A Gentle Touch

A Gentle Touch

Status: Finished

Genre: Fan Fiction

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Fan Fiction

Summary

A misunderstanding causes trouble. Picard decides to take some leave but falls foul of poachers. Beverly has to find him.

Summary

A misunderstanding causes trouble. Picard decides to take some leave but falls foul of poachers.
Beverly has to find him.

Chapter1 (v.1) - A Gentle Touch

Author Chapter Note

A misunderstanding causes trouble. Picard decides to take some leave but falls foul of poachers. Beverly has to find him.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 18, 2012

Reads: 720

Comments: 1

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 18, 2012

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A Gentle Touch.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard looked around his quarters and nodded with satisfaction. The table had been set, the floral centrepiece meeting with his high standards, the replicator programmed and he’d shaved and showered, choosing his wardrobe carefully. The sapphire blue silk shirt was cut in a deep vee, exposing a good portion of his chest and the black linen trousers were cut a little more snugly than was his usual style. He looked around again and sighed. His impending guest was none other than his Chief Medical Officer, Beverly Crusher. Over the ensuing two months they had grown increasingly close, spending almost all of their off time together and he had high hopes of taking their already warm relationship to a more intimate level. He had news for his companion…news that he hoped would tip the balance. If he could only get them both away from the ship…away from their respective positions, maybe…just maybe…

The door chimes interrupted his thoughts and, taking one final look at his preparations, he moved to the centre of the room and softly called,

“Come.”

The door whispered open and she entered, the light from the corridor silhouetting her from behind.

“Beverly come in.”

“Hello Jean-Luc.”

He stepped up to her and took a moment to look into the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. Giving a gentle smile he reserved exclusively for her, he took her arm and led her to his sofa.

“I have a bottle of the ’47 open. Would you like a glass?”

She returned his smile and sank into the cushions closing her eyes.

“That would be lovely, thank you.”

She felt the movement as he sat beside her and opened her eyes to catch his gentle gaze. He gave her the wine and settled back into the sofa.

“How was Sickbay today? Busy?”

“Not with patients, but the inventory is still in progress. Barring any hiccups, we should be finished in another day or two.”

He smiled and sipped his drink.

“Another day or two? That would be perfect.”

She tilted her head and smiled at his demeanour.

“Perfect? Perfect for what?”

He gently took her hand in his and brushed his thumb over her soft skin.

“For what I have in mind.”

Giggling and intrigued, she squeezed his hand.

“And just what is it that you have in mind?”

He slowly took another sip and held the glass up to the light, studying it. In an almost matter-of –fact tone he said,

“I’m taking leave in three days, there’s an archaeological site that’s opened up on Rakka Prime. I want you to come with me.”

At first the silence was expectant, but soon, as it progressed, he started to become nervous.

“Beverly?”

He noticed the hard glitter in her eyes.

“You just expect me to drop everything and go with you at a moment’s notice?”

“Well no…you’ve got three days.”

The sound of the glass being placed firmly on the low table was loud in the otherwise quiet room.

“What about my research? I suppose it means nothing to you that I’ve got an ongoing study in progress, a study that I’ve been working on for four months? It didn’t occur to you that I might have more important things to do than go gallivanting across the galaxy with you? That I might even be offended by the thought that you seem to think I’ve got nothing better to do? Well I’ve got news for you Jean-Luc Picard! You can go and grub around in the dirt to your heart’s content, but you’ll be doing it alone mister! I’m not going!”

She stood then and glared down at her shocked companion. He tried to regroup.

“Beverly calm down. I just thought…”

Arms akimbo she shook her head.

“Thought? I don’t think so! Dammit Jean-Luc you make me so mad sometimes…”

She turned abruptly and strode from his quarters, barely giving the doors a chance to open before she steamed through them.

He was devastated A proud and sensitive man, he was growing tired of her rejections and as he sat a seed of anger took hold and began to grow. The more he mulled it over, the angrier he became.

“Who does she think she is? The Queen of Sheba? Gods if she doesn’t want to come then damn her I’ll go alone AND I’ll enjoy myself!”

He brusquely cleared away the table and replicated himself a light meal. Two hours of brooding found him readying for bed still angry, still smarting. His last thoughts before he fell into a troubled sleep were…

“Self important wench!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next three days were excruciating on board the Enterprise. People close to the warring pair knew something was very wrong but didn’t know what. Will Riker dropped by his friend’s quarters to try and allay the situation.

“Deanna do you know what’s going on between the Captain and Beverly? You could’ve cut the air with a knife at this morning’s briefing. Did you see the way she looked at him? If looks could kill…”

Deanna Troi, ship’s Counsellor returned from the replicator with some hot drinks. Motioning for the Commander to sit, she sighed and shook her head.

“I’ve no idea Will. It doesn’t make any sense! They were getting so close…I thought…well…”

Will nodded and stroked his dark beard.

“Me too. The Captain’s been so relaxed lately…it was obvious they were happy together…they’ve been spending all their down time together…Deanna could you talk to Beverly? Would she confide in you?”

Deanna closed her eyes and smiled, nodding her head.

“Yes Will on both counts. I intended to see her this afternoon. I’ll let you know as long as it’s not breaking a confidence, ok?”

He grinned and stood, opening his arms. Deanna accepted the offering and gratefully stepped into his bear-like embrace, fully engulfed by the big man.

He kissed the curls atop her head and sighed.

“What would we do without you Dee?”

She giggled and stepped back, playfully slapping his chest.

“Shoo Will Riker. Go drive the ship.”

 

 

 

 

Four hours later, Deanna stood at the entrance to Beverly’s office, frowning as she watched her friend work. She noted the tightness in the Doctor’s shoulders and the scowl with which she looked at her monitor.

“It doesn’t help you know.”

