Q de Gras (Chapter 9: Me and U and a Dog Named Boo)

ACT III:
U Logy

 

EPIGRAPH

 

(CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK & EDITH KEELER stroll along, hand in hand, as ‘Goodnight, Sweetheart’ carries in the air from a radio repair shop.)

EDITH: Why does Spock call you Captain? Were you in the war together?

KIRK: We served together.

EDITH: And you don’t want to talk about it? Why? Did you do something wrong? Are you afraid of something? Whatever it is, let me help.

KIRK: “Let me help.” A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over “I love you.”

EDITH: Centuries from now? Who is he? Where does he come from … er, where will he come from?

KIRK: Silly question. Want to hear a silly answer?

EDITH: Yes.

KIRK: (Pointing) A planet circling that far left star in Orion’s Belt. See?

“The City on the Edge of Forever.” Star Trek: The Original Series. Dir. Joseph Pevney. Writer. Harlan Ellison. Air date: 6 April, 1967.
Star Trek Transcripts. http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/28.htm

 

 

 

Chapter 9:
“Me and U and a Dog Named Boo”
(Stardate: 42954.3-42955.9)

1

At 0700 the next morning, the chime rang outside Jer’s quarters. U had spent the night on the couch so that he would be at hand should Jer need him during the night, which, as it turned out, he did not. Still, it was better that he hear the chime and respond than that Jer should be needlessly disturbed so early.
He wrapped the blanket about his shoulders and went to the door. It was one of Guinan’s employees returning Jer’s magic kit from the night before. U invited the man to put the case just inside the door, wished the man well as he exited, then he checked the time: 0704. Jer could still sleep another half hour, so U decided to leave a brief note and go to his own quarters to clean up for the day. Then he could return and prepare a breakfast of sorts, given Jer’s pending procedure: No solids, just light juice and water. Easy enough, but U didn’t want Jer to have to think about anything. He wanted the entire morning as easy as possible.

So he left the message near the replicator and departed, returning at 0727 to find Jer still asleep. Perfect. He went quickly to the replicator. “Two large glasses of apple juice, just cooler than room temperature.”

The computer’s response, “Please specify temperature.”

U thought about it for just a moment. “15 degrees, ‘C,’” he said.

Seconds later, there were two glasses of golden juice in the dispenser. U removed them and set them on the table in front of the sofa, then went back to the replicator. “Two large glasses of water, 15 degrees,” and moments later he pulled the two glasses of water from the replicator and set them on the table, then went the door of Jer’s private area and knocked, thinking that a knock might feel less invasive for Jer than calling his name. From inside, Jer called out, “Hello?”

“Jer, it’s U. Time to get ready for your big day.”

Jer coughed and mumbled a bit with a groggy voice, then called, “Umm, yeah! (Cough) Ok. I’ll be right there.”

U sat on the sofa and started to enjoy his apple juice, then heard the high-pitched whine of a sonic shower that lasted all of ten minutes, and it sounded as though the acoustic inverter might need some tightening. Just minutes after that, Jer emerged from his chamber, apparently eager for the day to begin. He was smiling and full of humour. He sat beside U, still massaging his scalp with a towel.

“You’re on a pretty strict liquid diet, Jer, so I got you some apple juice and some water.”

“Thanks, U. I’m not allowed orange juice, am I?”

“Nope,” U said, “too acidic.”

“Not a problem,” Jer said as he reached out for the apple juice and downed it in a single breath. “I slept really well last night. I didn’t think I would since I haven’t slept in there for weeks.”

“Nor did I,” U said, “but I’m glad that you did.”

“Well, thank you for staying here. I’d be willing to bet that you’re the reason for it.”

“No problem, Jer.”

Then Jer noticed the pillow and blanket on the sofa. “You slept here?” he asked.

“Yeah,” U said. “Just in case.”

“You didn’t have to do that, you know.”

“It’s fine. I, too, am well-rested. AND,” he spoke with particular emphasis, “Guinan sent your stuff here from Ten-Forward early this morning. Around 7:00. I’m glad I was nearby to answer the door.”

“Mm,” Jer observed. “Good point. I would have slept through a battle, I think.”

U turned, smiling at Jer.

“What?” Jer asked.

“You woke when I barely knocked on your door.”

Jer scoffed in a joking way. “Well, that was like hours later, right?”

“About 30 minutes, actually.”

“Hmm,” Jer said. “What a difference 30 minutes makes.”

“Indeed.”

There was a long pause. “I have to be in sickbay in, like, ten minutes,” Jer observed.

“Mm-hmm,”

“Are you going to stay there with me?”

“No, I’m not. I’m going to be on the Bridge with Captain Picard, just in case I can be of service when he’s speaking with those … what are they called again?”

“Pro-to-zo-ans,” Jer said, emphasizing each syllable. “Although I prefer to just call them something like, y’know, ‘invaders,’ or something.”

U laughed, then imitating a computer voice, he said, “‘Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!” He and Jer laughed.

Then in a thick Scottish brogue, Jer called out, “Cap’n We’re onder attack and canno’ defend ourselves!”

U stood and took on a rich English accent, “Encroachers!” he said, trilling his ‘r.’ “Defend yourselves, you scurvy demons!”

“The British are coming! The British are coming!”

“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”

“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

“No, no, no, “U said. “It’s ‘Damn! The torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” U said as he pretended to run away, looking over his shoulders, and both U and Jer sat on the couch and laughed until they both fell silent for a moment.

Jer said, “I guess it’s time for me to go.”

“Yup,” U agreed. “I’ll walk you to sickbay.”

“I would appreciate that,” Jer admitted, and the two were up and away.

2

Upon entering sickbay, Jer and U were met immediately by Dr. Pulaski, who wore an entirely sincere, welcoming smile. “Well, Good morning!”

“G’morning,” Jer answered, feeling suddenly very insecure, and doubly so because he couldn’t determine why. After all, he’d been to sickbay twice a day for the last two weeks or more for his hypos; why should he get cold feet now? Nevertheless, insecure is how he felt, so insecure is how he reacted.

Clearly, Dr. Pulaski recognized the expression on Jer’s face; perhaps she’d even anticipated it. She put herself instantly into “soothing” mode. “Let me show you around, so you’ll have a better understanding of what’s happening.” So, with U in tow, Dr. Pulaski led Jer around sickbay that had become something of a small maze of people and equipment. “Starting here,” the doctor said. “This is the biobed where you’ll be spending most of the morning, and right above on the wall are the monitors that show us exactly how you’re doing so that we don’t have to annoy you with lots of pesky questions. That way, you can get more sleep,” she declared.

“Right above the biobed is the Vibroniques equipment to which you’ll be all hooked up in a few minutes.”

The Vibroniques mechanism was a heavy seeming instrument hanging over the biobed from a wheeled support and with a number of white wires dangling from it. At the end of each wire hung the electrode that would attach to Jer’s body and send the tiny vibrations through his torso. The apparatus supporting the machine could be wheeled this way and that to make sure the Vibroniques was right where it needed to be over Jer’s upper body. To everyone in sickbay other than Jer, it looked like an upside-down barn with a nearly caved-in roof, so that it seemed they held the barn upside down as a method of repairing the roof. To Jer, however, it looked more menacing. The damaged roof seemed more mouth like to him and the lights and circuits combined to form a malicious smile. Dr. Pulaski led him to the left side of the bed from the foot, “This is Cmdr. La Forge’s station, where he’ll be directing the vibrations that will enter your body so we can speak to those invaders.” As she said that, a nurse interrupted Dr. Pulaski with a padd and some information, and while she was occupied, Jer whispered to U, “Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!” using his own version of the computer voice U had employed earlier; U smiled, and Jer chuckled.

Seconds later, Dr. Pulaski was looking at Jer again and asking, “Now, where was I?”

Jer answered, “Cmdr. La Forge’s station.”

