Monday, December 04, 2006

Do Androids Dream... Chapter 8

Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfic
Season 6
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me.

A human would have banged his fist against the wall, or kicked the bunk, or wasted his time in some pointless physical display of frustration. Not being human, Data did none of those things. But for the first time in his life, he began to comprehend the impulse.

He had not cared for being caught in Maddox’s damping field like a fly in amber. It had given him an uncomfortable sensation of powerlessness, something he was entirely unaccustomed to. It had been... disturbing. And even now that he was free of it, he was still trapped.

For the first time since he had found himself in the Klingon brig, he was unpleasantly aware that he was utterly at Maddox’s mercy.

Mercy, he thought dryly, was a concept which was very likely foreign to Maddox. Which made his situation that much more desperate.

Banging on the walls, however, would accomplish nothing. He sat down on the bunk, aware that his thoughts were racing in unproductive circles.

He had been mentally thrown off balance by Maddox’s damping field. With his superior strength, mental abilities, and speed, Data was accustomed to being in control. He had been counting on those abilities to get him out of this situation. But Maddox’s field had effectively removed any advantage he possessed. It had been an unpleasant shock to discover that Maddox had the upper hand.

Being outmaneuvered by a human was a new sensation, and not a pleasant one.

He considered various ways to reroute his neural impulses so as to evade the effects of the damping field, but came up with no feasible solution. He was caught in Maddox’s trap, and he could see no way out. After two long minutes of intense contemplation, he deliberately turned his thoughts away from the hopelessness of his situation, attempting to force his mind onto more pleasant thoughts.

He wondered how Geordi was.

He imagined his friend was doing everything possible to solve the puzzle of the spatial anomaly, everything possible to find him. But since the anomaly had been created from this side, and the probe responsible was in this universe, Geordi might not be able to solve the problem. It was entirely possible he might never see Geordi again, never play poker with his friend again, never hear his laughter.

He wanted to see Geordi again.

Trapped though he was, there was a way.

Data lay back on his bunk and closed his eyes.

*****

“I just don’t get it,” Geordi said. He and Daystrom were seated in Ten-Forward with one of the engineering staff, an awkward guy with a receding hairline named Reg Barclay, who didn’t seem capable of uttering a sentence without stammering. “We haven’t been able to find that damn anomaly mentioned in any chart, any logs, anything. Something that big has to have been noticed before, dammit.”

“This isn’t a major space lane,” Day said, taking a sip of his beer. Maybe it was his imagination, but he would have sworn the beer in his own universe was better. Or maybe it was just that he was sleepy. He’d been in his guest quarters, taking a brief nap, when Geordi and Barclay had stopped by. Day was actually relieved that they’d waked him up. He couldn’t quite remember his dreams, but they had definitely been disturbing.

“Yeah,” Geordi said, “but quite a few Starfleet vessels come through here every year. Someone must have seen the damn thing.”

“Unless this is the first time it’s appeared.”

“What, you think it just popped out of nowhere?”

Day frowned as something stirred in his mind. He didn’t have time to examine it, though, because Barclay looked up and began stuttering. “I, uh, I don’t really see... I mean, I think... I don’t think that could happen naturally,” he said.

Day found Barclay’s mode of speech incredibly irritating, but he managed not to roll his eyes. It wasn’t the guy’s fault he stammered. Geordi had said the guy was a brilliant engineer, imaginative, intelligent, and thorough. So what if the man was a little shy? He got his job done, which was what was important.

The thought that had been hiding in the recesses of Day’s mind finally popped loose. “So could it have been created?” he said.

“C-c-created?” Barclay repeated.

“Well,” Day said, “if it couldn’t happen naturally, and no one’s ever seen it before, it stands to reason someone made it.”

“I’ve never heard of any technology that could create something like that,” Geordi said. “Anyway, what would be the point?”

“I’m not sure,” Day said. “Maybe it was a weapon of some sort. It trapped us, didn’t it?”

