Q de Gras (Chapter 6: U Remind Me of a Man)

Chapter 6:
U Remind Me of a Man
(Stardate: 42943.5)

1

U approached the door and paused just before his thumb pressed the call button. He hesitated. For a long time, he waited. At the door. Wavering. Wondering, stepping back then approaching again. He dropped his hand away from the chime, turned and stepped across the corridor, pondering with his forefinger against his chin, the other hand on his hip. On the far side of the corridor, he faced the door once again, pondered it for a moment or two, then dropping both arms to his sides, he mustered his resolve and returned to the door, raised his thumb toward the buzzer and paused once again. That was the moment when Data walked by. He saw U and nodded in greeting before he noticed that U hadn’t been aware of him. He paused and observed the being standing at the door, holding his thumb just centimetres from the chime. “U,” Data said, and U turned to him as Data continued: “May I call you, ‘U,’ U?” he asked.

“Certainly, Commander.”

Data nodded and stepped closer to U as he spoke: “And you may feel free to call me Data,” he affirmed, and U nodded. “U, in order for the door chime to function, your thumb must come into contact with the panel on the bulkhead.” He stepped closer to the wall. “Allow me,” he said. U tried to object but was too slow for the android, whose thumb had already made contact, allowing the bell to sound. U groaned, but only slightly, but Data was oblivious to U’s anxiety. He raised an index finger: “That is ‘all there is to it,’” he asserted and patted U on the shoulder, then continued on his way down the corridor. “Thanks, Data,” U muttered just as Commander Riker appeared in the now opened doorway. “U!?” Riker exclaimed cheerfully, “what can I do for you?”

U could feel himself blush just a bit. That, too, was a new sensation that he quickly decided to store away for later analysis. “If you’re not busy, Commander, I was hoping that I could take a moment or two of your time.”

“Certainly!” Riker responded, leading U into his quarters. “C’mon in! I just finished eating and was about to sit and enjoy a few hours of light reading.” He walked ahead of U to the sitting area and held out an arm of invitation: “Have a seat.”

“Thank you,” U said as he sat. “I don’t want to take too much of your time; I need your counsel.”

“Really?” Riker said as he took a seat near U. He sounded almost skeptical.

“Commander …” U began.

“Please,” Riker interjected, “Call me ‘Will.’”

U nodded, “Thank you. I will, Will.” In fact, U felt much more at ease knowing he had Riker’s confidence enough to be on a first-name basis with him. “I need to ask you some questions, but I’m afraid that I might be trespassing. I need your help, and I don’t know anyone else to ask.”

Riker smiled amicably. “Well, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Just take it one step at a time, and I’ll let you know if I feel threatened.”

U nodded, “You have to understand that my … my identity is changing rapidly. I’m experiencing emotions that … well …” U turned his head sideways and upward. He can’t say that he’d never experienced these emotions before. He certainly had. The difference is that he used to fancy himself omniscient. Emotions simply weren’t the issue that they’d become in the last few days. He tried to continue: “I guess I’m finding that they are more powerful than I am at this point, and I’m having difficulty governing them.” He rolled his eyes. “Is that an overshare? I’m sorry if it is.”

With no loss of smile or friendliness, Riker sat forward and raised his palm to U. “U, just relax. Take a deep breath, in through the nose, out through the mouth.”

U did as he was told. He breathed in slowly and exhaled. He found that it helped somewhat, so he repeated on his own, and again, and having repeated a third and fourth time, he found himself decidedly more relaxed.

“Better?” Riker asked.

U nodded, and yet he still sat rigidly with his hands pressed together between his knees.

“I’m not entirely convinced,” Riker concluded. “Here’s something that counsellor Troi teaches: It’s called ‘plexing.’” Riker sat forward a bit so that he could demonstrate more effectively, and U opened his eyes to watch. “You lightly tap the area behind your carotid artery several times.” Riker demonstrated, and U attempted it but found it less than effective.

“It’s not working, Will. Let’s not forget that I don’t have a carotid artery; I don’t even have a body at the moment,” U complained, then added, “although the way things are going …” His voice trailed off.

Riker nodded, “True, and yet you still get fatigued, and you sweat when you work out.” The more human you become, U, the more authentic your humanity is, it appears.”

U raised his eyebrows. “That’s sound,” he said, and tried the plexing again.

Riker tried to point, “Just below and behind your ear.”

U closed his eyes again and kept trying, searching for the correct location to plex. At one point, he started to feel frustrated by the attempt, but finally, he found himself calming down substantially. He even realized that he could smile again. When he opened his eyes, he was calm; his body had relaxed on its own, and he found that he could sit back without feeling like he was going to fall. “That’s very helpful,” he decided. “I’m going to have to remember that.” He cocked his head to the side: “How does it work?”

Riker shrugged. “It stimulates the something or other to release natural thing-a-mo-bobs into the what-you-might-call-it,” he said.

“That’s very clear, Will. Thank you,” U smiled.

“Glad to be of service,” Riker returned the smile. “But you were here for something?” he prompted.

