Captain's Log, Star Date 14263.1--We are en route as representatives of the Federation for the reconsideration of the planet Ostera V for admission to the Federation. An isolationist society settled many centuries ago, the Osterans agree to meet with a starship once every twenty years, during which time there is a transferral of citizenry in both directions and a reconsideration of their policy. To date, the Osterans continue to maintain their refusal to join the Federation despite our best efforts. We are fortunate indeed to have been selected for this re- evaluation, since it means that we are considered to embody the very best of the Federation.
* * * * *
Ten Forward was busy when Lieutenant William Anderson walked in. He looked around, saw Commander Louis Wainwright, and quickly moved over to his table. They were an odd-looking pair, a stalwart Security Officer and the quieter Science officer. Anderson was tall, blond-haired, good-looking and muscular, the typical Security officer. Wainwright was a few years older, mild-tempered, introspective. Yet he smiled when Anderson sat down.
"Have you spoken with Commander Riker yet?" Wainwright asked.
"Why are you putting it off?" Wainwright asked almost plaintively. "It's not going to be easier for you no matter how long you wait, you know."
"I know." Anderson said, miserably. "I just feel like such a heel, walking out on Starfleet."
"But this is our chance." Wainwright said. "We talked it all out. We have to act now."
"I know." Anderson said.
The door opened and Riker walked in.
"There he is." Wainwright said. "You'll never have a better chance."
"I know." sighed Anderson.
"Want me to come with you?"
"That's all right." Anderson said. "Just be here when I'm done, please."
Anderson walked up to the bar where Riker was smiling at Guinan. "May I speak with you a moment, sir?"
"Yes, Lieutenant?" Riker said.
"Sir, we're arriving at Ostera V soon, you know."
"I'm aware of that, Lieutenant."
"Sir, Commander Wainwright and myself..." he paused.
"We want to join the Osterans, sir."
Riker's eyes widened. "You and Commander Wainwright both?"
"Yes, sir." Lieutenant Anderson said. "We've talked about it, and it's the best thing for us to do."
"You realize that you will resign your commissions and lose all benefits of Federation citizenship? Ostera V doesn't have technology like the Federation, they're at about early 21st Century technology."
"We know that, sir. We want to join them anyway."
"I'll relay your request to the Captain." Riker said, obviously displeased. "We don't want to lose either of you. You can expect him to make an attempt to change your minds."
"Dismissed." Riker turned away from him. Anderson stood a moment more, as if to say something, then turned and walked back.
"Personnel problems, Commander?" Guinan's soft voice asked.
"Did you overhear that?"
"I did." Guinan said.
"I don't understand it." Riker said. "Anderson has always been so dedicated to his work, and Wainwright, in Stellar Cartography. He'll have to give up his career entirely, unless he goes back to, I don't know, telescopes? Radio astronomy?"
"Sometimes people have other priorities." Guinan said. "Look at them."
Riker did. Anderson and Wainwright were talking, and obviously happy, for they suddenly smiled broadly. Wainwright reached up and took Anderson's hands, and they clasped them strongly.
"I'd say that they are content with their choice."
"The Enterprise can spare Anderson." Riker said. "But Commander Wainwright--he's been developing a new theory of pulsar development that has applications for warp technology. The Federation isn't going to want to lose him."
"Maybe the Osterans will join the Federation, and we won't lose them."
"There's always that chance." Riker said, draining his drink in a gulp. "Of course, we have offered them Federation membership every twenty years for the past one hundred and fifty. What makes you think they'll behave differently this time?"
"Maybe it's not them who need to have changed." Guinan pointed out. "Maybe they're looking for changes in the Federation."
"How? We have sexual equality now. Look at those two. Does anyone care that they're two men holding hands?"
"Apparently not." Guinan said.
"So why go join a planet where they've turned that completely around and consider an attraction to the opposite sex as being sick?"
"Maybe that's the reason." Guinan said.
"I'd better go break this news to the Captain." Riker said. "He won't like it any better than I do."
Guinan looked after him, then back to the two men. "I'm sure he won't like it."
* * * * *
Captain Picard and Riker were in dress uniform and going to the Transporter Room. "Set up a meeting with Commander Wainwright. I'll have to squeeze in time to meet with him and with Anderson. If I can convince Anderson to stay, Wainwright will, too, so it'll have to be separate meetings. Damn, this is the toughest contact the Federation has. I don't need this distraction right now."
"Couldn't we just refuse their resignations?" Riker asked.
"That would send a very poor message to the Osterans." Picard said. "We have to convince them that we're completely sympathetic to their point of view."
