by Pat Greiner
The sound was musical, yet tuneless. There didn’t seem to be words, just a few simple syllables repeated over and over. Beverly thought it was probably the Kovadi equivalent of singing “dah dee dum” when you didn’t know the words. It certainly wasn’t as disruptive as she had expected, and at any rate there wasn’t much to disrupt. It was a slow day in Sickbay.
An hour earlier, Deanna had convinced her to allow the Kovadi woman to perform the dream ceremony for her son, who had broken a bone roughhousing with his brother. The Enterprise was transporting a diplomatic party from Kovad to Starbase 417 for talks, and the Emikun’s entire extended family travelled with him.
“Deanna, it’s a simple break. Two treatments with the regenerator and he’ll be good as new. I don’t need the assistance of the local witch doctor.”
“I’m surprised at you, Beverly. You know the importance of making the patient feel comfortable, especially when it’s a child in an unfamiliar environment. From what I understand of the technique, it’s similar to the directed dreaming I use on occasion. And you’ve never had a problem with that.”
She was right, of course. Beverly relented, and even found herself being absorbed in the sound as the mother hummed and sang softly. The boy had visibly relaxed as she had begun, and seemed to be sleeping now. Beverly had been quietly sorting through a stack of PADDs as an excuse to monitor the process without seeming to intrude. She realized with a start that she had been shuffling two of them back and forth without really seeing them for …seconds? minutes? … lulled into an almost hypnotic state by the soft voice.
Almost imperceptibly, her movements and breathing began to fall into the gentle rhythm of the chant. Then, as softly as it had begun, it ended. The Kovadi mother sat by her son’s biobed, her head bent to touch his.
Beverly went into her office and called up a recent study on metaphasic cell therapy. She didn’t often get a chance to catch up with her reading during on-duty hours. As she read, she heard faint echoes of the Kovadi chant in her head. She wouldn’t be surprised if it produced some positive psychological effects. Its simple patterns were hard to resist.
“Picard to Doctor Crusher.” The comm system snapped her to consciousness.
“Yes, Captain?” she replied, successfully stifling a yawn.
“The reception for the Emikun begins at 19:30. When I didn’t find you in your quarters I thought perhaps you’d forgotten.”
Her eyes darted to the panel. Damn –19:10. “I’m just finishing my last item. I’ll be there, never fear!”
“Busy day, eh? I won’t keep you. Picard out.”
She had been dreaming something, but it ran away from her attempt to remember as she double-timed it along the corridor. Twenty minutes later, she entered 10 Forward without betraying a hint of the whirlwind that had just torn through her quarters.
“Doctor Crusher, I believe you’ve already met several members of the Emikun’s family,” Picard said as he began introducing her to a circle of Kovadi. Among them was Vurloh, the woman who been in Sickbay earlier that day.
“How is Zemot?” Beverly asked.
“Resting comfortably in our quarters,” Vurloh replied. “Most probably sleeping … and dreaming,” she added with a smile. “I believe that with your medicine and our meditation, he will heal quickly.”
“Your chant certainly seemed to relax him.”
“It is more than relaxing. It helps one to draw on the lessons of past experience to face a challenge. Even though he is only 10, there have been times in the past which required him to be brave. The ceremony helps him to relive those times in his dreams and re-experience those lessons.”
“Enough of this women’s talk,” a stocky Kovadi man interrupted. “Dreams and ceremonies! We want to hear the Emikun tell about the hunting expedition he made last week. Rumor says he slaughtered a primden.”
A flash of annoyance on Vurloh’s face was quickly changed to apology. “Forgive me, my lord. I did not mean to be forward.”
Beverly always bristled when someone was badly treated. Her exposure to many alien cultures had taught her to moderate her defensive instincts, particularly in a diplomatic setting. But the force of her own gut reaction would not allow her to simply let it pass. “We are interested in learning about many aspects of Kovadi culture. Ceremonies and dreams as well as …” She allowed her voice to be ever so slightly dismissive as she concluded, “hunting.”
