Q de Gras (Chapter 8: U Phonics)

Chapter 8:
U Phonics
(Stardate: 52950.6-42953.9)

1

Captain’s Personal Log: Stardate 42950.6:
The Enterprise abounds with music and laughter. People are whistling down corridors and greeting each other with smiles and cheer as they pass. Their performances at their jobs are steadily improving to the point where they had been prior to our recent tragic mission outcome. To be honest, I don’t know if I can credit the ship’s counsellors for their excellent service to the crew, to our guest from the Q Continuum, or if it’s just the good news regarding Young Master Jeremy McKee. Or, why not all three?
My engineering team has successfully joined forces with Dr. Pulaski and her team, and the entire group feels satisfied that they are ready to proceed with Jeremy’s treatment—well ahead of schedule. It remains slated for the morning after his performance in Ten-Forward, however, just three nights hence. Both groups have performed well above my expectations. And although the medical staff feel that their cure will remain ineffective should this “vibrations technique” (or “Vibroniques,” as it is being called) fail, I remain optimistic that we’ll have no need for it, and that optimism has continued to spur me on. After all, on a planet as ancient as is Telokotis Minor is reported to be, why, even the microbial life, if sentient as such, must be a very sophisticated life form. I am, therefore, convinced that diplomacy is the key to saving Jeremy McKee.
On that note, with Jer’s concert night so close, one musician after another has been seen coming or going from either U’s or Lt. Costello’s quarters for days as they practice for an hour or so at a time. It makes sense; both U’s instrument and Bo’s are challenging to carry about the ship. So far, U, under Counsellor Troi’s authority, has gained the cooperation of chief O’Brien; Lt. Cmdr. Data, Cmdr. Riker and Lt. Costello for the show, and U has paired up with each of them.
The concert is proving to be quite the presentation, as Counsellor Troi was just informing me. Commander Riker was eager for me to get an update, so he escorted the counsellor to my ready room after his rehearsal with U. He didn’t stay more than a minute, however, as his facial muscles were sore from his workout on his trombone. He kept stretching his lips, making an odd grimace. So, as it was Troi’s assignment, he explained that Troi had reported for a briefing on the progress of the recital, and he departed, leaving Troi to work alone with me.

2

Troi smirked when Riker departed the ready room. “What’s this about?” Picard asked Troi.

“Hmm?” She asked.

“All the grimaces and strange faces he kept making, and you clearly enjoying it,” Picard said.

“Oh …” Troi smiled again and looked to the floor for an instant. “Will’s been working his chops extra hard lately. It’s been a challenge for him.”

“What exactly is the challenge?” Picard asked as he stood, then gestured the invitation for tea.

Troi muttered politely, palm up, to Picard’s invitation. “It might be the hours,” she reflected in jest.

Picard commanded his replicator, “Tea. Earl Grey, Hot.”

“Then again,” Troi postulated with a bit of a mocking tone, “It might just be harder for him to form a good embouchure with his beard.”

The replicator warbled, and Picard withdrew from his alcove bearing a steaming cup of tea. “Hmm,” he said as he set his cup on his desk, not at all unaware of Troi’s playful attitude, “after all, he’s not had it yet a full year,” and he sat. “Might take some getting used to.” He tugged his tunic. “Then again, it might be the tune he’s playing, mightn’t it?”

Troi smiled broadly. “I believe that you hit the nail on the head, Captain.”

“Indeed?” Picard said, now with his curiosity piqued. “And, um …” He blew across the liquid in his cup. “… what tune is it that he’s attempting to play?” He blew again lightly but still didn’t sip.

“Night Bird,” she said flatly, “among other songs, but he doesn’t know that I know.”

“Then how do you know?”

“I could hear the tune through the door to Lt. Costello’s quarters. Plus, I still have my empathic abilities. Trust me, Sir. He’s trying to play “Night Bird” with U on bass and Lt. Costello at the piano.”

“Well,” Picard shrugged and shook his head a little. “It may just serve him right. That’s no easy tune at all. As I recall, it was the Andorian, Em Froster, who said ‘Easy listening is damned hard playing.’”

“Mm, and it sounds as though he was right,” Troi attested, “especially with jazz.”

Picard blew once again, and this time sipped. “Shall I have him consider playing something else?”

“It’s too late for that now, Sir.”

“Pity.”

“Not for me. I’ve been teasing him about that song for about five years. He’s never been quite able to get through the solo.”

“Perhaps he can skip the solo or play an easier rendition?”

“I’ll have him look into that prospect,” Troi said, but couldn’t stop smiling.

3

At that point, the chime rang. Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher entered, handing me Worf’s Security report. He’s going to be a fine officer if he continues as he has been. I inquired about his studies. He confessed to being behind in Molecular Biology but promised to catch up. To which I gave him something of a chastisement, reminding him that his mother put us in charge of him during her absence, and he’d better do his best and so on. He took it well. I wouldn’t be surprised if he understood, even at his young age, that such speeches are rehearsed, sometimes months in advance because, when I finished speaking, I’ll be damned if he didn’t nod deferentially toward me then smile toward Counsellor Troi and wink with his down-stage eye. She smiled back at him and nodded as I dismissed him. It wasn’t until after he left that I realized what had just transpired, but by then, it was, first of all, too late, and secondly, so surprising that I still wonder about it ever happening at all.

It bothers me when I find myself confused by the behaviours of my crew. Wesley behaving so much more mature and aware than any 15-year-old boy has a right to; Data acting far more human than some humans. And, as Counsellor Troi pointed out, I’m not the only one to make such an observation. U, whose humanity is purely perplexing to me … I mean, he’s not really Q without his powers nor is he human, since, while aboard the Enterprise, he is only energy, yet he gets tired and sweaty and enthused and excited just like any of us. How is that possible? As I was saying, U has made similar observations of Data and his apparent humanity as I have, because as Counsellor Troi mentioned …

4

“U is putting Data through the wringer, too, from what I’ve been told,” Troi said.

“Oh?” Picard asked.

