Chapter 1: Ask Him
Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG.
“Ask him.” My mother leaned back in her chair, cradling her coffee mug between both hands and just watched me. She wouldn’t speak again until I had. I think it was a negotiation tactic she learned at the Academy. Or maybe it was just parental thing. Either way, I knew I’d cave before she did.
I returned her gaze, noting that her chestnut hair was pulled into a single braid that fell between her shoulders. Her face was thinner than mine, more heart-shaped than oval, so even though we both had the same medium-thick eyebrows arching over brown eyes, and the same full lips, she could get away with pulling her hair back while I couldn’t. We were sitting at a table in the Ten-Forward lounge aboard the Enterprise. My father had disappeared again, this time to conduct the Capital City Orchestra on Centaurus, but it wasn’t like he’d ever really been a constant in my life. Mostly, I’d lived with my grandmother, but three months before my mother had suddenly decided it was time for some mother-daughter bonding, and brought me here to live with her. School had only recently started, and the teacher in charge of the high school aged students wanted me to do some stupid accelerated math tutorial thing, so instead of our usual dinner in our quarters, we were here, discussing it in public. It was my mother’s way of defusing the bratty behavior that had become habitual for me since she’d dragged me away from home. “Isn’t that sort of your job?” I asked her. “Arranging my education, and all?”
“If it was really a question of arranging, then yes, it would be,” my mother answered in her best rational voice, the one she used when she was being more Lt. Harris than Mom. “But Zoe,” she continued, “Ms. Phelps has already stated that Commander Data has offered his tutorial services to any student who asks, and I’m concerned that you’re avoiding interaction with the officers and crew.” She took a sip of her coffee, and went on, the way parents can when they have you trapped. “I know you’re not thrilled about being here, but if you’d come out of your shell and stop being so shy you’d find that everyone on this ship has something pretty interesting to offer. Most fifteen-year-olds don’t get the opportunity to have their math classes taught by ranking officers.”
“I’m not shy,” I protested, focusing on that part of my mother’s mini-lecture. “I’m just very selective about who I talk to.” I sought refuge in a bite of chocolate mousse. “And anyway, I’m pretty sure Ms. Phelps made a mistake. I’m abysmal at math.”
“Abysmal?” The corner of my mother’s mouth quirked up in a slight smile. “Surely you’re a little better than that. Your test scores have always been excellent.”
I shrugged. “Maybe I just test well. Mom, I hate math. The last thing I want is a teacher who’s literally made of it.”
Her smile grew broader. “You do have a way with words, Kidlet.” She took another sip from her mug, then set it down on the table, and placed her hands palm-down on either side of it. She wasn’t intentionally showing off her perfect manicure, but I couldn’t help noticing, and thinking about how ugly my own fingers looked. I put my fork down, and folded my hands in my lap, waiting for her to finish. “I know you’re not thrilled about being on the ship, and I do realize that math isn’t your favorite subject, but you need to realize that I want the best for you. In just a few years you’ll be going off to college, or the Academy – ”
I interrupted with an ill-contained snort. “I am SO not Starfleet material, Mom. College, yes. The Academy, never. Anyway, I’m going to M-SOMATA, like Dad.”
” – and then you can make your own decisions. Until then, you’re stuck with me, Kiddo, and I think you should follow your teacher’s suggestion and take this tutorial with Commander Data, and in order to do that, you need to ask him.”
I sighed, clenching my fingers into fists under the table then releasing them. “I’ll do the tutorial,” I said, “but can’t you ask him? I mean, you see him every day – you report directly to him – and I’ve only ever said hello once.” I was whining, and I hated it, but I really didn’t want to go up to any officer and ask for math help, and especially not the only android in the ‘fleet. I mean. Commander Data was the epitome of “proper” and I was decidedly…not.
“Zoe…” My mother was still smiling, but her tone held that warning note. The one that meant if I didn’t agree to her wishes she’d move to phase two. Nevertheless, I whined a little more.
But she was ready for me. “Zoe Lauren Harris, you are fifteen, not five. I love you, but you need to do this on your own,” she said. And once she’d used my middle name, I knew there was no chance of winning.
“Alright,” I said. “I’ll do it. Is an intra-ship communication acceptable, or do I need to replicate stationery and use actual ink?” I’d moved from whiney to snarky, but that was normal for me. I lifted a hand to push a stray piece of my own chocolate-brown hair back behind my ear, then returned it to my lap.
“Intra-ship text may be fine with your friends, but it’s not appropriate with senior officers,” my mother decreed. “Commander Data’s actually very nice, Zoe. Really. And you know, he’s a musician, too.”
Carrot. Stick. My mother knew me too well. I’d do almost anything that involved hanging out with other musicians. “Okay, okay,” I said. “I’ll ask him. But when I fry his circuits with my complete and total stupidity, I reserve the right to say, ‘I told you so’.”
Chapter 2: Blind Date?
Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG.
“You set me up on a blind date?” I asked my mother incredulously. “For breakfast? Even for you, Mom that’s kind of pushing it.”
“Having Wesley Crusher take you to the teen brunch in Ten-Forward is hardly a blind date, Zoe,” my mother responded, not looking up from her padd. “You’re too young to be dating, actually.”
I rolled my eyes, knowing she couldn’t see me. Easy for her to be calm – she’d had her morning coffee already, and was currently – if I guessed correctly – catching up on news, first from around the ship, then other ships, then outside the ‘fleet. “You might’ve at least asked me if I wanted to go,” I grumped.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” she said off-handedly. How did she always know? “And if I had asked would you have agreed to go?”
“Well, no,” I admitted. I slouched into the other chair at the table in our quarters, which weren’t all that bad, really. I mean, they were bigger than the average hotel suite and the art was personal, at least. “But Wesley?”
“What’s wrong with Wesley?”
I stared at my mother for a long moment before answering. “Nothing, exactly, it’s just…”
“Yes?” The word might have been neutral, but the tone in which she uttered it was decidedly…not.
“He’s kind of a dweeb,” I said. “All he wants to do is suck up to the engineering crew and get the Captain to notice him.”
“He has goals, Zoe. Just because they differ from yours – ”
“Mom, you so don’t get it. Wanting to be in Starfleet – I get that. I mean, I wouldn’t do it if you begged, but I understand it. Wesley though…he just doesn’t. Do. Anything. Else. He doesn’t read, he doesn’t keep up with holo-vids, he doesn’t pay attention to music or art or even politics…”
My mother set down her padd. “No,” she said, in calm agreement. Maybe too calm. “He doesn’t do anything else. He’s extremely focused, which is admirable in someone so young, and I know you’re not without focus yourself, Ms. M-SOMATA. Nice shirt, by the way.”
I looked down at the faded sweatshirt from my father’s alma mater, and it’s dusty red planet surrounded by stylized comedy and tragedy masks, music notes, and a paintbrush and planet. The back bore the name of the school: Martian School of Music and The Arts. I knew it was a little too casual for the ship, but it was comfortable, and it smelled like home. “Okay, Mom,” I said, toying with the glass of juice she’d set out for me. “Focus good, and all that, but…”
“But he’s a nice boy doing a favor for a friend of his mother, and you might pause a moment to consider the notion that you might be good for each other,” my mother pointed out.
“You’re right about him not having any other interests. Beverly – that’s Dr. Crusher to you, Kiddo – is concerned about that as much as I’m concerned that you’re passing up opportunities because you’re afraid of success.”
“I’m not afraid of anything,” I said. It would have been more effective if my voice hadn’t caught in the middle, though. “Well, not most things.”
“Only new people, new situations, prospective tutors, and spiders.”
“That’s only four things,” I said, in my best I’m-making-a-point-even-if-it’s-silly tone. “There are way more things than that that don’t scare me. And spiders are evil.”
My mother laughed. “Fair enough,” she said. “How about a deal, then?”
“Mmhm. Go with Wesley and the other kids to the teen brunch. Stay for the concert that the wind ensemble is giving – Commander Data’s part of it – and you can kill two birds with one stone…”
I peered closely at my mother. “And what do I get if I do this?”
“Skating with your favorite mother in the holo-deck one night this week.”
Again my mother was proving how well she knew me. Ice skating was one of our only mother-daughter activities from when I was little, and even though I was really, really clumsy at it, I always had fun. “I guess that would be okay,” I said. “If…”
“If you promise me I will never, ever have to wear one of those hideous gray jumpsuits. They’re a bigger fashion don’t than wearing real leather on Vulcan, and no one looks good in them.”
My mother laughed. “I promise,” she said.
I stopped playing with my juice glass at that point, and lifted the glass to drain it, setting it down just as the annunciator chimed. My not-a-date had arrived. I smoothed my hair and went to the door, “See you later, Mom,” I said, stepping into the corridor.
Wesley, thankfully, was not wearing a jumpsuit today, either, just a really bulky cinnamon colored sweater. “Hi,” he said, grinning at me.
I forced a not-quite-sunny smile, “Hi,” I said. “I’m really sorry our mothers forced you into this.”
“I didn’t mind.”
“Oh…good. So, do these ‘teen brunches’ happen often?”
He started walking, and I fell into step beside him, listening. “About once a month. Ms. Phelps and Counselor Troi started them because they were concerned that the older kids didn’t socialize enough. Different people from the crew come and talk to us about hobbies and interests, and if they’re part of a musical group or the theater club they sometimes perform.”
