Picard was the first to wake; his body was stiff and achy but in himself he felt good. With the aid of a little technology he now had something to look forward to - more intimate encounters like last night's. Moving carefully he turned till he had a clearer view of Beverly.
I’m a lucky man. He thought.
Despite his age Picard had been a comparative novice when they'd become lovers. All his previous relationships had been brief affairs; 5 times was the most he had ever made love to the same woman. As a result, he had never realised how the experience would improve as you got used to each other and that familiarity needn't dull the edge. His initial fear that he might not have the stamina or expertise to keep her satisfied had proved groundless. Encouraged by Beverly's enthusiasm and generosity he had never failed to perform - until recently that was. Knowing how much she enjoyed sex his failures had made him feel particularly inadequate. But that was over now, he had the hologram to help.
He reached out and stroked a hand gently across her bare shoulder. Beverly woke with a start. For a moment she couldn't remember where they were.
"Of course! The holodeck."
Picard propped himself up on one elbow.
"And how are you this morning?" His broad smile telegraphed his own state of mind.
"Good, but more to the point how are you? Things got pretty strenuous last night."
"Just as it should be. It wouldn’t be so enjoyable if it wasn't."
"I know, but there's strenuous and strenuous."
Picard sighed and lay back. "Why did I have to fall for a doctor?"
"Oh hell! What time is it!"
She was up and on her feet. "Computer, time?"
"The time is 07:50."
"I have to be at the hospital in 40 minutes! I'm leading an operation. Where are my clothes? Help me!"
Picard felt embarrassed. He'd felt that way ever since he’d left the holodeck in search of something for Beverly to wear. Data hadn't made things any easier by repeatedly asking why Dr Crusher couldn't wear whatever she'd arrived in.
"Because she can't", was all the explanation Picard felt inclined to supply; admitting to tearing her dress during a moment of sexual excitement was not in his nature.
After this initial embarrassment he had then had to choose between accompanying Beverly to the hospital, where one of her colleagues would check him over, or staying at the laboratory to be examined by Doc, the Voyager hologram. Neither option was appealing but he chose the later.
"Can we get on with this please, Doctor?" He urged when Beverly had left for work.
"Very well Captain."
The EMH approached with tricorder in hand. It didn't take him long to finish his assessment.
"Your white blood cell count is low, as is the oxygen level in your blood. Have you been engaging in a strenuous pursuit?"
Picard kept a straight face, "You could say that, yes."
"Then I must advise you against such activity in future."
Jean-Luc, said nothing, he looked from Doc to Data and back again. The pair of them had the externally appearance of human males, but did they understand anything of human desire?
"Can I take it, Captain, that you intend to ignore my advice."
"If at all possible, yes."
The seat by the cafe door provided a clear view of the street. Picard sat there sometimes when he wanted to feel 'normal', when he wanted to do what normal men did rather than what the dying were supposed to do. Usually he was on his own on such occasions but today Data had joined him. He didn't mind the android playing nursemaid in fact he was glad of his company. There were still so many things he wanted to tell him or to teach him about human nature. It might have surprised stranges to know it, but Data was the closest thing Jean-Luc had to a child. And like any good parent he wanted to pass on the benefit of his experience.
"Here is your tea, Sir."
As Data sat down, Picard's eye was caught by woman with a child on her hip walking down the street. He watched her till she turned the corner and was out of sight.
"Do you know that woman Captain?"
"No Data, I was just admiring the aesthetic appeal of her shape and movement."
Picard wonder whether he really did. In the past he had taught Data to appreciate certain types of muscic, perhaps it was time for a lesson on the appreciation of a certain female style?
"Keep still will you, your left thigh needs more work." Picard did as he was told. "If you were this stiff my lad, why didn't you ask the EMH for a massage?"
"I couldn't. We don't have that sort of relationship."
"He's a holographic doctor! What sort of relationship do you have?"
"Not that sort and he's not an EMH, he's Doc, a sentient being."
"I could argue that point. Anyway, did he examine you as I requested?"
"Yes, very thoroughly." Picard winced as she found a sore spot.
"My white blood cell count is down, as I'm sure you guessed."
