The Longest Night
The door buzzer sounded and the two occupants of the shared quarters glared at each other. Both their eyes related the same message, 'you expecting company?' Glancing around the dimly lit room, it seemed one of them just discovered the disarray and general untidiness that surrounded him. From one of them a groan of despair hissed out, from the other a chuckle of satisfaction.
The speaker sounded, and a recognized voice said, "Knock, knock. It's Captain Archer." Jon knew both of the junior crewmen assigned here were off-duty, but likely not both 'home' at this early evening hour.
"Uh, just a minute Captain, uh, I just got out of the shower, not decent yet." Barely above a whisper Julian Taggert couldn't help but swallow hard as he said, "I didn't do anything! What'd you do?"
His roommate grunted a response of "Moi?" his hand on his chest and flashed a look of surprise. Britt Davisson stood up, brushed his hand across his bunk, tucked in a slightly loose corner of his blanket, and declared his half of the quarters pristine.
While gathering up heaps of discarded clothes and dropped padds, Julian searched for a handy place to put them, somewhere not in the middle of the floor. "Help me clean up this mess!"
"Please don't tell me you just noticed." Britt pulled open the door of the old style chest at the end of his bunk and let it fall shut as the heap of embarrassment fell inside. "Just don't forget where you left it."
"Thank you." He picked up a wrinkled T-shirt off of his bunk and was pulling it over his head as he opened the door.
"Hey, Cap'n, what can I do ya for?" The young engineer gestured for his commanding officer to enter the quarters, his eyes glancing around nervously, hoping he wasn't in any kind of trouble. He couldn't help but think not. If that were the case, he would probably have been summoned to the captain's quarters, or worse, the ready room. He noticed his roomie standing beside his bunk, at full attention, his uniform smoothed and boots shined.
"Uh, excuse my bare feet, Cap'n, I'm just off duty, getting ready for, uh, uh…"
Trying to suppress a smirk at his roommate's discomfort, Davisson said, "What he's trying to say Captain is he has a date with a pretty MACO tonight."
"At ease Davisson." The Captain turned and grinned at Tag and said, "then I won't keep you." He pointed towards the other man and continued, "Actually it was Britt I came to see."
It was like a stun blast had just hit him somewhere between his gut and his sense of duty. It stung his eyes and he couldn't make a sound or take a breath. He saw Julian deflate in relief with a grin and a wink. All this seemed to take forever, but actually just an instant, and so quickly that even the captain didn't notice. But to Mr. Davisson, 'Michelle Davisson's husband and little Benjamin's father and proud Starfleet member and soon-to-be-someday-an-officer,' Britt Davisson felt the ship lurch beneath is feet. When the Captain didn't react with alarm, Mr. Davisson pulled in a breath and decided it was all in his head. He smiled warmly, and said, "How can I help you Captain?"
"Oh, ok then, well, I'll just finish dressing real quick and be out of the way." Julian put on his shoes and was out the door in record time.
"Relax Mr. Davisson. It's a social visit. I'd like to ask a favor."
"Of course. Captain. Sir." He still stood at attention beside his bunk.
Leaning in closer to the Enterprise crewman, Jon repeated, "At ease Britt. Try sitting down. And maybe breathe now and then." Giving his head a slight twitch, Jon sighed. "I've scanned the crew manifest, and a detail said you have a guitar. I wondered if I could borrow it."
"My guitar?" A furrow formed between his eyes, as he tried to remember where he had stashed the forgotten instrument. Between his duties as an upwardly mobile engineer-in-training and the constant throb of life aboard the flagship of Starfleet, he hadn't had time to keep up his practice.
"Yeah, the festival on Dinasia is winding up and they end with a day of shared music from their different cultures. We've been invited to join in..." With a moment of inspiration, Jon adventured an invitation of his own, "if you' like to contribute too…."
"Oh, no Sir, I haven't played that thing since, um… I don't even know why I brought it with me." Breaking his statue position beside his bunk, Britt turned to the closet and opened the door, revealing its neatly organized contents. From the back he pulled out an old and battered case in the shape of its mate. He pulled the guitar from the black velvety folds that protected the wooden antique. "It's an acoustical Captain. It's what I learned on. Well, still learning actually."
"Is there another kind?" Jon said with an awed grin while he accepted the offered treasure.
"Not as far as I'm concerned." The young engineer hoped the captain appreciated the history and sounds that could be produced from a learned musician.
Jon lifted a foot and placed it on a chair while caressing the guitar, holding it in his hands and testing the fit of its neck. He gently ran his fingers across the strings, and the notes sprang from it, rolling through the cabin.
"It needs tuning. I guess it's been in this case for…" He shook his head, "way too long."
"It's beautiful." Jon admired the highly polished wooden cabinet. The light colored wood was marred with scratches and dings. The neck that tapered but still strong was a rich dark wood. Almost black, but had distinct rich red tones. "It looks old." Jon looked up at Britt.
"It was my grandfather's. He gave it to me just a few months before he died. I have no idea how long he had it. I didn't know you played Captain."
"Well, it's been a while, probably fifteen years. But, yes. I've been known to pry a few notes out. I had one as a teenager, but it wasn't anything like this. I'll need a little while to figure it out again. I'd like to contribute a little of our folklore to the festival. That is if you don't mind?"
"No, not at all Sir. Those strings might go ping! on you at any time though. I think I have some spares…somewhere. In here maybe." Britt pulled open the chest, only to find Julian's crap piled over his stuff. Suppressing a groan, he dug beneath the mess till he found a small folded paper-board box.
"Here are some spare strings. Two full sets I think." You can restring it, if any pops? He offered the strings, which Jon securely tucked into a pocket.
"Yes, I think so. I'll get the computer to help get it tuned just right." Standing up straight, the captain turned up the guitar and admired its back, also marred and scratched, but still highly polished. "I'll be sure to take good care of it. Even if you don't take the time to play it, you still brought it with you, so it must have had some importance."
"Yes, Sir. I guess it does. I figured I'd have enough space to keep it in."
Jon laughed, "Well I tried to bring aboard a Baby Grand, but there isn't really a good place to put one. Maybe the next generation of starships will have a bigger recreation area."
"Guitar and piano? What else Captain? Maybe we should start a band or something." He put the guitar back into its battered case, and locked the clamps securely and said, "watch here, one of these latches is kind of sprung. It won't catch sometimes unless you push it all the way down."
"I'll take care of it." Jon grinned, then picked up the case and hefted its weight easily. "About the band though, maybe sometime if we're not too busy… but I think all we have on board is one very nice guitar."
"And no Baby Grand." Britt feigned a disappointed look. "Maybe Porthos can sing."
Jon laughed heartily. "Please don't ask him too. He will. Well, sometimes he will. And from a hound dog, believe me, it's not pretty."
The Captain offered his free hand, and feeling much more relaxed and at ease, Britt Davisson took it. "Thank you crewman. Have you been planet-side?"
"Uh, no Sir."
"You should. It's nice. I suggest you read over the protocols, but the people are friendly and open to new ideals. I just hope they don't throw over-ripe vegetables." Jon grinned as he exited the crewman's quarters.
Jon spent the next hour in his quarters working with the guitar. The feel of the polished wood against his palms felt good. The thrumming vibrations echoing through its frame seemed to hunger for just the right touch.
Leaning against his bunk, the very air movements in the room made the strings sing. The computer had assisted the captain in tuning the strings to a very sensitive tension. The tips of the fingers on his left hand stung, unaccustomed to the pressure of the guitar strings. Jon absently brushed them against the long zipper of his uniform as he reached down to put on his boots. "Come on, Porthos. Let's go get some dinner." Almost out the door, the Captain quickly pivoted on his heel and turned back to the guitar. He carefully picked it up and placed it on his bunk, the headstock resting comfortably on his pillow. The last thing he needed was an unexpected 'bump' in space sending it bouncing across his deck.
In the Captain's Mess, Jon was surprised to find T'Pol and Dr. Phlox with their heads together deep in conversation over an array of data padds on the table. The click of Porthos nails on the polished floor of the regular mess subsided as he entered the door behind his master. The plush carpeting here gave the private dinning room a more home-like feel.
"Good evening Captain."
The Captain acknowledged the greetings from both of them, then said, "T'Pol, I thought you were down there with Trip?"
"I prefer to dine on the ship. Commander Tucker and Ensign Mayweather are engaged in a local sports competition. Judging from their enthusiasm, they may be late returning, if at all tonight."
"How many are off ship right now?" Jon took a seat at the head of the table and poured himself a glass of tea and dropped in a slice of passion fruit.
"Twenty-three, with a rotation of another twenty at the beginning of Alpha Shift." T'Pol took a seat on the captain's right side, with Phlox settling in on his left. She took a sip of her water. No ice.
"Jula…fred? Jula…what was that?" Jon took notice of Phlox's greeting.
"Julafred, the final syllable is pronounced more like 'freed.' It's a local greeting common during the Sacaea Saturnalia Holiday. Its rough translation is Peace of the Season."
"Sounds like Christmas." Jon, T'Pol and Phlox put in their orders and when Chef disappeared Porthos trotted off after him. The hound dog knew where his dinner would come from, but was more likely to get some treats in the kitchen.
