The woman sat quite still, curled up in the big lounge chair, her face illuminated by the stars at which she gazed. Sighing, she looked at the man sleeping quietly in the bed. Her musings were bitter sweet, the memories of the past three days warming and arousing her....the contemplation of the days to come, cold and forlorn.
This was a fairly straightforward assignment. The captain had been specifically called for by the ruling families of a distant star system, strategic enough for Starfleet to agree to send him, to fill the position of mediator in a long running dispute over the disposition of the mineral wealth of all three planets in the system.
His brief included the insistence that the captain present himself in the company of a mate. The gender was irrelevant, and although Beverly Crusher, as Chief Medical Officer, was his first choice, he had to weigh how much of his decision was based on his personal feelings toward her. However, the dilemma solved itself when a subsequent request for medical assistance was made, and so it was Beverly that accompanied Jean-Luc to the third and ruling planet in the system. The past days became a blur, she busy with the local medical facility only just coping with a virulent viral infection. It was spread in multiple forms, each outbreak tailoring itself to have the maximum effect on the population. Centuries of misuse and over prescribing of pharmaceuticals had brought about a situation where the virus was outsmarting the doctors.
Jean-Luc's task was just as onerous, the stakes just as high. If he couldn't bring about a satisfactory result it would mean great hardship to millions of people. Daily he countered greed, vanity and nepotism, none of the participants willing to abandon their own avarice to serve the people they represented. In the last three days Jean-Luc had enjoyed only seven hours sleep, Beverly not much more.
On this night he had come in almost asleep on his feet, informing Beverly that he would be required to spend seven days alone, at the insistence of the rulers, to contemplate his decisions and commune with the life force of the land and sea. Despite Beverly's protest, he had told the ruling parties he would take the time, although he stipulated it was against his better judgement.
While Jean-Luc took a soothing shower, Beverly replicated a meal for him and when he came out from the shower wrapped only in a soft white towel, he smiled his thanks as Beverly had laid out his pyjamas and robe. She returned to the lounge and Jean-Luc thoughtfully dressed in his nightwear. Coming out to the dining room he was touched to see the meal and cup of tea she had replicated. He moved to stand in front of her and said quietly,
"Thank you my friend."
Beverly ran her hands up the muscular wall of his chest and smiled sadly, muttering,
"Well, Jean-Luc, someone has to look after you....you don't look after yourself."
Very softly, so quiet that she had to strain to hear his words, he whispered,
"I always hoped it would be you......"
Her eyes closed as his forehead touched hers, his clean masculine aroma breaking her shield. Her mouth dried and butterflies took flight in her stomach. Seemingly without her control, her mouth whispered the words......
"I'm not afraid any more."
Momentarily frozen, Jean-Luc's hushed voice felt like a balm on a burn, soothing her....her mind and her soul.
"Beverly?.....Do you mean it?....Are you sure?"
She looked at him....this wonderful man, those incredible hazel eyes, this man who had loved her so long and she saw tears brimming in his eyes.
"Yes, my heart......I love you."
The tears fell then unheeded by the man. His heart had taken flight as a great load had lifted. Hugging Beverly and lifting her off her feet, he twirled her around the room, laughing with delight. Beverly was taken aback, this wasn't quite the reaction she'd imagined. Jean-Luc put her down and kissed her playfully, then soberly, then passionately. He took her hands in his and asked what was in his heart.
"Beverly....may I make love to you.....please?"
All she could do was nod, so happy she was without speech.
They made love heatedly and again later in the night, gently. Beverly awoke sometime later and rose from the bed, careful not to wake the sleeping man.
And so she found herself in the big lounge chair next to the bedroom window.
She sighed then and couldn't stop the tears that flowed freely down her cheeks.
"Why do you cry, my lovely?"
Beverly looked up to see him sitting on the side of the bed.
"Tell me, ma cherie, do you think we've done the wrong thing......do you regret what we did, because I don't. I've loved you for so long.....this must be right....."
Moving to sit with him on the bed, Beverly took him in her arms and kissed him.
"I love you Jean-Luc. My tears were for all the times I hurt you, all the time we wasted....and here we are, and you've got to go on this....retreat....and I want to be with...."
More tears flowed, the force of her sobs shaking her body.
"Shhh, hush Beverly, it's alright. You're tired and , yes the timing is appalling, but it's only for a week.....and you'll be better able to work with the medical personnel without me to pester you....."
Beverly laughed at that.
"Pestering you? Is that what you were doing..... 'pestering' me?"
More chuckles bubbled up from both of them, Beverly was still grinning when he kissed her, the next hour spent in delicious pleasure.

 

 

 

The morning broke warm and clear, the couple still in a tangle of arms and legs.
"I must go soon, my love."
"I know Jean-Luc...me too."
They rose and showered together, promising each other the delights in store at the end of the mission. Having further to go, Beverly left first, her goodbye kiss lingering and sweet. Jean-Luc closed the door and rested his head against it.
*Mon Dieu, give me strength.*
He gathered his thoughts and began to pack the few items he would need, finishing quickly. With his bag over one shoulder. he left his lodgings and strode briskly to the parliament buildings, greeted by the Prime Minister of the outer planet, Esrinn Dok.
"Good morning Captain! Did you sleep well?"
Jean-Luc hid his smirk, instead touching his forehead in the method of the Husst.
"I slept well, Prime Minister, and you?"
Having completed the forehead touching, Dok looked down at the Captain and grinned, his head seemingly split by the rows of enormous teeth that filled his mouth. Jean-Luc held his own grin, trying not to breathe in the fetid, sickening odour emanating from the dignitary's mouth.
"Did I sleep well? I slept like a....what would you say?.....Like a branch...a tree....."
"Log."
"Ah yes, thank you Captain. I would've got there eventually. Well, you're packed I see. I hope you followed the instructions carefully, it's important to us that you observe the contemplation time in the appropriate manner. I suppose you become weary.....meeting so many demands of a large variety of species."
Jean-Luc smiled gently, warming to this gregarious creature.
"I have had some....interesting....things to do in my time, it certainly broadens the mind."
Nodding his head ponderously, Dok showed his numerous teeth again.
"I bet you have, but you are a better being for all your experiences, it's one of the reasons we requested you. Your mind is open."
Jean-Luc inclined his head in thanks. Shall we go, Prime Minister?"
The two leaders made their way into the council chambers to be greeted by the other two Prime Ministers. Arrex Ho, the tallest being there, introduced his compatriot, Kinna Ber. Remembering to put the last name first, the Captain exchanged pleasantries as the group made its way into a suite of rooms off the main chamber.
"Prime Minister Kinna, I believe your planet has vast quantities of Dilithium. After your admittance to the federation perhaps we could set up a trade mission on you planet?"
Arrex stopped in his tracks.
"His isn't the only planet with Dilithium, Captain!"
Jean-Luc halted and looked up at the agitated Prime Minister.
"Of course sir. I was merely making conversation. After the retreat and your admittance, delegations of many sorts will visit all three worlds. Any negotiations will be open and fair, I can assure you."
Seemingly mollified, the four came to a screen at the rear wall of the biggest room. Jean-Luc recognised a small transporter.
"Are you sure you are ready, captain?"
Nodding his head, Jean-Luc smiled.
"Yes sir, I'm ready."
In a swirl of sparkling light, he disappeared from view.

 

 

 

 

Beverly sat back and rubbed a sore spot on her shoulder. She had noticed several joint aches and had been meaning to apply a regenerator but had not been able to find the time. Sighing, she bent again to the lens of the computer and growled at the millions of microbes she could see.
"You little beasties.....where did you come from......and how will we tame you?"
She had been so close to the answer to this biological mystery, yet every strategy had failed. The disease simply reinvented itself. I was fatal in some cases, although none of the humans involved had yet been ill.
"Som, how are those cultures coming along?"
The tall, yellow Husst ambled over to the doctor.
"It's managed to grow on all of them. Tell me.....these 'cultures'.....I've never seen this method of virology....is it a new germ protocol?"
Beverly straightened her aching back.
"Good heavens no, it's a very old method of identifying bacteria and virus. I resorted to it as a long shot. Who knows, it may work...nothing else has. Let's go and see if they're going to unlock the damn bug."
Beverly rose quickly from the computer lens and promptly sat down heavily on the seat, then toppled off the side of the stool, hitting her head on the foot stand.
"Doctor Crusher! Are you alright? Brun! Come quickly, we need help!"
Beverly gently shook her head, then slowly began to rise noting her back was complaining rather loudly. Reaching up, she felt the tell tale stickiness of blood and held her hand on the wound she found at her hairline. Looking up at Som, she managed a wan smile and requested him to help her to her feet. He bent to offer his clawed hand, when Brun and two orderlies arrived and began fussing.
"Stay where you are doctor, we will treat your laceration and check your vital signs as you are."
Beverly held her cutting remark that was teetering on the tip of her tongue and looked up at Som.
"I'm fine, I just got up too quickly....I'm a little tired, that's all."
Brun looked sceptically at her.
"And you do this every time you rise.....every time?"
"Well, no....not every time...."
Shaking his maned head, Brun sighed."
"So how often does it happen, and what medication do you take?"
Swallowing and feeling nauseous, Beverly capitulated.
"This is the first time doctor, and I'm not taking any medication at this time."
His face softened, he lowered his voice.
"I see. Do you have a medical tricorder that will give the human standards......mine doesn't have human inputted. Reaching into the pocket of her lab coat, she produced the instrument and gave it to Brun. He took it at scanned her thoroughly, handing it back to Beverly when he was finished. She shook her head in frustration.
"Low blood pressure? That can't be right. Will you let me up now?"
With the two enormous Husst helping her, Beverly thought they were going to lift her from the floor altogether, but they stood her up, then gently held her steady as she regained her balance.
"Thank you, I'm sorry I worried you."
Brun, obviously concerned, asked Beverly again....
"Has this happened before?"
Sighing, Beverly sook her head.
"To be honest....it's never happened before. With your permission, and please don't be offended, I will call the Enterprise and request one of my staff to come down."
"That, doctor, is a very good idea, and we're not offended at all...in fact I would like to ask your consent to be on hand, learning the physiology of another race would be a fascinating experience. We rarely allow....aliens......(if you will excuse the term), to visit, so our data bases are severely lacking in external biological information.
Smiling at her colleague, Beverly nodded her acceptance, then called the Enterprise and requested the attendance of doctor Selar and head nurse Alyssa Ogowa. They arrived within minutes, a small pile of equipment appearing on the floor beside them.
The cool Vulcan approached Beverly, her tricorder open and scanning. Alyssa set up the equipment, aware of the scrutiny of several Husst medical officers.
Beverly, growing impatient, queried Selar.
"Well....what does it say?"
She was greeted with silence as the Vulcan frowned and turned to nurse Ogowa.
"Take a swab of the mucous membrane in the mouth and run a level four screen. Look for the mutated virus, strain theta."
Beverly's head shot up sharply.
"The mutant virus? But I thought we were immune!"
"It would seem otherwise doctor Crusher."
Nurse Ogowa finished the scan and gave the tricorder to doctor Selar.
"The diagnosis is proven, doctor Crusher. You, along with nurse Ogawa and myself are now quarantined and must remain on the planet until a satisfactory treatment is found. We cannot risk infecting the ship."
Beverly sighed and shook her head.
"How the hell did it happen? I was certain humans were resistant."
Serenely, Selar looked at her superior and cocked her head.
"Apparently not. It would seem the virus is very adaptable."
Suddenly Beverly's hand flew to her mouth.
"The Captain! He's probably infected too. Brun, can we contact Captain Picard? He will need to come back for treatment."
Brun frowned affording his face a fearsome cast.
"I will enquire doctor, but it's doubtful, his retreat is of deep spiritual significance to us. If he were to return before true enlightenment occurred, the work of the past weeks would be for nothing.....the accords would be declared nullified."
Beverly felt the first stirrings of anger, making her face harden and her jaw clench.
"Well, could we just contact him to make sure he's alright?"
Feeling his own impatience rising, Brun looked down at Beverly and said tightly,
"I'll ask."
He left and Beverly noticed the hackles had risen on the back of his neck. Som, feeling a little embarrassed, tried to make amends.
"Doctor Crusher, we had better get you into bed and take a culture. We've no idea how the virus will manifest itself in you. I really don't like surprises."

 

 

 

Jean-Luc looked around his beam in site. He had materialised on the shore of a small cove. Beside him was the equipment he would need consisting of basic camping gear and dried food. He went through the items, noting it was the bare essentials, nothing else.
*Well, so much for luxuries.*
It took only a short time for him to select his site, well above the high tide mark, and to erect his small dome tent. Then he paid closer attention to his surroundings. It was a beautiful site and quite similar to the tropical beaches of his home planet, Earth. Inland, he could see tall trees and flowering shrubs and closer to the shore, flexible palm-like plants swayed in the gentle onshore breeze. At each end of the little cove, large boulders lay like huge marbles, heaped up in picturesque disorder. Coming from the undergrowth and curving around some of the rocks, a small stream made it's way to the sea and on further investigation, Jean-Luc was delighted to find the water fresh and sweet. He stood quietly, listening to the wind in the trees and the small sounds of the wavelets as they broke upon the shore. With a satisfied sigh, he went back to his tent and laid out his sleeping gear emerging from his little home and, undressing on the beach, entered the water for a swim.
Some thirty minutes later, he noticed a soreness in his shoulders and, frowning, left the water and waded into the stream to wash himself. Standing, he flexed the muscles of his shoulders and arms, finding the stiffness was extending from his neck and down both arms. He returned to his tent and dressed, devoting some thought as to why he was feeling the stiffness.
As the day began to draw in, he made a small fire on the sand and reconstituted his evening meal, then sat by the fire sipping the coffee he'd been supplied with. It wasn't until he stood, that he realised the soreness was now in his hips. With nothing better to do, he retired for the night, deciding to do some stretching exercises in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

The day dawned in the capital bright and warm. The loveliness of the day didn't reach the state hospital where Beverly lay uncomfortably in bed. Overnight her temperature had climbed to dangerous heights and the pain in her body had worsened, as had her elevated blood pressure. Alyssa Ogawa was beginning to feel unwell and now occupied the bed next to her superior. Doctor Selar was treating them both with limited success, only able to treat the symptoms, not the disease. Beverly still insisted on seeing the readings and offered her advice in the ongoing effort to defeat the illness. Her worry for the Captain continued, escalating when Brun had reported the council had decided to wait to see how the situation progressed. She had learned that Jean-Luc had his communicator with him, she also heard that he had insisted on taking it....putting a few noses out in the process, so she was somewhat mollified and agreed to wait, pleasing Brun.
Towards late afternoon, with worsening symptoms, Beverly had sat up to try and ease the thick congestion in her lungs and fainted, causing a panic with the Husst medical team. Selar restored order, but Beverly's return to consciousness was sluggish, her temperature up to sinister levels. She was stripped and placed in a bath of cool water, which helped somewhat and returned to her bed when her heat abated.
Selar, knowing that the Captain was probably infected, approached Brun and suggested it was time to call the Captain, explaining he would need medical help. Brun scowled, but left to speak with his ministers. Selar watched him go, then turned back to the computer to continue her search for a cure.

 

 

 

 

At the little cove, Jean-Luc awoke to pain. His whole body ached and he found breathing was distressingly painful. He slowly left his hot tent, wishing to cool himself in the water. The stream was invitingly close and, after picking up his communicator, he went to cool off. He stayed in the water some time and felt his temperature decrease. When he felt able, he left the water and went to a jumble of rocks at the fringe of the bush. There he sat, holding the communicator, trying to decide whether or not to call for help. Attempting to get more comfortable, he experienced a sharp stab of pain in his back, making him feel dizzy and he dropped the communicator. When the spasm passed, he looked for the badge, finally spotting it lying among leaves and twigs held together with a web-like gossamer, on the ground between the rocks. He turned over to lie on the boulder to afford maximum reach, and wriggled his hand into the narrow space. He came up empty on his first try, only managing to scrape at the detritus on the sandy floor. He thought he heard a quiet hissing sound, but put it down to the nearby water and reached in again. This time he reached as far as he could, lying on his side, his arm fully extended. He brushed the badge with his fingers and he adjusted his body to try and gain the few centimetres he needed. With fingers outstretched, he felt the badge and was just beginning to smile in satisfaction, when something grabbed his hand tightly and bit him....repeatedly. Yelling in pain and fright, he tried to pull his hand back, only to find his shoulder had become wedged between the rocks. Frantically, he squeezed his head down and found he could see what had attacked his hand. A huge, inky black, hairy spider-like creature had wrapped itself completely around his hand and responded to any movement by sinking three wickedly curved fangs deeply into the back of his hand. The intense pain from the bites was nauseating him and he felt his vision blur. He lay perfectly still and tried to relax his hand. Sweat began to run from his body....and down the arm extended between the rocks. As he lay, he again heard the hissing, this time from a different area. It was answered by the creature so firmly attached to his hand. As the hissing increased, bands of colour appeared at the joints of its many legs and it raised itself up in a show of aggression, baring its two centimetre long fangs, the venom forming evil drops at the tips. Not daring to move, Jean-Luc could only watch in sick fascination and another huge spider made it's appearance. His hand still tightly trapped in the spider's back legs, it hissed and spat at the intruder, lunging repeatedly. He waited, hoping the creature would let him go to fight the rival, and his wishes were granted when his captor made a pre-emptive strike and released him.
Tearing the skin of his shoulder in the process, he yanked his arm forcefully upwards and, with the skin wet with his sweat, the arm came free. Wasting no time, Jean-Luc tumbled from the rock and, in a stumbling run, made it to the stream and plunged his hand into the cool water.
Already, angry red welts marked the bite sites, the pain increasing insidiously. He counted five sets of puncture marks and knew he had to stop the progression of the venom through his system.
With faltering steps he made it to his tent and looked for the first aid kit. His vision had again started to blur as he found it and his good hand was sluggish in its attempts to open the kit. As he started to wind the bandage firmly about the bites, a strange taste invaded his mouth and he abruptly vomited. He lay on his side, retching piteously, until he passed out, the bandage trailing down his body.

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly, for the third time, tried to take a breath without coughing. There was a terrible, painful tearing sensation in her chest accompanying the coughing, making her feel light headed and dizzy. Doctor Selar wiped Beverly's face with a cool, wet cloth, and consulted her tricorder...again.
"It has been two hours doctor. It would seem this inoculant has not worked. Your temperature continues to climb and your lungs show increased congestion. It's time we....."
Selar's words were cut off as Alyssa coughed and cried out in pain. Immediately at her side, Selar administered a hypospray of decongestant, hoping it would ease the pain, if only for a short while. She was getting nowhere. The symptoms continued to worsen and the virus still eluded the dedicated doctor. She knew, if she didn't find a solution to this viral mystery soon, her friends could die.
Brun entered the ward, his covered feet making little sound. He approached the beds with his mask fitted around his elongated, scaly mouth, more to spare the patients than to protect him.
"How are they?"
Not looking up from the computer screen, Selar said dispassionately,
"Bad and getting worse. We still can't hold the virus long enough to stop it mutating. All I can do is treat the symptoms, a stop gap measure at best. I have instigated an uplink with the medical data base of the Enterprise and reconfigured this terminal to interface with it. I hope to find a pathogen with which I can mask the virus, effectively blocking the mutation process......I can only hope we have enough time."
Brun looked down at the suffering patients and sighed.
"Are you receiving all you need from us?"
Selar nodded, then turned to the Husst.
"What about Captain Picard? Have your fellow ministers agreed to contact him?"
Ponderously nodding his large head, Brun answered,
"Yes. As a matter of fact we attempted to contact him just on a standard hour ago. He didn't respond, obviously he was in a state of communion. We decided to leave him to his contemplation. That is what he's supposed to be doing."
Selar noticed the condescending tone, but decided not to respond to it. Instead, she looked up at the tall Husst minister and said,
"Then I can only hope that he has no other, more....serious....reason for not responding."
What started as a sneer quickly changed to one of concern. He placed a four clawed hand on her shoulder and stooped to look into her eyes.
"Do you think he could be infected...like them?"
"It's certainly possible. The Captain and doctor Crusher had spent a lot of time together. Even with a short incubation period, it's still highly possible that the Captain had been infected....and if that is so, then he will be exhibiting symptoms like these....with no one to help him."
A look of pained discomfort passed over the tall Husst.
"But what can we do? He has been given a great honour in being offered the week of communion, it's never before been bestowed on an alien. We need him to be pure of thought to ratify the treaty. No one who is sullied in mind or body may even enter the chamber, let alone be a signatory of the royal documents."
Selar lowered her head in thought. Moments passed without inspiration and she raised her head resignedly.
"Well, minister Brun....short of surreptitiously checking on him, I don't see how you can be sure he's safe and well. Surely things will be much worse if you find he has died as a result of negligence."
This plainly irritated the Husst, but he refrained from replying. He turned to leave, then stopped and spoke over his shoulder....
"I will ask the ministers for their thoughts....I'll let you know our decision."
The doors hissed shut, leaving Selar and her patients alone again.

