Q de Gras (Chapter 10: It’s a Bee-U-tiful Life!)

 

Chapter 10:
It’s a Bee-U-tiful Life!
(Stardate: 42965.4)

1

With nothing more that could be done for Jer at the time, life returned to normal: Jer went back to school, having missed a good week already for his stage show, and the Vibroniques and transporter experiments. He needed to get caught up, but also, as Counsellor Troi was wise to point out, sitting around all day with nothing else to do but ponder the failed medical procedures would benefit no one and nothing.

U, also with nothing else to do, enjoyed his time walking Jer to his class each morning, after which he went back to work with Bo in his office. Their goal at present: solve the mystery of the “pre-note,” a seemingly meaningless or nonsense “term” that, thus far, preceded every Calliphlox speech of significant length, but which also appeared to be unintelligible, regardless of the length of the speech.

Bo had discovered the pre-note just before U began working on Jer’s stage show. He had made some progress, but nothing that solved the mystery, and the bad news was that they were running out of time, with only two weeks remaining before the Enterprise arrives at Alpha Onias II. They needed to have this translation matrix ready to implement before then, but this puzzle so impeded their progress that the time remaining seemed significantly less than enough.

In the last few days, Bo had discovered that pre-note could not translate directly to any actual word in the Calliphlox language because there was too much variation in pitch from example to example. Two pitches translated as “pre-note” were a perfect sixth apart, while another two, still translated by the computer as “pre-note,” were one-fifth of a semitone apart, but, all told, Bo had noted some 20 different pitches thus far that translated as “pre-note.”

“That’s like having twenty words in English that have some translatable meaning and yet have no meaning at all and all at the same time. Now, how the jibberty-jabberty boo do you explain that?” Bo demanded and then laughed.

They began to consider that perhaps the pre-note was simply a glitch in their recordings. Perhaps, then, it is nothing at all. That theory was supported by their attempts to run the recording through what was available thus far of the translation matrix once with and then again without the pre-note; either way, the remaining words in the speech remained nonsense—precisely the same nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. Ultimately, however, Bo and U concluded that the consistency of the use of a pre-note precluded the possibility of it being a glitch of either the recording or computer.

No, the pre-note had to carry meaning for the Calliphlox, but how or what remained a mystery, and the ticking chronometer wasn’t helping matters in the least. For nearly two full days they tried everything they could think of. Then they put their computers on it; they consulted other crew members, consulted with the captain and his staff, and still no progress.

In the afternoons after school, Jer came to Bo’s office to see U, and a couple of times he fell asleep there. Other days, U and Jer spent their evenings catching up with Chief O’Brien and felt strongly encouraged that there might be a break in the transporter idea for them to try. Bo, U and Jer celebrated that tidbit one evening in Ten-Forward for dinner, but shortly after the meal, Jer went to bed. U found out the next morning that, not only had Jer slept through from just after dinner to his wake-up call, but that he nearly slept through the call.

 

2

Captain’s Personal Log: Stardate 4296.2:
Jeremy McKee’s health is visibly waning. He is pale; he is easily fatigued, physically weakened, and, from what I have been told, becoming sickly in other respects as well. He remains somewhat optimistic with a good, positive attitude and outlook, but the boy is no slouch when it comes to reading the proverbial writing on the wall. He does as much as he can each day, dividing his time between resting and doing the activities that he so enjoys, but resting is quickly becoming the predominant “activity” of his day. It is all I can do to keep myself from mourning him prematurely. He had so recently been so vital, but now he is lethargic by comparison, and it pains me to see him so. It is now just shy of two weeks from our attempt with the transporter, and all that it demonstrates is how quickly time is running out. On the whole, it is a devastating encounter.
My friend, Commodore Molitor, is on his way to the Enterprise from the Saratoga via long-range shuttle and will arrive in a few days. I should be looking forward to his company, but I am not! Not anymore. I hope that he is looking forward to my company. I certainly hope that I can be a source of strength for him. With that in mind, his visit is more than welcome, so that I may be of service, but it will be hard for me to maintain my own professional bearing that I shall need if I am to be a source of support; the man has suffered so much. Now we both are; both of us haunted and daunted by looming prospects of what appears to be pending reality. The commodore is my friend, but how small of a friend I feel for him is something I cannot easily express if I am to maintain a professional detachment for the sake of this record, so I won’t. I have failed my friend. Say what you will of effort, the effect is the same: I have failed him, and that thought gnaws at me.
Chief O’Brien continues to work with Lt. La Forge on transporter III, and they are both convinced that they are onto something that will be able to save the life of young Jeremy McKee. That’s all well and good if they can reach their goal in time, but time is now a very precious commodity where Jeremy’s life is concerned, and I am beginning to believe that we are less than wealthy in the currency of time.
Dr. Pulaski and her team are stymied and not inappropriately frustrated. I have recently instructed them to back off in their efforts, in the hopes that less tension might lead to a breakthrough. I would like to state for the record that Dr. Pulaski and her team, as well as Lt. La Forge and his team, have worked to such a degree of dedication and devotion that they must all be put in for a commendation.

3

U had all but moved into Jer’s living room area, which turned out to be a good thing. Even while Jer slept much of each day, it had become increasingly difficult for him to function during his waking hours. Getting himself a meal out of the replicator took so much of his energy that he had trouble eating when he did. As a result of this and other issues, U had become something of a nanny, and he was genuinely glad to be of service. Even though he left Jeremy to work with Bo when Jer was sleeping, he had the computer keep tabs on his young friend so that he would be alerted if Jer got into trouble. He came back in the noon and evening hours to prepare meals for Jer and himself, to wake him to have him eat, wash up, maybe take a walk or work on a painting. In fact, even though he had already given up working on his sleight of hand by this time, before he became so very languid, Jer was able to complete all of his paintings—“No ‘unfinished works’ left behind from me,” he had boasted.

There were some evenings when Jer had the energy to sit up and look at the stars with U. They enjoyed pointing out the various things they saw in the celestial patterns and talking about them. U grew to be quite adept at seeing the patterns, which made stargazing all the more fun for Jer. But usually, Jer would go back to bed after eating, and such was U’s routine for a number of days, although one evening when Jer found himself with a surprising surplus of energy, he sat beside U on the sofa in his quarters. “We need to talk,” he said.

U had been reading from a padd, brushing up on some of the literature that he had left for “another time” when the Enterprise picked him up out of his prison cell. He finished the sentence he was on, marked his place with a visual reminder, then set the padd down, giving Jer his undivided attention. “I’m game. What shall we talk about?”

“U, I’m not so young that I haven’t known people who have died. I have. And I’ve seen the way people behave when they’re with someone who knows that he’s going to die.”

U coughed and shifted uncomfortably. He found himself wondering if Jer was surrendering. If he was going to decline any future treatments, were they to come available, but he wasn’t sure if he should take on a scolding tone or simply agree, but Jer continued: “Now, I’m not throwing in the towel or anything, U, but let’s face it: If there is no eleventh-hour miracle or no breakthroughs with Dr. Pulaski or Lt. La Forge, or something like that …” He stopped, realizing that there were simply too many possibilities, too many alternate outcomes at present for him to list them all. He chose a different route in his discussion: “If nothing comes along to change things dramatically for me, it’s pretty clear that I am going to die … and pretty soon. Would you say that that’s an accurate assessment?”

U’s eyes welled up with tears, and he let slip one clear sob. “Well, yes, I’d have to say that you’re right on the money with that,” U stammered, blinking tears away.

Jer gave no indication of even noticing U’s tears. His eye contact, his voice and his articulation remained constant. “When people come around someone who knows he’s dying, it’s like they’re afraid of saying something that might remind that person of his death, when it’s probably the thing that’s most on his mind.”

“It’s true,” U agreed. “People get very uncomfortable with what to say and what not to say,” he wiped one eye, “and they forget that the person is still a friend with all the same willingness to forgive a small faux pas.”

“Is there anything like that with the Q?” Jer asked.

“Actually, there is, believe it or not. There have been members of the Continuum who have died or who have even been suicidal, but the funny thing is, even though it’s quite rare, it’s worse among the Q than it is among mortals. In fact, the peculiarity of it makes it all the more disquieting for us.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“You have to remember that the Q consider themselves to be omnipotent and omniscient. Arrogance like that, when it’s brought low by something as humbling as death, when you realize that something you had considered to be beneath you can actually surprise and overpower you … well, the Q around you begin to think of you as weak and not very bright. When you become so powerful that you dare to consider yourself to be a god, then something so mundane as mortality becomes all the more humiliating.”

“Well,” Jer said then yawned, “I hope that I’m not that stuck on myself. The good thing about being mortal and knowing it is that you can die and still be dignified. And I intend to do all I can to laugh and joke and think about all the fantastic things in Sto-vo-Kor, and, to be perfectly honest, U, I would much prefer to be able to talk about it.”

“Sto-vo-kor?” U asked.

“Yes. The Klingon Afterlife.”

“I see,” U smiled. “You intend to convert. Learn to speak Klingonese?”

“Nah. It’s just fun to be able to talk to Worf about it because he’s not afraid of it,” Jer said with whatever gusto was available for him. “I just want to see my parents again.”

U smiled. It was a smile of understanding, of pride, of compassion and of assurance. “I believe that you will, Jer,” he said.

“I know that it may seem contradictory of me. I mean, I don’t want to die. I really don’t. I want to live and paint and perform. I want to have a girlfriend, U. I haven’t even had my first kiss yet.” He looked away for a moment, considering sharing something very deep. “Y’know what I want really badly?”

“No. Tell me.”

“I want to be able to show my parents how glad I am to have been their child by raising my kids the same way they did me, only, now they’d never even see it.”
“You don’t know that.”

Jer nodded. “I know. I guess. I’m just full of contradictions. I want to be with my parents, which is kinda’ like saying I want to die, but I don’t want to die, either. But the idea of going on without them is something that I’m not sure I can handle for long.” He stopped again and breathed a sigh. “I guess I’m just full of contradictions,” he complained again.

