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Picard knew it was wrong to even have asked the computer to initiate this program again, even if he had had nothing to do with its creation; it had been installed even before he had assumed command. He didn't have a problem with the program in itself, however - the rather spartan cabin with the old-fashioned communicator on the bedside table was rather intriguing.

What was problematic was the fact that the computer had also re-created the cabin's inhabitant, who was sitting on the bed next to him right at this moment.

"You're not really here today," the rather handsome man said.

Picard sighed. "No, I guess not."

"Problems with the Klingons?"

Picard smiled faintly. "No, not exactly."

"The Romulans, then?"


"Then what is it?"

"Nothing. Everything's fine."

The other man knew when to stop asking - he was pretty damn perceptive for a hologram. Sure, he had been created with the original man and his thoughts and ideas in mind, but still.

Picard suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder.

He tensed.

The hand was taken away quickly. "Sorry."

Picard relaxed slightly. "It's alright, I was just... surprised."

"You're not used to being touched by someone," the man said. "I know this all too well. The burden of command. Being the captain of a starship forces you to lead a lonely life."

"Not exactly," Picard replied. "Starfleet no longer has any rules for a captain and his personal life - as long as it remains personal and does not interfere with his or her duty, of course."

"But does it ever remain personal? No matter how hard you try, it will influence you. The captain and the man - as much as we try to, we can't separate them completely."

"One can try."

"I don't think so. I'm sure you've already tried to be close to someone under your command...?"

Picard almost winced.

"Let me guess: It didn't work out."

"No, it did not."

"And why not?"

"I had to send her on a very dangerous mission. It didn't look good. It was more than likely that she would die. She didn't, but when she came back I knew I wouldn't be strong enough to ever do that again."

"That's exactly what I mean," the man said. "You're the one who has to make the tough decisions. You're the one in charge. And being with someone who serves under your command puts yet another burden on you. The problem, however, is not whether you should have a relationship or not - it's whether you can deal with it or not. Many captains just can't. I sure know I couldn't do it either."

Picard nodded slowly. "I guess we have something in common, then."

The man once more put his hand on Picard's shoulder. "We're lonely in a way that only we can understand," he said.

Picard turned his head and looked right into the wonderful blue eyes that he had grown to like so much that he still found it impossible to delete this program.

The younger man smiled and suddenly put his hand on Picard's cheek, caressing it softly. "Maybe we could... find a way for us to be not so lonely anymore."

He leaned forward and kissed Picard.

Picard tensed once more. His mind was reeling - this was taking things too far! This whole situation was going into a direction that was horribly wrong, this was a hologram, after all, nothing more - and, what was even worse, that man had really existed and he would probably have been furious if he had known that he would one day become a holographic character in this sort of program... this was wrong, so wrong... and yet it was also so... right...

Only then did Picard realize that his subconscious mind had already made the decision for him: He was already pulling the hologram closer, almost forgetting about the fact that the man he was kissing was Captain Christopher Pike.

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