Q de Gras (Chapter 4: Jer an’ Me)

Chapter 4:
Jer an’ Me
(Stardate: 42941.8)

1

Captain’s Personal Log: Stardate 42941.8:
The role of a Starfleet officer is a prestigious one. Often is it also adventurous or glamourous. It is frequently an exciting life, filled with discoveries, travel and opportunities that centuries of humanity have been only able to dream about. But even for a Starfleet Captain, there are challenges to be reckoned with, some that can shake a person to his foundation. I’m not entirely certain where, on this continuum of life, my pending encounter should be placed. What I can tell you is that right now, I am clearly possessed of the same insecurity for my current position that an academy graduate feels during his first day on his first assignment. I know, because it is precisely how I felt when I met Jeremy’s grandfather when I was a newly-minted ensign aboard the Reliant.

Picard and Troi said almost nothing to each other on their way from sickbay to Jeremy McKee’s quarters. In fact, it wasn’t until the entrance to Jeremy’s quarters came into sight that Picard felt a rush of adrenaline and stopped walking. He kept his eyes down in an attempt to regain control and run through his plan one more time. Standing with Picard, Troi wasn’t sure what reaction to expect of him right away, but she could clearly sense his apprehension. Not that she blamed him. She felt it too, but she had some advantages over the situation that Picard lacked: She had her years of experience as a counsellor to rely on; she had her honed empathic abilities, and she felt perfectly comfortable with young people.

Standing beside Picard, Troi waited for him to do whatever it was that he needed. Eventually, he spoke: “Counsellor, it is important that I be here, not just as Captain of the Enterprise, but, with the absence of any family members to offer Jeremy emotional support, I must be here as a good friend of Jeremy’s grandfather. In simpler terms, I’m all the family that he has at the moment.” Picard took another brief moment to breathe deeply and calm himself. He even took a moment of silence for a bit of plexing, which Troi had taught to the senior staff at a recent meeting. Picard, in particular, found the technique helpfully relaxing. “I suppose that I don’t need to remind you,” he began again after a moment, “that I am uncomfortable being around people of Jeremy’s age, but this situation has me distinctly …” He paused, unsure of what word might be the most accurate. “ … on a higher alert status. I shall be relying on you to cover for me if you see that I might falter.”

“Captain,” Troi reassured, “it’s more my job to be here for Jeremy than it is yours. I see you as a mediator for Jeremy and me, so that, as the one who is closest to being a member of his family, you can introduce me and help me to move into doing my job. You don’t need to concern yourself with dealing with his reactions to disturbing news. After the introductions, all you really need to do is take an interest in him. You needn’t say anything.”

Picard took a moment to contemplate Troi’s advice. He found it sound, nodding his head. “Thank you, Counsellor.” Then, raising his hand toward Jeremy’s door, “Shall we proceed?” And together, they walked the rest of the distance between them and the door.

 

2

Jeremy sat alone in his quarters practising his sleight of hand with a well-worn deck of tired cards in serious need of replacement, not unlike his quarters, but he wasn’t quite willing to admit that yet. His quarters weren’t any different from many of the others. Long, narrow windows along the far wall that angled severely with the exterior of the ship, in this case, virtually overhead. The living area was longer than it was deep. Far at one end, his parent’s room lay unused and unchanged from their last moments within it. Outside of that was the family’s dining area with a replicator against the inside wall and a glass table with four chairs set about it. Beside the dining area, and just under the windows was a sitting area with a sofa, two armchairs and a glass coffee table, where Jeremy and his folks used to sit to talk, especially about the more serious things in life, like not throwing snowballs at passers-by from the Holodeck. The snow disappears right at the entrance but, boy! does it ever give people a start! But they would also read together, each with his or her own book, or they’d read letters from his maternal grandfather or other family members. If they didn’t feel like reading, they might also watch recorded greetings on the monitor that was on the wall opposite the windows, right next to the entrance to his living space. At the other end of the quarters was Jeremy’s own private area. He seldom slept there now, usually finding the sofa, not more comfortable necessarily, but certainly less thought-provoking. He used the sonic shower in there and changed his clothes. That was about it. When he was in his quarters, he spent much of his time on the sofa. When he was awake, he would work there with a deck of cards using the coffee table as a desk, so whether awake or asleep, the sofa was Jeremy’s mainstay. The couch is where he sat now as he practised his card tricks.

His quarters, no smaller than Captain Picard’s or Commander Riker’s, were mostly dark except for a small lamp near where Jeremy worked, and the floating illumination from distant stars drifting in through the transparent aluminum windows as the Enterprise passed them by. When he was very young, late at night, alone in his bedroom aboard one starship or another, and frightened for no apparent reason, Jeremy would pretend that those passing lights were his parents coming to look in on him to make sure he was alright. It had always been enough to help him get back to sleep.

In those days, he and his parents required larger quarters. It wasn’t so much a sign of his father’s rank as it was a simple need: three people in a family necessitate a larger living area. It was as simple as that, but the fact that Jeremy’s dad had been a full commander didn’t hurt.

But back then, Jeremy’s spacious quarters seemed almost cramped. Three people in such an area can seem like a crowd at times. Thankfully, the three were very close, otherwise, those cramped quarters may have seemed entirely inadequate. As it was, they were very well able to get by, and better than get by; they bonded.