"In many ways Dinasia's Sacaea Saturnalia Holiday, or more accurately, the Winter Solstice, parallels the religious holiday many celebrate on Earth and other worlds as well." T'Pol continued her description, "however, the local holiday is more one of spirituality."
"Spiritual. But not religious?" The captain observed Porthos trailing behind Chef. Little moocher, he thought.
"No Captain. The Dinasian's have as many varied religions as humans, but in this nine day celebration they put aside religion, quarrels are forgotten, businesses and schools are closed, and most of their advanced technology is hidden from view. Work is reduced to a minimum, and no wheels of toil are turned. To do so would show impatience with the great wheel in the sky, the sun. In this time even feedstock animals are not trapped, netted or otherwise harmed. It is a time of renewal when the old year is allowed to slip away and the coming winter heralds the birth of a new year."
Jon gave her an impressed look, "T'Pol, sometimes you sound positively poetic." Clasping his hands on the table in front of himself, Jon continued, "Ok, so a warp capable, highly technological society puts it all aside and celebrates their spirituality for nine days?" Jon grinned when his plate was put before him. Then T'Pol's salad and bread sticks were swiftly in place.
"I've been doing some research Captain." T'Pol indicated the padds spread on the other end of the table.
Phlox's unnaturally wide grin appeared when Chef placed a bowl of his favorite soup and bowed formally before him, holding a large spoon with a red bow around its handle. "You found it?"
"Obviously, doctor. Your soup spoon Sir." Chef announced.
"How do you lose a spoon?" The captain questioned, not sure at all he really wanted to hear the answer.
On his way out, Chef's voice echoed back, "don't ask." Then he dashed back in, "Oh, I have a surprise for dessert, so, uh… eat slow. I don't think it's done yet." Then Chef disappeared again.
"That's correct Captain. The ninth day coincides with the winter solstice, the longest night of the Dinasian year. They celebrate it with rites of passage for adolescents, masquerades, offerings of promise for their upcoming season of planting, and a shared festival of lights and music."
Phlox added to the holiday review. "Also worthy of mention is they believe that any female child born during the holiday is especially blessed with mystical healing powers." The doctor tested his soup serving, then continued, "Although this is a highly challenged myth."
Anticipating his chopped steak and steamed veggie mix, Jon took a long drink of passion fruit tea, then said, "I've been invited to participate in the music festival. I'm still not sure just what to do."
"Wonderful Captain! I'm looking forward to being in your audience!" Phlox grin spread wide again.
"I believe Trip said Crewman Davisson has a musical instrument." Commander T'Pol picked up her fork and made a light stab into the mixed variety of green leaves and slivered Vulcan tubers.
"Yes, a guitar. I have it." Picking up his knife and fork, he made quick work of cutting up the grilled minced beef. With a smirk at his still sore fingertips, he said, "I just have to remember how, and get used to playing one again. It's been a very long time since…." Rolling his eyes up, his voice faded away.
"Since when Captain?"
Jon stood up and picked up a tidbit of his steak and offered it to Porthos, who had already licked his own bowl clean "Since my youth Doctor."
Jon offered to refill T'Pol's water glass. When she thanked him, he poured, careful not to allow any ice to fall.
Knowing without even asking, Jon refilled Phlox's tea glass, then his own.
"You've spoken little about your youth Captain. Did you entertain thoughts of being a musician?" The ships doctor asked.
"Not for an instant. I knew very early where I was headed." With a thoughtful sigh Jon said, "Maybe I can do that now."
Many members of the crew of the Enterprise were part of the original crew. Those that had survived the Xindi, and the Dephic Expanse opted to remain on the ship that was renowned throughout this sector of space. Now there were rumors that a 'new and improved' starship that was on the drawing board would soon be in production, and the first of the NX class ships would be retired. 'Decommissioned' was the word the powers that be at Starfleet Headquarters used. It didn't matter to Jon what fancy word was applied the fact still remained. Unless something changed their minds, he was about to be out of a job.
"Your experience as a captain is invaluable to Starfleet. I have no doubt you'll one day be 'Admiral Archer.'" T'Pol carefully placed her utensils on the plate and moved it away from her slightly. "I didn't know you played musical instruments Captain."
"I… played around with it… many years ago. I tried to politely decline the Premier's encouraged invitation, but he was very insistent. As you know the position of this planet puts it at high risk should anything develop with the Romulans. Who would have thought they'd be in the middle of a spiritual revolution when coming to warn them." Jon didn't feel much like finishing his meal, so offered the remains of the chop steak to Porthos.
"The Holiday only lasts two more days. Surely then they'll be ready to get back to their business." Phlox scraped the bottom of his soup bowl almost clean. "And in the meantime the crew is enjoying some rest and relaxation. I cannot encourage you enough to take advantage of that also Captain."
"Two days." Jon examined this fingertips then turned them toward the ships doctor and asked, "Phlox, you have anything to toughen these up? And how about some fast music lessons?"
Chef came in and observing that they all seemed to have finished eating, made swift work of clearing the table. He stopped and glanced around… a plate was missing.
Jon deftly picked his plate off of the floor. Porthos had even eaten the few remaining veggies. Jonathan Archer offered only a slight smile as he handed the plate to the ships expert food artist. "Dinner was exceptional, as usual. Thank you."
"Uh-huh. I'll be right back."
Looking down at Porthos, Jon said, "Oops… we got caught. You will be blamed, of course."
"I will defend you Porthos. The Captain barely ate any of his dinner." T'Pol had come a long way in accepting the captain's canine companion.
The beagle's tail was moving swiftly, unaware and uncaring of his guilt or innocence.
"Something bothering you Captain?" As the ships physician, Phlox's concern was more honest curiosity than conversation.
"Well, let me see. I apparently have to pick up playing a guitar after years of not even thinking about it, then get up in front of who knows who and present a ballad of Earth folksong. Something I do not look forward too. I have to tell a planetary council they may very well be in the midst of a conflict for which they have no involvement." Jon looked thoughtful a moment. "No… I think I'm fine."
Chef made a quick entrance, balancing a tray holding three small saucers. Each one had a small pick with a tiny flag attached. He seemed intent on turning the tray so the dinner trio could see each one. Carefully choosing a saucer with a flag corresponding to Earth, Vulcan and Denobulan banners, Chef placed them on the table. "I prepared a recipe especially to compliment the palettes for each of you. I'm entering the Turtah Cook-Off tomorrow and I'd like your unbiased opinions please." Chef stood, awaiting the results of his culinary experiment.
The Captain took in a deep breath and exhaled quickly. Picking up his fork, he dug in. Even before it came to his mouth he knew it was highly spiced, but the sudden assault of flavors took his breath away and brought tears to his eyes.
"Wow!" Jon blinked hard, grabbed his tea glass and quickly took a drink to assist getting this concoction swallowed before his taste buds jumped out in protest.
"Captain, are you all right?" Chef leaned in close.
T'Pol was about to take a small bite, but reconsidered quickly. Seeing how the Captain reacted, she doubted the pastry would be to her liking. The Vulcan palette was typically much more sensitive and conservative than humans.
"I find the dessert to be exhilarating Chef. It's delicious!" Phlox was enjoying his second bite.
Having a few seconds to recover, Jon was able to find his voice. Using his napkin to both dab his eyes and lips, he said, "Unless your intention to win is to intoxicate the judges, you might want to back off on rum quite a bit." The captain coughed slightly, then said, "Uh, on the cinnamon too. Wow… that's a… potent pastry."
Chef's lips pinched into a small circle and a furrow grew between his eyes. "I've been studying the Dinasian cuisine, and their tastes tend to be highly spiced and aromatic."
"You've got that part just about right. Phlox, I'm glad you enjoyed it." Jon knew Phlox very much enjoyed trying new foods. The typical Denobulan menu was quite bland.
"Uh, I'm sorry Sir, but Doctor Phlox's serving has only a hint of a rum extract, and I can assure you Commander T'Pol, your serving has absolutely no alcohol or even an extract of any sort."
"Yes, Captain, it's wonderful! What is it exactly Chef, I'd like to request it again sometime?" Phlox happily went about finishing off his dessert.
"They call it Turtah. Its layers of thin pastry filled with rum soaked dark and golden raisins, various chopped nuts, sugar, honey, eggs, butter, several spices, and yes, Captain, cinnamon. During their Holidays, they call it 'Ninth Day Cake,' served at the culmination of the festivals. The winner gets recognition and to provide the ceremonial cake." Chef beamed.
Hearing that her serving had no such potency, T'Pol took a tiny hesitant nibble. Not sure why, but Chef watched her intently, awaiting her reaction. When a pleased expression appeared, he turned toward Captain Archer.
"Too much huh?"
Hoping not to hurt his feelings, Jon replied, "It was … not really bad. The flavor is good, but I guess I took too big a bite and wasn't prepared for the intensity of the … uh, rum and spice. It's really sweet too."
"My serving is pleasing Chef, but I would rather not indulge." T'Pol thanked him as Chef picked up her and Phlox's saucers. The doctor's plate was as clean as his soup bowl had been. Chef was reaching for the Captain's saucer, but he quickly leaned over it and defended it with an arm.
"Nope. I think I'll eat this… I'll just be more careful. Rum… I mean, yum!"