“Well, not that Data minds. After all, he doesn’t get fatigued in the way we do, but he’s just surprised by U’s expected level of professionalism. They’re playing a piece by a German composer whose name takes longer to pronounce than the piece of music takes to play straight through, but Data’s playing viola for that piece, even though he’s a violinist.”

“Hmm, well for anyone else, that might be asking a great deal, Counsellor, but Data is an android, and the violin and the viola, while being entirely different instruments, are still quite similar, like the piano and harpsichord or the oboe and the English horn. There was one virtuoso musician in the late 20th century who went back and forth with them quite easily, as I recall. And I’d be willing to bet that Chief O’Brien, as a cellist, would not be overly challenged to try the viola himself. The two instruments are, after all, tuned the same. Just an octave different. I assure you, asking Data to play viola is a far cry from overexerting our second officer.”

Troi nodded. “I suppose, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t spending a great deal of time together.”

“Rehearsing?”

“Usually, but also talking.”

“What about?”

“Well, it seems that U is quite taken with Data, Sir. Data relayed an entire conversation to me using both his own and U’s voice, so I got it all verbatim. As best as I can remember, the conversation started at the end of a rehearsal, Data found U staring at him with a look of confusion, so Data asked him:

5

“Pardon me, U. Are you well?” Data asked.

“Yes, Data, I am quite well,” U responded.

“You seemed to be … less than present. For a moment,” Data said as he loosened the hair on his bow.

“I was thinking about you, Data.”

“In that case, allow me to assure you that I am not at this time interested in pursuing an intimate relationship.” He put the bow in its case.

“No, no. That’s not what I mean,” U laughed. “I mean that in our time together, I have begun to see something that I should very much have missed.”

“I see, U. You have learned something new about music?”

“No, my friend, I learned something new about me.”

“Interesting, U. May I inquire as to precisely what it is that you have learned?”

“Of course, but please don’t take offence.”

“I remind you that I am an android. I am incapable of being offended.”

“Yes! And THAT point demonstrates what I’m talking about exactly, Data. If I were fully Q, I would completely disregard you. After all, humanity is so vastly inferior to the Q, how much more inferior that which humanity creates? Their art is clumsy; their music, tuneless and their literature, gibberish. If I were fully Q, speaking to you would be far beneath me because I could only barely disdain to speak with a mortal in the first place, any mortal.”

“And yet, in many ways, I am distinctly superior to most mortals.”

“And yet, you feel nothing. Data, you’re just not thinking like the Q.”

“A fact for which I am grateful.”

“As am I. But now, I have no cause to disregard you so blatantly.”

“Because my positronic brain makes me superior.”

“No, Data. Because humanity has a power that the Q have either left behind or never had.”

“Interesting, U,” Data observed. “And what power might that be?”

“Nothing short of the power to create life, Data. It’s fully a human capacity. Mind you, I’m speaking somewhat metaphorically, but it is the human, not the Q, who can see faces in the random patterns of splotches on a wall. It is the mortals who can see beings and inspirations for stories in the random placement of stars in the night sky. It is the mortal child who can coddle a plastic doll just as the child’s mother coddled the child and with just as much affection. And Data, it is my present humanity that allows me to see you as a living being. Regardless of how sophisticated a creation of mortals you might be, Q will only see you as some thing created by humans. Play music with you? It would be simpler to use a primitive recording as accompaniment. But here, you and I, man to man, creating music together, sharing ideas and understandings, and discussing things that the Q will likely never even ponder and likely have forgotten how.”

“That is a very interesting analysis, U, but, as I still ‘feel nothing,’ I do not see faces in the patterns of splotches on a wall, nor do I see beings in the random placement of stars in the night sky, ergo, we are not quite so ‘man to man’ as you imagine.”

“And THAT, my android friend, is precisely my point. In one sense, I am sitting here beside a computer, but I would never carry on a conversation with the ship’s computer. Have faith, Data. In time, you will achieve laughter, and after that, you will achieve emotion on the grandest scale—a human scale, and the night sky will be as populated with androids for you as it is with commanders and sailors for Captain Picard. That’s a promise.”

6

Picard dipped his chin to the side. “Well, U has not yet ceased to impress, has he, Counsellor?”

“Not at all, Sir,” Troi affirmed. “We’ve been fortunate to have him aboard.”

“Agreed. You know, I suggested to him a week ago that he had fulfilled his part of the bargain in my mind and offered to grant him his reprieve.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. He turned me down.”

“Really?”

“Yes. It seems that he wants to remain here in his present … ‘state’ because he’s learning something spectacular, and he feels he needs to retain his human form to fully absorb it.”

“May I offer an opinion, Sir?”

“Please!”

“I strongly doubt that U will return to the Q Continuum.”

“Why is that?”

“He has too much character, Sir.”

Picard smiled. “You have a point.”

 

7

In addition to Cmdr Riker and Lt. Comdr. Data, U has also recruited the exquisite musical skills of Transporter Chief O’Brien whose prowess on the violoncello is unmatched by any other musician on board the Enterprise, save, perhaps, Lt. Costello, himself, and Lt. Cmdr. Data. However, like Peter Shaffer’s rather infamous depiction of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Chief O’Brien does not have much appreciation of his musical skill but prides himself, rather, on his engineering skills, a quirk that I find both puzzling and advantageous, as the chief is decidedly an asset to my crew. I have often hoped to promote him to a more active area of the ship where his skills would be of greater use, but there is simply no place yet to promote him. Alas.
As for the present, however, I am more than pleased that he has agreed to play for Jeremy’s concert. It is most certainly destined to be one of the musical highlights of the evening, judging from what Counsellor Troi told me regarding her conversation with the chief.

8

“O’Brien thinks the music is excellent. He said that he hadn’t paid much attention to Rossini because he’s so famous for his orchestral music and operas. He hadn’t thought to look for a chamber piece by him, let alone one for cello and double bass.”

“But he likes the piece?” Picard asked.

“He not only enjoys it, Sir, but he finds it a perfect match for both him and U. The music is written to be more challenging for the cellist, and since U is playing on an instrument that he’s not exactly used to and without his Q powers, he is mildly challenged by the easier part but stepping up nicely to the challenge. The chief says that it’s going to be a lot of fun for the audience and musicians.”

