Q’Mar threw down her PADD in anger, sending it clattering across the stage. She didn’t care that she might have broken it, or that she was making a scene in front of Mr. Data and the others. She’d had enough.
“This is stupid. Just find another Dorothy. I’m out of here.”
She stormed out of the taped area and towards the large door of the cargo bay, but she hadn’t taken more than five steps before a pair of strong hands stopped her.
“Are you sure you wish to give up your role after working on it so hard?”
Why did Mr. Data have a way to make certain ideas sound stupid without saying that they were? She turned her head to face him and he released her from his iron grip – and how careful he must have been to stop just short of hurting her, like the Tin Man stepping over an innocent ant on the road –, probably hoping she’d turn around and try that nasty scene again as if nothing had happened, but it wouldn’t be as easy as that.
“Don’t you see? I’m the only one who keeps forgetting things. And even if I ever learn my part, I’ll never really understand what it means, so what’s the use? Ask Clara Sutter to do this instead. She’s human, she’s smarter and she’s prettier. You don’t need me.”
Dr. Crusher was by her side in a flash.
“That’s nonsense. We knew from day one that it wouldn’t be easy for you to learn the script in Standard, but you’ve been great so far, and I don’t even want to think about what would happen if we all suddenly had to learn to work with another Dorothy with so little time before the play is scheduled. We do need you.”
“But I don’t even know what I’m saying half the time!”
“It sounds to me like you’ve learnt more than enough Standard to understand your lines just fine. Do I have to ask Data to spout some numbers at us about how much you’re improving, or do you believe me?”
Couldn’t she see it? It wasn’t just a matter of language! Most of the words were easy enough taken one by one, and Mr. Data had patiently explained to her that the reason the characters ‘talked funny’ at times was that the story was very, very old, written back when space travel only existed in some humans’ wildest dreams. That was not the biggest problem at hand.
“It’s not that. I know what most of my lines mean, but there are so many other things I don’t get!”
Well, she had asked for it, hadn’t she? Q’Mar knew that sometimes adults found her annoying when she asked too many questions, but she had her permission this time, so she let them flow, not caring the least bit what she would think of her. Those questions needed to be asked. She’d been holding them in practically since the first time she’d seen her script.
“Why does it matter that Dorothy’s dress is blue and white? Why is the road yellow instead of another colour? Why does the Wizard want everyone to think the city is all green? Isn’t it beautiful enough already? I tried on the green glasses the last time we rehearsed in the holodeck, and they don’t work for my eyes. They just make everything a little darker, and it’s prettier without them.”
There was a long pause before Dr. Crusher answered her, and her voice was slow and careful, as if she had suddenly forgotten how to speak Standard and had to look for the right word at every turn.
“I’m sorry, Q’Mar. I guess that when I offered you the part, I didn’t realize how important colours were to the story. Seeing in colour is so normal to humans that I never thought about what your species might feel about it.”
“It’s a fun story, I’m just not good enough at sounding like I care about the colours, and that’s bad for the play. It’s difficult to pretend the City looks amazing when I don’t even know what green is.”
“Well… maybe there is something we can do about that.”
Q’Mar’s stomach flipped. What? Really? Hadn’t Dr. Selar said it was impossible? And if there was a way, would it be forever or just for a while? Would it hurt? There were so many questions at once that none ended up coming out of her mouth, and it wasn’t just because her translator was lying a few meters away.
“But… but…” she stammered. “I thought I’d never…”
“We’re not sure it can work yet.” We? As in Dr. Crusher and who else? “I didn’t want to tell you because we’d risk getting your hopes up for nothing, but if you feel like trying, I think I can make an appointment for you tomorrow.”
“Yes! I’ll be there, I promise!” She trusted Dr. Crusher enough to think she wasn’t making it all up, but it certainly sounded far-fetched. No matter. If it meant she would finally know why blue, yellow and green were so important, she would gladly go through a million hypos and tests and who knew what other unpleasantness. “But… what do I have to do, exactly?”
“I’m sure Dr. Selar can explain that to you better than I can.”
When Q’Mar entered Sickbay, she was skipping more than walking. Finally, finally, she would get to see the world the same way Patterson and Clara and everybody else did, and she was so impatient she could hardly stay still.
One look at the doctors, however, was enough to forget the deliriously happy mood that had been carrying her through the day as if she were floating on her own little cloud. Dr. Selar was even more serious than usual, if that was even possible, and Dr. Crusher’s face looked for all the world like there was a piece of very bad news ahead. Had they found out that they couldn’t do it after all? Wouldn’t it have been better to just cancel her appointment, then, instead of calling her all the way here just to tell her she had to go back and say goodbye to her dream of really understanding what it meant to walk along the yellow brick road?
