Star Trek: The Next Generation fic
Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me.
“It’s like the damned thing was never there at all.”
Data glanced up at Geordi’s annoyed statement. He and Geordi were in Engineering, studying the information on the anomaly, which was maddeningly sparse. Maddening for Geordi, at any rate. Data rather enjoyed mysteries, inasmuch as he could enjoy anything, and had spent numerous hours on the holodeck solving Sherlock Holmes mysteries. He could only hope this mystery could be as readily solved.
“Actually,” he said, “Commander Maddox’s readings indicate there are significant quantum variations. The anomaly has a distinct energy signature, and there is a clear residue of its signature left in the area.”
“But it’s not there now,” Geordi complained. “It’s not on any star charts. No one’s ever reported seeing it before.”
“This is not a frequently traveled space lane.”
“Still, someone must have seen the damned thing before.” Geordi sighed. “Unless it only shows up once a millennium. In which case I guess we can forget about seeing Day again.”
Data frowned. “It is intriguing that both Enterprises were in this area. Perhaps that is a necessary function of parallel universes, yet so much is different about our realities that they surely diverge occasionally. Tell me, why was your ship traveling here, so far away from Federation space?”
“We’re transporting a Klingon delegation to a peace conference.”
Data nodded. “On Darbeii. Is that correct?”
Geordi turned and looked at him with mild surprise. “I guess your ship was on the way there too, huh?”
Too late, Data realized he’d revealed information from his dream. “No,” he said. “We were on the way to an archaeological survey on Kron III.”
“Then how’d you know about Darbeii?”
For a brief moment, Data considered disclosing the truth. I have been dreaming about your reality for the past two days. Even to him, it sounded odd. More than odd. Suspicious. How could a stranger have knowledge of events he’d never witnessed? Would anyone here even believe that an android could dream?
And if Captain Picard found him suspicious, he would likely wind up in the brig. Worse yet, he might be turned over to the Federation as a possible spy. In this universe, he had no legal rights. He would probably be disassembled out of sheer scientific curiosity.
Data had no desire to be disassembled.
“Lieutenant Yar mentioned it,” he said, lying as blithely as he could manage. He was not a particularly good liar, but Geordi fortunately did not have a suspicious nature.
“I bet she was complaining about the Klingons,” he said with a wry smile. “They’ve caused nothing but trouble for the past week. They’ve been driving her crazy.”
“Klingon delegations have wreaked havoc on my Enterprise in the past.”
“Havoc is putting it mildly, believe me. They drink barrels of replicated blood wine and get loud and rowdy and impossible to handle. Guinan had to pull a phaser on them the other day. She said it was because they were getting out of hand, but I think it was because they complained her gagh wasn’t fresh.”
“Guinan does not tolerate insults about the food she serves,” Data agreed. He bent over the console again. “Here is an interesting reference to a spatial phenomenon. The primitive inhabitants of Taret, a planet three-point-four lightyears from here, worship a god they call F’ar’al’ad, which means, roughly translated, light in the sky.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Data lifted his head and gazed at Geordi, puzzled. “I do not know how to kid, Geordi.”
Geordi’s mouth twitched in what looked like involuntary amusement. “I mean, who cares what some primitive culture believes?”
“It could be relevant,” Data said evenly. “The inhabitants of Bajor worship the Prophets who reside in the Temple—alien beings who live in a wormhole. Simply because a society does not have space travel does not mean they cannot see the sky, Geordi.”
“I guess you could be right.”
Additional information flashed by on the screen, and Data shook his head. “Unfortunately, the description of the Taret god appears to describe a supernova they witnessed some eight hundred years ago.”
“Damn. Well, keep looking.”
Information continued to stream across Data’s terminal. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Geordi staring at the screen, flashing information far too rapidly for any organic mind to comprehend.
“I guess being an android does have its advantages, huh?”
Data did not look up from the screen. “If you are referring to my ability to absorb information, I suppose you are correct. However, I would be willing to sacrifice that ability in order to truly experience emotion.”
At the new voice, Data turned and saw Bruce Maddox approaching. His face wore an unpleasant sneer of contempt that matched his tone of voice precisely. Maddox came to a stop and looked down on Data. He was quite tall, and Data suspected he intended to use his height to intimidate. Unfortunately, it was impossible to intimidate an android.
“So you’d be willing to give up everything to be a human,” Maddox said.
“Not everything, no.”
“But you’d be willing to give up what makes you you, wouldn’t you? The ability to process information quickly, the ability to think like a machine? You’d give that up?”
Data contemplated the question seriously. “Yes. Those abilities do not seem to me to be as important as the ability to feel emotion.”
“Your priorities are out of whack,” Maddox said. “I’d give anything to be able to think as fast as you do.”
