Q de Gras (Chapter 7: U Reka)

Chapter 7:
U Reka
(Stardate: 42943.8)

1

In Ten-Forward, Picard, Troi and Guinan sat together. On the table before Picard sat a cup of tea, Earl Gray, hot. Before Troi, a half-eaten hot-fudge sundae, and before Guinan, a Samarian Sunset. The three were smiling contentedly, and their conversation was hushed, but not out of a sense of secrecy so much as out of the distinct import of the topic: to wit, Jeremy McKee’s concert.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” Guinan protested, “but one week from tonight is not realistic.”

“Why ‘not realistic’?” Picard demanded.

“Because, while Jeremy may be perfectly ready, the musicians will need time to prepare.”

“How would you know that?” Picard asked.

“I’ve worked with musicians before, Captain. I know what I’m talking about. They’ll need every minute of ten days to prepare.”

Picard was nodding knowingly now. “Yes, Guinan. I see your point. You can understand my reasons to avoid the wait, though.”

Guinan nearly rolled her eyes. “Of course, but you forget that Jeremy is strong, and Dr. Pulaski caught this quite early. Jeremy will be fine. Trust me.”

“Of course,” Picard said. “Ten days?” Picard asked to confirm with Troi, who nodded assuredly. Picard looked to Guinan with an expression that suggested he was asking her the same question.

“Ten days,” Guinan affirmed.

“Agreed, then: the evening of stardate 42953. Excellent,” Picard said as he stood. “Counsellor, you’ll be sure to coordinate the date with U.”

“Aye, Sir.” Then, “What about your tea, Captain? You’ve barely touched it.”

“I’m afraid it’s gone cold,” Picard said. “Thank you for your cooperation, Guinan.”

Guinan stood, too. “I’m happy to be of service, Captain, but it is your ship.”

“Perhaps,” Picard said, “but that doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge a potential imposition when I see it.”

Guinan smiled warmly. “It’s no imposition at all, simply because it is too important of an event.” She met Picard’s eyes.

“Very true, indeed,” Picard concluded, then he and Troi departed, heading back to the bridge.

2

U entered main engineering and saw a host of Starfleet personnel attentively at work. The realization that Captain Picard had set so many people to the task of helping save Jeremy put a smile on U’s face, so that he looked like an enthusiastic newly-minted ensign, replete with all the expected naivete. Thankfully, that is not how he was greeted. Instead, both Chief O’Brien and Geordi, seeing U at the same time, called and waved him in.

“U!” Geordi exclaimed, putting his arm around him, “are we ever glad to see you!”

“You can say that again!” the Chief proclaimed.

U was just a little surprised by the greeting: “I’m … I’m very glad to be here. I hope to be helpful.”

“Trust me,” Geordi said, leading U to the centre island console, “a fresh mind means fresh ideas, and right now, ideas are what we are lacking.” Once at the island, he said, “Let me introduce you around to the group.” Gesturing to himself, “I’m Geordi La Forge,” he said. “Chief engineer of the Enterprise, and I’m in command.”

“Then how should I address you, may I ask?”

Geordi smiled, “Just call me Geordi,” he said, then he gestured to the chief. “You’ve already met Chief O’Brien.”

“Yes, I have,” U said.

O’Brien smiled amicably.

“Have you met Lt. Commander Data, U?”

“I have, indeed, Geordi,” U said, extending a hand toward Data in greeting. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Data, and, if I may, I’m hoping that we can talk briefly, one-on-one at the end of our time, today, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Data looked surprised, “I would not mind at all, U,” and U smiled and nodded in return.

Geordi continued, “And over here we have Lt. Barnhart.”

Lt. Barnhart, who stood on the opposite side of the island from U, waved and said, “Call me ‘Barny,’” and he, too, smiled in a friendly manner.

“Okay,” Geordi said awkwardly, “next to Barny, are Chiefs de Santi and Yamamoto,” and the two of them also raised hands in greeting. “And finally, the short one in the corner over there is our youngest but brightest, acting ensign Wesley Crusher.”

“Hi,” he said and smiled sheepishly with the awkwardness of the adolescent that he was, and Geordi continued, “He answers to pretty much anything, but we call him either Wes or Wesley.”

U addressed the group. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all, and I’m glad to be a part of this. Jeremy McKee has become something of a young friend of mine, so, like many of you, I am highly motivated to do everything I can to find a way to rid his body of this …” U paused, unsure of what word to use that would be seen as accurate while also maintaining a small degree of political correctness and still showing his own passionate dislike for anything that might do Jeremy harm. “ … pest? Would that be an appropriate term to use?”

Geordi nodded emphatically, “yes, it sure would, U, “ he said. “I’d like to begin by telling you about the … ‘pest’ and what we’ve already tried to do to communicate with it, with the hopes of being able to tell the entire community what we think it should do with itself.”

The entire group smiled and laughed lightly about Geordi’s comment because everyone in the room had been, in some way, touched by Jeremy McKee’s life and the tragedy that befell his family.

Geordi went on as though there had been no interruption at all. “We know that this infection is a sentient species of protozoa transmitted by the bite of an insect on a planet called “Telokotis Minor,” which we were surveying for possible colonization. Obviously, those plans are put on hold indefinitely.” Geordi paused for a moment before he went into details that were more medical than his experience or knowledge carried him, and he wanted to be careful and clear. “Once infected, the invaders are in an extreme larval state, and they mature slowly in the host, in the organs of the torso—the digestive system, mostly. Since they take so long to mature, the host has a bit more time to be treated or cured, IF …” he paused again for emphasis, “the host is aware of the infection, as in Jeremy’s case. If not, the symptoms to show up before a diagnosis, and that’s too late. We caught all but the first two victims very early on during our first encounter. Those folks died only days after that. But once Dr. Pulaski had learned what to look for, she was quick to discover an infection and learned what early treatments were helpful. Any questions so far, U?”

U shook his head and shrugged. “What are the symptoms?” he asked.

Geordi nodded. “They start with fatigue; it comes and goes, but the waves of it last for quite a while … often more than a week, during which the patient can become understandably frustrated. After that, there’s fever, headaches, nausea and vomiting, abdominal and other muscle pain, anemia …” he paused again, trying to remember other early symptoms from the top of his head. When he realized that he had exhausted that list, he went on to later symptoms and complications. “By then, the infection has already moved to the bloodstream and spreads, and that’s bad. Symptoms usually manifest themselves at about the same time the protozoans move to the blood—maybe a bit before. After that there’s a swelling of blood vessels in the brain, fluid accumulates in the lungs making breathing very difficult. Ultimately there’s organ failure of the kidneys or the spleen or even the liver itself, at which point, there is a Death vs. Doctor showdown at the patient’s bedside.”

