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Author's note: Telepathic communication is shown using *.

Chapter Sixteen

Everyone turned to look at Selar and Jean-Luc noticed Beverly's eyes narrowing as she made a rapid assessment of Selar's physical condition. Selar looked at the floor as she said,

'I replicated a meal yesterday.'

'Did you eat any of it,' asked Jean-Luc relentlessly.

'No.'

Blessing Vulcan social conditioning for making it virtually impossible for Vulcans to lie outright for personal reasons, Jean-Luc said gently,

'When did you last eat?'

'Four days ago. However, there is no reason for you to be concerned Cap… Jean-Luc, I am merely undergoing a fasting ritual.'

'For what reason?'

'I… In order to cleanse myself.'

'Why do you need to cleanse yourself?'

'Personal reasons,' said Selar, refusing to meet Jean-Luc's eyes.

'These personal reasons wouldn't be to do with Alynna's treatment, would they?'

Selar looked at him helplessly and in any other circumstance Jean-Luc would have felt very guilty. However on this occasion he felt no guilt at all. Keeping his voice calm and quiet he said,

'The study from Starfleet Medical is very clear about the effect on telepathic medical staff of carrying out the treatment for Tobull's Disease; almost all of the telepaths involved committed suicide.'

'Vulcans do not commit suicide. As you know, Jean-Luc, there is no word for suicide in Vulcan.'

'That is true but irrelevant. There are five instances of Vulcans treating people with Tobull's Disease. In each case, they took measures that were extremely detrimental to their health such as stopping eating or drinking. Three of them died before their colleagues realised what they were doing. You are too valuable to us all, both professionally and personally, for us to lose you, Selar. Please start eating again.'

'I… I…'

Selar's eyes remained firmly fixed on the floor so she didn't see Beverly and Deanna coming towards her until it was too late to avoid their hugs. Deanna deliberately lowered her shields so that Selar would be able to read her thoughts, cleared her mind and thought,

*You are my friend and I love you. *

*How can you love me; I'm worthless *

*You're not worthless *

Deanna deliberately filled her mind with thoughts of the countless times that Selar had healed people, saved lives and comforted her crewmates. Because of her weakened state Selar's shields had crumbled the instant that Deanna and Beverly had touched her and she was unable to pretend that she could not read Deanna's thoughts, particularly since Beverly thoughts, whilst unfocused, displayed the same mixture of love and concern. The sudden surge of emotion was too much and Selar covered her face with her hands as she tried to control herself. Seeing that Selar was on the verge of tears Beverly and Deanna led her into a side ward, exchanging deeply troubled looks. Deanna sat on the bio bed next to her, linking arms with her so that they maintained telepathic contact, whilst Beverly went to the replicator and ordered a small mug of nutrient-rich Vulcan soup. Selar took the soup and started to sip it slowly, making no attempt to pull her arm away from Deanna. Deanna deliberately left her shields down, leaving herself open to Selar. Selar would know that Deanna was reading her emotions but by remaining in physical contact with Selar, she gave Selar the opportunity to read her thoughts. It left her completely vulnerable and there weren't many people that Deanna trusted enough to allow it but she wanted Selar to know how much she cared about her. Selar's emotions were chaotic as confusion, fear and hopelessness competed with the love she felt for her friends. Deanna concentrated on thinking about all of the positive experiences that they had had together and after a few minutes she felt Selar's emotions slowly becoming more positive. With her shields down, Deanna could read Beverly's emotions as well and Beverly's mind was in a tumult too, with guilt and anxiety predominating. Deanna shifted into a more comfortable position; they were going to be here for a while.

Jean-Luc looked after Deanna, Beverly and Selar with concern but made no attempt to follow them; it was a medical matter now and he trusted Beverly and Deanna to keep him briefed. Sam stood, signalling the official end to the counselling session and they all followed suit. Alyssa looked anxiously towards the side ward but helped Nechayev back to her bio bed then went to the nurse's station. Jean-Luc turned to Dean saying,

'Doctor?'

'Yes, Captain?'

'I know that you haven't had a chance to get any sleep but would you be able to cover Sickbay for a few minutes?'

'Yes, Captain.'

Jean-Luc noticed with relief that Dean's voice was calm and professional and he went over to check Nechayev's bio bed readout without any hesitation. Jean-Luc nodded at Sam and was about to leave when Nechayev said,

'Captain, could I have a word?'

'Yes, Admiral.'

'Since I'm not going to be disembarking at Starbase Eighty-one, you'll need to have a studio prepared for my husband.'

'Your husband?'

