Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS owns all the canon characters and settings, though Pocket Books might own the Happy Bottom Riding Club. The rest is mine. See notes at the end for music credits and other info.
This piece takes place at the end of 2377 – roughly two years after Insurrection and two years before Nemesis.
Auld Lang Syne: Part III
(24 December 2377 – 1 January 2378)
Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling, Christmas Eve
I stole behind her in the frozen foods
And I touched her on the sleeve.
New Paradise City, Erehwon
Sunday, December 24th, 2377
02:00 AM local time
It was two in the morning on what would have been Christmas Eve if I were on Earth, or even on Centaurus. On Erehwon, however, it was just another Sunday, and I was just another actress eating bad room service food because I hadn’t wanted to go clubbing with the rest of the cast. It wasn’t that I didn’t like dancing and revelry – I did – but our initial six week run had stretched to eight, and then twelve, and I had been growing increasingly lonely and antsy.
It didn’t help that in the after math of both the Battle of Sector 001 and the Dominion War, from which the Federation was still recovering, a strong pro-human movement had begun to grow. In truth the main organization, the Keep Earth Human League, had been present since the dawn of Starfleet a couple hundred years before, but now we lived in a world where anyone could be a shape-shifter, and holograms and androids were being granted civil rights.
Well, one android anyway, but for me his story was always the lead, because we’d been a couple for the past five and a half years. “Data,” I said out loud to my empty hotel room. “I know I’m being weak and pathetic, but I’d quit this show tomorrow if it meant you’d be here.” But of course, he couldn’t be. In fact, he was even further away than usual, on temporary assignment as the first officer of the U.S.S. Sovereign. We both knew he needed the experience to boost his own career, but we’d also both been spoiled by the fact that his usual position was on Starfleet’s flagship, which was generally much more accessible.
As if on cue, the in-room com-system chimed with an alert from the concierge. “Go ahead,” I instructed.
“Miss Harris, I’m sorry for the lateness of the hour, but Commander Data is calling for you from the Sovereign. Will you accept video?”
The front desk had been given a list of people who should always be put through if they called, no matter the time of day or night. Data was at the top of the list. “Yes, thank you,” I said.
“Transferring. Please hold.”
The view-screen on the desk flickered on and then resolved into an image of the one man in the universe I most wanted to see. “Zoe,” he said, offering a soft smile. “I am sorry for calling so late. Did I wake you?”
“Data,” I said, suddenly teary. I wiped my eyes with my hand, and managed a watery smile. “I was up, just feeling a little pathetic tonight. I miss you.”
His expression softened even more. “As do I,” he said. “But this assignment is nearly over, and you only have to complete the week, and then we will both return home.”
“So you are going to finish on time?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I am. My permanent replacement arrived this morning, and the science officer has successfully passed the bridge officer test under my tutelage.” He paused, then added in his gentlest tone, “Zoe, please forgive my bluntness, but your appearance gives every indication that you are exhausted.”
I shrugged. “I haven’t been sleeping well. There were protestors at the theater again last night, and someone had set the current on the barbed wire too high. We nearly had a crispy-fried emcee.” I was playing Sally Bowles in a version of the twentieth-century musical Cabaret. Originally set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi regime, our version was set on Bajor during the Cardassian occupation. It was dark, gritty, and eerily relevant to the new post-war Federation, and between the protestors and the press, it was also getting a lot of attention. “On the upside,” I added, forcing a bright tone, “ticket sales have never been better. They talked about another extension, but I’m not the only one feeling a bit burnt out.”
“A bit?” he questioned. “I estimate that you have lost ten kilograms since this engagement began.” He doesn’t ask if the authorities were called, or suggest that he can help with the political turmoil.
“Nine,” I admitted. “But that was a pretty impressive estimate for video, especially without a full body shot.”
“Data…” but I knew he was expressing concern because he loved me.”I’m sorry,” I said. “I promise I’m eating regular meals and sleeping as much as I can. I’m just…” Lonely. Tired. Frazzled. “I just miss you,” I said lamely, because none of the other words were right. “Should I book passage to Starbase 78 after my last show?” I asked, changing the subject.
“That will not be necessary,” he responded.
“I had planned to surprise you, but I believe you will benefit more from knowing: I have a shuttlecraft at my disposal, and will come get you.”
“Isn’t it out of the way?”
“Not significantly, no.” He hesitated then added, “I do not wish to wait any longer than is absolutely necessary to be with you again.”
I closed my eyes for a long moment, and when I opened them again I found his yellow-eyed gaze and held it. “I love you. You know that, right?”
“I do ‘know that,'” he said, “and I love you, also.” Again he paused, and I saw him swallow reflexively. “I am afraid my ‘time is up’ and I must end this call. Please try to rest.” He didn’t add And please be careful, but I knew he was thinking it.
“I will,” I said. “I’m glad you called.”
“As am I. Goodnight, Zoe.”
The screen went dark.
Sunday December 24th, 2377
12:00 PM local time
I was crossing the hotel lobby to catch the tram to the theater, when I heard my name being called. This wasn’t unusual; fans and gawkers called my name a lot. What was unusual was that the voice calling my name was familiar to me. I turned around, and scanned the other people in the lobby – cast-mates, tourists, business travelers – looking for the source of the voice.
“Geez, Zoificus, I know we haven’t been face-to-face in a couple of years, but I’d have thought you’d recognize me.”
“T’vek? Oh my god! T’vek!” I launched myself across the lobby to hug the man who had once been my boyfriend, and remained one of my best friends. “What are you doing here? Are you alone? Why didn’t you call and tell me you were coming?”
“Heyyy,” he laughed, hugging me back. “Breathe between questions, would you. You’re as bad as Commander – ”
“- Data. Yes, I know.” I looked away from him, and then back, flashing him my best insouciant smile. “It’s actually worse when we’re in the same room.”
He grinned. “Yeah, I bet. Is he here with you? For the holidays?”
I shook my head. “Detached duty. Temporary first officer of the Sovereign. But his assignment’s nearly done, and I only have four shows left and then…god, I’m sorry…I haven’t seen you in two years, and I’m complaining that my boyfriend isn’t with me for Christmas.”
“Hey,” he said. “Zoe, this is me. You’re allowed to complain to me.”
“Only so you can use it against me later,” I teased.
“Well,” he said wryly. “There is that. Come sit with me a minute?” I nodded and he led me to one of the conversation groupings in the lobby, one which was mercifully empty at this hour. “I’m here with Anjali, actually. I had a job here, and she came along.”
“That’s wonderful. I can’t wait to see her.” A news story I’d seen connected with some other information in my head. “Oh, wow! You’re Stevek Designs!” I had completely forgotten his real name.
“Guilty,” he said.
“I knew you’d opened your own architectural firm, but for some reason I kept parsing that as ‘Steve K.’ Tell your graphics guy to rethink that logo.”
“I’ll get right on that,” came his dry retort. “Anyway, Anj found out there was some controversial musical happening here, and thought we should get tickets to the winter extravaganza instead – ” I glared at him, as he’d probably expected me to. “- but then I remembered you mentioning you were in it the last time we talked. So we have tickets for tonight. Any chance you could join us for dinner before-hand?”
“Aw, I wish I could,” I said, meaning it. Anjali was a lovely woman, and we always got along well when we saw each other. “Weekends are brutal for me. Four shows in two days – we have a matinee today as well as the evening performance. Please tell me you got decent seats?”
“Row nine,” he answered. “I learned from the best.”
“Come back stage after,” I said. “I’ll leave your names with security. Maybe we could have a drink or something…but I don’t want to impose on your Christmas.”
“Neither of us actually celebrates it, Zoe,” he reminded me gently. “But I know it’s important to you. Drinks then, and maybe we could all do something tomorrow? You’re…dim, aren’t you?”
“That’s dark,” I corrected. “And that would be lovely, as long as your wife doesn’t mind an interloper.”
“Anj loves you, silly. We both do.”
“Back at you,” I said, “really. But I do have to run – I’m supposed to be doing an interview or something before call.” I stood up, kissing him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you, Tev. Give my love to Anjali.” I left the hotel, and made it to the theater just in time.