After a moment, U offered a degree of comfort: “I doubt that you’re the first person who is torn between wanting to live and yet wanting to be reunited with loved ones, even if that means dying.”

Jer pondered that thought a moment, then smiled sheepishly. “No,” he admitted, “I suppose not.”

 

4

That was one conversation the two shared, but the conversations, the walks, the meals all ended abruptly when Jer, kindly putting his dinner dishes back into the replicator one evening, collapsed. U ran to him and felt for a pulse, which he found, then pressed the comm button on the replicator and called for an emergency medical beam out directly to sickbay. Less than two seconds later, U and Jer materialized in the middle of the deck in sickbay, and four nurses and Dr. Pulaski herself immediately accosted Jer. They got him onto a biobed and promptly and professionally attended to him while U watched from a distance. He looked in an undefined upward direction and said in barely audible vocalizations, “Q, if you can hear me, if you’re willing to do something to help my young friend, I beg of you to do so. I promise that I’ll make it easy on you. Send me back to prison; lock me up inside a comet, anything, but please help.”

He paused and watched the medical staff working frantically over Jer’s languishing body, and his eyes welled up. As he blinked, the tears over-poured their banks and toppled downward. He began to breathe heavily, nearly hyperventilating so that when he felt the dizziness come upon him, he leaned forward, palming his legs just above the knees and forced himself to slow his breathing. Then he called out again, this time in Continuum-eze, but in that same barely discernible voice, “I call out to the being I met so very far away from here. I am convinced that you can hear me, and I know that there’s a part of you that is nearby. I beg of you to please do a work of healing for my friend. He is young and so very capable. I ask you to please take me and leave him to live a long, full life here with the people who love him.”

There was, of course, no audible response, and yet, from deep within his mind, the words that this entity had shared with U forced themselves forward unbidden in his mind: “‘Some things that are, simply are what they are meant to be.” And the words repeated themselves: “‘Some things that are, simply are what they are meant to be.” And U began to cry quietly, but with no restraint otherwise.

Moments later, Picard entered and took up a position near U who acknowledged the Captain but did not engage him in conversation. Picard offered, “Dr. Pulaski called me from the Bridge after your emergency call, U. I came down right away.” U nodded, and Picard said no more while Dr. Pulaski and her team worked for Jeremy’s benefit. After many minutes, Dr. Pulaski left her nurses to complete what they were doing so that she could report to her captain and U.
“He’s stable,” she said, “but I’m afraid that he doesn’t have a lot of time.” She turned to regard her nurses and their persistent, passionate effort, then her eyes dropped to the floor before she turned back. “There’s nothing else to be done, Captain.” Her own eyes began to well up with tears, but she hid it quite well. “I am sorry,” she said.

“Is he conscious?” Picard asked.

“Not at present, Captain, but I surmise that he’ll sleep for a time and will wake again, at which time, I think it would be wise for U to be here.”

U was listening to every word. He stood with his left arm supporting his right elbow while that hand was covering his chin. He nodded emphatically, “I’m not going anywhere!”

“Doctor,” Picard said, “is the Vibroniques equipment still available?”

“Yes, Captain. It’s just been stored.”

“Are you and your staff able to set it up?”

“Certainly.”

“Do it. I’ll have Geordi and the Chief join you. I want to talk to those protozoans one more time while Jeremy is asleep. How long will you require?”

Pulaski arched her eyebrows and shook her head. “Now that we’ve used it once, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, with Geordi’s help.”

“Make it so, Doctor.” Pulaski got the attention of two nurses and departed for the equipment. Picard tapped his comm badge: “Picard to La Forge.”

“Go ahead, Captain.”

“Geordi, I want you and Chief O’Brien to report to sickbay on the double. Jeremy McKee has collapsed and is currently unconscious, and I want one more opportunity to talk with those protozoans.”

“We’re on our way, Sir.”

Seconds later, Pulaski and two nurses returned wheeling in the Vibroniques unit and placed it near Jeremy’s biobed so that the main instrument was poised over his torso. They stripped the upper half of his body and began gluing electrodes to his chest, in the same areas they had been attached before. Moments later, Geordi and the Chief entered with their own equipment, and, without any formal greetings, began setting it up. Despite the close quarters in which they worked, the two teams—medical and engineering—worked cooperatively, swiftly and efficiently together. All the equipment was set up and warming up in moments. Geordi said, “Captain, everything is connected. We’re just waiting for the equipment to warm up and boot up. It should be about thirty seconds.”

“Excellent, Geordi,” Picard said. He moved over to U and placed a compassionate hand on his shoulder.

Less than twenty seconds later, Geordi said, “The U. T. is all tied in, Captain, You are a go.”

This time speaking from sickbay, beside U, Picard opened his dialogue, “This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard speaking to the life forms within this body.”

After a significant time lag, the protozoans responded. “Again with you,” they accused, but now with more hostility and less naïveté.

“Yes. I wish to prevail upon your compassion and sense of decency.”

“There is no need for your appeal. We have made our choice.”

Picard’s voice softened. “The boy you inhabit is dying,” he warned. “He has very little time left. You … have very little time. Do you understand?”

“We understand.”

“Is there nothing I can offer you? Nothing I can say to change your minds on this?”

“This body is our world; our world is our home. If we leave our home, it is no longer home.”

“I can still offer you a new home,” Picard insisted, turning to regard U intently as he spoke.

“A new home is not our home. There is no further need for discussion.”

“Wait!” Picard said. “There is another here who is especially fond of the boy you inhabit. May he speak with you?” U’s and Picard’s eyes locked, and U nodded in understanding and accession.

There was a time of silence.

“Please!” Picard said.

“We will hear this other one of you.”

Picard again tapped U on the shoulder, and Picard nodded encouragingly. “My name is U,” he said. “The person in whose body you reside is very dear to me. I understand that his body is your home, but it is also his home, and if you remain, you will leave him without a home; he will die as surely as you will. And you will be hurting not only the boy but me as well. I implore you: please vacate his body for the boy’s sake, for your sake and for my sake, too. Everyone will benefit.”

The was another long silence. U kept his eyes focussed on the floor, a fist covering his pursed lips, while Picard paced. All of sickbay stood silent. Finally, they spoke again. “We are not without compassion,” they said and hope suddenly flooded the room. “We, too, have come to know love and loss and sorrow. Many of us have been taken by the slowing of the boy’s body, and we know that pain. It was new to us, but we have come to understand it.”

“Will you comply?” U asked, desperation filling his voice.

The usurpers continued: “We have come to understand that the beginning and the ending are part of life. We understand that, like those who have been claimed, we all will be claimed. It saddens us even as it saddens you.”

After another pause, U interjected, “Yes?”

“Sadness is pain. Unpleasant. And we know it for all of us who are now gone. We do not like it, and we wish no more of it.”

During another pause, everyone in sickbay wondered which direction the protozoan discourse was taking. Did they agree to vacate Jeremy’s body to avoid more pain? That’s what everyone thought they were saying, but it was still vague. They waited. Finally, the protozoans spoke again. “If we left our home—left the boy’s body, we would live. As we inhabit the boy’s body, pain inhabits our bodies, and we wish that pain to depart from us, even as you wish us to depart from the boy.”

“Yes! That’s right,” U said.

“If we left the boy’s body—our home—the body would live without us.”

“Correct.”

“And the pain that lives in us for those of us who have gone would continue within us in our new home.”

U’s eyes widened with understanding. He tried to find a way to protest, seeing now the whole process of their thoughts.

The protozoans continued. “Pain of many of us gone and pain of a home that is no more our home is more pain than we will bear. To stay home and die is to also see pain die. We choose to not make more pain. We choose to see our pain die. We will remain in our home.”

U sobbed loudly out of the sheer sense of pending loss.

Picard shook his head in what might be thought of as disdain or disgust. “You think you have learned compassion, but all that you have learned is what we call ‘callousness.’ You still do not consider the needs of anyone other than yourselves, so your compassion is unreal—a void. We offer you a new home, longer lives, healthier lives, but you would prefer to die and cause others pain rather than suffer only slightly. I find you to be cowardly. I find you to be evil.”

“We accept what you find. We will communicate no more.”

Picard’s expression did not change: an expression of contempt and indignation. “Doctor, I will most likely be on the Bridge,” he paused and looked over at Jeremy once more. The nurses were already removing the electrodes from his torso and were about to cover him with a blanket for warmth. “Please keep me apprised,” Picard said.

“Aye, Captain,” Dr. Pulaski said, and she departed for her office while Picard stepped a few feet away and tapped his comm badge: “Picard to Data,” he said, speaking as softly as he could.

“Data here, Sir.”

“Mr. Data, how long until the arrival of Commodore Molitor’s shuttle?”

“At present speed, they will reach us in thirty-six hours, eighteen minutes.”

Picard nodded, even though there was no one to see it. “And how long if they increase to maximum speed?”

“Given their top speed of warp five, they are still twenty-three hours, forty-two minutes away, Sir.”

Picard scowled. “Damn!” he said under his breath. “How long would it take us to intercept at warp nine?”

There was a brief pause. “Two hours twenty-six minutes, Sir.”

“Two hours?!” Picard repeated. “Why so long?”

“Sir, at warp nine, we will encounter an ion storm that is moving into the region of space between us and the commodore, and we will be forced to circumnavigate it if we are to reach him safely. At warp eight, we would encounter only the trailing end of that storm, Sir, but the trip would still take us three hours, seventeen minutes.”

Picard shook his head, the frustration of the situation shaping his expression. He took a deep breath. “Very well, Mr. Data, lay in a course to the commodore and engage at warp nine, taking every conceivable shortcut that avails itself to us. And also send a message to the commodore to inform him of our change in plans. Have him increase to maximum warp.”