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was in pain. He was in so much pain, it seemed he had always been this way. Every joint, every muscle screamed at him, the pounding in his head blocking out his thoughts, leaving the only input, the pain. He had wakened to the insane agony and lay, in his own filth, helplessly shivering on the ground. Thirst raged, yet he couldn't reach the cool water of the stream. Movement was denied him. Control over his body was lost somewhere in the pain. He felt tears, he felt the nosebleed, he felt his lungs burn and tear with every breath, but all he could do was lie there immersed in hell.
Perversely, he had heard the call on his communicator, the voice sounded bored and only repeated the call once before closing the channel. In an almost dream-like euphoria, he saw himself reach down, brush the spider aside, pick up the badge and calmly request a beam out to hospital....to Beverly...he knew if he could reach her, everything would be alright. The pain would go away and she would make him well. It was really so simple. Why did that elude him now? Hadn't he asked to beam out? What was taking so long? Couldn't someone give him something for the pain? In his mind he called out, in reality he whimpered. Laying on the ground in a semiconscious daze hovering somewhere between the real world and the demons in his mind. Had he been able to see his grossly swollen hand, he would've most certainly been alarmed. Angry red lines travelled from the bites up his arm, almost to his armpit. The venom had escaped and was wreaking havoc through his body. As well as causing the searing agony, it was also closing down his nervous system, compromising his muscles and attacking his internal organs. Bit by bit it was killing him, it was almost a race....which would kill him first, the venom or the virus?

 

The sparkling light of the transporter faded to reveal a junior clerk of the imperial court, nervously looking around his surroundings. His job was simple enough....locate the captain and determine his state of health, without being discovered. Stepping back into the undergrowth, he looked left and right, until deciding to move down the beach to the spit of land that jutted gently out into the sea. Moving from tree to tree, the young man slipped into a well used fantasy. He was a secret agent, sent to rendezvous with a fellow spy to retrieve the stolen plans and save his planet. As he broke from cover to traverse the open ground to the rocky shore, he looked to his right and realised nobody was there. Feeling a little foolish, he retraced his steps until he came to a jumble of boulders he crossed with care and ducked for cover when he spotted the small domed tent, pitched under some shady trees. Listening carefully, he was about to move back into the undergrowth, when he thought he heard a moan. He stilled immediately and prepared to move back to the beam out area. How a person communed was their own private business, certainly not something they would care to share with anybody, especially a junior clerk. The time spent communing was intensely personal, even hearing a moan was a very embarrassing disclosure, one the clerk wished he hadn't heard. He moved quietly back to the beam out point and surreptitiously requested recovery. He was back at the imperial court minutes later, reporting to Brun, relieved the tasteless errand was over.
"So, he is alright....captain Picard is in good health?"
"Yes, Lord, he is well."
Nodding, and dismissing his clerk, Brun left for the hospital, pleased to have such a welcome report to deliver.

 

 

 

Beverly was trying to mount a horse. A beautiful bay, she could hear Jean-Luc's gentle laughter as she tried again. She had refused his offer of a leg up, insisting she could get her foot into the stirrup, not realising how tall the horse was. She tried again, but this time her hip hurt. Thinking she had pulled a muscle, she turned to Jean-Luc for help, when the horse pulled back, knocking her off her feet. She called for help as pain reached up from her shoulders. She was confused, where was Jean-Luc and why wasn't he helping? Searing pain lanced through her neck and hot agony accompanied each breath. She tried to call for help, but only a strangled cry issued from her mouth. Her vision began to darken at the edges and turned oddly black and white. In the deep recesses of her mind she clinically noted that she was about to loose consciousness, welcoming it when it happened.
Selar noted the change on her tricorder and gently sponged Beverly's hot face. She then moved back to the computer and requested some files from Starfleet Medical and was informed of a delay of two day waiting period. Confirming the request, Selar moved to Alyssa's bed and took yet more readings. She was dispassionately reading the data when Brun entered.
"Doctor Selar, how are your patients?
Selar finished downloading the information, then turned to the senior minister.
"They are alive, minister. I cannot, however, guarantee that they will continue to be so, unless we have a breakthrough soon. Did you ascertain the well being of captain Picard?"
Brun frowned and looked down at Beverly, seemingly sidetracked.
"So....they might die then?"
"It is a strong possibility."
Brun rubbed his clawed hands nervously together. Watching Beverly, he spoke to Selar.
"It seems to be abating here...the number of cases is falling and the recovery rate is rising. May this not also be a chance for these humans?"
Selar cocked her head in thought.
"The virus here was very virulent, infecting thousands quickly and efficiently, changing just enough each time to keep ahead of medical practice. With so many people affected, the virus ran it's course, eventually dying out. Doctor Crusher and nurse Ogowa are human. The virus is at it's strongest with them, it's not mutating so much, just very potent. My best prognosis is that, providing we can keep them alive, it should run it's course just as it did with the Husst."
Brun stroked his scaly snout and sighed.
"Can you do that? can you keep them alive?"
"Unknown at this time."
Looking up at the doctor in alarm, Brun gasped,
"And you? What about you?"
"I am Vulcan. I am unaffected at this time."
"Oh good....that's good."
Turning to face the tall Husst, Selar again asked her question.
"Did you check on captain Picard?"
"What?....Oh, yes, yes we did. He's fine."
"Minister, I do not mean to meddle, but did the contact involve actually speaking with the captain?"
The tall minister frowned at the doctor.
"I hope you're not suggesting we don't take this seriously."
"Of course not minister, but you must agree that it's most likely the captain is afflicted. You know how quickly the doctor infected nurse Ogowa. How do you know for certain he is well?"
Taking a timepiece from his pocket, Brun looked bored as he glanced at the watch.
"I sent on of my trusted aides and he reported all was well."
"Did he actually see the captain?"
"Well, no...not exactly. Look doctor the retreat is an intensely private matter. My aide wasn't going to brazenly walk into the captain's camp site and run a tricorder over him. Be reasonable, we are treading on a very sensitive subject here."
"I see. Then can you tell me on what the verdict was based?"
Huffing with impatience, Brun shuffled his feet in annoyance.
"My young clerk heard him."
"Heard him? Did he speak to your aide?"
"No!......My clerk heard the captain.....moan."
The silence between the pair stretched uncomfortably.
Decisively, Selar snapped her tricorder closed and looked up at Brun.
"I officially request to be transported to the captain's co ordinates. Failure to do so can and will be taken as an act of aggression."
Within five minutes, Selar was on a transported pad, a medical tricorder and medkit in her hands. The minute she felt the grip of the transporter leave her, she deployed the tricorder and scanned in a small arc, stiffening as the target was found. She traversed some boulders and found the tent and almost immediately she saw a foot protruding from a clump of bushes.
Seconds later she was kneeling next to the shivering, whimpering, wretched man curled up on the ground. Taking an analgesic hypospray, she administered a dose then called for beam out directly to the hospital.
She was still scanning the captain when Brun came rushing in.
"How is he?"
"Captain Picard is dangerously ill. He has the virus, but he also seems to have been bitten by something with a potent venom."
Frowning, Brun stepped up to the biobed and peered down at the stricken man.
"Bitten by something? Can you show me the bites?"
Selar lifted the light covering and gently raised the affected hand.
"Whatever it was, it had three fangs and it has bitten at least five times."
When no reaction from Brun was forthcoming, Selar looked up at the tall Husst and tilted her head, unsure of what was going through the minister's mind.
"Minister......?"
"What....oh yes....look I need some time to reflect on this.....this is unheard of."
Selar blinked and looked again at the shivering captain Picard.
"I do not understand. What is unheard of?"
Brun lowered his large, angular head and sighed.
The creature that bit him is called a thussok. We believe thussoks are the living embodiment of our glorious dead, to be bitten by one is considered immense good fortune."
"Why?"
"Well, it's such a rare occurrence. The fangs cannot puncture our scales and, under normal circumstances, we cannot access their lairs....our hands are too big. The bite of a thussok is said to bring enlightenment and serenity, it certainly doesn't make us sick."
Running a tricorder over the captain, Selar noticed the swelling in the armpit and the angry red marks up the inside of his arm. Turning to Brun, she said,
"Is there an antivenom? Do you have any treatment for the bites?"
Slowly shaking his ponderous head, Brun sounded apologetic.
"Well no, I don't think so.....but I will call our minister for health and a entomologist friend of mine. How sick is he......he's not going to die, is he?"
Squaring her shoulders, Selar closed the tricorder.
"He is dangerously ill......either the venom kills him, or the virus, either way it will be sooner rather than later."
'Then I will make haste. Goodbye, doctor."
Selar turned her attention to her desperately ill patient. Taking a cool wet cloth, she wiped his brow and again checked the swollen armpit. Under closer scrutiny, she noticed the faint red ribbon of poison was working it's way slowly across his chest and up his neck. She administered another dose of anti-inflammatory and again checked his temperature.

 

 

Beverly lay on an open beach, stretched out in the sun. She had swum until the chill of the water slowly made its way to her bones, so she decided to bask in the bright sunshine to warm up. Although her eyes were closed, she could see the brightness through her lids and she sighed with contentment. Having warmed her front enough, she attempted to turn over, only to find she was unable to move. Fear crept into the edges of her mind as she tried again and again to move. The thought of paralysis terrified her and as she fought ineffectually she realised the heat building on her skin. Unable to open her eyes in the burning sun, she struggled with increasing panic. The heat was increasing, the sun swelling in size and blistering her fair skin. Screaming, she couldn't bear the pain, she couldn't move, she couldn't escape.
The moment Selar heard the cries, she left the captain and hurried to Beverly's bed. On it, she was writhing and screaming, sweat streaming from her pores. Wasting no time, Selar poured the contents of the water dish over her and called for more, whilst doing her best to prevent Beverly from hurting herself. The Husst nurse was unsure as to what she was witnessing.
"Doctor.....why does liquid come through her skin?"
As Beverly began to calm, Selar looked up at her colleague.
"Humans sweat through the pores of their skin as a cooling mechanism. When illness strikes, their body temperature rises in response, to kill the invading pathogens. In cases like this, the body's defence system is overwhelmed and becomes dangerously unbalanced."
The nurse changed hands and continued to sponge Beverly down.
"So we can expect the same reaction from these other humans?"
Selar finished calibrating a hypospray and administered the dose into Beverly's neck.
"So far, the two females have exhibited identical symptoms, however the male's illness is exacerbated by the venom in his system. I do not know how this will affect him, at this time we can only wait and watch."
Selar moved to Alyssa's bed and then collected three bowls of water and set them aside.
"She should begin to manifest the same symptoms approximately four hours after doctor Crusher. Watch her carefully, perhaps we will find a cure before she worsens."

 

 

 

 

Brun was not a happy Husst. The council had been less than forthcoming about the thussok problem. The general feeling was that the Federation personnel were becoming an expensive embarrassment. First they catch the virus they were sent to eradicate, then the mediator himself manages....somehow....to be bitten by a sacred thussok as well as falling ill with the virus.
*What do they expect from us?*
He was still fretting when he breezed into the isolation ward containing the ill humans.
"Well, now...how are we today?"
Selar raised her eyes momentarily and acknowledged his presence.
"Minister. The condition of doctor Crusher and lieutenant Ogowa has stabilised. I believe they may have reached a turning point....I will know more in the next twelve hours. Captain Picard, however, remains in a critical state."
Brun sat on a nearby chair and sighed.
"That is a shame. I was hoping you would tell me they were all on the improve....it was such bad luck for all this to have happened."
Gently wiping Jean-Luc's face with a cool towel, Selar looked speculatively at the minister.
"What was the outcome of your meeting?"
Brun shifted on his chair and avoided eye contact with doctor Selar.
"Let's just say, there were some ....difficulties."
"Difficulties?"
"Well yes. Look, we mean no harm for any of these people, what has transpired here is a dreadful pity, but it's not that easy a puzzle to solve. Thussoks are sacred to us, to be bitten by one is seen to be a divine event. As a creature, thussoks are shy and passive, they actually have to be threatened before they bite....it's purely a defensive reaction. Even when we are bitten, the venom had a markedly different effect on us. For us, it imparts a period of euphoria after which comes a short time of intellectual clarity.....anything said by someone under the influence of the venom carries great weight. For the duration of the venom's effect, the individual involved is given the status of a saint. Of course, having your captain under the influence of the venom, causes some consternation."
Selar rose to check the biometer over Beverly's bed then returned to sit with Brun.
"Minister, I find the information about the thussok interesting, but how does it equate for captain Picard? Is there an antivenom?"
"No. We don't need one.....and we never envisioned anyone but the Husst being bitten. I'm sorry doctor, we cannot be of any help in this matter."
Selar straightened and nodded decisively. Standing, she went back to the captain's bed and again read the scans as they imparted their information. Making no complaint at being dismissed, the tall Husst exited quietly, an idea forming in his mind.
"Selar to Enterprise....."
"Enterprise here."
"Commander, I would like to request Mr. Data to aid me in the ongoing treatment of captain Picard, I believe he will be unaffected by the virus."
"Understood, permission granted. How are the patients?"
"Doctor Crusher and lieutenant Ogawa have reached a plateau....I believe the may soon start to recover, however, captain Picard is still gravely ill."
"How did the meeting with minister Brun go?"
"Not well, sir. Because of the god-like status given to the arachnid, they are unwilling to help. I did think that Mr. Data may be of help in this area."
"Understood. Enterprise out."
Selar stood and waited until the distinctive whine of the transporter ceased.
"Commander, thank you for coming."
Not wasting any time, Data requested all the current information pertaining to the thussok and their relationship with the Husst. It took several calls to the ministry and one tight conversation with Brun's secretary before the information was grudgingly given. In all it took four and a half hours for Data to begin his investigation and during that time the captain continued his downward plunge.

 

 

 

The gentle glow of the shaded light and the soft glow of the computer terminal were the only lights in the otherwise dark room. Data was engrossed in his research, the medical monitors humming and chirping, offering him some sense of company, at the very least reminding him of his ill comrades. He worked diligently, his ability to continue without rest never more appreciated than now. He was comparing information when he detected, at the very edge of his hearing range, the tell-tale whine of a transporter. He moved immediately, making his way to the Captain's bed and was stunned by what he found. The captain was gone. Without hesitation, he called security.

 

 

 

 

The human body, naked and unconscious, was gently lowered into the bath-like tub, the thick, viscous pale blue fluid covering him with an almost sensuous touch. He was immersed until just his head was above the fluid, support coming from the contoured base which moulded itself to become a perfect profile of the captain's body. The watching attendant added
information to the floating touch pad then stood, momentarily engrossed in studying the form in the tub.
*So different....so frail.*
The attendant attached three medical monitor probes through the bone of the captain's skull, referring frequently to the pad to help her guide the probes successfully. Having achieved the desired result, the being picked up a wet cloth from a nearby tray and wiped away the trickles of blood that had flowed down over Jean-Luc's head and face. Checking once again the body temperature and snorting with satisfaction, the being left the captain to report to her superiors.

 

 

 

The fog that had descended in Jean-Luc's mind shifted, giving him a taste of clarity, before closing in again to carry him into the grey mist of his thoughts. He tried desperately to fight his way to consciousness, but it proved, at least for the moment, too tenuous to hold. Instead, he focussed on his body. The pain was still severe although he was able to separate himself from it. He found he could actually visualise the pain as a dark smear in his mind and soon discovered he could shrink it's potency by applying his mind. He also acknowledged his temperature was stable.....still too high, but not getting any worse. In all, he felt better than his previous state and was glad Beverly had finally been able to treat him. Two hours later things took on a markedly dissimilar bent. It started as a dull ache in his chest and grew, radiating out to consume his complete torso, tendrils of agony sliding down his limbs and genitals. Only his head remained free of the crushing pain. He tried desperately to summon help, in his mind he screamed inarticulately, spending precious energy in an effort to get help.....he was terrified he would die....alone and in unspeakable agony. His mental shouts became weaker, sliding down a narrowing tunnel until he was capable of only ragged sobs as the all encompassing torment engulfed his body completely.

 

 

 

Beverly's eyes opened and she took a moment to remember where she was. Mentally, she ran a systems check of her body, ascertaining she was functioning, albeit sluggishly. Risking unknown repercussions, she attempted to raise her head. The sudden monitor alert hurt her ears with it's intensity, masking the quiet approach of a concerned doctor Selar. Shutting off the alert, she scanned Beverly then spoke gently to her patient.
"How do you feel doctor Crusher? Is there anything you would have me do at this time?"
Swallowing painfully, Beverly closed her eyes momentarily and sighed gently.
"I have a mild headache and general malaise, my glands are painful, as is my throat. How long have I been unconscious?"
Selar snapped the tricorder shut and glanced at the biometer.
"Three days doctor."
"Three days?! How is my white cell count? What treatment have you used for the systemic trio...."
"Doctor Crusher! You are being treated correctly and you will recover fully. Please refrain from telling your doctor how to treat you."
Beverly's eyes darkened and narrowed as her anger sparked. She was about to remonstrate with her colleague when doctor Selar reminded her of her ill nurse.
"Nurse Ogawa is still unconscious, however I expect her to follow you in the course of the virus....she should waken in approximately four hours."
Trying to rise on her elbow, Beverly tried to look at her friend, only to be gently pushed down by her fellow doctor. The hypospray's hiss caught her unawares and she looked questioningly at Selar.
"That, doctor, was to treat your general discomfit and to ensure you remain calm. You are by no means recovered and I intend to see you get all the rest you need."
Beverly glanced speculatively at her Vulcan friend and decided to acquiesce. Instead, she asked the question that burned in her mind.
"Has captain Picard been brought in? How is he?"
"Doctor Crusher, much has happened while you were unconscious. The captain was retrieved and brought to this facility, however, his condition was complicated by the presence of venom in his body. Apparently he was bitten several times by an arachnid. We were not having any appreciable effect in treating him, so commander Data was beamed down to assist us. We were just beginning to analyse the venom when the captain was transported out. We do not know of his whereabouts at this time."
"Beamed out? How could that be? I take it it wasn't one of our transporters......have you been able to find the trace?"
"I will summon commander Data, he will be able to furnish you with the information you seek."
Touching her communicator, Selar contacted the android and requested his presence.
He came with his usual expediency and immediately showed his concern for his friend and ship mate.
"Doctor Crusher, how are you? It's so good to see you awake at last."
Beverly had to smile. Data was always solicitous, his emotion chip finally allowing him to be as human as he'd always striven to be.
"I've seen better days my friend, but it would appear I will live to fight another day. Tell me Data, is there any news on captain Picard?"
Data looked surreptitiously at Selar and, receiving a small nod of approval, made himself comfortable on the edge of Beverly's bed.
"We know very little as to the whereabouts of the captain. The transporter trace was strong at the point of beam out, but we were unable to track it. I have summoned minister Brun, perhaps he may be able to shed some light on all this."
"The venom, Data....have you been able to find a antitoxin?"
His face a mask of sorrow, Data replied,
"No, not yet."
Beverly looked first at Data, then at Selar and snorted with anger.
"Selar, help me up. Maybe all you need is another pair of hands to work on this!"
Beverly reached out and gripped Data's arm, trying to pull herself upright. The hypospray was administered swiftly and, as she subsided, she managed one small snarl of defiance before the drug took her in it's gentle grip. Data, still watching Beverly and holding her right hand, spoke to Selar without looking at her.
"How is she doctor?"
"I can tell you sir, despite her show of strength, doctor Crusher is still quite unwell. Her temperature is still well above normal and we've been unable to lower her blood pressure. He chance of heart failure or stroke are still significantly high, at least as long as we stay here."
Turning to face Selar, Data spoke the obvious question.
"When can they be beamed aboard?"
"As soon as they both are free of the virus. A swab taken an hour ago showed the virus was still active, although with much less potency, but it's impossible to predict when they will be no longer infectious."
Standing, Data looked deeply into the eyes of the vulcan.
"I will return to the lab to continue my work with the venom. When minister Brun arrives, please bring him to me."
"Yes, sir."

 

 

 

 

 

He had been sleeping. He knew this, just as he knew he was blind. He looked into his mind and found perfect clarity, each thought crisp and sharp, effortless. Feeling the hand that touched his face, he summoned speech and tried to speak. In his mind he asked,
"May I have a drink? I'm very thirsty."
In reality he croaked,
"Drink?"
He felt the hand that gently lifted his head and he was aware of the cup as it touched his lower lip. The water was sweet and cold and he was sure he'd never had a more delicious drink in his life. The water gave him strength as well as relief. He opened his sightless eyes and thanked his benefactor.
"Thank.....ver hot.....sore throat....."
The disembodied voice spoke.
"Are you in any pain?"
He thought about that.
"Am I in pain?"
Running a quick check, he found that he was indeed in pain, but, like his missing sight, It really didn't matter. It had always been there. He did decide, however, to be truthful to the voice.
"Yes....head....chest.....hand....."
The hand left his head and the voice spoke,
"I will get you something for your pain. Rest my friend, your journey is not yet over."
And it was gone. Jean-Luc was disappointed, he'd been hoping to talk to someone about the things he'd seen in his mind.....odd things, disturbing things.....terrifying things, not that it mattered, not really. He would see them again, he was sure....those things and more, much more.
When the owner of the voice returned, she took a moment to watch the man in the container. The human appeared to be dreaming. The tall green, hooded being lifted her gaze to the screen and watched in fascination and fantastic images flashed across the terminal, fascinating her. Looking down, she watched the rapid eye movement occur, knowing that her charge was dreaming. Next she reached down and gently lifted the bitten hand. Grossly swollen, the skin had split in several places, oozing pus and serum, the bites each ulcerated and turning necrotic, the fingernails all black and lifting from their beds. Looking over his body, she noted the swollen glands and the odd yellowish cast to his skin. He had lost weight giving his body a gaunt appearance. She replaced the hand into the blue gel and stood quietly watching the monitor with growing fascination. She would have much to ask him when he recovered.....if he recovered.