Our director was waiting for me when I entered the theater lobby, her white hair untwisted from its customary long braid, and pulled into a much more cosmopolitan style. “Cutting it close there, Zoe,” she said. “You do remember that FYE is doing a story on the show?”
“I remember,” I said. “Sorry if I scared you; I ran into an old friend in the lobby of the hotel.”
“You seem to have friends everywhere,” she observed. “It must be nice.”
From anyone else, it would have been a catty remark, but Rory Bowen was actually one of my closest friends. “I don’t exactly plan it,” I assured her, linking my arm through hers. “It just happens. Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
She smiled and patted my hand. “I’m just a little tense,” she said. “Protesters, press, divorce proceedings.”
“Divorce?” I asked. “I thought you and Gil had worked out your issues?”
“That was before he found out Harb was here.” She shook her head, “It’s nothing, really. Let’s do this, and we’ll talk between shows.”
I wanted to object, to give my friend the time she clearly needed, but the reporter was already approaching. “Hello,” he said, offering his hand to each of us in turn, though, I knew, he and Rory had a personal relationship that went back years. “Rory, it’s good to see you again.” He kissed her, after taking her hand, the way you kiss an old friend who is also an ex-lover. “Miss Harris -”
“It’s just Zoe, please.”
“Zoe, then. I’m Harb Culkin from For Your Entertainment.” I knew this, of course, but his introduction was probably automatic. “We’ve set up one of the café tables from your set, and the cameras are in position. We’re just going to ask you a few questions about yourself and the show. You’ve done interviews before.”
“Several, yes. Will Rory be participating as well, or Jimmy?” Jimmy Grimmaldi was a theatrical veteran, and played the emcee in our show.
“Nope. This one’s all about you.”
I hadn’t known that, but I tried to cover my surprise. “Oh, well then… Shall we begin?” I climbed the stairs to the stage and sat in one of the chairs.
Harb came to join me, and I saw the lights on the cameras switch from red to green. “Gentlebeings, we’re here with Zoe Harris, the young woman who’s been charming audiences with her fresh portrayal of Sally Bowles in the gritty musical Cabaret. Zoe, why this show?”
“Because they gave me the part,” I quipped, though I sobered instantly. “I think this show is extremely relevant. It expresses a lot of the same confusion and turmoil, and represents that same unsettledness, that many of us felt after the Battle of Sector 001 and the Dominion War.”
“It’s a pretty dark show.”
“It is,” I agreed. “But sometimes the darkness can be cathartic. And running through Cabaret – especially in the actual cabaret acts, there’s this sense that these people are whistling in the dark. I think we all do that. I think that makes it universal.”
“The original version, the twentieth century version, of the show, was set in Nazi Germany. This production is set on Cardassia-occupied Bajor. Do you agree with that choice?”
“Well, that’s really something our director, Rory Bowen, would be better at discussing, but, yes. Yes, I do.”
“Would you elaborate?”
“Sure.” I took a moment to find the right phrase. “Whether or not the analogy is completely accurate really isn’t the point. Nothing is ever a complete reflection of anything else. But, by setting our story on Bajor, at the beginning of the Cardassian occupation, rather than in Berlin at the dawn of the Third Reich, I think we’ve changed the context so that modern audiences will get more out of the play than just an evening’s entertainment.”
“Would it be bad if an evening’s entertainment was all they got?”
“Not at all. But it’s better if you’re entertained, but still come away from it with a new perspective or a new idea.”
“So, you think theater should be provocative?”
“I don’t think it’s a requirement, but it’s definitely an added bonus.”
“This play is definitely provoking reactions from certain segments of society. There were people protesting the show last night. Does that bother you?”
“Well, I think it’s a bit silly that they’re protesting a piece of fiction, but again, if it’s inspiring that sort of reaction, I think it means we’ve succeeded in making it relevant to a world in which we claim to have quashed racism and bigotry.”
Harb arched his eyebrows at me. “Are you accusing the Federation of being racist and bigoted?”
“The Federation as a whole? No. But there are still individuals, and even whole groups of people who hold to less enlightened points of view.”
“You have first-hand experience with bigotry, don’t you? After all, you’re romantically linked with the Federation’s only sentient android.”
I could feel the edge of anger welling up inside me, but I counted to five, and then ten, before I responded, too calmly. “No, I’m ‘romantically linked’ with Lieutenant Commander Data, a highly decorated line officer from Starfleet’s flagship who has saved or helped to save the Federation on more than one occasion. He happens to be an android. Just as you’re a Peabody-winning journalist who happens to be a Martian-born human.”
Harb gave me a sharp look, as if he’d been expecting me to blow up at him. “Fair enough,” he said, forcing a chuckle. “But you have dealt with bigotry.”
I nodded. “Yes, there’ve been a few incidents. Mostly it’s been fringe groups, or members of the Keep Earth Human League, and their major activities has been tabloid journalism and a few rude comments.”
“Does it bother you that people question your relationship?”
“Well, it’s not exactly sunshine and roses, but honestly, it bothers me more that they couldn’t come up with a name for their organization that involves a better acronym.” I snorted. “Honestly, ‘KEHL’ – what does that even mean?”
Harb laughed at that. “So your main beef with them is a bad marketing plan?”
“Well, not my main beef. But it’s a thing.”
“Do you have any reason to believe that KEHL and the people protesting here are at all connected?”
I gave him a quizzical look. “Well, I’m an actor, not an investigator, but I think it’s doubtful. On the other hand, stranger things have happened. Either way, it’s making people more aware of this show, and from what I’ve heard, ticket sales are booming, so if their aim is to hurt us – epic failure.”
“You seem remarkably unfazed by both the controversy and the spotlight you’re in.”
I shrugged. “You play the hand you’re dealt,” I said. “I’d prefer to have people coming out because I’m doing – because we’re doing – good work. On the other hand, there’s an old saying: ‘if they’re shooting at you, you know you’re doing something right.'”
“Thank you Zoe,” Harb said, and then added, “Cabaret is playing that the Atrium Theater in Erehwon’s New Paradise City through Friday, December 29th or Stardate 54994.06.”
We stayed seated until the camera lights turned red again, and then he grinned at me, “Great interview, Zoe. I thought I almost had you when I mentioned your relationship with Commander Data.”
“You almost did,” I confessed softly. “Thanks for not asking about wedding dates, or anything.”
He grinned, “Well, now that you’ve brought it up…”
I laughed, “No, Harb. Even with someone I mostly trust, I am not going to discuss the details of my personal relationship. But I will tell Data you asked after him.”
“You two should consider doing a joint interview,” he suggested. “It would be good for your career, and it might even quell some of your detractors.”
“I don’t live my life to make racist bigots happy,” I said. “But I’ll consider it – we’ll consider it.” I stood up. “It’s my call time. When will this air?”
“In about an hour, actually.”
“Can I get a copy of the broadcast file?”
“I’ll have it sent to you.”
“Thanks, Harb.” I left him on the stage, and headed for my dressing room.
“Okay, so what’s going on with Gil?” I asked Rory. We were in my dressing room sharing a tray of sushi and a pot of green tea between the matinee and the evening performance. “How bad are things, really?”
“You shouldn’t worry about it,” she insisted. “Just focus on your performance tonight.”
“How many times have you been there for me when I was whining and pathetic about missing Data?” I asked. “I’m your friend; talk to me.”
“We were going to see a counselor,” she said. “I thought we were working toward reconciliation. Now he’s saying he wants to go forward with the divorce, and he wants a good chunk of my assets.”
“Oh, Rory…” I nabbed the last piece of unagi. “What does your lawyer say?”
“She says I should face facts and do the most expedient thing…but I’m not ready to do that.”
I reached out and covered her hand with mine. “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” I said. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do?”
“You’ve already ‘done,'” she said. “By the way, you were amazing this afternoon. Did Harb say something to give you that edge of anger?”
I sighed. “He brought up KEHL and my relationship with Data. But,” and I smiled triumphantly, “even though it took counting to ten in my head, I kept my cool on-air.”
