probe is her voice. Can we strengthen it?"
Beverley motioned them into her office.
"Well, that depends on a few things. Kate won't be aware of what we're trying to achieve, she may simply get bored and leave.....I can't force the issue. It would be easier if she could make a range of sounds, but...."
"She can."
Beverley was surprised.
"How?....When?"
Jean-Luc reddened as he realised what he'd said.
"Umm, well....I....it's.....that is....ah, during moments of....intimacy."
Will had the good grace to lower his head to hide the grin, but Beverley wasn't fast enough.
"Oh.....I see. Well....now that we know she can....that is, she has a range of sounds....I, err, we....I'll ask lieutenant Esst to help, he's a speech therapist."
"Very good doctor, keep me informed."
With that the embarrassed Captain left, Kate following in his wake as he strode crisply out of sickbay.
Beverley collapsed into her chair.
"Oh, God.....I thought you were going to burst!"
"Beverley, I nearly did. I've known the Captain a long time, but I have never....never heard him utter something so personal. I could feel the heat from his face from here!"
Beverley sobered somewhat, calming them both.
"Yes, well....we'd better get back to work, I wouldn't upset the Captain right now....later maybe, not now."
The friends parted, Will still grinning.

 

 

 

Jean-Luc had gone straight to his quarters and was still agitated when they arrived. Kate sensed his mood and took his hand, leading him to the sofa. They sat, Kate resting her head on Jean-Luc's shoulder, idly running her fingers up and down the inside of his thigh. After a few minutes of this, Jean-Luc leaned his head back, uncrossed his legs and sighed. Kate continued the caress, keeping the pressure light and the movement rhythmic and was rewarded when Jean-Luc groaned softly and parted his legs. Allowing the stroke of her hand to rise higher, she lightly touched his growing erection, eliciting another groan, this one more sensuous. His hands began to move over her body, Jean-Luc relying on touch alone, his eyes closed. Still maintaining the gentle caress, Kate drew her knees up until she was kneeling next to her lover and looked searchingly at him. She loved to watch him, his handsome face so expressive, so regal. She ran one finger over his hard length, delighted when he arched his hips in response, his mouth opening and a drawn out sigh escaping. She straddled him then and kissed him, unable to prolong the game any further. Their foreplay continued there on the sofa for some time, before Jean-Luc rose with Kate in his arms, and retired to his bedroom. They made love urgently, then playfully and finally, languidly, until utterly sated, they slept.

 

 

 

Some hours later, Jean-Luc's sleep was broken by the comm. unit.
"Crusher to Picard."
Not wishing to wake Kate, he rose gently and went to his living area, pulling on a robe as he went.
"Picard here."
"Captain, I've spoken to Sev Esst. He will meet me here tomorrow at 0800. Is that convenient?"
"We'll be there doctor. Picard out."
Checking his chronometer, he found it was only early evening, so he went to the replicator and ordered a light meal for them both. He knew from past experience that two things would happen. Kate would wake hungry, she always did when they made love, and the smell of food would wake her, so he was prepared when she wandered in some minutes later. They sat together on the sofa, relaxed and happy, playfully feeding each other and making a mess in the process necessitating a shower, which they took together, their play becoming increasingly erotic under the warm spray. One thing led to another and later, when they were sleepy in the afterglow of pleasure, Jean-Luc wrapped Kate in his arms and drifted off to sleep a very happy man.

 

 

The next morning, after breakfast, Jean-Luc and Kate met with Beverley in sickbay. They introduced Kate to Sev and together, they all sat at a large table.
The lieutenant shyly spoke to his commanding officer.
"Sir, it would be good for you to stay a while, until Kate is relaxed, but when she's comfortable with me, I think you should leave....if you don't mind.....that is."
Jean-Luc looked at Beverley, seeing the imperceptible nod, and faced the nervous young man.
"Of course lieutenant, whatever you think is appropriate."
They started by showing Kate pictures of pleasant things, baby animals, beautiful landscapes, and with each picture, Sev made an appropriate sound, encouraging Beverley and the Captain to follow his lead. Soon Kate had learned the different sounds and she found it quite amusing to hear. Jean-Luc stayed until she became engrossed in this new game, his leaving only bringing a short lived reaction from Kate. An hour later Sev was discussing the therapy with Beverley.
"She seemed to like that, we're obviously dealing with an intelligent person. The therapy will have to be stimulating to keep her interest."
"Perhaps not. The object here is to strengthen her vocal chords, we're hoping her ability to speak will return when we telepathically probe her mind. How soon do you think her voice will be strong enough?"
Sev rubbed his chin in thought, frowning slightly.
"Not long....maybe in two days, less if she will come by later today. There's no reason she can't have more than one session a day. Will you ask the Captain?"
Beverley smiled warmly.
"Chicken.....but yes, I will speak to him. Sev, I know the Captain is a little...daunting, but he's a reasonable man....he will listen to you."
"I understand what you're saying, doctor Crusher, it's just that it's not every day you get to speak with the ship's most senior officer, and you're dead right, he is intimidating."
Beverley laughed.
"I see your point. So, I will see you this afternoon, at say, 1500 hours?"
"I'll be there."
As Sev left, Beverley contacted Jean-Luc to arrange for Kate to return to sickbay later.

 

 

Kate thought these sessions with Sev and Beverley were amusing. She didn't have a clue what they were doing, although she liked the pictures and it was easy enough to copy their sounds, it seemed to make them happy, so she went along with them. She was surprised at the number of sounds she could make and she liked to put her fingers on her throat to feel the different vibrations, it reminded her of Jean-Luc. By the third day, she had sorted out the pictures by the sounds they made and was growing a little bored.
"After the final session of the third day, Sev reported to Beverley.
"Doctor, I think we've gone as far as we need to. If you do indeed restore her ability to speak, I think her voice will be strong enough."
Clasping the therapist's shoulder, Beverley smiled at him.
"Thank you Sev. You've done a great job. I know the Captain will be pleased."
After checking on Kate, Beverley opened a channel to Jean-Luc.
"Captain, I think we'll be ready by tomorrow morning. I'll brief Deanna and Lwaxana....what time do you want to begin?"
"As early as possible doctor, is 0600 acceptable?"
"Fine by me. Crusher out."
At the end of his shift, the Captain went to holodeck three to collect Kate. The doors opened to reveal an archery field, Kate about to fire her bow. She turned at the sound of the doors opening, and on seeing Jean-Luc, she grinned widely. Jean-Luc motioned her to continue and she took her firing position and became absolutely still. Drawing the bow back in one fluid movement, she loosed the arrow, striking the center of the target unerringly. She didn't look at the target however, her eyes had rested on her lover....everything else became insignificant.
"Well done Kate."
The ensign with Kate was totally intimidated by the presence of the Captain, so she bid Kate goodnight and scuttled out of the holodeck post-haste.
Once they were alone, Jean-Luc covered the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her.
"That was very good shooting, Kate."
Sensing she had pleased Jean-Luc filled her with joy. She nuzzled his neck and playfully nipped his earlobe.
"As much as I want to play this game with you my love, you have an important day ahead of you tomorrow and I want you to get an uninterrupted sleep tonight."
They kissed gently and left the holodeck to prepare as best they could for the next morning.

 

 

 

