The Bard's Song
Location: Observation Lounge
The observation lounge of the USS Pandora was a popular spot for its silence. Unlike the noisy goings-on of Mindo's Little Caesar's Arcade and Bar one deck below, the lounge had a calm, quiet, and intimate atmosphere. Many came here to read, if they were by themselves, and many more came with their spouses or loved ones after a meal. Some of the crew even referred to it as "Lover's Lane," or more accurately, "Makeout Point."
One regular to the secluded spot was Crewman Zo. He was often seen picking at his guitar, reading or writing music. Sometimes a jam session would spring up with another crew member with their own instrument, or Zo himself would have an impromptu mini-concert, singing a few songs for a small and relaxed crowd. It was a sharp contrast to the wild and exuberant reverberation his band, Warp Nine, was so famous for.
Tonight, Zo was already five hours in to his twelve hour rest period ordered by Lieutenant Mindo through Commander Nash, and had decided to spend an hour or two writing a bit of music. He brought along his finely polished if not generic-looking wooden guitar and sat on the floor, PADD at his side, picking the strings and periodically making notes. With a lot of the off-duty crew visiting Paradise station, there were fewer people in the lounge. Zo had seized the opportunity to try out some new songs and perhaps bring forth some inspiration.
R&R was something Aenardha was not in need of. Having not been aboard the Pandora during its run-ins with multitudinous enemies and not having to work to keep the ship together and operational and functioning and not having to sift through reports and figure things out, she was certainly not on the list for extended time off. She still got time off of course, and after having been pouring over intelligence reports for hours on end, she finally found a break and decided to take in the Lookout, as she liked to call it. Knowing much of the off duty crew would be taking in Paradise Station, she felt there would be few minds and few eyes in the Lookout. With her PADD in hand she started that way. Being off duty, Aenardha was able to get out of that uniform and into her usual solid black attire. She sported only a loose-fitting shirt and dress. The Starfleet uniform had a way of holding heat in, heat she was desperate to be rid of. Loose fitting clothing did the trick. Black normally did not as it had a way of acquiring heat, but only in nature light. Besides, black suited her preferences well, despite being in a stark contrast to her near albino features.
Stepping into the room through the inviting doors, she felt the presence of another mind. Tapping into telepathic vision was easy but she noticed the mental tag of something personal. The occupant was writing something, something not yet meant for others to see and know. Aenardha avoided that vision and used what she already knew of the room’s layout to find a seat off to the side.
There was little to no need for an Aenar to visit any form of a lookout, but the place was quiet and calming. That, and she had gotten her fill of her own quarters for the moment.
Crewman Zo had been staring into space, trying to get the right lyric in his head when he noticed the new Aenar Ensign walk into the lounge. He smiled when he saw her and nodded his head. Then he remembered she was blind and so he spoke up.
"Hi," he said, futilely raising his hand and feeling stupid again.
The mental tag vanished and she immediately saw through his eyes. Seeing him give a wave, she looked back at him; herself really, through his eyes, and waved in response. “Hello, Crewman Zo.” She realized that rhymed.
Also, seeing through his eyes, she noticed she was close to missing the chair she had chosen. She would have found most of it and then adjusted herself from there. Through his eyes though, Aenardha lowered herself gracefully enough into the vacant seat.
"Did you get to talk to Lieutenant Mindo about your quarters?" Zo asked, setting his guitar down.
Aenardha already had her PADD in hand when Zo spoke again. “I did.” She also noticed through his vision, him setting the instrument down. It was done with such care. She did not have to read minds to know that whatever he was doing, he cared a great deal about it. “I submitted the request and he is going to bring it up with Commander Nash.” She put her PADD down, not ‘set’ it down as he had done with his instrument. “If I may,” she turned, full body, to him, “what manner of stringed instrument is that?” She had seen other stringed instruments in her time, but not specifically something like that.
Zo grinned. "That," he said, "is a classic Terran acoustic guitar. A very old type of instrument. I made this particular one myself. It's my favorite." He glanced at his PADD for a second and the mental tag he possessed a moment ago reappeared to Aenardha, but that tag now bore a new property, one where he did not mind her seeing what he was working on. "I was working on a new song and was having some trouble with it when I saw you walk in. I usually come here to take a break, but I think right now I need a break from my break, so to speak." In his inflection, Aenardha could almost hear the smile on his face.
His inflection, his voice and his mannerisms had something of a calming affect that made Aenardha lose a little bit of a hold on her own abilities. She reacquired but, in that split second, she could feel a calm, strangely wise comfort emanating from Zo. His vision was immaculate, better even than most. He could see wavelengths slightly above and below the normal light spectrum. It was as though his eyes were brand new. His mental pattern was clearly not human but, contrary to his vision, felt strangely old. As he looked out among the stars for a quick second, she focused on his reflection and would have guessed his age to be the mid-twenties. Judging by human standards that is.
