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Their next holodeck programme was one they both knew well; they’d used it aboard the Enterprise in off duty hours. For Picard it had been a favourite horse ridding location, for Beverly it was somewhere to take a woodland walk or a lake-water swim. The programme had been her choice. Everything would be her choice this time. Picard was determined not to hurry her or make her feel obliged to do anything. At her request he had not summoned up his double but was lying beside her in his human form in the shade of a large tree.
The wind rustled gently in the tree tops, the sun-light filtered through the leaves, the setting couldn't have been more idyllic. Picard shifted his position yet again, he was bored.
"Jean-Luc? Are you all right? You're not in pain are you?"
"No, no more than usual, in fact I'd say this was one of my better days. Why do you ask?"
"Because your restless."
"Oh indeed. Come on Jean-Luc, what's up?"
"It's just …"
"… just what?"
"Well … " He rubbed his head "… I never was much good at lying around."
"True. I’m sorry, I should have thought of that before choosing this programme. Are you up to something more active, like a walk or a ride? Via your copy I mean."
"Nice idea but no, I’d better not. I don’t know what would happen to the real me if my double fell off."
"How about a swim?"
He thought it over. The last time they'd swum together had been months back. On that occasion they had ended up making love in the shallows. Even if they didn't get that far at least he'd get to see her in a swimming costume.
"I haven’t tried swimming with my hologram yet, but I’m willing if you are."
At her instruction the computer instantly moved them to the side of the lake. Beverly stood up and started to remove her clothes.
"Shall I summon up your white swimming costume?” He asked.
"Why do I need one? There’s no one here to see me."
Jean-Luc hid his disappointment. It wasn't that he disliked like the sight of her naked, it was just that he liked other sights as well. There was something about the way that white costume held and shaped its contents … Ah well. He told himself. Perhaps another time.
"Are you feeling up to swimming?" she asked, "Or are you going to leave it all to your copy?"
"I'll leave it to him if you don’t mind."
He waved his hand and made the copy materialise next to him. It was wearing a pair of dark blue swimming trunks. Beverly almost laughed at his modesty.
"You go ahead," he urged, "it may take me a while to get the hang of this."
She removed her final garments and walked to the edge of the wooden jetty. Jean-Luc admired the gracefully way she moved as well as the fine female curves. She dived in and swum out a few metres before turning to see how he was coping.
The human Jean-Luc sat on the bank almost out of her sight, his hologram made his way tentatively along the jetty. Despite his size and age he looked more like a nervous 5 year-old than a grown man. It was exactly how Picard felt. As a young child swimming had not come easily to him, it had been the only sport at which he had not immediately excelled. Now as he stood at the edge memories of terrifying school swimming lessons came back to him. In human form he was confident he could swim and float but as a hologram he wasn't so sure. He shut the copy's eyes and tried to remember what he did when swimming.
"Jean-Luc, are you okay?"
He waved an arm to reassure her.
"Just trying to remember how it's done."
Beverly swam in closer in case he needed help but also in order to have a closer look. His body had always attracted her, especially in this fitter form. She liked the broad square shoulders, the strong thighs, the distinct outline of his biceps, even the shape of his head. Over the years, as his doctor, she had touched him often but never as she did these days. During the last year she had come to know the feel of his body and how it would respond to her touch. She knew what it would feel like if she stroked her hand slowly over those blue swimming trunks and all that they contained.
Beverly took a deep breath and shook herself out of that particular fantasy.
"Imagine it's zero-gravity training" she called out, "I'm sure you took to that like a duck to water."
The analogy helped. Picard lowered the copy into the water and managed not to panic as it slid beneath the surface. Once there he was able to swim as though water was his natural environment. A few strokes later he was surfacing next to her, his hands coming to rest on her hips. She tensed at his touch, the desire to wrap herself around him was almost irresistible but she controlled it. The copy 'was him' he had said but she was still to embarrassed at the revealing how attracted she was to it and to how much she was missing sex.
"Race you to the point." She called as she swam away from him.