Startled, Beverly looked up and glared.

“What doesn’t help?”

Deanna stepped into the office and gripped the back of a chair.

“Scowling at computers. They can’t see you, it’s a wasted effort.”

Beverly harrumphed and returned her attention to her work. Deanna let her ignore her for a while then said gently,

“I’m not going away.”

Beverly clenched her jaw and re-applied herself to the computer terminal.

“Beverly.”

Slapping the monitor off with more force than was necessary, she shoved it to one side and sat back in her chair. She glared at Deanna, then shook her head, frowning.

“That man!”

Deanna sank into the chair in front of the desk and tilted her head to see her friend’s face.

“Want to talk about it?”

Beverly looked up and grimaced.

“Not here. Have you eaten lunch yet?”

Deanna shook her head and stood as Beverly left her chair.

“Come on let’s go to the lounge.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some minutes later the two women were comfortably seated in the forward lounge staring at their plates. Deanna reached across and took Beverly’s hand.

“Tell me.”

“Oh Deanna…why are men so obtuse?”

“What happened?”

Beverly withdrew her hand and picked up her fork, absently pushing her salad around the plate.

“He invited me to dinner a couple of nights ago. Everything was just so…he’d obviously gone to some effort and he looked so handsome…we sat on the sofa drinking wine and he just blurted it out.”

“What? What did he just blurt out?”

“He’s taking leave the day after tomorrow…apparently a new archaeological site has opened up on Rakka Prime. He’s going there and he wanted me to go along. Just like that. No warning, no consideration of my feelings on the matter, just drop everything and go.”

Deanna sighed and shook her head gently.

“What did you say?”

“I turned him down of course!”

“That’s it? You just said ‘no’ and left it at that?”

Beverly smirked and blushed slightly.

“Well not exactly. I did vent my opinion…let him know I wasn’t happy. We didn’t exactly part amicably. In fact I walked out on him and I haven’t spoken to him since. Really Deanna, the nerve of that man! Who does he think he is, expecting me to drop everything and take off with him to some Godforsaken dust bowl out in the middle of nowhere?”

Silence settled between the friends as Deanna thought over what she’d been told.

Two proud, independent people butting heads was never pretty. That it was two of her dearest friends pained the Betazoid. Gathering her thoughts, she turned her obsidian eyes upon her companion.

“Beverly…would it be true to say that you and the Captain have been…growing closer these past months?”

Beverly nodded speculatively.

“Well…perhaps the Captain wanted to get closer still. Maybe he thought getting off the ship would be beneficial for you both. You and the Captain hold highly stressful positions, it could be that he simply wanted you both to be just Beverly and Jean-Luc, not CMO and Captain for a change.”

Beverly closed her eyes and bowed her head.

“Don’t you think I’ve already figured that out? I know he wants more…and I’m ready to take that step, but the way he just expected me to drop everything….Deanna he gave no thought to my opinion, my feelings…he expected me to go with him and that’s what set me off. I’ll not be dictated to. Not by him, not by anybody!”

Deanna again took her friend’s hand.

“Beverly…do you love him?”

The tears came then, along with a whispered,

“Yes.”

“The swallow your pride and go to him. Settle this.”

Quickly snatching her hand back, Beverly swiped at the tears.

“NO! It’s too late now. If he thinks so little of me…well then maybe it’s better we end this before it gets started. It’s probably doomed to failure anyway. If you’ll excuse me…”

With that Beverly left the troubled Counsellor.

 

Later that evening Deanna was not surprised when her door chime activated. Sensing her Imzadi, she smiled as she bade him entry. She took one look at him and knew he was in turmoil

“What is it Will?”

He paced the length of her cabin twice before he answered.

“I’ve just come from the Ready Room. The Captain has informed me he’s taking three weeks leave starting tomorrow! He’s going to…”

“Rakka Prime.”

His startled look was priceless.

“How did you know…”?

They said in unison,

“Beverly.”

He took Deanna by the shoulders and shook her gently.

“What the hell’s going on? The Captain never takes leave and even if he does….ten hours notice? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Sit down Will. I spoke to Beverly today. It seems he invited her to go with him and she turned him down.”

“Why?”

Deanna sighed.

“It’s complicated Will. It has as much to do with the kind of people they are as anything else. Beverly was insulted that the Captain expected her to drop everything and go with him with such little warning. She felt he didn’t consider her opinion or feelings. They parted acrimoniously and haven’t spoken since.”

Will frowned and grumbled,

“Of all the stubborn, pig headed…well, that explains his current mood. He’s been like a bear with a sore tooth. Do you know he had the Ensign at ops in tears this afternoon? It was so unlike him…I wondered what was going on, now it all makes sense. He’s smarting and she’s brooding. Maybe some time apart isn’t such a bad thing.”

Deanna sat and rubbed her thighs.

“I don’t know Will, I think it’s more serious than that. This has been a fundamental rift in their relationship. My advice would be to talk it out, not run away from it.”

“Well he’s leaving at 0600 tomorrow, we’re to rendezvous with a transport that’s taking him to Rakka. Somehow I don’t think he’s going to change his mind.”

Deanna frowned and shook her head.

“Neither will Beverly.”

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning Jean-Luc stood on the transporter pad surrounded by his gear. Before him stood his First Officer and Counsellor, all of them surreptitiously waiting for Beverly. She didn’t arrive. At 0610 the Captain looked at Will.

“Well everything seems to be in order. I leave the ship in your capable hands Commander, see to it that she is returned to me in one piece.”

“Aye Sir.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc materialised on Rakka Prime in a vast forest reserve on the Southern continent. The given coordinates had deposited him in a small clearing on a rise about half a kilometre from a river that would provide him with fresh water. The surrounding bush was tall and lush, the undergrowth pushing up with profusion. Birdsong rang out and, as he scouted out the place for his campsite, he marvelled at the riot of colour from the ground plants.

