Wisdom of the Ages
He was working in one of the main flower beds. It bordered the large herb garden that the commander happened to know supplied flavorings for many of the gourmet meals prepared for Starfleet Academy's special dinners. The old man didn't appear to notice him.
The commander took a chance. He raised his tricorder and took several readings before switching to a holoimager and taking a few quick shots. He quickly compared the tricorder results with a set already in the tricorder. A comparison of the holoimages yielded the same result.
The commander skewed his lips into a knowing smile and nodded his head ever so slightly. Just as he'd thought. After a couple more quick taps on the devices, he pocketed them before walking down to the flower bed to join the old man.
As he approached, the sun came out of a cloud, casting a long, late afternoon shadow in front of him. The gardener saw the shadow come closer and raised his head. Squinting into the setting sun, Boothby raised his arm to shield his eyes from the brightness and calmly said, "Good to see you around, Chakotay. Still in Starfleet, I see."
Chakotay brushed the front of his uniform. He was still getting used to the feel of the gray cloth. "For the moment. I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet. Now that all the legal issues are settled, I've got some time to explore what I really want from life now."
"Yes, if you're declared dead and then come back to life, people don't have the same expectations. They're real happy just to see you walking around."
"Freeing, don't you think?" Chakotay grinned.
"I would imagine so," Boothby responded. His eyes twinkled with good humor as he grabbed his bucket of tools and moved down the flower border a short way. "So, young man, what are your choices? I assume you've already done some exploring. You've always been very good at that. Especially over the past several years."
Chakotay moved on the other side of Boothby, so that the old man wouldn't have to look into the sun to see his face. "Going to school for a degree in archeology - staying in Starfleet - going home to rebuild Dorvan IV - possibly even teaching at the Academy, now that my full pardon has come through. I've been told there's some interest in my returning to teach in the Advanced Tactical Training Program, although I'm not sure about going back there."
The humorous glint in Bootby's eyes faded. "No, I imagine a lot of your memories would be sad ones there. So many of your former students didn't make it through the war years. Such good people, too. And the destruction here in San Francisco was pretty bad, after the Breen attack." He looked around. "We've done a lot of rebuilding. Replanting. Those Norfolk Pines over there are all new." Boothby pointed to a stand of evergreens, which were a quarter of the size that Chakotay remembered from before his resignation from Starfleet. "The trees will grow again, but good people who are gone won't, Chakotay. New ones will come here to the Academy, of course, but not the lost ones. Not like you and Captain Janeway did."
Chakotay sighed as the faces of some of his students intruded into his memory. A few had been Maquis, but most had died in the Dominion War. Finally, Chakotay said solemnly, "It was a miracle we made it, Boothby. We lost a lot of good people, too."
"Yes, it's difficult to lose good people. Ro Laren was one I'll miss especially. I always liked her. Spunky. Shame about what happened to the Maquis. My condolences, Commander."
"Thanks," Chakotay answered gruffly. This talk wasn't going the way he had expected it to go. It was time to get it back on track. "It's tough to outlive people who were close to you."
"I'd say so," was the non-committal reply.
"You've been around quite a while, Boothby. Long enough to have lost a lot of loved ones, I'd guess."
Boothby dug into the ground, planting several bulbs before saying, "Yes. I've lost a lot of people I've loved, Commander. It's the price of growing old: you outlive your friends and loved ones. There won't be anyone to mourn me when I'm gone."
"Not true. You're an institution around here, Boothby. Everyone looks up to you."
"When they're not looking down on me like you are now, Commander!"
"I'd be happy help you with those bulbs, if you'll let me. I'd like to look you in the eyes while we talk. I've missed our old chats."
"You'll get your uniform dirty."
"It's been worse lots of times, believe me. Especially in the Delta Quadrant." Chakotay knelt down next to Boothby and drew a spare pair of gloves out of the gardener's bucket. Grabbing a hand trowel, he started digging holes about 15 centimeters deep, and a similar distance apart, following the pattern that Boothby had established. The soil was dark and rich. Chakotay breathed in deeply to draw the aroma of the life-giving loam into his nostrils.
Boothby nodded his approval with Chakotay's efforts. "I'm sure you got it dirty out there. How did you like the Delta Quadrant?"
