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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Chapter 21: You Are Cordially Invited
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. This chapter has a STRONG T rating.
You Are Cordially Invited…
Two days before the extended due-date for our project, I showed up to my math tutorial twenty minutes early, with a box wrapped in purple tissue paper and adorned with gold ribbon. Each of us had already presented similar boxes to our parents. Wes would be sharing more of them with the Captain and our friend – his kind-of girlfriend – Annette. Josh and Dana had arranged to deliver boxes to Lt. Commander LaForge and Lieutenant Barclay in Engineering, and T’vek had drawn Guinan from our list of invitees, though we’d be handling that particular delivery together, after class.
I entered the conference room where our tutorial typically met, to find that Data had also arrived early, as I’d requested. “Good morning,” I sing-songed, placing the package before him. “What’s the story, morning glory?”
He was seated at his customary place at the center of the conference table, and looked up at me with an expression that was the android-equivalent of perplexed, before singing back to me, “What’s the tale, nightingale?” His singing voice was a warm tenor, almost baritone, but he continued on in his regular speaking voice, “Is the musical ‘Bye-Bye Birdie’ somehow significant to your request to meet before class?”
“Nope, I’m just in a really good mood.”
“Ah,” he said. He examined the wrapped box with as much detail as possible without picking it up. “Is today a holiday of which I am unaware?”
“Nope again. That gift is step one of our class presentation, and I won the privilege of getting to see you open it.” I paused before adding. “I promise it’s not harmful, illegal, or illicit – more’s the pity. Just a bit of fun.”
“This would be the ‘pizzazz’ you mentioned.”
“The merest hint of it. Please open it before everyone else gets here. I lobbied hard to be able to give it to you privately.”
Again he offered me his perplexed look. “Why?”
I rolled my eyes. “Honestly, Data, analyzing everything spoils the fun in it. It doesn’t tick, it won’t explode, and there’s no confetti involved, so please just open it.”
“Very well.” He slid the gold ribbon off the box and began a slow and meticulous unwrapping job.
I chuckled softly.
“Have I done something humorous?”
“No,” I said. “I just had a feeling you weren’t the ripping type.”
“If one is careful, the paper may be re-used,” he pointed out.
“True enough. My birthday’s in January, by the way.” I considered telling him that I liked jewelry, but decided that doing so would be crossing a line.
He set the folded paper aside, and opened the box itself, drawing out the mask we’d chosen for him, an owl with copper wire feathers and cogs for eyes. “It is…a mask,” he observed.
He reached back into the box, and found the creamy paper envelope that had been under the mask, opened it, and read aloud from the enclosed card, “You are cordially invited to the grand opening of Crumpe and Lillivick’s Quantum Carnival, being a Presentation of Amusement Rides and Period Entertainments. Holodeck Three. Ten o’clock A.M, Enterprise Time. Friday the 31st of October, 2366. Victorian or Steampunk attire is encouraged but not obligatory.” He examined both sides of the card, but didn’t read the stardate conversion we’d included for the time and date. “You have expanded my assignment to a three-dimensional rendering on the holodeck?” he asked.
“That’s why we needed the extra time. It’s also why we’re all now bff’s with The Man Who Made Godot Look Punctual.”
“I do not understand.”
“Ah.” He thought it over for a about millisecond. “A remarkably apt description. However, I was referring to the term ‘bff’.”
I blushed. “Sorry. Slang. ‘Best friends forever,’ only, you know, not really. Iis it okay that we set it up for class-time without consulting you first?”
“I would prefer that you do consult me next time,” he said. “But in this case, it seems appropriate. I will see you at the holodeck on Friday morning.”
“Super,” I said. “I really hope you like what we came up with.”
He didn’t have a chance to answer, because the rest of the class came in, and I went to take my seat between T’vek and Dana.
After class, Dana reminded me that we had a study date planned for that evening, and then she and Josh went off to have lunch. T’vek and I headed for Ten-Forward, for once not needing an adult escort. “How did Data react to the invitation?” he asked me as we sauntered down the corridor toward the main turbo-lift bank, hand in hand.
“I was chastised for not clearing the schedule change with him, but it was perfunctory, at best. Also? I was right about him not ripping the paper.”
He grinned at that. “Care to claim your prize?”
“There’s a prize?”
I would never understand how he managed to make two syllables into something completely wicked. “Mom’s on night shift again tonight,” I said. “And Dana’s parents make her come home by nine on school nights.”
“They’re really over-protective.”
“She had an older sister who was kidnapped when they lived on Javartis. I think they just want her to be safe.”
“Really? I had no idea.”
I shrugged. “We’re raised with this notion that bad stuff doesn’t happen anymore, that no one is poor or oppressed, and that we’ve eradicated crime. The reality is that the universe is much grittier than we’re taught. You can give everyone a baseline of common necessities, but you can’t make people not want more.”
“Look at you, the budding activist.”
“I do more than just play pretty songs, you know.”
“I have never doubted this,” T’vek said.
We took the lift down to deck ten, and then walked to the forward section of the ship, and into the lounge. It was the alpha-shift lunch hour, so things were pretty busy, but Guinan had been expecting us. “Zoe,” she greeted as we approached the bar, “and T’vek. Welcome. I’ve got a table reserved for the three of us.”
“Are you sure you can spare the time?” I asked. Suddenly, I was all too aware of how often adults seemed to accommodate us.
“Of course.” She led us to a table in a quieter – relatively – part of the room. “Join me,” she said, sitting down. I noticed that she chose a seat that let her face the room, while T’vek and I had chairs that gave us a good angle to the large viewport.
“We wanted to give you this,” T’vek said, placing his wrapped box in front of her.
“It’s not every day I get presents from two young people such as yourselves,” she said, smiling faintly. Her fingers were nimble, sliding the ribbon away, and then ripping open the package. She seemed to notice us watching her, though, because she looked up. “Don’t you just love the satisfying sound of wrapping paper being torn?”
I grinned. “Absolutely,” I said.
T’vek’s answer was to quirk his eyebrow in my direction.
I grinned at him, then turned my attention back to Guinan, who was lifting her invitation out of the box first, reading it, and then reaching in for the other item. While we’d created a mask for Data, each person had received something we thought suited their personality. Obviously, the bartender was getting a hat. Well, sort of. It was a fascinator designed to look like a top hat, made in deep green with a black lace veil attached. “This is lovely,” she said “But who are Crumpe and Lillivick?”
“We are,” T’vek said. “Well, sort of.”
“Data assigned us a project, but we were having so much fun with it, we decided to expand the presentation from code and animated renderings to a holodeck experience. We didn’t want to send the invitation with five names on it, so we came up with Crumpe and Lillivick because they sounded cool.”
“Crumpe represents Wesley, Josh, and me,” T’vek elaborated, his dark eyes sparkling as he warmed to the topic. “And Lillivick is Zoe and Dana.”
“Dana, Josh, and I did most of the design on the invitations,” I added. “I hope you’ll come.”
“If this is your way of getting me to remove the requirement that you have an adult escort, it won’t work,” she said. “Though I admire your solution of making me your escort.”
“That was my idea,” T’vek admitted. “And we appreciate your willingness to play along.”
“We really just thought our presentation might amuse you.” I said.
“Interesting that you’re using a steampunk motif,” came her answer.
“Interesting how?” I asked.
“It’s a fantastic version of real history, but with better opportunities for women and those with certain scientific interests.”
“She wanted to include vampires and demons.”
“Only a few. And I left out Jack the Ripper.”
“Jack the Ripper,” Guinan mused. “You know, there are some great stories suggesting Sherlock Holmes was the man who solved those murders.”
“But Holmes was fictional,” T’vek said.
“Was he?” but she was obviously teasing us. “It’s still an interesting notion. But even without a serial killer, I think your ‘Quantum Carnival’ sounds interesting. I will attend.”
“You’re very welcome. Now, what do you want for lunch?”
“How did you know T’vek liked you as more than a friend?” Dana asked me later that day, during our “study date.” I had just finished proofing an essay for her, just as she had been proofing mine.
“I’m not sure, exactly,” I answered honestly. “He came to me to ask about setting up Serenity Five, and we just kind of clicked. Though, taking me to the aquatics lab for a make-out session was kind of a clue.”
“Is it true Commander Data caught you two sleeping together in the corridor of the runabout.”
I had the decency to blush. “Um. Kind of. In the sense that we were just sleeping.”
She set aside the padd she’d been working on. “He didn’t tell your parents?”
I shook my head. “Data is surprisingly awesome, once you get to know him.”
“Only because you’re his favorite.”
“I’m so totally not his favorite. I’m pretty sure he can’t even have favorites. And if he could, it’d be someone who doesn’t have to struggle with every single assignment.” I noticed her starting to speak, probably to ask if I needed math help, so I cut her off with a question of my own. “Why the questions about me and Tev, anyway? Did something happen between you and Josh?”
It was Dana’s turn to blush. “He kissed me.”
“Really? When? Where? I want details.”
“Well,” she said, “remember when I went to dinner at his place the other night? His parents decided to go for a walk in the arboretum – ”
“Translation,” I interrupted, “they were giving the two of you some alone time.”
She picked up her padd again, pretending to study it, “Possibly. Anyway, we were watching a vid – that series about the café on the frontier of Mars – and there was a scene where the main characters were kissing and Josh said it wasn’t very realistic and we could do it better.”
“And then he kissed you?”
“And then he kissed me.”
“And I kissed him back, and it was nice…”
“But now when I see him I’m all squidgy and awkward.”
“Like butterflies in your belly?”
“Dana, my dear, you are in love.”
“I know that, Zoe, but what do I do?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Boys are confusing sometimes. Maybe just ask him if he’ll ride the Ferris wheel with you on Friday.”
“What is it with you and Ferris wheels?”
I set down my own padd, and got up. “I’m getting a drink. Do you want anything?”
“That cranberry orange juice you had the other day was good.”
I ordered two glasses from the replicator, then returned to the couch, handing one glass to my friend. I sat cross-legged on the seat, facing her. “Ferris wheels are only the most romantic ride in existence. They’re slow, so you have time to chat or make out or whatever. They’re up high, so you get a great view. They’re not noisy, so you can hear yourselves talk. They only seat two, which encourages couple-hood. And if that isn’t enough, you can always rock the car a little and pretend you’re afraid of falling, as an excuse to hold onto the guy you’re with.”
“Pretend to be afraid of falling…?”
I shrugged. “It’s not the most empowering move, but I’m told it works.”
“Are Josh and I dating now?”
I laughed softly. “I think,” I said, “you’ll have to ask Josh. You know…we should all do dinner – the five of us and Annette – for Annette’s birthday. Like, a grown-up dinner thing.”
“That would be so much fun!”
“Yeah,” I said. “It really would.”
“Okay,” Dana said, “we should get back to work now. I have to be home by nine, and you have T’vek coming over.”
“I never said that!” I protested.
“You didn’t have to,” Dana said, grinning at me. And that was why we were best friends; there was a lot we didn’t have to say.
Typical of T’vek, before we did anything social, he asked me if I’d look over his essay as well. I did, of course, but then I asked. “Okay, what are we doing tonight? Vids? Games? Sneaking into astrometrics and using the planetarium sphere for battle sims?”
“Tempting,” he said. “All very tempting. But I thought we might just take a walk…you aren’t required to stay in are you?” He turned off his padd, set it on the coffee table, and moved toward the door.
“Nope,” I said “Arboretum? Aquatics lab?” I put on a fake English accent, “Wot’s yer pleasure, sir?”
He favored me with his most mysterious smile. “You’ll see.”
“Do I need to change?”
He gave me an appraising look, taking in the red turtleneck, jeans, and boots I was wearing, as if he hadn’t noticed that I’d been wearing the same outfit all day. Well, maybe he hadn’t. “You look perfect,” he said. “C’mere.”
Leaving my padd on the couch, I crossed the room to him. “You’re being Mysterious Guy tonight,” I observed. “It’s kind of hot.”
He didn’t say anything, just leaned in for a kiss, which lasted until we were both breathless.
“This isn’t a walk,” I murmured.
“Nope,” he agreed.
“We should go…” I started to say, but then I remembered that underneath his shaggy hair there were delicately pointed ears, and I had to touch them. “Although, here’s nice, too.”
I found his hand with mine, and tugged. “Come with me.” I didn’t lead him back to the couch. Instead, I took him to my room, which was actually clean for a change. I sat on my bed, and drew him down to sit with me. Dropping his hand, I reached up to brush his hair. His eyes were huge, and I was pretty certain mine were as wide as saucers, as I reached to trace the points with one trembling finger. “You said once, that you could sense surface thoughts, if we were touching…can you tell what I’m thinking now?”
He closed his eyes, concentrating. “Music,” he said. “When I touch you, it’s all music.”
I pulled away. “Is that a bad thing?”
“Never. I just wish it was all for me.”
I wanted to ask him what he meant, or who he thought the music in my head was really for, but a part of me was afraid of what he’d say, so I took the cowardly route. “Stevek,” I said, using his whole name, before I kissed him. “T’vek,” and I kissed him again. “Tev…”
His hands twined into my hair, and suddenly we weren’t just sitting any more, but sprawled across my bed, and for a long time, there was no talking at all, just lips and tongues and hands and more than a little heavy breathing. His hand tugged at the hem of my shirt, and he whispered something that might have been asking for permission.
My response was to wiggle into a more comfortable position.
T’vek’s hand was hot against my skin, as he slipped it under my shirt, cupping my breast over my bra. “Okay?” he asked softly.
“Yeah,” I said, my voice catching in my throat. “You?”
“Perfect,” he said, but I didn’t know if he meant himself or me, or just…this. He was mostly on top of me, and as he leaned down to kiss me again, I heard the twin thuds of his shoes falling to the floor, and I managed to work my own boots off as well, even as he was insinuating his hand beneath the fabric of my bra, but then he moved, or I moved and the collar of my turtleneck started to choke me. “Zoe! Are you alright?” He moved away from me, pulling me upright as he did so.
“For future reference,” I managed after a moment of gasping. “Turtlenecks are not recommended as make-out session attire.”
His grin was warm and gentle. “I’ll try to remember that.” After a beat he added. “I thought I was pushing you too far.”
I shook my head. “It felt nice.”
“Just nice?” he teased.
“Really nice. Kind of amazing, actually. What time is it?”
He glanced at the digital display on my nightstand. “Not quite ten. We have time.”
“If I took my shirt off, would that be slutty or weird?”
“Definitely not weird,” he said. His dark eyes were shining. “And not slutty, either, unless you’re stripping down for Wes and Josh as well.”
“Well,” I teased. “Not for Wes and Josh.”
“Sorry.” I hesitated, then said, “If I’m taking something off, you should, too.”
“That’s fair,” he said, stripping off the tunic he was wearing. Like most Betazoids, he had almost no body hair. Like most Vulcans his compact frame belied his strength. Translation: the boy had muscles. He also had tawny skin that was radiating heat. “Ohhh.” I said softly.
He smirked at me. “You like what you see?”
“You know I do,” I said. I pulled my shirt off, tossing it aside, and then faced him wearing only my bra and jeans, and hoped I didn’t look as shy and nervous as I felt.
“Me, too,” he said, before I could ask.
I bent and kissed him, and he pulled me back onto my bed.
We didn’t undress any further, except that he did manage to get rid of my bra a little bit later. His touches and kisses were gentle and exploratory, sending chills all through me, and I was caught between wanting to just enjoy this new facet of our relationship, or reciprocate.
We never heard either of our padds remind us that T’vek had fifteen minutes to get home. We never heard the door chime sound. We didn’t even realize that my mother had come into our quarters and was standing in my room until suddenly, too close for comfort, came the words no teenager ever wants to hear:
“Zoe. Lauren. Harris. What do you think you’re doing?”
NOTES: The lines Zoe and Data sing are from “The Telephone Hour,” a song in the musical Bye Bye Birdie (book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, music by Charles Strouse). The names Crumpe and Lillivick are from a Steampunk name generator, for no reason except that I think they sounded cool. I chose not to have Barclay present in any scenes (only referenced) because it would have made this chapter incredibly long, but there will probably be a one-shot. For those keeping track, while I did move the whole Jenna D’Sora relationship into season 3, in ‘series time’ this chapter takes place around the episode “Hollow Pursuits.”
Chapter 22: Middle Names
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.
It’s All Fun and Games Until They Use Your Middle Name
We didn’t even realize that my mother had come into our quarters and was standing in my room until suddenly, too close for comfort, came the words no teenager ever wants to hear:
“Zoe. Lauren. Harris. What do you think you’re doing?”
In my deepest fantasies, when my mother asked that question I would favor her with my sauciest grin, and demand to know if she was asking a trick question. When she walked in on T’vek and me – half naked and in my bed – in reality, my response was much less polished. I took the pillow my boyfriend thrust at me, and used it to cover my chest. “Mom! You’re early.”
To her credit, my mother did not yell. Instead she looked at T’vek and me, and then said, “Living room. Five minutes. Get dressed.” She turned on her heel and walked out.
I didn’t move until I heard my bedroom door slide shut, and then I sat up. “Where exactly did you throw my bra?” I asked.
“Here,” T’vek said, handing it to me. He got up and began collecting his clothes, pulling his tunic over his head, and handing me my turtleneck.
“I’m sorry,” I said, as I, too, got dressed. “I’m really sorry.”
He shook his head. “Don’t be. We messed up, but I don’t regret anything. Do you?’
I smiled. “No.”
He kissed me. “Zoe, the timing of this completely sucks, but…I think I kinda love you.”
My heart started racing in my chest, but I didn’t have a chance to answer him because my mother called, “Zoe, T’vek, time’s up.”
T’vek’s father, Kenash, was waiting with my mother when we left the room.
“Hi, Dad,” my boyfriend said, too brightly.
“Stevek.” Apparently, when you’re a Vulcan/Betazoid hybrid, using your whole given name is as dire as when a middle name comes into play for a human.
“Is this the part where you start yelling at us for being stupid and breaking curfew?” I asked. Putting my mother on the defensive was an old tactic, but sometimes it actually worked.
“No,” my mother said.
“No?” T’vek and I asked together.
“This is the part where we point out that you’re damned lucky you live on a starship, where I could come down here and check to make sure that you were okay when you failed to answer the door chime. This is the part where we remind you that you’re both far too young to be having relationships this serious. This is the part where I bring up the fact that you, darling daughter, are only fifteen, and therefore below the legal age of consent.” Her voice got higher and more strident with each sentence.
“Calm down, Emily,” Mr. Mairaj suggested smoothly. “I know you’re upset. T’rella and I are not pleased about this either, but yelling at our children won’t solve the problem or correct their error.”
My mother took a couple of cleansing breaths. “You’re right, Kenash.”
“So, what happens now?” T’vek asked. “Are you forbidding us to see each other?”
“Would it work if we did?” his father countered.
“Probably not,” T’vek admitted.
I reached for my boyfriend’s hand and squeezed it, and he squeezed mine back. “We messed up,” I said, using his words from just a few minutes before. “And we’re both really sorry, but no one got hurt, and we weren’t running loose on the ship.”
“That may be the case,” Kenash agreed. “But T’vek’s mother had to interrupt Emily’s work in order to be certain that the pair of you were here and safe, and that cannot happen again.” He yawned. “However, this is not the time to discuss it. T’vek, I’ll wait for you in the corridor. Say your goodbyes quickly. ”
“Yes, Dad.” T’vek said even as I was saying “Goodnight, Mr. Mairaj.”
I glanced at my mother for permission, and then the two of us walked to the door, where I kissed him on the cheek, and said, “G’night Tev. See you in class.”
He leaned his forehead against mine for a moment, then pulled away. “Seeya, Zoe. Goodnight, Commander Harris.” And then he was gone.
I stared at the closed doors for a long moment, and then turned back to my mother. “I assume the yelling actually starts now?”
But instead of screaming at me, as I expected her to do, my mother came and wrapped me in her arms. “I’m incredibly angry and disappointed with you,” she said softly. “But I will never stop loving you, and Kenash is right. Yelling won’t resolve this.”
“I love you too, Mom,” I said, hugging her back.
“Good,” she said, “now go change, and go to bed. I’m not pulling you out of classes tomorrow if you’re too tired.”
“Yes, mom,” I said, and beat a hasty retreat to my bedroom.
Morning came all too quickly. I was over-tired, and my mother was milking her knowledge of that for all that it was worth, singing loudly and off-key (well, off-key was pretty normal for her), stirring her coffee by banging the spoon against the inside of her mug, and things of that ilk. I wanted to grumble at her, but I knew sweetness and light was a better defense at the moment.
“You look really radiant this morning, Mom,” I told her.
“Thank you,” she said, “but that doesn’t get you out of any consequences. Consider yourself grounded for the next two weeks.”
“Grounded?” I goggled at her in disbelief. “How can you ground me? Ground me from what? It’s not like there’s any place to go.”
“Isn’t there?” she asked, too pleasantly. “For the next two weeks, you’ll go to class, and music lessons, and otherwise be back here.”
“Am I allowed to have friends come over for study sessions?”
She seemed to consider the idea before answering, “Annette and Dana are welcome any time. No boys without express permission and adult supervision.”
That actually wasn’t so bad. “But only for two weeks, right?”
“The ‘no boys’ part is indefinite.”
“Zoe, there may not be ‘any place to go,’ but despite that you’ve broken my trust in you. Earn it back, and I’ll reconsider.”
“What about Data’s quartet? We’re supposed to rehearse tonight.”
“You said class and music lessons, but Data’s quartet isn’t really either.”
“You may attend providing he or one of the other members of the group escorts you to and from.”
“Seriously?” I asked her. “He’ll think I’m a total child.” I paused, using the time to obtain a glass of cranberry-orange juice and a breakfast burrito from the replicator. “You’re not going to tell him why, are you?” I asked, after I’d returned to the table.
My mother relented, a little. “I won’t provide details, no, but I need to know where you are, and ensure that you are honoring your restriction, which leads me to this.” She slid a small metal object across the table, toward me. “Put it on.”
I stared at it, “This is a com-badge.”
“Since when do civilians wear com-badges?”
“Since their mothers need to be able to track their whereabouts. Besides, if you’d had one last night, you would not have missed our attempts to contact you.”
I muttered something about kid-leashes and hand-cuffs.
“What was that?”
“I didn’t think so.” But again she relented, adding the information, “It’s not just you. All civilians are being added to the com-network. You’ll have limited access, of course, so don’t think you and your friends can use them for chit-chat.”
“You will wear it.”
I sighed, and attached it to the shirt I was wearing, a black long-sleeved t-shirt with the slogan, “We’re all mad here,” written in silver text. It was a reference to Alice in Wonderland, but I liked it because it left people just a bit on edge. “Fine. See.”
“You will contact me as soon as you get back to quarters after every class or lesson.”
“Or quartet rehearsal?”
“You’ll still come to our presentation tomorrow?”
“Of course. I’m looking forward to seeing the project that required a field trip and an entire suitcase full of new outfits.”
“Honestly, mom. You were there. You know the field trip was all about enhancing our education.”
“And the clothes?”
“My beloved father felt guilty for neglecting his only daughter. A little retail therapy did wonders to assuage that guilt.”
“A ‘little retail therapy’ would have been just the bags you came back with the night you snuck out to be with him.”
It was my turn to give a little. “I think part of it was from Gia. She’s trying to be my friend or something.” I got up, and returned my tableware to the replicator. “Gotta book. Things to learn, music to play, all of that.” I dropped a kiss onthe top of her head as I left. “Love you.”
For the first time in weeks, T’vek wasn’t waiting for me outside my quarters, but Dana was. “Hey, you,” she greeted, grinning at me. “I come bearing messages.”
“Messages? As in plural?” I started walking toward the ‘lift as we talked.
She laughed. “Yes, but they’re both from one person. T’vek’s got some kind of thing in sickbay today, and didn’t want you to worry when he wasn’t here.”
“Why didn’t he tell me himself?”
“That’s the second message. His father blocked communications on his padd, and – as you know – we’re not allowed to use our newly-assigned com-badges for anything that isn’t an emergency.”
I glanced at my friend, checking to see that she, too, was sporting new jewelry. I was oddly reassured that she was. “I was half-convinced that only T’vek and I were getting these. You know, electronic leashes.”
She shook her head. “Dad said they’d actually been considering it for a while.” Her father, I remembered, was in security.
“Is there something going on that we should know about?”
“Nothing I’ve heard, but Dad doesn’t really let me know what’s going on.”