But that was then. These days his very breath seemed to echo for the cavernous depth of his quarters. Sometimes he felt that he could run for hours and still not get from one end to the other end before he had to give up. They had grown so very … spacious. How was it possible to fill the room with oxygen? he often wondered. In an attempt to “fill up” space, he had brought out all of his art and his mother’s art and placed all of them on easels. This had the added benefit of allowing him, if not to be able to see his mother, herself, then at the very least, he could see what and how she had seen.

He was still spreading cards on the coffee table when the door chime rang. He held the remainder of the deck and stared at the door for a long moment, feeling the adrenaline course through his veins as he contemplated the significance of the pending visit. He’d been expecting it since he saw Captain Picard in sickbay the day before. This visit would likely mean that his suspicions are confirmed, but he couldn’t decide if confirmation was what he had been craving or what he had been dreading. He decided that he was faced with the awkward conclusion that it might be both. But that conclusion, of course, made it no easier to proceed; however, that the lack of ease wasn’t enough to prevent him from proceeding. With a decisive thud, he placed the remaining half deck on the table, stood and adjusted his tunic. “Computer, set illumination to 75%,” he commanded, then walked to the door as the light level in his quarters rose. The door slid open, two parts sliding to either side. He immediately made eye contact with the captain and pre-empted Picard’s well-planned introduction: “Captain Picard,” he said with a clear attempt at feigning both surprise and pleasure. At the moment, Jeremy simply didn’t like this man, although, if he’d been forced to explain why, he would have struggled. The feelings were hostile, but their origin was unclear. They weren’t really meant for Picard, at least, not alone, and yet, there was no one else for him to aim them at and nothing else to do with them except to aim them.

“Oh!” Picard said, smiling awkwardly and nodding, “you remember me.”

Jeremy returned an awkward smile. “You’re the captain of the flagship of the Federation, the pride of Starfleet,” he said, then leaning forward just a little, “You’re not exactly easy to forget.”

“I see,” Picard said, and Troi immediately sensed Jeremy’s hostility toward the captain, although it wasn’t directed at Picard alone. The anger was much more general, as though directed at something much bigger.

“Would you care to come in?” Jeremy invited. “The place isn’t exactly shipshape these days, but I guess you’re welcome.”

“Thank you,” Picard said. “We would like to visit with you for just a few minutes.” All three moved to the middle of Jeremy’s quarters, and Picard said, “I remember meeting you when you and your parents came aboard. I find it surprising that you still remember. That was quite some time ago.”

“Well, Captain, because of your friendship with my family, you and I actually have something of a history together. I’ll tell you about it sometime,” Jeremy asserted, and Picard seemed to almost stammer.

“I would appreciate that very much,” Picard said. “Well, allow me to introduce our ship’s counsellor, Deanna Troi,” he announced.

That’s all it took for Jeremy—the ship’s counsellor there to see him. He took a moment to curse his own perspicacity, preferring, in this instance, to remain more naive or at least aloof, but Troi’s presence was the confirmation that he’d been anticipating. Troi saw his reaction, however brief, and sensed his emotion with it, realizing that he knew what her visit was all about. She was immediately impressed. Jeremy extended his hand to invite a handshake: “Pleased to meet you, Counsellor.”

Troi shook the boy’s hand, but she didn’t smile, and she wasn’t about to pretend that she wasn’t aware of Jeremy’s astute perception.“No. You’re not pleased to meet me, are you?” Troi returned.

Jeremy scoffed just slightly, surprised by Troi’s honesty and insight. “I suppose not,” he said. “No offence.”

“I’m not offended, Jeremy.”

“Please,” Jeremy said, cutting her off just a bit, “I prefer ‘Jer’ to ‘Jeremy.’ If you wouldn’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Troi said.

“Lt. Ratched, the counsellor who worked with me after Mom and Dad … died … well, she said that I wouldn’t be able to sneak things by you. I guess she was right.”

“Hmm, my reputation seems to precede me, Jer. Could the captain and I sit with you for a few minutes?”

Jer suddenly realized that he had been remiss in his manners and shook his head as though to wake himself. “Oh, yes! Of course! I’m sorry! Please have a seat.” He quickly stepped to the sitting area to remove a few books and some clothing that had been carelessly strewn about the apartment and invited Troi to have one chair and Picard to have the next. Then he sat in the spot on the sofa that he had occupied earlier. In the few seconds it took for Jer to get himself and the room settled, Troi looked around, noting the dozen or more canvases set about the room, each set carefully on its own easel and displayed near each wall so as to be out of the way. Some were hidden under cloaks, but not all. It was something that she could use to get Jer to talk, she considered, but for now, she decided to simply try to get to know him, but to remain sensitive to the boy’s acute awareness and just how troubling such awareness must be for him. “Jer, it seems to me that you already know the reason for our visit.”

Jer smiled somewhat wryly at Troi: “It’s pretty hard to miss, Counsellor.”

“Uh, if you’ll please pardon me, Counsellor:” Picard said, then turning to the other, “Jer, if you don’t mind, for the sake of clarity, would you please tell us what it is that you know?”

Jer’s expression froze. For one very long instant, what he wanted to say was, “Well, yes, I would, very much mind expressing these ideas with you in the room, there, Cappy!” He chose, instead, to exercise his great restraint. He reclined on his sofa, very much as an adolescent is wont to do, and scratched the back of one hand, keeping his eyes forward—away from his guests. Then, as he felt the emotion welling up inside, he scratched his cheek. When he felt his chin begin to quiver, he cleared his throat and sat forward again. “I …” he whispered as tears started overwhelming his eyes, and he sobbed just once. “I’m going to die,” he said and paused briefly. “I have the same illness that my parents had, the same one that all those folks on those away missions got, and it’s going to take me just like it took them.”