“Yes, quite right,” U said. He took another moment to compose himself and then find his place in his mental sequence of inquiry. “When I first came aboard … when we were talking in the observation lounge … I remember that you said that you had been given the power of the Q for a brief time. Do I remember correctly?

“Yes,” Riker said, “I think you do.”

“If it’s ok, I need to ask you about that.

“That’s fine,” Riker affirmed.

“Did you have the opportunity to use your power in an unusual way?”

“Well, I was able to save some friends and valuable members of the Enterprise crew from some of Q’s creatures that he had unleashed.”
“I see,” U nodded. “And what was that like for you?”

Riker smiled broadly. “It went straight to my head,” he admitted.

“To your head?” U inquired.

“It fed my ego,” Riker asserted. “I have to admit, I felt like a god, and it felt good … for a time.”

U smiled. “What happened?”

“Captain Picard found a way to bring me back down to a safe, planetary surface.”

This time U laughed outright. “Now why does that not surprise me?” he asked.

“When he knows he’s right, he knows he’s right.”

U nodded in agreement, and when it came time to be serious again, he asked, “but you did nothing spectacular for everyone to see? Something unexpected? Heroic? Beneficent?”

For a moment, Riker kept his smile while regarding U, trying to decide if he should be so honest as U was really asking him to be. Did he really want to relive that humiliating experience for someone he barely knew? He pondered that point for several seconds before he answered: “I tried to grant the wishes of everyone on the Bridge,” he said.

U was genuinely taken aback. “You did what?”

Riker smiled sheepishly and nodded. “I tried to be the Genie of the Lamp for everyone I knew.”

“And what happened?”

“Well, it turns out that the Genie is far wiser than even I thought I was. Instead of inviting everyone to make a wish, I decided for them what they wanted, which played perfectly into Captain Picard’s plan, because he knew that everyone would turn me down, and that’s precisely what they did. Every one of them, in turn, turned me down.” Riker shook his head, looking at the floor. “I felt like an idiot.”

“That’s probably appropriate,” U smirked.

Riker snorted a laugh. “And that’s just what the captain said.”

They laughed together again for a time, then U said, “I appreciate your candour, Will, but I’m not getting what I need.”

“Well, let’s try again, U. What do you want to know?”

U sighed and regarded Will for a long moment. “I need to know,” he began slowly but started again anyway: “I have to ask if you had the opportunity to heal anyone of any grave illness.”

Riker didn’t respond immediately. “Why are you asking about this?”

U coughed nervously. “There’s a young man on the Enterprise, Jeremy McKee. Do you know him?”

“I know enough.”

“He and I have become friends. He’s a bright young man, so very talented, and all he wants to do is share his talents with people around him.” He smiled.

“Actually, I quite admire him.”

“I can understand that.”

“He’s terminally ill with a disease from a world that is alien to him, and as a result, so is the disease.”

“That’s also what I’ve been told,” Riker admitted. “We lost twelve members of the crew to that disease,” he asserted.

“I don’t want this young man to be the thirteenth, Will. The captain, bless’m, has his medical staff working on the problem, of course, but, to be honest, I’ve also tried to contact Q to try to coerce him to help, but I’ve had no response.”

“How long have you tried doing that,” Riker demanded

“In the past day.”

“Does the captain know about that?”

“I have yet to mention it to him.”

“See that you do.”

“I shall, but Will, please understand: I would heal him if I could. If I had the power of the Q, I would see to it that that disease was eradicated, but as I am under the custody of your captain, I am powerless. If we were to return to my prison, I would have my powers, but as a prisoner, they would work only for my own benefit, so I’m stuck. I need your counsel, Will, because you’re the only person aboard the Enterprise with even the slightest notion of my situation. For the first time since I was very young, which was millennia ago, I am in need of guidance, and I don’t know who to turn to, except you.”

Riker nodded, remaining silent for a time as he looked for a third option. As first officer, he frequently needed to find such an alternative for Captain Picard and found that he had quite a knack for it when he had all the information that he needed. After a few seconds, “What would happen if Captain Picard should find that you are undeserving of incarceration? He could argue for your release, and then you could heal Jer, right?”

“You’re suggesting that I request a reprieve from the captain now?”

“That’s right,” Riker affirmed. “I mean, you seem to have proved your honourable intentions, U.”

“Are you saying that you have absolutely no doubts whatsoever about my sincerity at this point, Will? None at all?”

Riker looked away, saying nothing.

“Don’t try to spare my feelings, Will. This is too important. I need to know.”

Reluctantly, Riker admitted, “No, U, you’re right. I don’t feel that I know you well enough to let you run free in the cosmos, especially with what we know about one of your compatriots. There is still the possibility—however small—that you are, in fact, the same menace he is or worse, God forbid, and I just couldn’t take that chance.”

U nodded. “I would likely take you for a fool if you were willing at this point. And if you have doubts about me, then it is likely that the captain does, too. He needs to believe with no doubt whatsoever that my incarceration is wrong. If there’s any doubt, then it simply won’t work, and I find it highly unlikely at this point that it would inspire the captain’s confidence in me if I were to say to him, ‘Free me now, and I’ll heal Jeremy.’”

