Crush: Chapters 11-20

Chapter 11: I’m going to Serenity Five

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.

I’m Going to Serenity Five, And I’m Taking….

Five teenagers. Three adults (one of whom is an android). Two days in space. One runabout. It was the perfect setup for a really bad joke, or possibly the premise of a twenty-first century situation comedy. Either way, no one would have expected the reality of the situation to include – roughly two hours after we left the Enterprise – the first, inevitable utterance of, “I’m bored.”

It was Josh who said it, but we were all thinking it.

My mother was up in the cockpit with Commander Data, taking a turn as co-pilot, or I’m sure she’d have offered a suggestion. Instead it was Kenash – T’vek’s father – who offered, “The replicator has the pattern for a tri-d chess set. Would anyone care to play?”

I looked up from the corner of the bench seat where I had been pretending to read one of the books I’d downloaded to my padd. “I think chess is T’vek’s game…”

“Don’t you play, Zoe?”

I had to laugh at that. “Me? Chess? Way too structured and organized for my tastes, Mr. Mairaj. I mean, unless you really want to see the Kamikaze Kid at work?”

“It’s Kenash, Zoe,” T’vek’s father corrected mildly. “Perhaps my son will do me the honor?”

T’vek joined his father at the center table in the runabout Amazon‘s main compartment. “One game, Father, but that doesn’t help everyone else find something to do.”

Josh slid off his bench seat – on the opposite bulkhead from mine – and sprawled on the floor. “Co-ed, naked, multi-species Twister,” he suggested. “We should play that.”

“I don’t think we have enough variance for the multi-species version,” I shot back at him. “I mean, if one of us spins and gets ‘left tentacle, chartreuse’ we’re kinda screwed.”

“Spoilsport,” he groused back, mostly teasing.

“Bratling,” I countered.

“Children, children, please…” Dana sing-songed from yet another bench. She wasn’t the biggest fan of the oh-so-sophisticated banter Josh and I often descended into.

Josh pretended to sleep, then, and I went back not-reading my book. Dana was also reading, or pretending to, I noticed, and Wesley was… “Wesley Crusher, are you actually doing homework?”

The boy looked up at me, eyes wide. “We do have assignments due when we get home.”

“Yeah, but we also have an even longer trip to get back home.”

“Data agreed that if my assignments were complete I could take a shift as copilot,” Wes admitted. “I am an acting ensign, after all.”

“And we all know it,” muttered Josh from where he was still stretched out on the carpet, continuing, “Because you tell us at every opportunity.” He appended a good-natured, “Twerp,” to that.

“Twerp?” Wes asked. “Twerp? That’s the best you can do?”

I set my padd aside. Suddenly, things were interesting. “He has a point, Josh. That’s hardly the best insult you could come up with.”

“Oh, like you could do better?”

“Actually, I could,” I drawled. “But some of us were brought up with better manners than you generally exhibit. Malapert.”

“Malapert?” Wes asked?

“Look it up,” I suggested, turning back to Josh.

“Hoyden,” he fired at me, actually sitting up.

“Better,” I said. “Overweening.”

“Elf-skinned flax-wench,” he said.

I got up off the bench and took a step toward him, even as T’vek and his father remained focused – too focused – on their chess game. “Mad-brained miscreant.”

Josh got up as well, standing with his arms akimbo. We were literally tossing insults over Wes’s head at this point. “Cankerous, milk-livered harpy!”

“Pribbling, plume-plucked pignut!” I shouted, which – big surprise – drew the attention of T’vek’s father as well as my mother and Data.

“I think that’s enough, you two,” Kanesh said.

“WHAT is going on here?” my mother asked, as she and Data joined us from the cockpit. Data didn’t say anything, just pinned each of us – first me, then Josh, then T’vek, Dana and Wes – with his eyes. That reaction from him was actually worse than the reactions of either of the parents.

“We were bored,” Josh explained.

“And things got a little loud, I guess,” I added.

“A little?” my mother asked in that pointed way all parents seem to have.

“A lot,” I said. I wasn’t exactly contrite, but I did soften my tone.

“I think,” my mother said in her voice-of-infinite-patience, the one generally reserved for when she’s forcing herself not to kill me, “that if Kanesh and T’vek can suspend their game, we should all have lunch. Data, will you join us?”

“We are out of the shipping lanes and the runabout is on autopilot,” he responded. “I would be delighted.”

My mother arranged the seating, of course, placing me between herself and Data, and Josh on the other side of her, and next to Kanesh, so we couldn’t easily see each other. The food was basic – sandwiches, fruit, and chocolate pudding – and the conversation was stilted, until, finally, Data broke the silence.

“Zoe,” he began. “I could not help but notice that the insults you and Josh were using were extremely archaic. May I ask where you both learned them? Is the use of such language a growing trend among teenagers?”

I nearly choked on an ice cube trying not to laugh. “Um…no trend,” I said. “I don’t think. I don’t know about Josh, but back home I was a theatre geek. Our drama teacher gave us a whole list of Shakespearean insults. One of my friends actually created code to generate really good epithets.”

“And you, Josh?”

“Magnetic poetry,” he said. “Shakespeare Wit Kit.” He leaned around my mother, “Do you have copy of the code, Zoe?”

“I might,” I said, arching an eyebrow. We both dissolved into giggles after that, though.

“And peace descends on our happy band of travelers,” T’vek intoned, which only made everyone else – except Data – join in the laughter.

Of course, an hour after the meal, the original problem had reared its ugly head once more. “I’m bored,” Dana said softly. “And I don’t want to watch you and Josh hurling insults back and forth any more today.”

“Mom, have you got any awesome boredom-relieving ideas that do not involve doing all our homework right now?” I called across the cabin. Wes was sitting in the cockpit now, and Data was losing – losing! – to T’vek’s father in another game of chess.

“Mmm,” my mother said, “I’m going to Serenity Five, and I’m bringing an apple.”

I stared at my mother for a moment, then realized what she was doing. “I’m going to Serenity Five,” I said, “And I’m bringing an apple and a banana?” I made it a question, because even though this was a very old game, our version of it isn’t always alphabetical. Instead, you have to figure out the pattern.

“No,” my mother said. “You’re not. Dana?”

“I’m going to Serenity Five,” she said, “And I’m bringing an apple, and a book.”

“Welcome aboard,” Mom said, “T’vek?”

“I’m going to Serenity Five, and I’m bringing an apple, a book, and a chair,” he guessed.

“Nope. You’re stranded with Zoe. Josh. You’re up.”

“I’m going to Serenity Five, and I’m bringing an apple, a book, and a padd,” Josh suggested.

“Welcome aboard to you, too.” My mother took her own turn, adding a spoon. Then she turned to me again, “Zoe?”

“What, Kenash and Data don’t have to play?” I teased, but they were absorbed with their game. “Fine. I’m going to Serenity Five, and I’m bringing an apple, a book, a padd, a spoon, and an umbrella.”

“Welcome aboard, kiddo,” she said, smiling. “Dana?”

“Oh!” she said. “I thought I knew the pattern before, but it’s not what I thought.” She thought for a second. “I’m going to Serenity Five and I’m bringing an apple, a book, a padd, cherries, an umbrella, and a balloon.”

By now, of course, the pattern was obvious, T’vek and Josh both completed their next rounds, and mom did as well. I think we were up to about twenty-seven things in our list when Kenash finally said, “Checkmate. Great game, Data. I look forward to playing with you again.”

“As do I,” our tutor said.

The end of their game was enough to distract Josh, who lost the thread of what everyone was bringing. We played another round of “I’m going to…” which Kenash and Data joined in, though I was surprised by the fact that Data didn’t pick up the pattern any faster than the rest of us, but of course, with his memory he trounced us in the recall department. After that, we did agree to spend a couple of hours doing homework before gathering at the center table for dinner.

After dinner, we found ourselves still sitting around the central table, though the adults had dispersed – Data back to the cockpit with Kenash joining him, and my mother to the sleeping quarters for a sonic shower and some downtime – but this time it was Josh who suggested the game. “Let’s play truth or dare,” he said.

“Let’s not,” Dana said. “It only ever leads to people being upset, and anyway, there’s nothing really daring we can do on the runabout.”

“We could take over the ship, declare ourselves pirates, and demand to parley with the next interesting vessel we pass,” Josh suggested.

“That would be mutiny,” Wesley pointed out.

“Actually, it would only be mutiny for you,” I corrected. “The rest of us are civilians. It would only be a hostile takeover.”

“Poker?” T’vek said. He had left the table and was scrolling through the replicator’s entertainment menu. “Or a video entertainment?”

“Cards, maybe…but not poker.” I crossed the room to join him. “What other card games are there…?” Together we flipped through the options. “This one,” I said. “It’s completely silly which makes it great fun.” The replicator spit out the appropriate deck of cards, and we returned it to the table.

“Okay,” I said, “The person with the most experience playing goes first. I used to play with my father and some of the orchestra members. Anyone else?”

“I’ve played it,” Josh said. “Once or twice.”

“So I go first. T’vek, you’ll take first deal?” He dealt three cards to each of us, as I explained, “It’s the easiest game ever. We start with the basic rules…draw a card, play a card… and then just follow the instructions,” I said.

“How do you win?” Wes asked.

“At the moment, Wesley, you can’t.” Josh seemed a bit too gleeful as he said this.


Dana, who had snagged the rule card, explained, “Until someone plays a goal card, there’s no way to win.”

We played the card game with much laughter for a couple of hours. Then my mother and Kenash came to usher us all toward bed – the boys in the port cabin and the girls in the starboard one. Data said as he didn’t need sleep he’d be working and keeping an eye on the runabout all night.

Dana and my mother and I ended up chatting about favorite slumber party games as we got ready to sleep, and pretty quickly, they were both off to dreamland, but I set the screen on my padd to half-illumination and read for a while before I drifted off.

Note: The second half of the trip to Serenity Five will be in Chapter 12.

Chapter 12: I’m going to Serenity Five II

Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, Wesley Crusher, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG.

I’m Going to Serenity Five, And I’m Taking…. (Part II)

If the first day of our journey to Serenity Five was marked by boredom, the second was marked by a lack of sleep, at least for me and T’vek, for I was awakened in the wee hours of the ship’s morning by my padd, which had been open to a book as I’d fallen asleep, vibrating near my pillow.

Groggily, I tapped the screen, only to see that my friend…or was he my boyfriend now?…we hadn’t really discussed specifics, but whatever…had engaged a messaging program we generally only used in order to have clandestine conversations during classes. The message was brief, and merely asked me to meet him in the access corridor between the port and starboard sleeping quarters. I tapped back a reply, and slid out of bed as gently as I could, then tiptoed across the room, barefoot, using the glow of the padd’s screen to light my way.

The sound of the door sliding open made me freeze in place for a long second, and I strained my ears, trying to discern whether my mother or my friend Dana had noticed it. Both their breathing remained even, so I left the room, freezing again as the door slid shut behind me.

T’vek was in the specified corridor, a cushion beneath him, his back against the bulkhead. He looked up at me, grinning at the sight of what I wore as pajamas: an ancient Hard Rock Café: Risa t-shirt and a pair of coffee-colored yoga pants. “Join me,” he invited, patting the cushion.

I padded the few steps across the corridor and sat down next to him. “One comment about my choice of sleeping attire…” I threatened in a low whisper, but he knew I didn’t really mean it.

He’d brought a bright red emergency blanket with him, and he threw it over both our laps, telling me, with his mouth very near my ear, “Our parents and classmates won’t be able to hear us – the sleeping quarters are fitted with privacy filters – but Data might, if we’re too loud.”

I kept my voice low as well. “So what’s the plan? Are we taking over the ship so Josh can have his pirate dreams come true, or were you thinking that a late night make-out session is in order?”

In answer, he reached for my hand, twining his fingers through mine. “I couldn’t sleep,” he confessed, “And you’ve said more than once that you’re fairly nocturnal, so I took a chance that you might like to chat for a while. Though your idea of a make-out session does have some merit.”

“Some?” I teased softly, squeezing his hand. “Some boyfriend you are! Some merit?”

“Boyfriend?” he asked. I was expecting him to smirk, but he was quiet, even pensive.

“Are you?” I asked back. “I mean we haven’t really talked about it…” I blushed at looked away. “I’m sorry.” I said. “I should go.”

“Never thought you’d be the type to flee in the face of relationship definition,” he teased gently. “My girlfriend would mock you for that. She’s snarky.”

“Snarky, hmm? Sounds challenging”

“Oh, it is. But then so am I. And she likes a challenge.”

