Chapter 43: Wallowing
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.
30 January 2367, 09:45
The Enterprise had been at Ogus II for three days before Captain Picard actually granted liberty to the crew, but that actually worked well for me, because it meant I didn’t have to choose between spending time with T’vek before he and his family transferred over to the Berlin, and going cello shopping with Data.
I did, however, have to suffer through a week of classes after our extended holiday break, but since T’vek was in some of those classes with me, it hadn’t been so bad. On Friday, the day of the actual transfer, I’d been excused from classes, first to be in the transporter room for a final goodbye, and then to have time to wallow – my mother’s word.
I’d spend the weekend lounging around our quarters in ratty sweatpants and one of Tev’s old tunic-style shirts, alternately sleeping and crying, but by Sunday evening I felt pretty much like myself again, so when Data stopped by to ask if I wanted to join him on the first shuttle down to the planet the next morning, I said yes.
Well, actually I said, “That depends. My math tutor is a little anal about attendance and I already missed a day this month.”
“That is not an obstacle to this plan,” he replied. “I have cancelled tomorrow’s class so that we may make the trip, and should the excursion require that you miss your afternoon classes, I will ensure that you are not penalized.” He waited a beat, then continued, “Have you forgotten that I assisted you in ‘catching up’ after your illness last year? Do you believe that I would suggest missing a class if I thought it would adversely affect your education?”
“Well, when you put it that way,” I said, managing a real smile for the first time in days. “Then if it’s okay with my mother, I’ll be ready whenever you say. What time?”
“I will stop by to pick you up at nine hundred hours,” he said.
I made a point of being ready at eight-forty-five.
The next morning, I was surprised to find that Data was just a passenger on the shuttle, one of the smaller ones that didn’t have bunkroom and dining suite modules, though he introduced me to the pair of officers who pulled that duty. “Lieutenant Morris, Ensign Barnett, this is Zoe Harris. She will be my guest today.”
Each of them gave me the kind of automatic greeting that was technically polite but meant they were focused on their job, and didn’t want to mess up in front of a superior officer, and I had to stifle my chuckle at their behavior.
“Yes, sir. We’ll be underway shortly, sir. We’re waiting for a few more passengers.”
“Very well,” Data said. To me, he said, “I noticed on our trip to Serenity Five that you enjoy the ability to see where we are going. The port side will give you the best view of our approach.”
Ordinarily, I’d have been delighted to be offered the window seat, and equally delighted with the discovery that my friend had noticed my preference for said seating. Instead, I merely shrugged, and said, “Okay, thanks,” before sliding into the port side bulkhead seat.
If Data was puzzled or concerned by my atypical behavior, he didn’t comment on it, just took the seat next to me.
Our travel companions joined us a few minutes later, one of the elementary school teachers, and a pair of boys whom I recognized as the Potts brothers, Jake and Willie. “Hey, Zoe,” the older boy greeted me.
“Hey, Jake,” I answered back. I wasn’t really in the mood for little kids, although these two weren’t entirely awful, but on the other hand, I knew what it was like to be a kid surrounded by adults all too well.
The teacher, Ms. Simms, ushered them to the starboard side of the shuttle, to the two rear seats, and took the front one on the same side, greeting Data first and then telling me, “It was so nice of you to include the boys in your birthday party last week, Zoe.”
I resisted the urge to shrug again, and even managed a smile. “Couldn’t let all that cake go to waste, and anyway, birthdays are meant for sharing. Also Ed – Professor Benoit? – seemed to enjoy spending time with them. I think he misses his own kids.”
“I did not realize you knew the professor,” Data observed.
“He took over our lit class when school started last week, but Tev and I ran into him on the beach the day we all went to Santa Cruz,” I explained. “Although, it would be more accurate to say that Bogart ran into us.”
“Bogart?” the question came from Ms. Simms.
“Professor Benoit brought a dog aboard the Enterprise?” she asked.
“Pets are allowed,” Data confirmed, “as long as they are up to date on all required vaccinations, and are not considered to be dangerous animals.”
“Bogart’s only dangerous if you’re wearing white pants,” I put in. “I bet if they asked nicely, Ed – Professor Benoit – would let you guys meet him,” I told the boys.
Willie, the younger one, lit up at the thought. “Really? Do you know if he plays fetch? I used to have a dog, and we played fetch.”
I shrugged. “Not a clue. But you guys met the professor at my party, so it’s not like you’re strangers. Go ask him after classes someday.”
For the rest of the – blessedly short – journey, the boys babbled about dogs.
The music store my father had recommended was called CrossBows, and the logo on the building was a stylized skull and bones, except that the skull was formed from a cello bridge and the bones were – you guessed it – crossed bows. “Data, do you think it’s a good sign that they use a pirate theme?” I asked, looking up at the sign.
“The sign itself would appear to be quite engaging,” he deadpanned, causing me to glance up at him. “I believe your father knows your tastes well,” he added.
I shrugged. “Yeah, sometimes. Shall we go in?”
“That would be the logical first step toward acquiring a new instrument for you.” He reached for the door, opened it, and held it so that I would have to enter first.
Inside, the space was warmly lit, and smelled of wood and varnish, rosin and wax. Stringed instruments – violins and celli, as well as guitars, banjos, and lute-like instruments from many worlds – were hanging from the walls. A bell tinkled above our heads as the door swung closed behind us.
“I’ll be right there,” called a warm female voice. “Feel free to look around, and try anything that calls to you.”
We proceeded to do just that, picking up, not just classical instruments, but experimenting with the guitars as well. Data played a few bars of a classical piece on one of the acoustic six-strings, and I stopped to listen. “I didn’t know you played guitar,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to learn.”
“It is something I ‘picked up’ from a group of people we encountered before you were aboard the Enterprise, he explained. Has your mother told you about the cryogenic ship we encountered?”
“The one with people from the twentieth or twenty-first century?” I asked. “I vaguely remember her talking about the cultural information she got from them.”
“Their perspective was unique. In any case, one of the…passengers…was a country-and-western musician. He played the guitar as well.”
“Would you teach me sometime?”
“If our schedules allow it, I would be happy to,” he agreed.
He went back to playing the instrument, and I found a cello that seemed to be calling my name. It was obviously older, and it wasn’t quite true to size – not as large as a typical full-sized cello, and not as small as a 7/8-scale, or “lady’s” cello, but almost a hybrid. The wood was a deep mahogany color, and while the fingerboard was the traditional ebony, the scroll, pegs, and tailpiece were appeared to be redwood.
I plucked a string, listened to it resonate, smiled, and then looked around for a bow.
“Black or white?” came that warm voice again. I turned toward it, and almost ran into its owner, a woman of about fifty human years, with deep red hair worn in a single braid, and laughing green eyes. “I’m Cooper, by the way. And you can’t be anyone but Zach Harris’s daughter.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I am. I’m Zoe.” Data had joined us, and I added, “This is my friend Lt. Commander Data, of the Enterprise.”
“Nice to meet you Zoe, and friend-Data,” she said, blithely ignoring his rank. “So, black or white?”
“Black or white what?” I asked.
“Oh, right. Horsehair. For the bow?”
I grinned. “Black, please.”
“One moment.” She disappeared, then returned with a bouquet of cello bows, all with black hair. “We keep them in the back,” she said, “because when young boys come in they tend to believe bows and swords are interchangeable. Girls, too, sometimes, but mostly boys. Have a seat. Play for me, so I can tell if you’re the right person for this cello.”
I picked a bow, took the cello to the chair she’d indicated, extended the end-pin, and checked the tuning, which sounded fine to me, but Data said, “Bring the A-string up a quarter-tone,” and I adjusted it ever so slightly, playing the open string over and over until it met with his approval. “No such thing as special android tuning, my ass,” I muttered softly enough that only he could hear.
I earned a lifted brow from him, but that was all.
“Play,” Cooper commanded again. “Play anything. Play ‘Twinkle’ if that’s all you can come up with.”
I smirked, and played the first song every string player learns, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’ but I played it all on the A-string with extended positions, and used syncopation to vary the melody a little, neither of which she was expecting.
Cooper smirked back at me, “Okay,” she said. “Play something real.”
I gave her my best rendition of another cello classic, Saint-Saens’ ‘The Swan.’
“It seems to like you,” she said slowly. “You really should try another instrument to be sure…”
“I like this one,” I said. “I don’t know why, though. It just feels right.”
Her smirk became a proper grin. “Still, you should try another. Something a little bit more stylish, maybe?” She handed me a maple instrument with bright flaming, holding the other aside. “Just try it, to say you did.”
I shrugged and played a few scales, but the tone was tinny and too bright, and I wrinkled my nose. “Too new,” I said. “Needs to season. Would be a good rental for a kid.”
“She’s good,” Cooper told Data. “You’re good,” she said to me. “Especially for someone who’s not much more than a kid herself.” Her gaze turned appraising. “Though you don’t play like a child at all. You’re what…sixteen? Seventeen?”
“Sixteen,” I said. “Just turned. Does that matter?”
“Not really, I just like to know if I’m right. It’s tough, isn’t though? Having one foot in each world? I’ll need you to try one more, because your father will kill me if I don’t make you.”
“That’s fair,” I said. I knew how my dad was with instrument selection. She was probably right. She was definitely right about the foot-in-each-world thing. The third cello was sort of in between the other two. It was a lovely dark walnut color – nearly black – which I liked, but when I played it, the strings felt ponderous, and didn’t respond well. “No.” I said. “Just…no.”
She gave me the funky cello again, and I played it one more time, only it wasn’t just a test play. The instrument sucked me into it, almost like a seduction. I let my fingers dance into the extended positions of a tarantella Seth had assigned. I was dreading resuming lessons with Seth, but I loved the way the piece moved. I played through all of it before I remembered that this was a shopping trip, and that Data had given up his morning for me. Again.
“Yep,” she said staring at me, “it definitely likes you, and you’re definitely Zach Harris’s kid. Let’s talk payment.”
We agreed on a price – less than Dad had budgeted, but not much less, once I added the bow, extra strings, and a new case. “I have a gig bag,” I explained, “but I’d like a case with a hydrometer built in. I’m concerned about the dryness of starship air.”
Data stood by and watched as we did business, and then stepped in to arrange for my purchases to be beamed directly to the ship. Then we both thanked Cooper for her time. “You keep in touch, Zoe Harris and friend-Data,” she said, her smile affectionate. “Play on.”
Once we were outside, my tutor observed, “You did not appear to require my presence.”
“Actually, I did,” I said. “If you hadn’t been with me, I’d have been nervous and shy, and anyway, Mom wouldn’t let me come here alone, and she had a duty shift she couldn’t get out of.” More softly I added, “I think she feels guilty for being in recovery for so long.”
“The ship was in Spacedock for much of her recovery time,” Data reminded me gently. “No one begrudges her that time.”
Acting on impulse, I reached for his hand, but then I stopped myself, and just said, “Thank you. Aren’t we heading back now?” He’d begun to walk in a direction opposite from where we were to meet the shuttle.
“I was under the impression that a ritual meal was required after making a major purchase,” he said.
“Ritual meal? Data, is that your way of inviting me to lunch?” It was nearly that time, after all, and I was hungry.
“Yes,” he said. “I have noticed your interest in new culinary experiences.” He was referring to the food slot adventures I’d engaged in when Mom was in the hospital. “As well, your mother expressed concern that you are still upset over the departure of your friend. She seemed to think a ‘lunch date’ would cheer you up.”
“Tev and I weren’t just friends,” I said, almost snappishly. Then I sighed. “I’m sorry. I get cranky when I’m hungry.”
“Yes,” he said. “I have noticed that too. Are you accepting my invitation?”
“That depends. Am I going to be the only one eating while you sit across from me with an empty plate? Because that wouldn’t be at all weird.”
“I do not understand.” He said it in the tone that meant he actually did understand, but that I’d made a faux pas he was pretending not to notice. It was something he typically only did with people he was close to, which made it worse, somehow.
“I know we’ve had meals together before, but I also know that you don’t actually need to eat,” I began slowly and patiently, though I shifted into teenage rant mode fairly quickly. “If the only reason you’ve invited me to lunch is because my mother thinks I’m too depressing to be around, and you’re not going to eat, then I’d rather skip it.” I was on the edge of rudeness, and I knew it, and tried to backtrack. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re one of my favorite people in the world to spend time with, but on the occasions that you’ve chosen not to eat when we’ve been together, it’s made me feel kind of like a lab rat.” I shifted my tone, imitating the narrator of a nature documentary, “The adolescent human has a penchant for foods that fall into the four main categories of cheesy, crunchy, salty, or cream-filled.”
“Zoe.” Just my name, in his calmest tone of voice, was all he said, but it was enough to snap me out of my rant.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly. “I thought I was better today, but I’m actually kind of a mess.”
“Would it help you to discuss it?” he asked.
“Then let us do so over lunch, which I will eat.”
“I do not think of you as a ‘lab rat,'” he added.
That made me smile again. “Okay.”
He had already picked out a local restaurant, and we were seated immediately when they realized he was from the Enterprise. I noticed the size of the portions being delivered to other tables, and observed that they seemed huge.
“It is the local custom that those who dine together share their entrees,” Data explained. “The portions are meant to be divided.”
“Oh, that makes sense,” I said. “So that takes meat off our menu then, doesn’t it?” T’vek had never been the only vegetarian in my life.
We chose a spiced lentil dish that came with tart yogurt and stewed root vegetables, all served on a bed of flatbread, which you were meant to use to scoop the food. I’d never seen Data eat with his fingers before, and privately, I was amused by the thought.
“That was amazing,” I said. “I’m glad you suggested it.”
“I had not realized that nutmeg could be used to enhance savory flavors,” he observed. “It was an intriguing combination.”
“Does that mean you liked it?” I asked, teasing him just a little.
“You know that I cannot like or dislike anything,” he began.
“You know that’s totally bogus,” I said, matching his placid tone. I continued, “If you really had no preferences about anything you wouldn’t still be wiping your fingers with that ever-so-clever moist towelette because you don’t like being sticky, and you wouldn’t have a best friend.”
He opened his mouth, likely to rebut my statement but he seemed to change tacks before he actually spoke, finally saying, “I will consider your perspective. However, the answer to your original question is that it is not the experience of the food I have consumed that is of import to me, but rather, the company.”
“Flatterer,” I teased.
“May I assume that your improved mood is a sign that you have had a ‘good time’?”
“Yeah,” I said. “You may assume that,” I was mimicking him again, but not to mock – never to mock – and I’m pretty sure he understood that. “Data…” I let my voice relax into a more serious tone, “may I tell you something, as a friend, that I wouldn’t tell you as second officer? And can you accept that it’s only my friend who I’m talking to?”
“I will do my best to confine myself to those limits.”
‘That’s fair. Seth – Lt. Starker – contacted me about resuming lessons with him next week. I know I need the help with technique, but sometimes being with him makes me feel really…uncomfortable.”
The head-tilt that came with Data’s response was not unexpected. “I am not certain I understand. Has Lt. Starker done anything to make you feel unsafe in his presence?”
“Not really. It’s more a …a vibe. Sometimes he gets kind of touchy-feely when he thinks I’m not holding the bow the way I should or extending far enough down the fingerboard. Sometimes when he’s looking at me, I feel like he’s…leering.”
“This is not recent behavior.” It was absolutely not a question.
“No,” I said softly. “I’ve tried to deflect it…we moved my lesson to one of the lesser-used observation lounges. Tev used to make a point of meeting me afterward, and walking me home. Not that I need protection, exactly…”
“You were attempting to make it clear that you were not available.”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“And now T’vek has gone.”
“Yeah,” I said. “There’s that. I mean, technically we’re still together, but I know that it won’t last – long-distance relationships never work, and we’re in high school, and I’m pretty sure neither of us ever thought we were a forever thing. I mean…but the other thing is…I turned sixteen.”
“Why is that significant?”
I blinked at him, unsure how to answer without making things really awkward. Finally I said, “You have pretty much all standard Federation law in your head, don’t you?”
“I can access legal code, yes.”
“Access standard age of consent laws.”
His eyes did their birdlike flicker, though he didn’t utter the word ‘accessing,’ until finally he said, “Ah.”
“That’s all, just ‘ah?'”
“I now understand your dilemma. You are concerned that Lt. Starker, who is no doubt aware of your status, will be seeking to change the parameters of your relationship. How can I help?”
“That’s just it, Data. You can’t. I mean, technically he hasn’t done anything wrong. I think he’s a little attracted to me, which isn’t…I mean, you know how intimate music can seem sometimes?” I waited for his confirming nod. “He’s pretty young for a lieutenant, actually, only twenty-four, but the even though the math is the same there’s a big difference between sixteen and twenty-four that there wouldn’t be if I were, say, twenty-one, and he was twenty-nine…but that’s not the point; I just get a weird vibe from him, like he likes me more than he should, or…I don’t know. I just needed to…tell someone.”
“I am honored that you chose to confide in me,” he said. “May I ask why you haven’t talked about this with Counselor Troi?”
I shrugged. “Well, first I haven’t seen her since I talked, and second, she’ll make me figure out why I get a weird vibe from him and how that makes me feel, and I’m just not in the mood to go there yet.” I waited a beat. “Anyway, thanks for listening.”
“That is what friends are for,” he said, which made me grin as I suspect he intended. But his tone turned quiet and serious afterward. “If his behavior becomes in any way threatening, or your ‘vibe’ mutates into a real cause for concern, I must insist that you tell me.”
I nodded. “I will,” I said. “I promise.”
The server came back to ask if we wanted the bill split, but Data looked at me and said that lunch was on him, and he used the voice I expect he used with bratty ensigns more often than bratty teenagers, the one that meant there was no point in arguing, so I excused myself to use the restroom, and told him I’d meet him outside.
We were just outside the entertainment complex where the Potts boys had been playing laser tag all morning when Data’s comm-badge chirped.
“Data here,” he said after tapping it. It was interesting watching him shift back into his ‘officer mode.’ I’d seen my mother do it, but with him it was way more subtle.
-“Commander Data, this is . There’s been an accident with the Potts boys. Willie is missing, and you’re the closest officer currently planetside.”
“What is your present location?” he asked.
– “At the arcade, in the manager’s office, just inside the main entrance.”
“I will be there shortly,” he said. “We are just outside. Data out.” He closed the signal, and looked at me. “We must hurry,” he said, and turned back toward the arcade, taking more purposeful strides, yet not going so fast that I couldn’t keep up.
Ms. Simms was seated with Jake Potts and the manager of the arcade when we got there, and she stood up when Data and I walked in.
“Thank you for coming, Commander,” she said, and I had to wonder if she was being formal with him because of Jake, or because she was a teacher and it was just her way. “Willie and Jake were playing laser tag, and someone pulled a prank that was less than funny.”
“In my experience, pranks rarely are,” Data said. I made a mental note to ask him about that sometime. “Jake, where did you last see your brother?”
The kid was covered in red goo and obviously terrified. “He ran out of the laser tank…he…I…”
“You used stage blood, right? In a bag or balloon?” I’d seen the trick done before. Actually my cousins and I had played the trick on older relatives more often than we probably should have.
“How’d did you know?”
I took the seat next to Jake. I could tell all the adults were annoyed with him, and I was pretty sure he hadn’t really meant to scare his brother quite so badly. I didn’t like little kids, but he clearly needed an ally. “You’re not the only one to fool someone that way. Next time add a little green dye to the red. It makes the blood look more visceral.”
We chatted for a while as Data, Ms. Simms, and the arcade manager discussed their game plan. Finally, Data contact the Enterprise and asked for a security detail. They would partner with arcade employees to search for Willie. Once they’d arrived and been sent off on their kid-hunt, Data turned back to me, “Zoe, I can arrange for you to be beamed back to the ship if you like.”
“I’d offer to help look, but I’m not exactly dressed for it,” I said. I hadn’t worn a skirt, but I was wearing dressy pants and strappy sandals, rather than my usual jeans-and-t-shirt attire. “Are you sending Jake back?”
“I would prefer that he remain here.”
I glanced at Jake, then back at Data. “If it’s okay with you and Ms. Simms, I’ll stay here and hang out with him.”
The two of them conferred quietly, before Data said, “That would be agreeable. Do you have your comm-badge with you?”
“In my purse,” I said, “But I thought they were locked so they only worked on the ship?” I pulled it out as I answered his question, and handed it to him. He did something with the tri-corder the ship had beamed down to him. “It will work here, now. Use it in case of emergency, or if Jake remembers anything else about where his brother may have gone.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Please do not stray from the immediate vicinity,” he added.
“Okay,” I repeated.
There was a glint of something other than just-business in his eye when he gave me a perfunctory nod, then, and he and Ms. Simms left to join the hunt.
I turned back to Jake. “They’ll find him,” I said.
But Jake was staring at me with bug-eyes. “You know Commander Data?” he said.
I grinned. “Well, yeah,” I said as if it was perfectly normal to be hanging out with the second officer of Starfleet’s flagship. “We’re friends.”
Mom was waiting for me on the couch when I finally got home. Willie Potts had actually run out of the arcade and hidden in a palm grove, eaten the cove palm fruit, and been infected by parasites. Jake was confined to quarters, and Data had left messages with their parents and a couple of other relatives.
“Hey,” I said, as I walked through the door.
“Hey,” she answered softly. “Your cello’s in your room. I didn’t want to open the case without you here.”
I shrugged, “I wouldn’t have minded. It’s really pretty. Antique, I think. Definitely old, if not. Great tone.”
“Ms. Simms said you were very helpful with the Potts brothers.”
I shrugged again. “I hung out with Jake, is all. He was scared, and he needed someone to be on his side for a while.”
“You did a good thing,” she said.
“I cracked jokes and told stories.”
“Commander Data said you had the chance to beam back to the ship, and chose to stay.”
“When did he have time to tell you that?”
“When I contacted him to check on you.”
“How was your lunch date?”
“It wasn’t a date, and it was a little awkward at first.” I said. “But it got better. Actually, it was kind of awesome, but don’t tell Data I said that.”
“My lips are sealed,” Mom promised. “Come sit with me for a minute.”
I plopped onto the couch, then curled up against my mother. Parental comfort never goes out of style. “Mom?” I asked, as my mother stroked my hair. “How do you get used to people leaving all the time?”
I felt, rather than heard, her sigh. “Oh, Zoificus. I don’t know. Maybe you never really do. You’ll be able to call him tomorrow, though.”
“Yeah.” Suddenly, I was weepy again. “I kind of went off on Data earlier,” I confessed. “He said he understood, but…God, Mom, I’m a mess inside. I miss Tev, and I’m angry that he’s gone, even though it wasn’t his choice and…does love always hurt this much?”
My mother kept stroking my hair. “Do you want the truth, or the lie that will make you feel better?”