It was with some trepidation that Jean-Luc entered sickbay. Kate sensed his disquiet and felt restless because of it. She was happy to see Lwaxana Troi, having enjoyed the short lived game of pictures they had played. As the others gathered to talk in muted tones, Kate drifted away to look at all the monitors and equipment. There had been a time when sickbay filled her with fear bordering on terror, now she knew it was Beverley's place, and Beverley was nice.
"Kate."
At the sound of his voice she turned, smiling. His sombre expression caused quick concern and she went immediately to him.
"How do I prepare you for this?"
Momentarily ignoring the others, Jean-Luc held Kate's face in his large, warm hands.
"Kate, we need to do this to help you. I will be here with you, and you'll be under Beverley's care. Trust me Kate, my love."
The last two words were whispered, and Kate looked deeply into Jean-Luc's eyes. What was it she saw? Sadness? Apprehension? She wasn't sure, yet she knew something was about to happen. She turned to Beverley, still trying to discover the reason for the melancholy and was surprised when Beverley gently took her arm. She was led to a large, reclining, medical lounge and was motioned to lie on it. Everyone kept smiling and talking in hushed tones. It was beginning to frighten Kate and she reached for Jean-Luc's hand. He took it, squeezed and smiled down at her.
"It's alright Kate. Beverley will look after you."
Kate was still looking at Jean-Luc when the hypospray discharged against her neck. The effect was instant, a feeling of relaxation and well being overtook her and she smiled and closed her eyes. Almost immediately, beautiful pictures flowed into her mind and she was surprised to hear Lwaxana's voice.
"Hello, Kate. I'm going to take you on a journey, Deanna will come too, all you have to do for now, is watch the pictures."
As Lwaxana fed the pleasant images, Deanna began to send pictures of the planet they found her on. It was a rapid process, if she found an image unpleasant she had no time to react to it before another took it's place. It was unsettling, but not frightening and when the hypo hissed again, she barely noticed it. This progression continued for some time. Her transition to unconsciousness went unnoticed as the images appeared in rapid succession. Again, and again the hypo delivered it's cargo of sedatives until Kate had nothing left of her world, other than the pictures, barely perceived by now. Deeply unconscious, she hovered in an odd place, not Kate, not anybody. She roused sluggishly when she heard her name called as if from a great distance.
"Hmmm?"
"Kate concentrate. Where are you?"
With difficulty, Kate made the picture of sickbay.
"Good Kate, now see if you can pay attention."
It never occurred to her that she had just responded to a question, that she had understood the words. She was just floating, it didn't make sense.
For over two hours, she reacted to the pictures sent to her. Most were nice, but occasionally, disturbing pictures appeared and she began to feel upset. When that happened, a hypo would hiss and the fear retreated.
By now, a small crowd had developed around her. In addition to Jean-Luc, Beverley, Deanna and Lwaxana, Will stood by, watching worriedly. To look at Kate was disturbing. The monitoring equipment showed deep unconsciousness, and in truth, Kate looked dead, but every so often she would grimace or frown, it was unsettling to watch.
Another hour had passed when a picture of the pod appeared. Kate immediately reacted, shying away from it, but instead of another picture replacing it, it stayed, slowly spinning in her mind.
"What is it Kate?"
Using words for the first time, Kate shouted out in her mind,
"No!"
"Kate, what is it?"
"Take it away!"
"If you tell me what it is, I will remove it."
"No...please...it's bad!"
"Kate, what is it."
"It's a coffin!"
Calming pictures flooded her mind and she felt the panic abate.
"A coffin, Kate? Tell me."
"No, I....."
"You're safe Kate....it can't hurt you here. I will protect you."
"Jean-Luc?"
"He's here Kate, he wants you to tell me."
"It's bad."
"I know Kate, but you must tell me."
More silence passed. No pictures flowed through her mind, there was nothingness.
"I woke up in it. I thought I was dead. There were things in my head."
"Things Kate?"
"Long thin things, it hurt when I pulled them out. There were lots of them. It was black and when I tried to get up, I hit my head, but it opened and the sun came in. I couldn't see."
"What then Kate?"
"I got out and my body hurt all over, I was naked and my head was aching badly."
"Where were you Kate?"
"On a beach, but....but....no, I.....please, I...."
"Tell me Kate."
"The beach.....the sand is purple and the sky is green and the sea is red....where am I? My nose is bleeding and my throat hurts.....there are two suns."
Lying motionless on the lounge, tears ooze from Kate's closed eyes. It is the only outward sign of distress. Deanna narrated the conversation for the others.
Lwaxana persisted with her questions.
"What did you do Kate?"
"I....have to go....up the river...to the caves. I stood up....my head hurts....I put my hand out and the thing closes and rises from the ground. I walk to the river mouth and turn upstream, the thing floats beside me, under my hand.
"How did you know to do this?"
"I don't know, I just knew."
"And then, what did you do?"
"I washed my face and had a drink, It feels better now and my nose has stopped bleeding."
"Did you go to the caves then?"
"No....yes, I went to the fruit tree first, I was hungry, then I climbed to the caves."
"And the pod?"
"It came too."
"That's good Kate, very good. We know about the caves, you were there a long time."
"Yes."
"Were you always alone, Kate?"
"Yes, always alone......until Jean-Luc....and the others."
"Kate, tell me about before."
"Before?"
"Before the pod....the coffin."
"NO!"
"It's alright Ka....."
"NO!"
Pictures came, image after image of terrible things, unspeakable things. Deanna reeled backwards, only the quick action of Will saved her from toppling from her chair. Her hands went to her head and she began a distressing keening. Lwaxana's head snapped back, perspiration standing out on her brow.
"Kate! Kate, listen to me! You're safe, it's not happening, Jean-Luc is here....feel his hand!"
Jean-Luc had scooped up Kate's hand the second he realised there was trouble. He squeezed it desperately, willing his strength to her. He raised her hand to his face, rubbing and kissing it.
Kate lay rigid on the lounge. The monitors sounded alarms as the terror grew within her. Blood pressure, heart stress, alarm after alarm sounded but still Lwaxana held the contact.
Beverley did the only thing she could think of and injected more sedative. The result was instant. With heaving breaths, Kate collapsed and Lwaxana shouted in her mind,
"TELL ME!"
Kate spoke out loud, choking with sobs.
"They....they...dismembered me.....pulled me apart....and I could feel....feel everything. I begged...please, dear God please, let me die....no more, please...I can't, I can't, please...no, no...."
"And then?"
"Oh, no, no please God no, my children....I hear them, they're calling me....oh, God I can't speak, no voice, I've got no voice....My children...."
Beverley shouted at Lwaxana,
"She's going into shock!"
The rigidity returned, pulling at Kate's limbs unmercifully, until a violent convulsion gripped her, sending her writhing to the floor. The connection broken, Lwaxana slumped forward, Deanna collapsing into Will's waiting arms. Jean-Luc and Beverley tended to the trembling Kate on the floor, lifting her limp body onto the couch. Beverley injected a counter sedative and scanned her for injury.
Will looked about him and said,
"What the hell happened?"
Lwaxana looked tiredly up at him.
"She remembers."
An hour later, with Kate stabilised, The friends met in Beverley's office.
"So tell me Mrs.Troi, what happened to her?"
Lwaxana sighed and wiped a tear that had escaped her eye.
"Jean-Luc, in all my years of helping release unpleasant memories, that was the worst...by far. How she survived is a mystery to me, I would suggest the memory and speech block were a safeguard put in place by her tormentors to maintain her sanity. Why they set her adrift....I don't know. She has been surgically......well, she was right.....dismembered. Taken apart, piece by piece, kept alive and without anaesthetic."
Beverley whispered incredulously,
"That's when she ruined her larynx...."
"Yes, doctor. She screamed until it ruptured, then kept on screaming soundlessly. I couldn't tell how long she endured this....outrage...but after she was re-assembled, she heard her children calling her. To her, that transcended everything she had gone through, her anguish, her grief, stems not from what was done to her, but from the fact that she doesn't know what happened to her children....she doesn't know where they are."
Jean-Luc ran his hands over his head.
"Dear God, now she remembers, how will she cope, how can we help her?"
He turned away quickly, but not before his friends saw the tears run down his face. In fact they were all weeping. The magnitude of suffering Kate had borne was dragging them down to despair.
"She has great strength, her very survival speaks to that, but I don't know even where to begin. This is out of my league."
Lwaxana smiled at Beverley.
"You can help more than you realise. When we were in the early stages, we shared pictures....mundane things mostly, but uppermost in her thoughts was you, Jean-Luc, followed closely by you Beverley, Deanna and William. You all make up her family, this ship is home. We can use that, build on her existence here.....and help her to grieve."
The Captain turned back to the conversation, his emotions again under control.
"I want to know who did this....this...obscenity! How did she and her children come to be in their grasp?"
Lwaxana frowned in thought.
"Now that the barriers have been removed, she should have access to all her memory. When she's recovered, with the help of a light sedative, we could simply ask her."
Will was doubtful.
"Is that wise, after all she's been through?"
Beverley was more positive, shaking her head.
"Now, later, I don't think it will matter. She may find comfort in the telling. Deanna, what do you think?"
"I think it's a good idea. The longer she holds it in, the more damage it will do, now she remembers everything, but I must tell you....I can't help. It was too much....I simply can't...."
Deanna lowered her head, weeping.
Lwaxana embraced her daughter, rocking her gently.
"It's alright little one, I know, I know."
"Well", muttered Beverley quietly, "I suppose now's a good a time as any."
The five walked quietly through sickbay to the restless Kate.
"I'll give her a very light sedative, just enough to calm her."
Beverley applied the hypospray, the hiss it made the only sound in the room.
"Kate, it's Jean-Luc."
She raised her hand unsteadily, reaching for him.
"It's Elly."
"What?"
"My name, Jean-Luc....it's Elly, Elly Spencer, not Kate."
"Elly....a beautiful name."
She smiled tiredly, sighing.
"Kate....sorry, Elly, it's Beverley. Do you think you can tell us...."
"What happened? Yes.....I want to tell someone....."
"I'm here Elly, we're all here....Lwaxana can help you if....if you...."
"I know Jean-Luc, I know, thank you."
Keeping her eyes closed, Elly started in a soft voice.
"I had gone to Melbourne on business, taking my children....Adele and Liam. It was a beautiful day....spring, the gardens were so.....we went to a small lawned area, there were seats, and I stood to see a bird......a strange light, a sound.....my skin felt like ants crawling....I'm lying on a table...cold, metal, there's windows....the moon! I can see the moon and the earth....but it...stretches...the moon too and the stars all elongate.....I don't understand....Oh no....please don't....NO! NO!"
Elly screamed, her hands clawing at her chest, her body writhing in invisible agony.
Quickly, Beverley administered another dose of sedative and Elly calmed.
"Elly? Elly you don't have to....."
"YES! Yes I do....somebody should know!"
"They...they opened me up and took out my....my....parts. My skin...they took it off, my nails, eyes...all out. I can see, how is that possible? The pain...agony....they wouldn't let me die....I wanted to, oh, God, I wanted to...so much...anything to stop the pain."
Gently, Jean-Luc wiped her brow and face with a soft, moist cloth.
"I'm here Elly, go on."
Tears begin to flow freely from under her closed lids, sobs wrenched from her chest.
"They...rebuild me...a piece at a time, so long....it takes so long....Then my children are calling me....and I can't, I can't answer.....I will go mad, I'm sure. Then....then...nothing.....blackness, then the coffin on the beach."
Jean-Luc moved forward and gathered her in a gentle embrace, his tears mingling with hers.
Standing, Lwaxana approached Elly and said very quietly,
"When did this happen Elly....what was the date?"
After a short silence, Elly swallowed in apprehension.
"November twentieth, nineteen ninety nine."
A shocked silence grew in the room, the occupants stunned into breathlessness. Jean-Luc reacted first.
"What!? Nineteen ninety nine!?.....but that's....."
Moving suddenly, Lwaxana grabbed his arm silencing him. Shaking her head furiously, she made the Captain understand not to mention the passage of time.
"You know, it's funny....we used to read in the daily papers about alien abduction....I never believed it...."
Elly snorted, a strangled sound that started as a laugh and ended in a sob.
"I had a husband....children....a dog....a home...it's all gone, isn't it? Everybody....people, places....things...all gone....my God what am I going to do.....do you know where my children are, what became of them?....can you help me find them? I will do anything, anything you want...please, please...."
The hypo's quiet hiss sent the distraught woman into blessed oblivion, and for the second time that day, her friends wept for her.

 

 

 

Jean-Luc stayed with her that night and the three days and nights that followed. Elly became listless and uncommunicative, neither eating or sleeping, gradually slipping into a pit of grief and anguish that was destroying her, bit by bit. Jean-Luc tried everything he knew, Lwaxana, Deanna, Will and Beverley all tried, but none of them could reach her, she was imprisoned in a devastating suffering no one could assuage. She had gone subtly mad.
On the morning of the fourth day, an aching clarity descended in her mind. Looking around, she noted that Jean-Luc was asleep and there was no one about, the staff at a hand over meeting. Slipping quietly out of bed, she walked out of sickbay unnoticed and made her way to a small observation lounge on deck eight. She found moving through the ship easy now she could talk. She smiled to herself....Jean-Luc would be pleased. Entering the room, she went to the small replicator and had made two absorbent pads and an old fashioned razor blade....that had been tricky, she'd had to tell the computer what era the razor was to be from...she smiled at that...silly computer. Walking to the far corner, she settled cross legged on the floor and placed the pads on her thighs. Taking the razor, she opened the ulnar artery from wrist to elbow, swapping hands to do the other arm. She leaned back and closed her eyes, the smile never leaving her face.