“Yeah,” I said, except that my voice didn’t work the way I wanted it to. “Yeah, she kind of does. Boyfriend.”

T’vek grinned at me. “Girlfriend,” he said. “Definitely.” His dark-eyed gaze found mine, and we stayed there, staring at each other for several seconds, before we both began to giggle. I started to pull my hand away, so that I could cover my mouth, and stifle the sound, but then he muted both our voices by kissing me.

The first few kisses we’d shared had been in the Aquatics lab on the Enterprise, and while they had been nice, they were very much first kisses. All bumped noses and tentative movements. The kiss T’vek initiated on the runabout corridor was much more intense, making me all tingly, and making my pulse race and…well…note to self, I thought, when meeting cute Vulcan/Betazoid boy in the middle of night, be sure to wear a bra.

I’m not sure exactly how long we spent actually making out. At one point T’vek’s hands slid partway beneath my shirt, which tickled, and I know I spent more time than was probably healthy caressing his ears – the points were so sexy, and it made him catch his breath – and we never did get around to any more chatting, but eventually slow kisses were replaced by embarrassed yawns, and even though we both knew it was a really bad idea our little cushion in the corridor was pretty comfortable, and we sort of fell asleep.

Well, more than sort of.

Big surprise: It was Data who woke us up. “Zoe,” he called in his usual matter-of-fact tone, though with less volume than he used in class, “T’vek. Please wake up.”

His voice brought me to groggy wakefulness. His presence, standing over us in the corridor, shocked me into complete wakefulness. “Data?” I asked, somewhat bashfully. “Um…are we in trouble?” I nudged T’vek so he’d be fully awake as well, but he just made a grumping sound, and his eyes remained shut. “T’vek,” I called a bit louder. “The Royal Navy has taken the ship!”

Somehow, that worked. T’vek sat up, clipping me in the chin with his head. “Ow!” he said.

“Ow?” I said. “You’re the one who bumped me!” I paused to rub my chin. “And your head is hard!”

“Sorry, Zoe,” T’vek said.

From behind us, Data said, “Excuse me,” in as pointed a manner as I’d ever heard him. We both turned toward him. “Starfleet regulations require that the access corridors remain clear at all times when a runabout is in flight. If you are not comfortable in the sleeping quarters, you are welcome to relocate to the main cabin.”

I looked from my tutor to my boyfriend, and back. Feeling oh-so-articulate, I said again, “Um…”

“Commander Data, what time is it please?” T’vek had risen from the cushion. He offered his hand and helped me to my feet.

“Not quite four-hundred hours,” the android replied. Had either of us been truly alert we’d have remarked about the round number.

“I think I’ll go back to bed,” T’vek said. He picked up the cushion and blanket. “See you later in the morning, Zoe?”

“Um,” I said for the third time. “Sure. Yes. Of course.”

He flashed me a sleepy version of his usual insouciant grin, stamped a chaste kiss on my cheek, and slipped back into the quarters he was sharing with his father and the other boys, leaving me in the corridor with Data. In my pajamas. And bare feet.

“You should also return to bed, Zoe.” Data advised quietly.

It was good advice, but once I’m up, I’m up, even if it’s four-thirty in the morning, not that there’s much difference between morning and evening in a runabout. I mean, the cabin lighting was softer, but there was nothing that really announced the hour. I bent to pick up the padd I’d left on the floor near where the cushion had been. “I should,” I said, brushing my hair away from my face with my other hand. “But I’m kind of awake now. Am I required to return to bed, or can I go make a cup of tea or something?”

“You may help yourself to the replicator, Zoe, of course, but do you not require more rest before you begin your day?”

“Probably,” I said as cheerfully as I could. “But when you tell my mother where you found me, and with whom, she’ll either kill me or ground me for so long I’ll wish I was dead, so I might as well enjoy a few hours of freedom.”

To his credit, Data seemed to accept that I wasn’t in the mood to retreat to my bed, and that I wasn’t entirely serious about my mother’s reaction. He nodded, and turned to walk back through the main cabin to the cockpit, and I followed him to the doorway.

“Data,” I asked. “Is the runabout still on autopilot?”

“Yes,” he said with his characteristic head-tilt. “Why?”

“If I wouldn’t be too much of a distraction, could I bring my tea into the cockpit and sit with you while I drink it?”

“I would be happy to join you in the main cabin if you prefer not to drink alone,” he countered.

“That’s kind of you, and all,” I said, “But I kind of wanted to sit in the front seat. Just for a while.”

Data seemed a little confused. “I was under the impression that you had ‘zero interest’ in a Starfleet career, Zoe. You do know that only commissioned personnel and licensed pilots may take the controls of a Starfleet vessel?”

“Yes,” I said. “This I know. But I don’t want to fly the ship, I just want to see outside, even if all I see is the warp field.”

He seemed almost dubious, but after a long second, he nodded his head. “Very well,” he said. “You may join me for as long as it takes you to drink one mug of tea.”

I wondered if he knew just how long a teenager could make one mug of anything last. Somehow, I suspected he might. He returned to the cockpit, and I went to the replicator for a mug of peppermint tea with as much sugar as it would let me have. I took it and my padd to the forward compartment, and settled cross-legged into the co-pilot’s chair. “Am I allowed to talk to you?” I asked, “Or would you rather I be quiet?”

“Is there a specific topic you would like to discuss?” he asked.

I watched him checking out all the displays, and noting the status readings. “Not really. Although, if you’re open to being bribed not to tell my mom or Kenash about T’vek and me…”

“Bribing an officer is a serious offense, Zoe,” he responded.

I blinked at him, not certain if he was teasing me. “How serious?” I asked. “Are we talking ‘tons of extra homework’ serious or ‘suspended from class’ serious?”

“Historically,” Data told me, “the punishment for bribing an officer of the Royal Navy could be anything from confinement to quarters to beheading.”


“It was considered an honorable death. Pirates and privateers, on the other hand,” and he emphasized the word ‘pirates’ just a little bit, “were traditionally hanged by the neck until dead.”

“Seems kind of extreme,” I observed, after a thoughtful sip of my tea.


“You didn’t actually answer the question, though,” I pointed out.

“That is true; I did not,” he agreed. He continued, and I could tell, now, that he was still playing a character, of sorts, “Still, I am inclined to be lenient, as this is your first offense.”

“Please, Commander Data, sir,” I said, enjoying our impromptu game, and even attempting (badly) a British accent, “I am ever so remorseful and promise we’ll never get caught in such a position again.”

“See that you do not,” he said.

We were both silent for a long time, and I watched the star trail outside the our tiny ship. Finally, I said, “Data, has anyone ever told you that for a Starfleet officer, you’re incredibly cool?”

Time spent with all of us in the tutorial had inured him to our slang. He didn’t ask why I was remarking upon his temperature. Instead, swiveled his head toward me and favored me with the slightly goofy, slightly shy, almost-smile I would eventually realize was as close to an organic expression as he ever got. I didn’t know if it was because I’d told him he was cool, or because I’d said he was cool for an officer and not an android.

“Go back to your bunk, Zoe,” he said softly. “Since I became aware of your presence in the corridor before an official alert sounded, there is no need for a notation in the ship’s log, or to inform your parents.”

I knew better than to refuse his offer. I left the cockpit post-haste, though I did pause in the doorway long enough to utter a soft, “G’night, Data. And thank you.” I returned my empty mug to the replicator, and moved back through the cabin to the too-dark sleeping quarters and bed. It wasn’t until I was nearly asleep that I realized I’d left my padd on the empty co-pilot’s chair.

Chapter 13: Your Mission

Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, Wesley Crusher, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG.

Your Mission…Should You Choose to Accept It

I don’t know what, if anything, Data said to my mother. Neither she nor Dana woke up when I returned to my bunk after T’vek, tea, and talking, and when I finally woke up, it was because my friend had come into our cabin to get me.

“Zoe,” Dana was coaxing, “C’mon! We’re almost there, and Commander Data wants to go over ground rules and assignments.”

“Don’t wanna,” I grumbled, but I knew I couldn’t afford to have an adult come get me, so I grudgingly got up, changed into a fresh t-shirt and jeans, and twisted my hair into a messy knot at the back of my head. Sure, I dawdled in the bathroom every morning on the ship, but when I had to move quickly, I could. “Tell them I’ll be right out?”

“Sure,” Dana said, and went back to the main cabin.

It was about five minutes before I joined her, because there was no way I was going to see T’vek and everyone else without washing my face and brushing my teeth. I slouched into the chair that had been left open for me, between Dana and my mother, at the main table, muttering, “Sorry to keep everyone waiting,” with as much sincerity as possible.

To her credit, my mother didn’t grill me about my tardiness in front of the group. Instead, she passed me a mug of heavily creamed coffee, and flashed the look that meant we’d be talking later. T’vek also flashed me a look, one that was more of a smug smirk than anything else. I responded with a very slight shake of my head. We’d talk later.

“Your late arrival has not adversely affected our schedule,” Data assured me. Then he addressed all of us. “The hotel where we will be staying has a shuttle bay on the roof. Once we land, a representative will clear our arrival on Serenity Five and escort us to our rooms. Commander Harris, you will be sharing a pair of connected rooms with Zoe and Dana.”

My mother nodded her acknowledgement of this, and then Data continued. “Mr. Mairaj, you will be sharing a similar pair of rooms with T’vek, Josh, and Wesley.”

“Can’t I share with you, Data?” Wes asked.

“I believe you will be more comfortable with your classmates, Wesley,” Data answered. “However, I will be available at all times should the need arise. I have already sent copies of our itinerary to each of your padds. Please refer to them as I go over the schedule.”

I had been half-listening up to that point, more concerned with ingesting caffeine than absorbing information, but when Data mentioned our padds, I realized I didn’t have mine. In fact, there was a good chance it was still sitting in the cockpit of the shuttle unless Data had picked it up, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t turned it off, or locked the access, which meant that if anyone had picked it up, my book, my homework, a few messages from friends back home, and my journal were readily available. I went from zero to paranoia in about a tenth of a second, and aspirated my coffee.

“Zoe! Are you alright?” My mother was moving the mug away from me, and reaching for napkins. Even in Starfleet, mothers seem to have an endless supply of napkins. Thankfully, she just handed me a few rather than trying to wipe my face for me.

“I’m…um…yeah, fine. Sorry. Went down the wrong pipe.” My explanation was lame, but accurate. “I don’t have my padd with me,” I added.

“Share with me,” Dana said from my other side. “If you go back for yours, you might be tempted to crawl back in bed.”

I flashed my friend a grateful, if slightly rueful, grin, and we bent over her padd together, while Data outlined our game plan: a free afternoon to rest and acclimate ourselves to being on a planet, followed by dinner in the hotel restaurant, and a couple of hours of recreational time afterward. Day two would be our first of two trips to the amusement park. Day three involved a tour of a hands-on science and technology museum in the morning, and a free afternoon.

Day four was all about hanging with my father – a tour of the concert hall, a question and answer session with the orchestra members, lunch, a public lecture explaining the pieces that would be played, and then the concert, with a late dinner afterward. The next morning was open, but in the afternoon we were back at the amusement park, this time to pay closer attention to the information we needed for our assignment, helped out with a behind-the-scenes tour, and finally, on day six, we’d be leaving.

“If no one has any questions about the itinerary,” Data said, “let us move on to your assignments.” He explained that we were to use the principles that ruled the function of the grav-coasters at the amusement part to design a theme park of our own. “You will work as a group,” he instructed, “to choose a theme, a location, and design five rides that use the same mathematical principles you experience on Serenity Five.”

He gave us a few minutes to ask questions then dismissed us to pack our belongings. My mother went to the cockpit to take the controls since we were nearing the point where autopilot wouldn’t be an option, and T’vek’s father went with the boys to supervise their packing. I was about to follow Dana back in our quarters, when Data stopped me.

“One moment, Zoe,” he said softly.

I was out of my chair already, so I just turned to meet his eyes. “I’m sorry I was late,” I said again. “I’m actually surprised my mother didn’t wake me up.”

“I informed her that you had been awake and drinking tea, and that as we had no specific meeting time, there was no harm in allowing you to rest.”

“You covered for me? I thought you couldn’t lie?” I was trying to keep my voice down, but my disbelief was pretty obvious.

“That is not entirely accurate. As a rule, I do not lie, but I am capable of doing so when required. However, you were awake and drinking tea last night, and we agreed that I would not inform your mother.” His expression relaxed from what I’d come to think of as ‘officer’ mode to ‘normal person’ mode. “As well, I believe that we also agreed that we were friends as well as teacher and student.”