“Aye, Sir,” Data said, and almost immediately, Picard felt the ship turn and, briefly, felt the push against his body as the engines increased speed so dramatically. After so many weeks of plodding along at warp two, high speeds had become a new sensation again. He took one last look toward Jeremy, then at U before turning to exit sickbay and returning to the Bridge. But as he was departing, Worf entered sickbay, meekly for a Klingon, and he encountered Picard. “Mr. Worf?” Picard said. It was not a challenge, merely a greeting, but Worf still took it upon himself to explain to his captain why he was there. “Sir, Cmdr. Riker permitted me to leave my post so that I may have a chance to speak with the boy.”

“Understood, Lieutenant,” Picard said. He tipped his head in Jeremy’s direction then looked to the floor for a moment. “Take all the time you need,” he said and left.

Worf took up the captain’s former position beside U. “U,” he said, speaking quietly, but he still retained his forceful tone as he spoke, “it is good to see you here with Jer at this time.”

U nodded.

“Is the boy awake?”

“Not at present,” U said.

“I would appreciate it,” Worf said, maintaining a respectful stance and tone, “if I could have a minute or two to speak with him when he wakes.”

U wasn’t surprised by the request, shaking his head and shrugging. “Of course, Worf. Jer would appreciate seeing you.” U turned then to face Worf. “He’s quite fond of you, you know.”

Worf sighed in a way that was almost a groan. “And I am quite fond of him,” he said. “Tell me, is he aware of all that is happening?”

U let his entire bearing relax. “He and I have spoken about the situation at length, Worf. You needn’t hold back when you talk with him, if that’s what’s troubling you.”

He sighed again. “That is good to hear. A warrior should be aware of the coming of death so that he may prepare himself.”

“For the most part, I agree with you, Worf, but Jer is the brave one to talk about it. He’s the one who brought up the topic and did all he could to try to make me feel comfortable, if you can believe that.”

“I can,” Worf asserted with an assured smile. The two men stood together, silent for a time before Jer groaned and reached a hand up to massage his forehead. Then Worf’s and U’s eyes met. U glanced over to his young friend, then back to Worf and nodded. So Worf went over to Jer’s side; his was the first face for Jer to see since his collapse, and he called out weakly but still enthusiastically, “Worf!”

Worf’s voice took on a tenderness that a Klingon seldom employs. “I did not wish to miss your entrance into Sto-vo-kor.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You will be welcomed by the greatest of warriors, to be honoured by them.”

“But, I never learned to use the bat’leth.”

“Only because you never had the opportunity. Kahless himself will greet you, and he will teach you all you need to know then.”

“Worf, I know it’s going to sound very human for me to say this, but that is the kindest thing I could have wished to hear from you.”

“Kindness had little to do with it. You have been in every way growing into a man of honour, Jer. I am privileged to know you and to be your teacher.”

A tear formed in Jer’s eye, and it dropped to the pillow supporting his head. He breathed heavily, and his chin quivered with a mourning frown, but he managed to utter, “I feel the same way, Worf.”

Worf nodded, smiling ever so very gently. “I will remain nearby,” he assured. “U is here, and he will sit with you.”

Jer nodded and tried to form a smile, but what he made was simply a grimace with tears. Worf stepped away, and U came up beside Jer. He set a stool down, sat on it and took Jer’s hand in both of his. “I’m not afraid,” Jer asserted with a tinge of surprise in his voice.

“I’m glad,” U said.

“It’s not that I want to die, U, but at the same time, I really want to see my parents again. Can you understand that?”

“Of course, I can.”

“That being that you told me about, I think he’s able to do both things: save me and reunite me with my parents. I don’t know how, U, but I really believe that it’s possible, and I think he’s the only one who can make it happen. He’s the only one who can really even understand it.”

“You’re probably right.”

“The hard part is leaving behind people like you.”

“Oh, Jer, don’t you worry about me. I have lots of friends. I’ll be fine, and I have the marvellous memories of my friendship with you. I am glad to be your friend, Jer.”

“I want to tell you something,” Jer said.

“Alright.”

“Y’know that night we met after Worf’s Mok’bara?”

“How could I forget?” U asked with a fond smile.

“I want you to know that I wasn’t being friendly just to be friendly,” Jer confessed. “I was hoping that if I let you see some art that maybe you’d find some of your powerful friends to help me out of the mess that I’d found myself in.”

U sniffled audibly. “I know,” he said.

“I thought you might,” Jer said with conviction, “but I’m actually kinda’ glad for the way things worked out.”

“Are you?”

“Yeah. I’ve had a lot of fun with you.”

“Me too.” He held Jer’s hand close to his cheek. “Are you comfortable? Can I get you anything?”

Jer shook his head as best as he was able. “No, U. Just getting very tired. I feel heavy and weak.”

“That’s ok, Jer,” U said. “Why don’t you just get some sleep for now. We’ll talk again soon.”

By this time, Jer couldn’t find the strength to talk anymore. He simply nodded, then drifted off. U laid Jer’s hand at his side and rested his head on his own hands beside his young friend.

Worf returned to the side of U. “He is a strong young man. Sto-vo-kor will be glad to welcome him.”

U stood up and looked Worf square in the eye. “Sto-vo-kor will be fortunate to have him.”

Worf accepted the rebuke out of compassion for a man who had also proved himself so honourable as he, but U was visibly shaken by the circumstances. Worf could see that he was holding back a great deal of powerful emotions likely for the first time in his potentially multi-millennia-long life. “Excuse me,” U said and marched over to the large monitor on the wall, breathing heavily, and again Worf approached him.

“U, I understand your grief, but I think that you will find it to be unfounded grief. He is an honourable youth with the heart of the poet warrior. He will be able to stand upright before Kahless and His Council. His death will not be a loss.”

U nodded. “Thank you, Worf. I agree that he will be able to enter the next life with all his dignity intact, but you are wrong about the other part. His death will be a loss. It is pain I can scarcely bear, and for his sake, I’m not going to pretend otherwise.”

“I would not expect you to, but I advise you to hold your eyes toward the distance every once in a while to see what will be, because the pain will subside in time, even as his memory lives on.”

U pondered Worf’s words for a moment. “Thank you, Worf. I accept your wisdom,” and the two stood together regarding the young man on the biobed. After a few moments of quiet, Jer suddenly arched his back, inhaling sharply and clearly with great difficulty. The medical staff surrounded him almost instantly, hiding him from the eyes of Worf and U like an oxygen mask over someone’s face. Dr. Pulaski was the last to enter. “I’m afraid I will have to ask you two gentlemen to depart sickbay so that we may work.”

U protested weakly, “But …”

“I’m afraid that’s an order,” she said and turned her back to him, facing Jer. Worf took U gently by the arm and directed him to the outer area near Dr. Pulaski’s office, where there was room enough to sit or to pace or to express all the frustration a person is able. It was peacefully adorned with plants and an elegant painting of the Enterprise underway. Once the doors were closed and the waiting area was quiet and still, Worf took a stand in the centre of the room. He would have preferred to be barefoot and in a workout suit, but as U’s needs were more immediate, Worf would content himself to work in his uniform. He stood straight first, stretching the muscles of his shoulders, then rolled his head side to side to stretch his neck, his eyes closed, his mind fully concentrating. He ceremoniously raised both flattened hands up to the level of his eyes, fingers upward, then turned his hands parallel with the floor, the fingertips of his two hands touching. He allowed his hands to lower to hip level, then open and move toward either side. Then his hands rose again one above the other, lower palm up, upper palm down as though he were holding some invisible sphere between them, and, taking a wider stance, he bent his knees and reached one hand to his side as though inviting an imaginary friend to join him. U, having been watching Worf, accepted the invitation for that imaginary someone. He stood with Worf, and, side by side, they performed the Mok’bara, a solemn dance of sorts whose form “clears the mind and centres the body.”

By the time Dr. Pulaski entered that waiting area, both U and Worf had regained their centres and were waiting calmly, if also expectantly, so that they barely moved as she entered in her standard Starfleet uniform, no scrubs. Her expression was solemn, her affect, flat and her voice, decidedly subdued. “I … I am sorry, gentlemen. I did everything I could, and Jeremy … Jeremy simply couldn’t keep up the fight any longer. He …”

U interrupted her. “May I please go see him, Doctor?”

Dr. Pulaski regarded U for a long moment but finally nodded, and U returned to sickbay to see Jer’s lifeless body lying motionless on the biobed, and yet U could have sworn as he looked on that he could see the boy’s body taking in air. It puzzled him for a moment, but he finally realized that his eyes were simply playing him for a fool. He walked to Jer’s bedside and held his hand. “I’ve never had such a profound friendship before. In my very long life, Jer, I never realized how isolated I was, how very alone I really had been until you and I became friends, and I am grateful to you for that—for our friendship. I will never forget you, my friend, and I already miss you more than you can imagine.” He gently squeezed the smaller hand in his own once more, then turned and walked deliberately and directly out of sickbay.

5

On the Bridge, Captain Picard, Jean-Luc, sat in his seat, his rightful spot, but he was clearly not there. His mind was drawn toward sickbay and toward the shuttle ferrying his friend toward him. He stared, almost without blinking, into the star-filled vacuum outside the confines of his ship, and he saw none of it, not blinking at all, or so it seemed, until he got a call in from Dr. Pulaski: “Sickbay to the Bridge.” Then Picard blinked; he slowly reached for the comm button of his chair’s panel: “Picard here.”

“Captain, this is Dr. Pulaski,” she said, then released a long sigh and remained silent.

Picard continued to stare but still responded professionally: “Understood, Doctor. I’m on my way.”

“Pulaski out.”

Picard sat forward just a bit. “Mr. Data, time to intercept with the commodore’s shuttle?”

Data scanned the panel before him for less than a second. “Eighteen minutes, thirty seconds … mark,” he said.

“Damn,” Picard said, looking toward his feet and shaking his head. “Less than twenty minutes.” As he stood, he said, “I’ll be in sickbay, Mr. Data. You have the conn,” and he moved to the turbo lift.

“Aye, Sir,” Data said.

