Generation Gab

Generation Gab

 By Jay Andrew

Dealing with a midlife crisis, Captain Jean-Luc Picard undergoes some pretty tough therapy in the holodek … from a surprising therapist. 

 

You’re a wuss, Picard!”

“I beg your pardon?” said the captain of the Enterprise,dragging his right palm back across his smooth, white fuzz-fringed pate.

“Wuss, Picard. W-U-S-S. Late 20th Century coloke for sissy.” The man speaking stood with legs spread wide, hands on hips, looking ready to pick a fight with anyone or anything in the galaxy that got in his way.

Picard assumed his stern-captain face. “You think I’m a sissy? Listen, I’ve got a good mind to …”

“… to do what, Gene Luc?” said the man, derisively using the American feminine pronunciation instead of the French masculine one. “You’ve come to me, don’t forget. You need me.”

Picard started to protest, but stopped himself. Using his thin forearms to push himself up from his chair, he gave the upper portion of his black and red Federation uniform a brisk downward yank and strode past the man toward the door.

“End program,” he called over his shoulder.

Everything around Picard evaporated – the windows, the book-filled shelves, the chair and ottoman, and the other man, but not before he had just enough time to shout:

“Better change the name U.S.S. Enterprise to W.U.S.S. Enterprise … Gene Luc.”

Damn it all, thought Picard as he exited Holodeck One, the door whooshing behind him. Why did he let a holographic image infuriate himself so?

It was the second time that week Picard had slipped away from the Bridge to run the Holodeck program created for him by his science officer. Only he and Data knew about the program, and certainly the android could be trusted, for Picard had threatened to lay a can opener to him if he leaked the secret.

Hearing that, Data had cocked his head slightly and given Picard his familiar “query” look.

“Let’s just say, Mr. Data, I’d prefer to keep this on the Q.T.” Data instantaneously accessed the obscure reference to privacy and assured the captain his vocal aperture was sealed.

Customized for and accessible by no one but Jean Luc Picard, Holodeck program PIKIRK-43 was a high-tech therapy course in which the captain was sole patient. Its database comprised millions of terabytes of information about him, his starship and crew, past missions and present-day protocol and technology. Also included was every conceivable detail about the “therapist” Picard had selected, a man for whom his respect and admiration, though lately grudging, were boundless.

The man was Captain James T. Kirk, Picard’s legendary predecessor.

Preoccupied by in his irritation over Kirk’s churlish final remark – Kirk always had to have the last word – Picard crashed head-on into his security officer’s massive, metal-belted chest. Worf was at that very moment searching for his superior.

“Captain!” he reumbled. “I was on my way to escort you to the Bridge. You were in Holodeck?”

“Just taking teatime at my club in London,” Picard fibbed. Is there a problem?”

None, Worf assured him. But since the captain had been incommunicado past the regulation limit, he had been concerned.

With the towering, stone-faced Klingon at his side, Picard entered the nearest turbolift, commanded transport to Bridge level, and soon was seated on the central command bench next to his second in command. Counselor Troi hovered nearby, watching Picard closely. Looming before them was the huge viewing monitor, brilliantly aglow with speeding stellar light-trails that resembled incredible, high-budget special effects.

“Report, Number One!” barked Picard, without looking at his second in command.

As Ryker briefed him, the captain’s mind warp-sped back through his most recent conversation with Kirk, which had basically come down to one question: Who was the better commander – Jean Luc Picard or James Tiberius Kirk?

The ongoing dialogue between the two Enterprise generations stemmed from what Picard had to admit was a full-blown mid-life crisis. His fiftieth birthday had passed recently – by orders, a low-key observance – and Picard had lately found himself plagued by ennui and a growing dissatisfaction with himself and his crew.

Even Ryker, a close friend and confidant, had lately become a target of Picard’s disapproval. Two-bit intergalactic Don Juan, Picard thought every time he looked at Will. Fat-assed jerk grew a beard just annoy me. Now he’s got more damn hair on his face that I’ve go on my whole body. Jesus!

“ … awaiting your order, Captain,” said Ryker.

Picard snapped to. “No deviation from plan … dead ahead … engage … whatever.”

“Sir?”

“You have the Bridge, Number One. I’ll be in my quarters if you need me.” Picard fled, leaving behind a perplexed Ryker and Troi.

Back in his cabin, Picard stripped down to his briefs and donned a kimono-style robe, attaching his Star Fleet insignia-communicator. He opened the wall panel to his Ablutions Nook and peered into the mirror.

