Would You?

by Pat Greiner

(All things Star Trek belong to Paramount and are borrowed only; no infringement of copyright is intended or implied.)

Hmmm.  It wasn’t at all like Jean-Luc to suggest a romantic interlude on the holosuite and then not show up.  What could have detained him?  Just then, the resonant voice interrupted her thoughts. 

“Beverly.  Please come to the cockpit immediately.”

His formal tone told her this was probably not the time to appear in her negligee … or less.  Quickly she dressed and strode to the front of the Mistral.  Inside the cockpit, she found Jean-Luc pondering a viewscreen that showed only the blur of stars at Warp Nine.   He was listening to a voice from the computer.

“Computer, stop playback.”  The voice ceased in mid-word and Jean-Luc continued, “Beverly, sit down.  I want you to listen to this message.  It’s from a beacon orbiting a planet just a few light years ahead of us.  It seems to be a repeating message.  The computer caught it in the automatic sensor sweeps and isolated it as purposeful communication.  Computer, replay beacon signal from the beginning.”

“We are the people of the planet Eebron.  We are in a crisis and require help.  However, before you make any contact with our planet, we must advise you that our people possess a certain ability which many other civilizations find disturbing or even dangerous.  We have no wish to disrupt others’ lives.  At this stage we will say only that our ability allows us to foresee one aspect of the future with great accuracy.  Our need is for assistance in averting an impending crisis, and yet we are unable to specify exactly what skills or knowledge may be useful.  We realize this sounds cryptic, but that is not our intention.   If you cannot help us, go in peace.  If you are willing to know more, simply say, ‘Activate Level Two.’”

“Is that the whole thing?” she asked.  “You haven’t acti …” she stopped short.  “You haven’t said the magic phrase?” 

“There’s no telling what this may lead to, Beverly.  It could be some sort of trap.  It’s most unusual, I must say.  With just the two of us, I certainly wouldn’t proceed without your knowing about the situation.”   He paused.  “What do you think?”

“I’m curious about this ability of theirs.  Their request is pretty vague, but if there’s a chance we might be able to help, and they really are in a crisis, I think we have a duty to offer aid.  Can you tell how long the beacon has been repeating?”

The computer supplied the information that the beacon had been in place for 320 terrestrial days. 

“I don’t think listening to the next message could hurt,” she said.

“Activate level two.” 

“The people of Eebron possess an ability which we did not know was unusual until we gained space travel capability.  We consider it one of our senses, just as most races have a visual sense.  We call it oonsar, but one of the first races we met called it a sense of death.  Quite simply, we are able to sense the length of the lifespan in living beings.   Those of us with the well developed oonsar can foresee the very hour of death, and can even sense what its general nature will be – expected or unexpected, peaceful or violent.”   Jean-Luc caught Beverly’s eye.  One lifted eyebrow and a slight frown conveyed his skepticism clearly. 

“Most others we have met react to this news with doubt.  They have told us they neither know nor have heard of any other race possessing this ability.  Many choose not to believe us.  Some have tested our ability, and found it is as real as sight or hearing.  We have learned that while knowing the length of our lifespans is entirely natural to us, it is extremely unsettling for most beings.  Therefore we have adopted a practice of never revealing information about others’ lifespans to them unless they specifically ask us to do so.  If you choose to come to our planet, no one will shake your hand and exclaim, ‘This man only has three days to live!’  First of all, the process is not instantaneous.  It requires sustained contact between the parties.  And second, revelations about lifespan are made only in private consultations at your request.  If you do not ask us about oonsar, you will never know our planet is any different from other worlds.  We will once again pause our communication.  The third part of this message concerns the crisis we are facing.  To begin, say ‘Activate Level Three.’”

Jean-Luc turned to Beverly.  “I’ve never heard such rubbish.  Clearly this message is intended to lure in the curious, for whatever reason.”

“It certainly seems impossible.  For them to possess this ability, some trace of each person’s future would have to be imprinted in their present …”

“It flies in the face of any sense of free will.  For these people to have this ability, a man who dies in a freak shuttle accident when he’s 74 years old would have to have that destiny imposed on him from the moment of his birth.  I absolutely reject the notion that the universe is so rigidly predetermined.” 

“And yet, there’s something very honest about the tone of their message,” Beverly mused.  “I wish we had Deanna’s empathic skills right now … I’m working on woman’s intuition, and perhaps a little too much curiosity.  But I say we at least listen to the next part of the message.”  She smiled.  “This is almost as good as a serial holo-novel.” 

Jean-Luc turned toward the comm panel again.  “Activate level three.”

“It is our oonsar that has made us aware of the crisis we face.  Those who study oonsar began to notice a pattern a few years ago.  The average lifespan on Eebron is about twenty solar revolutions, but lives as long as twenty-five revolutions are not unheard of.  However, no lifespan detected extends beyond a date which is now 15 revolutions in our future.  It seems that something catastrophic will strike our planet 15 years from now.  Whether it may be a biological plague, an attack from without, or any other scenario, we cannot say.  We do not know of any problem we now face that has the potential to escalate to a world-ending magnitude.  We have foreseen our own planetary death.  Oonsar does not allow us to escape death.  An accident foreseen cannot be avoided.  The future cannot be changed.  But we hope that if someone can help us to discover the nature of the danger we will face, we may prepare ourselves to face it well.  If you choose to come to Eebron, our central traffic control may be accessed on standard subspace frequencies.  We welcome visitors and friends.  Come in peace.”

“Beverly, I’ve seen that look before.  You’re already trying to solve their mystery.” 

“Just wondering.  I’m intrigued, I’ll admit that.  What would you think about slipping into a nice high orbit and doing some sensor scans before we announce our presence?”

“If you’ll rephrase that as ‘before we decide whether to announce our presence,’ I’ll agree.   Computer, establish 30,000 kilometer orbit around the planet.” 

An hour later, they were no closer to knowing whether the Eebronians’ claim to sense lifespans was true, but they had discovered a number of interesting things about the planet.  Physically, it was a Class M planet, temperate in climate over most of its surface.  One per cent higher oxygen content than Earth would make breathing easy.  A trace of tachyon particles pervaded the atmosphere, but at a sufficiently low level that Beverly foresaw no harmful effects.  The length of a planetary rotation was 30 hours, and there were 430 of those rotations in one revolution of the planet – so an Eebronian year was roughly one-third longer than an Earth year.  There were no signs of armed conflict anywhere on the planet.  There was immediate evidence of only one life form classifiable as being of higher intelligence – the Eebronians whose message they had listened to.  They were a humanoid species whose coloring tended toward a deep reddish brown skin.   All in all, Eebron seemed a very pleasant planet. 

“Beverly, I see one danger here that has to do with more than the planet.  It’s you.  If their problem is what they say it is – a crisis that won’t happen for another 15 years — finding it, let alone solving it, could take years.  And I know your tenaciousness once you get your teeth into a problem.  We already have a voyage of more than eight years just to get back to the Federation.”

Beverly sighed.  She saw the truth in what he said.  “What if we set ourselves a time limit?  Say, four days.  I know, it’s unlikely that we’ll solve anything in that time.  But four days to gather what information we can.  We have eight years to work on ideas on our way home.  And when we get home, we can put the resources of the Federation to work to help them.  It’s not as if they need an answer this week … or even this year.”

“Fair enough.  Four days, assuming things look on the up-and-up once we’ve made contact.”  He stepped up behind her, wrapping his arms around her ribs and nuzzling her hair.  “You know, your damned curiosity is one of the things I love about you.”

“Well, if the Eebronians really can sense how long things live, I think things are about to get curiouser and curiouser.” 


The Mistral settled gently onto the pad 12B of the Macel Spaceport.  Just south of the complex, the capital city of Macel sparkled in the sunlight.   As they had arranged upon making contact with the Eebronian government, they were escorted to an impromptu meeting with several officials who could provide them with more background on the problem.   Follim Kakanvi, the Director from their Ministry of Health, served as Jean-Luc and Beverly’s guide, driver, and source of an initial briefing about Eebronian life.  She began by asking them what questions they had about Eebron.

“Does your planet have many visitors from other worlds?” asked Beverly as the hovercar skimmed past the spaceport’s edge and headed toward the city. 

“Visitors are fairly rare, although they are most welcome.  First, as you no doubt observed, we are a relatively isolated world.  Our own space travel program reached out for many years before making contact with any other civilizations.  And it seems our oonsar makes many uncomfortable.   Most of the visitors we have received from other worlds have come on official business, either governmental or commerce.  They seem to stay the minimum time needed to carry out their duties and leave quickly.  Consequently, most Eebronians have never met a person of another race, or even seen one in person.  You are likely to attract considerable attention wherever you go among our people.  I think you’ll find them curious about you, and eager to cooperate when they learn you’re here to help us.”

“Well, I don’t want to raise their hopes too much,” Beverly said.  “What we need to do is gather as much data as we can during the next few days.  We won’t have time to dig into it in depth until we’re underway again.”

“Do people from your world often journey to other planets?”  Jean-Luc wondered.

“More so than come here.  But still, relatively few.  There are the spacers who operate trading shuttles, but even they don’t tend to stay away long.  Some say it’s just superstition, some say it’s hypochondria, but when Eebronians leave here for any extended time, they begin to report a general malaise after a few weeks’ absence.  It hits some harder, and others barely notice it.  Even at its worst, it’s not incapacitating.  And our physicians who have studied the situation have never found a single physical, measurable sign of anything.  Still … as a culture, we don’t tend to think of off-world travel as a pleasure.”  Follim paused for a moment.  “We do sound rather isolated, if not provincial, don’t we?”

“You do seem to be in an out-of-the-way part of the galaxy,” Jean-Luc smiled his best diplomatic smile.  “But if all Eebronians are as welcoming as you, you will certainly win friends as more peoples come to know you.”

“May I … I hope I’m not being impolite by doing this … may I ask you about the oonsar sense?”  Beverly said, then hastily interrupted herself.  “Not that I want to know my lifespan!  I mean just in general.”

“Of course.  Let me preface this by explaining that oonsar is a private thing among us, but not taboo.   You will hear it mentioned in any setting.  But to delve deeply into one’s perceptions of oonsar, that is usually reserved for family, close friends, mates, and professional consultations.  I imagine your first question is whether it is real.”

“It is so foreign to our experience.  We really have nothing comparable in the realm of human senses,” replied Beverly.  “It does seem hard to believe.”

“We have been keeping records for many generations,” explained Follim.  “In all that time, there has never been a documented case in which an oonsar sensing turned out to be wrong.  Some are more exact than others … just as people vary in visual acuity, so they vary in oonsar.  Some sense the length of a lifespan to within a year.  Some sense it to within an hour.”

“And it’s never wrong?” marveled Beverly.

“Not that we know of.  No documented case has been wrong, but although almost everyone experiences oonsar, relatively few people formally document their sensings.  When it happens, it’s usually done as some sort of university study or other.  But perhaps only one per cent of the population has been recorded.  Still, over generations, that’s a large number … and no errors have been found.”

“What about in cases of sudden, accidental death?” asked Jean-Luc.  “Surely someone in one of these studies must have met with something that would be truly unforeseeable.”

“That’s one of the first lines of thought that such studies pursued.  In every case, the sensing of lifespan was accurate.  Do people somehow bring about or predispose their own death by knowing when their life would end?  We have wondered.  Most people choose to know their lifespan, a few do not.  It makes no difference.  Whether you

know the day appointed for you or not, it comes just as surely.”

“Wait!  Are you saying that you cannot sense your own lifespan?” Beverly interrupted.