“Truth, I guess.”
“It hurts because you love. If you didn’t…”
“I get it.”
But I still spent fifteen minutes sobbing on my mother’s shoulder, before she said, “Okay, enough. Go take a shower. Put on pajamas. We’re breaking out the hard stuff.”
“Aldebaran whisky?” I asked brightly.
“Nope,” she said. “Ice cream. And hot fudge.”
“Wallowing food,” she corrected.
I knew better than to argue.
Notes: Nothing major; this is sort of a lead-in to the episode “Brothers,” obviously. I arbitrarily decided to set sixteen as the legal age of consent in the Federation (though planetary norms take precedence), because it’s the average age for most of contemporary Earth, and it seemed reasonable. Zoe’s new cello is a combination of my own (which is from a company called Stringworks in Wisconsin) and one that belonged to my very first cello teacher’s daughter. The CrossBows logo is stolen blatantly from a t-shirt I bought at CafePress, sold by Carruther’s Violins. The meal Data and Zoe share is the Ogus II equivalent of Ethiopian food. Also, a special thank you to the Guest Reviewers, because I can’t respond to you. ALL of you readers are fantastic people, and I really appreciate your patience and continued support. MUSIC NOTE (Thanks to Javanyet who caught my 4 am confusion for reminding me): “The Swan” is the ultimate first cello solo for players beyond the grade school level. “Le Cygne” is from “Le Carnaval des Animaux,” – “Carnival of the Animals.” EVERY CELLIST PLAYS IT.
Chapter 44: Zoe-Lore
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.
(1 February 2367, 12:00 ship’s time)
Dana, Josh, and I were headed to Ten-Forward for a combined lunch-and-study session when the lights flickered and the power on the Enterprise seemed to just stop and then restart again. When it did, the lighting was significantly dimmer, and a few minutes later, there was an announcement that all those off-duty or civilians should return to quarters, and everyone else should return to stations.
“I wonder what’s going on,” Dana said.
Josh said, “Alien incursion. I heard the Talerians were in this sector again.”
“Talerians?” I asked.
“Yeah, their thing is making their ships look as if they’re floating dead in space, and then, when a rescuer takes them in tow, they either blow everything up, or hijack the rescuer.”
“Sounds like a truly charming group of people,” I snarked. We kept going toward Ten-Forward, as the closest bank of turbo-lifts was also in that direction. When the ‘lift doors slid open, we all stopped in our tracks, because there was a kid huddled in the corner.
“Hey, you okay?” Josh asked, in his best big-brother tone.
I stared at the boy – for it was a boy – realizing all at once that I knew who it was. “Jake?” I asked. “Do you mind if we share the turbo-lift with you?”
Jake was sitting on the floor, hands around his knees, which were pressed up to his chest. “He…he just…he just stopped,” he said softly. “We were talking, and then he just stopped. And then he left me.”
The three of us entered the ‘lift and let the doors close behind us. Dana gave the instructions for the deck where I lived, as it was the closest. “Isn’t he one of the Potts brothers?” she asked me softly.
I nodded, then crouched down to be at eye-level with him. “Hey, it’s me, Zoe. We hung out together, remember? Who stopped? Who left you?”
“Commander Data,” he said in a small anguished voice. “He went all…robot…”
I’d seen Data go into his ‘information accessing’ mode more than once, but somehow I didn’t think that’s what Jake meant. Still, I could tell the kid was scared. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to frighten you,” I said. “And you know he’d never hurt you, right?”
It took a few seconds, but Jake finally said, “Yeah. I guess. But he just stopped.”
I hadn’t been in counseling for long, but I’d watched a lot of medical drama vids, so I knew what to say next. “I’m sure that was really scary, Jake. Was Data taking you back home?”
He shook his head. “Sickbay,” he answered, his voice cracking a little. “To see Willie. But it’s not like he wants to see me.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” I said, but when Josh, who actually had a little brother, opened up his mouth to protest, I amended. “I mean, it’s kind of like when you’re really mad at your parents and you yell ‘I hate you.’ They know you don’t mean it, and you know you don’t mean it, but in the moment, you totally kind of do, even if really you don’t.” An adult would have picked on my abuse of grammar for that sentence, but I was pretty sure it counted as kid-logic, and was therefore completely understandable.
“I…I guess…” Jake allowed.
“Good. Look, I don’t know if we’re supposed to go to sickbay right now, so why don’t you come back to my quarters with us – you know me, and these are my friends Josh and Dana – and we’ll call Doctor Crusher and see what she says. Okay?”
I stood up again, glancing at my friends and trying to convince them of the merit of my plan using just my eyes. It must have worked, because Josh held out a hand to Jake. “Hey man, let me help you up,” he said. And Jake let Josh pull him up to his feet.
Dana didn’t say much, but when we left the ‘lift she fell into step with me, and whispered, “That was nice of you.”
“He’s okay, for a kid,” I whispered back. “Besides, he’s probably terrified of what’ll happen to his brother.”
We spent the next couple of hours eating replicated pizza and teaching Jake how to play several of our favorite card games. We played for cookies, not credits, and either junk food was a great motivator, or Jake was destined to haunt casinos someday, because the kid won nearly every hand, even when we weren’t making errors in his favor. Josh and Dana headed home after that, and the doctor returned my message to ask if I’d mind walking Jake down to see her.
I didn’t, so we walked together down the dimly-lit corridor, and into a different bank of turbo-lifts. Half-way to our destination, Jake said, “They want me to go to counseling. Because of the prank.”
“Counseling isn’t that bad,” I assured him. “It’s more like having someone you can talk to about anything, and they don’t judge, but if you have a problem, they help you figure out a solution.”
“Have you ever? Been to counseling?”
I nodded, “Yeah, ever since the Borg. My mom was injured in the battle and they were worried about how I was handling it. Also, my parents are divorced, so when Mom was in sickbay I was rattling around mostly on my own, kind of like you and Willie are.”
“We have officers assigned to take care of us,” he said.
“I had Da – Commander Data,” I answered. “Though he wasn’t with me all the time. He’s a really good friend, once he decides you’re part of his circle.”
“It doesn’t bother you? Knowing he’s a machine?”
I shrugged. “If it doesn’t bother him knowing the rest of us aren’t machines, who am I to care? I mean, he’s annoyingly, frustratingly right all the time…” I trailed off, but Jake was grinning, so my mission was complete. Doubly so, since we’d arrived at our destination.
“Hello, Zoe, Jake.” Counselor Troi was waiting for us just outside sickbay. “Thank you for keeping Jake company,” she told me.
“Actually, he kept me company,” I said, which made the boy blush faintly. “We had a good time. Don’t ever let him play cards with you though.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” she said. “Come with me?” she invited him, and he nodded and followed her away.
I went through sickbay to Doctor Crusher’s office, where I saw her sitting at her desk. I knocked on the frame of the open door, and she looked up and smiled at me, then beckoned me inside, asking, “Is everything alright?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “I just thought someone should know…Jake Potts said he was with Data just before that power glitch a bit ago.”
“Really?” she asked, in the way that adults who have a little bit of information do when they want more pieces of the puzzle. “Data didn’t do anything to him…?”
“No!” I said, though I wasn’t sure why I was so loud about it. “No,” I repeated again, more softly. “Jake said he just stopped – his word – as if a switch had been thrown. Then he ‘unstopped’ but wouldn’t talk or acknowledge Jake at all. The kid think’s Data’s mad at him.”
The doctor nodded at me. “It must’ve been pretty alarming for him.”
“Yeah, I’d think so,” I said and then I asked, because something clicked in my head and I had to know, “Data…he’s responsible for all this isn’t he?”
“You know I can’t confirm that, Zoe.”
“You kind of just did,” I said. “Is it weird that I’m more worried for him than I am for the ship?”
She smiled, and it was a blend of her professional smile and her maternal one. “You and Data are pretty close,” she said. “So, no, I don’t think it’s weird.”
“You’ll tell someone…what Jake said? I have a feeling it might be important.”
“I’ll tell someone,” she promised. “Now scoot on back to quarters. Your mother will be worried about you.”
I laughed. “Yes ma’am,” I said, as I left her office. As I moved further away, I heard her add, “And never call me ‘ma’am’ again.”
(4 February 2367, 10:00 hours, ship’s time.)
By the time the weekend arrived, things were more or less back to normal on the ship. Data had showed up for our math tutorial on Friday as if nothing had happened, and our class actually ended up being really interesting, as Wesley and Annette argued about slightly different methodology for problem solving, and the rest of us voted on the ‘proper’ way – it was, of course, a lesson in the fact that there can be more than one way to arrive at a ‘correct’ answer, even in math.
Friday afternoon, I resumed music lessons with Seth, who picked apart my performance with the quartet from before Christmas. “Your technique was faulty,” he said, “which made some of your intonation a little off. Let me show you how to improve your vibrato.”
He covered my left hand with his, over the fingerboard, and rocked it back and forth. “You’ve been letting all the tension come from your fingers,” he said. “It needs to come from your shoulder, through your wrist.”
I didn’t really like him touching me that way, but I have to admit that his demonstration was effective, and when I played through that tarantella again, it was much easier, and my hand was less achy when I was done. “You might’ve told me this months ago,” I said.
“I tried,” he said. “But you were too focused on impressing Commander Data to pay attention.”
“That’s not true,” I said, but the reality was that it had been, just a little. “It makes me feel weird when you touch me,” I said. “It always has. Can’t you just explain what you meant instead of feeling the need to treat me like a puppet?” I didn’t mention his rude remarks about hands-on approaches from one of our last lessons.
“I…I hadn’t realized…” he stammered. I didn’t mean to…look, can I make it up to you?” For a minute he wasn’t creepy, just a geeky over-achiever who clearly had no idea how to deal with women.
“There’s nothing to make up,” I said, “just…maybe try to be less touchy-feely?”
“Sure, Zoe,” he said, but suddenly his tone seemed darker, though it might have been my imagination. “I’ll try to touch and feel a bit less.” Amazing how he could go from normal to creepy in five seconds flat, even if he probably meant it to be funny.
“I have to go,” I said. “Study group. See you on Monday.” I zipped my cello into its gig bag, and fled from his presence.
By Saturday morning, the Enterprise was in orbit around Starbase 416, and my friends and I – even Dana – had all secured permission to spend some time on the space station’s zocalo, which happened to have a branch of my favorite coffee place, but before that I was scheduled for the music lesson I really wanted to attend.
“Come in,” Data called when I activated his door chime at ten that morning.
The combined scents of varnish and linseed oil assailed my senses. He’d been painting again…the kind of painting he did when he needed to work through something, not the kind he did when he was just creating art. “What’s wrong?” I asked, setting my cello in the corner by the couch. He had indeed been engaged in a paint-a-thon, though there was no evidence other than a dozen completed portraits of the same old guy.
“I was so worried about you,” I said as I moved all the way into his quarters. “Dana, Josh, and I found Jake in the turbo-lift where you left him, and he was completely freaked out, and…” The paintings connected with prior knowledge in my shallow teenaged brain, and I shifted gears. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Who’s the old man, and why does he look like you, if you were, you know, jowly?”
“It would be more accurate to ask why I look like him,” Data said softly. “He is my father, Dr. Noonian Soong.”
“I thought he was dead?” I asked.
“He is,” Data said shortly. “But he was not.” Data was being uncharacteristically terse, always a sign that he was brooding about something.
“I haven’t had enough coffee to follow this conversation,” I told him. “Can you elaborate, or should I just stifle my intense curiosity and focus on music theory?”
“My father activated a homing signal in my positronic net that required me to make haste to his location, to the exclusion of any other tasks or rules.”
“He kidnapped you?”
“In a manner of speaking. He wished to present me with an emotion chip, but the same signal that activated my homing programming also called my brother Lore.”
“I didn’t know you had a brother,” I said. “Can I meet him?”
“While I recognize that you have a taste for both adventure and misadventure, Zoe, please believe me when I tell you that you do not want to meet Lore.”
I raised my eyebrows at that. “That bad?”
“Worse,” he said. “Lore overpowered me, switched our clothing while I was de-activated, and then caused a fatal injury to our father, in order to abscond with the emotion chip.”
“You’re kidding.” I wasn’t sure which was more shocking: the notion that my friend had a brother, the idea that said brother was evil, or the thought that Data’s uniform was not, in fact, permanently attached to his body.
“I assure you, I am not.”
“Data…your father died?”
“Do you need help with a funeral or a memorial or…anything?”
He shook his head. “There is no need.” He waited a beat, then said, “If you will unpack your cello, we can begin today’s lesson.”
“Data!” I’m not sure if I was still shocked or had moved on to being horrified.
“Is there a problem, Zoe?”
“Your father died,” I said. “And you’re standing here telling me we can have a theory lesson as if nothing happened. I can understand no memorial – I mean, none of us ever even met the guy – but don’t you need time to grieve?”
He blinked those warm yellow eyes at me, and maybe I was just projecting, but what I saw in their depths nearly killed me. What made it worse was his flat pronouncement, “I cannot grieve, Zoe. You know this.”
“Bullshit,” I said.
“Language, Zoe,” his response was automatic, something, I had learned over the past several months, that was part of the array of files on typical teacher behavior he’d downloaded before I’d ever joined his math class.
“Don’t ‘language’ me. We’re not in class right now. And don’t stand there and pretend that you can’t grieve, because you’ve painted enough pictures of him to fill a gallery. I’ve seen how much you care about the people you call friends. You sat in my living room every night for at least a week, just so I wouldn’t wake up to empty quarters. You tried to comfort Jake. You’ve done so many other things that a person who truly couldn’t feel would never do, would never think to do. There may not be tears and hair pulling, or sitting shiva, or stations of the cross or…whatever…but you can grieve, even if you do it in a particularly…Data-ish way.”
I don’t know why I was so keen on picking a fight with him – because a separate part of me seemed to realize that was exactly what I was doing – but I couldn’t stop myself. Maybe it was still missing Tev. Maybe it was just, as my mother would have said, Being Sixteen. All I know is that I did something, then, that I’d never done before, and that I almost – almost –regretted the second I’d done it: I turned around and stormed out of his quarters, and I didn’t even bother to grab my cello on the way.
He didn’t follow me, either because he was stunned or because he knew it wouldn’t be a good idea. Whatever the reason, I was grateful, because I knew I’d been stupid and rude and a really bad friend, but there was no way I was ready to admit it, or apologize.
I took the fastest route back to quarters, where my mother was waiting on the couch, dressed in civilian clothing and sipping coffee. “I thought your lesson ran until noon,” she said.
“Usually it does,” I said, I could feel tears welling behind my eyes.
“Did something happen?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Data just told me his father died, and my response was to behave like an idiot.”
“Want to talk about it?” She patted the couch invitingly.
“Actually,” I said, “what I want is retail therapy followed by a large cinnamon mocha and a slice of cheesecake.”
“What time are you and your friends supposed to meet?”
“Go change, and be ready in fifteen minutes.”
She smiled. “I’m sure whatever idiotic thing you think you did wasn’t as bad as it seems. And even if it was, dwelling on it won’t help. I know forcing you to talk about it will just frustrate both of us, and frankly, I could use a little ‘retail therapy’ myself.”
“Yeah?” The need to cry had dissipated.
“Yeah.” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“Have I mentioned lately that I have the best mother in all creation?”
“Not recently, no.”
“Go change,” she repeated. “Twelve minutes now.” Before my door slid all the way closed, I heard her add, “And make sure you bring your comm-badge.”
(4 February 2367, 14:53 hours, ship’s time)
My mother had returned to the Enterprise with our plunder – Starbase 416 had a surprisingly broad array of clothing boutiques, and I was sitting at one of the ‘outside’ tables – not that there was really an ‘outside’ on a starbase – at Red Sands, my favorite coffee chain in the known universe, when I caught a flash of yellow and black and pale golden skin, a combination that could only belong to Data.
I thought about getting up to follow him, because a morning of shopping and girl talk with my mother had me ready to apologize – if he’d listen – but my friends were due any moment, so I ordered my cinnamon mocha and hooked one of the public-access padds that had magazines and newsfeeds on it, and waited.
Dana and Josh arrived first, followed by Wesley and Annette, and some guy in a red uniform with the single pip that marked him an ensign. He looked a little familiar, but I couldn’t place him, until Wes said, “Guys, this is Ray Barnett. I invited him to join us.” Unspoken, but evident in his tone, was his plea that an extra person was okay.
I decided to pretend to be in a gregarious mood, even though I was still feeling a bit uneven. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Zoe…I think I was your passenger a few days ago – the morning flight to Ogus II?”
“Right,” he said, grinning. “Commander Data’s friend. Sorry we didn’t get to chat, then. Is the Potts boy alright?”
“I think so,” I said. “I mean, we made it here, and he’s been transferred to the med facility…Wes would know more, I think?”
“Willie?” Wes asked. “He’ll be fine, now that he’s here,” he said, confirming my guess. “His parents should even be here by tonight.”
“Glad to hear it,” Ray said. He dropped into the chair beside me, and the rest of my friends followed suit, sitting down, and introducing themselves as they did so. “So, Zoe, what are you drinking? Is it good?”
I could smell a set-up a light-year away, and this one reeked, but Ray didn’t seem like a bad guy, so I said, “It’s a quad-shot cinnamon mocha. If you’re not used to espresso, you should go with their regular version. It’s only a double.”
“Zoe bleeds coffee,” Josh informed our new friend, oh-so-helpfully. “I don’t think anyone can match her.”
Ensign Barnett – Ray – grinned, “I was weaned on espresso,” he said. “I bet I could go shot for shot with her.”
“Since when did coffee supplant alcohol as the drink of choice for chugging contests?” I wondered aloud. “Order what you will, but don’t cry to me if you can’t hack the caff.”
The server answered our summons – the tables were equipped with call buttons – and took our order – my friends ordered various strengths of coffee drinks, and we also ordered a slice each of peach cobbler, chocolate layer cake, and classic cheesecake with forks enough for everyone to share, and for the next hour we pigged out on sugar and caffeine and laughter. It turned out that Ray wasn’t a bad guy. Under other circumstances I would have considered him dateable, even, but it was too soon, and I think he knew that. Still, more friends was never a bad thing, and he seemed to mesh well with all of us.
By five, we were all ready to move on, so we settled the tab. The boys – Ray included – went off to the arcade, while Annette and Dana and I decided to see the latest romantic comedy vid in the big projection tank that the starbase had, but before we joined the ticket queue I suggested a bathroom break.
The line for the public restroom wasn’t that bad, really, but no one ever gets in and out at the same time, and as I was the first of the three of us in line, I was also the first to finish. “Dana, Annette? I’ll wait out on the zocalo, by the fountain,” I called to my friends.
The fountain was made from lasers and holographic water, because obviously no one was going to waste real water on such a thing, but it was still pretty. I sat on the edge to wait for my girlfriends, but began scanning the crowd when it felt like they were taking too long.
Instead of Dana and Annette, I glimpsed Data again, and caved in to my impulse to follow him, off the main walkway, and down a sort of alleyway, to the kind of pub that even the edgier Starfleet types probably wouldn’t frequent, let alone a squeaky-clean android. “Data?” I called.
My quarry froze, staring at me for a long moment. Finally he said, “Greetings, Zoe.”
“Greetings?” I asked, teasing just a little. “You haven’t said that to me in months…I must really have managed to annoy you.”
“But I cannot be annoyed,” he protested.
“Yeah, right, of course you can’t,” I snarked. I was only a couple feet from him, by then, and I realized there was something off about his demeanor. I also realized that the pub was more of an interstellar biker bar, and I couldn’t help but boggle. “You can’t seriously be going in there,” I said. “Unless this is one of your experiments? Are you planning to get into a brawl just to see what it’s like?”
“Your curiosity will get the better of you one day,” he admonished, but even though it was something he might have said to me in an attempt at teasing me back, it wasn’t quite the kind of thing he’d just…say.
“Zoe…?” he mimicked. “Won’t your friends be looking for you?” I had reached his side, and he had reached the door, where he gave his name to the bouncer. The verbal contraction should have been a warning sign, but somehow it wasn’t.
“Is the girl with you?” the bulky Lemnorian asked. “She looks kind of young.”
“She’s legal,” Data said. “Barely, but I like’m that way.” He hooked his arm around my neck, pulling me close. To anyone else, it would have seemed affectionate…or at least lustful…but his grip was tighter than it looked. Android strong, and all that. It shouldn’t have taken me that long, but that’s when I realized that this wasn’t Data after all.
“Oh, my god,” I said without thinking, “You’re not – ” but he tightened his arm even further, grazing my breast with his hand as he did so. He came dangerously close to finding the comm-badge I’d stuck on the inside of my shirt, so all I said was, “…kidding.”
The bouncer peered at him, and then at me, finally saying, “Fine. Whatever. Ain’t my neck. Go on in.”
Lore – I was certain that’s who it was, I mean, how many Soong-type androids could there possibly be? – pulled me with him into the dimly lit interior of the bar. “I know you’re important to my dear brother,” he hissed into my ear, though anyone else would have thought he was just nuzzling my hair. “Play along and you just might get to see him again. Don’t answer out loud; subvocalize. Do you understand?”
“Mmhmm,” I said softly.
He let go of my neck and put his arm around my waist instead, resting his hand on my hip, and we sauntered – well, he sauntered, and I went along for the ride – to a table in the back.
We passed a few other Starfleet types, mostly in ops or command colors, most looking grizzled and bleary, but the vast majority of the clientele was a lot more…rugged. A group of Orion men had pushed an Orion woman up against a dart board and were hurling throwing knives in her direction. Two Klingons and a Nausican were playing something that looked sort of like pool, except the cues were barbed on the ends. A Caitian wearing six pasties and a loincloth was dancing on another table, while a group of humans and Ferengi watched and – there really was no other word for it – cat-called.
“So, Zoe Harris,” Lore asked, the smirk on his face matching the syrup in his voice, “how much has my brother told you about his evil twin?”
“He never said you were evil,” I answered truthfully. It came out a bit more panicky than I wanted, but I couldn’t help it; my pulse was racing with a combination of fear and excitement. “Only that I shouldn’t entertain the notion of meeting you.”
“You thought I was him.” It wasn’t a question.
“Wasn’t that your intent?”
“Point to you.”
“How did you know my name?” I asked.
“Uh-huh, sweetheart.” His stereotypical noir gangster-speak was uttered with a perfect blend of bitterness and diction. “I ask the questions.”
I shrugged, but it was all fake bravado, and we both knew it. “Had to try.”
A server came to the table to ask for our drink order. Lore looked at me, but reverted to Data’s less casual mode of speech when he answered. “Denebian scotch, neat, for me. And for the lady…”
He hesitated, as if gauging my ability to hold my liquor, and I jumped in with, “Gin martini, dirty.”