“I see your point.”

“Besides, there needs to be a witness from the Continuum, and Q has not been responsive lately. It seems that he’s just abandoned this situation, and without a witness, the whole thing is pointless. Then there’s also the fact that I have a deep respect for your Captain. Let’s just say that he grants my reprieve now, and I, of course, proclaim for all to hear that Jeremy is healed then disappear back to the Continuum, and something happens—I don’t know what, but just go along with me on this—something goes wrong, and Jeremy is not cured, some circumstances that I didn’t account for—I am only Q, after all—I would never be able to face Captain Picard again. He would never trust me, nor would anybody else onboard the Enterprise, and even the Continuum would frown upon something so nefarious. They do have moral standards, no matter how loose they may be compared with human morals.”

“It sounds to me,” Rider said somewhat meditatively, “that you’ve already thought this through.”

U shook his head. “Not so much as you might think. The bottom line is that I need more time with your captain; your captain needs more time with me, and Jeremy doesn’t have the time for either of us.”

“That is a hell of a dilemma,” Will nodded thoughtfully.

“So Will,” U said, bringing the topic back to Riker, “ how long did you possess the power of the Q?”

Riker shook his head and waved a hand vaguely in the air: “A matter of days.”

“I see. And did you encounter any situation like this even in so brief a time?”

Riker remained silent for a long time, then he stood and walked to the replicator. “Computer, whisky. Neat,” he commanded. U raised his eyebrows just a bit, then looked away. After a brief warbling from the replicator, a small glass of golden liquid appeared. Riker took the glass, shot the liquid back, set the glass back in the replicator, and it was absorbed back into the system. He started to walk back to U but thought better of it. Just as the glass had dematerialized in the mechanism, Riker ordered, “Computer, one more just like the last.” Moments later, there was another glass of the same coloured liquid. Riker downed it then returned to his seat. “This is not an easy subject to discuss,” he declared.

“So I observe,” U responded.

“We were on our way at high warp for a rescue mission of a Federation colony: five hundred or so citizens on Sigma III. There was an explosion and a great many lives at stake.” He took a deep breath. “Q intercepted the Enterprise on our way there. We had a few hours dealings during which Q made me one of the Continuum then sent us on our merry way again, with absolutely no time lost; all those hours consumed no time whatsoever. Q told me that I could keep the power and then left me to deal with things without his guidance; I had arrogantly decided that I could do without that power; I was going to decline Q’s offer, I decided. It was the Captain who said that if I intended to return the power, that I should never use it because it would become too great a temptation. I agreed with him and promised him that I wouldn’t use it.”

“But you found a situation when you felt that you needed it,” U probed.

Riker nodded. “After a little more coercing on Q’s part, yes.” He waved his hand at U, indicating that they were unnecessary details. “We arrived at the colony and were able to save most of the colonists, but we found one little girl under a pile of rubble; it was already too late. She had died of her wounds, and I … I did nothing for her.” He smiled incredulously. “I mean, she had only been dead for a few minutes, if that! I could have saved her. I had the power to bring a child back to life, U. Back to LIFE! But I left her as we all found her, and I have never felt so angry and confused.”

“If you were sincere about declining the power, then you did the right thing, Will.”

“I know that,” Riker nodded. “I do, but the right thing can be an awful thing to deal with.” He fell silent and shook his head. For a moment, he turned his head toward the replicator but just ended up closing his eyes. “U, I’ve never really gotten past that. It still stabs my gut every time I think about it.”

“I’m not sure which is worse, Will: not being able to raise a deceased child or not being able to heal a living one who might very well die as a result.”

Riker fell to the back of his seat and let his hands come together between his knees. He looked away for a long time, and U thought that, several very brief times, his chin might have been quivering ever so slightly. Finally, he shook his head again and returned his gaze to U. “I don’t think I am able to advise you, U. I’m not exactly objective on this issue, and I don’t really have the peace of mind, anyway.”

U nodded, his head turned downward.

“But there is someone aboard who, I think, can help you. He may not be more powerful than the Q, but he’s certainly wiser, and he’s available to you, too.”
“Captain Picard,” U said, smiling slightly.

“That’s right,” Riker affirmed. “Go see him. I know that he’ll be able to give you sage counsel.”

U smiled and nodded. Riker tapped his comm badge. “Riker to the captain.”

“Picard here.”

“Captain, I have a former member of the Q Continuum in my quarters who would like to have some of your time, if you’re available.” “Indeed, Number one? I also would like to take some of his valuable time.”

“Well, then, Sir, let us consider it a Chronometer exchange.”

“Agreed, Number one. Send him to my ready room.”

“Will do, Sir.” He smiled at U. “On your way.”

U stood. “Thank you, Will.”

Riker also stood, and the two shook hands. “Glad to be of service, U.”