“That’s right!” Pulaski said, “He’ll also be making sure that the Captain can have clear communications between the Bridge and you … or, well, your body’s invaders.” Jer caught U’s eyes once again, and they both chortled. The doctor was a little confused by the behaviour of the two, but she carried on anyway. “Now, of course, Cmdr. La Forge will have one or two assistants here, and I’ll have four or five assistants working between you and me, and I, of course, will be with you much of the time, but there will be times when I’m in my office or doing other things. Does that all make sense?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jer said.

“Good!” Pulaski said. “Do you have any questions?”

“I don’t think so,” he answered.

“Fine,” Pulaski said. “Well then, why don’t we get going? Are you ready?”

Jer hesitated. He could feel the anxiety bubbling in his belly. He suddenly wanted to cling to U like a five-year-old clinging to Mommy, but he also reasoned that there was really no cause for such alarm. Even if this procedure wasn’t successful, it wasn’t life-threatening directly. It was not an invasive procedure, so it would be pain-free, and he had virtually everyone on the Enterprise rooting for him. So he was not going to be alone. He elected not to give in to the anxiety regardless of its distinct prominence. “Yes, I’m ready,” he said decisively.

“Good,” Pulaski said. “Get your shirt off and lie on the biobed on your back, and then we’ll get you all hooked up.” She smiled, and Jer walked over to the bed and pulled off his shirt. Just as he did so, Data entered, producing a smile from both Jer and U. “Hi Data!” Jer called.

“Good morning, Jer,” Data said, approaching the boy. “And may I say that it is most agreeable to see you so cheerful today because it is certain to be a very good one.”

Jer smiled. “I think so, too.”

“I sincerely wish you all my best, Jer.”

“Thanks, Data.”

“You are welcome.” He lifted his index finger, “If you’ll excuse me.” Jer nodded.

Data stepped up to U. “U, I deduced that I would find you here with Jer at this hour. I further deduced that you and I might enjoy each other’s company on our way to the Bridge.”

“That’s dandy deducing, Data,” U said. “I would very much appreciate the company. One minute?”

“Mm,” Data agreed cheerfully, and U stepped over to Jer.

“Jer, I’m off to the Bridge, but in every way that I am able, I will be right here with you.”

“I know. Thanks,” Jer said, then scratched his shoulder and looked away for a moment. “I’m not really sure why, but I feel a little scared, U.”

“You don’t need to know why. What you feel is real and should be acknowledged.” He lowered his voice just a bit. “If you don’t mind me telling you, I’m feeling a little scared myself, even though I don’t know why,” and he smiled.

Jer shrugged, and through a smile, he said, “It’s not like anything bad could happen.”

“Right,” U affirmed. Then, almost in a whisper, but still with a confident smile, U said, “OK, you get yourself up on that biobed like the doctor told you. I’ll see you later in the day.”

“OK,” Jer said.

“Good,” and U turned. “Shall we, Mr. Data?” And the two departed sickbay together. Jer watched them leave, then rested his palms on the edge of the biobed, gave a bit of a jump and landed himself on it. He sat on the edge for a few minutes just staring at the exit through which his friends just departed, and he felt alone in a large, cold, dark void, and he started to shiver. He felt lost and abandoned, but only for a minute. A nurse who had been watching stepped over to him. “Is there anything I can do to help you feel more comfortable?” Jer didn’t respond, so the nurse suggested, “How about a blanket?” Then Jer met the nurse’s eyes and said, “That would be very nice.”

She smiled at Jer for a long moment. Jer guessed her to be about 24 years old, and he was moved by her distinct blue Asian eyes, accented with hair that was just a shade too dark to be called red, but she was still not quite brunette, either because the faint red in her hair stood out just a little against her copper skin and was amplified by her blue eyes. She gave Jer the kind of smile your mother gives when she’s the only one who can get you exactly what you need because she’s the only one who knows what you need, and she’s happy to simply be able to help. She let that smile settle on Jer’s heart before she said, “Ok,” in a calm voice and went into the next room. That smile was likely the very thing that he needed because his shivering stopped almost immediately.

While the nurse was out, Jer overheard a bit of a conversation, and its effect was to both give some degree of comfort and yet instill some degree of doubt, regardless of how small, in the possible success of the current procedure. As Chief O’Brien and Lt. La Forge were waiting for some piece of equipment to warm up, the chief whispered, “Geordi, you should know that, even though I am confident that this Vibroniques thing will do the trick, I do have another trick up my sleeve, something that I came up with late last night.”

Geordi’s interest was not masked at all by his visor. “Really? Using sickbay?”

“No,” the chief said with an expression of puzzlement, as though it were odd for Geordi to think such a thing. “Using transporter room III.”

“Interesting,” Geordi nodded, seeming to understand what it was the chief wanted to try. “Ok, well, put it on the back burner for now, Chief. AND let’s hope that we don’t need it.”

“Amen to that, Geordi,” the chief said. “Amen to that!”

The nurse returned with a nicely warmed cotton blanket. “Lie back,” she said, and as Jer complied, the nurse unfolded the blanket over him, and he felt himself relax. Then the nurse said, “Now, before you get too settled in, is there anything you need to take care of?”

He smiled back at her, comprehending her guarded understated question. “Everything’s been taken care of, but thank you.”

“Good,” she said. “Now, we need you to be completely relaxed during the entire procedure. If your muscles begin to contract, it could change the impact of the Vibroniques. So I’m going to give you a mild sedative. It probably won’t put you directly to sleep, but, as my dad used to say about drinking his scotch, ‘T‘ain’ nuthin’ gon’ t’ be stressin’ you’t all, Laddie.’” She said this last in a thick Scottish brogue.

Jer nodded, and the nurse put a hypospray to his neck and depressed the e-plunger. The instrument made a brief hiss. Then she added, “And if you get cold, we need to know that, too. We can’t have you shivering and sending ‘all the wrong signals,’ now can we?”

“HUH-UH!” Jer said more than a little too loudly, the drug already beginning to take effect. “Whasher name?” Jer asked, feeling suddenly very light-headed.

“Yukiko,” the nurse answered.

“Mm, yococoa is my favourite drink, eshpeciary in winner time,” Jer said. “But …” He had a look of exaggerated frustrated confusion as he regarded Yukiko.

“What?” Yukiko asked.

“Are you Shcottish or Shzapanezhe?”

“Mm-hmm,” she answered with a smile and a nod. “I am Scottanese.”

“I have an old shirt maked of shcotton,” Jer observed, then, “I’m Shcotish-itch, too, y’know. Sho, how ‘bout you and I get shome dinner tonight together tonight later today together? … Maybe tonight!”

“Well, that’s very nice,” Yukiko said, feigning a pout, “but I don’t think my husband would approve.” She actually looked a little apologetic.

“Well, bring’m along, shishter. It’ll be … fffffffffun! Wheee!”

Yukiko smiled for a long moment, then, “Dr. Pulaski? The patient is nicely sedated.”

“Already?” the doctor asked. “It usually takes a good ten minutes for that to take effect.” She stepped over to Jer smiling sedately. “Are you sure he’s ready?”

“Pretty sure,” Yukiko said, and Pulaski shrugged. Then, speaking over the doctor’s shoulder, Yukiko added, “Oh, and let me know if he asks you out, ok?” They both smiled. In the next while, the medical staff glued a dozen electrodes to Jer’s torso from just below his clavicles to just above the iliac crests of his pelvis: Two sets of three staggered on either side in relative symmetry on his chest, and two other sets of three on the area of his torso that was not quite his side and not quite his back, but while they were beneath him as he lay on the biobed, they were not at all pressed against the biobed, so Jer experience no discomfort but the electrodes were then able to spread vibrations effectively and evenly through his torso. Just as they completed this task, Picard’s voice sounded resolutely on the intercom, “Picard to sickbay.”