“Hello,” she said in a much smaller voice than she’d planned. “Is… is something wrong?”
“That’s what we’d like to find out,” said Dr. Crusher, a weak smile flashing across her face. “Dr. Selar has had an idea that just might allow you to see in colour, but we want you to understand some very important things first.”
“Okay.” The butterflies in her stomach were fluttering madly. There was something in her voice that made her feel like they were treating her as an adult rather than a kid, and while that would have been fun and exciting on a good day, now it was just plain scary.
“The first thing you need to know is that it might not work at all. We need to run some tests before we try, just in case.”
“I doubt she is naturally immune, Doctor,” the Vulcan put in, earning herself a perplexed look from both of them, “and there is no indication that she has had any particular training. However, I cannot exclude the possibility of ill effects, and a clearer picture of Lorquian neurophysiology will certainly provide more clues of what to expect.”
Even with the precious pin secured to her chest, Q’Mar was beginning to feel a little lost in the maze of scientific words, but in a way, it was good to know the doctors were being so careful about this, whatever it was. It was one less chance to get hurt, right?
“I have a feeling there’s something you’re not telling me,” said Dr. Crusher, sounding suddenly suspicious, “but whatever it is, if it helps, it’s more than welcome. Now, Q’Mar, you might be disappointed to hear this, but if it does work, it’ll only be temporary. We need to be sure you know that it’ll only last for a short while, and then you’ll be back to seeing in greyscale. Do you still want to do this?”
What kind of question was that? Up until yesterday, she’d never dared to hope for a second of colour vision, let alone ‘a short while’. If it hadn’t been all too clear that this was no laughing matter, she would have been hysterical. Dr. Crusher had to be crazy if she thought it needed to be asked.
“Of course! When do we start?”
Dr. Crusher bit her lip, appearing to think hard. “Please understand that you’ll miss it when it’s over, and we might very well find out that it’s better for your health not to try it ever again. Can you accept that?”
Well, when she put it like that, Q’Mar supposed it would hurt to go back to her old grey world and never hope to see even the smallest flash of red or green again, but still, it was more than she, or any other member of her species, had ever thought to ask for. She truly felt like an explorer now, and she certainly wasn’t going to turn on her heels and give up.
“I’ll remember it, won’t I?”
“Yes, you will.”
“Then it will be a memory that nobody else has, and a very good one too. Why wouldn’t I want it?”
There was a pause as the doctors took in what she said, and then: “Well, you’ve certainly convinced me. Anything else you’d like to add, Dr. Selar?”
“Actually, there is. Do you remember our… conversation about the extent of my species’s telepathic abilities?”
This time, Q’Mar came dangerously close to snorting, perhaps to release some of the tension that was filling the air, as their worry was apparently contagious. She called that a conversation? Well, there certainly had been a lot of talking involved, so it wasn’t exactly wrong, but if she had to define it, ‘conversation’ wouldn’t be the first word that came to mind. She didn’t know what to call it, but she did know it had been a lot more.
“Yes,” she said, hoping she sounded as serious as the situation called for. “But what does that have to do with seeing in colour?”
“You wished to know what else I could do, and I must admit that my answer covered only a small part of the whole truth. Have you ever heard of mind melding?”
“Uh… only once, and even then, I didn’t understand much.” She only had that Vulcan boy to blame for being so clueless—his visit to Miss Kyle’s class had been interesting, but it had felt like he had prepared a script of his own and was performing for them, never once straying from what little he was allowed to say.
“I see. I confess it is far from easy to describe it briefly to someone who has never experienced it, but you have a right to know what you’re facing. If you were to accept, I would have access to your memories, and you, in turn, would share mine. And since my race is able to see in full colour…”
“Then I’d see your memories in colour too! That’s… that’s…” Was there even a word for something that was so much more than just ‘amazing’ or even ‘wonderful’? Q’Mar gave up her search for it. Not even ten translators could help her with that.
“That is the general idea. You would give up a lot of your privacy in the process, and though I’ll actively try to stay away from the worst of it, you might be forced to relive something… unpleasant. Do I still have your permission?”