2

When the chime for the entrance to his ready room sounded, Picard was busy reading documents on his computer screen. He had planned to finish the reports that he had tried to complete before their first encounter with U, but he had put them off then, and now he had postponed that task once again, allowing himself to be distracted by reading multiple reports from his senior staff instead of writing his own. It nagged at him, and yet, he seemed to prefer the annoyance of the nagging rather than the challenge of writing his reports regarding 12 dead crewmen. And these after so short a time since he had written similar reports regarding the 18 deceased during their encounter with the Borg. “Come!” he commanded with authority but without severity. He didn’t look away from the screen. The entrance opened to reveal Worf and U standing nearly side-by-side; U was just a bit further back and behind the Lieutenant who spoke with his standard militaristic deportment: “Sir, U is …” The phrase sounded so ungrammatical to him that he paused, embarrassed, and decided to try again: “Sir, U are …” Well, he knew that was simply incorrect. He shifted his weight from one foot to another: “Sir, there is a visitor for y … a visitor.”

Picard disregarded Worf’s false starts. “Thank you, Mr. Worf. Please send him in.” He was still reading as he spoke. Worf smiled at U as amicably as one can with fangs, and gestured for U to enter. Picard turned off his screen, stood, opened his palm to indicate a seat and greeted his friend warmly. “Always a pleasure to see you, U. How may I be of service?”

U was about to take the offered seat when he noticed the window beside Livingston’s water tank. He pointed, “Do you mind?” he asked.

Picard turned his head to see what U was pointing at, then, “Not at all.”

U walked over to the window and gazed out, noting the stars moving across the view and did his best to disregard them, focussing, instead, on the more distant specks of light, looking for a pattern among them. “Have you ever just looked at the stars from here, Captain? Tried to see patterns?”

“Hmm,” Picard noted. “The Enterprise is typically moving at some much greater speeds than we are currently, and at those speeds, the stars that actually look like stars are very few; those few that you do see are very dim and too separated from each other to note any meaningful patterns. Why do you ask?”

“I just had the most extraordinary experience with Jeremy McKee,” U said. We saw pictures among the stars, something I’ve never experienced in my lengthy lifetime. For the first time in a very long time, Captain, I found myself to be …” he paused, looking for the right word, “astonished.”

“Indeed?!” Picard asked. “And what is it that you see in the stars now?” Picard asked from his desk.

U shook his head. “Not a thing, actually. I guess I need more practice.” He sighed and moved back to the chair by Picard’s desk.

Picard asked, “Are constellations not something members of the Q look for?”

U pondered that thought. In his very long life, he noticed, he had never looked for them, never talked about them and never heard anyone else discuss them. “I really don’t know,” he answered. He finally sat. “I’m sorry, Captain. I don’t mean to consume all of your time.” He regarded Picard intently. “I am extremely concerned about Jeremy, and, for the first time in my life—aside from my time in my incarceration—I feel utterly useless.”

Picard’s face lost all expression, and he even began to turn his entire chair and body away from U. “I understand completely, U.”

“But you are doing something about his condition, are you not?”

“Of course I am,” Picard asserted sharply. “I have two complete departments onboard the Enterprise fully devoted to saving him, but so far, they’ve come up with nothing.” Picard stood. “I’m going to get a cup of Earl Gray. Would you care for one?”

“Oh, yes, that would be excellent, Captain. Thank you.”

“Good,” Picard smiled as he began walking toward his replicator. “And, how do you like it, U?”

“However you have it will be fine,” U concluded.

Picard smiled, then commanded the computer, “Two teas. Earl Gray, Hot.” The replicator made its typical warbling sound as two cups of hot tea appeared. Picard picked up the two cups, carried them to his desk, set one in front of U—“Thank you, Captain!”—then sat himself back at his desk.

“You seem as troubled by this as I am, Captain. Do you know Jeremy well?”

“No, not as well as I’d like to.”

“Then, you’re feeling guilty by all of this?”

“Of a sort, U,” Picard said, sitting back and pulling down his tunic. “His grandfather was my immediate supervisor when I was an ensign fresh out of the academy.” Picard looked down at his own hands, “He and I have remained friends since then, but distant friends, I’m sorry to say.”

“So this friend of yours, as Jeremy’s grandfather, has just lost a child? A daughter?”

“Yes, he has,” Picard said dryly, without looking up.

“Then this offspring died under your command—under your orders, in fact. That has to be painful for you, Captain. I’m sorry.”

“Yes, it is.” He stared into the space before him for a time. “They try to prepare you for this sort of thing when you’re in the academy, but the reality is that there is no real way to prepare a person for such a thing. We all have to learn to cope, and yet, in many ways, we never really do; none of us.” He blew across the rim of his cup.

U sipped his tea and found himself to be instantly delighted with it. “Mm! Excellent!” Picard smiled wanly. U set his cup down again. “Captain,” he said, “I have also been trying to contact Q to see if we can’t solicit his help.”

That got Picard’s attention. “You’ve done what?” he demanded.

