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Worlds away, on the planet Earth in the area known as Alaska, Captain Jean-Luc Picard rose from the table at which he sat, and for a moment, gazed beyond the people gathered before him at his magnificent surroundings: the Denali mountain range, snow-capped against a blue sky. The open-air pavilion was heated to a comfortable temperature, but on occasion, Picard drew in a breath of cold, pristine oxygen tinged with evergreen.
The natural beauty only added to the poignancy of the moment: to gather himself, Picard concentrated on the discomfort generated by his white-dress jacket, the white tunic beneath fitted tightly at the neck, and kept his expression resolute, even stern.
"Duty," he intoned, to the officers at the bride and groom's table with him. To his right sat Beverly; to his left, Will Riker and Deanna Troi, flanked by Geordi, Data, and Worf. In front of the large, central table were dozens of smaller ones, occupied by other crewmates and friends. "A starship captain's life is filled with solemn duty. I have commanded men in battle. I have negotiated peace treaties between implacable enemies. I have represented the Federation in first contact with twenty-seven alien species. But none of this compares to my solemn duty as..." He paused for effect. "Best man."
From their center seats at the table, Will and Deanna laughed along with the rest of the guests -- all except Data, who watched the ritual with avid curiosity. Deanna's skin seemed to radiate the precise color of her gown -- iridescent pale rose, gleaming like a newfound pearl. Quite a bit of skin there was, too, with the low-cut, sleeveless bodice, but her legs were covered by the sweeping skirt. One shoulder bore a corsage of cabbage roses; a cascade of roses swirled about the skirt from waist to hem.
A pink pearl, Picard thought, amidst a sea of white and gray uniforms; all officers other than the captain wore gray tunics beneath their white dress jackets.
He continued to feign sternness, though his mood was a mixture of joy and melancholy. "Now, I know that on an occasion such as this it is expected that I be gracious and fulsome with praise on the wonders of this blessed union...But have you two considered what you're doing to me? Of course you're happy! But what about my needs?! This is all a damned inconven-ience..." He continued despite the crowd's laughter. "While you're happily settling in on the Titan, I'll have to train my new first officer. You all know him. He's a steely sort of fellow who knows every word of every paragraph of every regulation by heart; a stern martinet who will never, ever, allow me to go on away missions."
He glanced at the golden-faced android, Data, who looked up at him with those peculiarly guileless eyes. "That is the regulation, sir," Data said earnestly. "Starfleet Code section twelve, paragraph four -- "
"Data," Picard countered, in a more casual tone.
More laughter came from the crowd, especially Deanna, whose dark hair was swept up into a graceful chignon. Picard turned his sights on her and affected his best curmudgeonly tone.
"Then there's the matter of my new counselor," he said. "No doubt they'll assign me some soft-spoken, willowy thing who'll probe into my darkest psyche as she nods her head and coos sympathetically. Isn't that right, Deanna?"
The broad grin disappeared from Deanna's face; instead, she conjured a wide-eyed, strikingly concerned expression and cooed -- sympathetically, of course. Beverly, who had served as matron of honor, leaned toward her laughingly and clapped.
"I notice Doctor Crusher laughing along with the rest of you," Picard continued. "As most of you know, the doctor will also soon be leaving the Enterprise, to assume command of Starfleet Medical." He spread his hands in mock supplication. "Again, I'm forced to ask, Beverly, have you considered what you're doing to me? I'll probably get some old battle-axe of a doctor who'll tell me to eat my vegetables and put me on report if I don't show up for my physical on time."
"It'll serve you right," Beverly called back spiritedly.
Picard sighed and regarded Will and Deanna again. "Really, it's not too late to reconsider..." And when they both, grinning, shook their heads, he added, "No? Very well then." At last, he surrendered his sarcastic tone, raised his glass, and smiled affectionately at the two.
"Will Riker," he said. "You have been my trusted right arm for fifteen years, you have helped keep my course true and steady." He paused to gaze at the bride. "Deanna Troi, you have been my conscience and guide, you have helped me to recognize the best parts of myself." To both he said, "You are my family. And in proper maritime tradition, I wish you clear horizons...My friends, make it so."
Picard and the rest of those gathered upended their glasses.
