Q’Mar was perfectly convinced she wouldn’t have a wink of sleep that night. An out-of-season birthday party, and with Mr. Data on top of it! Well, that was enough to keep anyone awake. Sure, she was a little tired, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to close her eyes just for a little while, but she was most definitely not going to sleep, and if she did, she’d probably dream about the party anyway.
And so it was that, when she opened her eyes again and groggily asked the computer for the time, as she’d been taught, she was shocked to hear that it was twenty-eight minutes past seven in the morning. That meant it was officially the day of the party!
Q’Mar was suddenly more awake than she’d ever been and scrambled out of bed. She was fully dressed and had already triple-checked that her respirator was on straight before she realized that she was not, in fact, late for anything, and it would be a few hours before she was meant to go to Ten Forward—with permission, no less! They’d be the most boring hours of her life, that was for sure.
She thought Pikk would make the wait a little easier, but hugging the dolphin tight and pretending to make him jump in and out of an ocean that wasn’t there only served to remind her that Patterson had received presents on his big day, and if it was a half-Lorquian, half-human party that awaited her, there were probably some in store for her too. Back home, they were not such a huge staple of the celebration: while it was not unusual to receive a small trinket just to make the occasion extra special, birthdays could go without presents without making you any less happy. Being with all the people you cared about was enough. Your fifth birthday was the only one on which presents were practically mandatory. Nobody actually said so, but everyone acted like they were, and they were usually big presents at that. When Miss Kyle had encouraged her to tell the class a little about how birthdays were celebrated on her planet, everyone in the room had looked outraged at the thought of no presents, and Patterson had actually pulled his brand new book about plants a little closer, as if someone were about to take it away from him (plants were his new favourite thing to talk about, after he got bored with dinosaurs), so it was obvious that getting presents was a very important part of human birthdays. Whatever she got, she would never forget Pikk, though. He meant too much to her to sit in a corner while she enjoyed her new stuff.
She played with her plushie a little longer, but soon enough, even Pikk couldn’t stop her from pacing around the room so much she thought she’d put a hole through the carpet if she kept it up, so she ventured out, her insides fluttering a little as they always did when she walked the corridors of the Enterprise alone.
There was no way she could get lost, like that time very early in her stay when she’d taken a wrong turn and didn’t know yet that she could just ask the computer for help when that happened, so it wasn’t fear that put ‘butterflies in her stomach’ (she’d seen pictures and videos of Terran butterflies, so now she understood the expression better). It was curiosity. She’d even learnt that word in Standard, because she was pretty sure she had a lot of it. At first, she wasn’t sure she could name it, even though Counsellor Troi had said very clearly that she should always give her emotions a name, both the nice and the not-so-nice ones, but for all the times he repeated he had no feelings at all, it was Mr. Data who had truly helped her get it. When she’d asked him just what the Enterprise was doing out in space, he’d thought that maybe the idea of exploration would go over her head, but she understood exactly. After all, she was discovering plenty of new places and things herself, so she was an explorer too. Kind of.
The first thing she did was visit her old friends one by one, but none of them would tell her anything about what to expect, even though it was clear they knew something she didn’t. No matter how much she peppered them with questions, they refused to answer as if someone had sealed their lips with very, very strong glue, though in P’Jor’s case, he may have just been too sleepy to say anything, as her ringing had apparently woken him up in the middle of a particularly nice dream. Oops. She hadn’t realized that the others might have wanted to sleep in a little longer.
P’Lok was second only to her in his excitement, as he always was when he got the chance to spend time with a high-ranking officer, but when she asked what he was excited about, he wouldn’t say a word, preferring to give a lot of extra attention to straightening his already perfectly straight clothes to avoid her questioning. He looked almost blinding in the lightest-coloured top he owned. Back home, it had been a natural association to make: light colours meant either that you were in charge, or that you were dressing up for a very important event. How weird it had been, that one time they’d gotten a glimpse of the Captain, to find out that Starfleet uniforms did not assign the lightest shade to the most important people! Wasn’t that much simpler than having to stare rather rudely at everyone’s necks to count the pips?
Q’Vel, she thought, looked especially smug as she said: “You’ll see” and then fell into a stubborn silence. ‘Stubborn’ was a word she’d often heard adults use to describe her, but it seemed everyone was bent on beating her at that particular game. She begged her to say more, but there was no way to make her talk, and while Q’Mar knew it was for the best, because whatever was in store would make her even happier if it came as a surprise, that didn’t stop another part of her from wanting to know everything right away.
