Q de Gras (Chapter 5: U Turn)

ACT II:
U Phemisms

 

 

Chapter 5:
U Turn
(Stardate 42942.2)

1

Captain’s Log: Stardate 42942.2:
Time is progressing too slowly for me on this mission, I am finding, despite my earlier appreciation for a less strenuous pace. Young Jeremy’s life is in danger, and, while I continue to have complete faith in the abilities of my crew, I cannot help but feel that I and we should be doing more and that we should have had so much more accomplished by now. It’s only been three days—far too soon for me to be demanding results from such challenging tasks, yet I find myself looking for those results.
I have decided, therefore, that I shall allow myself the luxury of looking for the results without making my crew feel that I am breathing down their necks. I will assure them that my … my need to know is the result of seeking the slightest piece of news, no matter how apparently stagnant that news might appear. As long as there is no retrograde motion, anything that has us moving forward or, at the very least, keeping us stable, is good news for me at this point. But I shall have my good news as commander of this ship, and as the only bit of family Jeremy McKee has available to him at this time. Today, my first stop of the day, after a routine inspection of my bridge, will be to see how Mr. Costello and U are coming on their project.

 

Lt. Costello was surprised by his door chime so early in the day. He and U had only just begun the day’s work, and he was excited to see how far they might progress on their second day working together. “Come,” he called, and the door opened to reveal Captain Picard at the entrance. The lieutenant stood to formally greet his captain, but Picard raised a palm to stop him.

“As you were, Lieutenant. This is not an official call.” He stepped into Bo’s office and approached him. “I’m just curious to see if you have anything further since yesterday, realizing, of course, that it is undeniably short notice.” The Captain smiled amicably.

“Actually, Sir, with much thanks to our new friend, U, there has been a great deal of progress. Not that we’re ready to take on the Calliphlox, yet, but we have learned much.” The Lieutenant could barely contain his enthusiasm. “May I show you a bit, Sir?”

“By all means, Lieutenant! Proceed!”

“Aye, Sir,” Bo said and led Picard over to the desk where he and U left a stack of notes from the day before. “Uh, well, Sir, to begin, the Federation already has a good foundation for communication with the Calliphlox because of the similarities of our understandings of music. And that also puts the Romulans at something of a disadvantage.”

“Oh!?” Picard inquired.

“Yes, Sir,” Bo responded. “The Romulans’ musical systems are widely based on scales of severely more random-seeming intervals than are ours—by our ears, anyway; we would use terms such as “step and a half” or “minor third” to describe a standard single interval in one of their scales, and some intervals have no direct comparison at all with our system of music.” He paused momentarily to see if his captain had any questions. Seeing that he had none, Bo continued: “All three systems have an understanding of an octave. However, the Romulans base none of their, what we would call ‘keys’ on the octave, whereas the Calliphlox and we use the octave as a cardinal musical foundation.” He stammered just slightly. “Uh, Sir, when I say ‘we’ in this context, I am referring primarily to a Terran system, but it does include many of the cultures in the Federation, say, 75 to 80 percent, just off the top of my head.”

“Understood,” Picard concluded, nodding. He was quite impressed so far, given that all this officer had to work with were some Calliphlox recordings and a few fundamental facts entered by less apt translators than Lt. Costello, himself. “Well done, Mr. Costello.” Picard turned to U, “And U, thank you for your service, as well. What are some challenges that you’ve encountered so far?”

Bo looked at U, who returned Bo’s apprehensive expression. They both knew that they had hit a trouble spot yesterday, and Bo had soundly expressed a desire to solve it before his report to the captain. Clearly, he hadn’t had that chance. “Well, yes, Sir, there is one complication that we have found perplexing, but it is where we will be focussing our attention today.”

The captain assumed a more relaxed posture, knowing that this might take a few minutes. “Yes, what is it?”

“We have encountered several passages of Calliphlox discourse that have,” Bo puzzled out how to express the idea, “well, Sir, they’ve utterly thrown us for a loop, if you’ll please pardon the defeatist expression,”

“Yes, go on,” Picard encouraged.

“Well, as you know, every pitch is a different idea for the Calliphlox. It would appear, then—or, more appropriately, it seems to me—that they would have a minimal vocabulary. The Calliphlox’s sensitive hearing offers them as many as ten distinct pitches in what we think of as the smallest interval.” Bo played a ‘C’ then a ‘C sharp’ on his Trill keyboard to illustrate. “Now, if the Calliphlox were able to reach pitches as low as this keyboard does, that still only offers them 900 or so discrete pitches, being generous.”

Picard interrupted, “But there’s no way that a being with so small a physique would be able to reach such low pitches.”

“Precisely, Sir. So U and I assumed that Calliphlox speech patterns would be quite simple; a simple vocabulary makes for a simple syntax and grammar. In short, Sir, this shouldn’t be as difficult as it is, but even the computer, with all our new information, is utterly stymied when it comes to some of the more formal addresses.” He raised a finger. “Let me play one for you, Sir.”

Picard nodded, and as his lieutenant prepared a recording of Calliphlox speech, he breathed in deeply and prepared to listen intently.
The lieutenant commanded, “Computer, playback.” On the speakers set around the entire office played a melodious strain from a most soothing origin. Picard had to concentrate to remember that this was speech, not a musical composition with what seemed a most dissatisfyingly rushed, even perfunctory conclusion, and Picard’s eyebrows rose quickly and fell back into place.