The tone of the room had grown sombre as the staff remembered friends and contemplated Jeremy’s potential fate. Even Geordi, himself, had grown gloomy in his mind and voice, so he changed directions and picked the tone back up. “But listen, everybody, our job is to keep Death out of sickbay and off the Enterprise altogether. We are not going to let these things happen to Jeremy. Now, U, we’ve worked at this from two angles: Dr. Pulaski has been looking for a cure in sickbay. In short, she’s become our military method of expelling this disease. I’m not a physician, but as I understand it, she’s had two strategies: The first is to see if there is a way to enhance Jeremy’s own immune system to attack the infection from within. The benefits of this strategy are that it is not very invasive, and it actually works to strengthen Jeremy’s body. He’s been taking injections twice daily, to do just that. That started when he learned of his infection. The problem is that strengthening Jeremy is not directly a detriment to the illness, and, in fact, we’re not even sure that it’s not benefiting it.

“The second strategy is to attack the infection with chemicals, electrical exposures and attacks with other medical lightwaves, heat, radiation and a plethora of other types of particle waves and offensive techniques aimed at killing the infection. The problem there is that it’s much more invasive for the patient, and, while it may be doing harm to the infection, it may also harm the patient, which is something that we’d like to avoid, especially for Jeremy at his young age.”
U listened intently, but having nothing to add by either statement or inquiry, he nodded, indicating that he had been able to assimilate it all, then looked at Geordi, “And what is our strategy?”

“Alright,” Geordi said, “since we know that the infection is sentient, Captain Picard and I agreed that diplomacy would make a good tactic. Now, U, even though we’ve had 12 people before Jeremy who have been infected, we have still had twelve utterly isolated chances to try diplomacy because the members of the infection in one body cannot communicate with those in another body. So, while we learn more and more, they have to start new learning about us with each patient. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“Yes, of course,” U nodded, not a little impressed, “We have storehouses of information about the infection. But, since each infection is isolated from those in another body, every infection must learn about us from the beginning, giving us the advantage.” U felt a great encouragement by this thought. It can’t be so much of a challenge, after all, he thought. “That’s excellent!” he said.

Geordi frowned. “Yeah, it is, but we don’t know how to use it to our advantage. Here’s the problem: We haven’t figured out a way to communicate with a host’s entire infection. The best we’ve been able to do is to communicate with a pocket of protozoans here or there, or several individuals, but in order to effect any change in their actions, we need to talk to the entire infection. They don’t have an ambassador; they only have a collective group, so far as we understand it. They work a bit like the starlings of Earth or the ape-sheep of Dravidian VII: the whole crowd follows the leadership of a few. They don’t seem to follow individuals, but no one seems to want to lead anyway. So, if we want to get all of them to cooperate, we need to talk to that entire infestation simultaneously. Otherwise, it’s like handing out pamphlets in a town square: everyone’s happy to accept one, but no one reads it, and even if some do, that’s no guarantee that one protozoan will try to persuade others. In fact, it’s proved to be the opposite.”

“Have you tried tricking the infection? You know, getting some similar species who are on our side to go in and ‘take over?’”

Geordi nodded. “Yeah, we tried that. In one sense, it simply led to more casualties from the infection, just not casualties large enough for funerals.”

U nodded again. “I see. So instead of passing out flyers, we need to try to call a town meeting. Is that about right?”

Geordi raised a palm, “You got it.”

Then he, U and the rest fell into silence for a time while U digested all that he’d heard.

3

Captain Picard sat alone in his ready room, reading from his computer. The day had run so smoothly that he had had hours to himself in the solitude of his office and the comfort of his beloved ship, knowing that the crew had all things well in hand. The number of tasks he’d completed would have seemed impressive to Jeremy McKee’s grandfather in the days when Picard was just an ensign aboard the Reliant. But even with a good day of getting things done, Picard had been feeling uneasy, and he couldn’t figure out why. Every time he sat to ponder it, he could find no reason. But his years as a Starfleet officer prevented him from wasting his day fretting about it. As he had learned to put other mental obstructions to the side when things were needing to be done, so he had put this to the side until he would be able to devote his own time to ponder it. And now, as the day began to wind down, he was able to find both time and energy to catch up on the “end of the day” things. He reached out, without looking, to pick up his fresh cup of Earl Gray, brought it to his lips and blew gently across the surface of the liquid before he sipped. The moment that the earthy flavour washed over his tongue was like waking for him. In his momentary solitude, he was able to really taste his tea, and he was reminded just how very much he truly enjoyed the drink. He reached over to the computer, set it to “sleep” mode, and reclined in his chair to take the time to enjoy his tea because moments such as this are few and fleeting.

He was able to enjoy three wondrous sips, savouring each for long moments, before the door chime rang. At that instant, his eyes were closed, and he was contemplating the flavour. It was a moment he refused to be too quickly removed from. The ship’s chronometer moved ten steps forward before Picard opened his eyes, sat forward, set his cup down and called “Come!”

Because of the noticeable delay, Riker was a bit more hesitant than usual to enter. “Next week’s duty roster, Sir,” Riker said, handing Picard a padd.

“Oh. Thank you, Number One,” Picard said as he reached out to accept it. “I hope you’re keeping the duties light,” he said as he began to glance it over.

“Yes, Sir, I am,” Riker said. “With the exception of Geordi’s crew and sickbay, we’re essentially running on a skeleton crew, but I understand that Troi’s staff are all busy with clients still dealing with the losses of our last mission.”

Picard rested the padd on his lap, took in a deep breath and puzzled over that statement. “I just don’t know if I should be glad of that or not.” He stood, picked up his tea and walked over to his window beside Livingston.

“I understand that completely, Captain,” Riker said sadly.

Picard sipped his tea again then regarded the drink for a moment of contemplation. “Still,” Picard said with a suddenly uplifted tone, “it is good that the counsellors are available, and it’s good that those who need them are taking advantage of their wisdom.”

“Yes, Sir,” Riker said, but his expression showed that he was now wondering if his captain was trying to say something that he (Riker) wasn’t quite getting. “Captain, is something wrong?”

Picard turned to his first officer and his friend. A man whom he had learned to trust, and yet a man whom he was still learning to trust. “Oh,” he smiled weakly, “how I wish I could answer that with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no,’ Number One. Or better yet, I wish I could simply answer it,” Picard asserted.