“Well, yes, but, I kind of figured you were just being nice. Which, I guess, would have been a lie, in a way. Sort of. But anyway, I’m pretty sure you hadn’t really planned this to be an analysis of typical friendship behavior?”

“That assessment is correct. I merely wished to return your padd without causing you any embarrassment. You inadvertently left it behind last night.”

He held the device out to me, and I took it. “Thanks, Data,” I said, and then, sheepishly I asked. “Um, did you…read anything that was on it.”

“I did not,” he said. “However, in the future you would be wise to set a time-delay so that your password protection will engage automatically after a specified length of idleness. I would be happy to assist you if you do not know how to set that function.”

“I do,” I said. “I just haven’t bothered. But I will.” I waited a beat then added, “I meant what I said last night. You really are incredibly cool.”

“Thank you, Zoe. Please attend to your packing now. I must relieve your mother so that she may give you her full attention.”

Obviously dismissed, I beat a hasty retreat back to the cabin, where Dana was sitting on her bunk. “Okay, Zoe,” she said, “what was that about, and where is your padd?”

“Right here,” I said, waving it at her. “I kind of left it somewhere I shouldn’t after doing something naughty that I will tell you all about once we’re no longer in a shuttle that is only slightly larger than my dad’s left shoe.”

“How naughty?” my friend wanted to know.

I grinned. “Deliciously naughty.”

I totally deserved to be hit by the sneaker Dana threw at me.

Chapter 14: Considering the Letter P

Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, Wesley Crusher, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me.

Considering Things that Begin with the Letter P

Hotels, at least hotels that cater to humanoid guests, are pretty much the same throughout the Federation. Oh, sure, some are more luxurious than others, but after you strip away the glitz and glamour, it all comes down to this: beds, restaurants and swimming pools. I’d visited my father on tour enough to know that the best choice of bed is the one closest to the restroom, so as soon as my mother, Dana and I arrived in the room – suite, really, since it was two rooms connected by a bathroom, and had a common living area – assigned to us, I put my luggage on that bed. “Dibs on this one,” I called.

“So I get the wall,” Dana asked?

My mother was giving me one of those looks, the kind that only parents ever master, so I swallowed my smug grin and asked my friend, “Unless you want the other one?”

She shrugged. “I’m kind of used to the wall after living on the Enterprise so long. Dad and I were aboard from the beginning.” She put her stuff near – but not on – the other bed in our room. My mother was already making the single on the other side of the bathroom into her own home-away-from-the-ship.

“I hadn’t realized,” I said, moving my bag to the floor now that we’d agreed the bed was mine. “Do you mind it much? Living on the ship?”

She shrugged again. “I get to be with my father. After my mother died, there were all these relatives who swooped in and tried to ‘rescue’ me. They said a Starfleet officer couldn’t raise a daughter on his own, especially not in security, but then they started the Galaxy class program – sending families.”

“I thought your father was a tactical specialist?”

“He is. Tactical is a blend of command, ops, and security.” My friend wrinkled her nose. “Zoe, do you really not know how ship’s departments are divided?”

It was my turn to shrug. “Hi, have you met me? The girl who stomped around for three months because she didn’t want to be on the ship everyone else thinks it’s an honor to be assigned to?” I ran a hand through my hair, using the motion as time to think. “I’ve always been closer to my father than to Mom,” I said. “He’s a musician; he’s flamboyant, he’s…fun. I mean, yeah, he left me with my grandmother more than I really wanted, but…look, I look like my mother, but I’m really Daddy’s girl, you know?”

Dana sighed. “Just when I think you’re blending in,” she teased, “you’re suddenly more alien than…well…”

“Actual aliens?” I offered, grinning.

“Something like that,” she agreed.

“How ’bout we skip Starship Operations 102 and go down to the pool,” I suggested, changing the subject.

“Are we allowed?”

“Why wouldn’t we be?” I asked. “You brought a bathing suit, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “But we should check with your mother. Also, I haven’t congratulated her yet.”

I was suddenly extremely confused. “Congratulated …my mother?”

“Zoe!” Dana had joined the ranks of people who could use the three letters of my name to convey a complex assortment of emotion, a skill that was evidently not restricted to adults. In this case, I heard notes of exasperation, frustration, disbelief and even a bit of chagrin.

“What?” I tried not to make it sound defensive.

“You didn’t notice that Data called her ‘Commander’ this morning? Or see that her pips have changed.”

“Um…no?” She gaped at me, so I added, “In my defense, I hadn’t had coffee, and was kind of stressing over where I’d left my padd.”

“You really don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?? Now I was exasperated.

“Your mother got her promotion to Lieutenant Commander. She didn’t tell you?” It was my turn to offer a stupid stare and dropped jaw. “Zoe?”

I shook my head, trying to get my brain working again. “She hinted this morning that we’d be talking later, but I thought it was just to yell at me about bugging Data in the middle of the night, and then oversleeping.” I shrugged. “And honestly, I’m still not up on the telling-rank-by-looking-at-pips thing. Isn’t a pip a citrus seed, anyway?”

Dana just shook her head at me. “Zoe, I get that you’d rather not be on the ship, but your mother’s been in Starfleet your entire life. How could you not know this stuff?”

I had the good sense to look ashamed. “It never really interested me all that much. She wasn’t away as much when I was younger – short missions, close to home – and then she dragged me to the ship, but mostly when I’m with her she’s just Mom, not an officer.” I waited to see if the lecture was over, and since it seemed to be, I said, “So, wanna go to the pool?”

Dana smirked. “Sure. Just as soon as your mother says it’s okay.”

Dana and I went through the connecting bathroom to my mother’s room, where she was in the middle of a com-chat with my father. She held up a hand, signaling us to wait quietly, so we sat on the end of her bed. “I think you should tell her yourself,” she said to my father’s image, but she lowered her voice for the rest of the call, so I couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to be telling me. After a beat, she turned to us, “Girls?”

I put on my best innocent look, and paraphrased a character from an ancient twenty-first century film my father and I had watched one night. “Mom,” I said, “I’ve been considering things that begin with the letter p.”

My mother’s eyebrows arched in response to this announcement, for this was a familiar game. “Let me guess,” she said. “Pizza and pillow fights?”

“Actually no,” I said, crossing my legs. “I was thinking more along the lines of permission, pool, and…what was that other thing, Dana?” Dana shook her head, so I just continued, “…promotions.”

My mother’s delighted smile was so beautiful that I felt bad I had to be schooled by a friend in order to realize what was going on with her. “So you did notice,” she beamed. “Zoe, I wanted to tell you before we left the ship, but we were so busy, and then this morning…”

“Actually, Mom, Dana noticed. You know that if there was a class testing me on Starfleet knowledge I’d be an abysmal failure.” I paused, but added sincerely. “But I’m really, really happy for you, Mom, even if I don’t understand exactly what you get other than a fancier title and different jewelry.”

For a long moment, I was afraid my mother would be offended by this confession, but she actually laughed. “Oh, Zoificus,” she said, “you are so much your father’s daughter.”

I smiled. “Well, I have his musical ability and sense of humor,” I agreed. “But the killer hair, I get from you. And since you’re calling me Zoificus again, does that mean the swimming pool is a go?”

“Mmm.” My mother pretended to think it over, while Dana watched our byplay. “Commander Data specifically said the time before dinner was to be spent ‘resting’.”

“Actually, Commander Harris,” Dana pointed out, “Data said ‘resting and acclimating’ ourselves to being planet-side.”

I nodded at my friend. “She’s right,” I said, “And I can’t think of any better place to acclimate than in a swimming pool.”

“Point taken,” my mother grinned. “Go put your suits on, and I’ll even join you, but Dana, dear, please call me Emily. I’ve asked you more than once now.”

“Yes ma’am,” Dana replied, “Emily.”

Roughly half an hour later, I used a hotel towel to wipe pool water from my eyes, and then padded barefoot over to the deck chairs where my mother and best friend were reclining. Taking the chair they’d left open between them, I stretched out, and folded my arms behind my head.

“Nice swim, Zoe?” Mom asked, looking up from the magazine she was reading on her padd.

“I’m considering a few more p-words,” I said.

“Do tell?”

I grinned, and listed them for her: “Peachy… pleasant … perfection.

It’s a good thing I didn’t know how soon that feeling would fade.

Chapter 15: Guilt, Flattery, and Bribery

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.

Guilt, Flattery, & Bribery

A day and a half of non-stop togetherness with your friends, your mother, your boyfriend’s father, and your teacher, even when said teacher is technically a friend, too, can be exhausting.

We’d had a blast the first day at the theme park, hooking up with three Andorian kids who were on a last vacation with their father before he transferred to a deep space station. With our group expanded to eight, we didn’t have to deal with the fact that amusement park rides were designed to be ridden in pairs and force someone to ride alone or stay on the ground, and I noticed that Dana and the older Andorian boy – Rikkan – were getting along so well that Josh was starting to act a little jealous.

I’d even asked her about that when the two of us had excused ourselves for a restroom run. “You’re being kinda flirty today,” I teased. “Do you have an antenna fetish I didn’t know about before?”

My best friend blushed. “Rikkan’s kind of nice,” she said, staring at her reflection in the mirror and tightening her ponytail.

“Mmhm. And pretty cute, too.”

“You don’t think it’s weird? Being into someone who isn’t human?”

“I’m dating T’vek,” I pointed out. “Anyway, he’s probably asking if it’s weird to like someone who is human. But, I thought you liked Josh?”

Dana avoided my eyes. “I did,” she said. “I do,” but he’s clearly not that into me.”

I offered her a sympathetic smile. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”

For the rest of the day, Josh and Rikkan tripped over themselves to get Dana’s attention, and T’vek and I kept looking for opportunities to slip away, but Pirates of the Mutara Nebula was closed for maintenance, and eventually we decided to focus on our assignment – evaluating the biggest scariest rides.

Similarly, the next morning’s trip to the technology museum seemed designed to keep us in a group. The guide’s amplification system did nothing to make her inability to enunciate any clearer, so we had to stick close and take turns interpreting for each other.

When we were finally back at the hotel that afternoon, I was so crabby I didn’t even want to make my mother take me on our promised shopping excursion, I just wanted ten minutes of quiet, so when everyone else went to lunch, I got permission to go back to our hotel room and take a nap. Of course, I wasn’t really sleepy. Just tired of being around people.

I was also distracted by Dana’s comments the night before, about not really understanding the command structure of the Enterprise. I sprawled on my bed trying to come up with ways to ask Wes to coach me without making me seem stupid or allowing him to feel smug. Why Wes? Because there are some things you don’t admit to the boy you’re making out with in shuttlecraft corridors. Or to your best friend. Or to the boy your best friend likes. Or to the teacher you maybe, probably have a crush on, except that you have a boyfriend, and it’s probably just that he’s so vastly different from any other adult that you know.

When the com-system chimed with an incoming call from my father, then, I happily answered it, “Hi, Dad.”

“Zoetrope! Good to see you, kiddo. Are you enjoying Serenity Five? Where’s your mother, and your friends?”

“Back at you, Dad. And to answer in order, yes, and they’re all at lunch. I was feeling a little peopled-out.”

“Too ‘peopled-out’ to meet your old man for a coffee? We’re not far from your hotel, and we have a flitter.”

“Coffee’s do-able,” I said. “I should check with Mom or Data, or at least let them know where I’ll be. I mean, we have the afternoon designated for free time, but it was kind of suggested that we should stay nearby.”

“I’m sure your mother won’t mind,” my father said, “Change into something without writing on it, and be in the lobby in ten minutes.”

Dad was prompt, as always, and the flitter (“A rental, Zoe, I swear!”) was pretty luxe for a cloud-to-ground model. We zipped across town to a smaller, fancier, hotel in the arts district, one with a coffee bar on the ground floor, and he led me to a table in the corner.

“I had an interesting conversation with that teacher of yours, Zoe. The gold fellow. Mr. Data.”

Commander Data,” I corrected absently, looking around at the art deco design of the place, and the array of art on the walls. “Wait, you talked to him about more than this trip?”

“He told me you were working through a college-level music theory course together. Did you know he’s arranged for you to receive credit for it?”

I hadn’t, but somehow I wasn’t surprised. “Assuming I pass without frying his circuits,” I said. “He didn’t happen to mention how I was doing?”

“I believe the phrase ‘excellent student’ might have passed his lips.” My father’s tone darkened a bit, “Though he also referred to your math work as ‘adequate.'”

I grinned at that. “Considering that my own description of my math abilities was ‘abysmal’ when I started his class, ‘adequate’ means a lot. He’s got this way of guiding you toward the answer to a question without actually doing the work for you. If all my math teachers had been like him, I’d probably have a way better GPA.”

