Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything from canon; I own the rest. This takes place along-side and in-between “Crush” and “Strawberry”.
Auld Lang Syne – Part II
(30 December 2372 – 1 January 2373)
Saturday, December 30th, 2372, San Francisco, Earth
(Roughly a year after Generations, and a year before First Contact.)
When the bells all ring and the horns all blow
And the couples we know are fondly kissing.
Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?
Maybe it’s much too early in the game
Ooh, but I thought I’d ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s eve?
The rain-slick pavement was made more treacherous because of the boots I was wearing, not the sensible Starfleet-issue, flats of the man I was walking with, but a pair of black, suede calf-high fashion boots with heels that hadn’t seemed quite so spindly in the store. Fortunately, my companion was holding my arm with a grip that felt gentle, but that I knew was strong enough to keep me from any harm.
“Perhaps you should reconsider your choice of footwear in the future,” he observed, and while there was a hint of wryness in his tone, there was also concern. “Were I not with you, you would have likely sprained one or both ankles.”
The fact that, a year before, the same statement would have been made with no emotional nuance whatsoever, was not lost on me. For a moment I stopped walking. “Really, Data,” I teased, “that chip in your head has turned you positively obsessive about my footwear. Is there something I should know?”
He got the joke, such as it was, but answered seriously, “It is not the footwear that concerns me, but the woman wearing it.”
A year ago, he wouldn’t have said that either.
Of course, a year ago we hadn’t been more than close friends, and now we’d been dating since spring, him coming to New Haven to see me at school – I was a semester away from finishing my undergraduate degree at Yale – me meeting him at one of the dirtside restaurants at New York or San Francisco SpacePort as often as I could. Everything was easier when he was aboard the new Enterprise, the E this time, getting her ready for warp trials and then another extended mission, and more difficult when he was off on short-term assignments, but we had been getting better and better about making it work.
“I love it when you say things like that,” I said, smiling. I stretched up to kiss him, not caring that were in the middle of the sidewalk, or that we were supposed to be meeting people for dinner. “I love this, too.”
Public displays of affection had been a new experience for him, and I’d asked him more than once if he objected. He always said he did not, within limits. So, no snogging in the corridors of the ship, obviously, but when he was on leave, and the city was still dressed in Christmas finery? All bets were off.
“I enjoy this as well,” he said softly, returning my kiss. “But we will be late if we continue.”
“Spoilsport,” I grumbled good-naturedly. But I added, “Okay, let’s go.”
The restaurant, when we got there, was dimly lit and abuzz with many conversations. The clientele, I noticed, was mostly humanoid, and only about a third were wearing Starfleet uniforms. I’d noticed that fewer uniforms generally meant better, or at least more expensive, food.
Some of the friends we were meeting had already arrived, though – sidewalk smooching notwithstanding – we were not actually late. Data would never have allowed it.
“Zoe, it’s good to see you,” Deanna Troi stepped away from Will Riker to come and hug me. “I’m so glad you’re joining us tonight.”
“Thank you,” I said. “You look amazing,” and she did, in a deep blue dress that skimmed her figure before ending in a full, if mid-length, skirt. I was wearing classic black, but even if I’d been dressed to the nines, she’d have made me feel plain.
“Thank you,” she said. She released me but Riker was next, with one of his signature bear hugs.
“Hey, breathing is kind of important,” I said, but I returned the hug, laughing.
“Not often I get to hug college girls any more – ow!” Deanna had punched him in the arm. “How is school? You’re in the home stretch, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I confirmed, returning to Data’s side.”Classes don’t start again ’til February, but we start rehearsals for The Crucible on the ninth, so I’ll be there for intersession. I’ve been contacting agents, so it’s likely I’ll be going on auditions, too. Who else are we waiting for?”
“Just Geordi,” Data said.
“Actually Beverly said she and the captain might join us,” Deanna corrected. “Look, there they are!”
We all turned toward the door, and sure enough, there was the one and only Captain Picard, with Dr. Crusher at his side. Both were dressed in normal street clothes, which meant Data was the only one in uniform tonight. “Data, remind me to take you shopping sometime soon. You really need some decent civvies.” I made sure only he could hear.
“As you wish,” he said. It was his way of letting me know he would indulge one of my whims, despite not being totally supportive of it.
There was more hugging and the captain favored me with the European tradition of kisses to both cheeks, and then the server was leading us to our table, a round one in the back, near the fireplace. Geordi was running late, apparently, and Will and Deanna had theater tickets, so we didn’t wait to order.
“Zoe, you’ve been here before, haven’t you?” Beverly asked me, “Data said you were here last week?”
I nodded. “We come every year on Christmas Eve…well, every year since Mom and Ed have been together. Family tradition. The ravioli de zucco is very good, by the way, if you want something meatless. They use butternut squash in the filling and serve it with a butter and sage sauce that’s to die for.”
“That sounds delicious,” Deanna observed.
“It is,” I assured. “It’s actually my favorite thing here, but nothing is really bad.”
“Is that what you are ordering tonight?” Data asked.
“That depends. Are you ordering a meal, or do you just want to share what I have?” Dinner dates with a man who didn’t actually have to eat could be challenging, and we’d found that ordering one entrée and sharing it was often beneficial to us both. He got to both taste new things and blend in with the crowd, and I got to justify my love of dessert by not eating whole portions. It was win-win. “If we’re sharing,” I said, “then I’ll either get that or the aglio e olio. If not, I’m having the rosemary chicken.” That choice was another of our unwritten agreements, as Data did not eat meat.
“Are you sure you’ve only been dating for six months?” Geordi LaForge arrived, still in uniform, with that question on his lips. He touched my shoulder on his way to drop into the open seat on the other side of Data.
“Actually,” Data said, “it has been six months, twenty-eight days, and twenty-two point three hours since our relationship officially changed. Why do you ask?”
“Because you act married.” He was smiling when he said it.
“We do not,” I protested.
“Yes, actually, you do,” Captain Picard declared, surprising us all. “I never thought I’d see Data come to this point.” His tone wasn’t one that I could read, and a scan of the faces of those who knew him told me they were perplexed as well. “I have only one thing to say on the matter. Mr. Data, my friend, if you let this young woman go, I will personally deactivate you. Now, who wants wine? I’m buying.”