“Of course you did. Oh, did I tell you that the issue with the barbed wire was just an accident?”
“The tech misread the dial, apparently. We’ve given him a new handheld torch; that should help. I’ve also asked Trin to check the setting before the finale starts.” She began collecting plates and chopsticks.
“An extra pair of eyes is never bad,” I agreed, shoving empty take-out containers back into their bag. “I need to lie down for a bit until my next call,” I said. “Thanks for dinner. Tell Harb I thought he was really fair.”
In the mirror, I caught a glimpse of Rory’s troubled expression, just before she left me alone.
T’vek and Anjali were already seated at a table – a half booth, really – in the hotel bar when I joined them, but they stood up to greet me. It was almost midnight, almost Christmas, but if I couldn’t spend it with the man I loved, at least I was spending it with friends. “Tev,” I said, hugging him again. “Anjali, it’s great to see you.”
Anjali Mairaj – formerly Anjali Gol’tresshal – pulled me into a warm embrace. “Zoe! You were amazing tonight.”
“Better than the winter extravaganza?” I teased.
Her laugh was as musical as ever, and her green eyes lit up with her amusement. “I told Tev not to tell you that. I should have known he would. But yes, better. Darker, though.”
“It is that,” I agreed. “But I’m really glad you came, even so.” They resumed their seats on the upholstered bench and I settled into the chair opposite them. “Have you already ordered?”
“We were waiting for you,” T’vek said. “Do you want anything more substantial than just drinks? The bar menu looks fairly extensive.”
“Actually,” I said, “they have a brownie on their dessert menu that’s to die for…and it’s been a medicinal chocolate kind of day.”
T’vek caught the eye of the server, and we placed our order: red wine and the brownie for me, a local micro-brew beer and a cheesy snack for him, and Anjali asked for mint tea and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which seemed odd, but I’d been known to order stranger things at later hours, so I didn’t comment.
Instead, I told them about how it had been almost four months since Data and I had seen each other, and how the separation was beginning to wear on me. I told them about the protesters, and the interview, and Harb’s questions about Data. I even mentioned a little about trying to find the strength to be a source of support for the director who was also my friend.
T’vek took it all in the way he always had, listening, and then mentally chewing on what I’d said. His dark eyes didn’t flicker the way Data’s did, but in some ways the two of them were very similar, and I knew he would offer something useful before the night was over.
By contrast, Anjali responded by offering me the emotional support I really needed. She reached across the table and covered my hands with her own. “Oh, Zoe. I can see why chocolate was needed. You’re coping with a lot. Does Data know about the interview?”
“Yes and no. He knew it was on my schedule.”
“But he hasn’t seen it?”
“Not as far as I know. I’m getting a copy to keep, though.”
“Good. You should send it to him directly, by the way. So he knows what you said.”
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said softly. “You’re probably right.”
The server interrupted us at that point, to take away our empty glasses and plates and offer refills. I asked for a cognac, wanting to take a bit more of the edge off the evening, and T’vek did the same. Anjali asked for sparkling water. When she drew her hands from mine and sat back against the seat of the booth, I saw something flicker in her face, and took a hard look at her. Her dark hair was as lustrous as ever (and how I envied her for it!), but there was a new softness in her face, and she carried herself as if were protecting something. The dots in my head formed a picture, and I couldn’t stop staring.
“Zoe,” she asked me, “are you alright?”
“You’re pregnant,” I blurted. “Oh my god, you’re pregnant, and you let me sit here and babble at you for two hours without telling me!”
She burst out laughing. “I thought T’vek had told you that, too, since he mentioned everything else.”
“Sitting right here you know,” he snarked, rejoining our conversation. He kissed her on the cheek then turned back to me. “Sorry, Zoe. I did mean to tell you, but then we got sidetracked.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “More than. Oh, god, I’m so happy for you. For both of you. I’d better get to be an honorary auntie.”
“Of course you will,” Anjali said. She yawned, then. “I’m sorry, but I think I’ve reached my pumpkin hour.”
“It is pretty late,” I said. The servers had done last call five or ten minutes before. “Thanks, Anjali. You were very helpful.”
“It’s the least I can do for the auntie of my future son or daughter,” she said. “Tev’s going to walk me back to our room, and then I’m sending him to you. I can tell you both want to talk more.”
“It can wait ’til tomorrow…” I said.
She rose to her feet. “Perhaps it can,” she replied. “But I’m quite certain it should not.”
Alone in my hotel room, I found that Harb had already sent the file, with a note asking me to ‘strongly consider’ a joint interview. I thought about Anjali’s recommendation that I send it to Data, but decided that doing so could wait. Instead, I took a few minutes to scrub the remaining makeup from my face and change into more comfortable clothing. I was curled up on the couch with chamomile tea and a book, too wired to sleep, but not really focused enough to read, when T’vek activated the signal of my door. “Come in,” I called, and he did. “Hey. I was half expecting you to call and cancel.”
“Naah. I’m nocturnal, and Anj really does want us to talk. Nice shirt. Did you get recruited and not tell me?”
“What?” I looked down at what I was wearing – a comfortably worn uniform shirt I’d stolen from Data. The first time I’d warn it was in his quarters, and his response had been to ensure there was no trace of rank insignia, before stripping it off me. I blushed faintly, remembering. “Oh. This old thing? I might have stolen it from the recycle-pile when the new uniform design came out.” I felt him looking at me and added, “It’s comfortable.”
“And you miss Data.” It wasn’t a question. “Anj has this old sweatshirt of mine she always wears when I’m not home. Does that actually help?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Surprisingly a lot.” I put the book aside, and moved more into the corner of the couch. “I sense a lecture coming on,” I teased lightly. “You may as well sit.”
“A lecture?” He arched one of his eyebrows at me. “Zoe, please. I do not lecture. I merely advise. Firmly.”
I laughed at that. “Oh, really? Well then, oh mighty Oracle, what do you advise?”
He gave me his best wicked grin as he took a seat at the other end of the couch. “You should definitely listen to everything your friend T’vek says, and follow his instructions,” he teased. “Also? Tell Data exactly how much you miss him.”
“No,” I said. “If I do that, he’s likely to break off his mission and come running out of sheer worry. I miss him horribly, and I do want him here, but…not like that. If I had a legitimate reason to get him here, it’d be different. But…” I let the sentence trail off.
“Yeah,” he said. “I figured.” He was quiet for nearly a minute, starting to speak and then stopping himself several times. Finally he said, “Okay, Zoe, here’s the thing, we’ve been friends for years, and I probably know you better than almost anyone.”
“That’s probably true,” I allowed.
“When I met Anj, you were the one who made me realize she was my forever person.”
“And your point is?”
“You’ve been in love with Data almost as long as I’ve known you…”
“That’s not true,” I said. “Well, not entirely true. I mean…you and me, back then…that was real.”
“I know,” he said with the complete serenity of someone who had no more unresolved issues in their romantic life. “I do know that,” he said, leveling the full force of his half-Vulcan/half-Betazoid gaze at me. “But whenever it happened Data’s your forever person.”
His expression dared me to deny it. I couldn’t. “Yes,” I agreed. “He is. Still not hearing points being made.”
“Give me a minute,” he said. “I’m out of practice. Anjali is usually the one lecturing me.”
“As it should be,” I said, snorting.
“Okay, I’m just going to ask you: why aren’t you and Data married? I know he wants to be. What’s holding you back?”
“You know he wants to…how do you even know that?”
“He told me, of course.” His tone rode the edge between nonchalant and smug.
If there had been throw pillows on the couch, I’d have pummeled him with one. “He told you? He told you?”
T’vek nodded. “He did. At my wedding. I don’t think he meant to, exactly. You were dancing with Geordi, and we were both watching you. But how I know really isn’t important.”
“No, it’s not.” He reached for my hand, and I met him half way. “How long have we known each other? Don’t we tell each other everything?” He waited for my nod. “So, tell me: what’s got you spooked, Zo’?”
“I don’t want to be a Starfleet widow,” I said, just as I’d told Data himself several months before.