My father signaled a waiter while I talked, and he ordered a double espresso, then looked at me, “Do you want hot chocolate, Zoe?”

“Honestly, Dad, I’m fifteen, not five. I’d like a macchiato, please.” I was learning to like coffee without chocolate or sweeteners in it, but still needed milk.

“You’re growing up so fast…has it really been only four months?”

“Six, if you count the last two months of school last year, when you were on Earth. You know I’ll be sixteen in a few weeks. Legal for cloud-to-ground vehicles.”

“I don’t think you need to worry about a flitter license while you’re on the ship, Zoe,” he pointed out. “Your mother says you’re adjusting better?”

The waiter brought our drinks, and I waited for him to leave before answering. “Kind of, yeah. I might not hate it quite as much as she thinks I do.”

“She also said there’s a boy…?”

“T’vek, Dad. I told you about him in the last three messages I sent. Don’t you open your mail?”

“Tour’s been keeping me busy, kiddo. You know how it is.” He took a deeper swallow of his espresso than was usual. Almost a gulp.

“Is this your lead-in to telling me I don’t get to spend Christmas with you?”

“No,” he said. “We’d love to have you with us for the holidays.”

I pushed my cup away – it was too hot for me, anyway – and stared at my father through slitted eyes – “Who is ‘we,’ Dad? What are you not telling me?”

My father had the decency to blush. He picked up his cup, then set it down again. “You know your mother and I have been separated for over a year.”

“Well, yes, but – I mean – I thought that was just because of her assignment to Enterprise. Mostly.”

“Oh, Zoe. That was part of it.” He really did seem upset. A little. “We’re ending our marriage, kiddo. I’ve met someone, and she and I – ”

“Met someone?” I wanted to yell. I wanted to throw my cup at him. I wanted to throw myself at him and bawl like a little kid. Instead, I kept my voice as low and calm as I could. “Does Mom know?”

“About the divorce? Yes, Zoe, contrary to your assumption your mother and I actually do communicate.” My father could out-snark everyone, including me, when he wanted to. Generally, he only wanted to when someone – usually me – made him angry.

“No, about her replacement. What’s her name? It is a ‘her’ isn’t it?” I’d heard stories about my father’s life before he and my mother had gotten together. I really didn’t care, but I was pretty angry, too.

“Gia is not a replacement,” my father began.

“Isn’t she?” I interrupted.

“She is not. She is a lovely woman, as well as being the archivist for the orchestra. I’m sure you’ll like her if you just give her a chance.”

I picked up my coffee cup, not to throw, but to drink from. I figured having something in my mouth would stop me from screaming. What was it about my parents dragging me to public places before they dropped news-bombs on me? “Is she here?”

“On the tour? Yes, of course. She travels with us.”

“No, not here. Here. In the hotel. Right now. I mean, isn’t this where you introduce me to her and make me promise to behave in front of my classmates tomorrow?”

My father’s eyes widened in surprise. Apparently he hadn’t thought of that. “Actually, no. She had a meeting with the manager of the concert hall. I was hoping you and I could hang out a while longer.”

“I was supposed to go shopping.”

“Excuse me?”

“With mom. I promised not to bitch – ”

“Watch your language – ”

“Whatever. I promised not to grump about her being a chaperone if she took me to a vintage dress shop. I didn’t have anything appropriate for a concert.”

My father sighed. “I suppose the dress you have in mind is ridiculously expensive?”

“Actually it’s not,” I said, a bit too brightly. “But the matching shoes and bag…they’re gonna cost you.”

“And you won’t embarrass me or Gia tomorrow in front of your mother and your classmates?”

I tipped the last of my drink into my mouth, and gave my father my best catty smile. “I will,” I said, “be on my absolute best behavior. Did I mention there are earrings, too?”

I didn’t really want to go shopping. At that moment I would have preferred to be in my room at Gran’s farm on Centaurus with angry music blasting into my ears. I wouldn’t have even minded being on the Enterprise, but since neither of those things were possible, an expensive shopping trip would have to do.

It was long past dinner time by the time Dad returned me to the hotel. He’d called my mother to tell her that I was okay, and still with him, but I’d told him not to go in with me. I was surprised to find, not my mother waiting in the lobby when I walked in with my two garment bags as well as another bag with shoes and accessories, but Data. He had been sitting in one of the chairs, but he rose as I approached.

“Zoe,” he said. And while he meant my name merely as an acknowledgement of my presence, he seemed disappointed in me. Or, as disappointed as he could be.

I couldn’t meet his eyes, and dropped my bags on the floor so I wouldn’t have to. “You’re pretty pissed at me, aren’t you?”

“You know that I cannot be ‘pissed’ at anyone. However, your behavior was irresponsible.”

“I left a note. For you and for my mother. And Dad called. And technically the afternoon was free time. It’s not like I went out and got drunk.”

He blinked at me a couple of times. “Technically, you are correct. You did not break any of the established rules for your comportment on this trip.”


“But there was a tacit understanding that you were to stay near this hotel, and that obtaining permission to deviate from that plan was the preferred choice, was there not?”

“Yes,” I admitted.”There was.” I waited a beat to see if he was going to add anything. When he didn’t, I looked up. “I wasn’t comfortable asking Mom if I could skip spending time with her to spend time with Dad. I should have gone to you, but I was afraid you’d defer to her. I was disrespectful of your role as my teacher and my friend,” I said softly. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

I don’t know what Data would have said to a subordinate officer, but in that moment I could see the ‘command quality’ Wes and T’vek were always talking about when discussing ranking officers. He would have been totally within his rights to restrict my activities for the rest of the trip, but instead he simply said, “See that it does not.”

I nodded then bent to retrieve the bags I’d dropped. “Good night, Data,” I said, as I walked toward the bank of lifts.

“Sleep well, Zoe,” came his response from somewhere behind me.

Of course, facing him was only my first task of the evening. When I got back to our room, my mother was sitting on the sofa, and the door to the bedroom I shared with Dana was closed. She patted the seat next to her, and I left my bags near the door to join her.

“If you’re going to yell at me,” I said, “Can it wait ’til tomorrow? I know you think I waltzed out to spend time with Dad and had a great time, but he didn’t even wait half an hour before telling me that you’re getting divorced and that he has a new girlfriend.”

“Commander Data met you in the lobby?” she asked mildly.

“Yes. Do you think there’s some kind of award for disappointing an android?”

“If something had happened to you, it would have been his responsibility,” my mother pointed out. “I wanted to yell at you, but you were with an adult, and you did leave a note. And it’s possible you should have heard about the divorce from me.” She offered a weak smile.

I kicked my shoes off and curled up against her on the couch. “How ’bout we call it even on this one, Mom. I’m sure there will be lots of other things you can yell at me about this year.”

She chuckled softly. “Probably so. He took you shopping.”

“You know that saying about the power of guilt, flattery, and bribery?”


“The first and third are kind of a down payment on the second. I promised to be on my best behavior tomorrow.”

“Zoe Harris, sometimes you scare me.”

“Mom, sometimes I scare myself.”

Chapter 16: Snark in the Key of ‘Z’ – Part I

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.

Snark in the Key of ‘Z’ – Part I

I knew that, at some point during our day with my father and his orchestra, I would be meeting The Girlfriend, as I’d already labeled her in my head. I expected her to be younger than my mother. I expected her to be pretty. I even halfway expected her to be blonde, even if that was a completely stereotypical assumption. The middle-aged man always falls for the pretty, young, blonde, right? Nothing, however, prepared me for the fact that this particular pretty, young, blonde would guide us through our tour of the music hall, and be with us throughout the day.

“Good morning, everyone,” she greeted, flashing us a smile full of too-white, too-perfect teeth. “I’m Gia Viglione. Officially, I’m the Capitol City Orchestra’s archivist, but on this tour, I’m also acting as manager and publicity liaison.” She fixed my mother with her sparkly, blue-eyed gaze and greeted her too warmly, “Emily, it’s lovely to finally put a face to the name,” as if she could erase the inherent awkwardness of the situation with sheer enthusiasm . “And Commander Data, Zoe’s letters to her father mention you a lot.”

While my mother managed only a nod and a polite-but-firm handshake, Data was smoother, and a part of me wondered if he was treating this as a sort of first contact situation, or if he was literally on some kind of android autopilot. “It is good to meet you, Ms. Viglione,” he answered her, also shaking her hand.

“Gia, please,” she said, turning away from him to greet T’vek’s father, and asking if he preferred to be called Kenash or Mr. Mairaj. Clearly she’d been briefed about all of us.

She greeted all of my friends by name as well, complimenting Dana on her wardrobe, and mixing up Wes and Josh, which made the rest of us giggle, at least. She told T’vek he was exactly as expected from my letters, and then she turned to me, and opened her arms. “Zoe, darling, give me a hug. I’m so glad to finally meet you in person.”

“Kill me now,” I muttered to T’vek and Dana, who were standing closest to me, but I’d promised my father I’d be on my best behavior, and since my mother was behaving with grace I supposed I could at least skip the temper tantrum. “Wish I could say the same,” I said, in a too-sweet tone, as I stepped into her embrace, “But Dad never even mentioned you til yesterday.” I absolutely did not give a wide-eyed blink as a said it. Well…not one that anyone saw.

Her smile faltered, but her embrace was firm, if quick. “You know your father, Zoe. So busy, and so scattered. He means well, really.”

“Is that why he has you reading his mail?” I asked, since Gia had known about T’vek when my father had seemed not to. Privately, though, I had to admit that her description of my father was fairly accurate.

“Oh, Zoe,” she forced a laugh. “Zachary said you had a tendency to be direct. ‘Straight up snarky,’ he calls you.”

“Mmhmm.” I agreed. “Except it’s more like ‘snarky with a twist of lime’ these days.” It wasn’t the response I truly wanted to give, but I’d caught the warning arch of my mother’s eyebrow, and felt the tension from my friends. Stepping away from her, I flashed my best innocent grin then asked, “Hey, is it true there are tunnels and catacombs under this building?”

“There are!” she confirmed, as if she were delighted by the very thought. Maybe she planned to ditch me in one of them. “And we’ll see some of them, but before we do that, follow me, and let me show you some of the more unique features of the above-ground portion of the building.”

She led us through the concert hall, explaining things like the way the railings across the picture windows of the mezzanine level lobby were designed at barre height so the local dance company could use them for pre-performance warm-ups, and the way the data screens provided at each seat provided instant translations of whatever was being spoken or sung on stage, as well as information about the performers.

“When developing the Serenity Five arts and entertainment community,” Gia went on, “the leaders of Serenity Five wanted their concert hall to be more than merely accommodating, so they drew on successful designs from around the Federation. The main hall is engineered to have a 1.9-second echo, just like Boston’s Symphony Hall in Massachusetts, on Earth. That measurement is supposed to be the most pleasing to the average humanoid ear.”

“I am curious,” Data interrupted her at one point. “Opera, dance and instrumental concerts have very different acoustic requirements. Is the sound quality adversely affected by adjustments to the stage and seating?”

Gia seemed grateful to have a question to answer. “It would be, but the walls and seats are all on adjustable plates. The concert hall can be made larger or smaller, the walls be pushed outward, curves softened or corners sharpened, all depending on the needs of the type of performance and the artists’ preferences.”

Her tour led us down through access tunnels beneath the stage, down to the first sub-basement, where furniture, costumes, and other equipment were stored. Here, the architecture was obviously older, stone construction that seemed more appropriate for nineteenth-century France than a modern pleasure planet.

Phantom of the Opera, much?” Josh observed softly.

“‘In sleep he sang to me…in dreams, he came,'” I sang softly in response. Dad had served as musical director of the ancient musical a few years ago, and I still knew the entire score. Josh, of course, was our resident theatre geek, so it was perfectly natural for him to sing the next line.

“Wasn’t there a horror vid based on that story as well?” T’vek asked. “Because this feels like the perfect setting for an undead killer to drag his victims.” To prove his point, he made the sound that has been used in spooky-tunnel scenes in horror movies and vids for centuries: “Ca-ca-ca-ca, che-che-che-che.

“Stop that!” Dana hissed at him.

“Stop what?” T’vek asked her, the corners of his mouth curving ever-so-slightly upwards.

“I do not believe it is likely that a serial murder with a facial deformity – living or undead – is lurking in the shadows here,” Data observed, before the conversation could go any further. “Please pay attention.”