A band had begun to play, and the guests to mingle; Picard began to make his way toward Riker and Crusher, but in midstride he paused once again to take in the three-hundred-and-sixty-degree sight of the Denali range, framed at its base by stands of tall evergreens. The mountains, white set against glistening white, formed a jagged horizon against the clear Earth-blue sky. They appeared permanent, eternal: but in spring, Picard knew, their collective face would change; great patches of white would give way to dark earth and dark greenery, giving a dappled light-and-shadow effect.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, his brother Robert had always said, but Picard saw no validity in the statement -- especially not on this day. Things were changing, quite radically in fact, and he failed to see how his life would ever be the same.
Beverly Crusher appeared before him -- much older than on the day they first met, something less of a mystery, but certainly no less beautiful, with her red-gold hair that seemed a reflection of her warm personality. His maudlin thought must have affected his expression, for she picked up on his feelings at once and teased, "Sort of like losing a son and gaining an empath, isn't it?"
Picard grimaced sourly at her. "You're being a big help."
She put a hand lightly on the crook of his elbow and said playfully into his ear, "If you start tearing up I promise to beam you out. Level one medical emergency."
He had to smile at that. As the two of them made their way through the crowd toward Will and Deanna, young Wesley Crusher -- surprisingly mature-looking in a Starfleet lieutenant's uniform -- crossed their path.
Wesley grinned broadly. "Mom!" Then, with a more formal air as he straightened his shoulders, added: "Captain."
"Hello, Wesley," Picard said easily. "It's good to see you back in uniform."
"Suits him, doesn't it?" Beverly said. She was suddenly incandescent with pride; Picard tried to imagine what it would have been like to raise a child, then finally see him one day grown and in uniform, and felt the stirrings of wistful jealousy. There were many paths he had chosen not to take in his life -- children included -- and Beverly's proximity served to remind him of other lost opportunities.
Nevertheless, he returned Wesley's grin. "Are you looking forward to serving on the Titan?"
Lieutenant Crusher's words tumbled out with the enthusiasm of youth. "Very much. I have the night duty shift in engineering, we have a double-refracting warp core matrix with twin inter-mix chambers that..." He stopped abruptly, his attention seized by the appearance of a young woman who waved in his direction. "Oh, excuse me. See you later, Mom."
At once he was off, in pursuit of the girl. Picard could only smile and gently shake his head at the fleeting attention span of youth; had he ever really been that young? Beverly's smile was a bit more rueful.
Once again, they headed for Troi and Riker.
Nearby, Engineer Geordi La Forge sat at the bar nursing a glass of synthehol while talking with Guinan. Like most of his crewmates, he was in a state of near-shock: Troi and Riker had been an item years before they worked together on the Enterprise, and for their several years as crewmates, they had remained good friends, nothing more. (Although, of course, LaForge had always known Will Riker was still carrying feelings for Deanna.) Then the courtship began anew -- but the notion that the couple might actually make their relationship more permanent -- well, it just seemed like one of those things crew members liked to speculate about, but which would never happen, rather like Captain Picard suddenly professing love for Dr. Crusher.
La Forge shook his head, laughing. "I still can't believe he finally popped the question!"
Ever-serene and self-confident, Guinan leaned forward to prop her elbows against the bar. "What makes you so sure he popped the question?"
"Counselor Troi?" Geordi set down his flute and raised his eyebrows. "You gotta be kidding." He had always thought of Commander Riker being the one to pursue Troi, of Riker having to convince Troi to love him -- but perhaps he, Geordi, had always thought of things that way because he was male, and it always seemed to him that he had to work to earn a female's affection. Or did the insecurity work both ways?
"You have to keep an eye on us quiet, soulful types," Guinan said mysteriously, her lips curving upward in the small smile-that-was-not-quite-a-smile.
Her answer gave Geordi a thought, and that thought made him grin. "You ever think about getting married again?"
Guinan looked past him, at the Alaskan skyline, her voice trailing. "Maybe..." And then her gaze and voice promptly returned. "But like I always say, why buy the Denubian seacow when you can get the milk for free?"