“Now, Sir,” Bo continued, “there is no apparent reason for this brief discourse to be difficult to translate, but here’s what the computer came up with.” He spoke upwardly to the computer again. “Computer, replay the translation of the previous Calliphlox speech.”

The computer began to speak, in its stilted fashion, what had been entered as a translation. “Pre-note, if, never, keep, profit, a, good, smile, honesty, union, breathless, foreign, dare, cricket, four, devil, glider, funeral, weasel, fixture, twisted, baseline, orange, vast, hitch, drink, tangle, wrong, odd, polite, burglar, eating, feline.”

Picard nodded. “I see the difficulty,” he conceded. “But I can also easily see that a great deal of progress has been made. Well done, Lieutenant.”Then he tilted his head, raised his eyebrows and shrugged slightly. He turned to depart.

“Captain!” Lieutenant Costello called out, and Picard stopped and turned back to him. “Yes?”

“I just wish to state, for the record, that I would not have been able to achieve even this much without the assistance of U—at least, not this quickly. He’s been invaluable to me, Sir.”

Picard nodded officially, “So noted, Lieutenant. Stay on it,” and he turned to depart.

“Aye, Sir,” was the Lieutenant’s response.

During all this time, U had stayed appropriately silent. His friend was giving an official report to his commander, and U had no place in that. He certainly understood, but as this captain’s guest, he felt that he, too, should seek permission when he didn’t know appropriate boundaries. His new relationship with Worf and, more precariously, Jeremy McKee was an example of boundaries where Picard’s advice would be wisely sought. As Picard had turned to depart, U spoke up: “Captain Picard, might I have a brief word with you?” he asked.

“Of course, U. How may I be of service?”

He got Bo’s attention first. “Bo, I’ll be with you in just a moment.”

Bo waved in response. “No hurry. Whenever you’re ready,” and Bo began to work on his own while U returned to speaking with Picard, “Regarding a family member aboard, Captain, a Jeremy Mckee …”

Picard’s manner changed dramatically and instantly. “Yes, what about him?”

“You know him?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. What is it you need to know?”

“We met at Lieutenant Worf’s Mok’bara class last night. Bo let me tag along, and afterwards, Jer approached me.”

“Indeed,” Picard coaxed.

“He asked me about my interest in Federation music and literature, and invited me to see some of his art. Now, understand, I have already agreed to see it, but I’m not sure—since he’s so young—what restrictions your culture might want me to observe.” Picard’s expression was one that U was not able to understand. “Have I already done something inappropriate?”

“Not at all,” Picard said, but Jeremy’s situation is … awkward, U, and this is not the first time that you and he have been mentioned together in a conversation.”

“Interesting.”

“Some things, frankly, are confidential for now, but what you need to know is that he has sustained a recent, tragic loss, and is suffering tremendously as a result. Feel free to befriend him, U. He can use any positive influence available. View his art. Praise his art. Critique his art, but know that he is under my very special protection. There are reports in our database that can explain appropriate behaviours for you, and if you have any questions beyond that, you may ask Counsellor Troi for advice. Does that help?”

“Absolutely, Captain. Thank you.”

“Good.” Once again, Picard began to depart, but U stopped him one more time.

“Ah, Captain, there is one other thing that might be important for you to know.”

“Yes?”

U hesitated. He had been feeling so accommodating, and the last thing that he wanted to do was to admit that he didn’t know how much longer he would be, but he chose to proceed. “It turns out that the farther away I move from my incarcerated self, the more of a humanoid I become.”

Picard’s surprise seemed to be almost a look of offence. “How is it that you know this only now?”

“I received a visit from Q last evening, just before supper. He explained it to me, and it seems to be true, as far as I can tell, so far.”
“You met with Q and didn’t tell me?”

“Well, yes, Captain.” The two locked expressions for a long moment. For U, a look of surprise; for Picard, the appearance of one whose expectations have been neglected on his own ship. “I’m sorry, Captain. I didn’t think it was something you needed to know.”

Picard’s stance softened noticeably. “No, of course you didn’t. But in the future, any encounters you have with Q, clandestine or not, I want to know about it. Is that clear?”

“Decidedly, Captain. But you need to know that I have been experiencing things that suggest that what Q says is true.”

“What things?”

“Well, personal things, physical fatigue, body odour, for starters, if you’ll pardon me.”

Picard made no immediate reaction, but just accepted what U had to say as necessary information. “Those symptoms seem rather severe for the short distance we’ve travelled from your cell, U.”

U shrugged, I didn’t know a thing about it until last night, and I know of no other member of the Continuum who has moved any distance from his cell beyond a high orbit. I think that this might be new for many a Q.” U shook his head for the accidental rhyme he just created, but went on anyway. “The thing is, Captain,” U continued, speaking in an even quieter voice, ”I’m not sure what abilities I have are of my mortal or immortal self, so I don’t know how long I will be useful to Bo.”

“Bo?”

“Yes, that’s Lieutenant’s Costello’s nickname.”

“Ah,” Picard looked over to the lieutenant quickly. “I had no idea.” He turned back to U with a gentle, even encouraging expression. “You’re our guest, U. I welcome your assistance as long as you wish to give it. When you no longer wish to, or when you are no longer able to offer your assistance, you will still have my gratitude.”

U breathed a deep sigh. “Thank you, Captain.”

“And U, share this information with Bo. He needs to know.”