Dr. Pulaski tapped her comm badge and responded: “sickbay. This is Pulaski.”

“Doctor, what’s your status down there?”

“Medical team reports ready, Sir. Engineering team is nearly so.”

Geordi tapped his own comm badge and broke in. “La Forge, here, Sir. We have only a few adjustments to make and links to establish. We should be all ready to go in … ten minutes.”

“You have five,” Picard said.

“‘Five minutes.’ Aye, Sir. That is precisely what I meant.” He scowled somewhat light-heartedly at the Chief who chuckled, visibly but nearly inaudibly.

“Well done. Keep me posted,” Picard said.

“Will do, Sir,” Geordi said.

“Picard out.”

Jer would only vaguely recall that brief discussion of Picard with La Forge. He was quickly fading from consciousness, in and out of sleep during that time. He slept the rest of the entire morning and the early afternoon, utterly unaware of the procedure taking place at all.

3

When Jer woke, he was still on his back. He was still in sickbay, still shirtless and still under a heated blanket; it took him a moment to remember why he was there. He observed almost immediately that the Vibroniques equipment that had been directly above him in the morning was now gone, and he realized, however groggily, that the procedure was done, but he didn’t quite have the energy to be excited. He looked around the room, noticing that he was almost entirely alone. U was seated beside him, and Jer felt himself smile, although, to an onlooker, it might have appeared to have been more of a grimace than a smile.

It took a moment for U to notice that his young friend was moving, but when he did notice, he responded immediately. He smiled back at Jer. “Hello,” he said, then he turned his head away and called, “Dr. Pulaski?” He turned his attention back to Jer. “Are you feeling ok?”

Jer nodded. “I think that ‘mild sedative’ that they gave me actually packed a bit of a wallop.”

“It certainly did the trick,” U said.

“I feel heavy. Is that weird?”

“Well, you don’t look any heavier.”

That’s when Dr. Pulaski came in wearing her customary smile.

“Well! Good morning … again!”

“Doctor,” Jeremy said, “I think your nurses are confusing some of their terminologies.”

“Oh?”

“I was promised a ‘mild sedative.’ ‘Mild.’ That’s what the nurse said.”

“Yes, well, while you were slurring your speech, about five seconds after the hypo application, you demanded a bar, so we brought one in.” She scowled mockingly. “I must say, Young Man, that you seem far too young to be such a lush.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you. Did I drink all of the ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall?”

“And then some,” The doctor, said smiling.

Jer groaned as he tried to sit up, so both Dr. Pulaski and U helped him. U gave Jer his shirt that Jer was quick to put on with a bit of a shiver, and with not a small amount of extra effort. His body was simply not yet willing to cooperate.

“Yes, you’ll be groggy for the rest of the day, I’m sure,” the doctor said. “U is going to take you back to your quarters where I want you to have a good meal with lots of fluids and sleep. Relax this evening; get to bed early and come back to see me tomorrow.”

Jer shook his head and looked at U. “Did you get all of that?”

“Every word,” U said.

“Good. Because I’ve already forgotten everything she said before ‘come back to see me tomorrow.’”

“I’ll get him home safely, Doctor,” U said. “And he’ll follow your orders to the letter. See you tomorrow morning.”

Dr. Pulaski smiled as long as she could, but the minute Jer’s back was to her, the smile fell from her face, morphing into a look of grave concern as she watched Jer exit with U.

4

Entering Jer’s quarters, U led Jer directly to the sofa so that he could sit. The sedative was still hard at work in his system, so Jer would likely not do a great deal until well after supper time. But, U reasoned, he needed sustenance, so he walked to the replicator: “One large bowl of red grapes.” Moments later, a bowl filled with grapes appeared, and U carried them over to set them in front of Jer. “I want you to eat as many of these as you can.”

Jer, reclining on the sofa in a position that surely would have given him a headache had U not made him wake, opened his eyes for a moment without moving the rest of his body. Then, realizing his own hunger, he took a breath, sat up, and grabbed a handful of grapes. He hadn’t realized until after his first one, just how good they might be. He reclined again and closed his eyes just so that he could enjoy the grapes that much more. He and U didn’t talk, except that Jer was sure to thank U when he finished the grapes, a few carrots and a glass of water.

“You’re welcome,” U answered. “How are you feeling?”

Jer shook his head, still reclining, his eyes still closed. “Just tired. It almost hurts to stay awake.”

“Then don’t,” U said. “Go back and get yourself to sleep. I’ll stay here in case you need me.”

Jer nodded, but there was a long delay before he found the energy to stand and walk to his private area. He did, however, find that energy, but when he got to the doorway, he stopped and turned back. “U, I’m sure you’ve probably already answered this, but I can’t remember either way, so I’ll ask again: Did the procedure work?”

U, who had picked up the bowl to put it back in the replicator, froze with the container in his hand. He didn’t look at Jer but sat down on the sofa. “Well, we were able to talk with the protozoan colonies very clearly. Captain Picard did an excellent job, Jer. He’s a brilliant diplomat.”

Jer began to smile with anticipation. “And?” he asked.

U hesitated.

“U?”

U’s chin began to quiver. It was a new sensation for him, and he reached up to examine it with his fingers, and, to Jer, the gesture gave U a professorial look, even though there was nothing intellectual or academic or studious about the circumstances. He still didn’t turn to face Jer.

“Well?”

“We have to find another way, Jer.”

“What?” He walked over to U. “How? Why?!”

“The protozoans won’t leave. They’re determined to stay where they are.” He took a breath. “We were able to talk to them just fine, but they aren’t willing to cooperate.”

“But why?” Jer asked. He sat beside his friend on the sofa. “Everyone seemed so sure that it would work. Everyone was so positive. How could they all have been so wrong?”

“Well, the Vibroniques worked the way it was supposed to, Jer. We just weren’t prepared for pigheaded, pertinacious protozoans.”

“You’re joking,” Jer demanded.

U set the bowl down on the table again. “No. I’m not joking,” U said. “The colonies inside of you seem to have grown quite fond of you.”

“How touching,” Jer said flatly, but he quickly began to tear up. “Don’t they understand that if I die, they’ll die too?”

“Yes, they do,” U answered. “And they have decided that if they’re to die, they want to die at home. They think of your body as their home.”

“But they don’t have to die at all, U! They can get a new home and everything!” At this point, he began to cry.

“They simply don’t want to leave.”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Jer said, wiping his nose. “I wish I’d been there to hear it.”

“Well, you can be,” U said, “in a way.”

“How?”

“I have the Bridge transcript on the padd, here. Captain Picard thought that you might want to know precisely what happened, so he allowed me access.”

Jer was staring off into a different world. It was clear to U that he was still suffering the ill effects of the anesthesia. “Tell you what,” U said, “why don’t you go get a few hour’s sleep. When you’re up again, you and I can watch the Bridge transcript together, then I can answer any questions you have.

“I’m not sure that I’d be able to sleep.”

“Well, go give it a try. If you sleep, good. If not …” He shook his head with a frown. “Just as good.”

After a few moments and a yawn, Jer nodded. “Ok. You’re probably right. I’ll see you in a little while.”

“I’ll be here.”

5

But that entire conversation never really took place. It hadn’t needed to. It was only moments after speaking with Picard that the tiny colonies in Jer’s body packed their protozoan packages and parcels and boarded a tiny animal that had been held in stasis aboard the Enterprise. They set up a new host of colonies in the little critter who was ultimately transported back down to the planet from which they had all been taken, and that little critter adapted well to the protozoans living within its body. It evolved swiftly and dramatically as a result. It and its descendants learned to live symbiotically with the protozoans so that the critter eventually became a feline-like king of its surroundings. So that planet had grown its own sentient species who would eventually become members of the Federation.