“Splendid,” Picard announced. “And is U playing anything … a solo or anything of that sort?”

“As a matter of fact, he is,” Troi smiled. “He’s playing a one-movement concertino by Walter May, an American composer from the mid 20th century. I’m told it’s full of energy.”

“Well, that certainly sounds like U,” Picard smiled. “Excellent. This looks like it’s going to be a fun evening. Will there be anything else musically?”

“Yes, Sir, but it’s something of a surprise, so I’m not too sure what it’s all about. Lt. Costello and U are also going to do a song. It’s supposed to be something of a tribute on U’s part for the Enterprise crew, but I also get the impression that Lt. Costello is going to turn it on its head as well. I don’t know what it’s going to be, actually.”

“Well, rest assured, if Lt. Costello is behind it, it will be lots of fun.”

“I have no doubt, Sir.”

“Good. You have this all on a padd?”

“I do.”

“I’d like you to arrange it into a bulletin that we can send to Jeremy’s grandfather on the Saratoga for them to print.”

“Something with an elaborate cover, Sir?”

“Absolutely. And a nicely organized program inside. I would like it to be something that Jeremy’s grandfather can save for posterity.”

Troi started to rise. “I’ll get right on it, Sir.”

“Actually, Counsellor, I have another question before you depart.”

She sat again and gave her captain an expression of acceptance.

“I understand that U has been working very hard in preparation for Jeremy’s recital, and that explains in part why I haven’t seen him here or there about the ship, but I haven’t seen him at all during the past week, not anywhere on the ship! Surely he’s not practising 24 hours a day. Have you any idea what else he’s been doing to keep himself so hidden?”

“As a matter of fact, Captain,” Troi said with an assuring smile, “I do.”

Picard cocked his head in surprised and curious anticipation of the completion of Troi’s introduction, even as she continued, as though he couldn’t imagine her having intel on someone aboard the Enterprise that he did not. “He’s been spending most of his evenings with Jeremy, and apparently Data is often joining them.”

Picard remained curious. “Doing what?”

“Admiring art, mostly.”

“Whose?”

“Each other’s. Other people’s. Contemporary and classic.” They’ve also been studying music, literature, theatre and a gambit of the performing arts: dance, drama, musical performances and other things like that.”

“Fascinating,” Picard concluded.

“According to Data, U and Jeremy have made wonderful students for his insight into music, and the three have bounced painting and sculpting ideas off each other with great success.”

“And Jeremy?”

Troi took a deep breath and effused, “His spirits are very high, Captain. He’s clearly enjoying the company of his two fellow art explorers. He’s been working on his sleight of hand and has become very good. He’s more than ready for his performance. I think you’ll be very impressed … and proud, Sir.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it, Counsellor,” Picard said, meeting her eyes. “And that’s some excellent news that I can share with his grandfather.”

“Oh?”

“He’s apparently been in intermittent contact with Jeremy and has been perplexed by how distracted Jeremy seems. He thought that he was, perhaps, succumbing to depression or fear. I shall be happy to tell him that such is evidently not the case.”

“Well,” Troi said, smiling, “it looks like morale is improving everywhere.”

Picard smiled too. “Indeed it is, Counsellor.” There was a momentary pause. “Have you anything else to report?”

“Not a thing, Sir.”

“Then please feel free to return to whatever it was I interrupted. Thank you for your time.”

“My pleasure,” Troi said, rising.

9

The evening of Jeremy’s concert came upon the crew of the Enterprise with a sense of surprise and yet great anticipation. The skeleton crew that had been running the ship was cut back even more. Nearly every viewscreen aboard was “tuned in” to the proceedings in Ten-Forward, those in virtually every lounge or briefing area, in game rooms, in the gymnasia and in people’s quarters. Even those crew members on duty, whose concentration was not imperative at every minute, were able to listen intermittently through monitors. Even the crew on the bridge, acting ensign Wesley Crusher and other lower-ranking officers in their appropriate red uniforms, were also engaged in viewing the concert on the main viewscreen.

In Ten-Forward, the stage area stood empty except for a full-size piano keyboard for Bo’s use and Bo’s double bass for U’s use. Resting on its side beside the double bass was the Chief’s cello. Data’s viola rested on a stand toward the back of the stage. Along the starboard wall were some 25 canvases: paintings that Jer had prepared in some cases, but most of the art was by Jer’s mother, and some straggling onlookers viewed the art with admiring and sometimes coveting eyes. The rest of the stage, backed by the windows facing oncoming stars, remained empty, and the stars appeared almost still because, for the duration of the concert, Captain Picard had ordered the ship to slow to “space-normal speed” in accordance with Commander Data’s suggestion, so that the stars wouldn’t become a distraction from the performers. Since the event was such a high priority in the Captain’s mind, he agreed readily, even though it had never seemed to have been an issue before. So the Enterprise continued on her way but at a pace that made it seem that even she was preoccupied with the events in Ten-Forward. Her attention seemingly divided.

Audience members sitting in front of Guinan’s currently unoccupied bar area, many still in uniform, whispered to each other contentedly while they waited for Captain Picard, himself, to open the show.

Picard, Riker, Data, Costello, O’Brien, U and Jer, as the performers for the event, sat together in the front row, just left of centre. Counsellor Troi and Dr. Pulaski sat with other members of the staff, just behind them. Missing was Lt. La Forge, who was on duty in Engineering. Captain Picard had agreed to declare the show officially open, but, as Jer himself was the first act, he sat at one end of this row of illustrious explorers in an appropriate state that combined just the right amounts of anxiety and anticipation.

Then the hour struck, and Picard promptly stood. He leaned over his first officer for a few more moments of discussion between just those two, and as they conversed so silently, the bustle around Ten-Forward quickly diminished: the conversation ceased, and people gave their attention to the stage. Those who had been admiring the art took their places just as Picard took to the stage to address, not only the audience in Ten-Forward, but those watching from their viewscreens all over the ship, and yes, even those few watching onboard the Saratoga: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are unified as a crew for this evening’s event. We have over a thousand people aboard the Enterprise engaged. Not everyone is watching right this moment. Some family members are too young to stay up late enough for the entirety, and others are already abed. A very few are busy working to keep the Enterprise running well and on course, but virtually everyone else aboard is somehow occupied with this event, and I find that entirely appropriate. And the absence of those unable to partake aboard the Enterprise is made up for by those in attendance aboard the Saratoga. They are able to enjoy the evening via subspace. So it is sure to be a very full evening.