"I find it a bit hard to be sympathetic to their view." Riker said.
"That is an attitude you need to keep very deeply hidden, Commander." Picard said. "Otherwise, I'll have to replace you during these negotiations."
"Aye, aye, sir."
They walked into the Transporter Room and Picard said, "Captain Picard to the Osteran delegation. We are ready to receive you."
"Six to transport." came the response.
Picard looked at O'Brien, who nodded that he had their lock. "Energizing." Picard said.
A sparkle and the six forms materialized. Three men, three women, as with the other Osteran delegations of the past. But the third male was a youth of perhaps seventeen.
"Greetings, Captain." one of the men said. He was fortyish, and had traces of gray hair, which Riker stared at in dismay. Were they that technologically backward? "I am Orrin of the male Osteran delegation. This is my husband and co-delegate Timbro, and our son, Redek.
The women were dressed almost identically to the men, no feminine cut to their clothing "I am Minda of the female delegation. This is my wife Conna and Evra, our security guard."
"There is no need of guards on this vessel." Picard said. "You are quite safe, here."
"Not the reason for my coming along." snapped Evra. "I hear you have a Klingon on this vessel. Always wanted to meet one. Test their mettle."
Picard raised his eyebrows. "I don't recommend challenging one to a fight."
"Wasn't planning on fighting him. Klingons are now friendly to the Federation, aren't they?"
"Yes, we have a treaty and alliance with the Klingon Empire now."
"Then I want to know how they work, and so do the rest of my people. It's why I'm along."
"I'll inform Lieutenant Worf of your request. We are eager to cooperate."
"And could you assign someone to show my son around the ship?" Orrin said. "He is eager to see a Starfleet vessel. Even talks of joining you. I said it was up to him."
Picard slapped his comm badge. "Wesley Crusher to the Transporter Room. I have a young civilian member who will be happy to oblige."
"Thank you, Captain. Now, if you will show us to the conference room, we can begin."
Wesley walked in the Transporter Room. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Wesley, this is Redek of the Osterans. He would like to see the Enterprise. Would you be so kind as to show him anything he wants?"
"Certainly, sir." Wesley looked at Redek, who smiled shyly. Wesley smiled back. "If you'll come with me. What would you like to see first?"
"Engineering. I'd love to see a warp drive." Redek said.
"I can arrange that." Wesley said.
Redek stepped up and took his arm. "Let's go." He said.
Wesley was startled, pulled his arm away.
"I'm sorry." Redek said. "Did my touch offend you?"
"No." Wesley said. "It's just that we don't walk like that."
"Oh." Redek said. "But I've seen pictures all the time. Of course, they're usually men with women."
"Yes." Wesley said. "Men and women walk like that sometimes."
"But two men don't?" Redek asked.
Wesley shrugged. "If they like each other, they do."
"I like you."
"Uh, we have to like each other more than a little before we walk like that. Even men and women." Wesley said, looking at Picard, who smiled. Just the right thing to say.
"On my world, it's a gesture of friendship." Redek pressed.
Wesley looked at Picard again and said, "Then we'll walk that way." And he offered his arm. Redek took it and they went off.
Worf arrived and Picard sent him off with Evra, who wanted them to beam down to the planet together. Picard wanted to warn Worf about protocol, but didn't dare. Worf was intelligent and knew protocol, anyway. And this woman wouldn't be trying to take his arm, at least!
"Doesn't the Federation believe in two men showing affection, Captain?" Timbro asked as they walked to the convention room.
Picard suddenly realized that they had been given a test. "Of course, but our conventions are different. Young Crusher simply didn't know the Osteran customs, not surprising given the limited contact between Ostera and the Federation. Walking arm-in-arm is not a gesture of casual friendship among our peoples, but that of two people who are in love and making a public declaration of their love."
"I see. Such a dismaying lack of spontaneous physical gestures. Just as before." Minda commented.
"You have to expect it with the combination of sexes." Conna commented. "They must have the most complex rituals for dealing with each other. Far more complex than ours."
"Why more complex?" Timbro asked.
"Because men and women are different. So different that our people chose to split the two but for purposes of procreation. So we need fewer social rituals." Conna elaborated.
"Don't forget as well their history of despising same-sex contacts. I think it must still hold true in their social rituals. Notice how strongly, what was his name, Crusher reacted to my son's touch." Timbro said. "Offended, even. Almost like he'd been bitten by a raptor-worm."
"Crusher was surprised, not offended." Picard chipped in hurriedly.
