"Christabel if it's a girl and Francis for a boy."
"After his father," said Riker.
"After his father," agreed Bianca, patting her bulging tummy protectively before she returned to programming the slicer to continue sectioning the botanical samples.
"It doesn't bother you to be doing field work? I have to admit, I was a little iffy about having a pregnant lady on the away team."
"If Bev Crusher says I'm ok to work, I'm ok to work. I feel fine. Besides, I bet you didn't know there was someone with the middle name "Harriet" on the away team, either."
"You promised you wouldn't tell!" came an anguished squawk.
"You're right, I didn't," agreed Riker. "But how does being called Harriet affect a person's ability to work in the field?"
"How does being pregnant stop me from collecting botanical samples?"
"I was also thinking in terms of what happened with the Borg last month."
"Don't, Will, please, or you'll get me started again. Sometimes I wish I could just get some simple revenge. If I could just get my hands around one single Borg throat..." she gazed into the middle distance for a few seconds, fighting back the tears. "I get mad at Captain Picard sometimes, too," she admitted. "Like it was his fault we were there in the first place. Other times I feel like I'm just going to fall apart. I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up. And there are some times when I feel good. It's as if Frank's right there with me."
"It takes a hell of a lot of getting over. I guess working helps a little."
"I work because I love my work. I make time to grieve..." she grinned and shrugged, "bereavement counselling courtesy of Counsellor Troi."
"Do you find that helps?"
"Just talking to Deanna helps. She's a good lady."
Riker smiled and nodded. He could talk a lot about Deanna Troi, but this time he was interrupted by a grunt from Bianca. "Are you okay?"
"Just junior making his presence felt." She massaged the errant bulge. "Don't panic, he's got to be patient for at least another two months. So calm down, junior, Mother has work to do." And she returned to her work.
The away team's small botanical camp was set up in the mountain heights of a southern continent of the planet. Located in a tiny alpine meadow that frosted over at night and was bright and warm in the daytime. Mountain streams from the freshly melted snow still thawing higher up flowed through their meadow, glittering like diamonds in the pure mountain air.
"In a way I hope we don't find anything here," said Bianca.
"We have already discovered many thing here in the few days our botanical camp has been set up." Data cocked his head thoughtfully, as if digesting the information. "But I believe you are hoping our efforts are wasted."
"No. Well...yes. If we don't find anything the Federation wants, then this planet will be left for a while longer before it gets colonised."
"I do not understand why you should not want people to live here."
"Because it's pretty. I mean, wouldn't it be nice to just live here?"
"But you just said it would be nicer if no one lived here."
"...except me. I'm selfish."
"I do not think I would like to live amongst the wild herds that graze these mountains in the summer. And if I was a human I would be particularly keen to avoid the huge swarms of blood-sucking insects and packs of predatory animals that follow the herds. Autumn here is extremely hazardous because it is the grassfire season, and the ambient temperature in winter is -15o. Except for these few days in early spring, it is quite an inhospitable place."
"Thank you, Data. I needed that," said Bianca with heartfelt sarcasm.
"That is quite all right," said Data, smiling naively. "I find it highly enjoyable exchanging information with my human crewmates." And he went on about his business.
Bianca looked skyward, holding her arms out in appeal. "Beam me up, I wanna go hooooome."
The away team packed their bags and returned to the Enterprise two days later, as the first of the great grazing herds reached their plateau. Their debriefing was a casual affair, the Captain had been presented with a posy of alpine flowers. Bianca Sowelu indicated that she thought she had enough plant samples to keep her happily occupied for the duration of her pregnancy, and give her something constructive to think about during those daunting two-in-the-morning feeds.
Even aboard the good ship Enterprise babies were as time consuming and inconvenient as they had ever been.
On the bridge it was business as usual with a trip to Starbase 88 to pick up supplied and personnel. Or it would have been business as usual if Will Riker hadn't suddenly stopped breathing and gone an alarming shade of blue.
Dr Crusher was on deck in record speed, administering quantities of adrenaline and organizing a medical team to cart him back to sickbay. Captain Picard went with them, leaving Data with the command.
"It's anaphylactic shock," said Crusher. "Like a very violent allergic reaction."
"Yes, Doctor, I know what anaphylaxis is. I assume the medical scan done when he beamed up from the planet will show traces of the foreign protein. Computer. Access Commander Riker's transporter pattern."
"On screen. "
"Computer, screening sequence through Commander Riker's pattern for all foreign bacteria, protein molecules, virus, viroid, prions, DNA and RNA," ordered Crusher.
"Working. On screen."