“Sir?”

Picard returned to his desk, set his tea down, then gestured toward the chair beside Riker. “Have a seat, please.”

Riker responded by throwing a leg over the back of the chair. Picard also sat, tugged his tunic, then moved his chair forward. “Do you know, Will, that U told me that his IQ had been measured at 2020?”

“I hadn’t heard that, Sir,” Riker smiled. “That’s … impressive,” he said.

“Indeed!” Picard asserted, then fell silent again. Then, “The Enterprise is a fine ship, with an excellent crew, wouldn’t you say?”

“Absolutely, Sir.” He chuckled, “I like the way Wesley said it the other day, speaking of both. He said,” Riker looked up and to his left as he tried to remember the acting ensign’s exact words: ‘The best and the best of the best and the best.’” Riker smiled.

Picard also smiled. “Hmm, I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“I wouldn’t dream of trying to top it,” Riker agreed.

They smiled for a moment, then Picard once again stood. “Dammit, Will, what is the matter with me?

“Sir?” Riker inquired.

Picard paced back and forth as he spoke, stopping only when he needed to make a clear emphasis. “There is everything right in the way things are going with Jeremy McKee. We have the assistance of U, who has already proved himself to be invaluable in working with Lt. Costello on communications with the Calliphlox. We have the flagship of the fleet with the finest crew and all the resources of the Federation at our disposal, Will, and yet I am plagued with doubts about our success in helping Jeremy. It’s leaving me restless with a … vibrating drone of tension all over my body, and I don’t know why.”

“Have you talked with Troi about this, Sir? Or Dr. Pulaski?”

Picard stopped pacing. “No, I admit that I haven’t yet, but then, this is a relatively new development.”

“I see,” Riker nodded, then he fell silent for a moment. “I’m not a counsellor by any stretch of the imagination, Sir, but I know that I feel things like that when there’s something left undone, something that I know I, personally, need to do. Is there, maybe, something you’ve left undone?”

Picard pondered the question seriously for a long moment, then shook his head. “Nothing that I can think of, Number One. What might I have left undone, though? Any ideas?”

“Well,” Riker said, beginning now to play with the hair on his chin with the fingers of his left hand, “have you … have you visited Jeremy?”
Picard raised his index finger. “That I have done, Number One.” They both fell silent again.

“Sir, have you contacted Jeremy’s family about all this?”

Picard looked stunned, as though dealt a blow to the chest that knocked the wind out of him. He moved back behind his desk and sat. “No. I have not.”

“That’s not like you, Captain.”

“No, it isn’t, is it?”

“So, what happened?”

“To my knowledge, Jeremy’s only remaining family is his maternal grandfather, who is currently onboard the Saratoga. The last time we spoke, his son-in-law had just passed on, and I was calling to tell him that his daughter had taken ill with the same infection. He already knew that, but I hadn’t been informed that his daughter had sent a subspace message to him.” Picard paused and even shook his head. “Will, I assured him that we had things well in hand, that we had the finest crew on the finest ship with all the resources of the Federation at our disposal. Now, does that sound familiar to you?”

“Yes, Sir, it does, but that doesn’t mean …”

Picard cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Will, this man is my friend. He was my supervisor, yes, but he was the one who trained me, took me under his wing and befriended me. I owe this man my loyalty and my life many times over.”

“This makes you feel disloyal, Captain?”

Picard’s eyes shot open. He raised his hand to gesture vaguely toward Jeremy somewhere aboard his ship and responded to Riker with anger. “His only grandson is aboard my ship, likely dying of the same illness, Will! What else should I feel besides disloyal? Can you think of any other reaction, because I sure as hell can’t!”

Riker was neither surprised nor hurt by Picard’s fury. He knew that he’d helped his captain and his friend break through to a place where he was hurting. As a matter of fact, in a few hours, Riker will feel honoured that Picard spoke with him. It showed a trust that they shared that Riker hadn’t realized was quite so full as it evidently had become, and, as there was really no one else aboard with all the counsellors so occupied, Picard had no one else to turn to. Riker would be glad that he had been available for his friend. He had helped Picard expose a wound; now, he needed to help his friend get back on track. There was little more for them to do now but apply a bandage and move on.

“Captain, like you, Jeremy’s parents and his grandfather knew the risks of joining Starfleet, and even that having a family or bringing family aboard a starship has risks for the whole family. There is no show of disloyalty in your actions, Sir. You have no reason to feel guilty.”

There was again a brief pause as Picard absorbed what he already knew to be true. “Yes, Number One, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.”

Riker nodded but kept his eyes locked with Picard’s. “Except, Sir, Jeremy McKee did not know the risks when he was brought aboard. We don’t owe his grandfather anything except notification. But to Jeremy, Sir, we owe the best the Federation has to offer: the efforts of the finest crew of the finest ship in the Federation with all its resources, and, Captain, that’s not too much for him to ask.”

Picard nodded and met Riker’s gaze. “In that case, Will, I suggest that we put that crew, ship, and those resources to work for Jeremy’s sake and give that damnable infection good reason to beg for mercy and a new home.”

“I’ll drink to that, Sir,” Riker smiled broadly.

“Well then, I’d better get on the horn to …”

The communications system cut Picard off. “Lt. La Forge to Captain Picard.”

Picard tapped his comm badge. “Go ahead.”

“Good news, Captain,” Geordi said. “We think we have the answer, Sir,”

“The answer?” Picard asked, knowing the answer might be redundant on the one hand, but needing to be certain that he fully understood his chief engineer on the other hand.

“Yes, Sir,” La Forge said, “how to talk to Jeremy McKee’s infection.”

Picard’s and Riker’s eyes locked for a moment of surprise and mild euphoria. “Indeed, Mr. La Forge. Well done! How long will it take you to put together a briefing?”

“We’ve nearly got that completed, too, Sir. It might take another … fifteen minutes?”

“Excellent, Geordi. Bring all you need to the observation lounge in one-half hour.”

“Aye, Sir. We’ll be there with bells on. You can count on it, Captain.”

“I shall look forward to that, Geordi. Picard out.”

Riker, still smiling but now with much more avidity, said, “I’d call that perfect timing.”

“As would I, Number One. I cannot think of a meeting that I would ever be more eager to attend.”

“Nor I, Sir.”

Picard tapped his comm badge once again. “Picard to Pulaski.”

After a moment, “Pulaski here, Captain.”

“Doctor, there will be a briefing in the observation lounge in thirty minutes concerning Jeremy McKee. I’d like you to attend.”