Troi gave Jer a few moments to allow his own understanding to take hold. “It’s important that we express these kinds of things, Jer. Speaking them helps put them into perspective, and can actually help to cut them down to size. I know it’s not easy, but it’s no less important.”

“Be that as it may, Jer, you are most certainly NOT going to die. I forbid it,” Picard asserted.

Jer wiped a tear and chortled. “Is that an order, Captain?”

Picard’s tone changed dramatically, and he spoke more softly. “Yes, as a matter of fact, it is.”

“I’m not in Starfleet, y’know,” Jer ribbed.

Picard looked to Troi with an expression of surprise and perhaps a bit of insecurity, but Troi nodded to him, encouraging him to continue. “You’re still aboard my vessel, Young Man, and I have all the experts aboard the Enterprise working on this for your sake. Dr. Pulaski has a team researching ways to cure you, and Lt. La Forge is working with a team in Engineering to try to communicate with the invading malady. It is sentient, Jer. Intelligent. I’m certain that if efforts fail with Dr. Pulaski, communication will prevail.”

As Picard spoke, Troi rose and walked over to the canvases across the room. She didn’t look at those hidden behind the cloaks, but those that were exposed, she took some moments to examine, both from her counsellor’s perspective and, drawn in by the quality of the work, from the perspective of an art aficionado. But all the while, she remained attentive to her captain’s conversation.

“We haven’t given up,” Picard continued, “we aren’t going to give up, and neither should you!”

“If you insist, sir.”

“I do, and I’m sure your grandfather would agree with me.”

“My grandfather?”

“Oh, yes. Your mother’s father. He was my immediate superior when I was a young officer. He’s a man I greatly admire. Strong. Determined.”
Jer nodded appreciatively. “I know that you and he are friends, Captain. My mother told me a lot about him, and a lot of that includes you. I don’t know my grandfather well, but I would like to.”

“Well, he is on temporary assignment on the Saratoga. We might be able to meet up with them after this mission. They’re not too far away from us.”
“I would really appreciate that. From what I understand, he’s a lot like my dad, not so much in interests as in personality. If you get my meaning.”
“Indeed, I do.”

“Y’know, my dad … if he got something in his head, he would never let it go until it was completed. A few years ago, when he learned that I was into soccer, he replicated a ball and uniform and reserved a holodeck for a couple of hours every day so he could practice, and he did that so that he could help me to learn the game. Mom told me that just after he … died.” Jer smiled and pondered his own thoughts, allowing them to linger. “Not bad for a science nerd, huh? His friends in school used to call him,” … he paused and turned his head, “Now, what was that name? Herick?” He shook his head emphatically. “Herc? … Herman? …”

“Herbert,” Picard said.

“Yes. ‘Herbert.’ Right,” Jer nodded. “I should have known that you’d know it, Captain,” Jer said. He had tried to genuinely jest, but he realized that his humour came out with a sharper point than he had meant to wield. Picard looked mildly stunned, but teased a playful scolding look toward Jer, while Troi, still listening in, smiled at Jer for his playfulness, which she realized wasn’t so very playful at all. Behind the smile of that swift-witted young man was a degree of anger. And now that the news has been delivered and absorbed, she thought it best to finally change the direction of the topic. “Jer, who’s the artist? These are very good.”

“Yes, I know,” Jer admitted. “The ones that are uncovered are my mother’s,” he said while standing and approaching her.

“And the covered ones?” Troi inquired.

“Those are mine,” he said flatly.

“Why did you cover them?”

“I’m just not able to spend time thinking about myself right now, I guess,” Jer answered, sounding stronger. “These two are my favourites of my mother’s,” he said, indicating two paintings set side-by-side. The first one, as Jer later said, was called “Sail at Sunset.” It depicted a modern double masted sailing vessel from Earth, the sails and hull reflecting the golden light of the Terran sun at dusk, so that they seemed to embody a golden hue all their own. The ship and sails were reflected in the blue water so that the dominant colours of the canvas were blue and gold, one colour both contrasting and complementing the other, unifying the work. Troi noted that the painting gave enough that even she, who hadn’t been to Earth in several years, could feel the cooling breeze and smell the salt air.

The other painting, “In an Autumn Mood,” portrayed a solitary abstracted tree with red, yellow and orange leaves, some still clinging to the tree and some scattered on the grass around the tree in almost a cubist fashion, so that the fallen leaves took on the appearance of tiny homes, giving the tree the illusion of being enormous, almost divine in its sheltering of what appeared to be a tiny village. Troi was fascinated by this image and cocked her head to one side, trying to understand what the painting made her feel.

Because she was so taken by the image, she couldn’t feel Jer put a playing card in the back of her long hair, but it’s hard to keep a secret from an Empath; she sensed his guile and said nothing. Instead, she looked to her captain, whose attention was also fixed on the painting, and, despite his ability to remain observant, hadn’t noticed Jeremy’s preparation. Troi carried on with the conversation: “I’d like to see your art sometime, Jer, when you’re feeling comfortable with it. What are some of your other interests? Do you still play soccer?”