Jeremy moved to the Saratoga to be with his grandfather, and after his grandfather retired from Starfleet, they built an art institute together on Earth—near his home in the Appalachians—devoted to restoring and preserving priceless art from the past, with a particular emphasis on the art of the Neanderthal, especially after so many more discoveries were made. Even all those centuries ago, Neanderthals in Germany had reached a sophistication in their art that rivalled the contemporary but more famous French and Spanish cave art. It was superior in composition, in technique, in breadth of topic and style, and in the realism and accuracy of its depictions. Why, it was even finally discovered that the Neanderthals were among the first to paint portraits. With that discovery, the German branch of Jeremy’s institute was able to open a new anthropology wing where scientists were able to reconstruct more accurate representations of the physical appearance of the Neanderthal, the previous ones having since become something of a scientific embarrassment. They learned that the Neanderthal was short in stature but broad of shoulder and chest and, while bearded, they were not the apish beasts they had long been thought to be. Their brows were not nearly so prominent as had been thought, and they sported down-swept nostrils, not the upswept, ape-like nostrils they had previously been thought to possess.

Their females adorned themselves with all manner of hand-crafted, hand-painted beads and other forms of body decorations, and the animal-skin clothing they wore was handsomely draped. In time, after Jeremy’s own marriage, his wife would design a line of clothing inspired by Neanderthal animal skins. By the 2380s, they were all the rage—again—making Neanderthal clothing styles the oldest in the Federation to return to fashion.

After his time in University, Jeremy himself became the curator of the institute, and he and his wife and their two children lived comfortably off his income. And, well before his grandfather finally passed on at the ripe old age of 119—with all his faculties intact—he and Jer had established a special gallery devoted to the art—original when possible but high-definition replicas when not—of Anita Anne Molitor McKee, Jeremy’s mother. It remained one of the Institute’s prized and most visited exhibits until well after Jer, himself, retired, and his son had taken over as curator.

And when it finally did come time for him to die, as the Good Book says so often, Jeremy was comfortable and well advanced in years. He had been granted a long and happy life, and he owed so much to Captain Picard for all his efforts and to his crew and theirs. Yes, he was content, as he had been for all those many years.

Some hours later, Jer woke in his bed with a bit of a start. He was back on the Enterprise, back in his room, back to being on the wrong side of the barrier that, just moments ago, he thought he had breached. His last conversation with U had come upon his sleepy, reluctant mind, and comprehension began to seize him. But because of the imposition of two contrasting concepts, he found himself desperately confused as he sat up on one elbow: Had that conversation with U really taken place? Could he have dreamed it? It didn’t feel real to him. Surely, his doubts and anxiety were getting the better of him. Surely everything had gone according to plan. Everyone had felt so sure about it. There is no possibility of it having gone so awry. But as his mind continued to wake, and all the synapses began to fire as per usual in his brain. As he processed the conversation more, his dream world and his reality separated more and more, and he began to see which was authentic and which was fraud. He pondered the conversation with U, which was now beginning to take on the full substance of reality, and he finally understood which was which. For a moment, he longed for the truth to have been some horrific nightmare and his dream to be the reality, but his mind disciplined him by refusing to allow him to continue pondering the beneficent dream and focus solely on the hostility of the truth. Then Jer did something that he hadn’t done for as long as he could remember: He fell into a long, laboured, tear-laden, sobbing cry.

6

Jer came out of his room, his eyes red and swollen with grief and anger. U sat on the Sofa reading from a padd on his lap, and Jer glared at him. “Is it true? Did I hear right?”

U set the padd aside and took a deep breath. “Yes, you heard right,” he admitted. “I have the Bridge transcript on the padd, here. It’s all cued up to the moment just before I come in. We can watch it if you’re feeling up to it.”

Jer said, “I’ll get us some more grapes and something to drink first. I’m feeling … I dunno, weak, I guess.”

“Good idea,” U agreed.

So, with all the snacks for a good movie, but without all the anticipation of seeing a new fictitious story unfold before them—seeing the heroes remain heroes and the villains vanquished in a vicarious victory—with all of this replaced with the foreknowledge that they were about to watch the Enterprise Bridge crew fail in doing their best to save someone aboard their ship, Jer and U sat together on the sofa and began viewing. The transcript began with eyes on Wesley Crusher at his post and panned out to see the entire crew silently but diligently at their duties. The action remained stagnant for a few moments until, in the background, Jer observed U and Data entering the Bridge from the turbo lift.

 

7

“Good morning, Gentlemen,” Picard said, cheerfully greeting the two, but not looking up for more than a glance from the panel on the armrest of this seat.

“Good morning, Sir,” Data said, making sure to stand in place and face his captain as he spoke. Then he assumed his position at ops and nodded in greeting to Wesley Crusher at the helm who returned the greeting with a nod and an awkward, adolescent smile.

Captain Picard was in his usual perch with his first officer on his right and Counsellor Troi on his left. U greeted each of them amicably, then, since Dr. Pulaski was busy in sickbay with the day’s project, Troi offered U the small seat beside her, and U accepted.

Picard was clearly occupied for the moment, and even Riker sat at the edge of his seat regarding the stars on the main viewscreen. “Mr. Crusher, what is our current speed?” Riker asked.

Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher glanced at this panel then responded in his military voice, “Holding at warp two, Sir. On course for Alpha Onias II.”

“Thank you,” Riker said. “Maintain.”

“Aye, Sir.”

For a time, the Bridge stood quiet. Everyone had jobs, and everyone performed his or her duty quietly. It was an awkward few minutes for U who had no responsibilities, who was a guest on the Bridge and knew it, and whose purpose for being there had, first, not yet begun, and second, was only precautionary. He sat as long as he felt he could, then, to avoid fidgeting, he stood and took a stroll around the Bridge, giving himself a little tour, and no one objected, assuming that they even noticed.

Several minutes clicked by. Slowly. Finally, with no warning, Picard’s voice sounded resolute, “Picard to sickbay.”

Seconds later, Dr. Pulaski responded: “Sickbay. This is Pulaski.”

“Doctor, what’s your status down there?”

“Medical team reports ready, Sir. Engineering team is nearly so.”

Geordi broke in. “La Forge, here, Sir. We have only a few adjustments to make and links to establish. We should be all ready to go in … ten minutes, Sir.”

“You have five,” Picard said.

“Five minutes. Aye, Sir. That is precisely what I meant.”

“Well done. Keep me posted.” Picard’s smile was discernible only for Riker, who knew Picard well enough to see it, and Troi, who didn’t need to see it to sense it. It was there, but so subtle as to be indistinct to the lower-ranking eye.

“Will do, Sir,” Geordi said.

“Picard out.”

8

“I remember that conversation,” Jer observed, “well, kinda’” he admitted as an afterthought.

“Oh,” U said. “As knocked out as you were when I got to sickbay, I’m surprised you remember anything at all.”

9

At this point, U began to have second thoughts about being on the Bridge, and he felt almost panic-stricken. Perhaps he should have stayed a while longer with Jer. Maybe he should just be down there regardless, because, of course, they’re not going to need him on the Bridge! Is Jer ok? What is he feeling? Shouldn’t he be down in sickbay with him? A few moments went by with U standing in place doubting himself, when finally the call came through: “La Forge to Bridge.”

“Bridge. Picard here.”

“Captain, we have multiple series of green lights along with medical and engineering personnel with eager smiles, and a very patient patient sedated and sound asleep. We are ready to go, Sir.”

“That’s excellent news, Geordi. Let us proceed.”

“Aye, Sir,” La Forge said. “Vibroniques unit engaged and … vibronicking. Tying in the Universal Translator now. It will be just a moment for all the programming to boot up, Sir.”

“Thank you, Geordi,” Picard said, then addressed the crew on the Bridge. “Ok, everyone, please remember that we are trying to alter the will of a group of intelligent beings. We must be careful of our diction. If you find yourself needing to speak with me, avoid using provocative words. Try to not think of them as enemies, but as beings we wish to relocate for their benefit as well as for our own. Is that clear?”