Q’Mar frowned. Even with her usual level voice, there was something in the way she’d said ‘unpleasant’ that made her fear it would be a lot worse than that. Still, she’d known her long enough to believe she’d never let her come to harm on purpose, and whatever was ahead of her, if it meant understanding what it was like to see in colour, it was worth it. Maybe she’d even be able to pick her favourite. Everyone but her seemed to have one: Patterson liked green, Clara preferred blue, and whoever else she asked always had a quick answer on the tip of their tongue, except maybe Mr. Data, who would probably launch into one of his usual lectures about all the science behind colours and top it off with the exact reason why an android couldn’t have a real favourite. She wanted a favourite colour too, and it was the only way to get one.
“Yes, Doctor. I want to do this.”
The tests went by in a whirl of things she didn’t understand, and it took all that she had to sit through them like a good girl and ask only a tiny part of the questions she wanted to. Dutifully, she had her eyesight tested again ‘the old-fashioned way’, whatever that meant, with the big difference that she now knew her Standard letters well enough to read them from the chart until they got too small to make out from a distance, courtesy of Miss Kyle and Mr. Data’s combined efforts, then she lay on a biobed without squirming too much while small, uncomfortable things were attached to her forehead and the doctors made their comments, both too hushed and too complicated for her to catch, as they looked at what she thought might be a picture of her brain—she’d seen a thing like that on one of the classroom computers, but this was much more complex, and she had no idea what it was telling them.
And then, just like that, the comments ended and an abrupt, heavy silence took their place. Q’Mar shot a look at the doctors and her insides gave an odd little flutter. Dr. Selar appeared to be bracing herself to do something very difficult, and Dr. Crusher, she noticed, was looking pointedly away from her, as if she weren’t supposed to watch her doing it. Q’Mar looked the other way too, just in case.
“Ready.” The devices came off with a slight pull of Dr. Crusher’s expert fingers, and Q’Mar, more than ever, got the sense that this was it. There was no room in her stomach for butterflies anymore. She’d moved far, far beyond them. As she swung her legs off the side of the bed, she realized she was trembling a little, though it was hard to tell if it was more out of excitement or fear. “If you’ll just sit up, I’ll let Dr. Selar take over from here. I’ll be monitoring the situation, but this is between the two of you.”
“That is an apt description.” Dr. Selar sat in front of her – had there always been chairs in Sickbay, maybe for visitors, or had they brought one in especially for the occasion? – and said with a solemnity that sent a small shiver down her spine: “Whatever happens next will be indeed ‘between the two of us’.”
“But what will happen?” Q’Mar had the strange impression that she’d just spoken out of turn, but the doctor didn’t seem angry. But then, when did she ever?
“That is… not entirely predictable. I can only ask you not to be too frightened.”
“I’m not scared… much.” Half a lie was better than a whole one, right?
Still, when her hand reached for her face, it was hard not to pull away. She wasn’t afraid of her, or even of telepaths in general, since she’d had to get used to both on the Enterprise, but this was bigger than a session with the Counsellor, and bigger than her previous experience with Dr. Selar.
Somehow, the way her long fingers touched her didn’t feel random. Dr. Selar knew exactly what she was doing, and the fact that Q’Mar was thoroughly lost didn’t matter, or so she hoped. She probably knew enough for both of them.
When she started speaking, it seemed like every feeling she’d ever had fought its way to the surface. Confusion, as she hadn’t expected her to say anything at all. Fear, she admitted to herself, because she didn’t know the first thing about this, but it was beginning, and there was no turning back now. Happiness, even, because she was just one step away from something she’d been dreaming of ever since she’d boarded the ship. And there, somewhere in the back of her mind, a strange sense of calm that seemed to be the only thing that kept her head from exploding. Was it even genuinely hers, or was she sending it to her? For some reason, she didn’t care.
“My mind to your mind,” she said. It was not the droning voice of one who’d learnt a piece by heart, and yet, Q’Mar knew with startling clarity that the words were not entirely her own. “My thoughts to your thoughts.” She’d barely registered that the sound was oddly distant, as if there were something in her ears, when it happened.
There was the smallest of tingles where their skins made contact, and then it was very much like falling, except she wasn't sure which way was down.
The next thing she knew, she was fighting to draw breath. The room smelled all wrong, her throat felt constricted, and something invisible weighed heavy on her chest as spots started creeping up at the edges of her vision. She tried to look down to make sure her respirator was working, but she found she couldn’t even move her eyes, let alone the rest. Fear flooded her.
As a shimmering force field came down around her and blessed clean air filled her lungs again, she realized what must be happening: it was her first time in Sickbay all over again, but something was different.