Having decided on a spot for his tent, he pegged it out and left it to self-inflate while he gathered some rocks to ring his fire-pit. Once the tent was ready, he set up his belongings, changed into a khaki overalls and sturdy boots, and made his way to the excavation site for his first look.

He had already read all he could find about the site and still felt privileged to have been able to secure permission to visit, alone at that.

With a geologist’s hammer and brush in his hands, he carefully poked about, gently lifting stones and peering through the detritus, soon becoming completely absorbed. Nutrition forgotten, it was quite late in the afternoon when he finally realised he was hungry, dirty and somewhat fatigued. He was, however, utterly engrossed and very happy. Were it not for the unpleasantness of the past few days and Beverly’s absence, he would have been completely content.

Straightening and grimacing at his stiff back, he returned to his campsite and collected his wash bag and water container before making his way to the track that would take him to the river. He had covered perhaps half of the journey when he heard the sound of distant reports. Stopping in his tracks, he listened, hearing two more shots before the natural sounds once again took precedence.

“That’s odd, this whole area is a preserve. Why would I be hearing shots?”

He was still mulling over that question when he finally reached the river. He stood above the fast flowing watercourse on a bank approximately twelve metres high. The path descended via a series of rough-hewn steps, using rocks and protruding roots as hand holds. He studied the route before taking his first tentative steps and soon found the rhythm of the descent. Having reached the river, he found a convenient pool, disrobed and washed himself, trying not to gasp at the cold. With his ablutions completed, he dressed, moved upstream and filled the container, then carefully ascended the path and returned to his campsite.

He made himself a modest dinner of re-constituted beef stew and vegetables and was enjoying a cup of Earl Grey tea, his computer on his knees. For the past ten years, whenever he was away from the ship, he always sent Beverly a brief message to let her know he was all right. It had become a welcome habit, but on this night he hesitated. The bitterness of their last meeting was still fresh in his mind and his pride still hurt. He toyed aimlessly with the keys for a while, typing arch comments and cutting remarks until, with a sigh, he keyed in a simple message.

*Arrived safely, campsite up and running…all well. J.L. *

He pressed the ‘send’ key and stretched out his feet towards the fire. In his mind’s eye he saw Beverly reading the message, but he couldn’t imagine her reaction.

Her recent behaviour had confused and saddened him. Anger had been foremost, but now he was on the planet…alone…his memory of what he’d hoped this leave would be came back to haunt him.

He loved her. Simply, completely and for a very long time. These last few months, as they had grown closer had been a source of great joy for Jean-Luc. The idea of a long- term relationship had frightened him for a long time. The notion of letting one person that close, to give himself heart and soul and be vulnerable to exquisite pain was not something he ever thought he wanted to do, but slowly he realised he was lonely and the only one who could assuage that loneliness was Beverly. With her he could imagine a life filled with love…and passion, of mental stimulation and fire, a companion, lover and counterpart.

He sighed expansively and shook his head sadly. How could it have all gone so terribly wrong? Was what he did so bad?

Staring into the dregs of his cup, he swirled the liquid and tossed it onto the fire. The dishes were quickly cleaned and he stood and stretched, his eyes lingering on the unfamiliar stars.

“What are you doing right now?”

Noting the growing chill, he entered his tent, undressed and climbed into his bed, his last thoughts drifting towards the distant ship.

 

 

 

 

Beverly had had a long day. The inventory was finally finished and things were relatively quiet in Sickbay, but her thoughts kept gravitating to Jean-Luc. She was angry with herself for not going to the transporter room to see him off. It was petty and mean spirited to have him leave without saying goodbye. Deanna was right…she should’ve had it out with him, not let it fester and grow.

Wearily she plodded through the corridors, the lonely meal she’d had in the lounge sitting heavily in her stomach. Upon entering her quarters, she was surprised to hear her message beeper sounding. Sitting at her desk, she activated her terminal and was delighted to read the, albeit brief, missive from Jean-Luc.

“Well at least he’s still thinking of me.”

She sat and thought for a few moments before typing…

*Happy to hear from you, have a nice time. B. *

She smiled as she sent the message. Closing her eyes, she could see his dark hazel gaze, the soft look he often gave her…his deep baritone as he spoke. She shivered and prepared for bed, knowing she would sleep better this night.

 

 

 

 

The next morning Jean-Luc rose early and partook of a light breakfast. He carefully examined and catalogued his findings from the previous day before leaving his tent and venturing into the frosty dawn. Taking up his tools, he ascended the rise to the site and re-acquainted himself with the area he’d been excavating. He’d been gently digging for three hours when he was startled by shots fired quite close to where he was.

Straightening, he walked to the apex of the rise and searched in the direction of the sounds but, apart from some roused bird life, nothing seemed to be amiss. He stayed some minutes before shrugging his broad shoulders and returning to his work.

The day grew hot and at mid day he ceased his labours and made his way to his camp, carefully carrying his precious artefacts. Using some of his water, he gently cleaned the items and spent a good hour pouring over his finds. Deciding to catalogue them later, he was making a belated lunch when he heard more gunshots, this time further away. He frowned and considered contacting the continent’s government, eventually deciding to let things be. He was the visitor and he wasn’t about to make waves just because his peace had been disturbed.

After lunch he again returned to the dig site and remained there until late afternoon when hunger again made it’s presence known. He repeated the previous day’s trip to the river to bathe and collect water and soon found himself sat at the fire activating his computer. The message beep was a welcome surprise and he was delighted to read Beverly’s greeting. He composed a short, friendly missive and, with some trepidation, signed it “With love”. He ate a simple meal and retired for the night a contented man.