“Nah,” Jer asserted. “I gave that up a while ago.” He moved back toward his seat, and Troi followed. “These days, if I want to get some exercise, I prefer Lt. Worf’s Mok’bara. I’m not the outdoor sports fan that my mother was.” The three were silent for a moment or two.

“I’ve wanted to try his classes,” Troi said with genuine curiosity in her voice. “but Worf scares me a little. He must be an intimidating teacher.”
“He can be, but he starts everyone pretty easy. My other real interest is magic. You know, sleight of hand.” Troy found herself smirking again while Picard took the bait. “Oh! That’s fascinating!” Picard said. “I’d very much like to see a trick, if you don’t mind.” Troi realized that her captain wasn’t so much interested in the trick as he was in helping Jer to open up, but that wouldn’t prevent him from being impressed with Jer’s prestidigital prowess.
Jer took a moment himself, perplexed by a sudden, jarring clash of emotion. He recalled how much his parents admired Captain Picard, and he knew that his grandfather spoke highly of him. Truth be told, Jer wanted to think highly of him too. It seemed to dishonour his parents to not hold their captain in high regard, but there was something in him that blocked all the good. He saw Picard, not as a kind, self-assured leader, but as someone who was overly generous with other people’s lives, as one who gave what was not his to begin with. He struggled with the conflict momentarily then gave in, but his speech became flat. “No. I don’t mind,” he responded. In one fluid, heated gesture, he grabbed the deck of cards from the table, shuffled it, fanned it and held it out to Picard. “Go ahead, Captain Pick-a-card,” he said.

Picard glanced somewhat accusingly at Jer, then softened his expression as he reached out and pulled a card from the deck.
“Go ahead and look at it,” Jer said, “and show it to Counsellor Troi. It doesn’t matter if I see it or not.”

Picard showed the face of the six of clubs to Troi, but not to Jer, who smiled and even rolled his eyes just a bit. “Fine,” he said, “then put it face down back in the deck.” Picard complied, and Jer folded the deck, shuffled it once, twice then a third and fourth time, and this time, he palmed Picard’s card. He smiled at both Picard and Troi with a sinister grin then spread the deck out face up on the table. “Do you see your card, Captain?” Jer asked.

Picard studied the deck for a moment, unable to see the six of clubs. He reached his index finger toward the deck, then paused with a questioning look to Jer. “Sure, go ahead,” Jer affirmed. Picard picked through the stack and finally said, “No. I can’t find it.”

“Ah, well, if you would be so kind as to pull it out of the back of the counsellor’s hair, I think she’d be very grateful.”

With a look of surprise, Picard regarded the counsellor for just a moment, then stood and walked over to her. Troi graciously turned the back of her head to Picard, who easily found the six of clubs in her hair. He held it up for everyone to see. Troi applauded, and Picard said, “Well done. Very well done.”

“Thank you,” Jer said. He didn’t propose another trick. He was feeling tired and had quite a lot to work. Troi sensed his fatigue and rose promptly. “Well, thank you, Jer, for a very nice visit.”

“Yes,” Picard said, following his counsellor’s cue. “I hope to see more of those card tricks in the very near future.”

“It’s your ship, Captain,” Jer said.

“Well,” Troi added, “Ten-Forward is almost always willing to clear out to make way for a performance, Jer. I suggest that you plan a magic show for the crew. That way, everyone can take pleasure in your gift.”

“That sounds like a great idea,” Jer said, genuinely interested, but with little enthusiasm.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, is it alright if I drop by to see how you’re doing later this week?”

“Sure. Whatever you want,” Jer said, visibly tired. “But if you’ll excuse me, I have to get ready for Lt. Worf’s class.”

“Of course. We understand, don’t we, Captain.”

“Indeed, we do.”

“I suggest a short nap before the Mok’bara, though,” Troi said in her motherly tone.

“That’s a good idea, Counsellor. Thank you.”

 

3

In the corridor, Troi and Picard walked silently for a few moments, until they’d put some distance and a turn or two between them and Jer; that’s when Picard stopped. He looked up and down the corridor and, seeing it empty, “Your assessment, Counsellor.”

“It’s not all bad, Captain.” They started walking again. “Clearly, he’s frightened, but he’s also determined to not show that fear.”

“Why is that?”

“I’m not sure yet, but what is good is that he’s strong, and that may be a point in considering the defeat of his infection.”

“‘Defeat’ is an interesting choice of words, Counsellor.” He paused to consider it some more. “Yes, ‘defeat’ is the right word for this situation. Our medical staff, in this case, is our military arsenal, while our technology … our military might has become our means of diplomacy. Master McKee may find himself a battleground, but not one that will be destroyed by the battle. He may, instead, become a battleground that becomes heavily poppied, and I mean that in the best way possible.”

Troi’s eyebrows shot upward for an instant. “Well, Captain, if we can switch for a moment from ‘sanguine’ to ‘sanguinary,’ I would like to also point out that Jer is very angry as well. ‘Livid’ might be a more appropriate term. Those jokes he made at your expense weren’t just friendly joviality. They were well-aimed, well-timed and well-disguised attacks designed to appear benign.”

“He’s angry at me?”

“Mostly, yes, it seems. In some ways it’s more general, aimed, perhaps, at Starfleet. I’d have to have more time with him to be certain. I don’t believe that it’s cause for concern, but you should be aware of it nonetheless.”