“No, only that of other beings with whom we come in physical contact.  A glancing contact is not enough.  We cannot sense oonsar with a handshake.  Sustained contact for several minutes is required, so an oonsar sensing of another can’t really be done by accident.”

“Are you born with this sense?  I can’t imagine a little child sensing how long his parents would live.”  Beverly found herself wondering involuntarily what it would have been like for Wesley to know his father would die while he was still a toddler.  What would it have been like for her?  Would she have married Jack if she’d known that he would leave her a widow after only a few short years? 

“Beverly?” Jean-Luc brought her back to the present with a hand on her shoulder.

“Sorry,” she blinked.  “I guess I was lost in trying to imagine how I’d feel about knowing something like my lifespan.  Or someone else’s.  It’s a very … disturbing idea.”

“Follim was just explaining that the oonsar sense doesn’t develop in children until they are about one year old.”

“One?  That seems so young to be … but wait, that may not be so young in this culture.  Follim?  How long does childhood last here?”

“Humans must be another long-lived species.  We’ve learned that most of the peoples we have come into contact with have longer lifespans than ours.  But it is what we expect … what we are.  But your question.  We reach physical maturity in about two years.  Full mental maturity is reached typically between ages three and four.”

“Oh, this is fascinating!” Beverly was leaning forward with complete intensity.  “It’s a whole new way of looking at time.  Not physical time, but biological time.  I could learn so much from studying this culture.  So, Follim,” she continued, “does that mean that oonsar comes into play about the time your people reach their adolescent stage of life?”

“Yes, and then the sense comes on gradually.  Young ones cannot sense very far at first.  Most families with young children keep small pet animals with lifespans of only a year or two.  For most children, their first experience with oonsar comes in sensing the lifespan of one of these pets.  As they grow older, the sense grows stronger in them.  By the time they are three or so, most can sense a full lifespan of even 25 or more years … as I said, some with greater precision than others.” 

Follim brought the hovercraft to a smooth landing atop an official-looking building with a large plaza spread out in front of it.  They took a turbolift down to a lower floor and proceeded down a hall to a large meeting room.  Their pale skin drew politely disguised stares from the dark complected Eebronians, but no one reacted unfavorably.  In the meeting room, a group of two dozen or so men and women engaged in several small discussions immediately turned their attention to the visitors. 

“Welcome!  I am Parrakan Fornees, we spoke on the voice relay,” said an older man, extending both hands toward Picard and clasping him briefly on the shoulders in what Follim had already shown them was the Eebronian equivalent of a handshake.  He went on to introduce the others in the room as leading psychological, neurological, and biological scientists from the capital city’s university, as well as astronomers from their exploratory fleet.  The group settled around a large oval table and at Fornees’ request, Picard gave them a quick overview of the Federation, how the Mistral came to be in Eebronian space, and what some of their resources were.   “We cannot guarantee that we can be helpful in any way,” he concluded.  “But we are certainly willing to try.  And if the problem is a medical one, you are fortunate in having one of the finest physicians in Starfleet, in fact a former head of the Starfleet Medical division, here in the person of Doctor Crusher.  She will be pursuing possible biological causes of your problem while I gather data on causes that may be physical or social.  Of course, gathering data on an unknown event that could be up to 15 years in the future, in a culture we’re not familiar with, is …”  he paused and uncharacteristically let a bit on uncertainty show on his face, “ … a bit of a challenge.”

“Rest assured we shall provide you with every assistance we can offer.  We have assigned a personal assistant to each of you to serve as guides and resources.  Follim will continue with you as Dr. Crusher’s assistant, since she is one of our leading medical officials.  Ambassador Picard, we have asked Mokkan Hulsa to work with you.”  The young man, who was seated toward the far end of the table, smiled and nodded.  Earlier, Fornees had introduced him as one of the rising stars, so to speak, of the university’s astronomy department.  “You cannot imagine how much your help means to us.  This problem … we have come to refer to it simply as ‘the limit’ … has placed an enormous strain on our society.”

“Once again, let me emphasize that we shall simply be gathering as much data as we can during this short time,” Picard reminded them.  “We will not begin to have time to sift through it all.”

“How compact a record could you make of Eebron’s central library?” asked Beverly.  “The more information we can take with us, the better, but obviously our storage capacity is limited.”  Two people stood up from the table.  “Oravi and I will begin working on that right away,” said one as they headed out the door. 

“What else can we do to help you begin?” Fornees asked as the meeting dissolved again into informal groups. 

“I think the logical place for me to start is by talking with the scientists who study oonsar – if possible, the ones who first detected the limit,” said Beverly.  “And I hope it may be possible for me to meet with some of their subjects … both those whose lifespans end at the limit and some who end earlier.  I’d like to record bioscans of each group for purposes of comparison.”

“I can take you directly to the research group at the university,” said Follim.  “Mokkan!” she called across the room.  “Get my code from Arvun at the main office, so we can keep the ambassador and the doctor in touch with each other.  And have Arvun start making lodging arrangements for them.”

“We can certainly stay aboard the Mistral,” Jean-Luc interjected. 

“Your ship will be well cared for at the spaceport,” Mokkan assured his guest.  “And its privacy respected as well.  I can take you there to check on her whenever you want.  But please, let us thank you with our hospitality during your stay.”

“Oh, yes, Jean-Luc, I wouldn’t miss experiencing it for the world,” Beverly added.  “Thank you for making us so welcome,” she said to their hosts. 

Mokkan glanced at Jean-Luc and asked quietly, “Do you require individual or shared quarters?” 

“Shared quarters will be fine, thank you.  Good hunting, Beverly,” he wished her, then turned back to Mokkan as the doctor and Follim set out on their first errand.


By the end of the afternoon, Beverly was beginning to wonder whether it was possible to overload a tricorder.  The Eebronians were both curious about their off-world visitors and eager to help solve the mystery of the limit … and so she had no shortage of willing volunteers who allowed her to scan and record their DNA.  She had to vigorously refuse more than one who insisted that blood samples would be useful, explaining patiently that her tricorder could identify everything present in a drop of blood, and more, without the slightest invasion of the body.  At the same time, she kept meticulous records, matching each scan with brief notes about the person – length of predicted lifespan, strength of their own oonsar sense, when their lifespan had first been read, and medical history, particularly exposure to any infectious diseases.  She had no idea whether a plague of some sort was what might give rise to the limit … but at this point, it was as good a shot in the dark as anything else. 

In the course of testing and recording, Beverly noticed several couples whose lifespans were predicted to end at about the same time.  Some were older couples who had only a short time left.  Others were young couple whose lifespans both seemed to end at the limit.  As Follim guided her from the offices in the psychology building, where she had been working with those who had been part of a study on the strength of oonsar, to the sociology department, where a study was underway concerning the effects of knowledge of the limit, Beverly asked if lifespan was a factor in choosing a mate. 

“Very much so,” confirmed Follim.  “Although, like many other factors, different people make different use of the knowledge.  Some feel very strongly that they want a mate whose lifespan will be similar to their own.  It is a guarantee against loneliness at the end of life.  On the other hand, someone with a relatively brief lifespan may look for someone with a longer one … for instance, to insure that children will have someone to look after them.”

“Are there segments of the population that simply choose not to use oonsar, who don’t believe in its use?”

“There are some who choose not to know their own lifespan, but oonsar cannot simply be ignored.  I’ve told you that it requires sustained physical contact to initiate.  In fact, if contact is sustained, oonsar will happen.  A couple could not make love without sensing oonsar about each other.  And it is part of the birth process.  As a child passes through the birth canal, part of the mother’s experience is a sensing of that child’s lifespan … I’m told it’s a very powerful one, although I haven’t experienced it myself.”

“So when an Eebronian mother first holds her child in her arms, it is with the knowledge of whether she’ll have him for two minutes or the rest of her life?” Beverly mused.

“Those who will not be with us for long are loved powerfully for every bit of their short lives,” Follim assured her.  “Those who are blessed with long lifespans are expected to return the blessing.  They are charged with accumulating wisdom and serving as stewards for our people, helping to keep us on the good path.  They know their destiny early and seem to have a certain dignity even in the youth of their spans.  On the other hand, those who know they will mature, but not live a long time, often live rather eccentric lives … obsessed with exploring, creating, and changing as much as they can.  Many of our greatest artists have come from this group.  Up these stairs, Dr. Crusher, and we will be at the offices of professor Zaffrin Aalo.  And it looks like there are a number of willing subjects waiting for us as well.  I can only hope your tricorder still has a good deal of room on it.”

Beverly was once again inundated with helpful Eebronians … so many that she still had a roomful of volunteers to record when her stomach began to remind her that lunch had been quite some time ago, particularly in the longer Eebronian day.  When she finally finished entering the last of the day’s data two hours later, darkness had fallen.  “Would you like me to call Ambassador Picard for you?” asked Follim, who had been on her roving caller off and on through the afternoon as she arranged tomorrow’s activities. 

“No need,” replied Beverly, tapping her comm badge.  “This relays through our ship and provides a direct link between us.  Jean-Luc?” 

“Here, Beverly, at our lodgings.”


“Mokkan has a very able assistant named Arvun who has arranged everything for us … and I think you’ll be very pleased.”           

“Wonderful – especially if the arrangements include dinner.  I’m famished.  Where do we find you?”

“Arvun said to tell Follim the Krenjalon Hills, number 15.” 

Beverly glanced at Follim, whose expression clearly said, “Ooooh, nice place!”  “How long to get there?” she asked Follim.

“Half an hour.”

“We’ll be there in 45 minutes.  Crusher out.”

On their way to the hovercraft, Follim couldn’t resist snorting a half laugh.  “That Mokkan … typical university type.  Arvun is my assistant.  She’s only helping him out because I asked her to.”  On the way across the city in the hovercar, Beverly wondered what the best way might be to get to understand a little more about the Eebronian culture.  “We’re going to be spending so much of our time here collecting data, but I don’t want to leave with nothing but figures.  There’s so much more to know about any people.” 

“Let me give it some thought,” Follim replied.  “When we get to Krenjalon, I’ll make a few calls.”   Beverly had learned already that when Follim made calls, things got done, usually in a hurry.  There’s definitely something to be said for this being-treated-as-a-visiting-dignitary thing, she thought to herself.  Did Jean-Luc have this aspect in mind when he opted for an ambassadorship?        

The lodgings turned out to be a guest house in what looked like a very exclusive suburb of the city.  Comfortable to the point of luxury, with a large unobstructed view of the night sky, highlighted by three moons in various shades of pink and orange.  There was a fire in the fireplace, and when Follim and Beverly walked in, Mokkan pulled the cork on a local wine with a surprising violet color and a just slightly sweet flavor.  As the five sipped their glasses of wine, Follim filled Arvun in on her idea for a social event the following evening.  “Not a huge, formal event … just 30 or 40 of the most interesting in a variety of fields.  Buffet dinner, some nice vintages on hand, sparkling conversation … you know the sort of thing to arrange.”

“No difficulty.  People are so anxious to meet the visitors … even with less than a day’s notice, it’s going to be the event to be asked to.  At the Makana Center, do you suppose?”

“No, something more personal.  Can you sweet talk Flotral into having it at his place?  And letting us use his staff?”

“You mean, can I ask him to throw us a really nice party on 24 hours’ notice?”

“That’s pretty much it.”

“Can’t hurt to ask.”  Arvun took her caller and excused herself from the room.  She was back in ten minutes.  “He gets to invite 25 people in addition to our guest list, but he’ll do it.  And you know Flotral – he’ll do it right.”

