Star Trek: The Next Generation
Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me
Tasha’s face wore a mixture of shock, horror, and simple bewilderment. Data rather suspected his face mirrored hers. “Tasha?” he whispered tentatively, stretching out a hand to her.
She stepped backward, apparently reflexively, then seemed to come to herself. She drew her phaser and pointed it at him, at the same moment hitting her combadge. “Security team to shuttlebay!” she snapped. “We have an intruder!”
Faced with an absolutely incomprehensible situation, to say nothing of a phaser, Data stood still. It seemed, under the circumstances, the only logical thing to do. He stared at Tasha, seeing that her face was slightly rounder, her body a trifle less slender than it had been when he had known her. There were small lines at the corners of her eyes—he believed they were usually referred to as laugh lines, although she was definitely not laughing now—and a streak or two of gray, difficult to see in her blonde hair. She looked, he thought, exactly as she had in his dream.]
Therefore he was dreaming again. He had to be.
Yet he realized almost instantly that wasn’t the case. This was no dream. He could tell the difference. No matter how real his dreams had seemed recently, there was still a certain distortion, an unmistakable fuzziness that betrayed them as dreams.
This was reality.
He simply didn’t understand how it could be real.
The security team, garbed in yellow-green and black uniforms, arrived, and hard on their heels came Picard. With five phasers pointed in his direction, Data looked calmly past the security team. “Captain,” he said.
Picard frowned. “Who the hell are you?”
“Not who,” Tasha said in a strangled voice. “What. Look at his head, Captain.”
Picard moved slowly to the side, and Data saw his eyes widen as he saw the patch of exposed circuitry on Data’s head. “Mon Dieu,” he whispered, reverting to his native French, as he did in times of stress. “It’s a robot. A machine.”
To be called a machine by a man who had always addressed him with respect, a man who had defended his rights as a sentient being in court, a man who had always treated him as the equal of any human, was nearly as shocking as running into Tasha. But Data at last felt he was beginning to understand what was going on here. Captain Picard would never in a million years have referred to him that way.
This, then, was not Captain Picard. At least, not the Picard he knew.
His suspicions were confirmed when Picard pressed his lips together and said harshly, “What have you done with Commander Soong?”
Data glanced at the five phasers pointing ominously in his direction. He knew he had to make his case, and make it quickly, or he might never get another chance. This Picard might order him summarily destroyed, not understanding that he was a sentient being.
“I have done nothing with Commander Soong,” he said clearly. “I believe we inadvertently switched places in the anomaly. I suspect he is in my universe and I am in his.”
Picard considered his words for a long moment. “Are you saying you belong in the parallel universe that phenomenon is linked with?”
“Yes, Captain. That is exactly what I am saying. Furthermore—“ He hesitated and glanced at Tasha. “I believe Commander Soong and I occupy the same place in our respective universes. My creator, the man I think of as my father, was Noonien Soong. I do not, however, use my father’s last name. My name is Lieutenant Commander Data.”
Picard narrowed his hazel eyes suspiciously. “Commander Soong is a full commander, my executive officer.”
“That may be due to the fact that as a human he has greater ambition than I do,” Data suggested. “In my universe, you are the captain of the Enterprise, and the second-in-command is William T. Riker.”
The name clearly shocked Picard. “Will,” he said in a whisper.
“I presume he is not aboard the Enterprise in your universe.”
“No,” Picard said harshly. “He was killed in the line of duty.”
Data blinked. “Really? May I ask in what mission?”
“Captain—“ Tasha said impatiently, but the captain waved her to silence.
“We need to get to the bottom of this, Lieutenant.” He turned back to Data. “He was killed by a creature named Armus.”
Data was unsurprised. In his universe, Armus was the black, tar-like creature who had killed Tasha Yar. Evidently in this universe, Tasha had either not been on that away mission, or Riker had moved to protect her and been killed in her stead. “I see,” he said. “In my universe Armus killed—“ He paused. “Another crewmember.”
Captain Picard stared at him a long moment. At last he said to Tasha, “Lieutenant, I think we have to believe that this robot is telling the truth.”
“I am an android, not a robot,” Data interjected. “I am also a sentient being.”
Tasha stared at him, her blue-gray eyes wide with surprise. “Sentient? What do you mean by that?”
“I am self-aware, just as you are.”
“Are you saying you’re a person?”
“And in your universe,” she said slowly, “are you...”
Data tilted his head. “Am I what?”
She hesitated, then fired the words in a rush. “Are you married?”
Data shook his head. Once again he wondered if he might have been, had Tasha not been killed. If his counterpart in this universe had married Tasha, did it mean he should have also? Had Tasha had feelings for him that he had been too naive to recognize?
