ST:TNG #1—And Time Passed
This episode starts where my novel, The Jitters, ends. Geologist Rachel Cabot returns to the Enterprise from her assignment on the planet Kyria. She and Picard have had over a month to think about what happened to them, how the Kyrian parasite trapped inside Rachel used her to make contact with Picard and plead for help for his dying race. She and Picard were intensely drawn to each other because of the alien’s desperation, and that intensity left emotional trailers they must eventually deal with.
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The main transporter room was a study in organized chaos. The Kyrian geological team beamed aboard with their gear and equipment to find their families crammed into the hold waiting for them. Squeals and shouts punctuated high-pitched chatter. Hands reached and clutched. Children climbed onto their fathers’ backs and found their mothers’ arms.
The happy bedlam pulled a smirk from Transporter Chief O’Brien. The panel beeped under his hands.
“Lieutenant Cabot signaling all clear,” he said. “Ready to beam aboard.”
“Then, let’s not keep her waiting.” Picard clasped his hands behind his back. His chin jutted toward the platform. “Energize.”
The bright beam brought Rachel Cabot’s form onto the transporter pad. Picard recognized the walnut-colored tumble of hair, but the rest of the woman’s appearance startled him. Once Dr. Crusher surgically removed the Kyrian parasite from her bone marrow, her mind cleared. But six weeks working on the planet’s surface had erased the haunted, gray pallor of her illness.
Picard watched his first officer sweep the lieutenant into his arms and shout congratulations. They were old friends, Will and Rachel, and yet a flare of irritation flashed through the captain when he watched them laughing together. Irritated about his irritation, he set his jaw.
“She looks great, doesn’t she?”
Picard grunted, uncharacteristically inarticulate.
“Right,” the chief mumbled.
Rachel yelled something at Riker. He nodded toward the transporter controls and Picard. The first officer grinned something else to her, which earned him a punch in the arm. The captain left the panel and waded into the fray as Rachel left Will. They met next to a family with three boys all trying to climb their mother.
“Congratulations,” he shouted. “You have much to celebrate.”
“Thank you, sir.” She looked around them. “Will says the party’s moving into Rec Room Five. Maybe we could get them started in that direction.”
“Do you think you can make yourself heard over this?”
“Sure,” she grinned. Sticking two fingers in her mouth, Rachel blasted a shrill whistle that brought the room to silence. She hopped back up on the transporter platform. “Hey! Who thinks we deserve a party?”
The entire room roared.
“Well, tie on your party hats and head for Rec Room Five. We don’t go on duty again ‘til 09:00.”
The roar repeated, louder and longer. As the crowd sifted through the doors, Rachel returned to Picard, who laughed and shook his head.
She laughed with him. “Are you joining us, sir?”
Picard’s mind quickly shuffled through bridge assignments, pending orders, a half-completed report, but just as quickly snapped a lid on those matters. Rachel’s face fairly sparkled.
“May I suggest champaign?” he said, leading her through the door.
“Ooo, this was a mistake,” Cabot said.
She set her empty flute on the buffet table and sat heavily next to Picard in a cushioned seat. The party screamed around them.
“I should never drink real alcohol,” she continued, her head lolling on the backrest. “I end up talking too much.”
“Here,” Picard poked a layered cracker in her mouth. “You seem fairly sober so far.”
“Thober, but chatty.” Bits of cracker puffed from Rachel’s mouth. She chewed a moment. “I’m sure you didn’t want to hear my whole report tonight. I don’t know what it is about alcohol that makes the sound of my own voice so fascinating.”
Picard smiled and sipped his champaign.
“Are there any more crackers?” She looked around him at the empty hors d’oeuvres tray on the table. “Wait, I have a better idea. Let’s go for a walk.” She pushed off from the divan, staggered a moment, then stood smiling down at him.
“Perhaps you’re not as sober as I thought,” Picard grinned at her. “Are you quite sure you can manage?”
“Quite. Are you coming?”
Picard carefully set his flute on the table before him and stood. He tugged at the front of his uniform tunic and offered her his arm. Cabot blinked.
“Just as a precaution, of course,” he said. “I wouldn’t want you tripping over all those words.”
“Funny,” Rachel said, slipping her fingers into the crook of his arm. “I’m gone for six weeks and you turn into a comedian. Sir.”
“I can’t say anyone has ever accused me of that before, Lieutenant,” he said, weaving her through the party, “but I do have my moments.”
She glanced at him. “You certainly do.”
The doors snapped shut, leaving them in the sudden silence of the hallway. Rachel pulled her hand out of his arm.