The copy swam slowly after her. On the bank the real Picard groaned, would she ever let his hologram touch her.
Beverly managed not to laugh as she listened to Data questioning Jean-Luc about his latest holographic experience, he was being so very careful not to intrude on their privacy.
"Were you aware of the water flowing passed your skin?" He asked.
"Yes, I was." Picard’s reply wasn’t particularly helpful, but then Data's questions had strayed close to some very personal areas. He didn’t feel inclined to tell the android about taking his swimming trunks off or to tell him how sensuous he’d found swimming in the nude.
"I see, and how about you Doctor?" Data enquired. "Is the hologram an acceptable means of interacting with the Captain?"
"It's becoming so. At first I found it rather unsettling, I couldn’t get past the idea that there were two Jean-Lucs, one older than the other. Now that I'm used to the hologram's appearance he's almost like part of the real thing. I find it re-assuring that he can only do things that the real Jean-Luc can do."
Picard smiled. "You mean you like the belly-flop?"
Data looked puzzled so the captain explained. "For years I’ve wanted to be able to do a forward somersault dive. As boys it was something my brother mastered but I never could. Yesterday I had another attempt." He made a diving motion with his hand before smacking it on the table. "Painful."
"You felt pain?" Data enquired.
"Yes, most definitely."
"Interesting." From his expression Data appeared to envy Picard this experience; emotions were within his grasp now - with the help of the extra chip - but physical sensations of pleasure and pain were still beyond him.
He had reason to be envious, hitting the water had been the most intense sensation Jean-Luc had received from the hologram so far. It had raised his hopes. If he could feel pain so exquisitely then perhaps pleasure was equally achievable.
For Beverly the episode had been extremely alarming. She might joke about it now but at the time the real Picard had cried out in pain when his copy hit the water. The hologram had immediately dematerialised while Jean-Luc clutched his body. There was no physical damage to the skin on his chest or thighs but the shock to his nervous system and the muscle tightening brought on by the pain had been with him for several minutes. In future, whatever Jean-Luc indulged in via his hologram would need to be stress-free and safe. She was determined to enforce that restriction.
"How's my hologram coming along?" Beverly asked Data.
"It should be ready tomorrow." He replied. "Will you be available to test it out in the evening?"
When Data left, Beverly began cooking their evening meal, after years of eating replicated food she relished the taste of the real thing and didn't mind the time it took to prepare. While she chopped the vegetables Jean-Luc drew up a chair and sat by the kitchen door, from there he could talk to her but not get in her way.
"How's your surgery experiment coming along?" He asked.
"Well, I completed 4 more successful holodeck simulations today. That makes 20 operations so far."
"Isn't that enough practising?"
"Maybe, but you know me, I'm always wary of trying out new procedures on live patients."
"What are you waiting for? A suitable patient who is not too ill?"
"No, on the contrary, I'd prefer someone who's so ill they would die if didn't act. In fact I think the right patient may have arrived today – she's a 3 month old girl who urgently needs a artificial heart."
Picard rubbed his chest in sympathy with the child.
She laughed at his reaction. "I don't understand your squeamishness Jean-Luc. You must have seen hundreds of injured people over the years. Aren't you used to surgery by now?"
"No, but I'm very grateful there are people like you who can cope with it. I don't think I ever told you this but when we abandoned the Star Gazer, I made damn sure I was in an escape pod with a medical expert. I didn't want some poor injured crewman dependent on me to look after him."
She smiled at his confession. "But when we both fell into that cave and I broke my leg badly you managed well enough?"
"I had you to tell me what to do and if you remember rightly I kept looking away as much as possible." The memory of that day still made him anxious; he could so easily have lost her. "Do you mind if we change the subject?"
"As you wish sir. The food’s nearly ready, why don’t you sit at the table and tell me what you've been up to today."
Picard carefully raised himself to his feet and made his way painfully to the table. Watching his slow progress Beverly realised it would not be long before he needed a med-chair to get around. After he reached the table it was some time before he was able to speak.