“Good news, Sir?”

After a pause, “Good news, Doctor. Perhaps even the very news we have all been waiting for.”

“I can think of nothing I’d like better, Captain. Thank you. I’ll be there with bells on.”

“Very good, Doctor. Picard out.”

“With all those bells, the idea of ‘good news’ just might ring true, Captain.”

“Bell said, Number One.” Picard took his nearly empty teacup back to the replicator and placed it on the tray. What tea was left in the cup had long since gone cold. Automatically, the cup was reabsorbed into the mechanism. He stepped back to his first officer, and the two stood facing each other. “Thank you, Will,” Picard said.

Riker smiled again, but warmly. “I’m happy to be of help, Sir.”

4

There was an enthusiastic and joyful clamour as Picard and his staff entered the observation lounge. They talked, they laughed, they made grand gestures as though they were on stage at the annual Shakespeare Festival on Planet Q, each person mindlessly moving to his or her seat while they all chatted. Even Picard smiled broadly as he sat in his usual spot at the head of the table. The briefing was important, of course, but this was still a time of celebration and release of the tension that had been plaguing both sickbay and Main Engineering for at least the last few days, if not the previous two missions. It seemed that it was about to break like a fever, and the body that was the crew of the Enterprise was finally able to enjoy time for recovery. Picard made no efforts to quiet his staff, but after he had sat and Data had taken a seat nearby, he made no more effort to engage in the conversation either. He contented himself with listening and enjoying the ebullience of those around him.

After a time, Data leaned over to Picard. “Sir,” he said, “ought we not to get on with the briefing?”

Picard smiled at his second officer. “In a moment, Data. This is a time to enjoy, and I shan’t deprive my crew of this much-needed time of mutual congratulations.”

“Sir,” Data began again, “is crew morale better served by this type of engagement over discussing the more immediate needs of Jeremy McKee?”

“Yes, indeed!” Picard asserted. “We still have much time to discuss Mr. McKee, but after so long of making no headway with this illness, Data, the crew is better served with a few well deserved minutes of praise and excitement and relief. It will spread to the rest of the crew and even to Jeremy McKee, himself, and will help us to do much more to help him in the days to come.”

Data raised his brows. “Then, is it safe to conclude that this is an example of the Vulcan axiom, ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?’”

Picard raised his own brows. “I’d have to say, ‘no,’ Data. Here it is more of a case of ‘Meeting the needs of the many helps to meet the needs of the one,’ especially since meeting the needs of the one, in this case, means finally defeating—or at least ridding ourselves of—an enemy who has delivered to us defeat after defeat.”

“Thank you, Sir. I understand.”

Picard nodded briefly to Data, then turned his attention to the rest of his staff who had begun to quiet themselves and take their respective seats. Just moments later, all were quiet, and Data and Picard exchanged a glance. Data understood fully then. Having perceived and recorded evidence of the need to express exuberance, Data grasped that, a disciplined group such as he was now a part of, was able to focus much more swiftly. In time, he would have ample evidence proving that attention spans are substantially longer with excitement expressed than those of this group or similar groups who were not allowed to express their positive energy.

With all eyes on Picard, he opened the meeting. “Well, this is a time for congratulations, isn’t it?” Everyone murmured and smiled, nodding to each other. Picard spoke on: “This infection has plagued all the Enterprise crew for many weeks now, in part because we couldn’t figure out how to defeat it, in part because we couldn’t find a way to communicate with it, except in small doses. And now, if I’m not mistaken, an answer to the latter of these issues has been resolved. Does that sum it up, Geordi?” he asked, turning to his chief engineer.

“Yes, Sir,” Geordi answered with great assurance. “Thanks to the generous assistance of our guest, U,” he gestured toward U who smiled sheepishly and waved to everyone, “It was a group effort,” he protested, and the engineering crew scoffed in a friendly way. Geordi continued, “Well, however it worked out, ‘there has been a discovery’” he emphasized, “which we are certain will help us communicate with the infection that now endangers the life of Jeremy McKee.”

“What degree of certainty are we talking about here, Geordi?” Picard asked.

Data interrupted to respond. “Our best calculations indicate certainty between 92. 73 and 97.23 percent, Sir.”

“Excellent!” Picard announced.

“Yes, Sir. I agree. We’re all very encouraged,” Geordi said. “The problem we had been having is that, while we knew the protozoans were sentient, we could communicate only with small numbers of them at a time; we weren’t able to communicate with the whole group—the entire civilization if you will … within the confines of any one person’s body.

“U summed it up nicely when he said it was like passing out pamphlets to passers-by in a community,” Geordi continued. “We needed to announce to the entire population simultaneously as though they had been assembled at a town meeting, but on a much larger scale, something more akin to a general assembly at the Federation Council.

“So, the question was, how do you communicate with an entire population of beings at one time when they are spread across their entire living area? It’s like trying to talk to all the inhabitants of Earth at precisely the same time when none of them have comm badges. On Earth now, pretty much everyone has a communication device, so it’s not beyond imagining that we could, in fact, deliver a message to every individual member of Earth’s sentient population. But with this infection, we have no way of giving each protozoan a communicator, so, even though they’re sentient, they are still, essentially, deaf to our pleas through no fault of their own.”

Geordi paused, and Picard broke in, “So you have found a way to communicate with the entire infection?”

“Yes, Sir, we have, but it was actually U who gave us the insight.” Geordi gestured to U, inviting him to continue.

“Well, first, please forgive me, Captain,” U opened while also standing to address the group, “I don’t have the training to speak official-report-eze, so, on a linguistic level, I’ll muddle my way through.”

“Not to worry, U. Just as long as you speak clearly, your input is welcome,” Picard said.

“Thank you,” U said, somewhat nervously then coughed and coughed a second time. “Well, it had to do, indirectly, with the age of the planet, which, according to Data, is roughly twice that of Earth?” U looked toward Data as he finished speaking, and Data nodded in response: “Our orbital surveys of Telokotis Minor conducted before survey teams were sent to the surface, all placed the planet’s age between seven to nine billion years, Sir. Later surface surveys refined the estimate to between seven and eight-point-five billion years, while Earth’s age is estimated to be 4.543 billion years.”

“Thank you, Mr. Data,” Picard said, and he turned his attention back to U.

“So it is ancient in the extreme,” U said, “and that got me thinking about how these … proto-critters came to be. You see, if you’re a ciliate or some amoeba type of creature in the early life of a planet, you want your race to continue into the next generation, like any species made of multiple cells, lack of sentience or even lack of intelligence notwithstanding. It is a fundamental innate need in any living creature, regardless of anatomical complexity, to want to live as an individual AND as a species.