Lore’s eyebrows rose just a fraction in response to my order, but he said nothing. The waitress didn’t respond at all, except to say “Gotcha,” and walk away.
The drinks were delivered by a Ferengi in a fedora, and I had to hide my face in my hand so I wouldn’t laugh. The glint in his eye told me laughter would be a very bad idea. Well, the glint in his eye and the blaster he wore under his brocade jacket.
“So, Mr. Data, you’re right on time. But you were meant to come alone, and instead you insult me by parading this clothed female in front of me.”
“Easy Pharyl.,” Lore said. “She is of no import. Just my plaything of the moment. Give us a kiss, hon.” His face loomed close to mine, and I tried really hard not to cringe.
“Please,” Pharyl said. “There is no need to exchange your spit in public. Come in back with me, and we’ll…negotiate.”
“As you wish,” Lore said, sounding uncannily like Data for just a moment. He rose to his feet, and motioned to me. “Bring the drinks, babe.”
I was seething inside, but I’d gotten myself into this, so I did as I was told. I picked up his glass and mine, and followed them to the back room, half expecting it to be a set-up and that mooks would jump us when we entered. I mean, there are always mooks, right? To my relief, and maybe my slight disappointment, it was just an office with an ostentatious desk.
Lore took the only chair on the supplicant’s side of the monstrosity, pulling me onto his lap, and we waited.
Pharyl made himself comfortable in the thronelike chair behind the desk. He was also the one who spoke first. “You came for a ship. I have a ship. It will cost you.” He tapped numbers into a padd and slid it across the desk’s surface. I couldn’t read the numbers, but I could tell there were a lot of them. “That much latinum, plus you make a delivery for me when you pass Saglyth III.”
“What sort of delivery?”
“The kind you make without asking.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then, Lt. Commander Data, I contact Starfleet and tell them their pet android’s gone rogue, get everyone in the sector chasing you.”
“I’ll pay half now, half when I break orbit at Saglyth III….gotta make sure no one objects to your package.”
The negotiations went on for a while, while I sipped the martini – it was sour and salty, and a bit herbal. Not bad, really. Lore’s hold on my waist never wavered though. I tried to pay attention. If he let me go I’d need to know where he was headed. If not…but I was pretty sure he wasn’t a killer, just an opportunist. Plus it would ruin his use of Data’s name and uniform if he murdered a civilian. On the other hand, hadn’t he murdered Noonian Soong?
Finally the deal was done, and Lore was leading me back out of the bar, down a different alleyway, and into the residential bloc of the starbase. “Go in,” he said, opening a door. Inside was the cheapest of cheap hotel rooms. It had a bed and a head with a drain in the floor and a sonic-cube shower stall in the corner. “Sit down,” he said.
I wasn’t stupid. I sat.
“What should I do with you, Zoe Harris?” he asked. He seemed to really enjoy using my whole name. “If I let you go, you’ll run squealing to Data, and he’ll be after me like a tribble on triticale. Your family is too well known for me to kill you, and frankly, if I wanted a fuck-buddy, I wouldn’t pick a little girl, who’s stuck on my brother.”
“You’re wrong on two counts, Lore,” I said, using his name for the first time. “I’m not ‘stuck’ on your brother; he’s just my tutor. And I’m not a little girl.” Too late, I realized he’d take the last part as a challenge.
Lore came to stand directly in front of me, not that there was really much room for him to stand in otherwise. I expected him to push me down on the bed and either hit me or seduce me. He actually did neither. Instead, ran his hands over my chest, slipped one inside my shirt, tugged the comm-badge away. “Thought you’d tensed when I touched you before,” he said. He dropped it on the floor and crushed it with his boot.
“I wasn’t going to use it,” I lied.
“Yes you were. You just couldn’t figure out how.”
Note to self: never try to bluff your tutor’s evil twin. It never goes well.
“I’d love to stay and find out exactly how much of a little girl you really aren’t,” he said. “But those things are rigged to send an alert if they’re destroyed, so I’ll have to leave you now. Give a message to my brother for me?”
“Tell him I said, ‘Thanks for the memories. I’ll be watching.'” He turned to go, then stopped at the door and came back to me. “You can also tell him I had the first taste.” He gathered both of my hands in one of his, and held them, caressing my face and then teasing my ear with the other. His face came close to mine again, and I was struck by how cold and empty his eyes seemed. So different from Data’s. Then his lips were crashing into mine.
Just as he forced his tongue into my mouth, his caressing hand slid down my neck to meet my shoulder, and he squeezed, but as I slipped into unconsciousness, I thought I heard him say he’d be watching me, too.
Notes: No notes. Except to point out that cinnamon mochas are awesome. And even bright teenagers don’t use their brains sometimes. Oh, Zoe…
Chapter 45: The First Taste
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 First Taste
(4 February 2367, 22:30 hours, ship’s time)
Just as he forced his tongue into my mouth, his caressing hand slid down my neck to meet my shoulder, and he squeezed, but as I slipped into unconsciousness, I thought I heard him say he’d be watching me, too.
It was several hours later before the sounds of comm-badges chirping and a masculine voice woke me up. I was still in the hotel room where Lore had brought me, still on the bed, and the voice in question was all too familiar.
“Data to Enterprise,” he said. “Captain, I have found her. She is alive and apparently unharmed.”
I heard some sort of acknowledgement come from the tiny speaker, but couldn’t be bothered to parse the words. When I opened my eyes Data was standing over me, calm as ever. “Zoe,” he said softly. “Your mother and the doctor will be waiting in sickbay when we arrive. Can you walk?”
I let him help me into a sitting position, and then onto my feet, but my neck and shoulder felt like fire where Lore had squeezed, and I was really wavery, as if I’d had way more to drink than one martini. “Don’t think so,” I said, sheepishly adding, “Sorry.”
“I will carry you.”
I would have protested, but there was no time. I was on my feet – sort of – and then I was being cradled in his arms. “S’posed to give you a message.” I said. “S’posed to tell you ‘Thanks for the memories and he’ll be watching.” I didn’t tell him the rest.
He freed enough of one hand – gotta love that android strength – to activate his comm-badge. “Data to Enterprise,” he said. “Two to beam up.”
I vaguely recall arriving in the transporter room.
I vaguely recall him not waiting for a gurney and carrying me all the way to sickbay.
I vaguely recall my mother, Dr. Crusher, and Counselor Troi all watching for me with concerned faces.
I fixed my eyes on my mother’s face, and over the whine of the medical tricorder, I asked, “So, how grounded am I?”
And then I don’t remember anything but a hiss followed by blissful relief
(5 February 2367, 02:00 hours, ship’s time)
The next time I woke up I was still in sickbay. I couldn’t see the doctor, but my mother and Data were both in chairs close to my bedside. “I’m still not sure what happened,” my mother was saying to him. “She was upset when she came back from seeing you this morning.”
They were talking about me, and I wanted to hear the conversation, so I closed my eyes again.
“I believe I may be to blame for that,” he answered her. “She took issue with a statement I made about the death of my father, and left abruptly before we could…talk it through.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” my mother said, not questioning his use of the word ‘father.’ “Do you and Zoe often have such discussions?”
“Our conversations have covered a great many subjects,” he said. “However I must confess that when emotions are involved, I often have trouble…” he hesitated, as if sensing the irony of what he was about to say, “…keeping up.”
I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who found that amusing. “Well, Zoe’s always been a bit of a whirling dervish,” my mother told him. “Music and drama are about the only things that have ever kept her attention for very long, but I suppose that’s not unusual in our family.”
“It would seem she is following in her father’s footsteps, so to speak.”
“And her grandmother’s,” my mother added. “Or hasn’t she mentioned who her grandmother is?”
My eyes were still closed so I couldn’t see , but I was willing to bet Data’s eyes were flickering back and forth as he accessed information. “I did not realize,” he said after a few beats, “but I am not surprised. She is…quite expressive.”
“If she’s becoming a nuisance,” my mother began, but then she changed tacks. “I haven’t discouraged her friendship with you because I assumed you would tell her if she was overstepping her bounds. Sometimes I forget that she’s only sixteen – she’s dealt with so much these past few years.”
“She is not a nuisance,” he assured her. “I do not foresee a time when she could become a nuisance.”
“If she does…”
“In the unlikely event that were to happen,” he said, “I will speak with her directly.”
“Data, do you mind if ask you something personal?”
“You may ask,” he said, a hint of my snarky inflection in his tone.
My mother caught his meaning. “Fair enough. Zoe joined me on the Enterprise not long after you…lost…Lal. I’ve often wondered if she reminds you of your daughter in some way.”
I tried to keep my breathing even while I waited for his response. Wesley had once mentioned the same thing, and I couldn’t deny I was curious to know the truth.
“She does not,” he said softly. He hesitated, and for a moment I was convinced he knew I was awake and was going to rat me out. “Have you ever heard of two people meeting for the first time, but developing a rapport so quickly it is as if they had known each other for a much greater length of time?”
“You mean feeling as if you’d known someone forever?” my mother asked. “Heard of it. Even felt it. Why?”
“It would not be an inaccurate description of my affinity for Zoe,” he said quietly.
“If you were anyone else that statement would set off alarm bells,” my mother said. “As it is, I worry that she’s developing a cr – ”
“Excuse me,” Data cut her off. “I do not believe you should continue that sentence.”
My mother’s tone changed, “Commander, if I’ve offended you…”
“You have not. However, I suspect that Zoe is awake, and has been for some time.”
My mother was at my side before I could even confirm that. “Hey, kiddo.”
“Hey,” I said, opening my eyes. “You were totally going to say ‘criminal tendency’ right then, weren’t you?” It wasn’t my best line, but I felt as if a ground car had rolled over my neck, so I figured I’d get a bye.
“Yes,” my mother said, stroking my hair tenderly. “Yes, that’s absolutely what I was going to say.” Of course, we all knew it absolutely wasn’t. “How are you feeling?”
“Sore,” I said. “Thirsty. Stupid.”
“Mmm. Data went to find Dr. Crusher. When she gets here, we’ll see about handling the first two. As for stupid, I’m still not sure what happened.”
“Oh.” She stroked my hair a bit more, and then Data was back with the doctor and Counselor Troi. “Do any of you people ever sleep?” I asked.
“And miss your charming company, Zoe? Not a chance,” quipped the doctor. “Think you can sit up? Data, do you mind helping her?”
His hands were supporting me even before I registered the question, helping me sit. Mom fluffed the pillow that had been under my head, and I scooted back against it. “Okay,” I said. “I’m way less spinny than before.”
“You were dehydrated and only semi-conscious when Data found you,” the doctor said. “But there were only trace amounts of alcohol in your blood. What were you drinking, anyway?”
“Gin martini, dirty,” I said, echoing my drink order from earlier. My voice cracked. “Before that? Two quad-shot cinnamon mochas. Could I please have some water?”
“I’ll get it,” the counselor said, and I caught a glimpse of her hair swinging as she moved away and then back. “Here.”
“Sip it,” Dr. Crusher told me. “That would explain the dehydration…but it wouldn’t have knocked you out.”
“Oh, no, it didn’t,” I said. I waited a beat before forcing my voice into the most nonchalant tone I could manage. “The being-unconscious thing was a gift from Lore.”
Four faces displayed reactions of anger and surprise ranging from Data’s eyes-wide, mouth-open look of shock, to the doctor’s dark glower – I didn’t know, then, that Lore had come pretty close to murdering Wesley – and then all of them began to speak at once:
“My brother was on Starbase 416?”
“Zoe, don’t you know how dangerous Lore can be?”
“Oh, god, Zoetrope, did he hurt you?”
I started to feel swimmy again, and I closed my eyes.
“Everyone, please calm down. You’re overwhelming her.” The last statement was from the counselor, and thankfully, silence did fall. “Zoe,” she said in her calm therapist’s voice. “Take a couple of deep breaths, and then sip some more water.”
I did, and felt my head clearing. “Sorry,” I said.
“You did nothing wrong,” the counselor told me. “Are you up to telling us exactly what happened?”
I nodded. “Yeah, but my shoulder is really hurting.”
Dr. Crusher came to take another look. “Zoe, you have a bruise here. Did Lore hit you.”
“Likely a nerve pinch,” Data said. “It is an elegant way to render someone unconscious very quickly.”
I felt the hiss of a hypo-spray, and then cool relief flooded through my shoulder. “Better.” I said.
My mother sat on the edge of the bed, and took my hand. “Just tell us what happened. Your friends said you disappeared outside a public restroom. What made you seek out Lore?”
“I didn’t seek him out,” I said. “I followed him, and at the time I thought he was Data. He was wearing a Starfleet uniform.”
“Lore did steal my uniform before he left our father,” Data confirmed.
I told them everything – well, almost everything. How I figured out he wasn’t really Data, but he stopped me from saying anything. How he put his arm around me and played me off as his lover, and how he said if I went along with him he’d let me go. “He knew my name,” I said. “He knew who I was. He thought…he said I was important to Data.”
“When did you realize that you were not actually with me?” Data asked.
“When he was telling the bouncer he liked his women barely legal,” I answered, “and feeling me up in the process.” I added. “Anyway, there was a Ferengi…” and then I laughed as a riff from a truly ancient movie came into my head: “The Ferengi with the fedora had a blaster under brocade,” I sing-songed., and then, because all four of the adults around me were wearing blank expressions, I said, “Never mind. There was a Ferengi with a blaster, and he took us into the back room, and Lore pulled me down onto his lap.”
“There was only one chair. He kept his hand on my hip the whole time. It probably looked affectionate, but I’m betting there’s bruising there too, and could we not find out with Data here.”
The doctor was scanning me again. “I’ll send you home with some salve,” she said. “Just in case.”
“How did you end up in the hotel room?” Data asked.
“Lore and the Ferengi…Pharyll…His name was – is? – Pharyll…They were negotiating about a ship, but most of it was writing numbers down on padds, and passing them back and forth, and I’m sorry, but I can’t read as fast as you can Data. There were a lot of zeroes in the amount of latinum required…and a drop-off. Lore was supposed to make a drop-off.”
“Do you know where?” he asked.
“Sag…something….Saggy Lips? No, Saglyth…Saglyth III. Why can’t I think straight?”
“It’s a side effect of the nerve pinch, Zoe. You’ll be fine after you’ve rested more,” the doctor promised.
Counselor Troi was studying me as I spoke. “Zoe, at any point did you consider trying to get away?”
“I should have, I guess,” I said. “Part of me wanted to see what would happen. At the beginning, anyway.”
“And then it got too real?” My mother, that time.
“Kind of, yeah.” I sipped more water, and took another deep breath. “Anyway, he took me to his hotel…kept his arm around me the whole time. If anyone had seen…”
“They would have thought you wanted to be with him.” That was also Mom.
I blushed, but I wasn’t sure why. “Yeah. Probably.”
The counselor sat on the other side of me, also on the edge of the bed. “Zoe, in the hotel room…did you and Lore…?” She hesitated. “Do you want Data to leave while I ask you this?”
“What? Oh. Oh, no.” She was trying to ask if Lore had raped me, or if we’d had sex. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. There wasn’t. He didn’t. He flat out said he wasn’t looking for a fuck-buddy, and even if he was he didn’t want a little girl who was stuck on this brother.” As soon as I said it, I thought maybe I should have let them send Data out of the room, after all. “Which I’m not,” I said. “And I told him so.”
My mother started to chuckle, then. “Let me get this straight. An evil android – sorry, Data – ”
“I am not offended.”
” – takes you to a hotel and instead of being afraid he’ll rape or kill you, you’re afraid it might get around that you have a crush on your tutor?”
“Kind of,” I said. “Straw, camel, all that.”
Sheepishly, I added, “I might’ve also said something about not being a little girl. But for the record I was afraid.”
“You were bluffing him,” Data said softly. “Were you not?”
I met his eyes for a long moment, before I admitted. “I wish that’s what I’d been doing. Sorry to disappoint you, but I was hopped up on caffeine and sugar and gin, and really just didn’t have any filter.”
“You did not…” Data began.
But I cut him off. “He told me to sit, but the room was small and the bed was the only furniture. He told me to give you a message. I gave it to you, didn’t I?”
“‘Thanks for the memories,'” Data repeated. “And that he would be watching.”
I nodded. “He held my hands in his,” I said. “And he touched my chest…found the comm-badge…pulverized it.” I had to close my eyes for the rest. “He was in front of me, and I thought he was going to push me onto the bed. For a moment it felt like he was. But he just caressed my face, and my neck…and then he squeezed.”
“Zoe, you’re leaving something out,” the counselor said softly.
I looked her in the eyes and then looked away. “Yeah, but it’s not really important.”
“Let us decide that.”
“He kissed me.”
“Why do I get the feeling we’re not talking about a quick peck on the cheek?” asked Dr. Crusher. “Zoe…” she glanced at Data, then back at me, “…you’re sure that’s all?”
“He said that when comm-badges are destroyed they send an alert signal – is that true?” I waited for Data’s confirming nod. “He said that if he didn’t have to go he’d have liked to find out how ‘not a little girl’ I claimed to be.” I imitated his tone when I said it. “And no, the kiss…it wasn’t…it was…I probably should have bitten his tongue or kicked him in the balls, or something. Would that have even worked?”
“It is unlikely that you would have been able to make contact,” Data informed me. “But if you had…yes, it would have…worked.”
“Good to know.”
“Do you anticipate needing to know how to defend yourself against Lore?” Data asked.
It was clear that everyone in the room wanted to hear my answer. “There was a little more to his message,” I said. “He said he’d be watching me, too.” I looked around at these people – my mother, my friend, the two women who both only wanted help me. “Can you just start yelling now and get it over with? I’m really tired.”
My mother’s arms came around me, holding me tightly. “Oh, sweetheart. No one’s going to yell at you. Not for this.” She waited a beat and then grinned at me, “You are, however, grounded ’til you’re fifty. For your own protection.”
(6 February 2367, 10:00 hours, ship’s time)
My dreams on Sunday night began with T’vek – I’d had a comm-call with him before bed – but they were also about Lore. (Or Data?) No, I’m sure it was Lore. That kiss…that kiss that was more about assault than seduction repeated in my brain over and over, and every time, I heard the echo of Lore’s words, “…tell him I had the first taste.”
In my dream I remembered the pressure of his lips on mine, the taste of him: Denebian Scotch, faint metallic undertone, something sweet. Was the sweet just part of him?
When I finally woke up, I got ready for class almost as if I was on auto-pilot. I don’t think my mother expected that. I think she expected me to curl up in bed for another day, and a part of me wanted to, but the part of me that wasn’t a little girl any more (“…find out how exactly how much of a little girl you really aren’t…”) knew I had to face the world – or at least my friends – as soon as possible.
“Comm me if you need anything,” my mother urged as I left our quarters. She wasn’t on duty until afternoon. “And if class is too much…”
“Mom, I’m fine. Really. It was just a kiss. I didn’t get raped or pummeled or anything. Mostly, I’m just mortified, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, but I could hear that tone…the one that meant she knew I wasn’t being honest with her. The one that meant she was worried.
I was the last one into the conference room for Data’s math tutorial, that morning, which was unusual for me. I slid into the seat that Dana and Annette had left open between them, and my best friend whispered to me, “Your mom comm’d us this morning…are you okay?”
I favored her with a weak smile. “Yeah, mostly. Talk later?”
She nodded, and we both turned on our padds and reviewed our notes from the previous class.
It was probably just me, but Data seemed more reserved than usual that morning. Quieter. As if he’d pulled away from all of us, a little bit. He greeted us with his customary, “Good morning,” and quick nod of the head, and immediately launched into the intricacies of solving of a new kind of equation.
“The first step,” he began – but I lost the ability to follow him at that point because what I heard was ‘the first taste.’ (“Tell him I had the first taste. What should I do with you, Zoe Harris?” )
I shook my head, to clear it, and refocused on what Data was saying, but instead of taking notes, I tapped a message to Counselor Troi asking if I could move my regular session with her to just after Data’s class, instead of our normally-scheduled day later in the week. Her response was to come as soon as I was available, and to have someone on the medical staff page her if she wasn’t in her office when I arrived.
“A faster method for solving this type of problem,” Data was saying, “is to skip…”
(“You’ll go squealing to Data…” “…faster than a tribble on triticale…” “…stuck on my brother…” )
I don’t know if I did something physical to draw his attention, but Data broke off his lecture and called my name. Actually, I think he said my name a couple of times before I responded.
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.
“It is unlike you to be distracted in class, Zoe. Are you alright?” I hesitated. It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t alright, but I really didn’t want to admit it. “Zoe…?”
I pushed my chair back and stood up. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m really not. I need to go now.”
He seemed to want to say something meaningful, or at least comforting, but we were in the middle of class, and as it was all my friends were staring at me. “I will send the class notes to your padd,” he said simply. “Contact me if you require assistance.”
“I will,” I said. “Thanks.”
I left the room, taking a few minutes to catch my breath before I headed to the nearest turbo-lift, and then to the counselor’s office.
Counselor Troi was just returning to her office as I got there, and I must have looked pale, because her dark eyes got huge, and she wrapped a reassuring arm around me. “I’m not going to ask if you’re alright,” she said, “because you’re clearly not. Would you like a drink? Coffee? Tea? Hot chocolate?”
“Tea’d be good,” I said. “Peppermint?”
“Alright.” She ushered me to a comfortable chair and I folded myself into it, sitting cross-legged on the seat. “Just a minute.”
The mug was hot in my hand, but the mint seemed to clear my senses. “Thanks,” I said. I wrapped both hands around the mug, just holding it.
“Can you tell me what happened?” she asked after a couple of minutes of just letting me sit.
“It started last night, after I went to bed – I mean really to bed, not in sickbay.”
“I kept dreaming about Lore and the things he said…and about him kissing me…and…I left something out last night, but I swear it wasn’t anything that could help you find Lore, or anything.”
“Can you tell me?”
“Just before he kissed me….before he said he’d be watching me, too?” I made it a question. “He said to tell Data…he said to ‘tell him I had the first taste.’ And now…that’s all I can hear. Data was talking about the steps in an equation, and all I could hear was Lore. In the back of my head. It was just a kiss, Couns – ” but she’d given me a look – “Deanna. Why am I going so crazy because of a stupid kiss.”
“Why don’t you tell me?”
I rolled my eyes. “Somehow, I knew you’d say that.”
“Zoe, you’re sixteen. You’ve just separated from your first lover. You and Data have a close friendship that seems to be getting steadily closer.”
I didn’t respond to her directly.
“Last night in sickbay…mom and Data were talking about me.”
“And you were eavesdropping.” It wasn’t a question.
“Well…they were right there. Wouldn’t you want to know?”
“I’m not judging you, Zoe.”