“Bullshit,” T’vek said. “If that was really what was scaring you, you’d have left him after the Borg.” His gaze this time was frank and appraising. “C’mon, Zoe, this is me. This is us. We’ve never lied to each other, even when we maybe should have.” He gave me an evil look and then glanced pointedly at my bare feet. “I’ll tickle you if I have to.”
“Don’t you dare!” I said.
“Then answer the question.”
“Okay.” I was silent for a long while, but my friend was patient with me. “Partly it is that I don’t want to be a Starfleet widow,” I said. “And partly it’s because when we have these long separations, I’m half-convinced he’ll find someone better.” He made a noise of disagreement, but I just continued. “And partly – probably mostly – it’s because whenever I find out a friend is having a baby – Dana is pregnant with her second, by the way – I realize that as long as I’m with him, I’m never going to have that experience.”
“Wait – Zoe Harris is upset at the prospect of not having kids? Who’d have thought?” But his teasing was light, and his tone shifted back to one of friendly concern almost immediately. “Have you told Data this?”
“Do you actually want children?”
“Scary notion, isn’t it?” My laugh was soft and non-committal. “I never thought I wanted kids, but I’m in a relationship with a man who would be an awesome father, if only he could, you know, actually procreate. And I…I really want to have that experience with him.”
“Since when does he have to be fertile? Or even organic? Zoe, you of all people should know better than to think what he is institutes automatic restrictions. You know there are tons of ways to become a parent. You could adopt. He could build an android child. You could go to a sperm bank and do artificial insemination…” He let the sentence die, and just sat with me, still holding my hand, for a long moment. Then he said, “I’m betting you’re realizing about now just how obtuse you’ve been.”
“Kind of,” I said sheepishly. “Yeah.”
“Have the two of you really never discussed kids?”
I laughed. “Hi, have you met me? Avoidance and evasion are my specialties.” The words came out with more bitterness than I’d intended. “Sorry,” I said. “I have no filter when I’m tired.”
“I remember,” he teased, wiggling his eyebrows at me.
“We had a fight. Well, not a fight-fight, because, you know, Data can be stubborn, but he’s not one to allow stupid arguments.”
“Right,” T’vek snorted. “Data can be stubborn.”
“Do you want to hear my confession, Tev, or do you want me to tell your wife you failed in your assignment.”
“What makes you think this was Anjali’s idea?”
“Because I know you better than pretty much everyone, too.” I took a deep breath. “Anyway, it was when I was doing a play in New York, and he’d been at the opening, and then we did some other snooty social events and there was press.”
“I vaguely recall someone whinging to me over a com-call about that.”
“Yeah, well. I was complaining about the word ‘partner,’ and he brought up that the solution would be to just get married.”
“Wait, he proposed and you turned him down?”
“No!” All my anguish and frustration was in that word. More calmly I repeated, “No. Do you really think I’d have the nerve to refuse him?” I sighed. “I didn’t let him propose. But I did agree to consider it. And discuss it. And then he was sent to the Sovereign and I was asked to do this show – and I love the show, I really do – it’s just – it was supposed to be six weeks, and now it’s been double that. More if you count rehearsal time.”
He squeezed my hand. “Zoe, I can’t pretend to know how your relationship with Data works, but I know you, and I know him, and I know that he’d move every star in the galaxy if that’s what it took to make you happy.”
“So I should call him and say, ‘okay, let’s talk marriage?'”
“No, you should call him and tell him you love him and you’ve been completely daft. Then you tell him you want to marry him and have lots of sex and babies, for whatever value of ‘baby’ you both agree to.”
His phrasing made me smile, and his support improved my mood, and I couldn’t let him have the last word, so I grinned evilly. “Oh, please,” I said. “We’re already having lots of sex.”
“God, Zoe, so didn’t need to know that!” He pulled his hand from mine, but he was laughing. “Call him,” he said. “Don’t wait. If he’s busy, schedule a time. And call Anj and me in the morning. Well, maybe more like noon.”
“Okay, okay.” I stood up to walk him to the door, and hugged him hard.
He kissed me on the forehead. “Love you, Zoe…say hi to Data for me.”
“Oh, I will.”
And he left.
I waited a beat, stuck my tea mug in the return slot of the replicator, and then perched on the edge of the desk chair to start my call. “Outgoing,” I instructed it, “call to Lieutenant Commander Data aboard U.S.S. Sovereign.”
There was a delay, and then the image of the Sovereign‘s communications officer filled the screen. “Miss Harris,” he greeted, “Commander Data is in with the Captain. Would you like to leave a message?”
“Can you transfer me to the message system in his quarters?”
I flinched at the use of ma’am. I was so not old enough to be a ma’am, but I was also fairly certain such terms were encoded in the DNA of those destined to be Starfleet officers. “Thank you.” There was another pause, and then I had the menu for leaving a private video message.
“Hey, Data,” I said, looking straight into the camera on my system. “Sorry to bug you while you’re on duty, but it’s four in the morning here, and if I don’t do this now I won’t sleep. There were protesters again tonight, but it’s no big thing. I’m attaching a file of the interview I did…you were mentioned, so I thought you shouldn’t wait to see.”
I thought about ending my message there, but the heavy truths T’vek and I had talked about had made me see my own stupidity. “You know that point I agreed to consider and discuss?” I hesitated, searching for the perfect words, and then realized that for Data, anything I said would be perfect in the moment. “I think we should embrace words like fiancée.”
I let that hang there for a minute, but I could feel a smile spreading across my face. “I love you,” I said. “I miss you. Call me when you can.” I used the manual controls to encrypt and send the message, and then went to bed.
Friday, December 29th, 2377
6:00 PM Local Time
I walked into my dressing room for the last performance of Cabaret to find a bouquet of Turkalian irises waiting for me. Someone had taken the liberty of putting water in the vase, but the card was still sealed. I opened it, expecting a digital message. Instead, in precise, slightly angular handwriting, I saw the words, “I know it is customary to wish that you ‘break a leg,’ but I find I cannot. Instead, just know that I love you, and will be with you soon. Data.” It seemed somehow odd that I didn’t recognize his handwriting, but then, how often did anyone even use pen and ink anymore?
I wasn’t certain how he had managed to arrive almost a day ahead of schedule, and I resisted the urge to peek out into the house and find out where he was sitting. I forced myself to go through my usual pre-performance routine, drinking water, using the restroom, doing my hair and make-up. At the last minute, I decided I needed a talisman, and since the theatrical mask pendant he’d given me years ago couldn’t be part of my Sally Bowles costume, I tucked his card into my bra.
Maybe it was because the whole town knew this was our last performance, or maybe it was because the new year was just a couple of days away, or maybe it was just that the cast was ready to move on to new projects, but our performance felt electric. Jimmy added some ad-libs to his opening number that had the entire house either laughing or gasping in shock – often both – and when Aurora and Niles did their number about marriage, even I got teary. It wasn’t surprising, then, that we finished our run with a standing ovation, though it was a bit beyond the norm to have three curtain calls.
Backstage, champagne corks were popping almost before the house had emptied. “Zoe, great show tonight,” Rory enthused. “Did I see your partner earlier?”
“If you did, that makes one of us,” I said.
“Oh, honey, that Starfleet officer of yours? I totally let him into your dressing room earlier. Here, take this, go find him and get out of here.” Jimmy hugged me and thrust a bottle of champagne into my hands. “We love you, but I know you’ve been missing him.”
I took the bottle, and gave one-armed hugs to everyone on the way back to my dressing room. Data was already there, looking at all the different pictures I’d stuck on the perimeter of my mirror – a theater tradition most of us followed. “Hey,” I said softly, stepping all the way into the room, and closing the door behind me. “I thought you weren’t going to be here ’til tomorrow.”
“Captain Gupta agreed with my assessment that my assignment was complete,” he said. “I was not certain I would be able to be here in time for this evening’s performance, and arrived just before the theater opened. Rory managed to find a ticket for me. Are the flowers acceptable?”