Shortly thereafter, the glasses were drained, arrangements to meet the following morning were made, and the house concierge came in to inquire whether the ambassador and the doctor would like their meal served in the dining room or in front of the fire. 

“By the fire would be lovely,” Beverly answered.  The two of them said goodnight to their new friends, and savored a dinner which the chefs had wisely made with a sampling of many dishes, so they could experience a bit more of Eebron. 

Over dinner, Beverly described her work to Jean-Luc, and he told her what had occupied most of his afternoon.  Mokkan had introduced him to several members of a governmental committee charged with investigating the limit.  They had outlined for him the various theories they had as to the nature of the cataclysmic event that awaited them.  They ranged from external ones such as a meteor smashing into the planet or unprovoked attack by unknown aliens to internal ones such as war, disease, even mass suicide.  The next day he would be meeting with yet more members of the committee and collecting their extrapolations as part of his data.  Based on what he learned there, he would have to choose the most likely scenarios to pursue in more detail.

After the meal, Beverly would have fallen directly into bed … but she wasn’t sure exactly where the bed was. 

“No, that’s it,” said Jean-Luc, taking her hand and leading her across the room to what looked like a standing pool of rose-colored mist.  “This is a fascinating piece of technology.  The staff showed me earlier …I think it’s something they’re quite proud of.  There really is a bed under there.  The mist is in effect the bedding.  You set the temperature you want here on this dial on the wall.  Now, let me help you off with all this clothing …”  Beverly steadied herself with one hand on his shoulder as his well-practiced hands slipped off her tunic, turtleneck, and trousers, then pulled the silky camisole over her head and gently pushed her down to sit on edge of the mist.

Or rather, in the mist.  She found herself sitting on a soft yet firm base that seemed to be just a few inches below the mist.  Instantly, the rosy cloud flowed up her naked body to wrap it in a pleasant warmth.  She expected it to feel damp, like a fog, but it was perfectly dry, and felt if anything slightly fuzzy against her skin.  “I don’t know how it does it, but they say it won’t cover your face … just flows over the rest of you,” Jean-Luc explained as he removed his jacket, shirt, and pants.  He switched off the lamp in the room, and lowered himself to stretch out beside Beverly, lying on his back and pulling her close to him, with her head pillowed on his shoulder.  The mist enveloped them in softness, yet was utterly weightless.  Overhead, a large skylight gave a spectacular view of the triple moons rising through the heavens. 

“It’s beautiful, Jean-Luc.  And this bed is amazing.  If I weren’t so tired …” she sighed as she turned her face into his neck and nuzzled the warm skin there.  

“You’ve had a long day, Beverly.  I’m sure the Eebronians think I’m the layabout on this ship, after the start you’ve made already.  Just lie back and relax.  Let me do all the work.  And if you drift off to sleep, well, sweet dreams.”  As she luxuriated in the strong yet gentle touch of Jean-Luc’s hands, Beverly found that she was not quite so exhausted as she had thought. 


The next morning, Beverly set off for yet another round of sampling and recording.  She also had an appointment to meet with the two Eebronians who had taken on the task of recording as much of the planet’s information in as small a package as possible.  Mokkan took Jean-Luc back to the university, where they spent the morning reviewing the various scenarios outlined by the committee.

An asteroid had been considered the most likely.  Sweeps of the universe as far as their abilities allowed showed nothing that would come careening into their planet in 15 years,  or in 150 for that matter.  “Nothing natural, at any rate,” commented one of the astrogation specialists.  “But what might happen through unnatural causes, who can say?”

“Unnatural meaning …?” Jean-Luc prompted them.

“Some civilization hundreds of light-years away could set off an explosion that turns a formerly captive moon into a rogue body, and it comes smashing into us.  Who could predict that?”

“Who indeed?  Your problem is most difficult.  Given the challenges of anticipating what an unknown civilization across the galaxy may do, shall we look closer to home?  Sad to say, for a long time among my people, if someone had told us that we would all cease to exist as of a certain date, our first assumption would have been that we had wiped ourselves out in a war.  But Eebron seems to be a very peaceful planet.”

“Our last war ended three and a half centuries ago, Ambassador.  There are sometimes minor disagreements between regions, but they are resolved through cooperation and negotiation.  Some say that knowing the length of one’s life disinclines one to go to war.”

The group went on to detail other potential causes they had considered, noting the feasibility of predicting each type, the likelihood that it could cause a planet-wide end of life, and other key elements.  Their list included earthquakes, volcanoes, and tidal waves, radical climate change, a change in the make-up of their atmosphere, and changes in the rotational cycles of the planet. 

“Are your people susceptible to violent emotional movements?” asked Picard at one point.  “On my planet, it was a phenomenon we called mass hysteria.”

“Generally, no.  We tend to be a reflective and … well, perhaps we are just a bit on the lazy side,” chided one portly gentleman, a historian.  “But we’d certainly rather talk about an issue than get up and fight about it!”  The room erupted in chuckles that were a welcome break from the serious air. 

“There must be causes or events that mobilize or involve your people?  Social causes?   Hero worship of some sort?  Religions?”  Picard was tossing out ideas as they occurred to him, but he could tell that he’d hit a sore spot when he saw the look of wounded pride on Mokkan’s face.

“Of course they haven’t said anything about religions,” Mokkan forced out between tense lips, and instantly the relaxation that had permeated the room was gone.  “We know exactly what the limit is.  We know exactly why it will happen.  But they won’t open themselves up to the faith of Mogl.  They’d rather be dead than admit their error and follow the true path.  Unbelievers!” Mokkan was on his feet by now, striding angrily up and down the length of the meeting room.  “Will none of you tell him the truth … tell him where oonsar came from, and why?  How can he help us if we keep him in the dark?”

Picard looked at the faces around the room.  Most of them looked embarrassed by the outburst.  Two or three were nodding, apparently in agreement with Mokkan.  “If there is something I should know, by all means, please tell me,” he said, turning to Mokkan.  “Where did the sense of oonsar come from?”

“Centuries ago, our people were as you described yours … prone to war among ourselves.  That is perhaps a great understatement.  So frequent and bloody were the wars, they threatened to destroy our civilization … perhaps even our species.  In an agony of despair, our people cried out to Mogl to save us from our own folly … to help us learn the ways of peace.  And Mogl answered.  She gave us the holy gift of oonsar.  And it worked.  To know the length of life is to truly know how precious life is.  Our people have known centuries … 33 generations and more … of peace.  All thanks to the gift of Mogl.  But they have grown ungrateful.  They have forgotten the ways of devotion and worship.  And now Mogl has used her gift to make it clear to us … we have 15 years to change our ways, or we shall cease to exist.”

“There are some who believe this legend,” interrupted another of the scientists.  “But most educated people regard this as …”

“You mean you regard it that way!” Mokkan shot back.  “But there are many of us, and our numbers are growing every day.”

“You have no proof for your claims.”

“You have no faith.  And you will be punished.”

Picard’s heart sank as the discussion descended along its predictable path.  He was most surprised to find that his capable and bright assistant had such a religious fervor … and even more surprised to see that there was evidently a considerable lack of tolerance by some of the others for his zeal.  This was another path that would have to be considered.  It would not be the first time a people in turmoil over issues of faith had obliterated themselves.  Suddenly, Picard’s mind seized on something that Mokkan had said.

“Did I understand you to say that oonsar only came into being about three and a half centuries ago?”

“That is when the priests of the world joined together in their appeal to Mogl.”

 “Speaking from a historian’s perspective, Ambassador,” added the portly historian, “it’s difficult to say.  Our first recorded mentions of oonsar date from that time.  But much from that time is ambiguous, and most records from the truly early times before then no longer exist.  Does that mean oonsar did not exist before that time?  Who can say?”

I think I am going to get very tired of the phrase “Who can say” by the end of this day, Jean-Luc thought to himself.  However, by lunchtime, he had managed to organize them into subgroups by specialty, and each group had the task of gathering the data relevant to their area and packaging it in as small a format as possible for transport on the Mistral.  And so the astronomers gathered their star charts and the climatologists grouped their readings and statistics and the historians encoded timelines of the history of the Eebronian people.  And in the midst of it all, Picard pondered, and glimpsed what might be an idea beginning to form.  But it didn’t square with what Beverly had said earlier.  He tapped his comm badge.  “Beverly?”

“Just a moment, Jean-Luc.”  He heard her confirming a few bits of data with another Eebronian volunteer, then thanking the person for her help.  “Now, Ambassador, what can I do for you?” 

“I need to run an idea by you.  Are you collecting samples all afternoon, or will you have a bit of time?”

“Follim was going to take me to an outdoor café for lunch.  Care to join us?”

“That sounds ideal.  Can Follim and Mokkan coordinate the details?”

“I’m sure they can.  See you in one hour?”           

“Rely on it.  Picard out.”


At the café, Beverly glanced around at the food on other tables and saw many things that looked intriguing, but none that seemed familiar.  She suggested that Follim order for them, and turned her attention to Jean-Luc.  

“Beverly, do you remember when we were approaching Eebron, the ship’s sensors detected a slightly elevated level of tachyon particles?”

“Yes, but it was a very small.  Do you think it has something to do with the limit?   Perhaps if it were to increase … we never did identify where they were coming from.”

“Ah, I see where you’re going with that line of thought.  But I had a different angle in mind.  When we were first thrown clear of the wormhole, do you recall that we noticed the general background level of tachyon particles in this area of space was higher than in Federation space?”

“I think so.  But again, wasn’t it only a very slight amount?”

“It was.  But perhaps when the two combine … the background level and the planet’s own particle field … it’s enough to cause … something.”   He shrugged.  “It’s not much to go on … simply one idea among many.  Mokkan,” he asked, turning to his assistant, “what is your level of technology in tachyon physics?”

“I suspect we are considerably behind yours,” Mokkan replied flatly.  He had been a bit withdrawn since his outburst at the meeting.  “We are aware of the existence of tachyon particles, but are only just beginning to detect and measure them.”

“I think we can probably take the sensor readings we need aboard the Mistral.  Our equipment is compact, but quite precise.  What I’m curious about, exactly, is this generally elevated level of tachyons in this area.  Where does it begin?  It must start at some point between Federation space and here.  And if it has a beginning, where does it end?”

“Very interesting question.  It’s going to take some very long range sensors to answer that one,” Beverly observed. 

“The computer can conduct periodic sweeps through the evening,” he answered.  “If we begin them this afternoon, we should have the necessary data collected by the end of the night.” 

“Excuse me, but our first course is coming,” Follim broke in.  They took a break from shop talk to sample the dishes.  She had ordered four very different meals, and they all shared a bit of everything, like a Chinese meal on Earth.  Even Mokkan seemed to come out of his funk a bit as he and Follim took turns explaining what things were and how they were prepared.  The flavors were spicy, and most foods were served raw and cool … hot dishes seemed to be rarity on Eebron.   “No slaving over a hot stove for Eebronian women,” Beverly joked. 

Mokkan looked seriously at her.  “Slavery has not been practiced by our people since prehistoric times.  It is considered an abomination of the spirit.”

“Oh, no, Mokkan, I didn’t mean …” Beverly was caught between amusement at Mokkan’s serious reaction and regret that she had perhaps offended the man.  “It’s just an old expression in our culture … in that context, it just means working hard, not truly slaving.  Eebron certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of place that would practice slavery.”