“Are you familiar with the survival tactics of resistance fighters, Captain?”

“Not specifically, no.”

“Mm, some of the Q have assisted bands of mortal rebels to survive under harsh circumstances on various planets. One of the techniques they pass on is to live and work in tiny, mobile groups called ‘cells.’ Only the leader of a cell knows leaders of other cells, but no one else knows the identities of all the members of other cells. Cells live and operate individually because if the resistance all live as a unit, the entirety could be too easily wiped out with any chance of success against their foes. But small, nomadic, fast-moving cells can be more evasive, thus helping the whole to survive.

“So, like resistance fighters, the ancestors of the protozoans endangering Jeremy must have been taught or had some instinct or method of reasoning that living in small pockets rather than in one large colony would help to ensure that their species will be protected overall. Because if one colony is wiped out, the others, unaffected by whatever it was doing the wiping, will be kept safe if you take my meaning.”

Picard smiled encouragingly. “So far, so good, U.”

U nodded his gratitude in response. “So, it stands to reason that over the millennia, these little guys would begin to live in isolated packs, and we found that that is precisely how they are living in Jeremy’s body. Even within, say, his liver, there are isolated patches of infection, leaving large areas of healthy, unaffected liver between. But it’s also true in all of his other organs.”

Picard interrupted. “I’m sorry, U, I’m confused. We started off with the problem of being able to communicate only with a few individuals rather than the entire infection, but now it seems all the more difficult because we can only communicate with a few individuals in small, isolated colonies in each organ of Jeremy’s body. The solution to the problem appears to be some two or three more steps removed.”

U nodded in agreement, understanding Picard’s confusion. “No, Captain, you’re not confused, you’re simply jumping ahead, and you’re forgetting that we’re dealing with a sentient species. A sentient species divided into tiny cell-colonies will need to communicate with other cell-colonies, whether or not that species is technologically advanced. Think in terms of your earth’s smoke signals vs. your communicator badges: both are used by the same sentient species. Indeed, both are ingenious, yet only one is technologically advanced. And they both serve the same purpose: when the whole is divided, each segment must be able to communicate with other segments. Otherwise, even greater dangers await the species—the whole species. So, while we cannot provide the protozoans in Jeremy’s body with millions of comm badges, neither do we have to supply them. You see?”

Picard was only beginning to understand where U was going, but he was able to articulate the sum: “You’ve discovered a communications system that’s already in place!”

“Precisely, Captain,” U said.

“But what system is there?”

Geordi broke in to respond to Picard’s question: “Sir, do you remember the silicon life forms that we found on Velara III just over a year ago?”

“The planet they were trying to terraform? Yes, of course,” Picard confirmed. “Those microscopic inorganic life forms lived just a few centimetres under the surface soil, right near a thin layer of water that almost precisely followed the contour of the surface, so that it remained at the same depth, within a few millimetres. At that depth, the silicon life was able to feed off the sun and absorb the nutrients from the layer of water, which they also used to communicate with each other.”

“You’re suggesting that we use some liquid in Jeremy’s body to communicate with the infection?”

“That’s right, Sir,” Geordi said.

“What liquid? His blood?”

Data spoke up here. “We did consider using Jeremy’s circulatory system, but there is an old adage, Sir: ‘Blood is thicker than water.’ It is, in fact, too thick for U’s procedure to work at peak proficiency.”

“That’s right, Sir,” Geordi said. “Blood would be a good method of communication, except that it would be too difficult to send information through the smaller veins and capillaries. Besides, we didn’t feel certain that it would be healthy for Jeremy.”

“However,” Data began again, “there is a liquid in the human body that is thinner, that is literally everywhere, and its use would not pose a danger for Jeremy, so far as we have been able to determine.”

“Water!” Picard said.

“That is correct, Sir,” Data responded. “A human male body Jeremy’s age is roughly 65% water, which is an adequate amount for us to send a high-frequency vibration though his body to the infection prior to the infection moving to the bloodstream. It is urgent that we make contact before then. These protozoans initially infect the organs of the digestive system, which include the liver, pancreas, stomach, large and small intestines, and rectum. However, it also is attracted to the spleen, kidneys, lungs and the urinary bladder.”

“Which is just about 80% of his vital organs,” Dr. Pulaski said.

“That is true, Doctor,” Data acknowledged.

Picard sat forward, looking puzzled. “I’m sorry, but you’re not talking about water in a liquid form; you’re talking about it as only part of each organ.”

“That is correct, Sir,” Data said, “however, given the high percentage of water in each of those organs and the composition of that water itself, the form the water takes in any of Jeremy’s internal organs will have a negligible effect on our procedure.”

Picard nodded and sat back again as Geordi stood to take over. He walked to the viewscreen to help illustrate. “The plan is to introduce an intense vibration that will stimulate all the internal organs in Jeremy’s torso so that they all vibrate at the same frequency.” He tapped the control padd beside the screen, and a colour cartoon image of a human male’s internal organs was displayed. “The vibrations must originate in several areas of his body. Otherwise, they’ll dissipate as they move deeper into his organs.” He tapped again, and eight spots on the image lit up in red. “These are some areas,” Geordi went on, “that we propose to use to transmit the vibrations. The water in his organs—that is, the water that makes up most of the matter of each of his organs—will carry those vibrations onward and inward. Obviously, we still need to coordinate with Dr. Pulaski, but the idea is that, once the entire critical part of the body is vibrating in sync,” he tapped another time on the control padd, “we can piggyback a carrier wave onto the frequency of the vibrating tissue.” The illustration showed one wave in white emanating from the red spots. Layered with the white waves was another related blue wave just above. The figure suggested that the two waves are so similar that they work in harmony.

Picard interrupted again. “Excuse me, Geordi, what do you mean by ‘piggyback’?” he asked.

“‘Piggyback’ refers to a method of one person carrying another on his back and shoulders after an injury. We use the term to refer to the vibration of Jeremy’s tissue to carry a second wave through which we will be able to talk with the protozoan via the vibrating water in Jeremy’s body. So the second wave is piggybacking or ‘being carried by’ the first wave. The first wave simply gets the organs in sync so that the second wave can carry your voice, Captain.”

Picard, thoroughly intrigued, asked, “I see. And the protozoan will also be able to communicate with me by the same means?”

“Yes, Sir,” Geordi confirmed, “We’ll have the Universal Translator tied in for you.”