Everyone nodded. There was a tense pause. “One more thing,” Picard said. “There was only a slight indication from contact with this species before today, but we know that it learns very fast, so it will be quicker to catch on later in a conversation than earlier. We must be as brief as possible. I shall pause only when I must, but for the most part, the less time we spend in contact with these colonies, the better.”

Then Geordi announced, “Captain, you are on.”

Picard took his usual spot at the centre of the Bridge and spoke—by all appearances—to the viewscreen. “This is Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. I wish to speak with the colonies of … organisms that inhabit this body. Please respond.”

Silence. Picard looked to Worf, who was only able to monitor as the communications tie-in came to the bridge via sickbay and the Vibroniques equipment. Worf shook his head, and Picard called, “Geordi?”

“Everything is a go, Captain. I suggest that you try a second time.”

Picard rested a hand on the back of Data’s chair. “This is Captain Jean Luc Picard, trying to communicate with the life form occupying this body. We come in peace. We only want to talk. Will you please respond?”

“You are where?” was the response. It was a voice like that of a choir—a children’s choir speaking in unison. In perfect unison. Had the voices been in a lower register, they might have sounded like the Borg, but as it was, there seemed to be an innocence emanating from them. There was a hint of the electronic element from the translator, but otherwise, the voice seemed almost human and demure.

Picard smiled the way you smile when a child asks a question that betrays his or her innocence. “I am a separate life form. I live outside the body you occupy.”
“Outside? But you speak to us?”

“Yes. We are able to do that.”

“Who are ‘we’?”

Captain Picard gave a confused look to Counsellor Troi, who shook her head momentarily, indicating a miscommunication. Her empathic abilities helped her to understand the confusion of the protozoans. “You said, ‘we,’ Captain, referring to yourself. They want you to clarify.”

Picard nodded, mouthing, “Ah!” and proceeded. “We are beings of a different nature from you,” Picard said. “We live as individuals, each with our own body. I represent many such bodies.”

“Bodies?”

“Yes. One body is the physical structure of each of us. My body is human, made up of bones and flesh and organs.” Picard paused as the information was assimilated by the single-celled organisms as a collective. “You also have bodies,” he continued. “Your bodies each have a nucleus and organelles enclosed in a membrane.”

“Our bodies?”

“Yes. Your bodies are different from our bodies, but what is important is that we both have bodies.”

“We understand. Why speak to us?”

“We need your help.”

“Our help?”

“Yes. Please. You are living inside the body of a boy who is very dear to us. If you remain in his body, he will die, as will you and your colonies in his body.”

“Boy?”

Once again, Picard looked to Troi. “Their concepts of young and old are different from ours, Captain. Their young have a full understanding. There is no real difference between young and old for them. You need to explain the difference.”

Picard nodded in acknowledgement. “Yes, a boy. When you have offspring, the young body is equal to the parent body. Your offspring knows everything it needs to know to function in your colonies. For us, the parent and the offspring are not equal in that way. Our offspring are very small compared with the parents, and they need to learn how to live, how to behave, how to be safe, and it is the job of the parent to teach the offspring these things.”

“We live in a body. It is our home. Old body, young body, our home is.”

“I understand. An old one of you is the same as a young one of you. But not so for us. We protect and care for our offspring in a way that is different from the way we protect and care for anything else. Our offspring are very dear and precious to us. Your home is the body of a boy whom we want to protect and care for.”

“Our home … this body … a young body?

“Yes, it is. A very young body with a great amount of time left to it, if it remains healthy.”

“This body is strong. It nourishes us. Many of us. Although, soon we will enter the liquid flow to settle ourselves again.”

Once again Picard turned to Troi for an interpretation. “‘Liquid flow?’ he asked.”

“The protozoans differentiate the liquid in each organ from free-flowing liquids, such as blood in the bloodstream. It seems, Sir, that when the protozoans notice that their home is beginning to show signs of weakness resulting from their own presence, their instincts instruct them to use the bloodstream—the ‘liquid flow’—as a means of finding fresh flora and fauna to settle near.”

“I see,” Picard nodded, and he indicated to Worf to mute his comments, “and once they enter the bloodstream …” he asked Troi.

“They apparently cannot find more fertile flesh to inhabit, Sir. Not in any infected patient from the Enterprise, at any rate.”

“But when they enter the bloodstream, that’s the last step before the demise of the host body.”

“For humanoids, yes.”

“They don’t know the difference, though. Do they?” It was more statement than question.

“No, Sir. There’s no way that they could.”

“They think that they’ll enter the bloodstream and be able to find other organs to inhabit,” Picard took a moment to consider. “but there’s none to be found.”

Then nodded again to Worf, and after a second or two Worf responded, “You’re on, Sir.”

“Please listen to me very carefully, because I believe that we might be able to help each other.” The body that you inhabit is not from your world.”

The colonies interrupted, “our … world ?”

“Yes, ‘world,’” Picard said, acknowledging to himself how difficult this one would be to explain. “The body in which you live is like a world for you. It supplies your needs: sustains you, feeds you, keeps you safe and warm. But that body that is your world also comes from a world that sustains it and feeds it and keeps it safe.”

“But you say it is in danger.”

“Yes. We have left our world to explore other worlds, like the one from which you came.”

“May have been wise for you to remain on your world.”

“Perhaps. But you also left your world when you settled in the boy’s body, and it has put you in a similar danger.”

There was a long silence. “Explain?”

“If you were on your world and were inhabiting a body indigenous to that world, you would eventually need to enter the liquid flow to find new surroundings, right?”

“True. We live until we cannot, then we move.”

“You move to a new place within that body.”

“Yes.”

“And you use the liquid flow to do that.”

“Yes.”

“And if you were on your world, in a body from your world, you would be able to do just that. But the body you inhabit now is not from your world. When you enter the liquid flow, you will not find a new place to settle, and very soon after that, the body you inhabit will die, and then you will gain no more sustenance from it, and so you, too, will die.”

There was a long pause. Picard glanced up at Worf, who quickly glanced at his panel, then back at Picard and shook his head. Picard was just about to call down to Geordi when the protozoans spoke again. “There is no other place to live in this body?”

“No, there is not because it is not a body from your world.”

“You know this?”

“Yes.”

“How can you know this?”

“We know this because others of our kind from our world have experienced inhabitants of your kind. They have all died.”

“Our kind killed your kind?”

“I make no accusation. Your kind and our kind are simply … incompatible for living on the same world. Nothing more.”

“If the body dies, we die?”

“Yes.”

“You can help us live?”

“We have, in stasis, an animal life form from your homeworld. We can assist you in moving to that animal, after which, we will return you to your homeworld where you and your animal host can live out your lives as you were meant to.”

There was another long pause. Picard thought, Perhaps they’re thinking it over? Perhaps they’re overjoyed? Perhaps they’re reluctant to trust? He pondered these ideas and others and chose to let them mull. But after a few more seconds, “Once you have departed the body in which you are now residing, then it can be restored to health. We will have our young boy back, and you may continue to live on in peace. As you were meant to.”

Once again there was silence, and this time Picard gave them time. He waited, silent. Aboard the Bridge, the crew tried to simply keep doing their jobs, but as time went on, they found themselves glancing about to one another, seeing that each was just as uncertain and tense as the other. There was another visual exchange between Picard and Worf, but it passed precisely the same as the previous one had. Time continued. The ship’s chronometer, usually unnoticed by the crew, now seemed to tick, loudly, repeatedly, incessantly, precisely, intensely. Picard was just about to speak when he was cut off.

“This place … this body . .. this world is home. Our home.”

“We have a new home for you,” Picard insisted, “one in which you may live as you desire for as long as you desire.”

“This our home is. We wish not to depart.”

“But you will die. All of you will die.”

“That is as it is everywhere.”