With what seemed to have been a newborn’s vision attached to a mind obviously decades older, all contained with someone appearing to be in his prime, Crewman Zo was something of an oddity.
“That is understandable,” she replied. “I’ve never been any good at making music. I do like listening to music however. And writing. Not music writing,” she added, “but other forms.”
"Other forms?" Zo said, inviting more.
Aenardha realized her fingers were on her PADD, over some of the braille of the screen, over something she had been working on. “Prose, mostly. Some poetry.” She removed her hand and set her PADD to standby. “If you could call it that.” Those eyes of his were nearly stuck on her. Not looking her over as others had done, but stuck on her all the same. She could tell she had his interest and full attention. She did not sense anything more than that though, just sincere interest.
"What else would I call it?" Zo asked, pivoting himself to fully face her.
Aenardha thought a quick second. “Um, bad poetry.” She set her PADD aside. “Not poetry.” She shrugged. “It is just nonsensical ramblings at times. Stream of conscience form of material.” She felt the potential for his line of questions to dig a little deeper, probably moving to a degree of inquiries she did not want to answer. “The music you were working on; what kind of music is it?”
Zo looked down at the PADD and picked it up. "I'm not really sure. Terran music is very similar to my people's, so I play a lot of their music in my band. Mainly rock and roll. It speaks to me. I feel the emotion. So when I write, I write my own emotion. In my songs, I like to tell stories. I think describing my emotion in the form of a story can be relatable to the person listening to it. Sometimes the stories are true. Often times they are not, or are perhaps exaggerated versions."
Aenardha was unsure of what this rock and roll sounded like. She was exposed to many forms of music while attending the Academy, mostly when the ventured the dormitory corridors before and after classes. She would hear a motley assortment of various musical forms as she passed room after room, as though someone was frequency hopping. She did not know which to attribute the ‘rock and roll’ label to. Similarly, she did not know what label was meant for the band she frequently listened to.
Zo activated the PADD. "It's kind of funny. Before you came in, I was actually in the process of writing a song about you. Or rather, a song inspired by you. Needless to say, I don't have much material to work with since our interaction in Engineering was very brief. So I thought it couldn't hurt to talk to you some more. I hope you don't mind."
Aenardha was already shaking her head. Her hair waving back and forth in response. Her antennae, relaxed, likewise. “I do not mind.” She was taken somewhat aback by this information. Some people she had interacted with were able to tell more about someone after meeting them for only a moment. It seemed Zo was one along those lines. Still, “I cannot fathom myself interesting enough to inspire a song,” though she knew that answering the unasked questions she did not want to answer would prove exactly the opposite.
Surprised by this, she did not know whether to inquire after hearing what he had written or not, to offer some assistance since he said was having some trouble with it, to dissuade him from furthering this endeavor, or attempt to change the subject. That undecidedness left her sitting there, still and confused.
Zo smiled. "Well, it was your situation that was inspiring.”
‘My situation?’ Aenardha thought. It was impossible for him to know her situation.
“Stop me if I'm being too bold, but you are a very pretty woman, and I associate pretty as a warm feeling. So I found it sort of ironic that someone whose appearance emanates such a warm reaction would want her living conditions to be the exact opposite. It seemed like a good setup for a song."
A wave of relief came over Aenardha. The kind that made her, ever so briefly, lose control of her abilities. For that shortest span of eternity, she felt the feelings coming from him and fully understood that nature of the interest he had in her. It was not sexual. Nor did it feel romantic. It was simply interest, in its plainest sense, but also intense and genuine.
“I thank you,” she finally said. Aenardha did not feel overly pretty. Not outwardly and definitely not inwardly. “You are too kind.” She was something at a loss for words. “I…we…Aenar…that is, inhabit the polar regions of Andor. Quite naturally, we enjoy the cold…what you may consider a deep cold.” Building on what she sensed from him, “I am sure your level of focus will benefit you as you endeavor into this song you are writing.” A smile, a genuine smile, tugged at her lips. It was, however, not enough to fully manifest. “If I can aid you in any way, I will certainly try.”
Zo's eyes lit up. "Really?" he said. "Oh, I'd love that!" He looked down at his PADD. "I really only have a couple of lines written. The melody is very sweet, but forlorn. In the song, a man made of fire falls for a woman who is made of ice. He wants to be with her, but if they fall in love, she will eventually melt away, and he will be forever frozen without her." He added, "Again, I like to tell stories in my songs."