"The baking process removes the alcohol Captain." Chef's head had a tilt.
"Yeah, maybe so, but the flavor is still there."
"If you'll excuse me Captain, Doctor, I'll be on the bridge." T'Pol rose and deposited her napkin on the table then gathered up the padds. To be polite both the captain and the doctor stood as she left the captain's mess.
"Never trust a skinny guinea-pig." Jon and Phlox chuckled at Chef's comment.
"Which recipe will you be presenting at the cook-off?" Phlox had stayed on his feet.
"The spicier, stronger version, of course. I'm confident I can make a Turtah they will find unique. Of course I'm using ingredients that approximate as closely as possible to the local pantries."
"I wish you good fortune in the contest then. If you'll excuse me Captain, Chef, I should be getting back to my warren." Phlox was about to leave when he stopped and added, "come by sickbay Captain, I believe I have something for your fingertips. However for the music lessons, I'm afraid you're on your own."
The captain was carefully picking up a smaller bite when he replied, "Ok, thanks," as the physician exited the mess.
"You don't like it do you?" Chef sat in the chair that T'Pol had vacated.
"I did not say that! Did I say that? See…" The captain picked up the smaller bite and stuffed it quickly into his mouth. Although his eyes watered, he still managed to breathe.
"I've known you a long time Jon, don't give me that!" Chef had both elbows on the table, his chin drooping solemnly between his fists.
The captain barely managed to swallow before laughter choked him. "Oh, God, where in the world did you come up with this Turtah?"
Chef pointed out the window, "that world."
Jon put down his fork and pushed the saucer well away from him. "The cinnamon is way past too much!" His eyes still watering, Jon used his napkin to wipe them again, then drained the last of his passion fruit tea. "If they…" his head tilted towards the window, "like spicy you'll be a winner."
Getting up, Chef picked up the remaining saucer and prepared to gather everything else that remained on the table. "You didn't eat much. Porthos told me."
"I had a generous lunch with the Premier… the leader of their planetary council. I didn't find it to be all that spicy. A little maybe, but not bad." Jon rose and stretched. Porthos got up from his snooze in the corner and trotted off to the kitchen.
"I'll bring him home later." Chef had his hands full.
"Thanks. Hey Chef, do you know any folksongs?"
A frown of confusion preceded his answer, "No. But I know rock and roll!" Chef danced out of the captain's mess.
In sickbay Phlox painted another layer of some clear liquid on the captain's fingertips. It felt cool, but when it dried it felt more like thicker skin. Jon blew gently on the drying gel.
"It won't dry faster doing that." Phlox had his back to Jon. "Just don't touch them on anything till its set."
"What is it?" Jon sat on a biobed. He hoped it wasn't the excrement of some creature in Phlox's menagerie.
"Epidermal glue. It's used mostly on small wounds. I just glue it together, then it heals naturally."
"Have I ever been 'glued' together?"
"Numerous times. It'll feel like a callus on the guitar strings. Should give you a more comfortable grip."
"How long will it last?"
"On a wound, seven to ten days. On guitar strings… you tell me. I think for tonight though you shouldn't do any practice. Let that cure."
The Captain got off the biobed and walked around in sickbay admiring his fingertips. Jon breathed out a heavy sigh. "That's good. I'll have almost two whole days to become a one man band." He dropped his hands to his sides. "Know any folksongs Phlox?"
"As a matter of fact I do! Denobulans are big on folksongs. But, as necessity would prove, they reflect my heritage, my culture and folklore. Perhaps you should choose something that is a reflection of you."
"You mean human? Of Earth." Jon resumed his circular pace of sickbay.
"Not necessarily. I mean of Jonathan Archer." Phlox finished straightening up his worktable and opened a cabinet door where he took out a box that was making a distinct buzzing sound.
"Me? I've always looked forward. Not so much back." He stopped circling and thought. Looking back held too many bad memories. Careful to avoid his drying fingers, Jon gently rubbed the heels of both hands into his eye sockets.
Phlox punched a hole in the top of the box and very quickly dropped it into the cage of a small iguana looking creature. A long tapered red tongue darted out and snagged a flying creature as it escaped the box. The same fate awaited each flying buzz maker that escaped. Jon leaned over the cage and whispered, "get some of those rum flavored."
"How do you mean, a reflection of me?"
Phlox continued feeding his collection of creatures. The Captain was never sure which ones were the eaters, and which ones were the eatees. "The past," Phlox looked thoughtful a moment, "nearly six years have held many adventures."
"I wouldn't call most of them adventures." Jon closed his eyes in retrospection. Looking back held too many bad memories. Maybe this folksong thing wasn't a good idea after all.
"True. But each one, in its hardship and its glory has formed the Captain of the Enterprise. His life has become the legacy of Jonathan Archer. Seek him."
Jon stood in the middle of sickbay, his eyes closed, breathing lightly. He curled his fingers inward, then stretched his hands as far as he could. He repeated this twice more, then felt Phlox approach him.
"Here, let me look. Tap them together," Phlox examined the painted fingertips. "Looks like they are dry enough. I don't think it's so thick to make you fumble-fingered, but should protect against the strings sufficiently." Examining the commanding officers hands Phlox commented, "You have the long nimble fingers of a musician Captain. Or a surgeon."
Jon gently tapped each hands digits against the ends of their opposite partners, then brushed the thumbs along this fingers. "Feels fine. Thank you Phlox. You might have saved my musical career." With an exaggerated wink, Jon left sickbay.
After a run-through of the bridge and finding everything normal – there really wasn't much going on or that needed done when the ship was in a stable orbit – Jon retired to his cabin where he found Porthos sniffing around the guitar on his bunk. "Don't you dare. Get down." The captain shooed the dog off his bunk, then picked up the guitar and placed it gently in its case, careful to make sure the sprung latch was secure. He left it resting flat on the deck. Then threw a spare blanket over it. "This is going to make me crazy Porthos. I've stared down manic Klingons, irrational Xindi, and fought for space and time itself!" Jon pulled off his boots, socks and uniform and grabbed his sweat pants from a drawer under his bunk. "I've stopped wars," Jon pulled on the pants and allowed the elastic to make a pop noise at his waist as he released it. "Maybe started one, but damn it, why is this music festival crunching my gourd?"
Jon spread his feet in a cleared space in his cabin and worked on some light muscle stretches, then moved into the more difficult yoga poses. Soon his bare chest and back were glistening with sweat from the effort. "Computer." After he heard the familiar whistling tones, he knew the computer had responded. "Search musical archive." Jon sat on the deck, the soles of his bare feet pressed together. He used his hands to press down his knees on both sides.
When he didn't specify parameters for the computer search, the sound whistled again. Then thirty seconds later it repeated the tones. Jon sat with his shoulders hunched up, his head hanging down, elbows locked with hands pressed hard on his knees. Suddenly he released the hold, huffed out a breath and leaned over, elbows on knees, then propped up his chin on his hands.
"I don't want to look back Porthos. Have to keep moving forward." At the sound of his name the beagle trotted towards his master and sat on the deck in front of him. "Computer cancel." Jon twirled one ear of his pet, rose up by the shear strength in his legs and grabbed a quick shower. After a walk with Porthos through the quiet decks of Enterprise, he spent the next several hours browsing around the ships music library. He was nodding off in front of the computer screen before deciding that was enough for tonight.
He fell asleep with note after meaningless note and melodies he long since stopped trying to keep straight playing in his head.
The Captain awoke to find a message waiting for him on his computer terminal. It wasn't alarmed, which would have woken him up as soon as the communications officer on duty received it. Instead it was marked 'Attention: Archer.' The sender was E. Hernandez, Captain, NX-02 – Columbia. Jon couldn't help suppressing a smile. He finished dressing in off-duty civvies, then started the playback.
"Hello Jon, hope you and that old clunker are still holding together. Thought I'd let you know we found two more old communications relays blown to bits. From the debris drift pattern, I'd say at least two weeks ago. One of them had already stopped transmitting, but that didn't stop them from atomizing it. Also an unmanned station is missing entirely. I think we both know why. I'm not sure if you'll get this or Starfleet's report first. I hear you guys are getting some R and R. You'd better enjoy it."
She signed off formally, and the recording ended with her image tinged with the same concern he felt. If open hostilities developed with the Romulans, there was no way Starfleet could retire Enterprise. "Old clunker?" Jon said aloud. Just wait Erika… I'll show you how an old clunker …" Jon sat up straight, tucked in his chin and slapped his thighs.
A doorbell tone interrupted his musings. "Come."
Phlox entered carrying a box from which several different notes of trilling purring sounds emitted. "Good morning Captain. I've come for Porthos, and we'll be on our way."
"All right! I've got his stuff all ready to go. He ate a little this morning, but it was kind of early. And you're still sure he won't catch anything down there?" Jon picked up a soft backpack with some essentials Porthos might need later in his visit on Dinasia.
"Perfectly fine Captain. I was more concerned for the children, but all tests showed all is well. I'm sure Porthos and the tribbles will be star attractions at the petting zoo." Phlox gathered up the offered backpack and slung it over his shoulder, swapped hands with the purring box, and called Porthos to follow him. "Come on boy, we have a shuttlepod to catch."
