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"This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am about to relate. Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that," Data said, his best attempt at a period accent coming out more like a Cockney squawk than actual speaking, as he strode downstage from his mark near the stage right wings to center stage. "Old Marley was dead as a doornail. The registrar of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was as good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.'"
With mention of Scrooge's name, Reginald Barclay began working his way across the sidewalk stage left of Data's mark, leaning on the silver-tipped rosewood walking stick that had seemed perfect for Scrooge. He hobbled like a feeble old man. Come on, Reg, Beverly thought. You can do it. Feeble, yet regal. Remember that.
"Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I do not know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnized it with an undoubted bargain."
The whole time Data was going about with his narration, Beverly's eyes had been glued to Reginald Barclay. He stood there in the holodeck's re-creation of an old English street, cane in his right hand, practicing walking like someone two hundred years hissenior. He certainly was getting the body language down, but there was something about his manner that still wasn't there. "No, Reg. That's not quite it, either," Beverly Crusher said, pondering both the set and her actors with equal levels of perplexity.
The Victorian era in England was something that the holodeck usually got, but this time there was just something that didn't feel right about it. That was the problem with using the holodeck as a set designer; it took the director's words literally, offering little if any creativity of its own. So, while the crisp white gingerbread decorating the houses was beautiful, it just felt so...repetitious. The design was just fine, but it lacked the distinctiveness of one that Lieutenant Royce might have put into the production back on the Enterprise-D.
That was when it hit her. The scene didn't feel alive. The trees, fences, and houses felt like nothing more than cheap set decoration. There was none of the lived-in look that Royce used to give his sets. Royce may have been one of the least productive scientists in xenobiology, always aiming that eagle-sharp focus of his on one species, concentrating on them for weeks on end -- his papers on the Cardassians alone could probably fill a library -- but he'd always chipped in when necessary, and his creativity was something she was really beginning to miss. Ensign Taylor's costumes had always been quite the works of art on their own, as well.
Well, it is the first production on the ship. Royce and Taylor both moved on. I'm sure a new group of designers will come together soon enough. In the meantime, Beverly would have to serve as set, costume, lighting, and sound designer in addition to her usual duties as director and stage manager. Yes, I definitely need to find a design team before I try another production. This is what I get for having bright ideas about starting the theater troupe up again.
"Doctor," Data said, interrupting her thoughts, "perhaps if I began the opening narration as I walked onstage, instead of coming on and then speaking the words? Would you like to see that?"
If there was one thing that could be said about Data's growth over the years she'd known him, Beverly would have immediately said creativity. He had wanted the role of Scrooge, but she had said no. He had already played the role before, even if it was before he installed the emotion chip, and thanks to that chip, he was rediscovering that same creativity with the verve of a child cut loose with every toy in a make-believe toy box.
Beverly was spared having to find an answer for the android by the voice of Will Riker on the ship's comm. "All senior staff report to the observation lounge immediately."
"All right, then," she said. "We'll pick it up from here tomorrow. Computer, save program and exit."
The yellow-on-black grid that lined the holodeck's room bid them farewell as Beverly, Data, and Reg all headed out. The latter made his way toward an aft turbolift while Data and Crusher went fore.
"Perhaps if I tried the introduction as a walk-through," Data suggested, timing his offering just as the turbolift doors opened to allow them access.
Beverly instructed the lift where to take them, and then considered Data's suggestion. "I don't know. What we're lacking here is life, Data. There's an inherent humanity to the story that I'm not sure we're finding. Maybe when we can get Reg's confidence back up and have him actively participating, he'll be able to give you a voice to play off of."
"I must ask why you chose to cast Lieutenant Barclay in the Scrooge role, Doctor. He has suffered from bouts of stage fright before. Would it not be more prudent to cast an established actor in the role?"
"I know, Data. But he can't get over that stage fright if he doesn't face it. Counselor Troi and I believe it would be the best thing for him right now."
The turbolift came to a halt, depositing them down the hall from their destination. "But, Doctor," Data said as they walked, "is it not Lieutenant Barclay's main objective right now to install the new Emergency Medical Hologram?"
Beverly tried not to groan. She had argued for months with Louis Zimmerman to keep from having to do a secondary "field test" of the EMH on the Enterprise. While she might have granted him the initial funding for the project all those years ago, his initial plan had also included a test-run on the U.S.S. Voyager. Of course, with Voyager missing, there was no way for Zimmerman to keep an eye on his creation, so somehow -- she had a feeling someone in Starfleet Command had a grudge against her -- she ended up with Lieutenant Barclay installing the thing in her sickbay.
The disruption to sickbay while he'd installed the holoemitters alone had been enough to make Beverly want to just go back to her quarters and not come out until he was done. Even Alyssa Ogawa, normally one of the more patient people Beverly knew, had been driven to distraction by Reg's inherent "Barclay-ness." Beverly had been sorely tempted to try a vocal chord relaxer she'd heard about years before, just to see if it actually worked on humans.
"Yes, Data, but he's also part of our crew. Just like the crew works as a team, all of the people involved in theater work as a team. You remember that, don't you?"
