Q de Gras (Chapter 11: Cue the Liar! Cue the Misanthrope!)

ACT IV:
Q de Coeur

 

(The Metamorphoses of U: Incarcerated U, Enterprising U, Consultant U, Ambassador U)

Chapter 11:
Cue the Liar!
Cue the Misanthrope!
(Stardate: 42970.9 / 42971.1)

 

1

The corridors of the Enterprise should have been entirely deserted at that hour because even those staff members who were on duty then simply had no need to wander the halls. Typically, there was no need, except that the ship’s captain was unable to sleep. He had done the standard tossing and turning for several hours already, although he wasn’t feeling inordinately upset despite the recent goings-on aboard his ship. He could have felt sad or angry or perplexed or any one of a hundred different negative things. He also could be more positively charged as a result of his officers performing so very well, especially, in this case, where communicating with brand-new species is concerned. He could be feeling excited or proud or elated or any one of a hundred different positive things. Truth be told, he didn’t know what he was feeling, although sometimes on this particular night he felt as though he were being watched, and while just on the cusp of sleep, he’d leap up expecting to see someone at the foot of his bed; of course, there was no one there. At one point, he had the most undeniable need to look out his window that was positioned directly above his bed, as if someone were looking in from outside his ship, but of course, the very notion was absurd. And after some hours with dozens of times getting almost to sleep and being thrust into a fully-awake state, Picard finally threw the covers off his body and got out of bed, determined at that point to take a walk, knowing that a stroll about his ship would be just what the distinguished doctor ordered.

He went to the sink and splashed some water on his face, then dressed into his uniform—back into his personal, warm blanket—to spend some overdue time with his ship, his mistress, his virtually affianced dream girl. He began with a stroll around deck nine as its circular composition would land him back at his own quarters shortly, should he wish to return to bed so soon. After his first circumnavigation, however, he chose to explore more of his ship and made his way to the engineering hull where many of the finest engineering minds of the Federation were sleeping in their quarters, most with their families. However, some of those engineers—those who resided alone—were no doubt still up studying technical manuals of the Enterprise, or the next class of starship. And even some with a bent into history would be reviewing the manuals of the Ambassador-, the Excelsior- or even the Constitution-class starships, looking for improvements to hull design, engine development or improved efficiency, or even how the ships changed aesthetically. Picard had observed over the years that this was how the best engineers spent their downtime: looking for ways to make working hours more productive and therefore all the more fun. Picard had often imagined that of all the different fields in Starfleet, the engineers and the command-level officers had the most in common with each other: In both cases, the personnel lived their jobs virtually twenty-four hours a day. Their profession was also their family and their hobby and even, sometimes, their pet goldfish. It may be, sometimes, a lonely life, but then again, it was in many other ways, a happy life. When you’re an engineer with your co-workers to “work,” everyone around you is just as eager to learn what you discovered the night before. Work hours, then become something of the after-hours party, and a party—whether for engineers or for officers in the red uniform—is simply time to celebrate their true love: the ship.

Sadly, however, the comparison ceased to be true for the captain or the commander of a vessel. For that person, there are long, solitary walks in the dead of night. The engineers keep the ship—the captain’s love-interest—healthy and happy; the crew encourages and enlightens each other, and the captain is the one sole being who remains discrete from the ship and removed from the crew.

Picard passed main engineering with something of a smirk on his face. In any other workspace on the ship, it might be fun to “pay a visit” and surprise everyone … or ‘shock’ them, is more like it, but in engineering, Picard would be lucky if his crew members would even notice him. They would either be lost in their work, or they’d be lost in a conversation about their work. Either way, Picard would be the one left out in the cold were he to stop in. And so he walked past and turned down an adjoining corridor, and just as he did so, the head and shoulders of a tall, dark-haired man in a Starfleet uniform leaned out from inside a bulkhead to watch Picard disappear around the corner. When Picard’s image was obscured by the wall of the Enterprise, the figure from the wall moved back inside the wall.

A few moments later, Picard stopped in a junction that included the entrance to the turbo lift, and he stopped to wonder if he should now return to his quarters. The same uniform-clad person appeared some 25 yards behind him in the corridor and made gestures as though he were either masking or stifling a yawn, and at that moment, Picard felt the uncontrollable need to yawn, and so he did. It was enough to encourage him to return to his quarters, but as he turned toward the lift, he once again sensed that he was being watched. He turned his head quickly down the hall and saw that it was empty, then he shrugged and entered the lift. “Deck nine,” he ordered, and the lift carried him up.

On Deck nine, Picard stepped out of the lift and turned down the corridor to his quarters. As he rounded the bend, well behind him in the same corridor appeared the uniformed man from the lower decks. He simply stood and watched Picard wend his way toward his quarters. Just around the bend, Picard once again felt that he was not alone and turned abruptly to see the empty hall behind him. Picard—not one to be quickly or easily spooked—continued at a casual pace to the entrance of his quarters and stepped inside. As the two halves of the door slid closed, Q appeared beside the entryway, wearing his customary smug smile. “Dors Bien, mon Capitaine,” he said, then raised his right hand to the level of his eye and snapped his finger. There was a sudden flash of light emanating from where Q had been standing, but he was no longer there. The light faded.

Inside his quarters, Picard got himself ready for bed a second time that night. He was asleep only moments after lying back, and he enjoyed one of the best night’s sleep of the last few months.

2

In his ready room the following morning, Picard once again had the distinct sensation that he was being watched. From behind his desk and tea, he stood and looked about the room. The puzzlement and bewilderment of the situation necessitated that he call his first officer, so he tapped his comm badge. “Commander Riker, would you please report to my ready room?”

“On my way, Sir.”

Picard continued to look about his ready room. Then the door slid open, and Riker walked in. “Sir?”

Picard said nothing immediately. He simply set his fists on his hips and looked at Riker with something of an expression of frustration. “Oh, this is silly, Number One.”

“Would you care to be more specific, Sir?” Will was half smiling and half-serious.

“I have a feeling, Will.”

“A … feeling ?”

“Yes,” Picard said, nodding, his brows raised. “That’s right. A feeling.”

“Can you describe this feeling, Sir?”

Picard began to pace, swirling one hand in the air. “Well, it’s the feeling of …” Just then, there was a flash of light suddenly appearing above the sofa, and half a second later, Q took the place of that light, seemingly darkening the room some. The uniform he wore was that of a Starfleet captain, and the smile he wore was that of a prankster, and that’s when Picard finished his thought: “The feeling of being watched, Number One.”

“Hello, Jean-Luc,” Q said. “Miss me?”

“Q,” Picard snapped as if to a recalcitrant child, “where the devil have you been?”

Q stood. “Why, Jean-Luc! You DID miss me!” he proclaimed, then, with both hands over his heart, he added, “I cannot help but be touched!”
That’s when Riker tapped his own comm badge, “Riker to Worf, we need security in the captain’s ready room, pronto.”

“Well, good feeling’s gone,” Q said.

The doors opened, and Worf marched in. Picard held up a palm, and Worf kept his distance, but he glared and Q. “Well, Q? I’m waiting,” Picard said.
“Waiting for what?”

“For an answer to my question.”

“What sort of newly acquired arrogance gives you the dubious right to question me, Jean-Luc?” Q demanded.

Picard noted to himself that Q did not call him “mon Capitaine,” but kept that observation to himself. “The last time we met,” Picard said, his voice low and challenging, almost a growl, “you told me that you would be within earshot in case I changed my mind regarding a certain life-threatening illness. Since then, I, among others, have been trying to contact you, and you were nowhere to be found.” He took a step or two toward Q. “So I put it to you again, Q: Where have you been?”

That’s when embarrassment overtook the body language of the omnipotent being. As he sauntered uncomfortably about the ready room, he said, “Well, then I confess, Jean-Luc, I was, in fact, presented with the particularly unpleasant need to … uh, how would you say it? … to ‘backpedal?’ on our agreement.” He smiled with the guilt of a child who is the likely culprit in the mystery of the missing cookies.

“The ‘need to backpedal’? You mean you were ‘forced to welch’? What power is there that can force a member of the Q Continuum to renege on an agreement, Q?”