“No, I’m judging me. Anyway, my mother was worried I was pestering him too much, and he said his ‘affinity’ for me – his word – was similar to when people first meet and feel like they’ve known each other forever. Um. Only he was less clumsy about the phrasing.”
“And my mother said she was concerned I was crushing on him. Well, she didn’t say that, but I knew she was about to. Data told her I was awake before she said the word.”
“And the thing is…I didn’t. I swear it was just being friends until yesterday, and then…and now…”
“And now, because of Lore you’re seeing Data through different eyes?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Something like that. Tev asked me once, before we – before we were sleeping together…if I had a ‘thing’ for Data. I wasn’t lying when I said no.”
“I’m sure you weren’t.”
“So, what do I do?”
“What do you want to do?”
“Running away to become a surf instructor on Pacifica is looking awfully attractive,” I said.
The counselor chuckled. “An inspired choice. Not very practical, though.”
“The really fun options never are.”
“No. I suppose not.”
I sipped some of my tea, letting the minty warmth sit in my mouth before I swallowed it, using the time to think. “Did you mean it, about no judging?”
“And you won’t tell anyone what we discuss?”
“You know I won’t,” she promised. “What is it?”
“I picked a fight with Data on Saturday. I yelled at him for saying he couldn’t feel grief over losing his father, when the twelve pictures he’d painted really were his way of feeling it. It was just so… He went from telling me he’d met and lost his father to suggesting we just start my music theory lesson.”
Counselor Troi was silent for a long moment. “I didn’t realize Data had spoken to you about Dr. Soong.”
“He didn’t say much,” I said. “I didn’t really give him the chance. I blew up at him because…” The proverbial lightbulb clicked on inside my head. “…because he wasn’t grieving the way I thought he should. And I should know better. I know his brooding is his way of…processing.”
“But you picked a fight with him, anyway. Why?”
I thought about it. “Because…” I began slowly. “I’d been really worried about him when he was gone. And because he doesn’t seem to comprehend that it matters to people when he’s in jeopardy.” I hesitated. “And because I already lost T’vek, and my mother and father left me behind all the time, and…”
“And you don’t believe you can handle losing another friend right now?”
I felt small and pathetic when I said it. “Well…yeah.”
“So when you saw the person you thought was Data, you followed him,” she said bringing us back to the original topic. “Why?”
“I wanted to apologize,” I said.
“And when you realized it wasn’t Data?”
I hesitated again. “Part of me wanted to get away, or scream for help, or…I don’t know…do something, but the other part…it was kind of exciting. Like being in a mystery novel or a horror vid, but with less blood and guts.”
“Danger can be exhilarating,” the counselor agreed.
“I don’t think he would have raped me,” I said suddenly. “Lore, I mean. I’m not saying he isn’t capable…I’m saying…I don’t think it’s his style.”
“Yeah. In the bar, and with the Ferengi, he was all about the chase. Once they finished the negotiation, it was like he wasn’t interested any more. So no…I don’t think he would have raped me…” She was watching me very carefully, but she didn’t say anything, so I just continued. “I think he would have seduced me.” I paused again, adding, “And I don’t think it would have mattered if I was me, or just any girl. But he knew who I was, and he said I was important to Data, so I’m guessing…”
“You think Lore recognized who you were and chose to let things happen as they may?”
“Does that make me totally shallow and vain?”
“No. It makes you perceptive, though we can’t really be certain why Lore didn’t maintain his persona as Data and then send you away.”
“That’s fair.” I said. “Counsel – Deanna – there was…part of me kind of liked that kiss. Not the circumstances, but…I don’t know…the…technique. And in class today…I guess part of my distraction was…”
“Go on, Zoe,” she encouraged softly. “You can tell me.”
“Part of me kept hearing Lore’s voice in my head,” I said in a near-whisper. “And part of me was wondering if kissing Data would be like that. Oh, god, I’m horrible.”
“No,” she said very firmly. “You’re not. You’re a young woman who is just learning to navigate the complexities of adult relationships. You’re also a bit reckless, and more than a little curious.”
“Lore said my curiosity would get the better of me.” I said. “He was almost right.”
“The more you talk about how you felt,” Troi said. “The more I think Lore may have intended for someone from the Enterprise to find him. Not necessarily you, but…”
“You think it’s a set-up. You think everything he did was to manipulate Data?”
“I think,” she said, “that you need to worry about you right now, and leave the rest to the people who are trained to handle it. I also think that we need to find a way to channel your restless spirit just a bit. I know you love music, but maybe you should consider another art form as well. What do you like to do?”
“I like theater. I like to look at art, but I can’t draw or paint to save my life, and clay gets under your nails,” I offered helpfully. “Oh…and gardening. I used to help on the farm when I was there. And surfing, obviously. Actually pretty much anything involving the ocean.”
“Doesn’t soil get under your nails as well?” she asked, smirking.
“Oh, totally. But it’s different kind of being-dirty.”
“Let me think about some options for you, and we’ll talk about them later this week, alright?” She was smiling the warm I’m-just-a-friend-you’re-chatting-with smile again, and I could tell that we were wrapping up. I did feel a lot better.
“And until then?”
“What do you think you should do?”
“I still need to apologize to Data,” I said. “Also, I left my cello in his quarters after the music theory lesson that wasn’t…”
“I can promise you that you are more bothered by your behavior than he is,” she said. “But I agree, you do need to apologize, if only to give yourself resolution. Do you feel up to that?”
“I need a more time to decompress first. I’m pretty sure Mom expected me to beg off classes today.”
“You probably should have. Zoe…you went through a lot yesterday. You need to give yourself time to recover. I’ll contact your afternoon teachers, for you. I want you to go home, and take some time to just rest. No homework, no practicing.”
I refrained from pointing out that I literally couldn’t practice since my cello was still in Data’s quarters. “So, what do I do? Just hang out in pajamas and watch bad vids? I’m not sick.”
“Not physically, perhaps, but whether you admit it or not, everything with Lore – and even your ‘fight’ with Data – have taken an emotional toll on you. Data’s on bridge-duty until the end of alpha shift. If you’re up to it, stop by and see him this evening.”
“I’ll have to ask my mother. Because of the grounded-til-I’m-fifty thing.”
She laughed, “You do that.” She stood up, then, and I did, too, and when she offered a hug, I allowed it.
At the door, I paused. “Cou – Deanna – do you think I have a crush on Data?”
She smiled, and this time it was her enigmatic smile. “I think you and Data are good friends, and you should stop worrying about anything else.”
Typical therapist: always the perfect non-answer.
(6 February 2367, 20:00 hours, ship’s time)
I did what Counselor Troi instructed. I went home from her office, and changed to ratty sweats and a Beach Haven High School t-shirt, and curled up on my bed with music blasting through my earphones and the novels my father had given me for Christmas.
I was two-thirds of the way through Dracula when I fell asleep, though I woke up when my mother came home around seven that evening. We ate dinner together, and then she went back to her lab to work on something for a couple of hours, and I changed into (slightly) more presentable clothing, and went to see Data.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your evening,” I told him, after he invited me inside. “I came to get my cello. And to apologize for yesterday.”
“I was not offen –” he started to say, but he stopped abruptly. “Zoe, I believe this is a conversation that will require tea. Would you care for some?”
“I’d like that,” I said. “If you wouldn’t mind clearing it with my mother first?”
He did so, and I took up my usual spot in the corner of his couch, and we talked about why I’d been so upset, and what it was like meeting his father. He told me about the dinosaurs he’d brought back for the Potts boys, and the dinosaur skeleton that dominated Dr. Soong’s main room.
I still heard Lore’s words in the back of my head – that wasn’t going to go away any time soon – but they were less intrusive, at least.
By midnight, when he picked up my cello an escorted me back home, “…because I do not want to face your mother’s wrath if you go missing again,” he teased lightly, I felt like I had experienced the first taste of adulthood, and that our friendship had achieved some semblance of normalcy.
Notes: First, thank you to all of the people who have read and commented on this story, especially those who read it from the beginning, and came back to it after my months (ahem, years) of hiatus. I’m tickled to death that it’s received over 200 comments. Y’all know how to make a girl blush. As an aside: I don’t believe assault, sexual or otherwise, should ever be used to entertain. I tried to keep Zoe’s reactions in the realm of plausibility.
Chapter 46: The New Normal
The New Normal
(22 February 2367, 12:15 hours, ship’s time)
Two weeks after my little adventure with Lore, I’d finally found a new rhythm to my life. School was back in session, which helped. Saturday sessions with Data had resumed, Seth was being less hands-y, Lt. Caldwell was giving me more challenging vocal music, and I was spending a couple of hours a week – mainly Monday and Friday afternoons – helping out in the arboretum.
As well, Wesley’s friend Ensign Barnett had become just Ray, who hung out with me – with all of us – sometimes, but wasn’t really a potential romantic partner. I needed friends more than I needed romance, anyway, which was why we’d started going to lunch in Ten-Forward on Wednesdays after Data’s math class. It wasn’t always all of us, and sometimes some of the younger members of the ship’s crew came to sit with us, but it was a nice ritual.
“Zoe, Josh, you are just the people I wanted to see,” Dr. Crusher greeted us as we entered Ten-Forward, for one of those lunches, along with Dana and Nytan, a Rigellian boy who’d joined the ship with his parents when we were at Starbase 416. He wasn’t in our tutorial, but we had a lot of other classes together, and it wasn’t like there were many teenagers on the ship.
“Whatever it is,” Josh said, only half-kidding, “I didn’t do it.”
I could tell the doctor was about to ask Josh exactly what he hadn’t done, so I jumped in with a paraphrased quote from a play, “It was late. It was dark. It was rainy. He swore he was over sixteen.”
“Cute Zoe,” she said, then continued, “Seriously you two, the theater group has decided that The Diary of Anne Frank will be our next production, and we need a couple of teenagers to play Anne and Peter.”
“Isn’t that a bit grim for a shipboard production?” I asked. “I mean with the ending and all. Unless you plan to use a contemporary setting and replace the Nazis with the Borg?”
She stared at me as if she’d never considered such a thing. “Interesting premise. I’ll think about it. Auditions are tonight at eight in the auditorium.” She glanced at Dana and Nytan, “You’re both welcome to try out as well.”
Dana blushed and shook her head. “No thank you. I much prefer to be in the audience. What about you, Nytan?”
Our new friend also declined. “I get stage fright,” he said. “Very, very bad stage fright. Then I throw up.”
“Well, we’ll look forward to seeing you in the audience as well,” she said.
I’d seen a couple of shipboard performances, but never been in any of the theatrical pieces, having been mostly focused on music. The invitation (and I used the word loosely) to audition for this show was probably at the behest of Counselor Troi. After all, she’d been trying to fill ever more of my time as a way to channel my ‘vivid imagination and reckless tendencies.’
“So you’re going to audition, aren’t you?” Dana asked. “Josh has been in lots of plays since the D first launched, and I know you’ve done theater at home.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I sort of have to.”
Dana gave me the kind of look that meant we would talk about it later, and suggested, “We should order so we’re not late to lit class. Professor Benoit is fantastic.”
“He is, isn’t he?” Nytan put in. “I’ve never enjoyed books and reading so much, but he makes you see the…I don’t know…context? I guess?”
“The dude is stellar,” pronounced Josh.
And then we did order, and the rest of the hour was spent talking about music and the social scene on Rigel IV, and stuff like that.
On instructions from his girlfriend, Josh stopped by my quarters and we went to the auditorium together. I wasn’t surprised that the only other people even close to our age were Wesley and Annette. I wasn’t surprised to find out that Data was there, as well. I was surprised to see Professor Benoit.
“Ed? You’re auditioning for this play?”
“Ah, Josh, and my beach buddy,” he greeted us enthusiastically. I was ready to bet that he wouldn’t ever let that nickname go. “Bogart misses you, Zoe.”
“Well,” I said. “You’d never know it. He doesn’t call, he doesn’t write…I tried to hook him up with this really hot French Poodle…”
“Alright, alright, I see your point,” he laughed. “By the way, thank you for sending the Potts boys to meet me. I’m so glad they decided to stay on board after Willie’s treatment.”
“Did they?” I asked. “I kind of had my own stuff going on, and lost track.”
“They did, and Bogart is happy to have such great playmates.”
“I’m pretty sure the boys are just as happy to play with him,” I said.
“Who’s Bogart?” Josh asked, as he was still standing right next to me.
“My dog,” the professor answered.
“You have a dog on the ship?” Josh asked. “Seriously? What kind?”
I heard the professor tell Josh that Bogart was a Lab mix as someone came up behind me. “Zoe, I was not expecting to see you here tonight.” It was Data.
“Command performance,” I explained, following him into a row of seats two back from the front. “Dr. Crusher ‘invited’ me to be here. I’m pretty sure Counselor Troi suggested it. All part of her master plan to rehabilitate the wild child.”
“You do have a tendency toward the dramatic that might be better channeled into on-stage performances,” he pointed out.
I gave him my most scathing glare, and was about to add a witty comeback, but Josh and Ed had filed into the row behind us, and then Dr. Crusher stepped to the front of the room – a raised stage wasn’t actually the default configuration for the space – then began speaking when she had our attention.
“Welcome, everyone,” she said. “It’s good to see some new faces mixed in with the old. Zoe, you really didn’t have to send a resume and headshot, but thank you. We’re going to start with the readings for Anne, Peter, and Margot. I have data flimsies right here with the audition lines.”
I looked over the data flimsy I’d been handed. Anne’s piece was essentially a monologue, as it was one of her diary entries, and as soon as I read it through, I was pretty sure of how to interpret it. I was also certain that I really wanted to nail this role. Dad had always quoted a theater adage that directors always remember the first and last people they see, and there was no way I wanted to be last, so as soon as Dr. Crusher called for volunteers, my hand was raised.
“Okay, Zoe, go ahead,” she said, with more than faint amusement in her tone. I don’t think she’d ever realized just how ambitious I could be when I was motivated.
I channeled my father and his air of perpetual confidence when I left my seat and moved to center stage, but once I was there, looking out at the seats, the habits of my admittedly-short lifetime took over. “”I’m Zoe Harris, and I’m auditioning for Anne,” I said in my normal voice, but loud enough to reach the back rows without any need for amplification.
I waited for Dr. Crusher’s acknowledging nod, took a breath, and began the monologue, pitching my voice just a little bit higher than normal, slowing my speech, and doing my best to sound as if I were just composing the words I was speaking:
“I expect I should be describing what it feels like to go into hiding. But I really don’t know yet myself. I only know it’s funny never to be able to go outdoors . . . never to breathe fresh air . . . never to run and shout and jump. It’s the silence in the nights that frightens me most. Every time I hear a creak in the house or a step on the street outside, I’m sure they’re coming for us. The days aren’t so bad. At least we know that Miep and Mr. Kraler are down there below us in the office. Our protectors, we call them. I asked Father what would happen to them if the Nazis found out they were hiding us. Pim said that they would suffer the same fate that we would. . . . Imagine! They know this, and yet when they come up here, they’re always cheerful and gay, as if there were nothing in the world to bother them. . . . Friday, the twenty-first of August, nineteen forty-two. Today I’m going to tell you our general news. Mother is unbearable. She insists on treating me like a baby, which I loathe. Otherwise things are going better. The weather is . . . .”
Channeling Data, just a little bit, I put audio quotation marks around the phrase ‘our protectors,’ and I got a laugh when I emphasized the word ‘unbearable,’ as I had hoped I would. There was applause but I wasn’t sure if it was polite, or meant, or a mix of both.
“Thank you, Zoe,” the doctor said. “Annette, you’re next.”
Back in my seat, I tried to focus on my friend’s performance, but Josh wrapped his arms around me from behind, and asked softly, “Resume and head shot? Seriously? How much theater did you do on Centaurus?”
“Some,” I admitted. “But a lot of it was my dad going, ‘Oh, you need a kid? Throw Zoe onstage.’ Until I was eight, anyway.”
Annette had finished her audition and one of the two ensigns – Andrea Something – was on stage plodding through the same monologue. Data seemed really put off by her lack of performance skills, and I leaned close to him to ask in my quietest voice, “So, tell me what you really think of her?”
“Am I too blatant in my reaction to her obvious lack of performance skills?” he responded, equally softly.
“A little, yeah.”
“I will endeavor to be more discreet.”
Fortunately, she was done, and the other ensign, Laura Gilbert – she introduced herself in a clear voice – took the stage. She wasn’t bad…but she didn’t really look like a teenager, either.
“Please tell me I was at least as good as she was?” I asked Data, when she was finished.
“I’d cast you,” Ed said from his seat behind my tutor. “She was good, but no way is she believable as thirteen-year-old Anne, in the beginning of the play. She’d be a good Margot, though.”
By ten, I’d been given the part of Anne, and Ensign Gilbert had been cast as Margot. Ed surprised me by beating out Data for the part of Mr. Frank – he had better father-daughter chemistry with me, but Data was amazing as the dentist Mr. Dussel. Lt. Barclay and a woman in science blue were cast as the Van Daans, and a college student doing a “semester in space” in one of the science labs – Theo – was cast as Peter, though Josh’s audition was actually pretty good. Apparently Dr. Crusher herself was taking the part of Mrs. Frank, but other people had tried out, and she really was better than all of them.
The cast was asked to stick around for a few minutes to discuss rehearsal schedules, but we were released by ten-thirty. Ed and Dr. Crusher were doing the ‘get to know you better’ chat, and I heard them discuss moving their conversation to Ten-Forwad, while Theo and I merely agreed to meet for lunch the next day.
“Zoe, if you do not mind waiting a moment, I will escort you back to your quarters,” Data said, coming up behind me as I was finishing my talk with Theo. So far, I only knew that he’d joined the ship when we were still at Spacedock, and he was nineteen, and a sophomore at MIT, on Earth.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said. I’d just realized that I was the only non-adult, if not the only teenager, in the cast, but I really didn’t want anyone focusing on that bit of information.
“I do not mind,” he said. I would have protested further, but something in his tone implied that he wanted to speak with me.
“Okay,” I said. “Sure.” So I hung out while he spoke with the doctor for a few minutes, and then we left together. Outside the auditorium, I said, “You know, I’m not grounded any more. Mom wouldn’t have cared if I went home alone, and I know where I’m going now.”
“I did not mean to imply otherwise,” Data said. “I did wish to speak with you about your performance this evening.”
“Data, it was a cold reading. If you’re going to pick apart my interpretation, could it wait until I’ve actually started working on the character?”
“I did not intend to ‘pick apart’ your reading. I was merely curious about the resume you sent to Dr. Crusher.”
“My impression was that you had performed only small roles in local productions in your hometown on Centaurus.”
“Was I mistaken?”
“Shouldn’t you know? I mean, haven’t you investigated every detail of my life and committed it to memory?”
“Not every detail, no,” he said with the merest hint of snark. We’d definitely been rubbing off on each other. “With the people I consider friends,” he explained, then, in his more usual tone, “I prefer to get to know them at a slower pace. More…organically.” He sounded almost sheepish on the last word, as if he expected to be admonished for using it.
I didn’t call him on it, of course, only smiled, and touched his arm, which caused us both to freeze in place for a moment, and him to look at where my hand had made contact. “Sorry,” I said, pulling my hand back, suddenly conscious – too conscious – of the fact that I’d touched him. Casual contact had been a fairly usual thing with him forever, so I wasn’t sure why I was suddenly more aware of it. Of him. “I’ll send you a copy of my resume if you want.”
“If you do not mind, I would appreciate that,” he said.
“If I minded, I wouldn’t have offered,” I said, and then I realized it could have sounded snappish, and realized further why I was feeling irritated with him. Still, I counted to ten in my head before I asked, “Do you have any specific plans between now and midnight?”
“I do not, why?”
“Could we do our tea-thing, and talk? We haven’t really, not since the night after…everything. I mean, we talk in class, and stuff, but…”
“Zoe.” My name on his lips was always enough to stop me cold.
“I, too, have missed our tea ritual.”
I laughed softly. “When I used that word, you said it wasn’t a ritual yet.”
“Apparently, I was wrong.”
He held out his arm, and I looped mine through it, laughing. “Lead on, then, kind sir,” I said in my best fake-English accent. “Ritual tea awaits.”
While Data was replicating tea (lemon-mint, with rosemary-laced sugar cookies on the side at my request), he directed me to use his console to let my mother know where I was (I also told her I might be late, just in case) and then to retrieve my theatrical resume and save a copy to his account. As I sat down in his chair, I asked, “Are you sure I won’t mess anything up?”
“You cannot,” he assured me.
“Okay,” I said. After a moment, I added, “You have mail.”
“The tea is ready,” he said. I looked up at him from behind his desk and for a split second I felt like I was experiencing déjà vu, or whatever the equivalent of déjà vu that means you’re seeing the future is called, because I swear it felt like I’d looked at him from that angle a thousand times, and suddenly I was staring at him with new eyes. He must’ve noticed…something…because he said, “Zoe? Are you alright?”
I shook my head to clear it, and the odd feeling was gone. “Yeah, sorry.” If I moved away from his chair with unusual haste, he didn’t mention it, and once I was settled on the couch with my shoes kicked off and my hands wrapped around a mug of fragrant tea, I was completely relaxed. “Is it utterly weird,” I asked, “that this spot is the place on this ship that I feel most at home?”
“I do not know if it is weird or not,” he said softly, “but I will accept your statement as a compliment.” He waited a beat then prompted gently, “Was there something specific you wished to speak to me about, when you suggested tea?”
I could feel myself blushing, because I’d been just watching him again. “Oh. Yeah. It’s a little awkward.”
“We have dealt with awkward subjects before.”
“True enough. It’s just…we talked about Doctor Soong, but we never really talked about what happened with your bro – with Lore. And…I don’t know…when you insisted upon walking me home, it kind of made me think maybe you think it was your fault.”
“Is it not? If I had prevented you from leaving that morning, you would not have followed him.”
“But I followed him because I thought he was you.”
“If we had talked through your concerns about my response to my father’s death,” he said diplomatically avoiding the use of the word ‘tantrum’ in regard to my behavior, “you would have had no reason to do so.”
“Yeah I would.”
I shrugged. “You being on the starbase without stopping to say hello to us would have been uncharacteristic behavior. You heading to a bar like that would have been decidedly weird. And anyway, you are not my parent or guardian, you’re my tutor – my friend – you are not responsible for me making stupid choices.” I watched him process those statements, and then I added, “Besides…he knew me. He knew my name, and believed I was somehow important to you.”
“I am aware of that.” Anyone else would have laced those words with anguish. Data, of course, did not.
“How did he know that?”
“I am uncertain. I believe he must have copied my memory engrams after he de-activated me.”
“You didn’t think of that before he showed up on the starbase?”
“I regret that I did not.”