After Picard had entered and departed sickbay, U finally entered Ten-Forward. Initially, he walked to the window and stared out at the stars. The Enterprise had come to a full stop as the Commodore’s shuttle approached, producing a spacescape reminiscent to that which U had grown accustomed when the ship had been moving at a slow but steady warp two. That speed normally enabled him to peer out at the stars and see a variety of patterns, as Jeremy had taught him. He saw no patterns this time and was almost relieved. It might be wrong, he considered, to do something with Jeremy gone that they had enjoyed so much doing together. He sat in the very spot where he and Jer had spent so many laugh-filled hours. He spoke to no one, but with his heart full of the tears that even then were threatening to pour out from his eyes, he simply sat and stared at the empty chair across the table from him.

Guinan had watched him come into Ten-Forward and take his seat. She saw by his demeanour that he was distraught, and inferred from that the news that he had received, but she called down to sickbay to be certain. From behind the bar, she operated her comm panel. Speaking very quietly, she said, “Guinan to sickbay.”

“Sickbay, Dr. Pulaski”

“Doctor, our illustrious guest from the Q Continuum just came into Ten-Forward, and I wanted to confirm …”

“Yes, Guinan, it’s true,” Pulaski interrupted. “Jeremy McKee passed on a little while ago in sickbay.”

“I see,” Guinan responded.

“Would you like me to send someone up there to talk with him, Guinan?”

“No, thank you, Doctor. Not yet, anyway. I’ll talk with him first and see where he’s standing.”

“Understood.”

“Guinan out,” she said even as she pulled up a padd from beneath the counter and started searching the mini-computer for something on it. It took a few minutes, but she finally landed on what she’d been searching for. “Ah!” she said and smiled. Then she went to the replicator. “Chamomile tea, hot,” she said, and moments later, a cup of colourful fluid, steaming hot, appeared. She lifted it out of the replicator and placed it on a tray with a couple of disposable napkins and took it and the padd over to U. She set the tea in front of him: “This is on the house,” she said.

“Thank you,” was all U could bring himself to say, and not without struggle. He sat with his hands in his lap, never looking down at the tea nor up at Guinan. His breathing was rhythmic, but fast and deep so that his customary olive-green pullover waxed and waned with great severity.

Guinan sat across from U, setting the tray and her padd down on the table before her. U gave no hint of protest, even as he had also given no hint of invitation. Guinan simply rested her elbows on the table and her chin in the palms of her hands. She smiled at him and silently waited, while he breathed from his mouth, tortured by the wealth of tears that he held, with great difficulty, at bay.

Finally, after a long silence, U said, “I could have saved him, Guinan.” Guinan answered by raising her head from the palms of her hands to the tops of her folded hands. “If I’d had my Q powers,” U continued as tears began to well up and spill over the lower lids of his eyes, “I could have saved him with nothing more than a wave of my hand, and I would have. You know that I would have.”

Guinan nodded, one of her deep nods of understanding. It communicated the concession of a point and indicated that the truth didn’t end with that statement. “Ok,” she said, “and then what?”

For the first time since Guinan sat, U looked her in the eyes. “I beg your pardon?”

“You said that if you’d had the powers of the Q, you could have and would have cured Jeremy, right?”

“Yes.”

“What would have happened then?”

U shook his head, “Oh, come on, Guinan, What …”

Guinan gestured with downward presses of her palms. “Just go along with me on this one, U. Let’s go back in time. You never lost your powers of the Q, but everything else is the same. Now, I want you to think about this, U. Really think. You’re aboard the Enterprise, and you meet Jeremy McKee. You find out that he’s ill, so out of a sort of arrogant benevolence, you agree to make him well. Are you with me?”

“Yes.”

“Good. So, you heal him, and what happens next. What do you do?”

U scoffed. “I don’t know, Guinan. I’m not a soothsayer.”

“You don’t need to be. You’re a Q. You’ve just healed Jeremy McKee of a life-threatening disease. What do you do?”

U looked off into the distance momentarily as though confessing that he would have to think about it. “Well, I don’t really know, Guinan, I guess that I would …” His voice trailed off, his eyes opened wide and filled with tears again as the understanding of the truth poured into his heart. He froze momentarily, stunned by the power of it. His chin began to quiver as he looked to Guinan with a look of desperation, as though begging for help, begging for escape and then he was overpowered. He dropped his chin to his chest and sobbed. Guinan handed U a napkin, but it took U a long time to get past what he was feeling. And yet feeling it wasn’t enough, Guinan knew. He needed to say it. Guinan waited in her usual patient way, but when U finally regained his composure, and he still said nothing, she prodded, “Yes?”

“You force my hand, Guinan.”

She gave no response.

U took a deep breath. “Then I confess, Guinan, that if circumstances had been as you indicated, as a member of the Q Continuum, I would have done my good deed of healing him, accepted the praise of those around me, and then I would never have seen him again. I would have departed even more full of my own ego than before, and weeks … DAYS even, days later, I would have forgotten what I had done that made me feel so magnanimous.” He met Guinan’s gaze. “That’s what would have happened next, Guinan.”

“So which of the two situations was the better one for Jeremy?” Guinan asked.

U looked at her with both offence and hurt in his eyes. “The boy is dead, Guinan. How do you expect me to answer that question?”

“By understanding that he neither wanted nor needed healing, U. What he wanted was to be with his parents, and he wouldn’t have been able to achieve that if you had healed him, at least, not in any timely fashion.”

Nearly whispering, U said, “He would have gotten past that.”

“Yes, but the reality is that he got past this life into the next.”

U considered Guinan’s words quietly for a minute. “So you think that he’s reunited with his folks?”

“Absolutely. And so do you.”

U pondered that for a time. He recalled Jer’s comments and questions regarding the being U had encountered so far away and realized that it wasn’t so very far after all, not for a being of that power. He saw that Jer had invested a great deal of stock in what U had told him, and he realized that Guinan had yet another valid and powerful point. He smiled, “Yes, I do believe in my heart that they are together. I’m certain of it. Had I still been Q, Guinan, I would have found the idea absurd, but speaking as someone who is more human, now, than Q, I am able to believe that Jeremy is now with his parents as he wished to be. I’m not at all certain, however, that I would have been fully aware of that part of my thoughts had you not asked.”

Guinan’s response was a surprise to U: “So where does that leave us, U?” She leaned in, “Or better still, where does that leave Jeremy McKee for the past few weeks?”

“I’m sorry, Guinan, I’m not sure that I follow.”

“OK, once again, imagine everything on the Enterprise for the last month is absolutely the same except no U. What would have become of Jeremy?”
“I suppose the crew of the Enterprise would have stepped in and helped him.”

Guinan shook her head with closed eyes and rested her back against her chair. “Y’know, most members of the Q are so arrogant I want to slap them. But not you, U. You’re so humble I want to slap you.”

U looked mildly stunned by the comment. “Well … um … thank you?”

Guinan ignored him, leaned forward again and spoke as if to a recalcitrant child. “If everything remained the same, but with no U in the picture, Jeremy’s immediate needs would have been met—his physical needs and to some superficial level, perhaps, his emotional needs, too. Absolutely. There’s no doubt about that. But you befriended Jeremy, U, in the most beneficial of ways, and it is your friendship with Jer that he needed the most. Not healing, not a cure, just a good friend, and you provided just that.”

U remained silent. He found himself once again resisting the tears that threatened to overwhelm him.

“When you and the captain and I were sitting over there on your first day, do you remember when I got so angry?”

U nodded. “Yes. How could I forget?”

“What you said was, ‘Let me help.’ I interpreted that as, ‘Give me something to do. I’m bored,’ which is pretty much what our friend Q had said before he introduced us to the Borg. That’s why I was so furious. But those weren’t your words, nor was it your attitude. You did the same thing the first night you were in here with Jeremy. I was watching you very closely because I still didn’t trust you, but you said the same thing to Jeremy. You invited him to tell you about his problem, and you said, ‘Let me help.’”

“I guess so, Guinan. I’m not sure I get your meaning.”

Guinan sighed. “Are you familiar with the name Naoj Z’Nilloc?”

U furrowed his brow, “Yes, I think so. He was a novelist, right?”

“Some people think of him as a novelist. Some as a poet. He wrote in both genres.”

U thought back for a minute, but couldn’t think of anything that Z’Nilloc had written. “I don’t think I’ve read anything by him.”

“Likely not,” Guinan assured him. “His culture is allied with the Federation, but it isn’t a member at this time, so if you’re looking for just Federation literature, you won’t find Z’Nilloc.”

“I see,” U said.

“He came from a planet orbiting Alnitak,” Guinan said. “Oh! interesting side note, U. You’ll like this:” Guinan’s eyes turned to slits, and she lowered her voice like a spy discussing some covert operation. “You ask any Terran on the ship where Alnitak is, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: ‘It’s one of the stars in Orion’s Belt,’ they’ll say.”

U laughed, mildly incredulously.

“It’s true,” Guinan insisted. She looked around Ten-Forward and caught sight of Ben heading toward the bar, having delivered some drinks to a table. “Ben!” Guinan called, and when Ben saw her, she waved him over. He saw U with Guinan and offered his condolences to him: “U, I just got the news about your friend. I’m really sorry to hear about that, Man.”

“Thank you,” U said and fell immediately silent.

“Ben,” Guinan said, taking over the conversation again, “Do you know where the star Alnitak is?”

“Alnitak,” he repeated meditatively. Then, after a second or two of searching his memory, he said, “Oh, sure!” He smiled confidently, “It’s the far left star in Orion’s Belt.” He nodded and got back to work. U and Guinan shared a smile. “Any Terran will tell you the same thing,”Guinan said. “It’s like they all think that everyone in the Federation knows who Orion is what that constellation looks like from Earth’s perspective.”

“Interesting,” was all U could say. “I assume that ‘Orion’ is a constellation?”

“That’s right,” Guinan said. “One that you have to be on Earth to see.”

“Hmm, I’ll have to look deeper into Terran mythology and astronomy.”