Porthos bounded out of his bed, over the captain's bunk and barked his way out the door, his tail whipping in a wild frenzy. Jon called out after them, "Don't lose my dog or any of those furballs down there!"
Out the door anyway, and seeing Phlox's hand wave in acknowledgement, the captain continued on to the bridge.
As the lift door opened and deposited Jon on the bridge, he heard Hoshi and a new communications trainee talking.
"… the red one!" The trainee was dressed in a robe he'd noticed many of the local young women wearing.
These trainees are getting younger all the time. She must have been in high school just last week. Jon mentally shook his head.
"Captain, good morning. Please say 'red'." The communications trainee stood beside the comm station.
The Captain walked by raising both eyebrows, "Red."
"See, even the Captain thinks so!" She smiled a tiny grin, hoping her comment wasn't inappropriate on the bridge.
"I really liked the green one, it was so … so deep. Like an emerald." Hoshi in her regular uniform was at her post at the communications station.
"But the red one looked so nice on you. It's a really complementary color."
Hoshi breathed, not sure now which one she liked the most. "Ok, if they don't have a green one, get the red one." She smiled and continued, "You better hurry. The shuttlepod is due to depart in just a few minutes."
"How about both of them?" She winked at her departmental head.
"I don't think I have that many credits left. And I want to go back tomorrow!"
Jon picked up a data chip off the arm of his command chair and headed to the ready room.
"Are you going down Captain?" The young comm trainee asked.
The Captain waved and said, "Not today," as the ready room door opened and he disappeared inside.
Gazing out the window, T'Pol stood, sipping from a steaming cup. She turned when she heard the door. "Now I know why you didn't respond to hails in your quarters."
"I'm not there. Nobody home." He took a seat at his desk and dropped the data chip into a slot. Jon released a heavy sigh and said, "You see the communiqué from Erica? Uh, Captain Hernandez?" A blinking light indicated the message was updating the disc. Two more communication relays… that meant there were only four left of the original ones Enterprise had set in place nearly six years before.
"Yes, that's why I called. We also have the formal confirmation from Starfleet." She sat on the sofa; one leg curled beneath her, and continued to sip her tea.
They were quiet for a time. Jon began tapping his artificially enhanced calluses on the desktop. T'Pol finished her tea and sat the cup on the corner of the desk.
Finally T'Pol spoke, "Enterprise won't be on her own Jon. You won't be."
Jon got up abruptly and walked to the window. With anger in his voice he spoke very low, "We can't even see them. I don't know who they are. They … we don't know what they want." He pinched the bridge of his nose, and turned to face T'Pol.
"Perhaps they want nothing more than just to be a nuisance." T'Pol pulled out the leg from beneath her and leaned forward.
Remembering his first acquaintance with the term 'Romulan,' Jon said, "I didn't get that impression." The Captain turned his head to its farthest point of comfort one way, then the other, took in a cleansing breath, huffed it out, slapped his hands together and said, "Well, let's not dwell on negativity. I think I'd rather face a Romulan than the rest of this," he jerked his thumb backward, indicating the planet, "holiday, so I'd better get to it." If you need anything, I'll be," Jon smirked, "practicing."
As he left the ready room Jon would have sworn he saw the faintest glimpse of a smile on T'Pol's lips.
Jon opened the battered case and picked up the guitar. Holding it carefully, he knelt down beside it and found a small plastic package with some picks inside, and a tightly woven strap along the back edge. Standing up, he inspected the neck and body of the musical instrument and found that it did indeed have small clips where the strap could be attached. This is good. I won't have to hold on to it constantly. Attaching the strap, he slipped it over his head, and let the guitar swing freely. The strap was adjustable, so he put it at a comfortable position.
Sitting on the deck, he leaned against his bunk and gathered his resolve, closed his eyes, and strummed the strings gently. This is much better. The artificial calluses worked well. Years of playing the stringed instrument would have built a natural defense to their cutting edge. The sound filled the room and brought back memories from years gone by.
Jon was brand new at being fifteen again. He was excited by the progress of the Warp Three Project, but new directors and technicians said he was too young to be let in just because he was Henry Archer's boy. Jonathan Archer felt lost, forgotten, and left out.
"Growing pains," his mother said. "Jonny, honey, just three more years and you'll be eighteen." She seemed not to understand him at all anymore. She continued to do dinner dishes as if his problem wasn't tantamount to catastrophic destruction.
"What am I supposed to do for three more years Mom?" Jonny pleaded. "All I ever hear is 'No you're too young. No, you're too old.' Where do I belong?"
"What you do young man, is watch your grades. After your education, I'm sure they'll welcome you to the Project with open arms. You're a natural, just like your father.
"I'm not an engineer. I'm a pilot. I will be a pilot. I'll be the best one they ever seen! My father designed that the engine, and I'm gonna fly her! I'll fly her, you just watch!"
Jonny ran to his room, stuffed his face into his pillow and screamed.
Captain Archer put down the guitar and checked his computer terminal. Was it possible that the old ballad he sang in the school talent show was still in a database somewhere? His memory of the melody was becoming clearer, but he didn't remember the title. He hummed it to himself not even sure of the words anymore. "Computer, search musical library for songs containing words… all words: dare to dance the tide." It was the only line he was pretty sure of. Jon heard the tones and knew the computer was searching.
It didn't take long and the monitor showed seventy-two results in the search. Most of them Jon eliminated quickly. They weren't even human based music or in a language he could translate. After reading just the first few lines of the remaining songs, he eliminated six more. The ones remaining had nineteen different versions of the same lyrics. There were many different musicians, from the past one hundred eight years. "Computer, show lyrics from the original arrangement."
Jon didn't recognize the singer's name, but the words he knew. Or, at least he used to. Trying hard not to 'sing' the song, he just read the words as if reading a poem. Phlox said 'seek him.'
Jon grinned. He had his song. He picked up the guitar again and strummed the strings and had to admit he didn't remember where to start. "Computer, display guitar only music and graphics for chord and finger positions for this arrangement."
After an hour of going through the chords, there were only eighteen, Jon gently put the guitar down and walked around in his quarters. A brief thought of Porthos crossed his mind. In his time he had spent on the planet surface he had observed some domesticated animals among the humanoid population. A long-eared creature was being held by its neck. It dangled, silently struggling to find a foothold somewhere. The toddler holding it seemed unaware of its dilemma. Jon had grinned, everywhere you go…
"Computer, play current music file." He let the song play through, listening to the words, more than the instrumental part. After the last note faded away, he picked up the guitar and went through the chords again. He had the finger positions right, now he just needed to speed it up and keep in time with the melody. That would take the most practice. Glancing at the time display on his monitor, he groaned. It was later than he thought.
Jon sprawled across the lower half of his
bunk and threw an arm over his eyes. He breathed in and out till the
monitor made a faint beep that meant it had shut off to powersave
mode. "Get up. Get up. It won't get any easier just laying here."
He started strumming the guitar, jumping from one chord to another, then repeating it over and over till he could do it without thinking or watching his fingers playing across the frets like running up and down a piano keyboard.
Pleased with his progress, Jon clumsily clamored off of his bunk, pulled out the chair from behind the desk and sat on it. To a somewhat unhealthy plant on his desk, he said, "Porthos would make a decent audience for starters, but for now you'll have to do."
Gently and with careful deliberate movements, Jon started the introduction, then at the proper moment in time, added his voice to the notes that the vibrating strings created. He progressed through the first chorus when suddenly a loud PING! interrupted the melody. "Uh... damn." The middle string was waving around in the air. Jon sat, watching the string curl. It had been stretched so taunt it wound around itself curling into a tighter and tighter circle.
Jon huffed out a breath and leaned over and picked up the paperboard package of strings he had dropped there last night.
Examining the headstock he figured out how to take the string off and was pulling the appropriate one out of the package when the doorbell rang. "Come."
He repeated, grateful for the interruption. "Please. Come."
The door swooshed open and Commander Tucker slipped in sideways, and seeing a guitar leaning on the bunk, did a double take and a back step. He pointed at the instrument and with a stunned grin said, "You're actually doing that?"
"Good morning Trip. Welcome back." Jon continued scanning the instructions on the string package. When he looked up at his friend and chief engineer he did a double take of his own. "Hey, turn around… look at me."
Trip frowned and reluctantly faced the captain. "Uh, it looks worse than it is." The right side of the engineers face was scratched and red, and his right eye was swollen and surrounded by all the various colors of a deep bruise.
"That's got to be one of your better shiners." Jon put down the string package then stood up, scrutinizing the wound. "Been to sickbay yet?"
"Yes. It doesn't sting anymore. Eye just feels kinda weird. Uh, I came to get you. It's not morning anymore." Trip picked up the guitar, admiring its craftsmanship. "If you popped one string, you might as well replace them all. You want to get some lunch?"
"Oh… Ok, yeah. Time flies. I'm hoping this …" Jon indicated the raw flesh, "this was an accident and not some diplomatic incident." The captain deftly plucked the guitar from Trip and placed it on his bunk.
"Aw, come on." Trip stood indignant. "You know me."
"Exactly!" They exited the captain's cabin and continued trading verbal jabs.
With the mess hall deserted – most of those off duty and rotated to do so - were enjoying the holiday on Dinasia. Jon and Trip selected some sandwiches and mixed fruit for lunch.