"I've been talking to a young Starfleet historian called Michael Edwards." He continued. "He wants to ask me about various missions I was involved in. I thought I might visit him at Starfleet HQ."
"Why don’t you invite him come here?"
"I'd rather go to him."
She could guess why, it would probably be his last visit to Star Fleet Headquarters, his last visit to the organisation to which he had given most of his life.
"Anyone else you want to see while you're there?"
"I was thinking of contacting Admiral Nechayev."
"Nechayev? You must be joking."
"How long have you got? Apart from being rude and dictatorial, that woman almost got you killed on more than one occasion and she used to single the Enterprise out for the most dangerous missions."
"She's an admiral, she was doing her job. And I was Captain of the Flagship, who else should she have given those missions to?"
"You maybe right," Beverly conceded, "but did she have to be so rude?"
"It was her way of coping. She didn't want her officers to like her, if we had it would have made it harder to give us such dangerous orders. A military commander has to be ruthless at times."
"Maybe, but I'm in no hurry to see her again."
"I can understand your reaction. I used to dislike her, I thought she was just a bureaucrat who obeyed orders without thinking. However when I got to know her I found she shared my doubts and concerns. I came to trust her. If she told me to attack a target or to risk our lives defending one then I could be confident there was a good reason - even if I couldn’t be told what it was. I'm grateful to her for that."
"Is that why you want to see her?"
"Partly, I want to say thank you, but there are also a few lingering questions to which I would like answers."
"Why?" Picard tried to lighten the mood. "Did you think I had a crush on her?"
"You may laugh, Jean-Luc, but she fancies you - she always has."
"Liar! Surely the idea must have occurred to you?"
He gave an embarrassed little cough and looked away. "Well, maybe."
"And how about you Captain? Any private fantasies involving a certain female admiral?"
He leant back and tried to conjure up the scene - being summoned to the admiral's quarters. "She'd order me to strip…No, I think not, when it comes to domination I'd prefer you to have the upper hand."
"Captain!" She laughed and ran a hand up his thigh. "I never guessed!"
"Well you do now. ... Perhaps we could ...."
".... see what else your hologram can do?"
He studied her face, was she serious?
"I mean it." She reassured him. "Whenever you like."
"Thank you" he whispered and pretended to concentrate on his food. Should he suggest they visit the holodeck tonight or would that make him appear too eager? And if she said yes what then? Would he be up to it?
He decided to take the risk.
"I've been working on a new holo location. The holodeck is available tonight; if you like we could run it this evening."
Beverly was wary, he might be lively now but minutes back he'd looked completely spent. Life with Jean-Luc was now trying to find the line between keeping him alive and not denying him what might be his final pleasures.
"Sounds fun, how about in an hour's time. Should I wear anything in particular?"
He knew exactly the right garment. Her green dress that clung to her body and hung loose from her hips. When she moved it swung out in the most beautiful shape.
"I was thinking," he told her, "that we might do a little gentle dancing …"
"… my green dress?"
He smiled. How well she knew him.
Beverly turned round so he could admire the view. Her exquisite figure was a sight of which he would never tire.
"I'm a lucky man."
"You look pretty good yourself."
He did, the black trousers and a white shirt showed his body off to good effect. He had dosed himself with enough painkillers to enable him to stand erect, but not he hoped so much to dull his mind. Controlling the copy took concentration, he couldn't afford to loose concentration, not tonight.
"Shall we go?"
He offered an arm which Beverly pretended to hold as they crossed the street. In reality it was her helping him but the neighbours didn't need to know that.
The holodeck location was of a place she had never visited but she recognised it immediately. Yasmira, a planet in the Androssi sector, was famed for its beauty. They had already arranged to take a holiday there when Jean-Luc had become ill. Here on the holodeck Picard had created what would have been their hotel suite complete with view across the magnificent Exor Valley .
"Jean-Luc!" Beverly exclaimed. "It’s amazing." She kissed his cheek excitedly. "How long did it take you?"
"Not long. Come and see."