After she gave up on trying to get information out of her fellow Lorquians, she realized there was something just as important she had to do: make absolutely sure that Mr. Data could really come to the party, not just because she wouldn’t be allowed into Ten Forward without him, but because she honestly wanted him there and she wouldn’t be nearly as happy if something came up. However, there was a problem: while she knew that the ship’s computer could easily help her find him, she could also guess that the gentle voice’s answer would likely be one of three places: the bridge, which was simply not a place for kids, as she’d been told a million times over, somewhere down in Engineering, where there was danger everywhere she turned, or his quarters, which she’d only ever visited for her Standard lessons so far.
When it turned out that she’d been right and he really was in his room, Q’Mar stood frozen in the corridor for a moment, squirming under the odd looks the few passing crewmen were shooting her, as if saying: Why would that kid be looking for someone so important? She almost turned on her heels and resigned to wait until party time all alone. Mr. Data probably had a very good reason for being where he was and didn’t want to be bothered. She had no idea what he might be doing, but she had the sinking feeling he wasn’t exactly playing with Spot (the ever-serious Mr. Data, playing! That would have been a sight to see), or something that could easily be interrupted. She had to make sure, though. After all, where would the party be held if he couldn’t come? Q’Mar didn’t know of an alternate plan. Surely he wouldn’t be too bothered if she just stopped by to ask him that. She’d be as quick as… as… whatever her human friends said when they wanted to describe someone fast, and then she’d go back to her own quarters like a good little girl and try not to go crazy with boredom.
When she got to his place, something happened that made her afraid she’d gotten the wrong door: she had to ring twice before he showed up. That wasn’t like him at all. He usually answered in a flash.
“Good morning, Q’Mar.”
“Hello, Mr. Data.” She was practically bursting to ask.
“Is there a problem?”
She frowned. What problem could he be talking about? She’d been taught very early on that she should ask Miss Kyle if she didn’t understand something, Sickbay if she felt ill, and Security if she ever thought she was in danger. Mr. Data’s name was nowhere on that list, though she sure wished it were, because he was probably smart and strong enough to solve all those kinds of problems put together and then some.
“Not really.” She thought she saw Spot in the room behind him. The cat was getting used to them, lesson after lesson, and didn’t run away anymore when she saw it was one of them at the door. She was really quite a lovable creature once she stopped hissing and hiding, and Mr. Data had taken to using her in his example sentences, making them all smile when it happened. This time, she was busy chasing after something long and thin, and seemed to enjoy biting and clawing at it. “Did you get Spot a new toy?”
“You might say so.” That, too, was weird. Mr. Data always said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when he could, and never danced around facts or gave half-answers like that. “But I suspect you are not here to take stock of my cat’s playthings. Will you come in and tell me the true reason for this visit?”
As she stepped inside, Q’Mar was more aware than ever that it was the first time they’d had a conversation that didn’t take place during a Standard lesson or on the way to or from school. It seemed today was an all-around special day, even before the celebration started.
“Can you still come to the party?” she asked. Just as an extra precaution, she crossed her fingers, like she’d seen one of her classmates do a few times. Apparently, you were supposed to do it when you really, really hoped for something to happen.
“Unless I am called to the bridge for a sudden emergency, I have no other plans.” Huh, imagine that. Crossing your fingers really did work. Q’Mar made a mental note to say thank you to Clara the next time she saw her—which, surprise, surprise, was at the party.
“Yay! What do you think it’ll be like?”
“I cannot tell you that in advance. All I can say is that there is a 99.8% chance you will be satisfied with it.”
Now, Q’Mar might not have been great at maths, but one thing she did know: that was the highest number he’d ever rattled off, and if she understood his odd way of talking correctly, it meant the party would be great.
“I can’t wait.”
There was silence after that, and Q’Mar didn’t like it one bit. She liked talking to Mr. Data, as he seemed to be an endless source of fun facts and he never told her she asked too many questions, whether they were two or two thousand, but what was she supposed to talk about besides school or her latest doubt about that one pesky Standard word that tied her tongue in a knot?
