Kirk materialised in a lush garden landscape, birds sung in the distance, and he could hear the faint bubble of a waterfall off to the right. Ashan lay at his feet. The boy had regained consciousness, but looked decidedly pale.
Lien was breathing rapidly, an insane glint in his eyes, and a feral smile on his thin lips. "At last - I have you both. I will have my revenge on you."
Suddenly he erupted into a coughing fit, and vanished before Kirk's eyes. So - it was true - Lien was getting weaker. Kirk bent to check on Ashan. Apart from the unearthly pallor, the boy seemed to be recovering. Obviously, Romulan's had the same constitution as Vulcans.
Ashan pushed him away, but Kirk refused to be intimidated. He pulled the tiny hand held scanner from the medical kit, and ran it once over the boy. The readings were all way off - for a human. Kirk had only limited medical training, and little experience with extra-terrestrial life forms. He had always relied heavily on McCoy when it came to matters of medicine.
He cursed himself now for his lack of knowledge and tipped the scanner towards Ashan, "Do these reading look okay to you?"
Ashan took the scanner and scowled at it for a moment then handed it back to Kirk. "My training is in astrophysics and astral navigation - this could be the medical readout of the Praetor himself, and I would not know. However - I feel much better if that helps."
Kirk couldn't help smiling. If Spock wanted to develop his sense of humour much further - he could learn a lot from his son. He tossed the scanner back into the kit and sat down in the grass next to Ashan.
"It helps. I wouldn't like to think I'd gone through the last three hours for a dead man."
Ashan sighed and looked at Kirk in confusion. "I told you I wanted to be alone, and yet you followed me."
"Well - the Forge is much harder to survive than you may think. Distances distort, and a person can get disorientated easily. Not even a full blooded Vulcan would venture out there in broad daylight without survival gear."
"So a half-caste like me had no chance, eh?"
Kirk frowned at the boy's tone. He could feel his hackles rising along with his anger. Before he could calm down the words fell out. "I wouldn't have put it like that, but why state the obvious? That Le-matya obviously saw you as an easy lunch."
"Says the man who doesn't even know how to fire a phaser."
Kirk opened his mouth to reply but found that nothing came out. The boy was right. If Lien hadn't killed the Le-matya, they would both be dead right now. He turned away and rubbed his aching temples.
Behind him Ashan felt colour flood his cheeks. This man, this insignificant, weakling Terran, had thrown himself into the arena armed only with a stick, and stood between him and the snarling beast, ready to die to protect him, and all he could do was hurl abuse.
The truth was that Ashan was ashamed. His anger came not from a desire to wound his protector, but from a newly awakening realisation that he had been very wrong about this man and others of his kind. The Humans that Ashan had met since leaving home had proved to be brave, resourceful and intelligent. These were qualities he had never expected to find in the Human race. If bravery were a virtue peculiar to Rihannsu's alone, then this one could be born of that world.
He was ashamed of the way he had spoken to this worthy one, but he had no idea how to rectify his behaviour. The words "I am sorry" echoed through his head, but somehow, he could not yet speak them.
Kirk got slowly to his feet and scanned the area around them. The breeze was cool and refreshing and the sun warm. It really was a beautiful place. He followed the path of the meandering brook to its source at the bottom of a hill, where the waterfall sparkled.
Kirk pointed at the crystal clear pool. "We should probably drink some water. Who knows when we'll get the chance again?"
Without waiting, Kirk strode off in the direction of the waterfall, leaving Ashan to follow if he wished.
Kirk had only travelled a few meters, when he saw the man sitting under the tree. He looked as if he were asleep, his ragged sleeve thrown across his face. Kirk picked up the pace, and began to jog towards the stranger. Even though he couldn't see the man's face, and even if he could have, would not have recognised it, he was sure he knew whom he would find.
He stopped a few feet from the tree and cleared his throat. The man sat bolt upright, and Kirk gasped. His face was a mass of bruises, some old some new, one eye swollen shut, his clothes were torn and bloodied.
The man held his hand up to block out the sunlight. "Who's there?" he rasped.
Ashan appeared at Kirks elbow and stared at the stranger in shock. "What happened to him?"
Kirk knelt in the soft grass and laid a hand on the man's shoulder. "Jim Kirk - you must be Picard?"