She followed him out onto the balcony. Across the valley the tops of the mountains glowed pink in the light of the setting sun. Behind them two moons were rising. It was magical enchanting place and a sham. Jean-Luc would never see the real thing, the journey there was too arduous for him to undertake. Her throat tightened, visiting Yasmira was just one of the many experiences they would never share together. She found his hand and gripped it tightly.
Jean-Luc guessed her thoughts. "Actually this is better than the real thing," he quipped, "it gets unbearably hot there at this time of year."
She laughed and kissed his cheek again. He could read her mind and lift her spirits as well as any empath.
"I think you promised me a dance Jean-Luc."
"And you shall have it."
He led the way inside and ordered up some slow music. Beverly walked into his arms. As they danced he held her close but not so close as to touch. For him anticipation was part of pleasure, he looked forward to the moment this warm soft body would be pressed against his. As the music played they swayed together slowly, looking at one another but not talking. Picard could manage this style of dancing, it was within his physical ability but only just. After a few minutes he let a hand wander across her back, his finger tips caressing her bare skin. Beverly responded by moving in closer. The gap between them disappeared and they become one body moving in perfect unison.
Outside the sky was darkening turning the window into a mirror. Over her shoulder Picard saw their reflections in the glass. An idea occurred to him, he twirled her round so she ended up facing the window with him behind her, his right hand resting on her abdomen. He pressed himself against her and started to explore her neck with his mouth. In the glass Beverly saw herself as he did. Her dress hid little, every curve was obvious, every response to his caresses visible. For a moment she felt embarrassed at seeing herself like this but then dismissed the thought. Watching herself in the glass she brought his right hand to her breast and encouraged him to explore. In the few months since they'd been lovers Picard had been an attentive student. He'd been eager to learn what pleasured her and when he'd learnt always willing to oblige. This evening he knew exactly the kind of 'man-handling' she would like. For Beverly, watching herself respond to his efforts served to multiply their effect.
A deep voice whispered in her ear. "Now you've got a double too."
It was only then she noticed the switch - the firmer muscles, the stronger voice. The copy must have replaced Jean-Luc during that twirl. This time she managed not to retreat, not to treat the hologram differently from its master. The presence behind her 'was' Jean-Luc just as much as the woman in the glass was her. She pressed herself back against him and moved provocatively. A familiar short intake told her he was close to coming. She turned swiftly, found his mouth and devoured it.
Later she would hardly remember what happened next. The hurried discarding of clothes, the steps that took them to the bed. All she would remember was how good it had been, how right it felt. His warm thrusting body around her and in her. When she gasped for air he stopped and looked down at her, seeking approval.
His next thrust sent her over, ecstatic cries escaping her mouth. A moment later he followed her, his cry of pleasure-pain sounding strangely distant. The hologram collapsed onto the pillow breathing rapidly. His body began to dematerialise.
Her cry of disappointment brought him back. This was the moment she loved most, the time she possessed him completely. She wouldn't let him go, not yet. As she held the exhausted body in her arms a frightening sound came from a dark corner of the room - Picard's laboured breathing.
"Jean-Luc! Where are you?"
The copy disappeared instantly. Beverly scrambled off the bed and over to the real man.
He lay face down on the floor, struggling for breath.
"God, what have I done!"
She pressed her fingers against his neck, feeling for his pulse.
"It's all right ... " He gasped. "It was so intense ... I just need ... rest."
He was too heavy for her to move. She looked round for a way to make him more comfortable.
"Computer, move the bed under us."
He managed a smile at her ingenuity.
"Hush." She kissed his cheek and wrapped herself around him. Holding him as she had just held the copy. Picard's breathing eased, he relaxed and patted her arm to reassure her. Soon he was in a deep and satisfied sleep.
Beverly was not, their love-making had been wonderful but the cost appalling. She didn't need a tricorder to know the strain it had put on Jean-Luc. Despite the hologram’s help he was exhausted and it was all her fault. She'd been the one who had set the sexual pace. It was her who had demanded the hologram should rematerialise.
Guilty and worry kept her awake long into the night.
End of Chapter 6.