“I’m sorry, Captain. I understand that involving Q is likely the last thing you’d like me to do …”

“You’re damned right!” Picard stood, his anger having rocketed. “That … person is a menace to everyone aboard the Enterprise, and I am certainly not at all happy that you have been attempting to bring him aboard my ship!”

U stood also, banging the desk as he did. “Oh, come on, Captain! Really! What would you have me do? This young man has become a friend, a person I admire a great deal, and when I find out his life is in danger, you’d have me sit silent when there is something I could try? I don’t believe it!”

“This is MY ship, U!”

“That’s right, Captain, with a crew all under your command, under your orders, but not Jeremy. He’s not a member of Starfleet; he’s not a member of your crew; he was never under your orders, but he will die as one of your crew if we don’t do everything possible, no matter how distasteful it may be to you, personally.”

Picard was struck at heart by U’s words, and his entire body language testified to it. He walked over to the window near Livingston and gazed out. “No, you’re right, U. I confess that I have also considered contacting him.”

“What stopped you from trying?”

Picard turned from the window and faced U directly. “To be perfectly honest, U, I don’t trust him. I am concerned with the cost associated with soliciting his assistance, and, quite frankly, I don’t like who I would be beholding to. The last time he came to our aid …” His discourse trailed off.

“What? What happened?”

Picard looked away for a moment, then walked back to his desk and sat. He rested his elbows on the desktop and covered his face with his hands, and said nothing for a long time. A little piece of truth had presented itself to him, and he found that its presence was more painful than he’d care to admit. He began again: “The last time he came to our aid, I was humiliated.”

U nodded and sat down again. In a much calmer manner, he said, “Tell me.”

Picard smirked, “We were running from an enemy called the ‘Borg.’ In my arrogance, I thought we would be able to deal with them on our own, but as our power, weapons and other resources were nearing depletion, Q reminded me that the Borg would continue their pursuit until they were destroyed, which, of course, we were unable to accomplish, or, in short, until Q were to save us. I was forced to admit that I needed Q’s help to save my ship, my crew …”

“You mean you were manipulated into admitting.”

“Yes, there is some truth to that, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a humbling experience, one which I hadn’t cared to repeat. Not until now, at any rate.”

U rested his back against his chair. “And yet it might be too late for that, Captain.”

“Explain,” Picard commanded.

“Q is either unwilling to respond, or he is unable to respond. In either event, I haven’t heard so much as a single quip at my own expense.”

Picard smiled and nodded with understanding. “Well, I suppose we shall keep our request for Q on the back burner, then.”

“I don’t know, Captain. My gut tells me that we shouldn’t expect a timely response from Q at all.”

“Why is that?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but I feel we should simply continue on our present course of action, and consider Q to be no longer part of the equation.”

“That’s a most unpleasant prospect, U. My medical team have all but given up in their pursuit of finding a cure.”

U sat silent for a moment. When he did speak, he didn’t look Picard in the eyes. “Captain, there is one other course of action that I would like you to consider, especially since it won’t require us making any alterations to current plans.”

“Go on,” Picard coaxed.

U sighed. “Are you familiar with a planet called Bajor?”

“Only vaguely,” Picard answered. “That area is, essentially, off-limits to us currently.”

“Understandably. They are currently oppressed by a race known as … oh my, I can’t believe I’ve forgotten their name,” U said to himself.

“The Cardassians,” Picard announced.

U smiled broadly. “The Cardassians!” he repeated. “They’ve occupied Bajor now for, oh, nearing 45 or 50 years on Bajor time. Cardassians have a cruel side to them, Captain. A friend of mine in the Continuum who had taken a liking to the Bajorans tried to put an end to the occupation on their behalf.” U stopped and looked at Picard as much for emphasis as for the sake of making sure he was being both heard and believed. “He was stopped, Captain.”

“Stopped?” Picard asked.

“Stopped by Bajor’s own very formidable gods called “The Prophets.”

Picard set his tea down and sat forward in his chair. “Why would Bajor’s own gods want to destroy their worshippers?”

“I knew you were going to ask that, Captain, even without my Q powers. You misunderstand: The Prophets didn’t cause this occupation, and they have no desire to see their beloved worshippers eradicated. They have enemies, though, Captain, called Pah-wraiths who have been imprisoned in the Fire Caves on Bajor, but it’s apparently not a permanently effective holding area, as some of them have escaped. Perhaps it’s in need of repair,” U said, then shook his head, embarrassed by the joke. “It may be that these pah-wraiths started this occupation. But, you see, Captain, the Prophets are clever, powerful beings who realize that, while they never wanted anything bad to come to Bajor, they could still use this siege to save three different planetary cultures, each from its own spiralling doom. So, once the occupation was in place, they decided to use it to the ultimate benefit of those three civilizations, and even step up security in the Fire Caves.”

“So what are you saying, that we just give up because some supernatural force might stop us?”

“Not at all, Captain. I’m saying that you continue to pursue the healing of Jeremy, perhaps, if possible, even step it up a notch, but where Q is concerned, if he is able and willing to help, then he will. If he is not able to help, it might just be that there is some being that is, to this infection of Jeremy’s, like the Prophets are to Bajor. It just might be that such a being has impeded Q’s progress.