Something else niggled at the back of his mind. Trapped. For a moment a thought hovered there, then vanished. Irritating how many thoughts seemed to be doing that today.

“Yeah, but then it disappeared. Poof, out like a candle. Not much of a trap.”

“It did, uh...” Barclay spluttered to a halt, as if what he was going to say was probably too stupid to be bothered with. Geordi noticed his nervous hesitation.

“What, Reg? Go ahead, spit it out.”

“It—it trapped Commander, uh, Lieutenant Commander Data.”

Trapped. Day struggled to remember.

“That was just coincidence,” Geordi said. “It could have been any of us.”

“I don’t th-think so, uh, sir. I mean, someone h-had to go out in the shuttlecraft because the, uh, the sensors were down. And he would be the, the logical one to go out there, if you know what I mean. You know, with his science b-b-background.”

“So you’re suggesting someone meant to trap Data?” Geordi said incredulously.

Trapped. Day stared into the amber depths of his beer. A phrase surfaced in his memory.

Like a fly in amber.

“Mr. Barclay is right,” he said abruptly. “The anomaly was created in order to capture Data.”

Geordi stared at him with surprise and, Day was dismayed to see, suspicion. “How the hell do you know that?”

“I dreamed...” Day trailed off, aware that he sounded little more coherent than Barclay. “I dreamed about it. In the other reality...” He paused, fighting to bring his dream-memories into focus. “Data’s been captured. Someone... someone wanted him. Someone created the anomaly on purpose.”

“Who the hell would do that?”

Day shook his head. “I’m not sure. Damn it! I wish I could remember more.” He recalled a face, a familiar face, and yet every time he tried to remember more clearly, it vanished like smoke on a windy day.

For the first time he wished he was an android.

The suspicion vanished from Geordi’s face, and he patted Day awkwardly on the shoulder. “It’s okay. Dreams are hard to remember. Maybe it’ll come back to you.” He pressed his lips together in a look of concentration. “You know, Data was kidnapped once before, by a trader by the name of Vargo.”

“H-he’s still in a re-re...” Barclay pressed his lips together, looking embarrassed, and managed to spit out the word. “A rehabilitation colony. Isn’t he?”

“In this universe, sure. But in Commander Soong’s reality, he never tried to kidnap Day—or did he?” he asked, turning to Day.

Day shook his head. “I’ve never heard of the guy.”

“No real surprise there. He was interested in collecting rare objects, not people.”

“Are you saying he collected Data?”

“Tried to. Faked Data’s death and everything. But we caught on and rescued Data a couple of days later.”

“I j-just don’t see how Vargo could have, you know, known about Data,” Barclay objected. “I mean, the Vargo in Commander, uh, Soong’s universe. He was a t-trader, not a scientist.”

“Yeah,” Geordi admitted. “It doesn’t seem too likely. But it was just a thought. I don’t suppose there’s any way of finding out who’s behind this, though.”

“I have an idea,” Barclay said unexpectedly.

Surprised to hear Barclay volunteer anything without stammering, Day looked up. He saw Geordi glance up as well. Barclay colored at their undivided attention but did his awkward best to articulate his thought. “I just thought... what about, uh, what about Troi? C-counselor Troi, I mean.”

In his own universe, Deanna Troi was Tasha’s best friend. Day knew her pretty well, but he’d never utilized her professional services. He considered himself too mentally disciplined to require counseling. He frowned, irritated by the apparent suggestion that he was losing his marbles. “What about her?”

“Uh—“ Barclay went redder. “I sort of talk to her sometimes. She, uh, she thinks dreams are pretty important, and s-sometimes she asks about them. Once, when she thought one of my dreams was sig—sig—“ He stumbled over the big word, blushing furiously. “You know, significant. She kind of hypnotized me and helped m-me to remember it.”

Day dropped his mug on the table with a clunk. “Do you think she could do that for me?”

“I’d say it’s worth a shot,” Geordi said. He hit his communicator. “LaForge to Counselor Troi.”