“How soon can you be ready to work this procedure, Geordi?” Picard asked.

Geordi breathed out a slow sigh. “Well, Sir, there are a number of elements that we simply need to clarify, such as where to place the electrodes to start the vibrations, what frequencies will work best, so I’d say that we are still several days away, perhaps a week.”

Picard thought for a moment then turned to his chief medical officer, “Doctor, are there any potential dangers to Jeremy from this procedure?”

Dr. Pulaski was smiling with a sense of eagerness and relief when she responded. “Well, yes, but also negligible, Captain. I think it’s an exciting prospect” she smiled broadly and eagerly.

“Agreed, Doctor, but what dangers are there? Can you specify?”

“Well, while I know of no CMO who has used technology as archaic as electrodes in a sickbay since the turn of the 23rd century, we can easily find schematics and replicate them.”

“We just found electrodes, archaic though they may be, to be the most efficient and effective means of producing those waves, Doctor,” Geordi explained.

“I don’t really see an issue, Geordi. I was just surprised,” Pulaski said. “I would need to know what frequency Geordi is discussing, Captain. The danger is resonance with certain other tissues in his body, such as the eyes, especially. If the vibrations resonate with any part of the eye, Jeremy may experience anything from temporary dizziness to permanent loss of vision. We must find a frequency that will not negatively impact his eyes. Resonance with the ears can cause severe motion sickness. But as far as the organs in his torso, I can see virtually nothing long-term. He may experience fatigue, dizziness, perhaps nausea, but nothing that he wouldn’t be able to handle once he is free of infection. Certainly nothing debilitating, long-term or life-threatening. I would like to do more research before I commit my biobeds to this procedure, no offence to the engineering staff.”

“None taken, Doctor,” Geordi said, “Not one of us wants to complicate matters for Jeremy.”

“Doctor,” Picard said, “based on earlier cases, how long does Jeremy have before the infection moves to his bloodstream?”

“If he were his parents’ age, I’d say no more than two weeks, but Jeremy is young and strong, so there may be more time. Plus, I’ve been giving him stimulants twice a day to help his body ward off the infection, and that’s been working well for him, better than for many of the others. But, Captain, I sure as hell don’t want to wait very long, regardless. He’s going to start showing symptoms soon enough, and as he does, his condition will deteriorate quickly.”

“Dare we say ten days?” Picard inquired gently.

Dr. Pulaski pondered Picard’s question for a long moment before she responded, then she gave a long sigh. “Yes,” she said hesitantly, “but absolutely no longer, Captain.”

Picard smiled to reassure her. “The only reason I ask is that Jeremy has a big night then, a performance for the entire crew, and I don’t want him to miss it if there’s any way to avoid it.”

“I am guardedly confident that he’ll be able to perform, Captain.”

“Excellent. Do you have anything that you’d like to report in these proceedings?”

Dr. Pulaski blew out an enthusiastic scoff. “Well, nothing so earth-shattering as the engineering team.” She turned her attention to Geordi for a moment. It was inappropriate during an official report during a briefing, but everyone’s enthusiasm and relief helped to brush away the offence. “I need to congratulate you and your team, Geordi. This is an exciting prospect.”

Geordi shrugged modestly. “It was U’s idea, Doctor. I, for one, am glad to have had him on the team.”

“Your report, Doctor,” Picard redirected.

“Sorry, Captain,” she said. “My team has been and will continue to work to find a simple cure for Jeremy, against the event that U’s idea fails.” She looked to both U and Geordi, “not to impugn your efforts, gentlemen. We have landed on a formula that, while not especially helpful for Jeremy’s body, seems to be lethal for the infection, and we’re confident that Jeremy would still be able to recover. How well he’d recover remains a mystery, as does the precise formula and dosage.” She shook her head, “In all honesty, Captain, if it turns out to be helpful, we’re still a long way from perfecting it. The engineering team’s plan, in my opinion, stands a far better chance for success, but we just don’t want to give up until Jeremy is back to being a healthy, strong young man.”

“I think we all share that sentiment, Doctor,” Picard announced, “Good work.” He looked to the group in general. The procedure, then, is slated for the morning of stardate 42954. “Does anyone else have anything to report?” he asked.

Data raised a hand and his eyebrows as he frowned, meekly requesting the floor.

“Yes, Mr. Data,” Picard said.

“Sir, we have yet to establish who will inform Jeremy of the outcome of these proceedings.”

U raised his hand quickly and meekly. “Captain, I respectfully request the honour of that responsibility.”

Picard looked again around the room. “Are there any objections?”

No one had any, so Picard asked, “You will carry out this assignment this evening?”

“Absolutely,” U said, with not a little enthusiasm.

Picard nodded, “Very well, then, it’s up to you.”

U smiled, “Thank you, Captain.”

Once again, Picard regarded each face in the room then nodded when he saw that no further comments were forthcoming. “Very well, then. Ten days it is for this procedure; the morning after Jeremy’s performance night. Doctor, you have that much time for your research. Engineering, I want you prepared long before then. If there is any indication that Jeremy’s infection is moving to his bloodstream ahead of schedule, we need to be ready at a moment’s notice, as do you, Doctor.” He looked about the room. “Right, then. Dismissed.” All rose and began to file out of the lounge. “U,” Picard called, “I’d like a word with you for a moment, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all, Captain.” U leaned into Data’s ear and spoke to him briefly. When he finished, he stood straight with a smile. Data nodded agreeably and followed the others out of the room, so U walked over to Picard.

“How can I help you, Captain?” U asked.

Picard smiled with disbelief. He looked down and chortled, then turned away from U. “After all you have done for us already, U, you’re willing to do even more. I find that remarkable.” He walked over to his chair again and picked up a cup of tea that had sat before him during the briefing. “You know, it’s a rare thing, indeed, for a person to hold his hands up in need to a stranger, and then end up doing more for that stranger than the stranger is ever able to repay.” He sipped. “I can think of no one from our history or literature who meets those criteria, can you?”

U pondered for just a moment. “The man called Joseph from your Earth Bible may serve as an example.”

“Mmm,” Picard said, then he sat in his chair. “If memory serves, Joseph was imprisoned for rape, and raping a high-ranking woman, at that.” He sipped again.

“Charges for which he was exonerated, Captain,” U said.

Picard looked up from his tea as though stunned slightly by U’s remark. U continued. “Even if the events of the story prior to his imprisonment hadn’t made it directly clear that he was innocent, his behaviour during his years in prison certainly did.”