The mild correction was enough to sober all of us. Gia, meanwhile, was blissfully unaware of the entire exchange, and was currently explaining that there were two levels of basement below this one, and that the bottom one really did have sewer access. “I’m told the nod to old Terran architecture is a bit of a joke on the part of the designer,” she added.

We followed her down a few more dimly-lit corridors, and then up a series of people-mover ramps until we returned to the mezzanine lobby, where my father was waiting for us.

Specifically, he was leaning oh-so-casually against one of the railings, and he was dressed to impress in a white linen shirt, perfectly pressed, but untucked and with the cuffs hanging open, and black pants that were really too tight to be worn by anyone’s father, the matching jacket dangling from one of his hands. He was also, I noticed, sporting the single earring I’d given him for his birthday when I was ten and he was conducting an opera company’s revival of The Pirates of Penzance. I wondered if he’d chosen to wear it for me, to make my friends (or Gia) think he was cool, or to annoy my mother, who hated jewelry on men. Most likely answer: all of the above. The final touch, though, was the black fedora he was also wearing. That piece of attire was the one that told me that if yesterday’s version of my dad had been the contrite-but-indulgent absentee father, today’s was all Euro-trash playboy.

“Well,” he said by way of greeting. “Did you enjoy the tour? No one got lost in the tunnels? I’m pretty sure one of our oboe players went missing down there the other day.” His accent, a mix of Croatian, French, and British English, was stronger than I was accustomed to hearing – usually it was barely detectible, which meant he was definitely pushing the ‘cool’ factor. “You didn’t happen to see her…? No? Well, anyway, I’m glad to have you all here. My Zoetrope, especially.”

“Dad – really?”

“She doesn’t like it when I use nicknames in public,” he observed wryly. “But anyway, Emily-dear, good to see you.” He gave my mother the showy European triple-kiss that real people never actually did any more, and breezed over my mother’s cool use of his name as an acknowledgement. “And Commander Data, we meet at last.” Our tutor was favored with an exuberant handshake/shoulder pat combination.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Maestro,” Data responded, his typical low-key demeanor the perfect counterpoint to my father’s boisterous behavior.

“Zo’, c’mere and give me a hug, then introduce me to your little friends.”

I rolled my eyes at his phrasing, but we hugged, and then I introduced T’vek’s father, first, and then Dana, Josh, Wes, and T’vek. My father made some more small-talk, asking Kenash about his work and chatting with my friends about the tour. Gia, I noticed, hovered very nearby, but didn’t insert herself into the conversation. I moved over to my mother, who had separated herself from us.

“You okay, Mom?” I asked softly. “This is so weird.”

She gave a rueful chuckle. “I should be asking you that.” She lowered her tone even further, “I should also be lecturing you about being catty with Gia earlier, but I think I enjoyed it, a little.”

I shrugged. “She seems harmless. Disgustingly perky, and sarcasm seems to float right over her head, but harmless… It’s just…”

“…weird. I know.” There was a beat, and then she added, “Your father is covering.”

“Oh, you mean the Zachary Harris Experience over there. Yeah, I noticed. How are you so calm and collected? Intensive Starfleet training?” I was teasing her, but only a little.

“Actually, yes. I’ve almost convinced myself this is just another mission.”

“Oh, Mom.” I grabbed her hand, and squeezed it, and she squeezed mine back. “Remind me, later, to tell you how awesome you are.”

She managed a sincere smile. “Go join your friends, Zoe. You’re here to learn, remember.”

I rejoined the group just as my father was rubbing his hands together, his jacket having long since been draped over the railing. “Alright then, who wants to go find some musicians and take them to lunch? We can talk about the physics and math of music while we eat, yes? Yes!”

He reclaimed his coat, turned on his heel and led us down one more level and across a breezeway to the concert hall’s café, where several of the musicians were waiting for us. “Order what you want,” he instructed us as he ushered us inside. “My treat.”

Note: This chapter was getting a bit long, so it’s been broken into two parts. Part II will be up within the week. Sorry for such long delays, and thanks to all of you who’ve been reading.

Chapter 17: Snark in the Key of ‘Z’ – Part II

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.

Snark in the Key of ‘Z’ – Part II

“Inspiration is for amateurs,” my father declared to the audience assembled in the hall on Serenity Five at the pre-concert lecture. There were other music fans – paying customers – not just my classmates and me, but it felt like his words were directed to me even so. “When someone tells you they’re not inspired,” he went on, “it really means they won’t put in the work.”

We’d spent the better part of the day at the concert hall, and the bulk of that had been graced by my father’s presence, and as much as I loved him, I was getting tired of his public persona. Thankfully, we just had to get through the next half hour of talking about the music we were about to hear, and then the concert itself. At least I had an amazing outfit to wear, courtesy of a vintage clothing store not too far from our hotel, and my father’s guilt over not keeping me in the loop about his old relationship with my mom, or his new one with Gia.

Next to me, my boyfriend T’vek must have been able to tell I was getting impatient, because he squeezed my hand. I shot him a look out of the corner of my eye and offered him the hint of a smile, but didn’t say anything, because on my other side, Data was asking a question.

“You say that inspiration means a lack of hard work,” our android tutor asked. “But how do you account for the spark of creativity…the ‘divine gift’ that leads to the composition of such music as the orchestra will be playing this evening?”

My father seemed a bit taken aback, but I’m not sure if it was the question or the questioner. “That’s an interesting point, Commander Data,” he said. “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is amateurish to wait for a flash of inspiration. Zoe,” he picked on me, as he had, in these situations, for almost my whole life. “What do you think?”

“I think it’s a little of both,” I said, glancing from my father to Data and back. “I mean, personally, I could be inspired by anything. Right now, I could be incredibly inspired by authentic thin-crust pepperoni pizza.” I waited for the soft chuckles that came from around the room to subside. “But even if there is a divine jump-start, if you don’t have the foundation of hard work, it’s just going to fizzle out.”

“Well put,” he said.

“May I just add, Dad, that I really hate it when you get me to argue your side of a topic.”

“Hardly a first for me. But you always manage to put your own spin on it.”

“Hardly a first for me,” I said, feeling much better. Nothing like banter to put a smile on your face.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my daughter, Zoe,” my father said, laughing. “Watch out for her…I have a feeling she’ll be giving these lectures in a few years.”

“Have your people call my people and we’ll talk about it,” I said.

On my right, T’vek cheered, “Go, Zoe!” When I reached for his hand, afterward, he didn’t let go.

The rest of the half-hour flew by, and then the concert began. I was surprised that the Dvorak cello concerto was on the program, because it seemed very serious for a pleasure planet, but the audience seemed to appreciate it, and after my initial reaction, I was very focused on the soloist’s technique.

“Zoe, can you play like that?” Wes asked, during the intermission. “I know cello’s your instrument, too.” He meant it as a compliment, of sorts.

“Ask Data,” I answered honestly. “I suck at self-assessments, and he knows better than anyone what I can do.”

Having heard his name, our teacher excused himself from conversation with my mother and Kenash, and joined us. “Is there a problem?” he asked.

“Not at all,” Wes assured him.

“Yeah,” Josh said, “We just wanted to know if Zoe could play like that soloist.”

“She said to ask you,” Dana added.

I was studiously looking at the floor by now, but the truth was that I wanted to know what his answer would be. “We really only work on theory,” I said softly, stepping closer to T’vek. Great, Zoe, seek protection from your boyfriend.

Data’s answer surprised me. “While it is true that Zoe and I have been focusing on the theory and physics of music, I believe she is a competent musician, and my conversations with her other teachers support this conjecture. With practice,” he said, and now he was directing his comments to me, and not the group, “you would perform quite well.”

T’vek put his arm around my shoulders. “Guess Crusher’s not the only whiz-kid in the group,” he said smugly.

“Brat,” I said to him, making the word an endearment. But in the next breath I added, “Thanks, Data. Coming from you, that means a lot.”

We returned to our seats for the second half of the concert, and stuck around long enough for me to say goodbye to Dad and Gia, which involved hugs (some given more grudgingly than others) and promises of seeing them for Christmas, and then Data was ushering us back to the hotel.

I noticed that my mother seemed drawn and quiet on the way back, and nudged T’vek. “We need to give my mom the night off, somehow. Will you follow my lead?”

“Always,” he grinned.

When we got to the lobby, I said, “Hey, Data…can T’vek and I talk to you a minute?”

“Of course,” he said, leaving it to my mom and Kenash to get the rest of our group upstairs. “How can I help?”

I thought about trying to convince him that hosting a slumber party was an important human ritual, but decided to go for total honesty instead. “I don’t know how much you were paying attention to,” I said, “but tonight was kind of hard for my mom. It’s not easy meeting your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s new girlfriend.”

“Right,” said T’vek. “And Zoe’s mom has been pretty patient with us, so we thought maybe we could give her a break tonight.”

“I do not understand,” Data said, the hint of puzzlement underscoring his statement. “How can she be given a ‘break’ from being a chaperone?”

“We thought maybe we could all change into pajamas and crash your room,” I said. “Order pizza and watch bad horror vids.”

“Though that begs the question,” T’vek teased. “Are there any good horror vids?”

“Watch and mock bad horror vids,” I amended. “Please, Data? I know I was kind of a brat yesterday, but she’s still my mother.”

T’vek grinned, the expression dangerous on his face. “You could consider it an exploration of adolescent human rituals,” he suggested to our teacher.

It was rare for Data to take time to think about a proposal, but in this case, he left us hanging for nearly half a minute. “Very well,” he said slowly. “May I assume that one of you will be responsible for selecting the appropriate type and source of the pizza.”

I clapped my hands. “I will,” I said. “I am a pizza connoisseur.”

T’vek laughed, “This, I have to see. We’ll come a-knocking in about half an hour, Data.” And he dragged me into the ‘lift, stealing a kiss as soon as the doors closed. “Seriously, Zoe, a slumber party?”

“Best I could do on short notice. Besides, I’m dying to see if Data even owns pajamas.”

“Are you sure it’s not him you’re crushing on?” T’vek asked, and while I knew he was teasing me, something less-than-happy passed between us for a moment.

“I’m sure,” I said. “He’s my friend. You’re my boyfriend. You know, the one I make out with in shuttlecraft corridors?”

He kissed me again and the weirdness was gone. “I vaguely recall something of the sort,” he said.

“Maybe I should remind you,” I teased. But, somehow, I couldn’t help wondering if maybe he’d been a little bit right.

I’m pretty sure Data never expected to have five teenagers sprawled across his bed, eating pizza, but we’d all decided that was the best place to be, and, as Wes pointed out, it wasn’t like he was using it to sleep, or anything. I’d picked three pizzas from the place the hotel concierge recommended, and we’d all attacked them – my thin-crust pepperoni, T’vek’s preferred plomeek with Rigellian pippali sauce, and a mushroom and olive for contrast.

“I cannot believe you are eating that,” Dana said of T’vek’s choice. “I can feel the heat from here.”

“Lips that touch pippali are not touching mine,” I sing-songed.

“Ugh! TMI,” Josh said.

“You’re just jealous.”

“Data, have you tried this foul…substance…that T’vek thinks is food?” I asked, bringing our host into the conversation. “I’d love to hear your reaction.”

Wes said, “I’ll try it if you will,” and reached for a slice.

“Um,” said Dana, “I really don’t think you want to do that.”

Wesley shrugged. “It’s just spice; how bad can it be?”

“On the Scoville scale,” Data informed us, setting aside the padd he’d been working on, and coming over to the group, “Rigellian pippali has a rating in excess of two million.”

“What’s the Scoville scale?”

“It measures the heat equivalency of the capsaicin in peppers,” I said. “It goes from normal bell peppers, which have a rating of basically nothing to ‘I think I just saw the insides of my own nostrils’ hot. Traditional pippali, from Earth, is pretty mild but has a nice bite, but that stuff,” and I gestured to T’vek’s pizza, “that stuff could kill you.” I looked at him and asked, “How do you even still have taste buds?”

“I’m special,” he grinned, taking another slice of pizza and biting into it pointedly. “Sure you don’t want some.”

“I would cut my tongue out with a rusty spoon, first,” I said.

“Fear, Zoe? Really?”

“Enlightened self-interest,” I said.

But Wes was making good on his pledge to try it, as was Data. The former began coughing and spluttering almost immediately. The latter merely raised an eyebrow, “I do not believe this is typical Rigellian pippali,” he said.

“No,” T’vek admitted. “It’s extra-hot.”

“Wesley, are you alright?” Data was suddenly extremely attentive, and Wes was turning shades of red I really hadn’t thought were possible. “Do you require assistance?”