“Anyway,” Guinan said, getting the conversation back on track, “I, personally, don’t think of Z’Nilloc as a writer at all. I think of him as a preacher with a very important message.”

“Oh?”

“In all his later writings, he emphasized the importance of the phrase ‘Let me help,’ over the phrase ‘I love you’ every time. It was a sort of mantra for him.”
“I can see wisdom in that,” U admitted.

Guinan regarded the padd that she’d been holding onto, scrutinizing it to make sure that what she needed was visible on it. When she saw all was well, she slid the padd to U. “This is one of his earliest works where he made that emphasis,” Guinan said. “I want you to take a minute to read it.”

U looked down to the padd and began reading the text that Guinan had on display before him:

 

“A Love Poem”

You say, “I love you.” I believe it’s true,
but not because you say it like you do:
so often and so heartfelt. No, but I
believe it for another thought that you
repeat to me each time you hear me sigh,
or when I cry, and every time I try
to deal with issues on my own: you say,
“Let me help,” and I know I can’t deny
you love me; you commit yourself to stay
with me, take action for me and display
your love. So let this little phrase entwine
us always to declare Dependence Day:
“Let me help.” “Let me help.” Our hearts combine
in acts of love and prove our love divine.

 

U was visibly impressed. “That’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s a sonnet, isn’t it?”

“It’s translated as a sonnet,” Guinan assured him. “It’s also beautifully translated, don’t you think?”

“I wouldn’t know,” he admitted. “It reads beautifully. Does it accurately say what the original does?”

“Absolutely, it does!”

“Oh! I hadn’t considered that. Poetry is very difficult to translate to be both beautiful and to accurately express the idea of the original. Usually, you get one or the other,” U said, “but seldom do both come together so wonderfully as this.”

“True,” Guinan nodded.

“So who translated it?”

“I did,” Guinan admitted, matter-of-factly. “But that’s not the point, U.”

“What is the point?” U inquired.

“That you acted out to Jeremy the very words that Z’Nilloc wrote. You said, ‘let me help,’ then you looked for ways to help. It worked to Captain Picard’s benefit, and it worked to Jeremy McKee’s benefit, U.” When it seemed that U still didn’t quite get her point, she took his hand in hers and looked him squarely in the eye. “I’m trying to tell you that your behaviour since you came aboard this ship acts out precisely what Z’Nilloc teaches. I’m trying to say that, not only did you help Jeremy, but that you helped him in the best way to meet his more deeply seated needs that would otherwise have gone unnoticed and unattended. It’s also written another way: ‘Greater love has no one than he who lays down his life for his friend.’ Now you didn’t die for Jeremy, but only because you didn’t have the opportunity. But based on your behaviour, I know that you would have died for Jeremy, or Captain Picard or even for me, U. And even if you didn’t die for any of us, you still laid down your life, a hundred times. You did everything that you could have and more, and all without healing Jeremy. Now, you think about that as you drink your tea and begin to heal, yourself.”

U was stunned. He let her thoughts sink in a bit then sipped his tea that had, by now, adequately cooled. He let the flavour sink through his tongue into his mind for a moment then held the cup higher as in a pseudo-toast to salute Guinan, who had brought it over to him. “It will help you to relax a bit, and to think a bit more clearly,” she said.

“I appreciate that,” U said, and after a few more sips, he said, “I wonder if anyone has spoken with Lt. La Forge and Chief O’Brien to let them know that they can stop their modifications to the transporter.”

Guinan waved her hand in the air. “Even if they were told, they’d keep working until they found the answer.”

U laughed. “I suppose.” Then he cocked his head to the side. “It’s interesting, though. In a way, what they’re doing with the transporter isn’t all that different from the Vibroniques: They’re trying to focus a wave to such a great intensity that a completely different wave of much less intensity can match it—almost creating a brand new wave. With the Vibroniques, it was the vocal waves and water, audio and aquatic, and with the transporter, it’s photons and heat, but it’s really the same thing: trying to find two waves that match.” He thought about that. “No, ‘match’ isn’t the right word. They’re not trying to get two matching waves but two compatible waves.

“The problem is that it’s like trying to mate separate species. It would be like getting a Guernsey cow to breed with a …” he waved a hand in the air looking for a contrasting animal for the complete comparison. “… an Organian condor, except that the waves themselves actually serve to make the job a bit easier; it’s no longer trying to match protons with heat; it’s trying to find two compatible frequencies, and that renders the substance irrelevant, See?”

Guinan nodded, but she wasn’t quite sure why U was tracing out this line of reasoning, and yet, she could see that it was important for him, so she remained silent while U continued to become more intense, more focussed.

“Because we’re concerned about the frequencies, not the substance, it’s a bit more like mating that Guernsey cow with American Bison. It’s difficult, but it can be done. It has been done. Right?”

Guinan nodded again.

U’s excitement was mounting. He hadn’t forgotten about Jeremy. He was building on to his friendship with Jeremy. “If you cross the cow with the bison, you get “Beefalo.” Cross a lion with a tiger, you get a liger. The species don’t match, but they’re compatible. The frequencies don’t match, they’re suitable.” He shook his head. “They’re not congruent, they’re in sync … they’re accordant.” He looked at Guinan with a stunned expression: “Harmonious! Guinan. They harmonize!”

“Sure,” She said.

“In music, you find common ground between two pitches, and once you find that common ground, you have something entirely new; you have a chord.”
“Right.”

U shifted his weight in his chair. “Now, a chord can be made up of thirds in most Federation music, but it doesn’t need to be. But what’s important is that a chord has an identity.”

Guinan shook her head nonplussed. “How so?”

“In the Key of ‘C,’ a ‘G’ major seventh chord alerts the humanoid ear that the music is returning to ‘C;’ it wants the music to go to a C major chord. In fact, going elsewhere can make a listener feel that something has gone wrong. Because of that chord’s identity. Do you follow?”

“I think so.”

“But in music, going from a G major seventh to a C major … every note … every wave changes, but in the Vibroniques, one wave needs to remain constant. All they really needed was to find the right frequencies so that two waves can harmonize,” he looked at Guinan who was baffled about what was on U’s mind, but he was clearly on to something at that point, and she hadn’t a clue how to help him with it, mainly because she had no idea where he was going.

“It’s the same with the transporter, Guinan, one wave needs to remain constant while the other remains mutable, but always in harmony with the …” His eyes grew wide, and he looked directly at Guinan, “with the drone, Guinan! With the DRONE! It’s not a single note we’re looking for!”

“It’s not?”

“No, it’s a drone, Guinan, a sustained tone. They’re giving us a drone, don’t you see?”

“They are?”

“Yes! They’re giving us not only information but the key to deciphering it. It’s like finding the answer to a riddle in the riddle itself!”

“Is it?”

U reached out and took Guinan’s hands in his. “Guinan, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to help me to see. It was like trying to set a straight course through an asteroid field, and you helped me to clear away the asteroids. I haven’t forgotten about Jeremy, but thanks to you, Jeremy himself has given me the assistance that I needed.” He smiled at her for a moment then, “I need a communicator,” he said, standing and gazing about Ten-Forward. Then he looked back at Guinan, who sat utterly perplexed, and U bent down and gave her a big kiss. “Thank you, Guinan. You gave me just what I needed!” He looked frantically around Ten-Forward again and saw Ensign Gomez at a nearby table and ran over to her. “Ensign, excuse me, can you please use your comm badge for me?”

“Uh, sure. Who am I calling?”

“Lt. Abbot Costello. Please hurry.”

The ensign tapped her badge, “Ensign Sonia Gomez to Lt. Abbot Costello, please.”

After a moment, “Costello here.” Ensign Gomez was going to answer, but U took over the conversation immediately. “Bo, it’s U. Are you busy?”

“Not at all. I was just …”

“Meet me in your office, Bo. I know what we need for the Calliphlox.”

“Wha …? I’m on my way, U.”

“I’ll meet you there!”

“Costello out.”

“Thank you, Ensign Gomez. Thank you very much,” U said, starting near the table and finishing as the doors to Ten-Forward closed behind him.

 

6

Bo smiled broadly when the doors to his office slid open, and there stood his captain with Commodore Molitor just behind. The two visitors wore faces that were stern and grave, but Bo welcomed them with warmth and enthusiasm. “Captain Picard,” Bo said, smiling, “welcome. Please come in. U and I have some excellent news, Sir. Excellent news!”

“We could do with it,” Picard said brashly, then proceeded with the introductions: “This is Commodore Molitor, who just minutes ago came aboard the Enterprise, as my guest and my friend. I found that I could not abandon him so soon after his arrival, gentlemen. I have Starfleet clearance for him to know everything about your assignment, so you do not have to fear giving me a full report. Commodore, this is Lt. Costello, who has been instrumental in our communication with the Calliphlox, and behind him is our guest from the Q Continuum, U; he has also been very helpful to us recently, and it is he who so warmly befriended your grandson.”

Commodore Molitor observed protocol, shaking hands first with the lieutenant, as he is a fellow member of Starfleet and who was introduced first. Then he greeted U, but it was U who spoke, the commodore overwhelmed by conversation for the time being.

“Sir,” U said, “you are Jeremy McKee’s grandfather?”

“Yes,” the gentleman said, almost too quietly to be heard.

“I cannot tell you in words how much your grandson meant to me, Sir, and I shall not try, but I wish you to know that he was also instrumental in helping us decipher the Calliphlox language. I am glad you are here so that you can see.”

“Thank you,” the commodore said, his voice coarse with emotion.

Bo took over the briefing, as it was formally a Starfleet matter, and U, regardless of the fact that it was he who found the answer, was not Starfleet. “As you will recall, Captain, I had discovered the enigma of the pre-note just prior to U going to work with Engineering for Jeremy’s Vibroniques.”

Captain Picard admitted, “Yes, I remember your report, Lieutenant, but please explain it again for the benefit of the Commodore.”