“There’s a theater club?” I asked with more enthusiasm than was really necessary. “Really? Is it adults-only or can anyone join?”
“Oh, if there are parts for kids or teenagers, they let us know during school. Josh has been in a couple of plays, I think.”
“Do you ever participate?”
“I don’t have much time, really. I’m usually working on science or math, or helping out in engineering, when they let me.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at this. He was trying to be nice, after all, and even a dweeb was better company than no one. Finally, we got to Ten-Forward, where several tables had been clustered closer together than I remembered from previous visits.
“Josh, Dana, T’vek – come meet Zoe.” Wesley called to a trio of kids who seemed to be about our age.
Josh was tall, and handsome verging on pretty. No surprise that he was into performing. Dana was about the same height as me, thinner, and blonde, but her hair was pulled into a lazy pony-tail and her grin was truly friendly. T’vek looked Vulcan, but not, and while his greeting was reserved, I thought I saw a glimmer of something in his dark eyes. “Hi,” I said to the group.
We all stood around looking sheepish, not sure what to say. Finally, Dana broke the ice. “Zoe, I’m so glad there’s another girl in our class. The boys are nice, and all, but…”
I laughed. “But they don’t know the difference between trendy and tragic when it comes to important things like clothing and shoes?”
“Exactly,” she said. “So, I heard your father is an orchestra conductor…do you know a lot of famous musicians?”
I found myself answering her questions without thinking about it, explaining that I rarely got to meet many of the guest artists Dad worked with, though I’d often begged for the chance. Before I knew it, we were all sitting down, and the other couple of tables filled with teens both younger and a bit older than the five of us. Just as we were being presented with food, the open chair at our table was filled by none other than the man I was tasked with meeting later.
“Data,” Dana said, grinning at him. “This is Zoe Harris. She’s new.”
I looked across the table and slightly up, and found myself staring into the most amazing yellow eyes I’d ever seen. Okay, the only yellow eyes I’d ever seen, but still…
He paused for the merest fraction of a second before speaking. “Welcome to the Enterprise, Miss Harris. Are you adapting satisfactorily?”
I hesitated for a much more noticeable length of time. Was I supposed to call him by rank or by name, or…well…Dana had used his name… “I’m getting a little more comfortable, I guess,” I said, avoiding the issue entirely. “It’s different actually living here, instead of just visiting.”
“Zoe’s dad is a conductor, Data. Did you know?” Dana asked.
“Lieutenant Harris has mentioned as much,” he answered her, then added in my direction. “She also said that you have inherited your father’s love of music.”
“I play cello, a little,” I admitted. “I like acting better, though.”
From there the conversation got easier, as Josh had heard the magic word, and jumped in about the theater club. We ate breakfast – all but Data – and chatted, until finally the adults rose and moved toward a small stage beyond the tables. They played a few songs for us – I noticed that the oboe player was a bit off – and then we were left to mingle a bit longer. This was when I finally faced the task my mother had set.
Data was standing with Wesley when I approached after making plans to meet Dana later, and I got all nervous again when they both stopped talking. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said, following my favorite rule: when in doubt, be polite. “Commander Data, could I have a minute of your time, please?”
Wesley, dweeb or not, seemed to sense my awkwardness, and stepped away. “I’ll wait and walk back with you,” he said, and I nodded.
“Is something wrong, Miss Harris?” Data asked.
I couldn’t help wrinkling my nose. “Could you just call me Zoe?” I asked. “When people call me ‘Miss Harris’ I always think I’m in trouble, or something.”
“As you wish,” he answered. “If you will call me Data, as the other young people do.”
“It’s a deal,” I said, and the phrase kicked me back into gear. “Ms. Phelps mentioned to my mother that you offer a math tutorial to students who ask, and I promised Mom I would. I’m pretty sure it’s a mistake, because I’m an epic failure with anything beyond basic arithmetic, but I already tried arguing with Mom, and I lost, so if there’s room in your class, may I join…please?”
He tilted his head slightly, as if trying to determine what species I really was, then said. “I have experienced your mother’s persuasive discussion style, Zoe. She is a formidable opponent in debate. Ms. Phelps informed me of your test scores, and they would imply that you are not an ‘epic failure’.” He managed to make the quotation marks around my phrase audible. “I would be pleased to include you in the tutorial,” he continued. “We meet at ten-hundred hours, three days a week. I will send this week’s assignment to your terminal.”
“Thank you,” I said, “I’ll try not to scare you with my utter lack of computational skills.”
He opened his mouth to say something – probably to tell me he couldn’t be scared – but then his name was being called, and he moved to leave, saying only, “Excuse me, Zoe. I will see you in class.”
I waited for him to exit before re-joining Wesley. “What was that about?” he asked.
“Math class,” I grumbled. “I was ‘strongly encouraged’ to ask to join his tutorial.”
“That’s great!” Wesley said. “Data’s an amazing teacher, really. Really patient. And it’ll be nice having another student.”
“Oh, yes, I’m sure it’ll be fabulous,” I snarked,
He frowned slightly. “You don’t want to be in our class?”
I was forced to confess, “I hate math.”
The walk back to the turbo-lift, and then back to my mother’s quarters was mostly silent.
Chapter 3: First Day Jitters
Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG.
FIRST DAY JITTERS
“Rise and shine, Kiddo!” my mother’s voice sing-songed too close to my ear. I’d have thrown a pillow at her but both of mine were under my head. I settled for rolling over and ignoring her, which didn’t work, of course. She simply snuck her hand under the covers and tickled the bottom of my foot. “Come on, Sleepyhead. Even your powerful will cannot keep the day from starting.”
I snatched my foot away, and sat up in what I desperately wished was a smooth motion, but probably was more of a desperate leap away from her oval-tipped, manicured fingers. “Leave my feet alone,” I grumbled.
But she was laughing. “Tickling a child’s feet is a mother’s right and very special privilege,” my mother said, from her position at the foot of my bed. “Besides, it’s the one way I’ve been guaranteed to wake you, since you were a baby.”
“Okay, fine,” I said in my grumpiest morning voice. “But I’m not going to smile, and I’m only going to eat breakfast because I don’t think I can face the first day of Data’s math tutorial on an empty stomach.”
“That’s Commander Data, to you, Zoe,” my mother corrected.
“Actually, he said to just use his name, ‘as the other young people do’.” I imitated his intonation and caught my mother trying not to grin. I waited a beat for the mood to shift, then began, “Mom?”
“Zoe?” She used my same, serious tone.
“What if I really am abysmal?”
“You’re not,” she assured. “But you will miss your first class if you don’t get dressed. Fifteen minutes to breakfast.” She left the room, and the door slid shut behind her.
I closed my eyes for a long moment, gathering myself together, then zipped through my usual morning machine. I would have preferred a water shower, but sonic ones were faster, at least. For clothing, I chose black, and lots of it, adding an old fisherman’s cap I’d stolen from my father as a finishing touch. Like him, I was a hat person.
Breakfast was quiet. My mother used the time before her shift to check messages and read news bulletins, and I put earphones on and listened to music while I had coffee and oatmeal, which are two things that are almost decent when replicated. Finally our door-annunciator signaled Dana’s arrival – we’d agreed to walk to class together, and I tossed a good-bye toward my mother, grabbed my padd, and left.
“Nice hat,” my new friend told me as we sauntered toward the turbo-lift.
“It’s a security thing. I really don’t like math, and I really don’t want to be in this class, I thought the hat would help.” I paused, then added. “It’s my father’s. I guess I kind of…miss him.”
“That’s understandable,” Dana assured. “All of it, actually. But Data’s not scary in class, really.” She waited a moment then asked, “Is the all-black outfit a security thing, too?”
“Power color,” I said. “I will be a social and mathematical ninja today.” We arrived at the lift, and stepped inside, only to find Josh and Wes already there. “Or not,” I muttered under my breath.
The boys seemed to sense my first-day jitters, or were to wrapped up in their discussion to notice and react, and we were out of the lift and heading toward the suite of rooms reserved for school use within moments. T’vek was already there when we arrived, as was Data.
“Hey, T, Data,” Josh breezed into the room, pushing past Dana and me. “I get to sit near the new girl.”
Dana and I exchanged annoyed looks and followed Josh into the room, leaving Wesley to be last. As we did so, Data stood up.
“The ‘new girl’ has a name, Josh. Please use it,” he said. Again, I could hear the quotation marks in his inflection. I supposed it was just something to get used to. “Welcome Zoe. Seating in this class is fairly informal.”
I took a look at the room, and noticed that it was essentially a conference room, with an oblong table. There were three seats on each of the long sides, and a seventh seat where Data had been sitting. Wes and T’vek took the first two chairs on the farthest side, with Dana and Josh taking the first and third on the side nearest the door. “It’s all good,” I said, taking the seat between them.
“Did you receive the assignments I sent last night?” Data asked.
“Yes, but your note said I had the week to catch up?” I made it a question, and frowned when my voice shook a little. I wasn’t usually nervous.
“That is correct. Please see me after class or contact me if you have any trouble.”
“Sure,” I said. “I mean, yes, I’ll do that.”
The next two hours passed more quickly than I expected, although I didn’t speak up much. I tend to prefer to observe before jumping into groups, and I was accustomed to math classes with twenty or thirty students, and having to raise hands in order to speak. Data’s tutorial was really more like a seminar, with everyone jumping in to discuss the problems he posed, until each of us understood the concepts. If math had been like this at home, I might not have hated it.