“A whim!” Worf broke in at that moment.

Q’s entire body dropped a degree or two by the taunting that he knew he deserved. “Oh, brilliant, Worf!” Q said. “You’ve been brushing up on Klingon Kiddy stories, have you?” he mocked. “Or are you still angry at me for replacing you on the Bridge?”

Worf’s eyes tipped to his side as he considered for a moment. “Yes,” he said.

Q scoffed, “Well, let it go, will you? Next time I’ll make it so that you replace me. Will that make everything all right?”

With the slightest hint of a smirk, Worf shook his head,” No,” he said with an almost conciliatory tone, “I could never hope to fill your floppy red clown shoes.”

While Riker chortled audibly, Picard took over once again, making sure to redirect the conversation somewhere a bit more helpful to everyone involved, including Q. As Worf was poising himself to pounce, Picard called, “Enough of this! Worf!” and raised a hand to calm him. Then Picard completely altered his tone. He made sure to sound calm and rational: “Q, Jeremy McKee passed away some time ago.” Q’s mouth dropped open in anticipation of blame, but Picard responded to Q’s as yet unspoken protest: “I do not hold you responsible, Q, but if you will please forgive me, I must know what kept you away when you made it so clear that you would be poking around. You see,” he began to smile at this point, showing his relaxed state, “while the outcome of this situation is painful for everyone, many of us have been able to begin moving on already.” He took another step toward Q. “And yet, Q, I remain perplexed. It’s not like you to simply disappear and not to gloat, not to taunt, not to goad, so I ask you again, if only for the sake of settling my own curiosity: where have you been?”

Q took a seat on the sofa, and as he did, Picard said, “Thank you, Mr. Worf. That will be all.” Then he took his own seat behind his desk, and Q began explaining. “The protozoan life form you … ‘discovered’ on Telokotis Minor have a Guardian, Jean-Luc.”

“A ‘guardian’?” Picard asked?

Q smiled sheepishly and yet not without arrogance. “Yes. A ‘Guardian,’ a being with power comparable to the Q but a member of any of the hundreds of omnipotent races of beings whose existence we discussed when you met U.” He smirked first, then his expression turned serious and inquisitive. “Which reminds me, how is my former countryman, Jean-Luc? Truly, I miss him.”

“‘Former ’countryman?” Riker asked.

“Well, of course,” Q said with the implied insult against Riker’s intelligence, which Picard ignored entirely. “Surely you’ve noticed that he is not the same little U you brought aboard: bad breath, body odour, perspiration, fatigue … any of these ringing a bell?”

“As a matter of fact, yes, Q. I just didn’t realize that you would dismiss a compatriot so quickly and easily.”

“Oh, Jean-Luc, it’s not easy; I assure you, but what’s done is done, isn’t it? I have, as you say, ‘moved on.’”

Picard looked at Q with disdain. “Can we get back to these guardians you were talking about?

“Whatever you want, Jean-Luc,” Q oozed. “Sometimes a small group or individual from one of these races discovers a species and adopts them as a sort of surrogate brood of offspring. Then they usually do one of two things: They either become one of them in order to learn about them, like that incident your Counsellor Troi had earlier this year. That might have been brought about by one of those mighty beings.”

Picard was intrigued, not just because there had been an incident so recent, but that Q seemed to have intimate knowledge about it. He found it disconcerting, at best. “You know about that incident?” Picard asked.

Q smiled. It was something of a devilish grin. “Mais oui, but of course!” Q protested. “It’s all part of being omnipotent, Jean-Luc.”

“And … the alternative?” Picard prodded.

“The option is to become ‘God’ for that species.”

“God?”

“Yes, Jean-Luc. As with the Guardian of your protozoans, some beings take something of a mawkish, semi-divine, quasi parental role over a lower species, usually on a planet farther away from more mortals than Telokotis Minor is. That way, they don’t need to worry as much about lower-order primates, such as yourselves, coming in and messing things up. That little episode a while back when you encountered a humanoid species—far more open-minded than yourselves—and their God afloat in space. Do you remember?”

Picard felt a bit stunned. “Yes,” he said, almost meditatively. “The inhabitants of the Rubicun star system near the Strnad system—they call themselves …” he paused to try to recall the name of the species. “… The Edo!—they worship a being that appeared to be neither entirely in nor apart from our dimension.”

“You nearly got poor Wesley Crusher killed on that one. Really, Jean-Luc, you must learn to be more careful!” Q said with a parental tone.

Picard snapped his fingers, “Yes. I remember now. The protozoans mentioned a protector who had provided some sort of indemnity, and U explained that such a thing is not out of the ordinary.”

“He’s correct. Your Federation has officially encountered at least one other such life form prior to these that we’ve discussed,” Q said.

“Oh?”

“Yes. Your revered Captain Kirk encountered a breed of Saurian Aborigines on a planet that you call Delta Theta III.” He paused, cocked his head to the side to consider that name. “Really, Jean-Luc, we must talk to your Federation about inventing, shall we say, less inane names for the planets you think that you’ve discovered.”

Picard rolled his eyes lightly and shook his head. Then said to his first officer, “Number One, would you please look into that and pull up any information that is pertinent?”

“Aye, Sir,” Riker said and exited.

Q moved over to sit on Picard’s desk, wearing a pensive, curious expression. “Jean-Luc, please forgive my incessant curiosity, but I would like to know how U is doing now as a member of an entirely different species.”

“You’ll have to ask him,” Picard said as he stood and went to his replicator. “Tea, Earl Gray, Hot!” he commanded, then turned to Q. “Anything for you, Q?”

“Why, Jean-Luc, I’m truly touched.”

“Don’t be,” Picard said, lifting his cup.

“Well, in that case, I’ll just say, no thank you.”

“Mmm, so be it,” Picard said as he returned to his seat. “Shall I have U come up here so that you can gloat?”

“Gloat? You wound me, Sir.”

“Fine then, so that you can say hello to a former countryman.”

“Actually,” Q said after a moment to think, “that would be quite nice.”

Picard set his tea down, tugged his tunic and reached to his comm button. “Picard to Lt. Costello.”

“Costello here, Captain.”

“Lieutenant, is U with you there?”

“He is, Sir.”

“Would you please ask him to report to my ready room?”

“Aye, sir. Would you mind if I joined him, Captain? I believe that I–-or we, rather—have a report for you.” Picard observed that the lieutenant sounded somewhat enthusiastic on the one hand, but there also seemed to be something of a tone of apprehension as well.

Picard nodded. “By all means, Lieutenant.”

“Thank you, Sir. We’ll both be right up.”

“Acknowledged. Picard out.”

Q appeared momentarily surprised. “Well, isn’t he the plucky teacher’s pet?” he observed.

Picard ignored him and sat back once more and sipped his tea. “So, tell me, Q: This guardian for the protozoans, why didn’t he or she alert us? Had we known, we should certainly have left the system immediately.”

“Yes, you would have tucked tail and run. Smart, Jean-Luc. But as I understand it, SHE didn’t see you as a threat until after your crew took ill. Then, even though she knew that you could do nothing to them on your own, she also knew that you had associations with the Q, so she contacted the Continuum.”

“And the Continuum agreed to help her?”

Q folded his arms and smiled with a sort of pseudo satisfaction. “Consider it ‘professional courtesy,’ Jean-Luc. A gesture to maintain the peace.”

“I see,” Picard said regarding his tea contemplatively. “And the, uh … the Continuum kept you away from us?”

Q looked directly at Picard, and his expression was as blank as a monitor with the power off. “They did,” he said flat and deadpan. “They knew that I would likely have helped you if I had been here, so they held me, in much the same way they had held U when you encountered him, just with a more temporary component.”

“I see,” Picard said. “Instead of casting you out, they cast you in,” Picard jabbed.

Q either didn’t quite get the reference, or he was more than ordinarily offended by the comparison. “I beg your pardon?” he asked.

“Mm, nothing,” Picard said, waving the comment away. Then, with a decidedly changed tone, “And would you?”

“Would I what?”

“If you had been here, would you have cured Jeremy McKee, if we had asked?”

