Two Is More Than Half.


It was early December, 2304 and Yvette Picard was enjoying the slatted sunlight that beamed in through the blinds of the kitchen windows, further warming the room, banishing the cold from outside. Her daily chores had been done, lunch was simmering on the stove and her husband would be coming in soon to join her for their midday meal.
Their first born, five year old son, Robert was at kindergarten and seeing as Yvette and her husband, Maurice had been trying to fall pregnant again, their nights had been a little...energetic over the past month or so. She smiled smugly. Her husband had a well-earned reputation for being taciturn and austere, but she knew he possessed a deeply passionate and gentle side to him that she alone ever saw. He loved her and she knew it.
Placing her hand over her lower belly, she looked down and sighed wistfully.
"I wonder?" She murmured.
If Maurice would only let her have a scanner. Shrugging, she shook her head. The plain fact was she went along with her husband only because she was at heart a peace maker. If she really wanted a scanner, he would of course make the necessary moves to obtain one, but he'd be disappointed. Not in her, but in the fact that they'd eschewed the 'traditional' way of doing things.
"Let nature take its course." Was his catchphrase. Yvette sighed and let her head fall gently back onto the padded backrest of her favourite chair. With the warmth of the room and the comforting aromas of the simmering food, Yvette's eyes began to droop. Moments later she was asleep. She was not aware of the being that coalesced out of the air before her. There was no sound, nothing to disturb her. Its gender wasn't immediately obvious, but it was humanoid. Raising a slender hand on a long clothed arm, it deployed a device of some kind which began to glow. A pale blue, opaque light appeared in front of her face that sent her into a much deeper sleep. Under the direction of the being, the light moved down her body and merged through her clothing until it rested on the skin just above and to the left of her mons. It glowed brighter and, had she not been so deeply asleep, would have felt a quick burst of heat. Within a few seconds the cloudy light dimmed, rose above the sleeping woman and retreated back into the device. The alien being tilted its head and smiled kindly, offering a reverent bow before fading silently away, leaving no trace of its visit.
Ten minutes later it took a few firm shakes of her shoulder for Maurice to wake his wife and she blinked owlishly, looking around in confusion. Frowning; the tall man asked gently, "Are you all right, my dear?"
Yvette smiled up at her husband, a little flustered. "Yes, I'm fine...I just dozed off."
He grunted softly. "You weren't dozing, Yvette, my dear, you were sound asleep."
Raising her eyebrows, Yvette got to her feet and began to bustle about the kitchen, serving their lunch, but inside her mind she thought, "How odd."
They found out two weeks later that she was pregnant and, true to form, they refused to know the gender. All they knew was that the single developing embryo was normal and healthy. Of course what they didn't know then and never would, was that originally there had been two embryos. Identical twin boys. Now there was only one.

 

Captain Jean-Luc Picard lay quietly in bed, spooned with his wife, her back pressed against him. He'd been awake since they'd made love in an effort to comfort each other, his arm over Beverly's body, his hand resting over her lower belly, though not intentionally, but telling in its own way. That very afternoon had brought yet another failure. He'd thought Beverly asleep, it had been some time since their lovemaking and she seemed totally relaxed, her breathing slow and rhythmic, but somehow he wasn't surprised when she said softly,
"I'm so sorry, Jean-Luc."
He tightened his arm and gently placed his forehead against the back of her head. "There's no need for you to apologise, Beverly, it's no one's fault."
She began to turn over making him lift his arm. Once she'd settled, Jean-Luc kissed her forehead, whispering. "We should both be sleeping. The preparations for the mission are taxing both of us...you more than me."
Sighing deeply, Jean-Luc could see Beverly's sadness even in the darkness of the bedroom. "It should've worked, Jean-Luc. I know we've had no success the natural way, but there should've been no problem doing it artificially." She sighed again and her voice began to tremble. "It's a known, proven technology; dammit it's used all the time, has been for over a century! Why won't it work for us? Why did it fail...again?!"
Gently rubbing his hand up and down Beverly's bare back, he closed his eyes against their shared pain and sighed, willing his voice to stay steady. "Perhaps it's just not meant to be."
Angry now, Beverly gripped his shoulder. "No! I will not, I cannot accept that! This is the 24th century, Jean-Luc, and humankind, in fact most humanoid species have been able to successfully assist in fertility and reproductive difficulties for nearly two hundred years. You and I are both fertile! There should be absolutely no reason why we can't conceive successfully, either naturally, or in vitro." She sat up then, drawing up her knees and wrapping her arms around her legs, her head resting on her knees. Jean-Luc sat up too, putting one arm around her trembling shoulders. He gently tilted his head until they met.
"How many times, Jean-Luc? How many babies have we lost? How many of my ovum have been taken and matured? Healthy, robust eggs and your sperm, motile, plentiful and strong! Why won't it work? Why does the cell division stop?! What's wrong with us?! Why can't they find out what's going wrong?"
The tears started then, tears of frustration and sorrow. Jean-Luc had no answers to his wife's anguished questions, God, he'd been silently asking the same things himself. He knew it had to stop, it was just causing too much pain. Every time they tried, their hopes went up and with each and every failure came the crushing disappointment, then the depression and despair and he knew he was mostly responsible for the entire situation. There was no doubt Beverly wanted to have children with him, but it was her knowledge of his underlying, although tacit yearning to perpetuate his lineage that was driving her well beyond the time when they should've given up.
At first, because of their respective ages, Beverly had been given hormone treatments to reverse menopause and it had been totally successful. She began to ovulate normally and established a regular menstrual cycle. Jean-Luc required little by way of augmenting his fertility. Because of his artificial heart he'd not used a contraceptive implant since his youth and apart from a few doses of testosterone, mainly to encourage more sperm production than normal, everything seemed fine. Indeed, the first conception occurred quite quickly. Beverly lost it within a day. Nine subsequent failures followed. The cells would not continue to divide past the sixth division.
They were disappointed not to be able to achieve a successful pregnancy naturally, but still wanting a child, they tried harvesting. As soon as conception occurred, the gamete was removed to gestate artificially, but the same thing happened. Within a few hours, cell division ceased and the gamete failed. That happened twelve times. As a last resort, having been given drugs to mature many ovum; they were harvested and Jean-Luc's sperm was introduced in vitro. Unfortunately doing it that way afforded both Beverly and Jean-Luc the opportunity of seeing the failures take place before their eyes. It was devastating. Soul destroying. And Jean-Luc had had enough. He just couldn't take it any more. Not just the inability to conceive successfully, but what the failures were doing to his beloved Beverly. Nothing was worth that.
Beverly's tears had slowed, allowing Jean-Luc to say very gently, "No more, my love, no more. Let it go, we have each other, that will always be enough for me."
Beverly began to quietly cry again and this time Jean-Luc couldn't hold back his own tears. It would take time, but eventually they would come to terms with their situation. He could only hope the scars that were left didn't torture them too long.

A little while later they were once again lying in each other's arms, gently caressing one another, using their love to console. Beverly had been happily surprised when they'd first become intimate to find that Jean-Luc was not only able to have sex two or three times in succession, but that if he so chose, he didn't even lose his erection. And then there was his size. Well above average. Not huge, but impressive.
She was gently stroking his thick length, his foreskin sliding effortlessly up and down, his soft moans and reciprocating caresses and skilful manipulation of her clit making her sigh often and deeply. What they were doing was deliberately slothful. They both knew it would end in sex, but each was so attuned to the other that they enjoyed the connection, both physical and emotional, especially now as they comforted each other. Lost in a haze of pleasure, Jean-Luc was quite surprised when Beverly whispered,
"Tell me about your first time."
"Hmm." He moaned softly and sensuously. "Why?" The word came out in a sigh. He closed his eyes as Beverly gently pulled his foreskin back and teased the frenulum. "Oh..." He groaned softly. He knew she was distracting herself intellectually, trying to put aside their incessant sorrow.
"Because..." It was Beverly's turn to gasp as Jean-Luc pushed two thick fingers inside her. Clenching her jaw and concentrating, she managed, "Because you've never told me."
"Hmm," He hummed again, then asked breathlessly, "Are you sure, Beverly?"
"Yes..." She sighed. "And Jean-Luc, I want you to talk rough; talk like Jack used to. I want to think of something else, something so far removed from..."
She sighed deeply. "Take me back, Jean-Luc, take me back in time."
He sighed, closing his eyes in pain. He wasn't sure it was a good idea, but as with most things, he could deny her nothing. If she needed this he would do it and do it as she wanted it done.
"Well," He said cautiously, then suddenly gasped. "You never asked." He said in a long breathy sigh of pleasure.
Opening her eyes, she smiled as their eyes met. Despite their slowly growing arousal, there was amusement.
"Okay, I'm asking now."
To accentuate her statement, Beverly slid her fingers over the head of his penis, spreading the precome and playing with the urethral opening. Again, Jean-Luc's eyes slitted and he hummed with sensual pleasure. Beverly smiled wickedly, that was until Jean-Luc curled his fingers inside her and gently swiped his thumb over her clit.
"Ah!" She exclaimed breathily. "Oh...so good..."
He nuzzled under her ear, murmuring, "I adore seeing you like this, Beverly. You're entire body is like an exquisite instrument, every part of you is erogenous and responds so beautifully to my touch."
"Hmm." She sighed, then opened her eyes. "Tell me. Please Jean-Luc...give me something else to think about...even for just a little while."
Maintaining his caresses, he sighed and Beverly saw something she had trouble identifying in his eyes. It was with some concern that she finally realised she was seeing regret. Immediately contrite, she said softly, "It's okay, Jean-Luc, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
He smiled tenderly, then gasped as Beverly ran her fingernail from the frenulum to the base of his penis then back up. "No, it's all right, I don't mind, but if I do, will you tell me about your first time?"
"Yes...Oh! Do that again!....yes..." Beverly's hips thrust forward involuntarily and Jean-Luc's gaze intensified. When he said nothing, Beverly refocused her attention. "Well?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc summoned a rueful smile. "You can be very single minded when you want to be, Beverly, my love."
"Mmm...but you know that, Jean-Luc...you've always known that...Oh...!"
"Very well. I was just short of my seventeenth birthday and I'd been studying non-stop for my Academy entrance exams, but in the back of my mind was the fact that I was still a virgin. That's not to say I hadn't had any sexual experiences, I had, but I'd not actually had penetrative sex."
He had to stop, what Beverly was doing to his penis was just too distracting. She realised what was happening and eased her caress. He opened his eyes and snorted softly, "You really are a tease, Beverly."
She was going to grin when he added another finger inside her and his thumb slid over her clit, making her breath hiss through her teeth. Somehow she managed, "You know that too."
"Hmm."
"Go on."
"What? Oh...um..."
"Why hadn't you had sex?"
"Oh...my size...oh, fuck that's good..."
His use of coarse language sent a spike of excitement through Beverly. He rarely used profanity, especially during lovemaking and it was the tantalising sound of the coarse language coming from such an urbane man that made it so erotic for Beverly. She eased off again, allowing Jean-Luc to get his mind back on track.
"The few times I'd got all hot and sweaty with a girl, once they saw my erect cock, they hesitated and it was bloody frustrating. I wasn't going to talk them into doing something they didn't want to do, but really, there was no need to be so...virginal. Jesus, I wasn't going to hurt them. A couple of girls jacked me off and one was willing to suck the head while she jacked me, but none of them would let me fuck them."
"You must have done a lot of masturbating."
"Hmm, yes, yes I did."
"So?"
"I really didn't want to enter the Academy a virgin. I mean it was bad enough I'd been brought up in a 'traditional' household in a rural part of France. I suppose I wanted to appear at least sexually sophisticated. Oh...Beverly...mmm..."
"So what did you do?"
Frowning at having to concentrate on something other than what Beverly was doing to him, he sighed.
"I lost patience with the local girls and went to Paris seeking a sex worker...an alien female who took a more liberal view of human male anatomy and had no preconceived ideas about what constituted a normal range of size. I'd got it into my head that I was too bloody good for the local girls. Talk about conceited! Beverly it makes me cringe to even think about it. "
"So what happened?"
"I was...oh, fuck....do that again, oh, please..."
Beverly did as he asked then sighed and gave in to her own pleasure. She closed her eyes and allowed Jean-Luc to bring her to orgasm, her long, softly drawn out sigh heightening his need.
"Jesus, Beverly, if only you could see yourself when you come." His voice held such reverence and need, Beverly slitted her eyes and smiled. "Your turn will come soon enough, Jean-Luc. You were saying?"
He took a deep breath and reached down to replace her hand on his penis, his eyes drifting closed as she resumed her caresses.
"You have to understand I'd had little contact with aliens. Of course I learned about the different worlds of the Federation in school, and on my visits into LaBarre I would see the occasional alien tourists but as to actually interacting with any..." He offered a one shoulder shrug. "I suppose I sound so provincial, perhaps even a tad prejudiced, but really it was just inexperience."
"So?"
"So, I found myself in the erotic quarter of Paris, surrounded by a multitude of species, male and female, most I'd never seen before and including plenty of humans as well and I was completely unprepared."
He lapsed into silence then as Beverly did something quite devious with her fingers which included his testicles, making him growl and mutter, "You realise my balls are aching."
"You can take it, Jean-Luc. Keep talking, you know how arousing I find your voice...and your language."
In retaliation, Jean-Luc lowered his head and gently bit Beverly's nipple, while pushing his fingers deep inside her.
"AH!" She cried, making Jean-Luc's eyes darken. "Shall I go on?" He rumbled. It was a challenge and Beverly was up to it. "Yes, tell me more." She gasped softly.
"I wandered around, lost in nervousness and uncertainty. I mean it was going to be, I hoped, my first time. My original plan, which had seemed so simple, was fast becoming so obviously stupid that I decided I was being an idiot and turned, intending to leave."
"What was your plan? Oh! Oh....yes...mmm..."
"I thought I would find someone and say something like...Look, I have a bit of a large cock and I'm having trouble finding a partner my age who is willing to have sex with me. How about helping me out?"
Beverly couldn't contain the snort that escaped, but it soon turned into a moan of intense pleasure. She struggled to regain her senses.
"So, you didn't say that?"
"No, I didn't, thank God."
"So what did happen?"
"I was leaving when I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. I turned and a really strange looking creature said in heavily accented Standard, "What are you looking for?"
"I panicked of course, thinking in my riotously libidinous mind that I was being asked what I was into. You know...BDSM? SM? Gay? So I mumbled something incoherent and tried to leave, but this being...and to this day I don't know its gender, although I do know now it was an Argellan, said very gently, "Tell me what it is you need."
"I don't know how I found the words, Beverly, I was so fucking embarrassed, but I stammered out that I wanted to have sex...with a female of a species other than human and to its credit, it didn't laugh or belittle me, it just took my hand and we strolled through the streets, obviously going somewhere, but of course I had no idea where. Oh...mmm...Beverly, please I want to be inside you."
"You will be, Jean-Luc, just wait a little longer. Keep talking. What happened next?"
"What? Oh...Ah!..." His breath hissed through his teeth. "It took me to a really lovely apartment building, old but wonderfully restored. Inside there was an old fashioned lift, my God, it must've been over two centuries old and we went in and rose to the third floor. There were four suites, quite large and I was taken to a door and the buzzer pressed. The being that answered...Fuck! Beverly, stop or I'll come in your hand!"
Easing her caresses, Beverly waited until he calmed down. Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc swallowed and continued. "She, and yes, she was definitely female, was stunning. Exotic and so oddly alien, but undeniably sensual. The two beings spoke together in a language I didn't understand and then I was ushered inside. The door whispered shut and I suddenly realised I was alone with her and my nervousness returned with a vengeance. I was going to fuck for the first time! While I'd been strolling with the Argellan it had put me at ease, pointing out significant buildings, telling me their history and of course in the meantime, taking my mind off my nervousness. By the time we entered the apartments, I was quite relaxed. Looking back, I now realise the female I was left with, and to this day I have no idea what species she was, was if not fully telepathic, then certainly empathic. She knew, Beverly. She knew exactly how I felt."
Humming softly as he drew the tips of three fingers across the sensitive spot inside her vagina, Beverly remarked gently,
"But surely as an experienced sex worker she'd know...Oh...Jean-Luc...keep doing that...don't stop...oh! I'm going to...I'm going to..."
"Do it, Beverly, let go...come for me."
This time she didn't release his penis from her grip and he gasped as she squeezed him through her orgasm. When she'd calmed she opened her eyes and they were glittering with hunger. Jean-Luc knew these orgasms she was experiencing were just to keep the edge off. She wouldn't be completely satisfied until he was deep inside her. But he also knew she was having success in diverting her mind from her sorrow. They both were.
"So?"
"Hmm, I...oh God..." She used her fingertips to draw his foreskin back and forward over the head of his penis, thoroughly distracting him, but instead of stopping, Beverly said quietly,
"Come on, talk to me."
"Evil, that's what you are, Beverly, fucking evil."
"Yes, we know that, but you were saying?"
"Oh, fuck...um...right. Um, she encouraged me to sit down on this really odd chair and she sat opposite with a low table between us. Then she reached up and pressed something under the skin of her neck, a subdermal interpreter. When she spoke I was annoyed at the vocal Standard interpretation, because her own voice was so beautiful...lyrical and almost tinkling. Anyway she asked me if I wanted anything to eat or drink and, fool that I was...so desperate to impress, I said the first thing that came into my stupid head."
Now amused and intrigued, despite what he was doing to her, Beverly asked,
"What did you say?"
"Aldebaran whiskey."
Gasping with disbelief, Beverly said incredulously, "You didn't?! But surely you must've known that humans can't metabolise Aldebaran whiskey until they're at least 25 years old?"
"Oh, I knew all right."
"Well what did she do? Did she give you any?"
"Yes...mmm, Beverly, so good, so good..."
"What happened?" She asked insistently.
Sighing, Jean-Luc managed to grin. "She knew of course and when she returned from the bar she had two glasses. One, a tumbler half-full with a dark blue liquid which sparkled and a thankfully small glass, called a 'shot' glass I believe, with a small amount of the green whiskey in it. She held up her glass, and I did the same, appalled that my hand was shaking. Luckily I only took a small sip, but my God, as soon as it was in my mouth it began to get hot and very quickly I had only two options. Spit it out and look a complete and utter fool, or swallow." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to overcome his reactions to Beverly's intensely intimate caresses.
"I swallowed."
"Ha! What happened?"
"About what you'd expect. My eyes bulged, I paled significantly and I began to sweat...profusely. My...companion downed her drink quickly and, as she rose so elegantly to her feet, she remarked that her drink would help her. I had no idea what she meant. Did she mean relax her? Prepare her? Arouse her? No idea. Anyway she picked up my glass and tossed back the whiskey with absolutely no reaction, then held out her hand, drawing me to my shaking legs. She then took me on a tour through the apartment and I had to admit, I was impressed. The decor seemed so eccentric, so alien, but everything was so clean and it smelled nice, like freshly cut lemons mixed with some kind of incense."
Beverly moved closer to him, until her hard nipples touched his hirsute chest. "More, Jean-Luc, keep going."
"She ended up showing me three bedrooms each decorated differently and asked me to choose. By that stage I was becoming aroused, but slowly, I wasn't getting hard, not then, but my body had begun to hum somehow. In retrospect, I believe she was emitting a very potent pheromone. I didn't care which bedroom we used, I just wanted to have sex. So we went into the closest one."
He shifted his head on the pillow and closed his eyes in remembrance. "I was so callow, Beverly. I'd expected mirrors on the ceiling, sex toys lying around, but it was nothing like that. Yes, there was a very large bed, but other than that it was just what you'd expect of any ordinary bedroom. She asked me if I wanted to undress myself, or if I wished her help. By now I was getting hard and I was in a daze. It took a couple of minutes to realise she was undressing me, so I tried to do the same for her, but not only was I completely unfamiliar with her clothing, my hands were trembling so badly they were all but useless. So she did it all and by the time we were both naked I was so hard I was actually dripping precome."
He sighed and groaned softly. "Oh Jesus, Beverly, I don't know how much longer I can wait."
"Keep going, Jean-Luc, this is so erotic..."
"All right...she looked down my body and I swallowed when she studied my cock and then she smiled and said, 'You are lovely, my young friend, but I have seen many much, much bigger human men. You are going to be just right and, as this will be your first time, I will teach you things, things you never dreamed of. In time you will bring immense pleasure to human women, just be patient.' I was so grateful to hear that, I nearly wept. She led me to the bed and Beverly, I wanted her so badly, I was mindless, I just wanted to come inside her, but when she eased me on top of her, I didn't know where to put my cock! There were anatomical differences and I almost panicked, but she said softly and gently,
"Lift your hips."So I did and she took me in her hand...she had seven fingers, long thin fingers with no nails...and guided me inside. And you know what? I came! As soon as I was fully inside her I came so hard I saw stars!
"She stroked my back, probably thinking it was over, but I lifted my head and looked into her remarkably coloured eyes and saw something that gratified me so deeply I almost shouted with joy. She was surprised, because I was still as hard as a rock."
Beverly changed her caresses, using both hands now, one to continue to stroke him the other to heft and gently squeeze his very full testicles. Not to be outdone, Jean-Luc pushed his leg between hers and altered his hand so that as well as fingering her and teasing her clit, his thumb now eased just inside her anus.
"Ah! Oh...Oh yes!...Jean-Luc...Oh!"
"Again, Beverly, once more for me."
The orgasm swept through her and she flexed this time, her need still not met, but growing. "More, tell me more!"
"I started to thrust like a jackhammer, my God, I was fucking her so hard, but she slowed me down, introducing me to the intense pleasure that control brings when orgasm is delayed. She also got me to drink some of that dark blue sparkling liquid.
"I ended up staying the rest of the day with her and into the early evening. I came so many times that I ran out of ejaculate. I also became very sore, but she had a regenerator. She taught me how to ejaculate without expelling any semen. I didn't know that was possible, but it is. The orgasm is very different and not nearly as intense, but still very pleasurable. Obviously the drink she gave me helped somehow. Anyway I got home very late and of course my father and brother berated me, but it was my mother who was the most surprising. She'd saved my dinner and kept looking at me as I ate. She never said anything, not then or ever, but I think somehow she knew."
"Wow, what a fantastic story. But why did I see regret in your eyes, Jean-Luc?"
He closed his eyes, momentarily giving himself to the sensations of her caresses.
"Jean-Luc?"
"Um...I suppose it will sound conceited, or maybe simply prejudiced, but I regret that my first time wasn't with a human female."
"So when did that happen?"
He had had enough. Rolling Beverly onto her back, he gripped her wrists tightly and held her hands next to her head, muttering darkly, "Enough talking!"
He knew he had to be gentle, at least at first, but he was desperate to be deep inside Beverly, so he entered her quicker than he should've. Beverly arched up from the bed, but the cry that was torn from her throat was one of intense pleasure. He was fully immersed, buried to the hilt, but he immediately stopped, knowing she liked to feel him filling her.
Panting softly, Beverly slid her hands down to grip his buttocks. "Okay, just give me a minute, I want to savour it."
It was excruciating for Jean-Luc to be so deeply inside the only woman he'd ever truly loved and not move. After a moment or two, Beverly gently bit his earlobe and undulated her hips, whispering huskily, "Now. Now, Jean-Luc, but gently....gently, my love. I want it slow and deep. Baise moi."
Hearing such crude words in his own language had a profound effect on Jean-Luc. Although he rarely used coarse language of any sort as a matter of course, given the circumstances and Beverly's request he didn't have a problem with it, but her use of such a crudity in French struck on two levels. One: the shock of hearing his wife say something so crude in his native tongue but deeper, a base, sexual thrill at the raw intimacy it implied.
Barely able to restrain himself, he did as she requested. Long, slow, gentle thrusts, sliding his length in and out of her. Beverly's cheeks puffed as she breathed steadily, feeling him not only stretch her, but reach so very deeply inside her. She'd never had a lover like Jean-Luc and had never experienced the depth of pleasure he could bring her, sometimes he went a little too deeply inside her, but it never hurt and she accepted it gladly.
She felt the first rush of what she knew would be a multi-orgasm approaching and knew that Jean-Luc was going to have to thrust harder to reach his release. Long used to each other's needs, she called out urgently,
"Oh God! Now! Do it now!"
Because he'd waited so long it didn't take much, just a few short, hard jabs and he was there, but as he ejaculated, he didn't stop his thrusts, knowing that as long as he moved inside her, Beverly would keep coming again and again.
It was Beverly who finally gripped his arms, saying raggedly, "Stop! No more...enough!"
Stilling, Jean-Luc rolled to his side, bringing Beverly with him. Employing a mental technique he'd taught himself, he willed his erection to subside, knowing in its flaccid state, Beverly would find it comfortable inside her, in fact she'd told him she liked it that way afterwards. He smiled to himself as he considered bringing her to orgasm again with his fingers while she was still filled. He wished to keep her distracted. Idly sliding his fingers over her hyper-sensitive clit, Beverly's eyes slitted open and she hissed.
His voice rumbled through his chest, one eyebrow raised in intense scrutiny. "More?"
Still panting, Beverly's eyes were clouded with a residue of desire. "I...I..."
"I'll be very gentle mon coeur, just my fingers, not my cock, but it'll be inside you."
Her reply came out as a long, drawn-out sigh. "Yes..."
He growled his appreciation and, as promised, brought her to three more gentle orgasms. Finally sated, Beverly's body was utterly limp, but her mind was still active. They lay quietly for some time before she said softly,
"You haven't finished your story."
"You haven't told me yours."
"Uh uh. You first. I want to know about your first human female sexual experience."
He eased himself out of Beverly and rolled onto his back, lifting his arm and inviting her to snuggle into his side, their legs entwined, her head on his chest. They both knew he might become erect again as he recounted his story, but Beverly was utterly sated. Jean-Luc would masturbate if he wanted to and Beverly would help him.
Nevertheless, there was a hint of exasperation in his voice when he said,
"You're insatiable, Beverly. Not only sexually, but with curiosity. Why is it so important for you to know?"
Beverly was reluctant to tell him as she worried he might be offended, but they had always been scrupulously honest with each other, so she had to tell him.
"Obviously I'd seen you naked before...many times, although not erect...before we became lovers and I knew you were well endowed, but there is an enormous variance in human males between their flaccid state and their erect state. Some men don't grow much, they just get hard, and some increase by the average amount, but it wasn't until I saw you fully erect for the first time that I realised you were well above average. But although I knew I'd be okay with it, I couldn't help but be intensely curious as to how you...coped. How other women...felt about you being a bit bigger than usual, especially when you were younger. Jack had told me about your reputation and I just wondered."
He was quiet for a while, but Beverly felt he wasn't unduly upset. He too was curious and was looking forward to hearing about her first time.
"Well...it was some years later. As you know, once I got into the Academy, I became quite a cocksman, a ladies' man...a rake, I believe men like me were once called. If it was female, alive and willing, I'd fuck her. But not a human. I tried a few times but the same thing always happened. They'd take one look at my stiff cock and shake their heads as if they were so fucking precious they wouldn't like a decent cock to play with! Of course eventually word got around, the actual truth becoming distorted with each telling, like Chinese whispers, and human females actively avoided me. God that pissed me off. It wasn't as if I'd done something wrong. Jesus, it was nothing but a damned rumour, spread by scared, ignorant, sexually naive little princesses whose twats were too good for the likes of a French farm boy!" The vehemence of his outburst surprised Beverly, but she wisely held her tongue. He huffed out a calming breath. "Anyway, half way through my final year a woman in my year struck up a friendship with me, one I really appreciated. I did have a few human women friends, but even Marta Batanides kept her distance and I considered her my closest human female friend.
"Anyway this woman, her name was Susan, was kind of bookish, shy, sort of plain looking, but nice, you know, not one of the usual crowd and I found her company very soothing. She was highly intelligent, so she was intellectually stimulating and I think I might have been growing tired of my libertine ways, although as you well know, it took a Naussican blade through my chest and the loss of my heart to make me finally see that I had to change my ways, but that came later.
"So Susan and I sort of became an unofficial couple. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't make it obvious we were a couple, I thought, in my arrogance, it would be bad for my image." He shook his head and closed his eyes. "What a self-centred prick I was!" He sighed again. "A few months went by and one evening we were studying in her room and she quite suddenly kissed me. I was somewhat taken aback, it had never even crossed my mind she might want to...you know, I mean she'd never given me any signals, any signs, no hints..."
He grimaced and rubbed his eyes. "But she soon made it very clear she wanted to have sex with me. I wasn't sure what to do, believe it or not, so instead of letting things go too far, I told her about my...you know, my," He made a quotation mark with his free fingers. "Scary cock and I was happily surprised to find that not only did she know about it, she wanted it! She actually laughed with anticipation! My God, talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing. So we got naked very quickly, I was so very keen you understand, and I was highly bemused when she picked up a vidcorder and filmed me in all my naked, erect glory. I had to make her give her word she would never distribute the footage or any stills. I found out years later that she had quite a collection of her conquests. It seems she made a point of having sex with well endowed men and kept the vids as a memento. So anyway, she readily agreed, I mean, Beverly, this woman, this seemingly meek and mild woman was actually salivating! So we got on the bed and things got very heated very quickly and then she really amused me by making a big show of producing a tube of lubricant, slathering it all over my cock, then put an attachment on the end on the tube and got me to insert it inside her to make sure there was enough lube in there. Jesus, what did she think I was going to do? She could see my cock! It was blatantly obvious I wasn't some kind of fucking horse! Then, tossing the tube onto the floor, she lay back, spread her legs and said as bold as brass, "Fuck me, Johnny! Fuck my brains out!"
Beverly lifted her head and could plainly see the wonder in his eyes.
"So what did you do?"
He chuckled and shook his head.
"Exactly what she asked me to do! I started out gentle of course, but she really did have a taste for it. Certainly I went harder than I thought I could and in the end we did fuck our brains out!" He laughed softly and sighed deeply. "It was wonderful, Beverly. For the first time in my life I felt truly liberated. It felt...I don't know...right." Tucking in his chin, he looked down at his wife.
"Of course at that time in my life I was not aware of the yawning difference between having sex, fucking, and making love, like the changes I made in my life; that was to come much later."
"So what happened to her? Did you stay a couple?"
"Uh huh, but sort of sporadically and after we graduated, we got different postings and lost contact. I didn't have sex with another human female again until long after I'd lost my heart."
"Why? Didn't you say you felt liberated by the experience?"
He sighed and slowly blinked. "I did, but I'd become so accustomed to having some really good sex with aliens that I sort of stuck with what I knew."
Shrewdly, Beverly asked, "Was that why you were so pissed off with the women at the Academy?"
He shrugged diffidently and Beverly looked up to see him frowning. "I suppose it was a combination of things. Yes, I was angry with them, but I have to admit, they may have thought I was of the opinion they weren't good enough for me." He sighed. "After all I was known for my penchant for alien females. That might have provoked ill feeling and they just used my size as a convenient excuse."
"Yes," Beverly was careful to sound non judgemental. "But you also mentioned, 'French farm boy.' Surely by your final year any feelings of naiveté or lack of sophistication would've been gone?"
Jean-Luc was silent for a few moments before he sighed and closed his eyes.
"Even though I knew from a very early age what is was I wanted to do, I had a lifetime of mental abuse to contend with. Ingrained feelings of inadequacy take a very long time to disappear, Beverly. I had been well conditioned by my father and brother, too entrenched in believing their assessment of me as worthless and inadequate to shrug it off all that easily. In fact, it was most likely behind my less than exemplary behaviour at the Academy." He snorted, his expression showing his remembered pain. "What a fucking irony. I entered the Academy carrying the burden of guilt and the knowledge that my actions in pursuit of my dreams had estranged my father, yet even though I excelled scholastically and athletically, I was still rebelling. Only instead of defiance against authority, I chose to take my angst out with sex. Not angry sex, I never deliberately hurt anyone, just a hell of a lot of sex. I went from meek to wild." He huffed out a breath. "And it damned near cost my life."
They were both quiet for some time before Beverly said softly, but slightly cheekily,
"So who was it? The next human female? Anyone I know?"
"God, you're nosey." He said with exasperation. Then he grinned. "As a matter of fact you do."
"Really? Who?"
His grin was wolfish. "Phillipa Louvois."
Happy that he seemed to have left his moroseness and anger behind, Beverly grinned.
"Holy shit, Jean-Luc! Didn't she act as prosecution in your court martial over the loss of the Stargazer?"
"Uh huh."
Unsuccessfully stifling a chortle, Beverly's eyes gleamed. "Talk about not shitting where you eat!"
His large hand had drifted down the plain of his stomach and had taken his penis to slowly stroke it. Beverly covered his hand with hers and sighed, both of them enjoying the post coital harmony. His chest vibrated when he rumbled, "Your turn."
Taking her hand off his she gripped him below his hand and matched his rhythm.
"Well, my story isn't as salacious as yours, but I think you might find it...interesting."
His eyebrow rose and his cock grew harder. "Indeed? Tell me."
"I lost my cherry in a threesome."
Jean-Luc's hand stilled, making Beverly's hand collide with his. "You're joking. Really?"
"Yep. I was like you, just around seventeen and I was going nuts at how my nanna was confining me." Before Jean-Luc could ask for clarification, she shook her head. "No, she didn't actually confine me, not physically, but she was always watching, nagging ever so gently about boys and how I should be 'careful'. I think it was the whole Arveda thing, she was just so protective." She sighed. "Jesus, Jean-Luc, I'd already found my clit, I discovered those particular delights when I was thirteen and I knew I had a high libido..." She grinned. "Just like you." Their hands were moving in synch again and Jean-Luc sighed with pleasure.
"So?"
"So, I had three secret boyfriends and I couldn't decide which one I liked best. I had decided to lose my virginity, but I couldn't make up my mind which one was to have the honour, so I waited until nanna had to go to a conference over night and, being old enough to be left alone, I invited all of them over for a little party, one I hoped would be very pleasurable."
She giggled with remembered wickedness. "I think the guys got the idea as soon as they arrived, 'cause I answered the door dressed in nothing but a bright red thong and a flimsy see through robe and to help things along, I had some cosmic dust."
Scandalised, Jean-Luc gasped. "You're kidding? Where the hell did you get that from?"
"It wasn't easy, let me tell you! Caldos is an out-of-the-way planet now, back then it was almost unknown. Anyway I knew the eldest son of one of nanna's patients and he worked on a freighter. He brought some pretty exotic things to Caldos, including a quantity of cosmic dust."
Rising up, Beverly bent low and spent a few moments tonguing the head of Jean-Luc's penis as he stroked with his hand. "Oh..." He sighed. "So good, Beverly, so fucking good..."
She lifted her head and grinned. "God, I love it when you talk like that!"
His eyes drifted closed and he sighed deeply. She grinned saucily. "Hey, stay with me now, things are only getting interesting about now."
"Hmm."
He sighed deeply again and opened his eyes, letting Beverly know he was paying attention once again.
"Have you ever used CD?"
He grinned, his eyes dancing. "Yes, once or twice."
"So you know how it enhances sex."
"Oh yes, indeed I do."
"Well, once we were all as randy as voles, we got to it. As to who popped my cherry, I don't actually know, in fact, I don't even know if it was a cock or a finger. All I remember is a sharp pain, a little blood, and a lot of fucking. My God, Jean-Luc, we just couldn't stop! The guys fucked me, they fucked each other, there were times I had no idea who was fucking who! Later, near dawn, we realised nanna was due back and we had this frantic hour restoring the cottage, putting linens, blankets, covers, Jesus, even the floor mats all had to go through the recycler. There was semen, bodily fluids of all kinds all over the place! And the entire cottage reeked of sex! We opened all the windows and crossed our fingers."
"Did your Grandmother ever find out?"
"Hmm, don't know. I think she had her suspicions, but without any proof..." Beverly shrugged. "In any event she never said anything."
"And your three boyfriends?"
"Oh we did it a few more times, but eventually it was typical male ego that ruined everything. Each one wanted me to himself and I didn't want to choose. So eventually we sort of drifted apart. Then I left Caldos for Earth, entered the Academy and began my medical degree. I had a few partners, but the plain truth was I was too bloody busy studying to take the time for decent sex. Until..."
"Jack."
"Yeah." Beverly said wistfully. "Jack. He had a nice cock too, not as nice as yours and he wasn't quite as good with his as you are with yours, but boy we had some fun!" She sighed deeply. "Dear, sweet Jack. Oh God, how he used to stir me up with his use of foul language when we had sex!"
They were quiet for a time, Jean-Luc still slowly stroking his cock. "Beverly..." He said quietly, a note of caution in his voice. "What did you make of our first time?"
Bending to again tease him with her tongue, Beverly gave the question some thought. She lifted her head only high enough to separate her from the head of his penis.
"I still don't understand what happened, Jean-Luc, what dynamics were involved, but I can tell you I'm very glad we did it." She turned her head, making her long hair trail over his knob and Jean-Luc moaned sensuously. "What about you? What did you make of it?"
Despite his sexual tension he snorted. "Well, it certainly wasn't like any of my many and varied fantasies, that's for certain."
Chuckling, Beverly turned and again utilised her tongue. His free hand settled on the back of her head and he sighed deeply. "I had always thought...hoped...it would be...romantic. You know, wine, candles...I never, not once ever thought it would be in a runabout parked in the shuttle bay of my own ship. But I knew; when I stepped into the cockpit area to see you bent over that seat, your delectable arse there for me to ogle, I was going to have trouble controlling my physical reaction to you. Was it that, Beverly? Was it the sight of the straining material of my uniform trousers?"
Leaving his cock again, Beverly smiled at him. "Partly, in fact I think I gaped, but Jean-Luc, it was what I saw in your eyes. You did what you always did at times when you let your feelings for me surface, you tried to hide it. You dropped your gaze, but not quickly enough that time and I saw."
Huskily he asked, "What did you see, Beverly?"
"Love, that was always there, Jean-Luc, but there was hunger, so raw, and primal, it took my breath away and I knew instantly I had to know, I had to find out what that base part of you was like, because my love, I had no idea you were capable of it. You are so urbane, so sophisticated, so controlled, I wanted...no...I needed to know if you could...or would...let me experience that part of you you'd kept hidden from me for so long."
He sighed and closed his eyes. When he spoke his voice was very deep and rough with desire. "Then it might surprise you to know, Beverly, that I saw the same things in your eyes and it was then that I knew we were going to consummate almost thirty years of mind fuck."
"Up against the wall." She snorted. "Three times. My God, I was sore later. It had been a very long time for me, Jean-Luc. But I was absolutely delighted! I wanted to go to you the next day, but I chickened out. I thought you might regret it; that we'd made some kind of monumental mistake."
Jean-Luc closed his eyes and grimaced.
"I thought that was the case and I was so appalled. I kept thinking that I'd ruined everything, that you'd never accept me as a lover. God, I acted like a fucking teenager, going at you as if I'd never had my cock inside a woman before. I mean Jesus! We didn't even indulge in any foreplay!"
"I know." Chuckled Beverly. "As I recall, we had only enough time to remove the clothing that was in the way. That was when I first saw your magnificent cock for the first time, hard and hot and all for me."
"And you were...unsure?" He asked tentatively.
She frowned. "No, not unsure exactly, curious, yes, a tiny little bit intimidated, I mean it wasn't just your cock, you were so intense, so focused, so fucking aroused, but Jean-Luc, I wanted you so badly, you could've been three times your size and I would've done my best to accommodate you. I loved you, I don't know why I never actually said the words, we both knew." She sighed. "We both had reasons to be afraid, Jean-Luc. I'm just glad that moment in time occurred."
"Me too. I love you, Beverly. And I'm so proud and happy you agreed to marry me."
Beverly felt a momentary flash of disquiet, but pushed it aside.
"Well, someone had to take you off the market, Jean-Luc. You'd been the Fleet's most eligible bachelor for far too long. Besides, I wanted your cock all to myself."
Bending again, just before her mouth closed over the head of his now throbbing cock, she murmured, "Now, let's see how far up your chest you can come."
Later they were drifting to sleep, Jean-Luc wondering if they'd done enough to ease their pain, at least to stay asleep for the rest of the long night, hanging on to their languor and both wishing the next day would not happen, because with it would come the inevitable trip to sick bay to inform their fertility team of their decision to finally give up.

 

Although neither Jean-Luc nor Beverly had ever said anything of their difficulties in trying to conceive, their friends knew the almost completely concealed sorrow hid much more than they were willing to show. Scuttlebutt had provided the news of each and every failure, so when the couple took their seats in the aft lounge for the mission briefing, the sombre, tired aura surrounding them made the assembled officers sad. Obviously they had suffered yet another failure.
Will Riker, sitting in his customary place at his Captain's left, felt a familiar pang of deep grief as he wished yet again that his beloved Imzadi, Counsellor Deanna Troi, hadn't died so tragically and so recently. Not only because her death had wounded him so deeply, but he knew his dear friends needed her so badly now. His thoughts went automatically to his three month old daughter, and said silently to himself, "She's so beautiful, Deanna, you'd be so proud. I'm so sorry you never got to see her."
His gaze flicked to the ship's new Counsellor, a human male, middle aged and quite unremarkable in appearance, but dedicated and highly trained and experienced. But no amount of training or experience could help the Captain and his wife. Only Deanna would've been able to do that. Squeezing his eyes shut and forcing his tears away, Will took a deep breath and banished all thoughts other than those directly involved with the current mission. Given his friends' terrible and sad failures he didn't want to remind them of his own status as a parent, albeit a single one. The circumstances of his daughter's birth which had ultimately cost Deanna her life were well known and served no purpose if it further distressed his friends.
A haunted Captain summoned a wan smile that didn't reach his eyes and brought the meeting to order. The others at the table heard the uncharacteristic roughness of his usually mellifluous voice. Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge, Chief of Security, M'Rak, Counsellor Patrick Adams, Will, Beverly and Jean-Luc had read the intel package and Jean-Luc had sat through a lengthy briefing with an Admiral at Command via subspace.
"All right, what we have here is a mystery, one which I hope we can solve peacefully, and arrive at the end result with, if not a new Federation member, then certainly a new friend. As you know, during the Dominion war, two Starfleet vessels, having been very badly damaged in a vicious and sustained fight with some Jem'Hadar, were being pursued, hunted...the Jem'Hadar wanting to make the kill, but both 'fleet ships managed to give them the slip. They hid in a gaseous cloud, but it was probably more likely that the hunters were recalled to battle elsewhere than the damaged ships actually shaking the Jem'Hadar off. It matters not. The ships, barely functioning, drifted helplessly in space for some weeks, eventually leaving Federation space and out into uncharted waters.
"Of the two ships, only one had a barely functioning scanner, but neither had sensors or any means to communicate either with each other or to send a distress call. So when they drifted into an unknown star system, they didn't know they'd picked up three 'escorts' until they were almost alongside. With communications down, the alien ships simply locked on tractor beams and proceeded to tow them, to where, they had no idea.
"It was with some shock and a huge amount of relief that the ships were taken to an orbiting space dock and, over a period of a month and a half, were completely repaired. Every bit of damage, every system. Not only that, but a message, text only and in Standard was delivered informing the surviving senior officer of each ship to place the injured crewmembers in a specific place on each ship and as soon as that had been achieved the injured were transported away.
"Later interviews with these crewmembers doesn't shed much light on our mystery. The benefactors never showed themselves, always appearing completely covered in a form-fitting suit of some description, even the face was obscured. All we know is that they're humanoid and slightly taller than an average human male. They did not communicate in any way." Jean-Luc looked down and frowned as if he was trying to remember something. Beverly gently touched his hand and said softly, "Hands."
His eyebrows rose and he smiled. "Ah! Yes, their hands. Large and seven fingers. But always gloved."
Will sat back dragging his fingers through the beard he'd recently regrown. "So, were they showing their hand? Taking sides in the war?"
Jean-Luc also sat back and shrugged.
"Unknown, number one. They're too many possibilities. It may be they were simply altruistic, or perhaps they'd heard of the conflict and decided to assist any ship in need or perhaps they had some other reason. The thing is they are obviously technologically advanced and warp-capable."
Beverly sat forward and laced her fingers together. "From what we learned from those crew given medical treatment, it's not only obvious that the aliens are medically more advanced than us, but they were well aware of human and other species' physiology. They knew exactly what they were doing. The crewmembers didn't even see any medical equipment or devices, yet some very badly injured people were healed with remarkable ease."
Jean-Luc nodded. "Indeed, it certainly wasn't the injured crew who took the time needed during the ships' stay; it was simply the amount of damage that each ship needed to have repaired."
M'Rak frowned, her Vulcan mind seeking the most logical solution. "They must have accessed the computer cores on the Starfleet vessels, Captain. Thus armed, they were well informed with all they needed to know."
Offering a rueful smile, Jean-Luc shook his head. "A sound bit of reasoning, Commander, but I'm afraid that's not the case. The computer cores on each ship were not functioning. They'd been too badly damaged. In fact the only thing that was functioning with any dependability on either ship was life support and, as you know, that has an independent fail-safe as back up. Luckily for the survivors. The computers were one of the things the aliens repaired and they did it so well, our scientist are still trying to figure out not only how they did it, but with what? Those ships' computers are now far and above anything we have at present and without the new technology, the ships wouldn't have made it back to Earth because inputted as a silent subroutine was the way to successfully avoid detection from patrolling Jem'Hadar ships. Something we'd been working on for years, unsuccessfully, I might add."
Long looks were exchanged before Jean-Luc continued. "So, the Dominion war ends and the Federation prevailed. Then came the Borg. We all know the carnage that followed; the sheer number of devastated worlds, the billions of dead. But in the aftermath, surfacing almost two years afterwards was a very interesting ship's log, salvaged from the remains of a Federation ship, oddly not too far from the area of space our previous ships' commanders had estimated our mystery star system is. Now this log is very interesting as it clearly states that three Federation ships had engaged two Borg cubes, with the inevitable result. However, although all three 'fleet ships were destroyed, the captain of one of those ships made a last ditch final log entry and in that entry she reports the arrival on the scene of one alien vessel. Before our ships were destroyed, the captain witnessed one of the Borg cubes annihilated with one shot from the alien ship. The group of ships involved in the salvage operation report the evidence of both Borg ships utterly and completely destroyed. The inference is that the alien ship arrived too late to save our ships but destroyed the Borg anyway. Now you can draw from that what you will, but I can only hope they did so either as a gesture of good will, or for self preservation, either would suffice. The fact is any species that considers the Borg an enemy and boasts that kind of weaponry is worth getting to know."
There was a moment or two of silence as the ramifications of Jean-Luc's words were considered. The Captain took a deep breath and continued.
"Three weeks ago, Command received a very intriguing invitation, in Standard, text only, from a hitherto unknown species. They didn't identify themselves by name, nor did they offer a name for their home world, just a set of coordinates. It wasn't until some investigation took place that it was realised the coordinates compare roughly with the estimated location of the mystery alien benefactors' system."
Will sat up, his blue eyes, which had for so long been perpetually bright and happy, but now almost always tinged with sadness, narrowed and his voice showed both suspicion and tension.
"So just what was the invitation for, Captain?"
"Well," Sighed Jean-Luc. "This is where it gets a little odd. Now if it's the same beings, then we already know they're more technologically advanced than us, but...the invitation is for a Federation ship be sent to visit, however, a request within the invitation, asks that the 'most prominent healer' (their exact words) on the ship be the one to interact with the welcoming party."
Will scowled. "Then it can't be the same people. I mean if they're so far ahead of us, why would they want to see one of our doctors?"
Jean-Luc's smile was tired. "Unknown. But the coordinates are simply too close! It has to be the same beings. And, given that if it is indeed the same species, then we own them a rather large debt of gratitude. Command thinks we have no option but to accept and I for one agree."
Counsellor Adams tilted his head, his hands laced over his slightly protuberant stomach.
"Captain, did they ask for the Enterprise by name?"
Smiling again, Jean-Luc shook his head. "No, but..." He turned to Beverly and his smile widened. "Command is well aware that we have the best CMO in the fleet. And to that end, Doctor Crusher has been studying every scrap of information about our mystery aliens, which admittedly is not much."
M'Rak sat forward, her mind already seeing the difficulties of the mission.
"Sir, in this invitation and request, are there any details on how Doctor Crusher is to present herself? Will she be able to be accompanied by a security detail? Will she be permitted to be armed?"
Shrugging, Jean-Luc sighed. "I can't tell you anything more, lieutenant, you know as much as I do. I can only hope that once we reach the coordinates, we will be given the opportunity to make what will be to all intents and purposes, a first contact. If it means that Doctor Crusher is the chosen individual, than sobeit. My hands are tied. Command is very keen to develop some kind of relationship with these people and it's our job..." He bowed his head towards Beverly, "Or Doctor Crusher's job, to see that it happens."
The collected officers all cast Beverly a speculative look. She summoned a smile and gave a soft snort.
"It's okay," She said mildly. "I've learned from the best." Her gaze flicked to her husband and he smiled. Looking back at the assemblage, he drew a deep breath.
"At our present warp five, we'll arrive at the coordinates in four weeks. In the meantime, command has assured me they're going to persist in opening some kind of dialogue with these people before we get there. If they're successful, we'll be given any information command can glean. Otherwise we go in cold." He took a deep breath and tried to make his smile reach his eyes. "If you have no more questions?"
Receiving a negative response, he said quietly, "Dismissed."
Beverly stayed behind, rising slowly from her seat to stand at the viewport to stare out at the passing stars. She knew Jean-Luc would join her. Once his warm hands rested on her hips, she focused on his reflection in the clear aluminium.
"I didn't want to leave our quarters this morning." She said quietly. Jean-Luc sighed and very gently placed his chin on her shoulder.
"Me either."
"It was as if as long as we stayed there, we could hang on to last night."
"I know."
Her gaze shifted to the stars. "I wish Deanna was here." So forlorn. So utterly sad.
There was little Jean-Luc could say to that. Not only did they miss their dear friend achingly, Beverly's best female friend, but they so sorely missed her ability as a counsellor. It wasn't that they lacked confidence in Counsellor Adams, but as they were both naturally very private people and their difficulties were so deep, they knew it would only be with Deanna that they could seek help. And of course, added to the shared tragedy was the manner of Deanna's death.
It had been Beverly who had given Will and Deanna the happy news of her pregnancy, but even in the early stages there had been problems. The baby's hybridism had been complicated by the fact that Deanna herself was a hybrid and for some reason it caused trouble, even though there were only two seemingly compatible species involved. However it wasn't anything Beverly couldn't treat and so the pregnancy progressed more or less normally. The one thing that proved elusive was the gestational rate as Betazoids gestated longer than humans and the growing baby gave confusing readings as to the development. It was normal in that there were no abnormalities in the baby itself, but the growth rate was unusually sporadic.
Deanna had decided to have the baby on Betazed, which Will wasn't all that happy about for two reasons. One, the planet had suffered greatly during the Borg incursion and had not yet rebuilt all the necessary infrastructure, including hospitals and two, he couldn't get away to travel with her at the time she wished to go. Although he was to join her only a week after she'd reached her home planet. So she, being stubborn, went on her own. Her shuttle encountered an ion storm. Nothing unusual in that, it wasn't even a big one, but as was usual, it cut communications and interfered with the craft's propulsion system for its duration and the shuttle was effectively stranded until it dissipated.
Unfortunately for Deanna, that was the time her baby decided to be born. Having only enough time to eject a distress buoy, Deanna sunk to the deck in agony. The baby was premature. Two months by human standards, three by Betazoid. Deanna's labour was relatively quick and she did her best to record a log, but as the baby began to crown the placenta tore badly resulting in a catastrophic haemorrhage. Deanna lost so much blood so quickly she died just as her daughter left her body. The buoy was self-propelled and the Enterprise picked up its signal the instant it cleared the ion storm.
By the time the ship found the shuttle the little baby was alive but suffering from hypothermia. She was saved but nothing could be done for Deanna. Will was inconsolable and was relieved of duty for several weeks, while the baby girl was cared for by medical staff. He named his daughter Charlotte and had only started to become her father full time recently.
At the time of the briefing he'd only been back on duty three weeks. The continuing failures of his friends to successfully conceive only served to increase his grief. Even being in the same room as them made him want to cry, something he'd been doing a lot.
Somehow he had to find a way to be a parent without his Imzadi by his side while at the same time not cause his friends any added sorrow. He found out the next day that they had finally given up. Deep inside him, in a place he would never admit to existing he cheered. Not because he thought it would ease his own pain, but that it might help his dear friends. The fact that it meant they would be forever childless was so ironic it wrenched his gut.

 

Dinner that evening in the Picard quarters was understandably subdued. Jean-Luc and Beverly had discussed First Contact protocols, then spent some time speculating the reasons behind the aliens' contact. But with so much unknown, eventually they began to talk in circles, only serving to frustrate them both. Of course the underlying sorrow and feelings of defeat and frustration coloured their moods and Beverly became slightly irritated when her husband persisted in trying to not cheer her up, exactly, but certainly to attempt to lighten her mood. Eventually she snapped,
"For God's sake, Jean-Luc! I don't need your continued solicitousness. We're both hurting! This is grief we're experiencing, it's not going to go away any time soon and trying to jolly me along is not helping."
He closed his eyes and bowed his head, his shoulders lifting in a deep sigh. "I know, Beverly, I'm sorry...I just feel so helpless. I want to help, I want to do something! Anything to ease your pain."
Squeezing her eyes shut, Beverly said quietly, "But it's not just my pain, Jean-Luc. It's our pain. I feel just as helpless as you. I feel just like you, I want to help you! Why do you think it's any harder for me? I know you're hurting. I know you're grieving, just as much as I am."
He sighed and turned to gaze out at the passing stars. "I don't know really. I suppose it's my default position. Revert to what I know best. Being the Captain."
"So you deny your feelings? Even with me?"
He turned back and offered a small smile. "No, Beverly, never with you. I think perhaps I was just trying to ease your pain by making you think you didn't have to worry so much about me too. You...sorry, we have enough on our plates."
Beverly smiled for the first time in hours. "Well," she said ruefully. "That's true."
After another lengthy silence, Beverly lifted her hands to rub her face, sighing deeply. In the subdued lighting of their quarters, Jean-Luc could see the lines of tiredness on her face and the dullness of her usually lustrous hair. As their unsuccessful quest to conceive worn on, with each failure, Beverly seemed to age just a little. Now, although still remarkably beautiful, Jean-Luc couldn't help but see what the ravages of failure after failure had wrought. When she spoke it was barely audible.
"I so dearly wish Deanna was here."
Needing to be with her, but not wishing to crowd her, Jean-Luc left his chair to join her on the sofa. He sat close, but not touching, but when he offered his hand, Beverly took it gratefully.
"We used to talk, Jean-Luc," She sighed. "Just about everything. I've known some good people in my time, dedicated, compassionate and caring people, but Deanna was that and so much more."
A single tear slipped free and slid down Beverly's cheek, but her voice stayed soft and unaffected. "Did you know that she and Will had decided to marry?"
Sadly shaking his head, Jean-Luc said softly, "No."
"Well they had." She snorted gently. "One of the last conversations I had with Dee was about how disgruntled Will was at the thought of having Lwaxana as his mother-in-law."
Expelling a soft breath through his nose, Jean-Luc shook his head. "I can only assume it was the pregnancy that brought Lwaxana into the fold."
"Yeah. She'd always liked Will you know, but Dee had often told me how her mother constantly reminded her of her obligation to marry someone fitting to her station. You know, the 'Heir to the Holy Rings' etc?"
"Poor Will," Grumbled Jean-Luc. "Not only did he have to contend with Lwaxana, he had to take his place as Deanna's consort. William T Troi. Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?"
Beverly looked into her husband's eyes and smiled, but there was so much sadness in her expression. "She really wanted you, you know."
At first confused, Jean-Luc frowned before his face suddenly cleared and he snorted. "Oh God yes, I knew. That woman was at times ferocious in her pursuit of me. There were times when I feared for my well being!"
They both softly chuckled then Beverly sighed again, the sorrow never far away. Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc asked gently, "Is there no one, Beverly? No one you trust enough for us to talk to?"
Giving her husband a frank look, Beverly said steadily, "That's a rather oddly worded question, Jean-Luc. You asked if I trust someone enough for us to talk to. I could ask you the same thing. Why should it be my choice?"
Caught out and feeling trapped, Jean-Luc stood, but he didn't release Beverly's hand. Standing motionless for a few moments, staring at their joined hands, he slowly regained his seat.
"What I want you to know, is that I would be willing to be completely open and honest with anyone you felt you could trust, because I trust your judgement. As for me, I'm afraid I can't think of anyone I trust or feel comfortable with when discussing personal issues, apart from you or Deanna."
Their gaze remained locked until Beverly relented and smiled. "I understand Jean-Luc and I thank you for giving me such a wonderful gift."
Gently turning her hand over, Jean-Luc placed his other hand over hers. "What about Doctor Ogawa? She's not a psychologist, but you're good friends with her and you've served together a long time. Wasn't it your sponsorship that enabled her to start her medical degree?"
Tilting her head, Beverly kept her eyes on their hands. "Alyssa? I don't think so, Jean-Luc. Yes, we're good friends and now colleagues, but she was my head nurse for a very long time and although we're now both doctors, she's still my subordinate." Before Jean-Luc could point out the obvious, Beverly smiled and shook her head. "Yes, I know that both of us out-rank all the counsellors and doctors on this ship, but Alyssa has been under my command for too long for me to feel able to unburden to her, Jean-Luc. At least with something so personal for both of us."
Jean-Luc frowned, trying to keep his words soft and non-judgemental.
"I understand, but she knows what we've been going through, Beverly...she headed the team."
With a sigh, Beverly lifted her free hand and placed it on top of Jean-Luc's. "That's another reason, my love. She's too close. I know that's paradoxical, but overseeing each conception only then to have to see how we dealt with each failure and then to ask her to try and help us through the aftermath, well...don't you think that's asking too much? Like you said, she's not a psychologist. And besides, I think we may be underestimating what it's done to her, in fact the whole team." She sighed. "I know for a fact they feel that they failed us."
Jean-Luc slowly leaned towards Beverly and she saw him and mirrored his actions until their foreheads gently met. Very softly, Jean-Luc said, "So that brings us back to Deanna."
"Yeah." Said Beverly quietly. "Dear, Deanna. God, how I miss her."
They sat in silence for quite a while before Beverly said softly, and surprising Jean-Luc in the process, "Okay, let's change the tune."
Lifting his head to peer at her, Jean-Luc frowned. "To what? I take it you're not referring to music, there's none playing."
Offering a small smile, Beverly extricated her hands and sat back, stretching her legs out, placing her stockinged feet on the coffee table and allowing her head to rest on the back of the sofa.
"I want to go back to last night."
Frowning, Jean-Luc said tentatively, "To what, exactly?"
With a half smile of mild amusement, Beverly said gently, "Nothing about your early sex life, Jean-Luc."
Adopting her relaxed pose, he crossed his ankles on the table and let his hands rest loosely clasped on his lower stomach. They both had their head uptilted, but their eyes were closed.
"What then?"
"I don't know...I just want to recapture the mood. I want to think about something else."
"All right."
The following silence wasn't uncomfortable, but Jean-Luc didn't quite know what to say, so, as was usual for him, he said nothing. And just as predictably, it was Beverly who eventually broke the silence.
"If I ask you a question, will you promise not to get upset?"
He didn't move his head or open his eyes, but he frowned. "How can I do that when I've not heard the question?"
"Hmm. Okay, that's fair."
Another short silence ensued before Jean-Luc said quietly, "Ask it anyway, Beverly, it's obviously important to you."
"And if you get upset?"
"I'll live."
She snorted softly and he felt her gently nudge his shoulder, but he didn't move his head or open his eyes.
"Why did you propose, Jean-Luc?"
That made him open his eyes and frown deeply, but he didn't turn his head.
"Ah...I thought it was the logical next step in our relationship."
By the slight alteration of her voice, Jean-Luc knew Beverly was now looking at him. Her tone was guarded.
"The logical next step in our relationship? That's not very flattering, Jean-Luc."
"No, I don't suppose it is." He sighed and finally turned to look at her. "That didn't come out quite the way I intended."
"Want to try again?"
He smiled and nodded. "You recall from last night's conversation, that our first time wasn't what I'd ever thought it would be like?"
"Uh huh."
"Well. It wasn't just the sex."
Beverly could see he was struggling and gave him time to gather his thoughts.
"I'd always fantasised our first time would be romantic, but that's not to say I didn't have some highly erotic non-romantic fantasies, but the thing is, in all my fantasies, I never imagined us as married."
Beverly's eyebrows rose. "Really?"
He gave her a long look. "You don't think me capable of seeing you as anything but an unobtainable goddess?" It was said with a trace of amusement, relieving a worried Beverly.
"Of course I do, but you have to admit, Jean-Luc, you've always had your nose buried in poetry and Shakespeare, I'd always thought of you as a romantic at heart."
Giving a slight tilt to his head, Jean-Luc pulled down the corners of his mouth. "Well, let that be a lesson to you, Beverly. Don't judge any book by its cover."
"Noted." She said with a wry smile. "So why weren't we married?"
That made Jean-Luc sigh. "I don't know. In my fantasies, we were either a couple, or we were making love for the first time and that would lead us to becoming a couple, but we were never married."
"Okay, so my question stands. Why did you propose? Why was it so logical?"
Lifting his hands to give form to his words, Jean-Luc said, "Well, it was as if we'd come full circle. Thirty-two years, Beverly. That's a hell of a long time and for me a lot of living in endless fantasy. Our first time, in the parked runabout, I thought, even though it was incredible, that it was a disaster."
"But..."
He held up one hand. "I know, it wasn't, but when you came to my quarters some days later, I felt such joy, Beverly, so relieved and when we made love for the first time that night, I knew I wanted to marry you. Somehow I felt it completed our journey and opened the way for our new path...together."
"But Jean-Luc...three weeks after our first time? Don't you think that was a little soon?"
He smiled; his eyes soft and tender. "Three weeks and thirty-two years. Oh, and by the way, I don't consider our first time to be the sex in the runabout. For me, in my heart our first time was that night after, when you came to me and we made love."
Beverly thought about that, idly running her thumbnail over her teeth.
"Okay, I can see all that, but still...marriage? At our ages why do you feel it necessary?"
Narrowing his eyes, Jean-Luc tilted his head and said quietly, "Instead of answering that, let me ask you something."
Seeing her give a small nod, he said, "If you had any reservations or concerns, why did you say yes?"
Taking his hand, Beverly tried to ease his worry.
"I can tell you with all honesty, I have no reservations or concerns...now."
"But you did then?"
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yes."
"Then why did you accept?"
"That's hard to answer."
"Try." His tone was a little hard.
"Okay." Beverly's nervousness was seeping through and she began to fiddle with her hands. "I don't deny we love each other...God, we've loved each other for so damned long! And finding out we're sexually compatible was a very pleasant discovery, but marriage is a formal declaration that I sort of thought was unnecessary. I guess what I'm trying to say is not only did you surprise me but I was kind of...offended? No, that's not the right word. Maybe I felt like you were wanting to...God, I don't know. Tie me to you?"
She stared down at her restless hands and grimaced. "Your proposal dredged up memories of nanna's attempts to confine me. Not physically but emotionally and I got cold feet."
Trying to understand, but still finding himself angry and hurt, Jean-Luc did his best to keep his tone even.
"Yet you accepted. Beverly, you say you're not feeling concerned and that you now have no reservations and I'm very happy to hear that, but if you hadn't come to feel that way, would you have still married me?"
Her voice was small. "I don't know."
Still doing his best to try and understand, Jean-Luc asked, "Why didn't you say anything to me? Why didn't you tell me?"
A tear overflowed her eye and ran unhindered down her cheek. "Jean-Luc, you have been hurt so many times, mainly by me, and I just couldn't bring myself to hurt you again."
Anger made his tone harsh. "So you were willing to enter into a marriage you didn't want just to spare my feelings?"
Shaking her head, Beverly wiped at her tears. "No. I did want to marry you, Jean-Luc, but I couldn't help but be...scared."
He sighed deeply and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It always comes back to that, doesn't it. You mentioned it last night. You know, Beverly, we've had relationships with other people, people we've cared about, even loved, well, I don't know about you, but my relationships with other women didn't last because they never measured up to you. Even though I had no idea what you'd be like to share a relationship with, good old fear invaded my head and destroyed anything I might have had with those women."
He reached for her hand and lifted it to his lips, brushing a delicate kiss over the skin.
"I think we have reached a time and place in our lives where we can dispense with fear, Beverly. Yes, these past months have been a terrible time, a tragic trial, but surely if nothing else it has proven that our love is strong enough to weather the storm? I said it last night and I'll say it again. We have each other and our love. That is all I need. What I need to know is do you feel the same?"
Looking into his eyes, Beverly smiled with trembling lips. Her reply was whispered, but he heard it clearly
"Yes."
Sighing with heartfelt relief, Jean-Luc lifted his arm and Beverly settled within his warm embrace.
"J'Taime, mon coeur, J'Taime."
"I love you too, Jean-Luc and I'm sorry I don't tell you more often."
A long silence settled and Jean-Luc was about to suggest they retire for the night when Beverly said softly, "Do you know what I thought this morning, just as we were leaving our quarters?"
"No"
"I wondered if we'd conceived again."
Pain lanced through Jean-Luc, Beverly's tone was so desolate.
"It was automatic, and the accompanying surge of hope almost floored me." She snorted, but it was a sad, defeated sound. "Then I remembered and I wanted to cry. How long has it been, Jean-Luc? How many months have we been trying?"
"Twenty-one months."
She lifted her head and peered at him. "My God, that's more than two full-term pregnancies. Are you sure? We had so many failures."
He didn't want to talk about it, but it seemed to be important to Beverly. "Once it became clear we couldn't manage it naturally, pharmaceutical accelerators were used to promote more mature ovum production."
"Oh, that's right." She shook her head. "It's a blur, Jean-Luc...a long agonising blur."
Gently lifting her chin, Jean-Luc looked into her eyes and said, "Shall I tell you how beautiful you looked on our wedding day?"
Shaking her head distractedly, Beverly said sharply, "No. I want to know how many times..."
He tightened his embrace. "Don't, Beverly...let it go...just leave it alone."
More silence followed and Jean-Luc worried about his wife. Slowly she sighed and lifted her head.
"That dress..."
His hopes rising, Jean-Luc said gently, "Your wedding dress?"
"Yes. Dee and I spent hours we really didn't have choosing it. Everything had happened so fast. The ship was at McKinley, you proposed and then within two hours I was sitting with you in the Mayor's office in LaBarre meeting the celebrant."
Jean-Luc chuckled quietly. "Well, while you spent those hours choosing your dress, I was at the chateau organising the workers to create the arbour."
"It was lovely too." Tilting her head, Beverly sighed. "Another one to miss, Jean-Luc."
"Yes." He agreed. "Marie would've been very happy for us."
"Are you aware of any other Picard marriages at the chateau?"
That made his eyebrows rise in thought. "Ah...no, not off the top of my head. My parents were married in LaBarre, but Robert and Marie were married in a large, very ornate ceremony in Paris. But I'm sure at some stage in the past someone from my family would have."
"So your parents and Robert. Religious or secular?"
"My parents attended church, the Unified Church of Earth, but Robert was secular. The ceremony for his and Marie's wedding was a sort of mixture, because Marie was a UCE adherent."
"Unusual these days."
"Hmm, another thing you can put down to living in a provincial environment. Old superstitions. In fact, being secular was about the only thing Robert and I ever agreed on." He smiled but Beverly saw his eyes were hard. "Robert siding with me over that was the one and only time I ever remember my father giving Robert the same kind of disdainful look I'd always thought he reserved for me alone. It was very satisfying."
"So...moving on, you knew I was secular so you chose a celebrant from your home village to marry us at your ancestral home."
He lowered his head and frowned, trying to see under Beverly's brow. "I'm not sure what you're trying to say. I had asked you if you agreed."
Smiling tenderly, Beverly lifted his hand and kissed it. "Of course I agreed, Jean-Luc. I know I've told you I was scared, but I was also giddy with excitement. Not many people marry these days, certainly the commitment of marriage, both emotional and legal is taken far more seriously than it once was and the thought that you wanted that with me, despite my stupid fear, was very intoxicating." She grinned, and even her sad eyes gleamed. "And then there was the dress."
Jean-Luc sat back, easing Beverly to join him. She rested her head on his shoulder and placed the flat of her palm on his chest so she could feel its vibration when he spoke.
"Ah yes...that dress. It was Will who very quietly let me know you'd stepped around the roses. I turned and it wasn't until Will said sotto voce, "Close your mouth, Sir." That I realised I was gaping. It clung to you, Beverly, accentuating every luscious curve that I'd been kissing and caressing only a few hours before. And the colour! I'd never seen anything like it. It changed as you moved. It was as if the dress was part of you...a second skin." He snorted and grinned, his dark eyes glittering in the soft light. "Do you know what Will said to let me know you were approaching?"
With her gaze fixed on her other hand that rested comfortably on his thigh, Beverly said quietly, "No."
"Hmph." The softly amused grunt made Beverly's head move on his shoulder. "He said...Red alert, shields up!"
Beverly's soft chuckle was a balm to Jean-Luc's soul. Wistfully, Beverly said, "I don't think I'd ever seen you in a dinner suit. A tux, yes, I believe a top hat and tails once, but not a dinner suit. I was so surprised. God, Jean-Luc, you looked so handsome, so elegant."
"Well, Beverly, I'm afraid there haven't been words coined yet to describe how utterly beautiful you looked. That dress...Jesus...You know how I told you that when I saw you in the runabout, that I wasn't going to be able to control my physical reaction to seeing you?"
"Mmm."
"Same thing. I felt myself getting hard, and for several terrible seconds I feared I wasn't going to be able to stop it."
"So how did you?"
He harrumphed gain and closed his eyes in remembered embarrassment. Her curiosity aroused, Beverly shifted her head until she could whisper in his ear.
"Come on, tell me."
His one word reply came out in a short explosion of breath. "Deanna!"
Beverly was so surprised she lifted her head, pulled back and gaped incredulously. "Deanna? How? What the hell did she do to help you with that particular problem?"
Had the lighting been better, Beverly would've seen Jean-Luc's blush.
"Beverly, I think she was well aware of your fears...your reservations, but rather than tackle you, she concentrated on me. It's my belief she wanted to make certain I was sure, that I wasn't...I don't know...clutching at straws. The thing is, I'd become aware of her gentle scrutiny ever since our rather torrid time in the runabout and although it irritated me and I knew I could block her if I so chose, I knew she had our best interests at heart so I allowed it. So on our wedding day, she was 'tuned in' and when she felt what was happening to me, she sent a subliminal message that assisted me in gaining control."
"Yes, but how? You're not telepathic or empathic."
Taking a large breath, Jean-Luc shrugged. "I first became aware that Deanna could...be a presence ...in my mind not long after my mind-meld with Sarek. At first I was very angry, I felt it was a violation, even though I possessed the ability to shut her out, but it wasn't until I mentioned it to Will that he told me that Deanna only did this with those she felt closest too."
Beverly began to protest making Jean-Luc put two fingers against her lips. "Let me finish. You feel as Deanna's best friend she would've used this...technique with you. Well, she did."
Again, Beverly tried to deny the claim, shaking her head and trying to dislodge his fingers. He wouldn't let her.
"Beverly, think. Over the last five...six years you've been able to overcome some pretty tumultuous events including your conflicting feelings about me. But it was during the early stages of our failed attempts to successfully conceive that Deanna helped you the most. Don't you remember how much harder it was after she died? It wasn't just the continuing failures and our grief over her death, it was the loss of her subliminal support that really took the greatest toll. After her death, you and I became more and more less able to cope."
Gently guiding her head back to his shoulder, Jean-Luc whispered, "She's been with us for a long time, Beverly, inside us, and now we have to learn how to live without her."
"Are we lost, Jean-Luc?" Those softly spoken words nearly broke his heart.
"No, not as long as we have each other. But the road ahead will be hard. Time, Beverly, time will help...it always does."
She extricated herself from his embrace and rose slowly, holding out her hand and waiting until he too was standing. Placing both hands on his chest, Beverly looked into her husband's eyes and said, "Will you hold me tonight, Jean-Luc?"
"Yes. We'll hold each other."
Once again the couple approached the coming night knowing sleep would be difficult.

 

Will Riker sat on the edge of his large bed, Charlotte cradled in his left arm while his right hand held the bottle his daughter suckled contentedly. It had taken some time for him to be able to study the little baby's face without succumbing to tears, but with Patrick Adams's help, he'd slowly overcome his crippling grief to take his place as Charlotte's father.
His eyes roamed slowly over her perfect features, taking in her black eyes, now half-slitted in an almost drunken daze, her flawless pale skin and the utter perfection of her tiny hands that held the bottle. The only thing he could see of himself in his little girl was her straight, brown hair. That and the fact she was long, certainly longer in body length for a baby her age and gender. He snorted softly, thinking how miffed Deanna would've been to know her daughter was destined to tower over her just like her father.
"So, my little girl, what are you going to do with your life? You have so much ahead of you. In ancient times, on my home world, Earth, there was an old saying. 'The World Is Your Oyster.' Well, things have changed. Now, little Charlotte, the galaxy is your oyster."
He chuckled softly at that, the soft, hitching sob quickly brought under control. When he felt able, he said softly, "I will tell you everything I know about your mother, Charlotte, I have vids, stills and..." He smirked. "You have a grandmother! You're so lucky, little girl. You have feet in two worlds. Such a rich and varied cultural history you have as your heritage. Do you realise you're eventually going to be the holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx? The heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed and you're a daughter of the Fifth House? And you're only three months old! Just think of what you might achieve once you're one year old!"
Seeing the she'd finished the bottle, Will gently removed the teat from her plump little lips and eased her ever so carefully onto his broad shoulder. As he gently rubbed and patted her back, his deep voice rumbled, "When things have settled down, I'll ask your uncle Jean-Luc to let you sit in the big chair. You might as well get used to it now." He chuckled again. "And so should he."
It wasn't until Will had put the sleeping baby back in her cot in the nursery that he went back into his bedroom to face the emptiness of his bed. Like the couple not too far away, he dreaded the nights. Deanna would come to him in his dreams, but he could never make her stay. And in the morning he would quietly weep.

Three weeks had passed and life on board the Enterprise went on, business as usual for some, considerably more difficult for others.
Jean-Luc ended his shift feeling tired and unsettled, something he was becoming accustomed to. While walking through the corridors of his ship he maintained his usual facade, exuding quiet authority and calm control. Having passed yet another crewmember who nodded respectfully and offered a quietly spoken, "Captain.", Jean-Luc winced inwardly at hearing the sympathy in the single word. There were times when he just wanted to scream, to yell and curse and to order everyone to leave him alone. But of course none of that was possible and his rational mind calmly informed him it would do no good anyway, so, along with everything else, he suppressed it.
Knowing Beverly felt exactly the same way helped, although he knew it was harder for her as she worked in the very facility where they had spent so much tense, sad and ultimately futile time. At least he spent most of his shifts on the bridge, or to be exact, in his ready room, insulated and wounded, trying his best to heal.
It was with heartfelt relief that he reached their quarters and he was further pleased when he found Beverly was already home. She wasn't in the living area, but her discarded uniform was and she called out from the bedroom,
"Pour me a drink will, you Jean-Luc? I'll be out in a minute."
Raising his eyebrows, Jean-Luc went to the drinks cabinet and opened it, frowning as he studied the collection of bottles. Muttering softly, he said, "Pour me a drink, Jean-Luc? Very well, Beverly, but what, pray tell, would you prefer?"
Rather than call out his enquiry, he lifted one shoulder and tilted his head.
"Hmm, time I think for a unilateral decision. What would I prefer?"
He was just putting the glasses on the coffee table when Beverly appeared at his side. She bent slightly forward and narrowed her eyes. "Cognac?"
"Yes."Said Jean-Luc decisively. "I wasn't sure what you wanted so, after careful consideration I chose cognac."
Pulling down the corners of her mouth, Beverly tilted her head from side-to-side. "Well, it's different, I'll give you that. I can't say I've ever had cognac before dinner."
He snorted softly and leaned to place a soft kiss on her temple. "I'll go and change."
"Don't be long."
He grinned over his shoulder. "I won't."
Five minutes later they were in their customary seats, Jean-Luc in his favourite chair, Beverly reclining on the sofa. Sipping his brandy, Jean-Luc ran his eyes over his wife, noting that she was making a slow but perceptible recovery. Her hair wasn't quite so dull and her skin not so pale. However her eyes still held sorrow and he wondered if that would ever change. Then he reminded himself it had only been three weeks and comforted himself in the knowledge that time would do its job and slowly heal them both.
Satisfied with his covert scrutiny, he sat back, crossed his legs and took another long sip, closing his eyes.
"Anything from command, yet?" By her tone, Jean-Luc knew she didn't really expect a positive answer.
He sighed and pursed his lips. "No. They keep sending, but with only coordinates to go on, they're broadcasting without a specific target. As you know, coordinates in space doesn't mean that there's actually something there. It could be a meeting point in empty apace just as easily as a planet. Command is aiming the subspace messages at the coordinates, but the truth is we don't know if there's anyone there to hear them."
He opened his eyes and gently swirled his drink. "I don't envy you this mission, Beverly. First Contacts are always iffy, even when you have some idea what you're getting into, but this...you're going in blind." He sighed heavily. "I can't say I'm very happy about it."
Beverly was lying on her side, her upper body resting on the cushions at the arm of the sofa. Like her husband, her eyes had been closed. "I'm not either, Jean-Luc, in fact...and I wouldn't admit this to anyone but you...I'm a little nervous."
"Understandable." He demurred. "I can only hope that once contact is made, we get some intel before you do whatever it is they want you to do."
Beverly was about to say more when the door chime sounded. Having both been on the gamma shift, it was nearly twenty-thirty hours and most crew would be either on duty or in their quarters. Raising one eyebrow, Jean-Luc said with a touch of irritation, "Are you expecting someone?"
Shaking her head, Beverly too was slightly annoyed. "No. You?"
Instead of answering her, Jean-Luc said flatly, "Come."
The doors sighed open and a figure stepped into the room, but with the interior lighting subdued, the glare from outside momentarily hid the visitor's identity. When the person made no move to come further inside, Jean-Luc frowned and said, "Come in." Accentuating the barely disguised command with a curt wave of one hand.
Once the doors closed, the couple saw the ship's counsellor. Warily, Jean-Luc said, "Lieutenant."
Counsellor Patrick Adams felt a little uneasy. He had been a counsellor for some years and was highly qualified and well experienced, but having read both the official service records and his predecessor's files, he knew he was about to face two very private, formidable people, one the most senior officer on board, the other head of her department. And of course, they both outranked him by miles. Summoning a warm smile, Patrick said with an apologetic note, "I know it's a little late, I hope I'm not disturbing either of you?"
Casting a quick look at Beverly, who Jean-Luc noticed had sat up; Jean-Luc offered a small smile and shook his head.
"Not at all, Lieutenant. What can I do for you?"
The use of his rank, rather than his position was telling and Patrick knew he'd have to handle the next few minutes very carefully.
"Actually, captain, I thought it time I came to see you." He cast Beverly a warm smile. "Both of you."
"I see." Said a now closed captain. "About what?"
Risking his CO's displeasure, instead of answering, Patrick asked, "May I sit, please, sir?"
His frown deepening by the moment, Jean-Luc merely nodded. Beverly moved a little further towards the end of the sofa, putting more distance between her and their guest, another significant gesture. Having perched on the edge of the seat, Patrick placed his hands on his thighs and smiled.
"These many last months have been very difficult for you both. I know you were both close to Counsellor Troi, you served together for a very long time and I've only been aboard for three months, but I had hoped you might come to me; your burden must be almost unbearable. However you've chosen not to and that leaves me with but one choice. I must come to you."
Again Jean-Luc's eyes flicked to Beverly's then back to the counsellor.
"I feel you may be making an erroneous assumption, lieutenant." Jean-Luc's voice was soft, but the underlying irritation was clear.
Taking a steadying breath, Patrick schooled his features and asked equitably, "And what is that, Captain?"
"That we require your assistance. I can assure you we do not."
The slightly overweight man began to sweat, but as uneasy as he was, he wasn't about to either be intimidated or back down.
"With respect, sir, I disagree."
Jean-Luc uncrossed his legs with slow grace, like an uncoiling snake. He sat up and pierced Patrick with a stony glare. His voice was icy. "I beg your pardon?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Jean-Luc saw Beverly lift one hand in an almost imperceptible gesture. Ceding control to her, he sat back, but his dark, glittering eyes never left the counsellor.
"What the captain means, Lieutenant, is that we're doing fine on our own."
Patrick turned his head to give the doctor his full attention but he could still feel his captain's cold glare.
"Doctor Crusher, as a medical professional you must be aware of the very serious ramifications of withholding or suppressing strong emotions, especially when the emotions are brought about by something as tragic, demoralising and depressing as what you and your husband have been through. And, given the length of time this terrible situation continued, I have to believe that both of you must be suffering."
Beverly opened her mouth to reply when she was stunned to be interrupted. "Please, doctor." Patrick inwardly winced at the unintended note of desperation in his voice. He made an effort to quell it. "I've read Counsellor Troi's notes; I know she'd been helping both of you, so not only have you been without counselling since her death, you've had to deal with the grief her death caused as well. Surely you must see that you both need my help?"
Jean-Luc had heard enough. He sat up and was about to dismiss the man when Beverly stopped him with a shake of her head. Angry, but willing to accede to her wishes, he held his tongue.
"Counsellor, while it's true the captain and I have been through a very difficult time, I am willing to admit you have a point. People in our situation can and do need help, but the captain and I aren't quite ready yet to allow anyone in...not yet, but if I give you an assurance that we will come to you when we're ready, will you accept that?"
The fact the she'd used his position rather than his rank, cheered the well-meaning man. Steeling himself, Patrick turned his head to seek his captain's opinion. All Jean-Luc would do was give a slow, silent nod, but it was clear he wasn't happy. Still, it was not only better than he hoped for; he knew it was all he was going to get. For now.
Offering a smile of understanding and gratefulness, Patrick stood and gave a small bow.
"Thank you, thank you both. Good night, sirs."
After the doors had closed the silence that followed was brittle. Jean-Luc tossed back his cognac and bared his teeth. With a long breath, he rose and went to the replicator, saying tightly,
"What would you prefer for dinner?"
Instead of answering immediately, Beverly got up and went to him, standing behind him and winding her arms around his waist, her forehead resting on his neck.
"Don't be angry, Jean-Luc. It was bound to happen. I'm surprised he let it go as long as he did."
With a deep sigh, Jean-Luc lowered his head. "I know." His tone was bleak. "I had hoped he might let it go, in fact as time went by without his appearance, I'd begun to convince myself that we'd got away with it."
Beverly bumped her head on his neck and snorted. "Ostrich syndrome."
He actually chuckled at that. "I happen to like the sand around my ears."
They let the matter drop and ate a quiet meal, once again retiring to the living area, this time with mugs of coffee. Jean-Luc had meant to sit in his chair, but Beverly patted the sofa so he took her invitation and joined her. He propped himself at one end, having toed off his shoes, his legs parted and lying along the seat. Beverly lay between his legs with her back against his chest, her head resting on his shoulder.
In quiet peace they sipped their drinks until their mugs were empty. Jean-Luc collected both and put them on the low table. Just as he straightened, Beverly said mildly, "Jean-Luc...have you ever had a virgin?"
Looking down at Beverly, a deep frown on his face, Jean-Luc's tone was indignant. "What is it with you and my former sex life?"
She huffed a chuckle and shrugged. "I don't know, I just find it really interesting. I mean I'm curious. It's not my fault you have a reputation."
An exasperated breath blew out of Jean-Luc and he shook his head. "Do you really think the word 'had' is...appropriate? It sounds so...tawdry."
He didn't see her roll her eyes. "Okay, let me ask you another way. Jean-Luc, has a virgin ever given her wonderful gift to you?"
His tone became very dry. "Now you're mocking me."
"Just answer the question." Beverly's tone was impatient.
He sighed, but remained silent, which only served to pique Beverly's curiosity further. Twisting slightly, she managed to look up at him. "Well?"
This time it was he who rolled his eyes. "Oh, very well. Yes!"
But he said nothing else.
"Jesus, Jean-Luc! It's like having to use fourchette a escargots to get information out of you!"
His eyebrows rose and his tone was mildly amused and appreciative. "Your French pronunciation is improving, Beverly, I'm impressed, especially considering you detest escargot."
Not put off in the least, Beverly shook her head. "Uh uh, no...that's not going to work. Why? Why won't you tell me?"
All traces of amusement vanished and Jean-Luc sighed, his eyes closing. "Because it happened only four months before we became a couple and the woman involved is still serving on the ship."
There followed a very tense silence, broken when Beverly asked askance, "How old is she?"
Giving his wife a hard look of admonishment, Beverly scrunched up one corner of her mouth and shrugged. "Sorry." Then she smiled. "If you don't give me any information that might identify her, will you tell me?"
He looked into Beverly's eyes and just seeing the spark of delight that resided there was enough to tip the balance. To keep the perpetual sorrow away, he would tell her anything. Taking a deep breath he nodded. "Very well, but Beverly, if you ever figure out who she is, you must give me your word that you'll never let her know that you know."
The doctor grinned making Jean-Luc scowl. "Please, Beverly." He said quietly.
Placing her hand dramatically over her heart, Beverly said firmly, "You have my word." Then she grinned again. "So...what happened?" As Jean-Luc began, Beverly snuggled into his embrace.
"I first noticed her, oh months ago, at a recital in the lounge. At that time she was playing in one of the ship's string quartets and I immediately recognised her talent. Then every now and then she would play a solo and I became more and more interested. Not in her, but her music, her prodigious talent."
"Is she pretty?"
"Be quiet." He regathered his thoughts, mildly affronted, but answered anyway. "No, not really, but even though she's sort of plain looking, she has a lovely warm expression. The more I heard her play, the more I wanted to hear, so I checked the ship's entertainment net and finding nothing of hers there, I accessed the bulletin boards, but no, nothing there either and I found that odd. By then I knew her name and rank and I'd read her service record. I was surprised to find that she was still a lieutenant at 38. Her record was all right, nothing remarkable about it. She performs her duties satisfactorily, she's never been on report and it slowly dawned on me that this woman lacked ambition. She was simply content with what she had, with what she was doing. So, wanting to hear more of her music, I decided to go to her quarters to see if she had any private recordings she might allow me to borrow."
Beverly looked up and smiled. "Yes? And?"
"Well, as you know, lieutenants share quarters, so I checked the duty roster and when I'd found she'd just finished her shift I went to her cabin. When I was granted access, I found her across the room, her back to me as she was placing her instrument back in its case. Without turning around she said...Koult's just gone on duty, he won't be back until the morning.
"When I spoke her entire body went rigid."
Breathlessly, Beverly asked, "What did you say?"
"Only that I'd dropped by to see her. I don't know if it was my voice she recognised or simply the fact that someone other than her roommate was in the quarters with her, but she spun around and almost quivered at attention. I mean, yes, I've encountered that kind of reaction from very young and inexperienced crew, but not a mature woman who'd been on board for some time. So I said, At ease, please. But she barely relaxed at all. By now I was feeling very awkward, so I just told her why I was there and she managed to tell me that she hadn't made any recordings. So I left and to be perfectly frank, I was glad to get out of there. She was like a frightened rabbit being stared at by a hungry fox!"
Beverly quietly giggled. "Big bad scary Jean-Luc!"
"Shut up, Beverly. Do you want to hear this or not?"
"Okay. Go on."
"Right. About three weeks went by, then one afternoon I was enjoying some time off and my door chimed. I was very pleased, thinking...hoping...it was you. So I called out happily, Come. You can imagine my surprise when the doors opened to reveal the woman. I regathered my composure and invited her in. She came very reluctantly and when she was close enough...just...she held out her hand. Now so far, she'd not said a word. I saw a chip in her hand and I took it, saying gently, What's this? Her voice was very soft, I could hardly hear her, but she told me she'd made some recordings for me. Well, of course I was delighted. In an effort to try to get her to relax, I invited her to stay and have a hot drink while we listened to the recording together. She blanched, Beverly! I actually saw the colour drain from her face. But she seemed to get herself together because, very tentatively she accepted.
"We'd been sitting quietly sipping our drinks while we listened, and I was totally enraptured, my God she can play, when I suddenly realised she'd spoken. She'd asked me about my flute. It was on the coffee table as I'd been playing it before she arrived. I told her a very brief history about it then I suggested we might play together."
Beverly giggled lasciviously again, making Jean-Luc sigh. "Must you?"
"Sorry"
"She said that we might do that, but by then the recording had finished, so she got to her feet and smiled. It was the first time I'd seen her smile and it changed her face completely. She thanked me for my hospitality and refused to take the recording, telling me I could keep it. Then just as she turned to leave, she hesitated, turned back and, whilst blushing furiously, said very softly...I find you very attractive, captain. And she left. I was...bemused. Flattered, yes, but nonplussed.
"I saw her at a few more recitals and I noticed she never stayed afterwards. Whether on her own or in a quartet after the recital was over, she'd accept the applause, bow and leave. At first I thought it odd, but then I decided it was sad. She was obviously very, very shy.
"Some weeks went by and I was on gamma shift so I got back to my quarters rather late. Again, when my door chimed I hoped it was you, but no, it was the woman again and she had her instrument case. This time she came in a little more confidently and like before she had made a new recording for me, only this time she informed me it was music appropriate for us to play together. She was in civvies, so I said, in an attempt to make her welcome, I'll go change, how about you replicate some dinner. I honestly didn't think she'd accept.
"I didn't see her expression, I thought if it was too much, she wouldn't be there when I came back out of my bedroom, but happily she was. So we ate dinner and I opened a bottle of wine and we came to sit here, in the living area. The chip was loaded and we got our respective instruments and eventually enjoyed an hour and a half of the most exquisite music. When we'd played enough, I thought she'd leave, but she didn't. I could see by her growing unease that she wanted to say something to me and bearing in mind what she'd already confessed, I wasn't too sure I wanted to hear it, but I couldn't just send her away, so I braced myself.
"It took a while but she finally got up the courage to speak. She told me that she was a virgin and that she really wanted to experience what sex was like. I still wasn't sure where this was going, but I soon found out. She looked at me with such open trust and confidence I knew she'd chosen me.
"She must have seen my panic and reluctance so she went on to quickly explain that she wasn't seeking a relationship, nor did she expect anything from me other than what she requested and that she'd chosen me for several reasons. She was attracted to me; she knew I'd respect her, she had heard of my...reputation and that she knew I would keep her confidence. She stressed that she wanted an experienced and gentle lover for her first time and she couldn't think of a better person than me.
"Of course I refused. I did it as gently as I could, I recognised just how very vulnerable she was at the time, it must have taken extraordinary courage to ask me and I had no intention of hurting her feelings. I explained that I was, well...committed to someone," He looked down at Beverly, kissing her temple. "That was you, by the way, but Beverly she beseeched me, she actually begged. She asked me to put myself in her shoes. Being 38 years old and never had sex, never had an orgasm, not by any means, not even in a dream... Jesus, she'd never even been kissed! Of course I asked her why she hadn't explored her own body and she alluded to an unpleasant experience when she was young, but Beverly, she was so...I don't know...desperate...no, that isn't the right word. She was pleading with me to grant her a fundamental human act and I...I...gave up. I thought if I could bring some joy into that woman's life...perhaps even set her on a path of personal discovery and happiness, why not? I weighed the consequences, I considered you and what it might mean if you found out, but Beverly, ultimately I found I couldn't say no.
"But before I consented, I made it perfectly clear, absolutely clear; it would be a one off. However long it took, whether it was one hour or all night, that was it. Never again...ever. She agreed."
He lapsed into silence and Beverly scowled. "That's it? That's all you're going to tell me?"
"Beverly..."
"Oh, come on, Jean-Luc. You haven't even told me how you were going to go about it."
"Jesus, Beverly! Can't a man have some privacies?"
"No! Come on..."
"God..." He let out an explosive breath. "Your curiosity is going to get you in trouble one of these days."
"Yeah, yeah."
He rolled his eyes and huffed, before making an effort to control his exasperation.
"I stared by asking her what she knew. She told me she'd studied the human sexuality files on the computer very carefully, so she knew what was involved and she'd seen the vids so she had all the relevant information, she'd just not done it. It was kind of awkward at first especially when she kept calling me captain and sir so I asked her to call me Jean-Luc and although she went as red as a beetroot it seemed to help and I must admit she did an admirable job of pronouncing my name correctly. We went into the bedroom and she began to undress. Her hands were shaking so I took over and when her skin was exposed I was careful to gently kiss and caress. When she was clad in nothing but her bra and panties, I said very softly, now you undress me. I was surprised at how quickly she learned. She did everything I'd done to her and she seemed to enjoy it."
"Were you hard?"
He didn't admonish the interruption. "Not fully. I took her face in my hands and kissed her...just lightly. She liked that and leaned forward for more. So the next kiss was a little more insistent, I feathered my tongue over her lips and she got the idea straight away. When our tongues met she gasped. I waited a little while then deepened the kiss and began to run my hands up and down her back, occasionally cupping her backside and gently pulling her against me.
"When I undid her bra, she stepped back to allow me to ease it off her. Her breasts weren't very big, but her nipples were hard so I kissed her again and gently rolled one between my fingers. She responded really well to that and let a very quiet moan escape into my mouth.
"I guided her to the bed and eased her down making sure she was comfortable. Very softly I asked her to relax and concentrate on what she was about to feel...the sensations. I asked her not to think, just feel. Then I lay beside her and gently ran my fingertips over her skin. Beverly...she was so responsive! Her muscles actually fluttered under her skin, it was so erotic, so enthralling to see. Considering the circumstances it may sound like a cliché, but it was like playing an instrument. Everywhere I touched, her body responded.
"We kissed, becoming more and more passionate. Her arousal was so unlike anything I'd seen before. It wasn't that it was different per se, but everything seemed to happen in unpredictable stages. Even when I smelled her arousal it seemed...I don't know...different. Anyway, eventually I placed my hand over her sex and she gasped loudly. I thought I'd gone too fast, but she soon let me know she wanted more. I rose up and very gently removed her panties. Then I asked her to watch as I took my briefs off. And yes, I was now hard. She frowned when she looked at my erection, especially as I eased my foreskin back but I smiled and told her it would be all right. Again I saw that implicit trust in her eyes and it nearly unmanned me, Beverly. It suddenly dawned on me exactly how big a responsibility I had taken on. If I got it wrong, I could do irreparable damage to her, emotional damage that she might not recover from. Now I know that probably sounds hideously conceited, but that's how I felt at the time.
"I reached over to the nightstand and got my tube of lubricant."
To Beverly's raised eyebrows he sighed and said, "I'll tell you later."
"So, I gently took hold of her ankles and parted her legs, bending them at the knee, before kneeling between them. I took some time to lean over her to tongue and suck her nipples until she was softly moaning and then I gently eased her labia open and slid one finger through her, just brushing her clit very softly. That was received very well, so I kissed my way down her body and replaced my finger with my tongue. That was received with even more enthusiasm!" He chuckled softly. "It felt so good, Beverly, to bring her such new pleasures. While my tongue was busy, I ran the tip of my finger around the entrance of her vagina. It took quite some time, but she began to shudder and her hips began to buck, so I increased the force of my tongue on her clit and inserted my finger inside her, but only as deep as the hymen. I'd only slid it in and out a few times when she came. I tried to make it a double and I was partially successful, but her second orgasm was more like a strong aftershock.
"I left her and went back up the bed to take her in my arms while she recovered. That happened quite quickly and she was delighted and very keen to continue. She reached for my penis, but I took her hand and kissed it, telling her that everything was for her and to not worry about me. So I went about arousing her again and returned to kneeling between her legs. This time I used the lube and made sure my penis was well covered and I put some inside her with my fingers. Again I spent a considerable amount of time getting her as aroused as I could, to a point where she asked me to do it. I placed one hand beside her head and supported myself on that arm and I took my penis in the other hand and, after sliding the head through her folds, I very gently introduced it into her. She was very tight and she tensed but I could see her effort to relax. I went in slowly until I met her hymen. Then I stopped."
"Why? Why did you stop?"
He sighed. "Beverly, I'd never made love to a virgin before. I didn't know how much pressure to apply, whether one just pushed until it broke or used gentle but increasingly steady pressure. And I certainly didn't want to cause undue pain.
"At that stage I did tell her that it would probably hurt, but I had absolutely no idea how much or for how long."
"So what did you do?"
"I compromised. With very gentle thrusts I pushed against her hymen a little harder each time. I could see she was uncomfortable and I almost stopped, but she opened her eyes and smiled, nodding and letting me know it was all right. I continued and eventually I pushed hard and it just...broke. She let out a little cry and I froze. She squeezed her eyes shut and screwed up her face and we stayed motionless for some minutes. I was so worried I nearly lost my erection, but she relaxed and opened her eyes again and smiled. So very slowly I pushed inside. God, she was so tight. It took a while before I was completely immersed, but once I was she sighed and really surprised me by saying in perfect French, My God, Jean-Luc but it feels incredible.
"With that encouragement, I began to carefully and slowly slide in and out and to help overcome any discomfort she might've been experiencing, I used my now free hand to tease her clit. Like the first time it took quite a while but eventually she began to pant and clutch my shoulders hard so I thrust a little deeper and harder and she came. Twice.
"I was so happy! I lowered myself and kissed her and when she opened her eyes I could see she could feel I was still hard inside her and I just grinned like a fool and said something really gauche."
Amused and intensely curious, Beverly asked breathlessly, "What did you say?"
"Surprise!"
"Ha! What did she do?"
"It wasn't what she did, it was what she said."
"Which was?"
"There's more?"
"Oh, God, Jean-Luc. She didn't?"
"Yes she did. So I rolled us onto our sides and lifted her leg over my hip."
Beverly frowned. "That makes for deep penetration."
"I know, but I wanted her to learn that there are more ways to orgasm that just by stimulating the clit alone and the angle allowed the head on my penis to slide over that spot in the vagina."
"So?"
"Well it took a long time, but she had a very satisfying double orgasm and I came too, quite well as I recall. She seemed as happy about that as she was with her own achievements."
Beverly chuckled. "Lucky lady."
"Hmm. After that she said she'd had enough and that she was a little sore, so I assisted her from the bed and gently advised her to use her new found knowledge to explore her sexuality, either alone or with a partner. Then we showered and, after a gentle hug and a kiss, she left."
"And that was it?"
"Well, yes. Apart from the message that arrived later."
"A message?"
"Beverly, I'm not going to divulge what it said, suffice it to say she was very grateful and happy."
The doctor smiled up at her husband feeling very tender towards him. "That was a lovely story, Jean-Luc, thank you for telling me and I meant it when I said she was a very lucky lady. She's started with the best. In fact...you might've spoiled her. After you...well let's just say you'd be a very hard act to follow."
With a mildly disgruntled growl, Jean-Luc kissed his wife.
"What about you? Have you ever, to use your lovely term, 'had' a virgin?"
Beverly shrugged. "I don't know."
"What about the three secret boyfriends?"
"I really don't know. Maybe one, two or all of them were virgins, I have no idea."
Frowning, Jean-Luc asked, "They had no technique, no finesse?"
"Jean-Luc, we were seventeen years old and loaded with cosmic dust! We just wanted to...fuck. No finesse, no technique, just mind-blowing sex."
"Hmm. Well I suppose there's a time and a place for everything."
He gently eased her upright. "Now, wife, I'm hungry. I'd like some dessert."
Holding the back of her hand against her brow in a very dramatic gesture, Beverly moaned,
"Oh! What drudgery! I slave all day at work and now I have to prepare my sex-god husband his evening sweet!"
"Shut up, Beverly." Said Jean-Luc with dry amusement.
Her giggle lightened Jean-Luc's heart. If only he could always keep her so happy.
It came as no surprise to Jean-Luc when Beverly attacked him the moment he slid beneath the sheets. Between passionate kisses and heated caresses she growled, "Your story has got me all hot and bothered, Jean-Luc. Care to use some of your technique and finesse?"
Just over an hour later, Beverly was sprawled face down across the bed, softly snoring and Jean-Luc was trying to find the covers without disturbing his sated lover. The bed was a riotously tangled mess of sheets and covers. In the dark, Jean-Luc had found the pillows, both on the floor and managed to ease one under Beverly's head without waking her, but everything else seemed to be tangled in their legs or dangling over one side of the bed or on the floor. With growing frustration, he grabbed what he thought was the corner of the cover and gave it a quick tug. Unfortunately it jerked Beverly's leg, waking her. She uttered a vulgar curse and turned to peer over her shoulder, her mass of knotted hair partially blinding her.
"For Christ's sake, what are you doing?"
Taking a calming breath, Jean-Luc strove to keep his tone mild. "I'm trying to cover us. I don't know about you, Beverly, but I sleep better when I'm warm!" He'd begun with a mild tone, but ended in irritated sarcasm. Beverly sat up abruptly and started to tug and haul the covers, achieving nothing but making the tangle worse. Now growing annoyed and impatient, Jean-Luc, who really wanted nothing but to sleep, said brusquely, "Stop it, Beverly. You're not helping."
"Oh, really?" She snapped. "Well you can go fuck yourself!"
They glared at each other and suddenly Beverly covered her face with her hands and burst into tears. Dropping his head, Jean-Luc took only enough time to get the covers sorted out before he gathered Beverly into his arms and eased her to lie with him. After a while she stopped crying and shuddered through a deep sigh.
"Sorry." Small, sad.
"No need." Sad and resolute.
"Jean-Luc?" Cautious
"Mmm?" Curious.
"Maybe we should see Patrick Adams soon."
Silence. Then a sigh.
"You really think so?" Reluctant.
Lifting her head, Beverly gently touched her forehead to Jean-Luc's.
"Uh huh."
Swallowing and bowing to the inevitable, Jean-Luc sighed. "Very well. But may I make a suggestion?"
"Yes."
"We do it after this mission. Neither of us can afford to be sidetracked right now. We're only three and a half days away from reaching the coordinates."
"Fair enough." The fact that she simply accepted his suggestion with no protest and the following charged silence made Jean-Luc suspicious. His eyes narrowed when she said with innocent guile, "Are we going to get any more sleep?"
There was a trace of amusement when Jean-Luc asked wryly, "Are you considering seducing me again?"
He felt her fingers begin to draw random patterns in his body hair. "Well it would pass the time...and when you're finally sated, you do tend to become comatose."
He snorted and grinned, knowing his next comment would cause him to regret saying it, but he just couldn't resist.
"True, but at least I don't snore."
Beverly did her best to be outraged, but in the end they both laughed. It was a sound that filled Jean-Luc's heart and yes, they did have sex and yes, both of the slept heavily afterwards. Beverly snoring peacefully.