Seated in the main mess, Trip asked, "Phlox not joining us?"
Before taking the bite he had his mouth poised for, Jon pointed downward and replied, "He's off ship. He took Porthos to a petting zoo."
"Hum… that's good. Glad to see the guys get out now and then. Both of 'em."
They ate in silence, Jon consuming his sliced turkey breast sandwich quickly. Trip managed to mangle a ham and cheese before eating it in parts. Now and then Trip looked quizzically at the captain, but Jon ignored him.
After several of those looks, Jon put down his tea glass and said, "What?"
"How long have I known you?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"You never said you played the guitar."
"It never came up. I've played the piano too, but I don't carry one around."
"Do you sing too?"
"Only my shower knows for sure."
Trip leaned back and huffed out a quick breath of air through his nose, then folded his arms across his stomach. "For how long?"
"I was a kid… teenager. Till I was …" Jon shrugged, "oh, twenty… something. After I joined the Warp Project I played less and less, eventually lost track of the guitar and didn't give any much more thought." Jon went to refill his tea glass. "It's not like I was keeping it secret from anybody."
A memory suddenly came to mind, "Wait a minute, you know I played the piano at the 602 Club." Jon turned the chair around with its back to the table and straddled it.
"That's different. Everybody banged on that thing now and then." The engineer got up and picked up a piece of pecan pie and got a glass of milk.
"I don't bang. I've played at The New Carnegie Hall." The captain said with a grin while he broke a chunk of crust off of Trip's pie and tossed it into his mouth.
Trip nearly choked on a mouthful of milk. "Damn! You're just full of surprises ain't you?"
Trip made quick work of the pie and said, "So, what song are you going to do."
Jon just shook his head negatively, then leaned on his hands, elbows on the table.
"You're not going to say?" Trip drained the milk.
"If I put my ear to your door, can I listen?" Trip had a wide grin.
Jon glared at him. "Don't you have an engine to look after?"
"It's not working real hard right now."
"Well, I am. Sort of. I'd better get back to it." Jon got up and turned the chair around and pushed it under the table. "Guess you're right. I better redo all the strings." Jon rolled his eyes, "I'd hate for something to break at a really… inopportune time."
"No. It might cause a diplomatic incident." Trip rose and pushed his chair back in. "See ya later Cap'n."
On his way out the door, Jon stopped and turned quickly, "Oh, I got a communiqué from Colombia. A couple more relay sats have been blown, and an unmanned station is missing."
Trip frowned as the reality settled in, "Missing my ass."
Jon knocked twice on the doorframe and went on his way. Trip picked up their lunch throw-away plates and dropped it all in the recycler.
Jon went directly to his quarters and quickly got busy taking off all the strings. The ones that were still good, though stretched considerably, he wrapped into the package. He finished putting the new strings on and a quick final scan of the paper package said it would take several hours for the strings to acclimate.
"Well, hells bells. This is getting nowhere fast." He adjusted the tension and then called upon the computer once again to get the tuning set correctly. He knew it wouldn't last though. Soon the new strings would stretch and it would have to be done all over again. He went through the chords and was happy with the sound from the new strings. "Ok, plant… uh, I don't know what kind you are. Let's do this again."
He strummed across the strings, first one way, then the other, satisfied with the sounds. "Should I sit? Or stand up?" The captain grumbled, and thought it probably wouldn't matter. He had no idea what kind of set up the Dinasians would have anyway. Determined not to look at the computer screen for prompts, he began the intro and continued through the whole song. At the end Jon hung his head with a sigh.
Looking up he said, "Well?" The plant was unmoved. "Hmm…that's about the same reaction I got the first time." Jon got up and stretched, then climbed over his bunk and sprawled out. He rolled over and grabbed the water-polo ball from the shelf over his head and tossed against the bulkhead. It bounced back and he nearly dropped off the bunk reaching for it. Clamoring back on the bed and sitting more upright, he tossed the ball again and it came back within reach, so he tossed it again. Over and over, the ball bounced while he thought about tomorrow. Then a sudden thought stung him. "Ohh, crap." He hugged the ball, jumped up and had almost hit the switch to call Hoshi. Better give it to her in person. Tossing the ball to his bunk, he sent a copy of his lyrics to a blank disc, pulled it out of the slot then was out the door.
The captain arrived on the bridge and was waiting beside Ensign Sato's communications station. She was talking with someone on Dinasia.
"You should use the softer vowel sound. That's the plural. Adding an 's' or 'es' as we would tend to do is an entirely different word and meaning."
Jon couldn't hear the other side of the conversation. She was listening through her earpiece. She smiled and ended the call with, "You're welcome."
"Yes Captain, need something?" She took the receiver out of her ear.
T'Pol was sitting in the command chair, but seemed to be occupied.
"I think so. Probably the same thing you've been getting."
"I'm still refining the translation matrix. Shouldn't be much more and the dialect more common in the capital city will smooth out. The verb and noun tenses are confusing. I've been getting some interesting calls." She laughed lightly.
Jon leaned toward her conspiratorially and whispered, "These are the lyrics to the song I plan on doing tomorrow night. Just occurred to me that I better make sure the words translate right. I mean, you know, would it mean the same thing to them that it does us." He handed her the disk.
"You'll be using the UT?" She leaned closer too.
"Yes. I think I probably should."
"You know they have a similar device."
"Yes, the Premier was using it during our first meeting. But, I didn't notice it when we had lunch a couple of days later."
Hoshi took the offered disc and said, "I'll scan it through our UT to Dinasian, and then again through their UT to Standard. Any anomalies either way and I'll let you know."
"Thanks. I hope its ok. I have little time left to come up with another one if this one turns to …gobbledygook." Jon leaned in a little closer. "This is between you and me. I'll either be in the gym or my quarters."
"Understood sir." Hoshi whispered, knowing full well that T'Pol heard every word.
Jon mouthed another silent thanks, then strode over to the command chair. T'Pol appeared to be meditating, but acknowledged his presence with a nod.
"Have you been up here all day?"
"No, not all day."
"You're not going down for another visit?"
"No thank you Captain. There has been a rise in the capital city's barometric pressure. It's growing too cool tonight for my enjoyment. However, I would be happy to continue 'minding the store' if you wish to visit."
"No, but thanks for the thought. I'll probably be down there enough tomorrow." Jon left the bridge with another thought worrying his mind. If I get through this at all it will be a miracle.
Hoshi found the captain in the gym. The treadmill was humming and she thought she could hear him humming too. Though his jog was at a comfortable pace, he was drenched in sweat. She had to get his attention by actually tapping on the front. He opened his eyes and had to grab onto the handles to keep his balance.
Jon slowed down the treadmill to a brisk walk and blinked several times. "Sorry, guess I had music in my head."
For the benefit of the two MACO's in the gym also, she just grinned and gave the captain a thumbs up gesture.
He smiled and returned the same sign.
The MACO's looked confused, then looked at each other.
As Hoshi turned to go, she gave a wink towards the MACO's.
The captain turned off the treadmill, picked up his towel and left too.
"We need to get out more."
"Yeah, guess so."
The captain made a beeline to the kitchen where he found Chef putting up some utensils. When he didn't say anything, Jon prompted, "Well? How'd the… uh, pastry thing go?"
"I'd rather not discuss it. Can I prepare something for you?"
Oops… must have not gone well. "No big deal, I'll just fix a sandwich and take it to my cabin."
"Certainly not Captain. Do I go to the bridge and issue orders?"
"Touchy, touchy." Jon grinned and asked again, "Really, Chef, I'd like to know."
He huffed out an exasperated breath and said, "My Tortah was awarded a first honorable mention." Chef said the word 'awarded' like it was a disdainful curse.
"Well, that's not so bad. Remember, it is their party." Jon had the towel around his neck, his fists wrapped around both ends.
"Yes, it is. You're right." Curling up his lips and snickering in a teasing voice he said, "Get over it!"
They both laughed, then Chef asked, "What would you like?"
"I had turkey for lunch… I don't know. How about roast beef. Got that?"
"Yes, I'm sure. On a bun or bread?" He was reaching for the beef.
"Bun. And put some steak sauce on it. And onions."
Chef went about preparing the captain's meal. "How is your music coming along?"
"It's going ok. Came back pretty fast once I got into it. I really didn't think it would be as easy. Don't think I'll do anymore tonight. Don't want to over-work it."
Handing over the sandwich with a pickle spear on a disposable plate, Chef replied, "Great. It'll be good to hear you again. It's been a very long time."
Jon took the plate and had a far away look for a moment.
"You? Stage fright?" Chef queried.
Jon shook his head and said, "No. Don't think so. It's just gonna be strange, that's all. What if it's all … wrong?"
"Don't quit your day job."
Jon chucked a single "ha!" and left the kitchen.
The captain struggled to stifle a yawn and was only minimally successful. The morning had been a flurry of activity, first with a tour of the Dinasian space fleet, then piloting Shuttlepod One carrying the Dinasian Planetary Council and the Premier's immediate family. The Premier himself however, insisted on being 'transported' to the ship. While the guests aboard Enterprise gathered around the transporter, Jon waited beside the Premier's wife and daughter, assuring them that the device was safe.
"Captain Archer, you have been moved through space by this instrument before?" The Premier's wife was clearly unsettled.