 

 

 

 

Minister Brun entered the hospital ward and waved imperiously at the attendants who rushed forward to see him. Leaving the main room, he breezed into the private suite of rooms that Beverly and her friends were ensconced.
"Well, how are my guests today?"
Data stepped forward and introduced himself.
"I am commander Data sir. We requested your presence yesterday, why has it taken you so long to see us?"
"What!.......how dare you! I'll have you know....."
"Yes sir, I'm sure you will, but we have more urgent matters at hand. Are you aware that captain Picard was transported from his bed?"
Brun had the good grace to at least look embarrassed. Lifting his clawed hand to his head, he rubbed the dome at the top.
"Well, yes. I received the information last night."
Selar stepped forward.
"Then why did you do nothing?"
Finished with his head, his hand had been gently rubbing the lapel of his gown. He stopped and the hand slipped inside the robe then reappeared holding something.
"Do you remember I told you of the spiritual significance of the captain's retreat?"
The Starfleet officers all nodded.
"What captain Picard was sent to do, was to commune with the life force of our world. We were unsure if an.....outsider.....would be capable of achieving this, but we thought to at least give him the opportunity to try. The bite of a Thussok is considered a blessed event. When it was your captain that was bitten, well, we took it as a sign that he had indeed achieved enlightenment. How were we to know that the bite would be so life threatening? Perhaps if he hadn't had the virus as well......still, that's pure conjecture. Yesterday I contacted the chief prelate of a religious order who deal specifically with thussok bites. Your captain was transported there yesterday and is there with the order as we speak. He is in good hands, I assure you."
Beverly had been quietly listening, growing more perturbed as the minutes passed. She had reached boiling point and let off some steam.
"You did what! How could you be so foolish. The captain doesn't need a religious order dammit....he needs the sick bay of our ship. I insist you retrieve him immediately!"
The Husst straightened his back and stood to his full, intimidating height.
"How dare you speak to me like that. You forget where you are, madam. You are the guest here and I am in charge!"
"Guest!? You *asked* for medical help. We risked our lives to help you. The kidnapping of a starfleet officer is considered to be a hostile act. Return captain Picard to us now or suffer the consequences."
Data stepped forward then and stood between the antagonists to try and defuse the situation.
"What doctor Crusher means, is that we would greatly appreciate it if you could see your way clear to return our captain to us."
"Do it yourself if you must."
Data looked at his colleagues and sighed.
"We cannot. The transporter trace was not strong enough. We have scanned extensively and cannot locate captain Picard. We will, however continue to search. Minister Brun, doctor Crusher was quite correct, the abduction of a Starfleet officer is a very serious offence. Would you see all the good work undone over this?"
Brun allowed his massive shoulders to relax and he sighed.
"I know what you must think of us, but I implore you to let us try and rectify the injury done to your captain. He is safe and has improved since he was treated. No one knows more about thussok bites that the Mer'et, our spiritual guides."
Data looked at his companions and shrugged his shoulders.
"You say he has improved. Can you be more specific?"
"Mr.Data, is it true.....what they say about you....that you're an android, a machine?"
"Yes."
Looking at the gathered officers, Brun came to a decision.
"I will come for you when the sun sets and I will take you to him. You may not bring any instruments or communication devices. Is that agreeable to you?"
Data was about to reply when Beverly interjected.
"No it's not! You will bring him here and....."
"Doctor crusher.....if you please.....Minister Brun, you proposal is accepted, but if I find the captain is not improving, I will insist he be handed over to us immediately......there will be no resistance....agreed?"
"Yes, commander Data."
The tall husst turned and left. The second he was through the door, Beverly said tightly,
"Data, are you nuts? They have the captain imprisoned and you're contemplating letting him stay with them? What the hell's got into you?"
Data turned and sat with his friend. Tilting his head, he seemed to be gathering his thoughts.
"Doctor Crusher, the captain will be ill no matter where he is. Even if we bring him here, we still cannot treat his bites. These people are experts, perhaps we should give them the chance to do what we cannot."
Sighing, Beverly gently shook her head.
"Succinct as always Data. Ok, go but you report to me the minute you return."
"Agreed doctor."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The being in the cowl stood silently beside the sleeping man. The images on the monitor were absent and the man seemed to be having restful sleep, devoid of frightening dreams. The female had never seen such things. Vivid pictures of torture and pain, the rape of body and mind at the hands of semi-robotic beings, the female was saddened the man had been so terrified. She had also seen beasts and fiends but as the pain eased, there were images of warmth and comfort. She realised she had before her an intelligent and articulate man. She would enjoy talking with him when he awoke.
Jean-Luc sighed and shifted slightly. He knew someone was watching him and it amused him to think what a picture he must make. He opened his eyes and spoke softly.
"What do you see?"
The female smiled and bowed her head.
"I see a naked male lying in a bath of sparkling blue gel, exalted one."
Silence descended for a short while.
"Exalted one? I am exalted?"
"Yes."
"I am lying in a bath. Why?"
"You have been ill....you were bitten by a thussok."
"A 'thussok'.....what is that?"
Stepping closer, the female passed her hands in front of his eyes with absolutely no response.
"It's a.....well, the nearest thing for you would be a spider. It bit you five times on your right hand. The venom made you very ill....you also have a virus that your colleagues have been trying to find a cure for."
"My colleagues.....I have colleagues?
Gently typing some commands into the computer interface, the gel instantly changed to a brighter blue, the effect making Jean-Luc very drowsy.
"We will talk again soon exalted one. Sleep for now."
Jean-Luc's sightless eyes drifted shut and in his mind he saw a dragon.
Beverly ran the tricorder once more over her body. Snorting with satisfaction, she made her way to nurse Ogawa's bed and ran a similar scan, smiling for the first time in a long while.
"How am I doctor?"
"A hell of a lot better than you were two hours ago.....how do you feel?"
Alyssa stretched and smiled at the simple pleasure she felt.
"Compared to last night, I feel as good as gold pressed latinum. Am I free of the virus?"
Pausing to consult her instrument again, the doctor was momentarily silent.
"Well.....as far as this tricorder's concerned.......it's gone......packed it's bags and scarpered. If the timetable is followed, I can tell you that you'll be feeling even better in a few hours."
"I take you feel well, doctor Crusher?"
Smiling at her friend and colleague, Beverly nodded.
"Yep....fit as a fiddle. You stay here and rest Alyssa, I have some questions that need answers."
Beverly closed her tricorder with a authoritative snap and left to find someone who could enlighten her. Striding out of the isolation ward, she stopped at the medical officers facility and asked to see the registrar.
The tall husst that came out was courteous, but disinterested in Beverly's enquiries. He introduced himself as doctor Enth Paa and Beverly could easily see he was keen to return to his fellow medical personnel.
"I would like to talk to the chief medical officer please."
"That would be director F'ee. She's at lunch."
Beverly clenched her jaw and said through thin lips,
"Well, can you page her?"
Doctor Enth sighed, nauseating Beverly with the stench of rotting carrion. Shifting his weight on his enormous scaled, clawed feet, the husst appeared bored.
"She won't be very happy with that. Is there anything I can do?"
Taking a large breath, Beverly bowed her head and counted to ten.
"I would like you to page director F'ee right now and , no, you can't help me.....thank you."
Beverly stood as tall as she could manage and stared the husst doctor down. Shrugging his huge shoulders, he turned and re-entered the rooms, leaving Beverly out in the hall. She was about to enter the rooms when doctor Enth came out with a smirk on his face.
"I have contacted director F'ee, she will be here shortly. You can wait in an office in here."
Beverly was led into a pokey little office containing a dusty terminal on a tatty desk. There was no chair. Grateful that she had donned her uniform before she left her ward, Beverly wiped a patch on the desk and hitched her hip to sit on it. Fortunately, she didn't have long to wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dragon was so close, he could feel it's heat.....smell it's fetid breath. He looked deeply into it's eyes and saw the flickering flames within. It's forked tongue tasted him in an almost sensuous caress, arousing him and frightening him at the same time, travelling over his body, touching lightly, erotically, he looked at it's face, breathless with sensation. Then it's gaze shifted to look at his right hand. The fear started to build. He knew what was going to happen and he tried desperately to move....scream....anything to forestall what was about to take place, without success. He lay passively inert and the tongue of the beast wound it's way to his hand, tightening it's grip in readiness. And then it happened. The tongue made a sawing action, the sides becoming sharp and slicing into the flesh of his bloated hand. Blood burst from his hand....blood and pus and serum spewed over his hand in a blast of intense, blinding agony. As his back arched, his head flung back, he screamed silently, sobbing incoherently, begging for mercy. And then it was too much and he retreated, floating in the vibrant gel, a non-person once again.
The two beings.... a husst, Ho'or and the cowled woman, stepped back and sighed in unison.
"It's so different with them. Everything we do is done by guesswork. He was in so much pain...and his hand....will we be able to save it?"
The cowled woman stooped slightly and entered some information into the floating pad at Jean-Luc's head. With an almost imperceptible whine, the probes in Jean-Luc's head shifted deeper, the ensuing blood spill cleaned by the woman.
"You brought him to me because your superior told you to. I can tell you the virus is leaving his body, but as to the thussok bites.....you're right, it is guesswork."
"Then you should've waited for me!"
Brun and Data strode into the dark room and came to a stop beside the captain.
"Gods eminence...his hand...."
Gently shouldering his way to the front, Data attempted to immerse his hands in the gel to cradle his captain.
"NO! Don't do it....keep your hands away from him. The gel is acting as life support and it's easing his pain. If you were to place anything into the gel, it could kill him."
"I am commander Data of......"
"We know who you are, commander."
Data stepped back and looked closely at the three beings.
"I know you, minister Brun, but who are these people and where are we?"
Sighing, Brun sent Ho'or to bring some seats. He then sat and gestured the others to be seated also.
"My fellow husst is my trusted aide and we are in the high chamber of the blessed Vaults. Mr.Data, please believe me, we mean no harm. This whole business has been one disaster after another. First your doctor and nurse get sick from the very virus they came to treat.....the captain also succumbs and then....somehow....manages to get himself bitten by a thussok...not once, but five times!"
"That was not the captain's fault, minister. You cannot blame the cap....."
Raising his clawed hand, Brun silenced Data's protest.
"I know, I know, but what was I to do? You see Mr.Data when a Husst is bitten, they are brought here. This female here is one of an order who guide us in spiritual matters.....they are the Mer'et. The thussoks are sacred to us, I know you've been briefed by now about the....weight....there is given in anything said by a husst in the grip of the venom. For us it lasts only an hour and leaves no ill effects....the entire experience is painless. I instructed Ho'or to bring your captain here in an effort to treat him. No one knows more about thussok venom than the Mer'et."
"But minister, the patient is human. Do the Mer'et know about human physiology?"
Brun lowered his head and gently shook it from side to side.
"No commander, they do not."
"Then, may I suggest, we remove the captain forth with and beam him up to his ship."
The female looked up then, the light briefly illuminating her dog-like face.
"He cannot leave the gel. He is connected through his brain....interfacing directly to the medium. To remove him now would most certainly kill him."
Data stood up from examining the floating pad. He cocked his head in thought and came to a decision.
"We must bring doctor Crusher here."
Brun silently regarded the Mer'et, waiting silently for her answer.
"Before today, no alien had ever been inside our vaults....what difference will one more make?"
Data stepped closer and lowered his voice.
"Dr. Crusher is the chief medical officer on our ship. She is highly trained and competent. I must ask you though.....she will need to bring one instrument, a 'tricorder'. You will be free to examine it."
Shaking her head with a mixture of anger and disgust, the Mer'et raised her hands in resignation.
"Very well, bring your doctor and her instrument....I want nothing further to do with this."
Turning on her heel, she stalked off, quickly swallowed by the surrounding gloom.

 

 

Jean-Luc became aware of a pungent taste in his mouth. At first pleasant, it quickly became bitter and acrid. He felt his stomach clench in protest, the bile rising rapidly into his mouth. He tried to turn onto his side, but movement was denied him. He started to choke, gasping and retching repeatedly, unable to breathe, when suddenly there was an explosion of light in his brain. Everything stilled, his respiration returning to normal and the urge to vomit ceased. Slowly he opened his eyes, knowing he would see nothing, and whispered into the air,
"Is there anyone there?"
The disembodied voice was soft and lilting, he tried to concentrate on it, but it was elusive, running through his mind like sand through his fingers.
"I am here exalted one, we have controlled your illness.....you should rest easier."
"Thank you."
Ten minutes later an angry Beverly entered the room containing her captain....her lover. She noted he was sleeping and, as she drew closer, she saw his hand.
"My God.....what happened to his hand! How long has it been like this?"
Running the tricorder over the hand, Beverly was appalled with what she read.
"The tissue and muscle are necrotic, the venom has infiltrated the bone.....how long ago was it lanced?"
"Early this morning doctor. It became so badly swollen....it was splitting of it's own accord, we accessed his dreams and found he dreamed of dragons....we used that imagery to carry out the procedure. None of our drugs are compatible.....we are bound by our faith not to interfere, it's good you have come"
Not taking her eyes off her beloved Jean-Luc, Beverly asked curtly,
"What else?"
"His internal organs have been damaged, as have his lungs. We have been told his temperature is much elevated, he can ingest nothing, he is sightless and he has no memory of self."
Beverly stood up and glared at the serene mer'et.
"And you put him in this....gel....and placed cranial probes into his brain, then sat back and watched? What the hell were you thinking? He should've been taken immediately to our ship!...."
"But doctor....he had the virus.....he could go nowhere."
Beverly lowered her head and sighed.
"Do you know the chemical constituents of the venom....have you isolated the active elements?"
The mer'et produced a padd and handed it to the irritated doctor.
"All we know about the venom is in this. I can make the tank he's in transportable, it would be best all round if you took him back to your ship.....he is no longer infectious."
Beverly watched the sleeping man with sadness, then turned to the mer'et and said tightly,
"Thankyou. I will stay with him until we leave."
In the two hours she waited, Beverly stayed by Jean-Luc's side. He slept, the images of his oblivion scrolled silently across the monitor.

 

 

 

 

The whine of the transporter was still in the air as the medical personnel sprang into action. The tank was attached to a power conduit, the portable power pack disengaged and returned to the planet. Beverly had spent the waiting studying all the information on the gel and tank that held the captain in it's grip. It seemed that separating the captain from the gel would be a very delicate operation. The viscous fluid had infiltrated his lungs, abdomen and gut, making him totally dependant on it. Beverly had been working at a computer terminal next to the tank when she heard Jean-Luc speak.
"Is anyone there?"
"I'm here, it's alright."
Opening his eyes, they stared straight ahead giving him a haunted expression.
"You are not the same......who are you?"
Forcing her voice to be steady and taking a calming breath, Beverly leaned close to her stricken lover.
"It's Beverly.....I'm here to help you, to make you well. Are you in pain?"
Jean-Luc had to think hard about that. Sometimes the pain was so severe, his mind closed down.
"Yes.....my head and my hand. What is wrong with my hand....why did the dragon cut it?"
"You have been bitten by a spider and it's made your hand swollen and painful. I am going to make it feel better soon."
"Am I still exalted? The other one said I was exalted....I don't want to be exalted....I think it hurts. Do you know who I am?"
Brushing a tear away, Beverly kept her voice strong by sheer willpower alone.
"You are Jean-Luc Picard....you are my friend."
Silence settled while the information was processed. Beverly saw his chest rise and fall in his characteristic sigh.
"I am Jean-Luc Picard. Jean-Luc......I don't remember....."
Beverly was saddened to see tears emerge and join with the gel, turning it deep blue.
"All you have to do is get well. We can work on everything else once you feel better. Sleep for now Jean-Luc, I will stay with you."
"You will stay? Can you stop the dragon? It hurts me."

 

 

 

 

Doctor Selar stood quietly some three meters from her superior, watching impassively as her colleague and friend worked frantically on her deteriorating captain. As a vulcan, she was not given to emotion or sentiment....yet even she could feel the desperation that tainted the air. They were not making any progress and time was running out. Turning abruptly, she entered Beverly's office and opened a channel to Will Riker, the first officer.
"Selar to Riker...."
"Riker here. How is the captain?"
"There has been no improvement sir, in fact that is why I have contacted you. The captain's condition is worsening. I require your permission to beam down to the planet to talk with the mer'et liaison. I may be able to extract further information."
"Very well, doctor....and doctor....good luck."
Five minutes later, Selar arrived at the transporter room and requested to be beamed to the Vault of the Mer'et.
The woman in the cowl was waiting as Selar rematerialised in the vault. She bowed slightly and gestured for Selar to follow her. The walked some distance in silence, the tension broken when the mer'et spoke.
"I have selected the archival material you requested doctor, I hope it is helpful."
Selar approached a work table and turned to her host.
"Thank you. Do you have a name?"
A look of mild surprise crossed the canine face.
"I am Anshwa....and you?"
"Selar....doctor Selar. Anshwa we are in a difficult situation. We can and will find an antivenom to the thussok bites, but we cannot treat our captain as long as he stays in the gel. Can you help?"
The mer'et lowered her head and sighed.
"With all your technology you still need our help?"
"Yes."
"If our help is so vital to you, why weren't we included in the talks your captain came to arbitrate?"
Cocking her head slightly, Selar was perplexed.
"I do not know the details of the captain's mission, but if he knew of this discrepancy, I'm sure he would have made enquiries about it."
"Enquiries, you say. To whom would he enquire....the husst? The have been subjugating us for too long. They pass us off as a religious cult, handy to them only when they cannot answer their own questions. Why would we continue to help your captain? His arbitration means nothing to us."
Selar stepped closer and looked piercingly into the soft brown eyes of her host.
"If he doesn't survive, you will be no closer to ending this situation with the husst. If.....only if... the captain recovers can you put your case to him. Thus armed, he can resume the talks having the complete picture. I cannot, and will not, try to guess at the outcome, but at least he would have tried."
Anshwa held the doctor's eyes for a moment, then, sighing, she lowered her head.
"What you ask is not a simple thing. The gel is a life force. It lives by taking nutriments from the host and, in return, repairs any damaged tissue it finds. Your captain has extensive damage....from his unexpected thussok bites and the virus he had. The gel doesn't differentiate between husst, mer'et or human. The problem arises when the patient is removed from it's influence. Here, the procedure runs smoothly....the gel is familiar with it's host. Your captain was unknown to it and, as a result, the infiltration was complete. As of now, captain Picard cannot survive without it."
Selar frowned, placing her hands behind her back.
"Did you know this would happen?"
"Not exactly, but we little choice....the husst are to be obeyed, not argued with."
"Yes, but you still took an unacceptable risk with the captain's well being."
Drawing a sharp breath, the mer'et raised a pointed paw.
"Unacceptable risk? He was dying. Your doctor Crusher was fighting her own battle for life and you were totally involved in assisting her. When Brun gave the order, we had no option....we did the only thing we could under the circumstances."
Selar was momentarily silenced, both women deep in thought. It was Selar who spoke first.
"Will you come to the ship and help us?"
Anshwa bowed and muttered softly,
"Yes, I will."