Data appeared lost in thought for a moment. He's probably going back over every byte of memory he has for that.
Just in time to save her from his response, they reached the observation lounge. When they entered, Beverly noticed that everyone was present except for her and her android companion. "I'm sorry; we were down rehearsing when you called, Will."
"That's all right, Beverly," Jean-Luc said from his seat at the head of the table. "Now that you're both here, we can get started."
Beverly and Data quickly took their allotted seats at the table, Pádraig Daniels, Geordi La Forge, Deanna Troi, and Will Riker in their usual positions around Jean-Luc. No sooner had she landed in her chair than Picard began with, "We've finally received our first diplomatic mission."
"It's about time," Riker said.
"Yes, Number One, it is. We've set a course for Starbase 375. There, we are to pick up one emissary from the planet Kendaray in the Gamma Quadrant. Their government has managed to obtain information that may be crucial to the fight against the Dominion. Deep Space 9 cannot spare the Defiant to commit to this mission, but they believe our well-honed diplomatic abilities may be just the thing. We are to retrieve the Kendarayan ambassador from Starbase 375 and take him to a summit meeting on Denobula Triaxa."
Deanna Troi leaned forward in her chair, her dark brow delicately furrowing. "I have read some reports about the Kendarayans, sir. They are a rather interesting species."
"Yes," Picard replied. "I've read those same reports. Beverly, this might interest you. They're humanoid, very much like us, but still not quite like anything we've encountered before. Their skin secretes an abundant, iridescent version of sebum. From Dr. Bashir's reports during their first contact encounter on Deep Space 9, it is a natural collection of lipids that both keeps their skin moist, and acts as an external barrier for infectious germs and bacteria."
Beverly's eyebrows rose. "This may be the first time I've seen oily skin be a good thing," she said, backing her attempt at humor with a half-smile.
"Yes," Jean-Luc replied. "However, let's just say that the Kendarayans had something of an awkward first contact with an exploratory team in the Gamma Quadrant. We found out the hard way that they take great offense at the notion of someone wearing gloves to greet them. They consider it a grave insult. It took six months just to get them to agree to this meeting."
Beverly thought that over for a moment. Gloves were one of her standard medkit supplies. If she couldn't use those..."Have we got proof that this oily skin of theirs isn't toxic to other species?"
"No," Picard flatly replied. "Dr. Bashir was unable to get a sample to study, and the Kendarayan envoy became very wary of anyone trying to touch him during his visit as a result."
Beverly had a feeling something else was coming. "But you, being the brilliant diplomat that you are, managed to negotiate permission for me to get a sample for study?" she asked, raising a red eyebrow.
Picard shook his head. "Not quite. If we wanted this meeting, we had to agree to their 'no gloves' clause. However, I did manage to talk them into allowing you to examine the envoy when he arrives on board, in order to enrich the Starfleet knowledge of the Kendarayan people for our new alliance in the fight against the Dominion."
"That way," Riker began, the matter-of-fact tone of his voice suggesting he knew exactly what Picard's negotiating tactic had been, "if one of their ships runs into trouble, Starfleet can render appropriate assistance. Improve the depth of any potential alliance."
"Precisely," Picard said, giving his first officer a sly smile.
Beverly couldn't resist a smile of her own. "And just in case the envoy should become ill on the journey to Denobula Triaxa, it would help me treat any problems. How much do we know about their food tolerance?"
"Enough to know that a basic Vulcan diet should be sufficient for their needs. From what the reports said, the envoy was particularly fond of plomeek soup."
"How much do we know about their culture?" Deanna asked. "Do they have any other customs we should know about in advance?"
Picard appeared to think for a moment. "None that they've made us aware of. Counselor, we may be relying on you for help in sensing when we step too close to a boundary with this envoy. I want you to let me know as soon as you meet him if you're able to pick up anything."
"Of course, Captain."
"Mr. La Forge, how are the preparations for the envoy's quarters coming?"
The chief engineer smiled, a broad gleaming white against his dark skin. Beverly was happy to see that that smile now extended to his eyes. The optical implants had been performing quite well in the months since the procedure, if Beverly did say so herself.
"Ahead of schedule, sir," Geordi said. "The microfiber textiles that they requested were far easier to replicate than we initially thought. I've got a team programming the circadian cycle lighting to account for their planet's day/night cycles now, and the sonic shower is being reprogrammed to not slough off the lipid layer of their skin. We'll be ready."
"Good," Picard said. "Everyone, this is our first diplomatic mission on the ship, and while I know the Federation is still having some issues over the elections back home, let's try to keep those from surfacing on board, shall we?"
Daniels smiled. "Shouldn't be a problem, sir. I'm starting to think everyone on board voted for Min Zife."
One gray eyebrow rose toward the security chief. "Well, who people voted for is nobody's business but their own. Although, I do agree, it's been a bit more peaceful here than on a few of the other ships in the fleet. All right, then. We'll arrive at Starbase 375 in twelve hours. Let's make sure our guest is as welcome as we can possibly make him. Dismissed."
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