I don’t know if a human teacher would have picked up on my near-silence during that first hour, or if Data simply had some sort of sub-routine running that tallied how many times he heard each of us speak, but after we had a ten minute break to stretch, and class resumed, he turned to me and asked me to work through a proof he’d assigned earlier in the session.
“Data, don’t put her on the spot like that on her first day,” Wesley said, before I could answer.
I shot him a quick grin of thanks, but then turned back to our teacher, “No, it’s fine.” I hesitated a minute, then slowly gave the answer I’d come up with, even though my mouth dried up a little.
“Your method was unorthodox, but the result is correct. Which of you can demonstrate a more direct route to the solution?”
Josh jumped on the question, spitting out the answer without even consulting his padd, and I have to admit, I was impressed. He grinned at me, and whispered, “It’s easier when you know the result you need to get.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that, though I tried to hide it. The rest of the class went even faster, but I didn’t speak up again, nor was I called on, and I have to admit I was relieved. Data sent new assignments to our padds from his terminal, reminding us that were free to contact him with questions, and then we were free to go.
“Zoe, do you want to come to lunch?” Wes asked before I could ask Dana the same question. I stared at her, and she shrugged helplessly. “I usually go with Data, because I have helm duty right after, and we’re allowed in Ten-Forward during day-shift if we’re with an adult.”
“Dana and I had made plans,” I said. We hadn’t, actually, but we seemed to click, and Wes was just so eager. I waited a long moment for her to confirm that, and when she didn’t, I added, “So maybe we should all go?”
“Dana’s father doesn’t let her go to Ten-Forward,” Josh offered, when my new friend still didn’t speak up.
I shot Dana a questioning look, and she answered with a nod, then said softly, “It’s true. I can’t go. You should though, really.”
I was torn. On the one hand, I knew the right thing to do was to stay. On the other…well…it’s not every day you get to eat lunch with line officers, even if they come with heaping side of annoying classmate. On yet another hand – the existence of which, had I been speaking, would have proven my severe lack of math skills – I was curious. I knew Commander Data’s official bio, but nothing about him as a person.
Dana obviously sensed my inner debate. “It’s fine, Zoe. We’ll catch up later, okay? Josh and I need to finish our presentation for English, anyway.” She flashed a smile and suggested, “Let’s plan on lunch together tomorrow, and you can tell me all about today.”
I smiled back, and uttered one room, and said, “Sure, no problem,” then gathered up my padd before Wesley could offer to carry it for me. Josh and Dana went on their way, I was about to leave the room myself, but T’vek was in my path, where he’d stopped to read something on his padd. One of my grandmother’s frequent reminders to never stop dead in doorways crossed my mind and, I stepped aside, while Wesley asked our instructor a question.
“Data, is Commander LaForge going to be at lunch today? I wanted to ask him a question about one of my assignments.”
I didn’t know who Commander LaForge was but I did know that this lunch was sounding more like a geek convention. “Wes, maybe I should come with you another time,” I said. “If you have questions about work, I don’t want to be in the way.”
“You won’t be,” Wesley said. “Will she, Data?”
“Mr. Crusher is correct,” Data said, emphasizing the title as if it was a sort of admonishment, before continuing in what seemed to be his customary soft-spoken, but still decisive, manner. “You will not be in the way. You are welcome to join us for lunch, as long as your mother does not have any objections.”
“She doesn’t,” I said, though in truth, I had no idea if she would, but didn’t people always say it was easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission? Time to test that theory. “She really doesn’t.”
“Then let us go,” Data said, and with that, we did.
Chapter 4: Pythonesque
“You’re Lieutenant Harris’s daughter, aren’t you?” Geordi LaForge asked me as I took a seat at the table he was holding for all of us in Ten-Forward. I ended up opposite Data, and between Geordi and Wesley. “You may not remember, but we met several years ago. You were visiting at Christmas -”
“- and you let me ride the lift in engineering up and down til I was nauseous. I remember wishing all of my mother’s friends were as cool as you, sir.”
He chuckled at that, and said, “I’m not ‘sir’ to you – just Geordi. And you’re…” he trailed off, clearly not remembering my name.
“This is Zoe,” Data supplied helpfully. “She joined my math tutorial this morning, and held her own, despite a warning to expect her to be ‘abysmal’.”
I couldn’t help but grin at being teased by my teacher on the first day, but I resisted the urge to respond as I would have had the remark come from Wesley or anyone else my age. Instead I said, in a tone that was only half self-deprecating, “Give me time.”
We ordered food after that, and the conversation remained light as we ate. Well, as most of us ate. Data hadn’t ordered, and I had to wonder if he felt at all out of place as we all chewed and swallowed our way through an hour. Leaning toward Wesley, I asked in what I thought was a soft whisper, “Does Data ever eat?”
My classmate opened his mouth to answer, but Data beat him to it. “I do not require sustenance,” he stated matter-of-factly, “though I sometimes do eat in order to experience a new food, or when required for diplomatic reasons.”
“Diplomatic, like, if you’re at an official dinner?” I asked. “I guess that makes sense,” I went on, not waiting for a response, but sort of musing over my chicken Caesar salad, “I mean, if you’re in the middle of negotiating an arms treaty or passing initial judgment over whether a planet should join the Federation, it’s probably easier to just eat what you’re given, rather than spend time explaining why you’re not tasting anything.”
“This is especially true within societies where shared meals are the equivalent of a state meeting,” he confirmed, but he added after a beat. “Zoe, I understand that curiosity is normal, and I am willing to answer any question, but if you desire information about me in the future, please ask me directly.”
I had the good grace to feel sheepish, and it was evident in my quiet, “Sorry, Data.”
He offered me a single nod of acknowledgement then addressed Wesley, reminding him, “You wished to ask Commander LaForge about your deflector project. I would like to hear your proposal as well.”
The boy-wonder launched into a convoluted explanation involving magnets, propulsion, deflector shields, and warp energy, and while I recognized the individual words they were using, the concepts were so far beyond what I knew – or wanted to know – about ship operations that my salad became incredibly fascinating, and when it was gone, I spent time watching Data’s facial expressions until my eyes glazed over.
I was jolted from my lunch-table coma by the feeling of someone’s hands resting on my shoulder, and a woman’s voice observing, “Nice hat.”
Glancing behind me, and slightly upwards, I found myself looking into the dark eyes and serene smile of the woman I’d glimpsed behind the bar when I’d been here several nights before with my mother. “Yours, too,” I said, though honestly, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in the disc-and-hood contraption this woman was wearing.
“I’m Guinan,” she said.
“I’m Zoe,” I responded. Around us, Data, Geordi and Wesley were still absorbed in their discussion of Wes’s project. “And yes,” I added, since everyone seemed to want to confirm it, “Lieutenant Harris is my mother. Are you the…bartender?”
“Among other things,” was her cryptic answer. I was about to ask her what things, but she pointedly cleared her throat, and in response, my three table-mates stopped their conversation. “Gentlemen,” she began, in a soft but confident voice, “When you invite a woman to lunch – even a young woman – you are obligated to include her in the conversation.”
“Oh, God, Zoe, I’m sorry – I just started talking about my project and completely forgot you were here.”
“Gee, thanks, Wes,” I snarked. “Just what every girl wants to hear.”
Geordi glanced up at Guinan, then back at me. “Sorry, Zoe. Wes just gets so excited about his ideas that his enthusiasm is contagious.”
“I, too, apologize for neglecting you, Zoe,” Data added.
“Um, it’s okay, really,” I said, suddenly embarrassed by all the attention. “I should go, anyway. I have advanced lit and a music lesson this afternoon.” I waited for Guinan to move from behind my chair, and pushed it back. “Thanks for rescuing me,” I said to her, and gave her a sincere smile.
“Any time,” she said, moving away. “Come say hello next time you’re here.”
I stood up, while promising I would do as she asked. “Thanks for inviting me, Wesley,” I said. “It was sweet of you, really.”
“I really am sorry,” he said.
“I know. It’s cool.” I was all of two steps from the table when Data called my name. “Yes?” I asked.
“Do not hesitate to contact me if you require assistance with the make-up work I assigned for class.”
“No,” I said, “I won’t.” Inspiration hit me then, and I offered him my best innocent grin. “Data, you said you’d answer any question?”
“That is correct.”
“Okay. What’s the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” It was a line I’d learned from my father – a bit from an ancient twentieth century comedy show. I wasn’t expecting Data to take the question seriously, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the question he asked in response.
“An African or European swallow?”
I chose that moment to make a hasty retreat, holding my laughter until I’d reached the relative safety of the corridor. The befuddled looks on both Wesley and Geordi’s faces was well worth the effort.
Chapter 5: Best Laid Plans
Best Laid Plans
Three months into my new life aboard the Enterprise, I had finally settled into a routine. Three mornings a week, I met my friend Dana in the corridor between her quarters and mine, and we rode the lift to our math tutorial together. Most mornings, the boys – Josh, T’vek and Wesley, would be in the lift already, but sometimes we’d leave a little earlier and arrive enough ahead of them to have time to chat a bit before class.
