As Jean-Luc Picard made his way down the long,
curving corridor on his way to Transporter Room
One, he saw Lieutenant Urajel coming from the other
"Lieutenant," he said, favoring the Andorian with
"Captain," she returned.
But she wasn't looking him in the eye. She was
looking at his head -- a common problem of late, as he
had been compelled to shave it weeks ago in a place
called Oblivion, and his hair was growing back more
slowly than anyone had expected.
At the moment, it was little more than stubble, and
itchy stubble at that. Rather a nuisance all around, the
captain reflected, as he passed Urajel and continued on
Unfortunately, his hair was the least of his problems.
At the end of the corridor, he found a set of double
doors, which hissed open at his approach. Beyond
them, two of his people were waiting for him.
No, he thought, amending his observation. Just one
of them is still mine.
That was Goetz, the red-haired junior operator on
duty in the ship's primary transporter room. She was
standing behind the enclosure's lone control console,
awaiting the captain's authorization to proceed.
The other figure in the room -- the one who was no
longer Picard's to command -- was standing on the
slightly raised transporter platform, dressed in a brown
tunic with gray pants and a shirt of the same color. He
had left all his cranberry-and-black Starfleet uniforms
hanging in his quarters, as it was no longer appropriate
for him to wear any of them.
Picard met the man's eyes. "Mister Nikolas," he said.
The ensign -- no, the captain reminded himself, former
ensign -- inclined his head. "Captain."
Andreas Nikolas appeared relieved, as if a great
weight had been lifted from his shoulders. And no
doubt it had been. A couple of days earlier, he had
come to Picard with a haunted, hollowed-out look in
his eyes -- the same look the captain had seen lurking
there for the last several weeks.
Ever since Gerda Idun Asmund had left them.
She had arrived on the Stargazer in an apparent
transporter accident, one that had shot her from her
original timeline into Picard's own. As it turned out
later, her transit was actually part of an elaborate plan
to kidnap Phigus Simenon, the Stargazer's chief engineer,
and put him to work for a rebel cause.
Gerda Idun was foiled -- with Nikolas's help, as fate
would have it -- and she was returned to her proper universe
empty-handed. But that was only after Nikolas had
done himself the disservice of falling in love with her.
From that point on, the ensign's life on the Stargazer
had been a little bit of hell. After all, Gerda and Idun
Asmund, who looked exactly like Gerda Idun, were
still serving alongside him on the ship. And every time
Nikolas bumped into one of them, in a corridor or a
lounge, he was painfully reminded of what he had lost.
Picard had been aware of Nikolas's discomfort.
However, he had assumed that Nikolas would get over
it, as Picard had gotten over his own lost loves. So he
was surprised when the fellow walked into the captain's
ready room a few days ago, sat down opposite
him, and asked for his discharge from Starfleet.
Picard was torn by the request. Ever since Nikolas
had beamed aboard the Stargazer, the captain had
identified with him and seen promise in him.
Nikolas had been reprimanded a few times for getting
into fights, that was true. But Picard had his share
of ill-considered dust-offs at that age, and he had eventually
grown past them. He had seen no reason why
Nikolas couldn't do the same.
Then Gerda Idun had appeared, and Nikolas
changed. The day she was slated to leave, his orders
called for him to report to engineering. Instead, he
went to the transporter room from which she was departing,
determined to speak with her.
And days later, after the captain had specifically
warned Nikolas about getting into any more fights with
his fellow crewmen, he had managed to get into not
one such conflict, but two -- both of them with Lieutenant
Hanta, who should have known better as well.
Picard had considered the idea of encouraging
Nikolas to transfer to another ship. However, that
would have solved only a portion of the fellow's problem.
Even if Nikolas had been removed from the presence
of the Asmund twins, he would still have been
distracted by his memories of Gerda Idun.
And an officer on a starship couldn't afford such a
distraction. Not when it might place his colleagues in
Finally -- feeling he had no choice in the matter -- the
captain had given in. He had approved Nikolas's resignation
from the fleet. But he had done so with a heavy heart.
Under normal circumstances, Nikolas would have
been compelled to remain on the Stargazer for weeks.
It usually took that long to arrange a series of handoffs
with other starships in the transport of a low-priority
However, there had been a change in Picard's orders,
requiring him to go halfway back to Earth. That
had drastically expedited Nikolas's departure -- bringing
about this day, this time, and this unfortunate moment.
Standing there alongside Goetz, the captain considered
Nikolas for a moment. He couldn't help feeling
that he had failed somehow -- that he had let the
younger man down, rather than the other way around.
No matter how one looked at the situation, it was a
shame. Picard turned to his transporter operator.
"Is the Manitou ready?" he asked, referring to the
ardship with which they had rendezvoused minutes earlier.
Goetz nodded. "She is, sir."
Picard turned to his former ensign and said, "I wish
you well, Mister Nikolas."
Nikolas's brow knit, as if he were feeling a pang of
regret. Or maybe it was simply an indication of how
impatient he was to be off the Stargazer.