I left the champagne on the counter and crossed the room to hug him. “The flowers are a lovely surprise,” I said. “I kept the card with me on stage tonight.” His arms came around me and we kissed, but then I pulled back a little and rested my head against his chest. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“I am glad to be here, as well,” he said into my hair, still holding me. “I am sorry we have had to spend the last week playing ‘message tag.'”
“Me, too,” I said, looking up at him. “But I’m pretty sure the fact that you’re standing here means that I won.” I stayed there, in his embrace for a few seconds, before asking, much more wistfully than I meant to, “Can we go home now?”
“If you do not wish to rejoin the party, I will escort you back to your hotel.”
“No,” I said. “I mean, yes, I’d like to shower, but…I was expecting you early tomorrow anyway, and except for a few things here and some odds and ends at the hotel, I’m pretty much packed. Can we just…go home? We have a lot to talk about and I’d really like to do it at home, with tea, and Spot to cuddle, and…I miss sleeping in our bed.”
“Spot,” he repeated. “Our bed…you are referring to the Enterprise.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement, one laced with happiness.
I nodded. “Well, I guess the farm is also home.” I’d actually inherited it from my grandmother after her death. “But all the really big shifts in our relationship have happened on the ship, and I’d really like to be there, with you, when the year turns. Do you mind? I know it’s more travel, sooner.”
“No,” Data said. “I do not mind.”
The beauty of starships is that they move around. Living on one, especially on one the size of the Enterprise, you tended to think of it more as a sort of place than a vehicle, but the reality is that the ship moved, and when Data checked in to confirm our travel plans, we found that it was considerably closer than even he had anticipated. Instead of taking the better part of two days in the shuttle, our trip home would only take about seven hours.
By unspoken mutual agreement, we did not use those seven hours to discuss our relationship or the prospect of appearing in a joint interview. Instead, I sat in the cockpit with him, and we just chatted. I caught him up on the news from home, and from those of my friends that he had known, and he told me more about his time on the Sovereign, and when we needed a break from that, there was lunch (black bean soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – a combination even the basic replicator on the shuttle could manage fairly well), and then I pulled out my padd and started reading the scripts I’d been sent to look at, sometimes reading sections out loud to see if I liked the way the words felt.
Finally, though, we arrived in the docking bay of the great ship, and exited the shuttle to a welcoming committee that included the Captain himself, as well as Geordi, Deanna, and Will, the latter of whom pulled me into a brotherly bear hug. “We saw you on FYE the other night. You’ve become quite the celebrity,” he teased. “I’m glad you’re still willing to come spend time with us little people.”
I laughed with him, but was quick to counter with, “I’m not a celebrity, I just play one on the news sometimes.” The truth was that the press interest in me had been growing steadily over the past couple of years, and as much as I pretended otherwise, it made me a little uncomfortable. Embarrassed, I pulled away from him.
“Zoe, I’m glad you’re back,” Deanna had welcomed Data home with a warm hug, and now she came to do the same to me. “Everything okay?” she whispered softly. “You’ve lost weight.”
“Talk tomorrow?” I asked. “Maybe over coffee? Except for the shuttle ride, Data and I haven’t actually spent any alone-time.” She nodded and I raised my voice to ask, “Wow, does Data always get this kind of welcome home, or is this just for me? I mean, it’s not like we eloped or anything.”
“Oh, greeting returning officers with hugs is an Enterprise tradition,” came the dry response from Picard. I turned away from Dee to meet his gaze, finding only bemused affection in his steely eyes. “Welcome home, Zoe.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, and we did embrace, though it was quick and perfunctory. “I’m sorry you never made it to my show, but it was thoughtful of you to send flowers for the opening. They brightened my hotel room a lot.”
“I’m sorry to have missed it,” he said amiably. “Mr. Data says there may be video?”
“We usually record at least one performance for archival purposes. I could probably hook you up with a copy if you’d like.”
Data stepped away from his conversation with Geordi, who also came to get a hug. Then, turning to me, he said, “I will escort you to our quarters, but I must make my report to the Captain before I can remain there with you for any length of time.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “Really. I’d like to call my parents if I can, and just let them know we arrived safely, but otherwise, I think a nap is calling my name. Do what you need to do. Home equals routine.” It was short-hand for something we both sometimes had difficulty with: treating my stays on the Enterprise or his at the farm, or the apartment in San Francisco, or whatever hotel room I was in as normal life, and not a vacation.
“Agreed,” he said. But he still insisted on steering the antigrav sled that held all our luggage (mostly mine) down the corridors.
Geordi came with us, having first ensured that he wasn’t intruding. “It’s good to have you back with us, Zoe,” he said. “Data’s not the only one who misses you when you’re off being famous.”
“Oh, god, I am so not famous,” I protested. “Actually the two of you are more famous than I am; you’re just never in situations where you have to confront your fame.” I was walking between them, partly because it would keep them from falling into engineer-chat. “I did a couple of interviews. I’ve been doing interviews half my life. Ask my father sometime…I think he’s got home movies of a talk-show we did when I was seven. ‘The home life of the hottest conductor in the galaxy’ or some such. I had no front teeth and they made me wear this pink, ruffled, flouncy thing that still gives me nightmares. It was super-fun.”
He gave me a measuring look, which was somehow more intimidating with his optical implants than it would have been with his VISOR. “You don’t want to be a celebrity?”
I shook my head. “I can’t deny that a little bit of notoriety is helpful in opening doors, but I’d rather be known for being good at what I do.” I hesitated. “You’re awfully silent over there, Data,” I observed after a few beats. But I turned back to Geordi, asking, “Do you think I don’t know that at least half the opportunities I get are because I’m my father’s daughter or Data’s…?” I trailed off. We still didn’t have a word for us that I liked.
“Fiancée.” He finished the sentence for me.
“What?” Geordi and I said it together, but in distinctly different tones.
“We have not yet had time for me to officially present an engagement ring,” Data explained as we reached the door to our quarters. “And we have many details to…negotiate…but Zoe has agreed to marry me. May we ask that you refrain from telling anyone yet?”
Data navigated the sled through the door, and I followed, but Geordi was still in the corridor, as if frozen.
“Engaged? The two of you? Finally?”
It wasn’t the way I’d wanted to be proposed to, really, nor, I’m sure, was it the way Data wanted to do it. He was totally the down-on-one-knee type. But I had agreed to marry him, even if it was by message, and I really didn’t need a ring. “Oh, please,” I said, catching Data’s hand and tugging him inside. “It’s not like there was ever any serious doubt. Geordi, would you let the captain know that Data will be a bit…delayed?”
I let a laughing Geordi LaForge respond in the affirmative before stepping out of the way of the door so it would close. After it did, I turned to face Data, caught between laughter and tears. “I love you,” I said. “I should be royally pissed at you for just blurting things like that, though.”
“But you did agree,” he pointed out.
“I agreed to a proposal you haven’t actually made,” I countered. “Unless you want me to propose to you? I’m not the traditionalist here, and I don’t expect you to go ring shopping, but…”
“I have already secured a ring.” His interruption may have been quiet, but it got my attention.
“What? When?” I backed away from him until I ran into the couch, and then I sat down, stunned.
He crossed the room to the drawer where some of his keepsakes were stored, and removed a small blue box. Turning back to me, he asked, “Do you recall our visit to Atrea IV last year?”
“I remember,” I said. “I don’t recall you sneaking out to go shopping at any point, though. You and Pran were pretty absorbed in that project of his.”
He opened his mouth to answer me, but the com-system came to life, “Picard to Commander Data.”
“Data here,” he answered. “Go ahead, Captain.”
“Mr. Data, I’ve been reminded that you and Ms. Harris typically celebrate the turning of the year as a personal holiday. As you are technically on detached assignment through the first of the year, I will have to insist that you hold your report to me until your scheduled return date. We will process your return to duty after the holiday.”
“Aye, Captain,” he said. “Thank you, sir. Data out.”
“Geordi arranged that, I’m betting.”
“I believe you are correct. I will have to speak to him about such matters -”
“Data…” I gave him a look that clearly meant, ‘Focus.’
“Forgive me. As I was about to explain, I did not ‘go shopping.’ Before we left, my mother gave me the engagement ring she received from my father, along with the instruction to ‘give it to Zoe when the time is right.'”