Under the table, she surreptitiously nudged Jean-Luc with her knee, then shot him a subtle questioning glance.  “It’s all right, Beverly.  I’m afraid I managed to offend Mokkan earlier today without meaning to, and so he’s understandably a bit tender.  We seem to be trampling on some delicate points without meaning to.”  He looked across at Mokkan and smiled.  “I’m grateful that he’s been so professional as not to let my bumbling prevent him from providing invaluable help to me.” 

There’s the diplomat at work, Beverly thought to herself.  Mokkan was already starting to look a bit less grim.  The conversation turned back to the food, and the culture of Eebron.  As their hosts took turns describing the various areas of the planet to which each dish was native, Jean-Luc and Beverly found themselves starting to get a more personal feel for the planet.  They liked these people, and so found themselves hoping even more that they could help them find an answer to their crisis.

As the meal drew to a close, Mokkan surprised them by making an offer.  “If either of you wishes to have an oonsar sensing done, I would be honored to arrange that for you.  We have many very gifted sensors here in Macel.  It would not take long … the actual sensing takes perhaps four to five minutes, although sensors generally take some extra time to get to know their subjects a bit.  We can arrange it at your convenience.”

“I’d been wondering about the possibility,” Beverly said thoughtfully.  “But the more I think about it, the more I think I’d find the knowledge disturbing.  What about you, Jean-Luc?  Would you?”

“The Eebronians have developed a culture and philosophy that makes the knowledge much more palatable for them.  They use it to plan their lives in a much more practical way than we humans tend to.  And as a consequence, many of the people I’ve met here so far seem to be more purposeful, more directed than we tend to be. There is much to admire about what oonsar has instilled here.  But that being said, I think you’re right, Beverly … I believe knowing the exact length of my own life is something I would be ill-equipped to deal with.  Your offer is very much appreciated, Mokkan, but I think that we will continue to take each day as it comes, without the knowledge of how many there will be.”

After lunch, Mokkan ferried Jean-Luc to the spaceport to begin the scanning process, and Follim and Beverly went off for their meeting with the information specialists who had been working to assemble a mini-reference resource about Eebron to go back to the Federation.  They had been quite successful, presenting her with a cubical case about eight inches in each direction.  Inside were three sections, each packed with a different media.  It was essentially the contents of the Eebronian World Library, rendered in three storage systems – magnetic, photaic, and hyperfazic.  The hope was that at least one would prove compatible enough for Federation technology to access it.  Following that meeting, Beverly went back to collecting tricorder readings and medical histories from as diverse a sampling of people as possible. 


She and Jean-Luc met back at their residence as early evening arrived.   Both were tired, but after they had showered and freshly dressed, they felt ready to spend another evening trying to assimilate at least a portion of the planetary culture.   “And,” Beverly reminded him, “we haven’t had dinner yet.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to sample another smorgasbord.  Although I do have to admit that after another two days here, I’m going to crave a hot meal.” 

Follim arrived in the hovercar a few minutes later and they set off for the private home where the party had been arranged.  “Flotral Gannbep is an extremely successful businessman who had the extra advantage of being born wealthy.  I think you’ll find him interesting.  He can be flamboyant and a little overbearing, but he’s quite intelligent, and word has it that he also has very acute oonsar.  He may be an excellent person for you to talk with if you’re interested in understanding more about what sensing is like.” 

When they arrived at Flotral’s home, they saw that if anything, Follim’s description had been understated.  It was truly a mansion, with sprawling grounds around it.  A series of fountains scattered through the gardens were bathed in light which seemed to come from the stones itself.  The entryway was flanked with stone pillars which also gave off a soft glow in pastel hues. 

“Glowstone, one of the most precious materials on our planet,” Follim explained.  “The smallest of those fountains probably cost more than my house.  The limit committee is fortunate that Flotral is one of our most generous supporters.”   The inside of the home appeared just as luxurious as the outside.  Many guests had already arrived, and an intriguing banquet of foods was laid out in one room.  As they came through the entrance hall, they saw Mokkan and Arvun chatting with a tall man who sported longer hair than most Eebronian men, and wore clothing of vivid purples and greens.  “There’s Flotral,” said Follim.  “Let’s go greet our host.”

Before they could cross the hall, Flotral flung his arms wide and called out in a booming voice, “Ah, here are the honored guests we have been waiting for.”  Long strides carried him rapidly across the floor to stop in front of Jean-Luc, where he reached out to touch both shoulders in the Eebronian greeting.  “Ambassador Picard?  I am Flotral Gannbep.  And you are Doctor Crusher?  Truly charmed.  Welcome to Eebron, and to my home.”

Mokkan and Arvun joined them, and together they made their way further into the home … slowly, however, as other guests frequently stopped them to exchange greetings and thank them for their offer of assistance.  As they made their way around the buffet table, Arvun explained how she had planned the evening.  “We’ve invited several prominent people in each of a variety of fields.  Politics.  Sciences.  The arts.  Philosophy and religion.  Social sciences.   Economics.  And a few wild cards, to make things interesting.  We’ve asked them to make this sort of a working party.  Basically, each group will be discussing their special field, but informally, just … shop talk, if you will.  You can circulate among the groups and perhaps get to know us a little better in a variety of areas.   How does that sound to you?”

“Ideal,” answered Jean-Luc.  “The challenge for me will be to keep circulating and not get caught up in one discussion or another.  It sounds like a truly fascinating evening.”

“Don’t worry.  Everyone understands that you have a limited amount of time and will want to make the most of it.  They may even chase you along to another discussion if they suspect they’re monopolizing too much of your evening.”

“Well, before we get into too much of a serious discussion, I want to sample this fopava,” Beverly pointed at a colorful pasta-like dish.  “I tried some at lunch and it was simply delightful.”

They finished filling their plates and looked around.  Follim pointed to a group of five men and women sitting in a nearby alcove.  “That’s the arts group.  Beverly, you would find them most interesting, I think.”

“And a break from medical thoughts will be very welcome.  I think I’ll go and join them.” 

Mokkan steered Picard toward the political group as a place to start.  Arvun had done an incredible job of assembling insightful and sometimes opinionated minds.  The discussions Jean-Luc and Beverly sat in on were spirited, and showed the Eebronians in a very good light.  They were intelligent, thoughtful, and very open-minded.   The process of discussion seemed more important, or at least more enjoyable, to them than actually making any definitive decisions.  When Picard mentioned that to Mokkan as they moved from one group to another, he replied, “We know that about ourselves, all right.  The commonplace going around now is that we might actually get our hydro-farming operations to run efficiently if we talked less and weeded more.”

Toward the latter part of the evening, Beverly found herself chatting with Flotral and a very handsome couple whom he had invited.  As it turns out, the woman, Mhabi, was Flotral’s sibling … and a professional oonsar sensor … a profession whose duties seemed to involve something like a cross between psychology and retirement planning.  “You don’t just wrap your arms around someone and then say ‘You’ve got five years’ and let it go at that,” said the woman.  “A good sensor spends some time getting to know the person first, and discloses the lifespan gently and with understanding, particularly if it is a short one.  And they go on to help the client draw up a timeline for what they want to accomplish in life.  It’s a very personal process, yet one that often benefits from impartial guidance.”

“What does oonsar …”  Beverly paused, wondering just how to put it.  “What does it feel like?  Does it involve other sense perceptions, I mean, do you see the future, or hear it, or somehow touch it … or is it something completely unlike any of those?”

“It is very difficult to express verbally,” Flotral said, and the others nodded in agreement.  “And it seems that each person experiences it a bit differently.  It does seem to involve a mixture of the other senses, and the balance within that mixture varies from person to person.  My experiences lean toward the visual, but for Mhabi …” he turned to her. 

“Mine are predominantly aural in nature.  Some people have very physical reactions – elevated heart rates, or very deep trancelike states.  It’s quite different for each of us.  In my case I … well, let me see.  The closest I can come to comparing it to something familiar is to say that I hear the subject’s life as a song.  Not with words, but a sort of melody.  And I get a sense of a style … some may be brisk and aggressive, and others are gentle and soft.  And the length of the song is the length of the lifespan.”

“How do you time it?” Beverly asked.

“I don’t, not in the sense of using a timepiece.  And I couldn’t tell you any rules … it’s not as though exactly four minutes of music means exactly so many years.  I don’t know how many minutes I’ve heard, anyway.  I don’t really have a strong internal chronometer in everyday life.  Do your people have that ability among you?”

“A very sharp sense of time?  It’s not unknown, although a really precise ability is rare.  It’s more an oddity than a useful skill in most cases.  So you don’t come to end of a … song, and know that it was so many minutes and seconds?”

“No.  But I do know very clearly that the life that is the subject is so many years, months, and days.”

“And the aspect of style … is it like, in a sense, getting to know someone, only in a compacted form?”     

“I’d have to say yes and no.  I don’t know them in the sense that I know any event that happens in their lives.  But I do get a sense of the flow of emotion over the course of their lives … periods where happiness or tension or suffering or excitement predominate.  I know if their life is overall a happy or sad one.”

“What about your … subject, is that the term you use?  Do they hear the song as well?”

“If their skills are aurally inclined as well, they hear a piece of it.  But just a tiny bit.  You might say that they hear in real time, while mine is compressed.  And those who don’t lean toward the musical don’t hear anything at all … but they may experience a waterfall of colors, or feel a symphony of textures … it’s the same information, but perceived through different windows.  The same sentence, translated into a million different languages.”

Mhabi’s description of her oonsar sensings was, of all the various descriptions she’d heard during the course of the evening, the one that made the most innate sense to her.  She could imagine sensing something like that.  More important, she could imagine feeling comfortable with an experience like that.  This was something she’d been hoping to find.

“Flotral, may I ask you for a favor?” Beverly turned her most dazzling smile on her host.

“How may I serve you?” he returned graciously.

“I’d love to continue chatting with Mhabi about oonsar.  But I must also admit that I am enchanted by your beautiful home, and I would love to see more of it.  I don’t want to take you away from your guests, but would you mind if I asked Mhabi to show me around for a few minutes?”

“I’m delighted that you find my home worthy of your interest.  And there is no better guide than Mhabi.  She assisted me with the planning and decoration from start to finish.”  With a light touch of his hands on her shoulders, the host took his leave, and within a few steps could be heard launching into what sounded like a high level business discussion with Mhabi’s husband.

Mhabi guided her through one elegant room after another, until they ended up on a terrace at the back of the house, bordered by manicured gardens and a few low, wide benches.  No artificial lights burned, but under the triple Eebronian moon, none were really necessary.  Beverly could have read her tricorder with ease in the pinkish glow.

“Mhabi, I must admit that I have an ulterior reason for asking you to show me around.  I, um, I’ve been thinking of having an oonsar reading done.”

Mhabi immediately smiled with delight.  “I’m so pleased.”

“No, don’t be pleased yet.  You see, I wonder if it might be possible to impose a condition on the reading.   A large part of me still doesn’t want to know my lifespan.  But on the practical side … Ambassador Picard and I have a long journey ahead of us to reach our home.  Almost nine years, and that’s without any of the inevitable delays we’re sure to run into, and …”

“And stops to help complete strangers who think they have a problem, but it won’t happen for 15 years,” Mhabi said with a smile.  “Under the circumstances, I think I can guess your request.  Do you want to know whether you will live to the conclusion of your journey home?”

“Yes, that’s it exactly.  If I won’t, there are things I would want to arrange for Jean-Luc.   But if we’ll … no, I know you can’t tell me anything about his lifespan.  I just want to know if I can make the whole journey with him.  Beyond that, I don’t want to know if my life goes on for 50 minutes or 50 years.  Is that possible?  Does it violate any sort of rules?”