 

 

 

Guinan was cleaning the already spotless bar top when she suddenly stilled, listening to the universe around her. There was a shift, a subtle change and she was immediately alarmed. Without moving she asked the computer the whereabouts of Captain Picard.

 

 

Beverley walked into sickbay, flicking her vibrant red hair free of her lab coat collar. She breezed into Elly's room and stopped dead in her tracks. There on the bed was a sleeping Jean-Luc....alone. Taking only enough time to check the bathroom, Beverley called Jean-Luc urgently....,
"Jean-Luc, wake up! Where's Elly?"
Years of practise had the Captain hitting the deck with his brain running, sleep banished.
"What.....Elly?"
"She's gone, Jean-Luc...do you know where she is?"
"No...she was here.....I don't know."
Beverley ran to the emerging staff, shouting the questions.
"Do any of you know where Elly Spencer is? Did any of you see her leave?"
Blank looks and shaking heads drove her back to the searching Captain. Just as she was about to call security, the comm. opened.
"Guinan to Picard."
"Guinan! What is it?"
"Something's wrong Captain. Where is Elly?"
"I don't know, we're looking for her now."
"Find her Picard....hurry....she's fading."
"Security! This is Picard. Initiate immediate ship wide search for Elly Spencer, otherwise known as Kate. Keep me informed of your progress. Picard out."
"Computer, location of Elly Spencer"
"Unknown."
"Location of Kate."
"Unknown."
"Dammit! No com. badge."
The doors opened and a distressed Lwaxana entered.
"Jean-Luc I can...."
Spinning around, Jean-Luc gripped her shoulders.
"I know! Can you find her?"
"What?.....I don't know..."
"Try, Godammit, try!"
Centering herself, Lwaxana sent out the tendrils of her powerful mind, radiating out from her like a gossamer web, infiltrating insidiously, undetected, looking for the fading light that was Elly.
Tense moments passed, the Captain standing rigidly motionless the pulsating jaw muscles the only sign of his unbearable tension. Then suddenly....
"I have her....a dark room, with windows, not very big....a picture...of....Starbase....18!"
"Starbase 18......Deck 8, port observation lounge!"
Beverley initiated an emergency transport to the site and worked feverishly for several minutes before Elly was stable enough to be beamed back to sickbay. Jean-Luc had accompanied the med team and had stood silently by as the battle to save this woman who had stolen his heart was waged. It was over two hours until he heard the words he'd prayed to hear.
"She'll recover....physically. It was close, Jean-Luc, too damned close, she had almost no detectable blood pressure when we first got to her....we only just avoided brain damage.....Jean-Luc?...."
Jean-Luc's knees seemed to be made of a foreign material. It didn't matter anyway, his legs just didn't hold him up any more. He slid silently to the floor, his chin sinking to his chest. He'd been awake for nearly seventy two hours, he'd only been asleep less than an hour when Elly had left, and he'd reached the limits of his endurance. He didn't hear Beverley's call for assistance, or feel the hands that lifted him onto the bed. He retreated into unconsciousness gratefully, he never knew his first officer sat with him for over ten hours.

 

 

 

When Jean-Luc opened his eyes he felt odd. Rested, but odd. There was a lingering disquiet, but he couldn't quite pin it down....then it struck him with a physical jolt. He was in sickbay! And then realisation swept over him like a wave. Throwing the covers back he rolled out of bed...and collapsed on the floor. Clutching the pedestal of the bed, he was regaining his feet shakily when Beverley and two nurses rushed to his aid in answer to the alarms he'd triggered.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Beverley! How da....."
A wave of nausea rose in his stomach, cutting off the outraged admonishment. Again his legs felt weak and he had no choice but to accept help in regaining his bed.
"Here, this should help."
Jean-Luc grimaced, as he always did, as the hypo delivered it's concoction.
"Beverley....how is Elly? Is she awake, can I see her?"
Putting a gentle hand on his shoulder, Beverley dismissed her staff.
"She's fine, Jean-Luc, she's asleep right now....perhaps you can see her a bit later, when you've eaten and you feel stronger."
"Look doctor....Beverley....I missed some sleep and now I'm fine. Let me see her....please?"
"Jean-Luc, you can't even stand up!"
Seeing the Captain was about to argue, the doctor raised her hands.
"Ok, ok, I'll make you a proposition. You have something to eat....and keep it down....and a bit more rest...and you can see her this afternoon. Deal?"
"Hrumph! I suppose so, not that I have a choice!"
Beverley glared at him and was about to leave, when Jean-Luc caught her hand.
"Beverley, how is she?"
Sighing, Beverley fetched a chair and sat down.
"Physically, she's recovered well, There was some nerve damage we discovered, but we repaired it...she shouldn't have any lasting effects from her....injuries."
"Has she said anything?"
"No. Jean-Luc, we've kept her sedated, she hasn't woken yet."
"Oh, I see. Beverley, do you think she can recover....mentally?"
"Truth? I honestly don't know. What she experienced..... maybe it was too much. Put yourself in her shoes....how would you cope? Can any of us really comprehend what it must be like for her....to carry the burden of her memories....for the rest of her life?"
Tears welled in the Captain's eyes.
"I love her Beverley, with all my being....but it's not enough, is it."
"On your own, maybe not, but you're not alone Jean-Luc, and neither is she. If she will try....if we, or perhaps you, can make her try, maybe, just maybe, we can salvage her from the wreckage of her life. Our job, starting right now, is to give her something to live for and you are the one to offer the lifeline Jean-Luc, and to do that...to weather this coming storm, you have to be well. So! Eat, rest and we'll see what happens."
Beverley turned to go, but was stopped by the Captain.
"Thank you...dear friend."
"For you?....Anything."

 

 

 

Beverley was true to her word, and a much fitter Captain followed her into Elly's room later that afternoon.
"She has a restraining field over her, just in case....are you ready?"
Jean-Luc nodded solemnly and Beverley injected a stimulant into Elly's neck.
With a sharp intake of breath, Elly came up from the depths of her mind. Her eyes opened and the first thing she saw was a gently smiling Jean-Luc.
"Hello lovely."
Elly closed her eyes, smiling, and tried to stretch. Confused momentarily by the restraining field, she tried with more power to move, panic beginning when she realised she couldn't move.
"Steady Elly, you can't move ....you have been....restrained...there's nothing wrong."
Anger started to build, then sudden realisation crashed down on her mind. Trying to look at her arms, she began to sob convulsively.
"No! No, I shouldn't be here! Let me go! LET ME GO!"
"Elly! Listen to me....we can overcome this, you're not alone, I will help you....we all will help you. Death is not the answer. Living is harder, yes, living is painful, almost too dreadful to bear, I know that, but it will get better. I love you Elly, and I'm not going to let you go! Please, let me help you, I will be with you always."
Elly's struggles ceased and she began to withdraw within herself. Picard recognised what was happening and became frantic with fear.
"NO! I will not let you do this! For God's sake, scream, cry, tear your hair out, but don't give up! I won't have it! You hear me Elly? If you go, I will go too...I can't go on without you...you're the reason I exist....you've felt that, haven't you? Haven't you!?"
Jean-Luc was shaking Elly's bed, tears streaming down his face.
"Yes."
The Captain stopped dead. In a whisper he pleaded,
"Then fight Elly, fight for us both....please?"
Elly tossed her head from side to side in an effort to find the strength, the courage she needed to do what Jean-Luc asked. It was so hard, so hard to choose the pain, the anguish, the grief of living over the peace of death, but he was there, just as he said he would be. Could he take what was to come? Was he strong enough to weather the storm? There was only one way to find out.
"Alright, Jean-Luc."
"Oh, Elly...."
Beverley, standing discreetly out of sight, released the restraining field, allowing Jean-Luc to take his beloved Elly into his arms. She left them like that and walked to her office, summoning Deanna, Lwaxana and Will to join her.

 

 

 

"We have had a victory. Elly has decided to try and recover, with our help. Deanna, Lwaxana, you will be the front line troops, Will, I'll need you to help the Captain through the coming weeks. He's going to be tired and cranky....He will, of course be off duty until further notice. Will I want you to take all the work from him. Delegate help, push it under the carpet, I don't care, just make sure no work crosses his bow. I want to keep Elly here for a few days, then I will release her into the Captain's care. Deanna, you and your mother will be required to conduct the therapy...Lwaxana, your telepathy will be invaluable...possibly twice daily initially, depending on Elly of course. Deanna, when do you think you can start?"
"How is she....how strong is she?"
"Physically? Not too bad. Some solid food and unassisted sleep would help, although sleep won't come easily for some time....she will probably need sleep inducers. Come and see for your self."
The four left the office and made their way to Elly's room. They found Elly lying quietly, the Captain gently stroking her short brown hair.
Deanna came forward first and smiled down at the sad woman.
"Hello Elly, it's good to see you."
Deanna was soon joined by her mother.
"Good afternoon Elly, my dear."
Then Will stepped up and just held Elly's hand, too choked up to say anything.
Deanna cocked her head to one side.
"You're feeling calm, Elly. That's good. Tomorrow, Lwaxana and I will come and see you, would that be alright?"
"Can Jean-Luc be there?"
The two women looked at each other and smiled.
"Of course he can. Everything will proceed at your pace Elly. We won't push you."
Trembling slightly, Elly nodded.
"Ok."
One by one the friends left. Beverley, checking the read-outs was the last to leave.
"Call me if you want anything. I'll have some dinner brought in for you both."
Jean-Luc smiled his thanks and Beverley left. Silence descended comfortably until Elly whispered,
"How long, Jean-Luc?"
"How long what?"
"How long has it been...how many years have passed?
Jean-Luc felt his heart begin to pound, his mouth went dry.
"Elly it's not important...."
Elly eyed him implacably.
"How long?"
Taking a big breath and letting it out slowly, Jean-Luc answered.
"A little over four hundred years."
"Oh.....Oh, that's quite a while, isn't it."
"Yes."
"Where was I all that time?"
Jean-Luc felt better with Elly seeming to take the news so well.
"We're not positive, but we think you were held in stasis inside the pod. The pod was almost certainly within the small ship that crashed, it would seem it sent a signal buoy to orbit the planet, it only activated when a vessel passed within close proximity. Your pod must have jettisoned before the crash. Perhaps it was the crash that woke you...we don't know. We cannot identify the artefacts we recovered, although we now know to search the archives for alien abductions from earth during the nineteen hundreds....we had assumed the equipment, the pod, the ship and the buoy were all of modern design. It never occurred to us to look into the past."
Elly had only half heard what he said, she still found it calming just to listen to his voice, so rich and full of character.
"Four hundred years, give or take a few.....I'm a relic. A piece of history, a living example of a time long forgotten."
"Elly?"
"I'm alright Jean-Luc....it's just so hard to conceptualise."
Jean-Luc was stroking her face when their dinners arrived.
"Here we are. Do you want to sit up?"
"Jean-Luc, I'm really not hungry, perhaps you could eat both."
Elly, I may be the senior commanding officer on this ship, but if Beverley says, "eat you dinner", I do. I suggest you do too, unless you want to engage Beverley in a battle of wills which I can tell you now, she would win."
"But..."
"Just eat your dinner, like a good little patient."
Sighing, Elly looked down at her meal with distaste.
"Very well."