“I’ve seen that ring,” I said. Juliana had taken pity on me when the science-y stuff had threatened to overwhelm what should have been a pleasant visit, and we’d spent a lovely afternoon in her bedroom going through her jewelry box. She had an amazing collection of vintage pieces, and I’d found a few of them stashed in my luggage when we left – with a note thanking me for loving her son. “It’s an antique,” I added. “And it’s exquisite.”
“I am gratified that you think so.” He did not kneel, after all, but put the box on the coffee table and sat with me on the couch, taking both my hands in his. “More than once when I have attempted to bring up the subject of marriage, you have evaded the discussion, or given me a reason why you do not wish to make our relationship…official. While I am relieved that you have ‘changed your mind,’ I would like to know why.”
“It’s not that important,” I began, but he cut me off.
“Zoe, please tell me.” His eyes were wide, and fixed on my face. Very softly he added, “I need to know.”
I nodded. “When T’vek and Anjali came to see my show, we went out for drinks. Anj went to bed early, and sent Tev to lecture me on the care and feeding of androids.”
“I do not understand.”
“He asked why we weren’t already married, and when I told him he hit me with a clue-by-four and said I was being obtuse, and that if I didn’t talk to you about the real, well, not real, but the deeper reason I’d been avoiding the issue he’d do it for me.”
“Ah.” I hadn’t heard him make that sound in a very long time. “When should I expect his call?” His smirk was priceless, and perfect.
“Data!” If my hands had been free I’d have hit him with a pillow, just to make a point. “We’ve discussed almost everything we need to,” I said. “We’ve talked about my career and your career, we’ve pretty much figured out how to have two homes, and yeah, the distance and separations get hard, but I know that they’re not really changing what either of us feels.”
“You are still evading the real issue,” he said. He was rubbing his thumbs over the backs of my hands as we talked, and it was calming in one way and more than a little bit distracting in others. “You have stated that you do not wish to be a ‘Starfleet widow,’ but I suspect if that were truly an issue, we would not be here, now.”
“No,” I agreed softly. “We wouldn’t. Look, it’s stupid. It’s just…Dana is pregnant with her second child. Anj and Tev just found out that Anj is pregnant. I was convinced that marrying you would mean never being a mother, myself, and then I realized we’d never even discussed children. Do you even want to be a father again?”
“You know I cannot ‘father’ children,” he stated, tightening his hands around mine, though he loosened them just as quickly.
“I’ve been reminded that there are numerous ways to have a baby,” I paraphrased T’vek’s line, “‘for whatever value of ‘baby’ you and I deem appropriate.'” I watched his face as the thought penetrated his positronic brain. His eyes didn’t quite flicker the way they used to, but if you knew – as I did – what to look for, you could see that he was focused more inward than outward.
“Adoption,” he said. “Artificial insemination with donor sperm. In vitro fertilization. Black market sources…”
“You are not suggesting we buy a Dominion War orphan?” I’d heard the stories on the news.
“No,” he said quickly.
“You left out building one,” I said gently. “Well, not an actual baby, obviously, but you told me once that you wanted to try that again someday.”
“You would accept an android child?” He seemed both surprised and pleased by that notion.
“I would love your child, Data. Though, I would have a couple of requests if we went that route.”
He cocked his head, suddenly more interested, as if the notion was no longer theoretical. “Tell me.”
“You told me that you allowed Lal to select her own gender and appearance, but you never had that option, and organic children certainly don’t. There’s very little – if anything – I can contribute to the creation or upbringing of an android child. I’d be just an annoying human presence you and he or she would have to accommodate. I could learn to deal with that, but I’d prefer to figure out a way to be part of the process. At least, I’d like to be able to look at our child and see something of myself reflected. It’s actually the only way to have a child that reflects both of us.”
“That is a reasonable request,” Data said. “Though I believe you are underestimating your ability to contribute. You have met my mother. Even had she not been my father’s associate, I believe her input into social behavior and other, less specific elements of my…being…would have been invaluable.” He gave me a look that was one part reproach, one part wistfulness, and one part…something else. “Even androids benefit from someone with a ‘maternal instinct’ being there to guide them.”
I smiled softly. “Your mother told me that she’d lobbied for making you female. Selfishly, I’m glad she didn’t, but personally, I’ve often thought you would have benefitted from having a little sister to needle you.” I hesitated. “I don’t want us to have strings of children – I think it’s socially irresponsible, for one thing – but two feels right. One built…and one born? I mean, obviously we don’t have to decide it all tonight…but…”
“But it would be a reasonable balance.” As if he’d just realized he’d never answered my original question, he said very softly. “You would not let me adequately broach the subject of marriage so I chose not to address the possibility of creating a family together. It is something I very much wish to do. However, I am not certain I am ‘ready’ to embark on the creation of a new ‘built’ child just yet. I will gladly begin researching our options for artificial insemination, if you wish.”
I laughed softly. “Give the man a project…” but I added more seriously, “oh, I wish. I very much wish. But Data, you and me? We’re already a family.”
“Indubitably,” he said softly, and then, with a bit of nervousness in his tone, “Is there anything else holding you back?”
I laughed, teasing him just a little. “Well there’s the whole name-thing.”
“I assumed you would keep your name, at least professionally. The name ‘Zoe Harris’ is more widely known than I believe you realize. Also, I have no last name to give you.”
“I’ve always wondered why you never used ‘Soong’ once you actually met him.” I shrugged and let that pass. “The whole taking-your-husband’s-name thing is becoming an outdated tradition, but – ” and I gave him my sauciest smile ” – you know, you could always take my last name. ‘Data Harris’ has kind of a nice ring to it, and you could still be, you know, you professionally.”
“I will consider your suggestion,” he said lightly. He let go of my hands, and slid to his knee on the floor. “Speaking of rings,” he said, “you are correct in that we do not ‘need’ to be married. Our commitment to each other is already undeniable. However,” and he swallowed reflexively, “this is not about ‘need;’ it is about ‘want.’ I want the legal recognition of our status and the formal agreement that our lives are entwined.” He reached for the box, opened it, and took out the ring his mother had once worn. “I want to experience parenthood and family togetherness with you.” He held the ring to the light so I could see it properly. “I want you to wear this ring as a token of that commitment, and of our love for each other. I want to be your husband and for you to be my wife. Will you?”
Even after dancing around the issue for more than a year, let alone the conversation we’d just had – even with the knowledge that at least two people knew we were already (technically) engaged, I found myself breathless. Finally, I said, “Yes. Oh, god, yes. Yes, so much.”
He slipped the ring onto my left ring-finger, and I noted that it fit perfectly. He’d even found time to resize it. “Zoe,” he began, but I shushed him with a kiss, and my hands on the sides of his face.
“No more talking,” I said against his lips. “I love you, but no more talking. Just…take me to our bed.”
I woke up in bed hours later, rolling over and into Data. “You’re still here,” I observed, ever-so-brilliantly. “Is something wrong?”
Computer-glow revealed the shimmer of a nearly invisible optical cable attached to a port in his head. “I wished to remain near you,” he said, the words speaking volumes.
I was lying on my right side, so I lifted my left hand to touch him, catching the flicker of light from my ring. “I like it when you work in bed,” I said. “But you know I don’t expect it, right? I mean, honestly, one of the benefits of being with you is that most of the time, I get the whole bed to myself.”
“And I thought you loved me for my magnetic personality.” It was one of his worst puns, but it always made me smile anyway.
“Among other things,” I said. I traced his eyebrow with the tip of my finger, then did the same with his lips. “As long as you’re plugged in, would you mind sending messages to both my sets of parents – I never did that last night – and one to Deanna scheduling a coffee-date?” The first time I’d asked him to do such a thing I’d felt weird and awkward, until he’d finally hit upon the analogy that made it better, comparing it to asking someone headed to the kitchen to get something ‘while you are up.’ I still didn’t ask often, but at least I knew he truly didn’t mind.
“It is done,” he told me a few seconds later.