"Yes Ma'am, many times." Jon grinned softly. "See, I'm all here, and everything still works. Most of the crew of the Enterprise has been transported before."
Commander Tucker worked the controls of the transporter and explained each step through the process. When the Premier appeared on the platform the Council applauded excitedly.
"Mother, I very much want to do that!" The Premier's daughter, very nearly a grown woman, watched in awe as her father materialized.
"You'll do no such thing." The premier's wife exhaled a relieved breath when her husband stepped off of the transporter platform.
"What a wondrous piece of equipment! We must review your specifications Captain Archer." The Premier extended his hand, a new means of greeting he had learned from these humans.
"Welcome aboard the Enterprise Premier. I'm sure we can accommodate that in our cultural and technological exchange." Jon shook the Premier's hand and asked the visiting dignitaries to follow him.
Much of the afternoon was taken up by a tour of the Enterprise. The captain would introduce each department head, who in turn would then explain the purpose and function of their responsibility.
On the bridge the daughter recognized Hoshi. "This is where you work?"
Ensign Sato grinned, and replied a polite, "Yes. I'm the communications officer."
"Daddy, I've changed my mind. I wish to serve on one of our starships." She stated her case as a matter of fact.
"Nonsense Mireta. One day you will wear the robes of the Premier of Dinasia." Absently he disregarded his daughter and continued asking questions and greeting the bridge crew with much enthusiasm. His wife dutifully followed and the rest of the council members trailed along behind. Each one referred to notes and compared technologies.
Her wishes thwarted again, Mireta hung her head in defeat. Stealing a glance at Hoshi, she grinned, and whispered, "It's all just pomp and circumstance."
Hoshi leaned towards her and rested a hand on her arm, "Trust me… go for the robes." They both shared a giggle.
The tour ended with a reception held in the crew mess hall. Flags of Starfleet and Dinasia bordered the end of the main buffet table with smaller decorations representing both on the side tables. Jon glanced around, pleased with the decorations that Chef had chosen. The food choices were both human and Dinasian cuisine. Jon grinned when he noticed Chef's Turtah was displayed prominently. The captain's day had started very early, so he was starting to feel hungry. He hoped he could get enough finger foods and snacks to hold him till… whenever this was wrapped up.
Speeches were made, welcoming and thank you courtesies were traded, then everyone gathered in smaller groups and enjoyed the food available for everyone.
Jon filled a small saucer with colorful Dinasian tidbits. He concentrated on items he had experience with already when he saw a brilliant flash of color out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see Hoshi come into the reception wearing a red sarong-type dress. She saw him look up, smiled and shrugged a bare left shoulder. He returned the grin and continued looking for goodies to munch on.
"Captain, this has been a day to remember." The Premier came up behind Jon, his plate holding several sugar cookies and chocolate candies.
"I agree Premier. It's been a week to remember. On behalf of the crew of the Enterprise I thank you for your hospitality and the warm welcome from the people of Dinasia."
"And the best part is, that's its not over yet!" The Premier announced. "Tonight we are one people. And I hope you will all be there for the Festival of Lights. Fireworks will light up every city on Dinasia!" His exuberance was overwhelming.
The Premier's wife joined in and at last seemed to be enjoying herself. "Excuse my husband Captain; he does tend to get overly excited during the holidays."
"And I am looking forward to our musical exchange as well; however, I do believe it is time for us to make our exit at this time. We still have much preparation to do, as I'm sure you do as well Captain." His last comment was said with a sly grin.
Jon put down his saucer, nearly untouched, and said, "Premier, let me say again, I'd be happy to pilot the shuttlepod to return all of you to Dinasia."
"Not necessary Captain, I have received notice that our parade ship is docked in your shuttle bay. We will take ourselves and everyone will have time to do their own preparations for tonight's activities. Um… Captain, may I take some of these confections with me?" He asked shyly.
"Of course, Premier. Take all you would like. I'll have Chef pack a goodie bag for you." Jon chuckled at the look the Premier's request enticed from his wife.
"Come along Mireta." The Premier called his daughter who was in deep conversation with Hoshi and Malcolm.
Their departure from Enterprise happened with little hoopla or fanfare. Goodbye's were said, and 'see you later' was often repeated. Jon and Trip stood in the hanger bay pressure booth watching the parade ship exit the bay doors.
"He's a fun guy." Trip said, leaning on his knuckles on the panel in front of him.
Jon closed his eyes, and breathed deep. After a few moments he looked up and said, "I'm going to get something to eat. Then I'm going to sit somewhere quiet." He left the booth shaking his head.
Trip just stood there, watching the small ship disappear into space… laughing.
Jon strummed the guitar with random bits and pieces of tunes he remembered from a lifetime ago. Eventually he put it down and lay down on his bunk and rested his eyes. He had a memo that Phlox and Porthos had returned to the ship, but Porthos was still with the doctor. The hound was so tired, he was sleeping soundly and Phlox figured it was better to just let him snore where he was, instead of keeping the captain awake too.
The captain was teetering on the edge of awareness when a beep brought him back. Jon reached up above his head and pressed the comm button. "Archer."
"Your reminder Captain." It was T'Pol. "The shuttlepod to Dinasia will depart in a half hour. I suggest a mid-weight over-coat. The temperature will decline later tonight."
"Thank you. Will you be going too?" Jon sat up, holding his head.
"I've decided not Captain." T'Pol sat in the command chair.
"We'll miss you T'Pol. If you change your mind, come on down." He signed off and put the guitar in its case, grabbed a light jacket from his closet, then carried them both with him as he made his way to sickbay.
The door swished open and the Captain glanced around, not seeing Porthos, but Phlox was at his desk. "Hello doctor, did you wear out my dog entirely?"
"Oh, good afternoon Captain." Phlox was his usual jolly energetic self. "Yes, he's one pooped pup. And I'm happy to say, he has many new friends on Dinasia."
"That's good." Jon put down the guitar case and dropped his jacket on top of it. "You have something for a headache?"
"I think I can manage to find something." Phlox picked up a hypospray, adjusted its settings, and pressed it to the captain's neck. "That's should take care of it in very short order."
"Thank you." He leaned over to pick up the items he'd deposited on the deck when he heard the clicking of toe-nails on the floor.
"Hey Porthos." The hound jumped up on his knee and stretched, arching his back. The dog circled around, excited to see his master. "Phlox, are you going down?"
"Yes, Captain, I'm looking forward to hearing your musical performance. But, I'll take the next shuttle. And I'll drop off Porthos in your quarters before I go."
"All right then, I'll see you later. Bye Porthos." Jon gave his dog a quick pat, then picked up his jacket and guitar and made good time to the shuttle bay.
Jon let Travis pilot the shuttlepod. He sat in the back holding the guitar upright between his knees, and rested his head on bulkhead behind him. He closed his eyes, but could hear the chit-chat from those around him. Most of which were Alpha Shift bridge crew.
He heard a question, "Captain, are you just going to just pick that guitar, or… what?" The voice was from Malcolm.
He didn't even open his eyes, or lift his head, "you'll see."
"Feeling okay Cap'n?" Trip asked, concern in his voice.
"You have to get psyched up for a concert ya know." Travis glanced to the back of the shuttle pod.
Jon laughed and looked up then. "A concert? I planned on doing one song only." Jon held up his right index finger.
The rest of the trip to the capital city was filled with discussions of the afternoon plans. Different activities appealed to different groups, and after they landed at the site set up for Enterprise shuttlepods coming and going, individuals and small groups set out on their way. Some were walking, and others gathered at a designated stop for the local pubic transportation.
Jon and Trip stood near the landing platform, gazing in to the late afternoon sun. Trip asked, "Do you know when the music festival is supposed to start."
Archer picked up the guitar, swung his jacket over his shoulder and started walking, "I think I heard something about after sunset… and after the fireworks."
Looking up, Trip tried to estimate how long that might be. "Probably have a couple of hours yet."
"Any place significant you'd like to go between now and then?" Archer changed hands with the guitar. "Looks like the stadium or arena… whatever they call it is right over there." He indicated a large structure with layered and elevated seating located not far away.
"I think there is a restaurant or café type place near here." Trip took the lead.
For over an hour, Jon and Trip talked, laughed and enjoyed a drink that was very much like cappuccino, but might have had a bit more of a kick. Jon paid the waiter with his credits and left all he had remaining as a tip. He hadn't had much left anyway. He wasn't sure if Hoshi knew he had forwarded most of his credits to the communications trainee with instructions to get Hoshi 'the red one and the green one,' then spend whatever was left on herself. The Planetary Council had generously afforded the Enterprise crew with monetary credits to enjoy their visit on Dinasia.
The sun was setting, and with it the temperature was going down as well. Jon and Trip arrived at the stadium and found several Enterprise crewmembers had settled in too. Good thing they got there early. They found a nice place on the left side of the staging area. Amid the growing crowd, Jon noticed T'Pol wearing an inclement weather coverall with a hooded coat over that.
Jon put down the case and pulled out the guitar. There wasn't enough room in the seating to work on the instrument, so he walked up near the stage and leaned on the riser. Picking each string and adjusting the tension, he had to judge by ear for the fine-tuning. He went through the strings again and felt confident he had it pretty close.
