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Prime Directive

by Catherine Ellis

Rating :Any age

Disclaimer : Paramount owns everything Star Trek. As usual, I'm just playing with their toys for my own amusement.

Summary and Prologue: This story is set after the TNG "Destiny" books. Beverly is 7 months pregnant and the Enterprise is on a mission of exploration to a distant part of the galaxy, an area not previously visited by Federation ships. A few days before this story begins, the crew have come across evidence of Warp signatures and followed these to a planet call Tamaya.

Captain's personal log

The last few days are ones I'd rather forget - but I mustn't, for only if I remember will I learn from my mistakes. It all started so routinely, little did I know that soon I would be struggling with a dilemma and arguing with Beverly.

Our first contact with the Tamayans went without hitch; they were welcoming though understandably cautious in case we carried a disease they might catch. After biological tests proved reassuring to both sides, we were invited to visit the surface. Beverly, Worf, Cheng and I were the first to go down.

Their gravity was twice what we were used to so the length of our visit needed to be limited, every movement required effort. The Tamayans were a humanoid race, stocky yet graceful. The adult males were my height or smaller. They had facial hair and hair all over their bodies. It wasn't dense enough to be called 'fur' but not far off. The females were slightly smaller, with body hair of a lighter colour than the reddy-brown males. Clothing was minimal or non-existent.

After the initial introductions our hosts suggested we split up and visit different Tamayan locations. Worf wasn't comfortable with this idea but I was confident they could be trusted. Just in case, I ordered the Enterprise to keep a transporter lock on all of us.

With that, each of us went our separate ways. It wasn't until I was back on the Enterprise that Beverly and I had the chance to swap experiences over supper.

" ... I spent most of my time with Kirron, a bridge engineer, but when I was getting tired and thinking of returning to the Enterprise I heard some music coming from a neighbouring building. It turned out to be music students practicing with their conductor, a teacher called Truva. She was amazing, Beverly, I've never met someone who could convey the sound they wanted with such clarity and enthusiasm. Not only can she conduct, but she can play all the instruments as well ..."

The look on Beverley's face reminded me of something Deanna had said - 'she'll feel threatened by any female musician whose company you enjoy'. I could see how right she was. I cut my story short and asked about her day.

"... that was when I met my 18th pregnant woman! And it wasn't as if I was visiting an ante-natal clinic. Practically every adult female Tamayan seems to be either pregnant or has given birth recently. Did you notice the same?"

"Now that you mention it, many of the women were pregnant. I guess I'm now so used to living with a woman of that shape that it didn't strike me as odd."

She blew him a kiss before asking how long they would be staying at Tamaya.

"Five days at the most. If we don't leave then we won't be in time to observe the collapse of the star in the Colarris system."

"Any chance of returning this way?"

"I'm afraid not, why do you ask?"

"Some of the Tamayan medical techniques are unusual. I was hoping study them."

"Then you had better do so quickly over the next few days."

When Picard pushed his empty plate aside, Beverly took a box from her pocket and placed it on the table.

"Do you want to try some of this?"

He took one of the balls of food.

"It's delicious, what is it?" He was already reaching for another helping.

"I'm not sure exactly, they call it Zedec."

His hand stopped mid-way to his mouth.

"You needn't look so alarmed." She teased. "I'm not planning to poison you."

"It was you I was concerned about. You and the child you're carrying."

"Then you'll be pleased to know that this is excellent food for pregnant women. One of the Tamayan doctors - Dr Lamrac - noticed I was a little run down and obtained permission to give me some. He requested that I respect their traditions and eat it as a separate dish."

"Should you be sharing it with me?"

Beverly pondered the point. "Perhaps not."

At that moment the door chime sounded and they both reacted guiltily. Crusher quickly placed the food back in its box. Only then did Picard call out 'Come'.