“We talked about it last night, Captain.”

Picard nodded and finally made his exit to see Dr. Pulaski. They talked for a long time about her progress, such as it was. In sum, despite their excellent training, the resources available to them via the computer, the Enterprise stores, Federation archives, communication with other medical professionals, their collective experience and their deep-seated desire to heal everyone who comes into sickbay, they still found themselves at a loss. How is it possible that ALL of Starfleet Medical could be stymied over something seemingly so simple? Dr. Pulaski’s medical prowess was second to none in the entire Federation, and to see her so utterly thwarted at so early a time where young Jeremy McKee was concerned was beyond Picard’s comprehension, not to mention tolerance. And her emotional stamina had been worn away to the degree that seemed to Picard as though she were on the brink of depression, herself. He certainly would report to Counsellor Troi about the matter immediately.

He left Dr. Pulasky’s office with a cocktail of conflicting emotions. He felt frustrated with her inability to progress in her work while, most certainly, the illness was progressing in its own pernicious will. He felt compassion for her frustration at her own inability. At one moment, he felt that she was incompetent, at the next, he found himself praising her silently for her diligence and her own sense of perseverance, indeed, obdurateness where curing Jeremy was concerned. Why, her will, at one point, can bring defeat just by being so hardy. And yet, dammit, the boy’s life is still in danger!

Still walking down the corridor, Picard found himself shaking his head. He needed to sort it out, clear his thinking, maintain a separation of heart and head. He elected to return to his quarters. What he needed was a good long dose of Mozart and Earl Grey. Yes, that is precisely what he needed, and he made it so.

2

In accordance with Picard’s advice, U made sure to arrange a time to meet with Counsellor Troi atTen-Forward for lunchtime that day. For U, this was still fairly unexplored territory—meeting with humanoids, interacting with them—but he did know that they were, for the most part, very protective of their young. He wanted to conduct himself in such a way as to communicate with those around him that he was just trying to be helpful, nothing more.

The first thing he told her after they had both ordered a drink, was how he and Jer met, and that U had agreed to view some of Jer’s art along with his mother’s. “What I want to know, Counsellor, is how I should interact with him. Is it different interacting with a youth than it is with an adult? If so, how?”

Counsellor Troi didn’t react negatively at all; indeed, she smiled reassuringly. “I think you’ll find that most of our young Jer’s age are fairly well able to conduct themselves in social settings as adults, so you needn’t worry about adopting any child-type of language. Is that what you mean?”

U shifted his weight and shook his head. “I’m not sure,” he said hesitantly. “I guess what I want to know are things like, what do adults and youths talk about, especially when they’ve just met? Or, what should I not talk about? That sort of thing.”

Troi nodded. “I see,” she said, then paused briefly to gather her thoughts. “There are some things that might be considered inappropriate for conversation topics, mostly because Jer is not likely to have any experience in those areas: humanoid sexuality, for instance.”

U chuckled. “I think that Jer and I may be on similar footing there, Counsellor. I’m not entirely human despite my appearance. I doubt that either of us would be able to carry a conversation on that topic.”

Troi smiled. “It might just be easier, for now, to let him pick the topics for discussion. Talk about what he’s interested in discussing until you learn more about him. Once he’s on a topic, you need to feel comfortable asking questions about it to keep him engaged. It’s important for Jer right now to be able to talk about himself, and you may stumble onto something that he needs to talk about, and if you’ve already shown an interest in him, he may be more inclined to take the conversation to greater depths.”

U’s expression was one of understanding and trepidation. “I think I know what you’re talking about, Counsellor. Captain Picard told me that Jer has recently suffered some kind of tragedy. He gave no details, but he seemed to think that I might be of assistance to him in that. Do I dare ask him about it?”
“If you feel you’ve reached a profound enough standing with him, absolutely. It would help him a great deal to be able to talk about it. Knowing that he’d still have your ears if he needs to talk about it more than once, or at different depths or with different aspects, could also be immensely helpful to him.”
“Is that part of the job of a counsellor, too?”

“Absolutely, but sometimes it’s easier for people to have a friend to talk with. It can be a real time-saver because when people know that I’m a counsellor, talking can sometimes become more difficult for them.”

“Hmm, ironic,” U observed.

“Yes, but as a counsellor, I’ve been trained to help people feel more comfortable talking. As Jer’s friend, you won’t need that training, hopefully.”

U nodded again. He took a sip of his beverage and set the cup back down again. “And, um … how carefully should I govern my reaction?”

“I’d say only moderately. Since we are talking about trauma, too much of a reaction might only serve to build walls between you. On the other hand, Jer is exceptionally bright and perceptive. He would know if you were not honest in your reaction, and that might have the same effect. But don’t worry too much about trying to go too deep with Jer. Just be there for him and listen to him. It’s clear that you want to be helpful, and there really is nothing more helpful than someone who will listen attentively.”