“And that’s why you feel at fault?”
His answer was simple: “Yes.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Part of me wanted to just fling myself into his arms, and part of me knew I probably shouldn’t. I set down my tea cup, and reached for his hand, clasping it in much the same way he’d clasped mine one night after I’d had a nightmare. We sat in silence for several minutes, and in that time, I couldn’t help but wonder again if his kisses would feel the same way Lore’s had, but I shook myself out of the thought, and withdrew my hand.
“I should go,” I said. “Thanks for the tea, and the talk. If I promise to stop chasing after doppelgangers of the people I care about, will you promise not to blame yourself for everything that happens if I do?”
“I will try,” he agreed amiably enough.
“Stellar,” I said, forcing a lighter mood. I slid my feet back into my shoes, and left his quarters, but I paused at the door. “Hey Data?”
“You know how you told me to make sure I had a password set on my padd?”
“I remember the conversation, of course, but…”
I cut him off. “Brain the size of a planet and you don’t have a password on your own memories?”
The look on his face as the door slid shut between us was priceless.
Notes: The Diary of Anne Frank (the play, not the original book) was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and originally produced on Broadway in 1955. It was turned into a movie in 1959. Zoe’s audition piece is from Act I, Scene 2. (Zoe’s last comment to Data, is, of course, taken from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Chapter 47: Legacies
(Saturday, February 25th, 19:30 hours, ship’s time)
“Sorry I’m late, kiddo,” my mother said as she dropped a kiss on the top of my head, and fell into the open chair at our table. I was having dinner with Ed and Theo in order for all of us to get to know each other, and we’d invited my mother to join us, so she could see who I was hanging out with these days.
“Mom, this is my new daddy,” I teased, referring to the fact that Ed had been cast as my father in the shipboard play The Diary of Anne Frank.
“Excuse me?” my mother asked in her best mom-voice.
“Sorry,” I said. “Professor Benoit – Ed – this is my mother, Lt. Commander Emily Harris. Mom, this is Ed. He’s our lit teacher this year, and he’s been cast as my father in ‘Anne.'” I waited for them to exchange greetings, then added, “And this is Theo…whose last name I still haven’t learned.”
“Nechayev,” he supplied. “I’m here from MIT for my semester in space, Commander Harris.”
“Emily, please,” my mother told him.
“Wait,” I said. “Nechayev like Admiral Nechayev?”
Theo blushed faintly and ducked his head. “She’s my aunt,” he told us. “Please don’t let it get around. People will think I only got this spot here because of her.”
I shrugged. “I’ve been cast in community theater stuff all my life because of who my father is. Why should it matter?”
“It shouldn’t,” he said. “My grades are excellent, and I worked my ass – excuse me – off to get here, but…”
“But people will still talk,” Ed said, finishing the thought.
“Theo’s playing Peter,” I told my mother.
“Ah,” my mother said. “It’s nice to meet you. Have you all ordered?”
I shook my head. “We were waiting for you.” Guinan came over, then, and we chatted for a little bit before she took our orders. Across the room, I noticed Wesley and some blond boy I didn’t know getting into some kind of kerfuffle over ice cream (I think) and I asked her. “Who’s Wes’s new friend?”
Guinan followed the direction of my gaze. “That,” she said, “is Jono. He’s from the Telarian ship we ran into the other day.” She pronounced it differently than Josh had, and I wondered if that was significant.
“I thought the rest of the kids were sent home?” I asked.
My mother gave me a look that seemed to imply I had more information than I should, but only said, “Jono is human by birth.”
“The Telarian culture is fairly dismissive of women, Zoe,” my mother added after Guinan left our table. “So if you’re thinking about introducing yourself…”
“What, and skip out on the three of you? Never!” I said, and then I changed the subject, “Theo what’s MIT like…it’s in…Boston, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said. “In the old city. It’s nice. Challenging, but there’s this sense of history. Have you started looking at colleges yet, Zoe?”
“Our Zoe’s going to the Martian,” my mother said. “She’s been planning it for years.”
“Actually…” I said, knowing this was a tough subject, but recognizing that my mother wouldn’t freak out in front of people. “I’ve been thinking I should consider other options.”
“The Academy?” Mom asked.
“Oh, god, no.” I said. “Sorry, Mom. That will never change. No, I was thinking maybe something a little more academic. I love music and all, but…I don’t want to be a one-note person.”
“Zoe, I’ve only known you for a bit over a month, and I can assure you, you will never be one-note,” Ed said.
Our food came, and the four of us chatted about the play, and Boston, and Ed’s decision to spend a semester on the ship as well. When we were finished eating, Theo invited me to go for a walk to the ship’s art gallery, and I accepted, but Mom and Ed stayed to have coffee and after-dinner drinks.
Outside Ten-Forward, I stopped Theo. “You didn’t have to do that…” I said. “Invite me on a walk. I could see Mom and Ed getting interested in each other.”
He laughed. “It really wasn’t for them,” he said. “We have to…Anne and Peter have to…”
“Kiss,” I said. “We have to kiss. Yeah, I know. Dr. Crusher said we were going to start running that scene next week. She wants us really comfortable with each other.”
He nodded, “Exactly. And I thought if we hung out alone…”
I looked at him, then. Really looked at him. Theo was taller than me by a few inches, and had dark brown hair and green eyes. I’d seen pictures of his aunt, Admiral Nechayev, and now that I knew they were related, I could see her features on him. “Do you even like art?” I asked.
“Actually,” he confessed, “I prefer fishing. I just couldn’t think of where else to take you.”
I laughed at that. “Well, there are fishing programs on the holodeck, but at this hour on a Saturday night, finding one free won’t be easy. There’s also an aquatics lab, and there’s a koi pond in the arboretum. You can’t fish, sadly, but you can have the replicator give you fish food, and they’ll chase the pellets.”
“The koi pond sounds like the best option,” he said. “Lead on.”
The arboretum was set up to mimic a diurnal schedule, and when we arrived synthesized twilight had settled over the pond. “Maybe we should have taken our chances with the holodeck,” I said. “I mean, right now this is screaming ‘make out spot.'”
He chuckled, “You make an excellent point. But I don’t mind, if you don’t.”
I shook my head. “Nope.” We sat on the grass near the pond and watched the fish nibble the pellets we’d replicated.
“So, how long have you lived on the Enterprise?” he asked.
“Less than a year,” I said. “Mom’s been here since Captain Picard took command, but I didn’t join her until just before the school year started. Does your aunt mind that you’re not at the Academy?”
He shook his head, “Not any more. My parents were actually the ones who didn’t approve, but…I’m not the dress-in-uniforms-and-salute-people type.”
I grinned. “Theo, I think we’re going to get along just fine.”
By the end of the evening, we were definitely more friends than just castmates, but I wasn’t sure if there would ever be anything more, and honestly, I didn’t really care either way.
“Okay, Zoe, who’s the boy?” Dana asked on our way to our math tutorial the following Monday.
“What boy?” I asked. “There is no boy.”
“Josh and I saw you at the koi pond with someone who was definitely of the male persuasion,” my friend said. “Saturday night, around twenty-one hundred hours.”
“Oh. That wasn’t a boy, exactly. That was Theo.”
“He’s here doing a semester in space…from MIT.”
“Since when do you hang out with science-y types?”
“Ninety percent of the people on this ship are ‘science-y types.'” I pointed out. “He plays Peter…in the play. We thought we should get to know each other.”
“Well…we have a couple of scenes that are…”
“Intimate?” she said it in a voice that left nothing to the imagination.
“Not that intimate,” I said. “There’s a kiss, is all. And I shouldn’t be telling you this, because I want you to come see the play.”
Dana grinned. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“How’s Josh doing?” I asked. “I mean, he wanted the part of Peter.”
“He’s okay,” she said. “Actually I think he’s a little relieved. He was afraid kissing you would be weird.”
It was my turn to grin. “It would have been like kissing my brother, if I had a brother.”
“That’s pretty much what Josh said,” Dana shared, and then she asked, “So, do we get to meet him?”
“Who? Theo? Go visit the science labs. He’ll be around, I suppose.”
“Zoe!” My friend was obviously frustrated with me.
“Look, I barely know him. He and Ed – Professor Benoit – had dinner with my mother and me the other night, and then we left them alone and went for a walk. We are not dating. We are not canoodling. We’re just…well, we were just castmates. I guess we’ve sort of become friends, but there is no ‘there’ there.”
Dana was staring at me as if I’d gone slightly crazy. Then she just shook her head (her blonde ponytail bounced as she did so), and smiled, and said, “Sure, Zoe, whatever you say.”
I rolled my eyes at her, “Can we just go to class now?” I asked, and I walked through the door where Data and our classmates were waiting. “Morning,” I said brightly. “Lovely day for a math tutorial, don’t you think?”
(Thursday, March 2, 16:05 hours, ship’s time)
“Good lesson today, Zoe,” Seth said as he packed up his cello. As usual, we’d met in one of the smaller observation lounges. “The theory lessons you’re doing with Commander Data are really improving your technique. Soon you won’t need me.”
“Promise?” I asked, only half kidding. But he had been trying to be less creepy, and he really wasn’t a bad teacher. “Sorry…the snark is automatic sometimes.”
He chuckled. “It’s okay. I kind of deserved it.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “You kind of did. So, I’ll see you next week?”
“Same time, same place,” he said, and then he slung his gig bag over his shoulder and sauntered out.
I stayed in the lounge a bit longer. I didn’t have any place to be for an hour, and I was still working on a tricky passage in one of the quartet pieces Data had chosen, and something about playing with a view of the stars made everything sound better, though, of course, I was never going to admit that to my mother.
I played the passage a couple of times, trying to hear the other instruments in my head as I did so, but eventually I realized there was someone else in the room with me. I turned to see who it was and apologize for monopolizing the space. “Wesley?” I asked. “How long have you been sitting there?”
His voice was softer than I’d ever heard him speak. “I don’t know. A while. You don’t have to stop.” He hesitated, then said. “You’re really good, Zoe.”
“You think?” I asked. I knew I didn’t suck, but I was still really bad at accepting compliments.
“I think,” he said, with just a touch of humor. “There’s a piece of music my mother used to sing when I was little. Something about dancing in the moonlight.”
His mother – Dr. Crusher – had been missing for more than a day, having disappeared almost immediately after one of Wes’s experiments. He’d managed, with help, to find her, but he’d been moody ever since. “How’s she doing?” I asked.
“Fine,” he said. “Physically. Things are weird between us.”
“I think that’s kind of normal when a child outgrows their parent,” I said. It was sort of the same when a student outgrew their teacher, and not the same at all, both at once.
“Yeah,” he said. “Do you know the piece?”
I thought about it…moonlight and dancing. “Debussy composed music for a French poem called Clair de Lune,” I said, and hummed it. “Is that what you mean?”
His mood seemed to brighten. “That’s it,” he said. “Can you play it?”
I nodded, but realized he might not be able to see the gesture in the dim light. “Yeah, I can.” It really wasn’t a long piece, and it really wasn’t that difficult, but I bobbled a bit at the beginning. I wasn’t accustomed to doing spontaneous solo acts for my friends. “Sorry, it wasn’t perfect,” I said, after I finished.
“No, Zoe, it was..it was absolutely perfect.”
I began packing my cello, after that, but once it was stowed in my gig bag, and my chair was returned to the small table where it belonged, I moved to sit on the arm of the couch where Wes was sitting. I’d never seen him look so unsure before. “I have some time before I have to be home, if you want to talk?”
“Did you meet the Traveler, when he was here?”
I could tell he was making the word into a title, but I really wasn’t sure what he was talking about. “The Traveler?”
“He’s from Tau Alpha C,” Wes explained. “He has these …abilities… that go beyond normal human stuff. I think he kind of bends time and space, actually.” He must’ve seen my skeptical expression because he said, “I know it sounds really weird, but I’ve seen him do it, and I can almost see how, and then in the next second, I’m as clueless as anyone else.”
I laughed softly. “You’re eighteen. You’re supposed to be clueless half the time.”
“When did you become so wise?” he asked, with just a hint of the condescension I was used to hearing from him.
“When did you ever need my advice?” I shot back. “Aside from when it comes to earring selections for your girlfriend, I mean.”
His eyes met mine, and for a moment his face reflected utter agony, but then in the next moment, he was just Wes. “Keep a secret?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
“I’m being serious, Zoe.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “Tell me what you want to tell me, and I might even trade you like for like.”
“I’m supposed to start at the Academy this fall, but more and more, I’m not sure I want to go,” he confessed.
“Mr. Starfleet isn’t sure he wants to go to the Academy?” I asked, shocked.
“Sometimes, I feel like there’s all this pressure. What if I fail? What if I can’t compete? What if everyone there hates me as much as you do?”
“Heeey,” I said. “I thought we established months ago that I do not hate you.” I slid off the arm of the couch, and sat directly next to him, turning to face him in much the same way I often did when I was sitting on Data’s couch. “I thought we were even sort of friends, and stuff.”
“Are we?” he asked.
“Totally,” I said. “Don’t repeat this, but, I’d say we’re actually more alike than either one of us wants to admit. I mean…we’re both pretty ambitious, we’re both only children, we’re both usually at the top of our class with very little effort. I’m not quite as limited in my focus as you are,” I said, putting a little bit of humor in the last part of my speech. “And I have way better taste in music and fashion…”
He cracked a smile. “Yeah, okay, I get that.” He hesitated, “But you don’t have to live up to the ghost of your own father,” he said. “Follow in his footsteps, take up his legacy.”
“Well, my father’s not a ghost,” I agreed. “But you think I don’t have pressure? I grew up expecting I would go to the Martian School of Music and the Arts, just like Dad. I was thrown into music and dance and theater classes pretty much from the time I could walk. Fortunately, I like all that stuff – I even thrive on it, but then I got dragged to this ship, where everyone’s all science-y and smart…and nice.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Not exactly,” I said. “Not really bad, just…kind of dull. But the thing is, the longer I’m here, the more I feel like maybe I need to change my plan.”
“You’re not considering the Academy are you?” he asked, as if he were concerned I actually might be.
I laughed out loud. “Me? Never. Please! Why do people keep thinking that? I just meant, I might be looking at schools that have a broader curriculum.”
“Oh,” he said. “That makes sense.”
“Of course, I have way more time to figure it out than you do.”
“Rub it in, why don’t you?”
“Oh, hush, you.” The schedule alert on my padd sounded. “That’s my exit cue,” I said. “Gotta get home and have dinner with Mom, then squeeze in an hour of homework before quartet rehearsal.”
“I should get home, too,” Wes said.
I stood up, and slid my arms into the backpack straps on my gig bag. I didn’t usually carry my cello that way, but the corridors got kind of busy during shift changes, and there was about to be one. “Tell your mom I said hello,” I said.
“I will.” Wes stood up, as well, but instead of coming toward me, and heading to the doors, he went to the viewport. It was probably just the starlight beyond the glass-steel window and the dim light in the room, but he seemed to…phase out…for a moment, and when he phased back in, he looked like an older, more tired version of himself.
“Tell Data you’ve chosen him,” older Wesley said. “He needs to know.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, not sure if he were messing with me or if I should be worried. “I mean, seriously, what the actual hell, Wes?”
But there was that weird light-thing again, and then he was just Wes, just like always. “Tell Data you should play that piece for quartet,” he said, as if he were repeating it. “Clair de Lune.”
“Um, yeah, I’ll do that,” I said. And then I left.
(20 March 2367, 13:00 hours, ship’s time)
For the next several weeks my days were a mixture of school, music lessons, quartet rehearsals, play rehearsals, homework, gardening with this really awesome Asian woman named Keiko…wash, rinse, repeat.
Ray Barnett drifted away from our group, though we still met to use my night surfing program from time to time, and Theo and I grew closer. We weren’t exactly dating, but we weren’t exactly ‘just friends,’ either, and when we did have to do that kiss in rehearsals it wasn’t weird or uncomfortable, and it definitely wasn’t like kissing my brother.
I didn’t tell him that the last person who’d kissed me was Data’s evil twin. He didn’t mention the string of girls – female ensigns and girls from back home – whose messages constantly pinged his padd. If we necked a little when we met at the koi pond to run lines, or ignored the rods and reels in the fishing program in favor of making out, we both knew it wasn’t serious.
When we were ten days away from Tantalus Quartet’s concert at Cochrane’s World, (and three or so weeks from our first performance of the play) Data was called out of our math tutorial early. He and Wes had both been pretty subdued that morning, and when we pushed Wesley, he told us that the planet we were orbiting, Turkana IV, was the home world of the Enterprise’s first security chief, a woman named Tasha Yar, and that she and Data had been close.
Wes didn’t give us much more information than that, although he caught me later, and asked if I’d have lunch with him. I agreed, and we found ourselves at a table in Ten-Forward with class notes open on our padds – I was so busy with music and theater that I needed a little help with our math tutorial – and a plate of brownies between us.
He caught me staring at Data, who was across the room, sharing a table with some woman I didn’t recognize. “That’s Ishara,” Wes told me. “She’s Tasha’s sister.”
“The same Tasha you told me about? The one who died?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Exactly how close were Data and Tasha?” I asked softly, aware that almost anyone else would have accused me of being jealous. “Were they just good friends, or was there dating?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” Wes said. “I just know they were close. I mean…she was close to a lot of us. But Data was on her list to receive a personal message…after…and so was I.”
“Oh,” I said, realizing that my nosiness actually could hurt people. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up…”
He shook his head. “No. It’s okay. If it matters,” he offered. “I’m pretty sure she never had regular tea-dates with him.”
I could feel myself blushing, and felt stupid for doing so. “You know about those?”
“Only because he asked my mother for ideas about what other tea blends you might like, and I happened to be there.”
“Let’s try to focus on math now?” he suggested.
“Yeah, okay.” But I couldn’t stop myself from watching Data and Ishara, watching her body language with him, the way she leaned in when he spoke. “There’s something off about that woman,” I said softly.
“How would you know?”
“I don’t know. I just do.”
Ishara Yar was only aboard the Enterprise for a few days, but during those few days, not only did Data skip rehearsal for the play, but he also canceled our math tutorial and suspended quartet rehearsal. I used the free evenings to make sure I stayed caught up on homework, but I was half-waiting for him to cancel my theory class as well.
The one time I actually met her was another evening in Ten-Forward. I was arriving with Theo just as she and Data were entering. I had no intention of stopping to say hello – in my teenaged brain, ignoring Data was punishing him not me – but Data saw us, and stopped.
“Zoe, Theo,” Data said, “This is Ishara Yar. Ishara, Theo is a visiting student working in our science department, and Zoe is one of the civilian residents of the ship.” He waited for us to exchange perfunctory greetings, then asked Theo and me, “Would you care to join us?”
It was the same polite offer he would have made to anyone, and I was this close to accepting when Ishara moved closer to him, squeezing his upper arm. “Oh, Data, I’m sure these children don’t want to share their date with us,” she said, and then she essentially dragged him into the lounge.
I couldn’t help it; I stuck my tongue out at her back.
“Easy, Zoe. Your green streak is showing,” Theo teased gently.
“Sorry,” I said.
He gave me an appraising look. “You’re jealous,” he said softly.
“I’m not,” I said. “Well…maybe I am, a little, but it’s stupid, and it’s nothing.”
But he just grinned at me. “No worries,” he said. “I’ve heard him talk about you, you know. Whatever your feelings might be, his friendship for you is solid.”
“Until recently,” I confessed, “I thought all I felt was friendship, too. Lately, things have begun to get…confusing.”
“Wanna do something truly vindictive?” he asked, though he said it with a teasing lilt in his voice.
“Go in there, have an amazing dinner, and be very visible about having a wonderful time?”
“Theo Nechayev, I love the way you think,” I said.
Over chicken shawarma, tabouleh, and hummus with warm pita, Theo started telling me stories about growing up with his Aunt Alynna, and how he chose MIT. He asked me about music, and what it was like having a celebrity for a father, and it turned out that we’d had similar experiences dealing with our famous family members. He was either a much better actor than I’d given him credit for, or just a truly nice guy, and he kept me laughing and distracted until long after Data and Ishara had left the lounge.
By Friday night, Ishara had been gone for several hours, but I was still feeling agitated. More than anything I wanted to ring Data’s door-chime and invite myself in for tea, but I stopped myself from doing so. Instead, I sent a note that was maybe a little passive aggressive, asking if he was still dealing with his mission or if we were having my scheduled music theory lesson.
I spent the rest of the evening playing my cello, but I wasn’t practicing anything for Seth or anything for the quartet. Instead, I downloaded the sheet music for Clair de Lune and worked on making it really good.
Saturday morning, I showed up at Data’s quarters for music theory still feeling at odds, but he was back in the subdued mood I’d noticed a week earlier, and all I could think was that I wanted to make it better. “Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” he repeated, though the word never would sound right coming from his mouth.
There was no series of paintings of Ishara – or her sister – filling his living quarters, and I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. “I’ve missed you this week,” I said, rather than ask him how he was. “I’ve been kind of spoiled by commanding so much of your attention, and when you were busy, I kind of…it was weird.”
“You were angry,” he said, in a way that made me wonder if Wes or Theo had ratted me out.
“No,” I said. “I was jealous.” I took a breath. “And I didn’t like that woman.”
“It would seem that your instinct was accurate,” he said. “I will be fine. Before you unpack your cello, let us review last week’s notes.” He moved to the table where we always sat.
“Actually,” I said. “I was wondering if we could do something else first. I’ve been working on a solo piece, and I wanted you to hear it.”
“That would be acceptable,” he said.
I’d played with him many times, but except for when we’d been shopping for my new cello, I’d never really played for him, and even that wasn’t really meant specifically for his ears. This was. I took my usual chair, tightened my bow, and played Debussy’s Clair de Lune for him. When I was done, I sat still, and waited, willing him to somehow comprehend the feelings it was meant to express, even if I couldn’t name them myself.
“Thank you, Zoe,” he said, meeting my eyes. “Would you mind if we did not have a music theory lesson today?”
“You want me to leave?”
“No,” he said. “I would like to have tea with you, and I would like to talk to you about a…friend…of mine. I would like to tell you about a woman named Tasha Yar.”
I set my cello down on its side and moved to my usual corner of his couch. Data made a pot of peppermint tea, and brought a tray with cups and spoons and honey to the coffee table. He sat down in his usual spot, and he began to talk. Actually, he began to babble. Every meeting. Every conversation.
Eventually, the information dump slowed, and I started asking questions, until finally, I forgot who I was talking with because realization hit me and I blurted, “Oh, my god. You were lovers.”
“It is not appropriate to discuss that.”
“Seriously? Now? Now you decide it’s inappropriate? Can you pretend for a moment that I’m not sixteen and just remember that you’ve trusted me with much deeper secrets?” I was referring to his admission of wanting to kill Kivas Fajo, all those months ago.
