Thursday, February 19, 2009

Talkin' 'Bout My Next Generation - a Friday Challenge

Wesley Crusher was pissed. This emotion was the latest in a steady string of conflicting, overpowering emotions he’d been beset with since his suspension from Starfleet Academy. A teammate had died while practicing the Kolvoord Starburst, a maneuver so dangerous it was explicitly forbidden in Star Fleet policy. Wesley, as the organizer of the forbidden attempt, felt responsible.

This responsibility pushed his initial sadness and grief aside and replaced it with a crushing remorse. Someone had died. How could he ever be trusted to lead men, to captain a ship, when his first venture using his burgeoning leadership skills resulted in death of a team member?

But remorse soon gave way to hope and fierce determination. He would redeem himself. He would prove to Captain Jean-Luc Picard that he was a capable leader; worthy of the trust the Captain had once had in him. He remembered the kind smile of the Captain as he looked at the younger version of himself, a wink for Wesley, then a look over Wesley’s shoulder to Dr. Crusher and another warm smile.

And at that moment Wesley’s eyes were opened and his world was destroyed. Every time Captain Picard had ever said anything kind or meaningful to him, it was followed by a look behind Wesley to Dr. Crusher, Wesley’s mother. In a flash, Wesley relived all these moments; saw all these Picard-to-mom looks in a searing montage that burned his brain. He suddenly knew that Picard only tolerated him because he was lusting after Dr. Crusher. The reality washed over him, bringing hot seething anger along for the ride.

Wesley stood and threw a stack of data cubes across his quarters, screaming as he did so. “I hope I die!”

The ship’s computer responded.

“I hope I die… Before I Get Old? My Generation. Mid 20th century song written by Peter Dennis Blandforth Townsend. Performed by The Who. Should I play the original audio recording?”

Wesley gave the ships computer terminal an angry glare. The stupid machine had performed some type of query based on his angry outburst.

“Whatever,” he replied, not expecting much. But a soothing performance might calm his nerves.

People try to put us d-down
Talkin’ ‘bout my generation
Just because we get around
Talkin’ ‘bout my generation...

Wesley stood on one side of his quarters, staring, mouth agape, at the tiny speaker across the room. “Yeah, why don’t you all fade away,” he muttered. Suddenly his eyes widened.

“Computer, do you have any more of this?”

“My database has more audio recordings, as well as visual records. How should I proceed?”

Two days passed. Ensign Crusher walked into Ten-Forward completely disheveled and still angry. He didn’t bother getting any food, he was still too furious to eat. He walked all the way through the lounge, looking for a target for his rage. Finding none, he kicked a chair away from a table and fell into it. His hair was as unkempt as its short length would allow, his undershirt wrinkled and unwashed, his uniform jacket tied around his waist. He looked like anything but one of Starfleet’s best and brightest. He glared at anyone who made eye contact with him, but few bothered.

His adolescent rage began to swell. The more he was ignored, the more he seethed. Finally, unable to tolerate the mocking silence, Ensign Wesley Crusher stood on his chair, stepped onto the table and defiantly declared,

“Mama’s got a squeeze box, Picard never sleeps at night!”

There was silence in Ten-Forward about the space of half a minute. Then Lieutenant Worf, Chief of Security, Son of Mogh, requested a word with him.

Guinan watched from the far side of Ten-Forward as Wesley and Worf talked. She could see the young Ensign’s passion – his hands would not stop moving, his right foot was tapping out a steady beat. At least Worf was listening and had not taken Wesley into confinement. She walked to the replicator and ordered a plate of food. It was obvious that Wesley hadn’t eaten recently.

“I thought you could use something to eat.”

Wesley glared at Guinan, then at the plate of steamed food.

“I don’t want that. What makes you think that I would want that?” he screamed. “Why do you think you know what I need or want?”

Guinan calmly stepped back and motioned to the replicator, “Help yourself, then. If you even know what you want, that is.”