Finally, he said, "The same to you, sir."
The captain acknowledged the gesture with a nod.
Then he glanced at Goetz and said, "Energize."
Picard watched a column of golden light take shape
around Nikolas, immersing him in its brilliance. After
a moment, he began to fade away. Little by little, his
features became indistinguishable from the light.
Then the light faded too, leaving nothing in its place.
Picard sighed. But it wasn't just Nikolas's departure
that compelled him to do so. After all, the Stargazer
was slated to receive a transport subject as well as give
Goetz turned to the captain. "Sir, Nikolas has arrived
safely on the Manitou."
Picard nodded. "Proceed."
This time, the transporter operator didn't have much
to do, as her opposite number on the Manitou was the
one initiating the transport. Goetz's only responsibility
was to give the other ship's operator the go-ahead,
which she did with a tap on her console, and then monitor
Seconds later, another column of golden light took
shape on the platform. As Picard looked on, it became
clear that there was someone forming inside it -- someone
obviously humanoid, who solidified as the splendor
around him vanished.
He was blond, of medium build, and older than the
captain by a couple of decades. Though he was wearing
the same cranberry and black uniform, the insignia
on it denoted a rank superior to Picard's -- that of the
Starfleet admiral overseeing this sector of space.
McAteer, thought the captain, and not with any special
fondness. But what he said was "Admiral. Welcome
to the Stargazer."
McAteer smiled as if he were happy to see Picard,
but his smile wasn't to be taken at face value. It was
merely a tool that he used to disarm his adversaries.
"Picard," he said as he stepped down from the platform.
Not Captain Picard. Just Picard, without the title. But
then, McAteer had never seemed comfortable with the
notion of someone Picard's age commanding a starship.
"You've cut your hair," the admiral observed.
"I did," the captain confirmed. "A necessary part of
my assignment on Oblivion."
"Ah yes," said McAteer. "Oblivion." As if that single
word were comment enough.
Picard's mission there hadn't been a complete success.
He had, after all, failed to obtain strategic information
that would have given the Federation a
significant advantage over its adversaries in the sector.
However, he had flushed out a scheme to put the
Federation at a significant disadvantage. Most superior
officers would have taken that into consideration. But
"I trust your trip here was a comfortable one," said
"It was," the admiral confirmed. "But then, Captain
Dorchester knows his way around."
And I don't, Picard couldn't help adding silently.
The implication was there whether McAteer said it out
loud or not.
The captain indicated the exit. "Shall I have someone
see you to your quarters?"
"Not just yet," said McAteer. "Right now, I'd like to
go over a few things in your ready room."
Of course you would, thought Picard.
Carter Greyhorse, the Stargazer's chief medical
officer, appeared to be studying the red-on-black digital
readout on the side of one of his biobeds. However,
he was really thinking about Gerda Asmund.
In point of fact, he was always thinking about Gerda
And why not? She was his lover.
Greyhorse had never imagined he would be saying
such a thing, not even to himself. But it was true. The
fates had been kinder to him than he could ever have
imagined. Lovely, fierce Gerda had miraculously seen
fit to share his bed.
And not just his bed.
After all, Gerda had been raised as a Klingon. Her
appetites were untidy, to say the least, and they had a
way of manifesting themselves even when there was
no bed available.
More than once in recent weeks, Greyhorse had
found himself in a semipublic part of the ship, hastily
covering up some newly inflicted wound -- the livid result
of Gerda's passion. He was sporting two such
wounds at that very moment, one half-healed and the
other still fresh and bloody.
The doctor didn't like the risks he and Gerda were
taking, sometimes getting involved with each other
while one or both of them were on duty. However, his
lover seemed to thrive on risk. For her, it appeared to
be an integral part of the experience.
He couldn't deny her that thrill. Hell, he couldn't
deny her anything -- not when Gerda might suddenly
decide that Greyhorse was too much trouble and end
their relationship, just like that. He didn't know how
he would go on living if she did that.
So he endured their trysts, no matter where or when
they took place, and the scars that came with them, and
still he counted himself lucky. And he would go on
doing that as long as Gerda gave him the chance to --
"Doctor?" said his patient, interrupting Greyhorse's
He looked down at Ulelo, one of the com officers
who reported to Lieutenant Paxton. "Yes?"
"Have you got everything you needed?"
Greyhorse nodded. "Yes. Yes, of course. You can go."
He should have scrutinized Ulelo's bioscan, just to
be certain there was nothing wrong with the man.
However, a cursory look hadn't given him any reason
for concern, and he would take a closer look at the
scan later on.
Besides, Ulelo hadn't had any complaints. It was
just a routine checkup, mandated by Starfleet regulations.
"Thank you," said the com officer.
"No problem," said Greyhorse.
Swiveling himself around and removing himself
from the biobed, Ulelo crossed sickbay and headed for
the exit. By the time the doctor heard the clatter of
Ulelo's footfalls in the corridor outside, he wasn't
thinking about the com officer anymore.
He was thinking about Gerda again.
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