“Your room is very pretty.” There, she couldn’t go too wrong with a nice compliment, could she? Besides, it was true. Mr. Data’s quarters were bigger than hers, which only made sense, she supposed, since he was so important, and you could tell he’d owned them for a long time. Other than her school things and Pikk, her room really was no different from any of her friends’, while his had all the markings of a place that had been lived in. A few of Spot’s favourite toys (which she was still happily ignoring, by the way) were strewn around, and he seemed to have collected a number of things she’d never really noticed before, such as a potted plant, a strange transparent ornament, and a picture she didn’t understand hanging on a wall. It might just be because she couldn’t tell the colours apart, but why would he keep a picture of what looked to her like a jumble of different-sized rectangles? She squinted at it, but it didn’t help her make sense of it.
Mr. Data followed her gaze. “Ah, yes. Tableau I with Red, Black, Blue and Yellow, by the Terran painter Piet Mondrian.” He seemed to be about to launch into one of those lectures that sometimes made her feel stupid, but thought better of it. “Do you like it?”
Q’Mar bit her lip. It wasn’t that she didn’t like it, exactly, she just didn’t know why it was there. She’d seen prettier things, to be honest, but if there was one thing she knew about Mr. Data, it was that he never did anything without a reason, so there had to be one for the picture too. And then, of course, there was the small matter of the colours. The title alone made her… sad? Maybe a little envious? She’d never really questioned the way she saw the world around her before. Her eyes had always been good enough as they were, but now that she lived among humans and saw how important all those colours were to them, she felt that perhaps there was something missing from her life without them. She had the terrible impression that the world would be a lot more beautiful if only she could see red, black, blue and yellow the same way everyone else did, and she was missing out on it.
“I wish I could see it like you do. Then maybe I could decide if I like it or not.”
“Your eyesight is not necessarily inferior. It is simply different.”
“There are good kinds and bad kinds of different, and guess which one this is.”
“I understand why you would see it as such,” he said. “But for example, your friend Patterson might one day find himself wishing he could fall from a great height without being injured, and then he would think of you as being ‘a good kind of different’, as you say. Everyone brings something unique to the universe, whether they can see it in colour or not.”
Q’Mar considered his words carefully. For one with no emotions, he sure knew how to cheer her up. That last part seemed to stir something in her memory, but it was a moment before she remembered what it was.
“Miss Kyle invited a Vulcan boy a few classes above us once, and I think he said almost the same thing.”
“Ah. I suppose it is indeed similar to their IDIC philosophy.”
She nodded. That was exactly what the pointy-eared boy had called it, but the name had slipped her mind.
“I thought I understood it the first time around, but I guess I didn’t really get it until now.” Q’Mar paused. She’d meant to tell him for a while, but she’d never had the chance to do it. Now, though, without the others listening or a lesson to worry about, might just be the right time. “You’re a great teacher, you know?”
“Thank you. Teaching is as new an experience to me as learning Federation Standard is to you.”
Q’Mar could practically feel her eyes bugging out. “Really? You mean you were scared you’d mess up?” She realized her slip as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
“I am incapable of being scared. However, I did estimate the probability of my being a less than adequate teacher as rather high. Knowing the facts is only a part of what is required to teach them.”
“I don’t know what the other parts are, but I’m pretty sure you’ve got them.”
“I am honoured to hear you say so.”
A sudden chirp put an end to the conversation. “LaForge to Data,” the Chief Engineer’s voice rang out.
Q’Mar felt as if she’d swallowed ice. Not only did that mean she had to go, but what if Mr. Data got held up in Engineering for the rest of the day and couldn’t come after all? Worse yet, it would have been terribly rude and maybe even dangerous to interrupt him just to ask. What if there was some real trouble with the ship?
Stomach twisting unpleasantly, she settled for waving him goodbye. He waved back, but the rest of him was all serious business as he answered: “Data here. What is the problem?”
She never got to hear what the problem was, and to be perfectly honest, she wouldn’t have understood the half of it.
It wasn’t until she was halfway back to her own quarters that she realized what Spot’s toy was (or used to be, before she chewed it so thoroughly Q’Mar almost didn’t recognize it): a piece of ribbon just like the one that had adorned Patterson’s new book. Could that mean…? Getting her hopes up was a dangerous thing, but it was too late: the butterflies were back in full force.