Stunned shock gave way to happy laughter, and Picard, who was sitting on the other side of me, touched my hand. “Zoe,” he said softly, “you and I don’t know each other very well yet, but I can see why Data is so fond of you.”
I wasn’t entirely certain, but I think it was his way of giving us his approval, so I just answered with the only thing I could think of. “Thank you, sir. That means a lot.”
Dinner became considerably looser after that – Data and I did end up sharing the squash ravioli – and Captain Picard did buy wine – a bottle each of a local chardonnay and a French syrah from a winery owned by a friend of his. Data chose the former and seemed surprised when I didn’t.
“I was under the impression that white wine was the preferred choice with meatless dishes,” he said.
“It depends on the dish,” the captain and I said together.
“With a sweet dish, a dry wine is better,” Picard continued. “And vice versa, but sometimes a spicy red will bring out the flavor in something like squash better than the white.”
“A friend of mine from school worked as a sommelier in his parents’ restaurant over the summers,” I added. “He said that while the red with meat and heavy pasta, white with fish, and lighter fare is a good guideline, it really comes down to ‘drink what you like as long as the flavors don’t clash.'”
“What do you recommend with the rosemary chicken, then,” asked Riker, who wasn’t a particular wine fan.
I glanced at the captain to see if he would answer, but he deferred to me. “Beer,” I told him. “As long as it’s a micro-brew, or hard cider. They have a pear cider here that goes amazingly well with that chicken.”
“How old are you, exactly?” he teased.
I just grinned, and said “Old enough to know that if you don’t order dessert in the next ten minutes you and Deanna won’t make curtain. What are you seeing anyway?”
“Fog City Blues,” Deanna said. “Do you know it?”
“Better than. The male lead was two years ahead of me at Yale; we had an improv class together when I was a freshman, and did a play together my sophomore year. It’s at the Orpheum, isn’t it? Where are you sitting? Can I see your tickets?”
With a somewhat confused expression, Will Riker handed me the data-card with his tickets on it.
“Mm. Upper orchestra. You’re not too far from center, which is good, but for this show, you’re kinda far back. May I borrow these for a minute?” I reached into the evening bag I’d slung on the back of my chair, and pulled my personal communicator out, “Sorry, I know it’s completely tacky to do this during dinner, but you’ll appreciate it, I promise.” I scrolled through my contact list until I found the one I was looking for, and keyed in the code to connect.
“You’re live with Marco. Talk fast.”
The voice from the speaker was tinny, but I wanted everyone to hear. Fortunately, the closest tables were empty by now. “Marco-sweety, wanna do a fellow Yalie a huge favor?”
“Oh my god, Zoificus. Haven’t you graduated yet? Are you in town?”
“That’s goddess to you, hon.” I said. “And the answers to your other questions are ‘not til May’ and ‘Yes.’ If I promise to take you to breakfast before I head back to campus, will you work some VIP magic for me?”
“For you, Zoe, anything. Whatcha need?”
“Friends of mine have tickets for tonight’s performance. I know it’s totally last-minute, but they’re in X-10 and X-11 and they really need something in the six-sixteen zone. Preferably center aisle if you can wrangle it.”
“Oh, sister, you know I can…hang on.” He was silent for a few minutes, then came back, “I need a name for will-call,” he said, “but if they bring their existing d-card they can swap those seats for J-1 and J-2 and collect vouchers for complimentary champagne.”
I muted the connection to glance up at Will, “Is that cool with you? I mean, your existing seats weren’t bad…” But he was laughing silently – so was Geordi, actually. “Perfect, hon, thank you. And the name you need is William T. Riker. Be nice to him, he ranks my SO.”
“Oooh, super nice. Let me know when you wanna do brunch – we’re dark Mondays. And you better come see the show before you blow.”
“I’ll try,” I promised. “My schedule’s kind of insane right now.”
“Senior year? I bet it is. Okay, hon. See you soon. Love ya! Mean it!”
I put the com unit away and returned the data card to Will. “Let me know if the show’s any good?” I asked.
It was Beverly who said what, apparently, everyone was thinking, “What did you just do?”
I shrugged. “Theater snobbery. Never sit closer than row six or farther back than row sixteen. And you can’t tell me fellow officers don’t do favors for each other when you can – switching duty shifts, and such -”
“She is correct,” Data confirmed. “We are just not accustomed to Zoe being the person with connections.”
Geordi summed it up best though, “Damn, I wish I had your connections when I needed spare parts.”
We had coffee and dessert and then began the process of leave-taking, and the divvying of the bill. Will and Deanna headed out to see the play, and the Captain and Doctor Crusher went off to wherever they were going. They’d mentioned dancing but I hadn’t been listening that closely, and to ask seemed like prying. “Zoe,” Beverly said as they were leaving, “we’ll see you tomorrow, won’t we?”
“Tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve,” I said. “Is there something else going on?”
“Ask Data,” she said, a wicked smile on her face. “And don’t let him tell you it’s a surprise.”
I turned to the man in question, waiting for a pause in his conversation with Geordi. “I need to use the restroom,” I said. “You have that long to figure out what to tell me about why Beverly thinks I’ll be seeing everyone tomorrow, and bear in mind that your answer will absolutely determine exactly how much shopping I’ll be subjecting you to.” I kissed him lightly on the lips and went to the back of the restaurant, where the facilities were located.
Of the three stalls, only one was empty, which was typical. What was not typical was the conversation I overhead while paying attention to other things:
– Did you see that ‘droid? Flaunting its friendship with humans, even sharing a plate with that girl?!
– – Who is the girl, anyway? I recognized the rest of the group – the blind dude is the engineer on the Enterprise and the rest of them were all officers, too…but the girl…she looks vaguely familiar.
– I snapped her picture. We’ll do an identity match later.
– Thomas said it was kissing her outside. How sick do you have to be to let a machine kiss you? Do you think she’s sleeping with it?
– I miss the old days, when humans were the only people in town…you about done?
Under normal circumstances, I’d have burst out of the stall, and had words with those two women, but I was a little rocked by the realization that they were talking about Data and me. As well, a one-against-two confrontation in the bathroom wasn’t really on my to-do list for…ever. I heard one flush, and then two, followed by hand-washing, and finally, the clacking of heels and the door opening and closing. I’m sure they were still talking, but I was no longer able to hear anything except my own rage boiling inside my head. Still, I waited another five minutes after I finished my business before leaving the stall, washing my own hands, and walking out of the room.