I bounced off the bed and moved to the replicator. “Milk, Terran cow, cold,” I ordered, and brought the glass to Wes as soon as it shimmered into solidity. “Drink this; it’ll help,” I said.

He grabbed the glass from my hand and started chugging…but it took half of it before he could breathe normally again. “Wow,” he said. “Add that to the list of things I’m never doing again.”

“Are you alright, Wesley?”

“Yeah, Data. I’m fine.” He glanced at me. “Thanks, Zo’.”

I shrugged, “I learned the same way you just did that water only spreads the fire. But…we did warn you. I mean…I’m evil, Wes…but I’m never mean, you know?”

He grinned a bit sheepishly. “It’s fine,” he said. “I’m fine. Hey, Data, do you know if Commander Riker has been introduced to this stuff.”

Data flashed Wes a look. “I do not advise that you attempt to find out.”

“Yeah, okay.”

We put the remnants of the pizza aside and started the vid we’d obtained. “Get ready to be scared,” I said. “Classic 20th-century horror.”

“Which one is this?” T’vek asked.

“My favorite: A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s about a serial killer who kills teenagers by invading their dreams, only if you die in your dream, you really die. It’s awesome.”

By the time the vid had ended, Dana, Wes and Josh had all fallen asleep, the boys having moved to the other bed in Data’s room so they could spread out more. Dana was on the bed next to me, and T’vek had taken all the cushions off the sofa in the main room and piled them between the beds.

My friends apparently didn’t have bladders. Slipping off the bed, I padded to the bathroom, closing the door and locking it, and, just because I felt weird being not only in Data’s hotel room, but with all my friends outside the door, turning on the exhaust fan, as well. I lingered as long as I dared, finally returning to the darkened bedroom. I could see Data sitting at the desk, in the main area of the suite, back at work on…something…and I couldn’t help watching him for a minute.

Either android hearing was much better than I realized, or he caught a reflection of my movement. He turned around, and asked softly, “Is everything alright, Zoe?”

“I’m good,” I said. “Should I wake everyone so we can get out of your hair?”

“I believe it would be more beneficial for you all to remain here,” he said, “rather than disrupt your sleep cycles.”

“Thanks for letting us take over your room.”

“I enjoyed participating in a typical teenage ritual. I believe there is another aspect of it that has not yet been completed, however.”


“As the ‘responsible adult’ present, I believe it is my duty to ensure that you all get a good night’s sleep.”

“You’re telling me to go back to bed.” It wasn’t a question.

“Indeed,” he said.

I grinned at that. “Good night, Data.”

Chapter 18: Turning for Home

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.

Turning for Home

Our last day on Serenity Five began oddly, as we’d all crashed in Data’s hotel room the night before, but once we were done with breakfast and back to the amusement park, things were approaching normalcy. We were met at the gates by a little bird-like man whose name was not actually Fezziwig, though that was the closest any of us came to it.

He led us into the control room for the rides, showing us how everything could be run by one person, though the optimum was one per ride. Almost immediately, Wes began asking technical questions. “What kind of anti-grav generator do you use on the mag-coaster,” was his first. His second was “how come there isn’t a global kill switch?”

“Kill switch?” I whispered to T’vek.

“Think of it as a master override,” he said softly, “in case of a serious fault.”

Fezziwig’s hearing was, apparently, almost as good as our teacher’s. “Oh! Yes! There is a master override.” He gestured to a large red button mounted on the wall right near the door. “We’ve never had to use it, but we test the system once a month, just in case.” Once he started talking, he kept going, and eventually his chattering began to sound like birds to me. I set my padd to record everything, and tuned out most of the conversation, though I enjoyed seeing the mechanics of the rides.

After our tour, we all had lunch together, and then we were turned loose in the park again, but this time, the five of us kids dispersed – Josh and Dana had a shared interest in one of the anti-grav swingsets, and T’vek and I were anxious to find out if the “Pirates of the Mutara Nebula” ride was really the ultimate make-out experience it was purported to be. (It was.) Meanwhile, Wesley had struck up a conversation with one Fezziwig’s assistants, and had been invited to actually run a couple of the rides, and kept insisting he really wanted to do that, so we let him.

By the time the park had closed, we were all pleasantly tired, and buzzing with ideas for the presentation we’d have to make once we were back on the Enterprise.

All too soon, we were back on the runabout for the three-day journey home, but this time there were no complaints of boredom. In fact, we all followed Wes’s lead, and actually completed the homework assignments we’d received from our other teachers. Doing so in a group was, if not exactly fun, at least more interesting than sitting in my mother’s quarters or on my bed, and we even managed a couple of lively debates about the material.

“Please,” I said, as we were all working on essays about MacBeth, the guy is a patsy. Lady MacBeth is the true power in the play. ”

“Lady MacBeth is creepy,” Dana objected. Blood and gore were really not her favorite things. “She keeps talking about wanting to smash babies.”

“So, she can’t be powerful and crazy?” I asked. “But, you know,” I said, dropping my voice to dramatic stage whisper, “there’s a theory that both MacBeth and Lady MacBeth are actually innocent of murder.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Wesley said. “They’re walking around half the play with actual blood on their hands. MacBeth is no innocent.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I didn’t mean to imply that MacBeth was pure or anything. I mean, he was a warrior, a soldier. Of course he killed people. But killing people in battle isn’t the same as murder. I’m just saying MacBeth has a murder mystery wrapped up inside it, if you know where to look.”

“I don’t follow,” Josh said, “What about the dagger, and hammering poor Banquo about where he’s going all the time?”

I glanced around at each of my friends, though my look to T’vek was the shortest. He was smirking, and that smirk represented a valiant attempt not to laugh. “C’mon, Zo’,” he said, once my gaze had moved beyond him, “Tell them where you’re going with this.”

I shrugged. “It’s not so difficult to see,” I said. “Consider who else is around.”

“MacDuff?” Wesley asked. “You can’t believe that MacDuff is really responsible for all the murders.”

I rolled my eyes at him. “No, Wes,” I said, in the sort of voice one might use to talk a crazy person off a ledge, “MacDuff was just a red herring. No…I think the real murder is Lady MacBeth’s father.”

Data had assigned my mother to pilot the runabout for the first leg of our trip; and joined our conversation at that point. “Pardon the interruption,” he began. “I have made a study of Shakespeare’s work, and I am unfamiliar with any credible theory pointing to Lady MacBeth’s father as a possible murderer.”

At that point T’vek did burst out laughing, and I smiled at my friends and our teacher, “Gotcha!” I sang. “Data, have you read any James Thurber? Look up ‘The MacBeth Murder Mystery.'”

His answer was a head-tilt, followed by a classic, “Ah! James Thurber, author and humorist. I will let you know my thoughts after I analyze the story.”

The look I gave him was a sort of non-verbal touche’, and then I turned to my friends. “Seriously, it’s worth reading. And Ms. Hemery will never expect us to be familiar with it. Thurber’s kind of…ancient history.”

“How do you know about it then?” Dana asked.

I just grinned. “Theatre brat, remember?”

The next day and a half went by fairly quickly. The five of us had come to a tacit understanding that we wanted to surprise Data with our presentation, so while we discussed some of it in whispers, when he was busy in the cockpit, we mainly started doing our own sections of the work.

In the middle of the second night of our return voyage, I woke up from a nightmare and desperately needed to be somewhere with bright light, so I slipped out of my bunk and padded out to the main room. My mother and Dana were still asleep, and I was fairly certain T’vek, his father, and the other boys were, as well.

Data heard me coming. “Is everything all right?” he asked.

“Sorry to bother you,” I said softly. “Had a nightmare. Needed light. And tea. Is that okay?”

“Of course, Zoe.” There was a pause, during which I walked over to the replicator. “Do you wish to join me in the cockpit, as you did before?”

“Only if I won’t distract you.”

“You will not,” he said. “I enjoyed our last conversation.”

That made me smile. “Me, too.” I gestured toward the replicator, “Do you want anything?”

His return smile was a bit awkward, as was the cadence when he answered, “I will have…what you are having.”

“Right,” I joked. “Two pan-galactic gargle-blasters coming up.”

“I am not familiar with that nomenclature.”

I shook my head. “No, you wouldn’t be. It’s a reference to a truly ancient piece of science fiction. Reference Douglas Adams.” I faced the replicator and requested tea, licorice root and hyssop, hot, with honey. I handed one of the mugs to him, and followed him back to the cockpit. “Do you dream, Data?” I asked after I was seated in empty co-pilot’s chair.

“I do not require sleep,” he told me honestly. “As such, I do not know whether or not I am capable of dreaming.”

“You must have a lot of spare time to fill. It must be nice not to ever feel bored or lonely.”

“While it is true that I cannot ‘feel lonely,'” he said, surprising me with his candor. “It is also true that I prefer to share my time with others when I can. However,” and now he was teasing me, a little, “I have sometimes found myself wishing there were more hours in a day, if only because I have to disengage from personal projects to report to my duty station.”

I sipped from the mug I’d been cradling. “Am I one of them? One of your personal projects? Our Saturday Sessions, I mean.”


“Data…” I mimicked his tone. “It’s okay if I am, you know. I was just being nosy.”

“We seem to share that trait, though I prefer to call it ‘curiosity.'”

I laughed softly. “Yeah, I guess we do. As well as a tendency to surprise people. You especially. First music theory, then midnight tea, and even a slumber party. You’d be an awesome father.”

“Thank you.” His voice was softer when he said it. “Not many would agree with you.”

“You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”

He met my eyes, and said simply, “I am.”

My own eyes widened. “See, told you I was nosy,” I said, trying to relieve the sudden tension.

“Your query was not unreasonable,” he said.

“Will you tell me, or would you rather I just went to bed now?”

I knew enough about Data, at that point, to understand that he rarely had to ‘think things through’ before responding. Or at least, he rarely had to do so in any perceptible fashion. So when he was quiet for more than thirty seconds, I drained my mug and started to leave. His voice stopped me, “Her name was Lal,” he told me, in a tone not much louder than a whisper. “She was my daughter.”

His use of was made it obvious that something horrible had happened. “Tell me?” I asked, a bit shyly, but he was already talking, so I just returned to my seat and listened as he told me about her creation, her awakening into sentience, and then her acquisition of emotions. On my teachers – no, my friend’s – behalf, my eyes got teary when he spoke of her death (though he called it ‘deactivation’) and I found myself clenching my fist in anger as he talked about Admiral Haftel’s attempt to take her away from him.

I wanted to make it better, I wanted to wave a wand and bring her back for him. I wanted…a lot of things, really. I didn’t have any words to offer, so I got up and crossed the small space between our chairs. “I’m going to do something you might find a little inappropriate, Data. You can yell at me later.”

His eyes darted back and forth in birdlike confusion, but I’d made my decision. I leaned over his chair and hugged him. “You were an awesome father,” I said, turning my earlier supposition into fact. “Never doubt that.”

He met my embrace awkwardly, held it for a moment, then lowered his arms. “You should get some rest, Zoe,” he said. “I suspect that late night tea and conversation with you may become a habit.”

“Oh, I hope so.” I said, grinning. “G’night, Data.” I returned both our mugs to the replicator and hit the recycle button, then returned to my bunk. This time when I went to sleep, my dreams were peaceful ones.

Chapter 19: Back in the Saddle

Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek: the Next Generation and all the canon characters and settings. Zoe, T’vek, and their classmates are mine. I’m just playing in the Trek sandbox.

Back in the Saddle…

The first Saturday after we’d been back on the Enterprise after the trip to Serenity Five, I woke up to a message alert chiming on the com system in the quarters I shared with my mother. “Mom?” I called. “Are you here?” But I remembered fairly quickly that she was making up shifts she’d traded in order to accompany my friends and me on our field trip. “Computer,” I said to the air, “play message, please?”

The computer complied, and I heard Data’s voice reminding me that we would be having music theory that morning, but that we would be meeting in his quarters, as there were visiting diplomats using most of the conference rooms. The computer also told me I had twenty minutes to get ready. I jumped out of bed, recorded a note for my mother reminding her of where I was, and also sent a note to T’vek, asking if we were meeting later. I dressed in one of my oldest, softest t-shirts, leftover from a community theater production of Annie I’d been in when I was ten, and the jeans I’d worn the day before. Shoes took too long, so I slid into flip-flops, hid my messy hair under an old gray watch-cap I’d snagged from my dad once, stuck my padd into the back pocket of the gig bag that held my cello, and left.

I was in the turbo-lift before I realized that I hadn’t eaten and that I had no idea where I was going. “Computer, location of Commander Data’s quarters?” I asked, and when it responded, I gave my destination: “Deck two.”