Our tutorial met in a conference room one deck down from the bridge, and not on the deck where the rest of “school” took place, but even though I complained about it to my mother – loudly and often – that math and I didn’t get along, the truth is, once I got used to Commander Data’s perpetual calm, and discovered that he had an encyclopedic knowledge of twentieth century comedy – something my father had gotten me hooked on when I was really little – I began to enjoy the class. Well, except for the times that Wesley cornered me afterward to ask me out. It had happened often enough to become annoying, and while I knew I could ask my mother, she was good friends with his mother, and it would have been messy, so I tended to let it go.
Over the last few weeks, I’d even initiated a private game with Data – sneaking Monty Python references into our discussions whenever possible, just to see if he’d react. Most of the time, he left his responses in the comments on returned, graded assignments, but once in a while he would answer with the next line in the sequence. Dana and the boys were often perplexed by our exchanges, but then, we were all perplexed by some of the exchanges Data had with Wesley. Even T’vek, who aspired to a career in propulsion engineering, confessed once that he didn’t understand half of what they were talking about.
Needless to say, I was caught off-guard when it was T’vek, and not Dana, who was waiting at the usual pre-class rendezvous point. “Are you lost?” I asked, only half-kidding. I knew by now that T’vek was half Vulcan and half Betazoid – a combination that gave him inky black eyes, and the ability to charm almost every girl aboard the ship who was over the age of twelve, except that he was too nice a guy to actually do it.
He made a show of looking around, “Deck twelve, intersection C-7,” he said, offering me a grin. “Apparently not.”
“Okay,” I began, skepticism heavy in my tone. “Are you here to convince me to do your English essay for you? Because Dana already warned me that you’d asked her, and – ”
“Do you really think I’d go a deck and a half out of my way just for an essay?” he asked, cutting me off. “I need your help with something bigger.”
“My help?” I asked, feeling somewhat stupid. “Sorry, I haven’t had enough caffeine or sugar yet today. Could you be more specific?”
“I’m getting to it,” he assured, as he took off in the opposite direction that Dana and I generally walked. He stopped when he realized I hadn’t moved to follow. “What?”
“You’re going the wrong way.”
“Not really. It is a longer route, but I’ve estimated the time needed to convince you that offering your assistance would be logical, and we will still make it to class on time.”
I rolled my eyes at that. T’vek was half Vulcan, but his usual personality was all Betazoid – warm, light, and full of emotion and humor. “Okay, spill.”
“Your father is conducting the Capitol City Orchestra of Centaurus,” he said with a note of expectation in his voice. No doubt he’d planned that.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
He ignored my sarcasm, and continued. “The Orchestra has announced their upcoming tour, and will be playing a series of concerts on Serenity Five in six weeks. I believe our math class should attend.”
I blinked at him. “I didn’t know you were into that kind of music,” I said.
“I am not…particularly,” he admitted. “But Serenity Five is also home to the sector’s only amusement part where every gravity coaster is mathematically designed to induce the optimum combination of fear and pleasure.”
“I’ve read about it,” I admitted in return. “Small problem: the Enterprise isn’t scheduled to be anywhere near the Serenity system.”
“That’s where you come in,” T’vek said. “We will be close enough to travel there by shuttle, but the park alone isn’t enough reason to request a pilot, chaperones, and hotel vouchers. If, however, we are all escorting our dear friend Zoe to visit her father…” He let the sentence trail off.
“I don’t know,” I said, deadpan. “I’m not sure if I appreciate being used for my connections.”
“C’mon, Zoe. Even I know you’re not exactly in love with shipboard life.”
“I haven’t complained about it in over a week,” I protested, though I had to add, “in public.”
“Our parents talk,” he revealed. “Will you ask your father if he can arrange tickets?”
I had to think it over. And I also had to ask, “The chaperones would be our parents, right? Who is the pilot likely to be? Some ensign barely older than we are?”
“No. The last time we went anywhere, Commander Data took us. He designed math problems about skiing and ice skating and stuff…but it wasn’t too bad, really.” He waited thirty seconds in silence, then asked, “Will you ask your father, Zoe? If I don’t have your answer in five point seven seconds, we may be late for class.”
“Start walking,” I said, because we’d been talking in the corridor for a while. “I’ll answer by the time we get there. How many days is it to Serenity Five? And what do you need my father to provide? Just tickets?”
“Two out, three back,” T’vek informed me. I was going to ask why the return trip was longer, but I realized it had to do with the ship’s planned route. “He’d need to arrange seats for us, and promise some sort of educational advantage. Perhaps a tour of the concert hall and a question-and-answer session with some of the musicians.”
“You’ve been planning this for a while, haven’t you?”
“Only since last session, really.” He paused and turned to face me, giving me his best grin. “I work fast.”
We entered the lift, and I remained silent, listening to the hum as it traversed the ship, and thinking about being in a shuttle for five days. Upside: Data would probably be there. Downside, at least one of our parents would, as well. Other downside: Wesley Crusher would be there, too.
Our classmates were already inside the conference room when we arrived a few seconds later, and when we walked in, we were left no option but to sit together in the two remaining open seats. As I settled into my chair, and he settled into his, T’vek arched an eyebrow at me and I realized how I could use the situation to my advantage.
“T’vek? The question I promised to answer?” I said, in a too-sweet, too-coy tone designed to make him worry. “The answer is ‘yes’.”
Across the table, Wes’s expression soured a little, but I didn’t have time to worry about it, because Commander Data arrived at that point, and class began.
Chapter 6: Ask Him Again
ASK HIM (AGAIN)
“It’s done,” I said to T’vek as he left his family’s quarters one morning. This time, I was waiting for him, and had asked Josh to make sure he and Wes went to class without them.
To his credit, the half-Vulcan/half-Betazoid boy knew exactly what I meant. “Your father agreed,” he asked, but it was really more a confirmation than a question.
“Maestro Harris is delighted to have the advanced mathematics tutorial students from U. S. S. Enterprise attend the Centaurian Capitol City Orchestra’s first concert on Serenity Five,” I said, in a fake upper-crust accent. I earned a flash of smile, and continued in my normal voice, “He’ll arrange for us to tour the concert hall, meet some of the musicians, and attend a pre-concert lecture. There may be an after-party, but it’ll be optional. Well, optional for everyone except me.”
“Because the Maestro’s daughter has to make an appearance?” He was teasing me a little, but I didn’t mind.
“Oh, absolutely. You know, I should make you go with me. You sort of owe me now.”
“You do,” I said. “You know you do.”
“Can’t fault your logic,” he agreed amiably. “And it would annoy Crusher.”
“There is that.”
“Of course we still have to convince Data,” he added. “And we can’t do that standing around the corridor. Hand me your padd.”
I arched an eyebrow at him. “Carrying my books? Are you being sexist or chivalrous?” This time, I was teasing.
“Chivalrous, always, Zoe. And this will also annoy Crusher.”
I handed over my padd, and he tucked both his and mine under his arm. Together, we walked down the corridor to the nearest lift, chatting along the way. By the time we met our classmates at the conference room door I was almost – almost – thinking that T’vek might be potential date material even if annoying Wesley wasn’t part of the bargain.
T’vek and I had agreed on the way to class that I should be the one to ask Data about the our little field trip, so after an intense lesson that nearly had Wes and T’vek shouting at each other over the correct method of answering a problem – Wesley made an intuitive leap and couldn’t explain the steps, while T’vek took longer, but was able to break it down – I asked our tutor if he had a moment to answer a question after class.
“Are you having difficulties with this material, Zoe?” he asked, with enough inflection that from anyone else I’d have assumed it was concern. He’d waited for the room to be empty.
“No more than ever,” I replied in a teasing tone. “My main difficulty is just the general not-wanting-to-be-here thing. That’s kind of what I wanted to ask about.”
“You wish to re-visit the requirement that you attend this tutorial?” he asked.
“No! I mean…math is never going to be my favorite subject, but you do make it sort of…tolerable.” The reality was that even though I still protested loudly, I liked the class and the teacher. “Look, don’t tell my mother this, but I pretty much only bit – um – complain about this class because I don’t want her to think she’s won.”
“I understand,” Data said. “It is a matter of pride.”
“Sort of,” I agreed, adding, “It’s a mother-daughter thing.”
“Ah.” He uttered the little monosyllable that meant he didn’t really understand but accepted that he would never understand, and since it clearly wasn’t relevant we should move on. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. “Then you had another reason for asking to see me after class?”
“Yes,” I said. I activated my padd, called up the text of my father’s formal invitation – I’d asked him to send it – and handed the device to Data. “My father’s orchestra will be in the neighborhood,” I said. “He thought the class might like to attend.”
Data took a fraction of a second to read the information and returned my padd. “Serenity Five is home to an amusement park of some notoriety,” he said.
“So I’ve heard.”
“T’vek suggested this excursion.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t a question in any possible way that ‘question’ could be defined.
“He did,” I confirmed. “But he also said you might be willing to allow a visit to the park if there was a way to make it an assignment, or if it had cultural value…and the invitation from my father is legit.”
“Legit…ah, legitimate.” He paused, and his eyes did that waking-REM thing that always meant he was searching for information. “I will require your father’s contact information. I will also require permission from your mother and the parents of your classmates, as well as two volunteer chaperones. If everything can be arranged we will make the trip.”
I tried not to go all girly, and I did manage not to bounce in delight – mainly because I was sitting down – but there might have been the tiniest element of a giddy shriek in my “Thank you!”
“You are welcome,” he said in his typically calm way. He rose from his chair. “You are also going to be late for your music lesson, if you do not go eat lunch.”