 

Jean-Luc was immensely pleased to find Beverly in a bright mood next morning. Although he could still see a trace of sadness in her eyes, she seemed to be making a concerted effort to try and put her sorrow behind her.
It was over a second coffee, the croissants eaten, that she asked with an innocent smile, "Jean-Luc, you said yesterday that you'd explain about the tube of lubricant you kept by your bed."
Taking a deep breath and briefly closing his eyes, Jean-Luc slowly shook his head, feeling a spike of irritation. "You," He said incredulously and annoyed, "Are obsessed with my former sex life!"
Trying to make light of his reaction, Beverly chuckled. "I am not!"
His eyes were dark, his expression tight. "Yes you are and quite frankly, I'm getting a little tired of your continued interrogations."
Misjudging his protest completely, she rolled her eyes, failing to see just how annoyed Jean-Luc had become.
"I'm not interrogating you, Jean-Luc. Jesus, don't be so bloody precious. I'm just curious, that's all."
Tilting his head, his eyes bored into hers. "Just curious? All right, Beverly. Just why do you think I had a tube of lube beside my bed?"
Beverly shrugged, finally realising this wasn't so funny any more, but unable to see a way out.
"Well..." She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips. "Maybe to use as you described in your story. You know...to make your partners more...comfortable."
"Oh, really?" His tone was hard. "And just how many partners have I had in the last twelve years, Beverly?"
Pulling her lips to one side, Beverly raised her eyebrows. "Ah...not that many."
"No. So don't you think it would pathetic of me to keep a tube of lubricant by my bedside on the off chance I might find a woman to share my bed?"
Shrugging again, Beverly had run out of words. She bowed her head and blushed.
"What's wrong, Beverly? Not so funny now? All right, just so as not to be disingenuous, the lube was there to make masturbation more enjoyable. So that every time I jacked off, my head filled with visions of you, I might get some pleasure out of it! There. Satisfied?"
When Beverly remained silent, an angry Jean-Luc barked. "My turn. How about you, Beverly? Did you keep a lubricant beside your bed?"
She nodded and Jean-Luc grunted. "And who did you think about?"
When Beverly looked up, Jean-Luc's anger quickly waned at seeing her contrition. He was about to apologise when she beat him to it.
"I'm sorry, Jean-Luc. I know I should've kept my mouth shut, but the truth is I am curious. Intensely so." She sighed and rubbed her brow. "We both know I've been in love with you for some time now and yes, when I masturbated I thought of nothing but you, but the thing is I've been attracted to you for a very long time and I've wondered...Jean-Luc, you're such a private man, so damned noble...even during our friendship, when we became so close, I wanted so badly to ask you stuff, things about your sex life." She sighed again. "But I couldn't, could I, no more than you could ask me. So, like you, I fantasised." She let out a sad chuckle. "Deanna and I used to speculate, try and figure out what you'd be like in bed and I found it so erotic, I mean just thinking about it made me so horny...so lately I've been distracting myself by dredging up all those old fantasies, all that speculation and more recently, hearing your stories...I just felt better feeling slightly aroused all day, rather than wallowing in dreadful sorrow and despair."
With another deep sigh, Beverly lifted her hands and frowned. "I'm sorry, Jean-Luc. I used you. I was a voyeur by proxy. I should've told you."
Letting out a short breath, Jean-Luc stared at his hands. Softly he said, "Would you like a detailed dossier on each and every one of my sexual encounters? Starting with my first and ending with you?"
When Beverly's head snapped up she was relieved to see the wry smile on her husband's face.
"I'm afraid it wouldn't be a very thick file."
Chuckling, Beverly shook her head. "Now that is an out-and-out lie!"
They both chuckled and Jean-Luc sat back and rubbed his nose. "Beverly, I apologise, I overreacted. From now on you may ask me anything, anything you wish about my sexual exploits and I will gladly furnish you with every lurid detail."
Smiling tenderly, Beverly's eyes twinkled with delight. "Thank you, Jean-Luc and in return you must feel free to ask me anything you want too. It's a two-way street, my love and I can tell you from personal experience, it can be quite...stimulating."
Jean-Luc's eyes darkened and he looked at her with blatant sensuality. "I'm sure it is, but unlike you, I actually have to get my work done and if I spent too much time thinking about you in a sexual context, I would have to remain in my ready room all shift, lest the crew see the very obvious evidence of my libidinous thoughts."
Letting his gentle jibe about getting her work done go by momentarily, Beverly leaned forward and licked her lips provocatively. "Now that's a pleasant thought. Thank you, Jean-Luc. Today, while I'm so idle, I'll think of you, sitting at your desk in your office, your pants bulging with your erection."
His voice dropped to a rumbling baritone. "You, Beverly are a cock tease."
Her smile was deliberately saucy. "I know and don't you just love it."
His gaze intensified. "Oh yes, I love it when you tease my cock."
Things may have escalated then, ending with them indulging their already heated arousal on the table, but a call from the Bridge brought them back to reality.
"Riker to Picard."
With his eyes still riveted on his wife, Jean-Luc said huskily,
"Picard."
"Captain, we've received new coordinates from the aliens."
It was Beverly who dropped her intense gaze, breaking the spell. Jean-Luc blinked and took a steadying breath.
"I'm on my way, number one. Picard out."
He stood and Beverly smirked at seeing the straining material of his pants. Muttering, "Wench." Jean-Luc watched as Beverly stood and sauntered over to him, saying quietly,
"We can continue this after our shifts' end."
After she'd left, Jean-Luc took several deep breaths and, having regained control, left their quarters, but in the back of his mind was an image of his wife and the way she had looked at him. He knew it would stay with him for the remainder of the day. His smile was only a ghost but it was decidedly wicked.

 

As would be expected, there was no trace of his private thoughts as he stepped out of the lift and onto his bridge. Will turned to watch his captain, noting with some satisfaction that the man was beginning to shed the shadow of perpetual sorrow that had dogged him so long.
His back was straight, his shoulders square and his bearing correct.
"Report, number one."
"It came in as text and as yet we haven't indentified the origin."
Moving to the tactical station, Jean-Luc read the brief message and pursed his lips.
"What does the computer have to say?"
Will shrugged. "Not a lot, sir. As we know virtually nothing about this sector of space, those coordinates could mean anything." He scowled. "Or be anything."
Frowning, Jean-Luc thinned his lips. "Indeed. Does command know about this?"
The big first officer shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of, captain, although we have sent it on. But we're so far out now any signal we send back will take days to reach them."
Turning to the viewscreen, Jean-Luc ordered, "Screen on."
The forward wall cleared to give a view of the area of space in front of the ship as she travelled at warp five. The bridge was silent as the captain thought. Lifting his right hand, Jean-Luc rubbed his fingers over his lower lip. "Tactical, send a hail, directed at the new coordinates."
"Yes, sir."
Will cast his CO a sidelong glance, trying to guess what the older man was up to. "A hunch, Captain?"
His frown deepening, Jean-Luc peered at the screen. "More like a shout in the dark, number one." He then looked down at the helm console. "ETA at the new coordinates?"
"Three days, Captain."
That made Jean-Luc tilt his head, frown and squint. "Three days? But that was the ETA for the first set of coordinates." His jaw muscles bunched. "Computer, display predicted course for new coordinates and overlay on previous heading."
The forward viewscreen changed to give a representation of a star chart, although it was incomplete, the computer having to extrapolate with data that it gathered from the sensors and scanners as the ship went further and further into uncharted space. The two courses appeared and at first all Jean-Luc could do was frown.
"What the hell?" Jean-Luc muttered, mostly to himself.
Will stepped closer and scratched his head. "This makes no sense."
Using forefinger and thumb, Jean-Luc pinched his lips, deep in thought. When he spoke it was very softly. "I think it does, Commander. I think our mystery friends are being very cautious."
Turning to his captain, Will narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean, sir?"
With a rueful shake of his head, Jean-Luc offered a small smile. "Don't look at them as headings or courses, Will. Think laterally."
Turning back to the screen, Will studied what he could see. Two courses, sharing the same origin, but diverging at slightly different angles, making in effect a very long, narrow triangle, the base of which was as yet missing. A slow smile crept across the Exec's face.
"Don't look for the obvious. If it's not left or right, maybe it's in the middle."
"Indeed." Walking back to the command chair, Jean-Luc said mildly, "Tactical, what's say we launch a class one probe aimed at the middle of the two sets of coordinates?"
"Aye, Captain."
Will took his seat beside Jean-Luc and gave his captain a long look. "Bit of a risk, sir?"
Offering a one shoulder shrug, Jean-Luc pushed out his lower lip. "I think we're entitled, number one. I'm sure our enigmatic friends would understand if we gave a gentle knock on their door. Launch when ready, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir. Probe launched."
"Now then," said Jean-Luc evenly. "Let's see if they're in the mood to answer."
Will sat back, a small grin in place. He'd served with his captain for many years and yet the man could still surprise him. With any luck, the coming hours just might prove to be very interesting.

 

The being watched as the probe left the Enterprise and accelerated away from the ship. With an imperceptible gesture, he communicated with his companion. She nodded and smiled. Using both long, slender hands, each of the seven fingers capable of issuing independent signals, she communicated with her companion.
"Yes, they are eager. And curious. Just as we expected."
The tissue-thin surrounds of the male's eyes crinkled as he smiled. The movements of his fingers and hands so subtle as to be almost imperceptible. "Yes. I must say I'm looking forward to this. The trouble has brought much sorrow to the conscience."
"Yes," Agreed the female. "He has been greatly disturbed and in his worry, we all suffer."
The male sighed. "That is the nature of the conscience."
"You are confident?" The female asked, her hands seeming to twitch ever so slightly.
"I am. We have chosen correctly. They are, after all, the same."
"So many."
"Yes. Frightening actually, especially given their expansion."
"They need a conscience."
"Perhaps, in time. You must remember how long it took us to realise. They are but children compared with us. But...we must never underestimate their potential. That would be at our peril."
The female nodded and sighed. "That they, and some of the others have provided the conscience for so long...and they have not yet discovered their potential. I'm not sure whether to pity them, or fear them."
The male inclined his head. "Perhaps we would be wise to do both. Now, we must decide whether or not to reply to their rather obvious invitation."
With a gentle smile, the female's hands and fingers made tiny, incremental movements. "So presumptuous. First the messages, then the hails and now a probe. How impertinent."
"I think we can be a little more tolerant. Let the probe gather a little information, just enough to draw them in. Once they're within our sphere of influence, they can be escorted by two of our ships. I'm sure that will delight them."
"Communications? Scanning?"
The male tilted his head. "No communications, but allow a surface scan of our ships. And make sure we do not do anything to alarm them. We need their help, the conscience needs their help and as unpalatable as it is, we must do everything we can to assist these beings and make them welcome."
"And after?"
The male sighed, his hands momentarily still. Then his fingers began their miniscule movements. "We must do as we've done before and allow them to leave."
"And if they wish further contact?"
"That will be put to the conscience. It will be his decision as is right."
The female gave one last look at the approaching probe and shook her head. "Such a lack of delicacy."

 

Three and a half hours later the lieutenant at tactical suddenly tensed, saying curtly,
"Captain, I have incoming information from the probe."
Jean-Luc turned to his Exec and raised one eyebrow. "It seems someone was home after all."

 

Over the next hour or so the senior staff of the Enterprise poured over the information gained by the probe. As they sat around the long table in the aft observation lounge a three dimensional holo image of a planet glowed softly as it hovered in mid air above the tabletop.
Geordi sighed as he read the information once again. "Gee, I wish Data was here. He'd have no trouble analysing this." Sighing again, he shook his head, a look of disgust on his face. "Such as it is."
Jean-Luc nodded; a sad smile on his face. "Indeed, I'm sure he'd be fascinated. But he's not with us any more, so we have to do the best we can. What do you think, Mr.LaForge?"
"Well, Captain," Geordi's brow creased in a frown. "Provided you understand the information is so limited...and I can't understand why, unless the probe's capabilities have been compromised somehow, it's M class...I think...maybe, and these areas..." He indicated by pointing at several darker spots on the surface of the sphere, "May be cities. But then again, they might be geological features. There's just not enough information to be sure."
Will stroked his beard, narrowing his eyes as he studied the rotating orb. "Is there any evidence of technology? Emissions of any sort? Satellites in orbit? What about an orbiting space dock like the one described by our ships?"
"No, Commander," said Geordi, shaking his head. "Nothing, communications silent and no trace of any technology of any sort. At least not as far as we know."
"Cloak?" Jean-Luc's tone easily informed the dark engineer he didn't expect an affirmative answer.
"Not that we can tell, Captain."
Jean-Luc sighed with resignation. "So, we're still no further informed than before, despite what the probe's scans provided."
"No, sir."
Beverly sat back and slowly swivelled her chair from side-to-side. Her thoughts were expressed as she spoke. "Okay. We know we're dealing with a warp-capable species, whose technology, that we know of, is more sophisticated than ours."
Her eyes sharpened as she stopped her movement and sent her husband a frank look. "They can probably do as they please; I mean how would we know?"
"Indeed." Agreed Jean-Luc. "In fact they can spoon feed us and we'd be none the wiser, but there is one thing we have to keep in mind, although I stress I don't believe it, but the chance remains, however remote that the people we're dealing with are not the species we think they are."
Will grunted sourly. "I hate mysteries. If we could just pin it down one way or another! It's not that I mind working in the dark so much as I don't take kindly to being led by the nose. If it is the species we think it is, why the cloak-and-dagger routine? They invited us!"
"Well," Sighed Jean-Luc. "The way I see it is that we have little option but to investigate. If the probe's information has been doled out, then there must be a reason for it and the only way we're going to find out what that reason is...is to go and see for ourselves."
He lifted his head and said firmly, "Helm, plot a course to the planet, coordinates are being fed in now and engage at warp two on my command."
"Aye, Captain. Course and speed laid in."
"Engage."
He leaned back in his seat, turned it and looked out at the passing stars. "If indeed we have found our potential friends, then it would seem our knock at their door has provoked a response."
Turning back to his assembled staff, Jean-Luc said quietly, "Yellow alert."
Will lifted his chin and stroked his moustache with index finger and thumb. "Expecting trouble, sir?"
The smile was genuine but didn't quite reach his eyes. "No, but I feel a certain amount of preparedness is called for. Nothing overtly provocative mind, but again, I feel we're entitled. So far we've responded to their invitation and in return they've sent two separate sets of coordinates and now it seems they may have deliberately interfered with our probe. Now, I can't prove anything, certainly nothing that suggests a hostile intent, but I'm not about to happily put our neck in a noose."
The big first officer grinned. "Agreed, Captain and if I may, sir...Worf would be very happy with your assessment."
That made Jean-Luc's smile grow with fond memories. "Yes, I'm sure Mr. Worf would've approved. Now, if there's nothing else?"
Everyone shook their heads and Jean-Luc gave a curt nod. "Very well, take your stations." The senior staff rose, but paused as the captain said softly, "And stay on your toes."
A soft chorus of, "Yes, sir." Was heard as the staff filed out, leaving Jean-Luc in deep contemplation.

 

The conscience held his child while tears streamed from her eyes, her beseeching stare wrenching his heart. His other three children were around him and all four children were afflicted the same way. The room was devoid of its usual sounds and colours, even their mother was absent. The conscience found tears of his own sliding down his face, wanting desperately to talk to his children, an ability he could only share with them as the only other way of communication was with his hands, but unlike his people, his hands were vastly different and even though he had been born on the world, he knew he was unlike his people and found his hands unable to achieve the level of proficiency necessary for fluent communication. His children were partially successful in using their hands to communicate, but usually they preferred to speak, an ability they had inherited from him.
It made them unique but also doomed them to a future very different from the indigenous population. Being the children of the conscience was an enormous honour, carrying great prestige, but also a huge burden as, although exulted in their own right, they were forever excluded. They were beings of two worlds, not one or the other and as such could never take their place amongst the people their father served. That he too was not of the world he guided was irrelevant. He was the conscience. Just to be his children was enough. His difference, not only unlike his people but also his children was never questioned.
And so the conscience held his daughter while his other children suffered as she did and he was unable to offer comfort, other than physical. He closed his eyes and willed the approaching ship to hurry.

 

With the elegant Enterprise cruising along at a leisurely warp two, it took a few days to get close to their destination and Jean-Luc, who had taken to spending longer and longer time on the bridge in anticipation, was just on his way back to his quarters very late at night when the call came from the bridge. He wasn't surprised, in fact he felt a tingle of excitement.
"Captain Picard to the bridge immediately."
Making an abrupt about turn, Jean-Luc retraced his steps to the turbo lift. Once inside he tapped his comm. badge. "Picard to Riker."
Even though the call had woken Will, there was no trace of sleepiness in his voice. "Riker here, sir."
"Sorry to wake you, number one, but I've been summoned to the bridge and I can only assume it means our friends may have made an appearance, or at the very least, some kind of contact. Care to join me?"
Of course it wasn't a question Will could refuse, in fact he was eager, but he did have to take his daughter into account.
"Gladly, Captain. I'll be there as soon as I can organise a sitter."
"Very well, commander, I'll see you soon. Picard out."
Jean-Luc felt the tension as soon as he stepped out of the lift. The bridge was very quiet as one would expect during the 'night' shift, but it seemed that everyone's attention was glued to the forward view screen. As Jean-Luc stepped onto the bridge, his feet faltered just slightly as his eyes beheld the most stunningly beautiful ship he'd ever seen. Not taking his eyes off the image, he made his way to the area between the command chair and the helm and ops stations. His tone was almost reverent as he said softly to no one in particular, "Report."
The lieutenant at tactical's voice was also hushed in awe. "It just appeared out of nowhere, Captain, in fact there're two of them, one each side of us at a distance of precisely three hundred and fifty kilometres."
"Hail them."
"We have, sir."
Tearing his eyes away, Jean-Luc looked over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised in silent enquiry.
"No response, Captain."
"Have you initiated any scans?"
"No, sir."
"Then do so, Lieutenant."
"Yes, Captain."
Turning his head back, Jean-Luc took an involuntary step forward, as if getting closer to the screen would give him a better look at the astonishing ship. The officer's voice was confused.
"Captain? We've scanned them, but I'm sorry, sir, I can't tell you much."
Turning his body away from the screen, Jean-Luc faced the woman and said with a trace of impatience, "Elaborate. What do you mean?"
"Just as I said, sir. I cannot detect a warp bubble, no warp signature, no ion trail in fact I have absolutely no idea what their propulsion system is. Our scans cannot identify the composition of their hull, nor can they penetrate the hull. All I can tell you is that there are many viewports of some kind, but we can't see through them, however I would hazard a guess that any being on that ship would be able to look out and see us. The hull itself is seamless, sir, there are no external features and I cannot find anything to indicate any systems involved with shielding or weaponry."
"How big are they?"
"I can't give you an exact calculation, sir, but they're not as big as us, however they are quite large."
"And we can't discern what's making them glow?"
"No, Captain."
Just then the turbo lift doors opened and Will strode out and onto the bridge. He immediately saw the ship, came to an abrupt halt and muttered, "Holy shit!"
Casting a mildly amused look at his first officer, Jean-Luc's eyes gleamed. "Not perhaps what I would've said, number one, but appropriate nonetheless."
He gestured with his hand. "Our hosts it would seem."
Getting his feet moving again, Will joined his captain. "What do we know so far?"
Snorting softly, Jean-Luc folded his arms across his chest and shook his head. "Virtually nothing. They're not answering our hails and our scans have been all but useless. In fact I..."
"Captain!" The lieutenant at tactical was staring at her board. "We're being scanned, sir."
"Shields?" Asked a now concerned Will.
"No."
"What about weapons? Bring them online?"
"No. We will take no provocative actions, other than to stay at yellow alert."
Letting out a soft but frustrated huff, Will glared at the alien ship, causing Jean-Luc to lay a gentle hand on the younger man's forearm. "We're in their territory, Will. They have a right to be curious and to assure themselves we pose no threat."
Will's frown showed his displeasure. "Yes, sir, I know that and I understand. I just wish it wasn't so damned one-sided."
"Well, number one, it's not as if we can do anything about it. They invited us, we're here. The next move is up to them."
The ensign at the helm asked quietly, "Shall we maintain current speed and heading, Captain?"
"Yes, Ensign. Until such time as we're requested to do otherwise, we continue."
"Aye, Captain."
From behind him, Jean-Luc heard the tactical officer say incredulously, "Captain...they've accessed the main computer core."
"That is unfortunate, but I can't see how we can prevent it without taking a hostile stance. In any case, it's unlikely they're going to learn much more than they already know; if these are indeed the same people who have interacted with our ships in the recent past."
Suddenly the same young woman tensed and reported, "Sir? We're receiving a message. Text only."
With his usual grace and dignity, Jean-Luc went aft to the station and read quietly for a few moments. To Will's silent enquiry, Jean-Luc smiled.
"We are requested to maintain present course and speed and that our 'most prominent healer' be available to 'interface' in four of our hours."
Will sighed and gave a sympathetic look. "That will make it about seven thirty."
Nodding, Jean-Luc gestured with a tilt of his head. "I'll tell her, Will. You have the bridge; I'll be in the ready room."
Jean-Luc was well aware Beverly had been missing him sorely over the last few days. His ever increasing time spent on the bridge was justifiable, but it was hard on both of them, Beverly especially. So it was with some reluctance that he called her, knowing it was going to disturb what little sleep she was getting. The plain fact was since they'd become a couple, neither slept well without the presence of the other and given their need for mutual comfort and solace, it was little wonder neither of them had been getting much sleep. He grimaced as her reply to his call clearly showed her exhaustion.
"Crusher here."
"I'm sorry to wake you, Beverly, but I'm afraid things have occurred that require your input."
Now awake and alert, Beverly was all business. "We've made contact?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes. At present, there are two alien ships, one on each side, ostensibly escorting us. They haven't responded to our hails and we can't scan them, but they've executed a very thorough scan of us, including a good look at our computer core. Then we received a text message, instructing us to maintain our course and speed. And Beverly, they've requested to... 'interface' with you in four hours."
"Did they ask for me by name?"
"No, as before they worded it as the 'most prominent healer'."
"I see. Okay, I'll be there in about fifteen minutes. Crusher out."
Rising from his desk, Jean-Luc spent a few minutes staring out at the retreating stars before regaining his seat and bringing up an image of one of the alien ships. "My God, but you're beautiful!" He whispered reverently. "I can only hope the beings who built you are as beautiful in spirit as their ships."

 

The hours ticked by remarkably quickly. Beverly was in the ready room, drinking yet another strong black coffee, Jean-Luc nursing a now-cold Earl Grey tea when the call came from Will.
"Captain, Beverly, we've received another message."
The couple joined Will at the tactical station and read as the text appeared on the console screen.
"May we interface with the most prominent healer?"
Giving a slight nod, Jean-Luc let the lieutenant know to send a message in the affirmative. There was a wait of only a few seconds before the next missive arrived.
"Most prominent healer, thank you for agreeing to interface with us. We require a healer; one who possesses thorough knowledge of humans. Are you such a person?"
With raised eyebrows, Beverly turned to her husband, her eyes showing her deep concern. "Now just what the hell is going on here? Why do they want...or need...a doctor well versed in human physiology? Are they saying... obliquely...that they have some humans who need a doctor when we already know they can medically treat humans better than we can?"
Jean-Luc sighed and rubbed his brow. With a slow shake of his head, he said quietly, "Unknown, Doctor, just as this entire mission is one of entering into the unknown, both figuratively and literally. All I can suggest is that you respond. Tell them you're human yourself and that yes, you are very knowledgeable about your own species."
Still unconvinced, Beverly scowled. "And what of the implications? I'm to just gloss over the fact that these...people...might be holding humans who are so badly injured or diseased that the aliens, even with their superior knowledge and techniques, can't help them?"
Gazing steadily into his wife's eyes, Jean-Luc had no option but to adopt his captain's persona. "Doctor, we are not here to judge, indeed we're not in a position to do so. If these people are the aliens who have assisted us in the past, then I can't see how we can refuse them and if it turns out they do indeed have some humans in their care and for whatever reason can't treat them, then aren't you honour bound to render help?"
His tacit reference to the Hippocratic Oath annoyed Beverly, but she knew he was right. That, however, didn't make it any more palatable, especially as his very gentle rebuke had been given publically. Controlling the urge to glare, Beverly directed her attention to the monitor. Inputting the instructions to the computer to configure her speech to text, she said quietly,
"This is Doctor Beverly Crusher. I am human and I have a very good knowledge of humans; their anatomy, physiology, the illnesses that afflict them and how to treat those illnesses."
When she was ready, Beverly instructed the computer to send. The wait for a reply was short.
"Doctor Crusher, once we reach our home planet, you will be contacted by a council of healers. It is our wish that you interface with them."
Beverly started to speak again and Jean-Luc almost stopped her as he felt her question was going to be slightly aggressive.
"May I ask how many humans you're holding and what is the nature of their need of my assistance?"
"No."
At that, Beverly's eyebrows rose and Jean-Luc could see she was about to go too far. Placing a gentle hand on her forearm, he gave her a look he hoped she would recognise as coming from both her captain and her husband. "Doctor..." He said quietly.
Taking a calming breath, Beverly lowered her head and stepped back. Jean-Luc spoke, making sure he utilised his usual polite respect.
"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard and as captain I command this ship and all who serve on it. Doctor Crusher is under my command and she will only act under my authority. Her questions have merit. If you wish her to act in her capacity as a healer, than surely it is only fair that you give her some idea of what it is you wish of her?"
"Your words carry truth, Captain Picard; however we must abide by our own precepts. Doctor Crusher will receive all the information she needs once we reach our home planet."
Feeling the communication was about to cease, Jean-Luc asked one final question.
"We are dealing with human patients are we not?"
"Yes, but more than that."
The communication link was abruptly severed, causing Beverly to mutter darkly, "What was that supposed to mean?"
"I don't know." Jean-Luc said in clipped annoyed tones. "We're all in the dark here, Doctor."
Turning his attention to the helm, Jean-Luc asked tightly, "ETA at our destination?"
The young ensign frowned and half turned in her seat. "If it's the planet, five hours, Captain."
With narrowed eyes, Jean-Luc asked quietly, "You have doubts, Ensign?"
The woman was clearly reluctant and nervous but she'd been asked a direct question and had no option but to answer.
"I'm not sure, sir."
To her CO's raised eyebrow, the ensign frowned, trying to find the right words to describe her disquiet. "Captain, although on the surface it seems obvious we're headed for the planet, I'm not convinced. But...it's only a feeling, Captain, I can't base it on anything solid."
Walking slowly down to the helm station, Jean-Luc made sure to modulate his voice and appear approachable.
"What is your name, Ensign?"
His gentle deep voice both calmed and excited the woman. Blushing slightly she replied, "Bates, sir, Ensign Faye Bates."
Jean-Luc smiled warmly.
"Well then Ensign Bates, tell me what's causing these feelings."
When the youngster hesitated, Jean-Luc placed a paternal hand on her shoulder. "Ensign, this ship functions at its best when the crew...all of the crew ...give their utmost, make the best of their abilities and one of the curious abilities humans possess is gut feelings. Hunches, if you will. Now I have been a captain for a very long time but believe it or not, I was once an ensign just like you and my first captain told me to listen to my feelings...my hunches. And I did. If you have any disquiet, any gut feelings that something is not right, then not only are you duty bound to inform me, but I expect you to, I encourage you to. Just because I am of senior rank doesn't mean I don't hear all ranks and appreciate what they have to say, Ensign."
Bolstered by his inspiring words, ensign Bates took a deep breath and faced her captain. "Sir, when I was young my father used to take me on trips into the wildernesses all over Earth. He was a very keen videographer and he liked to capture vids of animals in their natural habitat. Through him I learned that sometimes what seemed like the nest or home base of our subject wasn't always the real one. Many animals create false homes to mislead predators and it was the very obviousness of these false homes that taught us to search elsewhere and in nearly every instance the real home was nearby. Well hidden and almost always scent free." She turned and looked at her board. "I just can't shake the feeling that what we see isn't quite what we're going to get, sir."
Giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze, Jean-Luc turned his attention to tactical. "Can we scan beyond the planet...or for that matter, around the planet?"
The lieutenant tapped a few controls and tilted her head. "Now that we're so much closer we are getting more information, captain, at least about the surrounding space. The planet itself, however, remains very vague. There's nothing more than what we got from the probe, sir."
"I see. All right, what do our scans tell us about the surrounding space?"
The woman frowned and chewed her lower lip. "Captain? I think there may be something..." She looked up, her expression one of apology. "I'm sorry sir, but I don't know what it is."
Will was about to say something when Jean-Luc said quietly, "Lieutenant, have you coordinates for what our scans have found?"
"Yes, Captain."
"Very well." Lifting his head slightly, Jean-Luc said firmly, "Computer identify anomaly at given coordinates." With a nod towards the lieutenant, he gave the silent order for the officer to input the coordinates. Almost instantly the computer replied, "Cannot comply. Insufficient data."
Will shook his head, saying sourly, "Still the cloak-and-dagger routine. Why are they being so damned mysterious? If they're who we think they are, we already know about them!"
Arching one eyebrow Jean-Luc said dryly, "Do we, number one?" He answered his own question. "If it is who we think it is we know next to nothing. We don't even know what they look like...apart from the fact they possess hands with seven fingers and I don't know about you, but I can think of any number of species who share that particular trait." He sighed and folded his arms across his chest, turning to watch as Beverly joined them. "It comes back time and time again to the same thing. If they are who we think they are, then they've shown absolutely no hostile intent, indeed they've been nothing but benevolent. Mysterious yes, but benign and we're just going to have to accept that this is one of those situations where we just have to go along with whatever comes our way."
Beverly cast a long look at the viewscreen, her expression softening as she studied the remarkably beautiful ship that glowed softly, creating a nimbus of light that seemed to carry the ship within its grasp. She sighed and shook her head. "So, either way we have five hours to kill."
Snorting wryly, Will's eyes too strayed to the viewscreen. Whatever arch comment he'd been about to say was lost. Instead he said, almost reverently, "Have you ever seen anything like that before, Captain?"
Neither Will nor Beverly had seen Jean-Luc turn to gaze avidly at the alien ship. His reply was not quite a whisper. "No, Will, I haven't."
The three officers stood, transfixed until a quiet interruption from tactical.
"Captain?"
Jean-Luc tore his eyes away reluctantly and raised one eyebrow.
"Sir, they've sent instructions for our orbital station, once we arrive."
Pulling down the corners of his mouth, Jean-Luc took in a deep breath then let it out slowly. To no one in particular he remarked, "Well it seems as if we're going to the planet after all." He then collected his thoughts and asked, "What kind of orbit have they requested, Lieutenant?"
"Standard rotational, Captain and well above the atmosphere. In fact, sir, we'll be very high."
His face showing his interest, Jean-Luc turned again to watch the ship. "So, close but not too close."
Stroking his beard, Will pursed his lips. "I wonder if we'll be able to beam down through whatever it is that's shielding our scanners?"
With a shrug, Jean-Luc turned his hands palm-up. "Who knows, number one. I suppose we'll find out in the fullness of time."
Beverly's darkly muttered, "Here's hoping." Did little to ease the tension.

 

Upon final approach to the planet the escorting ships peeled off and disappeared in a blink of an eye. Just as tactical was about to announce this event, text appeared on her console.
"Captain Picard to the bridge please."
Coming out of his ready room, Beverly close behind and both of them showing signs of stress and tiredness, Jean-Luc strode up to tactical and read; his expression one of surprise and pleasure. Without preamble he ordered the viewscreen on.
The being was masked entirely by a tight suit made of a pale cream material that caught the ambient light. It could only be seen from the waist upwards and its head was completely encased in an unbroken hood. There were no eye-holes or any apertures for breathing. As the bridge personnel watched, two gloved hands appeared and, as text began to appear at the bottom of the screen, they wondered why the being kept its hands in full view.
"I offer greetings on behalf of our people and the conscience. Doctor Beverly Crusher, I represent the council of healers. Would you agree to accept the information we are about to send...privately?"
Warily, Beverly said, "Privately? Exactly what do you mean? Do you want me to view it in private or keep the contents private?"
"Human healers hold their patients' information with the utmost privacy, do you not? Is it not known as patient confidentiality? You, as a human doctor took an oath and within that oath is the condition of confidentiality. Is that not so, Doctor?"
Beverly was frowning now, the feeling of being painted into a corner by her own professional tenets making her very uncomfortable.
"Yes, that is true, but you have me at a distinct disadvantage."
The being was utterly motionless, its hands still held up in full view. Behind it was a light blue light, it may have been a wall, or something else, but the effect was very calming.
"I understand your reluctance, Doctor. You do not wish to become involved in something you have no idea as to what is happening. Please be assured..." The being gave an imperceptible bow. "And you also, Captain Picard, no one, not me, the council of healers or the conscience will harm you or your ship. Once you have completed what we hope will be a successful task, you and your ship will be free to go. At no time will you be compelled to stay, nor will we prevent it if you, at any time, wish to leave."
Jean-Luc stepped forward to stand by Beverly's side. "May we know the nature of your problem?"
"Alas, no, Captain. Only Doctor Crusher may know."
"Then perhaps you might like to share with us your name?"
"No, Captain, it is unnecessary. Besides, you would never be able to pronounce it."
Jean-Luc turned to his wife, his expression letting her know it was her call. Abide by the alien's wishes or they leave. Ultimately the decision was an easy one. Someone, presumably human needed a doctor and Beverly was not only a damned good doctor, but she was by her very nature a compassionate person.
Turning her full attention towards the image on the screen, Beverly stood straight and said formally,
"I accept your conditions. You have my word I will not divulge what you share with me."
The being made its subtle bow again and new text scrolled across the bottom of the screen.
"We will send all we have and, once you have absorbed the information, please contact us with your diagnosis and treatment."
That made Beverly frown and hold up her hand.
"Wait a minute. I have no problem studying the information, but I can't guarantee a diagnosis or treatment without seeing the patients."
There was a tense silence and the alien lowered its hands. Almost two minutes passed before it raised its hands again and the text began once more.
"If it becomes necessary, we may consider allowing such a visit, but we can only hope that will not occur. We have installed a sub routine within your ship's computer that will secure three separate sections of your...sick bay. We are sending the information there now. Once you access your terminal, please allow a biological sample to be taken, the sub routine in the computer will facilitate this through the screen of your terminal and having verified your identity, the information will be displayed. Please note...anyone coming within five metres of your terminal will cause an automatic shutdown."
From behind the couple, Will's grumbled, "How the hell have they done that?" Made Jean-Luc's shoulders tense. He was thinking precisely the same thing.
Gaping slightly, Beverly nodded. "Very well, I'll go to sick bay now."
"Thank you Doctor Crusher." Again the barely perceptible bow. "And you, Captain Picard."
The being lowered its hands and the screen blinked off.
Jean-Luc and Beverly shared a look and a small smile before the doctor left the bridge. Jean-Luc bowed his head, pinching his lower lip, saying softly, "Mon Dieu, Data, how we miss you."
Lifting his head, Jean-Luc speared his exec with a hard gaze. "I want an in-depth computer analysis of that exchange. Tell it to study everything from the being itself, to the light surrounding it and the language it used, particularly the syntax. If there's anything hidden, any subtext or things just unseen, I want to know about it."
All business now, Will nodded. "Aye, sir."
The viewscreen now gave an image of the planet. Before he retreated to his ready room, Jean-Luc, his eyes on the planet, drifted to Ensign Bates, still seated at the helm.
"How are those feelings now, Ensign?"
Having her captain so close again gave Faye butterflies in her stomach, but she was quickly learning that he was not as formidable as she first thought. In fact she was beginning to think he was quite nice. "They're still there, sir, maybe not as strong, but I'm still not completely happy."
Nodding slowly, but not taking his gaze from the viewscreen, Jean-Luc said softly, "Well keep working on it Ensign and don't hesitate to bring any concerns, no matter how small to commander Riker."
"Yes, Captain."
Giving one more thoughtful nod, Jean-Luc left the bridge.

 

Having seated herself in her office and activated her monitor, Beverly wondered exactly what it was she was to do next. She knew that a biological sample would be taken through the screen, but from where on her body and when then was to happen she had no idea.
Just as she was mulling over the problem, text suddenly appeared on the monitor.
"Doctor Crusher. Please place the pad of your right thumb on the screen."
Feeling somewhat relieved, Beverly complied. She was fascinated to see the screen darken and a bright blue aura surround her thumb. It reminded her of ancient images she'd seen of Kirlian photography where a glow emerged around any living thing.
A few seconds passed before the screen brightened to its usual Starfleet blue, but no logo appeared. Instead text scrolled.
"Thank you, Doctor Crusher, your identification has been verified. The download will now commence."
Information began to load at a phenomenal rate, making Beverly gape. Softly, she said experimentally, "Can you hear me?
In a separate space at the lower edge of the screen a single word appeared.
"Yes."
"Is this information chronological? Will it start with the onset of the problem and finish with the most up-to-date information?"
"Yes."
"And may I ask how many patients am I required to diagnose and treat?"
"Four, perhaps five."
"And they're all human."
"No."
That made Beverly sit up and frown.
"They're not all human?"
"No."
Running a frustrated hand through her hair, Beverly huffed. "Well how do you expect me to help the non-humans? I know nothing of your species! How can I..."
"Doctor Crusher, you are getting ahead of yourself. Just read what we have sent you and trust that we have chosen the right person to help those who are afflicted."
The download abruptly ceased and Beverly sat back, tapping her chin in deep thought. "Afflicted." Muttered Beverly. "That seems to suggest disease or illness rather than injury."
A little louder she said, "Can you still hear me?"
Nothing. No response.
"So," Beverly sighed. "I'm on my own. Very well, let's have a look. Computer display new download."
The first page appeared and as she read she realised she was reading about something she was familiar with, but it wasn't until she discovered the age of the human 'patient' and she saw the images of the defective organ and accompanying neural structures that she was certain. It was with deep dismay and terrible confusion that she said incredulously, "Shalaft's! My God, that's Shalaft's Syndrome!"
Quickly scrolling down through page after page, she rapidly read how the aliens had finally identified the problem and using technology beyond Beverly's comprehension, cured the condition, rather than simply waiting until the condition resolved itself as would be the case in any human boy. Although that in itself is almost unheard of. Usually, once a genetically inherited condition is evident, it is present at birth and stays for the life of the afflicted.
Shalaft's Syndrome was very, very rare. An inherited disorder, carried by the males in the afflicted line, it becomes evident when the boy reaches the age of four and is very debilitating as it causes a malfunction in how sound is carried from the ear through the cranial nerve and into the brain. So sensitive becomes the aural system that the unfortunate youngster is so averse to any sound, he has to be kept in a sound-proof room as any sound at all, even the slightest, causes unbearable and excruciating pain. There is no known cure as such, but it is known that the condition resolves itself within three or four months, leaving the young boy no worse for his experience, certainly his hearing is undamaged. It is because of the rarity of the condition and the fact that it not only resolves itself without medical intervention and the afflicted is left unharmed that little or no research of the condition has ever taken place.
The only reason Beverly knew about the condition was that her husband, Jean-Luc Picard, was not only a carrier, but as a little boy, had been a sufferer. Indeed, it was something they had discussed when they decided to have children. Jean-Luc so clearly remembered how terrible the experience had been he actually suggested the use of gender selection to make sure they didn't have a son as he didn't want any son of theirs to suffer as he once had, but with Beverly's gentle reminder of his wish to perpetuate his lineage, he acquiesced, knowing Beverly would do everything she could if they had a son to help him.
The irony hit Beverly like a punch in the gut. "I wouldn't care what he had just as long as we had a son...or a daughter." As the sorrow and despair began to rise, she shook her head and shoved it savagely aside. "No! Not now."
It was when she began to read about the other four patients that she quickly realised she was dealing with some kind of hybrid. The onset of the syndrome was much later in life, in the early teens and affected both sexes. And, very telling, the aliens had had no success in treating it. Not only that, but, as Beverly read, it became obvious that the syndrome in the hybrids was not resolving itself.
"You poor kids! Dear God, how you must be suffering."
Beverly chewed on her thumbnail for a few moments, then said quietly, "Computer, display images of the aural systems of the hybrids."
When the images appeared, Beverly tapped the screen, bringing up enlargements of each image. Leaning forward, she narrowed her eyes. "Jesus, how the hell am I going to sort this out? I have absolutely no idea how this works!" She covered her mouth with her hand and sighed. Her hand then went to cup her chin. "Okay, back to basics. Computer, display complete anatomy of hybrids."
"Unable to comply."
"Okay, display images of hybrid patients."
"Unable to comply."
Now clearly irritated, Beverly gritted her teeth and ground out,
"Very well, display image of human patient."
"Unable to comply."
Confused and now very angry, Beverly barked,
"Why?"
"That information is not available."
"Why the hell not?!"
"Unknown."
"How the fuck to you expect me to do my job, damn you?!" She shouted. Taking a calming breath or two, Beverly settled her anger and frustration. In a much milder tone she asked rhetorically, "Why are you so shy? What are you trying so hard to keep hidden from me?"
She sat back in her seat, staring at the last image she'd enlarged. "Computer..." She said cautiously, not really expecting her next request to be successful. "Transfer all images of the hybrids' aural systems and the human's aural system to the main board in sick bay."
When no refusal took place a tentative Beverly left her office to find to her surprise, the images displayed on the large main screen. Tapping a particular image, it enlarged to take up the entire screen. Soon Beverly became so absorbed the passage of time passed as an irrelevance. She failed to notice that sick bay was empty and the doors were locked.

 

Just on two and a half hours after Beverly had left the bridge; Jean-Luc was summoned from the ready room by Will.
The captain could see by Will's expression that something of importance had been discovered. To Jean-Luc's silent enquiry, Will tilted his head and said quietly,
"Tactical, sir."
When both men were at the station, Will pointed at the screen. There Jean-Luc could see an enlarged image of the alien being's hands. Will explained.
"It took a while, sir, the computer didn't see it at first and even then it didn't recognise what it was seeing, but...have a look at this."
At the tap of a pad, the vid played, although extremely slowly. At first, Jean-Luc saw nothing, then his eyes suddenly narrowed and he said quickly, "Computer, freeze image." He studied what he was seeing then asked the computer to back the vid up. Again he ordered the play to freeze then once more ordered play.
Will said softly, "Computer increase speed of playback by 5%."
Jean-Luc blinked; his mouth opening. Almost to himself he muttered, "Gestural language! My God...it's so subtle...I can barely see it!"
In reply Will said quietly, but obviously impressed, "Yes, sir and that's an enlarged image, played very slowly. Have a look at this. Computer playback at normal speed."
The computer complied and Jean-Luc gasped, dragging his eyes from the screen to give Will an incredulous look. "It's invisible to the naked eye!"
"Yes, sir, it's no wonder the computer missed it the first few times."
Now using the very familiar gesture of rubbing his fingers over his lower lip, Jean-Luc began to speculate. "So...is it communicating with another being out of sight, who's transposing the signals into text, or is their level of technological expertise so sophisticated that whatever passes as a computer system for them can read its hand gestures and automatically interpret and generate text...in Standard?"
The big first officer shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine, Captain. The thing is there's no way we can communicate with these beings on our terms. As it stands we're totally dependent on them and their system for communications between us."
"But we can hail them."
"Yes, sir we can, but it's up to them whether or not to answer and even if they do, if they choose not to use text, we simply can't communicate. I doubt even Data could've mastered their gestural language. We've done some study..." He tapped a few controls which brought up a close-up of one of the being's long fingers and Jean-Luc's eyes widened.
"Good Lord, how many joints does it have?"
"Well," Will sighed, "The computer's not exactly sure. Some of the joints are obvious, but some are discrete and we can't be absolutely certain of their use, or just how broad the range of movement is, given that we've only seen the most miniscule of motions but the overall effect is that each of the seven fingers is extraordinarily articulated."
"So, unless one possesses hands with fingers like that..." Jean-Luc pointed at the image. "It's simply not possible to emulate their gestures."
"That's about it, sir."
"Damn! This puts a very different slant on things doesn't it. It's almost certain that there are humans on that planet that are in need of medical assistance the aliens cannot provide...for whatever reason and now we know that it would be impossible for the humans to have any control over communications with their...hosts. I have to wonder just how long those humans have been there and how they got there."
Will directed a sour look at the planet. "And how they came to be sick...or injured."
"Indeed."
Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc resisted the urge to tug his uniform tunic down. It was a habitual gesture no longer necessary with the new uniforms, but he missed it.
"Hail them, Lieutenant."
While they waited to see if there would be a response, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"If they're willing to let us see them again, I want the computer to record everything and go over it again, paying close attention to the hands."
"Aye, Captain." Will said softly.
Although their eyes were directed at the console screen, it was the forward viewer that flicked from the image of the planet below to that of an alien being. As it was exactly same in appearance to the previous one, the Enterprise officers had no idea if it was the same being, or another one. Walking with unruffled calm, Jean-Luc took up a position just behind the helm and ops stations.
"Am I addressing the same individual as before?"
The being's hands rose as the text appeared at the bottom of the screen.
"That is of no consequence, Captain Picard. What is it you wish of me?"
"I have many questions."
"I'm sure you have, Captain, however unfortunately it is not possible to answer them."
Jean-Luc's expression hardened a little and he began to raise a hand, but the scrolling text silenced him.
"Please, Captain, your protest will change nothing. We invited you and requested help and through your organisation's generosity and mercy, you came and we thank you, we are grateful, but when Doctor Crusher has completed her task, we will ask you to leave and if possible, not return. We do not wish to share anything of or about ourselves with you. This is not done to insult or through any malevolent intent; rather simply that we wish to be left alone. We knew when we contacted your organisation that there was a very real chance that by opening a 'dialogue' with you the risk was that your species' innate curiosity would demand that you know more...indeed, when we assisted the two damaged ships in the recent past and again when we intervened to try and save your ships under attack from the Borg, we knew we were showing our hand, as you so quaintly put it, but we are a peaceful people, Captain and could not stand by and do nothing while intelligent beings were being slaughtered.
"You want to know why we requested a healer familiar with humans? I cannot give you that information, Captain. I can assure you no humans are being held captive, indeed no one has ever been compelled to stay if they did not wish to, but as for those not of our world, I am sorry, but you cannot stay or learn anything about us. If that frustrates you, then I can only apologise and reiterate that you are under no obligation to stay, nor are you or your ship in any danger. We have never harmed anyone who posed no threat to us, especially no one who has been kind enough to respond to a request for assistance."
Jean-Luc hid his disappointment well, but his tone was a little tight.
"I'm very sorry you feel that way. You're obviously well aware of the Federation of Planets and Starfleet, indeed, your access to our computer core has furnished you with a great deal of information, not only about humans, but all the worlds of the Federation. I think it a great pity you are not willing to share, if not your knowledge, then at least your friendship."
Although the being remained motionless and Jean-Luc couldn't discern any movements of its fingers, he got the unmistakable impression the being was smiling.
"Captain, think of it this way. We have a 'Prime Directive' also. By doing what we think is right we are trying to protect you. Of course you have only my words to convince you, but I assure you it is the truth. We have already interfered too much. The 'enhancement' of the computer cores of the ships we rendered aid to was a mistake, but one we felt at the time was necessary. We simply could not think of a better way to equip those ships in such a way as to ensure their safe return to your home world. But you know, Captain Picard, what happens when technology is introduced to those who are not ready for it. I understand the Federation, indeed most of the species in the known galaxy possess some form of sophistication in technology and we are also aware of species that surpass us in technology, but we have to take due care. We too learned, as you did, what damage can be done through even the best of intentions."
The being seemed to think and for a few moments and there was silence as the bridge crew waited for more text. It eventually came and Jean-Luc sighed as he read.
"Captain, I offer our friendship, but not that of an ally. We do not condone violence; that is violence undertaken for belligerent purposes. We do recognise the right of any species to resort (as a last measure) to violence in self defence and with that in mind, you can rest assured if we find any benevolent beings in spacecraft suffering difficulties they cannot resolve themselves, we will render assistance. I hasten to stress we are not taking 'sides'. Our assistance will be given to any in need, but if those we help are of a hostile demeanour, after they've been given assistance, they will be escorted out of our system and far away. And that, Captain is all I can offer."
Jean-Luc bowed his head and clasped his hands behind his back, his thumb tapping a measured beat.
"I understand your stance, in fact I applaud it, but technology aside, will you not at least tell us about your world? What do you call yourselves? What do you call your world? How does your system of government work? Do you have a system of government? How does..."
The text began again.
"Captain...your curiosity is commendable as is your persistence, but I think I have said all that is necessary. I am closing this communication now, but I will answer if you wish it again. However please confine your communications to that which is relevant."
The image blinked off to be replaced with the vista of the planet.
Letting out a slow breath, Jean-Luc rubbed his brow, saying softly, "Damn."
Will appeared at his side and said softly, "As annoying as that was, it's kinda hard getting angry with them."
"Oh, I know." Said Jean-Luc ruefully. "I'm just thinking how that must be what we sound like when we refuse to help the less technologically advanced. How the hell does text manage to impart such..."
Will grinned. "Smugness? Superiority?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc's face showed his irritation. "No, Will! That's just it. There was no smugness or superiority. I discerned...sorrow and pity! I think they do want to share but for some reason they can't."
Throwing his arms up in a very uncharacteristic display of frustration, Jean-Luc glared at the planet. He let his arms drop and shook his head, saying sadly,
"We'd done some utterly dreadful things before we finally came to realise we needed something like the Prime Directive. I'm getting an awful feeling they've done much worse before they too realised the folly of their actions."
"So you think they really do want to protect us."
"Yes, I do, and I think it pains them to do it."
Letting the matter go, Jean-Luc sighed and looked up at his exec. "You have the bridge, number one. I'm going down to sick bay to see how Doctor Crusher is doing."

 

Jean-Luc heard the low murmuring of voices as he stepped out of the turbolift. Frowning, he strode along the corridor, rounding the corner to find a knot of several crew gathered outside the main doors of sick bay.
On seeing their captain's approach, they all straightened and adopted a respectful demeanour. Not bothering to seek the senior officer, an annoyed captain said curtly, "Report! What are you all doing out here in the corridor?"
Stepping through the little crowd, a lieutenant came to stand before his CO. "We don't know what's going on, Captain. The doors are locked and Doctor Crusher isn't answering our calls."
"I take it you've tried the other doors?"
"Yes, Captain. They're all locked."
Lifting his head, Jean-Luc said firmly, "Picard to Crusher."
Nothing. He tried again, a trace of worry in his voice. "This is Captain Picard. Doctor Crusher, respond please."
Still nothing.
"Computer, unlock sick bay doors, authorisation, Picard delta omega two eight."
"Unable to comply."
Narrowing his eyes, Jean-Luc tilted his head.
"Explain."
"Unable to comply."
Muttering darkly, "Merde!" Jean-Luc turned to the lieutenant and said curtly, "How long has this been going on?"
"Not long, sir. We've only been here five minutes or so, it's the beginning of our shift."
"Were you going to contact security? Or the bridge?"
Hearing the tightly controlled anger in his captain's voice made the lieutenant swallow nervously. "Yes, Captain. We were about to call the bridge when you arrived."
Coming to a quick decision, Jean-Luc quelled his rising anger and alarm and said quietly,
"Very well. Stay here, I will return shortly."
"Yes, sir."
Jean-Luc strode quickly down the corridor until he came to a small observation lounge. Activating the screen of the wall terminal he tapped his comm. badge and called the bridge.
"This is Picard. Hail the planet and route the call through to the port observation lounge on deck 7!"
He was so deep in thought he never heard the reply. Pacing restlessly back and forth in front of the screen, he only halted when the image of an alien appeared. Before any text appeared he barked, "You have imprisoned my CMO in her own sick bay! What the hell is going on? You assured me you had no hostile intent and that we could leave whenever we pleased. That would be a little difficult with our CMO held captive aboard her own damned ship!"
The being's hands appeared and the text scrolled.
"We apologise, Captain it was necessary."
"Why?!"
"It is the very...delicate and private nature of what we require of her, Captain. It is imperative that no one but she see the information we have sent."
Doing his best to calm himself, Jean-Luc relaxed his fisted hands and tried to ease his tense shoulders. "You stated that there would be an automatic shut down of the sick bay computer if anyone came within five metres of Doctor Crusher when she was accessing the information you sent. That implies her staff could at least be in sick bay."
"Yes, it does, but that changed."
"How? Why?"
"Doctor Crusher requested the computer to display images and information on the main viewer in sick bay. Under those conditions it would not be possible for anyone to be in sick bay with the doctor."
"So how did you manage to empty the facility?"
"We waited until near the 'shift' end, then informed the staff by text to vacate the area."
Pursing his lips, Jean-Luc's eyes darkened in anger. "My crew wouldn't obey any order so arbitrarily put to them. Someone would've requested verification of an order such as that, especially as it didn't come from Doctor Crusher herself. As CMO, she is in command of sick bay."
"The order did come from Doctor Crusher, she just wasn't aware of it."
"So you're manipulating us."
"Captain Picard, I have explained why we acted as we did. I must ask you...Is your anger because of our perceived manipulation or your inherent desire to protect your mate?"
Jean-Luc really had to struggle for control.
"You learned quite a lot when you scanned the computer core, didn't you. Ship's logs, personal logs, personnel files, service records...you know as much about us as we do. Yet you refuse to do us the courtesy of reciprocating, while at the same time, you do as you please to achieve your aims. That is hardly equitable, especially considering you have already admitted you asked for our help!"
"I am sorry you see it that way, Captain. I can only reiterate, no one, not you, any of your crew or your ship is in any danger whatsoever. And Doctor Crusher is well and completely unharmed."
"When can I see her...or contact her?"
"Very soon, Captain. Rest assured we would not be so foolish as to alienate the very person we require so much of."
Defeated and frustrated, Jean-Luc sighed and ran his hand over his scalp. "Very well, it's not as if I can do anything about it, but in future, so as we understand each other, please do me the courtesy of informing me if and when you choose to isolate any of my crew."
"Agreed, Captain...and again, my apologies."
Returning to the gathered crew at sick bay, Jean-Luc quietly dismissed them, then tapped his comm. badge. "This is the captain. Until further notice, any crew requiring medical attention report to the auxiliary sick bay on deck 16. Duty doctors and staff, please take your stations at that facility. Picard out." He took a few steps then paused. "Computer, inform me immediately when main sickbay doors unlock."
It was a troubled man who made his way back to the bridge. No doubt his exec would have a lot of questions.

 

Having been staring intently at the screen for so long, with the occasional reference to the notes, Beverly's eyes had become a quite gritty. She rubbed them irritably and blinked several times to refocus, the frown, by now a perpetual feature, deepening.
Her sigh was one of frustration. "Dammit, Shalaft's makes no bloody sense anyway! Inherited genetic disorders are almost exclusively carried by the females. I wonder just how far back one has to go to find the original mutation?"
Knowing she'd never find the answer to that particular question, the more Beverly studied the images of both the human and the hybrid children, the more she realised she was going to have to speak to her husband. But...how to do that without breaking her word to the aliens? And how could she get what she wanted from him? She needed a fresh DNA sample. Fresh because what she was looking for was hidden and she felt that the existing samples on file might not be as pronounced as they might be if seen fresh. It was a long-shot, in fact she couldn't actually base it on any sound medical information, but something told her what she was looking for she just might find in her husband's body.
Stepping back and arching, kneading her fingers into the middle of her spine, she turned from the screen, saying absently, "Screen off. Reroute all images and text back to my office terminal."
It was only then that Beverly finally realised she was alone. Sick bay was never silent and its preternatural stillness unnerved her. She spun quickly, her eyes darting everywhere, but as much as she looked, she saw no one. Quick, long strides carried her to the main doors which obediently hissed open. Out in the corridor, Beverly looked left and right and again, saw no one. For one hideous moment she thought she was alone on the ship. When she tapped her comm. badge there was the slightest tremor in her hand and voice.
"Crusher to Picard."
"Picard here. Are you all right, Beverly?"
The relief at hearing his voice made Beverly suddenly slump with her back braced against the bulkhead. Lifting her head, she closed her eyes and swallowed before she replied.
"Yes, Captain, I'm fine."
"You sound very tired."
It was then that Beverly had no idea how long she'd been in sick bay. To that end she asked, "What's the time, Captain?"
"Four twenty two."
She snorted softly.
"Which day?"
Jean-Luc's voice changed. Gone was the Captain. Her husband spoke to her. "Come home, Beverly."
"I'm on my way. Crusher out."
Jean-Luc was already up. As requested, the computer had alerted him the second the sick bay doors unlocked. He'd been dozing in his quarters, having been reluctantly sent there by Counsellor Adams when the man had discovered just how long his captain had been on continuous duty.
Jean-Luc had actually left their quarters to go to sick bay when Beverly had called him. He now reversed course and was putting a light meal on the dining table when Beverly shuffled inside. He left what he was doing and went to her immediately, taking her elbow and guiding her to the table, saying softly, "I know you're exhausted but please, try to eat something and have a shower. Trust me; you'll sleep better if you can manage it."
Offering a wry smile, Beverly picked up the fork and dutifully ate a few mouthfuls before looking over at her hovering husband and saying around her food, "Isn't that what I usually say to you?"
"Doesn't matter who said it, it's sound advice."
Softly grunting, Beverly did her best to finish the meal, but couldn't. However she did eat enough to satisfy Jean-Luc, so she wasn't surprised when he again took her elbow and eased her to her feet and ushered her straight through the bedroom and into the ensuite. He helped her undress and it wasn't until the spray hit her aching back they she realised he was in the stall with her. They had both enjoyed the experience of washing each other, but that was usually a prelude to sex, but not this time. Jean-Luc's hands moved with practised efficiency, his touch gentle but definitely not sexual in nature. When he shampooed her hair his massaging fingers almost made Beverly drift off whilst still standing.
He guided a dazed Beverly from the stall and dried her, not bothering overly much on her hair, it would have to dry on its own, he simply towelled it enough so it wouldn't be cold.
Standing behind her and taking both elbows, Jean-Luc steered Beverly to the bed and helped her to lie down. As he pulled the covers over her he knew she was already asleep.
Shrugging into a robe, Jean-Luc went to his desk and activated his monitor, while saying softly, "Bridge, this is Picard."
A voice he couldn't immediately place answered and he didn't even bother to try and remember who was the senior officer of the watch.
"Hail the planet and route the connection to my quarters."
"Aye, Captain. Hailing now."
The reply took only a few seconds. His monitor glowed and suddenly brightened to reveal the by-now familiar form of an alien being. Text began instantly.
"Captain Picard. How may I help you?"
"My CMO, Doctor Crusher has just returned to her quarters and she is exhausted. You know enough about humans to know we cannot continue to work without sufficient food or adequate sleep. Doctor Crusher had had neither for too long. At present she has eaten and is now deeply asleep. May I ask that you allow her to rest for the duration of the next 24 hours?"
There was an ominous silence before new text scrolled across the screen.
"You are correct in your assertion that we are aware of the needs of humans and we apologise if we inadvertently gave the doctor the erroneous assumption that she was required to work beyond her physical and psychological limits. That was never our intention. Of course she may rest as long as she needs. Please let us know when she has recovered enough to return to her work."
Holding up his hand to forestall the cessation of the link, Jean-Luc offered a placating smile.
"It is not entirely your fault. Doctor Crusher is very dedicated to her work and when given a medical puzzle to solve, she often becomes so absorbed she forgets her own needs. I'm sure that after she has rested she will be very eager to continue. Rest assured I will inform you when she is once again ready to work."
"Thank you, Captain."
The screen went dark and Jean-Luc sighed, his eyes drifting to the closed bedroom door. "Now, Beverly my dear, just how am I going to keep you away from sick bay for 24 hours? Presuming of course you don't sleep the entire time!"
He was still shaking his head with mild amusement when he carefully slipped into bed and draped one arm over his slumbering wife. He too quickly succumbed to much needed sleep and he knew both of them would benefit from being together.

 

The alarm, which Jean-Luc had forgotten to cancel the night before made Beverly flinch when it sounded and Jean-Luc to scowl. He kept his eyes closed and his voice was rough as he barked softly,
"Off!"
Now reluctantly awake, Jean-Luc lay quietly, listening to Beverly's breathing, but he soon knew she too was awake, but only just. With a bit of luck...he thought...she just might....But she stretched and mewed with a hint of complaint as she registered stiff muscles. It was that mild discomfort that suddenly made her stiffen as her mind came on line. She would've immediately left the bed if Jean-Luc hadn't tightened his arm around her to prevent it. Her hand gripped his arm and by the sound of her voice, Jean-Luc knew she was annoyed.
"Not now, for Christssakes, Jean-Luc! I have to get up!"
He was careful to adopt the right tone of voice and choose his words with judicious wisdom, because any mistake would only lead to a very distasteful confrontation.
"I've been in touch with the aliens, Beverly and they want you to rest...and so do I."
Trying to look over her shoulder to glare at her husband, she was stymied by her wildly tangled hair.
"I don't care what they say or what you think, I have work to do!"
"Yes you do, but you cannot continue without rest. You know it, I know it and so do the aliens."
More protests were forming until Jean-Luc said as firmly but gently as he could, "It's an order, Beverly."
Seething anger was the first thing Beverly felt, quickly followed by outrage then abruptly, desperation. Turning over so they were face-to-face, Beverly strove for calm. She knew her husband and the captain would listen to reason.
"Jean-Luc, I can't give you the details, but four beings are suffering terribly and I must help them! Now you must see I can't do that if I'm prevented from working!"
Patiently, and showing no condescension, Jean-Luc said, "Of course I see that, Beverly, but by the same token you must see that you simply can't go on as you have been. Even before you began this...work...for the aliens you were exhausted. Tell me this, what good will you be to the beings you wish to help if you burn out?" He took a deep breath and said as gently as he could, "Beverly, you've told me the same thing often enough. It's time you heeded your own advice."
Not willing to give up, Beverly snarled, "And you're prepared to use your rank to order me to rest?"
He sighed, knowing these confrontations were inevitable, but that didn't make them any easier to deal with. "Yes." He said softly.
Defeated by his logic and her own damned words, Beverly let out a forceful breath and rolled onto her back, flinging one arm across her eyes. Jean-Luc waited. He knew she would come around in her own time. It took almost half an hour of unbroken silence which at first had been tense and brittle, but slowly eased until he knew she'd accepted the situation. Or so he thought.
Her voice was a welcome breaking of the silence. "So what am I expected to do during my enforced rest?"
Nuzzling his nose into her neck, not to arouse, simply as a gesture of affection and gratitude, Jean-Luc rumbled, "Well how about you stay where you are, I'll go and get some breakfast and we can eat it in bed?"
"And afterwards?"
"We play it by ear."
She frowned. "You're taking time off too?"
"Uh huh."
That gave her pause for thought.
Tilting her head, Beverly raised her eyebrows and nodded. "Okay, but I do have to get up. I'm busting."
To that, Jean-Luc just snorted and shook his head. "Yes, well you go first; I'll be right behind you."
They eventually met back in bed, sitting up with trays on their thighs. With her mouth almost full of croissant and strawberry jam, Beverly muttered, "So...how long?"
Barely able to decipher her speech, Jean-Luc managed to guess her question. "Twenty-four hours."
Beverly rolled her eyes and Jean-Luc thought she said something like... "Could've been worse I 'spose."
With their meal out of the way, Beverly stared glumly at the wall, deliberately ignoring her husband. He endured her attempt at unsettling him and softly ran his finger down her face.
"It won't work, Beverly. Just accept it."
Mercurial by nature, giving in without a fight wasn't the way she did things, but she had to admit he was right, however, although she made an effort to appear to have acceded, she had other plans. But for now, she would let things lie. By mutual silent consent, they snuggled back under the covers, adopting their usual position of Beverly's back spooned against the front of Jean-Luc's body. They'd been drifting for a little while, dozing here and there, when Jean-Luc stirred on hearing Beverly's voice.
"Mmm?" He hummed, his eyes closed.
Clearing her throat, Beverly said quietly, "Did you really mean it when you said you'd tell me about all your sexual exploits?"
She felt his forehead bump the back of her head and his chest expand and subside as he sighed deeply. His voice held a trace of resignation. "Yes."
In the ensuing silence, Beverly smiled to herself and began to count. She got to thirty-six before she heard him say with tired defeat, "What now? What is it want to know this time?"
Deliberately not turning over, a very mischievous Beverly asked baldly, "Have you ever had anal sex?"
He actually stopped breathing for a moment or two. Then, very warily he asked, "Beverly...you don't want me to..."
Her smile grew into a grin and she couldn't keep the giggle out of her voice. "No! Oh, God, no!"
She couldn't see her husband's face, but she knew exactly what expression he was wearing. His eyes would be closed and his mouth slightly ajar as he breathed out a long sigh of relief. His relief, however, was short lived.
"So, have you?"
"No. Yes. Oh, God...sort of."
Now Beverly turned over and Jean-Luc, despite his consternation, couldn't help but smile at seeing that absolute delight in his wife's eyes. He let out a plosive breath and shook his head. "Jesus, Beverly..."
Kissing the tip of his nose, the wicked woman slid one hand around his neck and gently massaged his tense muscles.
"Jean-Luc, you can't honestly think I'm going to let that go?"
"No, I don't suppose you will."
"So?"
"Oh, all right. It was a very long time ago. I was a Lt. JG on the Stargazer and a delegation of aliens had been invited aboard to take a ten day tour around the local space within easy reach of Earth. They were being courted to join the Federation and the delegation consisted of two main representatives, a male and a female and their female assistant, at least that's what I think she was; I never actually found out exactly what her role was.
"I was on bridge duty, at the helm if my memory serves me, and as she walked by our eyes met. Now I'm not saying I heard violins or saw fireworks, but there was a definite and, I believe, mutual attraction. She smiled and I thought; Well, now that's interesting.
"As that was the first day of the trip I ended up seeing her quite a few times over the next few days and eventually it became clear that she didn't actually have all that much to do and my ever observant captain saw that we'd been you know..."
"Making goo goo eyes, Jean-Luc?"
He sighed with great forbearance. "Shut up, Beverly."
She just giggled.
"Anyway...as I was saying, my captain decided she was an encumbrance and having gained permission from her superiors, and with not so much as a 'how do you do?' to me, he foisted her upon me. My instructions were to 'Keep her entertained.'.
"So, that didn't leave much. She'd already been on a tour of the ship, at least the 'official' tour, so I thought I'd take her on an unofficial tour."
Beverly frowned. "Which means what, exactly?"
He chuckled softly. "Actually it hasn't changed much over the years. An unofficial tour takes one into the bowels of the ship and shows the guest how the lower ranks live."
"Ah...the 'lower decks'."
"Indeed. We'd just finished with the port nacelle couplings when she suddenly asked to see my quarters. Now that posed a problem, because in those days on a ship the size of the Stargazer, Lt's JG shared four to a suite. I explained that, but she insisted, so off we went and sure enough two of my roommates were 'home', one asleep and one studying. I nearly phasered my shipmate when he caught my eye, grinned and winked lasciviously, giving a very cocky 'thumbs up'. Luckily, she didn't see any of it, in fact once I'd directed her to my area of the quarters she spent quite a bit of time paying a lot of attention to my few personal possessions, which only served to both impress me and endear her to me.
"I didn't see her for a few days then the captain announced he was hosting a formal dinner in the crew lounge, which meant all lower ranks...make yourselves scarce. I was on my way to my quarters having just come off duty when she met me in the corridor and surprised me by telling me she was on her way to find me. She took my hand and began to lead me through the ship. Of course I was intrigued, but as she neared the delegates' quarters I became decidedly nervous.
"That area was most definitely out-of-bounds, especially for lowly Lt's JG! So I came to a halt. She looked at me in confusion and I shook my head, telling her I could not set foot in the VIP guest quarters. She simply ignored me and tugged at my hand, but when I refused to move, she scolded me, saying that I couldn't refuse as she was part of the official delegation and I had been ordered to entertain her!"
"God, what gall!" Said an indignant Beverly.
"Oh yes. Attitude was something she was full of."
"So?"
"Well under those circumstances, what choice did I have? I went with her."
"Right...so what happened?"
"Nothing. Not at first. She left me momentarily while I looked around, mouth agape at the palatial (by our ship's standards) quarters, then she was tugging my hand again and ushering me to sit with her on the sofa. She'd procured three bottles of something...she assured me it wasn't alcoholic and I could drink it, so we spent...I don't know...a couple of hours just drinking and taking, but eventually the talk become...you know...erotic, and the next thing I know is she's doing something very strange with her mouth. At first I thought she was going to kiss me, but just before our lips met, something emerged from inside her mouth and latched on to my mouth.
"My first reaction was to pull away, but she was remarkably strong and pulled me closer and as I slowly realised she wasn't going to hurt me, I relaxed and quickly found what she was doing was actually very pleasant. It was sort of like a passionate kiss, but whatever it was she put in my mouth was softer and more slippery than a tongue and it had a very piquant taste.
"Things progressed pretty quickly but it wasn't until she led me into the bedroom that I recognised that it wasn't her bedroom, but the main representative's bedroom. I started to shake my head; I mean it was bad enough that I was in those quarters, about to have sex with one of the official delegates...but to use the main bed? My God!"
"So what did you do?"
Jean-Luc snorted, a rueful smile on his face. "All rational thought vanished the moment she took my penis in her hand and led me into the room."
"Ha! She led you by your cock? Ha!"
"Not one of my better moments, to be sure."
"So?"
"Well...Beverly, can't you work it out? We had sex."
"Details, Jean-Luc. I want details! When I asked you if you'd ever had anal sex...you said no. Then you said yes. Then you said... "
"I know what I said!"
"So...give!"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc sighed and closed his eyes. "All right. When we got naked, we were both a little shocked I think. Clothed, she didn't look too....different, you know, basically humanoid, nothing extraordinary, nothing exotic, but naked? My God! And by the way she looked at my body, I'm pretty sure she was thinking the same thing. But we were both highly aroused, at least I was and she seemed to be, so we climbed onto the bed. I wanted to indulge in foreplay. By that time in my life I'd begun to learn about the delights of technique, but when I attempted to find her erogenous zones she would have none of it, slapping my hands away and making it very clear she wanted me to penetrate her right there and then.
"Trouble was I had absolutely no idea where to put my cock! So rather than rummage around and spoil the mood, I prodded about until I slipped inside her and happily began to...you know..."
"Fuck?" Beverly said saucily.
"Have sex." Jean-Luc replied dryly.
"Yeah, whatever...so...?"
"I was in the wrong orifice."
Beverly gasped, her hand going to her mouth. "Oh, God, you weren't?"
"Yes I was and my partner was not very happy about it. In fact she let me know by slapping my face and abusing me. She was so incandescent with outrage that it took me a moment or two to work out why she was so upset. I immediately withdrew and assumed the night was over. But I was wrong. She grabbed my cock and using her free hand, shifted some flesh about and exposed the correct orifice. I got the message loud and clear and began to penetrate her, but she grabbed my arse and pulled me so hard I just disappeared inside her. By this time I was operating on automatic, even the unsettling fact that she was cool inside didn't put me off. I started to thrust and very quickly I saw that it was having absolutely no effect on her. I might as well have put my elbow in her ear rather than my cock inside her. She was entertaining herself by using her hands to stimulate something on her chest. About that time I wanted out. Out of her and out of the quarters. Even at the worst of my libertine ways, I always shared my sexual experiences with my partner. I mean I derived a lot of my pleasure from knowing I was giving pleasure, okay, that's my male ego talking I suppose, but right then I would've had a more meaningful experience if I were masturbating because at least I'd have a willing partner, if only in my mind, sharing the act with me."
"Jesus."
"Jesus, indeed."
"So what happened?"
"I came. And to my everlasting surprise, she seemed to reach some kind of peak herself, but believe me it had nothing to do with me. Then things became decidedly awkward. She looked up at me and seemed to be waiting for something. Now, as usual, I was still hard and it crossed my mind, as unlikely as it seemed that she might want more. So rather tentatively, I started again. Well, that didn't go down to well. She slapped me again and hissed vehemently, Cleanse me!
"You can imagine I had no idea what she that meant. Did she want me to bathe her? All of her or just her...bits? No idea. So I did nothing, which only made her angrier. But...she finally worked out I didn't understand, so speaking to me as if I was a backward child, she said, enunciating clearly, Use your fluid to wash out your deposit."
"That gave me pause to think. What the hell was that supposed to mean? My provincial brain kicked in and I said, as was usual in those days, the first thing that came to mind."
"Which was?" Asked Beverly breathlessly.
"You want to douche?" He sighed. "Not helpful. Not very helpful at all. Especially as I had to explain, then describe what a douche was. She was outraged all over again and disgusted. How could you even suggest such a hideous thing? She demanded. You humans are disgusting! She yelled at the top of her voice."
Softly, Beverly said, "Jean-Luc, where the hell did you learn about douches? They've not been used for centuries. There's not even a medical use for anything like that any more. The only reason I know what a douche is, is because of my interest in medical history."
"Beverly, douche is a French word. I knew what a douche was from a very young age. My chums and I used to take great delight in discovering all the smuttiest, dirty words in our native language we could find. Although douche isn't exactly a dirty word, it certainly titillated us."
"Oh, okay."
"Anyway, I said all right if not a douche then what? And she said again, slowly like I was some kind of moron, Use your biological fluid to wash out your deposit. And that's when my penny dropped. She wanted me to piss inside her."
Beverly gasped. "No! She didn't?!"
"Yes, she did. And as if that wasn't a big enough problem, I knew time had been happily ticking away and the delegates, in the company of my captain, were due back any moment."
"Well what did you do?"
Jean-Luc grunted softly and shook his head. "Well, first I had to get rid of my erection because, as you know, I can't pee if I'm hard. That took a bit of time and all the while my lovely partner was getting more and more impatient and aggressive. She was slapping my arms and yelling. That made it very difficult to concentrate and when the slaps turned to punches I lost my composure and told her if she didn't stop, I'd reciprocate in kind. Thankfully she got the message. She stopped hitting me, but she kept yelling at me.
"You wouldn't have hit her." Said Beverly with amusement.
"No I wouldn't, but she didn't know that, did she? Now, I don't know if you've ever had to pee in a situation where your body says...no, you can't pee there, even though your brain is shouting, for fuck's sake, piss! But I can tell you it isn't easy and having an alien woman abusing you at the same time really doesn't help matters.
"To be honest, I think my eventual success was one of my finest moments, at least as far as self-control goes. It started as a dribble, but I got it going and eventually I had a good steam happening. Now through all this I'd had my eyes shut tight, but as I pissed, she immediately quietened and I began to hear the unmistakable sounds of pleasure. So I opened one eye and sure enough she was stimulating herself again and just as I finished, (it was a long pee, we'd had a lot to drink) she peaked again. And that was the first time she showed any sign that she'd enjoyed herself.
"You must realise the frightful mess we...I'd made. And just to make matters even worse, her body began to release the most repugnant smell. I gratefully disengaged but before I could do anything she dashed off the bed and into the ensuite, all but ordering me to clean up!