Perhaps that explained Maddox’s relentless desire to understand Soong-type androids in his own universe, Data thought. Perhaps Maddox had intentions of eventually transferring his own sentience into an android. If so, he would not be the first to imagine such a thing. Much could be gained in such a transfer—strength, intelligence, and perhaps immortality.
Data, however, was in a unique position to understand how much might be lost as well.
“Speed of thought is not everything,” he said, watching the information scroll by. “Creativity of thought is more important, in my estimation.”
“You’re not creative?”
“I endeavor to be creative. I play the clarinet and the violin, and I paint. I have also written a novel, three hundred seventy-two poems, and twelve songs.”
“Sounds pretty damn creative to me,” Geordi said.
“I doubt it,” Maddox said. “It sounds as if it’s emulating humans but not really understanding what makes them human. Like a small child pretending to be an adult.”
Data noticed Maddox referred to him as it, just as his counterpart had in his own universe. “I prefer to be referred to with the male pronoun,” he said.
Maddox looked down at him with a crooked grin. “Male and female are biological terms, Commander. You’re not a biological entity, so I can’t justify that from a scientific standpoint.”
At the deliberately insulting tone, Data came to his feet abruptly. Maddox was a good deal taller than he was, but he stared into the other man’s eyes without blinking. Humans, particularly males, tended to regard that as an belligerent gesture, and it caused many of them to back down. It was a technique he had learned for quelling insubordinate behavior by closely observing Commander Riker.
“In that case,” he said shortly, “you may justify it from a social standpoint. I am physically and psychologically a male. And I wish to be referred to that way.” He narrowed his eyes slightly, noticing that Maddox blinked rapidly twice. “I trust I make myself clear, Lieutenant Commander.”
Maddox looked away from him. “Fine,” he said, doing his best to sound unconcerned, but Data noticed he looked a trifle uncomfortable. “It doesn’t matter all that much to me.”
“It matters to me,” Data said as he sat back down.
Geordi looked at Maddox. Data detected a small smile on his lips. “Is there something you wanted, Commander? Or did you just come to bait Data?”
“Uh, I’ve got some information,” Maddox said, holding out a tricorder. “I couldn’t pin the anomaly down. Looks like it could form anywhere in this quadrant. I don’t see how we can get Commander Soong back.”
“Damn,” Geordi said again.
Data said nothing, but internally he echoed the sentiment.
Captain Picard had kindly assigned Data VIP quarters, larger and more luxuriously furnished than his own, rather spartan, quarters on the Enterprise. They also had a large bank of windows showing an expansive view of the stars, unlike his own quarters, which were on an inner corridor of the saucer section. Androids did not suffer from a tendency to romanticize space, and gazing at the stars had always seemed a peculiar human habit to Data. If he wanted to know something about the regions of space through which the Enterprise traveled, he would go to the observatory or consult the computer.
Yet this evening he sat staring at the stars.
The door sounded, and he called, “Enter.” As the door slid open, he turned his head and saw, to his surprise, Tasha Yar.
Or rather, Tasha Soong.
Some obscure piece of programming impelled him to rise to his feet. “Tasha,” he said. “Can I help you?”
Tasha hesitated near the door, looking at him with wide eyes. She looked apprehensive, perhaps even frightened. Naturally, he thought, the fact that she was married to Day made her the most likely crewmember to be alarmed by his extremely different nature.
“You’re very polite,” she said at last.
Data lifted his eyebrows. He had expected her to explain why she was here. Instead she had commented on his programming. Perhaps, he thought, she intended that as a clue as to her purpose here. “Are you suggesting that my counterpart is not?”
Tasha took another step into the room, allowing the door to slide shut behind her. “Not usually, no. I don’t mean he’s rude, just blunt. He tells people what he thinks. It’s what makes him such a good officer.”
“It would appear that he and I possess extremely dissimilar managerial styles.”
The corners of Tasha’s lips twitched upward. “There’s also the way you talk.”
“The way... I talk?”
“Uh-huh. Day uses a lot of slang. He talks like a regular person.”
“I have never mastered appropriate slang usage,” Data admitted.
“No kidding?” The faint smile she gave him made him suspect she was being sarcastic. Really, so many humans were providing him with examples of sarcasm this week that he might shortly be able to adequately refine his linguistic program to identify it on a regular basis. Perhaps he would even be able to use it himself, although he still failed to comprehend exactly why humans used it rather than saying precisely what they thought to begin with.
But then, there was quite a lot he failed to comprehend about humans.
“Why are you here, Tasha?”
She blinked in surprise. “Well. So you can be blunt too.”
“It seemed the best way of bringing the conversation to a meaningful point. Geordi calls it ‘cutting to the chase.’”
She crossed the floor and sat down in a chair that was quite a distance away from his. It was, he noted, further away than humans liked to be when they conversed with other people. Therefore, logically, she did not consider him to be a person.