"Are you saying that facial gestures are different as well, Captain?" Orrin asked. "I saw it, too. Definitely a look of offense."
"Only at the unexpected physical contact." Picard said. "We don't touch each other without permission, and Crusher hadn't extended an offer to be touched."
"Like I said." Conna mentioned. "More complex rituals. So sad. Physical contact is so comforting. Children grow stronger and healthier with a lot of physical contact. It's in all our studies. To grow a healthy child, give him plenty of physical touch throughout the day."
"Our parents are taught the same."
"But the teachers? What about their peers? Are they taught the same?"
"I taught school before entering politics." Orrin said. "Every child spent some time in my embrace each day. I think it helped their concentration to be held while I explained the subject to them."
"Our teachers hug their children sometimes." Riker put in. "Little children especially."
"I taught teenaged boys." Orrin said. "Do your teachers embrace their pupils at that age? Sit them in their lap? Kiss their cheeks? Stroke their backs?"
Riker had to admit not. "We feel that it would distract them from their studies. And that it would confuse the child."
"Confuse them how?"
"A young boy sitting in an adult's lap, being stroked. Doesn't that cause sexual feelings to arise?"
"Sometimes." Orrin said. "What's wrong with that? Attraction to one's teacher is common enough."
"How do you reject such an attraction?" Riker asked.
"How do you reject a physical contact that goes beyond what you're ready for when you're with a, a woman?"
Riker shrugged. "I sort of don't respond. She kisses me, I don't kiss back."
"That's what we do." Orrin said. "So much kinder than to physically push the youth away."
"What if the youth doesn't get the message." Riker asked. "Or if you do feel an attraction?"
Orrin frowned. "Why should any well-adjusted adult feel an attraction for a youth not of legal age? It's easy enough to turn the matter into a time of counselling and direction to another boy in the class. That's how Timbro and I met, a teacher I had a crush on mentioned how Timbro had been looking at me. So I went over and we engaged in a little physical recreation that day and every day after that. Timbro ruined most of my shirts and pants that year with his ejaculations during our classes.
"Only half the stains were mine." admitted Timbro. "The rest were the boy on your other side, you may remember. He liked you, too."
"Are you saying you had sexual relations? In the middle of your class periods?" Riker asked, shocked.
"Of course. Sexual tension is a bar to learning. Release the tension and the mind is ready to learn again. Certainly another student can assist during this process with a little masturbation or oral servicing." Orrin said, surprised. "Do you mean that you sat in a class an entire day without release of sexual tension, even during the years that they run the strongest?"
"Yes." Riker said, blushing beneath his beard, so that his face matched his uniform in color.
"You poor child!" Orrin crooned. "No wonder your people are frightened of physical contact. Repression of the sexual desire for prolonged periods. Why, that must cause high amounts of physical aggressiveness and, and social structures among the peer group, cliques, I believe they were called, taunting of peer members outside the cliques. Why, that explains their mania for organized sports! The chance to touch their own sex, even in an aggressive manner, is better than no touch at all."
"Just like in our books." affirmed Minda. "Do we really need to discuss Federation membership any further?"
"We have many planets in the Federation who have social structures different from our own." Picard said swiftly. "All of their local customs are left unaltered."
"But what happens when one of our people leaves Ostera, say to join Starfleet? Would his customs be honored? Or would he be required to walk about and never touch another crewmember and confine sexual release to proscribed hours of the day, usually at night and usually all alone?" Timbro pressed.
"He would be expected to conform to Starfleet regulations." Riker said.
"That's what I asked." Timbro said. "We have read your regulations."
"Here's the conference room." Picard said desperately.
"I think we need to retire to our quarters instead while we digest what we've learned so far." Orrin said. "Do you agree, Minda?"
"Definitely." Minda said with a scowl on her face. "I already see major bars to Federation membership."
"But surely we can discuss this like rational beings." Picard said.
"That is exactly what we have been doing." Conna put in. "And that is why we see the disagreement. Your very astonishment at our teaching methods shows the gap between our cultures. The only question is whether this gap can be bridged."
"My crewmen will show you to your quarters." Picard gave up. The two ensigns who were assigned to act as gophers were drafted for that duty. Alone, Picard looked at Riker. "Not an auspicious beginning."
"I had no idea." Riker said. "I'm sorry, Captain. They kept asking me questions."
"I don't blame you, Number One." Picard said. "They would have learned this about us soon enough. I just don't understand why this wasn't mentioned in the earlier contact reports."
"Embarrassment among the officers involved?" Riker said. "If they start in playing with each other in the midst of negotiations...."