“As you wish, Sir.” Bo took a seat near Picard and Commodore Molitor to explain clearly and thoroughly. “The pre-note is what we thought was a word that preceded Calliphlox speeches of any significant length or complexity of diction or meaning. The problem with it is that there were on record at the time almost twenty different “pitches” or terms that translated to “pre-note” according to the findings of the Federation linguists who had previously been assigned this task. But when we rendered a speech that had included a pre-note, translating it without employing the pre-note term, the associated speech was precisely the same as it was when the pre-note term was included with the translation. It made no impact on the rest of the speech either way. So the pre-note didn’t appear to have any distinct purpose; everything with or without it was gibberish, and yet, there it was.”

“Mm-hmm,” Captain Picard said. “An interesting paradox, indeed.”

“Agreed, Sir,” Bo continued, “but to add to the paradoxical nature of Calliphlox speech is the fact that, while they have exquisitely fine-tuned ears and can hear about ten pitches where you and I use only two—the ‘half step’ or ‘semitone’—that still gives the Calliphlox less than a thousand words for their entire vocabulary. And that is under the assumption that they can produce tones as low and as high as the 88 keys on the common keyboard.”

“Why is that a problem, Lieutenant?” the commodore asked.

“Well, it makes for only very simple communication, Sir. On average, a five-year-old human child has an expressive vocabulary of about 2500 words and a receptive vocabulary of nearly eight times that. And yet we know that the Calliphlox have a very broad range of expression, so there would be a great deal of information lost to us.”

Picard folded his arms, “I see,” he said. “So there has to be something that unlocks the gibberish, thereby extending the Calliphlox vocabulary, and you believe that the pre-note is that key?”

“Oh, yes, Sir. And U’s discovery was the key to enable us to use the key, Sir.” Here Bo turned his attention to the commodore. “Commodore Molitor, I honestly do not know if this information will be beneficial for you to hear or detrimental because it concerns your grandson, Sir.”

Cmdre. Molitor waved a hand and shook his head. “Carry on, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, Sir,” Bo said. “U discovered that Jeremy McKee’s Vibroniques and the modifications to the transporter that Chief O’Brien was working on both do very much the same type of thing. In both cases, what was needed was the synthesis of one wave that remained constant so that another wave that was constantly modulating could “harmonize” with it in such a way as to achieve our goal. In the Vibroniques, it was a matter of using a static fluid or ‘aquatic’ wave in harmony with a mutable vocal or acoustic wave. In the transporter, it is a matter of using a static light wave with a mutable heatwave. The transporter requires much higher frequencies than the Vibroniques, but the processes together are analogous to the missing link in deciphering Calliphlox speech. So, in essence, the two treatments for Jeremy’s illness provided the plan for communication with the Calliphlox.”

The commodore was quick to point out, “But they both failed.”

Bo was caught off guard with that comment. After a moment to regain his composure, he continued: “They both failed to save Jeremy’s life, Sir, that is true. But both techniques were successful in doing precisely what they were supposed to do: The Vibroniques did enable us to communicate with the protozoan infection in Jeremy’s body, Sir. It was the protozoans, themselves, that made it impossible for the rest to proceed. And the transporter, while a system that is well outside my field, as I understand it, it did perform as it was supposed to, but just not to the fine degree that Jeremy’s health required. But it was the fault of the transporter, not the technique.”

The commodore nodded in appreciation, and Picard observed as he folded his arms, “So, with the Calliphlox speech, you’re talking about a static wave, which would be a drone, and a mutable wave, which would be the Calliphlox message. Am I right?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir,” Bo said, “but only together is the message conveyed.” He became more enthusiastic. “We are talking about simple Amplitude Modulation, common and mundane in radio communication, but ingenious and highly sophisticated as a form of organic communication!”

“And how will you know if you were right?”

“Well, Sir, if we may demonstrate?”

“Proceed, gentlemen,” Picard said.

“Very well,” Bo said, picking up a padd from his desk and pushing a few buttons. “This is a recording of a translation of some of the Calliphlox speech, in this case, just without the pre-note,” he said, and the computer began spewing out random words: “texture, outline, pier, breakfast, offer, bolt, smell, truck, reject, teacher, concrete, ethnic, pledge, truth, influence, heel, castle, indulge, pace, notion, rumour, green, trick, wardrobe.”

“Utter nonsense,” Picard observed, nodding in affirmation to Bo’s prediction.

“Yes Sir, it is,” Bo agreed then pushed a few more buttons on his padd. “Now, here is the same speech with the ‘pre-note’ applied as a drone—it sounds, not just at the beginning, but during all of the next four lines of text, and when you hear the entire speech, you will learn how we know that we’re on the right track.” He pressed on the padd one more time and the computer began to recite:

 

The world that they called home is burning cold:
A moon in orbit ‘round a larger moon
in orbit ‘round a planet, all controlled
by suns as faint as distant stars at noon.

 

The computer stopped there, and Bo asked his captain, “Does that sound familiar, Sir?”

Picard furrowed his brow, “Only vaguely.”

“Let me play the next segment for you, Sir, because it requires two pre-notes … two drones.” Again he pushed a few buttons, and the computer began to recite some more:

 

And yet, these folks had no great needs to meet:
They framed grand homes with girders forged of strips
of ice, shaped and sealed by candle heat.

 

“And we have the entire conclusion all translated, too. It also is broken up into two segments, but we have already discovered how we can make the computer apply the pre-note … the drone … more smoothly, so that there is no need for pauses between segments:

 

And of that same design, they moulded ships
to venture through the dark of outer space
and greet the torrid life on other orbs.
They found one with a friendly, blue-hued face,
and boldly settled on the surface that absorbs
those frozen hulls—a vat of fervent potion;
they burned to death near Terra’s Arctic ocean.

“It’s a poem from Earth,” Picard declared. I studied it that at the Academy.

“That’s right, Sir,” Bo said. “It’s called ‘Outlanders.’ The Calliphlox sent us our own poem recited in … Calliphlox-ian ? … so that we would know when we were on the right track as we began to translate.”

“How close are you to completion?” Picard asked. “Can you finish on time?”

“Yes, Sir,” Bo said. “We still have some work for proper nouns and some cultural idioms, but at least we know how to proceed, Sir. But what we have learned is that much of the Calliphlox vocabulary is dependent on a second or a third, and conceivably, even a fourth or fifth voice, because it’s not just the pitches that translate, Sir; it’s the pitches in conjunction with the drone or drones that convey meaning.”

Picard was not entirely satisfied with the picture he was getting. It still seemed incomplete to him. He pondered it for a moment before he figured out what he was missing. “So, in normal Calliphlox discourse, who provides the drone or drones?” he asked.

Bo nodded. This was a question he had also considered with U. “U and I have two theories on that at this point, Sir. First, since the drone is announced at the beginning of each speech, it might very well be the audience who provides the drone. Or, second, it might also be that, in a more formal setting, perhaps, the drone is—or the drones are—provided by a chorus that accompanies the speaker. Either way, sir, U and I are working on a program with the Calliphlox translation matrix for a hand-held comm unit, and when we speak with them, it will provide both the drone and the speech for them.”

“Agreed,” Picard said with a little enthusiasm. “How long before you have a working translation matrix?”

Bo took a moment for thought. Shaking his head to indicate a broad-stroke guess, he said, “Fifty-two hours, Sir, just to use a nice round number.”

Cmdre Molitor interrupted. “That’s cutting it awfully damn close, Jean-Luc.”

Picard smiled with confidence. “Par for the course, Nigel,” he said, then stopped to consider the time frame. “I want the bulk of the work prepared in only twenty-six hours, Lieutenant. After that, you only have time to fine-tune.”

Bo looked tentatively at U, who shrugged, frowned and waved a hand, and Bo smiled. “Very well, Sir.”

“Do you have anything to add, gentlemen?” Picard asked.

The two looked at each other and shook their heads. Then Bo said, “No, Sir. That about covers everything for now.”

Picard nodded. “Excellent work, both of you. Carry on.” Picard waved a hand to bring Bo closer to him and spoke in a near whisper. “Lieutenant, I must ask you to not take my lack of enthusiasm for displeasure in your fine work. I am most impressed, I assure you, Lieutenant …”

Bo held up a hand and spoke equally softly. “It’s fine, Sir. U has filled me in, and I fully understand the situation and the awkward circumstances. U and I will have everything up and running on time.”

Picard gave an appreciative nod to his lieutenant, then both Picard and Molitor exited, leaving two very enthused linguists behind to continue the work that they’d already invested so much time in.

 

7

Picard and Molitor entered Picard’s ready room in tandem with a professionally crisp pace to their steps. Both men were in uniform. “Have a seat, Nigel,” Picard invited, and Nigel sat on the sofa beneath the painting of the Enterprise. “I was about to have tea. Would you care for one?”

Nigel laughed. “Don’t tell me you still command the replicator, ‘Earl Gray tea, hot!’”

Smiling, Picard said, “Actually, no!” As he made his way to the replicator, he added, “I find that the Enterprise’s computer works much better when you give the broadest part of an order first, like this: Computer, tea, Earl Gray, hot.”

“You’re getting fussy in your old age, Jean-Luc.”

Picard pulled the drink from the computer. “What can I get for you, my friend?”

Nigel considered for a time before saying, “Tea, Earl Gray, double sweet with cream, hot.”

Picard smiled and repeated the order for the computer, then seconds later, he handed Nigel his drink and set his own on his desk before taking his seat and tugging down his tunic. “So, tell me about the Saratoga. You’re on temporary assignment; are you free to discuss it?”

“Oh, my mission there is all but over, Jean-Luc, but there’s not a lot to tell. It’s a fine older ship with a brand new Bridge crew, which, as you know, can be an awkward situation. The captain has plenty of experience as a captain, but he’s been commanding a starbase for some fifteen years, content to remain a captain, and advance no farther in rank.”

Picard looked surprised. “Fifteen years!?”

Nigel raised a hand. “He’s Vulcan.”