Beverly stopped kneading.
"Jean-Luc, listen to me. Over exertion could shorten your life."
"Ah, but it’s worth it. You have quite an effect on me you know."
She looked away and bit her lip.
"Beverly?" He coaxed her. "What is it?"
She turned back and said softly. "It could kill you."
"I'm not complaining."
"Be serious will you! If our positions were reversed how would you feel?"
She had a point. The thought of her dying while they made love .. of holding her lifeless body ... . "I'm sorry, I didn't think. Do you want to stop ...?"
"No. But we need to be more careful. Would you mind if I attached a monitor to you? One that would warn us if you were at risk."
Picard managed not to react. He hated the idea, but, if it was necessary for her to be willing, then he’d agree.
The Beverly hologram wasn't ready yet. Data had apologised and explained that other projects required his immediate attention. She hadn’t minded, things were fine the way they were. Jean-Luc's hologram was having a positive effect on their home life and she could do without visits from hoards of curious scientist, all wanting demonstrations. She and Jean-Luc had had more than enough visitors when his illness was first diagnosed. Word had soon leaked out and he'd been inundated with messages and visits from friends and colleagues. Their concern was touching but also overwhelming; it had been a relief when the flood of visitors had abated and they were left to get on with their remaining days together.
Starfleet Medical had been very co-operative. They'd offered Beverly extended leave or the post of her choice. When his condition hadn't deteriorated as quickly as expected, she'd opted for a job in a local surgical research unit. There her responsibilities were supposed to exclude patient care however she'd soon allowed herself to be drawn into the clinical work of the unit. The routine now was that she performed operations, three mornings a week, on complex surgical cases. It was a relief to have patients she could do something for. At home, watching helplessly as Jean-Luc deteriorated was more than her professional pride could take.
'Live in the now' she reminded herself as she walked home. The holodeck would be available that night and she'd made plans to take their food and spend the evening in its artificial world. Jean-Luc was happier on the holodeck than in their apartment. With the help of the hologram he was less dependent on her for every day tasks and, more to the point, he was her lover again - not often but enough. The drawback with the holographic Picard was that he had to be scheduled. They could only use the holodeck when it wasn't needed by the other scientists in the laboratory. Time-tabled sex wasn't as enjoyable as the spontaneous variety, nor was it always physically possible. Of their six holodeck visits since the Yasmira programme only twice had she risked getting Jean-Luc aroused. It was all very different from their love-life 6 months before. Then they'd been free to indulge themselves whenever inclination and propriety allowed - in the kitchen, by the lake, in a halted lift. Beverly let out a long sigh, if that wasn't possible now at least it once had been.
The light was on when she opened the apartment door but unusually there was no sound. If Data brought Picard home early he usually stayed with him till she arrived.
There was no reply. Rushing into the bedroom she found him lying on his back completely naked. The gentle rise and fall of his chest reassured her that he was not dead but sleeping. She crept closer and was met by a familiar aroma - massage oil. She looked him over. His skin gleamed slightly, every inch showed signs of treatment. Beverly felt annoyed, it was irrational she knew but massaging him had always been 'her' role. Who had he found to usurp her place and in such intimate detail? She gave in to her irritation and gave him a quick poke.
"Beverly! Have you been home long?"
"I just arrived. I see you've been enjoying yourself." She pointed to his body. "Who's your new masseur?"
"Ah! Let me show you." He clicked his fingers theatrically and the standing figure of his hologram appeared on the far side of the bed. "Data asked me to see if I could sense my own body via the copy so I decided to have a go at massage. I managed it but it was no where near as enjoyable as when you do it."
Beverly stared at the copy, completely baffled. "How is this possible? Has Data reproduced Doc's mobile emitter?"
"No, but he's designed a holo-emitter which needs very little power. That's all my copy needs since I'm supplying the instructions. It can be run off the domestic power supply. He's installed four emitters in the apartment so the hologram can exist in every the room."
The healthy handsome copy of Jean-Luc stood smiling at her from across the bed. His presence here meant they would no longer have to book his appearance hours in advance. Moving quickly round the bed she kissed his mouth and wrapped her arms around his waist. The copy froze and dematerialised. When she looked down at the bed an angry Jean-Luc stared back at her.