“No, I guess he wouldn’t.” Dana’s father was the living example of over-protective. “I don’t suppose you and Annette would like to come have lunch at my place today, so that I don’t have to eat all alone?”
“Oh, Zoe, I’d love to…” she began, but hesitated.
I gave my friend a hard look, realizing for the first time that her blonde hair was not pulled back in its typical pony-tail, and that she was wearing an actual dress. I tried hard not to smile too broadly. “But…” I was going to make her say it.
“But I have plans with Josh.”
I grinned. “That’s wonderful. Well, for you, not so much for me. Although, I should probably use the time to practice. I have quartet rehearsal tonight, and I don’t want to disappoint Da – the group – because it’s my only non-class activity for the next two weeks.”
“What exactly happened between you and T’vek last night? Josh said you were running battle sims in astrometrics or something.”
“I’m not sure where he got that idea…” At least it meant T’vek hadn’t given him any details. “T’vek didn’t tell you anything?”
“Only that you’d both messed up, and he had an appointment.”
“Yeah, we messed up by getting caught messing around. Together. On my bed.” We’d ridden the turbo-lift to the school deck by now, and I didn’t want everyone else hearing. “We might have been a little bit topless.”
“Oh my god, Zoe, you didn’t…!”
“Oh, god, no. I mean…there was kissing and stuff, but…no. Not everything.”
“But you will.”
I blushed thinking about it. “I don’t know. Maybe? My mother made a few valid points between ranting about us being stupid.”
Dana seemed to think that over. “I’m not sure stupid is the right word,” she said after a beat or two. “But Zoe, I’m the same age you are, and I know I’m not ready to go that far with Josh…”
I shrugged. “People are ready for things when they’re ready for them. I’m pretty sure it was only a couple years ago that I was still insisting that boys are gross.”
Dana smiled at that. “So, you’re just grounded?”
“Like it matters much. Oh, and no boys in quarters without adult supervision. And I have to have an escort to and from rehearsals.”
“If you ever want to trade parents…” she began, but I knew she didn’t really mean it.
“Your father isn’t that bad,” I assured her. “I mean, he’s stricter with you than the rest of our parents are, but he’s in security. He sees stuff.”
“Yeah, but I’d never have gotten a mere grounding,” she countered. “If I was caught topless with a boy, my father would have replicated a chastity belt and used self-actuating stem bolts to keep it on me til I turned thirty.”
“When you put it that way…” I let the sentence trail off, because we’d arrived at our classroom for History of the Federation. “Though, with the right accessories a chastity belt could be a new fashion trend. Anyway, we have to go learn everything we never wanted to know about the Andorian-Tellarite wars, and save the important stuff for later.”
As I’d hoped, Dana responded to that with easy laughter.
Notes: Just a shout-out to all of you who continue to read and comment, especially those who don’t actually log in to do so.
Chapter 23: Tilt-a-Whirl
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.
The morning of our presentation, I transmitted the file with our written report to Data’s terminal about an hour before we were scheduled to meet at the holodeck. I’d been tasked with the final proofreading and sending, and I wanted to make sure it was there on time. As it turned out, our tutor was unable to make it to our presentation, and Geordi and the captain were also unable to attend. There was an emergency on Beta Agni II, and we were the closest ship to a supplier of the chemical needed to fix the problem.
At least, that’s what I gleaned from Wes’s excited chatter, when he came rushing down the corridor. “We have to get this done so I can get back to the bridge,” was his final pronouncement.
Our presentation, then, was made to our parents, Guinan, and Lt. Barclay. We paired off, well, divided up. – T’vek ended up riding the Ferris wheel with my mother (and what I wouldn’t have given to hear that conversation), Dana and Barclay went on the Wave-Warrior, a pendulum ride based on a pirate ship, with her father and Josh’s mother tagging along, while Josh escorted Guinan and Wesley’s mother onto the Stellar Scrambler.
That left Wes and T’vek’s father to ride the Galactic Gravitron, while I was paired with my boyfriend’s mother.
Other than that she was pure Vulcan, all I knew about T’rella Mairaj was that she was some kind of scientist and played the flute. She’d invited my mother and me to dine with them, but we hadn’t yet managed to schedule anything. I suspected that, given recent events, that dinner was going to be scheduled pretty quickly. “Commander Mairaj,” I invited, “would you join me on the Axial Tilt?”
“That would be agreeable.”
I led the way onto the ride, choosing a car at random, and explaining, “We designed each ride for maximum enjoyment based on average humanoid responses to spinning, twisting, and the possibility of falling from the ride, though the reality is that it’s almost impossible to fall out.” We’d also added holographic riders to fill any cars or gondolas that didn’t have real people, because our research showed us that part of the fun in an amusement park ride was the collective mood of the crowd.
“You have done an exemplary job at recreating the carnival atmosphere,” she observed, seating herself. “I see a lot of my son’s handiwork in the architectural choices.”
“Tev told me he’d like to do this for a living,” I said. “Architecture, not designing theme parks.”
“I am aware of that desire. I encourage it. I am also aware of your desire to make music your profession. Do you believe that to be a wise choice?”
The ride lurched into motion, the twisting circles beginning at a fairly gentle speed, but gradually accelerating. “I grew up watching my father’s career,” I answered. “Touring with him. I like theatre, too, but right now music is what’s driving me.”
“Then you are not committed to a career path?”
“I’m committed to becoming the best musician I can,” I said, trying to be polite. “I’m not even sixteen yet. My mother thinks I should ‘explore more options’ before making any irrevocable decisions.”
“And yet you and Stevek nearly made an irrevocable decision two nights ago.” It wasn’t a question, and her voice was neutral, so I wasn’t sure if she was angry or concerned or…anything.
“We let things go a little too far,” I allowed, “but no one got hurt. It’s not like we jumped ship to run off and elope, or anything.”
She must have sensed my defensiveness. “Zoe, please understand. I am not angry with Stevek or with you. I am concerned for my son’s well-being, and for yours.”
“Stevek believes he is in love with you.”
The ride accelerated further, the twists and turns of the car on the tilted platform matching those of my emotions. “I know,” I said. “I think I’m in love with him, too.”
“But you are not certain.”
“I know I love him,” I said. “I’m not sure where just loving someone ends and being in love with them begins. He’s creative and supportive and – forgive me – kind of hot – and being with him is just…easy. But…”
“But…?” Her nudging was surprisingly gentle, considering the Vulcan reputation for being completely logical all the time.
I hesitated, not sure what, or how much, to say.
“Zoe, Stevek has outwardly embraced his Betazoid traits far more than his Vulcan ones. His father and I decided together that he would choose his own path in that regard. He displays emotion, as you know, but inside he is still half Vulcan.”
The spinning got even faster as we tilted and whirled among the other cars on the ride. “Are you telling me to back off?”
“No,” T’rella said. “I am not. I believe you and Stevek are well-suited. However, I believe that it is imperative the pair of you proceed with caution. As you pointed out, you are only fifteen. My son is not that much older.”
“My mother said basically the same thing,” I shared, even as I locked my grip on the lap bar of our car. “Only her phrasing was that we not be in a rush to grow up.” I paused, adjusted my grip, and continued. “If you’re worried about us having sex, I know I’m not ready to go there yet.” I’m not sure what compelled me to continue, but I added, “I promise I won’t hurt him.”
T’rella turned her head to meet my gaze. “No,” she said. “I do not believe you will. I only hope that he does not hurt you.” There was a long stretch of silence, and I felt the ride reverse direction, part of the deceleration routine. “I will contact your mother later today about a mutually agreeable time and date for dinner.”
I let out a breath I hadn’t even realized I was holding. “Thank you, Commander,” I said.
“T’rella,” she corrected, “is my given name. I would be honored if you would use it.”
“Thank you, T’rella,” I amended as the ride came to a stop. The locks on the lap bar disengaged, and I pushed it away. “And thanks for riding with me. I hope you enjoyed it.”
She didn’t smile at me, not quite, but there was a hint of a twinkle in her dark eyes when she replied, “I found the experience to be most educational. Thank you, Zoe.”
We left the platform and joined my classmates and the rest of our guests. T’vek caught my eye and raised a questioning brow, but I just shook my head and mouthed the word ‘later’ at him. Then, since none of my friends were moving things along I spoke up, “We know you all have things to get back to, so we’d like everyone to come and ride the Cosmic Comet together.”
As much as I’d lobbied for the inclusion of the Ferris wheel, the Cosmic Comet was the real piece de resistance of our carnival. Designed to look like it was made of copper tubing and wooden rails, it was actually a mag-coaster, translated into a holographic setting. It had three big peaks, and a final descent that corkscrewed to a finish. We’d debated adding a loop, but decided it would be overkill.
There were thirteen of us, which made seating a bit of a challenge, but T’vek and I, as the resident thrill seekers, commandeered the front seat of the front car, with his parents directly behind us, and Guinan my mother sharing the back seat. The second car had Josh and his mother in the front, Dana and her father in the back, and Wes and his mother in the middle.
“Reg,” the doctor invited, “come sit with Wes and me.”
The nervous lieutenant demurred. “I’m not really a fan of – ah – roller coasters,” he said. “Vertigo. I get vertigo.”
“You’re not riding?” Josh confirmed.
“But you helped us with all the programming,” Dana added.
“I’d really prefer to just…watch,” he insisted.
“Your loss,” Wes said, and even though I couldn’t see him, I just knew he was shrugging when he said it.
“Alright then,” I said, “Lt. Barclay, start the ride, at least?”
“That I can do,” he agreed, and did so.
The Cosmic Comet run was timed to last for two minutes and fourteen seconds, but everyone – including T’rella – asked for a second run, so it was five minutes later that we actually exited the ride.
“That was awesome!” Josh said.
“I had a great time,” his mother said, hugging him as long as he allowed it – about fifteen seconds.
“I enjoyed this experience as well,” T’rella told us. “You have all done a remarkable job. I am certain Commander Data will be impressed with your work.”
“I hope so,” I said, at about the same time Wes did.
“Do you think we could keep the program as part of the entertainment library?” T’vek asked. “So we can come back to it, and others can use it?”
“I do not see why not,” his mother answered. “Doctor?”
Beverly Crusher smiled, “I’m pretty sure once Data sees it, he’ll approve its inclusion,” she said. “Thank you all for a marvelous morning. I’m sorry the captain couldn’t make it.”
The conversation went on in a similar vein for a few more minutes, as we students answered some questions about the design and the inspiration for the project, and explained why we’d chosen the rides that we had.
Finally, though, Wes said, “I’m due on the bridge. Mom, do you wanna walk with me?”
“I’d love to,” she said, and they disappeared.
T’vek and his parents also left, as did everyone else. My mother and I remained, to shut everything down.
“You’re awfully quiet, Zoe,” she observed.
“I had an interesting chat with T’rella, is all,” I said.
“I thought as much.”
“Did you plan it? Separating T’vek and me so you could each have conversations?”
She favored me with her best wry grin. “If only I was that good at plotting. Actually, T’vek asked me to ride with him. He was lobbying to end your grounding.”
“Did it work?” I asked.
“I told him you were free of restriction after tomorrow morning.” She hesitated a moment, then said, in a softer tone. “I was your age once, too, Zoe. I might have over-reacted a little.”
“I could have sent you to the Sisters of Serenity on PaxWorld,” she pointed out.
“You would never do that,” I said. “We’re not even Catholic.”
“Fair point.” She reached out to me, and I moved closer so she could hook her arm around my waist. I returned the embrace, and saved and closed our program. My mother continued, though, saying, “I’m a little hungry. Let’s go have lunch in Ten-Forward.”
“I’d like that,” I said.
Author’s Note: The rides that Zoe and her friends created are futuristic versions of classic carnival rides, designed to look like they’d belong in a steampunk setting. Instead of hydraulics and machinery, their versions are designed to use magnets, anti-grav units, and small force-fields or tractor-beams. Contemporary equivalents: Axial Tilt (Tilt-a-Whirl), Stellar Scrambler (The Scrambler), Cosmic Comet (Imagine your favorite roller coaster. I prefer the wooden coasters found on seaside boardwalks (Santa Cruz, CA has my favorite), but the new suspended coasters – where you hang from the track, and your feet dangle – are probably closer to what the kids created), Galactic Gravitron (Round-Up), Wave-Warrior (pirate-ship pendulum ride) and the classic Ferris wheel.
Chapter 24: Ferris Wheel
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.
The gondola of the holographic Ferris wheel swayed slightly, despite the fact that the ride was currently paused. We’d left the part of the program that included other passengers turned off, because at the moment, our creation was my haven from reality. Earlier that morning, I’d been all set to meet Data for our usual Saturday music theory session, only to have my mother grab me in a fierce hug and then tell me gently that the mission he’d been on the day before, the one that had caused him to miss our presentation, had ended in a fiery explosion and his death. A holographic breeze wafted by me, and I shivered.
“You’re cold, Zo’,” my companion said to me. “We should exit the program and get you a sweater or some soup or something.”
“I hate sweaters,” I said. “And I don’t think I could eat anything even if I wanted to.” I wasn’t looking at him but I knew his expression would be full of concern. “Put your arm around me and hold me close, and let me just be out of the world a little bit longer?” I asked.
He pulled me to his side, and I nestled against the heat of his body, always several degrees warmer than my own, resting my head on his shoulder. The gondola swayed even more as we resettled ourselves, but neither of us cared. “Better?” he asked.
“Way better,” I said. “What would I do without you, Tev?”
T’vek nuzzled my hair for a long moment before he answered. “Well,” he said, “you definitely wouldn’t be necking on a vintage carnival ride.” He kept his tone light, teasing.
“I was being serious,” I said, but the ghost of a smile flirted with the corners of my mouth.
“Yeah,” he said, a rough catch in his voice. “I know. ‘s why I’m not.” What he didn’t say, what he didn’t need to say, was that he, too, was mourning the loss of the man who led our math tutorial, who had given us the assignment that led to the Ferris wheel even being here – the man who had come into my life several months before as just another officer, and then morphed into my tutor, my friend, and more recently, my musical partner. “It’s okay if you need to cry some more,” he added softly. “It’s what I’m here for.”
I changed my position slightly, so I could wrap both my arms around his middle. “Thank you,” I said. “I’m okay for the moment. But that might change, so, you know stay close.”
“Hadn’t planned to go anywhere,” he said.
I took a deep breath, but didn’t lift my head, just let the breath back out slowly. “Good. Don’t. You and Data are pretty much the only reasons I haven’t figured out a way to hijack a shuttle and run away.” I wasn’t really teasing, but I wasn’t really serious either. “Anyway, I love you too much to make you an accomplice to that kind of crime.”
“What? I’m only good for petty larceny and plotting nefarious deeds?” He made it a joke, but I could hear the smile in his voice that was his reaction to my use of the l-word.
“Well,” I said, “maybe not only that.” I was quiet for a long time after that, but then there was a ping from my comm-badge, something I’d only had for about three days, and was still not comfortable with.
Wesley Crusher to Zoe Harris, please respond.
“Wonder what the boy wonder wants,” T’vek murmured.
I shrugged and tapped the badge. “Go for Zoe,” I said, sitting upright once more.
Sorry to bother you this way, our classmate’s voice came from the tiny speaker, but Geordi and I are in Data’s quarters, and we were wondering…Geordi thinks maybe you should join us.
“Think I should?” I asked my boyfriend.
“Why not?” he said. “The worst thing that happens is that you burst into tears, and I’m pretty sure Wes and Commander LaForge would understand.”
“Do you know him?” I asked. “Commander LaForge? I met him a couple of times when I was a kid, and had lunch with him and Wes and Data my first day in our m-math class.” Tears were threatening again. “He seemed nice. Said to use his first name.”
“About the same,” T’vek told me. “Ran into him a couple of times hanging with Wes, but no real direct interaction. If he’s the one who thinks there’s something there you need to see, I’d say you should go.”
“You wanna come?”
He shook his head. “I should get home. Make sure my mother has no need of me. I’ll see you later?”
“Count on it,” I said.
Zoe? You there? Wes’s voice reminded me I hadn’t actually answered.
“Sorry,” I said after tapping the badge again. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. T’vek and I are finishing something in the holodeck.”
“Computer, return ride to start position,” T’vek ordered, and the wheel began to turn slowly, carrying us downward so we could exit the ride. In truth, we could have just ended the program, but we weren’t entirely certain if we’d be on the ground or in mid-air, so it was easier to exit properly.
“End program,” I said, as soon as we were off the ride. “Thanks,” I said to T’vek. We shared a brief, chaste kiss, and left the holodeck going in opposite directions.
When I got to Data’s quarters the door was standing open, and I could hear Geordi and Wes inside, but couldn’t discern what they were actually saying. Feeling awkward, I knocked on the door frame. “Um…hello?” I called.
“Zoe,” Geordi came to meet me at the door. “We didn’t pull you away from anything, did we?”
I shook my head. “My usual Saturday plans are sort of…permanently cancelled. It’s when we met for music theory.” I followed him back into the room, looking around at all of Data’s things in a way I hadn’t been able to the last time I was in his quarters. “Why did you want me here?” I asked, biting back tears. “I mean, why me, why not Josh or Tev or Dana – they’ve known him longer.”
“You mean, you don’t know, Zoe?” Wes came around the corner from the other part of the room, his voice gentler than I was accustomed to. “You’re on Data’s list.”
“List?” I asked. “What list? A ranking of the most annoying, disrespectful people on the ship? A catalog of people with the coolest collection of t-shirts? The roster of mindless jerks who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes?”
Wes looked at me as if I were crazy, but I could have sworn that Geordi let out a soft chuckle. Still, my classmate patiently explained, “It’s typical for Starfleet officers to have a list of people they’re close to. Family, and stuff. The people they record personal messages for. Your mom never told you about this?”
I shrugged. “She may have. I kind of tune out anything that involves my parents being, y’know, dead. Anyway, why would I be on Data’s list? I mean, yeah, we’ve been spending a lot of time together…but I didn’t think…” I went to the couch and sat on it. “You were totally serious about me being the favorite, weren’t you?”
He sat next to me. “He talks about you on the bridge, Zoe.” His voice was quiet, serious.
“Is that true?” I asked Geordi, who was staying mostly out of the conversation.
The chief engineer dropped into Data’s desk chair. “Yeah,” he said. “You come up a lot. When Data finds someone he connects with, especially if it’s someone who shares one of his personal interests, he tends to keep them pretty close.”
“His list must be huge,” I observed.
“Actually, it’s not.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, and save for my use of a contraction, I could have been echoing the man we were talking about.
“Most people, even people he works with every day, tend to treat Data more like a machine than a man. Maybe it’s subconscious – I don’t know – but it’s pretty rare that anyone treats him like any other person. Really rare. Besides,” he added with the flash of a grin, “I think you’re the only person who’s never complained about his babbling habit.”
I waited a moment before responding, letting everything Geordi had said sink into my grief-fogged brain. Finally I admitted, “I kind of like his babbling. I kind of have the same habit. And why wouldn’t I treat him like any other person? I mean, he does. Did. Whatever. I mean,” I wasn’t sure I was expressing myself with any kind of clarity, and I was less sure that I cared. “When he talks to me, I never feel like it’s an adult talking to a kid. I may be his student, but outside of class, I’m another musician. God. I still can’t wrap my brain around him being gone.”
“None of us can,” Wes said, reaching across the couch to touch my hand, a gesture I’d normally have rebuffed, but chose to allow.
I nodded. “Yeah. Okay.” I was quiet again, just sitting there, until I realized my initial question had never been answered. “Um, unless you’re both really hard up for conversation, I’m guessing there was an actual reason why you asked me to come here?”
Wes looked sheepish, and left it to Geordi to explain.
“We were disposing of Data’s belongings,” he said, his voice even softer than Wes’s had been a few moments before. “We thought you might want his violin, or one of his paintings.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said, as shock washed through me.
“Look, Zoe, you don’t have to take it. I know you and Data spent a lot of time together, and…”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said again, and this time, I was beginning to feel anger.
“If there’s something else you’d rather have….” Wes began.
I stood up. “You’ve GOT to be KIDDING! What are you – vultures? It’s been, like, two days. Seriously, you could at least give the body time to cool before you divvy up all the loot.” I was half-shouting, and half-crying, and in the back of my head I could hear Data’s voice correcting me on the exact length of time he’d been dead, even as I realized that Wes had released the hold on the door, so it would slide shut. We wouldn’t want grief to cause a breach of Starfleet decorum, would we?
“Um, Zoe…his shuttle exploded. There isn’t a bod-”
“Not now, Wes,” Geordi cut him off. He stood up, and came around the desk, perching on the edge of it, and offering a handkerchief from somewhere in his uniform. “I guess it does seem pretty fast,” he said to me. “And maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, because I don’t want to get your hopes up, but there’s a part of me that isn’t convinced Data really is dead.”
“Thanks,” I muttered. I wiped my eyes on the soft, white cloth. “Is that actually possible?”
Geordi gave me an appraising look, and I wondered if his VISOR had the ability to read character as well as normal things like body heat. “You’re a civilian,” he said. “I shouldn’t even be telling you this but…lemme ask you something?”
“When you and Data meet for theory lessons, does he have a routine he follows?”
“You mean like tightening his bow, or specific warm-up exercises? Yeah. He does.” I walked through it in my head. “Three turns, always, and then a bounce of the bow on the A-string. He tunes enharmonically, the same way I do…” I could tell that meant nothing to the engineer, so I explained. “Instead of tuning each string separately, you tune the top to an external pitch – or, I guess, to the pitch in your head, if you’re Data – and tune the rest relatively. I could show you, but it really isn’t important.”
“No,” he agreed, the hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth. “But hearing you describe it, I can see a little of what he sees – saw – in you.”
“Anyway,” he said, ignoring my snark. “Wes and I spent part of the morning replaying the mission reports, and I feel like I’ve been missing something. Something about what he said. We could use a musician’s ear, if you don’t mind joining us in Engineering for a while?”
“Seriously, Zoe, we’ve listened to the recordings so many times, I’m not even sure we’re hearing them correctly any more,” Wes put in.
“If I come, will you delay disposing of all this for at least a week?” I asked.
“Deal,” Geordi said. “Do you need to let your mother know where you are?”
“I should,” I said. “Or…maybe you could? ‘Cause she’ll never believe me if I tell her I’m going to a part of the ship where actual work is being done.”
He managed a laugh, then tapped his comm-badge and contacted my mother. Meanwhile, I looked around a bit more, noticing a lucite case holding a collection of medals. “Impressive,” I said to myself.
Wes came up behind me and picked up the box. “He really was,” my classmate agreed. “I hadn’t realized he’d been decorated so many times, until I saw these earlier. I hope I’m half as successful as those medals imply, someday.”
“Oh, you will be,” I assured him, forcing a breezy tone. “Wesley the Wunderkind is doomed to succeed. It’s your destiny.” I managed a grin. “Sorry for losing it.”
He shook his head, “I totally bawled in front of my mom this morning. It just means you care.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I do.” There was a moment of silence before I added, “But if you tell anyone about my little meltdown, I swear, Wesley Crusher, I will make your life a living hell.”
He managed a grin at me. “Somehow,” he said. “I don’t doubt that in the slightest.” He paused, and his attitude shifted to one of slightly goofy awkwardness. “Zoe…are we friends? I’m never sure with you.”
I took a breath. “I kind of kept you at a distance because our mothers kept pushing us together,” I said. “But, yeah, we’re friends.”
Geordi returned to the main part of Data’s quarters. “Zoe, your mother is a little concerned that you haven’t eaten anything.”
“Apparently my eating habits are a hot topic today,” I confessed. “Even T’vek was needling me about food. Can we eat and listen at the same time?”
“I could arrange a snack,” the engineer allowed.
“Probably a good idea. Mom will believe me if I tell her I’ve had food, but Tev will make me produce witnesses.” I glanced down at the floor, suddenly embarrassed. “Um, does Data have a bathroom, and if so, could I use it before we go?”
Geordi chuckled. “He does. And I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind. Through the bedroom.”
I went and did what I had to, pausing a moment to note the relative lack of personal care items. Oh, he had towels and a set of hair brushes, but none of the stuff my dad had in his bathroom – razors and shave cream and stuff. I turned on the sink to splash water on my face, and used the noise to cover my prying into his medicine cabinet. Fleet issue toothpaste, fleet issue shampoo, and…hair gel. For some reason, that last made me laugh, and I couldn’t resist opening the tube to sniff it. I rolled my eyes, and muttered, “Scent free. Of course it would be.” I resolved that if Data was actually alive, I would manage to get him to try something scented.