 

 

 

When Beverly read his latest message, warmth spread throughout her body. Not only was the message friendly, he’s signed it with love. She smiled and gently stroked the screen wishing he were there so she could tell him how happy he’d made her. Instead she composed a return message.

*Dearest Jean-Luc,

So glad you’re enjoying yourself. All is well here…missing you,

Love,

Beverly. *

As she pressed the send key, she placed a kiss on the monitor and whispered,

“Hurry home.”

 

 

The next three days passed much the same as the previous ones. He developed a schedule of work and rest, sheltering from the worst of the afternoon’s heat in his tent and cataloguing his finds. He found he looked forward to the evenings, when he’d bathed, eaten and was ready to activate his computer. Without fail, there would be a lovely message from Beverly and he wasn’t imagining it; the missives were getting more and more intimate. In her last message she’d made reference to the silk shirt he’d worn that fateful night and how handsome he’d looked in it. He smiled and sighed, pleased that the clothing had had the desired effect. He closed his eyes and saw her…the emerald dress hugging her curves, cut low…the alabaster skin, the ivory column of her neck…how her legs seemed to go on and on…he shook his head and took a large breath, expelling it with force. If he didn’t stop this he wouldn’t be getting much sleep. By the glow of his fire, he surveyed his campsite and snorted.

“How would she have liked this?”

He knew Beverly would’ve appreciated the beauty of the area, the wild life had proved curious and he’d seen many small animals around his camp and the bird life was prolific, but what would she have done while he rummaged about in the ruins?

“Probably spent all her time collecting plant specimens I’d wager.”

The gunshots would’ve disturbed her though. Throughout the days there had been sporadic firing, sometimes close, sometimes far away. It was a mystery to him that anyone would be shooting in the preserve, but as long as they left him alone, he would do nothing about it.

He did his dishes, composed another warm message to his beloved Beverly and retired for the night, his thoughts light years away.

 

 

 

 

Towards the late afternoon on his fifth day, he straightened his aching back and looked down at himself with distaste. The area he’d been working on was very damp, the rubble covered in moss, thickening, as the excavation got deeper. His tan overalls were covered in mud, slime and moss…even his bald head was smeared with grime. He decided there and then to quit for the day and take an early bath.

He made his way to the camp, collected his bag and water container and struck out on the path to the river. He’d taken off his communicator earlier as it was catching on the rocks. As an afterthought, he had taken it from his pocket and tossed it onto his bunk.

It was a good fifteen-minute walk to the river and when he reached the bank he was hot and sweaty. He stood quietly watching a bird drinking from the running water, never knowing he was being stalked.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

The poachers, eager to see their kill, raced to the drop and peered over. They were silent for some time until the larger of the two spoke.

“What the hell is that?”

They had never seen a human before. They themselves had four arms and legs…immensely powerful, they had enormous necks that supported  huge domed, tufted heads. With nictitating membranes over their elongated violet eyes, they had two rows of fearsome teeth and protruding nostrils that afforded a keen sense of smell.

The slung their weapons and made short work of the climb down to the unconscious Jean-Luc.

The smaller one toed his inert body and bent low to sniff him.

“I’ll be damned Ert, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“Is it alive?”

The smaller being, named Jux, lifted Jean-Luc’s head and felt around his neck with his large taloned hands.

“I think so…I can feel a pulse anyway. What should we do with it? Should we take it back to camp?”

Ert held up two of his hands and motioned his companion to silence.

“We need to think about this. If we take it back to camp and get caught…well you can imagine what would happen then. Not only would they have us for poaching and unregistered firearms and illegal camping, but they would have us for taking this…whatever it is.”

“Yeah but what if we leave it and it dies?”

Ert scratched the tufts atop his head.

“Then it dies. Who’s to say we shot it?”

“Maybe we should kill it and skin it. You never know…we might fetch a pretty dromad for such an exotic pelt.”

Ert bent down and with his powerful arms, tore open Jean-Luc’s overalls.

“What pelt? It’s practically hairless. Look it doesn’t even have hair on its head.”

Jux pulled Jean-Luc over onto his back and snorted with distaste.

“It’s blood smells awful and it’s filthy too. Do you think there could be more of them?”

“Dunno, but we should find where it’s been nesting, it could be interesting.”

Leaving the stricken man, they ascended the bank and soon found the path. Readying their rifles, they stealthily crept along until the emerged into the clearing. Having made sure they were alone, they started to investigate the campsite.

“Would you look at this? It’s better than what we have.”

Ert nodded, frowning.

“One thing’s for sure, its no dumb animal,” he said sarcastically. “Look at this stuff. We can make a small fortune here.”

The tent was too small to accommodate two such large beings, so Jux waited while Ert ransacked Jean-Luc’s belongings. He emerged with two of his four arms burdened with goods. In one free hand he held the communicator. He tossed it to Jux and said,

“What do you think that is?”

Shrugging all four shoulders, Jux tentatively bit down on it then licked it, finally sniffing it before tossing it back to Ert.

“I’ve no idea.”

Ert squinted at the communicator before dropping it to the ground and grinding it under a large bare foot.

“Well, it’s junk now.”

Harsh laughter echoed around the site.

“Should we take the shelter?”

Ert shook his massive head.

“No. Too brightly coloured. We’d stand out too easily. Better to keep our camouflaged tent and lay low for a while.”

“What…no more hunting?”

“No, not for a few days. Let’s see what happens with the creature first.”

Jux took a last look around.

“What about all these silver packets with the black writing?”

“Leave ‘em. Could be poison for all we know Come on its getting late, we should get back to camp, we’ve got three heddik to skin.”

Five minutes after they left the birds began their final calls for the day.