“It is both permissible and, under the circumstances, entirely understandable. 

Now, have you given any thought to whom you may want to do the reading?”

“Well, Mhabi, as I said, I have an …            ‘Ulterior motive for asking me to show you around,” they finished together.  The bond between them felt surprisingly comfortable for only an hour’s acquaintance.  “I would be honored.”

“But you are a professional,” Beverly said.  “And I have no currency.  How can I pay for your services?”

“By allowing me the opportunity of a lifetime in my art,” Mhabi said seriously.  “The challenge and the experience of sensing oonsar with someone of an off-world culture is most rare.  I am in your debt.”

“Still two more concerns.  Can we do this now … as quickly as possible?  And would you mind not saying anything to anyone, especially Jean-Luc?  Just until after we’ve left.  Then you can write a paper on me or put me in your data banks or do whatever you want.” 

“I understand,” Mhabi said again.   “Come sit beside me on this bench.  We shouldn’t be interrupted back here.  And if one of the servants should happen to come out … well, they’ve seen me conducting oonsar sessions before, and they’re they very essence of discretion.”

“What do I do?” Beverly asked as she seated herself next to Mhabi. 

“Nothing, ideally.  You simply relax.  Most subjects close their eyes, but it’s not required.  Some even doze off.  And that’s fine.  It doesn’t hurt the process at all.  From your perspective, you should experience nothing but relaxation.  You won’t sense anything special.   I’m going to begin by establishing a contact between us.  Once initiated, it’s important that it not be broken until the sensing is complete.  It’s also best if you don’t speak while I am sensing.  Are you ready?”

“I think so.”  Beverly looked at Mhabi and gave a tight, nervous smile.  The Eebronian woman gently took her shoulders and turned her so that she was facing out toward the fountain, then slid around behind her and began to stroke her hands gently up and down Beverly’s arms.  The sparkle of the water droplets in the triple moonlight, the soft scent of the garden in full bloom, and the warm, soft touch of Mhabi’s hands combined to induce an extremely relaxed state.  Mhabi moved up close behind her, pressing the front of her body against Beverly’s back, stretching her arms out along the exact curve of Beverly’s arms, matching every inch, and held them there until she felt the last shred of tension and resistance dissolve.  Then she sat back slightly and again guided Beverly by the shoulders until she was leaning back against Mhabi, eyes closed, her face completely relaxed.  Mhabi reached up and stroked the long loose red hair repeatedly until Beverly’s head inclined gently towards her own.  On the last stroke, her hand continued down from Beverly’s hair, over her breasts and ended wrapped around her waist.  Her other arm wrapped over until her hand was on Beverly’s upper arm.  Ever so slowly and slightly, Mhabi began to rock back and forth, holding Beverly tightly against her, her hand gently sliding up and down Beverly’s arm.  She seemed to exude something that induced relaxation, Beverly managed to think as her conscious mind slowly but willingly gave up its control, this is the most incredibly soothing feeling I’ve had outside of …

“Beverly.  Beverly, wake up,” came the soft voice.  She felt herself being gently supported into a straight-up sitting posture, and opened her eyes.  Suddenly she looked around to see who had interrupted them.  “Everything’s all right,” Mhabi continued.  “We’re all done.”

“It’s over?” Beverly was surprised.  “But it hardly took a minute, and I didn’t feel a thing!”

“I told you, didn’t I?” her hostess smiled.  “And it was closer to five minutes.  To tell the truth, I was a little worried that your curiosity about oonsar would keep you from relaxing fully, but you were what we call a very gentle subject … very easy to sense with.  I think perhaps you did fall just a bit asleep.  And as for your question …” she paused and met Beverly’s gaze full in the eye, put both hands on her shoulders, smiled warmly, and said, “ … you’ll be fine.”

“Oh, thank you, Mhabi,” Beverly returned her warm smile.  “Thank you so much for everything.  I can’t tell you what it means to me.”

“It was truly my pleasure, Beverly.”  She squeezed her shoulders gently once more before letting go.  “You have a beautiful song.”

A few minutes later when they rejoined the party, Jean-Luc glanced at Beverly.  “That must have been quite the tour.”

“It’s a lovely home,” she said.  “And big.”  Her mind was taking inventory.  Did he mean anything in particular?  Was she flushed or otherwise disarranged?  She didn’t think so. 

“Have you had a chance to talk with the social sciences people yet?” she asked as they crossed the great room. 

“I think I’ve chatted with just about everyone at some point this evening.  It’s been quite a remarkable way to get to know their culture … at least one little slice of it … but I must confess my brain is beginning to come dangerously close to the information overload stage.”

“I know what you mean.  Let me find Follim and see what the odds are of a graceful exit anytime soon.”

It took about half an hour, but eventually all appropriate thanks had been expressed and leaves had been taken, and Beverly and Jean-Luc were in the back of the hovercar as Follim chauffeured them to their residence.  After making arrangements to be picked up the next morning for another day of research, they said goodnight and very shortly made their way to bed.


While Beverly dictated a few reminders to herself of things she’d heard at the party that suggested additional avenues of research, Jean-Luc stepped into the shower.  By the time he came out, she had finished her notes.  She stopped to nuzzle his warm cheek on her way in, and he glanced down to notice a rather small and insubstantial looking bit of red silk in her hand.  “I shall await your return most eagerly,” he breathed into her ear.

While he waited, he experimented with the controls for the mist blanket, and found one where pastel green faded slowly into blue, which gradually became lavender, then pink and so on, an ever-changing wash of colors that changed with the rhythm of long, slow surf.  The triple moonlight poured in through the skylight as he dropped his wrap by the bed and let the warm mist cover his naked body.  The light was soft, yet clear enough for him to see in detail the vision that stepped out of the bathroom.

Beverly wore red silk panties and a red shirt so sheer, it was little more than mist itself.  Its only closure were the tails knotted together beneath a deep vee that left the inner edge of each breast gleaming in the moonlight.   “Gods! I never get tired of seeing that vision,” he exclaimed softly as he rose to his knees in the center of the bed and drew her to him in a powerful embrace.  Their kissed began at passionate intensity and grew more heated from there. 

Beverly teased him by playing with the mist … swirling a cloud of it around her, then whisking her shirt off, holding it out to him through the pastel fog.  He responded by grasping her around her ribs and lifting her suddenly above the mist, so he could see every inch of her glorious body.  When he lowered her to the bed, she pushed him down flat and began to tease him with kisses here and there … appearing to nuzzle a nipple, slipping back under the mist and suddenly running her tongue up the inside of his thigh.  He curbed his impulse to take control and allowed her to have her fun until a hand slithered forth from out of the mist and dropped the red silk panties on his chest.  Then he could restrain himself no longer.  Again he rolled to his knees in the center of the bed, and reaching down into the mist, he pulled Beverly up to her knees as well.  The mist was just shifting from aqua to lavender as he brushed the last traces of it from her breasts and watched the little misty fingers run down her body, revealing all of her to his hungry eyes.  Their mouths locked in one more passionate kiss, his arms closed around her, and he carried her to the mattress once more.  As the mist closed around them, they came fully together at last, riding the swelling tide of passion to its final crest.

Beverly was utterly drained of energy.  Her head lay on Jean-Luc’s chest, one arm wrapped around his ribs and one leg still twined through his.  The sound of his heart beating just under her ear filled her head, and the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest lifted her head ever so slightly.  Unconsciously, her own breathing and heart rate began to fall into sync with his.  Dreamily, she watched stray tendrils of mist sway in the moonlight, and found that, even with her eyes closed, she could still see them swirling and dancing.  It seemed to have something to do with the moonlight.  Or something to do with the music.  She wasn’t sure.  One of the tendrils grew larger and more defined.  It seemed to stand a bit away from the rest of the mist.  Somehow it seemed to move and just … be … apart, alone.  The music was strong, yet somehow incomplete.  Gradually more tones filtered in.  The tendril of mist was joined by another.  They crossed and twined and seemed to become one, yet neither ever disappeared.  They danced together as the music took on a fuller, more nuanced sound with complex highs and lows, changes of rhythm, but always with the depth of harmony.  Finally the tendrils faded together into a pastel fog that rippled into a quiet sea.  Beverly lifted her head from the beach of that sea and thought, “What a long time that was.  It felt like 60 years.” 

Beverly lifted her head from Jean-Luc’s chest with a start.  Did that just happen?  Was that what she thought it was?  It couldn’t have been.  Could it?  No, it certainly could not.  It was a dream … a particularly vivid dream that had clearly been suggested by her experiences earlier in the evening.

“What is it?” Jean-Luc had been startled awake by her sudden movement. 


“Bad dream?”

“Not bad.   Just … vivid.  Probably my mind’s way of saying ‘wake up, your left arm hasn’t had any circulation for ten minutes.’”  They readjusted their positions, with Jean-Luc curled closely around her.  As they drifted off to sleep, Beverly saw two tendrils of mist swirl together and settle around the two of them in a warm, soft embrace.


The next morning, Mokkan arrived to take Jean-Luc to the Mistral just a few moments before Beverly and Follim set off to gather bioreadings from another cross-section of the populace … this time, concentrating on getting a variety of people who were originally from each of the four continents that made up Eebron’s land mass. 

They arrived at the spaceport and saw the sun glinting off the Mistral’s silver surface.  The ship attracted onlookers, but the Eebronians were a polite culture.  They looked from a distance, but didn’t approach too closely.  If anyone did, Mokkan had assured Jean-Luc, the spaceport security team would soon shoo them away.  Mokkan had gotten his first look at the interior of the ship when he brought Jean-Luc out to set up the sensor study the previous day.  He was quite willing to take another look around.  The Mistral, with its compact yet powerful computer, propulsion, and navigation systems, represented engineering that was still several generations ahead for his people.  He had been fascinated by the holosuite.  But this trip, with the data to look at, it was the astrogation computer that held his attention. 

“I wondered if there might be something like this at work,” Jean-Luc nodded to himself. 

“What did you find?” Mokkan asked, looking over his shoulder.

“Here,” Jean-Luc pointed to a map of the galaxy.  “There is our home.  Here is yours.  The base level of tachyon radiation in our part of the galaxy is 0.4503.  Here it is 2.335.  My question is, where does that level change?”

“And here, it seems, is the answer.  The gradient rises steeply right along this line.  And the line, it seems, extends along a plane that cuts right across the galaxy.”

“But what causes that gradient?”

“That is a very interesting question, and I suspect that if and when human beings … or Eebronians … can answer it, we will understand much more about the fundamental nature of our universe.”

“And if it starts there at that gradient, where does it end?”

 “For that, we need to look at the other end of the sensor sweep.”  The computer changed the display at his command, and they saw that the band was a wide one indeed, stretching far past Eebron in the direction of the galactic barrier.  “Quite a band … more like an entire section of space.”

“How long has our planet been passing through this band?” asked Mokkan. 

Picard looked approvingly at the young man.  He had a good mind and homed in quickly on key points.  “Computer, calculate length of time for Eebron to pass through the band of elevated tachyon levels.  Use the Eebronian year as your time basis.”

“The planet Eebron would have entered that area of space approximately 350 Eebronian years ago.  It will emerge from tachyon-rich space in another 15 years, 5 months, and 6 days.”