Data was waiting for me when I got back, but Geordi had disappeared.
“I know I took long,” I said, “But I didn’t think it was long enough to drive Geordi away?”
“You did not,” he said. “Geordi is involved in a crucial engineering problem. He was needed back on the Enterprise.”
I nodded. “Oh, okay. Can we go now?” I brushed by him, and out to the sidewalk, where I resisted – barely – the urge to gulp the rain-freshened night air.
The problem with dating someone who’s known you since you were fifteen is that they can always tell when something isn’t right. When that person is also also hyper-observant, there’s no way you can hide being upset. I wasn’t surprised, when Data moved in front of me so that I had to look at him. “Zoe, something is troubling you. What is wrong?”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about it…not here, I mean. It’s probably just me overreacting, anyway.” I slipped my hand into his, as we began the walk back to where his shuttle was parked (the Enterprise’s transporters were down for testing, and personal transporting was frowned upon). “I know we’d talked about that open-mic night, but…” I let the sentence trail off, then restarted it. “I don’t want to miss out on time with you, and I know you scheduled the night off specially, but I’d really rather just go back to the house and curl up on a couch.”
“The doctor was correct in that there is a special event on the ship tomorrow,” Data said. “I had thought to invite you to come back to the Enterprise with me. As you know, there is a couch in my quarters.”
I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “I know. If I wouldn’t be in the way, and if we can stop by the house so I can pack a few things, I’d love to spend the weekend.”
He smiled, then, the smile that I’d glimpsed now and again during my time living on the ship, only more. “You are never in the way.”
“Are you ready, now, to tell me what upset you at the restaurant?” Data asked. We were sitting on the couch in his quarters, and I was sipping lemon-mint tea. As soon as we’d arrived, I’d commandeered his bathroom to wash off my makeup, twist my hair into a messy knot, and change into a comfortably-worn Yale t-shirt and a pair of faded blue sweatpants, so it wasn’t as if I hadn’t had time to settle.
“I probably really was overreacting,” I said. “The women’s room had three cubicles, and two were already occupied. On a Saturday night, that’s not all that unusual. They were in the middle of a conversation, but, again, that’s pretty typical. But the conversation was about us, and while it might have just been gossip, something about it creeped me out.”
To his credit, he didn’t react to the phrase ‘creeped me out.’ Instead, he adjusted his position on the couch, so that his arm was around me. “I have observed,” Data said quietly, “that when tea and soft lighting does not help you to talk to me, physical contact does.”
“So, this is a carefully studied technique for eliciting confessionals from me? It brings a whole new dimension to ‘Ve haf vays of makink you talk.'” I was teasing, but I also moved into the curve of his arm as I said it. “I like it here,” I added softly.
“I ‘like it here’ as well,” he said. “But you are avoiding the subject at hand.”
“Brain the size of a planet and he uses it to be a noodge,” I complained to the ceiling, “Okay, okay. Either they didn’t hear me come in, or they didn’t care, because they were in the middle of a conversation about us. All of us – they knew who you all were, though they also said they didn’t recognize me.” I hesitated.
“I am. They mentioned that someone named Thomas had seen us kissing. They talked about how you were flaunting your friendships with humans. They said something about capturing my image for an identity match – can they do that?”
“Finding the name to go with any image is relatively easy,” Data confirmed. “Your identity will be more easily discovered than most, as you are the daughter of a celebrity, and have appeared on the news-nets in your own right.”
He must have been able to tell that I was confused by that statement. “I…have?”
“Reviews of your performances in various theatrical companies are archived.”
I made a mental note to ask him exactly when he’d been reading about me, as well as what…and why. “I guess they would be,” I allowed. “Anyway, they made rude comments about our relationship and then they clacked away.”
“They were wearing heels, and no, I don’t know what kind. The cubicle walls go all the way to the floor there, even the doors. I didn’t see them…I didn’t really want to, honestly…I just heard.”
Data was silent for a long time. Well, long for him, anyway. “Zoe,” he began, in tones even more measured than usual. “You are aware that I have often faced such prejudice. You yourself are no stranger to gossip. Why is this particular incident bothering you so much?”
I stared into my tea cup, willing it to answer for me. It refused. “What they said…. Data, they kept calling you ‘it.’ They said only someone sick and twisted would have an intimate relationship with a machine.” I paused, but he seemed to sense that I wasn’t done yet. “Did you know,” I continued softly, “that sometimes I forget you’re an android?”
His tone, when he responded, was oddly neutral, “And the overheard conversation reminded you?”
“No!” It came out almost as a shout, but I took a couple of deep calming breaths and kept going. “I don’t mean I literally forget, I just mean…when I look at you, when I’m with you…I don’t see ‘Data the android,’ I just see ‘Data the person’ or, more recently, ‘Data, the man I love.'”
I felt his arm tighten around me, heard the slight gulp of his reflexive swallow, and the sudden stillness when his breath ceased. “Zoe…” he began.
I cut him off. “Hearing them was like a slap in the face. It made me mad, but it made me feel like there was something wrong with me, because I look at you, and I just see…you.”
He didn’t say anything. He’d started breathing again, and his arm was still around me, but he was otherwise silent. Motionless. I pulled away from him so I could look at his face. Yellow tears trickled from the corners of his eyes, which were moving back and forth, the way they always did when he was processing something. “Data?” I asked gently. “Can you hear me?”
The REM flicker slowed, but didn’t stop, and he nodded once.
“Are you okay? Do I need to call Geordi? You know I will if I have to.”
A head-shake this time. Great, I was stuck in a game of charades, and I didn’t even know what the clue was. I reached up to touch his face, to brush the tears away with my thumb. I remembered a time, a few years before, when I’d been upset over something and he’d done the same. Then it had been a friendly gesture. Now, it was definitely more. I resettled myself, my head against his chest, closed my eyes, and waited.
Data’s voice calling my name was the next thing I heard. “Zoe,” he said softly, “please wake up.”
We were still on the couch, still holding each other. “‘m awake,” I said. “Are you back in the world of the living?”