"So, I used one sheet to do my best to clean myself and then I changed the bed, dumping all the soiled bedding in the recycler. She came out of the bathroom just as I remembered, thankfully as it turned out, to order the computer to scrub the air in the quarters. My god, the stink! Sex, urine and her...odour...there was no doubt something had taken place. Anyway, I grabbed my uniform and rushed into the bathroom, fully expecting the officials to return at any second."
"And? Did they?"
"I so very nearly got away with it. I had a quick sonic shower and I had just put my briefs on when I heard the captain's voice."
"Oh, God! What did you do?"
"There wasn't much I could do. I dressed as quickly as I could, activated the bio waste unit, washed my hands and came out with my hands wet as if I'd just visited the head."
"And? What did he do?"
"The look my captain gave me should've made me turn into a block of ice. I offered a small, respectful bow and muttered a very quiet, good evening and legged it. The next morning I reported for duty on the bridge and five minutes after I'd taken my station I was summoned to the ready room. My captain was very unhappy man and I bore the brunt of his anger.
"I was kicked off the bridge and for the next three and a half months I didn't see any deck higher than just above the keel."
He sighed deeply and with obvious regret. "You know what really got me, Beverly?"
"No, what?"
"The knowledge that I'd let my captain down. That really rankled. It ate at me and by God, I worked bloody hard to show him that I wasn't the fool he thought I was."
"And did you succeed?"
"Yes, eventually, but I still regret disappointing him as I did."
They were quiet for a time before Beverly said softly, "You felt like you disappointed your father all over again."
"Yes, I suppose I did."
"So what happened to the female?"
He shrugged. "No idea. The delegation left the ship three days later and they never did join the Federation, although we did enter into a trade agreement with them which is still in effect to this day. Oh...and I did eventually discover the intricacies of their sex act."
"Oh, now you're going to have to tell me that!"
He chuckled. "Very well, if I must."
"Oh, goodie!"
Rolling his eyes, Jean-Luc couldn't help but smile. "It seems their species gained control over their fertility a very long time ago, but whether it was by accident, science or simply design, I don't know. I found out that as far as pleasure goes, that was up to the individual. Each was responsible for their own. The act was not a shared one like ours. As for fertility control, essentially it was left to the female to decide whether or not she wished to conceive. If she didn't then the male was required to 'cleanse her' but...not only did urinating into her reproductive tract act as a douche, it appears that the male's urine contains what we'd think of as a spermicide. Now I'm not suggesting they actually produce sperm, I'm just using the term to describe whatever the living component the biological deposit contained.
"Over time, it would seem that the process became pleasurable for the females. There has been some speculation as to whether or not this is psychological, in that in exercising the right...or power...over their mates in being the one who decided if conception is to occur afforded them a physical response, or if it's simply that they found the physical sensation of the presumably body-temperature urine, in contrast to the cool environment of the interior of the female produced a very pleasant feeling...or perhaps it's a combination of both. Personally I found that intriguing, but in practice I found it very distasteful."
Beverly's steady and measured gaze piqued Jean-Luc's curiosity. His half smile spoke volumes.
"What?"
"You don't see it do you."
Now wary, Jean-Luc asked quietly,
"What? What is it I don't see?"
Beverly smiled and gave him a tender kiss, making sure she relaxed him.
"Jean-Luc you are two people. But also just one"
Offering a soft snort, Jean-Luc raised one eyebrow. "That's nothing new, Beverly. That could be said of anybody, you know that. We have our own perception of ourselves, then there's the way we want people to see us, the way we hope people see us, the way we actually are...the list is endless."
"You know damn well that's not what I meant."
Beverly had just trodden on a very sensitive area and Jean-Luc was not amused. His eyes darkened and he said flippantly, "I do hope you're not referring to MPD?"
A little wary of his sudden mood shift, Beverly decided to go along with it, but she still had an important point to make.
"We both know Multi Personality Disorder has been virtually unknown for over two hundred years. You read far too many old books."
Pinching his nose, then sniffing, Jean-Luc didn't really want to have this discussion, but he knew, like a hungry dog with a meaty bone, Beverly was not going to let it go. However, that didn't mean he had to make it easy for her.
"Then," He said rather imperiously, "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about."
Very gently Beverly traced her fingertips across and around the features of his face, the light stubble of his morning beard feeling like coarse sand paper. "Yes, you do. What I want to know is why it upsets you to talk about it?"
Rolling onto his back, Jean-Luc fixed his gaze on the ceiling. Silence settled as a very subtle war of attrition began. It was an old strategy between them and all that was required to bring an end to the standoff was patience. And because of their natures, it was usually Jean-Luc who won. Not this time.
Beverly knew he had conceded when he rubbed his forehead and sighed. His voice was a low rumble.
"When I entered the Academy I was so naive. I had enjoyed a good, well-rounded education, indeed I'd spent time in England attending some very good senior schools, despite my father's strenuous objections, my dear mother had seen my potential and did what she could to foster it, but schooling...knowledge in general as expressed in subjects like history and geography...facts and figures, yes, that's helpful, but living, Beverly...experience...not only did I hunger for it, the frustration of being denied it almost drove me mad. So yes, I escaped to the Academy and it was really only fortunate happenstance that it was my desire to belong to Starfleet and live a life among the stars that I ended up there. I was so desperate to get away from home, if I'd failed a second time I would've signed on to a freighter or even a garbage scow...anything to break free...and you know what? My only regret, even in the face of the failure to reconcile with my father before he died, greater than that was the hurt I must have caused my mother.
"When I look back now, I realise my mother did what she did for me in her own attempt to keep me, if not at the vineyard then in France, or at least on Earth. When I read her correspondence now, I see what I didn't see all those years ago...the subtext, the underlying pleas for me to come home, because in abandoning her, I left her with Father and Robert. I'm not saying they didn't love her or treat her with respect, love and kindness, they did, but my brother was my father's son and I was my mother's. I suppose all mothers feel the same way about their youngest, especially when that youngster is victimised.
"So, I escaped and abandoned the only person who had ever believed in me and I fetched up at the Academy, my head filled with God knows what and promptly fed on anything and everything just as a famished person would devour a meal.
"And of course that meant sex. At the time that was to me the greatest adventure I could think of. I was enthralled...perhaps even slightly addicted." He snorted and rubbed his eyes. "Self delusion is so destructive. Here I am telling you how promiscuous I was and yet through all my sexual experiences then and including up to now, I remain a provincial at heart.
"I know how diverse sexuality is...how utterly endless are they ways of expressing one's desires and needs and yes, I have experimented, but I was never comfortable with extremes. I'm not judging, not at all, what anyone does, even violent SM, provided it's consensual, then that's no one's business but the people involved. So you see Beverly, I have allowed a lie. I have lived a lie. My so-called reputation isn't actually as exotic as people want to believe. I suppose I didn't do anything to correct the rumours, the gossip because deep down I think I liked it. I had emerged from my shell and found some kind of fame. Pathetic I know, conceited yes, but in my defence I was 21 and my life lay endlessly before me and I wanted it all! Everything!"
He shifted his head on the pillow and regarded his wife with a steady gaze and a tender smile. Very softly he said,
"And I got it. I finally got it all, Beverly, when you gave yourself to me."
There was a moment or two of silence before Beverly sighed and kissed away his worry. Her voice just above a whisper she said, "You don't think I knew?"
He frowned, his eyes narrowing. "How? How did you know? Did Jack say something?"
"No." Beverly said gently. "Jean-Luc, I didn't know you in your 'wild' days, but I think I knew pretty soon after I first met you that even though I did eventually hear all the scuttlebutt about you, I just knew that you weren't that kind of man. Yes, I knew about the loss of your heart and your change of attitude towards your behaviour, Jack did tell me that, but people don't change the essence of what they are, Jean-Luc, they can't. Okay, you enjoyed a rich and varied sex life and you've already told me most of your partners were non-human, but even your first experience, though intense and very informative, was traditional, in the sense that it was simple, penetrative sex. Protracted, certainly, but not...extreme as you put it. So to find yourself disgusted at the thought of urinating inside your partner....that's not being provincial, Jean-Luc, that's merely showing your innate respect for your partner and my sweet man, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that."
He smiled and his eyes were suspiciously moist. "So am I still two people?"
"Yes. And no."
"How?"
"Well, looking from the outside, I know Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Celebrated star ship captain, accomplished diplomat and brilliant military strategist. Explorer, romantic...a polymath. Now the captain is completely accepting of all species he encounters, unless of course they turn out to be angry buggers, then he gives them short shrift. But my point is no matter how bizarre he might find a species, how disgusting they may appear in form or behaviour he never judges; never imposes his own personal beliefs or tastes upon them."
Jean-Luc opened his mouth to state the obvious but Beverly beat him to it.
"Yes, I know that's the Federation Charter and the cornerstone of Starfleet's tenets and principles...we all learned it at the Academy. But think about it, Jean-Luc. How many ships' captains do you know who've bent the rules? Added their own little touches to things? Carried out their own agenda?"
Jean-Luc looked back at the ceiling and by his slight scowl she knew he was thinking of just those kinds of captains.
"Times have changed, Jean-Luc. Starfleet's changed, it's had to, sadly, but...what was the alternative? We had to adapt to an ever changing and increasingly hostile environment. But even in the face of these fundamental changes you have stayed true. True to what you believe and true to yourself and that is what makes you so very extraordinary. And, I don't like to admit it, but hated by some because you, by not prostituting yourself, have exposed their own inadequacies.
"So, that's Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Now let me tell you about Jean-Luc, the man, my husband, my lover. He has personal tastes. He has his own beliefs and he has a very clear sense of what he wants and what he needs and it just so happens, by sheer random chance that his tastes are traditional. And that's an irony in itself considering what you've just told me. How far can one run from one's self?"
Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc voice rumbled in the quiet room. "You alluded to my dismay and regret at disappointing my captain on the Stargazer as being the same as disappointing my father all over again. Are you now saying that I have been trying to run away from my past while at the same time living it? Perpetuating it in my personal life?"
Screwing her face up, Beverly scratched her head. "Jean-Luc, the people we become as adults is laid down at a very young age. As one grows that foundation is added to by our experiences, but at the very base, the heart of ourselves is what's formed very early on. Now that's not to say that every person is an irrevocable product of their upbringing, we both know that's not true, but generally speaking, one does tend to follow a certain path, at least as far as inherent behaviour goes."
"So...I possess traditional tastes because I was born to a traditional household?"
"That is a very broad summation, but yes, it's essentially true."
"But people can and do change!"
"Yes, of course they do, but they have to want to! Apart from modifying your behaviour after you lost your heart, you remained essentially the same man. And so did your goals, your desires, your hopes, even your dreams. You had no need to change at that level, Jean-Luc. And I for one am glad!"
Turning his head on the pillow, Jean-Luc gazed intently into Beverly's eyes, seeking answers to questions that had lain dormant for a very long time.
"I have long been aware of the difference between Captain Picard and me, but I'd always thought it was an act. When I was confronted by something I found repulsive or disgusting, I just retreated into my role and relied on my training and years of experience...and my belief in what I was doing and what I represented. But if what you've said is true, then the captain persona is a very real extension of me and it's not an act, but a shield, carefully constructed to insulate me from that which I would normally not be able to cope with."
He chewed his lower lips and then asked tentatively, "So are they two, or different versions of one?"
"One. And not versions, Jean-Luc. Just like any professional, you can shed your job facade the same as anyone else. The thing is, you've been labouring under the false impression that you've been living a lie when all you've done is let an image appear and grow that helped you overcome a lack of self-esteem and shyness. And...you did a bloody good job! Look at you now. I wasn't gilding any lilies when I described Captain Jean-Luc Picard, my love. What you've overcome on a personal level to achieve what you have become...Jesus, Jean-Luc!"
It took a while but the smile that emerged was warm and the light of amusement and gratefulness made his dark eyes glitter.
"So...no Jekyll and Hyde then?"
"No, just Jean-Luc...to me, anyway."
A very comfortable silence descended until Jean-Luc asked quietly, "What about you, Beverly?"
"Ah...about what?"
"Anal sex."
The sudden blurt of laughter made Jean-Luc chuckle and shake his head. "Do I want to hear?"
"Oh, God...The short answer is no, I've never done it and I have no desire to try. But..."
Now intrigued, Jean-Luc turned onto his side and propped his head on his palm.
"But?"
"Okay...you remember my three secret boyfriends?"
"Hmm."
"Well, there were occasions when I had sex with them separately and to my everlasting delight, each one did his best to surpass the others in a bid to win me for himself."
"Lucky you." Chuckled Jean-Luc.
"Well....yes and no. We were only seventeen, Jean-Luc...no technique or finesse, remember and my partners, me too in fact, were kinda limited in what we knew. It was more often a case of using our imaginations and that was more often than not a disaster!"
"So?" He chuckled.
Beverly rolled onto her back and used both hands to scratch her head. "I was with one of them, in a nice secluded place we knew of and everything was going along just fine..."
"Any CD this time?"
"You're interrupting...but to answer your question, no." She sighed and screwed her eyes shut. "I had to pay quite a price for the first lot; I wasn't going to do it again."
"Really? How much did it cost?"
Looking askance, Beverly said disbelievingly, "You know how expensive CD is! You told me you've used it more than once."
"Ah...while it's true I have used it a few times, I never actually purchased it."
"Why?"
Shrugging, Jean-Luc had the good grace to look embarrassed. "My partners always supplied it."
"Jesus, Jean-Luc! Did you ever live in the real world?"
Offended, Jean-Luc scowled. "You know damned well that was uncalled for!"
Rolling her eyes, Beverly pursed her lips.
"Oh all right...sorry. Now, do you want to hear the rest or not?"
"Yes I do, but not before you tell me how much you paid for that CD you used that first time."
When Beverly blushed, Jean-Luc knew he was on to something. All he had to do was wait.
"I didn't actually pay for it...not with latinum, anyway."
When Jean-Luc raised one eyebrow in silent enquiry, Beverly gritted her teeth and muttered,
"Blowjob."
Jean-Luc's eyes widened. "Really. You were how old?"
"Seventeen. And before you ask, my boyfriends and I had done just about everything except actual intercourse and I had overcome my gag reflex by the time I was sixteen."
"But you don't sound very happy about the...price."
"That's because the person who supplied it was a dweeb."
That made Jean-Luc squint and tilt his head. "A dweeb?"
"Let's just say I didn't find him at all attractive and it wasn't a very pleasant experience."
She was about to continue when Jean-Luc said very quietly,
"Did you swallow?"
Making a moue with her lips, Beverly briefly considered hitting her husband with a heavy object and things weren't helped when he said with obvious malicious glee,
"Come on, Beverly, details, I want details."
Staring up at the ceiling and willing the colour from her face, Beverly made sure her voice was steady.
"Yes."
"At seventeen...impressive. No wonder you're so bloody good at it. I'm certainly delighted you had such an extensive..."
"Shut up, Jean-Luc."
He stifled his chuckle and kissed her temple.
"Very well, go on with your story."
She turned and speared a sullen look. "Are you sure? Nothing else you want to know?"
"No...at least not at the moment. Please...continue."
"Right, as I was saying... we were having a lovely time when all-of-a-sudden he pulls out and proceeds to try and shove himself into my backside. Well, I wasn't too pleased about that and I told him so, but he said he'd read somewhere that it was really good and that I'd love it. If anything can kill a mood it's being told that having an erect penis pushed into your rectum is going to feel good.
"I was so pissed off! He was kneeling between my legs, holding his erection and I thought...fuck you! But unfortunately instead of just getting to my feet, I rolled over first. Of course he took that as an open invitation. He pushed my shoulders down and the next thing I know I feel the head of his cock start to enter my arse. And it hurt! So I wriggled over onto my back, extricated one leg and placed my foot on his chest. Then I shoved with all my strength. He flew backwards and ended up on his backside, his erection gone and a very surprised look on his face.
"I was on my feet very quickly and I went and stood over him, grabbing his jaw with my hand and lowering my face until we were only centimetres apart. Then I told him in no uncertain terms what I would do if he so much as ever looked at me again and to make my point I reached between his legs and gave his balls a good hard squeeze, enough to make him yell."
"Oh, Christ...I know he deserved it, but Jesus, Beverly, he'd be sore for a week or more."
"Too bad!"
"So that's it? No one else ever asked?"
"Well, yeah...Jack brought it up one day, but it turned out he'd heard from someone..." She peered at Jean-Luc meaningfully, making him decidedly uncomfortable, "That it was...fun. He knew as soon as the words left his mouth that it wasn't going to happen, not with me and you know he was so relieved! We laughed like drains!"
Jean-Luc grinned and shook his head; that was until Beverly said softly, "It was you, wasn't it."
He sighed and closed his eyes. "Yes."
That made Beverly frown. "But you'd never..."
"No."
"Then why did you tell Jack..."
He sighed, trying to cover his deep embarrassment and shame.
"Because I was maintaining my image. Even though I wasn't screwing anything that moved any more, I still had the reputation. So for a while I sort of...let things slip out, stuff I made up...only to Jack and usually after we'd been drinking...but I just couldn't help it. In the back of my mind was the thought of him having sex with you. It was torture, Beverly although Jack never discussed, even when were drunk, anything about his private life with you. But that didn't stop my fucking stupid mind furnishing fantasy after fantasy about you and once you married Jack, I was plagued with thoughts of the two of you and it damned nearly drove me insane. In the end I knew I had to stop it, it was inevitable it would interfere with my relationship with Jack and that was something I cherished. So I bit the bullet and trained myself to confine my fantasies about you to just that. You...and sometimes me. Together."
Although she wasn't very happy about what she'd just heard, she was compassionate enough to forgive him. "Poor Jean-Luc."
"No, Beverly. Not poor Jean-Luc. I was a bastard. A guilt-ridden bastard. I wanted my best friend's wife. I lusted after my best friend's wife and although I never did anything about it, I fucked you in my mind again and again and the thought of what that might to do Jack if he ever found out...my best friend, never entered my head."
Beverly closed her eyes and sighed.
"You once told to me that a man cannot be held responsible for what his mind does when he's asleep. Neither can he be held responsible for his feelings, Jean-Luc. You had no more control over them than any person. Stop flagellating yourself! Keep in mind you didn't act on your feelings. Everyone has a right to their thoughts, Jean-Luc. And shouldn't be held accountable if no harm has been done in having them."
Suddenly Beverly threw the covers back and sat up, trying and failing to tame her hair. While Jean-Luc looked on, she left the bed, then turned and looked down at him.
"The past is long gone, Jean-Luc. We've covered a lot of ground this morning...good ground I think, but I have work to do."
Before he could say anything, she shook her finger and her head. "No, my love. No more. I'm rested and once I've had breakfast, I'm going to take a DNA sample from you, then I'm going back to sick bay. There are four beings who are suffering and I'm sorry, order or not, I'm going back to work."
She disappeared into the bathroom leaving a very bemused Jean-Luc in the bed.
"A DNA sample?" He thought, frowning. "What the hell for?"
The answer would have to wait. He was sitting at his desk, his robe untied and hanging on his lean frame when Beverly emerged from the bedroom, freshly showered and in uniform. She walked briskly to his desk and said, "Open wide."
A very confused captain said, "What? Why"
It was then he noticed his wife had an odd looking object in her hand. It was small and slender and one end seemed to be a little thicker and had a small serrated edge. Peering suspiciously, he lifted a hand and pointed at it.
"What's that?"
Holding it up, Beverly smiled. "You're a history buff, Jean-Luc. Tell me what you know about old-fashioned DNA swabs?"
Scratching just above his right ear, Jean-Luc's cheeks puffed and he let out a long breath.
"Ah...cells taken from mucous membranes?"
Smiling broadly, Beverly winked. "Well done. Now, open wide."
Frowning, Jean-Luc shook his head. "Beverly, you can take my DNA from anywhere. I need only touch something."
Her patience was beginning to wear thin. "You do realise who you're talking to?"
"Of course, but why are you wanting to take a DNA sample in such an archaic way. And, for that matter, why do you want DNA from me?"
"You're just going to have to trust me, Jean-Luc, I have my reasons."
With his eyes locked on his wife, he reluctantly opened his mouth. The procedure was over in seconds.
"There, now that didn't hurt, did it."
She moved towards the door, her attention focused on placing the object in a device. Just as she neared the door sensor, Jean-Luc asked quietly, "Did you have any intention of obeying my order?"
She stopped and sighed, but didn't look at her husband.
"Jean-Luc you know I can countermand any order you give me if I have a valid medical reason to do so." She turned and looked at him, her expression both defiant and sympathetic. "Your concern was that I was exhausted and needed to eat. Those concerns have been met. I am rested and I have eaten. Now I must return to my work."
She took two steps and the doors softly hissed open. On the threshold she paused, looked back and said gently, "It's not a deliberate act meant to defy you, Jean-Luc. This is about more than the suffering of my patients. I can't tell you more than that. I'm sorry."
She moved into the corridor, but Jean-Luc's soft summons brought her back.
"Are you aware that the aliens manipulated your staff? That as soon as you requested the computer to display the information and images on the main viewer in sick bay, your staff were issued orders, via screens and in your name, to vacate the facility and all the doors were locked, effectively imprisoning you?"
Her expression one of shock and anger, Beverly shook her head. "No, I wasn't."
"Then you wouldn't be aware that we had no way to communicate with you either."
Now her mouth was slightly open. "No."
"Well, Beverly, perhaps you might devote as much energy and dedication in making sure you're not being manipulated as well."
Inclining her head, Beverly left. Jean-Luc sat back and ran a hand over his scalp.
"Damn."

 

Although Jean-Luc arrived on the bridge late, Will knew not to say anything about it. His captain seemed preoccupied and soon retreated into his ready room. The first officer wasn't surprised when he was summoned.
"Yes, Captain?"
Jean-Luc was seated at his desk, leaning back, his legs crossed elegantly and seemingly focused on the crystal shard he was slowly turning in his hands. The silence stretched, but it wasn't uncomfortable, Will was aware his captain was gathering his thoughts. Eventually the older man looked up, uncrossed his legs, sat up and let out a long breath.
"I think there's more going on here than we've been led to believe, Will."
Will grimaced. "Well, Captain, you'd have to admit we don't know much anyway. Forgive me, sir, but I can't see how you might think we're being led astray when we don't know the first damned thing about these people or their motives."
With a one-sided smile, Jean-Luc tossed the crystal shard onto his desktop.
"That's quite true, number one, but take a look at what we do know. Command received an invitation and within it, a very specific request. Command accepts the invitation and the request and sends us. As soon as we get close, we get sent new coordinates. So we do a little nosing around only to find the probe we sent seems to have been...tampered with so that the information we receive has been either doctored or deliberately limited.
"Using our initiative, we proceed and what do you know? We pick up two alien escorts."
He snapped his fingers while saying, "Popped out of nowhere just like that."
He sighed and pulled his lips to one side. "We're contacted text only and in standard and a request is made to 'interface' with Beverly. Now that gets us thinking, especially as we soon find they want a doctor who is au fait with humans. So what does that imply?
"Subsequent communications, now visual, but no audio, still text only, take place once we're in a very high orbit. Now in a better position to run our scans, we find we can't scan the planet, just as we were unable to scan their ships, which, I remind you, disappeared in the same fashion they'd appeared in the first place. But...we do know that there's some kind of anomaly sitting in space not far away from the planet, but can our scanners make anything of it? Can they identify it? No.
"Next we find that Beverly has to give her assurance that what she's doing must remain confidential and although she would do so as a matter of course, the aliens know enough about her profession to remind her of her Hippocratic Oath!
"Then, once Beverly gave her word, she was virtually held captive, without her knowledge in sick bay. Now once we became aware of this situation, I contacted the planet and, as before, the being I communicated with assured me what they'd done was necessary and that Beverly was at no time in any danger, nor were the crew or the ship. I was also assured no humans were being held captive or being coerced to stay on the planet, but the being wouldn't answer my questions about why they wanted a doctor familiar with humans.
"So Beverly's eventually released, and I'm fairly sure I know why, but that's irrelevant because before she left our quarters this morning, she took a DNA sample from me."
Will, now seated in front of Jean-Luc's desk raised his eyebrows in surprise, but said nothing.
"But that's not all, Will. She didn't just get me to place my thumb on a DNA selector, she utilised a method that hasn't been used for at least three hundred years...or more! So I'm left with two very curious questions. Why take my DNA in such an obsolete way and why my DNA?"
Will shrugged and idly scratched his beard. "You're right; it doesn't make much sense, captain. To state the obvious...you did ask her?"
"Yes, but she wouldn't tell me. She did allude to something, to be honest I don't think she knows what's going on, but she did tell me she has four patients and they're all suffering...quite badly it seems."
Will sat back and crossed his legs, holding his ankle where it rested on his thigh.
"This is hard to get a handle on, sir. When you take in all you've just said, the underlying feeling I get is that we're being used...manipulated, but on the other hand, the aliens haven't done anything overtly hostile. They're secretive for sure, but they did let us know that we can think of them as friends...of a sort. Other than that, they seem to be trying to put us at ease."
Nodding slowly, Jean-Luc pursed his lips. "Yes, that's true, and I have no wish to assign hostility or connivance to these people, but until I can find out, one way or another just what the hell is going on, I can't allow us to let our guard down. I want to, Will, I don't want to assume these beings have any malevolent intent, but if the Federation's recent history has taught us anything, it's not to take things at face value. We simply can't afford to."
The big exec sighed, his expression troubled. "Then what do we do, Captain? For that matter what can we do?"
"I don't know!" Barked a frustrated captain. He then calmed himself and offered a rueful smile. "Our hands are tied, Will. The thing is and this is what really bothers me, is that in all probability Beverly will do her job, sort out whatever the aliens' problem is, then we'll be asked to leave none the wiser and we know they'd rather we never came back. The only person who might know anything about this situation is Beverly and if I know her she won't divulge what she knows, not if it's to protect a patient's confidentiality and that's going to put her head-on at odds with command, because they're going to want to know what she knows, especially when they find out...and they will...that a human or humans are involved."
"But surely she'd tell you if there was any danger to us or the Federation?" Asked Will carefully.
"Yes, of course she would, but if that's the case, what then? If they discover that Beverly has uncovered some kind of plot, what are they going to do? Prevent us from leaving? Or would Beverly herself be under direct threat?"
"They can't keep us here, Captain, command knows we're here. If we don't return, they're going to want to know where we are and if they don't get any answers, they'll send in the cavalry."
Jean-Luc face hardened and his eyebrow rose. "Will they? Don't forget just how thin Starfleet's stretched, Will. I doubt they have the ships to spare let alone enter into non-Federation space to confront an unknown species whose technology is most certainly above and beyond anything we possess. Command, indeed the Federation itself can't afford another war, Will, especially not over the loss of one star ship."
Grunting softly, Will raked his fingers through his dark hair. Jean-Luc watched his first officer, noticing the grey that had begun to appear at his temples and in his beard. The captain frowned, thinking, "When did that happen, Will?" A closer study of the younger man showed the lines around his eyes and the furrows on his once smooth brow. "Is it your grief, my friend?" Jean-Luc thought sadly. "You have been my trusted right hand for a long time, Will, you and Deanna. I owe you so much, but look what's happened? Where is that brash young man who came aboard so many years ago?" His thoughts were broken by a soft snort, making Will tilt his head, curious.
"Sir?"
Offering a small smile, Jean-Luc shook his head. "Just reminiscing, Will. I was just reminded how old I am."
Not too sure of his captain's mood, Will summoned a wary smile. "I've always thought of age as relative, Captain." Before he thought of the effect his next words would have on the listener, Will ploughed on. "I look at Charlotte and I see Deanna. It's taken a while, but I'm slowly seeing the future, the life that spreads out before her and not the tragedy of the past, and I know I have a part in that future, no matter how old I become. And when I'm long gone, she'll go on, maybe have children of her own."
To his credit, none of the intense pain and sorrow that speared Jean-Luc's heart and gut showed in his expression, but it was unmistakable in his eyes and Will saw it. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, saying softly, "Oh, hell, I'm so sorry, Captain."
Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc softened his face. His voice was very deep and gentle. "Don't be, Will. It's no one's fault...it just wasn't meant to be. We're just happy you have Charlotte. As long as that beautiful little girl lives Deanna will always with us."
Such selflessness nearly unmanned Will. He had to take a few steadying breaths to stifle the threatening tears. Once he felt he could speak, he cleared his throat and said,
"Well, Captain, that brings us back to Beverly."
Offering a small smile of gratitude for Will's effort to bring the discussion back on track, Jean-Luc cast aside his musings and regrouped. "Indeed. Trouble is, how do we find out if she is under threat? We're totally dependent on the aliens for communication and we know they're not saying anything so that puts everything on Beverly's shoulders. If she finds anything, she's got to make sure the aliens don't find out she knows. Then she has to tell us and we have to work out a way to leave without making it obvious we know the jig is up."
"That's a lot of ifs, Captain."
"Conjecture, Will. It's all we have at the moment. I would very much like to simply ask Beverly what's going on, provided she knows of course but that would only put added pressure on her and perhaps even compromise her, which I do not want to do. No, as much as I don't like it, we're just going to have to trust her judgement, which of course I have no problem with, I just hope she doesn't fall head-long into any sort of trap, especially one we can't get her or us out of."
Will's grunt almost made Jean-Luc smile. "Damned if we do and damned if we don't. I hate that!"
"Me too, number one, me too."
"So," Asked Will. "What are your orders, sir?"
Pursing his lips, Jean-Luc's eyes darkened and Will knew instantly his captain had decided to take a proactive step. He also knew it would be something unprovocative. Not only did Jean-Luc have the welfare of his ship and crew to keep in mind, but also his beloved wife.
"I want you to launch a shuttle, Will. Go and see what that anomaly is. Have a look, a very close look."
Will pulled down the corners of his mouth and nodded thoughtfully. "And if our alien friends object?"
Lifting his hands up, Jean-Luc shrugged. "If they do, I'm hoping it'll only provoke something mild, but if they express any objection, come straight back. If they make their displeasure known to me, I'll order you home."
Will stood and grinned down at his CO. "It's good to have something to do, sir."
"Just don't gloat about being able to leave the ship, number one. I happen to know the deuterium tanks need a good clean...with a toothbrush."
Jean-Luc could still hear Will's chuckle long after the big man had left the ready room. Softly Jean-Luc said,
"Good luck, Will...and take care. The stakes are so much higher now that you're a father."
Taking a few moments to settle himself, Jean-Luc once again applied his mind to his work, ignoring the incessant ache in his soul.

 

The conscience read the text as it scrolled across the reader that was part of his clothing. He and his peoples' representative, one of only a select few of his people he'd ever seen, were in a quiet, airy room, furnished in the fashion of his people, spacious and a little sparse, but comfortable. His dwelling was much warmer that his peoples' frigid world and the very subtle sound of the cooling unit within the taller being's clothing was something he found comforting. So little had made him feel calm or at peace since his children had fallen ill.
First had been his eldest son, then within days his younger brother, then again shortly thereafter his third son and then his daughter fell to the insidious illness. The children were only separated in age from eldest to youngest by eight months and all of them were thirteen human years old, which was roughly analogous to the development of the native beings, who had a similar life-span to humans.
As the alien being's fingers made their miniscule movements, the invisible hyper laser integrated into the conscience's clothing interpreted the language.
"The human healer is working diligently."
He read then spoke softly in standard, his rich, deep voice oddly unaccented.
"And what progress has she made?"
The being, one of only a few who understood his language said,
"We do not yet know."
"My children suffer. My one cannot be with them."
"I know, it is regrettable, but we are doing all we can."
That made the conscience frown and a rarely felt emotion surfaced. Anger.
"We are supposed to be far more technologically advanced than these...Federation beings. Why can't our healers end this! Cure my children as you cured me!"
The being offered a small tilt of his shimmering, radiant head, his contrition and sympathy making him glow so brightly the watching conscience has to squint.
"Your people are so sorry. It is the mixture. You are not of this world..."
The conscience snapped, "I know! I was chosen, I am the conscience...I know that and I have never questioned my difference, you know that, but when my one and I wished to reproduce we were assured that it would cause no problems. We were told it had been done many times before...that a human," He said the word as if it was unfamiliar when said to describe himself. "And one of my people could, with help of the healers, successfully reproduce. We were even asked how many children we wished. If you knew there were any underlying risks, why did you not prevent them from occurring? Why are my children suffering?!"
The being glowed so brightly the conscience had no choice but to close his eyes and place his hand over them. When he sensed the light dimming, he lowered his hand and opened his eyes. He had been eighteen years old when the filters he had worn over his eyes since his birth had been removed. He sighed and lowered his head, reigning in his anger.
"Forgive me I do not blame you, or the healers." He stepped back and walked slowly to the clear ports and gazed out across the frozen land. "It is the worry, the desperate need to help my children." He turned to face the being. "Their pain is my pain."
"How much do you remember of your...experience...with the illness?"
His eyes shifted from the reader on his sleeve. Sighing, his handsome face showed his anguish.
"I remember it all. Not only the terrible, overwhelming pain, but the fear and dread. Until the healers cured me, I thought I was destined to float in the great floe, my body prepared in the traditional way having never served my people in the role for which I'd been chosen."
He snorted softly. "I don't know which was worse. The illness and what it was doing to me, or the terrible realisation that my death would mean I had failed my people."
The glowing light dimmed again and gently strobed. "Such difficult thoughts for one so young."
When the conscience didn't respond, the being said softly, "Proof we chose well."
Brushing off the compliment, the conscience looked into the glowing area of the head where he knew the being's face was. He had never seen any of the facial features of his people, nor had his people, bar the select few, ever seen even so much as an image of him.
"Contact the Federation healer. Ask her if she has found a cure yet."
Glowing a little brighter, the being tilted his head. "Forgive me, but she would have already contacted us if she had anything new to tell us, and I must caution against being too...insistent."
Although holding an extremely exalted position among his people, he was not the supreme ruler; he did not reign, he held no absolute power over his people. He was their conscience no more or less. And advice was something he always listened to, just as his people listened to his. It was his judgements as the conscience of his peoples' questions on law and community that was absolute. That was, after all, his raison d'etre.
"She would not respond well?"
"We know that humans do not appreciate being put under what they refer to as 'pressure' but there is more."
When the text stopped, the conscience looked up, his expression expectant. The being glowed a little brighter.
"She is mated to the vessel's commander. He is protective of her and has the authority to not only halt her work, but to leave our system and return to the Federation."
Alarm skittered across the conscience's face, his long, single, grey braid of hair swinging from side to side as he shook his otherwise bald head.
"No! That must not happen! You must not allow them to leave!"
Again he had to squint as the being glowed brighter. "We cannot do that, you know that. If they choose to leave, we must let them go. All we can do is encourage them to stay and leave the healer to do her work without any interference from us."
"Who is interfacing with them?"
"One of our healers."
"Only one? They have only ever seen one of our people?"
"Yes."
"And our healer was...covered? They did not see the glow?"
"No. The only glow they have seen is what showed around the ships sent to bring them to us."
"They must not see my people's glow. If they investigate they will discover my peoples' essence. That must not happen." He said distractedly.
"We know."
Frustrated and feeling the anger rising again, the conscience fisted his hands by his sides and lowered his head, saying softly,
"I wish to be alone."
The being left immediately and the conscience took a few moments to calm himself. He then went back to the clear port and stared out, his chest heaving in a deep sigh. As a young man he had once walked over long distances outside, the need to explore his surroundings too insistent to ignore. It had dismayed his family and they had tried to persuade him to stop, but be couldn't. One outing took him far from his home, way out into the frozen wastes until he came to the shore of the ice-capped sea. He knew the floe was out there somewhere before him and a shiver which had nothing to do with the sub-zero temperatures raced through him, making a mockery of the heavily insulated clothing he wore.
His education had been comprehensive. Not only was he taught the history and laws of his people and his purpose in being chosen to serve his people, but also two languages, both spoken and written. He knew from a very early age he was obviously not like his family and that they couldn't communicate with him until he learned how to use his ability to make sounds into a language. One was standard and the other French. It was explained to him that the conscience had been sourced from many different worlds over millennia and to honour the world from which he came, he was taught whatever was the dominant language and, if there was a regional language from where he came, he was taught that too.
He had learned how, over many centuries his people had come to realise that some species were more suited to be the conscience than others and it was when he was told that humans were especially suitable that he came to know that he was human. But he never wanted to know anything about humans; indeed, there was no reason why he should. He was loved by his family. He had siblings, parents and even a pet, the only thing he didn't have was a name, other than 'the conscience'. Apart from that he was referred to as 'you'. No one told him he came from a planet called Earth and he was not interested in finding out where he originated from anyway. Once he'd mastered the languages his education began in earnest and he was simply too busy for extraneous thought.
It was only as a young adult that the restlessness that plagued him for so many years afterwards drove him out to wander. Towards his twenty-eighth year he met his one. She had been chosen by the people for him. He had never seen the faces of any of his people, not even his family, his teachers, no one and even when he found himself attracted to the female he couldn't know her name as it simply couldn't be interpreted and his hands were unable to make the movements to communicate with her, but by touch and gesture, fondness turned to love and in his fifty-eighth year they mated with the intent of reproducing.
He tilted his head, his long thick braid falling to one side. "My beloved, come to me please."
He knew she had entered the room as the glow of her body where it wasn't covered by her clothing increased the light. She came to stand beside him and their hands touched. He had been taught from a very early age to be particularly gentle with his people's hands as their multi articulated, long, slender fingers were very delicate.
So rather than hold her hand, they simply let the backs of their hands touch.
"I am now beginning to understand how anguished my parents must have felt when I fell ill with this damned condition so long ago."
His eyes automatically went to his reader.
"There is no news? The healer has not completed her task?"
"No. I suggested we make enquiries, but I was advised against it. Apparently humans do not like to be 'pressured'"
"An odd trait given their lack of sophistication."
"True, but we cannot judge them too harshly, my one. They do possess information we do not."
They stared out into the growing dark of descending night until the female said,
"Tell me about them."
The conscience knew she was referring to their children. Because they could only partially communicate with their hands, they preferred to use their inherited ability to speak and that was something their mother couldn't do and the sound of their own voices was agonising to them, so she had not seen them since the onset of their illness.
"They suffer." His softly spoken words were filled with great sorrow and anguish.
"There is nothing we can do?" Even though the words appeared as text, the conscience felt his one's desperation.
"No. All that is left to us is to wait and hope the Federation ship stays and that their healer helps us."
"It is certain she can?"
"All we know is that the illness that struck me when I was very young has occurred on the world of my origin. When our people encountered the Federation ships we accessed their computer cores and found a very oblique reference to it. As it seems to be the same or very similar illness suggests the healer should know of it and hopefully know how to cure it."
"And what of the mixture?"
The conscience sighed and scratched just above his ear. "That may be a problem. I do not know, that is up to our healers to discuss with her."
Again silence held sway. Their hands, when the female wasn't using hers, rested by their sides so she could touch his.
"Are you curious?"
He turned his gaze away from the port and squinted at his glowing mate.
"Curious?"
"There are humans on the Federation ship. Their healer is human."
He smiled, his dark hazel eyes twinkling. "Who have you been talking to?"
Odd symbols scrolled across the reader and the conscience understood his one was laughing.
"I have my sources, my one. But my question remains unanswered."
He sighed and closed his eyes. "I'm not sure. I suppose deep inside some part of me is curious, but the greater part of me does not want to know, does not want to see. I am of my people, I was chosen to serve and I was born here. My family are here. To see them..." His head tilted up and he gazed into the now dark sky. "They're up there and they frighten me."
Very gently the female lifted her arms and laid her extraordinary hands on the conscience's shoulders.
"Come...mate with me."
He smiled, squinting his eyes as she glowed brighter. "Yes...yes, I will mate with you, my beloved one."
They left the room and although the conscience knew he would find a temporary peace in mating with his beloved, his heart still ached.

 

Later, his eyes still covered by the almost black shield, the two naked beings held other tenderly. Languidly they caressed each other, her body, which had glowed so intently as she climaxed, was slowly reducing in brightness. Her fingertips delicately feathered over his cheeks and by the soft beep from his discarded clothing, which was always kept close by, he knew she was talking to him.
Not needing to see, he reached behind him and caught his fingers in his top, dragging it over his body. Pressing a small button on the side of his eye shield, the material lightened to enable him to see the text on his reader.
"I am glad you remove the hair that grows on your face."
His braid, which had grown uncut since his birth and now only grew from a ring of hair around the back of his head since all the rest of his head hair had fallen out as a young man, now untidily looped down his back and over his hip. He chuckled softly and made a point of looking down the length of his hirsute body to his still erect penis. His one laughed and her fingers left his face to touch his penis, making him sigh.
"It seems much grows."
Her soft caresses encouraged him to darken his eye shield and place his cheek against hers.
"Again, my beloved one?"
"Yes, my dear hairy one."
He could not see where to place his penis, he'd always allowed her to guide him. Although he'd never kissed, he did nuzzle using his lips and face to stimulate both of them. They had first mated only a year after they'd met and he had found it a profound experience. As he'd grown into adolescence he'd experimented with his body, quickly discovering masturbation and his teachers had explained what was happening and the purpose behind ejaculation and the accompanying pleasure, but it wasn't until he mated with his one that he experienced true intimacy and with it, deep intellectual, philosophical and physical pleasure.
The decision to reproduce was something they discussed for years. They both wanted children very much and they knew, with help from the council of healers it was possible, but knowing their children would be forever apart, deemed unable to take their place in their mother's society was very difficult. And they had to consider how the children might feel about being a mixture. Although a certain amount of genetic manipulation was required for successful reproduction, the healers were reluctant to interfere too much, feeling it would be deceitful to create beings that looked like the indigenous population but clearly were not. But eventually the desire to reproduce became too much and they sought the help of the council of healers.
Because of the technique involved and the strain it would put on the mother, it was decided to produce no more than four offspring. The gender was irrelevant, but the gestational period would be spread so that all four would be born at intervals of one every two months, over a period of eight months.
The conscience had been taught about the reproductive processes of his people and he understood how his own body contributed, but he had no idea how humans reproduced, nor did he particularly care. When he'd begun to masturbate, his teachers simply told him that as a male human, that's what human males did as part of the human reproductive process. He never asked any questions or for any clarifications. He was far more interested in his people and his lessons.
Even at the tender age of four he knew what he was to his people, that he had been chosen.
His one had found the gestation difficult but with the assistance of the healers she had successfully produced the four children and it was with great joy that they celebrated each birth. Even though she glowed too brightly for him to see the births, he was there and he was delighted to find that although his children glowed, they possessed the ability to control it, thus enabling him to interact with them all the time. And at birth each child loudly demonstrated their inherited ability to make sounds!
The conscience had, on request, been given the histories of the consciences that had preceded him. It was a rich and varied history of males, (always males) who had served his people. Long ago, over thousands of years, his people had decided that the only way to avoid conflict amongst themselves was to have an 'outside' arbiter. Someone completely removed from the inherent ingrained biases and who could act as their collective conscience in all things, all aspects of their community and society.
At first, adult males were simply taken from planets that had sentient beings, but that soon proved to be disastrous. Far too many refused to accept their role; indeed most did all they could to escape which most often lead to an inadvertent death out in the frozen wastes. The aliens knew that could not continue.
So it slowly became evident that young males must be sourced. But still, it didn't work. That was until, over a long period of searching, the people came upon the sector of space populated with species that showed promise as suitable candidates. Some, like the Vulcans, if taken young enough, proved excellent and there was the bonus of longevity, although ultimately it was that very trait that proved their unsuitability as the conscience tended to outlive his progeny and his one. And they did tend to be possessed with strong emotions despite the efforts of the teachers to assist in trying to help control them.
Eventually, by Earth's early twentieth century, it became common for the conscience to be sourced from that planet. Indeed by the mid twentieth century, the aliens were visiting regularly in an effort to find a way to successfully breed and produce an infant they could rear as their own, but no matter what they tried, whether it was a simple abduction of an child or infant, or experimental interbreeding, it always left the human mother bereft and traumatised and the aliens found that intolerable. Another way had to be found and it was.
In the early twenty-first century, the alien scientists made a break through. With vastly improved technology they could indentify a pregnant human female, one carrying more that a single child and take one whilst it was still an embryo or earlier, even when it was nothing than a gamete. And, most importantly they could do this, and indeed did so deliberately, before the human female knew she was pregnant, so she never knew she'd lost one of her children.
So, every eighty years or so, a trip was made to earth to procure a new conscience. If on the rare occasion a conscience died prematurely, an embryo was sought and gestated, born and taught and in the meantime the people waited, using a sophisticated artificial intelligence to guide them until their conscience was of age. At the age of eighteen, the conscience took his place and began his service to his people.
The deceased conscience was always given the traditional disposal of his remains just as was done for his people, his body prepared and set adrift in the great floe. It was an honour and something all the people looked forward to with comfort. They looked upon all the dead in the great floe as a society of the essences and it was from there that they gained their power. And that was something they would guard with their lives and protect from outsiders. Even those who were invited and came in peace to help.

 

Beverly's elbows on her desktop had begun to get sore as she supported her head on her fingertips. No matter how many times she'd run her tests, the same damned result came back and each time her frustration grew.
In a sudden burst of movement, Beverly shoved her chair back, scooped up a stylus and threw it at the monitor screen.
"It makes no sense!" She yelled. Then, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath she said quietly,
"Computer, display the chromosomal heterozygous state of the human male in the information download."
Tilting her head, she bared her teeth. "I don't get it! This shouldn't be happening. The alleles have to be in both genetic contributors, but they're not...and it shouldn't be evident in the Y chromosome! We know it should be recessive and in the X chromosome."
Letting out a very exasperated breath, Beverly snapped, "Computer, display Picard heterozygous state and compare."
The information that appeared made Beverly gape. Shaking her head, she frowned in confusion.
"But that can't be right! There has to be some deviation...even given it's the same condition, it can't be identical! What the hell is going on here?"
Her sudden thought made her stomach lurch. "Oh, my God...could it be? Have they somehow cloned Jean-Luc?"
With that thought rattling around her head, Beverly immediately instructed the computer to bring up the DNA sample from the mysterious human. She ran every test she could, but none proved that what she was seeing was a cloned DNA strand. Everything she did showed it was unadulterated male human DNA. It was with eventual desperation that Beverly finally asked the computer what she'd been avoiding.
"Overlay both the human DNA sample in the download with that of the most recent sample from Captain Picard."
What she saw shocked her so badly she felt sick. It took almost ten minutes before she felt she could summon a steady voice.
"Can you hear me?"
No reply was forthcoming, so Beverly called the bridge.
"Crusher to Picard."
"Picard here."
"Captain, I need to talk with the aliens."
She clearly heard the wariness in his voice as he said, "Very well, doctor, once we've made contact, I'll direct the call down to your office."
"Thank you, Captain. Crusher out."
Fortunately the wait was a small one. The being that appeared on the screen was, as usual, completely covered and text scrolled as soon as the screen displayed the image.
"How may help you, Doctor Crusher?"
Keeping her face neutral, Beverly tried to calm her racing heart. "I need more genetic samples from the human male."
"For what purpose?"
"I require more samples to continue my work. I have identified the condition and it is an inherited one, but the hybridism of those beings suffering at present complicates matters a great deal. If I can have more genetic samples from the contributor of the condition, I may be able to find a way to not only cure the afflicted, but make it so that they themselves don't pass it on to any offspring they may one day have."
The alien being seemed to be considering the request. Text scrolled across the bottom of the screen as the being's hands rose into view.
"In what form do you wish these...samples?"
Out of sight, her hands under the table, Beverly crossed her fingers, wondering just how far she could go.
"Blood, hair, with a viable root bulb and semen."
All three were completely unnecessary, in fact she didn't actually need any more DNA, not for working on the Shalaft's Syndrome, but if what she suspected was true, she wanted all the ammunition she could get. Before she brought her findings to her husband she had to be absolutely sure.
There was an ominous hiatus before text scrolled.
"You may have blood and hair."
"Well," Thought Beverly. "Two out of three's not bad."
"Thank you. When will I get them?"
"A few minutes."
"And how will you send them to me?"
"Stay where you are. The samples will arrive at your location shortly."
The image on the screen winked out of existence and Beverly snarled, saying brusquely, "Computer, source an older Picard DNA sample and..."
"Please state date or file number."
Closing her eyes and clenching her jaw, Beverly said angrily, "It doesn't matter! Just choose one at random. As long as it's Captain Picard's, I want to see it!"
The image duly appeared and Beverly glared at it. "Right. Computer, overlay this DNA sample with the downloaded human sample and compare."
She didn't need to hear the computer say, "There is no discernible difference."
Beverly could see that herself.
She sat back and ran her fingers through her hair just as the requested samples shimmered silently into existence on her desk. She sat motionless, staring unseeing at the items, each contained in their own vacuum sealed isolation holders.
"Okay, if he is a clone, I can't detect it...so how the hell did they do it without the inevitable degradation of the nucleotides?"
Of course she knew the aliens possessed medical technology far beyond what was available to her but still, some things were basic. Cloning as she knew it left indisputable and detectable traces. Her eyes closed again as the only other alternative made her heart clench.
"Is he your twin, Jean-Luc? Did you have an identical twin brother?"
Deciding she had to investigate, Beverly's eyes were clouded as she said quietly, "Computer, instigate medical request, authorisation, Crusher, Phi two nine."
"Authorisation acknowledged."
"I want the complete medical records of a deceased human female, name, Yvette Picard, nee Gessard, year of death approximately 2362 in LaBarre, France. Send intel package via subspace burst, priority one."
"Unable to comply. Priority one status can only be requested by rank of captain or above."
"Fuck!" Taking a deep breath, Beverly said with as much restraint as she could, "Computer, hold request."
Ignoring the chime of compliance, Beverly stood and cast one more look at the seemingly innocuous samples sitting on her desk. She was out the door and on her way to the bridge before she succumbed to the inevitable and began to test them.
Jean-Luc was sitting at his desk, trying to concentrate on his work. Will had reported in, so far his journey to investigate the anomaly had been uneventful, but he hoped to have something to report soon, apart from that he had little to do but mull over Beverly's request to contact the aliens, so his door chime was welcome.
To his customary, "Come." Beverly entered and he could see she was both distracted and annoyed, but there was also a definite aura of desperate worry. He rose from his desk and silently gestured for Beverly to join him on the sofa.
Once seated, she seemed to need to gather her thoughts. He waited patiently.
"Jean-Luc," Beverly began. "I need you to authorise a medical intel package, sent from Earth to me via subspace burst...coded priority one."
He knew better than to ask why, obviously Beverly needed it, but although he was willing, he had protocols he had to adhere to and one of those was to log the reason for the request. To that end he said gently,
"Beverly, I do want to help, but I have to have your reason...a priority one request is usually used exclusively for transmission of sensitive strategic information. I'm not sure, even given the medical purview that I can legitimately make such a request."
Staring intently into her husband's eyes, Beverly said earnestly, "You trust me?"
His gaze was as intense as hers. "Implicitly."
"Then you'll just have to rely on that trust, Jean-Luc. I can't tell you why I need the information, only that it's vitally important that I get it as soon as possible."
Lowering his head in thought, Jean-Luc slowly rubbed his fingers over his lower lip. When he spoke it was as if he was talking to himself.
"Well, I suppose I can try to convince command it pertains to the current mission, which they themselves have given a very high priority." He looked up and smiled. "Very well, Beverly, I'll inform the computer. I take it the request has been queued?"
A very relieved and grateful Beverly smiled. "Uh huh." But then her face fell. "What about command, Jean-Luc?"
He smiled and offered a shrug. "My problem, Beverly. You concentrate on yours."
As she summoned a smile, she thought, "Oh, God, Jean-Luc, I have a terrible feeling my problem is your problem!"
She barely heard him authorise the request. Too distracted to stay any longer, she was out the door before Jean-Luc had made it to his feet. He stood, staring at the now closed doors.
"What the hell is going on?"
With no answer forthcoming, he retreated to his desk.

 

Will was looking at his flight console, trying to make some sense of the very vague readings his shuttle's scanners were supplying. The vessel's sudden halt with accompanying proximity alert sirens made his head snap up and him to shout, "Whoa! What the fuck? Where the hell did you come from?"
Sitting in space, no more than half a kilometre in front of him was a very large glowing ship. For a few moments nothing happened, then his console screen blinked twice and text began to stream across its surface.
"You will return to your ship, Commander Riker."
Recovering quickly, Will sat back and ran his fingers through his beard. "How do you know my rank and name?"
"Return to your ship, Commander."
"I don't see why I should. I'm not doing anything...just having a look around, no harm in that is there?"
"Return to your ship, Commander."
Growing irritated at the implacable obstinacy, Will folded his arms, conveniently ignoring his captain's order to return if any objections were noted. He justified this by telling himself the aliens hadn't actually objected.
"And what if I don't? What will you do?"
The ship grew brighter and Will had to put up the blast shield to protect his eyes. He was forced to squint to read the text.
"Commander it is in your best interests to return to your ship. You have no business intruding into any areas of our space."
"You still haven't told me what you'll do if I refuse."
"Return to your ship, Commander."
Stymied, Will had no option but to come about and return to the Enterprise. He had travelled fifty kilometres when the computer registered the disappearance of the alien vessel. It had vanished as effortlessly as it had appeared.
A very annoyed first officer grumbled, "Computer, did you record everything that has occurred in the last 30 minutes?"
"Yes."
"Why didn't the scanners or sensors detect the alien ship?"
"Unknown."
"Begin analysis of time index 14.25 through to 14.45. I want to know exactly what was happening in the area of space where that ship appeared."
"Analysis has begun."
"Send the results to the Enterprise."
"Acknowledged."

 

Jean-Luc knew Will was on his way back and had issued an order for him to report directly to the ready room upon his return.
The big man strode in forty five minutes later, his face tight, his body tense. Having already seen the analysis, Jean-Luc knew they had no more information than before, which was virtually nothing. There was, however, Will's rather loose interpretation of his orders. By Jean-Luc's clipped, hard tone, Will knew his captain was not pleased.
"Report."
Resisting the urge to shrug, Will kept a respectful stance and made sure his tone showed none of his frustration or irritation.
"I'm sorry, Captain, I have nothing to report. I didn't even get close enough to the anomaly for my scanners or sensors to make any sense of it."
"Yes, I've seen the analysis." Sitting back in his chair, Jean-Luc looked up at his exec, so obviously uncomfortable with the prevailing tension in the room. The captain decided to relent. Softening his tone he invited Will to sit. Once relaxed, Will offered a rueful smile.
"I must apologise, Captain. I know I should've withdrawn as soon as they asked me to, but they were so damned implacable, I let my emotions get the better of me."
Jean-Luc let a short breath escape his nostrils. "I understand, number one, but we senior staff must hold ourselves to a higher standard. However..." His smile was a rueful one. "Although I've never been a first officer, I do know the temptation that exists to go that little bit further in pursuit of achieving one's goals, especially for one's captain. I won't censure you for it, Will, but really, a pissing contest?"
The big man bowed his head. "I hear you, Captain. Again, I apologise, sir."

"Very well, let's say no more about it. Now...I do have something for you. While our computer has been unable to analyse anything of the aliens' ships or their planet, we have made some progress with their gestural language."
Will's head snapped up, his blue eyes squinting. "We can communicate their way?"
"Alas, no, but the computer has been making comparisons between the movements of their fingers and the text and we've made some ground, not enough for communication, certainly not by human hands, but the computer may be able to simulate hands like theirs in a program that we could then run with the newly inputted information."
Will nodded thoughtfully. "Well, that would free things up at our end."
"Indeed, especially as we'd have the means to accurately decipher their gestures and compare them with the text and in doing so, see if they match."
"You don't think they do?" Will frowned. "What would be the reason for gesturing one thing and telling us another?"
Jean-Luc shrugged. "I don't know, but considering we only ever get to see one individual at a time...and we don't know if it's the same individual, there could be others nearby receiving instructions pertaining to our 'conversations' that we're completely unaware of. And if that's true, then their responses to anything we say might be guided by factors we have no control over."
Will's grimace said volumes. "Like Beverly's research."
"Exactly. Will, we only know what they've told us, which is cryptic to say the least. I'm not suggesting for one moment that they have some kind of nefarious agenda, but I want as much leverage as I can get and if that means not taking their words literally, then sobeit."
"Agreed. So...how is Beverly doing?"
That made Jean-Luc frown deeply and shake his head. "I've no idea what she's working on, but it's taking a heavy toll."
Will offered a small smile, trying to ease the older man's worry. "That's nothing new, Captain. We both know what she's like when she gets hold of something."
Will was concerned when Jean-Luc didn't show any amusement. "Not this time, Will. There's too much at stake, I think...but I don't know what it is...none of us do and it's damned frustrating. You know her as well as I do, Will. If she thinks she's protecting me...or the crew, I'm not sure she wouldn't sacrifice herself, either by working herself into exhaustion...or something worse...far worse."
"Worse, Captain? Like what?"
Jean-Luc sighed and briefly closed his eyes. "Like surrendering herself to these people in the pursuit of healing whomever it is that requires her help."
Will's frown was a deep one. "Do you really think she'd go that far?"
Jean-Luc's reply was soft and small, his deeply felt fear evident.
"I don't know...you tell me."
"Can you talk to her about it?"
"No."
"Damn."
Jean-Luc closed his eyes and sighed. "So...nothing's changed. We sit up here in high orbit, to all intents and purposes blind and ignorant. And we have no option but to twiddle our thumbs and wait while hoping for the best and fearing the worst."
"Shit."
"Indeed."

 

Beverly had no idea what time it was, she'd long ago stopped feeling the protests of aching muscles and joints. Her elbows, now numb were perched on the desktop as her fingers supported her head. Gritty, red eyes stared at the screen running one test, one simulation after another. The soft beep announcing the arrival of the intel package broke her concentration and when she sat back, she yelped at the pain that caused in her lower back.
Rubbing the spot and slowly rotating her head, she had to clear her throat to summon her voice.
"Computer, display new intel package."
In all, it took an hour-and-a-half to thoroughly read Yvette Picard's medical records and she learned nothing. There was no record of any miscarriages, no still births, nothing to suggest anything unusual had occurred at any stage of her life. Jean-Luc's birth had been uncomplicated, the labour moderate and the recovery standard. She was just about to resume her tests when a soft, deep voice made her jump.
"Do you know what time it is?"
Annoyed, but knowing his motivation for asking such a disingenuous question was born of concern, Beverly stifled the acerbic comment that threatened to slip out. Smiling up at her husband, she was taken, yet again, by how striking he was, especially backlit by the subdued light of sick bay. It was that dim lighting that made her realise it was nightshift. She said nothing as Jean-Luc came into her office and sat down.
"It's 3.20, Beverly." He said softly. "Please come home. You need to eat and rest."
Doing her best to stay calm, Beverly kept the smile on her face and made sure it reached her eyes.
"I thought we'd had this conversation."
"We had." Jean-Luc demurred. "Yet here we are again." He closed his eyes and sighed. "Beverly...please."
Knowing he wasn't going to take no for an answer, and also knowing that although she could countermand his orders, he was in a position to use his authority to have her, with the ship's counsellor's agreement, relieved of duty and that was something she had to avoid at all costs.
Bowing to the inevitable, she rose stiffly and allowed her husband to escort her to their quarters.

 

Despite her desperate worry, Beverly slept heavily, only waking when she smelled the delicious aroma of fresh coffee. Cracking her eyes open she raked the fingers of one hand through her hair to find her eyes and grinned at seeing her husband sitting on the bedside, holding a cup of hot coffee near her nose.
Mewing with pleasure, she hoisted herself up until she was sitting and took the cup gratefully, closing her eyes in appreciation as she sipped.
"Mmm."
Jean-Luc smiled and said softly, "I thought you might like to begin with a heart-starter."
Beverly sipped again, then frowned, slightly suspicious. "Begin? Begin what?"
"Ah yes. Instead of the usual croissants, I thought you might enjoy something different."
Tilting her head and still using one hand to try and tame her wild hair, Beverly did her best to ease any hurt by summoning a rueful smile.
"Jean-Luc, I really don't have time for anything elaborate. How about just a piece of toast?"
His smile faded and he shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Beverly."
Placing the half-full cup on the bedside table, Beverly clambered quickly out of bed and turned to enter the bathroom, saying, "Computer, what is the time?"
"Ten fifty seven."
She whirled around and glared at her husband. "Why the hell did you let me sleep so long?! I have to..."
Holding up one hand, Jean-Luc's face hardened, but his tone remained soft. "You needed the rest, Beverly, we both did. Now, I'm not going to stop you returning to work...as long as you have a decent, relaxed breakfast."
She knew her current appearance, hair awry and in her nightie, wasn't exactly intimidating, but, true to form, she wasn't about to give in without a fight.
"You have no right to keep me from my work! I can just as easily get some breakfast from a replicator in sick bay!"
His steady, unruffled gaze robbed Beverly of some of her fire, but what he said next only fanned the embers back to life.
"You realise, of course, that I can invoke my authority to confine you to quarters until you're in a fit state to work?"
"You'd need Adams's agreement! What would you do, Jean-Luc? Order him to collude with you?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc gave Beverly a look of tired disbelief. "Collude, Beverly? You honestly think I would resort to collusion and that Adams would agree to it?"
They stared at each other until Beverly muttered, "Insufferable prick!"
As she stormed into the bathroom, Jean-Luc said mildly, "I'll have breakfast on the table when you're finished in there."
He received no reply.
Twenty minutes later a much calmer Beverly sat at the dining room table and pulled her lips to one side as she studied the items on the table.
Bacon and eggs, toast, waffles and syrup, sausages and fried penny potatoes. She huffed out a small chuckle and looked up at her husband to see him regarding her with one eyebrow raised.
She held up her hands.
"Okay, I surrender. I'm sorry, you're right, I need a good breakfast, but really, Jean-Luc, you should've woken me earlier."
Tilting his head in acquiescence, Jean-Luc pursed his lips. "Perhaps, but Beverly, you've been working so hard."
Shaking out her napkin and placing it on her thigh, Beverly began to load food onto her plate, amusing Jean-Luc immensely. For someone so perpetually and deliciously svelte, she certainly could put food away.
Around a mouthful of sausage, Beverly wiped the corner of her mouth and then sucked her fingertip. Swallowing half of the mouthful she mumbled, "I know, but there's this damned knot and it's not going to untie itself."
"I understand that, but..."
Jean-Luc got no further. Beverly interrupted him by asking, "What do you know about your mother, Jean-Luc."
Taken aback, Jean-Luc blinked, his food-laden fork halfway to his open mouth. "Ah...Maman? Um...what do you want to know? I know her family history, of course."
Her mouth full again, Beverly frowned, shook her head, chewing while she waved her fork. "No," She mumbled before swallowing. "No, not her family history...at least I don't think so. What I want to know is about her health."
Now completely perplexed, Jean-Luc frowned and pulled his head back. "Her health? I don't understand, Beverly. What about her health?"
Still gesturing with her fork, Beverly paused only long enough to stab another bit of sausage. She popped it in her mouth, chewed for a moment or two then said offhandedly, "I know you and your brother were home births, but..."
"How do you know that?" Jean-Luc's tone was curious, but slightly affronted.
"Oh, you know..." Beverly silently cursed, knowing she had to keep from letting him know she'd read his mother's complete medical file. "You must've told me some time ago...anyway...did she ever tell you of any illnesses...or events concerning her health...that she didn't seek medical help for?"
Now clearly suspicious, Jean-Luc shook his head slowly, his eyes narrowing. "No. Nothing I know of. My mother was a strong, healthy woman; in fact she often teased my father about him marrying someone of such hardy peasant stock, not a 'blue blood' like the Picards." He tilted his head and his soft voice carried his guarded hurt.
"Beverly, are you trying to suggest our difficulties in successfully conceiving are my fault? That I may have inherited some kind of problem from my mother?"
Her heart clenching in dismay, Beverly held up her hand and shook her head. "No! Oh, God, no, Jean-Luc." She offered a lopsided smile. "We know it's no one's fault, my love."
He seemed to be placated, but although he smiled in return, disquiet still lingered in his eyes. He was going to ask why she wanted to know about his mother's health when her next actions silenced him
With warm smile, Beverly snorted softly and shook her head. "She was a strong woman, Jean-Luc, we should all be so lucky."
She stood and picked up her cup, gulping down the remainder of her coffee, then wiped her mouth with the serviette. Moving to her still-seated husband, she placed a tender kiss on his scalp and said softly, "Breakfast was lovely, Jean-Luc, thank you, but I really have to go now."
He nodded, looking up and spearing her with an intense gaze. "Don't work so late, Beverly."
Smiling, she walked to the door, only hesitating a little when he said softly,
"And eat some more during the day."
As the doors softly hissed closed, Jean-Luc couldn't help but feel he'd just been lied to. And that despite his efforts to put their failures behind them and to go forward, it now seemed that Beverly was still striving to find the reasons behind their failures. He closed his eyes and threw his serviette onto the tabletop, anger, sorrow and helplessness warring for dominance.
Food was the last thing on Beverly's mind. The image of the two DNA samples overlaid and implicit in the conclusion they all but shouted crowded Beverly's brain. The more she thought about it, the more sure she became, but the only way she was going to find out one way or another was to go down to the planet and see for herself.
In her office, Beverly sat at her desk and closed her eyes, unwilling to do what she had in mind yet unable to stop. Hoping Jean-Luc was, if not still in their quarters, then not yet on the bridge, she lifted her head and said,
"Crusher to bridge."
Will's voice clearly held his affection for the doctor.
"Riker here, Beverly."
"Will, I need to speak with the aliens. If you can get them to answer, could you put it through to my office, please?"
His tone carried his reluctance. "Beverly, the captain should be the one to order something like that and he's not up here yet."
"Don't worry, Will, I've already spoken to him about it."
Will's relief was obvious.
"Oh, okay. We'll hail the planet now. I'll give you a call if we're successful. Riker out."
Beverly kept her fingers crossed and they'd stay that way until she saw an alien on her office monitor, but the unpleasant feeling of having lied to and manipulated Will made the food in her stomach sour. The fallout she would have to deal with later, because no doubt when Jean-Luc found out, the shit will most definitely hit the fan.

 

As she was now accustomed to seeing, the alien lifted its hands and text scrolled across the bottom of the screen.
"How may I be of assistance, Doctor Crusher?"
Taking a deep breath, Beverly plunged head first into uncharted waters, the consequences of which could be devastating for the man she loved.
"I need to come down to your planet. Not only do I need to see the afflicted patients, I also need to see their human father."
"That, doctor is not possible. Please confine your research, diagnosis and treatment to the information already provided, as per our agreement."
Beverly's eyes glittered and her hands, resting on the desktop, fisted. "I don't know how you apply your medical knowledge...how you go about treating your patients, but I can't do this remotely. I am well aware that your medical knowledge far exceeds mine and perhaps you might view my methods as archaic, but that's how I work. Medicine, as I know it, involves much more than just tests and simulations. At some stage I have to interact with my patients."
The text suddenly appeared underlined and in bold letters.
"YOU MAY NOT SEE THE CONSCIENCE!"
"The what?" Said a confused and startled Beverly.
There were a few moments of inactivity, then more text appeared. "What you request violates a very delicate arrangement my people have with the human male. Only a very select few, numbering no more than twelve of our people have ever seen him. You are putting us in a terrible situation, doctor. By making this request, you are placing yourself in a position above that of the people."
Not fully understanding, but wishing to press on with her request whilst still maintaining a good relationship with the being, Beverly softened her expression and did her best to be sympathetic.
"What I ask isn't to place me or anyone else above or below your people; I just want to do my job. You sent an invitation to visit and a request for medical help. Your people must be aware of the terrible difficulties the Federation has endured over the last eight years so you must also know that for Starfleet to send the flagship to your world surely clearly demonstrates how important the Federation Council feels this mission is. Now...you requested 'the most prominent healer'. I'm not saying that I am that person, far from it, but I am the Chief Medical Officer of this ship and as such, I hold the senior medical position. I know of only one way to do my job. I have identified the condition. It is an inherited one, very rare and also very unusual in that it is carried by the males. In almost all inherited human conditions, the defective gene is carried by the female. Why this condition is exclusively male, I don't know. It is also incurable; at least once it manifests itself. But it does resolve itself relatively quickly. Because of this and its rarity, almost no research has ever been carried out. I need to see the carrier; the human male and I need to see the hybrid offspring. I've done all I can here; the time has come when I must get what we humans call...'hands on.' It's the only way I've got any chance of finding a way to cure those children."
The alien's hands lifted a little higher.
"If what you say is true and that the condition is caused by a defective gene, why wasn't it screened for and removed from the carriers before they reproduced? That would have ended the condition permanently in all those of the male population who carried it."
Beverly's smile was a sad one. "How much do you know of Earth's history?"
"Of the broad history, very little. Our concern has been with the development of humans in general as a species and only specifically within the last four hundred years."
That was somewhat alarming, but to her credit, Beverly didn't show anything but polite interest.
"I see. Well unfortunately up until about three hundred years ago, humans warred with each other with depressing regularity. The final war, known as the 'Eugenics War' almost wiped humans out."
"Yes, we know of that conflict. It made our work difficult. The enhanced human males were...unsuitable."
Somehow Beverly kept her expression neutral as she thought, "What the hell does that mean? Just how long have these beings really been dabbling in humankind? And what the hell is 'the conscience'?" Gathering herself, she said mildly,
"Oh, I see.", maintaining her calm demeanour. "Well as a result of that war, it was decided to outlaw genetic interference, especially DNA resequencing. That's not to say we don't routinely screen for inherited diseases or conditions and remove them when we find them, but we've devoted ourselves to those defects that have the propensity to be fatal or common, that is occurring in a large percentage of the population. The condition at fault here, as I've already explained, is exceptionally rare, not fatal and once exhibited, resolves itself. So few of the population are affected by it, there just didn't seem to be the need to expend the effort involved in eradicating it."
"If you cannot cure it, why do you think you can help the afflicted young?"
"Because of their hybridism. The condition has presented itself in a very different way, one which I may be able to cure. But I won't know for sure until I can do a physical examination."
"Then why do you wish to see the human male?"
Casually sliding a medical tricorder in one hand and a fluid extractor in the other off her desk, she settled the instruments on her thighs, mentally crossing her fingers. Outwardly she stayed calm, a warm smile on her face.
"I have learned from the information you sent that your healers cured the human when he exhibited the condition as a young child."
"That is correct."
"Well, from what I've seen in the images, there have been some changes made in his aural system."
"That too is correct."
"I need to examine him to see for myself, first hand, what has been done."
"That makes no sense. The images we sent you show what has taken place."
"It's true I've seen the result of what you did, but human physiology is more complex than that. It undergoes its own changes all the time, cell regeneration for instance, the human body is in a constant state of flux and the changes you instigated will have been successfully integrated, no doubt, but you may not be aware that the human male's aural system may still be adjusting."
"But that is absurd! The medical intervention took place 67 of your years ago. Surely his body would have accepted the changes made so long ago? We have detected no impediment in his hearing or any adverse reactions to what we did."
"I'm not saying you will. All I am saying is that I have to see these alterations for myself as they are now, this very moment."
There was an uncomfortable hiatus before the text scrolled.
"So you wish immediate transport to our world?"
Taking a deep breath and briefly closing her eyes as she thought, "Forgive me. Jean-Luc." She summoned a small smile and nodded.
"Yes, that's exactly what I want."
She never felt the transport. There was no sound, no light; she simply winked out of existence.

Feeling vaguely restless, his mind still plagued with disturbing thoughts and remorseless sorrow, Jean-Luc resisted the urge to retreat into his ready room, oddly needing the companionship of his first officer, so he was on the bridge when tactical said with a slightly alarmed voice, "Captain! We've detected some sort of power surge from the anomaly."
Both Jean-Luc and Will rose from their seats and walked quickly to the tactical station. They watched as information appeared on the console screen, along with a grainy vid that showed a sudden and very short-lived flash. Even though the computer had faithfully recorded it and expressed the phenomenon in the best way it could, it still offered no real information that explained exactly what had taken place.
Folding his arms across his chest, Jean-Luc stared down at the console screen pensively as the one-point one second vid played in a repeating loop.
"Computer," He said thoughtfully. "If that was an energy burst of some description would it be possible for it to be deliberately generated, then directed...focused, perhaps?"
"There is insufficient data to give a definitive answer."
"Theorise."
"It is possible. The magnitude of the phenomenon is powerful enough to easily reach the planet below. If there was some method in place to not only collect it, but to physically direct it, then yes, it could be directed at the discretion of the beings that are responsible for creating it."
Will's eyebrows rose. "Now that is very interesting."
Jean-Luc nodded slowly. "Computer, again, theorise. What kind of power surge could be generated at that magnitude and to what purpose, if it was indeed deliberately directed to the planet we are currently orbiting could it be used?"
"From what little information has been gained, it is possible what has been witnessed is a controlled nuclear fusion reaction. In this instance it seems most likely to be caused by atoms of hydrogen coming together to cause the fusion."
Almost to himself, Jean-Luc muttered, "The normal process at work in a G2V star, much the same as Earth's." He looked up at Will, his eyes wide with wonder. "Atoms of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen fuse to create two atoms of hydrogen combined to create helium 4, the ongoing process creates massive amounts of energy! My god, Will. It may be that these beings have discovered a way to create, harness and control the power of a tiny star!"
He lifted his head slightly and said in awe, "Computer, can you discern any trace of that energy being directed anywhere? And if you can, is it possible for you to ascertain the purpose of generating such energy?"
"That will require further analysis."
"Do it! And alert me as soon as you've completed it."
The chime of compliance was lost as Jean-Luc again directed his gaze at his exec. They held each other's eyes until Will said softly, "Little wonder they could take out a Borg cube with one shot."
"Indeed. If you could put the power of a star in your weapons...you'd be..."
"Invincible?"
"Bloody dangerous." The captain sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Still, humankind has been doing much the same thing, on a much smaller scale for a very long time. I just hope these beings remain as benign as they seem to want us to believe they are."
Will shrugged.
"Yeah, well if what the computer says is true, it's not going to matter much either way. With power like that at hand..."
Jean-Luc was about to say more when the red alert siren sounded. Returning immediately to their seats, Jean-Luc barked, "Report!"
For several long, slow seconds nothing happened, then the officer at tactical said quietly, "Doctor Crusher has been taken off the ship, sir."
Twisting in his seat, Jean-Luc frowned and tried to keep calm. "Explain. What do you mean by 'taken'?"
The young woman shrugged. "I can't tell you, sir. One minute she was in her office, the next she was...gone. The computer detected her disappearance and the red alert was an automatic response."
Will's stomach clenched as he said quietly, "She requested communications with the aliens only half-an-hour ago."
Jean-Luc turned his head slowly and riveted Will with an icy glare. "Who initiated the contact?"
With a terrible sinking feeling, Will briefly closed his eyes and said, "I did, Captain."
"On whose authority?" Jean-Luc's soft tone was deadly.
"I'm sorry, Captain." Said Will, realising what Beverly had done to him. "When Doctor Crusher requested the contact I reminded her that such a request had to go through you, but she told me she'd already spoken to you. I assumed..."
"You assumed, Commander? May I remind you that you should have brought it to my attention immediately!"
Jean-Luc had to calm himself. He knew Will had been duped, that Beverly had used her friendship and familiarity to neatly bypass him and now it seemed that she may have bitten off far more than she could chew. He took a deep breath and said quietly, "Cancel red alert. Hail the planet."

The great floe was vast and across its surface, with the masses of ice, floated the dead, prepared in the traditional way. All the bodies maintained a barely detectable glow. As the flash of energy from the anomaly reached them, the glow intensified. From each body a shaft of pure light emerged and coalesced into an enormous shimmering cloud. That in turn moved, seemingly drawn inexorably towards an unknown destination.
As the cloud moved from the floe and onto the frozen land, a portion of the bodies ceased all glowing and silently sank through the gelid water to their final resting place. The remainder stayed afloat, their ability to provide for their people not yet exhausted.
Inland, at a stunningly beautiful city, one that blended seamlessly within its icy surroundings, the cloud of light slowly gathered and condensed over a dark wide disc. It descended and was absorbed. Inside the building, the beings watched their monitors as the energy levels rose.
With reverent bows they gave thanks to their dead.


The first thing to strike Beverly was the absence of sound. She was in a plain room, there was no transporter pad, no furniture or equipment, yet it didn't feel sterile or forbidding. Tentatively she said, "Is there anyone here?"
The wall to her left suddenly displayed a screen. It was dark and as Beverly walked the few steps to it, she shivered, realising for the first time she was a little cold. Text appeared on the screen.
"What are the instruments you have brought?"
Holding up her hands and offering the tricorder and extractor, she explained, "Just some diagnostic tools I require."
At her feet an object appeared. She didn't read the new text until she'd bent to pick it up.
"Put the eye shield on."
Briefly inspecting the shield, Beverly put it on. It covered both eyes and left her effectively blind. It was the very subtle change of atmosphere that let her know someone had entered the room. She couldn't contain the soft yelp of surprise when an unfamiliar hand gently took hers. But before she could react, her hand was placed on what she thought might be a shoulder. It was very cool to her touch. There was a soft hum, as if something was in operation. She felt another hand on her back and very gently she was guided, but to where, she had no idea.

 

Jean-Luc wasn't able to resist the urge to pace. Will sat morosely in his seat, still upset, both with Beverly and the current situation. They had hailed the planet but so far, they'd received no response.
Jean-Luc came to an abrupt halt and turned his head, glaring stonily at the planet. His voice was tight as he said, "Computer, have you managed to interpret the gestural language yet?"
"No. The complexity of movement and the subtlety of the gestures makes it difficult to extrapolate a cohesive syntax. More examples of the gestures, combined with the presumed correlation with accompanied text are required."
Will had rarely seen his captain look so deeply disturbed. His clipped, "Hail them again and keep hailing until the respond!" almost made Will wince. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, thinking, "Oh, shit, Beverly, you've done it this time."

 

It wasn't until the alien gently removed her hand from its shoulder that Beverly understood they had reached their destination. She felt a slight pressure on the side of the eye shield, making the total blackness lighten and she squinted at the bright glow that permeated the room, but it quickly disappeared and in the ensuing silence she realised she was alone. She could just see through the shield and made out a screen on the wall. She went to it and read, "You may remove the eye shield."
This she did and was happily surprised to see one side of the room was completely made up of a clear material, enabling her to look out over what was obviously a dim, frozen wasteland.
She was engrossed when a sudden voice, whose timbre and character were so familiar, made her gasp. Had it not been for the fact that the softly spoken voice was unaccented and in French, she would've had no doubt whatsoever that Jean-Luc had just entered the room.
"Vos cheveux, il est rouge."
"Your hair, it is red?" she thought frantically. Panic rose. She tried to see his reflection in the window, but nothing showed except the vista of outside, so she slowly turned, trying to prepare herself, but ultimately the shock made her stagger backwards, uttering, "Jean-Luc!"
He was with her in two quick strides, taking her by her upper arms to steady her. Again in perfect French he said, "Qu'est-ce que, Jean-Luc?"
In her mind she gasped, "Oh God...he speaks French! He wants to know...what is Jean-Luc?" At first no sound came from Beverly's open mouth as she scrambled to recover. He was too close, his eyes, so familiar to her, his questioning expression so quintessentially Jean-Luc, panic began to rise. The conscience frowned trying to understand what was happening. He didn't help matters by asking, still in French, if Beverly was all right, if she needed a healer to be summoned.
Over the years, Jean-Luc had been teaching Beverly his native tongue, not in any formal way, just as a casual interest, but though Beverly had picked up quite a bit, she was by no means fluent. Finally finding her equilibrium, she straightened up and gently extricated herself from his grasp and taking a step back, Beverly dredged up a smile and said, "I'm afraid my French isn't as good as yours. Can you speak to me in this language?"
His eyebrow rose in mild amusement, again the gesture achingly familiar. "Standard?" He asked in his unaccented voice. "Yes, I can speak to you in standard."
Her smile wavering a little, Beverly said softly, "You speak French as well?"
His gaze rooted her to the spot and her heart accelerated as she kept telling herself he was not Jean-Luc.
"French? I did not know what it was called. I know two languages, the other I have only recently been told is called standard."
"Why did you choose to use French when you first spoke?"
He sighed and his eyes drifted to one side. "I do not know. I...seeing you...your hair..." He sighed again and Beverly could see he was struggling to find the words to express himself.
"I just felt more...comfortable."
They stood facing each other, one intensely curious, the other desperately unnerved.
What he did next made Beverly close her eyes and stand stock-still. He stepped up to her and slowly walked around her, inspecting her with obvious curiosity. Once again facing her, Beverly felt him touch her hair. That made her open her eyes. He was staring at the hair he held in his fingers and when he lifted it to smell it, Beverly almost pulled away, it was overwhelming...almost too much to cope with.
His eyes travelled to Beverly's face and his expression was one of wonder. "I have never seen another human face. May I touch you?"
Beverly didn't know whether to run, cry or just acquiesce. In the end his pleading expression overruled her panic.
"Yes." She whispered.
His fingertips explored every facet of her face, his touch so soft as to be ethereal. At first, Beverly watched his eyes, but his gaze was too intense, so she used the time to get a look at the rest of him. His clothing was not unusual, He wore a pale green tunic with dark blue trousers and his feet were covered in what appeared to be soft, thick slippers. She noticed that his clothing was also thick and again she shivered. His head tilted and he offered a lopsided smile.
"You are not adequately clothed."
"No." Beverly smiled. "I didn't know this world is a cold one."
He stepped back and turned his head to gaze out the window. "Yes, my world is cold." He then returned his attention to Beverly. "You have not answered my question."
Frowning, Beverly asked, "What question?"
"What is Jean-Luc?"
Starting to relax a little, Beverly answered with a question of her own. "Why do you want to know?"
His small smile and the twinkle in his eyes tugged forcibly at Beverly heart. Oh, how many times she'd seen Jean-Luc look just like that!
"Because..." he stepped closer again and Beverly stood her ground. "Because that's what you said when you first saw me, and although I know nothing of human gestures or reactions, I can't help but feel you were either shocked or frightened. So, I ask again. What is Jean-Luc and why did you say that when you saw me?"
Again, Beverly chose to reply with another question.
"Do you know what the word 'odds' means?"
His expression clearly showing his annoyance at her refusal to answer his question, he sighed and frowned. "Odds? Something unusual? Not normal or natural?"
Beverly smiled and puffed out a short breath through her nose. "Not exactly. That's 'odd', I said 'odds'."
His eyes darkened and, just like Jean-Luc, his voice softened with growing anger.
"Are you here to parry with semantics?"
Holding up a placating hand, Beverly shook her head. "No and I apologise, but before I can answer your question, can you tell me how it is you came to be here?"
His tone clipped, he said, "I was born here! This is my home, I was chosen. I am the conscience."
Beverly desperately needed more information, but she was loath to further upset the man. Keeping her tone gentle, she asked, "What do you know of the method the beings of this world...your world...use to obtain a 'conscience'?"
He turned abruptly and walked to the port, his hands clasped tightly behind his back. A tense silence ensued before he began to tell Beverly the history of the conscience. When he'd finished, Beverly knew. This man was indeed Jean-Luc's identical twin brother. Her softly whispered, "Oh, God!" made the man tilt his head to see under her lowered brow.
It took a few minutes for Beverly to recover. Lifting her head, she couldn't keep the tears from her eyes, but she kept her voice steady.
"The word 'odds' pertains to chance. It is the estimation of the probability of something occurring."
"And how does that pertain to me?" The man was beginning to understand that something important was about to be disclosed.
"Jean-Luc." Beverly said, and by the way she said it, the man knew it meant something crucial to this strange female.
"When you were taken, as an embryo from your human mother, there was another embryo inside her womb."
"I know that, I have already explained to you how my people perfected the technique to correctly identify human females carrying more than one unformed being. It was to remove the chance of emotional damage that occurred when the mother was aware she'd 'lost' a developing child that the method was used. As long as a male embryo was present in the female and the female was unaware of her pregnancy, then the male was taken."
"That brings us back to 'odds'"
Impatiently he snapped,
"You are talking in riddles! What do you mean?"
"What do you think the odds would be that the other embryo that was in your mother's womb was a male and that he grew to become a star ship captain?"
The implications were slowly becoming evident. Taking two steps back, the man said quietly, "What, exactly are you saying?"
"Jean-Luc is a name. It is the name of my husband, the captain of the ship in orbit and...your identical twin brother."
Shaking his head, making his long, thick braid swing from side-to-side, the man backed away, saying angrily, "NO! That is preposterous! It is impossible!"
"Is it?" Asked Beverly softly. "I suppose when you look at it objectively, the odds aren't all that astronomical. Seeing as how your people chose human males specifically and then ones taken from a multiple pregnancy and given Earth's expanding forays into space and the number of men and women who choose to work in space, I guess the possibility always existed that one day one of you...stolen children would eventually encounter a brother...or sister."
If Beverly expected another outburst she was disappointed. The man drifted to the port and lifted his head, gazing up into the dark sky. Ice particles, driven by a fierce wind shattered noiselessly against the window, but such an occurrence was normal and went unnoticed by the man.
After several long minutes he asked softly, "What is he like?"
"Well," Beverly moved to stand beside him. "Apart from your hair, physically you seem to be identical."
He didn't take his gaze from the sky, but his question held faint amusement. "He has hair? Like yours?"
That made Beverly snort. "No, not like mine. Like you, he is bald, but unlike you, he does not let what little hair he has grow. He keeps his hair clipped very short."
In an action that was obviously a familiar one the man gripped his braid and brought it around to the front of his body. He lifted it, but didn't look at it. "My people do not have hair. I was very surprised as I grew to maturity when hair began to grow on my body and face. It is only because my one does not like the hair on my face that I remove it. Does...he?"
"Yes."
He let the braid fall. "I have read descriptions of former consciences and it seems that human males are supposed to have hair on their heads." He looked at Beverly briefly, then directed his gaze back at the sky. "Like yours. Most of the hair on my head...went away when I was not long matured. Did that happen the same way to him?"
Smiling gently, Beverly nodded. "Yes. It's an inherited condition called male alopecia, and was once very common. It can be either removed as a genetic trait or treated successfully when it begins to manifest itself."
"I do not understand. If he had the opportunity to correct a fault, then why did he not do so?"
Taking her eyes off the man beside her, Beverly looked up at the sky. Whether or not they were searching for the same thing, she couldn't say.
"To answer that, you would have to know the man. He is very...traditional. The alopecia has been in his...your...family for generations. He saw no need to alter something that was part of who he was."
"It does not detract from his...appearance?"
Before she realised the ramifications of her reply, Beverly admitted, "Oh no! In fact I think it makes him even more attractive. He's a very handsome man."
The man blinked and turned to look at Beverly intensely. "You think I am attractive?"
Taking a steadying breath, Beverly smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "You recall I said you were physically identical to your brother?"
He nodded silently.
"Well it takes more than just appearance to make a person attractive, at least to me. Jean-Luc is a very erudite man. He's highly intelligent, curious, gentle, caring, very well educated, honourable and noble. All those things he has become as a consequence of his life's experiences. You may look the same, you may sound the same, you even possess some of the same gestures, but you are not that same man. I love my husband...I love him for what and who he is. You are who and what you are and that's different. You are a different person. Yes, you are physically attractive, but I am not attracted to you."
He seemed to accept that and another silence endured, broken when he asked.
"What does, Jean-Luc mean?"
"Um...what do you mean, exactly? It's his name."
"Yes, I recognised the words as being of the other language...French, but I do not know what they mean."
"Oh. Now I looked this up once....let me think." She frowned the tilted her head. "Um, well, in standard, it's John-Luke. John comes from, ah...an old language called Hebrew and means, 'God is gracious'. Luke is...um... Greek, another ancient Earth language and I think means, 'light giving'. They are the names of two of the Apostles. Jean-Luc are the same words, only in French, your other language."
In obvious confusion, the man asked,
"Apostles? God?"
"Long story, but you haven't told me your name."
He sighed. "I do not have a name, other than the 'conscience'. Sometimes I am referred to as 'you'."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
Raising his eyebrows and making Beverly briefly close her eyes in the process as her heart missed a beat, the man asked softly, "Why? Why are you sorry?"
Beverly made a cutting gesture with her hand.
"No, I shouldn't be sorry, I let my endemic societal habits overrule my thinking. I shouldn't have."
"All right, I accept that, but it is still a valid question. Why does my lack of a name cause you to feel the need to apologise?"
Shrugging, Beverly pulled down the corners of her mouth. "Everyone I've ever met, no matter what the species has possessed a name, or at least some personal way of indentifying them. I just think, seeing as you're human, that it's sad you don't have a name."
"Hmm. I must admit I have thought about it over the years. My people have names but I cannot know them as they are indecipherable and cannot be interpreted as text."
That made Beverly frown. "You can't communicate with your people?"
"Not by their gestural language, no. It is for that reason that I was taught the languages of the world of my origin. Those of my people who interact with me know and understand those languages so when I speak they understand." He smiled that 'Jean-Luc' smile and asked, "What is your name?"
"Beverly." She put aside the effect he was having on her and smiled.
"And that means?"
Beverly couldn't help but laugh, delighting the man. "It's an old English word that means, 'near the meadows of the beavers'."
They both chuckled and he shrugged. "I am not sure I know what a beaver is."
Shaking her head, Beverly said wryly, "You're not missing much."
He smiled then and again Beverly's heart lurched. He bent slightly forward and said conspiratorially, "I have given my children names, but it is a secret known only by me, my children and my one. To the others, my children have names appropriate for this world but neither I nor my children know them, but their mother does."
"They can't communicate by gesture?"
"Alas, no. Their hands, though not like mine, still lack the complexity to master the gestural language of my people. They have inherited my ability to vocalise so with me they can talk, but with their mother they must communicate with her as I do."
"And that is how?"
He lifted his left arm and showed Beverly the inbuilt screen. "Integrated into my clothing is a micro hyper-laser which can discern the gestures and a micro processor interprets them into text."
Again they contemplated the frozen land before Beverly said quietly, "You do have a name."
He turned his head quickly. "I do?"
"Yes. Humans have a familiar name and a family name. Your family name is Picard. Your brother's full name is, Jean-Luc Picard."
He looked back up at the sky, his voice a soft whisper. "Picard." He said the word as if trying it out. "I am...Picard."
Casting a look down at her tricorder, Beverly said gently, "I must return to my ship soon, I'm not actually supposed to be here. I need to examine you. Is that all right?"
He seemed distracted as he said, "Examine me."
"Yes." Beverly said cautiously. "Just your ears and your auditory system, and I'd like to take some blood."
He turned then and smiled, although it was guarded. "Very well. Then you will examine my children?"
"Yes."
While Beverly deployed her tricorder, the conscience asked quietly, "Does he know anything about his parents?"
"Your parents." Beverly gently corrected. "Yes. Although he knows quite a lot about your mother's family, it is the Picard line of your father that he knows the most about. In fact, it's because generation after generation of Picards have passed down the information about their family line that the unbroken genetic lineage can be traced back for many, many centuries."
"What do you mean by 'line'?"
Her eyes on the tricorder screen, Beverly said distractedly, "Oh...it's known incorrectly as the 'blood line'. It is like a connected line, linking each individual by a genetic trace. Each time humans reproduce, the two individuals provide genetic material that combines in the new offspring and with each subsequent generation, those genes are passed on, although over a long period of time, the genetic trait does attenuate, it never completely disappears. So it is possible to trace a particular family 'line' by the genes they carry."
"The family name, 'Picard', that is his...our...father's family name?"
"Yes."
"Then what is our mother's family name?"
"Gessard. It's another long story, but generally speaking, it is common for some woman to adopt their mate's family name and in turn, bestow that family name on their children."
"So you share the 'Picard' name with your...husband...and your children do also."
"No and no."
He turned to look at her, making Beverly lift her head to return his questioning gaze. Sighing, Beverly explained.
"I chose not to take his name. I married another man a long time ago and I took his family name, but he died. When I married Jean-Luc, I decided not to take his name as I have been known by my previous married name for a very long time. As for children, we have none."
He frowned and tilted his head. "You have no children? You do not want children?"
Sighing, Beverly struggled to quell her rising desolation.
"We wanted very much to have children, but unfortunately we cannot."
"Why?"
"We don't know."
"But you are a healer. Can you not...?"
"No."
It was said with such finality that the man instinctively knew to let the matter drop. Instead he asked, "What is your family name?"
Summoning a wan smile, Beverly replied, "Before I married my first husband, I was Beverly Howard. I am now Beverly Crusher." Her smile widened. "I have a son. His father was my first husband, Jack Crusher."
The man's eyebrows rose and he smiled warmly. "That is wonderful." Then he frowned, saying softly, "If you have had a child before that seems to suggest that it might be Jean-Luc's genetic input that is at fault."
Trying her best to keep calm, Beverly used the time to extract a sample of blood.
"All the tests we have run cannot discover what is at fault and considering you, as Jean-Luc's identical twin has successfully reproduced, then there should be no problem with him. We've certainly found none. And, as you pointed out, I have successfully reproduced in the past, so we know I'm capable." She sighed and closed her tricorder. "It remains a mystery, one that's unlikely to be solved."
"Why?"
Lowering her eyes, Beverly fiddled with the tricorder's scanning module. "Because we've given up." Shoving the module into its recess, Beverly looked up and said firmly, "I'd like to see your children now, please."
The conscience was very confused, unable to correctly or accurately gauge either Beverly's emotional state or her body language, he had no option but to drop the subject and bow to her wishes.
"Of course. Please, follow me."
They walked a short distance from the room, along a moderately lit, pale mauve corridor until they came to a door. It was surrounded by a bright blue light. The conscience turned to Beverly and said reverently, "My children are inside. I must remind you to make absolutely no noise."
Frowning, Beverly held up her tricorder.
"I have adjusted the sound output of this instrument to its lowest setting, but I cannot silence it completely."
The man shook his head in worry and dismay. "Must you use it? I know our healers have sent you all the relevant information about my children."
Beverly understood the man's reluctance to expose his children to pain, but she had little choice. Gently she said,
"That is true, but as I told one of your healers, I cannot practice medicine remotely. I did all I could with what had been sent to me, but I came to the point where I had to come and examine my patients myself, using equipment and methods that are familiar to me. It's the only way I know how to do my job."
The conscience lowered his head, obviously struggling with the situation. Eventually he sighed and his shoulders slumped. "I will need to compose a message my children will have to read before you use your...device."
While Beverly watched, the man spoke quietly.
"My dear ones, this being is a human healer. She has come to help, but to do so she must use an instrument to examine you. It will make a very soft sound. I am sorry, I know it will cause you pain, but she will conduct her examinations with as much haste as possible and hopefully discover a way to cure you. I will be with you."
He then said wearily, "Remove your shoes."
Not asking why, but guessing anyway, Beverly did as she was requested. The man waved his hand over a part of the wall near the door and it silently opened. Inside the light was moderate, something Beverly was becoming accustomed to and on silent feet, the two adults moved into the room.
It was only years of experience that allowed Beverly to resist the urge to falter. Obviously she'd never seen beings such as these, but what she was seeing was so remarkable she wanted to immediately take a vid, but that was impossible as it would create more sound.
The four children were seated around a padded table on muffled chairs. That they had human DNA was clear, but Beverly could only guess at what their mother might look like, but one thing was certain. The native population must glow. The children all glowed, but softly. Beverly remembered the eye shield and the bright glow she'd seen before it disappeared. Putting two and two together produced an inescapable conclusion. Bioluminescence. At least that was her assumption. Whether or not it was correct, she hoped to find out. To make sure of maintaining silence, all the children were naked. Beverly correctly assumed that even the tiny sounds of clothing rustling would be intolerable to them.
Each child differed in their hybridism, but it was only by slight degrees. Each was humanoid, and three had eyes the same colour as their father, the other, a male had bright orange eyes, but the eye sockets of all of them were wider than a human's and uptilted, the eye lids came up from below the eye rather than from above. Their noses were mostly flat, but one of the males had a more prominent nose. The mouths were lower on the face, the lips very thin, although again, the female had slightly fuller lips. Instead of individual teeth, they each had a solid crescent of hard yellow material above and below inside their mouths and their tongues were thinner and more flexible.
Each had hair, worn like their father in a braid. Two of the boys had hair the same colour as Beverly remembered Jean-Luc having; the other boy's was lighter. The girl's hair was very dark, almost black. There was no evidence of hair anywhere else on their bodies.
They had average length arms and legs, but their hands were astonishing. Like their mother, they possessed seven fingers, but unlike her, lacked the number of joints to master the gestural language. The fingers were very long and slender and were constantly moving and twitching as if trying to make the gestures. Their feet were slender and possessed seven longish toes but no nails.
Their bodies were quite thin, but of average height for their age. Beverly idly wondered if their hybridism was making the metabolising of food difficult or if they were simply exhibiting a trait of their mother.
Their sexual organs, at least the males were similar to human's but with much smaller testes and no glans on their penises. The female had no discernible outer sexual organs. She did possess what Beverly believed were developing breasts, but lower down her chest and the nipples were tiny and had no areola.
While they read their father's message, Beverly walked silently around the table, smiling and using her senses to gather information. It wasn't until the man caught her eye and nodded that she knew to begin her examination.
It was the longest ten minutes of Beverly's life. The wretched children sobbed in pain and beseeched their father to help them and that only added to their agony. Even when the tricorder had gathered all the information it could, just closing the instrument, the quiet ratchet noise making one of the boys howl. Beverly stood and closed her eyes as the blighted children accepted their father's silent physical comfort. Slowly they recovered until the room was once again without sound.
Beverly was so grateful the fluid extractor operated silently. She went to each child and took a blood sample, then nodded to the man. She moved to the door and watched as he gently stroked his children's heads then pressed his cheek against their faces.
Once back in the corridor, the man slumped against the wall, tears streaming down his face. Wishing to offer solace, and forgetting this man was not her husband, Beverly wrapped one arm across his shoulders and allowed her head to rest against his, kissing his cheek tenderly, while her other hand, holding the fluid extractor, went to his face where her fingers wiped away his tears. The only other person to do something so intimate had been his one and she had never kissed him. He wrenched himself away, his hand going to his cheek. Beverly, realising her terrible error, strove to apologise. In the face of his confused and shocked expression, she didn't know how she was going to explain herself.
Holding up one hand, she said earnestly, "I am so sorry! I didn't mean to be so..." She took a steadying breath and tried again. "I momentarily forgot you are not my husband. When I saw you so distressed, I wanted to offer comfort. I overstepped my bounds. Again, I apologise wholeheartedly."
Using the backs of his hands, in the exact same way as Jean-Luc would, the man wiped his face and regained control. After a few awkward moments he spoke but his voice was deep and very rough.
"What was it you did?"
Narrowing her eyes, Beverly asked, "I don't know what you're asking."
His fingers feathered over his lips. "With your mouth...your lips...what did you do?"
She couldn't stop the blush from rising, colouring her alabaster skin bright red. This astonished the man and he stepped forward to touch Beverly's face. She caught his wrist and shook her head.
"No, don't, please. I'm embarrassed enough."
"I was not aware you could do that. My people can change but not like that. Can all human females do it?"
His fascination only made things worse. Beverly took a deep breath and strove to regain her composure.
"It's not only females, males do it too. It's called blushing and is a physical response to emotional stimulus. With practice, it can be controlled. Your brother can control the reflex...mostly."
"Mostly?" He seemed amused. Although very uncomfortable, Beverly decided it would help keep him distracted from his distress.
"Jean-Luc, as a star ship captain has to have many skills, necessary when dealing with alien species. It can be exceptionally dangerous to display any outward sign of internal emotions."
"That makes sense, but your word was 'mostly'. By that I can only assume there are times when he either cannot or does not wish to control it."
Beverly felt the blood rushing to her face again and she silently cursed. "When Jean-Luc is off duty, that is when he is enjoying time away from command, then he is quite different. He becomes what I refer to as 'private' Jean-Luc and sometimes there are situations that cause him to blush, but only in my company and in the privacy of our...home."
Although the words were spoken quite seriously, there was a wickedly amused glint in the man's eyes as he said baldly, "During intimate play."
Closing her eyes briefly, Beverly said quietly, "Sometimes, yes."
"Hmm, interesting. And my question?"
"What?"
Again he touched his fingers to his lips, but said nothing further.
Lowering her eyes until she was looking at his dimpled chin, Beverly muttered, "That is called a 'kiss'."
"Tell me more."
Clearing her throat, Beverly dragged her eyes back to his and swallowed. "I really should be getting back to my ship."
Sensing she had become very defensive, the man let the matter go. He nodded but tilted his head, his expression serious, and asked,
"The condition I have passed on to my children. Does it have a name?"
Relieved to be on firmer ground, Beverly squared her shoulders, once again the confident doctor.
"Yes. It's called Shalaft's Syndrome."
"Shalaft's" Again he said the word as if testing it in his mouth. His next question was inevitable. "Does it have a meaning?"
Beverly shook her head. "Not that I'm aware of per se. It's the family name of the person who first described the condition. Some family names have meanings, some don't."
With a small movement of his hand, Beverly understood he wished her to accompany him. As they walked he said quietly, "You suspected something about me didn't you. You discovered something in what the healers sent you and that is why you insisted on seeing me. You had to find out for certain that what you suspected was true."
Beverly said nothing.
"He does not know about me, does he?"
Beverly just shook her head.
"Are you going to tell him?"
Sighing sadly, Beverly shook her head. "I don't think I can."
"Why?" His tone was disappointed and confused.
"Because I gave my word to your healers that I wouldn't divulge anything of what I learned about you or your children."
"But..." The man came to a halt and squeezed his eyes shut. Beverly waited, not quite knowing what was to happen next. When he opened his eyes the sadness and confusion was clear.
"Before...before you came I had never given any thought to what I am, other than I am the conscience. I have known all my life that I am not like my people, but I was born here...I am of my people...I serve my people...I was chosen. Long ago I found out I was a human, but it didn't mean anything to me. I had no interest in exploring what that meant; where I originated from...it was of no consequence. Now I find there are others...and a place called Earth...and I have a brother...exactly like me." He walked in a small circle his fingers jerking and twitching much as his children's had done. "I want to see him...I want to talk to him...you cannot take him away from me...please!"
Closing her eyes again, the urge to take him into her embrace was almost overwhelming. She forced her eyes open and looked him in the eye.
"I don't know what to say! I'm not even supposed to be here. When I go back to my ship I'm going to be in a lot of trouble. Telling Jean-Luc about you will only compound what is already a bad situation. The ramifications aren't merely personal; there could well be adverse political fallout if I make a misstep."
The expression of utter desolation on a face so dear to her was like a punch in her gut. Lowering her head, Beverly closed her eyes and sighed.
"Oh, hell. Look, leave it with me. If I think I can tell him without compromising this entire situation...I will...but...no promises. All right? That's the best I can do."
He stepped close and with remarkable gentleness took her hands, still holding her instruments, and looked into her eyes. The way he said his next words made tears appear in Beverly's eyes.
"Thank you, Beverly."
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she allowed him to lead her into a room she thought she'd begun in. Sure enough the next thing she saw was the interior of her office in sick bay.
On the bridge, the red alert siren sounded again. Jean-Luc, still restlessly pacing, barked, "Report!"
The officer at tactical made sure her voice was even when she said, "Doctor Crusher is back aboard, Captain."
Striding towards the aft lift, Jean-Luc's body radiated anger. His clipped, "You have the bridge, number one; I'll be in sick bay." made Will grimace. "If I were you, Beverly," He thought, "I'd hide right about now." Out loud he said, "Aye, Captain."
He needn't have bothered. Jean-Luc ignored him. As the lift doors closed, everyone on the bridge let out a collective sigh of relief, the level of tension slipping away to almost nothing.