 

 

 

All around him was nothingness. In his mind, vivid colours swirled and danced. For the most part, he felt calm, but when the red billowed and blackness tinged his mind, he knew the dragon would come, and with the beast came the pain. He tried to stay steady, tried to be strong, but the pain nibbled away at the edges of his courage and as the pain built....surged through his body, his defences collapsed until all he could was scream.
Beverly was in her office when it happened. Jean-Luc had been sleeping, occasionally whimpering and Beverly had left him momentarily to check on an experiment with the gel. The scream was shattering. She ran from her office to find Jean-Luc in a rictus of agony. His swollen, damaged hand was held immobile in a stasis unit and the remainder of his body was in a gentle force field, yet still he writhed. Staff came instantly and carried out Beverly's shouted commands with alacrity. Within seconds, a pain killer was administered and as quickly as it had come, the pain abated. Jean-Luc lay sobbing, unable to articulate his distress. Retrieving a dish of cool water, Beverly gently sponged the sweat from his tortured face, talking softly to him.
"It's alright Jean-Luc, I gave you some medicine to ease the pain, I'm here."
It took ten minutes for Jean-Luc's body to calm. He had been silent but, with his control once again established, he whispered,
"You are Beverly.....has it gone?"
"Has what gone Jean-Luc?"
With his lower lip trembling, Jean-Luc found the strength to continue.
"The dragon. Can you make it go away? Why does it hurt me so much....it bites....burns my hand and I can't make it go away."
Tears welled in Beverly's eyes. Rinsing the sponge, she gently cleansed his face, using the time to look for, and find, control of her heart.
"Soon Jean-Luc, soon we will make the dragon go away and it won't bother you ever again."
"You can make it go....for good?"
"Uh huh, and when it goes, your hand will get better. Just you remember you're not alone. If you need me just call, I won't be far away."
Seeing her patient settle, she was still with him when Selar and Anshwa entered sick bay. They went straight to the captain's room and reported to Beverly. Motioning them outside, she invited them into her office.
"Doctor Crusher, this is Anshwa of the mer'et. She has agreed to help us separate the captain from the gel."
Relief rushed through Beverly's body. Swallowing, she regained her composure.
"Thank you....thank you so much. I was beginning to think he was going to stay in it for good. What do you need...how can we help?"
Quelling her awe at her surroundings, Anshwa's brain took on an urgency.
"The gel is a living non-sentient being. We need to keep it in the tub that your captain is in. I have brought an instrument that we use to retrieve the gel from the lungs of the husst. I am aware that the gel has infiltrated much further throughout the captain's body. I don't know how we can remove all of it....perhaps you can adapt this instrument. She placed in Beverly's hands a gleaming silver and gold, curved, beak like object that was surprisingly warm to touch. Beverly could see how easily it's hollow smooth length could be eased into the throat and down to the lungs, the similarity in body structure luckily shared between husst and human.
"Well, the lungs are a good start...shall we?"
The three women paused at the entrance to Jean-Luc's room, each taking a moment to centre themselves before the battle began. With the gentle application of sedative, the captain slipped into a heavy sleep, completely relaxed. Bringing an image of his internal organs up on a screen, Anshwa helped Beverly to guide the probe into the upper portion of his right lung. Having stopped at the narrowing passage, the tube-like instrument glowed as several filaments emerged from it's end. As each passageway became smaller, the filaments that emerged were smaller still, until the filaments had reached as far as they could go. Carefully watching the screen, Anshwa activated the instrument and smiled as the gel began to withdraw. The process took over and hour, the left lung the same. All three watchers were relieved when Jean-Luc took his first unaided breath.
"What about the other organs in his body?"
Anshwa looked at Beverly and sighed.
"I honestly don't know. I've only ever dealt with lung infiltration, it goes no further with the husst."
Running her hands through her hair, Beverly strained to think clearly.
"Would there be anybody else who can help us? A senior scholar perhaps....."
"Doctor Crusher....*I* am the senior consultant."
"My apologies Anshwa, I meant no disrespect."
Taking a moment to centre herself, the mer'et scanned her mind to help the captain.
"What organ is most critical....is most at risk?"
The two doctors looked at each other momentarily, then spoke as one.
"The cardio-vascular system."
Beverly elaborated.
"His heart. Now that his lungs are functioning, his heart needs to pump on it's own. After that, we can concentrate our efforts on the remaining afflicted organs."
At the touch of a button, a detailed image of the captain's heart came up on the large screen. Anshwa began an intense scrutiny, when she suddenly stopped.
"This organ is synthetic! It's not real!"
Beverly interrupted immediately.
"Yes, it is. The captain was badly injured many years ago, he has relied on his cardio implant ever since."
"But the heart is the temple of the soul....he is not complete....it would be sacrilegious of me to treat a being that had no spiritual center."
"Anshwa, my people live by various religious tenants, some devout, some liberal....some nothing at all, but most of my kind would say the mind is the seat of our being. You would not be interfering in his religious beliefs, or any one else's for that matter. Please don't apply your beliefs to him."
Anshwa raised her head and took a sharp breath. Her first instinct was to remonstrate with Beverly, however, as she looked down at the stricken man, she saw the truth in Beverly's words and relented.
"Very well, doctor....I will help. Can you make an incision in his chest.....and in his heart....to allow for the passage of the tube?"
Beverly looked at Selar and made her decision.
"Yes, where exactly?"
The next half an hour was spent positioning the tube, then the three stood and waited to see what would happen.
Within seconds, the tip activated as before, and began to insinuate itself into the chambers of the organ. With the same quiet efficiency, the gel appeared at the thicker end and flowed back over his shoulder to join the rest of the gel in the tub. Over the next four hours, the other organs were treated until he lay free of the gel. He was taken from the tub, all traces of the gel removed, placed on a biobed and connected to the monitors that measured his recovery.
Anshwa stood silently watching all the activity, a small frown on her furred face. Beverly went to her and placed her hand on the mer'et's limb.
"Thank you so much....what you've done is....."
"Don't thank me yet doctor. I still have to tell my people what I've done. Somehow I don't think they're going to be very happy."
"Would you like me to come down and talk to them?"
Anshwa looked speculatively at Beverly.
"You mean that, don't you."
"You bet!"
Smiling for the first time, the mer'et shook her shaggy head.
"I believe you Beverly, I'll get back to you."
She left sick bay in the company of a crew member and was shown to the transporter. Beverly and Selar stood each side of the captain, planning their next move.

 

 

 

 

Data strode briskly through the corridors of the mighty ship. In his left hand he held a very important PADD. In it was the breakdown of the thussok venom, the constituents of which he felt sure they could negate. The doors sighed open and he found Beverly in the captain's room.
"I have completed the analysis, doctor. Here it is."
Taking the PADD, Beverly scrolled through the information, stopping occasionally, and placed it on the side table while she ran a tricorder over her patient.
"Right, we best get started."
Beverly asked Data to stay as she requested the company of Selar, nurse Ogawa and two specialist technicians.
"Thanks to the mer'et seer, most of the damage to the larger organs has been either repaired completely, or repaired so that the organs at least function. There has been damage to the vascular system, the muscles and the lining of the brain which she couldn't help, but I believe we can. I intend to repair the vascular system first. Adam, Horst, I want you to set up the vascular regenerator, work from the heart down the body, then upwards to the brain. I want to have time to work on the meninges. Selar, you and Alyssa, set up a level three brain scan....I particularly want to monitor the cerebral pressure.
The ensuing time was spent setting up the equipment and taking the readings. The technicians began the repair of the blood vessels and Beverly began the dangerous repair of the meninges.

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was enjoying the colours, billowing gusts of green and purple, vivid slashes of blue and yellow. The fact that he couldn't see meant nothing to him, all he knew....with every fibre of his being....was to dread the coming of the red and black....they were the harbingers of the dragon and the dragon would feast on his hand, and he would scream.

 

 

 

"Doctor Crusher, we have stabilised the vascular system and we've achieved good blood pressure....but what shall we do about his hand?
Beverly looked up and smiled at the patient android who stood silently at the periphery of the room, saying nothing.
"I believe Mr.Data will be able to help you there. Data? Would you help make the antivenom please?"
Nodding his reply, he beckoned to the staff members and moved to the room set up for this purpose.
Beverly was making good progress when Jean-Luc started to twitch and whimper. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his breath became laboured.
"What's happening doctor?"
Beverly shook her head at Selar.
"I don't know, but we have to stop it....now!"
Selecting a hypospray, Beverly administered a dose of sedative and waited breathlessly to see if it did it's job. Jean-Luc was quiet for a few moments, then he arched his back, his limbs stiffening and screamed in agony.
"Tricordrazine, stat!"
The pain killer was pumped into the stricken man's neck, having little effect. Again....then again the analgesic was delivered until the rictus broke and he slumped back onto the bed panting and groaning.
Work progressed quickly, the medical staff trying to beat the next pain episode. Data arrived in the captain's room with the antivenom within five hours and Beverly injected it immediately.
Moving to his hand, she gave him a nerve block and inserted three cannulas into various areas of his afflicted hand to try and drain the excess fluid. The hand was in a terrible state. Almost black, it was split in several places, oozing serum and pus. The fingernails had turned black and had lifted off, most of them attached by mere threads of tissue. The skin was hard and exuded a foul smell. Treating one symptom at a time, Beverly started within the hand and worked out. She could only strengthen the bones and soften the skin, further treatment could not take place without some more healing....and that was up to Jean-Luc.
The staff left as each completed their task, eventually leaving Beverly alone with Jean-Luc. She took a soft wet cloth and squeezed cool water onto the hot hand.
"My God, Jean-Luc.....why you?"
She sat with him for several hours, dozing and cheeking the monitors alternatively.

 

 

 

 


She had been dozing when she heard his gentle whisper.
"Where am I?"
Looking first at the monitors, Beverly brushed her hand along his arm and said softly,
"You're aboard a starship....the Enterprise.....in the medical facility. How do you feel?"
Lifting his good left hand, he squeezed it experimentally then raised it to his face.
"How do I feel? I'm thirsty, my head hurts and my hand...... my injured hand hurts...a lot."
"Well, let's treat them one at a time."
Beverly fetched a tumbler of water and gently lifted Jean-Luc's head.
"Here, drink this water....just sip...."
"I'm going to inject you with an analgesic, it will help the pain in your head and hand. There, how's that?"
Jean-Luc relaxed the muscles he had tensed so tightly.
"Thank you, that's much better. I can't see. Have I always been blind?"
Taking the damp cloth, she gently bathed his face.
"No, your blindness is a result of the spider bite."
"Will my sight come back?"
Sighing, Beverly sat back and looked sadly at her lover....this man who did not know her.
"We hope so."
"But you're not sure....."
"No. We haven't had anything to do with this creature before. We have given you an antivenom which will stop any further damage, but now we must repair what damage has been done and that includes you eyes."
"And my hand?"
"Yes."
Silence descended for some gentle moments until Jean-Luc again softly spoke.
"You are Beverly."
"Yes."
"You are from this ship?"
Beverly had moved to the swollen hand and was checking the drainage from the cannulas. She froze in place.
"Yes."
"Am I from this ship?"
Jean-Luc, you should rest. We will begin further treatment on your hand soon....I don't want you to over tax yourself."
"Am I from the ship?"
Snorting and mumbling under her breath about stubborn captains, she said,
"If I tell you, will you rest?"
".......Yes."
"Then yes, you are from the ship."
"Then how......"
"Enough! Either your rest quietly or I will sedate you."
"As you wish, but, can we talk again soon? I like talking to you
Tears welled in Beverly's eyes as she once again sponged his face.
Yes Jean-Luc, we'll talk again soon.
She sat with him until he began to doze, then applied a nerve block to his arm and again set to work to rebuild his hand. With the help of Selar and nurse Ogowa, they managed to repair the majority of soft tissue, muscles and tendons and made the first of what would be many regeneration treatments to the blackened skin. Under the pulsing blue light of the regenerator, the necrotic skin was peeled down several layers. When they finished, his hand had reduced in size and was a very dark red colour, although all concerned felt that was better than the insidious black of only hours before. Jean-Luc had awakened, but lay quietly and passively while the medicos worked on his hand. Just as they finished, he slipped once again into sleep, the staff making little noise as they cleaned up from their work. Very gently touching Jean-Luc's face, Beverly looked up to see Will standing, silently watching. Motioning him to silence, she pointed to her office. Will got the message and left, Beverly following soon after. Taking seats, Will asked what was on his mind.
"How is he?"
"Actually, not too bad....physically, at least. His hand will require a lot of ongoing treatment, and we've yet to restore his sight.......and.....his memory is still out to lunch, but he's doing well. You know, even with all this happening, he still remains curious and stubborn."
"Are you going to tell him who he is, I mean, what he is?"
"You're asking if I'm going to tell him that he's the captain of the starfleet flagship and that we need him up and running to conclude some very tricky negotiations? In short, no."
Will folded his arms and frowned.
"I've contacted the planet, they're willing to wait. Apparently this spider bite business has had a profound effect on these people. They are even more keen to host the captain now. They refer to him as 'exalted one'."
"Oh boy, what would Jean-Luc say about that!? Look Will, he can be discharged to his quarters in a few days. I intend to ask Deanna for some help in....retrieving him."
"Sounds good to me....now, how about you?"
Beverly waved her hand and shook her head.
"Oh, no you don't. I'm fine."
"Beverly, how much rest have you had?"
"Enough, I assure you."
Will rose and held the back of his chair.
"Get some rest.....I mean it. Don't make me order you to your quarters."
Squinting her eyes, Beverly raised her chin in defiance.
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Believe it.....please Beverly."
"Oh, very well. I always was a sucker for your 'little boy' look."
Will left, laughing gently over his shoulder...
"What ever it takes."
Making her way once again to Jean-Luc, she stood silently watching him breathe. Sighing, she left his side and told her staff she would be in her quarters and to contact her immediately if anything untoward happened.
She arrived at her cabin and, before taking a shower, called counsellor Troi and scheduled a meeting. Beverly was towelling her hair when Deanna arrived.
"Come on in.....what would you like, a hot chocolate?"
"Yes please."
The two friends took their drinks to the low table in the living area.
Deanna spoke first.
"How's the captain?"
As I told Will, he's not too bad, compared to how he was. We're treating his hand with success, although he's still blind and amnesia is causing some problems. I told Will he will be discharged in a few days, that's where you come in. I will continue to treat his eyes, but he will need you to help him find himself. In the meantime, I'll try and access the mer'et archives. Surely they have something I could use."
"Let's hope so."

In some ways, Jean-Luc was beginning to enjoy his stay in sick bay. He knew his hand was improving and, although he knew his blindness was of considerable concern, he wasn't particularly worried, he knew that the problem was being addressed. What was at the base of his good mood, was Beverly. As he sat in the chair in his room, he was seldom alone. There was always someone coming in to check his hand or his eyes, he was never lonely, but what he liked the most was when Beverly came in. Sometimes when she came to him, she didn't do anything medical, she just spent time with him, and sometimes she held his good hand while they talked. He felt so.....happy....comforted, when she was with him, he was always saddened when she had to leave. She was with him as they talked about his discharge from sick bay.
"Tomorrow morning we will give your hand another regeneration treatment, then you'll be well enough to return to your quarters."
"My quarters?"
Beverly helped him to sit down.
"Yes, you remember don't you? I told you about your quarters here on the ship."
"My own quarters......and I'm the captain."
"That's right, but you don't have to worry about that. We'll just work on your hand and sight first, then we'll concentrate on your memory, ok?
"Ok."
"Now, what would you like for dinner?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know....what do I usually have?"
"Something light....some chicken and salad perhaps?"
The meals were eaten in silence, Jean-Luc being helped to eat his meal. Beverly noted that he was withdrawn and tired.
"Jean-Luc, is your hand hurting you?"
Jean-Luc shook his head and sighed, pushing his half eaten dinner away.
"Then what is it, what's bothering you?"
"Beverly....I don't want to leave sick bay."
Frowning, Beverly cocked her head to one side.
"Why?"
Jean-Luc didn't answer immediately, preferring to sit in silence. Beverly, however was not about to drop it.
"Jean-Luc?...Why?"
His reply, almost a whisper,
"I'll miss you."
Tears welled up in Beverly's eyes, her heart swelling in her chest.
"You'll be alright Jean-Luc, all you have to do is call me."
"What if the dragon comes?"
Beverly lowered her head in thought, coming quickly to a decision.
"How would you like it if I stayed with you in your quarters, until you feel....stronger, how would that be?"
Sighing and managing a smile, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"I would like that very much."

 

The next morning, Beverly and Jean-Luc were standing at the doors to his quarters. Keeping clear of the door sensor, Beverly explained how the doors functioned.
"The doors will open for you Jean-Luc, every one else will have to activate the door chime."
Jean-Luc stepped forward and the doors sighed open. Smiling, he entered his home and stood, gently sniffing the air.
"Smell anything that jogs your memory?"
"No, not exactly, but it feels.....right somehow, I suppose I feel comfortable here."
"Well, come on, I'll show you around."
The next ten minutes were spent exploring the suite, Jean-Luc laughing when Beverly placed his razor in his hands. Rubbing his stubble, he said,
"I'm usually clean shaven, aren't I?"
"Yes....you hate being....scruffy.... was the term you use."
Jean-Luc let Beverly put the razor away, she then guided him to the living area and requested hot drinks for both of them. Jean-Luc sniffed his Earl Grey and smiled with appreciation.
"This really is a pleasant drink."
"I've known you for nearly thirty years and that's always been your choice for a hot drink."
"Beverly, we're good friends, aren't we."
"Yes Jean-Luc, we are."
"You come here....to my cabin...frequently?"
"Yes."
'Well, that would explain how it is that you know where my razor is kept."
The pair dissolved into gentle laughter and then sipped their drinks in companionable silence.
All too soon, Beverly broke the spell.
"I must be getting along Jean-Luc. I'll be back soon for another scan of your eyes and hand, if you need me, just call, the computer will let me know."
As the doors whispered shut, the smile left Jean-Luc's handsome face as he stood in the centre of his cabin. The darkness of his unseeing eyes never more obvious, or frightening.

 

 

 

The first day and night passed without incident, Beverly keeping her word and staying the night with him, sleeping on the sofa. She left early the next morning, feeling confidant about a new compound she had engineered based on the gel from the planet below. She told Jean-Luc she would return to have lunch with him, at which time she would tell him about the compound.
After breakfast, and after Beverly had left, Jean-Luc spent some time making his way around his cabin, picking up and gently feeling everything he found. He had made his way into his quarters and decided to take a shower. He activated the water then disrobed, stepping into the warm spray with delight. He washed himself, then stepping out to get his towel, he lost his footing on the wet floor. Without his sight, he had inadvertently left the shower screen open slightly, allowing a puddle to gather on the floor. As soon as he stepped in the water, his foot slipped and he came crashing down, wrenching his knee, shoulder and slamming his head on the floor. It was some minutes later that he regained consciousness, he was lying on the wet floor, shivering. Slowly lifting his 'good' hand, he felt the stickiness of blood on his head and face. Feeling panic rising, he remembered what Beverly had said to him.
*Call her....all I have to do is call her.*
"First weakly, then with greater strength, he called out,
"Beverly......Beverly!"
The reply was immediate.
"Jean-Luc, are you alright?"
"No, I fell and....."
"I'm on my way. Stay still."
He relaxed then and, unbeknown to him, he slipped into unconsciousness again.
The dragon came out of the angry colours in his mind. It circled his hand, teasing him with it's sensuous tongue. Entwining it's length around and through his fingers, lulling him...then suddenly it was around his head. The scalpel like sides of the tongue slicing across his brow, the forked end forcing it's self through his eye and breaking into his brain with a sustained burst of agony. He screamed and screamed but the torture went on, the invading tongue forcing further into his head. He felt the bone of his skull bulging under the intense pressure and, as it burst, he convulsed and vomited. He never felt the hypospray or heard Beverly's frantic cries.

 

 

 

 

He had no idea where he was, he was too terrified to think of anything else other than what he could see sitting on his chest. It sat there, the dragon glowing with malevolent power. It's sullen red eyes bored into his, keeping his attention as the tongue lapped and slid over his naked body. Every time it began to force itself into his body, he screamed. It slid into his mouth and simply forced his teeth apart, the hot salty taste of his own blood making him gag. Down into his stomach it slithered where it coiled and readied itself to bludgeon through into his intestines. He voided his bladder in terror, unable to scream with the tongue down his throat. He felt the pressure as his stomach distended under intense pressure and, just he felt it start to tear, he heard her voice. The dragon stopped and cocked its head, listening. Flexing its claws into Jean-Luc's skin and muscle, it prepared to continue the torture when it felt the presence of another. It hissed menacingly, its body pulsing with colour as its anger built. Then it was gone.
"Jean-Luc! Can you hear me....for god's sake, wake up!"
He drew in a large breath, tears flowing freely down his face.
"Beverly...."
He could only croak. He felt his pounding heart beating in sync with the throbbing in his head.
"Is it gone?"
"Yes, it's gone."
Taking a large shuddering breath, he sobbed,
"Oh Beverly....please make it go away....I can't stand it....it hurts me and I can't.....I can't......"
"Shh, Jean-Luc it's gone. I will speak with Anshwa, maybe she can help."

 

 

 

 

Beverly watched from the back of the temple as Anshwa bowed for the fifth time. Seated in shadow, Beverly was feeling uncomfortable, interrupting what was obviously a private worship, but her concern for Jean-Luc overrode her feelings of propriety. As Anshwa stood and washed her paws, Beverly quietly walked down to the altar and stood, head bowed, until Anshwa spoke.
"This must be important. I take it you felt there was no other way....?"
Lifting her head, Beverly saw there was no malice in the soft face peering out from under the hood of her gown.
"Yes Anshwa, it is. The captain is being beset with dreams....hallucinations...of a beast that torments him mercilessly. I fear for him, he is already weakened from the thussok venom....medically, we're making little progress. Can you help?"
Beckoning for Beverly to follow her, Anshwa walked solemnly up the aisle and into the antechamber. Instead of returning to her room, Anshwa stooped and entered a tunnel, the lights coming on automatically. The tunnel widened and soon the came to a great door. Intricately carved, it took Beverly a moment to make sense of what she was seeing. She turned to Anshwa and silently pointed.
"Yes doctor....Huydorr, I think you call them dragons."
Pressing a hidden switch, the door swung open silently and the two females entered.
"The story of the Huydorr is an ancient one, and no, I won't bore you with it....but what's important is that you know the origin of the life gel. Centuries ago, the huydorr were part of our daily existence, some said the huydorr were the original inhabitants of our world, it mattered not because the huydorr were dying. Eventually there was only one and we knew we had to preserve as much as we could. The parts of the huydorr were spread far and wide, each artefact embroidering itself into the pattern of our lives. The most remarkable, and sacred, was the huydorr's blood. It was discovered that the blood was a life force in it's own right. As it is always returned to the pool, none of it has ever been lost."
Beverly was incredulous.
"Are you telling me that gel is the original blood of the last huydorr? All of it?"
Gesturing with her arm, Anshwa showed Beverly row upon row of very old books.
"The history is there for you to access if you wish."
"How does this affect the captain?"
Taking a seat, Anshwa offered Beverly some fruit juice.
"You must understand we did what we thought was right, we never meant to hurt your captain. The gel has been used on the mer'et for thousands of years and, more recently, the husst, but never before on a human. I would suggest the imagery is being caused because the huydorr is unfamiliar with the host, your captain."
Beverly spread her hands out on the table and shook her head.
"But Anshwa, he has no gel....you took it out."
"That is so, however, the gel must have activated an engram in the captain, allowing the huydorr....the dragon....to be let loose within the captain's mind."
"Well, what can we do? If it continues he will die, he's not strong enough to withstand the assault for much longer."
Nodding her head, Anshwa came to a decision.
"I will talk to the elders, may I contact you later today?"
Beverly nodded, thanked Anshwa and beamed back to the Enterprise.

