Two Is More Than Half Pt. 6

Two Is More Than Half Pt. 6

Status: Finished

Genre: Fan Fiction

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Fan Fiction

Summary

Same as Pt. 1

Summary

Same as Pt. 1

Chapter1 (v.1) - Two Is More Than Half Pt. 6

Author Chapter Note

Same as Pt. 1

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 16, 2013

Reads: 264

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 16, 2013

A A A

A A A

 

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


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