 

 

 

 

 

Something was biting his left leg. Every now and then, Jean-Luc could distinctly feel the pinch as something gnawed industriously at his lower leg. It took some minutes before he realised his legs were in water…very cold water.

“Open your eyes.”

It was a simple command, but nothing happened. He tried to raise his right arm, but it seemed to be dead, at least he couldn’t feel it, so he tried his left arm and achieved some success. His hand made it to his face and his fingers encountered the telltale stickiness of blood.

“What the hell…?”

Raising some spit in his mouth, he wet his fingers and managed to pry his eyes open. It took a few moments to realise where he was.

“I must’ve fallen…”

The instant he tried to move his body, he roared with pain. Agony lanced through him completely blotting out all thought. The pain was so bad he tried to crawl out of his own body, gaining nothing more than added agony.

Stilling himself, he lay whimpering and panting, waiting for the pain to recede enough for him to think clearly.

It took some minutes, but eventually he regained control and began to take stock.

His entire body was a sea of pain, particularly his stomach. He felt gingerly with his fingers and found the gaping exit wound. Next, he explored his right shoulder only to find it dislocated. He lay quietly trying to formulate a plan.

“Must get out of the water.”

Gathering his strength and gritting his teeth against the inevitable pain, he gently rolled to his left and groaned continuously as the agony washed over him.

Nausea suddenly overwhelmed him and he vomited, the effort causing him to pass out.

When he next woke he was surrounded by darkness.

He tried to see around him but it was useless. Without a moon, the nights were completely black. If not for the rushing river, he would’ve been in total sensory deprivation. Very gently, he moved his left leg and found it to be uninjured, but when he tried his right leg he lost his breath as pain lanced through him.

“Oh God…what?”

He carefully ran his left hand over his thigh only to find the torn flesh of the exit wound.

With the pain in his back and the back of his thigh he realised that whatever had struck him had passed right through.

“But what..? How..? Who?”

Trying to put those thoughts aside, he reached forward with his good arm and managed to inch up the sandy edge of the river, taking time to circumnavigate the roots that threatened to tangle him. Gritting his teeth against the almost overwhelming pain, he continued upwards until he was out of the water.

He lay panting for some minutes until he realised he could still feel something biting his lower leg. He could see nothing in the darkness so he bent his knee and felt with his hand. He encountered a largish water creature, the head of which was deeply buried in the flesh above his boot. Grunting, he gripped its carapace-covered body and pulled. The hooked legs of the creature embedded themselves in his skin, but he ignored this and pulled harder. Abruptly the head separated from the body and, after a few minutes, movements ceased. Jean-Luc grunted with disgust and threw the decapitated body into the river.

Feeling his way gingerly, he moved up the sloping bank until he came to the steep rise of the cliff. Feeling light headed, cold and nauseous, he curled up on his side and wondered if he would still be alive in the morning.

 

 

 

 

Sometime later, Beverly entered her quarters and strode directly to her computer. Activating the terminal, she was disappointed to see no message from Jean-Luc.

“Perhaps he was too busy…”

Her musings didn’t fully convince her but there was nothing she could do about it, so she sent him a warm message, in fact it was the most intimate yet, and grinned slyly as she pressed the send key.

“That should get your attention.”

 

 

 

 

Throughout the long night Jean-Luc drifted in and out of consciousness. Time became irrelevant as he struggled; when he was awake, to try to figure out what had happened.

That he’d been shot was obvious, but why? And by whom? Was it something to do with the shots he’d been hearing? Had hunters mistaken him for game? If he had been shot by mistake why didn’t the hunters help him? Where were they now? Were they nearby watching him? Were they waiting for him to die?

Feeling frustrated and utterly helpless, Jean-Luc drifted through the night…it was birdsong that woke him much later, the warming sun helping to dispel the chill of night.

As the sun crept over the mountain, it became hotter and brighter. Jean-Luc was able to get his first look at the damage to his body.

From his chest to his legs, his overall was soaked in blood. The right thigh was also sodden. The material had been shredded with bits of the tan fabric embedded in the wounds. Looking around him, Jean-Luc spied his bag and water container, the former hanging precariously by a branch over the river, the latter thankfully within reach.

Shuffling along on his side to the bank, he gained the container and moved painfully to the water to fill it. In a sluggish pool, presumably where his legs had lain, was the rosy bloom of blood and in the blood stained water, several large insect-like creatures congregated.

He watched fascinated as the creatures swam back and forth, seeking the source of the blood.

“Probably what bit me.”

He moved further upstream and filled the container with clean water. He managed to get the strap over his head, but was forcibly reminded of his dislocated right shoulder.

After several moments thought he reached down to his injured thigh and carefully ripped the leg from his overall. It took some manoeuvring, but he managed to get it off his leg and up to his free hand. Following the seam, he tore the fabric three times, producing long strips. One he tied around his thigh, another he strapped around his stomach wound and the third he fashioned into a sling for his right arm. He was now exhausted and lay panting in the sunshine, growing annoyed with the cheerful calls from the birds.

Blood loss and shock were making him drowsy and he fought to keep his thoughts in order. He knew he had to…somehow…get back to his camp. It would be arduous to say the least. First he would have to negotiate the climb up the bank, then the half a kilometre to the campsite. Could he do it?

The only way to find out was to try. Without looking at what awaited him, he rolled onto his side and prepared to see if he could crawl. His right hand weakly gripped the material at his left shoulder and he somehow managed to draw up his right leg. With a mighty heave he rose unsteadily up onto knees and hand and wavered there precariously.

“So far, so good” He grunted.

Coordinating his limbs was difficult, but he managed to get enough of a system going to move the few metres to the climb.

With most of the weight on his left knee, he reached up and gripped the lower roots. Mustering all his strength, he pulled with his arm and pushed with his leg. Surprising himself, he rose to a standing position and stood, gasping in agony as fresh blood seeped through the makeshift bandages.