 

 

That night was rough, with Elly waking several times screaming and calling for her children, and every time the terror engulfed her, Jean-Luc would be there to pull her back from the brink. Over a period of the first difficult days, he became her rock, her sanctuary, her calm place in the storm. Deanna and Lwaxana came twice a day and led her through the painful memories one at a time, chasing away the demons they found, helping her to bear the ones they couldn't. Slowly, very slowly, Elly started to emerge from the broken shell of her mind. Over the ensuing weeks, the black despair thinned, allowing glimpses of the battered person inside, bruised and bowed, but intact.
Although Elly had been back in Jean-Luc's quarters, they slept apart. Elly's memories of her husband were still too fresh, she felt as if she were betraying him. It was a very confusing time, separating the past, and her years on the planet, from the present. Many times Jean-Luc, asleep on the sofa, was woken by her presence in the living room. Most often a nightmare would have woken her, but sometimes she just stood, her fingertips on the glass, looking out into the streaking stars. Jean-Luc never questioned her about it, he knew she would tell him in her own time. The only thing she ever said about her lonely vigil, was that she didn't know whether she was going to somewhere, or away from it.
One night, in the fifth week of her recovery, Jean-Luc woke to find her at her customary place at the window. He rose and stood behind her, slipping his strong arms around her. She turned slowly in his embrace and lowered her head to his shoulder, her tears falling silently. When she felt more in control, she pulled away slightly and brought her hands up to Jean-Luc's chest. Opening his pyjama top she leaned forward and nuzzled his chest and nipples, breathing in deeply his wonderful male scent. Looking up at him, she said simply,
"I've missed you."
Jean-Luc stood very still, letting her set the pace, not wanting to push the issue.
She continued to nuzzle his neck and ear and when she moved to his face, she placed small kisses over his brow, down his cheeks, to his mouth, which she kissed tentatively. Slowly, Jean-Luc returned her kiss, deepening it, savouring her, tasting her. She broke the kiss and ran her hands over his hard torso and lower, over his evident arousal.
"Make love to me, Jean-Luc. Sweetly, slowly, as only you can. Make me forget."
Taking her by the hand, he led her into the bedroom and gently removed her sleeping shirt, and his own night attire. He lay her down on the bed and stretched out beside her. By his very nature, he was an attentive and generous lover, but on this night he was so heartbreakingly gentle, Elly wept with the love she felt for him.
They made love slowly, relishing every sensation, adoring each other and honouring their love with their bodies. The climaxes, when they came, were greeted with joy and commitment, an expression of the covenant between them. They slept, still joined and, for the first time in many weeks, Elly had no nightmares.

 

 

 

 

Over the next few months, Elly grew in confidence and strength. She cemented the tentative friendships she had forged and began to enjoy life. Her nocturnal vigils by the window decreased, although Jean-Luc realised they would never cease altogether, it was Elly's way of communing with her past, with her children. Once or twice a week, the couple would meet with their friends in ten forward for an after-work drink, a chance to relax and enjoy the repartee in a warm atmosphere. Elly remained very quiet, rarely speaking, but her warm smile was common, and her rapier-like wit was breathtaking in it's sharpness, when she chose to use it. Interestingly, Guinan took a strong hand in the ongoing care of Elly. She had received permission to attend the therapy sessions Elly still needed, and had mentioned on several occasions that she was a remarkable woman, and her staunch friend, the significance not lost on Picard. He was well aware of how particular Guinan was about who she chose as friends. He asked her about it one evening, as he was getting some drinks at the bar.
"You seem to be quite taken with Elly."
"Yes.....she's a friend."
"High praise indeed. What is it Guinan, what is it about her that you've found so interesting?"
"Oh, I don't know. Who knows what we find in others.....but I can tell you that I found it in you too."
Smiling enigmatically, the mysterious bartender glided away, leaving a curious Picard in her wake. As he approached the table, he was gratified to hear laughter, especially so, as he could hear Elly's quiet chuckle.
"What's so funny?"
"Data, Jean-Luc. He asked Elly if she would take him through the hologram program of the caves. He wants to see the tree you fell out of...something about calculating your weight with the relative density of the branch......"
"What Beverley is taking so long to say is, Data wants to fall out of the tree. He says it's a quintessential human thing to do."
Jean-Luc offered one of his rare full grins.
"Well, number one, if he wishes to test the laws of gravity in such a time honoured fashion....who are we to stop him? He will, however, have to disengage the failsafe protocols. Will Geordie be with him?"
"Probably."
"Hmmm. Tell him to take a spanner."
More laughter skittered around the table.
"Elly, how are your fencing lessons progressing?"
Smiling, Elly lowered her head.
"You'll have to ask him."
Jean-Luc hurrumphed theatrically.
"She can beat me, using either hand. It's a good thing I'm back on duty...any more training and she may have done me a real mischief."
Beverley shook her head, giving a flap of her hand.
"You just don't like being beaten. Elly, had you ever fenced before?"
Elly grinned and shook her head.
"Ha! Well Jean-Luc, you can take comfort in the fact that you taught her, but really....being bested by your student?....tsk, tsk."
"Yes....well. I'm proud of her prowess, of course,"
The Captain took Elly's hand and kissed it.
"I just wish she'd not done it quite so easily. Now, if I'm to look the part of "Indomitable Captain" tomorrow, I need my rest. Elly?"
Still smiling, Elly nodded and the pair rose and walked out of ten forward, arm in arm.
"Will you look at that. It's just so romantic...who would've thought the Captain would be so publicly demonstrative?"
"You Deanna, are a hopeless romantic!"
The two women giggled, leaving Will to scratch his head.

 

 

Entering their quarters, Jean-Luc turned and took Elly in his arms, pinning her against the wall just inside the door. He kissed her passionately, at some length, making her breathless with desire.
"I've been thinking of you all day...wanting you, smelling you, I barely had any control....I kept thinking of how you look when you come...."
"Then why did we waste time in ten forward?"
"Ahh.....to prolong the need, so savouring you will be that much sweeter...."
"Oh, Jean-Luc, my love..."
They kissed again and again, tearing at each other's clothes, removing only enough for the contact, the heat to unite them. He entered her frantically, his ardour matched by the woman who lifted her legs to grip him around his hips. He thrusted, kissing, biting then suddenly withdrawing and, scooping her up in his arms, went directly to the bedroom.
They took only barely enough time to remove their clothes, falling onto the bed in a tangle of arms and legs. He entered her as he kissed her, bringing a shout of triumph from her. Out of control they made love in a frenzy of motion, neither of them ever having experienced anything like it before. Every part of them became erogenous, the friction of skin on skin intoxicating. Elly arched up to him, wave after wave of orgasms thundering through her, totally abandoned from reality. Jean-Luc felt it coming, It grew through his body, gaining strength and humbling him with it's intensity. Mouth wide open, his body spasmed in a rictus of ecstasy, Elly's inner muscles rhythmically gripping him, then, incredibly, for the first time in his life, another climax surged through him, making his body convulse through the aftershocks, taking some time to cease.
When his hearing returned, all he could hear was Elly, panting his name, moaning in euphoria. It was the most intimate, astonishing, unbelievably beautiful experience of his life and he thought his heart would break with the love he felt for his Elly.

They slept bonelessly, not moving for hours. The call next morning went unheeded, as did the door chimes, and when Beverley, using her medical override, entered the bedroom, they were unaware of her presence. She scanned them quietly, then withdrew, opening a channel to the bridge.
"Crusher to Riker.....Will, they're fine, just very soundly asleep. I suggest we leave them alone."
"Understood, thank you Beverley."
Beverley took one final look at the entwined lovers and left, sighing wistfully.
*Wow.....and I do mean, wow.*
It was late afternoon when Elly woke. She lay in Jean-Luc's arms, her head on his chest, frowning slightly. Something had changed, she was sure of it, but what it was...she hadn't a clue. It was disquieting, but she felt too happy, too sated to worry about it. Memories of their astounding lovemaking came to her, causing her to lift her head to watch her lover.
Such a noble man, so beautiful. Everything about him suggested understated power and grace, his body so lean and well muscled, his large hands, even at rest, so capable. Her love for him was boundless...she had never loved like this before and it was almost frightening in it's intensity. In her heart, she had always believed there was that special "someone" for everybody and she knew her deceased husband had not been "the one" for her, but he was a good man, and she cared for him, their bond built on their shared love for their children. But this man....this Jean-Luc Picard, he was the "one" for her. She often found it difficult to express her love for him in mere words, finding the restrictions of language sometimes inadequate. And last night....she had never, ever had such an ecstatic experience. What she had felt transcended orgasm....it had affected her mind as well as her body. She felt, at one stage, that they had indeed become one being, a living entity of passion and sensation. Even after they came down, when they passed into unconsciousness, she couldn't tell which heartbeat she felt, his or hers, or maybe just one.
He stirred then, as she watched, sighing and tightening his arms around her. With his eyes still closed he smiled and whispered,
"I love you."
Elly stretched and kissed him softly.
"And I love you."
A warm silence passed as they lay in each other's arms, dozing intermittently. Elly was dreaming of his strong arms when she heard his voice. In a sleepy rumble he began to talk.
"Elly....last night....I've never experienced anything like that before....I came twice.....it was so incredible, what was it like for you?"
"The same....I've been lying here thinking about it, thinking about you, trying to put words to feelings and failing miserably. I am in awe of what we felt last night, Jean-Luc, and I don't believe it could've happened with anyone but you, my love."
They kissed and cuddled up together, basking in the soft glow of love and drifted off to sleep again, neither having any idea they were being watched, as they had been all night.