3

U and Jer entered his quarters, Jer in the lead. “Computer, Lights,” he commanded, his voice squeaking as he did. The lights came on full intensity. Clearly, Jer had prepared for U’s visit. He had set up his art in a gallery fashion. U was struck immediately by the beauty of it. The use of colour to demonstrate times of day or year in his mother’s art showed impressive observational skills, and he knew that she must have been a remarkable woman to see so very clearly. Several canvasses depicted the surfaces of a variety of planets, all at the same time of the day on each planet: dusk. She had painted evenings on Earth, Vulcan, Andoria, Cestus III, Cardassia Prime, Qo’noS, and Betazed. In his own travels, which surely must dwarf hers given his age and abilities, he had, himself observed that—regardless of the colour of the star, regardless of the composition of a planet’s atmosphere—if the sun is visible through an atmosphere, the light from that sun at the planets’ evenings always have impressively similar tones than they do at days’ peaks. During each planet’s mid-day, the sunlight on each was as varied as planets themselves. But evenings are always very similar in their feeling, and this mortal, this human whose life is measured in minute decimals compared with his own, had seen enough, had experienced enough to make the same observation, which she captured with stunning clarity on canvas. “Brilliant,” U cooed as he stared at “Sail at Sunset,” a depiction of a watercraft at dusk on Earth.

Jer smiled with pride by U’s assessment of his mother’s work.

“I assume,” U commented, with his attention focussed on “Sail at Sunset,” the same image that so fascinated Counsellor Troi, “that this is a depiction from earth?”

Jer nodded.

“I shall certainly have to visit there one day very soon,” he nearly moaned.

“Would you like to see some of my work?” Jer asked.

It took a moment for U to remove his eyes from the painting he had been viewing, but finally, he turned to his host, “I certainly would, Jer. Lead on.”

4

All told, the two spent over an hour looking at Jer’s paintings, discussing techniques, inspirations, successes and lesser successes. Jer confessed with a hint of embarrassment that his education in art was predominantly from a Terran perspective. Still, he did know his Terran art history very well, starting with mainly Western art beginning with Egypt, but also some Buddhist art and even the recently discovered prehistoric art of the Neanderthal, in which they found, not only evidence of body decoration, such as earrings, necklaces and indications of body paint, but examples of what was clearly early attempts of representational art in caves from times that were clearly of Neanderthal origin. Jer found it fascinating that a humanoid species that had once been thought, by humans, to be too mentally primitive to produce art or any form of body decoration could prove to be so surprisingly intelligent. And the creation of art in a culture demonstrates that there was a degree of wealth and comfort to be had for the Neanderthal, that there was, for a significant time, a period of abundance and even leisure. It was a topic that had immediately fascinated Jeremy.

So the two found that they had a distinct common interest: U wanted to learn about Terran art, and Jer was more than eagerly willing to share what he knew with someone who was sincerely interested. Together they headed to the ship’s library where Jer led U through a brief history of Earth’s time in art, and U found himself most impressed: impressed with a boy who knew his subject so very well, and impressed with a planet that was so very devoted to expression through visual art. But at the end of a long tutorial, both U and Jer found themselves growing weary, and so decided to revitalize themselves with dessert in Ten-Forward. “I happen to know that the cuisine there is quite superb if you’re amenable to eating animal flesh,” U asserted.

“Mmm, I love a good burger,” Jer said, “but just at the moment, I feel a bit more like ice cream.”

They found the lounge nearly deserted, and with the view from the bow so deserted, Jeremy suddenly felt like the king of the world. He ran to the centre window—the one that reached farther out from the ship than any other, and he stood to gaze. At warp two, the closer stars formed long strands of light across the window, but the more distant stars seemed to stand in place, seemed to remain specs of light, and as those stars were different every day on the Enterprise—different from, not just the night before but often the hour before—he was never at a loss to discover new constellations. It was a way for him to find new stories, like those inspired by the constellations of earth. On earth, Jeremy could find perhaps a hundred or so constellations in the northern hemisphere, and he knew the stories behind each of them. But on the Enterprise, he could discover the constellations for himself and create his own tales to explain why so and so was “stellified,” why such and such was exalted to the heavens. As U approached Jer from behind, Jer looked enthusiastically about the vista looking for a pattern.

“Look,” he said to U, “There’s a pair of lovers up there,” he said, pointing in the upper left quadrant of the window. “See? There’s like a broad heart shape, and on top of each lobe is a bright star, and down the outer side of both lobes is a swooping line of stars.”

“Hmm,” U observed. “I can see the heart shape, I think. Is one of the lobes lower than the other, so the heart’s kind of lopsided?”

“That’s right!” Jer said encouragingly. “The lower one represents the head of the woman, of course.”

“I’m not sure I see the rest, though,” U noted.

“Well, follow my finger,” Jer said as he drew in the air pointing at the stars. “They’re standing really close. The bodies start near the outer edge of each lobe and swoop outward a bit then flare in.”

U looked at the area for a long moment of quiet, then his eyes grew seemingly several times their normal size. “Oh, my goodness! Jeremy! I see them!” He laughed at himself. “That’s extraordinary!”

“Haven’t you ever looked at the stars and stuff to see the constellations?”

“I’ve looked at the stars,” U conceded, “but all I’ve ever seen is … stars.”

“Ha!” Jeremy laughed. “You got a lot to learn, Pal.”

“Indeed,” U conceded just as he noticed another feature to Jeremy’s constellations. “Oh! Look! They’re waving at you, Jeremy! Both of them!”

“What?” Jeremy protested. “Where?”

“Look near the tops of their bodies. They each have a line of star swooping up over the heart … well, kind of,” U admitted. “It’s like they have one arm around each other—arms we can’t see—and another in a wave.”

“Oh yeah!” Jer said. “They are waving!”

“I wish we could get a picture or something,” U said.