With that thought firmly in place, I dried my hands, and left the room.
Geordi’s idea of a snack ended up being servings of vegetarian lasagna and glasses of iced tea, served in his office in Engineering. I’d never been in it before, and was surprised to find it somewhat homey. Diagrams – some on flimsies, some on actual paper, adorned the walls, and his desk was messy in the way that the workspaces of busy, creative people always are.
I knew the engineer was antsy to get going – he was investigating the loss of our mutual friend as well as working on the mission that led to the accident – but he patiently allowed us to be mostly finished with our food before he stopped the casual conversation we’d been having – sort of a ‘getting to know you’ chat – and called our attention back to the task at hand.
“Zoe, I asked you about Data’s routine during your music sessions because I wanted to confirm a theory – that he doesn’t deviate from routines. Does he follow the same procedure you described every time you meet?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Every time. Even for quartet rehearsal. It’s almost like a ritual. Is that weird?”
“Ritual’s a good word for it,” Wes added. “He’s the same way on the bridge, when he takes over the ops station. Always the same pattern of logging himself in, changing settings to the way he likes them…always the same order, down to the keystroke, and he chats about personal stuff only til he’s done.”
“Exactly,” Geordi said. “Once he has a routine, he doesn’t deviate from it unless there’s a strong reason.”
“I’m sorry,” I interrupted, “But what does all this have to do with a shuttle exploding?”
He collected our plates and glasses and returned them to the food slot, then resumed his seat behind his desk. “I keep thinking there’s something in one of his reports that might give us a clue. Here, listen…” He tapped his control panel a couple of times, and the sound of Data’s voice doing a pre-launch checklist filled the room. “That’s the first run.”
“There were five, total,” Wes informed me quietly. I just nodded.
Geordi informed the computer to play the next indexed report, and we heard the same words again. He was about to play the third, when he was paged to the bridge, and he canceled the command, sighing. “Guess we’ll have to revisit this a little later,” he said. “Thanks for your time, Zoe. Wes, walk her back to her quarters would you?”
I started to object, but thought the better of it. “Sorry I couldn’t actually help,” I said, rising from my own chair.
“Yeah,” he said. “Me, too.”
Wes and I left him in his office, though by the time we’d reached the doors leading out of Engineering, he’d rushed by us. “If he’s alive, Geordi will find him,” Wes said to me.
“Do you honestly think that’s possible?” I asked, once we were in the turbolift.
“Knowing Data? Do you honestly think it’s not?”
My smile was watery, but real. “Fair point. Look, Wes, we’re not that close, and I hate to ask, but…if he does turn out to be alive, can you let me know? Like, the second you find out?”
He reached out as if to pat me on the back, but stopped before he made contact. “Sure, Zoe. I can do that.”
“I mean, I don’t want you to get into trouble…” I hedged.
“I won’t.” He hesitated a moment before adding, softly, “But if we’re wrong…if he really is dead?”
“Save his violin for me, I guess,” I said. “And…if it’s not too weird, the portrait of his daughter.”
“Lal?” he seemed really surprised. “But you never even met her.”
“I know,” I said. “But…we had a long talk about her one night on the way back from Serenity, and I think he’d approve.”
“You two are connected,” Wes responded cryptically, making me stare at him.
He shook his head, “Huh?”
“Are you trying to weird me out?”
“Huh? Oh…no, sorry. I’ll see what I can do.”
The turbolift stopped, the doors opened on the deck where mom and I lived, and I left him standing there, looking really confused.
For the next twenty-four hours, I felt a little bit like my brain was wrapped in cotton, and the world around me was a slowly spinning Ferris wheel – disconnected, disordered, out of synch.
T’vek and I met for a walk in the arboretum, and then back to the aquatics lab to play with the baby bat rays – they were fish, but their faces reminded me of puppies, and the strain we had on the ship was actually trainable. Mom and I had dinner and watched a holo-video – a romantic comedy that was funny enough, I guess – and then I went to bed to put earphones on and blast music while reading myself into exhaustion.
I spent Sunday just hanging out in our quarters, not even bothering to change out of pajamas. Mom was on duty, so at least I was spared her concern and her lecture. I picked up my cello to practice more than once, but couldn’t find the energy to do so, and ended up just noodling, before returning to the couch to indulge in a marathon of tri-vee comfort-viewing.
Finally, just before ship’s midnight, I noticed a message flag on my padd. It was from Wesley, and had just two words. “Alive. Safe.”
I sent a quick note to T’vek, repeating the information, and finally managed to sleep.
Notes: Obviously Geordi didn’t really need input from Zoe to find Data during “The Most Toys.” If you asked him, he’d probably confess he just wanted her to feel better. (Please note, she didn’t solve anything. She never heard enough to even notice a deviation.) Wes’s remark to Zoe in the turbolift might have been a random flash of Traveler-ness, and that may or may not come up again later.
Chapter 25: Unsettled
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine. This chapter takes place immediately after the season three episode “The Most Toys.”
Finally, just before ship’s midnight, I noticed a message flag on my padd. It was from Wesley, and had just two words. “Alive. Safe.” I sent a quick note to T’vek, repeating the information, and finally managed to sleep.
I woke up on Monday morning to find my mother waiting for me at the table in our quarters. She was sipping coffee, but had left a glass of orange-cranberry juice sitting at my place. “Morning,” I mumbled sleepily.
“Back at ya, kiddo,” she said, her gentle tone belying the flippant choice of words. “Join me?”
I padded across the room in bare feet. “Sure,” I said as I sat down. “What’s up?”
“I wanted to make sure you knew that Commander Data is actually alive, and has returned to the ship.”
I had the good grace to look sheepish. “I kind of knew that already,” I confessed. “Wes sent me a message last night. About the alive part, anyway.”
She nodded. “I had a feeling he might.” There was a long pause as she swallowed some of her coffee, grimaced, and pushed it aside. “Cold,” she said.
“You could just replicate another,” I pointed out.
“True enough,” she agreed. “Commander Riker mentioned that you hadn’t been aware of notification lists.”
“Is that what they’re called?” I asked, deflecting a little. “And, wait, how did he know. I don’t think I’ve ever even met him.”
“You have; you probably just don’t remember. He and I were at the Academy together. We’re not best friends, but we do talk, so when one of his department heads told him you’d reacted oddly to hearing you were on such a list –”
“It wasn’t oddly,” I interrupted. “I mean, how would you feel if someone you’d only really known for about six months had you on their list?”
“If the ‘someone’ in question was also someone with whom I was spending quite a lot of time, much of which in pursuit of a mutual personal interest…”
“Mom, could you talk like you and not a textbook?”
She sighed. “Look, Zoe, Data and I are colleagues. I report to him in his role as head of Operations, but we don’t work together directly very often – you know my specialty is considered a ‘soft’ science.”
This I knew. “Okay, and?”
“And even I know that while he’s always personable and amiable, he doesn’t truly connect with many people. So if he has included you on his notification list, it means he considers you a real friend. And if I were you, I’d consider it an honor.”
“Am I on your list?” I asked, even though I was pretty sure of the answer.
“At the top,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. I was quiet for a while, before I asked, “Mom, do you think I spend too much time with Data?”
“Do you think so?”
I thought about it. “I don’t know. It’s just…people keep referring to me as his protégé, and Wes went all cryptic in the ‘lift yesterday and told me I had a deep connection with Data, and sometimes I worry that T’vek is right, and I am crushing on him. A little.”
My mother smirked. “Sounds like T’vek is a mite jealous.”
I grinned. “Maybe a little.” I shrugged, “But he’s the one who makes me all dizzy and ishy inside. He’s the one I love. And when I’m spending time with Data, it’s almost exclusively related to music. I wish I could stop taking lessons from Seth and only study with him. I mean, he keeps saying he doesn’t have feelings, and he sucks at improvisation, but my technique has improved so much from playing with him, and theory actually makes sense now.”
“Have you asked Data about that?”
I shook my head. “He’s giving up so much time for me already; that really would be overstepping.”
“It’s your call, Zoe. If you want to take a break from formal lessons for a while, I’m sure your father would allow it.”
“Only if he hears me play, and he hasn’t since I’ve been here. There wasn’t time on Serenity.”
“You could have made time, instead of shopping.”
“Give up a shopping spree on Dad’s credit account? Mother! Bite your tongue.” I was teasing her, and she knew it.
“Alright then. Call your father and discuss it with him, and let me know what you decide.”
“Make sure you ask him about Christmas, also – I think he wants you to spend the holidays with him.”
“You mean with him and Gia,” I corrected. “But…yeah.” I drained my juice glass and moved to the comm system to place the call to my father, but was interrupted by an incoming message informing me our math tutorial had been cancelled for the day. “Hey, Mom, I thought you said Data was back on the ship?”
“I did; why?”
“He cancelled tutorial this morning. Is something wrong with him?”
“I don’t know much more than you do, Zoe, but I’d guess that he might be involved in debriefings.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling deflated. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
She must have heard it in my tone because her next question was, “Can I believe this? Is my daughter disappointed over missing a math class?” This time her teasing was gentle.
“Not exactly. I just kind of wanted to see Data for myself. To know he’s really back.”
My mother stared at me for a long moment. “I have a meeting I need to get to,” she said, getting up. “Make sure you eat something before you leave quarters.” She ruffled my hair as she moved past me. “I love you, kiddo.”
“Love you, too,” I said, before getting up and moving to the food slot, determined to convince it that peanut butter on toast was a thing it could actually deliver.
With no math tutorial to attend, I used the time to contact my father, who was actually available in real-time for a change. “Hey, Dad,” I greeted his slightly out-of-phase image.
“Zoetrope!” he seemed delighted to hear from me. “How are you?”
“‘m okay,” I said. “I guess. Data invited me to join his string quartet.”
“That’s wonderful, darling,” my father enthused. “I’d love to come hear you play sometime.”
“Would you,” I asked, wrinkling my nose, “actually do that? I mean, wouldn’t it be kind of awkward with Mom and stuff?”
“Your mother and I aren’t enemies, Zoe.” His voice took on a more serious tone. “And we both love you, so I think if it meant seeing you perform we’d be able to cope.”
“That’s good to hear. I keep having these images of epic battles, cello bows used as swords, that sort of thing.”
He laughed, as I’d hoped he would. “What pieces are you working on?” he asked.
I ran down the list of the quartet music, and the music I was working on with Seth. “The thing is, Dad, I’m learning so much from working with Data that I feel like Seth doesn’t have anything left to teach me, and sometimes he’s a little creepy.”
His Dad-alert instantly engaged. “Creepy how? Has he done anything…?”
“No, Daddy, I promise. Just…he keeps making comments that I seem really mature for my age, and that my boyfriend must be jealous of our time together. Stuff like that.” I ran a hand through my hair and added softly, “I made him move our lessons to a public space. And Tev – that’s T’vek to you – walks me back to quarters, after.” Well, he walked me back most days.
“Have you told your mother?”
“She knows I don’t want to work with him, but not why. I’d like to ask Data if he could work with me exclusively, but I don’t want to impose when he’s done so much already.”
“I wish I knew him well enough to advise you.” A thought seemed to occur to him. “Have you mentioned your concerns about Seth to your Mr. Data?”
“It’s Commander Data, Dad, not mister. And he isn’t mine.” I was deflecting and we both knew it.
“Dad…” I sighed. “Okay, no, I haven’t given him any details, either.”
“Because Seth hasn’t actually done anything, just made some creepy comments, and because it’s not like telling Mom about a friend. If I tell Data, I’m not telling my friend, or my tutor; I’m telling the second-officer of the whole ship. It’s, you know, official.”
“Zoe, creepy comments could be nothing, or they could be just the first step. I think you should tell your mother, at least.”
“I’ll consider it.” I took a breath. “Mom said I should confirm holiday plans…?”
“Your grandmother and I both miss you, Zoe-licious, and I’d want you here anyway, but Gia and I are planning a wedding – nothing huge or fancy – over the break, and it would mean a lot if you could be in it.”
“You’re marrying her? Already?” I wasn’t really as surprised as I probably sounded. More hurt. “You and Mom are barely divorced.”
“I know it feels sudden –.”
I cut him off. “It is sudden. You only even told me about her in October.”
My father took a deep breath. “You’re right. I haven’t been as open with you as I should have been. Nevertheless, Gia and I are getting married, and I would like my beloved daughter to be part of it.”
“Beloved, huh?” I asked, a smile threatening to take over my face.
“Darling girl, I really can’t do it without you.” And his smile was the thousand-watt one that magazines and news agencies always talked about. “Say you’ll come.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll come.”
“And participate. But, it’ll cost you.” I was smiling when I said it.
“Clothes? Shoes?” He hesitated before asking, in a very small voice, “You don’t still want a pony?”
“No pony,” I said, grinning. “I was thinking more like flying lessons so I can get my license while I’m there…and maybe my own flitter. Xenon is making this cloud-to-ground model that comes in British racing green with white pinstripes, and a sunroof.”
“I’ll be sixteen in January, Dad. As long as it’s not more than thirty days before my birthday I can take the class, and Christmas is 29 days before.” I’d done my research, after all.
“That’s so old,” he said, teasing me.
“Yes,” I agreed, “But I’ll always be younger than you.”
“You wound me, darling,” he accused, but he was laughing as he said it. “You should probably go. I’ll contact your mother to arrange travel.”
“Hey Dad, one more thing?”
“Can T’vek come? I mean, I can’t possibly go to my own father’s wedding without a date.”
“If his parents approve, I don’t see why not.”
“Thanks, Daddy,” I said. “Zoe out.” And I closed the call. Then I opened the comm channel again, and asked the computer to connect me to Data.
– Lieutenant Commander Data is not receiving calls right now, came the computer’s matter of fact announcement. You may leave your name, leave a message, or end call.
“Leave a message,” I said.
– Begin recording.
“Hi, Data,” I said, feeling a little stupid. “I’m glad you’re back, but I wish you hadn’t cancelled class this morning. When you have time, I really need to talk to you. Please.” I was silent after that, long enough for the computer to prompt me to end the recording. It seemed like a lame message, but I told it to save and send, anyway.
– Message sent.
I wasn’t the only one of my friends who was pretty subdued that day. And it only got worse as the week drew on, and both Tuesday night’s quartet rehearsal and Wednesday morning’s math tutorial were cancelled as well.
That day, as T’vek and I walked to my voice lesson, he asked me, “Zoe, you know I love you, but…should I be jealous that you’re this mopey over Commander Data cancelling class?”
“You’re haven’t exactly been a bundle of laughs yourself,” I pointed out, “but there’s nothing to be jealous of. I’m probably just overreacting.” I managed a watery grin. “Would you feel better if I made a proposition?”
His grin was more wicked than watery. “Depends. What is it you’re proposing?”
“Be my date to my Dad’s wedding over Christmas. He says it won’t be huge or fancy, but I’m betting it will actually be one or both of those things.” I’d waited two days to ask him because a part of me was afraid he’d refuse.
“Why, Zoe Harris, are you inviting me home to meet your parents?”
“Why, Stevek Mairaj, are you being coy with me?”
We both laughed then, and I leaned up to kiss him. “I love you,” I said. “Ask your parents if it’s okay? Otherwise, I’ll have to ask Sven the farmhand, and he might get…ideas…”
“Yep. He’s six feet tall, blonde, muscly…”
“…thick as a brick, most of the time, but…”
I blinked innocently. “Tev?”
“I would be honored,” he said, “to escort you to your father’s wedding.”
“Oh, good,” I said. “Though, Sven will be bitterly disappointed.”
We kissed some more, even though we were in the middle of the corridor, until he pulled away. “I have to go,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Bright and early,” I agreed. I went into my lesson feeling better than I had before.
Thursday morning, I met T’vek for an early breakfast in the rec hall nearest the rooms where we had most of our classes. It had become a pattern for us to sit there and quiz each other for our Federation History class, and since we had a test scheduled that morning, we wanted to be ready.
He was at our usual table, immersed in reading something on his padd, so I went directly to the food slot for hot chocolate and a strawberry and sweet cream cheese croissant, took my tray to the table, and slid into my usual seat before greeting him with “So, do you come here often?” offered in my most over-the-top seductress voice.
“Every week,” he answered without looking up. “Better watch out; if my girlfriend sees you at her table she’ll snark you to death, and make you enjoy the process.”
“Mmm. I’m not afraid of a little snark. Is your girlfriend hot?”
“Not only hot, she’s awesome.”
“Awesome, huh? Is she around? I bet her ears are burning.”
“C’mere,” he said, “and let’s find out what else might be.”
I laughed, but I moved to his side of the table, and we ignored both books and breakfast for a make-out session.
“Could you two possibly get a room,” Wesley Crusher’s voice interrupted us.
“Hey, Wes,” T’vek said brightly. I straightened up in my seat. “We’re studying for history class. Join us?”
“Only if you’re done –
“Playing tonsil hockey?” I asked, blinking innocently at him even as I finished his sentence for him. “But I was winning.” He rolled his eyes and started to move away. “Wes, seriously, please stay?” I called.
“Okay, fine,” he grumped, but he took a seat opposite us. “Captain Picard says I need more knowledge of history, anyway.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Does he really?”
“Yeah,” Wes said. “Really. He’s kind of a history buff.”
“Probably has to do with that whole learn-from-mistakes-or-repeat-them thing,” I said, tacking on “Hey, get your own!” when T’vek stole a bite of my croissant.
“But it looks so tasty,” he protested.
“It is. But you don’t like it when I’m mopey, so I’m self-medicating with unhealthy amounts of sugar.”
“I’m sure Data’ll be back in class tomorrow,” T’vek said, putting down his padd, and taking one of my hands in his. With the other, he stole another piece of my croissant.
“Actually,” Wes said, “he won’t.”
We both stared at him.
“He’s talking to you?”
“Sort of. He was on the bridge this morning – I was there from four to eight – and he asked me to relay that class was cancelled. He was incredibly quiet otherwise, even for him, but he also had the conn, so…” He trailed off. “Zoe, I’m sure there’s nothing really wrong with him, he’s in charge of the prisoner.”
“Prisoner?” I asked.
T’vek leaned forward, “Are you supposed to be telling us this?”
“Probably not,” Wes admitted. “So if I tell you two, you’ll keep it to yourselves?”
“Wait, aren’t you the one who lives and dies by the book?” T’vek demanded.
It was Wes’s turn to shrug. “Usually, I guess. But right now, I’m worried about a friend, and I think maybe Zoe can help.”
“Me? Why me?”
“For the same reason Geordi and I called you down to Data’s quarters the other day. You’re important to him, and you’re a civilian, which means you don’t have to worry about chain of command stuff.”
“You came in here on purpose,” I said. “You wanted to find us.”
“Yeah,” Wes admitted. “I did.”
T’vek and I shared a look, and then we both leaned forward. “Okay,” T’vek said in a low voice. “You have our attention. Spill it, Crusher.”
And so Wes told us about Data being actually kidnapped by some megalomaniacal toy collector, and having been in the process of escaping, when the Enterprise found him, and beamed him back.
“So, wait,” I asked. “There really was something off in the recordings Geordi was listening to?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “The last time, he didn’t finish the routine checklist.”
“And Data never, ever, varies a routine,” Wes and I said together.
“Guys,” T’vek said. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“Agreed,” I said to my boyfriend. I took a bite of my rapidly diminishing pastry before asking, “But what does this have to do with Data being off-duty, and cancelling things left and right?”
A troubled look crossed Wesley’s face. “You weren’t here when he built Lal,” he said. “His daughter?”
“I know the story,” I said. “He built her, she came to sentience, found emotions, and died of cascade failure.” I softened my tone. “We talked about it.”
“Yeah, well, afterward, he isolated himself from everyone for almost two weeks. He says he doesn’t have feelings, but…things happen and he goes all internal.”
“He broods,” I said, absently batting at T’vek’s hand. “And you think he’s brooding now?”
“Well, he’s back on the bridge,” Wes said. “But no classes, and Geordi says he isn’t talking to anyone. Not him. Not the Counselor.”
“Which leads us back to the question,” T’vek said as I pulled my plate away from his reach. “Why do you need Zoe?”
“I thought maybe you could reach him. Get him to open up and talk.”
“Wes, I’m his student. Just like you are. Just like Tev and Josh and Dana are. ”
“No,” he said, “You’re more. You speak his language.”
“Music? You mean music?”
“Yeah. Also…I think maybe…”
T’vek let go of the hand he was still clasping and put his arm around my shoulders. “You think Zoe reminds Data of his daughter?”
Wes shrugged. “Yeah, maybe. She always so…” He caught my glare. “Sorry, Zoe. You’re always so easy with him. Casual.”
“I’m really not,” I said. “I’m supposed to have a lesson with him tomorrow morning. If he doesn’t cancel it, I’ll see what I can do.
“And if he does?”
“I don’t know…maybe we could all stage a sit-in outside his door, or something.”
“What’s a sit-in?” T’vek and Wes asked, as one.
“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll try, okay?”
None of us studied any more, but we all aced the history test anyway.
I wasn’t surprised when I returned home after classes to find that Data had, in fact, cancelled our theory tutorial, but I was disappointed. I thought about practicing anyway, but chose to spend the evening curled up with a book.
When Mom got home, it was pretty late – after eleven – and she looked tired and strained. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” she asked me.
“No math again tomorrow,” I said. “So, actually no. Did you eat?”
“We ate while working,” she answered me. “We’re piecing together the history of a previously unknown culture,” she added. “Nothing dangerous, but Captain Picard came to check out some of the artifacts we were examining.”
“I thought you were an anthropologist,” I said.
“I am. I work with the archaeological and linguistic teams to put together a whole picture, based on artifacts, pictograms and writings, and even the way buildings are laid out.”
“So, you’re kind of like a detective?” I asked.
“Sometimes I am,” she said. “What’s behind this newfound interest in what I do?”
“Maybe I’ve always been interested and just didn’t want to tell you.”
“Afraid I’d inundate you with information?”
“Afraid you’d make me go look at dusty old ruins. I do not do dust,” I said.
“Mmm. I’ll remember that the next time your room is a disaster area. Did you eat, child-of-mine?”
“Oh, yes. I had a lovely bowl of chili with a tart little cheddar on top, and a glass of uttaberry soda. It was an audacious drink…a bit too much sparkle, but tasty.”
My mother was laughing by the end of my speech. “Kiddo, you crack me up,” she said.
I grinned and switched off my padd. “Then my work here is done. G’night Mom, don’t stay up too late.”
By the end of Friday, I was ready to storm Data’s door and just demand he return to class, or at least that he come to our Saturday session. Not only was my routine off, but even Seth could tell that I hadn’t practiced all week. He’d decided that technique was the order of the day.
“You aren’t drawing the bow to its full extension,” he told me, at one point. “Let me show you.” He stood behind me, and put his hand over mind on the bow. His breath was hot on the back of my neck and I felt really uncomfortable. “Here. Now when you do a down-bow you should feel it all the way into your shoulder, and when you go up,” and he pushed my arm the other way, “you should feel it, too. Do you?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Again,” he said, “together. Down.” He guided my arm back. “And up. Now you try.”
I did what he’d demonstrated but not before he’d let his hand trail up my arm. “Don’t,” I said.
“I’m only trying to help your technique,” he said. He rested both hands on my shoulders. “Play the arpeggio from our warm-up. I want to feel it in your shoulder.”
I’d had teachers do similar things…and the truth was, there was nothing wrong in the act. Cello technique is physical. But his manner seemed all wrong. “Seth,” I said. “I understand what you want me to do, but I’m really not comfortable with this approach.”
“I thought you told me,” he said, “that you and Data were into a hands-on approach.”
“Aren’t you supposed to call him ‘Commander Data’?” I asked. “And anyway, hands-on doesn’t mean literally having your hands on my body.” I shrugged away from him, wishing someone – anyone – would enter the observation lounge where we were working ever since I’d refused to meet in his quarters.
“I saw you in the rec room this morning, with your boyfriend,” he countered. “You didn’t mind him touching you.”
“T’vek waits for an invitation, and isn’t eighty million years too old for me.” I put down the bow and set my cello on the floor. “I have to go now.”
“Your lesson isn’t over,” he said.
“Yeah,” I answered. “It actually is.”
I packed my cello in record time, and while I didn’t run, I walked exactly as quickly as one can while carrying a large, stringed instrument.
Mom wasn’t home when I got there, but she’d left a message telling me I was welcome to swing by the lab if I wished to. I comm’d T’vek to see if he was available, but he had a chess date with his father, and Dana and Josh were double dating with Wes and Annette. Usually, a night alone was a rare gift, but tonight, I felt like I really needed company.