"Quite an impressive list," muttered Picard. "It's almost frightening to think we come back loaded with all those little extras."
"Well, I for one feel relieved to know the medical filter on the transporter ditches all the nasty ones before they get to the ship. What we're left with is harmless, we'd be more likely to succumb to a case of Dutch Elm disease than be affected by most alien proteins." She signed, "It's a hell of a collection, though."
"I think Dr Sowelu may be able to help you here," said Picard. He hit his communicator, "Captain Picard to Dr Sowelu."
"This is Captain Picard to Dr Bianca Sowelu."
"Computer, locate Dr Bianca Sowelu."
"Dr Sowelu is located on Deck 12, microscopy section, botany level, science department."
"Jean-Luc, Bianca's...well, she's pregnant."
"I had noticed."
"She might be having a little rest."
"What? Taking a nap in her office?"
"She's pregnant. Humour her."
Bianca was wide awake though, and so intent on what she was doing that she didn't even hear the door chime. She nearly fell off her chair in fright when she realised there was somebody in the room with her.
"Oh! Captain. I'm so sorry. I didn't hear you come in. I...you gave me quite a start."
"Didn't you hear me paging you?"
"Sorry. No. It's just that when I start on something like this I get totally , immersed in it." She was sitting front of an amply sized electronic drawing board, perched on a rather high stool. Her pose would have looked suspiciously unladylike to anyone who didn't know that squatting with your knees wide apart is an excellent stretching position for someone planning on giving birth in the not too terribly distant future.
The board in front of her bore a structurally correct, minutely detailed, lavishly coloured representation of a botanical specimen from the planet. A flower smaller than her thumbnail. "This is the best part of botany, don't you think?" she said proudly. "Oh, not that I don't love pottering around in hydroponics and rooting around after new specimens on field trips, but this is really the best part. When I'm here at home doing my drawings. That's really what attracted me to botany in the first place. I just get so into it. I get so involved, I'm off with the pixies."
"And were you with pixies during your field trip too, Doctor?"
"No. Of course not. I..."
"Because my First Officer has come down with some mysterious allergy that he apparently caught on the field trip."
Sowelu looked suitably horrified for a moment, before she doubled up in pain and fell off her perch. Picard stopped her crashing to the floor. "Is it the baby?"
"No," she wailed. "It can't be!"
Picard had already contacted sickbay. Crusher and her team arrived to find Sowelu on the floor, crying with pain while Picard rubbed her back. He was considerably relieved when the Doctor arrived.
"Beverly is here now. She will take care of you." He tried to extract his left arm, which Bianca was holding tight. "What is your husband's name, Bianca?" I'll get him for you." She continued to grip his arm, the tears coming fast now.
"Bianca's husband was Francis Tudor," said Crusher. "He was..."
Picard closed his eyes in sympathy. "One of our casualties in the skirmish with the Borg last month."
When they arrived at sickbay, Sowelu was set up in one of the diagnostic beds. She lay on her side with her feet elevated, sobbing with the fright, though she no longer felt any pain. She had still not released Picard's hand, though she now held it in such a way that he could at least get some circulation into his fingers.
"I don't know what I can do about stabilizing the labour," admitted Crusher.
"Do everything you can. That's an order!" said Picard desperately.
"I'm sorry Jean-Luc," said Crusher calmly. "I would very much like to comply, but the waters are broken and the baby's on its way. You know babies don't take orders."
"But it's too soon," whispered Sowelu. Her voice was hoarse and low, as though it was coming up from a depth within her.
"You're already dilated, Bianca. There's nothing we can do except make this as easy for the two of you as possible and then get this little girl into an intensive care tank." Crusher hit her communicator. "Sick bay to Dr White, your urgent attendance is required."
"It's a girl," said Sowelu happily as Crusher adjusted her bed upright to the birthing position. "It's Christabel."
"I'd better leave," said Picard hopefully as Dr White, the paediatrician arrived. "I wouldn't want to be in the way."
"Nonsense," said Crusher happily. "We're quite used to having helpless males in the delivery room."
"This isn't funny, Doctor."
"I wasn't joking, Captain."
"Please stay, Jean-Luc. Frank should be here but now he's gone and I need someone. Please Captain."
So he stayed.
The baby was born tiny and feeble. She emitted a small squeaking sound like a kitten. She was only as big as a kitten. Crusher laid little Christabel on Bianca's breast, giving the infant the skin contact she needed. Meanwhile the placenta was delivered. Dr White took readings from the baby as Bianca rested her hand on her tiny daughter, and then drew Picard's hand across. His palm almost covered the tiny fragile child, and his hand was shaking. He was unsure whether he was afraid he would hurt the baby, or just afraid. The charged atmosphere of the delivery room was unlike anything he had ever experienced. It was something far more than just the smell of blood and liquor amnii, there was an energy like invisible presences that made his skin prickle.