 

 

Two months later, Elly was in a shuttle alongside the vast shape of the Enterprise. Will was overseeing her ongoing lessons in piloting.
"Now, execute a slow roll to port, and don't forget...."
"To check the axial indicator, I know, you've said it a dozen times."
"A dozen?.....how many is that?"
"Twelve, and don't tell me......"
Elly suddenly felt light headed and nauseous, a cold sweat breaking out over her body. So rapid was the onset, that she had little time to warn Will.
"Will, I'm...."
Elly slumped over the controls, then slid loosely to the deck.
"Will took over the controls, shouting through the comm.
"Medical emergency! Lock on to Elly's com badge and beam her directly to sickbay!"
Hearing the urgent message, Jean-Luc immediately called his first officer.
"Will! What's wrong!"
"Unknown Sir. Elly lost consciousness, that's all I know."
"Understood."
"Mr.Data, you have the bridge, I'll be in sickbay!"
"Aye Sir."
Jean-Luc ran to sickbay, fear dogging his steps. He ran through the opening doors and stopped short at sight of the medical personnel around his beloved Elly.
"Beverley?"
"Not now Captain."
Jean-Luc stood forlornly at the periphery of the room, watching and waiting. He heard snippets of orders, short conversations, including Beverley saying,
"No, that can't be right. Check the instrument and run the scan again."
Fifteen minutes later, she spoke to the wakening Elly.
"Take it easy Elly, you're in sickbay. You passed out in the shuttle....scared the living daylights out of poor Will. How are you feeling?"
"Alright, I think....maybe a little weak...a little light headed."
Beverley looked up and beckoned to the restless Captain. When he was present, she gave her diagnosis.
"You suffered an episode of hypoglycaemia....low blood sugar."
"Why?"
"It is a symptom of your current condition."
Jean-Luc took Elly's hand and said in a rough voice,
"What condition?"
"Your pregnancy."
A stunned silence ensued, until Elly started shaking her head.
"No...No that's not possible....I had to have a hysterectomy when I was twenty nine...I can't have children anymore."
Beverley was taken aback.
"Elly, you've had all your reproductive organs since I first scanned you on the planet."
"How can that be? Even if I did,.....but I never menstruated....why?"
Beverley looked at Jean-Luc in a silent plea. Jean-Luc ran his hand over Elly's head.
"Elly, when we first became... intimate, I asked Beverley about my contraceptive implant. She said it wasn't necessary as you were infertile. Your reproductive system had been shut down, just as those parts of the brain we found to be chemically isolated."
"So why didn't you tell me?"
Beverley put a calming hand on Elly's shoulder.
"Elly, we didn't know that you were unaware of the situation."
Incensed, Elly sat up.
"Well, here's your chance to tell me anything else you may have forgotten!"
She jumped off the bed and, staggering a little, stalked out of sickbay.
Jean-Luc was worried.
"Is it alright for her to leave?"
Sighing, Beverley packed away her instruments.
"Yes. We've corrected the imbalance, she'll be fine in about fifteen minutes, but Jean-Luc, there's a little more you need to know....and you'll have to tell Elly, I don't think I'm very popular with her at the moment, she's carrying twins, a boy and a girl....congratulations."
"When....that is...how much....how far....?"
"About eight weeks."
"Ah. Well thank you Beverley....again. I'll just go and...."
"Yes, you'd better. When things calm down, tell Elly I'd like to see her again soon....in about a week, ok?"
"Yes, quite."
It was a rather stunned Captain that left sickbay in search of his angry partner.

 

 

He guessed right the first time. She was in holodeck four, sitting on the flat rock in the late afternoon. He sat with her, not breaking the silence that lay between them. Eventually she sighed and stood.
"I suppose you're overjoyed."
"I'm happy, yes. It's not something I thought would ever happen to me. How do you feel?"
"I don't know."
"You're not pleased?"
"I don't know!"
Jean-Luc rose and stood behind her. In a hopeful voice he said softly,
"Would it be so bad....to have children with me?"
Elly turned and glared angrily at him.
"I already have children.....I just don't know where they are!"
"Elly, please, I know this is hard....I..."
"You don't know anything! You haven't listened to your children calling for you....You..."
"Please Elly, let me finish. You know you're not alone....I will be there with you, I'll help you to raise them, I'll...."
"Them?!"
Jean-Luc closed his eyes and lowered his head.
"You're carrying twins, a boy and a..."
"What!....Twins?.....My God, when were you going to tell me that?"
"Elly..."
"Look Jean-Luc, I need to be alone....I have a decision to make....I take it there's no law against abortion in the twenty fourth century?"
Squeezing his eyes shut, Jean-Luc shook his head mutely.
"Then please leave."
Jean-Luc walked slowly back to his quarters and sat on the edge of his sofa, holding his head in his hands. He sat like that for a long time.

 

 

Elly finally left the holodeck and wandered listlessly through the corridors of the mighty ship, lost in painful memories. Why this? She could handle almost anything else.....why did it have to be this? She needed to talk to someone and after a while, found herself at the doors to ten forward. They parted and she was disappointed to find the lounge almost full. She left, but not before being seen by the bartender.
Elly roamed the ship, not staying anywhere long, restless and disjointed. She was growing tired, it was getting very late, but she couldn't go back to her quarters. If she saw Jean-Luc now she would lose her resolve....and be lost, just as she had been lost before. She felt a need to watch the stars, so she entered the first observation lounge she passed. It just happened to be the one she almost died in. Standing close to the window, she rested her fingertips against the heated glass and closed her eyes as the tears flowed.
She didn't hear the doors hiss open, but she felt the presence nonetheless.
"Hello Guinan."
The beautiful dark woman came and stood beside Elly, sharing the silence, before saying quietly,
"Tell me."
"Oh, it's nothing much, just your common or garden variety miracle. May I present to you the amazing pregnant woman, carrying twins, no less! And this, done with a system she didn't know she had! Whacko!"
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know! Look Guinan, I had my children....I don't know where they are, or what happened to them, but they're still here...in my heart, alive and well and there's only room left for one other, and that's Jean-Luc. I can't.....oh, God, I don't know what to do."
"What about Jean-Luc?"
"I know, I know.....he's happy...why wouldn't he be? He's offered his complete support...in every way, and you know, he's so honourable, he will accept my decision if I have an abortion. He will die a little, inside, but he won't stop me, or stop loving me. No, this is on my shoulders alone, I have to make an impossible choice...and soon."
"You're not being completely fair, you know."
"How?"
"You talk of loss and pain, but you're trying to decide weather or not to deny Picard the opportunity to know."
"What? You want him to experience the pain of losing his children? That's absurd!"
"No, not the pain of losing them, the joy in having them."
The two women regarded each other, one with hostility, the other with wisdom.
"Don't ever underestimate him Elly, you would be doing him a grave injustice."
Guinan left, as silently as she'd arrived.
Elly stood for a long time, watching the stars.

 

 