Wesley returned to Ten-Forward a few hours later. Standing before the replicator, he glanced around to see who was watching. Ten-Forward was now mostly empty. No one was watching. He leaned forward and whispered, “Gibson SG guitar, Marshall JTM45…”

A few day’s later, Wesley returned to the replicator to get yet another instrument for Worf. The Klingon was determined to be a part of Wesley’s new adventure in music, but the right instrument had to be found. Two sets of drums, broken and useless, now lay in the back of shuttle bay 3.

“But Wesley, I have seen the documentation. Destruction of one’s instrument is acceptable behavior.”

“Yes, Worf, but they destroy their instruments after the performance. It’s no good if you do it at the beginning.”

“But once I start hitting them, it feels so good, so right. I must continue until they are destroyed.”

The conversation ended with Worf looking longingly at Wesley’s guitar. So now Wesley was returning from Ten-Forward with a very large and heavy Washburn Bass and amp.

At first, Worf was apprehensive. “It has fewer strings than yours. Why do you give me the inferior instrument?”

“Look, we need instruments that complement each other, not duplicate. Plus, feel how heavy it is. You could use it as a weapon if anyone rushes the stage.”

Worf’s eyes lit up. “Do you think someone will rush the stage? Perhaps they will.” His smile was a terrible thing to behold.

At that moment, Commander William T. Riker arrived at Wesley’s door, uninvited.

“Hello, Wesley,” he smiled. “I hear you’re developing an interest in music. I’d love to join you. I brought my trombone.”

Captain Picard’s face showed his concern. His First Officer had accused the ship’s Security Officer of assault. And Worf was not denying it.

“So, Worf, you admit that you struck Commander Riker? You understand how serious this is?”

“But Captain, the Commander assaulted us first with his… his… sonic turbulence device. He deceived us by calling it music. His attack was unprovoked. As Security Officer I was obligated to halt his attack.”

“Fortunately, Ensign Crusher confirms your version of events. Worf, you have been an admirable officer on this ship. Your status as the first Klingon to join the Federation allows me certain… discretion. But know that I will not tolerate this behavior in the future. You may go.”

As the Klingon reached the door, Picard softly spoke, “Worf, did you have to break his trombone?”

Worf turned about face, stood at attention, nostrils flaring. “It was for the safety of the crew. I did my duty, sir.” With that, he turned and left.

Picard did not have time for this. Over the past few weeks his crew had begun bickering amongst themselves, choosing sides. Unrest had now spread to his officer’s corps. So he called a meeting of his most trusted advisers, and Commander Riker, to formulate a plan for regaining order aboard his ship.

Picard, Dr. Crusher, and Data sat quietly around the conference table while Counselor Troi argued with Riker.

“He has no obligation to allow you into his band, William. He is exploring his passion in music, not yours.”

“But he’s not even playing music, not listening to music. Just noise, rhythmic vibrations. I can’t believe you call that music.”

“You just don’t understand, Riker.” He winced when she called him by the formal designation ‘Riker’ rather than the more familiar ‘William’. “Maybe you’re too old, maybe you’re all too old. But I understand his… his… angst, his anger, rage even. You have put him in a box and he only wishes to escape. Why do you insist on keeping him… down? The music that he plays over Radio Free Enterprise makes me weep with joy, makes me…”

“Wait, what is that? What is Radio Free Enterprise?”

Commander Data answered him, “Ensign Crusher has programmed the ships intercom system to broadcast musical recordings from the computer data banks. It has not interfered with official communications. And some of the crew seem to find pleasure upon hearing it.”

“Why haven’t I heard it?” Picard asked.

“Ensign Crusher’s modification detects your communicator’s presence and disables the speakers in that area. His design is actually quite elegant.”

“And why hasn’t someone stopped this broadcast? I cannot have communication on my ship, or the attention of my crew, compromised.”

“Captain, the system that Ensign Crusher has implemented is fully distributed. There is no one source. And it has not interfered with onboard communication. Apparently, any alert level above Green overrides the broadcast to prevent distraction to the crew.”

“Number One, take us to Yellow Alert. This should buy us some time.”