It wasn’t very nice to get all those strange looks from people going in and out of the bar, but Q’Mar supposed that a steadily growing group of kids standing by the entrance and getting more bored and restless by the minute wasn’t something you saw every day. It wasn’t their fault if they had to wait for a grown-up before they could walk through those doors and get the party started, though! Those who already knew what Ten Forward was like, having visited it with their parents, kept saying it was well worth the wait, but admittedly, standing around like that wasn’t exactly a great start.
She was beginning to lose hope when the whispering started. Q’Mar stood on tiptoe to see what was happening (why did everyone have to be just that much taller than her?) and felt something warm swell in her chest. Yes, yes, yes! Mr. Data had finished just in time, and he’d brought Counsellor Troi along too, so now they were twice as sure they could get in!
The cheers were so loud that the doors slid open and someone came to see what was going on. It was the same lady who had explained to Q’Mar that she couldn’t visit the bar on her own (at least she’d done it nicely, without making her feel like she’d done something terrible), and she was still wearing that strange hat, too.
“Ah, I see.” She grinned, her teeth bright against her dark skin, and looked straight at Q’Mar. “Somehow, I had the feeling I’d see you around here again.” She winked, and though winking was new to her, like so many other things, she understood her meaning as if she’d said it out loud: I couldn’t stop you forever, could I?
They all filed in, and Q’Mar’s jaw dropped. Some of the tables had been gathered together and almost entirely covered in yummy-looking snacks, balloons in what had to be every bright colour on Earth and then some punctuated the softly-lit room, and just outside, so close you could almost touch them, the stars seemed to stand guard over the beautiful display, peeking in curiously from the tall windows as if they, too, knew something special was happening and wanted their share.
“What do you think?” The Counsellor’s voice startled her. She’d entirely forgotten she was supposed to say something.
“It’s… perfect.” There were a thousand things she could have said, but that seemed to sum them all up.
“Well, then, have fun, everyone. And don’t spoil your appetite!” She definitely exchanged a look with Q’Vel at that, one of those looks that had to mean something, but she didn’t know what.
“Is everything safe to eat?” she asked. It just wouldn’t do to be sick at her own party.
“All the refreshments have been personally approved by Dr. Crusher as not harmful to any species represented.” Well, that was all the reassurance she needed, and coming from Mr. Data, it just sounded that much more certain.
She picked something from the nearest bowl and studied it carefully before popping it into her mouth. It was almost paper-thin, it tasted salty and it made a pleasant crunchy noise. Q’Mar was reminded of Andorian tuber root, and though it wasn’t quite the same, she’d definitely found something she liked.
She went to take a second one and almost brushed fingers with Patterson, who had been about to do the same.
“So,” he said, “is this very different from the way you celebrate birthdays on your planet?”
“A little. We don’t have those balloons, and of course the food isn’t the same, but I guess a party’s still a party, wherever you go.”
“What kind of games do you play?”
“Something like your game of tag, only…” She trailed off. There weren’t any good places to climb in Ten Forward unless she clambered all the way up the windows themselves, which was exactly the sort of thing the adults were there to stop, and no one but the other Lorquians would be able to play that kind of tag anyway.
“I get it. You do that gliding thing. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it.”
“You will,” P’Jor chimed in, startling them both. Sometimes, he just seemed to pop up from nowhere. “What about the good luck flights? It’s not a proper party without them.”
A few others caught on to his words and started whispering. Even Clara, who usually didn’t talk much, said: “What are those? The name sure sounds cool.”
“We’re supposed to pick her up all together and throw her as high as we can, as many times as her age. It’s safe, she could just glide back down even if we didn’t catch her, and that hardly ever happens anyway.”
“It is remarkably similar to the human practice of carrying someone in triumph, if I understood the procedure correctly.” Q’Mar’s heart fluttered. From what she knew of Mr. Data’s strength, he could probably give her the highest good luck flights ever, all on his own.
“Did someone say ‘good luck flights’? Those are always fun.” P’Lok made a great show of stretching his arms in preparation, as if he were to pick up something very heavy. “But since it’s not really her birthday, how many times are we supposed to do it?”
“We could just do it once to show everyone what it’s like,” Q’Vel suggested. “After all, Q’Mar isn’t yet two on our calendar, but it would be sad to do without. It’s important.”