For three days Elly ambled through the ship, stopping occasionally to eat or sleep, reliving memories of her children, playing again and again snippets of a time long ago and it slowly dawned on her, that every memory, every shard of thought about her children had their father in it. There he was, erecting the tent, catching the ball, rejoicing at those first steps....and it was then that Elly realised what she was contemplating, what she would be depriving Jean-Luc of, and she knew, there and then, that she couldn't abort them. Looking up and getting her bearings, she made her way straight to sickbay.
Beverley was in her office when Elly knocked. Looking up, she smiled.
"Elly! Come in, have a seat."
After Elly sat, she suddenly realised she didn't know what to say. Thankfully, Beverley seemed to sense her disquiet.
"How do you feel?"
"Oh, fine."
"So, what brings you here today?"
"Beverley....I've had....misgivings...about the pregnancy, in fact, I've been contemplating an abortion."
"I see,..... and what have you decided?"
"Well, it took me a while, but, yes, I want to keep them."
Beverley smiled warmly, coming around the desk to hug Elly. Wiping a tear from her eye, she asked,
"Have you told Jean-Luc?"
"No, not yet, but I need to ask you something Beverley....would you have done it....if I'd asked?"
"Yes Elly, I would've done it. It's not my job to interrogate or judge my patients. Your well being is my main concern."
Nodding, Elly said,
"Thank you Beverley. So! I'd better go and see....Dad."
Laughing delightedly, Beverley said through her giggles,
"I think he'd prefer "Papa"."
"Whatever."
Elly left sickbay feeling better than she had for days. After asking the computer where Jean-Luc was, she entered a turbolift and requested to be taken to the bridge, something she'd never done before.
The doors opened and she took a moment to let the atmosphere sink in. If engineering was the heart of the ship, then the bridge was the brains. Here was where her lover commanded his ship, his domain, his lair. She stepped out and walked slowly down the ramp, attracting the attention of Will, seated in the command chair.
"Will, is he...?"
"In the ready room, just there."
Feeling her apprehension, Will said further,
"Just press the activator."
Taking a big breath, Elly pressed the activator and waited, not sure what she would encounter.
"Come."
The doors opened and Elly stepped in, the closing doors seeming to add to his authority.
He was seated at his desk, head down, frowning over a PADD.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Hello, Jean-Luc."
His head snapped up, his stunned expression instantly giving way to a gentle smile.
"Hello, Elly."
He stood and moved around his desk to stand in front of her....not too close, but close enough to smell her. He closed his eyes momentarily and savoured her scent.
"I've missed you. Are you alright?"
"Yes....pregnancy has always agreed with me."
Jean-Luc blinked, his mouth opening to speak and closing again before any sound emerged.
"Jean-Luc, you're going to be a father."
"Oh, Elly...Elly my love..."
He wrapped his arms around her, closing the distance between them, hugging her fiercely.
"Come, come and sit down...would you like some tea....I know I would!"
He fussed about, Elly amused when he delivered the cups of tea with a shaking hand.
"Would you do something for me?"
"Elly...I would do anything for you."
"Then hold me, Jean-Luc, hold me close."
Taking the cups and putting them on his desk, he took Elly in his arms and lay them both along his sofa, pillowing her head in his arm. He kissed her reverently and ran his hand down her side.
Reaching down, she took his hand and placed it on her breast, kissing him deeply. He responded by nipping and kissing his way along her jaw and down her neck, stopping only to undo her top. Pushing the material aside, he freed her breast and took her nipple into his hot mouth. Elly arched her back and gasped, their need becoming urgent. By unspoken agreement, they stayed almost silent, the only words spoken was when Jean-Luc ordered the doors locked.
She ran her hand down his flat stomach and gripped the fastening of his pants. Undoing them she shoved them, and his briefs, down and out of the way, shifting to allow him to perform the same manoeuvre on her. He covered her body with his gently, taking time to make sure she was comfortable under his weight and kissed her deeply, penetrating her at the same time. They lay still, Jean-Luc content to gently undulate his hips, savouring the intimate contact. He kissed her repeatedly, all over her face and neck, his hands caressing her breasts, all the while whispering his love for her. She began to rock her hips, the tempo increasing until he started to thrust, gently at first, then gaining in strength and speed, carrying them to the brink of ecstasy and yet he slowed, holding them on the edge.
"Look at me Elly, I want you to watch."
With difficulty, she opened her eyes and was captivated by what she saw. This remarkable man, this extraordinary man was laid bare. Passion and lust, love and understanding were all there on his beautiful face, and as he started to push himself vigorously in and out of her, as the surge overtook them, washing through their bodies on a crest of love and fulfilment, she saw him and loved him as never before.
Later, their clothes straightened, they lay quietly enjoying the peace.
"You know, I don't think this sofa has ever seen that kind of ...use...before. I doubt that I will ever sit on it again without thinking of you....and what we did."
Elly giggled, a mischievous look shining in her eyes.
"We could work our way through every deck, "christening" all the furniture."
"Good Lord, woman....have you any idea how long that would take? There's something to be said for one's bed you know, especially when it has a soft, thick white pelt on it."
Elly snorted with derision.
"I never thought I'd hear that."
"What?"
"You turning down an opportunity to go where no one has gone before....or should that be came?"
Jean-Luc feigned outrage.
"Wench. You ancient types are much less...refined than we more enlightened, modern types."
"Bollocks!"
"See."
The couple retrieved some fresh cups of tea and sat quietly sipping.
"Do you feel well, really?"
"Yes, my love I feel fine. As I said, I'm disgustingly healthy when I'm pregnant."
"I still can't believe it, you know. I can't imagine what it will be like, and two children...at once....Would you like some help, I can detail someone...."
"Jean-Luc, it's ok. We have months yet....people have been doing this for a long, long time, I'm sure you'll be fine. I have every confidence in you."
"Well I'm glad somebody does, after all, I am the Captain of this ship."
They laughed warmly and finished their tea. Jean-Luc rose and offered Elly his hand.
"I think I'll give myself the remainder of the day off, I need the rest."
The door opened and the pair stepped out onto the bridge.
"Will, everything alright here? Nothing out of the ordinary?"
An amused Will vacated the chair, relieved the Captain had regained his good humour. The last few days had been tense, to say the least.
"No Sir, all is as it should be."
"Splendid. Well, I'll be in my quarters for the rest of the shift, you can call me if you need to."
"Yes Sir. Ah, Captain...before you go, um, there's something..."
Will sidled over to Jean-Luc, Elly continued on up to the lift. The commander whispered quickly in the Captain's ear, only achieving a perplexed reply.
"What? I've got a what?"
Elly turned to the wall, coughing to conceal her giggle.
Bending slightly, Will repeated softly,
"Sir, you have a livid bite mark on your neck. It's actually bleeding a little. Perhaps you should pull your collar up a smidgin."
The blush spread up from his collar, blooming fully on his face, even to the tips of his ears.
Clearing his throat, the mortified Captain turned abruptly and walked stiffly away, pulling his collar up as he went.
In the lift, he muttered,
"You'll pay for that."
They spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, reading, listening to music just simply enjoying each other's company. Over a light dinner of fish and salad, Jean-Luc stopped eating, his fork half way to his mouth. He sat up straight and placed his fork neatly on his plate.
"You know what we should do?"
Intrigued, Elly smiled warmly, charmed at his manner.
"We should invite everyone to dinner and tell them our good news. Beverley's the only one who knows, and..."
"And Guinan."
"Guinan? Now why am I not surprised. She helped you, didn't she."
"Yes. She made me see. I think without her advice, I may have missed the truth, although it was staring me in the face...I was blinded...angry...selfish....sad....yes, she helped me."
Jean-Luc left his seat and knelt by Elly's chair, placing his hand on her stomach.
"I'm in a quandary. I want to show you off and hide you away, keeping you all to myself. Have I told you today how much I love you?"
Touching his face tenderly, tears welled in her eyes.
"I don't deserve you Jean-Luc."
He rose and gently pulled her to her feet, taking her into his embrace. She smelled his clean maleness, intoxicating and arousing her at once. His kisses were light and teasing, his hands making her sigh and gasp. She reached for him, but he stilled her hands.
"No...for you, all for you."
He took her hand and led her to the bedroom making love to her as he chose to, slowly and with great intent to her desire. Later, in the half world between pleasure and sleep, he covered them with a soft blanket and held her closely to his body, the last thing she felt before sleep claimed her, was his heartbeat against her back.

 

 

Two days later, a happy couple were making the last touches to the dinner table. The menu had been set, the wines chilled, all that remained was the arrival of the guests. Jean-Luc was about to ask the time, when the door chimed.
"Come."
The door opened to reveal Beverley, looking beautiful, as always, Will and Deanna, smart in casual clothes and Guinan on whom even the most odd clothing somehow seemed elegant.
They were ushered in and given wine, Elly offering hors-d'oeuvres. The door chimed again and opened to the final two guests, Data and Geordie.
The evening progressed well, the meal delicious, the conversation interesting until Jean-Luc produced three bottles of a special wine. Clearing his throat, he silenced the guests.
"My brother, Robert, once said that Champagne would be my Achilles' heel. I'm not so sure of that, but it has been a custom of earth for centuries to celebrate good news with a bottle or two, so I will follow that tradition tonight."
Opening the bottles, he filled everyone's glass.
"My dear friends, it is with great joy that I announce my beloved partner Elly is with child."
There was a moment of stunned silence, then pandemonium broke out. There were hugs and hand shakes, kisses and not a few tears. When the noise died down somewhat, Jean-Luc again sought their attention.
"We are expecting twins, a boy and a girl. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Elly, mother of my children."
The toast was made, then some more and as the night wore on there seemed to be toasts to anything and everything. It was very late when the last guest left. Jean-Luc and Elly sat exhausted on the sofa. Elly looked at her lover and started to laugh.
"What?"
"You've got lipstick lips all over your face...and head!"
Jean-Luc snorted.
"Well they can stay there until tomorrow. I'm going to bed."
"Me too, I'm pooped."
The next morning, as Jean-Luc nursed his hangover, he remembered his Brother's words and laughed. Achilles' heel indeed.

 

 

The next three months passed uneventfully, Elly's pregnancy proceeding normally. The Captain gradually got used to staff stopping him in the corridors to congratulate him, or enquire after Elly, it left him with an overwhelming feeling of pride and well being. Towards the end of the fourth month, the Enterprise was sent on a difficult mediation mission. Four warring clans had finally agreed to sit at the negotiating table to hammer out a treaty. Jean-Luc had been specifically requested, his skills well known. For five days, he kept the belligerent factions from each other's throats, until the tension finally exploded. One clan chief, believing the Captain was favouring one clan at the expense of his, produced a long knife from his boot and leaped across the table taking the Captain to the ground before anyone could react. Using Jean-Luc as a shield, the chief held the knife to his throat and demanded a better deal from the Federation. When none was forthcoming, he stabbed Jean-Luc repeatedly, but held onto the stricken Captain, still using him as a bargaining chip. As long as he was alive, the chief had leverage. He would make a demand, then stab the Captain to emphasise his point. Seven hours passed before the chief was killed by a Starfleet marksman. The Captain was beamed directly to sickbay, barely alive.
Elly was blissfully unaware of her lover's predicament. Having spent the morning swimming and having a light massage, she returned to her quarters for a nap, the burden of being six months pregnant with twins proving to be a tiring one. Her first inkling something was wrong, was the sounding of the red alert. She stayed in their quarters, her disquiet growing. Hours passed and still the alert stayed and her anxiousness increased. It came to her suddenly, driving terror and dread deeply into her heart. She knew with certainty that Jean-Luc was struggling for life. She ran from the cabin, heading straight to sickbay.
The doors hissed open and Elly burst through, only to be stopped by Will.
"Let me go!"
"Elly, you can't go in, the Captain's in surgery....."
"Get out of my way!"
Wrenching her arm free of Will's grip, Elly tried to dodge him, but her protruding stomach slowed her down, allowing Will to grab her again.
"No you don't! Look Elly, come and sit in Beverley's office. I'll sit with you....Beverley will see us straight away.....come on, I'll get you some tea."
Elly knew further arguing would be pointless. Will was a wonderful man, and a dear friend, but when it came to his Captain, he was implacable.
They seated themselves and Elly looked him in the eye.
"What happened?"
"One of the chiefs decided to make the Captain a bargaining chip, and he didn't care how he went about it."
"What did he do to Jean-Luc?"
"The Captain has received multiple stab wounds, mostly in the abdominal area. He's lost a lot of blood and there has been serious damage done to several organs."
"And the chief?"
"Dead."
"Good, saves me the trouble!"
They remained in tense silence until Will asked,
"How did you know? We tried to keep a lid on it, Beverley didn't want you stressed in your condition."
Elly rose and started to pace.
"I just knew....it came to me and I knew straight away....I had an overwhelming need to see him, to be with him. I still have."
"Well he's with the best doctor, in the best facility. No one here will rest until he's better, they take the Captain's well being very seriously....it really irritates him you know. He hates it when Beverley fusses."
Elly smiled and regained her seat.
"Tell me about it! I had to listen to his grouching when his annual physical came up."
Will laughed gently.
"He has terrified more med techs than anyone I know, and he does it with such ease. Just "that" look, and they shake in their boots. Beverley stopped using the techs years ago. They struck a bargain....Beverley does the physical, and the Captain behaves himself."
Their smiles slowly died and the waiting began.
Elly paced, drank far too much tea and pestered Will, until finally, Beverley came in to see them.
Holding her hands up , she stayed Elly in mid stride.
"Whoa, just take it easy. He's going to be fine. He'll be here for a few days....God help the staff, but he'll make a full recovery. Yes, you may see him, not that he'll know in his condition, and yes Elly, you can stay with him. Ok, questions?......No? Right then, off you go."
Will and Elly hurried into the Captain's room, Elly dismayed at how pale he looked. Without thought, she monitored his breathing and checked his pulse, feeling somewhat mollified when she felt it's strength and his warmth. She gently stroked his face and whispered his name.
Will stood quietly and watched. If any jealousy remained, it fled when he saw the tears slowly coursing down her face. Moving to her, he put an arm around her and squeezed gently.
"He'll be fine Elly, just you wait and see."
Her head moved slightly to one side and she sighed.
"Until the next time."
"That's the nature of the job, you wouldn't ask him to give it up, would you?"
Tearing her eyes away from her lover, she looked frankly at Will.
"I couldn't do it, to ask him to choose would be unfair. I love the man he is....I want no other."
Sighing with satisfaction, Will smiled gently.
"He's a lucky man Elly."
Elly gave a short laugh and blushed, eyeing Will amusedly.
"Yes, well....he's got good friends too."
Will left after a while and a chair was brought for Elly to sit on. Before the end of shift, Deanna, Data and Geordie came by and stayed awhile, all very pleased with the good prognosis. Deanna had looked sharply at Elly during her visit and had reported straight to Beverley when she left. Soon after, Beverley came in, tricorder open and scanning.
"When were you going to tell me?"
"I was waiting for it to settle down."
"Labour rarely...settles down. When did it start?"
"While we were waiting in your office."
"Hmmm. Nothing else....no water?"
"No."
Closing the tricorder, Beverley regarded the woman before her.
"Look, I think it would be better to stop the labour, you're only six months.....they would survive, but it would be better for them to stay put for a while longer."
Elly was sitting with her feet up, holding Jean-Luc's hand.
"Whatever you decide is alright with us....besides, Jean-Luc wants to help, and he's not really up to it at the moment."
Beverley laughed, looking at the sleeping Captain.
"You've got me there. You sit there and I'll get the hypo."
She was only gone a few moments, when she appeared again and administered the drugs.
"You know Beverley, things are a lot easier in this century."
"I'll bet they are."