"What's the matter?"
He held out a hand. "Come here."
With effort he pulled her down and held her firmly, almost violently.
"I couldn't feel you through him.” He explained. “There's a slight delay with these emitters."
The explanation was plausible but she knew he was lying. He hadn’t responded because she’d hurt him. She had come home and touched the copy first; it had been like saying "I prefer you in this form."
"I'm sorry." She whispered.
When he didn't respond, she tried again. .
"I'm sorry, that was thoughtless.”
Jean-Luc relaxed his hold enough to give her a free hand; cautiously she raised it and touched his cheek.
What good would staying angry do him? Hadn't he urged her to treat the copy as himself?
He took her hand and kissed her fingertips. It was one of their private signals, a way of indicating interest. His other hand slid behind her head and pulled her closer. Starting at the edge of her mouth he slowly kissed his way around it before seeking entry between her lips.
Freed from his grip Beverly let a hand drift down over his chest and towards his groin. When she reached his pubic hair Jean-Luc took a sudden intake of breath and laughed.
"That isn't fair, you're covered in clothes."
"That can be remedied." She started to unfasten her top.
"No, let me." She felt a hand hold her arm from behind and another remove a shoe.
"May I?" He asked.
The hologram expertly unfastened her top giving Jean-Luc access to her breasts. As the real man sucked and teased her nipples his other self lifted her skirt and slipped his hand inside her pants. It wasn't the first time a man had stripped her but it was definitely the most erotic. With four hands to work with there were so much he could do. Whenever part of her wanted to be held, rubbed or stroked a hand would anticipated her desire and be there. It was a experience she relished, she didn't want either Jean-Luc to disappear.
Neither did he. "Do you mind if we both stay?"
She knew what he had in mind, a threesome. She could guess how he wanted to play it too - she should touch and kiss only the real Jean-Luc while both of them worked on her. Three-in-bed had never appealed to her but this wasn't really a threesome she told herself. There might be two male bodies but there was only one man. Besides, she felt the need to amend for her earlier mistake, if this was what he wanted then she was happy to oblige. As the holographic Jean-Luc removed the last of her underwear she tried to concentrate on pleasing the human man. It wasn't easy, the copy had started a slow and tantalising journey up the inside of her leg. For all her resolution to touch only the real Jean-Luc, Beverly wasn't sure she could stay in control of her actions.
An hour later she stretched out a long naked leg and nuzzled up to the human version of Picard.
"You're looking very pleased with yourself." She remarked.
"Maybe it's you I'm pleased with." He shuddered as he remembered the wonderful things she had done with her mouth.
"Beverly ... you will say if I'm pushing you into..."
"Shush." She stopped him. "Have you ever known me stay quiet if I objected to something?”
“Then believe me when I say I'm a willing participant in all this. It's a little ... 'unorthodox' but it's also exciting. We could call it a unique and a pleasurable adventure."
He pulled her to him tightly till the effort caused too much pain. When he let go Beverly noticed a tear in his eye.
She pretended not to notice and started to rise. "I'll get us a cool drink."
"No." He held her back. "Let me get it."
A naked Jean-Luc materialised beside the bed.
She laughed, "What determines what he's wearing?"
"I'm not sure; I suppose it must be my thoughts. Do you want me to dress him?"
"No, there’s no need. I like him the way he is."
Picard made the copy pose in a body-builder stance before sending him off to the kitchen. Instructing the food replicator to produce two drinks was easy but carrying them back without spilling proved quite difficult. He had to concentrate fully as he guided the hologram back through the living-room.
At that moment a loud female voice filled the apartment. "Dr Crusher? Are you there?"
Picard put his hands over his face, "Merde!"
There was a sound of breaking glass and a scream. Beverly leapt out of bed, grabbed her dressing gown and rushed into the living room. A pool of orange juice was soaking into the carpet and the front-door was open. She shut it and returned to the bedroom.
"What happened?" She asked.
Picard peaked out from between his fingers.
"Did you, by chance, leave the front-door open when you came home last night?"