“But you needn’t die. Nor does the boy need to die. What you are choosing is needlessly self-destructive and deadly to the body you inhabit. Please, let us resettle you for the sake of your lives and the life of the boy.”

“We have considered your thoughts, but this our home is. ‘The Boy’ is our home. We stay.”

“Then you leave us with only one option,” Picard said, a new tone in his voice, a tone like that of a distant storm brewing upwind. The tone of the quickening waters in a river before a fall. The tone of a spark in a dry forest. “You hold yourselves in such low regard compared with your home. You know that your home is a young boy whom we hold in very high regard, and who will die if you do not vacate his body. And you know that you, too, will die if you remain. I am able and willing to accommodate you on the latter before you claim the life of the boy,” Picard said.

“And yet, we stay.”

“Then, I will take any step necessary to remove you from the boy’s body by force.”

“You do not get your way; you threaten us?”

“Oh yes,” Picard said, nodding with an assured smile. “I told you that we hold our young very dear and precious to us, and I shall do all that I can to save him.” Picard paused for emphasis and raised his voice ever so slightly when he spoke again. “Even if I must save him from you,” he said.

“If you hurt us, we may die, but so will the boy. Do nothing, and the boy lives for now. You cannot defeat us. The Protector has seen to it.”

Picard turned to Worf and slid his thumb across his own throat. “You may speak freely, Sir,” Worf said. Then Picard turned again to Troi. “Counsellor, ‘Protector’?”

Troi reached out with her empathic senses but grasped nothing. “I sense that it might be a being they perceive to be a god, Captain, but there’s nothing precise in their feelings.”

“Captain,” U said. “I may have something for you on this.”

Picard faced U, an intense glare on his face, yet graced with gratitude. “You think a god is guarding these beings, U?”

“Not as such, Captain, but I think that there may be a being—something akin to the Q at work here.”

“The entire Continuum?”

“No, Captain. An individual. It happens frequently where a being like the Q or some other being of equal power adopts a planet or a race on a planet and becomes a protector for those beings, a surrogate parent or demigod from their perspective. If that’s the case, then threatening these … beings, might incur ‘the wrath of God,’ as it were. And Captain, with the Q being silent, I am unable to help defend you.”

“With due respect, Captain?” Wesley broke in.

“Yes, Wesley?”

Wesley stood and faced his Captain as he spoke. “Respectfully, Sir, it sounds to me like they’re saying something different.” He gave an expression of apology to both Picard and U.

“Explain, Wesley.”

“Well, there may be a powerful being acting as a god for the protozoans, Sir, but from how they said it, it seems to me that there is some sort of protection already in place, Sir. Not that we will immediately get an omnipotent visitor, but that the protozoans are just in no danger from us right now.”

Picard looked to U with an inviting look. “Something like the demigod version of a force field.”

“Aye, Sir,” Wesley affirmed with that same awkward smile.

“He speaks wisely, Captain. I agree, but I don’t know how that will help us.”

“It may not help, but then, we may not need to expect harm, either,” Picard said. “And if there is an entity such as the Q behind this, perhaps there is yet someone with whom we can reason.” He gave Worf the signal, and Worf responded, “You’re on, Sir.”

“Listen to me very carefully,” Picard said. “The body you inhabit belongs to a boy under my care. While you are there, you pose a danger to his life, and I shall do whatever is necessary to have you either removed or exterminated. If you comply, you have my word that I shall grant to you the same protection I give to the body you inhabit, but if you refuse, I shall come after you with whatever method is at my disposal. I offer to you once again the body of a creature from your own world for you to inhabit and safe return to your homeworld. Make this new body your home, and let us have our young one back safe and healthy.” He paused again and stepped forward on the Bridge as though it would bring him closer to the infestation. “I implore you to please give up your home so that we may have our youth back.”

“To die at home is preferable than to die as a stranger. You have spoken clearly, but we are decided. This is our home. However, since we know that the liquid flow will not grant us new life, we will not enter, and your youth might live longer. Is this a satisfactory compromise?”

Picard’s face was stone, and his heart was just as cold. “Not even close,” he said.

“And yet, we will not enter the liquid flow.”

“You leave me no alternative,” Picard said.

“We leave you no alternative. We do not need to speak with you again.”

Communication with the minute colonies was cut off, and all on the Bridge was silent.

10

When Jer and U had finished watching the log on the padd, they both sat silent for a long time. Finally, Jer shook his head sharply, “I don’t get it. They haven’t given up, have they?”

“The crew? No!” U affirmed, “they haven’t given up. Dr. Pulaski is still at work trying to find a way to cure you, and in a follow-up briefing, Lt. La Forge explained that Chief O’Brien has another idea to try.”

Jer’s face lit up with recognition. “Oh, right,” he said. “I remember him talking to Lt. La Forge about another idea just before the nurse gave me that sedative. Something about the transporter.”

U nodded. “Exactly. They want you in transporter room III tomorrow morning.”

“Another day on this thing.”

“Yes, but not in sickbay, and no more sedatives, either. But there will be a biobed in the transporter room.”

Jer yawned. “Sounds simple enough.”

“Mm,” U agreed. “It also sounds like that sedative is still in your system.”

“I think you’re right,” Jer said then yawned again.

“Well, I suggest that we take a nice long walk to Ten-Forward, and we each have a cheeseburger with lots of pickles and onions, ketchup and mustard with fries, and then have a banana split for dessert before we get you back here for the night.”

“YES! I can think of nothing I would like better.”

“Excellent,” U said, standing. “Heard any good jokes lately?” U asked.

“No good ones, but I made one up,” Jer said.

“You made up a bad joke?”

“No!” Jer protested. “It’s a great joke.”

“But you said you haven’t heard any good jokes lately.”

“True, but technically, I haven’t heard this one yet, either.”

“So, you’re going to tell a joke that you haven’t heard yet?”

“Well, if I had heard it, it would have to be a bad joke, right?”

“Good point.”

“OK, y’ready?”

“Ready.”

“Knock! Knock!” Jer said.

“Is that the joke?”

“No, you’re supposed to say, ‘who’s there’?”

“OK, who’s there”?

“U.”

“I’m knocking at my own door?”

Jer laughed as the sliding doors to his cabin met in the middle of the doorway.

11

Tensions were high in the briefing room the next afternoon. Captain Picard was clearly upset. Jeremy McKee’s life was still in danger. Chief O’Brien’s transporter attempt at curing Jer that morning was another dismal failure. Dr. Pulaski’s team were no closer than they had been when the Vibroniques idea came to the forefront, and it wasn’t for lack of effort on their part either. It wasn’t so much that the infection was so very resistant to certain toxins. It was simply that whatever toxin they might use against it was more dangerous for Jer than it was for them. It was a dogged disease.

So Captain Picard, Cmdr. Riker, Lt. Cmdr Data, Lt. La Forge, Chief O’Brien, Dr. Pulaski and Counsellor Troi met again in the observation lounge to, once again, consider what went wrong that morning and what options remained viable at present.

Picard was clearly controlling his desire to explode with rage regarding the situation. The man was scared, he was furious, he was frustrated, and he remained determined to do something to save Jeremy McKee despite whatever else might be indicating the futility of it. “Well,” he said as he sat, “once again, we find ourselves in this situation of meeting to discuss the welfare of Jeremy McKee.” He looked about the room, but no one was able to meet Picard’s eyes with any confidence. “Let’s start with your transporter idea, Chief. What went wrong?”

“Sir, technically speaking, nothing went wrong,” the tension of the situation caused the chief’s Irish accent to become more prominent as he spoke. “The transporters we have are simply not up to the task. Not yet, at least.”

“Why ‘not up to the task’?” Picard demanded.

“Sir, the Mark VI transporters are standard aboard Starfleet vessels …”

Geordi interrupted at this point. “Actually, they’re standard issue throughout the entire Federation at this point, Sir.”