“Speaking of my music lesson,” I said, rising from my own chair. “My father added a condition of his own to this trip. He said I need to have a music theory course to apply to the M-SOMATA, and the ship’s school doesn’t offer one.”
“Your music teacher does not teach theory?”
“I have two music teachers. Lt. Caldwell gives voice lessons, but she doesn’t have time for anything else, and Lt. Starker is my cello teacher. Seth’s great with technique, but says he’s not that great at theory himself, and he doesn’t have time either. He recommended a holodeck program, but it’s not on the list of rec programs that kids are allowed to access. The system said to see the ship’s operations officer or second officer…which, I think, are both…you?” I still wasn’t all that great with ranks and hierarchies.
Data nodded once. “Correct, Zoe. The program in question is a university level music theory course, and is part of the continuing education menu.”
“So, I didn’t do anything wrong? It’s just locked because it’s a for-credit college course?”
“Fabulous,” I said, in a tone that clearly expressed how very un-fabulous I thought this was. “Thanks, anyway, Data.” I moved toward the door, but he said my name, and I stopped, and turned back.
“Contact me tomorrow. I will have a solution for you.”
“I didn’t mean to put you to any trouble.”
“It is no trouble,” he said in the matter-of-fact way that meant it really wasn’t.
“Thanks, Data,” was all I could say.
I returned to my quarters to have lunch, and made it to my music lesson in time after all…barely.
Chapter 7: String Theory
It wasn’t my alarm that woke me the next morning, but the incessant chiming of the com-system telling me I had three new messages. It wasn’t a school day – we kept to a typical five days on, two days off schedule, even if our Starfleet parents didn’t – but Dana and I and a couple of the girls from our literature class often got together to hang out in her quarters and talk about boys or watch video entertainment, and sometimes all the teenagers would share holodeck time for games or virtual adventures.
Josh was completely in love with a pirate-themed game, and had even taken to wearing a bandanna and eye-patch to math class, until Dana had asked if he needed counseling for an apparent delusion. We both knew that Josh had a massive crush on Counselor Troi, so this embarrassed him on several levels. Score points to the girls!
I was about to call Dana and tell her I was opting for extra time in bed and the company of a trashy novel, when I remembered my conversation with Commander Data from the day before. He’d said to contact him. “Computer, time please?” I called out and was informed that it was ten-thirty. Not horribly late then. “Play messages in the order received.”
“Zoe, can’t do the pirate thing til I finish that essay. And no, I am not asking for help,” came T’Vek’s smooth tones. “But if you were to offer…?” He let the question trail off, and then added that he thought he’d be done around fifteen-hundred hours.
The second message was from my father, confirming that he and Data had spoken, and the third was from Data himself, asking me to bring my cello to one of the conference rooms on an upper deck where civilians weren’t generally allowed, at eleven-hundred hours. He’d thought to mention that I was to use his name if anyone questioned my presence there, but I barely heard that part of the message, because I now realized I had less than half an hour to get ready.
I told the computer to delete the messages as I was looking for something to wear. I knew this meeting would have to do with the ‘solution’ to my music theory class that had been promised, and I was suddenly nervous. The solution, of course, would be to wear something completely bad-ass, but since I hadn’t planned any such outfit, I settled for the outfit that has been the default mode of dress for teenagers for centuries: a t-shirt (mine was from music camp the year before, and bore the quote, “If music be the food of life, play on!”) and jeans. I also twisted my hair into two braids. It made me look like some weird futuristic take on Anne of Green Gables, but it kept it out of my way.
My cello and I made it to the conference room with two minutes to spare.
“Ah, Zoe, you are here,” came Data’s greeting as I entered the room. “Lt. Starker suggested that you would benefit most from a ‘hands on’ approach, so I have brought my violin.”
“You want me to play with you?” I asked. “In order to learn theory?”
“Research shows that the more senses humans involve in the learning process, the more retention they are likely to have,” Data explained. “We will begin with abstract theory, and move on to application. Please be seated.”
I collapsed into the nearest chair, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. “Data?” I began, feeling even awkward than when I’d first asked about the math class.
“Zoe?” Apparently I wasn’t the only person who mimicked other people’s tones.
“Are you sure you have time for this? I kind of thought you’d just fix it so I could use the holo-program, or modify it for a less advanced student, or…something. I really didn’t mean to be a bother.”
“It is no bother,” he said in the matter-of-fact tone that was usual for him. He turned one of the table-top terminals to face my chair, and sat where he could see it also. “Computer, begin lesson one.”
Using the computer program, as a guide, Data spent the better part of an hour quizzing me on musical theory. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to figure out how much I already knew, or just trying to torture me – it was an even bet either way by the end – but eventually he called up a piece of music, and lifted his violin from the table. “Shall we play?”
It wasn’t a difficult piece, just a folk song arranged as a duet for cello and violin, but playing with Data was difficult, and I found myself faltering.
“Is this piece too challenging, Zoe?” he asked, with as much concern as he ever showed. “Lt. Starker assured me you were an accomplished musician.”
“It’s not the piece.” I said. “It’s me. Or…I think it’s us. There’s a distinct lack of…” I searched for a word, fumbled and finally came up with “…meshy-ness.”
“Meshy-ness?” He seemed as if he were tasting the word and finding it unpalatable. “You are implying a lack of connection?”
“Kind of, yeah.” I said. “But it’s probably mostly me. Dad says I play by instinct, too much. Seth makes me sing the line I’m supposed to play, so I can feel the timing better.”
“Ah.” Data said. I’d come to learn that the monosyllable was the android equivalent of the lightbulb-in-your-head moments that humans…maybe all organic beings…have. “This is often the case when I am playing with new partners, Zoe, and it is not ‘mostly you.’ We are equally at fault. Your ‘instinctive playing’ means that you are not adhering strictly to the timing marked in the music. As an android, I default to strict time.”
I smiled then. “I’m not sure it’s just because you’re an android. I mean, the first few times I played duets with Seth we weren’t in synch at all.”
“How did you resolve the issue?”
“Breathing?” Data asked.
“We would sort of take an exaggerated inhalation breath at the beginning of the piece, and any place – ” I pointed to the music ” – like here – where there are natural breaks, we’d do the same thing. Breathing together helps you play together.” I paused a moment, and then, feeling both sheepish and really rude I asked, “Um. DO you breathe?”
“I do not require inhalation and exhalation of air in order to function,” Data answered calmly, as if I wasn’t some kid prying into the details of his anatomy. “However, my speech functions do require breath, just as yours do. Let us attempt the piece again, your way.”
It took a few times, and I had to really try not to laugh, not at Data, but because the situation seemed so absurd, but eventually we did manage to find some sort of cohesion, and by the end of our two-hour lesson, I was high on music.
As if an internal alarm had sounded inside his head – and maybe it had – Data stopped the lesson at that point. “I must return to duty, Zoe,” he told me. “If this time is acceptable to you, weekly meetings would be advisable.”
He was asking me to give up my lazy weekend mornings, but I found that I couldn’t even make a perfunctory objection. “If it’s really not an imposition,” I said, “I’d like that.”
“It is really not,” he assured, as he got up to leave.
“Data wait – ” he turned, and waited. “When you play with other new musical partners…how do you find…”
” ‘Meshy-ness’?” he supplied.
“Um. Yeah. I mean, yes.”
“We often employ the use of a metronome. I will see you in class, Zoe.”
I nodded, and muttered an embarrassed, “Thanks,” as I loosened my bow. Once I had packed my cello and the padd with the lesson we’d covered, I hightailed it to the nearest ‘lift, nearly whacking an older bald guy in the chest with my instrument as I entered. “Um, sorry,” I said, adding a hasty, “sir” when I realized that I was in a turbo-lift with Captain Picard.
He merely nodded, then seemed to focus for a moment on my t-shirt, just as the ‘lift stopped on one of the officers’ decks. “Play on,” he said, half-reading the quotation. “Indeed.” And then he was gone.
My mother was still on duty when I got back to our quarters, so I called Dana on the com-system and asked her to come hang out while I had lunch. “You would not believe how I spent my morning,” I began, once she’d arrived.
She took in my outfit and braided hair and sat cross-legged on the couch. “Let me just tell Josh that we’re not gonna have time to play pirates today,” she said.
And she was right.
Chapter 8: Friends and Lovers
Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG, although I’m bending time a bit with this chapter, as Jenna definitely doesn’t appear til Season Four, and in my head this story is more late Season Two/early Season Three.
Friends and Lovers
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I was shrieking at my mother, and I knew I shouldn’t be, but I couldn’t help it. “You cannot be one of our chaperones. You just can’t.” It was a week before our math tutorial’s planned ‘field trip’ to Serenity Five, and we’d just learned which of our parents had volunteered to accompany us. “You hate being on tour with Dad.”
My mother set her coffee mug on the table with the sort of care that meant she was trying not to yell back at me. “We are not going ‘on tour’ with your father, Zoe. We are going on a school field trip – one, I recently discovered, that you were instrumental in arranging.”
“Why does that mean you have to go? It isn’t enough that you dragged me away from my whole life and stuck me here with all these people who are perfect and nice all the time? Now you have to horn in on my activities, too?”
“You knew that two parents had to accompany the group, Zoe. T’vek’s father had already volunteered. Commander Data requested one of the mothers for the second chaperone. Only three of you have mothers living aboard the ship, and Doctor Crusher can’t take time away right now.” She paused, looking at me with far less anger than I expected. “I’d hoped you might see it as a chance to spend time together without my duties interfering.”