Entering the sick bay, Beverly went straight to Jean-Luc's room. He was awake and felt the doctors' approach. Excusing the personnel who were tending to the captain, Beverly drew up a seat and sat down.
"How are you....any pain?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc replied,
"Some, but I'm alright, it's that damned dragon I want to see gone."
Gently stroking Jean-Luc's face, Beverly felt the tension in his muscles.
"I may have something to work with soon. I've been down to the planet to speak with Anshwa. She told me an extraordinary story, however I believe in the basic truth of her tale.. With that in mind, we will be treating you very carefully. Anshwa said she would contact me later this afternoon. In the meantime, we'll keep up with the analgesic therapy and, of course, the treatment of your hand."
Jean-Luc stretched and yawned.
"Would it be possible to sit up. I know I can't see anything, but I like to listen to what's going on around me."
"Of course Jean-Luc."
With a gentle hum, the top half of the bed rose to a more comfortable position.
"How is my hand? It doesn't smell so bad and it feels less bloated....."
Beverly scanned the bio feedback and smiled.
"It's coming on fine. You're right, the swelling has decreased and the tissue is regenerating rapidly. I would say, thirty six more hours and it'll be just like new."
The couple enjoyed a gentle silence, until Jean-Luc reached for Beverly's hand.
"Beverly....I...that is..us....we are friends, aren't we."
Watching him carefully, Beverly gently replied,
"Yes, Jean-Luc, we have been close friends for many, many years."
"Close friends?"
"Yes."
"Are we....do we....that is, are you....."
Beverly lowered her head and sighed.
"Jean-Luc, you would be better served if you just concentrated on getting better. We can sort this out later.
Squeezing the hand he held, Jean-Luc said forcefully,
"No. There is something between us....I know when you enter the room, you make me feel....complete...you chase the dragon away. Tell me ....please."
Lifting her free hand to her face, Beverly momentarily covered her mouth. She then sat up and took a large breath.
"It's true we have been friends for a very long time, but we hedged around the fact that we both...desired each other. For years we danced on the head of a pin, struggling with our emotions...both of us saying the love we felt was because we were best friends...all very platonic...and painful, then five days ago we became intimate for the first time. I still don't know why, it just happened, and we were deliriously happy, then I got sick and you got sick, an here we are. You have amnesia and you are blind.....you tell me, what was I supposed to do?"
Feeling humble in the face of such emotion, Jean-Luc could only whisper,
"Beverly, I understand....but I know you, and I feel something deep inside that tells me that we share a remarkably strong attachment to each other. We were meant to be together, don't be afraid. If I love you as deeply as I think I do, nothing will shake it."
The tears brimmed in her eyes, overflowed, and rolled silently down her face. She lifted their joined hands and cradled them against her cheek. When she was able, she lowered their hands and spoke in a soft voice,
"I love you Jean-Luc, and I *will* make you better."

 

 

Four hours later Anshwa was standing next to Beverly as she worked with the main computer in the Enterprises' sick bay.
"Will it analyse the gel completely?"
"It should."
Fetching a stool, Anshwa sat down, frowning.
"You know, part of me doesn't want to see it analysed....somehow I want the magic, the mystery to remain."
Beverly turned and regarded her companion.
"You could leave sick bay, it may be less painful."
"No, I'll stay, I want to see the captain recover, but you must understand, he has been one with the gel....to us he is exalted."
Beverly smiled at that, somehow she didn't think the 'exalted one' appellation would last very long.
"Well, I've done all I can here, now the computer will get to work. In the mean time, would you like to see the captain?"
Nodding, Anshwa followed Beverly into Jean-Luc's room and smiled when she saw him.
"Exalted one, how are you? You look much better than when last I was with you."
Smiling, Jean-Luc turned his head to the sound of her voice.
"Anshwa, it's good to hear you, but please....it's Jean-Luc. I am not worthy of any title other than 'captain'."
Laughing, Anshwa nodded her agreement.
"Beverly told me of your discomfort. I will try to remember, but please be patient with me exalt.....er....Jean-Luc."
All three laughed gently. It was Beverly who turned to more serious matters.
"How's the hand?"
"Better, I think. Look, I can move my fingers."
He demonstrated his success, winning praise from Beverly.
"Well done Jean-Luc. Remember to not over tax yourself, just do what you can without causing pain. Now, what about your other problems....you look very tired underneath your smile."
Gradually, Jean-Luc's smile faded, a frown creasing his brow.
"I....don't want to sleep, or even doze.....the dragon...."
Anshwa reverently placed her hand on Jean-Luc's arm.
"What does the huy.....dragon do?"
"It hurts me. First my hand, then my head and now my stomach, it uses it's tongue to cut and probe, forcing itself down my throat, breaking my teeth..."
Seeing Jean-Luc was becoming distressed, she retrieved a hypospray with the intention of lightly sedating him, but he sensed her movement and stopped her with his good hand and asked softly,
"Please don't Beverly, I don't want to sleep."
Shaking her head, Beverly prepared to insist when Anshwa interrupted.
"Doctor, he's right. The dragon will eventually kill him. It obviously sees the captain as an adversary.....it's never encountered a human before."
"Then how do we tell it to accept Jean-Luc?"
"I don't know doctor, but there must be a way, the Husst were introduced to the gel without mishap centuries ago. There must be some clue, something to tell us what to do. I will go back and ask the elders again, and this time I will insist they help us."
She left then and Beverly spoke softly to the captain.
"I will stay with you if you like, you can tell me..... about the dragon."
Smiling tiredly, Jean-Luc managed a chuckle.
"I thought we were trying to avoid nightmares."
"Jean-Luc tell me, is it just the dragon, or is there more."
"There's more. It seems to be connected to the amount of pain I experience. At first it's not too bad, there's colours then, beautiful billowing shades....over the whole spectrum, but as the pain increases the colours disappear leaving only black and red, then the dragon comes. It attacks whatever hurts the most. I can't control it, I can't communicate with it."
Gently rubbing his arm, Beverly sighed.
"Well, hopefully we'll know more soon."
Beverly stayed with Jean-Luc for the remainder of the afternoon, supervising another regeneration treatment on his hand. Leaving him briefly, she went back to the computer to see if her calculations had been correct. She had thought Jean-Luc's blindness had been due to the morbidly high blood pressure he had experienced, and she was partially right, although the ubiquitous gel had played a part also. She needed to create a quantity of nanites, designed specifically to repair the tissue damage and the neural pathways to the brain. Although the computer would have no difficulties in this field, what posed a problem was the medium used to apply them. Beverly was leaning towards a paste, introduced under the eyelids and kept in place with bandages, but she needed to talk with Anshwa and she wasn't back yet.
Walking back to Jean-Luc's room, she stopped at the doorway and watched her lover as he lay quietly in the half light of the room.
*You've lost weight....again. Dammit Jean-Luc, we will beat this, I swear.*
She was about to step forward when she saw him gasp. Running to his bedside, she realised he had drifted to sleep with no one present to wake him.
"Jean-Luc! Wake up!"
He lay rigid with fear and pain, filled with the sensation of dread with what the dragon was about to do. It sat across his groin causing deep pain in his genitals, the pressure increasing as the beast leaned forward and dragged one wicked claw from his navel to his pubis. The tongue, black and sinuous extruded slowly from it disgusting mouth and slid up his chest, pushing deeply at the suprasternal notch, causing him to gag. Ever so slowly, the proboscis moved down through the soft hair of his chest and settled in his navel. The pressure built slowly and inexorably and he knew nothing could stop it. When the unprotected skin burst, he spasmed, feeling the length of tongue invading his body and all he could do was scream.
By now, Beverly was frantic. Her cries had brought her staff at the run and they all milled about wanting to help, but not knowing how. Alyssa Ogawa took one look and raced to the basin and retrieved a glass of water. Shouldering her way past her fellow medical staff, she broke through and spilled the entire contents of the glass over Jean-Luc's face.
He gasped, arched his back rigidly, then slumped back panting desperately.
"Move back, give him some room!"
The staff thinned and Beverly had time to give Alyssa a thankful look of gratitude.
"Jean-Luc, can you hear me?"
Still panting, the captain gasped,
"Yes, has it gone?"
Lowering her head in despair, she replied,
"Yes my love, it's gone."
Alyssa gave Beverly a towel then left, a small smile on her face.
"I'm going to dry you Jean-Luc, just lie still."
He remained silent so long, Beverly gave his shoulder a shake and said,
"Hey you.....no dozing off. I'll be offended if you sleep whilst I'm here."
"Not sleeping, just scared."
"I'm sorry I left you. I'll instruct the staff that you are always to have someone here to wake you when you slip into sleep."
Jean-Luc hitched himself up higher in the bed and sighed.
"Beverly you are a doctor, aren't you? Surely you have some medications to keep people awake."
"I have stimulants, yes, but I really don't want to resort to that, at least not yet....."
"Hopefully you won't have to."
Anshwa stood in the doorway, an ancient book in her hands.

 

 

 

The woman stepped up to Beverly and proffered the tome held in her hands.
"I think we have found what we need."
Fetching a mobile table, Beverly positioned it beside Jean-Luc's bed and locked the wheels. Very carefully, Anshwa lay the book on the table, then opened it to a marked page.
"See here, this drawing is of a Husst being treated with the gel...and here....a dragon watches. It took some time, but I found in the text....here, it speaks about the fire and the mind, and over here, there's a picture of a dragon sitting on the chest of a Husst. The only difference, and it's a big difference, is that the husst isn't experiencing any pain. Look at him...he's showing rapture, look at his hands, open in supplication...and the bystanders....every one is smiling, there's even a scribe, writing down anything being said by the patient. Obviously, there is a huge difference between the husst and your captain....and I think I may know what it is."
Carefully turning the pages back towards the beginning, she stopped at a large drawing, so intricate she produced a magnifying glass from her cloak.
"Look carefully at the top right hand corner and tell me what you see."
Beverly took the glass and peered intently, frowning.
"It looks as if a mer'et is putting something into the head of the husst lying on the table."
"Not 'something', dragon blood. It makes sense. The only way a dragon can know the host is if it can gain access to the thoughts of the afflicted, and this is where the thussoks have their use. The venom dilates the blood vessels and allows the carriage of the thicker dragon blood to the brain."
Beverly straightened and looked aghast at the mer'et.
"I hope you're not suggesting we should do that to Jean-Luc....."
"Why not doctor? Can you think of anything else?"
Beverly stepped back, nervously rubbing her hands.
"Anshwa....I'm not sure, there are major differences between the husst and humans. We could find ourselves in a perilous position if I allow this and something dreadful happens during the procedure. We've no precedent to follow, we'd be flying blind."
Anshwa closed the book and sighed. Moving to Beverly, she took her hands and spoke softly.
"We don't have any choice. Either we try this or your captain will die."
Jean-Luc cleared his throat and called to the women,
"Tell me Beverly, what's going on?"
Moving back to Jean-Luc's bed, Beverly took his hand in hers and momentarily closed her eyes.
"It would seem the husst allow the gel to enter their brains. The dragon can then commune with the host and, together, see the victim through the effect of the thussok bite.
"I see. That's why it's such a blessed event. And what of me? Can I be injected with the gel?"
Beverly tore her eyes from her lover and stared worriedly at her companion.
"Anshwa is confident, but I don't know....."
The captain waited on the mer'et, managing a small smile.
"So, Anshwa, what do you think?"
"I have a book that will show...."
"No, what do *you* think?"
"Honestly? I don't think you will survive without the procedure."
His face settling into a look of determination, he drew in a breath and expelled it forcibly.
"Well then, proceed."
"Very well captain. I will go back to my planet and separate a portion of gel and make it safe for transport. Doctor Crusher, I suggest you stay with the captain and make sure he doesn't sleep. I will return as soon as possible. Beverly watched Anshwa as she left sick bay, the silence growing between them. It was Beverly who spoke first.
"Jean-Luc, I'm really not sure....."
"I know Beverly, but I must be rid of the dragon. In time I think it will kill me. I feel so helpless....and I'm so tired...."
Seeing the facade starting to slip, Beverly called her assistant to watch the captain while she briefly left his room. She returned moments later with a steaming cup of tea.
"This is as close to a stimulant as I'll go. Enjoy."
They were indulging in small talk when a visitor poked his head around the door.
"Beverly, ok if I come in?"
"Yes Will, of course."
The big first officer came into the room and took a seat next to the captain.
"How are you, sir?"
"Sir? First exalted one and now sir. I seem to be gathering titles without doing anything at all."
Beverly laughed, then gently chided him.
"I told you that you're the captain of the vessel, had you forgotten?"
"No....yes....I don't know. Am I usually forgetful?"
That drew a laugh from both Will and Beverly, amusing Jean-Luc.
"No Jean-Luc, you could never be called forgetful."
"So, sir, how are you?"
"Tired....scared.....bored....is that enough?"
Chuckling, Will leaned closer and said sotto voice,
"The ship's fine and the big chair is waiting for you. Just concentrate on getting well, I'll look after everything else."
Standing, Will gave Beverly a surreptitious look and, after waiting for a nurse to come to be with Jean-Luc, they left his room and went to Beverly's office.
"How is he....really?"
Beverly tucked her feet up and gathered her thoughts.
"Physically he's quite weak. Every episode with the dragon takes more out of him. If this procedure with the gel doesn't work.....I don't know what we'll do."
"Do you have a choice?"
Shaking her head, Beverly snorted.
"No, not really."
"And what of his sight and memory? Any breakthroughs?"
Sighing, Beverly ran her fingers through her hair.
"Nothing. I do have a good idea for his eyes, but I won't do anything until after....."
"Understood."
"How are things on the diplomatic front?"
Will raised his head and closed his eyes.
"I don't know how he does it. They are so tedious! Bottom line?......they're still willing to wait, at least for the time being. Fortunately, this down time had been good for the crew, although they're missing the captain, we all are."
Their conversation was interrupted by Anshwa appearing at the office door. In her hands was a large syringe filled with a sparkling blue gel.

 

 

 

 

The preparation was innocuous enough, Jean-Luc's head was swabbed and pain killers rendered, he was bade to lie down flat and a light restraining field was activated. Moving to stand behind Jean-Luc's head, Anshwa made three small incisions, one above the middle of his forehead, the other two equidistant over the crown. Beverly moved to swab the trickles of blood, but Anshwa shook her head. Frowning deeply and with a very steady hand, she introduced into each cut in turn, a small high speed drill. With the computer to guide her, the skull was pierced in three places and made ready for the administration of the gel. Attaching a thick needle to the syringe, Anshwa gently pushed the steel into Jean-Luc's head.
Beverly spoke gently to Jean-Luc,
"Nearly there Jean-Luc, just lay quietly."
He was about to answer, when he felt an odd pressure in his head. He knew the gel was being injected into his head, but he was unprepared for what he felt. As the pressure increased, he tried to tell Anshwa to stop. Unable to articulate at all, he squeezed Beverly's hand, trying to get her to stop the procedure. As his breathing became laboured, with failing consciousness, he heard Beverly yelling.....
"He's crashing! Get that out of his head!"
"No! Give it time, doctor....let it have a chance to work. Let the dragon see him."

 

 

 

 

When he first opened his eyes, it was dark and he was frightened. His last memory was of Beverly's frantic instructions to her staff. He tried to look about, but he couldn't move his head, he was paralysed and his fear was growing, not made any better by the dark, billowing colours that were rising in his mind. As if being blown by gusting winds, the colours darkened and hung like shrouds in his mind, making him dread what was to come. He knew, as the blood red and black hues rolled and boiled, that the dragon was near.
He saw the eyes first, large, bright red, glittering diamonds staring implacably at him. He tried to cry out, run, anything to stop what he knew would happen.
The swirling, dark colours thinned and he could see the rest of the beast, sitting astride his prostrate body. Bigger than at any other time, he watch with sickening dread as the tongue slid sensuously out of it's mouth and curled around his head.

 

 

"His pressure's dropping.....he's bleeding heavily from the nose....we must bring him around, he can't take much more...."
"Wait, doctor Crusher, just wait a little more....."

 

 

 

As the tongue tightened it's grip on his head, the pain reached unbearable levels. Totally helpless, he voided his bladder and retched piteously, sure he was about to die. Then an odd thing happened. The dragon bent forward and delicately sniffed him. He didn't know how, but he could smell the beast....sulphurous and dry.....fascinating him, his pain lessening with each second. The tongue withdrew and the dragon moved closer, continuing to take in Jean-Luc's scent. It placed it's two fore paws on his chest, leaned in and gently took his neck into it's mouth, lifting him from the table.

 

 

Forget the mess, get me some Triox, his blood pressure is bottoming out. Alyssa, pack his nose with gauze, it's an antiquated method, but it might work, nothing else has."
"Doctor Crusher, the pain indicator.....it's going down isn't it?"
"What?.....It is! Alyssa, ten cc's amyltan....watch the monitor.....Yes!"

 

 

 

Lying rigid with fear, Jean-Luc forced himself to look at the beast and was intrigued with what he saw. Gone was the malevolence, the hatred. In it's place was kindness.....and familiarity. The tongue flicked out and lapped up the small amount of blood from his neck. Whispering, Jean-Luc uttered,
"Am I going to die?"
Without it's mouth moving, Jean-Luc felt the words in his mind.
"No my child, I know you now....you are safe with us."
"Us? There are more?"
The laughter washed gently over him, causing a rush of intense pleasure.
"There are many of us, but for you, just one. It has been hard for you. Sleep now, I will guard you."
Still held in the grip of exquisite bliss, a smile crossed his face as the dragon held him in it's arms.

 

 

"Doctor...look."
"What the hell......he's smiling. Blood pressure's coming up....Alyssa, remove the packing from his nose. His cranial pressure is almost normal.....what happened?"
Making sure his nose had stopped bleeding, Beverly went to the computer and checked the read outs.
"Well, I'll be damned....he's out of the woods, how......?"
Anshwa came and stood next to Beverly at the terminal.
"Woods? That is a group of trees, is it not?"
Laughing gently, Beverly turned to the mer'et.
"It's an old earth saying. It means being out of danger."
"And he is? Your instruments tell you that?"
Cocking her head, Beverly eyed her companion shrewdly.
"What do you think?"
"Look at him."
The two women went to Jean-Luc's bed side and stood silently watching him. Beverly noticed his tumescence, but said nothing, concentrating instead on the wounds on his head. Where the gel had been introduced, the small cuts were glowing, the blood trickling down a rich blue.
"What now Anshwa?"
"We wait. The dragon will return him when it's finished."
"Finished? Finished what?"
"I don't know....I've never been blessed."

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was floating, slowly rotating, dipping and gliding in smooth motion. He felt no fear, the dragon stayed close as wave after wave of incredible sensation washed over him. The orgasm, when it occurred, was more than a sexual experience, it uplifted him and exploded in his mind as streams of pure thought passed between them. The dragon took the semen and absorbed it. With a sibilating breath, the dragon closed it's eyes and it's voice caressed Jean-Luc's mind.
"There, my child.....we are one. We will, each of us, carry the essence of the other for all time. Go in peace."

 

 

 

Lying on the bio bed in sick bay, Jean-Luc sighed and smiled, opening his eyes and knowing he was safe. The first thing he felt was Beverly's hand on his.
"Jean-Luc....can you hear me?"
He nodded, still euphoric enough to not trust his voice.
"Are you in any pain?"
The shake of his head was small, but clear. He lifted his hand and Beverly's to his face and wiped away a tear that had escaped his eye.
"Your sight...is it...."
He whispered,
"No."
"Then we will work on it. And your memory?"
He could only shake his head, the intense sensations slowly abating.
Beverly stroked his head and leaned in and whispered in his ear,
"You rest now, we'll work on everything later, you just rest."
Bidding Alyssa to wash the captain, Beverly and Anshwa left him and went to Beverly's office.
"Well, what now? Has the dragon finished with him?"
Anshwa sat and shrugged her shoulders.
"To be perfectly honest, I don't know. With the husst, their euphoria lasts some hours, they sleep and when they waken, they are taken to their homes, none the worse for wear."
"Well, he looks happy enough...."
"Doctor Crusher....How will you give him back his memory?"
Beverly went to the replicator and retrieved some hot drinks. Returning to her chair, she sipped her drink, then put it down.
"I'm hoping the surroundings of his quarters might awaken his memory....you know, people, places, things....it may be easier once we have restored his sight."
"You can do that....make him see again?"
"I certainly hope so."
Anshwa finished her drink, rose and extended her paw.
"Well, I think my usefulness is at an end. I will return to my enclave....I have a lengthy report to write."
Laughing, Beverly concurred.
"Me too. Thank you Anshwa, for all that you've done....you saved his life you know."
"Then perhaps I will return to see him when he is well again."
"You'll be more than welcome."