Forlorn. That described Aenardha a greater deal than she let on. Unable to find a clique to associate with while at the Academy, she sought out other circles in her free time. Those she found could have also been described as being thus; forlorn. And, oddly enough, Zo’s tale in his song, in a sense, actually reminded Aenardha of her own tale of woe. There is no love or desire included however.
“I see that,” she said. “When you are ready, when you have more written, perhaps you can play what you have. I will try to add my input.”
"Thanks!" Zo said, setting the PADD on the floor next to his guitar. "What sort of music do you listen to?"
‘Andorian Opera,’ was the first thought to come to mind, as it was a default answer for all Andorians and Aenar, but that would certainly have been a lie. She was not opposed to it in the least. Aenardha just did not really have an ear for it and, at that moment, realized she had not listened to it at all since leaving Andor. Still, other than opera, she did not know exactly what labels went with what music. Rock and roll did not sound like something she would attribute to what she did listen to. The music she frequented was easy to listen to without shaking the walls, fearing the ceiling was going to blow away or having to cover her ears. “Easy listening?” she said with a shrug. “I suppose that is what I would call it.” She thought of a few other adjectives. “You used the word ‘forlorn’ a moment ago. I would say, what I like to listen to has that sort of sound in both lyrics and instrumentation. Nothing too fast.” Then again, she had not yet been introduced to music of all genres. Fast and loud could be something she would like. Aenardha would have to sample that at some point.
“Not sure if what I like is telling a story any at all. It does, however, bring vivid thoughts to mind. I can see the words and feel the feelings behind those words. It…centers me…if that makes any sense.”
As Aenardha spoke, Zo listened very attentively. He smiled when she said that music 'centered' her. "I feel the same way," he said. "I enjoy performing rock music in my band because it speaks to a large group of people. But what I've found is what people want to hear is different than what a person may want to hear. I like coming to this place to play songs because there's a smaller audience, and I can play music that's more intimate and personal and less... 'loud,' I guess." He chuckled at that description. "So music with deeper feelings centers me, while telling a story 'explains' me... does that make any sense?"
“That makes perfect sense,” she said. Her fingers were resting upon the braille of her PADD, instinctively sliding across the title of something she was working on. It made her think about how her writing explained her and how she had not let anyone, ever, read her material. “Avenues of self-expression are important. That is something we were taught when I was studying counseling, before I was t…well before I changed my focus to Intelligence.” And without skipping a beat, “What made you want to be an engineer?”
"Well, at first I wanted to be a medical officer," Zo said. "Growing up on Ba'ku I was really good with my hands and always enjoyed fixing things. I decided I wanted to learn to fix people. There aren't very many injuries or health problems on a planet that maintains your health. My people are all about pushing their potential, and I felt like my potential reached beyond my homeworld. It was a tough decision, but I had the support of my friends and family. As it turns out, I'm rather squeamish when it comes to blood and guts. At first I thought about going home, and I nearly did. But there was a catch. I'd fallen in love while at the Academy. She was an El Aurian, and our ages were about the same. So I switched my career to Engineering. But unlike me, she had been married twice before and both times had been a disaster. She broke up with me after graduation. Then she was stationed on the Artemis, and I went to the Tornado. We never kept in touch."
‘Ba’Ku,' Aenardha realized. That explained a few things about Zo. She immediately wondered if there was a song about that relationship, but she did not wish to pry as some pasts are better left there; in the past. “The Tornado?” she asked.
Zo nodded, then remembering her disability, said, "Yep."
But Aenardha did not ask her question really as a quest for Zo to expand. She asked because the name triggered something, a memory perhaps, as though she had heard that name before when referring to a vessel. She gave up searching. “I see. It is saddening to hear of a failed relationship,” she said. “I know this will not help much but, as a Ba’Ku, you have plenty of time. I am confident you will find someone worthy of your many talents.”
"This is true. Being born under the radiation of Ba'ku's rings, and then living there for close to sixty years, means my aging process won't advance any further for plenty decades. And after that, it'll be decades more until I'm gray and senile... assuming I don't ever go back to Ba'ku. I guess that gives me plenty of time to fall in love." Zo paused to pick up his guitar, not breaking contact with Aenardha, and started gently strumming on it. "But really, I'm not looking for someone worthy of my talents. I want to be worthy of someone else's." Zo strummed a couple notes on the guitar, almost like a musical punctuation to his thoughts. "What about you?" he asked, an inevitable question.