The fireworks display was a thrilling dance of lights and music playing across the deep dark Dinasian sky. Large screens showed the scenes as they unfolded in the biggest cities around the planet. Colors danced and swirled in kaleidoscopic patterns on the face of the tallest buildings. Jon decided the best view was on the screens, rather than what was going on around him.
The last time Jon saw a display like this was… Oh, yeah. After Enterprise finally made it home. After the Xindi weapon was destroyed. After…
T'Pol touched his arm before he knew she was standing beside him. "Glad you changed your mind." He tugged playfully at the hood over her head. "Are you too cold?"
"Doctor Phlox insisted. I'm… comfortable for the moment." She tucked her hands deeply into the pockets. They both looked up when an incredibly bright burst lit up the arena in a flash of daylight. "The skeleton crew on the ship is receiving feeds from several different transmissions around the planet."
"That's nice. Everyone can enjoy the party." Jon picked up the guitar and gestured for them to take a seat. He settled the guitar on an empty seat beside him and stretched out his legs.
When at last the blue tint of chemicals burning in the air began to thin out, the Premier took to the stage and greeted the multitude of his homeworld with wishes for the best of the holidays and made a big gesture for Captain Archer to join him on stage. The Premier bowed deeply and welcomed the visiting crew of the Enterprise. The local crowed cheered, stomped and added to the clamor as Jon made his way up the steps to the stage.
The Captain of the Enterprise extended his hand, which the Premier took then pulled Jon into a bear hug. It lifted him completely off the stage floor. When he was released, he grinned and took a deep breath, hoping no ribs were cracked. Jon couldn't see any microphones, but knew the pick-ups must be somewhere. Hoshi had said both of the Universal Translators were incorporated in all audio feeds. He bowed to the Premier and said, "Julafred." Then he turned towards the people of Dinasia, although through the bright lights on the stage, he couldn't see them. He spread his arms wide and said loudly, "Julafred my friends." I hope I said that right.
A thunderous roar and applause came from the crowd. Jon couldn't even see the group of his own crew near the front, but he knew they were there.
The Premier made his speeches, congratulated the Planetary Council, professed his love for his family and the people of Dinasia, then again welcomed the crew of Enterprise to participate in the Music Festival.
"Captain, as a guest of Dinasia, and a welcome participant in many of our activities of this wondrous holiday season, I invite you to open our musical celebration of cultures from around our world… and beyond."
Jon smiled, and said, "I will be honored Premier." Here we go… The Captain walked to the edge of the stage. He kneeled down and said, "Trip… hand me the guitar."
Several seconds passed then he saw Trip with the guitar come into his view. He grabbed it by the neck and nodded thanks.
Trip returned to his seat and laughed, "I've been waiting for this all week!" He heard several different comments of agreement from all around him.
As Jon walked back to the area where he had greeted the Premier, he found he had the stage all to himself, and a chair, more like a barstool was in his place.
"This will work." Pulling the chair a little more forward, he continued, "I've been wondering if I should sit or stand. How about a standing sit?" Jon heard ripples of laughter from the darkness. Shading his eyes, he leaned forward, "Who is out there? I can't see you!"
The captain sat on the stool, one foot on a bar across the middle of the legs, the other on the floor of the stage. He pulled the pick out; it had been woven between the strings at the end of the frets. He strummed it across the strings gently, its sounds playing out across the stage. Jon held up the instrument, saying, "This is an acoustical guitar, it's a very old instrument on my world, on Earth. Its one of the most used instruments worldwide. There is historical evidence that early relatives of the guitar were being used since before written documentation of our history was recorded. There are many different kinds of guitars, but this one is probably the most common." Jon strummed the strings again, and followed by playing some simple chords. "This one belongs to a crewman on the Enterprise. I'm glad he had it on the ship. He's a young engineer… Brett Davisson." The captain waved, hoping Brett was out there somewhere. Then he played the first several notes from a very old song.
Somewhere out in the crowd, right behind the officers of the Enterprise, but close enough to see without aid of the screens, a young man was glad for the darkness. Judging from the warmth he felt, his fair-skinned face blushed a deep red. He sheepishly grinned when 'high fives' were directed his way.
"On behalf of the crew of the Enterprise, we all thank you for your hospitality, your friendship, and the opportunity to participate in your celebration."
After a roar of cheers and applause died down, Jon inhaled a deep breath and closed out the rest of the world. He saw the general bright lights of the stage dim and a soft spotlight center on him. A single note echoed into the night, followed by carefully controlled measures of a song that had been rolling around in his head for days. It had been in his thoughts and in his dreams. He played the intro, then at just the precise moment… he missed the cue. It's ok… relax, Jon. He played through the intro again like that was how it was supposed to be… that was just dramatic effect… A smile spread across his face.
Jon fingers automatically played over the frets of the guitar, he had the timing… looking up, he sang the song like it came from his heart.
"You know a dream is like a river,
Ever changin' as it flows.
And a dreamer's just a vessel,
That must follow where it goes.
Trying to learn from what's behind you,
And never knowing what's in store,
Makes each day a constant battle,
Just to stay between the shores.
I will sail my vessel,
'Til the river runs dry.
Like a bird upon the wind,
These waters are my sky.
I'll never reach my destination,
If I never try.
So I will sail my vessel,
'Til the river runs dry."
Jon fingered the strings, playing through the last few notes again, then continued…
"Too many times we stand aside,
And let the waters slip away.
'Til what we put off 'til tomorrow,
Has now become today,
So don't you sit upon the shoreline,
And say you're satisfied.
Choose to chance the rapids,
And dare to dance the tide."
Jon fingered each note, each chord, and drummed two fingers along the guitar's body, the hollow cabinet echoing the sound like a drum… keeping in time with the song, a slow steady beat… he thought he could hear the claps of a thousand hands keeping the time… his voice strong and steady, he sang through the chorus…
"I will sail my vessel,
'Til the river runs dry.
Like a bird upon the wind,
These waters are my sky.
I'll never reach my destination,
If I never try.
So I will sail my vessel,
'Til the river runs dry."
Again the strings of the instrument echoed the notes from vibrating strings. Stronger and louder they rolled over and reverberated all over Dinasia.
"There's bound to be rough waters,
And I know I'll take some falls,
But with the good Lord as my captain,
I can make it through them all!"
The Enterprise captain threw his fist into the air to emphasize the declaration, then quickly, without missing a note, returned to the strings…
"I will sail my vessel,
'Til the river runs dry.
Like a bird upon the wind,
These waters are my sky,
I'll never reach my destination,
If I never try.
So I will sail my vessel,
'Til the river runs dry."
Jon worked the strings, pressing them to what he was sure had to be their limits.
"Yes, I will sail my vessel,
'Til the river runs dry…"
The captain voice rested for a measure of time, then he softly whispered,
"'Til the river runs dry…"
He played through the intro again, working the strings as hard and as far as he dared, then held the last note, letting it fade into the cold dark night.
Through the entire performance Trip stood near the end of the first row of seats, leaning on an embankment, as were many of his shipmates. He chewed the inside of his lower lip. He had no doubt the captain could at least strum a guitar; after all, he did have the thing. But when he started playing the musical instrument like it was much second nature as sitting in the command chair, then started singing too, well…
T'Pol was in front of him, using Trips body as a wind break, even though it was barely more than a gentle breeze. He leaned over her shoulder and asked, "Did you know," Trip waived his hand in the stage direction, "Cap'n sang like that?"
"I was not aware of this particular talent, no. But he is quite adept." T'Pol heard the roar of the crowd building.
Trip felt a hand on his shoulder. "Commander… Keeping secrets from us?" Hoshi was behind him, on her tip-toes shouting in his ear to be heard above the din of applause.
Trip turned around and bunched up his shoulders in an animated shrug. He put his hands up, palms out, and shook his head, "No! I swear! I had no idea! You didn't know?"
Hoshi returned the same animated shrug, then smiled and started her own applause. The rest of the stunned Enterprise crew joined in the roar still echoing from the crowd. Trip put two fingers in his mouth and emitted an incredibly loud whistle.
On the stage, Captain Archer stood beside the chair, and held the guitar by the end of its neck and pushed it straight up in the air as far as he could reach. With his other hand he waved and when he looked up the spotlight blinded him. He could hear the sound from the crowd in front of him, but they seemed distant. The sound receded even further away when he closed his eyes and lowered his head in a bow.
Jon walked off the stage, his knees weak, but he felt proud of his performance. A positive note he thought.
"See. What did I tell you?" An elderly gentleman shook a finger at a young piano soloist.
Finally, behind the curtain Jon breathed in deeply and grabbed a towel that he had left on a music stand. He quickly wiped his hands, dabbed his forehead then shook the hand that was being presented to him.
"Thank you Mr. Page. I guess you were right." Jon started to take off his tuxedo coat, but from across the stage he heard a short whistle. He turned to see a stage monitor pointing towards the audience.
Chuckling softly, the piano coach said, "That's the sound of a curtain call if I ever heard one Mister Archer." He looked around at the grandeur of the venue and continued, "And here, we do not disappoint." He plucked the towel out of Jon's hands and gave him a slight push.
"I don't…" Jon hesitated, and started to say something but a hand shoved him in the back. "Mr. Page, I… we need to talk."