Picard nodded, comprehending then, and Nigel continued: “Don’t get me wrong; he’s excellent, a fine starship commander—although he was a bit rusty for a time. It’s just that it always puzzles me to see someone remain content too long in a certain rank.”

“Is that a hint, Nigel?”

Nigel chortled. “Not at all. I trust that when the time is right, and the offer is made you’ll accept a timely promotion. But this Vulcan already commanded a ship prior to the starbase. Some thirty years or more as a captain. It bothers me that those under his command might become lethargic where rank is concerned. A soldier who doesn’t advance stagnates, and that can be a problem.” Nigel had become somewhat meditative in tone, but when he realized it, he was sure to become more energized. “It’s taking the crew time to adjust to him, and that’s part of why I’m there. I’ve got to nursemaid this crew for the less emotional captain, and that’s no small challenge.”

“Indeed not,” Picard agreed.

“His first officer, for instance: very impressive lieutenant commander Benjamin Sisko.” Nigel shook his head in disbelief. “Now there is someone you don’t want to stagnate. Sharp as a tack. Good leader. Professional enough almost to shame his Vulcan captain while on the Bridge. He will go places, Jean-Luc.” He paused for thought and suddenly remembered, “Oh, and his family lives aboard. A lovely young wife, brilliant, beautiful and their son who’s only ten years old or so. Wonderful family.

“Anyway, I’m only there for another couple of weeks to make sure that everyone learns how to function under the new command structure, then I’m off. It’s a great ship, Jean-Luc, but I am tired in ways that I cannot express, in ways I never knew existed.”

Picard gave his friend some time to ponder his thoughts while he enjoyed a few sips of his Earl Gray. But finally, he broke the silence. “What news from Starfleet, Nigel?”

Nigel reacted to the question as though he’d just been awakened. “Ah, well, Jean-Luc, they looked over the last month or so and gave me extended leave.”

“And yet you’re still in uniform,” Picard observed.

Nigel smiled. “Well, you know how it is for an old veteran: donning a uniform feels less and less like getting ready for work and more and more like wrapping yourself up in a warm blanket.” He sighed deeply. “My uniform is all I have left.”

Picard leaned forward. “That’s not true, Nigel. I’m right here.”

Nigel nodded. “Jean-Luc, I have one more favour to ask if I’m not asking too much of you already.”

“Not at all, Nigel,” Picard sat back in his chair.

“I want to read up on everything you have regarding Telokotis Minor. Everything including all the details pertaining to the disease your crew members contracted and everything you did to try to save those people, Jeremy included.”

Picard regarded his cup of tea that he held in front of him. “Are you checking up on me, Nigel?”

Nigel winced. “It sure as hell sounds that way, doesn’t it?” Then he chortled, shaking his head.

Picard said nothing; he even managed to keep hidden his sense of relief brought about by his friend’s reaction to his own question.

“Ah, the truth is, Jean-Luc, it just feels to me like that’s all that I have to stay close to Anita and Jeremy now. I recognize how superstitious that may sound, but it’s true.” He paused to ponder a moment. “I know that it puts you in an awkward situation. If you need me to, I’ll pull rank on official levels …”

“That won’t be necessary, my friend. You have the clearance already, and you, more than anyone else involved, certainly have the need to know. I’ll make sure that you get everything we have.”

“Thank you.”

As he was speaking, the chime rang. “Come!” Picard called. When the door opened, Data entered and approached Picard’s desk. “Commander Data,” Picard said, “may I introduce my friend Commodore Nigel Molitor who’s here on leave from the Saratoga.”

Nigel stood, and Data reached out a hand in greeting. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Sir. You are Jeremy McKee’s grandfather; is that correct?”

“That’s right, Commander.”

“May I say, Sir, that in the very brief time I got to know your grandson, he was a great enrichment to my life. I shall remember him fondly.”

“Thank you, Commander. He was an enrichment to my life as well.”

“Yes, Sir; no doubt.”

Picard brought the encounter back to business. “You had a report, Mr. Data?”

“Yes, Sir, an update of low but interesting consequence regarding Telokotis Minor.”

“Well, speak of the devil!” Nigel said.

Data cocked his head. “I beg your pardon, Sir. Have you been speaking about ‘cast out’ demi-deities?” The two non-androids, stunned by Data’s question, stood silent, not realizing, immediately, that Data was taking literally the statement that Nigel had said so much in passing that he only barely remembered saying it. Data went on, “I have just recently made an extensive study of Terran mythological super-beings who share characteristics with the one called Satan, from Judeo/Christian writings. I have studied Loki of Norse mythology, Hephaestus of Roman mythology, Mara of Buddhist mythology, Iblis of Islamic mythology and Anunnaki of Mesopotamian mythology. I have been able to reach some fascinating conclusions …” Data was cut off by Picard.

“No …” Picard said sharply but reigned in his reaction. “No, Mr. Data, we were just talking about that planet.”

“I see, Sir.” He paused a moment for thought. “It is an apt comparison, I must say.”

“Your report, Mr. Data,” Picard said with increased earnestness.

“Yes, Sir. Federation astronomers, exo-geologists, exo-paleontologists and members of other scientific disciplines investigating that system have determined that the star is not so old as they had thought.”

“Oh?” Picard said.

“Yes, Sir. The previous estimate based solely on studies of the planet had placed Telokotis Minor at some 8 billion years, but based on recent studies of the parent star, the system could not be that old. The new estimate for the star is no older than Earth’s sun. And, given the planet’s near-circular orbit and region of its orbit, Telokotis Minor must have formed there. Ergo, Telokotis Minor is also no older than Earth, within a few million years, Sir.”

“Fascinating,” Nigel said.

Picard nodded at first, then shook his head. “How is it possible that there are intelligent protozoan creatures on a planet that young?”

“That remains a mystery, Sir,” Data said.

“Now I’m confused,” Nigel said. “You just said that Earth is about the same age, but it has sentient life?”

“Yes, Sir,” Data acknowledged, “But it has been believed that sentience among life so primitive as a protozoan would require much more time than sentience in a life form with a more sophisticated brain, such as the humanoid. That assessment may need to be reevaluated. But since Telokotis Minor is now quarantined, it may be a long time before we will be able to answer that question.” He handed Picard a padd. “Here is the detailed report, Sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Data. Dismissed.”

“Aye, Sir,” and Data turned in a military fashion and exited. Picard tossed the padd onto his desk and sat down again heavily. “Damn,” he whispered.

“Problem, Jean-Luc?” Nigel asked.

“We based our entire diplomacy tactics for Jeremy’s illness on the ‘fact’ that the planet was so ancient. We assumed, based on the planet’s advanced age, that the protozoan life-form would be highly advanced and, therefore, capable of making such diplomatic choices. Here we come to find that the species isn’t so terribly advanced after all. It’s a small wonder that diplomatic efforts failed.”

“I see,” Nigel said, again just as the door chime rang a second time.

“Come!” Picard called again, and Chief O’Brien entered.

“Sir, I was wondering if I …”

Picard held up a palm to stop the chief. “Chief O’Brien, this is my friend Commodore Nigel Molitor, Jeremy McKee’s grandfather.”

“Oh!” Miles said. “It’s an honour to meet you, Sir. Please accept my condolences on the loss of your daughter and your grandson. If I may be so bold, Sir, I am grieving with you.”

Nigel had stood to greet the chief, but he smiled at the warmth of the Chief’s message. “Thank you, Chief. I have my memories. They will serve me.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Do you have children, Chief?”

“Me, Sir?! No, not yet,” he smiled sheepishly, but then he rethought that. “However, Cmdr. Data introduced me to a young woman a few weeks ago, and I am feeling hopeful there.”

“Is that right? Is she Terran?”

“Yes, Sir,” he smiled. “Japanese.”

“Well, Chief, if I were you, I’d start brushing up on my Japanese.”

The chief smiled. “Yes, Sir.”

“Family is important,” Nigel went on. “It’s worth every minute of every heartache, Chief, even if it’s ultimately only about the memories that you carry.”

“Yes, Sir,” the chief smiled again.

Picard broke in, “Chief, you had a request.”

“Ah, yes, Sir. Lt. La Forge and I have completed modifications to the transporter. I realize that it’s too late for its …” he glanced over his shoulder toward the commodore, “ … intended purpose, but I was wondering if we could send the schematics to Starfleet for their engineers working on the Mark VII transporters. With my modifications, Sir, we would be able to use the transporter to separate a neuron from a glial cell,” he said with proud emphasis.

Nigel interrupted again. “Why would anyone want to achieve something so utterly odd?” he inquired.

“It might be that nobody will, Sir. But there’s no telling how many other people might find themselves in a situation such as Jeremy’s and need a transporter that is so finely tuned.”

“And you think that the Starfleet Corps of Engineers won’t already be working on something like this?” Picard asked.

“Well, why would they, Sir?” O’Brien asked. “The way I see it, if they don’t have the need to find it, they’re not going to be looking. And, to be honest, Sir, there are other problems with the Mark VI that my modifications can help with: transporting unstable biomatter among them.”

“Very well, Chief. I shall send this off in the morning to Starfleet Engineering with my highest recommendation and your name attached.”

“Uh, with Lt. La Forge, Sir.”

“Agreed,” Picard affirmed.

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Dismissed, Chief,” Picard said, and O’Brien turned to depart, but stopped once more to speak with the commodore.

“Good to meet you, Sir.”

“And you, Chief. Good luck with the young lady, now.”

“Aye, Sir,” the chief smiled modestly. “Thank you,” he said and departed.

“Well, how ‘bout that, Jean-Luc? My grandson might be the cause of the Federation’s new transporter. I suppose it’s not a bad way to be remembered.”

“Not at all, Nigel.”

 

8

Later that evening, after the day’s reports had been read and filed, after the duty rosters for the following week had been reviewed and desks and desktops had been cleared for the night, and after a well-cooked, well deserved evening meal, Picard and Nigel retired to Picard’s cabin for some long-awaited friendly and heartfelt conversation over a glass or two of wine from the bottles Jeremy had provided from his magic show some two weeks earlier.