“That’s an excellent idea,” the Counsellor approved. “That way, you can honour your tradition and we can all learn something new. Ready, kids?”
She stepped away from the snack tables and into an open area so that no one would bump against anything, and all the partygoers gathered around her. Even the few officers who were spending their off-duty time on the fringes of the birthday bash watched with interest.
“Careful, now, Data, we wouldn’t want the little one to hit the ceiling.”
“I shall endeavour to apply only the proper amount of force.”
There was some awkwardness as everyone formed a tight circle and made sure they gave their contribution to the good luck flight, but at last, Q’Mar was lying securely on what felt a little like a bed made of friendly hands. Mr. Data (and how nicely warm he was, despite all the times he had remarked with not-quite-sadness that he was only a machine!) made one of his usual complicated comments about having overestimated her weight by at least 40%, and finally, they were ready.
“On the count of three?” Counsellor Troi proposed. There were nods all around. “One… two… three!”
Q’Mar whooped as their combined efforts propelled her upwards, and then, just as she felt herself starting to fall back down with a not at all unpleasant twinge in her insides, she spread her arms as far as they would go, and her membranes did the rest. The air itself seemed to catch her, breaking her descent as she knew it would. Feeling particularly daring, she twisted her head a little to watch the reactions of the people below, and as Patterson stared in wonder at how slowly she was dropping, she had a wholly different kind of twinge. At that precise moment, she felt at home. It was the first time she’d dared to think that since the rescue, but it was true.
“That,” said her friend as they all helped her stand upright after her little show, “was the coolest thing I’ve seen since the chameleon roses in the arboretum.” Coming from the plant buff he was becoming, it was high praise. “You should use it for the science fair somehow. Maybe record how long it takes you to fall from different places.”
Q’Mar nodded eagerly. Since Miss Kyle had told them that the science fair was coming up, everyone had been exchanging ideas for their projects, but so far, Q’Mar hadn’t been able to come up with anything as interesting as what the others were doing. Patterson had already begun growing his radishes and taking notes about their progress, and Clara (who had apologized profusely after she realized that Q’Mar could never really understand) was doing something about colours and heat absorption. Nothing she’d considered sounded nearly as cool, but making an experiment out of herself? Wow! Miss Kyle had made it very clear that their work had to be unique, and if that wasn’t unique enough for her, she didn’t know what was.
“Thank you so much! It’s a great idea! I’ll just have to ask if it’s safe enough.”
“I hope it is. It would look great if you did a thing like that again at the fair.”
“That’s not what matters. You don’t win just by doing something that looks good.”
“I wish I knew the secret for winning, because then I’d get to see places where we’re not usually allowed. Just like today, only even better, because the Captain might show the winners the battle bridge or the torpedo bay if we… I mean they… ask nicely.”
“Best of luck with that,” said the Counsellor, sounding for all the world like she was holding back a laugh. Maybe Patterson was dreaming just slightly too big. “Now, why don’t you all show Q’Mar something you like to do at human birthday parties? After all, this is a little of both.”
A flurry of different suggestions came from all sides at those words, and Q’Mar found out that there were plenty of fun games to play with both feet firmly on the floor. No one seemed to mind having to take the time to explain the rules before they started, and she soon found herself losing hopelessly at musical statues because she was giggling too hard to keep still. Incidentally, she found that she liked human music: it was a lot different from what she’d heard on Lorquis and she’d been scared at the prospect of having to dance to it, but it wasn’t unpleasant to her ear at all, and to nobody’s surprise, Mr. Data was very knowledgeable about it, having something to say about each and every piece that was played, even if it was just another one of those children’s songs that everyone knew but her. Once the embarrassment of that was over, though, some of them were pretty funny. The Laughing Vulcan and His Dog, in particular, had her in stitches before the end of the first verse, and it seemed that laughing was contagious even between species.
“I’d love to hear you play sometime,” she said as soon as she’d caught her breath. According to the Counsellor, Mr. Data was also an excellent musician.
“That could be arranged,” he said in all seriousness. Wow, time to cross her fingers again. “Being able to draw comparisons between Terran and Lorquian music would be an interesting side project for my off-duty hours.”
“Oh, Data, you’re always working,” said the Counsellor. “You could learn a thing or two from the kids.”