Picard closed his eyes and moaned. "Oh no."
Kirk fished around in his bag for the scanner, and ran it over the battered body. These reading were clear enough even for someone with limited medical knowledge - cracked ribs, extensive bruising, lacerations, dehydration, exhaustion, malnutrition - this man had been tortured.
Kirk selected a hypo of stimulant, and a wide spectrum antibiotic to protect against infection, and administered it quickly to the other mans arm. Picard smiled weakly and struggled to sit up straight. Kirk was surprised to find that Ashan reached forward to help him.
Picard nodded to the boy. "Thanks. I must look bad... if a Vulcan is willing to... offer his hand."
Kirk caught the surprised look in the boy's eyes, which was quickly masked. Picard was trying to talk again, but his throat was so dry that the words came out as a rough whisper. Again Kirk was surprised when Ashan hurried to the pool and returned moments later with some water cupped in his hands.
Kirk helped Picard sit forward as the boy offered him the water.
"Thank you." Picard wiped shaky hands over his mouth, and turned to the other Captain. "I hope you will forgive me for saying....that I am not happy to see you again."
Picard sighed and shook his head. "Never mind. Long story, and quite frankly - I don't have the energy."
Kirk squinted up into the leafy canopy overhead and smiled. "I understand. Lien did quite a good job on you, Captain Picard. How long has he had you?"
"No idea. Haven't slept in... don't know how long."
"Do you know why you were taken?"
Ashan looked intently from one man to the other. Kirk realised that the boy had no idea what was going on.
Picard shrugged painfully. "He wants to kill me. Oh, and you as well, Captain Kirk. He also mentioned destroying humanity as revenge for what we did to him. I'm afraid I don't know what that was, but it involves the nexus - which, incidentally, is where we are right now."
Picard slumped back and closed his eyes, as if the effort of relating all that had tired him. He pointed weakly at the first aid kit. "Are there any painkillers in there, Captain?"
"Call me Jim."
Picard's eyes, suddenly sharply in focus, snapped open to impale Kirk with their intensity. His slow smile was both amused and poignant.
Kirk turned to reach for the bag, only to find that Ashan was already holding out the prepared hypo. The change in behaviour from the boy puzzled Kirk, but he said nothing, and took the hypo nodding his thanks.
As he administered the painkiller, Kirk scanned the area again. "The nexus is a conduit that the Q use to travel to our continuum. When you left it to go after Soran, you somehow damaged the fabric of fluid time within it. Lien was inside at the time and he was badly injured. He blames you and I for this turn of events, and has decided to destroy everything we hold dear, then kill us both."
"Forgive me for being so blunt, Jim - but I buried your body on Veridian III. When Lien talked of coming after you - I thought he must be insane."
"And you were right - but for the wrong reasons. Look it's a very long story, much of which I don't really understand myself, but the gist of it is - the Kirk you met in the nexus was only an echo of me - one of the alternative realities which I created during the 80 years I was in there."
Ashan stared at Kirk in disbelief. "How do we know you are the real Kirk?"
"Truthfully son, I don't even know if I'm the real Kirk, but you father seemed sure, and that's all I need to know."
Picard was getting stronger. He hauled himself to his feet and, as Ashan and Kirk followed suit, he squinted at the young boy carefully. "I know you."
"No sir. We've never met."
"Never the less, you are familiar. Who is your father?"
Ashan heard the words echo through his head loudly and damningly - that man is not my father, I have no father. He felt the colour rise to his cheeks, and hung his head in shame. Kirk was frowning at him when he looked back up.
Holding the other mans enquiring glance he said, "My father is Ambassador Spock of Vulcan." He did not miss the slight smile, which formed at the corner of Kirk's mouth.
Picard gasped. "That's not possible."
Ashan turned and faced the other Captain. "I am half Romulan."
Picard leaned back against the tree trunk, and for a moment, Kirk though he would pass out, but he recovered with admirable speed. Straightening again, Picard smiled and clasped the boy's shoulders warmly. "Well I'll be dammed. He never even let on... I'm very pleased to meet you, son. Your father is a great man, as was his father before him. What's your name?"
Picard suddenly glanced at Kirk and smiled again. "Of course it is."
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