Mokkan looked stunned.  He stared at the computer display, and hardly seemed able to believe his eyes.  “But that means that tachyons are responsible for oonsar … and that … that …”

“Don’t leap to too many conclusions, “ Jean-Luc cautioned.  “We know that the time during which your planet began to be exposed to high tachyon levels coincides with the time your people began to develop oonsar.  It appears as though you will leave the tachyon belt at a time that coincides with some significant event in your future.  But that tachyons actually cause oonsar … that’s too far a leap.  And it doesn’t explain why every other society in this part of the galaxy doesn’t have the oonsar sense.”

“Well, if passing out of the tachyon belt is what happens to us in 15 years, it doesn’t make sense that we’ll all die from that.  Clearly, we lived for thousands of generations before we entered that belt.”

“Quite correct.  So it seems as though we may be looking at some sort of significant change, but probably not a planetary extinction.”

“Where do we go from here?” Mokkan asked.

“I want to confer with Doctor Crusher about that,” answered Picard.  “I think she may want to gather some specific types of data that have more to do with tachyons.”  He tapped his comm badge.  “Beverly?”

“Here, Jean-Luc.  Any news?”  He outlined the findings for her, and Beverly suggested doing a detailed tachyon scan of Eebron itself.  “Let me know if you find any particular hot spots on the planet itself.  Oh, and of course we’ll need the general tachyon level of the upper atmosphere.”

“Two point something, wasn’t it?” Mokkan chimed in. 

“That’s the level in this region of space.  Dr. Crusher seems to think that it may be even higher within the atmosphere.  Beverly, does this coincide with anything you’ve been finding?”

“There do seem to be some regional variations in the strength of the oonsar sense.  I have no idea where this may be going, but it’s the closest thing to a lead we’ve got.  Let’s see how closely tachyon levels coordinate with oonsar abilities.” 

Jean-Luc reset the sensors to focus on the planet itself.  “This will take some time.  I would like to go back to the university.  I believe Professor Jalewf mentioned last night that he had a comprehensive time line drawn up concerning the limit which he thought might be useful.”


Later that afternoon Beverly and Follim were aboard the Mistral.  A large map of Eebron was spread out on one end of the conference table.  Beverly was completing the download from her tricorder into the ship’s computer while Follim reviewed the same screens of data that Picard had shown Mokkan earlier that day. 

“Now,” said Beverly, “Let’s see what Jean-Luc’s scan of Eebron may have turned up.  Computer, what is the background level of tachyon radiation in the upper atmosphere of Eebron?”

“3.659,” answered the neutral female voice.

“Is the tachyon level evenly dispersed around the planet?”

“No.  Levels peak sharply over the continent known as Ibewka.”

Beverly looked at Follim.  “Does that suggest anything to you?”

Follim nodded.  “Ibewka has long had a reputation for producing many of the most sensitive oonsar visionaries.  They either come from there, or go there to study.  There is an institute of oonsar there …”

“An institute?  Have we met anyone from there?  Are they studying the limit problem?”

“Perhaps institute is the wrong word, although that it what they call themselves.  It is not a place of scientific study.  More like an artists’ colony.  Many very gifted oonsar readers spend time there, and they do hold classes of some sort.  But they feel very strongly that oonsar is a gift … to be cultivated and sharpened, perhaps, but not dissected and understood.  Still, it does make sense that the Ibewkan Institute is such a center for oonsar … if there is some connection between these tachyon particles and oonsar, it does not surprise me to find that both are concentrated in the same area.”

“Nor me.  But it is an intriguing development.  And it’s the best lead we’ve come up with yet.  I wonder …”  Beverly trailed off as she turned over various possibilities in her mind.  “Follim, can you put me in touch with Flotral’s sister, Mhabi?  I want to talk with her some more about the actual experience of oonsar.”

Follim was on her roving caller in an instant, making the arrangements.  “She’ll expect us at her offices in an hour.”  Beverly spent the time until they had to leave correlating more of the data she had recorded over the past few days. 

“There’s a very clear pattern.  Most of those who have the strongest sense of oonsar also seem to have some sort of ties to Ibewka.  There are exceptions, certainly … but the great majority of scans all fit the notion that something in that area enhances oonsar ability.”

“Well, Flotral and Mhabi both have very stong oonsar.”

“Do they have a connection to Ibewka?” Beverly asked.  That question was one she was looking forward to asking Mhabi.

“They grew up there.  I don’t believe they came to Macel until they were nine or ten years old.” 

“There’s just one more thing I need to do before we go,” Beverly said, as she established a link between the ship’s computer and her tricorder once again and initiated a series of commands.  “I’m reprogramming the tricorder to scan specifically for tachyons in a very narrow beam.  I hope that Mhabi might permit me to conduct a scan of her while she is working, to see if there’s unusual tachyon activity.”  When she finished, Beverly took test readings of both herself and Follim.  “Mine is bit higher than normal … at least, for normal as we define it in our end of the galaxy.  Yours is higher than mine, again to be expected.  You’ve lived your whole life in a tachyon-enriched environment.  What about your sense of oonsar, Follim?  Are you particularly sensitive?”

“Not really.  I’d say I’m probably on the low side of average.  And I don’t practice it very often, so my sense isn’t very sharp.”  Beverly recorded her findings and Follim’s estimate of her own sense.  At this point, any data she could stuff into the computer was equally valuable or useless.  Although the haystack was considerably smaller, there were still a lot of places where a needle could hide.

Minutes later, the two women were once again crossing Macel in Follim’s hovercar, and Beverly was anticipating the meeting with Mhabi for two reasons.  She had a strong feeling that she was nearing the answers they sought … and she was hoping to have a chance to ask Mhabi privately about her experience last night.

Mhabi’s office was a suite in a very new-looking professional building … but the furnishings gave it the lush, sensuous feel of a desert sheik’s tent.  Her assistant greeted them and conducted them into the secluded room where Mhabi met with her subjects.  Beverly explained the theories they were working on, and asked Mhabi about her time in Ibewka.

“Well, as Follim has told you, Flotral and I grew up there.  Our whole family was fairly adept at oonsar.  In fact, my father was one of the directors at the Institute.  We all practiced often, from the time we were just old enough to understand the concept.  There was always a conceit around that Ibewkans were the best in the world at oonsar, but to be honest, I just put that down to regional pride.  I think that’s what everyone thought it was.  Or at the most, that if we were better at it, it was because we practiced it more and truly appreciated the art of oonsar more than other regions.  And the Institute was a wonderful place with a very special feel all its own …a bit free-wheeling, socially very open and curious, and yet totally dedicated to deepening and strengthening the practice of oonsar.”

“And understanding it as well?” interrupted Beverly.

“No, strangely enough, I suppose, we were not so concerned with understanding it in a scientific sense.  Many of us seemed to assume that it could not be understood in those terms, or that to do so would somehow damage or weaken it.”  She smiled sadly.  “We were young, most of us, and we tried so hard to hang on to the magic of things.  And there were many who believed very strongly that it was a divine gift given to our people and to study and dissect it would be both ungrateful and dishonorable.  At any rate, we had our conceits as well.  So many young people all immersed in an experience that has great emotional power … we felt as though no one else in the world was experiencing what we were.  And we used to joke that perhaps there was something in the water at Ibewka that made our oonsar so strong.  Well, perhaps it wasn’t such a joke after all.  But we had it wrong – it was in the air.”

“Everywhere, actually,” said Beverly.  “If tachyons are related to oonsar as we think, then the influence is in the air, the water, the buildings, the soil … tachyons have the ability to permeate almost any substance.  But why would they cluster around one particular area like that?”

“Unless they come up out of the volcano,” laughed Mhabi.

“Volcano?” Beverly echoed.  “There’s a volcano close by?”

“Mount Ibewka,” said Follim.  “One of the chief tourist attractions in the area.  Active enough to put on a good show of sparks and steam most days, but it hasn’t had a true eruption in hundreds of generations.  Could it be a tachyon source as well?”

“You read my mind, Follim.”  She tapped her comm badge.  “Jean-Luc?”

“Yes, Doctor?”

They arranged for him to return to the Mistral and conduct a detailed fly-over scan of the Ibewkan continent, paying particular attention to the region where the Institute was located, and the nearby volcano.  “Let me know when you’ve returned.  I hope that with Mhabi’s help I’ll have the rest of the data I need, and we can start to find some answers.”

“This sounds most promising, doctor.  Mokkan and I will be on our way shortly.”

Beverly turned to the task she hoped to complete next.  She wasn’t at all certain how her request would be received.  “I’d like to conduct tachyon scans of you while you’re actually doing a reading.  But I realize they are very private sessions.”

“Yes, that will be difficult.  Unless,” Mhabi paused and looked at Follim, “your guide might be willing to volunteer to serve as the subject for the reading?”

“Of course,” Follim agreed quickly.  “I don’t mind.  I had my lifespan read years ago … but one never knows.  Perhaps for the first time in history, two readings will come up with different answers.” 

Beverly began by taking base readings of tachyon levels.  Mhabi’s was several tenths of a point higher than Follim’s.  Then Mhabi began the same process with Follim that she had done with Beverly on the previous evening.  As Follim relaxed, Beverly scanned for tachyon activity.  At first there seemed to be no fluctuations.  Then the readings began to shift, indicating that while the levels were not increasing, the tachyons present in both women’s systems were contracting into two focal points, one within each body.  As Mhabi began to sway, a beam of particles began to flow back and forth between the points, tentative at first, then stronger and quicker.  Beverly was amazed … her tricorder was forming a visual image of the oonsar connection between the reader and her subject.  It was remarkable.  Clearly tachyons did play an essential role in the sensing of oonsar.   Carefully she saved the scan, cleared the fields, and initiated a second scan to confirm her findings.  The results were identical.

After about four minutes had passed, Mhabi and Follim emerged from the trancelike state.  Mhabi kept a firm hold on Follim’s shoulders and turned her so that she stared straight into her subject’s eyes.  For a moment she held the gaze in silence.

“I gather the results weren’t any different?” Follim half-laughed.  “It’s all right.  I’ve known for years.  I had a very detailed reading done when I was six.” 

“And you are prepared?” Mhabi asked kindly.

“As far as business arrangements, entirely.  As far as personal arrangements, to be involved in this endeavor, to meet and work with these people from the other side of the galaxy, to play a part in perhaps solving the puzzle of the limit … I could not ask for a better way to spend my final days.”

“Final days?” Beverly had been trying intentionally not to hear the conversation, but that phrase cut through her resolve.  “Follim, are you … is your lifespan …”  Humans simply were not equipped to ask, “Are you dying soon?” as an offhand question.  It stuck in her throat, but Follim understood at once.

“Do not be concerned for me, Beverly.  You have added more purpose and excitement to these days than I could have wished for.  And for a person like me, whose great love is my work, that is a wonderful gift.  After you leave, I will go to my brother’s house.  He and his family are the only close relatives I have, and I want to spend my last days with them.  Oh, Beverly, you should see your face.  I would never have thought you could be so flustered.”

“It’s only that your … well, your entirely calm acceptance of death is so foreign to our experience.  As a doctor, everything in me tries to hold death at bay.  Follim, may I give you a thorough physical, back at the Mistral?  There may be a medical problem that I can find and repair, something your doctors may have missed.”

“My health is fine, Beverly.  I know that I have six days left to me, and I know that my end will be quite sudden.  I suspect it will be some sort of accident.”

“But if you don’t do anything that day.  You don’t leave the house, you don’t leave your bed, you just …”

“Then something would come to me, Beverly.  A hovercar would stall and crash through the ceiling of the bedroom.  A freak storm would send a bolt of lightning.  There is no cheating, Beverly.  What is, simply is.  I will not tarnish my last days with fear or protest.  I will live them with as much joy as I can.  And there is more of that, thanks to you.”