 

Beverly's back was to the door of her office as she began to download the information from her tricorder. She only became aware of Jean-Luc's presence when his angry voice barked, "Computer, lock office doors and opaque windows!"
Briefly closing her eyes, Beverly turned abruptly and came to attention, but the anger and hurt in her husband's eyes made her drop her gaze to star sightlessly at his chest.
Almost trembling in fury, Jean-Luc said roughly, "What the hell did you think you were doing?!"
Then his towering anger got the better of him and his did something he rarely ever resorted to. He shouted and used obscenities and that was only because at that precise moment he couldn't separate Jean-Luc, Beverly's husband, from Captain Picard, her CO.
"Who the fuck is the captain of this fucking ship!"
Beverly daren't say anything...not yet. Jean-Luc turned his head slightly to one side, closed his eyes and tried to release his tightly fisted hands. Gradually he regained control, but when he spoke his tone was cold. Beverly's heart clenched.
"Was it worth it? Did you manage to do anything useful? Were you able to help your patients?"
Her eyes still riveted on his chest, Beverly voice was soft. "I'm not sure. Until I analyse the information and samples I've gathered and compared them with what the aliens have suppled, I can't give you an answer."
She could hear his breathing; he was still striving to keep calm.
"I find it hard to understand how a senior officer of your standing and experience could so blatantly ignore the chain of command and put in jeopardy a mission that may have far-reaching consequences for the Federation. Not only have you deliberately and flagrantly undermined my authority, you manipulated a fellow officer in carrying out your foolish and unwarranted actions."
In the cold, hideous silence that followed, Beverly wanted to cry, but she stood her ground, standing ram-rod straight her eyes fixed on Jean-Luc's chest, accepting without protest his harsh admonishment.
"I am putting you on report for your behaviour and actions, Doctor. Consider yourself confined to the ship and you are expressly forbidden to instigate any contact with the aliens. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir. But...if they contact me?"
"Then you are to let me know immediately! I will not tolerate any further breaches of discipline on my ship!"
"Yes, sir!"
He turned and stepped towards the door, saying brusquely, "Computer, unlock office door."
Just as he was about to leave he half-turned and said quietly, hurt, anger and sorrow clear in his voice.
"This is far from over, Beverly."
By the use of her name, she knew he had just spoken as her husband and she knew it was going to take some time to heal what she had done to him...and to Will.
She sat heavily in her chair, propped her elbows on the table and supported her head on her splayed fingertips. The knowledge of what she'd done combined with what she knew about the existence of Jean-Luc's brother and his desperate need to meet Jean-Luc was almost too much to bear. But she had a job to do and somehow she had to find a way to put aside all her concerns and worry and apply herself to her work. Her relationship with her husband was going to have to find its own way in the interim.
As she rose to return to her tricorder, she did her best not to think about the coming days.

 

The one had learned over the years to accept her mate was occasionally hard to understand. Not literally, but abstractly. She was accustomed to his behaviour, which by-and-large was stable and unruffled, he was naturally kind, affectionate and gentle but since the visit from the human healer he had been highly agitated and distressed; something she'd not seen before, not even over their children's condition. Both she and her one had always thought the healers would cure them, so even though it was distressing, their hopes were always high. At first she'd been deeply alarmed, fearing her one had been told something terrible about their children by the human healer and she had asked him about it, but he'd assured her that nothing had changed and while that in itself was bad, it didn't explain why her one was so upset.
Confused and very worried, she did something she'd never done before. She summoned a healer. Not for herself, but to consult about her one. Strictly speaking, an unacceptable request.
The two beings met in an area of the large building that comprised her home and made sure her one was occupied elsewhere.
The room's temperature was decreased markedly, making it comfortable for the two beings. The healer waited patiently while the conscience's one paced, her hands constantly moving, but not yet forming words. Eventually she sat with the healer and bowed her head. Raising her hands, she began to 'speak'.
"I summoned you but you are not here because of any concern pertaining to me."
"I see."
"It is my one who has given me cause for great worry."
"You are aware it is unacceptable for me to talk about the conscience?"
"Yes, but his behaviour since the human visited has deteriorated and he has become unlike the person I have always known. He is deeply troubled by something and it does not seem to concern the situation about our children."
There was a long silence during which the female watched the healer's hands. He tilted his head and the already brightly lit room became vividly brilliant as his radiance grew.
"In your opinion, is his ability to serve compromised?"
"I do not know. Such things are beyond my understanding." Her fingers stilled momentarily, then again began their miniscule movements. "My one knows what and who he is. He has always understood what he is required to do...what he was chosen to do. I know him, he is committed to our world...his world...and I doubt he would cast aside all that he is, but since the human came, something has happened. Perhaps you might speak with him?"
"It would be inappropriate for me to intrude on the thoughts of the conscience, unless he summoned me for a medical matter." His fingers stilled, then once again began to move. "Perhaps..."
He seemed to think deeply, obviously very disturbed.
"Perhaps, under these...extraordinary...circumstances, and given the people must have a conscience who is devoted solely to his purpose, without distraction, I might be able to let his most trusted adviser know that he may wish to...discuss...what is troubling him?"
The one's fingers began to move.
"What is the law?"
"That is the cause of my concern. It is not actually allowed for an adviser to approach the conscience over anything personal. If such a meeting is required, then it must be requested by the conscience, not the other way around. But this entire situation is without precedent. I doubt there is a law to cover this."
Again he took time to think.
"I will do what I can, but I will have to be...oblique...in making my concerns known."
Offering their hands in the traditional manner, both beings gently touched each other's fingertips and their bodies glowed brightly. Once the healer had left, the female raised the heat to its usual setting and reactivated the cooling unit incorporated in her clothing. She would go to her one and offer what comfort she could.

 

Feeling a restlessness he'd not experienced in many years, the conscience paced aimlessly around what he thought of as his 'long room.' It gave the best view of the dark frozen land outside. He knew he should be with his children and that a petition from his people was waiting for his decision, but he found he simply couldn't concentrate.
Again and again his thoughts went back to all Beverly had revealed. His feet took him to the long, clear wall and he leaned forward to rest his brow on the cool material. So much was going on inside his head he felt as if it must surely burst. The brightening of the room heralded the entrance of his one and when she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder he sighed.
He reached up and tenderly took her hand, lowering them both until, by their sides; he released her so the backs of their hands could touch. They stood side-by-side in silence, each staring out into the windswept, icy wasteland.
When he spoke his voice was very deep and soft.
"I am so sorry, my beloved one."
Not sure what he was apologising for, fear surged in the female, making her glow vividly. He turned his head, his eyes tightly closed. When he sensed the glow had diminished he sighed and opened his eyes to look at his sleeve, knowing she must have communicated something.
"Can you not tell me what troubles you, my one?"

"No." He said sadly. "But not because I wish to keep anything from you. I simply cannot express in words I know how I feel."
"Our children?"
"No change, my one."
"Then if your distress is not about our children then it must be something to do with the human who came. What did she do that has upset you so?"
With a curt gesture of his hand, the conscience moved away from the clear wall and stalked across the room. "She did nothing!" He all but shouted.
He then bowed his head and placed both hands on his scalp.
"Please, I wish to be alone, my one."
He didn't bother to read his screen, he didn't even watch as his one left. He returned to the wall and stared out sightlessly, but after a moment or two, his eyes drifted upwards, until he was gazing at the stars.
"You are up there, Jean-Luc Picard. Beverly says we are identical. Are we? Who are you, Jean-Luc? What has your life been like? The stars...what are they like? How does it feel to travel through the stars? Your parents...our parents...what were they like? Did they love you as my family loved me?"
He sighed and shook his head, his hand rising to rub his fingers over his lower lip.
"There is so much I want...no, need to know! Am I the conscience? Yes. Was I chosen? Yes. Am I satisfied in what I do for my people? Yes! Then why? Why do I now feel so...discontented!"
The sudden brightening of the room let him know one of his people had entered and he was fairly sure it would be his most trusted adviser. He didn't even turn.
"Yes?"
The being was in a very awkward position. Although the micro laser could pick up his gestures while the conscience faced away from him, protocol demanded that he address the conscience face to face. The man glanced at his sleeve and, seeing no text, sighed at the inevitability of the situation and turned, repeating curtly,
"Yes?"
"You are troubled."
The man's eyes darkened and his mouth opened.
"It is not your place to make such a statement."
"That is true, but, forgive me, you serve the people and I serve you. Your well being is my concern."
The conscience had known this being for a long time. Known him and trusted him. Although he'd never asked, the man was pretty sure the being was about his age. They had come together when he had taken his place as his people's conscience at age eighteen. The being had been a companion as well as an adviser, only stepping back slightly when the man had decided to accept his one. The being was even present at the birth of the man's children.
To have breached protocol such as he had, only showed just how worried the being was and in the face of such loyalty and friendship, the man relented.
"It is I who should ask forgiveness. Please, I welcome your presence, as always."
Inclining his head, the conscience invited his adviser to sit with him.
"It is true. I am deeply troubled."
"The human healer. Did she find she cannot heal your children?"
A sad smile appeared and the man shook his head. "No." He sighed. "But what she told me has proved to be just as distressing."
The being's glow dimmed and he tilted his head.
"Can you tell me?"
"How many times have I stared at your face and seen nothing?" The man wondered silently. "Do you even have eyes? Are you looking at me, seeing me as I see you?" He sighed again. "I so want to see your reactions to my questions, but will you answer them? If I could see your eyes, would I be able to tell if you were lying to me?" The dark thoughts roiled around in his head.
Unable to sit any longer, he rose and began to pace again. The being remained seated and waited patiently, but with deep concern.
"I am from Earth."
"Yes."
"Do you know anything about my family?"
There was silence and the being's hands stayed still.
"I'm asking about my human family."
"We did no research of the...family...only an investigation of the human female who was found to conform to our needs."
The man stopped pacing and glared at his adviser. "That 'human female' was my mother!"
"You have a family of your people. You had a mother and a father and three siblings. Why do you now...?"
The man hissed, "My parents are dead!" He pointed at the clear wall, his face clouding in anger. "They are out in the great floe! And since I took my position as the conscience, I have never seen my siblings again!"
He spun so quickly, his braid whipped around to slap across his midriff. Walking stiffly to the clear wall, the man glared up at the stars. He resisted looking at his sleeve until he felt the presence of his friend behind him. When he did finally look at his sleeve he growled in anger.
"What has she said to you?"
He turned then, his dark eyes blazing. "I have a brother! A human brother....an 'identical twin'!" With his fierce gaze locked on the being's glowing head, the man savagely pointed up at the sky. "My brother is on that ship! He is the captain! His name is Jean-Luc Picard! I am a Picard!"
The being lowered his head, his fingers gesturing so rapidly the micro laser had difficulty identifying all the movements. The resulting translation was fragmentary.
"Unprecedented. Council. Impossible. Must...cannot! You..."
With a series of violent, sharp motions, the man stripped off his tunic.
"No! You will not refer to me as 'you'! I am Picard!"
He abruptly left the room and the being stood in shock, trying to work out what to do. The arrival ten minutes later of another adviser only made matters worse. The conscience had exited the building as was seen running out on the ice. Fortunately, he was adequately clothed, provided he didn't stay out too long.
There was only one thing the being could think to do. He had to access the records of the purveyors. Perhaps somewhere in their records he might find something to ease the conscience's mind. In the meantime, he would talk to the council of healers. If what the conscience had said was true, the ramifications were dire. No conscience had ever been released from his obligation. Since finding a way to bring first the very young, then infants, then, finally the developing embryos, none had ever wanted to be released. The situation had never arisen.
The conscience was in his seventy-first year. Far too early to consider sending the purveyors for a new conscience, besides it would take years to gestate, educate and prepare a new conscience. The process wasn't scheduled to begin for at least another twenty years.
And the people needed their conscience at the present time. With the advent of the introduction of the Federation ships the people had many questions, matters of law and civil calm were at stake and it was the conscience's purpose to make the decisions to assist his people. If he decided to relinquish his role, what then? Under normal circumstances, the artificial intelligence would suffice, but it was confined to adjudicate on matters of law only, not to see to the civic concerns of the people. Their collective unease needed the guidance of their conscience.
No, it was unacceptable. The conscience had to serve. There was no alternative. He had been chosen.

 

Despite the thick, insulated clothing and the mask the man wore over his face, he felt his cheeks, chin and the tip of his nose begin to burn. It had been so long since he'd experienced these sensations he sighed with nostalgic reminiscence, recalling a time long ago, a time when nothing bothered him but his next lesson. Even after he'd taken his one he still ventured out onto the ice. Every so often his people would present him with a petition that required deep thought. He loved his one, but in those earlier years he was still restless and found the solitude and unforgiving, dim emptiness of the ice oddly comforting. And it had always allowed him to think.
That he should retreat there now was not surprising. He was searching for something, something intangible, a state of mind, a state of being he had abandoned long ago. He ran and ran until his lungs struggled in the freezing air, his breath, although processed, still escaped in thin wisps of condensed air to be torn away by the howling wind.
He bent, gloved hands on his padded thighs, trying to regulate his ragged breathing. All his life his personal healers had made sure his body was kept in premium condition, he had never given any thought to his age or that perhaps his body may one day suffer the ravages of time. Such things didn't happen on his world. When people reached the conclusion, it was the cascading death of the brain cells, not the failure of the body that brought about their demise.
He knew he had no essence to contribute to his people after his death, he did not glow, but he had always been content in the knowledge that his remains would join those of his people in the great floe. That was until now. Having regained control over his respiration, he straightened and lifted his head, staring through his faceplate at the perpetually dark sky. His world was far from the system's star, the difference between 'day' and 'night' only recognised as variations of degrees of darkness. He was unaware he had tightly fisted his hands until they rose to his head. As he continued to stare upwards, his hands opened and he splayed his fingers, extending his arms to their fullest. His voice, though shouted was almost completely muffled by his mask. In any case, there was no one to hear.
"I am here, Jean-Luc! Please...please...hear me!"

In the atmosphere inside his faceplate, his tears emerged as a gel.

When he had not returned in five hours, his one summoned the man's trusted adviser.
"Do you think he will need us when he returns?"
The male tilted his head, his glowing body pulsating. "I do not know. When he was younger he would return calm, but now...? He is deeply troubled. I cannot say if he will find the peace of mind he seeks."
"Then we have no option but to wait and see."
"Yes."
"You will wait with me?"
"Yes."
Together the two beings went to the long room and sat, each staring out into the dim dark depths of the frozen land.

 

Although engrossed in her work, Beverly knew better than to overstay her shift in sick bay and made sure she left on time.
Inside their quarters, though she was alone, somehow Jean-Luc's anger, hurt and disappointment seemed to permeate the atmosphere. Shaking her head and muttering softly, Beverly entered the bedroom, stripping off her uniform.
"Guilt. That's all it is, Beverly, just your guilt."
Yet the oppressive pall still hung, almost, but not quite tangible.
"Oh, okay." Beverly growled, entering the shower stall. "Yes, I deserve it."
She didn't hear his entry, it wasn't until she entered the living area that she realised he was home. A tumbler of green liquid sat on the arm of his chair, a PADD resting on the thigh of his crossed legs. He glanced up, but his expression was closed, his eyes dark and glittering. He said nothing. Unable to find an acceptable way to start any kind of conversation, Beverly too remained silent.
In the highly charged, palpable tension, they eventually ate a silent meal and sometime later went to bed. For the first since they'd become intimate they didn't spoon, but lay back-to-back and although the distance between their bodies was mere centimetres, it might as well have been a light year.

 

On the bridge, the night watch was disturbed by the tactical officer frowning down at his console and saying,
"Sir? We're detecting another energy burst from the anomaly."
Lt. Simon James rose from the command chair and joined the young Trill Ensign and frowned.
"Did we catch it? Has it been recorded?"
"Yes, sir."
"Log it and route it to the computer's current analysis."
"Aye, sir."
The lieutenant. began to move away but paused as the ensign said cautiously, "Sir? Shouldn't we inform the Captain?"
This was one of those situations where initiative had to take precedence. A decision was needed and the lieutenant made it.
"No. Until we have something to tell him, I don't see the point."
He took three steps, then paused again, looking back at the junior officer, uncertainty on his face.
"Do you?"
The Ens. gave a panicked look and shrugged. "I don't know, sir, it's not my place to say."
Giving the man a sour look, the lieutenant thought sourly, "Well thank you very much! I'm sure I can count on you later when the captain decides to flay me if I've fucked up."
Retaking his seat in the command chair, the lieutenant stared morosely at the planet below. Customarily the forward viewscreen was deactivated unless required, but he'd always found the night shift a little unsettling, especially when he was rostered to be the officer of the watch on the bridge and he found being able to see outside had a calming effect. Even though his captain was off duty and as far as he knew, in his quarters, the man's personality...his presence remained and left an indelible undertone of expectation that could not be ignored.
"God," he sighed to himself. "I hope I've done the right thing."
He had all night to think about it.

 

Fifteen hours after he'd fled, the conscience returned. Frost bitten and exhausted, he was immediately seen by his healers. He'd never suffered frostbite before. In the past, if he'd planned to stay out a long time, he took adequate precautions, but he'd left in such haste and with no real idea what is was he intended, the damage was inevitable. Fortunately, it was easily healed and a once again whole, the conscience met with his one in the sleeping room. She had waited until the adviser had suggested she rest. Unwilling but acceding to his undeniable logic, that being his one, he may need her and she would herself need to be rested to be at her best for him, she had finally, but reluctantly retired.
His entry into the room woke her and she sat up, the light cover slipping down, exposing her naked body. The resultant vivid glow made the man cover his eyes with his hands and say roughly, "Please!"
Quickly gathering the covers, the female wrapped the material around her and the light dimmed. The man lowered his hand and sat heavily on the side of the bed, his head bowed, elbows on his knees, his hands dangling between his thighs. She didn't know what to do. He was bare-chested, only clad in trousers. He didn't even have feet coverings on, so she was unable to communicate, other than by touch, but he seemed so tense, she correctly assumed he would not welcome any physical contact.
They sat in the uncomfortable silence each not knowing what to do or say. They stayed that way for hours until the man suddenly rose stiffly and walked out.
Confused and deeply worried, the female left the bed; cleansed her body and dressed. She had to see her children. She had hoped they would go together, but she doubted that as going to happen. As she walked through the building she could hear her one discussing the latest petition from the people, but by the tone of his voice, so familiar to her, she could tell he was not really paying attention.

 

Throughout their morning preparations of showering and dressing, the ugly silence remained. Neither had any appetite, but breakfast was such a ritual, they went through the motions anyway. It was over coffee that Beverly finally reached the end of her tenuous patience.
Placing her cup carefully on the tabletop in front of her, she took time to align the handle before saying softly,
"I really am sorry, Jean-Luc. But you must know..."
His tone was clipped and cold, cutting her off.
"What I know, doctor, is that you have, by your own deliberate actions, damaged me both personally and professionally and quite frankly, I find it utterly unforgivable."
Keeping her gaze fixed on the cup, Beverly traced its rim with her fingers, hoping he wouldn't see the pain his words had caused. Still she had to keep trying, somehow trying to find a way to heal the rift...to make him see what she'd done was necessary without revealing what she knew.
"Jean-Luc..." she said quietly, "It's not the first time I've..."
Again he cut her off.
"Oh yes, I'm well aware of your penchant for flouting authority, God knows, there're enough incidents noted in your record to stand testament to that! And of course, you've disobeyed me before, but Beverly..."he lowered his head and shook it. "the stakes have never been so high! What possessed you? What possible motive could you have had to not only go behind my back but to lie to Will too?"
Raising her eyes, she looked at his for the first time since they'd sat down for breakfast. She almost winced at the pain and hurt within them.
"Okay, you're right; I do have a reputation for being a loose cannon. But in all those notes on my file, all those reprimands I've received, can you honestly say that any of them weren't gained by me simply trying to do my job?"
Although his face remained unreadable, his eyes sharpened.
"Are you trying to mitigate your actions by putting your position as a doctor above that of the chain of command? Above my authority as your captain? Beverly, you know I don't wield my authority, I've always found people do their jobs best if given firm but fair leadership and encouragement. But...there is a standard I expect, not an unfair one, not an unreachable or unsustainable one, but one I feel necessary for the smooth running of my ship and that means everyone must abide by it. Even you." He sighed and rubbed his brow tiredly. Neither of them had got much sleep. "I do understand your need to want to put the welfare of your patients above those guidelines, those standards I have set, but like our disagreements over the Prime Directive, ultimately you must acceded to my authority. Whether you like it or not...and despite our personal relationship, there is no alternative."
The silence that followed was uncomfortable, but bearable. Beverly had expected much of what her husband had said and knew he was right. But so was she. The trouble was she had no way to put her case. She gave it some thought and decided he deserved something at least. Taking a deep breath, she again directed her eyes to her cup, her fingers lightly following the rim once more. She kept her voice soft and steady.
"Jean-Luc, I had been doing some pretty intensive studies on the data the aliens supplied, making comparisons, running tests and simulations and I came across something that at first I simply refused to believe, but as each test, each simulation kept coming back with the same result, I had only one option. I had to get down to the planet and scan the patients myself and to do that I had to speak with the aliens."
Jean-Luc opened his mouth to speak, but Beverly lifted her hand from the cup and trained her eyes on him, effectively silencing him.
"You're right, or course, there's a hell of a lot at stake, but we see it differently, you and I. Your concern is what this mission may mean for the Federation. That's big, no doubt. Me? My only concern is my patients. I went behind your back because I feared if you knew what I wanted to speak to the aliens about, you'd refuse. So yes, I betrayed you. I betrayed your authority as my captain and I betrayed you as my husband." She smiled sadly. "And the real kicker is...I can't tell you why."
He tried to keep his derision out of his voice when he said quietly, "Patient confidentiality."
Beverly heard his tone anyway and shrugged. "You may think I'm using a tried-and-true method of getting out of trouble by quoting something you can't circumvent, something even you have to admit supersedes your authority, but it's the truth, Jean-Luc." She shook her head and let out a soft snort. "And you may not believe it, but your concerns and mine might just coincide."
Propping one elbow on the tabletop and tilting his head, Jean-Luc used his forefinger and thumb to cover his lips while watching as he swirled the remains of his coffee round and round in his cup with his free hand.
When he'd said nothing for a few minutes, Beverly decided to take the chance of doing some digging. Not an opportune time, for certain, but time was not something she had in abundance.
"Jean-Luc..." she said quietly. "what do you remember of your experience with Shalaft's Syndrome?"
His hand gently gyrating the cup froze and his eyes, now sharp and wary speared right into her. He considered why she would ask such a non sequitur, but despite their current difficulties, he knew her well enough to know she must have a valid reason.
"Well..." he sighed, lifting his head and frowning. "I was very young, around four and a half. I recall a lot of pain...excruciating at times...I was afraid, actually I was terrified."
Beverly's gaze sharpened. "Terrified? Why terrified, Jean-Luc?"
He pulled down the corners of his mouth and shrugged. "I...um...I thought I was going to die. Foolish, I know, I mean children of that age have little concept of death, I can only surmise that I equated the pain with something very bad and the only word I could think of at the time to describe it was...death."
She knew there was more and waited patiently. She was rewarded when his gaze dropped to the table and he began to push a few crumbs around his plate. When he spoke his voice was very soft, almost a whisper. "And then there was father."
"What did he do?"
"Oh, nothing much, nothing bad, but Robert had already gone through what I was experiencing and father treated me as if I was at fault somehow. It was not overt, he never said or did anything, in fact he was very loving and supportive, but somehow I felt a tacit disapproval, as if he expected me to not exhibit the condition, as if by succumbing to it, I had somehow let him down."
With great tenderness, Beverly asked, "Do you think that was the start of his disdain for you? That somehow, by appearing weak in his eyes that later, when you showed not only little interest in the vineyard, but expressed your desire to join Starfleet, that he just embellished his already jaundiced view of you?"
Jean-Luc hitched his head to one side and sighed. "Perhaps, but Robert had had it, indeed so had father."
"Yes, but they both devoted themselves to the family tradition. From the outset, Robert showed your father that he was just what your father wanted. You, on the other hand, did not." Sitting back, Beverly idly swept the crumbs from her lap. "You know...he might have harboured the hope, maybe even an expectation, that you might not get it. How much did he know about it? Did he know for instance that he carried the defective gene and that he'd got it from his father? And that the male Picards had carried it for a very, very long time?"
Jean-Luc's expression soured. "He would've been aware of it...how could he not be? But as for researching it? I doubt it. And even if there had been a way to identify and remove the defective gene, he would never have allowed it. That would've been interfering in the natural way of things! No," Jean-Luc shook his head. "I seriously doubt he knew all that much about it."
Leaning forward, Beverly folded her forearms on the table. "So the doctors who treated you, they didn't...?"
His tone was brusque as he said sharply, "There were no doctors, Beverly. None were summoned. My parents knew from their experience with Robert and from what my father had told my mother about what he knew that given time it would pass. All they had to do was provide an environment that was as quiet as possible for me...and wait."
"Jesus, Jean-Luc." Beverly said softly. "It's no wonder you were terrified."
He rose from his seat abruptly and tossed his napkin down. "Yes, well it was a long time ago."
The captain persona settled on him like a cloak. "We both have work to do. I'll...um...I'll see you later."
Just as he walking past his wife a thought popped into his head, halting him. Beverly looked up expectedly, hoping to see some kind of sign to show he was coming around, but as she watched, his face hardened and her stomach clenched. He looked down at her and said quietly,
"Beverly, we've discussed this. It's sad, it's tragic, but you have to come to terms with the fact we can't have children. Let it go, Beverly...please...for both our sakes, just leave it alone."
Minutes after he'd left, Beverly sat at the table trying desperately to remain in control. The irony was exquisite and dreadfully painful.
Slowly she stood and looked at the table, strewn with the breakfast remains. Unable to bring herself to clear it all away, she simply left, her single thought repeating itself over and over again.
"If only you knew, Jean-Luc, if only you knew."

 

Just as Jean-Luc arrived on the bridge, Will was receiving the report from the gamma shift. By the grim look on Will's face, Jean-Luc instantly knew something was amiss.
"Report, number one."
Directing his attention away from the now very nervous lieutenant, Will faced his captain.
"I've just learned there was another power surge from the anomaly at 03.23."
Not moving his head, Jean-Luc's eyes shifted to the lieutenant. "Why wasn't I informed?"
The young man's eyes darted from Will to his captain. "I'm sorry, Captain. It's just that we had no further information to add to what little we already know. I didn't see the point in disturbing you, sir."
Jean-Luc bowed his head and softly sighed. "Lieutenant," he said quietly, "While I understand your reasoning, in situations like we find ourselves now, it is imperative all incidents and events must be reported immediately, if not to me directly, then to a senior officer."
The lieutenant nodded, saying contritely, "Yes, sir."
"What did you do, Lieutenant?"
"I requested the tactical officer to log the event and route it to the computer to add to the current analysis in progress."
A small smile appeared, but didn't reach Jean-Luc's eyes. "Well you did that correctly at least. Your shift has ended?"
"Yes, sir."
"Then you're dismissed."
"Thank you, Captain."
A very relieved lieutenant left the bridge leaving Jean-Luc to ask Will, "Has the computer got anywhere with its analysis?"
The big man shook his head, his eyes still without their once perpetual sparkle. "I don't know, Captain."
"Then let's ask." Said Jean-Luc mildly. "Computer, current status of analysis of energy burst from the detected anomaly?"
"Analysis not yet complete."
"Do you have any new information to offer?"
"Yes."
"Then do so."
"It has been established that the recorded event is an energy burst and that the theory of it being caused by a controlled nuclear fusion reaction is correct. The resultant burst is being directed, but as yet the precise destination or purpose is unknown. However, the burst has been established as being directed at the planet's surface."
Will's eyes narrowed as he lifted his chin. "Computer, cross-reference recent scans taken of alien ships, specifically those who escorted us into this system. Is there any correlation between the ships' glow', and the energy burst?"
"Accessing."
The two senior officer locked eyes, Jean-Luc saying softly, "A hunch, number one?"
"More like an itch, Captain."
The computer's soft, feminine voice came through once again.
"Although scans were severely limited, it is possible the 'glow' witnessed could be generated in the same way as the recorded energy burst from the nearby anomaly."
"Jesus." Whispered Will. "Gives a whole new meaning to the term 'Starship'."
"Indeed. Computer," said a now worried Jean-Luc. "Given that we now know the anomaly contains something like a star, manufactured or not, what do you make of the anomaly itself?"
"Insufficient data."
"Theorise!"
"Any power source that powerful being a controlled nuclear fusion reaction, artificial or not, will produce an atmosphere. Whether or not what is being observed is a corona, the chromosphere or photosphere is not known."
"Accepted, but with the available data, how large do you estimate the power source to be? And computer feel free to theorise."
"It would depend entirely on how the nuclear fusion reaction has been created. In astronomical terms, a star is measured by its solar mass, in the case of Earth's star, derived by the length of year, the distance from the Earth to the star, (expressed as one Astronomical Unit) and the gravitational constant. Main sequence stars have to maintain hydrostatic equilibrium, possess strong magnetic fields and almost all stars exhibit solar flares, solar prominences and eject solar material through their coronas. None of these characteristics have been noted or recorded which suggests the power source is artificial and has been created in such a fashion as to be entirely controlled."
Jean-Luc's head was turned now, but he was staring sightlessly into the middle distance.
"Computer, considering the energy bursts are being directed at the planet's surface and the correlation of the suspected power source of the alien ships, can we surmise that the aliens are dependent on whatever is in the anomaly? That they generate at will power they can utilise almost infinitely?"
"Supposition is not acceptable. Insufficient data."
In the silence that followed, Jean-Luc scowled. He gave a shake of his head and dragged his eyes back to Will's.
"You have the bridge, number one, but join me in the ready room when your duties allow."
Ignoring the acknowledgment, Jean-Luc walked into his inner sanctum, many thoughts vying for dominance.
Jean-Luc had no idea how long he'd been standing at the viewport in his office. Three things kept rolling around in his mind. Foremost were the current situation with the aliens and the little-by-little they were learning and his lingering anger and hurt over what Beverly had done, but in the background, nibbling away at the edges of his consciousness was something he couldn't quite pin down. The door chimed twice before he suddenly heard it. As he returned to his desk, he called, "Come."
Will came in, his expression bland, something Jean-Luc was still trying to get used to. There was a specific reason Jean-Luc had requested Will's presence, but a distracting thought had surfaced.
"What kind of star does this system possess?"
"A G2V, Captain. Not as big as the Sol system's but of course that makes it hotter, though not necessarily brighter."
"And the distance the planet is from the star?"
"Ah...30.44 AUs."
"Hmm, approximately 4.5 billion kilometres. So the planet would be cold. Icy in fact."
Will nodded, wondering where his captain was going. "Seems so, not that our scans can prove it. Hell, we can't even see it for ourselves. I guess that was why they wanted such a high orbit."
"Hmm."
"Was there something else, Captain?"
Jean-Luc brought himself out of his musings and gave a curt nod. "Yes there is, Will."
The first officer bent slightly and grabbed the back of the chair in front of the desk with both hands. "Yes, sir?"
"Discipline, Will." The captain's eyes darkened and he sighed. "It's slipping. I know since the war and the Borg incursion we no longer have the luxury of picking and choosing who gets to serve on this ship, but that's no excuse to let our standards drop. What the Lt. did by not reporting the power surge last night was slack to say the least. He should've known that if not me, then one of the senior staff should have been notified immediately. I want the standard brought up, Will, back to where it should be, where it always has been and I expect you to be the one to make it so. It's your job Will. You know what I expect."
Straightening, Will squared his shoulders and nodded. "Captain, I have to take responsibility for this situation anyway. I've dropped the ball lately...I can only apologise, sir. I'll get things back to rights, have no fear, Captain."
Sorrow clouded Jean-Luc's eyes and Will steeled himself against it.
"I do understand, Will, but once you returned to duty..."
The smile that emerged was wan compared to his once common genial one, but at least it was a smile. "Don't worry about it, Captain. I'll whip this crew into something resembling an Enterprise crew."
Giving the man a warm smile, Jean-Luc sighed with relief. "Thank you, number one, that's all."
He had intended to get to work, but the troublesome unease he'd been wrestling with suddenly surfaced. Like pieces of a jigsaw fitting together, Jean-Luc began to assemble a picture in his head. One by one the bits came together.
"First she asked me about my mother's health. Then she wanted a DNA sample from me, taken in a most odd fashion." He tilted his head, willing the fragments to coalesce. "She requests a visit to the planet, ostensibly to examine her patients. On her return she tells me she discovered something she needed to prove, something she was aware of before she went down to the planet and that somehow our missions coincide. Then she asks me, out-of-the-blue what I remember about suffering Shalaft's. And she wants to know what my father knew about it."
He rose from his desk and went back to the viewport, deep in thought. Almost as an afterthought, Jean-Luc said softly, "Computer, what was contained in the request made by Doctor Beverly Crusher that required a priority one subspace burst which I authorised?"
"Unable to comply. That information is protected by patient confidentiality."
"Override. Security protocol, Picard, Jean-Luc, Captain, theta pi zero, nine eight."
"Authorisation accepted."
"Display."
The heading of the file was enough to make Jean-Luc gape. "My mother? She wanted my mother's complete medical file? Why?"
A sudden and very unwanted question formed and Jean-Luc grimaced. He wanted an answer and there was only one way he was going to find out.
Will looked up as Jean-Luc came out of the ready room and frowned as the older man halted; his head bowed.
"You have the bridge."
The captain walked towards the aft lift, with Will asking respectfully, "And you will be...?"
Jean-Luc didn't answer. Once the lift doors closed he said softly, "Sick bay."

 

Beverly was in one of the larger analysis rooms, staring intently at the screen. It wasn't as large as the main sick bay screen, but the room was one of those the aliens had agreed to let her use while her staff could still stay at their posts.
On the screen was an enlarged image of the auditory system of one of the hybrid children. Pressing her thumbnail against her teeth, Beverly muttered, "What the hell is that? Jesus, how the hell does it work?"
She traced her finger over what she was seeing and said distractedly, "Computer, split screen. Display paternal auditory system and compare."
"The structure of the hybrid auditory system differs in four fundamental ways. The auricular is formed to function differently, suggesting sound is directed into the inner ear in a way as yet not known. The inner ear does not possess the structures of the paternal auditory system. There is no tympanic cavity, no ossicles, no Eustachian tubes or any nasopharynx. Instead, there is a membrane and two minute structures which may be ossific in nature that links directly to what appears to be an auditory nerve, although it is bisected and connects to two distinct areas of the brain. That could mean the patient can hear on two different levels, one obvious, the other discrete. However, without further information that is as yet, unknown."
"I wonder..." said Beverly softly, but she got no further. The screen suddenly went blank and before she could react, the door opened and a very familiar voice said with a slight edge, "Beverly, we need to talk."
Her stomach immediately clenched and her heart accelerated. "He knows!" was her first panicked thought. But with so much at stake, Beverly quickly composed herself and turned, a smile plastered on her face.
Jean-Luc wasn't fooled for an instant and she knew it. Her smile faded and she swallowed, saying softly, "My office."
Once inside, Jean-Luc made sure the doors were shut and just as he was about to order the windows opaqued, Beverly beat him to it.
In the sudden silence, they stood, staring at each other. The impasse was broken when Beverly took her seat and picked up a stylus, keeping her eyes trained on it as she rolled it between her fingers. Standing in front of her desk, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Is he a clone?"
The question was so loaded it struck Beverly like a physical blow. She couldn't summon her voice, she merely shook her head, but that only served to confuse Jean-Luc. He'd been so sure.
"Are you certain?"
Again she just nodded.
"Who is he?"
Still, Beverly remained silent and it only served to make her husband more insistent.
"Who is he?!"
Lifting her head, Beverly knew she'd been painted into a corner with no way out. Somehow Jean-Luc had worked out some part of what was going on, at least as far as it concerned him. Very softly, doing her best to soften the shocking news, she said,
"He's your brother."
Narrowing his eyes, Jean-Luc tilted his head, one part of him dismissing such an absurd statement, but another trying to absorb the improbable, but astonishing news.
"My brother?" He said cautiously. "Beverly, the only brother I had has been dead for some years now. There were only the two of us, Robert and me." His face suddenly clouded on anger. "Are you suggesting one of my parents...?"
Holding up one hand, a shocked Beverly blurted, "No! Oh, God, no, Jean-Luc! No, nothing like that."
He was growing increasingly upset and impatient. "Then what the hell do you mean by 'brother'?!"
There was no use in even trying to sidestep. She had to tell him.

"He's your identical twin. He was taken from your mother before she knew she was pregnant...when you were both just barely embryos."
Wordlessly, Jean-Luc sat down, his eyes darting back and forth as he tried to process what he'd been told. Slowly at first, then with more confidence, Beverly told Jean-Luc all that the conscience had told her. When she'd finished they sat in sudden silence. Her with huge relief at finally unburdening herself, he in shock and growing outrage.
Eventually Jean-Luc lifted his head and his eyes glittered dangerously. "They've been stealing people...children...for millennia? To serve as some kind of arbiter?"
This wasn't quite what Beverly'd expected. She had thought he'd want to know about his brother.
"He wants to meet you." She said tentatively.
When he didn't react to that, she said warily, "Jean-Luc?"
"This must stop! They can't continue to..."
"Jean-Luc!" Beverly sharp tone broke through his mental haze. He blinked, his mouth ajar. Slowly and gently, Beverly repeated herself. "He wants to meet you."
As they stared into each other's eyes, Jean-Luc's cleared. He took a deep breath and rubbed his brow. "What's he like?" He asked softly.
Relieved that her husband had found his way back, Beverly offered a lopsided smile. "He's your identical twin, Jean-Luc. Physically..." she snorted softly. "apart from your...hairstyle...you look the same. As for your personalities, there are some similarities, even some shared gestures. It's remarkable really, if not a tad unsettling."
Scrambling to get his head around the news, Jean-Luc said the first thing that came to mind. An old trait he'd thought he'd rid myself of. "Hairstyle?"
Beverly's smile was tender but she couldn't hide the trace of amusement. "Like you, he's inherited male alopecia, but he hasn't cut his hair. Ever. So he's bald but has a long, thick grey braid that reaches right down his back growing from the same area of his head where you have hair."
"How long is his beard?" asked a still stunned Jean-Luc, trying to imagine himself as Beverly described.
"He doesn't have one, he's clean shaven. He told me his 'one'-presumably his mate-prefers him that way."
His voice almost a whisper, Jean-Luc was retreating again. "What is his name?"
Tilting her head to see under his lowered brow, Beverly replied gently, "He doesn't have one, my love."
Raising his head, Jean-Luc frowned deeply. "He has no name? Why?"
"Apparently the names the aliens have are indecipherable to him."
Shaking his head at the obvious implication, Jean-Luc lifted a hand, saying confusedly, "Wait! What are you saying? Can he communicate with them or not?"
"Yes he can, but not as the aliens do, his hands can't master the gestural language. His clothing has an integrated hyper laser which can 'read' the gestures and interpret them for him. Also on his clothing is a modest, flexible screen that displays the interpreted gestures as text. The aliens understand him when he speaks. But even so, their names can't be interpreted."
"And..." Jean-Luc was incredulous. "he speaks standard?"
"And French." Said Beverly softly.
"And French?" Whispered Jean-Luc. "Mon Dieu."
"The first words he said to me were spoken in French. Almost knocked me off my feet. He told me that the aliens routinely teach their conscience whatever the dominant language is of the planet of origin and also any regional language. It's sort of paying some kind of respect."
Again silence settled before Jean-Luc said quietly, "It's Shalaft's. Isn't it."
With a sigh, Beverly nodded. "Uh huh. He had it just like you did but he told me his healers had 'cured' him, but even though they've done some remarkable work on his auditory system, my guess is that the 'cure' coincided with the natural resolution of the condition. Trouble is, his children all have it and there're complications. That's what I'm here for."
Disbelief showed on Jean-Luc face. "He has children? How many?"
"Four. Three males, one female, all about 13 years old."
"Thirteen? But Shalaft's..."
Holding up her hand again, Beverly twisted her head. "I know! Not only is it very late-onset, but the female is affected too."
"They're...hybrids?"
"Yes. And that of course is why we have the complications." Beverly let out a frustrated breath. "Jean-Luc, I'm working in the dark here. The aliens have permitted me free access to all the relevant medical information about the father...your brother...and the children, but absolutely nothing about themselves! How the hell am I going to figure out this puzzle with only half the pieces?"
Rubbing his lower lip with his fingers, Jean-Luc's analytical mind was coming back on line.
"Beverly, what can you tell me about your visit?"
Shrugging, Beverly pulled down the corners of her mouth and raised her eyebrows. "Not a great deal. I didn't see any aliens, I was only in one building and it was unremarkable and from what I could see outside, it was a dim, frozen, open wasteland." Twisting her lips to one side in thought, Beverly suddenly looked up and snapped her fingers. "Bioluminescence!"
"Pardon?" Said a startled Jean-Luc.
"Bioluminescence. The aliens, I think they glow, Jean-Luc. I wasn't sure until I saw the children. They glow, but softly, however, on arrival I was required to wear an eye shield which was completely black, making me virtually blind, but just as a control was activated to lighten the shield, I saw a bright glow, which abruptly disappeared...as if someone had just left the room. The next thing I knew, I was reading text on a screen instructing me to take the shield off."
"Tell me about bioluminescence, Beverly."
By his expression and tone, she knew something was on his mind.
"Well, basically it's the production and emission of light by a living organism. The word itself is a hybrid, coming from the Greek bios for living and the Latin lumen for light. It's a naturally occurring form of chemiluminescence where energy is released by a chemical reaction in the form of light emission. Lots of creatures do it. On Earth there're fireflies, anglerfish...they all produce a chemical called luciferin, it's a pigment, and luciferase (an enzyme). The luciferin reacts with oxygen to create light. The luciferase acts as a catalyst to speed up the reaction which is sometimes mediated by factors such as calcium ions or ATP. The chemical reaction can occur either inside or outside the cell. In organisms as small as...say...bacteria, the expression of genes to bioluminescence is controlled by an operon (a segment of a chromosome) called the Lux operon."
"Hmm. The light. Hot or cold?"
"Cold. Less than 20% of the light generates thermal radiation."
When he said nothing further, Beverly asked softly, "What?"
He looked up and his eyes were glittering again. "You remember their ships?"
"Yes." Suddenly Beverly took a sharp breath. "They glowed!"
"Indeed they did. And there's more. That anomaly? The one we've had little or no success in scanning?"
"Yes."
"It's been emitting energy surges and as far as the computer's concerned, it seems our alien 'friends' seem to have not only created a small star, but have the ability to both control it and direct its power. Now, doctor, do you still think you're dealing with bioluminescence? Or could it be something else entirely?"
"I...I don't know." Beverly said, thoughts beginning to reel around inside her head.
"Did you take any samples from the hybrids, other than what the aliens had supplied?"
"Yes..." Beverly nodded distractedly. "Not only did I scan them...and your brother...but I took some blood."
Jean-Luc could see Beverly was already drifting, her mind devoting itself to this new aspect of the enigma she was trying to solve. She barely heard his next question.
"Why did you take my DNA sample using such an archaic method?"
Lifting her head, she frowned. "What?"
"The DNA sample you took from me."
"What about it?"
Patience had always been one of Jean-Luc's virtues, especially when dealing with his wife. Repeating himself when Beverly was distracted was something he was accustomed to.
"Why did you collect it in such an outmoded fashion?"
"Oh...I wanted more than just one isolated stand as I'd get using a selector. A very old process, at least the one from as far back as about the mid 21st century, gives a gross reading, not a refined one as I could have now, but I was looking for more than just DNA structure. I used a very old technique called PCR, Polymerase Chain Reaction. It's a way of replicating DNA that doesn't alter the nucleotides. It is old fashioned, but the beauty of it is that because it's so unsophisticated it gives a very broad, that is non-specific by our standards, reading and that's exactly what I wanted."
"Why?
"Because I was looking for something discrete, something that might be disregarded or ignored by our modern tests simply because it's so blatantly obvious."
A now intrigued Jean-Luc asked, "And that is?"
"The replication fork and the proteins associated in initiating and contributing to the DNA synthesis."
With a frown, Jean-Luc asked warily, "But isn't that basically cloning?"
Her smile was an indulgent one. "By our terms, yes. But way back then, they were simply replicating individual strands of DNA only, not creating an entire copy of a living being. Back then it required the input of more than just one individual DNA contribution. We, on the other hand can do it, but it requires DNA resequencing, something that was, as yet, out of the reach of those long gone scientists."
Jean-Luc thought about that for a few moments, then said quietly, "So it was my DNA and the discrete properties you found that made you suspicious?"
"Not merely suspicious, Jean-Luc." Beverly snorted softly. "Once I realised what I was seeing in the information on the hybrids showed Shalaft's, I was shocked, I mean it's so damned rare and seeing as I had at my disposal a very,"...here she smiled tenderly, "special and dear person who just happened to be one of those very rare individuals who carried the defect, I began to feel very uneasy, but it wasn't until I done the PCR and armed with the results and of course the more sophisticated tests available to me, which I did, that I was certain. The DNA from the father was an identical match to you. Like you, my first thought was cloning, but my tests, which I might add were extensive, showed no deviation or degradation of the base nucleotides. I could come to only one conclusion."
Although softly asked, Jean-Luc's gaze was piercing.
"You don't think you may be mistaken? We know their medical technology far outstrips our own. Is it possible he may be a clone? That he may have told you about how these aliens have been...stealing...other sentient beings to act as their 'conscience' as a way to deceive you? After all, Beverly, they may well have mastered a cloning technique that's undetectable to you."
Beverly's eyes hardened at the thinly veiled questioning of her abilities but his concerns were valid. Summoning patience, she kept her tone even.
"Those are valid points, Jean-Luc, but the very fact that their medical technology is so much more advanced than ours would seem to suggest that if they were cloning, they would've detected any defective genes and removed them. I simply can't believe they'd leave any flaws in any cloned being...it makes no sense. And if they could clone that well, why seek new beings? Why not simply keep cloning the one they found acceptable? Besides, why indulge in such an elaborate lie? They're not in the Federation; we have no say in what they choose to do."
Anger made Jean-Luc's eyes glitter. "Don't we? That...man...if he was indeed conceived on Earth and is completely human, then despite the fact that he was born on the alien planet, he is a Federation citizen and I have a sworn duty to protect him and to put an end to what the aliens are doing and seem to have been doing for a very long time."
Pursing her lips, Beverly made a mild effort to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. "Far be it for me to quote the Prime Directive, Jean-Luc, but you can't do anything about this. Under the very rule you hold so dear you can't interfere. Like you said, they're not a Federation world. You have absolutely no authority...or right...to impose our ethics upon them."
Not quite sure how to deal with this, coming from Beverly with whom he'd had many heated 'debates' about the Prime Directive and always, without exception, her position was inevitably against its unilateral application, Jean-Luc said guardedly, "You condone what they're doing? What they've done?"
Tilting her head, Beverly's gaze was intense, but her voice was soft. "Would you be so keen to uphold the Prime Directive if you weren't so personally involved?"
His clenched jaw made his facial muscles bunch. His eyes glittered in suppressed anger and his voice was tight. "I can't believe you just said that." He briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds before slowly letting it out through his nose. "Beverly," he said, calmer now. "This isn't about me. It doesn't matter who that man is or indeed which species he is....if he has originated from a Federation world, then I have a sworn duty to protect him and to try and find a way to stop the aliens from continuing with this practice of...harvesting... if not all together, than at least from using Federation worlds as a source for their 'conscience'. And, just so you know, I won't be citing ethics, Beverly, simply dry, emotionless law."
A tense silence descended, broken when Jean-Luc asked quietly, "You're absolutely sure? As far as you can tell, he is my brother?"
"Yes."
Standing, Jean-Luc looked down at his wife and said softly, "In that case, I have only two things to say. One: I now see why you acted as you did, and I will remove you from being on report, and two: I think it best you and I see if the aliens will allow both of us to make a visit."
Nodding and feeling a great deal of relief, Beverly smiled, saying quietly, "Thank you, Jean-Luc."
His smile was a small, his worry obvious. He could see that his wife was itching to return to her work, but he hesitated at the now open office door.
"Beverly, how are you going with this? Do you think you can cure those poor...children?"
She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "Look, it's early days yet, but I think..." she pulled her lips to one side. "Yes, I think I can do it, but somewhere along the line I'm going to have to get some information on the alien physiology. I just can't do my job with insufficient information."
Jean-Luc softly grunted. "You're not the only one, that's all any of us have had from the very beginning of this mission." He sighed, bowing his head. "So...the glowing phenomena. Can you...?"

Beverly shook her head. "It's not a priority to me, Jean-Luc. Unless I find it has something to do with their condition, it has to be secondary. Sorry."
Nodding, Jean-Luc said quietly, "I'll go back to the bridge...see if I can get them to respond."
"Why wouldn't they?" Asked a confused Beverly. "They always have done when we hailed them before."
His face stony, Jean-Luc said dryly, "That's right, you wouldn't be aware."
She frowned. "Of what?"
"While you were off the ship the aliens refused to respond to our hails, and before you ask, yes we hailed repeatedly."
"Oh."
"Yes, oh." He shook his head in frustrated consternation. "I can't work them out, Beverly. They want our...your help, they've shown to be benevolent in the past, but they make it so patently clear they want the upper hand. That they wish to direct everything that happens. And now I find they've been...preying on humans and God knows how many other species for millennia. What are we doing here? Is this a simple mission of mercy? Or is there a hidden agenda? And why would a species so evolved wish to be all but governed by an alien? There are so many questions, Beverly, and it seems to me that even if we ask, we're not going to get any answers. No, we're going to come away from this none the wiser and my...brother..." he sighed and closed his eyes, repeating softly, "My brother...my identical twin brother...what of him? I can't leave him there. I can't let the aliens keep using Federation worlds as breeding grounds for their own purposes. But what you said is true, I have no jurisdiction here. I'm effectively caught between the devil and the deep blue sea."
He shook his head and Beverly could see what the dilemma was doing to him. Leaving her desk, she went to him and ushered him back inside, letting the doors close. Taking him into her arms she said softly, "Let's just take this one step at a time, Jean-Luc. Don't bite off too much at once, you'll choke on it."
She kissed his cheek and he sighed, lifting his head to place a soft, tender kiss on her lips.
"If we make contact and I get permission, I'll contact you."
Beverly's reply was a soft smile and another kiss. He left and although his shoulders were square and his bearing immaculate, Beverly knew the enormous weight he carried. She didn't envy him and it physically hurt to know there was little she could do to help him.

 

The adviser was seated in the very cold room, the combined light from the occupants so vivid that no human eye could stand it. The six beings had their hands raised to chest height and, although it seemed no fingers were moving, in fact each and every being was 'talking' at once, the equivalent of a cacophony in human terms. It wasn't until the adviser rose to his feet that the fingers stilled, the other five turning their heads to watch his hands.
"Healers, we cannot reach consensus if we are at odds with each other. If we all speak at the same time, no one will be heard."
To the adviser's left, a female's fingers moved. "That is a fatuous thing to say! It's not our place to reach a consensus on this. This is precisely the kind of conundrum the conscience is supposed to adjudicate on. Not us!"
"Yes," gestured a being to her right. "But this is about the conscience. Are you suggesting he adjudicate on his own destiny? That is absurd."
"Then what is the purpose of the conscience?" Asked another healer. She then answered her own question. "His purpose is to adjudicate. I see no difference whether or not his judgements pertain to him personally or the people. He was chosen and educated to serve. He must see this as just another petition and, just as he is not influenced by the local biases or societal trends of the people, so he must apply the same impartiality to himself."
"But can he?" Asked the adviser. "This is very much more than a simple, but unfortunate matter of a conscience being exposed to the beings of his origin. No, this is far more complicated. The conscience has been told not only has he an identical twin brother, but by some extraordinary set of circumstances, the brother is none other than the captain of the ship sent to assist us...and the mate of the healer requested to cure his offspring! The 'most prominent healer' we asked for."
Again the hands around the table raised and many gestures were made all at once, causing frustration and irritation. It was the adviser who again brought order.
"I do not believe the conscience can make an impartial adjudication in this matter. His thinking has already been...polluted by simply knowing of the existence of his...brother."
The female on the left made an unprecedented move by rising to her feet and thrusting her hands out in front of her, an unmistakable gesture that indicated shouting.
"Then what is the alternative?! We cannot...we must not adjudicate! That is not our purpose! If we make a judgement in this matter, we have usurped the one person we have chosen, educated and relied on for seven decades and a system we have relied on for so long our people know no other way! Would you have us force his conclusion and send the purveyors out? Now? When the people need their conscience the most?"
Once more the meeting descended into a babble of silent chatter. The adviser bowed his head. He already knew the records of the purveyors could offer no precedent by which they could make a comparison. When the people had first begun to use a conscience, there had been many failures. But those individuals had been, if not adults, then late adolescents and in each and every instance, their death was due to exposure outside their 'homes' in a useless attempt to escape. Replacing them in those times was relatively easy and the people had not yet learned to rely on the conscience. But as time went on and younger and younger beings were sought, more success was gained and the people slowly became dependent on the system. With the advent of such a suitable species as the humans coupled with the ever more sophisticated technology in acquiring them, the current situation never arose. The adviser and the council of healers were in unchartered waters. A circumstance of their own making to be sure, but not an anticipated one. Put simply, they didn't know what to do.
As the other five beings argued amongst themselves. The adviser left the table and went the few steps to the clear wall. The light from inside the room was so bright it illuminated the icy land outside for several metres and the adviser watched as ice pellets emerged from the dimness and annihilated themselves against the clear wall, driven by the ever-present fierce winds. He bowed his head, wondering if his people were about to face an intolerable, unacceptable and unthinkable situation.

 

Will had served with his captain for over twelve years and knew the man well, at least as well as Jean-Luc let him. They were personal friends and enjoyed an excellent working relationship, so when Jean-Luc appeared on the bridge, to anyone who didn't know him, he seemed his usual self, unruffled, calm and exuding steady authority. But Will saw the tight lines around the older man's mouth and the hard glitter in his eyes. Yes, something more than just the damned mission was bothering him and the exec wondered briefly if his friends had somehow endured another failed pregnancy. The very fact that Jean-Luc gestured to Will to join him in the ready room with a jerk of his head only served to increase Will's worry.
Ten minutes later, Will's mouth was slightly ajar. "Your identical twin brother?"
Jean-Luc said nothing, made no gestures, just sat, still and tense, like a coiled spring, at any moment ready to burst into action. The first officer began to think hard about the situation and as Jean-Luc watched, the big man's face showed each expression as the ramifications...and the quandary the situation presented occurred to him. Eventually he ran his hand backwards through his hair and softly swore.
"Shit. What a can of worms."
He then looked across at his captain and said quietly, "How are you doing, sir? It must've been a hell of a shock."
Apart from Beverly and Deanna, anyone else other that Will would've been given short shrift for even asking such a question, but Jean-Luc accepted it from his exec. Although asked as a friend, Jean-Luc knew Will had a duty to see that his captain was unaffected and able to carry out his duty as the CO.
"Yes it was and I would be a liar if I said it didn't shake me, but I'm fine. You needn't worry about me, Will."
Risking one more question and deciding there would be no more on the matter...as long as the answer was reasonable, Will asked, "Are you going to speak to counsellor Adams?"
There was a hardening of his face and his eyes darkened, but Jean-Luc's tone remained mild.
"Not yet." Before Will could say anything more, Jean-Luc held up a hand. "I will, number one, when the time is right but that's not yet."
Taking a deep breath, Will accepted his captain's decision. "Okay, that leaves the can of worms. What the hell are we going to do?"
The use of the term 'we' made Jean-Luc inwardly smile. "Typical." Thought Jean-Luc. "You always seek to ease my burdens. Thank you, Will."
Out loud, Jean-Luc said, "If you can work a way out of this, I'd be eternally grateful. As I see it there is no way out. On the one hand, despite his connection to me, we are duty bound to 'rescue' the man and do what we can to stop the aliens from...procuring their 'conscience' from Federation space. Personally I'd like to put a stop to it once and for all, but, as they're not a Federation world, I have no justification for doing so. And that leaves your...can of worms."
Will's grin wasn't quite his old one, but Jean-Luc was heartened to see it nonetheless.
"The other hand."
"Indeed. Any ideas?"
Will shrugged and let out a dry chuckle. "You mean short of abducting the man and placing a permanent watch on the planet to...encourage them to keep out of Federation space? No, Captain, I've no idea."
The soft snort from Jean-Luc made Will smile. "And tell me, Will, how does one encourage a people who possess weapons lethal enough to destroy a Borg ship with one shot? A people who've seemed to have created and harnessed a small star?"
"Say 'pretty please'?"
That made Jean-Luc smile wryly. "Yes, well I think it's going to take a little more than that. No, we need to find another way. What that is?" He shook his head, his brow creased in a deep frown. "Who knows?"
His eyes lifted to lock onto Will's and he said quietly, "I'm going to hail them again and I'm going to persist until they respond and when they do, I'm going to ask, firmly, for Doctor Crusher and me to go down to the planet. Not only does the doctor require more information, I need to talk to someone in charge and as far as I can make out, that person is...my brother."
When Will diplomatically said nothing, Jean-Luc offered a small smile of appreciation.
"You're thinking I want to meet him. You're right, of course, I do, but he may have the answers I seek, answers that might give us a way to resolve this...situation." He sighed and rubbed his brow. "I can only hope."
Will stood and looked down at his captain, seeing just how tired and burdened he was. He said quietly, "I'll give the order to begin the hails, Captain."
"Thank you, number one."
In Will's absence the room seemed bigger. Jean-Luc shook his head and asked the computer to display all the latest analysis on the energy bursts. He settled down and although he concentrated on his absorption of the information, in the back of his mind he was thinking, "I wonder what you're like...brother."
Jean-Luc had finally managed to push all distracting thoughts aside and was deeply absorbed in his reading, the hours having flown by. He was just going over the latest analysis, (such as it was), of the gestural language when his screen suddenly went blank. His hand, holding a cup of Earl Grey froze half way to his mouth and he frowned.
"What the hell?"
Text suddenly began to scroll.
"Your repeated attempts at communication are unwanted. Please desist."
"I'm afraid I can't do that." Jean-Luc said experimentally and was relieved when there was a reply.
"Why?"
"Because I have a very important request."
"And that is?"
Jean-Luc sat back, grimacing slightly at the stiffness in his back and shoulders. He put the cup down and said mildly, "I want to request that Doctor Crusher and I be allowed to visit your planet."
Nothing happened, but Jean-Luc wasn't unduly concerned. His patience was rewarded when new text appeared.
"What is the purpose for you wanting to 'visit', Captain?"
"I think you know the answer to that."
Again there was a lengthy time of nothing. Jean-Luc lifted his hand to knead the muscles of his neck, his eyes closing as he registered how tired he was. It wasn't until he rolled his shoulders and head and opened his eyes that he realised there was more text to read.
"It is not appropriate."
"I disagree. But if you want another, more compelling reason then let me give you a medical one." Jean-Luc smiled grimly. "I am identical to my brother...your conscience. Doctor Crusher will be able to make real-time comparisons between me, my brother and his children. You want her to cure them? Then give her every opportunity."
"If you are indeed identical, then there is no need for you to leave your ship. Doctor Crusher can simply scan you and compare with what she already has."
"You're forgetting something."
"And that is?"
"In an effort to cure my brother of the same condition that has afflicted his children, your...healers...made some alterations to his auditory system. In that one instance, we differ physically. My auditory system has not been altered in any way. The comparisons may well be telling and if we, that is my brother and I, can be together...to compare...physically and psychologically, then I think that gives Doctor Crusher an advantage. Don't you?"
"This...situation...is difficult. It has brought us much consternation. It seems to be forcing us to make decisions that are not ours to make."
Jean-Luc stopped the stream of text by asking softly, "What does he say? Does he have an opinion? A wish? Can he request something you find difficult? And if he did would you allow it?"
"More difficulties! It is not our place to grant or deny anything the conscience asks of us....that is his purpose! Once he has been given a petition he makes a judgement. We are not bound by it, but a judgement made by a conscience has never been overturned or ignored. That would be to turn our backs on our own system and throw our society into chaos."
Curious now, Jean-Luc asked, "But what would happen in the event the conscience dies? I take it they do die...naturally?"
"Yes, they, like us, have a finite life. When a conscience reaches a certain age, the purveyors are sent out to procure another. By the time the new conscience has been gestated, born and educated, it coincides with the natural conclusion of life in the old conscience. Usually the transition is seamless, but there have been instances when the conscience has died prematurely. Until the new conscience reaches the age of acceptance, our AI adjudicates. It is an imperfect system because although the artificial intelligence is well versed in matters of law, it is not capable of understanding the nuances of our society. The conscience bases his decisions not only on law, but what is relevant to the society in general at the time. As with all vibrant, evolving societies, each conscience adjudicates in his own way, accepting and absorbing the societal changes that naturally occur and integrating those changes within the law, which does not change."
Impressed, and grateful, Jean-Luc asked gently, "Why are you choosing to tell me all this? Our communications with you to date have been rather...abridged."
Slow second passed as Jean-Luc waited for a reply. He sighed as the text scrolled.
"I am taking a terrible risk, Captain, but if you are like your...brother...then I must trust you as I trust him. You are right in thinking that he wishes to meet you and in truth, I find I cannot deny him, nor, as I have told you, have I the right to do so. But in exposing him to you, I put our people in great peril. So I ask you, Captain. If we were to change places, would you do as I have done? Am about to do?"
Jean-Luc sighed and closed his eyes. "I can't answer that." He said softly. "I enjoy a certain amount of complacency. I have strict rules that I must abide by and they remove much of any dilemmas I encounter, just as your people have, but I am not faced with the dilemma you have. However, that's not to say that this situation hasn't caused me a great deal of concern."
"Yes. We thought it might. What are you going to do? You cannot impose your Prime Directive on us."
"No, I can't, but neither can I ignore the fact that you have been taking Federation citizens and my sworn duty is to protect them...and that includes my brother."
"A conundrum then, Captain. I can only hope you share the wisdom of your brother."
Jean-Luc let that pass. "So, do I have your permission?"
"Yes."
"Then please wait until I contact my officers and Doctor Crusher."
"Agreed. I too, must inform the conscience of my...decision. I can only hope I am doing what is right for our people, despite the fact it is not my decision to make."
The screen reverted to the previous data display and Jean-Luc sighed. Rising slowly from his desk, he stretched and left his office. Will looked up, concern on his face, saying softly, "Sir?"
Summoning a tired smile, Jean-Luc said, "Cancel the hails, number one. I've just had a very interesting chat with one of the aliens."
Will's eyebrows rose and his CO shook his head. "Long story, but the upshot is Doctor Crusher and I have permission to transport down."
"I'll make the arrangements, sir."
"No need, Will. I'm going to sick bay now. Once Beverly's prepared, they'll....beam...us down."
The big man scowled. "And I suppose there'll be a communication blackout while you're gone?"
Jean-Luc shrugged. "I suppose so."
"Well then, Captain, good luck and I'll see you when you return."
"Thank you, number one. You have the bridge."
Just as Jean-Luc was entering the lift, Will said softly, "Come home in one piece, sir...both of you."
The doors closed before Jean-Luc could give any response.

 

Beverly knew as soon as she saw her husband's face that he'd had success, although there was worry and disquiet in his expression. To her upraised eyebrow he said quietly, "Gather whatever you need, Beverly. We'll be leaving shortly."
It took only a few moments to get what she wanted to take, then, at her silent gesture, they went into her office.
"How long?"
He shrugged. "I'm not sure. The being I spoke to told me he had to speak with my...." He frowned, saying nothing more.
"Brother, Jean-Luc." said Beverly kindly. "He's your brother."
Sighing deeply, Jean-Luc ran his hands over his face. His voice was muffled as he said, "I know...it's just..." Dropping his hands, he shook his head. "I suppose once I meet him, it'll be easier, but it's so hard to accept. I've been trying to imagine him, wonder what he's like, but I can't. We may look the same but Beverly...his entire life has been..."
Taking his hand, Beverly said gently, "Remember I told you that you and he share some personality traits and some gestures?"
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Well, maybe recognising those things as well as the physical familiarity, you'll be better able to establish some kind of relationship. But, my love..." She placed one hand flat on his cheek. "Just keep in mind, you'll be only the second human he's ever seen and it's going to be, by-and-large, like looking at himself. So although you might be feeling off kilter, give him time, it's going to be a lot harder for him."
Jean-Luc's eyes slowly closed, his lips formed a small smile and he nodded. Beverly regarded him with a frown he didn't see. "Dammit, Jean-Luc." She thought dismally. "There's nothing I can to do soften this, my love. I do so wish I could, but you're on your own with this. As you so often are."
They stood together waiting for the unknown.

The adviser was surprised when the conscience wasn't in the long room. A quick enquiry with his one informed him that the man wasn't with her and although he'd been with his children earlier, he wasn't with them now. Suddenly alarmed, the adviser checked the access logs and sighed with relief when it showed no one had exited the building. That meant the conscience was inside...but where?
Sending a polite request by text to the man to give his location to all screens within the building and receiving no reply, the adviser was once again forced to do something against protocol. He inputted commands into the AI to find him. The result came through almost instantly. Sadness surged through the adviser when the screen displayed the AI's simulated hands imparting the information. The being sighed and bowed his glowing head.
"You have not been there for a very long time. Are you hiding or simply retreating?"
The conscience knew by the approaching and slowly strengthening light that someone was coming. It could only one of two people. His one or his adviser. When the light filled the tiny room, the man didn't turn his head, nor did he allow his eyes to drop to the screen on his sleeve. He continued to stare out of the small clear port, hoping his visitor would understand his wish to be left alone.
When the hand settled lightly on his shoulder he shrugged it off, but it soon returned. The man sighed with irritation, both with himself as much as with the being who had chosen to not only disturb him, but not leave when he had made it obvious he wished no company. The inevitability of the situation annoyed him, something that had never happened before. So many new things, feelings. Especially fear and confusion. And no one to guide him. At the end of his education he was considered to be not only knowledgeable, but psychologically mature and thus no longer in need of any personal guidance and it was true, within his family's kind and gentle embrace he had matured well, but so much of what he was capable of, as a human...his true potential, had never been tapped...indeed, until now he had not been aware he had these potentials. And now? Now that he had begun to see, that he had had the merest taste of what he might be? Could be? All this might be denied him?
He closed his eyes and grimaced, his mind in turmoil. "But what of the people? I am the conscience, I was chosen. How can I be two people? How can I even consider abandoning all that I am...all that I have been?"
The hand, so gently resting on his shoulder persisted in its silent request. Sighing again, the man dragged his eyes from the portal and glanced at his screen.
"The last time you were here was when you were but a small child."
The man smiled, but still didn't turn to face his visitor, who he now knew to be his adviser. That the being had chosen to speak without facing him only showed how deeply concerned he was.
"And you, my friend, were just as small. Who told you of that?"
"It was told to me by your one, many years ago."
The man grunted softly. "So I am responsible for you knowing about my secret place?"
"You told your one much about your childhood. I always found it fascinating."
The man finally turned away from the port and squinted in the bright light. "You find it fascinating that, as a small child, I wished to have a secret place, a place I felt was mine and mine alone?"
Although he could not see the being's face, the man got the unmistakable impression he was smiling apologetically.
"Our records are extensive. The behaviour of humans from birth to adulthood is well documented."
That made the man scowl. "So there is nothing about me you find unique? What an irony then, that my newly found brother is my identical twin! You must be pleased. I know the people do not like surprises."
There was an uncomfortable silence before more text appeared.
"He is coming."
The man's head snapped up and even in the bright light of the confines of the room, his eyes widened.
"He is?" He said incredulously. Then with growing excitement, "When? Where?"
"As soon as you wish and to wherever in the building you desire."
Making shooing gestures with his hands, the man encouraged his adviser to precede him through the small opening, requiring both beings to crawl through a short tunnel. Once out of it they turned sideways to negotiate a very narrow passage that emerged into an unoccupied room. It was bare and had not been used for a very long time. Now free to move, the man faced his adviser and said urgently, "Now! The long room....now!"
"Very good, but you should be there alone when they arrive."
The man tilted his head, narrowing his eyes. In the much larger room, the light wasn't as intense. His expression was one of wariness.
"They?"
"He is coming with the healer."
"And why won't you be there too?"
"You know they must not see the essence."
"Then cover yourself."
"No, it would be simpler if I was absent."
The man's head lowered and he rubbed his fingers over his lower lip. "Don't you think..." he began gently, "they deserve to know? They know of our power. They may not understand it fully or appreciate what it means to the people, but do you really think you can keep them from finding out? You know they're curious, just as I am." He smiled, but there was a grimness to it. "As I am sure all humans are. Now that they know of our existence and where we can be found and considering that they've seen a miniscule portion of what we can do...and what we represent in potential as an...ally because of it..." He shrugged. "I cannot see how you can prevent it."
Again there was a long silence before the text appeared on the screen.
"Ultimately the decision is yours. But, forgive me; can you make a decision like that under these circumstances? Would you be making that decision as the conscience...or as a person who has made an extraordinary discovery about himself that may have a bearing on how you think? Please, I do apologise, but you are no longer the person you were. You have undergone a fundamental shift in your thought processes, you have moved away from your purpose. Your mind is no longer clear, but clouded with new and unsettling thoughts."
The man sighed, his brow creasing as he frowned.
"Are you asking if I am going to abandon the people...my people? I am of this world, I was born here!" His eyes darkened and his gaze became intense. "I am the conscience." His voice was soft and the statement a simple one, but it lost none of its power.
"You say that with remarkable sincerity, and I do not doubt you, but I have to make you aware that you now have more in your mind than you had before. All I am saying is that you make your decisions as the conscience...not as a human who has discovered those of his origin...whether that be your brother or not."
Bowing his head in silent acknowledgement, the two beings made their way to the long room.

 

Beverly had hitched her backside on the corner of her desk and a thoughtful Jean-Luc stood, arms folded, but one hand free to rub his lower lips with his fingers. The monitor screen had been turned so Beverly could keep an eye on it and when text suddenly appeared she abruptly stood.
"Jean-Luc." She said tensely.
He dropped his arms to his sides and read.
"Prepare to be brought."
Jean-Luc was going to vocally acknowledge the statement, but in the blink of an eye he found he was no longer looking at a monitor screen, but a pastel mauve wall inset with a moderately large screen. It was dark, showing nothing on its surface. Beverly was about to comment on this when a door silently opened and the room was flooded by gentle light. The being that entered made Beverly gasp audibly, but Jean-Luc managed to contain his surprise. Silently the being approached and took one of each person's hands, placing them on its shoulders, then led them from the room.
Because of the light emitted by the being, it made it difficult to get a clear look at what surrounded them, but Jean-Luc got the impression there wasn't all that much to see. A long, bare, warmly coloured corridor took them to a door, which opened silently at their arrival. They stepped inside and although the being kept walking, Jean-Luc halted, his hand slipping off the shoulder. Across the room, standing at a large wall comprised completely of some kind of clear material, stood his brother, his back to him.
Jean-Luc's eyes travelled over what he could see. A trim man, dressed in fairly normal clothing in muted colours, broad shoulders and large hands, but what really caught his eyes was the long grey braid the hung down to the man's waist.
Beverly had stopped when she saw her husband had halted and watched as the alien went to the man and waited silently, standing behind him, not too close and to one side. The man at the clear wall took a deep breath and seemed to gather himself. He turned slowly.
When their eyes met, Beverly could have sworn she felt a shift in the atmosphere as if some kind of energy had gently discharged. Much later, on reflection, she would liken it to the build up of ozone, just prior to a lightning discharge.
Nothing was said for several long seconds, the brothers simply holding each other's gaze in steady assessment. Feeling the need to break the connection, which Beverly felt may become uncomfortable and perhaps even unpredictable, she said quietly, but with summoned warmth, "Jean-Luc, your brother."
Then to the conscience she said respectfully, "Sir, your brother, Jean-Luc Picard."
It was Jean-Luc who moved. He slowly crossed the distance between them and offered his right hand. Slightly confused, the conscience looked at Jean-Luc's hand, then back at his eyes, but saw nothing but calm resolve. Tentatively he raised his hand and took his brother's. Rather than shake his hand, Jean-Luc simply gave a gentle, but firm squeeze, happy when his brother reciprocated. But they didn't release their hold. As Jean-Luc watched, his brother brought their joined hands to his face and turned them until Jean-Luc's hand was uppermost. What he did then shook Jean-Luc to his core. His brother laid the back of Jean-Luc's hand against his face.
Their eyes met again and the conscience said softly, "Je suis Picard."
Smiling for the first time, Jean-Luc said warmly, "En effet vous ệtes."
Beverly frowned in thought, trying to bring up the correct translation. Her face cleared and she smiled, thinking to herself, "Oh, yes, so you, Jean-Luc. 'You are indeed'."
The conscience was smiling, his eyes suspiciously moist. Switching to standard, he said to his brother, "Do you...embrace?"
Normally such a question would've made Jean-Luc very uncomfortable. The only people he'd ever felt totally at ease in embracing were his mother, Jack and Beverly. But this was so different, so extraordinary he let go of his brother's hand and raised his arms before he actually gave it any thought.
Beverly's eyes filled with tears as two men, bound inextricably and undeniably by blood shared an embrace that covered not only over seventy years of time, but light years of space.

 

The alien being went to Beverly and gently took her hand. He began to lead her out of the room, but she resisted, protesting firmly, "No, I want to stay."
Still embracing his brother, the conscience opened his eyes and looked over to Beverly, his pleading look stifling her resistance. With an understanding smile, she allowed the alien to take her from the room.
Predictably it was Jean-Luc who eased out of the hug. He took a small step back and each man studied the other. Jean-Luc with calm aplomb, his brother with overt curiosity. The captain stood still as his brother reached out and ran his fingers over the short bristles of hair around the side of Jean-Luc's head, just above his ear. It made the conscience smile.
"It never occurred to me to cut this off." He reached back and took his braid, bringing it around to the front of his body. Jean-Luc had to open his hand wide to grip it and he hefted it in wonder.
He snorted softly, a smile tugging the corner of his mouth. "Well, it never occurred to me to grow what little I had left."
They both chuckled then fell into a long silence. The conscience tilted his head and offered a lopsided smile.
"I suppose you have many questions...Jean-Luc."
"Yes, probably as many as you do."
In a gesture Beverly would have gasped at, both men tilted their heads and pulled down the corners of their mouths. Then, in response to seeing the mirrored gestures, they both snorted and shook their heads. It was Jean-Luc who held up his hand.
"Obviously we're more alike than I...we...thought."
"Yes."Agreed the conscience. "Beverly told me we shared quite a bit. But our questions, Jean-Luc. No doubt they are very different."
"Unfortunately, yes. I have to concentrate on my mission; my questions to you will be about..." He made a small sweep of his hand. "All this. Where you must want to know a lot of personal details about me...us. I, on the other hand will want to know about your people, your world."
"So it comes down to what each of us is willing to share." The conscience sighed. "I had hoped for so much more."
"It needn't be limited," said Jean-Luc earnestly. "You or your...people...already know about Starfleet...the Federation. We, on the other hand, know next-to-nothing about your people, your world. You have the advantage. I can only offer you the details of your...our...family whereas I want so much more. I'm sorry, that's not sharing per se, I have little to offer you in exchange."
The conscience's eyes showed the light of anger.
"Little, Jean-Luc?" he snapped. "You think what you hold in your mind about my human history if of such little value? You're making some kind of equation...thinking that there is a perceived imbalance in the importance of what we might share?" He snorted derisively. "I can assure you, Jean-Luc, I place the utmost importance on anything you care to tell me about my origins and in return, I will impart all I can about what you covet about my people."
Jean-Luc sighed and bowed his head. "I apologise. It wasn't my intention to place either of our information in a position of more importance over the other."
Mollified, the conscience gave a gracious incline of his head. Jean-Luc, however needed more information before he could ask anything else.
"If I may, was this decision to meet me yours alone, or did you have to request permission?"
The conscience's eyebrows rose.
"Are you saying you weren't as curious as I?"
Smiling wryly, Jean-Luc shook his head. "Not at all, I was of course intensely curious, but perhaps for more reasons than you."
"Ah, yes. Always the Starfleet captain."
Jean-Luc let the slightly bitter remark pass. He waited and was rewarded when his brother continued in a more convivial tone.
Moving away slightly, the conscience glanced out at the dimness outside, then brought his eyes back to his brother.
"The decision was mine, but it has been brought to my attention that I may have made my decision based more on my feelings about you and your...people, than all that I have been for my people and in truth I have to admit I may have been swayed, but the door has been opened now. I...we...must find a way to deal with the ramifications of my decision in such as way as answer to both our peoples."
A smile appeared on Jean-Luc's face, making his brother frown. He didn't understand the nuances of human interaction and there was mild anger in his tone when he asked tightly,
"You find this situation amusing?"
Holding up a placating hand, Jean-Luc shook his head. "No, not at all."
"Then why do you smile?"
Jean-Luc joined his brother at the clear wall and they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, each gazing outward.
"A star ship captain has to have many skills. One that is often used is that of diplomat. You are an..." He cocked his head, but kept his eyes focused on the icy land outside. "An Arbiter for your people?"
The conscience gave a one shoulder shrug. "Not necessarily correct, but close enough. The term 'conscience' isn't literal, but is closer to the truth in describing what I am to the people."
"I see." Said an interested Jean-Luc. "Then perhaps we have another thing in common. We both act in the best interests of our people. Surely, as we both possess the necessary skills, we can come to some mutually beneficial arrangement between our peoples?"
Turning his head slightly, the conscience found it hard to keep the amusement out of his voice.
"Jean-Luc, what, exactly, does the Federation have that we do not?"
Jean-Luc's expression was neutral at first.
"On the face of it, nothing. But..." Jean-Luc's eyes showed both his sadness and the point he was about to make. "your people asked for help...from us. We may lag far behind you in technology, but we have our uses."
With a small smile and a soft snort, the conscience said softly, "Touché."
They stood in companionable silence for a while before the conscience said quietly, "Tell me, Jean-Luc. Tell me about our human family, our genetic history. Beverly called it our lineage."
As Jean-Luc began to speak he realised in doing so he was gaining the opportunity to expunge long held, deeply buried feelings of resentment and pain, as if in the telling he could see his life objectively for the first time, tell his family history without the emotional baggage. He not only cleansed himself, but in the process, filled a gaping void in his brother. It was both cathartic and deeply humbling and as he continued he felt pride in his family and its illustrious history that he had allowed to become complacent about.
Neither man looked at each other as Jean-Luc's soft, deep voice quietly filled the otherwise silent room.

Just after Beverly had been ushered out of the room, she realised the being was reaching inside the top it wore. She tensed, wary and alert, but what she saw in the alien's long-fingered hand surprised her. It seemed to be a standard issue medical tricorder which the being obviously wanted her to take. Placing her own tricorder in its pouch at her hip, she took the device and, having given it a cursory glance, saw that it was different in that it had a screen on the outer cover. As she looked at it, she registered the being lifting its hands. Immediately text appeared.
"This device will function exactly as your own would. The only changes are the addition of the screen and the hyper laser, necessary for communication and the instrument has been made to operate silently."
That made Beverly wince quietly and offer a sad and rueful smile.
"Yes, that was very unfortunate." She sighed and rubbed her brow with her free hand. "The first precept of the Hippocratic Oath. Do no harm."
"You did not harm the children, doctor, at least not physically and any psychological damage has already been assuaged by their parents. You need not feel any concern."
They began to walk again, Beverly keeping the screen in her line-of-sight. After travelling some distance she said mildly, "Do you have a gender?"
"Yes. I am male."
"So...you're a healer?"
"No. I am the conscience's personal adviser."
"Interesting." Beverly said politely. "Tell me," she said tentatively, "Would it be possible for me to consult with the healers dealing with the children?"
"Consult, Doctor? I think you want to do more than that."
Anger flashed in Beverly's eyes, but she kept her tone civil. "I hope you're not suggesting I have an ulterior motive?"
"Not at all, Doctor, but I cannot change things as they are."
Finding it increasingly difficult to see through the ambiguity of his words, a frustrated Beverly strove to keep things on a professional footing.
"You must be aware by now that I have need of information that, as to date, has not been forthcoming."
"Yes, I am aware of that."
Exasperation crept into her voice. "Then if I can't have access to what I need, how do you expect me to perform the task I was summoned to do?" Anger was beginning to colour her voice. "I've had my hands tied from the outset! All along I've been working in the dark only ever having half the information I need to make a diagnosis, let alone find a cure. I need all the pieces of the puzzle if I'm ever going to get a complete picture."
They had come to a door, but unlike all the other doors Beverly had seen in the building, this one didn't automatically open. The being's hands were raised to chest height and Beverly's eyes went to the screen.
"What you ask is no small thing, Doctor. We have been silent...perhaps in your language, obscure in that we have, as a species, deliberately kept a low profile. As the sentient beings of worlds in this sector of space began to expand outwards into the void, some in exploration and peace, some bent of conquering, we stayed out of the way, neither wishing nor needing any contact. It isn't xenophobia, doctor, nor is it prejudice, it is simply that we wish to be left alone, but we are not ignorant of what is happening around us."
He looked at the implacably closed door and sighed. "We know all about the Federation and its recent troubles, evident I suppose in our dealings with your ships not so long ago and we know well the Cardassians, the Romulans, we are even aware of the growing power and ambitions of the geopolitical entity calling itself the Typhon Pact and its implications to the balance of power in this sector, but we are so more technologically advanced, we have no fear of any of these entities, these...coalitions, as they mean nothing to us. We can adequately defend ourselves against any aggressor, although we would choose not to resort to overt violence if at all possible.
"But, doctor, in giving you...to use the conscience's other language, carte blanche to our history, our technology and most importantly the essence of who and what we are, that could be catastrophic."
Beverly frowned, not liking the subtle implication. Before she could voice her protest, the text began again.
"What you would learn would far exceed any oath you took to protect patients' confidentiality, Doctor. Your superiors would compel you to divulge everything you know about us and inevitably there would be those within your organisation who would seek to use that information for the wrong purposes. To create vastly more efficient and powerful weapons, for instance."
Beverly shook her head vehemently, her protests forming on her lips. She barely kept her eyes on the screen.
He held up his hands. "No, Doctor, you cannot deny or refute it. It is natural, such individuals, alone or in groups and more often than not in positions of power simply cannot help themselves. It happens in almost every form of government. It happens here too and it is for this reason we chose the concept of a conscience millennia ago and why we insist he be not of this world."
Beverly was having trouble assimilating what the being was saying. Politics had never been her forte, she had always left that to the likes of her husband, but how could she find her way through this to separate the political from the medical? Growing increasingly frustrated, Beverly decided on another tack.
"All right, I accept that you and your people occupy a very special niche in space and that you wish to be left alone, I get that. But you asked us for help! My job now, as it always has been, is to find a cure for those children and I can't do that without a clear understanding of your people's anatomy and physiology. To expect me to do what you want without that information...well, I won't say it's impossible, but dammit, right now I can't see how I could accomplish it."
Light blue text scrolled inexorably across the screen. Beverly had always liked the colour blue. She was beginning to detest it.
"Doctor, the decision to request help from the Federation may have been a mistake, one that might bring about the end of my species."
"That's a little dramatic, isn't it?" asked an incredulous Beverly. "Those children are suffering from an inherited condition. In humans it resolves itself. I just need enough information about the non-human aspects of their genetic makeup and I should be able to cure them. Besides if I don't and if I can't find a way to 'turn off' the defective gene, those children will be destined to pass on the condition in any children they may have, generation after generation."
As Beverly read the scrolling text, outrage and anger made her gape.
"The children will never reproduce. It is not permitted."
"What?" She almost shouted. "Why the hell not?"
"It is the mixture. They are not one or the other."
Aghast, Beverly's hand dropped as she glared at the being.
"I don't believe this! You declare you're not xenophobes, not prejudiced, yet you arbitrarily deny a fundamental right of any sentient being! How dare you?!"
The highly charged silence that followed Beverly's outburst was broken when the being sighed and used his slender-fingered hand to gently take Beverly's and lift it, thereby silently asking her to read. Huffing impatiently, thinking nothing he could say could possibly justify what he'd told her, she reluctantly directed her eyes to the screen.
"Are you not displaying your own prejudices, Doctor? You accuse me....my people of xenophobia and prejudice without being in possession of all the facts. It is not species purity just for the sake of propriety that is at the core of this matter, but our very existence. Every conscience that has lived has been given the opportunity to have a 'one'...a mate. In some instances this one has been of the same gender as the conscience, but whatever the makeup of the relationship, the prospect of reproduction was always available. We found over time that our conscience functioned better if he had a companion and more often than not, such a relationship led to the desire to procreate. However...it was always known by both the conscience and his one that any offspring they produced would be forbidden to reproduce. The people never see the conscience, his one or his family. Not even an image. The family who volunteered to nurture him from his birth to adulthood are removed as soon as he takes his position and sequestered far away. They do this as a service to their society; it is a contribution that is almost sacred. His one also may never return, she must, like any children they produce, live out their lives within the confines of the complex. The only other place they may go is out onto the ice."
His head turned seeming to give the closed doors a long look. Sighing, his hands lifted again.
"You will learn about us, doctor and in doing so you will come to understand why we have seemed to be so cruel. But before you begin your journey, I would ask you this. Are the lives of four adolescent hybrids worth the existence of an entire species? Billions of beings?"
Confused and alarmed, Beverly shook her head. "I don't understand how four teenagers could possibly destroy your species by breeding!"
"You are thinking too linear, Doctor. Expand your mind, keep in your thoughts that we have had a conscience for millennia and they have all reproduced. If all those hybrids, in all their different genetic types were introduced into our gene pool, over time the result would be our annihilation."
"But...don't you possess the technology to remove the alien DNA? Can't you purify any offspring?"
Beverly got the distinct impression the being was smiling indulgently, as one would do towards a favoured child.
"You are forgetting your own planet's history. Tell me, Doctor, what happened during the Eugenics war and what was instituted in its aftermath, and why that was so?"
Reddening slightly, Beverly clenched her jaw, an acerbic remark about smugness teetering on the tip of her tongue. Happily, she managed to curtail it.
"Very well, you have a point. But I still find it unconscionable that you allow your conscience and his one to reproduce, only to forbid their children from having the same opportunity."
The being looked again at the door and tilted his head. Nothing appeared on the screen.
Beverly looked at the seemingly innocuous door, slowly beginning to wonder just what waited inside. In the back of her mind she thought, "Journey? He said, journey." Suddenly the door looked ominous and fear skittered around Beverly's body. Her shiver wasn't because of the all prevailing chill.
Dragging her eyes back to the being, she summoned a steady voice. "You asked me if the lives of the children are worth the existence of your species. I can't answer that. I'm not a philosopher, not a soothsayer, I can't see into the future. All I can do is my job."
The being suddenly began to glow so brightly, Beverly screwed her eyes shut and covered her face with both hands. After a few moments she sensed the light diminishing and risked removing her hands and opening her eyes, but she still had to squint. It made reading the new text very difficult.
"That is the essence, Doctor. It is what and who we are."
Without any sort of signal she could perceive, the door silently opened. The being gestured with his arm.
"Enter, Doctor and find what you seek. But remember, our society, our species' existence depends on what you do with what you learn."
It was with a great deal of trepidation that Beverly stepped inside.

 

Will Riker had never really imagined what it would be like to be a father. Even during their long discussions weighing all the pros and cons of becoming parents, it had always been Deanna who had offered the positive, always finding a way to counter his jaundiced views, inherent no doubt because of his own experiences with a remote and almost callous father and no mother to soften his bleak childhood.
And yet here he was, his baby daughter cradled in his strong arm as she sucked contentedly on the teat in her little mouth. A frown developed on Will's face as he once again thought about his lost love. The tears came unbidden and he made no effort to stop them. He was beginning to find the tears weren't so wrenching, so devastating, just a form of release that left him feeling sad, but remarkably calm.
He had reached this point only with the unstinting assistance of Counsellor Adams and through the techniques he had taught him, Will had come to accept that time and his love, devotion and dedication to his daughter would be the things that would safely bring him through the darkness of his grief.
Having burped Charlotte, the big man, clad only in his briefs, lay back on the bed, his daughter resting on his hirsute chest. She too was almost naked, just a nappy on. Her little hands clutched his chest hair and he watched her as she settled into a comfortable position and drifted off to sleep. He had just begun to doze, one large hand protectively on the baby's back when the call came from the bridge.
"Sanders to Riker."
He didn't open his eyes, but when Charlotte flinched he softly swore. Nevertheless, he replied, "Riker here. Go ahead."
"Commander, we've detected another energy burst from the anomaly and this time the computer got a very good look at it. The analysis is coming through now and I think you should see it, sir."
Looking down at the sleeping baby, Will sighed. "Very good, Lt., I'm on my way. Riker out."
His next call was to his standby babysitter. It was done with well-oiled efficiency. The Ensign arrived just as Will had dressed and he was out the door and on his way to the bridge in under ten minutes.
The officer of the watch rose from the command chair and walked to join Will who had gone straight to the tactical station.
"Show me what you've got."
This time the vid lasted almost three seconds. The flash was bright and sustained. Will lifted his head, saying with anticipation, "Computer, analysis of recent energy burst from the nearby anomaly."
"It is now certain the energy bursts are being generated by a manufactured, controlled nuclear fusion reaction, which is being deliberately generated and directed."
Stroking his beard, Will's eyes narrowed. "Can you give me an exact location as to where the energy is being directed?"
"Yes. Coordinates are being fed in now."
The numbers appeared on the console and Will smiled coldly. "Right! Computer, on the forward screen, display an image of the planet and locate and show position of coordinates."
Everyone on the bridge stared at the spot indicated on the planet's surface, but nothing showed. They still could not scan or get a clear view of the surface.
"Damn!" Muttered will sourly. Chewing the inside of his cheek, Will said thoughtfully, "Computer, given that you have located the destination of the directed energy burst, what could be expected at the coordinates? How could such energy be collected? What would be required?"
"It is impossible to give a definitive answer without knowing the level of technology in use. The fact that the manufactured star has been created at all suggests a level of technology so far advanced from what is known it is not possible to give a concise answer."
"Theorise!" snapped Will.
"Unable to comply. Too many variables and not enough information available."
Now growing very annoyed, Will couldn't keep the sarcasm out of his voice when he said, "What...you can't even guess?" The question was both deliberately sarcastic and rhetorical, but the computer answered anyway.
"Guessing is not a function of this computer. I can extrapolate, I can theorise, but only with at least some valid information on which to base any theories."
The Lt. smirked, saying sotto voce, "Smarmy bitch."
Will heard him and glowered at the young man, making him redden. Will's voice was tight, his face hard and unyielding.
"Whilst on the bridge, Lt., a higher standard is expected and it's just that kind of lax and indolent attitude that Captain Picard has recently made me aware of and that we both find completely unacceptable! If you wish to continue to enjoy the responsibility of being the officer of the watch on the flag ship of the fleet, you'd best make a major adjustment to your attitude! Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir!" Said a mortified and highly embarrassed man. Will turned and raised his voice, addressing everyone on the bridge.
"And that goes for the rest of you. Tell your fellow officers; get the message moving through the ship. The honeymoon is over! Captain Picard won't stand for sloppiness and neither will I. Get it into your heads once and for all. This is the Enterprise! We expect only the best from each and every individual who serves in this ship, nothing else will be accepted! Understood?"
There was a lusty chorus of, "Yes, SIR!"
"Then go about your business and do it with pride."
Will strode down to the command chair and took his seat. He could feel the crackling of tension in the air and he smiled with grim satisfaction. He hesitated to undertake his next action, but he had little choice.
"Riker to LaForge."
Geordi's voice clearly showed he'd been asleep.
"LaForge, here."
"Sorry to wake you, Geordi, but I need you in engineering, right now."
"On my way, Commander."
"Fine, I'll meet you there. Riker out."
The big man stood, took two steps and gave the Lt., who was preparing to assume control of the bridge, a long, hard look. Will's voice was soft, but carried a tacit warning. "I take it you can handle things in my absence?"
Coming to attention, the young man mustered his dignity and pride. "Yes, Commander, I can."
Having given the man a frankly appraising look, Will nodded curtly. "You know where I'll be?"
"Yes, sir."
"Then, Lieutenant, you have the bridge."
The tension Will had felt didn't decrease after he'd left and with any luck (and a good bit of dedicated work from Will), it wouldn't any time soon.