He appeared to think it over for what was – for him – a really long time. Seconds, even. “It was only one night,” he said, at last.
I shrugged. “I don’t think it matters if something is one night or one million nights. A connection is a connection. Tev and I were only lovers for a month, but…” I stopped, because his eyebrows had practically reached his hairline. “Data?”
“I had not realized your relationship with the Mairaj boy was…intimate.”
“I kind of assumed you knew.”
“I did not.”
“Apparently.” I took a healthy swig of tea. “Technically, Data, our relationship is intimate. It’s just not…it’s just not sexual.”
Again, I saw him processing my statement, his eyes doing their birdlike flicker. “You are correct,” he said after a bit. “Thank you, Zoe.”
I knew he meant for listening, and not for the paradigm-shift we were both experiencing. Or at least, I think we were both experiencing it. It’s possible it was only me. “Stand up,” I said.
“May I ask why?”
“Because I’m going to hug you now, and then I’m going to play that piece again, only this time, you’re going to play it with me.”
I grinned. “Exactly. ‘Ah.’ Welcome to ‘Achieving Normalcy Through Music.'”
We both stood up, and we did share an embrace, and we did play Clair de Lune again, as a duet. And after that? We went over the notes from the previous week’s discussion of music theory, and he demonstrated some wave theory that I wasn’t quite grasping.
It was nearly two in the afternoon before I left his quarters with my cello, and I was exhausted – emotionally, musically, physically, exhausted – but it was the sort of exhaustion that comes from deep honesty and hard work.
Outside Data’s door, I allowed myself to fantasize about going back in, telling him I’d forgotten something, and then kissing him, but it was just a fantasy. I thrust it firmly into the back of my mind, and went home, where I ate some lunch, showered, finished an essay that was due for one class, and did some reading for another, and then curled up on my bed with a novel and some really loud music.
When Mom came home from her duty shift, she knew something was different. “You okay, Zoe?” she asked.
But I wasn’t ready to talk to her. “Actually,” I said. “I’m better than okay.”
She looked at me with one of those gushy-mom looks that only parents can ever pull off. The one with the soft focus and the mixture of remembered innocence and hardened awareness. “Glad to hear it, Zoificus,” she said. “Do you want to go to dinner in Ten-Forward?”
“Actually,” I said, mentally blasting myself for using that word so frequently. “I think I’d rather eat here tonight, and then, I was thinking maybe we could watch one of those sappy mother-daughter bonding vids.”
My mother’s grin broadened to match mine. “Sounds like a plan, kiddo,” she said. “A really good plan.”
Notes: This chapter spans the episodes “Suddenly Human,” “Remember Me,” and “Legacy.” Yeah, that’s a lot of ground to cover in one chapter. Not every episode has room for non-officer OCs to fit into. Zoe’s version of Clair de Lune is the version by Debussy, though there’s an older version by Faure, who, interestingly, also composed for the cello, though not that piece. Both versions are based on the same French poem. Look it up. The piece is usually played with piano accompaniment. The solo cello version can be found here: www DOT youtube DOT com FORWARD SLASH watch QUESTION MARK v=CcSvOwACOJI (obviously, replace capital letters with symbols and remove all spaces).
Chapter 48: Gagh Order
(28 March 2367, 08:42 hours, ship’s time)
“I’m sorry, Zoe, but it would be inappropriate for me to allow you to travel to Cochrane’s World with a man for an overnight visit. You’ll have to see if the ship’s itinerary will mesh with the Tantalus Quartet’s tour at another planet.”
“But Mom,” I protested. “It’s not just any man; it’s Data. You know he would never hurt me, never allow me to come to harm on his watch. And you were going to let me go when the ship was supposed to be in orbit.”
The reality of Starfleet was that plans changed, sometimes on a dime – whatever that was. A month ago, when Data had agreed to escort me to a concert by my favorite string quartet, and one of my favorite musical groups of any kind, the Enterprise had been scheduled to visit the planet where they were playing – Cochrane’s World. Since then, there had been some backtracking because of a static warp bubble experiment gone wrong, an extended stay at a real hellhole of a world called Turkana IV, and now we were headed toward Klingon space where Captain Picard was expected to work some diplomatic magic.
“A quick trip to the surface, even by shuttle, is one thing. An overnight stay in a hotel is completely different.”
“I don’t see what you’re so afraid of. Again, I remind you, Mother –” I only ever called her ‘Mother’ when she was being extremely difficult, “– that either way I’d be with Data. The same Data I spend hours alone with every Saturday morning, who chats with me over tea into the wee hours of the night at least once a week, who has done more for my musical prowess than all the teachers Dad’s ever hired, including the one I’m ostensibly learning from.” I softened my tone, realizing that I was beginning to sound more like a petulant child than a rational young (very young?) adult. “Data’s done so much for me, and Gae-Lynn Jo, the violist, is a friend of Dad’s, and she said we could workshop with them. This is a rare opportunity to give something back to him.”
“Couldn’t you just bake him a tray of your world famous brownies?” my mother teased gently, “Or draw him a picture.”
“Oh, please,” I said. “First of all, double chocolate espresso brownies would be utterly wasted on him. And second, I have about as much drawing ability as a Regullan blood-worm.”
“I’ve heard worm-prints are quite trendy in some cultures,” my mother quipped. I got my sense of humor from her, and we both knew it.
For a moment, I thought she would cave, but then her expression hardened. “I’m sorry, Zoe. You’ll have to come up with another option.”
“Okay, how about this…you could come too. Bring Ed.”
I rolled my eyes. “You know perfectly well I mean Professor Benoit.”
“When did you start calling all your teachers by their given names?”
“When you dragged me here, where ‘learning is a collaborative effort between professional civilian educators, officer volunteers, and motivated students with a thirst for knowledge.'”
“I should never have let you read the brochure for family-friendly starships,” my mother observed.
I shrugged. “I should never have agreed to cut my hair short for this play, but we all make bad choices sometimes.” In fact, I’d been offered a wig to make me look a bit more like Anne Frank, the character I was playing, but it was itchy, and it was only hair. “Ed likes you,” I added.
“He is a refreshing conversationalist,” my mother allowed.
“And kind of hot, for an old guy…”
“And so well read,” Mom said, ignoring my addition. “I can see why you enjoy his class so much.”
Sheepishly, I admitted, “That might have more to do with the fact that he’s letting me do a paper on vampire imagery in classic literature.”
“Aha!” she said, grinning. “He appealed to your dark side.”
“Yeah,” I said. “He kind of did”
“Don’t you have his class this morning?”
I glanced at the time display on the entertainment console in our living area. “I have a little time,” I said. “Nytan was going to stop by and walk with me.”
As if on cue, our door-chime sounded.
“Get to class, daughter-of-mine,” my mother said. “And stop trying to set me up with your teachers.”
“Teacher, singular,” I corrected. “Not all of them. Although, Ms. Spencer might be open to it…”
I drained the mug of café au lait I’d been toying with, grabbed my padd, and headed for the door. “If I can come up with, say, a suitable chaperone for the overnight part of the trip, will you allow it?”
“I’ll consider it,” my mother hedged in that way that meant she would probably agree if I could actually figure something out.
“Awesome! Thanks, Mom!” I disappeared before she could change her mind, nearly knocking Nytan over in my haste. “Sorry,” I said to the Rigellian boy who was our newest classmate. “There was a mother-daughter thing going on.”
He grinned, “And you were using the ‘flee before they can change their mind’ tactic?”
“Exactly!” I said. “So, how’s your paper coming along? Have you figured out a topic yet?”
He frowned. “No. Everything I’ve come up with is either boring, stupid, or overdone. Prof and I are going to brainstorm after class today.” Professor Benoit was ‘Ed’ to me and a couple of my other friends, but ‘Prof’ to almost everyone else.
“I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” I said. “Ed’s pretty good at helping you figure out what’s already in your own brain.”
“That’s what I’m hoping. So, did you finish reading that Klingon poem? I’m not sure it all made sense.”
“I’m absolutely sure it didn’t make sense,” I said. “I’m also absolutely sure it couldn’t make sense unless you were actually Klingon.”
“Good point,” Nytan said.
We finished the trek to our classroom in companionable silence.
(31 March 2367, 21:35 hours, ship’s time)
“I know we’re supposed to accept that all people have inherent dignity and worth,” I grumbled to my mother over dinner in Ten-Forward on the day Data and I were supposed to be attending the Tantalus Quartet’s concert on Cochrane’s World, “but some people make it really challenging.”
My mother and our dinner companion – Edouard Benoit – exchanged amused glances. Then Mom asked, “Care to elaborate, daughter-of-mine?”
“Politicians,” I said, and then expanded that to, “Klingon politicians.”
“Why so?” Ed asked, and I wasn’t sure if he was truly curious or just baiting me.
“I’m supposed to be on an awesome not-a-date with Data tonight,” I said. “I’m supposed to be listening to my favorite quartet play their last gig of the season, and then going to a workshop with them in the morning. Instead? I’m stuck here on the fringes of Klingon space while half the crew plays politics with the locals, and classes are ‘celebrating Klingon culture’ and – oh, god, is he eating live worms?”
Both Mom and Ed turned to look in the direction where my gaze was riveted. “You don’t have to watch, Zoe,” my mother pointed out.
Ed, on the other hand, informed me that, “Commander Riker and Lieutenant Worf are eating gagh. It’s not actually live worms.”
“It’s live serpent worms.”
“And the difference is?”
“Bigger. Plumper. Five times the protein.”
“No, that’s something else entirely.” That time, I knew, he was teasing me.
“I’m suddenly really glad none of us ordered vermicelli,” I said.
Ed grinned at me. “You know, Zoe, most people your age will never meet a Klingon, let alone get a chance to experience their culture or try their delicacies.”
“You are not ordering any of that while I’m sitting here,” I said.
“No,” he agreed. “But let me tell you, when I was a reporter, I covered stories inside the Empire – I was a stringer for FedNet for a while – and when you’re staying somewhere on someone else’s payroll, or trying to get a local official to give you the inside scoop on something, you eat whatever’s offered to you…and you enjoy it.”
“So you’ve eaten gagh?”
“I have,” he said.
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Well,” he allowed. “I’ve had worse.”
My mother was silently watching our exchange, amusement coloring her expression.
“Worse than live serpent worms?” I asked
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Have you ever heard of a Scottish dish called haggis?”
I rolled my eyes at him. “Doomed,” I said. “I am so doomed.”
My mother interjected to tell me, “Only if you choose to be, Zoificus. Finish eating.”
But I really wasn’t hungry anymore anyway, so I just excused myself, and headed back to quarters. At the doors, I glanced back at Mom and Ed, and noticed their body language had changed to much more intimate stances, and a smile stretched across my face. I didn’t know why, but I really liked them together.
Outside the turbolift, I ran into a child. Or rather the child ran into me. “Ooof,” I said as his ridged forehead came in contact with my rib cage. “Watch out.”
“Alexander, apologize,” came the command from the woman I assumed to be his mother. Her voice was almost a purr, and her tone was firm, but not angry or mean.
The boy – Alexander – looked up at me, and I realized he was a Klingon boy, and that his eyes were blue. “Sorry for not looking,” he said.
“Sorry for running into you,” he amended.
“It’s okay,” I said, and then confessed, “I wasn’t really watching where I was going either.”
His mother caught up with him in two more long strides. “He is not accustomed to having this much space to run in,” she said. “The embassy corridors are filled with sharp corners and heavy furniture.”
“Embassy?” I asked rather stupidly. “Are you…are you Ambassador K’Ehleyr?”
She offered me a slight smile. “I am indeed,” she said. “Your pronunciation is a little off though.” She said her name for me and I repeated it. “Better,” she said. “You have a good ear. Linguist?”
“Student,” I said. “My mother’s a cultural anthropologist. She dragged me here about a year ago. Oh. And also musician.”
“You or your mother?”
“Both, technically, but for her it’s just a hobby.”
“I’m keeping you,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
Again, she smiled. “You’re not, truly. I’m meeting Lt Worf and Commander Riker, and I won’t mind a bit if my evening has to be somewhat abbreviated.”
I grinned. “They’re halfway through an order of gagh,” I said. “No offense, but it didn’t look terribly tasty.”
“It’s not,” she agreed. “I think Klingons eat it to challenge each other. Giant twelve-year-olds with sharp weapons. What could possibly go wrong?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that, but it was only for a minute, because her son – Alexander – was tugging on her tunic hem and reminding her he was hungry. “You should go,” I said. “Actually, I should go. It was nice meeting you Ambassador K’Ehleyr.”
“It was nice meeting you as well…though, I didn’t get your name.”
“It’s Zoe,” I said. “Zoe Harris.”
She sketched a bow. “It is good to make your acquaintance, Zoe Harris,” she said.
She and her son moved toward Ten-Forward, and I started to step into the lift, then stopped. “Ambassador?” I said.
She also paused. “Yes?”
“You should take Alexander down to the aquatics lab when you have a chance. Meet the bat rays. It’s all kinds of awesome.”
“I’ll do that,” she said, and disappeared.
I went back home and had a comm-call with my father before curling up on my bed to read.
My mother, it should be noted, didn’t come home until zero two hundred hours the next morning.
(1 April 2367, 11:30 hours, ship’s time)
“Data, are you alright?” We had finished the theory portion of my Saturday Session, and were now playing together, just for fun. Oh, he’d wanted to work on some new music that he was considering playing as a gift to friends of his who had recently announced their engagement, but I’d begged for something with a little less purpose to it. Just for fun, and he’d agreed.
Except now he was curling and flexing the fingers of his left hand as if he were in some kind of discomfort or pain.
“I am fine, Zoe,” he said.
“Your hand isn’t,” I observed.
“Ah,” he said, placing his violin on his desk. “In my studies of the great violinists, I have found that tendonitis is a common malady among many of them. I have adjusted the servo-mechanisms and actuators in my wrist and hand in order to approximate the condition.”
I set my cello on its side. “Wait, you’re telling me you gave yourself tendonitis, just for kicks?”
“Repetitive motion injuries are a frequent aspect of the human condition,” he answered.
“Well, yeah, but most people don’t set out to get them intentionally.”
“Have you forgotten, Zoe?” he asked, in the tone that passed for a teasing one, when we were alone together. “I am not most people.” He sat down behind the desk and rested his left hand and forearm on it, palm up. He pressed into the skin there, and a panel popped open. “However, now that I have experienced the physical limitations of the condition, I do not believe maintaining my injured status will benefit me further.”
I didn’t answer him. I was too busy staring at his arm, at the flesh that had parted so seamlessly, and at the array of blinking lights I glimpsed inside. Part of me was fascinated. Part of me felt like I didn’t belong there, as if I’d walked in on him naked. Part of me wanted to see more. “Um…” I began feeling incredibly stupid. It was one of those rare occasions when I had absolutely no idea of what to say.
“Zoe, are you alright?” Data was echoing my earlier question to him.
I blinked a few times, then shook my head. “I’m fine,” I said, the words catching in my throat. “I’m sorry, I’ve just…you’ve never…”
He followed my gaze to his arm and the open access panel there. “Ah,” he said. “You are uncomfortable with the knowledge that I am a machine. I am accustomed to such reactions.”
“No,” I said. “I know you’re a machine. I’ve never not known that. I just…I don’t know…watching you tinker with bits of yourself seems…inappropriately intimate somehow.”
His head-tilt came even as he was reaching for a tiny tool that had been on his desk. “I do not understand.”
I gave voice to what had been running through my head a moment or so before. “I feel like seeing you…like that…is kind of like seeing you naked.” I said. I hesitated for a moment before adding. “May I come closer?”
“Of course, Zoe.” I couldn’t read his tone at all, but he seemed faintly pleased by my curiosity.
I left my chair and circled around his desk to stand behind him. “This is the servo-mechanism I referred to earlier,” he said, pointing to one of the components inside his forearm. “And this is the tension for the actuator.” He tweaked things with the tool as he spoke to me, then curled and released his fingers again. “I have restored normal function,” he stated, setting the tool aside.
I watched him close the panel, watched the skin of his arm seal itself as if there had never been a panel. Moving slightly to the side, I reached out to touch his arm, still resting on the desktop. Before making contact, I froze, and snatched my hand back. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Can I…?”
“Of course, Zoe,” he said, but he swallowed reflexively after he said it, almost as if he were afraid of my reaction.
My right hand was gripping the back of his chair, so I was reaching with my left, and the beads of the bracelet he’d given me for my birthday clicked gently against the desk as my fingers made contact with his skin. It felt smooth, and alive, and ever-so-slightly cooler than my own skin, but only in the way different people always have differing body temperatures.
I let my fingers traverse the length of his forearm, until my palm was resting against his. My pulse was racing; I wondered if he could feel it. On impulse, I laced my fingers with his, and both felt and saw his fingers curl around my hand. A thought occurred to me. “When you do that, are you actually responding to me, or are you anticipating what you think I’ll do and allowing me to move your fingers that way?”
“It is…a little bit of both,” Data explained.
He turned his head, and we were suddenly face to face and really close together, our eyes locked. If I leaned forward just a fraction of an inch I could kiss him…and I almost did…but then his comm-badge chirped and the moment was gone, leaving my heart still jumping in my chest.
“Data here,” he said.
“Data, I’m sorry, I know you’re off duty this morning, but…are you alone?”
It was Commander Riker’s voice on the other end of the channel. “Zoe Harris is here with me for her theory lesson,” he said. His tone was all business, but his eyes were still fixed on mine.
“Can you trust her discretion?”
“Yes, sir,” Data responded. “As much as I would trust your own.”
“Ambassador K’Ehleyr has been killed, Data. We need you on the bridge as soon as possible.”
For the tiniest part of a second, I could feel the power in his fingers, in all of him, as he released my hand. It was as if he were giving a demonstration and pulling back into himself at the same time. “Understood, Commander,” he said. “I am on my way.
I closed my eyes for a moment. I’d only run into the ambassador very briefly the night before, but she had seemed so vibrant, so present. When I opened them again, Data was shutting down his console, and pushing his chair back. I stepped out from behind his desk and began packing my cello.
“I must ask you not to repeat any of what you heard.”
“I would never,” I promised. I focused on end pins and zippers and stuff, working as quickly as I could. “Data…the Ambassador…you know she has a child, right?”
“His father…it’s Lieutenant Worf, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but, how did you know that?”
“He’s the only Klingon assigned to the Enterprise, and why else would you bring a kid that young with you on a mission like this? Don’t answer that. Just…I met the kid last night. He’s got a little bit of a rebellious streak. Tell Worf that if he needs someone to hang out with…um…Alexander….Tell him that I’ll help out, if I’d be useful at all.”
“I am certain he will appreciate the offer.”
“And tell him I’m really sorry.”
“I will do so.”
I hoisted my cello and left Data’s quarters. A split-second later, a black and gold blur left the room as well, moving past me down the corridor at a pace only an android could achieve, let alone maintain.
(2 April 2367, 13:17 hours, ship’s time)
The aquatics lab was kept dark, except for a somewhat murky blue light, and silent, except for the low burbling of air pumps. The first time I’d been there, it had been with T’vek, and we’d shared our first kiss. I was there with a boy again that day, but it wasn’t for romantic purposes. Instead, I was watching a very little boy kneeling at the bat ray tank splashing his small fingers in the water, and telling them his story.
“You left out the part where the awesome teenaged girl takes you to see the fish tanks,” I teased lightly, by way of a greeting.
“She’s only awesome if she doesn’t tell my father where I am,” he countered.
“Sorry,” I said. “He’s already on his way. But I’m pretty sure he understands that you needed to be someplace quiet, and you needed to be there with someone who wasn’t directly involved in…anything.”
“Five more minutes?” he asked.
“I can probably stall that long,” I said. “You know, he’s sad about your mother, too.” I wasn’t actually certain of that, but figured it was likely.
“I know,” he said. “But his sad is full of growling.”
“And yours isn’t?”
He shook his head, and I caught the glimmer of tears on his cheeks. “Mine’s much…wetter.”
I managed not to laugh at his phrasing.
“Maybe Worf’s sadness is wet on the inside,” I suggested.
“Maybe,” he agreed. I saw his body heave with a couple of deep breaths in and out, and then he turned to face me. “I think I can see him now,” he said softly.
I left the room, passing Lt. Worf, who was entering as I was leaving. “You are Data’s protégé,” he observed.
“Some people call me that,” I said.
“Thank you for spending time with my son.”
I managed to smile into the face that really was made for growling. “I didn’t mind. He’s a cool little kid.”
He seemed to want to say something, and for a moment, so did I, but all I did was brush by him, and back into the brightly lit and busy corridor.
“Zoe Harris,” the Klingon lieutenant called.
I stopped and turned around in my tracks. “Sir?”
“You have acted with honor. It will not be forgotten.”
I nodded once then turned around and headed home, where I found an invitation to dinner with Theo. I was about to decline – I didn’t want to be surrounded by people attempting to eat Klingon food – but he insisted, and we finally chose to replicate dinner in his quarters.
Midway through the meal, the image of Data’s arm, and the access panel flashed through my head. “Do you ever,” I asked him, “wish you could un-know something?”
To his credit, he didn’t ask me to define or elaborate. “There’ve been things…” he said. “Do you need to talk about it?”
I shook my head. “Not yet. Maybe soon. What’s for dessert?”
“Us,” he said.
It should come as no surprise that we spent the next hour or so smooching and cuddling on his couch, and being generally affectionate with each other. What was a shock, at least to me is that when Theo was kissing me that night, my tutor’s face – Data’s face – kept overlaying Theo’s in my head.
He didn’t push for sex that night, but after he walked me back to my quarters, I decided I would probably accept if he offered again.
Notes: Spans the episode “Reunion” with no real impact on the plot. No music notes this time. Sorry for delay in posting. More to come…soon.
Chapter 49: Performance Anxiety
(Thursday, 20 April 2367, 02:02 hours, ship’s time)
It was a week before opening night of The Diary of Anne Frank, and I was dreaming:
“Tell my brother I had the first taste.” Lore’s voice echoed through my dream, the tone darker and darker with each iteration. “See how much of a little girl you really aren’t.” Fingers curling and uncurling. Android parts strewn everywhere. And then I was in the ‘secret annex’ set for The Diary of Anne Frank, except it wasn’t really the set, but the actual place, from the pictures of the museum, except it’s our cast speaking the words from the script:
“Oh, I don’t mean you have to be Orthodox . . . or believe in Heaven and Hell and Purgatory and things . . . I just mean some religion . . . it doesn’t matter what. Just to believe in something! When I think of all that’s out there . . . the trees . . . and flowers . . . and sea gulls . . . When I think of the dearness of you, Peter . . . and the goodness of the people we know . . . Mr. Kraler, Miep, Dirk, the vegetable man, all risking their lives for us every day . . . When I think of these good things, I’m not afraid anymore . . . I find myself, and God, and I . . . “
Theo, as Peter, answered me, “That’s fine! But when I begin to think, I get mad! Look at us, hiding out for two years. Not able to move! Caught here like . . . waiting for them to come and get us . . . and all for what?”