The light pressure of the captain’s hand at her elbow said “back down” as clearly as if he’d spoken the words, and again she was surprised by how strongly she reacted. She was in no mood for his smug superiority. She bit off an “Excuse me” hung with icicles and twitched her elbow, flicking it away from Picard’s touch. She turned to Vurloh again. “Have you seen the view from those windows over there? I find it very soothing to watch the stars flow by at warp speed.”
As the two women moved across the room, Beverly found herself thinking, “Damn it, he does that all the time,” even as she knew that it wasn’t really true. But it felt true.
That night she woke slowly from her dreams, a feeling of warmth and comfort wrapped around her like one of her grandmother’s soft woolen blankets. It always felt so good when Jack came home. Then she was fully awake and Jack, who had been so close just moments before, was dead. The last 10 years felt like a jagged gash in time, and he was stranded on the far edge where death had left him. Beverly’s heart ached for him as it hadn’t in years, but she buried her mouth against her pillow, unwilling for even the walls to hear her cry.
Beverly’s own voice, muffled by the pillow as she rolled across the bed, dragged her away from sleep. “Not my brother,” she protested. “You are not my brother!” Why would he even say something like that? Her brother was … No, that wasn’t right. She didn’t have a brother. But he kept insisting. Your brother. Like a brother. There had been something more. “You’re Jack’s brother,” she thought suddenly, and knew that was wrong, too. Like brothers, but not brothers. And not her brother. That had been important. But the more she tried to remember why, the hazier it became. And in another minute, she was more awake then asleep, and moving forward into her day.
The captain touched his napkin to his mouth, then laid it neatly by his breakfast plate. “I wasn’t certain you’d join me this morning, Doctor. I had the distinct impression that you were annoyed with me at last night’s reception.”
She began to deny his concern almost automatically. “Annoyed with you? What for?” She paused to sip her coffee. “Well, I was annoyed, I admit, with that oaf who made Vurloh feel like she’d been kicked. And I suppose I was annoyed with all the men who stood there and didn’t see a thing wrong with his attitude.”
“On some level, I suppose I was.”
“The Kovadi are a very male-dominant culture, Doctor. That was part of the briefing materials we received before they arrived on board.”
“I’m aware of all that. As I’m perfectly aware of the imperative of respecting other cultures, no matter how backward some of their values may seem,” she added in a tone that made her own opinion of those values quite clear. “It really struck a nerve with me last night. I hope I didn’t create some sort of diplomatic difficulties.”
“No, I really don’t think the Kovadi men took enough notice to be insulted.”
“Well, then, I suppose there is a good side to being treated as though your existence doesn’t count.”
“I remember now – you were annoyed with me, but in my dreams. I can’t recall much, but you and I were arguing about something. And we weren’t ourselves, doctor and captain I mean. We were … some sort of family members, I think. No matter.”
Picard gathered the breakfast things and placed them in the replicator. Beverly usually had appointments to hurry off to, but she hadn’t moved from the table. “Not my brother,” she said softly. “In my dreams you kept insisting that you were my brother and I said ‘Not my brother’ over and over.”
She could see the surprised recognition in his eyes. “Perhaps we have been friends for too long,” he said with mock gravity. A moment later, they both broke into smiles and went on to their day.
Her hands ached. She’d been weeding this patch forever. Her nails were black, her skirt and apron caked with dirt where her knees had pressed it into the ground. Hoofbeats made her look up. He was richly dressed and rode a fine horse. “Peasant, see to my mount,” he barked as he dismounted and strode by her, the sun gleaming on his bald head. She stared after him as he strode across the field and rose into the sky, vanishing from sight.
Sickbay was busier than usual, but with simple needs. Headaches, a sprained wrist, falls and cuts … it seemed as though an epidemic of clumsiness had broken out on the Enterprise. Beverly had hoped to make some progress with her tests on an algae-like Kovadi plant which seemed to have healing properties, but the constant stream of unscheduled patients left her feeling further and further behind in her to-do list for the day.