Realizing there was no way of knowing, he quashed the questions rioting in his mind. Curiosity killed the cat, he thought, and for the first time thought he might understand what the saying meant. His insatiable curiosity had certainly led him into a dangerous situation this time. The last thing he needed was to make the situation worse by asking too many questions.
“Captain,” he said urgently, turning toward Picard, “I realize this is a strange situation, but you are going to have to believe me. I am from a different universe, one that is apparently a parallel of this one. And we need to act quickly if we are to restore myself and Commander Soong to our respective universes. We must act before the anomaly disappears.”
Picard looked at him a long moment, then shook his head. Data thought he detected sympathy in the hazel eyes. “It’s too late for that, uh, Commander.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The anomaly has already disappeared.”
“I am sorry about this, Lieutenant.”
Tasha lifted her head and gazed at Data. In her eyes he saw a suspicious glitter, but when she spoke her voice was as level as ever. “Don’t be,” she replied curtly. “We’ll get Daystrom back. We have to.”
The Enterprise’s engines had resumed operation once the anomaly disappeared, and the ship had moved away to a safer distance. Data was seated in the ready room, alone with Tasha, waiting for the remainder of the senior staff. This ship’s senior staff, he reminded himself. Here he was not a member of the staff, merely an advisor of sorts.
“If the phenomenon has disappeared entirely from this universe, its entirety may still be in my universe,” Data suggested. “There is a significant likelihood it will return shortly.”
He was not sure why he felt the need to reassure her. There was, of course, every possibility that the anomaly might not ever return, that like a wormhole it had no stable placement, or that it only connected the two universes once in a century or more. Naturally occurring wormholes were notoriously unstable; there was no reason to think that this phenomenon, a similar hole in spacetime, should be any different.
But somehow, when faced with Tasha’s slightly damp eyes, he did not feel comfortable saying so.
The door to the ready room slid open, and Picard strode in. He looked precisely like the Picard that Data knew from his own universe, with a raptor-curved nose and a smooth, hairless scalp, and his lips were set in a thin line, showing the same grim resolve Data would have expected his own captain to display when a crewmember was in danger. Behind him filed Geordi, looking precisely the same, Deanna Troi, and—
Data stared in surprise at the man coming in behind Troi. There was no mistaking that dark hair, the humorless face, and the square shoulders. It was Commander Bruce Maddox. The man who had tried to block his admission into Starfleet; the man who had tried to have him declared the property of Starfleet in order to disassemble him.
Except, he reminded himself, this Bruce Maddox had had nothing to do with all that. In fact, the fact that he was here at all, rather than at the Daystrom Institute, indicated he had no special interest in artificial intelligence. Which made sense, since the Maddox of his universe had developed an interest in artificial intelligence only after meeting Data. This Maddox had never encountered a Soong-type android before. And here, Data saw, observing the pips at the man’s collar, he was a lieutenant commander rather than a full commander.
He noticed Worf wasn’t in the room, either, and wondered if Worf had been killed in the line of duty, wasn’t on the ship, or simply wasn’t a crewmember for some reason. He decided not to ask bluntly. Doubtless the fewer comparisons made between universes the better.
Picard sat down. “You are all aware of the nature of our problem,” he said curtly. “We have lost a crewmember, and we have not the faintest idea of how to get him back. Along the way we seem to have gained a passenger. This is Lieutenant Commander Data.”
Data saw the shock on Geordi’s face as Geordi glanced at him. He must bear a strong resemblance to Daystrom Soong, he thought. Which was not surprising. His face was his father’s, copied exactly from the original except for his pale skin and golden eyes. If Daystrom resembled his father closely they would naturally look similar. And the blinking circuitry on the side of his head must make the resemblance all the more surreal.
He inclined his head to the room at large. “I am sorry to meet you under these circumstances,” he said.
There was a silence, broken at last by Geordi. “Are you a robot?”
“No. I am a sentient android.”
Maddox spoke for the first time. “An android is just a robot made to look like a human, isn’t it?”
Data met the man’s eyes unflinchingly. He would have sworn he saw hostility there, but perhaps it was merely his memory of Bruce Maddox coloring his perceptions. “A robot is purely mechanical. I have organic components. At any rate, I prefer to be referred to as an android.”
“We don’t have time to discuss philosophy,” Picard said impatiently. “We need to determine if there’s any way to determine precisely when the anomaly will return, and failing that, if there is a way to force it to return. Otherwise we have no hope of recovering Commander Soong.”
“Commander Soong may be lost in any case,” Data remarked. “If the anomaly has disappeared in this universe, but is still manifested in my universe, the Enterprise may not be able to restore power and escape from the region.”
Geordi glanced at him sidelong. “You don’t sound real worked up about that possibility, all things considered.”