It was an inevitable question, but it was also close to what she did not want to answer. Close, but not yet there. And Aenardha felt that, since he was strumming slowly away at his instrument, pouring forth his being and his feelings into the sounds he was making, perhaps he would not mind a just-below-the-surface peak. He already seemed as though an ‘open book’.
Aenardha could feel what his music was already telling her; he was curious but that curiosity did not possess any level of distrust. Closing her eyes, without really a need to do so, Aenardha sense from him a possible level of depression, as though too many, in his past, had taken advantage of said curiosity and trust to mislead him into believing an untruth or for their own advantages.
Thinking of his vision, slightly above and below the spectrum of light, possibly the result of Ba’Ku’s advantageous radiation, perhaps he could see aura’s about people, even if said sight resided only in the subconscious, granting him extra senses to tell whether or not he could trust someone, if they were lying or of their underlying intentions.
Zo’s inevitable question brought only Khrap to mind, and the sorry pile of Khrap that was on the floor before Aenardha when she rejected him. She had no love for Khrap and was still every bit truthful when she finally answered Zo. “I do not know what I want in a person. A relationship, with anyone, is not even a priority of mine at the moment.”
Zo grinned, wondering if her telepathy could sense that or not. "Then I guess we've got that in common." He played a small, bluesy-sounding riff at that; another punctuation mark. This one seemed more deflective than the last.
And his playing seemed to also send away his sadness, his loneliness, whatever emptiness he was feeling. This man of many years appeared a bard of many tales and many a song, one to open himself up like a book for all to read; something they did not have in common. Aenardha closed herself off; closed the book that was her.
Something about that melody that he was playing made Aenardha look inward. Not at herself or her situation, but back at the memory of the strange little girl always skipping along, always humming that incomprehensible tune. With nothing more to work with, she found herself standing in the darkness. Her peridot eyes could cut through it all and see. The little girl was skipping along, illuminated by a sourceless light. Aenardha could not see her face. Never the face. That much was not in her memory. The little girl hummed along and Aenardha felt Zo’s music echo within and throughout the cosmos of her own mind. Overlaying that with the melody of the little girl’s hum, it almost seemed to collate in some wild way. And…did Aenardha recognized any semblance to words, or lyrics?
The little girl shot to the side and was gone.
"I suppose when we get back to Federation space I'll be working on your quarters," said Zo. "The Chief seems pretty confident that you'll get approval from the Captain."
“What?” she said. Aenardha reacquired her bearings, recalling all what they had spoken about. Unsure how long she had been in her own mind. “Oh. Yes. I would very much appreciate that.”
Zo stopped strumming. "Are you OK?" he asked. "You suddenly seem a million miles from here."
Aenardha was shaking her head. “It’s nothing. I…” she attempted one last time to bring that memory into focus but it wafted away like one trying to grab a hold of smoke. “I was trying to recall a melody I once heard.” That was if she had ever heard it to begin with. “Like trying to recall a half-remembered dream that unravels the more you try.” She felt it odd for a telepath to forget anything. If the Aenar were able to help others uncover long lost memories, surely they could perform the same upon themselves. Yet this memory of hers remained a mystery.
"Is it a good dream?" Zo asked, resuming his nonchalant, gentle strumming.
“I do not know,” she said. She was not even sure if it was a dream at all. She could only wonder if there was some long lost memory of a real event or perhaps some thought forced upon her by another telepath. Both were improbable but somehow and for some reason, there was a little girl skipping about, always skipping and always humming an incomprehensible tune. The thought only manifested itself infrequently, at random, and sometimes in inopportune settings. The melody felt so close, but she simply could not grasp it. It unraveled the more she tended to Zo’s playing.
Through the tiniest pinprick of her awareness, Aenardha felt a presence and turned, full body, toward the entrance to the Lookout. Of course nothing was there. She realized it as she felt no other mind to attach to. Zo was not responding as though someone had entered so it was not anyone she could not read. Still, for the smallest span of time, she had felt there was a presence lurking behind her.
Seeing no one behind her, Zo couldn't help but wonder why she turned, or why she was acting so strange. Not wanting to delve further into the subject, he decided to just keep playing and not say anything.
Knowing the truth that no one was there and clearly feeling Zo's concern, she return her attention to him. "It's nothing," she replied to whatever question remained unasked. "Your playing...it...it does stir the feelings. Please continue if you will. I...I want to catch up on some reading."
Zo gladly continued playing, not knowing what emotions his music was stirring. But like any artist, he was pleased his music stirred any emotion. Eventually, one of the relaxing crewmembers threw out a request. It was an old Bajoran ballad Zo was very familiar with. He was more than happy to play it. As he did, Aenardha's response was still in the back of his mind. But after another request, his mind went fully into the music.