“That is one of the reasons I am here,” he answered, as if saying something that should have been obvious. “And I must say this is proving to be an excellent example of the humanoid concept of ‘fun’. I should try it as soon as my schedule allows.”
His longtime friend and colleague gave him one of her warm smiles at that. Q’Mar was glad for this chance to see the way they acted with each other: she liked them both, but they were so different it was a wonder they managed to work together at all—one unable to have feelings, though she was seriously beginning to doubt it was completely true, and the other having to deal with everyone else’s as well as her own.
“It is, isn’t it?” she agreed. “And someone is about to have a lot more fun!” Counsellor Troi raised her voice at that and turned to shoot one of those meaningful looks at the bartender, Guinan, she thought they’d called her.
Her only response was to dive behind the counter. For a moment, only her funny hat was visible, but when she emerged… well, Q’Mar couldn’t believe her eyes. She didn’t know where they’d been until then, but the fact remained that she’d just deposited two shiny packages in front of her, one of which sported a ribbon that looked just like the one Spot had been happily chewing that morning.
“Is… is that all for me?”
But Guinan had disappeared again, quick as a flash, and when she came back for the second time, her question almost went unheard under the general yelling of: “Cake time!”
The first few kids to reach the counter stopped dead in their tracks when they had a closer look at it.
“Weird. Looks good, but it’s still weird.”
“It looks like a starfish to me.”
Having seen a picture of an Earth starfish, Q’Mar had to go and make sure she wasn’t dreaming. Her breath caught in her throat. Apart from the candles – five of them, as they were apparently counting her years the Terran way this time –, it was almost identical to the brand of sweet bread she used to share with Mom and Dad whenever there was something to celebrate, with its five twisting branches that were so much harder to make than a plain round shape and that much more special for it, only… were those icoberries that had been arranged prettily around the base of each candle? Double yum!
Q’Mar fought down a lump in her throat. “This is the best party ever.”
“Glad you think so,” said the Counsellor. “Why don’t you open your presents?”
She reached for the closest one, the one which she suspected more and more that Mr. Data had wrapped himself (with Spot’s not-so-useful collaboration). It was flat and hard to the touch. She almost didn’t dare undo all his work, and started unwrapping it with care, starting from a corner. Patterson giggled.
“You’re supposed to rip it up! Come on, it’s not like you’re hurting it!”
She thought it over for a moment, then decided to do as he said and opened the rest of the present with a satisfying ripping noise.
She was missing out on its colours, again, but the pictures on the cover were clear enough even in scales of grey (well, at least grey was a colour she could understand).
“It is from both of us,” said Mr. Data. “You seem to have shown a particular interest in the animals of Earth. I could have just as easily sent the information to your school PADD, but the Counsellor believed an actual bound book would be ‘a nice touch’ for your room as well as an educational tool. You will notice I have already bookmarked the oceanic fauna section.”
Q’Mar looked more closely. There seemed to be a slip of paper inside, and she let the book fall open at the page it indicated. The picture there looked every bit like a bigger version of Pikk.
“Wow,” she breathed. She couldn’t wait to see it all, but it was not the time. There was another package to open, rather flat as well, though it wasn’t easy to guess what it was just by the shape.
“Some of it was Miss Kyle’s idea,” Patterson admitted just as she started ripping the paper, “but the whole class made it together.”
Inside were not one, but two things, and one of them was a box of crayons. Her face fell. Didn’t they know by now that it would always be awkward for her to use those?
“Open the box before you say anything,” said Clara softly.
Q’Mar did. She took a random crayon from the box and almost dropped it. She chose another one, and it was the same. Then another, and another… Her friends had labeled them all with the names of their colours and little pictures of things that she already knew she was supposed to colour with them—for instance, the one named ‘YELLOW’ came with a tiny sketch of the Earth’s sun.
The second part of the present was another book, but much smaller. She opened it, struggling a little to do it without letting go of her precious box. It was a list, written in a lot of different handwritings, telling her exactly which crayon she had to use for what, and as she flipped through it, she saw that most of it was still blank.
“You can add to it any time you draw something new,” said Patterson. “That way, you can learn about colours without seeing them, and practice reading and writing in Standard at the same time. At least, Miss Kyle said so.” The boy came closer and pried the box gently from her hand. “For example, if you want to draw a picture of yourself, you have to use this,” he fished out the one with the word ‘ORANGE’ and a little figure with an unmistakable frill on its head, “but it also goes for carrots, and basketballs, and who knows how many other things.”