Commander Worf strode followed by Lieutenant Cheng. From the mischievous smirk on her face, Jean-Luc guessed what she was thinking - that they had been kept waiting because he and Beverly had been engaged in some sexual activity. If Worf thought the same, his face did not show it. "Have we arrived too early Sir?" he asked.

"No Commander, we've finished eating. Please, both of you, have a seat and tell me what you've learnt about the Tamayans."

Worf squirmed awkwardly. "Very little Sir. Every time I ask them a question they quickly turned it around and asked me one. It was like spending time with a group of inquisitive schoolchildren."

Picard smiled at the analogy, his experience had been similar. "Were you able to discover anything about the communications buoys we passed?"

"Nothing, in fact when I asked about any of their equipment related to space travel I always got the same answer, 'You will have to ask the Pennar'."

"And who or what is the Pennar?"

The Klingon was relieved to at last have a positive answer. "They are a species from a star system 100 light years from here."

"Ah, does that mean we are dealing with a society whose technology is far less developed than ours?"

"That's unclear, Sir", Chen jumped in. "Farming seems to be the only thing in which they are really interested in. However our scans of the planet indicate that there society was once far more industrialised than it is now."

"Curious," Picard thought aloud. "I wonder what their relationship is with the Pennar? Anything else about them that is unusual?"

Beverly spoke up, "I think I might have another oddity for you - the Tamayan elderly."

"What about them?"

"There don't seem to be any. I spent several hours in medical facilities and didn't meet one. Did any of you come across someone you would consider old?"

They all murmured 'No'.

"So where are they?" She continued, "Why are they hidden away?"

"Perhaps the Tamayans are embarrassed by frailty." Worf suggested. "They seem to be a remarkably fit race."

"And muscular. If their livestock are built like their farmers then they won't go short of food."

Captain's log continued.

During the previous two weeks we had encountered nothing of interest, so these new puzzles were welcome. I assigned Worf the task of discovering what he could about the Pennar, Cheng was to investigate how Tamayan society was organised and Beverly to seek out their elderly. I assigned myself the job of delving into their history and finding an explanation for the industrial remains.

After Worf and Chen had left, I sat mulling over the day. Chen was right about the Tamayan interest in anything to do with producing food. When I had mentioned I had grown up on a vineyard I was pestered with questions about the best growing conditions.

"You're looking wistful," Beverly commented.

"I was just thinking how my brother Robert would have enjoyed it here, exchanging ideas with the Tamayans on how to take care of plants or control the taste of the crop. ... Those skills are important, they should be passed on."

She sat down beside him and gave him a hug. "Perhaps our son will prefer wine production to space exploration. Will you mind if he does?"

"I shall support him in whatever he wants to do ... unless, of course, it's to become a doctor. I have to draw the line somewhere."

She started punching him playfully.

"That's not fair." He laughed, "I'm not allowed to hit a pregnant woman."

"Then how about our second child? Can she or he be a doctor?"

A second child? Would we be that lucky? Beverly was comparatively old for a human mother, if it hadn't been for the regenerative effects she experienced on Bak'u, any pregnancy would have been out of the question. Better to wait for the first to be born safely before considering further possibilities. I pushed such thoughts from my mind as I prepared for bed and instead went over what we had learnt about the Tamayans. For some reason my mind made a connection between Beverly's mention of livestock, food and the missing elderly. The thought was too horrible. I dismissed it as nonsense and drifted off into sleep.

Next day I transported down and met Kirron again. He had promised to show me the latest bridge they were constructing. Perhaps, if I asked the right questions, I would unravel some of the mysteries from him.

" ... and so the United Federation of Planets was born."

Picard and Kirron had been talking for 30 minutes but so far it had been the Tamayan who had gained all the information.

"I am impressed that your Federation has lasted so long. With so many parties involved sectional interests often conflict with those of the group."

"Is that what happened in your own history?"

His host laughed. "You have discovered we were once a very different society."

"If you mean the remains of extensive industrialisation - yes, we had noticed."