There was a brief pause. “Troi here.”

“Counselor, our guest, Commander Soong, has had a dream he can’t remember. We think it might be important. Do you think you could help him remember it?”

“Possibly,” Troi responded, her voice musical even through the combadge. Day glanced at Barclay and was surprised to see the man had gone even redder, like a beet with a bad sunburn. Evidently Barclay had a bit of a crush on Troi. “But I’m in the middle of a session just now.”

“Counselor,” Geordi said earnestly, “this might be critical to getting Data back.”

She hesitated. “Yes, I suppose this is more important. Come to my office in five minutes.”

“Let’s go,” Geordi said, putting down his half-empty mug of Denuvian root beer and heading for the door. Day and Barclay followed in his wake.

*****

“Look into my eyes.”

Deanna spoke in a soft, reassuring voice, and Day did what she told him to do. He certainly didn’t have a problem with looking into her eyes. They were, he thought, the prettiest eyes in the galaxy. Next to Tasha’s, of course. He couldn’t seem to look away, anyway. It was like being trapped in deep chocolate pools.

Trapped.

Like a fly in amber.

Without conscious volition he jerked his head to the side, breaking away from the intensity of her gaze.

“It’s all right,” she said softly, touching his cheek with her hand and forcing him to look back at her. For a small, fragile-looking woman she had a lot of strength in her hands. “I know, it’s very unnerving, but if you want to remember...”

He wasn’t sure he did want to remember. He had an awful recollection of being trapped, a memory of a profoundly unsettling sensation. Not fear, exactly. More like a sense of helplessness. An awareness that bad things were going to happen, and that he was powerless to save himself. A fly caught in a web waiting for the spider. He didn’t like the sensation and didn’t want to feel it again.

“Look into my eyes,” she said again, and he did, feeling the incredible pull of her personality as her empathic sense reached out into his mind. An invasion, but not one he could struggle against. He began to realize he no longer wanted to fight. He wanted her in his mind. In spite of himself he began to relax.

“What do you remember?”

He started to say he didn’t remember, but that wasn’t true any longer. He had a vivid recollection of being confined in a small room. A brig on a Klingon vessel. And his captor—

Day wanted to turn away from the face of his captor, but she wouldn’t let him. She demanded to know who it was, forcing him to face his captor. Forcing him to identify the face.

“Bruce,” he whispered, scarcely aware that he spoke. “Bruce Maddox.”

*****

“Maddox,” Geordi said in disgust a half hour later. “He’s been a thorn in Data’s side since he was activated.”

“I don’t understand,” Day said. He felt weak, exhausted, as if Deanna had made him run a marathon, instead of merely recalling the details of his dream. Evidently it wasn’t easy to dredge dreams out of the human subconscious.

Deanna had left him on her office couch to rest while she returned to her current appointment, and Reg had gone back to Engineering. Geordi had remained to keep an eye on him.

“Maddox was the only person who opposed Data’s entry into Starfleet when he was first activated,” Geordi explained. “And then, a few years ago, he tried to have Data reassigned to him at the Daystrom Institute so he could take him apart. He wanted to build more androids, even though he wasn’t quite certain how to go about it. He wanted to take Data apart, possibly damage him permanently.”

“So what happened?”

“Data refused, and Maddox claimed he was the property of Starfleet and couldn’t make those decisions. Captain Picard had to defend Data in court, and the judge decided he was sentient. Data rejected Maddox’s offer.”

Day scowled. “That’s your Maddox, though. I’ve known Bruce for years, and he wouldn’t...” Some of the belligerence drained out of his voice. “I do have to admit Bruce has always been interested in artificial intelligence. He’s been corresponding with my father for quite some time.”

“That’s not surprising,” Geordi said. “It was the study of Data, and Dr. Soong’s work, that led Maddox into the field of artificial intelligence.”