Dr White took the baby carefully and floated her gently in the intensive care tanks. She was a strange aquarium inhabitant, arms and legs flailing happily in a tiny closed capsule containing oxygen rich fluid that enabled her underdeveloped lungs to work more normally. Inset into the top of the tank was a replica of the diagnostic table, its readouts monitoring the physical state of the baby.
Picard wanted to make himself scarce, but he felt curiously helpless to just dismiss himself, to walk out on something so intimate. He was fortunately spared by the arrival of the botanist whose middle name was Harriet. She came bearing a fine bunch of blooms and clucking and scolding like a cross hen. "What do you think you're up to, Bianca? Having that baby so soon! You're just impetuous..."
At the same time Picard was beckoned by Crusher. She was half way through removing her apron when she had been distracted by the readout over Will Riker's diagnostic table.
"Grapevine's in action already," smiled Crusher.
"What are the baby's chances?"
Crusher shook her head. "Very hard to say. Jon White could give you a better idea. With this kind of birthweight I'd say fifty-fifty."
"She couldn't have gone into labour because of something I said could she?"
"Jean-Luc, if you know a magic word that gets labours started, tell me know and I'll make you the patron saint of mothers," said Crusher laughing. "Believe me, pregnant ladies do not go about just dropping their bundles. Bianca was fully dilated when she got here. She had to have been in labour for hours, some women just don't notice, or they think it's strong Braxton Hixes or just the baby being very active or something." Crusher frowned and peered at Riker's readout.
"Liver function's down a little and t-cells are up."
"What does that mean?"
"Nothing I hope, but it could indicate auto-immune problems."
"Meaning the alien protein may have sensitized his system in such a way that it begins to attack itself. Uh.." she held up her hand, "that's a worst-case scenario. His readings will probably stabilize in a couple of hours."
Dr White came in looking concerned. "How is she?" said Crusher.
White did not look happy. He glanced at the Captain and shook his head. "Not too good. Lung function's impaired even though she's in the tank. Liver function's down, too."
"Jaundice?" said Crusher.
"Looks more like some sort of auto-immunity. T-cells are up."
Picard was stopped from saying anything by a page from the intercom. The Enterprise had just received a priority one emergency hail.
The signal is coming from Spliner's Colony on the fourth planet in Kincaid's system," said Data.
"Any details on the nature of the emergency?" asked Picard.
"The signal is quite erratic, sir," said Worf. "I'm picking up occasional words: breakdown shields, or breakdown in shields. It's impossible to make sense of it."
"If I may, Captain," volounteered Data. "Spliner's is a non-aligned colony which was set up initially as an agricultural concern, but has recently begun mining Curiethium."
"A powerful but little used substance, sir. Deemed by the Federation to be more trouble than it is worth to process because of its highly unstable nature. If the shields around their processing plant were to break down, that would certainly be a reason for a priority 1 emergency signal. It would also cause considerable breakup in their signal."
"An interesting theory, Commander."
"Pure conjecture, sir, but based on a logical premise."
"Spliner's is a non-aligned colony," growled Worf.
"We can't ignore a priority 1 signal," said Picard thoughtfully. "What's the closest ship to Spliner's?"
"We are, captain," said Data.
"Helm, lay in a course for Spliner's Colony. Warp factor 8."
"Course laid in."
They were 12 hours out of Spliner's Colony, enough time for a lot more to be learned of the recent history of the planet.
"Ferengi," advised Data.
"Of course. Why else does a peaceful colony of pastoralists suddenly turn its grazing grounds and orchards into mullock heaps? Greed."
"An emotion I am familiar with," said Data proudly. "Greed, avarice, avidity, concupiscence, cupidity, lust..."
"Be familiar with it, Data, but keep it at a safe distance. Don't get intimate with it."
"Thank you Data. That will do. I am very tempted to let these people suffer the consequences of their own actions."
"I've been getting some medical reports," said Crusher. "Their township is burning, there are terrible radiation burns all over the countryside. Eleven deaths have been reported already, three of them children. The radiation cloud is spreading into the atmosphere."
"I said I was tempted, Doctor. In fact, the Prime Directive would make it impossible for us to help these people very much at all, except for the fact that Mr Data's initial report on Spliner's colony was incorrect."
Data's eyes boggled. There was a moment of awestruck silence. "Captain, I do not understand how this could have happened. Are you certain it is not your information that is incorrect?"