"It is not a story we are proud of ..." Kirron's face had saddened. "It is one full of regrets."

Picard could not restrain his curiosity. "Did the Pennar play a role in this tale?"

"A pivotal one, Captain, they became our brothers-in-blood."

Jean-Luc was about to ask him what the term meant when an assistant called Kirron aside.

"You must excuse me, Captain. Please walk on, I will catch you up."

The ground was flat, but walking was as strenuous as climbing a steep hill on Earth. He was relieved to come across a pile of logs on the edge of a clearing and the chance to sit down. In the meadow in front of him a group of Tamayan women were cleaning and repairing large woven rugs. Around them, ten or so young children played happily. It all looked so peaceful, the livestock fear from the previous night seemed ludicrous.

Kirron caught him up again. "You see the woman in blue, Captain? That is my wife and the boy in the green top is our youngest."

"How many children do you have?"

"Eight so far and my wife is carrying twins."

Ten children! Picard shuddered at the thought. "Is it normal for Tamayan couples to have such large families?"

"Large? Sixteen is large, ten is on the low side. How many do you have?"

"Beverly is carrying my first, though her second. It is common for humans to only have two children."

"So few?" The Tamayan seemed surprised. "Children bring us joy," he explained," though it is also our duty to replenish our stock."

Stock. That word again. I returned to Enterprise with no firm evidence of anything untoward, just niggling doubts.

The senior officers gathered in my Ready Room at 1600. Beverly was the last to arrive. She obviously had something to tell us but asked the others to report first.

Worf had hardly more than me to relate.

"I have discovered little about the Pennar. They seem to be trading partners of the Tamayans. One of their ships is due here tomorrow."

"Is there nothing else about them in the Tamayan records?"

"The Tamayan's have few historical records, or so I'm a told."

"How about you Chen?" Picard asked. "Did you do any better?"

"Not really. I've only confirmed what is obvious to the naked eye - they are an agrarian society that shuns machinery unless it is of a simple construction. I offered them some help with a construction project, but they weren't interested even though it would save them six months work. The only thing that interests them is producing as many children as possible and the food to feed them."

"Anything else Chen?"

"Oh yes! I discovered they find clothing threatening. In many of their children's stories, people who wear clothes only do so to hide weapons."

The Captain let his irritation show. How could she treat such an important fact as an afterthought! He would speak to her later. Right now, the important issue was what Beverly had to report. She looked ready to speak now.

He noted the stern expression and the formal edge to her voice. It was the manner she adopted when she had something disturbing to say.

"Captain, Tamaya is not the rural idyll it may seem. There is a darker side to life here. They not only grow food they also become food themselves, for the Pennar."

For several seconds there was stunned silence.

"Explain," Picard ordered in his crisp authoritative manner.

"The reason we haven't met any elderly Tamayans is because they don't exist. As soon as any of them shows signs of aging they commit suicide. Their bodies are then stored until they can be collected by the Pennar."

"Are you quite sure about this?" He asked.

"Absolutely. One of their doctors showed me a chamber where they go to die and a storage room with 15 bodies waiting for transport. It was all perfectly normal to him . . . Jean-Luc, we've met societies where the elderly kill themselves so as not to become a burden, but we've never met this before. This is wrong. We have to do something. The Pennar can't be allowed to use the Tamayans in this way."

"I share your revulsion, but first the Tamayans must ask for our help, you know the Prime Directive."

Her voice was rising. "They're so brainwashed they don't see anything wrong with it. They won't ask for help unless you convince them they have other options."

As Picard and Crusher continued their familiar argument, Worf led Cheng quietly out of the room.

It was half hour before we reached an amicable truce. I promised to investigate the matter further and Beverly not to tack action on her own.

The next afternoon Kirron confirmed Beverly's report. I wanted to learn more but he was needed at a construction site.