Nigel groaned as he sat in a chair beside the sofa on which Picard himself sat. “I tell you, Jean-Luc, I have never in all my years felt so absolutely alone.”

“But you’re not alone,” Picard soothed. “You’ll never be alone so long as I command either the Enterprise or my faculties; hopefully both.”

“Hell, I know that, Jean-Luc,” Nigel protested, then drew back a bit. “It doesn’t change the way I feel, though.” He sipped his wine. “I’ve lost so much, and that sense of loss is so overwhelming that I think I understand, now, that loss you described to me when you lost the Stargazer, or that beloved crewman, your chief of security …” he waved his hand vaguely in the air before him trying to recapture the memory of the woman’s name.

“Tasha Yar,” Picard prompted.

Nigel let the name sink in and find its rightful place in his memory. It took a moment, but then, “Yes, that’s it. Now I remember,” he said. “You told me then about the sense of loss, and all I could think was that it was part of wearing that uniform.” He softened his tone a bit as he repeated, “That damned uniform was all I could think of.” He said nothing for a time. By the time he did speak, he had finished his first glass of wine, wiped a tear or two from his eyes, and Picard had refilled his glass. He downed that glass quickly. “Now I understand,” he said both meditatively and regretfully.

Picard set his own glass on the table and leaned forward. “Nigel, you’re on leave. You’re welcome to stay aboard the Enterprise as long as you want, and while you’re here, it might benefit you to take advantage of visiting one of our counsellors on board. Counsellor Troi is excellent.”

“Your Betazoid?”

“The very one,” Picard affirmed.

Nigel nodded in contemplation, looking toward the floor. “I appreciate that, Jean-Luc, but I think it’ll be better for me to gather Jeremy’s things, and Anita’s, and head back to Earth as quickly as possible.” He began to tear up again and his chin to quiver. When he spoke, his voice was strained. “At the moment, I can’t stand the idea of being in space. I want the blue skies and brightly coloured mountains of the home Anita and Jerash bought in the Appalachians. I think I’ll stay there for a while. Plenty of counsellors within transporter range. I’m not denying that I’m going to be needing their profession in the next few months. No use in denying that.”

“What about the Saratoga and your mission there?” Picard inquired.

“The mission is nearly finished anyway, time-wise. Task-wise, it was completed days before, and I remained there just to make it easier for you to keep me up to date regarding Jeremy. I am no longer needed there.”

“Whatever you think is best, Nigel.”

“Jean-Luc, I want you to do me another favour.”

“Of course, Nigel. Anything.”

“As you did with Anita and Jerash, I want you to bury Jeremy ‘at sea.’ Not that I think he would prefer that sort of thing, necessarily, but I do believe it would honour him. You know, if he can’t be near his parents, at least he can be with them even if that means eternity in space.” He stood and walked over to the painting over Picard’s desk and regarded it for a long moment of silence. “Truth be told, I’m an old man, and I’m not going to be functioning very well emotionally for quite a while, I think. Dealing with making funeral arrangements sounds to me tantamount to trying to hold my breath all the way back to earth floating naked through space.”

“Nigel, you do realize that there are professionals who can manage the details of funeral arrangements for you. You wouldn’t have to lift a finger.”

“I know, Jean-Luc, but that seems just as wrong—having strangers do what I should be doing for the benefit of my own family.” He paused for thought. “No, Jean-Luc, burial at sea is the best answer, somewhere near an obscure star with equally obscure planets, or even no planets at all. Let him explore space through eternity, Jean-Luc.”

“If it will benefit you, my old friend, it shall be done. We will be passing a star system that may suit you in that regard. I’ll send you the information on it in the morning. You can look it over and tell me what you think. Then, as we pass that way tomorrow evening, we’ll hold a funeral.”

“Perfect, Jean-Luc.” He waved a finger in the air as he walked back to his seat and poured a half glass of wine, “And, um, is there someone who can help me pack items from Jeremy’s quarters.”

“Certainly. I know several duty-free ensigns who would be proud of such a task. Anything else?”

“Get me back to Earth as soon as possible.”

“There is one ship, the Ares, I believe, heading there from the same assignment to which the Enterprise is heading. We can rendezvous with them in two days.” Picard smiled. “You’re beginning to make me feel as powerful as Q with all of these requests that I’ve been able to grant you, Nigel. Is there anything else I can snap my fingers to perform?”

Both men smiled together, and together they had one or two more sips of wine before Nigel called the night a night and walked, alone with only a slight stagger, back to his quarters.

 

9

Jeremy’s funeral took place, as tradition dictated, in the torpedo bay. Picard had ordered the Bridge to be manned with lower-ranking officers for the event with Lt. Barnaby in temporary command. When it was announced that there would be a ceremony, U had resolved himself to give a eulogy, reluctant though he was. As it turned out, though, Captain Picard was invited to give the eulogy instead.

In attendance were all the senior officers of the Enterprise, all in dress uniforms. Bo was similarly attired. With them stood Jeremy’s grandfather, Nigel Molitor, also in full dress, and U stood by him.

With Jeremy’s silver/gray photon-tube coffin set on a stand, hip level, at the bottom of a platform two steps high behind it, family and friends huddled around on the lower level of the bay. Picard ascended the two steps and stood behind the tube to speak:

“Of the many honours that accompany a person who commands a starship, none is so challenging on so many levels as speaking at the funeral proceedings of a fallen comrade. But as challenging as it is for one who wore the same uniform as I do, how much more of a challenge it is, I am finding, for one who did not wear this uniform, who was not under my command nor under my authority, except that he resided upon the ship that I currently command.

“To be honest, I have often wondered at Starfleet’s choice to include families aboard Federation vessels, but never have I had such reason to so question that policy as I have now, and yet, I refuse to do so because I was so honoured to have met Jeremy James McKee, and I would never have had the pleasure of meeting him had families not been included on Starfleet ships.

Jeremy was a civilian who lived aboard the U. S. S. Enterprise as the offspring of two members of my crew: Cmdr. Jerash McKee and Lt. Cmdr. Anita Anne McKee. As high as my praise is for Jeremy’s parents, for their professionalism on the job and for their moral and upright character as human beings, my appreciation for Jeremy extends well beyond those bounds.

“From the minute I met Jeremy, I could see that he was a precocious youth, but as I am not a man who spends time with those who are Jeremy’s age, I didn’t pursue opportunities to see him mature; those opportunities, as it turns out, sought me.

“I will not forget the time, only days out of drydock, Jeremy and a friend were on the holodeck, throwing snowballs at passers-by in the Enterprise corridor. Obviously, no harm was done; the snow vanished in mid-air right at the point of the exit from the holodeck, but it was no less surprising for those in the corridor who prepared themselves for a volley of snow that never came. No one was hurt, and no one was inordinately offended. Indeed, it was typical of adolescent pranks, but with no ill repercussions to speak of. It’s just that, regardless of its benign nature, it remained inappropriate.

“Of course, these situations provided no end of entertainment for the two boys until I happened along the corridor and was the butt of their humour with a snowball that would most assuredly have knocked me in the chin had it not been holo snow.

“The part that astounds me to this day is that Jeremy never apologized to me for the joke. His friend certainly did, and then ran away. But Jeremy stood his ground, and, while never challenging me or my authority, he talked his way out of immediate trouble by making me feel guilty for walking down that particular corridor in the first place, and I nearly ended up apologizing to him.

“Now, yes, Jeremy and his friend were both chastised for their behaviour, but I never told his parents about how he talked his way out of trouble so effectively. Indeed, I found those very tactics useful in more than one encounter with the Romulans since then, and they remain very effective to this day.

“My point is this: Seldom in my travels or in my years in Starfleet have I encountered someone so young who could grasp certain principles that remain useful for so many situations, and I can’t help but wonder what mighty things this remarkable young man might have accomplished had he been able to live a life that was as full of years as he was of brilliance and nascent sagacity.”

 

10

At the end of the proceedings, U watched as Jer’s torpedo was loaded into the launch tube. He tried for a moment to recall the name of the star system they were in, where Jer, in his torpedo coffin, would float aimlessly for the next millennium or so. Picard had told him the name, but he couldn’t recall it and finally just dismissed it. The torpedo rolled smoothly forward into its tube. From there, it would be loaded into the launcher and ejected into space. “‘Burial at Sea,’ they call it,” U noted. “What a perfectly sentimental, romanticized notion,” he observed somewhat sardonically. He felt that this whole thing was wrong, but he couldn’t place how. He fought with some vague notion of Jer’s youthful corpse floating eternally as if in a perpetual search for something that would never, could never be found or realized. Did that make it barbaric? Did it make it primitive or primeval? Maybe it was cruel, U considered—just plain cruel. That still felt wrong, and U pondered it longer. It seemed to him like it was a way of hiding one’s self from unpleasant facts, dismissing an idea so that you wouldn’t really need to deal with it. That seemed right: it’s dismissive. It allowed someone to disregard something important; passing the buck; out of sight, out of mind, that type of thing, and one thing that U felt very strongly about was that he would not simply dismiss his young friend.

Once the tube had vanished, there was a momentary pause, quiet followed by a mechanical whoosh as Jer’s tube was ejected—shot out at space sans target or goal or any other known termination to his journey. U stepped forward to shake Picard’s hand. He wanted to thank him and congratulate him on his speech, but as he grasped Picard’s hand in his own, he found the simple task of speaking to be too much of a challenge, lest he break down in uncontrollable tears. He met Picard’s gaze, his eyes welled up, and that’s as far as he got.

Picard, however, understood far better than U could have imagined. “It’s fine, U,” Picard said, “I understand, and I appreciate the gesture. If you have anything to say to me, it will keep. I promise.”

U nodded, chin quivering and tears flowing over the dam of his lower eyelid. He released Picard’s hand and walked alone to his quarters, where he remained for the rest of the evening.

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