“But Bruce wouldn’t—“ Day shook his head, knowing his objection was stupid. There wasn’t any doubt as to who’d orchestrated this entire thing. He’d seen Bruce’s face.

But it was just so damned hard to believe. As long as he’d known Bruce, he’d been a dedicated and honorable officer. He’d have sworn the man wouldn’t betray his Starfleet training.

Evidently he’d been wrong.

He dropped his face into his hands for a long moment, then straightened up. Geordi was watching him, looking worried. He rose to his feet and did his best to look like a commander in Starfleet, rather than a very tired, lonely, and disillusioned man.

“I guess we’d better go talk to the captain,” he said.

*****

Data was aware when the Klingon ship dropped out of warp. He’d awakened some ten minutes before, but he lay perfectly still in his bunk, feigning sleep. He was fairly certain Maddox had rigged the damping field to activate any time the forcefield went down, but on the off chance that he hadn’t, he might catch Maddox off guard.

His dream—his consciousness of his own reality, he corrected himself—remained in his mind, oddly reassuring. Geordi knew what had happened to him, and who had orchestrated his abduction. Geordi knew he was alive. He would inform Captain Picard.

And somehow, Data felt convinced, the Enterprise would find a way to rescue him.

The door to the brig slid open. Data did not move an artificial muscle or let his eyelids flicker. The forcefield went down, and Maddox came into the room.

“Sleeping, Data?”

Data suspected from the sardonic tone that Maddox was perfectly aware he was awake. Perhaps he was able to monitor Data’s brainwaves. That in itself was a disturbing thought. He waited until Maddox’s footfalls drew near his bunk, then attempted to bound from the bunk in one explosive motion.

As he had rather expected, nothing happened.

He opened his eyes and stared up at Maddox. “I am not sleeping,” he said.

“Good. There’s someone here who wants to meet you.”

Unable to move, Data turned his eyes toward the door, and a sensation of confused shock unfurled within his circuitry. Shuffling into the room, hunched over, was an old, old man, his long white hair wild around his face.

It was Noonien Soong.

*****

“I never succeeded in creating an android,” Soong explained as Data, still disabled, was carried into his workshop by two burly Klingons and laid, none too gently, on a table. Data was unable to move his head, but his peripheral vision allowed him to see that Soong’s workshop was cluttered with all sorts of machinery—computers, primitive robots, and fragments of metal. “I began to wonder if in some other quantum reality I had. After a great deal of searching through ancient alien artifacts, I found one that could provide a window into other realities. And at last I found your universe.”

“Why did it matter to you?”

Soong raised his bushy white eyebrows. “Why? Need you even ask, Data? I was a failure, a complete and utter failure. I never achieved my grandest dream. In fact, I was a failure in virtually every quantum reality. Only in a few realities did I succeed.”

Data thought about that briefly. When he had realized that Soong was in charge of this complex operation, he had experienced hope for the first time in two days. In his universe, Soong had been a rational man. He hoped he could appeal to his sense of logic. “Surely you realize that by copying another Soong’s success, you will not be achieving anything. You will still be a failure.”

“That would be true if I were merely trying to copy my counterpart’s success. But I intend to improve upon it, with the help of my assistant, Dr. Maddox. I intend to do something your universe’s Soong could never do—build a positronic matrix that will be stable no matter how many times it is replicated.”

Data thought of his daughter, his own best attempt to replicate his own sentient brain. He had briefly imagined he had succeeded, only to see her pathways collapse within two weeks. “You have set yourself a difficult task.”

“Perhaps. But with our combined efforts, I am confident Maddox and I will succeed.”

Data considered his next words carefully. “I once constructed an android, which functioned for some time. I would be willing to share my experience with you.”

“Yes,” Maddox said scornfully. “We’re familiar with your failed experiment.”

“My failed experiment was evidently more of a success than Dr. Soong’s were,” Data said evenly.

“Your experiment failed because you had no model to examine minutely,” Soong informed him. “We will be able to take you apart and determine the best way to construct a prototype.”