Picard had never liked his own face, once described by an angry Romulan (weren’t they always angry?) as that of a bald ferret. It wasn’t just that he was bald. As baldness went, his was sexy, according to Beverly Crusher, the Enterprise’s head physician. Once, high on some weird alien energy, she had attempted to seduce him in the Med Lab. He had almost given in but then resisted – after all, he was her superior officer – but secretly Picard had been flattered, and for afterwards indulged from time to time in most un-superior fantasies about his doctor.

Well, he could live with the baldness – no Tribble-hair rug for him! – but to him his face seemed so bland. Not like Worf’s, furrowed like a space map in relief. Or Data’s, pasty and metallic, but with those incredibly piercing yellow eyes. Not even Number One’s, whom some had observed, was vaguely reminiscent of a very young James Kirk, whose portrait hung in the ship’s library next to Chris Pike’s, the Enterprise’s first pilot, young and handsome before his horrendous accident.

The inescapable truth, Picard feared, was that if he were not a starship captain, no one would take so much as a lunch order from him. Even Dr. Crusher once needed an alien aphrodisiac to find him attractive.

Picard opened his robe and surveyed his pale body. More than hairless, it looked unfinished, like a young boy’s. And though he was relieved not to have a rear end like Number One’s, which grew larger with every mission, he couldn’t help but think Ryker’s bulk made him look more commanding than he, puny Picard.

So there he was: bald, bland, boring. Maybe Kirk was right. Maybe he really was a wuss. He certainly looked like one. Picard turned from the mirror and paced his stateroom.

Kirk! Now there was a slam-bang guy who exuded authority, with a face and form to back it up.

For one thing, he had a full head of hair. True, the hair mysteriously changed in mass, color and style over his tenure on the Enterprise (Picard had noticed this viewing Kirk’s personal logs). Also true was that James T’s waist had progressively expanded, though ever-looser wraparound tunics did a fair job of hiding it.

But the holographic image Data had programmed into the Holodeck program was that of a very young Kirk – lean, muscular, tough as a Klingon’s brow. That was Picard’s image of Kirk, both inside and outside Holodeck.

Picard’s communicator chirped twice. “Troi here, captain. Request permission to visit you in your quarters.”

“I’m resting, Counselor. Can it wait?”

“A moment of your time, Jean Luc. Please.”

Seconds later, Deanna Troi was sitting opposite Picard in one corner of his antique-strewn quarters.

“I’ve noticed, sir – felt – that you haven’t been youself lately.”

Really, Counselor Troi? And just what is the myself I haven’t been?”

“You know, Jean Luc, the way we all think of you – the captain. Strong, steady, immensely commanding in your own quiet way.”

Picard shut his eyes briefly, recalling that Kirk had once told him how sick he got of Dr. McCoy’s carping and meddling. And he wasn’t even ESP-endowed.

“And how am I behaving differently, may I ask?”

“Difficult to put my finger on, Jean Luc, but you seem uncharacteristically withdrawn. Passive. Almost, well …”

“Wussy, Counselor?”

“Sir?”

“Skip it. You’ll have to excuse me now; I’m really very tired. May we resume this conversation later? Please don’t worry about me, Deanna. I’m fine. Truly.”

Picard walked Troi to the door, thanked her for her interest, and gently nudged her into the corridor. He noted the concern on her face, but before she should say anything else he ducked back into his cabin and watched the door slide between them.

Picard sat on his bed for two minutes, waiting to be sure Troi was gone. He then re-dressed, tapped his communicator pin, and, using an intricate password, alerted the computer to boot PIKIRK-43. Three minutes later he was facing a smirking Kirk.

“You’re back sooner than usual, Gene. Having a bad day in the cosmos?”

“Sit down, Jim, and belay the flippancy. We need to settle this thing once and for all. I’ve got a ship to run.”

“As Spock would say, Jean Luc, I’m all ears.”

“Look, Jim, you were a great Star Fleet captain in your day. Perhaps not everyone thought so – the history books show that you were crossways with half the galaxy – but nobody disagrees that your missions were space-breaking.”

“Make your point, Jean Luc.”

“I’m captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise now, and, to put it kindly, I’m a different kind of man than you are … were.”

“You? Hell, you don’t even know whether you’re a Frog or a Limey.”

“I’ll thank you not to impugn my ancestry, Kirk. I am of both French and British descent,” said Picard, defensively, “and extremely proud of it.”

“Relax, Jean Luc. Just pulling your chain.”

“As I was saying” – Picard was determined not to let Kirk get to him – “I’ve had some doubts about my own leadership abilities, lately, and …”

“Now there’s a Vulcan understatement …”

“…and so – I told you to stow the wisecracks, dammit, Kirk; you sound like a Ferengi – I cooked up a bit of holographic un-reality to do a bit of reality check on myself.”