“What makes you say something like that, U?”

U’s eyes dazed over, and his voice took on the monotone, steady rhythm of one who is entranced: “Some things that are, simply are what they are meant to be,” U quoted.

“Indeed?” Picard said. “I’m not at all convinced of that, U.”

U both shrugged and shook his head, awaking from a light reverie. “It doesn’t matter, Captain.”

“Even so, U, there are ways of helping someone in need besides responding directly to that need.”

“What are you saying, Captain?”

“There are other ways you can help Jeremy. YOU, specifically, U.”

“I’m not sure I follow you, specifically you, Captain,” U quipped.

“U, we have two teams trying to attack Jeremy’s infection, but so far, no one is doing anything specifically to help Jeremy, and there is a lot to be done. We must keep him from being depressed, and that means we must keep him busy, keep him communicating, keep him planning for a goal.” At this, U’s eyes lit up as he was reminded that he had a second purpose for his visit with the Captain, one he’d almost forgotten, and he was about to speak, but Picard kept going. “He needs to keep painting; he needs to be active; he needs to know that people are rooting for him and, in fact, fighting for him because they believe in him, and I believe that, at present, you are the best person for that task.”

“Well, I am honoured to be able and allowed to help, Captain, but why me, specifically?”

“U, I’m not going to pretend that there has not been a great deal of dubious discussion about you these past few days. I, myself, have pondered time and again how much to trust you. At this point, there are still limits, but where Jeremy McKee is concerned, even Guinan is convinced that you have been helpful.”

“I’m very glad to hear that, Captain. Frankly, befriending Jeremy has also been good for me.”

“So, if I were to give you complete leeway, what would you do to get Jeremy involved with something to keep him occupied.”

“I’m glad you asked because Jeremy and I have already discussed the idea of giving a concert, of sorts, for the crew, in which Jeremy would do a bit of a magic show and put his art and his mother’s art on display in the style of an art gallery.”

“Excellent.”

“We would need your permission, of course, Captain, but we’d also like to make it a musical evening, and I’d like to find some musicians in addition to Bo and me to play some fine pieces of your Federation music.”

“Mmm, I highly recommend Commander Data and Chief O’Brien.”

“Chief O’Brien? Hmm, I don’t believe that I’ve had the privilege of meeting him.”

“You should. He’s a fine engineer, currently assigned to our transporter rooms, but—and you didn’t hear this from me, U—he’s an excellent cellist. I believe that he could have made a career of it, but we are all thankful that he joined Starfleet instead, and it’s for the ‘why’ of that that he prefers to keep his cellistial skills somewhat lesser-known, please pardon the pun.”

U smirked at Picard’s feeble joke. Humour is just not the Captain’s forte, he concluded inwardly. “Excellent! How shall I find Chief O’Brien?”

“Oh, I’m sure that he’s at work in one of the transporter rooms, probably number three, but,” Picard looked as though he had suddenly remembered something important. “Then again, maybe not.” He tapped his comm badge: “Computer, locate Chief O’Brien.”

“Chief O’Brien is in engineering.”

“That’s right,” Picard said, snapping his fingers. “U, I want you to accompany me to engineering, and …” He held up his index finger of one hand and tapped his comm badge again with the other hand. “Counsellor Troi, are you occupied currently?”

“No, Sir.”

“I assume that you’re on the bridge?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Please join U and me for a brief walk, will you?”

“Aye, Sir. Soon?”

“Immediately. I’ll be right out.” Then, standing, he quickly turned his attention back to U. “I have an excellent idea, U. Join me, if you please.”

“Delighted, Captain,” U said as he rose and followed the Captain from his ready room onto the bridge and to the turbo lift. Counsellor Troi joined them there. Once the door was secure, Picard commanded, “Main engineering.” The lift began to move, and Picard carried on with his idea. “Counsellor, you were assigned to work on crew morale during this journey. How is that progressing?”

“Not far at all, Sir. Commander Riker is still looking into finding a cargo bay for me to use …”

“Not a cargo bay, Counsellor,” Picard interrupted, “Ten-Forward. I’ll talk to Guinan myself.”

“As you wish, Sir.”

“I want you to change your focus some as well,” he said.

“‘Focus,’ Sir?”

“Yes, you’ll need to coordinate your efforts with U, here, Counsellor. I want this function to be of benefit, especially to and specifically for Jeremy McKee; he and U have already begun some plans. It must be an evening of wonderful, delightful entertainment and performance with Jeremy’s full participation.”

“I understand, and I’ll be honoured to work with U, Sir.” She suddenly realized the ambiguity of her statement and was about to rephrase when Picard preempted her.

“It’s alright, Counsellor. I understand your meaning.” He turned to U. “So, U, I want you to continue working with Lt. Costello, but that task is to be put on low priority until these other two tasks are completed.”

“‘Two tasks’ Captain?”

“Yes, this … event for Jeremy and one other that I shall explain very shortly. Are you willing to work with counsellor Troi on this?”
“Absolutely, Captain.”