I wanted to stay mad at her, but if I’d argued that point she’d only have reminded me of my tendency to complain about her job. “I hate it when you’re right,” I grumped.
“Does this mean you’ll refrain from whining about your mother being on your trip?”
“I’ll consider it,” I said. “At least once we leave. Until then, no promises. Although…”
She tilted her head at me in that I-know-you’re-about-to-try-to-get-away-with-something way that all mothers have. “Yes?”
“Orchestra concerts are dressy occasions…and I haven’t had a new outfit in forever.” I said in my best too-casual voice.
“It always comes back to clothes. You know you have the right to use the replicator from time to time.”
“Replicator clothes are wrong, Mom. They’re all stretchy and shiny in the wrong places and…they’re just wrong. Besides, you know I like vintage.”
“And I suppose you’ve already done the research and discovered at least three boutiques within a reasonable distance of our hotel?”
“Four,” I said. “One specializes in shoes.”
“Shoes, too?” My mother let her voice drip with melodramatic world-weariness.
“Mom, please. It’s all about the shoes.” I glanced at the chronometer display on her desk, and gulped down the rest of my pineapple juice. “Gotta go meet Data for my theory lesson. He really doesn’t like it when I’m late.” And I grabbed my cello, and escaped into the corridor.
“Hi, Data. Sorry I’m late,” I breezed as I entered the conference room where we usually met for my lesson. “I’ve been practicing the Bach piece, but I’m having a problem hearing the chor -” I stopped mid-word as I realized that Data wasn’t the only person in the room. A blonde woman with lieutenant junior grade’s pips on her collar and a clarinet in her hand was sitting in the chair the android usually used. “Did I miss a message rescheduling this lesson?”
“You did not,” he assured me. “Zoe, this is Jenna D’Sora. Jenna, this is Zoe. I believe you will benefit from playing with her.”
“You’re the cello prodigy Data’s always talking about?” the woman said, her tone just this side of patronizing. “I expected someone older.”
“I’m working on it,” I said, focusing on the fastener of my gig bag. I kept my eyes averted while I pulled my bow out of its pocket, and then removed my cello from the main case. “Do you work with Data?” I asked, trying my best not to sound catty or jealous, and mentally scolding myself for being hurt. He’s just your teacher, Zoe, that’s all. But I couldn’t help the slightly snide remark that slipped out, “He’s never mentioned you.” Never mind that Data never mentioned anything that wasn’t relevant to the lesson at hand, unless he was specifically asked.
Data was either unaware of the tension between me and the lieutenant, or was choosing to ignore it. “Jenna is a member of the security department,” he explained. “We also play in the same chamber ensemble, but she often has difficulties finding cohesion with the group. I believe a smaller ensemble would help her learn to attain your – ”
“Meshy-ness?” I asked, offering him a real smile.
“Exactly,” he said.
Jenna added, in a tone that was a blend of sweetness and ice, “We’re also dating.”
I sat down and waited as Data drew out his violin, tweaked the tuning, and played an open A. The coolest thing about playing music with him was that we never needed a pitch-meter or piano in order to tune. He was always on key, and I have an excellent ear.. My own instrument was just a hair sharp, so I adjusted until I was matching his pitch.
“You will need to transpose to Concert A, Jenna,” he reminded his…girlfriend, but she merely nodded.
The three of us played together for about an hour, and we did manage to find some cohesion after a bit, though she balked at using my breath-matching method, even after the metronome didn’t work. “You’re anticipating,” I observed, when she came in early for the third time.
“I do it sometimes, still, too. You’re either not actually counting the measure, or you’re so concerned about coming in late that you’re anticipating the beat and coming in early.”
“Data…?” she turned to him for validation.
“Zoe is correct, Jenna. You are making your entrance early.” He turned it into a teaching moment. “How do you correct your anticipation, Zoe?”
“Tapping your foot works. It’s…amateurish, but it helps you feel the beat. And you can stop once you’ve learned the correct timing. Otherwise…count each fraction of a beat…like when you learn basic rhythm in school? Not just, one-two-three-four, but one-ee-and-a, two-ee-and-a…like that.”
“Thanks,” she said grudgingly. “I’ll try that.” There was a beep, and she got up to go. “I’m due back on duty,” she said, packing her clarinet into its case. “Data..?”
“Zoe’s lesson is typically two hours long,” he stated. “We cover theory as well as application.”
“Oh, well…I’ll see you for dinner?”
“As you wish,” he replied.
She brushed a kiss across his cheek and left the room, though she paused to throw me a frosty glare before the doors closed behind her.
“Data, if you need to go, we can discuss my theory homework next week,” I offered lamely, feeling suddenly awkward.
“I do not,” he said, “need to go. I have scheduled the customary two-hour block of time. Shall we continue?”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
“Perhaps I should have informed you that Jenna would be joining us,” he observed, as he put down the violin, and reached for a padd.
I set my cello on its side, and reached for my own device. “Whatever. Can you please just check my work? I kind of got caught up in playing the Bach instead of analyzing it the way you wanted.”
If he noticed the change in my attitude, Data didn’t say anything. Instead, he patiently worked through my analysis of the harmonics of the Bach prelude in question, having me play some of the sections I’d been fuzzy on, and demonstrating one particularly complicated passage on his violin. Even so, we finished before the second hour was up, and I began to pack my things.
“We have enough time for another piece,” Data pointed out.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t think your girlfriend realized how much time you’d been spending with me, and I’m certain she’s not thrilled about it.”
“She did not say anything,” he observed.
“She didn’t have to,” I said. “Is she going to be joining us next week?”
“We will be en route to Serenity Five at this time next week, Zoe.”
“When we get back, then?”
“Her presence here was beneficial to you both. Is there a problem?”
“Not exactly.” My cello was back in its bag, and I let it rest on the floor, crossing my hands over the scroll. “Studying theory with you…playing music with you…it’s more like spending time with a friend than taking a class. You don’t treat me like a kid. You treat me just like any other musician. Having Jenna here…kind of forced me to remember that I’m just your student.”
I don’t know what possessed me to tell him all that, but he seemed to take it in, process it, and form a response, all in the space of a breath or two. “Zoe, you are correct. You are my student. However, unless I am mistaken, that does not preclude you from also being my friend. I would be pleased to be counted among yours.”
I couldn’t help the cheesy grin I knew was spreading across my face. “Thanks, Data.” I said. I moved toward the door, but stopped to add, “Would you please tell Jenna I’m sorry I was rude to her?”
He tilted his head slightly. “If you are sincere in your wish to apologize, our wind ensemble is playing in Ten-Forward at twenty-hundred hours. If your schoolwork is complete, and your mother approves, I would appreciate your attendance.” He waited a beat, then added in a tone I swear held a hint of teasing, “As a friend.”
I laughed. “I’ll ask her,” I said. And then I really did have to get going.
Chapter 9: A Little Night Music
Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG, although I’m bending time a bit with this chapter, as Jenna definitely doesn’t appear til Season Four, and in my head this story is more late Season Two/early Season Three. Also? this chapter is a bit longer than I usually post…
A Little Night Music
“Hey, T’vek, you busy tonight?” I breezed over the com-channel, flashing a too-sweet grin at the screen.
My half-Vulcan/half -Betazoid male-friend-of-interest arched an eyebrow at me. “That depends, Zoe. Will you proofread my English essay before we engage in whatever nefarious activity you have concocted.”
“Nefarious?” I pretended to be shocked and insulted. “Nefarious. I’m never nefarious.” I waited a beat. “I am sometimes devious, but that’s a trait you likely appreciate since you share it…”
“Yes, I will proof your essay, although I should point out that the computer system includes spell-check and grammar-check functions.”
“But the computer does not have your…unique…turn of phrase.”
“What is it that you wish me to do?”
“Data has invited me to attend a concert of his woodwind ensemble this evening in Ten-Forward. I couldn’t possibly go without a suitable escort.”
“I’ll go, but I’m giving up a rousing game of tri-d chess with my father, so you’ll owe me a favor.”
It was my turn to arch a brow at him, two, actually. “You mean, aside from proofing your paper?”
“Mmhmm.” No one under the age of thirty should have been able to put that much seduction into a couple syllables of non-verbal noise.
“Name it.” I didn’t quite make those words a dare. Not really.
“The favor is that I don’t want you to invite any of our other classmates to join us. I will go with you only if it’s an actual date.”
I couldn’t help blushing, and not only because I’d had no intention of asking our other friends. “If it’s a date, there’d better be chocolate involved.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Zoe.”
“I learned from the best. Pick me up fifteen minutes before?”
“I will see you then.”
T’vek was nothing, if not prompt. He signaled at our door at precisely fifteen minutes before the hour, and offered me a replicated sunflower when I invited him in. “For you, m’lady,” he said, an insouciant grin on his face.
“Did you use telepathy on me?” I accused half in jest, “Because sunflowers are my favorite.”
“I’m not actually that good at telepathy,” he confessed while I stuck the flower in a quickly-replicated bud vase. “If we were touching, I could sense your surface thoughts, and I’m a bit of an empath, but when it comes to either Vulcan or Betazoid mental skills – ”
“You got kinda screwed?” I asked, smiling.
“Did you get the Vulcan ears, at least?” I asked, staring at the shaggy black hair that he wore pretty long, especially by starship standards.