“Right. You’ve told me that before. So when are we going to see some results?”

“Listen, Kirk, I’m looking for your input, not your well-documented sarcasm!”

“Apologies, Jean Luc. Proceed.”

“The type of leader you were was perhaps acceptable for your time, but times are different; things have changed.”

“Illuminate me.”

“You were a space cowboy, Jim. Warp-a-long Kirk, phaser guns ablaze, posse in tow, galloping around the Final Frontier on your faithful Enterprise, always gunning for a showdown. Practically every mission was like a Gunfight at some deep-space O.K. Corral, which, as I recall, you actually once visited.”

“What’s wrong with that? We had a five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations – that took boldness. Spock, Chekov, Sulu, all of us loved the action. “I can still see Sulu leaping around the ship, waving his samurai, that time a bunch of us got some bad pollen. What a gang!”

“That’s how you thought of yourselves, Jim. A gang. Nowadays we think of ourselves as an ensemble.”

On-som-bell?”

Team, Jim. One that’s more into plowshares than swords, as it were. We don’t go around whupping on some poor alien these days just because he’s got long wiggly things hanging off his nose. Brains over brawn, that’s what’s in.”

“Brawn I can see you’re short on, Picard. But you’re telling me you’ve got brains? Aren’t you the boy who got himself turned into a Borg!”

Unwilling to revisit the dreadful memory of his temporary transformation into a cyborg, Picard ignored the reproach. “Well … yes … I do prefer the cognitive approach. We all do. Take Dr. Crusher …”

“I’d like to take her … now there’s some bones I wouldn’t mind crushing.

“Ah, the infamous Kirk libido rears its head …”

“Sorry, but c’mon – this big redhead with the goofy kid you were always promoting till you finally got wise and dumped on Star Fleet Academy – don’t tell me you really like having some med tricorder-toting dame look up your …”

“Kirk, you were a Shatnarian chauvinist pig. Fathers in every dimension known to science had to keep their daughters locked up.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s not a compliment, and you know it. As I said, every one of my officers, male and female, has a brain and uses it.”

“Oh, really? What about your so-called Number One, Picard? Me, I’d rank him down around thirty-eight if he were in my command.”

“Ryker is a superb officer.”

“Cut the crap, Jean Luc. You’ve already told me how you feel about that overstuffed boy scout. What a doofus! Struts around in an outfit that fits like a burlap bag. Jumps anything that moves.”

“I’ll admit Ryker’s a bit of thorn lately. Thank goodness for Counselor Troi.”

“Troi! You can’t even have a dirty thought without her knowing about it. Nosy damned Betazoids – you can have ‘em all! And that crackpot mother of hers who’s forever dropping in, hitting on you … ”

“Yes, the woman can be exasperating. But what about Worf? Security officers like him are rare, indeed.”

“That hulking no-neck? And you call me quick on the draw. Hell, Worf would sooner vaporize you as look at you. Klingons! Ever see him crack a smile? A real comedian, that one. Marches around like he’s got a phaser rifle up his wazoo. What’s he doing on a Federation starship, anyway? In my day, his kind was the enemy!”

“That’s what I’m trying to explain, Jim. Your enemies are now our friends. Political correctness is now corollary to the new Prime Directive.

“Don’t give me that space crap, Picard. Where’s your hot African with the communicator thing in her ear? Your Asian? Your Ruskie? …

“ . . . and let’s talk about the new Enterprise, Jean Luc. Sure, it’s bigger, faster, loaded with bells and whistles. But the damn thing’s as dull as a Model T. No color, no flash. Old NCC-1701 – Kirk sounded wistful – was like a ’57 Chevy convert with dual exhausts and candy-striped upholstery. You know … cool.”

“Model T? Chevy?”

“Twentieth Century automobiles, Picard. I thought you knew your antiques. You really are a wuss, aren’t you?”

“Why do you persist in calling me that?”

“Oh Lord, where do I begin? For one thing, all you ever do is sit around and ponder. And then you send somebody else off to do the dirty work. Me, I never missed the action.”

“Especially when there was an opportunity to blow off kneecaps or shag an alien female,” Picard shot back.

“Yeah, well, at least there wasn’t any doubt I liked girls.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Kirk?”

“You know what they say about Brits and poofs – hard to tell ‘em apart.”

“I resent that, Kirk.”

“Hey, if the space boot fits, Picard … okay, okay, just kidding … it’s just that you don’t always take charge like captains are supposed to. Like I did. Hell, I’ll bet every time you have to make a tough decision you put it to a vote: All in favor of transferring ship’s power to the shields before we’re phaser-blasted into ten quadrillion little pieces, say aye.”

