Arms extended in greeting, Jack Crusher stood waiting for them on the tram's main platform. The workers filtered around him, leaving Picard and Beverly a clear path to their friend. He, too, wore a manager's jacket, a large tear showing across the left breast. Beverly had thought about offering to mend the coat for him, but then she realized he had plenty of opportunities with the other women he fancied with his time. "If it isn't my two favorite people in all the universe!" he tried enthusiastically as they stopped in front of him. Nudging Beverly, he added, "Well, at least my one favorite person in all the universe."
"Good morning, Jack."
"And how's the Frenchman today?"
Glancing back at Picard, she said, "The same wonderful person I fell in love with so many years ago."
"Same old grump, eh?"
"You know what they say about 'all work and no play,' Jack."
Comfortingly, he slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Beverly, you know that all you have to do is say the word. I'll be more than happy to take this bum out and take you away from all of this."
Smiling, she playfully slapped a hand onto his chest. "One woman's suitor is another man's grief. Go to work." Again, she looked at her husband. "Both of you."
Quickly, the married couple kissed, and she slipped away into the crowd of workers on their way to their varied destinations. Together, Jack and Picard watched her go, both noticing a rare beauty disappearing amongst the dreary masses.
"Somehow," Jack began, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder, "she makes even that worn out beige uniform look better and better."
Taunting, Picard replied, "I'll bet you used that same charm to win your last three wives."
Jack raised his other hand, clearly signaling a number for his friend.
"That's right," the man said. "For your information, Jenny said 'yes' last night when I proposed."
"Four?" Picard asked again, incredulous. Nodding in the direction of their station, he starting walking, and his friend took up stride beside him. "Really, Jack. Four wives? Are you going for some kind of world record?"
He pulled his hands away and planted them on his waist. "You tell me, Johnny: what else is there to do but while away your free time with welcome members of the opposite sex on this occupied Earth?"
He tilted his head in astonishment. "Couldn't you read? I hear Shakespeare is quite good for the soul."
The man shrugged. "Too much trouble getting approval from the Voronina."
"I'm sure the female contingent of our species would greatly appreciate your giving it a try."
"With wife number four, I think the female contingent of our species is making their opinion of my effort very clear, thank you very much," Jack retorted. "Besides, reading isn't nearly as much fun, and it takes too much mental effort. No, thank you. I'm happy being able to share my life with women."
"Yes, and limiting yourself to just one has proven such a challenge," Picard teased. "If your mother weren't spinning so in her grave, she just might be very proud of you, Jack."
A face moved in the crowd, and Picard recognized it. "Mr. O'Brien!" he called out.
Turning nervously, Miles O'Brien stopped. He studied the crowd, looking for the voice that had called out to him, and he found his commanding officer. Quickly, he smiled, an expression of relief washing over him. He reached out, tapping the arm of the young lady with him, and, together, they trotted over to where Picard had stopped.
"Good morning, sir," Miles offered.
"That it is, Mr. O'Brien," he agreed, "and I'd like to keep it that way. How are the reports of our dig progressing? I'll need to present them to Tussaun Xavius before the day's end."
Excitedly, the man fished in the pocket of his dirty trench, and he produced a small computer, much like Picard's. "I've almost finished cataloguing yesterday's results with the year-to-date data we've been trending. If I might get a few moments off the line this morning, I should be able to have it complete by the lunch break." Nodding at the woman with him, he added, "I would have finished them this morning, sir, but Miss Lefler and I had already arranged to have a bit of morning coffee."
Eagerly extending his hand to the lady, Jack offered, "I don't believe we've met."
Smiling, she took his hand and shook it. "Robin Lefler, sir."
"It's a pleasure to finally meet the man I've heard so much about."
"Oh, please," he said. "The pleasure is all mine."
Smiling much like an innocent child, Robin concurred, "So I hear. No offense intended, sir, but it's a small world after all. I've already been warned to avoid any romantic entanglements with you."
Ignoring the 'Crusher Manuever,' Picard stated, "Very good, Mr. O'Brien. Plan on spending whatever time you can off the line this morning. I need those reports, and I need them accurate as soon as you can get them to me."
"Actually, Johnny," Jack interrupted, "I don't think that you'll be able to pull Mr. O'Brien off the line this morning."
Everyone stared at him.
"I'm sorry, but I thought you'd heard the news?" he asked.
Sighing heavily, Jack explained, "The Earth Opposition Forces staged another assault on Voronina Command very early this morning. They managed to get away with quite a massive amount of copied data from the Voronese mainframe." Smirking at the small group, he added, "I guess this Shadow source really has the Tussaun baffled. She's called a special meeting of all crew chiefs."
"The crew chiefs?" Miles asked, sounding confused. He frowned. "Does the Tussaun actually suspect one of the human leads to be serving as the Shadow informant?"
Shrugging, Jack continued. "I couldn't tell you what Xavius is thinking, Mr. O'Brien. All I know is that the meeting has been called. I've heard that Vorone has dispatched a task force to deal with this latest threat from the E.O.F., and I understand that some efficiency expert has been brought in to meet with certain members of Dig Command." Turning, he gestured at his friend. "I believe you're one of them, Johnny."
Surprised, Picard asked, "Me? What would some ... efficiency expert want with me?"
Dismissing it, Jack waved a hand. "Again, I can only tell you what I've heard. Who knows? It may only be a rumor."
Pursing his lips, Picard briefly considered his options. If he were to be in counsel with Tussaun Xavius, he certainly wouldn't have the luxury of pulling any of his crew from the line. As well, if he were to meet with some 'efficiency expert,' who knows how long the session could last? This was new to Voronina strategy, and he couldn't risk upsetting the balance of power within the excavation ranks.
"Well, this certainly changes the schedule," he remarked. "Mr. O'Brien, I'm afraid I'll have to leave the crew in your capable hands until further notice."
"Once I'm released from the doldrums of staff meetings and an efficiency review, I'll be along shortly."
"Of course, sir."
Smiling, Picard added, "Enjoy your coffee."
"Thank you, sir."
Before the two of them were out of earshot, Jack shouted, "Still a pleasure meeting you, Miss Lefler!"
Her only reply was a girlish smile.
Quickly, Jack took up stride with his friend.
"An efficiency expert?" Picard asked. "What in blazes do we need with an efficiency expert?"
Shaking his head, Jack Crusher laughed heartily. "I'm with you, Johnny. But, while you're with the man, maybe you can find out what all this digging is for."