"My information is quite correct, Mr Data, whereas yours is at least seven hours old, because that was when Spliner's Colony signed a Federation treaty."
"They must have signed that treaty just as the shields were breaking down in their reactor," said Worf. He had come to a conclusion about the kind of people they were about to be rescuing, greedy and cynical. "Very human indeed," he commented.
Will Riker lay quiet and still in the blue light of the sickbay. Even in that dim light it was possible to discern the pallid hue of his skin, the sunken planes of his face. Deanna Troi sat beside him, her hand gently resting on his exposed collarbone.
Picard came in behind her and stood watching, waiting for his Number One to wake up. "Does he know we're here?"
"He is aware of a presence close by him. His brain function is very low and he is unable to process much information. But at a very basic level his own innate empathy is functioning. He feels our thoughts. He knows we care. He knows we love him."
They heard Data's voice over the intercom, "Orbit established, Captain. Medical teams preparing to beam down."
"Continue operations, Mr Data."
"Captain, sensors have indicated the presence of a Ferengi ship in orbit."
"They can wait. I will talk to them when I return to the Bridge. Picard out." He stepped through the door and into the maternity wing where Bianca Sowelu sat, one hand in the tank stroking her tiny child. The other hand tapped at a computer board as she searched through the list of proteins taken from the botanical samples. A holographic display before her compared protein molecules as she raced against time to find the answer to the assault on Riker and Christabel.
She looked up as Picard came in. "I'm doing the best I can," she said. "All right?" There was a kind of desperation in her voice. She had certainly been crying. Her stomach, though flatter than it had been, had the deflated, blancmange look of muscles that had been stretched and not quite returned to normal. Her breasts had increased in size, her milk had come in with painful, flooding suddenness and it had leaked past the cabbage leaves she had stuffed down her bra to try and relieve the engorgement.
"You mustn't run yourself into the ground," he said gently.
"How can I stop? My child's life depends on me finding the answer."
Picard extracted Sowelu's left hand from the tank. The sleeping baby shifted slightly. The hand was wrinkled from being in the fluid and stiff from lack of use.
"She needs skin contact," said Sowelu, beginning to panic.
"When was the last time you took a break?"
"I can't take breaks. Don't you understand? I have to be here."
Picard put his own hand down beside the baby in the tank. She seemed to be aware of him, even in her sleep, and nestled close to his hand. "Your greatest threat is fatigue, Bianca. You can't just go on and on, in the state you're in you're likely to miss something important anyway. Go to your quarters, get cleaned up, have a rest. Then find some of your friends and go to Ten Forward and eat something."
"I can't just leave her. And you're being irresponsible. It isn't the Captain's place to baby sit."
"One of the medical staff will be along shortly. They will take over. Now I am ordering you to take a break."
Picard ignored his wet sleeve, returning to the Bridge to establish contact with the Ferengi also in orbit about the planet. Once the channel was open and Daimon Hoff's toothy grin leered at them from the viewer, the Ferengi Daimon came at them with a barrage of abuse, waving what Picard supposed was some sort of "ironclad contract."
"I might have known it would be you, Picard. Well you can't get out of this. This is a contract for a shipment of refined Curiethium from Spliner's Colony. We have paid for it and it belongs to us. Any attempt by you to swindle us on what is rightfully and legally ours and I swear on my investments, I'll have it out of you!"
Having got his threats out of the way, Hoff stopped to dray breath, enabling Picard to get a word in. "Daimon Hoff, allow me to reassure you. We have no intention of interfering with your cargo. In fact, my orders from Starfleet Command are to offer you all assistance. To put it bluntly Daimon Hoff, the sooner we get that poison away from the colony, the happier we'll all be."
The transmission was ended with mutually antagonistic salutations and Picard called for a meeting.
Worf was bristling. "I cannot believe that Starfleet Command has actually ordered us to help the Ferengi."
"The fact is, the only way I can see to make the colony safe is to get rid of that wretched Curiethium. Since we have been ordered to respect the contract between Spliner's Colony and the Ferengi...in fact, the Federation treaty with Spliner's is contingent upon us helping them honour their contract...and since the Ferengi actually want the stuff, it would seem silly not to give it to them."
"It aggravates me to see those parasites get exactly what they want."
"I concur with your feelings. But we must obey orders. Mr LaForge do you have any suggestion for containment of the Curiethium so that it's safe enough to transport to the Ferengi ship?"
Geordi LaForge flicked a grin to Data, who didn't smile in return, but simply looked poker faced, as usual. "Well, it's funny you should mention that, Captain. We can fabricate containment material on the planet, but it's a little unstable."