I put my cello away, had the replicator give me a bowl of tomato basil soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, and ate in the living room, in front of the entertainment unit. One of the shipboard vid channels was running a marathon of vintage pirate movies, so of course I had to watch.
Finally, I gave up on the night, took a shower, and went to bed, only to wake up several hours later with the knowledge of exactly how I would get Data to come back to class.
I got out of bed, dressed in sweats and a big t-shirt, and grabbed my padd. Mom was still out, so I left her another message, and made my way out into the dimly-lit corridor (because the ship was technically on night watch) and into the turbolift, to deck two.
Outside Data’s door, I took a deep breath and signaled him.
It was probably just me, but when he asked, “Who is it?” his voice seemed heavier than usual, despite the tiny speaker.
“Zoe,” I said. “It’s Zoe Harris. Please Data, I need to talk to you.”
“It is very late, Zoe,” came his too-polite response. “Perhaps we can speak at another time.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That won’t do. Lieutenant Commander Data, under the brethren pirate code, and upon the honor of the Royal Navy, I hereby invoke the right of parley.”
There was a long pause, but he hadn’t cut the signal to the annunciator. Finally, he said, “Very well, Zoe Harris. You may enter.”
The door slid open and I stepped inside his quarters to find the room filled with new paintings. Many of them were still wet; some were still in progress. Two figures were prominent in many of them. “Geez, Data, if this is supposed to be art therapy, you’re kind of taking it to extremes,” I said.
He just stared down at me, a paintbrush poised in each hand. “You said you needed to speak to me.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I do. Could you maybe set the brushes aside and make tea or something? Conversations like this are easier when you have something to fiddle with, you know, hold and stir and stuff.”
(=A=) To Be Continued (=A=)
Notes: As it said in the disclaimer, this takes place after The Most Toys. We never get to see what happens after, but if Data was ready to pull himself off the bridge during the war games when he managed to lose a game of Stratagema, I think it’s plausible that he’d go all broody after pointing a weapon at an unarmed man.
Chapter 26: Parley
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine. This chapter is the wrap-up to my version of what happened after “The Most Toys.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That won’t do. Lieutenant Commander Data, under the brethren pirate code, and upon the honor of the Royal Navy, I hereby invoke the right of parley.”
There was a long pause, but he hadn’t cut the signal to the annunciator. Finally, he said, “Very well, Zoe Harris. You may enter.”
The door slid open and I stepped inside his quarters to find the room filled with new paintings. Many of them were still wet; some were still in progress. Two figures were prominent in many of them. “Geez, Data, if this is supposed to be art therapy, you’re kind of taking it to extremes,” I said.
He just stared down at me, a paintbrush poised in each hand. “You said you needed to speak to me.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I do. Could you maybe set the brushes aside and make tea or something? Conversations like this are easier when you have something to fiddle with, you know, hold and stir and stuff.”
If I hadn’t known better, I’d have assumed that Data had fifteen-year-old girls show up at his door in the middle of every night. As soon as I’d asked for tea, he put the paint brushes in cups of water – at least I assumed it was water – and cleared away the canvases that were leaning against his couch.
“Please sit down,” he said, his tone polite, but much cooler than I’d ever heard it. “Is there a particular blend of tea that you would prefer?”
“Lemon-mint, please,” I answered. “With honey. Are you having some, too?”
His answer was given in his order to the replicator. “Computer, two cups of lemon-mint tea, hot, pot of honey.” He turned back to me, then, and asked, “Do you require anything to eat with your tea?”
I refrained from rolling my eyes, as there was no way he would have known that I’d spent the past week being reminded to eat. “No, thank you,” I said.
He brought the tea and honey on a tray, but he didn’t have a coffee table near the couch – probably he didn’t need one – so I dragged over one of his extra chairs to use in place of a table. He got the hint, and even offered a “Thank you, Zoe,” very quietly before setting things down.
I spent an inordinately long amount of time doctoring my tea, watching the honey drip into the greenish-amber liquid in slow, thick swirls. Anyone else would have grown impatient. Anyone else would have prompted me to speak. “So, here’s the thing,” I began, “I woke up this morning and was actually disappointed that you’d cancelled our math tutorial. Since it’s a well-known fact that I detest math, I figure either I’ve got a deathly illness, or I miss my tutor, who is the one person in all creation who managed to make all the numbers and symbols and stuff into something I can at least pretend to understand.”
“You are giving me undue credit,” he said. “Your comprehension of the material has not appeared to change markedly since you joined the class.”
“Are you sure about that?” I asked, dubiously.
“Your test scores prove it,” he said. “However, what has changed is your confidence in your comprehension. I do not believe I can take responsibility for that.”
“Well,” I said, “I believe you’re wrong. It’s you, Data. It’s all you. My music is better because of you, too. Even my voice teacher commented that our theory studies have improved my ability to pick up new songs, that I’m using my voice ‘more intentionally’ or whatever.”
“I am gratified to know that my tutelage is helping you, Zoe,” he said, still too-polite. “However, I do not understand why you felt it necessary to tell me this at such a late hour. Is your mother not concerned about your whereabouts?”
Is it possible I could have forgotten how frustrating he could be in only a week? “Maybe because I miss my friend more than I miss my tutor,” I said, setting my cup back on the tray. “Maybe because I’ve heard stuff about what happened to you – that you were kidnapped by some psycho toy collector – that you shot someone.” He looked at me sharply when I said the last bit. “Maybe because when everyone thought you were dead, Geordi and Wes made me come here and tell them what of your possessions I might want just because you stuck me on some list that I didn’t even know about.”
“What did you choose?”
The question threw me. “Excuse me?”
“I have learned that when a person dies, the people closest to that person are often soothed by having something physical to ‘remember them by.’ Geordi has standing instructions that if something irrevocable ever happened to me, he was to make sure my belongings were dispersed among my closest friends. I am curious about what you chose.”
“I didn’t, exactly,” I said. “I mean, I came in here, and it felt all weird and wrong, and I yelled at Geordi about at least waiting for the body to cool.”
“Had the explosion that apparently destroyed –
“Killed –” I interrupted.
He went on, unphased, ” – me been what it seemed, there would have been no body.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “I know this. Do you really think I didn’t know this? I just meant it was too soon. Especially since Geordi was convinced you weren’t actually dead. He said something was off in the mission logs. Even asked me to be a fresh pair of ears, though that was just his attempt to make me feel better.”
“Inviting your participation to give you something else to focus on would not be out of character for him.”
“No. And sadly, having meltdowns is not always out of character for me.”
“Did you help?”
I laughed. “Of course not. But I did get to hang out in his office and have lunch. Will you tell me what really happened? Did you really shoot someone?”
“It would be more accurate to say that I shot at someone. The beam never hit its intended target.”
“I was taken by the Enterprise’s transporter beam as I pressed the trigger. The weapon was in a state of discharge and was deactivated during my transit.”
“They can do that?”
“Yes,” he said. “They can.”
I glanced around at the paintings. “So which of the people in the paintings is the one you shot?” He opened his mouth to correct me, and I amended my question slightly, “Shot at. Whatever?”
He gestured to the male figure, wearing a hat, and I shivered. “That man has a black soul,” I said.
“I was not aware it was possible to catalogue the color of a soul.”
“It’s more an expression. It means he reeks of evil. Unless you just painted him that way. He was the collector?”
“I’m guessing he didn’t want you for your awesome intellect and stunning conversational skills?”
“He wished to include me among his objects of art.”
“That’s awful.” I stared at the painting, at all the different images, each as dark as the others. “Did he have other people in his collection?”
“I do not believe Kivas Fajo perceived me to be a person.”
“But you are.”
“There has been some debate about that,” he admitted.
I shrugged. “Anyone who disagrees that you’re a person is either blind, bigoted, or stupid. Quite possibly all of the above.” The look I gave him dared him to defy the Wisdom of Zoe. He chose not to. “Who’s the other person? The woman? She looks sad.”
“Her name was Varia,”
“Fajo killed her as we were attempting to leave.”
“To stop you?”
“To make a point.”
I looked back at the picture of my friend’s former captor. “Yeah,” I said. “Definitely a black soul.” I let that thought rest in the space of the room for a moment, picking up my tea again, and actually sipping some. After a bit, I asked, “So, is that why you’re in your quarters brooding instead of helping to mold the minds of the Federations future leaders? Because you feel responsible for someone’s death?”
“I am not responsible for Varia’s death,” he said, and something in his demeanor told me not to question him on that point. “However,” he confessed. “Kivas Fajo had dropped his weapon before I aimed mine at him.”
I don’t know how it all clicked together in my head – maybe it had to do with all the horror and detective vids I liked to watch. Maybe it was just weird luck. “Oh my god,” I said. “You’re freaking out because you wanted him dead.”
I expected him to tell me he wasn’t – couldn’t be – freaking out. I expected him to deny his desire to kill the guy who’d wanted to just…collect…him. Instead Data admitted softly, “Yes, Zoe, I did. But I should not have. Vengeance is not part of my programming.”
“Apparently, it kind of is,” I said.
“I have been conducting self-diagnostics and processing my behavior, since then,” he added. “Cancelling classes was necessary until I was certain I was not…compromised.”
I stared at him for a long moment. I watched his face, then looked down at his hands that were clasped in his lap. His tea had remained untouched. I set mine back down. “Are you conscious of every tiny part of your programing?” I asked. “I mean, you blink, but are you conscious of every blink, or do you just sort of know that you do?”
“I can be aware of each movement,” he said. “I generally choose not to be.”
“Well, maybe there’s bits of your programming that decide that vengeance might actually be an appropriate response in certain cases. Maybe it’s a bit you’re not supposed to be aware of. Kind of like hyposprays.”
“Sure. Little kids, even older kids sometimes, when they’re getting ready for school, they get routine booster shots of common vaccinations. Hyposprays pinch a little, but it’s really not that bad. Except, if you know it’s coming, what you anticipate it feeling like is way worse than what it actually does feel like. If you don’t look, though, if you don’t see the thing coming at your arm, it doesn’t hurt.”
“Your theory is that there are parts of my program that I am meant to…not look at…so they do not…adversely affect me?”
I shrugged. “Well, it’s either that or you have to admit you might actually have a few emotions lurking in there somewhere.”
He raised both brows, appearing to think it over, but all he said was, “Hmh.”
Again, we sat in silence. Finally I asked, “Kivas Fajo is still on the ship, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” he said. “He will remain in the brig until we reach the next Starbase.”
“Do you still want him dead?”
“He will be dealt with by the proper authorities.”
“That’s not what I asked.” I took a breath. “Look, I’m not going to repeat anything you tell me. I mean. If we’re friends, there has to be trust right?”
“Yes, you still want him dead, or yes you trust me?”
“Yes,” he said again, this time with the merest hint of a smirk.
“Data…!” I wanted to launch myself at him, and tackle him with a hug. Instead, I looked around at the paintings again. “Have you ever played darts?”
“No,” he said. “I have not. Why?”
“I have an idea. One that will enable you to cease the obsessive painting of soulless sociopaths before there’s no more canvas left in the sector. Might even help cure your bloodlust.” I smiled to show him I was teasing about the last part, then got up off the couch, taking the tea-things with me. I returned the still-full mugs, and asked the computer to replace them with new ones. Then I asked for a set of darts, which I added to the tray. “Can you get black and red paints and brushes please?” I asked.
“You wish to paint something as well?”
“Me? No. I have the artistic ability of a sand flea. You are going to paint a bull’s eye on one of the pictures of Fajo.” He gave me a quizzical look. “You know, a target, like on a dart board. I’m sure you can look it up faster than I can explain.”
He rose to his feet, but still seemed uncertain of my plan. Nevertheless, he painted the concentric red and black circles on the painting I chose, then, at my urging, hurled darts at it. “Is this supposed to be cathartic?” he asked, after landing all three darts dead-center.
“You tell me.”
“I do seem to be less inclined to create more images of him.” In fact, he painted circles on another of the images, and repeated the process. “I am not certain the bull’s eye is necessary.”
“For you? Probably not.”
He threw darts until every single one of the paintings of Kivas Fajo had been essentially obliterated. Then he quietly gathered the torn canvases and bundled them to be taken to the larger recycling chute at a later time. He also put away the paints, leaving only three images of Varia left in the room.
“I’m guessing flinging darts at her would be inappropriate?”
“Yes,” he said. “But I do not believe I need to keep all three images.” He came back to the couch, where I had moved to the corner that had been his before, the better to watch him with the darts. I’d been sipping my replacement tea the whole time. “Was my prolonged absence from your classes the only topic you wished to discuss, Zoe?”
“Not exactly,” I said. “If you hadn’t cancelled tomorrow’s theory lesson, I’d have waited to bring up one of my other topics ’til then. Although, I should probably confess that I haven’t practiced all week. Mostly, I want to know why I’m on your notify list. I mean, we really haven’t known each other that long.”
“Is a lengthy history a requirement for all close friendships?” Data asked. “Consider the number of hours we have been spending together, not only in your math tutorial, but theory lessons, quartet rehearsal, and the occasional social event.”
“You consider lunch a social event?”
“When eaten in the company of others, in the Ten-Forward lounge, it would seem to qualify.”
“Okay, that’s fair.”
“Consider also that you came here tonight to confront me about not being present at usually scheduled times.”
“I really didn’t think you’d actually let me in,” I said. “Wes said you weren’t even talking to Geordi. Isn’t he your best friend?”
Data’s eyes widened slightly, but he answered the question. “He is. However, Wes’s analysis is not entirely accurate.”
I cocked my head at him, in much the same way he often did when he was confused or needed time to process information. “So you have been communicating with –” I cut myself off. “You know what, that’s none of my business, and I’ve been pretty nosy already.”
“Concern for a friend and being ‘nosy’ are not the same thing. You are curious. Have we not agreed that this is a trait we share?”
I grinned at him. “Guilty, as charged, sir,” I said. “You still haven’t answered my original question, though.”
“No,” Data agreed. “I have not. Nor have you told me which of my personal items you did not ‘exactly’ choose.”
“I’ll tell if you do?” I offered, teasing.
He picked up his cup of tea, which I’d covered with a saucer to keep from cooling too much, and sipped some, probably just to be social. “I believe we have a bargain.”
“I asked for your violin,” I said, then hesitated. “I asked for something else, as well, but when I asked for it I felt like I was implying our friendship is deeper than it really is, and I couldn’t really explain why I wanted it.”
“You know you cannot offend me,” he reminded gently.
“I have a feeling that’s not entirely true,” I said. “But I asked for the portrait of your daughter. I thought someone should have it who wasn’t…I don’t know…official. And I couldn’t stand the thought of it being destroyed.”
One of his rare ‘organic’ smiles flitted across his face, and the look in his eyes seemed just a fraction warmer. “It would have been an honor to know that Lal’s portrait was in your care,” he said, and even if it was spoken in the same matter-of-fact tone he used to explain why strings vibrated at specific frequencies, in that moment, it didn’t matter.
I smiled back at him. “I’m glad you approve,” I said. “But I’m even gladder that you’re not actually dead.”
“As am I,” he agreed.
“So, kind sir, keep your part of the bargain, or pay a forfeit,” I said, using my best bubbly voice, in order to lighten the mood. I still wanted to know why he deemed me list-worthy, but suddenly it was only a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need.’
“A forfeit?” he asked. “Does that mean you no longer wish me to answer your question?”
“It means,” I said, “that I think I already know, and I suspect that time will confirm my theory. It also means I haven’t heard you play the violin in a week, and I really miss it.” I gave him the winsome look that always worked on the other men in my life – T’vek, my father, the really hot counselor I’d crushed on during music camp the year before – “Would you please play something for me, Data?” I asked.
“I would be happy to,” he agreed, standing up to get the instrument, but before he had even begun his customary tuning ritual, his comm-badge chirped, and he flashed an apologetic look at me, then tapped it to respond. “Data here.”
“Commander, I’m so sorry to bother you at this hour,” came my mother’s voice. “This is Emily Harris. Is my daughter still with you?”
He glanced at me, and I rolled my eyes, but nodded for him to answer. “Yes, Emily. Zoe is with me. Would you like her to return to quarters?”
“Would it be an imposition if I stopped by and picked her up?”
Again he glanced at me, and I gave a thumbs-up signal. “That would be acceptable, Emily. We have completed our discussion.”
“Thank you, Data. See you soon. Harris out.”
“I am afraid I will have to ‘owe you one,’ Zoe,” he said to me.
“Any chance you’d consider un-cancelling theory tomorrow? Or today? Or…you know what I mean.”
“I believe, in the light of our conversation, that reinstating our lesson would be appropriate. However,” and his voice took on the tone he used almost exclusively to tease me, “I was under the impression you did not practice this week. Are you certain you wish to –”
I cut him off, not with words, but by standing up and wrapping him in an impulsive hug. “Stop.” I said. “Data, please? If I suck, I suck, but I don’t want to miss another Saturday.”
He seemed to understand that it wasn’t just about the music, just as me hugging him wasn’t just about his agreeing to go ahead with our lesson, but was also my need to know he was really, truly, alive. Awkwardly, his arms came around me, in an embrace that was just close enough to be comforting without being inappropriate. “Alright,” he said softly. “As you wish.”
“Thank you,” I said, though it was muffled against his uniform jacket. I stayed there a bit longer before pulling away, and looking up at him a bit sheepishly. “Sorry.”
Whatever he had planned to say was cut off by the door chime. “Enter,” he called. “Emily, I am sorry to have kept Zoe so late.”
My mother and I shared a look, and for a moment I thought she was going to chastise me in front of him. Instead, she simply gave each of us the smile that I tended to refer to, at least mentally, as her ‘gushy Mom look,’ and reached for my hand. “It’s fine,” she said. “At least if she’s with you, I know she’s not getting into trouble. Goodnight, Data.”
I let my mother lead me into the corridor, adding my own, “G’night, Data.”
“Goodnight Zoe,” he replied, “I will meet you here at ten-hundred hours.”
His door slid shut, and my mother let go of my hand, only to catch me by the waist. We hadn’t walked that way in a while, and I was surprised to find I was almost as tall as she was. “So, exactly how much trouble am I in?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “None. Tonight you get a bye.”
“Dare I ask why?”
“Call it a mom-thing, accept it, and move on, Zoificius,” she said. We entered the turbolift, and she let go of me. “You look better. Happier.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I kind of am.”
“Must’ve been a pretty good talk.”
I smiled, thinking about everything that had happened with Data and me in the last few hours. Darts, tea, conversation…our first proper hug. “Yeah, Mom,” I said, smiling. “It was a really good talk.”
Notes: Yeah, I know, this chapter is really talky, but Zoe and Data are talkers. I suspect that part of his week was actually spent in debriefings, as Zoe’s mother suggested in a previous chapter. I also suspect that Data’s visit to the brig, to confront Fajo takes place after his evening with Zoe, but that’s me, and your mileage may vary, as the saying goes.
Chapter 27: Art and Noise
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.
Art and Noise
“Zoe, your intonation is incorrect in the second measure of section C,” Data informed me during my theory lesson the morning after our midnight…parley. We were meeting in his quarters again, and I’d noticed when I arrived that he’d removed the remnants of the paintings he’d darted to death, as well as the three of Varia.
“Incorrect how?” I asked. We’d finished the ‘theory’ portion of the morning, and had moved on to ‘application.’
“You are flat.”
“Flat-flat or android-flat?”
He cocked his head slightly, “In my understanding, you are either playing the correct note, or you are not. There is no special android tuning.” His tone changed on the last three words, but didn’t quite include his usual audible quotation marks. Instead, it sounded almost something like I would have said, which should have been weird, but somehow wasn’t.
“Wow, Data, I spend one night hanging out in your quarters, and you’ve turned into a snark-monster.”
“If I have offended you –”
“What, are you kidding? It’s awesome!” I waited a beat, then added, “You might want to avoid it around people who outrank you, though.” I played the note in question again. “Better?”
“Yes. Now play the phrase.”
I did as he asked.
“You are still slightly off,” he informed me.
“Data, there may not be ‘special android tuning’ but there is absolutely ‘special android hearing.’ If I can’t hear the flatness, I can’t correct it.”
“That is a valid complaint. One moment.” He picked up his violin and played the phrase I was having trouble with. “Does that help?”
“A little,” I said. “Could you play that E again?” He did so, and I rolled my eyes at him. “Could you play it and sustainit?” I requested, tacking on, “please?” after the fact.
I adjusted my fingering to match his pitch, and even though I still couldn’t hear the dissonance he had assured me was there, I felt it when my adjustment had us in perfect synchronization. “Ohhh!”
“You can hear the difference?”
“I can feel the difference,” I said. “The change in the way the string vibrates. Thank you.”
“It is unlike you to be unable to discern a wrong note,” he observed.
I shrugged. “I was a little congested when I got up this morning. I’m probably not hearing things the way I should.”
“If you are ill,” he said, his tone modulating into his concerned voice, “perhaps we should end this session now.”
If I had been younger, I would have pouted. Fifteen-year-olds didn’t pout, though. Well, at least not where people could see. “I don’t know,” I teased. “I kind of like this slightly snarky version of you. Leaving early would deprive me of the pleasure.”
“Then we will continue. From the first measure of section C, please.” He flipped his violin back into position, and we played the piece – a Weber composition arranged as a duet for violin and cello – together, once straight through, and then again, with him stopping me to adjust my intonation. “You are uncertain of the fingering in the last section,” he observed.
“I did tell you that I hadn’t practiced all week,” I reminded him. “Did you think I was exaggerating?”
“It is a tendency you do seem to have,” he responded. “Though you generally only do so for humorous effect.”
“True,” I admitted, but then I added softly, “I couldn’t practice last week.” To his credit, he didn’t ask me why. I shook my head to clear it, and offered him a bright smile. “I’ll work on the fingering, okay? But before we try it again, could you maybe try the same section with a little more legato? I think it would sound better. And don’t tell me whichever violinist you’ve chosen to emulate didn’t play it that way,” I added, hoping to ward off the inevitable response.
His mouth opened and then closed again. “I will not,” he agreed, “tell you any such thing. Shall we play the last section again?”
“Yes, please.” He sketched out the beat with his bow, and we repeated the last section of the piece with both our modifications (my intonation, his style). When we finished, I grinned at him. “That,” I said, “was fantastic.”
“I concede that you were correct about the legato.”
“I’m glad you approve,” I teased. “Data, last night when you asked if there was another reason I needed to talk to you,” I began, but the door chime sounded, cutting me off.
“One moment,” he said to me, before raising his voice slightly to call, “Enter,” in the direction of the door, which opened to reveal Geordi.
The chief engineer walked in already talking rapidly. “Data, we just got the conference room specs for Ambassador Sarek’s meeting with the Legarans. I could use your advice on a couple of these parameters.” He noticed me, still sitting with my cello. “Oh, sorry, Zoe, I didn’t think you were meeting this morning.”
“Zoe stopped by last night with a very persuasive argument against cancelling her lesson.”
“Which we’ve finished,” I said, loosening my bow, and getting up to grab my gig bag. “I’ll be out of your way in a minute.”
“I hope I’m not chasing you away,” Geordi said.
I shook my head. “You’re not, though I wouldn’t blame you after I yelled at you the other day.” My expression turned slightly sheepish. “Sorry about that.”
“Why did you yell at Geordi?” Data asked as I finished zipping up my bag.
“He can explain better than I can,” I said. “Thanks for your time.” I eased my way to the door. “Um, will you be back in class on Monday?”
“Unless duties call me away, I will be there,” Data answered.
“Super,” I said. “See you.” Darting out would have been so much simpler if I’d taken up viola instead of cello.
T’vek was waiting for me when I got home, slouched against the bulkhead, one knee bent up. If he’d been holding a guitar, he could have been the poster boy for almost every slightly disreputable teen band ever. Even without a guitar, seeing him made my heart beat faster. “Hey, handsome,” I greeted, “are you lurking out here because my mother’s home, or because she’s not?”
He got up in one smooth, fluid, motion. “Your mother doesn’t scare me,” he said softly, leaning in for a kiss, a chaste – sweet even – buss across my lips. “But she’s not here, anyway. Take that for you?” He gestured to my cello.
“Pretty sure I can manage another few meters,” I said, laughing, but the laugh turned into a cough. “Or maybe not.” The door responded to my access code, sliding open to let us in.
“You okay?” T’vek asked.