“Oh yes, indeed, Counsellor,” Picard affirmed. “I agree completely, but it’s not the first time that a young person has blamed me for the death of parents. Even Wesley, for all of his deferential treatment of me now, was not so keen toward me when I brought home his deceased father. It’s one of the hazards of command, and I doubt that Jeremy McKee will be the last.”

“Well,” Troi said in an attempt to avert a wholly negative discussion with little purpose, “there’s no reason to focus on such things until they happen, Captain.”
“Of course, Counsellor, but my point is that my concern for Jer doesn’t centre on his feelings toward me but on the removal of this nefarious intelligence from my ship, my crew and all passengers.”

“Well said, Captain,” Troi concluded. “Are you headed back to the Bridge?”

“Yes, I am. I have some reports to catch up on,” Picard said with a smile. “You?”

“I’m going back to see Dr. Pulaski in sickbay. She’ll also need to know what the three of us discussed, and how Jer is doing overall. I’ll return to the Bridge after that.”

“Very well. I’ll see you then, Counsellor.”

“Captain.”

4

It was late in the day. Both Lt. Costello and U sat in the Lieutenant’s office, trying to focus on a recording of Calliphlox communication. Neither reacted when the recording ended, and the computer even announced, “Playback complete.” Costello had been sitting with his forefinger across his lips, but then he finally let his arm fall to the armrest of his chair. U had to shake himself out of something of a daze. Costello regarded him mildly inquisitively, “I didn’t get a thing out of that, did you?”

“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.”

“It’s been a long day,” Costello decided. “I’m bushed.”

“‘Bushed?’” U asked?

“Yeah, you know, worn out. Tired.”

“Ah,” U observed. “As in feeling of low energy.”

“Right,” Costello affirmed.

“What an odd thing for a being who is currently nothing other than energy to say,” U confessed. “For me to say that I’m out of energy is like saying ‘I’m out of me,’ for Chronus’ sake!”

Costello spoke toward the ceiling, “Computer, time.” The computer returned with its typical, even tone: “The time is 17:32 hours.”

“I have an idea,” Costello announced. “Let’s get ourselves a bit cleaned up. I don’t know about you, but a nice sonic shower always helps wake me up. Then we can meet at Ten-Forward for a light bite, after which we head over to the gym where Lt. Worf teaches a class in Klingon Martial Arts at 19:00 hours. It really gets the blood flowing. Waddya say?”

U sat upright in his chair. “Worf? The Klingon I met on the Bridge?”

“I suppose. He is a Bridge officer.”

“I think I would really enjoy that, Lieutenant.”

“Well, you can just call me Bo. Everyone does.”

“Bo? Really?”

“Mm-hmm.” Costello stood up and began putting papers and equipment away. U took the hint and stood up himself. “My name is Abbott, but I never caref for it. My mother used to call me Abe when I was a kid—well, she still does, but it never felt right to me. But Bo,” He laughed a little to himself. “Well, there was a famous dancer named Bojangles a few centuries back. It’s all one name, but as a kid, I thought it was two names: Bo and Jangles. I kinda’ like the tie to him, so I’ve been ‘Bo’ ever since.”

“Alright, then, Bo, how about I meet you at Ten-Forward in 30 minutes. Is that enough time for you?”

“Sure is. And don’t worry about bringing an extra set of clothes for the gym. The computer can replicate an appropriate Karate-gi for you.”

“Excellent,” U said and surprised himself with the feeling of the need to stretch, but he said nothing about it. “I’ll see you shortly, then?”

“Absolutely,” Bo smiled, and U made his exit.

In the corridor, just steps away from his new friend’s office and living quarters, U found himself very much needing to yawn. How very embarrassing, he thought. He stifled it as long as he could, then found a little alcove in which to hide as he did yawn. When he finished, he looked again up and down the corridor, and, with no one in sight, he began to walk on. That’s when he heard the voice of his compatriot: “Humiliating, I’ll bet.”

“Hello Q,” U said with both fatigue and yet with a distinct amicability in his voice.

“Why, whatever is the matter, U?” Q asked with his usual mocking tone, and he began to imitate a yawn for U’s sake.

U was unable to resist the cue, and he began again to yawn himself. “What are you talking about?” U asked while pulling the flesh of his temples back as he massaged them, then he rubbed his eyes.

“Oh my, are you experiencing …” Q paused, pretending to be too frightened or horrified to even say the word. He looked around, making certain that the two were alone and would remain undisturbed. “Are you experiencing fatigue?” He finally asked and started to mock another yawn.

U yawned yet again. He tried to fight it, but it seemed to overwhelm him. “Whatever gave you that idea, Q?” U asked, but it was only barely intelligible.
“Really, U, this is becoming tiresome. Why don’t you just admit that you need to return to your cell, and you’ll be right as … well as ‘reign,’ just … without anyone to reign over.”

“Q, what is it you’re trying to say? I have things to do.”

“Yes, of course, you do. You’ve already become as dull as any of them, and now you’re willingly becoming a student of that creepy, clueless Klingon Cretin. By nightfall, you’ll be drooling all over yourself. Would you like a bib?” Suddenly a tiny baby’s bib appeared around U’s neck. It was baby blue in colour and sported the words, “Hangar doors are open, Captain,” with a picture of a tiny smiling spoon-plane loaded with green muck swooping downward.
Mildly annoyed, U pulled the garment from his neck. “I’ll ask you only once more, Q …”

“Well, isn’t it obvious?? The farther away from your ‘YOU’ you travel, U, the more of a mortal you become,” he paused, then cocked his head. “Or perhaps you’d prefer it if I said it this way: ‘The farther away from U’s ‘you’ U travels, the more of a mortal U becomes,’ whichever you prefer, U.” He paused, looking for a reaction. “Oh, I am sorry, U. That was already well over your head, wasn’t it?”