 

Jean-Luc's voice finally fell silent. The two men, still standing side-by-side at the clear wall were both lost in deep thought. Jean-Luc was trying to understand what it must be like for his twin to assimilate all the information he'd just received and the conscience was just as absorbed in attempting to align his memories of his own family with what his brother had told him of his origins and family history.
The conscience sighed and rubbed his fingers over his lower lip, a gesture not lost on Jean-Luc.
"You say," the conscience said softly, "that our family originated in a country called Spain?"
"Yes."
"Does that mean another language? Or do the Spains speak standard? Or French, perhaps?"
"Spanish." Jean-Luc gently corrected. "As a regional language the Spanish speak the three major languages of Spain. Spanish, Basque and Catalan."
"Oh. Do you speak...Spanish, Basque or Catalan?"
Jean-Luc gave a self-depreciating smile. "I can speak Spanish, but my Basque and Catalan isn't so good."
More silence followed before the conscience asked, "Why the differences? If Earth's sentient population are all human, why are there differences? These...countries...you speak of. What constitutes a country? And why would they speak a different language? Surely such differences makes contact and interaction difficult?"
Sighing and bowing his head, Jean-Luc rubbed his brow. "It is a sad history, I'm afraid. I'll try for a brief synopsis. Earth's population has divided itself for a very long time in many and varied ways and for seemingly foolish reasons; most of them trivial by our modern, evolved standards. Where once it was simple acquisition of another's land, it morphed into religions zealousness, growing into deadly fundamentalism, prejudice based on skin pigmentation and then came nationalism, often couched in the socially acceptable label of patriotism. And all that slowly led to some scientists who dabbled in creating the perfect example of a human being which, of course, escalated into creating a 'class' of ubermensch."
To the conscience's raised eyebrow, Jean-Luc explained, "Super men."
"Ah," the conscience said sadly. "The Eugenics war."
"Yes. But there's more. I'm embarrassed to admit humankind even discriminated on the basis of gender. Females have been discriminated against, subjugated, treated as lesser beings simply because of their gender. Racial discrimination was dreadful enough, but gender discrimination? It made even less sense, if indeed one can ascribe any sense to discrimination of any kind, at least as seen from what and how we are now."
The conscience frowned, trying to understand such strange notions.
"Although I cannot fully understand the concept of discrimination, I still do not understand the reason for countries."
Jean-Luc's habitual scratching of the short bristled hair above his right ear made the conscience blink in surprise. "I do that!" he thought incredulously. The captain, having gathered his thoughts, started haltingly.
"Countries. Yes, well." He shook his head offering a rueful, embarrassed smile. "Here I am telling you we've evolved and I have just told you our family history, the basis of which is pride. Pride not only in the family name, but the countries from which we came." A soft snort punctuated his words. "I am proud to be French! France has a long, rich history..." His face fell, losing its enthusiastic eagerness. "But I can't deny that same history isn't littered with unspeakable barbarity and cruelty." He sighed, trying to find the words to adequately describe or indeed explain why humans remained proud of their country of origin in a time when Earth has a world government and an interstellar Council. It was incongruous, an anathema, yet it existed, just as it had done since mankind associated themselves with specific regions of the planet and probably would persist in doing so as long as humans were born on Earth.
"So many things about humans, right throughout our history have been decided, preordained if you will, simply by virtue of where one is born. Not only nationality or race, but even religion. I suppose it's an ancient, deeply ingrained need to belong...to share something in common with those with whom you associate. That it has persisted for so long and still does to this very day, seems to suggest that despite our taking our place as interstellar travellers and our charter of peaceful exploration, perhaps we should pay more attention to our old habits. I'm sure they could stand some examination...some scrutiny."
"It is an odd concept, Jean-Luc. It's little wonder it took your world so long to unify."
"Indeed." Turning slightly, Jean-Luc regarded his brother thoughtfully, stunned yet again at seeing such a familiar profile. "What of your world? You are the conscience and from what you said earlier, that seems to be a very delicate position. Can you tell me more? On what do you base your...judgements?"
"They are not judgements, Jean-Luc, not absolute." The man smiled and turned his head to catch his brother's steady gaze. "The system is an elegant one. Very old. The people have a civil body that deals with the every-day issues that arise. Just because my people are highly evolved does not mean they live in absolute harmony. There are disagreements, squabbles, but rarely ever crime or physical violence. Such things as those are never tolerated and the punishment for such indiscretions is comprehensive."
To Jean-Luc's concerned expression, the conscience smiled with almost paternal benevolence. "Do not trouble yourself, Jean-Luc. By punishment I do not mean anything punitive or draconian. It is a simple method of education, a reaffirmation of our society's values and the invaluable respect and esteem that is the right of each and every citizen. My place is to deal with the larger issues, those that affect the governing bodies and the planet as a whole. Those ships that drifted into our space? It was my decision to render aid." He shook his head, a wry chuckle rumbling through his chest. "That, Jean-Luc was not popular. My advisor was not happy, but we have never ignored any ship in peril and I wasn't going to set a precedent simply because the ships involved had been damaged as a result of a war that had nothing whatsoever to do with us.

"Of course, in bringing those ships here, we ran the risk of what turned out to be an inevitable conclusion. We knew about Earth of course, although..." He chuckled again, but this time mirthlessly, bitterness taking any humour from the sound. "I personally had no knowledge of it; that only came to me recently. But what my people learned from those ships' computers...well, we knew the Federation was never going to let the matter rest. And then there was the incident with the Borg cube. Again, it was a conflict that was not our concern, but what were we to do? One species slaughtering billions? And for what? To us, it was senseless, unconscionable and when one of our ships encountered the battle between three federation ships and the two Borg ships...and the carnage that was taking place, we were compelled to act. We may not have helped you in your conflict with the Borg, but in that one instance, it seemed just to stop what was happening. Our only regret is that our ship arrived too late to save yours.
"As for me? Where necessary I receive petitions from my people and I use my intimate knowledge of the law, combined with what I know of the expectations of my people's society to arrive at my decision. It is not binding, there is no law that compels the people to accept or even obey, and yet they have never rejected the decision of a conscience. To do so would be to reject the very system they have developed and live by. It is trusted, I am trusted. My people trust the system implicitly and so they should! It works and it works very well."
When Jean-Luc said nothing, the conscience tried to gauge his emotions, to correctly interpret his expression, but the man was so glacial, so unreadable and with no experience of dealing with humans he had nothing with which to compare or judge. Feeling out of his depth, the man began to feel nervous, something he was completely unaccustomed to.
"Jean-Luc," he said with more force than he intended. When his brother's eyes sharpened, the conscience modulated his tone. "Forgive me; I do not know how to interact with you on an emotional level. I want to ask you what you are thinking, but something tells me it is inappropriate to ask that of you."
Jean-Luc sighed and his expression softened. "Forgiveness is not required; you have done nothing wrong, it is I who should apologise. I need to keep reminding myself that you have had no experience in dealing with humans...or anyone other than those members of your staff." He summoned a small, apologetic smile. "And I am embarrassed."
Tilting his head, the twin asked, "Embarrassed? Why?"
"Because..." Jean-Luc frowned and shook his head. "Because I had some preconceived ideas about you and I am ashamed that I was so conceited...so arrogant..." Again he sighed. "I told you I possessed the skill of a diplomat. It seems I've deluded myself...and you."
"In what way?"
"You are aware of the Prime Directive of course. Well..."
The conscience held up his hand.
"Stop. The what?"
Dismay made Jean-Luc grimace. "No..."
Growing alarmed, the brother narrowed his eyes and peered at his twin. "Jean-Luc? What are you talking about? What is the...Prime Directive? Why does it upset you so and what has it to do with me?"
Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc gave his brother the basics of Starfleet's General Rule No. One. To his credit, the conscience listened impassively, but as Jean-Luc began to outline his dilemma involving the situation he now found himself in, the conscience began to get angry. Before Jean-Luc had finished, the twin said loudly, "By what right do you think you can remove me from my people?! How dare you?!"
Holding up both hands to try and placate the incensed man, Jean-Luc said quietly, "I admitted my conceit and my arrogance, but that doesn't alter the situation. As unpalatable as it is, I have sworn an oath...given my word, my honour, to uphold all the rules of Starfleet and the most important of those rules is the Prime Directive. But now that I've met you, heard you, I cannot in all good conscience obey that rule. So where does that leave me? Us?"
Turning his back on the vista of frozen land, Jean-Luc bowed his head and closed his eyes. Softly, almost a whisper he said, "I don't know what to do."
The conscience remained facing the clear wall, his eyes settled on the dark middle distance. "I have never sworn an 'oath', given my 'word', but I do understand what honour is. If you have put your personal honour at stake, then I cannot help you. Like you, I do not know what you can do. I was nearly thirteen when I first heard the word, human, and it took a while before I realised it was what I was, that the word referred to me to describe my difference. But, Jean-Luc, it meant nothing to me. I have known from my earliest memories that I was not like my family, even the inability of my parents and siblings to communicate with me until I learned a spoken language wasn't seen by me as anything unusual, it was simply the way things were. It wasn't even a matter of acceptance because that would imply I knew of another way. I didn't. The only thing I knew with unshakable certainty was that I was chosen, that I was the conscience. Even before I recognised things like affection and relationships those two fundamental truths were always uppermost. It would be untrue to say that finding you, of learning of my human history hasn't shaken me, disturbed my previous ordered and uncluttered existence, but I cannot discard a lifetime of service to my people. Nor can you even consider disrupting the will of the people. I do understand your dilemma, Jean-Luc, I share it, but I cannot help you with it. I do not know how."
Again silence settled as each man wrestled with the problem. Eerily, as if by some unspoken agreement, they turned at the same time to face each other. It was Jean-Luc who spoke.
"Let it rest for now. We have other things to discuss."
Curious, but a little wary, the twin asked softly, "Such as?"
Jean-Luc's expression was once again closed and his brother was beginning to understand the man was habitually private, another trait he shared.
"Your people. They glow. So do your ships."
Immediately the conscience's face hardened and he turned his head away. Jean-Luc sensed he had trespassed on something intensely personal. To ease the situation and to keep gently digging, Jean-Luc said in a conversational tone, "There are creatures on Earth, indeed on other worlds as well, that possess a phenomenon called bioluminescence. It is the ability through a biochemical reaction to create light. Doctor Crusher...Beverly...hypothesised that your people have the same ability, but I don't think so. We've been studying the anomaly that sits in space, not far from this planet. From it, regular discharges of what we know to be energy bursts emerge and that the source of those bursts of energy is a manufactured star within the anomaly.
"Now at the time I left my ship, we knew that energy was being deliberately generated, directed and presumably collected. It is my belief that the energy and its generation has something to do with your people's ability to glow. Am I right? Are you willing to tell me anything about it?"
Slowly turning back to his brother, the conscience's face showed almost sullenness. Jean-Luc didn't quite know how to take his brother's mood.
"I do not know the complete history of my world, Jean-Luc." Even his tone was churlish. "But Beverly does, she is learning it as we speak. When you next see her, she will know more than I have ever been told. No doubt she will be only too pleased to answer all your questions."
With that, the conscience abruptly left his brother and stalked out of the room, leaving a stunned Jean-Luc standing alone at the clear wall. "Was that jealousy?" He muttered. Then worry began to dog him. "Where the hell is Beverly? And what did he mean by 'When I next see her'?"
Stirred into action, Jean-Luc strode quickly to the door, only to find it wouldn't open. He searched in vain for some kind of opening mechanism but ultimately he had to accept he was locked in.

 

Standing with his hands flat, arms braced, bent over and staring down at the main engineering console, Will barely acknowledged Geordi's arrival. The smaller man joined the commander and his blue, ocular implants reflected the light of the panel as he studied the images. Will stood upright and stabbed a finger at the console.
"That," he said with a sneer, "is a problem I want solved."
Screwing his head to one side, Geordi bared his teeth and pulled a breath in, producing a sibilant hiss. "That's one hell of a problem, Commander. I'm not certain we can give you what you want."
Slapping his hand down, Will's face twisted in an uncharacteristic show of anger.
"We have coordinates, Geordi! We know where to look! There must be something you can do to penetrate whatever it is the aliens are doing to shut us out!" He spun around and glowered at the large schematic of the ship on the wall.
"Godammit, we can't even see the surface with our own eyes! It gives a whole new meaning to the term 'working blind'!"
Suddenly realising what he'd said, Will pinched the bridge of his nose and sore softly. "Shit." He turned to the dark engineer, his expression both frustrated and contrite.
"I'm sorry, Geordi, I didn't meant to..."
Geordi smiled and shook his head. "Don't worry about it, Commander. Since I got these," he pointed at his cybernetic eyes, "it's not an issue any more." His smile faded as he directed his attention back to the tabletop-like console. "That, on the other hand, is an issue." His short expulsion of breath showed his discouragement. "I don't know what to tell you, sir. I've tried just about everything, hell we've even dumped warp power into the scanner grid but we just can't punch through."
Folding his arms across his broad barrel chest, Will glared at the console top. His sour expression slowly changed and, as Geordi watched the light came back into the exec's eyes.
"What if we've been going at this the wrong way?"
"Meaning what?" said Geordi with growing interest.
"Well, instead of trying to crack the egg with a hammer, why not use a feather?"
Mouth ajar and a quizzical expression on his face, Geordi said tentatively, "I'm not with you, Commander."
"Okay," said Will, thinking on the run. "Our scanners use high energy, invisible light particles to 'see' by comparing the stream of the particles as they're distorted over or around anything within their range, thus providing us with an image. What if we ditched the technology; took a step back in time and used microwaves instead? Or even sound?"
Snapping his fingers, Geordi muttered, "Radar or sonar?" At first he was excited, but then his face clouded with uncertainty. "Well, it's possible I guess, but, commander, that's like using a chisel and a stone tablet in place of a PADD. Besides, radar is still using radiation in the form of light, only in radio waves...microwaves. "
"Yes," agreed Will. "But those waves are only light, not particle light."
Geordi's frown was deepening. "Yeah, but there's still not that much difference."
The big man grinned but it was a cold gesture. "Oh, I agree, but we know the aliens possess technology that makes us look prehistoric, why not act like it. Besides, they're using something too sophisticated for us to crack and that's probably because they always thought they'd be dealing with some level of modern technology to protect themselves against, even if it wasn't as good as theirs...but...if we used something very unsophisticated, maybe it'll get through simply because they never considered anyone would use something so primitive."
With a shrug, Geordi pulled down the corners of his mouth. "Well why not? It's not as of it'll do any harm."
He tapped in a few commands, but snorted and shook his head, making Will frown. "What is it?"
The chuckle that bubbled up from the engineer was warm. "I'm going to have to coax the computer into doing this. I really don't think it's going to believe me when I request it."
Will smiled, his eyes twinkling. "How long, do you think?"
"Not long, Commander. If either radar or sonar is going to work, we should know pretty damn quick."
"In that case, if you have no objection, I'll stay."
Geordi grinned and said sotto voce, "As long as you don't scare my staff. Word's already made it down here."
Holding up his hand, Will's smile was wry.
"Promise."
"Okay. Now, let me see if the computer will still talk to me after I input these commands."

 

The door slid closed so silently, Beverly was unaware it had shut until she noticed the light level was only moderate and she quickly realised her escort wasn't with her. Turning sharply she confirmed she was indeed alone and the door, which was indistinguishable from the inner surface of the wall had sealed. Turning back around and with growing unease, Beverly did her best to study her surroundings dispassionately.
It wasn't a large room but its lack of size took nothing away from its astonishing shape and shimmering kaleidoscope of muted colours that slowly appeared on all the surfaces as she watched. The chair, situated in the exact centre of the elliptical room was so innocuous Beverly wasn't concerned about it at all, in fact going to sit in it seemed to be the most natural thing she'd ever done. It was slightly warm, at odds with the slightly chilly air, something she had become accustomed to in the building and its padding was firm, but comfortable.
She settled, her fear gone. No restraints appeared, there was nothing preventing her from leaving the chair, but she stayed, now becoming intensely curious, even eagerly anticipating what was to come.
Wide-eyed, she watched as the melange of soft colours began to move, swirling and sliding with sinuous grace all around her. Wherever she looked, the colours changed and intensified. Somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered a very old computer generated visual effect called virtual reality but why that particular thought had surfaced, she had no idea.
When the shaft of pure, cold white light speared down from above, striking her in the precise centre of the top of her head, her body went momentarily rigid, then just as quickly relaxed. Eyes drifting closed, her physical self went into a form of bio stasis. Her mind however opened like a slowly blooming flower and into it poured information at a phenomenal rate. Although her face was slack her closed eyes darted back and forth, faster than any humans' could possibly move as if she was experiencing some kind of ultra-extreme REM sleep.
Time had no meaning for Beverly. Much as Jean-Luc had once experienced a lifetime of another man in twenty-five minutes, so Beverly experienced the entire history of the aliens in just over an hour.
To protect her delicate brain tissue and to prevent the danger of the synapses and neurons firing too rapidly as the massive amount of information flooded into her, the light coated each and every cell within her brain with a protective covering of a protein, developed by the aliens and able to be adapted to any species they had encountered over their long history.
At the end of the download, the spear of light vanished as abruptly as it had appeared. At first Beverly stayed motionless, apart from slow, shallow respiration and an equally slow and faint heartbeat, to all intents and purposes, she was inert. If scanned, no brain activity would've been observed or measured. Twenty slow minutes passed before Beverly's brain began to function again, but it took a further fifteen minutes before any physical reaction took place.
The first movement was in her right thumb. It twitched then began to jerk spasmodically. This spastic movement soon overtook her entire hand, then her left hand and very quickly her entire body was jerking as if in some kind of macabre dance. It only ceased when her eyes finally opened. Initially there was nothing in them, just blankness, but gradually the pupils contracted and they cleared and as they did, Beverly gasped loudly.
She still wasn't aware of who she was, or where she was, nor did she know what now resided in her brain but she was quickly regaining control of herself. She didn't hear the door open, but the sudden bright light made her squint and hold up her hand to shield her vision in a reflex action.
She felt, rather than saw the hands that gently took hold of her head, but as soon as the cool fingers made contact, everything fell into place. Her mouth fell open and her free hand tried to cover it, but she couldn't stifle the cry of astonishment and shock. "Oh, my dear God!"
Heart thundering in her chest, Beverly struggled to calm herself enough to speak. "What?" She swallowed dryly, nausea making her feel ill. "What have you done to me?"
The light dimmed to something more acceptable and the hands removed themselves from her head. A small screen was placed on her lap. She picked it up with violently trembling hands. Somehow she had to find a way to steady herself enough to not only read, but absorb the words.
"Please, Doctor, just relax." The text read. "What you are feeling now will soon dissipate."
It was true. With each passing minute the sensations of disorientation and nausea began to subside. Blinking away unbidden tears, Beverly read, "Much has happened, Doctor, your brain has experienced something quite remarkable."
That made alarm surge through Beverly and she tensed, taking her eyes off the screen and squinting at the glowing being in front of her.
"My brain?" She said with distressed fear. "What have you done to my brain?"
The alien slid his hand under the screen and gently lifted it making it obvious he wanted Beverly to return her attention to the text.
"Nothing harmful has been done, Doctor. Once you have become accustomed to the...expansion...and assimilated the information, we will return your brain to its former state, but you will remember all that has been inputted."
"Why?" said a now deeply concerned Beverly. "Why do you have to do anything more to my brain?"
"Because it cannot be left as it is now. As I have already told you, we have done no harm, but your brain has been altered so that it was capable of receiving the amount of information it did and at a rate that in a normal human brain would be simply impossible. Now that the information has been deposited in your cerebral cells, we can now return your brain to its natural state. The convenience of this process is that you will have full access to what we have given you without any deleterious effects. In human parlance, you'll be none the worse for the experience."
Whispering her questions and afraid of the answers, Beverly asked tremulously, "What will you do? How long will it take?"
The continuing tears, over which Beverly had no control made it difficult to read. She blinked several times, but eventually had to wipe her eyes with her hands. Sniffing softly, she read,
"The procedure is a simple one, Doctor. You will feel nothing and it will be over relatively quickly."
"And then?"
"You will feel perfectly normal. The only difference you will perceive is the vast amount of new information you now possess."
"And what am I to do with all this information? You said your species' existence depends on what I was to learn in here."
"That has always been and always will be up to you. I suppose your first priority will be to answer all the questions Captain Picard has, but after that? I cannot say. I have no more control over you as I have over the conscience."
"Whose idea was this? Who authorised it?"
"It was the conscience, but at the root of his desire for you to have all this information was that you use it to cure his children. In my mind, a very high price to pay for virtually no gain."
Gaining both strength and emotions other than fear and dread, Beverly muttered bitterly, "Yes, I remember. The lives of the children against the existence of your species. How could I forget?"
"Do not judge us too harshly just yet, Doctor. Not until you understand what it is you now possess."
Before Beverly could say anything further, the being removed the screen and with gentle movements, eased Beverly to settle back into the chair. The light shot down without warning and once again, Beverly's body and mind separated and became inert, but this only lasted ten minutes and at the extinguishment of the light, Beverly's eyes opened and she blinked in surprise. The first words she said were soft but filled with awe and wonder.
"Star people! You're all literally star people!"
The being bowed slightly and somehow, although she could see no face, Beverly was certain he was smiling.

 

Will was leaning his hip against the edge of the console-top, arms folded across his chest and his legs crossed at the ankle. With his head tilted and bowed, his eyes were directed at the readouts on the screens, keenly watching the progress of the laboriously slow scan. Microwave had failed, but sonar hadn't. Geordi had whistled softly as, having convinced a dubious computer to comply with his instructions; an image had begun to appear. Grossly distorted at first, Geordi had manipulated the controls, bringing the image first to something coarse and grainy then, with long held patience, a clearer and clearer image crystallised until, finally they could see an unadulterated picture of what existed at the coordinates.
Will grunted angrily and jabbed his finger downwards, growling, "It's a damned dish! They're using some kind of dish as a collector."
Geordi was studying his readouts intently. "Yeah, Commander, but look at this."
Will cast his eyes over a set of numbers and what seemed like formulae. He scowled and shook his head.
"What the hell are they...and where did they come from?"
Frustration and helplessness was clearly evident in Geordi's voice as he said, "I don't know! Dammit, Commander, Data would have this worked out in minutes!"
"Yeah, well we're just going to have to get by on our own."
Seeing the stab of pain on the engineer, Will sighed. "Oh, hell, Geordi..."
The lieutenant commander shook his head and summoned a small smile. "It's okay, sir, I feel it too." He looked down at the figures and ran a hand over his tightly curled, short black hair. "What I don't get is why we're seeing all this. I mean how did it get here? We used sound waves to see an object. I don't understand how that could've triggered any release of...whatever this is."
"What does the computer have to say?" Said a hopeful Will.
"Well that's just it. The computer should've calculated all of this as it arrived. But it didn't. This..." He pointed at the sets of figures and formulae, "Is raw data and I have absolutely no idea what it means, what it represents or even where it came from."
Chewing his upper lip, Will stared down at the display as if by sheer force of will he could unlock the puzzle. "Well, considering we received it when we got through their shielding or whatever it is they're using, doesn't it stand to reason that it's connected somehow to the dish?"
"Who knows?" Shrugged Geordi. "It might be, but on the other hand it might be some kind of automated response to having their defences breached." The engineer's cybernetic pupils dilated and rotated. His expression was grim. "And it may be an algorithm designed to corrupt any computer connected to the system that managed to break in."
"A back-door fire wall?" Will's tone was tight with alarm.
"I don't know!" Geordi stepped back from the console and again ran a hand over his head. "Commander I'm really not sure we should even try to calculate those sets of figures let alone solve the formulae. Without knowing what the result could be..."
Will grimaced, remembering another invasive computer program. "The Iconian probe."
Geordi nodded, his expression filled with dread.
"And the Iconians were not only ancient, but long gone, despite their superior technology." He pointed at the console-top. "These people are very real, alive and super smart. Who knows what nasty little surprises they might have booby-trapped their defences with."
"Damn." Said Will softly. The call from the bridge only served to raise the level of tension in engineering.
"Stevers to Riker."
"Riker here."
"Sir, we've just detected another energy burst."
Will's eyes locked on to Geordi's and the engineer nodded. "Send everything you've got down here to engineering, Stevers. Riker out."
With their eyes still locked, Will said softly, as if asking the question would invite disaster, "We're still scanning?"
"Yep."
"Well, one way or another, this should be interesting."
Gallows humour had always made Geordi laugh, but not this time. With his captain and CMO on the planet and what could prove to be a malevolent virus sitting idle in their system, God only knew what kind of risk they were undertaking, scanning during an energy discharge.
Throughout the entire event, their eyes remained locked on each other's. It wasn't until the computer announced the culmination of the process that both men looked down and it was a very uncharacteristic expletive from Geordi that spoke for everyone.
"Fuck!"
Looks of utter astonishment and incomprehension were on all the faces around the console. Gesturing with his hand, Geordi said, awestruck, "What the hell is going on here?"
He gently tapped a control and not only the vid of the scan replayed, but the computer's analysis appeared on the screen. Will pointed at the bright, nebulous cloud that appeared from the left of the screen, drifting rapidly to the right and settling over the disc, then sedately descending to be quickly absorbed.
"Is that the energy burst?"
"No!" Geordi's voice carried urgency. "That..." he pointed to another, just discernible shaft of light. "is the energy burst."
"So what's the cloud thing?"
"I have no idea, but the computer's saying it's energy, the same kind as the burst from within the anomaly."
"Well..." Will ran his hand over his head. "Well okay, but where did it come from? Are they collecting somewhere else and shunting it around? As if they have some kind of distribution net...you know, shove it off to where it's needed?"
"Commander, I don't know...and neither does the computer. All it's saying is that the type of energy is the same as the bursts from space."
"All right, Geordi." He lifted his head, while rubbing his greasy brow; suddenly realising he needed a shower. "Computer, is it possible to locate the source of the energy cloud?"
"Unable to comply. Insufficient data."
Undaunted, Will tried another tack.
"Computer, accept that the energy cloud coincides with the energy discharges from the anomaly."
Geordi shook his head, a protest forming on his lips. Will raised a hand to silence him and continued with the computer. "At the exact moment another discharge is detected, using the sonar scanner, sweep the surface of the planet and locate the source of the energy cloud."
The chimes of compliance were ignored as Geordi got to express his disagreement.
"Commander, we have absolutely no evidence to suggest the two phenomena are connected. While we're concentrating our meagre scanners elsewhere, who knows what the aliens might be doing to stop us. They may even activate that..." he pointed to the ominous sets of figures and symbols and grimaced. "Whatever it is while we're looking the other way. I mean hell, sir; the cloud itself might be a ruse."
"Yes, it might," said Will fatalistically. "And it might not but we're not going to find out one way or another by doing nothing." he took a deep breath. "Look, I know you're worried...cautious...so am I, but we've been at the rough end of the stick with these people long enough. It's time to be a little more proactive, don't you think?"
Geordi's worried frown eased and he sighed. Shaking his head he said wryly, "You make it sound like a game of parrises squares."
Will's soft chuckle rumbled up from his deep chest. "Actually I prefer Ambo-Jitsu, but if it's competitive spirit you're referring to, yeah, I've got it, and I'll be damned if we're going to sit up here, quaking in our boots because of a few numbers and symbols sitting on a screen."
Geordi softly winced, his expression one of guarded disbelief.
"If you say so, sir. I'm not so sure I'd be so keen to welcome mayhem with such open arms."
Jerking his head to one side, Will shrugged. "Do what you can to isolate whatever that is..." he used his chin to indicate the formulae and numbers. "But keep at it Geordi. I really don't like mysteries."
The engineer muttered quietly to Will's retreating back, "I've heard that one before, Commander."

 

When the door suddenly slid open, Jean-Luc was at the clear wall, staring out, deep in thought. He only knew the door had opened by the sudden increase of light. He turned and couldn't suppress the gasp of delight and relief at seeing Beverly, seemingly unharmed. He took a few quick steps towards her, his arms beginning to rise, but he quelled the urge to take her in his embrace and settled for placing his hands on her shoulders and peering into the depths of her blue eyes.
The being stood quietly to one side, deliberately ignored by the captain.
"Are you all right?" He said softly but earnestly, worry creasing his normally smooth brow.
Her smile banished his concern but that only paved the way for his anger to surface. Beverly saw the tell-tale tightening around his mouth and was quick to forestall any expression of angst he may have wanted to direct at the adviser.
"I'm fine," she emphasised carefully, gripping his arms and forcing him to listen. "Jean-Luc, I know."
Tilting his head slightly and sharpening his gaze a now suspicious Jean-Luc said warily, "Know? What is it you know, Beverly?"
Her smile widened and her eyes actually danced with joy. "Everything! I know every single thing about these people, Jean-Luc. I can answer any question you put to me about them."
Reluctantly dragging his eyes away from his excited wife, Jean-Luc turned his head and studied the adviser. No one said anything and the tension slowly grew. Beverly, not quite understanding why Jean-Luc would be so cold and angry towards the alien, tried to ease the situation by saying, "Jean-Luc, he took me to this room and..."
The captain cut her off, asking curtly, "Why was I detained against my will?"
Confused, Beverly looked from her husband to the adviser. "What?" She said disbelievingly. "You detained him...against his will?"
She turned her look into a glare. "Why? Why was my husband kept as a prisoner?"
With no screen available, no answer was given. The adviser simply turned and left the room. As the door was closing, Jean-Luc released Beverly and sprinted the few metres to the door, greatly relieved when it opened again for him. Beverly joined him and leaned out, looking up and down the vacant corridor. "Well," she observed wryly. "We seem to be alone."
Stepping back inside and waiting for Beverly to join him, Jean-Luc had one more test of the door and, seeing it open silently at his approach, let out a soft grunt. "And no longer detained."
Reaching up and gently cupping Beverly's chin, he looked into her eyes and said softly, "You're sure? You weren't harmed in any way?"
"No, there were a couple of times when I was frightened, but no one hurt me."
Taking her hand, he led them back to the clear wall. Instead of looking out into the dim darkness, Jean-Luc faced his wife and said, "All right, tell me everything you know."
Beverly barked out an incredulous laugh and shook her head. "My God, Jean-Luc! You have absolutely no idea what you've just asked me to do! These peoples' society is hundreds of thousands of years old and I know everything! Asking me to tell you everything I know would take years!"
Momentarily stunned and trying to get a grasp of what she was saying, Jean-Luc opted for, "Well, can you tell me what's relevant to our situation?"
Throwing up her arms, Beverly walked a tight circle. "Relevant to our situation? Where do I start, Jean-Luc? Do I confine myself with the medical side of things? Or political perhaps? Or maybe ethical concerns? Jesus! It's all connected, Jean-Luc! These people aren't like anything we've ever come across before. They're unique, not only in the way the conduct themselves, either as a society or as a technologically superior species, but as a quirk of nature." Taking a deep breath and trying to control herself, Beverly took Jean-Luc's hands and stared into his eyes.
"Jean-Luc," she said softly but the softness of her voice took nothing away from the awe in her voice. "These people are star people!"
"Meaning what, exactly?" said a still wary Jean-Luc who was beginning to wonder if his wife hadn't indeed been...altered somehow.
"Okay, this is going to take a while. Come on, sit down."
They sat with their backs against the clear wall, legs stretched out in front of them. Jean-Luc, still a little dubious, smiled wanly as Beverly took his hand in hers and rested both on her thigh.
"So, we start so long ago, Jean-Luc, I can't give you a date, it'd be meaningless. Just accept it was hundreds of thousands of years ago, okay?"
He nodded silently.
"These people haven't always lived on this planet. Their original home planet was much closer to this system's star, closer than Earth is to its star. For some reason over time, the people began to exhibit what we would expect from close proximity to solar radiation, you know, carcinoma-type tumours of all kinds, external and internal, deterioration of sight, genetic defects, basic, classic symptoms of radiation exposure, even though they had presumably evolved to live under those conditions. On Earth it's long been known that the body can (within limits) repair DNA and cellular damage caused by relatively high, short term exposure to gamma radiation, but....long term low dose, well the body simply can't cope, so these peoples' bodies began to adapt to compensate...including the very odd fact that within a relatively short period of time, all their newborns began to be born glowing. Now even so long ago, their medical community was capable of healing all these health problems, but there was little they could do about the cause. And, despite being able to cure the illnesses, they could do nothing about the glowing and because it seemed to have no deleterious effect on the children, it became an accepted facet of their society. So, as you'd expect, slowly but surely the non-glowing population was gradually replaced by those who glowed, until the entire population all glowed.
"Unlike Earth's 20th-21st century with the thinning of the ozone layer and global warming, these people understood the value of their atmosphere, but that wasn't the problem. It was they themselves. Somehow their evolutionary journey had taken an unfortunate path...why, they never discovered, but the upshot was the increasing inability, even with their biological adaptations, to live under such strong solar radiation. Even though the entire species glowed, the radiation exposure illnesses persisted.
"The only option open to them was to abandon their home planet and move further away. Sounds simple enough, but as we know, M class planets are a bit thin on the ground in this system and at the time they lacked sufficient ships to travel away from this system so their only viable choice was the planet we're on now.
"So they moved. En masse. But of course, this world is nothing but a large ball of mostly ice. They needed an energy source, but something very strange started to happen. The people began to dim and with this fading of the glow, so their life faded until, when the glow extinguished, the affected individuals died.
"Their scientists were put to work immediately to try and find out what was happening...and quickly! What they found, Jean-Luc, was astonishing. Somehow gamma radiation had managed to not only infiltrate the bodily cells of these people, but integrate within the cells."
Jean-Luc tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. "But, Beverly, surely it was gamma radiation that caused the initial problems? Either that or high-energy protons. If gamma radiation infiltrated a living organism at the cellular level..."
"I know! Death would be inevitable, but not in this instance. It's incredible, but true. Now I want you to think about light."
"Yes."
"We have the visible spectrum, from infra-red to ultra-violet. Then we get to the invisible spectrum, starting with x-rays, down to gamma rays, high energy protons and so on. With me so far?"
Curtailing his impatience, Jean-Luc merely nodded.
"Okay. So what's the product of exciting the electrons and photons within something like the particulate matter of gamma rays?"
Shrugging, Jean-Luc said mildly, "Light...in the visible spectrum."
"Yes!" She seemed to be waiting for something and Jean-Luc was about to ask what when his penny suddenly dropped.
"Not just light...radiance! Glowing!"
Smiling triumphantly, Beverly nodded. "Yes!" she said eagerly. "And not just any kind of light, Jean-Luc, cold light!"
Jean-Luc's finger went to his lower lip automatically, his mind shifting gears. Knowing him as well as she did, Beverly allowed him the time to process the information and reach his own conclusions. She knew he'd got there when he snapped his fingers.
"They can't continue to fluoresce continuously! They have to be...charged." he fell silent then blinked in surprise. "The manufactured star!"
Grinning with pride and satisfaction, Beverly nodded. "Uh huh. Now, some more information. You know that because of the massive gravitational forces and enormous density of a star such as an average G2V like Earth's, it takes about one million years for one second of light to travel from the star's core to escape the outer corona and be perceived from Earth as emergent light.
"Obviously these people can't wait that long, so they created a tiny mini-star, based on the exact same process by which their own G2V star works, harnessed the power and developed a way to generate controlled bursts of lovely, cold gamma rays. The directed bursts are gathered in dishes and the resulting power is distributed, not only for the continuing health of the people, but to power their society. Their cities, their infrastructures, they're all gamma ray powered."
Shaking his head in wonder, Jean-Luc whispered, "Incredible!"
"There's more, Jean-Luc...so much more. This symbiotic relationship between the living cells and the gamma radiation doesn't end at death. The deceased are prepared in such a way as to be able to discharge the residual energy held within their cells."
"But doesn't the death of the cells preclude any physical ability?" asked a confused Jean-Luc.
"Normally, yes. But in this situation, the deceased's body is injected with an isotopic substance which controls the release of the gamma radiation. When an energy burst is released from the artificial star, and the burst reaches the planet, it reacts with the isotopic substance to assist the cells in releasing the gamma radiation. It acts as a precursor so that the proximity of the energy burst in conjunction with the isotopic substance causes the controlled release. This can occur three or four times before the deceased's body is finally...drained. But the wonderful thing about this is the dead contribute to their society by their death! Within this society, death is looked upon not as cessation of life, but a comfort in the knowledge that even in death; one continues to be of importance...a valued contributor to one's people!"
Jean-Luc considered all this, then asked quietly, "What about radiation decay? From what we know about all kinds of radiation, once emitted no matter how it was generated, there is an inevitable decay. How was this circumvented?"
Beverly's eyes shone with delight. "Once the gamma radiation integrates itself within the cells of the body, it becomes basically inert. Now I know that there has to be movement, activity of some sort of the electrons and photons within the nucleus of the radiation particles to create the visible light, but as to the potency of the radiation, as long as the people have access to regular...top-ups...then there is no decay. And, with the introduction of the isotopic substance after death, the gamma radiation is held not only in preparation for discharge, but to maintain potency despite the death of the host cells."
Pursing his lips, Jean-Luc tilted his head in thought. "Tell me about this isotopic substance."
Wincing slightly, Beverly shrugged. "That's not so easy. You have to remember I've had to interpret all of this, giving a standard translation and some of the alien words and terms I've had to work out based on my knowledge of the science. So, isotopes. Okay, we know, at least in Earth terms, we have basically two types of isotopes. There are unstable isotopes, (which are invariably radioactive) which are known as primordial or postprimordial and stable isotopes and at least two thirds of naturally occurring isotopes on Earth are stable.
"In this case, because the gamma radiation is derived from an artificial source, my guess is the isotopes are postprimordial and I think they're expressed as nucleogenic nuclides, as they've come from a manufactured nuclear reaction. By converting the nuclides into something like a form of uranium or radium...or something similar, it can be introduced into the deceased to do the job of a precursor."
Jean-Luc looked into his wife's eyes and although he could clearly see her enthusiasm and awe, there was a tiny, barely discernible shadow, one that gave him cause to subdue his own excitement. Beverly saw this and sighed, slightly irritated and annoyed.
"You're thinking it's too good to be true." She said defensively.
"Am I?" said Jean-Luc softly. "Perhaps you could tell me why I'm thinking that way."
Beverly said nothing, simply breaking their visual connection and staring at their joined hands. Jean-Luc allowed a few moments of quiet before he began to softly speak.
"You say these people use the energy bursts to not only 'charge' their body's cells, but power their cities, their lives, both literally and in general. Beverly, their ships glow. They possess weapons so powerful they can utterly destroy an entire Borg cube with one shot. They don't just use the gamma radiation, do they? They have become completely interdependent with it, it's in every facet of their society. I postulated to Will recently that these people may have the power of a star in their weapons and I was right, wasn't I?"
Before Beverly could answer, Jean-Luc continued. "But of course that's nothing new, humankind have been able to do something very similar, although on a much small scale since the mid 20thy century, but Beverly, those salvage ships? The ones who came across the remains of the battle with the Borg cube that the aliens intervened in? There were no residual traces of radiation. None! Yes, it was two years after the fact, but even so, a weapon of that much power has to leave some kind of trace, but it didn't. This symbiotic relation you've told me of, it seems almost utopian, but you and I both know no such thing exists. What's the flaw, Beverly, what's the fly in the ointment? What's spoiling utopia and scaring the hell out of you?"
Beverly's reply was whispered and Jean-Luc had to strain to hear it.
"It's nothing to do with the gamma radiation or their interdependence with it at least not scientifically."
"What then?"
"The children."
"The children? Whose?"
"The conscience's."
Abruptly climbing to his feet, Jean-Luc fisted his hands at his sides and glared out into the silently shrieking wind, oblivious of the large particles of ice that smashed into the clear wall's outer shell.
"My brother's children? You can't help them?"
Slowly getting to her feet, Beverly stood at Jean-Luc's side, but where he kept his gaze focused outside; she kept her eyes trained in him.
"No, it's all right; I still think I can help, especially now that I have the complete picture."
Bracing himself, Jean-Luc asked quietly, "What is it then? What is it about the children?"
Sighing deeply, Beverly bowed her head. "It's a matter of ethics, Jean-Luc. The history of the conscience is ancient one, not as ancient as the rest of this species' history but very, very old. It was discovered quite early by the people that the beings who successfully took their place as the conscience served more efficiently if all his needs were met. Over time, it was understood that these...needs...included having a life-partner and, in most chosen species, the wish, if the partnership was successful, to reproduce, which is of course, exactly what your brother has done with his 'one'.
"Now the medical technology of this species was always going to make it possible for a successful production of offspring...dear God, Jean-Luc, the hybrids they've been able to produce is astonishing...but..."
When she drifted into silence, Jean-Luc turned from the bleak vista and said softly, "Go on."
"They can't ever reproduce, Jean-Luc."
It took a few seconds for the ramifications to become evident. Anger coloured his deep voice in his single, clipped word.
"Why?"
"Oh, come on! Do I have to spell it out?" Said an exasperated Beverly, dreading the inevitable argument that was brewing.
"Yes, Beverly, yes you do!" He snapped.
"All right!" She said curtly. "If all the children of all the consciences that have been produced over millennia were permitted to interbreed with the native population, just how long do you think it would take before this species simply ceased to exist? Think about it, Jean-Luc! The symbiotic relationship between the gamma radiation and the cells would be wiped out! And who's to say what, if anything would emerge in its place? This planet is barren! Everything these people have is derived through that artificial star, right down to their very lives. You mess with that and you very quickly annihilate the species. The law that prohibits the children of the conscience from reproducing isn't cruel, Jean-Luc, it isn't based on prejudice or even arrogance. It's not even about species purity, not as a means of asserting superiority; it's to maintain their very survival, their existence."
"But that doesn't make it right, Beverly!" Jean-Luc said vehemently. "To deny those children the fundamental right to..."
Cutting him off, Beverly raised her voice.
"Look!" She then calmed herself. "Jean-Luc, think about this objectively. Let's take humans for a moment. What if humankind was exposed to indiscriminate interbreeding with hybrids of all kinds over a long period of time? Eventually what had been uniquely human would no longer exist. Now I'm not saying that's a bad thing per se, but don't we, as humans have a fundamental right to stay...human? You talk with pride about your family line. That's human, Jean-Luc, not only the pride itself but the very genetics involved. Yes, if humans became a melange species of mixed genetics, some trace of your Picard genes would survive, but would it still be what you would call Picard? It certainly wouldn't be what you and I would recognise as human.
"And what of other worlds, Jean-Luc? Take the Federation itself. It's made up of many, many worlds, the people of which are unique to their worlds, each species special in its own way and willing to defend their right to stay that way...and we would help them to achieve just that. Can't you see that these people are simply trying to preserve who and what they are?"
"That, Beverly," said Jean-Luc quietly, "Sounds very much like species purity and that is a form of discrimination." He said stubbornly. "This species chose the concept of their 'conscience' and did so knowing full well the consequences inherent in allowing any hybrid offspring to reproduce! This isn't a matter of evolution or adaptation, but a deliberately manufactured situation and the resulting...dross...from this social experiment is being denied the right to their existence! What about them, Beverly? What about their rights? Having been permitted to exist what then? That's it? One generation then no more just so the creators can maintain their species purity?"
Splaying her fingers wide beside her head, Beverly bared her teeth. "All right! Yes, it's discrimination, but Jean-Luc isn't the preservation of one's species just as much a right as anything else? Don't the people of this world have the right to discriminate to save themselves? Compared with the total population, we're not talking about huge numbers of discriminated against children. No one has indulged in wholesale slaughter or hideous sterilisation. And the children know. As soon as they are old enough to understand, they're told."
"You agree with this?" Jean-Luc's tone was dangerously low.
"I didn't at first; I was as outraged as you. But now I know the truth, what's the alternative, Jean-Luc? And...every conscience and his..mate...knows well before they even consider reproducing. It's a decision they make knowing their children will never be allowed to reproduce...or ever leave this complex."
His intense look compelled Beverly to keep going. "The people never see their conscience, not even an image of him or his one or their children. The family who nurture and rear him from his birth are removed when he takes his place as the conscience at age 18 and taken to a faraway place. His one is chosen for him and if a bond forms, then it is up to them whether or not to have children, but they do so knowing the consequences and part of the whole deal is that the one and the children can never leave the complex, other than to take walks out on the ice."
Letting his eyes drift back to the dark icescape, Jean-Luc's voice was low and laced with sadness. "My inherent distaste for this entire system aside, the irony is exquisite, you know."
Frowning, Beverly asked quietly, "How do you mean?"
He sighed and lowered his head. The bleakness outside too close to what he was feeling.
"We, you and I...we can't have children. I find an identical twin brother I never knew I had; only to find he has four children, but they're ill...with an inherited disease, courtesy of our illustrious Picard lineage. But that's not too bad, because you tell me that you can most probably cure them. So I begin to think, well, we might not be able to have children, but my family line will live on in the form of a new type of Picard. Not human, but given my profession and my brother's position in his society, it seems appropriate. Given my objections...what hypocrisy on my part!" He sighed again. "And now you're telling me we're back to square one!"
He shook his head, rubbed his brow and grimaced. "Dear God, listen to me. Still fixated on my damned family and conveniently ignoring everything you've just told me." He looked up and said softly, "Forgive me, Beverly, I'm sorry."
"Don't be, my love. It crossed my mind too. In fact your brother brought it up."
"Really? How?"
Shrugging, Beverly pulled her lips to one side. "He stated the bloody obvious, Jean-Luc."
"That being?"
"Well, I've had a successful pregnancy in the past and he's managed to reproduce all right and he's your identical twin, so..."
"Why can't we?"
"Pretty much."
Jean-Luc frowned, his fingers once again finding themselves back to his lower lip. "So it must be me."
Patiently, Beverly said, "Jean-Luc we've run all the tests. You know that's not right."
His eyes narrowed. "Then can you explain it?"
Hurt and anger made her snap. "You know damned well I can't!"
Holding up a placating hand, Jean-Luc only managed to say, "Beverly, I'm sor..."
The door opened and the conscience stepped into the room, silencing Jean-Luc mid-word.
"I am sorry to interrupt, but my children need you, Beverly."
Swallowing her anger, Beverly dredged up a small smile for her husband and gave him an apologetic look. "I have to go."
Jean-Luc nodded and was turning back to the clear wall when his brother's voice stopped him. "I think it time you met my children, Jean-Luc. They are after all related to you."
As the captain crossed the room he smiled. "Nephews and a niece, I believe."
The conscience frowned and Jean-Luc's smile grew. He decided to try a different approach. "Neveux et nèice."
The man's eyebrows rose. "Ah! Oui! Les enfants de mon frère."
Beverly had no trouble with that. She smiled. "The children of my brother." She thought. "Yes, Jean-Luc, my love. Despite the circumstances, very appropriate."

Taking time to spend with his daughter was slowly becoming a very sought after thing for Will. In the quiet of his quarters, Charlotte nestled in his arms; he was finding a kind of peace he'd assumed he'd never have again without Deanna in his life. Charlotte wasn't a substitute for her mother, indeed at even only three months of age she was exhibiting the beginnings of her own unique personality and Will gained immense comfort from that, because he knew that he too had a part in the little girl's makeup. On this occasion he was reclining on his sofa, Charlotte had been fed and burped and on a whim, Will had dressed her in infant sleeping attire from Betazed, sent by the little girl's grandmother, the eccentric Lwaxana Troi. The baby was awake and lying on her back, her side tucked into Will's chest. He ran his eyes over the luridly coloured, tufted, quilted, pom-pommed and fringed outfit and grinned, the absurdity making him shake his head. "Only Lwaxana could find something so tasteless in a society known for their grace and refined senses." He muttered. In response to her father's rumbled comment, Charlotte turned her head and waved her arms, her little hands fisted. Still with the light of amusement in his eyes, Will idly teased his index finger into her right fist and grinned delightedly when she obliged by gripping him tightly. Gently wagging his finger back and forth, Will watched as Charlotte tried to focus on the movement.
"Your mother," he said quietly to his daughter, "was very graceful, Charlotte. Not a lithe,
sinuous grace like your Aunt Beverly, but a subdued, compact sort of grace and you know..." he smiled, ignoring the moisture that was gathering in his eyes. "It came from within as much as without. She had a wicked sense of humour too. I expect you're going to get the better of me, just like she did." He sighed, but the tender smile stayed in place. "She'd cut me off at the knees, you know. At first glance it was so easy to dismiss her. She was small, Charlotte, perfectly formed, but petite and so very beautiful, truly lovely and she gave no sign of either her immense inner strength or her resolute determination. Even your Uncle Jean-Luc, a man I know to be a very astute judge of character, didn't realise just how much steel hid inside that gentle exterior." Will's rueful chuckle was quiet. "He learned soon enough though. We all did."
As he talked, Will noticed that not only was Charlotte now looking at his face, she had stilled completely as if absorbed, if not by his voice...Will's eyebrows rose and his mouth fell open. He shifted slightly to better see his daughter's face. "Are you sensing me?" He asked incredulously. "Can you do that...at your age?"
Charlotte didn't react; she simply continued to stare at her father's face. Will, keeping his gaze locked on his child, said quietly, "Computer, access all known information about human/Betazoid hybrids and display at my terminal."
"Accessing."
Gathering Charlotte into his arms, Will got to his feet, crossed the room and settled at his desk. The information was already there. He used his fingertip to scroll down until he came to the correct genetic percentages. Will of course is fully human, Deanna was half human, half Betazoid, which made Charlotte three quarters human, one quarter Betazoid. As he read, his eyebrows rose and a smile appeared. Taking Charlotte in both large hands, he held her up at eye level and he laughed.
"Well my little girl, it seems you are able to develop empathic abilities. Although," he said conspiratorially, "if you develop it, it's not supposed to exhibit itself until puberty." He chuckled and brought the baby back to his chest where he cuddled her. "Still, trust your mother to give you such a strong dose that you're even more unique then even I thought you were."
Placing a tender kiss on top of her soft, down covered head, Will said, his voice breaking, "She'd be so very proud, Charlotte...and so am I."
Will went back to the sofa and stretched out, Charlotte safely tucked into his arm. It wasn't until he woke later that he realised he'd drifted off to sleep, the first time he'd done so in contentment since Deanna's death. He rose stiffly and entered his bedroom, hesitating only for a second or two before ditching the thought of putting Charlotte in her crib. Laying her on the bed, he stripped off his uniform and then took the baby into the nursery and changed her nappy. Then, with her back in his arms, he slid into bed. Together, father and daughter once again found calm, untroubled sleep.

 

It was just on six hundred hours and Geordi was tired. He had intended to go off shift hours ago, but something about the formulae, if indeed that's what they were was tugging at something in his mind. With one elbow propped on the console top and his chin held in his hand, his bent back was protesting, his muscles long ago letting him know they'd had enough. Ignoring his physical discomfort, he kept doggedly inputting instructions with the fingers of his free hand; idly wondering if it was possible he was really feeling the grittiness in his artificial eyes.
Under Will's instructions, he had done his best to isolate the formulae but because he had no idea how they'd got on board in the first place, he had no way to know how successful he'd been. But his CO wanted answers and it was his job, as chief engineer, to do his best to supply them.
With the computer's assistance, he'd begun to trace a thread of thought. He had nothing substantial at all on which to base this thread, just a gut feeling, but as the hours rolled past and he got no results, he was beginning to feel he'd been mistaken, but even so, he couldn't shake the tug. He sighed and slowly straightened, his hands going to the small of his back and a soft groan emerging as he arched and kneaded the tightness out of the protesting muscles. He was about to instruct the computer to cease and save, when the soft feminine voice came from above.
"Match found."
Gripping both sides of the console, Geordi bent forward, not even feeling the shot of pain in his back. His pupils dilating he whistled, then a shit-eating gin grew on his face. "Oh yeah...I've got you now!"
Tapping his communicator he had to concentrate on keeping his voice under control. "LaForge to Riker."
Geordi's grin changed from shit-eating to delight as he heard something in his CO's voice that he'd not heard since Deanna's death. Calm amiability.
"Riker here, Geordi. Go ahead."
"Commander I think I know what's going on and I also think I have a new set of coordinates for the computer."
"Well done, Geordi! Can you come up to the bridge? I'll be there in about ten minutes; I'm just waiting for the sitter."
"Will do, sir. LaForge out."
Geordi could barely keep still as he waited for Will's appearance. As the lift doors hissed open, the engineer was already walking towards the exiting personnel. Resisting the urge to take Will by the arm, instead he urged the big man to hurry to the engineering station at the rear of the bridge. Once both men were standing in front of the console screen, Geordi gestured with his hand, saying grandly, "Absorption rates!"
Squinting his eyes, Will repeated what Geordi had said. "Absorption rates."
"Yes!" By Geordi's tone, Will could tell he was supposed to understand what the man was talking about. Taking a stab, Will said tentatively, "The energy bursts?"
"Yes!"
Pointing at the lines of figures and symbols, the engineer said, "The mini-star discharges at a measurable rate and intensity. The resulting energy burst is directed at a specific place on the planet's surface."
"We already know that, Geordi." Will said patiently.
"Yes, sir," said Geordi, barely containing himself. "But what we didn't know is that by the time the energy reaches the collection point it has almost doubled in size and intensity."
"Yes," Will said, still not understanding. "The energy cloud. We know about that too."
"Uh huh, but take a look at this."
Will directed his gaze back to the screen and what he saw made him frown in confusion. "What the hell am I seeing?"
"That..." pointed Geordi, is a multi discharge of energy...and the source of the cloud. And these..." Again he indicated the formulae, "are the absorption rates for the combined cloud."
"Absorption rates? How, Geordi, how is the energy absorbed?"
Folding his arms across his chest, the dark man sighed. "Well obviously it's done through the dish. My guess is that the energy isn't absorbed all at once, but piecemeal. Once it's been collected by the dish, then the energy is allocated by the rate of absorption. It makes sense actually. With that much raw power, even given their technology, I think would be pretty damn hard to handle it all in one go. So, it's collected and absorbed at a given rate and distributed as needed."
"Right. So, what about these multi-discharges?"
Shaking his head, Geordi grimaced. "Haven't worked out that one yet, but I have instructed the computer to have a closer look at the next discharge from the mini-star."
"Okay." Said a more settled Will. "What about the other number sets...the ones that came with the formulae?"
"Hmm, not sure about that either, but I suspect they have something to do with allocation."
"And cracking those formulae hasn't put us in any danger?"
Geordi's voice carried a note of caution. "Not that I know of, sir, but I have no way to prove that one way or the other."
"Understood, Commander." Will said formally. He then smiled. "And, Geordi? Well done."
Geordi smiled with satisfaction and jerked a thumb towards the lift doors.
"If it's okay with you, sir, I'd better get back to engineering."
"Permission granted, Commander."
"Thank you, sir."
Will turned his eyes to the front of the bridge and said quietly, "Activate forward viewscreen."
The indistinct image of the planet appeared and this time Will's gaze wasn't so hostile. "So, bit-by-bit, we're uncovering your secrets." He thought. Out loud he asked, "Have we hailed the planet since Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher went down to the surface?"
The officer at tactical answered quickly and with due respect, making Will smile inwardly.
"No, sir."
"Then do so now."
Several seconds passed before the officer said quietly, "No response, Commander."
Will stood still, his gaze fixed on the planet, his mind turning things over and over. After a few moments he turned abruptly and took his seat in the command chair.
"Cease hailing, Lieutenant, I wasn't actually expecting them to answer."
"Aye, sir."
As Will checked the readouts on the armrests of his chair he took note of the well-oiled efficiency going on around him and the undertone of pride and acknowledgement of the crews' actions.
"Well, captain, we're getting there. I hope you like what you find when you come home." He thought. Then his eyes narrowed as he thought glumly, "If you come home."

By the vividness of the light up ahead, both Jean-Luc and Beverly knew alien beings awaited them. Three individuals stood patiently, each offering a small bow as the conscience, having checked his screen, introduced each by title.
One was his adviser and the other two were healers. Jean-Luc's brother turned to his staff and said quietly, "We wish to have some private time with my children. Once we are finished, Doctor Crusher may enter with the healers." Turning to his adviser, the conscience said respectfully, "Trusted one, I place my brother's one under your keeping. See to it she has everything she needs."
Not waiting for any acknowledgement or expecting any, the conscience waited until Jean-Luc followed his lead by removing his shoes. Then, on stockinged feet the two men entered the suite of rooms alone.
On seeing their father the children smiled and gathered silently around him, ignoring Jean-Luc. At first the captain thought that most odd, then he realised they were all trying to read the text on the sleeve screen. Peeking over two sets of shoulders, Jean-Luc read,
"My dear ones, the man accompanying me is my brother...my identical human twin brother."
They turned as one, their remarkable eyes studying Jean-Luc in minute detail. As he watched, Jean-Luc noticed their fingers twitching ineffectively as they attempted to communicate by gesture. The female lifted both her hands and touched Jean-Luc's face with such breathtaking delicacy he almost gasped at the implied intimacy. His eyes met those of his brother's and he knew. The children wanted to know him. Certain to make no sound whatsoever, Jean-Luc slowly seated himself on the floor and held his arms wide. It wasn't an invitation for an embrace, but permission for the children to do whatever it was they needed to do, not only to familiarise themselves with this being who so closely resembled their father, but to establish themselves with him, to mark him as theirs, much like many species took possession of related kin.
In the preternatural silence each child in turn imprinted Jean-Luc into their psyche. Touch, smell even taste were used and at its end, Jean-Luc was certain he'd never before experienced anything so personal or profound that wasn't sexual. It was a type of intimacy he never knew existed.
At a subtle gesture from his brother, Jean-Luc rose to his feet and smiled at the children, now seeing in their eyes a connection that had not existed before. They left and a very introspective Jean-Luc smiled distractedly as Beverly remarked, "They're astonishing, aren't they."
"Yes," he replied, trying and failing to find words adequate to describe his experience. As Beverly was ushered inside, the conscience gently took Jean-Luc's elbow and encouraged him a short distance down the corridor. At an opening door, the two went inside and sat together on a sofa-like piece of furniture. The windows in this room were much smaller and somehow their lack of size only seemed to accentuate the bleakness of the truncated view of outside.
Thoughts were streaming through Jean-Luc's head but his brother seemed to be aware of this and waited patiently while Jean-Luc sorted through his tumult. Eventually the captain leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and bowing his head.
"I thought I had it all worked out. I thought it was cut-and-dried." He sighed and seemed disgusted with himself. "I was so damned sure!" Turning his head, he regarded his twin. "But it's not, is it. Nowhere near it."
He rose abruptly and began to stalk around the room, watched implacably by his silent brother.
"All right, let's see if I can work this out. I have the Prime Directive to contend with. That compels me to protect even rescue you from this..." he waved his hand to encompass everything around him. "because you were conceived on Earth and are therefore a Federation citizen and come under my purview as a Starfleet captain. Fine. But not fine, because not only do you not wish to be rescued, there's no need, you're not here under any duress, you're here by your own choice. Again, fine...but not so. Your people have been...sourcing...the 'conscience' for millennia, in fact long before the existence of the Federation and a concerted effort has been made to eliminate any stress on the donor parent, so I have to ask myself, is it wrong? Considering the chosen individual is never lied to, that he knows from his earliest memories that he's been chosen to fulfil a particular task...and a vitally important one at that...thus providing him with satisfaction, value and an integral position within his society, haven't his people done their best for him?"
Coming to the small windows, Jean-Luc leaned his backside against them and folded his arms across his chest. "Fine. Yet not, because it seems the system has a basic and fundamental flaw. These chosen individuals, in an effort to maintain psychological stability and the more primal need to procreate, have been permitted to reproduce. No problem there, or is there? Because of the unique interdependence between the native species and the artificial star, no hybrid offspring can be allowed to breed, at least not with the indigenous population, to do so would be to wipe out the parent species and, as it's so recently been pointed out to me, doesn't every species have a right to protect itself from annihilation? Even when the danger itself has come about by their own hands?"
Jean-Luc speared his brother with an intensely measuring look and clenched his jaw, trying to keep his rising anger at bay. "How could you do it? How could you and your one decide to reproduce when you knew any children you had would be forbidden to do the same?"
Returning his gaze with equanimity, the conscience said quietly, "What is the accusation here, Jean-Luc? Are you speaking as the conflicted Starfleet captain, whose sworn duty is to uphold his oath? Or is it Jean-Luc Picard, explorer, a man known for his non-judgement of alien cultures? Or is it something much, much more personal? Am I hearing an outraged and jealous Jean-Luc Picard, who, through seemingly no fault of his own, cannot reproduce and until recently, believed himself to be the last of his 'line' and cannot or will not accept his newly found relatives are also unable to carry on his lineage?" Rising to his feet, the conscience went to his brother and invaded his personal space. "Oh!" he snapped his fingers. "Let's not forget self-righteous Jean-Luc! The one who does after all, possess a highly prejudiced view, willing to put the blame for the situation as you call it, squarely upon those who developed the process by which we find ourselves in conflict over, conveniently ignoring the fact that no one, not the conscience, his one or their children went into this with their eyes closed!"
Stepping closer still, the conscience fisted his hands in Jean-Luc's tunic. "You have already admitted your hypocrisy and arrogance. Now I think it time you owned up to ignorance as well."
Two sets of identical eyes bored into each other until Jean-Luc said with deadly quiet, "Take your hands off me."
At first nothing happened, then the conscience let Jean-Luc's top go, but he didn't pull back. Instead he moved so close the tips of their noses touched. Equally quietly he said, "Don't you ever dare to accuse me of not caring for or about my children, brother. You and your precious Federation are so puny, so infantile I doubt you have the true capacity to understand the full complexity of what and who my people are. If any species is worth preserving, Jean-Luc, it is my people, not yours."
Jean-Luc assumed his brother would immediately leave the room, perhaps even detaining him again, but that wasn't the case. The man went back to the sofa and sat heavily, as if the weight of Atlas was upon his shoulders. Sensing the confrontation was not yet over, Jean-Luc joined him, sitting apart with his eyes directed at his clasped hands.
"Your anger is justified, just as your accusations of my hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance are, but there's more, isn't there."
"Yes." Sighed the conscience, his right hand hefting his braid.
"Tell me." Jean-Luc said those words with as much calm courage as he could muster and yet he was as frightened as he'd ever been at any time in his life. Something was about to be said, something not only personally devastating, but was at the heart of his greatest but as yet unrecognised fear.
Eyes filled with sorrow and compassion fell on Jean-Luc which only increased his terror. Somehow hearing a voice identical to his own, instead of comforting him, only seemed to isolate him.
"You speak of hybrids, Jean-Luc. Do you know the true meaning of the word?"
Concentrating fiercely on just answering the question, Jean-Luc said softy, "A mixture...a blending of two or more genetic samples to create a new sub-species."
Nodding thoughtfully, the conscience said gently, "Have you ever thought of the word as used to express circuitry?"
"Circuitry? No."
"Ah. Let me put it this way then. Consider organic and inorganic hybridism. What one term could you find to correctly describe such a phenomena?"
Jean-Luc frowned deeply, unable to shake the feeling of impending doom. When the answer came to him his stomach heaved and he pitched forward out of his seat and onto his knees. Gasping and clutching at his spasming stomach, Jean-Luc moaned, "Borg!"
A strong arm went across Jean-Luc's shoulders and gripped him. "Yes." Said the soft voice. "Borg. We knew as soon as you set foot on this planet that you are a hybrid, Jean-Luc. A Borg/human hybrid. So you see, your protestations on behalf of my children carry little weight. Your own genetics have made it impossible for you to reproduce...in defence of your own species. To protect it from the unspeakable reality that is the Borg."
The conscience rose slowly, assisting Jean-Luc first to his feet, then to regain his seat. "Welcome to the club, Jean-Luc, membership is quite exclusive."

 

Beverly was actually grinning as she exited the room. One of the healers had given her the modified tricorder and she kept glancing at it, as if just by reassuring herself of its presence she could reaffirm her feeling of satisfaction.
On not seeing her husband or his brother outside, she wasn't surprised when the being she knew to be the adviser led her gently down the corridor to a closed door. It opened obediently and she strode in, the triumphant grin on her face making her eyes dance. The adviser hung back and the conscience, who she belatedly realised had been physically supporting her husband, separated himself and stood, moving to the small windows. Yet faced with these seeming incongruities and unconnected events, Beverly still didn't sense the underlying tension and devastation that so heavily pervaded the room. She blithely stepped forward, saying happily, "I think I can do it, Jean-Luc! It'll take some tweaking and a bit of computerised skulduggery, but I'm well on the way to..."
Finally her brain recognised what her eyes had been seeing. Jean-Luc. Hunched and shaking, his mouth open as his breath came in gasps and worst of all, the tears that streamed down his haggard face.
Her feet carried her to him and in one fluid motion; one arm went around him in a protective embrace as her free hand deployed her tricorder. She never saw the subtle gesture that dismissed the adviser, leaving just the three of them in the room.
Studying the readout on the tricorder screen, Beverly shook her head. "Elevated respiration, heart rate, cortisol and adrenaline off the scale...classic high-level stress and psychological trauma!" She speared the conscience with a hot glare. "What's happened here?"
Jean-Luc's brother shrugged, offering a deep, sad sigh. "A crisis of faith? Of identity? Either...or...?"
Refocusing on her husband, Beverly cupped his chin and lifted it. "Jean-Luc, what's happened?"
His eyes were haunted to such an extent that Beverly gasped. His one broken word was as devastating to her as it was for him.
"Borg."
Enfolding him completely within her embrace, Beverly hissed at the conscience, "What have you done?"
Pushing away from the wall, the man came to share the sofa. That his burden was huge was obvious. "Jean-Luc and I were having a discussion and he was taking great pains to describe his dilemma, his outrage at the situation as he saw it, particularly the part where my people, to preserve their very existence, prevent the children of the conscience from reproducing. You see, Beverly, he finds it very hard to reconcile himself to the knowledge that this necessity has come about only because of my people's reliance on the conscience. He sees it as an inequitable solution to a self inflicted problem and thus, manifestly unfair."
Rubbing his brow, the conscience couldn't keep the weariness and sorrow out of his voice.
"You see, Beverly, he won't...or can't...agree that my people are entitled to take whatever means available to them to maintain their existence."
Glancing between her bereft husband who was clinging to her desperately and his brother who seemed to be dispassionately discussing the matter as if it were the weather; Beverly shook her head, barking impatiently, "What about the Borg? What do they have to do with anything?"
"Yes..." sighed the conscience. "The Borg. That came up because of hybridism, Beverly. You see, for very similar reasons to my people's refusal to allow my children to reproduce, your husband's body has used its own hybridism to protect his species by preventing him from successfully breeding."
Now clearly confused, Beverly gaped. "What? What hybridism? What the hell are you talking about?"
Easing back slightly from Jean-Luc, she took his shoulders and said gently, "Jean-Luc...do you know what he's talking about?"
Slowly shaking his head, Jean-Luc's lower lip trembled. "No," he whispered. "All I know is that I'm a Borg/human hybrid."
Sending a fierce glare at the conscience, Beverly snapped, "I don't know what the hell is going on here, but you have absolutely no right to..."
Holding up a hand to gain her silence, the conscience then held out his hand, obviously wanting Beverly's tricorder. She handed it over reluctantly.
He adjusted a few controls and returned it. Beverly gave it a suspicious glance then further attention as more and more information began to appear. While she read she half-listened.
"We've known from the moment Jean-Luc stepped foot on this world that he was a hybrid." The conscience said flatly.
Squinting, Beverly shook her head. "I don't understand. What am I seeing here?"
The snort was soft and sad. "That, doctor, is nanotechnology on a scale no Federation scientist has ever seen or should have seen for centuries yet. It exists at the sub-atomic level, at a level of infiltration beyond the cellular. You were aware of the...debris...left by the Borg assimilation Jean-Luc endured, but it was always thought to be either of no consequences or too difficult to remove, but as you can clearly see, what you knew about was so grossly obvious as to be almost prehistoric in function. Existing much, much deeper was the latent debris, deliberately dormant nanites, which had never deactivated. They sit there, Doctor, just waiting until the signal is given to reanimate. But the Borg are not the super-beings they think they are and sometimes they miss the patently obvious. In this case, the human body's capacity to defend itself...not as an individual, but as a species, because, Doctor, this kind of infiltration can be passed on. It's now in his genes."
Beverly's mind was racing to keep up. Her sudden conclusion made her softly sob. "The unsuccessful conceptions. It's his sperm, isn't it. The nanites, they're in his sperm."
Nodding sadly, the conscience sighed. "Yes." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ironic, isn't it? He railed against my people for the seeming cruelty of forbidding hybrids to breed with them in an effort to merely survive, while his own body is doing the exact same thing for precisely the same reason."
"He's not a hypocrite..." Beverly said with quiet defiance. "He didn't know...none of us did."
The twin smiled gently. "I know, nor is he arrogant or ignorant, just ill-informed."
The man stood and went to step past, but Beverly caught his sleeve. Looking up, she couldn't stop two tears from sliding down her face. "Can you help him?" She whispered.
Sighing, the conscience frowned. "I do not know."
"But surely, with your level of medical technology..."
"Yes, we possess the means, Doctor, but should we?"
He sat beside Beverly and laid a comforting hand on his brother's trembling shoulder. "You were summoned to perform a task and from what I've learned, it seems you are on the brink of success. Already too much has happened that was never intended. Should I compound all that with even more interference? Beverly..." he shook his head and rose to his feet. "This is so deeply disturbing. It is as if the conscience needs a damned conscience!"
He strode from the room leaving Beverly to console her shattered husband. She barely registered the entrance of the adviser. He stood in front of the couple impassively, waiting until his presence was noted.
Jean-Luc had begun to regain control of himself and straightened, offering a watery smile as he gently disengaged their hands. Beverly glanced up at the adviser to see him offering a small device. She took it and scowled as text appeared.
"No doubt you have many questions."
"No doubt." Sighed Beverly, but it was Jean-Luc who asked, "Your people and the Borg. How long? When was the first time?"
"Long ago, Captain, at a time when we still lived on our original world."
Jean-Luc rose on unsteady legs and moved to the windows, staring out, but seeing nothing. "They came." He said quietly.
"Yes, in great numbers."
"You successfully defended yourselves."
"Yes but that only made the Borg more determined to assimilate our obviously superior technology. Wave after wave of ships came and each was destroyed before they even got close to our home world. Eventually an impasse developed. We refused to resort to genocide and they refused to give up on their desire to assimilate us. Three months passed before they embarked on a new strategy."
"Nanotechnology." Just saying the word made Jean-Luc wish he could wash his mouth out.
"Yes. As the conscience explained, the level of nanotechnology available to the Borg was very impressive and they decided to try and effect an outcome through subtlety rather than their usual tried-and-true method of brute force. They sent, using a subspace carrier wave, pre-programmed nanites whose express purpose was to enter our genetic makeup at the subatomic level where they would lie dormant until such time as the Borg were ready to activate them. When that time came, what and who we had been would be absorbed into the collective."
Beverly had joined her husband at the windows, but knew instinctively to give him some distance. Yet still, she was intensely curious. "So what happened?"
"We quickly discovered what they had intended and stopped it, but we were left with the dilemma of what to do. The Borg are, as you well know; ultimately single minded both figuratively and literally. Once they become aware of a species whose technology they want, they are remorseless in their pursuit of that goal and it matters not how long it takes to acquire it. They may withdraw for centuries, but they never forget. Sooner or later they will return."
His hands hanging limply by his sides, Jean-Luc turned his head, a slight frown on his face. "But you must be aware of what has happened to the Borg?"
"Yes. In being reabsorbed by their creators, the Caeliar, they have found peace and no longer pose any threat."
"So?" Asked Jean-Luc curtly. "Why am I still considered a threat? And for that matter, what good would me as one individual, or any of my progeny be to the Borg? Even if they'd not been redeemed by the Caeliar I can't see how this...infection I and thus any progeny of mine had, had I been successful in reproducing, could be of any consequence to them."
"In creating Locutus of Borg, the Borg deviated from all known behaviours. To make one individual not only a liaison but a representative of a collection of worlds is pointless to the Borg. They do not negotiate, they take, they assimilate. We puzzled over this phenomenon for many months but it was not until we accessed our archives that we found the answer. Locutus of Borg was a ruse, Captain, something created to shift the focus while the real agenda was carried out."
His fingers momentarily still, the adviser motioned to the tricorder. To Beverly he said, "Using the parameters now inputted in that device, if you scan every survivor, each and every individual rescued from the Borg you will find within their bodies the nanites. It matters not that the Borg are no longer a threat, what they did at the time was to set the stage as it were and by putting in place the means to assimilate the Federation, they furthered their long held desire for our technology."
Jean-Luc's face clouded with confusion and anger. "But how? So much time has passed, how does assimilating the Federation have anything even remotely to do with you and your people?"
When no text appeared, Beverly turned to her husband and said softly, "Because they knew, Jean-Luc. They knew about your connection to the conscience."
Turning his focus back to the adviser, Jean-Luc asked, "Is this true?"
"Yes."
"So...what was it they were trying to achieve? Some kind of genetic blending?"
"That we cannot be certain of, for as the conscience has told you, the Borg, though super efficient and single minded, can, on occasion be blinded by their own perception of superiority and simply overlook things that would seem to be obvious."
"Like the human body's ability to defend itself." Said Beverly sadly. "My God, what they've set in motion...can it be stopped?"
"We are not at all sure it needs to be. With the Borg themselves once again part of their creators' kind, anything they have put in place is actually redundant. They pose no more threat. I do feel, however, that I should point out that although assimilating you, Captain, could be seen as a purely strategic ploy given your extensive knowledge of Starfleet, the Federation council and any likely defences they could muster, once they saw the propensity for a greater attack, one that would encompass so much more than just the assimilation of the Federation, then what they did can be seen in a completely different light. Just as we've long known about the Borg, they have long known about us, including our decision to have an outsider to act as our conscience, but it was not until they made an overtly aggressive move against us and discovered their inability to affect us in any way, that they decided to bide their time. Discovering the link between the individual they had chosen to act as interlocutor and our conscience must have seemed very serendipitous indeed. That they were so well placed to take advantage of it goes without saying."
Dragging his eyes from the screen, Jean-Luc shook his head. "All right, as far-fetched as all this seems, what can you tell me about this infiltration of my body? Why can't we achieve a successful conception?"
"The nanites are self-replicating, they have to be. Given the Borg put no timeframe on their plans it stands to reason that over time, the amount of nanites within the body would decrease with each generation unless they replenished themselves. So, using the body's own biological building blocks, they kept a certain sustainable level within the atomic structure of the body."
"Okay, we get that, but why did the gametes fail?" Said a frustrated Beverly, all the past months of failure and depression bubbling up to the surface.
"I take it the cell division ceased at the sixth division?"
"Yes."
"Then that clearly shows the inherent flaw in the Borg's plans. It was not the cell division on its own that caused the failure, Doctor; it was the inability of the nanites to compensate. The Borg did not take into account a gamete comprises genetic input from at least two individuals. The nanites were programmed to replicate based on the biology of the host. Not only were they unable to adapt to your genetic input, Doctor, but they had no way to assimilate the new, unique being that was under the process of development."
"So they shut down." Sighed Beverly.
"No, Doctor, they did more than simply shut down, they self-terminated. To the Borg there are only two states of being. Functioning or non-functioning. As soon as the nanites were unable to assimilate or adapt they were of no further use. They became redundant. Even a dormant state was useless as they had no biological blueprint of the new being on which to base themselves."
Folding his arms across his chest, Jean-Luc turned at stared out into the dimness. His voice was soft, but there was a definite trace of anger when he said, "Don't postulate, don't philosophise, just give me an honest answer. Can you rid me of my...infestation? Can you give me back my humanity?"
With their eyes glued to the screen, the silence of the room became oppressive. When no text appeared, Jean-Luc barked, "Well?"
The light blue words slowly tracked across the screen.
"I am not sure how to answer your question, Captain. It requires so much more than a simple yes or no."
Running her fingers through her hair, Beverly said in exasperation, "But you have the technology!"
"Yes we do."
"Then why? Why do you hesitate? Can't you see that what's happened here is through no fault of Captain Picard? He is an innocent victim and you have the ability to redress a terrible wrong that has been done to him!"
"And possibly thousands of others, Doctor, spread across the Federation, many from worlds who don't even know we exist! This is about so much more than one man, Doctor. You know we wish our privacy, that we do not want to interact with others, but if we consent to help Captain Picard, are we not duty bound to help all those in a similar situation? And they too are just as innocent, Doctor."
"Yes!" Snapped Beverly. "Because you had the chance to rid everyone of the fucking Borg centuries ago and you didn't! The blame for this can be put squarely at your damned feet!"
"Beverly..." Jean-Luc's voice was soft. The red head scowled and folded her arms defensively across her chest.
"It all comes back to the same thing, doesn't it?" Said Jean-Luc wearily. "Self-preservation. I want to preserve my humanity; you want to preserve your way of life. Is there no middle ground?"
"Now that you are well on the way to curing the conscience's children, your time here is drawing to a close. Somehow, once you leave us, we have to find a way to distance ourselves from your superiors, those who would wish to open a 'dialogue' between our peoples. This cannot happen. Not only must we protect our very existence, but, as you pointed out, Captain, our way of life. I do not know how this will occur, all I do know is that it must, but as was always the case, how that is done is up to the conscience to decide. In the interim, stay here while Doctor Crusher works and spend time with your brother. Our people have always felt time spent with family is precious."
The adviser left the room and in the lower light level, Jean-Luc sat and scrubbed his face with his hands. After an uncomfortable silence he said softly, "You can't blame them, Beverly, not without painting me with the same brush. I had a chance to rid us of the Borg too, remember, and I was made to see how wrong that decision was."
Turning her head, Beverly studied her husband. "Do you regret your decision, Jean-Luc?"
He summoned a smile. "You know I don't, Beverly. Doing what we did with Hugh was the right thing...the moral thing to do. But by the same token, I do feel your frustration. It never ceases to amaze me how some things can appear, on the surface at least, to be so simple and yet be so damned convoluted."
More silence followed but it wasn't so tense. Holding out his hand, Jean-Luc silently asked for the tricorder. He sat for a while, staring coldly at the microscopic nanites, tiny machines he knew were at that very moment inhabiting the very atoms of his body.
Answering the visceral need to extract some kind of revenge for what had been done to him, and truth-be-told, attempting to thwart his long time nemesis, even though they no longer posed any sort of threat, Jean-Luc said idly, "Beverly, my brother told us that our medical community has never seen anything like this." He held up the tricorder. "But now we know what to look for, is it possible we could develop a way to rid the body of the nanites ourselves?"
Shrugging, Beverly pulled her hair back off her shoulders. "Well, I guess it's possible, I mean necessity is the mother of invention and if history's shown us anything it's that technology tends to make quantum leaps forward when needed, but that..." She pointed with her chin. "Jean-Luc we weren't supposed to come to that level of technology for a very long time yet. It would be like a cave man blundering about in the dark with nothing but a flaming stick inside a nuclear reactor. God knows what mischief he could get into. And that's not accounting for the more...opportunistic scientists who might like to dabble in things they don't actually understand." She sighed, glaring at the screen as it reflected its light on Jean-Luc's face. "The propensity for disaster, the sheer scope of catastrophe that represents..."
"Yes," Sighed Jean-Luc, "but also the benefits, Beverly. I don't have to remind you that for every bad intention this may represent; so does the almost limitless capacity to do good with it. The adviser described the Borg as being redeemed by the Caeliar, maybe our medical community can redeem those of us who've been blighted?"
"Maybe."
Jean-Luc returned the tricorder to Beverly and smiled. "Tell me about the children."
"Gladly."

 

Geordi's low whistle caused the small gathering of his staff to train their eyes on the monitor.
"Oh, wow, would you look at that!" The dark man lifted his head, saying distractedly, "Computer, tell me you got all that?"
"Please specify."
Baring his teeth, Geordi growled softly. "Don't go all coy on me now; just verify you recorded the multi-discharge and that you have specific coordinates."
"I have. The duration of the recording is five-point-three seconds and the coordinates are..."
"Okay! Reroute the recording and the coordinates to the science station on the bridge."
He was at the lift doors before he remembered his stunned staff. Just as the car arrived he called out, "Analyse! I want every nanosecond pulled apart, dissected and reassembled. Get your heads together with the computer...I want answers!"
The chorus of "Yes, sir!" was lost as the lift doors closed. With the car ascending towards the bridge, Geordi tapped his comm. badge.
"LaForge to Riker."
"Riker here, Mr. LaForge."
"Commander, when this is over, you owe me a lobster dinner."
Geordi's face split into a grin on hearing the excited amusement in his CO's voice. "You're such a damned tease, LaForge! What've you got?"
"Oh, nothing much, just a five second recording of the multi-discharge and a set of specific coordinates."
The lift arrived on the bridge and the doors opened to show Will, his arms spread wide. "With lobster you get a kiss!"
Chuckling, the two men went to the science station where they watched the astonishing event.
"Jesus!" said Will reverently. "So what is it exactly?"
Geordi's reply was so soft; Will had to strain to hear it. "It's organic, Commander."
That made all traces of amusement and excitement vanish from Will's face to be replaced by a dark frown. "Organic? How?"
Sighing, the lieutenant commander ran a hand over his head. "I don't know, sir. My first guess was bioluminescence, but there's just no way a naturally occurring biochemical reaction like that could possibly generate the kinds of output we're seeing."
"So, what then?"
"Beats me."
Running his fingers through his beard, Will muttered almost to himself, "The computer?"
"Working on it, sir."
With a jerk of his head, Will invited Geordi to join him in the ready room. Once inside, the big man began to prowl the confines of Jean-Luc's office, using his hands to give form to his words.
"So we get a multi-discharge. I take it the cloud formed?"
"Yes."
"And it met with the main discharge from the mini-star to be absorbed by the dish."
"Uh huh."
"Have you compared this multi-discharge with the previous one?"
"That's being done as we speak, but I have to warn you, sir, we didn't get that good a look the first time, so any comparison isn't going to be all that clear-cut."
"Granted, but it's got to be better than nothing."
"Yes, sir."
"Okay, Geordi, keep on it, but get some rest will you? I happen to know you've worked three consecutive shifts. You've got competent staff and presumably the computer's on your side, you don't have to do it all yourself."
Offering a rueful smile and only just stifling a yawn, Geordi nodded. "Will do, Commander. Thank you, sir."
Both men had just exited the ready room when the computer's soft feminine voice came from overhead. "Analysis complete."
The pronouncement coincided with an excited call from engineering. "Banks to LaForge!"
"LaForge here, go ahead."
"Sir, I'm sending up the analysis. I don't think you're going to believe what you're going to see."
Rather than question the man, Will and Geordi returned to the aft science station. As the engineer brought up the relevant information on the monitor he said, "Computer, commentary."
"On making an exhaustive comparison between previous and latest recordings of the multi-discharges and extrapolating the data, it has become evident that there has been a five percent decrease in available energy sources at the given coordinates."
"Explain!" barked Will.
"Unable to comply. Insufficient data."
Geordi chewed the inside of his mouth. "Computer, have you identified the source of the multi-discharges? Are you still certain the energy is the same as that coming from the manufactured star?"
"The energy is identical, however some of the sources from the multi-discharges have decreased in strength and there has been an overall drop of five percent in total energy output."
"And it's still likely the energy itself is organic in nature as opposed to something like controlled nuclear fusion?"
"Yes."
Will scratched his brow so hard he left red marks. "Wait a minute, Geordi...let me get this straight. The computer's saying both energy sources are identical...yes?"
"Uh huh."
"But it just told us the energy is not from controlled nuclear fusion, but is organic in nature."
"Yes, sir."
"Well what's in the anomaly then? Didn't we determine at the very beginning it was a manufactured tiny G2V star? Built, controlled and directed?"
"So we thought."
"But not now?"
"No, sir. If the computer's right, whatever is in that anomaly is also on the surface and it's organic...and, Commander? It's way powerful!"
"Jesus!"
"Yes, sir. Jesus."
Will's stunned look gave way to a very familiar expression. Determination. Tapping his comm. badge, he called, "Transporter room three, this is the bridge. I'm sending you some coordinates. I want you to break through whatever the aliens have been using to hide behind and beam up whatever you can get a lock on."
"Aye, Commander."
Geordi scowled. "Are you sure that's a good idea, sir?"
Will shrugged. "I don't know, LaForge, but I'm tired of playing Mr. Nice Guy. It's time we gave a little shove."
"But with the captain and Beverly down on the surface..."
"I know, but we've just about reached the end of our rope. One way or another, I want answers. I want to be able to look the captain in the eye and tell him what the hell's going on. This little worm has turned and you know what? It's got fucking teeth!"
"Fair enough, Commander, it's your call. If it's all right with you, I'll be down in engineering. No doubt the transporter room is going to need help."
With a grim smile, Will said quietly, "I have it on good authority that desks make good beds."
Offering a wry shake of his head, Geordi waved the comment aside. "I'll get all the sleep I need once we're on our way home, sir."
Nodding, Will's smile was warm. "Thanks, Geordi."
"No problem, sir."
Directing his gaze at the planet, Will's eyes glittered. "I don't know what you're up to, but I intend to find out."

 

 

Once again sitting on the floor, this time with their backs against a blank wall, just underneath the small windows, Jean-Luc listened with growing fascination as Beverly continued explaining what she'd found out.
"...so you see their brains actually have two receptors from the divided auditory nerve. One I'm certain works in a conventional way, interpreting sounds carried through the structures of their inner ear and converted into an electric signal which the brain sorts out, but the other receptor is discrete, meaning that its function isn't quite so clear-cut. When I was still on the ship and I first saw this division of the nerve and the two separate receptor areas, our computer theorised the patients may hear in two very distinct ways. Now that could mean each receptor interpreting the sounds differently, or the sounds themselves are perceived differently."
"How?"
"Well, it could be that their main receptor interprets sounds just like ours, that is they hear just like you and I do, but the other receptor may pick up subsonic sound or...hear colours."
Turning his head, Jean-Luc's frown was a deep one. "Hear colours?"
"Uh huh. It's called synaesthesia. People who experience it describe hearing colour and tasting sound. It was extensively documented by a scientist called Richard Cytowic in the 1980s and the reason I suspect this ability has manifested itself in the children is because it usually requires (in a human brain) a second sensory input or cognitive pathway and that is exactly what I think the discrete receptor is."
Clearly impressed, Jean-Luc said breathlessly, "How astonishing! Imagine, Beverly...imagine what that must be like."
"Oh, I know, it's remarkable, isn't it? But when you take into account their present difficulties, what may seem like a blessing to you and me is a curse to them. It doesn't matter how the sound is perceived, Jean-Luc...if they hear it, it causes agony."
"So what can you do?"
By her smile, Jean-Luc knew she was both happy and confident. "I think, with a bit of sleight-of-hand and the assistance of one of their computers, I should be able to either temporarily 'turn off' the cognitive pathway or redirect the feed or both."
"Why temporarily? Why not permanently?"
"Because I don't think that's necessary. Jean-Luc, these children are unique in so many ways, I am loath to make any permanent changes if I don't have to. I still suspect, with a little help, this condition will eventually resolve itself. By 'turning off' the cognitive pathways and redirecting the feed I should be able to buy them the time they need to recover on their own. Besides, if you possessed such a remarkable and profoundly unique ability like synaesthesia would you want to lose it? How would you feel if, having had the ability all your life, you suddenly had it taken away from you?"
"I'd be devastated." Jean-Luc whispered.
"Me too. But, if I'm right and the Gods smile on me, then I don't see why my idea won't work."
Drawing his legs up, Jean-Luc rested his forearms on his knees and allowed his hands to dangle. Beverly noticed his gaze, although directed at his hands, was distant. She waited, knowing he would voice his thoughts when he was ready. The wait was a short one.
"So...you're going to need access to what...a surgery suite and one of their computers?"
"Presumably, although as we know, they don't practice medicine like we do. I'm only making my assumptions based on my knowledge and how I'd go about it. They may have something else in mind entirely."
"But...if you did get access to one of their computers...do you think they'd limit your access...your usage?
Beverly shrugged, pulling down the corners of her mouth. "I don't know, but given how paranoid they've been about playing their cards so bloody close to their chests, I'd have to say it's most likely there'd be some kind of restrictions in what I could either access or do. I mean I'll probably have one of their healers overseeing anything I do anyway."
When nothing further was said, Beverly asked quietly, "Why, Jean-Luc? What's on your mind?"
Still with his eyes fixed on his hands, Jean-Luc said softly, "I was just thinking how...helpful...it would be if you could access some information for me, that's all."
"Let me guess. You want me to see if I can find a way to rid you of the Borg nanites by accessing the information stored in their databanks."
"It would be an ideal opportunity."
"And totally unethical." It had been said softly, but the rebuke was clear. Both husband and wife sat in strained silence for a while before Jean-Luc sighed and shifted slightly.
"I'm sorry, Beverly. You're quite right; I cannot ask you to compromise your ethics over a personal matter."
Gently laying her hand on his forearm, Beverly tilted her head until their temples touched. "It's a little more that a 'personal matter', Jean-Luc. I know you, my love and I know what the knowledge of what you carry in your body must be doing to you, especially given the consequences and your feeling of having lost your humanity. I'm just so very sorry I can't help you."
Another lengthy silence dragged by until Jean-Luc said very softly, "What am I, Beverly?"
Sighing deeply, Beverly moved closer so that their sides met. "If you're referring to the grotesque description of you as a Borg/human hybrid, that's bullshit, Jean-Luc. That term was used in spite, deliberately meant to put you in an untenable situation. Your brother was point-scoring Jean-Luc and he used whatever he could to kick your feet out from under you. You know what a hybrid is, Jean-Luc. Do you think you're some kind of subspecies? A latent, undeveloped human/Borg...thing? That, Jean-Luc is utterly absurd and you know it!"
"Since the battle of Wolf 359 there have been those who..."
"Yes, I know and those individuals are bitter and misinformed. Look, grief does stupid things to people, Jean-Luc and as with most calamitous events there will be those who will always seek to find a scapegoat."
He seemed to be paying particular attention to his right thumbnail, picking at the cuticle doggedly. "Have you heard what some of those people have said about me?"
"Yes," hissed Beverly through her clenched teeth. "Yes, I've heard their vitriolic slurs, their vicious innuendoes and baseless accusations, but Jean-Luc, we've been through this! You know it's not true! Don't tell me I'm going to have to go over everything, point-by-point again?"
"No," he summoned a wan smile that didn't reach his eyes which were still fixed on his thumbnail. "But in the light of what we now know, perhaps some of the...slurs...weren't all that far off the mark. I mean if I've been altered at the atomic level by Borg technology I'm not exactly wholly human, am I. So I ask again...what am I, Beverly?"
"Okay, let's look at this from another angle. Do you make any distinction between Borg nanites and the nanites we regularly use or are you lumping all nanites together?"
"Why is that important?"
She almost rolled her eyes, but resisted the urge. "Because if you feel the same way about all nanites, then every Federation citizen walking around with our nanites inside them, happily doing the work they were programmed to do are not what they appear. Is that the case, Jean-Luc? A human patient undergoing treatment using nanites is no longer human?"
When he said nothing, Beverly softened her tone. "And you're forgetting something."
To his raised eyebrow, Beverly offered a tender smile. "Just as in the past you saved humanity from the Borg, your own body is helping to preserve your species by utilising its own defences. Face it, Jean-Luc, you're a fucking hero. Again."
He couldn't help it, the snort of disgruntled amusement burst out before he could stop it. Bumping her shoulder against his, Beverly said wryly, "Now stop wallowing in self-pity and help me up. I can't feel my bum any more and I want to get this show on the road."
With his usual grace, Jean-Luc rose to his feet and assisted Beverly to hers. He held her hands and looked deeply into her eyes.
"Merci beaucoup, Beverly. J'taime, mon coeur."
"You're welcome and I love you too, Jean-Luc. Never forget it."
"I won't." He smiled. "....you won't let me."
Beverly's smile was so filled with love; Jean-Luc's heart soared.

 

"Computer..." said Geordi wearily, "what if we..." Pinching the bridge of his nose, the dark engineer grimaced. "What's the use?" he muttered. "We're not going to be able to get through their damned shielding; I can't understand why he thinks we can! What does he think we are...miracle workers?"
Sonya Gomez sent her boss a sympathetic look and sidled over, joining him at the main console. The newly promoted Lt. directed her steady gaze at the calculations Geordi had been making and shook her head. "So, sonar's out?"
"Yeah." Sighed Geordi. "We know where to look; it's getting through the shield to lock onto an object to beam up that's so damned impossible."
As inappropriate and trite as it was, Sonya couldn't help but comment, "Things are only impossible until they're not."
Geordi's expression showed both his disgust and his growing irritation. "Oh that's just great! No shit, Sherlock."
Hearing her boss utter an expletive stunned the woman and she immediately felt sorry for being so fatuous. "I'm sorry, sir...I just..."
Letting a short breath out through his nose, Geordi waved the apology away. "Don't worry about it, Sonya...I'm just a bit on edge, that's all. This..." he nodded towards the console screen. "Is the stuff of my nightmares." He snorted softly. "Do you remember when Captain Montgomery Scott came aboard? We rescued him from a downed ship called the Jenolan. It'd crashed on the surface of a Dyson's Sphere."
The frown of concentration on the Lt.'s face cleared as she recalled the memory. "Oh, yes, sir, I remember him."
Folding his arms across his chest, Geordi softly grunted. "He told me the job of the chief engineer is to make the impossible possible and to do it in such a way as to not let your superiors know how you did it. And...to never give an accurate estimation of how long it would take."
"Why?"asked a clearly confused Sonya.
"Because..." grinned Geordi, "It preserved the mystique and went a long way to making you appear to be a miracle worker."
"...which you just said you're not."
"Exactly!" Shaking his head, Geordi grunted again. "Commander Riker has given me an order, one which I am duty bound to obey and I want to, I really do, but..." he waved his hand at the console. "How the hell am I supposed to figure out how to circumvent something I don't understand! Even the computer hasn't a clue. God, I wish..."
Sonya lowered her head and winced. "Do you think he could've done it?"
"Data can do anything. You give him enough time and he can..." Suddenly realising he was speaking in the present tense; Geordi flushed and shook his head. "Damn!" He muttered softly.
Embarrassed for her CO and feeling the echo of grief for their lost comrade, Sonya focused her full attention on the console screen in an effort to give her boss and friend some privacy to recover himself. It was while she was staring at the readouts that she said idly, more airing her thoughts than anything else, "Do you think it cycles?"
"What?" said a distracted Geordi.
Pointing with her chin, Sonya elaborated. "The alien shielding...if that's what it is. Do you think it cycles?"
Unfolding his arms, Geordi frowned. "Well if it was a conventional shield grid, then yeah, it'd cycle, but we're not seeing any grid of any kind. In fact we have absolutely no idea what powers it, so if you're thinking of some sort of generator which cycles through a standard nutation, then forget it."
Warming to her embryonic idea, Sonya's gaze became intense. "Only if the nutation is an oscillating one! What if, drawing on the raw power we already know they have, it waxes and wanes? We know about the absorption rates and we think we know the other number sets pertain to distribution...you said it yourself, that much raw energy would be damned hard to control...so wouldn't it be just as difficult to maintain a constant energy shield without some kind of fluctuation?"
His cybernetic eyes sharpening his gaze, Geordi straightened and snapped his fingers. "Oh, my God...you might be right! Computer, using a standard scan, sweep the coordinates of the multi-discharge and look for any disruption in the spectral field."
"Scanning."
The chief engineer and the Lt. kept their gaze locked until the computer said calmly, "Disruption detected."
"Yes!" They shouted in unison. Geordi moved quickly to another console and began to input commands as fast as he could. Over his shoulder he said, "Well done, Sonya. I'll be sure to let Commander Riker know this was your baby!"
Feeling immensely satisfied, the Lt. grinned. "Just as long as we don't go 'bang' the moment we beam anything up!"
Shaking his head, Geordi chuckled. "That's part of my job, Sonya. Carrying the can when things go... 'bang'."
Ten tense minutes later, Geordi, Will and Sonya were standing in transporter room three. Tucking in his chin and surreptitiously crossing his fingers, Will said quietly, "Energise."
In the familiar blue, sparkling column of light a vaguely humanoid shape began to appear, lying prone on the pad. Just as the gathered personnel realised the object was glowing, it abruptly vanished. At the exact same instant the red alert siren sounded and the ship was plunged into utter darkness. What followed was absolute mayhem.