Geordi barely snickered, then picked up his glass; as he did, the Klingon Worf sat heavily, with a slight groan, on the stool beside him. The normally bronze skin beneath Worf's eyes was ashen, his thick eyebrows knit together beneath his bony forehead, which was furrowed even more deeply than usual. The Klingon had continued to let his hair grow, and now wore it in a simple braid down his back.
"Romulan ale should be illegal," Worf rasped. He referred, of course, to Riker's bachelor party, held the night before: the Klingon had been less than circumspect in his imbibing.
Geordi dared not smile, but he did allow himself the comment, "It is."
"Then it should be more illegal," Worf said with conviction. He groaned -- loudly this time -- and set his head down on the table while Geordi and Guinan shared a knowing glance.
Meanwhile, Picard and Crusher had at last made their way to Will Riker and Deanna Troi.
Troi smiled warmly at Picard with her ebony eyes, and touched his forearm with her hand. "It was a lovely toast."
"It was from the heart," Picard said honestly.
"And you needn't worry," Deanna added. "I'll brief your new counselor on everything she needs to know."
"The hell you will," the captain replied with gruff humor. "You already know too much about me. Now you promised there are no speeches during the ceremony on Betazed."
Will and Deanna shared a bemused look. Should I remind him? Will's expression asked, and Deanna's said, Go ahead.
"No, no speeches," Riker said, failing entirely to hide the impishness in his eyes. "No clothes, either."
Picard gave him a sharp look -- apparently he'd assumed that non-Betazoid guests were exempt from this traditional marital ritual -- but his former second-in-command wasn't joking, even though his new wife laughed at Picard's reaction.
Before Picard could come up with a witty reply, the band stopped playing; at the sound of Data's voice, all turned to face the bandstand.
"Ladies and gentlemen and invited transgendered species...In my study of Terran and Betazoid conjugal rites I have discovered it is traditional to present the 'happy couple' with a gift. Given Commander Riker's affection for archaic musical forms I have elected to present the following as my gift in honor of their conjugation."
Will shot Deanna an amused glance. Conjugation?
Data began to recite a verse; gradually, the band joined in.
"Never saw the sun
Shining so bright,
Never saw things
Going so right,
Noticing the days
When you're in love,
My how they fly!"
The band launched full voice into a style that Picard recognized as twentieth-century Earth swing. Data began to sing:
Smiling at me,
Nothing but blue skies
Do I see.
Singing a song,
Nothing but bluebirds
All day long."
The rhythm was irresistible -- to all except Worf, who raised his head from the table and groaned loudly over the music, "Ugghhh...Irving Berlin." And with a great thump, his head struck the table again. Picard turned away to hide his smile; he had left Will's bachelor party early, lest his presence inhibit any of the celebrating, but by that time, Mr. Worf had already imbibed enough Romulan ale to account for his current condition.
Beside the captain, Will was tapping his foot to the beat; the groom gave his bride an anxious little glance, like a child asking permission to go join the fun.
Deanna smiled at him indulgently. "All right, go ahead."
Riker ran up onto the bandstand, where his trombone rested off to the side; he grabbed it and began playing.
Picard turned to Deanna and proffered a white-sleeved arm. "May I have this dance?"
She grinned. "With pleasure, Captain."
They swirled out onto the dance floor.
Meantime, Beverly Crusher took pity on Worf's misery and decided to distract him from it. The Klingon could very well have come to sickbay and asked for treatment which would have gotten rid of his apparent hangover -- but perhaps Worf would have considered such help a sign of weakness.
Besides, Crusher hadn't seen him in some time and would not see him again for -- well, at the very least, years, and quite possibly forever. She had teased Jean-Luc Picard about becoming emotional at this wedding reception -- but she may as well have been talking to herself. It had been hard enough when Wesley left the Enterprise years ago, but now she was leaving; leaving Jean-Luc and Will and Deanna all at once, and the sense of loss was staggering. There had been a time, when she had first been offered the position of head of Starfleet Medical, that she had actually considered turning it down. Her life was on the Enterprise, she had told herself; she had made deep ties with many people here -- so deep that she considered them as much her family as her own son.
But the more she considered the offer from Starfleet, the more she realized she could not turn it down. She was a seasoned space traveler, but there had been times, especially in the past few years, when her longing for home -- for Earth -- became overwhelming. Soon it became persistent -- and then the current head of Medical announced his retirement.