“Where to?” he asked as her.
“Ah, excellent choice.”
“I like it there,” she explained, moving down the hall. “Plots of experimental plants, earthworms digging through the soil—all it needs is a couple of pine trees to make it just like home.”
“If it’s a taste of the Northwoods you desire, I’m sure a holodeck could reproduce your home exactly.”
“I know, but the holodecks are usually so busy. I don’t have to schedule around anyone to walk in the arboretum.”
“But I should think, as a part of this festive occasion, you could find someone with enough influence to reorganize the schedule.”
Rachel smiled. “And if I could find this influential person, might he save the offer for another time?”
“Oh, I’m quite sure anyone unscrupulous enough to tamper with a holodeck schedule would have no sense of time.”
“I know exactly the type of scoundrel you mean.” She tipped to one side, but Picard’s hand was at her elbow. “Very proper on the outside. But that’s just a thin, cool crust over boiling lava. Very unpredictable, these types.”
Picard couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice. “It sounds as if he could explode at any moment.”
“Never underestimate the power of heat and pressure.”
“You paint this rascal in rather passionate terms.”
“Do I? Its just geophysics. I’m an expert, you know.”
They paused beside a hanger-sized hatch as Picard keyed the entrance code. The huge doors of the arboretum rolled open slowly. The smell of lilacs and damp, open earth drenched them as they stood on the threshold. Beneath that perfume lay the gentle fragrance of sweet pea, bent grass and sugar beets. As they stepped further into the hold, the huge doors lumbered back into place cutting out the bright corridor lights. In the semi-darkness, Picard sensed rather than saw the ordered tangle of plants.
“Watch your step.” Rachel pointed to the row of knee-high lights that lit the path in spots of dim yellow. “This is the only light during the night cycle. This and the stars.”
They both looked up at the expanse of transparent metal above them. Only the thin arch of the ship’s structural support beams limited the star view.
“I have been here before, you know,” he said softly.
She laughed lightly. “Sorry. I found this place the day I transferred to the Enterprise. I guess I think of it as my secret spot.”
They walked down the narrow path away from the doorway. It wound through grass fields and into a stand of hybrid tubers with fluorescent leaves. Sweet, scrubbed air moved the luminescent leaves until they whispered against each other. Rachel turned her face into the breeze. She closed her eyes against it, breathing deep and long. Her hands combed her short curls away from her face. Picard watched her exhale the effects of the wine and drink in the moist night air instead.
“Do you remember your last night on the ship before leaving for Kyria?” he asked her.
They walked out of the tuber plot and into a cultivated thicket of crossbreeding berry bushes. Thorny runners curled up poles in the soft earth and across the floor of the path. Rachel bent to pull a caught runner from her trouser leg.
“I was relieved to be going planet-side,” she said finally. “I was so embarrassed around you.”
Picard watched her pull the thorns carefully from her uniform and drape the vine out of the path. “I felt awkward with you, too,” he said, “and angry at myself for the awkwardness.”
The sharp planes of Picard’s face cut through the dim light. She saw a slim line of nose, a square corner of jaw and a glowing curve of scalp. “Yes, I remember. It was your anger that showed.”
He looked over her shoulder into the shadows of sweetflowers beyond the thicket. “Once we knew about the Kyrian, I understood that it was he who drew me to you. It was an artificial attraction, and I felt foolish that it affected me so strongly. Even so, I looked forward to you coming back to the ship.”
“The whole time I was planet-side, I kept waiting for those feelings to fade. You’d think, after six weeks…” Her voice trailed off.
“Perhaps…” He looked back at her. “Perhaps this connection we feel is simply part of sharing such an intense experience—a sort of forced intimacy.”
Picard smiled and ran his hand over the top of his head. “Yes. Reasonable.”
They stood looking at each other in the silvery darkness.
“You are, after all, a junior officer under my command.” Picard stepped closer.
“Yes,” Rachel whispered. “There are rules about that.” She found his hand.
Their mouths came together tentatively, politely, and then snicked into place like matched pieces of a puzzle. Rachel breathed in his spice. Picard tasted champaign. They tumbled through the warm dark, held only by the tether of tongue and lips. And when they swam back to the surface they found their bodies molded together.
“Jean-Luc,” she breathed, and Picard heard a familiar intimacy and passion in her voice that had called to him in sickbay. But this time the passion belonged only to her.
“This can’t end well,” he warned her.
“Say my name,” she told him.
“Rachel,” he whispered, and found her lips once more.
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