“Nah,” Jer said. “Taking pictures just takes away from the experience of the moment. That’s what my dad used to say. He took only a few holo-images. He preferred to have portraits done, but for the rest, he liked to rely on just remembering the moment, cause, he said, you can either have the moment or a picture of it, but not both. And the moment always gets better in your memory if you don’t have a picture.” He pondered that thought, as though it was the first time it made sense to him, even though he had agreed with it since he was old enough to know what pictures are. “But maybe I’ll paint it one day,” he concluded thoughtfully.

U nodded. “Good idea.” Then after a silence. “Shouldn’t we wave back at them?”

Jer looked up to U. “You’re joking,” he said and chortled.

“No, I’m not,” U protested.

“Ok,” Jer said, “I will if you will.”

“Fine,” U said, and as Jer was standing on his left, he raised his right arm to wave, and Jer, making good on his promise, raised his left arm to wave. And so the two people standing at the window in Ten-Forward mimicked the constellation outside the window so that, to a viewer who might have understood, the constellation appeared for a time to be a reflection of Jeremy and U with the window standing in for the mirror. Their wave, however, caught the attention of Guinan, who had been elsewhere for a few minutes. She returned to catch them waving out the window, and the normal wide and accepting eyes of the bar-keep narrowed to slits as she regarded U.

“Well, how about that ice cream,” U invited.

“Sounds great,” Jer said.

They took a table that seemed more than usually isolated even though all of Ten-Forward was nearly empty. Guinan watched the two take their seats, and, having sent one of her servers to their table, went to the intercom on the bar: “Guinan to Captain Picard.” She kept her eye on U as she spoke.

“Picard here,” came the prompt reply.

“Captain, are you busy? Could you come down here?”

“Not right away, Guinan, but in ten minutes?”

“That’ll be just fine. Thank you.”

“My pleasure, Guinan. Picard out.”

Guinan pressed the intercom button again but kept her eye on Jer and U. She held a clear expression of concern if not contempt. Having a meal with Bo last night was one thing, but spending time with a youth who was in such desperate straits at this point was reprehensible in Guinan’s mind.

The server, Ben, took U’s order for the highly recommended banana split, even though the one who suggested it ordered a hot-fudge sundae with extra fudge, nuts and ice cream.

“So, you want a double hot-fudge sundae. Did I get that right?” Ben asked.

“Ben, if I could have my way,” Jer quipped back, “I’d drain the replicator of all the ingredients before I was entirely satisfied.

“Then why did you tell your friend to get a banana split?” Ben demanded with something of a smirk.

“Because, then, he’d drain the replicator of all the ingredients before I was entirely satisfied,” Jer answered, indicating U with a tip of his head.

“Well, I’m glad I’m not craving a hot-fudge sundae. I’ll bring those right over to you,” Ben said and departed.

Jer noticed U’s suspicious expression. “Don’t worry. You’ll love the split,” Jer assured him.

“I’m sure that I will,” U conceded, “but I feel that I have been craftily misled, nonetheless.”

Jer looked U square in the eye. “Y’think?”

They both laughed a whole-hearted, long-lasting, stress-relieving belly laugh. When they stopped, Jer’s side was hurting, and U’s eyes were tearing. Ben came back then with their orders. Both Jer and U thanked him and then began to laugh again, but for no apparent reason. Ben just kept smiling amicably as he set the desserts on the table, then he walked away with a feeling of contentment that he had been part of bringing this kind of joy into people’s lives. It made him very glad for his job.

For the next several minutes, U and Jer enjoyed their desserts and each other’s company. From time to time, Guinan watched them, and the narrow slits that had been her eyes when she met U, began to relax. She watched as Jer’s entire body language changed as he began to set down the troubles of his life for the first time in over a month, as he seemed to forget that he has a life-threatening condition. He looked happy, and she felt happy for him.

Finally, with both dishes empty, the laughter dissipated, and energy levels restored, the two sat back, reclining against their chairs. “Turns out, you’re a lot of fun, U,” Jer said.

U cocked his head and regarded Jer for a long moment. “You are, too,” he said. “I’m glad to see it, and to be a part of it.” He set a hand over his heart, maintaining a gentle smile. “I am honoured to be a part of it,” he confessed.

Jer shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Whaddya mean?” he asked.

U paused a moment before he spoke. “It has been brought to my attention that you have suffered a recent tragedy. I don’t know much about it. I’m just wondering if you would care to discuss it with me. Let me help if I can.”

Jer’s expression went blank, and he looked U in the eyes for a spell. Finally, he sat forward, resting his elbows on the table, just as his mother had taught him not to, and he held an expression of inquiry on his face. When he spoke finally, it almost seemed as if a record had skipped, and some time had been suddenly lost, so distinct was Jer’s response to U’s invitation. “Have you ever broken any really important laws when you were one of those … you know … all-powerful guys?”

U also sat forward. “Excuse me?”

“You know,” Jer insisted, “did you ever do something really stupid?” He tilted his head to look for probing examples. “Did you ever kill a whole race of people? Or did you flash one of your political leaders? Disobey orders? Hurt someone you love? Embarrass yourself in some big way?” He frowned at U and raised his eyebrows at the same time, shaking his head just slightly. “Anything like that at all?”

U felt entirely put off guard. “I’m not sure this is a topic that you and I should be discussing, Jer.”

Jer nodded at the profundity of U’s statement. “I see,” he said. “And exactly why is that, U?”