Beverly thought back, "It's possible.... Oh No! Don't tell me. Anne from next door walked in on the naked you."
"How do you do it!" Exasperation was beginning to show in her voice.
"As I said before, I don't know. I just think of myself doing something and my copy does it."
Beverly had lost count of how often she had attempted to operate her own hologram. She could make it materialise all right but after that nothing. It just stood there like a dummy in a shop window. After two hours of trying, she and Jean-Luc were reluctantly reaching the conclusion that the Borg residue in his body was essential to the control of the holograms. Only Data hadn't given up hope.
"There is an alternative configuration I would like to try Doctor. Can I ask you for another DNA sample?"
"Of course," she sighed, "if you think it's worth it. But I've had enough for today.
As they left the holodeck Picard excused himself and went on ahead to the laboratory. Beverly guessed he wanted to be alone and hung back with Data.
"The Captain seems very disappointed." The android remarked.
"He was hoping these holograms would be something others could use."
"That might still be possible, but even if it is not, has he not benefited from his?"
"Yes, but you know Jean-Luc, his own needs aren't high on his priority list."
Data made a little mew of understanding. "If you can give me a new DNA sample today, then I could have the modified version ready in two days."
She reached out and touched his arm.
"Thank you Data; not just for the hologram, but for all you've done for Jean-Luc. I’m very grateful."
"There is no reason for you to feel indebted, Doctor. I have enjoyed the work and I have gained immeasurably from these experiments."
She didn't understand how but took his word for it.
"Thank you anyway." She kissed him on the cheek.
Later Beverly was left with the strangest of memories. As they headed back to the lab Beverly could have sworn she saw him glance at her figure in a very un-Data like way. It was behaviour that would have been normal for Will Riker or even for Jean-Luc if he thought no one was looking. But for Data? Beverly dismissed the idea as her mistake.
Beverly had never seen him so depressed. She had seen him exhausted and in pain but this time all the life force seemed to have drained out of him. As soon as they got back to the apartment she settled him on the sofa and went to fetch some warm milk.
"Drink it.” She instructed. “Doctor's orders."
He made the effort and took the glass from her hands.
"I had such hopes, Beverly. I thought we were working on an invention that would help hundreds of people. Instead … What have we got? A toy that helps only me."
"And why shouldn't you benefit? Fate's dealt you a heavy load. Besides you're not the only one to benefit. Data told me he'd gained 'immeasurably' from the experience."
Picard gave a wry snort. "Maybe."
"He's not given up either, I've given him another DNA sample and he's going to try another configuration."
"The result will be the same. It's the Borg in me that makes it work."
"So what if it is?” A thought occurred to her. “There's nothing magical about Borg technology. We already understand much of it. The residue in your body doesn't do you any harm. If we have to give 'a touch of the Borg' to people so they can control the holograms then so be it. Even a cautious doctor like me would willingly offer that option to a severely disabled patient. The benefits they'd receive would be worth the risk."
Her idea grabbed his imagination.
"It might work! In which case I'd better help Doc identify exactly what it is that’s in me that makes the control possible." He sat forward with more energy than before. "What's for supper?"
Jean-Luc moved over to give her more room in their bed.
"What time's your appointment with the historian?" She asked.
"09:30 - and before you ask – yes I am happy for you to accompany me there and to pick me up afterwards."
"Good, but if you find the session getting tiring, then I want you to promise you’ll stop and arrange to finish it another time."
An awkward silence fell between them. They’d both been struck by the same thought. Maybe he wouldn't live long enough for ‘another time’. It was a possibility Picard wasn't afraid to face.
"As a matter of interest … how long do you think I have?"
She looked away to steel herself.
"I can't tell for certain - 6 weeks maybe, 6 months if we're lucky. If it wasn't for your artificial heart and previous good health you'd be dead by now. Most people with your illness die of heart failure much earlier than this."
"If it isn't my heart that'll fail, what will actually cause my death?"
"Do you really want to know?"
She looked away again. "Probably a burst blood vessel in the brain, the disease weakens the arteries in that area."
Picard nodded thoughtfully. Knowing his likely fate was strangely reassuring.
End of Chapter 10.