“And I didn’t miss anything? No steam coming from your ears, none of your circuits melted.” I never had a filter when I first woke up, even if it was only from a nap.”
“I am…fully functional,” he answered, though his voice seemed a bit pinched. Nervous.
“How long was I sleeping on you?”
“Fifty-seven minutes, thirteen seconds,” he answered.
“You were crying.” I said. “I didn’t know you could.”
“My eyes are lubricated by tears, as yours are,” he reminded me gently. “But, yes, since activating the emotion chip, I have fund that I do cry as a response to certain emotional stimuli.”
“Seems kind of unfair that I was the one who was upset, but you were the one who ended up crying. Am I allowed to ask why?”
“You are always ‘allowed’ to ask,” he said. He dropped a chaste kiss on the top of my head.
“I am sorry if I caused you concern,” he said softly. “I was not expecting a declaration.”
“You mean that I love you?” I asked. “I didn’t really mean to dump it on you like that. Is that what made you go all internal?”
“Yes,” he said. “I was analyzing my reaction, considering our history, comparing heuristic responses…”
“You mean,” I interrupted gently, “you were trying to figure out how you feel.”
I tensed, and started to pull away from him. Suddenly, I didn’t want to know. Except at the same time, I did. I sat back so I could watch his face. “And?”
He took my hands in his, his thumbs making small circles over the pulse points on my wrists. “We have been friends for many years.”
I wondered how much it cost him not to give months, days, and hours. “Yes,” I said. “You accepted me as a friend pretty much from the beginning.”
“You have observed more than once that I seem to ‘get’ you. Others have told both of us that we seem to have a special connection.”
“True,” I said. I wondered when – if – he would get to the point.
“The general consensus among my friends, when I shared that our relationship had evolved to one of a more romantic nature was that such as shift was inevitable.”
“My family, and my friends who know you, said pretty much the same thing,” I agreed.
“Since the day Geordi helped me install the emotion chip, I have catalogued nearly a million distinct emotional states,” he said. “I believe I have identified what it means to feel friendship, loyalty, filial love…” he began. This time it was I who began to interrupt, and he who silenced me. “Until tonight, I had no certainty that I could feel romantic love,” he continued. “Now I know, Zoe, that this is what I feel for you.”
“In other words, you love me, too.”
“I believe I just said that.”
I stared at him for a long moment, and then moved again, this time to straddle his lap, facing him. His arms came around me, and I kissed him. “Have you,” I asked, “catalogued what it’s like when you feel desire?”
His eyes widened, “I have…not…yet…”
“Want to try?” I leaned my forehead against his.
“You are speaking of sexual intimacy,” he said softly. “Are you certain?”
Six years of friendship, much of which was spent dancing toward more. Seven months of dating. We hadn’t yet engaged in ‘sexual intimacy,’ as he called it, but it wasn’t for lack of willingness, so much as lack of opportunity. Even with the Enterprise at Spacedock, in geostationary orbit over Alaska, we hadn’t had the time to be able to go there and not have to rush away first thing the next morning. I knew his history with one night stands. I knew one night was not what I wanted from him. All of this raced through my mind at, well, not quite android speed, but pretty quickly.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve never been more certain of anything else.”
He met my kiss this time, with more ardor than I was accustomed to from him.
I woke up alone in Data’s bed. Well, not quite alone. Spot had appeared at some point while I slept, and was currently curled up in front of me, kneading my abdomen with her paws. “Watch it, catling,” I told her softly, freeing my arm from the sheets so I could scratch her behind the ears. “Hit my bladder and we’ll both regret it.” Of course, that’s exactly where her paws aimed next. “Spot!”
“Ah,” I heard Data’s voice say, probably from his workstation. “You are awake.”
“Kind of,” I said. “Could you come get your cat so I can use the bathroom?”
“Of course.” He came, and lifted the orange tabby cat away from me. “Are you…alright?”
“Aside from feeling like I need more sleep, and having a desperate need to pee, I’ve never been better,” I said lightly. I lifted the sheets, slid out of bed, and brushed by him to the bathroom. Once finished with my most urgent need, I splashed my face with water, and untangled the hair tie that had never been removed the night before, detangling my hair with my fingers before I returned to the main room.
“What time is it?” I asked as I climbed back into the bed.
“Zero-four-hundred hours,” he replied. “If you are tired, you should rest more.” He’d deposited Spot on the couch, and, I noticed, was dressed only in the pseudo-Victorian dressing gown I’d teased him about on another late night. “I know you don’t sleep,” I said, “but if you come back to bed for a bit, I’ll make it worth your while.”
“It has already been ‘worth my while,'” he said softly, but his smile held more than a hint of seduction. He slid the robe off, and lifted the covers to join me.
I looked his nude body in the soft, indirect glow of computer displays, and couldn’t help but blurt, “God, you’re beautiful.”
His response came as a whisper of his breath on my skin. “As are you,” he said. “But I am not God, I am only Data.”
“That’s even better.”
A few hours later, the scent of coffee pulled me out of a deep and contented slumber, as did the sound of Data singing some ancient ballad I’d heard a couple of times before but didn’t really know. Even so, hearing his voice made me smile. “Sing louder,” I requested. “And tell me what I have to do to get some of the coffee I smell.”
“I cannot do both at once,” he said coming to the side of the bed. He’d already dressed in his duty uniform. “Coffee is on the table. I was uncertain about your breakfast preferences aside from that.”
“Are you on duty today?” I asked, following that question immediately with, “Could you toss me my t-shirt?”
He did the latter while telling me, “I am due on the bridge at zero-eight hundred hours, which is in approximately seventeen minutes. If you wish to remain on board for the next eight hours, I will grant you access to the holodecks – two and three are online. You already have computer access, should you require it.”
“Are the replicators online?”
“They are, with limited options. If you are hungry, I suggest you go to the lounge; Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher sent an invitation for you to join them for breakfast at zero nine hundred. ”
I pulled my t-shirt on, while I asked, “Data, does the entire ship know I spent the night with you?”
“That is doubtful,” he said. “While Deanna and Beverly are aware that you returned to the Enterprise with me last night, it is only because I contacted the counselor this morning that she knew you were still here.”
“You got me a pity-invite to breakfast?” I wasn’t sure if I should be annoyed or amused.