Q leaned in toward Picard. “If you had kept your part of the bargain that we discussed in the corridor, Jean-Luc, I would have kept mine. Rest assured.”

“Then the real problem, Q, is that I would not have made that agreement.”

“Then nothing at all has changed, Jean-Luc.”

“Agreed,” Picard said just as Riker paged him: “Riker to Picard.”

Picard tapped his badge, “Picard.”

“Sir, we have confirmation on Q’s Saurian Aborigines discovered by Captain James Kirk and crew on stardate 7403.6 on planet Delta Theta III. Their away team was accompanied by a Pandronian, Honorary Commander Ari bn Bem.” Riker paused, sifting through the logs. “Uh, ‘discovered Saurian species similar to the Gorn, but not nearly as developed.’ … Um … Ah! Here we go. ‘The village’—that would be the Saurian village, Sir—‘was cared for by a God-like being who remained nameless. … referred to the Saurian creatures as “her children” and … demanded Kirk and party leave the planet immediately.’” He paused again, reading the material. “They placed the planet under quarantine, which is apparently still in effect, Sir,” and he broke again. “There’s more about the village, and Kirk and party, but that’s everything concerning a Guardian, such as Q mentioned, Sir.”

“Thank you, Number One. That’s helpful,” Picard said and then seemed lost in thought for a time while Q carried on: “There. You see? Q’s not so terribly unreliable, now, is he?”

“Mm-hm,” Picard said, not really paying attention. “I was just reminded that U also mentioned guardians, beings who guard planet Bajor? What did he call them? The … Prophets! Yes. Does that mean anything to You, Q?”

By this time, Q’s attention had drifted, but he was still attentive enough to respond. “The Prophets? Mm, nothing first-hand, I’m afraid. Very powerful beings, though, Jean-Luc, I can tell you that much.”

The door chime rang. “Yes,” Picard said to Q. “So I’ve been told.” Then he called out, “Come!” And Bo, followed by U, entered from the Bridge.

“Reporting as ordered, Sir.”

“Why, U,” Q said, regaining his usual sardonic self. “Grovelling to the lower orders, as usual, I see.”

“Q!” U returned with all the enthusiasm Q had lacked. “It’s good to see you!”

Q scoffed. “Well, of that there is no doubt.” He stood and stepped closer to U and rolled his eyes as he spoke: “I suppose that you’re going to beg me now to take you back to your cell so that you can have your powers and be Q again.”

“I don’t think so, Q,” U said dryly.

“What do you mean?”

U answered matter-of-factly, “I mean ‘no,’ Q. I’m happy right where I am for now.”

“That’s absurd!” Q put his hand to U’s forehead. “You must be suffering immensely, U.” He turned to Picard. “Jean-Luc, what have you done to this poor boy?”

U felt himself to be quite able to respond to Q’s preposterous notion. “I can assure you, Q, I am quite well: in my right mind and physically fit.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, U,” Q protested. “Clearly, you’ve been mistreated by your mortal hosts.”

“On the contrary, Q. I simply find the arrogance of the Continuum to be beneath me.”

“Beneath you?”

“Well beneath me,” U said, nodding intently. “Tell me something, Q: Can you see beauty in the colourscape of a nebula? Are you able to envision characters in the seemingly random patterns of the stars?” He paused, allowing Q to respond, which he didn’t. Instead, he tried to evade U’s gaze, which wasn’t possible without leaving the room. When U spoke again, he kept his attention on Q while speaking to Picard. “It may surprise you to learn, Captain, that the Q have no literary fiction of their own. Did you know that?”

“Indeed not,” Picard said with a look of surprise. “I had no idea.”

“Oh, the Q have literature such as articles, interviews, that sort of thing. They can appreciate literature from other cultures on certain levels, Captain, as you might read an historical document—a record of mere occurrences, but to recognize a fictitious character as a three-dimensional person? Not the Q. They are incapable even if the fictitious character is a Q creation. In the same way that their creations feel somewhat artificial to mortals, Captain, their own fiction feels unreal to them. They lack the ability to suspend their own disbelief in a character that they see as perpetually two-dimensional simply because he or she doesn’t exist in real space/time.

“That’s why they spend so much time with mortals. We become, for them, their fiction. They live vicariously through our adventures that they manipulate. These are their stories that they share with other Q. It’s amusing, if not also insulting, that mortals become for the Q the fiction that all sentient beings crave. That’s why they keep popping up.

“It’s the same with pictorial art, Captain. A portrait is meaningless, and a painting of characters created by the imagination of a mortal being? They can see the skill in the creation, but they can’t appreciate the art itself because they can’t identify with the characters. Even sculpture becomes ironically two-dimensional for the Q.”

He began to speak to Q again, keeping his voice focussed, a narrow beam, controlled, “What you fail to see, Q, is that you haven’t evolved to be better than anyone. No one is superior. All of us are what we need to be at a given time. In the same way that mortals might need someone like the Q to help them out of a tight spot, the Q also need mortals to expand the Q mind. Indeed, you need mortals in some ways more than we need the Q because we are able to be fascinated by the wonders of space as a result of an imagination that you lack. You need us to see it for you. And it’s this same imagination, Q, from my humanity that has enabled me to see Cmdr. Data is a living being, an equal, and to note that even he has an imagination. Had he none, he would have no cause to strive to be more human. He can imagine being human, Q. It’s his human capacity to imagine that allows him to set that goal, and that already makes him, in one way, superior to the Q. My humanity enables me to see a 14-year-old boy as a brilliant being with enormous potential. It is my humanity, Q, that empowers me to know without a doubt that Jeremy McKee has an eternally living soul, that Jeremy James McKee lives on, even now. What do you think of that?”

Q scoffed. “It rather conflicts with the notion of ‘mortality.’”

“Absolutely,” U nodded, “because, despite all your Q powers and prowess, you’re too limited to see all that there is to see, Q.”

Q attempted a confident smirk. It appeared more as a squirming attempt to regain lost footing. “So, are you saying that mortals have lost their need for God?”

“Not at all, Q. But even if I were … well, there are parts of this conversation regarding the status of the Q that I promised you and Captain Picard I would not discuss while aboard the Enterprise, but you know my thoughts on that already. I can unabashedly say, though, that mortals have no great need for Q, at least, no more than Q have need of mortals. But if we simply decide to help each other …”

“So, what you’re saying,” Q said, changing the subject, trying to avoid another sermon on the need for all species to help each other, “is that you’re content to remain with the rest of these mortals, indulging in flights of fancy, with no real advancements for yourself into never-ending bounds of eternity?”

“I am,” U said.

“And,” Picard took this time to point out,“ he has been functioning in these ‘flights of fancy,’ as you call them, as capably and diligently as any member of my crew. U has been indispensable to me in these last few weeks. Even without his Q powers, U has done more to be helpful and useful than you have, Q in all the time I’ve known you, with all your preening pseudo-omnipotence.”

“And yet, Jean-Luc,” Q said with mock sorrow, “Jeremy McKee is dead.”

“Not for lack of effort on the part of anyone aboard the Enterprise!” Picard argued.

Q folded his arms and leaned on Picard’s desk. “I’m sure that’s very comforting,” he observed. “I wasn’t expecting such a turn of a Q attitude. Tell me, U, how many times did Picard turn you down for your reprieve before you chose to accept your fate? Hmm?”

U was about to answer, but Picard interrupted, even stepping to in physically intervene. “As a matter of fact, Q, I already offered U his pardon, and he turned me down. Would you like to know why?” Q made no indication either way, but Picard wasn’t interested in Q’s response. He continued, “He turned it down because he was concerned that it would reflect poorly on him if he were to heal Jeremy while U was aboard the Enterprise, only to have Jeremy suffer a relapse after U had departed. In other words, Q, he turned down his freedom because of integrity.”

Q winced. “How revolting!”

Picard smiled, and he schooled his voice: “How honourable, Q.”

It was a struggle for an omnipotent being, but Q managed—almost—to retain something of a poker face and to not appear to squirm. He quickly changed the subject: “So, tell me, U, have you retained anything from your Q status that you’ve been able to utilize? ESP, perhaps? Telekinesis? Intelligence?”