Wesley Crusher was in the corridor when I stepped out of the ‘lift. “Interesting outfit,” he observed.

I shrugged, “I was late. It was easy.”

He started to brush by me into the lift, but I called out, “Hey, Wes, wait?”


“I have a music lesson with Data, and I’ve never been to his quarters before. Which way do I go?” I knew I could have asked the computer, but…maybe it was time to embrace new friends.

“I thought you two usually met on the bridge level?”

“We do,” I said. “Data’s message said there were diplomats or something. You’d know more than I do.” I hesitated, then added, “I wanted to ask you something anyway.”

“I’ll walk you to Data’s, if you want,” he offered. “And we can talk…I wanted to ask you something, too.”

“Um…okay.” I said. “You first?”

We turned down the corridor, and followed the curve around. “It’s Annette’s birthday in a few days. I know you’re her friend. I want to get her something, but I’m not sure what…”

“She loves earrings,” I informed him. “Prefers silver to gold, favorite stone is opal. But, Wes…if you don’t mind me saying so, what she really wants is…you.”

His eyes grew wide – really wide. “You mean – ”

“No!” I said, “Not want want. Just…she can’t tell if you like her as a friend or a girlfriend. And don’t you dare tell her I told you that.”

“I won’t,” he said. “So, I should ask her out…? But we’ve been out.”

“You’ve been on one date, and you shared a table with T’vek and me. Ask her someplace and go alone. Tell her you want to go steady. No, wait, don’t say that…nobody says that any more. Just…tell her you wanna be official. I mean…if you do. Do you?”

He blushed, which was kind of adorable in a cute-puppy-little-brother kind of way. “Yeah,” he said, “I do.”

“Then tell her.”

He stopped in front of a door and gestured to it. “We’re here,” he said. “Thanks Zoe.” He started to leave then paused. “You said you wanted to ask me something.”

“It’s awkward. More awkward standing here, actually. Hey, do you think it’s weird, me having a music lesson in his quarters?” I shrugged then moved on without waiting for him to respond. “Sessions with Data last two hours, if you don’t have an elsewhere you have to be, meet me here after, and I’ll help you pick out something for Annette, and ask you then? Don’t worry, it’s nothing nefarious.”

He grinned. “Okay,” he said. “And thanks.”

He left and I reached for the door signal, but the door slid open before I could activate it, and Geordi LaForge stepped out still chatting with Data about something. “Hi,” I said, rather lamely.

“Oh, sorry, Zoe – it is Zoe, right?” Geordi said, teasing. “Almost didn’t recognize you with the hat.”

“It gives me magical stealth abilities” I said too-brightly. “Not easy when you’re carrying an instrument nearly as big as you are. If you and Data are busy, I can leave, but he didn’t say anything about rescheduling…”

He smiled at me. “Naah, he’s been waiting for you to show up. Play well.”

“Thanks,” I said.

He stepped aside so I could move my cello through the door, and walked down the corridor. I, on the other hand, hesitated, suddenly feeling really out of place. “Zoe,” Data said, coming toward me from where he’d been sitting behind a seriously impressive-looking computer station. “Please come in.”

I moved enough for the door to close behind me. “Hi,” I said after a few beats. “Sorry. I just…Data, is it okay for me to be here? Alone in a room with you?”

He seemed completely unaware of any potential awkwardness. “We are typically alone in a room at this time on Saturday mornings,” he said gently. “I do not understand the dilemma. Please sit down and unpack your cello while you explain?”

He gestured to where chairs had been set up in our usual configuration.

I went and unpacked at the same time that I said, “Yeah, we’re usually alone, but we’re not usually here. I mean, this is where you live.” What I couldn’t explain was that in seeing his art, his shelves of keepsakes, even his bed as he didn’t seem to have a separate bedroom, I suddenly felt like I’d leveled up to a degree of intimacy that bordered on inappropriate.

Data cocked his head, the way he often did when he was confused by something, though I’d noticed he’d been doing it less and less. “I do not understand.”

I stared at him for a long moment. “You have a fifteen-year-old girl alone in your quarters and you don’t think that’s weird?”

“Should it be?” he countered. “As we have established you are both my student and my friend. Increasing your understanding of musical theory is a joint project for which we have a standing appointment. The only element that has changed since our last session together is the location, and that is only because our usual meeting place is being otherwise used.”

My own head-tilt was really not meant as mockery. “Really?” I asked.

“Really,” he said mildly. “However, if you are uncomfortable being here, we can reschedule.”

I thought about it for a minute. On the one hand, it would be less awkward, on the other the only one who was perceiving awkwardness was me, on yet another hand (apparently I was Beeblebroxian today), his quarters themselves were not unwelcoming. I allowed myself a moment to daydream of being curled on his couch with a book while he worked on…something. Finally, I said, “No. No, I’m here now, and I’ve already wasted enough of your time dithering. You had me playing with the acoustic differences of different bow positions, last time…”

The hours I spent with Data weren’t meant to be lessons in technique, only in theory, and yet we always ended up playing after, or during, the math-and-physics portion of the class, because I always learned better from a hands-on approach. (He called it ‘practical,’ of course.) On this particular Saturday he cut the theory part of theory short. “I wish to make a proposal,” he said, tapping something into the digital music stand in front of me.

Those stands were great devices – a music stand with built-in padds for displaying sheet music, but that you could still annotate with a stylus. No page turning. No pencil marks all over your hands. And better yet? You never had to worry about having enough light. I set my cello on its side on the floor, and studied the music he’d called up. “This is a quartet,” I said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “My quartet has been practicing it with the intent of performing it in Ten-Forward in the coming weeks, however, Lieutenant Gutierrez lacks the thorough grounding in the fundamentals that the piece requires.”

I nodded, “It’s a tricky piece. Dad conducted the Perihelion Quartet playing it a few years ago. You want me to understudy your cellist?”

“No,” Data said. “I want you to replace him.”

“Have you considered asking Seth instead? He has way more real-world performance experience than I do.”

“That is true,” Data agreed. “But Lieutenant Starker does not have the available time needed to learn the piece. As well, I do not believe he will be able to attain the necessary level of ‘meshy-ness’ required to perform as part of a quartet.” He used my word; that was never good.

“And I can?” I asked. “You really believe I can?”

“I have heard you play many more difficult passages with competence and skill that belie your youth. As well, while your performance experience may be limited, you yourself have pointed out that you grew up ‘eating, sleeping, and breathing music and theater.'”

“I hate it when you use my own words against me.” I groused. “But since we still have some time, we may as well try the piece and see what levels of suckitude I actually sink to.”

To his credit, Data didn’t comment on that. Instead, he just picked up his violin, and began to play.


We were still playing an hour and a half later when his door chime sounded again, and Wes’s voice piped over the speaker, “Data? It’s Wes and T’vek. Is Zoe still with you?”

“One moment,” he called. “We have gone over our scheduled time,” he said softly to me. “I am sorry for keeping you.”

“You didn’t,” I said. “I mean, yeah, we went over time, but that’s the most challenging thing I’ve played in forever. I’d forgotten how much fun it is, to attack something new.”

“Is Lieutenant Starker not challenging you?”

“Not musically, anyway.” I answered him without thinking, as I zipped my cello back into its soft, black, bag.

“Zoe, please elaborate.” Suddenly his tone was deadly serious.

I shook my head. “It’s nothing, really…but anyway, you asked if he was challenging me, and the answer to that question is no, he’s not, but it’s not like I have any other options. There aren’t any other cello teachers on the ship. May I go now? The guys are waiting…”

As if on cue the door chime sounded again. This time, Data called out “Enter.” And T’vek and Wes came in. Before they could say anything, though, he continued, “Zoe, If Lieutenant Starker has done anything to make you feel uncomfortable, you can tell me.”

I nodded, “I know, Data. I promise I will, okay?” He nodded, and then I looked past him to T’vek and Wes. “Sorry to make you wait. We kind of got caught up in the music. It was awesome.

“Wes said we have a shopping date?” T’vek came to take my cello from me, ever-chivalrous.

“Mmhmm. Annette’s birthday. But can we grab lunch first? I skipped breakfast in order to be here on time, and music may soothe the savage breast, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for a growly stomach.”

“I could eat,” T’vek agreed amiably. “Wes?”

“I guess.” He glanced over at Data, and then back at me.

I rolled my eyes at Wes and refrained – barely – from pointing out that he worked with the man. “Data, do you want to be our adult escort into Ten-Forward, or have you had enough teenaged company for one day?”

“I would be delighted to accompany you,” he answered. “If only to ensure that you do not miss another meal. However, you would be well advised to stop by your quarters and change to something more appropriate, as well as…”

“…drop off my cello. Yeah. I know. Twenty minutes?” I asked. “T’vek and I will meet you both there…but…um…can we declare a moratorium on talking about anything to do with warp propulsion, starship mechanics, or anything remotely similar? Otherwise, I’m bringing a book and will rudely read in all your faces.”

“We will endeavor to keep the conversation inclusive,” Data agreed for all of them. “Twenty minutes.”

T’vek and I left, and even though he was still carrying my cello, he also caught my hand with his free one. “Why did you do that?” he asked, as we entered my door.

“Invite Data? Because we were in his quarters, and it would have been rude not to. And because I need a buffer if I’m with both you and Wes. Wait here, I’ll go change.” I went into my bedroom, leaving him in the living room with my cello. “I’m sorry. I know we’ve barely had any time alone together since getting back to the ship.”

“It’s alright,” he said. “There’s always time. Besides, you’re happiest when you’re doing something artsy. I like seeing you happy.” He was quiet for a moment, and I returned from changing into a different shirt (solid, turtleneck, purple) and real shoes. I ruffled his hair as I passed him, intending to update the note for my mother. “You sound like you’re warming up to Crusher.”

“The only person I want to warm up to is you,” I said. “But you and Dana can’t be my only friends, and it makes sense to cultivate other…resources.”

“I thought you said you weren’t nefarious?”

“I also said I was often devious.”

We both laughed at that, and then he kissed me. “I like devious,” he said softly. “C’mon, we’ll be late.”

We didn’t run…exactly.


After lunch, we thanked Data for his time and company, and the three of us went to the replication center to ‘shop’ for Annette’s earrings.

“You don’t have to come,” I told my boyfriend. “We’re hanging out later, aren’t we?”

“I’ve got nothing pressing to do,” he said. “Unless my parents decide they need me.” And of course, that jinxed it, and his mother called him home. “Later,” he said, sighing. “Promise.” We stole another couple of kisses before he left.

“Okay, let’s go shopping,” I said to Wes. “Do you have any other plans for Annette’s birthday? Because I have an idea, if you’re interested.”

“Sure,” he said.

“I think, instead of just turning in a report and computer simulations to Data, we should actually execute our amusement park ideas on the holodeck, and invite our friends and families to experience them.”

We were looking at jewelry at that point, and I watched as Wes’s face was transformed by a slow smile. “That,” he said, “would be fantastic. We could even ask Ms. Phelps if we could combine it with our presentations for Speech and do a whole marketing campaign.”

I grinned, “I was thinking the same thing. We could also make a video trailer and send it to select people as an invitation. But the project’s due in four days, and we’ll need at least three more to program it, won’t we. Assuming we even can?” I leaned over the display we were both browsing, and tapped two buttons. “Those. You should get Annette those. You should also make sure you take her on the Ferris wheel.”

“We didn’t design a Ferris wheel.”

“We should add one.”


“If you have to ask, you shouldn’t be getting a girl earrings.”

Chapter 20: Conversations in Three-Quarter Time

Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek: the Next Generation and all the canon characters and settings. Zoe, T’vek, and their classmates are mine. I’m just playing in the Trek sandbox.

Conversations in ¾ Time

“So we’re all agreed, then?” T’vek asked. He, Wes, Dana, Josh and I were in the living area of the family quarters Wes and his mother shared. Most of our group meetings had taken place in the quarters I shared with my mother, but she had been on a weird shift rotation ever since we’d all returned from our field trip, and the last thing she needed was a pack of pesky teenagers taking over her living room. “We’re going with a Steampunk Halloween theme and putting our rides in the context of a carnival?”

“I’m all for it,” I said, “and not just because it was my idea. But I think we might need a little help with the actual holodeck programming parts of our plan.”

Dana added, “Not to mention some extra time. Zoe, you should be the one to ask Data for that. You’re the favorite.”

I nearly choked on the cranberry juice I was drinking. “Favorite? Me? Hardly. Besides, Wes sees him on the bridge every day…” I turned to him. “So you should ask him. You’re not just teacher and student; you’re friends…and colleagues.”