I shrugged. “I woke up congested, and I feel a little tired, that’s all. Are we going to the holodeck or do you have other plans for us for the afternoon?” I stowed the instrument in my room while I was talking. “Do I need to change?” I called.
“Never!” he called back, but then he was leaning against the frame of my bedroom door. “And you’re dressed appropriately, too. I thought we’d eat here – if your mother approves – and then go to the arboretum.”
“On Saturday afternoon? Won’t it be crowded?” The arboretum was a popular destination for couples of all ages aboard the Enterprise.
“Probably, but there’s something there I want to show you.”
“This isn’t going to be tree identification one-oh-one is it?” I asked, “‘Number one, the larch. The. Larch.'” I was quoting ancient Monty Python, something my father had introduced me to when I was incredibly young. My awesome boyfriend didn’t know the context, but laughed anyway.
“No,” he said. “I promise. This thing…it’s something so amazingly stellar that you’ll be singing my praises for weeks, after.”
“Let me check with Mom, then,” I said, and I tapped the comm-badge I’d been forced to include as part of my wardrobe. My mother approved our plan, and told us to have fun, and I turned back to T’vek. “So, what’s for lunch?”
He stared at me for a long moment. “We’re in your quarters,” he said.
“Yeah, but you invited me…so you have to make lunch. Don’t worry, I’m not much of a snob.”
“Grilled cheese and tomato soup?” he suggested.
I grinned. “Works for me.”
We walked out to the main room, and he took care of ordering our food and carrying it to the table, which was good because my head was starting to hurt, and my throat felt a little scratchy. I coughed again, and he looked up in alarm. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
I brushed him off, “Something is caught in my throat; that’s all.”
We finished lunch, and went to the arboretum, where T’vek’s surprise was that the art and design students were hosting an ‘art in the park’ event. Light jazz wafted through the trees, and there were grids set up throughout the space, each holding a few paintings, or setting off a pedestal with a piece of sculpture on it. “So,” he said, as we stopped in front of a sculpture made of various pieces of metal. “This one’s mine.”
I’d been only half-paying attention to the exhibits we’d passed, not because I didn’t like art, but because my head was starting to hurt more, and swallowing was becoming painful. Now, though, I pushed through the ickiness I was feeling, and looked at his sculpture.
Constructed from pieces of metal of varying shapes, sizes, and colors, and standing about half a meter high, T’vek’s creation was a person cradling a cello, about to draw the bow. She – for the figure was clearly female – had hair made of “Is that electrical filament?” I asked. “Tev this is awesome.”
“It’s you,” he said softly. “I was trying to capture music in the metal, but the shapes kept pointing me to the musician instead. It’s called ‘found’ art,” he continued, “because the components came from the dead parts bin in one of the computer labs, and from the recycling bay, and…stuff.”
“It’s amazing,” I said. “You are amazing.”
He wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me close, “Maybe I just have an amazing muse.”
I kissed him quickly. “No one’s ever called me a muse before,” I said. “Amusing, sure, but never an actual muse.”
“Clearly,” he said, his voice getting all low and husky, the way it always did when he was feeling really emotional, “you haven’t been traveling in the right circles.”
I would have happily kept staring at his sculpture for the rest of the day, but T’vek wanted me to meet some of the other design students. Two were ahead of us in school, one was two years behind, and then there were a few officers of different ranks who were taking some of the art and design classes as hobbies, or to learn new skills.
We stopped at more exhibits and he introduced me to his classmates and to the instructor, a stocky Tellarite Lieutenant named Karel who was much more jovial than his appearance would have led me to believe. “Ah, so you’re the girlfriend. Pleasure to meet you, Zoe.”
Ordinarily, I’d have objected to being referred to as ‘the girlfriend,’ but he clearly meant no offense, and it was T’vek’s day. “Actually, Tev says I’ve been elevated to muse,” I said, the words coming out a bit raspy.
“Just for the day,” he clarified.
“Wait there’s a time limit? You didn’t tell me there was a time limit.”
Karel laughed at the pair of us, “And now it all makes sense,” he said, “why our Tev’s been so inspired. Zoe, the lot of us are heading to Ten Forward as soon as this event ends. I’d love it if you joined us.”
“That’d be lovely,” I said, glancing at T’vek, “if you don’t mind?”
He shook his head. “I’d mind if you didn’t come.”
The parents of one of the younger students came up to visit with Karel then, and we moved away to sit on one of the benches. “Okay,” I said, “I knew you were smart, and I knew you did art, but Tev, you’ve seriously impressed me today.” I coughed again, then leaned back against the bench.
“Zoe, you’re getting sicker.” He released our clasped hands and put his on my forehead. “And you’re burning up.”
“I feel fine,” I insisted, but again, it came out raw and scratchy. “Well, except for my throat.”
“And the headache you’re trying to hide.”
“And that,” I admitted.
“You should go to sickbay. Call your mother and have her meet us there.”
“For a sore throat? It’s probably just something I ate.”
“Replicator food isn’t supposed to cause allergic reactions, Zo’,” he said. “And any illness can be disaster on a starship. Didn’t anyone ever warn you about the dangers of recycled air.”
“Heard that,” I said. “But I assumed it was an exaggeration.”
“Do you want to take that chance?” His dark eyes were wide and worried. “I’ll walk you to sickbay, and call your mother for you,” he coaxed.
I closed my eyes for a moment, and when I reopened them my vision felt a little swimmy. “Okay,” I said. “When you call my mom, make sure you send my love.”
He laughed softly, then took my hand again. “Absolutely.”
I don’t remember the walk to sickbay, except in vague glimpses of T’vek being a human – well, humanoid – crutch. I don’t remember Alyssa Ogawa ushering me onto a bio-bed and wrapping me in a blanket, as I’d gone from feeling vaguely headachy and hot to having convulsive shivers in the time it took to ride the ‘lift a couple of decks. I do remember Wesley’s mother and Captain Picard leaving the former’s office together, the latter with a napkin still tucked into the collar of his uniform – apparently they’d been having a lunch date – and I do remember, with perfect clarity, that the bright lights and bustling people and the headache that had gone from zero to a gazillion in about five minutes, made me nauseous. T’vek’s offering of tomato soup had been the worst possible choice (though no one ever blamed him) and I couldn’t help it when the waves of nausea turned into actual vomiting.
I swear I never meant to puke all over the captain’s boots.
“Merde!” The French epithet came out of his mouth almost explosively, but within a breath he had recovered himself, removing the napkin-bib even as an orderly brought a more absorbent towel to help him clean up.
Blearily, and too ill to be as embarrassed as I otherwise might have been, I managed. “Oh, god. I’m so sorry.”
Captains are apparently well-trained in the whole grace-under-pressure thing, because his response was a light, “There’s nothing to be sorry for; I should have known better than to crowd a patient.” He paused, looking me over, then added, more as a clarification than a direct question. “Zoe Harris, isn’t it?” I managed a weak nod – bad choice – and he continued, “You’re Mr. Data’s protégé.”
I didn’t have the energy to roll my eyes, but I did find enough oomph to manage an apologetic grin and say, “Yeah, that’s me. But I promise, sir, Data didn’t teach me that.”
Do you get a gold star if you make the captain of a ship bark with laughter after puking on his shoes? If so, I totally earned mine just then.
“Way to make a first impression, Zoe,” T’vek whispered to me, his remark covered by the arrival of my mother.
“Zoe, sweetie, are you alright?” my mother gushed worriedly.
“Her temperature’s dangerously high, and she’s congested,” Dr. Crusher answered for me, snapping shut the medical tricorder she’d been scanning me with the whole time. “I’ll need a blood sample to be certain, but based on the symptoms she’s presenting, and the rapid onset, I’m pretty sure she has Levodian flu.”
“And that means?” my mother asked.
“As flus go, this one’s relatively harmless – lie down, Zoe, you’ll be more comfortable – we’ll give her medication to reduce the fever, and treat the symptoms.” She directed the rest of her speech to me, though I saw her signal the nurse to get the necessary blood sample. “You’ll be pretty miserable for the next two or three days – congested, achy, dizzy, probably tired – but the worst of it is typically over in about forty-eight hours, and it almost never lasts longer than seventy-two.”
I let the rest of the conversation wash over me, as the voices of my mother, my boyfriend, and the medical staff discussed treatment and care. At one point T’vek came closer to tell me he had to go to the reception – he promised to save me a slice of cake if it was chocolate – and I heard my mother thanking him for taking care of me, before asking Dr. Crusher where I would have picked up a virus.
“Levodian flu has a ten-day incubation period,” Wesley’s mother told my own. “And even though it’s a relatively harmless strain, it’s fairly robust in terms of virulence. Lieutenant Barclay came in with a mild case a couple days ago.”
“Zoe doesn’t typically spend time with engineering officers,” my mother observed. “Oh, but he helped the kids with their theme park project.”
“That would do it,” she agreed.
I let the soft the soft beeping of the bio-bed lull me into sleep at that point. When I woke up again, my mother was in a chair near the bed, and T’vek was long gone.
“Hey,” I called, then grimaced because my throat still felt raw. “Mom?”
“Hey, yourself, kiddo,” she answered me softly. “Feeling any better?”
“Less puke-y, more achy,” I croaked. “Thirsty.” I looked around sickbay, and added wistfully, “Wanna go home.”
“Let me get the doctor,” my mother said. She left my sight for a minute or two, returning with a nurse, who recorded my vital signs from the bio-bed display, helped me sit up, sprayed my throat with something that took the pain away, and gave me a cup of ice chips. “If you can keep these down,” she said, “you’ll get to move up to water, later.”
“When do I get to go home?” I asked, not feeling up to even minimal snark.
“That,” the nurse answered, “is up to the doctor.”
I nodded, wished I hadn’t, and then popped an ice chip into my mouth.
Dr. Crusher appeared a few minutes later. “Good to see you sitting up,” she said. “How’s your head.”
“Sore,” I said. “Dizzy.”
“Mm. It will be for another day or so. We’re going to give you another hyprospray now, though, which should help.” She checked the readout on the bio-bed. “Your fever was down, but it’s rising a little. That’s actually normal for this flu,” she explained, including my mother in the conversation. “Your temperature will fluctuate until the fever breaks.”
“Can I go home?” I asked.
“I’d prefer to keep you here, where we can keep an eye on you,” she said, but apparently saw the distress and discomfort in my expression, and added, in a teasing voice, “Wes has told me stories about your adventurous spirit.”
I managed a weak chuckle. “‘m devious, not stupid,” I told her. “Anyway, I’m too tired to be adventurous.”
“Sleep’s the best thing for you, actually,” she agreed. “If your mother is alright with you returning to quarters, I’ll allow it. Emily,” and she changed her stance slightly, so that my mother wouldn’t have to get up to listen, “Zoe should sleep as much as she can. The first two days are the worst, so, if you can’t change your duty shift, make sure someone’s with her – preferably an adult – if she’s anything like my son, she’ll convince her friends she’s fine even if she isn’t.”
“I would never…” I began, but both women gave me pointed looks, so I was forced to confess. “Well, actually, I probably would.”
“How are you doing with the ice chips?” the doctor asked me.
I showed her the empty cup.
“Not right now. I have to pee, though.”
She grinned. “Go use the restroom, and come back. If your stomach is still okay, I’ll arrange a hover-chair and send you home.”
I thought about arguing about the hover-chair, but a glare from my mother quelled the urge. Instead, I went to bathroom, taking time to splash water on my face before I left the room, and then returned to the bio-bed. “No puke-age,” I said.
Dr. Crusher laughed at that. “Okay, okay.” A really buff ensign in science blue came over with the chair. “Ensign Le will escort you back to quarters. I’ve give your mom instructions – bed rest through Monday afternoon. No classes this week. ”
“What about quartet rehearsal?”
“‘Fraid not, Zoe.”
“Could someone let Data know that?”
The doctor grinned at me, “I have a senior staff meeting in an hour; I’ll let him know.”
“Could you also apologize to the captain again for me? I mean, I know it’s no secret I was less than thrilled about living on his ship, and all, but I typically prefer wit and cunning to…um…yeah.”
She laughed. “He’s really not angry, Zoe. I promise.”
“If you say so.” But my mother was giving me her concerned look, and my throat was starting to ache again. I let Ensign Le help me move to the chair, and the three of us left sickbay, even though I grumbled that I was perfectly capable of walking.
“I’m sure you are,” my mother agreed, “but how often do you get to have a handsome young man convey you through the corridors.”
“There is that,” I said. “I should practice my queen wave. How does that work again? ‘Screw in the light bulb, clutch the pearls.'”
Even Ensign Le laughed at that, and when he wheeled me into our living quarters, he even sketched a bow and flourish. “Glad to be of service, m’lady,” he told me. He handed a tray of sprays and bottles to my mother – it had been stowed on the back of the chair. “Call sickbay if you have questions on dosage or frequency,” he reminded.
“Thanks for the lift,” I told him, as he left. Then I turned back to my mother, “Can I go back to sleep now? Waving to all my subjects was kind of exhausting.”
She walked with me into my bedroom, and left the tray on my nightstand. “Instructions are on your padd,” she said. “I think you’re old enough to manage your own pain relief, but tell me if you need help.”
“I will.” I waited a beat. “You don’t have to tuck me in, Mom.” But I knew she wouldn’t leave ’til I was safely under the covers, so I grabbed a t-shirt, and went to the bathroom to change and brush my teeth – my mouth still felt all sour – then came back and got into bed. “Happy now?” I asked her.
She ruffled my hair. “That you’re sick? Never. That you’re cooperating, absolutely.” She rested her hand against my forehead, and I leaned into her cool, maternal touch. “T’vek took very good care of you today,” she said.
“He made art for me,” I said. “He said I was his muse.”
“Wow, you’re a queen and a muse in the same day.”
“I’m talented that way.”
Her smile was a little less watery than it had been. “He loves you.”
“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “It’s mutual. Um…he isn’t going to catch my flu is he? We were kind of…there was some kiss-age earlier.”
“I’ll check with his parents, but he’s probably fine.”
“Do you need anything?”
“Water?” I asked, and my mother nodded. “My padd, so I can read if I want to?” And she nodded again. “A pony?”
I gave her a slight shrug, “Had to try.”
She brought the water and the padd, and kissed me on the top of my head. “Go to sleep, monster-child.”
“That’s ‘your majesty, monster-child,'” I corrected.
My mother laughed. “Sleep,” she said.
I did as she asked.
Notes: The duet Data and Zoe are playing during her theory lesson is “Invitation to the Dance, Op.65” by Carl Maria von Weber (the German title is “Aufforderung zum Tanze”). It HAS been arranged as a violin/cello duet, but the most common versions are for a full orchestra. There’s a recording by the New York Philharmonic that is truly amazing. Levodian flu is a canon illness, with the symptoms being much like the common strains of flu most of us are familiar with (we’re not talking H1N1 here). Officially, the worst symptoms last about 29 hours, but obviously everyone would react to it slightly differently.
Chapter 28: FOMO
Levodian flu is one of the most common illnesses in the Federation. Almost every humanoid species has been affected by it at some point or another. It’s always annoying, rarely dangerous, and usually runs its course in about a day and a half. Usually.
The first day I was sick wasn’t so bad. The virus had snuck up on me: I woke up congested, and started getting sicker a few hours later. Once the fever took hold, though, things went from bad to horrible pretty quickly. And that was before I threw up all over Captain Picard’s boots. The rest of my weekend was spent alternately napping and reading. A collection of popular novels from the twentieth or twenty-first century (I could never remember which) – about a boy wizard and his friends – had seen a recent resurgence in popularity, and I had the entire series queued on my padd. With Mom keeping me supplied with water, tea, and various kinds of brothy soups, and nowhere I was supposed to be, I was happy as the proverbial clam. Except for the headache, body aches, fever, occasional nausea, and inability to breathe easily. You know, the little things.
By noon on Tuesday, even though I still felt mostly horrible, I was getting restless. My friends weren’t allowed to visit in case they got sick, and I felt bad about missing Data’s math tutorial after confessing to him that I’d missed his presence.
“Zoe, are you awake?” my mother came into my room.
“No,” I said. “I’m lying here dreaming about surfing the underground seas of Mars.”
“You’re starting to feel better,” she observed. “The snark is returning.”
“Sorry, Mom,” I said. “I just feel so isolated. What if I get really behind in math? What if T’vek decides Annette is more interesting than I am? What if Data realizes I’m really not worth his tutelage?”
“It’s been three days, kiddo. I doubt the boy who called you his muse is likely to defect so quickly. Commander Data counts you among his closest friends, so I’d stop worrying about that as well. As to your classes, I’ve arranged for your teachers to send your assignments to your padd. You can contact them if you have questions.”
I’d actually seen messages come in but hadn’t bothered to look at them. “That’s all fine with Lit and History and stuff, but I never understand the math just from reading things.”
“Try,” she said. “Maybe not tonight, but give your schoolwork a couple of hours tomorrow. You’ll be given extra time to catch up when you return to class, but you should at least try.” She was quiet for a moment, before adding, “I know you’re getting antsy, sweetie, but you really do need to rest.”
“It’s not just that…” I confessed.
“What is it then?” she sat on the end of my bed, apparently sensing an impending Deep Conversation.
“Tev took me to sickbay, and I left a note for Dana not to meet me for school this week, and neither of them have bothered to ask if I’m feeling better.”
“When did you become such a worrier?”
“It’s not so much worry as a vivid imagination. I keep thinking they might be taking Data to finally see our theme park project, or that they’re playing pirates with Josh and Wes, or that…”
She stopped me by tweaking my toe through the covers. “Enough of that,” she said. “Zoe, I think you have two illnesses.”
“A simple flu isn’t enough?”
“The other’s a little more metaphysical than physical. It’s called FOMO.”
“Fomo? What’s that?”
My mother grinned at me, and I suddenly realized that my own evil grin was an echo of hers. “F.O.M.O.,” she spelled out. “FOMO – Fear of missing out.”
If I hadn’t been leaning against all of my pillows, I’d have thrown one at her. “That’s not funny.”
“It wasn’t meant to be.” She seemed to search for words. “It means that you’re restless and worried because you’re accustomed to being in the thick of things, and now that you’re relegated to the sidelines –”
I cut her off, muttering “Sidelines? Try the cheap seats in the spectator section.”
“Now that you’re no longer in the center of things, you’re afraid you won’t be missed or that people are having fun without you.” She favored me with a look that showed exactly how confident she was about being right. Then she sighed. “But I didn’t come in here to talk about the neurosis of being a teenaged girl.”
“Don’t make me rethink that,” she countered. “I have a duty shift tonight. It’s a split shift – 16:00 to 20:00 hours tonight and then 04:00 to 08:00 tomorrow morning – I’m covering science one on the bridge during shift changes. I can ask for a nurse to stay with you…”
“Could you ask for Ensign Le? I totally wouldn’t mind having a babysitter if it was one who looked like that.”
“And you were worried about your boyfriend forgetting about you?”
“Not forgetting. I’m so not forgettable. Just…becoming disinterested.”
“I think you’re sicker than you appear if you truly believe that’s even a possibility, daughter-of-mine.”
“Seriously, Mom. I have the flu. I think I can survive a few hours alone in my room. I’m too tired to paint the walls black, anyway, and four hours isn’t enough time to sneak all my friends over for booze and loud music.”
“It’s a good thing I know you’re teasing, kiddo,” my mother said, smiling slightly. “I’ll bring you some soup before I go. Think you can manage something more substantial than broth?”
“I vaguely remember what it was like to chew things. Can the replicator make chicken and stars?”
It turned out that it could.
“Hey, gorgeous,” T’vek greeted me over the comm system in our living room. “Sorry I’ve been so scarce. I was afraid if we talked you wouldn’t sleep, and Dr. Crusher seemed pretty adamant that you really rest. How are you?”
“Well,” I said, not wanting to complain too much, “today I experienced the joy of food that actually requires chewing, so there’s that.”
“Who knew solid food could be so exciting,” he teased. “I miss you, Zo’. Class is boring without you. Wes is first to answer in every subject, and Josh is actually being nice to more than just Dana.”
“Josh isn’t that bad,” I said. “I mean, he’s kind of an ass sometimes, but he has a heart. Somewhere. Possibly locked in a chest under his bed. Is it true Ambassador Sarek is coming aboard?”
“He’s supposed to arrive on Thursday morning. Commander Data already warned us that we might not have class on Friday. Mother said she’s hoping to spend a few minutes with the Ambassador.”
“She knows him?”
T’vek grinned at me over the video feed. “Actually, she’s a distant, distant, many times removed niece or cousin or something…but to Vulcans one drop of blood from the right line means you’re family.”
“Wow, Tev. That’s awesome.”
“Yeah, it is.” He looked wistful for a moment. “There’s a reception for the Ambassador on Thursday evening. Data’s quartet is playing a concert.”
“I’m sure it’ll be lovely,” I said. I didn’t ask who the cellist would be. Even if I hadn’t been sick, I’d barely rehearsed with the group.
“Maybe they’ll let you attend, if you’re feeling better,” he suggested.
“Sure. Maybe.” I yawned at him, and then blushed. “Sorry, I’m still really sleepy. It’s kind of ironic…my mother’s on duty, and any other time I wouldn’t waste a minute asking you to come over, but I’m pretty sure I’m not up to it.”
His expression changed from a wistful smile to a decidedly wicked grin. “How long is her shift?”
“She’s on until 20:00 hours,” I said, “but Tev, I really am pretty tired, and as much as I’d love for you to come over, I don’t want you to catch this flu.”
His expression didn’t waver. “If I didn’t get from kissing you on Saturday, I’m not going to get it from not kissing you tonight.”
“You want to come over and not kiss me?” I asked, confused.
“Five minutes,” he said. “I’ll be there in five minutes.” And he cut the signal.
It was actually more like ten minutes later when the door-chime sounded, which is good, because it took nine of those minutes for me to wash my face, brush my teeth, twist my hair into a messy bun, and put on fresh pajamas. “Come in!”
“Hey,” he said, sitting next to me on the couch. “C’mere.” He didn’t kiss me, but he did pull me close and just hold me. “I ran into Data on the way down here,” he said. “‘s why I took longer than I planned. He’ll be here in half an hour to ensure that I don’t prevent you from your rest.”
“Thirty minutes?” I said in my most seductive voice . “Time for a quickie.” Seductive voices are way more effective when you’re not wearing pajamas decorated with rainbow-colored tribbles.
“Sorry,” I said. “I can’t be held responsible for anything I say tonight. I’m running a fever and am probably delirious.”
“If you weren’t sick, I’d have taken you up on the offer,” he confessed softly.
“If I wasn’t sick, I wouldn’t tease you that way,” I admitted, adding, “It’s not that I don’t want to…I’m just…”
“Shh,” he said, putting a finger to my lips, “I know.” He glanced around the living room. “I thought I’d find empty popcorn bowls and plates of cookie crumbs, but you’re really not spending days watching bad vids and snacking on junk food, are you?”
I shook my head, then winced when it hurt. I was due for a dose of pain medicine, but didn’t want to leave T’vek’s presence to fetch it. “Mostly,” I said, forcing a steady tone. “I’ve been either sleeping or reading.”
His expression softened. “I really shouldn’t have come, should I?”
I nestled myself more firmly against him. “Don’t say that. I’m glad you’re here, I just wish I had more energy. All I can do is sit here like a lump.”
“You’re not a lump. But even you were, you’d be a pretty awesome lump.” He grinned. “Did you hear about Wes and Annette?”
“Gossip? You have gossip and you’ve waited this long to tell me? What happened? Didn’t she like the earrings he got her for her birthday? Did they finally make out?”
“Actually, she’s kinda pissed at him right now. Apparently, our Wesley managed to accidentally agree to a date with Ensign DuMont.”
“You don’t mean Susan DuMont?” I asked. “I’ve run into her in the Pilates studio a couple of times. She’s flexible in ways most humanoids never dream of.”
“That’s the one.”
“How do you accidentally get a date with the human pretzel?”
“Well,” T’vek said, “the way I heard it is that Wes and Josh were playing handball in the gym…”
“Wait, Wes plays handball? I didn’t think he ever did anything that required, you know, exercise or exertion.”
“He and Josh play every so often when one of their parents gets on their case. So, they were in the gym and Josh bet Wesley a week of Lit assignments that Susan wouldn’t even talk to him.”
“But Susan overheard the conversation?”
“Better. Her roommate did, and told Susan, who asked Wes out in front of Josh, just to get a rise out of him.”
I snorted. “I’m betting there was a lot more ‘rising’ than she expected.”
