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Chapter 1

The Planet Trana IV

Rolani huddled for warmth next to a man she had once hated. He had been her next door neighbor, and had been a vain and spiteful person. That was before the world had come down around them; before the murderers had slaughtered most of the villagers in the newly settled colony and driven the survivors into a series of caves.

"We are cursed," Rolani whispered, staring at the shadows on the wall flickering in the flames from a small fire.

"No…we are Chosen," the man said dully.

Chosen, she thought bitterly. It was a lie that had been told to her since she was a child. This was now the reality. It was a matter of time until they were discovered. And when the Brethren found them, they would all die. They would tell Rolani and the other hunted people that it was for their own good, and that they would exit this world into a better one. But Rolani did not care about another world; she just wanted to survive in this one.

USS Enterprise Star Date 411203.7

The holodeck doors opened with their characteristic sigh and she hesitated before walking in. She heard him before she recognized him, clothed as he was in an all-white fencing uniform. The rhythmic shuffling of feet on the mat forward and backward was quick yet controlled. Of course she shouldn't have expected anything less than the kind of exactness which she had come to learn was integral to the personality of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

But newly appointed Chief Medical Officer Doctor Beverly Crusher had fallen out of practice dealing with this particular personality, and so she stood there waiting, unsure of whether interrupting the captain during one of his rare extra-curricular activities was wise. She continued to stand there for a few minutes more as he sparred with a holographic opponent. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her oversized blue lab coat, and watched as he put increasingly determined efforts into each attack. She listened as his breathing quickened indicating just how much he was exerting himself with each slice of the blade, each defensive move he used to stave off defeat.

Surprisingly the repetition of it all was mesmerizing to a degree. For a few moments she even began to lose her train of thought. She had rehearsed what she had planned to say to him; one never knew whether to expect a harsh tone or just the typical chilliness he so expertly conveyed. Beverly Crusher wasn't chilly at all. In fact, she was naturally quite warm-at least when her temper had not gotten the better of her. But she could be distant if necessary. Many hardships of the personal kind had seen to that.

In addition she had learned to extend her practiced medical detachment and apply it to her interactions with difficult personalities where it was warranted. Whether Captain Picard turned out to be one of those difficult personalities Beverly would need to treat with detachment still remained to be seen. The interactions between Picard and Crusher thus far had been mixed at best, and at worst, confusing and embarrassing.

It had been just three weeks since the captain had nearly ordered her transfer from the Enterprise during the Farpoint mission, and only one week since the Tsiolkovsky virus had taken over the crew and caused widespread confusion and apparent drunkenness. Before she had isolated the cure, Picard and Crusher like many other crew members had not been spared exposure to the virus or the onset of the odd symptoms. As a result of their lowered inhibitions during those few hours, they had done their best to avoid each other since—with the exception of one extremely speedy physical two days ago. The Captain had ordered one for all infected crew members after receiving his newest set of orders, and to his distress seemed to realize only after issuing the order that he too would have to undergo a physical.

Now waiting to give him the results of the crew physicals, Beverly absently tapped the toe of her boot on the deck. For some reason Picard hadn't noticed she was there yet. And then she sat down slowly on a nearby wooden bench which emitted a very realistic creaking sound, and he jumped into the air in surprise. He turned to face her so abruptly that he forgot to tell his holographic opponent to stop its attack, and it scored a hit to his shoulder. Ripping off his helmet angrily he shouted, "freeze program!" The holodeck opponent stopped in mid-swing, and Beverly had to bite her lip to keep from laughing at how ridiculous the computer generated swordsman looked balanced on one foot.

The Captain however, was not laughing, and she could tell already that this was not going to be easy, simply because she had interrupted him. Oh well, she thought. He pulled off his gloves wordlessly and slapped them inside his helmet before placing it on a nearby bench. Straightening he placed his hands on his hips. "To what, Doctor Crusher, do I owe this," he gestured with his right hand, as though unable to come up with the correct wording before settling for "intrusion?"

Beverly took a deep breath. "You ordered me to notify you when I had examined the post-Tsiolkovsky physicals, Captain."

"So you came to holodeck six, instead of simply sending me a message," he said looking bemused. "How did you even find me?"

Let's see ,should I tell him Riker told me, or…. "I asked the computer, of course," she said as evenly as possible.

He raised his eyebrows and wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Ah yes, of course." He was looking at her expectantly, now that what he considered pleasantries were out of the way.

"For the most part the crew is fit for duty, although I do have some concerns about one particular officer…which is why I thought I'd come down here to find you."

"Oh?" He took a step toward her with a growing look of concern.

She stood up from the bench. "Captain it's your cardiac implant…."

His expression immediately grew hard. "So you have concerns about my fitness for duty?" he said quickly.

Interesting how his concern for his crew outweighs his concern for himself? Or maybe it's something else. "No, Captain, clearly you are very fit. I had no idea you were a fencer, in fact…."

He merely frowned at her, uninterested in her attempt at small-talk.

"It's just that your heart is showing some wear and tear. We have more improved models now, Jean-Luc." He actually flinched at that, and then put a hand on the back of his neck, looking at the floor until she finished. So, no interruptions while exercising, don't mention his artificial heart, no calling him by his first name…I suppose I should be making a list now, she thought. Whatever you do, Beverly, don't mention what happened between us last week.

"Captain," she said as gently as possible. "I simply want to inform you that within the next three years your heart may require replacement. Certainly there is no immediate concern, but I thought you should know. I have done a number of the procedures myself, and I'm happy to help any time you like."

He gave a little shrug, and looked up at her. "I appreciate the information, Doctor. Thank you," he said quietly. But his eyes were still very cold. Had she embarrassed him? Clearly he did not appreciate even the possibility of appearing vulnerable. Presently though he allowed a faint smile, perhaps just because he was aware that he appeared too distant, but she could tell he was still uncomfortable. "If you will excuse me, Doctor, I must go and review my orders for our current mission," he said walking past her toward the door.

"Captain…might I ask, what is our current mission?" she called after him.

He paused before exiting the holodeck. "It promises to be entirely routine, Doctor," he assured her before stepping into the corridor.

She watched him go. "End program," she said softly and the gym interior instantly transformed into a black and gold grid.