Beverly applied for the position, with Picard's recommendation to back her. The process of applying, of the interviews, sparked a deep determination within her. She had spent the past fifteen years as a doctor aboard a starship -- indeed, as the chief medical officer of the Fleet's most prominent, prestigious starship. But the good that she could do aboard the Enterprise was far different from the far-reaching type of good she could do at Starfleet Medical...and she was ready for a difference, for a new challenge.
Yet now, walking across the dance floor toward Worf, Crusher suddenly asked herself, Can I really leave these people?
She chided herself for being overly sentimental. She had a promotion, a new job and new friends to make. Now was the time for celebrating, not grieving. It was beautiful here, with the glittery snowy mountains and the deep blue sky, the good friends, and the music...
As Beverly walked toward Worf, she passed a smiling Geordi La Forge, who was leading a beautiful African woman in a brilliant red dress to the dance floor. Apparently they knew each other more than well -- that was something she was going to have to Deanna about, to get the ship's latest buzz.
Beverly walked up behind the stool where the Klingon sat, slumped facedown on the table, and said in the loudest, most determinedly cheerful voice she could muster, "Commander Worf. Do Klingons swing?"
"I am unwell," he muttered into the table.
"Don't worry, I'm a doctor." With all her strength, she took hold of one of his massive arms and pulled him off the table and onto his feet. He staggered slightly as she drew him onto the floor, among the gliding bodies, and as he attempted to mimic her movements, it was clear he had little familiarity with the style of dance known as swing. Even so, he managed admirably, taking her fine-boned pale hand in his great dark one with a light touch.
"I'm so glad you made it back to the Enterprise before I left," she called over the din of the music. To her, dance came naturally; her bones were long and fine, her muscles limber and blessed with that mystery known as a sense of rhythm. She could scarcely have resisted dragging the Klingon onto the floor even if he'd been unconscious.
Worf's pained expression eased slightly; it was the closest he would come to acknowledging mutual affection. To those unfamiliar with Klingons, he would have seemed ferocious, with the great jutting browbone above narrowed eyes and jagged teeth; to Beverly he looked precious. "I was not suited for the life of a...diplomat."
An understatement if ever there was one. She managed not to laugh aloud at the thought, but instead twisted her lips wryly and shrugged. "Who'd have guessed?"
At that instant, Picard and Deanna, talking and grinning, went dancing past them; Beverly looked at them both, and at Worf, and thought: I must remember every little detail of this moment, of this time. I must remember...
As she moved amidst the swirling bodies, with the backdrop of the Alaskan skyline, the moment seemed to her at once timeless and fleeting, a celebration of the brevity of life against the eternal snow-clad mountains. It seemed to her that she had been on the Enterprise, friend and fellow crew member to these people, for all of her life -- yet now that she was leaving them, it seemed the experience had been all too short, that her moments with them had been too few.
Beverly let her gaze focus on those she loved around her: on Worf, on Data singing on the stage, at the trombone-wielding Will Riker, like Deanna radiant with joy. If only this moment could last forever...
Yet in the midst of a longing that verged on grief, Beverly could not hold back a smile.
Later that night, in his quarters aboard the Enterprise, Picard gingerly withdrew a bottle from his temperature- and humidity-controlled wine storage unit. He had to half-kneel to do so, and the gesture seemed appropriate, in light of the value -- not just monetarily, but historically and emotionally -- of the liquid inside. He held the bottle up to the light: its contents were the deep color of garnet, and the glass, plain breakable glass which was no longer used to house such fine wine, glinted jewel-like.
He rose, the glass cool in his hands, and stepped forward into the outer area, where Data sat at the table, gently turning the captain's Ressikan flute in his hands -- studying it, digesting it, head slightly cocked. The android's expression seemed entirely neutral...and yet, Picard thought, Data's amber eyes somehow managed to convey a sense of wonder, of curiosity that was entirely human.
Picard gestured slightly, carefully, with the wine, cheered to have someone to share it with who would truly appreciate the experience. "I've been saving this," he said heartily. "Chateau Picard 2267...Batten down the hatches." Deliberately, he began to uncork the bottle; Data looked up with the same expression of placid yet somehow voracious curiosity and listened intently as Picard continued. "They say a vintner's history is in every glass. The soil he came from. His past as well as his hopes for the future..."