“This is an evening of celebration. We celebrate the closure of the tragedies aboard the Enterprise from our last mission. While we did indeed lose 12 members of our crew, that which claimed their lives was attempting to take yet another, one who is not in Starfleet, one who is not even able, because of age and consent issues, to join Starfleet, but who was a family member of two of those who were lost. The ingenuity, the painstaking attention to detail and the sheer determination and persistence of the Enterprise crew along with some help of U, our guest for the past few weeks, has created a procedure that looks very promising, so we also celebrate perseverance this evening.

“And so, because of this celebration, we are here to both fulfill a need of the Enterprise crew by giving them a respite from their duties, and to honour that young person who is the embodiment of the end of that infection’s advance: Young Master Jeremy James McKee.

“Jer is a young artist with many of his works on display and for sale at the end of the stage to my left. He is also a gifted magician. I know that I have been both impressed and frustrated by his sleight-of-hand prowess, and I’m certain that you will be as well as I now turn the stage over to him. Please welcome to the stage Jeremy McKee, ladies and gentlemen!”

There was jubilant applause as Jer, arrayed in a sporty suit with a white shirt, narrow monochrome necktie and topped with a dark fedora, stood near his seat, smiled confidently at U and Data, and, burdened only with a briefcase, ascended the two steps to the stage. Recorded jazz began to play as he set the case down on a level music stand and turned to the audience to begin a series of tricks with rope—tricks in three acts during which he spoke not a word. He started act I by opening the briefcase with the top downstage and pulling from it a six-foot length of rope, then he closed the case and took three or four steps downstage. He lined up the two rope ends and let them dangle about six inches from his right hand while he held the centre of the rope in his left hand. Then one at a time, he flipped the dangling rope ends into his right hand, so that he held two loops made from the two rope ends in his right hand. But then he let the two loops fall away, revealing that the centre of the rope had moved to his right hand before revealing the rope ends had flipped to his left hand—the rope had seemingly seamlessly reversed itself in Jer’s hands. The audience murmured just a bit, but when Jer flipped the fold back into his right hand, he pulled two three-foot lengths of rope away—the rope was now two shorter ropes, and the audience applauded, but half a second later, he merged the two short ropes, once again producing a single, six-foot length, and the audience’s applause grew louder.

Jer smiled as the second act of his rope routine began. Clearly, he was enjoying himself. He made a knot of the two ends of the rope—simple enough. Then he held up two fingers, spreading them and closing them several times, enough for the audience to get the idea of an imaginary pair of scissors. He moved his hand stage left and right so that everyone could see, then using those fingers, he appeared to slice the rope into two equal segments that were bound together by the knot. Smiling coyly, he let the rope hang from his right hand with the knot in the centre of the shorter lengths. He grabbed the knot between thumb and forefinger of his other hand and moved the knot down the shaft of the lower segment of rope as though the knot were just another much shorter section of rope tied around the longer section, which he then revealed to be so. He repeated that three times, each time one segment seemed to shrink in length while the other grew. Finally, Jer untied the rope altogether to reveal one five-foot section and one one-foot section of rope, but the knot had evidently not been a separate piece of rope as one might have thought. That is, it appeared that a fixed knot had been sliding up and down the length of rope and had actually altered the length of the two rope segments.

The audience oohed, aahed, gasped and applauded. Jer smiled again as he took the shorter section and wrapped it twice around the longer. Then holding both ends of the short section, he made his hands undulate until he suddenly grabbed the entire short piece and joined it back with the longer piece, slick as you please. Jaws dropped in the audience even while they also applauded as Jer held a single six-foot length of rope in one hand for the end of the second act.

He opened the third act by tying a “Flying Bowline” knot that would have shamed Starfleet Academy graduates who were all still trained in the ancient nautical art of tying knots as part of the Seafaring tradition of Starfleet. A bowline is a knot that is designed to not slip at all. This knot, by definition, is near the end of a line, and Jer complied, but only for a minute, for as he lined up the knot with the other end of the rope, the knot seemed to move to the rope’s centre. Then he grabbed the knot in a fist, and, counting to three, appeared to pull the knot completely off the rope—as though it had been a separate rope knotted around the first—and the knot seemed to simply vanish. He put another knot about 20 centimetres from one end of the line, held up both the knot and the unknotted end and indicated with mime that he was going to move the knot from near the one end to the very end of the other side of the rope. Then he cupped the unknotted end in his right hand and let the knot itself dangle ten inches or so from his left hand. He flipped the knot into his left hand, pulled the rope tight, and revealed that the knot had appeared to move from his left to his right side, and the audience applauded loudly. He untied that knot, then with a flourish of movements, he seemed to throw another knot onto one end, but it was a very loose knot, and even while seeming to untie the knot again, he pulled another one-foot section of the rope loose and set it on his shoulder. People oohed, and some shook their heads in surprise, but the real surprise came after the small section was removed, the longer section appeared to be a continuous loop of rope—no knots or splices, just one long, solid loop. Then he wound the smaller section around the loop and held the winding part up for all to see, and suddenly it was just one six-foot length of rope again. He threw the rope to Captain Picard and said, “Thank you!” And while Riker and Picard both examined the rope, the rest of the audience applauded. That concluded Jer’s first set. The music that had been playing faded out, but Jer was far from finished.

To open his second set, he nodded off stage to two of Guinan’s employees who were operating that night as stagehands. Together, they carried a heavy table onto the stage, on which were two grey cylinders about 40 centimetres tall and 15 centimetres wide. They were apparently made of some more substantial material because they only barely wobbled as the table was carried.