“But Follim, I … I don’t know what to say.  I had imagined that when we had an answer, I would share it with you, that you would be here as my link to Eebron.  I’ve gotten to like you very much in the last few days.”

“I’m sorry that you had to learn of my end.  I really should have told Fornees when he asked me to assist you … but I thought that there would be no need for you ever to know the information.  Although I did worry that you would want to conduct one of your bioscans and histories on me, and then the secret would have been out.”

“Isn’t that funny?  I was so busy with so many other subjects, it never occurred to me to run one on you.”

“Well, since that is what we came here for … did your scans of Mhabi show anything conclusive?”

“It was quite incredible,” Beverly began, and she replayed the scans for them, stopping here and there to point out some of the readings.  “This is even more dramatic evidence than anything I’d hoped for.  It quite clearly confirms that tachyon particles play an integral role in the function of oonsar.  I can hardly wait to show this to Jean-Luc and see how it correlates with the research he’s been doing.”

“I’m so glad I’ve been able to be helpful with your research, Beverly,” said Mhabi.  “Words can’t express how grateful I am that you two have done so much to try and help us.”

“This is why we’re here, Mhabi.  We believe that part of our reason for being is to explore, to learn, to grow.  To meet other civilizations and find ways to work together and to help each other … if we can’t do that, then we’re just passing through, without leaving any mark at all.”  Beverly smiled.  “Besides, I have another favor to ask of you.”

“What can I do?”

Beverly described her experience the previous evening.  “Was it just a dream, do you think?  Or is it possible that I had an inkling of experiencing oonsar?”

“I have never heard of off-worlders having any oonsar visions of their own.  But there is a first time for everything.  One of the mysteries about oonsar is where it resides.  Unlike other senses and faculties, we have never been able to pinpoint a physical location for it.  So I cannot say for sure that a non-Ebronian can or cannot sense oonsar.  But it does seem unlikely.  And there’s also the fact that you sensed a lifespan extending out 60 years.  That’s well past the limit – unless for some reason the limit doesn’t affect off-worlders.  But that can’t be right, either.  I think what you experienced was a dream, Beverly.”

“I thought that was probably the case,” she nodded, looking a little disappointed.

“You wished it had been real?” Mhabi asked.

“I liked the idea of knowing that Jean-Luc had so many years left to him.”

“Tell me something, Beverly.  Is Jean-Luc very important to your happiness?”

“Essential.  We have a long and complicated history together.  Even though we’ve been attracted to each other for many, many years, circumstances were such that we could never act on those feelings until recently.  We have an old and deep friendship, and yet suddenly it has a new and passionate side to it.  He means more than I can say.”

“And if you were to lose him …?”

“I’d be crushed.  Life would go on, I suppose, but I would be desolate.”

“Then let me tell you this. But wait, I’m forgetting.  This has to do with your reading, and you may wish to discuss it in private.”

“Of course,” Follim said quickly, realizing Mhabi was referring to her presence.  She rose.  “I’ll be in the outer office.” 

“No, Follim, you don’t have to go,” Beverly said.  “I don’t mind having you hear anything Mhabi has to say to me.  If it’s going to be some intense emotional stuff, I’ll want a friend here.”  She stretched a hand out toward Follim, who came back into the room.  They clasped each other’s shoulders for a few seconds, then turned their attention back to Mhabi. 

“I don’t mean to be suspenseful,” she began.  “What I have to say is good news.  What I heard in your song, Beverly, showed me that you’ve had your share of sadness and loss in the past.  Your joys and sorrows were very much intermingled.  But the portion of your song that stretches forward from here … there is much joy, and much variety.  Remember, I can only sense your lifespan, not his.  But if losing Jean-Luc would truly be tragic for you … well, I heard no sense of tragedy, all the way to the limit.”  She paused, reached forward and touched Beverly’s shoulder.  “Yes, I followed your song all the way to the limit.  It ended there, at 15 years.  But if I understand what you and Follim told me earlier, there’s a possibility that the limit is not the end of our lives, but perhaps the end of something less drastic.”

Beverly could restrain neither the smile that glowed on her face nor the tears that misted up in her eyes.  Mhabi and Follim gathered close on either side of her and the three of them simply hugged in silence for a moment while Beverly regained her composure.  “Thank you, Mhabi,” she said warmly. 

Just then her comm badge chirped.  “Picard to Doctor Crusher.”

“Are you back at the spaceport?”

“I am, and I think you’ll find the data quite interesting.” 

“We’re on our way.”

Mhabi escorted her two guests through the office suite and bid them farewell.  Follim took Beverly back to the Mistral, and offered to return later to pick them up and ferry them to their lodgings.  Knowing now how much this project meant to the woman, Beverly wanted to include her in as much as she could.  “If you don’t have other plans, would you like to sit in with us as we put out data together?”

“If I won’t be in the way, I would be honored.”

“Chances are we’ll have any number of questions about Eebron as we look at things.  It would be so helpful to have someone we could ask immediately.”

“Then I’d love to stay,” Follim said as she guided the craft to a stop next to the Mistral. Her smile made Beverly sure she’d made the right choice.  


Jean-Luc was already scrolling through data when they entered the conference room.  He seemed as excited about his findings as Beverly was about hers. 

“Look at this,” he jumped to a visual of a spectacularly carved mountainside where ancient lava flows had cut channels deep into the rock.  Steam puffed from the ragged crater at the top.  “Now look at the tachyon readings.  In the inhabited areas closest to the volcano, they’re triple the readings for the rest of the planet.  Over the crater itself they’re off the scale.”

“What could be inside that volcano that could be causing that?” asked Beverly.

“I’ve never heard of anything quite like this,” Jean-Luc mused.  “Perhaps some sort of ore that is radioactive in a way we haven’t encountered before … emitting tachyons.  Although if there was a tachyon source inside the planet, one would expect the entire planet to be equally permeated with the particles.”

“And are these tachyon particles harmful in any way?” Follim asked.

“Not in low levels.  We have encountered high concentrations of them at times, but always in space, never on the surface of a planet before.  In space, they tend to have the effect of creating disruptions in the fabric of time.  But one of their characteristics is that they pass through virtually any material we know of.  There is no known way to contain or shield against them.” 

“Jean-Luc, have you tried running a scan directly into the center of the planet?  A geological scan?”

“No, but that’s an excellent idea.  I’ll start one immediately.”

While they waited for the sensors to complete their analysis, she showed him the scans she had taken of Mhabi and Follim that afternoon.  “This is quite remarkable,” he exclaimed as he saw the link form and flow between the two women.  “You’re absolutely right, Beverly.  This is stronger evidence than we could have hoped for.” 

As the two of them dug into their data, eagerly fitting each new piece into the puzzle, they began to see a clear pattern.  Follim followed the process with eager fascination, and at one point said, “You aren’t just dealing with the limit anymore.  You’re actually trying to answer the question of what oonsar is.  And it looks as though you’re right.”

“It’s not what we set out to do,” Beverly conceded.  “But it’s where the information led us.  And it seems as though the limit is not perhaps what it first appeared to be.” 

“I hope my people are ready to hear it.”

“Why shouldn’t they be?  It’s good news,” Jean-Luc said.

“But it’s news that may not square with the beliefs of many,” Follim explained.

“Oh, of course.  Like Mokkan.  Is this belief that oonsar is some sort of divine gift … is it widespread?”

“Wide enough.  Perhaps ten percent of the population subscribes to it.   All in all, it’s a pretty benign culture, and what you’re saying doesn’t run counter to most of its beliefs … just that Mogl was the giver of oonsar.”

It was another three hours before they had completed their analysis … checking and cross checking data, playing devil’s advocate to examine each piece of their theory for unproved assumptions or fatal flaws.  No matter how they tried to undermine it, their conclusion withstood each assault.  It was late, and all three of them were exhausted.  “Would anyone be offended if we just slept here instead of making the trip back in to the city?” Beverly asked Follim.

“No.  I’ll call the staff at your lodging and let them know not to expect you.”  She retrieved her roving caller from the pocket of her jacket and took care of the details.  “What time shall I come by for you in the morning?”

“You must be as tired as we are, Follim.  We have guest quarters here; would you like to stay instead of driving back home?”

Again the eager smile rewarded Beverly.  “This is such a beautiful ship.  I would love to have the chance to spend the night here.  Well, that is …”


“”You won’t be offended if I don’t eat any of that hot food again, will you?”  Beverly had replicated some snacks during the evening. 

“We’ll have cold fruit and muffins for breakfast,” she promised.  “I think they’ll suit you much better.  Follim,” she continued as she led the way to the guest quarters, “I don’t quite know what is proper to say or not say, and I don’t want to do anything to make you uncomfortable …”

“You find it so difficult to speak of death.  I don’t think any conversation we have can possibly be as hard for me as they are for you.  You can ask me whatever you want, Beverly.  I really have come to think of you as a friend.  And I know that you want to understand.  What do you want to know?”

“How old are you?”

“I’m 18.  That’s just a little younger than the average lifespan … not a tragically early death by any means.  Although I would have welcomed more years had they been granted me.”

“At 18, our children are just reaching the end of adolescence … it’s so young to me.”

“Our adolescence ends somewhere around four.  I was working as a research scientist when I was seven.”

“At that age, I was perfecting my technique with finger paints.”  The two of them shared a laugh, touched hands to shoulders, and drew closer into a hug.  A few seconds later, Beverly continued, “What’s the proper way for me to behave as far as others?  Specifically, as far as Jean-Luc?  Is this privileged information, is it something that he should know, is it somewhere in between?”

“As uncomfortable as humans seem to be with this, I think it would be best if he didn’t know, until you leave.  I don’t want any reactions to my personal life to conflict with the presentation tomorrow.  It wouldn’t be a huge breach of etiquette to tell him, since we have all worked so closely together, but neither is it improper to keep it private.”

“I’ll do whatever you want, Follim.  And I think you may be right … it’s still jarring to me, and I’ve had hours to get used to it.”

“Well, don’t be too hard on yourself, Beverly.  I’ve had 12 years!”  Follim smiled and clearly wanted to lighten the tone a bit.  “Will you wake me in the morning?  I tend to be a deep sleeper.” 

“We’ll be sure you don’t miss breakfast.  Pleasant dreams.”

A few minutes later, Beverly slipped into the familiar bed in the ambassador’s suite.  Jean-Luc was already half asleep.  She tucked herself around him, wrapping her arms around his chest and twining her legs through his.  She felt as though she couldn’t hold him tightly enough.    Her head rested on his shoulder, and suddenly he felt a warm, wet spot there.  He listened, but heard only steady breathing.  “Beverly, are you all right?”

“Mmm,” accompanied by a quick sniffle.

“Are you crying?” he backed a few inches away so that he could see her. 

“No.  Well, yes, but I mean, not really, no.”

“Tears do seem to be coming out of your eyes, my love,” he said as he gently wiped one away with the tip of his finger.

“But,” and after another quick sniff she managed a smile, “I’m not sobbing.  I’m just pensively meditating.”

“On a deep and dreary subject?”

“On the fragility of life.  The unfairness of death.  And on which is worse … certainty or uncertainty.” 

“Ah.”  He drew her close again and held her in silence for a few seconds before musing, “You know, I think every alien culture I’ve encountered has caused me to re-examine or re-appreciate some aspect of human life.  Every time we meet yet another thing which we never dreamed of … every time we discover that there is yet another way of looking at the universe … we grow.  And sometimes,” he gently stroked her hair as her eyes closed, “that growth comes with pain.  Is there anything I can do … besides waxing philosophical, and perhaps boring you to sleep?”