As the cork slipped past the lip of the bottle, a heavenly aroma followed: cassis, cherry, grape, and herb and rich earth. Picard's vintner's nose knew at once the ratio of sugar to acid was perfect, the wine neither too young nor too old, but exactly in its prime. Set on the table were two wine glasses; Picard filled each one-quarter full, then slipped his fingers beneath the bowl of one, supporting the stem with his middle and ring finger, and handed it to Data.
Data held it awkwardly by the stem, but corrected himself at once when he saw that Picard held his own glass with all of his fingers supporting the bowl. Red wine should be gently warmed by the heat of the body.
Picard smiled affectionately as he lifted his glass. "So...To the future."
"To the future," Data echoed.
Through the wine and the crystal, Picard watched his soon-to-be first officer imitate his every move: Take a small sip. Let the liquid rest a moment on the tongue, enjoy the burst of different flavors there, savor the ever-changing aftertaste. At last release the breath, in a satisfied, delighted, "Ah..."
Picard regarded the android with amused affection.
"Sir," Data said solemnly as he lowered his glass, "I noticed an interesting confluence of emotion at the wedding. I am familiar with the human concept of tears through laughter and its inverse, laughter through tears, but I could not help wondering about the human capacity for expressing both pleasure and sadness simultaneously."
"I understand why it would seem confusing," Picard replied. To some, perhaps, Data's ingenuous yet perplexing questions might be cause for irritation, yet the captain had always been grateful for them; they served to help him crystallize his own feelings, to make what was often unconscious conscious. "Certain human rituals -- like weddings, birthdays, or funerals -- evoke strong and very complex emotions because they mark important transitions in our lives."
Data tilted his head every so slightly, a gesture that always accompanied his attempt to fathom humankind. "They denote the passage of time."
"More than that," Picard elaborated. "In a way, they make us aware of our mortality. These occasions give us an opportunity to think about where we've been and where we're going." The sense of melancholy he'd felt during the wedding reception threatened to settle upon him again.
"And you were particularly aware of this feeling of 'transition' because Commander Riker will be leaving to assume command of the Titan?"
Picard nodded, his focus shifting to a point beyond Data, beyond the physical limits of his quarters, to a place in the future. "Will and Deanna joining the Titan...Dr. Crusher going to Starfleet Medical..."
"And this makes you 'sad'?" Data emphasized the word in his effort to define it.
Picard drew in a breath and with it, shifted his attention from what would be to what was. He smiled wistfully at the android. "Well...I suppose it does a bit. I'm very happy for them, of course, but I'm going to miss them. The ship will seem...incomplete without them."
Data gave a short nod, as if satisfied that he was finally able to understand this complex mix of emotion. "That is because you have a familiarity with them. You can predict specific reactions and behavior and are comfortable in that knowledge."
"Yes," Picard admitted. "And, frankly, I envy them as well. They've made important choices; choices that mean life will be different from now on. They're going to have great challenges ahead of them. New worlds to conquer..." He paused to take another sip of wine, to relish the product of his past, and that of his forebears, before glancing at the Ressikan flute resting near Data.
"Seeing Will and Deanna today made me think about some of the choices I've made in my own life," he said, and thought of the moment he'd stood beside Beverly at the reception and watched the light that had entered her eyes when she'd looked at her son. "Devoting myself to Starfleet...Not marrying or having children...All the choices that led me here."
Data remained silent a moment before at last saying slowly: "The choices I made have led me here as well. This is the only home I have ever known. I cannot foresee a reason for leaving."
"You never know what's over the horizon, Data," the captain warned lightly. "Before too long you'll be offered a command of your own."
Data glanced at him sharply; Picard marveled at the realization that such a notion had never occurred to the android. "If I were," Data countered, "I believe my memory engrams would sense the absence of your specific reactions and behavior. I would 'miss you.' "
Touched, Picard smiled and lifted his own glass. "Now, you make a toast."
Data raised his glass. "To..." He hesitated, for a moment at a loss -- then added confidently, "...new worlds."
"New worlds," Picard echoed.
They both put the glasses to their lips and drank.
Copyright © 2002 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.