“Are you aware that you’re comparing yourself with a human, U? A mortal?”

“I suppose that I am.”

“The Q that I have come to know would never allow such a comparison. He’s far too advanced to allow someone to compare one of us with him, let alone making the comparison for himself.”

“What are you trying to say, Captain?”

“I’m trying to say, U, that you have proven yourself to me many times over.” He set his tea down. “I’m trying to say that you have not only more than earned your reprieve, but that I believe you should never have been incarcerated in the first place. I’m trying to say that I wish to give you what you requested when you came aboard, which is still very little compared to what you’ve given us: an exoneration of your own, U, and that, if you feel that the time is come, I am ready to submit my findings to the appropriate authorities.”

U was not a little stunned himself at this point. “Captain,” he said slowly, “I am truly honoured.”

“You needn’t be, U,” Picard assured him as he stood again and approached him. “You’ve earned it. It’s my honour to bestow your freedom to you.”

U held up a palm. “Captain, please, wait.”

Both men stood quiet for a moment before U spoke again. “I very much appreciate what you’re trying to do, but now is not the time.” He paused and did a mental tally of all that was happening for him. “I don’t know, Captain. Call me selfish, I suppose, but I’m enjoying myself here, now. I want to get back to work with Bo and help him with his assignment. I want to continue studying the Mok’bara with Lt. Worf. And I want to stay here with Jeremy and play in his show. I want to see him recover from his illness, and I want him to know that I will be available for him.”

Picard raised his brows and became confrontational, but on a collegial level. “Of course, you understand, U, that you can do all of that while you are a Q. You will not be … excommunicated simply because you regain the abilities that are a natural part of your race.”

“Well, I understand that Captain, but Q’s inexplicable absence and silence would make my exoneration impossible anyway. The authorities must be apprised, and there is no one here to apprise. Further, I am on the verge of understanding something about humanity that the Q are incapable of grasping, and my chances of learning these great things are much higher if I remain as I am. I know that I’m not really human at this point, but as I move farther from my Q powers, I am weaker as a Q and unquestionably stronger as a person. I want to learn whatever it is that my being human will teach me.”

Picard turned and walked to the windows of the lounge. “Frankly, U, I quite enjoy having you with us. You are welcome to stay as long as you feel it necessary, in whatever form you decide is best. We can make any other decisions at a time of your choosing.”

“Thank you, Captain,” U said, bowing slightly.

Picard smiled at him, and U departed, leaving Picard with his tea and the stars.

5

Just outside the observation lounge, Data waited for U as he had been asked. When U emerged, Data stood not far away, and his patient eyes met U’s more ebullient eyes. “You wanted to see me, U?” Data asked.

“Yes, Data, I certainly did,” U said. “Are you busy at the moment?”

“I am officially off duty as of several minutes ago.”

“Excellent. Would you accompany me to Lt. Costello’s office? I have something to discuss with you.”

“Certainly.” Data raised his palm to invite U to the turbo lift, and the two departed the bridge. When the turbo doors had closed, the computer asked, “Destination, please.”

U looked up as though the computer’s ear were in that direction. “Deck twelve, please,” and the lift began to move. There was a moment of quiet before U spoke, and his tone had become more sombre: “Data, do you know Jeremy McKee?”

“Not as such, U. I have met him, but he and I have not had opportunity to converse.”

U nodded. “I see.” There was another brief time of silence. “He and I have become friends.”

Data raised his eyebrows, cocked his head to the side and nodded slightly. “I am aware of that, U, and may I say that befriending a young man at a time when he is so vulnerable is admirable.”

“Well, I wasn’t aware of his illness until later,” U objected.

“And yet,” Data argued, “when you learned of his condition, you reaffirmed your friendship rather than distancing yourself from him, U. According to my research into the nature of humanity, such a gesture is one most would consider to be a characteristic of the divine.”

“I’m not divine, Data.”

“No. But, speaking hypothetically, it would seem that many of your behaviours may very well have been influenced by one who is.”
U’s eyes began to well up with tears. “Then why am I so afraid for Jeremy’s future, Data?”

“Because, as you indicated, you are not divine, U. The fact that your actions may have been impacted by one whom many would consider divine doesn’t make you equal to that divinity. But according to many humanoid religions, the impact of an encounter with a divine being can cause highly positive changes in the behaviour of a humanoid. I would argue that, while you as an individual appear to be no greater than Q, your behaviours are certainly much greater, perhaps even divine.”

“Thank you, Mr. Data,” U said. Then, “You heard Captain Picard discuss Jeremy’s performance night, right?”

“Mm,” Data chirped.

“Jeremy is doing some sleight of hand and showing his and his mother’s art, but there is also to be a concert, and I want to play some music in it. I was hoping that I could get you to agree to play something with me. You did say that you play violin, right?”

“Correct. It would be my honour, U. May I inquire what music you have planned for me to play?”

“I don’t know what music yet. I had some ideas, but without my Q powers, I’ll not be playing up to my normal extra-virtuoso standards, especially since I’ll be playing an instrument that is essentially foreign to me. So, even though I have some knowledge of music from your Federation, I’ve asked Bo to find something that might be more suitable.”

“May I inquire which instrument you’ll be playing, U?”

“Double bass,” U said.

Data frowned and studied his invisible viewscreen. “There is not a great deal of music available for double bass and violin, U, not even virtuosic music.” He regained his normal expression. “However, I am confident that Lieutenant Costello will be able to find something appropriate.”

“I am equally confident.”

After a long pause, Data said, “U, may I inquire if you’ve invited Commander Riker to play?”
U was mildly surprised. “No, I haven’t, Data. What does he play?”

“He plays an instrument called a ‘bone.’”

“A ‘bone ‘?” U asked.

“Mmm,” Data affirmed.

“What is it, some sort of pan flute?”

“It is a style of oral air-moving instrument, but it is made of brass and characterized by a telescoping slide with which the musician varies the length of the pipe in order to change pitches. I understand that Cmdr. Riker is quite proficient.”

“But you haven’t heard him play.”

“I have not.”

“I don’t know, Data. That sounds pretty primitive.”

“Counsellor Troi has also attested to as much.”

“Indeed?”

“Mm-hmm. She compared its tone to the sound two ships make when their hulls grind against each other.”

“Well, I’ll have to give that some thought.”

“I appreciate you keeping an open mind, U.”

6

Back in the observation lounge, Picard put a call through to the U. S. S. Saratoga to speak with Jeremy’s grandfather, as it was no longer such a seemingly difficult task after the meeting that had just completed. He got a second cup of tea and took his usual seat, turning toward the viewscreen, and at nearly the same instant, Lt. Worf announced on the intercom, “Worf to Captain Picard.”