“No,” he said softly. “The counselor sensed your upset last night, and was concerned. I explained what had happened.” He hesitated then asked, “Do you regret our actions of last night and this morning?” I could see him fighting the desire to deactivate the emotion chip in case he didn’t like my answer.
I slid out of bed and stood on tip-toe to kiss him. “The only thing I regret is that it took me being upset to help us take our relationship to the next level. We probably need to talk about what it means and where we go from here – I still have school to finish, and you still have your career – but aside from that? Data, I love you, and I’m looking forward to many repeat performances.”
His arms came around me and held me for several seconds. “I love you also, Zoe,” he said into my hair. Then he kissed me and reminded me of the time before he left for bridge duty.
I retrieved the coffee from the table and put it in the replicator tray to be reheated – Data had already specified the amount of milk I usually used – then took it back to bed with me. “Computer, time please?” I asked when I was finished. I was informed that I had forty-five minutes to get ready, but I also needed to know, “Computer, recognize Zoe Harris. Has Commander Data added me to the access lock on his quarters?”
The disembodied voice replying, “Affirmative,” shouldn’t have made me giggle, but somehow, it did.
Whether you referred to it by its old name, Ten-Forward, the name Commander Riker was currently lobbying for – The Happy Bottom Riding Club – or just ‘the lounge,’ the crew lounge of the U.S.S. Enterprise was the one place where everyone belonged, and literally anyone could see or be seen – or even hide in a corner if not being seen was their thing. Knowing this, I shouldn’t have been at all trepidatious about entering. Nevertheless I spent a good five minutes dithering outside the doors, before finally gathering enough courage to face Beverly Crusher and Deanna Troi over the breakfast table.
They were, of course, already waiting for me.
“Zoe, I heard you had quite an eventful night,” the doctor greeted warmly.
“Excuse me?” I asked, with no small amount of alarm. “Exactly what did Data tell you about last night?”
The counselor took a hard look at me, and then smiled. “Only that something happened after the rest of us left the restaurant,” she said mildly. Too mildly. “Why? Is there more?”
A look passed between the counselor and the doctor, and suddenly Beverly Crusher was leaning closer into the table. “Come on, Zoe, share with your friends,” she teased.
“In point of fact,” I said, realizing that I sounded too much like Data when I used that phrase. “You two are my mother’s friends. I don’t even use your first names.”
“Well, you should,” the doctor said, her smile softening. “Especially now that you’re with Data.”
“Beverly’s right,” Deanna said, “and we should have let you know that months ago.”
“Besides,” Beverly added, “Your mother isn’t here, so we are stepping in as your…affectionate aunties…”
“Or older sisters…”
“I don’t like that word, ‘older,'” Dee.
“Not old-older. Just older than Zoe.”
“Oh. That’s alright then.”
“Would you like me to leave until you two come to a consensus?” I asked.
Both women laughed.
“You two,” I said, “Are made of evil.”
“What’s the expression your generation uses?” Beverly asked. “It takes one to know one.”
“Doomed. I am doomed.”
“Yes,” Deanna said, “You are.”
They cackled. They actually cackled.
Fortunately, at that moment that Jordan, the man who had taken over as bartender after Guinan left the ship, came to take our orders. “Coffee, please,” I begged. “Dopio con panna, if you can do espresso.”
In the more serious, more professional voice I was accustomed to hearing from her, Beverly added, “Zoe, you really should eat something,” before asking for her own coffee and a butter croissant.
Deanna asked for a mocha and some Betazoid dish that I wasn’t familiar with.
“Did you want something to eat?” Jordan asked kindly.
“A spinach and mushroom omelet and wheat toast would be lovely,” I said.
“Gotcha,” he replied, and disappeared behind the bar.
When the counselor spoke again, she also used her more serious tone. “We’re sorry for teasing you, Zoe. We’re just happy to see you and Data together. He really did only mention the incident at the restaurant.”
I shrugged awkwardly. “I was probably overreacting to that,” I said. “As to the rest…we’ve been together for seven months. It’s not like it’s new.”
“But you haven’t spent the night on the ship before,” Deanna said.
“No,” I agreed. “But it wasn’t for lack of being invited.”
“And, forgive me, Zoe, but it’s radiating from you – your relationship changed last night, didn’t it?”
I felt myself blush. “Yeah,” I said. “In a couple ways.”
Beverly asked in her best this-won’t-hurt-a-bit voice, “Are you okay with the change in your relationship?”
I blinked at her, confused. “Why wouldn’t I be? Data is…” Awesome? Phenomenal? Special? Thoughtful? Caring? None of those words were adequate. “Data is Data.” I said with a shrug.
Something must have flitted across my face, because Deanna asked softly, “Zoe, is anything wrong?”
Two of Jordan’s servers appeared with our coffees and food then, and I waited for them to step away before answering.
“He asked me if I had any regrets about last night, but I didn’t ask him.”
Deanna touched my hand briefly. “I think if Data had regrets he’s comfortable enough to tell you. That he asked you speaks more about his past than any strong concerns about his relationship with you.”
I nodded. “We’ve done the whole compare-sexual-histories thing. I mean…you have to, don’t you? When you want more than a fling? He told me about Tasha.” Both of their expressions darkened slightly, “Oh, I’m sorry. I know she was your friend, too. Should I not…” I sighed. “I can’t talk about Data and me with my mother, because…you know…she’s my mother. I can’t talk about him with my girlfriends at Yale, because they lack the necessary context to really understand who he is. I mean, a couple of them have met him, but it was brief, and…god, I’m babbling as much as he ever did.”
Deanna and Beverly shared another look, this time matching indulgent smiles. “It’s fine, Zoe. We really did mean for you to be able to talk to us, if you needed – or wanted – to,” the counselor said. “And it’s better this way than in my office where things will become clinical.”
“If it helps,” Beverly added, “I’ve often recommended to my patients and my friends that all young women need an older woman who isn’t their mother to be part of their support system. And even if Wes were a girl, I couldn’t have this conversation with him.”
“What about your girlfriends from the ship? Are you still close with…Dana and Annette, wasn’t it?” Troi asked.