“Handy, that.” I said. “Thank you.” I nestled closer to him, resting my head against his left shoulder. “I’ve missed this,” I said softly. “Lying with you, dozing while you work. I mean, the sex is nice, too…” I trailed off, not sure where to go with my thought.
“I understand,” came Data’s equally quiet words. “I, too, find a particular contentment in these moments.” I heard the subtle click of the cable being unplugged, the nearly inaudible whir of his hair sliding back into place. He lifted his free arm and caressed my shoulder, my hip. Then he found my hand and twined his fingers with mine.
“You know, it wasn’t just T’vek’s conversation that made me realize I was ready for official commitments,” I told him. “It was seeing you on the screen in command red.”
“You have seen me in ‘command’ colors before.”
“Yeah, but I had this flash of you becoming Captain Data someday, and I realized I wanted to be there for it.”
“I am not certain I am meant to command others in that way,” he confessed. “But if I were to attain that rank, I would want you to ‘be there.'”
Pleasantly muzzy, I merely nestled closer to him. “Sleepy,” I said, half-yawning. “Love you.”
“I love you, also,” he said. “Please sleep. Tonight, I am not going anywhere.” I felt him kiss the top of my head, felt his hand release mine and find a resting place on my hip, and after that, I felt nothing but the bliss of sleep.
(31 December 2377, 9:30 AM)
The Happy Bottom Riding Club, formerly known as Ten-Forward, was fairly empty when I arrived to meet Deanna Troi for our coffee date. She was dressed in off-duty clothes, a burgundy jumpsuit I’d seen her wear more than once, and her hair was down. Beverly Crusher was sitting with her, in uniform, but with a casual posture: one leg bent against her chest with her foot on the chair.
I had originally wanted to be subtle, to see if they would notice my newly adorned ring-finger, but suddenly I wasn’t in the mood for game-playing. I joined them at their table, singing softly as I took my seat, “Today I met the boy I’m gonna marry. He’s all I wanted all my life, and even more. He smiled at me, and the music started playing ‘Here Comes the Bride’ as he walked through the door.”
Deanna grinned at me, reaching out a hand to squeeze mine, rather than getting up for a hug. “It’s good to hear you singing, Zoe. What’s got into you?”
“I think you mean who,” Beverly deadpanned. Once you were within her inner circle of friends, she could be surprisingly bawdy.
“Mmm, good point.”
“You two are bad, bad people,” I said, laughing. “To think they let you treat patients!” I waited a beat after teasing them, then added, falling into the pattern of a word-game I’d often played with my mother, “I’m thinking about words that start with the letter ‘f.’ Family…forever…” I made a show of using my left hand to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. “Fiancé.”
“Finally! Data finally proposed to you!” Deanna blurted happily. “He didn’t tell us, or we’d have planned something special.”
“He didn’t tell anyone,” I explained. “T’vek and his wife were on Erehwon, and came to my show. Afterward, I got a sort of come-to-Surak lecture.”
“But he did propose,” Beverly said. “Come on, let’s see that ring properly.” She smiled at me, as well, lowering her leg, so she could lean forward. I put my left hand in the center of the table. “Oh, Zoe, that’s lovely.”
“It looks old,” Deanna observed.
I lifted my hand so she could get a better view, and explained, “It’s an antique. When we visited Juliana and Pran a while ago, she showed it to me – it was the engagement ring she got from Noonien Soong – and apparently she slipped it to Data before we left. I think she said it was Noonien’s mother’s as well.”
“Why did you put him off so long?” Beverly asked gently. “You two have always seemed so connected. Even when you were dating casually before he installed the chip.”
“We weren’t dating before the chip,” I said.
“Right,” the doctor said, sarcastically. “You only had a standing engagement every time you came to visit your mother, and he just happened to invite you to any social events going on.”
“For at least some of that time, I had a boyfriend at Yale.”
“Who never came with you,” Deanna pointed out.
“Mmhmm. But back to the question at hand…why delay the inevitable?”
I signaled a server and ordered a mocha and a plate of chocolate-chip cookies. “Because,” I said softly, “sometimes I forget that we live in the future.” I gave them the salient points of my conversation with T’vek, and the subsequent one with Data.
Beverly was smiling the soft kind of smile that only people who have been parents can ever pull off, and Deanna was almost misty. “Data was a good father to Lal,” the doctor said. “I’m sure that together you’ll both be amazing parents.”
“Which reminds me – don’t be surprised if he shows up demanding information about artificial insemination. You know what he’s like when he has a new project.”
Our laughter came as a chorus, but as I was reaching for one of the cookies, Beverly asked gently, “Will you tell us, now, why you’ve lost so much weight?”
“Tag-teaming me,” I said to Deanna. “Really?” But I wasn’t really angry, more amused.
“I heard there were protestors outside your theater,” she said, by way of a response. “Does that have anything to do with it?”
I shook my head. “No. Well, it may have been a minor factor, but this is just a result of too much work, too much bad hotel food, too many late nights – there was this club down the block from the theater – and pining…”
“For Data…” they finished the sentence together.
“I was going to say ‘the fjords,’ actually,” I quipped, “but, yeah, Data, too.” I paused. “I’m completely pathetic, aren’t I?”
Deanna favored me with a fond smile. “No, you’re just very much in love.”
“Yeah, I am.” I said smiling, but I let the expression slip away. “And very much weirded out. Harb – the interviewer from FYE – suggested that there may be a connection between these protestors and the people from KEHL who were harassing us a while back.”
“Did you mention that to Data?” Beverly asked. “If he is investigates it, I’m sure a resolution will be found. His fondness for Sherlock Holmes isn’t just an affectation.”
“I know,” I said. “Oh, god.”
“What is it?” Beverly’s question had no small amount of maternal concern.
I said it out loud for the first time, tasting the words. “I’m getting married.” I said. And then, because it didn’t seem quite real, “I’m marrying Data.”
Deanna called over one of the servers. “Another round of chocolate for all of us,” she ordered. “We’re going to need a lot more chocolate, as well.”
“Are you sure I can wear jeans to this thing?” I asked Data for what was probably the eleven millionth time in the space of two hours. After trying on the vast majority of the clothes that I actually had with me on the ship, I’d settled on a forest-green sweater, black jeans, and a pair of ankle boots that had chunky heels of only an inch and a half in height, but I was still questioning my choice.
“Captain Picard was very specific that this was a casual gathering of the people he considers his closest friends.”
“Super!” I said, resorting to a level of snark I hadn’t used in quite a while. “You go, and I’ll stay here and drive nails into my arms while reading Tolstoy. In the original Russian.”
He arched his eyebrows in the way that meant even his tolerance was fading. “Zoe,” he said in his most patient tone, “I realize that your pre-Picard grumbling is something of a ritual, but – ”
“Oh, god,” I interrupted him. “It is. It’s totally a ritual. I don’t even mean it anymore.”
“I am confused.”
I sat on the couch, and patted the space next to me. He joined me, as I explained. “I grumble, or used to, because being around all of you made me feel impossibly young and ordinary and boring.”
“You have never been ordinary or boring.” From anyone else it would have been an empty compliment. From him, I knew, it was completely sincere.
“Compared to a room-full of big damned heroes? Yeah, I am. Or was. But…it’s like…it took me being away from the ship for a while, and then us officially dating before I ever asked for a proper tour, because I was stuck in the patterns of bitchy, teenaged me. My ‘pre-Picard grumble’ is the same thing. I’m actually not nervous around all of you together anymore, but I’m stuck in the pattern.”
“Then, how do I help you break out of that pattern?”
I smiled. “You already have; it just took me a while to realize it. But,” I teased, “you have to admit it takes special talent to try the patience of, well, you.”
“You have many special talents,” he observed, and while that would have sounded delightfully dirty in any other situation, at that moment it was only sweet.
“As do you. But you’re still not getting your present until we get back.”
He reached for my left hand, lifted it to his lips and placed a soft kiss over my ring. “The only present I require, you have already given me.”
I wanted to say something equally heart-melting, but instead I just stretched to kiss him before saying, “Okay, let’s go.”