“Right,” the Chief nodded toward his superior officer and his friend. “But they’re still not the ideal piece of equipment that everyone gives them credit for bein’. For example, they’re unreliable—at best—when working with unstable biomatter, but even with stable biomatter, they just can’t always do everything that we need them to do. No matter how much I might try, I just cannot attain a tight enough confinement beam to differentiate between the Protozoans and other cells in Jeremy’s body. The Mark VI is simply not capable of it, and that’s one of the reasons that the Federation has been pushing for the Mark VII transporter.”

“Which won’t be available for another two or three years, Captain,” Geordi said.

“And will be standard issue in the Federation in five years.”

“Dammit, Jeremy doesn’t have five years, gentlemen. Or three, or even two. He has days, if that. We cannot spend our time dreaming about equipment that won’t be available until its need is well past. We need to look here and now to save a human life that is in danger here and now!”

Geordi saw the Chief shrink from Picard’s fulmination and stepped up to his defence: “Sir, we are not trying to pass the buck here. You asked us what went wrong, and that’s the issue we addressed.”

Picard backed down instantly. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry, Chief. I am simply desperate to do all we can to save this boy.” He paused in an effort to maintain his emotional professionalism. “I am disheartened that the Vibroniques worked perfectly and still failed only because the protozoans refused to accede to our request, even for the life of another being. And again with the transporter, technically nothing went wrong and yet it failed, and I hear that same commentary. I do not want Jeremy McKee to be the thirteenth person aboard the Enterprise claimed by this disease. I do not want to see a young man with such potential pass on before his time, and I do not want my friend on the Saratoga to suffer any more losses than he has already.”

The chief smiled and even chuckled with compassion, shaking his head with collegiate understanding. “I sympathize completely, Sir. If I may be so bold, however, I think I can offer a piece of encouragement: It was a situation just this desperate when I was stationed aboard the Rutledge during the Setlik III massacre that made me become an engineer. I was on an away mission, and we were all hiding from a Cardassian patrol that would surely have killed us all. I had …” he shook his head as he remembered the stress, “minutes to work, but knowing the time frame and the danger was the impetus that I needed to get me to repair a field transporter—not in pretty condition—and save fourteen men from that patrol, myself included, Sir.”

“I appreciate the encouragement, Chief, but what are you trying to say?”

“Well, Sir, I’m still convinced that my idea is sound. I believe that it can be done. Let me keep working on the transporter to see if I can’t sharpen up that containment beam.”

“Very well,” Picard said decisively. “Make it so.” Then he turned to his chief medical officer. “Dr. Pulaski, I know that the situation is difficult, but I want you and your team to keep working until the very last possible moment. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Sir,” Pulaski said with conviction.

Picard looked to the entire room. “Are there any other ideas, ANYthing that we might be able to try to save this young man’s life?” he asked.

The room stood quiet. Picard turned to Dr. Pulaski. “Doctor,” he said and blew out a hesitant breath. “Is there any possibility of doing multiple organ transplants?”

“Transplants?!” Pulaski asked.

“Yes. You see, the protozoans have agreed to not enter Jeremy’s bloodstream. Unless they’re lying to us, they are confined to whatever organs they currently inhabit. So if we replace those organs, we are effectively removing the infection, are we not?”

Pulaski sat forward in her seat, resting her folded hands on the table. “Captain, with all due respect, you seem to have an oversimplified understanding of organ transplant.”

“Yes?”

“Well, yes! First, if you’re going to do biological transplants, you still need to find donors who have some degree of compatibility with the recipient in order to stave off infection and rejection. Secondly, you can’t just replace a large number of organs at one time—artificial or biological—for any number of reasons. Each organ would need to be substituted individually, and Jeremy’s body would need time—months—to recover between each transplant. Put very simply, Captain, Jeremy has neither the time nor the physical stamina for such a procedure even once. Not at this point. I’m sorry, Captain, but ethically, practically, compassionately speaking, it’s just not feasible.”

“I see,” Picard said, resigned. He remained silent for a time. “Alright,” he nodded, turning to La Forge, “Geordi, just as you had worked with your team in engineering for the Vibroniques, so I want that same team available to help Chief O’Brien in transporter room III. Understood?”

“Aye, Sir. We’re on it,” Geordi said.

“Very well, then. Dismissed,” Picard said, but he remained seated as the others began to file out of the room. Data also held back at the table, as did Counsellor Troi when the others had left the lounge, and even she was almost out the door. She halted herself for a more private word with Picard, but she needed to wait for Data who had already attained Picard’s attention.

“Sir,” Data said, standing in preparation to depart. “May I say something?”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Data.”

“It was only weeks ago when I had lost a game of Strategema to Sirna Kolrami, I believed that there had to be a defect within me.”

“Yes, I remember,” Picard said with a sense of nascent clarity of Data’s point.

“It was you who told me, and I quote, Sir, ‘It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness;’ you said, Sir, ‘that is life.’”

Picard remembered his own words, and they stung as his understanding took hold.

Data continued. “I believe that your words, Sir, apply here as well.”

Picard was stunned for a moment. He looked to Data and saw a profound expression of compassion and thought, Data has no emotion. He must be imitating the emotion without feeling it, but if so, he is doing it to such a degree that the effect surpasses that of most humanoid’s authentic expression. Then he nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Data.”

Data nodded, the look of compassion resting on his face. He turned to depart.

Picard watched Data leave and saw Troi standing at the exit. “Yes, Counsellor?” he said. “How can I help you?” She returned to her seat at the table beside him and sat. She crossed her legs and laced her fingers around her knee, indicating that he was now under her orders.

“I … uh, … I think that it might be safe to say that none of this needs to be happening, Counsellor,” Picard said.

Troi considered his words for a moment then shook her head. He hadn’t really said anything. “Meaning what?”

Picard grimaced with guilt as he spoke: “There was a point earlier on in this mission when Q met with me in the corridor and offered me, in exchange for not granting U the exoneration he so clearly deserves, the cure to Jeremy’s illness.”

“I see,” Troy said with a well-rehearsed flatness. No judgment, no condemnation, but no conclusion either. “And you declined his offer, I take it.”

“I certainly did.”

Despite Picard’s strong response, Troi knew that there was regret behind his choice. She chose to prod further. “Why?”

Picard turned away from the counsellor and stood. He walked toward the rear exit of the lounge then stopped with his back to her. “My own fumbling arrogance mostly.”

Troi turned in her chair so that, even though she was unable to see his face, he, nevertheless, would be able to see hers immediately should he turn back toward her, and he would see that there was no judgment in her expression. There was no condemnation in her eyes, no doubt of his person, his authority or his office. Just another person willing and eager to listen. “Arrogance concerning what?”

Then he did turn to her. “I didn’t like to be beholding to him, Counsellor.” He turned away once again, betraying a sense of shame at what he was saying, thinking and feeling. “Not him! I didn’t like the idea of making a bargain with a being I neither like nor trust. I didn’t want to shake hands with a being whose touch, I felt, would soil my being. Even the invitation to the bargain that he suggested was vile to me. It offended me to have to stoop so low, Counsellor.”

Troi made no hint of betrayal of her thoughts, but in her heart, were she asked, and were she to give an honest answer, she would have said that she was congratulating him at every step, but she couldn’t say that. So instead, she asked, “And why is that?”

“Because at the end of our encounter with the Borg, I was humiliated, and I was manoeuvred into that situation by the very being who so humiliated me. I was powerless to do other than to be humiliated on my Bridge, on my ship, with my crew! And I refused to be so manoeuvred again, Counsellor. Not by him. Never again.”

“I see.”

“And so I considered …”

“You … considered?”

“Mm-hmm. That’s right. I considered the facts around me. There was still time for Jeremy, so very young and strong. No conflicting jobs were needing to be done, so two teams from my crew could work almost entirely uninterrupted to either find a cure or a means to communicate diplomatically. And I saw no reason that we couldn’t take that time to find the answer on our own.”