"It was interesting."
"As in, 'may you live in interesting times,' that old Chinese curse?"
"Pretty much," he chuckled softly. The old gardener handed Chakotay several daffodil bulbs. Together, they planted a row before either said anything else.
Chakotay broke the silence first. "You've been around here a very long time, Boothby."
"I think you already said that."
"No, I'm talking about a different kind of 'long time.' You came here over sixty years ago, I understand."
"What gives you the idea I've been around that long?"
"I've been doing a little research. Your name comes up in the logs of graduates fairly often, starting about six decades ago. But it's a funny thing, there don't seem to be any sort of visual records about you in the archives from your early years here."
"I've had my picture in the yearbooks for years!" Boothby protested.
"Yes, that's true. It's the same one that gets put in year after year. The one in my class's book is at least thirty years old. Maybe older."
Chakotay and Boothby stood and moved a little further down the border. When they knelt down next to one another again, Boothby retorted, "I'm too busy to waste my time letting them take the same picture year after year."
"I'm sure you could make the time."
"The one they've got still looks like me. No one wants to see this mug anyway."
"I beg to differ. Lots of us have fond memories of you. Of the good advice you gave us. 'The wisdom of the gardener,' I heard Picard say recently."
"Picard. Everyone brings him up," Boothby grumped.
"Not a surprise. He's one of the most respected captains in Starfleet."
"That's what comes of being wise enough to know when to say 'no,' like to a promotion you don't really want. All the admirals want to kick him upstairs. You know why? Because he's so good, he shows up almost all the other captains. Not your Kathryn Janeway, though. They may want to kick her upstairs, too, and for the same reason."
"There are as many people in the admiralty who wanted to court martial her as promote her," Chakotay responded, grinning broadly.
"Sheer jealousy. She's too good, but she's not really one of the 'good old boys' is she? That Alynna Necheyev IS one of the good old boys, by the way. But how many of them could have done what she did, bringing your crew home, back from the dead? She's a female Odysseus, that's what she is, and she even outdid him. No one but Odysseus made it back alive. She brought most of her crew home - even managed to rescue a few extras, like you and your Maquis fellows, not to mention those poor traumatized Equinox people and the odd Borg or two. I'm not sure even Picard could have managed what she did. You should be proud of her, Chakotay. Yourself, too. You played a big part in it."
"I am proud of her."
"So why are you involved with that Seven-of-Nine person instead of her? Oh, excuse me. It's about that non-fraternization policy, isn't it? And Seven isn't really a member of the crew, correct?"
"Correct, but that doesn't mean I'm still seeing her." Chakotay dug so vehemently, he had to fill in one of the holes because it was a little too deep for the bulbs they were planting.
"You broke up with her?"
"It was more the other way around." Chakotay straightened his back and looked directly into the gardener's face. "I was her first boyfriend, Boothby. I was a learning experience for her."
"Maybe it was for you, too," Boothby said shrewdly.
Chakotay was the one who stopped talking, instead digging for a while in the warm, soft earth, redolent of life. The air was filled with the pungency of the clump of rosemary growing in the center of the garden bed. Finally, he said, "It was complicated, Boothby. We made a choice. We kept to it. Kathryn and I, I'm speaking of now, Boothby. I won't kid you. It was a long, hard, lonely time for both of us. It's true. Seven was never formally a part of Starfleet, so, yes, officially, I was allowed to become involved with her in a way I really couldn't with Kathryn. But even though Seven wasn't off-limits, there were . . . places we never went. I can't explain it very well. Maybe it's because we were a family out there. She was as much a daughter to me as a crew mate." He sighed. "I also realized very quickly that being with me was more like following a lesson plan than relating to a boyfriend. 'Returning Completely to Humanity, 101,' so to speak. At different times, both the Doctor and I served as Pygmalions to her Galatea - since you're into classical references, Boothby."
"The classics are the classics because they've been around a long time, and because they're still true."
"I imagine you would feel that way, Boothby. You've had a hand in shaping many individuals, throughout your . . . lifetime."
Boothby became visibly more reserved and cautious. There was a double meaning in Chakotay's comment that he'd picked up on immediately. The old man abruptly rose to his feet.