“You can look for yourself,” he said, and tilted his head toward me.
Suddenly nervous, I shook my head. “Maybe later. Don’t wanna be late.”
“We won’t be,” he assured. “But we need to leave now.”
We left, and we weren’t late, but the whole time we were in the turbolift, my eyes kept straying to where the tips of his ears would be.
Ten-Forward was arranged for an informal concert, when we arrived, with rows of tables pushed close together, forming a half circle facing a small stage. Chairs and music stands were waiting, but there was no sign of Data or Jenna, or any of the other musicians.
“T’vek! Zoe! Over here!” Wesley Crusher’s voice hailed us from across the room. “I saved seats for you both.”
“Please tell me he has a date?” I whispered to T’vek.
“He’s with that blonde girl from our lit class. Anna? Annette? Something like that.”
I gave T’vek a look that clearly conveyed my assumption that he knew the girl’s name, and was just trying to show how uninterested in her he was. “Annette. She’s…mostly harmless, I guess.”
We wove through the people and tables, and joined our classmates. “Thanks for saving seats,” T’vek said, and I was glad he spoke, because I’d have sounded much grumpier.
“It’s no problem,” Annette said. “Zoe, I’m so glad you’re here. Are those new boots?”
“I finally broke down and used the replicator,” I confessed, adding, “I like your earrings.” It was true. I mean, they were tiny pearl studs, and way too prim-and-proper for me, but they suited Annette perfectly, and I suspected they were real.
“Thank you,” she said.
I heard T’vek and Wes exchanging whatever passed for greetings among guys, as I settled into my chair. Our table was round, and Annette and I were side by side, with Wes next to her and T’vek on my other side. Cozy enough, but not ideal for our first real date. A server came by, and T’vek whispered, “Do you trust me?” into my ear.
“To order dessert?” I asked. “Absolutely.”
I heard him say something about frozen hot chocolate with two straws and two spoons, but then the lights dimmed a bit, and the musicians walked out. Jenna, I noticed, had changed to civilian attire, though Data was still in uniform. Idly, I wondered if he even owned normal clothes.
I don’t know if the wind ensemble had improved since the teen brunch months before, or if I’d merely not been paying attention then – but I do know that our dessert was served mid-way through their first number, a swing piece that relied on heavy syncopation.
The chocolate was creamy and cold, part drink, part spoonable dessert, and I was glad T’vek had assumed I wouldn’t mind sharing, because it would have been far too rich to eat on my own. Our hands kept brushing against each other as each of us scooped spoonfuls, and I found myself caught between staring at him and focusing on the music.
After about forty minutes, there was a break, and Annette and I excused ourselves to the restroom. “You and T’vek make a cute couple,” she said, as we waited in line because even on state-of-the-art starships there are never enough stalls in the women’s restroom.
“Do we?” I asked, feeling my face go hot. “We’re good friends, but…”
“But it’s your first real date?” she asked. “Same for me and Wes, but you and T’vek seem better matched.”
“What do you mean?” I asked the other girl.
She looked at her shoes for a long moment, before meeting my eyes and explaining. “I’m not in that special math tutorial. I don’t have Starfleet ambitions. And he has bridge duty.”
“Oh, Annette…” Suddenly, she wasn’t just some girl from my lit class, but an actual person. “First, even though Wes is a little…single-minded, he’s really an okay guy. And second? Just because he wants to be an officer doesn’t mean he can’t have friends who have completely separate interests. I mean…T’vek doesn’t play any musical instruments, and performing is all I’ve ever wanted to do, but we’re still here together.”
She went into a stall, then, and a bit later it was my turn, but she was waiting for me in the corridor, and we walked back to our tables together. “Thanks for the pep-talk, Zoe,” she said before we rejoined our dates.
“No problem,” I said, smiling at her. “Look, Dana and I are getting together tomorrow night to work on that essay together. You should join us.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I might.”
We took our seats just in time for the second half of the concert, which was more classical fare, and less swing and jazz. At the end, Data set his clarinet aside, and reached under his seat, for his violin. “My fellow musicians have agreed to a slight departure from our usual format this evening,” he said. “This piece was originally written for the cello, and is from the third movement of Bach’s Concerto in D. It is most often transposed into the key of C Major,” he explained, “so that it can be played on a single string of a violin. The rest of our ensemble will be providing harmony.”
As Data began to play the Bach’s ‘Air on a G String,’ I reached for T’vek’s hand. “I love this piece,” I whispered in his ear.
T’vek’s response was to drape his arm around my shoulders, leaning close to whisper back, “Can you play it, on your cello?”
“Not yet,” I responded. We were both quiet for the rest of the piece, but his arm stayed comfortably around me.
After the lights had been turned back up, and the applause had faded to nothing, all four of us moved as a group to thank Data and the other musicians for their performance. The android was gracious, thanking all of us for coming. Wesley made a point of introducing him to Annette, and the three of them chatted softly for a while.
“Zoe, I want you to meet someone,” T’vek murmured in my ear.
“Give me a sec? I have to do something first.”
He moved slightly away from me, and I approached Jenna. “Hi,” I said softly.
“Zoe.” Her tone was cool, but not actually rude.
“I enjoyed your performance,” I said politely. “But I also wanted to apologize for being rude to you…before.”
She softened, and even smiled. “I wasn’t exactly nice to you, either,” she admitted. “And I’m supposed to be the adult here. Shall we start over?”
I nodded. “I’d like that.” I stuck out my hand, “Lieutenant D’Sora? I’m Zoe Harris, one of Data’s students. It’s nice to meet you.”
Her smile widened, “Nice to meet you, Zoe. Call me Jenna.”
Another officer called her away at that moment, but that wasn’t an issue, because T’vek had returned to my side. “What was that about?” he asked, directly in my ear.
“I’ll explain later,” I said. “There was someone you wanted me to meet?”
“Yes.” He led me through the mingling concert-goers to one of the musicians who had remained on the stage, and was packing her instrument. “Mother…”
The flautist looked up, her Vulcan features softer than most, with a warmth in her expression that truly surprised me. “Stevek,” she greeted, and I made a mental note to ask my friend about his name. “I am pleased that you attended this evening.”
“I always come when you’re playing,” he pointed out. “Mother, this is Zoe Harris. She’s in the math tutorial with Data, and is studying music theory with him. Zoe, this is my mother, Lt. Commander T’rella Mairaj.”
“My son speaks of you often,” she said, nodding politely at me. “I am pleased to finally meet you.” The corners of her mouth turned up in the merest hint of a smile. “Perhaps when you children return from Serenity Five you and your mother will join us for a meal.”
“I’d like that,” I said. “And I’m sure my mother would, too. It’s nice to meet you.”
T’vek spoke up then, saving me from figuring out what else to say, “Mother, Zoe and I were going to go look at the fish in the aquarium before returning to quarters. Is that acceptable?”
“One hundred hours,” was all the woman said, but I got the feeling there was an undertone I wasn’t really perceiving.
To my credit, I held my tongue until we had arrived at room that the science department had turned into an aquarium. Once we were inside the space, which was lit by watery blue light at this time of the ship’s night, I couldn’t wait to ask, “Stevek? How do you get T’vek out of Stevek?”
He grinned his roguish grin at me, and captured my hand. “Stevek’s my real name…my mother insisted on a Vulcan one. T’vek is a character in a series of Betazoid holo-novels about a pirate who sails the Opal Sea. I liked the name, and it was close enough to my own.” He rubbed his thumb over the back of my hand, and lowered his voice. “Besides, apostrophes are cool.”
I had to laugh at that. “So they are,” I agreed. “Makes me wish I used an umlaut or…something.” I meant it to be flippant, but my voice caught on the last word, mainly because T’vek was staring intently into my face. “What?”
“Are you in love with Commander Data?” he asked.
I blinked at him. “No. He’s helping with music. I admire him, and we’re…we’re becoming friends, I guess. And he seems to get me.” I paused, using my free hand to do what I’d been thinking about all evening: brush his hair back and see that yes, he did have Vulcan points to his ears. “Not as much as you get me, though,” I added softly.
“Mmhmm. Cuz it means I can do this.”
And he kissed me.
Chapter 10: A MotherDaughter Thing
A Mother-Daughter Thing
“Good morning, Sunshine!” my mother sing-songed into almost directly into my sleep-addled brain. When you were up until two in the morning, after a full day of music lessons, a concert, and your first kiss from a boy you really like, a doorway eight feet away totally counts as ‘almost.’ “Rise and shine! Up and at ’em!”
“You are evil, and have no soul,” I grumbled as good-naturedly as I could, mustering just enough strength to fire a throw-pillow at the woman who was exuding obnoxious perkiness. I missed, and she laughed, lobbing it back toward my bed.
“So, I’ve been told,” she agreed amiably. “Listen, daughter-of-mine, I have the day off. Get up, hit the shower, and let’s go have a mother-daughter breakfast in Ten-Forward and then get pre-field-trip mani-pedis.
That actually got me to sit up. “The really long kind, with the hot stones?” I asked, shoving my tangled hair out of my face.
“Can I get black nail polish?”
“They’re your hands,” she agreed. She probably knew I wouldn’t really have my nails painted black. Well, not my finger nails. “Though personally, I think a rich purple would be much more interesting.”
“Mmm.” I pretended to think it over. “Give me fifteen minutes?”