U considered for a moment. “As a matter of fact, I have retained my remarkable Q hearing, not to mention my decidedly high intelligence. As I recall, my tests showed a higher intelligence in me than yours did in you. Isn’t that interesting?”

Q rolled his eyes. “You mortals are remarkably obtuse, are you aware of that?” He held up a hand. “Oh, wait, silly question,” he remarked, then snapped his fingers and vanished with a flash of light.

Picard’s smile betrayed his great satisfaction. “Well,” he said, “I’m glad that’s over.” U smiled, but Bo stood, seemingly isolated and uncomfortably rigid while Picard sat, again, behind his desk. “Did you practice that speech, U?”

“Not at all, Captain,” U said. “I didn’t even know I had all that in me to be said until Q taunted me.”

Picard nodded and smiled, “It’s amazing how often my best speeches come as a result of Q’s taunting or goading.”

“I apologize if I stepped on your toes, Captain.”

“Not at all, U! It was quite engaging, actually.” Then he settled himself, visibly putting the fun aside and donning a more professional demeanour. “Mr. Costello, what is your report,” he asked.

“Sir,” Bo began, as he should for an official report, but in this case, he also betrayed a strong hesitance, “working together with our guest, U, I have completed … uh, I think it’s fair to say, ‘as much as humanly possible,’ the translation matrix for the Calliphlox.”

“Excellent, Lieutenant! Well done!” Picard effused, smiling, attempting to ease the Lieutenant into a more relaxed posture.

Bo hesitated, and began to look nervous, so Picard probed further: “Is there something else, Lieutenant?”

“Well, Sir …” Bo grimaced. This was one area of Starfleet protocol where Bo was least experienced despite more than 15 years of service. His duties seldom included reporting to a supervisor, even less seldom to a member of the senior staff, let alone to the captain himself. His job was to work with the mechanisms that aided communication. On rare occasion, he may have to report to an immediate superior, but normally he had to do assigned tasks, log his hours per task, and mark them as complete on time. But report to someone? What on Earth for? But now, not only must he report to a superior officer, but he must do so on “foreign soil,” as it were. He now stood before the captain, in his ready room, not in Bo’s own office. He felt entirely powerless, and that feeling showed.

After a breath, “Well Sir,” he began again, “I don’t mean to detract from my previous statement: The translation matrix is complete; we have it downloaded onto a hand-held comm unit, which is ready to go; there is, quite literally, nothing more that we can do. …”

“But?” Picard coaxed.

“But there’s also no real way to test it, Sir, not before we meet with the Calliphlox themselves, if you get my meaning, Sir.”

Picard smiled reassuringly and nodded. “I see,” he said and reclined in his chair. “So, you’re telling me that there may be issues with your work? Issues that you have not been able to anticipate. Is that it?”

Bo continued a rigid stance, “Yes, Sir.”

“Lieutenant,” Picard began but paused, taking a deep breath, “ you’re not a Bridge officer, so there will be things about Bridge protocol that you may never experience in your entire Starfleet career. If you were assigned to work out a problem with a celestial phenomenon that we have successfully encountered before, I would certainly require you to have considered and planned for every conceivable contingency, and I would expect a ready explanation if you were caught by surprise in some way. This is not the case with you. Do you see that?”

“Yes, Sir,” Bo said, still clearly uncomfortable and using his finest militaristic conduct as a defence.

“At ease, Lieutenant,” Picard commanded finally.

Bo relaxed … a bit.

Picard leaned forward and folded his hands on his desk. “I will pass your report on to Admiral Hanson, please know that I understand the complexities of what you’re dealing with, Lieutenant. Seldom do we have to program the Universal Translator by hand, even when dealing with a new language. We have an enormous bank of languages to draw from, to find commonalities from tribe to tribe, nation to nation, even species to species. Failing that, the UT is able to make immediate connections between referents and references, so it has become almost infallible. But you have been working with, not just a new language, but an entirely new type of language, one that neither the UT nor any member of the Federation has encountered. Even while it may have been quite common for Captains Archer and Hernandez to have their communications officers program these instruments by hand, that was two centuries ago. So, in essence, with this task I assigned you, I sent you back in time 200 years, and I understand that there is no way for you to test your work prior to your first encounter with the Calliphlox. There may be issues, initially, of course, but we’ll sort those out as they arise, and they will in no way reflect negatively on the quality of your work, Lieutenant.”

Bo let go a sigh of relief, and all three men seemed more at ease. Then Picard stood, tugged his tunic, and walked around from behind his desk. “Nevertheless, it is precisely because of these unexpected issues that I want you to join me on the away team to meet with Admiral Hanson aboard the Malinche tomorrow. I will need you there if there are any issues with the UT. Are you up to that?”

“Absolutely, Sir,” Bo responded promptly and even enthusiastically. “I respectfully request that U join us as well, Sir.”

Picard hesitated, confused, but only for a moment. When U saw his confusion, he faltered. Picard sat and folded his hands again on his lap. “Is there some reason that U is needed?”

“Needed? No, Sir. I am fully capable of operating the new matrix and making adjustments,” Bo said cautiously.

“Then why should U join us?” Picard demanded.

“Because, Sir, had I completed this assignment without him, it most assuredly would not have been on time. Further, having me show up without him would suggest that I accomplished the matrix alone. Finally, Sir, I would be honoured to have him with us as he and I would then both be able to see our work come to fruition.”

Picard nodded thoughtfully, then looked over at U. “Obviously, U, I cannot order you to accompany us. However, I would be remiss as your host not to extend my personal invitation for you to join us.”

“I gladly accept your gracious invitation, Captain,” U said, standing. “I would be honoured to be able to see Bo’s hard work being used to advance his career.” Picard smiled and nodded again. “Excellent!” he said as he stood behind his desk. “Then it’s settled. Actually, U, my superior has been waiting to meet you, so your joining us is helpful to me, too.”

“Really?” U inquired.

“Yes. His name is J. P. Hanson, and it was he who ordered me to return to meet you before we went on with our mission with the Calliphlox.” Then Picard sat again, tugged his tunic and folded his hands on his lap. “Since then, I’ve been sending him my logs and other reports about you.”

U raised his eyebrows almost in protest. Picard raised both palms to reassure him: “It’s nothing spectacular, U. You’re too humble to have me send overwhelming praise, but you provided us all quite a quandary when we first met you. He was apprised of that conundrum, and now that all is seemingly resolved, it would be a privilege and a relief for the two of you to meet.”

U shook his head, smiling. “Well, Captain, it will be an honour for me to meet him, and to meet the Calliphlox delegation.”

“Good. Our rendezvous with the Malinche is at 0700 tomorrow; we beam over at 0900. I want both of you well-rested.” He raised his chin to get Bo’s attention. “Lieutenant, full-dress uniform for you.”

“Aye, Sir,” Bo said with his militaristic tone.

“And U,” Picard said, “I’ve grown quite accustomed to seeing you in that suit, and it’s perfectly appropriate attire for tomorrow’s meeting. It is a Starfleet issue, after all.” He stopped and drew a deep breath. “I’m just concerned that you might feel underdressed compared with the Starfleet officers.”

“Why is that, Captain?

“Well, what you’re wearing is intended as a sort of emergency garment. As a result, it was designed almost as a one-size-fits-all, and it has all the flair and pomp of prison attire.”

“I appreciate your concern, Captain,” U said, recalling his more flamboyant attire from his Continuum cell. “If the Lieutenant doesn’t mind, perhaps he can help me to find something that will blend in a bit more.”

Picard turned to Bo. “Lieutenant?”

“Well, Captain, I’m not very fashion-minded.” With a rueful grin, he continued: “That’s one benefit to being in Starfleet; the fashion is chosen for me, but I’m happy to look at what the replicators can offer.”

“You may wish to consult with Counsellor Troi if you find yourself to be out of touch in that area. I’m sure she’d be glad to help.”

Both U and Bo looked at each other and nodded. “Thank you, Sir,” Bo said.

Picard seemed pleased. “Very well, then, gentlemen. I shall see you in transporter room III tomorrow morning. Dismissed.”

Both men turned and departed.