"Well, Commander, it's been very nice speaking with you about such weighty matters, but I really must get on with my work." The gardener held out his hand for the trowel Chakotay continued to hold in his hand.
"It's getting a little late for gardening today, Boothby. Isn't it?"
"Oh, there's time for me to take care of a few more things yet," he replied, even though the sun had now set behind the buildings and the sky was deepening rapidly into dusk.
"I know, Boothby."
"I imagine you know lots of things, especially from your time 'way out there,' " Boothby said lightly, shoving the trowel Chakotay had been using into his bucket as he began to walk up the hillside. Chakotay followed him.
"Maybe, but there's one particular thing I know that hasn't been spoken about very much. No one seems to have put together how a man who was described as very old in diaries from early in this century is still working with his hands at a rigorous job decades later. And it's also very odd that the early records about where that old man came from have mysteriously disappeared. The computer files seem to have become corrupted. At least, most of them have."
Boothby stopped and faced Chakotay. Sharply, he asked, "What are you getting at, Commander?"
"Boothby - or should I call you what Kirk and McCoy called you all those years ago? Flint? Methuselah?"
"Don't be ridiculous, young man."
"Did you know that not all of McCoy's records were lost after his death?"
"I heard they were, in that fire."
"Yes, his personal papers and computer files did burn up after his daughter passed away. A tragic loss. But there was a second set archived, not including the ones in the formal Starfleet files - the ones that became mysteriously infected with a computer virus and couldn't even be reconstituted by the experts."
"Where are these supposed records from Leonard James McCoy, M.D.?"
"Commander Data had them. When I asked Captain Picard about it, he showed them to me. Since our discussion, he's had several copies made, by the way, so it's no use looking to destroy those, too."
"And how did Commander Data get them?"
"Data took Dr. McCoy on a tour of the Enterprise D right after it was launched. The good doctor took a liking to Data. He said he wanted to give him a little gift. McCoy said Data reminded him of a shipmate, not to mention some remarkable androids he'd met. One of the ones who had made the greatest impression on Dr. McCoy was a Rayna Kapec."
For several seconds, Boothby stood in front of Chakotay, totally immobile. Then, he gave a deep sigh, shook his head slightly, and murmured, "And you have proof, I suppose?"
"The tricorder readings and images of Flint were in Data's records. I took tricorder readings just before I walked down here. The readings were a match. I just glanced at the holoimages, but there's a close resemblance. Maybe you had a little surgical help - from a certain Dr. Leonard McCoy, perhaps?"
Boothby sighed. Walking over to a nearby bench, he settled into it heavily and carefully placed his bucket of tools and unplanted bulbs on the pavement before him. "I've liked it here. I'm sorry I'll have to go now. Faking my death is always so unpleasant."
Chakotay settled in next to Boothby. "You don't have to go yet. What's the rush?"
"I don't know how much time I've got, to tell you the truth. McCoy was right when he told me I really am dying. It will happen eventually. He said what had been keeping me 'immortal' was the Earth's environment, so I came back here. It has helped. It might even take several more centuries before I go. McCoy assumed he would outlive me, but of course, it didn't turn out that way. I am slowing down a bit. I could have run rings around you in the past, you know."
"That's not hard. I'm not the fastest runner!"
"You did all right, I remember."
"If you do leave, where would you go?"
"I'm not sure. Not sure at all. If they've got that information on me spread out all over the place, my anonymity will be a thing of the past as soon as somebody else is as smart as you and puts it together. I've stayed too long here, it's clear. Too bad. I really did like this job."
"You could find a gardening job somewhere else, you know."
"It's not the gardening job I'm talking about. It's the cadets. Giving them a little push in the right direction when they need one. You know. Like I did with you."
"You always gave good advice."
"When McCoy told me that, after thousands of years, I was finally getting to the end of the line, I told him I would devote the rest of my life to the 'betterment of the human condition.' Fancy words. Easy to say. But how was I to do it? Then I remembered Starfleet Academy, and I did my research. I thought I'd come back here and see if I could provide guidance to the cadets when they needed it. It's been very satisfying, I must say. I'll miss it."