“Q, I have it on trustworthy authority that Worf’s exercise class will help restore …”

Q waved his hand. “Yes, of course, how perfectly logical: exercise will restore energy to a being that is currently only energy. Makes perfect sense.” He leaned in toward U and sharply sniffed twice. “Why, you’re even beginning to smell like one of them. Oh, good heavens, U. It’s disgusting. Vile, even!”
U patted Q on the shoulder. “Well, if what you say is true, Q, and I do mean ‘if,’ because you’re hardly as credible as some folks I’ve met recently …”
As U spoke, Q rolled his eyes.

“… then I shall, indeed, require sustenance and exercise.” Maintaining eye contact with Q, U reached his arms up to his shoulders, elbows out, and stretched the muscles by flexing his arms backwards. Then he opened his arms, repeated the gesture and inhaled deeply. “I need to be going now, Q. We’ll talk again soon,” and he walked on, leaving Q standing apparently alone in the corridor, grimacing and shaking his head.

In his quarters, in presumed privacy, U leaned heavily against the wall. His appearance was of one who was clearly undergoing some sort of internal stress. He walked hurriedly to the restroom and glared into the mirror. Yes, Q was right: U saw blood-shot eyes, signs of perspiration, a peaked expression and the irresistible desire to close his eyes for a long sleep. He raised his arm slowly, with his elbow pointing out and reached his face toward his armpit. He quickly sniffed. He instantly dropped his arm and leaned heavily on the edge of the stainless steel sink. Q was right? Really? U forced himself to confess: he had … body odour. How is that possible?

He ran some water in the sink, dipped his hands, and splashed his face, and he discovered, to his surprise, that it felt good. He repeated the procedure. It still felt refreshing. He repeated it again three more times, almost ritualistically. It felt that good.

Ultimately, he stripped and enjoyed a long, high-pitched sonic shower and had the replicator generate a fresh jumpsuit. He was only just in time to meet Bo in Ten-Forward, where they both emphatically enjoyed a light dinner before Worf’s Mok’bara class: large cheeseburgers with baked potatoes and synthale. It was U’s first time having such a meal, but both of them found it invigorating. “Over the past two days, I had experimented with taking in sustenance,” U remarked, attempting a degree of insouciance, “but I thought it was just for research.”

“Wasn’t it?” Bo inquired. “Just research, I mean.”

“I’m not so sure anymore,” U said, shaking his head. “I found that I actually needed this meal, Bo.”

“Hmm,” Bo acknowledged.

“And that brings up something I need to talk to you about, if you don’t mind.”

Bo shook his head sharply and shrugged.

“After our work today, I met one of my compatriots in the corridor,” U paused, looked around him, then leaned toward Bo just a bit and lowered his voice, “you know, from the Continuum?”

Bo’s eyes widened, but he nodded, “Oh,” as though he were beginning to understand.

“… and he told me that the farther I get from my … my real self, the more of a mortal I’ll become.”

Bo sat back, his eyes wide, “Wow! That’s challenging news.”

“Well, Yeah!” U felt his heart rate increase. “Bo, I don’t know how to be mortal! I know a few things from observation, but I have no qualifications, no experience for such a thing! What am I going to do?”

Bo thought hard for a minute, then shook his head vaguely. “I don’t know, U. Can’t you get help from someone … from the Continuum … I mean?”
At that moment, another voice interrupted the conversation, and because their discussion had been so intense, the new voice stunned the two participants back to their surroundings. “This looks like a very serious discussion,” the voice said. “I sure hope that you’re not complaining about the meal.” The two men looked up to see Guinan looking down at them.

“Guinan,” Bo answered. “No, not at all. We were talking about something else.”

“We were talking about me, Guinan,” U said. “Won’t you join us?”

“In talking about you?!” Guinan asked with genuine surprise. “Well, I’m not going to turn down that invitation,” and as she sat, she continued: “But you’re not exactly a secret from the crew, you know. You don’t really have to whisper.” She folded her hands and rested them on the table, but she never took her less than friendly eyes off of U. “So, what’s with all the intensity?”

“U’s going through an unexpected change,” Bo offered.

“Aren’t you a little young for that?” Guinan quipped.

“I’m becoming more and more mortal as time progresses. It came as something of a surprise.”

“A ‘surprise?’ Really? And you call yourselves ‘omniscient,’” Guinan scoffed.

“No, I don’t,” U protested.

“I see,” Guinan leaned in on her elbows, keeping her folded hands near her. “You’re so used to looking down your nose at mortals that you can’t figure out how to maintain your snobbery. Is that it?”

U looked genuinely stunned and hurt. Bo took offence on his new friend’s behalf. “There’s no reason for that type of question here, Guinan.” He took a moment to collect himself. “It’s just that U isn’t sure he knows how to be mortal after being not mortal for …”

“ … for a couple hundred thousand years,” U finished the thought, “of what most members of the Continuum think of as omniscience. It’s possible that I’m even older than you, Guinan.”

Guinan nodded at the jab. “Well, if you’re looking for sympathy, you came to the wrong place,” she said.