“With pleasure, sir!” Riker’s smug smile was more than Deanna Troi could stand.

“Captain, please. Music is a recognized art throughout the Federation. Every culture we have ever encountered has developed a form of musical expression. Why do you insist on silencing this music?”

“Counselor, if music be the food of love, play on. However, there are forms of music that have been determined to be subversive, working against the common good! This music needs to be suppressed before it leads to more disruption and rebellion. Beverly, do you have any thoughts?”

“Really, Jean-Luc, I believe it’s just a phase. He’ll soon get over this, I’m sure. In the meantime, I could check the pharmacy. Perhaps I have something to bring his emotions into balance.”

Deanna erupted. “You can’t be serious. You can’t give Wesley drugs to stop Rock and Roll. I can no longer be a part of this discussion.”

And with that, she quickly left the room. Captain Picard scanned the room slowly, meeting everyone’s eyes. “Beverly, delay the drugs, for now. Commander Data, you have been close to Wesley in the past. See if you can talk to him. He may see you as an unbiased listener. Report back to me after you’ve spoken to him. That’s all for now.”

Data found that he could keep a perfect beat, but had difficulty bringing life to his performance. Wesley pointed out all his favorite sound recordings, Data downloaded them, then filtered out everything except the drum portion. Within an hour he had listened to the entire cannon of what Wesley had told him was real Rock and Roll and could play any song Wesley wished.

On their way to Ten-Forward, Data noted that Wesley had been much less strict with Worf’s musical education, as evidenced by the Klingon’s performance attire. Worf wore metallic boots with a six-inch sole and carried a bass guitar modeled after a battle-ax. Data recognized the face paint and bat wings as belonging to an era that Wesley deemed not true Rock and Roll. Something called ‘Glam Rock’. But Worf seemed very pleased.

No one in Ten-Forward was pleased when Wesley and Worf began tuning their instruments. One crewmember loudly asserted that they were trying to watch a documentary about earlier Enterprise missions. Wesley did not respect their wish to watch Captain James T. Kirk.

“Captain Kirk?” he yelled, “that’s not Captain Kirk. It’s just some actor. William Fucking Shatner.”

As the trio played, Data tried to decipher the meaning to their song, “Get Off Of My Cloud”. At the time this song was written, no one had the technology required to stand on a cloud, and the lyrics had little to do with clouds at all. As he tried to decipher these metaphors in the lyrics Wesley sang, the captive audience in Ten-Forward grew less and less appreciative.

Before Wesley could begin their second song, a shouting match developed between Wesley and several crewmembers. After a very brief moment, Wesley screamed, “Screw it, I’m outta here,” unplugged his guitar, and walked out of Ten-Forward. Data was confused. He recognized that they had been playing 1960s era Rock and Roll but Wesley was behaving in the manner of the 1970’s and 1980’s punk musicians. Curious.

Immediately Worf began destroying the instruments so Data joined in. At Worf’s insistence, Data’s drum kit had been equipped with small explosive charges. Data was not sure why they did not simply use a phaser. It would have been much more efficient. Obviously, Data still had much to learn about Rock and Roll.

Picard took the lift to Deck 17. Since Data had failed to report back, he would confront Wesley in person, in his quarters. He would speak to Wesley as a father. He would offer full restoration of Wesley’s rank and responsibility, and was sure that he would come around, cease this nonsense. As he exited the lift with Riker and Dr. Crusher, he was confused and angered at what he saw. All the doors to staff quarters were open. Most of the room’s vid screens were displaying mid 20th century musical performances. The volume was deafening, completely out of line with Enterprise protocols. The lights in the hall were dim – some of the fixtures had been removed. Brightly colored leaflets were pasted on the walls. And the rooms were vacant.

“Where is everyone? What is going on here?”

As if in answer, a young female crewmember exited her quarters and collided with Picard as she ran toward the lift. He did not recognize her, and she was not in uniform, so he did not know her rank. She held a wine bottle in each hand - one still sealed the other open. It was obvious to all where the missing wine had gone.