When two Kovadi men came in following a holodeck accident, part of her thought it served them right. They had been simulating an old English fox hunt, a program Picard had suggested they might find enjoyable — but they were not nearly the horseman he was. As she finished tending to contusions and bruises, the captain, ever the diplomat, stopped by to inquire about the well-being of his guests. Assured that their injuries were minor, he smiled at the Kovadi. “One good thing about the holodeck in a case like this is that no one has to see to your mount.”
“A good thing, or you’d probably expect me to take care of that, too.” Her voice sounded neither amused nor ironic. Rather, it was a resentful mumble that he wasn’t certain he’d been meant to hear.
“Doctor? Is there a problem?”
For a second Dr. Crusher looked blank, then her attention focused on the captain. “Sorry, no, it was just that something you said reminded me of … something else. Just a 5 second excursion, that’s all.” She did her best to smile it away, but inside she was bothered. The phrase had suddenly made her dream resonate in her mind. It meant precisely nothing, although she was sure a certain ship’s counselor wouldn’t see it that way. She made two mental notes: first, not to mention her recently vivid dreams in front of Deanna; second, to learn a bit more about the dream ceremony from Vurloh before the Kovadians’ departure the next day.
She opened her eyes to darkness, broken only by the luminescent trail of stars seen at warp speed through her window. As a doctor, she noted that her heart rate was elevated, her breathing rapid, and her skin warm, with a light film of sweat. Something else. One finger performed a quick and quite personal exam and found a conclusively damp result. The moment she touched herself, the dream rushed back in a vivid wave that almost caused her to orgasm again. “Well, I don’t think this is one I’ll be recounting over breakfast,” she thought to herself as she rolled over and curled up, cherishing the last sparks from the explosion that had woken her.
“Good morning, Verloh,” she began, then paused as Zemot and his brother bounced through the living room, mimicking 3-legged Kovadian animals whose hunting call was evidently a high-pitched giggle. “Well, that answers my first question.”
“Yes, he has healed quickly. As you say, ‘good as new.’”
“We’re due to arrive at Starbase 417 in about 5 hours. Are you looking forward to the diplomatic process?”
“I don’t expect to be a part of that. The Emikun brings his family along to help him maintain a sense of home, to keep his soul rooted in our ways, so he can resist the temptations of alien worlds.”
I wonder if she calls him The Emikun to his face, Beverly thought.
“I’d like to learn a bit more about the dream ceremony you performed for Zemot. And I recall that you wanted to visit our botanic section before your journey ends. Do you have a few minutes? Perhaps you could tell me more about the ceremony while we walk.”
“I’d like that.” the Kovadi woman replied. “You two, mind Ztelka while I’m gone.”
There were only a few other crew members at work in the botanical section. One of them directed the women to the herbal collection, which Vurloh was particularly interested in. Beverly pointed out a few of the herbs her grandmother had used when modern medical supplies were scarce. “’Here’s rosemary – that’s for remembrance.’ Although we use it as a savory herb today. For cooking,” she added. “The part about remembrance was just a quote from a famous human author. I don’t know that rosemary ever provided any true medicinal compounds.”
Vurloh inhaled the plant’s aroma. “It reminds me a little of eejowi. We make a tea from it to help when our memories grow weak. I would have used it as part of Zemot’s ceremony if I’d had some.”
“Tell me – is the ceremony always performed for just one person, or can it affect several people at once?”
“To be most effective, it must be personal. I talked with Zemot about the strength he needed to bear his injury without complaint. We talked about other times when he had been brave, and I instructed him to let his dreams carry him to those times on the river of the meditation.”
“The river of meditation — is that the chant you were doing? It was very soothing.”
“I wasn’t sure whether you could hear it or not. You seemed busy and somehow I didn’t think you approved of the ceremony.”
“To be honest I was skeptical. I’m still not sure how much credit I give it … but I truly did sense that it helped Zemot to be relaxed and focused, and anything that does that can only benefit a patient. I think I even felt a bit of its effects myself.”