That should not be in the least surprising, all things considered. She did not know him at all. They had only had one brief conversation. As far as she knew, he might be no more sentient than a turbolift. And yet he could not help but feel slightly...
“I wanted to talk to you,” she said.
He noted her hesitant tone and spoke with perhaps more curtness than was appropriate. “That would seem to be obvious.”
“I wanted—“ She waved her hands in the air, another human gesture that perplexed Data, since as far as he could determine waving one’s hands did not make one’s words any more comprehensible. Nevertheless, he carefully recorded the action and filed it away for his next acting lesson with Dr. Crusher. “I just wanted to get to know you a little. That’s all.”
“Because I am your husband’s counterpart?”
Tasha hesitated again. “I have to admit, it’s a strange thought for me that if his father had kept on making androids, Day might have been a... machine.”
The thinly veiled disgust in her tone grated across his aural sensors in a vaguely unpleasant fashion. “I prefer not to be referred to as a machine.”
“But—“ She nodded toward the blinking lights in his scalp. “You are one.”
“On the contrary, the term machine carries a connotation of a lack of sentience, a certain—“ Data caught himself. He was not the most adept conversationalist in the quadrant, but he did realize that Tasha had not come here to discuss android sentience or android rights. Indeed, the concepts must be utterly alien to her. Until today, no one in this universe had met a sentient android. Accustomed as he was to his friends aboard his own Enterprise, he was expecting too much from these people.
“I understand that it must be a very peculiar situation for you,” he said instead.
“Peculiar, yeah. Maybe downright weird. You—“ Tasha looked at him consideringly. “You look just like Day, you know.”
“I am made in my father’s image.”
“Well, so is Day, apparently. Except for the skin and the eyes, you could be twins. And except for the way your hair is so neat. Day’s hair is almost never neat. And he’s starting to lose it at the top.” Tasha grinned briefly. “Drives him nuts.”
Data accessed hastily and determined that nuts was a slang synonym for insanity. It was not immediately clear to him why a man could be driven into psychosis by a loss of hair, but he presumed Tasha was speaking more metaphorically than literally.
“I do not age,” he said at last.
She tilted her head to the side as she thought about that. “In a way, that’s kind of sad. Do you have friends? People you care about?”
Inexplicably nettled that she thought it necessary to define friends, Data gave a short nod.
“So they’ll all get old, and you won’t?”
Data activated his shrug subroutine and lifted a shoulder. He had considered this matter before. “I will most likely resort to cosmetic aging.”
“You mean make yourself look older on purpose?”
“I guess that would work. But if you don’t get old, will you ever die?”
“The Federation’s top cyberneticists have been unable to determine that. It appears this body could last for several centuries, but there are certain anomalies in my programming which have been artfully concealed by Dr. Soong. It is not impossible that I have a subroutine which will eventually activate and cause me to suffer neural net failure.”
Tasha looked horrified. “You mean your creator might have planned for you to die?”
“He might have thought it would be kinder than to permit me to live forever. My father—Dr. Soong—had an unusual way of viewing the universe.”
“You keep referring to him in the past tense. Is he dead in your universe?”
I will have to be more careful, Data thought with remorse. Aloud, he said, “I would prefer not to answer that question.”
“He came to our wedding,” Tasha said reminiscently. “He was very, very old, shriveled and wrinkled like a prune, but he still made it.”
Data had recently encountered a much-younger version of his father in his dream program, but he clearly recalled the single time he’d met his father in real life. Noonien Soong had been hunched over and fragile, his face heavily lined, his long, wild hair sparse and white, yet he’d displayed a vivid intelligence that clearly had not dimmed in the least with the passing of years.
“You’re right, he’s got an unusual way of seeing things. He told me that Day and I were fated to be together. That we would always be together. I thought—“ Tasha hesitated. “I thought maybe we would be.”
“Perhaps you will be,” Data said gently.
“Or perhaps he’s dead.” Tasha jumped to her feet and stalked restlessly to the windows. “I hate not knowing, dammit. I just wish there was a way to know.”
There is a way you could know.
Data had been busy since his arrival in this universe, too busy for irrelevant matters such as dreaming. But abruptly he realized dreaming might be the only way for him to contact Daystrom Soong. His dreams might be more relevant than he had previously supposed.
As Geordi would have said, it was worth a shot.
“Tasha,” he said, “you will have to excuse me. I find I am...” He stumbled slightly over the lie. “Tired.”
She turned and looked at him with surprise. “You get tired?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It is late. I guess I’d better get home to the girls.”
Data watched her as she walked from his quarters. Her stride was purposeful, determined, precisely like the Tasha he had known.
For all intents and purposes, Tasha had been the same person in each universe.
And yet he and Daystrom Soong were completely dissimilar, two utterly alien beings. He was a stranger here, so different that Tasha was unable to conceptualize him as a person.
He wondered why he found that so disturbing.
Read Chapter 5 here.