"Don't leave then. I won't tell anyone what I've found."
"If even one extra person knows a secret, it's not really a secret any more. You know that, Commander. It's hard to keep something like this under wraps. I've been lucky this gig has lasted this long."
"It's a musical term from centuries ago. Do your research!"
Boothby sighed again. "Maybe it is time for me to finally let go. I used to have to use makeup to 'age' myself before 'dying' and moving on to another place. No makeup needed anymore. This face you see here now is the real me."
"If you really feel that way, you could always try the Delta Quadrant."
"How am I supposed to get out there?"
"Oh, it won't be long now before we'll be able to travel back the way Voyager came, and much more quickly and easily than we did. We almost had that transwarp and slipstream technology working anyway. Even without the Borg, we were on the verge of getting home, and under our own power. Our engineers are working on a new drive at Utopia Planitia and here in the Propulsion Research Labs; it's only a matter of time."
"Maybe not soon enough for me."
"If I know B'Elanna, it will be a lot sooner than you think. You've got fans out there you know."
"Species 8472, you mean? I heard about my 'double' out there."
"Unless I miss my guess, they're going to become a factor very soon, too. Maybe they'll be willing to give you a lift out there; help you find another place to enjoy life for a while. Maybe even a place with a garden. That station we visited, with your 'double' living on it, had an environment that was really Earth-like. Who knows? Maybe it's close enough to the real thing that you won't age as fast as you expect."
"I'll think about it."
"Like I said, there's no rush. I'm not going to say anything about it. Picard won't, either. He respects you too much. He enjoyed working it out with me. You know he's a big Dixon Hill fan?"
"Yes, I remember. The fedora always did look good on him."
The last glow of sunset was fading from the western sky. Pools of light from the artificial torches illuminated all of the paths. Chakotay stood up to take his leave.
Boothby touched the sleeve of Chakotay's uniform. "Just one more thing, Commander. Don't let her get away. You're not on the same ship now. Take advantage of that fact. There aren't any rules about pursuing her now, as long as you don't beat around the bush. And whatever you do, Chakotay, don't let them make her an admiral. She's way too good in that command chair to be shoved upstairs so the old boys can forget about her. Or more likely, try to make everyone else forget about her. Fat chance of that, I'd say, but they'll try."
Chakotay caught his breath and looked away from Boothby. "After the way we got home . . ."
Gruffly, Boothby snapped back, "Who knows if it's going to happen that way now? All that temporal mechanics mumbo-jumbo. Pfft, I say! And you've got some time before then, even if it does happen. You're forewarned. You can make the most of each day. Take it from me, Chakotay. I've lost so many wonderful wives and lovers over the millennia. I'd love to have one more day with each of them. And Rayna. Even androids aren't eternal. But if it does happen that way, why not take pleasure in each other first? I know Kathryn. I know you. I'll bet you were a helluva team out there. No wonder you got so many of them home."
"I'll think about it."
"Don't think too long. They're going to pressure her to put herself into that admiral's corner sooner rather than later, especially after what happened last year. They want to control her. I've always thought she's more the controlling type, myself. I don't think she'll take too kindly to what they'll want to turn her into. And if she's not an admiral, will it still happen? Who knows?"
"I don't, either, but I know how stubborn she is. If she decides it's what she wants, nothing I say is going to change her mind. But I'll try. Maybe I'll tell her I've got some advice for her from a wise old friend. Send her to you, perhaps?"
"If you want to. I'll talk to her, of course. But I think you should be the one to convince her. You must have worked out some sort of shorthand out there to help you get home."
Chakotay grinned. "Maybe I can tell her an old story of my people. She usually responded pretty well to them."
"Stories you just made up as you went along, I take it? The best kind, I'd say. Do it. From one wise old man to another."
Chakotay laughed. "I've got the gray in my hair now to prove it."
Stars were starting to wink into being in the night sky. Two wise old men - one considerably older than the other - nodded to each other as they got up from the bench and walked up the hill.
When they reached the top of the path, one turned right, the other left. Before they strolled into the night, they nodded respectfully to one another.
=/\= End =/\=
Paramount owns Star Trek lock, stock, and transporter. I freely admit that I don't.