Being taken apart was precisely what Data wished to avoid. “I believe my experience and scientific background will be more useful to you if I am not in pieces,” he said.

“We’re not interested in the experience of a machine,” Maddox drawled.

The contempt in Maddox’s voice made Data wish for the spontaneous ability to grind his teeth together. “I am not merely a machine. Surely, if you have been able to observe my reality, you comprehend that fact. I am as sentient as you are, and my experience is at least as valuable. Perhaps more so, since I have constructed an android that functioned, however briefly, and you have not.”

Soong’s face darkened, and Data realized he’d made a serious tactical error in bruising Soong’s massive ego. “Arrogant, aren’t you?” Soong said.

Data stared at him without blinking, refusing to back down. “Evidently I was truly created in your image.”

Soong scowled, and his hand slapped down onto a table.

Everything went black.

*****

“We believe that the Bruce Maddox of Commander Soong’s universe has abducted Mr. Data,” Picard said in his crispest tones. Day knew Picard well enough to know that the man’s crispness concealed irritation. But little of the irritation showed on the stern, ascetic face. “Mr. LaForge?”

Geordi looked at the ring of anxious faces arrayed around the conference table in the captain’s ready room. “We’re still trying to piece together what’s happened from Commander Soong’s dream,” he said, “but it looks like Maddox—the other Maddox—has been planning this for a long time. Apparently he figured out a way to generate the spatial anomaly and used it to transfer Data and Commander Soong across universes.”

“Why?” Crusher asked.

Geordi shrugged. “We can only guess. But it looks as if Maddox has an overwhelming interest in artificial lifeforms in either universe. I don’t think he has anything good in mind.”

“So Data is in danger,” Riker said grimly.

No shit, Sherlock, Day almost said, but he managed to keep his mouth shut. He still found Riker incredibly irritating, as if every word Riker said was deliberately intended to get his hackles up. He made a conscious effort to speak politely. “I think we have to proceed from that assumption, yes,” he said.

Riker looked at him. “And why did he bring you here?”

Day shook his head. “I haven’t got the slightest idea.”

“I think it was unavoidable,” Geordi interjected. “In order to get Data into his universe, Day—I mean Commander Soong-- had to come here. I don’t think Maddox cares about Commander Soong one way or another. I think this whole thing is about Data.”

So I’m just a grand irrelevancy in the scheme of things, Day thought sourly. Isn’t that a delightfully cheerful thought? Aloud, he said, “But I presume I have to be returned to my own universe in order to have Mr. Data returned here.”

“Yeah. But there’s a problem. A big problem.”

“Which is?” Riker said impatiently.

“We can’t create that spatial anomaly from this side,” Geordi said. “Based on Commander Soong’s dream, it seems to have been created by an alien artifact of some sort. We just don’t have the technology to do it.”

Picard’s lips compressed. “So unless the other Enterprise is able to accomplish it somehow, we won’t see Mr. Data again.”

Geordi looked unhappy. “I’m afraid that’s about the size of it, sir.”

Day looked at the stars outside the ready room window. They weren’t his stars. But unless the people on his own Enterprise could solve this puzzle, he would be here the rest of his life.

He was going to have to believe that somehow his crew could solve the problem. He had faith in their ability to rescue him. He had to believe in them. Somehow they would get him out of here.

He couldn’t live without ever seeing Tasha and his kids again.

Read Chapter 9 here.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm fairly confident that they do, dream, that is to say.
Cheers

Anonymous said...

yMYay! Two new chapters! Thank you for the email notification. Cool, Daystrom Soong is going to have a nasty revelation about his dad. Great work. Keep going!

SelfAppointedCritic said...

Woo hoo what a pleasant surprise update! A truly excellent update at that Elly (please don't let them harm my Data)! Once again, you've astonished me with your range. One would think that you were a member of the original STTNG writing team; you write ALL the characters so well. Especially Data. It must tricky to write not using a single contraction! I can't wait to see where this goes. Great job!