“So, Wes said yes, partly because he really thinks she’d go for him, but mostly because he couldn’t back down in front of Josh.”
“You know, Susan’s gonna crush him.”
“Oh, I know. I just wish I could be there to see it.”
I started to laugh, but then I stopped myself. “We shouldn’t be laughing at this.”
“Why not? You agree Wes is pompous and annoying.”
“Yeah,” I said. “He is. He’s also a know-it-all with the social skills of a Trenzalorean shepherd dog, but he’s also our friend, and so is Annette, and while it is kind of funny, when DuMont cancels or whatever, he’s going to feel really stupid.”
“Since when do you care so much about Crusher?”
“Since…since that day in Data’s quarters when we thought he was dead. He…he was pretty cool even after I yelled at him and Geordi, and, I don’t know…I think sometimes he feels just as much out of place as the rest of us do. I wouldn’t be surprised if his whole Mr. Starfleet thing is an act he started playing and now can’t drop.”
T’vek stared at me for a long moment, then he smiled softly. “This, Zoe, is why I love you. You see through all the bullshit.”
“Language, Stevek,” I teased.
“And you make us all better.”
“Oh, god, first I’m a muse, now I’m a mother-confessor? Maybe I should just let the flu win.”
“Don’t say that,” he said. “Don’t ever say that. Don’t you know how worried I’ve been? How worried we’ve all been?”
I ran a hand through his shaggy hair. “I was kidding,” I said. “And this is when I remind you that I have no filter and am –”
” – probably delirious,” he finished for me. “Sorry.”
“‘s okay,” I said. “So how’s Annette through all of this?”
“Apparently, she told Wesley he was welcome to play with his, um, Barbie Doll, and should contact her when he was ready for someone with an actual personality.”
“Harsh,” I said. “But fair.”
“Yeah, except…what’s a Barbie Doll?”
I rolled my eyes. “I forget sometimes how much you’re not from a human culture,” I said. And then I went on to explain how Barbie Dolls had existed for hundreds of years, and even though their design and appropriate-ness for children was constantly being called into question, they remained the most popular doll for little girls on Earth, Mars, Centaurus, and most of the original Terran colonies. “They’ve also,” I added, “become a symbol for the kind of woman who has a gorgeous body, low moral standards, and pretty much no redeeming factors.”
T’vek kissed my cheek. “Sometimes, Zoe, I forget how very human you really are.” He eased away from me and stood up. “I should go, before our math tutor breaks down the door because I’ve overstayed my welcome.”
“You’re always welcome,” I said. “I’ll walk you to the door.” I got off the couch, and did so. Maybe I really was delirious, though, because Data was there when the door slid open. “Night Tev. Love you,” I said to my departing guest.
“Love you, too,” he said, and blew me a kiss. He nodded politely to Data, and walked off toward the turbo-lift that would take him home.
I was left staring into the face of my – friend? Tutor? I wasn’t certain why he was there, or in what role. “Hey, Data,” I said, choosing a neutral greeting. “Did you really come just to make sure Tev didn’t stay too long?”
“That was not my only motivation for visiting you. I wished to speak with you about the quartet.” He hesitated, then asked, “May I come in?”
“What?” My head was starting to really hurt. “Oh, yeah, sure. Sorry.” I moved further into the living area giving him room to enter. “Could you give me a minute? I was supposed to take more pain meds half an hour ago, and I got distracted when T’vek was here, and my head feels like it’s gonna explode. Or implode. Or whatever heads do when they’re hurting a lot.”
He stared at me as if he was trying to gauge exactly how much of my statement was teenage melodrama and how much was slightly delirious truth. “Perhaps you should sit down on the couch and allow me to retrieve your medication. Is the pain always as bad as you have described?”
“No. But this is the first time I’ve let the meds completely wear off. Um…there’s a blue bottle, on the nightstand in my room.” I tried to think of anything I didn’t want him to see, and remembered that I’d left my bra hanging on the back of my chair. “Actually, I think I can go get it.”
His eyebrows crinkled together the way they always did when he was dubious about something. “Are you certain?” he asked.
“Yeah.” I brushed by him into my room, found the bottle, and took the pill, which was supposed to work within a minute or two. I also grabbed a sweatshirt to put on over my pajama top, a comfortably worn, faded-blue pullover with Surf Mars stenciled over a stylized wave crest. Returning to the main room, I found him studying the framed photo-collage that hung on the wall above the couch. “It’s mostly family stuff,” I informed him. “The photos, I mean.”
“I had surmised as much,” he said, turning to face me. “Are you feeling better?”
“It takes a minute or so to kick in. Do you mind if we sit? I get a little loopy when the pain wears off, and I’m supposed to be resting.” I curled up in my usual corner of the couch, and watched him sit rather primly on the opposite end. “So,” I said. “Why are you here?”
“The quartet is playing for Ambassador Sarek on Thursday evening,” Data told me.
“Tev said as much.”
“I wished to explain personally why we cannot ask you to play with us at this particular concert.”
“Is there a reason other than I’ve barely rehearsed with you, and I’m sick?”
“No.” But he was studying my face. “I anticipated that you would be displeased. Are you not?”
I shrugged. “It is what it is. Even if I was perfectly healthy, you can’t have an unrehearsed ensemble play a formal concert. I grew up in the music biz, remember? I get this stuff. I’ve seen it with my father.”
“When you are well, we would like you to resume rehearsing with us.”
“I’d like that,” I said. “The concert Thursday…if Doctor Crusher says it’s okay, could I…come?”
“Of course,” he said, but then he added, “but make sure your mother also approves.”
“Of course,” I said, echoing his tone, but capping it with a grin. There was a sort of internal pop inside my head, as the meds kicked in and the pain was finally gone and I could breathe again. That was followed by a wave of exhaustion, and I had to lean back and close my eyes for a moment. When I spoke, my voice felt – and sounded – really young and small. “I’m sorry Data, I think I’ve used up all my energy today. Not being rude on purpose.”
“It is 18:30 hours. Your mother is on duty until 20:00. If you need her, I can arrange to – ”
“No. I – there’s nothing she can do except look at me and worry.” I managed a rueful expression. “I told her I could handle being alone. Think I overestimated things. I mean, I’m fine…I just feel…weird.”
“I will stay until your mother returns from her duty shift.”
“Also weird,” I muttered mostly to myself, but I couldn’t entirely ignore his questioning glance. “But good weird,” I amended. “Just don’t expect me to do homework for your class, because thinking is so not happening.”
“You are excused from classwork until you are well, Zoe. Did your mother not inform you of that?”
“I was teasing.”
“Do you mind if I go back to bed? I mean, you can stay until my mother gets home if you think you should, or if you want to or…whatever…but…”
“I do not mind. Your mother was correct that you should not be alone, and I would not be a good friend if I left you.”
He was so earnest it almost made me laugh. “Okay.” I got up off the couch, and went back to my room, taking a moment to stuff my bra back into a drawer before I crawled back into bed. Once bundled into my covers, I called out, “Hey, Data?”
“You are welcome,” he said matter-of-factly, and then he added, with just a hint of authority in his tone. “Go to sleep.” As I drifted off I thought I heard him add one more thing, very softly, and sounding a little odd coming from his mouth, “You will be o-kay.”
If my mother was surprised to find her department head sitting on her living room couch when she came off duty, I never heard about it. What I did hear, because I was awake, and straining to hear, was a soft conversation:
“Commander, I hope Zoe didn’t cajole you into staying with her,” my mother said.
“She did not. I was en route here to explain why the quartet was playing without her, and saw that it was inadvisable to leave her alone. I believe she delayed taking necessary medication while her friend was visiting.”
“The Mairaj boy.”
“She knew she wasn’t supposed to have people over. If he catches her flu…”
“I do not believe that will happen. I encountered the boy on my way here, and informed him I would be checking in after thirty minutes. He was preparing to leave when I arrived.”
“Lieutenant Commander Harris,” he began, in the tone he used when one of my classmates or me – mostly me – was trying even android patience, and then, because he did know when he was speaking as an officer and when he was just a person, “Emily, I have interacted with your daughter extensively over the past several months.” He was getting better about vague-ing up specific measures of time when speaking casually. “I do not believe anything untoward happened with T’vek. I have observed that humans who are ill often benefit as much from a bit of company as they do from medical care.”
“You seem to know my daughter pretty well, Data.”
“She is my friend,” he said simply.
“You care about her,” my mother said, in a tone I recognized as being very like my own not-a-question tone.
Data had the good grace not to argue.
When my mother spoke again, it was in her resigned tone. “I need to wake Zoe for dinner. Would you like to join us? I’m sure it would benefit her.”
“I would be pleased to,” he said.
We sat down for dinner at about nine pm – later than usual, but my routine was so off it really didn’t matter. I was a little nervous about Data and my mother sharing a meal. What if they talked shop? What if she started hanging out with him on her own? What if he preferred my mother’s friendship to mine? Was it possible to experience FOMO when you were sitting at the same table with people?
I needn’t have worried. Probably in deference to my illness, the conversation was kept fairly light. They talked a bit about the Legaran culture – apparently the whole reason Ambassador Sarek was coming aboard was to negotiate their membership in the Federation, or some such, and made sure to include me.
When I asked questions, Data deferred to my mother more often than not, but I got the sense he was appraising both of us – my questions and her answers. When my eyes started to glaze over, it was Data, not my mother, who deftly shifted the topic to music, asking if I had attempted the passage I’d been struggling with, since our lesson.
“I haven’t had the energy to play,” I said, and then, because the notion only just struck me. “Why are we working on a duet? Are we going to actually play it together at some point?”
“Yes,” was Data’s simple answer. “When we are ready,” he continued, “I will schedule a recital.”
“‘We,'” I questioned him. “Don’t you mean me?”
“I do not,” he said. “Your observation that my stylistic choices were not serving the piece adequately was valid. Preparing the piece for performance will require a true collaboration.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you think I’m better than I do?”
“You are familiar with the human axiom ‘we are all our own worst critic’?” he asked.
“Can you accept, then, that where your own talent and skill are concerned, you may not be…objective?”
“Oh,” I said. “Point taken.”
Soon after that, I started to fade again. Data excused himself, thanking my mother for including him in our meal. To me, he said, “I have other obligations that will prevent me from visiting you tomorrow. However, if you are feeling ‘up to it,’ you are welcome to attend the concert on Thursday as my guest.” He glanced back at my mother. “I will provide escort to and from the venue, if you wish.”
“If Zoe is up to it,” my mother agreed, “I’m sure she’d love it.”
I didn’t want anything to happen that would change her mind. “That’s fantastic,” I said. “Thanks, Mom. G’night, Data.” And I retreated to my room.
I don’t know if she had someone come sit with me during her four-hour morning shift, or not, but I woke up Wednesday morning with only a slight temperature and almost no aches or pains. By Thursday morning, I felt practically normal, and I yelled for my mother before leaving bed.
“What is it?” my mother asked, running into my room.
I favored her with a huge grin. “I think my fever finally broke.”
Her cool hand caressed my forehead. “I’ll arrange for the doctor to see you this afternoon,” she said.
“So, I can go to the concert?”
“If Doctor Crusher says you may, then you may.”
“Awesome,” I said. And then, because it was the most crucial thing I could think of, “What do I wear?”
Notes: The concert in question is the one in “Sarek,” during which Mark Lenard’s performance is totally worth watching, and Brent Spiner’s faux violin playing is, quite possibly, the worst fake-playing ever seen on film. (Though I tend to be hyper-critical about those things.) For some of the best on-screen depictions of musicianship, go rent the movie QUARTET with Helen Mirren and Billy Connolly. It’s fantastic. End of pitch.
Chapter 29: Stormy Weather
In the end, I wore basic black to the concert in honor of Ambassador Sarek, nothing terribly fancy, just a mini-dress with matching heels and really subtle jewelry. I still felt a bit shaky, but Data arranged for me to sit near Geordi, who asked after my health in that totally easy-going way he did almost everything.
“I’m better,” I told him. “Not a hundred per cent, but better.”
He grinned. “Glad to hear it. Data was worried about you. We all were.”
I chose not to question him about whether or not Data could worry. Instead I focused on the other part of his statement. “Um, exactly who does ‘we all’ include?”
“Me, Wes, Commander Riker, Captain Picard – did you really throw up on his boots?”
I blushed. “I did.” I said. “I really did. But I swear I didn’t mean to.”
He was laughing when he said, “Oh, I’m sure you didn’t.”
“The captain was surprisingly cool about it. At least, he didn’t yell. He actually apologized to me for being in the way.”
“Yeah,” Geordi said. “That sounds like him. Completely gracious unless forced to be otherwise.”
“Is that why he has such a great reputation as a diplomat, himself?”
“You seem pretty well-informed for a girl who, I’m told, has no real interest in Starfleet.”
“I have no interest in applying to the academy,” I corrected him. “And anyone who knows me would agree I’m not a uniforms-and-orders kind of girl. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect what you all – you, Data, my mother, Captain Picard – what you all do.”
“That’s fair,” he agreed. “So, why study up on the captain’s diplomatic expertise.”
“Would you believe I’m planning a career in espionage?” I teased.
“I might,” he teased back. “But really…?”
I shrugged. “Starfleet may not hold much interest for me, but history and politics do. Especially the politics. It’s theater on a universal scale, and while there are people who have a script in mind, the reality is that when you factor in free will anything can happen. It’s…it’s improvisational theater, except every single person is both a player and spectator.”
His laughter morphed into something else. “Do you talk about this stuff with your friends?”
“Sometimes,” I said. “With T’vek I do.”
I could feel my eyes widening. “With Data? No. We pretty much exclusively talk about music.”
“You should share your other interests with him.”
I gave Geordi a confused look. “Um, why?”
“Trust me, Zoe. You just should.”
I opened my mouth to ask more questions, but the musicians walked in, then. Data came in last, and caught my eye for a moment before addressing himself to Sarek’s wife, Perrin. The music was good, but there was no sense of cohesion among the players, which lessened the impact, at least for me.
There was a brief intermission, during which Geordi left my side for a moment. When he came back, Data was with him. “Commander LaForge suggested I introduce you to our guests,” he said.
“Is that allowed?” I asked. “I mean, I’m just some kid.”
“We will debate that terminology at another time,” Data said, and I could tell he meant it. “Please accompany me.” So I had no choice but to leave my chair, and follow him down the steps to the front row of the auditorium, and introduced me, telling them, “Ambassador Sarek, Lady Perrin, I would like you to meet Zoe Harris. She is my student in music theory and advanced mathematics. Her mother is one of the ship’s science officers.”
Vulcans, I knew, didn’t touch other people as a rule, and I vaguely remembered being shown only formal greetings. Thankfully, Lady Perrin was both human and incredibly perceptive. She offered me her hand in greeting, and after I took it, she whispered, “You only have to be polite.” In a normal, surprisingly warm, voice, she said, “It’s nice to meet you Zoe. I’ve heard that the educational opportunities on starships are rich and robust.”
“Yes, we like our school system the way we like our coffee,” I quipped automatically, and then covered my mouth with my hand. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “Sometimes I have no filter.”
I saw her look sharply at her husband, but he seemed unbothered by my comment, and she let herself laugh. “I suppose I did set you up for that. Perhaps I could observe a few classes, if time permits.” She glanced to Data for his approval.
“I would be happy to arrange it,” he said.
Sarek turned away from the brief conversation he had been having with the Captain and one of his aides on Perrin’s other side, and when he faced me it was like being stared down by some prehistoric, preternatural lifeforce, at least for a second or two. Then the feeling was gone as suddenly as it had come. “It is gratifying to know that young people still maintain interest in the arts,” he said to me, inclining his head.
“Yes, sir,” I agreed, matching his sketch of a bow with my own. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
“The honor is mine,” he said, as if by rote, and then something softened in those dark, dark eyes. “My son was a competent pianist in his youth. Even if you find that your career path lies away from music, never give it up.”
I’m pretty sure I was not the only person both shocked and perplexed by that exchange, but before I could even answer, the softness and warmth had vanished, Data had met Geordi’s eyes over my head, and Geordi was quietly escorting me back to our seats. “Did I do something wrong?” I asked the engineer as the lights flashed, signalling the end of intermission.
“I don’t think that was you,” he said. “I think there’s something else going on.”
Somehow, his words felt ominous. Even so, I caught Data asking Lady Perrin if there was a violinist whose style she preferred, and when he returned to the stage, my attention was absorbed by the music.
There was supposed to be a short reception after the concert, but Ambassador Sarek and Lady Perrin excused themselves early, claiming fatigue – I think when you get to be two hundred years old, people are required to just accept it when you say you’re tired – so the after-gathering was moved to Ten-Forward. Data gave me the option of attending, but I could feel the edge of a headache, my eyelids felt heavy.
“Not that I don’t love your company, or anything,” I said, “but I’m really kind of tired.”
“I will escort you to your quarters,” he said. “Please wait one moment while I let the captain know.”
I sat in one of the front row chairs, and waited for him to be free, but he really was back in about a minute and a half. “I feel bad for pulling you away from the party,” I said. “It’s your night.”
He gave me the same face he did in math class when I was balking at solving a problem he knew I understood. It was a look that meant any argument I made would be futile. “We agreed that I would escort you to and from this event.”
“No, you and my mother agreed to that,” I snapped, and was immediately contrite when I saw shock flicker across his face. At least, it looked like shock. “Sorry,” I said immediately. “I must be more tired than I thought.”
“Indeed,” he said a little too coolly, even for him. “Perhaps we should be on our way.”
Yeah,” I agreed. Then I went on, imitating his tone a little, “Perhaps we should.”
While we’d chatted amiably on the walk to the ship’s theater, the walk back to my quarters was made in silence, though I did pause at the door. “Data, I’m really sorry I was rude to you before,” I said. “Thank you for the evening. I enjoyed the music.”
“You are welcome, Zoe,” he said. “Goodnight.”
As he turned away, I saw something else flicker across his face – concern, maybe? Or confusion. He was probably trying to figure out why my mood had been so erratic.
There was a note from my mother waiting in our quarters. She’d be off-duty at midnight, it said. There were comm-messages from Dana, Josh, Wesley, and T’vek as well. Actually, there were three from Tev, but I didn’t have the energy to listen to all of them. The messages from Josh and Wes were sweet – just telling me they were sorry for not calling sooner, and heard I was feeling better. Wes added that if I needed help with catching up in math or chemistry, he was willing to help.
Dana, I actually called back, because I hadn’t talked to my best friend since the weekend. “Hey, stranger,” I greeted her smiling face. “Miss me?”
“Oh, Zoe, you have no idea. I’d forgotten what it was like to be the only girl in Data’s math class. Josh was nice for the first day, and then he started getting weird, and T’vek and Wes have been really…surly.”
“Surly?” I asked, both amused and delighted by the word. “Really? ‘Surly?'” Well, Dana was the one of us who was destined to be a writer.
“It’s an appropriate description,” she said. “T’vek actually came to class wearing black sun-glasses like the ones you have.”
I rolled my eyes, “They probably are the ones I have. I haven’t been able to find them since we got back from Serenity Five. I thought I’d left them there.”
“He stole them?” she was justifiably shocked by the idea.
“No, I probably just left them somewhere and he picked them up.” He’d done so before, with books, my padd, a sweatshirt. He often teased me that I should never become a fugitive because my trail of left-behind belongings would lead the cops right to me.
“Oh. Yeah. That makes sense.” There was a pause, and her tone softened, “So, how are you, Zoe? Really?”
“Better,” I said, just as I had to Commander LaForge earlier that night. “Still kind of ‘off,’ but no more fever, and my head is mostly clear. I get tired pretty easily though.”
“Will you be in class tomorrow?”
I shook my head. “Not til Monday. I only got to attend the concert tonight because Wes’s mom said I could, and because all I had to do was sit there, and be quiet.” I didn’t tell her about meeting the ambassador and his wife. “I even skipped the after-party.”
“I didn’t think T’vek had been invited to that concert,” Dana said.
“Commander Data invited me when he was here for dinner the other night,” I started to explain, and then stopped. “Okay, that sounded way more salacious than I thought it would. He was sorry that I couldn’t play the cello part and asked Mom if he could escort me to and from so I could at least hear the music.”
“Oh, that’s really sweet.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, smiling mostly to myself. “It kind of was. Except I ruined it by snapping it him.”
“I did,” I whined. “I really did. And then I felt bad, but, Dana, it was weird. I felt like I had no control over my tongue. Suddenly, I was just really annoyed with him, and then it was gone.”
Her frown was a mixture of sympathy and confusion. “It’s probably just that you’re still not feeling perfectly well,” she said. “Was he angry? Oh, wait, it’s Commander Data, of course he wasn’t.”
“You underestimate him,” I said softly. “I think he feels more than he admits to, but that’s a whole other topic, and not one for comm.” I faked a yawn, which led to a second, real one. “I should go,” I said. “I was tired before I got home. If you have time, stop by after classes tomorrow? Bring Annette if you want.”
She smiled at me. “I like that plan. See you tomorrow, Zoe. Feel better.”
I really wanted to crawl into bed and go right to sleep after I finished chatting with Dana, but I needed to at least respond to T’vek. I sent a text message: Got your messages. Super tired. Going to bed. Talk tomorrow? Love Zoe. Then I forced myself to wash my face and brush my teeth before changing into an old Martian Academy tee-shirt that I’d stolen from my father. I was so tired, that I was asleep long before my mother got home.
Early – very early – Friday morning, I woke to the sound of our doorchime being signaled over and over. My mother, as she often did on the mornings after a late shift, had apparently enabled soundproofing in her bedroom, so I got up and padded to the door, forgetting that I was only wearing a baggy t-shirt and underwear. “Who is it?” I called in a less-than-cheery voice.
“T’vek. Zoe, please let me in.”
I asked the computer for the time and learned it was just past six. “Geez, Tev, what are you doing here this early?” I asked him through the still closed door.
“Please, Zoe, I have to see you!”
I wondered if his odd behavior was related to the surliness Dana had described. “Fine, enter, but keep it quiet because Mom’s still sleeping.” I squinched my eyes shut. “And so am I, I think.”
My boyfriend walked into the room with a swagger that would have been seriously impressive any other time. “You didn’t return my calls last night.”
“It was late and I was tired,” I said. “Still sick, remember?” Boys could be incredibly dense sometimes.
“You weren’t too sick to go out with Commander Data. You’re never too busy when he beckons. I know,” he said, “that you spent the night with him last week.” He was loud enough that even with soundproofing I was worried my mother would hear.
“Come with me,” I said, dragging him to my bedroom. I knew it was a bad idea, but it was better than waking my mom. I waited for the door to close then sat on my bed. I’d read somewhere that you were supposed to stay standing if you wanted to give the illusion of power, but there’s something to be said for being comfortable and non-threatening, as well. “I don’t know what is wrong with you, Stevek Mairaj,” I said, “but this new jealousy thing you’re doing is really unattractive.”
“I’m only jealous because you give me reason to be.”
“When? When have I given you reason? When Geordi and Wes called me to go to Data’s quarters, I asked if you wanted to come.”
“But you spent the night with – ”
“First of all, the very notion of that is absurd, Tev. I was with him for three or four hours, that’s all. We talked about music and art and played darts. My mother even came to meet me in his quarters. And even if I was interested in Data in any way other than as a friend and fellow musician – which I’m not – do you honestly think he’d return the feelings? You know, with those emotions he keeps telling everyone he doesn’t have? I’m fifteen years old, T’vek. He’s an officer.” I hesitated then added, “Try using the head on top of your shoulders instead of the one between your legs for a moment.”
T’vek stood in front of me, his jaw working, his fingers curling into tight fists and then uncurling again. His eyes were darker than I’d ever seen them, and when I looked into them, just for a moment, I felt that same old power that I’d felt when meeting Ambassador Sarek the night before. “But you went to the concert with him,” he said softly.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I did. As his student. And for the record, I sat with Commander LaForge, barely talked to Data all night, and said no when he invited me to attend the after-party, not that it’s any of your business.” I wanted to remind him that we’d been making out pretty intensely on this very bed not that long ago. I wanted to remind him that I’d sent him a note, at least. I did neither, because I also remembered my grandmother telling me that when you trying to make a deal, the person who speaks first, is the loser. Instead, I channeled her patience, shut my mouth, and waited.
The silence stretched between us like wire, growing tauter and tauter. I closed my eyes for what seemed like fifteen minutes but was probably more like one.
Finally T’vek spoke. “I’m an ass,” he said.