“Careful, Kirk, or I’ll shut you down.”

“That’s exactly what I mean, Picard. The minute the going gets rough, you shut down. Wuss out. Look, you asked me.”

Kirk glanced at the chronometer on the panel behind Kirk. He was running behind schedule. Worf would be lurking outside Holodeck, waiting with questions.

“Wind it up, Kirk, I’m due back on the Bridge. Again, why am I a wuss?”

“Oh, you’re a pretty fair captain, Picard. Maybe some of your missions are dressed-up reruns of mine, but that’s not your fault. Missions are created by a Supreme Consciousness.”

“I never heard you sound so profound, Jim.”

“Yeah, well, even we space cowboys have our moments. Anyway, I can’t say you haven’t had plenty of close shaves – and I don’t mean just the top of your head. Like the time you crash-landed on that planetoid with the Crusher kid and almost bought it. Just the boredom would have done me in.”

“We were on our way to Space Academy,” Picard reminisced.

“Yeah. Daddy taking sonny to school the first day.”

“Kirk!”

“I’ll admit that you’ve definitely gone where no one has gone before – we had the cajones to say where no man has gone before, before all that P.C. crap. But for sure, you and your on-som-bell have tangled with some pretty bad dudes.”

Picard flashed on the unhappy memory of the mission in which his former security officer, Lieutenant Yar, was slimed to death by the Tar creature. He’d really admired Yar’s spunk, and frankly, found her a lot easier to look at than her then-security aide, Worf. Now that he thought of it, he had been safely on the ship’s Bridge when Yar suffered her abrupt and unceremonious death on the planet below. A wuss-out?

“ … but still, Jean Luc, you’ve got this Tin Man of a science officer to run to every time a human can’t cut it. What a name – Data!” We didn’t have no stinking robots on my watch, although Mr. Spock did come pretty close.

“…and then there’s this so-called arch villain you bump into every time you turn around – what’s his name, Q? Reminds me of that foppy guy who kept bugging me, Trelane. Boy, I’d love to get those two wackos in one room …”

Kirk was really on a roll.

“ … and what’s up with that blind handyman of yours, Picard? La Forge – had a chance to get his sight back and decided to keep that silly visor with the left and right-turn blinker lights. Do you not see something a bit odd about a blind engineer tending to your ship’s innards? Scotty’s spinning in his grave.”

Picard checked the chronometer again.

“One last thing, Picard. Who in the name of Roddenberry is your ship’s tailor? Those uniforms you people wear, those silly one-piece deals. Some of the women don’t look half-bad, but you guys look ridiculous. How do you take a leak, for chrissakes?”

Enough! Picard had heard all he needed to hear. Thanks to his dialogue and debate with Kirk over the weeks, he had come to see that neither strengths nor flaws defined each man, but rather the combination of strengths and flaws. Yes, he and his predecessor were vastly different in style and skills and undeniably products of their own times – yet they were equally powerful as men, equally qualified as starship commanders. Picard found himself feeling tremendous gratiutude toward James T. Kirk.

Plus, his “therapist” had given him a smashing idea.

“Computer, end Program!” he commanded, and Captain Kirk instantly vanished, this time, blessedly, without final comment.

“Picard to Ryker.”

“Good to hear from you, sir. We were worried.”

“All’s well.” Picard was feeling quite well. Better than he had in months.

“Have Data meet me in my quarters immediately.”

Back in his cabin, Picard pulled a large trunk from his closet. Inside, amidst books, old photos, and assorted souvenirs, was an antique black machine. He lifted it out. It was metal and plastic, about two feet wide, one foot high, and heavy. On its side panel were the almost-faded yellow letters S, I, and part of either an N or M. Picard gently set the machine on his desk.

The cabin door beeped softly, signaling Data’s arrival.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Ah, Mr. Data, come in. I want you to de-activate Computer Program PIKIRK-43 immediately. It has served its purpose.”

“Yes, captain,” replied Data. He turned to go.

“One more thing – please examine that mechanical device on my desk.”

The science officer did so.

“Fascinating relic. Sixth or seventh decade 20th Century, I would say. Extremely serviceable in its time.”

“You are correct, Mr. Data, and it is a cherished heirloom. I wish you to make it operational.”

“Understood, sir. I shall repair it immediately.”

Picard affected his most authoritative voice:

“Make it sew, Mr. Data. Make my Singer sew.”

 

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Copyright © 2011 Jay Andrew 
All rights reserved.