"You will smile and continue with the negotiations." Picard said. "If you can handle the cultural requirements of alien species, you can handle those of our own species, no matter how outlandish they seem to us."
Picard suddenly thought of Crusher. What was he doing right now?
* * * * *
Crusher felt Redek's arm like a lead weight. God, don't let me run into any of the other kids, he prayed. He wanted the corridors to be empty and guided their walk along the less used corridors.
No good. There was Kyle Thompson. The last one he had wanted to meet. "Hey, Wesley." Thompson said.
"Hello, Kyle." Crusher said despairingly.
"Who's your new friend?" Thompson asked.
"This is Redek of the Osterans." Crusher said. "At the Captain's request, I am giving him a tour of the ship."
"Going to end up in your quarters?" Thompson asked as he looked at their interlocked arms. "A late night rendevous, just the two of you?"
"I'd like that." Redek said ingenuously. Redek's fingers interlaced with Crusher's. "Wesley has been very nice to me."
Wesley squirmed and took his arm away from Redek's. "We're on our way to Engineering. If you'll pardon us, I am showing our guest, here on a diplomatic mission, the warp core."
"Among other things?" leered Thompson. "Going to hug and kiss him while you're at it?"
"I hope so." Redek put in.
Crusher gave up, and dragged Redek along the corridor. Thompson's howls of laughter pursued him down the long hall. Once Crusher had them past the sound, he stopped and said, "What was the big idea of saying all that?"
"I don't know what you mean?" Redek said, hurt.
"About you and me hugging and kissing."
"I just said I hoped we would." protested Redek. "And I do. I like you, Wesley."
Wesley slapped his hand over his face in frustration. "Look, my people have different customs than yours. We don't just declare things like that in public. Not so soon after we've just met, anyway. So could you please not say things like that, or at least wait until we're alone or something?"
"Okay. I'm sorry." Redek said. "Can we see the warp drive now?"
"Okay." Wesley said. Redek's arm grabbed his again and Wesley sighed. The Captain is going to owe me big-time for this one, he decided. Really big-time.
* * * * *
Worf, completely nude, landed on the rock, panting heavily. Evra landed beside him a second later, her body equally bare and glistening with sweat. "Listen.' she hissed. A distant animal yowl.
"I hear it." Worf said. "It is approximately two kilometers away."
Evra shook her head. "The call is deceptive. It's right below us. Listen again."
Worf did. She was right! "There it is!" he pointed to an orange color in the tree below them in the gully.
"Ready for some hunting, Lieutenant?" Evra asked.
"Then let's go!" and Evra dived off the rock and into the tree, landing on the orange color. It fell to the ground with her and Worf could now see the fangs and claws of the mora- beast.
"Come on!" Evra grunted.
Worf dived off the rock to the tree, swung from it like from a parallel bar, and landed on his feet beside them. Hesitated.
"Dive in." Evra panted. "Hurry! He's getting the better of me!"
Worf growled and charged into the fray. After a time they had the mora-beast pinned and Evra, panting, implanted the tag on it. "Ready to release!" Evra said. "He'll run for that tree over there from the look in his eyes. Now!"
Worf released it and the mora-beast did just that, bounding into the tree and from there to another limb, running among the treetops like it was level ground.
"Well, Lieutenant, that's one of them. Three more to tag today. Are you ready?"
"I'm ready." growled Worf. He'd do better with them now that he knew what he was supposed to do.
* * * * *
Evening, and Picard had managed to pull his wits together for the diplomatic dinner. He walked in and checked the arrangements. By his request, Anderson was there as part of the honor guard, and Picard gestured him over. "Lieutenant, I would appreciate the chance to speak with you."
"I'm choosing this location because it's less formal than my office. I understand that you and Commander Wainwright are resigning so that you may join the Osterans."
"Yes, sir." Anderson said.
"May I ask why?" Picard asked.
"Sir, I don't know if I can explain it, exactly."
"Is it a problem with the crewmembers because of your relationship with each other?"
"No, sir." Anderson said. "Everyone has been very nice about it."
"Then what do the Osterans offer that the Federation can't offer?"
"I'm not sure I can put it into words for you, sir."
"They offer--they offer the chance to be just like everyone else. Not just accepted, not just tolerated, but approved. Encouraged. The chance to be in the majority, rather than a minority that everyone seems to wish didn't exist. The chance to be exactly what everyone wants you to be."
"Has anyone made you feel unwelcome aboard the Enterprise?" Picard said. "You are both valuable members of the crew. I hate to lose either of you, and now I'm losing both of you if I submit your resignations. I will, but I wanted to speak to each of you first."