I nodded, “Yeah, Dana and Annette. Oh, we talk all the time, and whenever we’re close enough we meet for coffee or dinner or whatever. Dana, especially, since she’s also in university on Earth. But…to them, Data is still a teacher. An authority figure.”
Deanna smiled reassuringly from behind her mocha. “You’d mentioned Tasha…” she prompted.
I swallowed a couple of bites of my omelet before answering. “Okay,” I said. “I know it was a one-night stand. I know it was chemically triggered. I also know that he still has a holographic portrait of her. So, I guess, I want to know…if she hadn’t…if she had lived, do you think they’d have had a longer relationship.” I paused and tacked on. “Am I competing with a ghost?”
“I can’t deny we’ve all wondered about that,” Deanna said. “And the counselor in me wants to tell you to talk to Data about it if you’re truly worried. But as a friend…I don’t think there’s anything there that need worry you. If there was, Data would never have allowed your relationship to evolve the way it has.”
“You might ask him why he keeps her portrait,” Beverly suggested. “But I’m pretty sure the only person you’re in competition with is yourself.”
“Probably,” I agreed.
They let me eat in relative peace until I was finished with my food, chatting only about inconsequentials. Once I had finished, however, Beverly asked, “So, Zoe, there is one thing we’re dying to know…”
“What’s that?” I asked, pretty certain I didn’t really want to know the answer.
“How was Data?”
I thought about all the different responses I could make, but ultimately decided vague was best. “That,” I said, pushing my empty plate away. “is for me to know, and you to wonder about for all eternity.”
And after that? I fled.
When Data returned from his duty shift he found me sitting on his bed working on my padd. “Zoe,” he greeted, “I am home.” He came to my side, and I lifted my head to meet his kiss. “You could have used my workstation,” he observed. “I would not have minded.”
I shrugged. “I was going to take a nap, but I got a message about an audition and thought I’d update my resume before I sent it. I’d rather wait til after Crucible, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity. Anyway, this is more comfortable. Did you find any new life or save any worlds today?”
“Either of those scenarios is extremely unlikely while we are still in Spacedock.”
“On this ship? I’m not so sure about that,” I teased lightly. “Speaking of which, you never did tell me why Beverly assumed that I would be here today, and the subject didn’t come up at breakfast.”
“Then you did go?” he asked. “Was it enjoyable?”
“Depends on your definition of enjoyable. Parts of it were…other parts were…” I hesitated then decided to just go for it. “Data, you asked me, this morning, if I had any regrets about moving our relationship forward. I didn’t ask if you were okay with it. I mean…I sort of bulldozed you into bed.”
“Bulldozed?” His head-tilt showed just how much he didn’t understand that piece of slang.
“Forced, coerced, seduced,” I said, unintentionally imitating one of his oldest patterns.
“May I sit?” he asked gently. I resisted the urge to remind him that it was his bed, and just nodded, moving my padd out of the way. “Do you truly believe that I would have been intimate with you if it was not something I also wanted?”
“No,” I said. “But wanting and being ready for it are two different things. Intellectually, I know there’s no way I could force you to do anything you didn’t really want to do, but emotionally…?” I looked at the floor, the bathroom door, the ceiling, anywhere but at him.
He lifted his hand to my face, gently turning my head so that I had to meet his gaze. “Did we not, only last night, exchange words of love? Must I remind you again of your own observation that we ‘fit’ well together.” His soft expression morphed into the hint of a devilish smile. “Would it be easier for you if I simply demonstrated once more precisely how well we do fit?”
My concerns didn’t exactly vanish, but they certainly receded. “You know I’ve always responded best to a hands-on approach.”
He proceeded to ‘demonstrate’ until even the smallest doubt about his willingness had perished.
“So, is there going to be food at this thing?” I asked as I was putting the final touches on my hair and make-up. Data had let me sleep for several hours after his bedroom demonstration, and now, at ten pm ship’s time, I was both antsy and hungry. Especially hungry.
“It is likely that there will be hors d’oeuvres if nothing else,” Data answered mildly.
“And why, exactly, am I going?”
“Because it would be inappropriate for me to refuse an invitation from my captain.”
“No,” I said. “That’s why you’re going. Me? I could totally be hanging at my parent’s house watching the news feeds from New York until they drop the glass apple and eating delivery pizza.” It wasn’t that I was nervous, exactly. More like, anxious. And suddenly feeling extremely out of place.
“If you would rather to return to San Francisco, I can arrange transport. Alternatively, you may remain here. Either way, however, I must attend this gathering.” This was uttered in his best firm-but-polite tone, but he softened it with a more emotional plea. “My preference is that you come with me, Zoe. The Enterprise is nearly ready for final warp trials, after which we will be embarking on another extended mission. We will not have many more opportunities to spend time together.”
“There you go with the sense-making again,” I muttered. “I’m just a little nervous.”
“Ah,” he said. “Then this would be your pre-Picard grumble. Carry on.”
“Excuse me?” I left the bathroom and stalked toward him, giving him a look that – if it were a blade – would cut through bio-plas sheeting.
“You become nervous, agitated, and somewhat antagonistic before every social event where the captain will be present. I do not understand why you assume he either dislikes or disapproves of you. I can assure you that neither is true. However, experience has taught me that no argument I make will dissuade you from completing your ritual grump. Please be aware however, that if we do not leave within nine-point-seven-three minutes we will be late.”
For several seconds, I just stared at him. Then I burst out laughing.
“Have I said something funny?” he asked me, and for just a second he was the old, pre-emotion-chip Data I’d crushed on for most of high school.
I shook my head. “Not exactly,” I said. “It’s just…Geordi was completely right. We do act married.”
“If you say so, dear,” he replied, teasing me.
“Argh! Stop that.” I took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m done grumbling now, but I am a little nervous around the captain. Help me find a way to not be? I mean, holding your hand works some, but that’s a bit weird after about the first minute.”
“Perhaps, since you cannot hold my hand the entire evening, you would permit me to give you a talisman, of sorts,” he said. “We have been exchanging gifts on New Year’s Eve for many years, and though I enjoyed being there as you and your family celebrated Christmas, I find that our own tradition is equally important to me.” As if by magic a small blue box appeared in his hand.