 

At Jean-Luc's summons, the adviser returned and led them both out of the room. In the corridor, two more beings waited and Beverly was politely directed to go with them. It was explained that she was to meet with some healers to discuss her findings and any treatment she had in mind.
Jean-Luc was taken in the opposite direction with the advisor and wasn't at all surprised to find himself back in the long room. The advisor left, giving no explanation, so Jean-Luc distracted himself by going over to the clear wall and staring out into the wind-swept, frozen wastes. He hadn't been aware of it, but his senses had heightened by a small amount since he'd been on the planet and so he picked up the very subtle shift in the atmosphere of the room as the door silently opened.
Although the ambient temperature, like the lighting was constant, there were times when both changed. The glow of the aliens was one obvious cause for the change of light, but the temperature sometimes rose imperceptibly when the room's occupants were only human. The difference wasn't enough to make it comfortable; Jean-Luc still found it too cool for his liking, but the change was there, nonetheless.
He didn't turn or acknowledge his brother in any way. His twin came to Jean-Luc's side and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him just as preoccupied with the bleak view as Jean-Luc seemed to be. Eventually the conscience said softly, "Quand j′ètais jeune, j′ai charchè un reconfort lá-bas."
Nodding thoughtfully, Jean-Luc replied, "I too sought solace in places like that in my younger days."
His eyebrows rising, the twin asked with growing interest, "Vous avez vècu dans une terre gelèe? La France est la glace?"
Smiling, Jean-Luc shook his head. "No, France isn't a frozen land, it's not all ice. I meant that I sought solitude, that the places I went in my youth were very…quiet and in that quietude I found solace." He turned to see his brother and their eyes met. Jean-Luc had a small smile on his face, one that in the recent past might have provoked the man into feeling offended, but now made him simply curious.
"What is it you find amusing, Jean-Luc?"
The smile grew. "Actually it's interesting that you've asked me that in standard. It's your French that's caused my reaction."
His eyes narrowed, but the conscience gave his brother the benefit of the doubt. "Really. In what way?" An innocent enough question, but asked with a tiny hint of warning. Jean-Luc heard it and held up his hand.
"I mean no offence; indeed your French is perfect. That's what's affected me. It's pure and unaccented."
Clearly not understanding, the conscience frowned and tilted his head. Jean-Luc's smile returned and his eyes twinkled. "Have you noticed the difference in the way Beverly and I pronounce our words? We're both speaking standard, and the words are the same, but they sound different."
Shrugging, the twin pulled down the corners of his mouth. "I have heard some differences but I thought it was because you were different genders."
"Ah. No, that's not the case. Remember our earlier discussion about countries? How each country has its own history and sometimes race? And how it's very common for different countries to have their own, very distinct language?"
"Yes."
"Well, even in countries that use the same language, there are regional differences. Even within the country itself, there are regional influences on how the language is spoken…how the words are pronounced…even the way of adapting the language to reflect the local flavor. It can be as expressed as a dialect, which is a sort of sub-language in its own right or a simple case of accent. Some accents are slight, some very strong and to those who study these things, known as linguists; it can be easy to identify not only the country, but the region within the country that the speaker is from."
The conscience nodded, understanding, but not knowing how to apply the new knowledge to himself. "So, why does my lack of…accent…amuse you?"
"Now that is embarrassing." Jean-Luc said, offering a rueful smile. "It takes us back to humankind's persistence in hanging on to national identity. Many countries, if not all, are proud of their history, their contribution to Earth's history, especially now as Earth has taken its place in a much larger community, comprising of our interstellar neighbours. But going back…and not that far…one can find a time where this national pride, some called it patriotism, represented itself in some fairly parochial thinking and France in particular had some groups within its population who wished to 'preserve' the purity of all things French, including our language. You see for much of modern Earth's history, the English language was the dominant one, especially as it was the main language of commerce. This caused a great deal of discontent among those who resented the 'pollution' of their cultures and languages by the influence of English-speaking countries. And in France as far back as 1635, a body, calling itself l′Académie Française was formed with the express purpose of protecting the purity of the French language. And it exists still to this very day, although since the mid 20th century it has had no binding power, it was always the official authority on the usage, vocabulary and grammar of French. With the saturation of English through the media and technology they tried to prevent what they referred to as the Anglicisation of the French language. Now I have never proscribed to their stance. I believe everything, including language evolves, in fact one of the best examples of this is English. From its earliest origins it has been adaptable, ultimately becoming a polyglot and it was for that reason it was chosen as the Federations' 'default' language, hence its name...Federation Standard.
"To hear you, not only speaking unadulterated French, but French with no regional influences is astounding! It has made me think about my mother tongue for the first time in many, many years. It's not a criticism, far from it, indeed I should thank you. Hearing, rather than reading my own language as it once was is somehow comforting. I know that must make little sense to you, but that is the only explanation I can give."
A companionable silence followed before a wry conscience remarked, "Perhaps I should inform the educators to reassess their sources. If their information is that out-of-date, maybe it's time they caught up."
The men shared a quiet chuckle but soon lapsed back into silence. When Jean-Luc spoke there was an edge of hurt and anger in his tone.
"Why did you seek to manipulate me with the knowledge you possess of what I carry within my body? Was it really necessary to demean me, to humiliate me so thoroughly? To so savagely wrench my perception of myself away? To rob me of my very humanity?"
The conscience bowed his head and sighed, his eyes closing in pain. "I am sorry, Jean-Luc. You had taken a stance I found reprehensible and hypocritical."
He lifted his head and stared out into the dimness, looking but not seeing. "Had this entire situation not affected my children, I would never have been so deliberately cruel, but I felt if I could not find a way to render your argument null-and-void, you would persist with some kind of misguided rescue of either me; my children or all of us and could not let that happen. By telling you about the micro nanite infiltration of your body, I had hoped, not to hurt you, Jean-Luc, but to put you in the same situation as my children. I fear my lack of understanding of human dynamics; human interactions caused me to be far more harsh…and tactless than I should have been. I know how devastating the news must have been for you, especially given that you now know it is the reason you cannot successfully reproduce but, Jean-Luc, if we were to change places, would you not do whatever you could, use whatever you had available to you to protect your children? Your people?"
Jean-Luc turned at the same time as his brother and they stared into each other's eyes. Jean-Luc understood, but the anger, the hurt lingered. The conscience saw this and sighed. "What would you have me do, Jean-Luc? You enjoy a position of authority and with that authority comes responsibility. Well, I too have authority and responsibility, but where your primary focus is your ship and the crew and the Federation's concerns, my prime focus, my only focus, my raison d'etre is my people! Not seven hundred, Jean-Luc, millions! If your stakes were that high, how far would you go? Would you consider the feelings of one individual? Even if that one person was your long-lost identical twin?"
"No," sighed Jean-Luc. "No, I wouldn't."
"Then do not judge me so harshly, Jean-Luc. I did what I did because I thought it expedient. What is the saying? Rien de personnel?"
"Nothing personal." Grimaced Jean-Luc. "Oh, yes, I understand. I suppose I should be experienced enough to not take it so personally, but I'm afraid my experiences with the Borg have left an indelible mark upon me, one I fear will never be erased, especially as I now know, at the very base components of my body I am still Borg."
"Jean-Luc…" sighed the conscience. "Despite my extremely poor choice of words, and my deliberate intent to shock and hurt you, surely you do not believe you are anything but fully human?"
The smile that appeared on Jean-Luc's face was cold. "That is something Doctor Crusher and my late ship's counselor spent a very long time trying convincing me of. Do you know what a locutory is?"
The twin frowned, tilting his head. "No…I do not think…"
"L'locutoire."
"Ah! Oui."
"When I was assimilated, it wasn't to make me a simple drone; no…the Borg had a much more sophisticated plan for me. I was assimilated in a very special way. Rather than becoming a drone, I became an entity known as 'Locutus of Borg.' The speaker for the Borg. Ostensibly my task was to be the liaison between the about-to-be assimilated Federation and the Borg. As it turned out, I now know it was a ruse, but my real purpose, or so I thought, was to become the 'consort' to the Borg queen. The Borg perpetuate themselves by assimilation, but there are circumstances where they reproduce sexually and normal drones, having had their sexual organs removed as a normal part of their assimilation and therefore useless for that function, a different kind of Borg was required. That, of course was me. The offspring are used in two ways. Some, very rare individuals, are destined to become new Borg queens, but most of the rest are destined for nothing but organ harvesting. There are some Borg, deemed more important that most, who to sustain their existence, that is prolong the 'life' of their organic parts by replacing failing organs with new ones. The unfortunate young, having donated the required organs are salvaged as drones, albeit with a much reduced 'lifespan' but mainly they are simply terminated and their organic remains reconstituted into bioorganic 'food' for the rest of the collective."
Jean-Luc grunted softly and shook his head. "Knowing what I do now, it's highly unlikely I would've had any success in impregnating the queen and the irony is…it would've been their own damned fault."
His laugh was bitter, sending a shard of guilt and pain into the conscience. He placed a gentle hand on his brother's shoulder. Feeling a deeply imbedded need to help he spoke without his customary consideration, something he'd not done since his youth.
"What if I told you my people could reverse what has been done?"
Jean-Luc's eyes sharpened. "You can remove the nanites? From the sub-atomic level?"
Taking a much needed deep breath, the conscience, having broached the subject without due thought, had no option but to continue. "I am not a healer, Jean-Luc, I cannot say how far our medical community can go, but even if the nanites cannot be removed, I feel sure they must be able to be rendered inactive, at least in such a way as to restore your fertility."
Rubbing his fingers over his lower lip, Jean-Luc's eyes darkened in thought. "At the moment I'm sterile. That is my body's way of protecting my species from what the Borg have done to me. What's to say any interference could only make matters worse?"
"In what way?"
"Think about it! If your healers get it wrong, who knows what may be produced! God…a human/Borg cyborg? Something grotesque? Something not…human?"
He glared at his shocked brother. "Un monster putain?"
The conscience gasped. "A fucking monster? Jean-Luc, you are not thinking correctly! Do you honestly believe that is possible? That our healers would allow that to happen? Why? Do you think we seek to punish you? Because it seems to me that you are doing that all by yourself."
Pushing his brother roughly, Jean-Luc poked the shocked man in the chest with a stiff finger.
"You…" he said vehemently, "were never assimilated! You never endured the physical agony! You never watched while your mind was raped, your body violated and then all that you were used to destroy and corrupt, all the while knowing that as well as being the harbinger of doom of your people, you were expected to breed with the chatte who made you!
"And you think you can make it all better by offering to make me fertile again! How dare you!"
Confused, the conscience grabbed Jean-Luc's fisted hands and gripped them tightly. Jean-Luc growled and tried to wrench his hands free, but his brother's grip was as strong as his own. They soon reached an impasse.
"Vas te faire encule!" Yelled Jean-Luc. "Lâchez-moi!"
"Fuck you too, Jean-Luc, but no! I will not let you go!"
The sobs seemed to come from so deep inside Jean-Luc that his entire body shook with their force. The conscience eased his grip and before his brother could escape, enfolded him in his arms, hugging him tightly. Jean-Luc grabbed fistfuls of his twin's tunic and held on for dear life while his inner storm raged.

Had the circumstances been different, Beverly would've liked nothing more than to spend hours poring over the astonishing array of computer assisted medical technology and the enormous banks of data available about not only the indigenous species, but the species of all those beings who had served as the conscience.
With the assistance of her two companions, Beverly accessed a three-dimensional image of each child's auditory system and the two separate receptor areas of the brains. Inputting the information from her tricorder and having both described and explained her suspicions about synaesthesia, the three healers set about formulating a course of action by which the 'feed', that is the auditory input to the discrete receptors of the children's brains could be temporarily disabled.
It had taken some time for Beverly to convince the healers that it all probability, should they be successful in shutting off the feed, that the condition would most likely then be able to resolve itself. Indeed, when she had suggested that the conscience himself had overcome his experience with the condition on his own, rather than because of anything the healers had done, they were both skeptical and somewhat offended, but, with her superior, although admittedly sketchy knowledge of the condition exceeding theirs, the healers eventually had to accede.
Beverly was very happy to find, once the healers accepted her diagnosis and her ideas for treatment, they showed nothing but dedicated focus and within a few hours a procedure had been decided on. To Beverly's amazement, there would be no surgery involved. Using a technique so advanced she found it too sophisticated to completely understand, she was shown how the treatment would be implemented. There would be no need for any anaesthesia or invasive surgery; the entire procedure would be conducted by a computer, overseen by an alien operator. The only difficulty was making sure the children were not exposed to any sound.
Having gained permission to be present, Beverly was taken, in the company of a fellow healer, to a non-descript room, light blue in colour and featureless except for a padded examination table with an overhead fixture of some sort. Entering an enclosed booth to one side, the walls of which were clear, Beverly watched as her colleague brought up all the relevant details of the children, including all the new information and images. The alien healer then activated a program and an awe-struck Beverly looked on as the screen in front of her displayed the entire procedure. She was so absorbed by what she was seeing she didn't notice when all four children were ushered in.
They must have been slightly sedated, as each was a little unsteady on their feet and their eyes were half-lidded. As Beverly watched, her companion gently tapped her shoulder, gesturing for her to look at the screen. There she read, "As you can see, all effort had been made to prevent the children from being exposed to any sound, but to assist in this matter, each child has been administered with a very mild sedative, but one that, although appears to have affected their motor skills, has actually dampened their auditory receptors. It is this deadening of their hearing, even though they are not using it that is causing some of the physical reactions you are seeing."
Before Beverly could ask how the procedures would be undertaken, given that all four of the children were present, her unasked question was answered when, as she watched, two healers gently encouraged one of the boys to lie on the table. The others were gently led to one side. They watched impassively as their brother settled and when a very bright blue light speared down from the fixture, Beverly momentarily lost her vision. She had turned away, screwing her eyes closed and placing both hands over her face but a gentle tap on her shoulder let her know she could once again open her eyes.
Blinking rapidly to help dispel the spotty after images of light, Beverly made out a cloud of pale blue light hovering over the child's head. It separated into two equal halves, each half going to the ears. Beverly couldn't stifle a gasp as the clouds of light disappeared inside the ears. It obviously caused no pain as the boy remained still and calm, his face showing nothing but acceptance.
His forehead began to glow, brighter than the rest of his naked body and a shaft of his own golden light rose to join, then mix with the downward beam of blue light coming from above. He seemed to sigh and his eyes drifted closed.
Although Beverly had already seen all of this in the simulation, seeing it in actuality was stunning, almost but not quite spiritual in nature. The room was so preternaturally silent, those taking part so reverent, it stirred in Beverly long-thought-gone feelings of almost supernatural awe. The very fact she'd never seen anything like it before only added to her utter astonishment.
Within a few minutes the procedure was over and the teenager assisted with gentle care from the table. He seemed even more unsteady on his feet, but other than that, none-the-worse for his experience. Each of the children touched him and Beverly wondered if it was to reassure, commiserate or merely to show love. Perhaps, she thought, a little of each.
The next child, another of the boys took his place on the table and the procedure repeated and still Beverly was just as awe-struck as she was the first time and she remained so with each subsequent treatment. Just over half an hour later, all four children were back in their padded, silent room.
As Beverly and her companion were about to leave the booth, she asked, "Would it be possible for me to have some kind of record of what has just been done? If not the technical notes, then perhaps a vid of some sort?"
Looking back at the screen, she frowned and let out a frustrated sigh as she read,
"I am sorry, Doctor Crusher, but that is not possible. You were only allowed to be in attendance because you have been instrumental in finding a way to help the conscience's children. That is reward enough."
"I do not seek any reward." Said Beverly tightly. "I asked merely from a medical standpoint."
"My apologies, Doctor, I misunderstood your motives. Again, what you ask I cannot provide. In fact, we are going to have to insist you never divulge to any being what you have seen here. I am aware we have no way to compel you to abide by our wishes, we can only hope that your personal integrity is such that you honour our wishes in this matter."
Both Beverly and the healer knew this was a reference, though veiled to her Hippocratic Oath. Beverly bridled, but said nothing, understanding the depth of feeling behind the being's need to remind her.
Having been allowed to look in on the now sleeping children, Beverly asked to be taken back to Jean-Luc. She felt growing unease when her request was refused.

 

With none of the automatic systems of the ship functioning, and in complete and utter darkness apart from the meager light of their palm beacons, Will and Geordi had had to make their way to the bridge through the Jefferies tubes. Sonya, at Geordi's request had embarked on a journey of her own back to engineering using the same method.
As the two men negotiated the last of the cramped tubes, Geordi grunted, saying sarcastically, "Well, at least they left life support and gravity on."
"Yeah," growled Will. "So nice of them! How magnanimous."
Geordi grunted softly.
"You know, Commander, I don't want to be the one to point out the obvious, but with this demonstration of their power, I can't help but think we've been…well…lucky."
That brought Will to a halt. Twisting his large frame within the tight confines of the tube, he shot a hot glare back at the engineer, some of his expression lost in the ever-present dark.
"Oh, really? And just what's so lucky about sitting in a ship which at the moment is as useful to us as a floating stem bolt?! Jesus, Geordi! We've just been castrated! I don't call that lucky!"
To lighten the mood a little, Geordi gave a soft chuckle. "Hey, I agree with you! This ship is my baby and anything done to her I take personally, but think about it, sir. All we did was sneak under their skirts and try to beam something up. Now that got an immediate and rather obvious reaction…but we're still here, aren't we? No cloud of space dust where the ship used to be."
The big man, now once again moving forward on all fours, grunted sourly. "Yeah, well just don't expect me to tug my forelock and ask forgiveness! They might be showing off and yeah, I get the message loud and clear, but this little show of might is wearing a little thin."
Having reached the last of the blast hatches, Will pressed a device onto the hatch and inputted a code. There was an audible click and hiss before the hatch parted a small distance. Using his hands, Will pried them all the way open and unfolded himself onto the dark bridge. The noise of his arrival caused one of the nervous crew to shine his beacon directly into Will's face, making him bark, "Do you have to?!"
The chagrined young officer immediately lowered the beam, saying with a stammer, "Sssorrry , Cccomandder."
Will sensed rather than saw Geordi exit behind him. Sweeping their beacons around, the exec soon ascertained no one was injured. "Right!" he said with as much authority and confidence as he could muster. "First things first. We need to get our key systems back on line. That means the comm. system, communications, shields and weapons. I want each of you to get a partner and start working on how to get access to those systems."
Turning, Will shone his beacon at Geordi's midriff. "Mr. LaForge, I want you to get to the computer core. See if there's been any damage done and if not, then find a way to boot it back up. I don't care how you do it, where you find power, if indeed there's any to find, but it seems to me that our alien friends have way too much access to our computer and I think that's how they've managed to pull our plug out. If you can find out how to put it back in, we just might be able to have a little tète â tète with our hosts."
"Okay, Commander, but like you said, power is going to be a little hard to come by."
"Portable generators?" Suggested Will.
Geordi shrugged. "I'll give it a try, sir, but it'd take a lot of generators to supply enough power for an entire system reboot of the computer core."
"Granted, but we might not need a complete reboot…just enough for our key systems."
"I'm on it, sir. Ah…" Will couldn't see it, but he knew his friend was grinning. "Permission to leave the bridge, Commander?"
"Get out of here, LaForge!" snarled Will good naturedly. With little else to do but offer his help where needed, Will squashed his anger and impatience and set to work.

 

The conscience held his brother until his trembling ceased and his breathing evened out. He felt Jean-Luc's hands release their hold of his tunic and a slight tension stiffen the man's body. Not sure, but feeling his brother needed some space, the conscience let him go and took a step back. Jean-Luc lifted his hands and scrubbed his face before sniffing and giving his nose a wipe with his sleeve. Throughout all of this he kept his head lowered and his eyes downcast.
"Are you feeling any better? Asked the conscience gently.
"Yes. "sighed Jean-Luc in a roughened voice. "I must apologise for such an appalling display. It was most…unseemly."
"Unseemly?" the conscience asked incredulously. "Jean-Luc, your reaction was understandable…I do not think it could be described as unseemly."
Dragging his bloodshot eyes up to meet his twin's concerned gaze, Jean-Luc tried to smile, but failed miserably. "Well whatever it was, I'm not happy about it, either me displaying it or you witnessing it."
"Je suis votre frère, Jean-Luc, votre frère jumeau."
This time he was more successful in summoning a genuine smile. "I know you're my twin brother, but somehow that makes it worse. If you were a complete stranger…"
The irony of his unfinished statement made both men frown. It was the conscience who said what they were both thinking.
"But we are complete strangers, are we not? Yes, we are twins, identical twin brothers, but we might as well be each a different species. We have some things in common other than our physical appearance…gestures, tastes perhaps and of course there is always Shalaft's! If not for that little genetic gift of our forebears, we would have never met. But as for anything else? We would need years, Jean-Luc. Years for me to learn all your history and years for you to learn mine. But we do not have years; we do not have weeks…at best we have days and I do not know how you feel about that, but I am left feeling…confused, discontented and bereft.
"I have never had reason to resent my people or my position. I was chosen and I serve. It is all I have ever known. But now? I suppose it could be equated to you being shown something you find intensely interesting and just when you think you are going to get to understand it, it is taken away from you. Of course I am speculating, simply voicing my own opinion, but surely you feel the same?"
"Yes," Jean-Luc said softly. "I feel exactly the same. I want to stay; I want to get to know you…and your family. I've told you about our older brother, Robert."
"Oui."
"Well, what I didn't tell you is that we didn't actually get along."
Seeing the frown of confusion on his twin's face, Jean-Luc sought to explain. "Look, I don't want to give you the wrong impression about Robert. He was a good man, no doubt. He was a good son, a good husband and a good father to his son, but he and I…we just didn't see eye to eye. I think he resented me from a very early age. But that's not to say he'd feel the same way about you, had you been there. You and I are physically the same and yes, we do share other traits, but that doesn't mean we have the same personality and it may have been my personality he didn't like."
Gesturing for Jean-Luc to move across the room to the clear wall, the conscience rubbed his fingers over his lower lip, obviously deep in thought.
"How did you not…see eye to eye? What does that mean?"
Jean-Luc's smile was rueful. "We disagreed a lot. We argued. Robert sided with our father about the continuation of our family's tradition in wine-making and when I made it known, from quite an early age, that my intention was to join Starfleet to live and work in space, they were appalled. Both Robert and our father did everything they could to dissuade me and when it became obvious I wouldn't be swayed, they became derisive and dismissive. Life was miserable for me for a very long time. I craved our father's approval and he wouldn't give it. And Robert? He went out of his way to bully and demean me. In short, my formative years were hell."
Sadness and shock warred for dominance on the conscience's face. "Was there no one? No one to comfort you?"
Jean-Luc's smile grew incredibly tender. His voice was soft when he said, "Our mother. She was so gentle, so supportive. If not for her unwavering and unstinting love, devotion and belief, I don't know that I would've succeeded in my dreams."
The conscience grunted softly. "My mother was also very supportive and so was my father." The man chuckled. "My father thought he was a comedian. He was always playing tricks on me and my siblings. Even when we were older and could see what he was up to, we never failed to laugh. To do otherwise would have hurt his feelings."
"Tell me more about your family." Said a now curious Jean-Luc.
"Oh, there really is not all that much to tell. I had a mother and father, two brothers and a sister…all older. My siblings had left the complex before I came of age and my parents soon after. I have not seen any of them since, although I know my parents now lie in the great floe."
Sadness made Jean-Luc sigh. "I know I have no right to judge, but that seems so cruel."
The conscience shrugged. "Perhaps, but in the beginning I was so busy I had little time to feel self pity and as I matured I found it wasn't family I needed, but quite the opposite. Solitude was what I craved. I found it…out there…on the ice."
He sighed and lifted one hand to place his splayed fingertips on the clear surface. "Out there I could think, I could let my mind wander in private thought, not thought devoted to my purpose or by the constraints of my position, but thoughts that were mine and mine alone. Sometimes…"
"Yes?" Jean-Luc prompted gently.
"Sometimes I would sit in a sheltered spot and look up at the stars. And every-now-and-then…not often, but sometimes I would wonder…"
"…if anyone like you was out there?"
"Yes." He whispered.
"Me too. Although I knew there were others…many, many others. But never, in all my dreams had I ever thought I had a twin, an identical twin brother. Once Robert and his son Rene died, I was alone. Maman and father had been gone a long time and I had finally reconciled with Robert, but before we could take advantage of our newly found friendship he was gone too."
"And now?"
"And now I find not only am I not alone…but I have a new family!"
"And perhaps the ability to have one of your own?"
"Perhaps."
"You will let us try?"
The two men looked deeply into each other's eyes and Jean-Luc sighed. "I don't mind admitting I'm frightened, but yes, I am willing to allow your healers to try."
"I am glad, Jean-Luc. Now, I think it time you met my one. I happen to know she is intensely curious about you. Although…"
By his twinkling eyes Jean-Luc knew he was amused. "I think she is actually more interested to see a version of me without this."
He reached behind him to lift his heavy braid. Jean-Luc chuckled and shook his head. "Yes, well I must say it makes a difference."
"Indeed."
As they walked from the room, their chuckles hung in the cool air long after they'd gone.

 

Beverly was unaware how, but the adviser had been summoned and appeared in the sparsely furnished room in which she'd been waiting. Unlike her husband, she'd not been detained, but on finding she was able to exit the room hadn't exactly helped as she had no idea where to go. She had the impression the complex was a large one and though she suspected Jean-Luc and his brother would be in the large room with the clear wall, not only didn't she know where it was, she didn't know how to get there if she did.
So she bided her time, worrying and fretting, but feeling there was a purpose to being…isolated…from both her husband and his brother and to be honest, she recognised they needed time alone.
As their mission was now almost completed, their imminent departure meant that unless Jean-Luc was going to try to remove his brother and his children from the planet, their time together was soon to come to an end…prematurely. How, she wondered, do two people so inextricably linked, bound by their very identical genetics, reconcile the fact that having only just met, now must part, in all probability never to see each other again? It was a tragic and heartrending situation; one that she knew would wound her husband deeply, especially when the knowledge of what he carries in his body is taken into account. She sighed and was pinching the bridge of her nose in deep thought when the adviser came in. He carried two eye shields and Beverly frowned, wondering why that was so.
Gesturing to her new tricorder, in its holster on her hip, Beverly took it and guided her eyes to its screen.
"The conscience wishes for you and his brother to meet his one. Please accompany me."
The journey was a surprisingly long one, making Beverly realise she'd underestimated the size of the complex. Where she'd thought it large, it now seemed to be huge.
Rounding a gentle bend in a tastefully coloured corridor, Beverly's face split into a grin of delight because before her was her Jean-Luc, who she could plainly see was not only calm, but exhibiting anticipation and gentle happiness on his face.
The conscience, who had an eye shield in his hand, smiled widely and gestured to the eye shields his adviser carried. "I must ask you put those on…both of you. My peoples' essence glows in direct response to strong emotion or deep thought. My one is excited to meet you…" his smile became a grin. "I believe the term is she will…'Shine like a beacon.'"
Jean-Luc smiled with understanding and Beverly chuckled. They put the eye shields on, then felt the conscience take a hand of each and lead them into a room.
They came to a halt and the conscience said gently, "My beloved one, this is my brother, Jean-Luc Picard." He lifted the hand he held and the captain smiled as his face was touched very softly. He then heard his brother say "And this is his one…his wife, Beverly Crusher." Repeating his action, he lifted their joined hands and Beverly smiled as she felt the ethereal touch to her face. There was a small silence, which the husband and wife presumed was to allow the vivid glow to diminish. That proved correct because the conscience said quietly, "Although you will find it a little uncomfortable, please remove your eye shields now. The glow will fade."
Even though they'd been warned, both Jean-Luc and Beverly screwed their eyes to mere silts and even then their eyes produced tears. But, true to the conscience's word, the glow rapidly faded until it was tolerable and what they'd become accustomed to.
The female was the same height as her one and although she wore a pastel green, unadorned top and cream trousers with matching soft, flat shoes, the light emanating from her hands, neck and head were enough for the humans to have to blink away the after effects of her bright glow.
Tenderly stroking her face, an obviously enamoured conscience smiled as he watched her delicate hands rise. No one's eyes but hers could see the movements of her fingers, but the conscience was ready to show the waiting couple his sleeve screen. But just as they moved closer together, the female stepped nearer, gently taking Jean-Luc's hand and encouraging him to one side. As Beverly read, "I am very happy to meet both of you, but, if I may, I wish to see my one's brother.", Jean-Luc watched intently as the alien being ran her hands lightly all over his body, as if she could detect the shape and musculature of him through his uniform.
At first he was disconcerted, it was such an intimate thing to do and it was done with such familiarity, he had to remind himself that to this being he was identical to her mate…her one, so it was natural to touch him in such a personal way. This exploration ended with her hands delicately encircling his head. Although he couldn't see her facial features, he somehow got the distinct impression she was smiling. With gentle urging he turned and he felt her run soft fingertips through the short bristles of his clipped light grey hair. He turned his head when he heard Beverly chuckle. Her gaze was on his brother's sleeve.
"She says there is less to play with."
Reddening slightly, Jean-Luc summoned an embarrassed smile. "Yes, well, I'm sure."
The conscience, on seeing his twin's discomfit, went to him and placed a placating hand on his shoulder. "You need not be embarrassed, Jean-Luc. My one is taking the opportunity to remind me that this…" He reached around behind him to grab his braid and bring it around to his front. "Sometimes gets in the way." He shot a wry grin at his one, then snorted. "Of course there are times when I do not braid my hair and then…" He grinned. "She gets lost!"
The humans all chucked and the conscience showed the screen with its rows of odd text scrolling across the surface.
"My one is laughing. At me."
With gentle urging, the female encouraged Jean-Luc back to Beverly where they stood close, basking in the open affection and obvious ease with which the conscience and his one had with each other. More text appeared as the female lifted her hands, but the words made the man frown. He almost dropped his arm, thereby hiding what she'd said, but Jean-Luc caught his brother's action and gently snagged his sleeve. Reluctantly the man allowed the couple to read.
"Are you going to take my one and my children from me?"
Beverly frowned and lowered her gaze to her feet, her eyes closing as she knew what pain that question was causing her husband. To his credit he kept his voice even as he answered.
"You are aware of my dilemma."
"Yes."
"I have not yet made up my mind, but I can tell you I am leaning towards not disturbing things as they are…provided I can gain some kind of assurance that the practice of…forgive me but there isn't a kinder word to describe it…stealing of undeveloped human children from Earth stops. Now that still leaves a very grey area, in that humans, no matter where they are conceived or born are still under the auspices of the Federation and therefore protected by Federation law, an argument could be made that if they were conceived and born outside the Federation, then perhaps cannot be made to comply with the law as it stands." He sighed and rubbed his brow. "I feel I should point out the law was never meant as a blanket coverage of all Federation species. Just as our charter is to peacefully explore it stands to reason that it would be inevitable that Federation citizens would eventually settle and reproduce outside of Federation space. The sticking point for me, at least, is the way in which the conscience is sought. Even if the mother was a human, living outside Federation space, I have a great deal of trouble accepting that taking a developing embryo, even though the mother would be unaware of its presence and she would have at least one other embryo, it's still not right."
The female bowed her head and was momentarily still. She then lifted her head and her hands. Jean-Luc read from the screen, "But can you say the mother or the children we…procure…suffer in any way? The conscience is loved and nurtured by the family chosen for him, they volunteer even though they know once he reaches the age of acceptance they must be banished from society. Is their sacrifice to be forgotten in your distaste of our ways…ways that predate your Federation?"
"I am aware," sighed Jean-Luc, "that to your people, the Federation, indeed all the worlds within the Federation must seem very arrogant, very naïve, and I have to admit that was exactly what I was when I first discovered the details of how things work here. And I freely admit our implied right to judge others is the height of hypocrisy, given our, and by that I mean humankinds' specifically, history of violence and intolerance, not only amongst ourselves, but yes, towards other world's peoples. It has taken us so long to reach this stage of our evolution…" He sighed again and grimaced. "We seem to have taken the moral high ground, conveniently forgetting other species' evolution…their very histories that are so much older than ours. Forgive me, we are still growing, but I can tell you that we can and do still learn. But I alone cannot change policy. Once this comes to the attention of my superiors I cannot say what will happen."
It was the conscience's tight, barely controlled, angry voice that made Beverly wince inwardly.
"And just what can they do about it?! Jean-Luc it matters not! The Federation can complain, protest, they can even try to prevent my people from doing what they have done for centuries, but you and I both know you are helpless to prevent it! There is absolutely nothing your people can do!"
Turning to his brother, Jean-Luc looked him in the eye, his gaze unwavering. "So are you saying your people would carry on with a practice they knew to be against the will of another species? That's not the impression I've gained of your people, brother. Who's doing the sabre rattling here? Your people or mine?"

"Sabre rattling, Jean-Luc?" said a mildly amused and derisive conscience. "Compared with the technology of my people, sabres are a fair equivalence of what your people have by comparison."
Beverly lifted her head and interjected quietly, "Why are we even discussing this? We all know that ultimately this is going to come down to Jean-Luc. He's either going to gain some kind of agreement with your people and leave it at that or, having reached no consensus; he'll have no option but to report the situation back to his superiors. What happens after that is in the lap of the Gods. Certainly it'll have nothing whatsoever to do with Jean-Luc."
She smiled sadly and gently took his hand, lifting it and laying their joined hands on her cheek. "Jean-Luc is Starfleet's most experienced and respected captain and his superiors will listen to him, but he is not a policy maker. He obeys orders, just like the rest of us. Piling your angst on him serves no useful purpose, but to make an already difficult situation worse."
The female raised her hands and the scowling conscience glanced down at the screen, his stern expression softening. "It would seem my one agrees with you, Beverly."
As more text appeared he offered the screen to the couple.
"You are a mother, Beverly?"
"Yes."
"Then I can see why you would see this differently."
A confused Beverly tilted her head and frowned. "I don't understand. What do you mean?"
"Well," the text read. "As a mother surely you would wish the best for your male children?"
Cautiously, not knowing where this was going, Beverly nodded. "Yes, but that would so for any child of mine, male or female."
"Of course, but if you knew that a male child of yours was serving a purpose as important, as vital as that of the conscience, would you not be happy?"
Growing increasingly unsettled, Beverly shook her head, saying tightly, "If my child grew to adulthood, with me, then if it was his or her decision to take the position as the conscience of your people, then provided it was their choice and an informed one, then yes, I would be happy. But to have one of my embryos taken without my knowledge…"
Text appeared and Beverly stopped talking to read. "But, doctor, you would not know! How can that upset you?"
Her blue eyes beginning to blaze, Beverly ground out, "You'd have to ask Jean-Luc that!"
Jean-Luc had lowered their hands and gently parted them. He looked into the glowing area where he felt the female's face was. "We seem to have reached an impasse. Until each of us can see this objectively I don't see the use in discussing it any further. All we're going to achieve is more anger and confusion."
The conscience looked at his brother frankly and nodded. "I agree, Jean-Luc. Nothing will be gained from further antagonism. In the end all each of us is doing is posturing."
He didn't even look at his one, so familiar with her he knew she was talking. His eyes drifted to the screen and he smiled. Before he told the couple what his one had said, he turned to her and ran the back of his hand down the side of her face. With his gaze fixed on her glowing head, he said softly,
"She apologises. She wishes you to know, Jean-Luc, and you, Beverly, that my brother and his one will always be welcome in our home."
The smiles were a little brittle, but at least they appeared. The conscience tilted his head in a very familiar gesture and addressed himself exclusively to his twin. "May I tell your wife, Jean-Luc?"
Knowing exactly to what he was referring; Jean-Luc gave a solemn nod, but said nothing. The conscience directed his attention to Beverly and said gravely, "Jean-Luc has agreed to allow our healers to attempt to…restore him."
Turning to her husband, Beverly said softly, with growing excitement, "Jean-Luc?"
He looked deeply into her eyes and offered a lopsided smile. "It's true. My brother thinks there's a good chance I can be made fertile again. It may be possible to completely remove the nanites, but if not, then render them inactive, thereby restoring my ability to produce children with you."
Beverly couldn't stop the tears of joy that welled in her eyes, nor did she even try. "Oh, Jean-Luc…" was all she could muster before she took him in her arms. He hugged her tightly, struggling to keep his own strong emotions under control.
Lifting her head only high enough to see the conscience, Beverly mouthed silently "Thank you."
He simply smiled and it was such an achingly familiar expression it made more tears flow.

 

Slow frustrating hours had passed on the dark, silent Enterprise, so that when power was abruptly restored, the sudden blaring of the red alert sirens and harsh, overly-bright light and the violent shuddering of the ship made everyone momentarily panic. On the Bridge it was only Will's curt, "Man your stations!" that quelled what may have become a full blown breakdown of SOP.
Swinging around, the big man barked, "Do we have communications?"
"Yes, sir!" Replied one officer. "We have intraship and broadcast available, Commander."
Nodding, Will was about to call engineering when the great ship shuddered even more violently, the lights and consoles flickering off and on.
The call from engineering was static filled and Geordi's voice clearly showed his immense agitation.
"Bridge! We're experiencing an enormous electromagnetic discharge all over our hull. It's playing havoc with our systems and I'm only holding things together with hope and sleight of hand!"
"What the hell is causing it, La Forge?!" Will shouted to be heard over the whooping sirens. Grimacing he snapped to no one in particular, "Turn that damned thing off!"
Just as the officer at tactical said apologetically, "I'm sorry, sir, I can't." Geordi responded. "I don't know Commander; the readings are off the scale. But I can tell you that if it doesn't stop…and soon, we're going to lose containment of the warp core. And those generators I used to power up the key systems? They're being fried one-by-one. We'll be back to where we started in a very short time, that's if we don't obliterate ourselves first!"
Blocking out the incessant racket going on around him, Will closed his eyes and thought hard. Eventually he could come up with only one suggestion, but the ramifications were grim.
"Geordi, the only thing I can think of that would produce an EM discharge of this intensity is if a ship is too close to us. Is it possible to scan?…not far, just maybe two hundred metres around the ship?"
"I'm with you, Commander, but if another ship is the cause, it'd have to be suicidally close to create this much EM discharge, but I'll see what I can coax out of our scanners before they crash."
Ignoring Geordi's reply, Will, his face set in a stony glower, said curtly, "Can we access the forward viewscreen?"
The response was hesitant; making Will struggle to curb his impatience. With the chaotic flickering off and on of the power and the by now ear-splitting wail of the sirens, coupled with the dreadful shuddering of the ship, everyone was becoming tense and irritable and very frightened.
"I…I think so, Commander, but I can't guarantee it'll stay on."
"Do it!" Growled Will.
Although everyone on the bridge had a job to do, it was natural that they all glanced at the viewscreen when it rolled, flickered momentarily, then activated to give a grainy picture. What they all saw caused a collective gasp and one anonymous voice to say in shocked vulgarity and fear,
"Oh fuck! What the fuck is that?"
Will didn't even hear the tremulous remark. His eyes were glued disbelievingly at the image before him. Overshooting the Enterprise was the stationary underside of what could be only the biggest ship Will had ever seen. And, although it was glowing brightly, it was so close, merely twenty metres or so above them, that the EM discharges were like swirling bright blue snakes, writhing sinuously, clearly demonstrating the most incredibly powerful raw energy.
When two vessels as intrinsically powerful as a starship came into close proximity to each other, the inherent naturally generated forces they exuded interact, combining the electrostatic, magnetostatic and electromagnetic fields. This interaction produces an infinite range of energy as the passive elements are drawn to the negative forces and creates current in an unending circuit. It is so powerful it has been estimated to be 1036, which is greater than Earth's gravitational field.
The expression of the gargantuan force is the manifestation of the EM discharges. The only thing preventing the immediate destruction of either ship was the fact that they were in space and therefore not connected to anything that could direct the circuit to 'earth'. In effect, both ships were enveloped within an electrical storm that, given time would render the Enterprise first drained of all power and thus unable to control or prevent the inevitable loss of containment of the warp core. But if the Enterprise was in danger, what of the other ship? It was that question which made Will yell, "Geordi, are you getting this?"
"Yes! Dear God, Commander, that thing above us is huge!"
"Tell me about it! Geordi, why are they still glowing?! Can you tell if the EM discharges are having the same…or any… effect on them?"
The din on the bridge was really getting on Will's nerves. He needed to think and now his crew was not only rattled by the strobing of the lights and consoles, but now they had to deal with the knowledge that a behemoth of a ship was hovering over them like some kind of raptor, so close it was literally sucking the life from their ship.
While the exec waited for Geordi's reply, the ship was plunged once again into utter darkness and in the abrupt silence, so complete everyone's ears rung loudly, a small female voice said,
"Oh, shit…what now?"
"Geordi?" Called Will, experimentally. When there was no reply, he raised his voice. "Bridge to La Forge!"
Nothing; just dead air. The deck beneath their feet began to glow and Will looked down, saying angrily, "What the hell?"
It was the officer at the con who said timidly, "Ah…Commander?" Will turned and was about to bark an admonishment when he saw what the crewman had called him for. Rather than scrolling, lines of text were tracing across the forward viewscreen, eventually appearing as the lines of text in a book. Stepping closer, Will read out loud.
"We hope this small demonstration of our capabilities will encourage you to cease dabbling in things that are not your concern. Our planet is our home and it is sacrosanct. Until such time as you have been either given permission or are invited to access anything about our world or its people you will respect our right to privacy. If this demonstration is not sufficient to dissuade you, a stronger display of our power can and will be initiated. We trust, indeed we hope this will not be necessary. Do you comply?"
Into the silent space of the bridge, eerily lit by the softly glowing deck, Will, squinting his eyes with both suspicion and humiliation, said tightly.
"Yes! We comply!"
The text on the screen vanished to be replaced by two words.
"Thank you."
The shuddering that had become a feature of the ship abruptly ceased and the lights and consoles activated at the standard settings. Gone was the overly bright lighting, the haphazard on-off of the systems, to all intents and purposes, the Enterprise was back on line. This was confirmed when a wary call came from engineering.
"Bridge? This is engineering. Is everything okay up there now?"
Taking a deep, calming breath, Will shook his head. "Yes, Geordi, we're no worse for wear."
"Commander, what the hell happened? One second we were a hairbreadth away from total annihilation…and then it was as if someone had thrown a switch!"
Snorting his frustration, Will sought refuge in the command chair. "We've just had our nose bloodied, Geordi and it was done by the biggest kid on the block." He half turned, craning his neck to catch the eyes of the officer at tactical. "I don't suppose our computer got a look at that thing?"
The officer frowned over his console and bared his teeth. "It got something, sir, but it's like an incomplete slide show. It could only process when the power was on, so all we've got is bits and pieces."
"Shit!" Muttered Will darkly. Louder he said, "Well that's better than nothing." Lifting his head he said, "Computer, begin analysis of the data you've just compiled."
"Any analysis done will be incomplete, Insufficient data."
"Just do what you can!" barked an annoyed commander. Under his breath he murmured,
"Jesus, what the hell is your job anyway?"
To the waiting Geordi he said in a slightly more convivial tone, "Any damage, La Forge?"
He heard the fatalistic and weary sigh. "Nothing we can't handle, Commander, but it's going to take a while to affect all the repairs. We've got blown ODN lines, ruptured conduits all over the damn ship."
"Well, Geordi, it's not like we're going anywhere soon anyway."
"I hear you, Commander."
"So…" asked Will cautiously. "Where's the other ship now?"
"I've got no idea, sir. It just appeared, did its thing and vanished."
"Hmm, just like their other ships. And what about the EM discharges? Do you think they were affected?"
"I doubt it, Commander. In fact I'd hazard a guess they initiated it knowing it wasn't going to trouble them at all."
"Damn! Okay, Geordi. Do what you can, we'll sit tight up here."
"Right, sir. La Forge out."
Sitting in the command chair, Will mulled over the experience, paying quite a bit of attention to the behavior of the crew. He wasn't happy with his conclusion. Rising, he said stiffly,
"Lt. Stevers, you have the bridge."
The startled young woman nodded jerkily, blurting, "Aye, sir!"
Will was on his way to his quarters. He could have called, but rather than ask after his daughter, he had an overwhelming need to see and hold her. And he wanted time to think about what he was going to do with the bridge crew. And the situation with the aliens.

 

The conscience, having given his one a surreptitious sign to leave, offered seats to his guests and while they settled, lifted his head and said softly, "Three henaz."
Just as a replicator would've done, the requested items shimmered into existence on the small table around which they all sat. But where a replicator such as the Enterprise couple were familiar with would have made a distinctive sound and taken a few seconds, whatever produced the three filled drinking vessels was silent, much faster and discreet. Looking around, neither Beverly or Jean-Luc could identify any apparatus or device, indeed, as Jean-Luc's curiosity gathered strength, his eyes inspected the room with greater intensity and he soon realised that apart from the sparse, but comfortable furniture and two moderately large windows on the far wall, there was nothing else. No light fittings, no ventilation grilles-and yet he could feel the gentle movement of the cool, circulating air- his curiosity deepened. Glancing at the windows he could see the light from inside only just penetrated the darkness outside and yet, within the room, in fact right throughout the complex, there was ample light, not bright, but adequate. So if there were no light fittings, where was the light coming from?
His perplexed look wasn't lost on his brother. With a small smile he said quietly, "It is the essence, Jean-Luc."
Turning to look at his brother, Jean-Luc's gaze was intense. "The essence?"
Before the twin could explain, Beverly placed a gentle hand on her husband's forearm and said softly, "Yes, Jean-Luc. The essence. That's what it's all about, that's what's at the very heart of these people. Their very core."
"What are you saying, Beverly? I don't understand."
She sighed sadly and tried to let him see she never meant to hurt him by not telling him everything she knew. "I have told you about the biochemical relationship these people have with their 'star'…the one they built."
"Yes." Said a now disturbed and wary Jean-Luc.
"Well, it's not just a star, tiny or otherwise. Not exactly."
His head swiveling between his wife and his brother, Jean-Luc settled his piercing gaze on his wife. "I think you'd better explain yourself, Beverly."
She was clearly uncomfortable. She shifted in her chair and her hands began to wring on her lap. Taking a deep breath, she swallowed and made a start. "Jean-Luc, this goes way beyond the Prime Directive, it goes way beyond the Hippocratic Oath. What I know about these people and their relationship with what's in the anomaly…Jean-Luc there is a sacrosanctity about what lies in there and I'm not at all sure I should speak about it, that I have the right to say anything about it."
His captain's mantle settling over him only made Beverly sadder. In an effort to make him understand, Beverly increased her grip of his arm and stared unwaveringly into his eyes. "Jean-Luc, you have to admit that sometimes there are things we just don't have the right to know."
She could see the conflict in his eyes. One part of him, the captain, was angered that an experienced officer under his command would deliberately choose to withhold what could prove to be vital information, but on the other hand, there was Jean-Luc, Beverly's husband, who did understand, but felt hurt because she didn't confide in him, especially as it involved his own twin brother. Before the situation between husband and wife, captain and subordinate could escalate, the conscience said gently, "It is all right, Beverly. I will tell him."
Jean-Luc, having given Beverly a long, measured look, turned his attention to his brother. The man's gentle smile settled some of Jean-Luc's inner turmoil.
"As Beverly has told you, my people are inextricably tied to what exists within the…anomaly…as you call it. Yes, at its very heart it is a manufactured forced nuclear reaction, a miniscule star, but, Jean-Luc…it is so much more." He turned and stared out into the darkness for a few long seconds before sighing and refocusing on his brother. "My people are a society that exists for and by itself. By that I mean that each and every individual not only lives their own lives, but does so keeping in mind society as a whole. Nothing is done, either as a group or as an individual without careful consideration as to the consequences for the entirety of our society. Now that may seem a little excessive. It may seem to you that the actions of one surely could have little or no effect on the whole, but that is not the case here.
"When the people first arrived here, on this barren, frozen world and the citizens began to fade and die, our scientists knew they had to come up with a solution…and quickly. They had the knowledge and the technology to create a small star, but not the ability to stabilise or maintain it. That required something quite extraordinary and if not for the inherent altruism of my people, there would be no society, indeed no people today."
He looked down at his hands, his expression one of deep introspection. Jean-Luc wondered if his brother was lamenting the fact he lacked the ability to communicate as his people did.
"What eventually took place was one of the most selfless acts any species could lay claim to. In order to stabilise the new star, and to assist in its integration within the cells of the people, eight thousand seven hundred and eighty people volunteered to sacrifice their lives so that their essence, what Beverly so clinically described as a biochemical reaction, could be fused into the fledgling star thereby forever linking the people to this new life-giving creation.
"And that sacrifice continues to this very day, Jean-Luc. What Beverly said is true, even after death, my people go on giving, providing for the others. This collective cooperation has been the cornerstone of this species' existence since recorded time and it was for that reason my people came to the conclusion that it was unconscionable to be governed by one or even a group of their own kind. They are so bound by the societal prerogative, the very thought of one of their own being in a position of power over the rest, was impossible. And so the concept of the conscience was born. But it never occurred to the ancestors that the chosen sentient being would object. To them then, and even now, the very thought that a sentient being wouldn't see what an important and vital task they'd been chosen for was logical and fulfilling a noble position just never entered their heads. Why would it? My people had, by-and-large, evolved on their own. They had no reason to think any other species wouldn't be of the same philosophy. It came as quite a shock when the first few consciences reacted so violently and vehemently to their abduction and installation.
"Over time, of course, things changed. More and more species became space travelers and inevitably, some, like the Borg, were overtly hostile, but my people were never in any danger, indeed behavior as they began to witness only made them more determined to stay hidden.
"But of course, having lived with the concept of the conscience for so long, as I've already told you, it is a system that is simple, elegant and efficient; my people are not going to change. They cannot! It would dismantle their society, a society so old and successful it makes your Federation seem child-like."
Jean-Luc absorbed all that and laid his forearms on the table, interlacing his fingers. He too stared at his hands.
"So if it's not a star, exactly, what is it?"
The conscience sighed, sat back and ran a hand over his bald pate. "I am not sure I can give you an accurate interpretation. It is organic…"
"Living?" Jean-Luc asked incredulously.
"In a way, yes. Just as the gamma radiation is incorporated into the cells of my people, so the essences of those who sacrificed themselves lives within the forced nuclear reaction."
"So…" Jean-Luc frowned as his mind wrestled with the astonishing concept. "So, every time the 'star' discharges, it's returning the energy back to the people."
The conscience offered a wide smile. "Yes! And within the star, the donated essence is self perpetuated simply by the nuclear reaction."
"An unending circuit!" Said Jean-Luc triumphantly. "My God, that's incredible!"
"Indeed. Not only did those long dead scientists find an answer to the problem of saving the people, they did it in such a way as to give their society, their people the means to live forever. My people are born, they live and they die in the natural way of all things, but as long as our system remains undisturbed, my people will not alter."
He waved his arm in a wide sweep. "Everything you see, Jean-Luc, not only the people, but everything, our buildings, our ships, our clothing and food, everything comes from the essence! Just before you were trying to work out how this room was lit. Yes?"
With an amused light in his eyes, Jean-Luc merely nodded.
"Can you not see, brother? Look again."
Sitting back and sliding his hands off the table to rest in his lap, a relaxed but alert Jean-Luc studied his surrounding with a new perspective. Instead of looking for that which was familiar to him, he tried to see as his brother did and when he finally made the connection between what he was seeing and what his brain was telling him he actually gasped.
"Dear God…the walls…the ceiling….it's all light!"
Smiling indulgently, the conscience folded his hands behind his head and sat back, very satisfied and willing to let Beverly take up the narrative.
"Is it all alive?" Jean-Luc spoke so reverently he almost whispered.
"No," said Beverly. "Not what we'd think of as alive, but everything carries the essence, so in effect there are living cells in everything. Nothing to enable sentience, but I can't say that what you see around you isn't as much a part of this species as their own physical selves."
"A symbiotic relationship."
Beverly screwed her face up. "No, it's way too complicated for that particular description, although it has elements of interdependency. Try to think of it more along the lines of metabolism."
That made Jean-Luc frown. "Metabolism?
"Uh huh. As a living entity, humans must ingest food. Then inside the body, that food is digested and the resulting fluids metabolised. Take way the food and there's no metabolism and the body begins to feed on itself until it can no longer sustain itself and it dies. Same thing at work here. The relationship between the essence and this species is as vital as food. The only difference is that where we have to source our food and have a constant ingestion to stay healthy, because this species has incorporated its essence in everything, the energy pulses from the 'star' are just top ups. Like your brother said, it's like a perpetual motion engine. It just goes on and on in an unending circuit."
"And the dead continue to provide for the living." Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head in wonder. He looked at his brother and smiled. "Your people are indeed unique."
"Yes, they are. But that does not solve our mutual problem."
Holding up his hand, Jean-Luc grew serious. "Would it be possible for me to meet with a group of representatives of your people?"
"Why?" Asked a confused conscience. "No group of my people have any power or status to arrive at any decisions. That is my task. I am the conscience."
"Yes, but you've told us that your peoples' society works together and that they're not going to abandon the concept of the conscience. Correct?"
"Yes."
"Well surely I can make my concerns known? If I can convince your people to desist in procuring the conscience from within Federation space I think the problem would be solved."
By the familiar tightening around the skin of his mouth and eyes, Beverly could see the conscience was annoyed. Speaking softly and enunciating slowly, he said,
"I have already told you, that decision will be mine! I speak for my people. I am the conscience!"
Growing increasingly annoyed himself, Jean-Luc said tightly, "You are being deliberately obstructive!"
"Vraiment, Jean-Luc? Eh bien je crois pour ma part vous êtes un pique arrogant!"
Although his expression didn't alter, Jean-Luc blinked in surprise. It had been a very long time since anyone had called him and arrogant prick in his native tongue.
"Be that as it may, it alters nothing. One way or another, brother, we have to find an equitable solution to this."
"Or what?" the twin said contemptuously.
Jean-Luc's smile was cold. "Oh, I know we can't stop you, we haven't a hope in hell, but are your people going to be happy when they discover that despite all their efforts to procure the conscience in such a way as to not distress the mother from whom the embryo was stolen, the cat is now out of the bag and we poor, plodding humans object. Yes. We object as pathetic as that might sound to you. Your expounding of your peoples' society? The selflessness? You're not unique in that. Humankind is reaching a similar stage and we're not going to sit idly by and allow your people to continue with this unspeakable theft of living, sentient beings!"
The tension in the room almost made the air crackle with charged energy. Beverly held up her hand and said quietly, "We seem to be back to square one. It's not just the star and the essence that's perpetually in motion."
There were several more long seconds of strain before Jean-Luc bowed his head, shook it and sighed. The conscience's glare faded and he too sighed and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his prominent nose. It was Jean-Luc who spoke first.
"I apologise, brother. It's a very emotive issue."
"Yes, it is. But I too, must apologise. I do see your point, Jean-Luc but I am torn. My first, my only priority is my people; just as yours is to your people. I do not see how we can reconcile our differences."
"Well," sighed Jean-Luc. "Somehow we must!"
The three humans sat in perplexed silence for some minutes before the conscience placed his large hands flat on the table and gave his brother a measuring look. "Are you ready, brother?"
Tilting his head slightly, Jean-Luc felt his artificial heart accelerate in response to the sudden flood of adrenaline in his body. "You mean...?"
"Oui. Il est temps."
As Jean-Luc slowly rose from the chair he reached for Beverly's hand. She looked at him, making the translation. "Yes. It is time." She summoned what she hoped was an encouraging smile but her heart too was racing.

 

 

Having told the pale and obviously shaken ensign who served as his baby sitter to take a break, Will laid back on the sofa with Charlotte awake and making squawks and crows, bringing an indulgent grin to her proud and loving father.
He held her around her chest and under her arms, lifting her until her little feet, clad in soft, cream coloured booties, just lightly brushed his stomach. He looked down at her feet, screwing up one side of his face and idly wondering if he really had the time to take off his uniform tunic and her booties to feel the sensation on his bare skin.
He had found feeling his daughter's skin on his very calming as if it was a connection, not only between him and Charlotte, but Deanna too. He sighed; remembering how beautiful his lover's skin had felt under his fingertips.
Looking up at his little girl he smiled tenderly and said softly, "You've got a lot to live up to my little one. Your mother was stunning, she could stop men in their tracks and either destroy them with a mere, withering glance, or make them helplessly melt with a lingering look. I know it worked on me. The moment I set eyes on her, I was a done deal!"
He lowered the baby until she was lying on his chest, her hands opening and closing reflectively while she snuffled around his neck, her legs pushing up and down. Tucking in his chin so he could place a tender kiss on the soft fontanelle, he said tenderly, "Your mother used to call me 'Imzadi'. It means 'beloved' in her native tongue. I have lost her, little Charlotte, but I have you. You are now my Imzadi. It's different of course, you're my daughter, not my life partner, but I love you no less. From now on, my sweet girl, you are Imzadi to me, now and always."
Being with his daughter had the effect of recharging Will. He lay with her for only a little while longer before summoning the Ensign back to his quarters. The young woman had managed to regain her composure and Will decided to give her some encouragement. He handed Charlotte to her and said,
"How long have you been aboard, Ensign?"
"Oh! Um…three months, Commander."
"Three months?" said an amused Will, barely hiding his grin. Slowly but surely his old self was emerging. "First posting?"
Growing a little less tense, the youngster nodded; a ghost of a smile evident. "Yes, sir."
"Well, Megan, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir."
"Well, Megan, that little contretemps we just had? Think of it as SOP. You're in space now and just as we're bound to do some really interesting stuff, sometimes it gets a little scary."
Almost mouth agape, she said incredulously, "Scary, Commander? I wouldn't call what we just went though, scary, sir, I was terrified out of my mind!"
Immediately alarmed, Will's geniality vanished to be replaced by a hard look. "Where was my daughter during the entire time?"
"In my arms, sir and both of us were under the table."
Taking a deep breath, Will let his rising tension abate. He even allowed a small smile to appear. "Well, that's probably not a bad idea." He sobered then. "Look, Megan, I can't guarantee it won't happen again, so when you're relieved, just let whoever takes your place know that your idea of holding Charlotte in your arms and sheltering under the table's fine by me."
Almost letting out an audible "Phew!" The ensign summoned a small smile. She even ventured, "Commander, you needn't worry. The entire crew wants to babysit for you." She looked up into Will's eyes and the exec felt his heart squeeze as he realised just how young she was. "Counsellor Troi, sir. I never had the privilege of meeting her, but so many people have told me what a lovely person she was. I guess we just want to…help in whatever way we can."
Humbled and feeling the all-too familiar lump forming in his throat, Will merely nodded and plastered a smile on his face. Somehow he managed to say, "I'll be on the bridge."
After he'd gone, Megan hugged Charlotte and smelled the telltale whiff of a dirty nappy. As she went to the nursery she whispered to the baby, "We're going to get your daddy through this, little Miss Riker. Until the captain comes back, he's the man!"
Charlotte stared up implacably with her obsidian eyes and cooed. Megan giggled.

 

Before entering the room, the conscience, now with his adviser, brought everyone to a halt. Taking the eye shields from his friend, Jean-Luc's twin said apologetically, "I apolgise, but I will have to ask you to join me in wearing these." He lifted his hand. "My peoples' ability to glow is connected to their emotions and any physical stimuli. Even deep thought will cause them to glow too brightly for any human to withstand." He summoned what he hoped was an encouraging smile. "While you are being examined, Jean-Luc, although the actual investigation of your body will be done by our computers, there will be three healers present. Depending on what they discover is how profound their essence response will be."
"I see." Said a tentative Jean-Luc. "Can you tell me what this examination will consist of?"
Frowning, the conscience sighed. "I am afraid not. I am not a healer, Jean-Luc and in truth, until my children fell ill, I had little to do with healers. Happily, I have maintained robust good health."
Slipping her hand into her husband's, Beverly said quietly, "So has Jean-Luc." She turned her head to look at him, her smile one of appreciativeness, admiration and love. "He's a fine physical specimen."
The conscience's highly amused look was gone very quickly, but not before Jean-Luc had felt the flush of disgruntled embarrassment.
"Yes…well…" He said, drawing his dignity around him. "Perhaps it would be best if we got this underway?"
Inclining his head, the twin smiled. "Of course." He hesitated and directed his gaze into his brother's eyes. "I have done some research, Jean-Luc. Fortune sourit aux audacieux?"
With a soft expulsion of breath from his nose, Jean-Luc briefly closed his eyes, a small smile evident. "Fortune does indeed favour the brave. I can only hope to live up to that particular adage."
With a nod of acceptance, the conscience gestured to the door and once it opened, it quickly became obvious Jean-Luc was to enter alone. Beverly tightened her grip on his hand, her eyes showing her alarm. Seeing this, and before Jean-Luc could say anything, his brother said softly, "Fear not, Beverly. You will be near, you will be able to observe once the glow has faded sufficiently but you cannot be in the same room."
A protest teetered on her tongue, but Jean-Luc squeezed her hand and said, "It's all right, Beverly. I'm sure I'll be fine."
She marveled at the way he was quelling his own fear to reassure her, so to help him she acquiesced, but not before she kissed his cheek and whispered, "I love you."
He said nothing in return, but she saw his love for her in his eyes. As he donned the eye shield and entered the room, the door slid silently shut. The conscience ushered Beverly, with the adviser, into an adjoining side-room, much like the booth she'd occupied during the children's surgery only more spacious and with seats. With the conscience and Beverly effectively blind, they had no way to know what was happening, they would have to rely on the recordings and the adviser who would let them know when it was safe for them to remove the shields.
Jean-Luc tried not to startle when the gentle hands began to remove his clothing. His softly spoken, "I can do it." stopped his disrobing and he finished the task himself. Goose bumps covered his body in the too cool air and he couldn't suppress a shiver. Gentle hands guided him and his feet moved cautiously. Within what felt like a few metres, gentle pressure on his shoulders seemed to impart the direction to remain standing, but still. He gave a slight nod and said, "I understand."
He never heard the healers retreat behind their console. Standing alone in the room, the naked man gave himself over to the aliens.

 

The adviser watched in stoic silence as the brilliantly bright light encased Jean-Luc so effectively, even he could no longer see the human. His eyes, visible to only his own kind, tracked the progress of the scan and as the light penetrated to the very atoms of Jean-Luc's body, the adviser frowned at what he saw. Abruptly the light vanished, but the glow from the healers was almost as bright. The adviser, vividly radiating himself, used a computer uplink to gesture to his fellow beings,
"It is a serious infestation."
"Yes." They agreed. "The Borg have indeed left a significant presence. There can be no doubt they wished to keep him…or his progeny. All they would have had to do was send the activation signal. Compete assimilation would have taken mere minutes."
Sighing, the adviser gestured, "Is he salvageable?"
"Unknown. We are not sure what will happen to his cells if we remove that which his body has integrated itself with so successfully."
"What are your predictions?"
There was a hiatus while the healers considered the question.
"Again, it is difficult to say. We have not had to do this before. Our simulations suggest it is possible, but even with our intimate knowledge of this life form and our technology, an infiltration at the sub-atomic level of the body makes it a dangerous proposition to attempt removal."
"I see." The adviser chanced a glance at the two humans who stood rigidly, both facing the clear wall, even though neither could see. He sighed. "Is it possible to render the infestation inert?"
"Yes. But that may not successfully address his infertility. It may allow the gamete to continue to divide and develop normally, but that would mean that any offspring he and his one produce will carry the infestation, although on an ever-decreasing scale. However, even inert the mere presence of the micro nanites may inhibit cell division in the gamete."
The adviser sighed.
"So either way, he either regains his fertility and passes on a significant amount of nanites to each offspring or he remains infertile."
"Yes."
"Please lessen the essence. I require interaction with the conscience and his brother's one."
The glow slowly faded until it was at a tolerable level. Placing a gentle hand on his conscience's shoulder, the adviser let him know he could remove his eye shield. The man looked at his brother, seeing him naked and so vulnerable. He let Beverly know she could take off the shield and she gasped softly at seeing her husband. She called out, placing her hand on the clear wall. "Jean-Luc?"
"He cannot hear you, Beverly, nor can he see with the shield on."
Nodding sadly, Beverly sighed and dragged her eyes away from the upsetting sight. The adviser directed the twin's attention to the screen on the wall and he gestured for Beverly to join him as they read.
Mere minutes later Beverly whispered with sick awe, "Oh, my dear God."
Casting a confused look at her, the conscience knew it was an inappropriate time to ask what that meant. He'd heard the fear and horror in those whispered words.
The adviser lifted his hands.
"Doctor Crusher, you can see the dilemma our healers face. It is possible to remove the nanites, we possess the technology to do it, but we do not know what it will do to your one. He may not survive. Either the procedure could kill him or his body may fail without the nanites."
Beverly reread the information and bared her teeth, her hands fisting painfully. "Dammit!" Struggling for control, she knew it wasn't going to be her decision…it never was. Turning her attention to the conscience, she said quietly, "Can I speak to him?"

"Yes, but not in the same room. You must stay here."
Nodding her acceptance, she turned as Jean-Luc's brother gestured with his hand to show the link was open. She strove to keep her voice calm and steady, belying the desperate fear and dread she felt she knew her next words would bring.
"Jean-Luc, can you hear me?"
His head twitched slightly, but otherwise he remained still. "Yes." He said quietly.
"You have a decision to make, my love."
"Go on."
As gently as she could, Beverly told him what she knew, finishing by saying, "…so it's either leave them in your body, inert and hope for the best or risk your life to remove them."
There was a tense silence before Jean-Luc said, "But if they're left, even if we successfully produce children, they will carry these…nanites…"He said the word as if it was an obscenity. "And be just as infected as I am."
"Yes, but to a lesser degree. Without the ability to self-replicate, each time you ejaculate, you will be lessening the amount of nanites in your reproductive system and, as you know, it only takes one sperm to fertilise an egg. But because the nanites are in your body at the sub-atomic level, we're talking about such an immense number it beggars belief. If you take an average human weighing say….seventy kilos, that's a calculation of approximately 7x1027, and that's just the atoms, not the sub-atomic amount! So although each subsequent child would have less nanites than the one preceding, the amount with still be…well…"
Jean-Luc held up one hand. "I get the picture."
He sighed, bowed his head and was still and silent for several long moments. When he lifted his head, Beverly knew what he was going to say and she almost sobbed with fear, sorrow and helpless grief.
"I want them gone. I want them out of my body. I want to be fully human again and not infect any child I make with you, Beverly. I want my legacy to be ours, not stained with the filth of the Borg. And if I die in the process, at least I will die an unsullied human, not some grotesque parody of a living drone. I want my freedom!"
It was so natural for Beverly to seek solace in the arms of Jean-Luc's twin. He was surprised but his arms went around her so easily. She hugged him tightly, muffling her sobs in his familiar feel of his broad chest. He spoke for the bereft woman.
"Very well, Jean-Luc. Nous comprenons. Ce sera comme vous le soulhaitez. Bonne chance, mon frère."
The gentle words, said with such heartfelt solidarity made Beverly sob all the more, especially as she brought the words together in her mind. "We understand. It will be as you wish. Good luck, my brother."
He eased Beverly from him and very gently turned her so she could see her husband. Although he still wore the eye shield, he seemed somehow to know where to direct his gaze. His head lifted and turned ever so slightly and Beverly gasped as she knew he was looking straight at her.
The conscience said softly, "You must put the shield back on now, Beverly." And it made her groan softly, "No."
But she had no choice. The thought that she may have just seen the last image of her husband alive almost made her collapse. Sensing her distress, the conscience assisted her in putting on the shield, then he donned his own before wrapping his strong arms around her and hugging her to him. Lifting his head he said firmly, "The essence will protect him!"
In the room the light intensified to incredible levels. The process had begun.

 

When the quiet voice of the officer at tactical reported the latest discharge from the anomaly, Will merely grunted. His frustration, already sizeable was growing by the minute.
Where Jean-Luc's command strengths lay in limitless patience and careful calculation, Will's were in unpredictability and pro active strategies. To sit helpless and cowed on the bridge of the flagship of the fleet, unable to do anything without permission struck at Will in a very deeply personal way.
His childhood, since the age of two when his mother had died and through the tough years with his distant and seemingly cold father, culminating with Will being abandoned by his father when he was only fifteen, had left an indelible mark on the man. From such a young age he was determined to be responsible for his own destiny, in charge of not only his life, but his situation wherever possible, made his current predicament all the more galling. It ate at him like acid, turning him sour and sullen and without the steady presence of Deanna to help him cope, his dark mood only intensified.
He sat stiffly in the command chair, staring with barely contained fury at the planet, the fact that they still couldn't see it clearly only adding to his dark mood. He heard the aft lift doors open, but he didn't turn to see who had just stepped onto the bridge. It wasn't until a presence close to his left made him glance that way.
Geordi La Forge had served with Will for a very long time and knew the man well, both as his exec and as a good friend. The engineer knew exactly what the first officer was going through. At a curt gesture from Will, Geordi sat in the vacant seat to Will's left. He glanced at the forward viewscreen, grimaced and turned to face the commander. Will chose not to look at the dark man, choosing instead to keep his internal fire ablaze by glaring at the indistinct image before him.
"You know…" a tired Geordi remarked idly, "My mother used to say that the longer you stayed angry, the shorter your life."
Will's curt grunt made Geordi shrug. "I don't know what to say, Commander. The repairs are well underway; we're replicating new generators to replace the ones we lost…" He sighed and shut his eyes, gently pushing his fingers into them. "Hell, sir, I don't like this any more than you do, but we really don't have a say, do we."
Turning to face his friend for the first time, Will's expression softened. Seeing just how exhausted Geordi was robbed Will of some of his anger. "I know, Geordi and that's what really eats at me. I hate it when my hands are tied."
"I hear you, Commander, God, I agree with you, but what can we do? The aliens have made it abundantly clear not only will they not tolerate any interference from us, they're more than willing to give us a slap on the wrist if we try!"
To Will's sour glower, Geordi shrugged. "Believe me, sir; what we experienced was a slap on the wrist! I've been going over the bits-and-pieces the computer managed to capture and I've gotta tell you, that ship was so far in advance of what we'd even consider high-tech…" he held up his hands in helplessness. "It makes the Enterprise look like a toy! If they'd wanted to…well, we wouldn't be here having this little chat, I can assure you."
Will's face sobered and he sighed. "How close?"
Geordi knew he was referring to how close they came to destruction.
"Seconds, Commander, seconds."
"And they knew, of course." Said Will sardonically.
"Oh yeah, no doubt."
"Shit!" Will's curse was muttered quietly, but it garnered a few looks from the bridge crew.
"So, is there anything was can do?"
Another shrug from Geordi made Will scowl again. "Not that I can see, Commander. Honestly, in my opinion we're better off just waiting until the captain and Beverly come back. Who knows? They might know something."
"Yeah, they might." Muttered Will darkly. "And on the other hand, they might not come back!"
Seeing his commander was closing off again, Geordi rose stiffly and nodded. "Well, I'd best be getting back to engineering, sir. With your permission?"
Will surprised the man by shaking his head. "No. Permission denied."
To Geordi's confused look, Will summoned a warm smile. "Get some rest, Geordi. You've earned it."
"And what about you, Commander?"
Another grunt preceded Will stretching out his long legs and rolling his shoulders. "I'll stay up here a while longer. Who knows, I might be able to turn my eyes into phasers and fry those superior bastards from orbit!"
Geordi's soft chuckle warmed Will and as the man left, the residue of his humour stayed with Will for some time.

 

The three healers behind the console were studying their readouts intently. Precisely one hour had passed and they were no further in reaching their ultimate goal than when they'd begun. Their patient was lying sprawled on the floor, having succumbed to unconsciousness only ten minutes into the procedure.
When the intense light had once again enveloped him, it took mere seconds for the pain to begin, but he bore it stoically. However as it increased so he began to lose the fight. Sweat coursed down his naked body, his screams of agony ignored and he began to shudder, every muscle he possessed tightening into a rigid rictus. It was merciful when his brain could no longer withstand the pain and he passed out, falling to the floor. The light raised and hovered just above his prone body only long enough for one of the healers to quickly move to him to better position his now senseless self. Having done that and once again back at the console, the light altered its dimensions to encompass all of his spread-eagled form.
Beverly and the conscience watched on blindly, the twin with impassive calm, Beverly with almost hysterical panic as she heard the hideousness of her husband's agony. At one stage she attacked the clear wall blindly, breaking her fingernails as she clawed ineffectively at its smooth surface in a useless attempt to get to him. The adviser closed the audio link, only to have Beverly screech her insistence that he reinstate it. Somehow she felt she could help her husband by sharing his unbearable suffering even if it meant she only heard him but not see him.
It was Jean-Luc's brother's strong arms that took her, gently pulling her back. She refused to allow him to turn her away from the clear wall neither of them could see. Like the need to hear him, she also needed to face him, somehow sensing where he was as he'd done with her.
The being to the right of the three lifted her hands and the other two turned to watch.
"It has been over an hour now. I do not know how much more his body or his brain can withstand."
"Yes." Agreed the middle being. "I too am very concerned. His bio readings are not stable."
"The essence will sustain him, but I do not know, should he survive, in what condition he will be in when the procedure reaches its end."
The being on the left sighed, his hands held up. "He has made it quite clear he wishes to be free of the infestation. We can do no less then abide by those wishes."
"Yes, but at what cost?" The middle of the three gestured. "Do we have the right to bring about the conclusion to satisfy his perception of his humanity?"
"That is not our decision to make." Gestured the right hand being. "If he feels less than fully human because of the infestation, then surely we have an obligation to assist him?"
They all sighed and the middle being gestured to the console. "In a way, it is ironic. These nanites, though gross and inelegant by our standards, represent a level of technology that is almost sublime considering their creators. The Borg are not known for their subtlety."
"Indeed", gestured the left of the three. "If they had not been redeemed by their creators, I have to wonder just how far they might have gone in their pursuit of perfection as they saw it."
Stretching out her arm, the female pointed at Jean-Luc's body. "Perhaps he represents how far they had come? The ability to create the means then infect a living body as complex as a human with nanite technology at the sub-atomic level is remarkable."
"Agreed." The right of the three nodded. "But that does not make our task any easier. The ability of the nanites to colonise his parthenogenic implant is complicating what is already a very difficult situation. I am not at all sure it can be salvaged in a state we can repair. I feel it best we create a new one."
"That would be the most uncomplicated solution." The female gestured. "Should we create a more sophisticated organ? Or one that is indistinguishable from his original organ, artificial or organic?"
"I am not sure." Said the left of the three. "I will have to seek clarification from the conscience."
The female made a curt gesture. "But wait! Should the conscience be asked to make such a judgment when it concerns his own brother?"
The three looked helplessly at each other until the right male shook his head and pointed at Jean-Luc. "He is dying. Our simulations tell us the nanites are withdrawing from his cells, But it will be some time before we can successfully remove them completely from his body. Without a replacement cardiac organ, he will not survive. The one he has now is already insufficient for the task. The nanites are leaving it at a faster rate than the rest of his body and the resulting damage to the organ is making it all but useless."
Making a unilateral decision, the female went to the screen and lifted her hands. In the room the adviser watched as she gestured and sighed as he knew he would have to ask his friend and conscience to make a judgment on his brother's life.
With a touch of an invisible, at least to a human's eyes, tab, the clear wall darkened until it was black. With a gentle tug on his sleeve, the adviser let the conscience know he could remove the eye shield. He blinked in mild surprise at seeing the room lit only by the soft ambient light emanating from his friend, but before he asked for any clarification, he carefully removed Beverly's shield. She looked at the now blank wall in panic and confusion. The man gripped her upper arm, saying firmly, "Beverly, do not panic. My adviser needs to speak with me. As soon as I know what he has said, I will tell you."
With no option but to do her best to control her ragged emotions, Beverly's head jerked up and down as she silently agreed. The conscience moved a little way off to one side and waited as his friend's hands made their intricate dance of words.
The soft glow from the screen on his sleeve cast a bluish tinge over his patrician features. As he read his brow lowered and he would've closed his eyes if not for the fact he had to keep reading.
Finally he sighed, nodded to the adviser and went back to Beverly. She looked at him and a soft sob escaped her at the sad and troubled look in the man's eyes.
"My healers have asked me to form a judgment. As things are now, it is not known if he will survive the procedure and even if he does, they cannot accurately predict in what condition, either physically or mentally or both he might be left in. But the immediate problem is his parthenogenic heart. It must be replaced…now. Their question is whether or not to supply him with an identical artificial organ, an organic organ or something far more sophisticated." He stopped, briefly closed his eyes and sighed. "Or…"

"Don't do anything at all." Whispered Beverly. In a stronger tone she said, "Do I have a say in this?" She tried to keep the hard sarcasm out of her voice but was only partially successful. The conscience's eyes narrowed, but he didn't rise to the bait.
"As his one, of course you do."
Beverly smile was cold. "Yes. But it's you who'll decide, no matter what I say."
Angrily the conscience spun and punched the wall, startling the adviser and shocking Beverly. With his head turned to glare hotly at Beverly he bared his teeth. "What do you expect from me?!" He shouted. "I am the conscience. It is my task to make these kinds of decisions! Why do you think I was asked?!"
Staying calm in the face of his naked fury, Beverly said quietly, "Do you think you're qualified to make a judgment over whether or not you permit your bother to live?"
The man seemed to slump, his shoulders sagged and his head bowed. "Il n′est pas si simple." He said softly.
No," Agreed, Beverly sadly. "It's not that simple, it never is."
The conscience folded his arms across his chest, but his right hand rose to rub his fingers over his lower lip. The sight was too much for Beverly who closed her eyes lest she break down at seeing such a familiar gesture.
"If I allow him to receive a new cardiac organ, what would be your recommendation? A new organic organ, an identical artificial organ or something more sophisticated?"
He was shocked when Beverly said flatly, "What difference will it make?"
"What?" He asked incredulously. "Qu′est-çe que ca veut dire?"
Too drained and too grief stricken to even bother trying to translate, Beverly merely stared at the man. Impatiently he repeated himself. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Leaning back until her back bumped against the wall, Beverly shrugged. "If he's left disabled in any way, he won't want to live, so giving him a whizz-bang high tech heart or even an ordinary organic one isn't going to make much difference, is it. If he's got any self-awareness and can understand he is permanently disabled and only alive because of his new heart, he's not going to want to live anyway."
"Then what do I do?" Asked a now shaken conscience.
Shrugging again, Beverly made no effort to keep her distain from her voice as she said, "Don't ask me. This is what you were chosen for!"
She turned her back on him then, no longer able to look into eyes that were, to all intents and purposes, her husband's. She heard the short, angry expulsion of air through his nose and even though she couldn't see him, Beverly knew exactly what his expression would be.
The adviser also knew as soon as he saw the look on the conscience's face. His brother would get a new heart, what sort he would soon discover.

 

The three healers watched the screen as the text appeared.
"My brother wishes to be rid of the nanite infiltration of his body, but his one has informed me as did he, that he would rather die than live with the infiltration. It is a difficult choice, but I have come to a judgment. My brother is the man he is because of many and varied factors, including physical ones. I do not know why he has an artificial heart, but it is integral to who and what he is. For that reason I believe we should not alter him unduly. Replace the parthenogenic heart he now has with an identical unit. If, on being rid of the infiltration he survives, but is left disabled and unwilling to continue his life you are authorised to assist in his conclusion."
His face was stony as he read the reply. "It will be as you wish."
Beverly's quiet voice showed none of her grief and sorrow. "I suppose it was the only choice you could make and given we both know Jean-Luc's wishes, your decision was fair."
The conscience turned slowly and regarded Beverly with a measured look. "Weighing the ramifications of my decisions is part of what and who I am. At my stage of life, if I could not function in this instance, my position as the conscience would be untenable."
Beverly's expression hardened. "So it was just a purely logical judgment, no personal feelings involved?"
The man bowed his head and sighed. "I would be lying if I said I had no personal motives, but I had to put them in the context of the petition, just as I would take into account the societal expectations of my people and how that impacts on the law, which always has been and always will be, absolute. Finding a solution is not often easy, but that is my function."
Beverly's smile was tight, her eyes glittering with anger. "So you saw this as a balancing act?" She snorted; her expression one of utter disgust. "Where you marry your peoples' societal expectations with the law, so you blended Jean-Luc's wishes with your personal feelings." She shook her head, her hands fisting. "But you gave yourself a nice safe out, didn't you."
Narrowing his eyes, the conscience tilted his head and said with suppressed anger, "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Well." Beverly said, waving one hand. "We all know about the underlying problem you have with your brother…the Prime Directive problem. How convenient would it be if he's left disabled? You got off the moral hook by permitting the replacement heart, but then invoked Jean-Luc's own insistence that he wouldn't tolerate living if he was at all disabled! Now that's a very neat solution to the problem, isn't it? It's a win-win for you."
Folding his arms across his chest, the conscience stared stonily at Beverly. "An interesting interpretation, Beverly, but you have not taken into account what will happen if Jean-Luc survives intact, both physically and mentally." He smiled but there was no warmth in the expression. "I would find myself…"he frowned, trying to find the right words in standard. Giving up, he said them in French. "Retour à la case départ."
Raising her eyebrows, Beverly snorted sardonically. "Back to square one? Yes, I suppose you would, but you'd be there, sitting on the moral high ground, Jean-Luc knowing he owed you his life."
"He would only know that, Beverly, if you told him, because I have no intention of doing so, not now or in the future."
Shaking her head, Beverly almost spat her words. "You're still hedging your bets!"
"Meaning what?!" shouted the conscience.
"He'll never know if you saved him or if you caused him to be in a position of wanting to die!"
They stood almost toe-to-toe, each glaring at the other. The adviser, who had been listening to the increasingly hostile exchange, had kept most of his attention on the screen. His gentle tug at the conscience's sleeve broke the icy connection between the two humans. Jean-Luc's twin went to the screen and read, his face grim.
He looked over his shoulder and said tightly. "It is done. A new identical parthenogenic heart beats in his chest and the nanites have begun to leave his body. We will know very soon in what condition he will be left in when the procedure is complete."
"Can I see him?"
Shaking his head, making his braid swing ponderously, the conscience said with restrained civility, "I am afraid the essence would be too intense. However you may watch some of what is happening through a filtered image on this screen."
Not wishing to be near him, but having no choice as he refused to move, Beverly stood by the man's side and directed her gaze at the flat surface of the screen, doing her best to ignore his close proximity. As they watched, the adviser wondered briefly at what emotions each human was feeling. On some level, he thought, they would share the same feelings, but the differences in their concerns for the man undergoing the procedure were so diverse…he gave a mental shrug. It was out of his hands, indeed, it was even out of the conscience's hands. Whatever happened from that time on would guide the conscience in how he was to deal with the consequences and ramifications of his decisions. As it had always been.

 

It had taken Beverly a few minutes to become accustomed to making out what she was seeing. The light was so pure and bright even with the filtering, the image she was seeing was gently distorted, but she soon discerned Jean-Luc's naked, spread-eagled form and it took a great deal of concentration before she finally saw the surface of his skin very gently shivering.
At first she assumed it was an atavistic reaction of his body; even in its unconscious state to the too cool temperature of the room, but the man standing beside her obviously saw the same thing because he asked his adviser, "Why is his skin…tremblant?"
His eyes went to his screen and as he read he sensed Beverly moving closer so she too could read the reply.
"He trembles because the nanites are gathering en masse under the surface of his skin."
Alarmed, Beverly blurted out, "Don't tell me they're going to burst out of him all at once!"
"No." the text scrolled. "The healers have informed me they will leave in microscopic layers…waves, if you will, and as they are easily tiny enough to exit through the pores of his skin in great numbers, that is how they will leave him."
The conscience shook his head, his braid gently bumping Beverly's hip. "Your calculation of the amount of atoms in an average human body was staggering."
"Yes", Sighed Beverly. "But I don't think you truly understand the scope of his…infestation."
He turned his attention away from his brother and regarded Beverly thoughtfully. If she was aware of his scrutiny she ignored it, keeping her eyes fixed on the screen.
"Enlighten me."
There was no trace of sarcasm, indeed his tone was one of genuine interest and concern.
"Well…" Beverly pulled her lips to one side, gathering the information in her mind, grateful in a way to be able to momentarily distract herself. "Let's look at molecules. A single molecule equals 6.023x1023, known as Avogadro's number and that is the number of atoms with a mass that equals the atomic weight of the element or in other words, the molecular weight of a molecule. So, if we say there're roughly 2.3x1013 molecules per cell, about 23 trillion, and approximately 6x1014-16 trillion- cells in an average human body…and I have to point out here that there's an enormous variation in the size of the cells, from the tiny cells of, say the cerebellum, to the relatively huge cells that make up DNA, then a very rough calculation of the number of molecules in an average human body alone is 10x1027, which is one thousand, trillion, trillion molecules."
The conscience digested that then his face showed his dawning understanding. "And my brother's infestation is at the sub atomic level."
"Yes." Sighed Beverly. She then held up her hand. "And no, I can't even begin to try to supply the figures for that."
"Our healers will know." He said absently.
"Mmm, I suppose they will." Looking at the man for the first time in a while, Beverly asked softly, "How far does your peoples' technology go? Do they possess nanite technology like this?"
She was gesturing to the screen and the conscience's expression changed. Beverly sighed and waved away her question with an irritated swipe. "Don't bother; I can see you won't answer me."
Taking a deep breath, the man said quietly, "My peoples' technology transcended nanites eons ago. They have something that performs a similar task, but is entirely organic and of course contains the essence."
Her eyes lighting up with intense interest, Beverly said in hushed awe, "You introduce life forms to make repairs?"
The man's smile was an indulgent one. "Hardly a 'life form', Beverly. It is part of the essence, therefore part of my people. I suppose it is analogous in a very gross sense to your cloning. The end result is indistinguishable from the original."
Her eyes drifting back to her husband, she could see his skin was still trembling. Her focus was intensifying when she perceived a softly asked question, but she had to ask Jean-Luc's twin to repeat it. He smiled his understanding.
"How did he lose his original organic heart?"
Keeping her gaze on the screen, Beverly smile was rueful and sad. "The indiscretions of youth."
The conscience waited for more, but Beverly had again lapsed into silence. He prompted her gently. "You cannot leave it at that."
"Hmm?" She hummed absently, then realised what she'd done. Taking a deep breath, she elaborated. "Believe it or not, Jean-Luc wasn't always so…controlled…so…buttoned up."
Seeing his confusion, Beverly quickly sought another words in her patchy French.
"Um…" she rolled her hand as the words came to her. "Attentivement sobre et réflechié."
"Ah, oui! Carefully restrained and thoughtful."
Nodding her head, Beverly smiled. "Yes. In his youth he was a cocky, self absorbed, puerile young man interested more in sexual conquests and getting into trouble than growing up."
The conscience frowned, his eyes narrowing. "I understand self-absorbed and puerile…but 'cocky'?"
"Oh..um…well it's like arrogant, but more…cheeky?"
"Cheeky." The word was said with plain incomprehension. Snapping her fingers, Beverly said triumphantly, "Effronté."
The smile that spread across the man's face forced an involuntary snort of amusement from the doctor.
"So," Mused the conscience. "This gouaille…this cheekiness caused him to lose his heart?"
"Uh huh. Are you aware of a species called Naussican?'
The man pursed his lips and shook his head. "No."
"Ah. Well they're kinda belligerent and Jean-Luc, just graduated from the Academy and at a star base awaiting his first posting as a brand-new ensign, got into a fight with three Naussicans, they're huge, by-the-way and he was unarmed. Apparently he was doing quite well, you know, holding his own, but one of the three drew a large serrated knife and stabbed Jean-Luc through the back. The blade pierced his heart."
"And it could not be repaired?"
"No…" Said Beverly thoughtfully. "I suppose had he been on Earth, close to SFM they might've been able to at least attempt it, but as it was, he was lucky the base had a sick bay that not only had a parthenogenic replacement available, but the medical personnel at hand capable to do the necessary surgery. He was damned lucky."
The man looked at his brother and sighed. "Your medical technology has done an admiral job. The unit has functioned well all this time."
"Not so well as it turned out." By the rueful tone, the conscience knew there was more to this particular story. To his raised eyebrow, another expression that forcibly clenched Beverly's own heart, she continued.