“Watch where you’re going! You could injure the Captain,” Riker reprimanded.

“What are these?” Picard asked, motioning toward the leaflets on the wall. “Where are you going?”

“To the show!” she answered. “It’s in Shuttle Bay 3. Better hurry or you’ll miss the beginning!” She smiled as she raced past them toward the lift.

Picard walked to the wall and read one of the leaflets.

One night only, Fillmore Federation presents Furious NCC-1701-D.

“Is he mocking me, the ship, or the entire Federation?” Picard asked no one in particular.

Riker was ready with an answer. “He’s mocking all of us, sir. You have to stop him.”

Captain Picard tapped his communicator, “Security to Deck 13, Shuttle Bay 3…”

Ensign Wesley Crusher sat on the floor of his cell, his arms pulled his knees to his chest, his head rested against the wall, his eyes were closed. The smile was faint, but present on his bruised lips. Once again, he recounted the memory of last night.

He wasn’t expecting a crowd, but nearly 150 crewmen showed up, even some that were officially on duty. While Wesley and Worf tuned their guitars, wine bottles were passed through the crowd. A smoky haze lingered in the upper reaches of the shuttle bay.

Deanna Troi paced the stage. She had begged Wesley to be a part of this night. Wesley, seeing that her emotions were out of control, agreed to let her sing. While she’d been overjoyed at the prospect, just before the performance the cacophony of emotions was starting to overwhelm the half-Betazoid empath. But once the show began, she ruled the stage!

They opened with “Do You Feel Like I Do”. This was Deana’s choice. She felt that the phrasing of the song would bring about an alignment of thoughts and intentions, focusing the audience, helping her to avoid distractive emotions. She followed this with “Piece of My Heart”. But once she finished, the emotional strain had become too much, she couldn’t continue.

Wesley, Worf, and Data carried on with “All Along the Watchtower” – Worf’s contribution to the set list. The gathered crewmembers were enjoying themselves, people were dancing, and Wesley was completely lost in the thrill of performing when a security detail entered the bay, accompanied by Picard, Riker, and his mother.

He knew this moment would come and had planned a farewell song. His first choice was the Pink Floyd song “Mother”, but he decided it was too personal, too individual. He preferred something that could grab the hearts of his audience, bring them over in a common cause. Something that spoke to a collective pain. He pressed a foot pedal. A piano intro played. Data switched his sticks from a matched grip to a traditional grip. And Wesley sang.

Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville Train.

Picard and his security detail paused briefly, surprised to see so many crewmembers. How far had this madness spread?

Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again.

The security team began advancing, while the ship’s Captain, First Officer, and Doctor watched from the back of the bay.

In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive.

Riker stabbed at his communicator in a panic, “Security, we need two more details. Deck 13, Shuttle Bay 3. Hurry!”

By May the Tenth Richmond had fell,
It’s a time I remember oh so well.

The first two members of the security team had reached the stage area. One of them was saying something to Worf.

The night they drove Old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing.

The security team froze. Picards jaw dropped. Wesley, Worf, and Data smiled. The Shuttle Bay was filled with voices, all singing along.

The night they drove Old Dixie down
And the People were singing.

Worf’s wish came true. Someone rushed the stage.

After that, details were blurry. For a moment it looked like the security team would be overwhelmed, but they were carrying phasers, set to stun, but still very painful. Their backup arrived within minutes and the victors were decided, quite decisively.

The entire shuttle bay was converted into a detention center until details could be sorted out. Wesley and Worf were taken to the brig and placed in separate cells. Data was powered down. The insurrection was quashed.

And yet Wesley still smiled. Not only at what he had accomplished, but at what he still hoped to do. Until now, he was content to sing other’s songs, but now he had the time, and the inspiration, to write his own music. He would bring Rock and Roll up to warp speed. He was exhilarated.

He heard the food slot open and a food tray slide into his cell. He hadn’t eaten in 18 hours and was famished. He leaned over and pulled the tray closer. When he removed his napkin, he found underneath it a shiny, newly replicated harmonica.