 

 

 

By the time Beverly had seen her guest to the transporter and returned, Jean-Luc had been cleansed and lay quietly dozing. Beverly stopped by his bed and watched his rhythmic breathing, grateful that she could. Somehow sensing her presence, with his eyes closed, he turned his head and smiled at the startled doctor.
"We are.....close, aren't we."
In a very small voice, Beverly answered,
"Yes."
He sighed and raised his hand. Taking it in her own, Beverly stroked his head with her free hand.
"It would seem then, that I am in the best possible hands."
"You bet."
"Then can we start soon....on my sight, I want to see if you're as beautiful as you sound."
The blush, as it rose, made Beverly lower her head and grin, glad he couldn't see her.
"Are you sure? You don't want to rest?"
He sighed and shook his head.
"No. I've had enough of lying on this bed. At least let me sit up."
Beverly eased her hand under his shoulders and helped him into a more upright position.
"I'll do better than that, come on, I'll take you into the main room."
Placing his hand on hers, she guided him from his room and into main sick bay and seated him on the biobed at it's centre.
"Now, I'm going to run a lot of scans and it will take some time. Let me know if you want to rest."
Gaining his nod, the examination started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some three hours later, Beverly stood once again beside Jean-Luc.
"Well my friend, as far as the computer's concerned, this should do the trick."
"And what do you think?"
Smiling, Beverly leaned forward and whispered in his ear,
"I made my computer compliant years ago. It doesn't have opinions that differ from mine. Now, lie down you and let me go to work."
Jean-Luc swivelled and lay down, his sigh escaping gently.
"Tired?"
"Yes, a little. How soon before....."
"Hey, no jumping the gun, ok? Let me apply the paste first, hmmm?"
Gently lifting his eye lids, a fine paste was placed under both lids of each eye, then a soft pad was put over each eye and a bandage applied.
"There, how does that feel?"
Jean-Luc took a moment, then hesitated, lifting his hand to the bandage.
"There is heat, I think my eyes are watering."
Beverly reached up and took his hands in hers.
"To be expected. How does it feel? Do you want me to remove the paste?"
"No.....I think it'll be alright. How long......"
"Possibly up to a week. I will leave it as long as I can, the longer it's undisturbed, the better, but you call the shots. If it gets too uncomfortable, let me know straight away. Ok?"
Nodding, Jean-Luc sighed and yawned. Beverly frowned and gently rubbed his shoulder.
"Tired?"
"Uh huh. It's been a long day."
"Well, you just wait a minute and I will escort you to your quarters."
She left him and did what was necessary to complete her shift, getting back to him in fifteen minutes. Taking his hand in hers, she led him slowly from the sick bay and through the ship to his cabin. They entered and she bade him to be seated while she replicated a light meal for them both.
Setting the table, she guided him to his seat and encouraged him to eat the vegetable soup before him. They ate in silence, both lost in thought. It was Beverly who spoke first.
"I will stay if you like."
Putting his bread down, Jean-Luc smiled tiredly.
"I didn't know you could read minds. Is there anything else about you I should know?"
"Don't start, we'd be here all night. You were worried?"
He sighed and shook his head.
"After my last effort alone......there's no telling what mischief I might get into."
"I shouldn't have left you alone that day.....I treated you as the Jean-Luc I know, not the Jean-Luc you are now."
"And which do you prefer?"
Laughing, Beverly tossed her hair back.
"Being able to have the upper hand has some very wicked compensations....but....the truth is, I want my Jean-Luc back."
"Then I will endeavour to make that happen."
Jean-Luc was still smiling as Beverly cleared the table. Guiding him to the sofa, Beverly said softly,
"Would you like me to read to you?"
"Yes....that would be lovely."
After a moments hesitation, Beverly chose a Dixon Hill adventure. They settled down and she began to read.
Four chapters later, she looked up to see Jean-Luc's chin was on his chest and his breathing was slow and rhythmic. She rose, roused him gently and led him to his bedroom. She helped him undress and, when he lay down, she pulled the covers up and kissed him goodnight. He was asleep again within minutes. Beverly returned to the living area and made a bed for herself on the sofa. She too was tired and sleep came with sudden swiftness.
In the morning, Beverly made breakfast while Jean-Luc dressed himself in the clothes she had left out for him. Over the morning meal, they discussed what they would do, deciding that Jean-Luc would share his day with his friends on the ship. After making some enquiries, Will was asked to take the first 'shift'. They had just finished clearing the table, when the first officer arrived.
"'Morning Will, he's just about ready, take a seat."
Will wandered over to Jean-Luc's sextant and picked it up, thoughtfully turning it in his hands.
"Take you time, I'm ok."
A few minutes later, Beverly and Jean-Luc emerged, smiling over a private joke.
"Well Will, here he is. What do you think?"
Will looked his commanding officer over, deciding he liked what he saw.
"Sir, you look great."
"Thank you Will.....what do you think about my bandage?"
Will looked at Beverly and smiled.
"Very unobtrusive Sir."
"Hmmm. I suppose I'll have to settle for that."
Beverly gently took his hand and spoke softly to him.
"I'm just a call away, don't hesitate, if you need me.....for anything."
"How's that Will, I have a beautiful woman at my beck and call."
"As it should be Sir, but before Beverly starts to beat me senseless, I think we should depart."
Laughing, the three officers left the cabin and went their different ways, Beverly to sick bay and the men to the arboretum.
Taking Jean-Luc's hand and laying it along his forearm, Will deftly guided his captain through the corridors of the ship, Jean-Luc quickly becoming accustomed to answering the many greetings they encountered from concerned crew. During a momentary pause, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"They all seem so nice....is everyone like that?"
"Yes Sir, you are most respected, the crew have a very high opinion of you both as a captain and an explorer."
"Explorer eh? Well lead on my friend. I can't see, but I have other senses to guide me."
They walked a short distance and, as soon as the doors opened, Jean-Luc knew where he was.
"Can you smell that Will? The fragrance of flowers and earth?"
Will stopped and drew in a large breath, smiling as he did.
"Aye Sir, I can. We'll visit each specimen and I will tell you what they are and where they're from."
They started down a path that had many flowering plants, trees and shrubs, Jean-Luc stopping at each one. Towards the rear of the cavernous surrounds, Will placed a fresh bunch of grapes in Jean-Luc's hand, helping him to eat several.
"These are delicious, what did you say they were?"
"Grapes Sir. Your family on earth are renowned for making wonderful wines from grapes of various types. It was your suggestion to have these grapes in the arboretum."
When no reply was forthcoming, Will looked closely at his captain, to find him frowning, deep in thought.
"Sir?"
Still distracted, Jean-Luc turned his head.
"My family grows grapes and makes wine and I am from earth."
"Yes Sir. Do you remember anything....anything at all?"
"Not exactly....but when you told me about my family, I felt.....something.....like an irritation you can't scratch."
Will looked closely at his commander and friend and frowned.
"Perhaps it would be better if we visited counsellor Troi, maybe she can help."
Jean-Luc reached up and gently felt his bandages.
"Later Will, I would like to spend a little more time here, if you don't mind."
"Not at all Sir."
The officers spent almost two hours touching and smelling the hundreds of exhibits throughout the display, eventually finding themselves back at the entrance.
"Are you thirsty Sir? I know a good place to go for coffee."
"Lead on Commander, I'm in your hands."
A short walk brought them to the most popular place on the ship. As they entered the room, Will described what could be seen from the windows, while guiding Jean-Luc to a seat near the bar.
Nodding to the barkeeper, Will placed the captain's hands into the waiting hands of the beautiful dark woman behind the bar.
"Captain, this is Guinan. You are very dear friends, you've know each other a very long time."
In a low, husky voice, Guinan muttered,
"What have you done this time, Picard?"
Smiling, Jean-Luc leaned forward and whispered,
"I've no idea. Perhaps you can enlighten me."
That brought gentle laughter and Guinan softly gripped his hands.
"I will get you a cup of tea, I won't be a moment."
True to her word, she was back soon with a steaming cup of Earl Grey. Jean-Luc leaned over the cup and sniffed appreciatively.
"I drink a lot of this, don't I."
Exchanging a look with Will, Guinan shrugged and said,
"Yes, yes you do. I've known you a very long time and you've always found comfort in a cup of Earl Grey. Does it jog your memory......do you sense anything?"
"Not exactly, but there's a familiarity....it makes me feel warm. I find my thoughts continually return to doctor Crusher, do you know why that is?"
Exchanging another look and this time frowning, Will and Guinan looked at the perplexed captain. It was Guinan who took up the thread.
"You and Beverly share a long, sometimes tragic past Picard. Spend as much time as you can with her....you should be together."
Quietly consulting a chronometer, Will gently touched the captain's hand.
"It's time we were going sir, you have an appointment with Deanna Troi."
Nodding at Guinan, the two men left Ten Forward and made their way to Deanna's office. The door chime was answered by the gentle voice of the counsellor who bade them to enter.
Will, sir....it's good to see you. Would you like a cup of tea?"
Smiling, Jean-Luc declined and Will explained his need to return to the bridge. Bidding him goodbye and thanking him for his assistance, Jean-Luc was led to a chair and made comfortable. Deanna took a seat and said,
"How do you feel?"
Jean-Luc sat back and crossed his legs.
"How do I feel? Lost, alone, frightened, entranced, frustrated....you name it."
Smiling, Deanna sipped her hot chocolate.
"That all sounds very normal for a person in your predicament, but what I want to know is, has anything jogged your memory?"
Uncrossing his legs, he leaned forward in his chair.
"In the arboretum, Will gave me some grapes and he told me about my family on earth and how they make wine from the grapes and I felt......a tug....the thought of my family made me almost remember, as if the memory was just out of reach. It's hard to describe, to explain. It's tenuous.....wisps of thought come and go without me being able to grasp them. It can be rather frustrating."
"Have there been any other times this has happened?"
"Yes, when I think of Beverly...I feel a warmth...."
He sighed then and sat back on the chair. Placing his palms on his thighs, his mouth turned down.
"It's so close....the memories are dancing in my mind, but I can't make them stay still...at least not long enough for me to recognise them."
Deanna leaned forward and took one of his hands.
"Don't try too hard, it will come back, all of it I'm sure. You just have to be patient."
They spent an hour talking about the ship, his job and, eventually, about the dragon.
"How do you feel about the dragon now?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc tried to put into words the incredible link he now felt with his former nemesis.
"We formed a bond....unbreakable....we are part of each other now....I am it and it is me. I know that makes little sense, but that's the only way I can explain the connection between us."
Deanna could see how hard Jean-Luc was concentrating.
"Do you think it can help you now? Perhaps unlock some memories for you....."
Again shaking his head, Jean-Luc stood and stretched.
"I don't know counsellor. I will give it some thought though, it's a sound idea."
Feeling the session was at an end, Deanna rose and took the captain's hand.
"Are you hungry, sir? It's past lunch time."
"Is it? Well then, where do you suggest we go?"
Smiling, Deanna lifted her head and said,
"Troi to doctor Crusher...."
"Crusher here."
"Doctor, would you meet me at holodeck three in, say about, ten minutes?"
"Will do, Crusher out."
Taking the captain's hand, Deanna led him through the mighty ship, reached holodeck three, and waited a few moments for Beverly to arrive.
She breezed around the corner, her lab coat flapping, and pulled up alongside the waiting pair.
"Well, here we all are....."
Deanna, smiling at her friend, winked and bade the computer to run a particular program.
They stepped inside, the two women giving Jean-Luc some room as he sniffed the air and listened to the sounds around him.
The requested program had been a favourite of Beverly and Jean-Luc for a long time. It was the reproduction of a small bistro in Jean-Luc's home town, LaBarre.
The three friends entered and were shown to a discreet table on the balcony overlooking the village.
Jean-Luc and Beverly were seated, but Deanna stayed on her feet.
"I'll go now, you two enjoy yourselves. I'll see you later, Beverly."
After Deanna had gone, an uncomfortable silence settled between Beverly and her lover. It was Beverly who broke it.
"This is one of your favourite programs. We come here to celebrate anniversaries....you know....sentimental stuff."
"Am I overly sentimental."
"Not overly, no, but you do have a romantic side I've always enjoyed."
He sighed then and spoke softly.
"I wish I could see you now.....tell me about the bistro."
Placing her hands on the table, Beverly took a steadying breath and began.
"We are seated on a small balcony, there are doors behind us, hung with beautiful lace. It is a table for two. In the main body of the bistro, there are bigger tables and some booths....there's a piano, although it seems it's only played in the evening. From where we sit, your vineyard can be seen.....the view is breathtaking. Tell me, what would you like to have for lunch?"
"I'm really not that hungry.....perhaps a light salad and a glass of wine?"
Beverly laughed and took his hands in hers.
"Jean-Luc, I have worried about you weight for a very long time....you never seem to eat enough.....it would seem that trend is continuing."
A rueful grin was her only reply. Signalling the waiter, the friends enjoyed their lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon talking, Beverly answering his questions as best she could.
Later, when her shift ended, Beverly escorted the captain back to his quarters and made them both a light meal. They chatted amicably, touching on many and varied topics until it was time to retire for the night.
"You go and shower, I'll set out your pyjamas and turn the bed back.
Thanking her, Jean-Luc made his way to the bathroom and proceeded to get undressed. He showered and dressed in his night attire, rejoining Beverly in under ten minutes.
"What would you like to do? I could read to you again if you like."
"Can we talk some more? I want to talk about us."
Beverly stiffened, but said nothing to give her feelings away.
"Sure, come on, I'll get you comfortable."
Sitting him on the sofa, she sat next to him and mustered the courage to speak.
"What do you want to know?"
"I know we are lovers, but I want to know about....before. You, and several other people have mentioned that we have known each other for many years. How long? Have we always been lovers?"
"Whoa....one thing at a time. Yes, we've known each other a very long time....nearly thirty years, and no, we were not lovers until recently. My husband was your first officer and best friend and he died under your command. You brought his body home to me and helped me to cope during those first dark days. You went back to your ship....back to the stars....and I finished my medical degree. Twenty years passed with only sporadic contact, until the flagship of the fleet was commissioned. I applied for the job of CMO, knowing full well you were given her captaincy.
When you found out, you asked me if I would like a different posting, you felt I might have too many painful memories if I stayed. I declined and told you It was my doing to apply for the position. You were somewhat shocked, but we soon developed a sound working relationship. Over the years we grew closer and closer until you asked me to take our friendship to a more....intimate.....level. I declined, fool that I was. I hurt you terribly that night and I've regretted it ever since. You, of course, were gallant and hid your hurt and our friendship flourished. My feelings for you deepened, despite my common sense, and I realised that I was indeed in love with you. We were sent to the planet below on a mission and some how....and I'm still not sure how....I confessed my love for you and we became lovers."
Jean-Luc sighed and bowed his head.
"If only I could remember. I feel something when I'm with you....a tug....a warmth...a familiarity, I don't know, but I can tell you it's strong, very strong."
Beverly leaned to him and put her arms around him. She lifted his head and, closing her eyes, gently kissed his lips. The effect was instant. He straightened and lifted his hands to her hair, tangling his fingers in her beautiful tresses and returned the kiss, deepening it.
Beverly pulled back, a worried frown on her beautiful face.
"Jean-Luc, I......that is we.....look, I'd just rather wait until you have your sight back and that you remember me....completely."
He nodded, lowering his head. Sighing, he murmured,
"I will make every effort to recover quickly, I can assure you."
The words, and the solemnity with which they were spoken, caused a chuckle to escape from the delighted doctor.
"You mock me?"
"No Jean-Luc, not at all. You just reminded me of a very serious captain I know."
That brought a smile.
"Am I serious all the time?"
"Mostly, but you have a delicious sense of humour and a very dry wit, although not too many people have been fortunate enough to witness it. You're pretty reserved."
"Reserved?......not...stuffy, I hope."
"No, not stuffy. You have a command presence about you always and you are highly respected, both as a captain and a diplomat. You are on this mission because you were requested by the ruling parties. Your reputation precedes you."
"Tell me more about us."
"You are persistent, aren't you? Tell you what. You go and get into bed and I'll come in and sit and talk with you for a while. Ok?"
Jean-Luc nodded and rose to his feet. Beverly offered an arm, but he shook his head, removing his hand and made his own way into his bedroom, causing a caustic...
"And stubborn, don't let me forget that!"
They talked quietly for some hours, far more than Beverly had anticipated. Her son, Wesley, her husband Jack and all the mutual friends she could remember were woven into the tapestry of life that they were rebuilding for Jean-Luc. It was a stifled yawn that brought the conversation to a halt.
"Ok, captain, that's it. We both need rest and I want to reassess your eyes tomorrow, so we are going to sleep now.
"Will you stay with me Beverly?"
Beverly stood very still, thinking furiously and eventually coming to an answer.
"Not yet my love, but soon, very soon."
She went to him and gently kissed his lips, then turned, darkened the room, and left. She was thoughtful as she made her bed on the sofa. She was very tempted to join him, but the doctor in her spoke clearest and ultimately, she put his health above her desires.

 

 

 

After breakfast the next day, the couple strolled through the ship towards sick bay. They entered through the large double doors and made their way to the central examination bed. Jean-Luc was helped to sit on the bed and Beverly sent her chief nurse to fetch the wanted instruments.
"Now Jean-Luc, don't expect too much. The nanites have been programmed to repair the cellular damage, all I think we'll need to do is replenish the paste medium, ok?"
He nodded, frowning. Beverly cupped his chin and raised his face. With infinite care, the bioweb bandage was removed and his closed eyes gently washed.
"There. Lights, lower fifty percent."
In the gloom of the darkened room, Beverly asked Jean-Luc to open his eyes.
At first he said nothing, then he whispered,
"I can make out shapes.....you are standing in front of me and you have red hair. It's beautiful."
Beverly blushed, the bloom rising right up to her hair line causing her head nurse, Alyssa Ogawa, to smile broadly.
"Yes, well.....is there any discomfort....any burning?"
"Yes, a little. My eyes feel like they should be watering, but I don't think they are."
"That's to be expected. I'm going to look into your eyes with an opthalmascope, it may cause some pain, but don't move....don't move your eyes, ok?"
She was as quick as she could be, but she could tell the procedure had caused considerable pain. As soon as she finished, she administered a pain killer, added more paste and rebandaged his eyes. By the time she had finished, Jean-Luc was becoming fidgety.
"Ok, that's it. Everything is going to plan....better than I thought in fact. How do you feel?"
"I don't know. Part of me feels angry, the other hopeful. It's confusing at best, irritating at worst."
"Well, we just have to be patient a little bit longer.....the end *will* justify the means."
The chuckle that bubbled up was warming for every one.
"I bet those nanites have been programmed for nothing less than complete obedience. They wouldn't dare fail."
Beverly smiled and shook her head.
"Let's just say.....their continued existence would be seriously compromised."
Taking Jean-Luc's hand, Beverly led him into her office and helped him to sit. As she was bent over him, Jean-Luc raised his face and sniffed delicately.
"You smell lovely. I....."
He stopped in mid sentence, a curious expression on his face.
"Jean-Luc? Is there anything wrong?"
He shook his head, frowning.
"Not wrong......your perfume, it's familiar....I....I think I remember it.....Yes! Roses....it's roses, isn't it?"
Grinning gently, Beverly gently cupped his chin.
"Yes, my love, it's roses......you gave it to me."
"I remember! It was.....it was a birthday, it....no, not a birthday.....an anniversary.....it was to mark your service on the Enterprise......ten years. I got the perfume on Aldare Prime. They make the purest scents in the known galaxy. I had searched......it took months."
He raised his head and smiled.
"It was worth it.....you loved it."
Wiping the tears that ran softly down her cheeks, Beverly took his hands in hers.
"I loved it then, and I love it now. I use it sparingly, I want it to last. Do you remember anything else? That anniversary was a wonderful time for us both. Do you remember what we did in the afternoon?"
He frowned then, trying desperately to remember.
"No.....I can't.....Damn this is frustrating!"
"Hey....don't worry about it. The very fact that you remembered the perfume and the anniversary proves that things are slowly coming back. Just relax and let nature take it's course."
"Hrumph....it's not like I have a choice."
He shook his head and sighed.
"What did we do that afternoon?"
"Oh no you don't. You can tell me when you remember it. No cheating. Now, how do your eyes feel?"
He raised a hand and gently pressed the bandage.
"It feels very warm.....and there's mild discomfort."
"Discomfort? Is it the paste?"
Shaking his head, he winced at the movement.
"No. It's just started in my eyes.....behind my eyes."
"Well we can fix that. Sit tight, I'll be back in a minute."
Beverly left him to retrieve a hypospray and stopped to give instructions to a nurse that had stopped her with a query. She was only gone a few minutes when she returned to find him sitting with his head in his hands.
"Jean-Luc? Is it worse?"
Sitting up straight, he leaned back and tilted his head back.
"Yes, but I'm tired, perhaps it's just that."
"Hmm, possibly. I'll give you this analgesic then I'll take you back to your quarters. Rest at this stage is very desirable."
They didn't speak during the short journey to Jean-Luc's cabin. He was tiring quickly and Beverly led him straight to his bedroom and helped him to lie down. Taking off his shoes, she covered him with a blanket and sat with him for the few minutes it took for sleep to claim him.
Sighing, she gently stroked his face.