"We'll talk later." He waved his hand in a shooing manner. "Now, go get what every performer on this stage for hundreds of years would kill you for."
Pasting a smile on his face, Jonathan Archer walked to the side of the single master grand piano, placed a hand on its raised top and bowed deeply from the waist. The deep black lacquered surface of the piano reflected the lights. Turning slightly, the way his coach had said, he bowed deeply again to the box seats high up on the right side. The roar of the applause renewed, and Jon bowed again.
Backing up a few steps, Jon breathed, then walked from the stage. His resolve reinforced by only a shred of the strength he had left, he nearly folded up before finding a pile of dismantled stage props to drop onto. With his head hanging down, and the stress of the piano performance finally relieved, he collapsed into a laughing fit that left tears streaming down his face.
Jon felt a hand slap him on the back, "Well, old buddy. That took guts." The tall young man climbed up on the pile, sat beside him and leaned back, his elbows on a scaffold behind him.
Wiping is eyes with the retrieved towel, Jon replied, "Couldn't have possibly. I heaved my guts out this morning in zero-gee training."
Jon sat up straight and loosened his bowtie and let it drop to the floor. "I can't keep doing this, man. I gotta decide. I have decided. I'm twenty-two years old." Jon waved an arm out towards the stage, then continued, "This wasn't supposed to be a career, just a…" He huffed a breath out in exasperation. "It's flight school and Starfleet or piano recitals. I'm not doing both anymore."
"Piano recitals are cute things nine year-olds do in the school auditorium." He gazed towards the mammoth stage, "this place is the grand dame of them all."
Jon grinned at his friend. "I'm going back to San Francisco in the morning."
"You tell the old man yet?" He sat up straight and nodded towards the elderly piano coach that had encouraged his friend for several years.
"Tonight." Jon stretched and got up, picking up the discarded tie in the process. "What about you?"
The tall young man made an animated motion of putting on a hat, grinned and said, "Didn't I tell you? I was accepted last week. TheParis Institute of Culinary Arts wants little ole' me!"
"Come along Jonathan! You must meet your audience…" Mr. Page summoned a tired young pilot-in-training.
Jon smirked at his friend, offering his hand. They grasped tightly, then Jon said, "Thanks for coming… and you look funny in a tux. See ya later Chef." He attempted to get his tie back in place while disappearing into an accumulating crowd that had gathered backstage.
He called out as Jon vanished, "Avoid the mirrors fly-boy! Yeah, see ya later… Captain."
The lights came up bright on the stage and Jon pulled the guitar strap over his head again. The Premier took to the stage with a burly laugh, his arms spread wide. Hoping to avoid another crushing hug, Jon grasped the guitar and bowed slightly towards the planetary council leader. "Julafred, Premier."
The jovial Dinasian returned the holiday greeting and said, "A wondrous performance Captain Archer! I'm sure you entertain your crew in amazing ways."
Jon laughed and with a sweeping motion of his arm toward where he knew many of the crew was sitting, he said, "I manage to keep them awake."
"Very good! And thank you for your contribution. With this, I declare the Music Festival has begun!" He gestured toward the screens up above the stage, and in cities across Dinasia, similar stages came to life with musical groups setting up their instruments. Jon saw the chair he had found useful pulled out of the way, and the same thing occurring here in the capital city. The Premier exited the stage one direction, so Jon exited the other… where the Enterprise crew was the closest.
Jon stepped down off the stage pulling the guitar strap over his head. He held it by the neck and when he came into view of the accumulated Enterprise crewmen he heard whistles, shouts, and applause. He waved a hand and shook his head, "No… no… not again! Thank you, but, please…"
The captain tucked the guitar safely into its case and closed the latches. He stood up and spread his arms, saying, "I'm glad that's done."
From the second row of seats Hoshi stood up and put both fists on her hips.
"Captain Archer, we had no idea you are so… otherwise talented." She flashed a bright smile.
The applause from the crew renewed again. Jon stood there, shaking his head, grinning, and enduring the praise. "Thank you."
"Now don't go and be all embarrassed about it. Really, Cap'n. You're pretty good. Damn good." Trip playfully punched Jon on the shoulder.
The captain smiled sheepishly and said, "I think as an entertainer I'll keep the command chair." He tucked the guitar mostly under the row of seats and settled into one of them next to T'Pol.
Jon sat and watched the screens where different things were going on across Dinasia. The night grew darker as the single natural satellite set and the stars popped out, glowing and twinkling across the sky. He leaned his head back, stretched his legs out and laced his fingers together across his stomach. He wondered if he would be able to see a single light that was the Enterprise. Rolling his head one way and then the other, he could see various crewmen and women watching different screens. With T'Pol sitting between him and Trip, he saw her curling tighter and tighter into the seat. He reached behind her and tapped the Engineer on the shoulder. When he looked down the Captain said, "Think I'll get back to the ship. You want to hang around for a while?" Jon pointed behind T'Pol and mouthed the silent words, "She's getting too cold."
Trip rubbed his neck, stood up and made a slight shiver himself. "No. I might as well get back too." With a smile he said, "I've seen what I came for." He offered his hand and helped T'Pol to her feet, "Sorry. I guess you're about froze, huh?"
"Thank you. I am… uncomfortable." She quickly returned her hand to the folds of the Captain's jacket she had wrapped around them. "I'll also return to the ship."
When the Enterprise trio stood, the captain held up the guitar case and found a face in the group a few rows back, "Davisson, I'll drop this off in your quarters. Thank you for the use of it."
The younger engineer stood and replied, "Uh, I don't mind Cap. Sir. If you'd like to hang on to it for a while, that's fine by me."
Jon let the case drop down, hanging lose in his grasp. He looked thoughtful a moment and said, "I'll… think about it." Then to the crowed sitting in the area, he spoke a little louder, "We're heading back up. Anybody looking for a ride…" He turned towards the shuttlepod landing platform, waved his free arm in a wide arc and said, "Come on."
Remaining in his seat, 'Tag' sat beside his friend Brett. Shaking his head he said, "Dang… Captain pretty good. I didn't know he played or sang either. Did you?"
"No. Hell, I didn't even know my guitar could do that. You know he told me he wanted to bring a piano aboard the ship. Now I'm thinking he wasn't kiddin'."
On the shuttlepod, the Captain sat in the pilot's seat and signaled the Enterprise. "Archer to Enterprise, ETA eleven minutes." Only Hoshi, Chef and Phlox had joined the trio returning to the ship.
Trip was in the co-pilots seat. He checked the sensors then asked, "Cap'n, obviously you don't talk about it, but, I'm really impressed. At sometime in your life you've…" he rolled his hand around in a circle, "been a musician. What happened?"
"It was," Jon scratched his chin, "A long time ago. Seems like another life."
"I thought you played sports, not the guitar or piano. And this Carnegie Hall?" The engineer stared at his captain incredulously.
Hoshi spoke up then, "Please, do tell." She had everyone's attention directed to his or her captain with her comment.
In the back of the shuttlepod, Chef tried to stand up. He had to lean his head on his shoulder to do so. "Folks, we have the only captain to ever play Carnegie Hall and Winchester Avenue." Both venues being renowned for musical excellence. "And I was there to see both of them. You just think he's good. He's really rusty as hell."
Jon laughed, "Thank you Chef." He rechecked the sensors and could see Enterprise growing closer on the view screen. "Yes, I did play sports in school, and through college. Water polo mostly, some track. I was in that 'tween age. Everything was… wrong. My mother said I needed a hobby. First was the guitar, then my music teacher said piano, so… I worked with both for a while. After Carnegie Hall, I left the piano, seriously anyway. I still played the guitar for a couple of years after, but when we," the Captain glanced up at Trip, "uh, proved the Warp Five engine was successful, I didn't have much time for it. I lost track of it, and, you all probably know the rest."
"What about your singing?" T'Pol seemed genuinely interested.
Jon shrugged. "Everybody sings." He looked at T'Pol, then rephrased, "Well, almost everybody."
"Not like that we don't." Hoshi rolled her eyes. "I mean, I don't." She laughed and blushed.
The Enterprise welcomed the shuttlepod with opening hanger doors. Jon settled the pod down gently and everyone went their separate ways, congratulating the captain again with each departure.
In his cabin, Jon set the guitar on the desk and opened the top. Snuggled deep into the velvet folds that protected it, he fingered the strings lightly.
I'm not him anymore. This is another time. The corners of his lips tweaked up slightly when he thought of how his life has changed. How different reality is now from that day when he took command of Enterprise.
The comm buzzer sounded and the Captain punched the button. "Archer."
"Captain, we're receiving a transmission from Starfleet. It's marked Priority One."
Jon clamped his eyes closed and breathed in deeply, "Acknowledged. I'm on my way." He closed the guitar case lid, snapped the latches down and stowed it in a closet.
Jon went out the door at a run.
All Star Trek: Enterprise characters and situations are the property of Paramount
"The River" written by: Victoria Shaw and Garth Brooks
Copywrite Major Bob Music and Warner-Chappell
Licensed to Planet Garth
Lyrics of "The River" was used without permission
No monetary gain is accepted. No copywrite infringement is intended.
"The Longest Night" is intended for fan-fiction entertainment only.