'Yes, he's rendezvousing with us at Starbase Eighty-one. He'll need somewhere to paint. My aide will be able to tell you how much of his equipment he'll have with him.'

'Yes, Admiral. Do you know what his requirements are?'

'Somewhere large with a replicator, a few seats and adjustable lighting.'

'Understood.'

'Also, could you send my aide in; I need to catch up on some work.'

Extremely grateful that he'd asked Dean to stay, Jean-Luc looked over at him and said,

'Doctor?'

'Doctor Crusher has cleared you for half an hour of non-physical work today, Admiral.'

'That's ridiculous, my mind's fine. I need to do several hours work today.'

'I'm afraid that you'll have to take that up with Doctor Crusher, Admiral,' replied Dean calmly.

Nechayev started to stare him down and Jean-Luc braced himself to interfere but after a few seconds Nechayev said,

'I will. In the meantime, Captain, please explain to my aide that we only have half an hour.'

'Yes, Admiral.'

Once outside Sickbay Jean-Luc tapped his comm badge,

'Picard to T'lim.'

'T'lim here, Captain.'

'Admiral Nechayev has been cleared to do half an hour's non-physical work so please can you go to Sickbay as soon as possible.'

'Aye, aye, Captain.'

'The admiral asked me to emphasise the limited time available.'

'Understood, Captain.'

'Once the admiral has dismissed you, please report to Commander Data.'

'Yes, Captain.'

'Picard out.'

Jean-Luc returned to the Bridge and having received a status update from Will, asked Data to join him in his Ready Room.

'Sit down, Data.'

'Thank you, Sir.'

'I need you to liase with Lieutenant T'lim regarding Admiral Nechayev's husband.'

'Admiral Nechayev's husband, Sir?'

'Yes. He's arriving at Starbase Eighty-one shortly after us and since Admiral Nechayev is no longer disembarking there, he will be joining the Enterprise. He's an artist and will need a studio.'

'I see, Sir.'

'He paints. I don't know if you've come across any of his work?'

'Bill Nechayev?'

'Yes.'

'Yes, I find his work fascinating. He has a unique, almost chaotic style. I look forward to meeting him, Sir.'

'Anything I should know about him?'

Data's face went blank for a second as he accessed his memories,

'According to Starfleet records, Bill Nechayev has been apprehended by Starfleet Security on forty-eight different occasions.'

'Forty-eight different occasions? That's an impressive number for a civilian. What for?'

'Mostly trivial offences; once he tried to climb the walls of Starfleet Headquarters so that he could give Admiral Nechayev a surprise birthday present. Starfleet Security thought that it was an assassination attempt and stunned him. He has tried to get into Top Secret meetings on seventeen different occasions, each time to try to see Admiral Nechayev. He was intoxicated on fifteen of those occasions.'

'And the other two occasions?'

'Were genuine family emergencies. Admiral Nechayev fired the aides who refused to put his comm through.'

'So when he's drunk, he wants to be with Nechayev. That shouldn't be a problem since she won't be having Top Secret meetings for the next few weeks anyway. Anything else?'

'The rest of the problems pertain to his inability to follow regulations. Since, he is not a member of Starfleet, he refuses to view any of Starfleet's regulations as binding on him.'

'Even though he's married to an admiral?'

'Yes, Sir. He maintains that his wife's profession should not restrict his freedom. The courts have twice agreed with him, forcing Starfleet to change their policy on each occasion. Starfleet Security have not brought any charges since the second occasion.'

'I'm sure they haven't.'

Jean-Luc thought for a second, then said,

'I have no desire to restrict his freedom whilst he's on the Enterprise. However, it is necessary that he follow safety protocols. Data, I'm going to leave it to you to explain the safety procedures to him. If necessary, explain the reasons behind them, he may have no knowledge of the workings of a starship. He also needs to understand that the crew have jobs to do and can't be interrupted when on shift except for an emergency.'

'Yes, Sir.'

'And Data, be tactful. Remember that he is a civilian and he's probably been very worried about his wife.'

'Yes, Sir.'

'Has Will tried to find out about his surprise party yet?'

'No. However, he has invited me to spend the evening with him in Ten Forward this evening. I anticipate that he will attempt to trick me into revealing the details then.'

'Undoubtedly. I rely on you not to let anything slip.'

'I will be on my guard, Sir.'

'Excellent. Dismissed.'

Jean-Luc smiled at the thought of the huge party being planned for Will. He just hoped that they could stop him from finding out the details. Perhaps he should recruit Beverly and Deanna to organise some interference? Making a mental note to bring it up the next time that he saw either of them, Jean-Luc started going through the service records of potential First Officers.

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