With nothing else to do but proceed, Jean-Luc gritted his teeth and reached up for a new handhold. Bracing himself with the left side of his body, he again pushed up with his leg and gained another metre. In this fashion he gradually made his way up the incline. At one point fatigue made his grip slip and he slid two metres down, the pain almost making him black out. Only his fist catching in some roots saved him plunging down to a very uncertain future on the rocks below. It took hours for him to reach the top. He was filthy, spent and nearly sobbing with pain as he dragged himself the last few centimetres over the lip. The tear in the back of his overall, compliments of Ert had admitted dirt, twigs and small insects, all of which added to his discomfort. He worried about the dirt entering his wounds and resolved to clean them when he’d regained some strength.

He lay as still as possible, letting his heart and breathing calm. Again drowsiness threatened to overtake him, but he shook it off. Dragging himself to a nearby tree, he managed to sit, propped against it, as he unslung the water container.

His thirst was fierce but he took only sips of the precious water. Tearing more material from his overall, he released the bandages on his leg and torso and did his best to clean the ugly wounds. That they still bled worried him so he made wads with the salvaged fabric and re-tied the injuries. Next, he cleaned the many scrapes, cuts and abrasions on his face, head and hands, noting that the fingers on his right hand seemed to be damaged. Although he could make a weak fist, he couldn’t manipulate the fingers. Fearing nerve damage, he flattened the hand against his chest and hoped he would soon regain its use.

He spent some time thinking about why he was shot, but apart from deciding the calibre had been relatively small, he couldn’t fathom why it had happened.

When he felt stronger, he began the arduous journey to his camp, metre by painful metre. He stopped frequently to sip the water and rest, but about half way, nausea overtook him and he vomited up the valuable liquid, the pain it brought made him collapse, writhing in his misery.

He soon realised that recovery from these episodes was taking longer each time and soon he wouldn’t be able to continue. Re-doubling his efforts, his indomitable spirit helped him to endure, but it was almost nightfall when he finally crawled into his campsite.

At first his tired eyes saw nothing amiss, but then he noted some of his belongings strewn around and the tent open, the flap hanging loosely.

“Mon Dieu… de trop…enough…no more.”

Slowly dragging his battered body across the last metres, he entered his tent to see that it had been ransacked. Everything of value was gone. His computer, his tools, clothes, med kit…the communicator!

Crawling to his upturned cot, he searched in vain, looking for the one thing that could save him, only to find nothing but disappointment. It was gone.

Turning onto his side, he cradled his head on his arm and quietly wept, sleep eventually claiming him.

 

 

 

 

When the second night came and no messages received from Jean-Luc, Beverly began to worry. She’d felt sure he would respond to the last message; it had been worded deliberately provocatively, meant to stir his passions…why hadn’t he answered?

Needing to be sure, she called the Bridge.

“Crusher to Bridge…”

“Bridge here Doctor.”

“Has there been any contact with Captain Picard?”

“Hold on Doctor, I’ll check…”

Slow minutes ticked by.

“Doctor Crusher? No contact, no messages received from Captain Picard for the last 48 hours. The last message was directed to your terminal on…”

“That’s ok Bridge, I got it, thank you. Crusher out.”

Beverly stared at the blank terminal a worried frown gracing her beautiful features.

“What the hell is going on.”?

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc awoke to an unremitting sea of pain. His temperature had risen over night and, along with the now familiar agony of his stomach and thigh, a new pain had begun at the site of the water insect bite.

Raising up awkwardly on his left elbow, he pulled up the one remaining pant leg and was treated to a view of a swollen, reddened, suppurating mess where the head of the insect was still embedded.

“Oh God, now what?”

Shivering started and he lay back down, waiting until it eased. He knew he was febrile and, when he felt stronger, used some of the precious water to wet his face and drink a little. He was still plagued by nausea and he doubted he would keep the water down, but he knew it was important to try and keep his fluids up.

He lay quietly looking around at what was left of his possessions. There was the odd article of clothing, some scattered food pouches, his cot…although the sleeping bag and blanket was gone…whoever had done this had left nothing he could use. He rolled out of his bed and slowly made his way outside, wincing as his shredded hand and knees made contact with the ground. Crawling the half a kilometre had done serious damage and the wounds had stiffened as he slept. To Jean-Luc it was just another added pain.

As he exited the tent, the brightness of the sun made his eyes water. He blinked heavily and waited until they adjusted. Outside was much like the interior of his tent. Odd things scattered around, more silver food pouches and one boot were all he could see. He was slowly turning back to the tent when something glinting in the dirt caught his eye.

He painfully crawled over to it and, after brushing aside the soil, was elated to find his communicator.

“Mon Dieu…merci!”

He could see that it was damaged but he tried to activate it anyway. He pressed it and said weakly…

“Picard to Enterprise…Enterprise, this is Picard, please respond…Enterprise…?”

Nothing. Not even static. Clutching it possessively in his left hand, he dragged himself back into the tent and set about getting the back off the instrument.

He was frustrated by the weakness in his right hand. He couldn’t move his right arm, but he could move his right wrist, although the fingers and thumb wouldn’t respond properly. He was unable to bring his fingers to touch his thumb. All he could do was hold the communicator down with the injured hand and work as best he could with his left. It was intricate work. He was trying to activate the homing signal, a device he was reasonably confidant would work, but he needed two hands. He tried sitting up and placing the communicator on his left thigh, but still the tiny parts defeated him. He just couldn’t do it. He almost threw it to the other side of the tent in a fit of anger, but ultimately he realised it would do no real good. He was too weak anyway so he put it to one side, drank a little water and lay down on his cot, trying to think of another way to get help.