"Go ahead and submit it, sir." Anderson said. "We're not changing our minds. On Ostera, Lou and I can walk down the street holding hands and know that everyone knows exactly why we're doing it. No funny looks, no questions just out of curiosity, no children pointing and giggling at the two funny men. In the Federation, everyone is nice about it, but they just don't understand. On Ostera, everyone will understand. I can't put it any better than that."
"I learned something very unusual about the Osterans today. May I tell you about it?"
"Yes, sir." Anderson said.
Picard related the conversation with the Osterans earlier that day. "So if you two have sons, and I presume you intend to, you can expect them to be touched by their teachers and sexually fondled by their classmates, all the way through their class years. I wondered how you felt about that."
Anderson got a faraway look in his eyes. "Being held and touched. I'm thinking of my own school years. My mother and father hugged me sometimes, but I always wanted more. As a teenaged boy, of course, you aren't supposed to want such things, but I did. I didn't know any other gay boys when I was growing up. And I was too shy to ask a counselor to help me find some groups or anything. Some days, looking at the guys hugging and kissing their girlfriends, I'd get so hungry to be touched like that, that I wished I were dead. Instead, I joined the football team and settled for tackling the other boys instead of hugging and kissing them. It helped, some." Anderson looked at Picard. "About your question, sir, I have to say that I like the idea just fine. Wish I'd grown up that way."
Picard got uncomfortable. "I don't think I would have enjoyed that at all."
"Like I said, sir." Anderson pointedly said. "On Ostera, everyone will understand. May I return to my post now, sir?"
"Yes. Dismissed." Picard looked after the tall Security Guard. Wondered what it would have been like, the two of them in an Osteran school, maybe in the middle of a dull class time reaching for each other. What would it be like to have had sex in the middle of your school day? A teacher that not only clapped you on the back, but would wrap his arms around you and kiss you and tell you what a wonderful student you were. And the erections that constantly plagued the early teen years, to have those taken care of as they rose up. Picard remembered squirming through class after class, unable to concentrate on the teacher's lectures because of the living thing in his pants. If he could have taken it out and jerked it right then? Would he have done better in class?
But he'd always done well in class. Throw himself into his school work hard enough, and he could forget that...that he had wanted someone to hug him right then and nobody around him would. There were the girls at lunchtime to hug and kiss and he remembered dating some girls just to be able to do the lunchtime hug-and-kiss game.
Picard squared his shoulders. Time again to talk to the Osterans. He wondered if admitting his feelings might help the negotiations? But he pushed that thought down. To use this, he'd have to actually admit it to someone else and you just don't do that. Ever.
Maybe he'd have better luck talking to Wainwright. He'd offer to marry the two as a send-off to Ostera. Maybe that would convince them that the Federation cared.
* * * * *
Wesley was in his quarters, squirming uncomfortably as he got ready for the reception. Redek had insisted on staying with him the entire day. Even dragged Wesley with him to his room while he got ready, then back with Wesley and was now watching Wesley like a hawk as Wesley had showered (Wesley had had to wear his briefs into the shower and shuck them there, then reach for a bathrobe while holding the door carefully ajar; Redek had followed him into the bathroom! Wesley had feared he would want to share the shower, but he hadn't tried that.
Wesley kept the bathrobe on while he pulled on his trousers then took it off.
"You get dressed funny." Redek commented.
"What do you mean?"
"You try to avoid being nude as much as possible." Redek said.
Wesley smiled. "That's just because you're here. I'm not comfortable being unclothed around strangers."
"Really? Why is that?"
Wesley looked. "You really don't know?"
"No. Am I that much a stranger to you? We spent the entire day together, you know."
"I know." Wesley said feelingly.
"So why are you still bashful around me?" Redek said, getting up. Wesley had reached for his t-shirt and felt it removed from his hands. "I really like you, Wesley." Redek said. "I meant what I said to your friend, that I hoped you and I could hug and kiss later. It's later, now."
Wesley stepped away, faced Redek. "I don't know what you mean." he said.
"I mean, let's be a little late for the reception. Maybe not go at all. We could stay here and have some fun, just the two of us." Redek said as his hand reached for Wesley's nearly- hairless chest, rubbed it. "You have a nice body, Wesley."
"Thanks." Wesley said, stepping back again.
"What's wrong?" Redek said as he stepped to close the gap again. Wesley tried to step back further, but bumped the wall. He couldn't go any further. "You want to, don't you?"