“Sometimes, yeah, you are,” I agreed, in as light a tone as I was capable of using.
“I just missed you. And then…when I tried to visit the other night, and I ran into him…”
“He was coming to tell me about the quartet in person. I skipped a dose of medicine while you were here, and got all hurt-y and spinny.” I was making up words, but I didn’t care. “He only invited me as a consolation. Not because there’s anything special between us.” I knew that wasn’t entirely true, but it didn’t seem relevant to the conversation.
Something seemed to pass out of him, at that point. His body relaxed into his more familiar posture and his eyes softened into the dark-but-somehow-glowing color they usually were. “Can I sit?” he asked.
“Sure.” I rearranged myself on my bed so I was seated cross-legged, leaning against my pillows, but under the covers. He sat at the foot end of my bed, on top of the covers, his back against the bulkhead wall. “There’s really nothing to be jealous of,” I said gently.
“Yeah,” he said. “I know that. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I woke up this morning feeling so angry at you and I didn’t know why.”
“Does this have anything to do with wearing sunglasses in class the other day?”
“Maybe?” he said. “I’m not sure why I did that either. It seemed like a good idea…”
“Why didn’t you tell me you had my sunglasses, anyway?”
His cheeks colored. “I liked that I had something that belongs to you,” he admitted.
I laughed softly. “Tev, don’t you know? You already have my heart.”
“You mean it?”
“You know I do,” I said.
“Well, good, because my parents said I could go with you to your father’s wedding.” He smiled, then, the wonderful roguish smile I loved so much. “Only two weeks ’til we leave.”
“Yeah,” I said. “So, how about we try to go that long without fighting?” I added, “I should warn you now, though, Data wants me to keep working on a duet with him. He suggested playing a recital. He’ll probably have to coordinate with Seth, but, it will mean extra practice.” I waited for an outburst, or even a comment; when I got none, I said, “You could probably come listen to us practice sometimes, if you wanted.”
“I probably won’t,” he said. “I mean, I love you, and I love that music gets you so juiced, but…I think watching you practice would be…distracting.”
I smiled. “Distracting, hmm? In a good way?”
“Oh, yes. In a very good way.”
“Hold that thought,” I said. “I kind of like it, and I kind of love you, but I’m still not completely well, and I really need to rest today, and most of the weekend, so you need to scoot before my mother knows you’re here and I need to go to sleep. Come to dinner, maybe, on Saturday night?”
“Deal,” he said. He slid off the end of my bed, and came to where I was propped up. “I love you, too, Zoe. I’m never too much of an ass to realize how awesome you are.”
“Well,” I teased. “Rarely.”
“Hmm?” I was all innocence.
He leaned over me and kissed me, lingering just long enough to show me how much he meant it. “See you Saturday.” He slipped out of my room and out of our quarters, which auto-locked behind him. I’ve always thought my mother must have known he’d come, but she never said anything, and I never asked.
I spent the rest of the morning napping, then spent the afternoon with Dana and Annette. Annette explained that she and Wes had talked out their issues, and then, blushing, she confessed, “He’s a really good kisser.”
Dana and I exchanged looks with each other. “That’s nice to know, I guess,” Dana said.
“No offense, Annette,” I added, “but the thought of kissing Wesley, is sort of like thinking about kissing my brother. You know, if I had one.”
She laughed. “That’s fine with me. I’m just glad we’re moving forward.” She added, “He said there’d been weird issues cropping up all over the ship – he got in a fight with Commander LaForge the other day, and his mother slapped him last night.”
“I kind of snipped at Data yesterday,” I confessed. “And then T’vek came over at oh-dark-thirty this morning all stormy and jealous. I talked him down, but for a few minutes it was kind of scary.”
“Scary? Or sexy?” Dana teased.
“Yes,” I answered, and then we moved on to other subjects.
After they left, I went back to bed to read some more, and then I actually looked at my homework from the week. I knew I had extra time, but I also knew the longer I waited to start, the less likely I’d be to actually complete it all before the holidays. Lit, history, and chemistry weren’t so bad. Biology was easy, and so was English (which really wasn’t English, it was Federation Standard Composition and Comprehension, but since Standard was based on English, the name had stuck), but Data’s homework…looking at it, I wondered if maybe he had been affected by whatever moodiness was going around.
I checked with my mother to make sure it was okay, and then contacted my tutor via text message, asking him to comm me when he had a free moment.
His response came in less than half an hour. “Zoe,” he greeted. “How are you feeling?”
I was pretty sure the question was out of politeness rather than actual interest, but I answered anyway. “Almost normal,” I said. “Well, normal for me.”
“That is good to hear,” he replied, and then asked, “How may I help you?”
“Are we still scheduled for theory tomorrow?”
“If you are well enough; are you?”
“Kind of. I was wondering if we could maybe alter the schedule a little bit?”
“In what way?”
“I was looking at the assignments from your class,” I said. “I understand this stuff when you explain it, but when I read it from the book it doesn’t make sense. Would you mind walking me through it? If it’s not too much of an imposition?”
“It is no imposition,” he confirmed. “I will see you at ten hundred hours.”
“One more thing?” I began. “Could we maybe meet here, this time? Mom doesn’t think I’m really well enough to go traipsing around the ship.”
“That would be acceptable.”
“Thanks, Data. You’re stellar.”
“You are welcome, Zoe. Data out.”
That accomplished, I returned to my bed again, bringing my padd with me, so I could start working on the composition we’d been asked to write. I was still working when my mother came home from her duty shift. “Hey, kiddo.”
“You look like you’re feeling pretty well today.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I am. How ’bout if I order dinner tonight, since you took care of me all week?”
“Nope,” she said. “Tonight’s still my turn. Unless there’s another reason for a sudden burst of helpfulness?”
“Well,” I said. “I kind of invited T’vek to join us tomorrow, and I wanted to make sure you were cool with it.”
She sat on my bed, and ruffled my already-messy hair. “I am,” she said. “Completely cool with it.”
“Super,” I said, and smiled.
“Dinner in twenty minutes,” she told me, getting up. “Any requests?”
“Lobster tails drenched in butter, a Caesar salad, and a baked potato with sour cream and chives?” I suggested.
“Replace the lobster tails with grilled salmon and you have a deal,” she said, grinning.
“Oh…if you insist.”
She was humming softly when she left my room, and the good mood lasted until I went to bed.
I knew my flu had nothing to do with everyone’s moodiness, but it seemed like when I got better, all the interpersonal storm clouds cleared up, as well. Of course, it might also have been that the negotiations with the Legarans had been making all the officers tense, so when they were completed successfully, and Ambassador Sarek and Lady Perrin had gone home, everyone could finally relax.
I shrugged to myself as I thought of all that, then decided the best thing to do was to read some more about wizards and magic and stuff until I fell asleep. As I drifted off, I idly wondered if I could convince the computer to respond to words like lumnos and nox in order to turn the lights in my room on and off. I’d have to ask Wes about that.
Notes: Yes, it’s true, Zoe’s reading the Harry Potter series. No, that doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the story, it just seems like a series she and her friends would enjoy. Literature didn’t end with Shakespeare or Dickens, after all. I have no idea what, if any, language Federation Standard actually is. For my purposes it’s a more unified hybrid of British and American English. But I suppose there’s every possibility it’s an engineered language like Esperanto. Oh, and yes, this is during the actual “Sarek” episode, but I took a few liberties with the length of the concert.
Chapter 30: Light Up the Sky – Part I
Light Up the Sky – Part I
The second Monday after I’d returned to class, I woke up feeling like my usual snarky self for what felt like the first time in eons. I’d caught up on all of the schoolwork I’d missed and stayed current on the new stuff, thanks in large part to Data, T’vek, Dana, and Josh – the latter of whom shared a class with me that none of the others did. Wesley would have pitched in as well, but he’d been busy with yet another attempt at getting into Starfleet Academy.
In any case, when my alarm sounded, instead of grumbling and hiding under the covers for an extra nine minutes (why was it never ten?) I bounced out of bed, with a truly ancient Christmas song on my lips. “Old Mr. Kringle is soon gonna jingle the bells that’ll tingle all your troubles away,” I sang in a throaty tone as I arranged breakfast for my mother and me.
“Do I hear singing?” Mom asked as she shuffled out of her room in the fluffy blue slippers we’d agreed never to actually mention in public. “Can my pale, wan, sickly Zoetrope have finally bowed out in favor of the great Zoificus?”
I stopped singing. “Seriously, Mom, it’s not like I was possessed. Only sick.”
“Mm.” She came to give me a quick squeeze before sitting down in her normal place at the table. “Clearly you don’t remember the devil child that came to visit those last couple of days.”
“Clearly,” I countered, “I was still delirious.”
“Or at least greatly overwrought.”
“Oh, good word.”
“A sparse vocabulary has never been one of my flaws,” I pointed out. “I replicated quiche,” I said, distributing plates and glasses. “With bacon.”
“I see that,” my mother said. “You’re still not getting a pony.”
“Oh, a pony has been off the table for a while,” I told her, sitting across from her. “Can’t I just be in a really good mood? The semester’s almost over, the beach is calling me, and Dad said he’d take me to get my license while I’m there with him.”
“Ah,” my mother said, grinning. She ate a forkful of quiche. “And you want me to approve the notion of my very young, extremely inexperienced daughter getting her own flitter for Christmas?”
“Just an atmospheric one,” I said. “Cloud-to-ground, nothing fancy. You know, except for the color.”
“Candy apple red?” she guessed.
“Mother, please!” I put my hand on my chest in mock-shock. “No one buys red any more. British racing green, on the other hand…”
“Right,” she said. “Classy.”
“Mmhm. And then there are the pinstripes.”
“You’ve had this conversation with your father, I take it?”
“It might have come up when he asked me to participate in his wedding.”
“You bribed your father?” my mother asked, and I could see amusement making the corners of her mouth curve up a little.
“‘Bribe’ is such a cold word, Mom,” I said, still playing my character. “Harsh, even. I merely informed my father that an incentive might guarantee my good behavior and willing contribution to the success of his event.”
“If your father is willing to foot the bill for a flitter, piloting lessons, and insurance, I won’t stop him. After all, it’s not like you’ll be using it all that often, except on vacations, and it may be useful when you go off to college.”
“About that…” I began, in my more usual tone.
“You are going to college,” my mother countered.
“Yes, of course, I am,” I said. “I meant about vacations. It’s true that I’m not that fond of Gia, but, as stepmonsters go, there could be worse…I was thinking, maybe, I could stay with Dad for more than just vacations.”
“Zoe, we had this conversation when your grandmother said she couldn’t handle you anymore. You were skipping classes, sneaking out at night, drinking…”
“Once, mom. I got drunk once.”
“You were fourteen.”
“I was almost fifteen. And it’s not like I was sneaking into night clubs. It was at Kavan Meyer’s birthday party.”
“On the beach, in the middle of the night, during high surf…you all could have been killed.”
“And drinking myself into oblivion then walking into the sea is worse than being stuck here on the U.S.S. Tedium, how?”
“Zoe, I know this is your usual brand of snark speaking, but after everything you went through when you thought Data was dead, can you understand how not funny it is when you tell me you’d choose drowning over living here.” She set down her fork, rather pointedly. “I thought you’d adjusted. You’ve made friends, you’ve made a real connection with Commander Data…”
Normally, I’d have avoided meeting my mother’s eyes. I’d have stared at my plate, or crumpled my napkin, or rolled my eyes. Something in her tone made me look at her. “You’re right,” I said softly. “Drowning would be way worse…but Mom, honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m drowning here.”
She reached across the table and grabbed my hand. “You know, it’s not only your behavior on Centaurus that made me want you here. I wanted to be there for this part of your life.”
“The terrible teens?” I snarked.
“The transition from girl to woman,” she corrected, her expression softening into her gushy mom look. “You’re changing, you know, a little bit, every day.”
“Yeah,” I said, though I didn’t pull my hand back. “I guess I am. And I know I’m not grumping about it all the time, but…”
“But you think you’d be happier with your father?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe? I think I’m more like him than I am like you, I guess. Sometimes I feel like I’m more of a puzzle to you than the ancient alien cultures you’re exploring.”
She squeezed my hand tighter, then released it. “Sometimes,” she said, grinning fondly at me, “you are.”
“You opened the door on that one, kiddo.”
“Hmph,” I said again, this time through a grin.
“Tell you what,” my mother began after a healthy swig of juice. “Fetch me a cup of coffee, and I’ll consider – consider – talking with your father and Gia about letting you stay. If they agree, and if, after the holidays, you still want to, I think we can work something out.”
I immediately got up to replicate coffee for my mother. “Here,” I said, placing the mug in front of her and sitting back down. “There’s another catch though, right?”
“What makes you say that?”
I gave her a pointed look. “There’s always another catch.”
She grinned around the coffee mug. “No more extortion. I’ll let the flitter slide; if you stay you’ll need it, and if you don’t we can probably have it transported to wherever you go to school, but…I don’t want to hear about expensive presents, shopping trips, or sightseeing beyond the norm.”
I shrugged. “That’s fair,” I said. “I guess.”
She peered at me, taking my measure. “I want you to be happy, Zoe. I don’t think your behavior before was the behavior of a happy person.”
“Geez mom, it’s not like I got seventeen tattoos or had my tongue pierced – is it true that guys like certain…activities… when their partners have tongue rings? – and I wasn’t exactly turning tricks on the street corners, either. It was a few parties, a few times missing curfew, and I still aced the classes I skipped out on.”
“There might be one tattoo…”
“It’s a really small one, though. Somewhere discreet…” This time I was actually telling the truth. “I mean, I didn’t even have to take my bathing suit off to get it done.”
“Zoe Lauren Harris…”
I got up before she could finish her sentence. “Sorry, Mom. Gotta dash. My math teacher is incredibly anal about starting class on time. You might know him. Gold guy, average height, rarely uses contractions…”
I’d made her laugh, at least. “Go on, you,” she said. “Have a good day. Try not to do anything illegal before dinner.”
“Oh,” I said too innocently, reverting to the character I’d been playing earlier. “Never illegal. A little immoral maybe, but not before lunch. That would be gauche.” And I sailed out the door.
For the first time since I’d been part of Data’s math tutorial, we started class late. First, Data was delayed – he contacted us to let us know – because of some diplomats that had to be greeted and quartered, and then Wes came rushing in with a huge smile on his face.
He was also wearing a proper Starfleet uniform instead of one of the hideous grey things he usually wore, and his collar pip showed that had a rank of….
“So, are we supposed to salute and call you Ensign Crusher now?” Josh asked, interrupting my observation of our classmate.
Wes blushed, turning almost the same color of his uniform. “Of course not,” he said. “I’m still just a student, like you guys…mostly.”
“Seriously, Wes, you should only ever wear that,” I said. “Congratulations.”
“Does this mean you’re not going off to the Academy?” T’vek wanted to know.
“Wesley has been granted a field commission,” Data explained to us, probably because it was the only way to regain our attention. “He missed his connection on Betazed last week, because of…extenuating circumstances.”
I knew that our resident wunderkind had been instrumental in finding Commander Riker, Counsellor Troi, and her mother the Betazoid ambassador when a Ferengi had kidnapped them, but only because I’d been in sickbay getting a post-flu checkup before being allowed to return to class, and had overheard a less-than-discreet conversation. I’d also been sworn to secrecy.
“Captain Picard said I shouldn’t have to wait for the next open enrollment period, since I was already doing the job,” Wesley added for the sake of clarification. “I still have to finish my last semester of high school, and then I’ll be in other classes as well,” he elaborated.
“That’s fantastic, Wes,” Dana said. “We should celebrate later. Maybe combine it with a holiday celebration before Zoe and T’vek head off to Centaurus.”
Data interjected again. “Dana,” he said, “that is an excellent suggestion. However, we have already used thirty of our allotted one hundred twenty minutes. Therefore, I believe any planning should be postponed until after class.”
His non-admonishment admonishment caused all of us to refocus, just as he’d likely intended, and after a collective murmur of “Sorry, Data,” the lesson began.
After class, T’vek invited all of us back to his place for more planning, and everyone accepted, though Data asked me to remain behind, “…for a moment.”
“Sure,” I said to our tutor. To T’vek I said, “I’ll meet you all in a bit?”
“We’ll make sure the important decisions wait for your input,” he teased. Then he gave me a quick kiss, and went off with the rest of our group.
I turned back to Data, “Is this about the homework from when I was sick?” I asked. “Because I thought you’d said I’d ‘completed everything adequately’?” My tone was a slight imitation of his, but not in a malicious way.
“It is not,” he said. “It is about the duet we have been working on. I believe we are ready to perform it. There is a holiday party in Ten-Forward next Wednesday. If you agree, we will play the duet, and then you will join the quartet for another piece.”
“I leave a week from Friday,” I said. “Which, of course you know.”
“Is that relevant to this discussion?”
“Yes and no. I’d feel more comfortable about the duet if there was time for a couple of extra practice sessions, and I’m a little nervous about the final for this theory class I’m taking,” I put a teasing lilt into my voice, but I’m pretty sure he knew I was still mostly serious. “My teacher is a stickler for accuracy, and I don’t want to disappoint him.”
I saw him open his mouth, as if to protest that he could not be disappointed, but he closed it again, waited a beat, and then spoke a little more softly than he usually did. “I am certain your results will be more than satisfactory.”
From Data, it was a high compliment. “I wish I had your certainty,” I admitted. “But it’s probably just nerves. Anyway, I’m trying to balance school and music and getting ready for the trip, and I still feel a bit behind even though I’ve caught up on all my homework.” I took a breath more to ground myself than anything else. “Do you have time for a couple of extra rehearsals? Maybe Wednesday, and going longer on Saturday?”
“Those times would be acceptable,” he agreed. “Thank you, Zoe.”
I picked up my padd, and turned to go, but stopped in the doorway. “Thank you, Data,” I said, and left.
By the time I arrived at T’vek’s quarters, my friends had replicated burritos and tacos for lunch, and three different venues had been discussed. Dana wanted to throw a winter formal for the entire contingent of high school students – about forty – and Josh wanted to requisition the use of one of the observation lounges and hold our celebration there.
“I have a better idea,” I said.
“Do tell?” T’vek prompted me.
“Gimme a minute.” I finished eating my taco, took a large swallow of mango-peach iced tea, and said, “It just occurred to me that Data’s never seen our theme park in action; he only ever saw the report.”
“You want to hold a party there?”
“With a few tweaks,” I said, and I outlined what I wanted to do. “Wes, can you ask Reg to help out again?”
“I can,” he said, “but he might respond more favorably if you ask.”
“You’re just afraid you’ll slip and call him ‘Broccoli’ again,” I countered.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “I am, a little.”
Dana changed the subject. “So,” she breezed, “what’s it really like to wear an actual uniform, Wes?”
And just like that he was all smiles again. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I mean, I feel this whole new sense of responsibility, but I also feel like I have the right to be here.”
“You didn’t before?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said. “I always felt like Captain Picard might decide he didn’t want me around, after all.”
“He still could,” Josh said, but we all knew he was teasing.
The five of us hung out for another hour or so, eating the rest of the food that had been replicated, and sharing plans for the holidays. T’vek and I were the only people leaving the ship, but Dana said she and her father would be attending Christmas Eve services in the ship’s chapel, and Josh told us about the Christmas day snow-fest in the holodeck.
“Oh, I went to that the year before last,” Wes said. “It was amazing.”
“Until you beaned Lieutenant Yar with that snowball,” Josh said. He added, for the rest of us, “After that it was a whole different kind of amazing. He hit her in the butt.”
Everyone laughed, except me. I asked, “Who’s Lieutenant Yar.”
Wesley’s expression darkened and everyone else grew suddenly serious as well. “Tasha Yar,” he said, “was the security chief before Worf. She was fierce but she was also really…nice? No. Kind. She was kind.” He lowered his voice a bit. “She was killed on a mission. You should ask Data about her sometime. They were close.”
My curiosity was piqued, and I made a mental note to do exactly what Wes suggested. Later. Right then, though, I just grinned. “If we’re done planning, can I have my boyfriend all to myself for a while?”
T’vek leered at me for comic effect, but everyone else got the hint.
After they were gone, he said to me. “My father will be back here in an hour.”
We made quick work of returning the dishes and glasses to the replicator, and tidying the Mairaj living quarters, and then I said, “Show me your room.”
I’d been to his quarters before, of course, but I’d never been beyond the living quarters and the bathroom. Now, I got a better glimpse into the heart and soul of the boy I loved, because his room was full of wire sculptures of ships and found-art structures, but he also had a board full of holo-pics and posters of both Betazed and Vulcan.
The first one, a seascape, drew my attention. “Is that the Opal Sea?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “It’s one of my favorite places to be.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t get to see it, when the ship was there.”
“Me, too,” he said. “You’d love it there.”
“Pretty sure I’d love it wherever you are,” I said, my voice catching slightly. I crossed the room to sit on his bed. “Right here, for example, is pretty awesome.”
He came and sat with me, covering my hand with his. “You’re pretty awesome,” he said softly. He nuzzled my neck, nibbling just over my jugular. “You smell so good,” he said.
“It’s just shampoo,” I told him.
“It smells fantastic.” He lifted his free hand to run it through my hair, turning my head toward him so we could kiss – a proper kiss – not the chaste peck we’d shared after class.
We kept kissing, and I lifted my free hand to tease the tip of his ear.
“It’s not enough,” I said.
“No,” he agreed. His hand dropped to my waist, so he could slide it under my shirt. “Zoe…if we…would you want to…?” He couldn’t get the words out but I knew what he meant.
“You don’t mean right now?”
“Not now-now, no. But…maybe over the holidays.”
“Yeah,” I said, leaning into his touch. “Definitely over the holidays.” I freed my other hand from his, and tangled both of mine in his hair, kissing him harder. “God,” I said, “vacation cannot come soon enough.”
T’vek laughed through the kiss, as his thumb found my nipple. I gasped, and he laughed more, delighted and smug. “You’re amazing,” he said.
“I bet you say that to all the girls who let you feel them up,” I teased.
“And the guys,” he teased back. But then he grew sober. “There haven’t been any others…not…not in that way.”
“Have you?” He was almost shy, when he asked me.
“What, had sex?” I wasn’t embarrassed, but I was feeling suddenly overwhelmed. “No,” I said. “Never. I mean, I’ve dated. A little. Back home.” I pulled away from him, and sat up straighter. He pulled his hand back from under my shirt, and I wrapped both of mind around it. “You don’t know this,” I said. “But the reason I’m here on the ship is that things weren’t working out so well for me at home.”
He moved so he was sitting cross-legged on his bed, and I moved to mirror his position. “How so?”
“Well, when I was little, Mom was mostly on short term missions, and assigned to planetary duty. When I got older, she started getting longer assignments, frigates and scout ships and stuff, so I stayed with Dad when he was home – he tours a lot – or at my grandmother’s farm when they were both away.”
He nodded, “I kind of knew that much.”
“Dad’s awesome, but for most of my life, he was more of a best friend than a parent. He didn’t always pay attention to when I was supposed to be in school, and when I wasn’t. He’d take me with him on tour, and if it was a musical and not a pure orchestra thing, he’d get them to throw me onstage as ‘atmosphere’ or whatever.”
“Wait, so you’re a performer? Like professional? Stellar!”
“No!” I said. “I mean, yes, but just tiny stuff. ‘Oh, you need a kid, use Zoe.’ That kind of thing. It was fine when I was five and six and school didn’t mean much. When I got older, attendance began to matter, so he couldn’t take me with him so much. And then a couple years ago Mom got assigned here.”
“And she asked you to come.”
“No,” I said. “She didn’t. I got really mad at her. It was like…she was finally in a place where she didn’t have to choose between me and her job, but she still chose the job.”
“Oh, Zoe….” he reached out to stroke my cheek. “I’m sorry.”
I pulled his hand away from my face, kissed his palm and then continued talking, “No, it’s okay. I mean it is now…but then Dad took a long tour, and I was stuck at my grandmother’s and – don’t get me wrong – she’s fantastic, but I was angry and hurt, and I did some stupid stuff. Parties. Drinking. Mom came home and found me at a party with a guy who was…older…and kind of freaked out.”
“How much older.”
“Four years,” I admitted. “He was eighteen, and I was fourteen.”
“But you didn’t?”
“No,” I said. I met his eyes, and told him with every ounce of truth in me, “We kissed a little, but that’s all.” I waited to see if he was going to say anything, and when he didn’t I added. “Tev, you’re the first – you’re the only guy I’ve ever loved.”