3

Like a couple of teenage boys competing for a date for the prom at the eleventh hour, U and Bo rushed to the turbolift so that Bo could contact Counsellor Troi to learn when she was free. As it turned out, she was free right away, so the three of them met in the ship’s stores on deck four. The ship’s stores consisted of a space with five kiosk-style replicators—about chest high—with imaging screens allowing people to look through items—in Bo’s case, formal attire. Then they can select the one and have the kiosk replicate that item. If it turned out to be the wrong item for whatever reason, just like empty dishes in the replicators in each person’s quarters, it could be placed back onto the kiosk, and the matter reabsorbed into the replicator system.

Troi smiled in her friendly fashion when the three met. “So, how can I help?” she asked.

Bo stepped up. “The captain wants U to join us tomorrow as we meet the Calliphlox delegation, but he feels that U might be more comfortable in such company if he were to wear something a bit …”

“A bit more Starfleet?” Troi enquired.

Bo smiled but shrugged while tipping his hand in the air, back and forth, indicating that her response was close but not entirely accurate. “Something a bit less ‘escapee’ and a little more ‘I know what I’m talking about.’”

Troi smiled in her friendly but motherly way. “I see,” She said as she began to move toward an open kiosk. “Well, I think I can help you find something appropriate for the situation, U. Let’s take a look.” She stopped before one. “Computer, I need to see a selection of men’s semi-formal attire that would be appropriate for a meeting with a delegation of Federation foreign dignitaries.”

Light from the ceiling shone down in front of the kiosk, near where Troi now stood. It illuminated an area of the carpet for a few seconds before the computer directed, “Subject must be scanned for size and appropriate colour variations.”

“Ah,” Troi reflected. “U, stand in the light, beside me. Stand straight and keep your eyes open.”

U said nothing but obeyed the counsellor directly. He stood straight, and a lighted grid measured his body. Then another light flashed on U’s face to gather skin tone and eye and hair colour. When the computer finished, it announced, “Scan complete. Available attire may now be viewed on monitor. Modifications to choices may require extra time to replicate.”

“Ok, U, let’s see what the computer has come up with.” Bo and U stepped up beside Troi, and the three looked into the monitor together. “Do you have anything specific in mind, U?” Troi asked.

“Not specifically,” U responded with some wavering. “But, to be honest, I’ve been dressed in these colours for so long that …”

“That you’d like to try something else?” Troi surmised incorrectly.

“Just the opposite,” U said. “I’d very much like to stick with them.

“I see,” Troi said, surprised that she didn’t sense that from him.

“The Q Continuum is filled with creatures of habit, Counsellor. Why do you think that we’re all named Q?”

Troi smiled, but U could see that it was shallow. “Something wrong, Counsellor?”

She shook her head. “Not really. I’m just wondering why I sensed your emotion so incorrectly.”

“Mm,” U observed. “It’s likely because I was thinking of Jeremy at that particular moment, and how he would strongly suggest that I try other colours.”

“Ah,” she said. “That might do it.”

“This is going to take hours,” Bo whined. “Can we eliminate some of the style choices?

There were hundreds of images. What made the task easier was that U quickly dismissed the Ferengi, Klingon, Andorian, Tellarite styles altogether as well as many of the Vulcan, Bolian, Arcadian and Grazerite styles, not to mention the styles of the Xindi Primate and Reptilian styles, but he quite liked some of the Humanoid styles, quickly settling on some of the conservative styles of the Betazoids, Terrans and Deltans. And after what seemed like a very long search to both U and Bo, but an all too brief search for Troi, U settled on a Betazoid suit. It had a silk shirt with a high neck, olive-drab in colour and was complemented with a jacket and trousers of a light gray. The jacket buttoned with a single button very low and off centre on the torso, exposing much of the elegance of the shirt beneath.

“That one!” U said eagerly, pointing at the monitor.

Troi stood straight. “Let’s try it,” she said and pressed “select.” Moments later, a folded suit, complete with boots and socks, materialized on the top of the kiosk. Troy leaned forward, lifted the suit off and handed it to U. “There’s a fitting room right over there,” she said, pointing to a series of closed doors. “Go try it on.”

“Aren’t we already quite certain of its fit?” U asked.

“Yes,” Troi answered, “but we want to make sure the colour is right for you and that the style is right for the event.”

“I see,” U said.

“Besides,” Troi added, “Sometimes the computer can make an error in size. We wouldn’t want you meeting the Calliphlox representative with scrunched feet or with the jacket being too loose.”

“Good point,” U acknowledged and went to change. Moments later, he emerged a new U. The suit was a perfect fit for U and for the occasion. He looked professional, confident, respectable and refined. Troi smiled, clearly pleased. Bo, not one to appreciate fashion, shrugged. “Yeah. That’ll do.”

“It’s perfect,” Troi concluded. “U,” she said, “go back in and change back into your jumpsuit. Save the formal wear for tomorrow,” she commanded.

The two men thanked Troi for her time and assistance. They invited her to join them for dinner, but she declined, so U and Bo had a meal and attended Worf’s Mok’bara class.

That night, even though they both had enjoyed a rigorous workout and knew they needed to be sharp the next morning, neither of the two slept well. Bo suffered from anxiety like he did just before his first solo recital. U suffered, in part from thoughts of Jeremy—how much he wanted this translation to succeed for the sake of that young man’s memory, and his anxiety woke him many times in the night. When he did sleep, his subconscious mind created images that reflected his agitated state. In one dream, he was caught in an olive-green shirt that was far too short for him, and he apparently forgot to don his trousers. He was caught on a starship adorned with all the visiting dignitaries the Federation could find in the sector, while he continued trying to be modest and respectful and yet remove himself from the humiliation of the situation. He finally found himself in a tiny closet alone with some dubious clothing that he could wear, theoretically, but he couldn’t get out of the olive-green shirt that adorned his neck, chest and the upper area of his belly. Try as he might, he could not remove the shirt. He struggled so much with it that he finally fell out of the closet, found himself naked on the floor, with Picard and his officers pointing and laughing. He was so embarrassed that he tried to run away and found that, as he did run, he began to fly. Until his dream ended with the computer giving his wake-up call, U, naked but now oblivious to it, flew away from the most humiliating circumstance of his existence.

4

The last person to arrive at transporter room III the following morning was Bo. He walked in, quite casually but stopped short when everyone who was supposed to be there turned to meet him. He held in his hand a small comm unit that would function as a UT with the Calliphlox matrix already programmed in. The expressions of those present were calm and amiable, but stepping into the presence of so many so suddenly gave Bo pause. “I trust I’m not late,” he said.

“Not at all,” Picard responded cheerfully. “As a matter of fact, I was just complimenting U on his fine selection of professional attire for this occasion.”
Counsellor Troi interrupted just as U began to smarten up his jacket a little, “And I was just about to thank the captain for his praise of that fine selection.” The group laughed.

Picard looked around the room to make sure all were present who were supposed to be, plus Chief O’Brien, who was operating the transporter. Personnel included Captain Picard, Cmdr Riker, Lt. Cmdr. Data, Counsellor Troi, Lt. Worf, Lt. Costello and U. Seeing that all were present, Picard announced, “Very well, everyone. We will be beaming over to the Malinche in two parties because the transporter can take only five at a time. We are beaming to the Malinche for a briefing on the Calliphlox and to share the Lieutenant’s work on the translation matrix for the Calliphlox language. After that, we shall beam down to the surface of the Calliphlox homeworld, which we and several other ships are currently orbiting. Questions?” He waited and looked at his staff, who stood silent and obedient. “Good,” Picard continued. “Very well, Mr. Worf, Mr. Data and Number One, you’re with me. Counsellor, I shall see you in a very few moments.”

“Aye, Sir.”

“You know, I’m actually anticipating some fun on this mission,” Picard said and stepped onto the transporter pad. “Energize when ready, Chief,” Picard commanded.

“Stand by,” O’Brien called. He adjusted his controls to accommodate the increased sized gap between the Enterprise and the Malinche. Then, “Energizing,” and those on the pad appeared to turn to floating dust then vanished. With no delay, Troi stepped onto the pad. U and Bo followed her lead. “Energize, Chief,” Troi said. This time with no delay, O’Brien responded, “Energizing.” And the final three were swept off the Enterprise and whisked away to the Malinche.