There was her other self, completely disoriented, too frightened even to be curious about the strange room she'd just been transported into or the alien lady talking frantically to thin air in a language she didn't understand, clinging to the sight of her friends for comfort, for they were the only familiar thing around.
There was her current self, the one who recognized that lady as Dr. Crusher and did understand what she was saying (well, some of it, it was too full of big scientific words), which meant that the hours spent with Mr. Data were paying off, and knew from experience that he would walk in any minute, rattling off specifics about the atmosphere on the Uquarr so that their respirators could be made. That was the first time they'd met, and she'd had no idea how important that memory would become.
And then, just at the edge of her consciousness, there was something else too, something that hadn't been there the first time around. It felt like yet another part of herself, but at the same time, it didn’t quite belong. She (because it was definitely a she, that much she knew) was neither expectant nor scared, and instead just emanated a sense of… polite curiosity, it seemed, as if she were content with taking the back seat, hidden but very much there, watching and listening to everything and making a steady stream of observations. It wasn’t like a voice, exactly, as she couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. It was more like a memory of a voice she’d heard before, only that couldn’t be, because the words weren’t familiar. Interesting, the voice was saying. The photoreceptors seem to be underdeveloped, compared to most known humanoid species, and yet they have adapted to life without them. I wonder how this affected their aesthetic. It sounded almost like something Mr. Data would say, but it wasn’t him. It was Dr. Selar, she realized suddenly, her whole body wanting to jolt in recognition but frustratingly unable to do it, and if she could hear her, maybe she could talk to her too.
Not quite knowing what she was doing, she reached out and gave the gentle intruder what felt oddly like a cautious mental poke—not that there was anything to touch, but she didn’t know how to explain it even to herself otherwise. It was like saying Hey, I know you’re in there, but without really using words.
“Your mind is quite responsive.”
It was the doctor’s voice, but it sounded more real somehow, as if she were right beside her instead of an invisible presence inside her head. Something shifted, though she couldn’t quite name it, and yes, just like she suspected, she could move all of a sudden, no longer restricted to doing exactly what she’d done the first time.
She whipped her head in the direction of the voice and found Dr. Selar standing there in the flesh, or in as much flesh as there could be in the strange memory world they’d been plunged into.
“Y-you weren’t there when this happened,” she said experimentally, afraid her voice would betray her.
“You are correct. I was not on duty when you first arrived. This is only a manifestation of my mind; I am not really here, you might say.”
“Then why can I talk to you?”
“It is the simplest way our minds can process being in such close contact. I can see what you see, hear what you hear, and in a few moments, if you are willing, it’ll be the other way around.”
“Will I be able to see in colour?” Oh, how she ached for that. Everything must be so beautiful in all those interesting shades she could understand only in theory.
“That is what we’re about to find out. Come closer.”
“I’m stuck in the force field.”
“Ignore it. It’s as simple as that. It is no more real than my presence here.”
“You sure seem real to me…”
But Dr. Selar must have said it for a reason, so she decided to try anyway. She sat up on her biobed, half-expecting her head to hit the field and send her sprawling back, but there was no obstacle at all. Wow. Q’Mar hopped off and went to stand next to the doctor, shooting one last look at the ineffective cocoon of light she’d left behind. Such things had only ever happened to her in dreams before, and this was starting to feel more and more like one.
“Take my hand.” Q’Mar looked at her dubiously. Going by her precious few experiences, it was strange of her to offer. “Once again, I am not real. We can’t be much closer than we are now; physical contact, or the appearance of it, will make no difference.”
Q’Mar grabbed on, and the scene began to shift. Was this the moment she’d been waiting for? When everything settled back into familiar shapes, would she see them in reds and greens and blues?
And then pain shot through her head and the world exploded in a mess of sound and smell and a thousand other sensations at once. The doctor’s fingers dissolved beneath hers, and she was all alone against them. She closed her eyes, but it was no use, they were everywhere.
The shrill call of leikil as they splashed playfully in the ocean. The heady smell of jup-tal that made you a little woozy just being at the same table, even if you couldn’t drink it. The wail of a red alert piercing her chest with fear. The rich taste of an oskoid bursting on her tongue even with her mouth clamped shut. Daddy’s fingers (and she knew they were his, even though they were invisible) tickling her mercilessly. Wind rustling through the leaves, very close, as if she were listening to it from her treehouse. Acrid smoke filling her nostrils. The constant thrum of engines pounding too loudly into her head as if amplified, even though it was the kind of noise you got so used to you stopped hearing it after a while. Distant strains of songs, human and Lorquian alike, overlapping in a discordant jumble. The crunchy saltiness of the chips from her party. The sweet scents of countless alien flowers in the arboretum. And through it all, sickening bursts of pain that made her want to pray to ancient gods she didn’t even believe in that it would just stop, because it hurt, it hurt so much…
She screamed and screamed until her lungs felt empty, and it seemed to her that her mind screamed too, crying for help, casting about wildly for Dr. Selar, who seemed gone, maybe drowned in the sea of mixed messages coming from everywhere and nowhere.