“Well,” U began, “as I understand the way adults and teens interact in your society, it’s not an appropriate topic to discuss. Plus, it has no real bearing on our relationship thus far. Put simply, your questions are trespassing into areas of my life that I’m not yet prepared to explore with you.”

When he met Jer’s eyes after this, he realized that Jer understood something that he, himself, had not until then, and it gave him pause. He pondered for a few moments while Jer just continued to look at him expectantly, and finally, U understood the statement that Jer was making. He had so underestimated Jer that he had made himself look the fool. U nodded in understanding. “I see,” he confessed.

He sat further forward, also resting his forearms on the table. He looked around the room, over both shoulders, then looked at Jer for a moment feeling uncomfortable in a way that he’d not yet experienced. He rubbed his chin with the thumb and first finger of one hand and he considered how best to proceed. Ultimately, he overlapped his arms on the table again and leaned in so that he could speak more quietly. “I have embarrassed myself,” he confessed, “in a way that might be very hard to explain.” U’s eyes were no longer meeting Jer’s. Instead, he gazed at a point on the table in front of them both. Jer said nothing but waited patiently for U to continue. “I had what most of my compatriots are calling a ‘religious experience.’ I don’t think of it like that at all. In my mind, it’s just an experience, albeit a phenomenal one, well outside the experience of most of them. It was so startling, so wonderful and so perplexing and humbling that I couldn’t help myself but tell everyone I knew. Even after they began to tell me to keep quiet about it, I just couldn’t. I mean, when you find something wonderful, you want to share that experience, even if people don’t seem to want you to.” U smiled sheepishly at Jer. “Am I making sense?”

Jer nodded, eyebrows raised, then he rested his head on his hands, “What did you experience?”

U shook his head quickly, reacting to visualizing what he’d already seen. “It was … I dunno, many hundreds—perhaps thousands—of light-years from here. I’ve always enjoyed exploring the cosmos on my own. I prefer the solitude, the quiet, but I cannot tell you how much I have wished that I’d brought someone along for this trip so that I’d have someone to share it with, review it with. Plus,” He smiled, “it would give me another witness.” He chuckled and picked up his dessert dish again. He wiped his index finger along the inside, drawing out a large smear of ice cream and sweetened stuff that he licked from his finger. He repeated the ceremony on the reverse side of the dish, then set it down again. Jer lifted up his head, rested his elbow on the table and his head on his hand. With the other hand, he dipped his finger into his own bowl, but there wasn’t a great deal of fudge left for him to draw out of it.

“Anyway,” U continued, “I was just gazing at a group of stars in one galaxy. One of the stars seemed out of place enough to catch my eye.” He chortled, “There y’go. I guess that’s the closest I’ve ever been to seeing a constellation before today,” he remarked and smiled at Jer. “It was much brighter than those around it. I mean, much too much brighter, if you get my meaning.”

Jer nodded.

“It didn’t take me long to realize that it wasn’t part of the galaxy that I was visiting, and I figured out pretty quickly after that … that it was far enough away to be another very distant galaxy, so I went to see what was happening, and by the time I got there, I was far outside of any region I had ever explored, but I didn’t care. I was quickly stupefied by what I witnessed. I was mesmerized and mentally sucked into it, and I was simply unable to look away. It was that astounding to behold.”

Jer picked his head up again, entirely curious. “What did you see?”

U was still gazing at the table as he spoke, as if he were revisiting this marvellous galactic phenomenon. “I saw a complete galaxy set entirely ablaze, a whole galaxy—billions of individual stars— emitting flames and heat and light like a single enormous super, giant, hyper, colossal panoptic star, but it wasn’t burning; it was just ablaze. I mean, it was on fire, but the flame wasn’t consuming it.” He shook his head again, cognizant of how unclear and less than sensational his description was. “It was both dazzling and blinding, illuminating and numbing. It was completely outside of anything I had ever experienced. No member of my species—no group from among my species—would be able to accomplish such a spectacular feat. And then …” U shook his head a third time, but this time in wonder, in awe, in delighted reverence, and Jer observed that he was no longer looking at the table, but through the table at something that was both a great distance away from him and yet still in his mind. U’s eyes glazed in wonder as if whatever he had experienced was so overwhelming and magnificent, that even a tiny part of it, even just thinking about it anew, was almost equally overwhelming for him, as if to think of it were virtually the same as revisiting it. So the focus of U’s eyes was both in front of him and yet inside of him at the same time.

Jer sat up again. “And then what?” he prodded.

U turned to Jer again, but the image that possessed his thoughts was still there, inside of him and in front of him. “And then I heard a voice calling to me,” he said. “It spoke to me.”

“What did it say?” Jer whispered, almost afraid to speak, let alone to hear the answer.

It took a long time for U to respond. “It told me, ‘Some things that are, simply are what they are meant to be.’”

The was a long pause as Jer looked stupefied at U. “That’s it?” Jer asked, and U nodded slowly, reluctantly withdrawing from a reverie. “It doesn’t make any sense,” Jer observed.

“No,” U conceded, “I suppose not,” and U was slowly returning with his full presence of mind to his conversation with Jer. His voice became less of a whisper, his eyes slowly drew back to Ten-Forward. “Not to someone so young as you. But I feel confident that you will be able to understand it to a depth that will surprise most of your shipmates. For me, my young friend, it has already rendered a very trying time much more palatable.” At this point, U was quite himself again, and he smiled at Jer. “You know, I’m not supposed to talk about this. You’re a very bad influence on me; I’m likely to get into a great deal of trouble on account of you.”