“And if you did find the solution, then you could wave it in Q’s face.”

Picard blanched, but he responded with honesty: “Yes, Counsellor, that’s precisely correct.”

Troi smiled sympathetically. “Captain, regardless of the emotional component, you still made a command decision based on the circumstances as you understood them at the time, and it was the right decision based on the available facts. No one would criticize you for your choice to allow your crew to do their jobs. You needn’t punish yourself with guilt and remorse.”

“The right choice or not, Counsellor, it still has as its foundation my arrogant childishness. And now not even U can seem to contact Q to see about him playing the physician for Jeremy’s sake. Whenever you want him around, Q is not anywhere to be found.”

Troi nodded, conceding Picard his point. “And, unless Q returns unexpectedly, you’ll have to live with the consequences of your choice and however they may affect Jeremy. Captain, as difficult as that might be, at least you have the assurance of knowing that, regardless of the foundation of your choice, there is likely no reputable captain in Starfleet who would have made a different choice.”

“I appreciate that, Counsellor. And even while all that you say is true, the conflict remains.”

Troi stood in preparation to depart, “And yet, Captain, you are now better prepared and equipped to resolve that conflict.”

Picard smiled wanly, “I still have to contact my old friend, Jeremy’s grandfather, to inform him of the events of the last two days.”

Troi looked down for a moment. This was a task that she had had to do for other people during her tenure as ship’s counsellor, but it was never an enviable task, to be sure. When she looked up again, she carried an expression of sympathy and understanding as she nodded. “I’ll leave you to that, Captain. If you need me afterwards …”

“Thank you, Counsellor. If I need you, I shall avail myself of your services promptly.”

“Good luck, Sir.”

Picard smiled as Troi turned to depart. He tapped his communicator. “Picard to Worf.”

“Worf here, Sir.”

“Lieutenant, put in a message for Commodore Nigel Molitor aboard the Saratoga. Priority one.”

“Aye, Sir.”

As Picard waited, he took his customary seat, reclined, folded his hand before him and closed his eyes. His goal was not to sleep but to calm himself and try to regain the right mindset. Moments later, Worf spoke up: “Worf to Picard.”

Picard sat up and cleared his throat before tapping his com badge. “Picard here.”

“Commodore Molitor on subspace for you, Captain.”

“Thank you, Mr. Worf. Pipe it into the observation lounge.”

“Aye, Sir.”

When the commodore’s face appeared on the monitor, and he saw Picard’s expression, he knew all that he needed to know. He let out a long breath but said nothing.

“Nigel, I …”

The commodore cut Picard off by waving a hand at the monitor. “Later,” he said. “I get it, but I need time.” And then he cut the link, leaving Picard alone with only his reflection in his own monitor.

 

12

Later that evening, after a good time of laughter in Ten-Forward, Data and U walked with Jer back to his quarters. Jer had had a burger and fries—for the second day in a row—and two banana splits, while U enjoyed a hot-fudge sundae, and Data enjoyed the company of the other two. The three of them told stories about their time on the Enterprise and the people they had come to know. These were topics they could all enjoy.

With a puzzled expression, Data related an incident from the time just as the crew of the Enterprise was nearly assembled for her first mission. Lt. La Forge had told a joke on the Bridge with the punchline, “The clown can stay, but the Ferengi in the gorilla suit has to go.” After hearing the entire story with its hilarious climax, Jer and U met each other’s eyes for an instant before they both broke into laughter, leaving Data acknowledging to himself that humour is a difficult concept to appreciate.

Not much later, Jer finally began to show signs of fatigue. It started with yawning, but eventually, he simply had trouble staying awake. “I’m sorry you guys, but I think that the sedative that Dr. Pulaski gave me yesterday is still with me.”

Data frowned in an observational sort of way. “That is not likely, Jer. That sedative would more likely have fully left your system by last evening. I suggest …” He was about to suggest a physical ailment might be causing the fatigue, as severe as it seemed to be, but he caught sight of U’s scolding gaze, and he quickly changed directions when he understood. “ … that the antics of this evening’s conversations and humour coupled with such an inordinately large meal in relation to the size and weight of your body may be the actual culprit.” His tone changed dramatically, then, as he seemed to be quoting someone’s grandmother suddenly: “It is nothing that a good night’s sleep will not cure,” and he nodded for emphasis.

U smiled weakly but spoke with greater strength. “I think it might be time to get you back to your quarters. Guinan would be most displeased were you to try to get a good night’s sleep in Ten-Forward.”

“Agreed,” Data added.

Jer said nothing, but obediently followed the lead of the two adults, standing up, pushing in his chair and heading for Ten-Forward’s exit. But even though he was doing what he was told, Data’s words were already at work in the back of Jer’s mind. Finally, in the turbo lift, he asked the two, “The crew—sickbay and Engineering—they haven’t … you know, stopped working … for me, have they?”

“Indeed not,” Data said. “Both voluntarily and under orders, Chief O’Brien and Lt. La Forge are still trying to reconfigure the confinement beam of the transporter to remove your infection by force, and Dr. Pulaski and her team are still working and researching in sickbay. No one has forgotten about you, Jer.”

Jer nodded, mildly comforted, but he still knew that the disease within him was busily at work for his detriment. There was a long pause before Jer spoke again. “Can I tell you guys something? Kind of a secret?”

“Of course, Jer,” U said.

“My lips are sealed,” Data said, and he made a zipping gesture across his lips to demonstrate.

Jer shook his head in mild embarrassment. “Well, y’know that powerful being you encountered so far away, U. The one you’re embarrassed to talk about.”
U’s look of surprise was the stuff of comics, and Jer smiled wholeheartedly. “I’m not embarrassed to talk about him, Jer. I’m more afraid that broad discussions about that being will lead me to talk about things that I promised I wouldn’t while I’m aboard the Enterprise. In any event, though, I know who you mean.”

“Well,” Jer continued, “I … ‘called out ’ to him yesterday.”

“How did you do that,” U asked. “It’s not like you knew his name or something.”

“I just, kinda’—I dunno—let my mind call to ‘the being who spoke with U.’”

“And?”

“I asked him to save me,” Jer said. “Do you think he heard me?”

“Yes, I do,” U said without hesitation.

“Do you think he will save me?”

“What do you think?” U asked.

“I really think that he can,” Jer confessed, “I’m just not sure that he will.”

“Hmm,” U observed. “I don’t agree with you, Jer.”

“Really?”

“Really. I think that simply because you asked, he will answer.”

“No foolin’!”

“Trust me, Jer,” U said with assurance. “He may not answer exactly how you expect him to, but he will answer, and he’ll surprise you in ways that you can’t even try to expect.”

By this point, the three were standing outside Jer’s quarters. “Well, thanks, you guys. I had a lot of fun,” Jer said.

“I also have experienced sensory input patterns that are not at all displeasing,” Data said.

“Mr. Data,” Jer said, “you sound like a creepy old man talking that way,” and U chortled. “Do you kiss your mother with those lips?”

Data looked positively stunned. “I have no mother to my knowledge,” he said.

“G’night, Jer,” U said with a giggle.

“G’night both of you,” Jer said and entered his apartment.

As the doors stood closed, Data asked, “U, did you mean what you said to Jer about his request of a supernatural being whose name neither of you even know?”

“Every word, Data.”

“Hmm,” Data said. “And what do you anticipate will be this being’s response to Jer’s … request?”

“Data, I haven’t a clue,” U said, and the two men strode down the corridor together. “My instinct tells me that the answer will not be what Jer is thinking, but it will be better,” he paused. “But that’s just a gut feeling,” he said, the two turned a corner in the corridor.

“Interesting,” Data observed. “I shall be curious to see how it turns out.”

“As will I, Data.”

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