 

 

 

It was during the ship's night that Jean-Luc awoke. The first thing he felt was Elly's hand. He knew it was her....how he didn't know, but he was positive. He listened closely to her soft breathing and decided she was asleep. By the light of the monitor at his head, he could make out her profile, in particular, her swelling stomach. With fascination, he realised he could see movement in the rising profile. He watched, entranced as his children moved within their mother. Some months earlier, while lying quietly in each others arms, Elly had placed his hands on her belly and he had felt his children move for the first time. He was awed and deeply affected by what he felt, both for himself and his unborn offspring. It would never fail to amaze and humble him. During one of her visits to Beverley, the doctor had run a scan which showed the babies quite clearly and Jean-Luc had felt impatience, wanting to hold them, be their father.
He was still deeply lost in thought when she spoke to him.
"Jean-Luc? How do you feel?"
"Fine...I'm fine."
"Beverley told me that's your stock answer. Jean-Luc, how do you feel?"
He laughed gently, wincing at the soreness he felt.
"I feel like I've been ventilated numerous times with a large knife, then patched up with a darning needle and hemp. How's that?"
"Probably closer to the truth."
Elly stood and bent to kiss him sweetly, clasping his hands with hers.
"One request...don't make a habit of it...Ok?"
"Aye, Ma'am."
They talked quietly through the rest of the night, Jean-Luc succumbing to sleep only an hour before Beverley came on duty.
He was released to his quarters two days later, setting a new record in scaring the younger members of Beverley's staff.

Over the next two months, Elly grew both physically and psychologically ready to give birth. She became very quiet, feeling complete only when she was with Jean-Luc, and yet she also felt an unsettling restlessness, confusing Jean-Luc sometimes with the swinging emotions. One morning, after they had gently made love, Jean-Luc was rubbing a conditioning cream into Elly's back when she suddenly tensed, sucking in a quick breath.
"What Elly, did I hurt you?"
She turned onto her back and placed his hand on her stomach.
"I'm alright, just wait a minute."
They lay still, and after a few moments Jean-Luc was about to ask what they were waiting for, when he felt it. The muscles in Elly's abdomen stiffened with effort, Elly taking a deep breath and bearing it noiselessly.
Jean-Luc was incredulous.
"Was that a contraction?"
"Uh huh."
"Should we call Beverley?"
Elly smiled and kissed her concerned partner.
"No, my love. We have plenty of time. You get breakfast ready, I'm going to have a shower."
"Are you sure you'll be alright?"
"Positive!"
Jean-Luc rose, put on his robe and went to retrieve breakfast. Twice, during his efforts, he popped his head in the shower and asked Elly if she was alright, eventually pestering Elly into letting him dry her back....and her front. While Elly ate a light meal, Jean-Luc showered and by the time they were both ready, Elly's pains were only four minutes apart. Unwilling to let Elly walk, Jean-Luc called Beverley and an antigrav bed was sent for her, bringing her to sickbay with a retinue of followers. The Captain had told Will of his reasons for not being on the bridge, and Will had called Data and Deanna and, well, most of the ship knew by the time they reached sickbay. Beverley shooed everyone away, admitting only Jean-Luc into the delivery suite, and a short three hours later, the twins were safely delivered. Jean-Luc sat by Elly's side, tears streaming down his face as he held his children, one in each arm. The boy, Phillipe had been born first and two minutes later, his sister, Madeleine arrived.
"Oh, Elly, I love you....thank you, thank you so much...",
he whispered, looking at Elly then down at his infants.
Elly watched her partner, feeling his love and joy but also, deep in her heart, a sadness that no one, not even Jean-Luc could assuage. Beverley noticed Elly's melancholy and bent quietly to her ear.
"Are you ok?"
Elly immediately hid her sadness and smiled radiantly up at her friend.
"To use his line, I'm fine! Jean-Luc, do you think we could let the others know...."
With Beverley's help, Jean-Luc handed Madeleine to her mother and wiped his eyes on a handy tissue.
"Of course."
Will and Deanna came in first, both utterly delighted with the twins, cooing and tickling the babies under their father's watchful eye, Deanna crying the whole time. Geordie and Data were next....a little more subdued, but still enchanted, and when they left, Beverley called a halt to visitors for the day.
Before they were discharged from sickbay, the Captain made the proudest ship-wide announcement he'd ever made, to the effect that Elly had safely delivered the twins. When he gave their names he had to use all his will power not to choke up, such was his happiness.
They had already altered their quarters to allow for a nursery, and it was with palpable joy that the twins were put in their bassinettes for the first time. The family settled into a routine of feeding and nappy changing quickly and , with Jean-Luc on leave, they all slept when they needed to. Within two weeks things had sorted themselves out and people started to leave them alone.
One month became two and the twins thrived. Jean-Luc was back on duty and Elly, with the help of a crewman, took delight in wheeling the twins through the ship on visits to friends.
One evening, after the babies had been fed and bathed, Elly and Jean-Luc were saying a protracted goodnight, neither wanting to put them down for the night, when suddenly there was a bright, and decidedly unwelcome burst of light.
"Q!"
"Good evening mon Capitaine...."
Holding his daughter protectively against his chest, Jean-Luc glowered at the deadly guest.
"Get off my ship! You...."
Elly stood rooted to the spot. Holding Phillipe in her arms, she began to tremble, her mouth going dry.
"No Jean-Luc....don't....I know him."
Turning aghast at his partner, Jean-Luc croaked,
"You know him? How?"
"He came to me..."
Q strode up to Elly, taking her chin in his hand and raising her head.
"Yes, I came to you. Over the years....the centuries...we used to chat, you and I....but you, being an inferior species, don't remember, do you? Too fragile, you with your little probes..."
"Probes, Q, what do you mean?"
Q turned to the Captain and looked down his nose.
"What do I mean? Those probes that were inserted into her brain by her abductors. A crude, but effective means of down loading information. Elly here, was fed all the information she would ever need to survive on any..."M" class planet in this quadrant...and you know the best part? She doesn't know she knows! Foolproof!, and perfect for a human."
"We had some long discussions, she and I...."
Elly had regained her equilibrium.
"It was you, wasn't it? You made me...complete.....able to have children.....My God, you were there weren't you, the night we....the night the twins were conceived!"
"Hmmm, one of my better efforts!"
Jean-Luc was outraged.
"How dare you Q! Do you mean to tell me..."
"Oh, calm down Jean-Luc.....you can't say you didn't enjoy it...eh?"
Jean-Luc hated the suggestive wriggling of his eyebrows.
"Q!"
"Stop it!, both of you. Q, what happened to me?"
Q smiled and seated himself in Jean-Luc's favourite chair.
"Gather around kiddies and uncle Q will tell you a story. Once upon a time, four hundred years ago, a woman....and her children, were abducted from a dreary little planet called Earth. The creatures who did this had done it before, but what they didn't know was that they had a part to play in a much bigger picture.....the broader canvas. The woman they took was destined to meet a gallant, but somewhat stuffy, Starfleet Captain, and produce two special children. Now listen carefully kids, this is the good part, these children will have a destiny to fulfil in the future of the galaxy, but for now, lets just say, they're "special" and leave it at that. Uncle Q had a few....modifications... to make, but it's all fallen into place....despite the efforts of the participants, and they will eventually live happily ever after. So, what do you think of that?
"Q, my children....did they suffer?....."
No my little mother. I....removed them. They've been sleeping...for a long time, quite unharmed, I assure you."
Elly closed her eyes, heaving a huge sigh of relief.
Jean-Luc looked at Q with first astonishment, then dread.
"Our children have a destiny to fulfil? What...will they be alright?....when?....how?"
Q stood, circling the room.
"Jean-Luc, Jean-Luc, that would be telling! I tell you what....how about I just tell you, you'll never have to worry about them.....they've got an omnipotent being for a.....Godfather."
This was said with deadly calm by Q and Jean-Luc knew that there was nothing he could do.
"Q, please....."
"Jean-Luc! You worry too much! Look at Elly there...she's not making any fuss...."
Elly sat, the colour drained from her face. Looking up at Q, tears streamed from her eyes.
"Q....."
He stared at Elly, not moving, not talking....eerily still, then quietly said to Jean-Luc,
"I have just entered some coordinates into your computer, I suggest you go there, post haste."
Jean-Luc contacted the bridge and ordered the change of course.
Breaking contact with Elly, Q looked pointedly at the children.
"So! Show me the little mites!"
Jean-Luc and Elly cautiously neared Q and showed him their children.
"Poor little tykes, they look like you, Jean-Luc! Humph, well they're not bad...as human children go....Madeleine and Phillipe, I'm uncle Q, we will be seeing each other....in the future."
In a sudden flash of light, Q was gone.
The children were returned to their cribs.
"Jean-Luc, how long will it be before we get to those coordinates?"
The Captain called the bridge and got his answer.
"Three days....why, what's there?"
"Adele and Liam."