And I responded with the words I’d memorized from this scene, “We’re not the only people that’ve had to suffer. There’ve always been people that’ve had to . . . sometimes one race . . . sometimes another . . . and yet . . “
“That doesn’t make me feel any better!”
In my dream, I walked over to him, took his hands in mine, only they weren’t Theo/Peter’s hands any more, but Data’s. “I know it’s terrible, trying to have any faith . . . when people are doing such horrible . . . But you know what I sometimes think? I think the world may be going through a phase, the way I was with Mother. It’ll pass, maybe not for hundreds of years, but someday . . . I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”
The voice that responded at that point was a mixture, a merging of Theo-as-Peter, and Data, and even Lore, “I want to see something now . . . not a thousand years from now!”
The scene kept playing in my head, I spoke my next line, but my voice was cracked and tired, “But, Peter, if you’d only look at it as part of a great pattern . . . that we’re just a little minute in the life . . . Listen to us, going at each other like a couple of stupid grown-ups! Look at the sky now. Isn’t it lovely? Someday, when we’re outside again, I’m going to . . .”
And that’s when the pounding started, and the loud voices barking in German, in Klingon, in some language I know is Romulan even though I’ve never heard it spoken aloud. The door was pushed open, and the storm-troopers came in, only they’re Romulans, and old-school Klingons and Borg, and Peter/Theo/Data was holding me, but when they ripped me away it was only Data, and his hands, his hands still clutching mine, were ripped away from his arms. And there were blinking lights and there was oozing yellow…ichor.
“People are really good at heart,” I heard myself repeat. “Good at heart.”
The scene shifted, I was back in that cheap hotel room with Lore. Or Data. No, it was definitely Lore. “Good little girl. I had the first taste,” Lore’s voice came again. And through it all, my hands were gripped, viselike, by those long, golden fingers, those disembodied wrists with connectors severed from connections.
I couldn’t help it.
“Zoe, are you alright?” My mother was in my room, the lights were on, and I was in bed, not really awake, still caught in my dream, heart pounding, and head a muddle of confused images.
“That’s what Data asked when he took his arm apart,” I said. It came out cracked and parched.
My mother sat on the foot of my bed. “Sweety, if you’re having nightmares about Commander Data…”
“I’m not,” I said. “Well, not exactly. Mostly, I was dreaming about the play. And Lore. And…stuff.”
“You don’t usually have nightmares about performances.”
“There aren’t usually people I know in the audience,” I said.
“Aren’t there?” my mother asked, faintly amused.
I reached for the glass of water that was always on the bedside table, and took a sip. “Well, okay, there probably are, but I don’t know there are people I know in the audience, so it doesn’t count. Also from a proper stage, you can’t see faces.”
My mother reached out and ruffled my hair, my seven-inches-shorter-than-it-used-to-be hair. “Do you want to talk about your dream?”
I shrugged. “It was kind of a mish-mash of stuff. The play. Data – he’d done something to his arm during my lesson a few weeks ago. He was trying to experience tendonitis, and when we were done playing, he took his arm apart and…”
“And you were confronted by the fact that he’s a machine?”
“No. Well, yes, but not in the way you mean. Or…I don’t know. It just seemed…weird. Like I shouldn’t have been there, and ever since then…no, ever since Lore, it’s like when I look at him, he’s my tutor, and he’s my friend, but there’s…more.”
“You have a crush,” my mother said, her fond expression threatening to turn positively gushy.
“Oh, please. Mom. Innocent virgins have crushes.” But I could feel my cheeks heating up.
“And so do young women who haven’t had a ton of relationship experience. For that matter, even older women with a lot of relationship experience can still have crushes.”
I stared at my mother for a long moment. “You mean you,” I said. And then I clapped my hands together in glee. “You mean you and Ed. Don’t you?”
It was my mother’s turn to blush. “Perhaps I do,” she said. “And perhaps it’s more than a crush. As to your feelings for Commander Data…”
“I can’t say I’m surprised. You spend a lot of time with him. You connect with each other through music, and now through theater. He holds you in high regard. A shift in your feelings was probably inevitable, but Zoe, he’s a line officer, he’s too old for you, and anything beyond friendship really would be inappropriate.”
“And if it’s just a crush, I’ll get over it, right?”
She grinned. “You know this speech?”
“I might have heard it once or twice before.”
“I thought you and Theo were spending time together.”
“Theo’s nice,” I said. “He’s a good kisser. He’s fun to hang out with. He’s kind of hot.”
“He’s devastatingly hot,” I amended, “in a bookish, geeky, sort of way.”
I shrugged again. “I don’t know. Sometimes there seems like there’s spark-age, and sometimes there’s no there there. Anyway, he has a girlfriend back home.”
My mother opened her mouth to say something, but yawned instead, which made me yawn in response. “I think it’s time we were both back in bed.”
“I am in bed,” I pointed out.
“Back to sleep, then,” she said. She ruffled my hair again. “G’night kiddo. Try to have good dreams this time?”
“I will,” I said. “Thanks.”
(Tuesday, 25 April, 2367, 18:27 hours, ship’s time)
At our second-to-last rehearsal before opening night, and the first full run-through with lights, sets, costumes and music cues, Dr. Crusher showed up looking as haggard and exhausted as I felt. I’d knew my own condition was from the nightmares I couldn’t shake – nightmares I hadn’t yet spoken with Counselor Troi about – but I had no idea why the doctor would look so strained.
We went through the motions of the show. No one missed a cue, all the lines were uttered as they should have been, but the performance was lackluster.
“Okay,” the doctor said, gathering us together for notes after we’d all changed out of our costumes. “I know I’m not the only one who wasn’t feeling things tonight. It wasn’t anything technical, just bad energy, so let’s all go home and rest tonight, and come back tomorrow with our heads on straight.”
Data opened his mouth to say something, and Dr. Crusher put her hand up, interrupting him. “It’s just an expression, Data.”
He closed his mouth but something flickered in his eyes, which made me think he hadn’t planned to ask for an explanation of the colloquialism, after all.
“Zoe, wait here a minute – the rest of you can all go.”
Theo caught my eye, and mouthed the question, Do you want me to wait?
I answered him with a quick shake of my head, and then turned my attention back to the doctor.
“You’re a little off your game,” she said softly. “Everything okay?”
I shifted my gaze toward my feet, then looked back up at her. “Just nightmares. I’ll get over it.”
“You don’t strike me as someone who has performance anxiety-induced nightmares, Zoe.”
“I’m not,” I said. “Not usually. I don’t know. Things have been weird, I guess.” I hesitated a moment, letting silence stretch between us. “Doctor Crusher,” I began, “no offense, but you don’t exactly seem like your usual self either. I know ship’s business is none of my business, but…is it related to why Wes hasn’t been in class the past few days?”
“It is,” she said. “And it’s nothing top secret, Zoe. If you were paying attention to gossip, you’d have heard. Captain Picard and Wesley are on a mission together – it’s nothing terribly complicated – and they haven’t checked in. Intellectually I know they’re fine..”
“But Wes is your son, and the captain is your friend?”
“Maybe the adage about a bad dress rehearsal meaning a good performance will hold true,” I offered.
“I’m sure it will,” she said. She smiled at me, but it didn’t quite meet her eyes.
“If our positions were reversed,” I said, “I’d tell you to go talk to Counselor Troi. Actually, I’d tell myself the same. If not her, maybe you should just talk anyone. Someone else who has a kid, maybe?”
This time her smile was fully engaged. “Wesley mentioned you’d become a font of wisdom,” she teased gently. “I promise to take your advice, if you do the same thing. Go talk to Deanna about your nightmares. I need my Anne at her best on Thursday night.”
“Yes…ma’ – okay,” I said.
“Now scoot! I’m sure you have homework to do or a meal to eat or something.”
I laughed softly. “Yeah,” I said. “I kind of do.”
I left the auditorium, tapped the hated comm-badge I’d actually remembered to wear that day, and let my mother know I was on my way home.
“Going my way?” Theo was waiting near the bank of turbo-lifts.
“I thought we agreed you weren’t waiting,” I said.
He shrugged. “You agreed. I was worried about you.”
“My performance tonight was that bad?” I asked, only slightly miffed.
“Not at all. Your energy was lower than usual, but…I don’t know…the insomniac look sort of works for the character.”
“Gee, thanks,” I said.
“I heard you mention nightmares. I wondered if you needed an ear.”
The computer reminded us to state a destination, so I named a deck before I said. “The problem with letting you offer an ear is that it tends to lead to other things that, while admittedly way more pleasant, are less productive.”
“We don’t have to make out,” he said. “We can go someplace public and talk.”
“You’d do that? Just…talk?”
For a moment he seemed surprised that I’d think anything else. “Zoe, how much dating have you actually done?”
I looked away. “I’ve hung out with guys all my life. Boys – men – whatever – they’re easier than other girls. I never even really had girlfriends until my mother dragged me here. I got together with one or two boys back home. I had a relationship with T’vek – I don’t think you ever met him – that got really serious really fast.”
“You’ve had relationships, but you haven’t dated?”
“I guess…yeah. I mean…no.”
“So when I asked about going to the next level…Zoe, you know that just because you and your T’vek were serious doesn’t mean we have to be. If you’re not ready…”
“I’m not…” I admitted. “Sometimes I almost am…And anyway, you also told me you have a girlfriend back home.”
He had the decency to blush. “Oh. That.”
I gave him my best arched brow stare. “Oh. That.” My tone was much cooler than his had been. The turbo-lift opened at the deck I’d requested. “I have to go,” I said. “My mother’s expecting me.”
“Not tonight, Theo, please?”
“Okay, not tonight, but Zoe…”
“What?” I didn’t bother to hide my exasperation.
“Your quarters aren’t on this deck.”
I looked at the indicator, saw the sign that said ‘Deck 8’ and realized I’d chosen the deck where Data’s quarters were. “No,” I said, “they’re not. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Let me just get out here, and take the next lift?”
He seemed both confused and concerned, but he took a step backward and the door closed between us. I hadn’t really planned to bug Data, so I waited for the next car in the circuit, not even paying attention to who might be in it when the doors opened again.
“Zoe?” Counselor Troi stepped into the corridor. “Is everything alright?”
Inexplicably, I started to cry. “No,” I said, feeling like a stereotypical melodramatic teenager even as I spoke the word. “I can’t think and I keep having nightmares and I think…I think…”
She wrapped her arms around me from behind, the kind of supportive semi-hug that was exactly what I needed just then. “If you’re looking for Data,” she said, softly, “he’s on the bridge. Why don’t you come and have a cup of hot chocolate with me, and we’ll talk.”
I was grateful for the offer. I was also mortified. “You’re off duty,” I said, pointing out the obvious. “I didn’t mean to…”
“You are not intruding on anything. I’m here, and you obviously need to talk. Does your mother know where you are?”
“I’m supposed to be on my way home from rehearsal.”
“Come with me, we’ll call her from my quarters.”
I knew better than to argue.
(Tuesday, 25 April 2367, 22:02 hours, ship’s time)
“…and they’ve been getting worse and worse,” I finished telling the Counselor. “The last one was this total blend of real life and the play. Tev and Theo and Lore and…and Data…and Nazis and Borg and…what’s wrong with me?”
We were sitting in her living quarters, on opposite ends of her couch, and we’d each been sipping hot chocolate. The counselor favored me with her warmest, friendliest smile. “The simple answer?” she said, and I could hear the amused affection in her voice. “You’re sixteen.”
I rolled my eyes at that, “Gee, thanks ever so…”
“I know that sounds like a non-answer,” she said. “But there’s an element of truth in it. More than an element, actually. You’re no longer a child, not quite an adult, and your hormones are shifting constantly, trying to find balance. It’s no wonder your brain is doing strange things at night.”
“Theo asked me earlier tonight – just before I ran into you – if I’d actually dated a lot. He seemed surprised that I’d really only ever had relationships.”
Her dark eyes widened slightly, but she took my subject-change in stride. “He may have a point.”
“Is it weird that I feel like I’m not ready to sleep with him, even though I slept with Tev?”
She reached across the couch to cover my free hand with hers. “No, Zoe, that’s not ‘weird’ at all. There’s no rule that says when sex is right or wrong between two people, and there’s nothing that says you must have sex with anyone just because you’re no longer a virgin. Has Theo been pressuring you?”
I thought very carefully about it. “No,” I said. “I may have felt pressure, might still feel it, but it’s coming from me, not him. He’s been nothing but kind and supportive. And I mean…I like making out with him.” We both laughed softly at that. “I’m just…not ready for more. I thought I was, but I realized I’m not. Not with him. Not yet.”
“I’d say ‘talk to Theo,’ but it sounds like you’ve already begun that process.”
“Yeah. The venue wasn’t ideal – seriously, when did every turbo-lift on the ship become a mobile confessional? – but, yeah.”
“Let’s revisit your nightmares, then,” she suggested, but she waited for my confirming nod before she continued, asking me, “When did this latest string of bad dreams begin?”
“Almost a month ago,” I said after thinking about it. “The night after Ambassador K’Ehleyr was killed.”
“Did you ever meet the Ambassador?” she asked softly.
“Only briefly. I think I’d have liked to get to know her, though. She was funny. Snarky, even.”
Troi grinned. “Much like another young woman of my acquaintance.” But she sobered quickly. “Do you think her death had something to do with your dreams?”
“No,” I said. “I mean, not directly. There was something else that happened that day.”
“Can you tell me what it was?”
“I had my usual Saturday Session with Data, and he’d done something to his arm to approximate tendonitis.” She shared a look with me. “I know, right? Anyway, we stopped playing, and he opened a panel in his forearm and started tinkering with servos and actuators and…I don’t know…I told him at the time that as much as I was fascinated I felt like it was inappropriate somehow. Like I’d walked in on him naked.”
“An inappropriate level of intimacy?” she suggested.
“Yeah, kind of. As if I hadn’t earned…I mean…he’s my tutor. He’s my friend, but everything is all weird in my head. I have nightmares about Lore, but then it’s Data who’s kissing me, and sometimes I wonder…” I froze. “Oh, god, it’s true, isn’t it?”
“I’m crushing on Data.”
Her smile wasn’t at all mocking. Just soft and supportive, and maybe even a little bit wistful, as if she were remembering a crush of her own. “Yes, you are.”
“So, Mom was right. Why do parents always have to be right?”
She laughed at that, the musical laugh that was more conspiratorial than anything else. “It is an annoying trait all mothers, in particular, seem to have.”
“I held his hand,” I said.
“Data. I held his hand. I mean, after he closed up his arm, and everything was…I mean, when he does that…after…it just looks like an arm. It could be anybody’s arm…except, you know, gold and all. I had to know. So I…I stroked his arm, and…” I described exactly what I’d done. “And my pulse felt like it was pounding, and Counselor – Deanna – whatever – he let me. He’s the adult. Isn’t he supposed to stop my deviant behavior?”
“Zoe, nothing you did was deviant. It was a normal reaction. Haven’t the two of you been physically affectionate before?”
“There’s affectionate and affectionate.” I said. “We’ve hugged. He’s held my hand before…but…I don’t know…this was…I crossed a line. And he didn’t stop me.”
“Why did you do what you did?”
“Curiosity, mostly, I think,” I answered. “I’d just seen all the blinky lights and stuff, and then it was just an arm, and…I asked him how much was him anticipating, and how much was responding. Have you ever wondered that? I mean, you put your hand over mine a bit ago, and if I’d wanted to move your hand off, I could’ve just slid mine out, no problem. But Data…you couldn’t really slip your hand out from under his unless he let you. You can’t twine your fingers with his unless he makes a conscious decision to bend his fingers, too.”
“I actually hadn’t ever considered that.”
“It’s not wrong that you did, Zoe. We all want to know how our friends and loved ones think and feel.”
“What makes them tick,” I said. “Only with Data the ‘ticking’ part is kind of more literal.”
“Kind of,” she agreed, using my words.
“Sometimes when I’m kissing Theo, in my head I’m kissing Data,” I confessed. “I never thought about him that way before…Lore…and now, suddenly, I’m all too aware of him as a man. Oh, god. He could feel my pulse. He knows, doesn’t he? Does he know?”
The counselor was doing an excellent job of following my jumps from topic to topic. “He may,” she said, clearly hedging. “Or he may have merely assumed you were nervous after seeing his ‘blinky lights’ and other machine-parts.”
“I kind of was,” I admitted. “I mean…it doesn’t change anything. He’s still Data. It was just…I mean, I wouldn’t have wanted to see veins and muscle, either.”
“No,” she agreed, “I don’t doubt that.”
“So what do I do?” I asked. “Do I cancel music theory and avoid him? Do I tell him? Do we move our lessons back to a public space? How can I look at him again?”
“You have several options, Zoe. You can either tell him, or not.”
“Have you considered that Data was probably concerned about your reaction to seeing his inner workings?” I got the sense she was trying to lead me to a conclusion without divulging privileged information. “He has many friends among the crew, as you know, but the friendship the two of you have forged is warmer, and deeper, than anything else he’s experienced. It wouldn’t be at all unusual for him to be anxious about your reaction to being confronted with the knowledge that he’s just a machine.”
“Data isn’t just anything. Except maybe awesome,” I said, and I felt the blush rise in my cheeks.
The counselor laughed. “Fair enough,” she said. “Listen, Zoe…I wouldn’t worry too much. I suspect your dreams will dissipate now that we’ve talked, and as for your crush – if that’s what this is – ”
“With the amount of time you and Data spend together, and the obvious regard in which he holds you…I wouldn’t be surprised if your relationship did shift as you get older.” Her dark eyes widened into a mock-glare, “Much older. You may be ‘legal’ in regard to consent laws…”
“But he’s thirteen years older than me, and a line officer, and is watched carefully because of what he is,” I repeated my mother’s middle-of-the-night litany. +
“Something like that, yes.”
“Should I date?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said it yourself: Theo wasn’t wrong. I’ve only ever had relationships. Should I try just…dating? Not that there are a ton of appropriately-aged guys on the ship…but…”
“I think you should stop worrying about what is and isn’t right, and what is and isn’t appropriate and let yourself be open to what might happen. Cautious…but open. If your feelings for Data are just a crush, it will sort itself out. If they’re real, well, he’s an android and you’re very young.”
“And it wouldn’t matter anyway, because he would never – could never – return them.”
“Are you certain of that?” the counselor asked, but before she could continue, her comm-badge chirped and she was being called to the bridge by Data, ‘with apologies for the late hour.’ “Go home,” she said gently. “Get some sleep. We’ll talk after the play.”
“Okay,” I said. We both stood up, and impulsively, I hugged her. “Thank you.”
I was out the door a moment later, and in the lift a moment after that.
(Thursday, 27 April, 2367, 17:00 hours, ship’s time)
Three hours before curtain, ninety minutes before my call time, I stepped out of the shower in my quarters on the Enterprise to the sound of familiar voices rising and falling in the living room. I couldn’t discern the words, of course, as they were muffled by the closed doors, but I recognized the tones.
Hurriedly, I ran a comb through my hair and threw on the sweats I’d be wearing to the auditorium. My dress for the after-party, the same one I’d worn to my father’s symphony concert on Serenity Five, was already hanging in my dressing room. I paused to survey my face in the mirror. Since my impromptu counselling session with Deanna Troi two nights before, I’d managed to avoid nightmares, and I looked more like my usual self: well rested, if a little too old for my age, but only around the eyes. I glanced at the bouquet of Mizithryan Starflowers that were on my desk. They’d arrived early in the morning, with a card from Mom wishing me a successful performance. I was pretty sure she’d snuck them in while I was sleeping, but I didn’t care. I loved that people were sending me flowers, as if this was a professional production.
Smiling, I left my room, and ran smack into, “Dad?” I asked, confused. “Daddy! When did you get here? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Is Gia alright?”
My father pulled me into an exuberant hug. “Do you think I would miss my only daughter’s opening night?” he asked. “I was in the neighborhood. It took me a commercial starship, two shuttles and an overnight on a rather unsavory space station to get into the neighborhood, but…”
“Dad,” I said. “I’m so glad you’re here. Did Mom know you were coming?” I glanced past him at my mother, who was smiling her patented gushy-mom look.
“She did, but she was sworn to secrecy.”
“How long are you staying?”
“Just a couple of days; I’m actually meeting a transport and then heading to Mars for six weeks.”
“I’m teaching a six-week master class at the Martian,” he said. “But we can talk about that later. Your mother has graciously arranged for guest quarters for me, and I’m heading to take a shower. I’ll see you after your show.”
I hugged him again. “There’s an after-party in Ten-Forward. You should come. Is Gia with you?”
“She’s not,” he said. “We’ll talk about that later.”
He left our quarters.
I turned toward my mother. Part of me wanted to demand to know how she could keep this a secret, but instead I just smiled at her. “Mom,” I said. “Never let anyone say that you are not the best mother in the universe.”
She looked at me as if my brain had exploded, but I didn’t care. I went to her and hugged her as hard as I’d just hugged my father.
“Oh, Zoificus,” she said softly, but I knew from her tone that what she was really saying was, “I love you.”
“I have to go,” I said. “See you after the show?”
“Count on it, kiddo.”
Notes: The Diary of Anne Frank (the play, not the original book) was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and originally produced on Broadway in 1955. It was turned into a movie in 1959. Zoe’s dream incorporates dialogue from Act II, Scene 4. For those keeping track, this chapter takes place during the episode Final Mission.
Chapter 50: Just a Crush
Just a Crush
(27 April 2367, 23:30 hours, ship’s time)
One of the things I’ve always loved about theater, even in my relatively limited experience with it, is the fact that it continually surprises you. Example: during our first performance of The Diary of Anne Frank, in the last scene we all have together, the Nazi soldiers give us ten minutes to pack a bag. I’m supposed to run into my room, sit on the bed, and put shoes on, and then throw stuff into a school bag, while Data, as Mr. Dussel, is supposed to do similar business, except at that moment, the buckle of my shoe would not cooperate, and Data – still perfectly in character – simply stilled my fumbling hands, met my eyes, and buckled the strap for me.
My breath caught when our eyes met, but I played the rest of the scene anyway, and tried not to think of how easy it was to get lost in that yellow gaze.
People talked about that moment at the after-party.
“Data, that was such a lovely moment with you and Zoe,” Counselor Troi said. “Very organic.”