While the two men carried the table to centre stage, Jer went back to his briefcase, opened it, and brought out of it a wine glass of elegant design. The stagehands set the table in place; Jer thanked them as they departed, and he set the wine glass on the table between the two cylinders. “My parents both loved their wines, ladies and gentlemen. They considered it—and I quote—‘the lasting product of one of the finest art forms.’ Not bad for a computer nerd and a botanist, eh?” He paused for a moment for the audience to laugh lightly, while his chin quivered slightly. The loss was so recent, the pain still present that he lost his focus, but he was soon able to compose himself, and he continued. “As a matter of fact, it is wine and wine testing that brought them together some 16 years ago at a vineyard in France, in a little town called La Barre.” He looked out into the audience and made eye contact with Captain Picard. “I believe that you might be familiar with La Barre, France, Captain Picard. Am I right?”

Picard smiled enthusiastically. “Indeed, yes,” he cooed. “La Barre is my old stomping grounds.”

“We have that … somewhat in common, Captain,” Jer asserted. “I say ‘somewhat’ because I was never really able to ‘stomp’ there. But I was informed, shortly after my parents were assigned to the Enterprise more than three years ago—before her commissioning—even, that I was conceived in La Barre, France. Please pardon the overshare,” he smiled, and the audience laughed mildly. “It’s true,” he asserted, nodding. “My grandfather sent my mother there as a birthday gift because of his friendship with our captain, and there she met my father at a little winery called the Picard Family Vineyards, highly recommended by my grandfather, I might add. They were married a year later and spent their honeymoon there, where I was the result of a happy marriage coupled with good wine.” The audience laughed with sincerity and applauded, while Jer returned to his briefcase and produced a bottle with a large, white label. He stepped off the stage and held the bottle out toward Captain Picard: “Do you recognize the label, Captain?” he asked.

“Indeed I do,” Picard said.

“Would you please read it for the benefit of the audience?”

“Of course.” He took the bottle from Jer, stood and turned to the audience. “It says, ‘Chateau Picard, Grand Cru Classé, en 2349, La Barre, Appellation La Barre Contrôlée’.” He returned the bottle to Jer.

“Was 2349 a ‘good year’ for Chateau Picard, Captain?” Jer asked as he ascended the stage again.

Picard was somewhat taken aback by seeing a bottle of his family label that he hadn’t known was aboard his ship. Why, even he had not a single bottle aboard for himself. So his voice was mildly broken when he responded. “Of course it was a good year for Chateau Picard,” he asserted. “It’s Chateau Picard.” The audience laughed and applauded again.

On stage, Jer laughed and opened that bottle with a ‘pop’ of a cork while he said, “Of course, Chateau Picard was not the only label produced by the Picard Family Vineyards, was it, Captain?”

“No, it was not,” Picard said from his seat, and Jer lifted one of the cylinders and revealed a bottle of ‘Chateau La Barre’ with its darker, brown label designed to resemble the masonry of a castle wall. “This is vintage 2351,” Jer announced. “The year of my birth, if I understand these old-fashioned dates.” Of course, Jer understood that the four-digit dates were not so much “old-fashioned” as they were just less than useful aboard a starship. They remained, however, still quite useful when you’re on Earth. But Jer had been aboard the Enterprise for about a quarter of his life, at that point, and was simply fully acclimated to stardates.

He set the Chateau Picard on the table beside the Chateau La Barre, several inches apart. “Notice that the labels are different colours, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “The darker label on my left is on the wider bottle of the Chateau La Barre while the lighter coloured label is on the taller bottle of Chateau Picard on my right, but both bottles hold the same amount of liquid: 750 ml.” He adjusted both bottles to make sure that the labels were showing out toward the audience. “I am about to make the two bottles switch places on the table without touching them,” he said. “So I will first cover the Chateau Picard with a tube,” as he said this, he held one tube so that it was clear that it was both hollow and empty. “And I’ll put the other tube over the Chateau La Barre,” but as he said this, he raised the tube and revealed that there was a second bottle of the La Barre already inside of it. “Oops!” he said. “That wasn’t supposed to happen, but when you’re working with fine wine, it’s always good to have a second bottle available, am I right?” He set the second La Barre aside. “It’s not a problem. I’ll just leave that extra bottle right there and cover this one and say the magic phrase: ‘Ab K’def ky Jekyl M’nopqur Stuvyxyz!’” Then he lifted both tubes and revealed that the two bottles had, indeed, switched places, and the audience cheered. Jer gestured to the crowd to quiet down and said, “The hard part is not making them switch places, but making them switch back.” He covered the bottles again and said another magic phrase: “Zyxwvuts Rqponmil K’jihgfed K’bah!” Once again, he lifted the tubes, and the bottles had switched back to their original spots, labels facing out and all, and there was more applause.

“Wait a minute. Let me show you again! Here’s the first tube,” he said as he held up the first tube, showed it to be empty, and placed it over the La Barre. “And the second tube,” he said, but as he lifted it, there was a second bottle of the Picard. “Oops!” he yelled again. “I guess I don’t know my own strength!” He set the second bottle of the Picard aside and covered the first bottle—the open one, said the magic phrase, “Ab K’def ky Jekyl M’nopqur Stuvyxyz!” then lifted both tubes simultaneously, and the original bottles had switched again. “But I just get a bigger kick out of switching them back,” Jer said as he raised the first tube again and revealed a third bottle of the La Barre. He smiled sheepishly, set that bottle aside, covered the two original bottles again, “Zyxwvuts Rqponmil K’jihgfed K’bah!” and once again the two bottles were in their original spots. Applause.

“Now, let me just show off a little bit,” Jer said. “I’ll work with just one cylinder,” and he covered the open bottle of the Picard, “Ab K’def ky Jekyl M’nopqur Stuvyxyz!” and when he raised the cylinder, it was a bottle of the La Barre. Then he flipped the tube and placed it over the original bottle of the La Barre, “Zyxwvuts Rqponmil K’jihgfed K’bah!” and when he raised the tube again, it had become the open bottle of the Picard. Roaring applause! He set that tube back on the table, lifted it and removed yet another bottle of the Picard. The table was getting cluttered with beautiful bottles from La Barre.