“I came here,” U said, standing, “to have a meal with my friend before Worf’s class. Nothing more.” He turned his attention to Bo. “It’s about time, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Yes, I think you’re right, U.” Bo stood then, too. “We should be heading out.”

“Thank you, Guinan,” U said, “for an excellent meal. I found it … engaging.” He and Bo departed together. Guinan remained seated. She stretched her folded hands out before her, keeping her eyes down as she did.

5

Jer decided that Counsellor Troi was right: a nap was a great idea. Just after she and Captain Picard left his quarters, he caught himself daydreaming while staring out the window. He loved to watch the stars, even from the depths of space, but there is something to be said for a view of the stars from the surface of a planet: they seem, somehow, more mysterious and space seems deeper yet when you’re confined to a mountain view: it’s the confinement itself that augments the magnificence of space, and yet space, as far as Jer is concerned for now, is decidedly closer to where his parents might be.

He yawned, chuckled to himself about himself, then stripped to his waist, set the computer to wake him at 18:30 hours and reclined on his makeshift bed. He fell asleep almost immediately. He dreamed of his home on Earth. His parents owned a house in the Appalachian Mountains in extreme northwest Connecticut. It was a Tudor-style home built in the late 22nd century by a man who had wanted to preserve the form. It was a charming home with character. It had floors made of real wood from real trees and a staircase that squeaked a tune as you climbed them. The old banister was handmade and wobbled ever so slightly, but Jer’s dad lacked the know-how to secure it, so it always shuddered just a bit if you were one who actually used the stairs. But it was the windows that Jer was most fascinated with. In the living room, one wall was all windows—huge panes of glass from just below the ceiling to less than a metre above the floor. Below these windows, smaller windows that could open up to bring in the fragrance of the myriads of varieties and wildflowers that gave the valley all the colours of life itself. “Flowers, flowers and more flowers,” his dad used to say, “and when you get tired of flowers, there are always other flowers.” And from there, you could see the mountains on either side of the valley that opened up right at their front door and finally tipped away below the horizon.
In his dream, Jer stood looking out those windows, but the view was only blackness and solitude. He walked over to open a window as though calling out to the outdoors would awaken the panorama, but as he approached the window, he noted that the sun should be shining. It was in the sky. He knew that it was up there at that moment, but it gave no light. And as he stood next to the window, the same darkened sun that should have given light should also have been giving warmth, and there was no warmth. It wasn’t cold either. There was no temperature; it just was. And from the open windows below the large panes, there came no welcome breeze, no rustle of the flowers, no scent carried from the flowers.

Right on time, the computer spoke: “The time is 18:30 hours,” it said flatly. Jer ignored it. Then, “The time is 18:31 hours.”

“Ok, Computer. I’m up!”

Jer took a moment to appreciate the female voice, harsh and non-committal though it was, but then he was suddenly filled with regret, deep, bitter, pulsating sadness that it was not his mother’s voice that woke him. She never said anything, but it was a song, and when she woke him, it was an aria how she held the first syllable of his name before brushing off the other two: “Jeeeeeerrrr-e-my! Time to wake, Honey!” she would sing. Jer threw the covers from his body and sat up. His body was desperate to cry, but he wouldn’t allow it. Crying? Before Worf’s Mok’bara? Not on your life! He took a deep breath and held it. There would be no crying. It took a few moments, but Jer got control of himself. A single tear had made its way past the barriers of Jer’s determination. One tear got away. That wasn’t so bad.

He stood, went to the W. C. and splashed his face with water. That was good. It helped him out of his sleepiness and past his emotions. He dressed quickly, then stepped up to the replicator: “Computer, one bowl of red, seedless grapes.” The bowl of fruit materialized. He grabbed it by the rim and, as the grapes were already off the vine—as his dad had programmed the replicator some months earlier—he popped one in his mouth as he made his way to the exit; off to the gym. Worf would be expecting him to be on time, and one does not disappoint a Klingon.

6

U was dressed, pressed and standing beside Bo when Worf entered the gym. Jeremy was also warming up there, but U and Bo didn’t speak with him. The age difference, the odd circumstances and the lack of a common friend kept U and Jer from meeting for the time being. Worf regarded U across the room for an instant, nodded in acknowledgement, then set his equipment down on a bench in front of the large mirror that covered one entire wall, and then he approached U decisively. Bo was about to introduce U to Worf, but Worf began to speak first to U: “So, you have come,” he said.

“I have,” U responded. “At Bo’s invitation.”

Worf smiled slightly, as did Bo, folding his hands behind him as he did. Worf had been expecting a response from U of mild, albeit pseudo submission, something like “Yes, sir,” or one of uncertainty, such as, “Yeah, I guess so.” He was pleased by what he heard, and his expectations from U climbed substantially. “You will stand in line facing me. You will follow my movements only. I will watch you through the mirror. You will fail many times, but you will not stop.”

“Correct,” U said.

Worf nodded. “At the end of class, there is a sparring session. You will join us.”

“I am honoured,” U said.

Worf was not displeased. He turned his back to U and took his place in the front of the class, facing the huge mirror against the wall. It was a single piece of transparent aluminum to avoid glass shattering. In a pinch, it could be taken down from the wall, have the silver scraped away and be shaped to fit as an Enterprise window if necessary, and this could be done by hand, since the mirror was so very light.

Bo whispered to U, “He seems to like you.”

U nodded. “I told him when we met that I wanted to learn from him about Klingon combat.”