"Want what?" Wesley panted.
Redek smiled, and Wesley found his crotch being groped by Redek's wandering hands. "I mean, you have a little problem here. I got a problem just like it. Want to take care of our little problems, Wesley? I'd like to, with you."
"Uh, no, don't!" Wesley said.
"Why not?" Redek said, stepping back.
"We're not supposed to." Wesley said. "It's wrong."
"How is it wrong?"
"It's, it just is. Two guys aren't supposed to touch each other like this."
"But I thought you allowed it in the Federation these days."
"We do! We can."
"Are you saying that you don't want to do it with me? Is something wrong with me? You don't like how I look? Or how I act? Then why are you still hard, Wesley?"
Wesley looked down at his traitor cock. "It just gets that way sometimes."
"I know." Redek said. "Common problem at our age. So when it comes up, you get a friend to take care of it for you. I'm your friend, Wesley. Please let me take care of you. I want to."
Redek rubbed his own groin and Wesley followed the moving hand with his eyes, unable to look anywhere else. "Come on, Wesley. Why not?"
"Uh, look!" Wesley said desperately. "We don't do things like that. I like you, but I don't want your hands on me any more, okay? Just don't touch me any more."
Redek looked very hurt. "Okay. You don't have to go with me to the reception. I'll go by myself."
"Thank you." Wesley grinned with relief. He was off the hook!
Redek bit his lips and turned and walked out. In the corridor, he stopped, unsure of where to go. Ask a crewman. Ah, here was Wesley's friend. What was his name? Kyle. "Hello, Kyle." he said.
"Hello." Thompson said. "Aren't you going to the reception?"
"I was going with Wesley, but he didn't want to go. Would you go with me to the reception instead?"
"Uh, sure." Thompson said. "But I'm not dressed."
Redek walked over and took his arm. "Then let's go to your quarters and get you dressed."
"All right." Thompson smiled. Not a mean smile. The smile of someone who has been alone all his life, but now had found a real friend at last.
* * * * *
Worf and Evra sat at the campfire, still nude. Worf looked at her body, wondering that he didn't find it in the least attractive. He liked Evra, liked her a lot. She was a Klingon woman in many ways. Why didn't he find her body attractive, then?
Because she didn't find him attractive. They were friends and nothing more. Worf tasted this concept, a woman who was a friend and nothing more. Decided he liked it, especially a strong woman like this one.
"Enjoy yourself today, Worf?" Evra asked him as she skewered the meat over the spit, and then put it over the flames.
"A great deal." Worf said. "Why are you tagging these beasts?"
"The tag activates a ward. Prevents them from getting near our fields or our cattle and such. They're an aggressive animal, it was do this or kill them all off."
"Then why did we hunt them nude?"
Evra grinned. "The thrill of the hunt. The chance to tackle a creature on its own terms and come out the winner. I'd had those four on my plate for months, worried that they'd move to human-held grounds before I could find someone willing to go with me to hunt them down. I could have done it by a rifle and tranquilizer darts, but I enjoy it like this. Not to mention that I teach the mora-beasts that humans are better left alone. They get the smell of a human in their brains along with the taste of defeat, and after that, they don't think about pouncing on little children who took off their wards because they itched or something."
Worf nodded. "You permit the mora-beast to retain its honor."
"Never thought about it that way, but you're right. I give it the chance to defeat me and when it loses, it keeps its own sense of self-worth. I like that. You're an interesting person, Worf. Are all Klingons like you?"
"More or less." Worf said. "My people believe in honor above all else."
"Strong, too. Mind if I ask you a strange question?"
"Not at all."
"Would you give me a child?"
Worf was startled. "Now?"
"Oh, I'm not lecherous or anything right now." Evra shrugged. "But while I want a daughter, I want to choose the male who will give it to me. Someone strong, and with a sense of the rightness of fighting a mora-beast on its own terms."
Worf gulped. "Very well. But humans have been known to be damaged making love to a Klingon."
"Making love?" Evra said as she pulled out a turkey baster. "What do you mean?"
Worf considered the odd implement, and sighed. "Never mind. This would be safer."
"Thanks." she said, taking off the bulb and handing it to him. "Fill this up for me, please? Need some privacy?"
* * * * *
Picard was talking with the Osterans when Ensign Karen Thompson came up to him, furious. "Captain, I have to talk to you at once!" she said.
"Certainly. If you'll excuse me."
"They might as well hear it, too!" Thompson said. "Their son is involved in it."
"What is wrong? Has something happened to Redek?" Timbro asked, worried.