 

5

Onboard the Malinche, Picard and his party materialized in the main transporter room and were immediately greeted by Admiral Hanson, who shook Picard’s hand with warmth and friendship. “Jean-Luc! It’s good to see you again!”

“You as well, J. P.,” Picard returned cheerfully.

“Allow me to introduce the man in charge of this vessel,” Hanson continued, “Captain George Sanders.” Then Hanson indicated Picard to Sanders: “Captain Jean-Luc Picard,” and the two men shook hands. Then Captain Sanders, introduced his own Number One: “This is my first officer, Cmder Rick MacAskill.”

He and Picard shook hands, then Picard introduced his entourage: “This is my first officer, Cmdr Riker. My second officer, Lt. Cmdr. Data, and Chief of Security, Worf.” There was a long moment of greetings and meetings.

“Make a note, Gentlemen,” Admiral Hanson said to the members of the Malinche’s crew. “We have here the only android and the only Klingon in Starfleet.” As comments passed from one to another, the second group from the Enterprise materialized on the platform. As they stepped down, Picard introduced each to the officers of the Malinche. “Gentlemen,” he said, “this is Counsellor Troi.” After she had greeted the other officers, she turned to Hanson, “Admiral,” she said, “I wanted to thank you personally for the special leeway you granted Captain Picard regarding the crew of the Enterprise this last, very difficult month. The extra time was helpful.”

Hanson waved a hand in the air in an attempt to minimize his part. “Happy to do it, Counsellor,” he said. “And who is this?” he said regarding Bo, who stepped forward to shake Hanson’s hand.

Picard responded, “Sir, this is Lt. Costello.”

“You’re the man responsible for our new translation matrix for the Calliphlox, am I right?”

“In part, Admiral,” Bo said, “It would never have come to fruition, Sir, even in its most elemental form had it not been for my coworker, U, here.”

Hanson turned to U: “You’re our mystery guest from the Q Continuum, aren’t you?” the admiral asked, raising his hand in greeting.

U accepted the gesture with a smile, taking the admiral’s hand in his own. “Well, I hope that I’m not so much of a mystery anymore, Admiral, but yes, I do hail from the Continuum.”

“Your assistance in these matters is very much appreciated … ‘U’? Is it?”

“It is, and I am only too happy to be of service,” U said.

“Excellent,” the admiral said. Then announcing to everyone, “Well, the conference room is directly across the hall. There is no replicator in there, so Captain Sanders had the lounge prepare some morning treats and coffee for everyone. And, yes, Jean-Luc, there’s hot Earl-Gray tea waiting for you, too. Fresh! Not replicated.”

Everyone moved to the conference room and, after enjoying a pastry and a tart or two, settled in with a cup of coffee or tea, Admiral Hanson himself began the conference: “Very well, one and all, you are here to be briefed on the Calliphlox so that when we beam down to the lunar surface, you won’t be repeating the mistakes we made during our official first contact and the many times prior to that.” He waved his hand in the air and frowned. “That’s not to say that it’s difficult to relate to them, ladies and gentlemen; it’s not, but our away teams surely showed their true colours.”

He looked to the table with his eyes closed, shook his head and chuckled. “I shouldn’t laugh,” but he laughed again. “One of our Bolian scientists ran away, screaming in terror after one of the Calliphlox lighted on his shoulder. It turns out that, as a child, this Bolian had visited the famous Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, on Earth where more than a dozen pigeons landed on him, and while he was enjoying the attention, one or two let loose on him. Now, to hear him tell the tail, it’s as if all of them let loose, but even he admits that it was more of the feeling. Anyway, that’s when he learned that Terran pigeon stool is toxic to Bolians, causing the Bolian equivalent of anaphylactic shock, and the impression he came away with is that all bird stool is toxic.” The admiral took a moment to wipe the tears of laughter from his eyes, then he sighed deeply. “I should be more considerate. The poor guy nearly died from the experience back then. He was rushed to the hospital, where he had a lengthy and difficult recovery, apparently. Since then, he’s just been afraid of something similar happening when lots of birds are around, and when one actually landed on him, it was more than he could handle.” He laughed again. “I wish we could publish that story somewhere, but it just wouldn’t be right.”

Most of those in the room were smiling or even giggling at the admiral’s story. Worf, however, was less than humoured. “Such an event would be a grave dishonour for to a warrior. If it were me, I would take my bat’leth and challenge those fowl to a fight to the death!”

His comment stunned the group into silence. The absurdity of trying to find the culprit birds in the first place would be more than enough for the hardiest of warriors. So much so, that killing them would seem a trivial exercise, but the thought of explaining these facts to Worf in this context is actually what caught everyone. There was a good five seconds of silence and then, light-hearted laughter among everyone except Worf and, of course, Data, whose expression was one of mild puzzlement. After all, he could understand why Worf, given his deportment, would feel shame under such circumstances and want to avenge himself upon his foes. Captain Picard stepped in to explain, once the laughter had died down.

“You’ll have to pardon us, Mr. Worf, but you see, there are thousands of pigeons in Piazza San Marco, all of them about the size of your forearm and all of them with nearly identical colouring. Even if you found the culprits, you’d never really know.”

Worf’s battle stance seemed to drop away. “Still, it would be a great shame for a warrior,” he asserted.

“No doubt about it,” Hanson agreed. “Now, about the Calliphlox: They are clearly peaceful beings, but they all have temperaments of artists; every one of them is highly emotive, self-centred, arrogant and, if you’ll please pardon the pun, they’re flighty as fairies. You need to accept that right here and now so that you can get past it, because these beings are eager to share their submoon—in a rightfully limited fashion—with the Federation, and because of its strategic location and unusually palatable climate, given this star system’s other choices, the Federation is more than eager to accept. And I promise you that the Federation will benefit from the art that the Calliphlox are keen to share with beings from other worlds.

“You see,” Hanson continued, “the art of the Calliphlox has reached a peak, not unlike the Europeans did at the end of the Renaissance when they, as the Calliphlox are now, began to wonder, ‘Where should we go from here?’ ‘Where do you go from up?’ It’s that conundrum that the Calliphlox have grappled with for some 10 years: Once you’ve reached all the goals that you’ve been striving for centuries to achieve, how can you make your art form grow? How do you keep it from stagnation?

“So then, how do you behave when you’re on the submoon’s surface? If they are communicating with you or us as a group, they may, individually, want to light on your shoulder as they did for that Bolian I told you about. If you’re comfortable with that, then feel free to just keep looking forward if that’s what you were doing, to begin with. If you’re NOT comfortable, we have devised the sign of looking away from that bird; he or she will understand and depart with no offence taken. You may offer your shoulder, but do not offer a finger or a hand for it to light on. We’re not quite sure why, but the Calliphlox have considered that somewhat insulting since our first encounter with them.

“And remember that, even though we are having trouble interpreting and understanding their language, they are having significantly less difficulty with ours. They cannot speak it. They have beaks, after all, not mouths such as ours, so most of our vocal sounds are impossible for them. They do have an understanding of our language and can communicate with us on a rudimentary level with computers. That’s the best we have for the time being, although we’re hopeful regarding Lt. Costello’s and U’s translation matrix.

“They are beautiful beings, about the length of the humanoid middle finger. You’re welcome to admire their plumage and such, but avoid all belittling terms such as ‘cute’ or ‘adorable.’ Use more sophisticated ideas: ‘Beautiful’ is a good example. They have taken, and they will take offence at baby talk or anything that comes close.

“Please do not try to pet them, as difficult as that might be for most humanoids to avoid. You wouldn’t walk up to me and start stroking my belly or my head, would you? Think of it in those terms. It’s simply inappropriate. The Calliphlox are not puppies; they are sophisticated, sentient beings with sensibilities that take most humanoids by surprise.