Try to stay calm. It was her not-quite-voice again, seeming to come from inside her own head to rescue her, and she clung to it for dear life.
Her soothing words seemed to keep the worst of the pain away, and she breathed a little easier, silently begging for more.
What’s going on? she tried to ask, and she instantly knew the message had been delivered, even though she’d never talked with her mind instead of her mouth before.
Your brain is trying to translate unfamiliar information into familiar terms, she explained, and all Q’Mar wanted was to keep her talking, or thinking, or whatever it was, because the more she did, the further away the torturous knots of feelings seemed to go. I did not realize it would be painful.
It’s getting better.
I know, and though her tone was calm, a split second of amusement pulsed through her, immediately tempered by a wave of guilt. I am experiencing this with you. I never intended to put you through all this. If you open your eyes, you’ll find the transition is almost over.
Ever so slowly, Q’Mar complied. The strange shapes around her were still blurry and as grey as ever, but… what was that? She chased after it, but she hadn’t moved two steps when she found it was already gone. And yet… there had been a flash of something. She couldn’t give it a name, but she knew she hadn’t imagined it.
And then there was another, a splotch of something she didn’t know what to call, and another, and another, and they were becoming wonderfully solid around her and beneath her feet, turning into a smooth floor, and walls, and stars glistening out of tall windows on the far side, and tables that had been pushed away to make room for people, all sorts of people in Starfleet uniforms, and if those were uniforms, then that was what it meant to wear yellow and blue and red, and now she knew! For real!
She thought she’d feel the sting of happy tears in her eyes any moment, but it never came. Someone only vaguely familiar came up to her and greeted her warmly. It was the woman who had covered for Dr. Selar when they’d been to the holodeck to see Oz for the first time, Nurse Ogawa. Wait, did she remember her name on her own, or was it the doctor who had supplied it? Somehow, it felt like the thin line where Q’Mar ended and Dr. Selar began was getting blurry. She should have been way more scared about that than she actually was, she was sure of it. Anyway, if Nurse Ogawa was in Medical and wearing her regular uniform, then that was what humans called blue. That was progress, right? How pretty. No wonder Clara liked it, and so did Dorothy, for that matter. But… whoa, wasn’t the nurse a lot taller the last time she’d seen her?
You are seeing from my point of view.
Where are we? When did this happen?
Ten Forward. I selected a memory that I believed would provide you maximum enjoyment of colour vision. This is my recollection of the crew’s latest art exhibit.
Those last two words seemed to linger in her head like an echo. If this was an art exhibit, then surely…? But she only allowed herself a tiny bit of hope, because hope, she’d learnt, sometimes led to disappointment, and she didn’t want it to spoil this precious experience.
She would have dearly loved to commit every single painting in the room to memory, touch them, even, to see if the colours felt different as well as filling her hungry eyes with a spectacle the likes of which she’d never seen, but it was her turn in the back seat. She knew only too well that the reason she could enjoy all of this was that these eyes weren’t hers, and if it meant that neither was the rest of the body and she was forced to walk only where Dr. Selar had walked and see only what she had seen, well, it didn’t matter. It was worth it. Now, if only she could spot Mr. Data…
Nurse Ogawa led them closer to the windows, where another human woman was entertaining a small group of guests, obviously explaining something about what she’d painted, though art was one thing Q’Mar had never even hoped to understand until now.
“Lieutenant Wright,” she heard Dr. Selar say through a mouth that felt a little hers too—and what a peculiar feeling that was!
“Oh, hello, Doctor. Come to see my latest work?”
“Indeed. By my understanding of human visual arts, it appears you have decided to go back to your roots.”
Dimly, Q’Mar noted that Lieutenant Wright’s face, much like Nurse Ogawa’s, looked like she probably came from the part of Earth they called Asia. But frankly, her latest geography lessons were the last thing on her mind.