Data tilted his head, detecting disdain in Geordi’s tone but unable to determine precisely why. “I do not understand.”
“I mean,” Geordi said shortly, “you don’t seem real worried about the idea of all your friends dying.”
“I have no emotions,” Data explained. There was so much these people took for granted in his universe, so much he hadn’t had to explain in years. And now he was having to explain it all over again, just as he had in his first year on his own Enterprise.
“And yet you claim you’re sentient,” Maddox said. “Can a sentient being not have emotions?”
“I am sentient,” Data said. “And my rights as a life-form were established in the judicial system of my own universe.”
“I just don’t believe one can be sentient without some sort of feelings,” Maddox said. “Even a dog has emotions of a sort, after all.”
In Data’s lifetime, no one, no matter how prejudiced against artificial lifeforms, had ever compared him to a pet before. He lifted his head and met Maddox’s gaze. “If I did possess emotions, Commander Maddox,” he said coolly, “I believe that I would find you extremely irritating.”
He thought he heard a snort of amusement from Picard’s direction, but when he glanced back at the captain his face was as much like granite as ever. “Please, gentlemen,” Picard said. “Let us refrain from bickering. We have a serious problem to work out, if at all possible.” He turned toward Geordi. “Mr. LaForge, is there any way to make the phenomenon reappear?”
“We’re going to have to get more data.” Geordi slid a look at Data. “I mean, uh, information. We just don’t know enough about how that thing works, or what kind of a schedule it’s on. If it has a schedule. It might be more like a wormhole, appearing all over this quadrant.”
“There must be some way to find it,” Tasha said.
“It’s hard to say. We don’t have the slightest idea why it showed up in the first place. We need to take some readings, see if this area of space seems to fluctuate. That might give us some clues.”
Picard nodded. “Mr. Maddox, you will need to see to that.”
“Sir,” Maddox said, “I think we should also check for references to this anomaly in the database.”
Picard lifted his eyebrows. “I thought you were unable to find any, Commander.”
“My search was cursory at best, sir. We need to check the references to similar phenomena in this quadrant, see if we can find anything at all.”
Picard nodded. “Very well. Mr. Maddox, please devote yourself to taking additional readings on this area of space and see if you can come to any conclusions. Mr. LaForge, see if you can find any references to the anomaly in the database. The rest of us—“ He looked sour. “Will wait.”
“Sir,” Deanna said, “I wish I didn’t have to bring this up, but our mission cannot afford to be delayed for long.”
“Are you suggesting that a bunch of Klingons—“ Tasha began indignantly, but Picard lifted a hand, and she cut off.
“Counselor Troi is correct,” he said quietly. “This mission is important to the Klingons, and thus it must be treated with equal importance by us. The Klingons are very valuable allies, and we cannot afford to lose them. But we do have a day or so of grace built into our schedule. Therefore, we will spend that day finding out every speck of information we can about the anomaly.” He turned toward Tasha, and his eyes softened. “Lieutenant Soong, I promise you that if we have to leave this area, we will return at the earliest possible opportunity.”
“Thank you, sir,” she whispered. Data got the impression she was near tears, even though her features were frozen into a stiff mask.
Picard looked around the room, at the solemn faces ringed around the conference table, and hesitated for a long moment. At last he spoke.
“Do you drink?”
As Data was leaving the ready room, the diffident voice behind him made him turn. Geordi stood just behind him, looking uncomfortable. Even for Data, Geordi’s face was difficult to read, concealed as much of it was by the VISOR, but the set of his shoulders betrayed a certain tension.
“I do not need to drink, but I am able to do so.”
Geordi looked even more awkward. “I just wondered if you’d like to join me in Ten-Forward.”
Data was unsurprised, as he had seen Geordi and Picard exchange significant looks a moment before. Ordinarily the Security Chief would stay with a suspicious passenger and monitor his activities, but Picard evidently realized Tasha was unlikely to be the best person for this particular job. Apparently Geordi was to keep an eye on him.
Even so, there was no reason why Geordi should ask him to join him for a drink. It was a generous offer that showed a surprising willingness to treat him as a person rather than a computer. In his own universe, Geordi was the one person who had never treated him as a machine, even from the moment they’d met. Evidently Geordi was a decent person even in a different reality.
“I would like that,” he responded.
As they walked down the hallway together, Geordi was silent for a long time. At last he burst out, “I guess you might think it’s weird I asked you to go to Ten-Forward.”
“Not at all. In my reality you—or rather the Geordi I know—is my best friend.”
“No kidding,” Geordi said. Some of the tension left his shoulders. “Daystrom is my best friend.”
“That is not surprising,” Data offered. “Most physicists have postulated that neighboring quantum realities will share a great many similarities.”