"Captain, a Pennar ship is due here in an hour's time. They will be collecting the bodies of the Tamayans who have died recently. You can watch if you like. My assistant, Hanrag, will escort you.

While I waited for the Pennari to arrive, I visited the music school. Truva wasn't there this time, so I left some recordings of human music for her. Pieces I had selected myself.

The Pennari landing craft was far larger than any on the Enterprise. When the hatch opened Picard could see why. The crew were all three metres tall or more. 'Giant tailless monkeys' was the first description that entered his mind. It was hard not to be fearful of something so large, especially when it resembled wild creatures from Earth.

"Magnificent aren't they?" Hanrag whispered in his ear. It wasn't the word Picard would have used. From a storage shed, a group of Tamayans appeared. They were pulling trolleys loaded with what looked like coffins. Meanwhile from the Pennar ship similar boxes were being unloaded. Empty coffins? Those people not involved in the exchange stood quietly by to attention. The whole process was conducted with a solemn formality that the Captain found moving.

When the exchange was completed two of the Pennari came lolloping over towards him.

"There's no need for alarm, Captain," Hanrag assured him. "They are merely curious to meet you."

As the two Pennari drew nearer Jean-Luc had to tilt his neck further and further back to keep their faces in view. He felt ridiculous and not a little afraid. I should have accepted Worf's request to accompany me.

The giants stared down at him and sniffed. After circling him, they squatted down only a few feet away. One of them stretched out a huge hand to touch him but the other signalled for him to halt. Picard was reminded of gorillas - an Earth animal that had been extinct for 100 years. He could recognise intelligence in the eyes but couldn't read the expression. He looked to Hanrag for help, but his host excused himself and left them to it. In the absence of any other ideas he opened with the standard greeting.

"My name is Jean-Luc Picard. I am the Captain of the Federation starship Enterprise."

The Pennar said nothing, just continued to stare at him. Is my translator working? Then the older one spoke in a deep resonating voice.

"Why are you here on Tamaya?"

"We are explorers from a distant part of the galaxy. We are here to learn."

The pair of them exchanged a glance. Do they doubt me?

The older one leaned closer to him and whispered, "Be careful Captain, if you harm the Tamayans I will destroy your ship."

Was this a threat or simply warning? Without Deanna's help he couldn't tell. He bowed his head slightly. "We intend no harm."

His answer seemed to satisfy them. Picard was about to start a conversation when their attention was drawn by a group of Tamayan children, who were running towards them shouting excitedly. The Pennar rose to their feet, almost knocking him over in the process. Jean-Luc feared for the children's safety but he needn't have worried. The Pennar scooped them up with obvious expertise then walked away with eight giggling children balanced across their massive shoulders.

Four hours on Tamaya was as much as he could take without feeling very tired. When he returned to the Enterprise, Beverly was already back in their quarters and resting on the bed. He sat down beside her and held one of her hands. The tension in her body was obvious.

"Jean-Luc, I've come to really admire the Tamayans. At first I thought they were slaves to dogma, especially in their rejection of pharmaceuticals. Now I've come to realise they don't need our type of medicines because they've learnt how to simulate their bodies to heal themselves through eating the right foods. These are intelligent and resourceful people, so why...". Her voice trailed off. She could hardly bear to think of what happened to them.

When she had recovered her composure, she asked, "Did you see them hand over their bodies?"

Picard described the scene to her, including the arrival of the children.

"You seem touched by the Pennari behaviour, Jean-Luc. Don't you find it sickening that they can befriend the children they are one day going to eat?"

"I'm just telling you what I saw and it did not look like an exploitative relationship to me."

"A man may smile and smile and be a villain." She quoted.

"And the Tamayans could decide to stop being victims."

"But they won't." She sighed heavily. "When I suggested that they should allow themselves to die naturally, Dr. Lamrac said that would be 'illogical' as their bodies would have 'less nutritional value'."

Picard could tell she was close to tears.