I smiled at that, accepting the box but not opening it yet. “I brought you something, too,” I confessed. “Give me a sec.” I went to the closet where I’d stowed my overnight bag (Data was a bit of a neat-freak) and pulled out a wrapped parcel. “Here,” I said, handing it to him. “I didn’t want to give you this in front of my parents…it’s not personal, really, but it also is.”
He opened the parcel to find a burgundy knit shirt and a navy blue sweater. “Civilian attire,” he observed. “This is why you kept my spare uniform jacket.”
“Guilty,” I said. “I needed to know your size and didn’t want you to know. Though I did return it. You should consider investing in some Starfleet logo-wear sweats and tees so I can steal those instead.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I will wear them at the earliest opportunity.”
“Pictures or it didn’t happen,” I reminded him, grinning. Then I opened the box he’d given me. It was jewelry, and it was exquisite: the Greek masks of comedy and tragedy wrought in gold and suspended on a fine gold chain. “It’s lovely, Data, thank you. Put it on me?” I turned around so he could fasten the clasp.
“I am glad you like it,” he said. “We must leave now.”
I touched the metal of the masks then reached for his hand. “Okay.” I said. “Let’s go.”
If I had been expecting a fancy party, I would have been bitterly disappointed. The captain’s New Year’s Eve gathering was actually fairly subdued, and only one step removed from intimate. Held in one of the observation lounges, it featured muted lighting, soft music, and many “conversation groupings” of chairs and tables, as well as another table laden with various hot and cold foods and drinks.
Picard himself greeted us as we entered. Like Data, he wasn’t dressed formally, but wore a standard duty uniform. Beyond him, people mingled in an air of casual festivity, among them the senior staff and several of the ship’s department heads, both Starfleet and civilian. Will and Deanna were conspicuous in their absence, but I’d heard they were spending the evening with Commander Riker’s father. I wondered if missing this shindig had required special dispensation from the Admiralty.
“Mr. Data, welcome. Zoe, I’m glad you’re with us tonight.” His demeanor was a blend of holiday cheer and a bit of his typical reserve, a mix only he could manage. He leaned forward to kiss me on both cheeks. “Try the Cartesian crab puffs; they’re delicious.”
I wasn’t used to seeing him being so relaxed, but I was in no position to question such things, so I merely echoed Data’s polite “Thank you, sir,” and moved past him.
Geordi waved us over to the table he was sharing with his current girlfriend, a woman named Christy Henshaw he’d been on-and-off about for almost as long as I’d known him, Reg Barclay and his girlfriend, the ship’s new primary school teacher, Sarah Miller, and, wearing a cadet uniform, Wesley Crusher.
“I thought Wes was off flying through the cosmos without a ship?” I murmured to Data as we wove our way through the other tables.
“Apparently he has returned,” came his dry response.
Wes stood up when we arrived, shaking hands with Data and hugging me. “Did you come with your mom?” he asked, scanning the rest of the room.
“Zoe is here with me.” Data answered him before I could.
Wes either didn’t grasp the implication, or didn’t care.
“I’m not even sure if my mother was invited,” I added. “It’s good to see you though, and we should totally catch up but someone let me nap through dinner.” I turned back to Data, “I’m going to check out the crab puffs. Do you want anything?”
“I will accompany you.”
We browsed the buffet, returning to the table with a plate of crab puffs, coconut prawns, and spicy yellowtail sushi for me, and a small sampling of vegetable dishes for Data, as well as a glass each of red wine. He’d chosen the merlot, while I’d gone for the syrah.
“So, anyway, Commander Harris wrote me a nice recommendation, and they let me resume classes,” Wes was saying when we returned to the table. “I was hoping she’d be here so I could thank her.”
“Oh, so that’s why you asked about Mom,” I said as I sat down between Wes and Data. “She and Ed are in Paris for the holiday, but I’m sure she’d love it if you stopped by the house sometime and said hello. Ed almost always has students around, and Mom does, too, and you’d be surprised at how many Enterprise alums end up there.”
“Alums?” Data asked.
“Alumni,” I explained. “Slang, sorry.”
“The Enterprise is not a university,” he observed. “But, I believe your term fits the sentiment.”
“I’m glad you approve,” I teased. “Also, Captain Picard was right, the crab puffs are incredible.”
“I know! Aren’t they?” This was from Sarah, who had been pretty quiet up to this point. “Reg won’t try them. Says shellfish makes him itch.”
I shrugged, smiling, “His loss, our gain. Are you looking forward to having kids on the ship again soon?”
“I am!” she enthused. “Is it true you were a student here?”
“It’s true,” I said, “Wes was, too, actually – for longer than I was. For me it was only the middle two years of high school. Well, technically I was enrolled for my senior year, too, but I was apprenticing with Idyllwild that year, so most of my work was via correspondence.”
“That’s why you look familiar,” Christy interjected. She’d been having a side conversation with Geordi and Reg. “You were in that play with Data a few years back. Good Women or Little Wives, wasn’t it?”
“Little Women,” Data, Sarah, and I said together, and laughed.
“I was so nervous,” I said. “I was only seventeen, and Doctor Crusher had cast me as Jo. And I had to kiss Data.”
“You didn’t cheat the kiss?” Sarah asked.
“We could’ve, I guess,” I answered. “But I’d been crushing on him for almost two years at that point, and I was on this weird edge of wanting to kiss him, but not wanting him to be able to tell how I really felt.” I turned to Data, who was suspiciously quiet. “Did you know?”
“I did not,” he confirmed. “My chief concern with regard to that play was whether I would adequately convey that the Professor was in love with Jo.”
“Considering almost every woman in the engineering department was talking about your performance the next morning,” Christy said, “I’d say you did a good job.” She peered at us, “But I thought you hadn’t been dating that long?”
I took a sip of wine before answering, “We haven’t. Data was never more than a very kind, very patient friend to me. It wasn’t even me who clued him in that I had been crushing on him.”
“We have only been dating for seven months,” Data said. “Fortunately, I have been allowed to remain with the new Enterprise for much of that time.” I shivered slightly when he said that, realizing again just how lucky we had been. “Zoe,” he added in a softer tone, “Are you cold?”
I shook my head. “No, sorry, I’m fine.”
“You’re at Yale, aren’t you?” Christy asked. After I nodded, she added, “What are you studying?”