He must have slept because when he next became aware, it was late afternoon and starting to get cold. One good thing about his rising temperature; he felt hot no matter what. As he moved on his bed, he realised that he’d been bleeding again. Blood now soaked into the bed and insects were buzzing around, trying to feed on the gore. With disgust he waved them away and inspected the wounds, panicking when he noted small white larvae wriggling around the edges of the injuries. With great care, he pinched out as many as he could, hoping he got them all, but knowing that wasn’t possible. He risked the blooming pain to roll out of bed and retrieve the articles of clothing that were left in the tent. Retreating to he bed, he tied the garments around his wounds in the hope of warding off further incursions by the insects. He drank a little more water and again drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

Beverly rushed to her quarters, worry dogging her steps. She’d just entered when the door chimes activated.

With a distracted call over her shoulder, she bade the caller to enter. It was Deanna.

“Beverly what’s wrong? I can ‘hear’ you three decks away!”

“Just a minute Dee.”

Turning on her monitor, she pushed it away brusquely when it showed nothing from Jean-Luc. She placed her elbows on the desk and cradled her head in her hands.

“Beverly?”

She sighed expansively and slowly raised her head.

“I haven’t had a message from him for three days.”

“From who? The Captain?”

Beverly nodded and fingered the monitor screen.

“Well…maybe he’s too busy, or maybe…”

“You don’t understand Deanna. For the last ten years, whenever he’s been away from the ship, he’s always messaged me…always…he’s never failed.”

“What….every night?”

“Yep.”

Deanna frowned and sat on the sofa.

“Ok. Maybe the fight…”

“It’s over. It was over when he sent the first message. I could never stay angry with him anyway…I don’t know why I try. Deanna something’s wrong…I feel it.”

Deanna shook her head, trying to understand.

“But Beverly Rakka Prime is a peaceful planet, there’s no reason to think anything’s happened and even so, at this distance I don’t see how you could feel…”

Beverly stood and began to pace.

“Believe it Dee. I’m telling you, something’s very wrong and I’m going to do something about it!”

With that she hastily left the room, a startled Deanna in tow.

She marched straight to Will’s quarters and pressed the door chime, tapping her foot exasperatedly when he was slow to answer.

“Beverly…Deanna…I was just having dinner. What…”

Beverly barged in and paced in a small circle.

“Will something’s happened to the Captain and I want to take a shuttle to go and find him.”

“Wait a minute, slow down. Have you heard from the Captain? What’s wrong?”

Beverly stopped her pacing and glared at the big man.

“No! That’s just it! I haven’t heard from him for three days. I’m telling you Will, something’s wrong. I need a shuttle…”

Will drew himself up to his full height and adopted a firm tone.

“Look Beverly I can’t authorise a shuttle just because you haven’t heard from the Captain for three days! Anything could’ve kept him from messaging you. Maybe he’s really caught up in his work, you know how he gets.”

“Dammit Will!”

Beverly took a calming breath and came to stand in front of the First Officer.

“How long have you know me?”

“Beverly it’s not…”

“How long?”

“About twelve years.”

“And have I ever made an unreasonable request?”

“No.”

“Then let me insist I’m not making one now. Will, I must go to him. I can’t explain it, I can’t rationalize it, I just have to go. Now…will you let me have a shuttle…please?”

Will looked down at the determined Doctor then cast a glance at Deanna, receiving a surreptitious nod.

“Yes.”

Beverly sighed and gripped his arm.

“Thank you.”

“When will you leave?”

“As soon as I pack a bag. Consider me on leave, effective immediately!”

She left before Will could say any more, leaving Deanna to fill him in on the details.

 

 

 

It took no time for Beverly to pack a few things, the trip to Sickbay to retrieve a med kit was an afterthought, but she erred on the safe side and felt better for it.

The shuttle exited the mighty ship and, with the coordinates inputted, Beverly began her journey.

 

 

 

When Jean-Luc next awoke he new he was in desperate trouble. A terrible burning sensation had risen up his leg, emanating from the water insect bite. The pain settled in his groin, making him groan in helpless agony. The entire leg was red, hot and swollen, the skin around the bite split and oozing pus and serum. More flying insects had infiltrated his bandages and he found new maggots in his raw flesh. He had vomited in his sleep and lay in his filth, a pitiable mess.

Feeling the need to relieve himself, he slowly rolled out of his bed and crawled outside. He found that even touching himself hurt, the skin hot and burning. Having finished, he turned and was beset by a wave of dizziness. He sagged onto his side and tried to raise his head, losing the battle and succumbing to unconsciousness.

 

 

 

The poachers stood quietly in the leafy fringes of bush surrounding the clearing. When Jean-Luc collapsed, they came cautiously forward.

Ert toed Jean-Luc’s inert body and sniffed expansively.

“Gods it stinks! I’m surprised it’s still alive.”

Jux scratched himself and belched loudly.

“It’s in a bad way, that’s for sure.”

He bent down and lifted one of the bandages. Grunting he wiped his nose on his hand then smeared the result on Jean-Luc’s overall.

“It’s got maggots in its wounds and it looks like it’s been bitten by a water Grote. It won’t be long.”

Shaking his huge head, Ert sighed.

“Still, its done well so far. It’s a pity it has to die…it’s got guts.”

“So, what are we going to do?”

Ert looked up and frowned.

“Do? We’re not gonna ‘do’ anything. Nothing’s changed. When it dies we don’t want to be anywhere near it. For now we keep an eye on it and make sure we leave no trace of our being here. When it’s found it’ll be just another mystery and nothing to do with us.”

“Ok, fair enough, but when can we start hunting again?”

“Tomorrow.”

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

She materialised between the tent and the dig site. Disoriented, she looked around and spotted Jean-Luc immediately.

“Oh God!”