"Beverly," he stroked her fingers. "however disturbing we may find this, I doubt that we can change anything in the short time we have here. Please be careful, don't let yourself become too emotionally involved."

"That's your excuse for inaction is it?" She snapped. "'Beverly's over concerned because she's pregnant and thinking of every Tamayan as some mother's child?' Well here's something for you to think about Captain - maybe you're too detached. To you, it's just a debating point - Does the Prime Directive allow me to intervene? It's less important to you than seeing some damn star collapse. Well before you sink deeper into your complacency perhaps you should know that Truva will be killing herself in three days time."

"Truva?" He gasped.

"Well, well. That got your attention, didn't it? Perhaps now you'll understand the urgency."

Beverly's words had stung me deeply. Did she really think I could be that callous? Or was she just lashing out from her own frustration at not being able to change things? Either way she was right about the urgency. The revelation about Truva had left me in a state of shock. How could someone so vibrant and talented, be planning to end their life? I would need to return to Tamaya and insist on seeing her.

For someone contemplating suicide she was remarkably busy. I finally obtained a ten minute slot with her in between two teaching sessions. If I was to get an explanation I would have to get straight to the point.

"... Is it true that you'll be dying soon?"

"That's correct Captain, my body is showing signs of decay. Death is inevitable."

"But why hasten it by killing yourself?"

"It is our custom."

"Don't you want to continue living? Aren't there things you still want to achieve?"

"Of course, in fact I'm trying to learn some of your human music you gave me, it's fascinating. I want to teach some of my pupils how to play it on our instruments."

"Then postpone your death and finish the work."

"My physical deterioration will be rapid. Even if I put off my death, I would not be capable of playing."

Picard wasn't prepared to give up.

"What if our doctors could find a way of prolonging your active life? Would you let us try?"

Truva spent several minutes considering his offer.

"I will accept only if the medical investigations do not require much of my time. I don't want to waste what little I have left."

Time was of the essence. I arranged for Truva to spend the night on the Enterprise so Beverly could study her condition while she slept. In the transporter room I introduced the two of them. Truva was full of laughter at our low gravity. She bounded off the platform with such energy that she almost hit her head on the ceiling. Her love of life was infectious.

I had fallen asleep before Beverly came to bed so it was morning before I heard about her progress, or lack of it.

"I'm not sure I can do much to halt or slow her deterioration."

"Do you know what's causing it?"

"Old age, just old age. Living creatures aren't built to last for ever."

"But why is the deterioration so rapid? With humans the process takes decades."

"The average Tamayan life span used to be 35 years. It's now 55 thanks to their nutritional skill. I think there comes a point when the body just can't repair itself anymore."

Picard was saddened by the news.

"Is there nothing we can do for her?"

"I'm not a miracle worker!" she snapped through the tiredness. "And why are you so obsessed with this one woman when this fate awaits them all!"

"It is all of them I am thinking about."

"Really?" her tone was disbelieving.

He sighed exasperatedly. "All right, I do find Truva attractive, but so do you. I saw how you were captivated by her vivacity. It's that very love of life that makes her the ideal patient. You need to investigate someone who wants to live a bit longer, someone all the other Tamayans value. She's their best music teacher. Well consider this - You said Dr. Lamrac considered waiting for natural death to be illogical as it would happen soon anyway. If we could make the date of death less predictable then that would undermine his argument."

"Nice try," She conceded, "but don't bank on my succeeding. Truva has let me use a sonic treatment that may slow her arthritis and Lamrac approved a vitamin supplement that should help. Every other suggestion I made was declined. She was worried it might contaminate her body. I was almost tempted to disobey her just to make her inedible." She rubbed her aching head. "It's your turn, Captain. We can't leave Tamaya without at least trying to stop this barbaric practice."

I should have left her to sleep, but I too was irritated by people expecting miracles.