“It’s an interdisciplinary program – performance and social justice with an emphasis on theater,” I explained. “By the time I graduate, I’ll have met the requirements for pre-law, but I haven’t decided if I want to pursue that or not. I’m kind of itching to be done with academia for a while. My advisor says I should take the LSAT’s, and spend the summer going on auditions, and do law school as a winter entrant if nothing pans out. I’ve sent my resume and headshot to about fifteen agents in the last month, so, we’ll see.”
“I was not aware law school was a serious consideration,” Data commented.
“It isn’t, really,” I said. “I’d love your insight though; can we discuss it later…alone?”
“Yes, dear,” he said, mischief creeping into his tone.
Everyone at the table laughed.
As the evening drew on, the conversation waned and the furniture was pushed back toward the walls for dancing. As host, Captain Picard had circulated among all of his guests, and now he returned to our table. “Zoe, may I steal you away for a dance?”
I glanced at Data to make sure he didn’t mind, but he and Wes had both joined the engineering chatter, and Sarah was in the restroom. “Thank you, sir,” I said. “I’d like that.”
The song wasn’t anything special…generic dance music that wasn’t too slow or too fast, and – big surprise – he was an excellent leader. “Have you been enjoying your time on the Enterprise?” he asked. “I know Data is glad to have you here.”
“It’s been a nice break,” I answered truthfully. “But a little weird. No offense, sir, but I never feel like I quite belong here, and now…I’m sorry, that’s really more than you wanted to know.”
“Not at all,” he said smoothly. “Did I overhear you mention the possibility of law school?”
“It’s really just a remote possibility right now,” I answered. “Actually being a working actor is my preference.”
“And if you did pursue law, is there a specific aspect of it that interests you?”
“Civil rights law would dovetail with my current course of study,” I said. “As the Federation expands, there are always kinks to be worked out with new cultures…some don’t have the same views on citizenship as most of us do.”
“And theater helps that?”
“Theater has always been used to draw attention to the flaws and foibles of society,” I said. “But I also chose my program because I wanted to make sure I did get a real education beyond accent mimicry and stage movement. It’s challenging enough not feeling like an utter idiot when I’m around, well…you, sir.”
“Is that why you feel you don’t belong here? Because you’re not an expert on starship propulsion or warp theory.”
“Data mentioned that, did he?”
“He suggested you might feel more comfortable if I reached out to you.”
“I’ll kill him.”
“I’d prefer that you didn’t,” he said drily. “He meant well, and he was right to bring it up. Let me clarify, then, Zoe Harris: you are always welcome here, and Data will not be the only person hurt if you avoid coming to visit.”
“Duly noted, sir,” I said, imitating a certain android. “And thank you…for the chat and the dance.”
“No, Zoe, thank you.” The song finished and he escorted me back to the table. “Make sure either you or Mr. Data lets me know when you open in The Crucible. If the Enterprise is close enough to Earth, I would enjoy seeing it.”
“Yes sir,” I said.
Data and I danced after that, and then I invited Wes to dance since he didn’t have a date, and then I danced with Reg, and then Geordi while Data partnered Sarah and Christy. Finally it was midnight – well, midnight, ship’s time – and Captain Picard,stepped to the center of the room.
“Friends and colleagues,” he said, “thank you for joining me in celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.” Servers had appeared and were handing out champagne. Data acquired two glasses, and handed one to me. “As we count down to midnight, please lift your glasses and remember those we’ve lost, welcome new members to our family, and toast to the future, and the good fortune of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and those whose lives are intertwined with hers.”
Numerous instances of “Cheers!” and “Happy New Year!” filled the room, backed by the strains of “Auld Lang Syne.”
Once the noise died down, and the champagne was gone, the party broke up. Data and I were among the last to bid goodnight to Captain Picard, and then we were out in the corridor and waiting for a turbo-lift. I caught his hand once we were alone inside a ‘lift, and kept it until we were back inside his quarters.
“Zoe, is something wrong?” His voice was laced with concern.
“Sorry, Data,” I said. “I’m just realizing how hard it’s going to be not seeing you every day.”
“We have made it through seven months of not seeing each other every day,” he pointed out. “I do not relish the thought of being apart from you for weeks at a time, either, but we must both have faith that our relationship will survive it.”
“Do you honestly believe we can make the long distance thing work?” I asked. I didn’t mention that my parents had tried and failed.
“Yes,” he said. “I do.” More vehemently he added. “I must.”
I kicked off my shoes, and pulled off the knit sweater I’d been wearing over a camisole all night, flopping onto the couch. “Then I guess I have to trust you,” I said. “After all you are the one who has the reputation for being infuriatingly right all the time.”
“Indubitably,” he said lightly, bending to kiss me.
“Do you have work you absolutely have to get done tonight, or would you do something for me?” I asked.
“You would like tea?” he guessed.
I laughed softly. “Okay two ‘somethings’. Would you play something for me on your violin? I miss hearing it.”
His lips curved into the softest, sweetest version of his smile. “I will be happy to. Is there anything in particular you would like to hear?”
He brought me, not a dainty cup, but a proper mug of tarragon and mint tea, and I curled into my favorite corner of the couch, cradling the mug in both hands. After a moment to tighten his bow and tweak the tuning on the violin he began to play.
The first piece was a favorite of mine, something I’d even played on the cello, once upon a time when I thought playing music was all I wanted to do, Bach’s “Air on the G String.” He’d told me, once, that someone had written lyrics to the piece, a story about a boy finding his father’s cast-off violin in an attic, with only one string left.
As my tea dwindled down to only dregs, though, and sleep began to overtake me, Data surprised me with a modern tune, one we’d even danced to earlier in the night: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
Maybe I’m crazy to suppose
I’d ever be the one you chose
Out of a thousand invitations
Ooh, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance:
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?
Notes: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” music and lyrics are by Frank Loesser. “Air on the G String” was originally the 2nd movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major (BWV 1068). The version most of us are familiar with is an arrangement by August Wilhelmj, who transposed the piece from D major to C major so that it could, in fact, be played entirely on one string. It’s become part of the typical repertoire for most bowed string players. There really are lyrics to it (I remember singing them in a concert in elementary school), but I only remember fragments and have never been able to find them online. I believe the vocal version goes by the name “One String Melody.”