“Exactly this,” replied Beverly as she slid an arm around him and found herself suddenly quite sleepy.  “Exactly this.”


The next morning, Jean-Luc and Beverly packed a portable data display onto which they had downloaded all the information they had gathered.   Follim had arranged for a meeting of the same limit study group that had first outlined the problem for them.   In a short time, they were landing once again at the same building where that first meeting had occurred.   A familiar figure was waiting for them on the landing pad. 

“I hear you may have an answer for us,” Mokkan said as soon as the door of the hovercraft opened.  “That is more than we could have hoped for.”

“Do not hope for too much,” Picard replied.  “We have a theory, nothing more.  We will present it to the group, and they can continue to evaluate it after we have gone.  There is certainly no guarantee that we’ve hit upon the answer in this short time.”

“I saw the direction you were heading in yesterday, when you first began researching the tachyon gradient in this end of the galaxy.  It made such clear sense to me … I have a very strong feeling that you really are on to something.  I hope the committee sees the sense in it as well.”

Picard was surprised by the man’s reaction.  Given Mokkan’s religious beliefs, he had expected him to resist a purely scientific explanation not only of the limit, but of oonsar as well.  This wasn’t the time to bring it up, however.  They had a presentation to make.

There were a number of familiar faces in the room when Beverly and Jean-Luc entered.  Besides Follim and Mokkan, there was Fornees, the chairman, and the two librarians who had compiled the reference bank on Eebron.  They had spoken with several of the other members in the course of their research in the last few days, and almost all of the group had been in attendance at Flotral’s party.  After greetings and pleasantries, the group settled down to business. 

“I want to emphasize that what we are about to suggest is simply a theory.  It does not mean that we will not continue to study the data we have gathered and search for meanings which we may have overlooked.  We also fully intend to put the resources of the Federation to work to examine your problem.  But what we have here seems compellingly to explain not only the limit, but other phenomena as well.  First, let me begin by explaining a bit about tachyon particles, as they form the basis of our entire theory.” 

After providing this basic background, Jean-Luc took them step by step through the readings that showed Eebron had a naturally high level of tachyon particles, and in particular the phenomena around Mount Ibewka.  Then he progressed to the varying levels of tachyon radiation in the universe, and the immense band through which Eebron had been passing for the last 350 years … and from which it would emerge in another 15. 

Beverly took over the presentation when they reached the biological section.  She summarized the data she had gathered over the last few days, then showed them the tricorder images of the tachyon flow during an oonsar session.  “It seems clear to us that the higher the levels of tachyon radiation, both in the atmosphere and in the particular persons, the more exact and detailed the sense of oonsar becomes.  The question of how that effect is generated remains to be answered.”  She paused and looked around, then glanced over at Jean-Luc.  “But we do have a theory.”

He picked up smoothly.  “Tachyons, as we have already noted, move at faster than light speeds.  This gives them certain special abilities with regard to time that we do not fully understand.   We are starting with an assumption which I must spell out.  We feel that the time Eebron entered the tachyon belt matching the first appearance of oonsar, and the time you will exit the belt matching the limit, are unlikely to be mere coincidences.”

“Even though we have these readings that clearly show tachyons are involved in the process of oonsar, we have no explanation of how the particles might actually create the ability,” Beverly added.  “One idea is that the higher concentrations of particles in your atmosphere gradually coats everything on Eebron.  An individual’s personal accumulation of particles reacts with the unusually high levels in the atmosphere to somehow confer an ability to slide through time along a subject’s lifeline.  Of course, what a ‘lifeline’ actually might be, how one slides along it, and a hundred other questions are all unanswered, so this is really a vague speculation on our part.”

“However,” Jean-Luc said, “we believe that there is a strong possibility that the limit represents not the end of life on Eebron, but the end of the time span which oonsar can sense.”

Beverly interjected, “It’s as though the oonsar sensors were literally following lines running backward and forward in time from their subjects.  When they reach a point 15 years from now, there is no longer enough tachyon lubrication to allow them to slide further along the line.  They just stop.  Not because the subject’s life stops, but because from that point in time … the point where Eebron is no longer in the radiation band … the sensitive cannot move through time.”

There was a considerable stir in the room as committee members immediately began to discuss the possibilities and implications.  Jean-Luc raised his voice a notch to be heard over the conversations.   “We realize that this is a different sort of answer than you expected.  It may not be a correct answer at all.  It is a theory.  However, if we are in some measure correct, this is good news for Eebron’s survival …” he turned to Beverly, who took off from his cue.

“… but sad news in that it may represent the loss of oonsar.  The ability is one that your people have used to help build an admirable culture.  You will surely face some challenges in maintaining all those gains if you do in fact lose the ability to read lifespans.”  On a different note, she went on to explain that the tachyon radiation probably accounted for the malaise Eebronians felt when visiting other worlds.  At lesser levels of radiation, they could experience a very minor sort of time distortion, which made them feel slow and sluggish.

Ever the diplomat, Jean-Luc closed their presentation on a positive note.  “Both Dr. Crusher and I have come to very much appreciate and admire Eebron and her people over the past four days.  If our way home were not so very long, we would gladly prolong our stay and get to know you better.  However, we are confidant that whatever challenges the limit may pose for you … you are a people who are well prepared to meet them and come away stronger.  We hope that our contact with you is the first step in a lasting relationship between the Federation and Eebron.  And we are humbled and gratified indeed by the level of hospitality, cooperation, and friendship that has greeted us at every turn.  We will remember Eebron fondly for the rest of our lives.”

Even after all these years, Beverly thought, I am still stunned by his off-the-cuff eloquence and his ability to say the right things … the things I think of two hours later.  The sound of Jean-Luc’s voice interrupted her musings.

“Before we take our leave, we do want to be sure that we answer any questions you may have, and that you have functional copies of all the data we have gathered, so you can continue to examine and test our theory, as well as search for other interpretations.”  The meeting quickly broke into a dozen smaller conversations, and various groups and individuals waited patiently around Beverly and Jean-Luc for a chance to ask questions and discuss implications.

Mokkan was among the crowd, and along with him were two other scientists whom Beverly remembered seeing at Flotral’s home.  “I wanted to thank you,” he began when Jean-Luc turned to him. 

“It is I who must thank you,” Jean-Luc countered.  “Your help with every aspect of the last few days has been crucial.  We could not have accomplished one-quarter as much without your assistance.  And I suppose that I have given you little reason to thank me in regard to your beliefs.”

“Do not be troubled over that.  We,” and he gestured to his two companions, “discussed and debated the possibility long into the night last night.”

“Last night?” questioned Jean-Luc.

“From the moment you showed me the data confirming that the radiation band matches the onset and end of oonsar … even though you hadn’t gathered the rest of the pieces yet, well, it was clear that this was a strong possibility.  And so we were talking it over last night, and we realized that this doesn’t disprove that Mogl gave us the gift of oonsar.  What it does is prove how she did it.  She created this band of high radiation, and made it so vast in order to give us time to learn, to change our ways, to become truly worthy of her.”

Beverly saw the urge to begin a debate flash over Jean-Luc’s face for less than half a second, and was very glad when she saw it suppressed as quickly as it had come.  Whew, she thought.  We would never have gotten out of here until midnight.  As it was, the questions and discussions continued for another hour and a half before they were able to make gracious farewells and final thank yous, and get back into Follim’s hovercar for the return trip to the spaceport. 

“You will be what I miss most about Eebron,” Beverly said to Follim as the craft settled to the ground next to the Mistral.  “You’re an excellent scientist, but even more, I’ve come to think of you as a friend.”

“As have I, Beverly,” came the reply.  “I will remember you …” she paused and caught Beverly’s eye when Jean-Luc wasn’t looking, “… for the rest of my life.”  Her mischievous smile reminded Beverly of everything Follim had told her about the acceptance of the inevitable. 

“Not getting to know you better is my loss,” said Beverly.  They touched shoulders, and Beverly impulsively drew Follim closer for a final hug.  “May good things fill your days,” she said.

“And your journey together be long and pleasant,” Follim replied. 

I will not cry, thought Beverly, and she smiled a little wider than usual, blinked a bit faster and harder, and waved as the Mistral’s door closed.


As the Mistral left Eebron’s atmosphere, Jean-Luc asked, “Care for a closer look at those pink moons we’ve been seeing through the skylight?”

“This will probably be our only chance,” answered Beverly.  She was concentrating hard on bringing her emotions under control and doing a good job of it.  Or so she believed until Jean-Luc interrupted her train of thought.

“Beverly, sit down with me,” he glanced at the empty seat beside him in the cockpit.  “First your tears last night, and now this.  Something is clearly bothering you.”

“What do you mean by ‘this?’” she tried to keep her tone light. 

“You’re acting.  You’re a good actress, but I can still tell the difference between your good acting and the real you.  You’re concealing something.  And knowing you, it’s probably something you think I should not be bothered with, or shouldn’t have to worry about.  I know,” he held up his hand as Beverly started to object.  “You ran interference for me often enough on the Enterprise … but this isn’t the Enterprise.  I only have one crew member to keep track of instead of hundreds … although, strangely enough, it still seems to occupy an enormous amount of my time.”  Now it was his turn to try a light tone. 

“You’re right, as usual.”   She sighed.  “Did you notice anything unusual about Follim?”

“It’s hard to say what’s usual or unusual for someone you’ve only known a few days.  And you got to know her far better than I.” 

Beverly drew one leg up and tucked her heel onto the front of her seat.  She wrapped her arms around her leg and hugged it to her chest, resting her head on her knee and rocking slightly as she told him how Follim expected to die in the middle of the following week.   “The complete acceptance she had for death … the refusal to run, hide, fight, do anything to stave it off … in some ways it seems admirable in a philosophic sense, but as a doctor, everything in me says no! … you’re still young and there is so much more that you could do…”  she trailed off and sighed again. 

“So many subtle differences in their culture, all traceable to the fact that they can know the length of their life if they choose … and usually do choose so.  We could spend a lifetime just studying and getting to know the Eebronians.”

“Yes.  And we would only just scratch the surface if we did,” she agreed.  “Does it seem to you sometimes that we just skim through the universe, touching a civilization here, another one there, but not truly getting to know any of them in depth?”

“That is our purpose as explorers.  We make the contacts and find the ways for those who will come after us, and will get to know other civilizations in depth.  Would you really be happy studying just one civilization for the rest of your life?”

Beverly looked at the craggy pink surface that was rapidly approaching on the viewscreen before them.  Dark purple clouds trailed across its surface, and what looked like crystalline growths the size of mountains spread out and sparkled in the sun.  She smiled and wordlessly shook her head at the beauty. 

“And there’s something more spectacular waiting for us in the next solar system.”

“There is?” 

“I’m quite sure.”  He smiled.  “Computer, resume course for Earth.  Warp Nine.  Engage.”

As Eebron disappeared in a blur of lights, Jean-Luc stood up and took Beverly by one hand, pulling her up to stand next to him.  “However long our lives are, you’ve made mine happier now than it ever has been.  I can wish for nothing better than a long life with you, my darling.”  Her smile reflected the same wish back to him, but with a certainty that made him ask, “Beverly, did you … do you …?”

“Would I do that?  Well … yes … and no.”  He rolled his eyes in exasperation, so she continued, “And I may tell you, if you really want to know.  But before we do that … I believe we had an appointment in the holosuite.” 

Comments are closed.