“When it comes to viewing some of their art, remember that it is pictorial art made with their own iridescent plumage providing the pigments, but it is also musical and literary all at the same time. That’s why it’s difficult for us to appreciate it to its fullest extent, and even so, it’s breathtaking. They are planning an exhibit later tomorrow evening if all goes well with the new translation matrix provided by Captain Picard’s personnel.” At this, Hanson paused. He looked down at a padd he’d been holding that he’d used for notes, and after regarding it for several seconds, he continued to speak. “Last thing, folks: The Calliphlox frown upon calling their world a moon or ‘a lunar’ anything. They understand that, by our definition, it is not a planet, but they regard it as such anyway. Use the term ‘world’ when discussing their … well, their world. They are touchy on this point, and you will cause offence if you slip and refer to their world as a submoon or even as a moon. Remember: these creatures are born artists. They think like artists, and they behave like artists: kind, generous, welcoming, but very touchy on certain points. Keep in mind the points I’ve discussed, and you’ll do well. Are there any questions?”

U raised a hand, and Hanson gave him the floor. “Please forgive my naïveté, but, as I’m still getting acquainted with human culture, I need to understand what to do if we are introduced. Clearly, we cannot shake hands. Do we bow or just nod or … well, there it is,” he said and fell silent.

Hanson nodded. “Good question,” and some from the Enterprise, including Picard, nodded in agreement. Hanson continued, “If you are introduced by name, which may happen, given the Calliphlox temperament, just nod your head so that there is some visual indication of you as a being. Waving is mildly inappropriate because it looks to the Calliphlox like you’re trying to take flight, and they will either feel mocked or they’ll be amused by such perplexing behaviour. Note when you see them speak, you see that their entire bodies will dip in the air or rise, depending on their wing speeds, and nodding in our own way seems to be a mimicry that is both …” he paused to chuckle, “… both complimentary and complementary, if you get my meaning.” He paused again and looked around the room. “Thank you … um … U.” U nodded. “Any other questions?” Hanson asked.

Captain Picard raised his own hand, and Hanson gave him the floor.

Taking the lead with great skill, Picard said, “Lt. Costello and our guest, U, have worked long and hard to complete a translation matrix. It turns out that speech from the Calliphlox is accompanied by an audible drone or drones, but we are unsure of how that drone is set in place. Lt. Costello suspects that a speaker from the Calliphlox is either accompanied by a choral delegation, or he will ask the listeners to accompany him in place of a chorus, but we’re not sure how that works.

“For our meeting with the Calliphlox, Lt. Costello has downloaded the matrix onto a hand-held comm unit, which, for now, will supply both the speech and as many drones as can be anticipated. However, given the Calliphlox temperament as you have described it, Admiral, I sense a need to clear with you a procedure as we have it developed so far. Does it raise any concerns, Sir?”

Hanson considered for a long, silent moment then shook his head. “It does already start to explain some of their art, Jean-Luc, but I see no reason for concern.” He turned to Captain Sanders, “George, does this raise any concerns with you?”

It was Sanders’ time to consider. After a moment, he frowned and shrugged, then turned to his first officer. “Rick, can you think of anything?”

Commander MacAskill was already shaking his head. “I can’t think of a thing that would be problematic with your man’s matrix, Captain Picard, but, as the admiral said, the Calliphlox are temperamental. I simply suggest that we proceed with caution and hope for the best.”

Hanson nodded then once again looked about the room. He gathered up a handful of padds that lay in front of him. “Well, let’s do it then, everyone. You all know where the transporter room is. Dismissed.”

With that, everyone stood and headed toward the exit for the transporter across the corridor. Bo and U were the last to leave. U had one more tart, as Bo said, “This is it, U.”

U finished his tart. “You just wait, Bo. This is going to be the makings of your promotion. By next week you’re going to be called Lieutenant Commander Costello.”

Bo smiled and nodded. “I think I can handle that,” he admitted.

 

6

Some hours later, the crew of the Enterprise returned to their own ship with heads hung low. The much-anticipated meeting with the Calliphlox was a dismal failure. Something—they knew not what—offended the Calliphlox, who flew to the trees in something of a huff, and no amount of pleading was about to bring them back to the table. After much effort and time, all the members of the Federation delegation returned to their respective ships to rest, review and reconvene aboard the Malinche and discuss a new strategy.

Captain Picard, however, elected to disregard those all-too-specific orders once aboard the Enterprise. He wanted to meet in the observation lounge with the members of his crew who had been a part of the Federation Delegation to discuss the problem while it was fresh and thereby try to come up with an idea, an observation, a suggestion or just a fluke that might shed some light on the issue. He gave them thirty minutes to get themselves together and then report to the lounge for the meeting. He also strongly urged U to join them, and U, still pondering the entire episode to the point of being preoccupied when he spoke with Picard, agreed. During the intervening half-hour, he continued to think and ponder, to puzzle and cogitate. His personal issue was that he had a vague, foggy notion of what went wrong, but he couldn’t bring it into focus to articulate it. It wasn’t really a communication issue, he knew, and yet, he also knew that it was, and this apparent paradox, he was certain, could be disentangled.

In the lounge sometime later, after Captain Picard had posed the question, “What went wrong?” Everyone sat silent for a long time as Picard waited for any insight someone might have.

U sat with his eyes on the table, trying desperately to focus on his paradox, yet not finding the spot of the thread that he might pull to loosen the knot. Data sat with his hands folded on the table and looked about with a naïvely open expression. Worf groaned as silently as Worf was able to. Riker looked down and shook his head, but no ideas came to him.

Picard looked to Bo for any possibility. “Lt. Costello, have you any ideas of what might have gone wrong?”

Bo cleared his throat and leaned forward on the table before him. “Sir, I can tell you with certainty that the translation matrix was working flawlessly. The early part of our discussion with them proved that. It wasn’t until we got further into our conversation that things went awry.” He paused to consider other options. “The comm unit was working. I performed a diagnostic on it twice on the surface and once when we returned to the Enterprise, and if there had been human error in operating it, I’m sure that we would have discovered that even while on the surface.” He paused again and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sir. To the best of my knowledge and understanding, we did everything just right.”

Picard nodded, forcing a sympathetic smile. “Thank you, Lieutenant.” He then looked to Troi with just a touch of a pleading tone in his voice. “Counsellor, were you able to sense anything from the Calliphlox that might shed some light on this situation?”

Troi looked down and drew a deep breath before she began to speak. “What is clear to me, Captain, is that the Calliphlox are convinced that we did something that wasn’t so much offensive as it was hurtful; they weren’t angry as they withdrew; they were saddened. But beyond that, there’s not a lot for me to offer. The Calliphlox are as difficult for me to read as they are for you to communicate with. I’m sorry.”

U broke in. “No. Don’t be sorry, Counsellor. That’s very helpful. I think you’re onto something.” He paused. The fog, though still present, was beginning to lift.
“Please explain, U,” Picard said, and U lifted his finger, furrowed his brow and cranked his head somewhat as if he were trying very hard to listen to some voice on a tiny speaker. “The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is not our inability to communicate, at least, not solely. The problem is cultural nuances that cannot necessarily be communicated.”

When he stopped, still not completely clear what it was that he was trying to get across, Picard sat up. “Please explain,” he said.

U stood and began walking around the table. “The issue is that, even while we can speak and understand the language of the Calliphlox, there are nuances locked up in their culture that we are not aware of. Things that cannot be known without more communication, but things that we are nonetheless expected to know regardless of the fact that they have not been communicated.”

Everyone was intrigued at this point and sitting forward. U continued. “It seems that you folks have so depended on a successful UT for so long that these unspoken cultural idiosyncrasies are too easily verbally communicated before you can make a blunder.” He paused, looking for an example that might help him to explain. “Do you remember, Captain, when I first popped aboard the Enterprise? You thought you’d have to beam me out of my prison, but I was able to bring myself aboard. You remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” Picard said.

“You were annoyed with me for that, indignant, perhaps even to the point of feeling threatened.”

“Yes, I was,” Picard admitted. “It was a gesture that I had come to expect from your countrymen, and I wasn’t fond of seeing it in another person.”

“Right,” U took over again. “But I saw the offence in your expression, didn’t I? And I asked about it.”

“You did.”

“Did I ever repeat that error?”

“No. Not once.”

“Why?” U didn’t wait for a response. “Because you were able to tell me, to communicate the offence to me so that I wouldn’t repeat it.”