 

Next morning, Beverly was setting the table for breakfast, when a very sleep tousled Jean-Luc appeared at the bedroom door.
"Well, good morning Jean-Luc. Did you sleep well?"
"Uh huh. Is breakfast ready? I would like to shave and shower before I start."
"No problem. You go and I'll take care of things here."
In the ensuing minutes, Beverly replicated all the cold things she needed, saving the croissants until last.
"Mmmm, that smells good."
A much improved man made his way to the table.
"Well, I must say, this is a vast improvement."
Jean-Luc smiled, blushing faintly.
"Are the colours alright? I'd hate to think I was dressed to....brightly...."
"Jean-Luc, you don't own any bright clothing. every stitch you own is elegant and tasteful."
There was a momentary silence as he tore his pastry apart.
"And you're sure I'm not....stuffy?"
Beverly laughed, shaking her head.
"Nope, not a stuffy bone in you. Rest assured Jean-Luc, you're elegant and handsome, at least I think so......and so do a lot of others I know."
By now, Jean-Luc was thoroughly embarrassed. He stalled for time, making a show of finding the coffee pot.
"Do you need help?"
Shaking his head, he smiled ruefully,
"No, I can manage. What are we going to do today?"
"I thought it would be beneficial for you to have a chat with Deanna Troi. I have a surgery scheduled for later this morning. Why don't you see Deanna and then meet me for lunch here in your quarters at, say, 1300 hours?"
As the silence stretched on, Beverly thought Jean-Luc was angry.
"Jean-Luc?"
"Yes, I'm sorry, I was a little lost in thought. I must say, I'm a little daunted about meeting with the ship's counsellor as a patient. What's she like?"
"Well, I can tell you, she's a dear friend of mine and a damn good counsellor. She works well with the command staff and you have always found her a steadying influence on the bridge. You are the most private person I know....you don't let your feelings show, yet you do consult her when you need to. Sometimes....actually most times....she will suggest the meeting, but you do go and mostly you're pleased with the outcome."
Nodding slowly, Jean-Luc bit his lower lip.
"Alright Beverly, I'll see her."
"Good. I'll clean up here and get going. I'll give Deanna a call to let her know you're free."
Minutes later, she was gone. Jean-Luc spent some time moving slowly about his quarters, picking up the many objects that decorated his home. He was feeling the pottery shards of an ancient race when the door chimed.
"Come."
On the outside, Deanna smiled at the familiarity of the response. She entered and found the captain near the large windows of his cabin.
"Hello sir. How are you today?"
"I'm well, thank you. Where would you like to sit?"
"Why don't we sit right here, near the window."
The two officers made themselves comfortable, both making small talk about the ship.
"So tell me captain, how did you feel when you remembered Beverly's perfume?"
Jean-Luc frowned and lowered his head.
"You know about that?"
"Yes, does it worry you that I know?"
"No....yes....look, it's just a private memory about Beverly....I'd rather not discuss it."
Deanna smiled quietly to herself.
"Now that sounds like the ultra-private captain Picard that I know."
"Does it? That's good....isn't it?"
"I don't know, what do you think?"
"I can't help the way I feel. The memory was very...potent...I just don't want to discuss it."
Stretching her legs out in front, she crossed them and settled into the couch.
When I came in, you were holding some pottery shards. What were you feeling?"
Jean-Luc smiled and rubbed his hands on his thighs.
"I was trying to guess how old they were. I have found a familiarity with many of the objects in this room. There is a box over there with an musical instrument in it....a small flute I think. When I felt it, I had overwhelming feelings of sadness and joy in almost equal measure. Why is that?"
"The flute is a relic of a long lost race that made contact with you, through a probe. In the space of twenty five minutes, you lived a lifetime as a member of a family on that planet. You had a wife, children and a grandchild. You learned to play the flute and when the experience was over, you were left with all the poignant memories....and the ability to play the flute. You remember them through your music, which gives you joy."
"I don't remember them either. Do you think........"
The captain froze, a surprised expression on his face.
"Captain? Captain Picard?"
He turned to her and said quietly,
"I can see my ready room. There's a picture of the Enterprise....and there's a fish, in the wall....and here in my room, the computer terminal is over there and a Kurlan naiskos sits on the low table. It was given to me by.....by....Professor....Galord. No! Galen, Richard Galen. Why is my memory so arbitrary. There's no pattern, no flow...it just comes in pieces, unrelated bits."
"I think it's a good sign, Whatever triggers them is disconnected to you emotionally and I think that's beneficial. It may prove easier for you in the long term."
They continued talking for some time but no further memories emerged. Deanna was sure to ascertain how Jean-Luc felt about remembering unpleasant memories and decided he would be strong enough when the time came. All too soon, Deanna drew the session to a close.
"I'll go now sir. Is there anything I can do before I leave?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc asked,
"What time is it?"
"Eleven twenty."
"Could you take me to the arboretum? There's something I want to do."
A half an hour later, Jean-Luc was back in his quarters, preparing to lie down for a while before Beverly came. He slipped into sleep easily waking only when his door chimed an hour later.
Opening the door to his request, Beverly found Jean-Luc yawning and stretching. She laughed at the simple pleasure he was obviously getting, making him snort with amusement.
"You're not supposed to make fun of your fearless leader......are you?"
"Fearless leader, eh. Next you'll be wanting me to read Horatio Hornblower to you."
They both chuckled as Beverly closed the distance between them and laid a hand on his arm.
Instead of sitting, he turned her around and asked her to close her eyes. As she stood there, she listened acutely to try and figure out what he was up to.
"Hold out your hands."
She complied and was delighted to feel the stems of some flowers. She opened her eyes and gasped with delight. Jean-Luc had managed....somehow....to get a beautiful sheaf of real red roses. The had been lightly sprayed with water and were exquisite in both perfume and form.
"Jean-Luc, these are so beautiful....how did you...."
"Deanna took me to the arboretum and I asked the chief botanist if I could have a few of his red roses."
"A few! Jean-Luc there are so many.....Duncan frets over his plants, especially his roses, how did you ever get him to agree to....."
"I just asked him."
"That's it?"
"Well, Deanna said I used my "captain persona", although I've no idea what she's talking about."
Beverly laughed and swatted him gently.
"Come to my cabin and help me put these in vases, then we can figure out what to do about lunch."
Having taken care of the flowers, Beverly asked Jean-Luc if he had anything in mind for their meal.
"To be perfectly honest, I'm really not all that hungry. What do you want to do?"
Seeing the message light on her computer terminal, she was crossing the room to activate it when she heard Jean-Luc gasp. She turned to find him clutching his head, his mouth wide open in a silent scream.
"Jean-Luc! What is it? What's wrong?"
He stumbled across the room, trying to find somewhere to hide. Hitting the wall, he spread his arms out wide and, finding no door, slid down the wall to huddle in a ball on the floor.
"Make them stop! Oh, God, make them stop!"
"Crusher to Troi, report to my quarters immediately! Jean-Luc, it's alright, there's no one here but you and I. Hold my hand....here, hold my hand."
Jean-Luc grabbed the hand in a painful grip, making Beverly wince. He was trembling and sweat was running freely down his face. In a shaking, agonised voice he said,
"Have they gone?"
"Who, Jean-Luc....has who gone?"
"The Borg......they hurt me....made me do terrible things...all those ships....the people...oh my God, help me."
The door sighed open and Deanna came in. Going straight to Beverly, she looked inquiringly at the doctor.
"The Borg. Stay with him, I'll get a sedative.
Still curled in a tight ball, Jean-Luc was whimpering and pulling at his bandages. He didn't hear the hiss of the hypospray, but he relaxed almost instantly.
"Help me get him into the bedroom."
Having got the captain into bed, Deanna gestured Beverly into the living area.
"Was there anything in particular that triggered this episode?"
Beverly stood, hugging herself and frowning.
"No, we were just talking about lunch. I turned my back for a second and it happened. There was no warning."
"How much does he remember?"
The two women sat on the sofa, both unnerved by what had occurred.
"All of it, I think. He spoke of Wolf 359 and the losses....how the hell is he going to cope with this?"
"The same way he did before. Don't forget he will remember that as well..... Maybe we could soften the blows a bit."
Beverly looked at her friend shrewdly.
"What do you mean?"
"I think we should tell him the worst...Gul Madred, for instance. Tell him what happened and how he dealt with it. He may not be so devastated when it surfaces."
"Preparing him? Are you sure he's strong enough?"
"I think so, yes."
The friends stayed with the stricken man until he awoke naturally some three hours later.
He appeared in the doorway looking pale and lost. Beverly went to him and guided him to the sofa.
"There you go. How do you feel?"
He was silent so long, Beverly thought he wasn't going to answer, but then he sighed and tried to speak. At first inaudible, he cleared his throat and continued.
"I now know about the Borg. What they did to me, what they made me do, the dreadful losses and my subsequent rescue. I feel the weight of the memories.....I think I will carry the burden for the rest of my life."
Beverly said quietly,
"That's what you said during your recovery. Do you remember your therapy?"
"Yes, I think so."
Deanna sighed and frowned.
"It took a long time for you to forgive yourself, captain. Do you recall the feeling of peace you found, when you finally admitted the Borg were the ones responsible....not you?"
He sighed then, raising his hands to his head. Unable to speak, he slowly nodded.
"Jean-Luc, you have experienced some terrible things in your past, things that took a long time for you to overcome, but you *did* overcome them. You have to remember that, when you're assailed by unpleasant memories, search for the feeling of contentment you have just by being the person you are."
He sat up straight, lowered his hands and took a large breath, expelling it slowly. When he was able, he spoke to his friends.
"I think I know what you mean. It's just such a shock, the memories are so potent......is there anything else.....I would like to be forewarned if possible.
The two women looked at each other and sighed.
Beverly took his hand and said softly,
"We had just spoken about that earlier. Jean-Luc, you have had a remarkable career, one that spans many years.....you've experienced triumphs and tragedies, some intensely personal, some in the line of duty, but you've always recovered....eventually. By far the worst incidents were the Borg.....and your capture by Gul Madred."
Shaking his head slowly, Jean-Luc sighed.
"I don't remember....."
Beverly lifted his hand to her face and gathered the strength to tell him.
"He designed an elaborate trap and succeeded in capturing you. In the four days of your capture you were tortured mercilessly and almost succumbed, we rescued you just in time, although you knew he had broken down all your defences. You were physically and psychologically injured, it took a long time for you to heal, but you never understood why he tortured you as he did and that was very hard for you to bear. When you recall that terrible time, you will be left feeling violated and lost, much the same as after the Borg. We'll be here, Jean-Luc, we will help you, just as we did before."
Deanna had retrieved some hot drinks and the three friends sat in companionable silence as they sipped their beverages. It was the captain who broke the silence.
"Beverly, can we go back to my quarters, I would like to rest now."
The two officers made their way slowly, Jean-Luc tiring as they progressed. They went straight to his bedroom and Beverly helped him to lie down. Removing his boots, she covered him with a blanket and watched as he drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 

Over the next three days, Jean-Luc experienced many memories, some just a simple memory of an article, some jolting....when he remembered Jack Crusher's death, he was momentarily inconsolable, it took Beverly some time to make him understand it had happened almost thirty years ago. For the most part, he coped well and he was generally eager to recover his memory. It was a memory of Beverly's beautiful red hair that sparked a desire to be rid of the bandages that covered his eyes. He soon found that pestering Beverly incurred her wrath, but she acquiesced and he found himself seated on a biobed in sickbay.
Beverly sighed and admonished Jean-Luc.
"Will you sit still! You're worse than a four year old."
That brought stillness from Jean-Luc, and also an acerbic....
"I'm sure you're not supposed to talk to me like that."
"If you don't behave, I'll do a lot worse than just talk. Computer....lights down fifty percent."
In the subdued light, Beverly removed the last of the bio web. Taking a swab and dunking it in warm medicated water, she gently washed the residual paste away, then cupped Jean-Luc's chin.
"Ok, open your eyes slowly and tell me what you see."
She stood back from him and waited.
At first he was silent, then Beverly was surprised to hear him chuckle.
"What?"
"You're even more beautiful than I remember."
Thoroughly embarrassed, Beverly was grateful for the subdued lighting.
"This is serious captain. How well are you seeing?"
"Very well. I can see you, and the room beyond, through that open door and into the next room."
"Good. I'm going to order more light, be sure to tell me if it's too bright. Computer, lights to seventy five percent."
The added light made him frown, but he said nothing. Retrieving an ophthalmoscope, Beverly looked into his eyes and nodded with satisfaction.
"It's going very well, I'm pleased to say. Your sight will improve over the next few days and I don't expect any trouble. You will, of course, report anything that bothers you....won't you."
"Aye Ma'am."
"Well, you're free to go. I'll see you at dinner....at your quarters, ok?"
"That's fine. I think I'll go for a wander through the ship....perhaps to engineering, I had a memory of Geordie and I'd like to see him."
Jean-Luc left sick bay feeling energised. More memories were coming...faster and more complex. He now felt comfortable with himself and his ship and felt he would soon be able to once again command her.
The afternoon passed and soon he made his way to his cabin to prepare dinner. He had just programmed the replicator when Beverly arrived. Enjoying an aperitif, Beverly admired the effort Jean-Luc had gone to with the table. He had replicated fine china and silver service, the whole effect set off with a beautiful floral centrepiece. She sidled up beside him and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Thank you Jean-Luc, it's all lovely."
After dinner, they moved to the sofa under the stars to sip some brandy. Jean-Luc sat deep in the sofa, his feet crossed on the low table in front of him. Beverly sat along the cushions, her back against his shoulder, his arm casually draped over her arm. He was absently drawing circles on her hand and she was finding it difficult not to react. When he gently nuzzled her hair, she knew it had to stop. Sitting up, she drew out of his embrace.
"What's wrong?"
"Nothing, Jean-Luc. I'm just a little tired that's all. I have surgery tomorrow morning, perhaps we should turn in for the night."
He stood quietly looking at her with an intensity she felt unnerving. She was about to say something to make him stop, when he sighed and smiled.
"Yes, I suppose we should. It's been quite a day."
He moved to her and leaned in, saying softly,
"Goodnight...."
His kiss was soft and gentle, taking Beverly by surprise. She was unprepared for the rush of desire that surged through her. He seemed to sense it and deepened the kiss, his hands sliding up her back. Breaking the kiss, she lowered her head and sighed unsteadily. He rested his forehead on hers, saying nothing. In a whisper she said,
"Goodnight."
When he withdrew his arms she felt cold.....bereft....she wanted him, Gods how she wanted him, but not like this. She needed him to remember her in every way, not the bits and pieces he now had. She lay for a long time that night, her mind too restless to sleep.

 

Three days later, Beverly was in her cabin, when she received an urgent message from Jean-Luc. He was in his quarters and very upset. She left immediately, covering the short distance between their billets quickly. Entering, she found Jean-Luc sitting on the sofa in the main living area. She went straight to him, dismayed to find him trembling and weeping. Taking him gently in her arms, she rocked him silently, until he whispered.....
"Why did he do it?"
"What, Jean-Luc? Who are you talking about?"
"Madred. Why did he continue to torture me when he knew I didn't know the answers to his questions?"
Beverly closed her eyes and fought the welling of love and pity she felt for her lover. Stroking his back, she tried to find the words he needed to hear.
"He wasn't interested in the questions Jean-Luc, he just wanted to break your spirit."
Drawing a shuddering breath, Jean-Luc lifted his face, shocking Beverly with his haunted look.
"The lights.....he kept asking how many, but he didn't want the truth....he wanted me to say there were five, when there was only four, and I would've agreed with him at the end....anything to end the torture....why did he do it Beverly? That bastard had complete control over me....why was he so cruel?"
She sighed, taking a moment to gather her thoughts.
"He was brutal Jean-Luc....he was a cruel man working within a brutal and cruel regime. He had spent a lot of time and effort devising a intricate and elaborate trap for you.....he was intent on subjugating you....I don't think anything would've stopped him accomplishing what he set out to do. You have to believe you did your best under dreadful circumstances, in fact, you did better than most, I can assure you. Try and concentrate not on what he did to you, but how you recovered after we got you back."
They sat quietly for many minutes, the silence somehow comforting. After a while, Beverly asked,
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
He nodded and she left him to go to the replicator, returning quickly with two hot teas, hers chamomile, his Earl Grey.
"You must think me very weak...."
"What!? Jean-Luc we've already had this conversation. Remember when Deanna and I told you about this, trying to 'cushion the blow' by telling you about it....I should've realised it was too stressful to just warn you and hope that would be all there was to it. Jean-Luc, you survived that terrible time, both psychologically and physically, because you are the man you are. A lesser man would've succumbed. Take comfort in you recovery. You got through it then and you'll get through it now. When you feel stronger....when you're ready, it would be helpful if you talked to Deanna about it, but in the meantime you can talk to me."
Sipping his tea, he closed his eyes and drew in the pleasant aroma. He sighed and turned to his dearest friend.
"It would seem you're always there to pick up the pieces. Thank you."
They talked quietly over the next hour until Jean-Luc yawned and stretched.
"Computer, what is the time?"
"The time is 20.48 hours."
"I think I'll go to bed now.....you'll stay?"
"Yes, Jean-Luc, I'll stay....as long as you need me."
Later the next day, a rather nervous captain stood just out of sensor range at the counsellor's door. Rubbing his hands over his thighs, he stepped forward and activated the chime, entering at her request.
"Captain, come in, it's good to see you."
He stepped over the threshold into her office and, at her suggestion, sat in one of the comfortable chairs.
"Has doctor Crusher told you why I'm here?"
"No captain, she hasn't. Would you like to tell me?"
Jean-Luc got quickly to his feet and began pacing around the room, stopping occasionally to look at the objet d'art interspersed about the room.
"Last night.....last night I remembered Gul Madred and what he did to me. I was upset and I called for Beverly to come. We talked and later, when I felt calmer, I went to bed."
"I see. Did you dream?"
"No....yes....I dreamed of Madred."
"What were the dreams of Madred about?"
Feeling irritated, Jean-Luc snorted.
"Look it's nothing, just some inane dreams I would prefer to forget."
Speaking softly, Deanna said,
"But you do remember them, don't you."
Glaring, Jean-Luc hissed testily,
"Yes, oh yes I remember them."
"Tell me."
It was said flatly, emphatically....it crossed his mind to refuse, but he gathered his courage and spoke.
"I had Madred strung up as he had done to me and I was stabbing him with the knife he used to cut my clothing from me. I stabbed him in a frenzy then I hear him laughing and I look down at my hand and the knife has become a feather, then he asks...."How many lights?" I run and pick up the pad that controls the pain inducer and I press it...on the highest setting and he screams and convulses....and I feel elated. I feel like I'm two metres tall, huge and powerful, then he laughs again and the pad turns to water and slips through my fingers."
"What are you feeling now?"
Jean-Luc walked to a sofa and sat, somewhat slumped.
"What am I feeling? Angry, fearful....full of despair. It's all sitting inside me like a bubble and I'm frightened it will burst."
"And what would happen then?"
"I don't know....madness perhaps."
Deanna stands and joins the captain on the sofa. She gently takes his hand and quietly says,
"Not madness, captain. An out pouring of emotion for sure, but you're too strong to lose control. Do you remember how it was last time?"
"Some....it's strange, I know I got through it the first time, why can't I just....re-use those memories?"
"Captain, this has been a recent event. There are many similarities between this and your abduction by the Borg. Both times you had no control over what happened to you and both times you were made to do things at the whim of your captors. In both instances, you were rescued by your crew and repatriated by Beverly and I. You remembered the Borg experience first and you were able to get through it reasonably quickly. But this is right on the coat tails of the other. You've barely had time to put the Borg behind you and this surfaces. What did you expect?"
Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head.
"I don't know really. Perhaps I wanted to just remember the salient points, then put it behind me."
"Just remember the salient points? Do you honestly think it could be so easy?"
Jumping angrily to his feet, Jean-Luc glared down at the counsellor.
"Easy? I can assure you, counsellor, it is most definitely not easy!"
"Sir...captain...please sit down, I think you know that's not what I meant."
Deflated, he sat and placed his head in his hands. Deanna had to listen carefully when he whispered,
"I just want to feel normal, instead of walking around preoccupied with visions of ripping Madred's heart from his chest. These thoughts of revenge are becoming a nuisance."
"It's not surprising that you feel that way. What you're not used to, is the unquenched yearning for justice and what you also lack are the memories....the complete memories of how you dealt with this in the first place. I think when you memory is fully restored, these feelings of violence will disappear and you will be free to explore your emotions again. In the meantime, perhaps the holodeck or the gymnasium would help you take out some of your angst."
Jean-Luc frowned and looked quizzically at the counsellor.
"Are you suggesting me using one of Mr.Worf's callisthenic programs?"
"Why not? I can recommend the punching bag in the gym, I've given it a few hidings in my time. Look, the point is to take out your anger on something inanimate. Nobody gets hurt."
Standing once again, Jean-Luc thanked the counsellor and left her office not exactly sure where he was going. He was not surprised to eventually find himself at the doors to ten forward. He entered and found a seat near the windows, finding the vista of stars at warp speed calming. He didn't see Guinan's approach, but he sensed her presence nonetheless.
"Here."
Jean-Luc shifted his vision to find a steaming cup of Earl Grey on the table.
"Thank you."
The two friends sat in companionable silence for some minutes until the captain sighed.
"Tell me Guinan, have you ever taken your anger out on a punching bag?"
"Living or non living?"
He cast her a dry look, but smiled to take the sting out of the sight.
"Seriously? Picard in my time I have destroyed many punching bags. I'm surprised you've not experienced the satisfaction gained by belting the bag."
"In my youth I used to run if I felt angry or tense....perhaps I should go to the holodeck and run a few kilometres."
Guinan smiled and brought her hands out from her voluminous gown. Shaping her hands into fists, she adopted a fighter's stance and muttered,
"This is more fun, believe me."
They finished their drinks in silence then Guinan went back to the bar. Jean-Luc rubbed his eyes, feeling slight discomfort and sighed. After a moments more thought, Jean-Luc left ten forward heading to the main gym.