She ran to him, opening a tricorder as she moved. As she was about to initiate transport to the shuttle, she was startled to hear a gruff voice.

“Don’t move!”

She froze, here eyes frantically searching for something to use as a weapon.

Ert and Jux stepped out of the bush, their rifles at the ready. Beverly looked up and said desperately,

“He needs help. Please, I’m a Doctor, let me take him to my vessel.”

“You have a vessel? In orbit?

She nodded, wary of the weapons aimed at her.

Ert stepped up to her and reached for her communicator.

“What’s this?”

Thinking quickly, she answered,

“It’s my universal translator. Without it, I can’t speak with you.”

Grunting, Ert pushed Beverly back and snatched the pin from her chest. He looked at his companion and laughed.

“Well we don’t need to talk…do we?”

He next grabbed the med kit and opened it, snorting when he observed the contents.

He shoved it back into Beverly’s hands and took the bag that lay beside her. Rifling through it, he found nothing of importance and left it open, some of the contents lying on the ground.

“I need to treat this man.”

Ert looked up, his violet eyes glaring. Jux shuffled all four feet and muttered,

“What did it say?”

“How would I know?”

Beverly slowly stood and moved to put her hands under Jean-Luc’s shoulders. When her captors did nothing, she stooped and slung the med kit around her arm then gently lifted Jean-Luc’s inert body.

“You could help if you want.”

The two beings just stared, so she made her way slowly to the tent and when they didn’t interfere, her progress carried her inside. Once in the tent, she carefully hefted Jean-Luc onto the bed and began removing his clothing. What she found made her gag.

His head and most of his face were covered in bruises, scrapes and cuts. The palms of his hand and both knees were raw and seeping serum. His torso was swathed in bruises and, approximately three centimetres to the left of his navel, a gaping eight centimetres long wound presented itself. Crawling with maggots, it was oozing pus and slowly leaking a sluggish flow of bright blood. She moved down his battered body, noting that his testicles were swollen and the glands in his groin were turgid also. The wound on his thigh was also maggot infested and infected, although not bleeding as much as the other wound. Turning her attention to his left leg, she detected a strong foul odour and found the source to be the water insect bite above his ankle. His foot had turned dark purple and the skin was thin and splitting above and below the wound. The leg was hot and swollen; redness covered the entire limb, tendrils of colour extending onto his groin and torso. She felt under his chin and armpits finding the glands there hard and enlarged.

“Oh God Jean-Luc you’re in one hell of a mess aren’t you?”

She opened the med kit and administered an antibiotic when the tent flap suddenly opened. Without looking up, and using her command tone, Beverly barked,

“I need water!”

Jux hesitated then went back outside.

“It said something…I think it wants something. Maybe you should go in with that thing.”

Ert looked down at the hand holding the communicator and grunted.

He made his entrance as loud as possible and was disappointed when Beverly refused to look at him.

He held the communicator to his mouth and said,

“What do you want?”

Beverly turned and slowly stood. She stepped up to him, watching him warily.

“I need water, lots of clean water.”

Ert cast his eyes up and down her body, leering as he did.

“Do you now?”

“Yes. If he’s to survive, I need to treat him and to do that, I need water.”

He left as abruptly as he’d arrived. Once outside he beckoned to his companion.

“Go to out campsite and bring back four of the large water containers…and make sure they’re full and bring back some blankets, we’re staying here for now.”

“Why do I have to…?”

“Just do it will you! I’ve got an idea.”

Jux left grumbling and Ert re-entered the tent.

“Who are you?”

Beverly lowered the tricorder and stared at her captor.

“I am Doctor Beverly Crusher.”

“And who is that?”

“He is Captain Jean-Luc Picard.”

“Captain? Captain of what?”

“The USS Enterprise.”

“The Enterprise? Who does it belong to?”

Beverly smiled to herself. Now for the trump card.

“The Enterprise is a Federation Starship. The Captain and I are with Starfleet.”

“The Federation!”

“Uh huh. So I think you’d better either help us or let us go. If you hinder us you’ll find yourself in more trouble than you can handle.”

Ert growled, the tufts on his head rising.

“Don’t you tell me what to do! So, I have a Captain and a Doctor? You both must be worth something, mustn’t you? How much will they pay to get you back?”

Sighing, Beverly lowered her head.

“They won’t pay you anything. As soon as Starfleet find you’re holding us, they will take action.”

“They won’t risk you!”

“Perhaps not, but they won’t pay for us either. You’re in a no win situation. Let us go.”

“Shut up!”

With that, Ert left and Beverly resumed her inspection of Jean-Luc. She gently rolled him onto his side and noted the entry wounds in his back and thigh; the tricorder registered the damage to his internal organs and the shattered femur as well as his febrile 42-degree temperature. She found the water container and carefully wet some swabs and washed his face, taking care not to disturb the lacerations. Next she dribbled some water into his mouth. He swallowed, but also started to cough, the effort wakening him.

“Hey there, take it easy.”

She placed a clean swab over the stomach wound to stem the renewed flow of blood and to shield the ghastly sight from Jean-Luc. She’d left the maggots in place. They were doing more good than harm, eating away the necrotic and infected tissue.

“Beverly?”

“See if you can drink a little more water.”

He shook his head, but she encouraged him and he took a few sips more before turning his head and saying,

“No more…I feel nauseous.”

Beverly lowered the water bottle and checked the swab on his stomach. He lay quietly, but soon began shivering.

“I’m going to give you an analgesic and something to help your blood to clot. Hold on Jean-Luc.”

He heard the characteristic hiss of the hypospray and slowly began to relax.

“Beverly…there’s a spider in my stomach.”

Startled, Beverly raised the swab and checked before she realised he was hallucinating.

“No Jean-Luc, no spiders. You have a very high temperature an


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