The captain’s gathering turned out to be just as casual as Data had promised it would be. Maybe it had been the knowledge that my nerves had become a mere habit, or maybe it was the ring I wore on my finger, but I felt much more at ease than I had on prior occasions. Then, too, the gathering was incredibly low-key, just the senior command crew, plus a few others, as well as Doctor Crusher, and Counselor Troi in one of the smaller holodecks for wine and cheese and soft conversation.
He’d even programmed a cozy winter hall, with fireplaces, and flickering candlelight, and a gentle snow falling beyond arched windows. It was lovely, and felt as magical as such settings ever do.
“Zoe,” the captain greeted me with European-style kisses soon after Data and I arrived. “Thank you for the video file. I enjoyed your performance immensely.”
“Thank you for having me,” I said. “I’m glad you liked it.”
“I thought the choice to set on occupied Bajor was inspired.”
“It got attention, at least.” I agreed.
“Do you know what your next project will be?”
“I’ve been reading scripts, but so far, nothing’s jumping out at me, but I’m pretty sure I want to do something a bit less…grim…next time. Maybe a comedy. A friend of mine from school started an improv troupe, and he keeps asking me to come be a guest performer, so I’m thinking about that.” I shrugged. “I don’t want to be out of work for too long, but there’s more than a little appeal in the concept of down time.”
I felt Data’s arm encircle my waist. “I was not aware you were considering improvisational theater,” he said. “Working without a script seems…daunting.”
I turned my head to catch his expression. “Have you ever tried improv?” I asked. “It’s not as scary as it seems. Once you accept the rules – and the idea that there are no wrong answers – it’s actually kind of freeing. But I’m considering a lot of things, including the fact that I really don’t want another three-month separation from you if I can help it.” I glanced back at the captain. “Pathetic, I know.”
He shook his head. “Not at all. But Zoe, you know you are always welcome here.”
“Thank you,” I said. “That much has finally sunken in, but it’s not so much a question of being welcome as it is of having something constructive to do.”
He smiled a softer smile. “I’m sure if anyone can figure it out, you and Mr. Data can.” His tone shifted from casual friend to host, “Please help yourselves to wine and cheese. There’s a Malbec I think you’ll enjoy particularly, Zoe. Will you excuse me?”
“Of course, sir,” Data answered for both of us, just as the captain moved off, presumably to spend some time with his other guests.
We spent much of the rest of the evening mingling, and sampling the wine and cheese – the Malbec was delicious. Reg Barclay was aboard, working with Geordi on some project or other, and visiting his girlfriend Sarah at the same time, and the five of us formed our own group, of sorts.
“Zoe, are you staying on the Enterprise for a while?” Sarah asked.
I glanced at Data before answering. “I’m not sure yet. I only finished my last gig the day before yesterday, and I need a break, but I don’t want to be in the way.” It was a different version of the conversation I’d had with the captain.
“Well, if you’re still here once classes resume, would you consider doing some acting exercises with the older kids? The members of the theater group aren’t unwilling, but they all have other responsibilities that make scheduling tough. Besides, you’re a real actress.”
“I’ve never really done much work with kids,” I answered truthfully. “Do you mind if I think about it and get back to you?”
“Oh, of course. Take your time. I hope I wasn’t imposing.”
I shook my head. “You weren’t…it’s just been an eventful couple of days. I’m surprised no one’s told you.”
“Told me what?”
I was about to tell her of the latest shift in my relationship with Data – and show off my ring – when a couple of duty-ensigns began circulating glasses of champagne, and the captain returned to the center of the room.
“While the stardate doesn’t quite match the turning of Earth’s year, we have chosen to celebrate that occasion tonight, anyway,” Picard began, his voice commanding our attention without being at all loud. “However, this evening, there is another event we are also marking, and I cannot help but believe it to be an auspicious beginning to the new year.”
“Please lift your glasses, and join me in congratulating Lieutenant Commander Data and Zoe Harris on their engagement.”
I reached for Data with my free hand, leaning close to whisper, “Did you put him up to this?”
“I did not,” he said. “But I am not surprised.”
“To Data and Zoe,” the captain intoned, and the rest of his guests repeated it, lifting their glasses toward us. We didn’t drink, of course, but we did lift our glasses in a return gesture to the friends – family, really – assembled.
“To absent friends,” the captain added, and this time Data and I joined in, as well.
“And to a new year full of peace and prosperity for all.”
The holographic sky lit up with fireworks shimmering against the snow, as we lifted our glasses one more time, and drank to the start of 2378.
Spot was in the center of the bed when we returned to Data’s quarters, sleeping peacefully. “Don’t wake her,” I said.
“But you are tired,” Data pointed out. He wasn’t wrong, I’d yawned at least twice just in the turbo-lift.
“Yeah, but I’m not ready for bed just yet. How about tea and couch-time for a little bit? I still have a present for you.”
“Mint or chamomile?”
I went into the bedroom, kicking off my boots, and stripping off my jeans and sweater, replacing them with his old uniform shirt, got his present from the shelf inside ‘my’ part of the closet, and returned to find both Data and a mug of tea waiting for me.
I padded over to sit on the couch. “Kindly remember that you hadn’t proposed when I chose this,” I asked, handing him the notebook-sized flat package. “After that, anything is bound to be anti-climactic.”
I sipped the tea – he’d chosen mint, after all – while he carefully removed the wrapping paper. More than one of his friends – me included – had tried getting him to just rip open packages, but I’d finally accepted that he never would. “It is…sheet music…” he observed, examining the fragile paper pages.
“You’ll have to digitize it so the paper doesn’t get destroyed,” I said. “But it’s not just any sheet music. It’s a collection of music that I found when I was doing prep for playing Sally. The Interwar Duets for Violin and Cello.” I’d been listening to it nonstop during our rehearsal period, and then chanced to find a copy in a used bookstore. “I’m really rusty,” I added. “I pretty much haven’t touched a cello since…well, you know.”
“You wish to return to playing music?”he asked.
“I wish to return to playing music with you,” I said, shrugging lightly. “I thought this might be a good choice.” I waited a beat, watching him for a reaction. “Data?”
“Yes,” he said. “I would enjoy that.”
I didn’t mention that I’d need his help to be able to play even close to the level I had as a teenager, or that making music with him was what had changed my feelings from ‘just a crush’ to ‘something more.’ I didn’t have to explain it, but I did laugh and accuse, “You’re already creating a lesson plan to get me back up to speed, aren’t you?”
“It is…what I do.”
“Not all of what you do,” I said, setting my mug aside. “Not by half.” I slid across the couch til I was curled against him. “There’s a recording of it by Yegor Dyachkov & Olivier Thouin in the library computer. Let’s just listen a while.”
He instructed the computer first to dim the lights, and thento play the first piece in the collection. His arm came around me, and I settled into his embrace. As the first few measures wafted through the room, I lifted my hand to watch my ring sparkle in the soft light. “Data,” I said softly, “we’re getting married.”
“Yes,” he said, his breath teasing the top of my head. “We are.”
“I made you wait so long to propose…let’s not wait as long for the rest…”
“We will discuss it in the morning,” he said firmly, but gently. “Shh. Just rest. And listen.”
And we did.
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence
Another ‘Auld Lang Syne’
NOTES: “Another Auld Lang Syne” is by Dan Fogelberg. The “Interwar Duets” are a collection of pieces tracing the changes in music between the World War I and World War II, and while they start out very traditionally “classical,” as the cycle progresses you can hear the influence of other cultures on the Euro-centric music. Cabaret is by Kander and Ebb, and takes place in Berlin just as the Nazis are coming into power (hence having Zoe’s production set on Bajor). The reference to barbed wire has to do with the ending of the stage version (which is MUCH grittier than the Liza Minnelli movie). At the end of the finale, the emcee strips off his leather duster to reveal that he’s wearing the striped outfit of a concentration camp prisoner, adorned with both a yellow star and a pink triangle. He throws himself onto the electric fence. “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” is by Ellie Greenwich, Tony Powers, and Phil Spector. The most popular recording was made by Darlene Love. Data’s time on the U.S.S. Sovereign is taken from the game Bridge Commander, though I changed his assignment.