Bo looked surprised for a second. Then he began to stretch, and U was impressed by how limber Bo was.

Worf’s class lasted 45 minutes, and Worf was right: U failed many times, but he learned a great deal, ending the session with a sense of enthusiasm. While most of the students were filing from the room, Worf and Jer, whom U had noticed during the class, approached him. Jer was clearly advanced in Worf’s classes, at least, from what U could tell. Worf, still speaking with his cold authority, told U, “In the Mok’bara, or any form of martial arts, Terran, Klingon or even Vulcan, it is important to learn to fall before you may start learning anything else.” Worf paused. U nodded.

Worf gestured for Jer to step forward. “This is a prize pupil. He is known as Jer. He and I will demonstrate some things about falling. Do not expect to memorize it all. I will make you familiar with each style in time. Understood?”

U nodded. “Understood.”

“Good,” Worf said. “You may have a seat on the bench.” He gestured to the low bench just in front of the mirror.
Bo interrupted: “Lt. Worf, would it be alright if I stayed and watched, too?”

“Of course,” Worf said, then he and Jer walked over to a mat that Jer had set up for the event. He and Jer took a moment to loosen up with a very quick stretch of the arms and neck, and Jer bounced on the balls of his feet once or twice. “Defend yourself!” Worf commanded, and both took defensive stances: hands up, feet apart and knees bent. Since it was he who was demonstrating falling, Jer made the first move. Worf was less than surprised by it and threw Jer to the floor. He landed on his side, his entire weight evenly distributed. “Good,” Worf said, “but do not let your legs cross as you fall.”

“Yes, sir,” Jer responded as he stood.

“Defend yourself!” Worf commanded again, and Jer was almost instantly upon him with a right kick. Worf quickly blocked it from beneath the foot, and he lifted his arm like tossing a piece of paper to a trash can, throwing Jer onto his back on the mat. Jer flexed with the throw and was back on his feet in no time. He again attacked with a punch that Worf parried, and he threw Jer, who landed safely in a soft shoulder roll. “Excellent!” Worf affirmed. They bowed to each other and stood straight again. Worf marched over to U. “It is not extraordinarily difficult, U. Would you care to try?”

“By all means,” U said and stood. He and Worf worked together for another few minutes before Worf called time. “It will be an honour having you in my class, U. Shall I look for you again next session?”

“I’d be honoured and delighted, Mr. Worf. Thank you,” U said. He and Worf bowed, then Worf marched over to his towel, wiped his face, and departed, leaving Bo, Jer and U alone in the gym.

U walked over to the bench and took his seat next to Bo. “Nice work,” Bo said.

“Thanks,” U answered. They were silent for a minute, then U said, “I think I might like to have a second sonic shower tonight.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Bo agreed. “Are you coming to my office tomorrow to work on those recordings some more? No doubt that Captain Picard will want an update soon.”

“What time?” U asked.

“0900?” Bo suggested.

“Sounds great.”

“Excellent,” Bo said, standing up. “I really feel that the two of us working together will put us light years ahead of where I would have been alone.”
U thought about the poetic truth of his friend’s statement. “I couldn’t agree more,” he said.

“See you in the morning, then. Get a good night’s sleep.”

“Will do.”

So then Jer found himself alone in the gym with U. He stood and walked over to U, standing in front of him.

“Hello,” U said. “You’re Jer?”

“Right,” He said. “I’ve heard people talking about you.”

U wasn’t all that surprised. “Oh?”

“Yeah. They said that you were some kind of super-powerful being.”

“Well, I’d have to say that they’re right.”

Jer nodded. “They said that, at one time, you could, like, make planets and zip across galaxies and even cure terrible diseases.”

“Again, they’d be correct, for the most part,” U agreed.

“But you can’t do that kind of stuff anymore.”

“That’s three for three.”

Jer nodded again and turned away slightly, deep in thought. Then, “Do you still know people who can do all that stuff? Like, do you still have powerful friends like that?”

“Well, ‘friends’ might be a strong word, but yes, yes.”

“Hmm,” Jer observed. Then he suddenly sat down beside U. “Do you want to know what else they said?”

“What else did they say?” U asked.

“They said that you know all kinds of things about music and literature from all over the Federation.”

“Once again, your sources are correct.”

“Except that they said that you don’t know much about pictorial art in the Federation, but that you really want to.”

“I must meet these well-informed people you’ve been listening to.”

“Well, my mom was an artist, and I’m studying to be one. Would you like to see some of my stuff?”

U considered the question for a moment. He could go to the computer and see reproductions of the more famous works of pictorial art, like listening to poor-quality recordings of music. But here he had a chance to view actual pieces of art with the artist in the room. He may be young, but it still seemed to U to be a better start of an exploration than the alternative. So he nodded and smiled. “Yes. Yes, I would like that very much.”

“Easily arranged,” Jer said, smiling for the first time since their conversation began. He reached a hand out to U, mildly awkwardly since they were seated side by side, but it was, nevertheless, a friendly gesture on Jer’s part.

U accepted Jer’s hand and shook it amicably. “Jer,” he said, then tilted his head to one side. “Is that short for something?”

Jer nodded, with the same smile. “Jeremy,” was his response.

U nodded with a pleasant smile of his own. “Huh,” he said. “Well, they call me U.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard.” They were quiet for a moment, and U rested his head against the mirror. “U,” Jer scrunched his nose. “Is that short for something?” he asked.

U chuckled slightly.

 

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