“We should do it every night,” I suggested. “I think it really adds depth to the Anne/Dussel relationship, turning it from purely adversarial to prickly with a side of unresolved sexual tension.”
“And this,” Beverly Crusher intoned, “is why live theater is better than holograms or videos every time. You two should do that same business every performance.”
No one present disagreed.
The party, as all such gatherings do, reconfigured itself as the evening went on. What began with the cast and a few friends ended with the surreal experience of me sharing a table with both of my parents, as well as Ed, who was not only one of my teachers, but also my cast-mate and possibly, maybe, my mother’s new flame, Theo, the boy I wasn’t dating but wasn’t quite not-dating either, and Data.
Theo, warm and so very present, was sitting next to me, and my father was on my other side, but the seating placed Data almost directly across from me, and that moment from the play kept replaying in my head. I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t not look at him.
“…if that is acceptable to Zoe, as well,” he was saying, and I realized I had no idea what the conversation had been.
“I’m sorry, what?” I said.
My mother and father favored me with matching concerned looks, but Data just calmly explained. “Your father asked if he could sit in on our theory lesson on Saturday morning.”
Did the disappointment at knowing I’d have to share my time with him show on my face, or did the pride associated with showing off for my father trump that? I didn’t know then. I don’t know now. I do know that I forced a bright smile and said, “Of course it’s ‘acceptable.’ Can we play that Vulcan duet for him?”
My father’s expression turned from his typical social politeness to true interest. “Vulcan duet?”
“Yes,” Data said. “We have been exploring several different musical styles during the ‘hands on’ portion of our sessions together.”
“The Vulcan piece is by…?”
“It is the ‘Second Duet for Terran Strings’ by Sonek.”
“That’s a complicated piece…balancing the urge to play with passion and the need for technical precision. I can see why it would appeal to you, but it doesn’t strike me as something Zoe would appreciate.”
“Perhaps you should reserve judgment until you hear us play it,” Data said, with the merest hint of…something…in his tone. Something apparently only I noticed.
Or maybe my father caught it, as well. “Perhaps I should,” he conceded. “Forgive me; I haven’t quite adjusted to ship’s time. I’m off to bed. Zoe…breakfast tomorrow at 9:30?”
“I can’t,” I said. “My math tutor is a stickler for attendance, and I promised all my teachers the play wouldn’t interfere with school. I can do 8:30, or we can do lunch. Class ends at noon.”
“I’d prefer the morning, if you think you can be up…” my father’s tone softened into one of affection, “none of us Harrises are ‘morning people,'” he reminded me.
“Mornings are so overrated,” I agreed. “But for my favorite father, I think I can pass for a morning person…for one day. Just don’t complain if there are truly lethal amounts of caffeine and sugar involved.”
“Heaven forfend I stand between my only child and her caffeine habit.”
“Apple, tree…not far to fall…” I said. “Both trees, actually. I mean, really, was I weaned on espresso?”
“Oh, Zoe,” my mother joined the conversation, having finished a side chat with Ed and Theo. “You know we didn’t let you have actual espresso before you were five.”
Laughing, my father rose from his chair and dropped a kiss on the top of my head. “Good night, Zoetrope. Remember to stop spinning and get a little bit of sleep, please?”
I waited a few more minutes, then faked a yawn. “Don’t say it,” I said to my mother who was about to send me to bed. “I’ll see you at home.” I turned to Ed, “Have her home by two, young man,” I teased.
Everyone except Data chuckled softly, but it was clearly time for the entire group to disperse. Theo offered to walk me home, and Data excused himself to head to the bridge. Fortunately, that meant the three of us were not taking the same turbo-lift.
“So, I’ve been thinking,” Theo began, once we were alone, “I was wrong to question your relationship experience.”
I shook my head. “Actually, you brought up a valid point,” I said. “I mean. I really haven’t done the casual dating thing much. I fell into a serious relationship with T’vek, and then…” I sighed. “You should know that I got into a little trouble a few months ago, just after you would have come aboard, actually.”
I gave him the capsule version of my experience with Lore, and then explained about the nightmares I was having, and how that was part of the reason I wasn’t ready to go further with him.
“I didn’t mean to push you, Zoe,” he said.
“You didn’t,” I said. “You haven’t, really.”
We were quiet for a long while, in the lift, and then in the corridor, but at my door, Theo asked, “Come visit me this summer?”
“In Boston? Have you forgotten I’m sixteen? My parents would never allow it.”
“Not Boston, San Francisco. I’m due to head home in a couple of weeks, but I’ll be in San Francisco beginning in June, at Aunt Alynna’s. It’s a huge house, and there’s plenty of room – she wouldn’t mind.”
“My parents still wouldn’t allow it.”
He mimicked my earlier tone. “Have you forgotten that my Aunt Alynna is Admiral Nechayev? Starfleet’s own Dragon Lady? I can’t imagine your parents – either of them – would find her an unacceptable chaperone.”
I smiled. “Okay, fair point. But…while they might allow me to visit for a week or two, they’d never allow me to rattle around your aunt’s house for an entire summer, and not only because it would be an imposition.” He gave me a reproachful look. “It would,” I insisted. “Not to mention that it would imply we’re more than we are.”
“Well, there is that.” He seemed to consider something. “What do you usually do during summer breaks?”
“You mean when I’m not involved in drunken carousing on the beach? In between surfing, I usually do summer stock at Capitol City, or a summer music program. I was in the Centaurus Youth Symphony last year, and then there was Shakespeare camp, and Backstage Beach Haven, and…”
“Wow, don’t you ever just relax?”
“For me, music and theater are as necessary to my being as eating, breathing, and coffee.” I could feel my smile twist into a wry grin. “Besides, I think I mentioned I like surfing.”
“Possibly once or twice,” he conceded. “Well, why don’t you just find some music and theater programs in the City? San Francisco may not be the bastion of trust-fund babies that Beach Haven is, but we do have a few arts programs. And then there’s that whole hub-of-Federation-society thing. We even –” and he waggled his eyebrows at me “-have excellent surfing.”
“Oh, twist my arm, why don’t you?”
“You heard. I’m meeting Dad for breakfast early in the morning. If I show up armed with pamphlets and information, there’s no way he’ll say ‘no’ to his favorite daughter.”
“Aren’t you his only daughter?”
“And your point is?”
He laughed, “Okay, okay…let me know what you figure out.”
“Tomorrow night before curtain work for you?”
“Sounds like a plan.” We had arrived at my door, and the mood shifted. He lifted his hand and ran it through my hair. “Zoe…”
“Shh.” I stood on tip-toe to kiss him. It was sweet and tender, and that was all, but it was enough. “Goodnight, Theo.”
“G’night,” he said softly.
He’d disappeared around the curve of the corridor before my door had wooshed closed behind me.
(28 April, 2367, 08:30 hours, ship’s time)
“…so I did some research and there are four or five programs that still have open application periods, and mostly coincide with my school break,” I told my father over coffee and bagels with cream cheese and lox the next morning. Our 8:30 breakfast hadn’t actually begun until more like 9:15, and I was perilously close to being late for my math tutorial, but it wasn’t like I saw my father every day. I might have joked about Data’s strict attendance requirements, but the reality was that he would understand if I showed up late…or not at all.
“It’s a lot to go through just to spend the summer being with a boy you don’t really love,” Dad said, cutting to the chase the way he always did.
“How do you know I don’t love Theo?” I asked. Not that I’d ever claimed to. I liked him, sure, and I enjoyed making out with him, but no one had ever mentioned more.
“Well, there’s the matter of most of your attention being on your Commander Data last night, for one thing.”
“He is not my Commander Data,” I protested, likely (from his perspective) proving his point. “And it wouldn’t matter if he was. He’s my friend, and when you hear us play together tomorrow you’ll be blown away at how my musicianship has improved. Anyway, boy or no boy, I really want to do something new, something that will help me get into the Martian or wherever. I guess…I feel like I want to stretch my wings, a little.”
“Does your counselor think being so far from home would be wise?”
I sat back in my chair, rocked by the question. “You know about me seeing a counselor?”
“Zoe-darling, just because your mother and I aren’t married to each other, doesn’t mean we’re not both your parents. We do talk, and she keeps me informed.” He took a healthy swig of his double espresso. “She mentioned nightmares.”
I took a breath, deciding what to say, and how to say it. “That’s actually part of the reason I want to go away. I want to be in a place where I don’t have any memories. I absolutely need a break from being on this ship. Dad…the guy who…the man I followed…Mom told you it was Data’s brother, right? Physically, they’re virtually identical. Data’s my friend, and he’s been amazing to me, but half the time when I look at him I’m with Lore.” I didn’t tell him that the other half the time I looked at my tutor I wanted to kiss him until one or both of us was senseless. Teen fantasy aside, I knew it wouldn’t help my case. “I think some distance might be a good thing. Then I can come back here and start my junior year with the emotional equivalent of a clean slate.”
“And you can’t get this distance at home?”
“I could,” I said. “But I’ve done every summer program there is. I’m too old for junior company, and not old enough for the conservatory. San Francisco has more options. Actually, I’m looking at two that would be pretty amazing. Both include boarding, balance instruction and performance opportunities, and would give me the chance to work with real musicians and actors.”
“I’m not a real musician?” I could hear the humor in his voice that meant I was winning him over.
“Dad, you know what I mean.” I waited a beat, then added, “Anyway, you’re going to be on Mars aren’t you? I could visit you there before going to Earth, and we could have some serious father-daughter time.”
“I seem to recall,” he said, “that our last serious father-daughter time put a serious dent in my credit account,” but he was smiling when he said it. “Talk to me about the programs you’re interested in. Did you look at cost? The advantage of coming home is living at home.”
I picked up my padd to show him the brochures I’d downloaded. “There are two programs I really love, and a few others that seem ‘just okay.’ Suzuki San Francisco starts in June, and runs through mid-July,” I began, and then I explained how it involved master classes, technique intensives, and even an all-string orchestra. “Plus, the teachers are all principal artists with different orchestras or teach strings at different music schools. You probably know some of them. I probably know some of them.”
“Suzuki is a good program,” he said. “I actually taught there a few times when you were very little.”
“I don’t remember.”
“You wouldn’t. You would have been at the farm, I think.”
“What’s the drama program you’re looking at?”
I told him about that one, as well, and he finally agreed that if I got approval from Mom, and Counselor Troi, he’d provide the necessary funds for me to not only attend both programs, but also have spending money for the summer.
“I do have a condition, however,” he added.
“It’s a deal-breaker. I want you home for Christmas again this year. If you and this boy – ”
“Theo – ”
“Theo – are still seeing each other, you may invite him along. What happened to T’vek? I liked him.”
“We broke up. His family got PCS’d.”
“Ah. I’m sorry.”
“Me, too. But…why is it so important that I be home? I mean, love you and all, but it’s not like you’re getting married again, and Mom should get a holiday with me once in a while.”
“She should,” he agreed. “But don’t you want to be there when your brother or sister is born?”
“Gia is pregnant.”
“She’s due in late December or early January.”
“What! Oh, Dad, that’s stellar!”
I got up so quickly that I knocked my chair over, and I flung my arms around my father’s neck. “So, I take it you approve?” he asked, and then, “Zoe darling, if you want me to pay for your summer plans, I need to be able to breathe.”
I let him go. “I approve,” I said. “I won’t pretend I’m not still a little pissed about how you told me about you and Mom breaking up, or how you introduced Gia to me in the middle of a field trip with all my friends, but I saw how happy you were at the wedding, and…you and mom both seem a lot more settled and together now that you’re apart than you ever did when you were still married. You’re both so much more…I don’t know…relaxed.”
“Well,” he said, with the tone of a man who’d been expecting a battle, and was at a loss without someone to fight. “I’m glad you approve.”
“I’ll come for Christmas, Dad. Even if you don’t pay for San Francisco.”
But we both knew he would.
Any further conversation was curtailed by the chirp that came from my detested comm-badge. “Go for Zoe,” I said, because the only people who ever used the thing were my friends or my mother.
– This is Data, came my tutor’s voice, and I blanched at the sound. That was a most unconventional form of acknowledgement, Zoe. Class is due to begin now. Will you be joining us?
“Oh, god,” I said, “Sorry, Data, I’m still with my father. I’m on my way.”
– Very well. Data out.
“I’m late,” I said, mortified. “I’m late to the one class I never want to be late for. And I don’t even like math.” I jumped up, and kissed my father on the cheek. “Love you. Mean it. Gotta go.”
I didn’t exactly run from my father’s guest-quarters to the conference room where we had class, but I was still breathing heavily when I got there, and I was even more mortified to find they’d held class for me. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “My father and I were discussing summer plans, and we got a little sidetracked when he told me I’m going to be a big sister.” I met Data’s eyes, and unlike the night before, I didn’t feel like I was drowning. “Dock me ten points, or whatever.”
“There is no need,” he said, but he added, probably to make it clear I wasn’t getting special treatment, “See that you are not tardy again.” He paused long enough for me to take my seat, but instead of reviewing the previous lesson, he said, “Before we begin, I wish to make an announcement. This will be Wesley’s final session with us.”
Annette, Dana, Josh, and I all turned toward our friend.
“What, you’re gonna be on the bridge full-time now?” Josh demanded.
“No,” Wes said. “Actually, I’m leaving for the Academy on Sunday.” He leaned forward to meet my eyes more directly, “I’ll be on the same shuttle back toward Earth with your father, Zoe.”
I leaned around Dana and Josh, as well. “Wow, Wes, that’s quick.” I sat back. “Data, what does that mean for the rest of us? Are we all being given our final exam today? I mean, this tutorial was created because of Wes, wasn’t it?”
“Anyone who wishes to take their final examination today may certainly do so,” Data agreed, but there was a hint of confusion in his voice, as if he hadn’t considered that the rest of us were essentially guests in Wesley’s private lesson. “However, Wesley has already done so, and I believe the rest of you would benefit from remaining in class for the rest of the school year.”
Annette stood up, then, and I realized that not only had Wes not told me or Dana or Josh about his leaving, he hadn’t told his girlfriend, either. “Data, is there any way we could just cancel class today, and go to Ten-Forward or the holodeck or something?” she asked. Then she turned toward Wesley, “I cannot believe you didn’t tell me about this.”
Wesley didn’t have a chance to respond. Data said, “I accept your suggestion, Annette. Which location would you prefer?”
“Ten-Forward, definitely,” she said.
The six of us picked up our padds and relocated to the ship’s hot-spot, where much of the senior staff, and most of our parents, were already waiting.
“You knew about this,” Wes accused his girlfriend.
“You didn’t think we’d let you leave without a party, did you? It would have been at night but with Data and Zoe and your mom all wrapped up in the play…”
I stepped away from them to give the illusion of privacy, and nearly backed into Data, who prevented my stumble with a lightly restraining hold on my arm. I almost didn’t want him to let go. “‘Anyone who wishes to take their final examination today may certainly do so?'” I teased. “Data, really?”
“Technically, that is always the case. However, I also stated that remaining in class for the rest of the school year would be of benefit.”
“Look at you, being all mischievous,” I teased lightly, but then I asked. “So, is there going to be a next year? Because while I’m never going to like math, another year with you teaching it and I might actually comprehend it.”
“You comprehend more than you generally admit,” he observed. “I will continue the tutorial as long as there are students who will benefit from it.”
He was pulled away by some officer I didn’t know, and Dana and Josh came to flank me. “Everything’s changing,” my best friend said. “Tev’s gone, Wes is leaving. I wonder who’ll be next.”
“Me,” I said. “But only for the summer.” I favored her – and by extension Josh – with a grin. “Talk later,” I said. “I see cake.”
(20 May, 2367, 02:00 hours, ship’s time)
The previous three weeks had been crazy-busy, at least for me.
We’d finished the run of the play, my father had left, I’d done the applications to the summer programs – with Data’s help – and been accepted to Suzuki and to the ACT Summer Youth Congress. I’d passed all my classes (even math) with flying colors, and I’d said good-bye to Theo.
Oddly, I didn’t miss him as much as I’d expected I would.
Theo’s aunt Alynna – Admiral Nechayev to almost everyone else – had confirmed that I was welcome, and, indeed, expected, to stay with them before, between, and after my other programs.
The night before I was supposed to leave, I had a party.
Or rather, I’d been given a party. Just as with Wesley, my friends had been conspirators, choosing wisely to run our tutorial’s theme park program one more time. All day, we’d been in and out of it (I took time to pack) and anyone else who wanted to had been invited, even encouraged to join in the fun.
By ten that night, only my closest friends – Annette, Dana, Josh, Laura Gilbert who’d played my sister Margot in Anne, Ray Barnett, who I still hung out with from time to time, Nytan who was sometimes part of our group, and sometimes not – Ed, my mother, Counselor Troi and Commander Riker (I tended to think of them as a single unit), Geordi, and Reg, were left, and Data was due back from the bridge at any second.
Once he arrived, we shut down the open access to the holodeck, and kept the last couple of hours private, but by midnight it was just our math class and Data.
Just before two, I separated myself from the group, and wandered off alone. Not that you could really be alone when you were all really in one room, but…it felt like I was alone.
Data found me at the entrance to the Ferris wheel. “Your classmates have gone home,” he said. “Do you wish me to leave as well? You are familiar with the proper procedure for closing and saving the program.”
“I am,” I said.
He turned to go. “I wish you well this summer, Zoe. It has been a pleasure having you in cla – ”
“Stop it.” I cut him off.
“I do not understand.”
“No one else is here, right?”
“I believe I said that.”
“Then, could you stop being my tutor, and just be my friend for this last little while?”
His posture relaxed slightly, and he turned back to gaze up at the giant, brightly-lit wheel. “I have not yet taken the opportunity to experience this ‘ride,'” he said.
I caught the eye of the holographic operator, and he brought the spinning wheel to a stop, and let the holographic patrons off. “All yours, Miss,” he said.
I grinned at Data. “So, ride now. Do you want your own gondola, or do you want to share?”
“Is sharing not the expected practice?”
“It is,” I said, faintly nervous, “but typically it’s couples who…you know what? Never mind. It’s no more intimate than tea on your couch.”
“That is true.”
We settled ourselves onto the gently-swaying bench and pulled the safety bar into its locked position while the holographic operator swung the door shut. Data waited for the ride to begin before observing, “There was no Ferris wheel in the theme park on Serenity Five.”
“No,” I said. “This ride was my idea. I thought we needed a focal piece. Besides, when you get to the top, and look down at the park below, or up at the stars – even though you know it’s not real – it’s a really different perspective. Clarifying.” I hesitated. “December feels like forever ago,” I said. “I came here with Tev after your shuttle exploded. He rode it with me for hours, and then we stopped it at the top and he just sat there with me. Then he tried to convince me to eat soup.” I waited a beat, then asked, “Is it weird that I feel guilty about missing tomorrow’s theory session with you?”
“I am also experiencing a sense of…absence…in that regard.”
“Yeah, but on the bright side, you’ll be free of me for three months. Just think of all that reclaimed free time.”
“You know the time we spend together is neither an imposition nor an inconvenience,” he said.
“I do know that, and I’m grateful. I’m going to miss spending those hours with you every week…but…I really need to do something kind of normal for a while. I need to make friends who are interested in the same things I am – friends my own age – and start figuring out if I really want to go to the Martian, like my father, or choose another school. And…” I hesitated. “I need to be off this ship for a while.”
“I understand. If there is anything I can ever do to assist you, Zoe, please do not hesitate to ask.” He seemed to withdraw inside himself, then, turning his head to look out over the holographic park below us. I wondered if maybe he knew that I needed distance from him, as well. I saw the stiffness return to his bearing, even sitting down.
The ride lurched to a stop when we reached the top of the circle, as Tev and I had designed it to, whenever there were two non-holographic riders sharing a car. A gentle breeze wafted through the feels-like-late-spring air, and the gondola rocked like a porch swing.
I reached out to touch Data’s arm, but pulled my hand back. Then I reached out again, resting my hand on his shoulder, instead. I called his name.
“Yes, Zoe?” He turned his head to meet my eyes, and my breath caught.
If he’d been T’vek, if he’d been Theo, I would have kissed him. I mean…we were at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the park was programmed for twilight. Part of me wanted to, as much to see what would happen as to find out if he really would feel different from Lore.
Part of me wasn’t quite ready.
I took my hand away from his shoulder, captured his hand, squeezed, and released, leaving my palm resting against his. “Assuming I don’t blow off all my summer plans to teach surf school in Tahiti,” I said, “would you be willing to continue our Saturday Sessions, when I get back? Seth keeps saying he can’t teach me anything more, and working with you is…there’s nothing like it.”
“That would be agreeable,” he said. I could see him relaxing just a bit.
“And would you mind if, while I’m away, I wrote or comm’d from time to time?”
His posture softened again, and that tiny ‘real’ smile showed on his face. “I would not mind,” he said.
He kept hold of my hand for the rest of the ride.
(20 May, 2367, 03:00 hours, ship’s time)
“You’re late,” my mother informed me from her position on the couch. She was literally lying in wait for me.
“You don’t seem all that upset.”
“If I’m trusting you to spend the summer in San Francisco,” she said. “I think I should be able to trust you when you haven’t even left the ship.”
“Well,” I answered, sitting on the arm of the couch, on the end where her feet were. “That’s very enlightened of you, Mom.”
“Also,” she added, “Commander Data let me know you were with him.”
I laughed softly. “Of course he did.” I yawned. “I should get to bed,” I said. “We’re doing brunch before my shuttle leaves, right?”
“11:30 hours,” she confirmed. “I invited Ed; I hope that’s okay.”
“Could we…he’ll probably decline…but could we invite Data to join us?”
My mother’s smile was positively beatific. “I already have.” I grinned at her, and patted her sock-covered ankle, after which she said, “Zoe, I have to ask: are you in love with him?”
“With Data?” I laughed, but when I gave her my answer, I wasn’t certain if I was lying, or kidding myself: “Of course not, Mom,” I said. “It’s just a crush.”
Note: Zoe’s summer programs are based on the sorts of summer programs young actors and musicians typically attend. ACT really does offer a summer youth program. The Suzuki program is based on the annual National Cello Institute summer program that takes place at Pomona College every year. Data’s stage business with Zoe’s shoe is a blatant rip-off from the staging of the same scene in the 2009 UK production of The Diary of Anne Frank (it’s available on Hulu+).
Further Note: Crush ends here, but Data and Zoe have a lot more to their story. Look for a sequel to begin in sometime later this month. Future-fic and side-stories already exist; see my profile. Also see it for the link to the “Crushing on Cello” playlist, which includes a lot of the music referenced in this story. That playlist will be expanded as the next story grows. THANK YOU to everyone who has read this, especially to those of you who have commented. Special shout-out to Javanyet. She knows why.