“That’s right,” Picard agreed. “You asked if you had done something inappropriate, and I told you that it would have been better either for us to beam you aboard or that you ask, first, to come aboard.”

“Precisely!” U said. “Now, imagine the frustration you’d feel if I kept repeating that error despite you telling me time and again not to.”

Picard smiled. “I would feel toward you the same that I feel for certain nameless members of your Continuum.”

U stood straight with a mischievous grin and asked. “‘Nameless,’ Captain? Really?”

Everyone in the room laughed, and as they did, Picard stood and walked to U. “You appear to have identified the problem, U. Please tell me that you know a way to correct it.”

U let out a deep breath. “Under these circumstances, Captain, having already committed the offence, probably multiple times, I don’t have any answers for you. At least, not without Q.”

Picard was just about to respond when there came a familiar voice: “Did someone call me?” Then there came the familiar flash of light followed by a humanoid body reclining in the chair opposite to where Picard had been sitting—at the opposing head of the table. “Well, I’m at your beck and call, apparently,” he sang sarcastically, smiling with the same sense of acerbic irony.

“No one called you, Q,” Picard said with a more than decisive tone. “We were just talking our way through the alphabet and came to Q.”

Q’s smile was as smug as he was. “Still trying to master the alphabet, eh, Jean-Luc?”

“Yes,” Picard said with no change in his tone, “and you’re not helping matters. Please depart.”

“Wait, Captain. Please,” U said. “I need him for this. I need his help.”

Q looked genuinely taken aback. “Mois? What makes you think I’m the slightest bit interested in wasting my efforts on helping you?”

“Because you’re here,” U said. “We need to talk.”

“‘We’? ‘Need to talk’?” Q asked incredulously, but U ignored him.

“Captain, do you mind if Q and I depart for a short time?”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Picard asked warily.

“Of course,” U said without flinching.

Picard nodded, so U said, “Q, please take us somewhere we can talk in private.”

Q looked offended for a moment, an expression of feeling both threatened and disgusted, the way a person might react if he were offered old dog food for dinner, but U didn’t change his earnest expression at all, and soon enough, Q acquiesced. “Fine,” he said, and with a groaning voice and burdened eyes, he snapped his fingers, and both Q and U vanished. They reappeared just outside the transparent-aluminium windows of the lounge with the Calliphlox moon, providing a backdrop as they spoke with each other in great earnest. As they spoke, those within the confines of the lounge couldn’t help themselves but to step up to the windows and look out at the two people standing outside the warm, oxygenated protection of the ship. One of them asked, “How are they still moving?” Another asked, “How are they breathing?” Another, “How can they hear each other?” And still another, “How will they get back in?” With each question, Cmdr. Data attempted to respond but was cut off by the following question, each time in succession, until he simply shrugged his eyebrows and elected to remain silent.

The E. V. discussion seemed quite intense, with one shaking his head emphatically while the other pounded a fist into the other palm to drive his point home. It went on for several minutes, the Enterprise staff mesmerized. Finally, Picard, growing impatient, demanded, “How long will they be?”

Data raised a finger. “Sir, if you really need to know, I would be pleased to make my way to an airlock to go and ask them.”

Picard regarded his second officer with surprise for a few moments, then shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Mr. Data. Thank you.” Then, as he was about to take his seat and direct everyone else to do the same, the two from outside the ship returned to the lounge. Q looked about at everyone standing by the windows. “Enjoying the show, everyone?”

Picard made no response except to look at U. To anyone else, Picard’s expression would have seemed blank, but U was familiar enough with the captain that he understood the expression as one reasonably demanding an explanation. “Forgive me, Captain, but I believe that Q and I have the solution to your problem.”

“Is that so?” Picard said, sitting in his chair. “And just what would that be?”

U took the upper hand from Picard, “Captain,” he said, “this is my decision.” And just as Picard was about to protest, U said to Bo, “boot up your translation matrix.” Then he nodded to Q, who nodded in response, and that nod was all that Q needed to begin the process, which became apparent almost immediately. The olive green of U’s shirt began to expand up his throat toward his chin, which, in turn, began to lengthen in proportion to his face, and yet, his face, indeed his head and body began to shrink. His hair changed as well, becoming a ship-gray colour of what seemed at first like flakes or scales. His eyes began to move to the sides of his skull, and the whites of each turned an intense black. His nose and chin both grew outward from his face and merged, forming a seam where his mouth would have been, and that part of his face grew dark gray, and it hardened into a long needle-like beak. Those things that had resembled scales on his head continued to flatten and thin until they took on a fibrous appearance; they had become feathers, as had the olive green area of his throat and the area that had been a chin.

His body was now shorter than the height of the table, covered with the same gray that he had become known for, but now with feathers rather than fabric, and the Enterprise crew stood to watch the continuation of U’s transformation. The tail of his suit jacket grew out and flared a bit to become a tail once the feathers were fully developed, and his arms became wings, replete with all the necessary flight formation required, and U, still growing smaller, began to hover above the table under the power of his own flight. His shoes became tiny tri-taloned feet, and his body had shrunk to the length of a humanoid finger. U had been remade in the image of a Calliphlox, humming even as he flew over to light on Bo’s shoulder.

Bo regarded his friend, now a tiny bird, standing on his shoulder. “U?” he asked, just as troubled as he was perplexed and overjoyed. U retook flight, and as he flew, he bobbed up and down in flight, changing the pitch of the humming of his wings, and the hand-held comm unit began to speak for him. Without a drone, his speech seemed primitive, but it was still clear enough for everyone to understand. “It is me.” Then he turned to Picard, “Thoughts, Leader?”
“Are you sure this is what you want, U?”

“Hard to answer, Leader. For now, ‘yes.’”

“You honour all of us once again, U. Not just those of us in this room, not just the crew of the Enterprise, but the entire Federation, U. Please accept my deepest thanks.”

And as Q rolled his eyes in frustrated and unabashed indignation, U responded by making a deliberate show of a bow, “Inform … upper leader … of change.”

Picard gave an uncertain look. “Upper leader?” he said, then, after a thought, “Ah, you mean Admiral Hanson,” he said, smiling and nodding. “I shall inform him of the change in you and in our plans.”

“Good,” U said, then turned and flew to Q, “Q agreed. I not fail my part.”

Q shook his head, almost embarrassed. “Fine,” he said.

U got nearly beak to nose with him, “Serious, Q. Important.”

He nodded defensively. “I understand, U. I’ll do what I promised.”

“Now?” U prodded.

“Immediately,” Q sounded annoyed. “Don’t worry. I’ll get it done.”

“My thanks.”

“O, will you please cease and desist with this awful politeness of yours, U. It’s getting on my nerves.” Q noticed that the others in the room were glaring at him skeptically. He rolled his eyes. “It’s just an expression, people.”

“Fine,” U said, “Good manners go,” then he pecked Q on the nose. “Good?”

Q smiled coyly while rubbing his nose. “Yes.”

Then U flew off to Picard once again. “Leader, I go … my world.”

“Agreed,” Picard said. “Shall I assign someone to accompany you?”

“Please.”

“Understood,” Picard nodded. “I suggest Counsellor Troi and Lt. Costello with his comm unit to help negotiations.”

U turned in flight and regarded his friend. “Good, Leader. Thanks.”

Picard turned to his two crew members. Counsellor, Lieutenant, would you please accompany U to the surface of the Calliphlox world?”

“Yes, Sir,” Bo said.

“Delighted, Captain,” Troi said, and the three departed the observation lounge, leaving Picard, Riker, Data and Worf alone with Q.

Q folded his self-assured arms. “Well, mon Capitaine, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you have acquitted yourself quite well with the proceedings of the last few weeks.”

Picard regarded Q for a moment of pondering. “And just exactly would be the wrong way to take that, Q?”

Q walked over to Picard, his arms still folded, the smile glued to his face, his eyes glued to Picard’s. When he got to within arm’s distance of Picard, he finally answered his question: “As a compliment, Jean-Luc,” he paused only slightly. “Frankly, I think of your behaviour as a personal challenge,” he said, raised a hand and snapped his fingers, and he was gone, leaving the others in the lounge to sigh together in exasperated relief.

 

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