"Curiethium is a very volatile compound. We can't quite stop all the radiation."
"How dangerous will it be?"
"Oh, not dangerous at all to people."
"Quite harmless, in fact, to all life forms," added Data. "WE have calculated, though, that at the concentration of refined Curiethium the Ferengi will be taking on board, there will be sufficient emissions of low level radiation after six hours to shatter their dilithium crystals."
"How far will they be in six hours?"
"About a quarter of the way home," grinned Geordi.
"Which means they'll have to get someone to tow them," said Worf, who was beginning to see some justice in the situation.
"It'll cost them a fortune," laughed Geordi.
"You seem to have the situation well in hand, Mr LaForge. I will leave it with you to see to the details. You may take care of the loading of the cargo, and give Daimon Hoff my compliments. Dr Crusher, what is the report from the medical team?"
"The medical facilities on Spliner's are primitive, but well within the capabilities of handling radiation poisoning. It's simply a question of fabricating some skin for the burn victims, vaccinating against cancer and providing nursing for the people with radiation poisoning."
Picard nodded and motioned that the conference was over. Only Beverly Crusher remained. "I have some good news."
"Will?" he said hopefully.
"Bianca has isolated the molecule responsible for the reaction. It was an essential oil from a plant, dissolved into the water. By a process similar to that used in homeopathy, minute traces of the substance were all that was needed to cause a reaction in Will. We have been able to synthesize large amounts of the molecule
and used it to desensitize his immune system."
"Beneath all that medical jargon lied the good news you started with."
She smiled. "He's taking visitors."
It was quiet in Sickbay, except for the reassuring beeps from the diagnostic unit over the bed. Though still looking thin and pale there was little sign now of the yellowing, and Will's face looked more relaxed. His eyes were closed when Picard bent over him, but he sensed company, and opened them. He even raised a smile.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"Not sleeping. Just resting. Doctor's orders."
"Captain's orders too, Number One."
"You should see Bianca. I mean, please see her." Riker seemed agitated, and Picard went into the Maternity section, where he had left Nurse Otto with his hand in the tank, minding the baby.
Now the tank was empty though. The fluid had been drained from it, the diagnostic panel had been turned off. Bianca Sowelu sat beside it, her head bowed over the still form in her lap. She didn't seem to notice the wetness on the floor. Most of the fluid had dried on her clothing, leaving it slightly stiff and tacky. There was the slow "drip drip" of milk that had wicked its way down her clothes and formed a puddle on the floor beneath her. She looked up when he came into the room, turning her exhausted, tear-stained face towards him.
"I was too late," was all she said.
Funerals were the solemn part of a Captain's job, though Picard didn't always hate them. To accept that a life had been well lived, potentials fulfilled, acts of selflessness and bravery acknowledged, was an important aspect of accepting the life of the person. Their time was complete, the wheel moved on, and their death made them whole, however sadly they be mourned by those they left. Now they took their new voyage. He hated the funerals of children, though.
Christabel's coffin was white and smaller than a shoebox. Her mother had laid a single white rose on the lid. Picard recited from Gibran's The Prophet,
"You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you may not visit."
The little coffin was beamed so that it was broken into its individual molecules, which were transmitted to the hydroponic solution.
Picard took Sowelu aside from her milling, concerned friends. "When you have time I would like to talk to you."
"Talk to me now."
They moved to where things were a little more private. "You may have time to think about this, Bianca, and I want you to think carefully. Understand that I do not want to lose you from my ship's company. I value your work and your ability to be part of a team. However, I understand how significant your losses have been and if you wish to leave the ship I will support you in this."
Bianca cast her eyes down.
"I don't expect an answer straight away."
"I can't leave, Captain. I've thought about this a lot. I loved Frank and I loved Christabel and I love working on this ship. I am not going to lose the only thing I have left. There was a time when all that mattered, and even when Frank died I knew I could go on because I had the baby and it was his child. A part of him still lived through me. Do you understand."
"I think so."
"And now I know I'm not going to be the founder of a great dynasty. I am not a link in the chain forged by my mother and her mothers before her. The line ends here. With me. And I have come to realise that I am a part of a different dynasty, the breed of scientific travellers. Put my name down with Nicholas Culpepper, John Tradescant, Walter Raleigh, Jospeh Banks, Roman Belowski, Hedgar Schumant. I don't expect my name will ever reach the heights that theirs have, but I understand now what they were all about and what drove them. I have so much to learn and I want to be here learn it."
"I am glad you're staying with us, Bianca."
"This is a very special ship, Jean-Luc. This is home."