“I assume that this open bottle has had plenty of time to breathe.” He stopped and looked at the audience with a puzzled expression. “Am I just too young to understand or what? Why does a bottle of wine need to breathe? My parents always stressed the importance of that, but I never understood.” He shook his head as if to clear his mind. “Anyway, I find that this trick is more impressive using a bottle and a glass because the switch is more visual, and it, therefore, has a greater impact.” He poured some wine into his glass and set both the glass and the bottle down, side by side. “Then all I have to do is take a tube,” he raised one tube, revealing yet another bottle of wine that he set aside again, and he used the tube to cover the glass. Then he lifted the tube again to reveal that the glass had become a bottle. He flipped the tube over and covered the bottle, which, upon revealing, became the glass, and the audience cheered. “Of course,” he added, “it’s always safer to have bottles rather than glasses because it’s harder to spill a bottle.” While he said this, he set down and picked up the tubes in rapid-fire, alternating succession, and with each lift of a tube, he revealed another bottle of wine. Altogether there were six bottles of both wines on his table, and the audience stood and applauded.

As a finale for this set, he raised his left hand, shook it and produced a white, linen towel from nowhere, and he laid it over his forearm. Then he picked up the glass of wine and carried it over to the captain, and the audience was entirely silent again. “Tell us, Captain,” Jer said, “is this the real McCoy?”

Picard took the glass and swirled the contents, and nodded. Then he sniffed the wine, nodded again, and he finally sipped, allowing the liquid to wash over his tongue again and again. He shut his eyes and swallowed. “It is indeed,” he said. Jer smiled, the audience roared, and Jer presented to the captain one of each bottle of his own label, both vintage 2351.

When the applause died down, Captain Picard stood to speak with Jer. “Young man, where did you get all these bottles of such a very fine wine at your impressionable young age?”

Jer and the audience laughed. “They’re from my parents’ cache, Captain. And, if I may be so bold, they had planned to save them for three and a half more years. When I came of age, they were going to invite you over so that the four of us could share some of the ‘lasting product’ of your family label, Sir.”

Picard’s eyes filled with tears. “I am truly honoured,” he said.

The audience began to applaud once again, and Jer took that opportunity to whisper to Picard, “May they also serve as a peace offering, Captain.” He looked directly into Picard’s eyes. Picard met Jer’s eyes with his own, and nodded with a smile of understanding, and they shook hands. The audience was still applauding, but they stood at this point, continuing to cheer and clap. It was a large commotion, even better than was hoped for, certainly much more than was needed, and no one even noticed the now empty chair in the front row after the commotion died down.

Jer ascended the steps once more for his final act. From his briefcase, he pulled a deck of cards, removed them from the box, removed the jokers and other extras and shuffled the deck, and he did so with the lithe grace, without looking at the deck, never losing eye contact with his audience. “For my last trick, ladies and gentlemen, I need the help of someone from the audience, and since I’ve already picked on Captain Picard a good deal, I believe that it might be Cmdr. Riker’s turn to be picked on.” He looked at Riker and said, “What do you say, Commander? Are you ready to be part of my finale?”

After a moment or two of what might have appeared to have been hesitation, during which Jer continued to shuffle the cards, Riker smiled broadly, then stood and said, “Alright. I’m game.”

Jer laughed outright. “Indeed you are, Commander; you are fair game,” and he laughed again. “Come on up,” he invited, and the audience applauded. When Riker stood at a spot on stage near Jeremy, Jer said to the audience, “I would like to point out, ladies and gentlemen, that it is only because I do not wear a Starfleet uniform that I poke fun at the captain and first officer so prodigiously.” Provoking more laughter, and Riker shot them a mock scolding look.

“Commander,” Jer said, redirecting the entire group, “I have a complete deck of cards in my hand, as you can see.”

“Yes.”

Jer fanned the cards, “I want you to please confirm for everyone that every card is, in fact, different and that all four suits are represented accurately here.”

Riker looked over the deck somewhat overly cautiously. “Mm, yes, it appears that you are playing with a full deck, Jer,” he smiled at the young magician.
“Fooled you already,” Jer said without a moment’s hesitation, and the audience howled with laughter. Even Riker laughed and nodded.

Jer returned the cards to a stack, “Now, I’m going to riffle through the cards for you, and I want you to tell me when to stop. Ready?”

“Yes,” Riker said, and Jer began riffling. “Stop!” Riker called.

Jer complied. “So the card where you told me to stop is the six of clubs,” he said as he pulled the card from the deck and showed Riker.

“It appears so,” Riker conceded, while Jer also showed the audience the card.

“Fine. Now I’ll place it back in the deck and shuffle,” he said as he did just that.

He shuffled some five or six more times. “Are you satisfied, Commander, that your card is hidden deep within the deck somewhere?”

Riker was clearly skeptical, but as he saw no indication of “foul play” where the cards were concerned, he conceded, “I suppose.”

“You don’t sound very sure of yourself, Commander,” Jer played while he continued to shuffle. “That’s not your reputation.”

Riker smiled again. “Ok, you got me. Yes, I’m satisfied that the card is hidden within the deck.”

“Good,” Jer said as he stopped shuffling, “because my hands were getting tired!” he complained, and the audience laughed.

“Now,” Jer continued, “I’m bringing the deck back together, and I’m placing them between the index and middle fingers of my right hand. See?”

“Yes,” Riker said.

“It’s difficult to hold cards like this, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, I would.”

“Good,” Jer said, and he tossed the deck at the nearest transparent-aluminum window like throwing a frisbee. When the cards all fell to the floor, the audience gasped to see the six of clubs stuck to the window. Even Riker looked with some disbelief to see his card there.

“Commander, would you be so good as to step over there and remove your card from the window of Captain Picard’s fine ship?”

Riker smiled again as he attempted to do just that, but when he got within arm’s reach of the window, he turned and said, “I can’t!”

“Why is that?” Jer asked, feigning innocence.

Riker wiped his hand across the window where the card was. “It’s on the outside of the window,” Riker said, and the audience gasped and then began to applaud again. Jer bowed as Riker took his seat, and when he indicated for the applause to cease, he said, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. There will be a ten-minute break while the musicians prepare for the next part of tonight’s show. Please get yourselves a beverage and take a gander at the art on display. Thank you very much!” He bowed again, and there was another short bout of applause that continued even as Data entered Ten-Forward and approached the stage. When all was quiet again, Data reached a friendly hand out to Jer, who accepted the gesture. “May I congratulate you on a fine prestidigital opening to tonight’s event, Jer.”