"About nine, maybe ten years ago it was found the original implant was malfunctioning. He had it replaced, but not without some drama. If not for the fact that the then CMO of the Enterprise could get to him quickly he wouldn't have survived."
"So…" The man tilted his head. "He was not on his ship…and you were not there?"
"No. I had taken the position as head of SFM. I was on Earth."
"I see. Ah…SFM?"
"Oh! Sorry, Star Fleet Medical. I only stayed for a year then I returned to the Enterprise as her CMO. Chief medical Officer." She elaborated with a smile.
His smile widened, his eyes twinkling. "Most prominent healer."
That brought a self-depreciating chuckle. "On the ship, perhaps, but certainly not at SFM or the Federation for that matter…far from it."
"Yet you accomplished the task for which you were summoned."
Sighing, Beverly shrugged. "I'm not sure of that. I've not had an update of any sort about your children. I have absolutely no idea how they're progressing if indeed they're progressing at all."
"They are." He said gently. "Already they are beginning to tolerate soft sounds. My healers estimate they will be able to return to us very soon."
Beverly's smile was one of relief and not a little pride. "Well that is good news."
They stood in silence for a while, watching Jean-Luc. The conscience's soft, rumbling voice once again encroached on Beverly's focus.
"Can you tell me what you mean by…'sexual conquests'? Does that mean my brother conquered his ones? That he…maîtrisé them?"
Shaking her head and making a curt gesture with her hand, Beverly said with a trace of impatience, "No, not mastered. It means he was more interested in the physical aspect of the sexual act than in developing an emotional attachment or component with his partner, who was not, by-the-way, his one."
She chanced a glance at the twin and saw his confusion. Sighing she went on to a further explanation. "Young humans, especially in their late teens and early adulthood are often very cavalier and promiscuous…" At his yet again look of incomprehension, Beverly cast about, shaking one hand impatiently, willing the right word to appear in her mind. Her face brightened when it finally surfaced. "Promiscuité." The conscience nodded his understanding. "Where it comes to sex. Rather than seek a lasting relationship, they prefer to have casual ones or no relationship at all, just a willing partner to share a purely physical act and mostly the more the better. The wish to form a lasting relationship…settling down…comes with maturity. That change in Jean-Luc occurred as a direct result of losing his heart. It forced him to confront his past behavior and the reasons behind it and he realised he didn't like what he found. Credit has to be given to him to make such fundamental changes at such an early age and to not only his lifestyle, but his very life philosophy, because it made him the remarkable, extraordinary man he is today."
"An interesting view of a complex being."
"That's a little cold, isn't it?" said Beverly angrily. "He's not some lab experiment, you know. He's your brother!"
The conscience's smile was kind. "You misunderstand me, Beverly. I was comparing his early life with mine. I did not have the opportunity to…express…my inner yearnings, although I doubt I felt them as my brother did. My first sexual experiences occurred simply as a consequence of self exploration. My adviser and my parents explained to me the purpose of my body's ability to do what it did and the reason it was so pleasurable, but it wasn't until I joined sexually with my one that I first experienced the…profondeur? of the act."
Beverly smiled and offered the translation, letting him know he had chosen the right word. "Profundity. How old were you?" Asked Beverly softly.
"I was in my mid twenties, and I was not prepared for the emotional intimacy. In fact I recall being frightened by it. I felt too vulnerable. In my position as the conscience, I have to be apart, forever separated from my people. If not for that separation, I could not perform my task. The tremendous intimacy, the emotional bond that that single act waked in me affected me so profoundly I considered severing my relationship with my one."
"Yet you didn't."
"No." He sighed wistfully. "I was in love with her then as I remain so today. Parting from her was impossible. I had to learn to overcome my fears and to make a separation between my position and my relationship, which of course, grew to become a family."
"You are even more like your bother than you realise."
She ignored his querying eyebrow and chose the moment to see if she could glean some more information about his people.
"So…if you don't mind some personal questions…how did you and your one…?"
His smile stayed in place, but his eyes hardened. "You are referring no doubt to our anatomical differences?"
"Yes and more. You've already told me your healers have been required to assist in the reproduction of offspring between the conscience and his one covering many varying species for a very long time."
"That is true. As for anatomical differences, I cannot give you a comparison as I am unfamiliar with human female anatomy, having never seen one. Because of my one's intense glow during this time, I have to wear my eye shield, so I am without sight. My one guides me. All I can say is that we are…compatible. We both experience intense physical and emotional pleasure. As I have previously stated, it is a profound expression of both our mutual love and devotion.
"The…" Like Beverly, he rolled his hand, searching for the correct word. "Con…" He quickened the motion of his hand.
"Conception?" Offered Beverly.
"Yes. The conception of our children was brought about by the healers. Once my one and I had decided to reproduce, my one was...fait prête?"
"Made ready. Prepared."
This time he just nodded. "Once she was in the correct state and we…l′amour fait?"
Beverly smiled tenderly, saying softly, "Made love."
"Whatever it was the healers had done worked. And then at intervals of three months, another conception occurred, until my one carried within her four developing children." His face had taken on an enthusiastic expression, one Beverly had seen many times on his brother's face when talking about something dear to his heart. "The gestation period of my people differs from humans, but the children's hybridism was taken into account. It was engineered so that our children were born one at a time, three months apart. Their development was tailored to compensate for this so as to lessen the physical burden on my one."
"And the gender? Were you given the option of choosing?"
"We were, but we decided to leave it to chance as it was irrelevant. Our children would never reproduce so it did not matter." Beverly savagely quashed the protests that teetered on her tongue. "My people do though. At times to redress a naturally occurring predisposition for gender imbalance, they will occasionally balance a generation's gender quotient so as to preserve the genetic diversity required for a healthy population. But the healers tell me that their predictions are that in the not-too-distant future; my people will evolve to a level when the physical manifestation of their being will no longer be necessary." The conscience's expression was one of reverential awe. "At that time they will transcend and exist as nothing but pure thought and be able to inhabit everything, everywhere at once."
His gave himself a mental shake and sighed. "Their physical selves have already reached the point where evolution can go no further. Once they integrated with the essence they became something quite extraordinary and it set them on an irrevocable path of the inevitable transcendence."
Tilting her head, Beverly was careful to keep her tone neutral. "And then they won't need a conscience any more."
His smile showed her he understood the tacit reminder of the ever-present problem.
"True enough. But until that time comes…"
"Yes." She said softly, "Until then."
The intense light surrounding Jean-Luc lessened somewhat, but not enough to allow the humans to dispense with the filtered screen. They were however better able to see the prone man. It was Beverly's trained physician's eyes that saw the difference.
"He's not trembling any more."
"No," agreed the conscience. Turning to his adviser, he saw the being's hands were raised. The man's eyes went straight to his screen. "The nanites have been successfully removed."
Stepping closer to the filtered image on the screen, Beverly placed her hands on each side, bending slightly to try and get a better view.
"How is he?" She barked urgently.
The conscience kept his eyes on his sleeve screen. "His body has responded well to the process however his nervous system has been compromised."
Before Beverly could articulate her alarm, the man held up one hand. "It can be repaired."
"His brain…his higher functions?" Beverly's voice had taken on a clipped professional crispness, her way of dealing with her fear.
"Wait."
The filtered image Beverly had been staring at so intently abruptly winked off. Gasping in shock, Beverly took an involuntary step back, but was just as startled when the black wall suddenly reverted to clear. Stepping quickly up to it and placing her hands flat upon its cool surface, she watched as two healers knelt beside her husband. One placed a hand on his forehead, the other, holding something too small for Beverly to see, passed its hand the full length of Jean-Luc's body and lingered a short time at his head. The being that had its hand on Jean-Luc's forehead, lifted its hands and half turned its body, obviously gesturing to someone out of sight. Text began to scroll across the screen to Beverly's left.
"The infiltration of the brain has left some residual damage, but we feel confident we can redress the problem. His neural pathways are not yet carrying the electrical impulses as they should, but again, we feel that can be remedied. Of more concern are the major neural bundles throughout his body. There has been significant disruption to the connective pathways. It will require intensive work to restore both function and sensation to these areas."
"So…" Beverly's eyes clouded in thought. "His main sensory centres aren't functioning. Okay…what about higher functions? Speech, thought…"
She got no further. She stopped mid-sentence to read. "We suspect all his higher functions will respond to our treatment."
"Suspect?" Snapped Beverly sharply. "Are you sure or not?"
"We were not responsible for your one being in need of this procedure, Doctor. We are doing all we can in a situation that, although is within our capabilities, is not within our experience. We offer all we have…all we can do. We are confident, Doctor."
Although still angry and terrible stressed, Beverly had to admire the way the gentle admonishment seemed to be heard as well as read. She took a calming breath and bowed her head. "I understand, you have my apologies. When may I see him?"
"Soon."
"I take it you're not going to leave him lying on the floor."
"You are correct, of course. He will be taken to a place where we can continue to treat him. He will be safe and comfortable."
Beverly was struggling to keep her voice steady. "And there'll be no more pain?"
"No. No more pain. That was regrettable, but such was the nature of his infestation it was unavoidable."
Fisting her hands, Beverly asked what she knew was basically a rhetorical question. "You had no analgesia?"
The healers answered anyway.
"We did, but it was inappropriate to use in this instance. We knew that having reached a certain point, the essence would assist his brain to…shut down?"
"But not before he experienced unspeakable agony." Beverly said sarcastically, then immediately regretted her words. Before she could apologise, the conscience gently gripped her elbow. "It is time we left this room. Jean-Luc will be taken soon, we can wait elsewhere…somewhere more…à l′aise?"
"Comfortable." Beverly summoned a weary, worried smile. "That sounds nice, merci."
He smiled at her use of French and ushered her from the room. Beverly didn't seem him leave, but the adviser didn't accompany them.
Their journey was relatively short and Beverly quickly realised she was now within the living area of the complex. The room was sparsely furnished, something she was becoming accustomed to, but nevertheless it was comfortable, just as her husband's brother had said it would be.
She even detected the slight rise in the temperature of the room. As always, one wall offered a view of the dark, frozen land with the ubiquitous wind-driven lumps of ice smashing silently into obliteration against the outside surface. The floor covering was thicker and softer and the lighting more subtle.
Taking a seat on a sofa-like piece of furniture at the conscience's gesture, Beverly watched as he sat beside her and said quietly, "Two hot drac."
The drinking vessels that miraculously and silently appeared on the low table in front of them were steaming. Following his lead, Beverly picked hers up, blew on the dark liquid's surface and took an experimental sip. It was very tart, but not unpleasant, the aftertaste leaving an unusual spicy warmth all over the inside of her mouth. The man beside her took a long sip, closed his eyes and obviously savoured swallowing. He opened his eyes, smiled and lifted the vessel.
"Drac. It's very calming. I find even inhaling the aroma has a beneficial effect on me."
Taking another tentative sip, Beverly swallowed and said cautiously, "There're no…narcotics…no…pharmaceuticals in it is there?"
His smile grew, but there was a hint of condescension in it. "My people have not allowed such mind or body altering substances for eons. No…" He took another long swallow. "This is a simple relaxing…boissons."
Feeling more confident and actually beginning to enjoy the brew, Beverly grinned. "What is it with you Picards and your beverages?"
That made the man raise his eyebrow. Shaking her head, Beverly sat back, finally allowing herself to relax a little. "Jean-Luc has a favourite boissons too. His beverage of choice is a tea called Earl Grey. He drinks copious amounts of it, hot, no sweetener and no milk. If I had a bar of gold pressed latinum for every time I've heard him say, "Tea, Earl Grey, hot." I'd be able to buy out the Ferengi Board of Commerce!"
The twin chuckled and drank some more. "While I do not even pretend I understand everything you just said, I am pleased my brother finds comfort in such a simple thing as a 'cup of tea'."
Beverly's eyes narrowed. "You've heard the expression before?"
Caught out, the man flushed slightly. "Since meeting my brother, I have become…curious. Our archives are very comprehensive. The thoughts and remembrances of consciences past, those taken as older people were recorded and that term…'cup of tea' has come up more than once, but it was not until you said the word 'tea' that I put the two together. I can only assume a 'cup' is a particular type of drinking vessel?"
Beverly nodded, intrigued by this information. "Yes it is, but…"
He smiled, immediately sensing her unspoken question. "You have noticed the…lacunes…the…gaps…in my speech."
Beverly merely nodded. The conscience sighed. "When you are taught two languages by people not fully familiar with them, it is inevitable that not all the words of each language are going to be learned. I have words in both languages for a drinking vessel, but not 'cup'. Like so much about myself, I only know what my parents, tutors and later my adviser and healers told me." He smiled ruefully and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "There are gaps it would seem, in much about me."
Sadness warred with a desperate need to help this man. Moving a little closer, Beverly caught his eyes, quelling the surge of emotion at looking into eyes so familiar.
"If you allow it, we can fill in those gaps…those lacunes."
"To what end, Beverly?" He sighed, bowing his head and staring into his now empty mug. "It will not help. I have been this way all my life and until I knew of my brother's existence I had never given any thought to being anything other than, primarily the conscience and secondarily one to my one and father to my children. What possible good could come from learning more than I already know? That alone has caused me terrible anguish. To learn more would do what?"
He spread his arms wide. "Me faire abandoner tout ce que j′ai jamais connu? Ma position? Mon seul? Ma famille? Mon peuple?"
Beverly held up her hands and the agitated man was about to translate but Beverly shook her head. "No! Let me have a go at this. You're asking if learning more about your humanity…yourself, would…make you abandon everything…you have ever…known?"
At his silent nod, Beverly continued. "Your position. Your one. Your family." She sighed sadly and finished. "Your people."
"Oui."
"I don't know what to say…in either language." Defeat coloured Beverly's voice and the conscience strove to ease her. "Do not trouble yourself, Beverly. From the moment I met Jean-Luc, this…" he snorted softly. "Problem was bound to surface. It is something I and I alone must come to terms with."
An uncomfortable silence descended before the conscience broke it by saying in a gently amused tone, "You must have more questions."
Summoning a smile, more for his benefit than hers, Beverly nodded. "I do indeed."
"Then while we have the time…allez-y."
"Go right ahead? Oh God, how many times have I wished an alien culture would've said that to me!"
They shared a soft chuckle before Beverly sobered. "Okay…from what I learned during my…journey…through your peoples' history I know that your peoples' DNA is now so unique it hardly falls into the category of a simple, although I use that term as a gross understatement, genetic blueprint for building life. Can you tell me more?"
Sitting back for the first time, Beverly briefly closed her eyes when he crossed his legs in precisely the same way Jean-Luc did. He even rested his hands, one still holding the empty mug the same way, resting in his lap.
"Well as a doctor I do not have to describe DNA as you known it."
Beverly nodded; a small smile evident at his attempt to keep the mood light. "My peoples' DNA isn't."
Frowning, Beverly tilted her head. "Isn't? Isn't what?"
"DNA."
"Then what is it?"
His smile widened as he anticipated what impact his next words would have.
"A life form."
"No!" said Beverly incredulously. Then, as her eyes darted to and fro in rapid thought, she suddenly snapped her fingers. "You told me your people can't evolve any further…at least not physically! It's the essence! Isn't it?!"
"Yes." He was grinning now, his eyebrows raised. "It is so elegant, Beverly. A life within a life, sustained by the same mixture of life in an unending cycle."
"And now that it's self-sustaining…"
"There is no more need of the body."
"My god…" whispered Beverly, only now fully grasping the implications of such a unique emergence of new life. Before she could say anything further, the man beside her gently took her hand, drawing her eyes to his steady gaze.
"You have often mentioned 'God'…'Dieu'. Jean-Luc, in his discussions with me about our family history and Earth's history, mentioned 'religion'. I recognize the words, but I do not understand them. And you mentioned 'apostles' when you told me the meanings of his names. Can you explain these things to me?"
"Oh God…where do I start?" Realising what she'd just said, Beverly shook her head and offered a rueful smile. "You know it's silly really. Those words…'God' and 'Dieu' which mean the same thing as I'm sure you know, are holdovers, words that once had significant meaning but are now just words we use with little or no thought." She chuckled and shook her head again. "This is going to be difficult to believe, but there once was a time, a very long time ago on Earth, where if you said those words in the wrong way, you could be tortured or killed."
To the man's shocked expression, Beverly nodded. "It's true! It was called blasphemy." She took a deep breath and proceeded to give the conscience an abbreviated explanation of religion. He was left shaking his head in disbelief.
"And you say all that began with ancient humans giving supernatural connotations to things simply to explain that which they were incapable of understanding?"
"Yep. You have to keep in mind that humans are intrinsically curious, the need to satisfy that inherent curiosity has led us to where we are now, but conversely it has led us to some disastrous behavior and ways of thinking. But as we evolved, we slowly left behind the superstitions and the need to accept a 'higher power' and take responsibility for our lives and our actions."
The conscience sighed, shaking his head in wonder. He shifted slightly, using his free hand to ease the end of his braid from under his buttock.
"And so all these references… 'Dieu' and so on are just…habit?"
"Yes."
"And no one still believes?"
"Oh yes, there are those who wish to believe in the existence of a supreme being and that's fine, but for the most part, Earth and most worlds of the Federation are wholly secular."
Seeing confusion again, Beverly clarified, "Laїques? Um, no religion."
"Ah, yes, I see."
"You know, your human parents believed and your older brother, although secular, married a woman of faith."
"Really?" Said an obviously amused man.
"Yes. They belonged to the UCE. The Uniting Church of Earth. It's not exactly uncommon in the more rural areas of Earth to find people with some kind of faith, but is nothing like the faiths of old. It's a very generalised concept now, and I must say, unifying for those who choose to belong. But where once those who believed were often compelled to draw others to their beliefs or try to affect non-believers with their concepts, no such things happen now. Faith is a very personal thing and really is quite rare within Earth's population."
"And what of you and Jean-Luc?"
"Secular, both of us."
The conscience let his head rest on the back of the padded seat, moving his head to ease the tension of his braid. "I find the whole idea of supreme beings understandable in a way."
Curious, Beverly tilted her head. "How so?"
Holding the mug in one hand, he gestured with the other. "Well, look at what my people will soon become. Being everywhere and everything at once. Is that not God-like?"
"Yes." Sighed Beverly. "I suppose it is. In fact what we've seen of them and their abilities are almost worthy of our reverence."
That made the man snort, his wry glance letting Beverly know her gentle jibe had been accepted in the spirit in which it had been given.
Beverly said quietly, "You say soon. How soon?"
"Until my people become nothing but pure thought?" The man frowned and turning his head; staring out into the darkness. "I am not sure. Soon is a relative term for my people. It may mean in ten years or a millennia. For a species that have existed as long as they have, time is of little relevance."
The door slid silently open and the adviser stepped into the room. The conscience didn't bother to look at his screen. Taking Beverly's hand he assisted her to her feet, saying, "We can see Jean-Luc now."
As they left the room, butterflies the size of emus took flight in Beverly's stomach.

 

Jean-Luc's eyes were closed. A small smile graced his relaxed face. A light covering of stubble covered his cheeks, under his nose, his chin and neck and he was still naked and uncovered, although he was lying on a softly padded bed and the room temperature had been raised a little.
He sighed, the taste in his mouth bringing forth deeply embedded memories, long ago encoded and never before accessed. His mother's milk was warm and sweet and the accompanying feelings of security and comfort flooded his psyche as she crooned to him, leaving him profoundly contented and at peace. "Mon cher fils peu." Her voice gently embraced his outer body as her milk filled him within.
Beverly stood silently at his side, the urge to speak to or even touch her husband almost irresistible to deny, but her instructions had been implicit. On the other side of the bed stood Jean-Luc's brother, his expression unreadable as his eyes gazed intently down.
Picking up movement, Beverly noticed Jean-Luc's hands curling, his thumbs going under his fingers in an immature fist. Then slowly his wrists curled inwards and inched up until his closed, curved hands rested on his hirsute chest.
When his eyes opened she was not prepared for the astonishing lack of awareness in them. If she had to describe what she saw, the only thing she could say was all she could see was pure innocence. Certainly there was no trace of her beloved Jean-Luc in those hazel eyes, nor did he appear to see her or anything else. Panicked, Beverly shot an urgent look at the conscience, but he seemed to be somehow serene, completely untroubled by what he must have seen, but either chose to ignore, or lacked the ability to respond to.
With growing alarm, Beverly turned, seeking out a healer. Fortunately one was nearby. She came to Beverly and without having to be asked, the conscience joined them. The healer's hands performed their mysterious invisible dance and the twin sighed. Keeping in mind the need for silence, Beverly read from the offered screen on his sleeve.
"He is in a very safe place within his mind. We have placed him there while we effect our repairs to his brain. At the moment he feels safe, secure and at peace."
To Beverly's earnest look, the text scrolled,
"He feels nothing in the way of discomfort."
Again her piercing gaze seemed to impart her unspoken questions.
"We envisage he will be capable of speech very soon, but we hasten to warn you he will not, initially, be as you remember."
Beverly's eyes snapped up, then just as quickly went back to the screen.
"We ask that you remain calm. Although his condition will be…unsettling, it will be transitory. Given time…perhaps a day or two, we are confident his higher functions will be completely restored. He will sleep often and for long periods of time. As for the neural bundles, that is going to take more intensive treatment and if you desire, we welcome your input."
Nodding enthusiastically, the healer acknowledged Beverly's agreement with a small bow but the accompanying radiance from the being made both humans screw their eyes shut. It wasn't until Beverly chanced to peek that she saw Jean-Luc's brother had laid one large, gentle hand across his twin's open eyes. She smiled her thanks and looked down at her husband, noting the serenity of his expression mirrored that of his brother's previous state. She wondered, as her gaze never left Jean-Luc's face, just what, if anything, the twins might have shared.

It was three long hours before a dazed Beverly was brought out of her stupor to the soft sound of Jean-Luc's whispered voice. Not knowing if she could yet speak to him, she bent to put her ear close to his mouth. He was repeating the same sentence over and over.
"Mon cher fils peu."
She lifted her head, her eyes misting with tears. The conscience had heard the soft words and his expression was oddly closed. "My dear little son." Thought Beverly. What are you thinking about, my love? A child of ours…or…your mother's? Did she say that to you when you were little, Jean-Luc? The healer…she said you were in a safe place…that you felt safe, secure and at peace. Are you with your mother, Jean-Luc? How old are you, mon coeur?"
With no answers to her questions, all Beverly could do was continue to wait. The occasional glances at Jean-Luc's brother only confused her. Since hearing the softly spoken endearment, he had remained closed and Beverly sensed an almost hostile aura around the man. But, despite whatever he may be feeling, the man wouldn't leave his brother. Beverly found his actions commendable, but her cynical side had to wonder if he was acting on his own agenda. The Prime Directive problem hadn't gone away, indeed, as it seemed more and more likely that Jean-Luc would make a complete recovery; it was pushing further to the forefront.
Time wended its way inexorably forward, minutes morphing seamlessly into hours. When Jean-Luc spoke again, Beverly was wrenched out of her semi-sleep state and into full wakefulness.
"Je suis maman faim et je veux aller à la toilette."
Beverly got the gist of what he'd said and was about to summon a healer when one appeared at her side. The conscience glanced at his screen and spoke, but softly and in French.
"On peut parler maintenant, mais doucement et en française. Il ne comprendra pas la norme."
Holding up her hand to gain a little time, Beverly thought hard. "Okay…Jean-Luc said…I am hungry mom and I need to go to the toilet. Right, that was fairly straightforward. Now the other…um…"We may speak now….um…mais…Oh! But…softly? And in French. He will not…understand standard!"
Giving a nod of comprehension, Beverly assisted the conscience in gently helping Jean-Luc from the bed. They led him on unsteady legs to a small niche in the wall where Jean-Luc managed to urinate. On the way back to the bed Jean-Luc looked at his brother with a confused frown. He then turned his gaze on Beverly. His softly spoken words almost brought her to an abrupt halt.
"Il est moi, mais qui êtes-vous?"
She gathered her shattered wits and smiled as she helped ease him back onto the bed. But her mind was racing. "He is me, but who are you?" "How can he know his brother is his identical twin if he's still in a child-like state and doesn't know who I am?"
The conscience was thinking much the same thing. He left the bed and went to the small group of healers, unobtrusively ensconced in a small nook across the room. When he returned he offered his screen to Beverly. As she read she nodded her understanding.
"Although we have taken him back to his childhood, his most recent memories, especially those of significant impact cannot be suppressed. However, although he accepts his twin's existence, it is nothing more than that. There is no thought behind his words, no emotional content. If there were, he would, no doubt, have recognised you as his one."
Beverly was about to redirect her attention back to her husband when the conscience said quietly,
"Il ya plus."
"There's more?" thought Beverly. Her eyes went back to the screen.
"His perceptions will accelerate now. He will experience leaps forward, but there will be some areas where he will seem to linger. These hiatuses will be his unwillingness to leave memories that are pleasant. Conversely, he will quickly travel through the more unpleasant aspects of his memory, most likely as he sleeps. That does not mean, however, that the impact of those particular memories can be discounted. Indeed, they will have to be addressed, but he will have all the mechanisms he has always had to deal with them. All that will be required is to remind him of those abilities. We envisage little or no psychological detriment, perhaps just short term distress."
"Dammit!" Thought Beverly angrily. "Poor Jean-Luc, will you ever cease to be at the mercy of your memories?!"
To the conscience she nodded and summoned a smile. Forming what she hoped were the correct words, she said quietly, "En bien nous y voilà. Espérons que le voyage n′est pas trop dur pour lui."
She waited, thinking, "If I got that right, he should've heard…Well here we go. Let's hope the journey isn't too hard on him."
When the conscience gave a measured nod and a small smile, Beverly felt confident she'd managed to get it right.
Over the next few hours much of what the healer had told them occurred. At times, Jean-Luc would be euphoric, merely lying still, his expression beatific, but at other times, he would roll onto his side and whimper in his sleep. It was obviously going to be a protracted process and Beverly barely noticed when the twin left. In fact it wasn't until she required his assistance with a translation of something Jean-Luc was saying that she actually realised he was gone. As a healer offered her a small screen, she briefly wondered where he'd gone…and why?

 

Will had finally acceded to tiredness. His hope of his eyes turning into phasers, surprisingly, given how hard he'd wished it to be so, hadn't happened and, after hours of staring with fruitless anger at the indistinct image on the screen, he rose stiffly and to a very relieved bridge crew growled, "I've had enough. You have the bridge, Mr. Powers."
The young woman nodded, saying crisply, "Aye, Commander."
It wasn't until Will had actually left the bridge that there was a collective sigh and a lessening of rigid postures. Powers took her seat in the command chair and gave the planet a cursory glare before saying softly, "Cancel forward viewscreen."
The tension eased even further without the constant reminder of their predicament. The staff settled into their duties with the expected efficiency, but in a more convivial atmosphere.
His quarters were in total darkness when he entered, it wasn't until he went into his bedroom that he saw the very soft glow of the nightlight emanating from the nursery. Having checked on Charlotte and finding her sound asleep, Will wandered back into the main living area to find the babysitter. In the end he was forced to softly order light but only at five percent.
His smile was a rueful one when he discovered the sitter utterly out to it, still sat at the dining table, his head folded on his arms which rested on the tabletop. Spread all around his head, like a technological halo was a plethora of PADDs. Not wishing to wake the young man just yet, Will gently picked up one of the devices and read, a small snort escaping his nose. Very softly he said with amusement,
"So, Adam, you're studying for your Lieutenant's grade eh?" His smile grew. "Well I guess it pays to study, but don't forget crew evaluations, my man. All the study in the galaxy won't help if you can't function as a member of a team and lead."
His large hand closed gently on the lieutenant junior grade's shoulder and the young man's head snapped up so quickly he let out a yelp of pain, his hand going to his neck as his face screwed into a grimace.
At the sound of his commander's voice, the man attempted to scramble to his feet, but Will gently eased him back to his seat. "Let that be a lesson to you, Lieutenant. If you want to sleep, find somewhere to stretch out. Believe me, I've learned from experience."
The lieutenant went to nod, but that only exacerbated the neck pain. Will shook his head and said quietly, "Gather your things and go back to your quarters, Adam…but if I were you, I'd swing by sick bay first."
Offering a smile, the blushing young man said softly, "Thank you, sir, I'll do just that."
Will escorted him to the door and smiled again at the gentle, "Goodnight, Commander."
"Goodnight, Adam. Thank you."
Picking up the separate PADD from the low table, Will went back to the nursery, gently tapping the device against his thigh as he debated whether or not to take Charlotte from her cot and put her in his bed. In the end he decided against it. She was so sound asleep and once he'd checked the PADD and found she'd only been fed and changed an hour previously, he simply found he couldn't, in all good conscience, disturb her, especially just to make him feel better.
So, back in his bedroom he undressed slowly, debating the merits of taking a shower he knew he needed, but eventually settling for just brushing his furry teeth. He sighed as he slipped into bed, intending to use some time to devote more thought to their current situation. His reasoning was, without the image of the accursed planet to vex him, he might be able to see the problems more dispassionately, but his mind and body betrayed him, sending him into sleep within seconds of his head hitting the pillow.
The soft chime of the computer on his desk in the living area took some time to penetrate deep into Will's perception. At first he incorporated the sound into his dream, but in the back of his mind he knew that wasn't right. His ingrained training kicked in and his eyes snapped open.
He was sliding out of bed before he even consciously registered the action. Nude, he went unerringly to his desk, only remembering to ask for some light as an afterthought. Sitting at his desk, he was preparing to take a call from command, but the screen was dark. Momentarily confused, he was about to call the bridge, when his eyes narrowed and his mind shifted gears.
"I'm here." He said experimentally.
When the text began to appear his eyes widened.
"We wish to discuss matters of some importance."
"And what would they be?"
"Are you in a position to act in place of your captain?"
Immediately alarmed, Will almost shouted, "Where is Captain Picard?! I want to speak with him now!"
"You are not in a position to make any demands, Commander Riker. Are you authorised to act in place of Captain Picard?"
Regaining control, Will knew he had to play this very carefully. "That depends."
"On what?"
"On why the captain can't act in his capacity of commander of this vessel."
"Would the state of his mental faculties be a factor?"
Anger and outrage surged through Will, but he kept a tight rein on his emotions. "Yes. But I would need to know how impaired, if at all, he is, why that was so and how it came to be."
"At present, all we can say is that he is impaired."
"I see. And who has made that judgment?"
"That is not your concern."
Smiling coldly, Will settled down to negotiate. In many ways his prowess at the game of poker stood him in good stead.
"Well, I'm afraid I can't just take your word for it. I need to see him myself."
"You are not qualified in medical matters."
"Perhaps not, but I have no way of knowing if you are either."
There was an ominous silence, but Will held his ground.
"The conscience wishes to interface…to speak with you."
As Will sat back, he suddenly realised he was naked. Uttering a quick, "I'll be right back." He rushed into his bedroom, dragged on his undershirt and was hopping as he shoved his other leg into his trousers while attempting regain his seat at his desk. Slightly out of breath, he cleared his throat and managed to say calmly, "Okay, I'm back."
The dark screen of his monitor suddenly blinked into activation and the image Will saw made him gape, despite his well-honed control. His captain, a man he'd known for over fifteen years was looking back at him with his usual steady, uncompromising gaze, but as the initial shock wore off, the big first officer looked more carefully and it was then he noticed the edge of the thick braid that showed just to one side of the man's neck. Taking a deep breath, Will said mildly, "You're his identical twin."
The man's eyes glittered and the skin around his mouth tightened imperceptibly.
"I am the conscience."
"I see. Is that your title or your name?"
"Neither. I am the conscience. Nothing more, nothing less."
Will sat back and folded his arms across his chest. "Where is Captain Picard?"
"My brother is…indisposed."
"And Doctor Crusher?"
"She too is…occupied."
Pursing his lips, Will tilted his head, trying to see other differences in the, oh so familiar face, but apart from the braid, he couldn't see anything. It was very unsettling and he wondered how Beverly had coped. Indeed, he mused as an afterthought. The captain too.
"So," Will said mildly. "I was…informed you wish to talk about matters of some importance?"
"That is so."
Shrugging, Will's eyes gleamed. "You must know that until I can ascertain for myself Captain Picard's condition, mental or physical, I cannot speak for him or act in his place."
The conscience was unfazed. "You are aware of the dilemma?"
Stroking his beard and his fingertips encountering the unshaved stubble where he had failed to trim, Will shrugged again. "I'm aware of the Prime Directive and how it applies to this situation." His tone was mild, but his blue eyes were like chips of ice. Similarly the twin's eyes darkened and glittered.
"It is not a situation, Commander Riker! In fact what my people do is…aucun de vos oignons!"
Instead of showing any confusion over the sudden switch in language, Will merely waited until the ship's universal translator conveniently supplied the translation. As the soft, feminine voice rendered the words into standard, the conscience smiled and shook his head.
"You must forgive me, commander Riker. I have found since my interactions with my brother and Beverly that my languages are merging. It would seem the more…émotionnels…I become, the more likely I am to blend the words. I apologise."
Graciously, Will inclined his head. "No problem. As long as I have access to a translator, it doesn't matter." He sighed then and tried to give his best impression of conciliatory patience. He'd seen his captain do it so many times and, although he'd never admit it, he'd practiced in front of a mirror plenty of times to perfect it himself. "Well, if it's not a situation, what is it then? Tell me if I'm wrong, but aren't your…people…taking embryos…human male embryos…without the consent or knowledge of either parent to be gestated and born on the planet below then to grow to become…the conscience?"
"That is essentially correct."
"Well…" Will allowed the slightest hint of exasperation into his voice. "Surely you can see why we have a problem with that?"
"No, I do not. The female chosen is carrying more than one embryo; however she is not even aware of her pregnancy. We take only a male, leaving all others, be it one or more behind. The female never knows. The infant is, as you correctly state, is born here and raised in a loving, nurturing family. His needs, emotional, physical and educational are met and he is provided with a life task of immense satisfaction and importance. I do not see why you protest! Il ne fait aucun sens! La conscience est un état d′être!"
Once the translator had done its job, Will gave a one-shoulder shrug. "It makes perfect sense to us however I do understand that you see your position as a 'state of being'. But that alters nothing! As long as those taken were conceived on a Federation world, then every member of Starfleet has a sworn duty to protect them."
"Cette arrogance! Cet aveurglement!"
As the female voice silenced, Will smiled grimly. "I may be arrogant and blind, but I know my duty and I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and do nothing while your people persist in this…theft of sentient Federation beings."
The conscience's face took on an expression rarely seen in his twin. Cold, ruthless calculation mixed with an obvious flavour of complacent superiority. "And just what do you think you…or any entity of you much-vaunted Federation….or Starfleet…can do about it?"
Will's wide grin threw the man slightly. "Absolutely nothing! Oh," Will chuckled wryly. "I know you could swat us like a pesky glob fly, but we humans have a habit of perseverance. In fact we can be a damned nuisance, the way we persist when we feel we've been done an injustice. Are your people willing to start killing? 'Cause that's probably what it's going to come down to. War. Nasty word that one…in fact, I believe I know it in French. La guerre."
"You are being…irrationnelle."
"Yeah, I know, but that's what we humans are like. Did you think we were all like your brother?" Will shook his head, his smile now gelid. "Nope. There are those like me who would rather fight first and sort things out later, where your brother would always seek to find a diplomatic solution. Well, there you go! C′est la vie!"
The two men regarded each other coldly, but Will's heart sank when the conscience said with a condescending smile. "You are…bluffing."
"Fuck!" Will thought furiously. Outwardly he remained calm. "Am I?" he tilted his head and shrugged. "Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. Thing is, are you willing to call?"
The twin's eyes narrowed. "Pardon moi? Call?"
With a dismissive wave of his hand and a shake of his head, Will swept the comment aside. Straightening up, he speared the conscience with a steely look. "This is all nothing but posturing. I'm not going to budge one way or the other until I set eyes on Captain Picard."
Alarm surged through Will as the man on the screen said softly, "Very well. Ainsi soit-il."
Will never heard the translation, he knew by the tone of voice what had been said. There was no transition, nothing discernible. One second he was in his quarters, the next he was in a softly lit, plain room. His mind was just furnishing…'so be it' and he was trying to process what had happened and how he was going to summon someone to mind his daughter when a door opened and an extraordinary being entered. Squinting his eyes against the light emanating from the alien, he allowed himself to be led out of the room, down a set of corridors and into a much larger room, one entire wall clear and showing a dark frozen wasteland. A man stood ramrod straight, hands behind his back, staring out at this bleak vista. His thick grey braid hung down to his waist. The first officer knew who it was and tried to keep his anger at bay.
"That was a little abrupt, wasn't it?"
"We find it adequate."
"I have to speak to my ship. I have an infant child who cannot be left alone."
"That is being taken care of."
"How?" Will was clearly angry and wary.
"The second you left your ship, your…âges…your…alert? would have sounded. I am certain your heirachy would have sent someone to care for your child."
The conscience turned his head, his eyes trailing slowly up and down Will's form. His eyebrows rose at Will's attire and bare feet. Will was slightly shivering. By way of explanation, a somewhat embarrassed Will offered, "I was asleep when you called."
Casting aside his discomfit with a concerted effort, Will said quietly, "All right, I'm here. Where are Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher?"
"You are persistent, are you not?" The man's smile had lost its predatory set and he looked much more like his brother, which helped Will come to terms with his situation.
"I can't contact my ship, can I."
It was a rhetorical question and the conscience didn't bother to respond. Instead he gestured to the clear wall. "Come, Commander Riker. Look outside. I believe you grew to manhood in a cold environment."
Standing at the conscience's shoulder, Will couldn't help but shake his head in grudging respect. "You are like your bother, sir. You have the advantage, but civility seems to be inherent."
"I see no reason to be…overly belligérent."
"Belligerent?" Snorted Will. "Now that's something your twin doesn't do easily. In fact he has to be mightily provoked before he becomes belligerent."
"Yes, I imagine he would." The conscience bowed his head, seemingly in deep thought and, as Will watched in astonishment; the twin rubbed his fingers over his lower lip. Rather than be caught staring, Will dragged his eyes to the icy outside. He startled slightly as the familiar, smooth baritone broke the silence.
"I must apologise, Commander, for my less than diplomatiques behavior. I was attempting to…goad? you. It seems I failed."
Keeping his gaze trained outward, Will said softly, "Just tell me what the captain has said about the…dilemma?"
That made the conscience snort and shake his head, his braid swinging slowly. "He is just as conflicted as he has been on discovering what you so quaintly refer to as 'the situation'."
"So…" Will asked thoughtfully. "He hasn't been able to reach some kind of consensus with you or your people?"
"I am my people, Commander." The gentle smile robbed the words of any venom. "But yes, you are correct. We have not reached a 'consensus'."
"Then why did you approach me? Is Captain Picard injured? Is he ill?"
"My brother is…impaired, but it is a temporary circumstance. I…" The man showed obvious embarrassment. "I thought perhaps I might…intimider?" He rolled his hand, a frown creasing his brow. His expression cleared as the wanted word came to him. "Intimidate you." He chuckled softly, still somewhat embarrassed. "Obviously I am unsuited for the task. Perhaps I should have left that kind of thing to my well-trained twin."
Will's smile was rueful. "Oh he can intimidate all right. My God, all it takes is a certain look. You know instantly you're in deep shit."
"Deep shit?"
"Oh..um…deep um…merde?"
The conscience chuckled softly but his tone was wistful as he remarked, "There is so much about humans I do not know. I have never seen an intimidating look. In fact before I met first Beverly, then my brother, I had never seen another human. I have never even seen the face of my one or any of my people."
Will wasn't sure how to respond to that, but he was saved by the conscience turning and gesturing to the doors. "Would you like to see your…des amis?"
"My friends?" Grinned Will. "Yes, sir, I would!"
"Then please…come with me."

 

Lieutenant Powers had always harboured fantasies of being in charge during a crisis on the Enterprise. The magnificent flagship wasn't her first posting, but it had been her ultimate goal and she'd worked damned hard to get to where she was now.
So when the alert sounded, she felt well prepared for action. Already out of the command chair, she looked up expectantly at the ensign at tactical.
"Commander Riker is no longer on the ship, sir!"
Crisply and remarkably calmly, Powers said, "Red alert, shields up!"
She heard the reluctance in the ensign's voice as she said hesitatingly, "Ah…the computer, the instant it detected the commander's disappearance, raised shields and brought weapons online as an automated response, sir. We went to red alert at the same time."
Closing her eyes briefly and quelling her embarrassment, Powers went through one scenario after another and came up empty handed. Taking a deep breath, she summoned her training. "All right then…sensors and scanners? Are we under any perceivable threat?"
"I can't tell you, sir. We're as blinkered now as we have been since our arrival."
Powers turned to face the opaque forward screen, saying softly, "Activate the forward viewscreen."
The image made her lip curl, but when she turned to face the ensign there was a cold smile on her face. "Well at least we know something."
Confused, the youngster at tactical asked carefully, "And what's that, sir?"
"We're still here, Ensign and presumably…hopefully…our people are somewhere down there." She stabbed her finger at the image and watched as the ensign paled. Powers really didn't have to elaborate but she did anyway. "These aliens possess technology that's so far in advance of ours they would most certainly have the ability to move us light years away and not only could we do nothing to prevent it, we probably wouldn't know it'd happened unless we looked out a window!"
The soft voice from the officer at the con made Powers' face harden.
"Well if that's true, how do we know that planet we can see is really there?"

"Good point. Can we launch a probe?" Asked Powers curiously.
"Yes, sir."
"Then do so Ensign."
"Coordinates, sir?"
"Aim it directly at the planet, Ensign."
"Sir?"
Turning away from the image on the screen, a mildly amused lieutenant said sardonically, "Well if it crashes on the surface, we'll know that planet's there, won't we."
The ensign grinned wolfishly. With immense satisfaction in her voice she said, "Probe ready for launch, Lieutenant."
"Launch the probe, Ensign."
All on the bridge saw the activation of the probe's propulsion system once it had cleared the underside of the saucer section of the ship, but their anticipation turned to surprise, disappointment and disgust when the probe vanished in a small, unspectacular flash of light, well above the planet's surface.
"The probe has been destroyed, sir" Said the ensign unnecessarily.
"Do we know by what means?" Powers was angry now, feeling the building frustration and helplessness that had so vexed the exec.
"No, sir."
"So it could be a cloaked ship, projecting an image of the planet, which means we're nowhere near the damn ice-ball…or whatever was used to destroy the probe came from the planet, which of course means we're still where we think we are! Shit!"
Plonking down in the command chair, Powers lowered her brow to her hand. The ensign's soft, "Shall I cancel the forward viewscreen, sir?"
Caused Powers to sigh."No. We may as well go along for the ride and assume what we can see is real. It's not as if we have much choice."
There was a brittle silence before the lieutenant said irritatedly, "But you can cancel the fucking red alert!"
Surprised glances and raised eyebrows swept the bridge. Not one of the present crew had ever heard Lieutenant Jody Powers utter an expletive of any sort on or off duty. The fact she had, and in her capacity as officer of the watch on the bridge of all places, showed just how serious their situation was. It was a very tense and subdued atmosphere that permeated the bridge now. Dread as well a fear and uncertainty uppermost.

 

Having got some much-needed sleep while Jean-Luc too had slept, Beverly was hitched on his bedside when the doors silently parted and the conscience entered. Beverly didn't bother to acknowledge his presence, but when she heard the very familiar, "Hey, Beverly." Her head snapped around and a delighted smile almost split her face in two.
"Will!" She exclaimed, leaving the bed to rush to her friend and enfold him in a warm embrace. She kissed his cheek, the grabbing his hands, stepped back and grinned, but then her grin faded a little as she took in his odd attire and bare feet. When she spoke his name again it was asking an obvious question.
"Will?"
His reddened and briefly bowed his head, but when their eyes met again, he was grinning ruefully. "I was sound asleep."
"Ah!" Beverly said with a twinkle in her eyes. "That explains it."
Sobering, Will asked softly, while looking past Beverly to the sleeping Jean-Luc. "The captain?"
Turning her head, Beverly replied, "He's doing okay."
"What happened?"
Beverly's sigh carried so much emotion Will regretted his question immediately. Her answer made his stomach sour.
"The Borg, Will. That's what happened."
"The Borg?" Said and angry and incredulous Will. "Are you telling me these aliens are somehow connected to those bastards?"
Shaking her head and placing a placating hand on Will's shoulder, Beverly led him to Jean-Luc's bed. "No, these people have nothing whatsoever to do with the Borg. In fact they've helped a great deal. Using their medical technology they discovered that Jean-Luc was infested with Borg nanites."
"But we know that, Beverly. You said they were of no consequence."
"That's true, but that's only the nanites I knew about."
"I don't get it? There're more?"
Beverly's barked, "Ha!" unnerved Will. She saw his fear and sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "His infestation was at the sub atomic level, Will. The number of these…look the term micro nanites doesn't even come close to describing them, that were in his body was so huge, I don't even know if it's calculable. Not by us, anyway."
Will looked down at the sleeping man and shook his head, trying to understand. "But you said the aliens helped."
"Uh huh. They've removed them, Will, all of them. He's free."
"So…" Will offered a tentative smile. "He's…recovering?"
"Yes." The relief in that one word almost made Will weep. But what Beverly said next made him want to shout with joy.
"The infestation was the reason we couldn't successfully conceive, Will. The nanites were self-replicating and were just as prevalent in his reproductive system as everywhere else in his body. His very sperm were infected and once conception occurred, they couldn't adapt to either my genetic input or the newly developing gamete. Unable to adapt, they self-terminated, thereby killing the gamete in the process. Apparently it was the Borg's intention if they failed with Jean-Luc as Locutus in their efforts to assimilate Earth and the Federation, then they were willing to bide their time and use any of his progeny and I'm talking waiting years, maybe even centuries before trying again later and given that they assumed his progeny would carry the nanites just as he once did then it would be a simple task to activate them. Assimilation of any individual thus infected would take mere minutes. And Will, it's not just Jean-Luc who's in this terrible situation. Any individual we've been able to rehabilitate after assimilation will carry this kind of infestation and the inherent fertility problems. Men and women."
A confused Will shook his head. "But why didn't the Borg program the nanites so that they could adapt? It seems such an obvious necessity given their intentions."
"Short answer?" Beverly shrugged. "I don't know, and neither do these people, not for certain, but we do have a pretty sound theory. This species has had encounters with the Borg a very long time ago, Will, maybe as far back as prehistoric earth or more. At that time, the Borg did what they usually do; use brute force to achieve assimilation, but this species easily defended themselves. Now you know the Borg, no way were they going to give up. So they withdrew for a few months, taking time to produce the necessary amount of micro nanites, then came en masse again. But this time, instead of an out-and-out attack, they sat back and released into a subspace carrier wave a cloud of nanites, the intention being to infect the entire population."
"So what happened?" Asked a now intrigued Will.
"These people intercepted the cloud and destroyed it. It never even got close. The Borg withdrew again and never returned, but knowing what we know about them now, it's highly unlikely they'd have forgotten or given up on their wish to assimilate this species. I mean the very fact that this peoples' technology way back then was superior enough to thwart the Borg would've made them all the more desirable to the collective."
"Okay, but that brings us back to the error in programming the nanites."
"Right." Nodded Beverly. "I've spoken to the conscience and to some of the healers and the general feeling is that it was just a simple oversight on the part of the Borg. Because the Borg rarely reproduce sexually…"
Will held up his hand. "Whoa! Hang on Beverly. The first cube we boarded had infant Borg. I saw them myself."
"Yeah," Beverly said sadly. "Those poor little ones. Will, what you saw on that cube was a rarity. The Borg only ever reproduce sexually to create either a new Queen or to use a new life to harvest organs for Borg deemed for whatever reason to be useful enough to prolong their existence by replacing failing organic organs."
"Oh, Jesus, Beverly!" Will said, shocked and sickened.
"And that's not all. When I say reproduce sexually, I can't guarantee that means sexual reproduction as we know it. As we know it at its most basic, sexual reproduction needs the input of two distinct genetic samples. Now that brings us to their obvious mistake. If their method of sexual reproduction is different, they may simply not have known that it was necessary to program the nanites to adapt to not only the second of the two genetic samples…but also to the new entity, the developing gamete! Think about it Will. Jean-Luc's sperm were infected with millions, maybe billions of self-replicating nanites. One of his sperm successfully penetrates my ovum. Now the nanites immediately encounter a problem. What's this? We're not programmed with this blueprint! So just as they're trying to figure it out, the cell division begins. Oh dear! A much bigger problem! They accelerate their self-replication in typical Borg-style, trying to overpower the growing gamete, but it's useless. The cell division continues and the nanites are simply outgunned. So, once again, typical Borg behavior, they self-terminate! End of an obviously faulty program…but unfortunately the end of the gamete as well."
"Jesus!" said a disgusted Will. "Well what now? Will he be…fertile again?"
"We think so, yes."
"Well that's something…but what about all the others?"
Scratching her head and briefly thinking she should ask where she could bathe, Beverly shrugged. "Well, with the Borg no longer a threat and the fact that we now know what to look for…"
"Yeah, but can we do it?" Will's tone was growing agitated. "I mean you admitted it wasn't until these people used their superior medical technology that the damned infestation was found. I can only assume we don't have the means or the knowledge to do for the others what the aliens have done for the captain?"
"That's true," Beverly agreed mildly, "But I'm hoping they're going to give me some…pointers…to guide us, but the truth is we're probably not going to be able to help those who carry the infestation. However, apart from the infertility issue, it won't have any other effect and although it may sound callous, once all these infected individuals die, the infestations dies with them…it can't be passed on, not even by exchange of bodily fluids. The nanites simply can't adapt."
"Fucking Borg!" Though said softly, none of the hatred was lost. Will shook his head and redirected his gaze at his captain. "So how long? When will he be fully recovered?"
Summoning a small smile, Beverly said, "Oh, another day, maybe a bit longer."
"And he's going to be all right…yeah?"
"Yes. The healers here will have some more work to do here and there but they've invited me to assist. He's in good hands, Will. Don't worry."
They stood by the bed in companionable silence and Beverly suddenly realised she should've asked a rather obvious question. "Why are you here, Will?"
Jerking one thumb over his shoulder at the conscience who had spent the entire time waiting patiently by the far wall, Will said with a trace of annoyance, "He…invited me. Wanted to see if I would discuss the…Prime Directive problem."
Turning to look briefly over her shoulder, Beverly frowned. "Did he now? I find that quite interesting. What did you say?"
Before Will could answer, Beverly held up her hand. "No, let me guess. You threatened him, didn't you."
"Well," Will grinned. "I may have rattled my sabre."
"God, Will. Rattling a sabre at these people is like waving a feather at a cyclone. What on earth did you hope to achieve?"
He smiled and shook his head. His shrug was all Will. "Damned if I know. It's my default position, you know that."
Beverly sighed theatrically. "Have you learned nothing from Jean-Luc? How many years have you been his first officer, Will? You can catch far more flies with honey than vinegar!"
"Aren't you being just a tad disingenuous, Beverly? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!" His light tone stole any spite from his words. Beverly grinned and tilted her head in acknowledgement. "Okay, you have a point, but this is the big leagues, Will. These people could, if they were so inclined, make us simply cease to exist. The very fact they haven't, nor have they ever, in all their incredibly long history, ever been belligerent to anybody, shows that we've been damned lucky to have had anything at all to do with them."
"You sound like some kind of convert." Will's tone had taken on a definite derisive edge. Beverly sighed and rubbed her brow. "Look…this whole Prime Directive thing…it's a bitch, no argument there, but what's the answer, Will? Yes, as far as the Directive goes it seems, at first glance, to be cut-and-dried, but it's not! It's too simplistic to make a unilateral judgment here. And before you even suggest it, no, I don't condone what's happening now and has been happening for God knows how long, but Will…we have to recognise these people have a right to protect their way of life…and their species."
His eyes glittering with suppressed tension, Will said tightly, "So what is the answer?"
Throwing up her hands, Beverly hissed, "I don't know!"
Both humans registered the conscience's presence at the same time. Will scowled, but Beverly summoned a smile.
"I would appear," he said softly, "That the dilemma continues. It had been my hope that between us we could find a way of accepting that which cannot be changed. It has become more than a dilemma. It is now a paradox." He turned to Beverly, his expression unreadable. "Have you told him?"
"About your people? No, not yet."
"Then perhaps now might be an opportune time."
He moved away again as Beverly gave Will the information about the impending transcendence of the aliens. She finished with…
"So you see, although it's not known exactly when this emergent entity will occur, it will occur and when it does, there'll be no more need of a conscience."
Letting out a frustrated breath, Will ran his hand through his untidy hair. "So what do we do in the meantime? Okay, these people are going to become something really extraordinary, well done! But until then?"
Beverly shrugged, pulling her mouth to one side. "The…tenure…for want of a better term of a human conscience is about one hundred years. This conscience…" she inclined her head in the twin's direction, "Has about another twenty years to go before another embryo is…sourced. I have asked him when this…transcendence is likely to occur and all he can say is…soon. But…he did tell me that the word soon is kinda relative to these people. Will, this species is so ancient it makes humankind look like infants by comparison. Soon could mean anything, but I can't help but get the impression, and I'm basing this on what I've seen from a medical standpoint, I don't think it's too far off. We might be looking at as little as 50 to 100 years."
"One more conscience." Will said thoughtfully.
"Uh huh. Now I've been giving this some thought. You're not going to like it, hell I don't either, but just hear me out…okay?"
Will nodded silently, his eyes sharp.
"Right." Beverly took a deep breath. "Since the Dominion War, followed far too quickly by the Borg incursion, the Federation has been decimated. We have millions, if not billions of refugees and displaced people. At best what we've been left with is organized chaos. Worlds that have long been content to be Federation members are now reassessing their positions. And on the horizon, like some kind of circling vulture is the Typhon Pact."
"Your point?" said an impatient Will.
"My point, Will, is that there are a lot of orphans, human orphans, infants with nowhere to go and very little by way of a secure future. Now I'm not suggesting for one second that these aliens have carte blanche to choose at their discretion, but surely it isn't such a bad idea to allow one of these poor little mites the opportunity to make something of their lives?"
Will's head was shaking, his expression sour. "I don't believe this! How can you even suggest we offer a human baby into a life of servitude?!"
"It isn't servitude, Will! There is nothing that compels the conscience to stay, other than his sense of duty! Sound familiar?"
They stood toe-to-toe, the tension palpable. It was Beverly who strove to calm things down. "Will, you don't know the full story. Just talk to the conscience and when Jean-Luc's recovered, talk to him. Don't make your mind up until you're in possession of all the facts."
That made Will's eyebrows rise. "The captain knows about your…solution?" His tone easily showed his disbelief.
"No." Admitted an embarrassed Beverly. "No he doesn't, but he's been struggling with this, Will. It's tearing at him. He may see the value in what I suggest."
"And he may not." Will sighed and rubbed his face with his hands, noting with disgust both his greasy skin and his body odour. "I need a damn shower." He grumbled.
"You and me both." Beverly's tone was wry. He looked up and couldn't hide his smile. He shook his head and said ruefully, "Damn you, Beverly."
"Yeah, I know." She squeezed his hand and, after bending to place a tender kiss on Jean-Luc's stubbled cheek, she said softly, "I'll go and ask the twin where we can get cleaned up."
Nodding, Will tilted his head and studied the captain, his eyes travelling over the older man's naked body. "Jesus, Captain. When you get yourself into a fix, you sure make a bang-up job of it!" He said softly.
Beverly came back quickly and took his hand. "Come on, you smelly man, I know where we can have a hot water shower."
That surprised Will and he said so. "Really? They have hot water showers?"
"Well…not exactly showers…"
"Beverly…" The note of warning only delighted the doctor.
She chuckled and tossed off a wink. "Oh come on, Will…where's your sense of adventure?"
Shaking his head, Will let Beverly lead him from the room, both of them following the conscience.

 

Sitting back in the room where she'd chatted with Jean-Luc's brother, Beverly was enjoying the feeling of being clean. Her clothing, everything down to her regulation boots had been replaced, although she only knew that because she'd been told. The uniform, with rank pips and communicator were indistinguishable from the original. The conscience's one was sitting beside Beverly as the man stood impassively at the clear wall.
When Will entered the room, Beverly could see by his expression he'd been as intrigued with the 'shower' as she'd been. At the female's gentle gesture, Will sat beside Beverly and said sotto voce, "I don't care what you call it…that was not water!"
Snorting softly, Beverly replied just as softly, "You feel clean, don't you?"
"Yeah." He said grudgingly.
With an impish gleam in her eyes, Beverly added, "And now you're in a proper uniform…I'd even bet you've got undies on." She glanced down at his feet and wasn't quite able to stifle a giggle. "And socks and boots. And Will…you don't smell any more."
"Shut up, Beverly." He grouched. Then, with a gleam of his own he said, "And don't think I've forgotten about your little distortion of the truth."
That made Beverly light-hearted expression fall. Taking a deep breath she said, "About that, Will…"
He placed his hand on her thigh and shook his head.
"I didn't mention it to upset you or to gain any advantage, Beverly. I understand why you did it and I'm over it." he grinned slyly. "Mostly."
Giving him a measured look, Beverly nodded. "Okay, but I still owe you an apology, Will."
"Fair enough, but when you're ready."
"Agreed."
The conscience, always seeming to know when it was appropriate to join a conversation, left the clear wall and took a seat opposite. His quietly spoken "Four Drac, hot." Made Beverly cover her mouth to prevent the giggle that threatened to escape when she saw Will's expression on hearing the order. When four mugs of dark, steaming liquid silently appeared, Will could do nothing but shake his head.
He picked up his mug and looked at it suspiciously before taking an experimental sip. Beverly watched keenly and grinned as Will's eyebrows rose.
Pulling down the corners of his mouth, he nodded. "Not bad, not bad at all."
"Captain Picard's brother seems as addicted to this…" Beverly lifted her mug, "As the captain is to Earl Grey."
Again, Will shook his head. "Well, I'll be damned."
They drank slowly, indulging in sporadic conversation, but once they'd finished their drinks, the conscience surprised the officers by requesting his one take Will to see their children. Apparently their recovery was going so well they had been brought back to their living quarters and were enjoying reintegrating themselves into their usual existences.
Will agreed to go, but Beverly knew it was with some well disguised reluctance.
Once alone, the conscience sighed and made a show of inspecting his well trimmed and immaculately clean fingernails. "He is…different."
Smiling with affection, Beverly nodded her agreement. "Indeed he is. He's been Jean-Luc's trusted right hand for, oh…fifteen years now."
Drawing his intense gaze up to meet Beverly's eyes made her stomach turn over. "What drives a man like that? What is it in him that makes him so dévouét et loyal à mon frère?"
"Devotion and loyalty are things that develop with time, but it says more about the nature and characters of both men than the emotions themselves."
"How so?"
"Well…Will has to have it in himself to possess that capability to give loyalty and devotion and likewise, Jean-Luc has to have the capacity to not only accept it without misuse, but engender it in the first place. These emotions, like love, are extraordinarily powerful and not easily given, most often, like respect, they have to be earned and always received very seriously. Jean-Luc would never treat the devotion and loyalty of any member of his crew lightly. The very knowledge that any of his crew, from the lowliest ensign right up to Will, the First Officer and second in command, would willingly give their lives for him he has always accepted as an honour and a privilege and in return, he does his utmost to see that he protects his ship and therefore every person on board. It's a two-way street. Mutual trust, loyalty and devotion. Give-and-take."
"Donner et recevoir." The man murmured thoughtfully. "Mais…they are so different in their…caractère."
"Yes," Agreed Beverly. "Their characters are very different but that doesn't mean one is better at his job than the other. They simply have different styles. Both are just as effective, although I suppose it's fair to point out that Jean-Luc is by far, more experienced."
"He troubled me at first."
"Who, Will?"
"Oui. Interacting with him was so different from what I had experienced with you and Jean-Luc." The man smiled with amused wonder. "He threatened me with la guerre."
Beverly gaped momentarily, then laughed out loud, bemusing the conscience. Getting control of herself, Beverly wiped at the tears in her eyes.
"Will threatened you with war? Oh God, what did he think we were going to use? Bows and arrows?"
To the twin's questioning look, Beverly shrugged. "I don't know the French words for that. Um…a bow was a long…originally it was made of wood…and it had a string…and the arrows were…" Giving up, Beverly pantomimed drawing a bow and releasing an invisible arrow. Now completely nonplussed, the conscience simply shrugged and it was such a Gallic gesture all amusement in Beverly fled.
"Look, it was just a simple, very primitive weapon. The point I was trying to make was that as you well know, we don't possess any weapons that could possibly do your world or your people the slightest harm."
The following silence was uncomfortable, but something that had been niggling in Beverly's mind had to come out. In typical Beverly fashion, she was quite forthright.
"When we first went to see Jean-Luc, after he'd been taken to the room he's in now….something happened between you two, didn't it."
She could tell by his tight expression and darkened eyes he was not pleased. "C′est privé. Je préfère ne pas en parler."
"Maybe so, but feeling it's private and not wanting to talk about it doesn't change anything. I'm Jean-Luc wife and his doctor. Either way I have a right to know what's happening to him." It was said quietly, but with underlying steel.
The man turned to stare fixedly through the clear wall and at first Beverly thought he'd simply chosen to ignore her, but his soft baritone sent a chill up her spine as he said, "Il y avait une sorte de…connexion."
"What kind of connection?"
He tapped his temple and sighed. "I do not know. Inside my mind I heard, felt…I even…goûte?"
Shaking her head, Beverly shrugged. "I don't know that one."
Frowning, the twin poked out his tongue wiped it in and out across his upper lip. Beverly snapped her fingers, then pointed. "Tasted!"
"Oui! Tasted. And I heard…maman?"
"Mom…mother." Supplied Beverly.
"Yes…that makes sense. She was doing something. Warm, sweet liquid was in my brother's mouth and filling his stomach. He…we felt comfort and contentment…la paix."
"Peace." Sighed Beverly.
"She…our maman, she was saying…"
Beverly finished the sentence for him, "Mon cher fils peu. My dear little son."
"How can this be, Beverly? I do not understand."
"Although there's been centuries of studies of twins, in fact children of all sorts of multiple births, it is between identical twins that a known, but little understood phenomena occurs. It can manifest itself in many ways, but the most commonly reported phenomenon is the almost telepathic link between the twins."
The conscience lifted his head and one hand, about to state the obvious. Beverly beat him to it. "Yes, I know neither of you was aware of the existence of the other and you have been separated by God knows how many light years, but even so, there's been too many examples of identical twins, separated at birth who have been, on some kind of subliminal level, aware of each other. I can only surmise that because you were removed as an embryo, this latent ability didn't show itself until you were brought together, and then only when Jean-Luc's brain was altered so that all his natural barriers and defenses were removed."
The twin rose from the seat and went back to the clear wall. "Pourquoi at-il d′être si difficile?"
Beverly had to think about that for a moment or two, but once she'd deciphered it, she sighed.
"I don't know why it has to be so difficult. It's tragic that you see it that way. Surely finding a brother…an identical twin, with whom you have an obvious bond, should be cause for happiness? I mean, I'm not suggestion a celebration, but this is a significant event! For both of you!"
"Peut-être." He sighed, rubbing his face. "Mais je ne suis si sûr."
"Well, not being sure is no crime. Jean-Luc, although insatiably curious, is still naturally cautious."
Into the ensuing silence, Beverly remarked quietly, "Do you realise you're using French more and more?"
He turned, one eyebrow raised. "I had not given that any thought." He tilted his head and offered a small smile. "I suppose I am."
"And why do you think that is?"
He shrugged, but Beverly could see he was thinking about it. Eventually he smiled. "I think learning about the history of the Picards triggered something within me. Perhaps I am paying…hommage." He quipped with an impish grin.
His use of the French word for homage made Beverly chuckle and shake her head. "Well, if nothing else, you're doing me a power of good. Jean-Luc is going to be delighted at the improvement in my…La française."
"En effet."
They were both sharing a gentle laugh when Will and the female returned. Always gregarious, Will, having been so subdued since Deanna's death had seemed to be invigorated by meeting his captain's nephews and niece. He strode into the room, his blue eyes twinkling. Walking right up to the conscience, he said, "Great kids!"
The twin smiled, but Beverly saw his confusion.
"Kids. A colloquialism for children."
He accepted that but the confusion remained. Sighing, Beverly said, "Yes, kids is also a collective term for the young of an animal called a goat."
"Then why…?"
Threading her arm through his and ignoring his mildly shocked expression, Beverly smiled innocently and said,
"Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Now what's say we go back to see Jean-Luc?"
Now even more confused, the conscience sent his one a helpless look and allowed Beverly to lead him from the room. Will proffered his arm and was pleased when the female mirrored her one's actions and permitted Will to do the escorting. The fact that he had no idea where to go was irrelevant. He was simply following Beverly and the twin.
Having spent several long hours with Jean-Luc, an exhausted trio went back to the living area. Both Beverly and Will were upset by their time spent with the man, his ever-increasing progression through his life was interesting in its own way, but as he was still only speaking in French and not acknowledging anyone, they found it very trying to be with him. Beverly especially, during the lengthy periods while Jean-Luc slept, found the inability to comfort him in his distress very difficult to endure. Her only solace came from the conscience, who; by placing one hand on his brother's cheek could, more often than not, calm him.
It was Will who said quietly as they waited while the conscience went to summon his one, leaving the two officers alone, "So…they've got some kind of mental connection?"
Beverly nodded, a weary sigh escaping. "Yes."
"A twin thing?" Will asked, speculatively.
"I think so. I'm not aware Jean-Luc's brother has undergone any sort of mental enhancement and so far I've not seen any evidence of telepathy in the aliens, so I can only assume what's happening is the 'twin thing'."
Will sat, leaning back and stretching his long legs out. "It's weird you know Beverly…to think of the captain with an identical twin." He rubbed his face and didn't see Beverly's sad expression. He carried on, ignorant of what his words were doing to her. "Have you noticed they share some of the same gestures? When I first met the twin, we were standing at the window and he did that thing…you know, that rubbing the lip thing the captain does when he's thinking and I…"
Beverly's softly spoken, "Shut up, Will." Made his head snap around, his eyes narrowing, but as soon as he saw Beverly's expression he immediately regretted his mistake.
"Oh, hell, Beverly. I'm sorry. What an idiot!"
Taking a seat beside the big man, she summoned a wan smile and shook her head. "Don't apologise, Will, it's okay. I can't say I'm getting used to seeing it but I am adjusting to the fact that the conscience isn't Jean-Luc."
Will could see by her slightly tight expression and colour that had risen that there was more. "Have you…forgotten?" He asked diplomatically.
Her smile was lopsided, but he could see both pain and embarrassment. "Um…a couple of times."
When she said nothing more, Will moved a little closer and took her hand, tilting his head to see past the curtain of her hair as she'd bowed her head. "Want to talk about it?" he offered softly.
Lifting her head and leaning back to stare up at the ceiling, Beverly snorted and tried to smile, but the suspicious moisture in her eyes told its own story.
"It's so damned stupid! Why should I feel like I've been unfaithful to Jean-Luc? I've done nothing wrong…."
"What did you do?"
"Oh…the first time I came down…" She turned and gave Will an apologetic look, gaining a nod of understanding at the tacit reference to her lying, "It was after I'd examined his children. They were so sensitive to sound that even the noise of my tricorder was enough to cause them agony and they begged their father for help…for him to make it stop. It was gut-wrenching, Will and afterwards, outside the room, he broke down." She sighed and wiped at her eyes. "And in that moment I forgot he wasn't Jean-Luc. I didn't see his braid, I didn't see the conscience…all I saw was Jean-Luc and I…"
"You comforted him." Will's voice carried no hint of accusation.
"Yes." Beverly whispered. "I wiped his tears from his face and I…kissed him."
"What did he do?"
Making a curt sweeping gesture with her hand, Beverly's voice was filled with self-recrimination. "He was shocked, Will! Jesus…I'd overstepped the mark so badly. Not only had I taken a physical liberty with a world leader, I'd made the fundamental error of involving myself personally in a medical matter!"
Squeezing her hand gently; Will drew Beverly's gaze to his. The calm, resolute, non-judgmental expression in his eyes only made Beverly feel worse. "Don't Will."
"Why not? he asked quietly. "You did nothing wrong, Beverly, in fact I think the captain would've approved."
"But…"
He held up his free hand and shook his head, a smile making his eyes twinkle. "Nope, that won't cut it, Beverly. No matter how hard you try to beat yourself up over this, the fact remains you did nothing wrong. Unless, of course you think compassion is wrong?"
Her expression hardened, despite her bitter tears. "There's more, Will."
"So, tell me."
Taking a shuddering breath, Beverly said shakily, "When he and I were watching Jean-Luc…when the 'treatment' had begun, it was…" She closed her eyes and grimaced, pulling her hand from Will's and lifting them to rub her face. When she could, she continued in a soft voice that, although quiet, still carried her horror. "He screamed in agony, Will. Jean-Luc stood naked, blind and helpless while he screamed in unspeakable agony and we could do nothing! We couldn't even see him!"
Just as Jean-Luc's brother had done, Will moved to take the distraught woman in his arms. She resisted though, struggling free and climbing quickly to her feet. Stalking to the clear wall she glared out unseeing, savagely scrubbing at her tears. Sighing, Will went to stand with her, close but not touching. He didn't need to ask her to continue, she needed to tell him.
"When Jean-Luc finally lost consciousness, which was mercifully quickly, I turned to him, Will, I used him, his familiarity, God…even his same scent…for as long as he held me in his arms, in my mind I was with Jean-Luc, not his twin."
She sighed and lowered her head. "What does that make me?"
"You're being way too hard on yourself, Beverly." Will dragged his eyes from the bleak scene outside to one just as bleak inside. "With what you were experiencing I think it's only natural you sought comfort in the arms of a man who is, to all intents and purposes, identical, at least physically, to your husband." He risked placing a gentle hand on Beverly's shoulder. "That doesn't make you anything but human, Beverly. Vulnerable, compassionate and open to feeling horror when someone you love is in pain. You needed comfort and you turned to the only person who could provide it."
Beverly shuddered through a deep sigh and turned to Will, but whatever she was going to say was lost as the conscience and his one entered, followed by their children.
The teenagers hurried to Beverly who scrambled to recover herself. Plastering a smile on her face, she hoped the tracks of her tears dried quickly. If the youngsters saw the evidence of her distress, they ignored it, instead gathering around her, all talking, albeit softly, at once.
Her mood quickly lifting, Beverly kept her voice down as she said with a smile, "Hey! One at a time." The conscience and his one moved to the group, the man placing his hand on his daughter's head. His baritone was smooth and velvety in its gentleness and Beverly again almost winced at its familiarity.
"Now my little ones, you must allow Beverly to hear you." He bent slightly and said to the girl, "Jolie, what would you like to say to Beverly?"
With her Hazel eyes the same as her father's looking into Beverly's, the doctor had to swallow to wet her suddenly dry mouth.
"Thank you, Beverly," The girl said softly . "Je suis très reconnaissant." She smiled, then said "You sound…violet."
The startled look on Beverly's face quickly changed to one of wonder. "You hear colours."
"Yes." Said Jolie. "My father says we are…spéciaux."
"You are indeed!" said a delighted Beverly. "But there's no need to be grateful, I was happy to help." The strange, dulcet timbre of her voice caught Beverly unawares. She had not heard the children do anything but howl and sob in agony. To hear this girl's natural speaking voice intrigued and delighted Beverly. The conscience removed his hand from his daughter and placed it on the boy with the orange eyes.
"And you, Forte d′orange? What have you to say?"
Beverly could see the obvious reason for the 'orange' but until the lad spoke, she didn't realise why 'forte'. His siblings cringed as he almost shouted, "Thank you, Beverly!" Then to Beverly's concern and amusement, the boy grimaced and put his hands over his ears. The conscience chuckled softly and shook his head, offering his screen to Beverly. To her shaking head he explained, "My one is laughing." He placed his cheek on his embarrassed son's head. "Ever since his birth Forte d′orange has had had no probléme étant entendu."
Out of the corner of her eye, Beverly saw Will's frown of incomprehension. Lifting her head she said quietly, "No problem being heard." Will grinned and nodded, his eyes twinkling with amusement, but she could see his confusion over what Jolie had said. Beverly said quietly, "Synaesthesia. They can hear colour and taste sound."
Will gaped, obviously gobsmacked.
The next teenager to speak was the boy with the lighter coloured hair. He said gravely and solemnly, "Merci beaucoup, Beverly." Then he smiled. "I like how you taste." His voice was deeper than his sister's but not as clear as his brother's. The conscience looked at his son with obvious affection and said "Robuste." Beverly's quick scrutiny supplied the corresponding reason for that particular sobriquet. Although all the children were thin-too thin- as far as Beverly was concerned, this boy was a little sturdier than his siblings. Again the conscience explained, "Even though all the children's development was monitored and programmed, Robuste managed to be heavier at birth than the others, who all weighed the same."
That left the last of the four. As he looked up at Beverly, his father's softly spoken, "Long nez." made Beverly smile. She gentle tapped her fingertip on the boy's slightly prominent nose and said with fondness, "You are like your father, and his brother."
The boy's non-existent eyebrows rose and he smiled, exposing the ridges of hard, pale yellow material that acted as teeth. "Le frère de papa a un gros nez aussi?"
"Yes," said Beverly, trying not to grin. "Although I wouldn't call their noses big." The boy looked at his father and chuckled. "It is big enough!" he reached up and touched his own nose. "I am just happy my nez is not as gros." Turning his head to his sister, he said, "Ce n′est pas le violet, c′est le lilas."
He turned but his father placed his hand on the boy's shoulders and turned him back to face the doctor. The man's voice rumbled as he said quietly, "N′avez-vous pas oublié quelque chose?"
Beverly only got part of that and the conscience saw her confusion. He smiled, saying softly, "I just reminded him he has forgotten something."
Long nez glowed a little brighter and bowed his head. His voice was very soft but clear as he said, "Thank you healer Beverly."
"You're welcome, Long nez, and I like both violet and lilac."
Beverly was about to say more when the glow of the conscience's one made her squint. It was then that Beverly realised the female had come closer. As the red head watched, the female pushed both arms out in front of her and seemed to be offering her hands. To Beverly's uncertain expression, the conscience explained, "My one is giving you the gift of her hands as a way of offering thanks. Among my people, the hands represent the very fabric of their society, for without them, communication is impossible. By offering you her hands, my one is giving you the power to render her incapable of expression."
"What do I do?" said a gratified, but cautious Beverly.
"Just touch her hands with yours, but doucement, Beverly, doucement."
"Gently." Beverly thought as she stretched her own arms out until she made contact with the female's hands. Even though she knew better, Beverly was surprised at how cold the female's hands were. The persistent glow suggested warmth, but the opposite was true. Just as the children began to softly chatter again…except Forte d′orange, who was gently admonished to lower his voice, the conscience said to his children, "We have more than one to greet. Commander Riker is here aussi."
Over the soft babble of voices as the children reacquainted themselves with Will, the conscience took Beverly to one side. He took her hands and looked into her eyes, giving her the same intense attention she was so used to seeing from Jean-Luc, effectively mesmerising her. When he slowly leaned in and brushed his lips over hers she gasped and pulled away. Frowning, the twin said, "Is it not appropriate to…écouter?...to…kiss?…by way of offering deep appreciation?"
Gathering herself and cursing her racing heart, Beverly strove for a neutral expression.
"As a general rule, kissing on the lips is usually confined to those who are in an intimate relationship."
"Oh," said an obviously embarrassed and confused conscience. "I had researched the archives. My information was that it was acceptable in many different cultures of Earth. Totes mes excuses. Je ne voulais pas vous offenser."
Taking a steadying breath, Beverly summoned a smile. "There's no need to apologise and I'm not offended." Feeling the time was right to broach what was for her a very uncomfortable subject, Beverly steadied herself and gazed unwaveringly into his eyes, telling herself over and over…he is NOT Jean-Luc!
"There have been times…situations that've arisen since I first met you that I've found myself forgetting you aren't my husband." She used that specific term rather than Jean-Luc's name to accentuate the difference between the two men. Unable to hold his gaze any longer, she bowed her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. "It can be very difficult for me…even commander Riker has commented on it."
"On what, exactly?" Asked a worried conscience.
Using her hands to help shape her words, Beverly said earnestly, "Gestures, physical actions, God…even speech patterns, in either language, despite your lack of an accent!" Bringing herself to a halt to curtail her rising agitation, Beverly lifted her head and said, more calmly, "Look, surely you can see how this…" she flipped her hand between the two of them. …"This sameness between you and Jean-Luc is making things hard for me?"
His gaze intensified. "Do you think it is any easier for me?"
Wary and alarmed, Beverly said, "What's that supposed to mean?"
The man's smile was sardonic. "Why do you think I would not find you as compelling….as attractive…as my brother does?"
"But your one…" Beverly spluttered.
"Is not human. You are." He lifted his hand and ran a finger down her face, saying her name with the same soft tenderness that Jean-Luc so often did. "Beverly."
She left him immediately, going to Will and saying curtly, "I'm going back to Jean-Luc's room." Without waiting for a response, she stalked out of the room, turning left and marching off, some part of her roiling mind trying to remember which way to go to get to her husband.

 

Will had seen the exchange between Beverly and the conscience and his friend's abrupt exit. He could only assume something had happened. He extracted himself from the children and wandered over to the conscience, finding him seemingly in deep thought, the now familiar gesture of him rubbing his lower lip having less an effect on Will. Just as he was about to ask if everything was all right, the twin's head rose and he speared Will with a piercing look.
"I think your presence is no longer required, Commander."
Shaking his head and holding up a hand, the exec said, "Wait a minute! You can't send me back; I have to stay, at least until Captain Picard's well again."
The smile was cold. "Technically he not unwell, Commander. He suffers no illness, simply some anomalous physical and psychological conditions which my healers are in the process of addressing."
Will opened his mouth to argue, but the conscience just shook his head, ignoring Will's unvoiced opinion entirely. "He is with his one, who, I do not need to remind you, is a healer."
Despite the seeming dismissal of Will's protest, he spoke anyway. "That doesn't matter! Until I see my captain once again whole and hearty, both mentally and physically, I'm staying!"
"So infantile." Sighed the twin. "And just what do you think you can do to stop me?"
Will was about to tell him when the next thing he saw was the dimly lit living area of his quarters. His shouted, "Fuck!" Startled the babysitter, bringing the young man to his feet, a now crying Charlotte in one of his arms, his other hand holding a bottle. Hearing the sounds of the red alert, Will lifted his head and barked, "Bridge, this is Riker. Cancel read alert!"
Even through his anger he heard the hesitancy in Powers voice as she said "Are you all right, Commander?"
"Yes." He sighed, gritting his teeth and sighing.
"And Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher?" Powers voice was growing in confidence.
"They're okay, sort of."
"Sort of, sir?"
"I'll be coming up soon; Lieutenant I'll fill you in then. Riker out."
Having calmed himself somewhat, Will went to the sitter and eased Charlotte out of the young man's arm and into his own. He took the bottle, but instead of trying to feed the still crying baby, he said over the noise, "It's okay, Ensign, you can take it easy for a little while. I'll settle her and finish this feed, but then I have to get to the bridge."
Summoning a smile, the young man nodded. "Thank you, sir." He was about to retake his seat when he hesitated and said to Will's retreating form. "Welcome back, Commander."
Over his shoulder, Will's smile lacked true warmth, but his eyes did twinkle slightly. "Thanks." He said quietly, before disappearing into his bedroom.
He left his quarters reluctantly half an hour later. Charlotte was lying on a soft, quilted mat on the carpeted floor under the watchful gaze of her sitter and Will had no further excuse to stay. But even as she strode out of his cabin, the urge to remain dogged him.
By the time he was in the lift, he'd shoved his feelings to one side and once again assumed the mantle of command. Powers rose from the main seat as Will exited the lift.
"Commander, it's good to see you, sir." She said, trying for a serious expression, but unable to keep the ghost of a smile from her face. It wasn't a smile of amusement, however, but one of nervous relief.
Nodding knowingly, Will took his seat and said wryly, "I don't suppose you have anything to report, Lieutenant?"
The young woman flushed, and resisted the urge to fidget. "Well, no, not exactly…but I think…maybe…"
To Will's questioning look, Powers sighed and gestured to the image on the forward viewscreen. "I'm fairly sure we're still in orbit."
That made Will frown. "Why would you think we weren't?" He said carefully.
Puffing out a breath through her nose, Powers again gestured to the screen. "When you were…taken…sir, we found ourselves just as we've been since arriving….just as we still are and that's effectively blind. So I ordered a probe to be launched."
"A probe?" said as now clearly confused Will. "Why a probe, Lieutenant"
"Well, sir, a comment made by one of the bridge crew gave me reason to question whether or not we are actually where we think we are. I mean, we can't actually verify it, sir."
Nodding slowly, his eyes glittering, Will began to understand. "And just where did you send the probe, Lieutenant?"
Straightening her already stiff posture, Powers said calmly, "Directly at the planet's surface, Commander."
His smile was cold. "That way you'd be able to register its destruction. Good thinking, Lieutenant" Said an impressed Will. By the lack of response to his compliment, Will knew there was more. He didn't have to ask Powers to continue.
"It would've been, sir, had it worked." To Will's raised eyebrow, Powers sighed. "As far as we're concerned, the probe was destroyed before it barely entered what little atmosphere exists around the bloody…" She flushed and lowered her head. "Sorry, Commander." She took a deep breath and tried again. "The thing is, sir, we have no way of knowing if the probe was destroyed by something from the planet, or if we're light years away and a cloaked ship is projecting that image," She pointed at the screen. "…and destroyed the probe to keep up the pretense."
Stroking his beard, Will mulled over the problem. He turned his attention to the screen and said thoughtfully, "My transport was instantaneous. Is it possible they can transport over vast distances that fast?"

"We've been thinking the same thing, sir. As far as our computer's concerned, even given their advanced technology, there's still the Heisenberg principle to consider. We," she swept her hand in an arc to encompass the entire bridge crew, "…since the first…disappearance of Doctor Crusher, have been accessing the computer, asking for an analysis of the comings and goings and as far as it's concerned, if the aliens are using any kind of molecular transportation, then they simply can't do it in the time allowed if the distance is greater than what we can see for ourselves...or at least an achievable distance and that always has a time variance. Basically, the further you transport, the longer it takes, but as you know, sir, it's a finite distance."
Will gave that some thought and nodded. "Hmm, and we know as far as we're concerned that's about 30,000 kms. Yes, I agree. Heisenberg's 'uncertainty principle' suggests that on a sub atomic level, it's possible to know the motion or position of a particle, but not both, hence our Heisenberg compensators. So, if the aliens are transporting molecularly…"
Powers shook her head. "They must've found a way to compensate for the movement of space in a way we haven't thought of…or…"
Will's expression soured. "…they're not using molecular transport, which brings us back to that." He stabbed his finger at the image of the planet. "Are we where we think we are?"
Powers shrugged and glared at the image. "We don't know! And the frustrating thing is, we can't figure out how to prove it one way or another, sir."
Will brought his attention back to the woman, a small smile on his face. "Yet you said you were fairly sure we were still in orbit? Why, Lieutenant? Why do you think that?"
Colour spread up from her uniform collar to heat her face. She cast a sideways glance at the young woman at the helm, trying to catch her eye, but the ensign kept her gaze firmly fixed on her console. With no backup, Powers swallowed and brought herself back to attention.
"Gut feeling, sir."
Will hadn't missed anything of the byplay and he was aware of the earlier conversation his captain had had with the ensign at the helm. His turned his head and said quietly, "Ensign Bates; isn't it? Faye Bates?"
The woman turned her seat and nodded, her eyes solemn. A feeling of impending doom making her eyes glitter. "Yes, Commander."
"And what've you got to say about this, Ensign Bates?"
Her eyes darting to lieutenant Powers, Bates swallowed and said quietly, "I ah…I may have given Lieutenant Powers the impression that I was sure we were still in orbit, sir."
Will's expression hardened. "An impression, Ensign? Based on what?"
Shaking her head, her voice dropped until Will had to strain to hear. "I had a feeling, sir, a really strong feeling, so I…well, I used a simple trick my dad showed me when I was young, when we used to stalk animals to take vids."
Folding his arms across his barrel-like chest, Will's gaze was steady, but not intimidating. He well recalled his captain's encouragement to listen to instinct…gut feelings. "Go on." He said quietly.
"The running lights, sir."
His patience was wearing a little thin, but he remained calm. "What about them?"
"Well…when my dad wanted to check to see if a nest or set was occupied, he'd sometimes send a shaft of light inside. If there was anything there, quite often he'd get a reaction, either by the rate of absorption, which he measured, or the animal, if it was in the burrow or whatever, would react to the light. So I redirected our port running light to do a simple…bounce. Although it's not conclusive, I mean it could just as easily bounce off a nearby ship as the planet, but taking into account the time it took and the rate of absorption, my guess is…that…" she pointed with her chin at the image of the planet. "…is the real deal, sir."
Will refocused on lieutenant Powers. "And you agree with this?"
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, the lieutenant nodded. "Yes, sir, I do."
Pursing his lips, Will turned and gazed yet again at the enigmatic image on the screen. He sighed and shook his head. "Well, we've little else to go on, but I'd like Commander La Forge to hear what you've got to say about this…bouncing…ensign. I want you to report to engineering and liaise with him, tell him I want him to see if he can expound on your efforts to see if we can get a definitive reading one way or another."
Coming to her feet, the ensign nodded. "Yes, sir."
As she went to the lift, Will said quietly, "Although it should be pointed out we're not stalking anything, your initiative was commendable, Ensign. Well done."
Reddening, the woman smiled as she pressed the call pad. "Thank you, sir."
As she boarded the car, Will turned back to Powers. "And well done to you too, Lieutenant. It's a sign of a good leader that you listen to and encourage those under your command."
Powers was about to offer her thanks when Will said softly, "Captain Picard would be very pleased."
The lieutenant sighed and summoned a smile. Her voice was soft when she said, "Thank you, Commander. That means a lot to me."
"So it should." Said Will solemnly. His face brightened a little when he said, "I have seen both the captain and Doctor Crusher and I can tell you that, although the captain's a bit under the weather, basically they're both okay."
"When will they be back, sir?"
Will's expression fell. "That I can't say; Lieutenant. It's in the hands of the aliens."
"Damn." Powers said quietly. Will snorted and said with a trace of amusement, "Very restrained of you, Lieutenant. I could easily think of some more…colourful terms…in several languages."
Jody Powers snorted and shook her head, taking the seat to Will's left. Together they sat…and waited.

 

The night had been a long one, but oddly it passed only as time, the light inside the room never altered, just as the light…or lack of it…barely altered outside the building. Guessing it was sometime in mid-morning, Beverly was standing in front of Jean-Luc, having just given him a glass of water. At some stage during the 'night', she'd asked the healers if he could eat, but although he'd asked for food the previous day, she had been advised it would be best if his stomach had no solid food in it.
Jean-Luc was sitting sideways on the bed, his legs dangling over the edge. He was still naked and, although he seemed to be nearing the stage of memory recovery that was almost up-to-date, he still didn't seem to recognise Beverly and persisted in speaking exclusively in French.
Beverly's knowledge and use of his native tongue had improved immensely recently but even so, it was at times difficult for her to converse easily with him. The healers had provided her with a small screen to help her interpret his speech, but she floundered a little with her own.
She was just haltingly trying to explain why he couldn't eat when the doors slid silently open and she heard the almost soundless foot falls of the conscience. It wasn't until he reached her side that Beverly realised with a sinking feeling that she knew who it was without having to see him. His presence registered within her subliminally just as Jean-Luc's did.
Beverly did her best to ignore him as she went on with her broken French. He listened for only a few minutes before interrupting Beverly by saying quietly to his brother, "Jean-Luc, alors que vous êtes toujours en convalescence, il vaut mieux que vous ne mangez pas n′importe quoi."
Feeling unreasonably annoyed, Beverly said tightly, "I can manage, thank you."
"I am sure you can, Beverly," The twin said placatingly. "But you were not finding it easy to tell my brother that until he recovers it is best he does not eat."
She couldn't disagree with him and indeed, part of her was grateful for his help, but she felt so vulnerable when he was near, even in the company of her husband, she allowed anger to shield her from more difficult emotions, emotions that scared her.
"Yes, well as I said, I can manage, there's no need for you to stay." Her tone was brittle and cold.
With the same unruffled, maddening calm Jean-Luc so often displayed, especially in the face of Beverly's mercurial temper, the conscience said mildly, "We should talk."
Keeping her eyes grimly fixed on Jean-Luc, who was staring at his twin with wonder, Beverly snapped, "I don't want to talk to you! There's nothing to talk about!"
"Oh, but there is, Beverly…and you know it."
The voice…it crept inside her, easily circumventing her defenses and wrapping around her mind and her heart. Steeling herself, Beverly tore her eyes from her husband to look at his twin. It was a monumental mistake. Caught in the intensity of his gaze, Beverly stood rooted to the spot and speechless, her heart pounding as he lifted a hand and gently tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear.
"Tellement belle, Beverly," he sighed wistfully. "Ces belle chevelure rouges. Vous êtes charmante. Je vois pourquoi mon frère vous trouve tellemant passionnant."
Beverly only understood part of what he'd said, but it was enough for her to know he told her she was beautiful, had lovely red hair and that it was little wonder her husband was so enthralled by her and although his gentle declarations shocked and alarmed her, his voice, his face…his very presence made her begin to tremble. Helplessly she watched as he leaned in, cradled her face in his hands and kissed her again.
Her heart was pounding so hard she was sure he must be able to hear it. Involuntarily her mouth opened, and he hesitated, but he seemed to know instinctively what to do as he tentatively introduced his tongue into her mouth. The unintended, soft moan that escaped Beverly's mouth only encouraged the twin. What might have escalated into something deeper and far more dangerous was halted abruptly by Jean-Luc asking in shocking innocence,
"Que fais-je?"
Startled and appalled, Beverly wrenched free of the twin's hands and mouth. She stared at him like a frightened animal, backing away and wiping her mouth. Calmly the conscience said to his brother, "Nous embrasser celui que nous voulons."
Stunned out of her shock, Beverly hissed, "Why did you tell him that?! I am NOT the one you want! And why are you saying we?"
With the same studied calm, the conscience asked, "Did you not understand what he said?"
Frowning, Beverly replied, "He said…What are you doing?"
Shaking his head and with a condescending smile on his face, the twin said, "No he did not. You have misinterpreted…only a slight error, but an important one. What my brother said was…What am I doing? He is still thinking he is me…and I am him. So I told him we were kissing you…the one we want."
"That is disgusting!" blurted a shaken Beverly. "You're taking advantage of a helpless man…your brother…your twin for God's sake! How could you be so…perverted?!"
Her anger and outrage washed over the man harmlessly. He shrugged, offering a small, knowing smile. It infuriated Beverly.
"Perverted? Do you really think that of me, Beverly? Or do you perhaps think you might be a peu titillé, un peu flatté?"
Gaping at his audacity, Beverly hissed, "You think I'm titillated and flattered? My God…your ego…your conceit! I wouldn't…"
His smile grew and somewhere deep inside Beverly knew he was right. "Would you not, my lovely Beverly? I seem to recall it was you who…" he rolled his hand, his eyes glittering. He was playing with her and enjoying it and Beverly, on some level, knew this game and wanted it. "…pris mon brasser et approfondie."
Through gritted teeth, Beverly ground out, "I did not take your kiss and deepen it!"
His smug smile said otherwise and she knew it was the truth. "I am the novice, Beverly…you lead, I follow."
Panic setting in, all Beverly could do was shake her head in denial. "No! I am not leading! I've done nothing to give you any impression that I was remotely interested in you!"
"Just being here is reason enough, Beverly. From the moment I first saw you I was…captivé."
"I don't care! You can be as captivated as you want, it's not reciprocated!"
He moved across the room and Beverly retreated. He stopped; a frown on his face. "Why are you denying the truth? I feel it, Beverly. I do not understand it, I have never felt anything like this before, but you cannot say it does not exist!"
"Get out!" Shouted Beverly, spittle flying from her mouth. "Get out and go back to your one!"
The conscience looked over his shoulder at his brother who was still watching the tense exchange with enthralled interest. Sighing, the conscience turned back to Beverly. "I will leave, Beverly, but bear in mind…you are dealing with both of us. When you touch him, when you speak mots tendres to him, you are interagissant with both of us. I do not understand this, I did not seek it, but I cannot nor will I deny it."
In his absence, a trembling Beverly went to her husband and took him in her arms. She was unable to stop her tears and they only increased as Jean-Luc said softy, "Qu′ai-je fait?"
Smiling with what she hoped was genuine warmth and compassion, Beverly said tremulously, "Rien, Jean-Luc, vous n′avez rien fait."
She hugged him to her and his arms came up automatically to return her embrace. She closed her eyes, thinking, It's true, my love, you did nothing, nothing at all…it was me. Oh, dear God…forgive me, mon coeur, please, forgive me!"

 

It was a combination of increased light and the gentle pressure of a hand on her shoulder that brought Beverly back to herself. She had held Jean-Luc while she struggled to regain her equilibrium. He sat passively, holding her, but only doing so because he didn't know what else to do.
Welcoming the healer's presence, Beverly asked sharply, "Why doesn't he recognise me? I don't understand. If his memory has been restored, why is she still like this?" She gestured to the man who watched the people talking with mild interest, but seemingly with no comprehension.
The healer's hands rose and Beverly looked down at her screen.
"We did not anticipate this. There has been some kind of disconnection between his memories and the emotional content. Also, he does not seem to be associating the memories with himself. We have been postulating that some outside factor may be at fault. It may even be possible that the nanites took with them engrams that he requires to complete his memories; that is to integrate them in their entirety with him as an individual."
"So…" Beverly rubbed her temple, feeling a tension headache brewing. "…it's like dissociation?"
"In a way, however, his condition has not come about as a result of physical or psychological trauma."
Pulling her lips to one side, Beverly waved one hand. "But what about his memories? I mean he relived everything….basically from birth to now. Surely he experienced deep psychological trauma when he relived all the worst of his memories. And believe me he's had some horrendous experiences."
"We are aware of the contents of his mind and, as we have already explained, he has the capacity to know how to cope with the more…damaging memories. It seems he has done this, albeit on a subconscious level."
Sighing, Beverly gently lifted Jean-Luc's chin and looked into her husband's clear hazel eyes, but the lack of any recognition, the absence of intelligence, warmth and love made her lower her eyes, struggling to remain calm, when all she wanted to do was weep.
"Where is he?" She said quietly. "Where is my Jean-Luc?"
"We do not know."
"Can you get him back?"
"We believe given time, he will return on his own; there is certainly no physical reason why he should not. His brain is functioning normally and his body, apart from the as yet to be repaired neural bundles, is also functioning well."
Lifting her eyes and nearly sobbing when Jean-Luc smiled, but without any understanding, Beverly swallowed her grief and said brokenly, "Is there anything I can do to help him?"
"We feel simply being with him is most probably the best thing you can do. Talk to him, Beverly. Keep talking to him. It matters not what the subject matter is, generalities or something more personal, just be with him, become part of what he now sees as his existence. He may not associate himself with you on a personal level, but even becoming accustomed to your presence, your physical touch, may trigger in him the release that allows full integration of memories with emotions and their application to him."
The healer turned to leave when a thought struck Beverly. She reached out and plucked the being's sleeve. "What about his brother?" she asked with trepidation.
"We feel it imperative the conscience spends as much time as he can with his brother. Even though Captain Picard is not yet aware of his individuality, seeing his brother, especially as they are physically identical may offer the captain an outlet for emotions as they arise. It may be that he feels less threatened by his twin than anyone else…even you, Beverly."
Beverly's face fell as the ramifications became clear. "Oh, dear God…" she thought helplessly. "I can't do it! I can't be in the same room as him."
If the healer saw Beverly's distress she said nothing. After a moment's waiting, the healer retreated back to join her colleagues in the booth, leaving a distraught Beverly with her oblivious husband who continued to smile at her, his eyes blank.

The female knew her one had changed on a fundamental level. They'd made love and although it was physically satisfying, she knew instinctively he was not with her at the moments of ultimate elation, at least not emotionally.
Once her radiance had abated, she gently eased the eye shield from his face and regarded him with eyes he'd never seen. She had long ago found that he would talk about his feelings…but only to a point. She had never discovered if his reticence was natural or a consequence of his position as the conscience, so she knew asking him why he had changed was pointless. But she loved him and was hurt and confused by his withdrawal.
Very gently she ran her fingertips over his sensitive scalp, something she knew he enjoyed and would, if they wished, become a precursor to more lovemaking. But he reached up and gently took her wrist, bringing her hand to his chest.
She raised her free hand to let him know she wished to talk to him, but he sighed and shook his head. "No, my one, I do not wish to engage in conversation."
She sighed too and tucked her head under his chin, His people had the ability to weep, although it was rare and the fluid extruded from their eyes was gelatinous and slightly toxic to him. He tolerated the slight discomfort on the skin of his chest until guilt and remorse made him lift her head and use his hands to wipe away tears he couldn't see.
"I know; my beloved one and if I could explain it, I would."
There was a long silence before he said, "She…m′enivre…she intoxicates me. I cannot explain it, I do not understand it."
He wrapped his arms around his one and placed his cheek on her bare head. "My love for you has not changed, nor will it ever. You have been my one, my only one and mother of my children. I do understand your sacrifice in consenting to be my one and I give you my word, my solemn oath, I will not leave you, but I am helpless in this situation with my brother's one. I am…contraint…compelled…" he sighed and rolled onto his back, taking the female with him. She settled in his arms as he started up at the ceiling. "His one…Beverly…she told me about a phenomenon…little understood apparently even after centuries of study, whereby twins, especially identical twins can share some kind of…connexion…a mental…télépathique connexion…" he sighed again. "Perhaps that has something to do with it?"
Without her one's willingness to use the screen, the female had lacked the opportunity to have any input in the discussion, so her only option was to use body language to let her one know she understood, at least on some level. What she was unable to impart was her hurt.
They lay together for some time before the conscience replaced the eye shield and made love to her again and this time he strove to give all of himself to her. Whether or not he was successful, only she could tell.

 

The subtly strobing light over the door woke the lightly sleeping man. He stifled a sigh of irritation at the inevitability of this intrusion into his privacy. It was yet another manifestation of how he'd changed since his introduction to the humans. Never before had he even thought of any interruption of his time with his family as an intrusion. As the conscience he was always available. Not so now. Now he felt an undercurrent of resentment. Nevertheless, a lifetime of habit had him gently disengage from his sleeping one and leave the bed, dressing quickly.
On exiting his bedroom, he found his adviser waiting.
"Yes?" he said with unnecessarily curtness.
"I have come from the healers. It is their considered opinion it would be better for your brother if you were with him."
Lowering his head and striving for calm, the conscience considered the information. He wanted to help his brother but knew he would have to interact with Beverly as there was no way she would leave her husband. The implications were dire and he wasn't sure how to respond. Even though separated, he still felt her pull…her influence over him. However he couldn't deny the same emotional tug, the precise same need to be with his twin drew him with just as much intensity. Sighing, he nodded; his deep voice soft as he said resignedly, "Very well."