"No! I went to my quarters not ten minutes ago. I heard some noises from my son's room. I walked in and my son Kyle and your son were," she paused, "oh, I almost can't say the words, even. They were having sexual intercourse."
"Yes." Orrin said. "This son of yours, how old is he?"
"He just turned seventeen! Captain, this Osteran boy seduced my son. I know the Federation would like the Osterans to join but this is something I just cannot tolerate!"
"Are you saying my son forced his attentions on your son?"
"No!" Thompson said. "But, but Kyle is too young for sex. And certainly not with, with...."
"With what?" Orrin said, beginning to get angry.
"Really, now, let's talk about this calmly." Picard tried.
"I don't want to be calm! You keep your son away from Kyle, do you hear me?" And Ensign Thompson turned around, to find her son and Redek there beside her. Both had dressed quickly, Picard noted, and young Thompson's face was flushed. "Kyle, what are you doing here? I ordered you to stay in your room and for that, that young man to get away from you!"
"Mother," Kyle said. "Please! I have to talk to you!"
"I'm not interested in talking right now. You go back to your room and you think about what you've done. I'm ashamed of you, Kyle Thompson. If your father were alive to see you right now, he'd be ashamed of you, too!"
"Well, I'm not ashamed!" Kyle raged back at her. She stepped back, confused. "Mother, get used to the idea. I have. I'm attracted to other men. I've been hiding it from you and everyone else for as long as I can remember, but I'm tired of hiding it and you're going to have to get used to it!"
"Kyle, darling, we can talk about this later!"
"There's nothing to talk about." Kyle said. "I want to go to Ostera with Redek. He says I can stay with him and his family until I'm ready to start my own place."
"Of course you can!" Orrin smiled benevolently. "We'd be happy to have you."
"Well, forget it. My son is not going to Ostera. He's too young. I'll send you to live with my parents and you can think about it some more."
"I'm not going to wait another twenty years." Kyle said. "I've been thinking about it ever since I heard about Ostera. This is too good a chance to pass up. I can go and live with my own kind."
"We are your own kind." his mother said, her anger turning to fear.
"No." Kyle said. "You're not. I don't think you don't love me or anything, but the fact is that I just don't belong here. I've felt out of place for as long as I can remember. I can go to a place where everyone is just like me."
Picard groaned to himself. These words were horribly familiar to him.
Kyle turned to Captain Picard. "Captain, I want to submit a petition for legal emancipation."
Picard was surprised. "But a hearing on that can take a long time."
"Not if you hear it as judge pro tem." Kyle said. "I've read up on this. I was going to talk to you about it tomorrow. But I ran into Redek outside Wesley's room and we got to talking and he invited me to this reception as his guest since Wesley didn't want to go. So we went back to my room so I could change and then, well, things happened. Then my mother burst in and began ordering me around. She's always treated me like I was five years old. I'm tired of it and I want to be my own man. Please, Captain, this is my only chance for twenty years. Don't make me wait until I'm nearly forty!"
Picard looked at the Osterans. "We'll be in this system for another two weeks, while we transfer colonists in both directions. I'll give you ten days to change your mind. If you don't, then I'll hear the petition at that time. Fair enough? Just talk to your mother during that time."
"Yes, Captain." Kyle said. "But I won't change my mind."
"Now if you'll forgive me, I need to try to repair the enormous hole you have just placed in the negotiations."
"There's nothing left to negotiate." Orrin said. "I'm so sorry, Captain, but it is obvious to us that attitudes have not yet changed enough to warrant our joining the Federation. We'll be leaving the ship tomorrow morning, if you don't mind."
"Can I stay here?" Redek said. "Kyle can stay in our quarters while he waits for his petition to be heard."
"Captain!" Ensign Thompson protested.
Picard cut her off. "A separation of residence is typical during a hearing for legal emancipation." he said. "And much as a mother may want, she can't prevent her child from growing into a man. These two can share the quarters if that's their choice. And if you approve of your son staying behind as a guest of the Federation?" he turned to the Osterans.
"My son is old enough to make his own choices." Orrin said. Timbro nodded.
"I choose to stay." Redek said. "With Kyle."
"Let's go back to my quarters and pack my things." Kyle said. They left, arm-in-arm, while Ensign Thompson walked behind them, impotent and helpless.
"If you will forgive me, I feel the need to visit Sickbay." Picard said. "I find I have a slight headache."
"Of course, Captain." Orrin said.
"I'm sorry the negotiations have been a failure." Timbro said. "We keep hoping that things will change, and maybe they will, some day. Until then, we will continue to accept the people you don't want. Plenty of room left on our world still."