"And what do you suggest?" He paused, awaiting a suggestion. "Should I threaten to attack any Pennari ship that comes to collect their bodies? Should I promise the Tamayans that we will stay her to protect them for years? And by the way, have you noticed that the Pennari technology is as good as ours, so by threatening them I could put the entire crew at risk!"

She had no answer.

"Believe me Beverly, I would like to help. If you have any sensible suggestions, I'll willingly hear them. Now if you will excuse me, I have others to see."

Two hours later, I was under even more pressure. Beverly wasn't the only one who wanted action. Many of the crew were impressed by the Tamayans and had established friendships. Rather than thinking them backward, they admired they rejected technology they could not produce without pollution and the way they were delighted by simple ideas such as a carpentry joint they had not known and could see a use for.

In many ways, they reminded me of the Bak'u and for them I was prepared to resign my commission and oppose a Starfleet ally. Was I guilty of double standards? I thought not. The Bak'u had asked for our help and the threat they were under was far greater than the Tamayan. Besides I still wasn't certain I understood the current situation. The facts were plain, what wasn't clear was the meaning of those facts. Why did the Tamayans accept this subservience to the Pennari as normal?

I'd been forgetting the old adage, ' To understand the present you must understand the past'. I would have to pester Kirron and Truva again until one of them provided the answers. Luck was with me, Truva agreed to speak to me while she ate lunch.

"I owe you, Captain. Your wife's efforts have slowed my decline slightly. I can postpone my death for another 10 days."

"It could be another 100 days if you accepted the medicines she's offering."

"You know I can't do that. They would leave residues in my body."

Picard winced. How could she care so much about people who would eat her?

"Truva, you told me you wanted to end your life according to tradition, however I know you're not someone who blindly follows such rules. Your enthusiasm for our human music shows you are open to new ideas. If you can be a leader in the field of music, then why not be a leader in other areas? Why not be the one who challenges this tradition of suicide?"

Truva reached out and stroked his arm.

"You must not be distressed by my death Captain. I do not see it as suicide. I see it as something positive."

"But how can that be?"

She looked on him fondly as she searched for the words to explain.

"I have never been able to have children. My legacy will be what I have passed on to my pupils. Though I am proud of those achievements, it's not the same as having descendents. If I died 'naturally' as you call it, my body would be edible but barely nutritious. Whereas if I follow our tradition, I will provide food for many Pennari children. That thought pleases me. They are such a magnificent race. It is far better to be eaten by them then to decay into our soil. We make poor fertiliser."

He could see some sense in her explanation - until Beverly's pregnancy he expected to be the last of his line - but it was still bizarre.

"Truva, how did this all start? Why did the Tamayans first give their bodies to the Pennar?"

"Your time's up Captain, I have pupils to teach. If you want more answers then you must ask Kirron."

We were due to leave in 7 hours and still I had no explanation. Luckily Kirron was prepared to see me once more despite his busy schedule.

"It's a pity you are going Captain, your crew have been most helpful. Also I'll admit to being as curious about your world as you are about mine. What is it you would like to know?"

"Please Kirron, explain to me how you came to give your bodies to the Pennar?"

"It is not something we normally speak of to outsiders. But since you have been informed of our custom then I can understand you wanting an explanation." He sat back in his chair. "To give you that I will have to go back 300 years . . ."

The start of Kirron's tale was familiar one; the Tamayans had once been the dominant species in the sector with a population many times what is was now. They had been blessed - or cursed - with abundant mineral resources and had become a major manufacturing centre. So much of their capacity was given over to industry that they came to rely on other planets for most of their food. After many years, their raw materials began to run out but other worlds were willing to supply them. After all, why pollute your own planet when the Tamayans where prepared to do the 'dirty' construction for you?

"... We only came to our senses when we realised that many of our children were infertile. Back in those days our average life span was 35 years. With falling birth rates, our population first aged and then shrunk rapidly. Our industries ran out of workers and raw materials, so we could no longer afford to import all the food we needed. It was a sorry state." The story almost brought tears to Kirron's eyes.