Just then, the lift doors opened just outside of main engineering. They stepped out of it into the corridor. “If the two of you will wait here for just a moment,” Picard requested, and when the others had agreed, he disappeared into engineering, returning moments later with Chief O’Brien in tow. “Chief,” Picard said, “this is U. He’s been a guest aboard the Enterprise for several days now.”

“Yes!” O’Brien said, extending a hand to greet U, “so I’ve heard. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” U said.

“Chief,” Picard said, “I would like you to consider pulling out your cello once again for the sake of an event that U and the Counsellor are planning.”

The chief seemed puzzled. “Is that an order, Sir?”

“Not at all, but I would like you to consider it a personal favour to me on behalf of Jeremy McKee.”

“Oh, I see,” the chief nodded.

“You know him?” Picard asked.

“Oh,” O’Brien shook his head. “I knew his parents quite well, especially after I beamed them down so many times on their last away missions. We got talking several times. I understand that his mother was quite a talented artist.”

“Indeed she was,” U announced.

“Terrible what happened to his folks, eh?”

“Yes, it was, and I intend to do everything possible to make sure that Jeremy doesn’t suffer the same fate,” U said, and Picard nodded in agreement.

“So that’s what this event is for, Sir?” The chief asked Picard.

“That’s right, Chief.”

“Ah,” he observed. “When’s it to be set?

Counsellor Troi took the lead to answer that question: “Given the time frame for Jeremy, we should plan it for about a week or ten days. Even in that time, the illness will likely begin to manifest itself.”

“This is a relief, Sir,” the chief said. “We

have a small army of engineers in engineering, knocking their heads against the bulkheads trying to help him. There’s so little time, and we’re out of ideas.”

“Hopefully, I am able to remedy that,” Picard said.

“How’s that, Sir?”

“Not only is U working with Counsellor Troi to coordinate this event for Jeremy, but he’s also going to be working with your team here, Chief, to get some fresh perspective.”

“Oh! The intellect of the Q to help us with our efforts!” the chief observed. “Couldn’t have happened at a better time, Sir.” Then turning to U, “We’ll be only too glad to have your assistance, U.”

“Thank you, Chief,” U said.

“And on that note,” Picard said, “the counsellor and I must meet briefly with Guinan in Ten-Forward regarding this event.” Turning to U, Picard added, “U, if you’re not otherwise busy, I’d like it very much if you get started with the engineering staff right away.”

“I’m more than happy to work with the Chief’s team, Captain, but if it’s alright with you, I’d like to see Bo … um, Costello, … Lieutenant Costello first and explain to him what’s happening.”

Picard seemed hesitant. “Please, Captain,” U added. “It will only take a few minutes; it’s not far from here, and I’ll come right back.”

“Of course, U. I understand, and I’m glad that you and the Lieutenant have become such good friends.”

“So am I, Captain,” U smiled.

“Very well, U. You’re not Starfleet. Do as you like, but know that we all appreciate your help.”

“Thank you, Captain,” U said then turned to the Chief. “Mr. O’Brien, I’ll be with you shortly.

“I’m looking forward to working with you,” the chief said.

“As am I,” U said, “If you all will excuse me,” and as the other three nodded, U turned and headed down the corridor. Then Picard said to the chief, “Well, chief, back to work with you.”

“Aye, Sir, but I would like to thank you for both thinking of me and recommending me, Sir. For the sake of Jeremy and his parents, I’m glad to be of service.”

“Thank you, Chief,” Picard said, then he and Troi headed down the corridor in the direction opposite that of U. The Chief returned to engineering to tell the team the good news.

3

U entered Bo’s office somewhat sheepishly, even after being cheerfully invited in. Bo, as usual, was eager to get to work, as U would have been, but he had to find a way to change the tone immediately. Bo was already discussing some things he’d thought of during the night, and U attempted to interrupt several times to no avail. “Bo, excuse me!” U finally demanded.

Bo looked at him, eyes wide. “Yes?”

“Bo, I’m sorry. I’m not able to work with you today, as much as I would like to, believe me.”

“Oh, I see,” Bo responded, deadpan.

“I have been reassigned, but just temporarily.”

“Really?” Bo asked, now very interested. “How can you be ‘assigned’ at all?”

U smiled at that. “I suppose it would be more accurate for me to say that Captain Picard has very politely asked to please volunteer to another project for a time, and I have agreed to do so.”

Bo seemed somewhat hurt. “For how long?”

“I’m not sure, but I know that it is important work, Bo. I want you to know that, too,” U said.

“What could be more important than a pending mission?”

“Trying to find a way to cure Jeremy McKee,” U responded.

Bo reacted profoundly to that, nodding. “Well, in that case, my friend, I’m somewhat envious. It will, indeed, be a wonderful thing to see that remarkable young man removed of the burden of that awful illness. If I could help, I certainly would, U.”

U smiled with assurance. “I have no doubt of that, Bo.”

Sounding now much more secure, Bo raised a finger: “May I get your opinion on one thing before you go?”