“Indeed,” Picard said as he approached Jer and interrupted, “although I must inform you that use of transporters is limited to ship’s need, and I need to be informed prior to permission being given.” His tone was mildly chastising, but Jer seemed neither surprised nor guilty.”

“Captain?” Jer asked.

“Your magic show,” Picard said, then smiling, added, “surely you used the transporter to produce the bottles and get the card outside of the window.”
“No, Captain. I did not.”

Picard’s expression turned to one of surprised confusion. “But,” he pointed at the card still clinging to the window, as Data pulled a tricorder from his hip and began scanning, “surely you had to …” Picard’s voice trailed off.

“No, I didn’t,” Jer protested with a grin.

“Confirmed, Sir,” Data said with his eyes on his tricorder. “There are no indications of any residual ionization,” he said but kept scanning. “No residual electrostatic charge,” he paused and kept scanning, “and no transporter field trace, Sir. No transporter has been used anywhere near this part of the ship in several weeks.” He showed the results to Picard, who reached out to take the tricorder from Data and, touching his hand, retracted just a bit. “Why, Mr. Data. Cold hands, warm heart, you know.”

“But Captain,” Data protested, “I have no heart at all.”

Picard’s eyes shot from the tricorder to Data to Jer for a moment but ultimately landed on Jer. “Most impressive work, Jer. Part of me wants desperately to ask how you did these tricks, but the rest of me has too much respect for the art of prestidigitation to ask. I congratulate you.” It never seemed overly convenient to Picard that Data had a readily available tricorder, nor did it ever occur to him to ask why he had thought to bring one to a stage performance.

“Thank you, Captain,” Jer said, and Picard turned away. Jer’s smile grew to its fullest extent. “Totally awesome, Data!” to which Data nodded, then went onto the stage to tune his viola, while Jer went to clean up, first, the numerous bottles, careful to leave out one of each label for later use. Then he cleaned up the fallen deck of cards and a few pieces of rope before he descended from the stage.

 

10

The rest of the night’s performances were filled with delight and great enjoyment for everyone on and off stage. After the break, Data came on stage in uniform and played the four-minute-long Divertimento by Franz Joseph Haydn having written a sub-routine for himself to be able to merge the techniques of Pinchas Zukerman and Emanuel Vardi, both of 20th century Earth. Bo, also in uniform, accompanied on the piano. After this, U came forward dressed in his customary Federation guest jumpsuit with the ‘V’ neck and the underlying olive-green pullover. He had been wearing this essentially all the time aboard the ship except when attending Worf’s Mok’bara classes, so that people saw it as even more than a uniform, but even as part of his being, as though, without that olive neck and upper chest, he just wouldn’t be U anymore. He and Data played the 20-minute-long viola-bass duet by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf while Bo enjoyed a respite from playing. Both pieces were met with rapturous applause.

Next on the program, Chief O’Brien came up. Like Data, he was in uniform, and he played the haunting seven-minute Elégie by Gabriel Fauré, accompanied by Bo. Then the chief and U played the ten-minute cello-bass duet by Gioachino Rossini, while, again, Bo took a break. The audience loved both pieces, but as Bo and Data came on stage again, and U set his bass on its side so that he could sit with the audience, everyone quieted for the dazzling “Salut D’Amour” by Sir Edward Elgar, Bo’s special arrangement for viola, cello and piano.

After these four classical pieces, the classical era was set aside for a few minutes of great Jazz as Bo, U and especially Commander Riker stepped up to play four short jazz pieces culminating with “Night Bird.” Of course, Riker fell apart with the solo, but as far as Deanna was concerned, that was to be expected. The rest of his performance, after all, was excellent.

Then U brought his bass bow out again for his last bass-playing piece for the evening: the Walter May double bass concertino with Bo accompanying once again on piano, a piece of music that, everyone who knew U agreed—it sounded exactly like U, a perfect match for his exuberant personality.

After this, U set down his bass, and Bo addressed the audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t been made aware, we have had a visitor aboard the Enterprise for the past two weeks. Now, as far as I’m concerned, he has been an enormous asset to me in my recent assignment. In sum, I would have been lost without him. I have spoken with Captain Picard, and he agrees that U, our visitor from the Continuum, has been indispensable, and I am told that he has agreed to stay with us for a few more weeks, for which I am very glad.

“The odd thing is that U feels as grateful for us as we feel for him. So we selected a song for him to sing, one that reflects the feelings—the affection that he has come to feel for all of us. It is a song that comes from a musical play from the 20th century called The King and I, and the song is ‘Getting to Know You.’ We have made some alterations to the lyrics, but only where necessary for the song to make sense in our context. I’m sure you’ll agree.” He turned to his friend, “U? Will you step over beside the piano, please?” U did so, and Bo sat at his piano and began playing an elaborate introduction, and it was when Bo stopped playing that U, sporting a hand-held mike, began to sing in something of a chant, and when he did, Bo came back with appropriate waltz-like accompaniment.

“It’s a very ancient saying,” U sang,

“But a true and honest thought,

That when you visit brothers,

By your brothers you’ll be taught.”

As he said this, he looked at Picard and Riker directly.

“As a brother, I’ve been learning—“ U continued,

“You’ll forgive me if I boast—

I’ve now become an expert

On the subject I like most!”

There was something of a musical interlude by Bo, and when U came back in, he was actually singing:

“Getting to know you,

Getting to know all about you.”

At this point, many in the audience recognized the song, and they applauded. U sang on:

“Getting to like you,

Getting to hope you like me.”

There was another, more brief musical segment, then U came back in:

“Getting to know you,

Putting it my way but nicely,

You are precisely

My cup of tea.”

He stopped singing again and spoke in a voice like Picard’s: “Earl Gray, Hot!” Then he sang on.

“Getting to know you,

Getting to feel free and easy;

When I am with you,

Getting to know what to say.

Haven’t you noticed,

Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?