"We weren't the only planet with problems. Pennar was also suffering from industrial pollution, as well as a disease they'd caught from a visiting species. We helped each other with resources and ideas. One of these ideas was to find a new planet we could share. With that in mind, two ships set out to search for a location. Not long into their journey they were hit by a massive ion storm that destroyed their warp capability. They had no choice but to limp home at sub-light speed. Both worlds believed the ships were lost, they gave up hope of finding a new world and concentrated their efforts on healing their existing ones."

"Did the ships return?"

"Yes, after 2 years. Of course they weren't stocked for such a long journey. If they weren't to run out of food and air something had to be done." Kirron went quiet again. "The older Tamayans decided to sacrifice themselves to provide food and oxygen for the younger ones. Since our own flesh is poisonous to Tamayans it would be necessary for the crew of the Pennar ship to accept the bodies as food. In return they would provided the remaining Tamayans with some of their supplies. For 18 months, this was the arrangement that kept them all going. Then one day a Pennari officer was killed in an accident. His shipmates offered his body to the Tamayans as food. So that was how our exchange of bodies originated."

"Exchange? Are you telling me that you eat the Pennari?"

"Of course, don't you remember witnessing the exchange ceremony?"

"I thought the Pennari were just returning empty coffins."

Picard held his head as he attempted to reconcile this new interpretation with all that he had observed.

"Kirron, I can understand how such an arrangement could come about aboard those ships, but why did the practice continue? And why do you kill yourselves rather than waiting for death to come naturally."

"All food is not the same, Captain. Some combinations of nutrients have specific effects. Of the Tamayan crew who survived the journey home, those who had eaten the Pennari flesh lived far longer than normal. The Pennari survivors also showed benefits. They had developed an immunity to the disease that had crippled many of their population, an immunity they could pass on to their children. With food being scarce my ancestors became experts in identifying which foods were best and why. We discovered that Pennari flesh is only beneficial to Tamayan longevity if those Pennari have themselves eaten Tamayan flesh for some time. You need to understand that we were in danger of becoming extinct. This exchange of nutrients has helped us expand our population again."

Picard started to fill in the puzzle for himself. "If you die before your bodies deteriorate then you can feed more Pennari, which benefits them and then you in the longer run."

Kirron beamed, his guest had at last grasped the logic behind it all.

Their conversation was interrupted by Worf's voice over Picard's comm-badge. Form his tone, it was obvious that something was wrong.

"What is it Commander?"

"Dr Crusher transported down 2 hours ago. We have not been able to contact her for the last twenty minutes. We have now received a report that she is being held aboard a Pennari transport ship."

The report was correct. The ship had landed to deliver equipment and Beverly had asked if she could meet the two young male pilots. She had been invited on board. Ten minutes later, the hatches had been closed and all communication with the Tamayans broken off.

Kirron was baffled by this Pennari behaviour. I had to tell him what I feared had happened - Beverly had challenged their right to eat the Tamayans.

"Can't you transport her out?" Kirron asked.

"Not with the hatches closed, they have some kind of shielding that blocks us. Can you get them to talk to you?"

"They refuse to communicate until their commander arrives. His ship is on its way. He has asked us to do nothing until he arrives."

While we waited, Worf offered me several alternatives - all of them involved forcing our way on board. I wasn't prepared to take that risk. It might provoke them to harm her or result in a Tamayan being hurt. He was frustrated by my inaction until I explained about the mutual benefit the Tamayans and Pennari got from this exchange. In fact the self-sacrificing element appealed to his Klingon sense of honour.

For 90 minutes I sat under a tree waiting for the ship to arrive. I could have waited aboard the Enterprise but felt it was important to be there. If Beverly's actions disrupted relation between the two worlds then it was my responsibility to try and heal it. I instructed Worf to scan Beverly's condition as soon as the hatch was opened, but only to transport her to the Enterprise if she showed signs of distress.