“What?” Jer asked, more than a little stunned. “Why would you get in trouble?”

U chuckled once again. “Well now, that IS quite a different story, isn’t it?” and he fell silent.

Jer’s look of confusion dissipated. “My turn, is it?”

U simply looked at Jer with the faintest hint of a smile. In one way, however, he was preparing himself for something of a challenge in what Jer had to share.

“It’s an ongoing thing, at this point,” Jer said. “My parents were on an assignment that started about … oh … three months ago, I guess. I dunno, maybe a little longer. I’m not sure. They were part of a huge number of away missions.” He stopped, trying to read U, and confused his blank expression for lack of understanding. “An ‘away mission’ is, you know, when …”

U interrupted. “I understand, Jer. I wasn’t questioning. I just want to give you my full attention.”

Jer nodded. “Anyway, they went every day to survey this planet: Telokotis Minor.” Jer chortled while making quotation marks with his fingers. “Stupid name,” he muttered. “Sounds like a small serving of a Greek entrée that you don’t wanna eat because of all those different coloured things in it that you don’t recognize, but your mom says, ‘They’re delicious!’ and your dad says, ‘Y’can’t taste’m, anyways!’ and neither of them notices your stunned expression!” He laughed a little and shook his head. “Anyway, some people in the Federation wanted to colonize this planet. Mom’s and Dad’s job was to help make sure that it was safe. It wasn’t. They got a disease down there, but they didn’t know it right away. They just kept doing their jobs like good little soldiers, coming home at the end of every day filled with stories about how beautiful the planet was. Dad even started talking about the prospects of us settling there when they retired from Starfleet.

“A little while later, Dad got sick, so Mom took me on her mission to see the planet. I didn’t think much of it. It looked like Earth here; it looked like Earth there; it had water, rocks, plants, blue skies, white clouds and a yellow star.” He chuckled. “I mean, what’s the big deal, y’know?”

U nodded with a wan smile.

“Well, anyway, a bunch of the away teams’ members got sick after that, and they found out what the disease was, so they shut down the missions so no one else would get sick. Mom got sick just after that,” Jer chuckled. “I guess it takes some time before the infection actually makes you ill. Until then, you don’t even know that you’ve got it. The doctors did what they could, but Dad died just a little later, I think. Some of the events have gotten scrambled in my brain.”
“Jer,” U interrupted gently, “aren’t the ship’s computers supposed to be able to catch diseases like this and remove them before infection sets in?

“Well, yeah, I guess, but it turns out that the disease is intelligent. You can, like, talk to it, kinda’ and it was somehow able to trick the sensors or something.”

“Huh,” U observed, “an intelligent infection.”

“Yeah, so Captain Pick-a-Part tried to get people to talk with it, ‘to reason’ with it, he said.” Jer started drawing on the clear table with his fingertip as he spoke. “And didn’t that work out just peachy, there, Cap?” Jer said under his breath.

U ignored the rude comment. The circumstances were reason enough for a young man to be angry. “Your mom died a little later, then?”

Jer nodded, and his eyes filled with tears, like two deep ponds. He sniffled. “And that’s not all, either,” he said, his sarcastic tone beginning to return.

U sat back against his chair. There was a feeling in his gut, a new sense. He pondered it for a moment or two, but with no frame of reference to recognize it, he could only ask himself a number of questions very quickly: What caused the sensation? Was it pleasant or not? What did the sensation make him want or want to do? He realized that what he wanted was to run, and he deduced from that that he was afraid of what Jer was going to say, even though (or perhaps, because?) he had a pretty good idea what he was going to say, and he didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to have to deal with it, and he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to. Once he realized that truth, though, he felt a bit more emboldened. He leaned forward again, and moved very close to Jer, drawing his voice to a whisper. “It’s ok, Jer. You can tell me if you want to.”

Jer didn’t look at U. He kept drawing with his finger on the table, and the tears began to well over the brim of his eyes and spill onto his tunic and onto the table itself. “It’s got me too, U. I’m the last one. And just like Mom and Dad and ten others on those away missions, I’m going to die.”

U blanched then solemnly closed his eyes as if he’d been stabbed through the heart. He knew that he should say something, but what should he say? What good would any words do? So he said the first thing that came honestly to mind: “I’m so sorry, Jer.”

Jer seemed to just ignore U. He sat up suddenly, sniffled once or twice and began to speak with greater boldness. “Y’see, though, the worst part is that I don’t know what to feel. In one sense, I kind of feel that if I die, I can be with my parents again. But then, I’m not sure that I’m ready to die, either! I don’t even know if I’ll see my parents again.” He shook his head and took a moment to reflect more deeply. “But if I were really honest, U …” Jer’s tone suddenly changed dramatically. “You can’t tell this to anyone,” he said, and U gave a slightly stunned expression of emphatic agreement. “The one thing I want more than anything else,” Jer continued, “is to be with my parents again, now, while I’m still the age you’re supposed to be when you still want your parents around.” He squirmed a little in his chair. “It’s not so much that I want to die, U, because there are so many things that I want to do, and it’s like, if I don’t do them now, I may never be able to. Then again, if there is an afterlife, I might be able to do some things better than I can now, and it would be so nice to see Mom and Dad proud of me again. I really miss that. But, the bottom line is this: If there’s no other way to be with my parents other than to die, then, as difficult as that is, it’s basically what I want. Does that make sense to you?”