There, framed by a twinkling expanse of stars, stood a sight so beautiful it seemed to ram violently into her stomach. Against a soft background of drifting clouds in a colour she couldn’t pinpoint – purple, came Dr. Selar’s prompt, if a little amused, assistance –, Lieutenant Wright had painted a vast landscape of rocks that seemed to float weightlessly on the canvas, and though each was different from the next and there was no pattern that she could see, it was perfect, as if a giant hand had scattered them knowing exactly where they would look best. Clinging to the doctor’s running commentary, Q’Mar found that she had coloured them in warm reds and browns, giving each a thin black outline that made them stand out even more sharply.
“Spot on. I tried my hand at a Japanese style of painting—only, the great Hokusai could hardly have picked the asteroid belt of Rousseau V as a subject.”
“Interesting combination. I suppose the beginning of space exploration always broadens the range of choices considerably, and art cannot help but reflect that in the coming years.” Q’Mar giggled internally at hearing herself talk like that.
Dr. Selar said her goodbyes – no, she wanted to look at the asteroids a little longer! – and moved on, and from there on out, Q’Mar could barely keep up with the wonders she was faced with.
She learnt all about orange and yellow from a painting of a Risian sunset: not one, but two suns shining brightly on the canvas, and as soon as the young ensign who had made it stopped waggling his eyebrows and saying that his latest shore leave had been ‘inspiring in more ways than one’ in a voice thick with meanings she didn’t get and invited Dr. Selar to have a closer look, she thought her heart would stop, assuming she even had one within someone else’s memory. What had seemed like a picture of twin suns setting an alien sea on fire was actually a myriad of tiny little individual dots of colour arranged next to each other with all the precision in the world so that all you could see if you only stepped back was the landscape of Risa.
“French pointillism,” said the young man. “I don’t know what got into me, but boy, am I proud of this one.”
“A worthy endeavour. I was not aware that humans had the patience to accomplish this.”
He bristled a little at the comment, but his smile was firmly back in place soon enough. “I guess we’re just full of surprises.”
Green, it seemed, had a way of coming to her from all sides even when she wasn’t looking for it. The next time she rehearsed a scene in Emerald City, she was free to choose the colour of the lush Feloran bromeliads that reminded their Bajoran painter of home, or the shade of those beautiful hillsides that were apparently somewhere on Earth – the first picture of Earth she saw properly! Maybe she would get to go there one day –, or the one in the portrait of a strange alien lady with barely any clothes on that she only caught for a split second before the doctor turned away from it, both her old and her current self pronouncing it vulgar, with the former making a mental note to tell the painter’s superiors about it.
Blue was everywhere too. Someone had brought a picture of an Andorian friend, smiling widely with his antennae curled in flattery, and another aspiring artist had chosen a stunning view of Casperia Prime from orbit as his best piece, with its wide rings surrounding what looked like a blue marble suspended in the blackness of space.
And then there were the chameleon roses. Patterson, ever the plant expert, had been very taken with them ever since they’d been added to the Enterprise’s arboretum, but Q’Mar hadn’t been able to see what was so special about them… until now. Someone had decided to join the exhibit not with one painting or just a few of them, but with a whole collection. They were smaller than most, but to Q’Mar, they were amazing. The painter, grinning from ear to ear through all of her explanation, said she had invited people in all sorts of moods to hold one so she could practice faces, and in each piece, the rose was a different colour. Blue, purple, white, pink, even some beautiful ones in which the rose was half-and-half, as if it couldn’t decide what to become. They were all there. How was she supposed to pick a favourite at this rate? There was no way to tell which one was the best.
I was counting on this particular incident to give you the widest possible range, said Dr. Selar’s kind mental voice, and oh, how right she had been to choose this memory! And yet – maybe she was getting better at reading the messages she sent, or maybe she’d done that on purpose – Q’Mar couldn’t help but get the sense that the best was yet to come.
There were familiar faces in the next flock of guests the doctor went to join, although everyone looked so different in colour it took her a moment to reconcile them with the way she usually saw them. Counsellor Troi, in particular, looked like something out of a book of Earth fairy tales in her flowing blue dress that was not quite the same shade as a Science uniform; strangely, the way the lights reflected off the Captain’s shiny bald head was a little funnier from this perspective, and oh, would Dr. Crusher be embarrassed if she told her to her face how much she liked her hair? And of course, there was no mistaking the voice that was lecturing them in big words ending in ‘ism’ on what the paintings were supposed to mean. Q’Mar was momentarily stunned. Even before this, she’d noticed how much lighter Mr. Data’s skin was compared to everyone else’s, but she’d never realized just how much he stood out, and his eyes… she didn’t suppose anyone on the ship had eyes like his, golden and almost unmoving as he recited his well-prepared string of artistic jargon. They were… not scary, precisely, but Q’Mar had to forcefully remind herself of all the times she had seen them soften with something that, if it wasn’t emotion, was surely the next best thing.