When the Pennari ship arrived, I recognised its commander. He was the same man who had warned me not to harm the Tamayans. Had I broken my promise to him?

It seemed like an eternity from his opening of the hatch to Beverly appearing. I hurried over to greet her. We fell into each other's arms and I held her tight.

"I'm fine." She reassured him. "I've been resting on one of their bunks. Jean-Luc you must not blame them for holding me, they are hardly more than boys. When I told them how the Tamayans were killing themselves to feed the Pennari they were devastated. They shut the hatch not to hold me, but because they were ashamed to face the Tamayans."

"Beverly, we've misunderstood what's going on here. The Pennari are not their oppressors, the Tamayans benefit greatly from the arrangement."

"They benefit?"

Before he could explain, the older Pennari appeared at the hatch and started walking towards them. His anger was evident. Picard ordered Worf to beam Crusher back to the ship. Seconds later he was gripped around the throat by a massive hand.

"How dare you spread such lies - that the Tamayans kill themselves to feed us!"

"Zenoff! Let him go!"

The Pennari was still seething, but he obeyed Kirron's command.

"Do you know what the woman told our pilots?" He protested.

"I know," Kirron replied calmly. "She was just reporting what she had been told. We do end our lives when we know death is upon us."

Zenoff reacted to this news with the same shock that Picard had done.

"No! Tell me it isn't true." He squatted down and hid his face in his hands.

Kirron stretched out a hand and stroked his furry head.

"Please, don't be distressed. No Tamayan is forced to end their life early, there are some who chose not to. For most of us the choice is seen as something positive, it gives purpose to our death. We feed you and your children and the Zedec food we make from your bodies extends our life spans by 20 years or more. This seems a fair exchange to us."

Picard stepped forward and bowed to the Pennari. "Zenoff, I am deeply sorry for the distress we have caused you and your young pilots. My wife and I did not know the whole story until quite recently. I thought the Tamayans were your prey. I had not realised when you commanded me 'Not to hurt them' that you spoke in love not in anger. I understand that now."

The giant slowly unfolded himself.

"Kirron, your people should have told us about your deaths. We are not children who have to be protected from the truth. However, if your lives are indeed shortened willingly then I will tell my people that it is an honour for us to accept your gift." He turned his gaze on Picard. "Even this hairless one understands that."


Now as I look back, I see that my prejudices coloured my perception. Because the Pennari were large and resembled gorillas I assumed they were aggressive and incapable of compassion. As for the Tamayans, they were mostly smaller than me and I had assigned them a childlike role. When I did not understand the logic behind their actions, I assumed their logic was at fault rather than my understanding.

Beverly appeared at his side as he wrote.

"Your personal log?"

"Yes, I need to record all the mistakes I made on Tamaya."

"I've been doing the same, only my list is longer. I made mistakes up here too." She edged a little closer. "Jean-Luc, calling you 'detached' was totally unfair. Please forgive me."

He pulled her to him.

"There's some truth in what you said. I do distance myself at times. I need to; if I care too much then I can't trust my own judgement and I become afraid to act. You know how long it took me to cope with my feelings for you."

She kissed the top of his head and hugged him back.

"You must think I was reckless in confronting the Pennari. I didn't plan to say anything when I asked to meet them. I just wanted to understand why you were touched by how the other Pennar greeted the Tamayan children. I understand that now. The pilots were delightful youg men and as proud of their ship as Wesley would have been. It was unkind of me to tell them, I had guessed they did not know about the Tamayan death tradition."

"Perhaps we shouldn't dwell on our mistakes," he replied. "Perhaps we should just remember Tamaya as somewhere we discovered two remarkable species - ones who you, I and our child will be linked to forever. We've both eaten Zedec, the Pennar and Tamayans are part of us now."

The end.
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