“Certainly, you may,” U said. “In fact, I have something of a little favour or two to ask of you.”

“Oh, would you care to go first.”

“Not at all. What can I help you with?”

Bo said, “Well, I noticed something in some of those darned translations that we’d been gathering, you know, the ones with all the random-seeming lists of words?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” U said, furrowing his forehead.

“Well, listen to the opening of just a few of the shorter ones.”

U gave a quick hesitant look.

“It’ll just take a minute or two, U. I promise,” Bo said, almost pleading.

“Ok, I’m listening.”

“Here’s the first one:” Bo said with a sense of anticipation you might expect to see from a scientist whose work is about to come to fruition, and U made sure to give his complete attention. “Computer, replay Calliphlox #2,” Bo commanded, and in just a second, a list of random words came pouring from the computer:

“Pre-note, simple, hesitation, squeeze, insure, torture, interrupt, Sunday, consume, present, visible, number, appearance, forest, congress, balance, jelly, merchant, suffer, sticky, jacket.”

When it stopped, Bo smiled and raised his eyebrows. “OK?” he asked? U nodded. “OK, next one,” Bo said. “Computer, replay Calliphlox #3.” Seconds later, the computer spouted another list of words:

“Pre-note, flower, units, exit, leader, penny, glass, strap, upset, lift, credit, proper, looting, myth.”

Bo smiled again, “Did you hear it?”

U shook his head, feeling nervous. He began hoping that what Bo wanted him to hear was very complex. If it wasn’t, then he feared that perhaps his loss of Q powers is taking even more of his abilities than he had thought it would, and if that’s the case, then he might prove useless with the team in engineering. That would never do. Jeremy was counting on them, counting on HIM, even. Still, he did notice one thing, and he said to Bo, “It’s all very simple. The words are basic, only one or two syllables.”

Bo looked suddenly puzzled. “That’s true. I hadn’t noticed that,” he said to no one in particular. “Still,” he said, looking back at U, “there’s something else. Let me play one last translation.”

U acquiesced.

“Computer, replay Calliphlox #4.”

“Pre-note, way, link, complete, girl, laser, leaf, braid, lead, spit, belt, arrest, hunting, planet, slave, stand, treatment, express, answer, hiccup, mushroom, basket, past, chain, dull, bathtub, moving, heat.”

“Did you hear it?” Bo asked.

“They all begin with the same word, don’t they?”

“Right!” Bo jumped. “Yes! ‘Pre-note!’ ‘Pre-note’ is the word that starts every translation of the more complex speeches … well, … so far.”

“Interesting that all the rest of the words are surprisingly simple ideas. What does ‘pre-note’ mean?”

“I don’t know!” Bo shrugged with enthusiasm, “but I’m thinking that finding the answer to that question is where we head next.”

“I concur,” U said. “You will let me know what you come up with, won’t you?”

“You better believe it,” Bo said.

“That’s a very exciting thing to note, Bo. I feel a little jealous.”

“Oh, not to worry, U. You’ll finish up your other projects in no time and start getting back to this one. I’m sure of it.”

“With that in mind, Bo, I have a couple of favours to ask.”

“Of course! Anything!” Bo said.

“We’re planning a little stage show for Jeremy, so he can perform a little and display his art and his mother’s art. But we want something also of a light-hearted concert, something for the whole ship, taking place in Ten-Forward in just about a week. I was hoping that you’d play something fun, whimsical, fanciful. Can you do that?”

“Oh, I’m sure I can come up with something,” Bo said, scratching a shoulder.

“Ah, a couple more things?” U asked meekly.

“Yeah, sure.”

“I want to play, too. I was hoping that I could borrow your bass over there,” he pointed to the double bass that he had admired a few days before. “I’m going to need a great deal of practice since your instrument isn’t exactly like mine. I have a lot of catching up to do.”

“That’s not a problem at all. Why don’t you drop by after your … will you be working a shift, U?”

U laughed. “Yeah, I guess so. How the mighty have fallen, eh?”

Bo smiled. “I suppose.” U looked a bit hesitant, so Bo chose to prompt him a bit: “Anything else?”

“Yes,” U sighed. “There was some music that I heard before I came aboard the Enterprise. Terran music, Western classical style, European, I believe, that I would like to play, essentially because the bass parts didn’t sound too terribly difficult. They were duets. Can you help me to find something like that, not too virtuosic for now, just so that I can play?”

“I don’t think that will be an issue. I’ll have a piece or two for you at the end of the day.”

“Many thanks, Bo. As soon as I finish this task, I’m looking forward to working with you again.”

“As am I, U. Together, you and I are going to figure out this Calliphlox stuff.”

“In the meantime, maybe there’s a short concerto that you and I can work on together—not too strenuous.”

“I’ll dig something up, U.”

“Well, I’ll be on my way. Good luck finding out what ‘pre-note’ is,” U said as the exit door slid open.

“Good luck finding out whatever it is your finding out.”

“Thanks,” U said, and the door closed once again.

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