“Oh, absolutely, “ U said with compassion and clear understanding. “So, what things are you talking about?” U asked.

Jer wiped his nose with a napkin from his dessert. “What?”

“You said that there are so many things you wanted to do. What things?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“Like hell, I will,” U asserted.

Jer sighed. “U, I’m a magician—a pretty good one. I want to perform on stage with a live audience.”

U frowned. “There’s nothing to laugh at about that. What else?”

It didn’t take Jer long to say what else he wanted. He had been thinking about these very things since his visit with the captain and the counsellor. I want Mom’s art to be in a gallery, on sale for people to buy and display in their quarters. I want to see my work displayed beside hers,” he concluded.

U shrugged. “I don’t think that’s a lot to ask under any circumstances,” U affirmed and thought that thought over again. “Actually, it’s not much to ask at all.” He frowned, “I’ll get to work on that right away. I think it should be a huge event—a concert for the entire ship. I can play one of Bo’s instruments, and Bo can perform, too. We can get a bunch of people to perform some music, and you can be the keynote performer of magic and wizardry—the main event. Waddya say?”

Jer was taken aback. “It sounds great!” he declared. “I have a really cool trick for the captain.”

“Excellent,” U said. “We have some planning to do. Let’s get out of here.”

“Alright!” Jer answered. They both stood. Jer tugged on his tunic, and U straightened the collar of his jumpsuit, then they departed together with Guinan watching the whole time.

5

Just before they departed Ten-Forward, while Jer and U were talking, Captain Picard entered in response to Guinan’s call. She wasn’t known for calling the bridge at all, but Picard had learned to trust Guinan’s instincts and had often prevailed for having received such learning. If she required his presence, then his presence she shall most certainly receive. He stepped into the door, glanced about, then, seeing her at her normal station behind the bar, walked decisively to her. “Guinan, I’m sorry. I was detained. How may I help?”

She pointed, more with her eyes and overall facial expression than with her hand or finger, over to Jer and U sitting together, but she said nothing.

Picard saw the two Guinan meant, then found himself in an awkward situation. He knew that Guinan had little trust for U, and he knew also that she wouldn’t approve of his influence on someone like Jer, especially at such a time as this. He began awkwardly to explain, but Guinan cut him off.

“You know, Captain, I really had my doubts about you bringing that Q being aboard the Enterprise.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that, Guinan and …”

Guinan cut him off again. “To be honest, not to mention succinct and forthright, I was pretty sure that it was a stupid idea. A hair-brained idea, and, to come to the point, I wanted to slap you.”

Picard felt nauseated by Guinan’s invective, that something so harsh would be aimed at him by someone he respected as much as he did Guinan, but since she hadn’t yet crossed any lines of protocol he was willing to accept what she had to say because of that respect, except, he thought, she may not have all the information that she needs to proceed. He tried his best to calm her so that he could reassure her, but she persisted.

“I can’t tell you how many times in the past few days I considered marching up to the Bridge and giving you a tongue lashing that Earth hasn’t seen since the nineteenth century.”

Picard raised his palm to her. “Guinan …”

“But I was wrong, Captain.”

Picard was very much caught off guard by Guinan’s conclusion. “I beg your pardon?”

Guinan nodded assuredly. “I …” she started with emphasis, “was wrong.” Once again, she indicated U and Jeremy talking at the far end of Ten-Forward. “Look at them over there.”

He looked over to them. U was not speaking, but Jer was, and Picard realized that it must be something dreadful given Jer’s expression and his drawing with his index finger on the table. U was fully engaged in all that Jer had to say, and it was clear that U was concerned. Picard turned again to Guinan.

“I know,” she said, “they’re not exactly having the happiest of meetings right this minute, but they were just a little while ago, and, if you could hear what I hear, you’d understand why I changed my mind. Jer’s guard is down, and those two are making a genuine connection.”

Picard smiled but said nothing. He just felt a great sense of relief that Guinan wasn’t speaking ill of him. That was something he would have a hard time dealing with. He simply felt a soothing appreciation that she was his friend.

“Don’t give me that ‘I told you so’ look. This is a hard thing for me to admit.” Guinan said.

“I understand.”

She sighed and relaxed a bit. “The bottom line, Captain, is that U is very good for Jer. And the most important thing that a boy like Jer needs at a time in his life like this is something that is very good for him.” She smiled and rested both elbows on her bar.

Picard returned the smile. “I’m glad you pointed that out. I have been very concerned about what I can do for Jeremy at a time like this. Apparently, what I needed to do I’ve already done.” He leaned an elbow on the bar. “Y’know, I’ve always believed that the first step in a person being able to fully heal is a healthy emotional state.”

“It looks like you’ve done your part to provide that, Captain,” Guinan said.

The two of them watched Jer and U for a few more seconds. The mood had changed from one of dire seriousness to one of growing excitement, then Picard turned again to his beloved friend. “Thank you, Guinan. If you happen to notice anything else …”

“I’ll be sure to let you know.”

Picard stood straight and placed his hand on top of Guinan’s—a rare thing to see Captain Jean-Luc Picard do. He looked at her with great appreciation and admiration for a long moment, then patted her hand and turned to depart. Guinan picked up a bar rag and started wiping down a spill that she hadn’t noticed until that moment.

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