His smile, when it came, was devilishly sexy, but he didn’t say anything, just pulled me close again, and kissed me. We stretched out together on his bed, and just stayed there, quietly until we heard Kenash come home.
“I should go,” I said. “I have two language finals this afternoon. One in Vulcan, one in Spanish.”
“I’ve got my design final,” he said, “so I feel your pain. Let me walk you to the door.” We got up, and paused to say hello to his father, and then he kissed me again. “See you after?”
“I have quartet rehearsal,” I said. “I’ll comm you when I’m done.” I stepped into the corridor, and he followed me.
“I love you, Zoe,” he said, kissing me one more time.
“Love you, too,” I said.
I hadn’t lied to T’vek. I did have finals in Vulcan and Spanish that day, but I breezed through them, as I knew I would, and then I went to sickbay. This time, I wasn’t succumbing to a virus and I didn’t throw up on anyone’s boots.
“Nurse Ogawa?” I asked the duty nurse who was working.
She smiled at me, “It’s Alyssa to you. How are you feeling, Zoe?”
“I’m good,” I said. “I need to talk to someone about…” I hesitated. “Um…you’re not allowed to tell my mother why I’m here, right? Even though it’s a starship, privacy laws still count?”
Her smile softened. “Nope,” she said. “We’re not allowed to tell your mother.”
I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “I need to talk about birth control.” I said.
She nodded once, and picked up a padd. “Let’s go to one of the bio-beds and you can relax for a moment while I get the doctor.”
It didn’t even cross my mind until I was lying on the bed that the doctor was also the mother of one of my friends. While I waited, Alyssa conferred with Dr. Crusher in a whisper. The doctor looked sharply in my direction, but her expression resolved into her usual professional demeanor almost immediately, and by the time she came over to me, she was smiling.
“I just can’t get rid of you, can I Zoe?” she teased.
“What can I say, Doc,” I replied. “Modern medicine fascinates me. Also, you have some super-hot orderlies.”
She laughed softly. “True enough.” She touched a control on the biobed, and an opaque force-field surrounded us, about a meter out from the bed all the way around. “So…birth control,” she said in a more serious tone. “You know I can’t tell your mother –” she waited for me to confirm what I’d already discussed with Alyssa. “- but you really should, Zoe. She’d want to know, and to be there if…”
“If T’vek hurts me in some way?”
“That,” she allowed, “and if you just need emotional support.”
“I’ll consider it,” I said. I almost wanted to ask her if Wes had come to her at some point, but I knew she couldn’t answer. Instead I asked, “Did you tell your mother? When it was your first time?”
She smiled the fond smile that was her version of my mother’s ‘gushy mom look.’ “I was raised mostly by my grandmother,” she shared. “She was a very wise woman, and I was afraid she’d be incredibly disappointed in me when she found out I’d taken that step…but she was also a healer, and I think she knew being supportive was more important than being judgmental.”
“My mother would tell me I’m too young, or not ready.”
“You are young…” the doctor hedged.
“I’ll be sixteen in slightly more than a month,” I pointed out. “And who decides what ‘too young’ is, anyway? I mean, wouldn’t you want your daughter to lose her virginity with someone who loved and cared about her, and not some random guy she met at a party?”
She had been scanning me, the whole time we’d been talking. Now she put the medical wand away, and hitched her hip onto the end of the bio-bed. “If you have the presence of mind to be asking about protection before you take that step, then as a physician, I’d have to say you’re ready.” She paused, and the teasing glint reappeared in her eyes. “As a mother, and I’m pretty sure your mother would agree, I’d urge you to wait til you’re thirty.”
I laughed at that, and was immediately more comfortable. “Okay,” I said. “Now what?”
“Now,” she said, “I ask you some nosy questions, and then I give you a hypospray that will prevent you from ovulating for three months, as well as a broad-spectrum vaccine against most common sexually-transmitted diseases.”
“Three months?” I asked.
“For now,” she said. “When you come back from your vacation, we’ll do an exam, and make sure the hormone levels are right for you, and then we can talk about longer-term options.”
“How long before it’s effective?” I asked, after I’d answered everything about when I’d had my first period and what my cycle was like, and other things that, yes, seemed really nosy.
“Twenty-four hours,” she said. “We’re lucky we live when we do; not so long ago, birth control for women meant needle injections, daily pills, or intrauterine implants, and you still had to use barrier methods to prevent STDs…now, things are simpler and safer.” She went through a list of possible, but rare, side effects and added, “Come see me if you have any questions. I mean it.”
“Cool,” I said. “And thanks.”
She turned off the privacy field, and I jumped off the bed. “Zoe…have T’vek come in, as well, before you leave for Centaurus.”
“Okay,” I said.
“And, Zoe…be safe.”
“I’ll try,” I promised.
I left sickbay in a much more reflective mood than I’d been in when I’d arrived, and almost careened into a strange man in an extremely form-fitting white jumpsuit as I reached the door. “Excuse me,” he said.
“Sorry,” I answered, brushing past him to the doors.
My mood stayed somewhat subdued even during quartet rehearsal, and was apparently noticeable enough that Data caught me before I left. “Zoe,” he said, “I have noticed that the expression on your face is similar to the way you look when you ask to have a cup of tea with me. May I invite you for one, now?”
(= To Be Continued =)
This chapter and the one that will come immediately after it take place after “Menage a Troi” and during “Transfigurations,” which is the one with the mojo-giving alien John Smith. If you’re wondering why the season break (Best of Both Worlds I & II) is happening over Christmas, it’s because that’s what the Stardate engines say (which means, avoid the Enterprise during December if you want to live through the holidays.)
Chapter 31: Light Up the Sky – Part II
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine. (Note: this chapter is a strong T for teenaged horniness at the end.)
Light Up the Sky – Part II
My mood stayed somewhat subdued even during quartet rehearsal, and was apparently noticeable enough that Data caught me before I left. “Zoe,” he said, “I have noticed that the expression on your face is similar to the way you look when you ask to have a cup of tea with me. May I invite you for one, now?”
“Do I really look that distressed?” I asked.
“I would characterize your expression as more ‘reflective,'” he said.
“I’m dealing with some stuff,” I admitted. “Decisions of the possibly epic kind,” I added. “And while tea with you would be lovely, I think I should probably go home. Thanks, anyway.”
“As you wish,” he said, in his customary mild tone. “Good night, Zoe.”
I conjured a bright smile as I zipped my cello into its gig bag. “G’night, Data. See you in class on Wednesday.”
Back at home, I comm’d T’vek but he was busy putting the finishing touches on an art project. Dana had left me a message while I was at rehearsal, asking if she could come over and study. I returned it, telling her to bring Annette, if she wanted to.
The pair of them showed up about twenty minutes later, with their padds. “So, what’s the focus tonight?” I asked.
“History,” Dana said. “Then maybe math if Annette doesn’t mind.”
“I don’t,” she said. “Actually, I’d love to see what you’re working on. If I do well on my own final, I might be in your tutorial after the break.”
“Really?” I said. “It’ll be nice not to be outnumbered by the boys for a change.”
“I feel your pain. I’m the only girl in my Introduction to the Principles of Engineering class, and it’s kind of intimidating.”
“We should focus on history,” Dana reminded us.
We did so, gathering around the glass-topped dining table rather than being more casual on the living area floor. After about an hour, we took a break for snacks – I introduced my friends to the glorious combination of sliced apples dipped in peanut butter – and chatted more casually.
“Did I see you in Sickbay yesterday, Zoe?” Annette asked at one point. “You’re not relapsing, are you?”
“No,” I said. “Oh, god, no. I just…I had to see the doctor about something personal.”
She peered at me, as if trying to decide how nosy she was going to be. Then her face lit up with a huge grin. “You and T’vek are planning to go all the way during the holidays! I knew it! Wes said you were already, but, I didn’t think so.”
I could feel my cheeks getting hot. “You’ve talked about us?” I asked. “Dana, do you and Josh talk about me and Tev, too?”
“Nope,” she deadpanned. “We only ever speculate about Wes and Annette.”
That caused the three of us to dissolve into giggles, but then Dana said, “Is Annette right, though, Zoe? Are you and T’vek planning to…do it?”
“You’d never know we all grew up in the Age of Enlightenment, the way we’re dancing around the word ‘sex,'” I said, mostly to deflect their questions. “Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex…if we can’t even say the word in a private conversation with friends, do we have any business doing it?”
“Fair point,” Dana said. “So, are you and Tev planning to have sex?”
She said it with this really dirty tone that made me start laughing again, and it took me a moment to calm myself so I could answer. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m pretty sure we are. I mean…he wants to. I want to. We both…”
“Want to?” Annette asked, with a smile that was warm and sympathetic.
“Sorry,” I said, and then, because it was apparently that kind of conversation. “Have you and Wes…?”
Her smile softened. “Saturday night,” she told us. “To celebrate his field promotion.”
“Was it your first time?” Dana asked.
“Yes,” she said. “It was okay, though.”
“I’d hope so,” I said. “I mean, his mother’s a doctor…he’s been staring at models of human anatomy his entire life.”
We all laughed again, and the serious mood was broken.
“So, more history, or math?” Dana asked when we’d recycled our plates and glasses. “I think I’m actually okay with math,” she added.
“Me, too,” I said, surprising myself. “I was shaky on some things before I got sick, but you and Tev and Data helped so much when I was catching up, that I actually feel really confident about the exam.”
“Not too confident, though?” Dana asked. “Right?”
“Confident. Not cocky,” I confirmed.
“More history then,” Annette declared, and that’s what we did.
In the interest of practicing what I preached, so to speak, I contacted T’vek early Tuesday morning, to tell him to hit Sick Bay for a scan and anti-STD vaccine. I also pointed out that birth control options for men were way less invasive than even the modern hormone therapy women used.
He managed to listen and agree to go, without either of us blushing or stammering much, and when we were finally able to talk after class, he confirmed that he was clean, had been dosed as needed, and was really happy that neither of us had another final that day.
“Unless you want to cram for Data’s math tutorial?” he asked, as we walked toward my quarters.
“I do have to study something for Data, but not for math,” I said. “My theory final is Thursday evening.”
“Because tomorrow night and Saturday we’re spending rehearsing our duet.” I realized I hadn’t told my boyfriend about the concert. “You’ll come, right? And bring your parents? I mean, you’ll get to see me in an actual dress, and stuff.”
“An entire horde of Ontallian slither-worms couldn’t keep me away,” he promised. “Maybe my parents and I could share a table with your mother? Since we still haven’t managed to have dinner?”
“Not a bad idea,” I said. “Let’s plan it.”
We’d reached the door to my quarters. “So, this studying you have to do…”
“I need to eat lunch first, and then I can give you an hour, maybe two.” It was difficult for me to set limits like that, but I wanted to do well on my theory exam and on the duet.
“Evil, evil, woman.”
“You like it that way.”
“True,” he agreed. “The eviler the better.”
I gave him my best evil laugh, low and throaty, and he shivered. “What?” I asked, all innocence.
“When you do that, I can never decide if it’s hot or scary.”
“It’s probably both.”
I just laughed again.
Wednesday morning, nerves hit me as I got ready to go to my math class. “Tell me I’m not going to fail?” I begged my mother at breakfast.
“You’re not going to fail,” she said in a flat tone, but ruined the effect by laughing softly. “Zoe, it’s one exam. Even if you don’t get the highest score, you’ll still pass.”
I thought about it. “I won’t get the highest score. Wes or Tev will. I’m just not ‘mathy’ enough.”
“And yet, everything I’ve heard tells me you’ve held your own.”
“Everything you’ve heard?”
“Commander Data and I do talk on occasion,” she allowed.
“Right,” I said, “I know. You worked together on the Ichobarian thing, yeah?”
“Look who’s taking a greater interest in shipboard events,” my mother observed, pleased. “Does this mean you don’t want to stay on Centaurus?”
“It means,” I said, “that I want the right to decide for myself. Centaurus has beaches, and an arts academy, and…”
“And the Enterprise has your boyfriend, and a very special friend in the form of Data,” my mother continued for me. Wryly, she added, “Not to mention me.”
“How could I forget the coolest mother in the galaxy,” I teased. I asked the replicator for a chocolate protein shake in lieu of actual food, and when my mother shot a questioning glance my way, I explained, “Chocolate conquers everything.”
She laughed again, and wished me luck on my test.
The rest of the week went fairly smoothly. My nerves subsided by the time I actually arrived at the conference room for Data’s tutorial, and while I wasn’t the first to finish his exam (Wesley was), I also wasn’t the last (that was Josh). Rehearsal that night also went well.
Thursday we had our Literature final in the morning, and then I went back home to do some last minute reviewing for the music theory exam I’d insisted Data give me that evening. It was true that it hadn’t originally been a for-credit course, but once I’d realized it counted as an extra elective he’d agreed to actually grade me.
“I don’t understand why you’re taking a final at seven at night,” T’vek said as he walked with me to Data’s quarters.
“Because,” I said, “I need the extra rehearsal time with him on Saturday, and I don’t want to have another final hanging over my head. I told you all this,” I reminded him.
“Yeah,” he said. “I know.”
“It was supposed to be this afternoon,” I confessed, “but he was scheduled to be on the bridge, and I feel weird when he changes his duty schedule to accommodate me.”
“You should feel honored,” he told me.
“Sure. Not everyone has a hero of the Federation giving up their free time to tutor them in music theory.”
“Well,” I said. “Not every hero of the Federation has a tutee with such talent and such a winning personality.”
T’vek grinned. “Fair point. Clearly Commander Data is the one who should be honored.”
“Indeed.” Data’s voice interjected as he walked up behind us. “Have you been waiting long?” he asked. “I was delayed, and unable to get a message to you.”
“We just got here,” I said. “If you have work to do…”
“I do, but it can be done while you are completing the written portion of your examination,” he assured me. “T’vek, thank you for escorting Miss Harris.”
Tev grinned. “No worries.” He leaned close, kissed me, and then walked off. “Later, Zoe, Data.”
Data made one of his non-verbal sounds that generally meant he’d made a note of some bit of human behavior for later consideration, and opened the door to his quarters. “Please come in,” he said, and I followed him.
“You will need your padd for the first portion of the examination,” he said, taking my cello from me. “Afterward I will give you a break before the applied theory section.”
“Why do I get the feeling this exam is going to be way more difficult than the test you gave us in math yesterday?”
He raised his eyebrows at me. “Must I remind you that this is a college-level course?”
“Sometimes,” I confessed, “I forget it’s a class at all.”
“If you are nervous,” he said, “you have no reason to be. You know the material.”
“If you say so,” I said, sitting down at his dining table.
He took my padd, tapped in a few commands, and handed it back to me. “Begin.”
I did as he asked, noticing peripherally that he’d seated himself at his workstation. I’d never actually seen him working at it, but there was something kind of cozy about me working on my stuff while he was working on his. Not sure where that thought had come from, I banished it, and focused on the exam.
The written portion was difficult, but Data had been correct: I knew the material. About seventy-five minutes into the ninety he’d allotted me, I said, “Finished,” and pushed my padd away.
“Do you wish to know your score now, or would you prefer to complete the practical portion first?” he asked, without his focus seeming to leave whatever he was working on.
“I’d rather wait, if that’s okay.”
“It is fine. I will need four-point-seven-three minutes to complete my task before we can begin the practical. Would you care for a refreshment while you wait?”
“I’m good,” I said. “Though if it wouldn’t be a major imposition to use your bathroom…”
“It would not.”
I got up, and walked through his bedroom, past the perfectly-made bed, the completely uncluttered dresser, and the bare floor, to the bathroom, used it, washed my hands and returned to the main room. “Thanks,” I said. “Now what?”
“If you will take out your cello, and warm up, I will be asking you to demonstrate some musical shapes and intervals.”
I did as he asked, and he took me through a series of practical requests, asking me to play certain riffs in different keys, or to demonstrate specific arpeggios. He asked me questions about enharmonic tuning, about sympathetic vibrations, and finally, when I thought I couldn’t possibly answer another question, he called time.
“Please tell me we’re done and that this isn’t a break?”
“We are finished.”
“Did I pass?”
He stared at me for what felt like several minutes, then got up from behind his console to stand directly in front of me. “Zoe, you achieved a perfect score. Do you believe I would have allowed you to sit an examination of if I did not know you were ready?”
“Some teachers believe you learn as much by failing…”
“That is true,” he said. “But I believe there is a difference between the kind of failure you are describing, and being ‘set up’ to fail.”
I thought about that for a long moment. “That makes sense,” I said. I got up, and brushed past him to grab my gig bag and start packing my cello. “Thank you,” I said, “for the class and your time and everything.”
“You are welcome,” he said softly.
I rested my packed cello on the floor, and leaned on it. “Are we doing another semester of theory…after the break?”
“It is designed to be a year-long course.”
“Okay,” I said again. I hefted the instrument. “I should go. Let you do…whatever it is you were doing.”
“I will see you in class tomorrow, Zoe.”
I wasn’t at all surprised that T’vek was waiting for me in the corridor. He took my cello from me, grabbed my hand with his free one, and asked, “So?”
“Apparently, I ‘achieved a perfect score,'” I told him. “Also? Data is capable of writing exams that are truly brutal.”
“If he’s pushing you, it means he thinks you’re capable.”
“I guess,” I said. “When do you have to be home?”
“Zero two hundred hours. Is your mother on duty tonight?”
“Covering Science One on the bridge overnight.”
Despite knowing my mother’s schedule, I checked every inch of our quarters before letting T’vek past the living area, and then I still sent a text message to her letting her know that I was back and that he was visiting for a bit. “All clear,” I said. “Are you hungry, or…?”
He was staring at me with dark, luminous eyes. “C’mere.”
I set my cello in the corner and then returned to stand face-to-face with him. We tangled our hands in each other’s hair and kissed until we were breathless, and then we moved to my room, to my bed, where shirts and pants were quickly stripped away.
We didn’t actually have sex that night. We’d made an unspoken agreement that the first time wouldn’t be a night when we had a time-limit, but with our hands and lips we did almost everything else that two horny teenagers could do without taking that last step.
It wasn’t exactly perfect.
He removed my bra and kissed my breasts, but when he took me into his mouth to nibble and tease, I had to stop him. “Don’t bite so hard,” I said. “More tongue, less teeth.”
It was the same when it was my turn, when I met him eye-to-eye, so to speak. First, I was overcome with the desire to giggle. Then I was tentative. But when I reached out my hand to stroke him there his responsive shiver was enticing. “Tell me if I’m doing this wrong,” I asked him.
“You’re – ah – fine,” he said, his words coming amidst tremors.
And so I experimented, finally getting the nerve to take him into my mouth until: “Ouch! Zoe! Too much teeth!”
“I’m sorry!” I said, moving away. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Hey,” he said. “It’s okay. I haven’t done it either, you know.”
“Great,” I grumbled. “The blind leading the lame, and all that.”
“Who are you calling lame?”
“Good question.” But it made me laugh, and when I checked the time, it was nearly one-thirty. “You should probably get dressed,” I said. “Not that I want you to leave, but…”
“But a posse of worried parents kills the mood?” he teased.
“Yeah, kind of.”
I pulled an old t-shirt on, while he got dressed, and then I walked him to the door. “See you tomorrow,” I said.
His answer was to kiss me. “Love you. G’night, Zoe.”
I enabled the privacy locks on the door – Mom would be able to get in using her access code – and went to bed.
Friday morning was the last time our math tutorial would meet until the new semester. Because Wesley still maintained that I was Data’s favorite, I was given the job of escorting Data to the holodeck. I was, therefore, the only person sitting in the conference room when he arrived, and the look of confusion that flitted across his face was priceless.
“Good morning, Zoe,” he greeted me. “Was I not clear that class would be meeting today?”
I slid my padd across the table to where I could watch for messages. “Well, I know T’vek was up pretty late,” I hedged. “But yeah, Data, you were clear.”
“It is unlike Wesley to be absent without letting me know,” he continued. “Dana, also, is extremely dedicated to following the rules.”
“She can be,” I agreed out loud. Inwardly, I was willing my classmates to signal readiness.
“I will leave the decision to you then,” he said, when it became clear that no one else would be showing up. “Do you wish to review the examination material, or do you wish to wait until after semester break.”
“I feel bad about making you stay just for me,” I said. “Maybe you could just tell me how badly I sucked?”
“Your grade was acceptable,” he said.
“How do you define ‘acceptable,’ exactly?”
“In this case, ninety percent.”
I grinned. “Wow, really? I would have been happy with anything over eighty.”
“You do yourself a disservice by expecting low scores.”
“So you keep saying,” I said. “And I will keep reminding you that I’m math-deficient, and that the only reason I’ve survived in your class this long is that it’s you teaching it, and when you explain stuff, I understand it.”
“Thank you, Zoe.”
My pad flickered briefly with the word ‘now,’ and then went dark again.
“Data, since you still have our class time blocked out, would you consider an alternative plan?” I asked, trying to make it sound like a spur-of-the-moment idea.
He cocked his head at me, “What did you have in mind?”
“You never got to see our theme park in action. I mean, you graded us based on the report, and…” I hesitated. “And I’d really like you to see it now.”
I was pretty sure he could tell I was up to something, but he simply nodded. “I would be happy to accept your invitation,” he said.
“Stellar.” I grabbed my padd, tapped it once to send a pre-coded ‘on my way’ message, and vacated my seat. Data followed me out of the room and in the corridor, I impulsively linked my arm through his. He stared at me for a moment, then merely nodded.
At the holodeck, the corridor was empty, as I’d known it would be. “Data, if you want to do the honors, the version of the program we’re using is ‘light up the sky.'”
He told the computer to execute the program, and the doors slid open to reveal my classmates standing in front of a decorated Christmas tree. The ornaments on it were all scale model representations of the rides we’d created, and as for the rides themselves, we’d tweaked the program so they were all decked in Christmas lights, though, admittedly, they were lights that still evoked our steampunk theme.
“Welcome to Crumpe and Lillivick’s Quantum Carnival,” I said. “We tweaked the décor a little, for the season. We’d really like to give it over for public use after today, though.”
Data was looking around at all we’d done, “This is more than I expected you to do.”
“Once we got started,” Wes said, stepping forward, “we were having so much fun with it, we had to keep going.”
“There are elements of all of us in it,” Dana added. “Wesley, T’vek, and Zoe’s contributions are the most obvious, but…”
“But we’re all here,” Josh said. “Let’s go on some rides now, so we can have lunch and stuff?”
My arm was still linked through Data’s. “Would you like to choose another tour guide for the rest of the morning?” I asked, pulling away slightly.
Data favored all of us with the merest hint of a smile. “I will ‘stick’ the guide I have,” he said. “As long as everyone else comes along.”
For the next two hours we took Data on all the rides, answered his questions, and laughed lot. Finally, as the fake sky above us grew dim (we’d programmed it that way), we all met back at the tree, where a picnic table was set up. “If everyone would take a seat,” T’vek said, taking over as host. “We’re serving corn dogs, crinkle-cut French fries, and root beer floats.”
The six of us took our seats, though we had to explain the proper method of consuming the foods we’d chosen.
“Is it not proper etiquette to use utensils at meals?” Data asked.
“Not with carnival food,” Wesley explained. “Here, using your fingers is the preferred method.”
“It’s why we provided wet-wipes instead of normal napkins,” I added. “Wes, the fries are awesome.”
“Mom’s recipe,” he said. “The base recipe on file bordered on gross.”
“And for this improvement, we thank you, oh boy wonder,” intoned Josh.
When the food was gone, and programmed twilight was about to deepen into full darkness, I nudged Wes under the table.
“Data, we have one more thing to show you,” he said. “It’s our way of thanking you for leading this tutorial.”
“Look up,” I said, as T’vek gave a quiet instruction to the computer.
Above us, the holographic sky filled with a colorful fireworks display, each volley raining fountains of fiery color more incredible than the last. It lasted about ten minutes, and the whole time, sitting between Data and T’vek, and across from my best friend and the two other boys who had become friends as well, I kept thinking to myself, do you really want to give this up?
Notes: The concert Data and Zoe have been rehearsing for will be in chapter 32. No, really, it will. That aside, I really struggled with this chapter. There were so many really sweet moments that I had to cut because they were nice but didn’t move things forward. Some might be recycled into future bits, some may not. As well, I spent the weekend of the 17th at Dallas Comic-Con, and I think actually meeting Brent Spiner pulled me out of my story a little bit. (He is, in person, a wonderful mixture of funny, kind, and deliciously snarky.)