Beverly had found some success in acquiring a translator for her screen. Now, when she failed in her attempts to find the correct words on her own, she only had to say the equivalent words in standard and the screen would provide the correct words in French. It sounded the words as well as showed them, so all Beverly had to do was repeat them.
She was relating a story about a time she, Jean-Luc and Jack had gone camping. Her laughter was forced, but it seemed to intrigue Jean-Luc. Twice he'd lifted his hand to touch her face, tracing her lips as she smiled. If only there was something in his eyes…
Her head snapped up, her pupils dilating as her mind shouted, "He's coming!"
She froze, causing Jean-Luc to gently poke her shoulder and say, "Plus d′histoires. Dites-moi plus d′histoires, s′il tu plaît?"
Her heart beginning to pound and the headache that had been in the background intensifying, Beverly glanced nervously at the door and said distractedly,
"I'll tell you some more stories soon, my love."
Upon looking back at her husband she saw his confusion. Pushing her hair back off her shoulders, Beverly summoned a wan smile and said, "Je vais vous raconter des histoires un peu plus tôt."
He stared, neither disappointed or happy. He simply accepted. As she knew it would, the door slid open without a sound and, as the conscience approached, so did the feeling of undeniable attraction grow as he neared her. By the time he took his place on the opposite side of the bed, Beverly's heart was racing so fast she felt lightheaded. She tried to reason it out. Was it because of the intensely potent attraction or was it fear, fear of what she might do….or he might do or was it a combination of it all?
The mélange of emotions was eroding her self control and the headache was getting above her ability to withstand it. Forcing herself away from the bed, she managed to say, "I'll be back in a minute, Jean-Luc." Before almost staggering over to the booth. Jean-Luc watched her go and turned to his brother. Patiently the twin supplied, "Elle sera bientôt de retour."
Jean-Luc gave no reaction to being told Beverly would return soon. He simply regarded his brother with interest. The twin smiled and said gently, "Vous me connaissez n′est-ce pas."
Nodding was the first reaction Jean-Luc had given to anyone. "Oui. Je vous connais. Vous êtes moi."
The conscience hitched his backside on the bed and sighed, watching his brother thoughtfully.
"So, you know me, Jean-Luc." He thought. "You think I am you." Casting a glance over to the booth and seeing the healers doing something to Beverly's head, the twin redirected his gaze to his brother and muttered softly, "Je veux qu′elle vous le savez, Jean-Luc. Quoi qu′il en soit vous avez avec elle, je le veux aussi."
Sensing her approach, the twin looked up to see Beverly returning, her eyes on the screen she carried. By the time she'd reached the bed, her anger was overriding her fear and dread.
"How dare you!" She hissed. "Telling Jean-Luc you want me and that whatever it is he has with me, you want it too! You have no right to even suggest such a hideous thing!"
The two beings glared at each other, the tension palpable. It was utterly shattered when Jean-Luc said quietly, but with complete clarity, "Beverly, we want you."
There was no emotion in his words, but the words themselves were so shocking, Beverly gaped, saying weakly, "What?"
Reverting to French he said, "C′est vrai. Nous vous voulez. Nous vous avons toujours voulu."
He said it so blandly, he might as well have been ordering breakfast. Beverly shook her head, her mind tumbling over the words. "It's true. We want you. We have always wanted you."
She reached for his hand and he watched her take it with no more interest than watching a fly on the wall. Lifting his hand, Beverly managed to get him to look at her. "Can you understand me, Jean-Luc?"
He nodded and relief flooded the doctor. At least he now understood standard. She summoned what she hoped was a warm, encouraging smile that reached her eyes. "I love you, Jean-Luc. You are my husband and I am your wife. You are an individual, Jean-Luc, just one man, not two. He…" she pointed with her chin at the twin. "Is not you. Do you understand?"
Jean-Luc turned and looked at his brother and sighed. "Mais il est moi. Je suis lui."
"No!" Beverly sharp voice drew Jean-Luc's attention back to her. "You aren't him and he's not you!"
Now obviously confused, Jean-Luc looked back at his twin, his eyes roaming over the man's face and body. Jean-Luc was still naked, but he knew what lay under his brother's clothing. Shaking his head, he pointed at his twin. "Nous sommes un. Il n′ya aucune différence."
Quelling her rising panic at both his intractability and his twin's smug acceptance, Beverly persisted. "No! You are not one! There are differences!"
Before Jean-Luc could say anything further, the conscience said quietly, "This is pointless, Beverly. He accepts things as they are. So should you."
"And do what?!" She snapped. "Fuck you? That's what you want, isn't it!"
His eyebrows rose and his smile was knowing. "That depends, Beverly."
"Oh what?!'" she spat.
"On how much you want to baise-moi."
Her face screwed up, but she couldn't deny the ache between her legs. "You're disgusting!"
Giving a one-shoulder shrug, the conscience made Beverly tremble as he casually made his way around the bed. She stood her ground though, determined to make him see, if only outwardly, that she refused to be intimidated. It worked until he got too close. Her resolve broke and she went to move away, but he caught her arm and dragged her to him, taking her in his arms and nuzzling under her ear. His deep, rumbling voice only served to increase her insidious arousal. "I do not know how I know how to do this, but do it I must. Feel me, Beverly…I am for you as are for me and always have been. Our wait is finally over."
He kissed her then with deep passion and she sobbed into his mouth as she fell helplessly into the spell. Jean-Luc watched; a small smile on his face, his penis hardening. "Nous vous aimons, Beverly." He whispered. "We love you."
The conscience's hand went to her breast, his fingers teasing and tweaking the hard nipple with such scandalous familiarity, Beverly's knees weakened. He wrapped one strong arm around her, pulling her tight up against him and she mewed at feeling his erection. But somehow, dragging it up from the depths of her mind, she found some trace of sanity. Wrenching her head sideways, she broke the kiss and pulled her hands from his back, placing her hands on his chest and trying to push him away. He resisted with ease, making Beverly sob, saying brokenly, "Please…please, let me go."
Nuzzling under her ear again, she felt the vibrations of his deep voice as he rumbled softly, "Why? Why should we stop when we both want this so much?"
"But I don't!" cried Beverly. It was her tears that made the conscience release her. Staggering backwards, Beverly covered her mouth with her hand, the sight of the obviously aroused man making her want to gape.
"I do not understand!" He growled. "I know you want me, as I want you, yet you try to deny it!"
Flicking her gaze at Jean-Luc, who sat impassively, his erection jutting out from his seated form, Beverly lifted a shaking hand and pointed to her husband. "He's the one I want…not you!"
The conscience glanced at his brother and shook his head. "He is me! Nous sommes un! Nous sommes mêmes!"
"No!" shrieked Beverly, her hands fisted so tightly her fingernails bit cruelly into her palms. "You are not one, you are not the same! Why are you doing this? You must see something is very wrong here!"
The man shrugged, slowly advancing on the distraught doctor. "What I see is my one, the only woman I have ever truly loved denying the truth!"
"NO! It's not you! It's him!" Beverly stabbed her finger at Jean-Luc. "He's the one who's loved me for so long…so truly!" Sudden inspiration struck and she shouted, "Send us back to our ship!"
"Quoi?"
"You heard me! Send us back…right now!"
Glancing back at his brother, the conscience shook his head. "No…he requires more…le traitement."
"Bullshit!" yelled Beverly. "You just don't want to let us go! What are you going to do? Keep us against our will?"
His smile was cold. "Que votre volonté, Beverly, pas de Jean-Luc."
Jerking her head, Beverly conceded the point. "All right, against my will, not Jean-Luc's…but what about that? Hmm? Do you intend to force yourself on me? Me violer?"
He flinched, his face registering his shock. "Rape you? I would never rape you, Beverly…" His voice dropped to a whisper. "J'taime."
Shaking her head, Beverly lowered her voice and tried to sound reasonable. "You don't love me, you can't. And the only way you're going to get what you think you want is to take it, because I will not, I refuse, to give it to you! My love, both emotional and physical is reserved exclusively for my husband and that is NOT you! It will never be you!"
The conscience stood in shocked silence, both people startled when Jean-Luc said quietly, "Serons-nous pas faire l′amour?"
Skirting around the conscience, Beverly went to Jean-Luc and cradled his face in her hands. "No," she said gently. "No one is going to make love, Jean-Luc. We're…" she looked over at the twin, noticing he kept his gaze on the floor. "We're going home, now." She took a calming breath and directed her next words at the twin. "Aren't we."
She blinked in disorientation as their surroundings changed instantly. Shocked onlookers took a few stunned seconds before rushing to assist. Helping hands eased Beverly to her feet, then joined her in aiding a bewildered Jean-Luc to his feet and over to a nearby biobed.
They were back on the Enterprise, the sirens of red alert blaring.

 

Will bolted up from the command chair, quickly turning to face tactical. He never got to voice his question. Powers said crisply, but with relief, "Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher are back aboard, Commander."
"Where?" Barked Will.
"Sick Bay, sir."
"You have the bridge, Lieutenant."
Powers left her station to take the command seat, saying respectfully, "Aye, sir."
Will was in the lift, descending before the lieutenant had taken her seat.
Having seated Jean-Luc on the biobed, Beverly, holding him by the shoulder, turned to ask Alyssa Ogawa to find a gown for her husband when she felt his body begin to drop sideways. Snapping her head back, she was just in time to use both hands to catch, then lower him gently, swinging his legs up as she lay him down. One quick glance at the large screen at the head of the bed told her all she needed to know.
"He's unconscious!"
Doctor Ogawa, not waiting for the gown, turned and took a folded blanket from a nearby bed and draped it over the captain's insensate, naked body. Both women were studying the readouts when Will hurried in.
The first thing Beverly knew of his presence was when he gently cupper her elbow. She half turned her head and he read fear in her eyes. He didn't have to ask the obvious.
"We can't find anything wrong, at least not neurologically." She said, although her flat delivery was at odds with what he'd seen in her eyes.
To Will's stony face, she sighed. "We don't know. He was sitting here, bewildered…I think…then he just…keeled over."
The big man looked down at his captain and sighed. "So…?"
Beverly shrugged. "I don't know, Will. We watch…and wait."
Sensing his next question wasn't going to be well received didn't stop him from asking anyway. "And there's no point in asking the aliens for help?"
Beverly's reply was cold and curt. "No."
"Okay." said Will. "I'll go back up to the bridge…see if they'll talk to me. They might not give us any help, exactly, but they may be willing to offer some information we can use." He turned, then hesitated and went back, saying quietly, "You're going to have to give me a report at some stage, Beverly."
"I know." she replied flatly. Will nodded and while he took another look at Jean-Luc he said very softly, "You're okay?"
"Yes." No emotion, no hint of any inner turmoil which was telling in itself. Every time Jean-Luc had been brought in to sick bay in the past, even though Beverly had been able to function perfectly well as a doctor and put aside her feelings for the man, to those who knew her well, her distress was obvious. To see and hear her so cold and unemotional when faced with this current situation with her husband both puzzled and alarmed Will, but he knew Beverly, knew her and trusted her. Without another word he left to return to the bridge.

The conscience dropped to his knees the instant the couple had vanished. The connection that had been so powerful was suddenly and brutally severed and in its absence he was left bereft, as if some integral part of himself had been savagely torn from within him. He folded, cradling his head in his hands. Two healers, a male and a female approached him cautiously. They knew he was physically well, but just as they were almost at his side, he slowly toppled over.
Dropping to their knees and passing small devices over his head, the male lifted his hands and said, "The prefrontal cortex is malfunctioning. The conscience is experiencing loss of cognitive functions and his personality is being subsumed."
"Yes." Agreed the female. "But by what?"
"I do not know. We need to access the archives."
"I will summon assistance to place the conscience on the bed while you do the necessary research. I do not need to express the need for haste."
"You will access the essence?"
"Yes."
The two parted, leaving the conscience lying curled on his side on the floor, unconscious.

Normally Will's lack of patience had always been a comfort to him, as it gave him legitimate reason to stalk and express his pent up emotions, but with his captain's well being at stake and the known glaring disparity between the technology of Enterprise and the beings on the planet below, Will had to curtail his instincts and act more like his captain. The irony was not lost on the big man.
Taking yet another calming breath, Will said mildly, "Again, lieutenant."
"Hailing frequencies, open, sir."
A few tense seconds passed before Powers said quietly, "No response, Commander."
Giving the young woman a 'do tell' look, Will lifted his chin and stared at the planet through hooded lids. "All right, lieutenant., continuous hail. All frequencies, all languages." His expression turned uncharacteristically hard. "And crank up the volume! Transmit at full power."
Powers' fingers hovered over the console, but before she tapped in the commands she said cautiously, "Sir? Why would we do that when we know what frequency and language we need to transmit with? And over such a small distance? We could do it with barely no power at all and still be heard clearly."
Will turned and regarded the woman with a cold smile. "Because, lieutenant, it's my way of shouting. It's the only thing I can think of to make them understand that I want to talk to them and I'm not going to take no for an answer. Call it nagging if you will, but it's my hope that someone down there," he pointed without looking, "eventually gets fed up with our continuous, unrelenting noise."
Her eyebrows rose, but Powers carried out her orders. It wasn't until she'd completed the simple task that Will said quietly, "And although I welcome curiosity from the crew, lieutenant, I do not appreciate my orders being questioned. It isn't your place to require me to explain myself. You just do as you're told…when you're told."
The woman reddened and lifted her chin. "Aye, Commander, my apologies, sir." She said crisply.
Later, when Will was stalking about the bridge, he stopped by Powers' station and made a show of studying her console. Very softly, so no one else could hear, Will said, "There was a grain of personal truth in what I said, Jody, but mainly it was for the rest of the bridge crew's benefit. Word will spread…people will react accordingly. I am satisfied with your performance; in fact I think you're going to make a damned fine officer. Just learn to know when it's appropriate to voice your concerns and questions. Okay?"
Sighing with relief, Powers gave a surreptitious nod and said just as quietly, "Thank you, sir."
As he moved away, the lieutenant just caught his…"No problem."

 

Five long hours later, Will was sitting in the centre seat, what little patience he possessed long gone. He had tried everything he knew including the unceasing hail, but the aliens remained implacably silent. Suddenly bursting into motion, Will sprang up from the chair and stalked quickly back and forth across the bridge.
"Why the hell are we still here anyway? Doctor Crusher has done her damned job! I've had enough of this bullshit! Helm, set course back to Earth and once we're clear of this shitty system, go to warp five and engage!"
"Aye, sir!" said the ensign at the helm. But when his fingers danced over his console, his brow lowered and he began to repeat his actions. Will noticed immediately that she ship wasn't moving. In two quick strides he was looming over the hapless young man.
"What's wrong? Why are we still here?" he said tersely.
"I don't know, sir….the ship's not answering the helm."
Closing his eyes briefly, Will whispered, "You fuckers!" he then lifted his head and said curtly,
"Engineering, this is the bridge."
Geordi LaForge answered, already aware of the situation. "LaForge here, Commander and before you ask, I don't know. We're working on it."
"Acknowledged, bridge out!"
For forty long minutes Will sat in the command chair and stewed. Geordi's call was welcomed.
"What have you got, LaForge?"
"Well nothing as to why the helm doesn't respond, but Ensign Bates has given me an idea."
Will's eyes settled on the ensign. She'd returned to the bridge some time ago and seemed as perplexed as Will was.
"Okay, Geordi, you're going to have to explain that."
"I'm on my way up, Commander; I'll be with you in a minute."
Will didn't bother to close the channel. The lift doors opened and the dark engineer strode onto the bridge. Nodding respectfully to Will, he went straight to the engineering station. Will quickly joined him.
"Right." Will said decisively. "What've you got?"
"It's the light thing."
"The light thing?" Will's eyes narrowed.
"Yeah…" Geordi was obviously still thinking about it. "We want to get their attention…right? They've been ignoring us for hours, but now it seems they're not letting us leave."
Will said nothing, just nodded.
"So, I've been thinking. Why don't we up the ante…make it patently obvious we want them to either talk to us…or let us leave?"
Curbing his irritation, Will said succinctly, "And just how do we do that?"
"Light."
"So you said, Geordi, but…" Will's tone was tight. LaForge held up his hand. "Sorry, Commander, I'm still putting this together in my head." Will calmed himself and summoned a smile. "Go on."
"Okay. Now we know that Ensign Bates 'bounced' a shaft of simple red light…our port running light…so that having struck presumably the surface of the planet, it rebounded back to us, affording us the opportunity to measure not only the rate of absorption, which in turn told us a lot about the surface, but also, by the time it took for the complete 'bounce' or echo to return we knew with some accuracy how far away the target was."
Still struggling to stay calm, Will couldn't keep the edge out of his voice as he reminded Geordi, "Yes, but didn't we do the exact same thing using sonar? I know that was sound, not light, but…"
"Hear me out, sir. What I'm thinking of isn't a broad, undefined sweep, but a focused, deliberately aimed beam of red light…infra red light."
Will's eyes glittered and his mouth thinned. "Target?" Then he held up his hand and shook his head curtly. "No, don't tell me." He smiled coldly. "The dish."
"Yes." Geordi said softly.
Stroking his beard, Will hadn't noticed the silence on the bridge. It was as if everyone present was holding the collective breaths.
"So what'd happen?"
Geordi's expression was grim. "Do you mean to the dish or us once they realise what we've done?"
Will snorted and by his expression, Geordi could see he didn't really care. As long as he got some kind of response from the aliens, he'd be satisfied. One way or another, Will had had enough.
"Either, Geordi. Quite frankly at this point, I don't give a flying fuck." It was said quietly, but in the silence of the bridge everyone heard it. Nervous glances were exchange as the crew strained to hear what Geordi had to say.
"Well, if we ignore the fact we're probably going to piss them off…and we know how they react to that…as far as the dish goes, introducing infra red light into what we think is basically pure gamma radiation, it's going to have a significant…and disruptive effect, but as to exactly what effect that is…" the man shrugged. "I guess we'll know by the …response, but either way, they won't be able to ignore it."
"And even though they have demonstrated they can control our systems…?"
Geordi's cybernetic eyes gleamed. "No problem, sir. Just like ensign Bates did, it's a simple as directing our port running light and ramping it up a little. They'd have no reason to think to turn them off. Why would they?"
Will's smile was grim as he turned to take his seat and issue the necessary orders. However he was stopped in his tracks as Beverly exited the turbolift. Her face was unreadable, but her eyes clearly showed her distress.
"I need to talk to the aliens. Now, Will, the captain's life is in the balance."

 

The atmosphere in the observation lounge was very tense. Seated around the table were Will, Beverly, Geordi, counsellor Adams and acting chief security officer, lieutenant commander Owen Gables. Sitting in Jean-Luc's customary place at the head of the long table, Will sat back, but his pose was far from relaxed. His urge to get up and pace was almost impossible to suppress, so by way of forcing his body to obey him, he deliberately adopted an informal demeanour.
Once everyone had sat he turned his focus to Beverly. "Report, Doctor."
Placing her hands palm down on the tabletop, Beverly's jaw clenched. "Long story short, I don't know what's wrong with Captain Picard. He's in a state of unconsciousness I've never seen before. It's heavier than sleep, but not as deep as a coma, yet it isn't a true form of unconsciousness."
Beverly's eyes drifted down to her hands to find she'd dragged them into tightly balled fists.
"Our scans show some neural activity we can't explain. Somewhere, deep in his prefrontal cortex…" She sighed and lifted one hand to pinch the bridge of her nose. "Look as unscientific as it sounds, all I can tell you is that something's going on in there and we have absolutely no idea what it is."
Patrick Adams sat forward, placing his forearms on the table and lacing his fingers. "The prefrontal cortex? Interesting. That involves cognitive functions and determines personality. While you were on the planet, did Captain Picard exhibit any anomalous behaviours? Did he perhaps act in a way that gave you any cause to suspect he was experiencing some disruption in the function of his brain?"
Gritting her teeth, Beverly was about to snap a biting remark when Will cut her off, saying succinctly, "Doctor Crusher has not yet had the opportunity to file her report. Until she does, let's just concentrate on what she tells us. I'm sure she'll give us all the pertinent details." His meaningful look wasn't lost on Beverly and she sent him a brief glance of gratitude. Adams saw the byplay and filed it away for later examination.
Will shifted slightly in his chair, the only outward sign of his need to move.
"Is there anything else, Doctor? You stated that captain Picard's life was in danger."
Shaking her head, Beverly's lips thinned. "Not in danger, per se, what I said was his life was in the balance."
"Okay," conceded Will. "Would you like to elaborate?"
"As well as the anomalous readings from his prefrontal cortex, I'm not convinced his left parietal lobe is functioning correctly either."
Before Will or anyone else could say anything, Beverly held up her hand. "I can't give you anything definitive. It's…all I can tell you is that while we were on the planet, the captain underwent a procedure. Afterwards, he was in the main, well, but he was in an altered psychological state. He had yet to emerge from that state when he was brought back on board. However, while on the planet after the procedure, almost exclusively, he would only speak in French."
The gathered personnel looked at each other, frowning. Counsellor Adams said quietly, "A default mechanism? He is French isn't he?"
"Yes, " Beverly said, trying to be patient. "But Captain Picard rarely uses his native language. He's been teaching me for years, but only very informally, mostly just as a form of amusement. He's spoken little but standard since his late teens."
"But…" said a thoughtful Adams. "He is fluent in several languages. I've read his file, Doctor; he's even fluent in some of Earth ancient languages, such as Ancient Greek and Latin."
Will could see that Beverly was rapidly losing patience with the counsellor. To circumvent any unpleasantness, he turned his attention to Beverly and asked, "Are you aware we've been hailing the planet for hours with no response?"
Shaking her head, Beverly shrugged. "No. I've been so absorbed with Jean-Lu…Captain Picard…I wasn't aware of anything else."
Will sent a look at Geordi and he sighed. "They've been completely ignoring us, doc. We've done everything except throw rocks."
"So what are we going to do?" asked an increasingly alarmed and suspicious Beverly. It was Will who answered.
"Well we tried to leave, but…"
Beverly was on her feet so fast her chair scooted backwards with such force it hit the viewport and upended. "NO!" She shouted.
Her outburst had startled everyone causing a stunned silence. Will's quietly worded, "Why?" Made Beverly swallow and use the time it took to right her chair and regain her seat to compose herself. "Because..." Her voice broke and she took a few deep breaths before she could continue. "Because it's now my belief we need the aliens. We need their medical expertise."
Deciding now was the time to tell the staff about the existence of the captain's identical twin and how that came to be took some time, but Beverly got through it somehow. Geordi's softly spoken, "Holy shit!" caused Beverly to snort.
"Oh, yes, that's one way to put it." She said wryly. "So you can see it's not as simple as just asking for help." She sighed and again put her hands on the tabletop. "Look, this is pure speculation on my part, but I can't shake the feeling that the captain's twin might be suffering whatever it is that's affecting the captain. And if that's true, then maybe they'll help us."
Will crossed his legs, resting his ankle on his thigh and gripping it so tightly his knuckles showed white. Patrick Adams watched all this, making mental notes.
"Well, Doctor, it seems we're not going anywhere anyway." To Beverly's raised eyebrows, Will swept a hand. "They've taken control of the helm. We can't move."
"Oh."
"Yeah," Will said sardonically, nodding thoughtfully. "Yeah, oh. But we've got a little plan…something that just might make then sit up and take notice."
Beverly's eyes narrowed. "Surely you know there's nothing we can do? If they want to keep us here, we can't stop them."
Pulling down the corners of his mouth, Will inclined his head in agreement. "True, but that doesn't mean we have to sit here and just take it. I don't know about you, Beverly, but if someone wants to shaft me, they can show some courtesy and ask me first!"
Taking a deep breath, Beverly said quietly, "What are you going to do?"
Will's grin was wolfish. "Not much. Just fool around with some infra red light, that's all."
With her knowledge of the essence, Beverly knew instantly what Will was referring to. Shaking her head vigorously, Beverly speared Will with a pleading look. "No, Will, don't do it!"
Unable to contain himself any longer, the big man shot out of his chair and began to prowl around the table. "Why the hell not? Those bastards have had us by the short and curlies from the moment we arrived! In fact, my bet is this entire mission was a setup. They lured us here and have been lying to us ever since to keep us here! Identical twin my arse! He's a clone and you and I fell head first into their trap."
"No Will, you're wrong." It was an effort for Beverly to keep her tone soft.
The big man sneered. "So now you're defending them while your husband lies in sick bay with his brains scrambled?"
"I'm not defending them Will, all I'm saying is that no matter what you do, you won't win. All you'll do is endanger Jean-Luc's life." She lifted a stricken face and said softly, "Are you prepared to do that, Will?"
He came to stand behind her chair, bent and placed one large hand on the table. With his head near hers he said quietly, "This ship has over seven hundred people on board, Beverly and in the absence of the captain, they're all my responsibility. Are you asking if the entire ship's crew is worth more than one man?"
"No, I'm not." Said Beverly, barely keeping control. "But can't you see, Will? You won't win this battle. It's pointless to even try."
Will straightened and went back to the head of the table, gripping the back of his chair. "It's not the battle I'm interested in winning, Beverly. It's the war. Dismissed."
As everyone began to file out, Beverly stayed in her seat, head cradled in her hands and she quietly wept.

 

"I can see only one alternative." The male healer looked down at the device in his hand, then directed his gaze at the conscience, his body encased in the brilliant light of the essence.
"Yes, I agree." His colleague allowed. She tilted her head and sighed. "You are aware of their plans?"
The male sighed too, lowering his glowing head. "Yes. It was inevitable, I suppose, but disappointing nonetheless."
Inclining her head, the female acknowledged the remark. "I had hoped Riker would be more like the conscience's brother. He is far more evolved."
"Evolved?" the male shook his head. "I do not think it is a matter of evolution, more a simple difference in personality. One only has to access the archives to see that humans, even the more…enlightened ones have very disparate personalities."
"But so different?" Insisted the female. "Riker is overtly aggressive! The conscience's brother is…"
"…like the conscience?" The gentle admonishment made the female glow vividly.
"I admit I have made a basic error in making a gross generalisation. Of course humans are just as diverse as individuals as we are. But the question remains. What do we do about Riker and what he proposes?"
The male tilted his head and sighed. "Obviously he cannot be permitted to carry out his plans; the essence must not be violated. No doubt our strategists will consult with us, but I feel we have but one alternative."
"He must be bought here."
"Yes." The male demurred. "The conscience's brother must be brought to him. The connection must be restored if we have any chance of separating them."
"And his one? The healer? Should we bring her too?"
The male shrugged; an oddly human gesture. "I cannot see how we can avoid it. The conscience's one has been very beneficial in keeping him calm, even in his altered state. It is possible his brother's one can do the same for him."
"Agreed, but Riker is not going to accept this. It is most likely he will become even more irrational and belligerent."
"True, but I feel our strategists will be able to make it perfectly clear to him, without any hint of injury to any individual or damage to their ship, that resistance or even protest is pointless."
The female lifted her hands higher, indicating a more fervent tone. "But surely even that will cause Riker to react. It seems that his irrational and belligerent behavior increases the more helpless he feels."
"Sadly, you are correct, but we cannot be held responsible for his inherent behaviour. All we can do is render him, and by extension his ship, harmless."
The female snorted, a soft, somehow sibilant sound. "Harmless? They were never considered capable of doing us any harm."
"I was thinking more of them themselves. Who is to say what lengths Riker would go to defend…or retrieve his…friends?" He sighed. "It matters not. Our strategists can negate or nullify anything he tries. It is a pity though. We requested their presence and their help and they came and gave it willingly. I find the current situation…distasteful."
"Yes," agreed the female. "And then there is the conscience's brother's continuing…difficulty…with the procurement." She sighed. "Although I commend their sentiment…their….Prime Directive…it has its merits, but to attempt to apply it to us…to even have the temerity to think we would accede…I cannot help but feel insulted by their conceit."
"Indeed. There is much to regret about this entire episode." The male sighed, lifting a glowing hand to rub his flat nose. "All we can hope for is to resolve this in such a way as ensure no one is harmed or left adversely affected by their experiences with us."
"And that we retain our autonomy…and our privacy."
The male nodded his agreement and a small hiatus ensued, their hands falling to their sides. When the female again lifted her hands, the male inclined his head, his eyes fixed on her fingers.
"I must admit, though, I am disappointed with the knowledge the humans, indeed the entire Federation may be left with the opinion we have been…and still are, acting in what they consider an immoral way or at the very least, in violation of their laws."
"Perhaps," demurred the male. "But ultimately it is irrelevant. There is nothing they can do to stop us."
"Agreed, but from what we know of them…humans in particular…they can be very…persistent if they believe they have been wronged. Riker said as much himself."
"Still irrelevant." The male looked briefly at a device then returned his attention to his companion. "It matters not. Once the transcendence takes place, any concerns the humans or the Federation have will be moot."
"And in the interim?"
The male shrugged. "Irrelevant."
The female responded to a gently strobing light and nodded. "I am going to reduce the essence. The conscience would benefit from being with his one for a short time.
"Agreed."

 

As the officers filed out of the observation lounge, Patrick Adams hung back, staying just inside. The doors swished shut, leaving him alone with Beverly, although she was unaware of his presence. He moved quietly back to the table and just as quietly took a seat opposite the weeping Beverly.
"Would you like to talk about it?" he asked softly. Startled, Beverly's head snapped up and immediately anger spiked. Rising quickly to her feet, she glared down at the man. "No, I would not." She said coldly.
He shrugged; beads of sweat on his brow. Despite her anger, Beverly's medical brain kicked in, cataloguing this information for further analysis later. "It might help, Doctor." He said mildly. "You're under an enormous amount of stress right now and added to what you and the captain have been going through these past months…" he shrugged again, lifting his hands, palm upwards.
Curbing her irritation and anger, Beverly managed a cool smile. "While I appreciate your offer, counsellor, I don't need any assistance right now, but thank you."
"It's not going to get any easier, Beverly." His use of her given name only served to increase her anger, but she knew he was only trying to do his job. The cool, fixed smile stayed, but her eyes glittered dangerously. "Look, Counsellor…Patrick…" the smile grew in size but not in warmth. "I really don't have the time. Right now I have to devote every gram of my energy and thought to Captain Picard." Adams opened his mouth to protest, but Beverly held up a hand and shook her head. "No. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. But…like we told you previously, once the dust's settled, then yes, we'll come to you for joint counselling."
She was on the way to the other doors when Patrick's soft words made her falter slightly before regaining her resolve.
"Very well, Beverly. Just so you know…I'll be here to pick up the pieces when the inevitable happens."
He sat still for a moment or two, staring at the closed doors. Sighing, he wiped his wet brow and hoisted his body to his feet. As he went to exit through the same set of doors, he thought, yet again, "I really must lose some weight."

 

Will cast his eyes around the bridge, noting everyone was ready. After a measured look at Geordi, he nodded once, curtly. "Do it!"
Turning to the engineering console, Geordi's hands went to input the commands to send the focused shaft of infra red light into the dish on the planet's surface when the console abruptly went dark. Then, one-by-one every console on the bridge went out. Stepping back from his station, his hands still at waist height Geordi muttered, "What the hell?"
Will didn't have to be told. He clenched his fists and bowed his head, screwing his eyes closed in impotent fury. "Fuck you!" he thought vehemently. It took several long minutes, the bridge now completely silent with the cessation of the usual soft background noises, before Will lifted his head to address the waiting crew. "Get to work! Find a way to get back control of the damned ship!"
No one said a word, not even to acknowledge the orders. It simply wasn't appropriate and in Will's present mood, no one dared draw attention to themselves.
The sounding of the red alert both shocked and startled the already rattled crew Out of sheer habit, Will whirled to face tactical. Powers lifted her hands helplessly, shaking her head.
"I don't know, Commander!"
Closing his eyes again, Will tried to take a deep breath, tried to calm down, but it was too much. Lifting fisted hands he shouted, "Fucking hell!"
It took two tense minutes before Will was able to say with some control, "Computer, reason for red alert?"
There was no reply. His expression glowering, Will said curtly to Owen Gables. "Lieutenant, get some teams together. I think you'll find it's the captain's been taken, but after checking sick bay, do a physical check, count heads."
"Yes, sir."
The lieutenant went to the lift doors but they didn't open. Sighing with anger and frustration, Will stabbed a finger in the direction of the Jefferies tube hatch on the opposite side of the bridge. Silently Gables nodded and soon disappeared into the bowels of the ship.

 

One second Beverly had been striding briskly through the ship, on her way back to sick bay, next she was staggering as she found herself back in the room where Jean-Luc had undergone his 'recovery'. She spun around, her balance precarious. Seeing Jean-Luc, lying naked on the bed, she began to go to him, then halted, her heart accelerating as she saw, next to him on another bed, was his twin, also lying naked, his one by his side.
Her need to be with her husband overrode her caution and she went boldly to the bed, lifting her chin and staring defiantly at the softly glowing female. Although she couldn't see the being's eyes, Beverly felt sure they were locked on hers, each taking the measure of the other.
A gentle hand on her shoulder made her know her attention was required elsewhere, but she'd be damned if she was going to back down. Foolish and immature as it was, somehow; deep inside Beverly, she knew instinctively just how important it was to win this minor battle of wills. She was immensely gratified when the female lowered her head, but the resulting radiance made Beverly screw her eyes shut and cover her face with her hands. Stalemate.
The hand on her shoulder remained and it was only when she felt a gentle squeeze that she risked opening her eyes. A screen was offered and she read, "No doubt you are aware of the anomalous readings in the brain of your one. The conscience is suffering the same condition."
"What is it?" asked Beverly urgently.
"We do not know. We have not encountered anything like this before. Our knowledge of the human brain is extensive, but we cannot offer any explanation as to why these readings exist."
The healer, its gender unknown to Beverly looked down at the captain, then after offering a small bow, passed a small device over and around Jean-Luc's head. Beverly watched stoically, knowing she was out of her depth. If anyone could help the two men, it was the aliens.
"We are correct. The readings are identical."
It turned to Beverly and tilted its head, its raised hands drawing her eyes back to the screen.
"Tell us more about the phenomena you described to the conscience."
"You mean the twin thing?"
That seemed to confuse the being, so Beverly qualified.
"Sorry, I take it you're referring to the unexplained abilities sometimes exhibited by identical twins?"
"Yes. Can you tell us more?"
Sighing, Beverly frowned, chewing the inside of her cheek. "Well, I can't tell you all that much, 'cause I simply don't know….in fact human medical science doesn't understand it, despite centuries of study. We know things happen, but not all identical twins, triplets or more exhibit it."
That seemed to make the alien healer think. In the ensuing hiatus, Beverly gently laid her hand on Jean-Luc's brow. What she felt made her frown. "He's hot."
She saw the healer's hands rise. "Yes, both the conscience and his brother have an elevated body temperature. We do not know why, but as it seems to be doing no harm, we have not, as yet, done anything to restore their normal body temperature."
"I take it you've thoroughly checked the hypothalamus? It is responsible for regulating body temperature."
"Yes."
Again there was a hiatus, but as soon as Beverly saw the hands rise again, she directed her gaze to the small screen. "What can you tell us about the…twin thing?"
Shrugging, Beverly pulled her mouth to one side. "Okay, well, we know that some sets of identical siblings, usually twins, but as I said, other birth multiples have exhibited these…phenomena…and the siblings are of the same gender, of course…there's been well-documented cases of identical siblings having almost telepathic abilities. Sometimes they feel each other's pain, in other instances, one will speak…begin a sentence, only to have the other…or others finish it. And I suppose the most remarkable are documented cases of twins and I should point out that this has occurred in non-identical twins as well…having been separated at birth, they were nevertheless aware of the existence of each other. Not in a conscious way, but at the sub conscious level and it was often a factor in the twins reuniting as adults."
Her eyes on the screen, Beverly read, "Were these individuals separated by any great distance?"
"Sometimes yes, at least as far as being confined to our planet. But although it was most commonly seen where the children who grew to adulthood were in the same country, there are cases where the children had been separated by continents, sometimes thousands and thousands of kilometers apart, in different countries and cultures."
"So…they would have completely disparate lives."
"Uh huh." Nodded Beverly. "Depending on the country, the language, diet, in the past even a different religion."
"This is most intriguing. You stated earlier that on discovering the…connection…between the conscience and his brother you thought perhaps it was not evident at first because the conscience had been removed in an undeveloped state. If that is the case, why then would the…connection…intensify once we had removed the nanite infestation?"
"I don't know." said a frustrated Beverly. "I have been thinking about it of course…are you aware of engrams?"
"Engrams?"
"Yes." Nodded Beverly. "They're a type of memory. What do you know about memory in humans?"
The being tilted its head. "We know that memory in the human brain is created and encoded chemically and retrieved electrically."
"Narrowing her eyes, Beverly asked, "That's it? That's all you know?"
"Yes. What else is there to know?"
Rubbing the tip of her nose, Beverly ordered her thoughts. "Okay, memory in humans. What you said is true, but that was a grossly simplistic description. The areas of the human brain responsible for memory are the cerebellum, the striatum, the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus and the amygdala. The reason so many areas of the brain are involved is because different memories are stored in different ways. It depends on how the memory derived. Was it tactile? Sensory? Visual? Was the memory gained by an experience? An event? But engrams differ because they're memories we've carried as an evolving species. Think of them as evolutionary holdovers. They exist in the LIP…the lateral interpositus nucleus, which is within the cerebellum. Engrams are our automatic responses. I can't be more specific than that as the effect of engrams differs from person to person. Some people will, in some circumstances, exhibit atavistic behaviour that can be directly attributed to an engram, where someone else in the same circumstance may show nothing or a completely different behaviour." She sighed and shrugged. "It is most certainly governed by genetics. I suppose if your parents both have a strong engram presence in their brains, it stands to reason their children will carry the same trait and the opposite is also true as is any mixture…or intensity."
"We will scan your one. We will see if we can establish if he still has his…engrams."
"And if he doesn't?" asked a sickened Beverly. "Can you do anything to replace them?" She asked hopefully.
"We do not know. Allow us to carry out our scans."
It wasn't as if Beverly had any choice. As she watched the healer retreat into the booth, she knew the conscience's one was watching her.
It was only a few minutes before Beverly noticed the screen in her hand was glowing. She lifted it and the glow vanished to reveal text. "Join us please, Beverly."
As Beverly crossed the room she felt the female's eyes on her, but she studiously ignored her. Once inside the booth, she was gently ushered to a floating, life-size hologram of Jean-Luc's brain. Several areas were highlighted. Gesturing to the image, the nearest healer directed her eyes to the text under the hologram. She read. "Are these the correct areas you spoke of?"
"Yes." Agreed Beverly. She then pointed, saying absently, "Can you separate these areas and enlarge?"
Instead of answering by text, the image simply changed to conform to her request. Text appeared under the hologram again. "All you have to do is ask for what you need to see, Beverly. Our system will provide all you wish."
Sending a quick glance of thanks to the healer, Beverly said tentatively, "Show me the lateral interpositus nucleus within the cerebellum, enlarge again and highlight."
The image changed instantly and Beverly found herself leaning forward. She didn't see the healer use his hands in the air to adjust the image. The specific area was now an object a metre in diameter.
"Okay…now identify the engrams. I want you to enlarge any concentration and highlight."
"What exactly are we to look for? How do we identify these…engrams?"
"Oh…sorry." said Beverly apologetically. "Pyramidal cells. It's the neurons inside that have a very specific and unique connectivity. It should show quite clearly as being very different from normal neurological neurons."
The new image made Beverly's eyes close briefly with relief. "There they are! He still has them."
Peering at the bright cluster that now took up a tabletop size of area in front of her, Beverly said distractedly, without talking her eyes off the hologram, "This, of course, isn't how the engrams would appear in the brain, I've just asked for this representation to make it easier for us to see them."
Text scrolled under the image. "It is an enormous number. Is that considered normal?"
Beverly smile was indulgent. "Ah, the complexities of the human brain. You can't think of engrams as single entities, although they are, being basically a type of neuron, but like all neurons in the brain, they're interconnected. They may number from 30,000 to 100,000 or more, but it's their connectivity that makes them so unique. The pyramidal cell structure assists the synapses but it's the association of the required atavistic memory that makes the engram neuron activate. Of all those engrams, at any given instance, only a very small percentage may be required at any given time. Indeed, it's possible an individual could live their entire lives never having activated a single engram."
"From what you can see, are these engrams…normal?"
Beverly shrugged. "I don't know. Unless they're activated, I wouldn't know and even then, I'd be hard pressed to know the difference as it's exhibited behavior that's noted, not any change in the engrams themselves."
"Wait."
The hologram winked out of existence, then just as suddenly reappeared. Beverly frowned, not understanding what was happening. Then her penny dropped.
"This is Jean-Luc's brother's brain, isn't it."
"Yes. This is the conscience's engrams. As you can see…"
The hologram changed again and now the two areas of engrams were displayed side-by-side. "They, like the brothers themselves, are identical."
"No surprise there." Beverly muttered sardonically.
"Yes, but can you discern if there has been any…alteration? Any disruption?"
Chewing again on the inside of her cheek, Beverly thought hard. Eventually she sighed and tilted her head. "Well," she said cautiously, "I did do a level four neurological scan on the captain many years ago, looking for any evidence of a neurological disease and at that time, apart from find a slight defect in the parietal lobe, I can't say I recall noting any anomalous readings of the LIP."
"If we could see the results of those scans would it be of some assistance?"
"Yes." Said Beverly nodding eagerly. "I could compare them and with your technology, easily see any changes. Especially as I have these images of the twin's brain as well."
Somehow Beverly expected to wait, but the scans she'd taken years ago appeared as holograms before her. Shocked, she stammered…"How…?"
But there was no reply to her question. Text began to scroll. "Can you see any difference, Beverly?"
Gathering her shattered composure, the doctor spent several long moments comparing, asking for several magnified views of all three holograms. Sighing, she stepped back and gestured to the images.
"As far as I can see, I can't detect any changes. But I'd like to do a chemical analysis. Bearing in mind that engrams aren't encoded chemically, they're already present at birth, I still want to know if their basic chemical makeup is not only unchanged, but stable. I can use the captain's old scan as my yardstick."
"Yardstick?"
Rolling her hand, her eyes still on the three holograms, Beverly muttered, "Base comparison."
The asked-for analysis suddenly appeared, but Beverly frowned with incomprehension. "What is that?"
"It is the chemical analysis you requested."
"No it's not." Said an increasingly alarmed Beverly. "I don't recognise any of that! What are those chemicals?"

"They are the normal chemicals one would find within a human brain."
"No they're not!" Beverly had to stop herself from shouting. Calming down, she took a deep breath and asked, "What are you using as your source?"
The healers all looked at each other, their hands raised. Beverly waited impatiently until text appeared.
"The conscience has always possessed these chemicals in the brain."
Narrowing her eyes, Beverly asked quietly, "All consciences…or just human ones?"
"All."
Lifting her hand to nibble at her thumbnail, Beverly tried to fit this new information into what she knew of the aliens' history. She came up empty. Sighing with frustration, she asked, "Is there anything you do, either during gestation or…maybe as soon as a new conscience has been…procured…to help them adapt?"
"Adapt to what?"
"I don't know!" Beverly snapped. "Life here…among your people…or this planet."
"The conscience has little direct contact with the people, Beverly. Only those chosen to serve as his one, family or staff have any contact with him."
Suspicion rose, causing Beverly to fold her arms. "Okay, what about the planet? I know this…" she waved her hand to encompass the complex. "…is suitable for humans and obviously those of you who live here too….but what about outside? What are your cities like? Are they enclosed too? Is there something in what little atmosphere this planet has that's dangerous? I know the conscience has often ventured outside. Was he altered in some way?" A new, very unsettling thought occurred and Beverly stared at the holograms with dawning dread. "Have you altered Jean-Luc and me too?"
The stillness and silence of the booth was ominous in its own way. With growing alarm, Beverly said quietly, "What have you done?"
When the text finally began to scroll, Beverly wasn't at all sure she wanted to read it.
"It was necessary."
"To do what?"
"There is, in the air you breathe, a suppressant, a chemical that inures you to the more…deleterious effects of the pervading atmosphere. You are quite correct, Beverly. There is something harmful. It is to do with the essence. Where the conscience has always been protected, we who serve with him have had the opposite done to us. We have been exposed. It is not possible for us to live in this environment and breathe the same air without serious consequences. Unfortunately, as our physical selves have reached a point where we can no longer adapt, we who serve have, in effect, given our lives for our chosen paths. To serve is to die."
"My God…is there nothing you can do? Surely, after all this time…"
"So few are affected, Beverly, it was hardly worth it. In any case, our conclusion will assist the people. We do not regret or rail against our decision. It was taken with full knowledge of the consequences."
Looking back at the holograms, Beverly asked worriedly, "So, can you remove the chemical or not?"
"To do so would place all of you in great danger, Beverly."
"Yes, but with this…" she pointed at the highlighted areas. "…our brains won't function as they should. I know I've not exhibited any adverse reactions, but if my engrams have been effectively turned off, who's to say in the future a situation may arise when the lack of engram activity costs me my life?! Or my husband's! You can't leave us like this!"
"But, Beverly…is it the dormant state of the engrams that is responsible for the condition of the conscience and his brother?"
Throwing her hands up in angry frustration, Beverly shouted, "I don't know!"
"Then why do we not attempt to bring the engrams out of their dormant state and see if that improves the conscience and his brother's condition?"
"Oh, that's just fine and dandy," snapped Beverly sarcastically, "but what about the rest? Are you going to restore the natural chemical balance in Jean-Luc's and my brain?" Another thought struck her. "And commander Riker?"
"When your time with us is at its end, we will do what we can, for all of you, but we must caution you…we have not had to do this before."
"What're you saying?"
"We cannot predict what might happen."
"Great…oh, that's just great." Beverly really wanted to sit down, but she'd had enough. Turning abruptly she left the booth and went to her husband, picking up his hand and holding it to her cheek.

 

Their eyes opened at precisely the same time. Beverly stood on one side of the bed, a healer on the other. Next to Jean-Luc's bed, only a metre or so away, the same thing was happening with the female and a healer. Both naked men stared sightlessly up at the ceiling and oddly, blinked at the same time and in the same pattern. Both healers, one with the captain, the other with the conscience, passed a hand holding a small device around the heads of the men and Beverly gasped softly as a hologram appeared above Jean-Luc's head. Glancing over, she saw the same thing over the twin's head.
With some gestures of their hands in unison, the healers enlarged the holograms and all of the brain was eliminated except the areas of engrams. As before each area was highlighted.
As Beverly watched a small capsule was introduced into the right nostril of each man. At first, nothing happened, then suddenly, as one, both twins began to shake. Beverly laid her hand on Jean-Luc's bare chest, over his heart only to find it was beating incredible fast. Her head snapped up, her voice loud, curt and crisp. "If you don't slow down the rate of cardiac activity, the conscience will suffer a cardiac arrest! Jean-Luc's heart will withstand the overload, but the rest of his cardio-vascular system won't."
"We know."
Nothing happened. With growing frustration and alarm, Beverly shouted, "Stop it! Whatever it is you're doing, stop!"
"We cannot, the procedure is in progress. To stop it before it has completed would put the conscience and his brother in grave danger."
"But they're already in grave danger!" Beverly yelled helplessly, her eyes going from her husband's shuddering, naked body to that of his twin. Unlike Beverly, who kept her hand on Jeran-Luc, the female had bent so that her glowing head was almost touching her one's.
Beverly started when gentle hands eased an eye shield into her free hand. She shook her head irritatedly, waving the being away, but she found she couldn't refuse. As she watched another healer put a shield on Jean-Luc's eyes. Beverly had choice but to comply. The last thing she saw before everything went black was the female putting a shield on the conscience's eyes.
Beverly put her other hand on Jean-Luc, this one on his cheek. Stubble pricked her palm and as she kept in physical contact with him, she felt the shuddering become increasingly violent.
"What's happening?" she called out, but she received nothing by way of reply. Under the hand on his chest, Beverly felt his heart accelerate and she knew his body simply couldn't withstand it. "Stop!" she yelled desperately. "Please…for God's sake…stop it! You'll kill him!"
When Jean-Luc's heart abruptly stopped beating, Beverly was so shocked all she could say was, "No…." so softly, no one heard. Under her hands his now utterly still body began to rapidly cool. It wasn't until mere minutes later, when she began to shiver that she realised the temperature of the entire room was plummeting quickly.
When hands tried to usher her away from Jean-Luc's body, she resisted, twisting violently from side-to side, trying to dislodge the gentle, but firm hands. Eventually too many hands overwhelmed her and she was all but dragged away. She sensed she was in a smaller space and surmised she'd been taken to the booth. The same gentle urging had her sink into a seat of some kind. Blind, frantic and on the verge of panic, all Beverly could do was sit and shiver more and more violently as the temperature continued to rapidly drop.
In her sensory-deprived world it was difficult to accurately gauge the passage of time, but Beverly felt not long had passed before her body stopped shivering. She registered it was now extremely cold, but it wasn't until she developed a sudden, overwhelming urge to sleep that she understood she was suffering from hypothermia. Sluggishly, she tried to force her mind to work, but, like her body, it was in the process of closing down.
Behind the implacably black eye shield, her eyes slowly closed, even as the last vestiges of her conscious mind screamed in frustration and desperation, "NO! Stay awake! If you go to sleep, you won't wake up!"
It was no use. She slipped into sleep, never seeing her decreasing breaths clouding thickly around her head.

 

Will had finally given up. He'd been angry for so long, the frustration and anguish had built to a point where he simply couldn't sustain it any longer.
With the ship sitting practically dead in space, Will had come to accept there was nothing anyone could do. So, although he'd ordered all strategic stations manned, the rest of the crew was ordered to off duty status. Having given the orders he felt strangely tranquil.
In his quarters, Will had allowed himself the luxury of a long hot shower, he'd trimmed his beard, eaten a decent meal then, after feeding and changing Charlotte and watching her kick on her mat for half an hour, he'd taken his daughter and crawled gratefully into bed, sleeping solidly for seven hours.
Charlotte's growing complaints drew him from his slumber and he smiled, his eyes still closed as his hand felt and found his little girl safe beside him. At his touch, she settled momentarily, but soon her insistent grizzling drew a soft protest from Will as he exited the bed with the baby in his arms.
Managing to empty his very full bladder one-handed, he washed that hand then changed the baby before wandering into the living area, pausing by his bedroom mirror on the way out and snorting at the reflected image.
"Not the epitome of a Starfleet commander, Charlotte." He chuckled quietly. Dressed only in a pair of ill-fitting shorts, his dark hair was askew, his eyes bleary, despite his good sleep. Yawning expansively, he knuckled his eye with his free hand as he stood in front of the replicator.
Armed with a warm bottle, he settled into the sofa and spent a contented twenty minutes feeding his daughter. It wasn't until she'd been burped and was lying on her mat that Will called the bridge.
"Anything to report?"
"No, sir." Said the officer of the watch. "Everything's just the same, Commander, no change."
Instead of the rush of anger and furious frustration those words would've caused only several hours before, a now calm Will sighed and said quietly, "Thank you, bridge. Any change, let me know immediately. Riker out."
Looking down at Charlotte he couldn't help but grin. "Well little girl, you have the entire ship to play in. Until we're up and running again, your daddy is at your disposal."
He stood, stretched his large frame and wandered back to the replicator, getting something to eat. Momentarily confused, he asked, "Computer, what is the time?"
Of course there was no reply so he just shrugged and said aloud…"Feels like breakfast time."
With that thought in mind, he ordered scrambled eggs on toast and a mug of coffee, indulging himself with milk and sugar instead of his usual black, no sweetener.
Having eaten he showered again, dressed in a clean uniform and combed his hair. Thus prepared, he went and picked Charlotte up and exited his quarters, looking down at the baby to say, "I think you'll enjoy engineering. Lots of pretty lights."

 

The softly diffused light Beverly perceived through her eyelids reminded her of dawn on Caldos…that and the distinct chill in the air. Sighing, she turned her head, flaring her nostrils, trying to pick up the aroma of porridge she knew her nanna would be making.
With an anticipatory smile, she rolled over and abruptly fell approximately half a metre onto a cold, hard surface. Brutally wrenched from her dream, Beverly yelped in surprise and scrabbled to her feet, completely disoriented. Her eyes darting to and fro, it took a few panicked seconds for her to remember where she was. She shot out of the booth, ignoring the healers, her heart in her mouth.
What she saw brought her to an abrupt halt. Sitting on the side of one bed, close and side-by-side, Jean-Luc and his twin, both still naked, had their hands one on top of the other beside them. The female held the conscience's free hand and as Beverly slowly approached, Jean-Luc, who didn't take his gaze from his brother's face, who was also staring at him the same way, held out his hand in a silent invitation for Beverly to take it. This she did, but then stood, confused and frightened.
"Jean-Luc?" she said gently.
He didn't react in any way. She tried again. "Jean-Luc…it's me…Beverly. Can you hear me?"
Other than holding her hand, he gave no indication that he registered her presence. The twins kept their eyes locked on each other. Switching to French she said carefully, "Jean-Luc, c′est votre épouse, Beverly. Etes-vous d′accord? Pouvez-vous m′entendre?"
He was no more responsive to his native tongue than standard. She fretted, thinking…"I told him I was his wife; I asked if he was all right and if he could hear me and I got nothing, not in French and not in standard. What the hell's going on?"
As Beverly tried to figure out what was happening, the glow of the female made her turn to look at her. Beverly, on seeing the female offering her hand became suspicious. "What do you want?" she asked warily.
Watching in the booth, one of the healers lifted her hands and said, "Should we instruct her?"
"No." said the male. "She has the intelligence to solve the puzzle presented to her."
"Are you sure?" the female gestured. "I am not so confident."
"We must allow her to make her own choices. Be patient and wait. We will soon see. If she fails, we will instruct her."
Beverly's eyes left the female's offered hand and took in the tableau. Each person was linked; the only gap was between her and the female. "A circuit?" Thought Beverly. "Is that what this is about? Am I supposed to…complete the chain? Am I the missing link?"
Tentatively, Beverly lifted her hand and allowed the female to wrap her extraordinary long, slender fingers around hers. Beverly didn't register the chill of the female's flesh because as soon as their hands touched she felt a heavy jolt right between her eyes. Her head snapped up, her eyes wide. The three humans were all the same, each head raised; eyes and mouths wide open. The alien female glowed brightly, but not so vividly as to damage the human's eyes.
Struck mute, Beverly 'saw' memories. Some were hers, some she knew to be Jean-Luc's, but there were others. There was no seeming chronological order to any of it, nor was there any order to the rapid, unceasing parade of images. It was a stream of fragments…a mélange of experiences some familiar, most not. But it wasn't just visual. With each fragment came tastes, smells…sounds. In the silence of the room, the four beings experienced every moment of each other's lives, from birth to the present.

 

The strange chaos suddenly ceased. Beverly blinked slowly, taking several long seconds to reintegrate into herself. Lowering her head, she saw the twins were still looking at each other, but not with the same blank nothingness, but with awe and…gratitude? Beverly was about to speak, to ask, her hopes rising, if her husband was all right, but she snapped her mouth closed as both men spoke at the same time.
"I'm not you any more, I'm just me." Jean-Luc said softly, a small smile on his face. At the same time his brother had said with the same softness of voice,
"I have regained myself. We are separate, Jean-Luc."
"Yes, separate," there was a gentleness, an intimacy in Jean-Luc's voice Beverly had only ever heard him use with her and only then in privacy. "…but not."
"Yes," agreed the twin with the exact same familiarity that Jean-Luc had used. "We are two separate people, Jean-Luc, yet we share everything. In many ways we are still one."
His eyes left his brother and settled on his one. "I owe you my apologies my beloved one. I cannot explain why I behaved as I did, but for the sorrow and hurt I caused…I am deeply sorry."
The female bent slightly and briefly touched her glowing head to his. They sighed and Beverly and Jean-Luc immediately understood this was a very intimate gesture. A few seconds passed before the conscience lifted his head and set his gaze on Beverly. Although she still found it very unsettling to look into those eyes, so identical to her husband's, especially in the light of what had occurred, he eased her disquiet with his softly spoken words. "And you, Beverly. I also owe you an apology." He shook his head, both confused and unable to find the right words. It was Jean-Luc who helped him. "Neither of us was functioning as individuals, Beverly. Somehow we became enmeshed in each other's minds, but where I was incapable of functioning," he turned and offered his brother a gentle smile of forgiveness. "…my brother was and he simply acted on what we both felt…for you." He sighed, lowered his head and shook it sadly. "Had I not been incapacitated, I would've behaved the same way towards my brother's one, acting on his feelings…his love and desire for her." He looked up and gazed at Beverly, his expression stricken. "I felt it, Beverly." His voice was rough with emotion and tears glistened as yet unshed. "I wanted her with the same depth of love and passion I feel for you. I'm so sorry."
Stepping closer, Beverly wrapped her arms around her husband and held him as he trembled. She didn't know if it was through emotion or cold, although she suspected the latter.
As they embraced, Jean-Luc's head resting on her shoulder, Beverly glanced at his twin to see that he too was being comforted by his one and the thought occurred that the twins may still be connected.
Several quiet moments passed before the growing light in the room announced the approach of at least one healer. Looking over her shoulder, Beverly saw two. One was offering a small screen. She took it in one hand then wrapped the arm back around Jean-Luc, but held the screen so she could see it.
"You are correct, Beverly."
Frowning, Beverly was about to ask what was being referred to, when more text appeared.
"The conscience is still connected to his twin."
Fear and dread shot through Beverly's mind and she took her eyes away from the screen, hugging Jean-Luc tighter and closing her eyes. The words now sounded softly in her mind.
"Yes, Beverly we can hear you, as you can now hear us." Twisting her head, her eyes wide, Beverly watched as the being 'spoke' to her, its hands stayed at its side.
"This….effect…will only last until the chemicals in your brain have been removed. But….the connection…between the conscience and his twin will remain as long as they both live."
"Will it diminish with distance?" Asked Beverly, her mouth dry.
"No. But with practice, we think both will learn how, with our assistance, to…control the strength of the link, however it will always exist. Now that it has been brought into actuality, it cannot be deactivated."
Beverly almost sneered. "You make it sound like some kind of computer program."
"In a way it is. If you consider the human brain, indeed most sentient beings' brains…are they not remarkably sophisticated organic computers?"
When Beverly said nothing, the being said, "Your accusations are unfounded, Beverly."
Annoyed at hearing her unspoken thoughts aired, Beverly said quietly, but with anger, "All right, seeing as I don't have the luxury of privacy, if you didn't do this to them, then how is it that they're now joined at the damned hip forever?"
The expression caused both healers to lift their hands and Beverly realised they had the ability to control what she heard from them. It made her irritation grow. Their hands fell to their sides and one of the healers began to glow too brightly. Placing her hand around the back of Jean-Luc's head, Beverly said quietly, "Keep your head on my shoulder, my love and close your eyes tight."
She only just heard him as he replied, "I know, my brother has already warned me."
Casting a quick, squinted look at the conscience, she saw his one holding him in much the same way as she was holding Jean-Luc. With the light now too bright, Beverly squeezed her eyes shut, lowered her head and waited.
The words in her mind helped ease her worry.
"Forgive my colleague. She is expressing both sadness that you think we are responsible and offence for the same reason. The propensity for what the conscience and his brother now share was always there, Beverly. Indeed, after Jean-Luc's rescue from the Borg and later, when he began to 'hear' them, the latent ability to connect with his brother was there as well.
"So the Borg…" Thought Beverly, her stomach souring.
"No. I only use that reference to compare the experience of 'hearing' another in the mind. We feel, given the right circumstances some, if not all of the children born as multiple human births have this ability. But for whatever reason, it never reaches its full potential, only exhibiting itself as the 'twin' phenomena you and your husband have mentioned."
"All multiple human births?" said Beverly incredulously. "Not just identicals?… any number or gender, mixed or not?"
"Yes. We had not considered what occurs in utero. We have come to the conclusion that in their development, the children of multiple human pregnancies form some kind of subliminal mental connection. Once born, outside, contributing circumstances can either assist in bringing some level of the connection to the surface or without these…stimulators… it remains latent. It was not until you made us aware of the engrams that we discovered this propensity, but as yet, we do not understand it."
The light had dimmed and Jean-Luc lifted his head. Gently extricating himself from his wife's embrace he eased her to one side so he could have an unobstructed view of the healers.
"You realise what this means?"
The conscience's voice in his head made Jean-Luc hold up his hand, but he didn't look at his brother. "No." he thought to his twin. "I know the decision is yours to make, but this is a medical matter. I must discuss it with them first."
The conscience gave a small incline of his head. He would wait…for now. Speaking out loud, Jean-Luc said quietly, but firmly, "Well?"
As the healer began to speak in his mind, Jean-Luc shook his head. "No. I want Beverly to hear too."
When the healer spoke again, Beverly smiled and nodded, letting Jean-Luc know she could hear as well.
"We understand your inference, but we do not see how this alters anything."
"Really?" said a coldly angry captain. "Even though you now know that by taking an embryo from a multiple human pregnancy, you are severing and disrupting a natural aspect…an extraordinary bond…that exists, at whatever level between the developing children and may exhibit itself once the children are born? And that by removing one of the embryos, you are destroying this bond?"
By the subtle shifting of their bodies, Jean-Luc correctly indentified embarrassment and dismay.
"It was never our intention to cause that, Jean-Luc. We did not know!"
"But you do now!"
The conscience had heard enough. Out loud he said, "Obviously we have much to think about. My healers will examine this…situation and offer a petition on which I will make a judgment. Until then, perhaps we should concentrate on the removal of the chemicals in your brains and that of Commander Riker? I have it on good authority he is exhibiting…atypical…behaviour."
Jean-Luc's head snapped around and he glared at his brother. The conscience tried to raise his hand, but Jean-Luc gripped his wrist. "What do you mean by that? What's happening on my ship?"
Locking their intense gaze, the conscience said quietly, in the same way Jean-Luc did when angry, "Your ship had been rendered…inoperative." Before Jean-Luc could voice his protests, either vocally or mentally, his twin looked down at the hand gripping his wrist and didn't say anything further until Jean-Luc released him. He then said "Your ship and its crew are safe and unharmed. Life-support, gravity, replicators, sick bay, intra-ship communications…they are all functioning normally, but all other systems, including computer access has been…nullified."
"I see." Said Jean-Luc tightly. "And Commander Riker?"
It was a healer who answered. "It would seem, having been removed from this environment, the suppressing chemicals in his brain are having an unexpected effect. He is not behaving as he should, however we can assure you he is not a danger to himself, his child, the crew or the ship."
Beverly's voice was a tight as her husband's. "Then get him down here and do whatever it is you need to do to rid all of us of the damned chemicals!"
"That is not possible."
Jean-Luc and Beverly spoke in unison. "Why?"
The conscience answered. "Because we cannot do it as a group, Jean-Luc. My healers will treat Beverly first, then send her back to your ship where she will be required to…assist in preparing Commander Riker for his arrival so he can then be treated. Once he is free of the chemicals, he will be returned to your ship. Beverly will remain on the Enterprise. Having been cleansed of the chemicals, she, indeed Commander Riker too, cannot return."
It was Beverly who asked the obvious. "What about Jean-Luc?"
"He must stay."
Husband and wife looked at each other with alarm and fear. A healer's voice helped ease their worry. "You need not be alarmed. We only wish to study the…connection…the conscience and his brother now share so that we can hopefully learn how to assist the brothers in developing the necessary knowledge and techniques required to control the intensity of the connection. We acknowledge humans are not accustomed to this…intimacy and that both men occupy positions that preclude the distraction of having a 'voice' other than their own in their minds. However, as I have already explained, now that this phenomenon has established itself, it cannot be terminated. Therefore the only option is to find a way to control it and, as I said, that will take time. Time for us to study it and time for the…" it gestured to the brothers. "…twins to master the techniques."
Again Husband and wife gazed at each other. It was Jean-Luc who said quietly, "It'll be all right, Beverly. I'm sure I'll be fine."
The conscience's voice sounded softly in their minds. "Jean-Luc is the brother…the twin of the conscience, Beverly; he will be treated according to that status."
He reached out the short distance between them and offered his hand, Beverly didn't even think about it. She took it and held his intense gaze steadily. "He is in no danger, Beverly, but I would protect him with my life."
"As I would you." Jean-Luc's declaration was softly spoken but heartfelt nonetheless.
Feeling more confident, Beverly smiled at the conscience and said with a wry smile..."You remember when I told you about having a brother and how I explained about names?"
The twin nodded silently.
"So you remember I told you about how it was a custom, although it's a personal choice now, for a woman, upon marrying a man, to adopt his family name as her own and that as I have been known by my late husband's family name for so long I had decided not to take Jean-Luc's?"
Again, the conscience nodded silently, but Beverly could see the curiosity in his eyes. "Well," smiled Beverly. "One thing I didn't tell you is that you and I are now related."
He tilted his head, a frown developing. "Related? But we are not of the same…blood…the same genetics."
"No, but again, through custom, the families of the married couple become legally related. You are what is known as my 'brother-in-law'. And I am your 'sister-in-law.'" She watched amused as the conscience's eyes twinkled with delight. It was Jean-Luc who added, "And your one is now 'sister-in-law' to both Beverly and me."

"So…" the conscience looked at his one, then grinned with absolute joy. "You're laughing!" He exclaimed. "Oh! Such a wonderful sound!" he then abruptly silenced and his eyes misted in tears. When he spoke his voice broke. "And I love you, my beloved one. Oh…how I have longed to hear those words."
A long poignant moment passed before the conscience composed himself. "So, we…" he gestured to his one and himself, "Are also legally related to both of you the same way. We are brother and sister-in -law to you and Beverly."
"Uh huh." grinned Jean-Luc.
Bowing slightly to Beverly, the conscience said solemnly, "Then I afford you, Beverly, as our sister-in-law, my protection and status."
Before Beverly could offer any thanks, the healer said quietly, "We must commence our treatment. Our studies have shown a procedure we feel will successfully remove the chemicals, but it would be best if we acted sooner rather than later."
"Jean-Luc isn't in any increased risk by staying longer is he?" Beverly asked warily.
"No. We can apply an inert organic substance that will breakdown into his natural enzymes. It will halt any further reaction of the chemical, but it is time dependent. It is for that reason that we must insist on haste. Once we have rid you and Commander Riker of the chemical, we will have limited time with which to find, then teach any techniques to the conscience and his brother. Once that is achieved, Jean-Luc will be returned to his ship."
"And then?" said a disturbed Jean-Luc. The conscience answered the question. "You will be free to leave, Jean-Luc."
It was the first time, since making their recovery that either man had thought about separating. They looked at each other and it was Jean-Luc who said softly, "That is going to be extraordinarily difficult."
"I know."
They continued to hold each other's gaze until a healer's voice said softly in their minds, "You will always have the connection. But for now, we must begin."
Turning away from his twin reluctantly, Jean-Luc took Beverly's hands. Looking deeply into her eyes he said tenderly, "I don't know how long it'll be until I see you again…" he offered a lopsided smile, but his eyes gleamed with unshed tears. "…but when we meet again, I would like very much to make love to you, ma belle, Beverly."
Her lower lip trembling, Beverly's voice shook as she replied, "I'll be waiting, mon coeur."
The kissed with tenderness and underlying passion.
As the healers led her away, Jean-Luc called out softly, "J′taime, Beverly, J′taime."
She blew him a kiss and was gone.

 

Despite Will's orders to the contrary, Geordi was on duty. He'd been very surprised at the orders for what amounted to a skeleton crew to man the ship, it just didn't seem to make any sense, so he'd taken it upon himself to be in engineering, still hard at work with what little resources he had available to try and figure a way out of their current situation. So when Will strolled blithely in, dressed in his uniform but with his baby daughter cradled in one arm, Geordi frowned, thinking, "Hey…what's going on here?"
As the exec moved closer, Geordi noticed, with growing concern that Charlotte's soft, straight brown hair was now a mop of black curls. Looking into Will's face, the engineer frowned at seeing his beatific expression.
"Been to see Mr. Mot, Commander?"
Dragging his adoring eyes up from his daughter, Will nodded enthusiastically. "Yes!" then, just as quickly he frowned, his expression darkening. "He wasn't very…accommodating though. I had to convince him that Charlotte wanted her hair changed and even then he seemed reluctant." He sighed with irritation. "He may be the best barber in the 'fleet, Geordi, but I think he's getting a bit too self-important."
Moving a little closer, Geordi's ocular implants rotated, the pupils contracting. He saw, to his horror, the baby had eye makeup on. Keeping his tone friendly, Geordi remarked, "You say Charlotte wanted her hair changed?"
Nodding, Will's odd grin was back. "Oh, yeah! Deanna said that we should give her the choice…you know…girls and fashion and stuff…"
"So…Charlotte told you she wanted her hair changed after you spoke to the counsellor?"
His gaze was back on his daughter as he said distractedly…"Yeah."
"Uh huh." Geordi was now sure. Something very bad was happening. "Ah, commander, could you excuse me for just a moment, sir? I've just got to…um…do something."
"Okay," said Will not taking his entranced gaze from his baby. "We're only here to watch the pretty lights."
Geordi hesitated at that. With the ship virtually closed down, the warp core, along with just about everything else, wasn't functioning. There were no pretty lights to see, not in engineering or anywhere else on the ship, not even the bridge.
"Right, well you do that and I'll be back in a minute, sir."
Will didn't acknowledge the comment; he'd dismissed Geordi from his mind.
Inside his office Geordi immediately placed a discreet, but urgent call to Counsellor Patrick Adams. Within a few minutes, Geordi was back with his commander. The man was standing with Charlotte in front of the dull, cold warp core. The baby was balanced on the railing that surrounded the normally pulsing, tall, red column, Will's strong hands supporting her around her waist. He was bent, whispering in the baby's ear and to Geordi's utter astonishment, she had her head tilted, as if she was not only listening but understanding whatever it was her father was saying. He half expected her to nod wisely.
Shaking off this disquieting feeling, Geordi sidled up to Will and stood quietly by his side. At first Will didn't seem to notice his presence or if he did, he chose to ignore it, but after a few minutes, which Geordi spent willing Adams to hurry, Will lifted his gaze from his daughter and stared at the dark core with wonder. "Isn't it fantastic?" He sighed and shook his head. "Charlotte says it'd be better yellow, though. She doesn't like red. Her favourite colour is yellow." He turned and smiled at Geordi, his vacant blue eyes making the engineer stifle a shudder. "Change it, Geordi."
"Change what, sir?"
Rolling his eyes, Will pointed with a tilt of his head. "The warp core! Change it from red to yellow." He said as if talking to a backward child. He then grinned and lifted his head. In an impersonation of his captain's voice and accent he intoned, "Make it so, Mr. LaForge!"
"Ah…right. Red to yellow. Consider it done, Commander."
Will looked back at the warp core and gasped. "Oh wow! Charlotte…you were so right! That's much prettier!"
Geordi barely contained his relieved sigh as Patrick Adams's soft voice said from behind him, "Well now, what have we here?"
Will didn't take his eyes off whatever it was he was seeing, but disturbingly, Charlotte seemed to be just as entranced as her father, her black eyes fixed on the dark column in front of her.
Coming to stand on the other side of Will, Patrick gave Geordi a meaningful look and the man nodded surreptitiously, taking a closer position on the opposite side of the big man and his little girl.
"Commander?" Adams said gently. Will ignored him. Louder, Adams said "Will!"
That seemed to register, because Will half turned his head, but kept his attention on the warp core. "I have to take a vid of this…it's so incredible!" He then turned his head the rest of the way until he was facing, but not really seeing Adams. "She was right. Charlotte said it would be prettier yellow."
Adopting a quiet, soothing voice, Adams said, "Why don't we go back to your quarters, Will. Surely Charlotte needs changing?"
"Nah," Will turned back to the warp core. "Can't do that."
"Why?"
"Deanna's asleep. She needs her rest…you know…just having the baby and all…"
Adams and Geordi shared a look before the counsellor asked, "When did she have the baby, Will?"
The big man snorted and gave Adams a quick look of disbelief. "You know damn well."
"I forgot. Can you remind me?"
Taking a deep breath and rolling his eyes, Will said slowly, separating each word,
"Two days ago."
"Ah, yes…that's right. Well, little Charlotte must need changing and I bet she's getting hungry. Newborns need a lot of attention…and sleep."
Will looked down at the baby and frowned. "She might need a feed…" he gently hoisted her up and cradled her in his arms. "Yeah. Let's go home and see mommy."
Adams placed a fraternal hand on Will's shoulder and made a show of admiring the little girl.
"She sure is pretty, Will…and is that makeup I see?"
"Yeah," grinned Will. "Mom and daughter stuff…you know…"
Adams smiled, nodding knowingly. He then said conversationally, "Would you mind if I tagged along? I'd really like to see Deanna…you know…have a chat about the birth…how she feels…"
"Counsellor stuff." Snorted Will. He then cocked his head. "Yeah, okay. Come on, if she's awake, I'm sure she'd love to see you."
As they left, a confused Geordi muttered, "Is he completely out of his mind? How can he recognise Adams as a counsellor and still think Deanna's alive? Adams was Deanna replacement! And what's with the hair and makeup on the baby?"
Shrugging but unable to shed the feeling of deep unease, Geordi went back into the main body of engineering and looked down at the central control console. Sighing he placed his hands on the flat surface, bent slightly at the waist and shook his head. "I think I understand that old saying about bashing your head against a brick wall. It must be really nice when you finally stop."

 

As they entered Will's quarters, the commander put his finger to his lips in a classic, 'Shhh' gesture. He then left the counsellor and went briefly into his bedroom, before reappearing.
Whispering to Adams he said, "Dee's still asleep. I'll go change Charlotte. You replicate her bottle; it's in the files under Deanna, formula A."
Adams waited a few seconds before walking quietly to the bedroom door. Seeing the room empty and hearing Will talking to Charlotte as he changed her nappy in the nursery, the counsellor went to the replicator, ordered then collected the warm bottle of milk and was sitting on the sofa when Will came back into the room.
Sending a warm smile at the rotund man Will frowned as he watched Adams wipe his hand over his sweaty brow. With his distaste obvious, Will said rudely, "Don't you go spreading any germs. Newborns are very susceptible. Maybe you should go and wash your face and hands."
Smiling through both his embarrassment and the insult, Adams stayed seated, which seemed to annoy Will. His eyes glittered and his tone changed. "Do I have to make that an order, Lieutenant?"
Standing, Adams shook his head. "Of course not, Commander. I'll go and wash right now."
Will's soft grunt was his only acknowledgement. By the time Adams came back, Will was settled back in his chair, Charlotte sucking on the bottle's teat contentedly. The commander's mood had lightened considerably.
"Isn't she gorgeous?"
"Yes." Agreed the counsellor. "And her hair…so like her mother's."
"Hmm…" Will hummed happily. Sighing, his smile showed nothing but love and paternal pride. "Her old hair was so…you know…boring. She told me she wanted to change it. Dee was so pleased she chose hair the same as her mom's."
"When you say 'she', Will, who do you mean?" Adams was sitting on the edge of the sofa and once again sweat was trickling down his face. Indeed sweat stains were visible under his flabby arms and around his collar, the uniform tunic fabric darkening.
Glancing up suspiciously, Will grimaced at seeing the unpleasant sight of the copiously perspiring man. "What's wrong with you? It's not hot in here. Dee and I…we're very careful about the temperature. Newborns need a constant comfortable room temperature."
"Yes, I know." Adams said placatingly, acutely aware of his appearance but unable to prevent the cause. "So…can you tell me, Will? Who's 'she' when you were talking about Charlotte and changing her hair?"
Giving him a look that clearly said, "Are you nuts?" Will shook his head. Again, enunciating as if Adams was incapable of simple comprehension, Will said slowly, "She is Charlotte."
"Oh, right…" nodded Adams. "So silly of me! So Charlotte told you she wanted to change her hair from…boring…to…?"
"Like Deanna's! Her mom's!" Will was becoming agitated so Adams shifted focus.
"I see. I keep forgetting, Will. Where did Deanna give birth?"
Pursing his lips, Will dropped his gaze down at the suckling baby and sighed, his expression melting into obviously happy reminiscence.
"It was in sick bay. Beverly assisted in the delivery, but Dee didn't need any help. She was wonderful. This little baby was put straight on Dee's chest and she fed almost immediately. Dee was so happy." He looked up, his eyes glistening with tears. "Remember the ship-wide announcement the captain made? We were so proud! Dee said she could not only hear the cheering…she could sense it!"
"Hmm, yes." Adams nodded, a smile gracing his round face. "It was very brave of the Captain to do that, wasn't it."
Will looked up and frowned. "What?"
"Well, you know…with him and Doctor Crusher unable to have children…it must've been very painful for him…"
Will's voice dropped to a menacing growl. "Get out!"
"Why, Will? I haven't seen Deanna yet. I'd really like to talk to her."
Standing, Will loomed over the still-seated counsellor, his eyes blazing. "I'm going to count to five. If you're still here by the time I'm finished…"
"You'll do what, Will? What about Charlotte?"
Suddenly confused, Will looked down at his daughter and Adams stood, reaching behind him to the very tight waist band of his trousers. He was trying to extricate the hidden hypospray of sedative as he said, "May I hold her, Will? I haven't had a cuddle yet."
"No…" Will muttered. "You've got too many germs."
Finally the hypo slid free and Adams did his best to hide it as he brought his hand around, but Will saw it and swung the hand that held the now-empty bottle. It caught Adams across the jaw and he staggered sideways, his bulk taking over and causing him to fall.
Will was advancing on him, his grim expression giving Adams no doubt his life was in danger. He was about to call security when the doors to the quarters opened and Beverly Crusher walked in. She summed up the situation very quickly and, as Will hadn't seemed to notice her entry, manoeuvred her way to the hypospray she could see lying on the floor near the bulkhead, where it had ended up as it flew out of Adams hand as he'd hit the deck. Flicking his eyes at the doctor, Adams gave a nod. It was all Beverly needed to know.
With fluid grace she stepped up behind Will and injected him, deftly wresting Charlotte from his arms as he collapsed.
As soon as she was in Beverly's arms, the baby began to scream. Over the terrible din, Beverly asked loudly, "Are you all right?"
He was gasping for breath, sweat running down his face and body as he struggled ungainly to his feet, but Adams managed to nod. While he tried to regain his breath, Beverly shouted, "What happened?"
Still out of breath, Adams pointed at Will's unconscious form and gasped, "….delusional….thought Troi…still alive….baby newborn…"
Beverly looked down at the screaming baby and saw her hair and makeup. Grimacing, Beverly shouted, "The commander's going down to the surface! As soon as he's gone, I want you to accompany me to sick bay! You're long overdue for a checkup!"
Patrick Adams was not usually a procrastinator, indeed, he'd always felt he should set an example, especially to his patients. He knew his ballooning weight and the ever-present sweating were symptoms of something, but he'd conveniently convinced himself it couldn't possibly be anything remotely serious and just settled for making half-hearted attempts to increase his exercise and reduce his food intake. The fact that he wasn't actually eating all that much he ignored. Obesity was rare and he had felt very conspicuous, but he grew accustomed to the stares and put it out of his mind. No longer, it would seem.
Bowing to the inevitable, he nodded and watched with surprise as Beverly said over the racket, "You can take him now."
To Adam's utter astonishment, Will simply vanished.
"Come on, Lieutenant, you have an appointment in sick bay!"
Still stunned, the fat man followed Beverly out of Will's quarters.

 

Jean-Luc and his brother were in what Jean-Luc had come to think of as his brother's 'lounge'. His one had left them alone and the adviser had just left, having informed the conscience that Will had arrived and was undergoing treatment. The conscience didn't tell his brother of Will's unconscious state, he knew his healers would care for the first officer.
Now alone again, the men were each enjoying a mug of hot drac. Jean-Luc found he liked the drink and sat back saying idly, "I'd like to introduce you to Earl Grey tea."
The twin smiled. "Beverly told me about that. Apparently you drink as much…tea…as I drink drac." His smile grew to a rare full grin, his eye brow arching. "Nous avons chacun nos vices, hein, Jean-Luc."
Jean-Luc grinned ruefully and inclined his head in acknowledgement. "I wouldn't call these…" he held up his mug. "…vices…but it is true I do tend to drink mine quite often."
"Moi aussi." Both men grinned and drank their beverages. On finishing, the conscience leaned forward in his chair and contemplated the mug he held, wrapped in both his hands.
"Jean-Luc…" he said tentatively. "…I would like a name."
"A name?"
"Oui." The twin looked up and offered a shy smile. "I know your…our…family name…Picard, but I would like a familiar name a…given?" his eyebrows rose and Jean-Luc nodded. "..name? Un nom de mon cru."
Jean-Luc's smile was a warm one. "A name of your own?"
"Yes." The conscience nodded. "Is there a name…a given name that our family has used? One that has some specific meaning?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc scratched above his ear. "Not really. Names…given names, tend to follow trends…fashions…" To his confused brother's expression, Jean-Luc said hopefully, "Populaire à l′époque."
The twin frowned, understanding the words but not the intent. "Popular at the time?"

Scratching again, Jean-Luc pulled his lips to one side. "There are only a certain number of given names in each language. Now it's perfectly acceptable to make up a name, indeed it happens quite often or the spelling of a common name may be changed to make it unique, but generally speaking, names, both male and female wax and wane in popularity. With each generation you will find a certain percentage of those born will share the same given name, based on popular trends."
"So…our family has no tie, no predespondence to a particular given name?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc shrugged. "Not that I'm aware of. Our family has always chosen ordinary French names."
The conscience considered this, then asked, "What about our family's origins? The other country you mentioned. Spain?"
"Well," Jean-Luc shrugged again. "I only found out about that through a rather extraordinary experience, but unless I do some deep research, the only name of any Spanish ancestor of ours that I know is…Javier Maribona-Picard."
"The given name is Javier?"
"Yes."
"Do you know what it means?"
"Hmm…" Jean-Luc frowned. "My Spanish is a little patchy…but the Spanish variation of the name, Xavier, means…" he narrowed his eyes in thought. "Um…In the new house…I think."
He sighed. "I need to talk to my ship's computer." He said with a rueful smile.
"Then by all means…do so."
Jean-Luc blinked with surprise then said tentatively, "Picard to Enterprise?"
"Enterprise here, Captain. Are you all right, sir?"
His expression one of delight, Jean-Luc grinned. "Yes…yes, I'm fine. To whom am I speaking?"
"Oh! My apologies, Captain. Lieutenant Petersen, sir, I'm the officer of the watch."
"I see." Jean-Luc was still smiling. "Well, I just want to ask the ship's computer something, Lieutenant."
"Ah…fine, Captain. Go right ahead, sir."
Feeling a little ridiculous, Jean-Luc said, "Computer, I want to know the derivation and meaning of the name, Javier."
"Javier is of Basque origin. It means 'New house'."
Just to make sure he'd been correct, Jean-Luc went on, "And the name, Xavier?"
"Xavier is the Spanish form of Javier. It has a slightly different interpretation. It means 'Of the new house.'"
"And in Catalan?"
"In Catalan, the name Javier is 'Xavi' and means the same as the Spanish version."
"Picard out." He smiled sheepishly. "Almost right."
The twin shrugged. "In…of…" he shrugged again and both men laughed. Jean-Luc's mirth subsided when his brother asked, "This…Javier Maribona-Picard? What do you know of him?"
Letting out a long breath, Jean-Luc's face fell. "Unfortunately, he was…" The captain shook his head. "I was about to say he was a bad person, but I think that's a little unfair. He was a product of his time. I learned from a remarkable people that Javier was a soldier of Spain and he had, along with others of his ilk, taken part in what became known as the 'Pueblo Revolt' which was a brutal retribution…a massacre perpetrated against the Pueblo Indians of the Americas.
"I have since done some research on this…if you're interested?"
The conscience nodded eagerly. "Yes…please."
"Right. Well, the Spanish had colonised the Americas but as was common way back then, the conquerors quickly did their best to eliminate the native people's religion and 'convert' them to their own, in this case, Catholicism. This was done by brutal suppression. The new farming practices and the removal of a large portion of locally produced food to Spain disrupted the native economy and this, accompanied by a growing dissatisfaction with the 'new' religion foisted upon them led to deep resentment towards Spain.
"The people grew more and more discontented and this was met with even more stringent repression by the Catholic Church. This in turn brought about minor, isolated revolts which, in 1675 were crushed by a series of executions. One native leader who escaped this…pogrom, a man who came to be known as Popé, organised a large revolt. It took place on the 10th of August, 1680 and resulted in a massacre. So many people died…on both sides, but the natives were decimated.
"There were further rebellions in later years, but came to nothing. The might of Spain and the church was too great. So our ancestor, Javier, was one of the Spanish soldiers that took part in that sad and sorry part of Earth's history. Not something to be proud of. At least I don't think so."
The conscience nodded thoughtfully. "Sixteen eighty. What is the date now?"
"Stardate…"
The twin shook his head. "No, not the stardate. The…the…" he rolled his hand.
"You mean the date as per the Gregorian calendar…the old Earth calendar?"
"Oui, I think so."
"Well, I'd have to ask the computer for the entire date…"
"No, just the…année?"
"The year? Oh…2376"
The conscience sighed. "Six hundred and ninety six years. A long time."
"Yes." Agreed Jean-Luc.
"The date of your birth. You know it?"
That made Jean-Luc smile. "Yes. It's known as one's 'birthday'. Mine is the 13th of July, 2305."

The conscience thought for a while, his eyes drifting to the clear windows. Bringing his attention back to his brother, his eyes glittered with intelligence and eagerness. "It is fitting though, n′est-ce pas?"
That made Jean-Luc frown in incomprehension. "Fitting? What's fitting?"
"The name. Javier. New house. Have I not found a new house, Jean-Luc? La maison des Picard?"
Jean-Luc's soft chuckle made the twin tilt his head. Where once such a reaction would have irritated or angered him, he now knew to share the amusement. He understood his brother meant no offence and would share the reason for his obvious mirth.
"You remind me of a former crewmember of mine. A Klingon named Worf. He was of the House of Mogh." Jean-Luc shook his head and chortled again. "I never thought of my…sorry…our family name as a 'House', at least not in that context. As vintners, our product is sometimes referred to as Chateau Picard, which of course means Castle Picard, but that pertains to our wine, not the familial link."
Smiling at his brother, the conscience said quietly, "So, what do you think? Est-il approprié?"
The captain stood, bringing his brother to his feet also. "I think it's very appropriate." He offered his hand and, after a moments' hesitation, the conscience took it. "Welcome to the Maison de Picard…Javier."
Their eyes met in a steady gaze as the newly named man said with obvious pride…"Je suis la conscience. I am also Javier Picard."
"Je suis le Capitaine. I am also Jean-Luc Picard. Nous sommes frères. Les frères jumeaux."
"Oui. We are brothers. We are twin brothers."
"Et pour toujours connecté."
"Yes…forever connected."
Their smiles grew until they laughed, but neither let go of the other's hand.

The journey from Will's quarters to sick bay was mercifully quick, however, trapped in the confines of the turbolift with the screaming baby made Adams grimace, wishing her could put his hands over his ears. Once back in a corridor, and happily near the end of their peregrinate, Beverly, staring resolutely ahead, Charlotte rigid in her arms as she continued with her hellish noise, yelled loudly, "Do you know if she's been fed lately?!"
"Yes!" yelled Adams. "She was fed and changed only half an hour ago!"
Nodding grimly, the pair entered sick bay. Stunned staff screwed up their faces, some raising their hands to cover their ears. Pointing with her head, Beverly shouted at Adams… "Biobed!"
He nodded his understanding and went to a biobed, grunting as hoisted his bulk onto it. Meanwhile, Alyssa Ogawa had joined Beverly who had laid Charlotte on the main diagnostic bed. The medical tricorder was offered and Beverly shot a quick, rueful smile of thanks.
Doctor Ogawa gently restrained the baby as Beverly scanned her, the red head's expression one of worried disbelief. "Neurotransmitter…psilosynine…it's off the scale! We need a neuro-sedative! Paediatric dylamadon! Zero-point five mcg, STAT!"
The sudden cessation of sound made everyone take in an involuntary breath. Awed, Alyssa said quietly, although her voice sounded loud in the now almost silent facility, "How could something so little make so much noise?"
Shaking her head, Beverly said worriedly, "Forget about the noise she made! Why is a baby who's only one quarter Betazoid and only just over three months old…manage to produce these levels of psilosynine? An adult full telepath would have difficulty doing this!" She offered the tricorder to Alyssa who gaped incredulously.
"But, Doctor Crusher, even if we discount these levels, Betazoids, even hybrid Betazoids, don't develop their abilities until puberty."
"I know." Beverly frowned. "How long was she with her father?"
Pulling down the corners of her mouth, Alyssa shook her head. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I don't know. But…he has no psionic powers…does he?"
"He had some, though very limited, with Counsellor Troi."
Turning to look over at Patrick Adams, Beverly raised her voice a little. "Counsellor…do you know how long Charlotte has been with Commander Riker?"
He scrunched his mouth, then his cheeks puffed as he blew out a breath. "I can't be certain, Doctor, but I think, apart from what short visits when he could manage it, it's only been the last...8…9 hours he was able to stay with her."
"And this 8 or 9 hours…they were together all the time?"
He nodded, making sweat drip off his chin. "Yes." He then added, "Commander LaForge told me something odd." To Beverly's raised eyebrow he supplied, "He said that at one stage it appeared as if the baby was actually listening and understanding what her father was saying to her." His expression sobered. "In fact while I was with them in engineering, I witnessed the baby staring intently at the cold warp core, seemingly as enraptured as her father was."
"Enraptured?" Beverly's eyes narrowed. "By what?"
"It seems Commander Riker had informed Commander LaForge that Charlotte preferred the colour yellow for the pulsing light of the core, rather than the normal red. Riker asked LaForge to change it. He played along and Riker proceeded to behave as if that's what he could see…and so did the baby."
"But the core was cold." Beverly verified carefully.
"Yes."
Alyssa broke the tension with a softly worded question. "Given the levels of psilosynine…are we dealing with empathy or telepathy?"
"I don't know." Beverly was stumped. None of this made any sense. "I know that Commander Riker's brain chemistry was compromised, it's why he's been taken back to the planet, but why...or if…that's responsible for this…" she gestured to the sleeping baby. "I have no idea."
Turning to her colleague, Beverly said, "Set up a level four neurological scan. Assuming she has a paracortex, I want to know what it's doing as well as having a good look at her parietal lobe." Alyssa turned to set up the necessary equipment when Beverly said as an afterthought, "…and Alyssa…check her engrams."
"Yes, Doctor."
Moving to Adams, Beverly began to scan him. "Now then, Counsellor, let's see what's troubling you."

Will shifted slightly and yawned, thinking it's been far too long since he'd had such a damned good sleep. In the chill of the dim room, he kept his eyes closed, thinking that he might enjoy going ice-fishing. "Yeah," he thought. "…a nice northern pike or a big burbot'd be nice."
He grinned, then his expression turned sour. "Oh, shit. Dad busted the damned net!" He sighed and turned over, thinking he might as well sleep in. His leave was to end soon and he'd not get a chance to luxuriate in bed once back aboard the Potemkin.
He never saw the light that enveloped his head, sending him into a deeper sleep. The cells of his brain enlarged infinitesimally and began to release the chemicals, but they stubbornly refused to exit as they were supposed to. This was the third time the procedure had been initiated. For some reason, Will's brain was not responding as it should.
The watching healers raised their hands, the chatter brisk.
"Why is this happening? The conscience's one…Beverly…her brain released the chemicals without difficulty."
"Yes." Agreed another. "And she experienced the same dream-like state during rises in the activity of the subconscious. Riker is exhibiting the same progression, yet his brain cells seem to have…incorporated the chemicals."
"It matters not." Said a third. "The essence will do its job."
"Agreed," the first gestured. "But at what cost? We do not know what this…" She waved her hand at the sleeping man. "…protracted procedure will do to him. Just because Beverly was quickly and successfully treated, does not mean Riker will be, especially given his brain's anomalous response."
They fell silent. It was the second speaker, a male who sighed and said, "We can only wait and trust the essence."
Bowing their heads in unison, they went back to watching the human.

 

The adviser tilted his head as Javier laughed. Placing a friendly hand on his trusted companion's shoulder, he said, "You must forgive me, old friend, but hearing your…voice…" he shook his head, doing his best to bring himself back under control. Jean-Luc looked on, a smile on his face.
"It's not that I can finally hear your thoughts, old friend, it's just that you all sound the same!"
Javier began to laugh again and Jean-Luc joined him. Confused, the adviser said cautiously, "I do not understand. Why does the fact those of us you have 'heard' possess the same sounding 'voice' cause you amusement?"
To Jean-Luc's delight his brother's laughter increased. The man was now bent, clutching his stomach, tears running down his face. Realising he had to intervene; Jean-Luc went to Javier and took his arm, encouraging him to the windows. Sending an apologetic look at the adviser, Jean-Luc said placatingly, "Just give him a moment."
Turning the twin so that he faced the windows, Jean-Luc said quietly, "Although I know the delicious feeling of liberation you're experiencing right now, perhaps it might be…politic…if you regained some semblance of composure? For those of us in a position of authority, there is a time and place for lowering our mantle. I don't think now is appropriate."
The laughter quietened to sporadic bursts of chuckles, then trickled into snorts before finally ceasing. Wiping his eyes and face, a now controlled conscience returned to his advisor.
"I believe you have the information I requested?"
If any unease remained, it didn't show in the being's 'voice'. "Yes. Our calculations are complete. By the Earth's measurement of time, as expressed as days, months and years, you were born on the 13th day in the month of July in the year 2305. The recorded time in increments of the passage of the day, again as measured in human standards, was five hours, eighteen minutes in the morning."
Nodding, and smiling his thanks, Javier said quietly, "Thank you, you may leave us now."
As the doors were closing, the twin turned to his brother. "Jean-Luc…do you know the exact time of your birth?"
"Yes."
To his brother's raised eyebrow Jean-Luc supplied, "I was born at four fifty-eight am."
"AM?" The conscience said, his head tilted.
"Antemeridian. Morning. Past midday time as expressed in analogue terms becomes 'PM'…post meridian. It pertains to the passage of the sun, the meridian being the zenith…midday. Ante…before. Post…after. Words from an ancient Earth language called Latin."
The smile that crept over the twin's face was difficult to describe. He moved closer to Jean-Luc and placed a fraternal hand on his shoulder. "I bow to you, Jean-Luc. Older brother."
"Older? By how many days?"
Shaking his head, the conscience's enigmatic smile grew. "No, not days, Jean-Luc. Minutes."
"Minutes?" parroted Jean-Luc incredulously. "Are you saying we not only share the same birth date but are separated by mere m