 

 

 

The next three days were difficult. Elly was so distressed she eventually had to be mildly sedated, her tension such that she was unable to care for the twins. After finally getting her to lie down, Beverley took Jean-Luc aside.
"Are you sure her children are there?"
"No, I can only go by what Q said, and to be honest, he never actually said anything about them. Elly just looked at him and he imputed the coordinates. I've no idea what we will find."
"Jean-Luc, if they're....dead, or worse, not there, she won't be able to cope. I'm afraid for her, Jean-Luc....and for you."
"Beverley, I can only hope that Q knew what he was doing....he's got no reason to hurt her."
Beverley was about to leave, when the twins woke up. Even through her drugged sleep, Elly responded to them and it took a concerted effort from both Jean-Luc and Beverley to get her to go back to bed. Having fed and changed the children, the two officers took them into the living room to kick on a rug.
"So, Jean-Luc, what do you think of fatherhood?"
The Captain smiled gently.
"The short answer is I love it. These little ones have crept into my heart....into a place I never knew existed. Do you remember Gul Madred?.....a terrible, cruel man.....but he loved his daughter, Beverley. He told me she'd stolen his heart, and he was quite right, that's exactly what children do and what I find extraordinary, is that they do it without you noticing. It just....happens."
Beverley laughed.
"All done with smoke and mirrors, eh? Jean-Luc, you're only discovering what every parent before you learned, and every parent to be will learn. They're insidious...like fog under the door. They creep into your heart, and before you know it....you're gone, a done deal, no contest. Enjoy them Jean-Luc, they grow awfully fast, and you won't always be the center of their universe."
Sighing, Jean-Luc nodded, agreeing with his friend.
Later that day, when Elly awoke, she began to pace and couldn't stop. They were eight hours away from their destination.

 

 

 

Jean-Luc, Elly, Beverley and a med team were on standby in sickbay. They had reached the coordinates only to find a huge debris field of metallic rock.
"Initiate a wide sweep number one, concentrate on non-ferrous objects."
Elly paused in her pacing only long enough to listen to the order, then continued her vigil.
Will's voice, when he reported, was full of frustration.
"Nothing Sir. We've tried everything....we just can't find them."
Jean-Luc looked piteously at Elly, and , not taking his eyes from her, spoke to Will.
"I'm taking a shuttle out number one."
"But, Sir..."
"No buts, commander."
The Captain walked briskly into the shuttlebay, entering the craft immediately. The little shuttle rose and left the Enterprise, dwarfed easily by her vast bulk. He was an exceptional pilot, he needed to be, the debris field thick, the danger high.
"How goes it Captain?"
"So far so good number one. Data, can you give any advice as to how we can find the pods, based on your studies of the one on board?"
There a brief delay as Data accessed his positroinc brain.
"Yes Sir. The pod we have does not reflect light. I suggest you activate the flood lights and instruct the computer to search for any object that absorbs light."
"Thank you Mr.Data."
It was three hours later that Jean-Luc made the discovery.
"I have them! Engaging tractor beam. Will, as soon as I clear the field, beam them aboard, then meet me in sickbay. Picard out."
Elly froze, mid step. Materialising in front of her were two dull black pods, the same as the one she'd been in. She moved forward only to be stopped by Beverley.
"Elly, it would be better if you stayed back.....only for a little while."
Beverley could see the anguish contorting her face. She was warring with herself and Beverley was just about to call for assistance when the Captain strode into sick bay.
"Jean-Luc! We need your help here....Elly is having difficulties."
Walking briskly to her stand in front of the distressed woman, he took her hands and looked piercingly into her eyes, whilst talking to Beverley.
"Doctor....do you scans...whatever you need to do, just be quick..... things are very delicately poised at the present moment."
Beverley went first to one pod, then the next, recording duplicate readings of nothing at all. Frowning in frustration, Beverley turned to Jean-Luc's back.
"Nothing, Captain, just like the other one."
Gripping her hands tightly, Jean-Luc moved closer, his gentle baritone keeping her rooted to their contact.
"Elly, we have no choice....we must ask you to open the pods. I don't know what we'll find, but I will....we all will be here with you....you are *not* alone."
Slipping quietly away, a nurse, at Beverley's request, had retrieved a hypospray loaded with a potent pacifying drug and surreptitiously palmed it into the doctor's hand. Thus armed, she stood back and waited for Elly to begin her voyage of hope.
Holding one of Jean-Luc's hands tightly, she moved to stand between the pods and stretching her free hand, passed it over the right hand pod. It hummed and rose off the floor, true to form and, on the second pass of the hand, the mysterious capsule opened with a sigh of atmosphere exchange.
Jean-Luc looked down into the pod then glanced at Elly. She stood rigidly, her eyes tightly shut. Beverley moved forward and above the eerie silence the data streaming from the medical tricorder was sharp and concise.
"Begin record. The first pod has been opened, revealing a....human...female, sixteen years old. Although inert, readings indicate induced narcosis. Method used to achieve this state is, as yet, unknown.
Jean-Luc softly touched Elly's face and she opened her eyes at his caress. She stared intently at his face and watched as his gaze left her and settled on the child in the pod.
Swallowing and panting with stress, she forced her eyes to follow the Captain's and almost collapsed when she saw the pale, still form.
"Adele....."
Jean-Luc held her arms, bending to see her reaction.
"Elly....Elly, look at me....is this your daughter?"
All Elly could do is nod as tears coursed down her face. Jean-Luc, in a very gentle voice asked...
"Beverley....is the child alive?"
The doctor was intently studying the read outs and nodded absently.
"Yes I believe she is....but I don't know how to wake her. She has achieved a state of suspended animation I've never seen before. It's similar to what the occupants of sleeper ships endure, but dissimilar enough to confound our computer. Her core temperature is minimal.....she must be connected to something....nurse help me roll her on her side."
"NO! Don't touch her....leave her alone!"
Beverley froze as Elly had squeezed her shoulder painfully. Jean-Luc called her name forcibly...
"Elly! Let Beverley go....she won't hurt your child...she's trying to wake her."
Elly let go and gripped the side of the pod with both hands, unable to stop the sobs that were breaking her heart. Beverley turned with the hypospray in her hand and injected the distraught woman before she could react. The Captain caught her and between them, managed to put her on a biobed. Jean-Luc's roughened voice betrayed the tension he felt.
"How long will Elly sleep?"
Stroking her head gently, Beverley ran a tricorder over Elly, sighing as she read the information.
"A few hours....eight for anyone else. Stay with her Jean-Luc, I'm going back to her daughter to see if I can waken her."
"What about the other pod?......"
"One at a time, Captain, one at a time."
As Jean-Luc seated himself he lowered his head into his hands and sighed. He felt so frustrated, seeing Elly so distressed and not being able to do anything about it was tearing at his heart....he wondered if Elly would survive this mess. Then his mind turned to his children. What would he do, in her shoes? It was over an hour until Beverley came in to see him.....the news wasn't good.
"Beverley.....anything?"
The doctor sagged into a chair and ran her fingers through her lustrous red hair. Slapping the arm of the chair, Beverley vented some of her impotent anger.
"Nothing! Not one damn speck of information. She may as well be still floating in space for all the good we're doing.!"
Standing, Jean-Luc tugged at his uniform and straightened his spine.
"Time, I think, for plan "B"........Q?.....Q are you listening?"
This time the flash was no surprise.
"Jean-Luc!....Tell me you missed me."
The Captain folded his arms on his chest and sighed.
"Q. What must I do?.....what scheme have you conjured up this time, eh? I don't want to play, Q...this much too important.
Q strutted imperiously around the small room, wiping a white gloved hand over the flat surfaces and inspecting his fingers minutely.
"Oh, mon Capitaine, you're much too repressed! You really need to broaden your horizons."
Turning back to the sleeping Elly, he said softly,
"You said the twins would not be harmed."
"Yes....that is quite true."
"And what of their mother? Q, those children out there will need their mother every bit as much as the twins. Would you deny them life? Would you deprive all four children their mother?"
Q floated by Jean-Luc, using a feather duster on the flat areas.
"You fail housekeeping Red."
"Q!"
"Alright! No need to shout Jean-Luc. Lets go visit the sleeping princess and her brother."
Beverley and Jean-Luc walked back out into the main area of sick bay, Q was already there, having walked through the wall.
"Stand back you neophytes, watch a master at work!"
With a full orchestral fanfare, Q ran his hands above each pod and shouted,
"Abracadabra!"
and disappeared in his signature flash of light.
"Doctor....pressure's coming up....we have cardiac activity and core temperature is rising."
"Doctor Crusher....the second pod is opening....scanning......read outs positive, we have sinus rhythm and rising blood pressure."
Checking on both her charges, Beverley had enough time to throw a smile in Jean-Luc's direction then re-entered the bustle around the pods.
Standing in the periphery, Jean-Luc determined that things were definitely improving, then quietly left to be with Elly. He was totally unprepared for what he saw as he entered her room. Elly was sitting upright, her eyes closed, surrounded by a beautiful golden glow, Q holding her head at her chin. Jean-Luc could hear them talking, but no mouth moved. With a gentle push from his hand, Elly lay back on her bed, apparently still asleep. Q looked at his old foe and smiled tiredly.
"You have no idea Captain, not one inkling of what has taken place. You are living out a pre-destined plan. Do you have any idea how hard that is to implement over the span of several centuries? have you worked it out yet, my poor plodding human?"
Jean-Luc was standing at Elly's side, running the back of his hand softly over her cheek.
"I care nothing for your plans Q. I love Elly, I love my children and I will love those two teenagers outside. Tell me Q, have you ever felt the touch of love? Have you ever loved enough to forfeit your own existence?, because if you have you would understand me when I say.....your machinations mean nothing to me. Just let us live out our lives with each other and by doing so, we may, just may, follow your plans anyway.
Q drew himself up to his formidable height and tugged down his uniform jacket.
"I searched a long time to find the players in this little drama.....and you know what? I chose wisely.
The ubiquitous flash of light signalled his departure, just as Elly awoke.
"Jean-Luc? How are they?"
Moving to hold her hands, Jean-Luc leaned forward and gently kissed her.
"Elly, I have some very good news."

The End.