“Yes, Mr. Worf.”

“Commodore Nigel Molitor on subspace.”

“Route it in the lounge, Mr. Worf, please.”

“Aye, Sir.”

After a long pause, the screen popped on. Centred there was a man in Starfleet command division uniform showing superior rank from Picard’s. He was clearly about Picard’s age, but more careworn, with tired, hesitant eyes. He had his two clasped hands hiding his quivering chin from view while his elbows rested on the desk in front of him. Like Picard’s, the man’s hair had rescinded its agreement with the top of his head, and he was left with only thin gray hair along his sides. What hair he lacked on top, however, he made up for with a moustache and goatee.

“I have news, Nigel,” Picard said in his usual calm, diplomatic manner.

“I cannot tell you how much I have been both awaiting and dreading your call, Jean-Luc.”

“I can understand that, my friend.”

“Judging by your tone and deportment, I’m guessing that I don’t need to brace myself too staunchly.

“Logical and correct as usual.”

“But Jeremy has taken ill.”

Picard turned just slightly to set his tea on the table. “Yes, he has, Nigel.”

Nigel rested his arms on his desk and looked away for a moment. “Is it the same …?

“Yes, it is the same infection.”

Nigel nodded heavily. “And now you’re going to tell me that you’ve you put your best people on it, and they’re working around the clock, and you have faith in them, and we have every reason to believe that Jeremy will pull through, except that you don’t yet have any leads on how to accomplish that. Is that about right?”

Picard took note of the distress in his friend’s voice and reacted with compassion. “Not entirely. We have a procedure in mind, and my engineers estimate that it has over 90% chance of success.

“This procedure … it’s a recent discovery?”

“Indeed, it is. We’ve been fortunate to have a guest aboard the Enterprise lately who was instrumental in discovering this procedure.”

“When will it take place?”

“In ten day’s time.”

“Why the delay?”

“It’s an engineering procedure that needs to be coordinated with my chief medical officer, for one thing.” Picard turned slightly to pick up his tea. “For another, Jeremy is performing for the ship the night before. It will be a gallery display of his art and Anita’s. Jeremy will perform some magic, and our guest is preparing a musical concert.”

“Well, that’s exciting news, isn’t it?”

“I thought so.” Picard said then blew across the surface of his beverage.

“Of course, I don’t have to tell you that I want that concert recorded, Jean-Luc.”

“For you, Nigel, I have the entire event holo-recorded, even the art gallery.”

Nigel sat back and nodded with a noticeable sense of relief. “Thank you, Jean-Luc. You’ve given an old man reason to breathe again.”

Picard smiled. “That makes two of us, then, Nigel. Picard out.”

Nigel nodded again, and his arm moved forward toward a console just before the image broke away. Picard sipped his tea somewhat cautiously. Then, since he was sure it wouldn’t burn, he sipped again, and he savoured the flavour for a long moment of quiet.

7

In Lt. Costello’s office, Bo had several pieces of music compiled for U well before he and Data arrived. The three selected several for the performance, allowing each musician, including U, to play both a solo and also a duet with U. Even Bo had in mind a piece to perform with U, so U was going to be busy practising for the next ten days and would also be occupied during the concert. For one piece, Data even agreed to program himself to play the viola in order to accommodate a piece for him to play with U, too. After several minutes of discussion, Data and U left Bo’s quarters together. Finally, U dropped the music off at his own quarters and immediately headed over to see Jeremy.

There wasn’t much of a pause when he sounded the chime at Jeremy’s door. Not that he seemed to have been standing by the door, but it did appear to U that Jeremy was anticipating his visit. The wide-eyed expression he wore confirmed to U that Jeremy had been awaiting news. U smiled confidently, and Jeremy jumped back into his quarters, both arms raised above his head. “They found something, didn’t they?!”

“Yes, they did,” U affirmed.

Jeremy regarded U for a long moment, then folded his arms and nodded with a friendly sneer. “I bet you did it all, didn’t you?” He sat down on the edge of the sofa.

U laughed. “Well, those Starfleet officers are pretty ingenious fellas,” U said while taking a seat next to Jer, “but I’d like to believe that I helped.”

Jeremy wasn’t fooled. “Yeah, right. You have like a two billion IQ. I bet you used your super mind powers to give them an idea.”

U looked with a smile at Jeremy for a time then chortled. “Well, I can tell you that it looks very promising, Jer. I feel encouraged, and I want you to feel that way, too.”

Smiling, Jer nodded. “Yeah, I do.”

“Good.” U returned the enthusiastic smile.

“When will whatever it is be done?”

“The morning after the concert!”

“Why so long?”

“Well, there’s a lot yet to figure out. The engineers have to work with the doctors, and they both need to check in with Captain Picard. Besides, we’re not sure if the procedure will make you feel somewhat queasy, and we all want you at your best for your big show.”

“But if the engineers are involved, that means that the diplomacy side of things is what they’re still working on, right?”

U, visibly impressed, nodded. “Right.”

“I don’t see how that would make me feel sick.”

“We’re not sure it will. We just don’t want anything to interfere with your concert.”

“Hmmph,” Jer said. “In case it doesn’t work,” Jer said folding his arms and thrusting himself against the back of the sofa.

“Stop it, Jer! Not one person at the meeting said anything remotely like that, and Commander Data says that there’s more than 97% chance of success, so don’t you go getting all negative on me.”

Jeremy’s head was hanging low. “Yeah, yeah,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah,” U imitated, making Jer crack an otherwise well-controlled smile.

“Well,” U said, standing, “Dr. Pulaski will fill you in on the details. I just wanted to give you the general but encouraging update.”

Jer stood, too. “Um, well, U, would you like to, y’know, hang out for a bit. Maybe watch an old movie or listen to some music, just for the company?”

U donned a parental expression. “Oh, I don’t know, Jer. We have Worf’s Mok’bara tomorrow night, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. Just for a while. It’ll be fun.”

“Mmm,” U hesitated.

“Please, U?” Jer requested.

“OK, but just for one hour. Clear?”

Jer nodded emphatically. “Clear,” he said. They listened to music from the 1950s in the U. S. And together they discussed it, but mostly, they just enjoyed it. It was, after all, Rock ‘n’ Roll. Well before the hour was over, though, Jer was fast asleep on the sofa. After grabbing a blanket and covering his sleeping friend’s body, U downed the lights and departed quietly.

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