 

Fortunately the gym was almost deserted when he arrived and he found a series of punching bags lined up near the back wall. He went to a replicator and retrieved a pair of sparring gloves and then approached the first bag. Making sure no one was watching, he offered a tentative light punch and was gratified to feel the bag move. Two more searching punches had him feeling more confident. He stepped back and hit the bag hard and when it swung back he hit it again. Feeling more relaxed he felt the tension beginning to ease and he found if he leaned slightly forward, on the balls of his feet, he could hit the bag even harder. After ten minutes, he was sweating profusely, so he stopped and removed his top. His vest was also wet and that joined the top on the bench. Rubbing his eyes again, he took up his stance and began to hit the bag again. As he settled into a rhythm, his mind began to wander and he soon found himself picturing the dreaded face of Gul Madred. He hit the bag with more venom and as it swung back he hit it with every ounce of his strength and was instantly rewarded with a jolt of searing pain from his hand. He stepped back gasping in agony, trying to get the gloves off. A crewman, seeing something was wrong, went straight to his commanding officer and asked,
"Sir, what's wrong?"
Swallowing the wave of nausea he felt he shook his head and looked about for somewhere to sit before he fell. Sensing his captain's need, the crewman offered his hand and led Jean-Luc to the nearby bench. Seeing the amount of pain he was in, the crewman called sick bay.
"Medical assistance required in main gym."
"On my way."
Leaving the captain for a moment, the young ensign went and retrieved a towel which he gently wrapped around Jean-Luc's shoulders. He was just looking at the injured hand when the doors opened to admit a hurrying Beverly.
Seeing the captain quickened her steps and she was soon beside him, tricorder open and scanning. Thanking the ensign she dismissed him and read the information provided.
"You've broken your hand in three places. What the hell were you doing? I told you that hand would take some time to heal completely, why the hell were you using it on?"
Jean-Luc pointed to the punching bag, his head still lowered. Cupping his chin, she raised his head to find his eyes shut.
"Jean-Luc, look at me....why were you....Jean-Luc, your eyes! How long have they been like this!"
His eyes were completely bloodshot and wet with sweat, red tears streaming down his face. Consulting the tricorder, Beverley shook her head and called for a beam out to sick bay. They rematerialised in the main room and Beverley had him lying on a biobed within seconds. Jean-Luc felt his hand being put in a regenerator and he heard, rather than felt, the hypospray deliver it's dose of analgesic. The relief was instant and he sighed with gratitude.
"Beverley?......I...."
"Not now, captain. We'll talk about this later."
By her tone and curtness he knew she was very angry, so he acquiesced and lay still and silent while the staff worked on his eyes. It was over within fifteen minutes and Beverley gave him a pair of dark glasses.
"I want you to wear these during waking hours. The cast will remain on your hand for three days. I will see you later in your quarters."
He knew a *you're dismissed* when he heard it, so he put the glasses on, left sick bay and went straight to his cabin to await the annoyed doctor.
He was lying on his bed when she arrived, some three hours after he'd left sick bay. She said nothing, opting to administer the hypospray in silence. Jean-Luc was becoming nervous, wishing she would say something...anything would be better than the silent treatment. Gathering his courage, he cleared his throat and was about to speak, when Beverly cut him off.
"What the hell did you think you were doing? Didn't we agree that you would report to me any discomfort with your eyes? And what's with the punching bag? I've known you an awful long time, Jean-Luc, and I've never seen you even look at one. If you were feeling tense, why didn't you go for a run? Or lift weights? I know you do that sometimes.....why, why didn't you come to me....."
"I'm sorry."
"What?"
"I said I'm sorry."
Beverly lifted her chin and put her hands on her hips.
"And that's supposed to make everything better?"
Now sitting on the edge of his bed, Jean-Luc sighed.
"No. I just want you to know that I'm sorry for upsetting you. My eyes had been a little uncomfortable for a few hours, I didn't think it was anything of consequence....and the punching bag......Deanna suggested it and Guinan agreed. I forgot about my hand and.....I'm sorry."
Seeing him so abjectly contrite melted Beverly's resolve. Sitting next to him, she wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
"Yeah, well....you'll live. Come on, I'm hungry, let's eat."
After they had eaten, they were sitting quietly sipping their drinks when Jean-Luc asked what had been on his mind.
"How do you know I do weights?"
Realising she'd been caught out, Beverly decided to be honest.
"I know you keep in very good shape and I noticed an increase in your overall musculature. The only way you could've accomplished it was by pumping iron."
"Pumping iron?"
"Old Earth term."
"Oh. Is that all?"
Squirming uncomfortably on her chair, Beverly felt like a bug caught in the light.
"Well, there was this one time that I snuck down to the gym to watch......"
"Just the one time?"
"No...not exactly....."
Jean-Luc was enjoying himself immensely. It wasn't often he could get one up on Beverly.
He was about to apply a little more pressure, when Beverly took the offensive.
"Anyway, it's my job to keep up to date with your health. Any change should be explained."
Holding his hands up, Jean-Luc called for a truce.
"Alright, alright....how about we call it even. You forgive my....indiscretion...and I'll forgive your spying on m....."
"I wasn't spying!....I was....looking after your health."
"Ok, we're even....agreed?"
"Oh alright, I suppose so."
"How gracious of you."
Before Beverly could react, Jean-Luc got to his feet and gestured to the sofa. When they were both comfortable, he took Beverly's hand in his and took his glasses off. He looked deeply into her eyes and said,
"I am sorry Beverly, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about my eyes and I'm sorry I mistreated my hand, I just felt angry and somewhat bloody minded. I must say, up until I hurt my hand, I was enjoying myself. It's very satisfying to belt that bag."
That brought a laugh from the doctor.
"Somehow I can't picture you hitting a punching bag.....perhaps I might have to come along and watch."
"Hmm, perhaps."
Beverly stood then and straightened her uniform.
"Well, I've still got three hours of duty left....see you at dinner time?"
"Yes, that will be fine."
"Ok, see you then....and Jean-Luc?......Put your glasses back on."

 

 

 

 

Three and a half hours later, Beverly entered Jean-Luc's quarters and gently called his name. When he didn't reply, she went to his bedroom and peeked around the door to find him asleep on his bed. During his recovery, she noticed that he was sleeping often and decided it was probably for the best. She left him and made her way to the replicator to plan dinner. She was just setting the table when she sensed him enter the room. She turned and had to stifle the laugh that threatened to bubble up. He noticed her reaction and took umbrage.
"What? What's so funny?"
"Have you looked in a mirror lately?"
He stared, frowning, then turned and went to the mirror in his bathroom. He had to admit, he'd seen better. He needed a shave, his eyes were puffy, his clothes were wrinkled and to top it off, he wore dark glasses. He went back to Beverly.
"Give me ten minutes."
He turned and left for his bathroom, leaving a grinning doctor to finish preparations for dinner.
When he next appeared, he was more like the urbane captain she knew and loved.
"Well, that's an improvement I must say."
"Hmm. A shower and shave always works wonders."
"Not to mention fresh clothes."
The smile spread slowly until a rare full grin graced his face. He stepped up to Beverly and took her hand.
"What do you do to me?"
It was Beverly's turn to smile.
"What do you mean?"
He smiled and shook his head taking his place at the table.
"What's for dinner?"
Curious, Beverly let the moment pass and uncovered the main dish.
"I decided to go traditional. Roast lamb, roast potatoes, minted peas and carrots....with gravy of course, followed by a light lemon sorbet and brandy....the real stuff."
Raising his eyebrows, Jean-Luc smiled.
"It sounds delightful."
The next twenty minutes were spent with little conversation as the food was eaten. Dessert was taken to the low table and they made themselves comfortable on the sofa. Jean-Luc lifted a stockinged foot and gently moved the dessert bowls out of the way as he put his feet up and leaned back. Without thinking, Beverly snuggled in under his arm and placed her head on his chest. She felt his immediate tension and raised her head to look at him.
"Jean-Luc?"
"It's nothing."
"It's not nothing, Jean-Luc. Tell me."
Beverly....you are so comfortable with me.....you act so intimately, but I know you don't want to *be* intimate with me...at least not yet. You are sensuous and beautiful, you caress me, yet you sleep on the sofa. I love you....I know I do. I may not remember everything yet, but I know I love you. Why won't you let me show you?"
Beverly frowned and stood, choosing to pace in front of the windows.
"It took so long, Jean-Luc. We held each other at arms length for so long it became a habit. All the excuses....all the denial...when the barriers finally fell....we rejoiced. I don't want to take the chance of upsetting the balance by resuming our relationship until you're completely well. Can you see, Jean-Luc....do I make sense?"
Jean-Luc rose and moved to stand before Beverly. With his free hand, he gently brushed a wisp of hair and tucked it behind her ear.
"I will wait Beverly....reluctantly, but I will wait for you as you wait for me.

 

 

The next two weeks passed uneventfully, Jean-Luc's memory making a steady recovery. His hand recovered, as did his eyes and it was a very bored captain that turned up for his regular medical checkup. He was pacing around the private room when Beverly entered.
"Hello Jean-Luc, how do you....."
His reply was curt.
"I'm fine. Beverly, do we have to continue these tedious consultations? You saw me this morning....as a matter of fact, you see me every morning. We both know I'm well....when will you allow me to take command again?
His outburst was not completely unexpected and Beverley was ready for it.
"You can resume command when all....all of your memory is back. I will not endanger this ship, or you, by allowing you to return to duty before you're fully recovered. Now, will you kindly sit on the bed and be quiet."
Sneering, Jean-Luc sat on the bed and frowned.
"I still don't see the need for....."
"You're right. Your hand is healed and you sight is excellent. You don't need to come in any more."
"What?"
"You heard me....you're free, at least for the time being."
Somewhat taken aback, Jean-Luc was momentarily silent. Taking advantage of the lull, Beverly handed him a PADD and snapped her tricorder closed.
"The PADD contains all the data you need to know about what happened to you....I thought you might like to know, at least from a medical viewpoint. Will I see you for dinner?"
"What?.....oh, yes, yes of course."
"Well, I'll see you then."
Jean-Luc looked up from the PADD and found himself staring straight into Beverly's stunning blue eyes. His chest tightened and he felt desire rise through his body. Licking his dry lips, he managed to nod and drag his eyes away from hers. She stood back slightly and allowed him the room to ease off the bed. Clearing his throat, he muttered,
"I'll be waiting."
That afternoon, time seemed to drag. To amuse himself, Jean-Luc wandered through the great ship, stopping here and there and chatting to his crew. With an hour to spare he made his way to his quarters, showered and shaved, then spent twenty minutes searching through the menus of the replicator searching for something just right. Having finally made his selections, he set the table and found he had only five minutes to spare. He moved to the windows and stood quietly, waiting for his guest.
He was deep in thought when the door activator chimed. He turned in the half light and said,
"Come."
The door opened and Beverley breezed in. She had taken the time to stop by her quarters and change into casual clothes, the black skirt complimented by her favourite blue sweater. To Jean-Luc she was a vision of beauty, he found it difficult not to stare. Beverley walked to his and stood quietly.
"How are you feeling now? You were a little tense this afternoon."
"Oh, I'm fine. I think I was feeling a little bored. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have taken it out on you."
Beverley raised her hand and placed it on his chest. Tilting her head, she said softly,
"Is that all?"
Breaking eye contact and swallowing, Jean-Luc changed the subject.
"Come to the table, I have a surprise for you."
He turned from her and walked briskly to the replicator and requested the entree. Beverly frowned at his actions, but let it pass. She knew him well enough to know that he would broach any subject he had on his mind that was troubling him....eventually.
At his behest, she took her seat and was delighted when a plate of waktam was placed in front of her.
"Oh Jean-Luc! Waktams....I haven't eaten them since Jack, Walker, you and I were at that cafe on Andoria....what was it called....the Drom's Head, no that's not it....."
"The Grom's Hind."
Laughing, Beverly threw her head back.
"That's it! Do you know....I never did find out what a Grom's hind is. Wait....didn't we have to have special implements to get the waktams out of their shells? They were long, sharp...."
Jean-Luc lifted a napkin and picked up one of the tools.
"I believe they're called frums."
"Frums......well, if you say so."
The two friends spent the next ten minutes reminiscing and laughing as they managed to eat the waktams.
The next dish was of a marine creature from Cestus Prime, served in a bed of flowers and covered in a spicy sauce. That consumed, they moved on to dessert, an Argellen pie, light, piquant and utterly delicious. Each dish had been carefully chosen, moments shared with Beverly, Jack, Walker and Jean-Luc over the years, emphasising the strong bond they both shared. Dinner over, they retired to the sofa, each with a glass of port.
"That was a wonderful dinner Jean-Luc, thank you. What made you think of doing that?"
Turning toward her, he crossed his legs and laid one arm along the back of the sofa.
"I had time on my hands this afternoon and I was meandering through the ship....thinking of you mostly....and I found myself thinking of all the things we'd done together. I have a complete memory of those times. The gaps I have a from more recent times. I just thought it would be nice to remember our friends....I hope you're not saddened by my actions."
Smiling warmly, Beverly reached over and gently stroked his face.
"No Jean-Luc, I'm not sad at all. It was a beautiful way to remember our friends."
"Good Beverly, that's good."
They talked for some time about their friends, their shared experiences, eventually sitting in comfortable silence only partaken between close friends. It was Beverly that broke the spell.
"Well, I'd best be getting to bed."
Sighing, Jean-Luc rose and looked down at his companion.
"Of course. I'll get the blankets."
"No, Jean-Luc. I'll be staying in my quarters. You're well enough to be on your own now."
The wave of disappointment rolled over him like a wave. He stood motionlessly, his back stiff. Beverly sensed his feelings and approached him slowly. When her hand made contact with his back, he tensed and moved away.
"You didn't think I would stay after you were well did you?"
"Yes....no....I hadn't given it much thought."
"Jean-Luc when your memory returns completely, we can talk about us, but I think in the mean time it wouldn't do any harm to put a little distance between us."
His posture still rigid, he said curtly,
"As you wish."
Beverly stepped towards him, but he flinched and took a step backwards. Beverly stopped immediately and sighed.
"Good night, Jean-Luc."
After she had left, Jean-Luc stood alone in his cabin, trying to rid himself of the anguish and anger he felt. When he felt calmer, he tidied up and went to bed....sleep took a long time to come.

 

 

 

Forty eight hours later he was again in bed, dreaming. He frowned and gasped, his arms lifting in a defensive move. Sweat coated his body dampening the sheets and his pyjamas as he tossed and turned. As his terror grew, so did his actions in the bed. Becoming tangled in the bed clothes, he rolled out of bed, the contact with the floor awakening him. With ragged breaths he looked around in the dark, momentarily forgetting to ask for more light. The door chime brought him back to his senses and he disentangled himself and requested more light.
Donning his robe, he went into the living area and answered his door. The open door revealed a very tousled Deanna Troi, obviously concerned for her captain.
"Sir, are you alright? I sensed your nightmare."
"I'm fine counsellor, come in please. I'm going to have a cup of tea, would you like anything?"
"Hmmm? Oh, a hot chocolate please. Captain, what was your dream about?"
He didn't answer straight away, taking time to settle into his chair, beckoning Deanna to a seat on the sofa. When he felt comfortable, he started to talk.
"It was the dragon, before we became....acquainted. I have all my memory now counsellor, there are no more unexplained gaps."
"How do you feel?"
Jean-Luc let out a quiet laugh, bowing his head.
"How do I feel? I feel sad....elated....ready again to command, I want my ship back counsellor."
"Then you shall have her captain. Is there anything you wish to discuss with me?"
Slowly shaking his head, Jean-Luc reassured the counsellor.
"Not at this time Deanna, but I will come and see you in the near future."
With that, Deanna rose and left his quarters. Within minutes, Jean-Luc had showered and put on clean clothes. He had an overwhelming need to see Beverly and he intended to go to her there and then.
Beverley was in a deep sleep and it took several chimes to rouse her. She came sleepily to the door and opened it to reveal a very tense Jean-Luc.
"Jean-Luc, what time is it? Why aren't you asleep?"
"The time? I don't know, late. I had a dream and I had to come and see you."
Brushing her hair back, Beverly gestured him into her cabin.
"And it had to be now, right now."
"Yes."
Pulling her robe more securely around her, Beverly waved Jean-Luc to a seat.
"Ok, you're here, go ahead."
"I was dreaming of the dragon, of the terrible things it did to me and I was eventually woken when I hit the floor. My door chimes were activating and I didn't know initially where I was, then suddenly it came to me. My memory was complete! There were no more unexplained gaps. I remember the spider, the dragon....the people on the planet, I remember it all, but what was foremost in my mind was you. I know now. I know how hard it's been and how delighted I was when we took that final step together. I love you Beverley....with all my heart."
He rose from his chair and took her in his arms.
"I realise now why you waited. I'm sorry it took so long."
Wrapping her arms firmly around him, Beverly inhaled his uniquely male odour. She nestled her head onto his shoulder and sighed with contentment.
They stayed like that for some time, reacquainting themselves with each other. When she felt ready, Beverly reached down and took one of Jean-Luc's hands and led him into her bedroom.
They undressed each other, delighting in the sensuous slowness of their actions. When they were fully naked, they slipped between the sheets to continue the prolonged foreplay they were engaged in. They made love slowly, gently, reverently, until utterly sated, they slept.
The next morning, Beverly arose first and took a seat near the windows of her quarters. Over her lap was her grandmother's shawl and in her hands was a cup of chamomile tea. She sighed contentedly and sipped her tea. She didn't hear him get up. He stood in the doorway watching her as he felt his love for her well up in his chest. Rather than disturb her, he went back to bed and lay quietly thinking about the past and what the future would hold for them both. He was certain his destiny was to be at her side, he only hoped she would feel the same. He was wondering just how he could ask her when she came in with a tray in her hands.
"Hey you, I know you're awake. Sit up and we'll have breakfast."
Smiling, he opened his eyes and hitched himself up in the bed.
Beverley gently placed the tray beside him, then slowly took her place at his side.
The aroma of fresh croissants and coffee made his stomach rumble, causing Beverly to laugh. They ate their breakfast in companionable silence and when they finished, Beverly took the dishes back to the recycler. Entering her bedroom, she slid into bed alongside Jean-Luc and sighed happily.
"This was meant to be, you know."
Beverly looked up at her lover and smiled.
"How very philosophical."
Jean-Luc frowned slightly.
"Don't you feel it Beverly? Don't you think this is right, that we were destined to be together?"
"I feel it Jean-Luc, I'm just too damn happy to analyse it."
Smiling, he took her into his arms and nuzzled her neck.
"Hmm, that's nice. Tell me, when you were telling me about your dream, you said your door chimed. Who was it?"
Jean-Luc chuckled, now nuzzling under her chin, heading for the other side of her neck.
"Deanna. She sensed my dream and came to help. If she's still tuned in, we gave her a lot to think about last night."
It was Beverly's turn to laugh.
"We will have some explaining to do, that's for sure."
"Hmmm. Beverly.....I don't want to talk now."
Breathlessly, Beverly whispered,
"What do you want to do?"
"I'll show you."
As his hands caressed her body, Beverly gave in to her desire, gasping his name when his fingers made intimate contact. As she gave herself to this extraordinary man, she knew their happiness would stand the rigours of time it was, after all.....destined.