Approximately twenty-three minutes later we were back in Ten-Forward, where the tables had been restored to their more common configuration, at the same table where I’d been ordered to request admission to Commander Data’s math tutorial, except this time, we both had coffee. Okay, mom’s was black and brewed double-strong, while mine was a frothy mix of coffee and steamed chocolate milk, but still…
“You were out pretty late last night, kiddo,” mom observed.
“I was in by curfew.”
“Yes. Yes, you were. Thank you for that. Was it a good date? I noticed a flower on your nightstand.”
“I heard someone at this table fed T’vek the information that sunflowers were a personal favorite,” I shot back, hiding my blush behind my coffee mug. “But yeah…it was good. The dessert was nice. The music was nice. The kissing was nice.” I was kind of hoping she wouldn’t pick up on that last part.
So much for hope. “Yeah, you know, after the concert and all the booze we totally made out. Even got yelled at for sucking face in a turbo-lift.”
For a second, she almost believed me. Almost. “Nice try, Zoe.”
I shrugged. “You woke me up before I was ready. I deserved a little payback.” I sipped more of my mocha, then put the mug back on the table, and fiddled with the spinach and mushroom omelet that was rapidly cooling on my plate. “He’s a good kisser, actually,” I said softly.
“He was respectful?”
“He was nice. It was…nice.”
“Really nice,” I said. “Even kind of awesome.” I waited a bit, then asked, “Are you okay with this? I mean, you’re not going to go all over-protective and declare I’m not allowed to date til I’m thirty, are you? I mean, we’re locked on a hermetically-sealed starship, and it’s not like there are rabbles to be roused, or anything.”
My mother proved just how cool she could be. “I like T’vek,” she said. “I think you’re a little young for anything serious, but your teen years are meant for experimentation. As long as your schoolwork doesn’t suffer, and you keep me informed of where you’re going and what you’re up to, you can date.”
“No list of rules?”
“Do we need to go through all that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?”
“Fine.” She thought a minute. “No unsupervised time with him in our quarters. If he’s visiting, I want you to have other friends around. No late nights if you have classes the next day. No ‘sucking face’ in turbo-lifts – this is still a starship, after all – and if things get serious, I’d like you to talk to me, but I know I can’t force it.”
“Serious? How serious?”
“Zoe…” Why was it that everyone in my life had their own way of making my name convey a thousand things?
“Is this the bit where you tell me what happens when two people of compatible species and genders get up close and personal without taking precautions? Because I’ve been through all the mandatory sex-ed classes, and we had The Talk when I was eleven.”
My mother gave me her best mock-scowl. “I’ll spare you the tab-A slot-B discussion,” she said. “And just remind you that things that seemed gross when you were ten probably won’t anymore.” She studied her mostly-eaten grapefruit with sudden intensity before adding in a softer tone, “Don’t be in a rush to grow up, Zoe. You can always go forward, but you can’t go back.”
I held back the snarky comment I would have made any other day, and said instead, “I know this, Mom, really. I can’t promise I won’t do anything stupid, but I promise to try not to give you a reason to worry. Okay?”
That sentence earned me a rueful grin. “Worry has been part of the deal since the day you were born, Zoificus. It’s what parents do.”
I smiled. “‘Zoificus…’ I think I like that. Makes me sound like a goddess or something. Oh, before I forget, T’vek introduced me to his mother last night – did you know she plays the flute? – and she said – T’rella, I mean – that we should all get together for ‘a meal’ when we’re back from Serenity Five.”
“Sounds like a lovely idea,” my mother said. “Now, finish up, so we can hit the spa before alpha shift goes off-duty.”
A couple of hours later, I was sprawled on my bed, dressed casually in an old M-SOMATA tee shirt I’d stolen from my father, and a really comfy pair of sweatpants. Annette and Dana were due to arrive for an informal lit essay write-in and I had a feeling at least one of them would demand details about what happened after the concert last night.
I wasn’t wrong.
“Details, Zoe, details,” Dana said by way of a greeting as she breezed into the main room of the quarters I shared with my mother. “Annette said T’vek had his arm around you all night?”
Annette followed Dana into the room, looking a bit sheepish. “Sorry,” she said. “She badgered me the whole way here in the ‘lift.”
I just grinned. “Just wait til you and Josh finally get together,” I teased. “See how patient I am. And honestly, you might ask Annette what it’s like to date the ship’s official wunderkind.”
Dana turned to the other girl. “You and Wesley Crusher?” she asked.
Annette blushed, but on her the pink was pretty instead of just awkward looking – at least, to me. “He’s brought me to a few ship’s functions.”
I led my friends over to the table in the center of the room. My padd was already there, along with a tray of fruit juices and different snacks. “Last night wasn’t the first time?” I asked. “I had the impression it was.”
“It was, and it wasn’t.”
“First real date?” I asked, and Dana was nodding knowledgably. I slid into a chair. “He seemed to really pay attention to you.”
Annette grinned, “He did, but…I’m surprised you even noticed. You were ‘paying attention’ to a certain shaggy-haired fellow.”
It was my turn for blushing again. “Yeah, well…”
“And you two disappeared right after the concert. One minute we were all talking to Data, the next minute, you’d gone.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Where exactly did you go.”
“Gee, officer,” I quipped. “It was late; it was dark; we’d had chocolate.” I smiled sweetly at her. “He swore he was of legal age.”
“Chocolate?” Dana asked. “He gave you chocolate?”
“Yes. Well, no. He sort of…we shared a frozen hot chocolate during the concert, is all.”
“Mmhmm.” Dana could do a skeptical tone as well as any of us. “And after the event in question, Ms. Harris?”
“We went to the aquarium and looked at the Turkalian jelly-fish, and talked a while, and he kissed me, and then we spent a few minutes playing with the singing rays in the tide pool exhibit.”
Annette and Dana shared a significant look, before the former said, “Told you they made out. I knew it was destined as soon as Wes pointed out they were sharing a single dessert.”
“People share dessert all the time,” I felt compelled to say. “Besides, have you tasted that frozen hot chocolate? You’d die from the richness of it if you tried to eat the whole thing yourself.”
But my friends didn’t care about that. What they cared about was made explicit by Dana’s next barrage of questions, “So, is he a good kisser? Was there tongue? Did you get to see his ears? Did you kiss him back?”
“Yes, not the first time, yes, and of course,” I said, answering the questions in order. “And yes, he held my hand all the way home, and yes, he kissed me good night at my door, and yes, we’ll probably be disgustingly lovey-dovey during the entire field trip just to annoy you.” The last bit was meant in jest, but then I realized. “Or actually, maybe not, because we’ll each have a parent there.”
Annette and Dana shared another look, before Annette suggested, “Maybe we should actually work on our essays now.”
“Good idea,” I said.
We actually did work in companionable silence for the next two hours or so, reading bits of our work to each other, and helping to smooth each others’ writing. When each of us was satisfied with what we’d come up with, and our work was saved to our padds, Dana glanced up at Annette. “You never told us,” she said softly. “If Wes was any good at kissing.”
Annette wouldn’t meet either of our eyes for a long time. “I don’t know,” she said. “I like him. He keeps inviting me to things, and we did come close to a kiss last night…but it hasn’t happened.”
Dana and I were at a loss for what to say, until I suggested, “Try chocolate, and a trip to the aquarium.”
Annette smiled at that. “I might,” she said. “I just might.”
After my friends had gone, I got the notification that said T’vek had sent me his essay, which I’d promised to proofread. He’s actually a better writer than I am when he wants to be, but I made a couple of phrasing suggestions before sending it back. I got a text message in reply. Thanks, he’d written. And thanks for last night. My mother says she approves. See you tomorrow.
I grinned to myself, then went to my mother’s bedroom. She was engrossed in a novel, but put her padd aside so we could chat. “Sit,” she said, patting the edge of her bed.
I sat. “Were you listening to us earlier?” I asked.
“Not really,” she assured, reaching to brush my hair away from my face. “Mostly, I was just pleased that you have girl friends, Zoe. I never did, when I was your age.”
“Really?” I asked. I’m not sure why that surprised me.
“Really,” my mother said. “Most of my friends were boys, and most of my friends are men even now.”
“Is that why you and Dad separated? Because he couldn’t deal with you having male friends?”
“Maybe a little,” my mother agreed. “But having a long-distance relationship, even with video communications and faster-than-light travel is still taxing, and we have wildly different interests. We grew apart, and realized that if we wanted to remain friends, we couldn’t stay married to each other.” She paused, took a breath, then asked, “You know it has nothing to do with you, don’t you?”
I did, actually. “Yeah. I know that. Part of me kind of wishes we all lived together at Grandma’s farm on Centaurus, but most of the time I’m aware enough to notice that you’re both happier now then you were when we were always waiting for you to come home.” I waited a beat, then added, this time in a teasing tone. “But I still have zero interest in Starfleet, so don’t think that just because I’m not grumbling about being here anymore that I’m not itching to leave.”
Yet again, my mother surprised me. “I still think,” she said, “you haven’t really given it a chance. Not everyone ends up serving on ships.” I wrinkled my nose, but she continued. “Nevertheless, it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to have to figure out a path that’s uniquely yours. I can’t wait to see where it leads.”
I smiled, and hugged my mother. “Me either,” I agreed. “I’m going to bed now.”
I paused in the doorway. “What? I’ve been demoted from Zoificus?” But then I shook my head. “‘Night, Mom.”