“I’m pretty sure Data has you in the ‘friend’ category, too, Zoe,” Wes said. “Besides, I think it would be better if I’m the one who consults our holodeck consultant.”

“Holodeck consultant?” Josh asked. “You mean your mom, don’t you? She’s programmed some pretty awesome set designs…”

But Wes was already shaking his head. “Nope,” he said. “I mean Lt. Barclay.”

“Barclay?” Dana queried. “Isn’t he the one you nicknamed ‘Broccoli’?”

“Oh, god, I’ve heard of him,” I said. “Shy, nervous, prematurely balding, habitually late…”

“He’s also the best holodeck programmer on the ship,” Wesley pronounced in a tone that allowed no argument. “Well, except for Geordi and Data, but we can’t ask them.”

“I vote for Zoe talking to Data about time, and Wes consulting Barclay, then,” T’vek suggested.

“I agree,” Dana said. “Meanwhile Josh and I will work on the graphics for the video invitation.”

T’vek grinned, “And I,” he said, “will complete the draft of our report, but I think Zoe should do the final proof-reading of the part that gets our English grade.”

“Dana’s a better writer than I am,” I said, by way of a protest.

“But you have a way of using language that makes everything sound fresh and interesting,” my best friend countered.

“I knew you only loved me for my knowledge of slang and pop-culture,” I quipped to my friends, and we all burst out laughing. After a bit, I added, “I have quartet rehearsal with Data and the rest of his group tonight; I’ll ask him then.”

“And I’ll be in engineering tomorrow, so I can talk to Barclay.”

“And on that note,” Josh said, “I’m out of here. Dana, you’re still coming over for dinner, right?”

Dana blushed, but confirmed “I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”

“We should probably all go. I need to check in with my mother and grab my cello. Wes, thank your mom for letting us take over her living space?”

“Sure,” he said. “Honestly, she’s just happy I’m spending time with people my own age.”

I shot him a rueful grin, but didn’t admit that we shared the tendency to gravitate toward adults rather than our actual peers. It was the typical curse of the only child. I turned off my padd and stood up to go. “T’vek, wanna walk me home?”

“As if you have to ask,” he said. He, too got up, and we left the Crusher quarters together. Outside their door, he caught hold of my hand. “Your mother is on night watch tonight, isn’t she?” he asked.


“So, if I were to stop by about…oh, say…nine?”

“I might be available…and alone…” I said coyly. “Assuming rehearsal is really only two hours. Your parents won’t mind, though?”

“As long as I’m home by midnight, they’re cool,” he said.

I grinned. “Nine, then.” We continued walking down the corridor, and into the turbo-lift, hand in hand. At my door, we shared a kiss. “See you later, Tev.”

“Bye, Zoe.”


I was happy to find my mother both home and awake when I entered our quarters. She’d been working a lot of late shifts since our return from Serenity Five. I knew it was payback for some of the shift juggling, but even so, I missed her working a nice, predictable day shift. “Hey,” I greeted her, grinning. “Want to have dinner with your favorite daughter?”

She smiled back at me over the top of the padd she was reading. “I could be persuaded to take you to the lounge for dinner if you want,” she offered.

I shook my head. “Tempting as that sounds, I think I’d better eat here tonight. Remember I told you Data invited me to take over the cello part in his string quartet?” She nodded and I continued. “Well, there’s a rehearsal tonight and I don’t want to have to race back to grab my cello.”

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with him,” my mother observed.

“Have I?” I asked. “We’ve only been back for a week, but except for rehearsal being added to the schedule, I see him about as much as I did before: three days a week for class and Saturday mornings for music.”

“If you say so,” my mother said. She set the padd aside and moved toward the replicator unit on the far wall. “Fettucini with pesto?” she asked.


“Zoe, honey, I don’t want you to feel like there’s something wrong with your friendship with Commander Data. I just worry that you’re taking too much of his time.”

“I kind of worry that, too,” I confessed. “He keeps assuring me I’m not.” I began to set the table without being asked. “I spend a lot of time with T’vek, too,” I pointed out. “Are you concerned about that, as well?”

“Actually, yes,” she admitted. “But in a different way. The two of you seem so intense when you’re together.”

“Intense?” I asked. “Us?”

“Mmhmm. He’s a nice boy, and I trust you both, but Zoe, you’re very young.”

“Mom,” I interrupted. “You make it sound like I’m eight years old.”

“I know you’re not eight,” she said, setting steaming bowls of pasta on the table, and then directing the machine to dispense beverages. “But fifteen is a difficult age. You’re not a child, but you’re not quite a grown woman, and even though the ship is safe, all of you young people are unsupervised a lot…”

“I’ll be sixteen in three months,” I pointed out. “And you don’t have to worry. T’vek and I aren’t doing anything we aren’t ready for.” I sat down at the table with her, but my unspoken ‘yet’ was hanging over the entire meal.


Unlike my music theory lesson of a few days before, the quartet rehearsal took place in the multi-purpose room most often configured as a theater. I was a little nervous, but a video chat with my father had helped calm my nerves a bit, as did the knowledge that Data would never have asked me to join his group if he didn’t think I was good enough. He introduced me to everyone, and then we actually began to work through the music, first playing each piece straight through, then going over each section, agreeing on bow positions, and fine-tuning tricky passages.

After our two-hour session was over, the viola player, Lt. Commander Cressida (“Call me ‘Cress'”) Parish, flashed me an approving look, and said, “I have to admit, Zoe, when Data said he was bringing in his protégé, I was a little concerned, but you impressed me tonight.”

“Um…thanks, I guess. Data’s theory tutorial is helping my playing more than my formal lessons with Seth.” I mused aloud, adding, “For that matter, it’s been helping my voice lessons go more smoothly, too.”

Her smile softened. “You must be pretty special, to have attracted Data’s attention.”

I glanced across the room to where Data and the second violinist, Lt. Dennis Rai, were still in discussion about the right way to play a particular passage. “He’s pretty special too, I guess.” I said softly. Then I grinned. “My boyfriend says he likes it when we go out right after a music lesson because I’m always jazzed after doing ‘something artsy.'”

“Sounds like a smart boy. Who is he?”

“His name is T’vek Mairaj, and he’s also pretty special.”

She just smiled in that knowing way that adults often do when confronted by teenagers. Then she picked up her instrument case, and left the room. Dennis followed her soon after, and I moved to zip my cello back into its gig-bag. I had a hard case, of course, but the lighter, fabric, bag was easier when navigating corridors and turbo-lifts. Data came over to me as I was finishing.

“You played well tonight,” he said. “You seem to mesh well with the rest of the quartet. Are you comfortable with continuing as our cellist?”

“I’d like that,” I answered, standing up. “Cress called me your protégé before she left. Is that a bad thing?”

He seemed to analyze the word. “An appropriate, if not altogether accurate term. Do you object to it?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know…do you?” My padd, which I’d stuck in the back pocket of my gig bag, chimed a reminder of the time. “Aww, crap.”

“Is there a problem?”

I sighed. “Only that T’vek and I have a sort-of date at nine, and I’m going to be late and haven’t asked you…” I stopped. “Never mind.”

Data raised his eyebrows at me. “Have I not made it clear that your questions are always welcome, Zoe?”

“Yes, but…”

“Ah,” he said, in an apparent flash of understanding. “You do not wish to be late for your assignation with T’vek.”

“Assignation? Seriously? That makes it sound kind of…dirty.”

“I did not mean it that way.”

“I know.”

“Come, I will escort you back to your quarters via a somewhat shorter route than you are likely to know.”

“Much less awkward than trying to run with this thing.”

“Agreed.” He headed out the door, carrying his violin, which he’d replaced in its case while we’d been talking. “And you can ask your question while we walk.”

“It’s two questions now,” I said, following him into the corridor. “The first one is on behalf of the entire math tutorial. We wanted to ask if we could delay presentation of our project to next Friday.”

“Are you having difficulties with the assignment?”

“Me personally, or the group collectively?”

“I meant the group, but if you are having trouble with the work – ”

“I’m not,” I was quick to correct him. “I mean, I’m not likely to stop grumbling about it any time soon, because I am never going to like math – sorry, but it’s true – and I probably have to work harder than everyone else, but the challenge isn’t going to kill me or anything. Anyway, I meant the group. And no, we’re not having difficulties, exactly.”

He was leading me down corridors I didn’t recognize, turning left where I’d have thought going right made more sense – note to self, ask for a map of the ship – but seemed to still be paying attention. Nevertheless, he didn’t respond until we’d entered a turbo-lift and he’d told the computer where to send it. “Why do you require more time?”

“We chose to broaden the scope of our assignment. Our English teacher agreed that if we created marketing materials for our virtual amusement park, we could get extra credit – God, we sound like a bunch of nerdy over-achievers – and we want to present our report in a more…” I stopped, because he was staring at me as if I’d grown a second head. “What?”

“You typically use a much more casual mode of speech, even in class. Why are you not doing so now?”

“How is it that you can tell when I’m changing my speech patterns – I was attempting to be professional, by the way – but you don’t understand why I felt weird when you moved my theory lesson to your quarters?”

“Do you wish me to answer that?”

“Not really,” I muttered. “Although in a roundabout way you kind of did. Anyway, we’d like to give our presentation a bit more pizzazz, and to do that we need extra time, and please don’t ask me to elaborate, because we want to surprise you, and that is not an easy thing to accomplish.” I paused, since the turbo-lift seemed to be taking a while. “Where, exactly, does your shorter route take us?”

“We will be crossing the bridge and taking the lift on that side,” Data told me matter-of-factly.

“Excuse me, I think I went deaf a little. Did you just say the bridge? Isn’t that the place people like me are allowed only pretty much never?”

It was Data’s turn to be surprised. “You have really never seen the Enterprise bridge?”

“Hello, have you met me? The girl who goes out of her way to not understand rank hierarchies and thinks uniforms are barely one step above mixing plaids and stripes on the Giant List of Fashion Don’ts?” But I knew he was being serious, so I added, in a much softer tone. “Don’t rat me out to my friends, but I might be a lot more interested than I let on, and I vaguely remember there being a tour about a week before I started in your tutorial, except I didn’t go.”

“I will not ‘rat you out,’ but perhaps the next time a tour is offered you should avail yourself of the opportunity. If we were not trying to save time I would invite you to observe for a while.”

“Is that even allowed?”

“If an officer invites you, yes.” The lift doors opened, and there we were, and suddenly I couldn’t move, not because I cared about the consoles and controls, but because the view on the main screen was just fantastic. “Zoe, in order to cross the bridge, you must first exit the turbo-lift.” He took my cello from me. “Follow me, please.”

I wanted to stay and look at the view on the huge screen forever, but at the same time, seeing people doing their jobs brought me back to reality. “Sorry,” I said. I followed him across the back – back? – section of the bridge, which really reminded me of just a modified cockpit – only bigger – and into the lift on the opposite side. Once the door closed, he gave the deck order, and I just stared at him. “You see that view every day?” I asked.

“Not precisely that view,” he corrected. “But essentially, yes.”

“How do you ever get anything done?”

“I have assigned duties I am required to complete. The relative aesthetic qualities of the view do not impact that.”


“Yes, Zoe?”

“That question, you weren’t supposed to answer.”


“Sorry.” I waited a beat. “May I have my cello back now?”

He set it down, holding it steady until I’d looped my arm through one of the straps. “May I assume that you found something of merit in your brief visit to the bridge?”

“Maybe.” I admitted. “Please don’t be offended, but most of the time when I’m with you, I forget you’re an officer, and just see my tutor, or a fellow musician…or a friend.” I wasn’t entirely sure why that made him smile, but the expression spread slowly across his face.

“I am not offended,” he said mildly.

The lift doors opened and I realized we were in the junction closest to my mother’s quarters. “Wait, how did we get here?”

“I told you that it would be a route you were unlikely to know.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you have an annoying tendency to be right all the time?”

“Yes,” he said. “Quite often, in fact.”

I rolled my eyes at him, and was about to make another snarky comment, but then we were at my door, where T’vek was slouched against the bulkhead, waiting. “Hey,” I said. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Actually,” T’vek said, “you’re not. Hello, Data.”

“Greetings,” he said, as if it was a default response. For all I knew, it was. He met my eyes, and said, “Thank you for the conversation.” Then he added, “I will see you both in class tomorrow.” He turned and walked away at a brisk pace.

I thrust my cello into T’vek’s arms, and went after him. “Data, wait.” He stopped and turned expectantly. “Do we get the extra time?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “One week from Friday. I will look forward to being…surprised.”

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