“I’d say our realities are pretty different,” Geordi said candidly. “You’re a machine; your counterpart is a human.”
Realizing that Geordi meant no offense by the use of the term, Data decided not to repeat that he preferred not to be described as a machine. “Nevertheless, that entire difference, large though it appears to us, may flow from two different decisions made by one man. My father—“
“My creator,” Data corrected himself. “I met him only once, when he was very old, and he asked me to call him Father. I usually refer to him that way, both out of respect for his wishes and because I do feel a certain kinship with him. At any rate, in my reality, Noonien Soong built only two androids that I know of, and both of them functioned to varying degrees. It is possible, I suppose, that there were previous prototypes of which I know nothing. It is evident, however, that in this reality Dr. Soong was unsuccessful.”
“Day told me he built three, then gave it up when none of them worked.”
He built three of the damned things before he gave up and had me instead.
Data was reminded with unpleasant force of his dream. He was beginning to suspect, based on the available evidence, that those experiences had been more than dreams, but he felt it would not be prudent to disclose that right now. As a “machine,” he was already suspect in this reality; if he claimed prior knowledge of this reality, they might decide he was insane, or not what he purported to be. At any rate, he needed more information. To use a poker analogy, he could not afford to show his hand yet.
“I imagine Dr. Soong found that a difficult decision to make,” he said. “In my reality, he persisted. In this reality, he did not. A small decision on his part which led to numerous changes in this universe.”
They had reached Ten-Forward. The heavy wooden doors with central glass windows, etched with the symbol of Starfleet, were precisely like those of Data’s Enterprise. As the doors slid open and they stepped inside, heads turned at every table, and eyes widened with shock. Data noted a perceptible reduction in decibel levels as conversations ceased all over the room.
“Numerous changes,” Geordi repeated as they found a table near the big windows and sat down. “Like what?”
Data hesitated. “There are no Starfleet regulations covering this situation,” he said at last, “but I suspect it presents difficulties similar to time travel. Too much information from one reality might corrupt the nature of this one. Therefore I do not feel comfortable discussing my reality in any detail.”
“But we’re friends there.”
“Yes. Very good friends.”
“What about...” Geordi hesitated. “What about your family?”
“I do not have a family, Geordi.”
“You’re not married?”
“No. Tasha—“ Data stumbled to a halt, feeling as awkward as it was possible for him to feel. “In my reality, we did not become a couple.” At least not for long, he amended mentally.
Geordi looked at him across the table for a long moment. “Daystrom has two kids.”
Ishara and Juliana. He recalled their names, their faces, their wildly curling blonde hair, from a dream. “Indeed. I cannot sire children. But I did create a child.”
“You mean a robot?”
“An android,” Data corrected. “Like myself. Unfortunately, there was a flaw in her design, and she only lived for two weeks before suffering cascade failure and permanent cessation of consciousness.”
“You mean she died.”
“Yes.” Data did not elaborate on the fact that he had reincorporated most of his daughter’s programming into his own. This was an alien, difficult-to-grasp concept even for those humans who knew him well.
“What was her name?”
“Lal. It means beloved in Hindi.”
“Day’s kids are named Ishara and Juliana.”
Yet another confirmation that his “dreams” had been more than mere imagination. Those names could not possibly be coincidence. “I recognize one of the names. Ishara is Tasha’s sister.”
“You don’t know Juliana? She was Day’s mother.”
Data lifted his eyebrows. “To my knowledge Dr. Soong was not married. However, he was extraordinarily reclusive and secretive, and a great deal remains unknown about his life. It is perfectly possible he was, in fact, married at the time he created me.”
Geordi shrugged. “Day’s mother has been dead for years, unfortunately. But Tasha’s sister Ishara still lives on Turkana IV. She came aboard for a few days a year or so ago.”
“Yes, I met Ishara. In fact, we became friends for a brief period of time.”
“Weird,” Geordi said. The bartender brought him a brown, foamy drink, and he picked it up and took a long sip. “It seems like some things about our universes are exactly the same.”
“Yes. Such as the fact that you invariably order Denuvian root beer.”
“Really? No kidding.” Geordi grinned briefly, then sobered. “But some things are totally different. Like you and Day. You look a lot alike, but you’re not even remotely the same person.”
“No,” Data agreed. “We are not.”
“And—no offense—but I hope we get you two switched back somehow. I’d hate to never see Day again.”
“I am not offended. I would be dismayed to never see my home again.” Data looked out the window at the stars, which looked precisely as they did in his own universe. “But I think we have to admit that it is highly unlikely we will be able to return to our own realities.”
“Damn,” Geordi said softly.
“Yes,” Data agreed. “My sentiments precisely.”
Read Chapter 4 here.