“Wait, wait, wait, Data,” Mr. La Forge said, interrupting the steady flow of his speech, “can you hold on a minute and explain just what abstract painting has to do with your cat?”
“It was a style I had not experimented with yet. Spot was the only available subject, though I must admit she is not very good at posing.” And just like that, his eyes went back to being as nice as she knew them to be, even though the change in his expression had been so tiny it was hardly there at all. “I had considered asking you, as the way a painting is seen through your VISOR could perhaps provide me with unique insight, but then I realized that abstract painting does not usually produce results that conform to human canons of beauty, so I estimated a 73% chance of a negative reaction to what you would perceive as an ‘ugly’ depiction of your figure. Spot, on the other hand, is incapable of being offended by a matter of aesthetics.”
There was some scattered laughter at this, and Data stared at the others’ gleeful faces as if he were looking at an unusual spatial phenomenon on a viewscreen.
“Was that considered humorous?”
“By everyone but me,” said the engineer. “Someday you’ll understand.”
And it was Spot indeed, sitting proudly on something red whose jagged shape mustn’t have been very comfortable despite all the fur on her backside, and staring at her from the canvas as if inviting her to play, but… well… she wasn’t as pretty as the real thing at all. She was all sharp angles, and didn’t look nearly as soft and warm as Q’Mar had felt her under her fingers the very few times she’d managed to pet her. Why had Mr. Data chosen to paint her like that? She itched to ask him, but unless Dr. Selar had done so herself, she would have to wait until the next time they met.
“What about that one, Data?” asked Counsellor Troi, and as the doctor followed her pointed finger, she, too, saw that there was another painting, covered by a rich red cloth so that the audience couldn’t look at it yet. “Is it what I think it is?”
“As I do not possess any telepathic abilities, I am unable to answer that question with absolute certainty. However, considering that I have refrained from displaying this piece to the general public for five months, seventeen days and six hours, I have reason to believe it is indeed what you think it is.”
He uncovered it with an obviously studied flourish and everyone held their collective breath. Q’Mar would have joined in, but it was Dr. Selar’s body she was seeing it from, and Vulcans simply did not react like that, so she had to be content with staring in wonder.
She didn’t know what it was, but if it had been up to her, she would have stood looking at it until she grew old and wrinkled. The swirls of light and shadow seemed to want to move even in their stillness, and in the middle of it all stood a single white star that called to her insistently, almost sucking her into the painting to find something at the end of the long tunnel of deep, deep blue, she had no idea what, but something very special, no doubt.
“Data, that’s… that’s amazing! Why did you wait so long?” asked the Counsellor, and she ached to free herself from the confines of Dr. Selar’s ever-so-controlled mind and body to voice her loud agreement. “If I didn’t know you any better, I’d say you were suffering from lack of confidence.”
“This piece holds a particular importance to me. While I cannot say it is of ‘sentimental value’, it is without a doubt a milestone in my artistic and personal growth. Unlike most of my other subjects, it has no basis in reality, or, in other words, it is not something I have actually seen. I consider it one of my first attempts at being truly creative, in the fullest sense of the term. This, besides a number of technical reasons, was what made me hesitate to put it on display until now.”
“I didn’t know that,” she admitted softly. “I thought you were just being a perfectionist, as always. Good for you, Data. This is why you took up painting in the first place, isn’t it?”
“Yes. The imitation of other painters’ styles is excellent practice for my fine motor skills, but I found that I wished to move beyond that and seek one of my own. Would you say I was successful?”
“I’m no critic, but if this is the result, then yes, it’s a hundred percent you.”
“Thank you, Counsellor.” He paused, and Q’Mar realized that if it had been anyone else, he would have sounded choked up. “I consider that the highest praise I have received tonight.”
“Congratulations, Mr. Data,” said the Captain, and he was so serious you would have thought he was giving him a promotion or something just as important. “I believe I can say without fear of exaggerating that this brings you one step closer to humanity.”
Q’Mar felt something stir inside her when she realized how closely those words mirrored the way she felt. She was quite content with the species she’d been born into, thank you very much, and she couldn’t say she was doing this to be more human, exactly, but after this experience, she could at least understand something that her human friends took for granted and had always been inaccessible to her. It was worth every second of pain and fear she’d been through to get there.