Because of all the beautiful and new

Things I’m learning about you Day by day!”

There was another brief piano interlude at that point, but when U began to sing again, he found that his mike had been muted, and Jer stepped forward with his own mike, fully active, and began to sing, unbeknownst to U.

“Getting to know U, Getting to know all about him.

Getting to like U, Getting to hope U likes me.

Getting to know U, Putting it my way but nicely

U is precisely My cup of tea.” He stopped singing to say, “Or a banana split!” Then he went on singing.

“Getting to know U, Getting to feel free and easy;

When I am with U, Getting to know what to say.

Hasn’t U noticed, Suddenly we’re bright and breezy?

Because of all the beautiful and new Things we’re learning about U Day by day!”

At that point, there was another brief interlude as Captain Picard and his staff all stepped on stage and together, they sang Jer’s version of the song a second time. U could do nothing but stand by and laugh, and even though he was still considered energy only, he found the capacity to blush all the way through.

Thus ended Jer’s big night, Jer’s celebration. Most of his art was sold, and all of his mother’s art found new homes as well, so there were small pieces of Jer and his family scattered about the ship. Jer could not have been more thrilled, even though, at the same time, he was sad to see his mother’s beloved art go. He comforted himself with the knowledge that she wanted her artwork to be sold and enjoyed in other people’s homes. For his own edification, though, he had holo-images taken of each piece of her precious work so that he, too, could continue to remember and appreciate it and thereby, remember and appreciate his mother, herself.

It was all-in-all a most eventful and memorable evening that Jer did not want to end. But as his fatigue began to reveal itself to others, if not to him, Captain Picard and Dr. Pulaski approached him. “Young man,” Picard said, “you did very well this evening. I am most impressed, as we all are.”

“Thank you, Captain. I forgot to mention, though, that Lt. Costello helped me to write my script. I would have had a hard time of it without him.”

“I shall have to congratulate him as well, then.” There was a pause. “I know that it’s difficult to see the evening end, Jer, but you have a Vibroniques procedure tomorrow, bright and early, and the doctor will need you to be well-rested.”

“That’s exactly right, Captain,” Dr. Pulaski said. “We’re all so proud of you, your art, your magic, your singing! A very talented young man!” she smiled broadly and genuinely, but then the mother voice took over, “but Captain Picard is correct. The hour is late, and you need your rest.”

Jer nodded in both compliance and understanding. “Yeah, I get it,” he said. “But before I go, may I ask a really big favour?” He said this looking at Picard.
“I think one ‘really big favour’ would not be out of line. What do you think, Doctor?”

Dr. Pulaski was still smiling. “Well, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to ask, but it quite depends on what the favour is.”

“Well,” Jer began, “I know that my age is still a little low, but everyone is here, Captain, and the wine my parents were saving was for you and me.” He squirmed just a bit because the nature of this favour was just a little beyond him, but he forced himself forward. “Could we all, you and the doctor and your staff and Bo and U … well, could we all enjoy a glass of wine together before night’s end?”

Picard differed to the doctor, who considered the request still in her motherly self. “To be honest,” she said, and Jer immediately felt the disappointment weigh down upon him. “I think one glass, one small glass, and a toast might very well be in order.” She looked again at Picard. “Yes, I think it’s a grand idea,” and Jer’s eyes lit up like the night sky of a planet bathed in a meteor shower. “Why don’t you go get a bottle or two. I’ll go get some glasses, and Captain, would you please gather everyone around?”

“Delighted,” Picard said.

And when everyone was gathered, and the open bottle had breathed a few minutes, Jer poured some of the liquid into everyone’s glass. Captain Picard said, “I propose a toast:” and everyone raised a glass. “To Jeremy James McKee, a most talented showman whose dazzling career began this evening and will most assuredly continue for many years to come.”

“Hear, hear!” the crowd said, and they all sipped.

Then Bo said, “And, if I may, here’s to U who has helped make Jer’s future career possible. May he know fame and success, and may our Continuum Guest also be our continued guest.”

“Hear, hear!” once again rolled from the mouths of the group.

U added, “Here’s to Geordi and his crew, and to the success of Vibroniques tomorrow morning.”

“Hear, hear!” yet again.

By that time, people’s glasses were empty. Jer offered the bottle to everyone, but he elected to follow his doctor’s orders and cease imbibing even though it was his first time, then he announced, “Thank you, everyone. I really need to be off for the evening. I had a wonderful time, and I begin to understand people’s fascination with wine!”

People laughed.

“To be perfectly honest,” Jer continued, “when I asked the captain and doctor about having a drink, I was afraid that someone would suggest champagne rather than some of the wine that I brought …”

Picard cut him off: “Never!” he said with a commanding voice, “As my brother would say, ‘Champagne is just another word for malingering,’” and he sipped smugly. The group froze, thinking the humour over until someone ‘got it,’ and said mockingly, “Oh! ‘Sham Pain!’” then everyone laughed.

Jer continued, “Anyway, I’m glad to see that my fears were unfounded, and I am very grateful to share this …” he turned to Picard, “Would this be considered a ‘nightcap,’ Captain?”

Picard, with a look of surprise, considered for a moment. “Well, yes, I believe … Yes, I think it could be,” he said.

Jer nodded “… this nightcap with all of you. I cannot imagine a better way to complete the evening. But now, I bow to my doctor’s orders, and I bid you all a good night and pleasant dreams.”

They cheered and offered the same to him, but Jer pulled U aside and spoke almost in a whisper: “U, I don’t want to be alone tonight.”

“I can certainly understand that, Jer.”

“I still have my parents’ bed-chamber. I have it all set up as a guest room, even though I didn’t know I was doing that when I did. Would you please stay the night in my quarters? I know it’s asking a lot …”

U cut him off. “Jer, I fully understand. In fact, I was wondering if you’d be able to handle this night in particular alone. I don’t think it would be breaking any protocols for me to stay on the couch or in your parents’ room if you need me.”

Jer nodded emphatically.

“I’m just going to let the good doctor know, and then I’ll walk back to your quarters with you.”

“Thank you, U!”

U smiled warmly. “It’s my honour, my friend.”

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