“And so your question about whether the ceremony can affect more than one person … I understand. Did you feel anything else beyond relaxation, Doctor Crusher?”
“Anything else? Like …”
“Did you notice anything different in your dreams?”
Beverly glanced around. She didn’t care to have the ship at large know that she had been dreaming about their captain at all, and certainly not the particulars of those dreams. “I have a pink faoliben from Deneb VII in my quarters, and it’s in bloom now. Would you like to see it?”
“Yes, of course.” Verloh may not have an active role in the diplomatic process, but she had a natural sense of understanding and tact. The two chatted amiably about what amenities she might expect at the Starbase as they made their way from the botanical section and through the corridors.
Vurloh admired the faoliben, then gave Beverly a knowing smile. “Have you been dreaming about a certain subject? Perhaps many dreams that all have something in common?” She could read the answer on Beverly’s face. “You see, the river of meditation carries the dreamer. With Zemot, our talk before the meditation helped him direct the river to the feelings he needed to re-experience. But when someone is accidentally swept into the river without conscious direction, one cannot say where it will take her. To something important to her … but good or bad, comforting or unsettling, even frightening … one cannot know. We say, ‘when you fall into the river, you never know what shore it will bring you to.’ Has the river taken you to a disturbing place?”
“Sometimes. I dreamed very vividly of my husband. He was killed in the line of duty 10 years ago. But this was before that happened. I woke up feeling the way I used to feel. I loved waking up when he was home on leave … reaching out and knowing he was that close. And then … realizing he wasn’t, again … it was devastating.”
“And you dreamed more of him?”
“No, only that first time. But I have dreamed of someone else. Not romantically, though. Well … only once. But most of the dreams are unpleasant in some way. There seem to always be difficulties between us, resentments, misunderstandings. Our relationship keeps changing. We’re family members … or not … I think that was one of the problems. There are so many things that don’t make a bit of sense. I’m not feeling strengthened or enlightened by these dreams – just confused.”
“Have you been deeply involved with anyone since your husband died?”
“Once, but it was only for a short time, and that was some years ago. Circumstances made it impossible to continue.” Even now, Beverly felt a twinge of guilt at not being flexible enough to accept Odan in all his or her forms. She always wanted to believe that true love could look beyond the physical, but that experience had taught her the limitations of her idealism.
“And is he the one you dream of?”
“No. Someone else. Someone I’ve known a long time as a friend.”
“The river doesn’t tell you the answer to your questions. It takes you to the place where you need to search. I don’t have the skills of a dream reader, and I don’t know you well, but something seems clear to me. You dreamed of the happiness you knew with a mate. And then you dreamed of this man, and many challenges. I believe the dreams are reminding you of what’s missing in your life, and making you think about many aspects of a relationship with him. It sounds as though you see both positive and negative things.”
“I couldn’t argue with that.”
“One more question. Have you talked with this person about your dreams?”
“Only once. But what was strange was that he seemed to have had a similar dream. And he was nowhere near Sickbay when you were chanting.”
“It happens sometimes that one person’s river flows into another’s dreams. It means there is a strong connection. Sometimes good, sometimes not. All I can tell you for sure is let the river tell you where to look. The answer may be what you want. It may not. It may take time to know what question you seek the answers to. But your mind knows where to look – the river has already shown you the way. And now I should return to our quarters. I am sure there are some last minute things the Emikun will require before our departure.”
A few hours later, the senior officers assembled in the transporter room to bid a formal farewell to the Kovadi party. As they said their goodbyes, Vurloh took Beverly’s hand and smiled. “May the river bring you happiness.” After the last shimmer of light had disappeared and the staff dispersed in various directions, Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher found themselves in the turbolift.
“You seemed to have gotten on quite well with the Emikun’s third wife. What was that she said to you about a river?”
“Just a traditional Kovadi way of wishing someone well.” I may tell you more about it someday, she thought. But let me sleep on that.