Picard turned and there was Guinan. "Came to the reception after all?" he asked her.
"Thought I'd take a peek at how things were going."
"Very badly, if you ask me."
"I wouldn't say that." Guinan said. "I saw one success tonight."
"Young Thompson. For as long as I've known him, he's never smiled. Oh, mean smiles when he's making fun of someone, but never a big, happy, I-love-the-entire-universe smile. He's got that smile on his face right now. That's one, big success. I was worried about him."
"I have bigger problems to worry about." Picard said.
"You can't change how people are." Guinan said. "Unless you do it one person at a time. Maybe you should start with Karen Thompson."
"How do I do that?" Picard said. "She's losing her son to the Osterans. He's abandoning her to join them. He's seventeen years old. I'm not going to have any grounds to refuse his petition, you know. The mere fact he's making it is enough proof, it's up to his mother to prove it shouldn't be granted. And how will she do that? Maybe he'll change his mind."
"Did Anderson and Wainwright change their minds?"
"No. They want to go be among their own kind, they've all said. But we are all humans. We are their own kind."
"They don't seem to think that's enough." Guinan said.
"To walk down the street hand-in-hand and not have the children laughing at the two funny men." Picard mused. "That's what Ostera can offer them that the Federation can't."
"So now you know where to begin fixing the Osteran problem."
"I do? Where?"
"With the children." Guinan said. "As long as they laugh when they're young, they'll think it's wrong when they're older. Change that, and you'll have the Osterans in the Federation in no time at all."
"How do I change the attitudes of the children, Guinan? Pardon me. I have to go to Sickbay." Picard said. "My little headache just became a big one."
Guinan looked after Picard as he left. Orrin asked her. "How would you change the attitudes of the children, Guinan?" he asked her. "And by the way, it's nice to see you again. When are you visiting our planet again?"
"Soon." Guinan promised.
"So how would you fix the Federation's problem with the children?"
"By working on the parents."
"Working on them how?"
"When they were children."
"You're talking in circles." Orrin pointed out.
"Yes, I know." Guinan said. "And that's the real problem."
* * * * *
Captain's Log, Stardate 14267.4. We are about to leave orbit after failing once again to convince the Osterans to join the Federation. Lieutenant Worf is the only one of us leaving this system with happy memories; it seems he enjoyed his shore leave on the planet tremendously. For the rest of us, we carry much less happy memories.
* * * * *
Captain Picard walked to the Transporter Room to see off the last four people beaming down to Ostera. Anderson, Wainwright, Thompson and Redek. Ensign Thompson was there, resigned and quiet, but present.
As they stepped onto the transporter pad, she called out, "Kyle, please, don't go!"
"I have to, Mother." Kyle said. "I'm sorry. I'll miss you. And I love you."
"I'll come back in twenty years."
"I'll visit you then." Kyle said. "Even have a son or two to show you."
"I want at least three." Redek said.
"Make that three." Kyle said, taking Redek's hand. Ensign Thompson looked at their hands with barely disguised loathing, and Kyle let go. "I'm sorry, Mother."
"Good luck, Thompson, Anderson, Wainwright. I hope you're happy on Ostera. If not, then we'll welcome you back again. You're always welcome back to the Federation, you know."
"I wish that were true." Wainwright said. "But the fact is, everyone is just a little happy to get rid of us, I think."
"It does feel that way." Anderson admitted. "They don't have to look at us holding hands any more."
"Thank you, Captain." Kyle said. "Tell Wesley I'm sorry he missed saying good-bye."
Wesley came in the door. "I made it." he said, panting.
"Wesley, thanks for coming." Kyle said. "I just wanted to apologize for all the times I made fun of you. I was a real jerk. I only did it because I wanted so much to take you in my arms and hold you and kiss you." Wesley flushed bright red. "I know." Kyle continued. "I knew you wouldn't want anything like that. So I made fun of you, so you wouldn't see how much I wanted you. Good luck, Wesley. I hope you find the girl you're looking for some day."
"Thanks, Kyle." Wesley said.
"Ready to beam down." Wainwright said firmly.
"Good luck, all of you."
"Good-bye, son! I love you!"
"We're sorry, Captain." Anderson said as the transporter beam caught them. A second later, there was nothing left of the four.
"Yes." Picard said. "I'm sorry, too." He turned to Wesley. "Well, let's get back to work."
"Yes, sir." Wesley said. And the two men walked out the door. Not touching, not holding hands.
Just like they wanted it.