“And you…” She had to try two wrong ones before she stumbled upon the one with a fairly human-looking stick figure, “you’re pink instead, right?”
“Right! See? It’s working already!”
“Thank you so much!”
“Group hug!” someone called out, and she’d never been so happy to see a mass of pink, yes, pink, threatening to squeeze her half to death.
“Aren’t we forgetting something?”
All heads turned towards the Counsellor. She was holding a big knife and letting it hover close to the cake. The cheers were almost deafening.
“Wait a minute!” Clara spoke up. “What about the song?”
That had slipped Q’Mar’s mind entirely. What did it sound like, again?
Counsellor Troi put the knife down and said: “Of course! Please, don’t be too harsh a judge, Data. This isn’t exactly the Handel and Haydn Society.”
“Will my name even fit?” asked Q’Mar quickly, before the singing could begin.
“Any name can fit in there,” said Patterson, “and if it doesn’t, we make it. Mine’s longer than yours and it fits just fine.”
“Right, then. Is everybody ready?”
The Counsellor motioned for them to start by playfully waving her index fingers in the air, which apparently meant something to them, because they all reacted as one:
“Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Q’Mar,
Happy birthday to you!”
Patterson was right: it fit. It still sounded a little out of place, but it fit in its own way. Just like her.
All the singers looked sheepishly at Mr. Data, waiting to hear just how badly they’d done accordingly to his sensitive, musically trained ears.
“It seems Counsellor Troi was correct. You are not quite ready to form a professional choir. However,” he paused as if looking for the right word, “it was most definitely fun.”
“That it was, Data,” she said, smiling from ear to ear. “Will you take care of the candles, Guinan?”
“Just a minute.” The bartender pushed a button. “Security?”
“Lt. Worf here. What is the problem?” came a deep voice from the other end.
“I wouldn’t call it a problem. Could you temporarily turn off the fire system in Ten Forward, please? We have a birthday party going on and we wouldn’t want a few simple candles to set off the force field all over the cake.”
There was a pause. “Done. Be sure to call again when they are extinguished. We would not want any real hazards to be overlooked, either.”
“Don’t worry, I will. Guinan out.”
She lit the candles one by one and Q’Mar couldn’t help but grin. They looked like five little stars that wanted to go join their big sisters out there.
“Make a wish, little one,” said Guinan softly. Q’Mar frowned. Her friends had said that to Patterson too, now that she thought about it, but she didn’t really understand that tradition.
“You’re supposed to wish for something really, really hard before you blow out your candles,” explained Clara.
“But don’t say what it is out loud, or it won’t come true!” added Patterson quickly.
“Let me think.”
It was surprisingly hard to choose the right wish. After all, she had friends old and new who cared about her and a safe place to stay. Short of wishing for her family back, and even she could see that blowing out some candles wasn’t about to make that happen, there was nothing she could have asked for. Except… It wasn’t often that Q’Mar thought about the distant future, but she knew that people transferred on and off the Enterprise all the time, so what if her stay wasn’t forever?
She breathed in until she felt her lungs were close to bursting and thought: Wherever I go, I wish for a place where I fit. For good measure, she crossed her fingers too. Then she blew until she was all out of air, and though the respirator made things harder, the five little flames flickered and died one by one. Everyone clapped their hands – yes, everyone, even Mr. Data, though he joined in a moment later, as if he were doing it just because everybody else was – and Guinan took a moment to wave her hand over the cake to disperse the last of the smoke, while the Counsellor picked the knife back up.
“Now that that’s done, the birthday girl should have the first cut,” she said, and took her hand with her free one. She manoeuvred so that they were both gripping the handle safely. The bigger hand guided the smaller one downwards, and… yes! There might be no icoberries on her colour list (yet), but the dark shade of the jam that was peeking out was definitely familiar. When she took a bite out of her piece, she found that it wasn’t quite like the Lorquian dessert she was used to, but though it was definitely made with other ingredients and maybe a little sweeter than expected, it was just as soft, and honestly, the generous dose of icoberry filling that was soon smeared all over her lips made up for any difference. The tastes were another thing that simply fit together, just like Q’Mar and her friends.