Mr. Data’s words of thanks – and she couldn’t think of them as anything less than heartfelt, even though he would surely correct her – sounded oddly faint, as if she were listening from further away than she was, and then it was like trying to remember a dream when you woke up in the morning, only to see it slip away as if trying to catch water with your bare hands. The scene began to blur before her eyes, its beautiful colours running together in a shapeless mess.
When it reformed, the first thing she could think of was how cold her face felt in the spots where Dr. Selar’s fingers had just left her.
The room seemed both familiar and strange now that it was back to its old grey self—familiar, because it was as she’d always seen it; strange, because the magic she’d just experienced (and no, she wasn’t going to let anyone spoil the moment with their incomprehensible grown-up talk of neural pathways and the like, it was magic, and that was that) had been so intense that, now that it was over, she felt oddly empty and tired, as she usually was after a heady rush of excitement.
She looked up at Dr. Crusher, wanting no more than to tell her everything, but her head still hurt a little with a distant shadow of the pain she’d felt within the meld, and the words refused to get out as quickly as they usually did, as if she’d forgotten how to talk.
“So pretty…” she managed, sounding stupid even to herself.
“What?” she asked with a tiny smile.
“The chameleon roses, and the suns on Risa... and your hair too.”
“Why, thank you. Why don’t you lie down while I ask Dr. Selar some very important questions?”
Oh, what an excellent idea. She curled up on the bed she’d been sitting on and listened with her eyes closed, glad, for once, that they were seeing nothing but the darkness behind her eyelids.
“What happened?” she rounded in on the Vulcan. “Her K3 indicators spiked so high I had half a mind to pull you away.”
“That would have been inadvisable.”
“I know, but my hands were itching, let me tell you. What went wrong?”
“Nothing. I had not foreseen that pain would be involved, but I have concluded it was a natural, if unpleasant, part of the process.”
“Unpleasant? She’s only a child, and I could name a lot of adults who have never been through that much!”
“Her brain was not used to processing colours, though I suspect it is not entirely incapable of it. That initially caused an adverse reaction I had not expected.”
“You mean she could…?”
“The cells devoted to colour vision are not entirely nonexistent, but they are not yet functional. It would be logical to assume that her species might eventually evolve in that direction, but it won’t happen for a few million years at the very least, and I would not wish to tamper with evolution itself to correct a condition that is natural to her race. The child got the experience she wished for and she’s going to have to make do with it.”
“Perhaps an external device like Geordi’s…”
“Doubtful. Lt. Cmdr. La Forge’s VISOR, while undoubtedly suited to his particular situation, is not a viable solution to this. Firstly, we would have to adapt it to her physiology, and secondly, even seeing in colour temporarily was an obvious strain on her brain and optic nerves. Making it semi-permanent, if at all possible, might be too much.”
“I see what you mean.”
Fighting through the tiredness that made her limbs heavy, Q’Mar opened an eye, then the other, and finally spoke up: “May I ask Dr. Selar a question too?”
“Certainly,” said the Vulcan. “As it was your first time, questions are only natural.”
“Is it normal that my head hurts?”
“Yes. There are records of mind melds that are even more traumatic than this; considering what happened, your symptoms are the least that could be expected.”
“I’d give a mild analgesic, but I have a feeling that letting it pass on its own is probably a safer bet.”
“That is a wise choice, Doctor. It is logical to refrain from administering drugs so shortly after an experience no member of her species has ever had before. I would also advise keeping her under observation for the next few hours. And, Q’Mar, please remember that if you notice any other symptom that you think might be related, however small, you are to refer directly to me as soon as possible. I have seen several cases of patients doing damage to themselves under the mistaken belief that ‘it was no big deal’, and I would not wish you to be one of them.”
“I will, Doctor, I promise.”
“Good girl. Now, what was that about my hair?”
“It looks so different in colour. I like it.”
“Why, thank you! Get some rest now. It’s the best medicine sometimes, and honestly, in this case, it’s probably the only one.”
Q’Mar had lost count of how many people had already yelled “No running in the corridors!” after her. Three, or maybe four. She didn’t care, she just had to get to Sickbay, and fast. She was panting with the effort when the doors slid open to let her in, but thankfully, she spotted Dr. Selar not too far away, and her heavy breathing was apparently greeting enough.
“What is wrong? Are you experiencing side effects from yesterday?” “I think… I think I dreamt in colour last night. I don’t even remember much of it, but it was the best dream I’ve ever had.”